“Wait,” Koty said. He trailed behind her, the towel slipping from his waist. Clasping it to his hips, he stood in the middle of the room. “What if I just pay him back?”
Jett wrinkled her nose. “That’s ridiculous.” She stood with her hands on her hips, an eyebrow arched.
“Why?” Koty bent in front of his dresser and began pulling out clothing. “I give him the money that you owe him, and he goes away.”
She shook her head. “It’s not that simple.” He was already paying for their condo and groceries. Technically, it was money that he would probably never use if they hadn’t moved to Boston. The most expensive thing about his New York apartment had been the furniture—one of the only signs of exactly how rich he was. He could have bought a house in Beverly Hills, if he’d wanted to.
“Why?” he asked again. He tossed jeans and a T-shirt onto his bed. He stood, watching her, the towel hitched around his waist.
She swallowed hard and looked away. “I don’t want your money.” She smiled. “I want a band. Let me figure this out.” Turning, she trotted across the hall and went into her own bedroom. She closed the door and locked it behind her. Her heart pounded in her chest.
Memories flashed through her mind. Every time she and Koty had hooked up played for her on fast-forward. She saw him pressing his body to hers, pinning her to the brick facade of a building. Every atom of her being tingled. If she reached out, she could run her fingers through his hair, drawing him closer, pressing his mouth to hers.
Taking a deep breath, she shook the memories away. Her thoughts buzzed through her head like static on an out-of-range radio station. Anxiety bounced through her. The muscles in her neck and shoulders tensed. Fingers curling, she wished that she could have a drink.
She swallowed hard. “No, girl,” she whispered to herself. She needed to come up with a plan immediately and show Koty that he didn’t have to keep rescuing her with his savings. Padding into the bathroom, she shed her clothing. Then she turned on the faucet.
Water rushed into the bathtub. She plugged the drain and shook in some bath salts. The scent of peppermint and orange filled her nose, soothing her frazzled nerves. She closed and locked the bathroom door behind her. She didn’t have to worry about Koty barging in on her, but the extra security of locks always helped her to relax even more. She had probably lived in New York for too long. Though Boston was another large city, it felt a lot safer. Flowers bloomed out of planters throughout the city. Hardly any trash combed the gutters. She had seen a few drunks, but no one tried to grab her while walking through the streets. Still, habit was habit. She left the door locked.
Stepping into the tub, she eased into the warm water. The scent of the bath salts enveloped her. Steam rose into the air. Resting her head against a foam bath pillow, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Focusing on her breathing, she let herself leave the drama of the morning behind. Slowly, she felt her mind begin to clear. Then, she began focusing on the sensations of her body.
She concentrated on the tingling pleasure of the warm water soaking into her skin. Retrieving her bath sponge, she focused on the sensation of it gliding over her arms and legs. The constant narration that usually thrummed through her thoughts quieted, then stilled. She slid deeper into tranquility, skin tingling as she settled into an almost sedative calm. When she finished bathing, she had the answer.
Toweling off, excitement thrummed through her body. She dried her hair quickly, then moved into her bedroom. Pulling on leggings, a T-shirt, and her favorite pair of boots, she studied her reflection in the full-length mirror. She lifted her chin. She looked like someone who knew what she was doing.
Jett grabbed her phone from the bed then pounded down the stairs, a smile spreading across her face. It was ironic. Less than two hours earlier, she had been thinking of quitting music. As she reached the living room, the scent of coffee reached her nostrils. Her smile widened.
Koty stood at the counter, a mug of coffee in each hand. Steam rose from their single-serve coffee machine. He carried the mugs to their little round dining table and set them down.
She held her phone in the air. “Where’s the list of the people who auditioned?” She glanced around the living room.
Koty looked around, too. He pointed at the coffee table.
Skirting an amplifier, Jett strode into the living room. She plucked a notebook from the coffee table and leafed through its pages. While auditioning, she had made everyone leave their phone numbers and home addresses. At the time, Koty had suggested that they probably didn’t need to know where people lived. She was glad she had thought of it, though. Musicians in the Boston area were much more likely to be available for a show three weeks out.
Scanning through the names, Jett’s smile dissolved. Based on her notes, she hadn’t been too impressed with anyone. Each person auditioning had been horribly amateur. She wondered if any of them had ever played in a professional band before. Her shoulders slumped.
“What is it?” Koty asked. He stood next to her, his shoulder brushing hers.
Jerking away from him as if he were on fire, she pointed to her notes. “I don’t want any of these people in my band.”
“Our band,” he corrected her.
“Right.” She nodded. “Do you remember any of these people?”
He leaned closer, studying the names on the sheet of paper. Her body tensed, feeling the energy from his so close to her. “I thought she was pretty good on bass.” He pointed to a name.
Jett sighed. She went over to the dining table and lifted a mug of coffee. Taking a sip, she used the moment to think. “I wasn’t impressed.”
Koty joined her at the table. “Didn’t you think her ability to play by ear was pretty amazing?”
