Just One Song
Author:Stacey Lynn

chapter Nineteen

“Hello, Rachel,” I say as sweetly as possible when I reach the table. Zack releases his arms and smoothly slides one around my waist, pressing a tender kiss to my forehead. Her pleasantly fake smile doesn’t reach her eyes.

“Zack and I were just reliving old times. I’m sure you don’t mind.” Her words drip with sarcasm and evil. I almost expect her to bare fangs as her cold eyes stare me down, trying to intimidate me. It won’t work. I’m filled with liquid courage at the moment and between the shots, champagne and Mia’s speech earlier, she doesn’t scare me.

“Not at all,” I respond and wave my hand dismissively in her direction. “I hope they’re great memories for you since that’s all you’ll ever have of him.” I hope I sound care-free. Inside, though, I feel like an angry nest of wasps is flying around causing a fire to burn in my gut. I’m not sure if it’s annoyance or tequila. Both, possibly.

Chase and Mia’s mouths drop from across the table and I feel Zack’s grip tighten on my waist. I don’t know if it’s his warning to let it go and shut up, but I also don’t care.

While the color drains from her face slightly, and her jaw ticks in anger, her plastered smile never leaves her face. Her gaze moves to Zack. “We’ll see.”

“No. You won’t,” Zack says curtly.

I take a deep breath and lean forward on the table slightly, lower my voice and speak as seductively as possible to her. “You know Rachel, I don’t mind that you think of me as Zack’s toy. I am awfully fun to play with.” I wiggle my eye brows once and see Chase choke on his champagne out of the corner of my eye. “Perhaps if you had been a little bit more fun he would have kept you around more often.” I lean away from the table and back into Zack’s arms.

Rachel is speechless. Her face flames red as she grabs the girls who have been silently standing next to her. I watch them stalk off towards the bar.

Mia and Chase begin laughing immediately. I turn to look up at Zack and feel instant regret when I see the look on his face that is too blank to read. I am pretty sure he is either totally mortified or angry at my outburst. Neither is a good thing.

“I’m sorry Zack…I didn’t mean….” I try to apologize, but stop abruptly when his famous and knee-weakening sexy grin slowly appears.

I breathe a sigh of relief. “You’re not mad?”

He laughs softly and shakes his head. “No, I’m not mad. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you that feisty. It was sexy as hell.”

A loud round of fake coughing pulls us apart. I look at Mia and the guys who are smiling at us, obviously proud of their ability to pull us apart.

Mia raises her glass, “That’s my girl, Nic.” With a wink, we toast and sip our champagne. Our encounter with Rachel is quickly forgotten. We spend the rest of the night drinking and dancing, with at least one of Zack’s hands on me at all times. I am introduced to several stars and stand proudly next to him as dozens congratulate him on wining the Best Album award. We return to the house in the early morning hours where I show him, privately, exactly how proud I am of him.

***

I wake up to the sound of elephants stampeding outside the bedroom, and loud ear-piercing squealing that sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard. And a sexy male groan next to me.

“Mmmm…if we ignore her maybe she’ll just go away.” Zack tightens his arm around my waist pulling me closer to him. His warm breath on my neck sends goose bumps down my spine.

“Who? Oh, is that Mia?” I murmur into his chest.

“Nicole! Open this door right now! You’re on the front page!” Mia’s screaming makes my ears hurt.

“I don’t think she’s going to go anywhere anytime soon, love.” I slowly turn away from Zack after placing a tender kiss on his cheek and roll to get out of the bed. I grab a t-shirt from his dresser and open the door.

“If you’re going to wake me up at the crack of dawn the least you could do is bring coffee.”

“No time for coffee. Check this out.” Mia thrusts a paper into my chest with a gleam in her eye. I look down and see, as she said, on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, in full color, a picture of Zack and me on the red carpet.

“Wow. I’m not even sure I can process this right now.” Zack’s arms come up behind me in an embrace and his scruffy chin settles on my shoulders. I knew this would happen, obviously. I knew in my head deciding to follow Zack out onto the red carpet would end me up in a photo somewhere - a gossip blog, or a tabloid, at most maybe on the cover in a small thumbnail picture. But the cover of a nationally recognized newspaper? It’s more than I imagined. Ever. Zack says nothing but I think his arms wrapped securely on my waist are probably an instinct of his to keep me from falling over in shock. He is a smart man

I look up at Mia wearing a broad grin. “This is huge, Nic! Can you believe it!?” She starts dancing like a teenager and while I know she’s just teasing me, trying to get me to see the fun in this, my mind isn’t working yet.

“I need coffee.” I turn away from both of them and return to Zack’s bed, still staring at the picture of me and Zack. I don’t realize they leave until Zack returns a few minutes later.

“Drink this,” he says as he places a steaming cup of coffee on the nightstand next to me and curls me up in his arms from behind. “On a scale of one to ten, how badly are you freaking out right now?”

