Authors: Nova Raines
Her shoulders relax, like she’s relieved I dropped the topic of my dad. “I have to give out the award for best pop song, and then I’ll head to the dressing room to get changed.”
There’s no way she’d wear that diamond on stage… would she? “I’ve always wanted to go backstage and see what it’s like to get ready for a show.”
She doesn’t take the bait and invite me. I take another swig of champagne. “I would love to come back there with you. Could I?”
She blinks rapidly. “You’ll miss the show if you do.”
“Oh, no I won’t. I’ll watch you from backstage.”
“Sure. Okay. Come back and see what it’s like.” She gives me a false smile, then tugs at Calvin’s sleeve. “Honey, I need to go to the ladies’.”
“The show starts in five.”
“I’ll be back.”
She leaves the table, and I sit in silence, drinking, waiting for things to begin. I sneak a peek at Peyton again, and she’s back to chugging her champagne and hanging off Ender’s arm. He is completely ignoring her, animatedly talking to his drummer’s date.
Serena gets back just as the lights dim and the music starts. Perfect timing so she doesn’t have to continue talking to me.
Everyone goes silent, and Kaidan grabs my hand and squeezes. My breath catches at the unexpected touch, and I look at him beneath the dim lights, his brown eyes glinting warmly at me. I give him a little smile. As far as I can tell, he hasn’t spared a single glance at Peyton—doesn’t care who’s here.
here with Kaidan Stone tonight. And he wants to be with me and only me.
He holds my hand, caressing it lightly with his fingers, as we watch the awards show.
A comedian, Jamal Mason, is hosting the awards, and Kaidan and I both laugh as he opens with a joke about his complete lack of musical ability.
We speed through the first few awards, and then it’s time for a commercial break, and the lights turn up a little. Ethan leaves to get ready for his performance, and the conversation in the auditorium picks up to a low murmur.
I turn to Kaidan and jump when I realize he’s leaned close and is inches from my face. He grins at me and looks… happy. Truly. I feel giddy with the same happiness, and I laugh in response.
“You having fun?” His eyes are bright.
“Yes. I really am. Thanks for inviting me.”
His eyes soften, and he lets go of my hand to touch my cheek. “Come here,” he says, his voice low, husky.
My cheeks flush as I lean closer. I’m vaguely aware of the rest of the people around our table, of the entire auditorium packed full, even Peyton a few tables away. But the way Kaidan’s looking at me right now—nothing matters except me and him. We’re in a bubble, and nothing can pop it.
He kisses me, gently, pressing his lips to mine, letting them linger. I return his kiss, relishing the taste of him, and a little burst of excitement courses through me. When he pulls away, his face is flushed, too, and I finally remember to breathe again.
He just kissed me in front of everyone. In front of dozens of cameras. In front of the whole world. In front of Peyton. I grab his hand again.
“We’ll get some food after this.” He runs his fingers along my palm. “And then there’s the Stone Label afterparty. You up for it?”
“Of course I’m up for it,” I say, butterflies dancing in my stomach. This night is just getting started, and there is still so much more to come.
The lights dim, and the show starts again. After a few more awards are given out, the host announces Ethan’s performance, and all eyes go to the other stage.
He comes out with a guitar, and his handsome face just… changes as the lights come on above him and cast him in a yellow glow, leaving the band members behind him shrouded in red light.
His voice is deep and full of angst as he sings the opening lyrics. It’s like something comes over him, directing his movements for him, and his presence just sweeps the room, filling it up until none of the band members behind him matter at all, until the entire auditorium fades away, and it’s just him.
He’s not a douchebag anymore. He’s a rock god, someone you can’t tear your gaze from. Charisma emanates off of him, holding me in his spell until he reaches the end of the song.
The auditorium erupts with applause, and I realize Bia has disappeared to get ready for her performance next. Serena heads backstage to get ready to award best pop song as the applause dies down for Ethan.
A few awards later, she glides onstage and stands behind the podium, a huge smile plastered on her face. I sip my champagne, mesmerized by the way the lights glint off the enormous diamond resting in her cleavage. Maybe I need to slow down on the champagne.
A new artist, Sophie, a 16-year-old pop singer signed to Rev Records, wins the award. The young brunette bounces on stage grinning. My father didn’t win a HIT award until he was almost thirty, and he used to rant about the younger artists—how the labels exploited them and gave them manufactured pop shit to sing. How much better his metal music was.
It’s clear Sophie has no clue how lucky she is—how long other artists have to wait to win an award like this. She isn’t even self-conscious as she gives her half-forgotten speech.
Serena comes back to our table, and on the next commercial break, she gets up again, this time to leave for her performance. “You coming?”
I glance at a perplexed Kaidan, wishing I hadn’t asked to go backstage. I regret even considering stealing the diamond… There has to be another way.
But I did ask to go, and I’ll look dumb if I tell her no now. Serena tilts her head to the side, annoyed I’m keeping her waiting.
“Uh… sure,” I say. “I’m coming.”
Kaidan reluctantly lets go of my hand, and I leave my clutch with him and follow Serena and a few of the bodyguards backstage. It’s crazy back here, people milling around: half-naked dancers, cameramen, stagehands, security.
We pass by dozens of monitors, all of them trained on various areas of the auditorium. I glimpse Kaidan at our table, talking to Bia’s manager.
He’s so damn handsome. And he’s with me. I can’t help but smile as I hurry after Serena to her dressing room.
Serena falls back, waiting for me. “I just wanted to say I’m so glad Kaidan found a new girl!”
“I never liked Peyton. She was a bore. You seem like you’ll be so much more fun!”
I don’t even know what to say to that. “How so?”
