Have you ever had one of those friends you kept around because their life was so fucked up, it made your own look like paradise? You know, one of those friends who seemed to have the kind of luck only coveted by black cats or maybe Satan? My mother said they were people who made “poor life choices”. My father called them clients.
I was one of those friends.
It was a public service, really.
I did it out of the goodness of my heart.
“Katie! You got fired?” Bree gasped, gaping at me in horror.
Sabrina had never been fired from anything in her whole life. In spite of my bad influence, she was never even kicked out of a class. Or skipped one for that matter. I don’t think she’d ever earned anything less than a B or gave anything less than 100% in everything she did. Bree was one of those people who could do no wrong, even when the world conspired against her. She was the sugar that made lemonade out of the lemons of life.
You’d think that would make me hate her, given the grass on her side was like a golf course and the grass on mine was more like the scraggly stuff that grew between cracks where the sidewalk ended—but you’d be wrong.
She was my best friend in the world, and I didn’t love anyone more than I loved Bree.
But everyone loved Bree. You couldn’t help yourself.
“Remember that party I told you about?” I squealed the tires of Bree’s little Kia as I rounded the corner, heading toward the concert arena. I flew by a Detroit cop, and he gave me a dirty look, but he didn’t tail me. Had much bigger criminals to bust, I was sure, than worrying about a traffic violation downtown. At least, I hoped so.
“He bet me I wouldn’t do it.” I snorted, rolling my eyes at the lineup of cars heading into the parking structure. “But I did it.”
“While he looked up your skirt.” Sabrina flipped down the visor mirror, checking her hair and make-up like Rob Burns of Trouble was going to be studying it from the stage. “And you didn’t even remember you did it!”
“Everyone did.” Sabrina sighed, shaking her head and closing the visor. “You were lucky you didn’t get killed.”
“Wait… that was over a month ago,” Sabrina said, a dawning look of revelation on her face. “He fired you just now?”
“No, not exactly.” I didn’t want to tell her I’d been holed up in my apartment eating Krispy Kremes and watching Netflix for a month, but that was exactly what I’d been doing. “He fired me right after it happened.”
I shrugged. As if that wasn’t obvious.
“Alex really fired you?” Sabrina asked, incredulous. “How does your fiancé fire you? How does that even work?”
“Yeah, I guess it was one too many days I called in hung over—I mean, sick,” I joked with a wan smile.
“I’m pretty sure it had something to do with you hanging out his office window...”
“I guess I can’t blame him for firing you.” Sabrina looked like she was struggling between her principles and her loyalty to our friendship. Not an uncommon state of affairs between us. Of course, she wanted to side with me, she always did, but I rarely gave her the opportunity to do so without caveats. I was such a burden to the poor girl.
“No, but I can blame him for breaking up with me.” I hadn’t intended to tell her that part, but it just kind of slipped out. “And moving to Texas.”
“What? Oh no.” Sabrina’s eyes got wide, and then she got that really sad look I dreaded, because it always made me sad. And I hated being sad. “Really?”
“We both know it wasn’t going to last.” I waved her concern away, taking another sharp turn through the city streets, forcing Sabrina to hang onto the dash again. I refused to spend another minute thinking about Alex Bishop and his perfectly white teeth. “The job or the relationship. I started dating him because my mother was more in love with him than I was, remember? It was doomed.”
“Doomed. Doomeder than doomed,” I insisted, pulling the car up at the back of the venue and slamming it into park. “Mt. -freaking-Doomed, Bree.”
“Come on, Frodo. We’re already late.” Sabrina squinted up at an infinite number of steps in the growing dimness as we got out of the car. “Wait—aren’t we going to park in the lot?”
“And my car?” Sabrina frowned as I pushed the lock on her keypad, handing over her keys.
“It’ll be fine here.” I glanced back at the no parking sign, stepping closer to Sabrina, hiding it from her line of sight. “I promise.”
“I always mean it.” I pouted. It was true. My intentions were always good. Well, almost always. “Come on, you don’t want to be late to the concert, do you?”
“Oh my God, these stairs!” We were only up a dozen of them before she started complaining. Not that I could blame her. My calves were already burning.
“In these boots?” she huffed. “It will be a freaking miracle!”
“It’s either these stairs or missing Trouble’s first two songs,” I reminded her.
“Okay, okay. Come on, my little hobbit friend.” She put on a burst of speed at the thought of her favorite band at the end of our trip. Sabrina grinned over her shoulder at me. “Hope you brought your ring, Frodo.”
