Lick, p.33
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       Lick, p.33
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         Part #1 of Stage Dive series by Kylie Scott
Page 33

  Author: Kylie Scott

  The polite professional expression didn’t falter for a second. “Yes, sir. Of course. ”

  “Excellent. ”

  Jimmy started laughing, big belly laughs that shook his whole body. Then he started cackling, the noise vaguely reminiscent of the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz. If she’d been on crack or cocaine or whatever Jimmy had been digging into, of course.

  These people, they made no sense.

  I didn’t belong here. I’d never belonged here.

  “This way. ” Sam pressed a hand lightly to the small of my back, which was sufficient to get me moving. Time to go home, wake up from the too-good-to-be-true dream that had twisted into this warped nightmare.

  The laughter got louder and louder, ringing in my ears, until suddenly it cut off. I turned in time to watch Jimmy slump to the ground, his slick suit a mess. One woman gasped. Another chuckled and rolled her eyes.

  “Fuck’s sake,” growled Adrian, kneeling beside the unconscious man. He slapped at his face. “Jimmy. Jimmy!”

  More burly bodyguards appeared, crowding around the fallen singer, blocking him from view.

  “Not again,” Adrian ranted. “Get the doctor in here. Goddamn it, Jimmy. ”

  “Mrs Ferris?” asked Sam.

  “Is he alright?”

  Sam scowled at the scene. “He’s probably just passed out. It’s been happening a lot lately. Shall we go?”

  “Get me out of here, Sam. Please. ”

  *

  I was back in Portland before the sun rose. I didn’t cry on the trip. It was as if my brain had diagnosed the emergency and cauterized my emotions. I felt numb, as if Sam could swerve the car into the oncoming traffic and I wouldn’t utter a peep. I was done, frozen solid. We went via the mansion so Sam could collect my bag before heading to the airport. He put me on the jet and we flew to Portland. He got me off the jet and drove me home.

  Sam insisted on carrying my bag, just like he’d insisted on calling me by my married name. The man did the best subtle, concerned sidelong glance I’d ever seen. Never said much, though, which I appreciated immensely.

  I sleepwalked my sorry self up the stairs to the apartment Lauren and I shared. Home was a garlic-scented hallway courtesy of Mrs Lucia downstairs, constantly cooking. Peeling green wallpaper and worn wooden floorboards, scuffed and stained. Lucky I’d put the Converse on or my feet would have been full of splinters. This floor was nothing like the gloss and gleam of David’s house. You could see yourself in that sucker.

  Shit. I didn’t want to think of him. All of those memories belonged in a box buried in the back of my mind. Never again would they see the light of day.

  My key still fit the lock. It comforted me. I might as well have been missing for years instead of days. It hadn’t even been a week. I’d left early Thursday morning and now it was Tuesday. Less than six short days. That was insane. Everything felt different. I pushed open the door, being quiet because of the early hour. Lauren would be asleep. Or she might not be. I heard laughing.

  She might, in fact, be spread out over our small breakfast table, giggling as some guy stuffed his head beneath one of the old oversized T-shirts she slept in. He buried his face in her cleavage and tickled her. Lauren squirmed, making all sorts of happy noises. Thankfully the guy’s pants were still on, whoever he was. They were really into it, didn’t notice our entry at all.

  Sam stared at the far wall, avoiding the scene. Poor guy, the things he must have witnessed over the years.

  “Hi,” I said. “Um, Lauren?”

  Lauren screeched and rolled, twisting the guy up in her shirt as he fought to get free. If she accidentally strangled him, at least he’d go happy, given the view.

  “Ev,” she panted. “You’re back. ”

  The guy finally liberated his face.

  “Nathan?” I asked, stupefied. I cocked my head just to be sure, narrowed my eyes.

  “Hi. ” My brother raised one hand while pulling down Lauren’s shirt with the other. “How are you?”

  “Fine, yeah,” I said. “Sam, this is my friend Lauren and my brother Nate. Guys, this is Sam. ”

  Sam did his polite nod and set down my bag. “Can I do anything else for you, Mrs Ferris?”

  “No, Sam. Thank you for seeing me home. ”

  “You’re very welcome. ” He looked to the door then back at me, a small wrinkle between his brows. I couldn’t be certain, but I think it was as close as Sam got to an actual frown. His facial expressions seemed limited. Restrained was probably a better word. He reached out and gave me a stiff pat on the back. Then he left, closing the door behind him.

  My eyes heated, threatening tears. I blinked like crazy, holding it in. His kindness nearly cracked the numb, damn it. I couldn’t afford that yet.