“Hmm.” I take a sip of my coffee and set it back down. “About a seven. How do they already know my full name?” The caption reads: Zack Walters was seen all night long gazing into the eyes of this woman who he introduced as someone very special to him. Sources say her name is Nicole Parsons and they met on his most recent tour. Is it possible that Zack Walters is finally off the World’s Sexiest Bachelor List?

“That’s progress I suppose. I was thinking you were going to say twelve.” I can tell by his voice that he’s giving me that sexy smirk of his that would normally turn my knees to jelly. He places a finger gently on my chin and turns me to face him. “You knew this was going to happen. What’s going on?”

“I just wasn’t expecting the front page of the newspaper. Shouldn’t that be reserved for world catastrophes and economic collapses? You know starving children in the Sudan, terrorist’s attacks in Egypt?”

“Are you saying my love life isn’t as important as world hunger?”

“I would hope not.” I give him a quick and gentle kiss and look back at the paper. “Did you know that sources also say you’re madly in love with me and you couldn’t take your eyes off me for the entire night?”

“I am madly in love with you, and anyone who looks at me can see it. I’m sorry about your name getting out, though.” The picture had to have been taken when Zack was talking to the woman from Inside Edition when he introduced me in front of the camera. I’m smiling up at him while he leans down and places a kiss on my forehead. His eyes are open, and even through his kiss his lips are turned up into a half smile.

If I would have hired a professional photographer to take our pictures, it’s the exact shot I would have wanted to have. I’m looking up at him like he is my hero, and he is looking down on me like I am the most special thing in the world.

It’s perfect - even if it isn’t private.

“It’s pretty amazing,” I whisper. I take another sip of my coffee and set the paper down. “I kind of want to save it forever.” I sit in front of him on the bed. “So, what happens now? I was planning on flying home with Mia tomorrow. What happens next when reporters figure out where I live and everything? What am I supposed to say, or not say?”

“Anything you want. If you want to say nothing then ignore them. If you want to announce to the whole world that I’m yours, go for it.”

“I’m going to miss you like crazy, you know that right?”

He pulls me down onto him and holds me tightly against his chest. “Two weeks apart and then only the last few days together just isn’t enough time with you. Do you have to go? The guys and I are going to stay here for a few weeks and start working on our next album. Stay with me, and let me show you around L.A.”

I shake my head, uncertain. I truly don’t have a great reason to rush home, except that I’ve barely been home at all in over a month. But I still haven’t set up more photography appointments, and Christmas is just a month away. Any appointments I would have been able to get in would have had to be done by now, anyway. I know he only booked me a one way ticket, but that doesn’t mean I can just stay. I have to go home, sometime, right?

“Stay with me, love. Please.”

I look at Zack’s pleading eyes and know I don’t have an argument in the world to stand on.

“I can’t possibly say no when you’re begging, I guess.” I lean up and kiss him. Our slow kiss quickly fills with passion as he pulls me tight against him before rolling me onto my back.

***

I feel like maybe I can handle this life after all. Zack and I have spent the last few days in Los Angeles shopping, dining, and partying at night… hitting all the clubs and places Zack likes to go. The paparazzi have taken a few pictures, but it’s been calm enough that I haven’t been too shocked. And even though my name was released after the awards show, I haven’t had any local reporters call or anything. I’m starting to think Mia and Zack were right all along. I had nothing to fear about it, and now that I’ve had more time with Zack, and more time to get used to the idea of Sarah speaking, I’m feeling ready to let my past fears go.

Today is the first day Zack and his band are supposed to start recording new songs so I join him at the studio with Chloe, who has yet to leave Garrett. We’re in a lounge area with retro furniture and all I can think about is how I totally understand how some of this went out of style. Who could actually be comfortable in plastic chairs curved like an egg?

Zack and Jake sit on a couch, tuning their guitars. Garrett has Chloe snuggled onto his lap and they’re practically making out like teenagers. I love watching them, not because I’m some voyeur, but because their love is honest and pure and they don’t care who knows it. Chase sits absentmindedly tapping his hands against his knees to an unknown beat when the door opens.

“You need to hire a new keyboarder.” Aaron, their manager, comes into the room sounding rushed and getting right to business. He seems much more in charge than the night in the limo where he appeared more like a father figure. Not anymore. His presence demands attention and all the guys give it.

Without even waiting for Zack to respond, he continues.

“Coldstone is breaking up and their keyboarder, Scott, is available.”

“No. Not Scott.” Zack speaks adamantly while his fingers tense around the neck of his guitar.

“He’s the best there is, Zack.”

Zack raises one hand to stop him. “He’s a man-whore with a rehab history a mile long. I don’t want to bring that crap in here.” Zack looks at his band and then to me and smiles. At me.

It’s full of wicked intent and I can tell by the way his eyes narrow and the glint that sparkles in them that I know exactly what he wants from me. I suddenly wish for the ability to shoot laser beams from my eyes straight into his malfunctioning brain.

