Sustain, p.22
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       Sustain, p.22

           Tijan
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  two weeks, and one day. My hand curved around the door handle, and I held onto it tightly. Glancing at her as she drove, I watched as she bit her lip. She was always biting her lip. There were bags underneath her eyes, and her arm was rigid.

  Three years. I didn’t know if I could make that okay in my head. If she could lie about that, then… What else was she lying about? a voice whispered in my head, feeding the black hole inside me.

  She skirted her eyes to mine, but then looked away just as quickly.

  The guys wanted her in the band again, but fuck—how could I do that? How could I play with her and not have her? I let out a soft breath of air. No matter what took place, there was no happy ending for us.

  I didn’t trust her.

  The drive to The Shack was made in silence. When we got there, I had her pull around to the back door. When we went inside, she went straight to the bar. I paused, heading for the front door to let everyone inside, but at the sight of her behind my bar, a force slammed into my chest.

  She hesitated, seeing my reaction. “What?”

  That was right—having her here—in my bar. I forced my head to move side to side. “Nothing.”

  “Oh.” She frowned, but grabbed a pitcher and went to the sink.

  I had to force myself to look away. Shaking my head, I cleared my thoughts and went to the door. Unlocking it, I stepped back as everyone filed inside. They greeted me as they moved past me. Some of the girls touched my chest or arm, and a few of the guys thumped me on the shoulder. After the last one entered, I let the door close again and trailed behind the crowd. A group had congregated in front of the bar while Brielle was busy filling drinks. One of the bands jumped onto the stage. A guy caught my gaze and pointed to the guitar. “You mind?”

  “Have at it.”

  The rest of his band joined him, and soon they started playing.

  Dustin came in and waved with a set of keys in his hands. “We got the kegs. #fastestkegrunever!” He asked, “You got a back door or something where we can roll these bad boys in?”

  “Yeah.” I started forward. “There’s a door by the bar. Hold on.”

  Dustin disappeared outside.

  Bri called out, “I got it.”

  “You sure?”

  She nodded and disappeared to the other end of the bar. The door was located around the corner, and it wasn’t long before Dustin’s voice was heard again, loud and clear, when he hollered, “We got beer chicks here. They’re rolling through. Watch out, folks!” Three kegs were rolled in. He had the first one, and two more guys brought the others.

  Brielle went around them and showed Dustin where to put the kegs.

  Candy came in, following behind the kegs. She and her friends hopped onto the bar stools, and it wasn’t long before Brielle had the kegs hooked up and was handing out the beer. Dustin got the first pitcher and came over to me.

  He filled a plastic cup. “Drink up, Luke. This is the time for you to relax and enjoy being a god.”

  “Dustin, how I’ve missed having you on tour with us.”

  He barked out a loud laugh before he drank from his own pitcher. He handed his cup to someone passing by and threw his free arm around my shoulder. “The lifestyle was amazing. I fucking loved it, but, man, I’ll admit I was happy to get away from the Priss Bitch.”

  I grunted. I liked that name.

  “Don’t tell me they’re still doing the same shit?” Before I could answer, he glanced around. “Where are the guys?”

  “They’ll be here.”

  “They better be. I only have so many days home. I want to party hardy with you guys, and I can’t do that unless those guys are here, too.” He paused, tightening his hold on the pitcher before he said, “Emerson seemed in his normal form. How’s that going?”

  Dustin wasn’t stupid. I knew what he was referring to, but I shrugged a shoulder. “He’s trying.”

  “He’s sucking at it.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I don’t know exactly what you’re talking about, but if he’s trying to be sober, he failed tonight.”

  Fuck. “What do you mean?”

  Dustin snorted before he took another large gulp from his pitcher. “He was high as a kite tonight. I’m surprised you didn’t notice.”

  So am I…but then again…I glanced at Brielle behind the bar. She felt it and looked up, pausing as she extended a drink to someone. I murmured to him, “I was distracted tonight.”

  He knew whom I meant. “I can see that. So, that’s still going on?” He tipped his head back, finishing his pitcher. “You two dance around each other so much. I figured you would’ve moved on or decided to get hitched. One or the other, you know. Anyway…” He lifted the pitcher and shook it. Only a small amount of beer was at the bottom. “Looks like I need a refill.” He winked before he headed toward her. “Don’t worry, Luke. I’ll put in a good word for you. We both know you need all the help you can get.”

  He went to Brielle and gave her his pitcher. Then he leaned over the bar and pointed to me. She stiffened. Her jaw clenched, and her hand tightened its hold around the pitcher before she finished filling it. As she shoved it at him, she clipped a response, and he reared back. A wicked look flashed over his face, and he leaned back to laugh before moving away. Instead of coming to me, he headed to a table that Candy and her friends had taken over.

