CHAPTER 17

Reid paced the length of his hotel room. Over and over, he raked his hand through his hair, unable to tear his gaze away from the beautiful girl sleeping peacefully in the bed. With a frustrated groan, he threw on some clothes and slipped out of the hotel room. In quick strides, he moved down the hall and knocked on Tom’s door. It only took a minute for Tom to open the door and usher Reid inside. “Did you know?” Reid asked, not bothering with formalities. Tom nodded, his expression remorseful. “And you didn’t think that was something I should have been told?” Reid spat. Tom crossed his arms over his chest and lifted his brow in challenge. “First of all, I only found out a couple of days ago. Second, why are you so angry that your girlfriend surprised you by showing up in Paris? Haven’t you been asking her to come visit since we left?” Reid dropped his chin to his chest and gripped his hair. “I don’t like being caught off guard.” “That’s the whole point of a surprise visit, and it still doesn’t explain your anger.” “It’s just—”“Cut the bullshit, Reid,” Tom interrupted, his voice hard. “You’re pissed because Jess showing up ruined your plans with Chloe.” “Chloe has nothing to do with this.” Reid could hear the lie in his words. Tom laughed. “This has everything to do with Chloe. You two are together all the time. You have all these inside jokes, and I see the way you look at her. Hell, you guys act more like a couple than most couples. Don’t forget, I was there when you and Jess split. I saw what it did to you. Are you willing to lose her all over again because of your infatuation with Chloe? I get it, man; Chloe’s a cool chick, and if that’s the direction you choose, then whatever. I just want you to make sure you know what you’re doing, because if you fuck things up with Jess again, she’s not going to take you back. Are you prepared for that?” Reid shifted his weight and frowned. He knew his feelings were changing, that something was shifting, but he wasn’t ready to admit that to anyone else. “Yes, Chloe and I are close, but not like you’re implying. Do I think she’s attractive? Hell yes. She’s fucking gorgeous. We have a good time together, and she’s someone I trust.” He looked away and cleared his throat. “She’s helped me get through a few rough spots.” “Rough spots? What are you not telling me?” Tom’s voice was laced with concern, all traces of anger gone.Reid rubbed the back of his neck and exhaled. “I’m just saying that I’ve been tempted to do things that I have no business doing. Chloe was there for me.” “Reid,” Tom exhaled as he dragged his hand down his face. “What does Chloe know?” Reid lifted his gaze, his eyes locking with Tom’s. “Everything.” Tom’s eyes widened. “Everything, everything?” “All of it. And then some.” “Holy shit,” Tom whispered. “Why would you do that?” “Because I trust her.” Tom blew out a heavy breath. “This is more complicated than I thought. Damn, Reid, you don’t even see it, do you?” “Don’t start your psychoanalysis shit with me. I know how it looks. I’m not stupid. But I swear to you, it’s not like that. I’m with Jess.” “Well then, you should get back to her. I’m sure she’s wondering where you are.” Reid looked at the bedside clock and sighed. “Sorry I snapped at you. I’ll see you at the venue.” “Don’t worry about it. See you later.” Slipping out of the room, he headed down the hall, slowing as he passed Chloe’s door before shaking his head and going to his room. Seeing Chloe was the last thing he needed to do.Sitting on top of a vanity in the band’s lounge area at the venue, Chloe tried her best to make Greer go away. “Why are you doing this?” she whined, her face twisted into a pout. She was certain she looked every bit as idiotic as she felt. Greer laughed and adjusted her party hat. “It’s your birthday, and since the evil king isn’t here to lock you away in a tower like some modern-day Rapunzel, I’m taking full advantage of the situation.” Chloe gave him a wry smile and kicked her leg out, barely missing his shin. “Don’t be a dick.” She reached up to pull off the silly hat, but Greer grabbed her arm. Stepping between her legs, he held her arm away and gave her a look of disapproval. “Am I going to need to tie your hands behind your back, or are you going to behave and let me have my way?” Chloe’s eyes widened and she slapped her free hand over her mouth to stifle the abrupt laugh that burst from her chest. Greer leered at her, his smile cheeky. It only made Chloe laugh harder. “You’re insane.” “And you have a filthy mind. You were totally thinking about me tying you up. Admit it.” Chloe opened her mouth to protest, but her words were cut off when another voice rang out.