“Greer, if you come in just a second sooner, you’ll nail the intro.” Reid pushed his hair out of his face and took a deep breath. For the first time since he’d received the call about Valerie breaking her arm, he felt like things might be okay. “Chloe, I think if you hold half a beat after Greer’s intro, that will fix what’s off.” “Hey, Reid?” Reid looked up from his guitar toward Chloe. She seemed uneasy, which was a huge contrast to when they were alone together earlier. “What’s up?” “I was just wondering if maybe Greer should repeat the intro, but on the second round, drag the notes a little before I come in. I think it would make the transition smoother.” Reid stood motionless with his brows drawn together in concentration. In his head, he played the intro as Chloe suggested. It only took a moment for his face to smooth and his eyes to brighten. “Hell yes. Greer, that’s exactly it. Give it a try.” Greer did as Reid instructed. The moment the notes fell into place, Reid looked at Chloe and gave her the most genuine smile he’d had in months. At least where his music was involved. Chloe’s answering smile caused his stomach to flip. Her excitement was contagious. The change of the intro had been insignificant, just an added repetition, but it suddenly felt brand new. It was like discovering the missing piece to a song. It felt fresh, clean. As soon as the song ended, Reid pulled the strap of his guitar over his head and turned to face the group. “I think we made progress today. How about we call it a day? Tomorrow, we’ll head over to the stage and work on choreography.” When no one moved, Reid rolled his eyes. “Don’t be assholes. We’ve been here over four hours. I’m not that much of a slave driver.” “It took Chloe ten hours to get to LA yesterday before she drove to the studio and practiced for almost six hours. You’ve kept us here from sunup until sundown before. Forgive me if I’m waiting for the punch line.” Reid shrugged at Greer, but he flashed Chloe a sheepish smile. “This is what happens when I have a shred of confidence we’ll pull this off.” “You’ve ridden our asses for weeks. Even when you weren’t here. Now, suddenly, after two practices with Chloe, you’re confident we’re not going to screw everything up?” Greer looked toward Chloe, his expression colored with disbelief. “Why the hell didn’t you get here sooner?” Chloe laughed, a shy smile pulling at the corners of her mouth when Greer winked. “Maybe you should have suggested repeating the intro. Could’ve saved yourself a lot of trouble.”Greer glared at Chloe, causing laughter to fill the room. “She got you there,” Drew observed. “You’ve been stuck here as much as I have,” Greer pointed out to Drew. “You should be just as outraged.” “Nah.” Drew dropped his drumsticks and stood. “I got nothing else to do. Plus, it’s Reid’s dime. If he wants to pay me to play drums, then I’ll take his money all day long.” “Jerk,” Reid mumbled. “All right, everyone get the hell out of here. You’re officially off the clock.” “Crap. Maybe I should have kept my mouth shut. I could have finally gotten that new ink I want.” Chloe looked at Reid, mischief written all over her face. “I’ll know better next time.” “I’ll be broke by the time this tour is over,” Reid joked. “By the time this tour is over, you’ll have more money than you know what to do with. Now, while I still can, I’m going home, getting naked, and spreading across my bed from corner to corner. Once the tour starts, nights like those will be a distant memory. Later,” Greer called over his shoulder as he walked out the door. “Well, that’s quite the mental image,” Chloe said, grabbing her violin case. “You’re welcome to join me,” Greer yelled, his voice fading to a laugh as he moved farther down the hall.Chloe snickered. “One thing’s for sure. This tour will never be boring.” “I can’t wait,” Reid deadpanned. After exchanging good-byes with Chloe and Drew and packing away his things, Reid lingered. The silence caused a familiar feeling of unease to creep in. It was true he’d been demanding, but preparing for the tour wasn’t his only reason for the long hours. The truth was, he didn’t want to be alone, and because of recent changes in his life, he didn’t have a lot of options for company. Walking into the control room, he pulled on a set of headphones to listen to the rehearsal tapes. He smiled at the random comments from Drew, Greer, and Chloe between song breaks. Notebook in hand, he jotted down things to go over with the others. More than two hours passed before he reached the final song. The song that had given him grief ever since he changed the intro. The same song Chloe managed to fix in a matter of minutes. Reid smiled as he thought about how her face lit up when Greer did as she suggested. Reid remembered that kind of enthusiasm. The feeling of exhilaration when the notes fell into place. From a young age, he’d always known whatever he did in life would involve music. For years, he played at every hole-in-the-wall bar in Memphis. He mailed out demo after demo to recording labels from New York to Los Angeles. The response was always the same: silence.When the talent scout picked him up three years ago, he thought all his dreams had come true. For all intents and purposes, they had. What he hadn’t expected was to lose Jess and