Quit Playing Games

Chapter 71

If someone had told her that, when given a choice between cuddling back under the covers for an extra hour or working out… that she'd chose the workout, she'd have laughed in their face. The very idea of choosing to "feel the burn" over feel the pillow would have been anathema to her not even a few months ago.

So, why the hell was she here pumping iron? Oddly enough, it relaxed her more than the extra hour of sleep would. Freaky, hunh?

Kat put down the free weights, took a long gulp of water, adjusted the tension and then lay back on the bench so she could do some more lifts. One hell of a lot had changed in the last while. First off, she was a lot thinner than she'd been before. Second, she wasn't as, well, 'fucked up' was the best description she could come up with. Not likely to go on some sort of murderous rampage the way her mother had always seemed to predict for her. She hadn't embraced her past - not buy a long shot - but she had accepted enough of it to be able to get on with her life again.

Third, she'd fallen in love with the most wonderful, fun, sexy, goofy, and highly unlikely person she could think of. Yep, if she'd been told she'd end up with Nick, of all people, she would have hit the person telling her that with the pillow before pulling it over her head and snuggling back in the aforementioned bed.

None of this made any sense. Yet it had become her reality. Or rather her almost reality. Outwardly she was someone else; inwardly pretty much the same. Not so dogged by fear and uncertainty, but pretty similar. The thing she had the most problem with right now was the fact that she had to 'play' a character who was becoming more her each day. She wasn't totally sure where Jeanne left off and Kat began. Nick seemed to, but she sure as hell didn't. And frankly, right now, that scared her more than any of the other things she was dragging around in that baggage of hers.


She was startled as she looked at the bench beside her. She'd been so lost in her thoughts she hadn't even heard him come in. And the big man was usually pretty damn hard to miss.

"Jay?" She sat up, looking around a little frantically. "Jeanne, remember?"

He shook his head. "No one else here. And I locked the door. So drop it for a sec, okay? I really need to talk to you."

She watched as he swallowed quickly, noting that his dark black face somehow seemed a little pale. She nodded for him to go ahead.

"I think you should leave."

That was unexpected and she said so. "You want to tell me why?"

"I just bumped into Miriam in the lobby."

Kat grimaced. "Poor you."

"Seriously. Look... I…" The fact that he was so hesitant and worried made the butterflies in her stomach turn into birds. Large birds. Birds that were going to peck their way out of her.

"Just say it. Please," she begged worriedly.

He took a deep breath. "Okay. Saw Miriam. Noticed something I thought I'd seen before and wasn't sure. But it was there again, you know? And I just don't think… I mean, she isn't like a clumsy person or anything so it has to be…"


"Bruises. She's got bruises. On her arms and legs. She'd covered them sort of, but I still saw them. Some of them…" he gulped. "Some of them looked like handprints."

"You think Howie's hitting her?" She jumped up from the bench. "That fucking bastard! I'm going to kick his ass so hard."

Jay reached out and grabbed her arm, pulling her back down. "I think she likes it."

Kat looked at him, a startled look on her face.

"That's how I saw 'em. She was like, umm, stroking them. I mean, it looked like she was sort of getting off on it."


"Yeah. Disgusting,' he nodded. "I mean, it's not my thing. And I would have been willing to bet it hadn't been Howie's. But now I am not sure what the fuck is going on."

"Always thought she was a freak, but…"

"The rope was cut."

The sudden change of subject threw her. She was just trying to wrap her head around the first bombshell.

"Rope? What rope?"

He sighed. "Nick's rope. When he fell. It was cut. Not through, but enough to make it break."

"His rope? But you said…"

"I know what I said. I didn't want you all to worry. I mean, it could have just been an accidental cutting or something, but I just wanted to look into it myself. But now…"

"Now… he…" she babbled. "He could have been killed." She sprang up. "Nick!"

Once again Jay restrained him. "He's okay. He's still upstairs. And Howie's in the restaurant."

"We gotta do something."

"I know. I got the rules changed backstage so now even the talent isn't allowed near any of the rigging or the toasters when we aren't in a performance. I figure during a show there are so many folks there that nothing could happen without someone seeing it. I can keep Nick safe, but it's not really Nick who Howie's after. It's you. You gotta go."

She was really hoping that it was just the air conditioning coming on that made her feel so cold all of a sudden. That could explain her shaking hands too, right? "I can't. He hasn't… I can't leave until…"

"Oh come on, Kat. You think I haven't seen all those times Howie's 'accidentally' cornered you in the hallways. And I am pretty damn sure that he was the one who told Nick's driver to go ahead without you a few days ago. If Nick hadn't forgotten his CD case and had him circle back who knows how that could have ended up."

