About the Author
S.C. Stephens is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the romantic trilogy Thoughtless, Effortless, and Reckless. All three titles are available from Gallery Books.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Effortless Chapter 1
MY BOYFRIEND, THE ROCK STAR
According to the Channel Four weatherman, it was the hottest summer on record in Seattle. Since I’d only been there a little over a year, I took the kind man’s word for it. As I was jostled, smashed into, and bumped up against, I felt the afternoon heat in the clammy skin of every person who touched me. It was revolting to have strangers rubbing up against my body. It was even more revolting when some of those people decided that being crammed together like sardines gave them the freedom to invade my personal space. I’d smacked more hands off my butt in that one afternoon than in the entire time I’d worked at Pete’s Bar.
Sweat poured down the back of my T-shirt, and I momentarily cursed my fashion choice. As I glanced up at the cloudless, azure sky, the midday sun hit me square in the eye, blinding me. I rolled up the short sleeves of my midnight black shirt, then went to work tying a knot above my belly button, just like Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island.
But then I smiled, remembering why I was wearing it and what I was doing in this crowd of sweaty bodies. As I stared past the few rows of glistening people in front of me to an empty stage, I was overcome with nervous energy. Not for me. No, all my nerves were for my boyfriend. Today was his and his band’s big day. In anticipation, I bounced on my feet as I waited for him to bound up onto that stage. I knew he was going to rush to that microphone at any moment, and the waiting crowd was going to let out an ear-splitting scream.
I couldn’t wait.
Hands next to me grabbed my bare arms. “Can you believe it, Kiera? Our boys are playing Bumbershoot!”
I looked over at my best friend, my coworker and my confidante, Jenny. Her face wasn’t pouring with sweat like mine; she looked gloriously dewy. The spark of excitement lighting up her eyes was identical to mine, though. Her boyfriend was also playing at the Seattle music festival for the first time.
Squealing in my growing eagerness, I clutched her arms in return. “I know! I can’t believe Matt actually booked them here.” I shook my head, impressed that my boyfriend was performing in the same venue that Bob Dylan would be playing at later tonight. Hole and Mary J. Blige were scheduled to perform in the next couple of days.
Jenny looked over when some stranger collided into her; he seemed completely stoned. Glancing back at me, her blond ponytail lightly flicking my face, she shrugged. “Evan says he worked really hard to get them this spot. And it’s prime! Saturday afternoon on a perfect summer’s day, smashed right in between two great acts. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
She tilted her head up to the sky. The sun’s rays glinted off the white lettering on her matching black T-shirt, a T-shirt glorifying the full name of our favorite band—Douchebags—although they shortened it to D-Bags, for marketing purposes.
I nodded when her face returned to mine. “Oh, I know, Kellan said he—”
A sudden eruption of sound disrupted my conversation and my eyes automatically darted to the stage. Smiling broadly, I watched what had the raucous crowd’s complete attention. Our D-Bags had finally decided to grace the crowd with their presence.
The assemblage before the outdoor stage started jumping and hollering as Matt and Griffin hopped onstage. Matt was his normal, contained self, acknowledging the fan fest with a small smile and a slight wave. He quietly walked to his microphone and strapped on his guitar. I hollered for him, but the cacophony of noise drowned out my voice, and the guitarist didn’t hear me. His light blue eyes scanned the crowd nervously as he adjusted the strap on his shoulder.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Griffin, Matt’s attention-seeking horn dog of a cousin, ran up and down the stage, smacking people’s hands and pumping his fist in the air. His pale eyes scanned the crowd, and although I wasn’t yelling for him, he actually heard me. Spotting Jenny and I back a ways from the front, he pointed at us. Then he lifted his fingers up to his mouth in a V shape and did suggestive things with his tongue that made my cheeks flame hotter than the steamy sunshine I was standing in. I immediately averted my eyes.
Several people around Jenny and I laughed and looked at us. My embarrassment tripled. Jenny saucily exclaimed, “Ewww, Griffin!” then started laughing with the crowd. I shook my head, wishing my sister, Anna, wasn’t at her photo shoot for the Hooters calendar today so she could maybe attempt to keep her pseudo-boyfriend in line.
Evan entered during the middle of that display and, seeing Griffin sexually harass us, looked over our way. He smiled and waved, blowing a kiss to Jenny. She snatched it in the air and blew one back. His smile expanded, but once he acknowledged us, he twisted to take in the scene, and his dark eyes seemed awed by what he saw. I laughed at the look, happy that the good-spirited man was taking a second to enjoy his success.
