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PROLOGUE

ONE YEAR AGO

 

I couldn’t.

I couldn’t do it.

I couldn’t fucking do it.

I needed something to get me through the next forty-five minutes without any pain, without any memories, without any feelings.

My fingers tapped against my kneecap, my leg jiggling with nerves.

Too easy.

Too easy to send a message and have someone here within minutes.

But I had to do it. I had to do it to get the fuck out on that stage for the most important forty-five minutes of my life before they were gone forever.

Make or break. 

Reaching for my phone, I sent out the SOS.

Ten minutes later, the door opened a crack. Oh, the irony…

“All right, Jordan?” Dexter appeared in the room, shifting from foot to foot. If you didn’t know he was already wired, that would have been the giveaway. “Are you alone?”

“Uh-huh.” I hauled my arse up out of the chair and stepped towards him.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a baggie. “You sure about this? It’s pretty strong shit, mate. Don’t want you joining the 27 Club, do we?”

My lip twitched. The stronger the better, as far as I was concerned. “Let’s do it.”

Scrunching the bag into his palm, Dexter tilted his head. “Can you pay me now?”

“I’m about to go on stage. Do I look like I’ve got a bunch of cash on me?” I threw up my hands. “You know I’m good for it.”

His face softened. “I guess you don’t get a support slot like this one without being paid a shit ton of money. Free pass until after the show?”

“Absolutely.” I beckoned him towards me. “Now let me see the goods.”

Dexter grinned, tossing me the drugs. “All yours, rockstar. I’ll see you later to collect my debt.”

And with a wave, he was gone.

I didn’t see him later, and it wasn’t me who joined the 27 Club that night.

CHAPTER ONE - JORDAN

“I’m sorry, Jordan. It’s not great news.”

I clenched my jaw, willing the doc to give me some mind-bending painkillers and let me go on my way. Sitting on a hospital bed, topless and freezing my nuts off while the judgy doctor checked out my inks wasn’t the way I wanted to spend my Wednesday afternoon. If I hadn’t been in so much pain, I might have flirted a bit harder with her, because she was pretty easy on the eye.

“Right,” I acknowledged, trying to keep my tone measured. “Go on.”

The consultant looked at her notes, presumably consulting the results of the x-ray I’d had. “You have a dislocated shoulder.”

No shit.

I guess it served me right for going to a kid’s playground after a skinful of beer and whisky in the middle of the afternoon, then fucking about on the swings meant for much younger people than me. I’m only in A&E because my bandmates pressured me to get it checked out. We’re due to start something of a comeback tour in two weeks, and postponing it is not an option. At least, that’s what the management said.

“It isn’t serious enough to warrant you going into theatre to have it put back into place, so one of the nurses here will do it,” she said. Her eyes met mine, pupils dilating. “We’ll sort you out with some pain relief or a sedative.”

My interest piqued at the mention of pain relief. “What happens after that? Can I go home?”

She nodded. “We’ll do another x-ray to check the shoulder joint is back in place, but you’ll need to wear a sling for a few days while the pain settles. You’ll need to take some time off work as well.”

“How long? I, um, have some commitments coming up.”

“What do you do?”

Trying not to take offence that she wasn’t a fan, I sucked in a breath. “Lead singer with Idol Rev. We’re going on tour.”

The consultant stifled a snort. “Sorry, Jordan. I don’t think that will be possible. You need to rest for at least two weeks before you can resume any kind of physical activity.”

“But you can give me something for pain relief, right? Like codeine or a shot? Just to get me through the gigs. I promise I’ll rest the entire remainder of the time.” I narrowed my eyes, mentally counting the days between now and when we were meant to leave.

Her mouth pursed. “That’s not a long-term fix.”

“It’s just something short-term, to get me through the tour, I promise. We can’t change the dates.” I sounded like I was begging, but for a whole heap of reasons, the tour couldn’t be called off. Particularly if I wanted to have a career afterwards.

“Your health is more important than a tour, surely?”

Yeah, if I hadn’t been a dick and got wasted only a few days before we’re due to leave. Turning my best pleading look on her, I gave it one more shot. “Don’t make me beg.”

