Authors: Elizabeth Barone
Diving Into Him
South of Forever, Book 1
Copyright 2015 by Elizabeth Barone
All Rights Reserved
Version 2.0 | Last Updated: June 17th, 2015
Cover designed by
These stories are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic or mechanical—without permission in writing from the author.
For the Koty to my Jett.
These last two years have been the hardest of my life. Thank you to everyone who helped me through. Without your love, this book wouldn't have come to be.
Thank you to Melanie Francisco, my coach, mentor, and friend. Your guidance, knowledge, and support is unmatched. You are, without a doubt, the world's best marketing manager.
Thank you to Anne Glynn, for making me laugh until I almost peed myself, and for believing in Jett and Koty's story. Even though it's not kinky billionaire sex, I hope I can make you proud. Thank you for letting me bounce ideas off of you.
Huge thanks to Robin Masiewicz. Thank you for believing in me and inviting me to your store. They say that big box book stores can't possibly match the vibe of an independent store. They need to visit the Barnes & Noble in Waterbury, Connecticut. Managers like you make all the difference.
Thank you to my family and friends, who may be just as crazy as I am. After all, you do enable me; I would not be an author if you didn't cheer me on. Special thanks to Kristen Barone, Sharon Barone, and Wendy Bianca.
Thank you to the extremely talented Starla Huchton for the stunning and rad cover art.
Thank you to my amazing beta readers for helping whip this thing into shape.
More than anyone in the world, thank you to my husband Michael Campbell, who always knows when I need Twizzlers or coffee to help me push through. Your hugs are the best and your heart is the most perfect in the world.
My readers—especially my Barone's Belles—are the coolest people. Thank you for talking music with me, listening on those nights when my joint pain kept me up, and for cheering me on this hard but beautiful road. I started writing for myself. There is no better honor than to write for you.
May 17th, 2015
Jett Costa let her eyes open slowly. Grey light stung her retinas. Squinting against the haze, she glanced at the alarm clock on the table next to her bed. She yawned as she read the time. It was only seven in the morning. She should still be sleeping. Groaning, she turned onto her stomach. She would probably never fall asleep again.
Still, she closed her eyes. It was worth a shot. Trying to remember what she had been dreaming when she woke up, she let herself sink back into the velvety darkness behind her eyes. Maybe it had been a sexy dream. She snorted. Dreams were the closest she had come to having sex in the last three months. Part of her had hoped that, even though she and her roommate Koty Jackson had separate bedrooms, the condo that she shared with him would become some kind of sex haven when they moved in together.
Gripping her pillow, she sighed. She was pathetic. She needed to remember that they were better off keeping things platonic. They had way too much work to do to waste time on each other. Still, she wished that he would come into her bedroom and crawl into bed with her. Not so long ago, he had pressed his lips to hers in a dark tour bus, back when things were less complicated—before she ruined her entire life.
She couldn’t remember what she had been dreaming, though.
All she could remember was beeping—as if her alarm had gone off. Raising an eyebrow, she cracked an eye open. She couldn’t remember whether she had set her alarm and if there was some place she needed to be.
She had no job. If listening to wannabe musicians carve out her eardrums all day counted as a job, she was in big trouble. She was probably wasting her time—and Koty’s, not to mention his money. Maybe it was time to call it off. She could probably find a job as a music teacher somewhere or, at the very least, a cashier. Separating would probably be the best thing for both her
Koty, she surmised. Reaching for her alarm, she checked its settings. The switch was off. Jett rolled onto her side and put the alarm clock back. Eyebrows furrowed, she grabbed her phone from the night stand.
There was one missed call. Her eyes widened as she read the name on the display. Her heart beat frantically in her chest. She wanted to put the phone back on the night stand and pretend that she hadn’t heard it. She could always shut the ringer off and go back to sleep. Knocking herself out would require more Benadryl, though, and it was already 7:30. She wondered where the time was going.
Nibbling on her lower lip, she stared at the phone, unable to believe what she was seeing. It seemed impossible. She hadn’t spoken to Griff Whalen in almost five months. He was a part of her old life, and she preferred that he stayed that way. Besides, there was no reason for him to call her—unless he was apologizing.
She sat up at the thought. Griff had never been slow to admit when he was wrong. It didn’t make sense for him to wait so long to say that he was sorry for what he did. There had to be another reason for him to call.