  “So, you two?” I asked.

  “We’re together. Yes,” said Lauren, reaching behind her. Nate took her hand and held on tight. They actually looked good together. Though, seriously, how much stranger could things get? My world had changed. It felt different, though the small apartment looked the same. Things were pretty much where I’d left them. Lauren’s collection of demented porcelain cats still sat on a shelf collecting dust. Our cheap or second-hand furniture and turquoise blue walls hadn’t altered. Though I might never use the table again, considering what I’d seen. Lord knew what else they’d been up to on there.

  I flexed my fingers, willing some life back into my limbs. “I thought you two hated each other?”

  “We did,” confirmed Lauren. “But, you know … now we don’t. It’s a surprisingly uncomplicated story, actually. It just kind of happened while you were away. ”

  “Wow. ”

  “Nice dress,” said Lauren, looking me over.

  “Thanks. ”

  “Valentino?”

  I smoothed the blue fabric over my stomach. “I don’t know. ”

  “That’s a statement, matching it with the sneakers,” Lauren said. Then she gave Nate a look. They apparently already had the silent communication thing down because he tippy-toed off toward her bedroom. Interesting …

  My best friend and my brother. And she’d never said a word. But then, there were plenty of things I hadn’t told her either. Maybe we were past the age of sharing every last little detail of our lives. How sad.

  Loneliness and a healthy dose of self-pity cooled me right off and I wrapped my arms around myself.

  Lauren came over and pried one of my hands loose. “Hon, what happened?”

  I shook my head, warding off questions. “I can’t. Not yet. ”

  She joined me leaning against the wall. “I have ice cream. ”

  “What kind?”

  “Triple choc. I was thinking of torturing your brother with it later in a sexually explicit manner. ”

  There went my vague interest in ice cream. I scrubbed my face with my hands. “Lauren, if you love me, you’ll never say anything like that to me ever again. ”

  “Sorry. ”

  I almost smiled. My mouth definitely came close to it but faltered at the last. “Nate makes you happy, doesn’t he?”

  “Yeah, he really does. It just feels like … I don’t know, it’s like we’re in tune or something. Ever since the night he picked me up from your folks’ place we’ve pretty much been together. It feels right. He’s not angry like he used to be in high school. He’s given up his man-slut ways. He’s calmed down and grown up. Shit, out of the two of us he’s the sensible one. ” She mock pouted. “But our days of sharing every last detail about our lives really are over, aren’t they?”

  “I guess they are. ”

  “Ah, well. We’ll always have middle school. ”

  “Yeah. ” I managed a smile.

  “Hon, I’m sorry things went bad. I mean, that’s obviously why you’re back looking like shit in that absolutely exquisite dress. ” She eyed up my gown wit
h great lust.

  “You can have it. ” Hell, she could have all of the other stuff as well. I never wanted to touch any of it ever again. His jacket I’d left with Sam, the ring stuffed into a pocket. Sam would take care of it. See that it got back to him. My hand seemed bare without it, lighter. Lighter and freer should have gone together but they didn’t. Inside me sat a great weight. I’d been dragging my sorry ass around for hours now. Onto the plane. Off the plane. Into the car. Up the stairs. Neither time nor distance had helped so far.

  “I want to hug you but you’re giving off that don’t-touch-me vibe,” she said, propping her hands on her slim hips. “Tell me what to do. ”

  “Sorry. ” The smile I gave her was twisted and awful. I could feel it. “Later?”

  “How much later? Because frankly, you look like you need it bad. ”

  I couldn’t stop the tears this time. They just started flowing, and once they started, they wouldn’t stop. I wiped at them uselessly, then just gave up and covered my face with my hands. “Fuck. ”

  Lauren threw her arms around me, held me tight. “Let it go. ”

  I did.

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  Twenty-eight days later …

  The woman was taking forever to order. Her eyes kept shifting between me and the menu as she leaned across the counter. I knew that look. I dreaded that look. I loved being in the café, with the aroma of coffee beans and the soothing blend of music and chatter. I loved the camaraderie we had going on behind the counter and the fact that the work kept my hands and brain busy. Weirdly enough, being a barista relaxed me. I was good at it. With my studies a constant struggle, I reveled in that fact. If everything ever hit the wall, I’d always have coffee to fall back on. It was the modern-day Portland equivalent of typing. The city ran on coffee beans and cafés. Coffee and beer were in our blood.

  Lately, however, some customers had been a pain in the ass to deal with.

  “You seem really familiar,” she started, much as they all did. “Weren’t you all over the internet a while back? Something to do with David Ferris?”
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