Chapter One
His Prelude
Her Prelude
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven
Chapter Eight
Chapter Nine
Chapter Ten
Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve
Chapter Thirteen
Chapter Fourteen
Chapter Fifteen
Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen
Chapter Eighteen

`Cause it don't mean nothing
The words that they say
`Cause it don't mean nothing
These games that people play
`Cause it don't mean nothing
No victim, no crime
No, it don't mean nothing
`Til you sign it on the dotted line

Plush chairs framed the shining mahogany conference table, but he was long desensitized to the luxury of his lifestyle. In fact, instead of being pleased with the luxury of the record company and its spaces, he had learned to despise it. He was trapped in the velvet of the chairs, his feet rooted in place by the fibers of the carpeted floor. He'd spent years trying to acquire the same cocky stride his bandmates had mastered in the office, but insecurity caused his feet to tangle into an awkward trudge. Sighing, he shoved his hands deep in his pockets and scanned the room for a sign of humanity.

"Would you like some coffee, Mr. Carter?"

Startled, he glanced over at the kindly office assistant and managed a meager smile. "No thanks."

"It's fresh."

Isn't it always? If it wasn't, how would anyone ever sell a record?

"I'm fine, really."

"All right then."

And she was gone. Fortunately, he only had to spend a few more minutes with his hands in his pockets and his gaze on the wall ahead before the legal staff began filtering in. His manager followed closely behind, and he immediately retrieved his hands so he could give the older man a proper greeting.

"Irving...man, what's up?"

Irving Azoff smiled immediately in return. "Nick. I'm good, how are you?"

Slate grey suit and a striped tie. Shirt cleanly pressed. He looked down at his own ripped jeans in dismay and fought back the frown that threatened to surface. Shit. I should have thought about that. Looking presentable for the opening act is always a good idea. The contrast in attire was enough to make him want to crawl back into the corner from which he had emerged, but he had to remain cool, calm, and collected.

"Great, man, I'm great. What's on the agenda for the day?"

"Not much. We're just going to finalize some things with Adia Chamberlain so we can get this thing on the road. Obviously, we've had the venues booked for some time now, but we need the okay of her record company to move with the schedule. We're probably going to be talking technical things at a later date--you know, the set-up of the stage, the lighting, the amount of interaction allowed with the crowd, etc. Though you'll be playing smaller venues, they'll be quite large to an artist of her background, and we're going to need to educate her in the ways of a headlining show before we throw her out onstage."

He cracked the first genuine smile of the morning upon hearing his agent and manager cut through the professional bullshit that had littered his earlier meeting with the suits. He could spend hours listening to the men across the table talk about his career without learning a single thing, but two minutes with Irving could clear up all of his confusion quite adequately. Part of him feared that such a blessing was a result of the newness of their relationship, though, and he was waiting for the day when Irving began wearing black instead of slate grey and gel instead of mousse. He was waiting for the professional frown to replace the easy smile the man was now sporting, but the childlike part of him was still holding out hope that they could be this comfortable forever.

His reverie ended when Irving nudged him gently in the ribs. "Anything you want to know before the meeting starts?"

He sighed slowly, scanning the back wall for any questions he might've forgotten to ask when it once again occurred to him that he'd be touring with one girl and her band instead of four guys and an entourage.

"How old is she?"

Irving frowned and began rifling through the papers in his file folder. "Twenty-one, I believe."

"So she's younger than I am?"

"It would appear so."

It was Nick's turn to frown. "Funny. She looked older."

"She's an old soul. I was listening to some of her music last night to brief myself for the meeting, and she's quite intelligent for someone so young."

I just hope she's not a fan. It wasn't until Irving laughed heartily that he realized he'd said the words aloud.

"I wouldn't worry about that one, Nick. At this rate, you'll be lucky if she's ever heard of your music."

He exhaled audibly and shoved his hands back into his pockets before biting his lower lip nervously. "How's her stuff?"

