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Sample includes adult content - 18+ recommended.

Chapter 1

Emily

 

 

Teddies.

No, not the cute, fluffy little things kids liked to sleep with—that would be an entirely different story altogether. I was talking about the barely there, lacy little numbers women liked to wear to feel sexy.

Yes, those ones.

Anyway, here I was, having a stare down with one as I spoke. A pink one, in fact. Okay, it was gorgeous—sexy as hell really. One of those high-cut, plunging little pieces that left little to the imagination. It was hot. The picture of the girl on the tag confirmed this many times over. But I still scowled at it with irritation.

Holding it out in front of me, I tried to envision myself in the model’s place, failing miserably as I scanned her sensually pouted lips and sexy bedroom eyes. That would never be me.

Dropping my arms, I raised my gaze to the ceiling and silently cursed my best friend for buying it for me—two freaking years ago. While I was at it, I cursed her again for challenging me to pack it.

With a silent string of swear words, I jammed it in my suitcase, yanking the zipper closed and clipping the straps together before I could curse her again and change my mind. Picking up the handle, I walked through the door, wheeling the case behind me. I made it as far as the front door before I heard the voices.

Daddy and Mama.

Dammit.

If I was concerned about what they had to say, or why they were even here to begin with, I would’ve paused. I would’ve listened with my ear pressed to the door like I used to when I was a child. But I didn’t. Instead, I threw the door open and stepped out onto the porch.

They were standing at the top of the steps, Mama with a Bible clasped tightly in her hands and Daddy tapping his hat casually against his thigh. Standing between us, hands on her hips and posture screaming her readiness to kick ass, was Granny Lynn, and beside her, ready to protect at will, was Buddy, our ever-faithful retriever.

Stepping up to Granny Lynn’s other side, I stood the suitcase up and leveled my parents with a wary gaze. “What unfortunate timing. I was just leaving.”

Mama’s gaze went to my suitcase before coming back to rest on me. “So it’s true. Lucy Ellis said you were goin’ to Las Vegas.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Did she, really? Is that why you’re here, then? To see me off?”

Mama bristled. “Emily, you know it’s called the city of sin for a reason. Las Vegas is Satan’s breeding pit. You must stop this nonsense right now.”

I refrained from rolling my eyes. “I’m twenty-one now, Mama. I’m perfectly capable of making my own decisions.”

Her lips pursed and her nostrils flared. “Those friends of yours have been trying to lead you down the Devil’s path for years, Emily. If you go, they will have succeeded.”

Cold contempt rose inside me. “But Daddy preaches about us all being faced with choices of morality every Sunday, Mama. Are you saying I’m incapable of knowing the difference between right and wrong?”

Mama started to shake her head, her mouth opening with a breath.

“Emily’s right,” Daddy said, cutting her off.

Both Mama and I paused, our gazes swinging to meet his calm one with a surprise that bordered on shock.

“The Lord places crossroads in front of us all the time. This is the perfect opportunity for Emily to prove she is finally not so easily tempted by evil.”

Mama’s mouth snapped shut, while my eyes slightly narrowed, my body tensing, irritation quickly rising. Did he seriously just say finally?

Granny Lynn took a small step forward, her voice low and threatening when she finally spoke. “Yet true evil is forgiven and allowed to walk the earth unchecked.”

Daddy’s nostrils flared.

I knew I shouldn’t let it get to me. We’d been playing this game since I’d moved out of their home and into Granny Lynn’s when I was thirteen. But things were different now. I was choosing not to play anymore.

“You’ve said what you came to say,” Granny Lynn said, taking another small step forward. “Now you can go.”

Mama’s gaze moved slowly from Granny Lynn, back to me. Sadness and disappointment swam in the depths of her eyes, but I was used to that too. I’d worked hard to understand the disappointment was hers and hers alone.

Giving her a curt nod, I met her gaze with a strength I did not entirely control yet. “Mama. Daddy.”

With one last look, I watched my parents turn and retreat down the stairs. I didn’t move a muscle as they made their way to their car. Neither did Granny Lynn. Their visits always brought a tension that was hard for us to shake.

My fists clenched as they opened their doors, my resentment struggling to stay buried where I tried so hard to hide it.

 They were just about to climb inside when the sound of an approaching car drew my attention. The instant I saw the red SUV burst around the corner, music pumping and horn blaring, the tension inside me broke.

As it skidded to a stop haphazardly across the dirt drive, I grinned. Mama and Daddy were sure to disapprove. Nothing could have made me happier.

I heard Granny Lynn chuckle as five heads appeared through the open windows, squeals of excitement piercing the air. Giving Granny Lynn a quick peck on the cheek, I dashed down the steps.

“Yea-har, baby!” Tessa called as I jogged to put my case in the trunk. “Operation we-have-the-preacher’s-daughter is a success!”

Opening the rear door, I slipped into my seat and laughed, barely able to conceal my happiness as Tessa revved the engine.

Granny Lynn appeared at my door, boots dusty and hands on her hips, as usual. “If I was fifty years younger I’d make you scooch on over, Emmy Lou.”

I loved Granny Lynn. She was the best kind of grandma there could be. She was my mama’s mama. Born and raised here in Sunset, Texas. And she didn’t take shit from anybody, especially not from Daddy. Needless to say, religion wasn’t high on the list of things she had time for.

Laughing, I stuck my head out the window and threw my arms around her. “Las Vegas wouldn’t know what to do with you, Granny Lynn.”

Her laughter roared. “You bet your ass it wouldn’t.” Pulling back, she quirked her eyebrow. “I thought I’d give you girls a proper send-off.”

Sinking back down in my seat, I watched her reach into a bag I hadn’t noticed her holding before. My eyes widened as I saw her start pulling little boxes out and tossing them in through the windows.

I looked down to my lap, where one of the boxes now lay. Condoms. My grandma had just thrown us a bunch of condoms.

Howls of laughter rang out around me.

“Granny Lynn!” I chided, but I couldn’t stop myself from grinning. “You can’t go giving us condoms.”

“I can, and I did,” she said, huffing. “I’m not some stuffy old maid. Nothing wrong with some good old-fashioned hanky panky. Like I said, if I was fifty years younger I’d be right there with you. Now you girls get going before you miss your damned plane. And have a happy New Year!”

“Thanks, Granny Lynn!” Tessa sang, shaking her box of condoms.

The other girls chimed in, sending out a chorus of thank yous.

Pressing my hands to my cheeks, I shook my head and gave her a withering look. “Thanks, Granny Lynn.”

Putting her hand on the doorframe, she looked me dead in the eye. “Have yourself some fun, Emmy Lou. Do what you damned well please. You’re a big girl.”

I quickly squeezed her hand as the SUV began moving. “I love you.”

Raising her hand to wave, she nodded. “I love you too. Have fun, girls!”

Tessa planted her foot, sending the SUV flying down the drive, the ass end sliding out as we rounded the corner.

Anabel howled as she glanced back at the dust we left behind. “Yeeeewww!”

“Mama preacher didn’t look too happy, Emmy,” Sadie said, giving me a half-amused, half-horrified look.

Marissa giggled from the front passenger seat, tossing a gummy candy snake over her shoulder. “Did you expect anything less? I’m surprised you made it out alive. I thought for sure you’d be tied up and exorcised by now.”

Grabbing the candy and biting the tail off, I smirked. “They did the exorcism before you arrived. I’m now programmed to reject all forms of sin. I brought chastity belts for everyone. I’ll hand them out when we get to Vegas.”

“Boooooo . . .” The chorus came immediately, while Bethany placed the back of her hand against her forehead, mock fainting.

Scooping up all the candy that was suddenly thrown at me, I hugged them to my chest and laughed. “It’s no wonder they think y’all are a bad influence.”

“We’re the very best bad you can get, honey,” Tessa drawled. “And we’re goin’ to find some men and get you loose.”

I smirked at her in the rearview mirror. Loose, I could handle. Men, not so much. But I wasn’t ready to discount the lure of Satan’s breeding pit just yet, so I was more than willing to let her try. It was New Years’ Eve, after all.

Settling back into the leather seat, I gazed out at the passing scenery in complete contentment. In less than two hours we would be up in the air, on our way to the land of lust and debauchery.

I’d never felt so free.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Aiden

 

 

The bass pulsed through my veins. It thrummed against my skin and pounded out its beat inside my head. Sweat trailed down my temples, the stage lights hot and blinding. Voices, screaming and chanting, blended in with the music, adding to the melodic chaos I’d come to crave so much.

Jace’s guitar merged in and out, our timing unmistakably perfect as Dean’s voice rasped out the last few words of the song. Then, with nothing but raw grit, Matt brought his sticks down on his kit, ending it with an earth-shattering boom. Screams rose to yet another level.

Dean grunted into the microphone. “Thank you, Las Vegas! Have a happy New Year! You’ve been awesome!”

Flicking my pick into the crowd, I scooped up what was left of the vodka bottle at my feet and gave the crowd a wave before stalking off stage.

Ronnie, one of our new roadies, quickly took the guitar from me as I tossed back another mouthful.

“Nice set, man,” he said. “You guys sound wicked.”

I gave the dude a nod. “Thanks.”

Raising the bottle, I considered just finishing the damned thing. It didn’t seem to be numbing me like it used to. I needed to find something else.

But before I could get it to my lips, it disappeared from my hand.

Turning, I found Jace holding the bottle, scowling at me. “Enough,” he said. “You know it upsets Mia.”

I contemplated his words for a moment, shuffling them around inside my head, trying to find their association with me. A tinge of guilt flared up in my gut, but I was quick to swallow it down.

Giving him a nonchalant shrug, I smirked. “Whatever, man.”

Irritation hardened his features. I knew it pissed him off when I dismissed Mia’s feelings like that, but I didn’t have a choice. Mia was part of the reason I needed to numb myself in the first place.

Matt slapped his arm around my shoulder and started towing me backstage. “Let’s go find some pussy, brother. Magical ones that can make us forget our own names for a while.”

Throwing my head back, I let out a solid laugh. “Sounds good to me.”

Scooping up a couple of beers from the ice bucket backstage, Matt mumbled something to one of the new roadies before leading me into our dressing room. Closing the door, he cracked the lids and handed me a bottle. “To another successful show!”

Tapping the neck of my bottle against his, I sank down on the sofa and drank deep, allowing the taste to cloud my mind.

Matt shucked off his damp shirt and tossed it onto the pile of clothes already lying in the corner. “Where did Lash say they were heading tonight?”

Lash was The Dark Hybrid’s lead guitar player. “He said they were meeting up with Dan at LAX.”

“Where the fuck is that?”

Stretching out my neck, I leaned forward, resting my elbows on my knees. “Down at The Luxor.”

