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“Oh give me a break,” said Mal. “Rehab? A bit overdramatic there, Davie.”

“Really?” asked David, getting right up in his face. “You’re getting so drunk you’re accidentally kicking your girlfriend in the head. So mad you’re putting your fist through walls. How’s that sound to you, hmm? Sound like someone who’s got it all under control?”

Mal flinched. “Stuff is happening.”

“I get that. We all get that. But Anne’s right, you f**king yourself up every other night isn’t the answer.”

Mal’s shoulders dropped, the fight leaving him. “Fuck you, Ferris.”

“Whatever. Say sorry to your girlfriend and mean it.”

His sad-eyed gaze turned to me. “Sorry, pumpkin.”

I nodded, tried for a smile.

“Come on, you need a breather.” David grabbed Mal by the back of the neck and towed him off into the crowd. Fortunately, Mal didn’t fight him. I watched them go with relative calm. Sure, everything would be alright. Whatever happened, however, I didn’t want to turn around. I could feel the weight of Lori’s stare burning a hole in the middle of my back. Her and Neil had to have heard and seen it all. What could I possibly say?

I was so terrible at this family and relationship stuff. I wish Lizzy were here. She’d know what to do. She was so much better with people than me.

“It’ll be okay,” said Ev, taking my hand in hers.

A nice sentiment, but I highly doubted it.

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

“PARTY!” An hour later, Mal was in loud, manic mode.

He only had a bottle of water in his hand. Our words had gotten through to him at least. Just like the first night I met him, he stood on top of a coffee table, doing his groove thing. There were a lot of women willing to heed his party call. Plenty of slick, shiny women watching my man with avarice in their eyes. It was something I’d have to get used to. I couldn’t kill all of them. I mean, where on earth would I hide so many bodies?

This dating rock stars business was harder than it looked.

One such young lady tried to climb up onto the table with him and no. Not even a little.

I grabbed her arm. “Not happening.”

“Get your hand off me,” she spat.

“PUMPKIN!” shouted my drumming delight from above.

Holy hell, my ears. They were ringing.

The woman gazed up and gave Mal a foxy grin. Her facial expression when she turned back to me was not as warm.

“Sorry,” I said (blatant lie there). “He’s taken.”

“Who the hell are you?”

“I’m pumpkin.” The “ha, bitch” was silent, but make no mistake, it was most definitely there.

She did some strange squinty-eyed thing and then about-faced, disappearing into the crowd. There was a flash of shiny silver stilettos and she was gone. Awesome shoes. I’d worn my usual boots and a skirt, denim this time, a black long-sleeve shirt and some chunky resin jewelry finished me off. Deep down inside, I had no idea how a rock star’s girlfriend was supposed to dress, but for comfort would do. Those shoes though, I’d really like to know where she got them. Chances of her telling me now had to be somewhere between nil and none.

Lori and Neil were still stationed on the couch in the corner. David and Ev kept them company while I guarded my man from other women. Or something like that. Honestly, I wasn’t having a very good time. The argument earlier had left me on edge and I didn’t fit with this crowd. There were music reporters and industry types, a mixed assortment of the rich and famous all gathered together to kick off the tour.

“Pumpkin?” Mal called again.

I turned to face him.

“Oh, there you are. Hey. I have an announcement to make,” hollered Mal. “Everyone. Yo!”

The crowd quieted, all heads turning his way. I didn’t have a good feeling about this.

“Lot of shit’s been happening lately. Got me thinking about things.” He gazed over at his parents. “Life’s short and you gotta make it count, take the time to be with the people you love. Keep ’em close to you. So I, ah … I’ve come to a decision. Right here, right now.”

He stared down at me, his brows nearly meeting above the straight line of his nose. And then, he sank down on one knee, on top of the coffee table. His hand reached out for mine and I took it, fingers numb with surprise.

“Marry me, Anne.”

My heart stopped. Holy f**king hell. He couldn’t be serious.

“What?”

“Yeah, marry me tonight,” he said, his voice clear to one and all. “We’ll fly down to Vegas on the red-eye. Be back in time for breakfast.”

Flashes went off around us, blinding me. But nothing else existed. There was only his beautiful, hopeful face, fading in and out of view.

“…So romantic,” whispered someone nearby.

“We can take the guys with us,” he said. “Go pick up Lizzy on the way. Even bring Reece if you want.”

I couldn’t breathe.

“I’ll buy you the biggest f**king ring you’ve ever seen.”

No, really, was there no oxygen in this room?

“I know this is soon. And I know you’ve got some issues with marriage, but this is you and me. We’re solid.”

No, we weren’t. We’d just had a fight. We were always having fights and it’d only been … fuck, how many days? Yes, we could be good together. But we were only beginning; no way were we ready for this.

“C’mon, Anne.”

“It’s only been a week …”

“I need you to do this for me.”

“I’ll marry you, Mal!” Some bitch at the back of the room shouted. Others muttered their agreement.

“Why?” I searched his face, my heart beating overtime.

“Lots of reasons.”

I shook my head, stupefied.