“Well, I see Greer hasn’t changed a bit.” Chloe leaned around Greer, her stomach sinking when she spotted Reid and Jess standing in the doorway. Jess wore a wide smile and her eyes danced with mirth, but Reid looked as though he was contemplating murder. Their expressions couldn’t have been more different. Still holding Chloe’s arm, Greer turned toward Jess and winked. “Does that mean you’re ready to dump that loser for me?” Jess laughed. “It seems like you already have your hands full.” “Literally,” Reid added, his voice flat, his gaze locked on where Greer held Chloe’s arm. Chloe cleared her throat and tugged her arm free. “Hey, guys.” “Hi, Chloe.” Jess smiled as she crossed the room. “Happy birthday!” Chloe returned her smile. “Thanks.” Jess grabbed a nearby chair and pulled it in front of Chloe before falling into it with a sigh. “Jet lag is a bitch.” “I told you to stay at the hotel and get some rest,” Reid said, moving slowly toward the group. “And miss your show? Are you kidding?” Jess’s eyes widened with mock outrage. Her tone was playful, but Chloe couldn’t help but notice the way her knuckles whitened from her grip on the chair. “That’s the thing about being on tour. There’s show after show after show to look forward to.” “Damn, bro. There’s goes my theory that getting laid would mellow you out. You’re still just as broody as ever. How do you put up with this guy?” Greer asked, his tone joking and lighthearted. Chloe would have given anything to be somewhere else. She didn’t want to think about what Reid and Jess had done the night before. She didn’t want to see Jess’s pink cheeks or the sweet smile she wore when she peeked up at Reid. Most of all, she didn’t want to feel the pang of jealousy that burned like acid. “Chloe, do you have plans for your birthday after the show?” Jess asked, obviously wanting to change the subject. Chloe shook her head while Greer nodded. Chloe looked over at him, her brows pinched. “I have plans?” “Yup. You sure do. You ditched us last night. It’s not happening again. We don’t have to do anything big, but we’re going out for a drink later. Inky won’t take no for an answer.” Chloe rolled her eyes. “I didn’t ditch you last night. I’d been walking all afternoon and I was exhausted. And I’d love to go out after the show for a drink.” Chloe’s gaze flickered to Reid. His expression was blank, his eyes impassive. It made her feel ridiculous for her flash of jealousy earlier. Reid was just her friend. Steeling herself, Chloe turned to Jess. “Do you guys want to come with us? I know you said you were tired, but the offer stands.” “That’s the spirit,” Greer bellowed, his arm finding its way around Chloe’s shoulders once more. “We’ll all go, one big, happy family.” He reached over and tugged at the hat still on Chloe’s head. “Oh my God,” she laughed, batting his hand away and pulling off the hat. “I’m not wearing this.” She waved the hat in Greer’s face, pulling it out of his reach when he made a grab for it. “You’re no fun.” “Are they always like this?” Jess giggled, hooking her finger in Reid’s pocket and pulling him closer. “Yup.” Reid’s clipped tone and one-word answers made it clear that Greer’s antics were pushing his buttons. Chloe had no doubt that was the exact reaction Greer wanted. This time, however, Chloe wasn’t going to step in the middle. “We’d love to come.” Jess looked up at Reid and tugged on his jeans to get his attention. “Is that okay with you?” Reid looked down at Jess, his shoulders slumping at the sight of her hopeful expression. “If that’s what you want to do, then that’s what we’ll do.” “Thanks,” Jess answered. “Can we go see Inky now? She has a couple of shirts from the opening band that she’s holding for me.” Reid looked at Greer. “Hey, man. I need to talk to Chloe about a few things with the show. Will you walk with Jess to where Inky is setting up?” Chloe tensed. She wasn’t sure why, but suddenly the thought of being alone with Reid made her nervous. “No problem.” Greer smirked, his gaze locked on Reid. The knowing look in his eyes made Chloe fidget. “Just remember, when Jess falls madly in love with me, you have only yourself to blame.” Reid laughed, but it sounded off. Hollow. “I’ll take my chances.” Jess looked at Chloe. “These two must be loads of fun on the bus.” Chloe smiled and swallowed hard. “One big, happy family.” “I can’t wait,” Jess