Picking her way through the crowded alleyway, Shannon cursed herself for being late. The backstage entrance at the L.A. Palladium was always a madhouse after a concert. She knew it was nearly impossible to get to the stage door after the show let out. Sidestepping the outskirts of the crowd of screaming fans who were clamoring to get a glimpse of someone—anyone—each time the metal door opened and closed wasn’t easy. Squeezing through a pair of bleached blondes in tight tees and shouldering past a screaming redhead, she came face to face with a woman wearing a Gideon Eli tattoo on her shoulder. Rolling her eyes, she pressed onward. It amazed her that people permanently altered their bodies that way, especially with her boyfriend’s face and name.
A door slamming overhead caused the crowd to crackle with excitement, and the screams intensified as the entire mass of bodies began bouncing up and down. She’d seen more sedate mosh pits in her day. Seeing her goal was within reach, she ducked under an arm and shouldered through another pair of screaming groupies until she finally burst through at the bottom of the back stairs. Digging below the neckline of her top, she pulled out her backstage pass. The security behemoth checked her pass and ID. He eyed her up and down, murmuring a gruff greeting.
“Evenin’, Miss Hughes, follow the corridor back and to the left.”
He then opened the door and practically pushed her on through. The chorus of boos and name calling cut off sharply as the metal door slammed once again, this time with Shannon on the coveted other side.
Thanking the security guard, she smoothed down her hair and licked her lips before heading toward the band’s dressing rooms. The backstage area was huge and the dressing rooms were more like suites. Shannon grimaced as she stood in the open doorway, looking into the main room. It was crammed full of people, their voices loudly warring with the discordant opening of the Goo Dolls “Black Balloon” pulsating in the background. As she looked around at the empty liquor bottles and beer cans, the acrid smell of pot hanging heavily in the room, she thought the choice of music about a co-dependent, drug addicted couple was ironic.
Not seeing any sign of Gideon, she began making her way toward another open doorway on the far side of the room. As she ran the gauntlet of humanity pressed into the too small space, she looked for someone familiar. Ignoring Sticks, the drummer who sat on the couch, a woman’s head in his lap, busily—uh—entertaining him, she continued pushing through the crowd. Johnny, the band’s bassist, had a woman pressed against the wall and was busy making out with her, one hand under her top, the other up the back of her skirt. When a boob popped out, Shannon quickly averted her eyes. She just wanted to find her boyfriend and get out of there before a full-blown orgy broke out.
Stepping around a group of four doing lines of coke on the coffee table, she finally arrived at the open doorway.
Looking up with a smile, it quickly faded as she saw Gideon’s slimy manager materialize before her. “Hi Ray,” she greeted him politely, hollering to be heard over the noise. “Have you seen Gideon? We’ve got plans this evening.”
“Really? What kind? There’s a party going on here if you hadn’t noticed. When we’re done here, we’re going to Justin and Roxie’s for an all-nighter. Surely you two aren’t going to miss the end of tour bash. It’s tradition.”
“Sorry, but we’re supposed to drive up to a B&B in Napa for the week. I’m on spring break.”
“The press will be there. You could go in the morning, I’m sure.” Ray had an irritated look on his face, which wasn’t unusual. Shannon knew he didn’t like her.
“This was Gid’s idea, Ray. Have you seen him? You gave him my message didn’t you?”
Looking down at her with his greasy, smarmy smile, he grinned suddenly, pointing a thumb over his shoulder into the bedroom. “They’re doing a candid ‘up close and personal’ video. Go on in. They’ll be finished soon, I’m sure.” He walked away then, snorting with laughter as he went.
As she moved into the vacated doorway, his odd behavior all became clear. He never liked the fact that she and Gideon were dating, especially when Gideon had missed some public appearances or photo ops because he was with her. Ray preferred his rock stars single; it was better for ticket sales, he’d said once. Well, he’s going to get his wish, she thought, as she stood watching two naked women cavorting with her equally naked boyfriend. The bed was stripped of all but the bottom sheet, the pillows and blankets lying haphazardly on the floor as if they had been thrown wildly off the bed in their enthusiasm.
Gideon was lying face down on the wide bed. Shannon couldn’t see his face, but she imagined he had that sexy scruff of beard and a sensual smile on his pouty lips as the women rubbed their bare bodies against him. One of the bimbos bent over him, rubbing his shoulders with her fake double D’s. Her hands, with their long red acrylic nails, were entangled in his wavy brown hair. The other tramp was straddling his ass facing his feet, her naked triple D breasts jiggling obscenely as she tugged on and removed the boots that Shannon had gotten him for Christmas. That certainly was a bitter pill, adding insult to injury.
“Take a number, honey. We won’t be done with Gid’s sexy ass for a while.” The blonde spoke in a thick-tongued, obviously altered voice. Having finally worked off his boots, she pulled off his socks and promptly sucked one big toe into her mouth as she ground her naked pussy against his bare ass.