  Bri came over and threw a thumb over her shoulder. “He told me to give you a pity screw and put you out of your puppy-dog misery.”

  I laughed. “Thinking about it?”

  She huffed out, “Right. What’d Emerson say before? ‘No dumbshits allowed’?” She pointed between her legs. “My vajayjay has the same policy.”

  “I’m not the dumbshit.”

  We were laughing. We were teasing each other. My nerves stretched. I didn’t want this to go away.

  “No, but you just had one talk for you.” She smirked. “She’s not okay with that.”

  Barking out a laugh, I snagged a finger through a loop on her jeans as she turned away. What was I doing? I hauled her back. “I always thought your vajayjay was a man.”

  She was holding back a smile as she rested a hand to my chest. “You think I have man parts?”

  That one touch.

  I wanted to close my eyes and relish it.

  This is wrong, but I was beyond caring. I pulled her so she was flush against me. “I think you have balls of steel. That’s what I think you have.”

  Her head went down, but I could hear the laughter she was holding back. “Oh, really?”

  “Yeah, really.” I let loose of her waistband and slid my hands under her shirt. Then I raised them, skimming over her back, lifting her shirt as I did.

  Her eyes closed, and she sighed in contentment. “Luke.”

  I pulled her closer and skimmed a quick glance around the bar. There were people watching us, but no one I cared about. Dustin nodded at me. I knew he would take care of things, so I took her hand and led her through the back hallway to the attached apartment. When I shut the door, the sounds from the bar were suppressed.

  Bri lifted an eyebrow. “You soundproofed this place?”

  “I figure it’s my home, so why not?”

  She turned away.

  We’d been joking two seconds earlier, but that was gone. Her shoulders tensed again. Her hand trembled before she stuffed it into her jean’s pocket.

  “Your home?” Her voice sounded hoarse.

  “Yeah.”

  “You’re not going to your real home anymore?”

  I sighed. “Bri, I hate that house. It’s his house. It’s…” Where you left me and chose him. “There aren’t a lot of good memories in that place.”

  “You grew up next to me.”

  “Those are the only good memories. There’s too much of him in there. I can’t stomach the idea of living there again, not now since I don’t have to. I can afford something better.”

  I looked at her for a moment, drinking in the si
ght of her.

  Her jeans were always faded and ripped. She wore them like a second skin, along with her top. The shirt might’ve changed, but Brielle wasn’t extravagant. She went for the simple and sexy look. A tank top or a T-shirt. It never mattered. She was slender, and her dark hair fell past her shoulders, matching her dark eyes when she looked at me. The curve of her lips was perfect when she smiled.

  She was breathtaking.

  “What’s wrong?”

  “What?” I asked, thrown by her sudden question.

  She reached for a chair, but her hand paused in the air. It formed into a fist, and she forced it open. Her fingers curved around the chair and she held onto it with a death grip. Her bottom lip quivered a tiny bit. She was watching me, but I felt like she was seeing through me, to something behind me, or…I stopped. Was she?

  I looked behind me. There was nothing there. “What are you seeing right now?”

  She flinched like I had slapped her. “Nothing.”

  “Brielle.”

  “Stop.”

  I had taken a step toward her, but halted at her command. My hand went out to her. I wanted to help her so badly. I wanted her to let me in. “What happened to you?”

  A tear fell from her eyelid. It trickled down, slowing over the curve of her cheek, until it dropped all the way to the corner of her mouth. Then it held there until more joined it. All of them fell together, and she let them be.

  “Bri.” My voice was raspy.

  “I love you,” she whispered.

  I froze.

  She said the words.

  She said them again, “I love you, and that’s why I have to avoid you. It hurts too much. I don’t know why you keep finding me or why you held me tonight, but you have to stop. I get it. I hurt you. Don’t you think I know? Don’t you think I hurt myself, too?” She was whispering, and she gestured behind me. “I see him. Even now, he haunts me. It’s because of him. All of this is because of him. If I hadn’t listened to him—you know what I did. It doesn’t matter. You left, and it’s been over a year.” Her eyes fell to my chest, and she came to me.

  I held my breath.

  She was coming to me. She was initiating this, and if I let myself breathe, she’d go away again.

  As she stopped right in front of me, her hands went to my shirt. She touched me how I had touched her only moments ago. Her fingers, so soft and warm, caressed my skin. I wanted her. She lifted my shirt, her hands grazing against me, all the way up until she pulled my shirt from my head. But she wasn’t looking at me. My chest rose up and down, and I fought to keep myself under control. Every part of me wanted to gather her in my arms, carry her to my bed, and be with her. She would go with me. I could always claim her body. She gave that to me. It was her weakness, but her heart… My gaze fell to her chest, and I pressed a hand between her breasts, under her shirt, and she let out a ragged breath at the touch.

