Chapter 69: I Only Want to Talk...

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Wages and Gifts styled itself as a hard rock Christian band. The music was about half as hard as Indio liked, and the guitarist he was replacing came from a country and western background. Indio had been hired to replicate that sound, and during rehearsal he'd been doing his best. The rest of the band was grateful to have him, appreciated he was a fast learner, and politely suggested a few times that he not toughen up the riffs like that, or lean quite so heavily on the distortion pedal.

They were supporting Charity Thorne, a rising star with four albums under her belt, playing three dozen dates across the country. Indio flew with the band to Texas with his three favorite guitars. After that, Wages and Gifts would be driving around in a hired van behind Charity's tour bus.

Charity had been on stage since she was a child, singing at her preacher father's services. A stunning woman with bleached waves of hair and heavy-lidded eyes, she played down her sensuality in front of a largely teen audience where she became a big sister offering advice about resisting temptation and letting Jesus take the wheel.

Backstage, she turned on the southern charm and Indio never once saw her show anything but respect to her backing musicians and their wives and girlfriends. To the other members of Wages and Gifts—he didn't think of the band as his band—she was casually interested in their music and their lives and their spiritual journeys, and she remained professional.

Indio had no reason to interact with her at all, but after a while it was hard not to notice that her eyes followed him around the room, and she suddenly had a hundred questions about how much snow western Montana got, how much rain Seattle got, and whether they'd understand her accent up north.

He had no idea what her game was, or whether she was playing a game at all. He was friendly at first, assuming she was just being friendly because, well, her entire reputation was built on being a chaste role model. Then again, she was close to thirty years old and no purity ring had magical powers.

She would put her hand on his chest when she talked to him, but only when no one else could see. Upon learning he wrote songs, she twice asked him to her hotel room to help her with chord sequences and he had to make excuses. He was not going to get caught up in this. Even if it was innocent, others might not see it that way. And something about her—he couldn't quite figure out what—made him uncomfortable, and it wasn't just because he had to work to keep out of her way.

She knocked on his door in New Orleans, when everyone else was at an afternoon church service, and he finally found out what was going on.

"Don't mind me, darlin', I'm bored out of my mind." She came into the room, uninvited, and he had to step back abruptly. "You poor things. This is a prison cell. You fine gentlemen should hang out in my suite sometime. Bring your guitars."

She shut the door behind her with a smile and glanced around the room he shared with Gareth. Housecleaning had been through earlier and it was fairly decent. Not that he should care because she shouldn't even be here.

"I love the way you play. I mean you, in particular. I listened to Wages and Gifts' demo tape when we were deciding on our support act, and it's quite different with that other guitarist, isn't it?" She brushed her fingers along his forearm as she moved past him. "You play heavier, I think. Is that how you'd describe it?"

"I guess so. I've been told to ease up."

"Goodness, don't listen to that. You play from your heart, however the spirit moves you."

She was working her way around the room as she spoke, touching surfaces and clothing. Indio remained near the door, arms folded, prepared to show her out at the first sign. Any moment now.

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