Her sweet voice was like a siren calling me to her.
I was a bastard.
I hated everyone.
My past was as dark as my soul.
And she was the only light in that cold darkness.
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Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Step. Creak.
I cringed as I counted the steps then the creaking of the board just outside my bedroom door. Six steps. One long, loud creak, followed by two more steps. Each step was softly muffled by the thick, plush carpet, but somehow, I heard every one of them.
This house was huge but old. Some ancient woman with too much money and no family left it to become a children’s home for girls. It was beautiful, unlike all of the other foster homes I’d lived in starting when I was nine. When I first got there, I loved it.
It was safe. No one bothered me.
No one tried to touch me.
There were no boys like at the first foster home I landed in after my mom succumbed to the disease she picked up from hooking up with one too many random guys. I doubted she knew who my father was, and I really didn’t care about finding out.
But then the couple who ran the home retired, and the house was turned over to another married couple. A woman who treated the other girls and me more like the orphans in Annie—times ten—and a husband who licked his lips every time he saw any of us bending over. Dear old Daddy Warbucks wasn’t going to show up and whisk me away from this hellhole.
Nor would he save me from the monsters who went bump in the night—or worse, came creeping into my room.
My palms began to sweat more and more, and I tried to breathe through my mouth to fight the nausea rolling in my stomach.
“I don’t want to be here,” I whispered to the still-empty room. “Take me away from here. Please. Someone. Save. Me.”
But there was no savior ready to knock down the heavy, expensive front door on the first floor. No one raced up the stairs as my bedroom door opened slowly so his wife wouldn’t hear him enter my room. Not that she would anyway. The old cow was a lush and out cold by nine o’clock every night thanks to all the gin she drank by the gallon.
“Wake up, Ro.”
I clenched the covers tighter in my fists, squeezing my eyes shut.
The door closed without a sound, yet I could hear the clicking of the lock echo through my head. I huddled under my pretty turquoise comforter, the one my last foster family gave me before I was moved here. I hadn’t wanted to leave them. Mostly because the kind lesbian couple hadn’t been a threat to me. They smiled and called me “sweetheart” and never came into my room without knocking first.
His scent reached me, and I began to gag.
I don’t want to be here.
Tears burned my eyes and throat, my nose began to run, but I didn’t make a sound aloud. In my head, I was screaming. Begging someone to save me. To stop what was about to happen before it happened.
But as long as he was coming into my room, that meant the other girls were safe. I didn’t have to worry about Aubree, the new little girl who arrived yesterday, being paid a visit from Sicko Stan, scaring the hell out of her and scarring her for life. Or him going back to London’s room like he tried the week before. She puked all over him when he tried to touch her, and ever since, he had stayed clear of her and her urge to purge.
“Ro, wake up!”
A hand grabbed my arm, tearing the covers off me, and I screamed…
Heart pounding, I jerked upright in bed, my eyes frantically flying around the room as I tried to figure out where I was while the images stuck in my head slowly began to fade.
Aubree still had hold of my wrist, gently shaking me. “It’s okay, Ro. You’re safe. No one is going to hurt you,” she soothed in that tone my best friend only ever used with me. “I’m here. You’re okay.”
Unable to find my voice, I could only nod as I fell back against the pillows. Gradually, my heart rate lowered to something resembling normal, and I scrubbed the tears from my cheeks with my free hand. Eventually, Aubree released me and offered a bottle of water.
Fingers still shaking, I took it and gulped it down thirstily.
“It was just a dream,” Aubree tried to remind me, but we both knew it wasn’t just a dream. Dreams ended when you woke up, maybe they lingered for a little while, but they eventually faded.
This was no dream. It was a vivid memory, one that haunted me day and night, whether I was asleep or awake. I lived with it, and I hated that something that happened so many years ago could still have so much fucking control over me. I let the memories have the power—or so one psychologist once told me. Even though I was out from under that roof, and I had people who loved me and would do anything to protect me, I still allowed himto have all the power.
Aubree pushed her tangled blond hair back from her face, her lashes droopy with sleep. “Think you can get back to sleep now?”
I nodded, even though we both knew I was lying. Still, she knew I wanted to be alone. So she stood, pulling her sleep shirt down over her panties, and headed for the door. “At least try. We have a big night tonight.”
