“Wait,” Koty said. He trailed behind her, the towel slipping from his waist. Clasping it to his hips, he stood in the middle of the room. “What if I just pay him back?”
Jett wrinkled her nose. “That’s ridiculous.” She stood with her hands on her hips, an eyebrow arched.
“Why?” Koty bent in front of his dresser and began pulling out clothing. “I give him the money that you owe him, and he goes away.”
She shook her head. “It’s not that simple.” He was already paying for their condo and groceries. Technically, it was money that he would probably never use if they hadn’t moved to Boston. The most expensive thing about his New York apartment had been the furniture—one of the only signs of exactly how rich he was. He could have bought a house in Beverly Hills, if he’d wanted to.
“Why?” he asked again. He tossed jeans and a T-shirt onto his bed. He stood, watching her, the towel hitched around his waist.
She swallowed hard and looked away. “I don’t want your money.” She smiled. “I want a band. Let me figure this out.” Turning, she trotted across the hall and went into her own bedroom. She closed the door and locked it behind her. Her heart pounded in her chest.
Memories flashed through her mind. Every time she and Koty had hooked up played for her on fast-forward. She saw him pressing his body to hers, pinning her to the brick facade of a building. Every atom of her being tingled. If she reached out, she could run her fingers through his hair, drawing him closer, pressing his mouth to hers.
Taking a deep breath, she shook the memories away. Her thoughts buzzed through her head like static on an out-of-range radio station. Anxiety bounced through her. The muscles in her neck and shoulders tensed. Fingers curling, she wished that she could have a drink.
She swallowed hard. “No, girl,” she whispered to herself. She needed to come up with a plan immediately and show Koty that he didn’t have to keep rescuing her with his savings. Padding into the bathroom, she shed her clothing. Then she turned on the faucet.
Water rushed into the bathtub. She plugged the drain and shook in some bath salts. The scent of peppermint and orange filled her nose, soothing her frazzled nerves. She closed and locked the bathroom door behind her. She didn’t have to worry about Koty barging in on her, but the extra security of locks always helped her to relax even more. She had probably lived in New York for too long. Though Boston was another large city, it felt a lot safer. Flowers bloomed out of planters throughout the city. Hardly any trash combed the gutters. She had seen a few drunks, but no one tried to grab her while walking through the streets. Still, habit was habit. She left the door locked.
Stepping into the tub, she eased into the warm water. The scent of the bath salts enveloped her. Steam rose into the air. Resting her head against a foam bath pillow, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Focusing on her breathing, she let herself leave the drama of the morning behind. Slowly, she felt her mind begin to clear. Then, she began focusing on the sensations of her body.
She concentrated on the tingling pleasure of the warm water soaking into her skin. Retrieving her bath sponge, she focused on the sensation of it gliding over her arms and legs. The constant narration that usually thrummed through her thoughts quieted, then stilled. She slid deeper into tranquility, skin tingling as she settled into an almost sedative calm. When she finished bathing, she had the answer.
Toweling off, excitement thrummed through her body. She dried her hair quickly, then moved into her bedroom. Pulling on leggings, a T-shirt, and her favorite pair of boots, she studied her reflection in the full-length mirror. She lifted her chin. She looked like someone who knew what she was doing.
Jett grabbed her phone from the bed then pounded down the stairs, a smile spreading across her face. It was ironic. Less than two hours earlier, she had been thinking of quitting music. As she reached the living room, the scent of coffee reached her nostrils. Her smile widened.
Koty stood at the counter, a mug of coffee in each hand. Steam rose from their single-serve coffee machine. He carried the mugs to their little round dining table and set them down.
She held her phone in the air. “Where’s the list of the people who auditioned?” She glanced around the living room.
Koty looked around, too. He pointed at the coffee table.
Skirting an amplifier, Jett strode into the living room. She plucked a notebook from the coffee table and leafed through its pages. While auditioning, she had made everyone leave their phone numbers and home addresses. At the time, Koty had suggested that they probably didn’t need to know where people lived. She was glad she had thought of it, though. Musicians in the Boston area were much more likely to be available for a show three weeks out.
Scanning through the names, Jett’s smile dissolved. Based on her notes, she hadn’t been too impressed with anyone. Each person auditioning had been horribly amateur. She wondered if any of them had ever played in a professional band before. Her shoulders slumped.
“What is it?” Koty asked. He stood next to her, his shoulder brushing hers.
