“Ranked in the top tiered, upper echelon of my absolute favorite authors, in Loren, I can always count on a smart, sexy romp that is guaranteed to leave me breathless and wanting." --Smexy Books about WANDERLUST
Finalist for the RITA Award for Best Mid-Length Contemporary Romance of the year!
From the New York Times bestselling author of the Loving on the Edge series and Off the Clock, a story of sex, love, rock & roll, and a reporter who’s about to learn a new meaning for staying on top of her assignment...
Restaurant critic Aubrey Bordelon is never at a loss for words to describe her meals in the fancy restaurants of New Orleans. But after her magazine’s high-profile music reporter falls ill, she finds herself out of her element and in a sea of screaming fans awaiting Wanderlust’s lead singer, Lex Logan. The sound of his voice gives her goosebumps, and the stage presence of the hard-bodied rock star takes her breath away. So when he pulls her onstage for a sexy stunt, she knows she’s in real trouble.
Lex doesn’t want to pretend that the sparks on stage between him and Aubrey never happened, but it certainly makes the fact that she’s writing a story on his band all the more dangerous. The last thing he needs is some nosy reporter revealing their problems to the world. But the sexy Southern belle doesn’t give up easily, and soon, he’s wondering if the best way to chase her off the story is to coax her into his bed…
READ CHAPTER 1
Copyrighted Material Roni Loren 2016 - All Rights Reserved Berkley Publishing Group
*18 and over only*
*This is a pre-copyedited version. Please forgive any mistakes.
Southern gentility be damned. Nice was getting her nowhere. Aubrey Bordelon put her hands on her hips and attempted an I-mean-business face. “Look, I’m not here to get laid.”
The slab of beef serving as security guard raised his eyebrows and smirked. “I’m sorry to hear that, darlin’, but you’re still not getting in.”
He leaned his shoulder against the grimy frame of the door, blocking her view of backstage. She dipped her hand into her purse and felt around, pulling out her business card and holding it out to him. “I’m supposed to interview the band. I’m from the NOLA Vibe.”
“Yeah, you mentioned that.” He ignored her card and flipped the clipboard in his hand so it was facing her. She couldn’t read most of the names in the dim light of the alley, but she knew hers wouldn’t be there. “Problem is: you’re not on the list.”
“We’ve been over that.” She’d already explained in what she had hoped was a professional, polite tone that she was there as a replacement reporter, that the original guy was in the hospital.
“Yeah, well, you’re going to have to come up with a more creative reason to get back here. Half the people in this line claim that they’re supposed to be on the list but were mysteriously left off. So unless you have a magic wand in your purse to make your name appear, you’re outta luck.”
She resisted the urge to throw something at his shiny head.
“Excuse me,” interrupted a perky voice. Aubrey turned to look at the blonde standing behind her. The girl pinned the bouncer with a sultry gaze.
“I am here to get laid. Does that make a difference?” She tilted her head to the side and somehow implied a wink without actually winking.
The guard gave the groupie an appreciative once over and grinned. Aubrey rolled her eyes. Of course. Apparently, wearing an outfit consisting entirely of leather strips and dental floss was the way to make nice with Mr. Clean.
“Look, doll, I’d love to let you in. But like I told Lois Lane over here, if your name isn’t on the list, my hands are tied. The boys don’t entertain company before a show. Come back after the concert and maybe I can get you in. They relax the rules a little then.”
The girl put a manicured hand on the guy’s chest. “I’ll hold you to that, sweet thing.”
Ugh. The night had turned into the girl with the skimpiest outfit wins. Aubrey huffed and turned to walk away before she was tempted to say something even more unprofessional than she already had.
She didn’t know if it was the smothering heat of the New Orleans summer evening, the putrid smell of the club’s dumpster, or the fact that her plans had been shot to hell, but she was feeling downright combative. She shouldn’t be here. She wanted to get that promotion to head food writer she’d been working so hard toward, but this was more than she’d signed up for.