I tried to smile, but the ghosts were still haunting me, and not even the thought of the Blonde Bombshells taking the stage at First Bass for the very first time could make the dream fade.
As she left my room, I pulled the covers up to my neck and tried to do the breathing the therapist taught me after the foster home was shut down.
Sicko Stan was out of commission now; I had to remember that. He couldn’t touch another girl even if he wanted to. After Aubree, London, and Genesis beat the hell out of him that last night they found him in my room, he no longer had much of a dick to hurt anyone with. All that blood, spraying across the white sheets of my bed from where Aubree had cut him, mixed with my own as I—
Nausea had me out of bed and running to the bathroom across the hall. I barely made it to the toilet in time to empty the celebratory dinner we’d had the night before. The vegan burger tasted like ass as it left my mouth, my taste buds burning from the stomach acid. I didn’t stop until it was all out, then fell exhaustedly back against the side of the tub, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand.
I had to stop this shit. It was hard on my throat. Fucking up my voice wasn’t something I was willing to risk now that we were finally getting a chance to prove ourselves. Getting this contract with Harris Cutter was the best thing ever to happen to my soul sisters and me. I couldn’t let them down by ruining my voice.
First Bass was the type of club people went to just to be seen. The VIP floor was nothing but A-listers, every one of them some celeb who could make or break a person if the whim hit. Since moving to LA the year before, I’d seen my fair share of celebs, and I still didn’t get the hype.
Who cared that they were in movies, their faces on magazines, their names talked about in every circle, rich or poor?
They were just people, for fuck’s sake.
It wasn’t the celebs on the second floor of the club I cared about. It was the normal people who waited outside for a chance to get in on the first floor who deserved my full attention.
Seeing how big the crowd was made me want to run and hide. I felt suffocated just looking at the many faces. I was a freak, unable to so much as speak when this many people were surrounding me. Yet as soon as I stepped out onstage, it was like I became a different person. I thrilled at the number of people looking at my soul sisters and me. When I was up there performing for them, I was able to let go of my past; there were no ghosts who held my mind prisoner. I was able to be the real me, the one I would have been if Sicko Stan hadn’t broken me.
Peyton shifted from one foot to the other, the heels of her killer boots clicking annoyingly. I wasn’t close to her like I was London, Genesis, and Aubree. Those three had been with me through the worst years of my life. They were my soul sisters, the only people in the world I trusted. Peyton, with her long blond hair expertly colored and silky soft, her eyes appearing bigger than they really were thanks to her makeup, and her expensive wardrobe, was in a whole other league than the rest of us Blondes.
Her life was as different from mine and the other Blondes as night and day.
She was daddy’s little girl, a trust fund baby who was only hitching a ride with the Blondes on her way to her solo music career. Peyton didn’t know a single thing about feeling hungry because food was scarce and her mom was off fucking around with who knew what kind of guy and there was no way of knowing when she might come home. Peyton didn’t know what it was like to go to bed and dread falling asleep because the nightmares weren’t dreams but memories.
No, all Peyton knew was how soon she could get a new car because the one she was driving was so last season. Or how to pout because her father had put a limit on her credit cards after she blew five grand on a pair of shoes.
I liked her well enough—even though I rolled my eyes at her poor little rich girl problems at least ten times a day—I just didn’t trust her.
“Take it easy,” Genesis told her, unable to mask her annoyance at Peyton’s continued heel-clicking.
“I’ve never gone onstage with this many people watching before,” she whined. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
“So, go puke,” London told her with a roll of her eyes. “Get it over with. We go onstage in like ten minutes, and we don’t need you blowing this by blowing chunks all over the front row.”
Groaning, Peyton made a run for the bathroom down the hall, and the four of us shared a look. “Pussy,” Aubree grumbled, twirling one of her drumsticks between her fingers.
I loved Aubree the most out of my three soul sisters. She was gorgeous with her ash-blond hair and pale blue eyes. She had the kind of body she could hide easily, with just enough curves to showcase if she decided to flaunt her femininity. I wished I had a body like that, one I could mask from the world so I didn’t have people constantly eye-fucking me wherever I turned.
A tap on the green room door had us lifting our heads. Harris Cutter, six and a half feet of pure male, with the most amazing aquamarine eyes I’d ever seen, stepped into the room. Wide shoulders, long limbs, lean in the waist, and a face that would make the angels cry. He looked exactly like his rock star father, with the exception of his hair. Where Devlin Cutter left his hair long, Harris always made it a point to keep his stylishly short.
