Sustain, p.9
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       Sustain, p.9

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  “No, I don’t want to hear it. You left me in the hospital, and I found out three weeks later that you were dating Turner. That’s how you ended our friendship.”

  There was more to it, so much more, but I couldn’t tell him. I’d been quiet all these years, terrified of what he would do if he knew the whole truth. My hands wrung together. “I didn’t want to end it like that. I didn’t.”

  “But you did.”

  No, I hadn’t. I started to shake my head. I wanted to deny it, but I had let him think that. “I was there. I wanted to go to the hospital. I…just... couldn’t, but that didn’t mean I was thinking about…” I wasn’t making it better.

  “I woke up, and you were with Turner.” He leaned in close, his breath coating my skin, caressing and taunting me at the same time. “But you had been with me the night before. You told me you loved me. You didn’t, though. You lied to me.” He pulled back, and I felt his cold stare. “What are you doing here, Bri? The past is done. There’s no going back.”

  I wet my lips again. They were so dry. So was my throat. “Braden told me to smooth things over with you. The tension between us is going to affect the band.”

  “Because of your brother. The band. That’s why you’re here.” He didn’t move, but I felt him withdrawing. “He’s right. Having a hot chick in the band will get us more attention. I’ve already gotten gig offers for next week, more than normal, so you’re part of that reason, and the other reason I’m allowing you to play with us—is because I owe your brother. He’s been there for me.” Unlike me. That was his insinuation. “He wants you with us because he’s scared that if you’re not around me, you’ll go back to Turner.” The corner of his mouth curved up in a mocking smirk, making him look lethal. “Little does your brother know that I don’t matter. Whatever friendship we had means nothing now. The only thing you want from me…” He paused as his eyes skimmed down my body, taking in my shallow breaths, my full breasts, my nipples pressing through my shirt. If he touched me, I would’ve trembled. He took all this in, and the mocking smirk turned into a knowing leer.

  He stepped close to me again. The edges of his jeans grazed against my waist, but he still held himself back, raking me up and down, then scanning my face. With his lips close to mine, holding just out of reach, he murmured, “The only thing you want from me is this.” His hand touched my waist, and I gasped, surging upright, feeling burned from the sensation. He leaned down so his lips lightly rested above mine.

  He was torturing me. It felt like he was taking a hot poker to me, singeing me with each poke, and he was enjoying it.

  His breath was searing on me as he stared me down. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t look away. The longer he held me, the more I wanted him against me. I started to lean against him, but he took my hands and raised them above my head before I could touch him. I was trapped. He had them pinned. His eyes never left me—he hardly even blinked—heat simmered just below the surface. He was keeping it masked from me, but I still saw it. I licked my lips, needing to unleash it. I needed to feel it, taste it.

  “Luke.” I knew what he was doing. He was trying to break me, and it was working.

  “Is that what you want?” He bent so his eyes bore straight into mine. One inch. That was all that separated us. “You want this? Then what? Maybe the tension will leave? Everything will be fine?”

  My body grew heated, and my heart began pounding. Fuck it. I needed him.

  He saw the surrender in me. Triumph flared in his gaze, but instead of closing the distance, he moved away. As he put more distance between us, I groaned in protest. No. It wasn’t going to happen. As he let go of my hand, I snaked it behind his neck, grabbed a fistful of his hair, and pulled his head to mine. Our lips pressed together. Then his arms wrapped around me, and my legs wound around his waist. Feeling his mouth, hot and hungry on mine, I let him do whatever he wanted. I wanted him to do more. Holding me and kissing me wasn’t enough.

  I grinded against him, feeling the pleasure building. Shit. An ache was building in every part of my body.

  Then he ripped his mouth from mine and dropped me. I felt his fury directed at me, and he shook his head, slowly, staring down at me. My body trembled, wrecked through and through, and I couldn’t speak.

  The torture was there, looking back at me. “Bri.” His hands went to my hips, and he crowded me against the wall once more. I closed my eyes, feeling the touch of his hands on me. My jeans had ridden low while my shirt had moved up. He was touching my bare skin. A soft caress, and I swallowed, feeling a burn where they touched. My skin was shivering. It was begging for more of him, but those fingers remained firm. They didn’t move.

  He said, “I have been there for you, all your life.”

  Hearing a note of finality, my gaze found his and hung there.

  He added, sounding sad, “I have crawled into your bed more times than I can remember. I have held your hand. I have hugged you, carried you at times, and watched as you walked away from me. One touch.” His palm pressed against my chest. He flattened it, but it didn’t move. It stayed there, as if literally cupping my heart. It pounded like it wanted to go to him, straining toward his hold. He shook his head. “This is what happens. I can own you.” His breath coated my face again. He was so close. “I can own your body, make you do anything I want...”

  He hated me. I was almost panting for him.

  I was pathetic.

  He added, “You and me, we’ll never be what we were.” He grinded against me, and I bit down on my lip. A groan escaped me. I wanted what he was promising me. He laughed against my face, and I felt it graze my cheeks. Then he said, “Unless it’s this, because this is all I’ll give you. Nothing else. Not again.”

