CHAPTER 30

It was late afternoon when Reid climbed the steps onto the tour bus the next day. His body sagged with fatigue, and while his heart felt heavy, there was a lightness he hadn’t felt in months. As much as he hated hurting Jess, he had only been prolonging the inevitable by staying with her. With a sigh, he rounded the corner by the stairs before stopping dead in his tracks. A slow smile spread across his face and warmth bloomed in his chest with a feeling he wasn’t allowed to feel until now. It made him want to act on the thoughts he’d had about Chloe over the last few months. But it was more than desire. She was more than desire. Right then, however, she looked completely absurd and that made him happier than he could have imagined. Seated at the table with her legs crossed, she bobbed her head to the music playing on her iPod as she scribbled in her notebook. A pile of Starburst wrappers littered the table. It was a scene he’d witnessed many times during the first leg of their tour. However, this time, there was a new addition. On the table beside her elbow sat a headless Yoda with Starbursts spilling out of the opening like brains. The longer he stared, the more he wanted to laugh. When she plucked another candy from the jar, he couldn’t hold back. Moving in front of her, he tugged her earbud free. “Are the bags of candy you keep stashed all over the bus no longer enough? You need the jar too?” Chloe ducked her head in embarrassment and wrapped her arm around the jar, pulling it against her chest. “I didn’t want to leave Yoda behind. He might get lonely. I don’t know.” She shrugged, balancing the top of Yoda’s head that served as a lid on the mound of Starbursts. “Maybe he can be our official mascot.” Reid nodded thoughtfully and eased into the seat across from her. “I like it. There are worse things than tiny green Jedi Masters.” Chloe opened her mouth then paused, her brows furrowing as she looked from the entrance to Reid. “Where’s Jess?” Reid released a heavy exhale. “She’s not coming.” “Why?” “Not now,” Reid said, watching as Greer and Drew filed onto the bus. Chloe looked from the guys to Reid. “Okay,” she whispered. A flutter of nervousness caused his already exhausted body to sink lower in his seat. He needed sleep. He wanted a clear head when he talked to Chloe about . . . everything. Leaning forward, he tapped her knee. “I’m going to rest a little bit before we get to San Francisco, but can we talk later tonight?” Chloe stiffened. “I don’t know if that’s the best idea.” Reid shook his head. “Chloe, there are some things I need to get off my chest, and I’d rather not have an audience. Please?” Chloe eyed him cautiously. “The last time you started a conversation like this you told me you went on a cocaine binge. From your appearance, I can’t help but wonder if we’re going to have the same conversation again.” “No. No binges. I swear.” Chloe grabbed her pen. “Okay,” she whispered before returning her attention back to her notebook. Realizing she was done talking, Reid stood from the table and grabbed his bag. After a quick hello to the other band members, he disappeared into the room at the back of the bus and didn’t move until they arrived in San Francisco. The sun had set by the time they reached the hotel. Reid grabbed his bag and opened the bedroom door, loud laughter echoing inside the bus as he walked into the open area. As soon as he got a look at everyone, he froze. “What the hell?” he mumbled, his bag slipping from his grasp. Chloe’s eyes widened and she clapped a hand over her mouth to hold back her laughter. “Greer did it!” she blurted out. Reid’s confusion turned to amusement as he realized they were all smashed. He walked next to Chloe and pulled the Yoda lid off her head. “Chloe, are you drunk?” She shook her head no. “So drunk.” Placing the lid on the table, Reid grabbed the empty mason jar beside it and sniffed. His eyes watered and he coughed as he set the jar down quickly. “Is that rubbing alcohol?” “Close,” Inky grimaced. “It’s white lightning. Firewater. Hooch.” “Who’s got the hooch?” Chloe sang, falling into Inky’s side, laughing. Reid glanced at Tom whose eyes were glassy, his cheeks red. “You too?” Reid asked in surprise. Tom shrugged. “We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.” Reid wanted to be angry, but after the last couple of days, the only emotion he felt was envy. “Are any of you capable of checking in to your rooms?” Drew stood from his chair and nodded. “I am. I didn’t touch that shit. Greer got me the other night. I tried to warn them.” Greer laughed and stumbled to his feet. “I’ve never seen so much puke.” Drew shook his head and helped steady Greer. “I didn’t puke.”