Treat me, p.23
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       Treat Me, p.23

         Part #8 of One Night with Sole Regret series by Olivia Cunning
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  Her words had no effect on his feelings. She wasn’t the first woman to call him that and he knew she wouldn’t be the last. Shade knew he was an asshole. It made his life a whole lot easier.

  As she hadn’t followed his instructions, he went to the door and hung the Do Not Disturb sign. After closing the door, he flopped into the chair at the desk and uncovered his plate. Maybe his mood would lighten if he ate. Something needed to blow away the dark cloud brewing over his head. Sex was obviously out of the question.

  While he shoveled rice into his mouth, his cellphone chimed when a new text message was delivered. His first thought was that it was from Amanda, so he scrambled after the device. The message and a whole string of others he’d missed either while sleeping or in the shower weren’t from Amanda. They were from Tina. His heart sank with disappointment, and he blew out a long breath before having his phone read the messages to him.

  “I know I should call you to have this conversation,” the robotic tone of the app read aloud, “but I’m afraid I’ll lose my nerve, so here goes.

  “What I said last night about still being in love with you, it’s true. I do still love you. I never stopped loving you. That was never the problem in our marriage. The problem was I couldn’t trust you.”

  Shade rolled his eyes. She hadn’t even tried to trust him.

  “I’ve been thinking maybe we should start over . . .”

  Shade dropped his fork. What?

  “. . . and try to be a family again, you and me and Julie. I think we can make it work. Julie needs a stable environment.”

  He did agree with that.

  “And wouldn’t it be nice to come home to a loving wife and a happy home and see your daughter as often as you’d like? I know that’s what you want.”

  It was exactly what he wanted. Strange how Tina recognized his need so clearly. He just didn’t want her to be that loving wife. Or the not so loving wife.

  “Just think about it. Okay?”

  He didn’t have to think about it. He didn’t want to be involved with Tina again. As much as it pained him, he was deeply in love with her heartbreaker of a sister. He lifted his phone and thumbed in a short reply: No way in hell. But he didn’t send it. He deleted it before tossing his phone on the bed so he didn’t have to look at it.

  Why couldn’t he have what he really wanted?

  Why couldn’t he have Amanda?

  He glanced at his phone, wondering if it would do any good to call her. Maybe if he got his GED, she’d decide he wasn’t a complete idiot and consider him an equal. Or maybe Tina was the best he could hope for. She said she still loved him—that was something, wasn’t it? Amanda had never said the words. Obviously because she didn’t feel the way he felt.

  Shade pushed his nearly untouched food aside and stood to pull on a shirt. He couldn’t stand to sit there alone trapped in his thoughts another moment. He needed to be surrounded by people he could depend on and who wouldn’t make him feel lower than a slug’s slime trail. He needed to be with the members of his band—his true friends. Or better yet, his fans.

  After knocking on a few doors, he discovered that he was the only one staying at the hotel who hadn’t yet left for the venue. Had they tried to rouse him or didn’t they care that he was struggling?

  No, that wasn’t fair. They didn’t know he was troubled. How could they if he didn’t show his distress around them?

  Shade found a ride and smiled as the limo drove past the venue. The show wouldn’t start for hours, yet Sole Regret fans were already congregating outside the stadium and jockeying to be the first to enter so they could get prime general admission floor space close to the stage. Thousands—hell, millions—of people paid their hard-earned money to watch him perform. What did he care that some schoolteacher didn’t want to have anything to do with him? Fuck her.

  Shade tapped on the window that separated him from the driver. The glass slid down. “Stop right here and let me out,” he said.

  “Here?” The driver glanced anxiously at the black-wearing, tattooed, rough-looking crowd trying to peer through the tinted glass of the limo. “But—”

  “Stop.”