“She couldn’t read music.” Jett waved a hand at him. “She gave me an attitude when I asked her to.”
Koty tilted his head to the side. “I think she was just upset that you didn’t think she was good enough. She went to Juilliard.”
Jett snorted. “Then what is she doing in Boston?” She riffled through the pages.
He put a hand on the notebook. “Stop. I remember that guy. We both agreed that he was good on drums.”
She sighed. “I guess.”
“Why don’t you just call a few of the people that were maybes and have them come in for a second audition?” He took a sip of his coffee.
Rolling her eyes, Jett put the notebook down. “None of them were maybes,” she grumbled. She unlocked her phone, though, and began dialing.
Two cups of coffee later, she had left four voicemails and had spoken to two musicians who were already working with other bands. Defeated, she slumped forward. She rested her head on the cool wood of the table. “We’re going to have to hold another audition,” she said, her voice muffled against the table.
“Wait,” Koty said.
She lifted her head. “What?”
He flipped through the notebook. “Why don’t we give some other people a shot?”
Jett laughed. “Who else is there? All of them were terrible.”
“No,” he said. “You’re just too picky. I get it, Jett. You had a really tight band with Perpetual Smile. Those things don’t happen automatically, though.”
She yanked the notebook out of his grasp. “Yes, because you’re an expert on building professional bands.” The words came out harsher than she intended. She peeked up at him through sooty lashes.
“I was good at it in high school.” He shrugged, flashing her a grin. His blue eyes glinted in the early morning light.
Sliding the notebook back to him, she shook her head. “Fine. Tell me who you think makes a good second choice.” She lifted her mug, then swore. Pushing her chair back, she ambled toward the coffee maker.
“You’ve been drinking a lot of coffee this morning,” he remarked.
She glanced over at him. He sat bent over the notebook. His shoulders were tense, though. “I’m good,” she said. Popping a K-cup into the machine, she slid her mug underneath the spout.
“Okay,” he said, after a moment. “Try these three.”
“Three?” She joined him at the table. On a fresh page of the notebook, he had written down three names and their contact information. “What if this is a total waste of time?”
“Stop being so negative,” he said. He handed her phone to her. “Call them.” Standing, he took his mug to the sink.
“Sure, boss.” She resisted the urge to throw a salt shaker at him. Sighing, she sat back down. She punched in the first phone number on Koty’s list. Pressing the phone to her ear, she took a deep breath. It rang.
Koty set a full mug in front of her.
“Thank you,” she mouthed. The line continued ringing. Frowning, Jett took a sip of coffee. She let it ring three more times, then she hung up.
“No answer?” Koty asked. She shook her head. “Try the next one.” He leaned over her, one hand planted on the table. Lightly toned muscles bulged from his arms.
Trembling on the inside, she averted her eyes. Koty was all she had in the world. If she let herself get distracted by him, there would be no one left. She dialed the second number. Her heart slammed in her chest. It rang once, then twice. Then the call went to voicemail, where a computerized woman’s voice told her that the inbox was full. Scowling, she hung up. “What do I have to do, show up at these people’s houses?”
“Well,” Koty said, nudging her gently, “it’s not a bad idea.”
“Isn’t that illegal?” She dialed the third phone number. It rang twice, then went to voicemail. A computerized voice informed her that the subscriber hadn’t set up his voicemail box yet. Jett slammed her phone down.
“Come on,” Koty said. He strode toward the front door. “Let’s go visit these people.”
Pushing her chair back, she held up a hand. “That’s crazy.”
He shrugged into his jacket. Leather creaked as it stretched across his broad back and muscular arms.
She sighed and joined him at the door, the notebook tucked under her arm. Donning her own leather jacket, she followed him out into the cool March morning. Cars sat parked along the brick row houses. Most people were already on their way to work. Jett wondered what it would be like to get up at five in the morning and drive to an office somewhere in the city. If she weren’t a musician, she mused, she would probably have to get up even earlier to manage her father’s bakery. She smiled at the thought of hot rolls fresh from the oven, spread with melting butter and sprinkled with cinnamon. Her mouth watered.
“What are you thinking about?” Koty asked.
They stood in front of the only brownstone with its porch light still on. She glanced up at the dark windows. “I’m wondering what kind of hot mama lives in there.”
He snorted. “You’re wild.”
She shrugged and led him to the T station.
They had rented a car during their first few weeks in town. It was expensive, though, and Jett made Koty return it. There was no sense in wasting his money on something they didn’t actually need. Riding the T was faster, anyway, and almost always interesting. She was surprised that they hadn’t found the musicians they were looking for in other passengers.
Koty joined her and, together, they boarded. He sat by her side. As his thigh touched hers, she felt her cheeks grow warm. She forced herself to stare out of the window.
“Where does this guy live?” Koty asked.