“I know,” Greer laughed. “I was talking about me.” “Can either of you walk?” Reid asked, looking at Chloe and Inky. Inky pulled in a deep breath and stood. She only wobbled a little before finding her balance. “Yup. I’m all set.” “I’m good,” Tom announced, joining the others. All eyes turned to Chloe, who sat hugging her Yoda jar. “Pfft,” she giggled, waving her hand dismissively. “I couldn’t walk if someone set this bus on fire.” Reid laughed and handed his bag to Tom. “Come here.” Leaning down, he wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her to her feet. “Whoa,” she exhaled, grabbing the front of Reid’s shirt. “What’s in that stuff?” “Alcohol. Very strong, very potent, alcohol.” “I’ll get her to her room. It’s my fault she’s so drunk,” Greer said, taking a step forward. Reid’s grip around Chloe’s waist tightened the same time Drew’s hand met Greer’s shoulder to pull him back. “I think maybe Reid should take care of Chloe.” For a minute, Reid thought Greer was going to protest, but whatever expression he saw on Reid’s face stopped him from doing so. “All right.” “You guys go ahead. I’m going to give Chloe a few minutes to get her footing.” Everyone nodded their assent and started filing off of the bus until only Chloe and Reid remained. “I need bread,” she announced. Reid chuckled and pulled her arm over his shoulders. “We’ll order some food once we get you settled in your room.” His brows dipped when she pulled her arm back and let it fall between them. “What’s wrong?” “I can’t walk into the hotel with you like that. One, there could be paps, and two . . . it’s pathetic.” Reid smirked. “Would you rather face-plant in the lobby?” With narrowed eyes, Chloe slipped her hand under his arm and grabbed a handful of the back of his shirt. “At least this looks less pathetic. Maybe I should hobble a little so it looks like I’m hurt. We could say I was in an epic Jedi battle and was cut by a vicious villain. We’ll call him Hooch.” Reid’s face hurt from the smile stretched across his face. “At least you’re a funny drunk.” Chloe shook her head sadly and patted her stomach. “If we don’t get some food in here soon, I’ll be like a Mogwai fed after midnight.” Reid laughed and wrapped his free arm around Chloe, pulling her flush against his chest. He rested his forehead against the top of her head and exhaled. “I’ve missed all your old-school movie references.” Taking a couple of deep breaths, he just held her. He held her like he’d wanted to for months. “I’ve missed you.” “Reid,” Chloe pleaded as she tried to step back. “Please don’t do this. I’ve had enough to drink that I might do something that will make me hate myself in the morning.” Reid loosened his grasp, not wanting to make her uncomfortable but hating the distance all the same. “I’m sorry. I’m just being honest, but I get that it’s not something you’re ready to hear yet.” Chloe shook her head. “There is no yet.” A half smile lifted one side of Reid’s mouth as he pushed the fallen hair out of her eyes. “Yet,” he whispered in rebuttal. His eyes moved over her face, taking in every detail of her features. Like the curve of her lashes and the various shades of blue that came together to make her eyes appear purple. “I’ve never met anyone with eyes like yours. They’re almost purple. I had no idea there were so many shades.” Chloe blinked. “Maybe it’s because you’ve never really looked at me.” Reid shook his head and pulled in a deep breath. “No,” he exhaled. “I look at you. It seems to be all I do lately.” He continued his perusal, moving his eyes to the slope of her nose then the pert bow of her parted lips. Lips he wanted to kiss more than anything in the world, but he wouldn’t do it. Not yet. Not until she knew everything. With a sigh, he cupped the back of his neck. “Maybe we should wait until tomorrow to have that talk.” He didn’t want to wait, but he wanted to make sure she was capable of understanding what he had to say. Chloe shook her head immediately. “No. I can’t do this again. We have to talk tonight.” Reid looked at her in confusion. “Do what again?” “Drink this much,” Chloe admitted with a shrug. “Whatever you’re going to tell me is going to suck. I just know it. “ “Chloe, did you intentionally get drunk because you thought I was going to tell you something bad?” Chloe gave a sharp nod. “Yup. I’m not even sorry.” Reid wasn’t sure whether to laugh or feel guilty. When he looked at her face, her skin flushed from alcohol and her eyes filled with apprehension, he decided it didn’t matter. Everything would be out in the open soon enough. “Okay. Let’s head to the lobby and check in. After we eat, I’ll tell you everything.” When they entered the lobby, they found Tom waiting with their room keys. “Here are the keys for both rooms. I ordered some food for the both of you and told them to deliver it to Chloe’s room. I’ll have someone send her bag up in a few.” Reid paused, wide-eyed, before he took the room