Insider, p.27

Insider, page 27

 part  #1 of  Exodus End Series

 

 



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  “I was under the impression that you didn’t like to be interviewed.”

  “Depends on who’s doing the interviewing.” The smoldering look he offered would have sent her panties flying across the room under normal circumstances, but she’d given control of her panties to Logan, and she wasn’t about to lose them so easily this time.

  She narrowed her eyes at Max. He wasn’t flirting, she realized. He was trying to redirect her questions by being distracting. And the man wrote the book on distraction. She’d have to word her questions cleverly if she wanted to milk real answers out of him.

  Her next question was supposed to be: Where do you see yourself in five years? She could only imagine how he’d twist his response to that one. But she didn’t want to lead his responses by having her questions be too precise. She wanted her questions to be open-ended. And she wanted his answers to be insightful. She just had to figure out how to keep him talking freely.

  So instead of asking Susan’s questions, Toni set the legal pad aside.

  “You come across as a man who likes to have things all planned out,” she said.

  Max stared at her discarded pad for a long moment. “I do?” he asked, still looking at the bright yellow paper.

  “Pretty much Logan’s exact opposite,” she said, grinning indulgently. “If you prefer, I’ll give you the list of questions and you can plan your answers. We can reschedule the rest of this interview for a later time.”

  Max released a sigh. “You’d do that?”

  “Why not? I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

  “I’d appreciate it,” he said, his shoulders sagging for the first time since he’d sat down beside her. She’d thought he just had really good posture.

  Max leaned forward to rise, but Toni placed a hand on his knee. “Could you help me figure out what to ask your bandmates? I’m afraid I botched my first interview pretty badly.”

  “Nah, you did fine. It isn’t you, Toni. It’s me.”

  She chuckled and pushed her glasses up her nose. “That’s what they all say.”

  He sat back against the sofa cushions, making every posture-stickler mama on Earth proud once again.

  “I’m interviewing Steve next,” she said, consulting her notepad. “Is there a reason no one calls him Stevie? He seems like a Stevie to me.”

  “You should ask him,” Max said.

  “Do you think he’ll answer questions about his ex-wife?”

  “Which one?”

  Toni shifted her gaze to his. “He has more than one?” She hadn’t run across that in any of her research. Maybe Max was messing with her. But if he wasn’t, what a scoop that would be.

  “You’ll have to ask him.”

  Oh, she definitely would. “After Steve, I’m supposed to interview Dare.”

  “Good luck with that,” Max said.

  “Please don’t tell me he’s even more tight-lipped than you are.”

  “Okay, I won’t tell you.”

  Crap. “Did you really get his girlfriend pregnant?” She wasn’t sure where that question had come from. It popped out of her mouth as if she had some sort of journalist Tourette’s syndrome.

  Max’s normally tan complexion went pale. “Who told you that?”

  “So it’s true?”

  “Has Logan been flapping his lips? I’ll beat his fucking teeth in. See how well he talks after that.” Max shot to his feet and stormed toward the door. His expression showed his anger, but it was the tangible look of loss that crumpled his strong features into a mask of desperate longing that had Toni’s heart in a vice.

  Whoa. She’d never seen the man display that much passion offstage. She hurried after him and grabbed his arm, thinking Logan looked good with teeth. She wouldn’t want him to get them beaten in just because she’d asked Max the wrong question.

  “I won’t tell anyone,” she said. “I should have never asked you that in an interview setting. I should have never asked you period.”

  Max stood with his palm flat on the door. His breathing was deep and irregular, but at least he was willing to hear her out.

  “I apologize,” she continued. “Don’t make Logan pay for my mistakes.”

  “You’re not really sorry,” he said. “You just want to save your boyfriend’s teeth.”

  “That’s not true. I am sorry. I’m sorry when anyone feels pain. And I don’t know if you loved her or only shared one night of passion, but her losing your baby, her taking her life, it had to hurt you. There’s no way such losses couldn’t have hurt.” Her heart was twisting so hard in her chest, she could scarcely breathe.

  “I did love her,” he said flatly. “And instead of breaking it off with Dare, she convinced me to keep our affair secret so she could spare his feelings. When she got pregnant, she told him I raped her.”

  “What? If she was going to lie, why didn’t she just tell Dare the baby was his?”

  “Because the two of them weren’t having sex. He thought she was a virgin and wanted her to stay that way until they got married.”

  “Did he believe that you raped her?”

