Seven hundred and thirty-seven messages? Holy fuck. That’s what I get for not keeping up with this fan site. This is going to take me a month to sort through. I lean back on the brown leather sofa and close my eyes, completely overwhelmed with the amount of work to do. I’m tempted to say fuck it and take a nap instead, but I know that’s not fair to the fans. This is their outlet for their passion about my work. How can I ignore that?
I take a deep breath, grab a snack pack of Oreos from my bag and then get to work. It’s a painstakingly long process, but to see their giddy responses when they realize I’ve replied personally make it all worth it. Before Aubrey, this was the place I came to feel love. My fans poured it out to me unconditionally and I soaked it up. That’s actually why I started bagging so many groupies. There’s nothing like being someone’s everything.
“You got a minute, son?” I glance up from the computer screen to find the Judge leaning against the door frame into this impressive den. “There’s something I would like to discuss with you.”
I glance down at the clock on my computer. Damn. I’ve been answering messages for an hour and a half and didn’t even realize it. Aubrey should be back soon, but I wonder why her father wants to talk to me without her present.
Fuck. This can’t be a good sign.
I swallow hard. “Sure.”
I stand and follow Judge down a short hall into an office. There’s a very classic look in here, with chocolate walls, cherry bookcases and a matching desk. There’s even a bottle of Scotch, accompanied by four glasses, sitting on a side table.
The Judge’s eyes follow my line of sight. “You want a drink?”
This is probably some sort of test on his part. If I accept the drink, he’ll automatically think I’m a partying alcoholic, but if I refuse, he’ll think I’m lying.
“Sure,” I answer, but don’t plan on drinking the entire thing.
He walks over and removes the glass cork from the Scotch, pouring two glasses half-full. After handing me a glass, he walks around his desk and sits in the high-back chair. His eyes study me intently as we sit in silence, staring at one another.
Judge sits the glass on his desk and leans forward in his chair. “I’m not a man to beat around the bush about things, Zach. I’m very direct, and I don’t keep what I want secret. If more people were like me, the world would be a better place. We would all know where we stand with one another.”
This sounds like the intro to a speech about him not liking me very much. Instead of starting an argument with the father of the woman I love, I simply nod my head like I’m in total agreement. I could be wrong about him, after all. I barely know the man. “I like directness.”
“Good, because I’m about to lay it all out for you.”
“Why are you dating my daughter?”
That’s an easy answer. “Because I love her.” There’s no waiver whatsoever in my voice as I speak my truth.
He stares at me a long moment before he continues. “I can see that you believe that, but I know your type—the here today and gone tomorrow guys. I have to be honest with you, Zach. I don’t want that for my little girl. She’s too good for that. She deserves a man that’s stable and isn’t going anywhere.”
I flinch, but understand his reservations. My past isn’t a favorable one. “I can assure you when it comes to your daughter, sir, I’m not going anywhere.”
He sighs. “I was afraid you’d be stubborn about this. You leave me no choice.”
He slides a print out of some sort towards me. “What’s this?”
“Your sealed record.”
My eyes grow wide as they scan the record of my historical brushes with the law. “How did you get this?”
He frowns. “I’m a judge, son. I can get access to anything.”
“But, why do you have it? Aubrey already knows about all this. You telling her won’t stop her from being with me.”
He nods in agreement. “That’s true, but the press would have a field day with something like this, wouldn’t they? It’d be a shame if this was leaked somehow.”
I shoot up from my seat, sloshing my drink around before I slam the glass down on his desk. “Are you threatening me?”
His eyes grow wide for a second and I can tell for a split second I’ve rattled his tough exterior. “Calm down. This could be a threat, but I would prefer to think of it more as a bargaining tool.”
“What do you mean—a bargaining tool? What do you possibly stand to gain by smearing me across the press?”
I shake my head. “She wouldn’t leave me over that.”
“No, probably not. My daughter is fiercely loyal—gets that from me, so she’ll stick by your side. That’s why you’re going to leave her.”
“No! There’s no way in hell I’m going to leave her. She’ll understand.”
“She may, but I took the liberty of pulling the other band members’ histories as well. Trip Douglas appears to have some dirty secrets too. I don’t think Trip would appreciate his secrets being shared with the media, or being made public. If you don’t walk away from Aubrey, then you’re going to force my hand. I’ll tear your band apart.”
My pulse races under my skin, causing my hands to shake. Was I really such a bastard this man would ruin the lives of other people to keep me away from his daughter? Can’t he see I’m a changed man? I fucking worship the ground Aubrey walks on. I’d never hurt her. Why would he try to stop a love so pure?
“Why? Why would you do this? I told you I love her. Isn’t that enough?”
“No. It’s not. I want her with a man who I know will always take care of her. I’m not getting any younger, and I don’t want to leave this earth with the fate of my daughter in the hands of some young punk who’ll ruin her life at some point.”
“I won’t do that. I have more than enough money to give her an even better lifestyle than this place if she wants it!”
“For now you do. What happens in ten years from now when your band breaks up and the money stops? What then? You going to drag her down with you?”
His words feel like a fucking smack to the face. He’s right. I have no other skills. None. Music is everything to me. I’ll never stop doing it, even if I don’t make another penny for it. It’s in my blood. I can’t give it up.
