Authors: Lexxie Couper
Tags: #Romance, #Erotica, #Contemporary, #Fiction
For the readers who loved Nick as much as I did and wanted him to get his own happy-ever-after.
I feel it in my heart
Like a rhythm
Like a curse.
I gotta run to you, babe
I gotta run.
Nick Blackthorne read the two words written in ornate gold-embossed script again. For the umpteenth time, in fact, since receiving the invitation currently in his hand.
The list of viable plus ones he could ask to McKenzie Wood and Aidan Roger’s wedding was long and colourful, the stuff of a celebrity mag’s fantasy. He was Nick Blackthorne after all, the world’s biggest rock star, a man with a reputation for dating and bedding only the most famous and beautiful women on the planet. A gossip-rag journo would be likely to have a wet dream over any possible Nick Blackthorne plus one. The thing was, of the bevy of beauties and starlets and award-winning personalities Nick knew would be more than happy to accompany him to Mack and Aidan’s wedding, he didn’t want to ask any of them.
The gruff, deep voice sinking directly into his ears through his headphones made him blink. He lifted his stare from the wedding invitation in his hand to find his record producer looking at him through the studio’s glass petition. “Sorry, Walt,” he spoke into the mic hanging from the ceiling. “Guess I was wool-gathering.”
Walter Winchester, uber-record producer and soulless mercenary from Hell, gave him a steady look. “Still trying to decide who you’re going to take to that wedding? You could take my daughter.”
Nick rolled his eyes, shoving the invitation into his jeans’ hip pocket. “Your daughter’s my agent, Walt,
Walter curled his lip. “Yeah, to a gardener.”
Nick laughed. “To a world-famous gardener with a client list you’d kill for. I think it’s time you accept the fact that your daughter’s not a chip off the old block, and unlike you, actually
Walter snorted. “Unlike us both, Blackthorne, although I have to admit you’ve been a bit soppy since that weekend you spent on that island, thank fucking God. Otherwise I’d be thinking you’d never record another fucking album again.” He narrowed his eyes. “What exactly went on at that resort? Whatever it was, there’s been sweet fuck-all mention of it in the press.”
Nick’s heart thumped hard against his breastbone, hard enough he had to wonder if the sound technician sitting beside Walter registered it. As always, the memory of his time at Bandicoot Cove Island Resort made his pulse quicken and his heart fill with warmth. If it wasn’t for that weekend, and his time spent with Mack and Aidan there, he never would have found the music in his soul again.
If it weren’t for Mack and Aidan, who knew what state he’d be in now?
He started at Walter’s sharp voice, his focus returning to the control room on the other side of the glass partition. The record producer studied him, charcoal-grey eyes narrow, his stare drilling. Nick’s bodyguard now stood beside Walter, a worried expression on his face. Over the years in his service, Aslin Rhodes had evolved from a detached yes-man with muscle to a loyal and honest friend. At times Nick teased him with the title Uncle Aslin, a term the ex-special forces commando pretended to scoff at. Aslin was only two years older than Nick, after all. Today he looked very much the concerned family member—if a somewhat large and menacing one—his black eyebrows drawing together over eyes both sharp and inescapable. He leant forward and activated the communication channel between the control room and recording space where Nick now stood.
“What’s up, Nick? Need me to get you anything?” Aslin’s voice rumbled, an almost flat timbre Nick thought sounded like distant thunder. Or artillery detonating—quite fitting for an SAS officer, really.
Nick shook his head, offering both Aslin and Walter a wide smile. “Nah, I’m okay. Just trying to remember the words to the next track.”
Walter punched the comm. “Well, hurry the fuck up and remember them. For fuck’s sake, Nicky, it’s only a reworked version of ‘Night Whispers’. Surely you can remember the words to the first fucking platinum record you ever wrote?”
Nick blinked. Every muscle in his body coiled. Grew tight. “‘Night Whispers’?” The song’s title felt like dust on his tongue. He frowned at Walter. “Who said anything about a re-release of ‘Night Whispers’? I thought the next song was ‘Clouds of Pain’? I didn’t agree to recording ‘Night—’”
“Surprise. I thought it’d be a nice touch,” Walter spoke over him, his teeth flashing behind his lips, his eyes hard as ice and twice as cold. “It’s been fifteen years since your first album, Nicky. Since your first international success.”
Nick’s gut clenched. He swallowed, staring at his record producer. Walter Winchester stared back, his expression set. The man didn’t top Australia’s Most Infamous list for nothing—Walter knew “Night Whispers” would make a truckload of dollars with a re-release, especially after Nick’s two years of self-imposed recording and performing silence. The predatory, hungry gleam in Walter’s eyes almost made Nick laugh. Almost.
If it wasn’t for the song Walter wanted him to sing now.
“Nick?” Aslin’s soft British accent danced over his ears. “Want me to clear the room?”
Nick’s blood pounded in his throat. Words caressed his senses. Lyrics teased him…
And I want to beg but I can’t find the words.
And I want to cry but I can’t find the tears.
“Shut the fuck up, Rhodes,” Walter snapped, his voice a snarl in Nick’s headphones. “Nicky doesn’t want anything except to sing the fucking song. Right, Nicky?”
Nick closed his eyes, an image of a woman lying on his bed, her hair a golden-red fan around her head as tears like diamonds rested on her cheeks, filling his mind.
And all that’s left is the shadow of your heart and the ghost of your smile.
“The song that started it all.” Walter chuckled, the sound cold. Triumphant.
And the whispers in the night.
“Thought you’d like to commemorate your new album with a re-release of your first global number one.”
And the whispers in the night.
Nick drew a deep breath.
