Clarissa and Devin: A Rock & Roll Romance
Rock Star Romances
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Whip-smart but naive music journalist Clarissa Greene prides herself on treating rock stars like regular people. But when she gets her big break – a chance to join mega-band The Howling Wolves on their world tour – it means she'll have to take a hard look at a guy she's idolized since high school.
Gorgeous frontman Devin Steele has grown up in the public eye. From wholesome teen idol to haunted rock star, his celebrity has kept anyone from really knowing the man behind the legend.
Clarissa’s innocence challenges Devin’s jaded cynicism, and her wit draws him in. But will his old habits pull them both down? Or has rock’s perennial bad boy finally found the safe harbor that will keep his music alive?
*Due to adult situations and language, this contemporary romance is recommended for readers 17 and older*
“Can you believe this? Can you believe we’re really here, and they’re really there?”
If I squinted just right through the haze of cigarette smoke, condensed breath and fog from huge smoke machines that lined the stage, I could just make out three figures emerging in the distance.
“Three?” I said to my friend Ginny, who was smashed beside me against the rail at the very front of the crowd. “Only three? Where’s Devin?”
Ginny and I spent most of our junior year of high school looking forward to the moment that was about to happen. For months it seemed like, we couldn’t talk about anything else. These guys – Howling Wolves – exploded into our lives like an unleashed locomotive.
Two fifteen year old girls, both unlucky in love, and both looking for some greater purpose in the world, Ginny and I were in just about the perfect place to be blown away, smashed to bits, obliterated by music. Before I heard the Wolves, I always liked the stuff my dad played all the time – Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Stones – but none of it really got me. Or at least, I felt like it didn’t.
The first time I heard the Wolves though, two months into my third year of high school, it took me away. They were a brand new band from LA, and all the music magazines that Ginny and I followed made them seem like the next greatest thing. They were supposed to be this virtuouso set of musicians led by two brothers – Alex, the older one who played the drums, and Devin, the vocalist. Alex started the band, and he was a great drummer, but Devin, well, he was something special.
“Oh my God, Clarissa! Where is he?” Ginny shrieked at the top of her lungs.
Standing there, with the metal rail digging into my ribs, I remembered the first time I heard Devin Steele sing. He wasn’t much older than us, five or six years, but his powerful, beautiful voice spoke to me like he had been around forever. He had this velvety, leathery kind of voice that could either rasp, or growl, or shout, or croon, and sounded beautiful no matter what.
One after another, the house lights died from the back to the front and we were wrapped in darkness. Another scream seemed to sweep through the entire audience at one time, but still, there were only three silhouettes behind the smoke.
A green spotlight cut through the haze, highlighting someone holding a guitar. He strummed a beautiful, clean c-chord, holding out the last note.
“Our first concert!” I shrieked and looked at Ginny as soon as enough light came from the stage to see her. “This is...I can’t believe it!”
The second silhouette began to strum a driving, pounding series of notes on his low-slung bass guitar. It already sounded good, and the two most important members of the band weren’t even playing yet.
Alex sat down behind his drums and started a slow, deep rhythm that made my chest shake.
The guitarist strummed another note, then played the opening chord of “Pomona” and the entire crowd went absolutely dead silent. The guitar churned, the drums pounded, the bass throbbed, and then in between two huge gouts of flame that shot out of the back of the stage, I saw him.
I almost fell over.
“Devin!” we both shouted at once.
Every light on the stage shut off except the one on Devin. He threw back his head, his shirt billowed open, and with his eyes closed, he sang, “I want to be ho – ho – home but not without you.”
I don’t think there was a quiet person in the entire stadium, and then when he opened his eyes, and looked out, I was absolutely sure that every word he sang, every little gesture and move he made was meant just for me. Every smile he flashed, and every glitter of his beautiful eyes. Just for me.
As far as I was concerned, the other twenty-thousand or however many people were jammed into the arena with Ginny and I may as well not be there. Devin didn’t care about them. As far as I was concerned, we were the only two people that mattered.
Devin Steele, and Clarissa Greene.
Clarissa and Devin.
Time stood still as the band ran through hit after hit, the guitar shredding, the drums pounding, but my eyes never once left Devin. Everything he did, from his opening lines, to the way he sat on a stood, and how he lit a cigarette, inhaled it, and threw it out after one drag. It was all so easy, so smooth. Like he wasn’t trying at all. For every second that Devin Steele was on stage, I was completely his. Every shred of my being, every fiber of me, was wrapped around his beautiful finger.