“Take your time. I’m done with him.” She said it loudly, wanting to get his attention, but Gid didn’t budge, and she thought disdainfully that all the bare pussy and tits rubbing against his backside must be distracting. Anger and pain rose along with the bitter gorge in the back of her throat as she spun around and began pushing her way back through the crowd.
Frantic to get out before she began crying—or worse, hurling—she shoved and pushed through the throng of partiers. Veering around the coke covered coffee table yet again, she couldn’t help but notice that Sticks was now being ridden energetically by his groupie. She was astride his lap and his hands were fused to her ass. From this angle, she could see more than she ever wanted of Gideon’s bandmate, and she spun in the other direction. With a jarring thud, she slammed into a hard body and bounced backwards, losing her balance. The only thing that saved her from falling onto the cocaine laden table behind her was a pair of big hands wrapping around her waist and steadying her.
“Easy there, Shannon.”
Looking up in surprise, she saw Justin North, the band’s lead singer and Gideon’s best friend. He was holding her by the upper arms, curiosity clear on his familiar face. Her eyes swept over his handsome features before sliding to the woman at his side. Roxie North was never far from her rock star husband’s side. And after what Shannon had just witnessed, she knew exactly why. The angry tears she had been keeping at bay pooled up and over her lashes. She had hoped she and Gideon were headed for marriage like their friends, but that silly pipe dream was now over.
“Shannon, what’s wrong?” Roxie’s husky voice was filled with concern. The two couples had gotten close in the ten months since she’d started dating Gideon, and Roxie had soon become her best friend.
“Nothing. I’m just trying to leave.”
“I thought you and Gid were heading to Napa tonight?” Justin asked. “He said he was meeting you at—”
Shaking her head, Shannon pulled free of his grasp, unable to bear being there another second. She had to get out before she broke down and made a fool of herself. Oh, wait… Gideon had already done that. “I gotta go,” Shannon cried.
“Shannon, don’t go. Wait—”
Ignoring her friend, she shoved through the sea of bodies, stepping into the hallway just as a sob escaped her chest.
“Is something wrong?”
Ray Reynolds stood against the opposite wall, arms crossed and a smug grin on his face.
“You sent me in there on purpose,” she accused, swallowing her tears. Despite her utter heartbreak, she’d be damned if she let this jackweed see her cry.
“Of course I did. I warned you that nice girls finish last in this business, babe.”
“Don’t call me ‘babe’.”
“I’ll tell Gideon you stopped by when he comes up for air. With those two hotties, that should be in about four hours or so.”
“Fuck you, Ray! How’s that for a nice girl?” She stomped toward the exit, his evil disgusting laughter following her, and if that didn’t beat all, she could hear Justin Timberlake’s cheating song, “Cry Me a River”, playing in the background. If she didn’t know better, she would have sworn the prick had arranged it.
* * *
“I don’t get it. She didn’t show up on Saturday. She won’t answer my calls or texts. I went by her apartment five times and there’s never anyone home. Her parents won’t talk to me, but that’s not surprising. I even staked out her place last night, but she never came home.”
Ray held up an envelope with Gideon’s name scrawled across the front. He recognized Shannon’s writing instantly and grabbed it and tore it open.
I’m moving on. We’re done. Don’t call. Don’t come by. I packed up your shit and left it with your slime-ball manager. I deserve better.
“What the fuck?” He collapsed into one of the office chairs, stunned. He thought they had something special. Never had he felt a connection with a woman like the one he had with Shannon. Now, out of nowhere, this bullshit note. He stared at the crumpled paper confused, hurt, destroyed. Rubbing his face in frustration, he said to Ray, not expecting an answer, “She drops off the face of the earth for five days—now this?”
“She stopped by the after-party on Saturday. I thought she looked upset. Did you two have a fight?”
“No. That’s just it; we were supposed to head to Napa. I waited and waited, and she never showed.”
“That’s tough, Gid. What are you going to do?”
“Hell if I know. I can’t fix this if I can’t find her. Did she say anything to you that night?”
“Sorry, just chitchat really.”
“I don’t understand. Roxie and Justin saw her and said she was crying. I can’t figure out why. She wasn’t even supposed to be there. Did you see her talking to anyone?” Seeing his negative response, Gideon scowled. “Where’s the box?”
Ray pointed to a large carton in the corner. Gideon approached it and opened the lid cautiously, as if expecting a snake to jump out and strike. The first thing he saw was a baggie filled with all the jewelry he’d given her—a sapphire and diamond pendant with matching earrings—her birthstone. There was also a pair of diamond stud earrings he’d given her just because and a matching tennis bracelet. They were all lovely pieces, but the thing that hurt most was the shell choker he’d bought for her on their first date when they’d gone to Venice Beach. Looking further, he noticed she’d packed up every gift he’d ever given her. Reaching in the box, he picked up the stuffed panda he’d bought her on their date to the San Diego Zoo. These were her gifts, her mementos, but she’d called it ‘his shit’… What the fuck was going on?
“Sorry, man. I keep telling you guys, nice girls don’t make it in this business.”
“Kiss my ass, Ray. That’s no help at all.”