Bad Habits (Nashville Outlaws #1), page 1
Book One in the Nashville Outlaws Series
Knox & Cece
About the Author
Other Books by Cheryl Douglas
Copyright © by Cheryl Douglas
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Bad Habits © 2019 Cheryl Douglas
“Uh oh.” I knew that look. My back-up singer was spittin’ fire from those pretty emerald greens. That could only mean one thing. Her ex was hassling her. “He givin’ you grief again?” I asked, side-eyeing her while I tuned my classic Gibson.
“Why won’t he take the hint?” She threw her hands up in the air, stomping around the stage in her custom cowboy boots like she wished his head was under the heel of those cute little shit kickers. “I’ve told him a thousand times, I’m not takin’ him back!”
I knew I should fire his ass, but he was a damn good sound technician and those weren’t easy to find. Personally, I hated him. Professionally, I respected his skill and work ethic. But if he didn’t quit pissing my girl off he and I were gonna have a problem.
“You want me to talk to him?” We’d been on the road together almost five years. She was one of my original crew and there was nothing I wouldn’t do for her. She was like family.
“It wouldn’t do any good.” She growled while fisting her ginger corkscrew curls.
Cece had the craziest, and best hair, in our business. I loved it.
“It might,” I said, grinning. “I still have a little pull around here.” I was a control freak and while I had a solid team backing me, I ran the show. Couldn’t have it any other way.
She covered her face with her hands and tipped her head back.
She was wearing short denim shorts and a white cotton t-shirt tied just under her boobs. Her body was ridiculous. Not that I noticed. Much. Sometimes it was hard to ignore. Like now. Friends, just friends. That was my mantra whenever I had to tame the beast.
There’d been a few drunken kisses with Cece. Even got her off in my dressing room once, but our friendship was too important to jeopardize for a one-night stand. Besides, she’d been dating the sound tool for the past two years so she’d been off limits.
“I just wanna get on with my life, which is damn hard to do with him sniffin’ around all the time.” Cece was a fiery southern girl with a temper to match that hair. When she got going, look out.
“Get on with your life, huh?” I knew what that meant. “You got your eye on somebody new, Cec?”
She tipped her head from side to side as the color rose in her cheeks. She looked so damn cute when she was being called out. “I might.”
I rolled my tongue in my cheek. “Oh yeah? Who is it?”
She stepped closer, obviously willing to share her secret. “Swear you won’t breathe a word?”
I crossed my chest. She knew I’d take her secrets to the grave. “Now who is it?”
A surge I couldn’t decipher nearly knocked me on my ass when I heard her whisper the name of my opening act. The kid was good. Damn good. And the girls had been lining up for selfies and autographs with him at every stop. I told myself I didn’t want to see Cece take another hard fall, but when I thought of them together… I didn’t like it. At all.
“We kind of…” That tell-tale blush stained her cheeks again and that uneasy feeling spread through my chest. “Hooked up in Austin.”
We’d been in Austin three days ago. I’d asked her to go out for a bite to eat with us after the show but she’d blown me off. Now I knew why.
I swallowed the lump of… irritation… in my throat and asked, “Leo knows? That’s why he’s hasslin’ you?” It’s not like there were any rules against my crew dating. I normally didn’t give a shit what they did during their down time, but this pissed me off for reasons I couldn’t understand.
Cece was one of my best friends. Sure, there’d been a time we considered a friends-with-benefits arrangement, but that had been for, like, a minute, before we decided it could get too complicated.
“He suspects,” she said, rolling her eyes as she crossed her arms. “But he can’t prove anything. I know Auden wouldn’t say anything and I sure as hell haven’t.” She gestured to me. “Well, except to you.” Uncertainty creased her face. “Do you think I’m crazy for crushin’ on him? Tell the truth.”
She was crushing on him? The uneasy feeling in my chest spread like wildfire. Cece had been known to enjoy a one-night stand or two when she was between boyfriends, but she was telling me this hook-up was more than that.
“Uh, I don’t know. Don’t know the guy that well.” He was a talented musician. I wouldn’t have chosen him to open for me if he wasn’t, but if Cece was looking for a ringing endorsement she’d have to look elsewhere because she wasn’t getting it from me.
“I don’t know.” She pinched her full lips together. “Guys like that make me nervous.”
“Nervous how?” If he was making her uncomfortable I wouldn’t hesitate to cut him loose. I could find another opening act but there was only one Cece.
“I don’t know.”
She shook her hands out, making me smile. It was a nervous habit she had when she was stressed. Shaking her hands out. She was too adorable.