keys and grinned. “Even drunk you’re on top of your game. Are you a machine?” “He’s clearly a droid. He’s C-3PO!” Chloe exclaimed before clamping her hand over her mouth and scanning the lobby. “No, he’s R2-D2; he’s so much cooler. Jesus, I’m loud. Reid, it’s almost midnight.” Tom looked between them, confusion written all over his face. “It’s nine.” Reid chuckled and shook his head. “I need to feed the Mogwai before I have a Gremlin on my hands.” Waving off Tom, who still wore a perplexed expression, Reid turned and led Chloe to the elevators. “Do you remember that one time you showed up for rehearsals so hungover you couldn’t even have a real conversation?” Chloe groaned and dropped her head to Reid’s shoulder. “You said you wouldn’t cut me any slack next time.” Reid nodded and rubbed his hand over her arm. “That’s what I said, but you know what?” “What?” Chloe asked, her voice meek. “I lied,” he whispered, pulling her into the hallway of their floor. Once inside her room, Chloe excused herself to the bathroom, leaving Reid alone. He tried to figure out how to tell Chloe everything that happened, the reasons why, and what he wanted, but all he could see were the flashbacks of his conversation with Jess the night before. He could still hear the sound of her voice as she called him a liar and stormed out of the room. A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. Opening the door, he sighed gratefully when he saw the rectangle-shaped box. Pizza was exactly what Chloe needed. After signing for the food and leaving a gaping delivery boy at the door, he walked to the table and opened the box. As soon as he did, Chloe burst out of the bathroom. “Oh my God, pizza. Give it to me.” Reid chuckled and handed her a slice. She took a bite and moaned, her eyes falling shut. Reid cleared his throat and handed her a bottle of water. “Do you need anything else?” “No. This is perfect.” For the next several minutes, they ate in silence. Once Chloe finished off her second piece and drank the last of her water, she slid onto the bed and crossed her legs before pulling a large pillow against her chest. “Okay, this is the go-zone. I’m still buzzed, but I’m well on my way to sober and sleepy. Whatever you need to say, now is the time.” Reid smiled at the serious expression on her face. Deciding to give them both a little space, he opted to move a chair beside the bed so they were facing each other. Pulling in a deep breath, he dove straight in. “Jess and I broke up last night.”Chloe blinked several times, her brows dented with confusion. When she finally processed his words, her eyes widened and her mouth fell open. “What?” Reid nodded. “I have a lot of things to say to you. I’m going to ask you one more time if you’re sure you want to have this conversation right now.” Reid watched as Chloe pinched her eyes shut and balled her hands into fists before taking a lungful of air and releasing it slowly. After a couple of seconds, she opened her eyes and nodded. “After the show last night, I confronted Jess about what she said to you.” Reid could still see Jess’s face clearly as she’d stared at him in confusion. “What do you mean you’re not moving back to Memphis? I thought that was always the plan.” “Why would you think that, Jess? When have I ever given you any indication that I wanted to give up music?” “When you told me you wanted us back! What did you think was going to happen? You were going to live in LA and I was going to stay in Memphis? When we saw each other again for the first time, you said you hated LA. You said you couldn’t write and you weren’t sure you ever would again.” “My life is in LA.” “And mine is in Memphis.” Reid shook his head to wipe away the memory.“What she told you at the studio, about me moving to Memphis, she really thought that was the plan. I should have realized sooner. She’d hinted over and over again, but I just . . . I didn’t.” “Why would she think that?” Chloe asked in a hushed voice. “Because I was a wreck when we got back together. I was so done with LA and everything it encompassed. She assumed that meant I was done. I honestly don’t think we would have ever gotten back together had she thought differently. In the beginning, anyway,” Reid added, thinking about their time in New York and the promises he made. Promises he was wrong to make. “So you guys were on the wrong page. It happens. That doesn’t mean you had to end it,” Chloe said with a shrug, her eyes downcast. “That wasn’t the main reason, Chloe.” “Do you love her?” “What?” “Chloe. Do you love her?” “Jess, don’t do this.” “Do you think I’m blind? I saw your notebook. I saw the things you wrote about her. I see the way you look at her. It’s written all over your face.” “What else is there?” Reid swallowed and sucked in a sharp breath. “Not what. Who.”Chloe shook her head