Matt grunted. “Fucking pyramid.”

I shrugged just as the door opened. Ronnie gave me a nod before stepping to the side to let two girls slip through. Settling back into the sofa, I watched the girls’ eyes glint with excitement as the door closed behind them.

“Hello there, Ladies,” Matt said, slinking toward them. “What might your names be?”

I covered my smirk by taking another swig of my beer. I don’t know why he bothered asking. It wasn’t like he was going to remember their names in the morning.

The girl closest to him brushed her platinum blonde hair over her shoulder. “I’m Lucy, and this is Caroline.”

I let my gaze run over Caroline’s curves. She was a big girl, but she was damned sexy.

Matt grinned, glancing down at Lucy’s cleavage, his hand brushing against her hip. “Well, Lucy, I’m Matt, and this here is Aiden. You girls up for a little private party?”

Lucy’s body migrated closer to Matt’s, leaning into his touch. I’d say she was a little more than up for it.

I watched her bite her lip and flutter her eyelashes up at him. It was a performance of a lifetime. “We sure are.”

His hand slid around her waist. “Excellent. How about you and I take our own little party next door, then?”

The girl giggled and went with him, no questions asked, leaving her friend standing there with her excited gaze watching my every move.

“Sweet Caroline,” I said, patting the empty space beside me. “Why don’t you come and join me?”

Confidence ignited in her eyes as she sashayed her way over to me. Ignoring the space I’d invited her into, she slowly hitched up her dress and straddled my lap.

“Not-so-sweet Caroline,” I mumbled as she took my mouth with her own. “Damn.”

Pressing herself down on me, she ground her hips in a slow, circular motion. My dick hardened without a moment’s hesitation.

“It’s always been a fantasy of mine to blow a musician,” she moaned against my lips.

If I had a dollar for every time I’d heard that line. It was either ‘fuck’ or ‘blow.’ In fact, I’d heard it enough times that I’d started a bet with Matt. Every time we heard it, we put ten bucks into a jar. We needed a bigger jar.

Vaguely, I wondered if there was some sort of groupie handbook that was given out at each gig, outlining how to dress, move, and talk, because I failed to see any differences between the girls I saw backstage, other than height and hair color.

Squirming her way down, she began unzipping my jeans, her tongue already snaking out to moisten her bright red lips. My dick twitched with anticipation. Wrestling the denim over my hips, she quickly pulled my boxers down to release me.

I groaned as she wrapped her hand around me and started stroking, not realizing just how much I needed a release right now.

Slowly, she stuck out her soft pink tongue and licked the length of me, swirling it around the tip before sucking my entire cock deep into her mouth. There was just something incredibly arousing about watching a girl’s red lips around your dick. And even more so when they looked up at you through thick, dark lashes while they were doing it.

I watched her intently as she worked her hand and mouth together, her bedroom eyes watching me through those thick, dark lashes.

It didn’t take her long to bring me to climax. I had a one hundred percent success rate when it came to finishing from a blow job. I loved it.

She swallowed like a true pro, and she even looked like she enjoyed it. Her point score was high.

Releasing me, she licked her lips and wiped her chin with her fingers. “Think you can go again?”

I contemplated her words, but I was already growing bored. Thankfully, I was saved from having to reject her by a sudden banging on the door.

“Aiden! Open the goddamned door!”

I sighed. Mia. At least her timing was helpful.

Giving not-so-sweet Caroline an apologetic look, I tucked my dick back away and zipped up my jeans. “Sorry, sweetheart. The matron calls.”

Pushing myself up to stand, I strolled over to the door and flicked the lock. Mia barged straight in, her gaze sharp and angry as she scanned the girl, still kicking back on the sofa. Jace slowly followed her in, disappointment straining his features.

Anxiety edged its way into my gut from her presence. Desperately needing to ward it off, I snatched up my beer and took a quick drink.

Mia’s eyes flashed with some emotion I couldn’t decipher. I probably could’ve gotten a sense of what it was if I concentrated. Our twintuition used to be pretty fucking strong. But I had a crazy suspicion I wouldn’t like what it was anyway.

“Really, Aiden? Are you serious right now? Leighton’s waiting in the green room for you and you’re fucking around?”

Jace shook his head. “Where’s Matt?”

I took another drink before jerking my head toward the back of the room. “Back room.”

He sighed, his irritation more than obvious, but whether it was the fact that I’d forgotten about the meeting or that I had upset Mia, I didn’t know.

Stalking to the back of the room, he gave the door two hard thumps with his fist. “Matt, get your fucking ass out here. Leighton hasn’t got time to wait around for you to get your goddamn rocks off.”

While we waited for Matt to appear, I tipped the last of my beer back and dumped the bottle in the trash. Mia’s gaze was like tiny pin pricks on my skin as I retrieved another from the mini fridge.

The far door opened and a disheveled Matt appeared, all bright and fucking happy. The girl—I’d already forgotten her name—bounced out behind him.

Jace barely contained his next sigh. “Ronnie, can you please escort these lovely ladies out?”

My gaze swung to the roadie I hadn’t even seen standing there. He nodded and gestured to the girls to follow him. Caroline crossed the room, disappointment clouding her eyes. When she reached me, I cupped her curvy ass with my hand. “Sorry, sweetheart. Business awaits.” Then, purely because I could, I kissed her deep. “Thanks for the fun.”

Mia scowled the instant they were gone. “Jesus, Aiden. What were you thinking?”

Matt slapped his arm around my shoulders. “Aww, come on, Mi. We were just having a little fun.”

Straightening, she leveled her stare on the both of us. “You know I don’t give a shit about the girls, Matt. Screw as many as you please. It’s your life. But when it comes to band business, you can’t just play the whatever card. Your actions affect the whole band.”

Matt turned his puppy eyes on high beam. “Aww, we’re sorry, Mi. We forgot.”

Mia shook her head, defeated. “Just hurry up. Leighton was already pissed that I had to come look for you.”

Matt squeezed my shoulder as she turned and stormed back out the door. Jace, looking more tired than I’d ever seen, paused, words floating on the surface of his gaze, but instead of the expected lecture I was now used to, he simply turned away from me and followed Mia down the hall.

Slapping me on the back, Matt inhaled with a grin. “Well, let’s go see what the devil man wants. Then you and I are going to LAX.”

Unease clawed at my stomach. I felt too raw. Too exposed. A desperation to fix it, to make the pain go away, gnawed at me. And there was only one way I knew that would do it.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

Emily

 

 

Putting the final touch on my lipstick, I stood back and assessed my overall appearance in the oversized mirror. I’d decided to go with a simple look for our first night in Vegas. A short, low-cut dress in a peachy, coral color.

“Perfect,” Tessa said, her gaze raking over my reflection. “That color looks amazing on you. Men will be flocking, for sure.”

Giving her a deadpan look, I sighed. “Men can flock and do whatever they like. Won’t mean a thing.”

Her face fell with disappointment. “Oh, come on, Emmy. You can’t swear off men for life. Besides, you promised me you would keep an open mind while you’re here.”

A silent scream rang out in my head. “Fine. I promise I won’t bite off every man’s head who tries to talk to me. Better?”

With a sweet smile, she fluttered her eyelashes. “Much.” Then she tilted her body, giving herself a quick once-over in the mirror, a slight scowl creasing her brow. “God . . . I feel like an albino next to you now.”

I rolled my eyes. “Hardly. You’re the most tanned person in Sunset—and probably Bowie too—and you know it.”

A smirk replaced her scowl in an instant. “I am, aren’t I?”

Shaking my head, I laughed at her confidence. I honestly didn’t think anyone could say anything to make her stop believing in herself. She was my inspiration.

Smacking her lips together, she gave me a wink and a little pout before sashaying for the door. “Let’s go see if the others are ready,” she said, throwing the door open.

Tessa and I were sharing one of the three double suites we’d booked at The Luxor. Anabel and Sadie were together in the room across the hall, and Marissa and Bethany were sharing the suite next door. It worked out perfectly, really.

Quickly throwing my lipstick and cell in my purse with the room key, I hurried to catch up with her, only to find everyone already out in the hall, waiting.

“Finally!” Bethany said, hands going to her hips with attitude.

Marissa gave her a nudge and laughed. “Don’t listen to her. We only just walked out our door.”

Sadie leaned out over the balcony railing, her head tilted back as she gazed upwards. “This whole pyramid thing is freaking me out. Did you notice how the elevator went diagonally?”

Anabel rolled her eyes and started walking toward said elevators. “We’re staying in a ginormous pyramid, Sadie. The elevators can hardly go straight up and down when the building doesn’t.”

“I know,” Sadie pouted. “It’s still weird, though.”

Tessa pushed the button to go down and leaned against the wall to wait. “Where does everyone want to eat? I vote T&T.”

I frowned. How did they even know what options we had? “What’s T&T?”

Giving me a cocky smirk, Tessa put her hand under her chin in a gesture of innocence. “Tacos and tequila, baby!”

Oh, man. I was going to be in some serious trouble if tequila was going to be involved.

As the elevator doors opened, Marissa stepped in and hit the button for the first floor. “Okay, T&T, but after that we’re going to LAX. No argument. I’m not missing Alium. I had to cut a bitch to get those tickets.”

Alium? Who the hell was Alium? I was just about to ask, but quickly discovered from the conversation that Alium was apparently a DJ. I had no idea how I was so out of touch with this.

“It’s a pity we missed The Dark Hybrid. I would’ve loved to have seen them live,” Anabel said, a dreamy lilt to her voice.

Sadie sighed. “Oh my God, yes. I can’t even pick a favorite. Have you seen the latest promo shots?” Feigning gasping for breath, she started fanning herself with her hand. “So freaking hot.”

“I heard that new band was here as well,” Bethany said. “The fate one.”

Tessa gasped. “Ooh, Fighting Fate! I love them!”

I gave Tessa a withering look. “Is it bad that I haven’t heard of these people?”

“Oh, come on!” she said, rolling her eyes. “You’ve heard of The Dark Hybrid. Don’t play all innocent and shit.”

“Yeah,” I said, throwing her a deadpan look. “But Alium? Fighting Fates?”

The elevator came to a stop and we started piling out. “It doesn’t matter anyway,” Tessa said. “We missed them. They both played down at the Brooklyn Bowl earlier tonight. If I had known that when I booked, I would’ve made sure we arrived this morning, but that’s life, I guess.”

After being seated in the taco place, we bought a round of sangrias and ordered our meals. The music was just right and the atmosphere was electric. Everyone was in high spirits. It was exactly what I needed.