Then the screams grew so loud my ears started ringing. I actually cringed in pain. The girls beside me, looking all of fourteen, started clutching each other and chanting, “Oh my God, there he is. Oh my God, he’s so hot. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God!”
I grinned and shook my head, amused at how my rocker boyfriend could affect people. Of course, I completely understood. Lord knows he had completely affected me in the beginning. Still did. Just watching him confidently strut onto the stage, the stage he owned with every fiber of his being, my body tingled for him.
Kellan slowly walked toward his microphone. Or perhaps it was a regular pace and my mind was operating in slow motion. For whatever reason, it seemed to take him forever to get to his destination. He raised one hand, waving to the electrified crowd clamoring for him, and he ran the other back through his thick, bed-head hair. The heat and sweat made the sandy-brown mess stick out even more haphazardly; he looked completely edible.
I bit my lip as he sauntered to his microphone stand. He scanned the crowd as he adjusted the height of the stand. I knew from experience just what the front row was feeling as those midnight blue bedroom eyes washed over them. Kellan had a way of looking at you that made you feel like no one else existed in the world, even if a crowd was around you. Add that to the sexy half-smile on his face, and you got a man who could ignite you with just a glance. He was igniting me now, and he hadn’t even spotted me yet.
As his face turned away, hopefully searching for me out in the masses, I studied his jaw line—strong, masculine, so freakin’ sexy it hurt. The girls behind me obviously thought so too. From among the shrieking, I clearly heard, “That is going home with me tonight,” and, “God, that man is completely fuckable.” I resisted the urge to turn and tell them that he was mine and instead focused my gaze on him. I knew I shouldn’t be jealous or irritated by his fans, but their remarks were a lot less cute than the previous comments from the pubescent girls.
As Kellan’s eyes finished inspecting the first half of the crowd, they shifted over my way. Like magic, he spotted us instantly. Jenny waved, then whistled with her fingers in her mouth. I flushed and smiled as those amazingly intense eyes locked on mine. He nodded at me and mouthed, “I love you.”
The idiotic girls behind me started moaning that he’d said it to them. I again ignored my desire to tell them that he was mine. It wouldn’t change their feelings toward him one tiny little bit, and it would only create endless questions about our personal life. Questions I did not want to discuss with complete and total strangers. I’d put up with enough of that at school before Kellan and I had even started dating.
Instead, I discreetly mouthed that I love him too and gave him a couple of thumbs up. He laughed at my move and shook his head in amusement, clearly confident that he’d completely kick ass onstage. And he would. If anything, Kellan had spent his whole life preparing himself for this moment by playing small bars and clubs in L.A. and Seattle.
Slinging a guitar over his shoulder, he wrapped his hand around the microphone. The screams intensified when it became obvious that he was going to speak. Over the sound system, I heard his warm laugh, then, “Hello, Seattle!” The girls around me jumped and screamed his name. I laughed and tried to move away from some of the more excitable girls, but with nowhere to go, I only ended up colliding into a couple of guys in front of me.
I was muttering apologies when they glared back at me as Kellan’s voice hit me again. “We’re the D-Bags . . . in case you didn’t know”—he paused for another long screaming session— “and we’ve got something for you . . . if you want it.”
He raised an eyebrow and gave some of the women in the front row a look that was a little lascivious for my taste. But I knew it was an act. While his face clearly said, Screw me later, that wasn’t what was in his heart. I was in his heart. Heck, I was tattooed over his heart. Well, my name was, anyway. I smiled, enjoying the fact that not a single woman here was aware of his hidden art. Well, besides Jenny.
He held up a finger to quiet the crowd. They surprisingly responded. “Do you want it?” he asked suggestively. The throng jubilantly indicated that they did. Jenny was hollering her answer through her hands, so I joined in.
I noticed Matt shaking his head, smiling as he flexed his hand. Evan was now sitting in front of his drums, moving his body to an unheard beat and spinning a stick in his hands. As Kellan eyed the crowd, I watched Griffin try to get a couple of girls to lift their shirts. I didn’t keep looking to see if they did.
Kellan brought his hand up to his ear. “Well, if you want it, I’m gonna have to hear you ask for it.” The audience hooted and hollered, and the girls behind me made more obscene suggestions, but I didn’t care. I no longer cared about any of them, because Kellan was looking straight at me, and the pure joy I saw on his face was enough to make all of the audacious women, indecent men, and sweaty strangers, completely worth it.
