CHAPTER 8

The following morning, Reid sat hidden in the corner of the hotel restaurant. With coffee in hand, he scrolled through websites on his phone, looking for reviews of the show. The search had been mostly unsuccessful, but it helped distract him from his guilt over what he’d almost done the night before. Reid looked up when the elevator bell dinged. A few seconds later, Chloe stepped out. Looking around, Reid let out a low whistle to get her attention and waved her over. “Can’t sleep either?” “Are you kidding? I could have slept all day, but there’s no way I’m going to miss grabbing breakfast at Queen of Tarts.” “Queen of Tarts?” “Yes. I know we have food catered in, but you haven’t lived until you’ve had their scones.” Reid’s brows shot up at the mention of scones. “Is that a fact?” “I would never lie about scones, especially considering your love for pastries. Would you like me to bring you something back?” Reid looked over her shoulder and realized she was alone. “Is anyone going with you?” “Do you really think anyone else would get up this early for scones?”Reid laughed, and a bit of the weight he felt lifted. “How about I join you? Otherwise, I’m just going to sit here looking for reviews until my head explodes.” “Well, come on, then. Get a move on. It’s across the river.” Reid eyed her skeptically. “Do you know where you’re going?” Chloe waved her phone in front of his face. “I don’t have to. I called a cab.” “Touché,” Reid said, grabbing his jacket and following Chloe out of the hotel. A few fans who had camped out jumped to their feet when he stepped outside. He autographed a couple of CDs and posed for a few pictures before waving good-bye and following Chloe into the waiting cab. “How do you get used to that?” Chloe asked. Reid shrugged and pushed his long hair out of his face. “You don’t. I guess it could be worse, though. I could walk outside and find no one waiting at all.” Not wanting to dwell on his fears that something like that might happen sooner rather than later, he changed the subject. “How do you know about this place?” When Chloe didn’t answer, Reid looked over to find her studying her hands. Her brows were furrowed and she appeared lost in thought. “Are you okay?” Chloe’s head snapped up and she gave him a soft smile. “Yeah. Sorry. I . . . um . . . I spent a couple of weeks abroad before my senior year of high school touring music schools. Dublin was one of my stops. My mom and I stayed in a hotel right down the street from Queen of Tarts. I ate there every day. I’ve only been back twice since then, but I always make the time to get a scone while I’m here.” Reid replayed her words as they crawled out of the cab and made their way into the restaurant. After they ordered breakfast and found a table near the back, he wasted no time picking up their conversation. “You toured music schools in Europe? That’s kind of a big deal. And expensive.” Chloe shrugged and focused on her breakfast. “My mom wanted me to go to the best school in the world. I just wanted to get as far away from her as possible.” “Can I ask what happened? You don’t have to answer, of course. It just seems like a lot of effort to not go to school at all.” Chloe smirked and cocked her head to the side. “Who said I didn’t go to school?” Reid opened and closed his mouth. He worried that he’d stuck his foot in his mouth again before remembering Chloe’s midget prank. With his arms folded on the table, he leaned across the space between them and narrowed his eyes. “Is this going to be like the time you told me your dad was a midget? Because I’m not falling for your tricks this time, Yoda.” Chloe mimicked his position and leaned forward. “I went to school.” “Where?” “Juilliard.” “Bullshit,” Reid shot back. Chloe’s mouth fell open, her expression a mix of shock and hurt. “Are you saying I’m not good enough for Juilliard?” Reid’s stomach dropped. “No. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just . . . you’re amazing, but you don’t necessarily have the look of a typical Juilliard student. And you didn’t list it on your resume. Who goes to Juilliard and doesn’t do that?” Chloe’s expression softened and a wry smile pulled at her mouth. “Okay, I’ll give you that. I really did go to Juilliard, though. I dropped out my first year.” Reid couldn’t hide his surprise. “Why?” “Like you said.” Chloe shrugged and tugged at the ends of her purple hair. “I didn’t really fit the mold. Going to school there would have led me down a path I wasn’t interested in. So I quit.” “Wow. I can’t decide if that’s the dumbest or bravest thing I’ve ever heard.” “You know,” Chloe said, taking a bite of her scone. “I’d be offended had I not wondered the same thing a billion times.” “Shit. I keep offending you. I don’t mean to. It’s just that you’re not what I expected.” “It’s all part of the mystery that comes with being a ninja,” Chloe whispered with a grin. “So what did you do after you dropped out?” Nothing about Chloe was as Reid imagined, and the more he learned, the more he wanted to know. “Oh, you know. The usual. Girl drops out of prestigious music school then realizes she’s broke. Girl then sells her soul to the devil to land a gig with a major music star.” With a flippant wave, Chloe dismissed her comment with a coy smile. “It’s all very cliché.” Reid chuckled and leaned back in his chair. “You’re