Preview: More Than Words
“Your chariot awaits, Ms. Haws.”
I rolled my eyes at the tall red-headed man grinning moronically at me as I walked towards the baggage carousel. “Good to see you too, Rick.”
He fell in step beside me and slung an arm around my shoulder. “Theo’s been a complete nightmare for the past two days.”
“What?” I looked at him, alarmed. “Why?”
The stupid grin didn’t fade off his face. “He’s so excited to see you, it’s almost adorable. Almost. Mostly, it’s obnoxious.”
“So that’s why you decided to brave the airport and pick me up yourself?”
He bumped me with his hip. “I haven’t seen you since you two decided to give the whole ‘exclusively fucking each other’ thing a go. As a professional best friend and overprotective personal assistant, it’s my solemn duty to put the fear of God in you should you ever decide to hurt him.”
We reached the carousel, which already had a line of bags slinking along it. Mine, of course, was not among them.
“I won’t,” I said, turning to Rick.
He nodded once. “Good. Because I’m not joking.”
“Neither am I.”
“It’s not my place to say this, but you need to know.” The grin was replaced by a serious look, one that highlighted just how chiselled Rick’s face was. “Aspen, he’s madly in love with you. Like, I’ve never seen him like this about someone, and he nearly fucking proposed to his ex-girlfriend.”
“I don’t need you to know. I need you to understand.” He folded his arms. “I like you. You’re a good person. You make him happy. But Theo’s my best friend, and if you don’t feel about him the way he feels about you—”
“You know I said it first, right?”
He looked surprised. “What?”
“That I loved him?”
“Wait, you guys have already…?”
I raised my eyebrows. “I’ve changed my entire life around so I can be with him. I’m working two jobs so I can take more time off to spend with him. You know if you tell the CEO of a large, successful company that you want to make his life easier by doing two distinctly different jobs at the same time and only ask for some extra vacation days, people begin to question your sanity?”
“As they should. Are you crazy? Why would you want to do twice the amount of work you were before?”
“It’s not twice the amount of work. It’s the same amount of work in half the time.”
“That’s the same fucking thing.”
“It’s not.” I spotted my bag sliding onto the carousel and started forward. “In Wakeham, I was bored. With pre-audits, I don’t have a life outside of work. Put them together and add some time off so I can travel with Theo and you end up with a semi-normal schedule.”
Rick reached my bag first and heaved it off the carousel. “And you’re doing this for him?”
“Nope.” I took my bag from him, pulling the handle up so I could let the suitcase roll behind me. “I’m doing it for me. I love him, Rick.”
He studied me for a moment, then took the suitcase back from me.
“I’m happy for you two,” he said. “It’s good to see you, Aspen.”
Smiling, I followed him through the airport to the car waiting outside. Rick put my bag in the trunk and joined me in the back seat so he could give me the Rick McDougall tour of Barcelona. It consisted mostly of him pointing out Spanish guys he thought were hot and the occasional nightclub he’d been to, followed by other nightclubs that he wanted to go to, followed by places he was pretty sure he might have thrown up after going to nightclubs he thought he might have been to.
“When are you going to meet a nice guy and settle down?” I teased as we pulled up to the hotel.
“I meet lots of nice guys,” he said airily as we got out of the car. “If I settle down, I might miss out on one of them.”
Theo hadn’t been at the airport to pick me up for three reasons: one, he was Theo Barker and would have been swamped by a sea of fans if he showed his face in a crowded place like that. Two, he had a show that night and was already at the arena.
Three, he didn’t know I was there.
I mean, he knew I was coming. We were about to spend two months together on the European leg of his tour. Rick and I had just fudged the flight times a little bit; as far as Theo knew, I’d be landing in Madrid early the next morning after taking the red-eye and meeting him later in the day. He had no idea I’d actually landed in Barcelona just in time to attend my very first Theo Barker concert.
At the hotel, Rick showed me to Theo’s suite, then waited patiently as I took a quick shower and changed out of my travelling clothes. When I was done, we rushed back downstairs and to the car so we wouldn’t miss the beginning of the concert. Once we were dropped off, he handed me a lanyard with a badge on it, then took my arm and escorted me confidently past the security guards and throngs of fans.
I didn’t quite get the full concert experience. I watched the show from a sectioned-off area near the stage with Rick and the other staff and crew members. There were a few harrowing moments during the show when Theo glanced over to that section, smiling and laughing as he gestured at someone he recognized, but he didn’t catch sight of me gazing up at him from the back of the crowd.
It was a version of him I’d never seen before. Watching him perform was mesmerizing; the confidence on his face, the soul in his voice, the way the light caught his hair and threw shadows across his face. The audience roared and hollered and sang along; sound pulsed through the air like wind, swirling and surging and growing as they chanted his name.
Exhilarating barely began to describe it; as much as I loved him, I was torn between listening to him and watching the crowd. He spoke to them like they were old friends, like he hadn’t seen them in years but could pick up a conversation as though they’d just spoken the day before. He smiled and joked and laughed; I melted as I watched him thrive under the stage lights.