“Oh, I still have it.” I waggled the fingers on my left hand at her, where my engagement ring was still attached. “Should I drop it into the fiery pits of hell? Or do I give it back to Mr. Responsible?”
“He didn’t ask for it back?”
“I hear music!” Sabrina’s eyes grew wide as we neared the top. “If I’m missing Trouble right now, Katie Scarlett Monroe, I swear to God, I’m going to throw you down these stairs when I finally get to the top!”
“Almost there.” Sabrina grabbed the railing and pulled herself up the last few stairs.
“Right.” I doubled over at the top, seeing stars, and it wasn’t even dark yet. “Hey, I think I can see the eye of Mordor from here.”
“The door is locked!” Sabrina shrieked, pulling futilely at the handle.
“One of them will be open!” I assured her. My father, whose one purpose in my life since I was a young teen, was to provide me with great seats at concerts, had told me the crew always left one of these doors unlocked so they could get in and out through the back. “Come on, help me!”
“Locked!” Sabrina yanked on another one with all her might. “Goddamnit, Katie, why do you have to be such a fuck-up?”
“It’s just the opening act,” I called, trying another door. One of them would open, we’d get into the building, and make it before Trouble even played a note. And Sabrina would calm the fuck down. Maybe. “I think that's still Blue Jeans Metal playing.”
“It better be!” she snapped, groaning when she found yet another door locked. “This is all your fault!”
“It is not!” I protested as we worked our way back toward the middle. There had to be two dozen doors. “I’m not the one who took an hour and a half deciding which tramp-wear would best attract Rob’s attention!”
We met in the middle, both of us yanking on another door, but it stuck fast.
“Oh, please!” Sabrina rolled her eyes. Now my crossed arms mirrored hers. “You could have thought to get something to eat before we were on the road!”
It was easy to accept responsibility when you were always fucking up. I got used to it.
“Last door.” I grabbed the handle. “This is it.”
I grabbed and pulled. Nothing. Sabrina looked at me with narrowed eyes.
“Locked.” She pursed her lips. “Sonofabitch.”
“Okay, help me. I thought I felt it give a little. Maybe it’s stuck.” So, I was lying. But I thought, maybe the power of magical thinking might get me out of this. It had worked before. It wasn’t scientifically proven or anything, but sometimes wishing made things happen.
I grabbed the handle at the top, Sabrina at the bottom, and we pulled. Hard. I mean, really hard. We were both still panting—and sweating—from our sprint up the stairs, but we gave it our all on that damned door.
And then it opened.
And the door hit me in the face. The forehead to be exact. I have a hard head, so it could have been worse. For once, I was the lucky one, because the edge of the door hit Sabrina and nearly knocked her down. She would surely have broken her neck if one of the guys who came barreling out of the door hadn’t grabbed her just in time.
I watched it happen, horrified, but couldn’t do a damned thing about it.
“Gotcha!” The dark-haired guy grabbed Sabrina, whose high-heeled boots had nearly just ended her. What a way to go, I thought, still standing behind the door. My forehead throbbed, but I was basically okay.
“Um… Earth.” I stared at him in disbelief. Maybe the smack to my head had knocked something loose in there. Because I couldn’t be seeing what I was seeing. “Oh no! The door!”
“You sure about that, Angel?” He grinned, flashing me a smirky little smile, and that’s when I knew I wasn’t imagining things. I’d seen that smile, had studied it repeatedly, in hundreds, maybe thousands of photos. I was standing face to face with Tyler Cook—Trouble’s lead guitarist—a man I’d been crushing on for years.
“Name’s Katie,” I managed, reaching for the door handle and pulling. “And I’m no angel, trust me on that.”
“I know who you are.” I rolled my eyes, glancing at Sabrina and the other guy, and I got another jolt. Holy fuck, that’s Rob Burns! Rob-fucking-Burns, lead singer of Trouble, was kneeling down beside Sabrina, checking out a cut on the side of her head from the door. “What in the hell are you two doing out here?”
“I had to take a piss.” Tyler was still grinning. “You?”
“Freezing my ass off! They’re all locked.” I gave up, turning to face him, crossing my arms and glaring. He was Tyler Cook—a tall, lanky rock god whose guitar licks alone could make girls orgasm—but I was still mad at him. How could he let the door close like that? “Great. Just great.”
Tyler reached past me to try the door. It didn’t budge—and it wouldn’t have, even if I wasn’t leaning against it. I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise, my father letting me down. It was par for the course. But it still pissed me off.
