Authors: Eden Summers
He didn’t wait for a reply. He gave the subtle hand signal for the band to kick into the first song and sang until adrenaline outweighed the heartache.
One song blended into the next, and each time he glanced side stage he was met with a grim look from Kyle. Those eyes told him to get his head in the game and concentrate, but he couldn’t do either when Harper’s necklace jostled against his neck and the ring dangling from the end thumped against his heart in an unending beat. He should take it off. Throw it in the trash. Only he couldn’t bear to part with it. Not yet.
His intermission breaks came and went without a sign of Tank or word on Harper. He knew what that meant. And still he tried to find her in the lead up to his encore.
He paused and glanced to side stage so many times he knew there would be bad reviews tomorrow. He knew, yet he continued to do it anyway, holding out for the glimpse of hope.
Then he was walking off stage for the final time, his stride strong as he caught sight of the head of his security team.
“Where is she?”
Tank winced. “We lost her with the fight in the crowd. I had two of the security guards keeping an eye on her, but they were distracted when the fight broke out. I don’t know where she is.”
He nodded through the disappointment. Nodded and nodded and nodded, all the while wishing the movement would make him feel a lot less needy. “So she’s not waiting in my dressing room?”
Judd swallowed and looked around at the crew who were already rolling up leads and dismantling equipment. “Then let’s get this shit packed up so we can get to Salt Lake.”
“Go freshen up, and I’ll tell Kyle to get the tour bus ready.”
The thought of driving out of Denver shot a hole through his chest. Once he was gone, there would be no coming back. This was it.
“Can you do me a favor?” He reached behind his neck and unclasped the necklace. “Give this to charity, or pawn it. Throw it out for all I care.” He held out the jewelry for Tank to take.
“Don’t be stupid. You know you’ll change your mind about her ten times before you reach the shower.”
Not this time. “Take it.”
“Fuck off.” Tank shoved at his hand. “If you want to get rid of it, do it yourself. I’m just the head of security, remember?” He walked away. “And while you’re finding a place to dump it, maybe you should think about alternate responses to her running away, instead of letting her get away with it.”
“Such as?” Judd yelled over the fading chatter of the crowd.
Tank threw up his hands and didn’t look back. “You expect me to have the answers? I don’t know the first thing about women, let alone crazy-ass bitches like Harper.”
“She’s not a bitch,” Judd muttered, but his response didn’t matter. Tank was already gone. And so was his hope.
He knew what it was like not to fit in. He’d dealt with the isolation since the start of his career in the charts. The only thing that separated his situation from Harper’s was the love of music to pull him through.
She had nothing.
He looked at the ring in his palm, and clenched his fist around it. He wasn’t stupid enough to think he was a big enough draw card for her.
He glanced over his shoulder, at the crew who were onstage pulling apart the set. It was time to leave. He trudged toward them, into the house lights that bathed him in a florescent glow. People moved in his periphery, in the aisles and toward the exits. He didn’t look at any of them, they were a blur, a nuisance poking his attention.
He clenched his fist tighter and drew back, closing his eyes as he did it. Then without a second thought, he launched it into the air and walked away, not even looking to see where it landed.
It was time to move on and that ring was only holding him back.
Harper watched Judd launch something into the dwindling crowd. The glint of silver stole her breath and the recognition put her on her feet.
She ran, practically flew, down the stairs two at a time, cursing his stupidity as she shoved past people and squeezed around others in an effort to get to the ground level. “
She was taking psychosis to a whole new level. Exiting fans stopped and stared, security encroached, and the buzz of heartbroken thoughts finally ceased.
What the hell was she doing?
She gripped the hand rail leading to the lower level and took in every nuance of the young woman who picked up the ring. She was young, alone, in her early twenties, with pale skin and mousy-brown hair. Harper wanted to approach her, to snatch the engagement ring from her hands and place it where it belonged—on her wedding finger. But she wouldn’t allow herself.
There was no need for the insanity anymore. Judd hadn’t run after her, and he’d just thrown away the one thing that should’ve meant the most in their relationship.
