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       Sustain, p.25

           Tijan
 
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  head between my legs. I couldn’t believe I was nervous. This—playing for thousands of fans, playing with Luke, with Braden, as a drummer—this was my dream, and I was close to pissing my pants.

  Luke sat next to me, and his hand grazed down my back. “You okay?”

  I shook my head. I couldn’t talk. Even the sight of him wasn’t enough to distract me. Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt that hung over his form, molding against him, it was like the shirt had been created to make him more beautiful. No. Not even the sight of him could distract me. I had tried, through the entire rehearsal. Even afterwards, I pulled him in a back room, but the butterflies were still buzzing in my stomach.

  “Hey,” he murmured, drawing me to look up at him. As I did, meeting those grey eyes of his, some of the butterflies settled down. Some kicked up, for another reason, but I couldn’t control how my pulse kept racing. His hand cupped the side of my face, and his thumb caressed my cheek. He leaned down, his forehead resting against mine. “You’re going to be amazing. I know you are.”

  “Easy for you to say.” My lips brushed against his. “You’re already loved by millions. I’m new. They only know me because I kicked their beloved guitarist out of the band.”

  He laughed, the sound and air coating against my lips. “They don’t. The true fans know you saved his life. When you stood in front of that gun, Brute hesitated, and the cops were able to shoot him instead. That’s public information.”

  I reached for his hand.

  He added, “Yes, some social networks are villainizing you, but we can’t do much about that. They’re just mad Emerson isn’t with the band. They blame you. They’re going to say what they want no matter what. We know the truth. The general public knows the truth, and the real fans do, too. They’re out there and they’re excited to meet you. They know you’re Braden’s sister…” He stopped after that, pulling away from me.

  I said what he couldn’t, “They don’t know about us, though.”

  The corners of his mouth stretched out, flattening his mouth. “Priss Bitch might think she has some control over us, but she’ll soon find out she doesn’t. Don’t worry about it.”

  After a phone caught the entire confrontation with Brute on tape, it went public fast. Once we were cleared by a medic team, we were taken to the police station for statements. It was the same ordeal as when they raided Elijah’s house, but there was no interrogation. Everything had been a whirlwind.

  That’d only been the beginning.

  Wanting to get ahead of the social media storm, since the video was already viral, Priscilla and Peter made a public statement that Emerson was going into a drug rehabilitation program, and yes, the girl on the video clip was Sustain’s new drummer. I was officially introduced in an interview with Becky Walters and the rest of the band.

  The public’s response had been mixed. Some loved me, proclaiming I was a hero, and others hated me, blaming me for the entire thing. Even though I could hear only cheering from the stadium, I knew I’d walk out to ‘boos’.

  “Hey.” Luke caught my chin again and made me look at him. “I mean it. Don’t worry about it. Everything will be fine.”

  Priscilla hadn’t been happy to find out about me, but she’d been forced to accept my position with the band. Luke, Braden, and Gunn threatened to walk if she didn’t okay it. Even Emerson said he’d make a statement against her. I’d been shocked when I heard about his support. Braden reminisced telling me the story, how Emerson caused a scene in a board meeting about me. I heard the story once a week for the last month, but as Luke said—Priss Bitch was a battle for another day. My first battle, getting my hands steady.

  Someone knocked on the door and shouted through it, “Five minutes.”

  “You going to be okay?”

  No. I smiled at him. “Yes.”

  The side of his mouth lifted, and he shook his head, pulling me close to press a kiss to my forehead. “You’re such a liar.” His lips lingered there, and I felt him take a breath. He murmured softly, “I love you. No one will take that away.”

  He started to pull away. I grabbed his shirt and pulled him back. “Promise?”

  “Promise.” His eyes were fierce.

  Luke had been wonderful during everything. He never left my side, staying with me at night, getting breakfast for us in the mornings, holding my hand whenever I needed the extra strength. The only time he wasn’t allowed to be by my side was when we were in interviews; there’d been a few since the Becky Walters’ interview. Priss Bitch thought the fans needed to find out later on, that there’d been enough changes for them to process. After I used a bathroom at a restaurant and found two girls crying, clutching Emerson’s picture, I agreed with her. Luke hadn’t. He’d fought with her the entire time, only obeying because she threatened to kick me out.

  “Two minutes.” That same person rapped on the door again. It was brisk and louder than before. Their impatience was noted.

  “I suppose it’s time.”