“Not far, actually.” She still didn’t know Boston very well, but according to her phone, it wasn’t hard to find. She wished that her GPS labeled neighborhoods. In New York, even if she didn’t have a phone or map, the layout was simple. The streets ran north and south, east and west. Everything was divided into neat little squares. She could get anywhere she needed to go on her own two feet. She had never taken a cab—until Simon 1056 signed Perpetual Smile and started sending SUVs and limousines with full bars. She snorted.
“Now what?” Koty tilted his head at her.
“I was just thinking that it’s no wonder Simon 1056 went under.” She settled into her seat, eyes still gazing out of the window.
“Why are you even thinking about them?” He nudged her with his knee, and fireworks exploded across her skin.
He would never get it, she realized. As the face of the boy band ESX, he had stopped working for what he wanted. With Perpetual Smile, she hadn’t so much as slowed down. It didn’t matter that both of their record labels had treated them like stars, sending limos and catering their shows. ESX had been an easy ticket into the music industry for Koty. She wondered if once things got rolling with South of Forever, the pressure would be too much for him to handle. Then again, she surmised, maybe he was right and she needed to think more positively.
When they arrived at their stop, she hopped out after Koty and pointed in the direction they needed to go. A short walk and a couple of right turns later, they stood in front of the address the bassist had given her.
She gaped around her. Her boots crunched on syringes and her eyes grazed peeling paint. Most of the windows were boarded, and the top floor and roof looked as if it had burned sometime recently.
“This can’t be it,” Koty said.
“Unless he’s a squatter.” She marched up the steps. Fist raised, she pounded on the door. “Police. Open up.”
Koty gaped at her.
Pressing her lips together to keep from laughing, she shrugged. She banged on the door again.
It creaked open. A man with deep brown skin poked his head out. Long dreads wound around the crown of his head in a giant bun. He clenched a cigarette in one corner of his mouth. “You don’t look like the police.”
“Just the fashion police.” She nodded at his ratty bathrobe. “Do you wear that to shows, or just around the house?”
“Hey, I know you,” he said. He moved aside and motioned for them to come in.
Shrugging, Jett followed him.
Koty came in behind her, whistling as they took in the living room. Stacks of empty pizza boxes lined the walls. The windows were boarded and curtained. A single lamp shone in the corner of the room. On an upside down milk crate, a cigarette burned in an ashtray. The carpet smelled like freshly spilled whiskey.
The sharp scent of the alcohol burned Jett’s nostrils. She inhaled through her mouth, wishing she had stopped at a Starbucks or something on the way over. Gritting her teeth, she dug her pack of cigarettes out of the pocket of her jacket. She nodded at the bassist. “Perry, right?”
He nodded. Sitting cross-legged next to the milk crate, he retrieved his cigarette from the ashtray. “What can I do for you, gorgeous?” His smooth baritone sent warm shivers down Jett’s spine.
She lit a cigarette and sat across from him. “I tried calling you.”
Perry nodded toward a dark hallway. “My phone must be in my bedroom.” He put the cigarette back in the ashtray. Tilting his head, he gave her a sly grin. “You came all the way here to tell me that?”
“I’m looking for a bassist,” she said, tapping ash from her cigarette.
“I got that impression during auditions.” Perry patted the threadbare pockets of his bathrobe and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. With the cigarette in the ashtray still burning, he lit another one.
Jett rolled her eyes. “Are you interested?”
He leaned forward. “Are you single?”
Koty cleared his throat. “She’s not looking.” He stood behind Jett. She glanced over her shoulder. He stood with his arms crossed. He glared at Perry.
Smirking, Jett watched the exchange. She had never seen Koty so protective before. Maybe he wasn’t as over her as he seemed. It was always so hard to tell with him.
Perry turned his gaze to Koty. “Are you interested?” His brown eyes glinted.
Even from two feet away, she could smell the booze on his breath. She sighed. “Do you want to join the band or not?”
Shaking his head, Perry put his second cigarette in the ashtray. The smoke from both cigarettes rose into the air, curling into one trail. "No."
“Why not?” Jett took another drag and blew smoke out of the corner of her mouth. “You seemed pretty interested during your audition.”
Perry grinned. “I was mostly interested in you.”
“Cut the shit,” Koty said. He took a step toward Perry.
“Do you know who I am?” the other man asked.
Jett’s eyes narrowed. “Are you threatening us?” She lurched to her feet. Jabbing the cigarette at the air in front of him, she curled her lip at Perry.
He lifted a hand. “It was an actual question.” He snubbed out the shorter cigarette and took a drag from his more recent one.
Koty put a hand on Jett’s arm. “He’s just a drunk. Let’s go.”
Jett’s shoulders slumped. She should have known the second that she walked in the door. Shaking her head, she moved toward the exit.
“Wait,” Perry called after her.
She turned. “If you’re only interested in playing games,” she said, “you’re wasting my time.”
“Have you ever heard of King Riley?” Perry climbed to his feet. His bathrobe slipped open, revealing a T-shirt bearing the words in plain gold font. He jerked a thumb toward his chest.