The woman looked up at Harper, her big brown eyes wide. “I think Judd threw it from the stage. I’m sure it was him.”
“It was.” She descended the first step, her ribs squeezing tight with every inch. “That ring is worth a lot of money.”
“How do you know?”
“It used to be mine.”
The woman’s hand tightened around the ring and she eyed the remaining people in the stadium as if preparing to call for back up.
“Don’t worry, you can keep it.” She’d beg to reclaim it. Her heart already was. Only it wasn’t hers to have anymore.
“But why would he…” The girl glanced over her shoulder to the stage. “It’s crazy.”
“Yeah.” It was always crazy. Pure insanity twenty-four-seven. “Go on.” Harper jerked her head toward the closest exit. “Take it home and keep it somewhere safe.”
The woman nodded, a jerky bob of her head that spoke of awe and confusion. “Thank you.”
Harper waited for her to leave before she descended the remaining stairs and slumped into the closest chair. All her breath seeped out of her as she covered her face with her hands and tried to will the world away.
She didn’t move, didn’t even make a sound as the footsteps of fans slowly faded and the noise of the stage crew became a dreary soundtrack to her heartache. With every passing minute, Judd would be preparing to leave Denver. He was probably already gone, and she couldn’t forgive herself for the way they said goodbye.
Love shouldn’t be this hard. She shouldn’t have to choose between being comfortable in her own skin, yet confused with grief, or being in love and forever feeling out of place. Not that there was really a choice. Judd hadn’t come after her. He never fought for what they had.
He was never going to run after her, no matter how much she wanted him to.
“He’ll be boarding the bus in a few minutes.” Tank’s voice came from beside her.
She removed her hands from her face and stared straight ahead. She was too humiliated by her own actions and weighed down with regret to look at him.
“Did you see what he did?” Her voice wavered. “He threw the ring across the stadium.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“It’s ridiculous.” She blinked away the blur in her vision and met Tank’s gaze. “I can’t believe he’d throw away all that money.”
He cleared his throat. “But who is more irresponsible, the man who threw away half a million or the woman who threw it away when it had more than a monetary value?”
She winced, not expecting the slap of painful truth.
“Look, I’ve gotta go. I just wanted to give you one final kick before this was all over.” He placed a kiss on his fingers and then slapped them against her forehead. “All the best.”
” She wiped the moisture from her forehead but her touch lingered as he strode away. She didn’t want this to be the last time she spoke to Tank. She didn’t want the bus to be her final memories of Judd.
She didn’t want…
This pain and confusion. This grief and helplessness.
She stood on numb feet and dragged herself to the exit. The lobby was abandoned. Even the merchandise stand was closed. Loneliness seeped in and the pull toward an unknown force tugged at her throat.
She had to get home.
She pushed open the nearest exit and stumbled into the night air, filling her lungs to capacity. All she’d ever wanted was to belong—to a school, or a social group. To something big. She wanted a mass of comfort surrounding her. A network of support to cling to.
The only sense of home had ever come from a small handful of people—her mother, Nicole, Judd.
Maybe it was just her. Maybe she didn’t fit in with a large crowd. Maybe she had only earned one or two brilliant souls.
She rubbed her eyes, demanding the tears to go away. The dark tinted windows of Judd’s tour bus crept into her periphery.
He was leaving. Not just Denver, but her life.
Her throat threatened to close over. She didn’t want to be without him again. She didn’t want to lose him. Nor did she want to be deprived of the level-headed woman who was nowhere in sight around the world-famous Judd Hart. She couldn’t commit to a temperamental future filled with uncertainty.
Or could she?
What price was she willing to pay for comfort?
“Oh, God.” She started running before she could think it through, before she had any idea of what she was rushing toward.
The bus inched through the parking lot, parting a small group of dedicated fans who screamed and banged their fists along the side of the vehicle.
Harper increased her pace, her tiny heels sinking into the grass as she aimed for the main road surrounding the stadium. She couldn’t hear over the rush of blood in her ears and the frantic thump of her chest.
