Monday, December 15, 2014

NAUGHTY KING (A Sexy Manhattan Fairytale: Part One)

NAUGHTY KING (A Sexy Manhattan Fairytale: Part One)

The King Always Gets His Way.
Women, business, pleasure: When I want it, I get it.
I’m never denied.
Including her.
I will break her. 
I will show her who the king of this city really is. 
The Feisty Princess of Manhattan will learn I am not a man that can be tempted.
No matter how fucking bad I want her in my bed.


**Book One in a Three Part Erotic Romance Series.**

Super Naughty New Series From NEW YORK TIMES and USA TODAY Bestselling Author Michelle A. Valentine (Rock the Heart, Phenomenal X, Demon at My Door). 


Coming Early 2015







Thursday, December 11, 2014

Read Rock My Body's First Chapters







“Rage, rage against the dying of the light” – Dylan Thomas

 
“Coming Down” – Five Finger Death Punch


One Year Ago…



I nod my head to the beat, glad that, for once, we are in our element in playing to a sold-out crowd.
I’m not exactly sure where everything started falling apart. Wait...that’s a lie. I know exactly when my blissful happiness began to deteriorate. It was the day Riff brought a woman on our bus for a long-term stay. A woman who fucked everything up and started Black Falcon on our downward spiral.
One day things were great—every guy in the band practically floating on cloud nine and all that shit—but somehow in the midst of our happiness and living out our life-long dream, things turned to shit. Sophie, Riff’s temporary fuck-of-the-month, single handedly drove a wedge into our foundation and rocked our ship by claiming she one-nighted Noel and was knocked up by him. For a while, I wasn’t even sure if the band would make it, but we did, ironically, with the help of two women, Lanie Vance and Aubrey Jenson. They were all right chicks at first, but eventually became thorns in my side too. Noel and Riff are so lovesick; they can’t see that their constant need to “take a break” for “family time” is destroying us.
My twin brother, Trip, used to look at the situation like I do. He wasn’t happy about the disappearing acts that both Noel and Riff insisted on pulling all the damn time. That was until my baby brother took it upon himself to seek out other interests besides the band. He not only found a dirt bike track to invest his money into, he also found a chick to invest his time into. He had to go and fall for the fucking track owner’s daughter, Holly. After that, he had a change of heart, and started empathizing with my other bandmates.
Fucking pussies.
All of them. 
Black Falcon might as well be a label-made band like those Embrace the Darkness douchebags who are always trying to upstage us and ride our coattails. Like them, we don’t really give a fuck about each other anymore. Seems like this band is nothing more than a paycheck, which is sad. When we all vibe well together, magic truly happens.
Trip pounds out the last few beats of the song and the crowd explodes, instantly begging for more.
This is what I love. There isn’t any other feeling like it in the world. Nothing can ever top this rush, but because our performances are so few and far between, I’ve been forced to find other things that really get my blood pumping.
When my eyes lock with my twin’s green ones, we both have the biggest grins on our face, I know he loves this, too—the euphoric energy from the crowd.
How can he not miss this?
How can he put anything above this? How can any of them?
Our band’s front man, Noel Falcon, chuckles into the mic as he stares out into the crowd. “Damn. You fuckers are insane. We’ve got one more song left for you.” He pauses, running his hand through his dark hair, giving the twenty thousand bodies here to see us perform time to respond, their screaming getting louder and louder. “I feel the love.” He readjusts his mic stand. “Since we’re all friends here, I’m gonna tell you all a little story about a girl who shredded my heart back in high school without any hesitation. It’s called ‘Ball Busting Bitch’. If you’ve ever had your heart fucked over by a woman, sing along.”
Noel smirks and the laughter in his eyes is evident. Ever since he married Lanie Vance, it’s pretty funny to see him keep up appearances with this song—even though he’s madly in love with that ball buster.
Trip kicks up the beat, and I thump away on the strings of my bass, creating our signature dark and dirty beat while we wait on Riff to join us, who makes the lead guitar scream like a woman in heat. 
I close my eyes as the rhythm of our biggest hit pulses through my body. Music is the one thing I can completely lose myself in. When I’m in the moment, feeling the beat, I’m untouchable; nothing else matters but the way each note engulfs my soul, scorching itself onto me permanently, reminding me that music is what I live for. It’s what I was born to do. 
I slide my fingers down the thick strings, finding the sweet spot, and slap them hard with the thumb on the opposite hand. My head rocks back and forth as I play the hell out of the song. I can’t remember a time that we’ve ever sounded better.
Surely, they’ll want to celebrate like old times after this show—the four of us together, cracking open a few cold ones and just being together.
That’s what I miss the most.
The final notes in the song play out, ending our forty-five minute set, and Noel shouts, “You’ve all been a fucking beautiful crowd. Thank you!”
As soon as my eyes snap open, they land on my brother, tossing his drumsticks into the crowd while Noel and Riff exit the stage. And just like that, the song disappears, taking my euphoria along with it, and the warmth I was just feeling is completely gone from my heart, replaced by an arctic chill.
What’s their big fucking hurry?
I set my bass down on the stand and follow Trip off the stage. The remnants of the crowd’s energy still linger in my veins, and I’m ready to burn it off and party with my buddies.
I throw my arm around my twin’s neck as we make our way backstage. “Where are we partying tonight, baby brother?”
Trip shakes his head and smiles as his eyes drift off like he’s thinking of something else. “Can’t, man. Holly just flew in, and she’s waiting for me at the hotel.”
I sigh and pull my arm away. “You suck. Can’t you see her after we go out for a while? I need my wingman.”
“Wish I could, but I can’t let my girl down. Besides, it’s been two weeks since I’ve seen her.” He gives me a quick jab to the ribs. “Stop frowning, Sunshine. We’ll do something soon. Promise.”
I roll my eyes. “That’s what you always say, but it never fucking happens. Just go the fuck back to your girl and forget about me.”
Trip’s brow furrows. “What the fuck’s with the attitude? Are you pissed that I’m happy.”
My lip rises as my face contorts with disgust. “No, I’m not pissed that you’re happy.”
“Then what the fuck is the problem? You’ve been nothing but a drunken asshole most of the time I’m around lately, so why in the hell do you even care that I want to spend some time with my girl? It’s obvious that you’re perfectly capable of partying on your own. You don’t need me for that.”
I blow out a rush of air through my nose. Starting a fight with him wasn’t my intention. But doesn’t he see what spending all his time with his woman is doing to the band?
Do any of them see?
Jesus, it’s like we have three fucking Yoko Onos, yet no one sees the problem here except me. These women are dictating the future of this band. It’s all going to fall apart, but it’s like all of them are too fucking pussy-whipped to see it happening right before their own eyes.
Noel and Riff walk over toward us, both wearing perplexed expressions.
“What are you two dipshits fighting over now?” Riff mocks. “Can’t you assholes just kiss and make up. The tension between you two lately has been fucking ridiculous. What’s up?”
Trip shakes his head. “Nothing’s wrong. My brother is just acting like a chick here, crying about how I never spend time with him anymore.”
I scrub my hand down my face, not wanting to waste any more of my time. “Fuck it. I’m out of here.”
I can’t get into this with them. None of them will ever see things like I do, so there’s no point in even trying to reason with them.
I turn toward the exit, and I hear the guys calling my name but don’t bother to turn around. If none of them care what happens to Black Falcon then why should I?
I’m done being the goddamn babysitter of the group: keeping everyone on task and writing eighty percent of the music. It’s time I start living my life and forget I give a fuck, too.


