Nate stood at the side of the stage and looked out at the audience. It was the final night of the festival and he was on the main stage. All his other sets had been on the small auxiliary stages and it had been just him and his guitar. Tonight it was different. At sound check earlier he’d run through his set list with the band that would be playing with him tonight. Some of them had played with him before and it had felt a little bit like old times, which scared the shit out of him.
He had to admit that he had enjoyed himself this weekend. Getting back to the roots of what his music was all about had felt good, almost like a cleansing. He couldn’t hide behind a loud band or lights or fancy shit. When it was just him and his guitar, things felt real. It had been a long time since it had just been him and the music and it had felt like coming home.
The band that was performing on stage at the moment was wrapping up and he felt the familiar flutterings of nerves in his gut. He wanted to throw up. A big hand clamped down on his shoulder and he looked up at Derek. The man had stayed for the weekend and had been there before every one of his performances. He appreciated the support, more than he could put into words.
“You got this man,” Derek said. “Just a walk in the park.”
Nate tried to smile but his lips felt frozen and his mouth dry. His heart began to race as the other band ended their set and left the stage. They were young, just starting out but if the crowd reaction was anything to go by, they were going to be big.
“Oh shit, Nate Nash?”
Nate looked up into the eyes of the lead singer. “Hey man.”
They shook hands and the young guy shook his head. “This is amazing. My mom loves you.”
Nate tried not to grimace. “Thanks.”
“Yeah. She played your second album to death when I was a kid. Geez. I can’t believe it’s you.”
“Great set,” Nate said nodding towards the stage and feeling like he was a hundred years old.
“Thanks man,” the guy said. “Good luck.”
He raised his hand as he walked away and Nate breathed a sigh of relief.
“It’s only been four years since my second album,” he said to Derek, “but that kid made it sound like it was twenty years ago.”
Derek snorted. “That kid was like twelve,” he said, “Don’t give him a second thought.”
The roadies had moved on stage to set up for his performance and the nerves redoubled in his stomach. He hissed as his gut cramped and he closed his eyes praying that he wouldn’t vomit. Not that he had anything to void in his stomach, he’d been too nervous to eat.
“You okay?” Derek looked at him with concern.
“Yeah,” Nate said, breathing out slowly. “Nerves.”
“Do you have some sort of pre-show ritual that helps?” Derek asked and Nate shook his head.
“What did you used to do?”
“You don’t want to know,” Nate replied.
Derek raised an eyebrow at him but Nate didn’t elaborate. He wasn’t going back down that road. He didn’t need his support team to start supplying him with drugs and women. That part of his life was over. The nerves he was feeling was all part of doing his job and if he couldn’t control them like a grown-up then he didn’t deserve this career.
Mabel and Wade walked up to them. Mabel looked pissed and Wade had a smirk on his face that meant they had been at it again and this time Wade had won. He didn’t win very often, so Nate understood the gloating.
“Here,” Mabel said, shoving a stainless steel water bottle at him. It was warm.
“Tea,” she replied.
He screwed his nose up and she rolled her eyes.
“It’s herbal tea with a bit of honey,” she explained. “It’s good for your throat and will help with your nerves.”
Nate unscrewed the lid and took a sip. He expected it to taste like ass, but it was actually good.
“Thanks,” he said taking another sip. The warmth was soothing against his vocal chords and his stomach didn’t immediately react to the substance, so he was good.
“You ready?” Wade asked and Nate tried not to grimace.
“Yeah.” He replied.
“‘No Good for Me’ just hit number four,” Wade said and then made an ‘oomf’ sound as Mabel whacked him in the stomach.
He smiled. “Yeah?” He turned to look at Wade and the other man returned his smile.
“Yeah. People are loving it. People are loving you. Your social media sites are blowing up with tweets and posts about your new music.”
“Hey,” Mabel said, “it’s my job to tell him that.”
“Well, you weren’t saying anything and I thought he needed to hear it.” Wade’s relaxed drawl was at odds with the fire in his eyes.
“I didn’t want to make him any more nervous than he is,” she replied, hands on hips, feet wide like she was going into battle.
“Hey guys,” Derek said, his deep voice cutting through the tension between the two of them. “Do I need to separate you?”
The stage manager approached and tapped Nate on the shoulder. “It’s time,” he said.