“Well,” she says, dragging the word out. She touches my arm and glances around conspiratorially. “Calvin hasn’t asked me to marry him yet, but I just know it’s coming. The problem is that he
his resort vacations. And oh God, I am so tired of sitting around while he goes and plays golf. Now you and Kaidan can join us! You and me can do the fun stuff while
“Oh, yay,” I say, trying to actually sound excited about that terrible prospect.
She throws an arm around me, smiling, and squeezes me before letting go. “We’ll be like sisters!”
I let out an awkward laugh. Serena’s sudden change in behavior toward me is a little bizarre. “Only it’ll be more like mother and daughter, right?”
She stiffens and stares at me blankly. “Definitely sisters.”
“Yeah, for sure.”
She grins at me and then bounds into her dressing room.
I blow out a breath and follow. I’m pretty damn sure Calvin Stone is a perv, a guy who will trade in twenty-somethings for younger women until he dies. Is she really so naive she thinks her magical twat will be enough to keep him from replacing her when she gets older?
But maybe I’m being uncharitable. She
being nice to me, after all. Maybe Kaidan’s wrong about her.
In the dressing room, her dancers and handlers are waiting. Serena stands in front of the lighted mirrors as her make-up artist touches up her face and her dressers literally strip her naked. She’s got a body only money can buy. No one in the room cares or pays attention to her nudity—all the dancers are in various states of undress, too, as they get ready for their performance.
I stand off to the side, in the corner, next to yet another monitor and watch her get ready. What would it be like, to get up there and dance and sing in front of millions of people?
Another little bit of grudging respect for her rises up in me. Maybe she is just naive about Calvin. I mean, the whole world has convinced her of how special she is… Assuming
thinks that must be her default setting at this point.
What if I just told her about my one condition? Maybe she could help me out. Maybe I could borrow the necklace or something.
The commercial break’s over, and it’s Bia’s turn to perform. I watch it on the monitor. She’s wearing less than most people wear to the beach. ‘Lux’ is a club song, and muscular dancers gyrate around her as she hits her high notes and dances around a clear plastic pole like, well, a stripper.
“Ew, God. How much did she gain?” Serena says loudly. Everyone looks at the monitor, and she giggles as her hairdresser teases her blond tresses.
“What a fat cow!” Serena crows, and everyone else laughs along with her. “You guys know she’s lip syncing every word to that shitty song, right?” Serena rolls her eyes and pouts into the mirror, posing this way and that as her people try to get her ready.
And with that, any respect I had for her is gone. The wardrobe people finish, and Serena saunters over to me in a skintight leather-looking outfit and five-inch heels. Something’s dangling from her hand.
My eyes widen, and I lick my lips.
She leans in close. “Hay, can you be a doll and do me a favor?” she says, keeping her voice low. “Take this back out to Calvin?” Her eyes dart around the room, then meet mine. “I really don’t trust anyone else with it.”
OMG, the irony. I force a smile and let her drop the necklace into my palm. “Of course!” My voice cracks, and I clear my throat.
She raises her brows for a second, and I glance around. Everyone’s staring at me.
“Um… now? Can you take it now?” Serena says, like I’m slow.
“Of course.” I hurry out of the dressing room, heart pounding, clutching the diamond in my sweaty palm. I look back and see one of the guards following me.
I can’t believe I’m holding the diamond.
I can not believe I’m holding the diamond!
And I can’t do anything about it. Because everyone saw her give it to me. Dammit.
I walk faster and get stopped at the door by a HIT security guard. “We’ll let you out at the next commercial break,” he says.
So I stand next to the wall of monitors, awkward with my own personal guard a few feet behind me, and sneak a peek at the perfect diamond inset in the necklace. It’s enormous. Gorgeous. The key to all my problems.
And I’m helpless to use it to fix them.
I bite back a growl, dab at the sweat on my forehead, and search the monitors for the one that displays our table.
When I find it, my heart jumps into my throat.
Peyton MacKenzie is sitting in
chair, leaning close to Kaidan, whispering something in his ear.
The sight of them together hits me like a gangster with a tire iron, and my composure cracks. My eyes burn, and a lump forms in my throat. Why can’t anything just go right for once?
My pulse is a dull roar in my ears when the security guard finally lets us out. I try my best to keep my face blank, confident, not let the fury show. But I’m fucking ragey. Why won’t she leave us alone?
A little flicker of fear stirs in me. What if
the naive one? What if he
with her behind my back? Why else would she be at the table?
Peyton sees me before Kaidan does, and her eyes narrow. Kaidan turns to follow where she’s looking, and his nostrils flare. He says something to Peyton and points to her table, back toward Ender Varrone. Ender’s not even looking their way. He’s got some brunette in a short dress leaning over him, practically falling into his lap.
Peyton gets out of my chair while I’m still weaving my way around the other tables. She tosses her head and heads straight for me instead of back where she came from. She’s carrying a very full glass of some fizzy red drink, and she wavers on her feet like she’s drunk.
I stop walking and clutch the diamond tighter in my fist. My heart beats wildly. I’m not going to take her shit this time.
She stops a few inches from me and puts a hand on her hip. A little liquid sloshes over the edge of her glass at her abrupt stop, and I take a step back to avoid getting it on my dress.
“You’re embarrassing yourself,” she spits. A little blue vein pops out on her forehead.
My chest lightens. She’s a wreck. I’m in control here, not her. “No.
embarrassing yourself, coming over to our table like that. He’s with me. Get over it.”
Her eyes widen. “Seriously? He’s on the rebound. He’s not ‘with’ you.”
I think about the way Kaidan looked at me that day after lunch. The way he’s been holding my hand all night. The fact that he brought me to the awards show and not her.
She smiles, thinking my silence means she’s getting to me.