Although I wasn’t exactly sure about the wisdom of six small-town girls busting out in Vegas on New Year’s Eve, I had to admit it was amusing to watch my friends flirt with all the apparent male hotness walking around. It was like observing five sex-deprived females in a male strip club. It was a catastrophe waiting to happen, and I couldn’t wait to watch it all go down.

We’d been there for about three hours when Tessa leaned into me and kissed me on the cheek. “Are you having fun, Emmy? This is way better than our usual hangs, isn’t it?”

If I understood her slur correctly, she was referring to The Rack, the pool house we occasionally went to in our hometown. While it wasn’t the flashest of places, the people there were good and the honky tonks were all right. “It’s definitely different, that’s for sure.”

She grinned. Oh yeah, she was lit. “Are you loose yet, Emmy? Cause I feel looooooose. I need to get me a man.”

I couldn’t help laughing at her a little. “I’m sure you’ll have no problem getting yourself a man, Tessa.” And that was the truth. At five foot eight, with long blonde curls and eyes the color of a perfect winter’s day, she was the epitome of every man’s wet dreams. Many a boy in Bowie felt sad about missing out with Tessa.

Marissa leaned over the table and banged her open hand down in front of us. “I think we should go to LAX now. Alium’s on in an hour, and I want to get a good spot.”

“Sounds good!” Tessa declared, swiping her hand with a flourish. Unfortunately for me, she managed to connect with my glass, sending it straight into my lap.

I froze, my mouth popping open in a silent scream as I stared at the remainder of my sangria, pooling in my dress.

“Oh my God! I’m so sorry, Emmy!” Tessa said, attempting to fix the mess she’d created, while Marissa ran to get more napkins from the bar.

I thought I might’ve had a chance to clean it up good enough, but when I felt it start soaking into my panties, I knew I had to go change.

Nudging Tessa with my shoulder, I reassured her with a smile. “It’s fine, Tessa. You know I don’t care. You girls go to LAX. I’ll go change and meet you there.”

Tessa jumped to her feet. “I’ll come with you. I feel bad.”

“Don’t be silly,” I said, pushing myself to stand. “I’ll be fine. You go to LAX and make sure we get a good spot. I’ll call you when I get there.”

She pouted. “Okay. I really am sorry, Emmy. You can wear anything of mine you want.”

Giving her a quick hug, I made my way to the elevators and started planning my Supergirl change in my head as I ascended. I was definitely having a quick shower, that was for sure. The sticky feeling in my pants wasn’t pleasant.

I started stripping as soon as the room door closed behind me, kicking the soiled clothes into the corner of the bathroom before stepping under the spray of a nice hot shower. I didn’t linger. I just spent enough time under the flow to wash what needed washing and got out again.

My true problem came when I got to my suitcase. I didn’t know what else to wear. It took me forever to decide on the dress I’d just discarded. I couldn’t even decide on what underwear to put on because it depended entirely on what clothes I was going to wear. Men seriously had no idea how difficult it was being a girl sometimes.

Throwing open Tessa’s suitcase, I scanned her clothes, trying to find something that might speak to me. My search stopped on a light pink bodysuit. I’d seen Tessa wear it before. When it was on, it looked like a loose fitting, low-cut blouse that you tucked into skinny jeans.

I picked it up and contemplated my ability to pull it off. Even though Tessa and I were practically the same size in clothing, we had completely different body shapes and usually wore completely different styles and cuts.

Glancing at the clock, I decided to throw caution to the wind and just do it. What the hell did I care anyway? But what kind of underwear would I wear with it? My girls had no chance of being contained in one of Tessa’s fancy bras, and none of my bras would work with such a low cut.

And then there it was. My pink lacy teddy, draped over the edge of my suitcase, taunting me. I scowled and rolled my eyes. Of course, it was perfect. I’d never hear the end of it from Tessa if she knew I was wearing it, though.

Tossing the towel to the side, I bit down my pride and slipped the teddy on, pausing to take a quick look in the mirror. Surprise was the first thing that hit me. With my hair and makeup done, I actually didn’t look too different from the model on the tag.

Then reality came back. Whose benefit was that look for anyway? My guess was, men. And I had no interest in primping myself up for a man. Ever.

Ripping the tag off, I pulled the bodysuit on and struggled into my skinny jeans. I was dying to look in the mirror again, but I wanted to put shoes on before I did.

I knew when I’d seen Tessa wear the top before, she’d worn her matching pink pumps, but I wasn’t sure if I could go to that extreme. However, we were the same size in a shoe, and I knew for a fact that they were worn in very well.

Slipping them on, I took a deep breath and held it as I slowly moved to stand in front of the mirror.

Holy mother of mercy.

I blinked at the girl staring back at me. I could hardly believe it was me. Was I really going to wear this out? In public? My heart thumped weirdly. I kind of liked the idea of allowing myself to be a different version for a night.

An incoming snapchat brought me out of my internal debate. It was from Marissa—a picture of her and Tessa right in front of the stage. The caption read: Front and center!

Shit. Throwing the cell on the bed, I quickly tidied up the mess I’d made and ran for the door. Don’t think, I said in encouragement. Just go!

 

 

Chapter 4

Aiden

 

 

Sitting at the back of the room, I listened to Craig Leighton drone on as he beat himself on the chest with all his self-proclaimed accolades.

The guy really was a dick. He may as well have been tossing himself off right there in front of us. I didn’t know how I hadn’t seen it when we’d first met him. I hated to admit it, but the stars I had in my eyes at the time had most likely blinded me.

I knew Matt could see it now too. The deadpan look on his face gave it away, but Jace and Dean were still too caught up in the need to keep playing by the rules. Rules that were, for me, fast becoming suffocating. I mean, the dude was dictating our creative style. He’d practically knocked back every sample we’d sent him for our new album, either demanding changes, or just giving us a flat-out no.

It wasn’t just the creative differences that stirred me up, either. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but the dude just reeked of slime. I didn’t trust him as far as I could throw him.

Jace caught my eye across the room and scowled. I guess I wasn’t being sociable enough. Too bad for him that I didn’t actually care.

“All right, fellas,” Leighton said, standing. “Only two months of shows to go. After that, I want you guys to really buckle down and get me some decent songs.”

He let out a huff, as if he was having to deal with a bunch of petulant children.

His eyes narrowed as they bored into me. “I’ve risked a lot to get you where you are now. If you can’t follow up this album with something better than what I’ve seen so far, you’re going to join all the other one-hit wonders out there.”

It was now official. I seriously hated the guy.

Jace and Dean shook his hand and mumbled some bullshit that sounded a lot like kissing ass before the lord of all the douchebags in the world stalked out the door.

Jace turned on me the second he was gone. “You couldn’t have at least participated in the conversation for twenty fucking minutes?”

I bristled. “He’s a fucking slime ball, Jace. I’m sure even you can see that.”

Throwing up his hands, Jace’s expression turned incredulous. “Jesus, Aiden. I get you don’t like the dude, but this isn’t just about you. This includes the four of us. We’re all in this together. Which means you don’t just get to do whatever the fuck you want and damn the consequences. What you do affects all of us.”

Slowly, I stood. “Fair point. But let me put this out there right now—just so we’re all clear on where I stand. I will not re-sign with that prick when our contract ends.”

Matt sat back and stretched his feet out on the chair in front. “I’m with Aiden. That dude’s shady as fuck.”

Jace and Dean studied both me and Matt for a while before giving us a slight nod. “All right,” Dean said, “but both of you need to agree to do whatever it takes to see the contract through. He might be a slime ball, but we have to trust his experience right now. Agreed?”

My jaw clenched. The need to oppose anything Leighton wanted was strong.

Matt dropped his feet to the ground. “Agreed.”

Jace gave me a hard stare. “Aiden?”

Looking at my band brothers, I finally saw what I’d been missing. They’d tried to cover it up with their irritation, but it was still there, in the depths of their eyes. Hope. For what, I didn’t know, but it was enough to make me want to agree.

Hesitantly, I nodded. “Agreed.”

Tension eased as Jace and Dean nodded.

Picking up his jacket off the sofa, Jace threw it over his shoulder. “Well, I’m out. I’ve got a date tonight. We might see you later at LAX.”

“Same here,” Dean said. “Don’t get into too much trouble, you two.”

Matt smirked. “Don’t count on it.”

Dean rolled his eyes, while Jace shook his head at me. “Just don’t go pissing off your sister. I’m the one who has to deal with the fallout.”

I gave him my best smirk. “I’ll try my best.”

It wasn’t a lie. I didn’t love knowing I was upsetting Mia, but just as I had to let go of my need to protect her, she was going to have to learn to do the same with me.

As soon as they were out the door, Matt tossed me a little packet. “Present for you.”

Snatching it out of the air, I studied the little bag with interest. Inside were four little blue pills. “What are they?”

Matt popped one in his mouth. “Just uppers.”

Taking one out, I gave him a look. “Where’d you get ’em?”

“Ronnie,” he said. “They’re good. I’ve had some before.”

That was enough for me. Taking one out, I threw it back and shot to my feet. “Let’s go. I need to zone out for a while.”

“Right on!”

Jumping into a vacant cab, we sailed down the strip to The Luxor. It was a short ride. We probably could’ve walked, but my goal was to keep a nice buzz going, not burn it off. We found Lash and the other Hybrid guys in a sectioned-off area inside LAX, booze bottles and girls everywhere.

Lash saw us straightaway, jumping up and enveloping me in one of his crushing man hugs. “Hey, hey! My boys. How’re you doing?”

I gave him a deadpan look. “Just finished up a meeting with Leighton.”

He cringed. “Ouch.”

Matt took his turn with a slap on the back. “How the fuck have you guys been with him so long?”

“Don’t fucking ask, man. Don’t fucking ask,” he said. “I don’t know why I haven’t killed Rhett for convincing us to sign on for another three years.”

Turning my attention to DJ Alium currently killing it on stage, I nodded in time with the beat. He was pretty impressive live. “He’s got a good turnout.”

Lash nodded. “Yeah, he’s fucking owning it right now. Selling out wherever he goes.”

I observed the dude on stage. It was fucking impressive, really. I didn’t know if I’d have the balls to do what he was doing. I mean, it was just him and a fucking laptop. That shit had to take some massive kahunas. But he was seriously shredding it.

Matt grinned from beside me. “I’m liking this partial show shit. It’s not even ten yet. We’ve got all fucking night to party.”

Lash nodded, draping an arm over my shoulder. “Yeah, man. That’s why I love doing festivals. An hour, max, on stage, and then you can run amok. It’s awesome.”

Matt squeezed the back of my neck. “All right, I’m going in. The ladies are calling.”