The pounding in my skull is relentless. Holy fuck. What in the hell did I get myself into last night? The last thing I remember is being at the club that Lou, one of the roadies, dragged me to. Everything else is fuzzy as shit.
I rub my eyes as I try to remember, but a loud buzz echoes around the room and keeps me from focusing on anything but the God-awful sound. 
What the fuck?
I peel my eyes open and blink hard as my gaze lands first, on a brick wall, then, a small window with bars on it. I push myself up slowly, studying the unusual window as I try to get my bearings. After my eyes slide around every inch of the room and find nothing but bars surrounding me, blocking my freedom, my heart rate kicks up a notch, and the panic sets in.  
How in the hell did I wind up in jail?
I push myself to my feet and wobble a split second before I regain my balance. Whatever I drank last night is still obviously in my system. My feet shuffle toward the bars, and I wrap my fingers around the cold steel. I strain my neck to look down the long hall, but all I hear is the sound of other prisoners talking. I need some answers.
I press my head against the bars. “Guards? Hey? Guards!”
Heavy footsteps fall down the concrete hallway, each step coming closer to the small cell I’m stuck in.
A gray-haired guard dressed in a dark blue uniform that’s a size too small wears a scowl on his plump face as he sets his stern eyes on me. “You need something?”
My shoulders stiffen, and I’m instantly riled by his tone, especially considering I don’t have the foggiest idea why I’m here. “Yeah. What in the hell am I in here for?”
The guard sighs heavily. “DUI. We picked you up last night on I-95 swerving all over the lanes.”
My shoulders slack and I push back from the bars but still hang on and drop my head. “Fuck. Does my brother know to come and get me?”
“Doubtful. You were too toasted to make your phone call last night. You kept fighting us off you, so we tossed you in here to sleep it off. You’re welcome to that call any time. Call anyone you’d like.”
I take a deep breath. When Trip finds out about this, he’s going to flip his shit. Usually, I’m the one thinking about how things like this will affect the band, not him—hell, not any of the others. Riff is known for giving out golden tickets to chicks who hang out backstage to sleep with him. Trip never gives two shits about anything, and Noel…well, he’s no angel either. Back in the day, me getting this DUI would’ve just been something we laughed off, but now that they’re all on the straight and narrow, I imagine they’ll give me the third degree over this.
But what choice do I have? Who else can I call?
After a long moment, I push away from the bars and look the guard in the eye. “I think I’ll make that call now.”
A few hours later, I’m finally at the front desk, gathering all the personal items I had on me when I was booked.
“One wallet, a set of keys, two hundred and fifteen dollars in cash, four guitar picks, a sheet of folded up paper, and one cell phone,” the middle-aged brunette clerk says as she hands me all the items. “Sign here and here, and you’ll be on your way.”
I scribble my name in the sections she’s marked and gather my things. Before I can even turn around, I feel Trip’s eyes, judging me.
I head toward the door, Trip close on my heels. Once we’re outside, my brother clears his throat. “I called the rental car company to come pick up their car from the impound lot. Kyle is waiting around the side with the Escalade to take us to the airport.”
I raise my eyebrows. “That’s it? No big lecture?”
Trip sighs. “What do you want me to say, Tyke? Do you really need me to tell you how much you fucked up? How bad this is going to look for the band? You know better than anyone this isn’t good fucking PR, so why voice it? As long as I can remember, you’ve been the stable one. I’m sure this isn’t going to happen again. You always do what’s best for the band. It was a one-time mistake. We all make them.”
“Glad to hear you actually still care about the band.”
Trip flinches. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean? When have I ever not cared?”
I shake my head. “Come on, brother. Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. No one has cared for a while now, including you. You guys spend all of your time with your women and leave all the work to me. I’m the one writing all the songs while Noel and Riff are off being husbands and fathers and you’re out there playing house. Do you think that’s fair? You guys get to fuck around and not give a shit about the future of this band?”
He licks the corner of his mouth as he huffs. “Fuck you, Tyke. Just because we settled down and found other interests, don’t think for one goddamn minute that we don’t care about the band anymore. Nothing with the band has changed. You’re the one who’s changed.”
Anger boils inside me. Is he really that blind? Can he not see how so much has changed in the year since Noel and Riff got married, and he got with Holly? I love my brother. I don’t want to lose him, but I’m not going to stand here attempting to make him see my side when I know it’s a lost cause. I’d be better off beating my head against a brick wall.
“You’re right, Trip. Things are most definitely different and are going to change even fucking more.”
Without another word, I turn on my heel and walk away from my baby brother. It’s not the best option, but it’s the only one I’ve got. Whatever it takes, I’m going show the rest of these guys that they’re letting this band die. And despite what they think, I’m the only one fighting to keep us together. 






