CHAPTER 20

The music was too loud for the late hour. Chloe didn’t care. They had one more show and then she was going to New York to pack all her things to move to Los Angeles. Drink in hand, she danced around the room, her long blond and purple hair flying behind her. Images blurred behind her closed lids: the places she’d traveled, the faces she’d seen. But no matter how hard she tried, hazel eyes, light brown hair, and a strong jaw overshadowed everything. It took no effort at all to smell the rich, woodsy scent of his skin, to feel his smooth, yet callused fingers glide along the curve of her jaw. God, she wanted to feel it again. She wanted to press her nose to his chest and inhale the musk of his cologne. It was wrong. She knew it was wrong. He wasn’t hers. But, oh, how she wished he could be, that he didn’t have a girlfriend he loved, and that when he looked at her, he felt as she did. “I’m so stupid,” she whispered into the empty room. Releasing a heavy breath, she moved to the dresser and pulled out her thigh-high rainbow-striped socks. They were completely ridiculous, but she loved them nonetheless. Sliding them up her legs, she grabbed her off the shoulder sweater and slipped it over her tank top, the bottom hanging just above the hem of her cotton shorts. Moving to the bed, she grabbed her notebook and dropped to the floor. Taking a sip from her beer, she flipped to the newest page and smoothed her hand across the paper. You shouldn’t be here, you don’t belong I don’t wanna write this kind of song. Let me be, can’t you see Don’t point your damn arrow at me. Let me be, can’t you see He and I aren’t meant to be Chloe’s eyes shimmered as she read the lyrics. Her chest ached. Shame and regret weighed heavily on her shoulders. She’d done this to herself. Grabbing the pencil from her bedside table, she flipped the eraser to the paper when a soft knock caused her to startle. With furrowed brows, she dropped the notebook and pencil and stood. “Who is it?” she asked, her heart inexplicably beating faster. “Chloe? It’s Reid. I know it’s late, but can I come in?” “Shit,” Chloe whispered, her eyes falling shut, her jaw tightening. Pulling in a cleansing breath, she opened the door and stepped to the side. “Is everything okay?” She waited as Reid remained unmoving in the hall. His eyes raked over her body, leaving her feeling self-conscious and breathless. “Reid?”He blinked and cleared his throat before walking into the room. Chloe watched as he looked around, his posture stiff, his hands shoved inside his pockets. “Are you okay?” she asked again, his behavior making her uneasy. Reid spun around and shrugged, his expression contrite. “Yeah,” he croaked, his voice raspy. They stared at each other in awkward silence before Reid gripped the back of his neck. “I heard your music.” “Shit! I’m sorry. Did I wake you?” “No. I couldn’t sleep. I figured since I was up, and you were up, that we could keep each other company for a while. If that’s okay,” he rushed to add, causing Chloe to smile. “Yeah, it’s okay. I’m just having a drink and dancing around the room. You know, the usual.” Chloe moved to grab her beer from the table and tipped it in Reid’s direction before taking a long pull. “You want one?” “Sure.” Reid moved to the small table in the corner and eased into the chair while Chloe pulled a beer from the fridge. She used the opportunity to draw in a deep breath and clear her mind. When she turned to face him, all traces of her internal struggle were gone. “One more show,” Chloe sighed, falling into the chair across from Reid. Reid nodded, his eyes downcast. “One more show.” “Calm down there, killer. Your excitement is a little over the top.” Chloe held her hands in front of her as though she was warding off his onslaught of enthusiasm. Reid laughed, a flicker of life dancing in his eyes. He leaned back in the chair and took a swig from his beer, his smile still in place. “I see the late hour hasn’t affected your ability to put me in my place.” With a dismissive wave, Chloe scrunched her face. “It will never be too late for me to put you in your place. I live for these moments.” “I bet you do,” he murmured, his eyes narrowed with playful suspicion. “So have you worked out the details of what you plan to do during your two-week break?” “The first thing I’m going to do is cook my own food. I know that probably sounds silly to you, but I want to eat something that doesn’t feel like takeout.” “That doesn’t sound silly. I know exactly what you mean. No matter how many meals are catered in, it still feels like eating out every single day.” “It does,” Chloe agreed, her mind shifting to her apartment in Brooklyn. Well, what was soon to be her old apartment in Brooklyn. Apparently, Reid’s train of thought had moved to the same topic. “Are you still planning on packing up all your things while you’re there?”