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Beautiful distraction, p.22
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       Beautiful Distraction, p.22

           J. C. Reed
 

  The words sting. They only confirm that I was just another conquest in a long list of them. That I was only a good fuck.

  Isn’t that what he called me?

  “I’m sorry. I should go.” I get up and turn, dashing past tables, through the door, heedless of the people rushing to get out of my way, until I’m outside.

  CHAPTER THIRTY

  Above me, the moon and billions of stars are shining, their presence my only company as I head down the dark road. I’m walking fast, feet pounding, trying hard not to think or analyze the last week of my life.

  I need the solitude and the detachment to keep myself from going crazy.

  I don’t ever do crazy. I forbid myself from doing it.

  It happened once, and it made me obsessive. It made me love and swear off relationships for good.

  Fucking a rock star with all the fans, the drama, and the emotional entanglements that come with it—that’s a whole new level of crazy.

  It tops all the charts.

  A cold gust of wind seeps through my clothes, sending a shudder through me. I wrap my jacket tighter around me, cursing the fact that Josh was nowhere to be found when I left the bar. I would have liked him to drive me to Kellan’s place to get my car, but I couldn’t wait for him. I couldn’t ask around, go looking for him. The chance of bumping into Kellan was too great.

  It was either risk having to face Kellan again or head back without Josh driving me.

  I chose to walk.

  Now, I’m freezing my butt off.

  I’m far past the point where I even care if Mandy’s joining me. She’ll be fine with Josh. I know she will. She made it pretty clear when she left me alone with Kellan on his ranch.

  It’s all her fault.

  If it weren’t for Mandy, I wouldn’t have to deal with my emotions.

  If it were not for her, I would have sold the tickets and never met someone like Kellan. Someone so sexy, he’s every woman’s dream.

  But that’s exactly what he is.

  A dream.

  Not realistic.

  The sooner I grasp the facts the better, before my stupid heart wants to confess that I have fallen in love with him.

  Somewhere in the distance, a car’s approaching. I turn and see the headlights. For a moment, I consider signaling it to hitchhike to Kellan’s place, then realize it’s Kellan’s truck.

  Even though I know that I’m being ridiculous, I turn my back to it and hasten my steps.

  The truck pulls up next to me, and the window rolls down.

  “Ava?”

  I continue walking, mumbling, “Leave me alone.”

  The truck speeds up, coming to a halt a few yards down the road. Leaving the engine running, Kellan jumps out and slams the door shut. I try to ignore him as he plants himself in front of me, until I have no choice but to look up into his face.

  “What are you doing? You cannot walk out here all alone.” His expression is a mixture of worry and anger.

  “I’m an adult.”

  “And I’m your host, and I say you can’t be here alone.”

  I shrug. “Why not? You said it was safe. What changed your mind?”

  “I wasn’t talking about the people, Ava. We have wild animals, and they can be dangerous.” He sighs. “Look. I know you’re pissed.”

  “Pissed?” I scoff and stare at him, pointing to my face. “Does my face look pissed? I’m hurt, Kellan. Disappointed. You told me you wouldn’t return before the weekend. I thought that was our goodbye. A really crappy one, by the way. And then I find out that the sole reason I’m here is because you arranged for me to win tickets.” My anger’s choking me, but I don’t care. I have so much to say to him. “The past week, I told you everything about my life, and you barely fed me morsels of information about yours. You kept the fact that you’re a famous rock star to yourself. How is that fair?”

  “I know how that sounds.”

  “You do?” I ask, doubting it. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

  He hesitates. “I wasn’t sure you’d understand.”

  I shake my head. “Of course. What else?” I move past him to resume walking, when his hand grips my upper arm to stop me.

  “I mean it,” Kellan says. “I thought you wouldn’t understand.”

  “Why wouldn’t I understand? It’s not like you have to be embarrassed for your job.” I try to look up into his eyes, which isn’t possible. He’s standing so close, I have to tilt my head back, and it hurts. “Fuck, everyone would want to be in your shoes.”

