Hot ticket, p.42
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       Hot Ticket, p.42
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         Part #3 of Sinners on Tour series by Olivia Cunning
Page 42

  Author: Olivia Cunning

  But he hadn’t. He’d been too afraid, just like with his mother. His last memory of his father was lidless eyes staring at him blankly as they wheeled the gurney into the treatment center.

  Jace started awake, his heart thudding in his chest, the image of his hideously burned father circulating in his mind. The room was entirely dark, but he could hear her breathing, feel the gentle motion of the bus. Both brought him comfort. He loved being on the road. And he loved her. His Aggie.

  His hand sought Aggie’s under the covers. He clung to her fingers, feeling stupid for needing her so much, for seeking her support, while she slept unaware of his turmoil. It wasn’t as if she could do anything about the ghosts that haunted him. About the pain of his father’s memory. The guilt Jace felt. The fear.

  Or maybe she could. She’d helped him deal with the pain of losing his mother. Her memory was still in the shadows, but no longer threatening. He’d found solace. Aggie had given that to him. She managed to give him everything he needed. Even things he hadn’t realized were important. When the sun came up, he watched her sleep, wondering how he’d survive if he lost her too.

  ***

  Aggie opened her eyes to find Jace staring at her. She smiled, stretching lethargically.

  “Good morning, sweetheart,” she murmured. “What are you doing awake so early?”

  “I’m ready,” he said.

  She grinned, wrapped an arm around his neck, and shifted closer to his warm body. “I figured after last night you’d be satisfied for a couple days at least. ”

  “That’s not what I meant,” he said seriously. “I’m ready to tell you. ”

  Her heart skipped a beat, and her smile faded. “About your dad?”

  “Yeah. ”

  She wasn’t sure if she wanted him to tell her. He’d said that he’d killed him. What if he had done something truly unforgivable? Would her feelings for him change? She didn’t want that. She was incredibly happy with Jace. She’d never felt this way about a man for long, and she wasn’t ready for this to end. She knew he was taking a huge step in confiding in her, however, so it wasn’t as if she could refuse to listen. She had to be strong. She knew his burden was too great for one set of shoulders.

  Aggie struggled to free her arm from the tangled sheet then lifted her hand to stroke his brow tenderly. “I’m listening. ”

  He closed his eyes. “Where do I start?”

  She didn’t think he was really addressing the question to her, so she waited for him to proceed.

  “I wasn’t an easy teenager. I got into a lot of trouble. At home. At school. With the law. The more Dad tried to straighten me out, the more I acted out. Yelling at me didn’t work. Physical punishment didn’t work. Grounding. Taking away my possessions. Nothing worked. At the time I hated him, but not nearly as much as he hated me. For five years we lived like that—in constant opposition. ”

  “Rebellion isn’t unusual, baby. Many teenagers grow that way,” Aggie said and touched his face. “Did he beat you?”

  Jace shrugged. “I preferred that to the yelling. The bruises faded, but the words, they’re still with me. ”

  He ducked his head, his eyes closed. She waited for him to get himself together. After a moment, he looked into her eyes. “The day he died. ” He took a deep breath. “The day I killed him, I was supposed to be grounded in my room. I snuck out to be with a girl. Kara Sinclair. ”

  “Sinclair?”

  “Brian’s little sister. ”

  “I didn’t know you knew the guys back then. How old were you?”

  “Fifteen. I knew the band, but they didn’t know me. I dated Kara to get close to them, but… and then a few months later, she…” He shook his head. “That’s a story for a different day. While I was out…” His eyes drifted to her forehead. “Losing my virginity actually. ” When he flushed, she couldn’t help but grin. He looked sort of sick to his stomach for a few seconds, but it passed. “While I was out with Kara, the house caught fire. It started in my room. Dad thought I was locked inside, so he went upstairs to get me. I wasn’t there. He’d grounded me, locked me in my room. I was supposed to be there, but I wasn’t, Aggie. If I hadn’t disobeyed… if I hadn’t broken a window and snuck out to have a good time… if I hadn’t turned that heater on, or remembered to turn it off. ” He unfastened the cuff he always wore on his right wrist and showed her the skin beneath—burn scars too numerous to count. “I turned the heater on to do this to myself, and later I put the blanket over it without thinking. That started the fire. The curtains caught. Then the furniture. If I’d listened to him, my Dad would never have gotten trapped in the flames. He wouldn’t have suffered third-degree burns on ninety percent of his body. He wouldn’t have died hours later. ” He stared into her eyes, daring her to deny his involvement. The pain he worked so hard to conceal was right there on the surface, so tangible she believed she could touch it. “It should have been me. I should have been the one to die. I killed him, Aggie. I might as well have shot him in the head. ”

  She knew he must feel that way, and she wasn’t sure how to make him see that his father’s death was a horrible, tragic accident, but it wasn’t his fault. His father shouldn’t have locked him in the room. And Jace hadn’t purposely set the fire. He’d been a careless kid. In so much pain.

  “It’s in the past, baby. I love you today. Right now,” she murmured, touching his face. “That’s what’s important. ” He gazed at her in the dim light filtering through the blinds. He looked miserable to the depths of his soul.

