After a quick stop at home to grab her guitar, Jett arrived at the studio. She climbed the steps three at a time. When she inserted her key into the lock, the studio doorknob twisted easily. Biting down on her lower lip, she nudged the door open.
Piano music floated through the air, light and haunting. She paused in the doorway. Koty sat at the studio’s grand piano, back bent. He leaned over the keys, fingers splayed, dancing with the stroke of each note. His voice floated to her through the air, strengthened by the light accompaniment of the piano.
“And I can’t even cry, because you were never mine,” he sang.
Recognition flowed through her. She had scribbled those lyrics down on a scrap of paper, unable to do anything else with them. She hadn’t even showed him.
Koty wore headphones, a notebook balanced on his lap. He held a pen between two fingers, playing with one hand.
“And I can’t even cry,” he sang, slower, drawing out the notes. His voice was husky, resonating through the small space. He repeated the line over a four-note piano melody, singing at a higher note. His voice sent shivers down Jett’s spine.
Heart twisting in her chest, she shook her head. It was ironic that he was working on that song—two lines that came to her one night when she couldn’t sleep. It was one of the first nights they spent in Boston, in a hotel room with two beds. She had stared into the darkness across the divide between them, wishing things were different.
Koty had never been hers, though. She had used him as a rebound when Phillip died. Then she’d chosen her old band over whatever it was they’d had.
Swallowing the lump in her throat, she leaned against the doorframe as he launched into the two lines again. He dropped his voice even lower, testing out different levels and throwing in nonsense lyrics. His free hand never stopped scribbling notes.
She needed to let him go. He deserved better than the hot mess that she was. Blinking her sooty lashes against her olive skin, she decided to stop pining for him. It would be easier said than done, of course, but she had to at least try.
Crossing the space between them, she sat on the piano bench next to him. She slipped on a pair of headphones and dropped in, playing a harmony with his melody. He glanced over at her. He removed his headphones, letting them dangle around his neck. Sitting that close to him, she could smell his sweat and deodorant—or maybe it was cologne. He smelled amazing, a blend of cool and spicy. His smile sent a tingle through her body. Heat bloomed low in her belly.
She needed to focus. She nodded at the notebook in his lap. “Any luck?”
“Sorry for taking off.” His blue eyes bore into hers.
She blinked. “What?”
“I know that you don’t need a guard dog.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I guess I just got used to it being you and me against the world.” He blushed.
She couldn’t take her eyes from his. She felt herself lean toward him. Her heart swelled, warmth washing over her. He might deserve better, but she wished that she could have him.
Ducking his head, he leaned down. His lips brushed hers. Her breath caught in her throat. As her eyes fluttered closed, the door to the studio banged open. She jerked away from Koty.
Max stood in the doorway, chest heaving. “Am I late?” he asked.
Jett hoped the guilt she felt wasn’t evident on her face. “No.” She sighed.
“Chloe wouldn’t stop crying when I tried to leave, so I thought I might be late.”
She glanced at Max as he entered the studio. Pushing his hair back from his face, he looked from Jett to Koty. She had no idea whether she should try to distract him from what he had almost seen, or if she should tell him that he was perfectly on time.
Perry strode in behind Max, hands jammed into his pockets, and his bass strapped to his back in a soft case. He wore earbuds. His head bopped to the music. Brushing past Max, he strutted deeper into the room. “I’m here,” he purred. He plucked his earbuds from his ears and gave Koty a nod. The nod he gave Jett held a deeper meaning. Heat laced his eyes.
Max cleared his throat. “Are you in the band, too?” He held his hand out to Perry. “I’m Max Batista, keyboards.”
Raising an eyebrow, Perry stared at Max. “Where’s your keyboard?”
Max’s mouth dropped open.
“You didn’t bring your equipment?” Perry snickered. “This is a professional band, you know.”
Jett cleared her throat. “Thank you for coming, gentlemen.” She wanted to look at Koty, to see what he thought, but she was afraid that what she might see in his face would have nothing to do with the band. Standing from the piano bench, she jerked a thumb toward the large instrument. “Max can use that.”
“We were just working on a piano-driven song,” Koty added from beside her.
Without turning her head, she could feel the heat from his body. She took a step back.
“Still.” Perry sniffed. “What kind of musician travels without his instrument?”
“I didn’t think I’d need it tonight.” Max shrugged. “Plus, with Chloe screaming, I was mostly focusing on getting out of the house.”
Perry crossed his arms. “Have you ever even been in a band?”
Max’s eyebrows furrowed. “Who are you?”
Jett opened her mouth, then shut it, unsure whether she should play referee or let them get it out of their system.
