The Rayne Tourseries is being promoted heavily to teen readers online. The LIVE LIKE A ROCKSTAR SWEEPSTAKES is a chance for teens ages 13-18 to win an $850 night out on the town, including dinner for six at a restaurant of their choice and limo service. To enter, teens must promote the series online. They can post information about the new series and the sweepstakes on their Blog, favorite social media sites, or other Web site. The first 200 entrants will receive a free copy of Always Watching. Official rules and entry details are available here.
It’s not my fault I have to kill.
He’d been watching since the tour began. Eyes straight ahead, keeping cool, like he wasn’t even paying attention. But he noticed everything. Even got a sense for what was happening behind his back. His past life had taught him how to do that—out of necessity. When it was something bad, he felt a vibration in the air, pulling up the hair on his arms. And he’d know. He’d just know.
Sometimes he acted behind the scenes. Nothing that would be noticed. Just ended up in a certain place at a certain time—a presence that kept the wrong thing from happening. Other times he’d say what needed to be heard. Real casual, not sounding like a threat at all. No, he was just talking, shooting the breeze about some previous experience. But beneath the words there’d be a point: don’t cross me or mine.
Sometimes people were too dumb to get it. He’d give them every chance, trying to be the nice guy. Trying to do it the easy way. But no. Those kind of people had stubborn minds and black hearts. Couldn’t be trusted. They were headed for a fall and about to take some good people with them. His people.
That’s what it had come to now.
“Hey, can I see you a sec before you go?” He motioned, and the one who must die came, humming.
Like a lamb to slaughter.
The screams of twenty thousand people sizzled in my ears.
“Rayne, you reign! Rayne, you reign! Rayne, you reign! …”
At the sold-out HP Pavilion in San Jose, California the crowd chanted and clapped and stomped for my mom’s group, Rayne—named after her—to do one more song as they left the stage. As usual I stood backstage with Tom Hutchens, my mom’s twenty-five-year-old hair dresser and makeup artist, and my closest friend on tour. Tom was short and slim, with thick black hair and an intense-looking face that didn’t match his crazy personality at all.
Tom feigned the pucker of a hip-hop artist and splayed his fingers in front of his red T-shirt. “Yo, she reign, they go insane!” He had to shout at me, his Vans-clad feet dancing. Tom always wore these wild-looking sneakers with blue, white, and red checks and a red racing stripe on the sides. “Ain’t nothin’ plain about rockin’ Rayne!”
I punched him in the arm, laughing. His silly rap rhymes were getting worse by the day.
Blonde hair bouncing, Mom came flying down the steps on the way to her private dressing room for the two-minute break. Sweat shone on her forehead as she passed by. She flashed her red-lipped grin at me and raised a palm. We high-fived as she sped past.
“They love us, Shaley!”
“’Course, Mom, they always do!”
The rest of the rock group—Kim, Morrey, Rich and Stan—descended more slowly, their faces showing fatigue. None of them had the energy of my mother after a concert. Tom and I gave them a quick thumbs-up before scurrying after Mom.
As we hit the dressing room with Rayne O’Connor’s name on the door, I checked my watch. 10:45. Yay! Almost time to head to the airport and pick up my best friend, Brittany. I hadn’t seen her since Rayne started touring three months ago, and I couldn’t wait to be with her again. This was Rayne’s third tour, and I always found it hard to leave all my school friends behind.
Without Tom to keep me laughing, touring would be terribly lonely.
I closed the dressing room door, shutting out some of the noise.
“Whoo.” Mom crossed to the left side of the room and plopped into the makeup chair facing a long, brightly lit mirror. To her right sat a wooden armoire full of her clothing. She always changed outfits during intermission. Along the back wall were the blue sofa and matching armchairs specified by contract for her dressing area in every arena. Opposite the makeup counter was the table loaded with catered food, also specified by contract—bowls of fruit, sandwiches, pasta salad, cheese cubes, chips, and M&Ms for me.
Mom studied herself in the mirror with her large crystal blue eyes. “Okay, Tom, do your magic.” She guzzled a drink from a water bottle on the counter.
Like she needed any magic. With her high cheekbones, oval face, and full lips, Mom was drop-dead gorgeous.
Tom winked at me as he snatched up a tissue. Sticking his scrawny neck out, he scrutinized Mom with animation, eyes narrowed and his mouth a rounded O. “Hm. Hmm.”