"Impressive," was all Irving could say before the double doors swung open again, revealing the last traces of female laughter from a cheeky redhead, a reserved young woman, and a tall brunette.

He recognized the denim-clad brunette instantly as Ani Difranco, and his breath caught in his throat. He'd picked up bits and pieces of Ani's work in trying to roughen his sound, and he was inspired by both her lyrical prowess and her uninhibited vocals. Whoever Adia Chamberlain was, she was obviously talented to have caught the ears of such a respected indie artist.

An angry-looking Asian woman with raven hair and green streaks hurried into the room behind the previous trio and rolled her eyes.

"Is everyone here? Can we please get this thing started?"

The redhead turned disapprovingly. "Jackie, really. Everyone's still filtering in. It's fine."

"But won't Ani be late for her next meeting if we don't get this thing going soon?"

Ani Difranco glanced over her shoulder with a smirk at the mention of her name. "I'll be fine, Jackie. I'm at a point now where they'll wait for me." Her gaze returned to the young woman next to her, and she chuckled. "Adia, however, is not."

Before Nick could inquire as to which of the four called herself Adia, Irving strode confidently into the circle of women and held out a hand.

"Hello, ladies. I'm Irving Azoff, Nick Carter's manager. I'm sorry for the wait, but we're still holding the door open for Jive's general tour manager. Can I get you all anything?"

Damn, he's such a good host. I wish I'd thought of that. Of course, all of those women look kind of sketchy...

Ani rubbed a hand on her ripped jeans before reaching to shake Irving's outstretched one. "Ani Difranco, and it's not a problem. We were afraid we were running late."

Irving chuckled. "I think it's a rule that the executives have to show up a few minutes after the scheduled arrival time."

Ani rolled her eyes. "Go figure. Sorry, I'm a bit new at this 'president of the label' thing. I haven't even completed the training course yet."

"She's lying," the redhead chimed in, tugging absentmindedly on the lapel of her pin-stripe suit jacket. "She's actually quite efficient."

"She must be to have acquired such a talented young artist so quickly," Irving chuckled.

"Actually, that was me," the redhead replied with a wink. She tucked a dreadlock behind her ears and adjusted her tortoise-shell glasses before offering her own hand. "I'm Elena Powers, Adia's manager."

"Pleased to meet you," Irving smiled. He turned to the young brunette, who had yet to speak a word to anyone, and offered his hand to her as well. "And then you must be Adia."

"Guilty as charged," the young woman replied, placing her tiny, tentative hand in Irving's. "It's nice to meet you."

Irving continued to make polite conversation with the four women, but Nick's chin took a moment to grace the floor in the corner.

Holy fucking shit. No way. That's Adia?

The image of her face had been burned his mind ever since the suits had slid her head shot across the table to him, but the woman who had just introduced herself to Irving looked nothing like the subtly seductive brunette from the photograph. The brown hair that had fallen in ripples over her shoulders was pinned into a messy bun and secured with a pair of chopsticks. Her once bare shoulders were covered by a turtleneck sweater-shawl, and her legs were clad in a loose-fitting pair of jeans that left little to the eye and too much to the imagination. The eyes that had initially intrigued him, however, were hidden by a pair of black, thick-rimmed glasses, and he couldn't help but groan inwardly at the transformation she had undergone between her photo shoot and the tour invitation.

And this girl is supposed to help my image? How in the hell is that possible? She's stuck in the wrong fucking decade with the rest of her record label. Freaking feminist hippies...

His gaze drifted from Adia to the Asian woman with streaked black hair, and he fought the urge to roll his eyes at her combat boots and camouflage. Instead, he rubbed an already exasperated hand across tired features. Who in the hell are these people? Are they fucking insane? You can't show up for a business meeting looking like an ad for the local thrift store.

A tentative tap on his shoulder interrupted his mental tirade, and he turned slowly to face the offender. He was shocked when he found himself face to face with Adia herself.

