Authors: Jade C. Jamison
ETHAN KNEW HE wasn’t taking the counseling session as seriously as he should. Yeah, he wanted her help, but he was also just eager to be around her. She was the first woman in a long time who’d turned him down. That made her a challenge. He was looking forward to testing her boundaries.
But before he stepped out the door, he got a phone call from his lawyer. “Mr. Richards, I’m going to put Mr. Becker on the phone.” He rolled his eyes, his hand still on the doorknob. He already knew what the call was about
, and he wasn’t in the mood.
“We’ve really got to get moving on this.
Your wife’s lawyer has called
. She wants the two of you to come to terms. Are you sure you want to fight this?”
He drew in a deep breath. Truth was he’d just been refusing the divorce to be an asshole. He was hurt, but he understood; still, he wasn’t happy about it. He’d always known there was something between Valerie and Brad, even though they’d never acted on it. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. They’d played around a little bit before Val had joined the band
, but they’d practically built a fence between themselves once she’d become their vocalist. That had allowed Ethan to move in for the kill. He’d loved her, yes. He still did, but he knew they weren’t good for each other. He would never blame Val for the way he treated her, but he’d never understood why she stayed. Oh, she’d left once and was gone for a long time, and he suspected that’s why he’d always hated the hell out of Clayton Smith, a guy simply known to the metal world as “Jet.” That guy had done something to Val to make her lose her faith in Ethan for a long time, even after Val and Jet had broken up.
He knew that was a lie too, though. Val had just been growing up and realizing what she wanted. But Ethan managed to persuade Val to marry him after his first near-fatal overdose, and when he’d told her he’d stay clean and faithful, he’d meant it. He’d really wanted to.
It just didn’t work, though. He knew he had to let go and let Val get on with her life. Fully Automatic’s bassist, Nick Chen, had told him a few days ago that Brad had moved in with Val the week before, and that had just pissed him off more. Still…he’d always known there was something between the two of them, and it was time to let them be happy.
So he let out another breath and said, “No.
Fine. Let’s get it over with.”
“Fantastic. I’ll call her attorney.”
Ethan was okay with the divorce, but no way in hell was he going to let her think she could keep his son from him. He couldn’t do it. So, before his lawyer hung up, he said, “Hold on. I want you to sue her for full custody.”
He could hear the incredulity in his attorney’s voice. “What do you mean?
For your son?”
If his mom’s whoring around, shacking up with other guys, I don’t think my son should be around that.”
“What? Is there something I should know about?”
“Just tell her lawyer I want my son. We’ll go from there.”
Ethan hung up the phone. He wasn’t going to argue with his attorney at hundreds of dollars an hour. No, instead, the prick already knew what Ethan wanted and needed, and he’d do it, even if he thought all of Ethan’s screws were loose. Ethan closed the door to his apartment and walked down the hall, ready for his appointment with the counselor.
* * *
Unlike the night before, Ethan was only a couple of minutes late, and he even apologized for it. “Sorry. My lawyer called just as I was walking out the door.”
“No problem. Come on in.”
Jenna’s office was smaller than his psychiatrist’s office. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it was small. She waved a hand at a couch and a chair, letting Ethan choose either, and she sat in a desk chair on the other side of the room. He didn’t care much about his surroundings, though. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.
So he’d played the sympathy card with her. Yeah, he needed help, but that wasn’t the main reason he was here. He figured his shrink could take care of his head. This woman, though…he needed her for other reasons entirely. She’d turned him down…and that made her that much more intriguing to him. He wasn’t going to force himself on her, though, not anymore. His usual approach
hadn’t worked on her, not at all. Any of the other usual women who fell at his feet would have jumped on him at the first invitation, but not this woman. She was going to be a challenge.
And he liked that.
He would have to be more subtle, though. He hadn’t had to woo a woman in ages. He hoped he’d remember how to do it. As he sat in the middle of the soft green sofa in her office, that was the main thought on his mind. Goddamn, she was hot. She was dressed subtly and semi-professionally. She wore dark blue jeans and a white button-down shirt with a black jacket and sandals. He wished she’d take the jacket off, because it would make her look less like a businesswoman, and he was hoping he could see if she had any tattoos under the shirt.
