Starting From Scratch (Starting From Series Book 2), page 1
Starting From Scratch
Copyright © 2019 by Lane Hayes
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
This book is a work of fiction. Places, names, characters and events are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, or persons, living or deceased, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Cover Design by Reese Dante
Cover content is for illustrative purposes only. Any person depicted on the cover is a model.
For Brett- My fearless bassist with the heart of a warrior. Beginnings are a resource. I can’t wait to see the magic you create.
Starting From Zero
Out on the Ice- Coming Early 2020
Excerpt from Out on the Ice by Lane Hayes (Early 2020)
Out in College Books!
About the Author
Also by Lane Hayes
“Life is easy to chronicle, but bewildering to practice.”—E.M. Forster, A Room with a View
The screech of an electric guitar grated like nails down a chalkboard, but it was slightly better than the off-tempo thump of the bass bouncing off the studio walls. The lackluster sound wasn’t normal. This band was destined for greatness—though maybe not today. Over the past six months, Zero had gone from being a minor curiosity to a rock and roll band on the rise with a steadily growing fan base. Every one of their LA-area shows sold out in advance last month. That had to be a good thing. One offbeat practice and a bad review didn’t change anything.
Fine. One scathing review.
I reread the last few lines from the unflattering piece in Sound Cloud by Nelson Cormer.
Zero is a mediocre facsimile of a 1980s hair band. They’re proof, if anyone needed it, that manufactured sound and contrived formulas are alive and well. The foursome lacks chemistry and the panache of seasoned musicians like Declan McNamara…blah, blah, blah.
And if you asked me, it was rather suspicious that the reviewer praised Declan McNamara. It seemed contrived. Everyone knew there was bad blood between Zero and Xena’s former guitarist. Obviously Nelson hoped a hint of discord would draw attention to his publication…and to Declan. I wondered who was pulling the strings there. It had to be someone with an ulterior motive. If I’d learned anything from my dad, it was to look for the angle. No one worked for free. As Zero’s manager-slash-promo-director, I had to keep an eye out.
However, I also had to keep perspective. A lot of people got off on tearing down artists who moved into the public eye too quickly. My experience with Instagram insta-fame taught me that for every ten people who loved you, ten others wanted to pull you apart. Haters were always gonna hate; popularity only made it worse. And Zero was popular. Okay, so they were popular in an “LA indie band” kind of way, but it was a good start. The buzz surrounding the band grew daily, while most people had no idea who Declan was or why he was persona non grata with Zero. Truthfully, I wasn’t one hundred percent clear about what happened, but I figured it had to do with sex or money. Or both. It always did.
I studied the band from my perch on the sofa in the studio. Zero had only been together officially for six months, but they each shared a history of some sort. Justin and Tegan had played in Gypsy Coma together; Justin and Johnny had worked at Aromatique, an adorable West Hollywood coffee shop until a month ago; and Tegan and Ky knew each other from high school. I was the newbie here, but in some ways, I felt closer to these guys than I did to friends I’d known my whole life. They felt like the cool older brothers I never had. They worked hard, but they knew how to have fun. And I appreciated that they made a point of including me in their silliness.
They were all good-looking twentysomethings with promising futures. Justin was a talented songwriter and a charismatic lead singer with a smoky, bluesy voice, Johnny was an innovative guitarist, Tegan rocked on drums, and Ky was…
Well, in my opinion, Zero’s bassist was the weak link.
Ky was lean and lanky with green eyes, sun-kissed skin, and longish dark-blond hair that always looked like it needed a good wash. His personal style and demeanor screamed laid-back California kid. Ky paired board shorts with old T-shirts advertising skateboard, surf, or ski gear every day. In cooler weather, he might throw a plaid shirt on and switch out his flip-flops for his ancient Vans.
Usually I was a huge advocate for embracing one’s true self, but stage presence mattered. I took the promotional part of my job very seriously. I couldn’t represent a vision I knew wouldn’t sell, and the Beach Boys zombie crossover look was a no. Today’s ensemble was a perfect example. Ky’s board shorts hung low on his hips, and his threadbare snug-fitted tee clung to his biceps like it was part of his skin. Every time he adjusted his fingers on the fretboard, his muscles flexed and strained against the “barely there” fabric. It was obscene. And yes, my dick approved. Not okay.
I shifted clandestinely to ease some of the pressure from my overworked zipper and refocused on the article just as they wrapped up the song. Thank God.
“What’d you think?” Justin asked with a mischievous grin.
“That was awful,” I replied, closing my laptop and stretching my arms above my head.
Johnny flipped me off, chuckling when Tegan threw one of his drumsticks at me. I flung the stick back at him and missed by a mile. It hit the wall and bounced off the high hat with a loud clang.
“What happened to finding nicer ways to voice your opinion?” Justin chided as he set his rhythm guitar on a nearby stand.