"Nick Carter?" she asked softly, raising her eyebrows in inquiry. Reluctantly, he nodded, and she offered a gentle hand. "Adia Chamberlain. I'm looking forward to opening for you."

He shook her hand quickly, too stunned by her lilting voice, tender fingers and kindly ways to give an elaborate reply. "Yeah, great."

Before either of them could attempt small talk, Jive's general tour manager strode into the room with all the grace of a linebacker.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. I believe we have a meeting to attend to."

If Adia was taken aback, she didn't show it. She simply shot him the smallest of smiles and padded back over to her corner of fashionably challenged females before taking a seat across the table from him.

The tour manager was a burly man with a beard and an impeccable Armani suit, but there was a hint of disarray about him that permeated the professionalism he strove to radiate. He stroked his chin for a moment, waiting for everyone to be seated before occupying the chair at the head of the rectangular mahogany conference table.

"Thank you all for coming this morning. To those of you who don't know me, my name is Jack Whittier, and I'm the general tour manager for the artists here at Jive Records. Essentially, I oversee all of the acts that go on the road, and I'm responsible for the show seen by the fans. Stage set, instruments, back-up bands--you name it, and it's probably in my job description. That said, I'm sure you all understand why I felt it necessary to schedule a time where I could introduce myself and become better acquainted with the expectations of our two talents, here."

A small murmur went up as the rest of the table's occupants nodded in unison.

"Good. I assume most of you have already met each other?" More nods. "Super. Now, I've been taking care of Mr. Nick Carter since his days as a Backstreet Boy, so I'm well aware of his talents and limitations, but I'm not so well acquainted with our other young artist." He slid on a pair of spectacles and glanced quickly down to the sheet of paper in front of him. "Which one of you ladies is Adia Chamberlain?"

Adia raised her hand and ducked her head slightly, and Nick winced upon recognizing her once again. Good Lord, she'd better be one hell of a musician. Thankfully, Jack continued before Nick felt the need to voice his concerns.

"Adia, we're pleased to have you on board. Now, I know that you've been a live performer for quite a while now, but this will be your first official tour, correct?"

Nick watched carefully as Adia nodded. Her movements, though measured, were graceful and fluid, but her hesitancy spoke of a shyness that intrigued him despite her lacking personal style. He leaned forward and placed his elbows on the table for support as he gazed unabashedly at her, watching for a glimpse of the eyes that had so taken him when he first saw her picture.

"I see. Well, we aren't doing a full-blown stadium tour because young Mr. Carter here is new to the world of rock, but we do have a series of smaller-venue performances planned. We'd like you, as the opening act, to accompany him on that tour. You'll have roughly half an hour of set time in which you'll get to perform songs of your choice, but preferably your own material. All of the songs you perform must go through Mr. Carter or his manager first, as this is his tour and everything performed affects him directly. I understand that you're new to the music world and are working as creating a space for yourself, but we'd prefer you do it in a way that will not reflect negatively on Mr. Carter. Is that understood?"

She paused momentarily before nodding again, and Nick could see a fire flare in her eyes as she hesitated. To a suit, the pause was nothing but a moment of absorption, but to a seasoned performer like himself who'd been forced to participate in business endeavors since the beginning of time, the pause was an obvious indication of a rebellious streak. Ironically, her hesitancy was enough to
intrigue him further. So maybe there's more to this lady than meets the eye.

"Good. Now, you'll need a back-up band to accompany you onstage. At the time of invitation you had no other musicians traveling with you. Have you made arrangements, or will you need Jive to find a decent group of players?"

Adia took a deep, placid breath, but Ani responded.

"We've made arrangements."

Jack raised an impressed but dubious eyebrow. "And these musicians are up to par and willing to abide by the label's rules and regulations?"

Ani gave a curt nod. "Of course. We at Righteous Babe don't hire hooligans, Mr. Whittier."