snarked with a grin. Silence filled the room once Jess’s and Greer’s voices faded down the hall. Chloe’s eyes were downcast as she fumbled with the hat in her hands. It was the most awkward she’d felt around Reid in a long time. She hated it. She peeked up at him, but he wasn’t looking at her. His hands were shoved deep in his pockets, his shoulders hunched, and his eyes moving over everything in the room except Chloe. It was maddening. “So what did you want to talk about?” Chloe asked, unable to stand the uncomfortable silence anymore. After several seconds, Reid looked at her. His hair was more disheveled than usual, and dark circles Chloe hadn’t noticed before rimmed his eyes. All of Chloe’s apprehension faded in an instant as concern crashed over her. Without hesitation, she stood and closed the distance between them. “Are you okay?” she whispered, her thumb tracing the purple line under his eye. Reid blew out a heavy breath and covered Chloe’s hand with his own, holding her in place. “I’m sorry I missed your birthday.” The soft, remorseful tone of his voice made Chloe’s heart ache. She hated that he felt so bad about not going to the cemetery, especially given the reason. She also hated that she didn’t hate it nearly as much as she should have. “You didn’t miss my birthday,” she said with a smile. “You’re here now.” Reid leaned into her hand and his eyes fell shut. “You know what I mean.” A throat cleared and Chloe jerked her hand away as if she’d been burned. Tom stood in the doorway, his expression unreadable. “I saw Greer in the hall. He said you two were talking about the show tonight. I wanted to see if there were any changes you planned on making.” His gaze drifted to Reid, his eyes challenging. “Are you making any changes, Reid?” Reid’s face hardened and his hands balled into fists at his side. “No. Everything is exactly as it should be.” His tone was clipped, angry. Chloe suddenly got the feeling they weren’t talking about the show. Tom’s eyes flickered to Chloe. He must have seen the confusion on her face because his aggressive stance disappeared immediately. “Sometimes change is the right thing. Happy birthday, Chloe. You guys are gonna kill it tonight.” With a nod, he turned and left the room. “What the hell is going on?” Chloe blurted out, her eyes fixed on Reid. “Why is everyone acting so weird?” “What are you talking about?” Reid countered, averting his gaze. Chloe exhaled heavily. “Never mind.” She didn’t need to hear him say it. Just like the fans and the media, Tom and Greer thought something was going on between Chloe and Reid. It didn’t matter that they were around them every single day and saw that nothing other than friendship existed; they were suspicious. It made Chloe feel dirty. As much as she cared for Reid, as much as she found him attractive, she would never cross that line. That wasn’t her. She would never be that girl. Reid nudged her foot and smiled when she met his eyes. “I brought you something.” Chloe mimicked his smile and clasped her hands in front of her. “Oh, yeah? It wouldn’t happen to be a cupcake, would it?” Reid smirked and pulled the bag from his shoulder. “Maybe.” Chloe bounced on her toes, forgetting about her dark thoughts. It was her birthday. A happy day. And if she was lucky, Reid was about to give her a cupcake. “Give it to me,” she demanded with her arm extended. Reid grinned and pulled out a small glass bottle. Chloe’s brows pinched with confusion as she reached for the bottle. “This isn’t a cupcake.” “Are you certain?” he asked with a cocky smirk and a raised brow. Chloe twisted the lid off and lifted the bottle to her nose, her eyes widening as soon as the smell hit her senses. “It smells like a cupcake!” Reid chuckled. “It does.” “Where did you get it?” “Frank gave it to me. It’s their special brand of cake vodka. He asked me to give it to you on your birthday.” Chloe’s chest warmed with gratitude. “I wish I could thank him.” Reid laughed again and pulled the last cupcake of Chloe’s from his bag. “Don’t worry,” he said, handing it to her. “He was thanked several thousand times.” Chloe’s eyes widened as she pulled the cupcake from his grasp. “Please tell me that’s a figure of speech.” Reid pulled a candle from the bag and pushed it into the creamy icing atop the cupcake. Using a lighter, he held it to the wick until it burst to life. “Make a wish, Chloe.” “Reid . . .” Chloe warned. Reid rolled his eyes. “I have more money than I can ever spend. It was nice to use it on something that wasn’t destroying