“Yeah, you do.” We told each other everything and if I got the feeling she was holding out on me it would piss me off even more. “Now tell me.”
“Ugh!” She spun in a circle, tilting her head back. “He’s the kind of guy who makes a girl want things she has no business wanting, Knox! Is that clear enough for you?”
Crystal. The only thing murky was the way I was feeling about her little announcement. “What kind of things?”
She grinned, flashing the cutest set of dimples on the planet. “We’re goin’ at it and I imagine what our babies would look like.” She stuck her tongue out. “Happy now?”
Happy? No, stunned speechless was more like it. Cece and babies? WTF? “Since when do you wanna have babies?” Life on the road made a traditional home life rough, but Cece and I had always been on the same page about that. No marriage or babies for us.
She wrinkled her upturned little nose. “I don’t know.” She stuck her hands in the back pockets of her shorts, thrusting her full breasts out. “You know how it is. A girl turns thirty and thinks maybe she’s been a little hasty, writing off the whole marriage and baby fairy tale.”
I didn’t let m
She pulled her lush bottom lip between a row of straight white teeth and even though I promised myself I wouldn’t stare, I was doing just that.
“But that may have had something to do with Leo. I knew he didn’t want to be tied down, and it didn’t bother me when I was with him.” She laughed. “Honestly, I had no desire to be locked down with him. But someone like Auden?” Her smile was naughty, her eyes gleaming. “That could be a whole ‘nother story.”
I stood, setting my guitar on the stand beside me as I tried to rein in my temper. Cece wasn’t an impulsive girl. She didn’t fall hard and fast. She was slow and methodical. She eased into relationships and was slow to bail, even when things turned south, so none of this made sense to me.
“Aren’t you getting ahead of yourself? You barely know the guy, right?”
He’d been on the road with us three months, but I hadn’t seen them hanging out. Leo admitted to cheating on her six months ago, so unless Auden was her rebound guy… which actually made me feel a hell of a lot better. He was the one who stroked her bruised ego when Leo the dumbass cheated on her. Stroked her ego and a hell of a lot more, apparently, which set my teeth on edge all over again.
“I know enough.” She grinned, leaning in. “Like, he’s the best I’ve ever had, Knox. Seriously.”
I shouldn’t be offended. We hadn’t messed around in a few years. We’d never slept together, but really, just thinking about her bangin’ this dude was doing a number on me. “T.M.I.”
She frowned. “What the hell? I thought we tell each other everything.”
She wasn’t lying. We teased each other about sex all the time and I’d never shut her down before. Why now? Why this guy? Maybe because I knew she’d never been serious about the others. Not even Leo the loser. But this dude? If she could say his name in the same breath as babies he was definitely on a whole different playing field. And that made me nervous.
Auden was on his way up. Anyone could see that. He’d be an opening act in no time. If he and Cece were a couple, would she want to sing back-up for him instead? Well, duh. Of course she’d want to be on the road with her boyfriend. Maybe that was my problem. I was afraid of losing her to him. As a singer, just as a singer.
She stepped closer, tapping her index finger against my temple. “What gives, Rhodes? You’ve gotten all quiet and broody. That usually means you’re pissed off about something.”
This girl knew me too well.
I tugged on a lock of her hair, smirking when it bounced back. “Maybe I don’t want some smooth talkin’ kid tryin’ to lure you away from me. Ever think of that?” Auden was only seven years younger than me. Three years younger than Cece. Too damn young to think about forever, no matter how hot the girl was.
“You really think anyone could lure me away from you, dumbass?” She gave me a quick hug and I wanted to close my arms around her, to make it last. I wanted to hear a promise that she’d never leave, no matter how good the offer.
But I knew that was a promise she couldn’t make. She couldn’t see into the future. Neither could I. There might come a day when someone swept her off her feet and made her want all the things she’d once said she never would. Like marriage and babies.
“Why do you look so sad?” she asked, tipping her head as she looked me in the eye.
I brushed my fingers across her cheek. Her skin was like velvet. All over. That night when she’d been straddling me in my dressing room, my hands drifting up her toned thighs as I kissed her, raced through my head. I should not be thinking about this shit now! Especially not when she just told me she’s got a thing for someone else. Someone I have to work with, and pretend to like, no less.
“I’m not sad, baby.”
I brought her in for a hug just like I’d done a thousand times before but when she laid her head on my chest this time it felt different. Something shifted and I wasn’t thinking about showing affection for one of my best friends anymore. I was thinking about what it would take to make her forget my opening act. And that was a problem. A big freakin’ problem. Because I had a reputation as a man-whore, and no one knew that better than Cece.
