Melanie caught the gleam in Nikki’s eyes in the public restroom mirror they shared. Oh crap. She knew that look. What was the woman scheming now? Melanie was not in the mood to deal with her drama tonight.
The long drive to Tulsa, followed by a parking nightmare, overpaying a scalper for tickets, and standing in line through high winds for two hours had Melanie out of sorts. Okay, she admitted it; she was downright bitchy. Her hair looked like it had lost a fight with a raccoon—a rabid raccoon with a powerful nesting instinct, and her toes, crammed into highly insensible high-heeled, strappy sandals, felt like they’d were being whacked with tiny pickaxes wielded by miniature coalminers.
Nikki, on the other hand, looked her typical polished self, except for the unsettling extra dose of deviousness in her big blue eyes. Melanie paused with her tube of pink lipstick halfway to her lips, her Nikki-is-about-to-get-us-into-trouble alarm sounding in her head.
“What's that look for?” Melanie asked.
“Tonight's the night,” Nikki said. She tucked a strand of silky chestnut-brown hair behind one ear and turned to catch her good side in the mirror. Both sides were gorgeous, but Melanie had never convinced Nikki of that or that she was worth more than a string of one-night stands with losers.
“That's what you said last night,” Melanie said and focused her attention back on her lipstick application.
Nikki wrinkled her nose at Melanie’s hair and yanked a brush from her purse to try to free the nest of raccoons from the tangled mass.
Good luck with that.
There was a reason Melanie wore it up most of the time. Only the sturdiest of hair clips kept the thick and wavy waist-length tresses under control. Nikki had talked her into keeping it down tonight, saying that it made her look gorgeous. Melanie never looked gorgeous when standing next to Nikki—a simple fact that she’d learn to live with when they’d attended college together. Men flocked to Nikki. Melanie faded into the background. She was used to it.
Nikki went at Melanie’s hair with determination and immediately caught the brush on a tangle of snags. With a sigh of defeat, she handed her brush to Melanie. Melanie supposed she should try to calm the mess into something less offensive. She didn’t want to frighten the band.
"I mean it this time." Nikki rearranged her boobs in her push-up bra, unfastened another button on her skintight white blouse to show off more cle**age, and checked out her bad side. "I almost got back stage last night. If I’m lucky, that cute roadie I talked to in Wichita will remember me. The band had to leave right after the show, or I’m sure Jack would’ve introduced us to the guys last night."
And now they were in Tulsa, trailing after a band like a pair of desperate Sole Regret groupies. Melanie wasn’t a serious fan, but she was positive the cute roadie would remember Nikki. Nikki was the kind of woman men drooled over. Wanted. Dumped.
Melanie guessed the roadie would ask Nikki for a sexual favor in exchange for introducing her to the members of her latest band obsession and Nikki would use sex to get what she wanted. It saddened Melanie. None of the men who used and discarded her friend knew how much they hurt her. Melanie already dreaded having to lift Nikki out of her cloud of self-doubt and despair in the morning. She didn't understand why Nikki continued to put herself in these situations. She was a sweet girl. A pretty girl. A smart girl. Until she found herself in the company of any ass**le in the music business, then she acted as if she'd been lobotomized. With only ten lobes to utilize, Nikki had to be running low on parts by now.
"You are not bailing on me again," Melanie said, still trying to tame her hair. She was looking less like a lightning-strike victim already, though her scalp protested each tug. Gorgeous, my ass. More like ridiculous. "I'm not going to wait for you out in the car while you get laid by some guy who won't remember your name by the time he blows his load."
"Of course you're not going to wait out in the car."
Well, at least they agreed on something.
Nikki ran her tongue over her teeth and caught Melanie's gaze in the mirror. "You're coming with me."
"Oh no, I'm not. I don't even like musicians." Especially not the tattooed metal-head freaks Nikki lusted after. Nikki had a serious bad-boy complex. Maybe her father should have paid more attention to her as a child.
"Please." Nikki clasped her hands together in front of her chest and managed to make her already wide blue eyes appear even larger than usual.
"Why would you even ask? You know tattooed guys give me the creeps."
Nikki shook her head at her. “If you’d take the time to get to know them, you’d recognize how hot they are.”
Doubtful. Just seeing men with tattoos made Melanie’s heart race with fear. Her reaction wasn’t intentional. She’d been scared by a group of bikers when she was a teen. Had she been older, she probably would’ve recognized they were only teasing and meant her no harm. But they’d terrified her. Her parents had intensified her fear by saying she could’ve been kidnapped, raped, murdered, or worse. She hadn’t even wanted to know what was worse than being raped and murdered. Her thirteen-year-old mind had associated her parents’ warnings with men who looked a certain way. Men like those bikers who’d cornered her in the entryway of an abandoned storefront.
As she’d been too afraid to actually look at their faces, all she remembered was their body art and their words. The one with a skull tattoo had and told her all the lewd things he wanted to do to her pretty mouth. She hadn’t understood what he’d meant at the time, but now that she was older, she knew she’d had a reason to be uneasy and disgusted.
One with a barbed-wire tattoo around his arm had touched her hair. She’d screamed, and they’d laughed at her, but ultimately had left her alone. She knew that tattoos didn’t make a person bad, but that incident had left a lasting impression. Attending rock concerts was an exercise in keeping her fear at bay. Unfortunately, going to concerts was Nikki’s favorite thing to do, so Melanie’s fears got a fairly regular workout.
“I don’t want to get to know them; I just want to stay away from them.”
Nikki wrapped an arm around Melanie’s shoulders and assessed them in the mirror. "You’ll be fine, Mel. I promise. Besides, I need you to help me pull off my ruse."
Melanie’s inner alarm clanged even louder. "What ruse?"
The crowd in the stadium roared with enthusiasm.
"Sole Regret’s set is starting!" Nikki scooped her cosmetics and hairbrush into her purse, grabbed Melanie by the wrist, and rushed from the bathroom, nearly knocking a tough-looking biker woman to the floor in her haste.