THE ROAR of adrenaline and rush of the crowd. Or something. High from excitement and fame, Shane didn’t even care whether he had it right. He and his band, Love Like Vampires, had just finished opening for Jareth frigging East, one of the biggest names in the business.
A small-time band from Maine had played the show of a fucking lifetime. How could he care about something as menial as a cliché?
And the audience had loved every second of it. They had screamed. They had danced. A couple of cuties in the front row had even tried to grab Thaniel, the lead singer, when he leaned toward them during the band’s ballad “Your Love Staked My Heart.”
It wasn’t an unusual response, but they weren’t at their usual little club. They were at TD frigging Garden in Boston. Opening for Jareth East. If Shane repeated that to himself enough, maybe he would be convinced this wasn’t all a wonderful dream.
As Love Like Vampires left the stage to let Jareth’s crew set up, Shane felt like his feet barely touched the floor. His heart raced and he was panting for air. He was so soaked with sweat his hair dripped, but none of it mattered.
The show had been fucking amazing. Every note, every lyric, every beat had been perfect. Not a single mistake. Other than Bryan, their drummer, they’d all been nervous as fuck before the show. Thaniel had almost had a goddamn panic attack sitting out in the van, and Shane had had to score him some weed from one of Jareth’s roadies so the singer could calm down.
Then again, stage fright for Thaniel wasn’t unusual either. Once Thaniel walked onstage he loved it, but every single time they had a show, he freaked out beforehand. Only the guys in the band knew, and only Shane realized how bad Thaniel’s panic truly was. He kept the secret, along with never letting on to Thaniel how much he admired him for pushing past the stage fright and putting on damn good shows.
In the end, the nerves hadn’t mattered. They’d played their best show ever. And watching Thaniel work the stage and the audience was even better. Shane could have stared at the singer all night. Half the people who’d watched probably wished Thaniel would drag them into bed, and Shane definitely counted himself in that group.
Even in the postshow haze, he had to roll his eyes at his fucking ridiculous crush. He’d had a thing for Thaniel for years. It was never going to happen. By now, he should have gotten reality through his head. They were friends and Thaniel was straight. End of story.
Backstage, Thaniel grabbed Shane in a bear hug that would have been a hell of a lot more pleasant without the sweat soaking both of them. “Holy fuck, man, that was amazing!” Thaniel jumped up and down, still holding Shane.
“Hell yeah.” Shane grinned and pulled away. The sweat was bad enough. The fact that excitement, adrenaline, and being held against Thaniel’s wiry body made him hard was worse. He just hoped Thaniel wouldn’t notice.
“They motherfucking loved us! Yes!” The keyboard player, Jace, tried a chest bump with Thaniel. Thaniel stepped back and Jace almost fell flat on his face. Shane stifled a laugh. The kid always got way too hyper after shows, and sometimes before and during them. And often during rehearsals. There were times Shane wanted to clobber him, but the band kept Jace around because he was a damn good musician.
They were all damn good. That was why Jareth East had personally invited them to play.
“Cool it, Jace.” Todd set his bass guitar on their equipment cart and frowned at the younger guy. “Professional, remember?”
“Fuck professional,” Jace muttered. “Famous people celebrate too. We were awesome, you guys. What am I supposed to do, a fucking golf clap?”
“Chill,” Bryan said. “Celebrate at the after-party. Act cool now.” He nodded at the crew pushing past them. “We need to get out of their way.”
“Yeah, yeah, fine.” Jace scowled. “Okay. Grab our shit and move out. We’re going to watch Jareth, right?”
“No, we’re going to sit in the van and eat cupcakes.” Thaniel snorted.
“Asshole.” Jace flipped Thaniel off and turned his back.
Shane shook his head and kept his mouth shut. The bickering was nothing new. Jace rubbed everyone the wrong way after shows. His enthusiasm was contagious but annoying as hell, and Jace never comprehended that after the rush, everyone else wanted to relax and calm down before they dissected every second of a show.
Then again, the band had been fighting way more than usual lately. Having Jareth contact them personally to ask them to open for him should have thrilled them. Hitting it big was the ultimate dream for all five of them. But they’d spent the past month fighting about everything from what to wear to which songs to perform, and at times Shane had been sure they would break up before they ever hit the stage.