“No.” It sounds like a growl.

Zack turns to Aaron. “We need a few minutes.”

“I’ve already called Scott. I don’t want to pass up this chance with him. He’ll be here in 30 minutes.”

“Cancel it,” Zack growls at him. “I already have a keyboarder in mind.” His voice is firm. I’ve never seen him take the ‘I’m the boss’ attitude before. It’s totally hot. I almost want to throw him down on the floor and have my way with him. Until I remember what he wants from me. “I am not playing.”

“You can totally play,” Garrett says excitedly.

“No.” My stare doesn’t move from Zack. But he isn’t backing down either. He looks like a predator hunting for dinner. I can see the gears turning his mind trying to figure out how to convince me to do this. His gaze flickers momentarily from mine to the other guys. They’ve all heard me play, but surely they have to be smarter than this.

I play for fun, and at one time wanted to teach Music. I’m not a professional, even if it was fun pretending that night on tour.

“You’re the boss, Zack. Technically we work for you so if you want it, it’s all good.” Chase says it, but he’s looking at me. Probably trying to figure out why I’m still glaring at Zack. I’m still willing my laser beam super power to manifest. No such luck.

“Good, then it’s settled. Nic, let’s go play.” He stands up acting like we have just calmly discussed where we’re headed for dinner. Cocky son of a –

“No.” I cross my arms and lean further back into my egg. He simply stalks closer to me, enjoying the hunt. I want to run away and hop on the first flight home just to spite him.

“Just one song. For me. You don’t have to do the album, just practice with us until I can find someone else, then.” There is a soft pleading in his tone. It’s his sexy voice that makes me want to do whatever he asks, and he knows it. Damn him.

“Liar. You’re trying to trick me.” I am not joining a rock band. Not gonna happen. Ever. The whole idea he is mulling around is ridiculous. However, my resolve weakens when Zack crouches in front of me on his knees, his hands on my thighs.

“One song. Play with me, love. Please?”

Usually when he says please, it’s with a tone that I find totally endearing and it makes me want to please him, just to see him smile. Right now, I want to wipe the smile off his face. I’m a mix of emotions of remembering the rush I got when I played with them on the tour, and fear of even considering doing something so completely out of my league. I’m annoyed he’s putting me on the spot like this in front of everyone who has heard me play before, and I’m thrilled at the thought of doing this. I also know even if I am annoyed with him, I still can’t say no to him. I sigh in acquiescence and hold up one finger.

“One song. Just for fun. But I am not joining your stupid band.”

“You’re cute when you’re pouty, you know that?”

I huff out a loud breath and flip my hair walking away. “I hate you for this, you know.”

“Liar. You love me and you know it.” His smirk is back along with that damn twinkling in his eyes. This goes way beyond one silly song for him and I know it. I just can’t resist him.

It takes a few minutes to get settled in the recording area. But once I’m in the little room, enclosed only with Zack and the other instruments, I feel completely at home and protected in the little space with a keyboard under my fingers. I don’t want to let on, though, that this is even up for consideration. Because it’s absolutely not.

“Okay, I’m ready.” I let out another loud exhale still showing I’m completely opposed to this idea.

“Just one song. Remember?”

“Don’t think I’m not fooled by this. I know what you want and it’s not gonna happen.”

“Whatever you say, love.” He winks at me. “We’re playing a new song I just wrote.”

Nerves suddenly bubble in my stomach and almost overflow. “Zack…I can’t…”

“Yes, you can.” He comes over and puts a hand on my cheek. “I’ve seen you figure it out on the fly. I’ll play. You join in whenever you’re ready.”

I mutter something undecipherable, and exhale again. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.”

Slowly he starts and I instantly fall in love with the new rhythm of the song. I listen to his music fill the small room soaking it in, capturing the chords and pauses and deciding when I can come in. But then he adds the words and I freeze. I open my eyes to see Zack staring at me. Singing right to me.

Awake from your slumber and open your eyes

Can’t you see what your love does to me

Drowning in the ocean the deep pit so blue

Can’t you see what your love does to me

I’m on my knees begging you please

Your love rescued me

Can’t you see what your love does to me

The song is for me. About me. His eyes pierce into my soul. I can feel his love burning through me. I close my eyes again and listen to the song as he continues to sing and repeat. My fingers start playing in harmony to his guitar without any effort. It’s like they just know exactly what they’re supposed to do as I let myself feel his love and answer it with my own response. It’s a musical battle. His music demanding me to see him and his love, and me answering him. Showing him how much I love him. How much I do see. I’m so lost in playing, sensing his love and passion for me I don’t realize it when he first stops .

Zack’s gaze is fixated on me when I finally open them. His breath is heavy like we’d just – you know. I look out at the band. Their looks almost mirror Zack’s with a little less lust.

I feel bare, completely exposed.