“It’s locked.” Tyler frowned, stating the obvious. He turned to me, looking at me with those dark, dancing eyes. Even when he was annoyed, they had a sort of mischievous glint to them.
“That’s right, brainiac, it’s locked,” I snapped. I got sarcastic when things didn’t go my way, and so far, today was definitely not going my way. Apparently, my sarcastic ways didn’t stop just because I was face to face with Tyler Cook. “We were just standing out here for fun.”
“One of these has to be open.” Tyler ignored my comment and tugged on the door beside me.
“You’d think so,” I replied snidely, yanking on another door, just to show him. “But you’d be wrong.”
I rubbed my head. It was throbbing still. That door had smacked me pretty hard. Of course, that was nothing compared to what it had done to Sabrina. She was still down for the count, looking at Rob all dazed and confused—although that could have just been because she was face to face with the lead singer of Trouble. She was a huge Rob Burns fan.
“No,” I lied. I stopped rubbing my forehead, trying another door, even though I knew they were all locked, trying to keep my knees from getting all wobbly. It was some sort of delayed reaction to meeting two members of Trouble, I was sure. “Why did you let that door close?”
“Oh em gee.” I rolled my eyes, laughing, I couldn’t help it, even though I knew it would only encourage him. Had Tyler Cook really just noticed my eye color? “Do they all fall for those lines?”
“They trip over their ovaries to get their hands on this man flesh!” He beat his chest like King Kong and let out a little whoop, which made me laugh harder. I’m not sure if I was laughing at his jokes or my life. When you stepped back and looked at the whole thing, it was kind of ridiculous.
“How do they get into your pants?” I wondered out loud, still a little in shock that I was bantering back and forth with Trouble’s lead guitarist. The man was even hotter up close and personal, if that was possible. Just standing there, hands shoved into his pockets, rocking back on the heels of his Keds, he was like something out of a magazine. “Because I don't know how you get out of them!”
“Want me to show you?” he asked, reaching for the snap on his jeans. Just watching him do that made my ovaries ache. He wasn’t kidding. The man exuded sex. Fuck. “I did come out here to take a piss...”
“You have a thing for public urination?” I tilted my head at him, smirking.
We were awfully close, close enough I could smell him—leather and a hint of licorice—both our hands on the handle of one of the doors. His smile was lopsided and full of knowing. He knew he could have me if he wanted me. And I knew it too. There wasn’t anyone of the feminine persuasion—and perhaps quite a few who played for the other team—who wouldn’t go down on their knees for this man. I was certainly no exception.
“I have a thing for blondes with smart little mouths,” he confessed. His gaze dropped to my smart little mouth, lingering there, and I wondered if he was thinking the same thing I was.
God, I hoped so.
“Okay, go ahead.” I leaned against the door, smirking, glancing down to the waistband of his jeans. He was wearing a black t-shirt, tucked in, with a wide leather belt that just made me want to undo it. “You guys are perfectly equipped for outdoor bathrooming, after all.”
“Nah, I can't whip it out here.” He shook his head, eyes bright with laughter. “I'd hurt someone.”
“I don't know.” He shrugged, giving me that cute little smirk again, hesitating just the perfect amount of time before delivering his punchline. “I think I've only got one ruler.”
And that cracked me up. From the smile on his face, my reaction pleased him. God, what a smile. His gaze fell to my lips again, then dipped lower. Sabrina had tramped herself out for the concert, wearing a short skirt and tall boots and a shirt that showed so much cleavage you would be in danger of falling in if you leaned over too far, but I was just in jeans, a Trouble t-shirt, and a jean jacket. The latter was mostly unbuttoned, in spite of the cold. I’d worked up a sweat coming up all those goddamned stairs.
“So, what do we do now?” I looked from him over to Rob and Sabrina. They were standing now, so Sabrina was probably okay. Although that strange look on her face had me a little worried.
“You got me.” He shrugged, cocking his head as his gaze dipped lower, lingering on my breasts before slipping to the slight indent before my hips. Then his eyes lifted to meet mine and all my breath disappeared. I literally just forgot how to do it. “Dang girl, all those curves and me with no brakes.”
In and out. That’s how you do it.
I managed to make my lungs work. My mouth too. My sarcasm was ingrained, like muscle memory. Things just came out of it without me thinking at all.
“Okay it was bad.” He held up his hands in surrender, grinning.
“You're a rock star,” I admonished. “You really should have better pickup lines.”
“I'm a rock star,” he reminded me with a raise of his eyebrows. “I usually don't need pickup lines.”