I grinned as he moved farther into their VIP area, greeting the other Hybrid boys as he went. Rhett, their lead singer, grabbed him and pulled him down into the empty space beside him. He and Matt had gotten pretty close the past year. It was actually a little scary at times. They both had the potential to get themselves into a lot of trouble.

“You doing all right, bro?” Lash said, his gaze intent.

I exhaled heavily and stretched my neck. “I don’t know, man. I just feel tense. That bullshit with Leighton gets to me so fucking much.”

Lash nodded, his expression contemplative. “I know, bro. Just try to shake it off. Remember why you started this. Bring it back to the roots of it. Just concentrate on making music and loving every minute of it.”

I got what he meant. I really did. But how was I supposed to do that when all the reasons I chose this path no longer existed? I mean, I still loved making music, but real music, the kind with soul, came from passion. And I wasn’t sure I could find that again.

The edginess that seemed to be my constant companion these days started clawing at my stomach. I needed some space.

Giving Lash a feigned smile, I clapped him on the shoulder. “Thanks, man. I’m just going to the bathroom. I’ll be back soon.”

Slipping through the crowd, I moved toward the back of the room, heading for the first door I could see. I saw the sign that read, STAFF ONLY, and I also saw the note announcing the reservation of a private function, but I didn’t care. I just needed to get out of there.

With a shove, I hit the handle and pushed through the gap, letting the door swing closed behind me.

Fresh, clean air filled my senses, finally clearing my head. I welcomed it gladly, until I realized the quiet, empty space was starting to intensify the gnawing inside my gut.

“Fuck!” I grunted.

I didn’t understand it. Why the hell was I feeling this way? It felt like guilt, but I had nothing to feel guilty about. I didn’t have a girlfriend I needed to be faithful to. Mia was safe and had Jace, who looked after her like he was her fucking bodyguard. Mom had started dating a pretty fucking awesome guy she’d met through one of Mia’s friend’s mom, so I knew she was being taken care of. And the band was only growing more and more popular with each new show we did. I had no other commitments or connections.

Taking out the little packet of pills, I thought about dropping all three of them to see if they could take the edge off the shit brewing inside me, but, as much as I wanted to be free of it, I knew that was a road I wasn’t ready to go down just yet.

Taking a few deeps breaths, I stuffed them back in my pocket and strode back to the door. I wasn’t going to let this get to me anymore. Straightening my shoulders, I pushed on the handle, ready to own the fucking night. But the door didn’t budge.

Fuck.

Turning, I looked around for the first time. The room was set up for a wedding. Double fuck.

Spying another door across the room, I made my way over and gave it a try.

That handle didn’t move either. I threw my hands up in the air. “Come on! You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!”

Striding around the room, I found another two doors—both fucking locked as well.

Just awesome. Pulling my cell out, I retrieved Matt’s number and hit call. “You better answer, you fucking dick,” I said as it began to ring. But after two rings, it went silent.

Holding it away from me, I stared at the screen. “No fucking way.” It was dead.

As I stood there, in the middle of a locked room decorated in blue, silver, and white, a dead cell phone in my hand, and blurry vision from the effects of the pills I’d just popped, I gave up.

Picking up a bottle of vodka from the bar, I slid down to the floor, stretched out my legs, and leaned back against the wall.

“Cheers,” I said, holding the bottle up to the big man in the sky. “This one’s on you.”

 

 

Chapter 5

Emily

 

 

I didn’t start second-guessing my decision to send Tessa off with the others until I reached the entrance to LAX. There were literally people crowding to get through the doors.

Trying to keep myself from being jostled too much, I inched forward with the masses until I made it to one of the security guys at the front.

“Ticket?” he said expectantly.

I stared at him blankly. Crap. I totally forgot about the ticket thing. Anxiety hit quickly. Being alone in Vegas was slightly terrifying. “Shit. It’s in there,” I said, pointing through the doors. “My friend has it.”

He didn’t look impressed.

I was going to seriously smack Tessa for this. “I’ll go call her.”

Slipping out of the line, I dug into my purse for my cell. “For the love of everything holy,” I said, staring up at the ceiling in frustration. Of course, I’d left my phone up in the room. At least I didn’t forget the damned room key.

Wondering why the hell nothing seemed to be going right for me tonight, I started back toward the elevators. At this rate, I was going to miss seeing in the new year completely.

Following the signs back the way I’d come, I turned the corner and came to a standstill. A large crowd was gathered, blocking the way. Trying to skirt around them, I was stopped by a casino employee.

“Sorry, ma’am. We’ve had to restrict this area for a while.”

Could this night actually get any worse? “What? Why?”

“There’s been a medical emergency.”

I tried to breathe deep to push the anxiety down. “But I need to get to my room.”

He nodded. “If you take the stairs at the back of the casino,” he said, pointing the way, “you can take the elevator on the next floor up.”

I glanced the way he’d pointed, wondering if I’d be able to find the stairs he meant. I was doubtful. I could hardly remember the way I’d walked half a dozen times already.

Weaving through the crowd, my confidence ebbing and flowing, I tried to look for any signs that might give me an idea of where I needed to go. It took me three wrong turns and two near misses of being groped, but I eventually found the stairs he’d meant, and then the elevators that would take me up to the room.

By the time I’d grabbed my cell and was back pushing the button to call the elevator, I was almost to the point of exhaustion. I sincerely hoped this show was worth the effort. I was also a little disappointed by the fact that Tessa hadn’t tried to call or message me. I wondered how long it would take for her to realize I hadn’t actually made it there.

As the elevator sailed downward, I scrolled through my contacts and called Tessa’s number, frowning when it went straight to messages. Unease swam in my stomach. If I couldn’t get a hold of her, how the hell was I going to get in?

Hopping out on the second floor, I looked around, wondering how it was possible for nothing to look familiar. Seeing a sign that announced the casino was that way, I started moving. I was seriously beginning to wish the night was over.

“You so owe me, Tessa,” I mumbled as I moved between the slot machines. I was going to make her grovel at my feet for the next month for this.

Relief came when I finally saw a sign that said LAX. Pushing the cell to my ear, I tried calling Tessa again. Nothing. “Dammit, Tessa.”

Moving toward a set of double doors the sign was pointing at, I tried calling Marissa, my hope rising when it started ringing. The second it went to messages, though, I bit back a curse.

“Marissa, it’s Emmy. I can’t get in without my ticket. Can you get Tessa to bring it to the door, please? I’m just about there.”

Ending the call, I pushed through the doors and stepped through.

Confusion hit me first, then panic as I realized I’d just walked into a private function room. I wasn’t supposed to be here.

“Don’t close the door!”

I screamed at the sudden voice from the darkness, and I swore I jumped about a foot in the air, my hands clasping my chest in a poor attempt to calm my now racing heart. It wasn’t until I heard the door click closed behind me that I comprehended the stranger’s words.

“Dammit,” the voice grumbled. “Welcome to hell, then.”

“Um . . .” I said, unsure of how I was supposed to proceed. “Sorry. I got lost. I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

Spinning, I scrambled for the door handle, eager to get out as fast as I could. It wasn’t until the handle refused to budge that the full impact of his words finally hit home.

I slowly turned to face the invisible voice. “I’m locked in here, aren’t I?”

“And she’s a freaking genius . . . ”

Hesitantly, I moved farther into the room, trying to locate the source of the voice. “Surely there has to be a way out.”

“By all means,” the voice said, “try to find it. Who knows, maybe I had a boy look when I was previously searching for exit points.”

I paused for a moment. It felt rude trying all the doors when the guy had obviously already tried them all, but the need to get out of there was strong. Moving to my right, I searched for the nearest door. “How long have you been locked in here?”

The sound of a grunt, followed by glass clinking on glass floated across the room. “About a third of a bottle.”

My brow creased. What did that mean?

Grabbing the handle of the first door I came across, I sighed when I found it locked, as expected. I wasn’t going to give up just yet, though. There had to be a way to unlock it.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” I said, more to myself than the guy. “Why would they have it set up so anyone can just walk in, but then you can’t get out? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?”

“You would think,” came the deep, lazy voice from the depths of darkness. “I’m actually a little surprised the security cameras haven’t seen me in here drinking all the vodka.”

He had a point. “There was an incident near the elevators. I think they’re distracted at the moment.”

“Huh. What kind of an incident?”

Trying the next door, I cursed all the sangrias I’d consumed. I was sure I’d be able to figure out a way to get out if my head was clear. “I’m not sure. I couldn’t see. The security guy said it was a medical emergency.”

Four doors. There were four damned doors that could take me out of this room, and I couldn’t figure out how to open even one of them. It was freaking ridiculous.

“Hey, mystery girl. You got a cell? Mine’s dead.”

I scoffed, deciding it was time I actually put a face to the voice. “That only works if your friends actually answer their cells,” I said, finding Marissa’s number in my contacts and trying again. And then again.

“Dammit, Marissa.”

“Mind if I try?”

Pausing, I locked gazes with the owner of the voice. He was kicked back on the floor, legs stretched out, ankles crossed, with a bottle of vodka clutched in his hand. He hadn’t been joking about drinking all the vodka.

Handing him my cell, I studied his features. It was a little hard to tell for sure with the low lighting, but his messed-up hair looked like it could almost be black. His skin looked very nicely tanned, and it was obvious from the contours in his shirt that he was most probably packing some serious muscle.

“Fuck technology,” he said, scowling at my cell.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, wondering if my cell was doing something it shouldn’t be.

He glanced up at the ceiling like he was cursing it. Randomly, I wondered what color his eyes were.

“How many of your friends’ cell numbers do you know from memory?” he said dryly.

I immediately understood. “Oh.”

“Yeah,” he said, sighing. “My sister’s is the only number I know.”

“And I take it she’s not here in Vegas?”

“Oh no, she’s here.”

I frowned. “Then, that’s good, right?”

He started punching in some numbers before holding it to his ear. “Wrong.”

I was so confused, but it didn’t matter. If his sister could get us out of here, I didn’t care.

“And when I actually need her, she doesn’t fucking answer.” He sighed. “Mia, it’s Aiden. My cell died so I’m using someone else’s. I’m locked in some fucking function room off LAX. It’d be awesome if you could get Matt or someone to come and let me the fuck out.”

I had to admit, I was a little surprised by the way he’d spoken to his sister. It wasn’t that it sounded mean. It was just, where I came from, people didn’t cuss at their sisters.

Taking the cell back from him, I lowered myself down to the floor across from him, kicking my shoes off as I went. “Will she get the message?”

He studied me from his relaxed position against the wall. “Eventually.”

That didn’t sound promising. “I might just send my friends a message. Hopefully one of them will check their cells soon.”

“Where are they?” he asked as I tapped out a plea to be saved.