Jerking away from him as if he were on fire, she pointed to her notes. “I don’t want any of these people in my band.”
“Our band,” he corrected her.
“Right.” She nodded. “Do you remember any of these people?”
He leaned closer, studying the names on the sheet of paper. Her body tensed, feeling the energy from his so close to her. “I thought she was pretty good on bass.” He pointed to a name.
Jett sighed. She went over to the dining table and lifted a mug of coffee. Taking a sip, she used the moment to think. “I wasn’t impressed.”
Koty joined her at the table. “Didn’t you think her ability to play by ear was pretty amazing?”
“She couldn’t read music.” Jett waved a hand at him. “She gave me an attitude when I asked her to.”
Koty tilted his head to the side. “I think she was just upset that you didn’t think she was good enough. She went to Juilliard.”
Jett snorted. “Then what is she doing in Boston?” She riffled through the pages.
He put a hand on the notebook. “Stop. I remember that guy. We both agreed that he was good on drums.”
She sighed. “I guess.”
“Why don’t you just call a few of the people that were maybes and have them come in for a second audition?” He took a sip of his coffee.
Rolling her eyes, Jett put the notebook down. “None of them were maybes,” she grumbled. She unlocked her phone, though, and began dialing.
Two cups of coffee later, she had left four voicemails and had spoken to two musicians who were already working with other bands. Defeated, she slumped forward. She rested her head on the cool wood of the table. “We’re going to have to hold another audition,” she said, her voice muffled against the table.
“Wait,” Koty said.
She lifted her head. “What?”
He flipped through the notebook. “Why don’t we give some other people a shot?”
Jett laughed. “Who else is there? All of them were terrible.”
“No,” he said. “You’re just too picky. I get it, Jett. You had a really tight band with Perpetual Smile. Those things don’t happen automatically, though.”
She yanked the notebook out of his grasp. “Yes, because you’re an expert on building professional bands.” The words came out harsher than she intended. She peeked up at him through sooty lashes.
“I was good at it in high school.” He shrugged, flashing her a grin. His blue eyes glinted in the early morning light.
Sliding the notebook back to him, she shook her head. “Fine. Tell me who you think makes a good second choice.” She lifted her mug, then swore. Pushing her chair back, she ambled toward the coffee maker.
“You’ve been drinking a lot of coffee this morning,” he remarked.
She glanced over at him. He sat bent over the notebook. His shoulders were tense, though. “I’m good,” she said. Popping a K-cup into the machine, she slid her mug underneath the spout.
“Okay,” he said, after a moment. “Try these three.”
“Three?” She joined him at the table. On a fresh page of the notebook, he had written down three names and their contact information. “What if this is a total waste of time?”
“Stop being so negative,” he said. He handed her phone to her. “Call them.” Standing, he took his mug to the sink.
“Sure, boss.” She resisted the urge to throw a salt shaker at him. Sighing, she sat back down. She punched in the first phone number on Koty’s list. Pressing the phone to her ear, she took a deep breath. It rang.
Koty set a full mug in front of her.
“Thank you,” she mouthed. The line continued ringing. Frowning, Jett took a sip of coffee. She let it ring three more times, then she hung up.
“No answer?” Koty asked. She shook her head. “Try the next one.” He leaned over her, one hand planted on the table. Lightly toned muscles bulged from his arms.
Trembling on the inside, she averted her eyes. Koty was all she had in the world. If she let herself get distracted by him, there would be no one left. She dialed the second number. Her heart slammed in her chest. It rang once, then twice. Then the call went to voicemail, where a computerized woman’s voice told her that the inbox was full. Scowling, she hung up. “What do I have to do, show up at these people’s houses?”
“Well,” Koty said, nudging her gently, “it’s not a bad idea.”
“Isn’t that illegal?” She dialed the third phone number. It rang twice, then went to voicemail. A computerized voice informed her that the subscriber hadn’t set up his voicemail box yet. Jett slammed her phone down.
“Come on,” Koty said. He strode toward the front door. “Let’s go visit these people.”
Pushing her chair back, she held up a hand. “That’s crazy.”
He shrugged into his jacket. Leather creaked as it stretched across his broad back and muscular arms.
She sighed and joined him at the door, the notebook tucked under her arm. Donning her own leather jacket, she followed him out into the cool March morning. Cars sat parked along the brick row houses. Most people were already on their way to work. Jett wondered what it would be like to get up at five in the morning and drive to an office somewhere in the city. If she weren’t a musician, she mused, she would probably have to get up even earlier to manage her father’s bakery. She smiled at the thought of hot rolls fresh from the oven, spread with melting butter and sprinkled with cinnamon. Her mouth watered.