I laughed. Damn, he was good. I hadn’t met a guy who could keep up with me, one on one, with snappy comebacks. Not ever. Alex had clammed up completely when I got sarcastic—which was, like, all the time. I still couldn’t figure out quite how that had happened—the job, the relationship, the engagement, the breakup. I guess it was the latter that surprised me the least. For me, endings were just the inevitable part that beginnings always promised.
“Okay, big bad wolf, why don't you huff and puff and blow this door in?” I nodded at the closed steel door. There was definitely music playing, but at least I’d been right about it being the opening act, because two members of Trouble were out here with us.
“Wise man.” I narrowed my eyes at him as we moved down the line of doors.
“I think I could break one down.” He kept going, determined to try them all for himself. Every single door.
“Umm when do you hulk out?” I asked with a laugh. “Do I have to make you angry?”
“What if we bang on it?” I suggested. “Someone might hear us.”
“Bang on it?” He lifted his gaze to mine and gave me a slow, sly smile.
“You know what I meant.” I stuck my tongue out at him.
I wiggled it around for good measure before pulling my tongue back into my mouth. That distracted him. He kept looking at my mouth and this time I knew exactly what he was thinking. I was thinking it too. All those naughty thoughts filled my belly with a sort of unquenchable fire. I could have downed a gallon of ice water and it wouldn’t have touched that kind of heat.
“How in the hell did you end up out here in the first place?” I wondered aloud.
It was a strange, impossible coincidence. We come up the back stairs and Rob Burns and Tyler Cook burst out just as we’re about to give up and head around front? What were the odds? I’d have a better chance putting my life savings—granted, that had been whittled down to a measly couple hundred dollars—on red at the roulette wheel over at the Greektown Casino and winning, I realized, meeting Tyler’s dancing eyes.
“I told you,” he reminded me with a sheepish shrug. “I have to take a piss.”
Present tense, have to. Poor guy’s bladder was practically bursting, and we were standing out in the Detroit cold in February. That made me think of his joke about whipping it out. What the hell? Why did my mind keep wandering back to this man’s dick? What was wrong with me? I mean, I knew I had a dirty mind, but this was ridiculous.
“They don’t have bathrooms inside?”
“She’ll live,” Rob called over his shoulder. “We’ve got to get back in.”
“Ya think?” Tyler rolled his eyes, reminding me so much of myself I had to suppress a laugh. He looked back at me. “So, you’re here for the concert?”
“Nah, I’m in training.” I waved his question away, noticing him noticing my Trouble t-shirt. His face was printed on it, just visible above the last button on my jacket. “Rocky did the steps, but did he do them in heels? I don’t think so.”
I showed him the cute, strappy heels I’d decided to wear, like an idiot, to a rock concert. We had front row seats, thanks to my dad, but once everyone rushed the stage, I knew I was going to need the height to see the action. Heels had seemed a smart choice, before the stairway from hell had appeared.
“You’re a smart ass.” He grinned like he didn’t really mind it.
“Better than being a—”
“Really?” Tyler snorted, interrupting me before I could say dumb ass. “Now I’m disappointed.”
“Can’t you get any of those doors open, Ty?” Rob called. He was shielding Sabrina with his body, like he thought she might spontaneously fall down the stairs if he didn’t.
“If you hadn’t let that damned door close,” I muttered, staring at it, willing it to open again. Hey, it had worked once! Magical thinking was, well, magical.
“We were kind of busy keeping your friend from dying.” Tyler glanced over at Sabrina, who looked at me, a light in her eyes I was familiar with. Did I look that star struck? I wondered. I hoped not. She looked like a cartoon character who had been shot in the ass by Cupid—that loopy. It made me want to laugh. The whole situation made me want to laugh.
“He was playing Superman,” I pointed out to Tyler. “But what were you doing?”
“Sorry, Angel, I got distracted.” He shrugged, looking back at Rob and Sabrina. “Besides, I’m not the Superman type.”
“Nah.” Tyler put his hands in his pockets, rocking back on the heels of his Keds. “I’m Batman.”
“How are you like Batman?” I scoffed.
“I’m dark, orphaned and pissed at the world.” He squinted up at the darkening sky.
“Well then I’m Catwoman,” I snorted. “Fast, a little bit crazy, and you have to watch out for the claws.”
“I’d wear a cat suit for you.” The words came out and I felt that heat spread through my belly, my chest, flooding my face. I was actually blushing and glad it was finally growing dark.
“Right.” I cleared my throat too. “Okay, let’s do it.”
The innuendo was painful. Achingly, hotly painful.