“Yeah. I know it’s a lot to do, but I don’t see the point in waiting. My landlord found someone to take over my lease. If I move now, I can avoid paying six months of rent for a place I’m not living in.” “Do you have help?” “I do. Anders is promoting a movie in New York next week, so Josie is tagging along. She’s going to help me box everything up and arrange for it to be delivered to her place in LA.” “Wow, that’s awesome. I was worried about you doing all that by yourself.” Chloe shrugged. “I have friends in Brooklyn who would have helped. Although, they probably would have spent the entire time trying to convince me not to move.” Chloe didn’t miss the way Reid’s jaw tightened. “Well, I’m glad you won’t have to resort to their help.” Chloe laughed. “You’re probably right. What about you? What are your plans?” Chloe’s grip tightened around the glass bottle in her hands. She wanted to kick herself for asking a question she already knew the answer to. Reid shifted and took another sip from his beer. “Memphis,” was all he said. No further explanation was necessary. “How’s the writing coming?” Chloe asked, wanting to change the subject.“Hit and miss,” Reid answered with a humorless chuckle. “I’ve written some, but every word is a struggle. I just can’t seem to find my rhythm for more than a second.” Chloe reached across the table and squeezed his hand. “Maybe Memphis will do you good. Give you a chance to breathe. Maybe you can visit some of the places you wrote about.” Reid shrugged and downed the rest of his beer. “I’ll take another one if you have any.” Chloe grimaced. “Sorry, that was my last one.” “I have a few in my room. Are you up for another round?” “Sure. Go grab ’em. I’ll be right here.” As soon as the door clicked behind him, Chloe dropped her head in her hands and groaned. He was doing everything in his power to make her hate herself and he didn’t even know it.“Rainbow socks,” Reid muttered as he pulled a six-pack of beers from his fridge. He closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. He shouldn’t go back. He should call it a night and crawl into bed, but he wasn’t going to do that. The truth was, the idea of going two full weeks without seeing Chloe was more difficult than he wanted to admit. Had she not agreed to move to LA, he wasn’t sure what he would have done. That knowledge alone was the only thing keeping him from following her to New York. He shook his head at the ridiculous thought. Following her to New York would be the worst thing he could do. He belonged in Memphis—with Jess. The moment her name popped into his head, a pang of guilt and shame seared through his chest. Not wanting to think about all of the ways he was screwing up every aspect of his life, he shoved his room key in his pocket and walked back to Chloe’s room. Rapping his knuckles on the door, he pushed it open and stepped inside before flipping over the lock that had been used to prop open the door. Chloe was still seated at the table, one knee pulled to her chest while her other leg dangled from the chair. Wordlessly, they smiled at each other as he passed her a beer and grabbed one for himself. “So have you decided which songs we’re doing for the awards show?” “I’ve only changed my mind about a dozen times,” he groaned. “I don’t know why I’m having such a hard time with this one.” “Well, let’s see if I can help.” For the next hour, Chloe and Reid pored over his song catalog, listing pros and cons for each song. Truth be told, it was completely unnecessary. It wasn’t that Reid didn’t know which songs he wanted to play, because he did. The problem was the reason behind his song choices. Each song he chose was a song where he and Chloe played off one another and sent the crowd into a frenzy. No doubt it would make for one hell of a show, but this would be the first time they performed in front of cameras for live television. Reid worried that without the crazy lights, dry ice, and amateur recordings of fans, everyone would see what he so desperately tried to deny. That his chemistry with Chloe went far beyond the stage. The thought was terrifying. “Mind if I use your bathroom?” Reid asked, needing a little distance. Chloe looked around the table and laughed. “Go ahead, but make it fast. My bladder didn’t realize we’d gone through all of your beer until now.” Reid used the facilities as quickly as possible, grinning when he found Chloe waiting outside the door. “It’s all yours.” The door clicked behind him as he moved around the bed toward the table. He stumbled when the top of his boot hit something sticking out from under the edge of the bed. Without thinking, he stooped and retrieved what he realized was Chloe’s notebook. When he scanned the words on the page, his entire body locked. The words blurred as his vision drifted in and out of focus. The sound of his rapidly increasing heartbeat pounded in his ears as the read the words again and again. What did they mean? Were they about him? Were they about someone else? That scenario caused an entirely different set of emotions to emerge. He eased to the floor, so focused on deciphering the meaning of the lyrics that he didn’t notice Chloe had sat in front of him until she placed her hand on his arm. “Are you okay?” He looked at her, wide-eyed and nervous, his heart lodged in his throat. “Is this new?” he asked, his voice strained. Chloe looked at the page, and