“LAX,” I said, hitting send.

“Unbelievable,” he said. “We both have friends on the other side of that fucking door, and we still can’t get out.”

I had to agree. It was pretty ludicrous.

Shifting my butt a fraction on the floor, a sense of self-consciousness started creeping in. “Well, I guess if we’re stuck in here together, I should probably introduce myself,” I said. “I’m Emily.”

The corner of his mouth curved upward. “Aiden.”

“I got that from the message you left your sister.”

His mouth curved up even farther.

“I’m sorry I let the door close,” I said, feeling a little stupid. “I come from a town of less than five hundred people, and I was kind of freaking out about being on my own.”

The smile was replaced with concern. “Why were you on your own?”

“I accidentally wore a drink, so I had to go change. My girlfriends were dying to see whoever’s playing at LAX tonight, so I just told them I’d meet them there.”

“DJ Alium the reason they came to Vegas?” he asked, curiosity burning in his eyes.

Settling back, I let my head rest against the wall. “Not really. My friend, Tessa, just turned twenty-one the other day, and this is where she wanted to come.”

“I see. How far did you have to come?”

“Not far. From Texas.”

He took a swig of his drink before offering it out. I shook my head. Getting more intoxicated was definitely not a good idea.

“Did you drive?” he asked.

“Flew.” I grinned. “Tessa wouldn’t have the patience to sit in the car for over sixteen hours.”

He chuckled. “Yeah, I know someone like that as well. So, what do you do in this small town of yours in Texas?”

“I work at a local gas and grill most days, and help my grandma on her farm all the rest. What do you do?”

It was hard to tell with the minimal lighting, but I was sure I could see a slight glint in his eyes. “Would you believe me if I said I was in a band?”

His amusement made me smile. “I guess. I’m not completely sure why you’d lie about being in a band if you weren’t, though.”

He shrugged. “I’ve heard people do it to pick up chicks.”

I frowned. “Like groupies?”

The smirk that touched his lips was the most sex appeal I’d ever seen on a boy. It was pure trouble. “Yeah, groupies.”

“Does your band have groupies?”

He was enjoying this way too much. “It does.”

“What band?”

“Fighting Fate.”

The name immediately sprang up from the earlier conversation I’d had with the girls. I laughed under my breath. Tessa was not going to believe me.

“What?” he asked carefully.

“Your band is one of the bands Tessa said she wished she could have seen today.”

His sinful smirk lit up his entire face. “Is that right? Let me guess. The Dark Hybrid was another?”

I laughed. “You guessed it.”

He shook his head. “Poor Tessa.”

Yeah, I thought before smiling. Poor Tessa.

 

 

Chapter 6

Aiden

 

 

Four hours.

I’d been locked in a function room for four fucking hours. Midnight had come and gone. The new year was officially here, and I didn’t get to welcome it with the bang I was hoping for.

How was that even possible? Why the fuck hadn’t Mia even checked her damned messages? It was bad enough that I had to call her in the first place, but the fact that she hadn’t even gotten me the fuck out made it worse.

Looking across at the girl sitting opposite me, I took a swig of the vodka bottle I’d swiped from the bar, her gaze following my every move. From what I could see, she was an attractive girl. She had brown hair that fell just past her shoulders, tanned skin with a light sprinkling of freckles across her nose, and very soft-looking, full lips.

I actually felt a bit bad for her being stuck in here with me. It wasn’t like I was in the best mood or anything. She seemed like a nice chick, though. She had a kind of comforting presence about her. Something that made me feel like I didn’t need to be anyone other than myself. It was the first time I’d felt that with anyone since I’d gone on tour. It was a nice change.

So far, we’d passed the time by talking a whole bunch of shit, from birthdays—she’d just turned twenty-one on the second of August—and life in a small town, to how I’d come to be in a band and the rock star life. It was the most I’d learned about anyone in a real long time.

Curiosity burned in her eyes as she watched me. It had been like that since the moment she’d walked in. I didn’t think there wasn’t much she missed.

“Do you really have groupies?” she asked, her head cocking to the side a little. “I mean, are there really girls out there who will sleep with you just because you’re in a band?”

Mia had chastised me many times over the morality of sleeping with groupies, and I’d never felt an ounce of remorse for it. But looking into Emily’s eyes, I felt it kind of flickering there, just under the surface of my consciousness. I wondered why that was.

“There are,” I said.

“Wow.”

I guessed that was one way to sum it up.

Silence filled the space between us for a moment as I considered the questions she was making me ask myself. I wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing just yet.

Emily gazed at the carpet for a while, her brow creasing with concentration. It confused me, but I found myself intensely curious about what she may be thinking.

“Do you get along with your sister?” she asked when she gazed up again.

Her question threw me. I felt the automatic response—the one that used to be true—slipping onto the tip of my tongue, but I bit it back, contemplating the honest answer.

“We used to,” I said, careful of my words. “It’s hard to explain. We’re like two halves of a whole in a way. We always had this unique kind of connection. Something we called twintuition. But things are different now.”

She was quiet for a while. It was funny, but I could almost see the cogs of her mind ticking over. It was like she was caught somewhere between satisfying her curiosity and politeness.

Taking another swig on the bottle, I blinked, long and slow, enjoying the warm, languid buzz that thrummed in my veins. Before I could even begin to consider my next words, I started talking, surprising myself with what emerged.

“Our father died when we were four. Mia was there when it happened.”

Moving my gaze across the room, I questioned my sudden willingness to spill my life’s story to a practical stranger. I usually avoided talking about my past like the plague. I didn’t think any good could ever come from it. I hated the fact that it had happened to Mia and not me. I hated that there was nothing I could’ve done to save her from the life she’d had to live after that day.

But it seemed none of that mattered when it came to this girl, because here I was, unable to stop the words now they were in motion. Maybe it was the alcohol making my tongue loose. Maybe it was the pill I’d taken earlier. I didn’t know. And I didn’t care.

“It changed her completely,” I said, my vision growing unfocused as the memories stirred. “She went from being my partner in everything that was mischievous one day, to completely withdrawn and frightened the next. And nothing I did fixed her.”

My gaze sought out hers, but for what, I didn’t know.

The shock and pain in the depths of her eyes caught me off guard, but it was the little voice inside my head that told me to trust her that made me pause. It somehow seemed to calm me and confused me at the same time. It reeled me in.

“At first I tried to help her get over it,” I said. “I just wanted her to be the same girl she was before.” A humorless laugh escaped me. “Four-year-old logic.” As the memories flashed inside my head, I braced myself for the pain they usually brought, but, strangely, it didn’t come. “But she just . . . couldn’t. The anxiety was too much for her. It consumed her. She couldn’t stand to be around more than a few people at a time.”

I let the sadness of the memory touch me before letting it go.

“I can still remember the conversation I had with Mom on our sixth birthday. That was the day I realized I couldn’t fix her. Mom told me the only thing I could do was give her some of my strength until she figured out how to find her own.” I shrugged. “So, that’s what I did. From that day on, I spent my entire childhood trying to protect her. To keep her safe.”

I thought about all those years growing up. All the times I’d helped her navigate her way through the noise and fear.

“So, what’s different? What happened?” Emily asked, her voice soft and comforting.

To my surprise and confusion, a deep sense of sadness filled me as the answer emerged. “She found her own strength.”

Understanding shone in Emily’s eyes. “You feel like you’ve lost your value in her life. Like you don’t know how you fit anymore.”

I frowned, scrutinizing her words inside my head. Was that what I was feeling? Like I’d somehow become redundant in her life? I had a feeling it was more than that. “Maybe.”

The crease between her eyebrows deepened as she listened. “Do you feel like maybe she’s abandoned you since she’s found her own strength?”

Jace’s warning immediately came to mind. “No. It’s the opposite, if anything. She’s constantly worrying about me. Telling me off for drinking and partying. Trying to get me into healthy shit.”

Emily gave me a kind smile. “So, what you’re saying is that the roles are now reversed and she’s now trying to fix you?”

I frowned. It sounded quite amusing when it was put like that.

Emily turned the pendant on her necklace around in her fingers. “Why does she think you need fixing?”

I narrowed my eyes, unsure if I wanted to continue the conversation. This line of questioning was sure to not end well for me. But again, my mouth just wouldn’t stay closed. “Because there’s a piece of me missing.”

Her head cocked to the side again. “What do you mean?”

Yeah. What the hell did I mean?

I frowned and took another swig of vodka. “I don’t know. I just feel like there’s a part of me that’s empty. I think it’s been like that for a long time, really. Since Dad died. I just never noticed because I was too busy trying to look out for Mia.”

Discomfort flashed over her features, and she dropped her hands to her lap, her gaze following their movements. “You never allowed yourself to grieve, to find peace with what happened.”

For a minute, it felt as though she was talking about herself, but I shook that thought off and tried to process her words, turning them over inside my head to see if there was any truth in them.

My first instinct was to tell her she was wrong. I had grieved. I got over it. I had to, because I had people depending on me. I needed to step up and be the man of the house and look after my mom and sister.

I paused on those words. I was just a little kid when it’d happened. Would they really have been depending on me, or was that just a choice I made on my own?

I narrowed my eyes at her. “How the fuck did you do that?”

Concern changed her features, making her look suddenly child-like. “What?”

“That shit’s been fucking with me for over a year,” I said, shaking my head. “And in the space of ten minutes, you’ve managed to make me see things I’d never thought to even look at. I mean, you don’t even know me.”

She sighed. “Sometimes people can be too close to a situation to see the truth. Sometimes it’s easier to admit something to someone when you know they’re just there to listen.”

As I watched a sadness come over her, a heaviness settled inside my chest. “You sound like you speak from experience.”

Indecision flashed in her eyes before she slowly nodded. I didn’t know what it was, or how I even knew, but as she drew in a deep, steadying breath, I braced myself.

This girl had known pain. Real, soul-shattering pain.

Chapter 7

Emily

 

 

I didn’t know during what part of our conversation I decided I was going to tell Aiden my story. I thought it might’ve been hearing my own words tell him it’s easier to admit something to someone when they’re just there to listen.

With the words dancing on my tongue, I stared deep into Aiden’s eyes, assessing his willingness to do just that. The concern I saw staring back at me gave me the final push.

“My daddy is a minister,” I said, nerves fluttering inside my stomach.

The words floated in the air, coming to me as though I was an outsider, listening in. It was easier that way, to almost pretend I was narrating some tragic story I’d heard somewhere along the way.

As I spoke, Aiden’s eyes watched me with an intensity I’d never known before. It was like he already knew and was just allowing me to free myself of the words. Letting go, I allowed them to come.