Jack Whittier coughed nervously and tugged on his beard. Nick, meanwhile, fought the urge to laugh at the older man's insolence. He'd never much cared for Jive's executives, but he had immediatey taken a liking to Ani Difranco. Something about her easygoing nature and determined drive made for a fiery combination that he quite enjoyed observing--especially when she was making the suits squirm. He glanced over to Adia for her reaction and saw her suppressing a smile.

"No...no, I wouldn't think so. Just...we have to ask. Company policy, you know."

The left corner of Ani's lips curved in a dangerous smirk. "Understood." Nick could tell from her expression, though, that the "company policy" had been taken as an amusing offense. Adia might have appeared as a pacifist, but her label president, obviously, was not.

"Anyway. We'd appreciate it very much if you would fax to us a list of those musicians sometime during the week so we can get them squared away in terms of lodgings and such before rehearsals begin."

"One step ahead of you," Elena Powers spoke up, sliding a packet of paper across the table. "We've got their names and personal profiles. If you want their criminal records as well, though, that might take some time."

Jack Whittier choked on his incoming breath, and Nick covered his mouth discreetly with his hand to avoid bursting into giggles. Both Ani and Elena remained straight-faced and businesslike, though, so none of the suits moved to correct them.

"Right, well..." Whittier paused to shuffle his papers. "Due to limited funds, there will be no hotel accommodations on this tour. We're afraid that all sleeping arrangements will be made on the bus." He turned to Adia again. "Will your band be traveling with you on a vehicle, or are you requesting a separate automobile for them?"

"My band and I will travel together," Adia answered, quietly but firmly. Upon hearing an artist actually speak for herself, Whittier looked up in surprise.

"Good, good. And you know you'll need to fill out a rider for your dressing room and tour bus."

Adia frowned immediately. "A rider?"

Whittier didn't bother to hide his condescending smirk, and Nick allowed himself a sigh of exasperation. Man, she really is new to the business if she isn't already aware of all the perks of the job.

Fortunately, Irving's voice rang above the silence. "It's a list of requests to make your living spaces more comfortable. Within reason, the tour will supply you with everything you need or want to make things easier. Traveling gets hard on the artists sometimes, so we like to keep them happy." He finished the statement with a wink in her direction, which she acknowledged with a small smile.

"Very well, then. We'll expect that in the office sometime this week as well. With that said, though, I'm going to turn the attention over to Mr. John Schultz, who will explain the legal implications of opening for Mr. Carter." He turned expectantly to Ani. "You brought your lawyer, I hope?"

The pessimistic Asian who had introduced herself as Jackie rose to shake hands with Jack Whittier. "Yeah, that'd be me."

At the surprised look on Whittier's face, Nick had to smile. He wasn't much for raging feminists in his line of work, but he was definitely enjoying the effect they seemed to have on a normally dreary business meeting. Suddenly, Whittier wasn't the ringmaster of the label's circus, and Nick was quite enjoying the change of cast.

Unfortunately, Schultz began to rattle on about legal mumbo jumbo before anything interesting could occur between the dueling executives. Nick, who was predictably uninterested in the monologue of technicalities that he couldn't understand, took the opportunity to further examine his new opening act.

She was focused intently on Schultz's face as he spoke, and she actually appeared to comprehend the legalese that he was throwing her way. Occasionally, she would nod, but her gaze never left the lawyer. She held a pencil in her right hand and seemed to be scribbling on the legal pad in front of her, but she hadn't glanced down at the paper once. Subconsciously, he began to wonder why he hadn't brought anything to sketch with. He had the feeling that he'd want to remember his first impression of Adia Chamberlain. Initially, she'd seemed like a girl that he could easily dismiss and ignore, but there was something about her that drew his gaze.