We both pounded the door, screaming as loud as we could. Hello! Let us in! Hello! Is anybody in there? Open the fucking door! My hands hurt when we stopped, both of us breathing hard as we looked at each other, grinning. It was stupid and crazy but exhilarating too. At least some of the sexual tension between us had been expended in the effort. It took the edge off. Just barely.
“That's exhausting,” Tyler panted. “I need to hit the gym more.”
“Looks like you do all right.” He wasn’t wearing a coat—just a t-shirt—and his biceps were nicely defined.
“Well, I’m no Superman.” He grimaced.
“Superman would have a super bladder,” I teased.
“True dat. I may have to just take a piss here.” Now he sounded apologetic.
“The—what, now?” He cocked his head, looking quizzically at me.
“You know...” I started hopping around like I had to go. Which kind of made me have to go. Power of suggestion. “The pee-pee dance.”
“Shit, don't make me laugh.” He laughed anyway. Then he looked over at Rob. “Hey, bruh, a little help over here?”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Rob asked Sabrina.
“She’s fine,” I called. “She’s just star struck.”
I was fairly sure that was true. I knew that star struck look in her eyes. Rob was asking her name, but she just looked at him like that.
“We’re supposed to be playing it.” Tyler grinned.
“All right, we’re locked out.” Rob had his arm around Sabrina, but he was finally considering the doors. “Let’s see if we can get their attention.”
So, we banged on the door again, all four of us slamming on it, yelling at the top of our lungs. It was my father’s misinformation that had me parked illegally down there—Sabrina was likely to get a ticket, thanks to me—and now locked out of the venue, no closer to our goal than we were before.
Of course, without that misinformation, we never would have met two members of Trouble barreling out the back doors in search of a bathroom. The universe worked in mysterious ways, I guess. I think we were all about to give up and go around when the doors opened, and a security guard told us to go around to the front entrance.
“Dude, we’re in the band!” Rob protested. The shocked look on his face cracked me up. Tyler too, who kept complaining he had to take a piss. Poor Sabrina still looked dazed and confused, like she couldn’t quite believe any of this was real. I could totally understand the feeling.
The security guard totally didn’t believe either Rob or Tyler when they said they were in the band, but when I presented him with our tickets, he let us in, no problem. Sabrina and I stood there, incredulous, trying to convince him that there wasn’t going to be a concert unless he let the guys in!
Thank God someone came along who recognized them both. By that time, Tyler and I were both cracking up so hard, it was difficult to stand. I was surprised he hadn’t pissed himself, like he kept threatening to. I leaned against the wall, trying to catch my breath, as Tyler and Rob finally got past the guard. Tyler was grinning from ear to ear, more amused than mad, but Rob looked pretty perturbed. The security guard was apologizing and practically groveling, but Rob was paying more attention to Sabrina and the cut on her head.
“Make sure you get these girls front row seats,” Rob said to the guy who let us in—not the security guard, but the other one, who had recognized them.
“Actually, we already have front row seats,” I called, waving our tickets. Sabrina tried to hush me but there was no way I wasn’t going to go for it, not now. We’d come this far, we’d literally run into the band—well, two of them anyway—and now we had a chance at more. Like I was going to let an opportunity like that pass me by?
“Someone’s fishing for backstage passes,” Tyler whispered under his breath, grinning at me.
“I’m not fishing,” I replied, grinning back when Rob insisted we get all access passes, since we already had front row seats. “I’m catching.”
“Now you’re doing the pee-pee dance!” I called after him.
“Stop making me laugh!” he laughed. “Smart ass!”
Rob was calling something back to Sabrina, but I missed most of it—something about her favorite song. When Sabrina turned back to me, once the guys had disappeared around a corner, we grabbed each other’s hands and jumped up and down, squealing like teenagers.
“We’ve got backstage passes!”
The security guard rolled his eyes and the other guy smiled indulgently at our adolescent behavior, but I was certain they underestimated exactly what had just transpired over the course of those few moments. We had backstage passes.
It was like winning the lottery or finding one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets. It was against-all-odds crazy, and Sabrina knew it too. Her eyes were shining, in spite of the cut and growing bump on the side of her head. So, we’d taken a few lumps, big deal! We now had access to Trouble—to Rob and Tyler. The universe had hit us with a great big stroke of luck—a smack in the forehead for me, nearly knocking Sabrina down a flight of stairs—and it was a dream come true.
But, like winning the lottery or finding the golden ticket, that wasn’t the end. Now, we had to decide how we wanted to use this little bit of luck to our advantage. I, for one, wasn’t going to let it go to waste!