She should be eating things with crabmeat and cream sauces at Pierre’s, the new restaurant she’d intended to review for her column. Not at some rock concert covering a band she knew hardly anything about. A band she couldn’t even get close to because her boss, Jordana, hadn’t bothered to notify security that someone was replacing Nick. But if Aubrey wanted a bigger job, she had to be willing to jump into any of the magazine’s departments when needed. At least that’s what Jordana had told her when she’d laid this last minute assignment on her.
Aubrey pulled her phone from her purse, firing off a text message to her boss, warning her that this big story may not happen if she couldn’t get to the freaking band. But before she hit send, her pointy-toed boot caught an uneven piece of cobblestone, sending her body pitching forward and her phone flying. Choice words flew past her lips as her left palm landed flat in a puddle of what she prayed was water and barely prevented a total face plant on the sidewalk. Her phone clattered to the ground a few feet away.
“Oh my god, are you all right?” A click-clack of heels sounded off to her left.
She glanced up to find the blonde peering down at her with concern and offering a hand, which made her feel like a jerk for having deemed her Rock Star Barbie in her head already. Aubrey took her hand and got to her feet. “Yeah, I’m fine, just not paying attention. Thanks.”
“No problem. Heels and NOLA sidewalks have put me on my ass before.” The girl made sure Aubrey was securely on her feet before letting her go and bending down to pick up her phone. She handed it to Aubrey. “Though, those boots are totally worth the risk. Super cute.”
“Thanks, but clearly the wrong choice for storming away from idiotic bouncers.” She checked her phone to make sure the screen hadn’t cracked then dropped it in her purse and wiped her wet hands on her jeans. She discreetly sniffed her palm. Beer. Gross. Better than urine, but not by much. She dug a bottle of her ever-present anti-bacterial gel from her bag and squirted some on her hand.
The girl smiled and tucked a bleached lock of hair behind her ear. “Oh, don’t sweat baldy. He’s just enjoying his power trip. We still have a good shot at getting in later. Wanderlust is known for letting a lot of girls in after the show.”
Aubrey smirked as they headed toward the club again. “I think I may be overdressed.” And under-stacked.
The girl looked from her own leather outfit to Aubrey’s simple jeans and black V-neck. “Well, maybe a little, but you never know. I’ve heard the bass player is really into brunettes, so he may go for you. Or have you seen the guys in Darkfall? I saw them perform in a club last year. Ohmigod, their drummer is hot. And members of the opening band are usually easier to get to because everyone is going after the headliners.”
The girl smiled and nodded, Aubrey’s sarcasm flying right past her.
They navigated to the front of the club and headed toward the line of people snaking out the main door. Loud rock music from Darkfall filtered out the doorway and mixed with the chatter of the people waiting to get inside.
“I’m Candace, by the way,” the girl said, as she rifled through her purse and pulled out her ticket.
Candace tugged her skirt without breaking stride and lowered it a fraction, making both belly ring and hip tattoo visible. “So is this your first Wanderlust concert?”
“Yes.” Her throat tightened. This was her first concert of any kind in a long time. The last one had been exactly eight years, three months, and nine days ago. She took a steadying breath, trying to shake off the sick feeling that hit her anytime she thought of that night. It was exactly why she’d never volunteered to fill in for any of the live music reporters at the Vibe. Unfortunately, the universe had a crappy sense of humor. But she wasn’t going to be a chickenshit. She could totally do this. She turned her head to Candace and forced a smile. “How about you?”
“Oh, yeah, my first Wanderlust, but only because they haven’t toured here before. I would’ve seen them way before now if I could’ve. They’re so awesome. And gorgeous. But of course, you know that. You were trying to get backstage, too.” She gave Aubrey’s shoulder a playful bump.
They reached the front of the club and took their place in line, which to Aubrey’s relief, was moving quickly. Candace seemed friendly enough, but Aubrey couldn’t maintain an oh-my-god-how-hot-is-this-band conversation for an hour-long wait in line—especially when she knew exactly zero about Wanderlust.
Candace dug a compact out of her bag, flipped it open, and reapplied her lipstick. “I’m hoping to hook up with Lex Logan tonight. I can’t resist lead singers.”
