The third book in the Ransom Family series is now available! You can pick up FIGHT FOR ME today! Book 3 is all about Wyatt Warner (Cash and Sam’s oldest son) and I’m so excited for you to get to know him better!
With those four words, she takes up permeant residence in my heart. Makes me want to pour out all my secrets, to let her in like no one else before her. There’s only one problem—she’s the last girl in the world I’ll ever be allowed to keep.
I’ve always been the guy everyone can count on. The big brother. The perfect son. The nephew who makes the whole family proud. What they don’t know is how hard I’ve worked to be what they want me to be. Or how scared I am to lose it all.
And that’s what will happen if I let myself love her. I’ll lose.
Yet somehow, I can’t seem to help myself. I know it’s dangerous, but I still want more. More time with her. More secrets. More stolen kisses.
She may be the one woman I can never have, but she’s also the only woman I can’t seem to give up. And for the first time in my life, I’m starting to wonder if love just might be worth the risk.
As far as summer jobs go, it could be worse. There’s good music playing, the night air is warm, and the tips have been freaking fantastic. All in all, not bad.
Which I would know, considering I’ve worked just about every job you can imagine during my six years of undergrad and grad school. I’ve done all the usual things—fast food joints, mowing lawns, hauling boxes for a moving company. Endless grunt work filing papers in an insurance office. Painting houses. Construction. One summer I even had a weekend job working for my buddy’s uncle’s boating company in Maine, carting tourists out to the ocean to sightsee and fish.
This job, though, bartending at the summer’s biggest music festival—this job I could get used to. Especially since I somehow managed to get moved into the VIP section. With the kind of tips I’m pulling in tonight, I just might start the first semester of my PhD with some money in the bank after my rent gets paid.
“View ain’t bad,” my friend Bodhi says, nudging my arm, and I know he doesn’t mean the view of the concert itself. The VIP section is set to the left and slightly behind the stage, giving us an obstructed sight of the band currently playing. But since few of the rich and beautiful people in this section seem very interested in watching the show, I guess it doesn’t matter much. Their focus seems to be socializing. Clumps of them are gathered around the swanky club seating, chatting and drinking. There are a few couples making out in the shadowy corners. A sizable group is dancing in the middle of the space—we might not be able to see the band back here, but the sound is amazing.
And that’s the view Bodhi is obviously talking about. The scantily dressed women shaking their asses just a few feet from our station.
“Maybe less ogling and more pouring,” I tell him, slapping a clean pint glass against his chest. “Guy at the end of the bar wants that IPA on tap.”
Bodhi fills the glass as requested, never once taking his eyes off the group of girls. “Leo, man, you can’t tell me you aren’t at all interested. Look at that redhead!”
I just shrug. The redhead is hot, definitely, but I’ve been too busy pouring drinks to pay much attention. The more drinks I pour, the more tips I bring home. And that’s the entire point of being here.
“Come on, man,” Bodhi presses. “I saw the way she was flirting with you when she came over for her appletini.”
“She wasn’t flirting.”
He snorts. “You’re really clueless, you know that? Maybe you’d be able to tell when a girl is into you if you weren’t so anti-social.”
There’s a lull at the bar so I grab a towel and start cleaning the counter. “First of all,” I tell him. “I do just fine with the ladies. And secondly, I’m not anti-social.”
“Right.” His eyes sparkle with amusement under the flashing lights from the stage. “You just hate people.”
“I like some people.” I toss the wet towel at him and he bats it away.
“It’s a damn short list, my friend.”
“Be careful,” I warn him. “Or I might just remove you from it.”
He snorts with laughter. “Yeah, right. You couldn’t get rid of me at this point if you tried.”
We both know he’s right, though God knows I did try when we first met. The last thing I thought I needed was a friend, but Bodhi’s tenacity—maybe obnoxiousness is a better word—eventually wore me down.
“She’s looking at you again,” Bodhi says, nudging my arm. “The redhead.”
Since there’s still no one waiting for a drink, I allow myself to follow his gaze to the group of dancing girls. It’s not that I would be opposed to a random hook-up tonight. The new school year is fast approaching, my first as a doctoral student, which means my life is going to get even busier than normal in a few short weeks. This could be my last chance for a night of fun in a while.
Assuming I can make my move without getting in the way of work. That has to be the priority. It’s always the priority.
I squint into the crowd, trying to find the redhead Bodhi won’t shut up about. But my eyes snag on someone else, a tall blonde chatting with a friend at the side of the dance floor, her back to me. She stands out from the crowd of girls in their club wear, her plain tank top and cut off shorts incongruous with the slinky, sparkly fabric clinging tightly to the other dancers.
Then she turns around.
Just like that, all the air goes out of me. Bodhi is saying something, but I don’t even hear him. I can’t focus on anything except for the sight of the woman standing still amongst the dancing crowd in front of me.
Skin. Miles and miles of golden, smooth skin fill my vision as the flashing overhead lights catch her. I have the strangest urge to reach out and touch her, to jump right over the bar and go to her.
I have zero clue why this stranger is so uniquely captivating to me. It’s like I physically can’t look away, and I have no idea why.
Maybe it’s her eyes. Even in the dim light of the VIP area I can see how blue they are. Or maybe it’s the masses of white blond waves that cascade down over golden shoulders and arms. Or it could be the shape of her, all smooth lines and perfect curves on a tall frame. Or maybe—
“Leo?” Bodhi says, and I startle. I’d completely forgotten that he was standing next to me, that we’re in the middle of our shift. Hell, I’d pretty much forgotten where I was entirely.
“Right,” I say, shaking my head a little to clear it.
My reaction is too late. Bodhi follows my line of sight and makes a surprised noise, his gaze snapping back to my face. “Dude.”
I grab some lemons so I can busy myself with prep work. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to keep my gaze on the knife in my hands. Every instinct in my body is begging me to find the blonde woman in the crowd.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you stare at a chick like that,” Bodhi says, his voice alarmingly giddy. He’s not going to drop this. “You should go talk to her.”
I actually consider taking the suggestion, which tells me how affected I am by this stranger. I would normally never think about ditching work for a woman, not even for a few minutes. But there’s something about those blue eyes…
Luckily, there’s a break in the music as the band on stage finishes their set, and the bar gets slammed immediately, preventing me from indulging in the nearly overwhelming desire to abandon my station to go talk to her.
I’m suddenly grateful that I spent so much time tending bar in the last few years. I can fill pints at the tap and mix most of these drinks in my sleep. It’s a damn good thing, because I can’t concentrate for shit right now. My attention keeps drifting back to the blonde woman. She’s still chatting with her friends in the exact same place I first noticed her.
