CHAPTER 27

The lights danced over the stage and the crowd screamed as the platform lifted Reid to the main stage beside Jack. The pair smiled as the deep bass of Jack’s guitar met the high peal of Reid’s. While Jack riled up the crowd, Reid’s eyes drifted to where Drew, Greer, and Chloe stood hidden from the audience’s view just off the side of the stage. Reid had done this a million times, but it somehow felt like more. He wasn’t sure if it was because of the guy standing next to him, or because things were slowly returning to normal with Chloe. Whatever happened when she disappeared into his dressing room a few days ago seemed to have done the trick. She played with more poise and passion than he’d ever witnessed. Her energy was like a battery that charged everyone around her. Reid’s attention was brought back into the present when beams of colors raced across the fog-covered stage. As Jack began to sing the first verse, a feeling of nostalgia washed over Reid. Growing up, Jack Green’s song “Turbulence” had been one of his all-time favorites. Hearing the lyrics now, however, had a different effect than they used to. When he joined Jack on the chorus and they sang about being caught in the turbulence of their lives, love, lies, and denials, Reid couldn’t stop his gaze from sliding to where Chloe stood. She beamed when she caught him looking. He grinned back, embarrassed to be caught, but loving the way his stomach twisted into knots at the sight of her smile. For the remainder of the song, he could barely keep his eyes off her. When the lights dropped and the audience cheered, he all but ran off the stage. “Holy shit,” Chloe gasped, her eyes wide. “That was amazing!” He smiled and pulled his guitar over his head, handing it to one of the stage crew. “Yeah?” he asked, breathless and charged with energy. Chloe slapped his shoulder and laughed. “I thought you were above fishing for compliments.” Reid hunched his shoulders and ducked his chin. “Busted.” “Do you need anything? We need to get to our places soon. We go on in twenty minutes.”“Are you trying to squeeze me out of a job, Chloe?” Tom asked with a chuckle as he stepped beside Reid and clapped him on the shoulder. Chloe grinned and hooked her thumb toward Greer and Drew while giving Reid a pointed stare. “And be responsible for keeping these three in line? Working as Jabba the Hutt’s personal trainer would be less taxing. Your job, sir, is all yours.” Drew and Greer joined the circle, Drew laughing with Reid and Tom when he noticed Greer’s outraged expression. “You know, since Chloe forced us to watch all those movies, I know who that is. She just downgraded us below a giant fucking slug. Why am I the only one who doesn’t find this funny?” Greer’s comment only made them laugh harder. In that moment, Reid felt his anger toward Greer fade. Reaching out, he threw his arm over Greer’s shoulders and started walking them toward their places. “Look at it this way, it could have been worse. She could have compared us to Jabba the Hutt. That, my friend, would have been so much worse.” Greer jabbed Reid with his elbow and grinned. “Jabba had a half-naked princess for a slave. I still say we got the raw end of the deal.” Reid conceded. “Touché.” “Hey, Reid,” Tom called, moving to his side. “Can you hang on a sec? I wanted to talk to you about something.” “Yeah, sure,” he said, his brows pulling together when he caught a knowing look pass between Drew and Greer. All at once, his good mood vanished and anxiety settled in. “What’s up?” Tom looked around to make sure no one was listening before speaking. “You might have a bit of a problem on your hands.” Reid’s stomach dropped. “What happened? Did something come out about Devon?” “No. It’s nothing like that. It’s just . . .” Tom’s hesitation kept Reid on edge. “Just tell me.” “The cameras, Reid. There was one pointed at you for the entire song. Actually, I’m pretty sure at one point there were four locked on you—” “Yeah, so?” Reid interrupted, not understanding where the conversation was headed. “—and one on Chloe,” Tom finished, his face expectant. Reid remained silent as he processed what Tom had said. Before he could speak, Tom sighed. “You didn’t even realize you were doing it,” Tom surmised. “Reid, you stared at Chloe almost the entire time you were on stage. And it wasn’t some innocent ‘she’s my band buddy’ stare. By the time the song ended, half the people in the audience were imagining the two of you having sex.” Reid scoffed. “What the hell are you talking about? No one is thinking that. Don’t be ridiculous. I didn’t do anything wrong.” Tom, apparently prepared for Reid’s denial, pulled out his phone and opened Twitter. After a quick search for Reid’s name, Tom grimaced and handed him the phone. Reid’s eyes widened and his