“Chaser! You fuck!” Jacob shouts as I walk in the door to my old apartment.
“Nice greeting, dick.”
Mallory drops my hand so he can pull me in for a man-hug, slapping me on the back like he hasn’t seen me in a year instead of a few weeks. I get the same treatment from the other guys.
“Shit, I can’t believe I actually missed your ugly face,” Alvin says, wrapping his big bear arms around me and actually lifting me a few inches in the air.
“I’m your best-looking friend and you know it.”
“How was it back home? Did you do big, bad biker things?” Garrett asks.
“You know I’d have to kill you if I told you the truth.” Somehow I manage to keep a straight face while delivering the threat.
Garrett tosses his hands in the air. “Just joking.”
“Video girl!” Jacob shouts, finally noticing Mallory standing behind me. “You’re still with this bum? His scary-ass biker family didn’t scare you away?”
She chuckles softly and takes my hand. “No, we got along fine.”
Now that’s an understatement.
The way she took so easily to my fucked-up family life amazed me. The club and all its craziness didn’t spook her. My ornery father needling her and calling her “princess” rolled right off her too.
At night, when we were alone together, she fired off her questions and voiced plenty of strong opinions. But in front of the club she kept her lips zipped. Just like a good old lady should.
Mafia princess or not, we’re made for each other.
Of course, I keep all that stuff to myself. No one else needs to know about Mallory’s family ties. As far as my band’s concerned, she’s still sweet, innocent Mallory Dove from a small town in New York, trying to make it in Hollywood.
The next morning, the guys and I make plans to move Mallory’s stuff. I leave her at the apartment and head to her place. The door was fixed in her absence, but the place has been ransacked. I have no way of knowing what could’ve been taken, but I don’t want to bring Mallory here in case that crazy bastard’s watching the place.
Even though the Russians promised my father they’d leave her alone, I don’t trust them.
“Christ, bro. What the fuck happened here?” Alvin asks.
“Break-in, I guess.”
We’re busy boxing stuff up when Audrey taps on the open door. “Knock-knock.” Her eyes widen and she slips on her seductive smile, placing a hand on her hip. “Hey, boys. What’s going down?”
I end up answering since the rest of the guys can’t seem to stick their tongues back in their mouths. “Moving Mallory’s stuff.”
She drops the seductive pose. “Is she okay? Some guy was here asking about her for days after you two split.”
I take her by the elbow and lead her outside. “What guy?”
“Some big Russian dude.”
“He come alone or with someone?”
Audrey takes the question seriously and seems to think on it before answering. “He was alone each time. But he gave me a number to call in case Mallory came back.”
“Can I have it?”
She ducks into her apartment and grabs a slip of paper off her coffee table. “You can come in, Chaser.”
“Sorry, hon. I gotta get back and help them out.”
“Mallory’s okay, right? She’s not in trouble, is she?”
“She’s fine. We just got back in town. I took her home to meet my family.”
Her eyes widen as she approaches with the paper. “Wow, introduced her to the family already?”
I’m already over this conversation. “Yup.” I hold out my hand for the paper and she holds it just out of reach.
“Are you playing any shows soon? Everyone’s been talking about Kickstart suddenly disappearing.”
“We’re back. Premiering the new video Friday. You should come.”
She seems excited about the invite and I give her the information. Then I get the hell out of there.
Chaser’s adamant about me staying behind at the apartment while he and the guys move my belongings to our new place.
“Chaser, I can’t ask your friends to move my things—”
“You’re not asking them. I am. And I’m perfectly comfortable calling in this favor.”
He really doesn’t leave it up for debate.
“I want you to stay here until I get back.” His gaze drifts around the room. “Hang with Dorothy, Holly, and Vickie. Vickie’s an actress too. Maybe you guys can help each other out.”
I squint at him. “How do you know them?”
He grins and kisses my cheek. “Not the way you’re thinking. Holly is our manager’s niece. Dorothy hooks up with Garrett from time-to-time, and Vickie I just met tonight.”
“I guess.” The real reason I hate not going with him rises in my mind and I can’t stop it from coming out of my mouth. “Please be careful. If they’re watching the place—”
“Baby, I promise I’ll be aware of my surroundings. And I know the guys seem like goofs most of the time, but I can count on them.”
That’s not as reassuring as I think he meant it to be, but I don’t want to keep arguing when in the end he’ll win anyway.
I receive another kiss and then the guys take off. Leaving me alone with three girls I barely know.
“Jacob said you were in their video that’s coming out next week,” Vickie asks as soon as the guys are out the door. Her gaze roams over in me and a sneer forms on her lips. “How’d you land that?”
