Exhaustion tugged at Poppy. She glared at Jett. She wanted to say something equally snappy. Instead, she brushed past Jett into the condo.
“Well?” Jett spun on her heels. She put her hands on her hips.
“To think, I actually missed you guys,” Poppy muttered. Her eyes met Griff’s. Heat spread across her cheeks. Her eyes flicked around the room. The whole band was there. She nodded to Max and Perry in greeting. They each gave her nods back.
Jett tapped her foot on the floor. “Hello?”
“What’s the problem, Jett?” Griff asked, his voice low. The sound of it caressed Poppy.
She closed her eyes for a moment, bathing in that sound. She could listen to him talk all day. She wondered whether she was bordering on infatuation. Opening her eyes, she met Jett’s gaze.
“That thing out there.” Jett jabbed a finger at the conversion van. Cold air rushed into the condo.
“That thing is our transportation for the tour,” Poppy said. She folded her arms across her chest.
Jett’s eyebrows flew toward her hairline. “Our what?” Her voice took on a dangerous edge. Poppy wondered whether the band had spent the whole day rehearsing. They were probably just as cranky as she felt.
Keeping her tone light, she gestured toward the van. “It was the cheapest thing I could find.”
“Jett,” Griff said, standing. He put a hand on Jett’s arm. “We don’t exactly have the time or money to be picky.”
Whirling on him, Jett stopped within inches from his chest. Next to Griff’s tall frame, the band leader looked even smaller. It was amusing, Poppy thought, how someone so small could be so feisty. She knew exactly why Koty had fallen in love with Jett. The other woman glared up at Griff. “Do you not care about our image?”
Jett’s voice was laced with a dangerous tone that only a woman could inflect. Poppy glanced from Jett to Griff, positive that things were about to get ugly.
Rising lazily from the couch, Perry stretched. He ambled across the room and peered through the door at the van. “Boss,” he said, stretching the word out. “Are we really going to tour in that thing? King Riley is going to have a tour bus.” He turned to Poppy. “Why don’t we have a tour bus?”
Before she could respond, Griff slammed the door shut. “What are you all, a bunch of princesses?”
Max held up a finger. “For the record, I’m good with whatever is out there. Cheaper is better sometimes, anyway. Plus, now we’ll be able to afford hotels.”
Griff shook his head. “No hotels.”
“We can take turns sleeping on the bench seats,” Poppy told them all. They stared at her. “Or not.” She put her hands behind her back.
“Hotels aren’t in our budget, guys. Things are really tight. We don’t have a label backing us, remember?” Griff spread his hands.
Poppy wondered whether he was coming to her rescue on purpose, or if he really didn’t care what they toured in. Her heart fluttered at the thought of him defending her. A smile touched her lips, despite the argument taking place around her.
“Hold on.” Koty held up his hands. “Let me take care of this.” He took Jett’s hands. “I can get us a tour bus and take care of the hotels.”
Jett wrenched her hands away. “Why do you always have to throw money at everything?” She ran a hand through her long, dark hair. “We’re an independent band. We don’t need big-label money.”
Though Koty’s eyebrow twitched, he said nothing. He stepped back, giving Jett room.
Poppy sat down on the couch, slumping back into the pillows. It felt good to relax, even with everyone arguing around her. Part of her felt like an outsider. She had come into the band late, and the relationships between each of the members were already formed. She wondered sometimes where she fit in.
Dating Griff—if it ever were to happen—would mean, in many ways, dating Jett. His job often seemed to entail keeping the lead singer happy. Griff and Jett spent a lot of time together, ironing out details and haggling band business. She wasn’t sure if she would be able to handle that. Then again, she was probably getting ahead of herself. Besides, she reminded herself yet again, she needed to keep things professional. Straightening in her seat, she pushed a stray curl out of her face. “I already put a down payment on it. I drove it over here. For better or worse, it’s ours.”
Griff nodded in agreement. “Come on, Jett. Don’t be such a hard ass about this. We’re going to be up to our eyeballs, dealing with King Riley.”