Jett twisted her lips to the side. The name sounded familiar. She took another drag of her cigarette, inhaling slowly to buy herself time. Exhaling tiny O-shaped puffs, she glanced at Koty. The name didn’t seem to ring a bell for him. “Didn’t they open for Perpetual Smile once?”
Perry nodded. “A couple of years ago. So you know them?”
She laughed. “Do you know who I am?” She snubbed out her cigarette in the ashtray. Straightening, she crossed her arms.
Perry gazed at her, eyes bleary. “Should I?”
Taking a deep breath, Jett resisted the urge to walk out. “What does King Riley have to do with you joining South of Forever?” The name of her new band—if she could call it that—rolled off her tongue, liquid and supple. She loved listening to people speak in other languages, but there was nothing like poetry in English.
“I’ve seen your website,” Perry said. “South of Forever is an alternative rock band, with hints of blues and infectious pop hooks.”
Koty yanked open the door. Sunlight streamed into the room. “Congratulations,” he said, “you can read.” He motioned to Jett. “Let’s get out of here.”
She cast Perry an amused glance. “Thanks for wasting my time, asshole.”
“I’m Perry Armstrong, former bassist of King Riley.” He jutted his chin at her.
Blinking, she studied his face closer. “We never met the members of King Riley when we played with them,” she explained to Koty. “They were just opening for us in one city.” She ran a hand through her wavy, dark brown hair. In the last few months, it had grown quite a bit. She had wondered why it stopped growing, but had never connected it with drinking. “I watched them play, though. I always watched our openers.” She examined Perry again, replacing his dingy bathrobe and T-shirt with a fresh shirt and jeans. “You didn’t have the dreads,” she told him.
Perry shook his head. “These are a more recent development.” He patted the top of his head.
“Why didn’t you say who you were during audition?” Jett asked.
“She probably would have made you her first pick,” Koty added. He stood in the doorway, his arms crossed.
Perry frowned. “What does that mean?”
Koty’s bright blue eyes crinkled at Jett.
She turned away from him, heat warming her cheeks. She glanced around the nearly empty apartment again. The lack of furniture suddenly made sense. Without a regular income, Perry probably had to downgrade quite a bit. “Listen, Perry, we have a show in three weeks. Are you with us or what?”
He shook his head. “I’m not doing it.”
Scowling, she threw her hands up in the air. “Why not? I’m offering to make you money within the next three weeks. You should be jumping at this.”
Perry pointed to his T-shirt again. “King Riley describes themselves as a bluesy, radio-friendly band, too.”
“So fucking what?” Jett gritted her teeth. She needed a bassist. Perry had the experience and the grit of the road still clinging to him. She wouldn’t have to spend much time conditioning him for her vision.
“So,” Perry said, “if I join you, South of Forever and King Riley will be rivals forever, end of story. As far as King Riley is concerned, there’s only room for one king in Boston.”
Jett Costa let her eyes open slowly. Gray light stung her retinas. Squinting against the haze, she glanced at the alarm clock on her nightstand and yawned as she read the time. It was only seven in the morning. She should still be sleeping. Groaning, she turned onto her stomach and let herself sink back into the velvety darkness behind her eyes as she tried to remember what she had been dreaming before she woke up. Maybe she’d been having a sexy dream. She snorted. Dreams were the closest she had come to having sex in the last three months. Part of her had hoped that, even though she and Koty had separate bedrooms, the condo they shared would become some kind of sex haven when they moved in together.
Gripping her pillow, she sighed. She was pathetic. She needed to remember that they were better off keeping things platonic. They had way too much work to do to waste time on each other. The band would never take off if they continued going back and forth. Still, sometimes she wished that he would come into her bedroom and crawl into bed with her. Not so long ago, he had pressed his lips to hers in a dark tour bus, back when things were less complicated—before she ruined her entire life.
She had no job. If listening to wannabe musicians carve out her eardrums all day counted as a job, she was in big trouble. She was probably wasting her time—and Koty’s, not to mention his money. They'd been holding auditions for their new band for weeks. Maybe it was time to call it off. She could probably find a job as a music teacher somewhere or, at the very least, a cashier at a record store. Separating for good would probably be the best thing for both her and Koty, she surmised.
She rolled onto her side and grabbed her phone from the nightstand. There was one missed call. Her eyes widened as she read the name on the display. Her heart beat frantically in her chest. She wanted to shut the ringer off and go back to sleep. Knocking herself out would require more Benadryl, though, and it was already 7:10. She wondered where the time was going.
Nibbling on her lower lip, she stared at the phone, unable to believe what she was seeing. It seemed impossible. She hadn’t spoken to Griff in almost five months. He was a part of her old life, and she preferred that it stayed that way. Besides, there was no reason for him to call her—unless he was apologizing for what had happened all those months ago when Perpetual Smile broke up.
She sat up at the thought. Griff had never been slow to admit when he was wrong. It didn’t make sense for him to wait so long to say that he was sorry for what he did. There had to be another reason for him to call.