  “Of course he believed her. Vic meant everything to him. They’d been dating since they were in the ninth grade. When Dare found out about us, he tried to tear me to pieces. Almost killed me. And then he quit the band. He was still going to marry her, because he thought she was the helpless victim and I was a villain. And then a couple of weeks later, Vic lost the baby. She blew her brains out on a rainy Thursday in her old bedroom at her parents’ house. In her suicide note, she told Dare the truth. After several months, Dare and I made amends as best we could, but he’s never been the same since then. We’ve never been the same. So do I hurt?” He took a deep shuddering breath. “What do you think, Miss Journalist?”

  Toni didn’t bother trying to stop the tears from streaking down her face. She pressed her forehead into the center of his broad back and slid her arms around his waist to hug him from behind. He covered her hands with his, squeezing her right with one strong hand, his wrist brace—reminder of something else he’d lost—pressing against her left.

  After a moment, he said, “You’re the first person who doesn’t think I’m a giant ass for sleeping with Vic.”

  “You’re mistaken,” she said. “You are a giant ass for sleeping with Vic. You should have waited to have sex with her until after she broke it off with Dare.”

  He released a breathy laugh. “Fair enough. Then you’re the first person who hasn’t sided with Dare.”

  “I’m not siding with either of you. This is really about me,” she said, sniffling. “I can’t stand to see anyone hurting. Please tell me that look on your face is gone.”

  “What look?”

  “The one that screamed your world had just ended.”

  He squeezed her hand even tighter. “You really are a sweetheart.”

  “Of the sappiest design, I’m afraid.”

  She released her hold on him and pulled a tissue from a box on the end table. She dabbed at her tears and blew her nose.

  She stiffened when Max tugged her against him and wrapped his arms around her back. “Is the look gone?” he asked, leaning so close she could feel his breath on her lips.

  Her heart thudded so hard against her ribs, she thought it was surely bruising itself. “If you kiss me right now, I’m going to kick you in the nuts.”

  He laughed and gave her a squeeze before releasing her. “I can’t say I’m not tempted,” he said, “but I learned my lesson about fooling around with a bandmate’s girl.”

  Toni stepped back. The man smelled like heaven, and all the heat coming off his hard-muscled body was suddenly addling her senses. Maximillian Richardson was tempted to kiss her? Seriously? He had to be messing with her.

  “Just to be clear,” he said, “you are involved with Logan, right?”

  She pressed one palm to a hot cheek. Okay, she was definitely feverish. That would explain the sudden weakness in her knees. “Right.”

 
Let me know when his boyish charm starts to get old,” he said, the intensity in his hazel gaze sending butterflies flittering through her belly. “I’ll show you how a real man treats his woman.”

  “Logan’s a real man,” she blurted.

  Max chuckled and slid the door open. “Don’t forget to give me a copy of those questions.”

  She was still gaping at his back when he shut the door behind him. It took her several moments to figure out why he wanted a copy of the questions.

  Why did these men turn her into a fricking idiot?

  Nineteen

  Logan was brought to a sudden halt by Steve’s foot in his stomach.

  “Stop pacing,” Steve said from his reclined location on the bus’s common area sofa.

  “Why did she have to shut the door?” Logan grumbled. “It’s not like we don’t already know everything there is to know about Max.” Including how he liked to steal other band members’ girlfriends and knock them up. “He better keep his hands to himself.”

  “You’re being ridiculous,” Steve said. “If she spreads her legs for him, then she’s not worth your time. Isn’t that right, Dare?”

  Dare glanced up, his attention diverted from the glow of his tablet computer’s screen. He scowled slightly as if in pain—and perhaps he was hurting since the bridge of his nose was all bruised. “Some women are worth any hardship,” he said quietly before returning his attention to his computer.

  Yeah. Exactly. And Toni was one of those rare women. But Logan much preferred not having to brave any hardship. He liked how easily they’d come together. Life was fucked up enough without having to worry about heartache. Or hardship. Or Max using his smooth moves on an innocent young woman who happened to rock Logan’s world. “He better keep his hands to himself,” Logan repeated. Then he flopped onto the sofa next to Steve’s enormous feet. Steve nudged Logan in the arm with one big toe.

  “What’s so great about her anyway?” Steve asked.

  Logan turned his head and squinted at the lounging drummer, trying to decide why Steve wanted to know. “You better keep your hands to yourself as well,” he said.

  “And whatever you do, don’t let her hug you.” Dare pointed at the bridge of his nose without looking up.

  “I apologized for that,” Logan reminded him.

  “And I’ve decided not to kill you unless you break Toni’s heart,” Dare said, his voice unsettlingly calm. “Then it’s on.”

  “And why are you so protective of her?” Steve asked Dare. “You barely know her.”

  “She reminds me of Vic,” Trey said from his seat at the dining table.

