Genre: Contemporary Romance / New Adult
Cover Design: Najla Qamber Designs
This book includes scenes of domestic violence that are not gratuitously graphic, but may be disturbing to sensitive readers.
Genre: Contemporary Romance / New Adult
Cover Design: Najla Qamber Designs
Rising is the fourth book in the Blue Phoenix series and will be published in December.
The synopsis for Jem and Ruby’s story can be found here:
Keep reading because there’s a giveaway at the end of the chapter – win an advance copy and be one of the first to read the story.
THIS CHAPTER HAS NOT BEEN EDITED AND IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE.
Every cliche rock love song crashes into my head as if they were all written for this girl. Long legs in black skinny jeans, tattoos emerging from the tight tank top stretching across her tits and crimson hair spilling across her shoulders; she leans against the bar, one elbow propped behind her. This girl stepped from my fantasies and landed in the new version of reality I live in these days.
When she turns her head, it’s as if she takes a sawn-off shot gun, holds it to my temples and pulls the fucking trigger. My head explodes because in her eyes I can see she exists in the same place I do: a lost place at the edge of the world.
Did time stand still? The world fade away? Souls meet across the stars? I should give this to Dylan for one of his pathetic love songs. That shit doesn’t happen.
The chick looks away, snapping me back to the real world. Another club, another band. Not the best place for a recovering addict to hang out but Steve reckons I make a good scout for a new support act. Blue Phoenix don’t tour again until next year and I worry he’s trying to replace us. Steve claims he’s looking for a decent support he can whip into shape ready for the tour. Hedging his bets, more like. Bryn often comes along too, big brother supervising me around the lure of alcohol. The world waits for Jem Jones to fall back into his drug addicted self, poised to hold me up as a fucked up loser again but if I’m in public, I’m less likely to slip than if I’m hidden at home amongst the spectre of my old life. Three rehab attempts, this time I make it count.
The kids in the club are young – some are too young to be here. Sure, eighteen is a great age in this country because it’s legal to drink in clubs, but what a mess. Why come and watch a band if you’re too drunk to stand up? At least I could hold my drink by the time I hit the legal age, but I started early and had plenty of practice.
I’m half-hidden in the shadows at the edge of the bar waiting for the band, Ruby Riot. Everything’s set up on stage but no band. I check my phone – 8 p.m. They’re late. If they don’t appear soon I’m going, I haven’t got time for a group who can’t get their shit together. This was a last minute anyway, normally I research before I waste my time but I needed to get out of the house and away from the direction my thoughts were taking me in. I rocked up at the nearest pub with a band playing tonight, and here I am.
The white glow from the lights above the bar illuminate the girl, highlighting the scarlet red of her hair. Do I speak to her? Why am I hesitating? Since when is Jem Jones fucking nervous of talking to a chick? She must know who I am or she wouldn’t have her eyes glued to me again. Problem is, if I step out of the shadows the kids around will spot me. As I debate this like a nervous teen, she drains her beer and places the empty bottle on the bar.
“You want another?” I ask, approaching the girl.
I wait for the parted lip, moment of realisation at who I am but it doesn’t come. Instead, she scans the room, ignoring me. Do I have to fucking introduce myself?
She smells of flowers, roses maybe, which is odd because she doesn’t look like a flowery girl. In her boots and with those legs, she’s almost to my eye height and her face is close enough to see the ‘back off me’ purse of her lips. Now I’m closer, I’m struck she could be younger than she looks under all that make up and my neck prickles as an image of Liv trips into my head.
“What’s the band like?” I ask.
She turns her black-painted eyes towards me. “Yeah, they’re okay. You not seen them before?”
“No, I heard good things so came to check them out.”
“Why ask? You’ll see them soon, make your own mind up.”
“I want to know people’s opinions.”
Does she really not recognise me? There isn’t a glimmer of anything apart from a disinterested girl being hit on by a random guy in a bar.
