I've got a little treat for you, something to hold you over for the next few days while I finish up "Heart Broke" (Hard Rock Roots #8)... ;) I've posted the FULL first chapter of the book below for your reading pleasure. <3 Enjoy!
HEART BROKE (HARD ROCK ROOTS #8)
Copyright 2016 by C.M. Stunich
There's a body. In a bathtub.
I close my eyes for a moment and press my fingers against my temples.
“Ronnie, why is there a dead rock star in your bathtub?”
“There's not,” he says, a cigarette hanging from his mouth, his fingers shoved into his front pockets. “There's a dead poser piece of shit in my bathtub.”
“Not helping,” I say, dropping my hands and opening my eyes to glare at him. “Not even a little.”
“Yeah, well, at this point,” Ronnie says, taking a drag on his smoke, mouth twisted to the side in a wry imitation of a smile, “it's all I got. If I don't start laughing at this shit, I'm going to open my mouth and all that's going to come out is a scream.”
I stare down at Cohen Rose's still form, blood splatters artfully speckled across his stubbled cheeks. I never thought I'd actually miss stripping. I mean, taking off your clothes for strangers? Doesn't sound all that appealing under normal circumstances.
Under these circumstances, it sounds downright fucking clutch.
Check this mental list: Beverly Hills mansions, shoot-outs, enough secrets to choke a horse … and a dead guy. In a bathtub. Sounds like a real hoot and a holler, don't it?
“I can't bloody believe this shit,” Lola says, pacing a rut into the floor behind us. Damn bathroom's big enough for an orgy, so it's not like we're hurting for room, but her nervous energy is starting to rub off on me. It suddenly feels like the space is a hell of a lot smaller than it is. “I wanted him dead. Like, really, really wanted him dead, but …”
She stops pacing and pauses between Ronnie and me.
“But now there's a dead guy in your bathtub,” I repeat again because well, I mean, I can't seem to say it enough. “A dead guy who very likely was murdered …”
“Who definitely was murdered,” Ronnie adds, blowing smoke into the quiet early morning air. It's so late it's early and I am tired as fuck. My night was a hot mess. Despite my best efforts to get drunk, I barely managed to squeak up to buzzed before sliding right back down to sober again. Can you blame me? Turner was making an ass of himself onstage while Ronnie did the dirty double dance in the back corner and Dax … Dax smoke and drank himself into a barely coherent frenzy.
Let's just say, tonight was a bust and leave it at that.
My morning … eh, it's not shaping up to be any better.
“I know I shouldn't have dragged you into this,” Ronnie begins, but I cut him off with a wave of my hand. My boys—Trey, Turner, Ronnie, Jesse, and once upon a time, Travis—they look up to me in some sort of screwed up maternal way. Might as well embrace the role. Going to see Trey in the hospital, sticking around with the guys, this was all supposed to be temporary. Instead, it feels like a never-ending nightmare. My photo shoot? Cancelled. My heart? Broke. That's right. Straight up broke. I keep following Dax around like a puppy, petting his hair back and telling him that everything's going to be okay. I barely even know the guy and I've somehow been sucked into his crap? I knew getting involved with him was a bad idea. Knew it, knew it, knew it. And did it anyway. Because I, I am Crazy Sydney.
I cross my arms under my breasts and tilt my head to the side, blonde hair cascading over my shoulder in waves. Cohen looks … peaceful. Despite the blood and the purple bruises on his face and arms, he looks like he's smiling. To put it mildly, the expression is … creepy as fuck.
“Who do you think did this?” I ask, not that I expect Ronnie or Lola knows the answer to that question.
“Well, considering Brayden Ryker was sitting on my bed when we came in, my guess is that he, at the very least, put the body here. As to who actually killed the guy? Did I mention I ran into Paulette Washington at the club.”
“The TV producer?” I ask, wrinkling up my nose as I study Cohen's raggedy denim jacket, his holey jeans, his scuffed black boots. Looking at him like this, I almost feel sorry for the guy. But then I remember how Lola mentioned he used to beat the shit out of her. Karma anyone? “What the hell was she doing at the club? Coincidence?”
“She had blood on her hands,” Ronnie says and my eyebrows go up. Way, way, way up. “Literally I mean, as well as figuratively.”
“Like … blood from Cohen Rose perhaps?”
“Maybe she was just on the rag?” Lola jokes, in a surprisingly chipper mood for somebody who's just found their dead boyfriend in their bathroom. Their swanky new Beverly Hills million dollar bathroom.
The universe really does work in mysterious ways.
“So … Paulette Washington, the super rich and famous TV producer, the woman who sold you this house, she killed Cohen Rose? And that makes sense how?”
“She's also America's sister,” Ronnie adds matter-of-factly, blowing out a puff of smoke with a smile. And then he turns around and walks away.
I should be shocked by his statement.
But I'm not.
Not one fucking bit.
& & &
“Somebody should write this shit down,” I grumble as I help Ronnie, Jesse, and Lola haul Cohen Rose out of the bathtub and onto the waiting tarp. Holy crap, this motherfucker is heavy. We all grunt and curse under our breaths as we drop the frigid corpse onto the blue plastic and stare down at him with wrinkled noses and curled lips. “Like, make a book out of it or something.”