She gulped. She thought she'd been pretty good at covering up those incidents. She wanted to be caught with Howie - sort of - but the plan was for Nick to be around to catch them. And those times had all been when he was somewhere he couldn't get away from. Since they had admitted their feelings they had been so busy concentrating on being together as much as possible they had sort of let that part drop. And as neither could figure out what to do once Howie was 'caught' and she could stop being Jeanne…

Fortunately the tour was ending in another month and they would be able to get away for a little while. Try and figure out how to change the plan. Though it looked, now, like they might not have enough time.

"You weren't supposed to know," she whispered.

He snorted. "You both asked me to help out 'cause I was in charge 'round here. You think I'm such an idiot I keep my eyes closed?" He shook his head. "I'm on your side, remember?"

"Yeah, but you're supposed to just be around to help out. Nick's the one who's supposed to ride to the rescue."

"Why you think I didn't say anything 'til now? But now… Now, it's gotta stop. This is getting way freaky," his deep voice rumbled worriedly.

"No kidding," she sighed. She thought for a minute. "Okay, so what have we got? If this stuff with Howie hadn't started happening long before Miriam came along I'd blame it all on her and introduce her to my fist."

She ignored his muttered "she'd probably like that."

"So the situation is this: Howie's screwing with the guys' love lives. He's also seeing freaky bitch queen. That is probably not helping things. Now Nick's being targeted… I don't like that. I don't like that one bit."

"That's new. I mean, I've worked with them for years. They all get into tussles and all, but nothing like cutting wires."

"You sure? I mean maybe it was Howie M.O. and we just never noticed it before."

"We'd have noticed if we had a lot of equipment failure," he replied.

She nodded. One thing she had noticed, this tour and last, is that the crew was damn good at making sure everything was in tip-top condition. A wire sliced at the last minute they might miss, and having one of the toasters lose power during a show - as one had done for Brian a few days ago - well, that had been because a power cord had been kicked out by one of the local security guards. Other than having a slightly embarrassed Brian climb up on stage rather than pop up there had been no major upset.

"What about the other things? Back when Kevin hurt himself snowboarding, wasn't Howie with him? Or AJ breaking his foot in Canada a couple years ago?"

Jay shook his head. "No. No way. There is no way you're going to get me to believe he's been pulling dirty tricks like this for years. The sneaking around with the girls, well, I don't like it, but it makes sense. And you and Nick said you had proof. I'll believe that."

"You said yourself that Nick's wire had been cut."

"So maybe I am panicking. It was cut - sliced a little high up. But that could have happened at any time, I suppose. What I am saying is that you all were right: something with Howie is off. Way off. He's moody and angry and weird. Has been for a while. Maybe it's just because of that bitch. Maybe she's what's made him worse. I honestly don't believe that he's ever tried to hurt 'em before. He wouldn't do that." Jay sounded like he was trying hard to convince himself. "He's been my friend for so long. He wouldn't do that."

Kat moved next to him and gave him a comforting hug. "I'm sure you're right. I hope so. It was probably an accident. And maybe he's freaky 'cause she is making him be. He does seem better when she isn't around."

Jay took a deep breath. "Yeah."

"So we'll just keep an eye on her too, is all."

"I still think you should go. Be safe."

"You think I'm going to leave Nick alone now?" she asked incredulously. "No way. If there is even a slim chance that Howie had anything to do with that accident, there is no way I am going to let it happen again. I won't let Nick get hurt."

He flashed her a quick smile. "'Cause you two are in looove."

Kat blushed lightly. "Oh shut up."

He chuckled. "What if the only reason Nick could get hurt is 'cause you are here?"

She leaned over and picked up her towel, draping it over her shoulders. "Then I'll leave. The last thing I wasn't is him to be hurt. If it looks like we can't accomplish this without that happening then it is too high a price to pay. The moment I say it, I want you to drive me to the nearest airport, whether Nick wants me to or not."

He nodded. "He'll be pissed."

"I'd rather have him pissed at me than hurt again. Promise me. Promise me that when I say go, you'll take me. No questions asked. No trying to stop me. Just get me away."

"You got it." He looked like he was about to say more but there was a loud rattling from the front door, followed by a loud knocking. Jay rolled his eyes. "Can't catch a moment's break. Better go open it."

"I should get back upstairs anyway." She leaned down and picked up her water bottle before tagging along after him. Her eyes widened as Jay slid the lock back and Howie came barreling in.

"Hey! What the hell was that? You locked the door?" he growled.

Jay shrugged. "Must have locked on me after I came in to get Jeanne."

Howie flashed her a wide grin. "Nick so lonely without you he has to send down reinforcements, hunh?"

"Ah, yeah," she replied shortly before brushing past him and hurrying to the elevator.

Howie frowned after her and then turned to Jay. "Something I said?"

Chapter 72