my life. Now, please,” he implored, his voice strained, “make a wish.” Chloe’s eyes fell shut, and with a heavy sigh, she wished for the one thing she wanted more than anything. Please don’t let me fall for him.Flat green eyes. Pale skin covered in blood. Red and blue flashing lights. There was no air. Only burning lungs, an aching body, and pain. All-consuming pain. Inside. Outside. Everywhere. Unforgiving. God, please, just grant an ounce of relief. Something. Anything. Gasping breaths. Warm hands. A firm grip and a voice laced with panic. Fear. It gripped tighter. Unforgiving. Floating. Just as the world started to fade to black, the scent of lavender filled the air. Purple and soft, comforting. Relaxing. Everything was purple. Everything was beautiful, whole. Yellow sun, silver skies. Chloe. Chloe. Chloe. “Reid?!” The sound of Jess’s panicked voice lifted the fog of sleep from Reid’s subconscious. “Reid, please wake up!” He blinked and tried to make out her form in the dark room. Sweat trickled down the sides of his face as a chill racked his body. “Jess?” His voice was hoarse and laced with confusion. “God, baby. You scared the shit out of me. Are you okay?” “What happened?” Jess laid her head on his chest and clung to his shirt. “You were having a nightmare. I tried to wake you, but you just kept thrashing. I didn’t know what to do,” she choked, her tears leaking onto the already soaked cotton of his T-shirt. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. With a deep breath, he pressed a kiss against her forehead and exhaled. “I’m sorry. I have nightmares.” “I know,” Jess responded before falling quiet. Silence settled around them as she turned on her side and pulled the covers tight around her shoulders. Just as Reid began to drift off to sleep once more, Jess spoke. Her words were garbled and meant for no one, but Reid heard them as if she’d screamed at the top of her lungs. “You’ve just never called for anyone named Chloe.” Long after Jess fell asleep, Reid lay awake. Guilt chipped away at him. It seemed to be all he felt lately. Guilt for hurting Jess. Guilt for missing Chloe even though he was with her every day. Guilt for the tension that weighed on the group. He couldn’t seem to do right by anyone, and he had no idea how to fix it. That wasn’t true. He knew how to fix it; he just wasn’t sure he could. Almost two weeks had passed since Jess surprised him in Paris. Since he’d boarded the flight from LA to Dublin four months ago, that was all he’d wanted. But now that she was here, nothing felt right. Chloe had distanced herself, and Greer wasted no time keeping her occupied. He should have been happy, grateful even, for the opportunity to spend some quality time with Jess. He felt none of those things. He stared at her sleeping form. Her soft, black hair fanned around her face, the contrast making her sun-kissed skin seem to glow. He counted each breath she took, his eyes moving across the pout of her parted lips as she exhaled softly. She was so beautiful. It hurt to look at her sometimes. Skimming the back of his hand across her cheek, he let his eyes fall shut. When she’d told him to go to hell all those years ago, he never once imagined they’d be where they were now. He’d been young and stupid and lost the one person he loved most. Now, she was back. After all the mistakes he’d made, all the wrong he’d done, she’d given him another chance. In return, she only asked for one thing. Please don’t break my heart again. The words were so clear, if he wasn’t looking at her, he’d swear she said them. Reid fell heavily against the pillow and threw his arm over his face. His mind raced as he tried to reason with the turmoil brewing inside him. Jess was everything he wanted. So why couldn’t he stop thinking about Chloe? Why was she infiltrating his dreams? He tried to think logically, listing reasons like their connection to music and their close proximity over the last few months. The problem was, the moment Jess arrived, all thoughts of Chloe should have melted away. That was how things had always been. Jess had a way of making him forget the world with just a smile. She knew him inside and out. She understood him. She loved him and he loved her. That was enough. It had to be enough. Because the alternative would be the one thing he promised to never do again and that wasn’t an option at all. When the first traces of dawn filtered through the bus’s dark tinted windows and Jess began to stir, Reid rolled to his side and closed his eyes. He couldn’t