as she wound her trembling hands. “Don’t make me ask.” “You,” he answered simply. “She saw the way I look at you, and she knew.” “What did she see?” Chloe choked, her voice breaking and her eyes shimmering with tears. “Jess . . .” “Are you going to deny it?” “No.” “How could you do this?” “I tried to fight it, Jess. The last thing in the world I wanted was to hurt you, but I couldn’t stop it. I just couldn’t.” “That I’m in love with you.” Silence swelled around them. Chloe clutched the pillow to her chest, her gaze burning into Reid with an intensity he’d never experienced. “I don’t understand,” she finally said. Reid smiled and nodded. “I know exactly how you feel. I thought I had it all figured out. Jess and I were together for years and I ruined us. When my life went to shit years later and she took me back, I thought everything was finally like it was supposed to be. Then I met you.” He dropped his head and chuckled. “You fucked everything up.” “I’m sorry,” Chloe said, soft and sad. The tone of her voice caused Reid’s head to snap in her direction and his jaw to clench. Before he could give it a second thought, he was on his knees, her hands clasped in his. “Don’t you dare be sorry. You fucking up the future I had planned was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Don’t you see, Chloe?” he implored. “You and me, we’re supposed to happen. You’re the one I’ve been waiting for and I didn’t even know it. We can be something special; you just need to believe it as much as I do.” Chloe shook her head. “How can you say that? For months, you’ve talked about Jess and what she means to you. You were with her in Memphis, and until this morning, she was with you in LA. How can you say you’re in love with me and your sheets haven’t even cooled?” “I haven’t been with Jess in that way,” Reid admitted. “Not since Paris. I felt wrong just holding her hand. I should have known then, but it’s a hard thing to accept, ya know? Realizing I was wrong about everything. We slept in the same bed, but we might as well have been on separate continents.” Raising up on his knees, Reid cupped her jaw. “She was my connection to the man I used to be, who I thought I should be. “That’s why I couldn’t tell her about my relapse. She might have said all the right things, but when it came down to it, she expected me to be the guy I was before. The one who wouldn’t dare do something so stupid. Her belief that I was moving back to Memphis is proof of that. I was scared to show her who I am now—this messed-up guy who just can’t seem to get his shit together. But, you? I wasn’t scared to show you my weaknesses. I wasn’t scared to let you see my flaws. I wanted you to see them, because I knew even if you were mad, you wouldn’t think less of me. That you would still look at me just like you are now.” Chloe sniffled as Reid used his thumb to brush away the tears sliding down her cheeks. “And how am I looking at you now?” Reid smiled and chuckled softly. “Like you love me too.” Chloe sucked in a choked breath and her eyes fell shut. “For months, I’ve fought my feelings for you. I have berated myself, felt guilty, questioned my morals for wanting a guy who belonged to someone else. Now I’m suddenly allowed to love you and not feel guilty. I don’t know how to explain how mixed up that makes me feel. But you are right. I do love you.” Reid’s heart pounded and his eyes closed as he pressed his forehead to Chloe’s. They stayed in that position with their heads bowed while they regained control of their erratic breathing. A shiver ran down Reid’s spine when Chloe brushed a hand through his hair. Reluctantly, he lifted his head to meet her gaze. “I’d really like you to kiss me now,” Chloe whispered, her eyes searching. Releasing a shaky breath, Reid leaned forward and kissed her softly. The feel of her lips, the heat radiating from her skin, it was almost too much. He held still, their mouths only a hairsbreadth apart. He’d barely kissed her and he felt dizzy. Chloe twisted her fingers through his hair and tightened her grip. “You’re killing me,” she mumbled, brushing her cheek against his. “You have no idea how hard I’m trying to control myself. I don’t want to mess this up.” Chloe tugged his hair gently until their eyes met. “The only way you’re going to mess this up is if you overthink it. Do what feels right.” “Do you realize what you’re saying?” Chloe tugged on her lip ring. “I hope so.” Without another word, Reid slid his hands around her neck into her hair. Tilting her face, he kissed her again, and this time he didn’t hold back. Their mouths moved in perfect sync, as if they’d been doing it for years. Pulling her lip into his mouth, Reid traced the smooth metal ring with his tongue then bit down. It was something he’d thought about doing a million times, and making it a reality