As she toyed with the idea of calling him back, her phone went off in her hands. Jumping, she nearly dropped it. Griff’s name appeared on the screen. Hands shaking, she accepted the call and pressed the phone to her ear.
She opened her mouth, but no words came out. She had no idea how to answer. Neither a casual “Hey” nor a professional “Jett Costa” seemed right. She sat cross-legged on her bed, mouth hanging open.
“Hello?” Griff said into her ear. He sounded confused. “Anyone there?” Sirens blared in the background, nearly drowning him out.
Jett frowned, wondering where he was. “Yeah,” she said, voice thick with emotion and sleep.
“Jett.” He paused as the sirens flared again. When they died down, he wasted no time on pleasantries. “You’ve really fucked up this time.”
Her eyebrows shot up. Even five months earlier, when she’d deserved it, he had never spoken to her like that. “Excuse me?” She lifted the phone from her ear, double checking the name on the caller ID.
“You heard me.” More sirens whizzed by wherever he was. He raised his voice over the noise. “Either you’re crazy, or there’s something you haven’t told me.”
Jett blinked. “What are you talking about, Griff?” She glanced at the time again. It was too early for him to be drunk or stoned. Besides, it wasn’t like him to pick a fight.
“Don’t play stupid,” he said.
She scowled. “Griff, I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. Why don’t you just tell me?”
“I got an interesting phone call from a guy named Owen around three this morning,” Griff began, sirens drowning out the rest of what he said.
Jett wrinkled her nose. “Where the hell are you?”
“Don’t change the subject.” She heard the flick of a lighter and the sharp inhale as Griff lit a cigarette.
She reached for her own cigarettes. According to the homeowners’ association, she wasn’t supposed to smoke in the condo. She would just have to buy some of those fancy plug-in air fresheners. “Seriously,” she said as she lit her own cigarette, “where are you?”
“Los Angeles,” Griff said. “Are you going to let me finish, or can you fill in the blanks yourself?”
Jett sighed. “I don’t know what your deal is, dude. You’re going to have to spell it out for me.” She tapped ash into a half-empty glass of water.
“Owen says he’s the owner of a bar called the Groggy Frogg. Does that ring a bell?”
Shrugging, Jett took another drag. “Nope.”
“Jesus, Jett,” Griff swore. “Do you owe them a huge tab or something?”
Her mouth dropped open. “Low blow, bro.” Her grip on her phone tightened.
“Well, according to this Owen guy, you scheduled Perpetual Smile last year to play a show there, in three weeks.” Griff sounded smug. It made her want to punch him.
She snorted. “Sounds like a scam. Did you tell him that the band isn’t even together anymore?” She finished her cigarette and dropped it into the water. It sizzled as it went out.
“He said that he paid the band up-front, in cash, for ticket sales. Well, actually, he said he paid you.” Griff’s voice rose as he spoke.
Jett started to tell him that she was done talking to him. Then she froze. “Did he say where this bar supposedly is?”
“Boston,” Griff said. “One of the stops on the tour you got canceled.”
Gritting her teeth, Jett narrowed her eyes. “That’s not fair.”
Griff snorted. “What isn’t fair,” he said, “is that I haven’t seen you in almost six months, and I still keep having to clean up your messes.”
“You don’t get to talk to me like that,” she said. She lit another cigarette. Sliding out of bed, she paced the room. Her mind raced. “What else did this guy say?”
“When I told him that Perpetual Smile broke up, he said he didn’t care. He said that he paid for a show, so he expects a show. Jett, what the hell were you thinking?”
She sighed. “I was thinking that I was almost out of money. I told him that we could sell out the place, and he agreed to send me the money as soon as it did.” She turned and began another circuit around her bedroom. “It was supposed to be a special show. I told him we would play our new album straight through.” She chewed on the inside of her cheek.
At first, Griff said nothing. Several heartbeats passed. Jett paced faster. She cringed, waiting for him to start yelling at her. Finally, he sighed. “The show is supposed to be in three weeks. I tried telling him it’s not going to happen, but he was pretty insistent. You might want to call him.” Without another word, he hung up.
Jett stopped pacing and stared at her phone. The time read 8:15. Sucking in a deep breath, she tossed it onto her bed. Then she burst out of her bedroom and into the hall.
Bare feet pounding on the carpeted floor, she crossed the small landing to Koty’s bedroom.
“Koty,” she called as she marched into the room. She passed a row of guitars and an unmade bed. The door to his bathroom was closed; she could hear the shower running. She called his name again. Without waiting for an answer, she yanked open the bathroom door and stepped inside. She flung the shower curtain open. “We have a problem.”
Koty turned, fingers massaging shampoo into his hair. Frozen in place, he gaped at her. Soap ran down his chiseled torso and thighs in rivulets. For a moment, he just stared at her. “Don’t you knock?”
