Chapter Six
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

And now it's clear
I went along for the ride
And now I'm finding out
You are nothing about what I thought you were
And now I understand
Just how you work your plan
First you warm and then you just burn

He'd be lying if he said that he wasn't nervous for them. His stomach had turned more somersaults than Kerri Strug, and his leg was bouncing in double-time as he sat on one of the backstage tables watching the crowd. It wasn't so much the fact that he was worried about their ability to perform--any and all of those doubts had been obliterated by the first week of rehearsal. It was more the fact that they didn't seem nervous that worried him.

Somehow, he'd managed to sneak in next to Adia for the pre-performance prayer, and her hand had been pleasantly warm. His hand was clammy now, and he reached to wipe another drop of sweat from his brow.

The lights in the club went out, and he sucked in a breath of apprehension as his solid opening act filed out onto the stage. He could barely hear Jason's whoop of excitement, but the sound made him smile nonetheless. While he hadn't exactly taken the time to socialize with the group, he had spent more than enough time observing them, and he was beginning to think that he knew them all better than they knew each other.

It only made him appreciate them more.

They'd spent every lunch throughout the past week arguing about the final set list, but he had been caught up in a meeting on the day they'd been forced to make their final decision. One roaring guitar riff later, he knew exactly which song they'd chosen to open with.
For some reason, it made him smile that they'd opened their first professional show with his favorite song.

His jaw dropped, however, when the lights brightened to reveal a very different group than the four that he'd prayed with only twenty minutes ago.

The string of visual improvements began with Keelia, whose hair was straight and glossy, the purple hues enhanced by the lighting. She was wearing her usual trench coat, but a black silk sash added a strangely feminine twist to the ensemble. Her combat boots were laced in bright purple, and he was surprised to find that she looked fairly attractive when she wasn't scowling at him.

Shane had spiked his sandy blonde hair for the occasion and was looking rock proper in a pair of stonewashed jeans and a Rolling Stones tee-shirt. Jason was decked out in a pair of khaki cargo pants and a wifebeater, but the outfit was made particularly poignant by his trademark trucker hat. Both boys looked fashionable, but they were comfortable enough to remain firmly in their element.

He envied them immediately, not only because of their comfort, but also because of their proximity to the sensual woman that had taken center stage. Had he not heard her sing every day for the past two weeks, he wouldn't have recognized Adia Chamberlain.

Her mousy brown hair was loose and wavy down her back, and the ever-present cat's eye glasses had been removed for the evening. In a pair of tight, dark jeans and a white, oversized Oxford shirt, she easily owned the stage. The cuffs were unbuttoned and the sleeves rolled up, but she managed to make the look more sexual than masculine with a pair of black stilettos. As soon as she reached for the acoustic guitar she had swung over her shoulders, Nick groaned.

He was at least grateful for one thing; without a doubt, his audience would soon contain more males. He'd been initially doubtful, but the Adia before him definitely emitted sex appeal. Before he could blink, the song was over.

"Thank you!" Adia hollered into the mic. "My name is Adia Chamberlain. If you've got any sense at all, you're waiting for the amazing Nick Carter, but until then, we're here to rock the stage for a bit. This next song will arguably be our first single, and it's called 'Secret Life'. It's about the faces we don't show...fairly introspective, but far more observation involved. I hope you guys enjoy it."

Nick would've bet his bottom dollar that half of the audience had no idea what "introspective" meant, but they cheered anyway and for that, he was grateful. Where Adia was concerned, the music spoke for itself, and he was pleased to see such a receptive audience. Adia glided over to Shane, bobbing her head in time to the music. The two shared a smile, and she turned to wink at Jason before moving back to the front of the stage.

Walking down these streets
Many smiles we meet
And though it seems discreet
There's another side

The group joined in on the harmony of the last word, and Nick closed his eyes for a moment in awe of the sound that reverberated throughout the club. When he opened his eyes, his gaze remained fixed on the brunette who had taken center stage. God, she's amazing out there...