A new track filters from the speakers and through the room. I smirk when I hear Blue Phoenix, this should prompt her memory. I watch and wait but her expression remains detached; no flicker of recognition. For fuck’s sake.
“Hmm. Okay, I gotta go.” The girl pulls herself away from the bar.
“Leaving? They’ve not played yet.”
She fixes me with a curious look. “I have somewhere I need to be.”
This I’m not used to. I almost utter the cliche ‘don’t you know who I am’ but she’ll laugh at me. Nah, she must have a boyfriend.
“I hope you like the band, Jem Jones,” she says and stalks away.
Okay. That was unexpected. I stretch out my neck and consider my next move. Drunk Jem would’ve ignored the rejection by picking up some chick who’d love to get her hands on me. Sober Jem can’t be fucked with that idea. I shuffle back into the shadows before someone spots me, but the crowd are jammed tight and not looking at anyone but each other.
When I was younger and went to clubs, we smoked. Now it’s banned. At most places in my Blue Phoenix life, this makes no difference, I do it anyway but here, tonight it’s a no go. Shaking my head, I disappear out of the bar to indulge the one vice I’ve not weaned myself off yet. So? I can’t stop every drug in the space of three months.
I head to the back of the club, staying to the dim areas and edging around the sweaty crowd. Security know who I am, they were pre-warned in case I attracted attention. No hassle from anyone so far, and the niggling feeling I’m a ‘has-been’ edges around. I’m paranoid – I don’t go from top of the world to nothing. The location I’m in is the reason, I look like just another grungy dude in the corner. Suits me.
I duck out through the room filled with empty crates and fresh kegs, then out of the propped open fire-door. The warmth of the summer evening surprises me but you can never tell with English summers – it’s pissing it down one minute; bright, sunny days the next. I pull the pack of cigs from my pocket and light one, gratefully inhaling the nicotine. Good thing I can’t do this by the bar, reckon I’d have ordered a beer by now. Filling my lungs with the harsh smoke, I close my eyes and rest my head against the cool bricks. The nicotine buzzes into my system. Yeah, I’ll give up. Eventually.
A scuffling sound and a woman’s voice alerts me. The alleyway is narrow, brick walls overhanging the space between and the sound carries from around the corner.
“I fucking saw you, you stupid bitch!” The man’s voice alerts me, I have zero tolerance of this shit thrown at women.
Peeling myself from the wall, I approach the corner. A woman’s voice, low and placating, travels towards me; I quietly step out of where I am.
And see red.
Literally, because against the wall, partially illuminated by the car park streetlight, is a girl with red hair. What makes me see red in the other sense – of wanting to rip the fucker’s head off – is a man with his hands around the girl’s throat, pressing her into the wall. The worst part is, she’s not fighting back.
The man slams her head against the bricks and trips a primal anger in my brain. Striding towards him, I yank him by the back of his jacket, and he loosens his grip in surprise. The guy draws himself to his full height, but he’s still a few inches shorter than me. He has close cropped hair, and the muscles barely covered by his T-shirt suggest he works out. A lot.
“What the fuck?” he growls.
“Was gonna ask you the same thing,” I say in a low voice.
“I’m fine, it’s okay.” The girl’s panicked voice confuses me, as if my interference is unwarranted.
I stare back at the girl from the bar, but she rubs her head and keeps her gaze to the floor and doesn’t meet mine. “A guy has his hands around your throat and you say it’s fine?”
“None of your fucking business, mate.” The man curls his hand around the girl’s arm and she winces.
Assault charge. Do not get an assault charge. I close my eyes and fight the urge to smash my fist into his face. My history with chicks isn’t the best, but I sure as hell never beat a woman.
“Please leave us alone,” says the girl quietly.
I open my eyes and meet hers, the lost soul behind them pleading with me not to make things worse.
“Hands off her and I’ll go,” I growl at the guy.