“Hello? Clarissa? Are you there?”
“Sorry, sorry,” I said. “You’re serious. You want me to go on tour with the Howling Wolves? The Howling Wolves?” I snapped back to reality, and the sound of my increasingly impatient friend-turned-boss, Charlene.
“Clarissa, this might be news to you, but I did actually hire you to be a journalist. Remember?”
“Yes, Charlene, I remember.” I gritted my teeth.
Charlene Jameson, had been my best friend since high school, but since making a name for herself in the world of music journalism, she stopped going by Ginny. Right after we graduated from UCLA, she started a music website, but it’s gotten big. Real big. Millions of people visit every week for news and somehow, fresh out of college with a degree that has absolutely nothing to do with music, or journalism, I’m her main writer. Funny how things work out, huh?
“Well, look. The first thing that you need to do is get a passport.”
“A passport? But...”
“It’s a world tour, Riss. You’ll be going to...well I’ve got the list here. I’ll email it to you. But all over the place, so yeah, gonna need a passport. Oh and you might want to hurry. The tour starts in a couple of weeks so I’m going to have to expedite the passport. Should be fine, but yeah, gotta happen quick.”
“Do I need shots or anything?”
“Don’t think so. You’ll be staying with the band in their hotels. It’s a little bit of a weird gig if I’m being honest.”
“How do you mean?”
Journalists – and that’s how I had to start thinking of myself – going around with musicians and reporting on their tours, what the band members were like for real, all that sort of thing, was nothing new. People have a fascination for the wild and crazy lives that these untouchable stars lead, and eat up stories about them like chocolate ice cream, covered in peanut butter sauce.
But, as Charlene was rattling at me, something else started vibrating in my chest. Aside from the passport and the fact that I had to get ready to go on a six-month long world tour in two weeks, I had also been a huge Howling Wolves fan for almost a decade. Normally that’s no problem. My story would just be more enthusiastic and excited. But I’m the sort of girl who kinda...freezes up.
The two main band members – Alex and Devin Steele – were brothers. Alex a few years older than Devin, but the story went that as long as they’d played together, they couldn’t stand one another, but they always insisted it wasn’t true, that they just got irritable on tour because they’re together for so long. It’s funny though. They’re a huge band, probably the biggest hard-rock act on the planet, but they’ve always been really closed off to things like traveling journalists.
Interviews with the two brothers were rare. Really, really rare. They almost never appeared on Letterman or Leno, maybe once when a new album came out, but that was it. They stayed away from the cameras and the lights, which struck me as really obnoxious when I was a giggly thirteen-year old. But, the more I learned about the industry, the more sense it made.
“Well, look,” Charlene said. “You know how they are, right? The brothers, I mean. They hate the lights and the cameras. Ever since Devin’s paparazzi run-in a few years ago, where he laid that guy out with a microphone stand and got toted off to jail, he’s had a reputation as kind of an unhinged lunatic.”
“Sure,” I said. “But that guy had been stalking him for a week outside their practice space. Showing up at his house and all that. Can’t really blame the guy for finally getting fed up and letting him have it.”
“Yeah, I know. But did he need to do it in the middle of a concert? Anyway, I don’t expect him to deck you with any instruments, but the thing is that you’ll be alone.”
“What do you mean, ‘alone’?”
“With the band. There’s no press tour, there’s no little gang of journalists tagging along like when you went with that soul group last year. I don’t have any idea why, but after all the rumors that have been going around about them – particularly about how Alex and Devin hate each other – I guess they want to clear the air but don’t want a bunch of people scrambling around after them. So, it’s just you and them.”
“You’re serious. I’m going on the road with Howling Wolves, and it’s just me?”
My heart skipped a beat. Actually it probably skipped about eight.
“You are aware that I’ve been in love with Devin Steele since I got a poster of him in torn jeans and no shirt that I hung above my bed when I was a freshman in high school, right?”
“And I remember the half-naked poster of him you had in our dorm room. Remember? The one you framed?”
“How could I forget? I’ve still got it rolled up somewhere. Maybe I should have him sign it.”
“This is serious, Riss. This is a huge break for me...us, I mean.”
Right, huge break for us. I kinda wonder if my name will even be on the articles when they publish, I thought.
