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Authors: Nazarea Andrews

Before & After

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Before & After

Nazarea Andrews

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places,
and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business
establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The author makes
no claims to, but instead acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark
owners of any wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction including brands or
products.
 

 

Copyright © 2015 Nazarea Andrews.

 

 

Before &
After

All rights reserved. Published in the United States of
America by A&A Literary.

 

Summary:
   

 

1.
Romance 2. New Adult 3. Second Chances
 

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner
whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in critical articles and reviews.

 

 

For
information, address Nazarea Andrews

[email protected]

 

 

 

Edited by Brianna
Shrum

Cover design by The Illustrated Author
 

Cover art copyright©: Nazarea Andrews

Ebook
Formatting by A & A
Literary
 

 
 

For Jessica, who never bats an eye when I bring her a
story

And smiles through the panic when I change everything.

Have some Nutella, love.

 
 

Love is laughter.

Sugar and
sunshine.

Brothers and
family and life

Crazy. Beautiful.
Chaotic.

And you. Always.
Always.

You.

 
 
 
 

Prologue
:
Now

 

It's
raining buckets and I don't want to go out in that. I stare at it from under
the awning of the club and feel Lindsay sway into me. For a second, we both
wobble and another one of the girls bangs against my side and I shriek, sure we
were going down.

Lindsay
rights me, pulls me close. I lean my head on her shoulder and puff out a
petulant, "Bitch."

Her
grip tightens just a touch and she laughs.

I
haven't been this drunk since senior year of college, when we did Christmas at
her parent's beach house in Key West. I wouldn't be this drunk now except she
begged.

Hung
over and washed out won't do for the wedding, and even after that insane night
on the beach with Jell-O shots and beer funnels and tequila body shots, I woke
up without a hangover.

And
that's what you do, when your best friend begs the night before her wedding.
You do her shots while the rest of the bridal party screams at the strippers
and you slip her watered down beer that smells like piss.

You
take the holy-fuck-never-again drunk, because tomorrow, no one will be looking
at me while she prances down the aisle in white.

Well.

One
person will. And he'd think this shit was hilarious. I giggle against
Linds
' shoulder and she bumps me gently. "You
good?" she murmurs as we wait for the cab.

I
smirk up at her, the world spinning unsteadily. "I'm fucking wasted."

She
laughs softly and kisses my forehead.

"Lindsay,
get in," one of the other girls calls. Lindsay leans past me and peers at
the cab. It won't hold all of us, and I can feel a new tension settle over my
best friend.

Lindsay
doesn't have a lot of close friends. Partly because we came here, to this city
neither of us knows, because of the boys. So we both started over.

And
because when we have each other, and the boys, well, we don't need much else.
But she's more social than I am. And she works at a small ad agency, where
she's gotten close to the other girls.

So
when she needed bridesmaids, of course she asked them.

I
smirk as Lindsay shakes her head. "
Y’all
go.
Peyton and I will grab the next."

There's
a moment of rain-splattered quiet and then the girl—I forget but I think she's
one of the
Jennifers
—shrugs and slides into the
little cab, slamming the door behind her.

"What
a bitch," I mutter.

She
laughs, that real noise that I know like breathing. Not the fake shit she's
been shoveling at the other girls all night.

"Stop
it," she orders and I blink up at her. "You’re thinking too much.
You’re drunk,
Pey
. Let go and enjoy it."

I
lean into her, and murmur, "
Wanna
help?"

She
laughs again, shoving my shoulder, and I giggle. "You are such a slut when
you drink,” she mutters.

I
nod agreeably, and a cab pulls up. It's dingy and the driver is frowning at his
phone even as it he pulls to a stop. He gives us a distracted look as we spill
in and the world sways. Lindsay tugs me against her as I whimper and she pushes
my hair back, studying me. "The Embassy Suites," she says and he
nods, jerking into motion.

Linds
mutters under her breath and reaches for her seatbelt. "Sit up, honey.
Belt. The rain is awful."

"Freaking
mother hen," I grumble and she shrugs, implacable. I huff and shift to sit
up and my phone goes off, the ringtone that only Rike has. I squeal and Lindsay
reaches for me as I scramble for my purse, abandoned on the dark, dirty
floorboard. I close my hand over it and hear her scream, my name a twisted
noise that is almost unrecognizable.

It's
the last thing I can't remember.

 
 
 

Chapter
1
:
Before

 

The
bar is riding the line of slow and dead, which is depressing as fuck, because
playing to an empty room is always a little bit of a letdown. Scotty doesn’t
bitch. He doesn’t give a fuck who listens, as long he has a mic and his guitar
with me to back him up.

Scotty
could play to an empty room, and still be a happy motherfucker. He’s done it
often enough.

Lamar
swings by the bar with a fresh round of longneck bottles, and I stand from
where I’m adjusting the drums to take it from him.

“Slow
night.”

He
shrugs. “It’ll pick up. You play, and it always does.”

True.
But it’s been months since we had this low a turnout to work with.

Barrie’s
is a dive and that’s putting it nicely. It’s a fucking hole in the wall in a
college town, and has delusions about which college town it landed in. It wants
to be a bigger deal than it is. But it’s our hole in the wall, and Lamar keeps
the free beer coming as long as we keep the music playing.

