He groaned, his eyes flashing from irritation. “Then we’re going to be hitting a few stores.” He started for his door, then stopped. “Are you still on good terms with that one manager? When you did this before?”
“Yeah, yeah.” I shoved him forward. “Let’s go. I’ll wait in your car.”
As he opened the door, I heard the girl say, “Who was that girl?”
“Yeah. Come on. Get out. I have something else to do.”
“You’re going to sleep with that girl instead?”
I hurried down the stairs to the basement where Luke kept his guitar. It was one of his most prized possessions since it was a gift from his mom. He let Braden use it once, but I was the only one he allowed to borrow it more than once.
“Bri!” he called down the stairs.
“Coming.” I grabbed it and headed up.
He was waiting outside the door, lighting a cigarette. The girl was stalking down the sidewalk. She turned around and gave him the middle finger. “Fuck you, Luke Skeet!”
He flicked her the bird back and finished lighting his cigarette.
“You too!” she yelled at me. I rolled my eyes and ignored her, then grabbed the cigarette and put it out on the ground.
“Hey,” he growled, glaring at me.
“No. I have to deal with that from Elijah, not you, too.”
At the mention of my boyfriend, he swallowed his retort. His grey eyes grew black instead, and he muttered, “I don’t know why you stay with that fuckhead. He’s a drug dealer.”
“No, he’s not.” I started for his car. “And we’re not having that conversation again.”
“Whatever.” He got into the driver’s seat and waited as I put his guitar in the back. When it was safe and secure and I was in the passenger seat, he started the car. “I hate this idea. Why does your mom need this so bad?”
I shook my head and kept quiet. He didn’t need to know that when his dad asked for his money back, he didn’t take only the money he loaned. He took everything my mom had saved to pay our rent. Now it was really late, and if it didn’t get paid within the next week, we’d lose the house.
“Bri.” A hand woke me up, rocking my arm back and forth. Luke was hovering over me, and unlike the last time I’d been awakened by someone, I welcomed his intrusion. My hand slid around the back of his neck. This was my best friend. I wanted to hug him. No, I wanted more. My body grew warm. I took hold of some of his hair and pulled him down—
The door to the van opened. A blast of cold air hit us both.
Luke’s eyes widened, realizing what was about to happen. I saw the flash of recognition. He felt it, too. My heart started pounding, harder and harder against my ribs. He sat up and got out of the van. Shoving past the guy, his back was tense, and his shoulders were rigid.
I sat up, my insides all jumbled at the turn of events, and stayed there, staring at the guy. He stared back, a knowing smirk on his face. He slid a hand into one of his pockets and cocked his head to the side. “You and Skeet hooking up again?”
Again? My eyes narrowed. “Who are you?”
I wanted to groan immediately. One of Candy’s friends. “Didn’t you go to Yale and get expelled because of partying too much?”
He flashed a smile. “Harvard.”
“Oh god.” Even worse. I pushed him out of the way. “Thanks for driving us, but go back and find your yuppie preppy friends. You’re out of your league with us here. We’re trailer park compared to what you’re used to.”
He didn’t listen to me. Instead of staying at the van, he shut the door and started behind me. Following at a slower stroll, he rolled his shoulders back and kept smiling at me. “I may be rich and dumb enough to get kicked out of school, but I know a sure thing when I see it. Your band is awesome. You guys are going to make it big.”
I growled, opening the back door of Rowdy’s. Some music could be heard through the door, but as soon as I opened it, it tripled in volume. The smell of smoke, booze, and sweat overtook me for a moment, and I faltered in my step. Dustin reached out from behind me, caught the door and held it open. It was after closing time, so I headed for the main floor where all the music was coming from.
Dustin was right behind me. I could feel his breath on the back of my neck as he asked, “When did you join up with them again? Why’d you quit in the first place? You haven’t been around the last couple years. How come?”
Ignoring him, I went through the second door. The music was even louder, but the bar had emptied. A light was on, hanging over the pool table, along with a light in the kitchen. Emerson was at the pool table, a stick in hand, studying for his next shot. A girl was waiting behind him with a pitcher of beer on the table next to her hand. There was a second guy and girl, too, but no one I recognized. Dustin did, though.
He held up a hand, shouted, “Hey, Samuel!” and headed over to them.
Hearing the sound of dishes clanging together and muffled conversation, I walked toward the kitchen. Before I slipped around the bar, right next to the kitchen entrance, I heard a feminine voice ask, “Why would your sister have dated someone like that?”
Recognizing Kelly’s voice, I held back.
