Touch Me by Olivia Cunning

  Chapter One

  Tonight, Owen’s band, Sole Regret, would perform in San Antonio. Tomorrow night? Houston, maybe. And then New Orleans. Or was it Beaumont? Owen wasn’t sure. The tour dates were starting to run together. He just got on the tour bus after the show and went wherever it took him. At least he knew they were still in his home state of Texas. He’d seen his family in Austin the night before, so some of his homesickness had abated. He loved touring with the guys, but his family had always been a tight-knit bunch, so he missed them when they weren’t tousling his hair as if he were a four-year-old and insisting he have another biscuit with his fried chicken.

  Owen stood behind the main stage, watching the crew make last-minute adjustments to the fire fountains and spark cannons. The fans had no idea how much work went into setting up the stage so Sole Regret could play for a mere hour. No one ever cheered for the stagehands, but their crew’s hard work had paid off—the band would be live in less than five minutes. Owen appreciated all they did. He’d climbed out of bed that morning ready to hit the stage and without the crew, there wouldn’t be a stage.

  While he waited, Owen wrapped his hand around the dog tags dangling from a chain around his neck, closed his eyes, and sent a silent prayer to his older brother, Chad, currently serving in Afghanistan. Be safe. Come home soon, soldier. Be safe.

  Owen prayed the same words before every concert. His routine. As if the powers that be were more likely to hear his prayers right before he went onstage. As if the energy of Sole Regret’s fans made his pleas more noteworthy to Chad’s guardian angel. Owen imagined that particular angel wore combat boots and camouflage. And carried a big fucking gun. Chad’s angel of no mercy would keep him safe. Owen had faith.

  Someone leaned against Owen’s arm, and Owen knew it was Kelly before he even opened his eyes.

  Kelly’s mouth was set in a grim line, and his dark brown eyes held concern. If Owen hadn’t known Kelly as well as he knew himself, he’d have thought he was always serious and stern. Kelly did loosen up on occasion, but only around people he knew well.

  The leather strap supporting Kelly’s cobalt-blue Les Paul guitar cut into his bare chest when he lifted a hand to give Owen’s shoulder a comforting squeeze.

  “Heard from Chad lately?” Kelly asked.

  Owen sometimes wondered if his best friend could read his mind.

  “He’s supposed to Skype me tomorrow morning. Well, it will be night where he is.”

  “Tell him I said hey,” Kelly said.

  “Tell him yourself. I’m not your messenger boy.”

  Owen knew Chad liked to see familiar faces. Not just family or his girlfriend or all the friends who were waiting for him in Austin, but Kelly too. Chad had been a big brother to both of them, mostly knocking their heads together when they were being insufferable idiots, but he’d also stepped into a protective role more than once. Kelly had done his part to lessen the bullying Owen had endured in high school, but occasionally Chad’s older, bigger fists had been necessary to get the point across.

  Owen had plenty of friends now, but there had been a time when Kelly had been his only one. He was still Owen’s best friend. Always would be. As members of the same band, he and Kelly spent more time together than should be allowable by law. That hadn’t changed. Probably never would. But other things between them had changed in the past six months.

  An uncomfortable tension had surfaced when Owen had given Kelly a wrist cuff for Christmas to remind him of Sara. Owen and Kelly had had a lot more fun before Owen had made Kelly’s grief even more pronounced. Smooth move, Owen. Fucked that one up majorly, you did. He kicked himself on a daily basis for that overly thoughtful gift. Should have bought the guy a shirt instead, since Kelly didn’t seem to own one. Owen had taken to plotting to steal the damned cuff in the middle of the night and setting it ablaze. Unfortunately, Kelly was a light sleeper.

  “Are you ready for tonight’s excursion?” Owen asked, shifting his hand from the dog tags to rest it on the solid gray body of his favorite bass guitar.

  “I guess so. I can’t believe the rest of the guys bailed on us.” Kelly glanced at the other three members of the band and shook his head at their disgrace. “What about our pact?”