There’s
even a sticky dance floor, coated with spilled beer and other things I don’t
want to name, and some nights, we manage to draw enough of a crowd that they
pack that little floor and scream along to our cover songs.

And
there’s another reason we keep coming back. The real reason I keep coming back.

I
take a beer and glance at the little booth that sits empty, almost forlorn, in
the corner. It isn’t usually empty this late on a Thursday night. She’s usually
here by now, and the absence strings nerves along my skin, making my foot tap
anxiously.

Scotty
is watching me, and I shove down the unease as I swallow more of the beer and
tap my drums, a quick beat that pulls a low response from the small audience.

He
gives them a sexy half smirk and I see a girl at the bar texting. I hit the
drums again and he glances back at me. I cock an eyebrow at the girl and he
grins, not the smirk he reserves for the audiences, but the shit eating grin
I’ve seen on my best friend’s face so many times. The one that promises trouble
and good times, and the distinct likelihood of getting laid.

A
grin crooks one side of my lips, and I nod at him. Slam my sticks together
twice before throwing myself into the beat of a popular summertime anthem.

Scotty
follows my lead, crooning about summer and trucks, beer and good times, and the
girls who are pouring in off the street scream our names.

Scotty
lives for this shit. He always has. For the high of the girls and the crowd,
the ones who for a few hours make him forget that we’re two months behind on
rent. That everything outside the circle of bright lights is a world of shit
and heartache.

Because
here, it’s not. Here we’re fucking untouchable as they sway to our music and
the beat I’m keeping with my drum sticks.

He
loves this. And I get it. Not because I care about the girls—I do, in an
abstract sort of way. I love it because for a few minutes every night, between
covering
the bullshit on the radio, we roll out a song that
no one has heard before. Sometimes, they love it. Sometimes, I come out from
behind the drums, and croon to the room, a song that bares my fucking soul, and
even
 
with the lights so bright they’re
blinding, I can see her in her little booth, hair pulled up and messy, eyes
half-lidded as she listens.

It’s
the closest I’ve come to talking to her. Because I know better.
 

A
girl like her isn’t meant for me. She’s poise and pearls, peaches and cream
skin and private smiles.

I’m
covered in ink and scars and trying to forget my own fucked up past, and so far
below a girl like her that it’s stupid to even consider it.

I
do though. Every fucking time I see that tiny smile when I sing.

She
doesn’t know I write for her. But I do. It’s the only way I’ve allowed myself
to talk to her. At night, when Scotty and I stumble home drunk and high off the
performance, when one of the barflies doesn’t end up in bed between us
and—sometimes—on the nights when one does.

Scotty
changes the rhythm and I shift, matching him as he slides into a ballad,
crooning to the crowd. A group of sorority girls in uniform outfits of tiny
shorts, hooker heels, and tops that flash smooth curves are on the dance floor,
writhing and singing along, and I wonder which Scotty will tap to come home
with us.

She
isn’t coming in. It’ll be the first Thursday night in almost three months that
she hasn’t been here and it bugs me. I want her here.

I
miss a beat, stumbling on the rift, and Scotty sends me a sharp glance, kicking
in with a solo to cover me. I shake my head once, and he shifts his attention
back to the crowd as we give in to the music.

It’s
the third song of the second set, when I’ve shoved her out of my mind almost
completely, that the door swings open and she stalks in.

She’s
out of place in a blue sundress and white sweater, an oversized bag at her
side, her long red hair swirling around her face in a halo of angry curls.

She’s
fucking gorgeous and the sudden release of tension is almost dizzying.

And
right then, I decide. Fuck all the reasons it’s a bad idea. I’m tired of giving
a shit about that. She can shoot me down if she wants—but first I’m going to
give myself a shot.

 

***

 

“You’re
girl was late,” Scotty rasps as we land on two stools at the bar. It’s late and
the crowd of sorority girls has thinned to almost nothing, although a pair is
nursing Cosmos and watching us speculatively.

Surprisingly,
Scott’s ignored them completely.

“Need
anything, boys?” Manda asks as she sways past, giving Scotty a flirty smile. He
grins at her, letting his gaze sweep over her.

My
best friend is a fucking slut. But with Manda, it’s all flirting and no action.
She’d take him up on it—she’s made that very clear. But Scott doesn’t fuck
where he works, and Barrie’s has been too good for us to risk screwing it up
for a quick fuck.

Which
is good, because I’d have to kick his ass if he touched her. She might be a little
too friendly and a little desperate, but she’s a cute kid and I like her.

"Bourbon,
Manda," he says, and she glances at me questioningly. I nod and she pours
the drinks. Scotty glances at me. "What are you waiting on?"

I
shrug and grit my teeth. Scotty twists and gives her a look over his shoulder.
"Fine. Stay here and keep Manda
company
. I'm
going to introduce myself to your siren."

I
jerk him back by the collar of his shirt before he can take more than two steps
and throw him back against the bar. "Back the fuck off, Scott," I
growl.

He
grins, a challenge and a taunt in that expression. "Then make your move,
Rike."