 “Evil Twin” – Arctic Monkeys
Present Day


Fuck.
I’ve done it again.
I turn my head and survey my surroundings. Four white hotel walls and a horrible painting of a man fishing in a pond are the first things that come into my hazy line of sight. The second thing is the blonde knocked out cold next to me, her tits hanging half out her shirt.
Damn. What in the hell did I do last night?
I squeeze my eyes shut while the pounding in my skull beats continuously. Raising my hand, desperate to pinch the bridge of my nose to ease the pain, my arm stops far short of my face. My gaze snaps down to my wrists, bound at my sides with a thin rope, and I yank my arm, attempting to move my feet as well without much luck.
What in the hell?
My heart thunders in my chest as my foggy brain quickly pulls together that someone has no intentions of allowing me to leave this bed. Panic rolls over me when I can’t recall whom I came here with, or even how I got here. As much as I hate to admit it, Trip was right—some chick has finally gone all Misery on my ass.
I survey the knot tied in the rope. It doesn’t look like it’ll be that difficult to loosen, if I can just figure out a way to get my hands on it. Twisting my wrist side to side, I attempt to wiggle out, but it’s no use. It’s tied too tight.
I shift beneath the sheet that’s draped over me, and realize I’m completely fucking naked.
Shit. Being naked and tied to a bed is never a good thing. This isn’t going to end well. 
The bathroom door opens and I freeze, unsure of what the hell might be walking toward me. A slender brunette in a black mask with a great set of tits struts into the room wearing a tight leather outfit that wraps her body like a glove. As if the outfit wasn’t over-the-top enough, she’s also toting a black whip in her left hand, alongside an expression that screams she’s ready to inflict some major pain. I tense at the sight of her.
What in the holy fuck have I gotten myself into?
I yank my wrists, attempting to free myself, and the woman cusses at me in Spanish, clearly unhappy with my change of heart. “Hijo de puta!”
It only takes a split second for me to recognize the voice before I burst out laughing, instantly relaxing against the stark-white sheets. “Gabby, what the fuck?”
Her lip pokes out in a distinct pout as she pulls the mask off, revealing her smooth, tan complexion. Her big brown eyes complement her perfectly round face and button nose, reminding me of just how attractive she is. “Aww, come on, Tyke. I’m not done playing yet. Don’t you want to have some more fun with her? She was a good sport.”
The woman next to me continues to breathe softly, and while I’m positive that this woman provided great entertainment for Gabby and I last night, I can’t remember a damn thing about it.
There’s no time to try to remember it though, because the moment I sit up a little straighter, the sun’s harsh rays poke through the thick drapes, letting me know I’m already late. “Can’t. I have a band meeting at one.”
Gabby’s harsh laugh cuts across the room as her lithe fingers work at the knots in the rope. “Hate to break it to you, slick, but that ship has sailed. It’s nearly three.”
I sit up once I’m free and rub my wrists. “Fuck. The guys are going to be pissed. I’ve blown off the last three or four band meetings. Doing it again isn't going to sit well with them.”
Gabby sits at the small desk in the room and fixes a line on the mirror for herself before snorting it up her nose. “Fuck ’em. Those douchebags need to learn to fend for themselves.”
“Don’t, Gabby,” I warn, not liking her putting the guys down. It’s one thing for me to do it, but someone else baggin’ on them pisses me off. They’re my brothers.
I roll out of bed and grab my jeans off the floor, quickly yanking them up on my hips. There’s no sign of my underwear, but whatever; I’m not about to waste my time looking for them. I have to get the fuck out.
The blonde rolls over onto her back, and I freeze just as I pull my black T-shirt over my head. When she doesn’t wake, I turn to Gabby. “You taking care of this one?”
She nods and wipes her nose, but a small dusting of white powder still remains. “Yeah. I’ll check her phone for any pictures and videos and then call her a cab.”
I fasten my belt and then slip my feet into my boots. “Good. No more groupies with sex tapes of us. That shit didn’t go well last time.”
She laughs. “Speak for yourself. That fucking tape got my band noticed and put on tour with Black Falcon.”
I roll my eyes. “Just check her shit before she leaves. Trip and Noel will blow their fucking tops if I keep bringing the band down with negative publicity.” 
This time she rolls her eyes at me. “Whatever. I forgot what a Debbie fucking Downer you are when you sober up. You want a bump before you go?”
My nose twitches in anticipation, and while I know I should say no, I can’t help myself. Gabby puts a small amount of coke between her index finger and thumb and raises her hand to me. “You know you want to.”
I pull her hand up to my face and quickly snort every last bit of nose candy; the white powder stinging as it coats the warm, moist skin inside my nasal passages, sending me on a near-instant high in the process.
I close my eyes as every nerve in me comes alive, making me forget why the fuck I felt so anxious a few moments ago. I lean against the desk next to Gabby and she looks up at me and smiles, nodding over to the chick still sleeping in the king-size bed. “You wanna play?”
Gabby runs her hand down my torso, my toned abs flexing beneath my shirt in response to her touch. She pauses at my belt and yanks it open before allowing the tips of her fingers to rub against the growing erection inside my jeans.
A wicked grin crosses her face as she licks her lips. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
Unable to resist her, I give in and grab the nape of her neck, pulling her a little more roughly than I mean to out of the chair. I yank her slender body flush with mine. “Why the fuck do I let you do this? You’re no good for me.”
She bats her long lashes at me, attempting to look innocent. “Because you like getting crazy. Because you were bored out of your fucking skull until I came around. Because, deep down inside, you’re tired of being the scapegoat for the other guys in Black Falcon, and you’re done being their bitch.”
I flinch at her cold words. “Fuck you, Gabby. I’m no one’s bitch.”
“Except mine,” she purrs.
I shove her away. “Especially not yours.”
I refasten my belt as I turn and head for the door.
“Tyke…”
I don’t bother turning around. Good time or not, there’s no way in hell I’m going to be talked down to by a chick I’ve known for three months.
Who the fuck does she think she is?
If it weren’t for a groupie catching me drunk fucking Gabby after a show and blasting it all over the web, she and her band, Sex Arsenal, would still be playing small dive bar gigs with a weak-ass following. Now that bitch has the nerve to insinuate I’m a pussy? Fuck her.
I don’t need her. There are plenty of other people to party with. Her pussy isn’t made out of gold, and I damn sure never made a fucking commitment to her.
She’s a chick I like to get high with and fuck—that’s it. Nothing more. She better not have it in her head that we are more than that.
Jesus.
When the elevator opens up to the lobby, the full effect of the afternoon sun begins to assault my eyes and I flinch, fishing my sunglasses from my pocket and slipping them on my face. The moment I’m outside I pat my pockets, hoping to find some car keys, but I have no such luck. I obviously didn’t drive myself over here last night. Actually, I have no fucking clue where in the hell I am. Reaching into my back pocket, I whip out my phone and use the GPS feature on it.
Orlando.
Thank God I’m still in the right city. We play the Amway Center tonight to a sold out crowd. At least I know I can still make it there on time.
The young valet approaches me with a pen and paper in hand. The small cluster of pimples on his forehead does nothing to conceal his youth, and the eager smile on his face tells me one thing: he’s a fan.
“Excuse me? I hate to bother you, but you’re in Black Falcon, aren’t you?” he asks in a voice that’s just above a timid whisper.
I shove my glasses a little further up my nose. “Yep. Sure am.”
He stretches his arms toward me. “Can I have your autograph?”
I take the pen and small notepad from him. “Sure, kid. Can you get me a cab?”
He nods vigorously as he takes back the signed paper. “No problem!”
While he scurries off, I check the messages on my phone.
Trip: Where the fuck are you?
Trip: Goddamn it. This shit is getting old. It’s not cool to take off and not tell anyone where you are. I need to talk to you.
Trip: ?????
The final text catches my attention.
Trip: I hope you at least show up tonight.
My brow furrows at that comment. I’ve only ever missed a couple shows, and I felt like a total piece of shit for doing it. I hadn’t realized we had a few early shows and may have been sleeping off the previous night’s activities. It wasn’t like I missed them on purpose, and yet that’s all Trip ever seems to remember lately. He’s conveniently forgotten all the times I’ve saved their asses. I fuck up and I never get to live it down. 
I fire back a text telling him I’ll be there and slip my phone back in my pocket, just in time to hop in the cab that’s pulled up.
The ride over to the arena is pretty quick, which sucks. It used to excite me to spend time with my boys, but now I fucking dread it. None of us are on the same page anymore. Everyone is going in different directions, and our communication is shit.
Pulling up to the arena, I text Kyle to meet me out back and get me in through the crowd that’s already building. I don’t have a scrap of proof that I’m with the band and security can be real dicks if you don’t have a pass.
“How much longer?” the cabbie asks after five minutes of me refusing to get out until I see Kyle.
“Chill, dude. I’m good for it. Trust me.” He glances at me through the rearview mirror, and I can tell he’s having some serious doubts about whether I can pay the fare.
I glance down at my wrinkled clothes and the tats that cover most of my arms. Granted, I don’t exactly give off the best first impression right now, but damn, I hate it when people are judgmental.
Shrill screams from a group of fans surrounding the back gate catch my attention in time to see Kyle pass through the crowd alone. I dig my wallet out from my back pocket and pay the fare, along with a generous tip, before letting myself out of the cab.
Fans swarm around me, practically shoving pens and pieces of paper in front of my face begging for autographs, while dozens of flashes go off simultaneously. Kyle does his best to part the way for me as we push through to the gate.
Once inside, locked away from the fans, Kyle turns to me and hands me a backstage pass. “Where the hell were you? The guys are pissed.”
I pull the lanyard over my head, adjust my sunglasses on my nose, and shrug. “What’s new? They’re always pissed at me for one reason or another lately. They’ll get over me missing the stupid meeting. They never talk about anything other than scheduling more time off. It’s not like my vote ever gets taken into consideration anyhow.”
Kyle opens the door to the arena and motions me in. “I think they notice you being absent from more things than you realize.”
“Doubtful.”
I follow him through the maze of roadies, instruments, and stage props until my brother and the other guys come into view. The three of them stand there, talking quietly amongst themselves, until Riff glances up and notices me walking in their direction. He throws a swift elbow at Noel and nods toward me.
A strange vibe washes over me, and I can tell by the expressions on their faces that none of them are too happy with me right now.
Trip turns to look at me, contempt written all over his face. “Nice of you to grace us with your presence, asshole. Where were you?”
The sunglasses still covering my face shield the dramatic eye roll I’m giving him. “I was with Gabby.”
He narrows his eyes at me. “I thought you said you were done with that shit?”
“Not that it’s any of your fucking business, but I’m not using again.”
I hope Trip doesn’t see through the lie and figure out I’ve been dabbling a little on the white horse. I don’t need the headache that comes from dealing with him. Besides, I don’t have to report what I’m doing to him.
A harsh laugh rolls out of Trip’s mouth. “I suppose you just enjoy her fucking company. Come on, man, this is me you’re talking to. Your identical twin. Girls like Gabby Rodriguez are fast and easy; not exactly dating material. So don’t try and bullshit this bullshitter—I know the kind of shit you do when you’re with her.”
The condescending tone in his voice makes my blood boil. I don’t see where he gets off. He’s not our fucking father. I can do what I want, when I want. “Since when does what I do and with who affect you?” I swing my gaze to Noel and Riff, who are both watching our exchange intently. It’s time I let them all know how I feel. “Since when does my business affect any of you? All of you have your own fucking things going on. What does it matter if I’m out having a good time?”