  As soon as the car stopped, he opened the door before the press of bodies could trap him inside. It occurred to him that he’d busted Adam’s balls for pulling a similar stunt a few days earlier. Crowds could quickly get out of control; Shade knew that. They also stroked his deflated ego; Shade needed that. He realized too late that he should have contacted his security team for assistance before he’d stepped out of the car. But he could command an entire stadium full of badass metal heads to jump and they fucking jumped, so how different could this situation be?

  Once the crowd figured out that he planned to stay for a while and that he was genuinely interested in giving all of them some personal attention, they stopped trying to flatten him against the side of the car. Women wanted him, men wanted to be him, and not a single fan made him feel like he wasn’t good enough. Their excitement and adulation lifted his spirits into the stratosphere—made him feel like a god. And he loved them for it. He’d been right, not that he was surprised. Shade was the persona he needed to cling to in order to feel good about himself. Jacob could go fuck himself.

  Seeing as that loser got dumped every time he fell in love, masturbation was his best option.

  Shade’s phone vibrated in his pocket with the delivery of a text. His heart raced with anticipation. Amanda?

  He scowled. Why was that his first thought every time he got a text? Fuck her.

  He fished the device out of his pocket and viewed the message from Gabe. Something about Adam writing lyrics. Shade was too flustered to make out the details of the entire note. He couldn’t concentrate on words with all the activity going on around him.

  “I need to go get ready for the show,” he said. He’d had his fill of fan worship and if Adam really was writing lyrics, he wanted to see it with his own eyes. “I hope you enjoy yourselves tonight.”

  After a few last handshakes and hugs, he slipped back into the limo and the crowd parted to let the car creep forward at a snail’s pace.

  “I thought they were going to kill you,” the driver said, glancing anxiously at the fans visible through the windows.

  “They love me,” Shade said, with a smile. “Why would they kill me?”

  “Not intentionally.” The driver jumped when an eager fan slapped his palms against the hood of the car with a loud bang. People continued to walk beside the car all the way to the barrier fence that had been erected around the tour buses and equipment trucks. After verifying that it was Shade in the car, security let the limo through, but kept the crowd at bay.

  “I love you, Shade!” a woman screamed from the crowd as he stepped from the car in the fan-free area behind the venue.

  He waved to the people pushing against the barrier fence before trotting up the bus steps. He strode up the aisle and paused at the dining room table. Adam was sitting there with his sketchbook open and he was writing. Not drawing spiders. Not creating the fanciest “the” to ever grace a page. Lyrics were pouring from the tip of his pencil like he had no conscious control over the process. Shade’s heart soared. They were going to be okay. With Adam’s creativity on the loose, Sole Regret’s success was guaranteed.

  A long lean body blocked Shade’s path, and he looked up into Gabe’s grinning face.

  “Is he writing?” Shade whispered, not wanting to disturb Adam.

  Gabe nodded. “It’s as if he can’t stop. He also drew this wicked piece of artwork that we have to use for our next album cover. The dude has amazing talent.”

  Adam did have amazing talent. Shade could never do what he did. But he could try to keep Adam off drugs and scrape him off rock bottom every time he found himself there.

  Shade pushed Gabe aside and slid into the empty booth across the table from Adam and waited for the guitarist to come up for air. Shade didn’t want to be responsible for interrupting the man’s flow of ideas, but
he did want to witness what he’d feared he’d never experience again.

  As soon as Shade settled into the seat, Adam glanced up and met his eyes.

  “It’s back?” Shade asked breathlessly and nodded, as if the motion would make it true.

  “Yeah,” Adam said, though the haunted look in his eyes didn’t make him seem too happy about his breakthrough. “I guess it is.”

  “Any guitar music yet?” Shade asked. He couldn’t wait any longer; he pulled the sketch pad toward himself. “Lats oGodbey” was his first impression of the title, but after a second of concentration, he decided that “Last Goodbye” made more sense. He’d ask Adam to read the lines to him later and blame the man’s handwriting for his inability to make sense of the written words. The trick had worked before; he had confidence that it would work again. “I’m ready to harmonize.”