They’d made it through the show, though, and they would survive the aftermath. Once they left the venue and safely packed their equipment in their van, everyone would calm down and be friends again. Same as always.
Knowing they would get past the bumps didn’t make the tension any easier for Shane to deal with. Love Like Vampires was his and Thaniel’s baby. For almost ten years, they’d worked their asses off trying to pull it together, and every time the members stopped getting along, Shane worried the whole band would fall apart.
Stupid, maybe, but he’d seen it happen before. He and Thaniel were the only remaining original members of the band. All the others had left because of fighting, differences of opinion, and just plain assholishness.
“Hey, wake the fuck up.” Thaniel jabbed Shane too hard in the ribs with his elbow and gave him a maniacal grin. “We have shit to do.”
“Yeah.” Shane forced a smile. Thaniel was still high. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing if it kept him from fighting with Jace, but Thaniel’s reliance on weed bugged Shane. He didn’t have anything against the stuff. He smoked it himself once in a while. But in his opinion, Thaniel used it too much, and Shane didn’t dare say so because it would piss Thaniel off.
“So get to work, pack mule.” Thaniel chuckled. “Come on. Jareth’s guys are getting pissed.”
Shane nodded and walked off to round up the others so they could move their stuff offstage. A couple of Jareth’s crew helped them load their equipment and cart it outside to the twenty-five-year-old cargo van they used as their official vehicle. The vampire painted on the hood caught a ton of attention during their road trips, not to mention at the grocery store and other places around their home base near Portland, Maine. It wasn’t classy or anything, but Shane loved the thing.
“We should get rid of this rust heap.” Todd unlocked the rear door of the van and hefted one of the amps inside. “We must have earned enough for this show to buy a new van. Newer, anyway.”
“We earned plenty for the show,” Shane said. “I’ll share it out first thing Monday. We’re not trading the van. It runs better than that little beater car of yours, even though your car’s a couple of decades newer.”
“Hell, we can’t get rid of Dracula.” Thaniel patted the side of the van. “This is us, man. Don’t even think about it.”
“Whatever.” Todd grabbed another amp. “We’re supposed to be trying to hit the big time, aren’t we? So why the hell are we keeping a hunk of junk?”
“Why does the Scooby gang have the Mystery Machine?” Thaniel countered. “That thing’s older than dirt, and they drive it everywhere because it’s them.”
“Scooby’s a cartoon. This is real life.”
Shane’s gut churned. Fucking fighting all the time. He’d just gotten the happies back after the bickering backstage, and now Todd was being an asswipe. They all should have been excited as fuck, not getting on each other about stupid shit.
Plus Thaniel was right. Their van was as much a part of the band’s identity as their songs, and Shane was damned if it would ever be traded or sold as long as it ran.
“Knock it the fuck off,” he snarled. “And get over it, Todd. You guys put me in charge of finances for the band. You said you trusted me. All of you. So fucking trust me already. Right now, it doesn’t make sense to shell out for a new van when this one’s still running great. A fifty-dollar oil change versus a something-hundred-dollar car payment. And we would have to have a payment, because we do not have enough to pay cash for anything unless you all want to give up being paid for this show and the next two or three. So you tell me. You want to get less from each show so you can feel cooler in a new van?”
“Yeah, I said whatever.” Todd shoved the amp into the van. “I give up.”
“Good, because this is supposed to be fun.” Jace grinned. For once, his puppy-dog dancing was a good thing, because it distracted everyone. “Party time, excellent, all that shit. Are we going to watch Jareth?”
“You already asked that,” Bryan said. “Come, young grasshopper, and we shall watch the show.” He winked at Shane, who nodded. Bryan was pulling Jace out of the line of fire. For the moment the kid’s hyperness entertained them, but it wouldn’t for long.
Bryan and Jace went back inside. Thaniel climbed into the van to arrange the equipment, and most likely to have some space between him and Todd. He hated confrontation.
Shane did too, but he refused to let Todd be a jackass. Especially when it upset Thaniel. He narrowed his eyes and clenched his teeth, hoping he wouldn’t say something he’d regret. “You don’t have to stick around if you have a problem with the way we’re running things. All you do is bitch. Get over it or move on, but stop bringing the rest of us along on your whine ride. Other guys would love to be part of this band if you can’t hack it.”