He sighed, stood back and spread his hands as if to say nothing to be done here, you’re perfect.
Mom rolled her eyes at me. I shrugged. As if I could control Tom’s antics.
“All right, lover boy.” Mom took another swig of water. “Get to it, I’ve got one minute left.”
“Yo, big Mama.”
Mom swatted his hand. “Would you stop calling me that? I don’t know why I put up with you.” Her mouth curved.
Tom leaned in to blot her face with the tissue. “’Cause I make you look bodacious, that’s why.” Expertly he retouched her blusher and lipstick, fluffed her hair.
Out in the arena the crowd’s yells and applause was growing louder. I smiled and squeezed Mom’s shoulder. Every concert the fans went wild, but it never got old for me. Night after night their adoration set pride for my mom welling in my chest.
Five years ago when I was eleven and Mom was twenty-eight, Rayne was barely hanging on. Mom and the band played little concerts here and there, working night and day to get noticed. I remember how hard she tried back then. A great lyric writer with a distinct, throaty-edged voice, she deserved to make it big. Then the song Far and Near hit the radio and after that—a rocket launch.
Tom stood back and surveyed Mom, his head cocked to one side. “Not bad. Not bad a-tall.”
“Rayne, you reign! Rayne, you reign!” The crowd was going crazy out there.
Mom tossed her hair back, looked at herself from side to side. “Great.” She sprang from the chair. “Gotta go.” She hurried toward the door.
I moved out of her way. “Mom, don’t forget we’re going to pick up Brittany in ten minutes. We’re leaving a little early because Tom wants to stop by a drugstore.”
“Oh, that’s right.” Mom pulled up short, one hand on the door knob. She looked to Tom. “Somebody else doing your clean-up?”
He glanced at me. “Got it taken care of.”
Disappointment pulled at my mouth. Mom knew how I’d counted the days until Brittany’s and my junior year of high school ended—just yesterday. My tutor had flown home this morning, and now Brittany was coming for two weeks. Mom was paying all her expenses—for that I was so grateful. But Mom could get so wrapped up in her work. Sometimes I just needed her to remember me.
Mom looked my way—and caught my expression. She smiled too wide, as if to make up for her distraction. “I’m so glad Brittany’s coming, Shaley. We’ll show her a great time.”
“Mick’s going with you, right?”
Mick Rader had been my mom’s main personal bodyguard for the past three years. The other two, Bruce Stolz and Wendell Bennington, would guard her on her way to the hotel tonight while Mick was with me.
“Okay, good. You’ll be safe.” Mom smiled as she opened the door. The crowd’s screams rushed in. “See you at the hotel.”
She blew me a kiss and disappeared.
The yelling suddenly frayed my nerves. I pushed the door shut and leaned against it.
Tom shot me his sad clown look, his lips turned down and eyebrows pulled into a V. He always read my mind so well.
I couldn’t help but smile. “It’s okay.”
His expression whisked away. Tom struck his hip-hop pose. “Got a new one for ya.”
“Oh, yeah?” I knew he’d create the lyrics as he went along, just to get me laughing again.
Tom’s feet started their shuffle-dance. “Let’s go for a ride down the avenue. Top down, wind-blown, my VW. The talk of the town in all we do. Shaley O’Connor puttin’ on the view—”
He froze, mouth open, frowning hard. Then jerked back into dancing. “Can’t think of another line, can you?”
I giggled. “Great, Tom, as fabulous as all your others.”
He bowed. “Thank ya, thank yaaa.”
Pulling up straight, he glanced at the wall clock. “Yikes, I gotta take care of some things before the limo comes. Meet you at the back exit?”
As the door closed behind him, I crossed the room to check myself in the mirror. Excitement pulsed through my veins. Almost time to see Brittany! I chose a neutral lipstick and leaned toward the glass to apply it. Thanks to Tom I’d learned a lot of makeup tricks, and my face needed little retouching. Finished with the lipstick, I ran a brush through my long brown hair. Tom had recently layered it and feathered the bangs. I liked the look.
Despite the difference in hair color, many people said I looked like my mother. I considered that a high compliment.
I stood back and turned side to side. Not bad. My new designer jeans fit well and the blue top matched my eyes. Brittany would love the outfit. I grinned at myself, then glanced at the clock. Almost time for the limo to arrive.
In the arena the crowd roared. Rayne was taking the stage. The first of two encore songs started—the band’s new hit Do it Up Right.