“These guys have never, ever, ever have this kind of publicity. You’re going to be touring with one of the biggest bands in the entire world, and you’re going to have complete access to them. You can’t let this get to you.”
“I know,” I said. “Don’t worry. If nothing else, I’m a professional.”
And it’s true, I was. When we started the site, and I had my first interview with someone who I’d heard on the radio, it was pretty shocking. I managed to keep my cool, but barely. At the time, I was pretty impressed with myself for not throwing up, but since then, it just got easier and easier. Then again, I’d never met anyone whose poster used to hang above my bed.
“Okay, I know I can trust you, Riss. You’re the best I’ve got, and that’s why I’m giving you this job.”
I had to laugh at that. “I’m the only one you’ve got, unless you’re counting Derek the new guy.”
“Like I said, you’re the best I’ve got.” She giggled a little.
“Oh,” she said. “One other thing, Riss.”
“Devin. I know how you are about him, but remember why you’re going. You’re there to get a story, to figure out what makes the band tick. What they’re like, you know? This is a huge opportunity not only for the site, and for me and you, but for the fans to actually see what it’s like on the inside. It’s never happened before, and probably won’t again.”
“Don’t worry, Charlene,” I said in my most soothing and calm voice. “I can separate lusty fantasies I have about air-brushed posters from reality. Really, it’ll be fine.”
She took a deep breath and sighed. “Okay, sorry. I know you’re a great writer, I know you’re a professional. I just have to keep reminding myself that neither of us are wild little college girls anymore, you know?”
“I learned that lesson the first time I had a two day hangover,” I said.
“Oh God, yes,” Charlene said with a laugh. “Alright. I’ll email you the itinerary and your flight information and stuff. The band is already on tour, so you’ll be flying out to meet them in Sweden, and...”
I heard a bunch of clicking.
“Yeah, yeah sorry. Uh, well, I have some news that might be either really good or not, depending on how eager you are.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, looks like the tour’s been extended. They added a few club dates here in the States starting in three days. Little shows to try out the new songs before they start the big arena stuff.”
“And I’m going to join them?”
“You got it, eager beaver.”
“Oh,” I said. “Well, okay. So how long do I have?”
“Two days,” she said quickly. “And they’re going to pick you up.”
“Tour starts in two days. They’re playing the Roxy, and then a few other shows in California. The email I just got – which I’m sending you – it says that they’re doing it quote, like we did in the old days. Meaning a tour bus. And, uh, they’re picking you up on Tuesday.”
I started to say something, but then I realized what she said and my mouth just hung open.
“Yep. You better get to packing.”
I had no idea what I was doing. I mean, I’ve packed things before, but never for a week and a half of a club tour followed by a six-month long trip around the world. The whole thing hit me in the chest Tuesday morning when I tried to carry my bags to the front door of my little apartment, and realized that maybe I had over-packed a little.
No matter how much I strained and pulled and tugged, the bag just lay there on the floor, staring at me like a pissed-off donkey.
Just as I was about to unpack one of my three hair dryers, the doorbell rang. I somehow dragged the lead lump behind me and opened the door, probably a little red in the face.
“Hi, you’re Clarissa Greene, right? Er...are you alright?”
I squeezed my eyes shut for a second and squinted at the little guy standing in front of me. I expected a band member, but unless he was new, he wasn’t one of them.
“Yeah, sorry! I, well, this bag, it’s...”
“Wow,” he said. “Did you pack your dog in there or something? It looks like it’s alive.”
“No, I didn’t. I don’t have one.” It took a second before I realized he was joking, and then I was even more embarrassed than I was when I answered the door sweating.
“Kidding, kidding. You’re all packed then? This is going to be a weird tour for all of us.”
Tour, oh my God, it’s happening. My hands started to shake. I had no idea why, because I had been getting ready for two days, but for some reason, when he said it, the whole insane idea became real. I was going on tour for six months. Six months and two weeks on the road. With a band. With a band fronted by a man I’d lusted over since I was old enough to lust.
“Oh, sorry,” he said. “I’m Paul Erikson. I’m the band’s manager, and, uh, the bus driver I guess.”
I just stared at him for a second while everything registered in my spinning brain.
“You...you are Clarissa Greene, right? The journalist who’s touring with us?”
