CHAPTER 1

Eight stories above the echoing laughter of children playing in freshly fallen snow, Chloe sat at the small kitchen table in her Brooklyn studio apartment. Huddled close to the noisy radiator, she blew the steam wafting from her coffee as the warmth of the mug seeped into her sweater-covered hands. She tried to keep her mind blank, to not dwell on the conversation she’d had with her mother earlier that morning, but the stack of past-due bills littering the table wouldn’t allow her such reprieve. In the corner of the room, sunlight bounced off the glossy finish of her violin case. Pristine and classy, it was everything her mother expected and none of what Chloe wanted. The case was a gift from her mother, given to her at the beginning of her first and—much to her mother’s disapproval—last year at Juilliard. Late nights playing gigs and hanging out at recording studios for the chance to record a session with a band caused her to fall behind in her studies. In the end, she was given a choice: to follow her heart, or to follow the path her mother had chosen for her. Lost in thought about a life of pressed shirts and pencil skirts, Chloe almost missed the sound of her phone ringing. Setting her coffee cup on the table,she answered. “Hello?” “Chloe, it’s Brian down at Gilman’s. Are you busy?” Chloe sat up straighter and cleared her throat. “No. I’m not busy. What’s up?” “Get down here now. And be ready to play your ass off. If you land this gig, it’s going to change your life.” “What gig? Brian? Hello?” Chloe stared at her phone, her eyes widening when she realized Brian had hung up. There was only a moment’s hesitation before Chloe was on her feet and running to the small closet on the other side of the room. Not bothering to change out of her sweater and leggings, she stepped into a pair of boots and slipped on her coat and scarf. Grabbing her gloves and violin, Chloe flew out the door. The snow-covered sidewalks made it difficult to move as quickly as she wanted. The sound of her heart pounding drowned out the noises of the city as she made her way to Gilman’s Recording Studio. She had no idea what she was walking into, but the excitement in Brian’s voice was contagious. A half hour later, she pushed open the front door, the bell overhead chiming as she stepped inside. The girl behind the counter smiled. “Hey, Chloe! Go on back to Brian’s office. He’s expecting you. Good luck.” Chloe nodded and continued down the hall. She wanted to ask what was going on, but she would have the answer soon enough. Once she reached Brian’s office, she knocked on the door twice and stepped inside. She smiled at Brian then froze in her tracks when her eyes landed on the other occupant of the room. Chloe knew she shouldn’t stare. She knew she should say hello and act natural. Gawking like a star-struck groupie was the absolute worst thing she could do. The problem was, it didn’t matter that Chloe knew all of those things. The sight of Reid Ryder sitting casually in a chair less than ten feet away had rendered her speechless and partially brain-dead. His light brown, chin-length hair peeked out from under his tight, fitted beanie. The sleeves of his Henley were pushed up to his elbows, revealing brightly colored ink that Chloe knew from photographs continued on to his shoulder. With his loose-fitting jeans and boots, he looked more like an Abercrombie model than a rock star from Memphis, Tennessee. A throat cleared, the sound causing Chloe’s eyes to snap to Brian. The chastising expression on his face finally pulled Chloe out of her daze. “Brian, hi. I’m sorry if I kept you waiting. The sidewalks by my apartment haven’t been cleared yet, and it took longer than expected.” Brian nodded, seemingly relieved that she’d regained her composure. “That’s fine. Chloe, I’d like you to meet Reid Ryder. Reid, this is Chloe Bennett, the violinist I told you about this morning.”Chloe pulled in a deep breath and turned to face Reid. With a sheepish smile, she reached for his extended hand and shook it. “Sorry about that. I was a little caught off guard.” Reid gave her a reluctant smile and dropped her hand. “No problem.” “Chloe, have a seat and I’ll tell you what this is about.” Chloe set her violin case on the floor and took the chair next to Reid, careful not to let her eyes linger on him for a second longer than acceptable. “Okay. Shoot.” “A few days ago, Valerie Carter, the violinist scheduled to tour with Reid, fell and broke her arm. Tom, Reid’s tour manager, contacted a couple of musicians, but with the tour starting in a little over two weeks, everyone is booked. Tom is a buddy of mine and he called, hoping I could help him out. You were the first person who came to mind. Reid happened to be in New York and decided to stop by to listen to you play.” “You called me to audition for a spot on Reid Ryder’s tour?” The disbelief in her voice was clear. “Are you a quick learner?” Reid asked, causing her already fraying nerves to spike. “Because I don’t have time to babysit. There’s no margin for error. You’re going to have to work twice as hard to learn the music and choreography since we have such a limited time frame. But first, I need to hear you play. I’ve listened to your tapes, but I want to hear you live. I need to see you under pressure.” Chloe tried to not let the impatient, sharp tone of his voice bother her. He was clearly stressed. She couldn’t blow this opportunity. The stakes were too high. “Sure, that’s no problem. I can do it. Do you want me to play now?” Reid blinked in surprise. “Don’t you need to set up first?” “Yeah, but it will only take a couple of minutes. Do you have something in particular you want me to play?” Chloe moved to unfasten the clasps on her case and remove her violin. She busied herself with attaching the chin rest, adjusting the pegs, and tightening and rosining her bow to keep her mind from lingering on the situation