  “You still love me?” he said breathlessly.

  “I do. ”

  “Even knowing…” He swallowed.

  “I told you that you can tell me anything. It makes me sad that you’re hurting, and I’m sorry you don’t have any close family. At least you have your band—and me. We’re your family. ”

  “Nice sentiment, Aggie, but I’m not really that close to the guys. They tolerate me—”

  Aggie covered his mouth. “Okay, I said you could tell me anything, but that doesn’t mean you can lie. You are close to the guys. They adore you and would do anything for you. You just won’t let them in. You’ve let me in. It’s not so bad, is it?”

  “It’s different with you, Aggie. You’ve proven to me time after time that you accept me for who I am. The guys? They don’t even know who I am. ”

  “You could let them get to know you. You can trust them. They won’t hurt you. ”

  “Maybe. ” He didn’t look convinced.

  “What are you afraid of?”

  “Nothing. ”

  “Do you think if they saw behind your wall that they’d replace you in the band?”

  He hesitated and then nodded slightly.

  “You obviously have a pretty low opinion of your bandmates. ”

  A spark of anger touched his eyes. “What do you mean? I think the world of them. I’d give my life for any one of them. ”

  “Yet you won’t even let them see the real you. Do you think they have any idea how you feel about them?”

  “Do they need to know? I idolize them. It’s embarrassing. ”

  He’d never learned to show affection as a child. No one had ever shown him any, so he didn’t know how and didn’t recognize it. That’s why he didn’t understand that the guys were showing him affection when they teased him. Maybe the guys would help her. She wasn’t sure how she could get them to cooperate. But she wanted that for Jace. He needed to recognize the love in his life. She could have been selfish and kept him all to herself. He might even be happy with only her to confide in, but he needed a bigger support network. Latching on too hard to one person could be devastating when things didn’t work out as planned or circumstances tore people apart. Jace needed supportive people in his life. He’d been alone for far too long. Perhaps he’d let his bandmates in one at a time.

  “I’m glad you told me wha
t happened to your father. ” She needed to shift the focus away from the dead. Help him concentrate on the living. “What happened to you after he passed on? Did you live with relatives?”

  He shook his head. “I don’t have any living relatives who claim me. My mother’s family disowned her when she ran away from Croatia to come to America. She left some local villager at the altar or something. I remember her bringing that up when she argued with Dad. Dad’s parents worked hard and died young. ” Jace rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. “So I stayed in a group home until I turned eighteen, and then I was out on my own. ”

  She cuddled against his side and kissed his shoulder. “The first time I saw you, I knew you’d been forced to grow up too fast. ”

  She watched the emotions play across his face. He obviously had more demons to exorcise.

  “What was the group home like?” she asked.

  He shrugged. “Fight or die. I decided to fight. ”

  “Didn’t you make any friends there?”

  He shook his head. “There was a reason we were the unwanted. I had my bass guitar. I dug it out of the trash. It was the only thing that survived the fire. And it was enough. ”

  Aggie wondered how he hadn’t ended up a mass murderer. How many traumatic experiences could one kid bear? And now here she was getting him shot and messing up what he’d worked so hard to achieve.

  “You’re not unwanted. I want you, Jace. ”

  He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He took her hand and squeezed it, but said nothing. She lay there, thinking of a way to get him closer to his bandmates. He seemed to identify most with Eric. Probably because neither had parents. Or maybe Jace and Brian could connect over Kara.

  “Does Brian know you dated his sister?”

  “God, I hope not. He thinks she was a perfect angel. I wouldn’t want to taint his memory. ”

  “His memory?”

  “Kara died in a car accident. I never saw her again after our night together. I got too rough with her. Hurt her. Scared her. She called me a freak and told me she never wanted to see me again. ” He caught her eye. “I’ll shut up now. Nothing worse than discussing old relationships with your girlfriend. ”

  “I’m sorry she died. She must have been so young. ”

  “Sixteen. ”

  Too young. “Did you love her?”

  “Yeah. ”

  “And she made you happy?”

  “For a little while. ”

  Aggie smiled sadly. “Then I’m grateful to her for that. But you are not a freak. I happen to like it when you’re rough. ”

  “That’s ’cause you’re a freak too. ”

  She laughed and nudged him in the ribs with her elbow. “Hey. ”

  “I think we belong together, Aggie. ”

  “I don’t think so. ”

  His body stiffened. She placed a hand on his chest and lifted her body to look him in the eyes.

  “I know so,” she said. He smiled, and she melted. They stared into each other’s eyes until his cheeks went pink, and he looked away.

  She decided that connecting Jace with Brian, using Kara as common ground, wasn’t the best idea. She shifted to plan B. “You know who’s a lot like you?”

  His brows drew together as he contemplated her question.

  “Eric. ”

  “Eric?” Jace laughed. “I was forced to grow up too fast. He never grew up at all. ”

  “He’s living his childhood now, since he didn’t have one as a kid. He’s coping with some of the same stuff you’ve been through in an entirely different way. ”
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