God, she’s fucking gorgeous. The kind of beauty you usually only see in magazines or on a television screen. It’s almost hard to believe that she’s real.
She must catch the intensity of my continued gaze, because she glances up and meets my eyes, a pretty pink blush immediately coming to her cheeks. I’m struck with a strong rush of satisfaction. I like that I’m affecting her, even in this minor way.
Another customer slides up to the bar, cutting off my view of the woman. I rush to make his rum and Coke so he’ll get the hell out of my way and I can get back to ogling her. I’ve just handed the drink across the counter when Bodhi begins hissing in my ear. “Incoming!”
The guy in front of me finally moves, revealing ice blue eyes. Their impact is even more intense up close. A shy little smile plays around her lips. “Could I have a beer, please?”
Damn, I like the sound of her voice. It seems to fit her, the sound light and airy, almost like there’s something musical about it. I wonder what that voice would sound like whispering in my ear. I don’t realize she’s asked me for a drink until Bodhi nudges me. Shit. I blink several times, trying to break the spell of those mesmerizing eyes.
“Sorry, what’d you want?” My voice sounds all weird to my own ears, husky and low. Behind me, I can hear my supposed best friend wheezing with suppressed laughter. Asshole.
“A beer,” she repeats, a little louder, probably assuming my lack of service had something to do with the noise level in the area, and not the fact that I’m clearly struck dumb by her mere presence.
“Anything in particular?” At least my voice sounds a little more normal.
She glances up at the chalkboard menu over my head, giving me a chance to study her while she studies her options. Now that she’s standing right here, I can see that my initial impression of her beauty didn’t even come close. This chick has the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen, and they’re huge, seeming to take up half her face. The rest of her features are delicate, her skin creamy and smooth even under the flashing neon lights. That mane of white-blond hair hangs thick and wavy around her shoulders and I have the strangest urge to reach out and touch it, to see if it feels as silky smooth around my fingers as it looks.
Then she directs her attention back to me and it’s everything I can do to stop gaping at her like a freaking creeper. “The chocolate stout sounds good.”
I bite back a groan. She’s this gorgeous and she likes good beer? I’m totally fucked.
“You got it,” I mutter. Just as I bend over the tap a chick with jet black hair joins her at the bar. “Rose!” she squeals, pulling on her arm. “He just asked for my number!”
Rose. It suits her, I think. Pretty name for a fucking gorgeous woman.
“Of course he did, Everly,” she says, her soft, musical voice somehow managing to be heard over all the noise. “You’re gorgeous and fun. He’d be crazy not to call you.”
The friend jumps up and down, doing a little dance, and Rose laughs, catching my eye. Her expression is a mix of fondness, amusement, and exasperation. I wonder who the girl—Everly—is to her. I wonder what they’re doing here. I wonder a lot of things about her, all of a sudden. I think I might want to know everything about her.
But for now, all I have is a name. No sooner do I hand her the pint does Everly pull her back over to the rest of their friends. I can’t help but stare after her, enjoying the view of her ass in those short jean shorts.
“Dude, put your tongue back in your mouth,” Bodhi says, sounding way too amused. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this.”
His continued chuckle is already grating on my nerves. “Your face is like…all soft and shit. Where’s the grumpy asshole I know and love?”
“My face isn’t—what—k” I splutter, caught off guard. “Shut the fuck up, Bodhi.”
He laughs harder. “There he is.” He points over at Rose and her friends. “Quick, look back at her.” When I automatically do, he practically howls with laughter. “See? Total heart eyes. Shit—I never thought I’d see the day.”
“Shut. Up.” I growl, casting a worried look at Rose.
“She can’t hear me,” he says easily. “But seriously—you’re obviously into this girl. Why didn’t you try to talk to her?”
“I talked to her,” I mumble, not liking the self-conscious feeling coursing through me at his teasing. I don’t embarrass easily, but I’m feeling pretty mixed up at the moment.
“You said two words to her!” he chides.
“Her friend came to get her.”
The dickhead actually stands up on his tiptoes to peer at the girls. “She’s pretty hot, too. I like the dark hair. Think she’d go for me?” He nudges me with a campy, overdone wink. “We could double date.”
His ridiculousness has the much needed effect of shaking me out of my stupor. “Okay, can we back to work now? The line is getting long.”
I can tell Bodhi doesn’t want to drop it—and I’ll for sure be hearing more about this later—but he thankfully starts filling orders. He knows how much I need the money from this gig. He might be obnoxious sometimes, but he would never fuck around with that.
I mix drinks and pour beer while the next band takes to the stage. I do my best to keep my attention on the task at hand, and not the gorgeous blonde a few feet away, but I know my eyes drift in her direction more often than they should. Several times I look over and meet her gaze. Is she trying to sneak glances at me too? It’s ridiculous how much that possibility makes my chest puff up.
About halfway through the set, she approaches the bar again, this time without her friends. They seem to be watching her go, giggling and whispering behind their hands.
“I’m assuming you want to take this one,” Bodhi mutters in a dry undertone, jerking his head towards the approaching goddess. I get a little distracted when she stops a few feet away to gather that mass of hair into a messy knot at the top of her head, showing off the long line of her elegant neck.
My mouth is dry by the time she reaches us. “Back again,” she says, that shy smile so damn cute I want to kiss it off her face.
“Hmm.” She rests her elbows on the counter, leaning forward a little, and I manage to only glance down at her newly revealed cleavage for a couple of seconds. “I think I want something lighter. It was good, but kind of heavy.”
It takes me a minute to realize I’m leaning towards her, my pose mimicking hers. I’m sure Bodhi will add this to the list of things to rag me about later, but I don’t really care. This girl is just too mesmerizing not to get closer.
“There’s a fruity brown ale on the menu,” I tell her, but she makes a face.
“Fruit does not belong in beer.”
I laugh. “Agreed. You want to try a mixed drink?”
She leans a little closer, her eyes sparkling. “Sure. What do you recommend?”
“What do you like?”
Every word out of my mouth seems heavy with double meaning. But she doesn’t seem put off by it. From the way she’s smiling, I’m pretty sure she’s considering flirting right back.
“Nothing too sweet.”
An image of all the not too sweet things I could do to her flashes through my mind, and I have to clear my suddenly graveled throat.
“How ‘bout I make a couple different things and you can try them out?”
Her eyes light up at that, making me feel like the king of the fucking bar or something. “That sounds fun.”
I ignore Bodhi’s gleeful glances as I pull the ingredients I need, moving quickly so I can get back to her. Another one of those shy smiles has my heart rate speeding up as I arrange my supplies on the counter in front of her.
“How can you remember all these different drinks?” she asks, watching my hands while I work.
