Authors: Cari Quinn,Taryn Elliott
Tags: #Coming of Age, #Anthologies
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This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales or organizations is entirely coincidental.
© 2016 Taryn Elliott & Cari Quinn
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irst ebook edition
: February 2016
LOST IN OBLIVION NEWSLETTER
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or my Family
he music died
It wasn’t a slow drifting away but a sharp cliff. The time before, and the time after.
Silence swamped Nick Crandall, standing on stage surrounded by his bandmates. That this concert was for a bunch of music bigwigs and not a multitude of fans clutching digital tickets didn’t make much difference. They’d been playing, rocking the hell out of the songs that were on the way to making them household names, and now they were not.
Because of Simon Kagan, his best friend. Oblivion’s lead singer.
The man falling apart right in front of him.
It was like watching a wax mask melt. With every drip, more and more of the man beneath was revealed. Nick didn’t recognize this Simon. He’d grown up with him, and once, they’d been closer than brothers. Not now. Now Simon was a virtually married man, far beyond the antics that had glued them together. He didn’t seem to have an interest in them anymore. Not just the stupid shit like drinking rotgut until the world made sense. Not just the occasional nights with girls they didn’t share anymore, for obvious reasons. Not just the laughter, and the stupid jokes, and the long conversations in a language only the two of them understood.
Now they didn’t have the music anymore either. Their one constant. The thing that had kept them going on their darkest days. When Simon had been ducking fists from his old man and Nick had been suffering through neglect from his, they’d forged their own family to make up for what they lacked. The music had always been their bedrock.
The foundation of it all.
Bit by bit, it shattered beneath Nick’s feet. A tremble became an earthquake, then an implosion.
He went to Simon first, as he’d been doing for more than a decade. Simon was staring off into the distance, his jaw rigid, his eyes empty. The old school mic that was his signature had fallen at his feet, the cord unspooling like a ribbon unwound to its end. Nothing left.
Nick touched his arm, and Simon snapped back to life. He shoved at Nick, and if Nick hadn’t planted his feet in preparation, he would’ve gone flying. What he couldn’t prepare for was the blaze of fury that crackled through Simon’s mask. Directed at him.
“You did this,” Simon rasped. “Never could stop pushing. Always fucking pushing at me.”
Nick was too shocked to speak. He’d faced Simon’s anger before. Hell, he returned it in equal measure most of the time. They’d come at each other with fists and insults almost as often as smiles over the years. That was just their way.
This was different. This wouldn’t be blowing over with a knuckle jam to the ribs. It broke off another piece of that bedrock and sent it tumbling into the abyss.
But still, Nick tried. What else could he do? He gripped the jagged ledge that was left with the tips of his fingers and hung the fuck on.
“No. I don’t even want to hear your fucking voice. You caused this.” Simon reared back and kicked out at an amp, his boot cracking the facade. Then he swept the pieces out of his way and moved on to the next piece of equipment he could destruct.
Nick felt all the eyes on him—the industry types, the promoters, the music journalists who were as eager to sell stories about Oblivion’s demise as they had been the band’s ascent. They were all getting a show, all right, just not the one that had been planned.
How many supposed “comeback concerts” could one band have before people just stopped listening?
Margo, Simon’s girl and Oblivion’s violinist, rushed forward and pushed Nick aside. She spoke softly to Simon, her hand stroking rhythmically over his arm. And he didn’t shove her back. Didn’t blame her, or stare at her with accusing eyes.
Nick glanced back at his bandmates. Gray still lightly gripped his guitar, but Jazz had dismounted from her drum kit to take her husband’s side. Deacon, their bassist, watched the unfolding events with a sad weariness. He’d seen it all before. They all had, since Simon’s vocal issues last summer that had explosively ended a big show and then cut short their summer tour. Deacon didn’t appear surprised in the least that it was happening again. Nor did Gray and Jazz. They all looked unhappy...and resigned.
But Nick hadn’t expected this. Or that he would be held responsible.
That he would be standing by himself when everything collapsed around him. They all had someone. Simon and Margo, Gray and Jazz, Deak and Harper, their chef. All had other lives. Other loves.