Riff narrows his eyes. “It fucking matters when you miss important shit because you’re too high to remember your goddamn priorities. That’s the sixth band meeting you’ve blown off. Do you even know what the fuck is going on with the new album?”
I stare at him, the expression on my face blank. “What the fuck are you talking about? There’s absolutely nothing going on with the new album because I haven’t finished any of the fucking songs for it yet.”
“Jesus, fuck, he’s out of it now,” Riff says as he shakes his head. “Do you even know what day of the week it is?”
I hesitate and swallow hard. I start to reach for my phone to check the date because, honestly, I don’t have a fucking clue, but I stop short because doing that would just prove Riff right.  
Riff shakes his head and turns to Noel with raised eyebrows. “I told you he didn’t have a fucking clue. He’s bad for business.”
I flinch. “When have I ever been bad for business? I’m the glue that holds this piece of shit band together.”
“Not anymore,” Riff replies coolly.
I shake my head, not missing the disgust in Riff’s eyes. It’s a look I remember all too well. It’s the same one he had a couple of years ago when Noel struggled with his addiction. The same look he had when he wanted us to boot Noel from the band.
I narrow my eyes at my childhood friend. “You got something to say to me, Riff, just go ahead and fucking say it.”
Riff looks from Noel to Trip and his Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows hard and then lifts his chin. “You’re out, Tyke.”
My eyes widen as every muscle inside me tenses. “What?!”
“You. Are. Out. You’ve become a liability. Noel knows it, and so does your brother. You need help. We won’t stand by and watch you destroy yourself and drag this band down with you.”
Rage rolls through every inch of me. “You’re kicking me out? I fucking started this band. You can’t kick me out.”
Trip lays his hand on my shoulder. “Tyke—”
I shrug away from his touch. “Fuck you, Trip. Don’t fucking touch me!” I level my heated gaze on the other two guys. “Fuck all of you!”
I take a couple steps back while my mouth hangs agape. I can’t fucking believe this. They’re giving me the boot, just like that? No chance to explain myself? Just out—like I’m a piece of fucking trash they can’t wait to get rid of.
Fine.
Fucking Fine.
They’ll see.
They need me.
They’ll get over it.
I storm out of the arena, needing time to clear my head and figure this shit out, but before I get through the door, Kyle stops me. “Where you off to?”
“Hotel,” is all I can manage to say.
The thick cords of muscle work beneath Kyle’s skin as he pulls a set of keys out of his pocket. “Come on, I’ll drive you over.”
I follow our bodyguard to the Escalade. Kyle uses the key fob to unlock the SUV, and we both hop inside.
As I pull the heavy door closed behind me, I reconsider leaving. I should go back in there and hammer things out with the guys now. After all, I don’t want tonight’s show to be tense. But my head’s still a little foggy from the coke I snorted, and I know I won’t be able to speak to them rationally about this until I’ve had time to calm down.
I scrub my hand over my face. Tension in the band always fucking sucks—it’s even worse to be the cause of it. They blame me for it, I know, but they don’t see that all this shit started with them not caring enough. Not being committed enough. Not living for the band like they used to.
“Wanna talk about it?” Kyle asks, killing the silence that has allowed me to go deeper into my own thoughts.
I sigh. “What’s there to talk about? The guys just kicked me out. They’re pissed, I get it, but it won’t last. We never stay mad at each other. We’re brothers.”
Kyle adjusts in his seat as he stares out at the road ahead. “That would be great. Things were going so good for a while, and I hate that there’s this underlying tension between you guys. It makes things uncomfortable for us all when you guys aren’t getting along.”
“Come on, Kyle. Things haven’t been that bad. We’ve been through far worse.”
He sighs. “If you say so. I would just hate to see this great thing you all have going fall apart.”
“We’re not going to fall apart,” I say with a slight huff.
We’re quiet for the rest of the ride. I don’t really feel like rehashing band issues with Kyle when I’m not even sure what in the hell is going on myself. After I spend a few hours sleeping and getting my head clear in my hotel room, I take a long hard look at myself in the bathroom mirror. My sandy-blond hair is a bit shaggy, a far cry from the short buzz cut I used to sport. Lately, I haven’t really felt the need to be so clean-cut. The green of my eyes looks a little dingy, a little lifeless, but that’s not completely my fault. Anyone in my shoes who’s losing everything they’ve ever worked for would look the same way. 
I rake my hair back with both hands and sigh. We just have to get back on track. I’ll go to the guys and promise to stay sober, as long as they agree to start taking this band more serious. What we need is a heart-to-heart, as brothers. We need to squash this beef between us so that we can get back to doing what we do best—making great music.
I grab my backstage pass and slide it around my neck and slip out the door. I call a cab to take me back to the arena. It’s time to get this shit back on track.
With a clear head, I set out to have a discussion with the guys about us all changing our ways, mending what the last few years have broken.
The cabbie drops me off near the back gate of the arena and with the help of my pass, I have no problem slipping into the backstage area on my own.
I pull my phone out of my pocket and check the time. It’s nearly nine, the time we are scheduled to take the stage after Gabby’s band, Sex Arsenal, opens for us. A few of the roadies nod at me as I pass by them on the way to the stage.
One roadie I’ve been partying with quite a bit lately, Lou, stops in front of me the moment he recognizes me. “Tyke? What are you doing here, man?”
My brow furrows instantly. “Why wouldn’t I be here?”
Lou’s mouth opens like he wants to say something, but he quickly closes it and shakes his head. “You’re right. Forget I said anything.”
I clap him on the back as I pass by. “All right. Catch you later.”
I shove my hands deep into my pockets as I keep pushing forward, thinking about how odd Lou’s reaction to seeing me was. I mean, why wouldn’t I be here? We have a fucking show to do. He’s obviously been smokin’ something.
The rumble of Gabby’s voice blasts through the arena. “You guys have been an awesome fucking crowd! Thanks for coming out early to hear our set. I need beer money, so make sure you pick up our newest record and buy a goddamn T-shirt out front.” There’s a roar of support from the fans. “Give it up for Black Falcon! They’re about to come out and rock your faces off. You assholes will love that shit! We are Sex Arsenal! Goodnight!”
After a couple thumps on the bass drum, the only noise left is the hum of the buzzing crowd. It won’t be long until we take the stage, so this little talk with the boys will have to wait until our set is over.
I begin tapping out the beat to “Ball Busting Bitch” with my thumbs which are still wedged in my pockets. Even though that’s one song I didn’t write, I still love it. It’s the song that put us over the top, and I’ll be forever grateful to it for our success.
I nod my head to the melody repeating in my brain, but the moment I round the corner and my gaze falls on the guys with Sergio Alvarez from Embrace the Darkness, the song drops out of my mind.
What the ever-lovin’ fuck? We hate those douchebags. Since when did we decide to get fucking chummy with their bass player? I don’t know the guy personally, but if he’s in Embrace the Darkness, then he’s got to be just as big of an asshole as Donovan and Striker.
I lift my chin and head straight for them, determined to get to the bottom of this.
Noel elbows Riff, who is busy explaining chords of some sort to Sergio while Trip looks on with a frown on his face. After Noel spots me, he nods to Trip who finally notices me, too. I hate this tension between us. I’ll be glad when we squash all this later tonight and shit finally gets back to normal.
“What’s up, guys?” I meet each one of their stares a little longer than necessary, but I’m trying to get a read on the situation.
“Sergio.” Even I can hear the tension in my voice as I greet him with uncertainty, trying to figure out why he’s here, since his band isn’t on this tour with us.
Sergio’s mouth twists as his eyebrows shoot up like he’s surprised to see me. He looks to Riff, who only shrugs at him, before he says, “I’ll give you guys a minute.”
Sergio rotates the strap on his shoulder, sliding his bass onto his back before walking away. I turn back to the guys and Noel runs his hand through his hair while Riff pinches the bridge of his nose, drawing my attention to his crazy Mohawk. I know these moves; both of them revert to their nervous tics when they are frustrated and don’t know how to handle it. I swing my gaze over to my brother, who grabs the bill of his baseball cap and adjusts it so it’s covering most of his jet-black hair.
I fold my arms over my chest. “All right, fucking out with it. What aren’t you telling me?”
Trip puffs his cheeks and blows a rush of air out through pursed lips. “We just didn’t expect you to show up, that’s all.”
I scrunch my brow. “Where else would I be? We have a show—of course I’m going to be here.”
My twin licks his lips carefully and then swallows. “The thing is, Tyke, we thought we were pretty clear earlier—”
I don’t even give him a chance to finish. “You mean about throwing me out of the band?” I wave him off dismissively. “You guys were pissed, and I get why you said it, but we can sort all that out after the show. I’ve already forgiven you guys.”
They exchange expressions bordering on surprise and sadness.
“Look, Tyke, we—”
My brother throws a hand out to stop Riff from saying anything else.
“Let me,” Trip says, turning to me. “Tyke, we love you, man, but you need help. I know you believe you have a handle on all this partying you’re doing, that you’re in complete control, but the truth is you don’t, and you aren’t. I’m not sure what’s going on with you because you won’t talk to me—or any of us—but whatever it is, you need to figure it out.”
I don’t know whether to be excited that we’ve finally come to a point where a discussion about this band and my issues with what’s happened to it is finally going to happen, or to get pissed that my own brother can’t tell that I don’t have addiction issues. I’m in complete fucking control.
“I’m so glad that you’ve finally seen there’s a huge problem with the dynamics of the band and are ready to fix them. After we play tonight, I’d love to sit down and talk about adding more dates to the tour.”
“No, Tyke.” Trip shakes his head. “We’ve tried talking with you before, and no matter what we say to you, I know you aren’t going to stop partying.”
I roll my eyes. “I can stop any time I want. I just choose not to. I don’t see what that has to do with the band.”
“We can’t have you with us while you’re using,” Noel chimes in. “I know more than anyone how easy it is to get out of control. If it weren’t for you guys being by my side while I went to rehab—”
“Jesus Christ, are you fucking serious? Rehab? I don’t need fucking rehab.” Just where in the fuck do they get off? I’ve never been as bad as Noel was. Okay, so maybe I missed a few shows where he never did when he was using, but it was only a few times.
I scrub my hands down my face. This is so fucking stupid, but I know they won’t let me get out of rehab if they’ve made up their minds that I need treatment, so I might as well give in and get this over with.
“Fine. You want me to go to rehab? I’ll go as soon as we wrap up the tour.”
Trip takes a step toward me and starts to put his hand on my shoulder but hesitates, then shoves it back into his pocket. “You can’t wait until after the tour, Tyke.”
“Of course I can.”
He shakes his head. “No, you can’t. You can’t resist Gabby, and she’s on the rest of the tour with us. We think it’s best if you went now.”
“Now?” I question. “But, who will—” I stop myself because I don’t even need to ask the question. I’ve already figured out the answer. “You assholes already replaced me? Before I get a fucking say? Sergio Alvarez? You’ve got to kidding me. He couldn’t hold a fucking candle to me on his best day.”
“Come on, man. Don’t be a dick,” Riff says. “Sergio’s a good dude.”
I lick the corner of my mouth. “A good dude, huh?”
Just because someone’s a nice person, it doesn’t mean they’ll work in the band. These assholes will find out soon enough that I’m not replaceable. Hell, I’m going to teach them a lesson. Leave them high and dry, not giving them the satisfaction of kicking me out.
“You know what? You don’t have to worry about me anymore because I fucking quit. Have fun keeping this piece of shit band together without me because none of you will put in the work like I do.”
I turn and head away from them, listening for them to call my name and beg me to stay and work things out, but it never comes. I sigh and shake my head. Before long, they’ll be begging for me to come back. It’s only a matter of time.  