Aubrey mumbled something noncommittal and checked the time on her phone.
“Don’t you think he’s hot?”
Aubrey shrugged. When Jordana had sprung the surprise assignment on her late that afternoon, she hadn’t had enough time to Google the band. She’d heard of them in passing. The NOLA Vibe had run a few syndicated stories on their album. But she’d never paid close attention. She wouldn’t be able to pick a band member out of a lineup.
“That’s right,” Candace said with a dismissive wave. “You’re going for the drummer. I forgot. He’s cute, too.”
“So do you do this a lot?” Aubrey asked, trying to change the subject.
“Oh, all the time.” She then proceeded to name the lead singers who she’d hooked up with and each man’s various strong and weak points. Her final conclusion based on three years of calculated research: the higher pitched the voice, the lousier the bedmate. Therefore, she had recently given up on pop bands entirely.
Candace was rather entertaining when she told a story, using her hands a lot and making faces. Aubrey found herself swept up in it and didn’t bother to interrupt her to tell her that she’d only been asking if she went to many concerts.
The man at the door tapped Candace’s shoulder. “Ticket, please.”
Candace turned, handed her ticket to him, and glanced over her shoulder at Aubrey. “Well, it was nice to meet you. Maybe we’ll see each other backstage later. But remember, I called dibs on Lex.”
Aubrey laughed. “Noted.”
Candace gave a little wave and disappeared into the throng of music and cigarette smoke. Aubrey shook her head, unable to hold onto her initial annoyance with the girl. Dibs? The image of a herd of women charging the lead singer, yanking each other’s hair extensions and tripping their competition came to her. But I had dibs, bitch! each would cry. Aubrey handed her ticket over to enter the club, the amusing image lifting her mood.
Inside, the venue was pure New Orleans—worn, unique, and undeniably hip. She had visited the restaurant section of the building once before to review their jazz brunch for her column, but hadn’t seen the club side. Dark, reclaimed wood covered every available surface including the ceiling, giving the space a cozy feeling despite its relatively large size. Painted designs ranging from flames to religious symbols decorated the walls and the bases of the two large bars that lined the back and right side of the room.
A guy pushed past her to the few stairs that led down to the main floor in front of the stage. The opening band was wrapping up, and a few people were heading for a beer or bathroom break. But the place had to be close to capacity, and finding a good spot was going to be tough. She glanced upward. People pressed against the walnut railings of the balcony, jockeying for position. She needed to jump in now before the beer-run people made their way back.
After a lot of strategic maneuvering and gently prodding elbows, she managed to claim a sliver of a spot near the stage. If she had gotten to the band before the show, she’d probably be watching the performance from side stage. That would’ve made it possible to take actual notes, but this would have to do. She was two rows of bodies from the front barricade, flanked by a guy on her left and a woman on her right. The guy looked like he hadn’t cut his hair since KISS had a hit, and the woman had on even less clothes than Candace. A bright red pin that said Wanderslut was pinned to her bustier. The woman would probably be cat fighting later with Candace over who got to lick Lex’s shoes. Though, Candace would win, of course, because she’d called dibs. Duh.
Aubrey bit back her smile and turned toward the stage. The opening band really was good. She shook her head when she caught herself checking out the blond drummer Candace had declared was hot. The guy was nice to look at but his drumming skills were what held her attention. He looked like a man possessed. She made a mental note to research Darkfall. Maybe the magazine could do a story on them. They had a regular column about up-and-comers.
Aubrey managed to stay focused during the end of Darkfall’s performance, putting her journalist hat on. But when they left the stage, time seemed to crawl. Bodies shifted. Voices were too loud. Claustrophobia started to claw at her. Maybe this had been a bad idea. Maybe she couldn’t handle this. But the third time she checked the time on her phone, the smoky lights of the club dimmed, indicating the start of the show. Here we go. She took a deep breath. Within seconds, the voices of a thousand rabid fans whipped into a screaming frenzy.
