Viper (NSB Book 3), page 1
Table of Contents
4: NAME DROP
10: PROVE IT
17: VIPER RISING
21: WHISKY THEATER
23: HOT DATE
26: BLOODY HEARTS
NOTE FROM ALYSON
An NSB Novel by
NSB Series, Book 3
This novel is a work of fiction and intended for mature readers. Events and persons depicted are of a fictional nature and use language, make choices, and face situations inappropriate for younger readers.
Names, characters, places and events are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Copyright © 2017 Alyson Santos
All Rights Reserved
Cover design by Era Media Co.
4: NAME DROP
10: PROVE IT
17: VIPER RISING
21: WHISKY THEATER
23: HOT DATE
26: BLOODY HEARTS
NOTE FROM ALYSON
A shiver of relief passes through me, an hour later than usual. Second day in a row. Fourth day this week. I’m on a roll.
I study the shadows in the hollows of my ceiling, those ghosts you see in the first seconds of consciousness. They’re angry today. I guess they’ve been disgruntled lately—assholes. All I can do is wait until… There it is. The ceiling fan, evidence of recessed lighting.
I push myself up on my elbows, reluctant to move until I make a definitive decision about Alicia. No, Alice. No… Dammit. I study the emerging silhouette of an early-twenties bartender. Gentle curves, smooth back still exposed because we never totally committed to what kind of night this would be. Yep, I got wasted and fucked a bartender. As if I’m not already a walking cliché. I should do breakfast for this one. It’s the least I can do for all the free booze she fronted me.
I roll out of bed, pissed that I’m awake three hours after ending the night. Not that it’s new. It’s become the norm over the last two weeks.
“Babe?” she mumbles into the darkness.
“Go back to bed. It’s early.”
“Then why are you up?”
Why wouldn’t things be great? I had everything. Now I have nothing except a stranger in my bed whose name I can’t remember. I’m fucking great.
I squint into the blinding light and let it burn my eyes. For a moment, the stars spare me my reflection.
Funny how I used to admire the cocky SOB gazing back at me. Funny how quickly things can fall apart.
A knock at the door. Seriously?
“There’s another bathroom down the hall.” I think I do a pretty good job disguising my irritation.
“I know. Just checking to make sure you’re good.”
I grip the edge of the sink and force out an, “all good” instead of the curse running through my head.
“Okay. It’s just I’ve never slept with a musician who gets up before eleven, let alone five. Is it me?”
I don’t remember this part of her last night. Then again, I don’t remember much after she followed me home.
“Yeah? You fuck a lot of musicians?”
Guess that answers my question about breakfast.
I decide on a nice homebrew today, not feeling a trip to Tim Horton’s. Alicia or Alice or whatever was gone when I ventured from the bathroom, and now a twinge of regret gnaws at my stomach. I don’t know if I liked her, but she deserved better than what she got.
Still, my pain is more selfish. A few more hours with Alicia/Alice would have meant less time alone with my messed-up head. Some extra peace before the confrontation with my phone would’ve been nice. That stupid device never fails to highlight how my life has fallen apart.
With coffee brewing and island light blazing, I suck it up. Sure enough, several messages I don’t want and none of the ones I do.
I scan the frantic texts from my manager and decide there’s no way I’m listening to his voicemails. I get it: he’s freaking out. Of course he is, but I have no answers for him. For any of them.
My phone buzzes and my eyes shoot to the screen like they do every time there’s a chance it’s Holland. But it isn’t this time either. Why would it be? I’ve set new records on prick-level behavior toward the one person I care about beyond reason. Oh yeah, and completely shattered every single thing that mattered to me in the process. At least I’m efficient.
Nope, not my ex-best friend/bandmate when I check the e-mail. But there’s a sale on deli items at the Superstore.
I shove my phone away and flinch at the shrill beep of the coffeemaker.
2. Not looking at my phone.
My to-do list now that I don’t have music.
Today’s schedule of time-wasting is packed. It’s a new talent, cramming my day with nothing and avoiding everything.
It’s Friday, which means I watch TV for hours, work out even longer, and mess around on my guitar until I reach the threshold of what I can tolerate of my new life. That’s when the bar comes in. Choosing which one among the network of choices in downtown Toronto has become the most stimulating part of my day.
I find myself at Stand and Stool for the second time this week, mostly because watching drunk hipsters muddle politics with angsty wrath has become my favorite distraction. Damn, and today I’m two hours earlier than yesterday, which was an hour earlier than the day before. Yes, the pattern registers on my brain as I take a seat, but it doesn’t impact my conscience. I decide to compromise and go light for now.
