by Olivia Cunning
A stack of handouts tumbled from Myrna’s laptop case to the floral-patterned carpet. Un-freakin-believable. She’d forgotten to zip the compartment in her haste to flee the seminar room. With a loud sigh, she bent to gather the scattered papers. Could this day suck a little more, please?
A chorus of “chug, chug, chug, chug,” followed by enthusiastic cheers came from across the lobby near the elevators. Well, someone was having a good time tonight. It certainly wasn’t her.
She crammed the papers inside her bag and jerked the zipper closed, before continuing through the overdone hotel lobby on her way to her sixth-floor room. A long, hot bath sounded like heaven. How had she let her associate dean talk her into presenting at this stupid conference in the first place? What a total waste of time. The other professors in her field wouldn’t know an innovative idea if it stood on its head and sang The Star Spangled Banner. And why did she care what her colleagues thought of her methods anyway? Students loved her classes. They were always full. She had waiting lists for—
Steps echoed hers. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. She paused—her heart racing, palms damp.
Whoever followed stopped several steps behind her. She could hear him breathing.
No. It couldn’t be her ex-husband. He didn’t know how to find her. Right? Tell that to the cold sweat trickling between her breasts.
She clutched the handle of her laptop case, prepared to clobber whoever was dumb enough to sneak up on her.
“You gave a great seminar, Dr. Evans,” an unfamiliar voice said to her back.
Not Jeremy. Thank God. She took a deep, shaky breath and glanced over her shoulder.
A lanky, fortyish man extended his hand in her direction. “Who would ever think to use guitar riffs in discussions of human psychology? Not me. I mean, I’m sold on the method. I’m just not sure I can pull it off with your level of, uh…” He cleared his throat “…enthusiasm.” He grinned, gaze dropping to the neckline of her tailored, gray suit.
Her heart still hammering in her chest, Myrna suppressed the urge to throttle him and extended her free hand to accept his handshake. “Thank you, Mister uh…”
When his fingers wrapped around hers, his smile spread ear-to-ear. “Doctor. Doctor Frank Elroy from Stanford. Abnormal Psych. Head of the department, actually.”
Ah, Doctor Ass. Doctor Pompous Ass. I’ve met you before. Thousands of times.
She nodded and plastered a weary smile to her face. “Nice to meet you, Doctor Elroy.”
“Say, would you like to have a drink with me?” He nodded toward the cocktail lounge to her left, his thumb stroking the back of her hand.
Myrna cringed inwardly while maintaining her smile. This guy was the antithesis of her type. Boring. No, thanks. Her present aversion to boring existed at a visceral level. “I’m sorry, but I’ll have to pass. I was heading up to my room to crash. Maybe some other time.”
He deflated like a punctured balloon. “Sure. I understand. You must be exhausted after that lively…” He grinned again. “…discussion.”
Discussion? Had he been there? Bloodbath seemed a more fitting description and she felt particularly anemic at the moment.
“Yeah,” she muttered, eyes narrowing. She yanked her hand from his, spun on her heel, and continued toward the elevator, walking around the edge of the hotel’s bar and skirting several bushy, potted plants.
A loud round of laughter drew her attention to the cocktail lounge. Four men sat in a semi-circular booth, laughing at a fifth man who was lying on his back in the center of their table. The table, covered with glasses containing various amounts of amber liquid, tilted precariously under the man’s weight as he leaned to one side. His companions scrambled to rescue their beers from certain demise.
“Tell the room to stop spinning,” the lounging man shouted at the knock-off Tiffany lamp above the table.
“No more beer for you, Brian,” one of his friends said.
Brian held up a finger. “One more.” He lifted another finger, “or two,” another finger, “mmmmmaybe four.”
Myrna grinned. The five of them didn’t exactly “blend” with the conference attendees, mostly professors, scattered throughout the lounge and lobby. The unconventional crew in the booth drew more than their fair share of animosity and stares. Was it the tattoos? The various piercings and spiked jewelry? The dyed hair, strange haircuts and black clothing? Whatever. They were just guys being guys. And not a boring one in the bunch, she’d wager.
