ThoughtfulS. C. Stephens
Table of Contents
I would not be where I am today without the love and support of my fans, so I’m dedicating this one to you. Thank you for coming out to see me, sometimes from thousands of miles away—your shirts, scrapbooks, jewelry, and considerate gifts completely blow my mind! Thank you for loving me enough to memorize my work; hearing it repeated back to me is a thrill that will never go away. Thank you for your passion, your devotion…and your tattoos. I’m awed and humbled whenever I see one that was inspired by my life. And lastly, thank you for loving me despite my many flaws. I’m aware that there are quite a few, but you choose to see beyond them and love me for me, and I appreciate that more than you know.
Always in my heart,
This book would not exist without the support of my fans, so my first thank-you goes to you! And much love goes out to my core readers from the very first place I ever published anything—Fictionpress.com. The group of you cheering me on in the beginning of my hobby-that-turned-into-a-career was what kept me going! The numerous books that followed Thoughtless would not have happened without your daily encouragement.
I want to thank all the authors who have supported and inspired me, especially: K.A. Linde, Nicky Charles, J. Sterling, Rebecca Donovan, Jillian Dodd, C.J. Roberts, Kristen Proby, Tara Sivec, Nicole Williams, Tarryn Fisher, A.L. Jackson, Tina Reber, Laura Dunaway, Katie Ashley, Karina Halle, Christina Lauren, Alice Clayton, Colleen Hoover, Abbi Glines, Jamie McGuire, Tammara Webber, Jessica Park, Emma Chase, Katy Evans, K. Bromberg, Kim Karr, Jessica Sorensen, Jodi Ellen Malpas, Lisa Renee Jones, T. Gephart, Gail McHugh, and many, many more! And I want to thank all the authors who loved my characters enough to ask me if they could invite them into their worlds. It always makes me smile to see the D-Bags roaming throughout other stories.
To my lovely, devoted, and hardworking group of beta readers—THANK YOU!!!!! Your help over the years has been invaluable to me, as has your willingness to fit me into your lives on really short notice! You’re amazing! And I appreciate all of you so much!
I want to thank the bloggers who have passionately shouted their love of my stories: Totally Booked, Maryse’s Book Blog, Flirty and Dirty Book Blog, Tough Critic Book Reviews, The Autumn Review, SubClub Books, Martini Times Romance, Brandee’s Book Endings, Crazies R Us Book Blog, Shh Mom’s Reading, Kayla the Bibliophile, Nose Stuck in a Book, Chicks Controlled by Books, Fictional Men’s Page, Fictional Boyfriends, A Literary Perusal, Sizzling Pages Romance Reviews, My Secret Romance Book Reviews, Madison Says, The Rock Stars of Romance, Literati Literature Lovers, Aestas Book Blog, The Book Bar, Schmexy Girl Book Blog, Angie’s Dreamy Reads, Bookslapped, Three Chicks and Their Books, We Like It Big Book Blog, The Little Black Book Blog, Natasha Is a Book Junkie, Love N. Books, Ana’s Attic Book Blog, Bibliophile Productions, Sammie’s Book Club, and countless more! You are all one of the major reasons why anyone even knows who I am!
I’d like to extend a special thank-you to all the various members of Team Kellan aka #SexyKK, for always being up to the challenge of campaigning Kellan for whatever he’s been nominated for. The craziness is so much fun to watch, and the fan art is so creative and beautiful. Since I can’t Photoshop to save my life, I’m constantly impressed by the artwork you all create. And what can I say…the #BeggingSC campaign worked! Hope you love this book as much as I loved writing it!
Thank you to my incredible, fantastic—patient—superagent, Kristyn Keene of ICM Partners. Your advice, support, and encouragement are greatly appreciated! And a heartfelt thank-you to Beth deGuzman at Forever, for being such a huge supporter of my work, and Megha Parekh, editor extraordinaire, for polishing Thoughtful into the beautiful story it is today. I would also like to thank Lalone Marketing, The Occasionalist, JT Formatting, Debra Stang, Okay Creations, Toski Covey Photography, and Tara Ellis Photography, for all their help in designing and/or promoting me and my books.