Her eyebrows rose, and she reached up to delicately remove a lock of hair that had fallen into her face. Gracefully, she tugged the lock behind her ear, and he couldn't help but be mesmerized by the movement of her fingers. He could already tell by the curve of her hands that she was a guitar player. Whether or not she was talented remained to be seen, but her label certainly had a great amount of faith in her to be as generous with the sarcasm as they had been throughout the meeting.

A shuffling of papers echoed throughout the room, and he looked up to see that Whittier was preparing to speak again.

"So, do any of you ladies see reason to withdraw your original agreement?"

"None, thanks," Adia replied softly. One corner of her mouth lifted slightly for effect, and Nick could've sworn he saw Whittier return her smile.

"Wonderful. Rehearsals, Ms. Chamberlain, will begin in two weeks at the Knot Warehouse in Tampa, Florida, where Mr. Carter resides. If the location is a problem for yourself and your band, we'd prefer you let us know sooner as opposed to later."

Adia shook her head slowly, allowing the shorter strands of hair to swish from side to side. "No problem."

"Good, good. Mr. Carter will be busy with publicity until then, but I'd like for you to contact either him or me with your set list and possibly a tape of the songs so we can determine whether or not they'll be suitable for Mr. Carter's audience."

She nodded kindly, respectfully, and Nick was almost convinced by her apparent admiration for the older man. "Of course."

"Delightful. I believe that's all we have to discuss today."

Whittier turned in his chair to look expectantly at Nick, who had remained quiet throughout the meeting, as usual. "Mr. Carter, is there anything else you'd like to say to your opening act?"

Nick shook his head. The quicker he could leave the room, the better. He was already beginning to feel suffocated by the condescending glances his way and the stoicism of the women across the table.

"Very well, then. I'll see you all at the first rehearsal, and I appreciate your attendance today."

He fought the urge to snort indignantly. Yeah, as if we had a choice. God forbid we actually play this by ear, because Lord knows that's not what a live show is all about.

Whittier stood, followed by the rest of the suit brigade, and left the room jauntily with his line of followers streaming behind him. It wasn't long before Nick was left alone with Irving and Adia's minimal legal team.

Irving clapped him on the back. "So, are you excited to go out there and make some rock music?"

Nick chuckled lightly. "Whatever, man. I'm just glad the meeting's over with."

"Absolutely." Irving winked at him. "Well, I'm headed out for the day, but give me a call tomorrow so we can talk about the rest of your week, okay? You've got a bunch of radio spots coming up, and you have a public appearance or two to look forward to before you hit the Warehouse for rehearsals."

Nick nodded. "Yeah, will do. Thanks, man."

His eyes followed Irving out, and he paused momentarily to gather his thoughts before making the trek to the elevators. He almost jumped out of his skin, however, when a light hand fell on his shoulder.

"Mr. Carter?"

He'd only heard the soft voice three or four times that afternoon, but he was already convinced that he would recognize it anywhere.

"Yeah?" He turned to face Adia, who was, he discovered suddenly, a great deal smaller than he.

"Would you mind giving me your address so I can send you the requested set list and sample tracks?"

His eyebrows rose considerably when he realized that he'd have to tell her where he lived. The remained mid-forehead, however, when he realized that she had every intention of complying with the label's request for censorship. God, she really must be as shy as she seems.

"Can you fax it to me or something?"

She arched an eyebrow skeptically. "I would, but it's my experience that CDs don't generally transfer well by fax machine."

And there insecurity was, rearing it's ugly head at him with a condescending smile and the promise of a thousand more to come. He sighed heavily, but was surprised to see her smiling.

"Sorry, Ani's not a very good influence. Listen, I understand your hesitancy, but I promise not to give your address to anyone. I just don't want to anger any of the suits."

In a state of awe, he scribbled down his address and bid her good-bye. Not until he ventured through the double doors of the conference room, though, did he realize that she had not only used his terminology but understood him despite his silence.

On the ride down, he was too shocked to realize that the perpetual insecurity had momentarily dissipated.

"Don't Mean Nothing"
lyrics and music by Richard Marx