  “And I’m ready to bang out a new tempo,” Gabe said as he leaned his hip against the back of the bench behind Adam and made drumming motions with both arms. His eyes were still blackened from his run-in with that MMA fighter, but he no longer looked like roadkill. He seemed almost as enthusiastic about Adam’s sudden spawning of lyrics as Shade felt about it.

  “And I’m ready to bang,” Owen said from the back of the bus.

  Nothing new there.

  Shade flipped through Adam’s notebook, excited to find several pages of scrawled words. His stomach turned when he came across a drawing of Melanie’s friend Nikki, and rage pulsed through his skull. It wasn’t the work that upset him. The details of the drawing were remarkable and if it had been of a woman he didn’t know, he would have appreciated the meticulous care Adam had taken in his sketch. The subject matter, on the other hand . . . Shade couldn’t tolerate that. Half of Nikki’s beautiful face and flawless body was torn and decayed—her guts were spilling out, bits of muscle and lengths of bone showing through the gaps in her flesh. The sketchbook dropped from his suddenly numb fingers.

  “What in the hell did you do to Nikki?” he yelled. Hadn’t the woman been through enough? If she ever saw this drawing of herself, it would destroy her already delicate psyche.

  “Isn’t that awesome?” Gabe said. “That’s the sketch I was talking about. It would make a fantastic album cover.”

  “It’s sick.” But maybe it would make a fantastic album cover. If the woman depicted weren’t easily recognizable as someone they all knew, he’d have thought the drawing was badass. “How could you draw a living person all torn apart like that?”

  “She is all torn apart like that.” Adam pulled the sketch pad toward himself and began writing a new song on a blank page. “You’re just too blind to see it.”

  Had something else happened to the poor woman? And why hadn’t anyone told him? “What do you mean she’s all torn up like that?” he yelled, not sure why he was so upset. He wasn’t interested in Nikki, but he had slept with her. He didn’t want anything bad to happen to her. Anything else bad to happen to her, he corrected.

  Gabe grabbed Shade’s shoulder. “He doesn’t mean literally.”

  Thank God.

  As the tension on the bus diminished, Adam’s creative spark ignited into an inferno. Everything fed the fire within him. He was soon using every thread of conversation—even ridiculous ones—as inspiration for additional songs.

  It felt so good to have the band all together, creating and joking around. Shade had forgotten what it was like to relax and enjoy the guys’ company. He hadn’t realized how tense things had become between them until that tension eased. He recognized that it hadn’t been his insistence that had smoothed things over. It was Adam’s palpable relief to be creating again.

  Maybe Adam and the rest of the band had been as worried about their creative future as Shade had been. Maybe Shade didn’t give the guys enough credit. He knew Adam didn’t work best under pressure, but what did they expect? That Shade would take the back seat and wait this shit out? He was incapable of relinquishing control over the band’s success. They all had to know that about him by now.

  Shade wasn’t sure what had unleashed Adam’s creativity, but whatever it had been, he was grateful it had stirred Adam’s soul. He couldn’t help but wonder if Adam had returned to his heroin habit, but Adam’s pupils weren’t constricted, his skin wasn’t flushed, and he hadn’t sniffed his nose or scratched at his skin once. Shade had been around junkie-Adam enough to know what to look for. Adam wasn’t high. At least not on heroin.

  The entire band was in a good mood when Sally eventually came to get them for the show. Shade couldn’t help but notice there were no longer any women on tour, which in his current state of mind proved that women were more trouble than they were worth. He was through with romantic relationships. Gabe’s chick seemed more interested in keeping her friend in one piece than being with him; Melanie had abandoned Gabe to return home with Nikki a couple of hours ago. Shade wasn’t sure what had happened to Adam’s girlfriend. They’d been together the last he knew, but maybe her unexplained absence was why he was spewing dark hatred in the form of lyrics. And Owen wasn’t messing with his iPad, buying useless tokens for the woman who’d supposedly stolen his heart. Kellen hadn’t returned from his weekend with his pretty composer, and Owen seemed much more interested in where his friend was than what his maybe-girlfriend was up to. Was it wrong of Shade to feel connected to these guys because they were all romantically miserable at the moment?

