Tonight, Owen’s band, Sole Regret, would perform in San Antonio. Tomorrow night? Houston, maybe. And then New Orleans. Or was it Beaumont? Owen wasn’t sure. The tour dates were starting to run together. He just got on the tour bus after the show and went wherever it took him. At least he knew they were still in his home state of Texas. He’d seen his family in Austin the night before, so some of his homesickness had abated. He loved touring with the guys, but his family had always been a tight-knit bunch, so he missed them when they weren’t tousling his hair as if he were a four-year-old and insisting he have another biscuit with his fried chicken.
Owen stood behind the main stage, watching the crew make last-minute adjustments to the fire fountains and spark cannons. The fans had no idea how much work went into setting up the stage so Sole Regret could play for a mere hour. No one ever cheered for the stagehands, but their crew’s hard work had paid off—the band would be live in less than five minutes. Owen appreciated all they did. He’d climbed out of bed that morning ready to hit the stage and without the crew, there wouldn’t be a stage.
While he waited, Owen wrapped his hand around the dog tags dangling from a chain around his neck, closed his eyes, and sent a silent prayer to his older brother, Chad, currently serving in Afghanistan. Be safe. Come home soon, soldier. Be safe.
Owen prayed the same words before every concert. His routine. As if the powers that be were more likely to hear his prayers right before he went onstage. As if the energy of Sole Regret’s fans made his pleas more noteworthy to Chad’s guardian angel. Owen imagined that particular angel wore combat boots and camouflage. And carried a big f**king gun. Chad’s angel of no mercy would keep him safe. Owen had faith.
Someone leaned against Owen’s arm, and Owen knew it was Kelly before he even opened his eyes.
Kelly’s mouth was set in a grim line, and his dark brown eyes held concern. If Owen hadn’t known Kelly as well as he knew himself, he’d have thought he was always serious and stern. Kelly did loosen up on occasion, but only around people he knew well.
The leather strap supporting Kelly’s cobalt-blue Les Paul guitar cut into his bare chest when he lifted a hand to give Owen’s shoulder a comforting squeeze.
“Heard from Chad lately?” Kelly asked.
Owen sometimes wondered if his best friend could read his mind.
“He’s supposed to Skype me tomorrow morning. Well, it will be night where he is.”
“Tell him I said hey,” Kelly said.
“Tell him yourself. I’m not your messenger boy.”
Owen knew Chad liked to see familiar faces. Not just family or his girlfriend or all the friends who were waiting for him in Austin, but Kelly too. Chad had been a big brother to both of them, mostly knocking their heads together when they were being insufferable idiots, but he’d also stepped into a protective role more than once. Kelly had done his part to lessen the bullying Owen had endured in high school, but occasionally Chad’s older, bigger fists had been necessary to get the point across.
Owen had plenty of friends now, but there had been a time when Kelly had been his only one. He was still Owen’s best friend. Always would be. As members of the same band, he and Kelly spent more time together than should be allowable by law. That hadn’t changed. Probably never would. But other things between them had changed in the past six months.
An uncomfortable tension had surfaced when Owen had given Kelly a wrist cuff for Christmas to remind him of Sara. Owen and Kelly had had a lot more fun before Owen had made Kelly’s grief even more pronounced. Smooth move, Owen. Fucked that one up majorly, you did. He kicked himself on a daily basis for that overly thoughtful gift. Should have bought the guy a shirt instead, since Kelly didn’t seem to own one. Owen had taken to plotting to steal the damned cuff in the middle of the night and setting it ablaze. Unfortunately, Kelly was a light sleeper.
“Are you ready for tonight’s excursion?” Owen asked, shifting his hand from the dog tags to rest it on the solid gray body of his favorite bass guitar.
“I guess so. I can’t believe the rest of the guys bailed on us.” Kelly glanced at the other three members of the band and shook his head at their disgrace. “What about our pact?”
Yeah, what about their pact? They were supposed to keep each other from getting entangled in serious romantic relationships while on tour, but the guys were falling like dominoes. Kelly didn’t have to worry about Owen falling into the same trap, however. Owen had no interest in romantic relationships. He was having far too much fun being wealthy and single. He highly recommended it.
“They must be getting old,” Owen said with a grin. “Don’t ever get old on me, Kelly.”
“I don’t have time to get old.”
“We could invite Tex and Jack to come with us.” Owen was sure the roadies would be up for a little late-night entertainment. The sex club they were going to was exclusive—invitation only. Owen couldn’t believe there was a man alive who would turn down the opportunity to get inside. And Gabe, Shade, and Adam had all turned up their noses, as if guaranteed sex with a stranger wasn’t good enough for them anymore. It had been good enough for them a week ago. It was still good enough for Owen.
“Nah, the crew has work to do. Tonight it’s me and you, bro.” Kelly lifted a fist, and Owen fist-bumped him.
“And don’t forget the ladies,” Owen said with a smirk. “They’re the best part. You are going to actually do something with them tonight, aren’t you?”
Kelly shrugged. “If I feel like it.”
“I think you’re getting old too.”
Kelly’s eyes dropped to the cuff on his wrist, and he traced it with one finger. “Maybe.”
Whoever came up with that “it’s better to have loved and lost” saying was the biggest f**king dolt who’d ever initiated a cliché. Kelly had loved and lost, and the loss had all but destroyed him. Owen wasn’t sure if he would ever be the same. Kelly would’ve been better off if he’d never met Sara. The year he’d dated her, he’d all but disappeared from Owen’s life. He’d been so wrapped up in the woman, it had been hard to distinguish them as separate entities. And when she’d died, she’d taken his heart with her. Five years later, Kelly still hadn’t recovered the battered organ from Sara’s clutches.
Owen had suffered his share of heartache, but nothing in comparison to Kelly. Where Owen had lost love in quantity—an embarrassing amount of quantity—Kelly had lost in quality. Owen had long since concluded that romance was for suckers. There would be no more heartache in his future. He was through with trying to find someone to love him for who he was, not what he’d become. If a guy was burned enough times, he eventually learned to stop putting his hand in the fire.