Justin Cuevas was the perfect front man. He was a tall, sexy Latino with olive skin, longish dark hair, and lots of ink, who thankfully appreciated the power of sex appeal. Justin could be gregarious and fun, but music came first with him. His poignant lyrics paired with a powerful voice and an innate ability to connect with Zero’s fans was a winning combination. He knew how to get people to move—and better still, he could make them feel. It didn’t hurt that his boyfriend, Gray, aka my godfather, was a Grammy-winning songwriter. But Justin was a force all his own.
The twinkle in his eyes was proof if I needed it that he was teasing me. Sort of. The truth was…I was born with a faulty filter. No kidding. It was a real phenomenon. I had a tendency to say exactly what I was thinking, which seemed to play well in a social media setting but not so well in real life. I promised to try, but diplomacy wasn’t my forte.
“Let me rephrase that. It was okay for practice, but—”
“That’s where you’re supposed to stop. No ‘buts.’ Now say one nice thing to counter your negativity. What d’ya got?” Tegan rounded his drum kit, pausing to pick up the stick I’d flung at him. He tapped it against his palm before moving toward me like an angry bear.
Tegan was four inches taller than my five eight and built like a solid brick wall. His heavily tattooed arms, muscular physique, and the scar running along his jawline added to his badass vibe, but the guy was a marshmallow on the inside. Especially around people he cared about.
“You know what I mean. It’s like when you have a mad crush on a hot guy and you finally get him where you want him…in a dark corner of a noisy club. One thing leads to another, and even though you didn’t necessarily plan on letting him unzip your ridiculously tight jeans, the fact that he was able to push them over your ass makes you think the guy must have some sexy skills.” I paused for dramatic effect before continuing. “But he sucks. Except not literally, because it’s a hand job. A very boring one that unfortunately shows off some rather sorry technique. Weak grip, short strokes…you might get off, but sadly, it’s not as satisfying as you’d hoped.”
Tegan tugged a lock of my curly hair. “So you’re saying we sucked, eh?”
“If you’d sucked, it might have been better,” I quipped with a lewd tongue-in-cheek gesture.
Everyone busted up laughing. Except Ky.
“You’re hopeless, Char,” Johnny groused.
I shrugged, then set my laptop on the coffee table and stood, glancing sideways at our bassist just as he pushed his instrument behind his back and pulled out his cell. Ky paused to tuck a strand of hair behind his ear before typing a quick message and slipping his phone into his pocket. He caught my stare and smiled.
And just like that, I lost focus. My stomach flipped, my heart sputtered, and my vision went hazy. I panicked and started talking, forgetting all my self-imposed rules of decorum the second I opened my mouth.
“I am hopeless. Stress, exhaustion, and a bad case of sex deprivation are to blame. I should relax, get some sleep, and consider reactivating my Tindr account. Then again, the last time I swiped right things didn’t go well. Casual dating isn’t for me.” I opened my hands like a jazz dancer and continued in an animated voice. “Never trust a guy who won’t share guacamole but wants a sip of your margarita…and then hits on the waiter. Can’t say I blame him. The waiter was gorgeous. His nametag said ‘Alejandro.’ Swoon. Who wouldn’t want to fuck a guy named Alejandro?”
“Charlie…” The guys shared a wide-eyed look, but I couldn’t stop.
“Don’t ask me my date’s name. It started with an N. Ned or Nick or—geez, Nelson.” I put my hand over my mouth theatrically. “I wonder if I accidentally went out with the reviewer, demanded guac, denied him a sip of my margarita, and set him off. Maybe that’s why he gave Zero such a crappy write-up.”
“Whoa. Back up, Char.” Justin furrowed his brow. “What are you talking about?”
I sighed, pointing at my computer. “It’s no big deal, but—”
“Let me see,” Tegan demanded as he slid onto the sofa and picked up my laptop. “Damn, this sucks. Why’d he bring up Declan?”
“Dec went solo. I heard he’s recording some new material, but I didn’t think he was close to releasing anything. This Nelson guy must have some connection to Dec…or whoever is representing him,” Johnny remarked.
“Does he have a label?” Justin asked.
“I really don’t know. I’m trying to get Zero signed with a label. I haven’t thought about what your ex-girlfriend’s former guitarist is up to.”
“We should probably know,” Tegan said thoughtfully.
Justin shot a meaningful glance at Tegan, then nudged my elbow. “We don’t trust him.”
“I’ll see what I can find out.” I closed my laptop, stuffed it in my man bag, and slung the strap across my shoulder. “I should go. I don’t want to be late for Ollie’s appointment. We’re picking up his glasses this afternoon and he’s not happy about it. Someone has to assure him he won’t look like a nerdy turtle with four eyes. Unbelievably, our dad thought I was the guy for that job. I see unnecessary ice cream consumption in my future.”
“Ice cream always helps,” Justin agreed.
“So do chocolate and red wine, but if you had any idea how long it took me to shimmy into my khakis this morning, you’d understand my reluctance to eat my feelings. I wonder if I have time to change into sweat pants before we leave and…” I ran out of steam when I noticed Ky’s bemused expression. “Why are you staring at me?”
