CHAPTER 15

The soft hum of the bus engine did little to calm Reid’s slowly fraying nerves. His conversations with Jess had been strained since videos surfaced online of his performance in Finland. He’d watched it more than a dozen times, and if it wasn’t for the fact that he knew better, he’d swear the couple on stage kissed. Jess swore she believed him, that she wasn’t angry, but Reid still felt uneasy. Add the fact that Greer was busting his balls every chance he got, any time he saw Inky she wore a knowing smirk, like she knew every thought running through his head, and Reid was nearing the end of his rope. He needed a break. His cell phone vibrated by his side, causing his already taut muscles to strain. With a weary hand, he grabbed his phone, his eyes widening when he saw the number. “Will?” “Reid, my man. I got your message. How’s the tour going?” Reid pushed his hair back with his free hand. “Things are all right. I’ve hit a few bumps here and there, but nothing I can’t handle.” Nothing I can’t handle without Chloe, he thought. Chloe.She was the only bright spot in all his internal struggles. He didn’t have to worry if he’d hurt her or if she was upset. She wasn’t on his case or trying to get in his head. She was just Chloe. She was a breath of fresh air in a suffocating room. “So what’s this about that hot little violinist moving to LA?” Reid clenched his jaw but held his anger in check. The last thing he needed to do was piss off the guy who could help him get Chloe to LA. “Nothing’s set in stone, but I told her I’d put out some feelers. If I come up with some strong prospects, she’s considering the move.” “Why don’t you just offer her a permanent place with you? Or are you trying to keep your business and pleasure separate?” Will joked, his tone suggestive. Reid paused, his mind still hung up on the possibility of keeping Chloe indefinitely before he processed the rest of Will’s comment. “It’s not like that, man. We’re not dating. I’m back with Jess.” “I didn’t say anything about dating. You can’t expect me to believe you’re with that girl day after day and you haven’t hit it. Come on, man.” “That’s exactly what I fucking expect. Just because most of you assholes have no problem fucking around doesn’t mean everyone is like that.” “Whoa, dude. All right. I got it. I mean, I don’t get it because I’ve seen her, but I hear ya.”“Look,” Reid exhaled, exhausted from the constant speculation about his relationship with Chloe. “I know where you’re coming from. I also know we’ve hung out in the past, so you’re not totally off base with your assumption. I’ve just been dealing with a lot of shit lately.” “No sweat. So you’re looking to get a line on some upcoming gigs for her?” Reid relaxed his shoulders, grateful to have the conversation back on track. “Yeah. Do you think you could ask around? See what’s out there? Pass around some footage from the shows?” “Yeah, man. I can do that. I can tell you, though, she’s not going to have any trouble getting work out here. She fits the vibe in LA way more than I imagine she does in New York.” “No doubt,” Reid agreed. “Thanks for doing this. Let me know if you get any bites?” “Will do. Hit me up when you get back, we’ll catch up. Have a beer.” “Sounds good. Later.” Reid dropped his phone back on the bed and sighed in relief. If anyone could line things up for Chloe, it was Will. Well, Tom could have as well, but Reid didn’t want to involve Tom in his plan to move Chloe to LA. He was already going to catch hell when everyone found out. There were only a little more than two months left in the first leg of the tour, and in that time, he had to convince Chloe to move to LA. He didn’t need the others’ reactions affecting her decision. Checking the time, Reid grabbed the pillow next to his head and covered his face with a groan. He’d promised to call Jess once they hit the road, but it was almost two in the morning and all he wanted to do was sleep. Not wanting her to worry, he typed out a text instead. It was something he’d started doing more and more lately. He rationalized that it was because the tour was wearing him down, and for the most part, that was true. Most days he wasn’t even sure what country they were in, much less the city. Tonight, however, his desire to sleep instead of talk with Jess had nothing to do with the seven-hour time difference and everything to do with his plans for tomorrow. A smile lifted the corners of his mouth, even as his eyes grew heavier and heavier. Tomorrow, they’d be in Berlin and he had a surprise for Chloe. As his breathing evened out and his body sagged into the mattress, he saw nothing but her smile.A loud banging sound jolted Chloe from sleep. She blinked, disoriented. Giving her eyes a moment to adjust, she squinted and looked around. It took a moment for her to realize she was on the bus. Pulling back the curtain, she peered up at a very awake, very happy Reid.