The air conditioning was blowing full blast, though, so he knew there wouldn’t be much chance. She sat in the chair by her desk
, and Ethan tried to keep his eyes focused on hers…instead of on her neck where escaped tendrils flowed from the makeshift ponytail she’d put her hair into. Oh, that neck...it looked delicate. He
put his lips on it if it was the last thing he’d do.
Well, let’s skip the formalities, shall we? The first thing I want to do is talk to you about addiction.”
He cleared his head. “Shouldn’t we discuss payment first?”
The smile was slight, but it was there. That gave him hope. “I assume you’re good for it.”
He nodded. “I am.”
“Then you can pay me after your time is up. Since you appear to be eager, I want to dig in.”
Fuck, yeah, he wanted to
dig in, but not the way she imagined. Subtly, Ethan. He knew he’d never get anywhere with her by being aggressive. She’d already made that clear. So he simply nodded.
“I have to know something.”
Or not. Ethan felt hopeful and leaned over. “Anything.” He resisted the urge to call her
“Do you really want to quit?”
He started to give a knee-jerk answer until he realized he’d never actually been asked if he
to quit before. Sure, he’d heard the stupid saying that someone had to
to quit or it wouldn’t work, but he’d never been asked if that was what he really wanted to do. So he closed his mouth and pondered his brain. Her question had thrown him completely off guard.
When he really thought about it, no, not completely.
There was a small part of him that would never want to quit. Drugs—alcohol included—did something for him, or he never would have become addicted in the first place. They numbed his brain, made it easier to forget or at least push things to where he couldn’t see and feel them. They made it easier for him to ignore the new strange things his brain was trying to do…things that made him feel as though his firing synapses weren’t on his side. His brain was warring against him, rebelling, trying to hurt him. And—if that weren’t enough—the memories were killer. The older he got, the more he remembered…about his father, his childhood, his mother, things he would have preferred to have kept tucked in that little closet in his brain. Instead, the door opened, inch by inch, and memories made their way out. They were just tiny pictures at first—fuzzy memories and shadows—but they grew as time went on. Full scenes, episodes, movies began to consume him, and he tried to make sense of them, and when he couldn’t, a dark cloud enveloped him. The dark cloud might not lift because of the substances he abused, but he was better able to hide from it.
There was no fighting it.
But, in spite of the reprieve the drugs brought from all that pain, he was tired of living that way. The drugs, the alcohol made him a different person. He was angry and mean when he used—it didn’t always seem that way to him, but Val and his bandmates had confirmed it to him several times. He would often lose days—weeks, even—when he was on a spree. The worst part, though, was he felt like he didn’t know himself anymore. He didn’t know who Ethan Richards was. He was famous, now, yes, but he’d become the caricature his fans expected. He’d lost the real Ethan.
Getting sober would be his way of getting himself back.
So, no matter what benefits the drugs gave him, he knew he had to let them go for good. He didn’t like what they did to him, and he already knew…they were killing him. He didn’t think he could take it anymore—physically or mentally. He had to kill the habit, murder its hold over him. It was kill or be killed.
He looked Jenna in the eyes and said, “Yeah. Yeah, I do. I want to be quit once and for all.”
She smiled—not a huge toothy grin but a sweet smile, one that didn’t open her mouth but turned up the corners of her lips. “Good. So…let’s talk about addiction and what it does to your brain.”
Ethan couldn’t help it. He’d heard this spiel before. Hell, he’d just heard it in rehab weeks ago. He knew all about the receptors and how the brain would respond to a substance. He didn’t need to know the scientific reason for the way a drug made him felt.
The first hit…that was the kicker. He’d go from stressed, feeling all wound up and out of control to calm, serene…a big
. It was as if a switch were actually flipped in his head, changing his mood instantly. Oh, he knew what those drugs did. Alcohol…it was a little different. One or two beers wouldn’t do much, but if he’d slam several shots or drink while taking something else, well, that was another matter entirely. He could get a buzz going really fast then, but alcohol didn’t mean instant gratification like other things did. It all depended on the drug and the method, and there weren’t many drugs Ethan hadn’t tried at least once.