A few seconds ago, she’d worried that bad memories were about to overtake her, but now she found herself leaning forward in anticipation, the trapped feeling falling away. The energy of the crowd pulsed through her, the excitement infectious. Her foul mood from earlier began to slip from her shoulders like shedding a heavy coat. The band members, barely visible silhouettes in the cover of darkness, filed onto the stage and took their posts. The drums sliced through the roar of the crowd first—a thump-thump-thump so loud her bones vibrated. When the strobe lights began flashing and the guitars kicked in, a crush of bodies pressed against her as everyone surged closer to the stage in one collective mass.
All of the band members were in place except for the lead singer. The woman next to Aubrey screamed Lex’s name and hopped like a caffeinated rabbit, waving and flailing her arms. Wow, Aubrey couldn’t remember ever being that excited about anything—especially not about anyone. If the chick wasn’t careful, she was going to pass out from sheer anticipation—or from excessive bouncing in a way-too-tight bustier. Either one could lead to fainting. Luckily, neither of them had to wait long.
Aubrey heard his voice before she saw him. Gravelly, dark, and powerful—the vocals of Wanderlust’s Lex Logan washed over her with a rush of heat. Goosebumps pricked up on her arms. Center stage was still black, but she craned her neck, trying to get a glimpse of the man behind the sound. As if responding to her silent desire, the spotlights flipped on and illuminated the singer. The screams in the audience rose to an octave only female voices could reach. Aubrey wanted to shout along with them, but all air had evacuated her lungs.
The crowd around her became a blur of noise and colors, and all she could focus on was the man at center stage. If she had seen pictures of Lex Logan, she really must not have been paying attention. The six feet of lean, hard-bodied rock star sent her pulse into instant overdrive. Dark hair. Bright eyes. And full sleeves of colorful tattoos. Holy hell. She shifted to the left and stood on tiptoes to get a better, full-length view. Heat rippled across her skin as Lex looked out at the audience and curled his lips into a smile. Confident. Seductive. Wicked. That smile said volumes. That smile made promises.
He gripped the mic stand and bent over, belting out a note, causing his shaggy, dark hair to fall over his eyes. Sexuality, raw and unadulterated, rolled off him in waves. And now she got it. Got what the girl next to her was having palpitations over. Aubrey wanted to drown in that voice—fall in and never come out. She closed her eyes and let the sound resonate through her, her body swaying with the motion of the crowd around her.
A gruff voice interrupted her blissful moment. “Hey, watch it, lady.”
Her lids snapped open. The man next to her glared.
“Watch your goddamned feet,” he barked. “My toes aren’t made of steel.”
She dropped her gaze to her heeled boots and assumed she must’ve stepped on the guy’s feet. “Sorry,” she yelled over the music, but the man had already turned to face the stage again. She gave herself a mental shake. What the hell is wrong with me? I’m supposed to be working, not drooling over the subject of my assignment.
She had to get a grip or her story would end up reading like a teen idol website. Lead singer of Wanderlust, Lex Logan, is totally hot! He’s six foot two inches tall. His favorite color is black. Likes long walks in dark alleys. Prefers blondes who wear dental floss. Okay, so the last part probably wouldn’t make it into Tiger Beat, but still. She needed to pay attention to the music, the show, and how tight the performance was or wasn’t. That’s what she was getting paid to do. Not to admire how firm Lex’s abs looked through that snug black t-shirt or how his inked arms flexed when he gripped the microphone.
The song ended, and the band launched into the next track. Aubrey tried to hone in on the other band members, watching Lex only when she couldn’t avoid it. She shut her eyes often so that she could listen to the notes, the quality of the vocals, the crisp sound of the instruments. By the fourth song, she had returned to some sort of professional mode, taking mental notes at a rapid clip.
When the song finished, Lex sauntered to the edge of the stage to address the audience. “How’s everyone doing tonight?”
Screams answered him. He gave an easy laugh, clearly comfortable being the center of attention.
“I’m glad y’all are having a good time. We are, too. New Orleans definitely knows how to throw a party.” He put his hand against his brow to shield his eyes from the spotlights and squinted at the sea of people below him. “Turn up those house lights. I want to see these beautiful faces.”