“I did,” she said. Her eyes followed the soap streaming down his body. It’d been months since she'd even seen him naked. She gazed at his anatomy. Her eyes remained riveted to the hardening ridge between his legs. Warmth pooled in her belly. Her fingers twitched. Swallowing hard, she resisted the urge to reach out and touch him.
“I’m naked,” he said.
She jerked her gaze back to his face. Forcing herself to focus, she waved a hand. “So what? Listen, we need to get a band together, pronto.”
“Isn’t that what we’ve been doing?” He dipped his head under the stream of water, rinsing his black hair.
Her breath caught in her throat. For a moment, she wondered what would happen if she shed the T-shirt she had worn to bed and climbed into the shower with him. Her feet remained rooted to the floor, though. She needed to stay professional. Let him make the first move, if the time came. “Sort of,” she said, thinking of the last few open auditions they’d sat through. “We need to do it faster, though.” Taking a deep breath, she plunged forward. "I sort of scheduled a show that I forgot about. We need a band ASAP. I can’t get out of it. I already spent all of the money they paid me." She swallowed hard.
He lifted an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. Lathering up a bar of soap, Koty began washing his body. Hot water and soap sluiced down his arms, legs, and back. “We could have a band by now,” he said, “if you weren’t so picky.”
She narrowed her eyes. “You were at the sessions. You heard how bad they all were.” She put her hands on her hips.
“You’re too critical.” He put the bar of soap on the ledge of the tub and rinsed off. Water sprayed Jett, wetting her T-shirt. She remained frozen in her spot, the shower curtain clutched in one hand. “Can I finish my shower in peace?”
Jett tightened her grip on the shower curtain. “No,” she said. “We need to figure out what we’re doing.”
Koty took a deep breath. He locked his blue eyes on her brown ones. Jett’s thighs clenched. She swallowed hard and forced herself to meet his gaze. “Do you know what you should be doing right now?” he asked.
She shrugged. “Buying myself a vibrator?” she mumbled.
“You should be getting ready for practice tonight.” He squirted face wash into the palm of his hand and massaged it into his face. His fingers grazed the light beard he had grown. Electricity rocketed through Jett.
Taking a deep breath, she shook her head. “What’s the point of practicing?” She threw up her hands. “We need a band, Koty.”
“We won’t be able to play any shows if we lose our edge,” he said. He stepped under the stream of water once more. Turning in a slow circle, he rinsed off completely, giving her a 360-degree view of his body.
“I hate you right now,” she said between gritted teeth.
“Why?” He shut off the water. “You always tell me to practice every day. In fact, you never stop telling me to practice. Just because I started off in a boy band doesn’t mean I can’t play guitar. You know how I play—”
She held up her hands, releasing the shower curtain. “Okay, I get it.”
He stepped out of the tub and onto a bath mat. She took a step back. Beads of water ran down his skin and dripped onto the floor. “If you’re going to stay in here, hand me that towel.”
Rolling her eyes, she grabbed the towel on the counter. Avoiding looking at him, she passed it over. She wished that she could go back in time, to before she answered Griff’s phone call. Then again, she had wanted to quit before she even got out of bed.
She needed to remember that starting a band wasn’t easy. When she and Phillip Hilton started Perpetual Smile ten years ago, she mused, it had taken a full year to find the right musicians. The thought of his name sent a searing pain through her. She bit down on her lip to hold back the tears. Even a year after losing him, it still hurt to know that he was gone forever.
“Are you all right?” Koty asked. He stood with a towel wrapped around his waist. His eyes searched hers.
Jett nodded. “I’m fine.” She crossed her arms. “I’m just thinking.” She turned from the small bathroom. She should probably let him have some privacy while he got dressed.
“Do you know what you’re going to do?” he asked.
She glanced over her shoulder at him. “Of course,” she said. Panic ate at her insides. Stepping out of the bathroom, she padded into his bedroom. Her stomach clenched. Wrapping her arms around herself, she headed toward the hall.
She had no idea what she was going to do.
Jett snorted. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” She glanced at Koty. He eyed Perry like an exterminator staring down a cockroach. She tapped her lip, considering her limited options. She needed a bassist, immediately. Even if Perry wasn’t being dramatic, going head to head with King Riley would keep her motivated. It would be a fun challenge. She turned back to Perry. “We’re going to be at Malden Street Studios tonight. Meet us there.” Giving him the address, she marched through the front door.
“Whoa,” Koty called after her as she jogged down the front steps. “Hold on.” He caught up with her and shot her a perplexed look. “Why did you invite him?”
Pausing, she flipped open her notebook. “Why not?” She scanned the list of names. She still didn’t know Boston well enough to tell who was closest to Perry’s neighborhood. Pulling her phone out of the pocket of her leather jacket, she typed the address into her GPS.
“He’s trouble.” Koty touched her arm.
She tilted her head at him. “What do you mean?”
“He was cocked.” His eyes bore into hers. “Do you really want to be around him?”
Frowning, she pocketed her phone. “He’s an experienced bassist.” She crossed her arms. “Why wouldn’t I want him around?”