By the tone of her voice, it’s clear she thinks I slept with the guys for the part. I straighten my shoulders and stare her down. “My agent sent me on an audition and their manager picked me.”
Her hard expression falters and she backs away. “My agent keeps sending me on porno auditions,” she jokes.
“Find a new agent.”
The girls all laugh at that and the tension seems to ease from the room.
A few hours later Dorothy and Vickie are half-drunk on cheap pink wine and entertaining Holly and me with stories about their adventures in Hollywood.
“Guys in bands fuck the best,” Dorothy assures me.
“But they smell.” Vickie clasps her fingers over her nose and rolls her eyes skyward. “Always opt for shower sex when available.”
The two of them fall into a pile of giggles while Holly and I look at each other and gag.
“Chaser always smells good to me.” Just thinking about it makes me miss him.
“Oh you have it baaad, don’t you?” Dorothy teases. “Make sure you use a rubber when he gets back from tour. Otherwise you’ll catch the clap or worse.” Dorothy shudders and rubs at the crotch of her jeans.
Vickie chuckles. “He the first rock star you’ve ever dated?”
I don’t want to share with these obviously experienced girls he’s the only man I’ve ever dated. “Yes.”
“Well, rock stars come with perks. But also baggage. Guys in a band like Kickstart usually have a girl in every city.”
“What do you mean?”
They glance at each other in a way that makes it obvious I asked a stupid question. “Girls they fuck in every city they visit when they’re on tour,” Dorothy explains.
“But this is their first tour.”
“It’s their first major tour,” Vickie clarifies. “They’ve been out on the road before. It’ll be worse now. The professional groupies will be stalking their fine asses. Those bitches come to play.”
“That’s how I ended up in LA,” Dorothy says. “I hooked up with Dean from that band, Fuzeboys, back in Chicago all the time. I thought we were in love. Borrowed money for a bus ticket so I could show up in LA and surprise him. I ended up with the surprise. He had a live-in girlfriend. She was not pleased to see me on her turf.”
“She knew who you were?” I ask.
Dorothy shrugs. “Probably.”
“The regular girlfriends, wives, whatever, like to pretend the groupies don’t exist,” Vickie adds. “But they know.”
Seems pretty similar to the way Doe described Chaser’s motorcycle club. Out on the road, brothers sleep with club whores and the ol’ ladies are supposed to pretend they don’t know about it.
I suppose it’s not much different than the mistress my uncle kept for years behind my aunt’s back either. Now that I’m looking at the situation with a fresh perspective, I suspect my aunt always knew what her husband was up to.
What an utterly depressing thought.
Not a life I wanted for myself at all.
A few days later we’re all moved in to the apartment above my old one. Not ideal. Not as nice as the place Mallory had before, but she assures me she doesn’t care.
“As soon as I get back from this tour, we’ll find a nicer place,” I promise.
“Chaser, it’s fine.” Her mouth twists into a pout. “How long is the tour? I’m going to miss you.”
Yeah, I’m gonna miss the fuck out of her too. Plus, I hate the idea of leaving her alone. I’ve set it up so that she can reach out to my Northern Cali brothers if she needs something, but I’m still not reassured.
“Think you’ll find some time to fly out and see a few shows?” I ask.
Her eyes widen. “You want me to do that?”
“Fuck yeah, I want you. I know you’ve got a few jobs set up. I don’t want to be the reason you lose momentum though.”
Val kept her promise and lined up two video shoots for Mallory when we returned. Her agent has a number of auditions scheduled as well. And I’m not about to wreck her career just so I can drag her around the world as my security blanket.
“What about us?”
“What about us, babe?”
“Chaser, I’ve seen the…girls who wait for you to get off stage every night. I imagine it’s even worse out on the road—”
“Whoa. Stop right there.” Honestly, I’m offended. I haven’t so much as thought about another woman since the one in front of me stole my damn heart. “There’s no one else for me.”
“Chaser,” she says in that lets-be-reasonable-tone she doesn’t bust out often. “I’ve heard plenty about how the guys all have a different girl in each city.”
Can’t deny that’s the truth, but I also never had someone like her waiting at home for me. Does telling her that help or hurt my cause here?
“I can’t vouch for whatever my bandmates are gonna do out on the road, but don’t judge me by their actions.” Mallory. I have you now. You’re all I’m thinking about.”
“Chaser,” she whispers, clutching my shirt and pulling me closer.
I lean down and kiss her forehead. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
For once in my life, I actually believe it.
But did I convince Mallory?