Authors: Cara Carnes
Book 1 of the Delirium Series
Copyright © 2015 by Cara Carnes
All rights reserved.
Warning: No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Editing by Heather Long
“Don’t be pissed.”
I froze in the middle of Riverside Drive. Nothing good ever followed those words. Despite possessing questionable fashion sense, my best friend never ceased to shock me when she invoked the
rule. The impish fret on her freckled complexion got me. I shifted my backpack purse to the other shoulder and opted to remove myself from the oncoming crush of rush hour traffic in Austin, Texas. As fun as South by Southwest, aka SXSW, might be, the commuting downtown work crowd got a wee bit pissy with the music loving folk. I felt their pain. Though I loved music, every chord made me think of things I swore over too many shots of tequila never to remember.
As I edged my way to the sidewalk to stare at her—while wishing my out of control hair could tumble into a cute pixie cut like her red tresses did—she shoved her purse between her knees and shifted around on her four inch stiletto Jimmy Choos until we were face-to-face. “Double pinky swear.” She thrust her pinkies out, thus activating the secret code we’d constructed under the art table of Mrs. Ward’s second grade classroom fifteen years ago.
“What’s going on, Bets?”
She shook her hands, forcing my attention back to the outstretched pinkies. Fine. Whatever. I rolled my eyes and hooked digits with her. “I, Shasta Monohan, double pinky swear promise to not get pissed at Betsy Calligan for whatever idiocy she’s done this time.”
I’d made the pledge a thousand times over the years we’d known one another, and none ended well. The fact residents of White Bluffs, Texas didn’t toss us out during our formative years shocked everyone—including us. To say we got into trouble was an understatement.
Nothing Bets did would obliterate eighteen years of friendship. We were cemented together, our bond tighter than superglue. Our closeness didn’t stop the buzzing nervousness of a thousand bees swarming my insides. I couldn’t remember when I’d last faced down the serious Bets staring at me now.
“Shas, the last part? Totally uncalled for.” She motioned for me to turn so she could, as always, shove her micro purse into my backpack. Why she never did said action in the car always mystified me, but I recognized the stalling tactic for what it was. She didn’t want to face me when she made the confession to end all confessions.
I noted the burgeoning crowd spilling into the nearby outdoor venue constructed specifically to handle the larger SXSW acts. A sea of commonality swelled around me, engulfing me until my lungs drowned in disbelief.
“Tell me you didn’t.” I turned to face her, microchip purse be damned. “Tell me you didn’t.”
She bit her ruby red lips and scrunched her nose. “Well, I sorta fell into the moment. It’s not
my fault. See, I tried the triple espresso caramel mocha with extra mocha swirl concoction Pete made at the shop and, well, this sort of happened.”
“What?” The question tumbled from me even though I already knew. Deep down, every fiber of my jaded soul knew
sort of happened
“It’s your birthday, Shas. I had to. It’s written into the cosmos of best friend obligations. I’d be damned by the fates if I didn’t.”
“Okay. Look, it’s just tickets. We’ll go. We’ll sing. We’ll commiserate. It’ll be fun.”
“Of all the music festivals and the
of bands who roll into this town every year, why this one? Why now?”
“It’s your birthday, and God damn, I’m not letting the princess of rock celebrate in some stodgy faux leather booth at a fucking Chili’s. It’s not happening.”
“My birthday’s tomorrow, not tonight and it’s TGI Friday’s, not Chili’s.” I made the statement to give my mind a moment to process. Tickets to Twisted Delirium. I’d never confessed to anyone—not even Bets—they were my favorite band. How could I? The heartthrob lead singer’s uber-sexified voice still shredded my heart into a billion pieces even after he stomped on it seven years ago—on my freaking birthday. I hadn’t been woman enough to keep him.
I was over him enough to handle a little show. Hah. Like any Twisted Delirium show could
be defined as little. They were one of the hottest bands in the world, had been for the past few years. A part of me was thrilled for Caleb. No, wait.
