I can’t write fast enough! Especially with a full-time job.
So, I’ve asked some of my favorite authors to allow me to share the first chapter of one of their books on the days that I don’t have anything of mine to share.
I still write really fast and I’ll share my own chapters as quickly as I’m able, but this could be kinda fun.
Here’s one of my favorite books, Ignite: The Band Book 2 by Lara Wynter.
Let me know what you think of this new feature. Love the idea? Hate the idea? Have you read this book? Email me back to let me know what you think! -Julie
I am a fraud.
An impostor, fake, pretender, hoodwinker, masquerader, charlatan, quack, mountebank… Okay, so I don’t even really know what that last one is, but you get the idea. To the outside world, I look pretty great, I guess. I’m a father to my little sister. I’m part of one of the biggest rock bands in America. I’ve even been named as one of the most eligible bachelors… Little do they all know that I’m just trying to get through the next day, the next hour, the next minute.
For so long, I’ve been the person people lean on when they’re in trouble. Since I was ten years old, I’ve been trying to be that person. My sister needed me when our parents lost it. Finn needed me, first when his abusive father beat the crap out of him and later when he couldn’t cope with the fame and the pressures placed upon him as the band’s front man. When our mother became sick and died, I had to take over full-time custody of Sophie. Not to say she isn’t my whole world, I love her more than anything on the planet. But it’s a lot for me to cope with at twenty-two. And then there’s Autumn. I had to take care of Autumn when Finn couldn’t. Even now that they’re doing great and happily married… I can never reveal to anyone the way Autumn got under my skin and into my heart.
So yeah, I’m also the douche who fell for his best friend’s wife.
Someone yanks the covers from my bed, and I roll over and rub the stubble on my cheeks.
“C’mon, Wes, get up. You said you’d make pancakes.”
I groan. “Soph, it’s only 7:30 am.”
“No, it isn’t, you idiot. It’s ten o’clock!”
Looking across at my cluttered bedside table, I realize I must have dozed off…again. “Alright, I’m getting up. At least put the bedspread back.”
Sophie responds by dumping it onto the floor. “Nuh-uh, you’ll just go back to sleep.”
Groaning, I roll out of the bed. My feet protest as I pick my way across the cold wooden boards and into the adjoining bathroom. The bedroom door slams closed. What did I do to deserve teenage-girl hormones? I’m sure a brother would be happy to lie in bed ‘till midday.
Turning on the fancy shower, I step under the hot water jets and shake my head. Water drops fling everywhere—probably time for a haircut. It’s time to shake off the negativity and be grateful for what I do have—A luxurious house in a beautiful area. More money than I know what to do with. A sister I usually adore and great friends I get to work with every day.
I don’t know why I feel so bad when my life seems perfect. Sure, I’ve had some tough times, but why am I feeling like this when life is good? It doesn’t make any sense and I need to snap out of it somehow. No one wants to listen to me whine about my problems when there are people out there struggling to put food on the table.
After stepping out of the shower, I dry myself off and wrap the towel around my waist. Putting my hands on the vanity, I gaze into the mirror. I look tired. I roll my shoulders back. My body is fit and toned rather than bulked up. More time spent in the garden than the gym. I smile remembering the first time Finn saw me gardening. He thought it was the weirdest thing he’d ever seen. Why would anyone want to dig in the dirt? He and Autumn have three gardeners to take care of their two-acre lot. I only hire someone when we go on tour. It’s one of the few things that still makes me feel…something more.
Downstairs, Sophie is mixing up the pancake batter herself. Her eyebrows are scrunched slightly as she beats the batter to death.
“Hey, Soph, sorry about before.” I reach for the bowl. “Here, let me take that before you murder the poor eggs and flour.”
She hands it over, her smile returning. “Sorry, I know I’m a pain sometimes. I just get impatient. I can’t seem to help it.”
I set the batter down on the marble bench-top and pull Sophie close. “Hey, it’s just us now. As long as we never stay mad at each other, we’ll be alright.”
She squeezes me tightly, more like a boa constrictor than a friendly hug. I return the favor until she yelps. “Hey, no fair, you’re bigger than me.”
“Yep.” I smirk. “Always will be little sis.”
“Is everyone coming over today?”
By everyone, she means Autumn and the band. “Probably, we have those new songs we need to practice before the next tour.”
Sophie pouts. “I still can’t believe you won’t let me come. What happened to us sticking together?”
“You know what happened. Autumn could have been hurt or killed. I’m not willing to risk something happening to you.”
Her eyes fill with tears. “But she’s going! How can Finn think it’s safe for her to go when she was the one that almost got hurt?”