Ky gave a half laugh and shrugged. “I’m just wondering if you ever stop, Char.”
I set my hands on my hips and frowned. “Stop what?”
“Talking,” he replied matter-of-factly. “You’ve covered hand jobs, your Tindr date, Declan’s new solo gig, ice cream, Oliver’s glasses, and your wardrobe situation in under two minutes. Impressive. Oh, and you mentioned that we suck too.”
His tone was more playful than confrontational, but in my current mood I was sure there was a hidden meaning behind it. I just couldn’t tell if it was good or bad.
“Do you?” I deadpanned.
Ky caught the innuendo and snickered. “It’s been a while.”
“I thought you were straight. Are you saying you’ve actually…” I raised my hand like a traffic cop before he could reply. “Don’t answer. I don’t care. I’m more concerned about your rhythm. You were way off today.”
Ky pointed at his chest. “My rhythm?”
“Yes. All of you, but you in particular.”
“Huh. I haven’t had any complaints about my rhythm, Charizard.” He put his hands over his head and swayed his hips suggestively.
I should have laughed, but in my newly flustered state, I couldn’t think of a quick comeback.
“I hate it when you call me Charizard,” I said weakly.
“Why? It’s a compliment…Pokémon-style.”
“I don’t know anything about pokey men, but I should warn you, compliments from dreamy skater boys make me blush. If you’re not careful, I’ll think you’re secretly in love with me.”
“How’d you guess?” Ky’s lips quirked in reluctant amusement. He propped his bass on a stand, then bumped my shoulder as he turned to say good-bye to the others. Before I could ask where he was going, he leaned in and kissed my cheek. “See ya, Char.”
His low gravelly tone and the scrape of his stubbled jaw sent an instant shiver of awareness through me. I lifted my fingers to my cheek like a starstruck groupie, then quickly lowered my hand. Dammit, what is wrong with me?
“If you ask me, you two should fuck and get it over with.” Justin snorted.
“Luckily, no one asked you. I wouldn’t touch him with your dick.” I stared at Ky’s retreating back and adjusted my bag to hide my crotch as I stepped into the doorway.
“Most people think Ky’s hot,” Tegan added conversationally.
“Yeah, like his girlfriend. And for your information, I am not most people.”
“That’s for fucking sure,” Justin murmured, holding his hands up in mock surrender. “I’m joking. Good luck with Ollie, and when you find out what’s going on with Declan, call me. I want to know what label picked him up, so we know who to avoid.”
“Oh, and Char…I think Ky’s single,” he added with a wink.
I flipped him off, then pivoted on my heels. The sound of laughter drifted after me as I hurried down the long hallway leading toward the main living area.
Justin and Gray’s two-story Hollywood Hills house was a modern architectural marvel perched on the hillside overlooking Los Angeles. It was divided into two sections: the main house and a guest wing that had been turned into a dedicated studio-slash-music-library.
Gray Robertson was a Grammy-winning songwriter and composer. He’d specifically designed that wing so he wouldn’t have to commute to work. But he graciously allowed Zero to practice here. The arrangement was ideal on many levels. The equipment, sound room, and studio were state-of-the-art and completely private. And the house was killer.
Generous high ceilings and massive walls of windows framed the LA cityscape from nearly every room. The glass-and-steel structure was tastefully appointed with a modern vibe. S
I paused to listen to the conversation drifting from the hallway and set my hands on my warm face. The last thing I needed was to bump into Ky again and risk another round of red cheeks. He’d probably think I had a crush on him, and I didn’t. No way. I just had a peculiar reaction to his presence. Like an allergy. My throat swelled and my heart started acting funny. But I’d have a hard time explaining my strange condition to my nine-year-old brother. Oliver loved all the guys in the band, but he had a serious case of hero worship for Ky.
“Of course,” I grumbled before moving into the next room.
The wall of windows was folded away, creating a true indoor-outdoor living space. It might be late October, but Southern California hadn’t gotten the memo. We’d had blue skies, sunshine, and seventy-degree weather for weeks. And it looked like Ollie had taken advantage of an after-school dip. I noted the giant pink flamingo inflatable floating in the pool and his swim trunks draped over a lounge chair as I headed for the kitchen area.
“…never swims underwater ’cause she doesn’t want to mess up her hair. It’s so weird,” Ollie huffed.
“It’s not that weird,” Gray said, ruffling Oliver’s blond curls. “Besides, you can always swim over here. Justin and I don’t mind getting our hair wet.”
“Charlie doesn’t care either, and he’s very picky.”
“What am I picky about?” I asked.
“Everything,” they replied in unison before bursting into laughter and exchanging high fives.
Other author's books:
- Starting From Zero (Starting From Series Book 1)Starting From Scratch (Starting From Series Book 2)Memories with The Breakfast Club: A Way with Words
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