she’d found herself in. Once she was ready, she turned her attention to Reid. “Something with an edge. Let me see your range.” Taking a deep breath, Chloe closed her eyes and dragged the bow across the strings. She alternated the pressure, causing the melody to sway from haunting and dark to soft and light as she quickened her pace. Rising to her feet, Chloe let the melody consume her, lull her into the state of calm that always came when she lost herself to music. When she finished, it was with a soft, slow pull across the strings that sounded like heartbreak feels. For a moment, she stood completely still before pulling in a deep breath, dropping her hands to her sides, and opening her eyes. Surprise caused her lips to part when her gaze locked with Reid’s. The intensity in his expression as he studied her made Chloe shift her weight. Silence hung heavy in the air as the pair stared at each other until Chloe finally dropped her eyes to the floor. After what felt like an eternity, Reid stood. “The job is yours if you want it. Brian has the details. Once you look everything over, if it’s agreeable, sign the papers and send them to my manager with your contact information. It was nice to meet you, Chloe. I look forward to playing with you. Brian, I’ll talk to you soon.” With a quick handshake, Reid exited the room, leaving a flabbergasted Chloe in his wake.With his collar pulled high around his ears, Reid stepped out into the cold February air and jogged to the edge of the sidewalk. Flagging down a cab, he quickly hopped inside and gave the driver the address of his hotel. When the car started moving, he called Tom. He relayed the events of the morning, letting Tom know he was certain they’d scored a replacement violinist and the tour should proceed as scheduled. After several minutes of back-and-forth, Reid pocketed his phone and sighed. Normally at an audition, he would have asked for more than one song to be played, especially when filling such an important role. After listening to Chloe’s tapes, however, he only needed to hear her once to know she was as talented as Brian promised. Something about her, though, made him uneasy even though her appearance was everything someone could hope to find in a new violinist. Her long blond and purple hair, lip and nose rings were the perfect mix of sexy and edgy. Maybe that was the problem; she was far too attractive. The way she had reacted to Reid, wide-eyed and star-struck, spelled trouble. Without a doubt, Chloe was what he needed for the show. As for his relationship with his girlfriend, Jess, and how she would react once she saw Chloe, well . . . that had potential to be the worst kind of complication. After paying the cab driver, Reid wasted no time getting up to his hotel room. Pushing open the door, he smiled at Jess who was lounging on the bed. The familiarity of her answering smile and bright eyes caused his shoulders to relax. “Hey, you.” “Wow, that was fast. How did it go? Did you find a replacement for Valerie?” Reid pulled off his beanie and jacket. “I promised you I’d be quick. We’re here for vacation, not work. And yes, I think so. I called Tom and let him know. Hopefully, everything will be squared away by tomorrow.” “Well, that’s a relief,” Jess sighed, pulling Reid down next to her. “What’s her name? Is she good?” “She’s good. Her name’s Chloe. From what Brian’s said, she’s had a few rough breaks lately. I don’t see her turning down the gig.” “Oh, yeah? What kind of rough breaks?” Reid pulled Jess to his chest. “I don’t want to talk about tour stuff. We only have a couple of days together before you head back to Memphis and I’m living on a bus for the next year. I think we’ve wasted enough time, don’t you?” Jess rested her cheek against his chest and nodded. “I can’t believe you’re leaving so soon. I just got you back.” A familiar feeling of dread caused Reid’s muscles to tighten at the thought of being separated from Jess. She was his rock. When his entire world had fallen apart, she’d stepped back into his life and given him purpose again. She kept the demons at bay. Slipping his arms around her waist, he hugged her against him and tried his best to reassure the both of them. “We’ll be okay. I’ll call you every chance I get, and when you have time off work, you can come to the shows. I also have a couple of weeks off after the first leg of the tour. I’ll come to Memphis, spend some time with everyone I’ve neglected for the past few years.” Jess was quiet for a second before she spoke, her voice trembling. “I’m scared. I know that’s a crappy thing to say right now. I know you need me to be strong, but the thought of us ending like last time terrifies me.” Reid closed his eyes, his mind drifting to when he met Jess nearly five years ago. For the first two years, they had been inseparable. But everything changed the night a talent agent approached Reid. Within a few short months, he had a record deal with an independent label and a single skyrocketing up the charts. The stars seemed to be aligning for Reid, but like most things in life, his fame came at a price. The influx of outside interest in his personal life took a toll on their relationship. Six months after being discovered, in a moment of sheer idiocy, he ended things with Jess. By the time he came to his senses, she wanted nothing to do with him. “Jess, it took me three years to find my way back to you. These last seven months have been everything I’ve ever wanted. I won’t lose you again. I promise.” Jess sat up and turned to face Reid. “We both made mistakes. Neither of us was prepared for how much your music career would change our lives. I just want to make sure we’re heading in the same direction this time. All you have to do is keep your promise, and everything will be how it should have been.”“I promise, Jess,” he whispered. “I’ll never break your heart again. Everything will be different this time.”