This is the 17th of the 100 letters I am going to write to you, in celebration of The Dream Team’s 100-day tour. I can’t believe it’s already well under way! Tonight you’re playing in Philadelphia, but Mom said I couldn’t go AGAIN to a concert I’d already seen four times this summer. Honestly, though, I could watch you every night. You stand up on that stage and you transform everyone around you, until we all truly believe in love—in hope—and in following our dreams. You are a true miracle, Dante. Maybe someday I’ll meet you? I mean, if only you can dream it, it might just come true, right?
Most Love Always,
P.S. We share a birthday month! Happy Early Birthday, fellow Leo! I turn 16 this year—so maybe I’ll be able to drive myself to the next concert you have close by!
Six Years Later
Dante Falcone dominated the stage like a depraved god, his guitar slung at his side, his perfectly sculpted face tilted up to the blinding spotlight, while rich, ethereal music swelled to a crescendo and filled the whole world. His thick black hair cascaded back from his face. His dark eyes implored the heavens. His lips parted. He stood there a moment more, as if transfixed by the immensity of his own arcane spell, and Lacey Dawes’s heart nearly stopped in her chest.
Then slowly, seductively, Dante Falcone lowered his gaze and pinned his legendary deep brown eyes on hers, staring only at Lacey across the stage, picking her out from the thousands of fans around her and—
“VIP passes only!”
A hard shove to her back brought Lacey to her senses. “My pass! It’s here!” she shouted, holding out the colorful card at the end of her lanyard, and gulping in a short, unsteady breath as the security guy waved her through.
Around her, women screamed Dante’s name, voices of teens all the way up through grandmothers chanting in unison. Lacey fought her way back toward the VIP section, which gave her closer access to Dante than she’d ever scored in the previous fifty-seven shows she’d attended. She stood on tiptoe to see over the last remaining lines of women, girls, and boyfriends, trying to gauge where Dante now was in his set. All part of the job, of course, nothing special, nothing new.
As IMO’s newest young-gun junior agent, Lacey had shuttled stars to talk-show gigs and charity functions, photo shoots and press conferences. Over the past twelve months, she’d also racked up a full slate of gigs that included seventeen movie premieres, nine gallery show openings, six museum galas . . . and fully twenty-nine concerts, just like tonight’s.
But who was she kidding?
This wasn’t just any concert. Number one, it was Dante Falcone: the unrequited, lusted-after-from-afar, star-of-a-thousand-daydreams love of her life when she’d been sixteen, and her secret crush even now. And number two, it was Dante Falcone: IMO Worldwide Media’s newest, biggest client, and the main reason Lacey had worked her ass off to get this job in the first place. Because working on the Dante Falcone portfolio—even as an assistant—would look nothing short of amazing on her résumé. And number three . . . it was Dante Falcone.
And that made covering tonight’s show the most exquisite, spine-tingling mix of business and pleasure ever. Everything had been worth this night. Her freak-of-the-week boss, her DOA social life, the third-story walk-up in the brownstone she could barely afford. Everything.
“Keep going, babe, more coming through—”
Lacey jolted as the security guard motioned her forward, his gaze sharpening as she tried to pull it together. “Right, right. Sorry!” she managed, doing her best to look official.
She moved toward the front of the VIP space, but by the time she cleared the crowd, Dante had slipped offstage. A wave of disappointment washed over her, and Lacey yanked out her phone and keyed into her notes app, marking the time. Dante’s mid-set “breaks” were the stuff of legends. Before she’d landed this position at IMO, Lacey had always assumed he’d gone below stage with half his band to take a breather, get some water, maybe wolf down some food.
Now she knew better.
According to Dante’s agency file, he apparently invited a roomful of groupies to the space beneath the partially glassed stage each night, for the entertainment of the guys still stuck on stage while he took a break. What he did down there with them was the subject of rampant speculation, but none of the groupies would ever come clean, so to speak. There had to be drugs involved. Alcohol. And without question a lot of naked women. Either way, Dante Falcone was definitely no longer the dreamy poster boy for boy bands everywhere. Take it from someone who still had all the posters.
Lacey smiled into the swirling darkness. She should have been appalled to learn that her teenage idol had become, well, a degenerate. A spoiled, sensual sex god who slept until noon and partied all night, never without a woman or three spilling out of his arms. That kind of guy should have disgusted her. She was an independent woman, after all. She was smart, and she was good at what she did: She’d had ten different agencies offer her entry-level positions, agencies that handled some of the hottest stars on the planet. So she shouldn’t bite her lip at the thought of the glistening body of a hypnotically sensual rock star eager and ready for hot, sweaty sex.
But the truth was, the idea of Dante Falcone half-naked and prowling through a hundred fawning women made Lacey’s knees go weak. The thought of him picking someone—anyone—to share his bed for just one night sent chills down her spine. She knew she was single-handedly setting the women’s movement back fifty years, but she didn’t care. Dante Falcone was pure escapist fantasy, a completely harmless crush. The last delicious holdout of all her teenage hopes and dreams. And there were exceptions for things like that.