“Ever since I was old enough to remember, my parents preached about the importance of helping the less fortunate and guiding those seeking enlightenment. We were always either out in the surrounding communities, helping the disadvantaged, or inviting those who needed shelter into the church or into our home.”

I allowed those sweet memories to wash over me, to take me back to a time when life was seemingly perfect. “Daddy used to love encouraging the young men he came across to seek out God. He would take them under his wing and tell them they could be just like him if they wanted to. By the time I was in fifth grade, I was used to all the people coming and going all the time.” I let out a humorless laugh. “I actually really liked it. It felt good to know I was helping people find their purpose.”

The old film reel inside my head started flashing memories I’d intentionally kept suppressed, causing my chest to tighten my lungs. “When I was thirteen, Daddy brought a young, twenty-two-year-old man by the name of Damien Mulligan home with him. Damien, he said, was studying for his master’s degree at a divinity school in Oklahoma. He was to stay with us for the summer, so Daddy could help him with his ordainment.”

I paused the film reel, needing some time to deal with the anxiety that was starting to creep its way in. After a few deep breaths, I cautiously continued. Like Aiden, I allowed my gaze to settle on something in the distance as I set the memories free. It seemed to help.

“He’d been with us almost four weeks when he walked into my bedroom while I was getting changed one day. Mama and Daddy were out for the afternoon. I’d been practicing a solo performance for the church choir, so I didn’t hear him come in. I remember turning and seeing him standing there, naked as the day he was born. I’d rushed to cover up my own nakedness, shocked and confused and embarrassed. He told me not to hide my body, as I was one of the Lord’s beautiful creations, and our nakedness was to be celebrated. He said the Lord had told him to come to me. To show me what our bodies were meant for.”

Bitterness and resentment flowed over my nerves. “I was so young then. So naïve. He used his words to confuse me. He took the clothes I was using to cover myself and tossed them away. He told me to trust him. That he was only doing God’s will.

“I kept telling him no. That I wasn’t comfortable with seeing him naked. He told me that was why he was sent to me. To help me overcome my fear of sexuality. He kept stroking himself, telling me to watch, that this was what God had given him and told him to use to spread physical love.”

I struggled to swallow down the bile that was trying to rise from my gut.

“I remember the fear the most. He was so big and intimidating compared to me. He grabbed my wrists with his hands and forced me onto my bed. I didn’t even stand a chance.”

The memory of being pinned beneath him was impossible to keep away. It forced its way to the forefront of my mind, bringing the horror of it back like it was happening all over again. I searched for Aiden’s reassuring gaze, strangely finding peace in the pain I found there.

“I tried,” I said, begging him with my eyes to hear me. “Believe me, I tried. But . . .”

I left the sentence hanging, knowing there really was no way to finish it that would make sense of it anyway.

Looking down at my hands in my lap, I let the sadness consume me. “I told Mama as soon as she came home. She was so upset, she cried with me for an hour. Then Mama went and told Daddy, and together, they went and confronted Damien. I remember thinking that she and Daddy were going to fix it for me. That they’d make everything better. I trusted that they would do that for me.

“While I waited for them in my room, I readied myself for what was to come. I was scared, but I was going to be brave and talk to the police when they came.” Tears pricked at my eyes. “As soon as they came in, I knew something was wrong. Mama wouldn’t look at me, and when I called to her, she didn’t say a word. Daddy told me he’d spoken to Damien, and that Damien told him what had really happened.”

Movement across from me made me look up, meeting Aiden’s gaze yet again. My throat tightened as I watched the dread in his eyes. He knew there was no happy ending to this story.

I swallowed. “Damien told him that I’d called him into my room, where he’d found me naked and wanting, and that I’d told him the Lord had spoken to me and said I needed him to help me become a woman. He told my daddy that I’d tricked him, and then he asked for forgiveness for being so easily deceived.”

I kept my gaze on Aiden’s as I pushed myself to finish. Strangely, it gave me the strength I needed. “Daddy then looked me in the eye and told me he had forgiven Damien and that, sadly, due to my actions, he had already left for Oklahoma. I was then put in the car and driven to the church, where I was to ask God for forgiveness and to pray that my actions had not ruined Damien’s chances with his ordainment.”

Pain radiated from Aiden’s being. I breathed. “That night I packed my bag and left my parents’ home for Granny Lynn’s, and I have never been back.”

As I watched the only person I’d ever told the story to besides Granny Lynn, a strange tingling spread through my lungs. I could finally breathe.

 

 

Chapter 8

Aiden

 

 

Nausea churned in my stomach, while anger coursed through my veins. The only question that kept blaring in my head was, why? Why did these girls—these sweet, innocent, and kind girls—have to go through such horror and pain? Why did they have to experience something so vile that it changed them completely? Why did they have to have their childhood taken from them in such a tragic way?

Unlocking my jaw, I took a shallow breath. “So, your father just let the sick bastard walk away?” Guilt flashed in her eyes, making me curse myself under my breath. “I didn’t mean it that way—” I started, but she shook her head, stopping me.

“Sometimes I think that I should be braver and make Damien face the consequences of what he did to me,” she said quietly. “I know he’s a minister now. In a small town in Oklahoma. And I do make myself sick wondering if he’s done the same thing to some other poor little girl he’s had contact with. Then doubt consumes me, and I keep thinking, what if I did do something to make him think it was okay to do that to me? What if I really did bring it on myself, like Daddy said I did?”

A growl formed in my chest. I hated that she entertained those kinds of thoughts. I hated that she’d been pushed to doubt herself so much that a creepy pedophile was still free and happily walking the fucking earth. He deserved to be punished for what he did.

Emily let her head fall back against the wall and raised her gaze to the ceiling with a humorless laugh. “Granny Lynn would bend me over and give me the whooping of my life if she heard me say that.”

The growl I’d been suppressing escaped as a grunt. “I’m almost ready to give you a whooping for saying that. The dude was fucking twenty-two years old. He had no business thinking about a thirteen-year-old like that, even if she was flirting with him like mad.”

She sighed and met my gaze again. “I know. I just get caught in this constant loop of guilt, the need to bring him to justice, and move on with my life, you know? I am not what happened to me. I don’t want to be defined by that in any way.”

“Yeah, I get that,” I said, a strange kind of urgency creeping into my chest. “But trust someone who’s watched a person live with the same level of tragedy. You’ll never truly move past it until you’ve dealt with it head-on.”

Emily didn’t speak as she watched me, but I could see her listening to my every word. I also saw that this was as far as the conversation was going to go. She looked emotionally spent.

Pushing myself to my feet, I stretched. “Now, I’m going to go to the bathroom before I embarrass myself like a true rock star.”

I heard her light, tinkling laugh as I steadily strode toward the back of the room. It was strange, but I honestly thought this was the most relaxed I’d been for as long as I could remember. I’d forgotten how good it felt.

Pushing through the bathroom door, I moved to the urinal and sighed, long and slow, as I relieved myself. I wondered what Matt and the Hybrid boys were getting up to. The fuckers were going to cop a punch or two when I finally got out of here, that was for sure.

Carefully, I tucked myself back in and zipped up my jeans before washing my hands and heading back out the door.

The last thing I expected was to run the fuck into someone coming in. “Whoa!”

Forcing my head to get back in the fucking game, I looked up to see Jace staring back at me.

“Fucking finally!”

He shook his head with a smirk. “Happy New Year. Only you could lock yourself in a fucking function room, man.”

I shrugged as we started walking again. “What can I say? I have hidden talents you’ll most likely be seeing until the day I die.”

“Don’t scare me,” Jace muttered as Mia approached.

Her gaze raked over me, wild with worry. “Aiden. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I had company.” I glanced around. “Where’s Emily?”

Mia continued to scan me. For what, I didn’t know. “She left. Please don’t tell me you screwed her in here. Some poor people are getting married in here tomorrow.”

I gave her an annoyed glance before checking they hadn’t locked us in here again. I thought it best if I ignored the glaringly obvious fact that my twin sister thought the worst of me.

“I see you found the liquor too,” she said. Her disappointment was a little more than obvious. “I guess I’ll have to go find the concierge and sort that out.”

Biting my tongue, I started moving toward the door they’d propped open with a chair. “Thanks for coming to get me out, anyway. Sorry if I ruined your night.”

Jace waved it off as he followed me closely. “We were on our way to see the guys when Mia checked her messages, so nothing ruined.”

As I stepped through to an empty foyer I hadn’t seen before, I couldn’t help but wonder why Emily left without saying goodbye. It was stupid and childish of me, but I felt slightly abandoned. I thought that the things we had shared at least deserved a polite departure.

I scowled at the thought and shook my head. Damn, I was turning into a fucking pussy.

We rounded the corner and stepped behind the ropes, bypassing the long line of party-goers waiting to get inside. Mia flashed a pass, and the security guy nodded as we slipped inside.

As we moved toward the Hybrid boys’ table, all I could think was that I had the worst case of déjà vu I’d ever experienced. This time, I was going to make sure I stayed away from any doors that weren’t marked for the explicit use of urinating.

Lash shook his head and grinned when he saw me coming. “Finally decided to come back, then?” Clasping my hand, he bumped his shoulder against mine and smirked. “Fuck, I thought Rhett was good, but picking up while pissing is setting a new standard, bro.”

I laughed, too tired to bother correcting him. “What can I say? It’s a talent.”

He chuckled and shook his head. “I bet it is.”

Squeezing past him, I dropped down on the seat next to Matt. Of course, he had a girl on his lap.

“Where the fuck have you been?”

Giving him a deadpan look, I snatched a brew from the bucket in front of him. “Don’t fucking ask.”

The fucker laughed. “Enough said.”

The girl on his lap fluttered her eyelashes at me as I took a swig of my beer. Matt raised his eyebrow suggestively. I knew him well enough to know what he was asking. He wanted to know if I was up for a threesome.

I won’t lie. We’d done it a couple of times before, but it wasn’t what I was in the mood for after the night I’d had so far. Smirking, I shook my head a fraction and took another drink, diverting my gaze out beyond the roped-off area.

Packed out clubs were something I was quite used to by now, but even I had to admit it was pretty close to sardines here tonight. Bodies were pressed up against one another in every direction, moving and swaying to the slow, rhythmic beat of the music. The smell of sweat filled the air like an over-crowded locker room at full time. And the sound of hundreds and hundreds of voices, all merged into one, built into a pressure that thumped against your eardrums until it silenced the sound of your own voice inside your head.

I loved it.

Taking in a slow, satisfied breath, I scanned the bodies on the balcony above us, my gaze drawn to a pair of long, toned legs, wrapped in dark denim jeans, topped with a pale pink blouse.

As I shifted my gaze to meet hers, I grinned. Emily.