  Luke stood and took my hand. When we stepped out in the hallway, a crowd of people were waiting for us. I didn’t know who they were, but they rushed us to the stage, and right before we got there, I heard my name being called. Elijah and Emerson were off to the side. Luke was pressing behind me. He had taken to walking like that, and I knew he was trying to protect me. He saw them too and pulled us from the group.

  “Luke—”

  He turned around, his eyes flashing a warning. “Stall. These are our friends.”

  The stagehand frowned, but pressed a hand into a walkie and relayed the information. As we drew closer to Elijah and Emerson, Braden joined the group. Gunn was right behind him. The same crowd that had been rushing us to the stage formed a wall around us this time. They turned their backs to allow us privacy, and as they did, I felt safe from their prying eyes, and I could breathe a little easier.

  Emerson noticed my reaction. The side of his mouth lifted up. “It’s a little shocking, isn’t it? All the sudden attention.”

  I nodded, pressing my hand to my stomach. The nerves were still there, bouncing all around. “I think it’s worse because I’m a girl and I’m the new drummer.”

  “Yeah.” Emerson hit Braden’s shoulder. “They sure loved this dumbass behind those drums.”

  “Hey.” Braden’s hand covered where he had hit, but his eyes lit up. He was beaming. He had been growing out his hair, and because there was enough length, he had the sides of it braided. The top of his hair was set in spikes. He ran his hand over it now, gently pressing down on the tips. “You like my hair?”

  “Rocker Extraordinaire.” Emerson smiled back, but he swallowed at the end of his statement. A hint of envy was evident. “You look awesome, like always, but you and Luke are the pretty boys of the band.” He hit Elijah’s elbow. “This guy’s the other pretty boy. He and I will hold Grant West down.”

  Elijah bobbed his head up and down in one fell swoop. “Damn straight. We’ll represent home now.”

  “Ha.” Braden was pretending to hit the air, his head moving up and down, in rhythm with the music playing in the background. “You guys hold the fort down. We’ll represent nationally.”

  The teasing, going back and forth was good-natured, but as Elijah and Emerson both looked towards me, I felt a serious undertone slide into place. The group felt it, too, and everyone grew quiet for a split moment. Then Emerson said to me, “You’ll do great, Bri. I got a pass from treatment. They didn’t know I was coming here, but I had to come and say thanks.”

  I was in the band. He was not, but he wasn’t talking about that.

  Feeling my throat swell up, I murmured, “Yeah. You’d have done the same…” My sentence hung in the air. No one commented, then everyone started laughing.

  Emerson shook his head, grinning. “No. No, I don’t think I would’ve. I was an asshole to you.” His eyes skirted from Elijah to Luke who was standing behind me with a hand on my hip. “I love these guys. Even if I don’t show it, I do, and I thought y
ou were hurting them on purpose. I was wrong.” His gaze lingered on Luke. “I learned more about what you had to do, and anyway, I’m sorry.”

  It didn’t take a genius to figure out who told him. Leaning back against Luke, his arm moved around me, and some of those nerves started to melt away. “Thank you, Emerson.” I meant it. My cousin was back. He was the cousin I always loved and who had loved me back. Glancing to Braden, who was watching the whole thing, I felt everything click into place. This moment was right. My family was here. Even our mom had been ushered to the dressing room earlier to wish me good luck.

  I was ready for that stage.

  As if he felt it too, Luke’s hand slid down my arm, and his fingers entwined with mine.

  I looked up over my shoulder. He pressed a kiss to my forehead, then whispered in my ear, “Don’t worry about it. You’re mine and I want everyone to know.”

  I wasn’t sure what he meant, but it eased my calm into excitement. I was about to go and play with him. Hearing the crowd’s chant of ‘Sustain’, instead of imagining their rejection, I let their cheers meld with me. They were buzzing. So was I. I started to feel the adrenalin in my body. My blood began boiling and the itch to slam my drumsticks down was beginning to fill me up.

  I was nearing that intoxicated state. I was addicted. As Elijah and Emerson said their goodbyes and headed for their seats, Luke led the way, holding my hand. Right before we took the stage, I tried to pull my hand free.

  He tightened his hold.

  We were announced next and then, flashing me a grin, he led me out onto the stage. Walking out to the deafening sound of their cheers, I didn’t care that they saw us holding hands. Luke was right. They’d either love me or hate me. I wasn’t going to hold anything back. If I heard any boos, I wouldn’t care. Every cell in my body was ready to play. Hopping up onto my seat, I got ready. No matter what happened, no matter who came against us, no matter the fights between us, I knew we would be fine. We’d sustain, but now—I raised my drumsticks in the air. Luke looked back and nodded, and I slammed down on the bass—now, I was content to kick ass.

  www.tijansbooks.com

  Coming soon, Elijah!