He snorts and pulls his hand away so she stumbles, and then he raises them in a gesture of surrender. The red-haired girl steps back and disappears through the nearby fire exit before I can ask if she’s okay.
The dickhead and me stand off against each other for a moment. He’s drunk, his eyes not focused on me properly. Man, he’d be so easy to fight. I open and close my fist, fighting down the Jem who’d solve things without words. Then I turn away, taking a drag from my cigarette. If he hits me first, I’ll have an excuse.
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, he doesn’t. When I resume the position against the wall to finish my smoke, I glance over and he’s gone.
Not my problem.
I leave the empty alley and return to the busy club, the contrast in sound pushing away thoughts about my weird encounter. The lighting in the space between the bathrooms and the door is brighter and girls queue outside. At least one of them recognises me, I hear my name whispered. Beneath the heavy make-up and long, black hair, she’s young. Too young for me. Wow, I’m maturing. I laugh to myself, no, just getting too old for fucking girls in darkened corners. Not my style these days. Any more than a glance toward a chick, and I’m asking for attention so I adopt my ‘don’t fucking talk to me’ stance and stalk back to the bar.
I order a coke, again questioning my wisdom in surrounding myself with one of the drugs that fucked my life up. Why? Because in these bars I’m at the beginning, before I became Jem Jones, lead guitarist of the stratospheric Blue Phoenix. Where else can I immerse myself in the raw music that reminds me of the early days before I got lost?
A jarring guitar pitches into a frenzied song as the band launches into their set, no introduction. I turn from the bar toward the stage, encouraged I might be hearing something decent after weeks listening to wannabes who need to rehearse a lot more before they play in public. Bodies fill the sticky, wooden floor between me and the band; strobing lights pick out the band members.
Front of stage, mic in hand is the red-haired girl.
What the hell? Her voice cuts into the sound, an energy and depth to compliment the overpowering music. She has the crowd transfixed; I’m transfixed and that never happens. She’s fucking amazing. Beautiful. Intoxicating.
How can someone with the strength and a presence holding the crowd by the balls be weakened by the dickhead outside holding her throat?
The rest of the band are guys and I smirk with recognition as I watch the lead guitarist. He’s good, not as good as me, but makes up for it in his presence. He shakes his blonde hair from his face and picks out a girl in the crowd before turning on the kind of smile I used myself. Tag, you’re it. Yeah, there’s a fair few chicks fixated on this wiry, muscular guy with the looks to match his swagger.
The drummer is half-hidden but pretty damn good too, and the bassist is lost at the opposite end of the stage, intently focused on his performance. You get that, some people have no idea how to perform to a crowd. Blue Phoenix bass player, Liam, isn’t big into performing but he gets to hide behind his long hair; this guy’s short spiky black hair hides nothing, including the piercings covering his face.
The more I stay, and the more I hear, I know Ruby Riot are beyond special. The acoustics in the place are shit, some of their tuning is crap but with decent sound engineers this band would rock the fucking world. The world needs to hear this band and at that moment I decide to make it my job to see that they do.
I close my eyes to see what colour their music is – I see music as colour, always have done and I was pretty damn happy when I discovered I share this condition with Jimi Hendrix. I suspect the drugs are responsible for the synesthesia becoming stronger over time, more damage to my brain, but in this case I’m happy about it. This song is purple; red and blue melded into a vibrancy to match the girl’s voice.
I don’t let the girl see me, I don’t need to, she knows I’m here. Other nights, when bands knew Jem Jones was scouting them, it reflected in their performance. I scared them into mistakes and if that’s going to happen, they’re not ready to step outside their pubs and club circuits. This chick – no. If anything, I suspect she’s performing better.
I guess I’ll have to find her afterwards.
Towards the end of the set, I disappear outside for another nicotine fix and when I get back, Ruby Riot have left the stage. I head to the Green Room, hoping to hell Mr Muscles isn’t the band spokesperson. The flaking blue painted door is ajar so I walk in.