face her, not yet. He needed a little time to get his shit together. That’s all he needed. Just a little time.Reid looked around his dressing room and sighed. Pressing the heels of his palms into his eyes, he fought to shake the weight of fatigue. He hadn’t slept more than a couple of hours for almost a week. Not since he’d said Chloe’s name in his sleep. If he didn’t sleep, he couldn’t dream. If he couldn’t dream, he wouldn’t have to worry about ever seeing the hurt on Jess’s face he’d seen that day when he’d dragged himself out of bed. He never wanted to see that again. “Mr. Ryder, can I get you anything?” Reid jerked his surprise, his eyes darting to the guy standing only a few feet away. Reid hadn’t even heard him come in. Taking note of his clothes, Reid relaxed when he noticed the venue’s logo printed on his shirt and the headset hanging around his neck. “No, I’m fine.” The guy nodded but stopped after he turned to leave. Pivoting back toward Reid, he smiled. It was a conspiratorial smile; it was trouble. “You’ve got about thirty minutes before you head out.” Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small object and tossed it in Reid’s lap. “Just in case you need a pick-me-up,” he said before turning on his heel and slipping out the door.Reid couldn’t move. He couldn’t look down. He knew what was there. The featherlight bag felt like a slab of concrete in his lap. His heart pounded and his mouth went dry. He took several breaths before releasing a shaky exhale and dropping his gaze. Just as he knew there would be, a tiny plastic bag filled with instant oblivion sat like a bomb awaiting detonation. Reid gasped and shoved the baggie into the outside pocket of his bag when his phone came to life beside him. He looked around the room, guilty and on edge as he reached for the phone. When he saw the name on the screen, he thought for sure his heart would beat its way out of his chest. “Will?” “What’s up, dude? Still not banging the totally bangin’ violinist?” Reid let out a nervous laugh and pushed his clammy palm through his sweaty hair. “Are you sure you and Greer aren’t related?” “I wish. I’d totally take his leftovers.” “That’s fucking gross, man.” “Hey, not all of us can have the crème de la crème of pussy. I’m all right with slummin’ it once in a while.” Reid exhaled as his racing heart began to slow. “Did you have a reason for calling other than talking about pussy?” Will snickered into the phone. “I have some news about your girl.” Reid swallowed around the lump that formed in his throat at Will’s choice of words. He should have corrected Will. Told him Chloe wasn’t his girl, but he didn’t. He didn’t want to. “Oh, yeah?” “I passed around a few tapes, emailed some footage from the shows. I’ve had a dozen calls from musicians and scouts. They can’t believe she’s not bankrolling. Dude, she’s got a lot of fucking talent. She’s also got the look everybody loves: hot, soft, and just enough badass to make even the most committed man think twice. Save for yourself, of course,” Will added with a laugh. Reid ground his teeth together and clenched his fist. Suddenly, he wondered if Chloe moving to LA was a good idea after all. Everyone would want her, but not always for the right reasons. The thought of some asshole running a game on her made Reid want to hit something. Maybe he should consider asking her to stay on with his band. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t planned to use a violin on his next album. He didn’t even have a next album. The way things were going, he wasn’t sure if there would be a next album. But if she moved to LA, she’d be closer. She wouldn’t disappear from his life. That thought was all it took for Reid to maintain his composure. He’d worry about everything else later. “So what’s the next step?” “Get her ass to LA. I’ve had a couple of calls asking about her agent, but I didn’t know dick about that, so I told them I’d have to get back with them. I’ll forward you all the responses I got and you can show them to her. If she doesn’t move to LA after seeing who some of these inquiries are from, she’s not fucking serious about making it.” “Thanks, man. I owe you. Send me the info and I’ll get it to her. And don’t worry, you didn’t waste your time. She wants it. I know she does.” Reid hung up and tossed his phone back on the vanity. He checked the time, and with a low curse, jumped to his feet. It was show time. He’d wait until tomorrow to tell Chloe the good news and hope it was enough to convince her to move.