  “Exactly. That’s why I kept it from you.”

  “I don’t understand.” I frown at him. “You thought I’d be jealous? That I might want to be a rock star?”

  The assumption is so ridiculous, I find myself laughing.

  “No, Ava,” he says sharply, “I thought you would judge me.”

  “Why would I judge you?”

  “Are you kidding me?” He pauses, hesitating, as though what he has to say is hard for him. “People change when they find out I’m K. Taylor. They go crazy, especially once they realize I have money. I can’t risk telling someone I don’t trust who I am, out of fear that they might go to the papers and seek their own five minutes of fame. People think because they know my name and read made-up stories about me, that they know me. They don’t.” He grimaces, and his expression contorts into one of disgust. From up close, in the bright lights of his truck, I can see every line on his face. The tiredness. The frustration. “You have absolutely no idea what fame does to people or how far they’d go to get it. I’ve reached a point where I can’t trust anyone. It has nothing to do with you. I just can’t trust people. Too many have betrayed my trust and invaded my privacy. The only people I can trust are the ones I grew up with, and they are here in this town. My brothers. A few close friends. Sharon.”

  That’s not a lot.

  I’m sorry for him.

  At last, I draw a deep breath and let it out slowly before I say, “You still could have tried me. I would have understood.”

  “Yeah.” He cringes. “Except you hate Mile High, and you’re a journalist. That’s a great combination.”

  “I don’t hate Mile High,” I protest weakly, ignoring the latter part.

  “You said you did. Do you want me to reiterate your exact words?” He lets go off my arm. “You called us a boring, over the top, overrated, untalented bunch of idiots.”

  I did?

  I cringe at my choice of words. “I’m sorry. I might have said all of that, and I admit it’s horrible. The truth is, I think you have an amazing voice. I do. But I never really listened to any of your songs. My parents made me biased toward the music business and anything commercial. Toward music in general. But just because I’m not a fan doesn’t mean I hate the band. I just didn’t care to give you guys a try. That’s all. And I’ll be honest with you, just because you’re the lead singer doesn’t mean I’ll change my opinion about what the music industry stands for.” The words are out before I can stop them. I can feel the offense in the air, and I couldn’t blame him if he turned around and left without a look back.

  I expect Kellan to unleash his annoyance with me, but he just laughs.

  “I know, and I would never expect you to,” he says. “Look, it’s hard for me, too.”

  I frown at his words. “What’s hard for you?”

  “To like the business. To be excited about it. I hate my job.”

  Unsure whether I’ve heard him right, I stare at him. “I don’t understand. I thought it was your dream. You and your brothers had a band.”

  “There’s a difference between a hobby and doing it for fun, and a job, which basically forces you to sell your soul and kills any creativity,” Kellan says. “Now don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for what I’ve accomplished, but this job, this lifestyle—” he shakes his head “—it didn’t turn out like I expected. I still enjoy making music. I love writing songs, but in the end, the label decides which songs are recorded. Most of them aren
t even mine.”

  I remain quiet as he continues, “The pressure. The fame. The constant traveling. Being stuck on a tour bus. Not able to sing my own songs or play my own music. It gets to be too much. I kind of realized that being famous and under the wings of a huge record label isn’t how I envisioned my life. My own songs being buried just because they wouldn’t appeal to thirteen-year-old girls sucks.” He sighs. I sense more is coming, so I remain silent out of fear that pushing him to open up might have the opposite effect. “Look, there’s no denying that I love singing and playing the guitar, but I don’t want to do it professionally. Everything you saw up there, on that stage…that’s not me. Not the real me anyway. It never was. I just stumbled into it. Ask my brothers, and they’ll tell you how I was discovered.”

  “How?” I ask softly.