Female voices reverberated off the walls as the lights above the crowd switched on. A redhead a few steps away from Aubrey lifted up her shirt as soon as Lex’s eyes traveled in that direction. Nice. What was this? Mardi Gras? Lex smiled and gave a little nod of acknowledgement to boob-job girl, but otherwise didn’t comment.
“You know, I’m feeling mighty thirsty, and I heard a rumor that New Orleans is home of the body shot,” Lex said, continuing to survey the audience with a sly smile. “So I’m thinking, that maybe I should try one tonight. What do you think?”
The shouting of the crowd increased.
“Now all I need is…a willing victim,” Lex continued. Bustier girl began her bouncing routine again and waved her hands frantically trying to catch his eye. Lex paced across the stage, taking his time, holding his finger up and preparing to point to the chosen one.
Aubrey put her money on Miss Augmentation, but he passed that section up without a glance. As he neared Aubrey’s end of the stage, his eyes landed on her exuberant neighbor. The girl’s scream turned shrill. “Pick me! Me! Me!”
Lex lowered his hand ready to point and then shifted his gaze, locking eyes with Aubrey. Her breath caught. Oh, shit. Seconds seemed to tick by, but she couldn’t pull away from the stare. She managed to wag her head slowly back and forth. No. No. No.
He smiled, lowered his finger, and pointed directly at her. “You. The sexy brunette in the black t-shirt.”
Her stomach took a nosedive.
“Come on, I won’t bite,” Lex said, waving her forward. “Unless you ask nicely, that is.”
The girl next to Aubrey shot her a glare that could have curdled milk. The sea of fans parted as if she’d suddenly morphed into royalty, and she forced her leaden feet to cross the few yards to the barricade. Her heart took up residence in her throat, threatening to jump out. This was a disaster. She silently cursed the bouncer from backstage. If she had met the band beforehand, she would’ve never ended up in this position. Building a professional relationship with the band after this was going to be next to impossible.
Hands patted her back and shoulders as the two bouncers flanking the stage helped her climb over the metal barrier. Lex squatted at the edge of the stage, all wicked grin and guyliner, and stuck his hand out. He cocked his head, beckoning her closer in a way that spoke without the words. Come on over, lamb, said the wolf. This will only take a minute.
She shook off the foreboding feeling. This was only a silly stage stunt. She’d survive. And maybe it’d give her an in later to talk to the band, proving that she was a good sport. She took a deep breath and reached out to him. The bouncers hoisted her up as if she weighed nothing, which was definitely not the case, and set her on the stage. Lex’s hand wrapped around hers as he pulled her to a stand. As soon as she was solidly on her feet, he turned them both toward the audience. The cheers bounced off her eardrums, echoing through every part of her like some sort of external heartbeat.
The lights blocked her view of the balcony, but she could see the first few rows of faces on the main floor smiling up at them. Her entire body trembled. The combination of stage fright, the energy of the audience, and Lex’s fingers curled around hers threatened to send her into full-scale hyperventilation.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?” Lex asked, holding the microphone out toward her.
She cleared her throat, trying to get her vocal cords to cooperate, and mumbled her name, but he heard “Bree” instead of Aubrey. She didn’t have the chance to correct him.
“Everybody, give Bree some love. She’s a brave woman to come up here on stage with us.” He turned to her and shoved the bangs of his shaggy hair to the side, his mouth tilted at the corner. “You ready?”
Seeing him up close sent her mind into some pre-verbal state. Those blue eyes of his seemed to cut through everything, the haze of smoke on the stage, the glare of the spotlights. It was a look that said, I see you, don’t try to hide. And the curl of his lips—a soft, sensual curve that seemed almost at odds with the strong and angular lines of his face. She had the completely insane urge to push up on her toes and press her mouth to his, just to see what that mouth felt like.
His eyebrow lifted, reminding her that he’d asked her a question.
God, what the hell was wrong with her? He probably thought she was shit-faced drunk or something. Her tongue had become some useless muscle taking up space between her teeth. She managed a nod. Lex gave a flash of a smile, secured his microphone in the stand, and then led her by her hand to the side of the stage where a row of large speaker stacks stood.