“I said I’m sorry,” says the red-haired girl as she turns. “Oh. You.”
Her face glows from the performance and she drags her hair above her head, twisting the damp tendrils into a ponytail. The movement is impossibly sexy, her flushed face and wide-eyes adding to the almost innocent attraction. Her plain black tank top is soaked at the front, perspiration slicking her skin. This chick is hot, and too young.
“You never told me it was your band,” I say.
“Thought you might leave if I did.” She reaches for a bottle of water behind her and when she wraps her painted red lips around to take a drink, I immediately picture them around my dick. Yeah, I guess some things’ll never change.
“Why would I leave?”
“Can’t see Jem Jones scouting out a band with a girl as lead singer.”
She wipes sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. “Dunno. Just never seen Blue Phoenix with a female support band.”
“You’re not all chicks.”
She pulls a sour face. “That’s okay then, only one of the band are the weaker sex.”
“You’re twisting my words.”
“What do you want, Jem Jones?”
Her eyebrows rise along with her tone. “And you think I’ll fuck you because you’re the famous Jem Jones? We’re good. I don’t need to sleep with anyone to get Ruby Riot on the map. We’ll get there.”
I laugh at her, at her presumption and the hovering meaning behind. She either thinks I’m a complete asshole or she’s considering me in a fuckable light. Funny. Closing the door, I lean against it and cross my legs at the ankles.
The girl stiffens.
“I meant the band,” I say in a low voice. “Not your delightful self.”
“Oh. Shit.” Despite her bravado, the girl’s hands shake. She roots around in a large bag and pulls out a small bottle of whiskey.
This time when she drinks straight from the bottle, I lick my lips imagining my mouth around the bottle instead.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
“Ruby from Ruby Riot. Cute.” I flick my fingers at her. “You dyed your hair to match your name?”
“It’s not my real name.”
“What’s your real name?”
“What does it matter?”
Our staccato conversation is accompanied by much more beneath the words. Ruby’s eyes get me. Completely freak me out. Why is she so lost?
“You guys are good,” I tell her.
“Thanks, I know.”
“Wow, you’re hard to talk to.” I pull out one of Steve’s business cards and wave it at her. “This is my manager. I’m helping him find a support act for the next Blue Phoenix tour, tell him I asked you to contact him.”
Ruby looks at the card as if I’m handing her a bomb. “Blue Phoenix split.”
I huff. “No, we’re taking time out. We’re touring again early next year.” I step towards her, still holding out the card. “Gonna take it?”
I’m close enough to inhale Ruby – her scent, her warmth, her loneliness. And close enough to see the fading bruise beneath the make-up on her cheek. For a split second, I want to reach out and touch Ruby’s face, stroke away the mark. Her fingers go to her cheek, eyes warning me not to speak.
Ruby snatches the card. “I’ll ask the guys. Jax – the guitarist – makes the big decisions.”
Somehow, I can’t see anyone telling this chick what to do. “Sure.”
Ruby sits on the table and places her feet on the chair. Damn those boots are sexy, half way up those amazing legs. “And you can leave now.”
“You can’t be found alone in a room with Jem Jones, huh?”
“Yeah, exactly. Mind you, I always preferred Dylan, I might not have said no to him given the chance,” she shoots back.
Burned. “It’s always Dylan.”
Ruby parts her lips, as if she had an afterthought, but she doesn’t speak.
I head to the door and open it, the buzz of voices and music from the bar enter the quiet space.
No. Wait. I turn back. “Don’t waste the opportunity. You guys are good. Really fucking good.”
She nods slowly, the curious look still on her face. “I was lying by the way.”
“About the guitarist making the decisions for the band?”
“No, about preferring Dylan.”
When our gazes lock again, I’m dragged back to the place we belong in, the one I saw behind her eyes earlier.
But I’m not going there again, not for anybody. I can’t fix people, I only kill them, don’t I?
“Sure,” I say and close the door on my way out.
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