 

 

Chapter 9

Emily

 

 

It took Aiden five minutes to get someone to maneuver through the crowd and up the stairs to tell me to come down with my friends. I tried to decline the request, but, unfortunately, Tessa overheard and became super excited at the prospect of meeting his band. It wasn’t until we made it down there that her eyes bugged and she started stuttering on about me not telling her The Dark Hybrid were there as well. Like I knew!

That was an hour, four shots of tequila, two cosmopolitans, and one jager-bomb ago. As I watched Aiden disappear toward the bathroom, Tessa plonked down next to me, her cup spilling over as she tried to place it on the table with the limited coordination she had left.

“Oh my God, Em. I can’t believe you’re getting it on with Aiden Campbell!” she slurred.

I shook my head at her. “I am not getting it on with anyone.”

But Tessa wasn’t even listening to me. “I can’t believe he just picked you out of the crowd like that. I told you, you’re super-hot. It must be my bodysuit. You can thank me later.”

I sank back against the backrest and smirked at her. After I’d finally managed to get a hold of Marissa and they’d come to let me in, Tessa had had a complete melt down over the fact that they’d all forgotten me. It took me almost an hour to calm her down enough to understand her drunken, panicked gibbering, and get her to stop apologizing.

I hadn’t seen the point in telling them I’d met Aiden while they’d been partying. For one, I didn’t even know if he was who he said he was. And two, if he was really in the band, I knew it would be a big deal, and I seriously didn’t want to be involved in any kind of big deal.

“What are you wearing underneath, anyway?” she said, pulling at the neckline to see.

I shoved at her hands and leaned away from her. “Tessa! Stop it.”

Her mouth popped open in surprise, but she was laughing. “You’re wearing it, aren’t you?” She clapped her hands. “You are! Aww, my baby is growing into a woman. And what better way to do it? With a rock star! I’m so proud.”

I groaned. I needed to get her to stop before Aiden came back. “So, who’s the hottie you’ve been talking to over there?”

Her eyes lit up. “Oh my God. Jax! He’s so freaking sexy, Em. He plays the keyboard thingy.”

Amusement was high. “Keyboard thingy? For Fighting Fate?”

Her brow creased like she was annoyed with me. “No! God, Em. The Dark Hybrid!”

I started to apologize, but she wasn’t really listening to me anyway.

Her eyes rounded, and excitement began coming off her in waves. “Jax is coming! See you later.” She leaned over and planted a kiss on my cheek before scooping up her cup and slinking away with a strut, albeit a little wobbly.

I chuckled, just as Aiden sank down in the spot Tessa had just vacated.

“What’s so funny?” he asked, cocking his head to the side a fraction. It was very cute, I had to admit.

Nodding Tessa’s way, I tried not to laugh. “Tessa.”

He followed my gaze and grinned. “She seems like she’s having fun.”

I gave him an exaggerated look. “Believe me, fun doesn’t even cover it. There’s a word out there for what she’s having, but it hasn’t been invented yet.”

Aiden laughed. “Is that right?”

Sipping from my drink, I nodded in earnest. “Uh-huh.”

He watched me for a while, his gaze switching back and forth between each of my eyes. My head was too fuzzy for me to interpret the meaning of the look, but it made the pit of my stomach feel strange. Like butterflies were fluttering around in there, all loose and out of control.

I sucked on my bottom lip as I wondered at the feeling. “You do know I’m not going to sleep with you, don’t you?” I asked out of nowhere. I waited for the wave of embarrassment to hit me, but it didn’t come.

Nothing about Aiden changed as I watched my words soak in. There was no surprise. No disappointment. No amusement. And no anger. Just the same intriguing look as before. “I do.”

Happiness buzzed inside me. I didn’t know why, but I thought it might’ve been because he was the first guy I’d spent this much time with who appeared to genuinely enjoy hanging out with me—no hidden agenda to be seen.

A large figure appeared behind Aiden and clamped his hand down on his shoulder. I remembered Aiden had introduced him as Matt. “Hey, bro. We’re all heading back to the LINQ. You coming?”

Aiden gave me an inquisitive glance. “Do you want to come?”

I looked around to check with Tessa and the girls, but found them already following the guys toward the door, Tessa grinning back over her shoulder at me with a wink. “I guess so.”

As soon as I was on my feet, I realized I might be in trouble. “We’re not walking, are we?”

Aiden looked down at my heels and raised his eyebrows before smirking. “No. Mia will have a limo for us.”

I nodded, wondering how he could look so together, but as I thought about it, I realized I hadn’t seen him drinking all that much since we’d been rescued. “Okay.”

The trip down the strip took less than five minutes. It was actually a little terrifying, but that may have been because the alcohol was making everything flash past me in a blur. Well, that and the sharp turn the driver performed at the end.

I glanced around as we walked along the sidewalk. The lights were mesmerizing. And the Eiffel Tower was so pretty. I tilted my head back to look up at the top of it.

Bad move.

Note to self: Don’t look upward after consuming copious amounts of alcohol whilst wearing heels.

Aiden’s hands clamped around my hips, steadying me before I made a real big idiot out of myself. I giggled a little—something I never did (I blamed the alcohol for that too)—and choked out something that may have been some version of a thank you.

“You all good?” he asked, obviously preparing to let me go.

I considered his question with a seriousness that wasn’t really warranted. “I need to pee.”

Aiden barely contained his amusement. “There’s a restroom just over here. Near Starbucks.” Taking my hand, he started towing me away.

“Yo, bro,” Matt called. “Where you going?”

“Bathroom,” Aiden called back. “We’ll meet you inside.”

I didn’t hear if Matt was okay with this deviation in plan, but Aiden didn’t seem to care, so I didn’t either.

Aiden led me to a door and released my hand. “I’ll wait out here.”

I smiled like only a drunk person could. Most likely ridiculous and cheesy. “Okay.”

Dashing inside, I quickly did my business and tidied myself up in the mirror, surprisingly happy with my appearance. It may have been the impaired vision telling me so, but I wasn’t in a position to argue with myself over that one.

Aiden took my hand again as soon as I reached his side, and started towing me toward what I assumed was the LINQ. That was when the sign caught my attention.

Pulling him to a stop, I looked up at him with excitement. “Oh my God, Aiden. Let’s get married!”

 

 

Chapter 10

Aiden

 

 

Have you ever seen a deer in headlights? Yeah, me neither, but I assumed it would look exactly how I looked right in that moment.

I stared at her, barely containing my horror. “Huh?”

Emily laughed. “Look,” she said, pointing to a little shop. “They do fake weddings. We could get married by Elvis. It’ll be fun.”

I studied the shop’s offerings. There were dress-up suits and dresses, a bowl full of rings, and a camera set up in front of a small backdrop. The sign stating the illegitimacy of the ceremonies instantly calmed me.

Giving Emily a withering look, I tried to hold my laughter back. “You want to get fake married?”

She literally bounced on her feet. “Yes! How awesome would that be to look back on? Look, they photoshop the pictures with the Vegas sign in the background.”

Her excitement was actually contagious. And she had this thing about her that made me want to make her happy. I wasn’t sure if it was the sadness that surrounded her past or just because she was a genuinely nice chick, but it didn’t matter either way. I just liked seeing her smile.

“All right. Let’s do it,” I said, shaking my head with disbelief.

Emily beamed as she dragged me inside.

The woman—or it might’ve been a man—grinned from behind the counter. “Hello there, gorgeous couple. Are you wanting to get married today?” Okay, woman.

“For pretend, yes.” Emily giggled.

I got the feeling she wasn’t usually a giggler, and that made me find it all the more amusing.

The woman clapped her hands. “Excellent. Here are our packages. Choose which one you want, and then go ahead and choose your outfits and rings.”

Emily chose the basic package and then turned to start scouring through the dress rack. I pulled a basic white shirt and black jacket off the rack and started throwing them on, over my shirt.

“Can you zip me up?”

I turned to see Emily standing with her back to me, wedding dress already on. A weird shot of something swept through my body. I thought it might’ve been panic. Taking a deep breath, I reminded myself it was all fake.

Sliding the zipper upwards, I clipped the top and stepped back again. “There you go.”

“Excellent!” The woman said, again with a clap.

I almost jumped, having forgotten she was there. As she stepped in front of us, I blinked. She was now dressed as Elvis, and she seriously looked like a dude. Whoa.

Nerves churned in my stomach as she placed us in front of the screen, but as soon as she started the ceremony, they were replaced by laughter. Mostly Emily’s. Her eyes shone with it she was having so much fun.

Elvis was more energetic and flamboyant than I’d ever seen anyone be before, and seemed to keep Emily in a constant state of euphoria, which I found more entertaining than Elvis herself. If I was to be honest, I was barely even listening to her.

The one thing I hadn’t considered when I’d agreed to get fake married, was the kiss. As Elvis pushed the button to capture the happy snaps, announcing it was time for the kiss, my mind went blank, but then Emily was laughing and throwing her arms around my neck, and instincts kicked in.

Wrapping my arms around her waist, I dipped her low and took her mouth in a smoldering stage kiss. The whole thing would’ve lasted for an entire three seconds, and as soon as I had her upright again, Emily burst out laughing again.

If I didn’t know we were only doing it for fun, I would’ve been insulted.

Pulling out my card, I threw it on the counter before stripping off the jacket and shirt.

“I can pay,” Emily said, still beaming. “It was my idea.”

“It’s all good, wifey. Here, let me get the zipper for you.”

She grinned up at me and spun with a flourish.

Once we were both free of the costumes and we’d given the woman our e-mail addresses, we headed straight for the LINQ to catch up with the others. As we navigated the vast amounts of people milling about, Emily slipped the ring off her finger and dropped it into her bag, along with the sample pics we’d been given.

Raising an eyebrow, I gave her a teasing smile. “Are you ashamed to be my wife?”

She rolled her eyes at me. “Believe me, that kind of attention is the last thing I want tonight. You should take yours off too.”

I laughed, but she was right. As much as I knew what kind of publicity I could get out of this, it wasn’t something I was prepared to deal with right now.

Taking her hand, I steadied her as we stepped onto the escalator. “You sure are different than most girls I’ve met, Em.”

Grinning up at me, she fluttered her eyelashes. “Why thank you, sir. I’m mighty proud of it too.”

“And you should be,” I said, meaning every word. “Don’t change for anyone. You’re perfect just the way you are.”

Her smile slipped as she gazed at me. “Okay.”

 As the escalator came to the top, I tugged on her hand and started leading her along.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“Brooklyn Bowl. It’s where we played earlier tonight. We’re supposed to mingle with the crowd some. Part of our contract,” I said, glossing over all the bullshit.

