Shane opened his eyes, surprised that for once, whatever hotel room he was in was clean and disturbingly clear. His usual wake-ups weren't complete without sheets strewn all over the floor among empty bottles and bags of the previous night's entertainment. His vision wasn't blurred by the perpetual hangover that usually accompanied the alcohol, his head was remarkably free of weed haze, and oh shit...was he sober? And alone. How refreshing. Maybe it was a good habit to get into, kicking the twinks out before they got comfortable. It wasn't like he'd wanted them there in the first place.
He pushed away the disturbing memories of the night before, or rather the non-night. He didn't want to dwell on how he couldn't seem to care enough to drink, or do lines with his little groupie party, or stick his dick anywhere but into a pair of sleep pants. He'd gone to bed sober for the first time in years, but miserable as always. And that was exactly how he felt when he woke up.
No matter how shitty he felt, Shane had to get his game face on. His band, Luck, was set to meet with Moonlight and their lead singer, the great Kayden Berlin, in a little over an hour. They were on Berlin's turf, too, and about to spend a lot of time living very close together as they toured all spring and summer. Shane hoped the guy wasn't an asshole or some super straightedge prick who'd look down on a little bit of rock 'n' roll fun. Shane tried to ignore the fact that it hadn't been fun for him in years. Maybe not even at the beginning.
That's because your life is empty.
He could hear Jesse's voice in his head and tried to push it away. His life was empty--or full, rather. Full of the wrong things: too many drugs, too much alcohol, too many nameless one-night stands. It was the stuff of rock star fantasies, what every kid wanted when he dreamed of fame. It was expected of him. It was the last fucking thing he wanted. It hadn't taken Shane very long to figure out that the lifestyle wasn't him. By then it was too late. Jesse was gone.
Shane struggled his weirdly sentient body into the shower to try to make himself pretty. This meeting with Moonlight had to go well. Something had to go well. Shane dried himself and chose his clothes carefully to give off the exact right impression. He pulled on a pair of artfully ripped Dior skinnies, expensive but still with an air of "I don't give a fuck," a thin white T-shirt, and a charcoal vest with a faint pinstripe. He left the vest hanging open, didn't want to look like he was trying too hard.
Two chains were sitting in a shallow bowl in the bathroom. He draped both over his neck like he did every day. One had the band's stylized four-leaf clover logo dangling from it and was worn front and center, right where everyone could see it. The other hung underneath it, smaller, far less noticeable. It was a simple little silver shamrock, bought for him years ago when Luck was still playing in his dad's basement for fun. It wasn't something he needed or wanted anyone to notice, but he'd have felt naked without it. That necklace was the only thing he owned that meant a damn thing to him.
Surveying his look with a shrug, Shane finished by shoving a fedora over his damp black hair and lining his blue eyes in their customary charcoal. The eyeliner hid the fact that he hadn't slept well in months. Sort of. He could still see the dark circles in the harsh fluorescent light of the bathroom mirror, stark even against his naturally tan skin. Fuck it. Heroin chic, right? He tried not to linger on the fact that the fucked-up Cobain was the rock idol he chose to channel. He'd never set out to be such a colossal fuckup. He had to get his shit together and fast. Maybe this tour was a chance for change.
Shane laced up his boots and left the room, walking four doors down the hallway to meet in Nick's suite for a pre-Moonlight conference with his band.
"Dude, I'm so fucking pumped!"
Nick's enthusiasm was hard to resist, but Shane couldn't help giving him some shit.
"Fuck, Nicky, you're about one squeal away from obnoxious fangirl. Am I gonna have to leave you up here when we go meet the band?"
"Shut up, homo. I can admire brilliance in another artist. I mean, those piano solos are epic, and I wanna fuckin' marry the guitar riff in 'Black Heart.' That thing gives me wood every time I hear it. And his voice."
Shane tried to control his snort. "Hey, maybe you can get Berlin to play you a little private show. Then you two can hold hands and like waltz into the sunset and shit."
Nick rolled his eyes and laughed. "In your dreams, bro. I'm never going to be a full-time cast member of the 'mo show like you. I might have an appetizer here and there, but boy love will never be my main course."
"Yeah, he likes the sushi too much!" Dre, their drummer, chuckled at his own joke.
Nick made a dramatic air-guitar motion and crowed "Wasabiiiii" at the top of his lungs. Dre and Nick collapsed into laughter and fist bumped over their mutual love of the sushi. Shane felt vaguely nauseated.
"Are you two fuckers high?"
They both pulled their most innocent faces. "Nah, dude. We're cool," Dre muttered, looking at the ground.
Shane wondered when he'd become the dad of the group. "Fuck. Just don't act like assholes, okay? All right, we're done here. Any last and final words before we go down to meet our masters?"
Nick raised his hand like he was going to say something but made a loud farting noise with his armpit instead. Shane rolled his eyes, feeling like the three years between him and his brother were more like a hundred.
"That was brilliant, Nicky. Thank you for your contribution." Shane looked at the others who remained silent. "I guess that means we're going. Let's get this show on the road. I've got a fifth of Ciroc waiting for me back at the room."
Shane was nervous. Nervous, for Christ's sake. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had butterflies in his stomach over anything, let alone simply meeting another band. But it wasn't the band Shane was worried about. It was Berlin. Even more specifically, it was his eyes. Shane had seen those eyes on TV hundreds of times, sea green and piercing. They made Shane uncomfortable, antsy, but he could never be sure if it was a good uncomfortable or bad. That morning, he was leaning toward bad. He was worried about meeting Berlin for sure and found himself wishing he was anywhere else.