“What time is it?” she croaked, hoping she didn’t look as bad as she sounded. “Are you sick?” He reached out and placed his hand against her forehead then slid it down to her cheek. Chloe cleared her throat. “I always sound like a sixty-year-old smoker when I first wake up. Supersexy, huh?” she joked. Reid tapped his forefinger to her nose before removing his hand. “Smokin’ hot.” “Jerk,” Chloe mumbled as she reached to pull the curtain shut. “I’m serious,” he argued, grabbing the curtain and halting her attempt to make him go away. “Cruella de Vil was a fox.” “What do you want?” Chloe groaned, defeated. He clearly had no interest in allowing her to sleep. “I have a surprise for you,” he answered with a sly smile. Chloe narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips to keep from smiling. No matter how annoyed she was about being woken up, his mood was infectious. “I’m not sure how I feel about surprises that come with that kind of smile.” A look of hurt crossed Reid’s face. It was so over the top and insincere Chloe couldn’t help but laugh at his foolishness. “I see nothing funny here. You just insulted me.” “I did no such thing,” Chloe huffed, throwing her legs off the side of the bed and grabbing Reid’s shoulder to land on her feet. “But if you insist on dragging me out of bed at some ungodly hour, the least you could do is have coffee waiting.” Reid’s abrupt laughter caused Chloe to look over her shoulder, her eyes following his to a place on her bed. A mound of Starburst wrappers littered the side of her pillow. Chloe shrugged and leaned across him, grabbing a handful of unopened chews from under her pillow before popping one in her mouth, her face unapologetic. “You know what’s up,” she quipped before walking to the kitchen area. “And it’s not some ungodly hour,” he corrected as he followed her down the stairs. “I wasn’t awake yet. In my book, that’s considered ungodly.” “You sound like Greer,” Inky said with a yawn as she passed Chloe a cup of coffee. “It’s a bit early for insults, isn’t it?” Reid moved to the seat beside Chloe and turned to Inky with his brow lifted in challenge. “That wasn’t an insult,” Inky replied with a shrug, her expression nonchalant. “If I wanted to insult her, Greer isn’t the person I’d choose.” Chloe looked from Reid to Inky over the rim of her coffee cup, her eyes wide. She wasn’t sure what happened from last night until this morning, but clearly they were at odds about something. Beside her, Reid’s jaw ticked, his body taut. “Well then, Inky. Who would you choose?”Inky let out an incredulous laugh and set down her coffee. “Are you sure you want to know?” Chloe took a sip of her coffee, wanting nothing more than to disappear. Whatever was going on between them, she didn’t want to end up in the middle. It wasn’t until she felt like everyone’s eyes were on her that she made herself look at Reid. When she did, she wished she hadn’t. His expression was torn, desperate. He looked so lost that it caused Chloe’s chest to ache. “No,” he whispered, his eyes locked with Chloe’s. “I know.” Chloe couldn’t bear the intensity of his stare any longer. She blinked and looked away, her gaze moving to Inky. What she saw there wasn’t much better. Inky’s expression was sad and laced with regret. “Good,” Inky mumbled, grabbing her cup. “Have fun today, Chloe.” Before Chloe could find her words, Inky had disappeared to the upper deck of the bus. Bewildered, she turned back to Reid. “What the hell just happened?” Reid swallowed hard. “Just Inky putting me in my place like always.” “Oh, so that’s how you’re going to play it?” Chloe couldn’t help but feel hurt by his brush-off after all the things they’d shared. Reid sighed and pushed his hair out of his face.