“What do you have on draft?” I ask the bartender, a mercifully middle-aged man this time leaving zero chance of another Alicia/Alice regret.
“Amstel Light, Moosehead, Strong Bow, Heineken, Molson…”
“I have a Creemore Lager and Mill St. Tank House Ale.”
“I’ll take a pint of the lager.”
“You got it.”
Two tight-jeaned twenty-somethings on my left commiserate about an embargo imposed on a country they probably can’t place on a map. Somehow this relates to elephants and a political dissident that isn’t actually from said embargoed country. Also, pretty sure there are no elephants in that part of the world. What they lack in facts they more than make up for in passion and righteous scowling.
“What? No way! Wes?”
I turn toward the voice, my dark mood shifting into a smile.
“Hannah Drake! Hey, sis.”
“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you’re here! Am I allowed to hug you even though you’re fighting with my sister?”
“I’m not fighting with your sister,” I say through her traitorous embrace.
“Uh, you quit the band.”
“I didn’t quit. She kicked me out.”
She steps back, hands locked on my biceps to examine me like Grandma Wilkins used to do. “Well, can you blame her? You attacked her boyfriend. Twice, from what I understand.”
“Attacked is a strong word.”
“What word would you use?”
She returns my grin and slides onto the stool next to me. “Luke’s a good guy, you know.”
“So everyone keeps telling me.”
“People change. Look how much you’ve changed. You used to be a super-hot rock god. Now, you’re just a schlub drowning his sorrows in a pint of broken dreams.”
A snort rushes out. “Great, thanks. You’re looking good too. Anyway, we’re not broken up. Just on hiatus while we figure things out.”
“A hiatus, huh? That sounds like a Label label.”
“Hilarious. Hey, how’s the job going? The boyfriend? What’s his name again? Kirk Pastel-Tie?” At least this woman is used to my evasive subject changes.
“Geoffrey is fine. I’m living with him and his tie collection now. Job is okay too. I’m here to meet up with some coworkers.”
“Yeah? Celebrating a big promotion?”
“More like the completion of another brutal week of lawyering.”
I straighten for an exaggerated scan of the bar. “Yeah? Are any of them cute, single, and interested in a torrid affair with an ex-rock star?”
“Depends what you mean by cute, torrid, and ex-rock star.”
I lean close, voice low. “I can be flexible.”
She shoves me away. “Wow, so drowning your sorrows in booze and women? That’s not cliché or anything.”
“To be fair, they’re pretty big sorrows.”
“I always thought you were creative.”
“Oh, I’m plenty creative, darling. Your friend won’t be disappointed, I promise.” I add a wink just to get a Hannah Drake eye roll. For old time’s sake.
“Oh yeah? Like the time you drew my name in the Drake Family Gift Exchange and got me a Tim Horton’s card?”
“You loved that gift card!”
“Sure, but I thought the debate was creativity not gift-giving capabilities.”
I grunt and swallow another mouthful of Broken Dream lager.
“And anyway,” she continues, “don’t you think it’s a little early in your retirement to consider yourself an ex-rock star?”
“I have no clue. What’s the timeframe on that?”
“Pretty sure it’s not two weeks and at age twenty-nine.”
I shrug and resume my fake scan of the floor. “Okay, then. Do you have any cute, single friends interested in a torrid affair with a rock star on hiatus?”
Her radiant grin draws one from me. “I’ll keep an eye out.”
“Speaking of which…” She waves over to a mixed-group of suits moving toward us. My crowd inspection becomes legitimate.
“What do you think?” she whispers, her conspiratorial glint sweeping over my face.
“Cute, but not so sure about the torrid-affair-with-a-rock-star angle.”
“Yeah, sorry. They tend to prefer yachts to tats, but it’s their loss.”
I smirk and finish off the remnants of my drink. Yachts are pointless when you’re on the road all the time. Maybe I should get a yacht now.
“You want to hang with us?” she asks. Great, a pity invite from my surrogate little sister. That’s my life now.
“No, I’m fine. It was good to see you, though.”
“You too.” Her gaze turns serious. “We’re going to miss having you around. I hope you patch things up with Holland soon.”
I swallow. “Yeah, me too.”
She squeezes my arm before leaving me alone with my empty glass.