On a personal note, I want to thank my family and friends for their endless support and for their patience and understanding of my wacky schedule, especially my children, who sometimes struggle with Mommy being home but unavailable. I love you all very much!
And lastly, I need to thank Kellan Kyle. You may be fictional, but you completely changed my life, and for that, I owe you everything.
Thank you for purchasing the ebook of Thoughtful! I hope you enjoy reading Kellan’s journey. As a special treat, I’ve included a couple of bonus scenes at the end of the book, so stay tuned!
S. C. Stephens
All in a Day’s Work
I’d been playing the guitar since I was six. While I’d been with the D-Bags for a few years now, I’d been in one band or another since high school. My childhood hadn’t been the easiest, and music had been my saving grace. From the first time I’d held my guitar, I’d been hooked. It was the feel of the wood beneath my fingers, smooth, cool. It was the toughness of the strings, the reverberation deep inside the instrument. Even when I had been too young to really understand the impact music would have on my life, playing the guitar had spoken to me. There was something meaningful in that simple instrument that was dying to come out. There was something meaningful inside of me that was dying to come out.
My parents had given the instrument to me as a gift, but even back then I’d known it was more for them than for me. It was a convenient way to keep me occupied and out of their hair so they didn’t have to be around me as much. My conception had been an unwanted accident, and my parents had never warmed up to me, never accepted me. I was a mistake that had forever changed their lives, and they’d never let me forget it. Whatever. The guitar kept me out of their way and I loved playing it, so it was a decent present, regardless of the ulterior motives behind it.
They hadn’t bothered getting me lessons though, so I’d taught myself. It had taken forever on my own, but being an only child with no close friends and parents who didn’t want to have anything to do with me had afforded me a healthy amount of free time. My dad had liked to have the radio on whenever he was home. He would generally listen to talk radio, NPR and such, but when he put on music, it was almost always classic rock. I loved trying to mimic the songs, and once I’d mastered the basic chords, I’d played along with every song I could. It had irritated the hell out of Dad. He’d turn the radio up and order me to my room. “If you want to cause permanent ear damage with your god-awful racket, then do it alone so only you have to suffer,” he’d say.
I’d go upstairs, but I’d leave my door cracked open so I could still hear the music. We had a big house when I was growing up, but if I strummed really softly, I could follow along with whatever was playing. For the next several years, “Stairway to Heaven” was my favorite song, but, then again, I think that’s everybody’s favorite song when they’re learning.
For the first time in my young life, I’d found something that gave me complete and total peace, something I connected with, something with similar wants and desires. The guitar needed to be played. I needed to play it. It was a mutual, beautiful, symbiotic relationship, and for a long time, it was the only real relationship I had.
Grabbing my beloved instrument, I closed the door to my house. “Home” was a term I used lightly when I was describing my place. Truly, it was my parents’ house, but they’d died a couple years ago and left it to me. I stayed there because it was a building with four walls and a roof, but I had no emotional attachment to it. It was nothing but wood, brick, glass, nails, glue, and cement.
While I’d been living in Los Angeles, my parents had sold my childhood home and moved to a much smaller house. I did
n’t know about it until they died. When I came back, I soon realized that they’d tossed everything of mine. It was confusing. They’d tried to scrub out my existence, but they’d still left me the house, the stocks, the retirement funds—everything. Sometimes I had a hard time understanding why they’d done that. Maybe they’d had a change of heart about me? Or maybe not.
I turned away from their house to see my gorgeous black-and-chrome Chevelle Malibu shining in the late-afternoon sun. I’d gotten her dirt cheap in L.A., and I’d spent a decent chunk of my summer fixing her up. She was a thing of beauty, my baby, and no one drove her but me.
Setting the guitar in the trunk, I headed to meet the guys for rehearsal. After easing my way onto the freeway, my eyes, as always, drifted to the unique cityscape of the Seattle skyline as it blossomed into view.
I’ve had a dichotomous relationship with the Emerald City over the years, both loving and hating it at times. Bad memories lurked around every corner—the loneliness of my childhood, the rejection, the biting remarks, the constant put-downs, the daily reminders of how much of an undesirable burden I was. The emotional poison my parents had injected into me had left its mark, but I had a good thing going here now, and the band was a large reason for my changed attitude toward the city.
