"Ladies and gentlemen, my band!" Marlowe's amplified velvet voice filled the arena, but couldn't drown the rumble of thousands of fans. Nick didn't know how well it could be heard by those in the crowd, but he heard crystal clear through his ear monitors. "On drums, Justin Bridges!" Nick pulled his arm behind his back and stomped to the rhythm of Justin's solo. Marlowe waited for the applause to calm then he stepped up behind the man on the other side of the stage from Nick. "And here, keeping us in the groove. On bass--" Marlowe was taller than Hideki so he could easily see over him "--Hideki Nakata!" Hideki and Marlowe rocked together to the rhythm of Hideki's bass guitar. Laughing, Marlowe left Hideki's side, lifting the cordless microphone back to his lips. "Last but absolutely not least--" Marlowe strode across the stage, arm extended toward Nick. "--my newest find--" Marlowe winked at him, "--on lead guitar--" Marlowe stopped center stage and made a flourishing bow, "Nick Gorman!"
Nick kept it cool as he lifted the neck of his Strat and pulled out a wicked solo while the crowd screamed for him. Twelve bars in, Justin and Hideki jumped back into the song, driving the energy of the crowd up a notch. They knew the end of the song marked the end of the concert and the wave of adoration for Marlowe and his band was almost physical. Standing center stage right out of reach of dozens of outstretched hands, Marlowe sang the final chorus of Take Me Back, the hit song from the first album and a crowd favorite. Twelve thousand throats screamed their love of the man with the microphone, but there was plenty of spill-over for the rest of the band. When Nick stepped up to Marlowe's side at front center, plenty of the reaching hands were pointed in his direction. He looked up and caught the eye of two girls focused on him, hair plastered to their sweaty faces so he could barely tell whether they were blondes or brunettes. They reached for him, their shouted pleas lost in the sea of noise already drowned by the music pumped into his ears via the monitors. He smiled and one of them fell against the other, laughing her joy.
Awesome. Nick's Stratocaster sang in his hands, the strings as much a part of him as his heart or soul. He flipped shoulder-length, sweat-drenched hair from his eyes, feeling it slap his neck and shoulders. Eyes closed, face tilted up, he picked through the final bars of the song. The song crashed to a halt and every light in the arena flared to focus on Marlowe. The singer bathed in the light, his lean body stretched and his hands in the air. With his head back, the wet tips of his long brown hair slapped the small of his bare back, just short of brushing the waist of his snug black leather pants. Dark, olive-toned skin glistened in the glare of the stage lights and muscles folded on muscles as he brought his arms down, reaching wide, crucified on the worship of his fans.
Expansive pride and joy threatened to burst his skin as Nick stepped back, lifting his guitar from his shoulders to hand it to the waiting roadie. He glanced at Hideki and the bass player beamed back. They waited farther back on the stage while Marlowe lifted the foam tip of the microphone to his lips to shout, "Thank you, Phoenix! You're beautiful!"
Another wave of screams. Many times in years past Nick had imagined what it was like to stand up onstage in front of a crowd like this. It seemed as though the screams and calls of the arena filled the whole world. Even if it was mostly Marlowe's show, Nick didn't want to leave.
There's always tomorrow night, he told himself as the four of them clambered backstage. He grinned at that and couldn't be sure that the soles of his boots even touched the ground. He was floating on adrenaline, the high of being onstage still the best rush he'd ever felt, even now in the middle of a North American tour. It was his first, though. Marlowe said he was allowed to be excited. Just wait, the singer had said last night on the bus, next tour we'll be playing your music too. Too awesome. Marlowe had already asked him to stay with the band through the next album and they'd even started working on some songs together. He was working with fucking Marlowe. Unheard of. Even Justin and Hideki, who'd been with Marlowe for his second album--the one they were touring for now--hadn't had but one or two song writing credits. But Marlowe liked the stuff Nick had played for him and had promised good things. Nick could not have asked for a bigger or better shot than to be working with him. The man's first two albums had been chart toppers and he was on top of his game.
He accepted a towel from one of the road crew as he followed Hideki back stage, laughing when the shorter bassist took a running leap just for the fun of it. Behind them, the roar of the crowd kept going. Nick couldn't stop grinning. This just never got old.
"Just a few minutes, gentlemen," yelled their tour manager. "The crowd wants you back out there."
Nick bent double, rubbing the towel over his head and neck. He stood with a flip for his hair, enjoying the cool breeze backstage.
"This crowd rocks!" Hideki barked, yanking open a bottle of water. He held it up in toast to Marlowe. "Fucking rocks, man!"