“Please,” he said, staring into my eyes.

Neil was supporting Lori, they were standing right there, not four feet away, watching the whole thing. My stomach turned upside down. There was such hope on Lori’s face. She had her hands clutched to her chest, her eyes shining with unshed tears. Ev stood just past her with David and her lips were drawn, but her eyes … Fuck, they all actually thought this insane idea might work. Well, I guess Ev would, she’d done some crazy stuff in Vegas herself.

But this wasn’t romance. This was insanity.

“I need you to do this for me,” he repeated. “Take a chance, Anne.”

Take a chance on heartbreak and abandonment. All the pain and suffering I knew so well. I barely had a grip on being in a relationship and he wanted to make it legal and binding forever and ever until someone up and decided they’d had enough.

My shoulders curved in. “Mal … don’t.”

His gaze darted over my face. “You and me in Vegas. C’mon, it’ll be fun.”

I stepped closer to him, trying for privacy. “I can’t marry you just to make your mom happy.”

“It’s more than that.”

“It’s not. If it weren’t for her being sick, there’s no way you’d be asking me this right now.”

“But–”

“I’m sorry. No.”

“Anne …”

I could see the exact moment he realized he wasn’t going to talk me into it. That he wasn’t going to get his way. His jaw hardened and he dropped my hand. In one smooth move he jumped off the coffee table and headed for the door. Any possible words stuck in my throat, choking me.

There he went. Going, going, gone.

He was gone.

Every eye in the room was on me. David followed Mal, and Ev appeared at my elbow. They really did have this shit down by now, managing drama the Stage Dive way. Jimmy and Ben stopped Adrian from following David and Mal. The manager gave me a look strongly encouraging me to curl up and die. I was so sick of this.

Something broke inside. The pain was excruciating.

It was really best just to get this dealt with.

Lori’s look was hesitant, sad. “Oh, Anne …”

“I’m sorry,” I said, and then I got the f**k out of there.

***

Mal didn’t return to our hotel room that night. There was no message from him the next day either. I went home.

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

I spent the remaining days of my vacation spring cleaning the apartment. Lizzy and Lauren took turns sitting on the love seat, watching me go berserk. Berserk being their word, not mine. I was fully functioning and fine given my heartbroken status. No way had I crawled into bed like Mom and refused to come out. I was stronger than that and my apartment was very, very clean.

“Look at that bowl,” I said, gesturing toward the bathroom with my pink, rubber-gloved hand and toilet brush. “You could eat out of it.”

“Babe, all power to you, but I am not inspecting your toilet.” Lauren crossed her legs, swung her foot back and forth.

“No shit, it’s sparkling.”

“I believe you.”

The front door opened and Lizzy walked in. “She still at it?”

Yes, during particularly unlucky times, they’d both be there, commenting and getting in my face. So helpful. Friends and family were the worst. They were also the best, seeing me through this temporary insanity.

“Yes, she is. Please knock before you come in uninvited,” I said.

Mal would be pissed. He hated people just waltzing in. Not that he would ever be here again or cared, so whatever. Maybe I should scrub the kitchen one more time. Going back to work tomorrow would be good. It’d help keep me busy. Reece had dropped off a couple of new bottles of environmental all-surfaces cleanser and a scrubbing brush for me yesterday (I’d worn my old one out.). He got my drive to keep busy right now. Or, if he didn’t get it, he at least had the sense to stay out of my way and not mention any famous drummers.

“And you didn’t close the door properly, Lizzy.”

My sister looked at me over the top of her sunglasses. “That’s because you have another guest about to arrive. Hopefully you’ll be nicer to this one.”

“I’m nice to everyone.”

Lauren winced. “No. Not really. You’re kind of pretty f**king painful lately. But we love you and we get that you’re hurting, so here we are.”

My frown did feel permanently pressed into my face. Perhaps they had a point. It might be time to move on. If I’d only been with him a week, then mourning him for half a week was probably about right. Too bad my heart disagreed.

“Helllooooo!” cried Ev, appearing around the door frame. “Yeah, okay. Wow, Liz. She needs help.”

“Told you,” said Lauren, standing up to give Ev a hug.

“Um, Anne?” Ev approached me with extreme caution, slowly slipping out of her woolen jacket. “Take the gloves off and go put on clothes that don’t have holes in them. You might want to shower first, wash your hair, maybe? Wouldn’t that be nice?”

“I’ve been cleaning,” I explained, holding the brush up as evidence. “You don’t wear good clothes to clean in.”

Lizzy turned me in the direction of the bathroom. “About the time you’re waving a toilet brush around exclaiming about the beauty of your bowl, it’s probably time to stop and rethink your life.”

“Go back in there and clean you this time,” directed Lauren. “I’ll find you some clothes.”

“Wait.” I turned back to Ev. “Why are you here? Why aren’t you on tour?”

She grimaced. “The tour’s been cancelled. Put off until next year. It’s for the best. They’re saying Lori only has a couple of days left so the guys have all gone to Coeur d’Alene.”

Oh, god. Poor Mal. My ribs squeezed breathtakingly tight.


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