Sustain, p.19
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       Sustain, p.19

           Tijan
 
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  “Luke!”

  My eyes snapped open, and I groaned. I didn’t need to check my phone to know it was early. Priscilla banged on the bar’s door again. “Luke, come on! I see you on that cot. Get up. We have work to do today.”

  It’s too early.

  I rolled over and moved to the edge of my cot. When she kept banging, I groaned and cradled my head in my hands. Jeezus, woman.

  “Luke!”

  “Shut up!” I glared. She could see me through the door. “I’m coming.” Stalking to the door and flinging it open, I snarled, “You have to take a dump or something?”

  “What?” She tightened her hold on a bunch of folders she held against her chest.

  “I was sleeping. Give me a minute to collect myself.” I glanced down to make sure there was no morning wood. There was, but I readjusted my jeans. I had slept in them. All the clothes in my bag were dirty, and I’d forgotten I had no clean clothes here.

  “Let me in.” She shoved past me. Surveying my new home, she scrunched up her nose. “This place reeks.”

  “It hasn’t been aired out for a while.”

  She started to walk toward the hallway. “Where’s the bathro…” She trailed off, her finger tapping against her chin. “You have an apartment back there.”

  “I do.”

  She rotated around and pointed to the cot. “But you slept here, in the middle of your bar…on a cot when I can see the corner of a bed in there…”

  I rolled my eyes and went behind the bar. I needed coffee, and then I needed to find a painkiller. My head was trying to murder me.

  “Luke.”

  “What?” I shifted through a bunch of stuff until I found the coffee maker. Sweet Lord. Why the hell was it all the way in the back?

  “Why are you sleeping on the floor of your bar?”

  Because the apartment wasn’t home. Because bars had become like home and because I didn’t want to go back to my other home. Too many bad memories were there and too much of Bri, just too much. I would’ve felt her everywhere. I growled at Priscilla, “Because I wanted to. Stop poking your nose into my personal life. This,” I indicated the bar, “has nothing to do with you.”

  She rolled her eyes. “Well, the name of this place is fitting. The Shack. That’s what it looks like you’re doing, shacking up here. I still don’t understand why you got this place, but whatever. You seem touchy today.” She gestured to the coffee maker. “As soon you get some of that, I want a cup, too.” Then she raised her head and fixed me with a pointed stare. I’d come to recognize that look, and I had enough time to brace myself for whatever she was going to throw at me, but she only said, “Emerson is going to be a problem.”

  After starting the coffee, I leaned against the counter behind the bar and folded my arms. One of my eyebrows went up. “You say that like I’m going to argue with you.” I held up my hands. “No fight here. I agree with you, but he’s my problem, not yours. We’ll deal with him.”

  “Okay.” She placed both of her palms onto the table. This was when she usually dropped the ditzy attitude and shocked whoever her prey was with razor sharp ruthlessness. I smirked. It wasn’t going to work on me, but she could try. She did. “Let me give you some facts—”

  I laughed, cutting her off. “Save it. Emerson is ours. We’ll take care of him.”

  She clamped her mouth shut, glaring for a moment, and then switched as she scanned an appreciative gaze up and down me. If she thought I was going to be turned on or become uncomfortable, she was forgetting one thing. I shook my head, smirking at her. “Priss, I’m a rock star. Your cougar preening does nothing for me. All it does is show your age and your claws.”

  “I have very long claws.”

  The coffee was done, and I poured a cup. “I’m sure you do. Sharpen them elsewhere. I’m not the pushover I was a year ago.”

  “So jaded, so early on, aren’t you, Luke?” she mocked me, picking up more of her files. “Has this past year really been that bad? We made you famous and wealthy. We couldn’t have been that bad of managers, could we?”

  I laughed, poured a second cup and then dumped the rest of it down the drain. As she started to protest, I flashed her a smile. The protest died, and she went back to her seat. The chill had gone up in the room. As I started for the apartment, I murmured, “You didn’t make us famous, Priss. We did. I did. And when I’ve finally gotten us out of that damn contract, we’ll be even more famous, just for the sake of rubbing it in your face.” She stiffened in the chair, and I winked at her before motioning to the door. “Now, get your ass out of here. I have no contractual obligation to allow you on these premises.”

  Then I strolled to the apartment and shut the door. She’d go. She had done what she needed to do. Even though she hadn’t said the words, I got the underlying message from her. Either we dealt with Emerson or she would.

  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see what she’d do to him, so it was time. Emerson needed to be dealt with, once and for all.

  I owed Bri’s ex a visit.

  A girl with blonde hair and red highlights was on Elijah’s patio when I got there. She opened the screen door and banged on the wooden door. “Beth!” The screen door hit her on the backside, but she ignored it and banged again. “Get out here! Beth!”