Colt. When he fled White Bluffs to pursue his rock and roll dream he’d taken the stage name Colt, but he’d always be Caleb to me.
Every woman with a pulse wanted to bed him, and every man wanted to be him. Okay, a lot of them wanted to bang him too. My pulse raced as I eyed the gathering crowd. I could do this.
For Bets I’d deal. She’d spent her hard-earned coffee-schlepping-funds on this. I’d hate her tomorrow. I flashed a hesitant smile of gratitude, enough to make her squeal and grab my hand. A few moments later she dragged me through a haze of questionable smokage, past impatient Delirium heads and to the alarmingly close stage.
“This is close enough, Bets.”
“Hah. Fat chance.” She pushed and shoved her way through the crowd with the gusto of a linebacker—all five foot one of her. “Make way, people. Birthday girl motoring to the stage. Move.”
Her voice rose over the soft swell of music piercing the boisterous crowd. My pulse raced, my limbs froze when the lighting shifted before us and they were there. I tumbled, chasing each note, each huskily sung word. I rose on tiptoes to see him, to memorize the coal black spikes of his hair and grumbled my displeasure at the dark shades masking his eyes.
God, I’d missed those eyes, the way they sucked the marrow from my spine and turned me into mushy goo. Good girls didn’t mush, and they certainly didn’t goo. With him I was the exception to every rule because bad boy Caleb eviscerated me.
Clad in snug jeans—not the skinny kind cause those were gross—and a Twisted Delirium T-shirt, he infused my adrenaline with raw, virile need. My breathing ragged, my pulse flailing in time to the drums, I clung to each note, each soul-crushing word as though they were for me. How could I still want him so much after so long?
Time ceased to exist. I saddled and rode the excuse as Bets shook me from the euphoric haze. Maybe I’d inhaled too deeply around the questionable smokage.
“You with me, Shas?”
Fuck, but I loved this woman for always having my back. She’d made a shit play, but it’d been out of love for me. The concern on her face startled me for a moment. I looked around and noted the darkness. Wait. How long had it been?
“Shasta.” She snapped her fingers. “You with me?”
“You never use my full name.”
“Well, duh. Your parents have shit for brains. What kind of fucked up name is Shasta?” She smirked a second before flashing back to the worried expression I’d seen before. “You zoned.”
“I guess I did.” The music had stopped. “Thanks for this.”
I turned to go, but she grabbed me. “They’ll be back. For a couple more songs.”
“How do you know?”
“It’s what they do, right?”
“I wouldn’t know.” I didn’t attend their shows. Okay, they were twenty-four of my twenty-five most played songs, but I drew the line there. Any other worship at the altar of Twisted Delirium would be, well…twisted. Hah.
Doubting Bets would appreciate my ill-timed humor, I remained silent despite the thickening tension. I’d never been into the Goth scene, but I got them now. Caleb had suckled an undisclosed amount of time from me and I couldn’t wait for more. The anticipatory high kept me on edge. I needed tequila, copious amounts of something to bring me down slow and sweet because what I needed wasn’t on the menu.
As though he sensed my need I caught him in my peripheral vision as he prowled to the microphone, a beast seeking prey. His shaded gaze swept over the crowd. I heard the collective gasp as the shades were rippled from him face.
“Shit. He never takes them off. Ever. All the fan sites talk about the shades never leaving his face.” Bets grabbed me. “Holy fuck. He’s looking right at you.”
“Hello, Austin.” The crowd screamed. He chuckled, a husky rumble I felt in my belly. “We just came off a long world tour, and I have to say nothing beats being home.”
Home. Last I heard he’d been playing house with a svelte Swedish blonde in California. Then again, when you were Caleb “Colt” Douglas of Twisted Delirium you could afford more than one home—and way more than one blonde.
Too bad I was a brunette.
No. No. Any thought road involving his sex life was full of heart-stopping potholes I couldn’t navigate.