The other thing that kills me is the fact that he’s right. While Black Falcon is on top of the fucking world right now, I know that won’t last forever. There’s always another fame-hungry band ready to out-rock you and steal your fans. God knows we’ve taken enough breaks and cancelled enough shows to leave half our fans pissed off. What happens when I can no longer give Aubrey the life she deserves?
“I’m going to take your silence as confirmation that it’s sinking in? You and I both know she’s not the girl for you. She needs to be with someone like Brady—a guy with his head on straight, and a solid future. You shouldn’t be selfish and stop that from happening for her.”
I pull my eyes up from the floor and stare at him. I have no doubt he’d smear both me and Trip to the press if given a chance. While we know about each others pasts and have moved on, it doesn’t mean the rest of the world will.
I sink my head into my hands. As much as I love Aubrey, I don’t want to be the one to hurt her someday. I don’t want her to resent me. She deserves the best life she can possibly have—the nice house, a husband home every night, kids.
The last part stings the most. I’ve never let the fact that I can’t have kids bother me before, but knowing I can never give her something like that fucking kills me.
The thought of Aubrey pregnant, with a soft glow, smiling as she carries my baby inside her taunts me like a nightmare—one that, no matter how much money I have, will never be fixed.
I sigh, knowing that deep-down I’m still a fucked-up loser who doesn’t deserve my red-headed goddess. “What do you want me to do?”
“I want you out of her life. For good.”
“I can’t just leave her here. She’d expect an explanation, and I don’t want her to know what an evil dick you are. It would ruin her whole perception of you.”
He laughs bitterly. “Very well. Finish out the weekend here, and on Monday I want you on the first plane out of Texas and forget she doesn’t exist.”
My lips pull into a tight line. “I might be on a plane, but you’ll never make me forget her.”
I don’t give him a chance to say anything else before I storm out of the room, grab my computer and head for the car. I can’t stay here one more second and listen to him tell me that he’s ripping the one thing I care about in this world away from me.
I toss my shit on the passenger seat and crank the car alive, nearly squealing the tires as I back pull out onto the street.
I rub my forehead vigorously as I come to a red light. “FUCK!”
My entire body shakes as it hits me that once again I’ve lost everything that’s important to me. The light turns green just as my eyes burn and tears stream down my face.
Anger wells inside me, and I pound the steering wheel with my hands. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. FUCK!” I scream at the top of my lungs.
How is this happening? This isn’t what’s supposed to happen. It’s me and Aubrey against the world. I should go back and tell him to go ahead and tell the fucking world I killed my family. It wouldn’t matter if he did. I’m nothing without her anyway.
I slam on my breaks ready to turn around and the car behind me blares its horn, pulling me back to reality. I can’t go back. That would make me a selfish prick, just like the Judge says. I’d destroy Trip, probably royally fuck the band, and never allow Aubrey the chance to have a baby.
I take a deep breath and mash the gas. I can’t be here anymore. If I can’t have her, I can’t see her. I won’t be able to play it off that everything is fine. She’ll know. She’ll see how fucked up I am.
I park the Fusion in the hotel lot and head to my room. I let myself in and stare at the rumpled sheets on the bed, picturing her naked body laying there, begging me to take her. My chest constricts and suddenly I find it hard to breathe. I crawl into bed and bunch the sheets up in my arms, burying my nose in the soft cotton as I inhale her scent.
“I’ll always fucking love you,” I whisper, doing my best to picture Aubrey in my arms.
The next thing I know someone’s pounding on the door. I shake my head and stare down at the sheets and pray the last few hours of my life was a fucking nightmare. I drag myself out of bed and yank the door open.
Aubrey’s face twists the moment she sees me. “Really, Zach? You couldn’t wait on me?”
I sigh and close the door behind her. I’m a fucking idiot to think I wouldn’t have to see her again. All her shit’s here. “I’m sorry alright. I was tried and you were taking forever.”
“I was only gone two and a half hours. I thought you were okay with waiting. If you didn’t want me to go, all you had to do was say so.” She crosses her arms over her chest and waits for me to apologize.
More than anything I want to. I want to tell her I’m sorry for thinking I could have her—that I’m worthy of her. But as I stare into her eyes, all I feel is shame for the hurt I know I’m going to cause her soon.
She frowns and closes the distance between us so she can touch my face. “What’s wrong?”
I glance over at the bed and lick the corner of my mouth, fighting the sting in my eyes. I can’t let her see me break. “Nothing. Just tired.”
“Did something happen while I was gone?” There’s a slight inflection in her voice. “The Judge trying to scare you off? Because if he is, don’t let him. No matter what it is—I won’t care. I love you.”
I open my mouth to tell her exactly what her father is trying to pull, but quickly close it. I don’t want to be the reason she never speaks to her family. God knows I wish I still had a family to be close to.
I close my eyes and lean my forehead against hers. Can I really give this up?
“Zach, you’re scaring me. Please tell me what’s wrong.”
Shit, this isn’t going well. I need a distraction. If I keep on thinking about this I’m going to drive myself insane.
Without warning I wrap my arms around her and pull her into my chest and kiss her like it’s the last time I’ll ever get to taste these lips. Her eyebrows rise for a second, but she quickly relaxes into me and grabs my neck. I hate keeping shit from her. I want to be honest, but I can’t. I have to keep this shit to myself and figure out how in the hell I can make all this go away and still keep her. I’m not ready to let this go, not by a long shot.