  My heart was pounding. I couldn’t look away.

  His chest was heaving. “I don’t know why you came here. I won’t give you anything else except…” He waved a hand at me.

  My arousal was evident to both of us, but so was his. Lidded eyes looked back at me, darkened in desire, but there was steel determination, too. He wouldn’t give in, no matter what. A deeper part of me ached for him. I missed our friendship.

  “I’m sorry.” I wasn’t sure what I was apologizing for. All of it? Only what he knew, not what he didn’t know? I wasn’t sure anymore. My mind was muddled.

  “I thought it’d be fine, having you with the band, but it’s not. You’ve avoided me for three years, and this is what happens between us. How long until my dick is deep inside you?”

  His hunger was raw. “Luke,” I whispered.

  “Go, Brielle. I’ll act normal. You will, too. If we can keep up our game faces, everything will be fine. I’ll be nicer, and maybe Braden won’t worry about it then.” He moved back another step, putting more distance between us. The farther he went, the clearer my mind became.

  I nodded to myself. He was right. About everything. It was either sex or nothing. We were no longer friends. My fingers curled, holding onto the sides of my jeans. I ached to be in his arms again.


  I started for the stairs.


  I stopped, my pulse was pounding.

  “Just so we’re clear.” His eyes were stormy, but cold again. “I’m allowing you to play because you draw more attention to the band. If you want out, say the word. I’ll ask Gunn to join then.” He went back to pick up his guitar.

  “Okay.” I raked a hand through my hair, my chest still heaving. I felt drunk from him. My pulse was still throbbing. I had to get out of there. Making my way back up the stairs, I ignored the kitchen, even though I felt the memory still there, lingering in the back of my mind. I stepped off the porch and headed for the sidewalk when I heard a movement and glanced over.

  Elijah was standing on the sidewalk, just a few feet from me. His hands were in his sweatshirt, with the hood up, and he smirked at me. “When are you going to grow some balls and tell him what happened?”

  “Shut up.” Now was so not the time. “I only
told you because I was drunk one night.”

  “It wasn’t your fault what happened to him.”

  Yes, it was. “Go away, Elijah.”

  He nodded and turned around. Before he left, he glanced back. “I came to make sure you were okay, you know.”

  “Just go.” We were done. We were over. He needed to leave. “Focus on whatever you do nowadays. Selling drugs, expanding your fucked-up empire, whatever it is. I’m not a part of it anymore.”

  He bit out a laugh and started to move forward. “You never were, Bri. I always kept you pure.”

  I snorted at the thought. Pure. I was the furthest thing from that.

  A soft laugh came from him as he walked down the sidewalk. The sound faded as he disappeared around the block. It sent a chill through me, but I ignored it and crossed the street back to my apartment building. Not that I expected to get any sleep.

  “So, the band’s name is Braille, right?”

  I stopped filling a bowl with chips as Dustin grabbed a handful of them, filled his mouth, and grabbed for a second handful. He had become an almost permanent fixture next to me when he showed up earlier. After dinner with our mom, Braden made me come to a party at Luke’s house. I hadn’t wanted to go, but he told me the band would play at some point during the night, so I didn’t feel like I could turn it down. I was in the band. I had to be there. And because I sucked at being social, sign me up for chip duty.

  “Dustin, why are you here again?”

  “Because you guys are awesome.” He licked his fingers and reached for another handful. I knocked his arm aside and filled a separate bowl. His eyes lit up, but before he could reach for it, I gave him the entire first bowl. He added, “And because of future pussy. I know there’s going to be mountains and mountains of vagina buffets. I already told you earlier that I’m not dumb. You guys are going to be dripping—” He stopped at my glare. “Well, not you, because you know,” he gestured to my chest, “you have a mighty fine rack yourself.”


  “I’m just stating the obvious. You’re a chick. You’re not going to get those juices, well, unless you bat for the other team. I’d be all for that.” He winked at me.

  “I’m going to neuter you.”

  “Oh. Kay. Back to the first question.” He continued to beam at me, his cheeks plump and moving around as he ate his chips. Around a mouthful, he asked again, “So, the band’s name is Braille, right?”

  I groaned, but went back to the cupboards for more chips. “Yes. Why do you keep asking?”

  Keeping his bowl of chips close to his chest, he followed behind me. “The band’s name was kinda named after you, right? Brielle. Braille. I get that part.”

  “Yes,” I clipped out, walking around a group of girls chugging their beer. “Brielle and Braden. The guys thought it was funny. Why?”

  “I remember when you guys first started the band, but you left it, right?”

  I was gritting my teeth. For some reason, this guy was getting on my last nerve. “Dustin,” I warned.

  He leaned over my shoulder, too close for comfort. “Yeah?”

  “Get to the point and then back the fuck off me.”

  “Oh.” He moved his body back, but continued to lean forward so his head was right next to my ear. “That better?”