caused his muscles to tighten with need. Reaching around her waist, Reid lifted her from the side of the bed and carried her to the center as he crawled over her. Settling between her parted thighs, he rocked his hips. The feel of her body, soft and warm, elicited a tortured groan from his throat as he broke their kiss.Dropping to his elbows, he brushed his lips over her cheek. “Chloe,” he whispered. “Tell me to stop.” Chloe smoothed her hands down his back and gripped the bottom of his shirt. Pulling it up his body, she trapped him with her violet-blue eyes. “I don’t want you to stop.” “God,” he exhaled, trembling as he twisted so Chloe could pull the shirt over his head. He watched her lips part as she used the tip of her finger to trace the tattoos covering his chest. His muscles tensed and goose bumps covered his skin as she worked her way to the button of his jeans. Licking his lips, he moved his hand to the sliver of exposed skin between the hem of her shirt and her shorts and waited. Chloe sat up and lifted her arms, answering his silent question. Desire burned through his veins as his eyes swept over tattoos that, until now, had been hidden from view. Bright colors swirled around her side and disappeared under the lace of her bra. “Fuck. Look at you,” he murmured, placing a soft kiss to her shoulder. He couldn’t take his eyes off her sweat-glistened skin. He wanted to explore every inch of her body with his mouth, and he would. “Take this off,” he urged, unfastening her bra. Chloe laughed softly and slipped the straps down her arms. A mischievous smile curved his lips. “Are you laughing at me?”“I wouldn’t dream of doing something like that, Padawan.” The familiar nickname caused something to settle inside his chest. He cupped her jaw, smiling when she leaned into his touch. “I know this might seem fast, but it doesn’t feel wrong.” “I know.” Reid dipped his head and kissed the side of her neck as he eased her back onto the bed. Moving to the column of her throat, he kissed his way down her body, making sure his lips touched every piece of hidden ink. Chloe’s skin prickled when he nipped her hip bone as he dragged her shorts and panties down her legs. He took his time, continuing his way down her body, stopping to place featherlight kisses to the inside of her thigh, the bend of her knee, the smooth skin on the inside of her ankle. Removing the remainder of his clothes, he began his ascent back up her body, kneading and stroking, licking and sucking until Chloe was moaning and gasping his name in broken pants. Claiming her mouth once more, he wrapped his hand under her thigh and tugged, tilting her hips and opening her up to him. He paused when he felt the soft warmth of her body and broke their kiss. “Wrap your legs around me,” he whispered, his lips brushing against hers as he spoke. Chloe did as he asked, her arms and legs anchoring him, surrounding him with every part of her. With parted lips and their eyes locked, he rocked forward until their bodies connected in every way. A wave of heat rushed under his skin, the feeling so intoxicating he struggled to keep his eyes open. But he refused to break their connection, the one that had nothing to do with sex. Being inside her, above her, looking into her bottomless violet eyes was like nothing Reid had ever experienced. He knew then he would do anything in the world to keep her. Anything at all. Halos of light dotted his vision when Chloe moaned softly, her trembling muscles tightening around him. She dug her nails into his back, intensifying the fire gathering in the pit of his stomach. He wanted to see her come undone. He wanted to swallow her moans and feel her muscles clench around him as waves of pleasure left her breathless. “Oh God,” she gasped, her mouth falling open and her back arching. Releasing a shaky exhale, Reid slid his hands underneath her, the angle deepening his long strokes and pushing him closer to the edge. She tensed, her body stiffening before she cried out and began to spasm around him. It was all Reid needed to let go. He kissed her with a groan as the fire in his stomach ignited, spreading through his veins like a drug. With each pulse of pleasure he drifted higher; weightless and sated.Unable to support his weight, Reid rolled to his back and pulled Chloe against his side. With his arm around her back and her head nestled on his chest, he kissed the top of her head and closed his eyes. Never had he felt more complete, more at peace, than he did holding Chloe next to him. Covering their bodies with a blanket, he pulled her leg over his hips and relaxed into the mattress. “Chloe,” he whispered, smiling when the sound of her soft, even breaths was her only response. Feeling the lure of sleep dragging him under, he laced his fingers around her and sighed. “I love you.”