Nate nodded at the man and shared a look with his team. He rolled his shoulders and picked up his guitar, slinging it over his shoulder. He waited for the announcer to say his name and the crowd roared. The familiar buzz of adrenaline prickled under his skin and with a last deep breath, Nate strode out on stage.
“Stevie! Come and watch.”
Stevie poked her head out of her bunk. The three Court siblings were huddled around a laptop. Things had been tense since the night that Nadine and Jace had had their blowup, but it thankfully hadn’t impeded their performances.
They were between gigs right now and on the road. The bus was speeding down the highway toward their next venue. Stevie had been trying to sleep and not think about what Nate was doing, but it had been hopeless. They had all been tracking his performances and watching as his social media profiles gained fans. Theirs had as well and now that their song was charting at number four, it was only going to get crazier.
She slid from her bunk and padded out to where the others were sitting. They made room for her on the couch and she peered at the small screen. The video was taken from side stage and she could see the crowd in the background.
“Wade’s live streaming it,” Vanessa said.
Nate’s voice hit her at that exact moment and she sucked in a breath. She had been listening to his voice every night, her phone filled with his second album and the rough cuts of his new album that she had begged Derek for. There was something different about listening to it live. They’d experienced it themselves with their own performances. Playing live changed the energy of the song, amped it up, especially if the audience was into what they were playing. A crowd that was with them pulled something out that just wasn’t there when they were in the studio. Nate’s audience was with him one hundred percent.
He sounded good. No, he sounded great. His voice was rich and strong and he had the crowd eating out of his hand. This was the Nate Nash that had won millions of hearts. This was the Nate Nash that she had played the Red Boot with. It was what got him noticed by Rocksteady all those years ago. Nate was a natural performer, she’d known it from the first moment they had performed together. She knew that her songs were not the only reason they had always had steady work when they were together. Yeah, people liked their songs, but it was Nate’s skill at winning over a crowd that had made them popular. Something that she’d had to learn… was still learning.
She sighed as Nate transitioned into an old song, one they had done together, one from his very first album. Their concerts had been going well, but she still couldn’t pull the audience’s attention like Nate could. Nadine was pretty good at it and she even had her own little fan group happening. But Stevie was the front man and it was her job to lead the crowd. She’d watched Lily do it and now she watched as Nate did it. It was intrinsic to him, as easy and natural as breathing. She had to work at it.
“He’s so good,” Nadine whispered beside her. “It’s like he can read their minds or something.”
“He makes my tummy feel funny,” Vanessa said.
“It’s the music,” Jace said. “Good music does that to you.”
“It’s more than that,” Stevie said, “It’s showmanship. He knows how to work the crowd. He knows how to pull at the heartstrings and ring out every last emotion from whoever is listening to him.”
“Yeah,” the girls sighed together and she and Jace shared a look.
“It’s why he was so successful for so long despite the shit music he was producing,” Stevie added a little spitefully.
“How do we do that?” Jace asked.
“Hell if I know,” Stevie breathed, suddenly feeling very inadequate.
There was no doubt that Court’n Jacks was a tight band. They were all highly skilled musicians and the songs they wrote together were special. But there was a huge difference between being a studio musician and being a performer. For too many years they had been in the studio working on the technical aspects of the music. The artists that they worked with didn’t need them to steal the limelight. They were the backup dancers, the chorus line. They just had to play the shit out of the music and let the actual artists give the music a soul.
Now they were the artists. Sure, the people liked their songs and they had been able to win some of Lily’s fans, but they weren’t at the stage that people were excited to see them as much as they were excited to see her. People weren’t rushing into the stadium to see the opening act.
The applause that roared through the small laptop speakers brought her back to the screen and the man who was standing there waving to the crowd before jogging off the stage. The grin on Nate’s face took her back. She could almost feel the energy vibrating off him through the screen. Her body responded in kind and she felt the now familiar stirrings of need. He was magnetic and she felt drawn to him even though he was miles away.
“Say hi to Court’n Jacks,” Wade said and Nate stopped to look into the small screen in Wade’s hand.
“You guys watching me?” he asked with a grin.
Vanessa and Nadine waved to him and giggled. Nate smiled, but his eyes sought hers and when they connected she could feel it right down to her toes. God. This man was going to kill her.
“Hey Nessa, Nadine,” Nate said, taking the phone from Wade. “Jace, Stevie.”
Had she watched the whole set? Oh God he hoped so. He wanted her to see that he was clawing his way back. He wanted her to see that he was winning over his fans and making amends. He wanted her to see that he was growing up and taking this seriously.