His smile was tight when he addressed us, and not for the first time I wondered what had happened to him to make him unable to give a genuine smile. There were rumors he was heartbroken, that his best friend Lucy Thornton ditched him so she could go to college back east. The guy looked ill half the time, as if he didn’t eat enough, didn’t get enough sleep. I felt bad for him, but not bad enough that I was willing to ask what was wrong with him. Talking to guys was something I rarely did.
It wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to—although that was true too. It was that the majority of the time, I just couldn’t. Sicko Stan robbed me of the ability to do anything but turn to stone when a guy tried to talk to me.
“Are you ready to go on?” Harris asked as he walked farther into the room. “The Tainted Knights guys are here and ready to hand over the reins to you.”
“As soon as Peyton gets done regurgitating, we’ll be all set,” Genesis assured him, eyeing him from head to toe in a way that told the rest of us she was thinking of all the ways she wanted to fuck him.
His tight smile turned into the frown he wore more often than not in the few meetings we’d had so far. “Stage fright?” Gen shrugged. “But not you four?”
“We know scary. Facing a crowd, no matter how big or small, that’s not even close to scary,” London told him.
Curiosity flashed in his pretty eyes, but he didn’t ask what London meant. Not that she would have told him even if he had. The past was the past, and we all tried to keep it there. I was the exception, it seemed. My past wouldn’t stay in the past, because it hung over my head like a thundercloud.
Harris rubbed his hands together. “You have five minutes. Jace will introduce you, and you can turn this place upside down all you want for the next hour.”
Excitement made my skin feel too tight for my body. I bottled it up, needing to preserve it so I could unleash it on the crowd.
As soon as Peyton returned, looking pale and green all at the same time, we went out to wait for Jace St. Charles to introduce us. His band, Tainted Knights, had played First Bass for the past year. Now, their contract was up, and they were moving on to bigger and better things.
It was our turn, the ink still damp on the contract we signed with Harris to perform exclusively at First Bass for the next year. It was a good deal. The money was decent, and with Peyton’s daddy paying our rent, we didn’t need to find side jobs to pay the bills.
The first floor was dark now, with the exception of the spotlight on the stage where the five guys who made up Tainted Knights were already making the crowd their bitch.
They played one song before Jace was calling us to the stage.
I climbed the stairs, my heart racing with the adrenaline I always felt as the heat of the spotlight touched my skin. As I met Jace in the middle of the small stage, I passed first Gray and then Cash. Both of them winked at me, but I was immune to the sexiness of them both.
Around me, the others were exchanging places. Gray and Cash handed over their guitars to London and Genesis. All the instruments from the guitars to the drums were the best of the best, with First Bass emblazoned on them. Kale stood so Aubree could take his place, the two knocking their drumsticks together as they traded off. Jace offered me a second mic, just as Sin said something that made Peyton laugh.
I didn’t know why I looked that way, didn’t understand the pull, yet I couldn’t keep my eyes from going to the other bassist. His dark head was tipped down to whisper something in Peyton’s ear that was making her giggle like some stupid middle schooler and not the twenty-one-year-old, sometimes slutty woman she really was. She touched his arm like she needed it to hold her upright because whatever he was whispering was making her weak-kneed.
I didn’t know why I felt a sharp slice through my chest at seeing them together. Why should I care if Peyton hooked up with the rocker?
Rolling my eyes because I already knew that was exactly what would happen before the night was over, I took control of the crowd.
The sound of my voice had the giggling to my right stopping, and I suddenly felt the heat of eyes on me. For a single second, I pretended the gaze was Sin’s, the sexy bassist I’d drooled over the first time I saw the band perform the week before when we came in to check them out. With his dreamy eyes, those incredible lips moving into a slow smile, how his face changed when he was lost in the music and singing along with his band brothers. How his eyes would caress me… That was all I really needed, a soft brush of his gaze down my arm…
Reality crashed back down onto me, and just the thought of him looking at me like that made my skin crawl.
Putting the thought of Sin and everyone else on the planet out of my mind, I smiled at the people in the front row. “It’s going to be hard taking over for the incredible Tainted Knights, but we’ll endeavor to give it a try.” I turned to look at my soul sisters, grinning. “Won’t we, ladies?”
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