To that, Perry muttered an “Amen.” He straightened his dreads, pulled back into a ponytail. “They’re not the easiest to deal with.” His eyes dropped to the floor.
“What do you say, Jett?” Griff asked, his voice gentle.
Jett sighed. “I guess it’s better than nothing.” She flicked a glance toward Poppy. “Thanks for bringing it here.” She jerked a thumb toward the window. “How were the roads?”
“Awful.” Poppy grinned. “It was kind of fun.”
Perry gave her a sideways glance. “Fun? Girl, you must be new.”
Ignoring his teasing, she stood from the couch. “I’m beat, though. I need to get back to . . . home.” She swallowed hard. She’d almost said “the dorm.” No one seemed to notice, though. They each mumbled in agreement. They had definitely been rehearsing all day, she decided, glancing at Max’s messy hair. “Get some sleep, everyone,” she told them. “I’ll be back in the morning.” With a smile on her face, she moved toward the door. “We’re going shopping.”
Jett frowned. “What the hell for?”
“We don’t have anything left in the budget,” Griff said, the space between his eyes creasing.
“This one’s on me.” She still had a tiny bit of financial aid leftover. “You’re all going to need something to wear on stage, right?”
Jett raised her eyebrows. “We usually just wear our own stuff.” Koty wrapped his arms around her, and she melted into him, visibly relaxing.
As different as they were, Poppy mused, they were perfect for each other. “You guys need an image,” she said. “If you’re going to play bluesy, catchy rock, you’ve got to look the part. I have some ideas.” She thought of the sketchbook on her desk in her dorm room. She would be up all night sketching outfits, she realized.
“That’s a great idea.” Griff stretched, yawning. From across the room, he winked at her.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Jett said, “but I’m too tired to care anymore.” She stifled a yawn.
Poppy’s own eyes burned. “See you in the morning.” She lifted a hand in parting, then headed toward the door. As she stepped back into the frosty snow storm, she hoped that the band would like whatever she came up with.
* * *
“That one’s good. I like it,” Krista said, tapping the sketchbook with a finger.
Early morning sunlight streamed through the window. Poppy was positive they were the only ones awake on campus. “Do you think she’ll wear it?” she asked, remembering the attitude Jett gave her over the van.
Her roommate nodded. “Based on what she wore when she was with Perpetual Smile, I’d say you nailed it.” Krista’s finger traced the camouflage green joggers, black heels, and loose white tank top that Poppy had sketched the night before.
“And what do you think about Griff’s outfit?” Poppy asked, her cheeks reddening.
Krista turned the page. She studied the blazer, plain white T-shirt, and jeans. “It’s definitely him,” she said, “but I feel like it needs something.” She flipped to Max’s page. “You’ve got Max wearing a denim chambray shirt over a white tee and khakis, but his hair is styled. You’ve got Jett’s hair in a pinup style. What about Griff?”
Poppy scrunched up her nose. “I didn’t even think of that.”
“That’s why you need me on this tour,” Krista said. She turned the page to Perry’s outfit. Color appeared high in her cheeks.
Poppy narrowed her eyes slyly, a smile tugging at her lips. “You like him,” she teased.
Her roommate’s blush deepened. “I just didn’t know what he looked like until now. You always talk about him like he’s a huge pain in the ass, but he’s hot.” She traced Perry’s broad nose and arched eyebrows. Covering his dreads with a finger, she giggled. “If he cut his hair, he’d be like a whole new guy.”
Poppy squinted at the page, trying to imagine Perry without dreads. “But they’re so him,” she said.
Krista nodded. “And that beard stubble,” she said with a dreamy smile. She moved her finger, exposing the bandana that Poppy gave him for the stage. “Does his face really look like this? Is he really that muscular?” She touched the rippling muscles in his arms.
“Girl, you need to get laid.” Poppy took the sketchbook out of her roommate’s hands. “I tried to get his features, but you better meet him before you set your sights on him. He’s trouble.”
“What about Griff?” Krista asked innocently.
Surprised by the sudden change in subject, Poppy turned away. “What about him?” She bent over the sketchbook.
