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By:Cari Quinn


Do or die time.

Nick Crandall closed his eyes as the music swelled around him. He waited a beat for Gray to finish the intro to “Taste of Candy” before he joined him, his fingers finding the worn grooves on the strings without thought. Without effort. This was where he became the most himself, under hot lights with a crowd swaying and shrieking feet away. That stage fright wound through his guts and threatened to make him sick every damn time didn’t lessen the magnitude of just how much the stage meant to him.

It was everything.

Music was everything.

Up here, he wasn’t a fuck-up from Carson who’d made good with his guitar because he’d had no fucking choice. What skills did he have other than on the strings? Customer service? Not likely, unless a growl counted as helpful. Ability to memorize shit and take tests? Nope. People pleaser? Fuck no.

Since junior high, he’d been staring down the twin barrel of his life choices—either sell drugs like his sister and his dad or make it in music.

The impossible doesn’t seem nearly as unlikely when no other options exist.

Now he was on stage with his band, Oblivion, back where it had all began for them. They were performing a one night only show at the Blue Rhino, a one-step-up-from-a-dive bar. It represented the pinnacle of all their dreams back when they’d been struggling to even get gigs, never mind well-paying ones. The founding members of the band, Simon and Deacon and himself—and Snake, God rest his mangled soul—hadn’t aspired to fame and fortune. All they’d wanted was to play music, get laid and have a good time.

Somewhere along the way, they’d picked up two more members of the band, Gray and Jazz, and stumbled into more success than they’d ever dreamed. They’d also fought more and faced more crap than he’d ever even guessed was possible back when they’d lived in that basement hovel under the Fluff ‘n Fold Laundromat. Snake was gone now, lost to drugs or bitterness or just plain bad luck. Maybe some combination of the three. And every damn one of his bandmates was mated for life. Even Simon. Super Slut, as Jazz called him, had settled down like all the rest of them. Tumbled like a frigging domino. He’d proposed, for God’s sake. No matter how many times he insisted that he’d only done a commitment ceremony with Margo, Oblivion’s violinist, the fact was that they were both wearing rings. Rings meant freaking married.

Nick never thought he’d see the day.

He’d also believed he would never see the day when he was the only single one left in his band. Like…no-hookups-in-months single. He wasn’t an extreme horndog when it came to climbing on the groupie train, but he liked sex as much as the next guy. Until he found someone else to fall into bed with—someone who wasn’t the one woman he couldn’t shake out of his head, for reasons he would never understand—he’d settle for making love to his guitar.

Fucking it hard, in this case. Because tonight Oblivion was showing the world they were back on goddamn top.

Simon was back shredding the vocals to their songs as if he’d never been out of commission for months. Sure, there were the occasional off notes, but that was to be expected, right? The guy had busted a vocal cord right on stage last summer and had undergone surgery before enduring months of convalescence. If parading around in skintight leather pants and showing off his sixteen chest hairs in front of the camera counted as convalescence, that is. Their resident pretty boy had turned to modeling to fill in the long months during Oblivion’s forced hiatus, though he’d also shown a ton of commitment to the vocal work he needed to do to get back in shape for the road. He’d hired a coach and even stopped drinking, which was probably akin to Nick cutting back on his pre-show, usually nerves-induced BJs. He’d decided to go cold turkey to show himself he could.

Some nights he wished he hadn’t. Like tonight. He’d needed that release more than ever, but Christ, Lila Shawcross, their manager, had been hovering around like a damn mother on prom night. If she’d so much as seen him go for his zipper, she probably would’ve used her purse as a deadly weapon.

Nick grinned as his fingers flew over the intro notes to their feet-stomping crowd pleaser “Lit.” Freaking Dragon Lady. That nickname definitely fit. Especially since her fire-breathing had been part of the reason he’d decided to stop with his pre-show warmups. She’d always seemed to be around. It was one thing for his bandmates to know how he prepared to go onstage. Another altogether for her to be the one staring down her nose at him in obvious disapproval.

“How we doing tonight, LA?” Simon called to the crowd as Nick and Gray dueled their way into the song.