just full of surprises.” “What about you?” Chloe asked. “Did you barter your soul to write all those hits, or are you one of those guys who have Lady Luck in their back pocket?” Reid dropped his chin and looked at his watch. “If I sold my soul to write hit songs, I want a refund.” “Why on earth would you want a refund? Both of your albums have gone platinum.” “Checking me out, huh?” Reid joked, not liking the turn in conversation. His inability to write something new wasn’t a topic he wanted to discuss. “I wasn’t going to sell my soul for just any old music star. I wanted the crème de la crème.” Reid’s mind flashed to his moment of weakness the night before, and it caused shame to wash over him. He wasn’t the crème de la crème; he was just a guy struggling to get through the day. Balling up the wrapper in front of him, he grabbed his coffee. “Well, if we want to stay on top, we better head back and get ready for tonight. We’ve got a long day ahead of us.” Chloe sighed as the two of them stood. “I suppose you’re right. As the saying goes, there’s no rest for the wicked.”Reid kept quiet during the ride back to the hotel, and Chloe didn’t push to make conversation. She wasn’t sure what caused his drastic change in demeanor, but it was clear it wasn’t something he wanted to discuss. Once inside the hotel, he thanked her for breakfast and disappeared to his room. Chloe didn’t want to spend her limited free time locked away in a hotel room, so she settled into a lobby chair and grabbed a newspaper. Flipping to the entertainment section, she scanned the articles until she found one about their show the night before. A smile broke across her face once she found it. Pride and relief swelled inside her chest as she read the article through blurry eyes. The journalist loved the show. He thought it was perfect. However, it wasn’t until she reached the part of the article commenting on the amazing addition of violinist Chloe Bennett and the electric onstage chemistry she shared with Reid that another emotion began to simmer. Her stomach fluttered as warmth spread through her limbs. The heat caused her skin to tingle. It was a familiar feeling, one she’d felt many times over the years. It was excitement laced with lust. The possibility of a spark with someone she found attractive, interesting, unobtainable. That moment of thinking, “What if?” “What has you grinning like the cat who caught the canary?” Greer asked, jolting Chloe from her less than innocent thoughts. With an uncomfortable laugh, Chloe handed Greer the newspaper as he sat down next to her. “See for yourself.” The air seemed to thicken as Chloe watched Greer read the article. Although he recovered quickly, she didn’t miss the way his smile faltered. “What’s wrong?” Greer folded the paper and smiled. “Not a thing. That’s one hell of a review. And look at you getting mentioned by name. You really did steal the show.” He winked and nudged her foot, but for some reason, he seemed off. “I’m sorry. It wasn’t my intention to have my name in the paper. I was caught in the moment. You guys deserve way more recognition,” Chloe rambled. She didn’t want to upset Greer or Drew, and she certainly didn’t want to steal the spotlight from Reid. Greer barked out a laugh. “What the hell are you talking about?” “What do you mean, what am I talking about? You sounded upset. I thought it was because my name was mentioned.” “Shit, Chloe,” Greer chuckled, finally composing himself. “Unless your name is Flea, John Bonham, or Slash, the general public rarely knows anyone other than the lead singer.” “That’s exactly my point,” Chloe argued. “You guys have been with Reid since the beginning. I’m just a hired hand for this tour. People like me are supposed to fade into the background. Be heard, but not seen. That’s just how it works.” Greer nodded. “That’s how it’s supposed to be for anyone whose name isn’t Reid Ryder. We all know that. So why would you think I was upset?” Chloe fidgeted, feeling self-conscious. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m being silly, but I think of me, you, and Drew as a team. The supporting cast in the shadows. It feels wrong to be mentioned by name without you guys getting the same attention.” “Are you having one of those girlie moments? I’m not sure if I’m prepared to handle this without coffee, if so.” Chloe giggled and kicked Greer’s foot. “Don’t be an asshole.” “Then don’t be ridiculous,” Greer countered. “You’re front and center on stage next to Reid. You two really worked the crowd last night. The journalist was right about the onstage chemistry. It was off the charts.” Chloe studied her hands, a shy smile crossing her face. Just as before, warmth fluttered under her skin. “You think so?” “Absolutely. That’s what worries me.” Confused by his words, Chloe looked up. “Why?” “Because he and Jess haven’t been back together very long. She might get the wrong idea. I’m worried how it will affect Reid if that happens.” Chloe’s stomach flipped. It wasn’t a warm and fluttery feeling like before; this was different, darker. Unwanted. “Jess?” Greer’s eyes widened and a look of genuine shock crossed his face. “You’re joking, right?” “Do I sound like I’m joking?” Chloe kept her eyes locked with Greer’s as his intense brown eyes searched her face. When his lips parted and his shoulders slumped, Chloe knew he believed