He was magical.
All too soon, Rick found me in the small pack of onlookers and leaned in.
“He’s got one more song and then the encore,” he shouted in my ear. “I’m assuming you want to wait in his dressing room?”
I nodded and he led me backstage, my ears ringing in the comparative quiet as we reached a room with Theo’s name posted on the door. I pressed my hand to my ears as Rick unlocked the door. He glanced over and winced.
“I should’ve brought you earplugs. Sorry.”
“I didn’t even think of that,” I admitted.
“We’ll get you a decent set,” he said. “The foamy ones are fine but if you’re going to come to his shows regularly, might as well get a custom pair. They’re more comfortable.”
He left me in the dressing room on my own; Theo would certainly question if Rick wasn’t there to meet him when he came off stage. I rubbed my ear, willing the ringing to fade while I looked around.
I’d never been in a star’s dressing room before, but somehow it still wasn’t what I expected. The room was nice, of course, and filled with leafy green plants. There was a basket on a table filled with fruit and a refrigerator with a clear door showing that it was filled with Theo’s favourite drinks and snacks. There was nothing in there that was extravagant: a case of his favourite beer and a few other sundry things, but it wasn’t like there was caviar or hand-carved ice balls or exactly one hundred figs waiting for him to get off stage. Overall, it was kind of similar to a hotel room.
The thing that threw me off more than anything was the picture of me he had on a side table near the couch.
To be fair, it was a picture of us, and at the time, one of two photos of us that existed. The other photo had been published in tabloids far and wide after some photographer caught him doing the very controversial thing of politely dropping me off at home after dinner at Lisa’s. This one, though, was from one of those dinners at Lisa’s, long before we were officially together. I remembered her taking it; Theo and I had been sitting beside each other at the table, killing ourselves laughing as we tried to build a card house instead of playing whatever game James was trying to teach us. It had just collapsed and he was nearly crying with laughter as I stared at the fallen cards with horror.
I picked up the frame and looked at it. Someone had taken a copy of that photo, framed it, and put it there. More significantly, that meant Theo had asked someone to put that photo there. He’d talked to someone on his team, told them to add it onto his rider, and made sure that wherever he was, one of the only pictures that existed of us was there.
There weren’t words for how much that meant to me.
I was still holding the photo when the door opened a few minutes later. A rush of sound burst into the room, waves that carried Theo’s laugh to my ears. I turned to see him stepping through the door, his head craned over his shoulder as he spoke to someone in the hall.
“...be out in a few and we can go for drinks,” he was saying.
“Might take you longer than that,” I heard Rick reply.
“The fuck are you talking about?” he said.
I didn’t hear Rick respond, but he must have said or done something. Theo heaved an overdramatically exasperated sigh and let the door swing shut. He turned his head, looked directly at me, and didn’t so much as blink before he walked towards the fridge.
At least, not at first. He took two steps before whirling back towards me with his mouth hanging open.
“Aspen?” he gasped.
I burst out laughing. “Surprise.”
It was the last word I spoke for a while. Well, the last word I spoke without my lips on his, and one of the last words that wasn’t “fuck,” “please,” “harder,” or “Oh my God.” He bounded across the room so fast that I wasn’t sure his feet touched the ground. He hadn’t even stopped moving when he embraced me, pulling me tight against his body as he kissed me intensely.
As intense as it was, it was short. He pulled back and grimaced.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’m, uh, kind of sweaty.”
I put my hand on the back of his head and pulled his face back to mine. I didn’t know what it said about me that the sheen of his skin or the slight dampness of his hair didn’t bother me, but it didn’t. The faint scent of sweat and salt and cologne wouldn’t stop me from clinging to him, and it didn’t stop me from pulling him on top of me as we sank onto the sofa.
“I’ve never done that,” he sighed after we finished. I was sitting on his lap, my chest pressed to his as I rested against him, as sweaty as he was.
“Done what?” I asked.
“Had sex in my dressing room.”
“What?” I said disbelievingly, sitting back so I could look at him. “Never?”
He started laughing. “Never. Sheri always wanted to go out after the show so I’d get off stage, shower, and leave.” He shrugged. “I wasn’t joking about not being into groupies and none of my other exes usually came to my shows or anything. If they did, they sure as hell wouldn’t want to fuck me in here.”
“Well, they’re stupid.” I kissed him softly, my lips lingering on his. “I’d fuck you anywhere.”
He nipped my bottom lip lightly and grinned. “That might be the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”
About The Author:
Cheryl Terra writes romance stories for people who hate romance stories, as well as for people who love romance stories. Writing is one of her greatest passions and she can often be found sitting in front of her laptop, ignoring the world around her as she finds elaborate ways for her characters to hook up with each other. When she’s not doing that, Cheryl enjoys knitting, spending time with her pets, annoying her fiancé, and trying to convince people civilization exists in the vast stretch of Canada between Vancouver and Toronto.