Koty took a deep breath. “Didn’t you see his apartment?”
She sighed. “It was a real hole in the wall. What does that have to do with anything?”
“There were empty whiskey bottles all over the place.” Koty ran a hand through his hair. “He’s an alcoholic, Jett.”
“How do you know that?” She narrowed her eyes. “You heard him. He got kicked out of his band.”
Koty sighed. “He’s living in a shit hole with no furniture, yet he can afford all of that booze. The place reeked of it.”
Following the prompts from Jett’s phone, they headed away from Perry’s apartment. “What’s your point?”
“My point is,” he said, jogging to keep up with her, “being around him might trigger you.”
She halted. Whirling on her heels, she nearly crashed into him. “Trigger me to do what?”
“I don’t want you to start drinking again. You’ve been doing so well.” He smiled.
She glared at him. “I’m not an idiot, Koty.”
He lifted his hands. “I didn’t say you were. I’m just trying to look out for you.”
“I don’t need you to babysit me.” She pulled her cigarettes out of her pocket, plucked one from the pack with her teeth, and lit it.
His shoulders slumped. “I didn’t say you did.”
“How about you don’t say anything at all?” She blinked away tears. “I know what I’m doing.” She walked faster.
“That’s not what I meant.” He dropped behind. “Can you slow down?”
Ignoring him, she surged forward.
“Fine,” he called. “I’ll just see you at the studio later.”
Swallowing the lump in her throat, Jett walked faster. She forced herself to keep moving without looking over her shoulder. What he thought shouldn’t matter. She had been sober for months. She wasn’t going to fall off the wagon. She was stronger than that. She was a Costa. Her father had taught her better.
The thought of her father made her eyes sting even more. She hadn’t seen him in almost a year. Guilt gnawed at her stomach. She hadn’t so much as bothered to call him—not even when Simon 1056 dropped Perpetual Smile. She would catch up with him the second she got her life together, she decided. It had been too long.
She was striking out with all the men in her life, lately.
She moved through the Boston streets, immersed in her thoughts, replaying her argument with Koty. Her fists curled even as her chest tightened and tears sprang to her eyes. She wished he could just trust her. When they’d been hooking up, his faith in her had been unwavering. She had screwed up majorly with him, over and over again. It was a miracle that he still stuck around.
Frowning, she turned onto Adams Street. Glancing around, she slowed her gait.
A sign welcomed her to Adams Village in Dorchester, a neighborhood of the city of Boston. Raising an eyebrow, she stared at the sign. It seemed that she would never understand Boston. In many ways, it was like a whole state of its own.
The apartment complex where her potential keyboardist lived sat across from a funeral home and next to a gas station. Still, it was a far cry from Perry’s neighborhood. Concrete islands filled with mulch and bushes that would flower as the weather warmed decorated the complex. Boots clicking on the pavement, she walked toward the building, the parking lot free of debris.
Still, she felt out of place in her leather jacket and boots—designer items that she had bought with her first royalty payments at a store that she would have never been able to afford otherwise. While Koty looked good in his jeans and T-shirt, he also looked more down to earth. She wished that he had come with her.
She sighed, thinking of the way his jeans hugged his body.
Heat exploded through her. “Focus, Costa,” she told herself. She stepped into the lobby. Rather than waiting for the elevator, she took the stairs. Some sort of air freshener released the fresh scent of linen, and she sneezed.
Emerging onto Max’s floor, she stalked the hallway until she found his apartment. She wondered if Koty would actually meet her at the studio. She didn’t think he would just leave her in Boston. Their argument hadn’t been that bad. They’d had worse fights while on tour with Perpetual Smile. She shook her head, thinking of the time they had almost been caught making out on the tour bus. She had wanted to end the whole affair before her other bandmates caught on. Something about Koty kept her from completely breaking things off, though. Something about Koty always kept her from walking away.
She hoped that he felt the same. Raising a fist, she knocked.
The door to Max’s apartment creaked open. A young woman stood in the doorway. She held a little girl's hand. The girl’s fingers tugged at the woman’s long black hair. Raising an eyebrow at Jett, the woman tilted her head. “Can I help you?”
Jett hesitated. She might have the wrong address or, even worse, her keyboardist might have moved. She gave the other woman a bright smile. “I’m Jett Costa.” She held out her hand.
The other woman glanced at her hand, then narrowed her eyes. “Yeah?”
Jett almost rolled her eyes. The woman was acting as warily as she would have, though, if they switched places. “I’m looking for Max Batista. Does he live here?”
Tossing long, inky hair over her shoulder, the woman’s eyes hardened. “Why?”
“He auditioned for my band a few weeks ago.” Jett jerked a thumb in the direction of Malden Street. “I tried calling but didn’t get an answer.”
“Our cell phone got shut off,” the woman said. Her arm tightened around the toddler. “What do you want?”
“Maybe I have the wrong place.” Jett took a step back. “Sorry to bother you.” She turned toward the stairwell.