her. “Damn, Chloe.” Greer sighed. “I owe you an apology. I thought you knew about Jess.” “Why does that warrant an apology?” Chloe really didn’t want to know. She was smart enough to realize what he thought. Still, a part of her wanted to know more. Reid had a girlfriend. That certainly wiped away her brewing fantasies. “When I walked in here and saw you smiling like you were, it was obvious you weren’t reading about gardening. Then I read the article and it was pretty clear what you were thinking about. I owe you an apology because I thought you were having those thoughts knowing Reid has a girlfriend. Apparently it’s not you that’s being inappropriate.” “No one is being inappropriate,” Chloe defended. “It’s true I didn’t know Reid had a girlfriend, but there was no reason for him to bring it up. He hired me to play violin, not share information about his personal life. It’s really not a big deal.” The words tasted bitter and thick. The lie coated her tongue and tightened her throat. She felt foolish. It didn’t matter that her fantasy only lasted a moment. She knew better. “Regardless, I’m sorry I thought you would do something like that. We might not know each other very well, but you’ve given me no reason to think so low of you. It won’t happen again.” There was no doubt in Chloe’s mind about Greer’s sincerity. From the hunch of his shoulders to the apology saddening his light brown eyes, it was obvious he was sorry. He honestly believed Chloe knew about Jess and disregarded her. Not wanting to drag out the moment a second more than necessary, Chloe sighed and dropped her chin to her chest. “Well, there go my plans for picking out china patterns this afternoon.” She peeked at Greer and placed her hands on his knee, her expression so over-the-top pleading that Scarlett O’Hara would have been impressed. “Would you be willing to help a girl scrape her fragile ego off the floor and escort her around the lovely city of Dublin?” Greer cracked a grin. “You mean you’re not one of those girls who lock themselves in a room and cry for hours while eating tubs of ice cream?” “Hell no,” Chloe said, rising to her feet. “Do you know how much I’d have to work out if I did that kind of thing?” She shuddered dramatically and pulled Greer to his feet. “I’d rather not.” Greer threw his arm around Chloe’s shoulders and led her out of the hotel lobby. “Just to be clear,” he said, his tone suggestive and mischief flashing in his eyes, “I don’t have a girlfriend.” Chloe laughed and smacked his chest. “Oh, no. Don’t you start. From this point on, I’m going to be strictly professional.” “Does that mean I’m going to have to pay . . .?” Chloe ducked out from under his arm and turned to face him. “You’re going to pay for that,” she warned, fighting back a smile. Before he could respond, Chloe pinched his side and stomped on his foot before taking off in a run, laughter trailing behind her. When he caught her a block later, they called a truce and spent the next hour chatting about music and the tour. He didn’t mention Reid and Chloe was thankful. She would be fine, completely normal. She just needed a bit of time to wrap her head around the fact that not once had Reid mentioned his girlfriend. When the pair walked past a group of nightclubs, Chloe’s mind drifted to her night out with Josie, Anders, Madison, and Holden. She thought about the conversations the girls had about Reid. No one mentioned a girlfriend then either. Oh, but wait. Something swirled at the edges of her memory. An unfamiliar face flashed in her mind. She narrowed her eyes, attempting to bring the memory to the surface. She’d met an acquaintance of Anders’s that night. Walker, his name was Walker. When Anders mentioned that Chloe was going on tour with Reid Ryder, Walker had laughed. He knew Reid. They weren’t close friends, for some reason Chloe knew that, but they did know one another. The fragmented memories nagged at her the rest of the day. Through rehearsal, lunch, and warm-ups. Walker had been more than willing to share his dirty secrets. The details about his relationship with Reid, however, lay hidden under the thick haze of tequila she’d drunk that night. It wasn’t until later that evening, as Chloe stood off to the side of the stage and waited for her cue, that the haze finally lifted. She wasn’t sure if it was the pulsing lights that reminded her of the club in LA where she met Walker or the hypnotic sound of Reid’s voice that lifted her memories to the surface, but it happened. She remembered. Walker met Reid in rehab. He’d joked about their common love of cocaine and how it landed both of them in trouble. Serious trouble. Legal trouble. Chloe pulled in a deep breath and positioned her bow when it was time to step on stage. She smiled, laughed, and worked the crowd with Reid just like the night before. Her stomach fluttered with excitement, and adrenaline coursed through her veins. It was exactly the same, but somehow different. This time, Chloe didn’t shy away when Reid prompted her to address the crowd; she didn’t hesitate to step into the spotlight. She was a musician, an artist. If their onstage chemistry excited the audience, then she’d give them what they wanted. She would put on the show they expected and leave it all behind as soon as the lights dimmed. That was what a professional did. It was what she would do.