****

The rest of the night is a hazy blur…

Going to a bar downtown with Lou…

Music…

Women…

Lots of women…

An assortment of pills…

A bottle of Jim Beam…

Getting behind the wheel of the Escalade I borrowed from Kyle. Driving down the road, drinking straight from the bottle, wondering how my life got so fucked up. Feeling lost. Unwanted, and unloved.
Seeing a concrete wall blocking a housing development and thinking it would be better if I weren’t around anymore. After all, who would fucking miss me?
The last thing I remember is mashing the gas pedal to the floor.
Unlatching my seatbelt...
Then...nothing.



 “Mad World” –Gary Jules



People say there can be no light without darkness. It’s a nice quote and all, but I’m convinced it’s just a load of shit people love to hang onto so they feel better. There’s been more darkness in my life than I care to admit, but light? There’s been no trace of that in a long time.
I watch silently as fat raindrops pound against the window of the train. This—starting over—is a good thing, and has been my main goal since I started my journey to straighten myself up. I’ve already completed the first two phases of my plan: admitting I had a problem, and taking a stand to overcome it while getting my degree in psychology. Now I’m moving on to the third stage: helping others conquer their personal struggles, too.
It’s my new mission.
“Excuse me?”
My eyes drift away from the window to the man standing in the aisle next to me, wearing what I assume to be a very expensive tailored suit. He’s clean-shaven; his dark hair is neatly styled. Stunning blue eyes and a perfectly white smile complete this alluring package before me.
If I were still the old me, I would give him my best flirty smile and, despite the gold band on his left hand, I would’ve invited him to sit down. But I’m trying hard to forget that woman. Absurdly handsome men who never really gave a damn about me are my biggest weakness—a weakness I’m desperate to break away from. Messing around with unavailable men with no hint of remorse was how I knew I had problems: hurting people in order to get my fix is something I did for years. The thought alone is shaming. It got to the point where sex was no longer just a physical escape, but an addiction, too. Like I would die if I didn’t have it.
I blink a couple of times, bringing myself out of my thoughts while I do my best to repress my inner flirt. I notice the man’s still standing there wearing a mischievous grin. “Yes?”
The stranger’s grin widens. “Is this seat taken?”
I lick my lips and swallow hard as the temptation to invite him to snuggle now and fuck later in the bathroom crosses my mind. But as I’ve learned through my own psychological studies on resisting temptation, no matter how hard it may seem at the time, it’s far better than dealing with the fallout of giving in.
I set my purse in the seat. “It is.”
The man frowns and takes one last look at my long legs and voluptuous chest before he nods and continues down the aisle to find a seat.
As soon as he’s out of sight, I breathe a sigh of relief and allow my head to fall back against the seat. Annie would’ve been proud, although she wouldn’t have approved of how I was living my life to begin with. If she would’ve been there, things might not have gotten so out of control in the first place.
The train begins pulling away from the station, and I pull out my phone, flipping through my pictures until I find one of her. My fingers press against the screen as I trace the features of her beautiful face. As identical twins, people always said we looked alike, but other than that, there weren’t many similarities between us.
Annie was so vibrant; her blue eyes were always so alive with wonder and hope, while mine were dull, filled with dread and despair. She was so optimistic about life, while I was the queen of pessimism. Physically, our bodies were identical—long legs with hour-glass figures like our mother, blue eyes like our father—but our spirits were polar opposites, so I never got why people lumped us together as the same person.
“I miss you,” I whisper only loud enough for me to hear, before I kiss my two fingers and press it to her smile.
I quickly lock the screen and stuff my phone back into my purse, picking up the pamphlet for the posh facility I’ll be working at. Serenity Hills: Recovery for the Mind, Body, and Soul. When I interviewed last month, the director of the place, Dr. Wayne Shepherd, had gotten me excited to be involved with their program and their mission of helping individuals become the absolute best person they can be.
After nearly eight hours, the train slows as it approaches Cincinnati, the nearest town to Serenity Hills, I begin gathering my belongings and stuffing the books and pamphlets I’d been reading into my handbag. The man who approached me earlier on the train stands and turns toward me, offering a final wink in my direction before heading out of the car. He’s leaving the door open if I wanted to follow him, I guess.
I take a deep breath and stand, straightening my shoulders and tilting my chin up as I walk in the opposite direction of the handsome man. Every day that I fight against giving into my addiction, it becomes a little easier to walk away from temptation.
Once off the train, I search around in the crowd for my ride. It doesn’t take me long to spot the doctor who interviewed me. He’s just as I remembered him; tall, broad-shouldered, with neatly trimmed graying-hair and an athletic build—probably from running. Dr. Shepherd has that whole “distinguished” thing happening, and it totally works for him. 
Dr. Shepherd smiles as his gaze locks on mine. He extends his hand in greeting as I approach him, and I set my bag down to shake his hand. “It’s good to see you again, Dr. Shepherd.”
Wayne, please, Ms. Mead.” His smile is sincere.
“In that case, you can call me Frannie.” I want to roll my eyes at myself for sounding so much like a lame-o.
Wayne picks up my bag and ushers me toward the parking lot. “Did you have a good trip? I must say picking someone up from the train station is a first for me. Most people travel by plane or car these days.”
I shrug, not wanting to reveal my issue with flying just yet, so I give the best excuse I can come up with. “I prefer it. It’s relaxing and flying isn’t that much shorter in the long run.”
Wayne nods as he leads me to a black Mercedes. “I can appreciate a woman who knows what she likes and doesn’t. Flying is overrated, I suppose, with its cramped seats and germ-filled cabins.” The amused tone in his voice doesn’t go unnoticed, and I smile, glad that he’s accepted my rationale so easily.
Once Wayne places my bag in the trunk, he escorts me to the passenger side where he proceeds to open my door and help me inside. As I watch him walk around the car, I notice how attractive he is, even though I know he’s quite a bit older than my twenty-eight years. I can already tell working alongside him and keeping things completely platonic might prove difficult if he decides to make a move on me, but I’m determined not to sleep with anyone I work with. I’m confident I can keep things strictly business. I have to. My professionalism means the world to me, and I can’t allow my demons to influence me and cause problems with this new career that I so desperately want. It will be a challenge, but at least Wayne is a far cry from my normal type—irresistible tattooed, bad-boy man-candy. I just need to keep my distance from him, and any other man who may pose a threat to my newfound vow of celibacy.
It’s about an hour drive through the hills of Kentucky before we come to the entrance of Serenity Hills, tucked among a thick line of trees that hide the rest of the property from sight. We turn down the paved drive and wind our way up the gentle slope and through the woods.
The large white Victorian-style home with a wraparound porch that’s featured on the cover of the brochure comes into view. Wayne told me how beautiful this place was when he interviewed me in my hometown of Chicago, but I never expected this. It’s peaceful and serene—the perfect place for people to relax and recover from whatever demons they’re struggling with away from the harsh realities of the real world.
“It’s breathtaking, isn’t it?” Wayne takes the words right out of my mouth.
“It is,” I agree. “I can’t believe I’ll be staying here.”
“Actually…” Wayne pulls around the circular driveway and then continues to drive around to the back of the house, where a series of tiny white cottages sit spread out about fifty yards from the main house. “You and the rest of the staff get your own cottages. They’re fully equipped—sort of like an efficiency apartment. They’re quite nice.”
I like the idea of having my own space to be alone with my thoughts and just read. I do have one lingering question, though. “What about our clients? Where will they be staying?”
He parks the car and cuts the ignition. “The clients stay in the main house, where myself and our head nurse, Timothy, will be as well. We like to keep our eyes on them, and Timothy is quite strong, which comes in handy if a client gets out of hand.”
“It’s good that you have him.”
“It is, but I want to assure you we take staff and client safety very seriously here at Serenity, and have never had an issue with any of our clients behaving in a violent manner. Most are affluent members of society—some are even celebrities.”
I raise my eyebrows. Celebrities? I thought the secluded surroundings were just to provide a tranquil atmosphere, but now it makes sense. The lush greenery also helps keep the prying eyes of the paparazzi out. I wasn’t even allowed to know the location of the treatment center until I formally accepted the position. The physical address was never listed on any of the informational paperwork I received. “Do many celebrities come here?”
