"I don't give a damn about my bad reputation."
Bad Reputation, Joan Jet
Standing in front of the dirty bathroom mirror, Kari tugged lightly on the bill of her cap, pulling it over her eyes in an effort to hide her features. She never thought she would have to resort to this behavior. Generally, she wouldn’t go to such great lengths to hide her identity; however, it was necessary in this case. Henry never would have let her come otherwise. And the fact that he didn’t know just made the entire situation all the more exciting.
Nodding at her reflection in the mirror, she pulled down the sleeves of her red plaid shirt and used them to cover her palms as she reached for the bathroom door, doing her best not to look utterly disgusted. Pulling open the door, she stepped into the small hallway and looked for a gap in the crowd.
Taking a deep breath, she tightened her fingers around the strap of the leather messenger bag which was slung over her shoulder and weaved her way towards the main floor. The venue was packed, which was unsurprising, however she was slightly impressed by the wide variety of attendees.
The presence of teenage girls was standard at the concert of any young, attractive male singer. What was unexpected, was the mixture of males as well as actual adults that were present. It seemed this singer captured the attention of an extremely diverse audience. This was one of the many reasons Henry had gotten in touch with him in the first place.
Making sure to keep her head down, she pushed politely through the crowd until she found an empty barstool near the back of the event space. Pubs, bars, and ballrooms were not the sort of venues she usually associated with performers, but the more she had come to learn about him, the more she realized it fit his style. It was yet another example of how different they were and yet another reason she was wary of their new arrangement.
Sighing, she clutched her bag in her lap and crossed her legs as she slid onto the barstool and waited for the concert to start. The lights dimmed a few minutes later and her ears were immediately met with deafening high pitched screams. Grimacing, she resisted the urge to plug her ears as the first opening act walked on stage.
Precisely fifty-seven minutes and two opening acts later, the lights on the stage finally dimmed for the main performer. She had lost track of the number of times she had checked her phone for the time during the first two acts. It had been a while since she’d experienced a concert from the point of view of an audience member and she’d forgotten what it felt like: the anticipation, the excitement, the impatience. She felt all of those emotions before her shows as well, however, they seemed more poignant when she was waiting for someone else.
He finally entered the stage, adjusting the strap of his guitar on his shoulder as he smiled widely at the audience. The screaming continued as he waved, finally subsiding when he raised a finger and pressed it to his lips, urging the crowd to be silent.
Once the room was so quiet she could swear the world could hear her heart pounding, he nodded happily and began to strum his guitar, humming softly into the microphone. His style of music was unlike anything she’d ever heard on mainstream radio stations before, however audiences seemed to take to it like fish to water, leaving the entire room captivated and entranced as he swayed on stage and began to sing.
His voice was deep and smooth and melodic, leaving her paralyzed as she listened. It washed over her in soft waves, spreading through her veins and warming her entire body, causing her muscles to relax. She had never been to a show where the audience was so quiet, yet so completely enthralled by the performer.
His set list was a good mixture of upbeat anthems and slow, romantic ballads, yet it seemed he did the entire show in exactly the same way: simply standing in front of a microphone and strumming his guitar.
After finishing his first five songs, he took a pause and flashed a smile to the audience. Adjusting the guitar strap on his shoulder, he wrapped the fingers from one hand around the base of the microphone as the other reached up to run his fingers through his hair, pulling his dark locks upwards.
“So are you guys having a good time so far?” he asked the crowd, his voice somewhat raspy from singing.
The crowd responded with a raucous cheer until he held up a hand to signal they be quiet.
“Well guys,” he continued, “I have some pretty exciting news for you. I’m sure you’ve all heard of Kari Stevens.”
A murmur ran through the crowd, followed by some soft cheering. She hardly expected his fans to react enthusiastically at the mention of her name; after all, their song styles were quite different, meaning they catered to different demographics and audiences as well. Nevertheless, she had no doubt that whether they thought of her positively or negatively, they had heard of her, and that’s all that mattered.
Instinctively, she pulled the bill of her cap further down in order to hide her face and made sure her hair was still tucked up into the hat as well. She knew she was being paranoid, but the last thing she needed was for someone to recognize her and cause a scene. After her last public escapade had landed her on the cover of every tabloid in the country, she had promised Henry that she would stay out of the spotlight until the tour started.
However, when she had heard that the artist Henry had invited to be her opening act was in town performing a gig, she couldn’t help but succumb to the urge to check him out. After all, if she would be spending a lot of time in the next months with this man, she wanted to know something about him.
Sure, she knew what she read in the magazines. He was the golden boy of the music industry and the media alike: wholesome and pure and incapable of doing wrong. However, she had always been a strong believer in forming her own opinion of people, so when she saw the opportunity to see for herself, she jumped on it.
Focusing her attention back to the stage, she nearly fell from her stool in shock when her eyes met deep sapphire pools. Gulping, she blinked a couple times, assuring herself that there was no possibility that he was able to see her in the crowd.