Evan Wilder and I had formed the D-Bags together. With only my guitar on my back, a few dollars in my pocket, and dreams of a better life in my head, I’d left Seattle right after my high school graduation ceremony. Hitchhiking a ride wherever I could get one, I soon found myself at a bar on the Oregon coast. I’d stopped in for a drink and found Evan trying to convince the bartender that he was old enough to have a beer. He wasn’t. Neither was I, but I managed to wink my way into a pitcher. I’d shared it with him, and we’d bonded over our mutual love of beer and music.
After spending a little time with Evan’s family, the two of us had headed south, to L.A., City of Angels, to pick up some more band members. We’d found Matt and Griffin Hancock in the unlikeliest of places. A strip club. Well, maybe that wasn’t so unlikely. Evan and I were horny, fresh-out-of-high-school teenagers after all.
The four of us had worked well together, even from the beginning, and were soon rocking bars and clubs in L.A. We’d probably still be there, except I’d dropped everything and rushed back to Seattle after my parents died. Surprising the shit out of me, the guys had followed, and we’d been playing here ever since.
Traffic thickened as I neared downtown. We always rehearsed at Evan’s place, since he technically didn’t live in a residential area, so our noise wasn’t an issue. His studio was above an auto body shop. That came in handy when my baby needed servicing. Roxie was my favorite mechanic there. She loved my car almost as much as I did, and would often take a look at her while I was upstairs with the guys.
Roxie was laughing with a coworker when I pulled up, but she still shot me a wave the second she saw me. Or, more accurately, my Chevelle; the girl only had eyes for my car. “Hey, Roxie. How’s it going?”
Running a dirty hand through her short hair, she answered, “Good. I’m thinking of writing a children’s book about a monkey wrench who helps animals that are in trouble. I might have him drive a Chevelle.” She winked.
“Sounds awesome.” I laughed. “Good luck.”
“Thanks!” She grinned. As I headed for the stairs with my guitar, she shouted, “Let me know if the Chevelle needs anything! You know I’d make house calls for her, right?”
“Yep! I know,” I shouted back.
Griffin was in the kitchen, rummaging through Evan’s food, when I walked in. Playing always gave him the munchies. His pale eyes shifted my way, and smiling, I tossed him the box of Froot Loops I’d brought along with me. I’d picked them up while grocery shopping on an empty stomach, but they really didn’t sound that great, and I knew they’d never get eaten at my house.
Griffin’s expression brightened as he caught the box. “Sweet!” he muttered, immediately ripping it open. He reached into the bag, grabbed a handful of the sugary cereal, and was loudly crunching on it before I’d even made it into the living room area of the one-room loft.
Matt looked up when I set my guitar case on the couch beside him. He’d been staring at something on his cell phone that sort of looked like a website. I wasn’t entirely sure, I didn’t even own a cell phone, and probably never would. Technology kind of mystified me, and I just didn’t care enough to figure it out. I liked what I liked, regardless of whether it was out of date or not. My car still had a tape deck in it, for God’s sake, which Griffin continuously chided me about, but as long as it still worked, I was happy with what I had.
“I think we should start playing festivals and fairs, and not just bars. It’s too late to get into Bumbershoot this year, but I think we need to do it next year. I think we’re ready.” With slim features, blond hair, and blue eyes, Matt and Griffin were physically a lot alike. Personality-wise, though, the cousins couldn’t have been more different.
“Yeah? Think so?” I asked, not too surprised that Matt was contemplating our future. He often did.
Behind him, I could see Evan wading through the rehearsal equipment that the band kept here at his place. His warm brown eyes were smiling at me beneath his close-cut dark hair as he approached the couch. “Definitely, we’re as ready as we’ll ever be, Kell. It’s time to step it up a notch. With your lyrics and my rhythms…we’re golden.” While Matt was one of the most talented guitarists I’d ever seen, Evan was the one who arranged most of our pieces.
