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       Skeletons of Us (Unquiet Mind Book 2), p.1

           Anne Malcom
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Skeletons of Us (Unquiet Mind Book 2)


  SKELETONS OF US

  Unquiet Mind #2

  By Anne Malcolm

  Copyright 2016 Anne Malcolm

  No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is purely coincidental.

  Edited by: Hot Tree Editing

  Cover Design: Sarah at Okay Creations

  Cover image Copyright 2016

  Formatting by Max Effect

  CONTENTS

  Prologue

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Thirteen

  Fourteen

  Fifteen

  Sixteen

  Seventeen

  Eighteen

  Nineteen

  Twenty

  Twenty-One

  Twenty-Two

  Twenty-Three

  Twenty-Four

  Epilogue

  Music

  Acknowledgements

  Also by Anne Malcom

  About the Author

  Love can be a beautiful thing.

  It can fill up your life with the warmth of its embrace and spread to every corner of your mind.

  It can quiet your soul.

  But when that love turns wrong, it twists and warps into something bitter and unrecognizable.

  The pain of it promises unyielding noise in place of that half-remembered silence.

  Lexie has lived with this pain for four years, pouring it into music that transformed Unquiet Mind into the most famous rock band in the world.

  But fame can also turn ugly, curl into that bitter version of love and endanger everything Lexie holds dear.

  The moment Lexie’s life is threatened, he comes back to ensure she stays alive.

  Killian.

  He’s not just back to save her life, he’s back to save her soul and to claim what’s his.

  Problem is, someone else already considers Lexie his, and he’ll kill to make sure she stays that way.

  To my Dad.

  I may have lost the gift of your wisdom, but I’ll always feel your support. I miss you every day.

  “Hello, Los Angeles,” I murmured into the mic, my voice thankfully not shaking like the hand holding my guitar was.

  The returning roar was deafening. The sound filled up my mind, making my teeth chatter. It wasn’t mere sound; it was physical. The crowd in front of me was a pulse. It was like the sun; I couldn’t look too closely at it or I might be blinded. Or faint. Either way, I couldn’t think too closely on the fact that there were thousands of people in this arena to see us. We weren’t opening for another band or playing for some small gig. This was real. People paid to see Unquiet Mind. Our dream was coming true.

  I glanced to Wyatt who was at my side. He was grinning. Grinning at the crowd in an easy way like they were some cute girl he was trying to get to go home with him. I glanced to Sam, who wasn’t grinning. His usually cheerful face was stoic and he clutched his drumsticks so hard his knuckles were white under the fluorescent lights.

  Noah was regarding me, his beanie pulled low on his head, his eyes lazy. He looked like he always did before a show. Serene. Like he’d just done an hour of yoga or smoked a huge joint. He winked at me.

  I took a deep breath and turned to the screaming mass once more.

  “We’re Unquiet Mind and we’re here to rock your world.” My voice echoed through the arena.

  When my fingers ran along my guitar string and I sang the first word into the mic, the sound disappeared, like a black hole had opened up right there and swallowed it all up. All that was left was the music, flowing through me like a wonderful kind of energy. A temporary cure to an aching soul.

  The entire set was a blur, like some kind of half-imagined dream, or what I thought a drug trip might be like.

  Then it wasn’t. One pure, lucid moment hurtled into my mind’s eye. My gaze locked with ice blue eyes that assaulted me every time I thought I might be escaping the heartbreak from that dock a year ago. They were there. Right there. In the crowd.

  He was there.

  Killian.

  And then, in the snap of forever, he was gone.

  The last word of the song left my lips and the roar entered my brain once more. I’d wonder for almost three years if that was a side effect of the nirvana of performing or if I’d began hallucinating.

  I never thought he was actually there.

  Though I wished it. Every show I looked for those ice blue eyes.

  I never saw them again.

  Not until later.

  THREE YEARS LATER

  “These echoes of silence are a part of me.”

  -Lexie Williams

  You’re not meant to speak ill of the dead. I was pretty sure the same sentiment translated to thinking ill of the dead. But I couldn’t help it.

  “Andrew was the best of us. Selfless as he was kind, the world is a little less bright now that he’s left it for the warm embrace of our Lord.”

  Sam rolled his eyes and made a disbelieving sound from beside me, the very sound I was doing my best to suppress. Wyatt elbowed him subtly, glaring at him the way a parent might try to communicate a scolding in public when they couldn’t spank them. It was the way of those two, though Wyatt definitely shouldn’t be classed as the responsible one. Due to something I’d walked in on two months ago, I knew he was just the person to be spanking someone—just not a male someone.

  But seriously, selfless? Kind? Sam’s gesture was well founded. Andrew Bruntley was a lot of things, a long list of things. No one could ever accuse him of being kind nor selfless, not while he was alive anyway. Now he was dead, everyone seemed to forget that he was, in truth, an asshole. As soon as someone stopped breathing, unless they committed some horrible crimes, they somehow transformed in people’s minds. Every bad thing about them was forgotten, memories of the goodness replacing it. Sometimes qualities, like selflessness and kindness, were plucked from thin air.