She ran onto the asphalt, and stood under the glow of a street light in the outside lane of traffic. She waited, tapping her foot in an anxious beat as the bus pulled out of the parking lot and accelerated toward her. The horn sounded in a deafening blow while the flash of high beam threatened to blind her.
“I’m not moving.” She raised her hands at the same rapid pace her heart raised to her throat, but the bus didn’t slow. Instead, it taunted her with the blink of the indicator, announcing they were going to go around her. To bypass her entirely. To ignore her existence.
She squinted against the lights, pinning an unfamiliar driver with her stare. “Oh, God.” There was no way he would stop. He’d assume she was a groupie. A threat to Judd’s safety.
Oh, God. Oh, God. Oh, God.
She ran into the inside lane, her hands still raised, and began to pray that the driver wasn’t as crazy as she was.
The screech of slammed breaks hit her ears and Judd came into view in the aisle of the bus, his eyes wide, his lips parted. He gripped the booth seat and mouthed something indecipherable to the driver who opened the door as soon as the vehicle pulled to a stop.
Judd jumped down the stairs, his face contorted in fury. She winced as his boots crunched into the asphalt and he began storming toward her.
“What the fuck are you doing?”
She sucked in a breath, suddenly overcome with stupidity. She couldn’t meet his gaze, instead she focused on the small group of people running toward them.
“Get in the bus,” he growled.
Maybe running was a better option. She was good at that.
“Get in the damn bus, Harper.”
She followed after him, climbing the stairs on numb legs, and startled when the door closed behind her. Something burned her cheek and she wiped it away with her shoulder, still trying to form words, still trying to understand what the hell she was doing as she stood mere feet in front of Judd in the middle of the bus aisle.
“Are you crying?” He reached out a hand.
“No.” She stepped back and focused on the floor that blurred before her. Why did she have to be entirely lost around him? Why was the world so confusing in his presence? Nothing felt right, everything was off kilter, but it was off kilter in the most exhilarating way. It was the fear of the unknown, the enlightenment of discovery. It was the aching pulse in the bottom of her belly that never ceased when she was around him.
“Yes,” she whispered and met his frowning stare. “I am crying.” Another trail burned down her cheek, the weakness there for him to see.
He raised his chin, unaffected. “Want to tell me why you’re trying to kill yourself with my tour—”
“Boss,” the driver interrupted, inching the bus down the road. “I need to make a move before these people rush onto the road. Am I still taking you to the suburbs?”
Judd’s jaw ticked as he stared her down. “No. Apparently, the person I was looking for isn’t there. Just circle the block.”
Something unfurled in her chest. Something warm and comforting. “You were going after me?”
His muscled arms crossed over his chest, shutting her down. “Why did you stop the bus?”
“I didn’t like the way we left things,” she lied.
He huffed in frustration and ran a hand through his hair. “And?”
She loathed the disappointment in his eyes and hated herself for putting it there. “I want to feel comfortable in your world, Judd.” That was the crux of it. She wanted to be everything. Not only his girlfriend. She wanted to be a puzzle piece that adjusted to every part of his life.
“I wish I could help you with that, but I’m not comfortable myself.”
She understood that now. He had a persona around outsiders. She was one of the lucky ones who had never been placated. “Your love of music outweighs the discomfort.”
He inclined his head. “I realize you don’t have the same incentive.”
“You’re my incentive.”
“Well, that’s what I’d hoped, but obviously I wasn’t enough.”
don’t think you’re enough?” She balked. “How could
not think you’re enough? You bring a feast to the table, and I only bring myself.”
“I don’t understand how people think a music contract can change someone overnight. Years later, I still don’t have the confidence or charisma that’s mysteriously supposed to overcome me. I’m the music geek I’ve always been. I’m constantly questioning if I’m good enough—for my fans, for my label. For you. I’m the guy who’s nervous as hell that I can’t keep the woman I love happy. I tried everything I could to stop you from making those threats to leave me. And still I wasn’t good enough.”