“Is he trouble?” Krista’s voice was gentle. “He’s a lot older than you.”
“So what?” Poppy shrugged. “It’s not like I’m going after him.”
Her roommate leaned into her. “The look on your face says otherwise.”
Poppy pressed her lips together. She couldn’t be that readable. Besides, she had decided not to pursue him—mostly. Between the tour and juggling school, she had way too much going on to throw dating into the mix. Still, she was surprised that Krista had picked up on her thoughts.
“You were moaning in your sleep about him,” her roommate said.
Her jaw dropped open. “I was not!” She twisted in her seat, facing Krista. Her cheeks burned.
Krista nodded, an eyebrow quirked. “You tossed and turned for a good half hour, and you kept saying his name.”
Poppy’s eyes widened. She definitely didn’t remember having any sexy dreams about Griff. She wished she did. Her dreams were the only sex she was going to have anytime soon. “That’s not even possible.” The words caught in her throat. She swallowed hard. “Krista, you know I’m a virgin. How could I be dreaming about sex?”
“Your subconscious seems to know exactly what you want.” Krista winked. “Or need.” She gave Poppy’s hand a squeeze. “It doesn’t have to be a serious relationship, you know. It can just be for fun.”
Shaking her curls, Poppy stood from her desk. “No way. That would jeopardize the band.” She moved to her closet. Her eyes roamed over her clothes and shoes, looking for something appropriate to wear. Though the snow had stopped, the temperature was still low. She hoped she would remember to buy a pair of boots while they were at the mall.
Krista snorted. “Everyone else is dating in that band. Why not you?” Poppy turned to look at her friend. She put a hand on her hip. Before she could say anything, though, Krista grinned mischievously. “The first thing I’m doing when we go on tour,” she said, “is hooking up with Perry.”
Poppy grabbed a shirt from its hanger and tossed it at Krista. “You’re killing me.”
Shrugging, Krista held the shirt up. She studied it. “I might wear this today.”
“You’re more than welcome to,” Poppy told her, selecting her own outfit. She dressed quickly, casting aside her usual blouse and skinny printed pants for a sweater and pencil skirt. She wanted to look as good—and professional—as possible for the band’s shopping trip. She picked through her shoes until she found a pair of ankle boots. They weren’t exactly made for winter, but they would work.
Turning away from Krista, she dressed quickly. After throwing on some makeup and touching up her hair, she grabbed the keys to the van. “Do you want to come with me?”
Krista shook her head. “I’d love to, but I need to update the blog with the tour schedule.” She smiled. “Thanks for letting me tag along, by the way.”
Poppy smiled back. “Thank you for coming. I have a feeling I’m going to have my hands full.” Lifting a hand in departure, she strolled out of the room.
The drive to Jett and Koty’s condo didn’t take long. She recognized Griff’s car parked out front. It seemed as if everyone was already there. Smiling and checking her hair a final time, she slid out of the van. She walked up to the door and rang the doorbell.
She expected Jett or Koty to answer. When the door swung open, though, Griff stood on the threshold. His gray-blue eyes met hers, and heat pooled in her belly. “Hey,” he said.
For a moment, she just stared at him. Her eyes roved over his smile, the crinkle at the corners of his eyes. Her gaze dropped down to his jeans, then whipped back up to his face. Maybe Krista was right. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to pursue him—for fun, if nothing else. She licked her lips. “Good morning.” She eased past him inside.
Jett sat curled up on the couch under a throw blanket, her head resting on Koty’s shoulder. Three mugs of coffee sat on the coffee table, steam rising into the air. Jett yawned, wiggling her fingers at Poppy in greeting. “Morning,” she said, voice husky. Poppy wondered whether she had slept.
“Want some coffee?” Griff asked.
Glancing around for the rest of the band, Poppy nodded. “Please.” Just as she was about to ask about him, Perry emerged from the kitchen, a mug in his hands.