“Like anybody would believe all of this shit? I've seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes that were more true to life,” Lola says, wiping her gloved hands on her jeans and curling her lip as she stares down at her former beau. “Trust me, nobody would want to read our story. It's too fucked up.”
“Eh, you're probably right,” I say with a sigh, running my fingers through my hair and then cringing when I realize there's a bit of dry, flaking blood on my glove. “Even if someone wrote this crap down, nobody would buy our story for a second.”
“Um, now what?” Jesse interrupts gruffly, crossing his arms over his chest, face wary and expression guarded. The last thing anyone wants after a night on the town is to … well, to help bury a body. I get it. “Shouldn't we be calling Brayden Ryker or something?”
“No,” Ronnie snaps, short and sharp. His brown eyes are narrowed, focused firmly on the body sprawled across the floor in front of us. “That's exactly what he wants us to do. He's fucking baiting us, and I'm sick and goddamn tired of playing games. No. We've been through worse shit than this before.” He yanks a pack of smokes from his pocket and offers them to the group; nobody turns him down. “If we can handle losing people we love,” Ronnie pauses to take a breath and I know we're all thinking of someone different—Travis, Asuka, Poppet, “then we can handle burying someone we hate.”
“And if the cops come looking for Cohen?” I ask, because somebody's got to put that out there.
“Why the fuck would he be here? We know nothing; we've done nothing.” Ronnie pauses as a pounding bang echoes from the direction of the bedroom. I raise my brows and we all exchange nervous glances.
“Want me to get it?” Nobody answers, so I turn around and make my way into the bedroom, hurrying for the door when I hear Turner's voice booming through from the opposite side.
“OPEN THE FUCK UP!” he screams in the way that only he can, like a wicked god's just found its way to earth, split the ground and climbed up from the fiery depths of hell.
“What on earth are you shouting about?” I ask as I let him in and he comes stumbling across the living room area, pausing and casting a very strange expression my way.
“The fuck are you doing in here?” he asks, head whipping around as Ronnie appears in the bathroom doorway. “The … fuck? Are the two of you … doing it?” Turner lifts his hands up before either Ronnie or I can respond. “Doesn't matter. I don't care. I don't fucking care.” A smug smile curls his lips. “My woman's awake. She's a-fucking-wake.”
“Naomi's … what?” I ask, blinking away my surprise as Turner nods and lifts his hands up, lacing them behind his head. Less than an hour ago, he was stumbling drunk and slurring his words. Now, he's all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. “Did the hospital call you?”
“Damn straight they did,” Turner snaps, acting like his usual arrogant, bad boy self. I can see right through him though, to the rapid rise and fall of his chest, the pounding thump of his pulse in his throat. He's scared, terrified maybe. Nervous as hell, too. “She opened her eyes and frigging everything. I need to get down to the hospital like yesterday.”
Lola and Jesse appear behind Ronnie, limned in golden light from the bathroom, while Turner's brows climb up to his hairline.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Are you guys having an orgy in here?” he asks, before his gaze finally catches on the blue gloves we're all wearing.
“Turner,” Ronnie begins, but his friend's already backing towards the door and shaking his head.
“Nope. Nope. Don't tell me. I don't want to know. And I don't give a shit neither. My one woman's awake and I need to get to the frigging hospital.” Turner pauses, looking for the briefest of seconds like he's unsure, like he's still that toothless boy from the trailer park. It fades in an instant, but that's okay. I saw it, and I know what's he getting at without him having to say it.
“Is it okay if I come with you?” I ask, knowing that there's an unspoken reason for him showing up here in the first place. Can somebody come with me? But … well, he's a guy and an asshole at that, so he won't ask for the things he needs. Good thing I'm one perceptive bitch.
I snap one of my blue gloves off and glance over at Ronnie. He nods imperceptibly as we exchange a wordless understanding. This Cohen Rose thing is a big deal. Our friend's soulmate waking up from a coma … bigger deal.
“Yeah, uh sure, whatever, but hurry,” he says, stressing that last word with a shrug and another wary glance at Ronnie, Lola and Jesse. “Just … hurry.”
Turner lets himself out into the hallway as I toss my gloves on the nightstand and take a deep breath.
“Think you can guys can handle this without me?” I ask, casting another glance at the bathroom door. From here, everything looks normal. Well, as normal as a fancy Beverly Hills bathroom will ever look to me—like a palace, like a dream born of nightmares. I'm not really sure I'm comfortable here. Crappy apartments with peeling linoleum, single wide trailers filled with garbage, crack dens. That's what I know.
All of this? Just spun sugar and fluff.
I'd take a bite, but I'm not big on cavities.
“We can sure as hell try,” Ronnie says with a slight smile, waving me away with a flick of his hand. “Now get the fuck out of here and make sure Turner doesn't make too big of an ass out of himself. I'm not a hundred percent sure that Naomi Knox knows that they're engaged yet.”
I laugh, but the sound's a little dry, a little bitter.