“I said I gave up. Conversation over. You win.” Todd folded his arms over his chest. “Who the fuck are you anyway, giving me shit for expressing an opinion?”
“He’s one of the founding members of Love Like Vampires, and he might as well be our manager since he does most of the grunt work.” Thaniel jumped out of the van and stood beside Shane. “Dude, pray for serenity or something, because you’re killing us here. I don’t know what the fuck crawled up your ass, but get it out.”
Todd glared at Thaniel for a second, then blew out a long breath. His whole body visibly relaxed, and he closed his eyes. “Yeah. Fine. Leave me alone for a minute.”
Shane took a deep breath and hoped for the best. They all joked about Todd’s preaching and praying sometimes. Even Todd poked fun at himself once in a while, though he genuinely believed all the God and Jesus stuff he spouted. He wasn’t a jerk about it like some people Shane had met, just stubborn.
The good part of the whole religion thing with Todd was that praying calmed him down. Talking to God reminded him not to be a jerk. It did the same thing for him that weed did for Thaniel, and Shane was all for anything that calmed people down and kept them from screaming at each other.
While Todd did his thing, Thaniel and Shane put Shane’s guitar and Todd’s bass into the van. Neither of them said a word, but Shane knew he and Thaniel were on the same page. The van was theirs. They’d bought it in high school with cash from their first gig and money borrowed from Thaniel’s parents. The van had memories.
Shane didn’t enjoy some of the memories. Especially the ones involving girls Thaniel had picked up after shows. But the rest were pretty fricking cool.
“Okay,” Todd said. Shane and Thaniel both turned to look at him, and he gave them an embarrassed smile. “Sorry. Moving on. The van’s cool, and you’re right, it’s us. So let’s finish loading this crap so we can go back inside before we miss Jareth’s show.”
“It’s a two-hour show,” Thaniel said. “We aren’t going to miss the whole thing no matter what we do, but yeah. They might try to keep us out or something. Here.” He held up a piece of Bryan’s drum set. “Find somewhere for this.”
By the time they went back inside, Shane was breathing easily and the tightness in his chest had let up. None of the arguments among the band had become too serious, at least not with their current lineup, but he was always afraid they might, and then everything would fall apart. He and Thaniel had been through it with five different guys already, guys who wanted to write songs that didn’t match the band’s style, or who were pissy because Thaniel let Shane have too much say in how the band ran.
Thaniel had always had his back, even when their first drummer had called Shane a “fucking faggot” the day Shane came out. Shane had had to hold Thaniel back from beating the shit out of the guy.
Good times. Shane hadn’t exactly enjoyed being treated crappy merely because he’d finally had the guts to admit something most people had figured out years earlier. Having Thaniel not only accept it but defend him had helped.
Right now, the band had it pretty good. Their current lineup gelled, and everyone agreed on musical style and where they wanted the band to go. Bryan and Jace were too laid back, and Todd was too busy, to care who ran things, as long as they didn’t have to. They all had about the same level of skill, and none of them gave a damn about each other’s sexuality.
But something was broken. Shane couldn’t put his finger on it and didn’t really want to. He only knew the band wasn’t as connected as they had been, and that might mean Love Like Vampires would fall apart.
He took another breath as he and Todd followed Thaniel to the area they’d been assigned to hang out in during Jareth’s part of the show. The argument had ended. Everything was cool.
Bryan and Jace were already in the designated spot, sipping bottles of water and talking to one of Jareth’s musicians. Both of them stood mostly still, mellow expressions on their faces. At least Jace wouldn’t get on anyone’s nerves for a while.
“Ready for this?” Bryan asked as they took their seats. “This is where we’re heading in a year or two if we keep it up.”
“I sure as fuck hope so.” Thaniel slid down in his seat and grabbed a bottle from the cooler between his chair and Bryan’s. “Two albums and a ton of frigging shows, and we still aren’t hitting what we should be.”
“We’ll get there.” Shane took the seat on the other side of Thaniel and mentally prepared the usual pep talk. Every single time they played a show, Thaniel ended up griping about what they should have been doing. From the second the guy had said, “Hey, we should start a band,” he’d had plans. The plans hadn’t worked out yet, and it irked the hell out of Thaniel.