Marlowe grinned, toweling his bare torso while another girl stood behind him brushing his hair. "Not bad," he agreed. Accepting an open bottle of water, he tipped it toward Nick, assorted bangles of leather and metal clacking together along his forearm. "You're on fire tonight Nicky."
Nick couldn't smile any bigger. His face already hurt. Just a little over a year with Marlowe now, but it still tipped his world when the rock star praised him.
He drank down his own water then exchanged his drenched tank top for a dry one. Then it was time to rush back up for the encore.
Life didn't get any better.
Standing in the mini-kitchen in the tour bus, Nick shoved a fancy chicken strip in his mouth then spun to face the voice. Ricky Delgado, reporter. Kip, the band's manager, had told them to make nice with him earlier because his magazine was doing a multiple page spread on Marlowe and his band. Because the magazine was big time--although Nick couldn't remember, right now, which it was--the reporter was on the tour bus with them, sharing a ride back to the hotel after the gig. The man approached Nick, winding around the chairs bolted to the floor and narrowly avoiding Justin who was making out with a girl in a blue catsuit. Ricky and Nick shared a silent laugh as Ricky caught his balance without the couple being any wiser. Ricky was average height, an inch or so taller than Nick, with graying black hair, sharp brown eyes, and a big, easy smile. He was a jacket short of a sharp suit, the sleeves of his dress shirt bunched up to reveal tanned forearms. Understandable since, for some reason, the heat had been cranked up so the air not only smelled like the pot Hideki was smoking, but felt like the inside of a toaster oven.
They shook hands then Ricky smacked Nick on the shoulder. "Awesome show, man."
"Thanks." He started to reach down to open the short refrigerator next to his leg. "Beer?"
"Yeah." Ricky propped himself against the counter, eyeing the food on the counter. "Seriously. I heard you were good, but you're an animal onstage." His grin seemed genuine as he accepted a bottle from Nick. "You're like Hendrix good. Where'd you learn to play like that?"
Nick stalled by inserting his bottle into the handy opener at the top of the refrigerator and taking his first sip. He knew his pale skin showed a blush and hoped the dim lighting in the bus disguised it. Rick wasn't the first to compare him to the guitar legend, but the compliment still made him uncomfortable. "Lots of lessons during high school. And no life because they couldn't get me out of my room. Because I was playing. The guitar." Damn, he wasn't good at this. Despite the fact that he liked Ricky and the reporter seemed like a good guy, Nick couldn't forget that anything he said could be printed for millions to read. He'd seen too many articles where his music heroes had made asses of themselves not to be conscious of it now. Yet again, he wished he had Marlowe's confidence. He hadn't figured out how Marlowe could be so comfortable as the center of attention.
Nick glanced toward the closed door at the back of the bus. Marlowe had disappeared beyond with five girls a little while ago. Nick could only imagine what was happening back there.
Rick picked up a plate of his own and dished out some pasta salad. "You're shitting me. A high school teacher taught you that?"
Nick shook himself, pulling his head back into the conversation and away from imagining Marlowe's activities. "Nah. Private lessons. My uncle Bobby. Maybe you've heard of him. He used to be pretty popular."
As Nick plucked a crustless triangle of a sandwich from a plate on the counter, Rick thought. It didn't take long. "Wait. Bobby? Gorman?"
Nick smiled and let Rick see it in profile. His family background wasn't common knowledge, but neither was it a secret. Marlowe had encouraged him to let it slip.
"You're related to Bobby Gorman?"
Nick let his grin say it all as he chewed.
Rick hooted. "No shit? Bobby Gorman's your uncle? Why didn't I know that?"
Nick shrugged. "Not that many people make the connection." Although Nick's uncle had once been big on the scene, his star had died out by the nineties, before Nick had even been old enough to pick up a guitar.
Only recently had anyone even taken notice of Marlowe's new guitarist. Marlowe's split with his former ax man had been the big news when the tour had started, overshadowing Nick's presence. At first, most people had taken him for a temporary replacement as there'd been talk that Dean Gaynor might come back to the band. Just recently, as it became obvious Marlowe wasn't taking Dean back, more attention had been focused on Nick. Marlowe assured him that it was just the beginning.
Rick was back to studying him. "Yeah, okay. I see a little family resemblance. Around the eyes."
Nick rolled his, having heard that time and time again. Except people normally told him he had his dad's eyes. Same difference since he was Bobby's older brother.
"That's awesome though. I loved Elastixx's Dog's World. Bobby's playing rocked." Rick gave his attention back to the food. "What happened to him?"
"He's out of the business. Been teaching music for over ten years now."
"No shit? That's awesome." Ricky chuckled. "But I guess the talent with the strings makes total sense then." He licked some vinaigrette from his thumb. "You mind if I print that?"