“What are you thinking about?” Koty asked.
They stood in front of the only brownstone with its porch light still on. She glanced up at the dark windows. “I’m wondering what kind of hot mama lives in there.”
He snorted. “You’re wild.”
She shrugged and led him to the T station.
They had rented a car during their first few weeks in town. It was expensive, though, and Jett made Koty return it. There was no sense in wasting his money on something they didn’t actually need. Riding the T was faster, anyway, and almost always interesting. She was surprised that they hadn’t found the musicians they were looking for in other passengers.
Koty joined her and, together, they boarded. He sat by her side. As his thigh touched hers, she felt her cheeks grow warm. She forced herself to stare out of the window.
“Where does this guy live?” Koty asked.
“Not far, actually.” She still didn’t know Boston very well, but according to her phone, it wasn’t hard to find. She wished that her GPS labeled neighborhoods. In New York, even if she didn’t have a phone or map, the layout was simple. The streets ran north and south, east and west. Everything was divided into neat little squares. She could get anywhere she needed to go on her own two feet. She had never taken a cab—until Simon 1056 signed Perpetual Smile and started sending SUVs and limousines with full bars. She snorted.
“Now what?” Koty tilted his head at her.
“I was just thinking that it’s no wonder Simon 1056 went under.” She settled into her seat, eyes still gazing out of the window.
“Why are you even thinking about them?” He nudged her with his knee, and fireworks exploded across her skin.
He would never get it, she realized. As the face of the boy band ESX, he had stopped working for what he wanted. With Perpetual Smile, she hadn’t so much as slowed down. It didn’t matter that both of their record labels had treated them like stars, sending limos and catering their shows. ESX had been an easy ticket into the music industry for Koty. She wondered if once things got rolling with South of Forever, the pressure would be too much for him to handle. Then again, she surmised, maybe he was right and she needed to think more positively.
When they arrived at their stop, she hopped out after Koty and pointed in the direction they needed to go. A short walk and a couple of right turns later, they stood in front of the address the bassist had given her.
She gaped around her. Her boots crunched on syringes and her eyes grazed peeling paint. Most of the windows were boarded, and the top floor and roof looked as if it had burned sometime recently.
“This can’t be it,” Koty said.
“Unless he’s a squatter.” She marched up the steps. Fist raised, she pounded on the door. “Police. Open up.”
Koty gaped at her.
Pressing her lips together to keep from laughing, she shrugged. She banged on the door again.
It creaked open. A man with deep brown skin poked his head out. Long dreads wound around the crown of his head in a giant bun. He clenched a cigarette in one corner of his mouth. “You don’t look like the police.”
“Just the fashion police.” She nodded at his ratty bathrobe. “Do you wear that to shows, or just around the house?”
“Hey, I know you,” he said. He moved aside and motioned for them to come in.
Shrugging, Jett followed him.
Koty came in behind her, whistling as they took in the living room. Stacks of empty pizza boxes lined the walls. The windows were boarded and curtained. A single lamp shone in the corner of the room. On an upside down milk crate, a cigarette burned in an ashtray. The carpet smelled like freshly spilled whiskey.
The sharp scent of the alcohol burned Jett’s nostrils. She inhaled through her mouth, wishing she had stopped at a Starbucks or something on the way over. Gritting her teeth, she dug her pack of cigarettes out of the pocket of her jacket. She nodded at the bassist. “Perry, right?”
He nodded. Sitting cross-legged next to the milk crate, he retrieved his cigarette from the ashtray. “What can I do for you, gorgeous?” His smooth baritone sent warm shivers down Jett’s spine.
She lit a cigarette and sat across from him. “I tried calling you.”
Perry nodded toward a dark hallway. “My phone must be in my bedroom.” He put the cigarette back in the ashtray. Tilting his head, he gave her a sly grin. “You came all the way here to tell me that?”
“I’m looking for a bassist,” she said, tapping ash from her cigarette.
“I got that impression during auditions.” Perry patted the threadbare pockets of his bathrobe and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. With the cigarette in the ashtray still burning, he lit another one.
Jett rolled her eyes. “Are you interested?”
He leaned forward. “Are you single?”
Koty cleared his throat. “She’s not looking.” He stood behind Jett. She glanced over her shoulder. He stood with his arms crossed. He glared at Perry.