  “Bri—” I whispered, but she shook her head, stopping me.

  “I love you.” She was so quiet. Her head dropped to my chest, but her hands began to trace my scars. I had one that started from my arm and ran all the way down my side until it disappeared under my jeans.

  “You took your shirt off for that magazine cover.” She pressed her lips to my third and smallest scar. It was on my neck. “You never take your shirt off. I thought it was because you were ashamed.”

  “Ashamed?” I glanced down at myself. “Of the scars? Girls love them.” Her finger kept outlining the one on my neck. I caught her hand. “I never think about them. Do they bother you?”

  She pulled her hand from mine, falling back a step. Her eyes were glued to a fourth bird that I had tattooed. I saw the question forming in her depths. She was wondering if the new tattoo represented her, and it did, but not in the way she was thinking. I had left her, not the other way around.

  Then she looked away, but I grabbed her hand again and placed it on the scar on my neck. “This was when he took a knife to me on my fourteenth birthday.” She’d been there. She had helped to mend it. I pressed her hand to the second one. “This was that night.” I held it underneath my jaw, so she could feel the third one. “When he knocked me unconscious the first time.” The photographer for the magazine shoot had gone crazy when she saw my scars. “They sell covers, Bri. Priss Bitch told me so.”

  “Priss Bitch?”

  “Our manager.”

  “I know. I didn’t know that’s what you called her.”

  “Braden hasn’t told you about her?” It didn’t matter. I didn’t want to talk about my manager. I was holding Bri. She was touching me. She was right in front of me, and I didn’t want any part of this moment to stop. I drew in a shuddering breath, and my forehead slowly lowered to rest on hers.

  She looked up at me, seeing right into me, and her hands were gentle as they held on to my arms. She whispered, like she was afraid to ask, “What are you thinking?”

  I couldn’t answer her. I didn’t want to break this moment. Closing my eyes, I just breathed her in. This felt so right.

  “Luke,” she murmured again, stepping into me so every inch of her was pressed into me.

  “Hmm?” I ran my hands up her arms, then back down, letting them fall to her hips. I should be shoving her away, but I clasped her even tighter to me. Tonight. I wanted tonight.

  “I…” She stood on her tiptoes, bringing her breasts higher up against my chest. She wrapped her arms around my neck, embracing me.

  To hell with this. If she wanted a loving hug, I wasn’t the guy for that. Bending down, I grabbed the back of her hips and lifted her in the air.

  She gasped, but held on to me.

  I turned and walked to the back bedroom, carrying her inside. Kicking the door shut with my foot, I placed her back on her feet at the foot of the bed. My eyes held her, and I wanted her. I wanted to push inside her. One night. I trailed a hand down from her neck, through the valley between her breasts. She closed her eyes, and her chest rose as my finger continued down, all the way to her stomach, and then I unclasped her jeans.

  I knew one time wouldn’t be enough. I would want her until the day I died. She was a drug to me.

  Then, seeing the answering desire in her eyes, I turned for the door. Locking it, I went back and undid my own jeans. Bri’s hands reached for her shirt, but I stopped her. “No, I want to.” My voice was husky. Taking hold of her shirt, I ripped it off her and tossed it to the side. When she left, she’d be wearing my shirt.

  She’d be wearing everything of mine. My scent. My taste. The feel of my hands on her. I would be stamped all over her.

  Then she reached up, grabbed a fistful of my hair, and yanked me down. As our lips collided, I stopped thinking all together and rolled her underneath me.

  She was mine.

  I was in trouble. Waking up next to Brielle, hearing her soft breathing, feeling her skin next to mine, made me groan. I could touch her, kiss her, breathe her in, and I could see her wake with a smile. That had my heart pounding. Fuck. One night hadn’t been enough. I gazed at her now, resting with her head turned into the pillow. She was facing me, with those damn soft eyelashes and lips that seemed to already be smiling back at me even as she slept. I didn’t think one lifetime with her would be enough.

  She had my balls in the palm of her hand. One squeeze and I would crumble. I gazed down her back to the arch of her spine until where the sheet covered her, and I already ached to slide back inside her.

  Then her eyes opened, and that old feeling of my world clicking into place came over me. Everything lined up. Everything was right again. It was damn cheesy, but it was true.

  Again. I was in trouble.

  “Hey.” She smiled at me.

  “Hey back.”

  Her eyes were shining, but a shadow came over them, and she moved to sit up. Resting against the headboard, she pulled the blanket to cover herself and fiddled with her hands. “Luke…”

 
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