Myrna took a hesitant step toward the elevator. She’d love to go hang out with them for a while. She could use a little fun—something other than stimulating conversation with an intellectual. She got enough of that at work.
Brian, still lounging in the center of the table, vocalized a riff, while playing masterful air guitar on his back. Myrna recognized the series of notes at once. She used it in her class discussion on male sensuality, because no one on earth played a guitar more sensually than Master Sinclair. Hold the phone? Could that be…? Nah, what would the rock group Sinners be doing at a college teaching conference? They were probably just fans of the band, though the name Brian made her lead guitarist senses tingle. Wasn’t Sinners’ lead guitarist named Brian Sinclair?
One of the men seated in the booth turned his head to scratch his chin with his shoulder. Despite his mirrored sunglasses, she instantly recognized vocalist, Sedric Lionheart. Her heart rate kicked up a couple notches. It was Sinners.
“I am so fucking drunk!” Brian yelled. He rolled off the table, knocking over several empty beer glasses, and landed on the laps of two of his companions. They dumped him unceremoniously on the floor.
Myrna snorted and then glanced around to make sure no one had witnessed her produce such an unladylike sound. She had to go talk to them. She could pretend she wanted to meet them because of her seminar. In truth, she loved their music. They weren’t too hard on the eyes either. The definition of exactly her type. Wild. Yes, please. Guaranteed to give her exactly what she needed after the day she’d had.
Abandoning her plan to hide in her room, Myrna skirted the low wall that separated the lounge area from the corridor. She paused in front of Brian, who was struggling to crawl to his hands and knees. She set her lumpy laptop case on the floor and bent to help him to his feet. The instant she touched his arm, her heart skipped a beat and then began to race.
Animal magnetism. He had it. Hello, Mr. Welcome Diversion.
His gaze drifted up her legs and body, his face slowly tilting into view. He had features a sculptor would love: strong jaw, pointed chin, high cheekbones. Would it be presumptuous of her to examine the contours of his face with her fingertips? Her lips? She forced her attention to her hand, which gripped his well-muscled upper arm.
“Be careful with this arm,” she said. “So few guitarists have your skill.”
He used her support to stagger to his feet. When he stumbled against her, she caught his scent and inhaled deeply, her eyes drifting closed. Primal desire bombarded her senses. Did she just growl aloud?
His strong hands gripped her shoulders as he steadied himself. Every nerve ending in her body shifted into high alert. She couldn’t remember that last time she’d been instantaneously attracted to a man.
Brian released her and leaned against the back of the booth for support. He blinked hard, as if trying to focus his intense, brown eyes on her face. “You know who I am?” he asked, his voice slurred.
She smiled and nodded eagerly. “Who doesn’t?”
He waved a hand around theatrically, which set him even further off balance. “Every stuffed-shirt geek in the whole damned place, that’s who.”
He snarled at a gray-haired woman in a heavy cardigan who sat openly gaping at him. The woman gasped and turned her attention to her ocean blue cocktail, slurping the blended beverage through a tiny, red straw as nonchalantly as possible.
“Brian, don’t start shit,” Sed, the group’s lead singer, said.
The acidic look Brian shot at Sed could peel paint. “What? I’m not starting anything. These people all have fuck-king staring problems!”
True. They were staring. Most of them at Myrna now. Probably wondering how to best rescue her from enemy territory.
“Do you mind if I sit with you for a while?” Myrna asked, hoping to become less noticeable by sitting. She tucked the lock of hair that had escaped her hairclip behind her ear and smiled at Brian hopefully. He stroked his eyebrow with his index finger as he contemplated her request. She knew what he must have been thinking. Why would a stuffy-looking chick in a business suit request to sit with five rock stars?