She keyed in a few notes on the concert’s attendees—who were mostly female; the venue—which was tricked out with Paradiso’s trademark glitz and glam; and the music—which was deafening, and falling completely in line with the set list she’d downloaded the night before. Her boss, Brenda, had called her mid-set to demand a report on her desk the next morning on one of IMO’s other potential clients, so Lacey’d missed her favorite song, “Sweet Midnight.” She’d fallen asleep to that tune more times than she could count, but she’d never once heard it live. Leave it to the Barracuda to ruin even that for her.
A burst of smoke and fireworks suddenly exploded up from the center of the stage, and Lacey winced as the bright lights flashed into her eyes and the crowd erupted in a long wailing cry. As the smoke rolled away in enormous plumes, a single spotlight bolted down from above. And heaven itself poured onto Dante Falcone.
It was . . . magic.
The fans howled their love with booming rounds of “Dante! Dante!” and Lacey hastily flipped to a new screen in her app. The arena was so much louder than she’d ever heard it before. She had to get this down! She was typing so furiously that she almost missed it when the band built to a soaring crescendo, almost forgot what happened during “Bring It,” Dante’s newest song. She glanced up with a jerk of awareness, but it was already too late.
With guitars wailing and the crowd screaming insensibly, three members of Paradiso—including Dante, who was holding his guitar as if it would shield him from the mass of humanity roaring his name—rushed toward the throng. They threw themselves to their knees at the very edge of the stage, the band members only inches away from the writhing sea of fans.
“Hey!” Lacey yelped in genuine alarm as everyone around her responded in kind, lurching toward the stage with a roar. She was shoved forward, her shoulders serving as launchpads for a few of the more motivated fans behind her. She vaulted a few quick steps, her Jimmy Choo boots proving how good they were by not sending her catapulting forward into the stage.
Where were the security guards?
Her gaze flew to the edge of the VIP section, appalled to see the crowd control personnel standing back for this brief, soaring interaction, letting the fans have access to their idols as they preened and undulated on the stage. Lacey turned toward the front of the stage again, and her breath caught in a choking gasp.
Because, oh, what a sight it was.
Dante Falcone was clad in head-to-toe black leather that hugged and cupped and stretched over his body as intimately as a second skin. His jacket was ripped open, his gleaming chest showing one of the reasons why he was so popular in a multimedia world—Dante wasn’t just an amazing singer, he had the body of a male model, his face and physique apparently undamaged from eight hard years of living on the road. As Lacey fought to keep her footing despite the mass of bodies behind her, pushing her ever closer to the stage, she drank in the sight of him. He was all dark eyes and beautiful mouth, his heavenly voice now practically screaming into his mike as his eyes roamed the stadium, drinking in the adulation like a king. Or a god. Or an angel.
He was worth every penny anyone ever paid him, she thought fleetingly, just as one particularly shrill voice screeched in her ear, “Dante, I love you!”
Then Lacey felt a brutal push against her hip. She stumbled forward, crushed up against the stage for a moment until she straightened, desperately trying to regain her footing even as fans surged over and around her, spilling onto the stage.
The horde pulsed as the security guards finally moved into action, and Lacey’s hands balled hard into fists as another frantic girl tried to climb up to the stage by way of Lacey’s back. Someone was going to die if this kept up, but just as her eyes swept the stage, she saw Dante Falcone staring down at her. And only at her.
And it totally wasn’t a daydream this time.
He really was looking at her. The pressure of his gaze seemed to clear a space around her . . . Well, that and the security guard, who’d finally made his way across the floor, opening a path as the crowd fell back.
“You okay?” the burly man shouted as he stopped in front of her.
“I’m fine—thank you!” Lacey’s words were automatic, her gaze still fixed on Dante. He moved in perfect rhythm with the music as he watched her, smiling between the words of the song, letting her know that he’d seen her distress and had somehow come to her aid.
Lacey shook her head, hard, to clear it. Dante couldn’t have any idea who she was—much less care—but he was staring at her as if it was she who had captured his attention, she who held his world. A distant, vague part of her mind registered the beefy security guy at her side, knew that she had just been written into the night’s act as the fans screamed their approval and her face flashed all over the Jumbotrons. But none of that mattered, not right then.
With one soft smile, Dante Falcone had made her feel wonderfully, sweetly, hopelessly sixteen, all over again.
* * *
Dante slouched against the table in the dressing room, stripping off leather as fans surged around him. Perfume and sweat hung heavy in the air, booze and smoke. As each article of clothing left his body, someone snatched it away. Usually one of the girls, sometimes one of the guys. He’d had to walk to the bus bare-assed naked before, but most nights, he couldn’t work himself up to care.