“We’re doing these next few minutes different.” He turned from the microphone, leaned down and grabbed a guitar. I closed my eyes, unable to focus on anything beyond my thready pulse and the banging of drumsticks together, barely audible over the crowd’s screams.
“No. He wouldn’t.” Bets shook her head in disbelief. “I swear, Shas. I didn’t know.”
I believed in slamming doors on the past. Some things belonged in locked vaults, never to be revisited. I’d triple vaulted the song and added the extra precaution of making Bets put it at the top of her never play list. The latter caused a few contentious moments in our friendship because the older than dirt song was a classic within our crew. Keeping the eighties hair metal craze we missed going as long as we breathed was our thing.
The outlawing of Bon Jovi’s
Living on A Prayer
cut deep—almost deeper than Caleb walking away. The visceral reaction to the song still opened my soul and bled my heart. Pulse spiking and eyes teary, I zombied out while the crowd crooned off-key karaoke loud enough to choke me in the impossibility of surviving the next few minutes.
Bets shook me, but my gaze was locked on the stage. The last of my resolve melted beneath the intense stare from the man I’d vowed to never see again. No matter what my BFF declared, tonight was about more than a concert. The moment the first note clutched my fractured heart, the locked vault on Caleb Douglas popped open.
And God help me I didn’t want it slammed shut. Not yet.
* * *
Shasta Monohan. Fuck. I banged my fist into the wall and leaned my forehead against the smooth surface.
I hadn’t been ready to see her. The masochistic son of a bitch buried in me memorized every curl in her long chocolate hair. And those lips.
Hell, my twisted fantasies about her sultry lips kept me company in the shower moments ago. But I needed more. The real deal was here. Same town, same fucking building. And probably making tracks away from me.
Talk about an epic cluster fuck. I’d pushed everyone into this gig, even though we were crawling out of our skins and sick of each other. The guys didn’t need my emotional garbage, yet I’d dragged every scrap on stage with us tonight.
The moment the lights swept the audience and I saw those sexy as fuck lips moving in tandem to mine I was gone. Her long curls had bounced around her luscious frame as she parroted my every word as though I was a god and only she and I existed. I couldn’t remember a single thing beyond her. I swear to fuck I smelled her in the soft breeze sweeping the stage.
Finishing shredded me. Almost more than the last song undid her. The flash of shock in her eyes mingled with the festering wound in my chest. If I was a decent man I’d bury the tune so far in the ground they’d declare it their theme song in hell. I was definitely going there for singing the mother fucker tonight.
It’d been ours. Hers. The last thing we’d shared before I’d pulled the bastard card and carved her into pieces—walked away like she meant nothing.
Now I wanted to hurl my heart on the floor so someone could stomp on it and put me out of my misery.
“Dude, what the hell?” Dodge thumped me on the back hard enough to take the edge off my thoughts. “A little heads up next time.”
Yeah. Right. I hadn’t planned to purge my soul to a sold-out crowd of strangers, all so she’d maybe read between the lines and hear what I’d longed to scream.
Dodger kicked ass behind his kit, but had shit for brains half the time. I ignored him for a moment before surrendering to the beating waiting for me behind the dressing room door. Dressing room was a kind word for where we’d been shoved. The restroom door swung open and the stench of smoke enveloped me. I coughed and sputtered my way into the confining space and glared at Ace.
“Not smart to give me shit, man.” He flicked the cigarette into a sink and aimed the last puff at me. Fucker. “You want to talk about it?”
Ace stayed several miles ahead of everyone when it came to sorting his shit. Aside from his penchant for sucking his future happiness out one drag at a time, he was the brains of Twisted Delirium. He and his brother Chaz had been with me from the beginning, so he got what went down tonight.
“Should’ve expected this, man. You sent Psycho the tickets.”
I chuckled at the nickname he’d pinned on Betsy during their sophomore year. “Better not call her Psycho to her face, man.”