Sed scooted over in the semi-circular booth and patted the empty expanse of forest green vinyl beside him. She tugged her gaze from Brian to look at Sed. Sed’s boy-next-door good looks contrasted his bad-boy, womanizing reputation. She didn’t follow the personal lives of the bands she admired, but even she knew Sed’s rep. His smile, complete with dimples, could ice a cake, which was likely why he covered it so rapidly with a scowl. A quick veil of indifference returned his cool status. Those darling dimples didn’t quite fit his image.
Myrna slid into the booth beside Sed, wiping her sweaty palms on her skirt as she settled beside him. Okay, I’m in. Now what?
“Are you some kind of business woman or something?” Sed leaned back to examine her professional attire.
Myrna didn’t mind his twice over. “Or something. Actually, I’m a stuffed-shirt geek. A college professor here at the conference.”
“No, shit?” She recognized the speaker, who sat across from her, as Eric Sticks, the band’s drummer. “If I’d have known college professors were hot, I might have considered an education.”
Myrna laughed. She glanced up at Brian who still leaned against the booth next to Eric’s right shoulder. Her heart gave a painful throb. God, he was gorgeous. “Would you like to sit down, Brian?”
Myrna scooted closer to Sed, her knee settling against his beneath the table. Brian collapsed on the seat beside her, lodging her between two of the sexiest and most talented musicians in the business. She’d died and gone to heaven.Play it cool, Myrna. If you start spazzing out like a fangirl, they’ll tell you to get lost. And she certainly didn’t want that.
Brian leaned forward and rested his forehead on the table with a groan. It took all of Myrna’s concentration not to offer a soothing touch. She knew who he was, but he didn’t know her from Adam. Well, hopefully, he could tell her from Adam, but, uh…
She took a deep breath to collect her scattered thoughts and forced her attention to Eric. She could look at him without getting all giddy, but found she couldn’t stop staring at his insane hairstyle—half-long, a center strip of short spikes, the rest of various lengths and just plain strange. A crimson, finger-thick lock curled around the side of his neck. Rock star hair. She stifled an excited giggle.
“So what do you teach?” Eric took a sip of his beer, his pale blue eyes never leaving her face. Well, maybe he checked out her chest a little, but he mostly kept his gaze above her neck.
Myrna winced at his question and lowered her eyes to the table. Any chance of her earning their respect would evaporate the moment she revealed what subject she taught. “Do I have to say?”
She sighed heavily. “Human Sexuality.”
Eric sputtered in his beer. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Fuck me.”
“Well, yeah, I guess that is my subject matter,” Myrna said, with a crooked grin.
The guys laughed. Except for Brian. Unmoving, his head still rested on the table in front of him. Had he lost consciousness? Wasted didn’t come close to describing his current condition.
“Is he okay?” Myrna asked.
“Yeah, he’s just a little fucked up,” Eric said.
“He’s a lot fucked up,” said Trey Mills, the band’s rhythm guitarist, who lounged in the booth next to Eric.
“Shut up,” Brian murmured. He turned his head to look up at Myrna. He held one eye closed as he tried to focus on her. She had an inexplicable urge to straighten his tousled, jet-black hair, which fell just below collar-length and stuck out at odd angles all over his head. “What’s your name, Professor Sex?”
She smiled. Maybe he was interested. “Myrna.”
He chuckled. “That’s an old lady’s name.”
Or… maybe he wasn’t. She hoped she hid her disappointment well.
Sed reached behind Myrna and slapped Brian on the back for his insult. Brian didn’t even flinch. He most certainly wasn’t feeling any pain.
Myrna shrugged. “He’s right. I was named after my great grandmother. She qualifies as an old lady.”
Brian turned his head, so his forehead rested against the table again. He swallowed several times. “I think I’m gonna be sick.”
“Eric, take him to the bathroom,” Sed said. “The last thing we need is a table covered in Sinclair puke.”