Desperately, he sought Lila, Oblivion’s manager, in the crowd. He wasn’t alone. Wasn’t. He had her now. Maybe their path wasn’t set, and they had their share of obstacles to face, but they were together.
Goddammit, they were fucking together.
His gaze found Lila’s in the crowd, and relief crowded out the panic and misery. For a moment, he could breathe around the hard ball expanding in his chest, making room in between his organs. Forcing out anything good, any pleasure. Once he got past the stage fright that reappeared every time he came on stage, it became a haven. His safe space. Nothing bad could touch him there. Or that had been true before tonight anyway.
In one glance, she gave all of that back to him. And more. So much more.
The pressure in his ribs eased, just for an instant. He started to smile. Even in chaos, she could help him find his way back.
Then she turned away from him. Frantically, he tried to keep her in sight, seeking her in the midst of the restless, surging audience. But she blended into the crowd, the spotlight bouncing over her pale blond hair before casting the spot she’d just occupied in darkness.
Nick stumbled across the stage, jumping over scattered pieces of the equipment in his flight away from the wreckage of his band. He didn’t take off his guitar. Right now it was his fucking security blanket, that familiar weight around his neck all that was still grounding him. He flipped it around to his back and leaped off the stage.
Fuck the show. Fuck Simon. Fuck all of them, with their knowing eyes.
Oh, you didn’t know this was going to happen again? You actually believed the band would make it through? Poor bastard. So sorry you couldn’t see reality.
Screw all of it. Now all he cared about was finding his girl.
He never would’ve believed he could place something—someone—above his music, even for a second. But Lila was the exception to his every rule.
And she was running away from him.
He followed her through the crowd, ignoring the shouts. His name was called a dozen times. Every one wanted a piece of him. All he had left was for her. If he broke off a corner just to answer one of their inane questions, he’d crumble just like Simon. Maybe not so dramatically. He wasn’t one for colorful demonstrations. Most likely he’d start swinging and wouldn’t stop until someone was dead.
Just like his fucking dreams. All of them but one, and he was running her to ground.
Shoving his way through the audience was like forging a path through mud. He pushed away arms and hands and iPhones trained on him, his only goal that fleeting shimmer of blond hair. She couldn’t turn away from him too. Not now. Not when they’d been so close over the weekend. They’d just come back today from New York together. He’d told his bandmates they were a couple. For real. And she hadn’t argued. Because anyone could see what they were. He was hers, and she was his. Maybe it had always been that way.
It didn’t even matter that she technically belonged to someone else. He couldn’t feel for her the way Nick did. She was the fucking sun, and without her, he couldn’t breathe.
They’d been right there. Together. An inch away from having it all. Holding hands in front of the goddamned band. He’d practiced with them while she watched, and it had all meant even more. Knowing she was enjoying what he could do. He’d played his ass off for her, showing off for his girl. The girl he was falling—
He slammed his fists into the doors at the back of the country club banquet hall and burst into a long hallway sided with shiny glass display cases of awards. Probably best duck hunter or yachtsman or some shit. He swiveled his head right then left, catching sight of that flash of blond near the glass doors of the exit. She was leaving him. Walking the fuck away, just like everyone else had. Like they always would.
This isn’t like her. She would never leave the band in crisis. You know that. Something has to be wrong. Big time wrong.
But he wouldn’t let logic intrude. Because this all felt too fucking personal.
“Lila.” He roared it, incapable of tempering his voice. He didn’t care who heard. Who knew. All he could think was that she was all he had left, and she was leaving him too.
She paused for an instant, just long enough for hope to spurt stubbornly to life. He fisted and unlisted his hands at his sides and sucked in a breath, his heartbeat a rampage in his ears.
Then she walked out the door.
Chasing after her was all he had left. Running with his guitar banging against his back slowed him down, but he not much. He was too incensed. Too desperate to get away. Otherwise he’d have to stand witness to the decimation of his dreams, and he couldn’t. Not now. With all the cameras flashing, and the keyboards clacking, and the curious faces peering too close.