  Yeah, what about their pact? They were supposed to keep each other from getting entangled in serious romantic relationships while on tour, but the guys were falling like dominoes. Kelly didn’t have to worry about Owen falling into the same trap, however. Owen had no interest in romantic relationships. He was having far too much fun being wealthy and single. He highly recommended it.

  “They must be getting old,” Owen said with a grin. “Don’t ever get old on me, Kelly.”

  “I don’t have time to get old.”

  “We could invite Tex and Jack to come with us.” Owen was sure the roadies would be up for a little late-night entertainment. The sex club they were going to was exclusive—invitation only. Owen couldn’t believe there was a man alive who would turn down the opportunity to get inside. And Gabe, Shade, and Adam had all turned up their noses, as if guaranteed sex with a stranger wasn’t good enough for them anymore. It had been good enough for them a week ago. It was still good enough for Owen.

  “Nah, the crew has work to do. Tonight it’s me and you, bro.” Kelly lifted a fist, and Owen fist-bumped him.

  “And don’t forget the ladies,” Owen said with a smirk. “They’re the best part. You are going to actually do something with them tonight, aren’t you?”

  Kelly shrugged. “If I feel like it.”

  “I think you’re getting old too.”

  Kelly’s eyes dropped to the cuff on his wrist, and he traced it with one finger. “Maybe.”

  Whoever came up with that “it’s better to have loved and lost” saying was the biggest fucking dolt who’d ever initiated a cliché. Kelly had loved and lost, and the loss had all but destroyed him. Owen wasn’t sure if he would ever be the same. Kelly would’ve been better off if he’d never met Sara. The year he’d dated her, he’d all but disappeared from Owen’s life. He’d been so wrapped up in the woman, it had been hard to distinguish them as separate entities. And when she’d died, she’d taken his heart with her. Five years later, Kelly still hadn’t recovered the battered organ from Sara’s clutches.

  Owen had suffered his share of heartache, but nothing in comparison to Kelly. Where Owen had lost love in quantity—an embarrassing amount of quantity—Kelly had lost in quality. Owen had long since concluded that romance was for suckers. There would be no more heartache in his future. He was through with trying to find someone to love him for who he was, not what he’d become. If a guy was burned enough times, he eventually learned to stop putting his hand in the fire.

  “I could sample a few choice pies for you and let you know which tastes best,” Owen offered, only half joking. He enjoyed pleasuring a woman with his mouth, and he knew how much Kelly got off on the act. Or he had. Until last Christmas.

  Fuck. Owen vowed to never give anyone a thoughtful gift ever again. It would be tube socks and neckties all around this year.

  One corner of Kelly’s mouth rose. “I’m not sure we have the same discriminating palate, dude.”

  “If you need me to—” Owen glanced pointedly at Kelly’s crotch. Owen longed for the days when they’d pleasured women together. Especially the part when they’d given each other amazing hand jobs. But ever since Owen had given Kelly that cuff, Kelly had remained distant. He no longer helped Owen entertain women, and he wouldn’t touch him anymore. At all. The truly confusing part of this shift in their relationship was that Owen couldn’t stop thinking about his best friend’s hand. Before Kelly had backed away, their brief sexual contact hadn’t meant anythin
g to Owen. He hadn’t even considered it sexual contact. It wasn’t as if he was attracted to Kelly or anything. He just liked the way Kelly tugged his cock just right. But now that they no longer touched each other—at Kelly’s insistence—Owen couldn’t get the feel of the man’s perfect grip out of his head.

  Owen absently stroked the thick strings of his bass guitar. Those orgasms couldn’t have been as great as Owen’s memory served. His mind had a way of making the things he couldn’t have seem so much better than they actually were. He knew how his head worked, but the truth didn’t stop him from fixating on something best left in the past. He had to get over his bizarre obsession. Kelly certainly had. Whenever Owen brought up their brief brushes with intimacy, Kelly looked uncomfortable and hedged his way out of the conversation. But maybe if they had just one more go at it, Owen could move on. He could stop thinking about how much fun they had pleasing a woman in tandem and how those interludes had culminated.

  Kelly had turned off like a light switch six months before and hadn’t turned back on since. Owen glanced at him again. It wasn’t healthy for a man to be so, well… celibate.