Wayne pauses for a moment and then nods his head. “From time to time.”
“Do they receive any special privileges?”
“No. They are treated just like everyone else. We hold group sessions as well as some private ones to maintain a level of privacy for all our clients. Some of the issues they may need our help working through are very private, so we don’t begrudge them, or anyone else, of that confidentiality. We don’t want to hinder their recovery process.”
I nod. “That’s understandable.”
Wayne smiles, his perfectly white teeth on full display. “I think you’ll fit in nicely here, Ms. Mead.”
“Frannie, please, I insist, and thank you for that vote of confidence. I’m really excited to be a part of the team here. I’m ready to help make an impact on people’s lives.”
“I’m glad to hear that, Frannie.” 
After Wayne helps me from the car and collects my bag from the trunk, I follow him down the cobblestone path toward one of the cottages. Fresh spring flowers line the walkway, and I inhale deeply taking in their floral scent along with the crisp air. I’ve never been one to covet country living, but I can see how living among beauty like this would be appealing to some.
The  closer we get to the cottage, I notice how close it is to a beautiful, lush garden. A huge fountain sits in the middle, water spilling from a female statue’s bucket. Four benches surround it, each spaced equally apart. It’s breathtaking—like something that belongs in some grand park somewhere for the masses to enjoy, instead of just a few select individuals.
Wayne steps up onto the small concrete stoop of the cottage and watches as I study the garden intently. “I thought you’d enjoy that. I chose this cottage for you since it was right next door to it.”
“It’s wonderful,” I gush.
Wayne smiles, clearly pleased that I’m so ecstatic about his choice. “If you like that, wait until you have a look inside.”
Curious as to what could be any better than this, I follow him inside, and my breath immediately catches. This small little house must have been a decorator’s wet dream to design. Everything in the places exudes softness and serenity, down to its overstuffed cream colored couch and bedding, both with soft teal accents. It’s very fitting considering the name of this facility.
I resist the urge to jump on the bed and test its softness in front of Wayne, choosing instead to walk around the room. A small kitchen area sits along the back wall, and a couch with an entertainment area separates the living room from the bedroom. I push open one of the doors next to the bed to reveal a decent size walk-in closet, and the second door hides the full bathroom complete with claw-foot tub.
I think I’ve died and gone to my own personal heaven.
Wayne clears his throat behind me, and I turn to find him holding out a key. “Dinner is served promptly at seven in the main house, and I would be delighted to show you around the grounds afterwards—while we still have plenty of light.”
I pinch the small piece of metal between my fingers, delighted. “That would be great. Thank you.”
A huge smile overtakes Wayne’s face, even reaching his dark brown eyes. “I’ll leave you to unpack. See you at seven.”
The moment the door shuts behind him, I do the thing I’ve been itching to do since I walked in—I run and jump on the bed, immediately sinking into the thick down comforter.
I shove my loose strands of brown hair out of my face and sigh. “What a start to a new life.”
Two years ago, I would never have seen myself here, in this moment. Especially with both a degree and a job that I’m excited about. Annie would be proud; I know it.
After unpacking all my things, I glance up at the clock that’s hanging on the wall. It’s only a little after six, so I still have some time to poke around the place before dinner. I move to grab my purse but decide to tuck it into the closet for safe keeping instead. Since there’s not a pocket to be found anywhere on the sundress I’m wearing, I slip the key into my bra for safekeeping. 
I step out on the small stoop and take care to lock my door carefully behind me before continuing up the stone path toward the main house. The silence of the natural surroundings is only disturbed when birds chirp in a gleeful chorus. I can’t remember the last time I was, or even if I ever have been, in a place so away from civilization that there’s absolutely no intrusion on the sounds of nature, but it’s delightful.
When I finally make it to the house, I step up onto the back porch. Its grand two-story pillars really give a regal appeal to the place. As I turn to walk to the front of the house, a door behind me opens.
A petite blonde, wearing a white skirt and pale yellow polo shirt, comes bouncing out the door with earbuds in her ears, humming along to a song on the radio.
The moment she spots me, she yanks the cord on her earbuds, popping them out, and grins. “You must be Dr. Mead. I’m Kimmy, the housekeeper. It’s so nice to finally have another woman on the staff around here.”
I extend a hand out to her. “Please, call me Frannie.”
“Oh my gracious, that’s an adorable name,” she says, and her heavy country accent makes me smile. “Well, Frannie, I hope you like your cottage. Dr. Shepherd allowed me to decorate it for you.”
 “Wow, I’m impressed. I love the design of the place. Did you put the entire color scheme together?”
Kimmy nods enthusiastically. “I did. It’s my dream to be an interior decorator one day. I’ve been taking some online classes because there are no schools close by that specialize in that. I can’t afford to make the drive every day to one of the bigger cities, and I for damn sure can’t afford to live there, so online will have to do until I can save enough money to move.”
I study the young woman. She can’t be more than twenty, and yet, she clearly knows what she wants to do with her life and is already on a serious path to getting it. I’m envious of her, wishing I’d had her drive at that age.
“That sounds like a terrific plan.” I strain my neck to peek around the side of the house. “Which is the best way to get into the house? The back?”
Kimmy stuffs her phone and earbuds into the pocket of her skirt. “Come on, I’ll show you around. I bet you’re pretty anxious to meet everyone and get settled.”
“That would be lovely.” I follow her back through the door she just came out of, and we enter into a large library.
The grand ambiance that encircles the outside of the place doesn’t shy away from the inside one bit. Large wooden bookcases stretch along the back wall from floor to ceiling; every spare inch of the shelves filled with books. I take a deep breath and give myself another pep talk about maintaining my professionalism and not going absolutely gah-gah in front of this young woman. She might not understand my obsession with the written word.
Kimmy catches me staring and laughs. “It’s a lot of books, right? I’d never seen so many in all my life—not even in the libraries I’ve been in. Our towns around here can’t afford anything so extreme. We’re lucky to have three bookcases for the whole place—for every kind of book.”
“That’s a shame,” I tsk. “There’s nothing like getting lost in a fantastic story. No one on earth should be deprived of that.”
“I agree.” Wayne’s smooth voice coats the room, jerking my attention to him. “Sorry, ladies, I didn’t mean to intrude, but I was passing by and overheard your last statement, and I couldn’t help but get excited right along with you. It’s a shame that small towns like this get deprived of a decent library.” Wayne turns to direct his attention to Kimmy. “Since I’ve caught you, do you mind preparing a room in the men’s wing? I’ve just received an urgent request for program enrollment, and our new client will be arriving tomorrow.”
She folds her hands in front of her and nods, almost giving off the impression of a slight curtsy, saying, “Right away, Dr. Shepherd,” before she hustles out of the room.
I stare after her, and Wayne catches my attention when he speaks. “Bright girl.”
“She is,” I quickly agree.
“You don’t find many employees like her nowadays; smart, kind, and obedient. She follows every rule I set here to a ‘T.’”
My mind drifts back to all the previous jobs I’ve held and how many times I’d screwed off—cutting corners and sneaking time off when I could. I was definitely not the model employee that Kimmy appears to be. Wayne’s probably right. Finding someone like her is very much like finding a diamond in the rough.
“I trust you found your living quarters agreeable?” Wayne walks over to the bookcase and rearranges a couple of books on the shelf, like he couldn’t stand them being out of order. “If you have any additional requirements, please let Kimmy know. She can arrange to get anything you may need.”
“Really, Wayne, everything is perfect,” I reassure him.
He turns to me and extends his elbow to me, reminding me of an old movie, where the classic hero, dressed in a perfectly tailored suit, escorts the heroine around. I’ve always been infatuated with the idea of finding a classy man like that.
I hook my arm in his and allow him to lead me through the door of the library into the main hall of the house. Deep mahogany wood covers the floor, while the crisp white walls lighten the entire space. Black and white portraits of different people are spaced evenly apart and one photo of a young woman with long dark hair catches my attention. Although I can’t see her face, the sag in her shoulders and the slight tilt of her head as she stares at a vacant field tells me she’s unbelievably sad.
“That’s one of my favorites. There’s just something about her body language that draws me in and makes me wonder what she’s thinking.”
I nod in agreement. “Yes.”
“I believe hanging photos that represent the possible feelings of our clients shows them that they aren’t alone—that everyone feels sad from time to time. You’ll find that we have them all over the main house.”