"Go ahead." Nick shrugged and led the way to a clear spot on the couch that lined the side of the bus beside the kitchen area. "It's no secret."
The volume level kicked up as the group of girls emerged from the back of the bus, Marlowe in their midst. At six foot two, he didn't quite tower over them, but it was easy to make out the top of his head even over the crazy hairdos that stood two of the girls' hair up inches from the top of their heads. All five of them did their best to plaster themselves to Marlowe's sides, frustrated when they couldn't touch him. He did his best to accommodate them, long arms draped over any shoulder he could find. Judging by the volume and the lack of coordination of movement, Marlowe had been entertaining with a mind-altering substance or three. The fact that any of the group still had clothing on was remarkable. Nick had been pretty sure there was sex happening behind that closed door. Then again, maybe it had. Didn't have to take off all your clothes to get it on. Marlowe proved that time and time again. Nick had even seen it himself once, although it had been dark and making out any details was hazy because he'd been high himself at the time. But he remembered the girl bouncing on Marlowe's lap, her desperate cries leaving no doubt what they were doing.
Smiling, Ricky turned toward Nick with the clear intention of asking more questions, but they were interrupted when one of the girls peeled away from Marlowe and draped herself over Nick's lap, heedless of his beer. "Mmm, Nicky," she cooed, wrapping her arms around his neck the better to bury her nose in the hollow under his right ear. "Nicky, you smell so good."
Ricky grinned at him and stood. "I'll catch you later. At the party?"
Nick nodded and waved with his beer, then gave his attention to the big blue eyes that went with the yellow hair that had been tickling his jaw. "Hey."
She blinked, her eyes very unfocused. Her soft hand stroked his cheek, bringing his lips closer to hers. "Hey." At first, the kiss was wet and dreamy, like she was delicately feeding from his lips. But then she groaned, pulling herself closer so she could devour his tongue. He went with it, still amazed that girls he'd never met before could just want him like this. But when they got all revved up by Marlowe, it was like they couldn't get enough and eventually didn't care who the dick belonged to just so long as they got some. Nick had indulged many times, but it had started to strike him as really weird and kind of off. Even the ones who came directly for him didn't seem all that sincere to him. Where were they before when he was no more than Bobby Gorman's talented nephew?
When the girl let him up for air, another's hand lay on his cheek to turn his head. A second girl, this one with red hair, knelt on the couch beside him. Her eyes were lowered to slits and the whites beneath were bloodshot. She smiled and didn't bother to speak before she drew him into another kiss. Strange, to have one girl on his lap, nestled against his chest, while another explored his tongue with hers.
When the second girl drew away, it seemed rather sudden until Nick saw that Marlowe had an arm wrapped around her waist, pulling her away. She protested for all of ten seconds before she realized who it was and melted back against him.
"Excuse me, ladies," he drawled, meeting Nick's eyes as he cuddled the girl to his chest. His eyes, too, were bloodshot, but Nick knew him well enough by now to see that he still had all his wits about him. Took a full-on pharmacy to put Marlowe down. "I need to borrow Nicky."
"Awww." The first tightened her arms about Nick's neck.
With a brief kiss on her neck, Marlowe put his handful aside then reached for the bundle in Nick's lap. "C'mon, Amy. I'll bring him back."
Amy's eyes focused on Marlowe and Nick didn't miss the devotion in her gaze when she leaned toward him. He had no illusions. The girls may like him, but if they got a chance at Marlowe, they'd climb over him to take it. Not that he blamed them, he thought as she let him stand. If he was into guys, he'd absolutely be into Marlowe. The man was sex on a stick. Tall, sleek, with moves like a cat, Marlowe was aware of his appeal and knew exactly how to use it. One look from those incredible blue eyes could have any number of girls coming in their panties. Although Nick did okay for himself, he had never been confident enough to pull that off.
Together, Nick and Marlowe managed to transfer Amy from Nick's lap to the couch. She promptly leaned to the side to lay her head on Hideki's shoulder. As Nick stood, the bass player lifted an arm to pull her close and offered her a hit from his bong.
Nick left them behind, following Marlowe through the narrow kitchen area into the wide back room. Despite the closed in space, it wasn't nearly as hot back here as it was in the front of the bus. That had to be partially due to the window cracked open to let in some of the crisp January air. Seattle-born, Nick welcomed the cooler temperature, but Marlowe was a southern California boy so it was noteworthy that he spent time in the cooler room. Not that it was cold by any means, inside or out. If Nick had to guess, it was somewhere around sixty degrees outside, maybe a little less now that night had fallen. At least the open window let out the reek of pot. The room was dominated by one big rounded bed. Marlowe slept there when they weren't staying in a hotel, with the rest of the band making use of the couch and the fold-out bunks up front. Soft blue sheets and blankets with thick matching pillows covered the mattress and cluttered the little bit of floor space between the bed and the private entrance to the bathroom.