  “I told you we aren’t doing that anymore,” Kelly said.

  “Oh, I know. It’s not like it’s a big deal. You just look a little tense.” If an over-tightened guitar string was considered a little tense.

  “I am tense, but I’ll take care of it. Unlike you, I don’t need a different girl every other night to get off.”

  Of course. Why would Kelly seek the company of a woman when he had a perfectly good hand at his disposal? If Owen had that particular hand at his disposal, he might not be so anxious to hook up with some stranger either.

  Memories of Sara had done this to Kelly; Owen just didn’t understand why his friend was faithful to a dead girl. After Sara had passed, it had taken Kelly a couple of years to even touch another woman. Then he’d progressed to eating them out as long as they were restrained and Owen had been there with him. Now Kelly wouldn’t do anything sexual with anyone, no matter how many times Owen agreed to give him a hand or any other body part he wanted to utilize.

  When Owen had given Kelly the cuff, he’d hoped it would be another step forward. He’d wanted the bracelet to remind Kelly of how stupid he was being—that no matter how much he wanted Sara back, it was impossible. She was gone. But the constant reminder of her on Kelly’s wrist had only managed to solidify his dedication to abstinence. He hadn’t merely taken a step back; he’d fallen off the ladder. Sure, Kelly went to Tony’s sex clubs with the rest of them, but he never did anything. Comparatively speaking.

  “Don’t you think it’s time to take off that cuff?”

  “Not yet,” Kelly said. “But I am a little horny.”

  “A little? Dude, your balls are so blue, you should start your own Blue Man Group.”

  Kelly laughed. “And you know that how?”

  “Gabe was checking you out in the shower. He told me you’re suffering from a colorful condition.”

  Owen had noticed their drummer standing in the shadows—you couldn’t miss that eight-inch-high, red and black mohawk of his—but didn’t know if Gabe was listening in or not. Hard to tell with Gabe—the dude was often lost in thought. A person could carry on an entire one-sided conversation with him, and he didn’t hear a word. He was, however, paying attention tonight.

  “They were a little blue,” Gabe said. “I don’t think they’re quite up to Blue Man standards. Better luck next time, Kellen.”

  “Hopes, dreams, and aspirations dashed again,” Kelly said. “One day they’ll be blue enough, you wait and see.”

  Gabe chuckled and shook his head.

  “Hey,” Owen said, grabbing Kelly’s arm and leaning close, trying to look earnest, “you’re not allowed to leave the band for the Vegas spotlight. I don’t care how blue they get.”

  “I thought you, of all people, would be supportive of my desire to attain permanent blue balls. Surely you recognize my need to find others of my kind.” Kelly said this with such conviction that anyone who didn’t know him would have thought he was serious and offered him a cash donation for his cause.

  Owen tried to keep a straight face, but snorted as a laugh escaped him.

  “God, will you two knock it off?” Adam said. His ever-expanding collection of chains rattled in the semi-darkness to Owen’s left. “You act like a couple of prepubescent boys when you’re together. If I wanted kids, I wouldn’t have made an appointment to get a vasectomy.”

  “As much as I joke about my balls,” Kelly said, “I’d never let anyone come at ’em with a scalpel. Ever.”

  “And that’s why you’ll end up paying child support someday.” Adam crossed his arms to rest on the body of his guitar and lifted a dark eyebrow at Kelly. “Some gold-digger will poke pinholes in your condoms and whoops, there’s a two-million-dollar mistake.”

  “Does your girlfriend know you’re getting snipped?” Owen asked. “She seems like the type who’d want kids.”

  “That’s why I’m getting them snipped.”

  “You don’t trust her?”

  “Of course I trust her. I just lose my head around her. She’d say the word and I’d be doing my damnedest to knock her up. I don’t have any business fathering a child. Look at the example I had to follow.”

  Adam’s father was the poster child for bad parenting, but that didn’t mean Adam would follow in the old man’s footsteps. Still, Owen understood his hesitation over kids. Just the thought of having a kid made him break out in hives. He might consider it in twenty or thirty years. Or never.

  “Kelly’s not getting any, so he doesn’t have to worry about it.” Owen said. “But I strictly adhere to the BYOC rule. No kids for me.”