We seem so in style
But beneath those empty smiles
Oh, if you stay awile
You'll see at night

The whole stage lit up as Adia moved to the left side of the stage, working the crowd with a series of hand gestures to go with the lyrics. Keelia and Shane were making faces at each other across the stage, but Nick only had eyes for Adia. One hand went up to her collar, tugging the fabric away from her collarbone enough to expose the cream-colored flesh of her neck, and he had to stifle a moan.

We live the secret life
Building secret strife
In the day we seem okay
But misfortune comes to play
And cuts like a knife
In this secret life
In control of our charade
It won't rain on our parade
Until tonight *

Sometime after the first chorus, he stopped paying attention to the lyrics. Something about the way she moved her hips in time to the music, the way her hair bounced lightly against her back with every step, and the way her lips just barely touched the microphone as she sang mesmerized him. He couldn't take his eyes off of her. The shy, quiet girl from the first in-office meeting had transformed into a full-fledged femme fatale, and he was dumbstruck by the contrast. She was sexy, she was beautiful, and she was talented.

He'd been intimidated by her and the band before, but now he was scared shitless.

He spent the rest of the set trying to think up ways to get to talk to her. The average, inoffensive opening act had suddenly become an enigma, and her stage persona piqued his curiosity in more ways than one. The more thoughtful side of him knew that he'd benefit from a conversation with her. It wouldn't hurt to discuss topics outside of music, either. He'd had her CD on repeat for so long that he didn't really have much reason to pay attention to the show in front of him.

He knew all of the songs by heart, and watching her would only drive him closer to the brink. Despite his desire to corner her backstage immediately after her performance, he knew that he had a show to do. He couldn't afford to get too worked up. Especially not on the first night of his first solo tour. Especially not over his opening act.

He rubbed a hand over his face and groaned again, this time out of frustration.

"Thank you so much, Philly. We really appreciate you guys paying such avid attention. Now, are y'all excited to see Nick Carter?"

The screams that arose didn't even phase him. Of course, they didn't seem to surprise Adia either. She just smiled broadly and chuckled into the mic.

He knew then and there that her laugh would be his undoing.

"He's coming out in a few minutes, but before he decides to grace us with his presence, the band and I wanted to finish off with a song that's very close to all of us. We thought long and hard about a closing song, but we finally decided to close with something that's already proven successful. It's the perfect song for tonight, and I really, sincerely hope that you guys enjoy it. Thanks for being such a wonderful audience, and we hope to see you all again soon."

Nick knew he wasn't among the brightest of people, but even he could figure out that they were about to play a cover song. His brow furrowed in a frown, and he heaved a heavy sigh. Management was going to kick their asses when they got offstage. It was the first rule of touring: EVERYTHING on the set list had to be pre-approved.

He knew he should be pissed, but the moment the guitar riff started, he forgot why.

Adia walked over to Keelia and began to dance jokingly with the bass player. The girls were hilarious together, and the whole audience chuckled as she began to sing the lyrics to her friend, complete with overly dramatic hand gestures and a painfully overdone facial expression.

I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I love you to love me
I'm begging you to beg me

I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I love you to love me

Adia broke into a wide smile and began to move toward center stage, still dancing to the rhythm of the music. As she sang the next few words, she looked out onto the right side of the audience and waved, causing a large number of girls to raise their hands in the air and return the gesture. The interaction was enough to make her laugh again.

Shine up my old brown shoes
Put on my brand new shirt
I'd get home early from work if you say
That you love me

She began to groove her way over to Shane's side of the stage, sharing a silent smile with him as she did so. When she got close enough, they sang the words to each other with a tongue-in-cheek dedication.

Didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you crying?
Oh, didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you crying?
Feeling all alone without a friend, you know you feel like dying
Oh, didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you crying?