His eyes remained trained in her direction for a moment longer before scanning the room as his smile widened. “Well, I’m thrilled to announce that I will be opening for her on her tour this year.”
The crowd went wild once more, and he grinned, his eyes twinkling as he placed a pick between his teeth and began the next song. Sighing in relief, she sat back in her stool and silently enjoyed the rest of the concert.
Two hours and a thirty-minute encore later, she found herself glancing around suspiciously as she stood near the side of the stage. Once a security guard had turned his back, she quickly hopped over the low metal barrier and hurried towards the dressing rooms in the back.
She had been quite impressed with his performance. Throughout the night, he had managed to keep the crowd entertained and involved, a feat not many performers could accomplish. Still, his on stage persona told her nothing about who he was as a person. Only a close inspection of his personal effects could provide that information. Thus, she was on a mission to find his dressing room.
She wasn’t entirely sure what she was looking for, she just knew she was curious. Once she found a door with his name typed out on a sheet of paper and taped to the front, she pushed it open carefully and poked her head inside. Thankfully, it was empty and she crept into the room, shutting the door silently behind her.
The room was messy. Various article of clothing, including shirts and hoodies, lay strewn over couches and chairs. About six different pairs of shoes, mostly Converse of varying colors, scattered the floor and an acoustic guitar lay on the table in the center of the room, surrounded by multi-colored picks with the initials XS engraved on the front.
Other than discovering that he wasn’t entirely organized, she still had not learned anything, so she scanned the room quickly, hoping something would catch her eye. A phone lying on the table piqued her interest and she hurried over to it.
Poking her tongue between her lips in determination, she pressed the main button and sighed in frustration when the phone prompted her for a passcode. Seeing as he was practically a stranger, she knew she wouldn’t be able to accurately guess his passcode without locking him out of the phone for an extended period of time, so she pursed her lips as she pondered her options.
Unfortunately, wasn’t given too much time to think, as the dressing room door opened and a deep voice rang out from behind.
“What the hell are you doing?”
Closing her eyes and scrunching her features sheepishly, she turned slowly, hiding the phone behind her back as she came face to face with her opening act, and Xavier Spiers looked irritated beyond belief.
Hoping there was a possibility he didn’t recognize her, she lowered her chin, keeping her face shaded by her cap as she racked her brain for a suitable explanation.
“Oh, I thought this was the ladies room,” she sputtered out, mentally reminding herself to think quicker on her feet. “My mistake, I’ll keep looking.”
Keeping her eye line directed at the floor and allowing her long hair to shield her profile, she attempted to hurry past him, but was stopped by his raspy voice piercing the air.
“Cut the bullshit, Stevens. I know it’s you.”
She scrunched her nose in annoyance and turned to face him, pulling the cap from her head and raking a hand through her hair to return it to its natural state. Crossing her arms over her chest, she gripped the bill of her hat tightly between her fingers and held back a laugh.
Xavier was doing his utmost to look severely pissed off. His lips were pressed together in a thin line, and his nostrils were flared, causing the small silver ring piercing his nose to jut out, and his eyes narrowed as he stared at her intently. Although she would admit that she found the flash of fire in his eyes and the furrow of his brow to be extremely sexy, the one thing he was not was intimidating.
His features and general disposition were far too angelic for her to be frightened.
“You look good, Spiers,” she grinned widely. “Have you been working out?”
It wasn’t a lie; the way he was clenching his fists was causing the muscles in his extremely well-toned arms to ripple slightly beneath his tanned skin and his already fitted black t-shirt to cling to his chest and outline his abdominal muscles.
She traced her eyes slowly down his lean frame, taking her bottom lip between her teeth and running her tongue over it to alleviate her suddenly dry mouth.
Xavier Spiers was a very fine specimen indeed. If nothing else, the next few months would at least be entertaining.
He rolled his eyes as he watched her blatantly check him out and crossed his arms over his chest, which only served to enhance his biceps and increase her enjoyment.
“Has anyone ever told you that you make a horrible first impression?” he asked, jutting out his jaw to deliciously define his jawline and narrowing his glare even further.
“Aww,” she hummed, sticking out her bottom lip and shrugging, “I guess that means we’ll have to meet again so I can redeem myself.”
Pursing his lips, he stared at her for a moment, the crease in his forehead deepening as though he was trying to decide whether or not it was worth his energy to continue the argument before he allowed his muscles to relax and shook his head in frustration.
“That’s kind of inevitable, isn’t it?” he sighed, reaching up to tug his fingers through his already messy hair before extending open faced palm. “Seeing as we’re going on tour together, I assumed we’d be spending at least a little time together.”
She glanced in confusion at his outstretched hand before flicking her gaze back to his face, silently asking what he wanted.
He rolled his eyes and wiggled his fingers. “My phone. I know you have it behind your back. Hand it over.”
Stretching her lips into a sheepish smile, she smacked the phone into his open palm and turned to watch him weave past her and plop down on the couch.
“You’d be the worst spy ever,” he commented, tilting his head backwards to look at her.