Marlowe dropped onto the mattress beside an open travel bag. He still wore the leather pants from the show, but he'd thrown a thick burgundy button down shirt over a faded black tank top and wore thick gray socks on his long feet. He casually tossed an abundance of loose brown hair behind his shoulders as he pulled out a small plastic baggie with pills inside. He also held up a tiny glass bottle filled with white powder. Shook both. "You interested?"
Nick grinned big, knelt on the mattress beside him and pointed at the pills. "That X?" He felt like one of those girls, seduced into quiet intimacy by Marlowe and his treats. Including something kind of sexual about it, even though he was straight. Marlowe was plain sexy and you had to be dead not to feel it.
Marlowe chuckled and dropped the snuff vial into the pocket of his shirt. "I should have known better than to offer you powder. You're like the only guitarist I know who doesn't do blow." He tugged the other bag open then pulled out one pill to hold between thumb and forefinger.
Nick hesitated. "X?"
Marlowe nodded. "Only the finest."
Nick licked his lips, eyes on the pill. Despite the fact that he was now a bona fide rock star, he was still a relative novice at taking drugs. Pot and alcohol, sure, but he'd never done pills or powder until Marlowe coaxed him into it. He still didn't like the hyper-high of cocaine, but the dreamy sensitivity of ecstasy he could get used to. He remembered the sex on X even if he couldn't remember the girl's name. Taking stuff with Marlowe was cool. With anyone else, anything beyond drinking just seemed empty and pointless. Nick hated getting fucked up with most other people because he rarely had a good time. But Marlowe was different. With Marlowe it was fun. With Marlowe he could kick back and enjoy the ride, knowing Marlowe had his back.
"Here." The pervasive scent of Marlowe surrounded him as the singer leaned close. Sweat, musk, and weed. He grinned, lightly pressing the pill to Nick's lips. His stormy blue eyes sparkled in the dim light. "Open up."
Like a baby bird, Nick opened and the pill dropped on his tongue. He took an opened bottle of water from Marlowe and sipped as the taller man tipped his head back to drop two pills into his own mouth. Adam's apple worked underneath the smooth skin of his throat as he swallowed.
"I only get one?"
That made Marlowe laugh. "That's more than enough for you, lightweight." Marlowe closed the baggie as Nick gulped some of the water. "You can have another one later if you need it. Don't think you will, though."
Marlowe lay back to tuck the baggie into the small front pocket of his jeans then sat up and reached for the water. He didn't drink it immediately, instead leaning in to press his forehead to Nick's. "We were on fire tonight, Nicky," he murmured, eyes closed, velvet voice deep and rumbling. Some of his hair dripped forward to drape Nick's thigh as his fingers dug into the back of Nick's skull. "Fire."
Nick closed his own eyes, enjoying the closeness. It amazed him how familiar he felt with this man, to this being that so many considered a god. He couldn't get over the fact that Marlowe wanted to be with him. "Yeah."
"You have arrived, my man." Now, Marlowe tipped his head back to drink, but didn't pull away from Nick or release his hold on Nick's hair.
Laughing, Nick was the one who put some distance between them by scooting closer to the open window. Sometimes he had to step back out of Marlowe's overpowering aura. If he didn't, he felt like it'd burn him. Not that he was uncomfortable with Marlowe touching him. Actually, the fact that he wasn't uncomfortable sometimes made him uneasy. Especially when the two of them were alone. But it wasn't like either of them was gay. Marlowe slept with too many women for that to be true and Nick had never had leanings. It's just that Marlowe liked to touch. A lot.
"What'd the reporter want?"
Startled, Nick glanced down at where Marlowe lay on the mattress, watching him. Tons of silky brown hair spread over the pillow and mattress on his far side. "What?"
"The reporter. Ricky. What'd he ask you?"
"Not much. I told him about Bobby."
The singer grinned. "Did he know?"
"Awesome." Marlowe managed to sip from the water bottle without sitting up. "He gonna print it?"
"He said so, yeah."
Marlowe chuckled and sat up. As he patted the chest pocket of his shirt, he handed the bottle back to Nick. "Here, finish this. I need a drink." Without waiting for obedience, he stood and stepped toward the door. "You should stick to beer 'til you know how you feel."
Nick stood, gulping down the last of the water. Out the window, he saw their hotel come into view, a series of cabins strung together to look like a cheesy desert paradise. Excitement, happiness, pride, fucking ecstasy of both the chemical and emotional kinds filled his veins.
Life couldn't get any better.