I
snatch the bourbon from Manda and take a deep breath before walking to her
table.

And
wait.

For
a long. Fucking. Time.

It
takes almost a full minute for her to look up, almost long enough for my
courage to fail. I'm ready to retreat when she blinks and looks up at me, her
blue eyes widening a little as they find mine. She looks startled and sleepy,
and as gorgeous as she looked at a distance is nothing compared to how fucking
flawless she is this close.

There
are freckles sprinkled across her cheeks and dusted over her nose.

I
swallow a groan as she licks her lips and gives me a tentative smile. “Hi.”

“Hi,”
I say, and then go blank.

Because
in none of my fantasies did I ever consider we’d actually ever get to this
point. And the smirks and smooth lines won’t work—not on her. They haven’t
worked for any guy that’s approached her for the past three months.

“What
do you call a group of unorganized cats?” I ask and her eyes cloud, confused.
She gives me a pretty frown and I grin. “A cat-
astrophe
.”

For
a second, all either of us do is stare, and then she giggles. “That is
literally the worst pickup line I’ve ever heard.”

I
grin, “So you want me to leave?”

Laughter
dances in her eyes. “Have a seat, Jokes.”

My
heart shoves up into my throat at the casual nickname and invitation but I keep
my cool smile in place as I slide into the booth across from her. She pecks at
the computer a few more times, and then twists it aside and reaches for her
drink—a whiskey neat.

She
normally drinks vodka cranberry, and I’ve fantasized about kissing that taste
from her lips. My dick twitches and she watches me over the rim of her glass,
lazy interest in her dark eyes.


Y’all
sounded good tonight,” she offers.

My
lips tick up into a grin. “As opposed to most nights?”

A
flush crawls up her cheeks. “No! You always sound good. I’m just—“

I
laugh and lean back in the booth. Her adorable embarrassment is too easy to
provoke. “I’m kidding, Red. Relax.”

“So
how did you get involved in this? The band?”

“Scotty
needed backup and it was fun. Something to keep me out of trouble. Neither of
us are very good at doing shit without the other,” I say, skirting away from
just how true that is and how fucking co-dependent we can be.

“That’s
cute,” she says, grinning.

“Yeah?”

“Guys
don’t usually do the whole BFF bullshit—not like girls. It’s
kinda
cute to see a couple of dudes who are good friends.”

There’s
a little part of me that wants to point out that we aren’t BFFs. That we were
forced together out of necessity and kept together to survive. But I don’t.
That’s a little heavy for now, and I don’t particularly want her thinking about
my best friend at the moment anyway.

“So
what are you doing here?” I ask, leaning forward and tapping the open laptop.
“Most girls like you find a library to study in.”

Her
eyes narrow a little, and I get the feeling I’m wandering into dangerous
territory. “Girls like me?”

Her
tone is tight and full of warning, but I ignore it, offering her a lazy grin.
“Pretty. Smart. Too damn good to be in this shithole.”

Her
lips twitch and I lean forward, into her space a little, and whisper, “You’ve
been here for months, Red. Distracting and out of place. So tell me. Why the
hell do you keep coming back?”

Her
eyes are wide and her breath is coming in short, sharp bursts and if I lean
forward another few inches, I could taste the lips I’ve spent months fixating
on.

“I
like the music,” she murmurs, and I swallow my groan, because fuck if that
isn’t the most perfect answer in the world.

“And
the computer?”

A
flush flares up her cheeks again and she ducks away. I lean back, giving her
room as I take a pull on my beer. She’s fiddling with the swizzle stick that
came in her drink.

“I
write sometimes. And the music is a
greatinspiration
.”

I
was wrong. She could say something more perfect. I grin at her and say, “You
might just be perfect.”

“Might?”

I
hesitate and then shrug. “Need a little longer to figure that out, Red.”

Her
eyes are still amused but a wary as she watches me, a finger circling the rim
of her glass, catching the drop of whiskey from her last sip. She lifts it and
licks the Jack away, and I swallow hard, chasing my groan away with a cough.
“Go out with me,” I say, suddenly.

“I
don’t date,” she says. She leans back and I want to drag her back to the edge
of her seat, force her back into the easy warmth we were sharing even as she
slams walls up between us.

“Why
not?” I ask.

“Because
I’m busy and because boys are idiots and because school—I don’t need to be
distracted.”

“You
aren’t too busy to drop by and listen to me play every week for three months.
And I’m not a fucking
boy
,” I says
the last bit tighter and fiercer.

Her
breath catches a little in her throat as she licks her lips. “Maybe I’m here
for Scotty.”

For
the first time in almost two decades, I want to punch my best friend. Because
fuck if he’s going to get this girl too, after all the time I’ve spent watching
her. I’ve never cared who Scott takes to bed. Usually we take them
together—women are no different than any other thing in our world that we
share. But the thought of him touching her, or her on her knees in front of him
,
 
makes
me
irrationally angry.

“Rike,”
a sweet, low voice purrs behind me, and I blink free of my thoughts to twist
and meet the gaze of the girl behind me. She’s all smooth curves and long
blonde hair and legs for fucking days.

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