  “You know, if it were me,” Owen said to Gabe as they headed down a long corridor toward the backstage area, “I’d get them both in bed and let my dick sort that shit out.”

  Shade chuckled. Owen’s answer to everything. His dick.

  “The problem with that,” Gabe said, “is that Nikki would be more interested in Melanie’s pussy than my dick.”

  Owen slapped him on the back. “That’s not a problem in my book.”

  “Mine either,” Shade said with a grin.

  “So Melanie and Nikki are lovers?” Adam asked, his dark brow knitted with confusion.

  Gabe shook his head. “Melanie isn’t interested in Nikki that way, but Nikki is in love with her. Or she thinks she is. Maybe she’s just confused.”

  “She didn’t seem confused when she and I invited a waitress to our room last weekend for a little girl-on-girl action,” Shade said. “Nikki went straight for the pussy, no hesitation. Had that chick coming in twenty seconds flat.”

  Gabe scowled at him. “Yeah, thanks. That does not make me feel any better.”

  Shade shrugged. “It made me feel pretty good.”

  “They live together now,” Gabe said, wiping a hand over his lean jaw. He really seemed to be torn up about this. Didn’t he realize this was the opportunity of a lifetime? “Nikki moved into Melanie’s place this week.”

  “I’m sure Melanie will keep her legs closed even when your dick is a thousand miles away,” Adam said.

  “Nikki will wear her down eventually,” Shade teased. “That wicked tongue of hers is very persistent.”

  Gabe shoved him in the shoulder. “Not funny.”

  “Still not seeing the problem,” Owen said, shaking his head.

  When they reached the backstage area, Adam and Owen settled their guitars in place. Adam immediately began fingering a new rift that made Shade’s heart thud with excitement. The man’s talent was astounding. He seemed to pull amazing music out of nowhere. Or maybe it was housed in his soul.

  Kellen rushed backstage and reached for his guitar, but paused when he noticed the band gazing worshipfully at the lead guitarist.

  “Nice,” Owen said, mimicking Adam’s string of notes on his bass guitar.

  “Yeah, I like that,” Kellen said as he listened to them play. “I assume your writer’s block is gone.” He grinned at his fellow guitarist.

  “Yep.”

  “Well, keep it up.” Kellen whacked Adam on the back. “Sounds great.”

  Kellen then greeted Owen, who began talking a mile a minute. Adam had quit playing his new riff to answ
er his phone, so Shade turned to Gabe.

  “You’re not really worried that Melanie is going to dump you for Nikki, are you?” Shade asked.

  “Not much I can do about it if she does. So how did Tina take the news about you and Amanda?”

  Shade hadn’t told Gabe anything about the situation with Tina or Amanda, so how had he known to even ask? Now was not the time to discuss this. They had to be onstage in a few minutes and focusing on Tina or Amanda was sure to put him in a foul mood again.

  “Not sure what you’re talking about,” Shade said with a shrug.

  “So Tina just hit you in the head for fun? She still doesn’t know?”

  “She knows,” Shade admitted, “but I broke it off with Amanda.” He lied to save his ego further bruising. “I got what I wanted from her. Didn’t seem smart to piss off Tina for a mediocre piece of ass.”

  Even referring to Amanda that way ate at him, but Gabe wouldn’t harass him about it if he thought the breakup was Shade’s idea.

  “You don’t mope like a teenage girl when you dump a mediocre piece of ass,” Gabe observed before heading up the steps to find his place behind the drum kit.

  Perceptive jerk, Shade thought darkly.

  He turned to see if the rest of the band was ready to take the stage. Owen and Kellen were still chatting as if they hadn’t seen each other in years, but Adam had disappeared.

 
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