  I paused on the sidewalk. Eli’s front door was rarely used. Bri and Emerson always used the back door. I wasn’t sure if I should wait behind this chick or go around, but she must’ve sensed me. She rounded swiftly. Her eyes narrowed, and she huffed at me, turning back to knock once more. Her hand formed into a fist, and she held it in the air. Her body went rigid, and she sucked in her breath, whirling back to me. Then her eyes were wide, and her other hand half covered her mouth. “Holy freaking shit. You’re Luke Skeet.”

  “Hey.” I frowned.

  “Holy freaking hell. Holy, holy shit. Holy—” She started for me when the door opened. Another girl dashed out, ramming into her friend and barreling down the stairs. She darted into a red car and slammed the passenger door shut.

  The blonde hadn’t moved. Her eyes were still wide open and glued to me. She barely reacted as her friend pushed her into the doorframe. “Holy moly cabana…shit. I cannot believe…oh my god.”

  Catching movement from the doorway, I looked up and saw Elijah there, holding a coffee cup. He was shirtless, his jeans hung low on his hips, and his hair was sticking up. His gaze trailed over the girl to me. A cocky smirk appeared.

  “Turner.” I wanted to punch him. Every time I saw him, no matter where, when, or why, I wanted to hit him.

  “Pretty Boy.” He yawned the word, idly scratching at his chest at the same time. Then he rubbed the corners of his eyes and gestured to the blonde with his coffee. “You better get going, Hannah. Your cousin is in rare form this morning.”

  “You know Luke Skeet?” she asked him the question, but was staring at me. “How does a lowlife like you know a rock star super god?”

  Elijah whistled through his teeth. “‘Lowlife’? What has your cousin been saying about me?”

  She rolled her eyes. “Whatever, Eli. Fine.” Starting down the stairs, she slowed as she went past me. She pointed to me as she said to him, “You have some cred now. You know Luke Skeet.” She shook her head and said to me, “I’d stay away from him if I were you. Apparently, he stopped selling drugs, but I don’t believe it.” She raised her voice. “He wouldn’t be the first douche who lied.”

  Elijah propped a shoulder against his doorframe and sipped his coffee. “You might want to poke your nose where it can do good. Pretty Boy here already hates my guts. He’s hated my guts for about twenty-two years now.”

  “Give or take,” I added.

  “Whatever, Eli, whatever.” The girl rolled her eyes at him, but sent me a smile full of promises.

  “Hannah!” the girl from the car yelled. “Get over here. We have to go.”

  Elijah chuckled. “Your cousin is in a snit. She spent the night. She’s emotionally traumatized now,
all that holding and cuddling.” He pretended to grimace. “All those things that fill up nightmares.”

  Hannah gave him the middle finger as she hurried to the car. As they took off, Elijah let out a small sigh and muttered, half to himself and half to me, “What is it with me and emotionally unavailable women?”

  I stepped up onto the patio. As he led the way back inside and to the kitchen, I followed and suggested, “You do have a screwed-up mother. That might be part of it.”

  “Maybe.” He grunted and went to the coffee pot. “You want some?”

  I was still feeling it from the two hours of sleep I got. “Yes, unless you’re going to slip something in it.”

  Elijah shook his head. “You know me. I’ve been biding my time until I got you alone. Now, I can have my way with you, even if I am straight.”

  “I was referring to alcohol, but if you want to go that route, I’ve been reading your signals wrong for years now.”

  He barked out a laugh and leaned back against the kitchen counter. I leaned against the opposite doorframe, and we both eyed each other over our cups.

  With the coffee and the slight jokes, we’d both been stalling. We couldn’t anymore.

  Elijah plunged first, “What are you doing here, Skeet? You don’t need to be concerned if this is about Bri. She hasn't really been a part of my life since you left.” She hasn't? Then he added more, “And I have stopped selling. Haven’t you heard?” He flashed me a grin, but it was empty. “My mom went and got herself pregnant a while ago. Who will support the kid after she screws up and loses custody?”

  “So, you’re going to take care of him?”

  He shrugged. “Gonna try. Whether they let me or not is another thing, but you didn’t come over to talk to me about my problems. You’re here because of Bri? She sent you?”

  “No.” Why would she? “I’m here about Emerson.”

  “Oh.” He scratched behind his ear. “What about him?”

  “He’s still buying. I’m wondering if you’d help us to deal with him?”

  He barked out another laugh, and his shoulders loosened. “Deal with him?” His green eyes narrowed. “How exactly?”

  “Tell us how to stop him? We’re open to suggestions.”

  He looked down at the floor and held his breath. He seemed to be thinking it over, but he looked back up. A resigned look was in his eyes. “You can’t. I know enough about this shit to know you can’t stop him until he hits rock bottom.”

  Well. That wasn’t helpful. Glancing around, I didn’t see any of his stuff. I asked, “Is he here?” I began moving down the hallway to the room Emerson always used. “Still sleeping?”

  “No,” he called after me. His body snapped to attention. “I mean.” He scratched behind his ear. “Don’t go down there. He was an ass last night. I’d steer clear until he’s in a better mood.”

  I stared at him. Hard.