  I guessed you couldn’t really say, “He was a narcissistic dick who didn’t care about anyone else but himself” in a eulogy, hence the imaginative euphemisms.

  I only thanked the Lord, who was unlucky enough to have Andrew in His warm embrace, that I didn’t have to go up there and lie through my teeth about my dearly departed boyfriend. That’s what both my publicist and manager had wanted. That’s what everyone at the godforsaken funeral were expecting. Aching for. Half of Hollywood seemed to be here—supermodels in the latest in funeral chic and actresses, who had previously despised him, crying crocodile tears. I’d imagine that less than a quarter of people here were mourners; the rest were spectators. A death, the death of a prominent movie star, and the invitation to the funeral were the hottest ticket around. That was sick, but that was Hollywood. Paparazzi were crowded around the entrance to the cemetery. They had followed the crowds of town cars like vultures. At least I didn’t have to worry about them snapping some photo of me, when my grieving girlfriend mask slipped.

 
I was sorry he was dead. I wasn’t emotionless; I may have a huge hole in the place where my heart was meant to be, but I wasn’t cruel. Andrew was a bastard, an arrogant movie star, a chauvinistic prick, and so not my boyfriend, but he didn’t deserve to die. Very few people actually deserved to die. Only truly evil people who tainted the earth with their presence didn’t deserve to take breath in it.

  My heart stuttered.

  Like my father.

  My mind left the crowded cemetery, and the lies of the minister left my ears for a split second.

  “It was his rotten and twisted soul that took Ava and Steve from you.”

  Steg’s words came back to haunt me at times I least expected it. When I was distracted, when my soul was at its most vulnerable. The memories of those words worked like a pinprick on that shattered soul, tearing it just a little bit more, reminding me that I had poison running through my veins. That my father was so truly evil, he took two people away from me. That I was happy he was dead. I questioned if that happiness meant that I possessed some of that. If that twisted, rotten soul somehow passed on to me and it hid in the darkest depths of me, waiting, lurking.

  Someone squeezed my hand and I looked up to Noah’s attractive face, pinched with worry as he gazed down at me.

  “It’s over, Lex,” he murmured.

  I looked around and people were whispering, their masks of grief still firmly in place. My eyes touched an actress who’d worked with Andrew on his latest movie. She gave me a sad look and wiped a tear from her perfectly made-up face with a silk kerchief.

  One of her best performances to date, I thought idly.

  People approached the coffin, throwing roses on it. I had to restrain a snort at this. Andrew hated roses; he actually threw a bunch of them back at a fan who had run up to give them to him. Luckily, he had a good publicist who kept that little incident out of the media.

  I felt eyes on me. There had been sideways glances during the service, people snatching glances covertly as they played their parts. Now, it was acceptable to look at me, to dissect me with their stares.

  It wasn’t a secret that I had been dating Andrew. Our tumultuous relationship had been splashed through the media, much to his delight. “Relationship” was a stretch to describe it. I didn’t do relationships. I would never put any inch of myself in a man’s hands again. That’s why Andrew had been perfect. He could never possibly hurt me because I hadn’t cared about him one bit. I didn’t even like him.

  That was the beauty of it.

  Then he died. Drug overdose, they said. Certainly not a suicide. Andrew loved himself too much to end his life. I hadn’t even known he’d done any drugs apart from coke at parties. Then again, I didn’t try to know much about him.

  Which was one of the many, many reasons I didn’t speak at the funeral. I wouldn’t go up there and lie about what we had, about what he was. No crocodile tears for me. I may live in a city where you had to play a part to survive, but my band and I never pretended to be anything we weren’t.

  “Try and make her go and talk at that dick’s funeral one more time, you’ll be looking for new employment,” Sam had snarled at Jenna, my publicist, when she’d been trying to convince me how “vital” my words would be. Vital for our career, for her paycheck, not for Andrew’s memory.

  It was the care for her paycheck that made her immediately back down at Sam’s words. That and surprise. Sam was the most easygoing out of us all. He was almost always smiling or joking. He almost always had a girl on his arm too, but that was a story for another day. He might treat life with a humor that I was envious of, but one thing he took seriously, that all the boys took seriously, was protecting me.

  Which was why I was flanked by Noah and Wyatt, each holding my hand, their faces covered with dark glasses.

  Sam stepped forward when a couple of supermodels tried to approach, no doubt to use condolences as an excuse to get the scoop on how Lexie Williams was coping with the tragic death of her famous boyfriend.

  “Yeah, not gonna happen, sweethearts,” he said, his face underneath his own dark aviators expressionless. “How about you go and pretend to eat at some restaurant? You still hungry, you give me a call.”

  I imagined he would have winked underneath those sunglasses. Only Sam would try to pick up women at a fricking funeral. Except try wasn’t the right word; the supermodels looked offended for a split second, then the constructed, mournful look on their faces was replaced by catlike smiles.