“Great show Nate,” Jace said.
“Thanks man,” he replied, his eyes on Stevie. She was so beautiful and he wished that he was there with her. He wished he could feel her hair run through his hands and her skin beneath his fingertips.
“You did one of our songs,” Stevie said and her breathy voice hit him right in the groin.
“I did,” he replied, his voice equally breathless.
“It sounded great.”
He couldn’t help the smile that curled his lips. Praise from Stevie did all sorts of things to him.
“Hey guys,” Derek said, slapping Nate on the back and talking to the band on the phone. “I gotta steal Nate away but I can’t wait to see you guys next week.”
They waved goodbye and he disconnected the call before turning to Derek.
“What’s up man?” Nate wasn’t aware that he had any commitments after his set.
“Fan meet-and-greet,” Derek said.
“I didn’t know we had one of those scheduled.”
“We didn’t. The organizers just came and told me. Apparently it’s something they do every year. They pick a few of the artists that have really impacted the crowd and set up an impromptu meet-and-greet.”
Nate sighed. The adrenaline was still coursing through his body and in the old days he would have found the nearest warm body to work out the excess energy. These last few days though, he would go for a run. The thought of touching another woman when his heart was so set on Stevie just felt wrong so he turned to exercise instead. If this kept up he was going to be the fittest damned rock star out there.
“Do I get a chance to shower first?”
“Just a quick one. There’s just one more performer on the main stage and then they’ll announce the meet-and-greet. It’s first in first served.”
“Shit,” Nate cursed, “it’s going to be a fucking nightmare.”
“I think these guys know what they’re doing. They’ve been doing it for a few years now. The fans expect it.”
Nate shook his head as he strode towards his trailer for a shower and a change of clothes. He hoped they had enough security. These things had always ended up like a riot when he was touring. Admittedly he wasn’t as popular as he’d been once upon a time, but he’d heard the roar of the crowd tonight and he’d felt their adulation. He was back. Not yet at full strength, but certainly close and that meant that everyone would want a piece of him.
He stripped out of his jeans and t-shirt which were soaked through with sweat, and stepped into the tiny shower.
He knew it sounded arrogant, but he’d been on the receiving end of too many meet-and-greets gone wrong to be entirely comfortable with what was about to happen. At the height of his career he’d thought it was a riot and had loved every freaking minute of it. But that was back when he was stupid enough to think that the women wanted him, Nate the man. He soon learned that the women wanted Nate Nash, the rock star. He didn’t care back then. All he’d wanted was to get laid. He had so many offers of pussy that he couldn’t turn them down. He took just about everything offered to him, slaking his lust and walking away. The women got what they were after and so did he. He knew that they slept with him simply so they could brag that they’d fucked Nate Nash. He hadn’t cared. He liked women and he liked fucking. It seemed a win/win situation to him and he dived into it with abandon.
Not so much now.
The familiar restlessness was in his veins but he knew there was only one woman who could satisfy him and she was barely talking to him. He didn’t want nameless, faceless groupies pawing at him and bouncing on his cock just so they could say they’d joined the Nate Nash Fuck Club. He wanted Stevie. He wanted her so much it hurt.
He ran the soap over his body as the needles of hot water bit into him. Had he seen the same longing in her eyes tonight? She was still pissed at him, he knew that. She had every right to be, but was there something else there tonight. Had she looked at him with anger or had she looked at him the same way he’d looked at her? He’d been greedy to lap up every little bit of her with his eyes. His cock thickened as he thought of her and he stroked himself, needing the release or he was going to go crazy.
She had been with him every night, if only in his head. He’d run until he couldn’t run anymore to rid himself of the need that filled him after each performance. He could have found a woman to take the edge off, he’d had plenty of offers, but that’s not what he wanted. Everything had changed since he’d made love to Stevie and he couldn’t imagine sleeping with anyone else now.
He squeezed his cock and grunted as his orgasm hit. He hadn’t come since the last time he’d been inside Stevie, but seeing her tonight had pushed him beyond need. He would have gone fucking crazy if he didn’t take the edge off. He didn’t know if she was still seeing Carson, he didn’t know where they stood, but he wanted her. He wanted her so bad that it hurt.
Someone banged on his trailer and he shut the water off. He would get through this meet-and-greet and then he would run. It was the only way he was going to sleep tonight.