“Oh my God, yeah I’m sorry.” I said laughing. “It’s just...I’ve never done anything like this before. My editor let me know about the assignment on Sunday, and I’ve been in kind of a whirlwind to get everything ready to go. I’m not normally so, uh, frizzed out.”
He laughed and took off his baseball cap. Paul was middle-aged, a little bald, and had the sweetest smile. “Want me to help you with that bag? Or should I call a forklift?”
“Ha, ha,” I said. “I was thinking of what to unpack when you knocked. Do I need to get rid of some stuff?”
“Nope!” He said, swinging the bag up onto his shoulder, which absolutely blew my mind. “You said you’ve never been on a big, long tour like this before?”
“Yeah, I...well, there’s no reason to pretend. Longest trip I’ve been on was last year when I did this with the David Dennis Trio, the soul group out of LA. Anyway, that run was only about a week and a half.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “Everything will be fine.”
Paul grunted, and then wheezed when he tossed my bag into a pile in the back of the van.
“Where’s everyone else?”
“Hop in,” he said. “They’re already at the Roxy. Soundcheck is in a couple of hours, so they’re shaking off the ‘time off’ rust a little before that.”
The van lurched a little when he started it, which prompted an ‘I guess we’re over the weight limit’ joke and earned Paul a sidelong glance.
“Look, I know you’re not a fresh-faced kid. I’m not gonna hang around and lecture you and this and that. I know you’re a professional. But one thing you gotta watch out for and I’d tell this to anyone. It’s got nothing to do with you being who you are.”
“You’re gonna see a lot of things. At first, probably the guys will be a little closed off, and a little nervous about having you along. They’ve never done anything like this, either, you know. But, they’re gonna open up quick. I’ve managed acts for...God, about twenty-two years now, and every time we have one of these tour-along things, it works out like this, so I’m just warning you now.”
“If this is a lot of trouble, I mean, if you’re having second thoughts about me coming along, I totally understand.”
“No, no,” Paul said. “It’s not that. Just know that this band is a little...different. As far as I know, no act on the planet has ever launched twelve consecutive albums at number one on the Billboard chart. Devin and Alex have been doing this since Dev was fifteen and Alex was pushing twenty. They’re a different breed, you know? The world to them is rock and roll. Alex is a lot more subdued than Devin, but that’s probably got more to do with Alex’s two years in the Army than anything else. They live rock and roll, and they’re gonna die rock and roll.”
“You mean like...partying?”
I had a feeling this would happen. Young, decent looking girl, bunch of rock stars. Of course this guy thinks I’m just along for the ride.
“Yes and no,” he said. “There’s a lot of bullshit floating around about the two of them. They hate each other, Devin’s a junky, Alex is an asshole, and all this. Some of it is true, some of it not. But you have to be careful. They’re just defensive of each other. They can get pretty pissed as tours go on and on, but they’re brothers.”
“Careful about what?” I said as we pulled up into the Roxy’s parking lot. “I’m not planning on falling in love with anyone if that’s what you’re talking about.”
Paul smiled at me for a second. It looked like he was far off in thought.
“No, I suppose not. But promise me that you’ll watch yourself. Alright? Devin’s got his problems that are no secret. He’s been doing better lately, with the drinking and everything else, but things aren’t perfect. Anyway, you can have all the fun you want, but I don’t want any broken hearts. Live the life, love the music, and get one Hell of a story,” he said. “But no broken hearts.”
I smiled back. “I’ll do my best. Is there anything in particular I should know about anyone? Things that will piss them off, what kind of chocolates they like?”
Paul laughed and shook his head. “Nothing I can think of, anyway. Actually there is one thing. Devin and Alex – like I said, they’re brothers. You guys, er, the media I mean, make it seem like the two of them constantly want to murder each other, but it’s one of those things. You know how you can make fun of your mom, but if anyone else does it, you get really pissed?”
“Yeah, of course,” I said.
“Right, same thing. Just steer clear of that and there won’t be any problems.”
“Got it. Is there anything I can’t talk about? Like, girlfriends or whatever that the guys don’t want getting out?”
“Nah. I mean, Dev’s pretty notorious, but it’s nothing secret. Just be fair, that’s all I ask. The guys, they’re one in a million. I’m the one that’s gotta worry about stuff like publicity. But if you see it, it’s fair game. Alright? Show’s in about, oh, an hour and a half now,” he said, checking his watch. “Ready to meet the guys?”