My brother replied stiffly, “Who cares. She’s with the band now.”
“The band and my bar.”
“Yeah, and about that, have I mentioned how I love that this is our hangout? Play a little downstairs and go upstairs to get a chick for the night.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Kelly shot back.
I could hear Braden’s teasing, “Still. I’m happy with the arrangement. Thanks to Luke.”
Some of my tension left, and I started forward, then I heard Luke say, “I’m right here, dickhead. You can stop talking about me as if I’m not.”
Braden snorted. “I would, but lately you have this habit of acting like you’re not even in the room. Makes conversations a little tricky, you know. You have to address a person in order to talk to them.”
My hand retracted back to my side, and I held my breath and listened.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that since my sister started coming back around, you’ve been checked out. Enough’s enough, Luke. Stop treating her like she’s a stranger. That’s cold, man.”
“Stop, Braden.” Luke’s tone went soft, but the warning was evident. “You’re talking about things you don’t know.”
“I know. Oh, I know,” my brother tossed right back, his voice was growing louder with each word. “Stop acting like you don’t give a damn. Tonight proves you still do. I wouldn’t have left her, but you said you’d take care of her.”
“What’s your point?”
“It’s hurting her. She’s already hurting because of Turner. I don’t know why you’re hurting her even more.”
I shrank back from the force behind Luke’s voice. It was deep, feral, and primal all at the same time. He added, “I mean it, Braden. I don’t get involved in your relationships. You have no idea what happened three years ago. Stay out of it. I mean it.”
The next thing I knew, the door flung open, and I jumped out of the way. Luke stormed out, his shoulders were rigid, his eyes glittering from repressed anger, but he stopped short as he saw me there. Raking a hand through his hair, his shirt lifted, and a view of his obliques teased me. I registered that, felt the hunger rise a notch, but my gaze went to his and all thoughts ceased after that. His grey eyes turned black. Sensing desperation from him, my body leaned forward, closing the space between us, but he moved away.
His rejection punched me in the chest.
He clipped out, “I told you to stay away from Turner or get out of the band. It’s the same deal with your cousin. Turner doesn’t come around us. That’s the bottom line. If he keeps showing up because of you, you’re out. This band is my livelihood right now, and I won’t allow a drug dealer
“He wasn’t there because of me—” But he wasn’t listening. Luke was already gone. The back door slammed shut a moment later.
“Elijah was there tonight?”
Emerson was standing at the bar, holding a pool stick. His eyebrows were bunched forward, and his head was cocked to the side.
I braced myself for a scathing remark from my cousin, but he only asked, “Are you getting back together with him?”
Why did everyone think that? “No.”
“What was he doing there?”
I shook my head. “I have no idea.”
“Oh.” He paused, his eyebrows still bunched together. “Okay.” He nodded and placed the pool stick against one of the bar stools then. Turning, his hands slid into his pockets. I could see his shoulders hunched forward.
He went to the door, and I asked, “Where are you going?”
“To make sure he’s okay,” he threw over his shoulder, and the door slammed shut a second time.
My eyebrows arched high. We just got out of danger, and he was going back there?
I turned back around. Braden and Kelly had come from the kitchen, and a welcoming smile was on my brother’s face. Finally. Someone wasn’t going to snap my head off. He held an arm up, beckoning to me, and I went to him. Melting into his warm shelter, I breathed him in. He was family, and he was safe. “I was worried about you.”
His hand patted my arm. “I was worried about you, too.”
Kelly moved around us, touching my brother’s elbow. “I’ll give you guys a minute. I’ll be downstairs.” Braden nodded at her, and then we heard her call out, “Okay, girls. Show’s over. The rock studs are all leaving, so that means you gotta go, too.”
“Come on,” one girl grumbled.
“Nope. Come on.”
They protested again, but Kelly shooed them out, and right before she left herself, she called back over to us, “Lock up on the way out, okay?”
Braden was still hugging me to him. He called over my head, “We will. Be down in a bit.”
The door shut again, for the third time. Then he looked down at me, moving a step back to lean against the kitchen door. “You okay?”
“Was that true? What you said before?”
I added, “That Luke came back for me?” I was trying to tell myself that it didn’t matter, but hope had taken root in me. It was deep, deeper than I wanted to admit.
“Oh.” He continued to frown and then nodded. “Yeah. I was coming back for you when our paths crossed. He said he was looking for me and that you had run off. I told him where Emerson was waiting for us and I was going to get you. He told me no, that he’d get you himself, and I needed to take Emerson and get a ride back here.”
Luke had come back for me. “Really?”