Shane wasn’t exactly thrilled about it either, but he tried to see the good side. They’d gone from a bunch of eighth-grade kids banging around in Thaniel’s basement to playing shows half the weekends out of the year. They had fans. They had a following online and in person. They even had two albums, one they’d done themselves and one with a dinky little label they’d never heard of until they’d been signed.
They were a hell of a lot better off than they had been, and it was only a matter of time before they reached Jareth East’s level of fame. Especially since Jareth discovered them online, decided they were cool shits, and started helping them out by pimping the Love Like Vampires name and music. Not to mention inviting them to open for the last show of his current tour.
And he gave them some love again during his show. The first song ended, and before launching into the second, Jareth said, “Hey, Boston, how about you show your fucking appreciation for my opening act, Love Like Vampires? One of the best bands to come out of Maine, and my personal friends. Let me fucking hear you!”
The audience screamed, and once again adrenaline and the energy of the crowd swept Shane away. That was what he loved best about performing. Not only did he make people happy, their excitement and energy was better than any other high. It wiped every bit of his shitty past from his mind and planted him smack in the present where everyone wanted to be him.
Jareth’s show lasted beyond the scheduled two hours, as Shane had expected it would. Thaniel and Jace wandered off at one point with a couple of roadies. Shane thought about stopping them but decided it wasn’t any of his business if they chose to get stoned before they even hit the after-party.
Jareth’s record label had rented a hotel suite for the after-party. The moment Shane walked in, he shrank in on himself and wished he could go home. This was the fancy kind of place he’d seen in movies and had never expected to actually walk into. In his ripped, grungy jeans and the plaid shirt he’d ripped the sleeves off, he didn’t even look good enough to clean the frigging toilet.
“Hey, man, ease up.” Beside him, Thaniel swayed slightly, a dopey smile on his face. Shane couldn’t tell if he was afterglowing from the show, or high. Probably both.
Thaniel patted him on the shoulder. “We’re going to be fine here. Who knows? We might make some connections that will put us in the big time with Jareth. He said he would introduce us to some people.”
“Great.” The thought of meeting the “people” made Shane’s stomach churn. It would be huge for Love Like Vampires’ career, no question, but those guys could make or break the band. Shane didn’t trust himself to make a good enough first impression with people like that.
“Come on.” Thaniel turned to include the rest of the band in the command. “Wander. Schmooze. Flirt with women. Hell, flirt with men. Jareth just proposed to his fucking boyfriend no one knew he had, right onstage, and everyone loved it. So if you’re into guys, probably no one here will have a problem with it.”
He intended that statement for Shane, no question about it. Bryan was gay too, and no one was quite sure about Jace, but Thaniel had spent enough time trying to persuade Shane to find a boyfriend or at least a fuck buddy that Shane recognized a hint when he heard it.
The problem was he didn’t want to flirt with any of the guys in the room except Thaniel. And there was no fucking way he would “go for it” with the guy who’d been his best friend since elementary school. Even if he had a chance in hell with Thaniel, he didn’t want to fuck up a great friendship for the possibility of getting laid.
“Hey, it’s the band!” A woman in a skirt so short Shane would have sworn he could see her panties—assuming she was wearing any—tottered over on heels that made her taller than Shane. “Come have some drinks and shit, guys! You were fucking insane out there. You have to play with Jareth more.”
“His fiancé probably wouldn’t appreciate other guys playing with Jareth too much,” Bryan said, his face completely blank.
Thaniel snorted, and Shane stifled a laugh. Jace and the woman looked equally confused, and Todd simply turned to study a painting on the wall beside them.
The woman’s face brightened. “Come on. You should have drinks. And you need to meet people. It’s a party. People meet people at parties.”
She gave them a huge smile, and her eyes glazed over. Drunk or high. Or both. Who the fuck knows? Shane glanced at Thaniel, who appeared to be studying the chick’s huge boobs. The things were so big that given her state and her shoes, Shane couldn’t figure out why she didn’t just topple forward.
“Lead us to the drinks,” Thaniel said. “We can definitely use them.”
Todd opened his mouth and Shane frowned at him. Every single time they partied, Todd tried to lecture them about alcohol. And every time, he drank more than any of them. At least this time they wouldn’t be taking him home to his girlfriend while he was still shitfaced. He might be pretty hungover by the time they returned to Maine the following day, but he would be sober. Which meant Caroline wouldn’t threaten to take their kid and vanish the way she’d done after their last show.