“Here’s the deal. I want to take you somewhere today for your birthday. When Inky asked who else was coming, I told her no one. She got pissy about it and made a comment that, if she didn’t know better, she would think we were a couple.” “We’re just friends,” Chloe interjected. She hated the way it made her feel that the others thought there was something going on between them. Although she had to admit, the only reason it bothered her so much was because he had a girlfriend. She never wanted to be that girl. “I know. Which is what I told her. It’s not my fault that I’d rather spend time with you. Maybe they should be cooler. Watch Star Wars and eat some Starbursts.” “Not my Starbursts,” Chloe shot back in a huff. Reid held his hands out in front of him in supplication, his eyes wide and full of mirth. “Absolutely not. Who would dare piss off a Jedi Master?” Chloe pursed her lips and popped her nonexistent collar. “No one who wants to live.” Reid laughed and threw his arm around her shoulders. “Are we okay now?” Chloe rolled her eyes, but she couldn’t hide her smile. “We’ll see. Why are you giving me a birthday present, anyway? It’s three weeks away.” She paused and eyed him carefully. “That being said, what does this birthday present involve?”Reid’s smile was too wide, too mischievous. “We’re going to get sauced.” Chloe blinked. “Come again?” “You heard me. I have a surprise for you that includes two of your favorite things. Music and Starburst.” Chloe lifted her brow. “What the hell does either of those things have to do with alcohol?” “You’ll see. Grab your stuff from the bunk so you can be ready to check in to the hotel when we get there. As soon as you’re done, we’ll head out.” Chloe looked at the time, her eyes widening. “It’s not even ten in the morning!” “By the time we get there, it will be after noon. Now, get your ass moving. We should be at the hotel any minute.” Far too intrigued to let her mind linger on what else was said between Reid and Inky, Chloe did as she was asked. Once she’d checked in to the hotel and gotten ready for the day, she headed to the lobby to meet Reid. He was already waiting. “Ready?” he asked. “If we’re going to be drinking, I need food. Lots and lots of food.” “Already taken care of. Now, quit stalling. Let’s get this show on the road.” In a private car, the two bantered back and forth throughout the ride to their destination. When the front of the building came into view, Chloe’s eyes widened and her stomach fluttered with nerves. Reid wasn’t kidding. They were going to get sauced. “You’re taking me to a vodka distillery? Have I mentioned I’m a bit of a lightweight? Because that’s probably valuable information for you to have.” Reid laughed and helped her out of the car once they came to a stop. “Don’t worry. I won’t let you dance on any tabletops today.” “Thank God,” Chloe exhaled. “Now, tonight,” Reid added with a sly smile. “Well, I can’t make any promises.” “You’re a regular comedian today,” Chloe snarked as a large gentleman with plump cheeks and graying hair walked in their direction. “Mr. Ryder. My name is Frank,” he said in introduction as he shook Reid’s hand. “I’ll be taking you on your tour today.” “Call me Reid. And this is Chloe.” “Ah.” Frank gave her a knowing smile and winked before grabbing her hand and kissing her knuckles. “Starburst?” he asked, his eyes flicking to Reid. “Yup,” Reid laughed. “Excellent. I think you’ll be most pleased with what we’ve come up with. But first, how about we get the two of you a little lunch?” “Lunch sounds great. Chloe?” Chloe nodded, completely dumbfounded by everything happening around her. “Sure. Food sounds great.” Reid grinned and motioned for Frank to lead the way. Chloe swallowed when she felt Reid’s hand brush against the small of her back. She expected him to move his hand, or at the very least, create a little distance. He did neither. She hated how much she liked that he didn’t. Once inside the building, they followed Frank up a flight of stairs to a small room overlooking what Chloe assumed was the place where the vodka was distilled. Large copper barrels lined the floor with shiny silver pipes running out of them like vines. It was impressive and intimidating. “Ms. Chloe, if you would like, I have a seat here for you.” Frank pulled out a chair and swept his hand in front of it in dramatic fashion. Chloe couldn’t help but smile. He was very charismatic. His eyes held a hint of amusement that made Chloe wonder what exactly she’d gotten herself into. “Thank you.” She moved to the table and eased into the chair as Frank slid it toward the table. Reid sat across from her, his expression a mirror image of Frank’s. “We have a very nice lunch prepared for you today. It’s a sampling of popular foods in the area.” Frank set to work uncovering the small plates on the table as he rattled off the names of each dish, but Chloe couldn’t remember one from the other. All she knew was that she planned to try them all.