Don't be a fucking idiot. Why are you letting this guy get to you? Luck's been around nearly twice as long as these losers!
The pep talk didn't help. Neither did insulting Moonlight in his head. Shane tried to push it down and focus on Nick's jubilance instead. Even Dre and Will were vibrating, excited to meet the genius in the next room. Shane squeezed at his temples with his thumb and forefinger. Fuck. Here goes nothing. He put on his best "don't give a shit" face, took a deep breath, and opened the door to their posh London hotel's conference room.
The room was filled with people: musicians, managers, agents, caterers, lighting and tech guys, and scattered around with cameras were a few privileged members of the press. Shane didn't see any of them. It was like one of those cheesy scenes in a movie when the whole crowd blurs into insignificance and that one perfect person sticks out, illuminated by fate or kismet or the gods shining down. In this case it was a well-placed halogen, shining off of a crown of icy blond hair and a gorgeous face chiseled out of pale, pale skin. Shane shivered, unable to control his instantaneous reaction to the man across the room. It was him. It had to be.
He stood in the corner, not hiding but rather presiding over the room from what could easily have been his throne if he were seated. People swarmed around him, all vying for a moment of his attention. He surveyed the room with mild interest, those glaringly bright sea green eyes never landing for more than a few seconds on any one object. Until he saw Shane. Then he stared for long intense moments until Shane's line of sight was broken by the fiery little ball of energy that was Emmanuel Cortez, Luck's manager.
Em might have looked like fluff, and Shane's considerable height practically dwarfed him, but he was a force to be reckoned with. He'd managed to keep Nicky mostly in line for years. Despite their dubious first impression of him, he'd earned their respect, and they all trusted him implicitly.
"Hi, guys. I'm glad you made it. Come meet the boys from Moonlight!"
Shane rolled his eyes. "Em, you're supposed to be our manager, not the president of the Kayden Berlin Fan Club."
Emmanuel placed a hand on his expensively clad hip. "I am a fan of Moonlight's music, thank you very much."
Shane waited silently, knowing their manager could never keep anything in for very long. He wasn't disappointed.
"What? Okay, so Kayden's a total sweetie pie, and the man is beautiful. Don't tell me you haven't noticed, Shane. I know you too well."
Shane gave Emmanuel a knowing wink. "Let's go meet the foreign prince and get this pony show over with."
The butterflies started again as soon as Shane got close to Kayden Berlin. Even stripped of the glam and glitter of the stage, the man had a presence that seemed to...glow. And then he smiled, and Shane's gut dropped to his toes. His smile was, in a word, stunning.
"Hi, doll," he greeted Emmanuel. His voice was a soft tenor, warm and rich, his accent light but practiced, like he'd tried to train a thick countryside cadence from his speech.
"Hi, sweetie," Emmanuel trilled back. He stood on his tiptoes to kiss Berlin's cheek.
Since when was Emmanuel in kissing mode with strangers he'd just met?
"Kayden, these are the boys from Luck. We have the Ventura brothers, Shane and Nick. This is Andres, better known as Dre, and last but not least we have William Paige. Will plays the keyboards. You'll have to give him some tips sometime."
Will looked like he was about to murder Emmanuel. Talk about having your balls ground up and served on toast. Poor guy had basically just been signed up for a freaking piano lesson with Berlin. Pride totally gone on that one. Shane winced.
Berlin had a smile and a handshake for Dre, who'd worked his way to the front of the group. He smiled and shook hands with Will too, who also got a small apologetic shrug. It wasn't until he got to Nick that his demeanor changed completely.
"Nick Ventura, your reputation precedes you." With the crisp accent, it was hard to tell how insulting Berlin meant to be. The open friendliness from only moments before was gone, however. Nick seemed unperturbed.
Can't he feel the ice coming his direction? Shane for one was confused. What did Berlin have against his brother?
"Dude, I'm so pumped to meet you. That guitar riff on 'Black Heart' is seriously legendary. I'd love to just sit down and jam with you sometime."
"Perhaps," Berlin answered, not outright rude or anything close to friendly. Nick finally noticed the chilly reception he was getting and stepped back, clearly taken by surprise.
Shane extended his hand, hoping to defuse the sudden awkwardness. "Shane Ventura. This tattooed monkey is my younger brother."
"I know who you are," Kayden replied, his demeanor as icy as it had been with Nick, if not more so. His eyes flicked over Shane's hand, but he didn't reach out to take it.
"Oh." Shane dropped his arm back to his side, unable to think of anything else to say. He had a few inches on the other singer, but Kayden had a way of staring down the length of his pert little nose that made Shane feel small. What the fuck is this guy's problem?
There was another awkward silence. It seemed to stretch forever, with Kayden looking coolly at Shane, and Shane wringing his hands together and not knowing what the hell to do. It was finally broken by the arrival of Oliver and Surya, the other two members of Moonlight. They, at least, were friendly enough, shaking hands and chatting enthusiastically about the tour. Shane smiled back gamely and tried to engage himself in the conversation, but his gaze kept returning to Kayden Berlin, who seemed to have a huge chip of ice on his shoulder when it came to the Ventura brothers. Shane only hoped the quiet animosity would die down. Otherwise, it was going to be a long fucking six months.