Insider, p.26

Insider, page 26

 part  #1 of  Exodus End Series

 




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  “It was great meeting you,” Toni said. “Maybe you’d let me interview you about what it’s like to raise a child on the road with a rock band.”

  Myrna smiled. “You’ll have to read my book to find out,” she said. “I should have it finished in about eighteen years or so.”

  So that would be a no on the interview.

  Toni set her equipment down—she wasn’t getting any work done anyway—and took Myrna’s spot on the treadmill. She set a brisk walking pace. She and Birdie often took their border collie for long walks, so she was used to this level of exercise. All the strength training and weightlifting going on across the room was far beyond her current ability. But it was fun to watch in the mirror in front of her treadmill.

  A few moments later, a pair of men entered the gym. She immediately recognized the black spikey hair and tattoos of Brian “Master” Sinclair, and his laughing partner in crime was none other than Trey Mills.

  “I’m surprised he’s out of bed,” Reagan said with a self-satisfied grin.

  “Where Brian goes, he goes,” Jessica said.

  Ethan’s attention had finally shifted from Reagan, but he didn’t look pleased to see the new arrivals. Maybe he was jealous of Trey’s relationship with Reagan after all. Strange thing was, Ethan’s cold stare of animosity wasn’t aimed at Trey, the man competing for Reagan’s affection. Nope, he directed all his rancor in Brian’s direction. Toni knew there was a huge story in all this somewhere. She had to keep reminding herself that she was there to write a candid interactive book to make Exodus End look good, not stir up gossip about their newest and likely temporary bandmate.

  Trey parted ways with Brian and offered Ethan a sexy smile that probably melted the guy’s tennis shoes to the mat.

  What? If Toni had been confused by the dynamics before, she was now completely flabbergasted. She’d hung around enough gay guys to know that look. She certainly hadn’t expected to see it here.

  Trey made his way toward Reagan and climbed onto the front of her treadmill, leaning forward and offering her his sensual lips in a pucker. Toni had no idea how Reagan managed to kiss him without knocking their teeth out.

  “What are you doing out of bed?” Reagan asked after their mouths parted.

  “I was lonely.” He pouted in a way that made Toni wish she could take that loneliness away. “And Malcolm was screaming his little head off for his breakfast. Can you believe Brian wouldn’t let me give the baby a sucker to shut him up?”

  “That asshole,” Reagan said with a laugh.

  “Are you done in here?” Trey asked. “There’s a bed on the bus with your name on it.”

  “Aren’t Eric and Reb hogging the bedroom?”

  So that was where Sinners’ drummer was. All other band members were accounted for.

  “Maybe your big, tough bodyguard over there can convince the perpetual newlyweds that it’s our turn to rock the bus.”

  Reagan grinned. “I think he might be able to.” She shut off her treadmill and hopped off. “We’ll talk later, okay, Toni?”

  Toni was surprised that Reagan knew anyone but Trey existed.

  “Okay.”

  “I’ll offer you a few pointers on how to get what you want.”

  “Thanks.”

  Well, that should be some valuable information. Toni was pretty sure that Reagan Elliot was a master at getting everything she wanted out of life.

  with Maximillian Richardson

  Toni fiddled with her recording device, not because there was anything wrong with it, but because this was her first official interview with one of the band members and, frankly, she was intimidated by Max. He’d never really done anything to unsettle her per se. There was just something about him that was a little raw. A little dangerous. A lot sexually charged. She wasn’t even sure she would have recognized the feelings of unease as awareness of his masculinity if she hadn’t spent so much time in Logan’s company. But while Logan’s prowess was in your face, Max’s existed on a deeper instinctual level. It was as if her lady bits knew he’d make gorgeous, healthy babies and wanted a piece of his genetic material.

  And why was she fixated on his allure? They weren’t here to discuss how mind-bogglingly attractive he was or how he was a perfect physical specimen of a man. They were here to discuss his part in Exodus End and maybe, if he trusted her, some personal fragments of information to add to her book.

  “You look more nervous than I feel,” Max told her in his consistently subdued voice. The only time she ever saw him excited was onstage. She wondered if he was naturally quiet or if he just saved up his energy for performances. Was he this calm when off tour? She added a couple of question to her list. She didn’t have to wonder—she could ask.

  Toni glanced up from her recorder and the pages of neatly written questions on her lap to Max’s face. He was staring at her questions, trying to read them upside down. She shifted the legal pad against her chest to hide the words, and his hazel eyes lifted to meet hers. She hadn’t noticed how much green was flecked inside the light brown irises. Maybe his green Save the Wails T-shirt brought out the brighter hues in his eyes.

  “You’re nervous?” she asked.