It was like watching his soul come alive as he smiled down at me. He loved this. Aside from me, it was the one thing that Kellan really lived for. He acted like it didn’t matter, that he did it just because it was something to do in the evenings, but after spending so much time with him, I was beginning to understand that that was just one of his coping mechanisms. A part of him feared that this would get snatched away from him. He hadn’t grown up under the best of circumstances. Quite the opposite. He’d had a horror story childhood that would have left most people running straight for booze and drugs. But Kellan had found music, and music, along with a seriously healthy sexual appetite, had saved him from a life of mind-numbing addictions.
Kellan flicked his wrist behind him, and Evan, waiting for his cue, immediately began to play.
The song was fast, catchy, and even though I’ve heard it a bazillion times, I started jumping up and down with excitement. There was just something electrifying about the crushing, noisy bodies rubbing against me, the deafening vibrations of the amplified music; and the hot sun beating away on all of us. It gave me a rush. I could only imagine what Kellan was feeling.
His voice cut through the music, perfectly on time. No matter what he was feeling off the stage, Kellan was a professional on the stage. The countless practices and small shows around the area had paid off well; his voice was spectacular. A high-pitched, feminine squeal surged throughout the crowd as his voice drifted throughout the arena. He was singing an older song, a D-Bag classic, and several people around me were singing along. Since I’d watched Kellan write songs before, it was awe-inspiring to witness his lyrics being repeated back to him, especially by a crowd this size.
He beamed as he strummed and sang. A distractingly sexy half-smile was on his lips. It never failed to amaze me that he could play his guitar and sing at the same time. Me? I could barely do just one of those things. Jenny waved her hands in the air and cheered for her man. I did the same, happy that I could come out and support him today—support them all today. Well, maybe not Griffin.
The song ended with a thunderous reaction from the crowd, even impressing the guys directly in front of me. I was ecstatic for Kellan and the boys. They deserved the success. Kellan put his guitar away for the next song, and popped the microphone off its stand. This stage was wider than Pete’s, and with more room to walk around, Kellan also had more room to flirt. Moving into the next song, his eyes seduced the crowd in ways that I was only used to them seducing me.
It annoyed me a little, but I let it go. He was just excited to be here, eager to play. He’d slipped back into the aggressively sexy guy that I’d first seen onstage. The salacious behavior had seemed over-the-top to me on that very first glance that I’d had of him, but the audience here was eating it up. Hands were stretching out to him from everywhere, even from rows behind me. I wasn’t quite sure what those women expected him to do. Stage dive? I furrowed my brow, hoping he didn’t do that. He could get hurt . . . or fondled to death.
As he propped a foot on a speaker and leaned out to grab a fan, I idly wondered why that one? Did he like her hair? Was she the most excited one in that section? Did she have the biggest . . . voice? Shaking my head at my insecurities, I pushed them out of my mind. He had so many things to concentrate on up there, he probably wasn’t thinking at all. Just reacting to a fan asking for more attention. And they could certainly touch him. I wasn’t such a jealous harpy that I couldn’t handle a few caresses. Within reason, of course.
And Kellan was good with keeping most of his flirtations on the stage. He would never look or act that way in our daily life. You wouldn’t even know he was practically a rock star when he wasn’t performing. Really, he seemed a little lazy to the untrained eye. But I knew his mind was always busy, even if he was just slinging back cold ones at the bar.
As the temperature increased throughout their set, I wondered if Kellan might strip down. It wasn’t a preposterous notion; he’d done it before while singing onstage. A couple of times, from what I’d heard. He was wiping off the sweat with the lower half of his shirt whenever he got the chance, pulling it up to reveal his gloriously defined abdomen. With the eruption of screams when he did that, I was sure the crowd would approve if he chose to remove it all together. The bulk of them anyway.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about women ogling my boyfriend in that way. I wasn’t sure how I felt about his tattoo being exposed either. That idea almost bothered me more. But after a quick wipe, he always let his plain white T-shirt fall back into place. I preferred to believe that he liked keeping his tattoo a cherished secret, shared only by the two of us. And it should be. Even though it was on his body, it was incredibly personal for each of us. It kept him connected to me while we were apart. It also helped seal us when we reunited.
Once their allotted time was over, the band members each gave small bows and Kellan thanked t...
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