As she toyed with the idea of calling him back, her phone went off in her hands. Jumping, she nearly dropped it. Griff’s name appeared on the screen. Hands shaking, she accepted the call and pressed the phone to her ear.
She opened her mouth, but no words came out. She had no idea how to answer. Neither a casual “Hey” or a professional “Jett Costa” seemed right. She sat cross-legged on her bed, mouth hanging open. Griff spoke first.
“Hello?” he said into her ear. He sounded confused. “Anyone there?” Sirens blared in the background, nearly drowning him out.
Jett frowned, wondering where he was. “Yeah,” she said.
“Jett.” He paused as the sound of sirens flared up again. When they died down, he wasted no time on pleasantries. “You’ve really fucked up this time.”
Her eyebrows shot up. Even five months earlier, when she deserved it, he had never spoken to her like that. “Excuse me?” She lifted the phone from her ear, double checking the name on the caller ID.
“You heard me.” More sirens whizzed by wherever he was. He raised his voice over the noise. “Either you’re crazy, or there’s something that you haven’t told me.”
Jett blinked. “What are you talking about, Griff?” She glanced at the time again. It was too early for him to be drunk or stoned. Besides, it wasn’t like him to pick a fight.
“Don’t play stupid,” he said.
She scowled. “Griff, I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. Why don’t you just tell me?”
“I got an interesting phone call from a guy named Owen around 3 this morning,” Griff said. More sirens drowned out the rest of what he said.
Jett wrinkled her nose. “Where the hell are you?”
“Don’t change the subject.” She heard the flick of a lighter and the sharp inhale as Griff lit a cigarette.
She reached for her own cigarettes. According to the homeowners association, she wasn’t supposed to smoke in the condo. She would just have to buy some of those fancy plug-in air fresheners. “Seriously,” she said as she lit her own cigarette. “Where are you?”
“Los Angeles,” Griff said. “Are you going to let me finish, or can you fill in the blanks yourself?”
Jett sighed. “I don’t know what your deal is, dude. You’re going to have to spell it out for me.” She tapped ash into a half-empty glass of water.
“Owen said that he’s the owner of a bar called The Groggy Frogg. Does that ring a bell?”
Shrugging, Jett took another drag. “Nope.”
“Jesus, Jett,” Griff swore. “Do you owe them a huge tab or something?”
Her mouth dropped open. “Low blow, bro.” Her grip on her phone tightened.
“Well, according to this Owen guy, you scheduled Perpetual Smile to play a show there, in three weeks.” Griff sounded smug. It made her want to punch him.
She snorted. “Sounds like one of those scammers. Did you tell him that the band isn’t even together anymore?” She finished her cigarette and dropped it into the water. It sizzled as it went out.
“He said that he paid the band up front, in cash, for ticket sales. Well, actually, he said that he paid
.” Griff’s voice rose as he spoke.
Jett started to tell him that she was done talking to him. Then she froze. “Did he say where this bar supposedly is?”
“Boston,” Griff said. “One of the stops for the tour that
Gritting her teeth, Jett narrowed her eyes. “That’s not fair.”
Griff snorted. “What isn’t fair,” he said, “is that I haven’t seen you in almost six months, and I still keep having to clean up your messes.”
“You don’t get to talk to me like that,” she said. She lit another cigarette. Sliding out of bed, she paced the room. Her mind raced. “What else did this guy say?”
“When I told him that Perpetual Smile broke up, he said that he doesn’t care. He said that he paid for a show, so he expects a show. Jett, what the hell were you thinking?”
She sighed. “I was thinking that I was almost out of money. I told him that we could sell out the place, and he agreed to send me the money as soon as it did.” She turned and began another circuit. “It was supposed to be a special show. I told him we would play our new album straight through.” She chewed on the inside of her cheek.
At first, Griff said nothing. Several heartbeats passed. Jett paced faster. She cringed, waiting for him to start yelling at her. Then, he sighed. “The show is supposed to be in three weeks. I tried telling him that it’s not going to happen, but he was pretty insistent. You might want to call him.” Without another word, he hung up.
Jett stopped pacing. She stared at her phone. The time read 8:15. Sucking in a deep breath, she tossed it onto her bed. Then she burst out of her bedroom and into the hall.
Feet pounding on the carpeted floor, she crossed the small landing to Koty’s bedroom. Twisting the door knob, she pushed the door open.
“Koty.” She marched into the room. She passed a row of guitars and an unmade bed. The door to his bathroom was closed. Through the thin wood, she could hear the water in the shower running. She called his name again. Without waiting for him to answer, she yanked open the bathroom door and strode inside.