“Lots of practice.”
“You’ve been bartending for long?”
I shrug. “On and off over the years. It’s a pretty decent gig while I’m in school, because I can pick up lots of hours on the weekend.”
Again, her face lights up. She’s so damn expressive. “I’m in school too.”
My stomach clenches as I look her over. She’s got an over-21 tag on her VIP access bracelet, so I didn’t ask for ID when I got her beer. I hope she’s actually legit, and not some freshman who snuck back here or something.
“Senior?” I ask hopefully.
She grins, and I get the sense she knows exactly what I’m suddenly worried about. “Grad school, actually. First year in September.”
I relax. “Me too. Well, not a first year. I just finished my master’s and I’m starting my doctorate in the fall.”
She sits up straighter, obvious interest in her expression. “Really? Where are you—”
The rest of her question is cut off when Bodhi clears his throat next to me. “Sorry, man.” He sounds genuinely regretful to interrupt us. “This chick is asking for a Lemon Drop and I’ve never made one.”
Since that’s one of the drinks I’d planned to make Rose, I have all the shit I need right in front of me and I get to work. “Hey,” Bodhi says to Rose in what I’m sure he thinks is his most charming voice. “How’s it going?”
“Good. You guys are pretty busy, huh?”
“Only for a little while longer,” he says. “Once the big guns get up on stage, no one will be worrying much about their drinks.” Out of the corner of my eye, I see Rose stiffen, but then Bodhi leans over the counter, his hand outstretched. “I’m Bodhi.”
“Rose,” she says.
He smacks my back. “I’m assuming you’ve met my friend Leo.”
“Dude.” He sounds aghast. “You didn’t even tell her your name?”
“I was getting there,” I mutter.
He rolls his eyes. “You really need to work on your game.”
Rose laughs, holding out her hand. “Rose.” I wrap her soft, small hand in mine, giving it a squeeze, trying to ignore the electricity that buzzes through me at her touch. The sudden yearning I feel to touch a hell of a lot more of her.
Rose meets my gaze, her eyes matching the intensity I’m sure is mirrored in mine. “His game is just fine,” she murmurs.
Jesus. I’ve never in my life had this kind of a reaction to a complete stranger. Where in the hell did this girl come from?
I hand Bodhi the drink for his customer without looking at him, my eyes still locked on Rose’s. “Okaaaayy, then,” he says, his tone amused. “I’m just gonna…leave the two of you to…talk.”
I barely notice him walking away. “You ready for this?” I ask her, pointing at the drinks in front of me.
She sits up straighter, looking excited. “Hit me.”
I slide the first glass across the counter. “We’re starting pretty safe here, Rose.” Rose. Fuck do I like the way her name feels on my tongue. “This is a Lemon Drop. Vodka, lemon juice, and simple sugar.”
She brings the glass to her lips and I get majorly distracted watching her mouth. “That’s pretty good.”
“It’s refreshing, right?”
She nods, wiping her mouth. “Definitely.” She gives me that breathtaking smile. “Still a little too sweet for me.”
I slide over the next drink, a Manhattan. “This is pretty much the opposite of sweet.”
She takes a sip and immediately flinches. “Oh, God. I hate it.”
I laugh, taking the glass back. “Tell me how you really feel.”
She gives me a sheepish smile. “I’m sure you prepared it just right, I’m not like, doubting your bartending skills.” Then she surprises me by reaching over to place her hand over mine. Once again, those buzzy sparks go crazy on my skin. “But please don’t make me drink that ever again.”
I force out a chuckle, even as my heart beat goes into overdrive. I’m pretty sure I would give this girl anything she ever asked for so long as she added that breathy little please into the mix.
“Ready for attempt three?”
She smacks her palms against the counter. “Let’s do it.”
“This is a hurricane. Rum, passion fruit, lemon juice.”
“Oh my God,” she says, pushing the glass away and wiping at her mouth. “You said you weren’t doing sweet!”
I have to laugh at the outrage in her expression. “Sorry, I just wanted to make sure. Sometimes girls say they don’t like girly drinks but really…”
Her eyes narrow. “Are you saying you don’t trust me to know my own preferences because I’m a girl?”
I hold my hands up. “No. Definitely not saying that.”
Her eyes remain angry little slits. “Good. Because saying something that misogynistic is a surefire way to get your testicles punctured with a stiletto heel.”
My eyes widen. “That’s an awfully specific threat.”
She shrugs, smirking a bit. “I have three brothers.”
I laugh and it hits me how much fun I’m having, just talking to her. This doesn’t usually happen, at least not to me. Bodhi hadn’t been entirely wrong when he called me anti-social. It’s not that I hate people—I just don’t always have the easiest time relating to them.
That doesn’t seem to be a problem with Rose, though. And I like that a whole lot more than I want to admit.
She gives me a stern glare across the counter. “Now give me a good one.”
I grin. “Okay, I think this might be it. This is called a gin fizz. It’s a little old school, but I think it’s a classic.”
She takes a sip, her eyes widening. Then she takes another, the softest little moan escaping around the glass. It’s everything I can do not to rip the drink away from her mouth and replace it with my lips.
“Leo, this is good.” Her eyes are wide, excited, and it occurs to me that’s the first time she said my name. I like it. A lot. She takes another sip. “Yeah. I think this might be my drink.”
I nod seriously. “Having a signature drink is an important part of adulthood.”
Rose raises an eyebrow. “What’s yours?”
She bursts out laughing. “The one I hated so much?”
I shrug. “Guess your palette isn’t quite so refined as mine.”
She rolls her eyes, but she’s grinning, the beauty of that smile making the rest of the room go a little fuzzy. This girl is like liquid sunshine. And I just want to get closer to her warmth.
I need to ask for her number. Or ask her to meet me after the concert. Or to run away with me. I don’t even know, I just know I need something more, something big. Something only Rose can give me.
Just when I’m about to embarrass the hell out of myself by voicing any of that, a hand comes down on her shoulder, making her jump.
But this time, it isn’t the overly-excited black-haired friend. This time, it’s a man.
A very, very famous man.
“I’ve been looking for you,” he says, smiling down at her. “I thought you were coming back stage.”
Rose’s entire body has gone still. Her blue eyes shoot back to mine, somehow even wider than they’d been before. “Um, I guess I lost track of the time.”
He grins at her. “Let me guess—dancing with your cousins?”
The man’s laugh sounds a lot like hers. But not nearly so similar as his eyes, which are also an icy-blue. Or his white blond hair.
Rose makes a strangled sound that might be a laugh. “Yup. Pretty much.”
“Well come say hi to your uncles before we go on stage. You know how they get about their good luck charm.”