She pivoted to the right and planted both feet firmly on the stage. She ran a hand through her hair with a delicacy that made Nick sigh before continuing to sing. The voice that was usually soft and gentle was suddenly loud and powerful over the squeal of Shane's electric guitar, and Adia had the entire club in the palm of her hand as she pointed a finger at the audience.

I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I love you to love me
I'm begging you to beg me

She began to pound her left heel against the stage in time to the music. She leaned forward with a pleading expression. Her outstretched finger pulled in towards her chest, and she used it to tug the open collar of her shirt further into her cleavage as her hips swayed to the rhythm of Jason's drums.

He wanted to focus on the tongue-lashing that Irving was going to give her after the show, but it was too easy to want her. It was too easy to fall victim to the sexuality she'd suddenly acquired. He couldn't even wrap his mind around the idea that the girl onstage was the same person that had been hesitant to shake his hand the first time they'd met.

She was a different person.

I'd shine up my old brown shoes
Put on a brand new shirt
I'd get home early from work if you say
That you love me

She trotted over to the side of the stage in front of Keelia and made eye contact with the audience members in the first few rows. She tossed another hand in their direction and her head to the side, all the while creeping dangerously close to the edge of the stage. At the last moment, she dropped to her knees and sang the lines directly to the crowd.

Didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you crying?
Oh, didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you crying?
Feeling all alone without a friend, you know you feel like dying
Oh, didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you crying?

She leapt to her feet and danced back to Shane's side of the stage, blowing a kiss to Keelia's side of the stage with a chuckle while Shane let rip with a short guitar solo. When she got closer to him, she turned so that her backside was facing him and feigned a bit of a bum-and-grind dance, eliciting a number of cheers from the crowd as she continued to sing.

Feeling all alone without a friend, you know you feel like dying
Oh, didn't I, didn't I, didn't I see you crying?

She turned around to face the audience and swept a hand out to introduce her friend as he moved towards center stage with the guitar. "Shane Lions, everyone!"

Shane took the spotlight like the pro that he was, flashing the front-row ladies a wide grin as he put his fingers to the strings. The guitar sang with amazing force, and Nick felt a tiny stab of envy at the older man's obvious talent. With a sigh, he abandoned his examination of Shane to study the crowd's reaction to Adia, who had moved back toward the drum box to goad Jason for a bit.

The audience loved it. Their hands were in the air, their heads bobbing up and down, and he was positive that he could see someone crowd-surfing out of the corner of his eye. Previously, he'd been worried that shy, little Adia wouldn't hold their attention for her allotted thirty minutes. Looking out at the crowd, he had a newfound respect for her. She'd be a hard act to follow, and he wasn't sure that he was up to the challenge. After all, his sappy pop ballads and wannabe-80s rock singles were no match for her lyrical wisdom and her obvious command of the stage.

He was definitely going to have to up his game if he wanted to share the stage with her for long.

I want you to want me
I need you to need me
I love you to love me
I'm begging you to...

"Put your hands in the air, come on!"

Both Keelia and Shane abandoned their guitars to clap along with the breakdown, for which Adia had leapt off the drum box.

As an afterthought, Adia added, "And you'd better sing along..."

I want you to want me
I want you to want me
I want you to want me
I want you to want me **

The audience obliged with a force that rivaled a number of the Backstreet Boys concerts Nick had participated in, and as Shane finished the song off, the crowd burst into raucous applause. Adia leapt up onto the box for a moment to high five Jason. Then, exhausted, she jumped off and took hands with the other two to share a bow.

"Thank you! Enjoy the rest of the show!"

With a sigh of apprehension, Nick jogged back to the dressing room to ready himself for his set.

* "Secret Life" - lyrics and music by me, copyright 2000

** "I Want You To Want Me" - performed by Letters to Cleo on album,
10 THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU SOUNDTRACK (cover of song by Cheap Trick, on album GREATEST HITS)

("Along for the Ride" - lyrics and music by Vanessa Carlton,