For a few minutes I paced the room impatiently, munching M&Ms. Rayne launched into their final song of the night.
Two hard knocks sounded on the door—Mick’s signal. He stuck his square-shaped head inside. Mick is in his forties, ex-military. A thick neck and muscles out to here. Nobody messes with Mick. “Shaley, you ready?”
“Yes! Is the limo waiting?”
“Yeah.” His deep-set brown eyes swept the room. “Where’s Tom?”
“He said he had to take care of a few things. He’ll meet us at the door.” I crossed to the couch to pick up my purse.
“Okay. I’m going to stop in the bathroom, then I’ll see you there.” He gave me his squinty-eyed stare. “Don’t step outside of the building without me.”
I flicked a look at the ceiling. “Yeah, yeah.” Mick was so protective. It’s not like I’d be in any danger walking out that door. As with all arenas where Rayne sang, the HP Pavilion had a special entrance for performers, guarded by their own local security. And that whole section of the parking lot was roped off and guarded. No chance for any fans or paparazzi to sneak in.
Mick jabbed a finger at me for emphasis, then left.
Tingling with anticipation, I scurried out the door, intent on checking the other dressing rooms for Tom. No time to wait, let’s go, let’s go! Having been at the arena since four o’clock when sound checks began, I’d already learned the layout of the backstage area. There were eight dressing rooms—Mom’s the biggest.
I hurried down the wide hall, mouthing “hi” to people I passed. The sound and light crew were still working, but the backline crew—the guys who maintain all the instruments and switch them out during performances—were done now. Set carpenters, the managers, and all the people who tore down the stage also milled around until the concert ended.
First I went to the back exit and peeked outside. Tom wasn’t there.
I returned all the way up the hall, figuring I’d work my way back down.
For the first time I noticed all the dressing room doors were closed. Strange. If Tom had gone into one to pack up something, he’d have left the door open as a courtesy. Those assigned rooms were personal space to members of the band and Rayne’s production manager, Ross Blanke.
I peeked in the one next to Mom’s.
Shoving my purse handles higher up my shoulder, I went to the third.
This wasn’t right. Tom was never late. Where was he?
Mick approached, signaling me with a roll of his finger—let’s get moving.
I nodded. “He wasn’t in the bathroom?”
Mick shook his head.
Together we walked to the fifth dressing room. Mick poked his head inside.
I ran down to look in the sixth. No Tom.
I banged the door shut and looked around. What was going on? If he didn’t show up soon we wouldn’t have time to go out of our way to a drugstore. The airport was minutes away from the arena. We didn’t want Brittany waiting around by herself after dark.
“You take the next one.” Mick strode past me. “I’ll look in the one on the end.”
The seventh dressing room had been allocated as Ross’s office. At every venue he needed a private area for calling people, dealing with last-minute problems and basically seeing that everything in the contract was honored. I couldn’t remember seeing Ross in the hall. He might be inside, and I didn’t dare just barge in. The production manager’s office was off-limits to everyone unless invited.
I knocked, waited. Knocked harder.
I opened the door.
Like Mom, Ross ordered the same room set-up each time. For him that included an oversized desk with black leather chair. On the desk he would stack his papers and folders, carefully position his laptop. A fax machine had to be on his left, a telephone with multiple lines on his right. Looking at Ross—a short, fat man with scraggly hair to his shoulders—you’d never guess what a neat freak he is.
And always on the wall—a large round clock.
As I stepped into the room, my eyes grazed that clock. 10:55. Brittany’s plane would be landing soon.
On the floor beside the desk I glimpsed a splash of color.
Something twisted inside my stomach, almost as if my subconscious mind had already registered the sight. Time seemed to slow.
Clutching the door handle, I turned my head toward the color.
A foot. On the floor sticking out from behind the desk. Wearing a Vans with blue, white and red checks, and a red racing strip. The foot lay on its side, toes pointed away from me, heel dug awkwardly into the carpet.
I stared across the room at the foot. The back of my neck prickled.
Run, my mind shouted. Run and check on Tom! But my feet rooted to the carpet, my fingers digging into the doorpost.
Onstage, the music stopped. Wild clapping and cheering rose from the arena.
The noise jerked me out of my zombie state. I lowered my purse from my shoulder. Set it on the floor. Holding my breath, I crept forward.
As I edged around the side of the desk, Tom’s jeaned leg came into view.