  Eli didn’t look away. There was no flicker of hesitation or question in his eyes. He didn’t move at all, holding my gaze the whole time.

  He was lying.

  I’d grown up with Elijah Turner. Not many knew when he was holding something back, but I did. I had studied him all my life. That’s what I did when he had the girl I loved. And I knew he was bluffing. I wondered if Elijah had even seen Emerson last night.

  When I got into the truck, I called Braden. “We have a problem.”

  I wanted the guys to meet at The Shack, but Braden mentioned it’d be better if we met somewhere Peter and Priss wouldn’t know about. My old house it was. Pulling into my driveway, I looked at my house—my dad’s house—and heaved a breath. Getting out of the truck, I could tell it’d been freshly painted. The last step had been fixed. The crack was gone from the middle of it. Heading up to the back door, I noticed the knob was secured back into place. Skimming an eye at Braden’s house, I saw the curtain from Bri’s old room had fallen back into place. A second later, her light switched off, and the knot was back in my gut. I had started calling the damn thing the Bri knot.

  “What am I going to do with you?” I muttered under my breath. I wasn’t sure whom I meant, the knot or the girl.

  “Yo.” Braden had come out of their back door and jumped over their patio steps. Landing smoothly on his feet, he stuffed his hands into his pockets and hunched his shoulders over, darting over to me. “Did you stay at The Shack last night? Bri said you never came back here.”

  Of course, she would’ve known.

  Had she been watching for me the whole night? I grimaced. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. “I had to air out the place, didn’t figure on driving back. It was too late.” After I unlocked the door, we filtered inside. Shit. I stopped abruptly. The air was heavy, and there was an undercurrent of stale booze. I could smell it all. Tears, blood, screams, crying, my dad’s cursing. Even now, I flinched because I could imagine the scrape of his boot when he stood from the couch. I never knew if he would head to my room and decide to beat me or if he would leave me alone. Fuck. That fear was still there; it had a death grip on me.

  Braden mused beside me, “The place hasn’t changed much.”

  I wanted to burn the place down. “No, it doesn’t seem like it.”

  We heard tires on the loose gravel outside as someone else pulled into the driveway. The stairs creaked loudly underneath Gunn’s weight. He looked freshly showered and relaxed. Giving us a wink, he said, “Hey there.”

  “I see you had a good night with the girlfriend.”

  “Yeah, man.”

  Braden frowned, hopping onto the counter. “We need to meet this chick.”

  “She’s no chick. She’s a woman.” Gunn went to the kitchen table and sat down. He shook his head. “And no way am I letting her meet you. You and Luke are too pretty. The girls go crazy over you. You can meet her on our wedding day. Too late to leave me then.”

  Braden grinned. “Aw, sweet, controlling love.”

  Gunn gave him the middle finger, remarking, “Nah, that’s called being smart.”

  I barked out a laugh. “Something you don’t know, huh?”

  “Hey!” Braden swung his head from Gunn to me, then back. “Pick on Braden Day? Is that what this is?”

  “Stuff it. Like you can’t handle it.” Gunn leaned back in his chair, trying to restrain a smile. “You start it half the time.”

  Braden laughed. “You’re right, I do. Okay, carry on. I wish you many nights of sex and blow jobs.” He gave me a look, and just like that, I knew the joking was done. It was time for our unofficial meeting.

  This was going to suck ass. Emerson was a pain, but we had grown up with him. He was like a brother to us. However, it was time, and feeling like I was about to hang a friend out to dry, I started it off. “Emerson relapsed last night.”

  “He uses every night,” Gunn said so matter-of-factly.

  I asked, “Every night?’

  He shared a look with Braden who nodded and added, “It’s been every night.”

  “Then it’s worse than I thought.”

  “He’s going to be a liability.” Gunn seemed to hesitate. “We need to cut him from the band.”

  “I agree,” Braden said quickly. His head was down, and his shoulders were tense. “I love him. He’s family, but he’s going to bring us down. It’s only a matter of time.”

  “I’m down for Bri coming back.” The suggestion came from Gunn. Both Braden and I swung our heads around, and he shrugged. “Like we’re not all thinking it. I know you two have had words about her, but the girl is magic behind those drums. We all know it.”

  Fucking hell. I could feel that tsunami getting closer and closer, and I didn’t know if I was ready for it or not.

  Braden murmured quietly, “I think the decision is Luke’s. We all know my vote on that one.”

  Gunn lifted his hand in the air. “I vote we ask her,” he added, “I fucking love this band. This is my livelihood, too. I know I hit the lottery when she dropped out. Emerson’s like a brother now, but he’s
going down a bad road, and we all know it. We’ve tried for a year, more than a year for you guys, and he won’t stop. We have to cut him loose. She’ll make the band better. It’s a clear-cut decision.”

  Braden’s eyes were getting bigger and bigger as Gunn talked. “Is this a yes? Should I talk to her? Is this really a go?”

  I could feel Braden’s excitement. Gunn grunted in approval.

  “What about Emerson?” Braden asked both of us.

 
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