This time when she laughs, it sounds a lot more normal. “Tell them they’re ridiculous.”
He squeezes her shoulder. “Tell them yourself. I don’t want to put up with their grumpy asses if they don’t get their hugs before the show.”
Rose shoots me a worried glance. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
The guy finally seems to notice that she was talking to someone, and his eyes, so much like the ones I’ve been gazing into all night, snap to me, suspicion suddenly lining his face.
He doesn’t say anything though. Just gives her shoulder another squeeze before walking away, half the room stopping what they’re doing to watch him pass.
I guess that’s the kind of reaction you get when you’re Daltrey Ransome, arguably the most famous singer in the world.
Rose isn’t meeting my gaze anymore. “Sorry about that,” she murmurs. “My, um, Dad. I promised I’d go back stage before their set.”
Her dad. Daltrey Ransome is her dad. And she promised she’d go backstage before their set. Before Ransom’s set. Holy shit.
I suddenly remember the way she had seemed to stiffen when Bodhi mentioned the “big guns” taking the stage. He’d been referring to them, of course. To Ransom. The festival’s headliner.
Rose’s family, apparently.
“Uh, right,” I manage to say, my voice practically unrecognizable.
Rose gives me a smile—a sad, shaky little smile—and holds up the last drink. “Thank you for this,” she says.
Her face seems to crumple, just for a second, but then she straightens her shoulders, expression flattening as she pulls some bills out of her pocket.
“No,” I say, my voice too sharp. But something about her offering to give me money for the minutes we just spent together has my hackles rising. “It’s not necessary,” I manage in a softer tone. “Drinks are free in the VIP section.”
“I want to leave you a tip,” she says softly.
I grit my teeth. “It’s really not necessary.”
But she slips a bill into the jar in front of me all the same. “Thank you, Leo.” Even though her tone is soft, her expression remains blank. Completely different from the bright, shining smile she’d worn before.
Then she’s turning to follow the path Daltrey Ransome just took backstage.
I turn to see Bodhi standing at my side, mouth gaped open, eyes wide. “Was that…”
“Daltrey Ransome,” I mutter. Rose’s father.
“Seriously? The Daltrey Ransome?”
“Why is that so surprising?” I snap. “He’s performing in less than an hour.”
“Yeah, but he was standing right there. Breathing the same air. You talked to him.”
I hadn’t talked to him, but I don’t bother correcting Bodhi. “I need to go grab another case of the Stella,” I mutter. “The line will get long before the headliner goes on.”
He nods, mouth hanging open, and I can tell he’s still reeling with excitement at the up-close celebrity sighting we just experienced.
Excitement is the last thing I’m feeling.
I’d had every intention of leaving tonight with Rose’s phone number. I still thought Bodhi was full of shit—no way did I have heart eyes, whatever the fuck that means—but it would be pointless to say I wasn’t attracted to this girl. That there wasn’t something about her that drew me closer in a way I hadn’t ever felt before. There had been a spark there, damn it, and I’d already been planning the best way to convince her that she should spend time with me after my shift was over.
She’s a member of rock and roll royalty, for fuck’s sake. Her dad is the lead singer of Ransom. Which means he’s also one of the co-owners of their hugely successful music label. No one has produced more top-selling artists in the last decade than Six Man Band Records.
All of that adds up to one thing—Rose’s family is completely loaded. Loaded and famous and beloved by just about every rock music fan in the country. I can’t even imagine what her life must be like. Glamorous and exciting, I’m sure. The polar opposite of mine.
Rose is the kind of girl who hangs out in the VIP section. And I’m the kind of guy who gets paid to make drinks for rich girls like her and crosses his fingers for a tip at the end.
I bring the case of Stella back to the bar and see that, just as I predicted, the line is growing long again. I’m grateful for the distraction of the work, grateful to have something to do with my hands.
Even before Ransom takes the stage to thunderous applause, I know I’m not asking for Rose’s number. What I don’t understand is why that bothers me so much. She’s hot, sure, but it’s not like I even know this girl.
What I do know is that she’s completely and totally out of my league. And that upsets me more than I’ll ever admit.
We are getting so close to the release of my new book! Sing For Me is the first book in a brand new series all about the grown-up offspring of the Ransom gang! I am SO excited for this series. The first book introduces a whole bunch of new characters and I already feel like they’re all friends.
It’s so loud backstage that I’m pretty sure the walls are shaking. Over the pounding noise of the band’s instruments, I can hear the sold-out crowd screaming and cheering. All around us, roadies, venue staff, and random people I don’t recognize rush around.
It would be easy to get lost in a madhouse like this.
“Will! Rose! Wait up!”
Next to me, my cousin Rose huffs loudly enough for me to hear even over all the noise. She flips her long blonde braid over her shoulder as she turns her head. “Hurry up, RIVER. You said if we let you come you wouldn’t slow us down.”
I turn back to locate Rose’s brother. His white blonde hair, the same color as Rose’s, makes it easy to spot him, even as short as he is. River’s not that much younger than us—he turned eight a few days ago. But I’m just coming off a growth spurt, and Rose recently turned ten, which is really old. Next to us, Riv still looks like a tiny kid.
And if I let him get lost in all this craziness, our parents will kill me. Sure, Rose is the oldest, so you’d think they’d blame her, but I know that’s not how it would go. Rose is everyone’s favorite and she never gets blamed for anything. Besides, everyone will know that this spying mission was my idea.
Not wanting to get grounded for the rest of the tour, I turn back and grab River’s arm. “Such a baby,” Rose grumbles next to me.
River’s face is red, the way it gets before he cries, so I ruffle a hand through his hair and grin down at him. “Stick with us, okay? We don’t want to get in trouble.”
“Speaking of trouble,” Rose says darkly, peering down the way we just came. “Someone’s going to notice us if we don’t get moving.”
“Let’s go then.”
I lead my cousins down the twisting, crowded hallways of the stadium. It’s like a maze back here and I’m not exactly sure where the stage is. I figure if I follow the noise we’ll get there eventually.
We make another turn and all three of us freeze at the same time. Standing just a few feet away, talking to a roadie, is our Uncle Levi. Great.
We must be lucky, because he seems pretty preoccupied with his conversation. But I know he could look up at any minute and then we’ll be busted.
“Run for it!” I hiss, spinning on my heel. My cousins follow suit, Rose keeping a firm hand on River’s elbow this time as we take off down the hallway.
“Will?” Uncle Levi calls from behind us, sounding confused.
Our sneakers pound on the concrete floors as we run down a long, crowded hallway. Being smaller than everyone else comes in handy for once—we can dart around the roadies and the venue staff. “Hey,” a man carrying a heavy looking amp shouts as River jumps right in front of him, making him stumble. A security guard makes a grab for me as we pass but I manage to pull my arm back at the last minute.