There was a flicker of something in her gaze, and she looked away. Bingo. “Let me see what I can do. In the meantime, I’ll arrange for the nurse to sort out your shoulder manipulation.”

Ha. Manipulation. I was already pretty good at that if her reaction was anything to go by.

Once she’d gone, I leaned back against the pillows, trying to ignore the pain. I was desperate for something to get me through. Anything to take me off that hospital bed to another place. My mind chose that moment to kick in with a vengeance, reminding me of the last time I had been in hospital, and the consequences for others. My already cold body dropped in temperature by another degree as I screwed up my eyes to try and rid myself of the memory. 

My phone jiggled in my pocket. Pulling it out with my good arm, I squinted at the message.

Levi: So what’s the latest? Do you need me to come and pick you up?

I tried not to laugh, feeling the vibrations of pain all over my body. Levi was as wasted as me. And if he hadn’t encouraged me to swing higher in the first place, I wouldn’t have fallen off and landed heavily on my shoulder. There was no way I’d let him get behind the wheel of a car.

Seriously, we were such a bad influence on each other.

It took me a while to type back a reply using only one hand.

Jordan: Dislocated shoulder. The doc reckons I can’t tour, but bollocks to that.

Levi: Shit. Sorry, man.

Levi Kennedy and I had been friends since the age of fourteen. We met at school and bonded over our love of hardcore punk and alternative rock music. Always the outsiders, we presented a united front to anyone who ever gave us shit. Twelve years of friendship, and I doubted it would ever change. He was the brother I never had, and we were closer than any family. Plus, his guitar skills were out of this world. Oh, and his brother, Jude, also played a mean set of drums. With the addition of Robbie Benson on bass, we were a pretty solid unit. No one got between us. Ever.

Levi: How long are you going to be? We’re wondering whether to get a takeaway.

My stomach rumbled. I couldn’t remember the last time I ate something. Did I have breakfast? Or lunch? Or anything other than alcohol? It was all a bit hazy.

Jordan: Dunno. Have to have the shoulder put back in, then another x-ray, so fuck knows how long all that will take.

All I wanted to do was go home. Preferably with a bag full of opiates.

Levi: Okay. Keep me posted, yeah?

I sent him back a thumbs-up emoji, the pain in my left shoulder almost too much to bear with the effort of typing out another long message.

As if on cue, a nurse pushed back the curtain and entered the cubicle. “Okay, Jordan. Are you ready for the procedure now?”

“Let’s do this.” I nodded.

He handed me a small cup with a couple of pills in it. “Take these, then we’ll get started.”

Without needing any further prompting, I necked the two tablets and swallowed them down with some water.

The nurse got me to sit on the bed with my left side towards him. He took hold of my arm and rotated it around the shoulder joint. The movement seemed to go on for eternity, but after a few moments, there was a crunching sound, a thunderbolt of pain I’d never felt before, and then it popped back into its socket. A stream of profanities tumbled from my lips, and I watched the nurse fighting back a grin. Clearly, it wasn’t the first time he’d witnessed that type of reaction.

“How are you doing?” he asked.

Like it isn’t obvious. I’m practically doubled over with the pain of the procedure.

“What the fuck do you think?” I hissed. Even with whatever the fuck painkillers he’d given me, I was in all sorts of trouble.

“Take a breath, sit back against the pillows, and try to relax,” he suggested. “I’ll go and find a sling so we can settle the pain, then we’ll check everything is in the right place with another x-ray.”

“How long do you think that will be?”

“No idea, sorry. I’ll try to get you out of here as quickly as possible.” The nurse picked up my checked shirt from the chair by the bed. “Do you want to put this back on?”

“Yeah.” It was fucking freezing in that damn cubicle that I wasn’t going to be getting out of any time soon.