So he was tuning Jenna out, but it wasn’t on purpose. He was beginning to appreciate where she was coming from. Still, though, he couldn’t get her out of his brain. She was sexy as hell and what made her sexier was that she didn’t even seem to notice it. And Ethan never would
have believed someone’s brains would have been a turn on, but he thought that was attractive too. Add to it that she was sensitive, even if she didn’t seem particularly nice, and he was smitten. In fact, he liked that she came off as a little pushy. That was probably his favorite part about her so far.
So he did his best to maintain eye contact, sneaking a peek at her neck or
her lips every now and then when she was looking away. She grew more animated the more she talked, the passion for her profession showing. But he hardly heard her words. He was instead enjoying drinking in her emerald green eyes, her pink lips and cheeks, her mass of auburn hair that didn’t seem to want to be contained behind her head. So when she asked, “Does any of that make sense?” Ethan didn’t feel guilty for telling a little lie.
O…WHY DON’T you tell me about your addictions?”
“What exactly do you want to know?”
God…anything that would get him to stop eyeing her like that. The entire time she’d been giving him her usual addiction speech—one of the first things her clients would hear from her during their initial counseling session—he’d been feasting on her as though she were a juicy steak. It made her feel uncomfortable. She had to admit to herself that it wouldn’t have bothered her so much if she hadn’t been growing more and more attracted to him.
He was giving her question some thought. He was resting his lips on his open fist, his eyes narrowed and focused on a spot on the wall, as though he were watching p
rey, but Jenna knew he was pondering her question. After what felt like close to an eternity, his eyes met hers. “The only way I can describe it…it’s like you’re at this party, right? And you see this absolutely incredible, gorgeous woman across the way. And you realize she’s looking at you. Only she’s not just
at you. She wants you, wants you bad. She is seriously the hottest… You have to have her. There’s something about her. You know she’ll make you feel better than you ever have before, like no one ever has. You’re drawn to her like a moth to flame. You can’t resist. You find yourself walking across that room with no regard to any of the other people around you. It’s a draw you can’t deny…there is no escaping it, no getting away. You have to taste her, just once.”
Jenna felt breathless. Was he talking about his addiction…or something else? But she knew he was
answering her question, because even though he was looking her way, his gaze wasn’t fixed on her.
“And when you
make it across the room to her, it’s like the rest of the world just washes away. You’d felt like shit before…worthless, unloved, unlovable, hated…but with her, even before you taste her, you know you’ll feel better.
“Sure enough, you take her in your arms and she engulfs you, makes you feel like no one else ever can.
Suddenly, the rest of the party is gone. There’s no one around…just you and her. You breathe her in and she just consumes you. You can’t get deep enough into her…but you try anyway. And then, after your beautiful time together, she’s gone, and you feel empty. No, worse. You were empty before. Now there’s even less…it’s like you were empty before and now you’re completely gutted.” His eyes got a faraway look. “So you look for her again, hoping to feel full and alive once more…but it never feels as good as the first time.” His voice grew quieter and he talked more slowly, almost as though to himself. “And then…it’s like you don’t know how to live without her. You resent having to search her out. She becomes a fucking bitch, harping at you, telling you you’re not good enough, you’re not man enough…and then you just need more and more until…” He shook his head and rested his forehead in his hand. Jenna was glad, because until he’d switched gears, she was getting sucked into his seductive talk…and there was no way she could let Ethan know he was starting to have that effect on her. “You don’t want to be with her anymore, but you don’t know how to let her go…and you’re scared to.”
Jenna took a deep breath and tossed her head to the side, forcing her hair out of her eyes. “You’re making the right choice, though, Ethan. Your…analogy of the seductive woman is a good one, because
addiction is very much like the dysfunctional relationship you describe. It’s dependency, not love. It’s need, but an unhealthy need. It’s not like needing a drink of water or you’ll die of thirst. Yeah, it’s that desperate and if you’re hooked, you
die from not getting your next hit, but you know as well as I do that there’s nothing healthy about it. Water is good for you. It hydrates you, cleans toxins out of your body, and all that good stuff, but we both know that drugs are just messing with your head. Sure, a hit of coke might make you feel like a powerful god, but you’re still the same person. Pot might make you feel a little more mellow, but just because you’re ignoring your problems doesn’t mean they go away.” She maintained eye contact. “I know I’m telling you what you already know, but it bears repeating: all drugs do is mask how you feel. They’re temporary.”