“We’re with the band!” I shout over my shoulder, and River gives a snort of laughter.
“Down here,” Rose cries, turning down another hallway. I manage a glance over my shoulder as I follow her. Our uncle is standing way down the hallway, his hands on his hips. But he grins at me when he sees me looking, shaking his head, and I know he’s not really mad. I grin back before I take the turn, running fast behind Rose and River.
“Shh,” Rose says suddenly, pulling up short. I skid to a stop behind her, out of breath, and look around.
“Excellent,” I say, clapping her on the back. Rose has somehow managed to lead us directly into the dark wings around the stage.
“You think Uncle Levi is gonna tell Mommy?” River whispers to Rose.
“Probably,” she says flippantly, like she’s too grown up to care about getting in trouble.
I catch the worried gleam in River’s eye. “Let’s hide,” I suggest, leading them over to one of the empty equipment crates. I push River in front of me, wedging us both behind the crate. Rose sighs behind me but follows us. With a little wiggling, we mange to squeeze into a pocket between the crates. From here we’re hidden from the rest of the wings.
We also can’t see anything.
“Shoot,” River mutters. “Why’d we go through all that trouble sneaking out of the bus if we can’t even see?”
I risk sticking my head up long enough to take stock of our area. There’s another crate right in front of us and beyond that I have a perfect view of the stage.
The noise actually hurts my ears this close to the speakers and the massive, screaming crowd. It’s so noisy it’s hard to even think.
“Let’s just go back,” Rose mutters.
“Nah,” I say, making up my mind in an instant. This is probably the kind of thing my mom always gets mad at me for. Impulsive, she calls me. I’m not totally positive what that word means but one time I heard my dad laughing with her after they’d yelled at me for getting caught sneaking into one of the hotel pools on the last tour. “Kid acts first and thinks later,” my dad had said.
“Sounds like someone else I know,” Mom said, laughing with him.
I’m pretty sure that’s what impulsive means—acting first and thinking later. And mom would definitely get real mad at me if she could see what I’m about to do.
I grip the edge of the crate and give it a huge push. It’s heavy but luckily it has wheels, and I manage to move it a couple inches.
“What are you doing?” Rose hisses.
“Giving us a way to see.” I push on the crate again, with my shoulder this time. It moves a little more.
“Awesome!” River calls softly. “I can see Daddy’s piano!”
“A couple more feet,” Rose tells me, crawling over to where I’m still pushing on the crate. She adds her shoulder to the side and we both give a good hard push—sending the crate sliding quickly forward, way faster than before. “The wheel must have been stuck!” Rose whisper-yells.
We both watch in silent terror as the crate keeps on rolling until it’s right on the stage. In the middle of Ransom’s sold-out show.
“Get down!” I whisper, pulling on Rose’s arm. We crawl across the dirty floor before throwing ourselves behind River’s crate. “Did anyone see us?” I pant.
“Uncle Lennon looked over here,” River whispers back. “But I don’t think he saw you.”
Peering over the crate, I can see my dad standing just a few feet away. He’s in the middle of a guitar solo, not paying any attention to what’s going on backstage, and I let out a relieved sigh. Across the stage, Uncle Lennon keeps looking over at the crate, probably wondering where the heck it came from. Then a roadie darts out to pull it back into the wings and I let out a relieved breath. We got away with it.
Rose slaps a hand over her mouth, giggling. I grin at her. Sometimes it’s fun to almost get caught.
“Ooh, I love this song,” Rose says happily, settling in next to me. The three of us rest our chins on the top of the crate, careful to keep our heads low. It doesn’t matter—from here we can see just about everything. Our dads playing their instruments. Uncle Lennon with his bass guitar. The flashing lights reflecting on the stage. And the huge crowd filling up the stadium, yelling and cheering for Ransom.
“This is so much better than the box,” I say, excited. For most of the shows, that’s where we sit, in the fancy boxes up at the top of the stadium with our moms and all of our cousins. There’s more room up there for the babies to play and for all of us to spread out—we have a super big family. And there’s usually a waiter who will bring me as much root beer as I can sneak without my mom noticing.
But the boxes are really far from the stage. Nothing like this little hideout in the wings. I’m close enough to see my dad’s fingers on the strings of his guitar.
“It’s definitely louder,” Rose says, rubbing her ears. “Now I know why mom always makes me wear those headphones when we come close to the stage during a show.”
“Louder is what makes it cool,” I say, eyes glued to my dad’s guitar. “Rock music is supposed to be loud.”
“Can you see Uncle Reed?” Rose asks, twisting her body around to see the back of the stage.
“Nah, can’t see him from here.” But the pounding of his drum’s means he’s out there with his brothers.
“Someday, I’m gonna be out there, too,” I mutter, mostly to myself. I have it all planned out. When I get older, I’m going to be a guitar player, just like my dad. I already know a bunch of my chords, which Grandpa says is really good for my age. By the time I’m a grown up, I know I’m going to be just as good as my uncles. Then they’ll have to let me in the band.
“Not me,” Rose says, shaking her head. “I would hate to have all those people looking at me.”
“How many people are there?” River asks, craning his neck to see the crowd. “A hundred?”
Rose snorts. “No way, Riv. This stadium seats twenty thousand people.”
River’s eyes go wide, like he can’t even imagine a number that big. I kind of feel the same way. I have no idea how many people that is, all I know is that it’s a lot.
Because Ransom is the best band in the entire world and so, so many people want to come see them play live.
“I wish we were on the other side of the stage,” River says. “We can’t see Daddy’s face!”
Across the stage, my Uncle Daltrey is pounding on his piano keys while he sings, his back to us.
“It’s good we can’t see his face,” Rose mutters. “You’d probably wave at him or something and then we’d be caught.”
“I would not!” River cries, way too loud. I slap a hand over his mouth.
“Just because it’s loud out there doesn’t mean the roadies can’t hear us,” I tell him.
“The roadies, huh?” a grown up voice behind us says, and we all freeze. “I think you kids have bigger things to worry about.”
Heart sinking, I turn to see my older brother, Wyatt, standing behind us. His arms are crossed over his chest and he’s got a serious look on his face. But when I look at his eyes I can tell that he’s not really mad. In fact, I think he might be trying not to laugh.
“We just wanted to see the show,” I tell him.
He glances down at his watch. “Pretty sure it’s a school night, kids. Which means you aren’t supposed to be anywhere near the show.”
Rose sticks a finger into her mouth, pretending to make herself throw up. “I hate school.”
“It’s so, so super boring, Wyatt,” River agrees.