“Jason is back in prison, so there’s no reason to think that Autumn will be in any danger.”
“Then why would I be? You just don’t want me to come because I’ll cramp your style or something.”
I laugh. “Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I…ugh…never mind. We are not discussing this.”
“So you’d rather I lived with some creepy stranger than come along on tour with my whole family.”
The band is our family. Doubts about the plan tug at the corners of my mind. But no, on tour is not the place for an almost thirteen-year-old girl. “Jemma is not a stranger, not really. She’s one of Autumn’s best friends, and I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time together.”
“But what if I can’t stop staring at her face?”
“I’m sure you won’t even notice the scars after a while. Besides, from what Autumn says about her, that’s the last thing you’ll need to worry about. You know, I’m almost jealous I won’t be able to stay and do all the fun stuff she has planned.”
Sophie brightens slightly. “Well, some of it does sound kind of fun. I’d still rather be coming with you though.”
At two o'clock, the rest of the band finally arrives. They let themselves in, and I greet them in the expansive living room. I let Finn give me a hug in the hopes that Autumn might walk right past us and I can avoid any awkwardness on my part. She probably won’t notice anyway, as she has no idea that I have feelings for her. No one does, and that’s the way I want to keep it. I couldn’t handle it if Finn thought I had betrayed him like that. Not that I’d ever act on my feelings. Even if they weren’t together anymore she’d always be off limits. Anyway, not that that’s ever likely to happen, I’ve never seen two people more in love with each other. It’s as if two pieces of the same soul have finally fitted together, and I’d be lying to myself if I said I wasn’t jealous of what they have.
Finn steps back and looks at me oddly, probably wondering about the extended hug I just gave him. Before I can blink, Autumn hugs me tightly.
“Hey, Wes, is everything alright?” She whispers in my ear, always aware of not making other people uncomfortable.
For a moment I wish I could talk to her, not about my feelings for her, but the other stuff. How I’ve been feeling down when my life is going so well. But I can’t…I won’t do that to her. She's had her own demons to battle, and I won’t bring her down after everything she's fought through.
I smile and try to relax the tension in my body. “I’m fine. It’s just been a long week.”
She steps back, still looking concerned, but doesn’t push for details. Zane comes up next, his red hair shining in the light.
“Hey, Wes.” He grips my left hand and slaps my shoulder with his right. We aren’t as close as I am with Finn, only having known each other from our last tour together and recording the new album.
“Hey, Zane, where’s Jade?”
“Ah, she had some grading to do for school.”
I let him slide past. I get the feeling things aren’t going well between him and his wife. She didn’t come on the last tour, and she hardly ever comes when we get together at the house. Being on the road with the band and having a wife who’s a schoolteacher doesn’t seem to be a great fit, and for a moment I’m actually pleased that’s one thing I don’t have to worry about.
Ryan is last, but as usual his exuberance makes up for it. “Wes, hey man, it’s been too long.” My feet actually leave the ground briefly as he hugs me and leans back. “Where’s my girl?”
“Here I am, Uncle Ryan,” Sophie squeals, jumping up into Ryan's outstretched arms. He spins her around and around until I feel dizzy myself. Ryan has a plethora of siblings and cousins and seems to have a way with kids.
Ryan sets her on the floor. “Have you been growing again?” He makes a big show of measuring where she comes up to on his chest.
Sophie giggles. “Yes, I’m one of the tallest girls in my class.”
“I bet all the boys are falling all over themselves to ask you out.”
I glare at Ryan, but Autumn beats me to it. “Ryan Deveau, Sophie is way too young to even be thinking about stuff like that.”
Ryan hangs his head, but he’s still smiling and I’m almost sure he winks at Sophie.
Sophie glares at me even though I haven’t said anything. “Yeah, with Wes and Finn around I’ll be twenty before I’ve even gone on my first date.”
“Nothing wrong with that,” Autumn says, gently looking toward Finn, who’s staring out the window into the backyard.
Sophie's cheeks turn pink. “Autumn, I didn’t mean it like that…”
“Hey, don’t worry about me. I don’t think you need to wait as long as I did. Besides, I’d do it all over again if it meant ending up with Finn.” Her skin flushes, and Finn turns toward her as if he can somehow sense her feelings from across the room.
I watch, held captive as they move toward each other. Their hands slide together, and Finn whispers something in her ear. She smiles at him and I have to look away. The love and adoration are more than I can bear today.