I’d never had a guy take so much care getting me into a shirt; usually it was women who wanted to rip it off. But when he lifted my left arm to slide it into the sleeve, I saw why. Grimacing against the discomfort, I sucked in a breath until it was over. Slumping back against the pillows from the effort, I closed my eyes.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

I heard the rustle of the curtain and sensed I was alone again. The relaxing effect of the pills was starting to kick in, and I drifted in and out of consciousness. Even though it was only snippets of sleep, I had vivid images of flying off the swing and crashing into the ground. Each time, I jolted upright as if trying to stop the impact. 

At this rate, I’ll be exhausted.

Having lost all concept of time, I had no idea how long it was before the nurse returned. On this occasion, I was less vocal as he took me to the x-ray department and left me there to get the final scans done. All I wanted to do was go home and sleep.

Another hundred years passed before the consultant finally came back and gave me the all-clear. She put my arm in a sling and handed me a pamphlet with some information about exercises and recovery. Before I was allowed to leave, she also gave me a prescription for super-strength pain killers and firm warnings about mixing them with alcohol. It was entirely possible she’d Googled me and believed the things she’d read, some of which were true. Dutifully, I nodded and agreed to the terms of my release, then headed to the reception area to sort out an Uber.

While I waited for the car to arrive, I messaged Levi.

Jordan: Want to organise that food now? I’m starving.

Levi: Sorry mate, we’ve already eaten. But I’ll get something for you. What do you want?

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. There was me thinking I was the important one, when in reality, my bandmates had already forgotten about me.

Jordan: Don’t care. Chicken, pizza, whatever.

Levi: You got it. I could go for some pizza anyway.

A car pulled up and I checked it was mine. Sliding into the back, I rested my head on the seat, fighting the fatigue slowly enveloping me.

“Wait,” I said to the driver, suddenly remembering my prescription. “Can we stop at the pharmacy on the way home?”

“Sure.” He nodded and drove the short distance to the nearest chemist.

Thankfully, there weren’t too many people in there and I made it in and out within ten minutes. Any longer and I’d have been dead on my feet. On the final journey back to the house, I popped two of the painkillers, neglecting to read the instructions. Consequences be damned.

“Here he is,” declared Levi, the moment I got into the living room. “How are you doing, buddy?”

Jude looked up from his phone. “Pizza’s in the kitchen. Beer too.”

“Er, don’t think that’s a good idea, do you?” Levi looked between the two of us. “That’s what got us into this mess in the first place. I’ll grab you some juice.” He got up and went to the kitchen, returning with a pizza box and a pint of OJ. “Here you go.”

Hungrily, I grabbed the box with my good hand, setting it on my lap and opening it. I practically inhaled the meat feast, honestly not knowing when the last time I ate was. And with everything swimming around in my blood stream, I needed something to stabilise myself. While I was eating, my phone rang.

The screen displayed Kelvin Francis, our manager’s number.

“Stick him on speaker.” I gestured to Levi to answer on my behalf.

He did as he was told, placing the phone on the arm of my chair.

“Jordan. What the fuck happened this time?” Kelvin didn’t believe in beating around the bush.

“Good news travels fast, then. Whatever happened to ’are you okay’?”

“When it comes to you, Jordan…” Kelvin let the sentence trail off.

To be fair, this wasn’t his first rodeo in picking up the pieces after one of my monumental fuck-ups.

“It’s all under control.” I tried my best to reassure him. “I’ve got a sling, some pretty shit hot painkillers, and there’s nothing that can stop me going on this tour.”

CHAPTER TWO - ALEXIS

Theo: I need your help. Call me ASAP.

Fuck.

I was already halfway through a bottle of wine, television on in the background while I caught up on a million and one overdue emails. The last thing I needed was my boss, Theo Spicer, hassling me on a Wednesday evening just a few days before I went out on my next job. But he was the boss. He probably needed help with an Excel spreadsheet he’d been sent. Theo wasn’t the best with technology.

Gearing myself up to be tech support, I took a fortifying slug of wine, turned down the volume on the television, and dialled his number.

“Alexis, thank God.” Theo breathed a sigh of relief upon answering.

“What’s up?” I squinted at the time. Half past eight. Hopefully, this would be a quick fix and I could watch some new crime drama that started at nine.

“It’s Chris. His mum’s taken a turn and he needs to go home and help.”