She shrugged, walking around to the other side of the couch and proceeding to make herself comfortable, leaning back against the arm and resting her feet in his lap. Xavier shot her a disgusted glare before rolling his eyes and accepting the fact that she wouldn’t move even if he asked nicely.
“Subtlety is overrated,” she commented with great disinterest, bringing her purse to her front and setting in firmly in her lap. “Besides, I’ve been told that my boldness is part of my charm.”
“Do they also tell you that delinquent behavior is part of your charm?”
Narrowing her eyes, she shot him her most scathing glare and pursed her lips in annoyance. It seemed he was determined to kill her mood.
“It was hardly delinquent behavior,” she snorted, “I was hacking into your phone, not robbing a bank. You need to relax.”
“I relax plenty,” he shot back, pushing her feet from his lap.
She chewed on her bottom lip as she studied him for a moment, bending her knees and wrapping her arms around her legs. Although his shoulders were slumped, he seemed extremely on edge to the point where she was certain a single insult could possibly cause him to snap. He was in serious need of some reckless behavior.
“Have you ever done anything illegal?” she tilted her head to the side, genuinely curious.
“No…” he paused, turning his head, his eyes clouded with worry. “Have you?”
Her lips kinked into a small smirk and she leaned forward, her eyes sparkling. “Haven’t you heard? I’m a bad girl.”
“That’s what they say.”
His response caught her off guard. Most people agreed whole heartedly with the statement. After all, a reckless wild child is exactly how the media portrayed her. Granted, a large percentage of the time, she lived up to her reputation, however she wasn’t entirely the rebellious pain in the ass people seemed to think.
Perhaps Xavier was too smart to believe everything he read.
“What have you heard about me?” she asked as she settled back into the couch.
“Does it matter?” he shrugged, resting his head against the worn leather back of the couch. “I reckon about eighty-five percent of what the papers say about you isn’t true anyway.”
“I’d say it’s more like forty-five percent,” she corrected, hiding her amusement when she saw his shocked expression. No doubt he was wondering why she would want to be so poorly publicized, but the truth was: she didn’t care what the tabloids said. All that mattered was what her fans thought of her and at the end of the day, they knew who she really was.
“You should be happy about that, by the way,” she continued, “It’s the reason you’re going on tour with me.”
“What is?” he raised his eyebrows in surprise, “Your bad reputation?”
She nodded and hummed. “Yep. Henry thinks having you around might clean up my image and bring in a different demographic. I guess being a goody two shoes pays off.”
She thought her comment was quite amusing, but judging from the icy glare being sent in her direction, Xavier didn’t share this opinion.
“Look,” he replied, “I don’t know what Henry’s motives are, but he’s clever and I’m sure he knows what he’s doing. So if you really think I’m here to make you look better, than maybe I am and maybe that’s for the best.”
“Well aren’t you a barrel of laughs,” she spat out bitterly and rolled her eyes, “Henry needs to learn that I can take care of myself.”
Rather than come back with some sort of self-righteous response, Xavier smirked. It irritated her greatly that she was aroused by the way his lips kinked and his intoxicatingly blue eyes darkened and she found herself leaning towards him until he smacked a magazine against her legs.
“Clearly,” he replied dryly, glancing down at the cover which featured a less attractive picture of her being held up by two body guards as she stumbled out of a club after downing one too many vodka shots.
Once again, she rolled her eyes. She was starting to think touring with Xavier was going to be a major buzz kill.
“And that would be my cue to leave,” she said, swinging her legs over the side of the couch and standing up, straightening her purse at her side.
Nodding once, she walked around the couch towards the dressing room door before pausing and biting her bottom lip. She turned slowly, crouching beside Xavier and stretching her lips into her sweetest smile.
“Would you do something for me?” she purred, running her index finger lightly down his arm and relishing in the fact that his muscles tensed beneath her touch.
“What?” he stammered, his breath hitching in his throat.
“If you talk to Henry, would you mind leaving out the fact that I was here tonight?”
His entire body suddenly relaxed and he let out a low chuckle, that dangerous twinkle returning to his eyes and causing her to gulp nervously, though she did her best to maintain a calm appearance.
“Breaking the rules, are we? Shocker.”
For what seemed like the millionth time since they met, she rolled her eyes, praying he wouldn’t live up to his good boy reputation. The last thing she needed was a lecture from Henry on the importance of staying out of the media spotlight.
“I kind of promised him I would lay low until the tour started,” she sighed, “So keep your lips zipped, alright?”
“Fine,” he laughed, “But you owe me.”
She sighed. “Alright, what do you want?”
“I’m not sure yet,” he shrugged, clearly enjoying her current state of annoyance, “But I’ll let you know.”
Being in debt to people was not something she particularly enjoyed, but she reluctantly agreed seeing as she had no other choice.
“I’m one hundred percent sure I’m going to regret this,” she muttered, “but fine. And thank you.”
He flashed an extremely innocent smile and waved as she turned and walked out the door, shaking her head as she checked the hallway for people before silently making her way towards the nearest exit.
It was going to be a long eight months.