The chick, whose name Shane never caught, brought them across the room to the bar, and after that things blurred for Shane. Alcohol flowed freely. Hands were stuck in front of him to shake.
Hands were on his body.
He wouldn’t have minded the last bit so much if they’d been guys’ hands. Especially if they’d been Thaniel’s.
Jareth put in an appearance and introduced LLV to a few people who might advance their career, just as he’d promised. Thaniel did most of the talking while Shane and the others nodded and smiled. Shane might have handled all their business, but Thaniel was their front man. He was the one whose personality had helped bring them this far, so it made sense for him to deal with the people who might put their names and faces in front of millions.
Shane had too much to drink and he knew it, but every time someone handed him a cup, he took it. He hated the frigging parties. Meeting people was awesome, but he always felt too much pressure to be a true party guy. It wasn’t his thing. It beat sitting at home jerking off, but that was the best he could say. Partying with the band and their friends was awesome. Partying with a bunch of strangers who did it as a business activity, not so much.
Thaniel disappeared with the chick, and Bryan took off with some guy whose role in the whole thing Shane couldn’t figure out. Todd sat in a corner with his booze, and Jace stumbled around the room talking to anyone who would listen about absolutely fucking nothing, the way he always did.
Shane worked his way around the room, talking to everyone who tried talking to him and mentally calling Thaniel every name he could think of. Fucker just had to get his goddamn dick wet. He couldn’t have stuck around to help with the social shit. All he wanted was to get laid.
Shane refused to admit even to himself how jealous he was of the chick. She had Thaniel while Shane stood around completely alone surrounded by people he didn’t know and didn’t give a shit about.
It sucked, and not in a good way.
And he couldn’t do a fucking thing about it. If he’d wanted, he could have found a private place for a good hard fuck. A few women and a couple of guys made their interest known over the few hours of the party, and Shane considered taking one of the guys up on his offer. He hadn’t had any naked fun in way too long.
But he didn’t want a one-night stand. He wanted Thaniel.
By the time someone declared the party over, the August sky had started to lighten. People were strewn around the room in various states of intoxication, sleep, and nudity. Todd had sacked out in his corner and was snoring quietly. Jace had disappeared somewhere, and Bryan was leaning on the bar flirting with the dark-eyed bartender.
Unwilling to interrupt anything, Shane stood by the door, waiting for his guys to come back so they could get the fuck out of there.
Thaniel strutted out of one of the other rooms wearing his jeans and a got-laid grin that set Shane’s teeth on edge. Of course he knew what Thaniel had been doing with the chick, but he could have done without the proof smacking him in the face.
“Fun,” Thaniel said. He was still swaying, and Shane smelled weed. “Fun as fuck. Fucking fun.”
“I get it,” Shane muttered. The booze he’d drunk had long since worn off, and he couldn’t even manage a fake smile. “You fucked and it was fun.”
“Hell yeah, I did. You should have too.” Thaniel glanced around. “Jace got a piece.”
“Good for Jace.” He managed to shut up long enough to fuck someone. That must have been a frigging miracle. “We have to get on the road, man. I have students this afternoon.”
“Fucking day jobs. We have to quit the damn things.” Thaniel grinned. “I think we made an impression, so maybe that’ll happen sooner than we think. You don’t want to teach guitar to whiny brats forever, do you?”
“I don’t care. Right now, I don’t want to hang around here.” Shane nodded toward Todd’s corner. “You deal with him. I’ll grab Bryan and track down Jace.”
“No sleep, lots of sex and shit, it’s going to be a long fucking drive.” Thaniel sighed. “Yeah. Party time, excellent, like Jace said. The parties always rock. It’s the next day that sucks donkey dick hard.”
“Something like that.” He didn’t have time for Thaniel’s complaints. They could have left the party and gone back to their hotel at any time. But everyone had been too busy doing their own thing, and Thaniel had the van keys anyway.
Nudging Bryan to the door wasn’t difficult. The guy didn’t object at all when Shane told him it was time to go. He just handed the bartender a napkin with a phone number scribbled on it and walked away.