Wyatt rolls his eyes. “I used to have school on the bus, too,” he reminds us. Wyatt is way old, like almost a grown-up. My mom had him a long time before she met my dad, so he was already almost ten when I was born. When he wants to tease me, he reminds me that he was the one who got to name me when I was a baby, and if I’m not careful he might change it to something really awful. Like Barney.
But Wyatt doesn’t tease too much. He’s a really cool big brother.
Hopefully that means he’s not going to get us in trouble. “Are you gonna tell Mom?”
“You should have thought of Mom before,” he says, his voice suddenly a little sharp. “She doesn’t need to be chasing you down, Will.”
I hang my head, feeling a rush of guilt in my belly. My mom is really, really pregnant with our baby sister right now, and she gets out of breath and uncomfortable when she has to walk a long way. I picture her following us through all those winding hallways we just ran through and feel awful.
“Is she looking for me?”
“Nah, I don’t think she noticed yet.” He looks between the three of us. “But I do need to text your moms and let them know where you are.”
“Wyatt!” Rose cries, reaching for his hand.
“Sorry, Rosie,” he says, pulling out his phone. “If they see your bunks are empty they’ll worry.”
She scowls at him as he types into his phone. “This tour was more fun when you were still away at college.”
He laughs, tugging at the end of her braid. “When I’m at college, you’re the oldest,” he reminds her. “Maybe you should start acting more responsible.”
“Responsible sounds like another word for boring,” she says, and Wyatt laughs some more before he pockets his phone.
“Climb on out of there,” he says, holding out his hand to give us a boost. He eyes the crate. “Let me guess, the runaway crate was you guys?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I say, climbing out of our hiding spot. Wyatt slings an arm around my neck, pulling me close and messing up my hair. I squirm and try to punch him, but I’m just messing around. I never really get mad about Wyatt teasing me. Rose was wrong—I like tour much better when he’s here. My brother goes to a fancy college where he practices piano all day and I miss him a lot.
“Why don’t you guys come with me,” he says, letting me go to help Rose climb over the crate.
“Are you taking us to get in trouble?” River asks glumly.
“Nah.” Wyatt leans close to him. “I’ll tell you a secret—I used to sneak back stage when I was little too.”
“You did?” River asks, eyes wide, like he can’t believe a grown-up ever messed around like we do.
“Sure,” Wyatt says. “These are the best seats in the house.” He grins. “Well, almost.” He herds us away from the crates but we’re going the wrong way. Instead of heading back to the hallway, he seems to be leading us to—
“Wyatt, this is the stage,” Rose squeaks.
“I know.” There’s laughter in his voice. “Check it out.”
We all look up to see that the song is over. Instead of moving right into the next one, the grown-ups on the stage are all relaxed. And they’re looking right at us.
“Oh, shoot,” River says, defeated.
“Don’t worry,” Wyatt says, pulling us out onto the stage.
“Oh no, oh no,” Rose is muttering next to me, staring at the still-screaming crowd. Across the stage, Uncle Daltrey holds out his arms. He’s smiling. I let out a relieved sigh. Maybe they won’t be too mad.
River takes off immediately, beaming as he runs to his dad. The crowd goes even crazier when Uncle Daltrey pulls him up into his arms. He whispers something in his ear and River shyly waves at the fans. They erupt in another wave of cheers.
“Come on, Rose,” Wyatt calls over all the noise. He takes her hand, leading her across the stage to the piano. Before they get there, big arms appear in my vision, wrapping around me. My dad.
“You’re trouble, kid,” he says, but he’s grinning down at me. I grin right back, knowing he’s not mad. He gestures to one of the roadies before stepping up to his microphone.
“So my son Wyatt was going to join us on piano for the next few songs,” he shouts to the fans, who scream right back. “But it looks like he brought a couple stowaways.”
Way out in the crowd I can see two of the huge screens that show what’s going on to the fans who are too far away from the stage to see much. Right now, the screens are showing River and Rose. My cousin slaps her hands over her eyes and Uncle Daltrey laughs. He gets both of them sitting in front of the piano, handing them tambourines.
A roadie runs out on stage, carrying another guitar and three pairs of the big headphones our moms make us wear to protect our ears at concerts. On the screen, my face appears. My mouth hurts, I’m smiling so big.
“Will,” my dad shouts over the noise, crouching in front of me, and I drag my eyes from the sight of my face on the huge TV to look at him. “Put these on.” He hands me a set of the headphones. “You don’t ever get this close to the stage without them again, you understand?”
I nod quickly. It doesn’t seem like we’re going to get in trouble for this so I’m pretty eager to do whatever he says to keep it that way. He helps me adjust the headphones on my ears and the sound immediately drops, no longer hurting my head.
My dad grins and holds out the extra guitar. I just stare at it. There’s no way he actually wants me to—
“You guys can sit in on this song,” he shouts. “One song. And then it’s straight back to the bus and into bed, you hear me?”
I can’t seem to close my mouth. I’m just standing there in front of all those people, staring at my dad like he’s lost his mind. He laughs and pushes the guitar into my chest. I finally snap out of it and grab the instrument out of his hands before he can change his mind. It’s too big for me, and heavy, but my dad helps me to adjust the strap around my neck then pulls a pick out of his back pocket.
“You remember the chords we worked on this week?”
I nod eagerly. Dad smiles at me. “Have fun, kid.”
When he turns back to the microphone, I snap my head over to Rose and River. They’re both wearing the big headphones too and Rose doesn’t look as scared of the crowd now. She gives me a huge smile and a thumbs up, like she’s happy for me. Rose knows all about my plans to be in the band someday.
“Looking good, kid!” Uncle Reed calls from behind me, and I spin around to see him grinning down from the drum kit.
This is so cool, I think, turning back to the front of the stage as my uncle counts off the intro behind me. Perfectly in sync, my dad and Uncle Lennon come in on their guitars. Across the stage, Wyatt is standing over the piano, his hands already a blur on the keys. Then Uncle Daltrey starts to sing from a mic at center stage and I remember that I’m supposed to be playing too.
For the next four minutes, I do my best to concentrate on playing my chords, trying to keep up with my dad. It’s hard to focus though—I just want to look around at everything.
Way too soon, the song is over. My dad takes the guitar from me and hands it off to a roadie. “Have fun?”
I throw my arms around his legs. “So much fun.”
He laughs, ruffling my hair. “Get back to bed now before your mom comes out here and kills me.”
I’m too happy to care that I have to go back. My cousins run across the stage to me, Rose grabbing my hand and pulling me towards the wings.
“That was the coolest thing ever!” I shout. “Did you see me play guitar?”
“Daddy let me play tambourine!” River is grinning just like me.