heart hammered as he read the tweets on the screen. If #ReidRyder looked at me like that, I’d probably come on the spot. #luckybitch Do you think he pulls her hair when he takes her from behind? #hotaf #ReidRyder I knew I shouldn’t have quit my violin lessons! I could be banging #ReidRyder right now! I ship them! *dreamy sigh* #Chlid #Rhole #Reloe “Holy shit,” Reid hissed. “What the fuck is wrong with these people?” “They’re insane,” Tom said bluntly as he pocketed his phone. “But to be frank, you two eye-fucked each other on live television. And don’t bother arguing. Once you see the video, you’ll understand.” Reid raked his hand through his hair. “What the hell am I supposed to do now?” “Milk it. Use this to your advantage. Sell out the rest of your shows. Hell, add some more. You just gave people a whole new reason to come to your shows. People love to watch, and if you two play this to your advantage, you’ll have more voyeurs than you know what to do with.” Reid nodded before a look of apprehension crossed his face. “Jess.” Tom’s expression twisted with remorse. “If you suddenly go cold with Chloe, it’ll be obvious that what happened earlier wasn’t planned. Your best bet is to pretend it was all part of a plan to create a buzz.” Reid agreed, even though he still felt torn. “You’re right.” “Of course I am. Oh, and Reid, the longer you let this thing go, the more likely it will all blow up in your face.” Without another word, Reid jogged over to the others and tried to put his conversation with Tom to the back of his mind. The truth was, Tom’s idea wasn’t a bad one. He also knew if they played their cards right, Chloe would never worry about landing gigs again. Giving Drew and Greer fist bumps, he followed the others to where they would be lifted to the main stage behind their instruments. Alone in the shadows, Reid and Chloe stood side by side. His body thrummed with energy as he tried to figure out what to do. He bounced on the balls of his feet and moved his head from side to side. He should’ve moved to his own mark, but he couldn’t bring himself to walk away from Chloe. “Are you nervous?” Chloe asked. Reid was sure she meant to sound joking, but it was obvious her nerves were starting to spike. Reid scoffed. “What do I have to be nervous about? You’re the one they’ll all be staring at.” Chloe pulled in a shaky breath, her hand trembling as she pressed her palm against her forehead. “That’s not funny,” she whined, squeezing her eyes shut. Reid pushed his guitar behind his back and turned to face her. “Hey,” he whispered, tugging her hand away from her face. “I was only kidding. Don’t be nervous.” “That’s easy for you to say. You just performed with Jack Green. This is nothing for you.” Reid slid his hand to Chloe’s, gripping it tightly. He expected her to pull away, but when she didn’t, his shoulders relaxed and a feeling of calm washed over him. For once, he felt like she needed him. “I threw up before I went on stage,” he admitted with an embarrassed laugh. Chloe’s eyes widened and her lips parted in shock. “You what?” “Do you know why I’m always alone in my dressing room before every show? I can’t believe Inky hasn’t ratted me out.” Chloe’s brows rose in surprise and her look of nervousness faded to curiosity. “Are you going to tell me something awesome?” she whispered, her voice laced with excitement. Reid gave her a wry smile. “The things I’m willing to do for you,” he mumbled low enough for Chloe not to hear. With a deep breath, he dropped his eyes to their joined hands and spoke. “During my first tour, I had a nasty habit of throwing up before every show. I tried to play it off like I’d had too much to drink, which was the truth sometimes, but never the real cause of my nausea. One night before a show, I decided it was time to man up. So I skipped my dressing room and walked straight toward the stage.” Reid grimaced. “I didn’t even make it to the side of the stage before I threw up all over some poor kid. It was awful. After that, I never tried again. I go to my dressing room, take a shit-ton of nausea medicine, and let what happens happen.” “Oh, Reid,” Chloe sighed, hooking her finger under his chin. When he met her gaze, her eyes were soft, yet bright. She grinned. He frowned. His expression only made her smile widen. “Why are you laughing at me?” he asked, fighting his own smile. “Because you just made that entire thing up, you liar!” Reid chuckled and flinched when she playfully kicked his shin. “Fine, fine,” he conceded. “I don’t throw up before every show, but it does happen sometimes. And it did happen tonight. Shit, Jack Green is one of my favorite musicians; that’s intimidating.” Chloe rolled her eyes. “You’re a jerk. I thought I was going to get something juicy and all I got was a half-baked puke story. Lame.” Reid