Home > Fall (VIP #3)(9)

Fall (VIP #3)(9)
Author: Kristen Callihan

My whisper turns to a little cry of delight when I spot the gift basket sitting on the iron-and-wood bedside table. It’s filled with shampoo, body lotions, bath gels, and bath bombs. A cashmere robe and slippers complete the set.

It’s all a little freaky, given that there is a welcome note made out to me from Scott Inc. Since Mr. Scott appears to be the über efficient type, I shouldn’t be surprised. I haven’t spied Stevens yet, but he’s supposed to be shy. Best way to deal with shy pets is to wait them out.

I tour the bathroom—whirlpool tub for two!—and then toe off my shoes and plop myself on the bed with a sigh. The house is still, and the storm outside the big window blows madly. The massive bed is a cocoon of comfort.

Inexplicably, my vision blurs, and I take a shuddery breath and let it out slowly.

They say home is where the heart is. I think whoever came up with that little idiom was trying to make themselves feel better. When you don’t have a permanent home, you feel it. I’ve just lost mine, and while I make good money, more than I’d make at any office job I could find, I can’t afford to buy or even rent a new place in Manhattan. I could move somewhere else but New York has been my home for my entire life. I have friends and connections here.

And, sadly, this is the city where my dad left me. As pathetic as it is, if I leave, it will feel like a death, like that last small connection between us has been permanently severed.

A light pat on the bed has me turning my head. “There you are, Stevens.”

Stevens is a brown tabby with bright yellow eyes and a sweet expression. He gives a little inquisitive meow and then bumps my hip with his head. I hold out my hand, and after a few sniffs, he’s purring and letting me stroke his silky fur. “Such a pretty boy.”

The ache in my chest both intensifies and releases as Stevens purrs and offers me his warmth. I snuggle him closer. He’s the main reason I took this job. I might not be able to keep a pet, but I can love others for a short time.

“Come on, Stevens, let’s raid the kitchen.”

Changing into my warmest jammies and thick socks, I head downstairs. The snow is falling so thickly now that the view from the wall of windows is a blur of white. I turn on the gas fireplace, feed Stevens his dinner, and settle down at the kitchen island with my ice cream.

The silence is profound, the snowfall blotting out the sounds of the city, which has been forced to rest for once. But the peaceful quiet doesn’t last for long.

From somewhere in the building comes the sound of an acoustic guitar. It’s hard to tell exactly where because the music echoes and amplifies in the snow-induced silence until the sound seems to surround me. Whoever is playing is good.

Make that really damn good.

The guitarist is playing one of Kill John’s older songs, a slow ballad that speaks of bittersweet love and times passed. It adds to my morose mood, and I’m tempted to shout out a request for the unknown guitarist to play Kill John’s “Apathy” so I can dance around the penthouse and feel empowered instead.

But the mournful song is too lovely to stop. Humming along, I take a heaping spoonful of my beloved mint chip right out of the carton and slowly slide it into my mouth. The act doesn’t give me as much pleasure as it usually does. The mint chip tastes weak, and my mind fills with the image of John instead.

Such a strange thing is life. All these moments of interaction with others, followed by a return to normalcy. Usually, we don’t give it a second thought. And yet there will be those singular moments that somehow embed themselves in our psyche when we’re least prepared.

Try as I might, I can’t shake the mint showdown I had with John. I might say that it’s because he was hot. But that isn’t it. Okay, sure, that’s part of it. Sparring with a cute guy certainly gives me a high. But no, it’s something more.

“It’s like I know the man,” I tell Stevens as I take another spoonful of ice cream. “I know his face. Which is just weird, because I don’t know him at all.”

Stevens meows and bunts my foot with his head.

“I know. Right? Maybe it was some sort bizarre déjà vu.”

The haunting notes of Kill John’s song plays on, distracting me further.

John’s eyes flash in my mind, that look he gave me from under those dark locks of hair … I’d seen that expression from him before. Realization hits me like a freight train.

I halt, spoon crammed in my mouth, and promptly start coughing.

“Holy shit,” I sputter around icy mint chip. “Oh, my god.”

It can’t be. I’m making things up in my head.

“No way,” I exclaim to a perplexed Stevens. “It couldn’t have been.”

My mind races, going over every second of my bizarre encounter with the man I’m beginning to suspect was Jax Blackwood, singer and guitarist for Kill John. Isn’t his real name John? Isn’t Kill John a weird inside joke among the band? A play on John and bandmate, Killian’s, names?

I shudder. The irony hurts now. Jax Blackwood tried to commit suicide a little over two years ago. It had been very public. Ugly pictures of it splashed all over the media, of Jax on the floor, nearly dead of an overdose. Kill John disbanded for a year in the wake of the near-tragedy.

Everyone had been talking about it, a juicy scandal they couldn’t get enough of. Jax’s very private life served as fodder for water coolers everywhere. I personally found it sad. The level of pain Jax felt must have been enormous. The public should have left him alone. But the world loved him. They wanted him well. They wanted their fallen star to rise again. And he had. Jax Blackwood had been on tour with Kill John last summer. They sold out the New York City show within five minutes.

“Jax Blackwood,” I say around another spoonful of ice cream.

But why would Jax Blackwood, legendary singer and guitarist for the biggest band in the world, be shopping for groceries before a blizzard?

Because this is Manhattan and anything can happen, even a world-famous rock star shopping for mint chocolate chip ice cream. Right, that’s where he’d be, getting ice cream. Not sunning it up on a beach somewhere with gorgeous women hanging on his arms.

I don’t know much about Jax Blackwood, but I do know he’s an infamous womanizer. Most of the pictures I’ve seen of him are with unearthly beautiful women at his side. Famous women. Actresses, models, singers. That much has never changed about him.

But God, now that I really think about it, my guy looked exactly like Jax. Same smarmy, I’m going to rock your world and leave your panties wet before walking out on you smile. Same gorgeous, green bedroom eyes. I had a neighbor who used to declare that Jax was the star of her personal diddle dreams. Then again, she’d claimed every member of Kill John for that honor.

The last picture I’d seen of Jax, his hair had been past his shoulders and he’d been sporting a beard. The guy in the store—John—had been clean-shaven with shorter hair, a shaggy mess.

“He could have gotten a haircut,” I ponder aloud.

Stevens mewls in agreement.

Rattled, I stare at my ice cream, the memory of his lips against mine making my cheeks flush. Had I really kissed Jax Blackwood?

“Maybe he just looks a lot like Jax,” I tell Stevens. But what about his voice? That hot fudge and cookies voice had been pure sex and sin. Just like Jax’s.

He’d wanted to know my name. And I’d walked out on him.

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