To say I’m affected by my encounter with Hannah would be an understatement. Rattled is more like it, and I find myself sifting through the veil of bar patrons more often than I’d like as the night wears on.
I catch a glimpse of her dark hair and formal business attire, grateful I turned down her invitation. I can’t imagine how much I’d be hating whatever convo is making them chuckle into their martinis. Yeah, I don’t get how Hannah Drake survives her own world.
Hannah has always been my favorite of Holland’s sisters. She has an edge the others lack, a coarse wit that can grind through any bullshit, and heaven knows I’m caked in it. Holland has a similar quality, but she’s softer somehow, too giving for a leech like me. Thankfully, we figured that out before locking ourselves into a marriage. But Hannah was never afraid to yank me off and toss me into the flames when I crossed a line she didn’t like. A line like trying to fuck things up between her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. I’d expected a slap, not a hug, the first time I saw her after the fall tour disaster. We’ll chalk that one up to shock and her relief that it’s Friday.
My phone buzzes. It’s our manager, Jacob, again. Dammit. I ignore the call and drop it back on the bar.
A polished woman stands too close not to be interested. Mid-forties, maybe. I look for a ring. No, thank god. I’m not into drama—except when it’s necessary to protect the people I love. Which, let’s be honest, is Holland Drake. She was my world for twenty years. Luke Craven better keep his shit together or I will kill him.
“Ex-girlfriend? I wish.”
I grunt. “Definitely not.”
“Except I ignored the call.”
“You could be a jerk.”
I almost laugh and narrow my eyes for a fresh appraisal. “It’s possible. Probably why I don’t have a girlfriend.”
She takes the seat beside me.
“What are you drinking?” she asks.
“Way more than I should be.”
She signals the bartender. Gin and tonic for her. Another of what I’m having for me.
“You’re buying me a drink?” I ask, eyeing her with renewed interest.
“You didn’t stop me.”
I shake my head, this time with a grin. “No, I guess I didn’t.”
“You have a nice smile. You should use it more often.”
“Thanks. You have a nice ass.”
She leans closer, fishing with bait even a teenage boy could recognize.
“What is it that you do, Wes?” she asks as the bartender slides her a glass. The stir stick raises to dark red lips, her tongue outlining the tip with enough aggression to hold my attention.
“I’m a musician.” My game doesn’t require more than that. My tattoos, the rigid definition pressing through lazy jeans and a fitted t-shirt. The air of not giving a fuck—which I don’t. It’s not even a game anymore.
“Oh, really? Do you play anywhere local?”
Now, that’s always a fun question. Well, more specifically, their reaction to my answer.
And there it is: the startled awe. The visions of ripping my clothes off in my posh rock god penthouse. Unabated lust to gush to her friends about the tryst with… She doesn’t know who I am but it doesn’t matter. I still haven’t decided if she’s going to find out.
“The A.C.C.? Really, wow.”
I nod and drain my glass.
She wants to ask which band. It’s all over her face but she’s afraid of offending me, of hurting her chances at finding out what I look like stripped, sweaty, and pushing over her. I wait to see if she’ll excuse herself to the bathroom to attempt an internet search. Yes, that’s happened. Yes, it’s always painfully obvious. I have a website, fan group, a few periodical covers, hundreds of images and promo shots. It’s not hard.
Wes Alton, Tracing Holland. Well, formerly of Tracing Holland, but she won’t discover that part yet. If Jacob has his way, no one will ever know because it’s not happening. Over his dead body are we parting ways. For someone who’s represented us for years, he still doesn’t understand me at all.
“Hey, we’re taking off,” I hear behind me as a hand attaches to my shoulder. I turn and catch Hannah’s grin. “I’d invite you, but I know lawyers aren’t your thing.” Her gaze flickers to Miranda before resting on me again.
“No, they’re not. Just the one,” I tease, enjoying her playful grimace.
“Sure, whatever. Hey, it was good to see you. You’ve still got my number, right? Stay in touch.”
“Yeah. Same here.”
Her fingers graze my neck before she disappears into the crowd behind her friends.
“She was cute.”
She is, but describing Hannah Drake as “cute” feels wrong. She’s my sister. Practically.
“Really.” The skepticism drips from her tone.
Miranda studies the door, and my mood shifts. Defensive. It’s been a quick transition for me lately.
“Girls don’t look at ‘friends’ that way,” she says, and now I’m just annoyed. All I know about this woman is her name and that she likes gin and chasing younger men.
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