“I’ll leave you two to enjoy your lunch, but I’ll be right down the hall if you need anything. Once you’re done, we’ll get to the fun part.” “Thank you, Frank. We’ll see you in a bit,” Reid said as Frank slipped out the door and pulled it closed. “Well, you’ve really outdone yourself.” Chloe grabbed a plate and began spooning food from each plate to her own. “Do you like it?” Chloe paused and lifted her eyes to Reid’s, her expression horrified. “Holy shit. I’m such a jerk. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. This is amazing, Reid, thank you so much. I think it’s too much, but I’m really glad you did it.” Reid grinned, his handsome features relaxing. He pushed the sleeves of his signature Henley to his elbows, revealing his colorful tattoos. “It wasn’t any trouble,” he said with a shrug as he pulled off his beanie and brushed his hair from his face. Chloe swallowed and looked away, not wanting Reid to catch her ogling. Friend or not, she’d be a liar if she said he wasn’t attractive. That she wasn’t attracted to him. “I don’t believe that for a second,” she said, regaining her composure. “But thank you nonetheless.” “I have an update for you,” Reid commented as he filled his plate. “Oh, yeah?”“I talked to a friend of mine back in LA earlier this morning. His name is Will; he’s a talent scout of sorts. He works for my label. Anyway, I told him about you. Asked if he’d pass around some tapes and put out some feelers to see what kind of gigs are up for grabs right now. He’s good. Really good. I wouldn’t doubt that he’d be able to find you more work than you’d know what to do with.” “Wow,” Chloe exhaled, her eyes wide. “That’s amazing. Like I said, the idea of moving cross-country is exciting, but also terrifying. Not stressing about what I’m going to do once this tour is over, however, far outweighs my fears.” “Just don’t forget about me when you make it big.” Chloe blinked as tears rose unexpectedly to the surface. She’d never felt such gratitude toward anyone in her entire life. “What’s wrong?” Reid asked, his face pinched with worry as Chloe stood and walked to his side of the table. Bending her knees, Chloe wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. Reid hesitated for a moment before rising to his feet and returning her embrace. “Thank you so much,” she whispered. “I can’t tell you how much this means to me. Thank you. Thank you.” Reid loosened his grip and tipped her chin until their eyes met. “You’re welcome. Just don’t ever give up. Don’t ever let someone take away your music. Even if that someone is you.” “I won’t,” Chloe said, suddenly feeling self-conscious. “Just don’t forget the same goes for you.” Reid motioned for Chloe to sit as he did the same. “You’re like a pit bull.” “Yeah, well, practice what you preach and all that. Have you managed to write anything?” she asked, her voice gentle. Reid’s shoulders slumped and his eyes dropped to his plate. “Nothing except what we worked on.” “I’m sorry. It’ll happen, though—you know that, right? You just need to find the right inspiration.” “Yeah, I know. But I don’t want to talk about that,” he said, his voice stronger. “We’re here to get drunk and have fun. We’ll worry about everything else later.” Chloe grinned. “Sounds like a plan.” Frank returned a little later wearing the same secret smile he’d left with. “How was everything?” “Amazing,” Chloe answered. “Everything was perfect. I’m ready for the main course now.” Reid winked at Frank as he stood. “Excellent. We’ll take a quick tour through the distilling room and then make our way to the tasting room.” “Oh, boy,” Chloe mumbled. She had a feeling the tasting room might be her downfall.Beside her, Reid chuckled. With a nod, he moved to the side for Chloe to follow, and as before, his hand found its way to the small of her back. All throughout the distilling room, Chloe was hyperaware of his proximity. Frank pointed out different parts of the still, mentioning the variety of ingredients used during the process, but it was all white noise in her ears. Reid’s touch affected her in ways it never had. She wasn’t sure what felt so different about today, but by the time they entered the tasting room, Chloe was nearly breathless. “Are you okay? You’re being weirder than normal.” Chloe turned to