A familiar young man with brown skin and spiky dark hair appeared over the woman’s shoulder. “Please come in,” he said.
“The house is a mess,” the woman said, eyes narrowed at him.
“Savannah, chill.” Max grinned at Jett. “Is this about my audition? Did I make it?”
Jett opened her mouth to tell him that she had the wrong address. When he had played at the studio, he hadn’t seemed so young. She had pegged him at maybe twenty-five. Studying him in the afternoon light, he looked closer to twenty-one. With the way he grinned at her, practically bouncing on the balls of his feet, he could still be in high school.
“Come on in,” he said, turning and going inside. Sighing, Savannah followed him.
Jett hesitated, then followed them inside. Toys littered the carpet. Bowls of half-eaten cereal sat on a banged up coffee table. A laptop sat on a desk in the corner, a cartoon paused. Savannah sat on a threadbare couch. The little girl climbed out of her arms and ran into the part of the apartment that Jett couldn’t see.
Max closed the door. Still smiling, he lifted a hand. “Sorry about the mess.” He jerked a thumb in the direction that the little girl had gone. “Chloe is a tornado these days.” He hooked his thumbs in the loops of his jeans. “So, when do I start?”
He reminded Jett of a more hyper version of Koty—if that was even possible. She restrained herself from groaning out loud. The last thing that South of Forever needed was a second Dakota Jackson. He had forced his way into her old band and still drove her crazy. She doubted that she would ever sleep with Max—especially not with his territorial wife or girlfriend or whoever she was—but she definitely didn’t want to get stuck with another overeager kid who knew nothing about the music industry.
A painting hanging on the wall caught Jett’s eye. A younger version of Chloe smiled back at her. Jett took a step forward, eyes tracing the clean lines. “Who did that?”
“Savannah,” Max said, pride lifting his voice.
Jett studied a large abstract painting of sugar skulls. “Are any of these for sale?” She didn’t exactly have the money for a painting, but she could probably convince Koty to buy one for their condo. The place needed a little bit of color. He had brought all of his black and stainless steel furniture from his bachelor pad in New York; Jett had left behind most of her furniture at her New York apartment, except for a dresser that had been her mother’s.
“Sale?” Savannah’s eyebrows furrowed.
“You don’t sell your paintings?” Jett gaped at her. “You totally should. I bet you could get into galleries around here. The South End has a ton of places with wall space.”
Savannah’s lips twitched. “I guess I never thought about it before.” She glanced at the paintings on the walls and shrugged.
“I told you,” Max called from another corner of the living room.
Jett pivoted toward the sound of his voice. He sat at a keyboard, fingers poised. The second their eyes met, he launched into a Perpetual Smile song. Her jaw dropped. Her old band had never used keyboards. Neither she nor Phillip had written music for piano. Hearing their old song in a new light sent a shiver down her spine. She closed her eyes, letting the melody carry her away. She could almost feel Phillip’s shoulder under her head after a long night of songwriting. Those nights had been some of the best of her life.
The music faded. She opened her eyes.
Max grinned. “So, am I in?”
“You composed that?” Jett joined him at the beat up keyboard. It was hardly professional equipment. She bit her lower lip.
He nodded. “Does that mean yes?”
She sighed. She didn’t really have much of a choice. Running her fingers over the keys, she nodded.
“Yes!” Max jumped up from his seat. Racing toward Savannah, he lifted her from the couch. He spun her in a circle, peppering her cheeks with kisses.
Jett smiled. She wished that she and Koty could be that affectionate.
Max put Savannah down. “Thank you,” he said, extending his hand to Jett. “This means so much to us. You have no idea.”
“Yeah, well, our first show is in three weeks.” Jett clasped his hand. “Are you going to be able to play with us?”
“Are you kidding?” His grin widened. He pumped her arm up and down. “You can count on me. Thank you.”
She pulled her hand away. “You won’t be thanking me after tonight. Meet us at the studio later.” She gave him the address. “Be prepared to spend the night.” She tossed a glance at Savannah, whose eyes narrowed. Then, before either of them could say anything else, Jett saw herself out of the apartment.
Shoving her hands into her pockets, she stepped into the spring afternoon. She almost had a complete band. At least there was that. She could worry about getting them into shape later. A smile broke out across her face. Pulling her phone from her pocket, she redialed the phone number of the drummer she hoped to recruit, and began walking back the way she came.
The phone rang over and over. She frowned. She really didn’t want to make any more house calls. Besides, the clock was ticking. In just a couple of hours, she had to figure out how to write enough songs for a twenty-minute set with a group of people that she had never written with before. Even though she had performed with Koty in her old band, that hardly counted.
Chewing on her lip, she tried calling the drummer again. Still no answer.
Staring at her phone, she took a deep breath. Her heart slammed in her chest. She knew exactly who to call. The question was whether he would be willing to join her.
Throwing caution to the wind, she dialed Griff’s number.