  “With that monstrosity in your junk, you probably poke holes in your own condoms by accident,” Adam said.

  Another reason Owen always brought his own; certain brands were more durable than others. A man had to be careful to use the right protection if he had adornments in certain body parts.

  “You guys don’t know what you’re missing,” Shade said. “Kids are awesome.” The band’s lead singer had sported a stupid grin of one degree or another all day. Sure, Shade smiled now, but if his ex-wife ever found out why he looked like he’d been huffing nitrous oxide, he wouldn’t be smiling then. Tina would rip his lips right off his face. His ex wouldn’t take kindly to Shade dating her sister. Tina hated Shade’s fucking guts and wanted him miserable for all eternity. So far, fate had been working in her favor.

  “Not all kids are awesome,” Adam said. “Some are the spawn of Satan. But yeah, Jules is pretty awesome. Even if she is related to you.”

  Shade laughed and punched Adam in the arm.

  Owen exchanged glances with Kelly. They both stiffened in preparation for an inevitable fight—Shade and Adam had gotten into one in the limo after their last concert—but it seemed the two over-inflated egos really were just goofing off and no one was at risk for an ER visit. Good thing. Adam would have been pissed if he’d had to room with his father. Apparently, his dear old dad had gotten his hands on bad drugs and landed himself in the emergency room the night before. Owen had been surprised that Adam had even taken him to the hospital. Adam resented the old man, whether they shared DNA or not. Owen couldn’t quite wrap his head around the idea of hating one’s own father, no matter what he’d done. Owen would be devastated if anything happened to any member of his family—including any of his seventy-one third cousins.

  “Have you heard from your dad?” Owen asked Adam.

  “Yeah. He bitched me out on the phone less than an hour ago.”

  “Still in the hospital?”

  Adam nodded. “And apparently they don’t subscribe to his favorite TV channel.”

  “Well, fuck, Adam, you don’t expect him to watch the Disney Channel, do you?” Owen said.

  “That’s the channel he was bitching about. Can’t miss Hannah Montana.”

  Owen jerked back in surprise. “No shit?

  “Shit no,” Adam said. “I swear, Owen Mitchell is a synonym for gullible.”

  “Adam Taylor is a synonym for asshole,” Owen countered.

  “Gabriel Banner is a synonym for let’s get the fuck on the stage,” Gabe said. “Isn’t it already after nine?”

  Owen turned to watch the crew standing around a bank of amplifiers on the stage. The head of their road crew, Jack, was squeezed behind the sound equipment, wiggling wires and garbling swear words around the penlight he held between his teeth. Owen moved closer and waved down one of the onlookers.

  “What’s the hold-up?” he asked.

  “One of the new guys caught a cord with his foot and loosened some cables. Jack is fixing it.”

  “And he needs an audience? None of you has anything better to do five minutes after the show was supposed to start?”

  The group scattered. In his earpiece, Owen heard Cash, their soundboard operator, say, “That’s got it, Jack. Owen, we’re ready when you are.”

  Owen was always ready to be on stage. He loved that he got to start every show—a few precious seconds to have twelve thousand screaming fans all to himself. Not many bassists got to stand in the limelight.

  He gave the rest of the band the thumbs-up to let them know he was starting and took the steps up to the edge of the stage. In the near darkness, Gabe hurried to settle behind his massive drum kit, careful not to make a sound by bumping a cymbal with those long limbs of his. As soon as he collected his sticks, Owen began his bass riff. The crowd roared and whistled as the first sound thrummed. The curtain dropped and a blinding white light lit Owen from above as he sauntered across the stage playing the repetitive bass line of “Darker.” He gave no indication that a surge of adrenaline had his heart galloping a mile a minute as he slowly made his way toward center stage. Owen lived for this shit. He couldn’t believe this was his job. For the rest of his life, Owen would worship at the altar of rock god Kellen Jamison for sending him down the path of wickedness. Kelly had been the one who’d forced Owen to learn to play guitar in an effort to get him laid in high school. It hadn’t worked then—chubby bassists didn’t get the girls—but it worked like a charm now.

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