Reid and laughed. “Yeah. I’m just nervous about whatever it is you’ve cooked up.” “Well, let me set your mind at ease,” Frank said with a smile. “Come. Sit.” Chloe cut her eyes in Reid’s direction and lifted her brow before doing as Frank asked. Once Reid joined her, taking the stool next to her, Frank walked around to the other side of the bar and pulled out three bottles. “When I received a call from Mr. Ryder a few weeks ago, he had a very specific request. Never one to turn down a challenge, I decided to give it a shot. Now, it’s my understanding that you have quite the affinity for Starburst.” Chloe laughed. “I do.” “Well, Mr. Ryder put me to the task of creating a couple of variations of Starburst vodka.” “He didn’t.” Chloe turned to Reid, slack-jawed. “You didn’t.” “I did,” Reid answered with a sly smile. “He did,” Frank echoed, pulling out a couple of glasses. “I must admit, taste testing for quality was quite enjoyable.” “I can’t believe you did this.” Chloe pulled in a deep breath, determined to not go full-on girlie twice in one day. “It was fun,” Frank cut in, pouring vodka into each glass. “Those backstage passes for my daughter and her best friend were well worth the experimentation.” “Reid,” Chloe whispered. She didn’t know what to say. She had no idea why he’d done all of this for her, but it caused a feeling to bloom in the pit of her stomach that made the world spin. “Don’t get too choked up. You haven’t tried it yet.” Reid looked at Frank and winked, obviously letting him know the comment was more about keeping Chloe from becoming emotional than insulting Frank. Frank smiled and pushed the glass in front of Chloe. “Orange.” Chloe sniffed then took a sip, her eyes going wide the moment the flavor hit her tongue. “Oh my God, this is amazing! And dangerous. This is so very dangerous.”Reid laughed and took a sip from his glass before nodding in agreement. “Wow. This is amazing, Frank.” “Wait until you try the others.” Frank set four glasses on the bar and filled each pair from two different bottles. “This one is lemon, and the other is strawberry. Tell me what you think.” Chloe and Reid sipped from each glass, and as with the first sample, both gave their enthusiastic approval. For the next hour, the three talked about everything from vodka and music to tattoos and bonfires. They drank vodka until the edges of Chloe’s vision began to soften and blur. When they left that afternoon, it was with hugs from Frank and a large bottle of strawberry Starburst-flavored vodka. “I’m a little drunk,” Chloe giggled in the back of the car. “I’m a little drunk. You’re a lotta drunk,” Reid corrected with a cheeky smile. Chloe waved her hand dismissively. “Pffttt. Whatever.” For a moment, she remained quiet as she tried to gather her thoughts. Leaning across the seat, she placed her hand on his chest. “Thank you so much for today. It was the best ever.” “Best ever, huh?” Reid smirked. Chloe rolled her eyes, not bothering to comment on his cocky attitude. Drunk or not, what Reid did was the most romantic thing a guy had ever done for her. And he wasn’t even hers. He never would be hers. With a sigh, she pulled away and hugged the bottle of vodka to her chest. Reid chuckled beside her but said nothing else. When they returned to the hotel, he walked her to her room, making sure to keep one hand poised at her elbow. Chloe was grateful. “Drink some water and don’t sleep all day. You need to have dinner.” Chloe straightened her stance the best she could and gave him a silly salute. “Sir, yes, sir.” Reid brushed the hair out of her face and smiled, his eyes soft. “I’ll see you in the morning. Remember, no more free passes. So don’t go in there and mistake that vodka for Starbursts.” Chloe laughed. “You don’t have to worry about that. I need to make up for the sleep I was robbed of this morning.” “It wasn’t an ungodly hour,” he argued, his smile widening. “Yeah, yeah.” Without giving herself a chance to overthink was she was doing, Chloe popped up on her toes and gave Reid a quick kiss on the cheek. “Thanks again for today.” She spun around and unlocked her door, the sight of Reid’s shocked expression burned into her mind. “You’re welcome,” he whispered as the door fell shut behind her. Setting the bottle on the table, Chloe fell onto the bed and closed her eyes. She could feel what was happening, and if she wasn’t careful, she was going to end up completely heartbroken. The problem was, she had no idea how to stop it.