everything that followed. He still loved music, breathed it. The passion and inspiration, however, were blanketed under layers of bad decisions leading to unthinkable consequences. Unnerved by his train of thoughts, Reid decided to call it a night. On the drive home, he watched the city lights pass in a blur. Bright colors on vibrant signs glowed in the night and masked the stars. It was nothing like Memphis, nothing like the open space of his childhood home. Everything was bright lights, fast-paced and loud. So loud that at times he couldn’t hear himself think. He needed that now, the noise. The distraction. Anything to keep him from dwelling on the last year. There was no noise to be found, however, when he walked into the foyer of his house. His shoes echoed off the tile and the lights hummed to life as he moved from room to room. When he reached the entrance to his living room, he only hesitated for a moment before continuing to the kitchen. He grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator and eased onto the stool by the bar. With his arms braced on the counter, he let his head fall forward, his shoulders hunched. The silence felt overwhelming, suffocating. He needed to call Jess. She was the only one who could soothe the voices in his head. He longed for the time when silence was comfortable, when it didn’t feel like a bad thing. Blowing out a heavy breath, he pushed away from the bar and walked to his bedroom. Stripping out of his clothes, he fell onto the bed and dialed her number. “Hello?” “Hey.” “Reid, hey. How are you?” He paused, and when he spoke, his voice sounded unsure, even to him. “Good. Tired.” “What’s wrong? Did something happen?” Reid exhaled in disbelief. “How do you do that?” “Do what?” “Know that something is bothering me when I’ve only said three words?” On the other end of the line, Jess laughed quietly. “You’ve never been very good at masking your mood. I can hear it in every syllable.” “So you’re saying I shouldn’t try my hand at becoming a professional poker player?” “Oh, baby. Vegas would eat you alive. You’d be on the corner singing for nickels before you could say all in.” “Well then, it’s a good thing I hate to gamble.” “Indeed.” Reid sighed. “I’m okay. Today was actually a good day rehearsal-wise. When everyone left for the day, though . . . I don’t know. I just started thinking about things I’d rather not.” When Jess spoke, her voice was softer, soothing. “I’m sorry. I know it’s hard being back in LA. I wish you were here instead. I miss you already, and the tour hasn’t even started.” “I miss you, too. I know this next year won’t be easy for either of us, but we’ll make it work. Right?” A weight of desperation settled on his chest and caused his breath to still as he waited for her answer. “Of course we will. This ain’t our first rodeo. We’ll hold on for our eight seconds.” Swallowing, Reid nodded. “Eight seconds is nothing.” “Nothing,” Jess echoed. “Get some rest. It’s late. I’ll call you tomorrow.” “Okay. Goodnight.” Reid ended the call and tossed his phone on the bedside table. He closed his eyes and let his mind drift to the past. To smoky bars, cheap beers, and the sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival playing on an old jukebox. The memory made him smile. It was a familiar place Reid visited in his mind when he needed to block out the nightmares. As he slowly drifted to sleep, his face twisted with confusion as the scene changed. The last thing he saw was the glint of silver and a flash of purple before succumbing to sleep.The next morning, Reid was surprised to find Chloe waiting in the control room. His surprise quickly morphed, however, when a sweet smell invaded his senses. Icing, cinnamon, and the warm scent of fresh-baked pastries hung thick in the air. He crossed the room to Chloe’s side, ignoring the look of shock that flashed across her face as he leaned closer and pulled in another deep breath. “What is that smell? Is that you? You can’t smell like that all day.” “What are you going to do, eat me?” Chloe laughed, before her eyes widened and her mouth fell open. Reid took a step back and eased into the chair next to her, the skin on the back of his neck heating as he processed her words. Not wanting to prolong either of their embarrassment, Reid redirected the conversation to the reason he’d nearly assaulted her in the first place. “No, but if that smell is not from food you have hidden somewhere, only lingering on your clothes, you’re going to have to change. That’s cruel and unusual punishment.” Chloe reached into her bag and pulled out a plastic container. “If I give this to you, am I at risk of losing a limb?” Reid pretended to mull it over before shrugging.