“Morning, gorgeous,” he said, leaning in close to her. He pressed a kiss to her cheek, his freshly shaved face caressing hers for a moment. He smelled like cool scented soap and cologne. He hadn’t spoken to her like that since she first joined the band, and he had definitely never kissed her.
Blinking her eyes, she took a step back. Heat spread across her cheeks.
“Easy,” Griff rumbled to Perry.
She held up her hands. “It’s okay,” she said, still flustered. Krista, she decided, was going to fall head over heels in love with Perry—and she wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing. On one hand, her roommate could whip him into shape. On the other, he could just as easily break Krista’s heart. “Just don’t let it happen again.” She looked at Perry, eyes narrowed. “I’m your manager, not a contestant on The Bachelor.”
Though he nodded in response, a flirtatious smirk danced on his lips.
She glanced around the room. “Where’s Max?”
“Late, as usual.” Jett yawned again. She snuggled into Koty’s arms. “Why are we doing this so early?”
Trying not to glance at Griff, Poppy wished she had someone to hold her like that. “Because we don’t have a lot of time.” She thought of all the arrangements she needed to make with the college. Pulling her phone out, she tapped a quick email to her advisor asking what she would have to do to switch to online classes temporarily.
Someone cleared their throat. She looked up. Everyone in the room was staring at her, as if they expected her to say something else. “What?”
“I asked if you could help me with merchandise orders tonight,” Griff said. His eyes glinted, a smile curling his lips.
“Of course,” she said without giving it a second thought. She swallowed hard and sent the email before anyone could ask her what she was doing.
“Are you managing any other bands?” Jett asked, eyes narrowed at her suspiciously.
The front door opened, saving Poppy from having to explain. Max lurched inside, his eyes wide and his hair springing in all directions. That was nothing new.
“Sorry I’m late,” he blurted. The top two buttons of his plaid shirt were undone. He closed the door behind him and strode farther into the living room. “What did I miss?”
Jett glared at him. “Would it kill you to be on time?”
“Probably,” he replied. A grin burst from his lips.
“Looks like someone got lucky,” Perry crooned. He flashed Max a thumbs up. Griff snorted.
Poppy put her hands on her hips. Though she wanted to laugh along with everyone else, they had work to do. She exchanged eyerolls with Jett. “Can I remind you gentlemen that we kick off this tour in less than three days? Max, next time you’re late, we’re docking your pay.”
Max’s jaw dropped open. Jett nodded in approval. Perhaps Poppy could forge a bond with her, after all. She bounced the keys to the van in her hand. “First order of business,” she said, eyeing everyone’s tired faces. “Coffee.”
She drove them to the mall in silence. Parking crookedly, she jumped out of the van and led the way inside, straight to the Starbucks on the mall entrance floor. The members of South of Forever filed in behind her, Jett on her heels.
“Nice work, Hampton,” Jett said. “You shut them right up. You’re a girl after my own heart.” She nudged Poppy with an elbow, then took the lead.
Pride thrummed through Poppy. With Jett’s approval, her confidence bolstered. She didn’t even mind waiting behind Jett for her own caffeine fix. She hung back, letting the other members of South of Forever go ahead of her. She watched as they ordered coffees, glad that they were listening to her.
Griff joined her in line. “What are you getting?”
“Some frap or other,” she said, struggling to keep her tone light. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“Well,” he said, putting his hands in the pockets of his jeans, “I’ve got it.” He stood so close to her, she could feel the heat from his body.
Swallowing hard, she lifted a shoulder. “It’s okay. It’s a business expense for me.” She gave him a wink, but her heart fluttered in her chest.
Griff nodded. “Okay. Maybe later we can get a non-business coffee, then.”
She blinked. “What is this?” she blurted.
Stretching his shoulders inside his leather jacket, Griff glanced at the others. They stood off to the side, sipping coffees. The barista watched him expectantly. He was next. He turned his gaze back to Poppy. “Well, I’m asking you out,” he said in a low voice.
She stared at him, unable to believe her ears.
“It’s a simple question,” he told her. “Yes or no?”
South of Forever’s first tour is about to begin, and so is Poppy’s career—if she can keep all her lies straight.
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