As Paul led me to the service entrance in back of the Roxy, the wall of sound that hit me was like a fist in the jaw. Even for someone who had been listening to these guys on recordings for what felt like half my life, what I heard just amazed me. The sweetly plucked guitar, every single note distinct and smooth, filled me with a fuzzy kind of warmth. Bass pounded in my soul, and the subdued sound of a kick drum beat had a soft one-two punch that I immediately loved.
And then I heard the voice.
I couldn’t recognize the words. It actually sounded like Devin, a vocalist whose screams I was more familiar with than his singing, was humming along with the guitar part, just adlibbing some lyrics as he went.
“They’re trying something new with this little club tour,” Paul said. “They’re dropping all the electric stuff, and going for a toned-down acoustic feel.”
“God, that sounds beautiful,” I said. “I’ve never heard anything like this before.”
“Not much like the radio stuff, huh?”
“Not a bit,” I said. “I mean, I’ve got all their albums from the weird, funky stuff they started with to the...uh...”
“More pop stuff? That’s the nice way to say ‘commercially viable’ in the business.” Paul laughed. “Yeah, whatever you can say about these fellas, they’re talented. All of them.”
“Guys, can I have a sec? Sounds great by the way.”
One at a time the instruments stopped. First to silence was Alex on the drums, then the bass, then guitar. Finally, the only thing left was Devin softly singing whatever he’d been working on when we came in. Each of them nodded, or waved as I looked around, except Devin Steele, who just kept singing with his head pointed at the floor, soft brown hair hanging in his face.
“You know Alex, he’s on the drums.”
“Hi,” I said.
“How do?” Alex said with a nod.
“Over here is Joe Sloane, he’s our guitar expert.”
Joe nodded and touched his fingers to his forehead in a mock salute.
“Jacob McGrath plays the bass, but he goes by ‘Asphalt’ usually.”
“Hi – Clarissa, right?” As soon as he spoke, I knew where the asphalt thing came from.
“Yes sir, Clarissa.”
Devin, the man who had lived in two dimensions on my walls since I was old enough to notice men, kept right on singing. Softly, sweetly singing, and not looking at me. He finished his line or his verse or whatever it was and tilted his head back with his eyes closed.
“And that,” Paul said, “as I’m sure you know, is Devin Steele, the face of Howling Wolves.”
My breath almost stopped as I watched Devin toss his hair left and right. He had probably three days’ worth of stubble growth on his cheeks, sharp gorgeous cheekbones, and a dimple in his chin.
“I – it’s nice to meet you, Mr. Steele.” I squeezed my hands together to keep from shaking.
Shaking? Shaking! You haven’t been nervous since you met Bob Dylan. Get a grip, Clarissa! You’re a professional, I thought.
“Hey Riss, call me Devin. Or Dev. I don’t like long names.”
He opened his eyes and the deep, almost sky blue pierced straight through me.
“Okay,” I said with a gulp. “Nice to meet you Dev.”
Curling his lips into a half-smile, he nodded. “Nice to meet you too.”
Nice to meet you too. I couldn’t believe it. Everything that I’d told myself I wasn’t going to do, I did. And then, Paul telling me not to fall in love rattled around in my head. I had to laugh at myself a little.
“Alright boys,” Devin said. “Shall we give our new friend a little preview of the show tonight?”
He didn’t take his eyes off mine, not for a second.
God, I could have melted right then and there.
“One, two, a-one two three four.”
Guitar started, soft and lilting and I felt like a blanket was wrapping around my shoulders. Alex tapped his snare drum in a slow, patient rhythm with brush-tipped sticks. Asphalt’s bass thumped so low that I could barely hear it, but I knew if it was gone, I’d notice immediately.
And then he sang. Oh God did he sing.
“Feeling,” he crooned softly with his eyes closed. “Feeling you, next to me. My...my hands on your skin and your warmth against me...My hands...my hands need you, yes they do...”
Devin sang something else after that. I’m sure he did, because I heard him. But all I could think about was Paul, first warning me not to fall in love and then telling me he didn’t want any broken hearts. I looked over at him and he flashed me a knowing ‘I told you so’ smile.
This is going to be a hard, hard trip, I told myself. At least if I’m gonna stay good.
As he sang, and those deep blue eyes burned through my soul, I brushed my hair out of my face, tucked it behind my ear, and just let his voice carry me away.