Finding Jace was harder. Shane finally located him in the bathtub, lying beside a guy who looked about twice Jace’s age. Neither of them was wearing any pants, and they were both half-asleep. And high on something, judging from the blank stares they gave Shane when he walked in.
Shane bit his tongue. Jace was twenty years old. Even if he didn’t act like it, he was an adult. He could fuck who he wanted, even a guy who was probably old enough to be Jace’s dad. Shane simply grabbed the keyboardist’s arm and dragged him out of the tub and into the other room. The old guy made some noise that might have been an argument, but Shane ignored him. The party was over.
Their van was in valet parking, and it took a while to find someone to retrieve it. “Man, we should go back to our hotel and crash for a few hours before we hit the road,” Bryan said while they waited. “No way any of us is in any shape to drive.”
“I’m fine,” Shane said. The last thing he wanted was to be stuck in a hotel room with the guys. He had to work, and as far as he knew, so did Bryan. Jace’s parents would be wondering where the fuck he was, even though they claimed they let their kids do their own thing, and Jace wasn’t exactly a kid. And Caroline would probably be ready to knock Todd out if he didn’t get home soon.
“Let Shane drive.” Apparently Todd had the same thoughts. “It’s six in the morning. We’ll be home by eight. Maybe sooner, because traffic won’t be too bad on a Sunday morning. All our shit’s in the van, right? Let the hotel figure it out.”
“Fine.” Thaniel rolled his eyes and pulled the keys out of his pocket. “Two hours of sleep on the road is better than none, but Shane, man, you’d better stop for coffee.”
“I’m fine.” Shane yawned. “Yeah. Coffee.”
They found a donut place a couple of blocks away and Shane ordered the largest caffeinated beverage they had, while the other guys chose drinks and donuts. Most of which would become trash to be cleaned out of the van, since none of them other than Todd would probably stay awake long enough to eat or drink anything. Shane wasn’t totally sure about Todd, either. The guy had crashed at the party, but that didn’t guarantee he would stay awake for the drive.
By the time they hit I-95, as Shane had figured, Thaniel, Jace, and Bryan were snoring. Todd sat in the front passenger seat staring at the road. “Caroline’s going to fucking kill me. The kid had some karate thing yesterday, and I missed it.”
“The show was important too.” Shane navigated around a hearse. Why the fuck a hearse was heading up I-95, he couldn’t even guess. “I mean, you do music to make things better for them. Devon wouldn’t even be in karate if you weren’t pulling in money from shows.”
“Caroline pays for it.” Todd slumped in the seat. “According to her, she pays for everything and I’m a fucking deadbeat who sponges off her. And she kind of has a point. I don’t have a job. I play with you guys and don’t bring in any other money.”
“You take care of the kid while she’s working.” Shane had heard the sob story too many times. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Todd hadn’t sometimes sounded as if he hated having a kid at all. “No daycare. That saves a hell of a lot of money.”
“Tell Caroline that. She’d rather have her aunt watch him or even pay for daycare while I work.” With a sigh, Todd turned to stare out his window. “The band’s going to fall apart if something doesn’t happen soon. At least I won’t be able to stay in it. Music’s my life, but I have to think about Devon. He needs to see his dad doing something, not just sitting around waiting for fame to happen.”
“We have two albums out,” Shane said. “Last night, we opened for one of the biggest names in the genre. That has to open some doors.”
He focused on the road and kept his voice totally neutral despite his tension and nausea. The band couldn’t fall apart. Not completely. He expected Todd to leave at some point. The guy had too much going on to manage the lifestyle. But one bassist would be easy to replace. They’d done it before.
If the whole band went to shit, Shane didn’t know what the fuck he would do. He had his job teaching music lessons at the store where Thaniel worked, but he did that to have steady income between band gigs. The band was his career. Teaching was merely a hobby.
He needed Love Like Vampires.
Thaniel needed the band even more, and Shane was damned if he would let anything or anyone fuck up what Thaniel had built.
“I hope you’re right,” Todd said. “I mean, some of those guys at the party seemed pretty interested. Maybe we’ll score a bigger contract or something. We owe the label another album, though, don’t we?”
“If a bigger company wanted to sign us, they could buy out the contract.” Shane wasn’t entirely sure it would work that way, but it sounded right. He would have to do some serious research on the subject to make sure.