I head downstairs to the music room, with Zane right behind me. After walking straight over to the Steinway, I run my fingers over the keys before slipping into Coldplay’s Clocks. The music helps calm the inner turmoil I'm feeling. I sing the lyrics. Normally I only sing back up for the band. It’s not because I can’t sing, it’s just no one can compete with Finn when he performs, and I’m fine with that. I love concentrating on my playing anyway. But for now, I sing and silence the doubt and the fear inside. Zane and Ryan soon join in and we play through a random assortment of songs, some of them ours, some of them just from bands we admire.
My eyes are closed; I don’t need to see the keys to play. Although I can read music, I play by ear most of the time. Finn's voice mingles with my own as we reach the chorus of the song. He doesn’t try to dominate, just melds his voice with mine so it sounds as if our two voices have merged into one. It’s all I can do to keep singing; we should definitely think of recording something like this, the sound is incredible. At the end of the song, my fingers lie still.
“Did you all hear that?” Ryan says.
Zane grins. “Why didn’t you guys do it like that for the album?
Ryan’s fingers adjust the tuning on his bass. “Too bad we’ve finalized the album already.”
Finn slips his guitar strap over his head and puts the guitar down on a stand. “We can still do something like it, but I think we need a new song, something we can make sure is the perfect fit. Wes should write it.”
“Me? You’re the songwriter. I just make adjustments to the stuff you write.”
“Make them work you mean.” He runs a hand through his hair. “And besides, we need to keep our edge. All the stuff I’ve written lately is decidedly sweet.” He ducks his head as if embarrassed by the fact that being in love has brought out his sentimental side.
“He’s right, you know.” Zane says. “We can’t put out an album of just love songs. We’d lose all credibility with the fans.”
I breathe in deeply. “Right, then why don’t we all have a crack? Write some new stuff over the next few months and see what we all come up with.”
“Sure, why not.” Ryan grins. “I’m not much of a songwriter, but I might be able to come up with something we can rework.”
“I’m in,” Zane says.
“I’ll see if I can write something with a bit of an edge,” Finn adds. “Who knows, maybe we can use a few of my new songs as long as we have something to balance them out.”
The rest of the band head upstairs, but I stay, staring out the window as the rain that began while we were practicing slowly obscures the landscape.
I pause, the makeup brush in my hand. Although the redness has faded, the ugly scars still cover the left side of my face. There is one big blotch on my forehead that my curls cover, but nothing can hide the path the oil took as it splashed over my cheek and down my arm. The doctors struggled to get some of the skin grafts to heal. It was a long and painful process and I’m grateful it’s over.
I like to think that I’m not a vain person, but I’d be lying if I said the scars don’t bother me. When I was a teenager, people used to tell me all the time how beautiful I was. I’d even get stopped on the street, or I’d overhear them talking about me and how pretty I was. Now people just look away quickly and shudder. Probably thinking how grateful they are this didn’t happen to them.
My ex-boyfriend, who did this in a fit of rage, is getting out of prison soon. I’ve forgiven him, but that doesn’t mean I want to come face-to-face with him ever again. So even though I’ve come to love the family I’m staying with and the church I’m a part of, when Autumn told me about the Nanny job all the way in Portland, I jumped at the chance. Autumn and I have spent a lot of time on the phone since I left the rehabilitation center, but I’m really looking forward to seeing her again. I’m so happy that she found love and acceptance, even if it is with a famous rock star. There’s no way I could ever fall for someone in the spotlight. All that attention, everyone feeling pity for the poor deformed girl. I’ll admit I had doubts about looking after Wes’s sister, but when I found out it would just be the two of us most of the time, I realized it was a fantastic opportunity. I’ve missed working, missed being useful. Best of all, I’ll still be able to finish my post-grad in linguistic anthropology while Sophie is in school.
Looking away from the mirror, I drop the makeup brush back into the bag and put it down. Chances are, these rock stars are going to see me without my makeup sooner or later. May as well get it all out in the open right from the start. Returning to the bedroom, I place my makeup bag into the large suitcase and zip it closed. This is it. It’s time to start my new life.
The wheels of the plane shudder slightly as we touch down. I remain in my window seat as we come to a stop. Fighting my way out doesn’t interest me. I pretend I don’t need this time to compose myself and stop the trembling in my fingers. My eyes close as I pray for the strength to do this. That I won’t bring any prejudiced preconceived ideas about Wes Bowman, my new boss. That the awkward stage will pass quickly and they’ll all be able to see me as just a simple girl from Bloomington, Illinois. When I open my eyes again, the plane is nearly empty, and I feel much better. My bag is sitting by itself in the overhead locker, and I lift it out easily.