“I’m Perry Armstrong. I just finished touring with King Riley—you’ve probably heard of them.” Perry swung his bass down from his back and knelt on the floor, unpacking the instrument.
“I’ve seen some posters,” Max said. He crossed his arms. “Do you only play their tours?”
Perry blushed, his cheeks turning bright red under his dark skin. “I recorded their first album with them.” He gritted his teeth, glaring at Max.
Lifting her hands, Jett tried to change the subject. “Let’s get started, guys.”
Both men ignored her. “Only their first album?” Max cocked his head. “Why aren’t you working on their second album?”
“Why don’t you run back to your little high school band?” Perry stood. He towered over Max.
Max held the other man’s gaze. “What are you trying to say?”
Perry jerked a thumb toward Koty. “I’m saying,” he said, pointing another finger at Max, “that neither of you belong here.”
“Whoa,” Koty said. He crossed the space between him and Perry. “How do you figure?”
Perry snorted. “You used to sing in a boy band.”
Eyes wide, Max turned toward Koty. He gaped at him. “Wait, what?”
Jett stomped her foot on the hardwood floor. Their heads all snapped in her direction. “We have three weeks to write and practice four or five songs. We don’t have time for this testosterone shit.”
“Can’t we just use some Perpetual Smile songs?” Max nodded toward the piano. “I can figure out the melody for a few more.”
Perry muttered something under his breath. He plugged his bass into the studio’s amplifier, shaking his head.
Jett ignored him. “No, Max.” She inhaled slowly through her nose. She had picked these men. She needed to remember that they weren’t her first picks, and needed some conditioning. “Simon 1056 owns the rights to Perpetual Smile’s music. I’ll probably never get those songs back.” Koty’s arm brushed hers. She flinched. Shooting him a look, she moved away. Her boots clicked against the floor as she paced. “We have a drummer, but he’s on the West Coast at the moment. He won’t be able to join us right away. We’ll have to start writing without percussion.”
“That doesn’t matter.” Perry smirked. “All of King Riley’s songs are piano driven.”
Gritting her teeth, Jett looked him in the eye. “I don’t care what King Riley does. We are South of Forever, and we’re going to do things our own way.”
“You mean your way?” Perry gave her wide, innocent eyes.
Her fingers curled. Glancing at the door, she resisted the urge to walk out. Instead, she addressed the others. “Do any of you have any songs written or started?”
“Everything I wrote belongs to King Riley.” Perry sighed, drawing it out. “And by ‘everything,’ I mean all of their songs to date.”
Jett lifted her eyes toward the ceiling. She probably should have researched Perry before seeking him out, she surmised. She would have bet her last cigarette he’d been thrown out of the band. She needed to work with what she had, though. She turned to Max. “What about you?”
His cheeks flushed. “I have something,” he stammered.
“Want to share?”
He shook his head quickly.
“Why don’t we keep going with what we were just working on?” Koty asked. He stood next to her again.
She pressed her feet into the floor, resisting the urge to move away from him. If the other men noticed that Koty was practically chasing her around the room, they might think that something was going on. She needed to not repeat her mistakes. There would be no dating within South of Forever. “We’re starting from scratch,” she announced, as if she hadn’t heard him. “Let’s pick a theme for our first song.” She wished that Phillip was still alive. He had been a genius at writing songs on a whim. Stuffing the ache in her heart away, she reached for Koty’s notebook.
Moving to Boston was her fresh start, not a relocated pity party.
“Let’s start strong,” Perry said, “and write a song about sexual frustration.” He wiggled his eyebrows at Jett.
“That would be easy for you, wouldn’t it?” She gave him a smirk. “Let’s make it bass-driven. Give me a strong line.” Pride thrummed through her. Poising a pen over a fresh page in the notebook, she nodded to Perry. Maybe starting with nothing wouldn’t be so hard after all.
“No way,” Max said. “It should be a piano-driven song.”
“Why don’t you shut up?” Perry strapped his bass on. “At least until you have more songwriting experience.”
Jett watched as Max’s jaw worked. He gritted his teeth, his eyes narrowed.
“Piano can be sexy,” Max said. He turned to Jett. His eyes pleaded with her. “I can work something that’s deep and slow.”
Lips parting, she started to tell him that it might work. Perry was the more experienced songwriter, though. Besides, Max looked more like a kid who wanted to impress his new friends than someone itching to play a melody. She closed her eyes. Maybe she had made a huge mistake.
Jett might be sober, but she can’t kick her addiction to Koty.
Diving Into Him, Book 1 in the South of Forever series, is now available.
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