To Have and to Hold (The Hold Series Book 3)(6)

By: Arell Rivers


No.

I inhale and nod at him. He gives me another moment, then wails on the cymbals, marking the beginning of “Prowling.” Laser lights bounce off the stage and I take my vintage Les Paul electric guitar from my roadie. Strumming the familiar notes, I retreat behind the music.

Two hours later, I shout, “Hooroo, Sydney!” Dripping sweat, I take my final bow and bound off the stage.

Jared waits for me offstage with a bottle of water. “Thanks, man.” I down it in one gulp. “Enjoy the show?”

“Good times,” he says, scanning the room as he speaks. He’s every bit the bodyguard, but there’s no need for me to pretend not to have one, not now. It’s a good thing, because while he’s top notch at his job, he doesn’t blend into most crowds. A six-foot-five African-American man who must weigh close to three hundred pounds, he’s nearly as tall as he is wide. He makes me feel downright pubescent. I like him.

“High praise there, J-Man.”

He cracks a rare smile. “Ready for your meet-and-greet?”

My performance high is tempered when Shari walks toward us. Her brown hair is the wrong shade and too short. Nothing against her, it’s just that I wanted to share this moment with a different PR rep. I force a smile past a vision of Rose in her hospital bed. “Yeah. Opening night requirement.”

Arriving by our side, Shari says, “Great job, Cole. Twitter’s blowing up.”

“Thanks.”

Shari consults her clipboard. “Listen, everyone’s filing into the VIP Lounge to meet you. Why don’t you go to your dressing room, and I’ll come get you when it’s time to start?”

“Sounds like a plan.” Jared and I make our way through the crowded rabbit maze of rooms and hallways. Jeffrey joins us right before we duck into a room with my name taped on the outside.

My drummer bangs out a rhythm on his leg. “You were on fire tonight, Cole.”

“Thanks, Jeffrey. Wicked sticks.”

He looks around the room and heads for the cooler, returning with two beers in his hand. He opens them both and hands one to me.

I take a swig, enjoying the smooth taste as the Australian beer makes its way down my throat. Knowing that I’m going to face at least one hundred adoring fans in about ten minutes, I take another swig before heading over to the rolling rack and selecting a fresh T-shirt.

“Sucks that you’re going to be man-meat and can’t bypass the mixer and to go straight to the party,” he says as I pull the shirt over my head. It’s a Sydney one—one of Rose’s rules is to always heap praise on the city you’re visiting.

Raising my eyebrows, I nod. Happy birthday to me. “Not in much of a party mood.”

“Any news about your girlfriend?”

“No change.” I spoke with Lynn yesterday. I stopped referring to her as Momzilla after Rose was transferred to rehab. Dad helped broker our somewhat shaky truce, though I’m not sure how he managed it. Rose’s mother has never liked the thought of her daughter dating me, though part of me can’t blame her for that. Especially now. “It’s been tough catching up with her mom because of the time change.”

“Sorry, dude. She’s a fighter. She has to be tough to put up with the likes of you.”

I try for a smile. “Gee, thanks. But you’re right, she’s strong.” We clink the necks of our bottles.

Shari knocks, interrupting us. “Ready?”

I finish my beer and hand the empty to my drummer, saying, “Here, make yourself useful.”

“Douche. Have fun at playtime.”

“Dick.” I turn to Shari, who’s smiling at our banter. “Yeah, I’m ready.”

Shari and I walk through the less crowded halls, Jared right behind us. Shari says, “You’ll be fine. It’s your usual format.”

Thank fuck she’s sticking to Rose’s plans. It makes me feel closer to her, which is especially important now that we have so much distance between us. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Stopping outside the door where my fans are waiting, I embrace Shari. “You’re making this manageable. Thank you for that.”

With a sad smile, she steps back. “I’m just keeping your PR running smoothly until I can hand it back to her.” She clasps both of my hands. “Now, go in there and make some excited people very happy. You can do it. You’re great at these things.”