instead of anger or embarrassment, her eyes fell shut in what seemed like resignation. “Yeah. I was just messing around earlier. You know how it is.” “I used to,” he whispered. Chloe pulled the notebook from his hands and placed it in her lap. She traced the curves of the letters with the tips of her fingers and sighed. “You know, it’s not a feeling you can forget—the motivation behind your words.” Reid swallowed hard and wiped his palms against his jeans. “What’s your motivation?” Chloe lifted one shoulder and tilted her head. “The same as anyone else, I guess. Life, and the shit it throws at you.” “Life has thrown plenty of shit my way lately and I still can’t find the words. Is there something wrong with me?” “Do you feel like there’s something wrong with you?” “I feel like everything I’m feeling is wrong.” Chloe’s brows dipped and a flash of pain crossed her features before she dropped her chin and hid behind a cascade of hair. “I know exactly how you feel.” “Chloe,” Reid whispered, lifting his hand to tilt her chin upward. “When I was younger, the only songs I wrote were about my life. It’s what makes them so special.” Chloe stared at him, her violet-blue eyes penetrating into every part of him. He was lost in her gaze. “If you were to write a song about me, what would you say?” He dropped his hand and looked away. “You know I can’t write.” “I’m not asking you to write a song. It doesn’t have to be like that. Just a sentence or two. If someone asked you to tell them about me, what would you say? That’s all it is. It’s only words, Reid.” He took a deep breath and scrubbed his hand over his face. A memory of standing on an empty stage popped into his head. At the time, the words made no sense, but now . . . He couldn’t understand how he didn’t see it all along. “She’s steel and silk,” he murmured, his pulse thundering in his ears. “Soft strands floating in the wind, a canvas of color covering her skin. She wraps me in her embrace, bathes me in her grace. She’s wrecking my world, this perfect girl . . .” The words died in his throat as he stared into Chloe’s shimmering eyes.“See?” she whispered. “You haven’t lost your words at all.” A hush fell over the room. Chloe and Reid sat motionless, almost as if they feared the slightest disturbance would ruin the intensity of the moment. “What about you?” he asked. “If you were to write a song about me, what would you say?” Chloe blinked back tears and dropped her gaze to the notebook in her lap. She smoothed her hand over the paper, and when she met his gaze again, her smile was small and sad. “You’ve already read it.” “Chloe,” he choked, his body vibrating with nervous energy. He’d never felt this way; the anticipation, the longing, the undeniable desire. He inched closer, his heart slamming inside his chest. Chloe’s lips parted and her eyes widened. When he felt the warmth of her breath fan over his face, goose bumps broke across his skin. Their eyes remained locked, the sweet smell of lavender invading his senses and making him dizzy. His hands shook as he lifted them to cradle her jaw and his eyes fell shut when he felt the soft, plump touch of her lips. In that moment, he’d never wanted anything more than to press his lips against hers; so he did. His fingers curled around her neck and into her hair. He pulled her closer, wanting more, needing more. When she wrapped her hands around his wrists and squeezed, holding him in place instead of pushing him away, he lost all control. With a soft sweep of his tongue, her lips parted and he slipped inside her. It was like nothing he’d ever experienced, but he knew he didn’t want to go a single second of the rest of his life without feeling it. Her tongue moved in perfect sync—every move, every moan, every soft suck a confirmation that this was supposed to happen. They were meant to happen. “Chloe,” he groaned, pulling her lower lip between his teeth. “Reid,” she exhaled, gripping him tighter. He slid his hands to her shoulders, fingering the exposed strap of her tank, when the sound of a cell phone ringing broke the spell and snatched them back into the present. A sinking feeling spread through Reid as he ripped away from Chloe. With wide, panicked eyes, he pulled his phone from his pocket and stared at the screen. Jess’s name flashed across it mockingly. Jess. What the hell was he thinking? He looked from Chloe to his phone, torn between guilt and regret. “Shit, Chloe. I’m so sorry. I never should have done that.” Jumping to his feet, he backed toward the door. “I’m so sorry. I had no right. That was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m so sorry. It was a mistake. A mistake.” He slipped out of the room and into the hallway, unable to bear looking at the anguish marring Chloe’s beautiful face. Crashing into his room, he paced in front of the bed. Through the thin walls, he could hear Chloe’s soft cries from her room. It tore at him in violent ways. He touched his lips and closed his eyes. He could still taste and smell her all over him. And God help him, as much as he knew he should wash it away, wash her away, he just couldn’t bring himself to do it.