“Sorry to hear that.” Chris and I weren’t close and his home life had nothing to do with me. Harsh, but true, and I wondered why Theo felt the need to tell me about it.

“He’s meant to be the tour manager for Idol Rev, and it starts on Monday. There’s little chance he’ll be back in time.” Theo spoke so quickly that the words blended into one another.

“So, why are you telling me?”

There was a beat, and I thought the call had dropped, but then Theo announced his bombshell.

“I need someone to take his place.”

My hand stilled halfway in bringing the wine glass to my lips.

Idol Rev?

He had to be kidding me.

I forced myself to swallow a huge mouthful of wine, trying to calm the emotions whirling around my body.

My next job was meant to be managing Lissy Parker’s tour. She was a folk-slash-pop acoustic solo artist with a loyal, quiet fan base. That meant a lot of small, low-key venues, where I could spend chilled-out evenings sipping a glass of wine and watching on while she charmed everyone in the audience.

Idol Rev’s tour was a university tour where the fan base would be anything but quiet, and if I managed to get through the night without getting a pint chucked over me, it would be a miracle.

There was also something else, which I didn’t want to mention to Theo.

Jordan Bowie, their lead singer, was my ex.

In this industry, it was a surprise we hadn’t come across each other sooner. But I’d deliberately chosen to work with smaller, less well-known artists up until getting involved with Theo. He ran a tour management company and had access to a wider range of tours to work on, which usually meant more money, and I wasn’t about to turn down that opportunity.

But the thought of spending the best part of two weeks on the road with my university sweetheart left me cold.

“Alexis? You still there?” Theo’s voice intruded into my thoughts.

“What about Lissy?” I protested. “I’ve got everything set up for her.”

“Chris has done all the prep work for the tour. All you need to do is be there and make sure there aren’t any fuck-ups.”

Oh, that should be super simple where Jordan Bowie’s involved.

“You should also know there’s already a bit of a sticking point that their manager told me about today. Apparently, Jordan has dislocated his shoulder, which is casting some doubt on the dates anyway.”

I narrowed my eyes. Why didn’t that piece of news shock me? “If you think they’re going to cancel the tour, you don’t need me.”

Theo let out a hard breath. “Kelvin’s not sure what it means and Jordan’s adamant he’s going on stage. I need someone responsible to be there with them, who’s not going to be distracted.  As much as I admire Chris, his mind’s not on the job right now.” He paused. “Please, Alexis. You’re the best person for this.”

Chewing on my bottom lip, I thought about how distracted I might be with Jordan in such close proximity. But it seemed like I didn’t have much of a choice.

“Send me over the details. I’ll touch base with Kelvin over the next couple of days.” I sighed. “Who’s going to look after Lissy? She’s already a bag of nerves over these shows and will need some hand-holding.”

“I might do it myself. It’s been a while since I’ve done a small tour and there’s a window in my diary.” I could hear Theo’s fingers tapping on a keyboard and within seconds, an email popped up on my laptop. “There you go. Call me if you’ve got any questions. Thanks, Alexis. I owe you one.”

Oh, Theo. If only you knew how much.

Placing my glass on the table, I pulled my computer onto my lap and opened up Theo’s message. Chris had forwarded him the completed tour pack, consisting of an overall schedule and separate day sheets, contacts for the tech and sound guys, the finances, information on the band’s publicist, notes about working on the merchandise stand, plus all the information regarding transport and accommodation. He’d already done the donkey work, meaning all I had to do was show up for two weeks and make it happen.

How difficult could that be?

Had it been any other band, I’d have been excited to take on a bigger tour. 

Had it been anyone other than Jordan Bowie, I’d have been so much happier.

Being the girlfriend of a talented up-and-coming rock star at university had been a privileged—if somewhat stressful—position. It had given me the love of live music that led me to a career in tour management. One that Jordan had resented and had played a huge part in our break-up. After university, we’d moved in together and I’d started interning with a record company, which led me to doing admin on some of the label’s tours. My boss at the time had been impressed with my work and asked if I wanted to go on tour to see what it was like. When I started spending extended periods of time away from home, Jordan’s jealousy came to the fore and he accused me of all sorts, none of which had any truth to them. The band was struggling and almost broke up when they couldn’t find a bassist. When the arguments overtook the good times, he pushed me away and we were over. Just like that.