  His laugh was soft and low-pitched. “I have no idea what you’re about to ask me.” He raked a hand through his hair, drawing her attention to his wrist brace. She had several questions about his surgery but was really wondering how it felt to watch Reagan play guitar in his place. Would he tell Toni something like that, or were those feelings too personal?

  She grinned at him. “I guess you’ll have to wait and see.”

  She switched on her digital recorder and set it on the shiny white surface of the coffee table.

  “I’m surprised Logan let you talk to me in private,” Max said, his gaze on the stack of neatly folded blankets behind her. She’d hoped he wouldn’t notice that they were sitting on her makeshift bed—the one that Logan had shared with her the night before. She flushed as she recalled all the dirty things they’d done on this very sofa. She was still tender between her legs, so all she had to do was shift slightly to be reminded of how it felt to have him deep inside her.

  “He didn’t want to leave us alone together,” she admitted. “But I reminded him that I had a job to do and that if he wouldn’t allow me to do it, then I’d have no reason to stay.”

  “So you have him figured out already,” Max said with a chuckle. “I guess he isn’t very mysterious, is he?”

  Would it be wrong to pump Max for personal information about Logan when she had no intention of including it in the book? This was supposed to be a formal interview, but how could she resist learning more about the man she loved—as a friend—from those who’d known him almost half his life? “Why do you say that?” she asked, hoping he didn’t recognize her eagerness.

  “Logan isn’t very good at hiding things, so I guess it’s only natural that he says exactly what’s on his mind and puts his true self on display. I don’t know how he gets away with it. Maybe it’s because he’s the bassist and there’s less pressure on him to maintain a certain persona.”

  “The way there’s pressure on you?”

  Max shrugged. “I guess.”

  “Who puts the most pressure on you? Your band? The fans? Your manager? The media?”

  “Myself mostly, but yeah, I feel it from every direction.”

  Toni leaned closer, interested in his unexpected response. “Why do you put pressure on yourself?”

  “If I tell you, I’m sure you’ll slant it in such a way that I end up looking bad.”

  She was surprised that his lack of trust stung her feelings. She’d come into this experience expecting the guys to be cautious around her—especially at first. She supposed Logan was to blame for her thinking she’d already gained their friendship and trust. Perhaps his throwing caution to the wind and being open and honest with her was more unusual than she’d realized.

  “I would never do that,” Toni said, touching the back of his hand
to press her point. “I’m here to write a book that shows all of you in the best possible light. My goal is to make you human, but not bad. Or scandalous. Or weak. But real.”

  “That might be even worse,” he said.

  “How so?”

  He glanced away as if searching for the right words. “When the world believes you are the persona you display to the public, that perception allows you a certain layer of protection. So you feel like the criticism and hate isn’t directed at you—not the real you—it’s directed at the man they all think you are, who isn’t really you at all. Otherwise . . .” He shook his head slightly, his hazel eyes dark with gloom.

  She’d never thought about that side of fame. Accepting criticism was hard, and feeling that someone hated you was completely demoralizing. She didn’t know if everyone took such things personally, but for Toni, negativity never just rolled off her back. It stuck deep in her heart. She fixated on it until even the smallest negativity sometimes blotted out all the good around her. So she understood why someone in the spotlight would need separation between the cruelty of the outside world and their day-to-day reality. But much of the world thought this man was the moon and stars, so that had to feel good. Didn’t it? Or did he only apply the praise to his public persona and not to the real him as well?

  “Is it the same for the adulation?” she asked. “Do you also keep that at a distance from the real you? Or do you allow that to touch you?”

  His gaze shifted back to her. “Why don’t we start on the questions you brought with you?” he said. “I didn’t intend to get this personal.”

  “I could shut off the recorder if you don’t want it on the record,” she said.

  He shook his head. “Just ask me something else.”

  But her prepared questions seemed so superficial in comparison to what they were talking about. Regardless, she forged ahead. Susan wanted certain questions answered, and Toni had a job to do. As a for-hire writer, she knew the book wasn’t truly her own, even though she would place her personal stamp all over it.

  “When did you know you wanted to be a singer?”

  Max grinned, some of the tension releasing from his broad shoulders as he answered a question he’d no doubt been asked a thousand times before.

  “I never wanted to be a singer,” he said. “I just wanted to play guitar.”

  “Oh.” Her gaze dropped to the brace on his wrist.

  “The band decided that out of all of us, my voice was the least offensive to the ear, so they made me sing.”

  Least offensive? “You have a spectacular voice,” she said, knowing she was gushing, but anyone who listened to him knew that he’d been born to sing.

  “Thank you,” he said, the fingers of his right hand toying with the brace on his left wrist.

  “Will you ever be able to play guitar again?” she asked. She could practically feel the sense of loss in him. She’d always been very sensitive to the feelings of others, so much so that her empathy was sometimes crippling. At the moment, her eyes were prickling with threatening tears, and he hadn’t even told her how he felt about losing his ability to play. She just had to look at him to know he was struggling with it.