Ethan nodded and sat up, leaning against the back of the couch. “Can I ask you something?”
She felt her heart start beating just a little harder. Oh, this wasn’t good. She shouldn’t feel what she was starting to for this broken man. Part of what made her heart ache for him was the fact that he was still trying so hard to be the tough rock star who didn’t give a shit, but then she would see him like this, teetering on the edge, so close to giving up. She wanted to help him, but she had to find a way to keep her emotions out of it. She paused a moment, allowing her professional persona to take over. “Sure.” Oh…that wasn’t good either. She sounded a little
cold, too clinical.
Ethan didn’t seem to notice.
“You ever been addicted to anything?”
No way would she ever tell him the truth…
not just about smoking, but also that she had at one time felt addicted to a person. There was one guy who’d been all those things Ethan had described his addictions as…someone who made her feel whole when she was with him, but as soon as he’d left the room, she would feel worthless, ugly, unwanted. No way would she ever tell Ethan about her ex-boyfriend. It wasn’t that she didn’t want Ethan to know she was a human being just like he was, but she didn’t feel like she could completely trust Ethan. There was something about him that, right now, she wasn’t sure about. She was afraid he might use that information against her. She wasn’t ready to take that step and wondered if she ever
feel ready with a guy like Ethan.
, Jenna. Don’t forget that.
She drew in another deep breath, still aware that her heart rate was higher than it should be, and said, “We’re not talking about me, Ethan. That shouldn’t matter.” For some stupid reason, she didn’t want to lie to him, even if it was a little white lie, one that really wouldn’t matter in the long run.
What she’d said, though, was a mistake, because it allowed him to sense her vulnerability. “It
matter, Jenna.” It was like he had her by the throat. Saying her name… She knew he’d called her by her name before, but this time, the sound of his voice, the way his breath seemed to caress her…she felt weak all of a sudden. If she’d been standing, her knees would have buckled. How she managed to maintain eye contact and a cool façade, she’d never know. God, she hoped she
maintaining it and not just imagining it. “It would help me know you
, that you’re not just another one of
Reflected in his eyes was a sincerity she’d never seen from him
before. There was nothing there now that was sarcastic or arrogant. He was down to the bone…real. She didn’t feel like she could hold back from him seeing him like that. She swallowed and looked down at her hands, but then she forced her eyes back to his. “I’ve never been addicted to alcohol or anything illegal…not like you.”
His eyes flashed. “But you know what I’m talking about, right?”
Those green eyes were drilling down into her soul. He had asked for understanding from
, but what she was getting was an understanding from him. Suddenly, she felt like she had met a kindred soul, someone who knew the pain she’d felt, someone who could help her heal herself.
What the fuck was she thinking? She was the counselor, not Ethan. And she was playing a dangerous game. It was bad enough that she’d been feeling something unprofessional for him earlier, a sexual attraction for him that, she knew, could be considered a natural response, but feeling like he was a kindred spirit was strictly forbidden in her book. She had to find a way to end this…and quickly.
She mentally slammed down the lid in her heart that had flung itself open and then she forced herself to cool off. She now had a fine line to walk. She had to be professional but not icy. That was going to be tough for her, because her inclination—to save herself—was to cut him off completely. She was
going to allow herself to fall for another man, especially one this fucked up. “Ethan, I really think you’re missing sight of what we’re here for. We’re here to help you, to talk about
addictions, not about me. And you’ve done an excellent job of describing what you’ve had to go through. So I need to know how you plan to overcome those addictions.”
that look. That was dangerous, and she felt a little cheerleader waving pompoms in her heart, realizing she’d just saved herself. Ethan was smirking, acting cocky, and she knew then that he would have completely trashed her had she given up her secret. His eyes glinted as he said, “I thought that’s what I was seeing
Yeah…she had a lot of work to do on herself before she could ever help someone like Ethan Richards.