  Sam didn’t give them time to say anything, just turned to me while I shook my head with the smallest twitch at the side of my mouth. It wouldn’t be good to actually smile right now, not with the eager eyes of everyone who was anyone in Hollywood looking for something to gossip about over their martinis later. Not that I cared about what they said, I just didn’t have the energy to battle the flame that would ignite. I was already battling with an army of paparazzi following me everywhere.

  “Let’s blow this popsicle stand,” Sam said, pushing his glasses onto his head and looking from side to side. “Cemeteries give me the fuckin’ creeps.” He leaned forward, whispering on the end. “Think about it, this ground”—he stamped his foot—“full of dead people.” He shivered and his attractive face screwed up.

  Wyatt scowled at him. “Dude.”

  Sam raised his brows, daring him to say more.

  Wyatt obviously didn’t think educating Sam on funeral etiquette was the most pressing thing at this juncture because he shook his head much like I did, just without the good humor, and started walking toward our blacked-out SUV. The boys surrounded me like human shields, their large bodies stopping anyone from approaching and also causing a barrier between me and any sneaky paps who might catch a shot from the walls.

  We approached the car and Clyde opened the door for us, his eyes crinkling a little at the corners as they touched on me.

  “Everything okay, Miss Williams?” he asked, his voice professional, yet his weathered face was tinged with concern.

  I smiled at him weakly. “It will be once you get us out of here, Clyde.”

  He nodded curtly. “I can do that, Miss Williams.”

  He closed the door after us and circled to get in the driver’s seat.

  Clyde was our driver and had been since it became apparent we’d actually need a driver two years ago, when we realized our popularity, our fame, wasn’t going anywhere. It wasn’t fifteen minutes for us. Nope. It had been almost four years since we’d moved to our loft in West Hollywood. Our advance from the record company meant we could have gotten a pretty decent apartment in any of the swanky suburbs filled with starlets and heiresses, as did the money from Ava and Steve that Mom had already offered me. But I didn’t want that. No. I didn’t want to be living in some pretentious apartment with the money I got as a result of my father murdering two of the most precious people in my life.

  When I received the rest of that money when I turned twenty-one last year, I’d donated all of it to charity. Every single dollar, to various causes Steve and Ava supported in life. By then I had more than enough money and I didn’t need the considerable amount they left me. More importantly, I didn’t want it.

  But almost four years ago, we weren’t earning millions or playing sold-out stadiums. We were a bunch of teenagers who had a lot of views on YouTube and a handful of fans back home in Amber. Hollywood was a different beast all together. Yeah, we had a record contract and a lot of zeros on our advance check, but that didn’t mean much. We were naïve then, but we knew fame could be fickle. We weren’t going to blow every cent of our earnings on some flashy place in order to construct some kind of image conclusive with rock stars. Flashy wasn’t us anyway. Well, flashy was Sam. Even now at a funeral, he was wearing platinum and diamond rings on every single one of his hands, and his fingernails were painted black. He had an armful of leather and silver bracelets on. His sunglasses, now back on his attractive face, were designer, as was his black shirt and buttery black
leather jacket. He had on black leather pants too, which were tucked into biker boots with all sorts of hardware. The quintessential rock star. Or maybe just typical Sam. It was him. In high school, he wore a version of this, or what his budget allowed. Now he had more money, so he put more into his look. Outwardly he may have changed, but fame and fortune had failed to taint his soul. Any of my boys in fact.

  Though I knew that at the start.

  FOUR YEARS EARLIER

  Standing outside our new apartment building, I knew no matter what, whether we had success in the future or failure, these boys would always be who I fell in love with in high school.

  Zane and Mom had come to help us move. Well, Mom wasn’t helping us move on account of the fact she was sporting a tiny baby bump and Zane barely let her lift a coffee cup let alone a moving box. Not that she would have helped if she wasn’t carrying my little brother or sister. She “didn’t do” heavy lifting.

  “I’m coming for decorative purposes only,” she had declared. “And for fare welling my baby girl into the world that lies outside of the comfortable reaches of her childhood home. Murderers, thieves, people who drink green juice. A terrible world, but who am I to stop you from leaving the only mother you’ll ever have?” She’d been trying to disguise the emotion in her voice with sarcasm, but I heard it, maybe because I’d been feeling a version of it myself. I was feeling a lot more than that. I’d been dying inside as we put Amber in our rearview mirror and every person inside the town. One in particular.

  Mustn’t think of that, I chided myself. I couldn’t. Even in memories the hurt was so tangible I rubbed my chest absently, feeling the burn, the agony from that one little thought.

  Zane’s reaction the crumbling building in front of us after we’d pulled into the parking lot was not of excitement like Sam and the boys. It wasn’t the most attractive building, and the street it sat on wasn’t going to be winning any awards either. It wasn’t exactly the worst neighborhood, but it wasn’t Bel Air.

  “You’re not living here,” he declared after his eyes had scanned the building for approximately five seconds.

 

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