  “We used to play the weekend gig at the local bar. It was our way to connect with friends and family. Someone uploaded us on the Internet. One day, a scout saw us live, and he liked what he saw. The next thing I knew, I was offered the lead singer position in a band he was working on creating. I took him up on the offer, because—” he sighs again “—well, I was young, and vain, and yes, I wanted to be rich.”

  “That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” I say.

  “You need to understand. My family’s just ordinary folks. We weren’t poor, but we weren’t rich either. It was my opportunity to support my family and the people in this town. So it was a closed deal. Five days later, I moved to Los Angeles, where I met Casper, Derrick, and Rock. They became my new band members. From there, our whole image was created for us, and we were told what to do, who we could date, how we should dress. It’s all part of branding and image building. We started six years ago, and now we have six studio albums, two remix albums, and I have a net worth of ninety-five million.”

  I almost choke on my breath, shocked that he’d just divulge that last piece of information so honestly. “Wow. That’s a lot of money.”

  I don’t know how to take that.

  That is a lot of money. No wonder he doesn’t trust anyone.

  “Yeah, it is,” Kellan says. “But it doesn’t matter if it makes me miserable. I’ve come to a point where I realize there’s so much more I want to do with my life, but I have so little time to explore my interests. I mean, Ryder loves his job. And Cash has built up an entire string of nightclubs from nothing and turned them into a huge success over night.” He looks at me, his eyes meeting mine, and his expression softens. “That’s one of the reasons I quit.”

  “You quit?” I ask, confused.

  Did I miss something?

  What did he quit?

  Being a rock star?

  It sounds too far-fetched, incredulous.

  “I got out of my contract four weeks ago,” he goes on to explain. “I’m not the lead singer of Mile High anymore.”

  “Four weeks ago?”

  That was around the time I won the tickets.

  “Today was my last gig. It all started here, and this is where it all ends.”

  “I don’t know what to say.” Wrapping my arms around my waist, I stare at him, my mind devoid of any thoughts. “Is that what you want?”

  “Yes.” His arms go around my waist, and he pulls me to his chest. “It’s what I want.”

  The weak moonlight bathes his face in a golden glow. I take in his beautiful features, the soft smile on his lips, and can’t help but wonder whether someone like him could really be content with the relatively boring life out here—compared to that of a rock star, of course.

  “What brought on such a huge decision?”

  He shrugs. “You know how people say fame and wealth change you? It’s true. I grew up here; I’m rooted in this kind of life, and yet life on the road still changed me. Rock fell into a crack addiction. Derrick’s eight-year marriage broke down because he couldn’t keep it in his pants. And Casper’s suicidal because he’s gay and in love with our makeup artist, but his contract stipulates that he has to stay in the closet.” Kellan shakes his head. “It changed us all for the worse. Even me. That night you met me? I was an asshole. I didn’t get why you wouldn’t throw yourself at my feet.”

  His honesty renders me speechless.

  “My life consisted of groupies, parties, sex. There were drugs everywhere,” Kellan continues.

  “Sounds like every guy’s dream come true,” I mutter.

  “In the beginning, it was,” he says, his lips twitching but not with humor. “I grew sick of it pretty fast. However, the easy sex rubbed off on me. I thought every woman was the same.”

  I think of Mandy mentioning the groupies. I remember the banners at tonight’s gig and can’t help but feel jealous of all the women Kellan must have met—and fucked.

  As if sensing my thoughts, he touches my cheek gently. “None of them mattered, Ava.”

  I know that, otherwise he wouldn’t be here with me, and yet—

  “It’s your life. What you do is none of my business,” I say. His grip tightens around my waist. I can feel his gaze on me. He’s looking at me. Through me. His eyes are penetrating every layer of my soul, settling somewhere deep inside me.

  “You asked what made me quit,” he says softly. “It was my sister’s death. It was a wake-up call. If it weren’t for that damn tour, I would have seen her before she died. I might have changed her mind about going back.” A shaky breath escapes his lips. I reach out to touch his cheek the way he touched me a few minutes ago.

  “I’m sorry.”