Even with a dead body and a coma victim on my mind, all I can really think about is one thing.
There's a chance I might see Dax at the hospital.
I hate that that's the thing that spurs me down the stairs and into the waiting the van the fastest.
& & &
“Oh, oh, oh fuck,” Turner mumbles, his words running over each other as he stumbles to the edge of the hospital bed and practically collapses, curling his inked fingers around Naomi's pale ones. “Shit, shit, shit.” If I didn't know the man any better, I might say he was crying.
I tilt my head to the side as I watch him. Wait. No, wait, maybe he is crying?
“I knew you'd wake up,” he murmurs, brushing Naomi's hair back from her face. A doctor tries to get his attention and Turner's face snaps up with gritted teeth and a rancid little snarl. The man pauses and takes a small but respectful step back. “I knew you'd come back to me, baby,” he continues as I stand in the corner of the room as unobtrusively as I can. I feel like a fucking asshole even being in here. This moment should be private or something, shouldn't it? “Why isn't she talking?” he growls, looking up at the doctor with a gleaming rage in his gaze.
Here we go.
“Turner, honey, you're scaring the poor man,” I say, moving over to him and laying a hand on his shoulder. He jumps, but at least he doesn't elbow me. Wouldn't blame if he did. The poor kid's had his instincts beaten into him. Even all these years later, his reactions are a little knee-jerk.
“Miss Knox,” the doctor begins as Naomi groans, lids flickering and fingers curling tight around Turner's. I stare down at her pretty face, her gently parted lips, that slightly crooked nose of hers. She looks good—for someone in a coma, I mean. But still. Good. Like a rock star, baby. “Miss Knox,” the doctor starts again, but Turner cuts him off with a wave of his hand.
“You can call her Mrs. Campbell,” he says and I swear to Christ, I almost slap him in the back of the head.
“Naomi Campbell, Turner?” He throws a nasty glance over his shoulder and I catch the slight sparkle of wetness on his cheeks. I'd make fun of him for crying if it wasn't so goddamn precious.
“What's wrong with that?”
“It's only the name of one of the world's most famous supermodels is all. It'd be like me calling myself Kate Moss or Tyra Banks.”
“You know what, Sydney,” he starts growling, but Naomi groans again and his attention snaps down to her face. “Baby? You okay, baby?”
“Miss Knox has suffered some serious injuries, Mr. Campbell. We can't expect her to bounce back at full capacity in an instant. The recovery process can be long and difficult, especially when we're—” Turner cuts the poor dude off again with a wave of his hand. I shrug my shoulders when the guy casts me a pleading look. Hey, what can you do? The guy's a rock star.
“She's gonna be fine, aren't you, Knox?”
Naomi's eyes flicker again, that mesmerizing orange-brown color of her irises a vibrant splash against her pale skin and the white sheets. I watch as Turner curls their hands together and presses a gentle kiss to her knuckles.
Wow. From playboy to lover boy. I never would've believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes.
I want to fall in love, too.
The thought's like a shot to the stomach, making me clamp a hand over my mouth and stomp out my feet against the sterile tile floors. It's a sensation thing, okay? Sometimes … sometimes, I just feel shit and I want it to go away.
This feeling doesn't go anywhere.
“Excuse me for a second,” I say, giving Turner's shoulder a squeeze and bolting out of that room, past Brayden's planted security guy and straight to a silver water fountain that's bolted to the white wall.
I want to fall in love.
I'm almost thirty years old and I've never—never—had that thought before. Not once. Honest to God.
I take a sip from the fountain and stand up, tucking some blonde hair behind my ear as I cast a glance in either direction. No sign of Dax yet, but … why the hell do I think the word love and then immediately start thinking of Amatory Riot's drummer?
“Oh God,” I think as I turn and put my back to the wall. I don't want to fall in love with Dax. Do I? Do I? “Fucked up tour from hell,” I mumble under my breath as I slide Turner's phone from my pocket. He gave it to me in the van on the way over here so I could call up the rest of Naomi's band and give 'em the good news. The only number I can make myself look up is Dax's. “Must be some crazy ass hormones in the water or something. First Turner, then Ronnie, and now …”
I shake my head because that's just ridiculous. I don't give a fuck about Dax. I don't. Seriously.
My thumb hovers over the call button for a split second before I make my decision.
Today, I'll be the friend that my brother and his buddies need, help 'em bury the body (quite literally) and all that, but tomorrow, I make room for Sydney Charell. I get my life back on track. I might be stuck with these assholes, but that doesn't mean I can't help them and do my own thing.
Dax, well, I'm just going to have to forget all about him. That's what's best, right? I'll forget him and the cool brush of his fingers, the icy bite of his lips. Yep. Just wipe all of that weirdness from my mind. I mean, like, what did we really share? One drunken screw in the back of a strip club? Hah.
I dial Dax up and wait, confident that I'm making the right choice.
We're both better off this way.
Besides, who has time to think about love when there's a dead rock star back at their place?
Not this girl right here. Nope. I don't give a shit about love—or Dax—at all.
So why do I feel pissed when I get kicked over to his voice mail?