I felt like the luckiest bitch in the world to be touring the country with my very best friends. Not only Knox, but the guys in his band, and my two co-singers, Christine and Gina, were like family. Our road crew and Knox’s management team were like extended family. Except for my lying, cheating scum-sucking ex. He was like the creepy cousin no one wanted to talk to.
He’d become the piranha of our group ever since he cheated on me and I sure as shit wasn’t gonna feel bad about that. Far as I was concerned the bastard deserved everything he got and then some. It’s not that I thought he was my soul mate or anything, but still, a little respect would have been nice.
Doing the nasty with a fan he’d invited backstage, in Knox’s dressing room, no less. And Knox had been the one to find them, and tell me… yeah, just about the most humiliating moment of my life. Not that the embarrassment lasted long. It was quickly replaced by the urge to squeeze his balls in a vice until he cried like a little girl.
“Hey, girl.” Gina hip-bumped me. “Love those jeans. Where’d you get ‘em?”
I checked out my butt in the full-length mirror. Not bad. I had a round booty and well it may be fashionable now, I still wasn’t a fan. “Thanks. Got them online. They had other colors if you want me to send you the link.”
She gave me the once-over. “Did they only come in petite?”
I forgot not everyone was barely over five feet, like me. “Yeah, sorry. Guess that wouldn’t work.” My friend had six inches on me, which she loved to tease me about.
“Uh no.” She sat down at one of three vanity tables in the dressing room we shared for the night. “So, you and Auden? What’s the deal?”
Auden and I agreed to keep that between the two of us. But I couldn’t help telling Knox. He was the guy who knew all my dirty little secrets. And he still loved me. That’s the way it was between us. Unconditional love and support, and I’d never had another relationship like it, with a male or female.
To the rest of the world Knox was the guy who dominated the charts, sold out concerts in record time and absconded with all of the gold at every award show. He was also the hard drinking, skirt chasing good time who left a trail of broken hearts in every city. But that was only part of the picture. I knew his heart. His love for his family. His commitment to his friends. How much he gave to causes he believed in. My friend was messy and complicated, but I loved him fiercely.
“I like Auden.” He was the first guy I’d been crushing on in a hell of a long time. It wasn’t like that with Leo. He pursued me relentlessly until he finally wore me down. No butterflies or giddiness with him. Just the quiet resignation that it was worth a try.
Gina snorted as she applied mascara to her long lashes. “Who doesn’t? Hell, he could give our boy Knox a run for his money.”
I had drawn some similarities between the two men but I didn’t know Auden well enough to know if he was in Knox’s league as a human being. Few were, in my experience.
“He’s a great musician,” I conceded, fluffing my hair in the mirror. Some days I’d give anything for sleek straight hair like Gina, but like my mama always said, I had to be happy with what God gave me.
“I’m not talking about that and you know it.” She winked at me in the mirror. “Come on now. I’ve seen the way he looks at you.”
She narrowed her eyes, like she was trying to make sense of me. “Who the hell do you think? Auden!”
Of course she was talking about Auden. Knox didn’t look at me, or any other woman, that way. He didn’t have to. Women chased him. Not the other way around. Besides, he and I had firmly friend-zoned each other years ago. An arrangement that worked well for us. Most days. There was the occasional pause, like this afternoon, when things got a little weird. Something that felt a hell of a lot like sexual tension passed between us and made me wonder if I was crazy or imagining things.
Gina spun on her stool to face me. “What’s goin’ on with you, girl? You’re not yourself tonight.”
I was usually good at keeping my crazy under wraps, but sometimes my racing thoughts spilled out. That’s when things got messy. I’d always been one to analyze things to death. Made pros and cons lists for everything. So naturally a fling, or more, with a guy I had to see every night for the next three months would warrant a meltdown.
I wasn’t sure where things stood with Auden after our night together. We’d barely seen each other. But when our paths did cross he was flirtatious, like he was still interested and had no regrets. But that didn’t mean he was interested in a repeat either, and I couldn’t straight out ask the man.
“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “Maybe it’s the fact that we’re passin’ through my hometown in a couple of days. Means I’ll have to stop by and see the folks.” That always stressed me out. My parents were good people who loved each other and their kids, but the way they bickered back and forth over every little thing gave me a headache. Reminded me why I’d left their house at nineteen and moved to Nashville to pursue my dreams of becoming a singer.
CHERYL DOUGLAS SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Bad Habits (Nashville Outlaws #1)Payback (Summer Rush #6)Game Over (On the Wild Side #1)Dirty Mind (Nashville Outlaws #2)RuthlessStrike OutHit and Run (Summer Rush #2)Coming Home (Vista Falls #4)
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