He grabbed for her just as the door was about to smack closed. He must’ve been rougher than he intended because she cried out, the sound sharper than a blade at his throat. Hurting her was the last thing he ever wanted to do. Staring down in horror, he gentled his touch, but she wrenched away so that he was left with a handful of her jacket—and barely even that.
“Goddammit, where are you going? Why are you leaving? Jesus, Li, I need you.”
She whirled on him, and he still held on to that pitiful fistful of fabric. If he didn’t, he feared she’d disappear like the best dream of his life. One he never wanted to wake up from.
No fucking choice.
“You don’t need—” Her gaze drifted behind Nick’s shoulder and her eyes widened. Before he could turn, he heard a voice he knew all too well.
“You’re going to want to unhand her, Crandall. Now.”
British. Cultured. Pissed.
Donovan Lewis, aka the owner of Oblivion’s record label and Lila’s boss. The boss who wasn’t supposed to know anything was going on between Lila and Nick, because of the possible conflict of interest if a record rep fraternized with a member of one of the bands she managed. And here Nick was, yelling about needing her and grasping at her like he was deranged.
After tonight’s fuckup of a show, that was
the image he wanted to present. Not.
Nick released her and shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “It’s not what it looks like,” he muttered, feeling very much like a chagrined kid who’d been caught stealing a cookie.
“Oh, I think it’s exactly what it looks like. It looked like you were manhandling my associate, and that’s not going to happen.”
Nick’s gaze shot accusingly to Lila’s. Though he didn’t speak, it was a close thing.
“It’s not like that,” she said quietly, tucking her windblown hair behind her ears. “We—we were in the middle of…a conversation.”
“A conversation,” Nick repeated.
what she decided to call what they’d had going for the last couple of weeks? Right. He knew she was in a difficult position, but so was he. He was frigging tired of hiding. Of pretending he didn’t feel what he felt. Of lying to everyone else, because that was a damn short trip to lying to himself.
“Whatever you want to call it, keep your hands to yourself.” Donovan’s voice lashed out like a whip, and Nick curled his fingers into his pockets. His gaze latched on to the envelope Lila was clutching along with her iPad, and his gaze lifted to hers for one humming moment before he nodded and turned away.
Clearly he wasn’t going to find any more solace here than he’d found on that stage.
“I think we were done talking anyway,” Nick said through clenched teeth, striding away just as Molly burst through the doors from the banquet room. Jazz’s younger sister’s eyes were bright and her cheeks were flushed. Somehow she was smiling.
Smiling in the middle of a disaster. Must be freaking nice.
“Almost lost you,” she called out to Donovan, moving past Nick as if he were a ghost.
Why bother with pleasantries? They only lived together—due to her camping out with Jazz and Gray at the band house—and she’d obviously just watched Oblivion implode, so hell, why should she worry about commiserating? She had Donovan to talk to. Couldn’t bypass chatting with Mr. Important, right?
Nick grabbed the door handle. He needed to go backstage, grab his stuff and get gone.
He didn’t make a habit of drinking much. Tonight was going to be an exception to that rule.
“I had to find Lila, let her know about the new direction,” Donovan said as Nick opened the door to the banquet room.
Before he could ask what the fuck new direction Donovan was referring to, Lila’s sharp heels sounded on the floor as she came back inside. Naturally she’d come back in for Donovan. When it came to Nick, her lover, the man she’d curled up against naked less than twenty-four hours ago, she fled.
“What are you talking about?” she asked breathlessly.
“Nicholas, why don’t you stop eavesdropping and join the conversation? It concerns you.”
Nick set his jaw and pivoted to face the three of them. They were still clustered near the exit, but the distance between them wasn’t enough. He felt as crowded as if his back was right up against the wall.
He was pretty sure whatever Donovan had to say wasn’t going to improve his night.
“Molly has offered an intriguing solution to salvage this ruination. And we’re going to take it.” Donovan glanced from Lila to Nick and back again.
There was no need for him to spare a glance for Molly, since she was practically hopping up and down and impossible to miss. Her wild blond curls fountained out of the ponytail thing she’d arranged on top of her head with every bounce. Looks-wise, she was basically the anti-Jazz, but they certainly had the excessive energy part in common. Though Nick was in no hurry to find out what Molly was so excited about right now.