  “I hope so,” he said. “Even if I never regain enough strength and mobility to return to the stage, I hope to at least be able to play for fun. I do miss the feel of the strings beneath my fingers.” He grinned. “I guess it’s a good thing my voice was the least offensive. If I couldn’t sing, I’d be entirely out of a job.”

  “I thought they hired you to be a singer. At breakfast yesterday they said your voice got them all laid.”

  Max laughed. “Their perception of that audition and my perception of it are a bit different.”

  “How so?” she asked, riveted by his every word and recalling that he hadn’t weighed in much on that breakfast conversation.

  “They were looking for a guitarist/potential singer. I was actually auditioning just to be their second guitarist. I only sang because it was required. Before that, Logan was singing for them.”

  “No shit!” she blurted.

  “He has a decent voice,” Max said. “It just didn’t have the unique grittiness they were looking for.”

  Toni was going to ask Logan to sing for her the next chance she got. She wondered if he’d indulge her curiosity.

  “Does it bother you that Reagan has taken over as guitarist for the tour?” Another question that was very personal. She wasn’t surprised when he paused for a long moment before answering.

  “Reagan has a bright future,” he said. “If her personal life doesn’t destroy it.”

  Now Toni was the one to pause as she contemplated his response. “Why would her personal life destroy it?” she asked when she couldn’t decide what he meant. She figured it had something to do with Trey Mills. Maybe. And her bodyguard. Likely.

  Max shook his head. “I shouldn’t have said that. I usually don’t talk this freely in interviews. Next question.”

  Toni smiled. Did that mean he trusted her? She returned to her list. Maybe he wouldn’t notice she wasn’t following her scripted questions if she pretended. She could read a few from the list and then sneak in a few of her own.

  She read the first question that Susan had insisted she ask each band member. “If you could spend a day with any musician—living or dead—who would it be and why?”

  “I spend every day with musicians, so why would I want to hang out with another one?”

  Surprised by his answer, she glanced up from her legal pad and found him grinning. “Are you teasing me, Mr. Richardson?”

  “I couldn’t help myself. I’ve been puzzling over what Logan sees in you for days. You aren’t exactly his type, you know?”

  She’d been puzzling over it as well, so Max’s criticism didn’t hurt her feelings. Much. “What’s his type?”

  “Fast and superficial.”

  Her face flamed. Well, she definitely fit in the “fast” category. She’d known Logan all of an hour before she’d succumbed to his charm and tumbled into his bed.

  “There’s an uncommon warmth about you,” Max continued.

  So he’d noticed her blush, had he?

  “A recognizable depth. Thoughtfulness. You seem to care deeply about . . .”

  She met his eyes, and his brows lifted.

  “ . . .everything?”

  “Doesn’t everyone?”

  He laughed cynically. “No, sweetheart. It’s rare in this dog-eat-dog world.” He leaned forward, his head cocked slightly as he appraised her. “So now I can’t help but puzzle over what you see in Logan.”

  Flustered by his compliment, Toni pushed her glasses up her nose.

  “He’s fun and caring and considerate,” she said.

  “Logan Schmidt is caring and considerate?” Max asked, his eyebrows arched high. “Are we talking about the same guy?”

  “He is to me. He brought me dinner last night. I didn’t even have to ask.”

  “I guess you bring that out in him.” He smiled softly. “John Lennon.”

  She blinked at him. “Huh?”

  “I’d spend a day with John Lennon.”

  “Oh!” She’d forgotten she’d asked him that question. “Why?”

  He lifted an eyebrow at her. “Because he’s fucking John Lennon. I met the rest of the Beatles at various charity events and award shows. I’d dreamed of meeting the band since childhood and, well, John was murdered before I got the privilege.”

  “You couldn’t have been very old when he died.”

  “I was in elementary school. I didn’t take the news well. I refused to get out of bed for days. My mom was so worried, she took me to a psychiatrist.” He tilted his head at Toni. “I’m not sure why I’m telling you this. I’ve never told anyone that before.”

  “Do you mind if I include it in the book?” This was exactly the kind of thing she wanted to include. Scraps of their lives that had never been shared with the world before.

  “You could leave
the part about the shrink out.” He worried his wrist brace again, avoiding her gaze.

  “I’ll leave it out,” she promised.

  She read the next question on her list. “What’s your favorite part of being a rock star?”

  “Being interviewed by pretty journalists.”

  Of all the amazing things that touched his life on a daily basis, that was his favorite? After gawking at him for a moment, Toni realized that he was teasing her. Flirting with her? She dismissed that thought as soon as it occurred. There was no way Maximillian Richardson was flirting with her. The man dated supermodels and A-list actresses.

 

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