She mumbled her understanding as we weaved through the crowd, slipping past the security and into the club. Heading for the stairs that would take us to the first floor, I grabbed two drinks from a passing waitress, handing one to Emily as we went.

“Are you even allowed to do that?” she asked, her eyes wide.

I gave her a cheesy wink. “Part of the perks.”

“Damn.”

I pointed to the corner where everyone was fucking around. “There they are. Your friends don’t seem to have missed you too much.” The thought actually made me a little irritated.

Emily shrugged. “They’re not used to me being around. I don’t join them too often.” She slipped her hand out of mine and gave me a playful smile. “I’m just going to see how Tessa’s doing.”

With hips swinging side to side in a completely hammed-up catwalk strut, she moved to the back of the room. I couldn’t help laughing as I watched her. She was the least demanding chick I’d ever met.

When she reached her friends, I glanced around the area for my band mates, easily finding Dean and Lila on a couch at the back. I couldn’t see Jace and Mia anywhere, so I assumed they’d gone up to their room. It took me a few more minutes to find Matt. He was farther back in the shadows, and, of course, he had a girl pressed up against the wall.

I breathed out a short laugh and shook my head. The dude was seriously owned by his dick. I was just about to turn away to find Emily again when I caught a glimpse of the chick’s face. I froze.

“What the fuck are you doing, Matt?” I mumbled under my breath.

I tried to tell myself it was just a trick of the shadows, but the chick tilted her head back again, and I was left with no doubt.

Matt was getting it on with Craig Leighton’s girlfriend. What the fuck was he thinking?

Glancing back where Dean and Lila were sitting, I tried to gauge if they knew. Seeing how happy and relaxed they seemed, I guessed not.

I sighed. I seriously didn’t give a fuck about Craig Leighton, or his trampy girlfriend, but I knew if he found out, it was most likely not going to bode well for us. And by the way they were all over each other where everyone could see, the chances of it staying a secret were slim to none.

Cursing Matt and his inability to think with the head on his shoulders, I quickly checked that Emily was still with her friends before heading over to slap some fucking sense into him. But as I weaved through the crowd to get there, I saw him disappear through a back door, towing the girl behind him.

I was seriously going to punch him tomorrow.

Knowing there wasn’t much I could do about it now, I snatched a drink off the passing server and tipped it back. That was when I felt a hand slide across my stomach.

A tall blonde girl stepped into my line of vision. “Hi,” she purred.

My eyebrows rose with amusement. “Hello.”

“I was watching you on stage earlier tonight,” she said, rubbing her tits against my arm. “You’re hot.”

I glanced in the direction Emily was, finding her deep in discussion with Tessa. Vaguely, I wondered what they were talking about. Tessa seemed mildly irritated.

“I’m Honey,” the blonde said, raking her nails up the center of my chest.

I gave the girl a skeptical look. “Your parents named you Honey?”

She smiled at me seductively. “It’s my stage name. I’m a stripper. Do you want a free private show? You won’t be disappointed.”

Jesus. Was she for real?

I glanced back Emily’s way to find her peeling away from Tessa with a laugh. With drink in hand, she moved through the crowd toward me, her eyes cast downward and her tongue wrapping around the straw as she took a drink.

I could tell the exact moment she saw Honey pawing my chest. She didn’t even break her stride. She simply started turning in a perfect U shape, until she was walking back the way she’d come.

A laugh bubbled out of my chest. Her expression was comical. She looked like she’d walked in on someone having sex.

Stepping away from Honey, I firmly pushed her hands away. “Excuse me.”

Depositing the glass on the closest table, I darted after Emily, grabbing her around the waist and lifting her off her feet a little. “Just where do you think you’re going?”

The squeal she let out was funny as shit. “Aiden, put me down!”

I obeyed and spun her around to face me. “Why are you running away from me, Emmy? I thought you were going to be here for me until death do us part.”

She rolled her eyes. “You were busy. I didn’t want to do the blocking of your thingy thing.”

One corner of my mouth curled upward. “The blocking of my thingy thing?”

“You know what I mean,” she said, a slight tinge of pink coloring her cheeks. “Blocking your thingy from getting any action.”

“You mean cock blocking me?”

I suppressed a laugh as she frowned and shifted on her feet. “Yes, that. I didn’t want to cock block you.”

She was way too cute. “You want me to go sleep with Honey?”

Her eyes rounded on me with a slight horror in their depths. “Her name’s Honey?”

I nodded seriously. “Stage name.”

Emily’s expression withered. “Oh my gosh, don’t tell me.”

Placing my hand on the small of her back, I started steering her toward the sofas at the back. “Don’t worry, I have no interest in Honey tonight, wifey.”

I didn’t have to see her face to know she just eye rolled me. I’d seen her do it to me every time I’d joked with her so far. Of course, I also knew she’d have a smile on her face when she did it. That was the part I liked the most.

Sitting down on the sofa across from Lash, I sighed with a smile. For the first time in a long time, I felt like my normal self again. The person I was before touring took over my life. And damn, it felt good.

 

 

Chapter 11

Emily

 

 

As the elevator slowly moved diagonally upwards, I tried not to laugh at Aiden’s confused expression. “You know you don’t have to walk me all the way to my room, right? I mean, you could’ve just thrown me in a taxi and sent me on my way back at the LINQ.”

Aiden just watched me, ignoring me just like he had the last four times I’d said it. “Uh-huh.”

“You’re stubborn, aren’t you?” I said, unable to hide my grin.

He smirked at that. “Uh-huh.”

The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. With a surety in my steps that I was completely faking, I strode out and started down the hall. “Well, you may as well come in and have a drink with me, then.”

All I heard from behind me was another, “Uh-huh.”

Pulling the room key out of my bag, I unlocked the door and stepped inside, flicking the light switch on as I went. The heels desperately needed to go. My feet were aching so bad.

Kicking them off, I groaned. “Oh my gosh. That feels so good.”

I opened the fridge to see what I might have to offer him, but shut my mouth when I turned to see him holding the red plastic yard glass thing he’d bought downstairs.

“You’re going to be on that a while, aren’t you?”

The corner of his mouth curved up a little, making his eyes crinkle in a super cute way. “Probably. You can share with me.”

Closing the fridge door, I fidgeted with the waistband of my jeans. They were starting to feel too restrictive. “Would you mind if I changed? I really need to get out of these before I get a blood clot or something. They’re way too tight.”

Aiden almost spat his drink out as he laughed. “No, go ahead and do whatever you’ve gotta do. I’m good.”

Slipping into the bathroom with a cotton dress, I stripped off the jeans and then Tessa’s bodysuit. I was just about to take off the teddy, but paused when I looked in the mirror. I wondered what Aiden would think of it.

I stared at my reflection. Would it be wrong to just ask him?

Pressing my hands to my cheeks, I huffed. Of course it would be freaking wrong. But the opportunity was there. He was the only male I’d ever met who’d not only been blatantly honest with me, he was also the only male I’d ever felt so comfortable around. He made me feel brave in a way I’d never experienced before.

Nerves erupted inside me as I leaned against the door, my hand on the knob. Could I do it?

Squeezing my eyes shut tight, I took the chance before I could chicken out. “Aiden?”

I heard movement on the other side. “Everything all right?”

I bit my lip. “Yeah, I’m just . . . ” nervous as hell. “I want to show you something, and I just . . . I’ve never done this before, so I feel kind of weird.”

He paused. “Okay . . . ”

Slowly, I turned the knob, cracking the door, just a fraction. “I’m still not going to sleep with you, though, okay?”

I swear I heard him chuckle. “Okay.”

Opening the door wider, I hesitantly stepped out and paused, awkwardness churning through every part of my being. Aiden’s gaze scanned my body before meeting my eyes. The kindness I saw in his calmed my racing heart.

“I, uh . . . I’ve had this for two years now. Tessa bought it for me,” I said, licking my suddenly dry lips. “This is the first time I’ve worn it, and I just wanted someone to see me in it—to tell me if I look okay.”

My words ended in uncertainty, making it sound more like a question.

Aiden took a slight step forward. “How honest do you want me to be?”

Embarrassment flared, but I needed to do this. “Completely.”

Aiden drew in a long breath through his nose. “You look more than okay, Em. You’re one of the sexiest creatures I’ve ever seen.”

Doubt filtered through the bravery I’d felt two minutes ago. “Really? You’re not just saying that?”

His gaze never left me as he shook his head. “I wouldn’t lie to you, Emmy. You have no reason to doubt yourself in any way. You’re beautiful, you’re sexy, you’re funny, you’re kind, and you’re damned adorable. You’re way too good for most guys out there.”

A lump built in my throat, bringing frustration into the mixing pot. I had no idea where this vulnerable, emotional girl was coming from. “I don’t think that’s true, Aiden. I’m damaged goods. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to be with anyone like that. Who’s going to want someone like that?”

I blinked at my own statement. What the hell was that? I didn’t want a man. Ever. This was why I should never drink.

He sighed and moved closer until he was directly in front of me, then he wrapped his arms around me, holding my head to his chest. “It only takes one, Emmy. Just one. And I’m positive you’re special enough to deserve finding that one. Believe you’re worth it, because you are. Trust me. I know these things.”

I sighed and relaxed my body against his. Somewhere, deep inside my head, I thought I heard myself whisper that I really hoped so. I ignored it.

Releasing me, he turned me around and started leading me toward my room. “Now come on. I’m taking you to bed. You’re tired. I’m tired. Let’s sleep. We’ll worry about the awkwardness of my morning wood when we wake up.”

I laughed. Why did the thought of sleeping in the same bed as Aiden not feel weird to me at all? We’d only known each other for such a small amount of time.

But as I climbed into the freshly cleaned sheets and Aiden settled in to spoon me from behind, I let the questions fade away. It was 3:00 AM, and I was way too tired to care.

It was a pity, really. I didn’t know if I’d ever have this kind of opportunity again, and I really wanted to be able to enjoy it more than I was going to be able to. Just for memories.

“Emmy?” Aidan rasped against my neck.

“Hmm?”

“I wasn’t entirely honest before . . .”

I paused, my mind rousing from its sleepy state with surprise. “Really?”

I heard him breathe in like he was memorizing my scent. Shivers trickled down my spine, making me gasp.

“Mmm-hmm,” he murmured. “I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to strip someone naked and ravish them so much in my entire life.”

Heat flared between my legs.

“I just thought you should know,” he whispered, sleep making his words slur.

Two heartbeats later, his body relaxed against mine, and I heard the soft sounds of sleep-induced breathing.

In that moment, my world righted. I smiled, happier than I swear I’d ever been. Closing my eyes, I leaned back into his embrace and let sleep take me away.

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