Rose flips her braid. “That was so scary! Did you see all those people? I thought I was going to throw up!”
“Don’t be a baby, Rose,” River says, and she pushes his shoulder.
I lead my cousins back to the hallway we came through. The sudden brightness hurts my eyes after the darkness of the stage area. It’s a lot easier to hear now, so we all take off our headphones.
“I want to do that every single night,” I tell them fervently.
“Think again, buddy.”
We all look up to see Aunt Daisy standing in front of us, her arms crossed over her chest.
“Um, hi, Mommy,” Rose says, her voice too high. “We just went for a little walk.”
Aunt Daisy’s lips twitch. “You can drop the act, Rosie. I know all about it.” She looks between the three of us. “We’ll talk about it in the morning. Beds, now.”
I practically skip all the way to the busses behind the stadium. I’m already thinking of the next time I’ll be able to get on stage. Maybe I can convince my dad to make it a regular thing. Wyatt usually plays with them when he’s on a break from school. Why can’t I?
My excitement fizzles a little bit when we finally get on the bus and I see my mom standing in front of the bunks. She’s got her arms crossed too, and she looks a lot more annoyed than Aunt Daisy had.
She takes one look at my face and sighs. “Enjoy your moment, Will,” she says. “Tomorrow we’re going to have a long talk about the rules.”
“Sorry, Mom,” I tell her, but I can’t seem to wipe the smile off my face.
I rush to get my PJs on, eager to get into the privacy of my bunk where I can relive those minutes on the stage over and over. Before I can get my curtains closed, an upside down face appears next to my mattress. My cousin Everly, hanging down from the bunk above mine.
“Go to sleep Lee,” I say, pushing on her forehead.
She doesn’t listen, of course. Everly is seven and she thinks she’s the boss of the whole family.
“You’re in big trouble,” she whispers, and I can see her grinning even in the dark. Rose says Everly loves drama. “I heard your mom say you were going to get grounded tomorrow.”
“Big deal.” It’s not like I can go anywhere when the bus is on the road. We’re all stuck here.
“I bet she takes away your video game privileges,” she says.
Okay, that would be pretty bad. Playing video games with Rose is basically the only thing I look forward to when we’re all doing our school lessons on the bus.
But it’s hard to care too much about that right now, not when I can still hear the sound of the fans cheering for me. “It was worth it.” My smile is so big my cheeks hurt. “That was the best night of my life.”
Everly huffs and disappears back to her own bunk, leaving me alone with my memories of being on stage.
That’s going to be my life, I promise myself. Someday, I’m going to be a rock star, just like my dad and my uncles.
Thank you guys so much for being patient. It was a much longer wait than I had planned and I know it was a long wait for you as well. I really hope it was worth it! This book means so much to me and I’m really glad to finally be able to share it with you. I can’t wait to hear what you think!
With book 5 out, I’m already getting questions about what comes next. There will be another Ransom book! I’ve always planned for a sixth book to wrap up some of the loose ends of the series. At this point it’s mostly plotted out and I’m pretty excited about it. This isn’t going to be a quick book though! It likely won’t be released until next year, for lots of reasons. First of all, I think the book is going to be looong. There’s a lot to cover in book 6! I’ve been neglecting my other series to get the Ransom books out and I’m really itching to write about the Three Girls and the Lovestruck gang. But I promise I won’t forget about the Ransome boys. I love them too much to stay away for long ❤
I really hope you guys like Lennon and Haylee’s story Thank you SO MUCH for reading!
I’m sooo anxious and excited for you guys to read Lennon’s book! My editor has finished working on Rescue and passed it on to the proofreader. This is the last big step! I’m very hopeful I’ll be able to get the book out next week. If you haven’t signed up for my newsletter, you can do that here and you’ll find out about the release date as soon as I have it.
In the meantime here’s the beautiful cover Najla made for me and a brief synopsis about the book. I can’t wait!
Photos by Lindee Robinson Photography Cover by Najla Qamber Designs Models: Elena Irene Papanastasopoulos & Marcus Filip
Lennon can’t remember what it feels like to be happy.
He might be one of the famous Ransome brothers, the bassist for the hottest rock group in the country, but fame and fortune can’t fix this. There are nightmares he doesn’t understand. Memories he can’t explain. And always, always the unshakable sense that he’s made a terrible mistake. A mistake that changed the course of his family’s lives forever. His brothers don’t know how to help him. His father doesn’t know how to help him. And he certainly doesn’t know how to help himself.
Then he meets Haylee Hunt, the lead singer of Ransom’s opening band. And just like in the best love songs, everything changes. With Haylee, Lennon doesn’t have to feel so afraid all the time. The guilt that haunts him seems to fade, just a little. Because Haylee, somehow, seems to understand exactly how it feels to be broken.
But the hazy memories refuse to fade away. The nightmares are getting clearer. And even Haylee won’t be able to help him when the past finally crashes back into his life.
I have been getting lots of questions about a release date for the new Ransom book. I’m happy you guys are eager and excited for Lennon’s story! I turned Rescue over to my editor last week, which means we’re getting close! It usually takes a few weeks to go through several rounds of editing and proofreading but that can vary quite a bit. That means I’m not able to give a firm release date quite yet. The holiday season can also impact the release date–many of the ebook vendors shut down for publishing over Christmas. I think it’s probably a safe bet to look at early January 2016 for the release. If everything happens to go quicker than expected, of course I’ll publish it ASAP! Stay tuned to my Facebook page and sign up for my newsletter for updates.
Did you guys check out A Three Girls Christmas? This is a short story about Annie, Ginny, and Jen and it’s available now! This short story was originally featured in a charity anthology several years ago but this is the first time you can purchase it on its own.
Tomorrow is going to be another Stuff Your eReader event! Dozens of ebooks from bestselling authors will be available for free. These events are always really fun and there’s a great group of authors participating this time. Check my Facebook page and newsletter for links tomorrow!
Lastly, I want to thank everyone for being so patient with me! My schedule didn’t turn out quite as expected this year for a variety of reasons. I really got slowed down and my releases just didn’t happen as quickly as I would have liked. I know some of you were hoping for more Three Girls this year and another Lovestruck book. I wish I could have made that happen! My goal for 2016 is definitely MORE BOOKS! The good news is that I’ve started a brand new series and book one is almost finished! So we should be getting off to a good start with Rescue and something new early in the new year. I’m also hoping for a new Three Girls AND a new Lovestruck in 2016. And I’m not finished with Ransom yet either 😉
I hope you are all enjoying the season and staying warm if you’re in a snowy northern climate like me! I’ve been enjoying lots of Christmas movies by the fire with my Lucy dog curled up next to me 🙂
If you’ve been waiting for Cash’s story, here’s your chance! The third book in the Ransom series, Redeem, is available now from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The book will soon be available from Kobo, iTunes, and Google Play.