I smile goodbye to the flight attendant as she wishes me a pleasant stay in Portland, and then I walk through the terminal toward the baggage claim. I keep my head down slightly so my mass of blonde curls partially obscures my face. Some days I hold my head high but not today. Today I just want to get out of here. I can’t help smiling as I arrive. I’ve timed it perfectly; most of the bags have already been claimed, and I see my battered old red case coming towards me. Using all the strength in my 5-foot-3 petite frame, I yank it toward me and almost land on my butt as it slides off the sloped carousel more easily than I expected. At least no one is around to witness my clumsiness. I wipe the sweat off my palms and onto my jeans before setting off toward the exit.
I see Autumn before she notices me. Finn has his arm protectively around her shoulders as if she were a rare jewel, which of course she is and it gladdens my heart to see them so happy. Finn whispers something to her and she looks up. I grin and see her face light up as well, and then we are both running. My bags are left abandoned as we come together. I ignore the pain in my arm and shoulder as Autumn hugs me tightly. It’s nice to have a friend who understands you so completely.
“Jemma! I can’t believe you’re finally here. It seems like forever.”
“I know. I still can’t believe you eloped, and I didn’t get to see you get married.”
“We just wanted to avoid the publicity. Maybe now that things are less crazy we can have a second wedding for all our friends.”
“That sounds like fun.” I take a step back. “You look beautiful. Married life obviously agrees with you.”
Autumn’s smile radiates. “It does. Especially when you have the most gorgeous, amazing, talented husband on the planet.”
“Oh my, I think I’m blushing,” Finn jokes as he joins us, hauling my bags.
In person, he is ridiculously attractive, that dark hair and those piercing blue eyes. “Hi, Finn, I’m glad you’re taking such good care of my girl.”
He pulls me in for a quick hug before releasing me. “We take care of each other.”
He somehow manages to look into my eyes without seeming to look at my scars. I can see how Autumn fell for him. Still, he’d have to be pretty special for her to put up with the paparazzi who follow them around everywhere. I know I couldn’t do it. Peaceful Shores may have helped me deal with my past trauma, with the physical scars and the trauma of the court case, but all I want now is a chance at a normal life.
“We’d better head out,” Finn says while glancing around quickly. “It won’t be long before someone spots us, especially the way you girls were shrieking before.”
“I do not shriek,” Autumn says.
Finn grabs her hand and tugs her forward still carrying my suitcase. “Of course not, babe.”
“You know better than to call me 'babe,' pretty boy.”
I grab my smaller bag and follow close behind as they continue to tease each other. Just as we head out the exit doors, a man comes running up from behind.
“Finn, Autumn! Give us a smile?” He lifts a large camera in front of them, stopping them from moving forward. I dip my head and make sure I’m hidden behind Finn’s body as the flash goes off.
“Not now, man,” Finn says abruptly.
“Just one photo, Mr. Holloway. You know they’ll only run stories about a break-up if you don’t smile.”
A huge man, dressed in a black suit, pushes his way in between Finn and the photographer. Finn doesn’t hesitate. He escorts Autumn and me to a sleek black Mercedes and ushers us into the back seat. Another man in black efficiently loads my bags into the trunk and before I can take in what’s happening, we’re pulling away from the irate photographer and into the busy mid-morning traffic.
Finn sits on the far side of the car, with Autumn seated between us. “Are you both alright?”
“I’m fine, honey. You know it really doesn’t even bother me much anymore.” Autumn squeezes my hand gently. “Are you alright Jem?”
“Um, I think so. It all happened so fast, it’s kind of hard to take in.”
“Stan and Leon are pretty good at eliminating any potential problems before they turn nasty,” Finn says. “They’ll be in charge of Sophie’s security while we’re away on tour so I thought it would be nice for you to meet them today.”
The man in the front passenger seat looks back at me and smiles. “Hey, Jemma, I’m Leon. You can call me Leon.” He grins, showing me a set of perfect white teeth that gleam against his dark skin.
“And I’m Stan,” the equally huge man driving the car adds helpfully but keeps his eyes on the road as he drives through the busy streets.
No one seems surprised by my scars, and I suspect that Autumn has talked to them all about me beforehand.
“Will you be staying at the house with us?” I ask Leon.
“I have an apartment over the garage if you feel comfortable with me there. Stan lives nearby with his family. He’ll come in the mornings to take Sophie to school and then drop her off again in the afternoon. But we’ll both escort you if you take Soph out on the weekends or evenings.”
“And what if I go out on my own while Sophie is in school?”