Matt glanced back at Evan with an eager nod. Looking between the two, I pondered whether we were ready. I supposed they were right, we were. We had more than enough songs, and probably enough fans. It could be a big step for the band, or it could be a giant waste of time.
When Evan got to the back of the couch, he crossed his arms over his chest. All of my bandmates were littered with random tattoos—Griffin’s were a bit on the obscene side, naked girls and stuff, and Matt’s were classier, with meaning behind every twist and symbol. Evan’s though, his were like a living, breathing work of art. His arms alone were a museum-worthy masterpiece of fire, water, and everything in between.
While Matt and Griffin were both on the skinny side, Evan was bulkier. My body type was middle of the road, not too bulky, not too lean, and in terms of body art, I was a virgin. I just couldn’t think of one thing I loved well enough to permanently scratch it into my skin. Nothing in life was permanent, so why pretend it was by immortalizing it? Seemed pointless to me.
I grinned at my two eager bandmates. “Let’s do it then. Make it happen, Matt.”
Smiling, Matt went back to his phone. Griffin walked up and tossed an arm around me. “Awesome! What are we doing?” Some stray pieces of cereal fell from his mouth after he asked.
“Nothing yet,” I answered, smacking his chest.
He made an oomph sound, and even more of the brightly colored circles fell from his cheeks. I swear Griffin had the largest mouth of anyone I knew.
After a couple of hours of rehearsal, we called it a night. Piling into our cars, we headed over to Pete’s Bar. The bar was our home base, where we played at least once a week, if not more, but we always seemed to end up there, even on nights we didn’t play there. It was like the day didn’t feel complete until we’d stepped through the double doors, however briefly. Everyone knew us there, and we knew just about everyone. Our stuff was there, our friends were there, our life was there.
I pulled the Chevelle into my unofficial parking spot. As usual, it was empty, waiting for me. When I shut the car off, the sounds of Fleetwood Mac died midchorus. I briefly considered turning the car back on to finish listening to the song, but I’d heard it a million times, and I really wanted to go sit down and have a nice cold, refreshing beer. That sounded fantastic right now.
Evan was getting out of his vehicle at almost the same time I was getting out of mine. He clapped me on the shoulder when I met him at the back of my car. I looked around for Mat
t and Griffin, but I didn’t see Griffin’s Vanagon anywhere. “Uh, where are Tweedledee and Tweedledum?” I asked Evan.
He raised a corner of his lip. “Jackass said he needed to run home because he forgot Traci’s shorts, and she needs them for work.”
Picturing those two, I shook my head. Traci was a waitress at Pete’s. She and Griffin had been messing around lately, which wasn’t really a problem, except for the fact that Traci was starting to get attached, and she wasn’t the type to be okay with keeping things casual forever. And that made her the exact opposite of Griffin.
The warm light of the bar’s neon signs washed over me as I pushed open the doors to my haven. I inhaled a deep breath as I walked in, and unknown anxieties leached from my muscles. Everything about this place relaxed me. The noise, the smells, the music, and the people. If ever I could say I was truly content, it was here.
From my left, a husky voice let out a coarse “Hey there, Kellan.”
Looking over, I saw the bartender, Rita, studying me. She had an expression on her face akin to a man who was dying of thirst, staring at a pitcher of water. I was used to that look on her though. I’d slept with her once, and by the way she looked at me, once wasn’t enough. “Hey, Rita.” I nodded my head up in greeting and her eyes fluttered closed with a soft groan.
“Jesus,” she murmured as she ran a sharp, painted nail along her plunging neckline. “So fucking hot…”
After waving a greeting to the regulars, Evan and I made our way over to our table. Well, I suppose technically it wasn’t ours, but, like my parking space outside, it had become known as the band’s by our frequent visitations.
Leaning back in my chair, I propped my feet up on the end of the table. Just as I was debating whether I wanted chicken strips or a burger, my feet were unceremoniously dumped to the floor. I lurched forward a bit in my seat as my body weight shifted. A cute blonde wearing a tight red Pete’s Bar shirt was standing at the end of the table with her hand on her hip. Her full lips were pursed in displeasure. “Don’t put your feet on the table, Kellan. People eat there.”