“Great show, man.”
Dante slanted his glance to the left and took in the band’s longest-tenured member, Steve Gwynn. The lead guitarist never failed to crack him up, his elastic face now easing into a grin as the redhead in his lap worked on him. He’d been one of the few guys who’d stuck it out with Dante on this odyssey since the very beginning. The rest of the guys had been ordered by the label to rotate through Paradiso, his backup band: hardworking musicians who knew all the songs, knew the flow of the action, did their jobs and appreciated the hell out of getting the chance to perform—and the paycheck that came along with it. He’d stopped trying to remember their names. Even Steve was just one more face in the parade. Thirty years old to Dante’s twenty-four, the guitarist wasn’t so different from him, in the end. They’d both spent endless hours in other people’s garages as kids, learning how to play guitar to Slash CDs, making up songs and impressing girls. Dante snorted. Everyone had to start somewhere, he supposed.
“You look like shit,” Dante said to Steve now. “Get some rest.”
Steve grinned, shrugged. “Life of a superstar,” he said, obviously well past caring about anything other than the completely naked woman in his arms. Dante could have sworn the groupie had been dressed when she’d come in here, but it was hard to tell, with as little as the women wore to a gig these days.
Dante stood up abruptly, suddenly wanting to get out of the stadium while he was still coherent. The press of humanity fell away from him with disappointed murmurs as he took another chug of his beer. “Let’s go.” He tossed the bottle and grabbed another as Steve agreeably detached himself from his own subset of admirers. The air in the room felt too close. Dante had to get out.
The door opened onto the concrete corridor and Dante hadn’t taken two steps before the screams erupted, and an entire wave of girls burst through the security line screeching his name. Gritting his teeth, he signaled that it was all right, and his net of security personnel closed in around him, letting him move with his fans but not be overwhelmed by them. It would get him out of the stadium quicker than fighting the crowd, as long as none of the crazies got too close. He paid his men well to make sure that never happened anymore. As Dante walked, he signed programs, T-shirts, jackets, and skin. He’d never forget the first time a woman had thrust her bare breast at him to sign. He’d been only fourteen years old and couldn’t believe his luck.
That’d been just over a decade ago. It felt like a thousand years.
Dante smiled for his fans, and a hundred camera phones snapped in unison. He knew some of those shots would get sold before the hour was through, but most of the people waving camera phones were just regular people, out for the show. He owed them everything he’d become. He took another long swig on the beer, emptying it, and a fresh bottle was in front of him before he’d taken his next step. The mass of fans was starting to blur together now, which always made them easier to take. Hopefully, none of them would make it back to the hotel. He had a meeting tomorrow with his hyperventilating new advertising agency, and he wasn’t in the mood to deal with screaming females the whole night.
He should never have agreed to meet the day after a show. They’d be heading out again soon enough, and he needed whatever rest he could get. He longed to spend a few weeks kicking back, finding his way into the studio, floating around in a pool. But IMO had different ideas, and since he’d hired them to get him off the merry-go-round of touring, he had to hear them out.
He’d go to the meeting alone, though. He’d fired his manager somewhere between Jacksonville and Atlanta, after he’d caught the asshole snorting a line of coke off some teenager’s stomach. Dickhead. With the new negotiations coming up with IMO, the guy would have just been one more headache, anyway.
A dark-haired brunette swung into view, and Dante’s focus sharpened. “You,” he barked, and the woman turned, her curvy body poured into skintight jeans and a tank top that stretched perilously thin over her impressive breasts. Despite the display of absolute feminine perfection, Dante felt disappointment knife through him. It wasn’t the girl from the show, with the too-tall boots and the startled eyes, who’d locked gazes with him as if she’d known him—really known him—from somewhere. Like she’d gone to grade school with him or some crazy shit like that. Either way, she’d almost gotten trampled right in front of him. He’d seen that kind of accident happen before, God knew. Now he found himself wondering if she’d made it out of the concert okay.
This woman wasn’t that girl. Still, she would do for what he needed. He pulled her close, and she wrapped one leg around his hips, pressing her too-solid breasts against him. Fake, of course, but he held her tight anyway—just long enough to please the paparazzi—then sent her on her way. At one time he might have been glad to take what she offered, but . . . not tonight. No one really seemed to interest him anymore. Instead he had this endless, aching need for—something. Some sense of purpose he’d lost along the way. Some reason why he should keep playing the game. He supposed that was the point of the meeting with IMO tomorrow, to put him on a different path, give him something new to think about. He doubted it would work, but it was worth a shot. Or at least that’s what he’d told himself.
The girls around him screamed his name, along with several creative suggestions of how they could help him spend the night. Dante smiled and shook his head, waving one last time as he ducked inside his waiting bus. It was only a short trip to the night’s hotel, a soaring penthouse suite. He settled back into the plush leather seats and watched the world slide by.
He wondered if he’d sleep tonight.