“Well, you can go out on your own then…unless you want some company?” He adds hopefully.
A laugh escapes me. “I think I’ll be fine on my own, but thanks for the offer.”
“Looks like you struck out again, lover-boy,” Stan says.
“Hey, just being friendly,” Leon says.
Leon’s not bad looking, but he must be at least 6’7” and very muscular. I can’t really see myself with someone so physically big. Not to mention all the attention we'd attract being so opposite in looks.
“You’ll love the house,” Autumn gushes, “it’s so beautiful, all timber floors and big windows, and the gardens are spectacular.”
“Do you like to garden?” Finn asks seriously.
“I do. I find it relaxing.”
Finn actually snorts. “Not another one.”
“Shh,” Autumn says placing a hand on his arm. “Don’t tease her.” She turns back to me. “Wes loves gardening too, but Finn doesn’t get why anyone would want to spend their time playing in the dirt and muck. Actually, I really don’t get it either.”
I find it hard to imagine the sexy keyboard player from Infusion Deep pulling weeds and planting things, but I guess looks can be deceiving. At least if all else fails we’ll have something in common we can talk about besides Sophie. “You should both try it sometime. It’s wonderfully rewarding to see something you’ve planted and cared for come to life and flourish.”
Finn nods. “I guess music feels a bit like that for me. I think I’ll just stick with that.”
“I’ve tried it,” Autumn admits. “It was okay I guess, but there are other things I prefer more.”
Finn whispers something in her ear and she giggles. She’s so different from the scared insecure girl I met at the counseling center. I really hope they can keep their relationship strong despite all the pressures of their world. From what I can see they have a good chance of making it.
The houses are getting bigger and further apart as we enter a more prestigious part of the city. I’ve never lived anywhere like this before. My mouth drops open as we pull into an immaculate driveway and the large black gates open up to let us in. Autumn wasn’t joking about the house being fantastic. It’s surrounded by trees and flowerbeds and gorgeous windows overlook the drive. Stan opens my door, and I step out, spinning slowly to take it all in.
“They’re here!” A girlish voice shouts loudly. Sophie comes toward me at a run. She’s almost my height but still hasn’t filled out much. Her brown hair hangs loosely around her shoulders. She surprises me by hugging me tightly. I wince as the pain from my burn scars flares but she quickly releases me.
“Autumn’s told me so much about you. If I can’t go on tour, I’m glad she found me someone fun to hang out with.”
“Thanks, Sophie. I’m looking forward to it too.”
“Wow, you’re really beautiful. I can’t believe someone would hurt you like that.”
I breathe in sharply. Autumn told me she was direct, but I’ve never had anyone speak so forthrightly to me before. It’s refreshing in a way, knowing exactly what she thinks.
“Well, he didn’t get away with it, he went to prison for what he did to me.”
“For his whole life I hope?”
“Unfortunately not, but I’ve forgiven him for what he did.”
“Really! Wow, I don’t think I could ever forgive someone for that.”
“Carrying the hate inside only hurts yourself in the end, Sophie.”
“Does it still hurt?” Sophie reaches her hand toward my face.
“Sophie Rose Bowman, you behave yourself,” a man’s voice shouts from across the drive.
Sophie takes a step back and her skin flushes. “I get a bit carried away sometimes.”
“Don’t worry, I like honesty…” My voice trails off as I look up at the man who has just walked over to us. Wes. The sun shines down on his chestnut brown hair, highlighting the natural strands of red and gold. But it’s his eyes. Brown with flecks of gold within. They are the eyes of a much older man. And I’m lost in their haunting depth. I can’t say anything and I can’t look away. How does a man who can’t be older than his early twenties get eyes like that?
“Hi, I’m Wes.”
I look down at his outstretched hand and it’s as if I’ve forgotten what I’m supposed to do. He lets his hand fall back to his side, the hurt at my rudeness reflected in his eyes.
“Come on,” Sophie says, breaking me out of my trance. “I’ll show you your room.”
I look back at Wes as Sophie tugs me by the hand toward the house. He turns toward Autumn and Finn who are still standing on the driveway near the car, deep in conversation.
Would you like to continue reading Ignite: The Band Book 2 by Lara Wynter? Click here to buy on Amazon.
Read the prequel to The Band Series, Opening Act: Infusion Deep Meets Buxton Peak for FREE on Kindle!
Click here to buy Infuse: The Band Book 1 on Kindle.
Click here to buy Inspire: The Band Book 3 on Kindle.
Click here to buy the companion book to the prequel, Opening Act: Buxton Peak Meets Infusion Deep.