It had been five years since we’d last set eyes on each other. Occasionally, I’d Googled him and the band to see how they were doing and, of course, they came up in conversations I’d had with other tour managers and publicists. Everything seemed to have been going well, right up until the previous year when they just… stopped.

Up until now.

This was the comeback tour, according to Chris’s notes. The chance to reconnect with their fans and find some new ones. And I would be the one responsible for making it happen.

Closing the lid on my laptop, I grabbed my glass and headed into the kitchen for a refill. Disappointingly, there was only enough for half a glass and I didn’t have another bottle. It was after nine and I couldn’t be arsed to pop over to the shop for a new one, so I’d have to make do. Taking a tiny sip to make it last, I went back into the living room and slumped on the sofa.

Alexis: Hey, babe. You around? X

While I waited for a reply, I started to check my socials. Within seconds, the screen lit up with Sadie Black’s number.

“Why are you calling me at this time on a Wednesday evening? You know I’m watching Love In The Cave.” My best friend huffed.

“You didn’t have to answer if you were busy.”

She sniffed in response. “It’s okay. This episode is really dull anyway. I haven’t seen Tommy’s chest so far.”

Given I didn’t watch whatever reality show she was talking about, I had no idea who Tommy was. I could only assume he was a buff twenty-something Sadie had the hots for.

“I have news,” I said, cutting to the chase.

“Ooh, let me guess. You’ve got a new tour opportunity in Paris and they need a makeup artist to help?”

“Close. It’s a new tour.”

“Who are you looking after this time? Tell me Harry Styles, please.”

Honestly, I would have rather that than the truth. “I don’t think he’d work with small fry like me.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, hon. You’re amazing at what you do. Theo’s lucky to have you.”

After what I’d agreed to that evening, I was certain about that. “Thank you. But sadly, it’s not anyone that exciting. I’m going to be on tour with Idol Rev.”

Sadie screeched down the line. “You’re what? I thought you were with that Lissy bird?”

Quickly, I filled her in on Chris’s situation and embellished a little as to how Theo had practically begged me to do it. Sadie knew my history with Jordan, of course.

“Oh, shit. How are you going to handle him?”

I hadn’t yet given it a great deal of thought. For the majority of the time, I could be in the background and keep my distance. But there would be times when I wouldn’t be able to avoid him. At least there would be other people around and we wouldn’t have to be one-on-one.

“And does he know you’re going to be there?”

That was a great question. I had no idea whether Theo had filled in the band’s management on the situation with Chris. They were expecting a forty-year-old guy built like a brick shithouse to manage the tour, and when I turned up, it would go down like a bucket of cold sick. I often got that reaction when I joined a tour that wasn’t a girl group or a bland middle-of-the-road band with little controversy. But I thrived on tours where there was a bit of drama. Except in this instance when I could be the one who caused the drama.

“I doubt he’d care anyway.” My reply was glib, but deep down, I wanted to know what he would think. “He probably doesn’t pay much attention to the tour manager.”

“Pfft. When the tour manager is his hot ex-girlfriend, I think there’s every likelihood he’ll pay attention.” Sadie snorted. “I kind of wish I was coming with you so I could see his reaction.”

“That would be great. At least I’d have an ally.” In most instances, I was the only female on the tour staff, unless the artists were. I suspected Idol Rev wouldn’t have many women around, unless they brought along their girlfriends. How would I react if Jordan brought his girlfriend on tour? I shouldn’t have cared, but it was hard not to. Not with the past we had shared.

“If I wasn’t doing a Glamour shoot next week, then I’d be all over it. But you know you can call me anytime, right? I don’t want you thinking you’re going through it all alone.” Sadie’s tone softened. “Make sure you keep me posted on all the gossip.”

Grateful that Sadie had my back, I started to think this job couldn’t be as bad as I was building it up to be.

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