smirked and pushed one of her fallen shoulder straps back into place. “Say what you will,” he whispered. “But this platform is moving and you’ve completely forgotten about being nervous.” Chloe’s eyes widened and she tried to pull her hand free, but Reid held tight. “You’re not supposed to be over here! You’re supposed to be on the middle platform. Go!” Reid released her hand to position his guitar. “Nah, I think I’ll stay here.” His eyes widened as he got an idea. “I’m going to do a little something different during the last verse of the song. Just go with it, okay? I’ll explain later,” he said in a rush. Chloe’s mouth fell open. “Are you kidding me? You can’t change the routine! This is live television!” “I can and I will. I promise, you’ll understand soon enough. Now, are you ready to show everyone what real music feels like?” Chloe’s eyes were still panicked. “Yeah,” she exhaled, cradling her violin. “Let’s make them feel it.” The spotlight flashed to the empty center stage before sweeping across to where Reid and Chloe stood side by side. He bobbed his head and grinned as Drew counted off and began to play. One by one, they joined in, and this time Chloe came in on cue. Unlike his concerts where he would normally talk a bit, he had to go into the song right away. Chloe swayed her hips and wore a small smirk as she brushed her shoulder against Reid’s. He twisted his head to the side and grinned as he stared down at her. He wasn’t sure what it was about their current position that felt so intimate, but it was almost as if they were the only two people in the room. He gave her a quick wink before twisting away and walking to the center of the stage. Cheers erupted, and if he wasn’t mistaken, a few sounds of disappointment. He didn’t know if it was real, or if he was projecting his own displeasure about moving away from Chloe. As he hit the chorus, Chloe slid to her mark beside Greer, the pair moving in sync as they played. When the song began to slow, Chloe turned to move back to her platform, but Reid blocked her path at center stage. She kept her smile in place and continued to play, but Reid could tell she was worried about his improvisation. The truth was, he wasn’t sure about what he was going to do either. But he had an opportunity to tell Chloe how he felt with the last, whispered verse of a song, so he took it, on live television. Moving as close as their instruments would allow, Reid played his guitar softly, his head bent and his eyes closed. I close my eyes to remember a time when there was a chance you could’ve been mine. I don’t deserve it, we both know it’s true, but God . . . how I miss you. Come on, girl, give me your hand Come on, girl, let’s play pretend Let’s fool ourselves into believing that we’re only friends. The stage darkened and screams erupted as Reid remained with his head bent and eyes closed. “Reid,” Chloe croaked as the platform started to move. “Reid, look at me.” Almost as if coming out of a trance, Reid lifted his eyes to Chloe. Her face was clear, but he could see the swarm of emotions fighting to break free. “Please.” Reid blinked and nodded, letting her know he understood. She wanted him to snap back from whatever place he’d gone. Forcing an over-the-top laugh, he smiled and faced the audience. He threw his arm over Chloe’s shoulder and waved as the platform lowered, acting as though what just happened was all part of the show. The moment they disappeared from view, Chloe backed away from him. “What the hell was that?” she whispered. Reid shrugged, feeling ashamed for acting so impulsively. Before he could answer, one of the producers walked over to them.“That was hot as fuck,” the producer said, handing them each a bottle of water. “That’s what that was. Congrats, you two, you just won tonight’s top spot for best performance.” Pausing, he looked from Chloe to Reid. “We sure hope we’ll see more of you two.” With that, he left the way he came. Chloe cleared her throat. “Looks like your improv was a hit.” “I don’t care about that. Do you know what this means?” Reid asked, moving in front of her. Chloe shook her head. “It means that your name will be on the lips of everyone who matters in this industry. It means that you’ll never have to worry about working again.” “You did that for me?” Chloe whispered. Reid averted his eyes. He was afraid she would see that he wasn’t being completely honest. That she would be able to tell there was more to it than just helping her out. “Remember what I said about never giving up on music? While that still holds true, it doesn’t hurt to have a little help from time to time either.” Faster than he could prepare for, Chloe stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Thank you.” “Anything for you,” he murmured before returning her embrace.