  Logan was surprised the guy could talk after all the making out he’d done with Reagan all morning. Every time Toni had entered the room, the two of them started going at it like a pair of horny toads. Logan understood the need to physically express admiration for a woman, but it seemed that those two were up to something. Reagan had insisted that Trey ride with them today. And that bodyguard of hers was nowhere to be found. Logan was pretty sure Reagan was trying to hide her weird relationship with two guys by overcompensating with the one she was willing to flaunt publicly. That had to be rough for the other guy.

  “She doesn’t look anything like Vic,” Steve said.

  Dare didn’t respond, but he’d gone very still.

  “Not the way she looks,” Trey said. “The way she is. You know what I mean, don’t you, Dare?”

  “No idea.” Dare stood from his recliner and headed toward the bathroom.

  “She’s nice,” Trey said, catching his brother’s arm as he walked past. “A real sweetheart.”

  “Sorry, I don’t see it,” Dare said. After brushing Trey’s hand off his arm, he entered the bathroom and closed the door.

  “He does see it,” Trey muttered. “That’s why he’s so broody.”

  “So Vic is . . .” Reagan prodded, shaking her head at Trey.

  “One of Dare’s many ex-girlfriends.” Trey leaned over to steal a kiss. “Why did you make Ethan ride in the van again?”

  “I think Toni suspects something.”

  “So?”

  “So, she’s a journalist. If the truth about the three of us gets out, my reputation will be destroyed.”

  “Your reputation?” Trey said. “What about my reputation? When you’re a metal guitarist, sleeping around is expected. But being gay?” He shook his head.

  “I’m trying to protect you as well.”

  “Maybe I’m tired of hiding our relationship. You know this is killing Ethan.”

  The door at the back of the bus slid open, and Reagan grabbed Trey for another round of making out. Logan hopped to his feet, examining Max for signs of seduction. His clothes were still in place, hair not mussed by exploring fingers, lips not swollen from passionate kisses. Logan released a relieved huff of air.

  “That was quick,” Steve commented. “Maybe this won’t be so bad after all.”

  “We have to reschedule a second interview later,” Max said with a mischievous grin directed toward Logan. “Toni got so hot and bothered sitting next to me that she couldn’t concentrate.”

  Logan reminded himself that Max was just fucking with him and that he shouldn’t punch him in the nose. Besides, his bandmates were now expecting him to hit them if they messed with Toni. It was unlikely he’d be able to sucker punch another one of them.

  “Well, I’d better help her with that then,” Logan said, “before we set Aimes loose on her.”

  When Logan tried to brush past Max in the corridor, Max caught him by the arm. “If you break her heart, I will fuck you up,” Max said.

  “Why does everyone keep thinking I’ll break her heart?” Logan said, punching Max in the shoulder to encourage him to release his arm.

  “The bigger question is,” Steve said, “why do you guys care so much?”

  It was unusual for his bandmates to give a shit about another guy’s romantic interest. But then, Toni was unusual. At least in their circle of acquaintances.

  Once Logan gained his freedom from Max’s loose hold, he slid open the door to the back lounge and found Toni typing furiously on her laptop.

  “Are you busy?” he asked. She was obviously busy. What he really meant was stop being busy and pay attention to me, please.

  She glanced up from her laptop screen. Her cheeks were streaked with tears, and the tip of her nose was doing its best impression of Rudolph the reindeer.

  “What’s wrong?” he asked, torn between wanting to comfort her and wanting to yell at Max for upsetting her. The need to touch her proved victorious. He sat beside her on the sofa, closed her laptop, and set it on the table.

  “Logan,” she chastised. “I was in the middle of something.”

  “Yeah,” he said. “My lap.”

  He tugged her to sit on his thighs and wrapped both arms around her. He doubted he’d ever get used to his all-encompassing need to touch her, to hear her voice, see her smile. He wasn’t the kind of guy who got wrapped up in some woman. But apparently he was the kind of guy who got wrapped up in this woman.

  “Why were you crying?” he asked, pressing a kiss to her head when she relaxed against him.

  “It’s nothing,” she said. “Just something Max said.”

  “Did he hurt your feelings again?”

  “Again?”

  “Last night,” he reminded her. “When he called you a geek.”

  “I told you that didn’t hurt my feelings.”

  Yep, that was why she’d fled the stage. No hurt feelings there. He wasn’t buying it.

  “And he didn’t call me a geek. He just didn’t deny it. But no, he didn’t hurt my feelings. He told me about Vic.”

  Logan was surprised that Max would bring up Vic in an interview. Unless . . . “Did you ask him about her?”

  “I know I shouldn’t have, but I’m naturally curious.”

  “Toni, you can’t include anything about Vic in your book. Promise me.”

  “I promise I won’t. I
didn’t ask him for the sake of the book.
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