It wasn’t moving.
My legs stopped.
“T-Tom?” My voice cracked into a whisper.
So what? He couldn’t have heard me above the crowd.
I took another step. Now I could see his second leg, drawn up and bent at the knee. Tom was lying on his side. I moved again and saw an arm flung out, fingers half-curled toward the palm.
I leapt forward until his head came into sight. Tom’s second arm lay crumpled against the carpet, his face partially turned into the short sleeve of his red T-shirt. His one visible eye was open, staring at the wall.
Air gushed out of my mouth. He was tricking me.
“You rotten thing!” I pushed at his leg with my toe. “How—”
No change. Just that wide-eyed stare.
All the relief that had spilled out of me reversed back down my throat. My windpipe closed until I could hardly breathe. I sank to my knees beside his chest.
“Tom?” I leaned down to look into both his eyes.
The other one was gone.
I mean gone. Just a black, bloody, gaping hole.
For the longest second of my life, all I could do was stare. It pulled at me, that hole. Like it wanted me to tumble inside it, a horror-film version of Alice in Wonderland.
Faintness gripped me. I swooned toward Tom’s ravaged face, my nose almost touching where his eye used to be …
At the last possible moment, my muscles jerked me back.
I shoved to my feet and screamed.
My shrieks bounced off the walls during the crowd’s final shouts. In the same second all noise died away.
Silence rang in my ears.
I turned and ran.
Mick materialized in the doorway as I hurtled into it. I rammed into his rock-solid chest. With another scream I bounced off and collapsed on the carpet.
“What–?” Mick bent over me. I looked up, mouth flopping open. No sound came. I pointed a shaking finger toward Tom. Mick’s head jerked up.
Horror crossed his face.
He jumped over me and ran to Tom, his hand reaching for the gun clipped to his belt.
Mick bent down and disappeared behind the desk. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t do anything.
Voices of band members mingled in the hall, commenting on the performance. How strange the words sounded. So naïve. So unknowing.
Heavy footsteps approached. Ross rounded the corner and almost stepped on me.
“Ahhh!” I rolled away from him.
Mick raised up from behind the desk. Ross froze at the look on his face. “What’s going on?”
“Tom’s dead.” Mick’s voice was tight.
“Somebody shot him.”
Ross blinked rapidly, then leapt around me to see for himself.
Mick reached for the phone on the desk. “I’m calling 911.”
I stared at the ceiling, mind going numb. My limbs felt like water. Tom was dead. Dead. My heart couldn’t grasp it. I’d just been with him. How could he be gone?
“Oh.” The word choked from Ross’s throat. He backed away from Tom.
“Yes,” Mick said into the phone. “I need to report a homicide. Hang on a minute.” He shoved the phone into Ross’s hand. “You talk to them. I need to get Bruce and Wendell. We’ll round up the band members, make sure they’re safe.”
Mom. Could whoever did this to Tom want to hurt her?
Mick ran past me, gun in hand. “Shaley, stay here.”
I barely heard him. Panic pushed me onto weak knees. I had to find my mother!
Somehow I crawled out the door. “Mom. Mommmm!”
Every person in the hallway jerked around.
Mick spun back to me. “Shaley, stay there!” He swung toward the others. “Everyone, against the wall and don’t move. Wendell, Bruce, where are you?”
People melted back, calling questions, their voices buzzing like a thousand bees in my head.
“Where’s my mom!”
Bruce ran out of the men’s bathroom, hand automatically going for his weapon. “What?” At six-foot-six, he has powerful, long legs and arms. I could see his head about everyone else’s.
Wendell burst from the stage area. “Here!”
“Shaley?” Mom’s sharpened voice filtered from up the hallway. “What’s happening?” She came toward me, eyes wide.
“Rayne, stay where you are!” Mick shouted.
Mom picked up speed. Her head whipped back and forth, gawking at everyone pressed against the walls. She started to run. “Shaley, are you all right?
I teetered to my feet. “Tom’s dead, Mom, he’s dead!”
Gasps rose from dozens of throats. Mom didn’t even slow. Mick grabbed her arm, but she yanked away. As if in a dream—a nightmare—I watched her tear-blurred form hurtle toward me. Mick, Bruce and Wendell spread their feet, guns raised, eyes darting back and forth, searching the hall for danger.
I flung myself forward, sobbing.
After an eternity Mom reached me. I collapsed into her arms, screaming Tom’s name.