  Oh my word. This book took forever and an entire team of people to help me with it. Thank you to Jay McLean for being the first person excited about this and chatting with me late at night over it. Thanks to my beta Celeste, for really taking the hammer to me in the very beginning. She pushed me to make it better, which resulted in a whole other version of the book. Thank you to all my betas: Heather, Cami, Eileen, and Kerri. I always drop things in your inboxes and you guys help me out, no matter what it is or even if it makes no sense! Thank you, thank you to always being honest. Then another big wave of thanks to my editors: Ami at aldjediting.net, Paige, Marla at proofingstyle.com, and Chris at parececonsulting.com. To Debra Anastasia for reading Sustain and letting me know I’m not insane at times and to Kelly and Teresa. I dropped stuff in your inboxes so much. Thank you for looking it over and reassuring me! Everyone in the fan group, I love you ladies. Thank you to everyone in the street team. All those shares helps so much. I don’t think you guys have any idea. I’m beyond grateful! To my cover designer, Lisa Jordan. I always say it, but you really do ‘put up with me.’ ☺ Last, to Jason and Bailey. You both really put up with me during this book. Love you both.

  “Luke.” I laughed. “What are you doing?”

  He grinned down at me and held a finger up to his lips. “Hush, girl. You’re going to get us caught.”

  Caught. I shook my head. “Luke, you’re not thinking this through.” We were outside a recording studio at ten in the morning. It was the time we figured no one would be around. After scoping out the place for a few days, we got the routine down; the musicians and workers came in the early afternoon and stayed until three or four in the morning. Ten in the morning was the best time for us to break in and look around. The idea had been Luke’s. He was itching to see inside a real studio. His father talked about it since he used to manage a band, but those days were long gone. Drugs had taken over both of our dads’ worlds, but since forming our own band, the talk about seeing the inside of a studio became more and more common. After a night of getting into my mom’s wine and making out, Luke figured today was the best time to go. Now, we were outside the building after discovering it was locked up completely. There was no way inside.

  As Luke checked a window, I tugged on his sleeve. “Luke, come on. Let’s go. We’re not getting in this way.”

  “No way.” Steel determination looked back down at me. “Even if it’s just…” He stopped talking and frowned to himself while my alarm bells started going off at his look. He had an idea. I held my breath in anticipation, knowing some of his ideas weren’t always great ones.

  I started to say, “Luke,” when he shook his head quickly and bent down and grabbed a rock.

  He flung it through the window.

  “Luke!”

  The glass shattered, raining down on us. He muttered a curse, but clutched me quickly. Pulling me forward, he wrapped his arms around me and shielded me with his back. It was over as fast as it started. Luke let me go, but kept his hands on my arms as I stepped out from his hold. He asked, “You okay?” His eyes roamed all over me as he checked for himself.

  I nodded, feeling for blood, but it didn’t feel like I’d been cut anywhere. With a shaky nod, I said, “Yeah, I’m good.” Then I looked up at the window. The hole was big enough to reach an arm through, but we’d still have to clear more of an opening, which meant more glass had to be broken. “I don’t know, Luke. I think we should just go.”

  “Nah.” He flashed me a grin, one of those rakish ones that always had my insides tingling. He added, “A quick look. Come on, Bri. We’re so close. We’ll be gone before any cops get here. I just want to see what it looks like inside.”

  Inside a real studio. I heard the plea in his tone and swallowed my argument. I couldn’t blame him either. People made music in there. Music that launched careers and changed lives—all inside those sound booths. “Okay.” I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face now. “Just really quick. We can’t get caught, though. You know my mom will ground my ass.”

  Luke laughed; the carefree sound of it made that tingle go into hyper drive, along with my heart rate. As he cleared out more of the glass and reached inside to unlock the window, I stepped back to admire him. Tall. Trim. His face had such fierce determination now, but when he turned that concentration on me, I sighed inwardly, knowing I couldn’t ever help myself when it came to him.

  When the window was opened, he turned, his hands finding my hips. He hoisted me up, murmuring into my ear, “This is what dreams are made of, Bri. One day, it’ll be us. I promise. Trust me.”

 
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