From there, Wayne continues the tour through the front parlor and then on to the kitchen, where a heavy-set woman with a deep tan and dark hair pulled up under a hairnet is buzzing around. Her tiny button nose compliments her dark brown eyes which are currently fixed on the cake she’s decorating. With a few swift motions of her hand, she creates a tiny red rose and then attaches it to the cake.
“That’s amazing. I’ve always wanted to do that,” I say.
The woman glances up and smiles. “Thank you. My mother taught me.”
“Dr. Mead, this is Sue, our head chef here at Serenity, and the best baker I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting,” Wayne introduces us.
I release my arm from Wayne’s and begin to extend it toward her, but remember that she’s cooking and think better of it. “It’s nice to meet you, Sue.”
“You, too, Dr. Mead.”
“What’s on the menu tonight, Sue?” Wayne asks.
“Steak with mashed potatoes and green beans, and of course, chocolate cake for dessert,” Sue answers.
“Sounds fantastic. I’m looking forward to it.” Wayne turns to me and extends his elbow again. “Shall we?”
Wayne sweeps his arm toward the door on the other side of the kitchen. Before I follow his direction.
“Aloha, Dr. Mead,” Sue replies, alerting me to the fact that she’s of Hawaiian descent.
We move into an elegant dining room with a table that appears big enough to seat twenty. A grand fireplace sits off to the left side of the table, and it’s tall enough for me to walk into, if I wanted. The place settings have been arranged like something from a fine restaurant.
“This is impressive,” I tell Wayne. “I would never have pictured all this for…”
I don’t finish my thought because I don’t want say the wrong thing and offend Wayne.
“A rehab facility?” He lifts an eyebrow and grins.
I shrug. “Yes. I mean, this setup could rival some of the best restaurants in the world.”
“Thank you. We pride ourselves on making sure our clients are well taken care of. When they come here to detox, it’s not the most pleasant thing to go through, but we try to comfort them by making things nice, allowing them only positive things to focus on while they are here.”
Wayne pulls out a chair to the right of the head of the table. “Please, sit. The clients will all be here shortly, and we can get started with introductions.”
A few moments later, the sound of laughter comes rolling in from outside the room. It’s not exactly the mood I expected from a group of people struggling from an array of addiction issues. The first person through the door is a tall, statuesque blonde, with a model face and legs to die for. Everything about her, from her boobs to her eyebrows, couldn’t be more perfect if they were drawn on. Second to arrive is a very handsome man with a broad frame and blond spiky hair. The two of them are smiling, and it makes me think they are the ones I heard laughing just moments ago. Behind them follows a short, balding man with a beer belly who doesn’t appear quite as jovial as the two who preceded him. A few more women and men follow in after that, and each and every one of their curious eyes land on me; wondering who I am and what I’m doing here, I’m sure.
Wayne stands as the new group joins us at the table, each taking a seat. “By the sounds of it, it appears you all enjoyed your day out.”
“Oh, we did,” the blonde says, and then directs her attention to the spiky haired man who came in with her. “Randall ensured we all had a great time.”
Randall stiffens his back and directs his gaze at Wayne. “Everyone had fun at the fair and was on their best behavior. It was a nice change of pace to get out of here for a while.”
“Good, good,” Wayne praises before turning to me. “This is Randall, our activities director.”
I return the smile that Randall shoots me with one of my own, as I’m ecstatic to meet another one of my new co-workers.
Wayne clears his throat and addresses everyone who is now seated at the table. “I’m sure you’re all curious as to the new face in the room. This is Dr. Francine Mead. She’s the new addiction therapist here at Serenity and will be meeting with some of you individually and hopefully develop a relationship whereby she can assist you with your recovery process. I’ll ask that each one of you show her the same respect that you show me.”
Everyone around the table listens to Wayne intently and they nod in all the appropriate places.
The blonde is the first to speak. I can already tell she is the type of woman who is used to having all the attention in the room. “It’s nice to meet you, Dr. Mead. I’m Josie Sullivan. You might’ve heard of me? I had a hit single called ‘Working on a Star’ a couple of years ago.”
My lips pull into a tight line as I root through the limited pop music catalog I have listed in my head. I haven’t had time for much more than studying and spending my time with men. Keeping up on the latest top forty hits hasn’t been exactly high on my priority list. I primarily only listen to alternative music.
I grimace. “I’m not much of a music lover, but I’m sure it’s a lovely song.”
Her expression borders on shock and confusion and then she turns to Randall. “Where did Dr. Shepherd find this one? Under a rock?”
“Josie,” Wayne warns. “Please refrain from insulting the staff. You, better than anyone else, know the rules at Serenity.”
Josie nods quickly, and I get the feeling this isn’t her first visit to Serenity. “I’m sorry, Dr. Shepherd. It won’t happen again.”
“Good.” Wayne unfolds the pressed cloth napkin at his place setting and uses it to cover his lap just as Sue comes into the dining room, pushing a small metal cart with a huge bowl on it. “What kind of soup do we have today?”
“It’s a chilled strawberry. I think you’ll like it,” Sue replies as she begins to ladle a portion into each person’s bowl.
The moment the spoon touches my lips and I sip its contents, I fight back the urge to moan. “This is spectacular, Sue.”
She smiles at me. “Thank you, Dr. Mead.”
The rest of the dinner goes on with small talk taking place between the clients while Wayne interjects every now and then. I learn that most of them have been here for quite some time and were very comfortable stating what they are addicted to, talking very candidly about it.
After it’s all over, Wayne escorts me back to my cottage, and I’m still reeling at how open the clients are. “They all seemed to have made wonderful progress. I’m simply amazed at how open they are about their addictions. That’s always the first step, admitting they have a problem, but then to be able to talk about it so freely and share their struggles is above and beyond.”
Wayne nods. “They don’t come here that way, let me assure you. Most come here headstrong and reluctant, adamant they don’t have a problem, and that everyone else is just too uptight or meddling in their business, so it takes time for them to come around. We hold a lot of group sessions, encouraging that openness. Eventually, they become more comfortable sharing with us and others around them. Unfortunately, most of their support systems at home hinder more than help their recovery, and more often than not, we end up seeing them back here.”
“That’s a shame—to see all that progress wasted.”
He sighs. “It is. I always have to remind myself that we can only do so much here. Ultimately, it’s up to them to remain clean and sober with a positive outlook, and remain open about their feelings and their struggles to those around them.”
We arrive at my stoop and I pull the key from my bra. Wayne raises his eyebrows and I merely shrug. “No pockets.”
He laughs. “I see.”
Once I unlock the door, I turn to him and say, “Thank you for walking me. What time do you want me to start work tomorrow?”
“Eight sharp. We have a new client coming in the morning, and I would like to go over his case file with you before he arrives. Everything we have on the clients is electronic. I’ll email your password to access the system so you can look over it at your leisure. I would like for you to take the lead with this one, but I’ll be here to help you in any way I can.”
I lift my chin, proud that he trusts that I’m ready to jump right into the fire and counsel the new client. “Sounds great. I’ll wait for your email.”
“I’ll send it over as soon as I get back to my office. Goodnight, Frannie.”
The rest of the evening, I wait on Wayne’s email. When I hear the familiar ding of a new message while brushing my teeth, I finish up and rush to the open laptop on my bed to check it.
It contains all the proper passwords and links to access all the clients’ files, as well as the information on the client we are expecting tomorrow.
Tyke Douglas, the bass player for the rock band, Black Falcon, will be arriving via private transportation tomorrow morning. Tyke has been enrolled by his twin brother, Trip, with Tyke’s permission. The client has had two DUIs in the past year, and reportedly has issues with prescription and recreational drugs as well.
I tap my bottom lip, curious about the guy, wanting to know more than the small report on the client tells me. I quickly minimize the screen and pull up Google, typing Mr. Douglas’ name into the search engine along with his band’s name. Within seconds, mug shots pop up on my screen, along with the tabloid reports on the downward spiral of Black Falcon. I flip through more photos and come across one where his eyes are closed as he strums a guitar while wearing a sleeveless shirt, displaying his vast array of tattoos perfectly. While his body appears to be absolutely banging, I’m stuck on the sadness on his face—like he’s completely lost in the song he’s playing.
I click on the biography link listed for Mr. Douglas, but it shows a combined history for both him and his twin brother.