Padding across the tiled floor on bare feet, she flung the shower curtain open. “We have a problem,” she said.
He turned, fingers massaging shampoo into his hair. Frozen in place, he gaped at her. Soap ran down his chiseled torso and thighs in rivulets. For a moment, he just stared at her. “Don’t you knock?”
“I did,” she said. Her eyes followed the soap streaming down his body. She gazed at his anatomy. Her eyes remained riveted to the hardening ridge between his legs. Warmth pooled in her belly. Her fingers twitched. Swallowing hard, she resisted the urge to reach out and touch him.
“I’m naked,” he said.
She jerked her gaze back to his face. Forcing herself to focus, she waved a hand. “So what? Listen, we need to get a band together, pronto.”
“Isn’t that what we’ve been doing?” He dipped his head under the stream of water, rinsing out his black hair.
Her breath caught in her throat. For a moment, she wondered what would happen if she shed the T-shirt she had worn to bed and climbed into the shower with him. Her feet remained rooted to the floor, though. She needed to stay professional. Let him make the first move, if the time came. “Sort of,” she said, thinking of the last few open calls that they had sat through. “We need to do it faster now, though.” Taking a deep breath, she plunged forward. "I sort of scheduled a show that I forgot about. We need a band ASAP. I can’t get out of it. I sort of spent all of the money they paid me." She swallowed hard.
He lifted an eyebrow but didn’t say anything. Lathering up a bar of soap, Koty began washing his body. Hot water and soap sluiced down his arms, legs, and back. “We
have a band by now,” he said, “if you weren’t so picky.”
She narrowed her eyes. “You were at the sessions. You heard how bad they all were.” She put her hands on her hips.
“I think you’re just too critical.” He put the bar of soap on the ledge of the tub and rinsed off. Water sprayed Jett, wetting her T-shirt. She remained rooted to her spot, the shower curtain clutched in one hand. “Can I finish my shower in peace?”
Jett tightened her grip on the shower curtain. “No,” she said. “We need to figure out what we’re doing.”
Koty took a deep breath. He locked his blue eyes on her brown ones. Her thighs clenched. She swallowed hard. She needed to stay focused. She forced herself to meet his gaze. “Do you know what you should be doing right now?” he asked.
She shrugged. “Buying myself a vibrator?” she mumbled.
“You should be in the shower in your bedroom, getting ready for practice tonight.” He squirted face wash into the palm of his hand and massaged it into his face. His fingers grazed the light beard he had grown. Electricity rocketed through Jett.
Taking a deep breath, she shook her head. “What’s the point of practicing?” She threw up her hands. “We need a band, Koty.”
“We won’t be able to play
shows if we lose our edge,” he said. He stepped under the stream of water once more. Turning in a slow circle, he rinsed off completely, giving her a 360-degree view of his body.
“I hate you right now,” she said between gritted teeth.
“Why?” He shut off the water. “You always tell me to practice every day. In fact, you never
telling me to practice. Just because I started off in a boy band, doesn’t mean I can’t play guitar. You know how I play—”
She held up her hands, releasing the shower curtain. “Okay, I get it.”
He stepped out of the tub and onto a bath mat. She took a step back. Beads of water ran down his skin and dripped onto the floor. “If you’re going to stay in here, hand me that towel.”
Rolling her eyes, she grabbed the towel on the counter. Avoiding looking at him, she passed it over. She wished that she could go back in time, to before she answered Griff’s phone call. Then again, she had wanted to quit before she even got out of bed.
She needed to remember that starting a band wasn’t easy. When she and Phillip Hilton started Perpetual Smile over ten years before, she mused, it had taken a year to find the right musicians. The thought of his name sent a searing pain through her. She bit down on her lip to hold back the tears. Even a year after losing him, it still hurt to know that he was gone forever.
“Are you all right?” Koty asked. He stood with a towel wrapped around his waist. His eyes searched hers.
Jett nodded. “I’m fine.” She crossed her arms. “I’m just thinking.” She turned from the small bathroom. She should probably let him have some privacy while he got dressed.
“Do you know what you’re going to do?” he asked.
She glanced over her shoulder at him. “Of course,” she said. Panic ate at her insides. Stepping out of the bathroom, she padded into his bedroom. Her stomach clenched. Wrapping her arms around herself, she headed toward the hall.
She had no idea what she was going to do.