  His eyes shimmer in the weak light of the moon. “She was always worried about me. Yes, it was just a job, but if it weren’t for her, I think I would have fallen into the usual drug crap. But she made sure to call whenever she could. And she always listened. I still remember the last time we Skyped. She begged me to quit.”

  Which couldn’t have been easy. A contract with a label spans years and countless albums. It’s hard to break out of, and even more so when a lot of money is involved.

  “How did you get out?” I ask.

  “It wasn’t so hard,” Kellan says, as though reading my thoughts. “The contract was for five albums. I just told them that I wouldn’t do another. Countless lawyers were involved, but in the end, they realized they couldn’t force me to stay.”

  “How did they take it?”

  “Not well.” His dark expression lights up. “But anyone can wear a mask, right? My manager found a replacement, so it’s all final. The news will be out next month, as soon as the PR department’s done coming up with whatever bullshit story they think will sell best. Until then, this is one huge secret no one’s supposed to know about. Except my team, my family, and…” He points his thumb at me. “You.”

  “So… officially, you’re still the lead singer of Mile High.” He nods. “And privately, you’re—”

  “Only a cowboy.”

  I nod gravely and tilt my head back.

  Only a cowboy.

  I like the sound of that.

  A soft smile tugs at his lips as his hands cup my face. “I’m getting older, Ava. In eighteen months, I’ll be thirty. That’s like a dinosaur in music years. It was about time I retired and went back to my roots. To a time when things were simple. To the things I once took for granted.” He draws a deep breath, hesitating. “Of course, it’s scary to leave everything behind, but you know, it’s another reason why I wanted you to get to know the real me, not the image that I’ve been feeding to the public. To most people out there, I’ll always be K. Taylor. But to you, I want to be Kellan Boyd.”

  “I think I like the real Kellan Boyd,” I whisper so low I doubt he can hear me.

  “Come with me.” Before I know what’s happening, he leads me away from the street, through the meadow, to an old wooden fence.

  Away from the lights, the stars are more prominent.

  He takes my hand and helps me climb up the fence until I sit on top of it, then he joins me. We’re sitting so close our arms almost brush, but his proximity feels r
ight.

  Everything about him feels right.

  Except the fact that he’s famous, and I’m just some ordinary girl from NYC.

  “I love it here.” My low voice sounds surprisingly alien, surreal.

  In the silence around us, I can’t stop thinking about his sister, about the dream of a real cowboy to support his family, and the risks he took to get there.

  Kellan has an amazing voice, and music is his passion.

  People out there deserve to hear his songs.

  I want to hear his songs, but I also feel sad for the man who wanted to quit all along, and yet didn’t, until it was too late and his sister had already died serving her country.

  “I love it too. But I love it even more now that you’re here,” Kellan says.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

  “So, what do you think?” Kellan asks.

  He is nervous. His tone is less forceful than usual. Less sure of himself. “Here I am, famous and rich, and I’m going to throw it all away. Not the money, of course, but everything else. Does that sound sane to you?”

  Sane?

  What is sane?

  Besides, who am I to judge what is sane for him, and what isn’t?

  “It think it sounds human.” I smile at him. “You must be really sick of your job.”

  He lets out a laugh. “You have no idea.”

  “It’s okay.” I shrug. “What you’re doing is definitely better than planning to kill your boss. Take me, for example. I sure would kill mine, if I thought I’d get away with it.”

  Which is just a joke, obviously.

  But TB is unbearable. The mere thought of her breathing down my neck has me covered in a cold sweat.

  “I knew you’d get me.” His voice is serious again. His foot is tapping against the wood. His whole posture is tense.

  “Yep, kindred spirits and all.”

  “So, now that you know the truth, has your opinion about me changed?” he asks. “Are you disappointed?”

  In the soft moonlight, I can see that he’s still smiling, but his nervousness is obvious. He doesn’t need to say why he’s feeling this way. I understand.

 
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