This book is all about Reed, the oldest Ransome brother. I developed a giant crush on Reed while I was writing this book and I’m kind of sad that he isn’t real. I hope you like him as much as I do 🙂 Also, isn’t this model a cutie? He’s from the Detroit area, which I think is so cool! Najla Qamber made the gorgeous cover with photography from Lindee Robinson. Love it!
**The second installment in the Ransom series from USA Today and New York Times bestselling author Rachel Schurig. This New Adult
Contemporary Romance novel is a complete story with no cliffhanger.**
Reed Ransome is ready for a break. For once he’s going to relax, to have some fun. To stop worrying about his brothers and their band and the pressures that come with being a rock and roll superstar.
Paige Brennen is a firm believer in finding fun in unexpected places. If her past has taught her anything, it’s that life is too short to waste time being unhappy.
Their one night in Mexico is supposed to be just that—one night. A bit of fun, nothing more, before the drudgery and hard work of a cross-country tour sets in. They both have far too much riding on this opportunity to take any chances. And starting a relationship now would mean taking a pretty big chance.
Neither of them ever expected their fling to last longer than that one night. Never expected it to turn into something…more.
Maybe even something worth risking everything for.
The cool kids at Xpresso Book Tours are hosting a Book Blitz for me this entire week. Each participating blog will be giving away one free copy of Ransom. You can also enter to win a $50 Amazon gift card! I’ll be retweeting the participating blogs and linking to as many as I can through Facebook, so make sure you’re following me if you want to enter the giveaways!
I wake up, alone in a dark hotel room, my heart racing, scared out of my mind. When I finally figure out where the hell I am, I rub my aching chest. I’m glad I’m not on the bus, glad there’s no one in here to see me like this. I’m pretty sure the wetness I feel on my cheeks is tears, and my brothers would never let me live that down.
Knowing sleep isn’t going to return anytime soon, I climb out of bed and head for the mini bar. I grab a cold beer, even though I could probably use something stronger. You’re too young for a drinking problem. So-called rock star or not.
I take the beer to the small balcony of my room and lean against the railing, looking out over the lights of Memphis. We played a kick-ass show, and I should still be on a high from it. The crowd was amazing. Everything felt right in the world, for a few brief hours. I could forget about the knowledge that I’d traveled halfway across the country without actually seeing any of it. Forget the fact that the tour bus, though more luxurious than our old van, was cramped and starting to make me feel claustrophobic. Forget about how tired I was and how my throat hurt pretty much every day now. When we played like that, when we somehow managed to tap into that almost magical, synched-up, out-of-body place I can’t even describe, I could forget about all the shitty stuff and remember why we were doing this in the first place.
I had felt that tonight, for the first time in weeks, and the sensation had been fantastic. I should have slept like a baby. But here I was again, drinking a beer by myself at three in the morning.
I keep having dreams about her.
Which is pretty fucking ridiculous because I haven’t talked to the girl in about a year. Daisy made it perfectly clear that, for whatever reason, she was done with me—just like that, years of friendship, gone. And I don’t even know what the hell I did.
Okay, so I left, but she always knew that was going to happen. We planned for it, for Christ’s sake. Worked for it. Both of us. She had every bit as much to do with our success as anyone in the band. She was our biggest supporter, our loudest critic. We never performed a song without her hearing it first, never played a gig without her there. She was with us on that first horrible so-called tour, riding around Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana to all those dingy dive bars. She helped us plaster the towns with our flyers and sell our homemade CDs, just waiting for our big chance.
And when it came, when we got the call from Grey Skies that they wanted us to open for them, she was there then, too. She sat at our kitchen table, just like she had a thousand times before, waiting with bated breath for my dad to get off the phone with their manager. When he finally hung up and confirmed that our big break had appeared, she was the first person I grabbed as the kitchen erupted around us. She was happy for me—not the fake kind of happy that you think another person wants to see. She was genuinely, honest-to-God, screaming-her-face-off-while-hugging-me happy.
The only bad thing about those hectic, heady weeks before the tour was leaving her. I wanted to tell her then, the thing I’d always known but been too afraid to say, but I didn’t. I couldn’t imagine saying those three words—finally saying them, out loud, not just in my head where I imagined it constantly—and then leaving. So I held my tongue, and my tears, as I hugged her one last time before heading for the airport.
Maybe I should have said it. Maybe then she wouldn’t have disappeared the way she did. But I had a plan, damn it. I was going to come back, take her to her prom, the way we always talked about, and drop the bomb that I wanted us to be more. The way it played out in my head was that she’d be so happy she’d be willing to leave with me. She would forget about the business school she never really wanted to attend to come on tour with us. I wanted to experience this with her. I wanted to show her the world.
Taking another sip of beer, I wonder—not for the first time—what in the hell I could have done to piss her off so much. She stopped taking my calls about three months after we left for California. By then we’d recorded our album and started to tour as the openers for Grey Skies. I used to call her every night, eager to tell her all about life on the road in a proper tour. We had a lot more free time back then, and I was actually getting a chance to do things in the towns where we stopped. Was that it? Was she jealous?
But that wasn’t like Daisy. I cannot imagine that she would throw away a thirteen-year friendship out of jealousy. It didn’t make any sense. But one day, she didn’t answer when I called. And didn’t respond to my voice mail. Or my increasingly panicked text messages. My emails went unanswered, too.
I tried for weeks to reach her, calling her house, her phone, her dad’s phone. He told me flat out she didn’t want to talk to me, but I still couldn’t accept it. Even when her cell number was disconnected, when my emails started to come back with the message that there was no such address, I didn’t get it. It wasn’t until she finally called me to cancel our prom plans that I realized what she’d been trying to tell me: She didn’t want to have anything to do with me.
I replay those weeks all the time, wondering what I could have done differently. I always come back to the same thing: I should have gone home. I should have told my dad to screw himself and gotten on a plane. They could have managed without me for a few days. Even if they couldn’t, even if it would have jeopardized our chance to open for Grey Skies, I should have done it anyway. Daisy was worth it.
But I didn’t. And now she’s away at college, probably having the time of her life, forgetting all about her old friend. I can see her so clearly, sitting on a green lawn, surrounded by friends, like some fucking commercial, her brown curls blowing in the breeze as she laughs. The image makes my chest ache again. She’s gone, man. Accept it.
I look out over the city again, my beer bottle empty. She is gone, hundreds of miles away, totally out of my reach. And I’m here, alone in the middle of the night, haunted by memories of the only girl I ever loved.