“All you need to do is lie across these and relax,” he whispered to her. “I’ll be gentle.”
She wet her lips and nodded again. Just do what he tells you and this will be over quickly. That’s what she kept telling herself. The quicker this was done, the less opportunity for her to make a complete ass of herself. She sat on the speakers and swung her legs onto them—a few inches of her five eight frame hanging off the end. She felt like she was at a magic show about to be sawed in half. She took a deep breath and laid back.
The blond lead guitarist took up the post by the microphone and called out, “Get this man some tequila!”
A female bartender from the club stepped onto the stage with a tray holding a shot glass, a saltshaker, and a slice of lime. She shimmied across the stage inciting catcalls from the audience and then placed the items on a speaker near Aubrey’s feet.
“All right Lex, she’s all yours,” the guitarist announced.
Lex leaned over Aubrey, his eyes meeting hers with a here we go look. Then he eased the bottom of her shirt up to reveal her navel. She sucked in her stomach on instinct, wishing she hadn’t eaten that Lucky Dog on the way over. Hot fingers brushed against her skin, and everything went shivery inside her. Oh, Lord, have mercy. She swallowed hard, gritting her teeth to maintain her composure. She’d never done a body shot before, but she knew what would happen next. Panic seized her. What was she thinking? She couldn’t do this. She was working. This guy was her assignment. Having his tongue on her skin was so very not okay. Plus, she was on stage in front of a thousand people. She needed to stop him.
Lex’s cobalt stare met hers. “Still okay with this?”
Now was her moment to back out. He was giving her the chance to say no. She told herself to say no.
“Definitely,” she whispered.
Her voice had finally decided to return, and that’s what she’d said?
His mouth lifted into a slow smile, and blood rushed to her cheeks. He placed the wedge of lime, pulp side facing out, between her lips before her brain could reboot and give the correct answer. “All right, let’s do this.”
Her fingers curled, her nails imprinting in her palms as Lex bent over. Just seeing that dark head move downward to the lower part of her body had really, really inappropriate things surging in her. Every muscle in her body tensed and readied. His tongue, warm and wet, glided over the spot above her belly button. She closed her eyes, her nerve endings seeming to quake as a flood of heat burned a path through her, lighting up places long dim. He sprinkled salt across the damp patch on her stomach, and took another lazy lick. She almost bit through the lime rind to keep from making some embarrassing, desperate sound. The men in the crowd whooped in encouragement.
Lex straightened and knocked back the shot. Before she could blink or process what was about to happen, he was inches from her face. His eyes held a glint of dark promise, and they didn’t move from hers as his lips closed over the lime. His mouth grazed hers, sending electric need sparking over her skin and heat gathering between her thighs. She resisted the urge to grab his shaggy hair and pull him down for a real kiss. She gripped the sides of the speakers with all her strength instead. God, help her. Two minutes on stage and she’d turned into one of those fan girls in the audience.
Lex rose, finished sucking the lime, and then put his hand out to help her to her feet. She yanked her shirt down with trembling hands and joined him in front of the cheering crowd, giving silent thanks that she hadn’t acted on her ridiculous impulse to kiss him. As she stood side by side, Lex tucked his arm behind her and slid his hand into her back pocket. She stiffened at the feel of his hand on her ass. While still looking at the audience, he moved his mouth next to her ear, his voice fraught with wicked intention. “That’s a pass. Why don’t you come backstage and visit me after the show?”
Her attention snapped toward him, and he flashed a cocky grin—one that said he had already carved a notch on his mental bedpost in her honor. Oh, hell no. So now he thought her willingness to do the body shot meant she was ready to be the groupie of the night? Was that how things worked in his world? Of course it was. The thought instantly cooled her body’s hair-trigger reaction from a moment before. She crossed her arms over her chest and turned her gaze back to the crowd. Well, Mr. Rock Star was in for a rude awakening. He may have managed to get her all hot and bothered during her momentary lapse of sanity.
But she wasn’t some Wanderslut.