Eric groaned. “I want to stay and talk to the pretty lady. Nothing but the same boring dudes at this table all night.” Despite his protests, Eric slid from his end of the bench and hauled Brian to his feet.
“I’ll still be here when you get back,” Myrna promised.
“Buy her a drink, Sed. Or, since they’re all on you tonight, buy her two.” Eric looped Brian’s arm around his shoulders and walked his staggering friend toward the bathroom.
Myrna watched them go, her appreciative eyes on Brian’s perfect, black-denim-encased ass.
“Don’t hold it against him, Myr. He’s not usually like this. He just… uh… got out of a relationship,” Sed said.
Trey rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Yeah, you might say that.”
“Not sure why this keeps happening to him.” Jace Seymour, the bassist, massaged the silver hoop earring in his earlobe. He was the only blond in the group—bleached, if his dark brows and beard stubble were any indication. The smallest member of the band, he had a James Dean tough guy thing going on. Probably trying to understate his natural cuteness. Myrna just wanted to squeeze him.
“Dude gets dumped more than any guy I know.” Trey just looked damned sexy. Whenever his sultry, bedroom eyes met Myrna’s, a tingle settled at the base of her spine.
“That’s because he’s a fucking retard when it comes to women.” Sed ran a hand over his shorn, black hair. “He falls for these bimbos one right after another. He’ll never learn.”
“Or maybe his problem is that someone keeps fucking things up for him,” Trey said. “Just a thought.”
“That bitch wasn’t worth his time. Brian’s way too good for her,” Sed growled.
Myrna looked from one man to the next. There was something more to this story than they were saying aloud. Or maybe… “Brian’s a hopeless romantic, isn’t he?”
Sed leaned close to her ear. “Shhh. That’s a secret.”
A thrill raced up the side of her neck. She turned her head and found Sed’s nose less than an inch from hers. She could see the fringes of his lashes just behind the mirrored surfaces of his shades. Finding it disconcerting to be stared down by a guy in sunglasses, she reached up and slid his eyewear down his nose. She’d like to think it was better to look him in the eye, but his probing blue-eyed gaze made her heart go pitter pat. He grinned, undoubtedly aware of the affect he had on women.
Sed lifted his arm in the air to signal the cocktail waitress. “What’s your poison, Myrna?”
“Just water for me.”
“Don’t you need something stronger to loosen up a little?” Cocking an eyebrow at her, his eyes scanned her conservative suit.
“Totally unnecessary. I’m always loose.”
“You don’t look loose.” He fingered the top button of her jacket. It just happened to be situated directly between her breasts. This guy was trouble with a capital T.
Must. Avoid. Hot. Vocalist.
“Looks can be deceiving.” She twisted away from him to look up at the waitress and break the contact between their knees.
Sed chuckled. “Somehow, I believe that in your case.” To the waitress, he said, “Two waters, please.”
“Oh, I just need one.”
“The other one is for Brian.”
Myrna flushed. “Of course.”
The waitress set a glass of water before her. Myrna gazed towards the men’s restroom and hoped Brian would be okay. He hadn’t looked well at all. And she’d much rather concentrate on him, instead of Mr. Player here, who was currently rubbing his knuckles against the side of her knee. When his fingers found their way under the hem of her skirt, her eyes widened and she shifted sideways a few more inches. Trey looked safe lounging across from her, sucking on his red lollipop. Maybe she should move to the other side of the table. She lifted her glass of water to her mouth.
Sed squeezed her knee. Myrna choked and reached beneath the table to remove his hand from her leg. Undeterred, he leaned closer. She got the feeling this guy wasn’t used to being rejected.
“Would you like to go upstairs with me?” Sed whispered into her ear, his nose brushing against the side of her neck as he lowered his head.
Can Myrna resist Sedric Leonheart’s allure?
Will she follow Sed upstairs or try to seduce Brian Sinclair, the man she really wants?
Ready for more?
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Additional excerpts of Backstage Pass can be found on my website: www.oliviacunning.com