“Night Whispers” was the song he’d written for Lauren. The song that gave him his first simultaneous US, UK and Australian chart topper. The song that said what he’d been too stupid to say when he needed to say it: I choose you.
His first international number one.
The words from the wedding invitation came back to him. Plus one.
He couldn’t ignore the significance of that number. His first number one record was written about a woman who had been his
everything—friend, love, sexual partner—and now, here he was, being invited to bring a plus one to Mack and Aidan’s wedding and the only
he could think about was the one he’d sung about all those years ago, the woman who’d whispered in the night how much she’d loved him, the one he’d stupidly let go…
He opened his eyes and looked at Walter standing on the other side of the glass. The producer’s capped white teeth glinted at him like those of a shark about to devour its next meal, steel-grey eyes just as threatening.
“I’ve gotta go.”
Walter’s mouth fell open. “What do you mean, you’ve—”
Nick didn’t hear the rest. He pulled off his headphones, Walter’s incredulous shout nothing but a tinny squeak on the air as he tossed them onto the nearby padded stool. He gave Aslin a quick grin, more than happy when the massive man gave him a grin back before nabbing Walter’s right arm in a tight grip and bending him at a right angle over the control panel.
his bodyguard mouthed at him.
Nick nodded, a laugh bubbling in his chest at the sight of Walter Winchester—record producer and soulless mercenary—desperately trying to free himself from the six-foot-four ex-SAS officer’s effortless grip. He gave the grinning technician beside the futilely thrashing Walter a wave and then crossed the room, pulling the wedding invitation from his jeans pocket as he did so.
He knew who he wanted to take to Mack and Aidan’s nuptials. Now he needed to find her.
He pulled the soundproof door open and crossed the threshold, the sound of Walter screeching at Aslin to “let me go, you dumb-fuck Pom” making him chuckle some more. After ten years of being Nick’s record producer, of interacting with Aslin every time Nick entered a studio, Nick assumed Walter knew better than to resort to insulting the bodyguard’s nationality, but apparently not. A solid thud followed the word Pom, a loud
“Call me a dumb-fuck again,” Nick heard Aslin suggest from the control room, his British accent suddenly a whole lot more pronounced despite his menacing chuckle. “Go on, I dare you.”
Nick laughed again, the sound utterly joyous. He shook his head, one part of his brain wondering how long it would be before his bodyguard let Walter go, another part wondering just how long it would take to find…
Her name played over his senses, soft and gentle like her, teasing him just like she had all the way through high school.
And just like it had in high school, his body reacted to that tease—his heart thumping harder, his mouth growing dry, his hands growing sweaty.
Nick let out a groan, quickening his pace through the studio’s rabbit-warren-like hallways until he was almost running. With a nod at the receptionist perched behind the front desk—a perky little blonde he’d partied with more than once over the years—he pushed hard at the heavy glass doors and stepped out into the crisp Melbourne winter morning.
Walter didn’t slam into him from behind. No one stopped him, in fact, which told Nick that Aslin was still keeping the record producer under control. Perfect.
Lifting the collar of his old, battered leather jacket against the cool breeze, he turned and walked toward Collins Street. He’d grab an overnight bag from his suite at the Grand Hyatt, hail a taxi and get his arse to the airport. If he was lucky he’d be able to catch the next flight to…
Nick slowed to a halt, ignoring the chilly wind tugging at his hair and clothes. Fuck. He had no idea where he was going. The last time he’d seen Lauren they were living in a tiny apartment above a delicatessen in Western Sydney fifteen years ago. They’d moved there from their home town so he could be closer to his newly signed agent—a dubious talent manager by the name of Reginald Eggleston who’d promised a naïve twenty-year-old Nick the world. Lauren had enrolled at Sydney University to study teaching and the pair of them had existed in a crammed environment full of laughter and long nights screwing each other senseless. Then came the groupies, the constant fan mail and women of all ages throwing themselves at Nick. The tours around Australia, around the US, the UK, and then the night Lauren said goodbye…
A thick lump settled high in Nick’s throat, and he swallowed. What the hell was he thinking? That she would still be in that stingy little shoebox that always stank of salami? That she would be sitting on their second-hand sofa with its squeaky springs and frayed paisley covering, waiting for him to waltz back into her life? Jesus, had she even finished her teacher’s degree? He didn’t know. Why didn’t he know?
Because you’re a selfish prick, Nick. Because Lauren didn’t want to go where you were going so you cut her loose and went there on your own, fucking every little groupie who spread her thighs for you on the way. Do you really think Lauren Robbins is going to want to even
you again, let alone go to a wedding with you? Fuck, you really don’t have a clue about normal life, do you?
For all your self-congratulatory gloating over finding yourself again, after learning who you really are after the shit of the last two years of your life, you still think like a fucking rock star—self-centered, self-absorbed and self-important.
The lump in Nick’s throat thickened. Choked him. He sucked in a ragged breath, the chill on the air burning his lungs. “Jesus, you’re an idiot.”
He curled his fingers—starting to sting from the winter breeze—into a fist, the invitation in his right hand crumpling beneath them. What the hell was he thinking? That he would just knock on Lauren’s door, smile at her and say, “Heya, babe. I know it’s been a while, but fancy coming to a wedding with me in September?”
Yes, that’s exactly what he had in mind. And Lauren would take one look at him, swoon into his arms and say, “Oh, Nick, yes.”
He shook his head. Rock star. Such a rock star. He’d spent the last sixteen-odd years of his life never being said no to, getting whatever he asked for, whenever he wanted it and then some. Of course, that’s
how he would expect the scene to play out—his way. Hell, she was probably married by now. She was gorgeous and sweet and funny and wonderful. Why wouldn’t she be married? He was such a bloody… “Idiot,” he muttered again.