“The sooner you hand over the goods, the better your chance of survival.” As soon as Reid had the container, he pulled off the top and closed his eyes. “Holy shit. Where did these come from?” “The friend I’m staying with, Josie, her brother is a chef. He stopped by on his way to work and dropped them off.” Reid took a bite of cinnamon roll and sagged back in his chair. “I’ve never tasted anything like this. Are there drugs in here?” Chloe laughed. “If you think that’s good, you should try his apple pancakes with maple cream cheese sauce.” Reid narrowed his eyes. “That’s what I smelled yesterday. I thought I was losing my mind. If you’re going to smell like this every day, we’re going to have to come to some kind of agreement.” Chloe folded her arms over her chest. “What do you propose?” Reid licked the icing off his fingers and closed the lid of the container. “First, even though I’m sure these two other rolls are for Drew and Greer, that’s not happening.” Chloe started to protest, but Reid shook his head. “I will lick the tops off them now if you try to argue.” Reid lifted the container. “These do not exist.” Chloe covered her mouth and giggled behind the sleeves of her hoodie. Reid continued to stare in silence, his brow lifted as he waited for her to answer. When she finally nodded, he continued. “Good. Second, you have to share. And third . . .” Reid paused. “Well, there is no third. I just want in on this breakfast thing. What do you say?” “And if I don’t?” With narrowed eyes, Reid stared at Chloe before a devious smile curved his lips. “I’ll give you the bunk closest to the bathroom on the tour bus.” Chloe’s nose wrinkled as a look of disgust crossed her face. “You wouldn’t.” “How about we not find out? Breakfast for the second-best bed on the bus. Deal?” Chloe sighed. “I’d be a fool not to take that deal.” “Good.” Reid grinned and passed Chloe a pair of headphones. “Let’s get to work.” For the remainder of the hour, Chloe and Reid listened to tapes and discussed possible adjustments. When it was time to head to the studio, Reid felt a twinge of disappointment. Chloe sparked a feeling of inspiration he hadn’t felt in a very long time. The reminder of how long it had been since he’d written anything other than jumbled thoughts caused Reid to frown. “You okay?” Chloe asked as they walked to the venue across the street where they’d be rehearsing.Reid nodded and gave Chloe a small smile. He didn’t bother to question why she’d asked. Apparently Jess wasn’t the only one who could read his tone and body language. Chloe’s steps slowed, and for a moment, Reid thought she was going to press, but instead, she fell back into step beside him. “So what’s the plan for today?” “Since you don’t know all the songs yet, I decided to switch up the set list for the first few shows. I’m going to replace a few of the new songs with old ones, so you’ll only play half the show until you catch up. After that, it’s sink or swim.” “Thanks. The last thing I want is to embarrass anyone, including myself. I promise it won’t take long for me to get up to speed. When I was still in New York, Tom sent over the rehearsal tapes with Valerie. I’ve listened to them dozens of times. I’ve played every song, but I haven’t been able to get through all of them without peeking at the sheet music from time to time.” Reid paused at the entrance and looked to Chloe in surprise. “Seriously?” “Yeah.” Chloe fidgeted with the handle of her violin case. “Tom sent over DVDs of stage rehearsals as well. If you plan on keeping everything the same, I have a pretty good grasp on the way you want things to go.” “When have you had time to do all of this?”Chloe shrugged. “It’s a long flight from New York. And since we finished early yesterday and Josie was working, I spent the rest of the evening watching the DVDs.” Reid shook his head. “Damn, girl. You’re going to burn out before we even start the tour. Not that I don’t appreciate your dedication.” Chloe stepped inside the building then turned to face Reid. “I don’t think you understand how much this opportunity means to me. This is my dream. Traveling the world and feeling the rush of adrenaline spiked by fear and excitement when I step onto the stage. The warmth of the lights, the hum of the crowd, the euphoric sensation that settles around me when I play. It doesn’t matter that it’s not about me. It doesn’t matter that I’m not the one everyone came to see. Being a part of something, playing music, and getting paid to do it? Nothing is better than that.” Reid stared at Chloe in silence. A tightness formed in his throat and the thump of his heart grew so loud, he felt the pulse in his ears. When he spoke, his voice was low, melancholy. “I’d give anything to feel that way again.” Chloe frowned. “You don’t?” Reid dropped his eyes and shoved his hands inside his pockets. “Not anymore. Not for a while.” He jumped in surprise when she wrapped her fingers around his forearm and squeezed gently before letting go. When he looked up, she shrugged and gave him a wide smile. “Well then, we’ll just have to fix that.” “I wish it was that simple.” Chloe laughed. “Of course it is. You just need a little help.” “Are you going to use Jedi mind tricks on me?” Reid grinned and started down the hall with Chloe trailing behind. “I’m never going to live that one down, am I?” “Not a chance.” Reid looked over his shoulder in time to catch Chloe roll her eyes. “Fine. Then, yes. Feel like a wide-eyed newbie in no time, you will.” Reid’s abrupt laugh caused him to choke. “Shit,” he coughed. “You’re really good at that.” “I’m a Jedi Master. Of course I am,” Chloe deadpanned. Reid moved to the stage and waved at Greer and Drew. He cut his eyes to Chloe and grinned. “Come on, Yoda. We’ve got work to do.” While he didn’t think she could help him find his way back, he didn’t see the harm in pretending. It was better than feeling nothing at all.