“Really.” His eyes were narrowed, trained on my face, and I knew my brother was reading every emotion inside me. “What the hell happened between you two? You started dating Elijah, and I knew the two of you drifted apart, but I assumed it was because of Elijah. Now that Turner’s not back on the scene, I thought everything would go back to normal, but it’s not.”
I sucked in a breath. Luke had been right. Braden had no idea what had happened three years ago. “I can’t, Bray. I just…” It was too hard to think about. “I can’t.”
He held a hand up. “I’m not asking for details. I don’t want to know, but make it right. Whatever happened, correct it, Bri. The band needs you, and we have a real shot at going somewhere.”
“Fix it with Luke. I mean it. Fix it.” Then he walked past me. Right before he got to the back door, he called back to me, “The door’s locked, so just shut it behind you. Go tonight, Bri. Go and fix it with him. Please.”
Then the door shut again, and I breathed in and out, one long shuddering breath. Braden was right. I needed to say something to smooth things over. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say, but Luke was pissed. I missed my friend. You miss more than that, a voice whispered in my head. I told it to shut up, went out the door, and headed for Luke’s house.
I was tense.
My nerves were stretched thin, and I couldn’t go downstairs. I needed a moment. We had never talked about that night. Stepping inside, I glanced at the kitchen. It was immediately to my right, and I could see it all over. It was like I was there again—three years ago when everything changed. Luke was on his stomach on the floor. His shirt had been ripped, so his entire back was exposed. A huge tear was opened over his back, and there were marks all over him. Lashings. Imprints of fists. Half his back was a deep red, and there were other parts that were already black. Fresh blood seeped out over dried blood.
He’d been beaten. The entire side of his face was swollen. The eye turned toward me was swollen shut with blood streaming from it.
At first, I thought he was dead, and my heart stopped. A moan left him, and my knees almost gave out. I wanted to push all the blood back into him, for all the bruises, broken bones, cuts, and marks to go away and for him to be fine.
I wanted all of it to go away.
Braden was the one who called 911. He heard me screaming…I still didn’t remember that part.
Luke hit a jarring note on his guitar, drawing me from the past and back to reality. Seriously. I’d been ready to take on two thugs beside a dumpster for my stupid-ass cousin, but this had ice filling my veins.
I rolled my eyes upward. What was wrong with me?
The melody was addictive. I felt it reach deep inside me and take root. My breathing wavered as he kept playing. He moved down a chord, and the sound of it seeped into me, smoothing out the haunted memories. Then he began singing. His voice was soft and low, but I could hear it as if I were in the room with him. He was weaving a spell. It was like he threw a spear that had a rope attached to it at me from a hundred yards away, and it embedded deep into my stomach. Then he began pulling on it. I couldn’t fight because it would yank out my insides, but damn, I didn’t want to go with it. This whole thing with Luke was both painful and exhilarating at the same time. I had two urges going through me at once. One was to crap my pants, and the other was to start doing cartwheels.
I was just messed up, which is why I started down the stairs. I still had no clue what to say, but I had to do something.
He was hunched over the guitar in his lap with a beer at his feet. His eyes were closed. As he hit another chord, his thumb beat out the bass. Since he was only wearing jeans, I saw some of the scars on his back. I wanted to go to him, run my hands over those scars, and make them disappear. I couldn’t, though. We weren’t close anymore.
So many ghosts within you
So many haunts to pull you away
You look, I reach out and there’s nothing to do
They take you from me again, far away
I can’t, I can’t, I can’t take your hand
He kept singing, and my heart felt like it was splitting in two, but then he faltered. His eyes opened, and he looked up. He didn’t stop playing, but he stopped singing.
I felt like he was strumming me. I couldn’t look away from his gaze. His thumb stopped hitting the bass, and his fingers slowed on the guitar. “What are you doing here?”
A fever took over my blood, heating me up. “I,” my tongue wet my lips, “um, I’m here to talk about you and me.”
His gaze clouded over, and his eyelids lowered. He bent his head back over his guitar, but he didn’t start strumming again. “There is no you and me. You’re in the band. That’s it.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Luke,” I started.
“No.” He stood up abruptly, setting his guitar to the side. As he advanced toward me, his eyes were smoldering.
When my back hit the wall, I realized I had nowhere to go and could only watch as he closed in on me. A part of me wanted him to keep getting closer; the other part of me was still thinking about crap
He leaned a hand against the wall beside my head, keeping a few inches between us. His eyes were hard as he said, “There is no you and me. That died long ago, remember?”
Sustain by Tijan / Romance & Love have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes