CHAPTER 25

Reid looked over her shoulder where people were beginning to mill about the hall. “Not here. Not now. Come back to the recording room. There are some things I need to go over with you guys about the awards show. I promise, no more bullshit,” he added when he noticed the skeptical expression on her face. After a moment, Chloe sighed and tilted her chin back toward the room. “Fine.” Just as she moved past him, Reid grabbed her hand and tugged her to a stop. “Can we talk later? I really do need to tell you some things. I don’t want you to hear about them from anyone else.” With a reluctant nod, Chloe pulled her hand free and walked back down the hall, all the while fighting to ignore the way her palm tingled from his touch.Rehearsal was torture. Any excitement he felt in revealing his performance with Jack Green was overshadowed by Chloe. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. When she’d walked into the recording room, it felt like all the air was siphoned from the space, yet it was the first time since she’d left Devon that he felt like he could breathe. He knew it then, what he’d tried to deny for so long. He was in love with Chloe. It shouldn’t have happened. He wasn’t a cheater.He loved Jess. He didn’t want to be the kind of guy who begged for second chances and made promises, only to break them, break her, all over again. A dark feeling began to spread through Reid as he watched Chloe sway to the music. The realization that he was exactly that guy became crystal clear when he admitted to himself—consequences be damned—he wanted Chloe in every way. He needed her. His face twisted with self-loathing as he thought about his time in Memphis, how he’d worried about losing both of them. He should lose them both. That would be poetic justice, because he didn’t deserve either of them. By the time rehearsals ended, Reid felt as though he was going to be sick. As much as he wanted to talk to Chloe, he needed a little time to clear his head. His knee-jerk reactions and impulsive tendencies had landed him in more trouble than he cared to admit, and he couldn’t allow himself to screw up any more than he already had. Once home, he showered and ate dinner. He paced his living room as he tried to sort out what he needed to do next. When he spotted the bag he’d brought from the airport, his shoulders dropped and all of the fight drained out of him. With a heavy exhale, he grabbed his keys and the bag and headed for the door. As he pulled onto Chloe’s street, he argued with himself about showing up unannounced. A few weeks ago, he wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but things were different now. He pulled to a stop by the mailbox and killed the ignition. The front porch light was on and her rental car was in the driveway. With a small, self-deprecating laugh, he grabbed the bag and climbed out of the car. He was only fooling himself if he really thought he was going to leave without seeing her. On the porch, he rapped his knuckles on the door and took a small step back. Only seconds passed before the lock clicked and Chloe opened the door wide. “Come on in.” Reid’s brows dented as he took a hesitant step inside. Chloe must have noticed his confusion because she answered his question before he asked. “I saw you sitting in your car out front. I was beginning to wonder if you were going to actually get out of the car or not.” Reid dropped his chin to his chest and his skin heated with embarrassment. “I was debating over whether or not you would strike me down with a lightsaber for showing up without calling.” Chloe pursed her lips, but it didn’t disguise the small smile she fought to hide. “You’re lucky it’s still packed away or that might have been a real possibility. Especially after the crap that happened earlier today with you and Greer.” Reid groaned and held the bag out for Chloe to take. “Can I give you this first? Believe me, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to be mad at me soon enough.”“What is this?” Chloe asked, her eyes narrowed with skepticism as she pulled the bag from his hand. “It’s a housewarming gift.” Chloe’s expression softened as she tilted her head toward the living room. “Come sit down, Padawan.” Reid grinned and shoved his hands in his pockets as he followed Chloe to the sofa. “This is a really cool place,” he commented as he sat next to her. “It’s the biggest place I’ve lived in since I moved from my childhood home. Josie renting this place to me was some kind of miracle. She could have gotten three times as much if she’d wanted.” “But you can’t put a price on peace of mind. Imagine her renting to some stranger who ended up trashing the place. At least this way, she knows it will be taken care of.” “That’s exactly what she said.” Reid bumped her shoulder and dropped his eyes to the bag. “Go on. Open it.” With an exaggerated sigh, Chloe opened the bag. The sound of her laughter immediately filled the room. “Oh my God. What on earth is this?” “It’s Yoda,” Reid exclaimed, his expression filled with mock horror. Chloe rolled her eyes. “I know that. But what does it do? It’s heavy. It has to do something.” Reid pulled the ceramic Yoda figure from her hands and tsked. “Of course it does something,” he said, pulling off the top of Yoda’s head. “It hides your stash.” Chloe leaned over to peek inside the jar and started laughing all over again. “Oh, this is perfect,” she giggled, pulling the jar out of his hands. Reaching inside, she grabbed a pink Starburst and tossed the wrapper on the table. “I started to fill it with cookies, but I figured this would be more appropriate.” “It’s completely appropriate. Where did you get this?” Reid relaxed back on the couch. “I saw it at the airport. You wouldn’t believe all of the Star Wars merchandise I’ve seen lately. It’s obnoxious.” Chloe lifted her brow. “And by obnoxious, you mean the most amazing thing ever, right?” Reid nodded solemnly. “Of course.” “Smart man. And thank you. I really do love it.” “You’re welcome,” Reid answered, his voice taking on a quieter, more serious tone. Chloe set the cookie jar on the table and mimicked his position. With her fingers laced, she schooled her features as she waited for him to broach the real reason he stopped by. “I did something really stupid,” he began, his eyes downcast. “And I’m not telling you this for sympathy.” A choked laugh stuck in his throat as he wiped his sweaty palms on his jeans. “As a matter of fact, sympathy is probably the last thing you’ll feel.” With a deep breath, he met Chloe’s gaze. “I’m telling you this because you deserve to hear it from me and not one of the guys.” “Okay,” she whispered, fidgeting with the ends of her hair. With a long exhale, Reid told Chloe about being given the cocaine, finding it in his bag, and what happened the following day. The entire time she remained quiet. If it wasn’t for the slight shimmer in her eyes or the deep creases outlining her frown, he wouldn’t have guessed she cared at all. Once he finished, he waited for her to respond. To say something, anything, but as the silence wore on, the more anxious he became until he couldn’t take it anymore. “Say something,” he pleaded. Chloe clasped her hands. “Why did you do it?” she asked simply, her voice cracking. As much as Reid wanted to hear her voice, he was unprepared to answer the one question he’d managed to shove below all the other crap swimming around inside his head. But this was Chloe, and he’d bared himself to her in ways he hadn’t anyone else. “Because I realized that everything I’d tried so hard to deny was true. Because I wanted to forget just how much I hated myself for one minute. So I took the easy way out. I chose to escape.” Reid pushed off the couch and walked across the room,needing a little space. “What did you realize?” Chloe asked, rising from the couch and making her way to Reid. “That I’m going to break promises. I know you don’t understand what that means right now, but you will.” Reid dropped his chin and sighed. “I’m so sorry that I hurt you. There was this moment when you left that I couldn’t stop myself from wondering if I’d see you again. If you hated me.” Chloe choked out a laugh and rolled her eyes. “I don’t hate you. Things would be a lot simpler if I did,” she mumbled, the words so distorted Reid couldn’t be certain if he’d heard her correctly. Before he could ask her to repeat herself, she spoke again. “You did something really stupid, but we’ve had this conversation. People make mistakes. It’s all part of life. Am I mad that you did what you did? Of course I am. You’re so damn lucky your picture isn’t plastered on the cover of every gossip magazine from here to China. What it all comes down to is that you have to be stronger. You can’t let things like what happened between us trigger a relapse. Guilt is a powerful thing, and if you let it, it will eat you alive.” Reid lowered his gaze. “I know,” he whispered, embarrassment making his skin prickle. Chloe sighed and grabbed Reid’s arm. “Come sit. Do you want anything to drink?”Reid shook his head and followed her to the couch. “I’m good.” “So Tom, Greer, and I’m assuming, Drew know what happened?” “Yeah.” Chloe cleared her throat and looked at her hands. It was obvious whatever she planned to say made her uncomfortable. “How did Jess take it?” Reid pushed the hair off his forehead and frowned. “I didn’t tell her.” Chloe’s mouth fell open. “Reid . . .” “I know,” he cut in. “Add it to the list of all the ways I’m a terrible fucking boyfriend.” “I didn’t—” “You didn’t have to.” Chloe pressed her lips into a thin line. “Well, thanks for letting me know. Now you don’t have to worry about Greer using it against you when you two are having another pissing contest.” Reid grabbed Chloe’s hand to stop her from standing. “No, Chloe. That’s not why I told you. I don’t give a shit about what Greer says.” “Then why did you tell me?” she shot back, her eyes dark. Reid opened and closed his mouth several times before his shoulders sagged in defeat. Leaning forward, he rested his elbows on his knees and sighed. “Honestly? I never once considered keeping it from you, and not because of Greer or Drew or anyone else. I don’t know . . . It just wouldn’t have felt right to keep something like that from you, Chloe.” Chloe pulled her hands free and stood. She threaded her fingers through her hair and squeezed her eyes shut. “This is so messed up.” “I’m sorry.” Chloe dropped her arms and shrugged. “For what? You told me what happened. The question is, why didn’t you tell Jess?” Reid dropped his head in his hands and pulled in a deep breath, his exhale laced with a humorless chuckle. Slapping his hands on his knees, he pushed off the couch. “I don’t think either of us is prepared for that conversation.” Chloe stared at him in challenge before nodding in acquiescence. “Okay.” Reid walked with hesitant steps to where Chloe stood. “Another time?” “Sure.” Chloe’s tone was clipped, annoyed. “Please don’t be mad.” “I’m not mad. I’m just having a hard time understanding what’s going on with you.” “Fair enough,” Reid answered with a nod. “I promise you’ll understand soon.” “Okay.” Chloe turned for the front door and grabbed the handle. “Thank you for the housewarming gift and for telling me what happened.” Reid swallowed and walked to the front door. Chloe’s dismissal was crystal clear. “You’re welcome.” Stepping onto the front porch, he twisted to the side. “I’ll see you in the morning?” Chloe leaned against the doorframe and sighed. “Yeah. I’ll see you then. Good night, Reid.” With a sad smile, Reid pulled his keys from his pocket. “Good night, Chloe.”