  “No.” I grabbed the rest of the chips and wound back through the crowd. Instead of filling the bowls, I just dumped the bags onto the tables. People could do with them what they pleased. Then I went in search for Braden.

  Dustin went with me. “So yeah,” he kept going with his question, “you quit the band, and they kept the name, but now you’re back with them?”

  “Yes. So what?”

  He stuffed another handful of chips into his mouth and shrugged, cocking his head to the side. “I guess nothing. I’m just trying to get all the history down in my head.”

  Spying Braden in a corner with Luke, I veered toward them. They were surrounded by a group of girls. No surprise there.

  “For what?” I asked Dustin.

  “I’ll make a great head roadie. Putting that out there.”

  As I got next to my brother’s side, I rotated my head toward Dustin, taking in his over six-foot frame. He appeared to be a mix of all-American-boy and preppy-douchebag-frat-boy. His blue eyes, blond wavy hair, and square jaw made him look like an innocent, nice guy.

  “Dustin,” I said.

  “Hmm?” He flicked at his earlobe. “All ears here.” He chuckled to himself, putting another chip into his mouth.

  “You were a popular jock in school with us.”

  He bobbed his head up and down. “I’m with you. I was.”

  “Your parents are rich.”

  A second bob, followed with another wink. “Still are, I believe.”

  “You got kicked out of Harvard, right?”

  “Oh, yeah. Too much booze and chicks.” His head was continuously moving up and down, going along with each question I asked. “Living the carefree life, I might add.”

  “And you’re kissing my ass because you’re hoping for a future spot as the head roadie with the band?”

  “Yep. If you guys will have me.”

  “Why?” I was dumbfounded. “You should be interning at your dad’s company, whatever it is that made Forbes magazine.”

  He snapped his fingers and pointed at me. “See. That’s why. I don’t want that responsibility, not yet anyway. Here I am. Living a hobo-lifestyle.” He patted the bowl. “Got my chips.” He gestured to Braden and Luke. “Got some future rock star friends.” Then he sent a charming wink at the group of girls who had been talking to Braden and Luke. “And hopefully some future ass, too.”

  Some of the girls laughed, while another gasped. One girl gave him the middle finger. A second rolled her eyes, but none of them left.

  “I said hopefully, ladies. Hopefully.” He pointed to Luke, Braden, and me. “These are good people, my future people.” Lifting his hand, he crossed his fingers. “Here’s to hoping, anyway.”

  Braden and Luke were grinning. At the sight of the relaxed amusement on Luke’s face, I was startled for a moment. My body warmed at the sight, and the corners of my own mouth curved up in response. Because he smiled, I wanted to smile. Then he glanced to me, and the smile faded. So did mine. I was zapped by the abrupt change.

  He leaned forward, murmured something to Braden, and left.

  I watched him go and felt the kick of rejection against me. It had been like this for a month now. Since talking to him, things had gotten better. A tiny bit. We performed, and once we were on stage, everyone clicked. It shouldn’t have been like that, but that was the one place all four of us didn’t hate each other. It was like all the bullshit had vanished, and we were back in the beginning. Emerson was easygoing. Braden was…still Braden. Luke was my best friend again, and I loved everybody. As soon as we were done, though, the same tension immediately returned. Awkward silence was the norm now, as we set up before our gigs and as we tore down afterward. There was no gig planned for this weekend, and a part of me had looked forward to a weekend of working at Rowdy’s and not feeling chewed up inside and out, just by being around Emerson and Luke.

  I hadn’t known about the party until Braden mentioned it earlier. And watching Luke walk away, for what felt like the hundredth time this month, I had enough. I stormed after him without thinking.

  I bumped into two of the girls at the same time, pushing them back.

  “Hey,” one girl cried out.

  The other hissed under her breath, “Bitch.”

  I skewered both of them with a look.

  They wanted Luke. There were so many girls, always the same, always wanting to end up in bed with him. I wanted to obliterate them, all the time, all at the same time, and it was becoming a different hunger all on its own inside me. I did my best to ignore the feeling as I followed Luke across the road to Rowdy’s. He went inside through the back door and down the basement stairs.

  It was rainin
g, but I didn’t feel it.

  The bar was louder than normal. Cheers, hollering, and music crashed against my eardrums, along with the smell of smoke and sweat. I gritted my teeth. Good. I wanted to yell, and the basement was a perfect place to get it out.

  When I pushed open the last door, after going down the stairs, I didn’t hold back. I didn’t think I was able to anymore. “You can’t keep leaving.”

  Luke was behind the bar. He straightened, a bottle of whiskey in one hand. “What?”

  “You can’t keep leaving. This is ridiculous.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  I flung my hand out in the direction of his house. Pointing at the air in a savage motion, I added, “Before. Just now. I came up to the group, and you left.” I missed my friend. “I’m sick of it. I’m sick of you. I’m sick of this. It’s been a month of this. If you won’t let me in, then…” my chest was heaving, and I spat out, “let me go!”

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