Smirking, Jett watched the exchange. She had never seen Koty so protective before. Maybe he wasn’t as over her as he seemed. It was always so hard to tell with him.
Perry turned his gaze to Koty. “Are you interested?” His brown eyes glinted.
Even from two feet away, she could smell the booze on his breath. She sighed. “Do you want to join the band or not?”
Shaking his head, Perry put his second cigarette in the ashtray. The smoke from both cigarettes rose into the air, curling into one trail. “No.”
“Why not?” Jett took another drag and blew smoke out of the corner of her mouth. “You seemed pretty interested during your audition.”
Perry grinned. “I was mostly interested in you.”
“Cut the shit,” Koty said. He took a step toward Perry.
“Do you know who I am?” the other man asked.
Jett’s eyes narrowed. “Are you threatening us?” She lurched to her feet. Jabbing the cigarette at the air in front of him, she curled her lip at Perry.
He lifted a hand. “It was an actual question.” He snubbed out the shorter cigarette and took a drag from his more recent one.
Koty put a hand on Jett’s arm. “He’s just a drunk. Let’s go.”
Jett’s shoulders slumped. She should have known the second that she walked in the door. Shaking her head, she moved toward the exit.
“Wait,” Perry called after her.
She turned. “If you’re only interested in playing games,” she said, “you’re wasting my time.”
“Have you ever heard of King Riley?” Perry climbed to his feet. His bathrobe slipped open, revealing a T-shirt bearing the words in plain gold font. He jerked a thumb toward his chest.
Jett twisted her lips to the side. The name sounded familiar. She took another drag of her cigarette, inhaling slowly to buy herself time. Exhaling tiny O-shaped puffs, she glanced at Koty. The name didn’t seem to ring a bell for him. “Didn’t they open for Perpetual Smile once?”
Perry nodded. “A couple of years ago. So you know them?”
She laughed. “Do you know who I am?” She snubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray. Straightening, she crossed her arms.
Perry gazed at her, eyes bleary. “Should I?”
Taking a deep breath, Jett resisted the urge to walk out. “What does King Riley have to do with you joining South of Forever?” The name of her new band—if she could call it that—rolled off her tongue, liquid and supple. She loved listening to people speak in other languages, but there was nothing like poetry in English.
“I’ve seen your website,” Perry said. “South of Forever is an alternative rock band, with hints of blues and infectious pop hooks.”
Koty yanked open the door. Sunlight streamed into the room. “Congratulations,” he said, “you can read.” He motioned to Jett. “Let’s get out of here.”
She cast Perry an amused glance. “Thanks for wasting my time, asshole.”
“I’m Perry Armstrong, former bassist of King Riley.” He jutted his chin at her.
Blinking, she studied his face closer. “We never met the members of King Riley when we played with them,” she explained to Koty. “They were just opening for us in one city.” She ran a hand through her wavy, dark brown hair. In the last few months, it had grown quite a bit. She had wondered why it stopped growing, but had never connected it with drinking. “I watched them play, though. I always watched our openers.” She examined Perry again, replacing his dingy bathrobe and T-shirt with a fresh shirt and jeans. “You didn’t have the dreads,” she told him.
Perry shook his head. “These are a more recent development.” He patted the top of his head.
“Why didn’t you say who you were during audition?” Jett asked.
“She probably would have made you her first pick,” Koty added. He stood in the doorway, his arms crossed.
Perry frowned. “What does that mean?”
Koty’s bright blue eyes crinkled at Jett.
She turned away from him, heat warming her cheeks. She glanced around the nearly empty apartment again. The lack of furniture suddenly made sense. Without a regular income, Perry probably had to downgrade quite a bit. “Listen, Perry, we have a show in three weeks. Are you with us or what?”
He shook his head. “I’m not doing it.”
Scowling, she threw her hands up in the air. “Why not? I’m offering to make you money within the next three weeks. You should be jumping at this.”
Perry pointed to his T-shirt again. “King Riley describes themselves as a bluesy, radio-friendly band, too.”
“So fucking what?” Jett gritted her teeth. She needed a bassist. Perry had the experience and the grit of the road still clinging to him. She wouldn’t have to spend much time conditioning him for her vision.
“So,” Perry said, “if I join you, South of Forever and King Riley will be rivals forever, end of story. As far as King Riley is concerned, there’s only room for one king in Boston.”
Jett might be sober, but she can’t kick her addiction to Koty.
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