TRIP DOUGLAS BIO

■Character Name: Trip Douglas
■Birth Date: October 14th
■Place of Birth: Ashland, Kentucky
■Current Residence: Paintsville, Kentucky
■Height: 6’1”
■Weight: 195
■Hair Color: Black
■Hair Length: Short
■Eye Color: Green
■Tattoos: Sleeves on both arms, back, and chest
■Educational History: High School graduate
■Work History: Drummer of Black Falcon
■Quirks: Wears bandanna on his head, an identical twin
■Key Adult Experiences: Achieving musical fame


Trip Douglas (born October 14th), is the drummer for the American heavy metal band Black Falcon. Best known for being the crazier of the two Douglas Twins, Trip’s triple-thumping foot pedal sound has become one of the band’s trademarks.
Alongside his twin brother, Tyke, Trip began playing instruments under the guidance of his musician father, but his interest in playing in a band grew once he discovered his love for hard rock music. He joined a band called Dingy while in high school with his brother Tyke and his best friend, Zachary ‘Riff’ Oliver. Later, the band was renamed to Black Falcon after the addition of the band’s new front man, Noel Falcon.
Trip also enjoys extreme spots, such as dirt bike riding, rock climbing, and sky diving—making him the most adventurous member of the band. His dream is to one day climb Mount Everest.

TYKE DOUGLAS BIO:
■Character Name: Tyke Douglas
■Birth Date: October 14th
■Place of Birth: Ashland, Kentucky
■Current Residence: Paintsville, Kentucky
■Height: 6’1”
■Weight: 190
■Hair Color: Blond
■Hair Length: Shaggy
■Eye Color: Green
■Tattoos: Sleeves on both arms, back, and chest
■Educational History: High School graduate
■Work History: Bassist of Black Falcon
■Quirks: Frequently wears sunglasses, loves organization, an identical twin
■Key Adult Experiences: Achieving musical fame

Tyke Douglas (born October 14th), is the bassist for the American heavy metal band Black Falcon. Best known for being a key songwriter for the band, Tyke’s obsession with detail always seems to push the songs to a level of perfection rarely achieved by other bands.
Tyke also enjoys the arts, attending gallery openings and poetry events whenever his schedule allows—making him the most cultured member of the band. His dream to one day branch out and share his other artistic abilities with the world is something he hopes to accomplish in the very near future. 
Combined Bios:
Trip and Tyke began playing instruments under the guidance of their musician father, but their interest in playing in a band grew once they discovered a mutual love for hard rock music. They joined a band called Dingy while in high school, accompanied by their best friend, Zachary ‘Riff’ Oliver. Later the band was renamed Black Falcon after the addition of the band’s new front man, Noel Falcon.
The band’s first record, Hell in a Hand Basket, went double platinum, making Black Falcon a force to be reckoned with. They’ve released two additional albums since then, and their latest single, “Ball Busting Bitch” is currently on Billboard’s Top 40.
They currently reside in Kentucky, near their other band mates.
As I read through his bio, I can’t help but notice how Tyke Douglas is consistently lumped in with his brother, as opposed to giving him his own identity. Being a twin myself, I can totally relate to this issue. It’s all too easy for people to see you as the same person as your twin. It’s what happened with Annie and me.
I flip through the rest of the links, studying more pictures of Tyke. He’s very easy on the eyes with his tall frame, tan complexion, and light hair. Even though he and Trip are twins, their hair sets them apart, making it very easy to tell the difference between them. The more I stare at the man on my screen, the more addicted I become to his profile. He’s devastatingly handsome, and the thought of how attracted I am to just his mere picture scares the shit out of me.
How am I ever supposed to concentrate on helping this man when he’s my own personal brand of tattooed man-flavored candy? This will prove to be a very difficult task, for sure. The best I can hope for is to find that he’s simply photogenic and absolutely hideous in person.
I close my laptop and set it on my nightstand before I tug my glasses from my face and set them on top of it. I double-check my alarm clock and then snuggle down in my bed after offering up a little prayer that I’ll be able to contain myself tomorrow. If Tyke is the stereotypical bad-boy rocker that he appears to be, I’ll need all the help I can get to keep from jumping his bones and jeopardizing the job I’ve worked so hard to get.