Author: Claire Contreras
Release Date: November 17, 2013
Genre: Contemporary Romance
More Info: Goodreads
Purchase: Amazon US
Purchase: Barnes & Noble
In the past, I've always been given everything I've wanted, but nothing that I truly needed. I've experienced a lot of things in my twenty-five years, everything except the one thing I want. It's the one thing that can’t be bought. It can't even be taken, it has to be given. And nobody has ever given it to me, not really anyway.
Not until him.
Music is the center of both our lives, but as he found his place in it, I lost my way. He soared, while I spiraled down a destructive path.
I lost myself in more ways than I can count.
The ironic thing is that I didn’t realize how lost I was until he found me.
And now that he has, I have to wonder if he'll stay around long enough to catch me.
“Why don’t you wear a ring?” His whisper is loud in my ears and I’m so surprised by it that I turn my head to look around the room, eyes wide. I see him chuckle, but don’t hear it, so I assume anything he says into the microphone is only heard by me.
I frown, not understanding his question, but I’m scared to ask because I don’t know how loud I’ll sound. I don’t want to wake up Shea.
Nick clicks the button again and runs the tips of his pointer down my hand slowly, making my breath hitch as he slides it up and down my ring finger.
“A ring, why don’t you wear one?” he repeats, his eyes losing their playfulness the longer he looks into mine.
I open my mouth and close it, suddenly understanding why he would think that I would be married. I move my hands from under his and take the earphones off, untangling the cord from my hair.
“I’m not married,” I respond, still trying to rid myself of the earphones.
He leans in and holds them, helping me take it out of my hair. “I thought you were … I heard somebody call you Mrs. Harmon this morning. And then yesterday in the street…”
I smile at the memory. “So what? You actively pursue married women?”
Nick presses his lips together to contain a smile. “Only the really beautiful ones that I can’t stop thinking about.”
I shake my head, still smiling. “How’s Stephanie?”
Boom. Okay, so that’s probably not exactly what I should’ve said, but damn him if he thinks he’s going to use me the same way guys apparently want to use me. I’m so sick of being second to everybody.
Exclusive From Author:
Eight Years ago
My eyes burn from tears that mask my eyes but refuse to fall as I stare out into the ocean. Focusing on the waves crashing the rocks below, my eyes trail along the water. A body of blue so big and wondrous that I can’t decide where it begins and where it ends, because it doesn’t—the ocean doesn’t have a beginning and an ending, it just is. Much like me, it just is. Except I do have an end, and that ocean is it for me. I clutch the red bars before me when sobs threaten to overtake me, thoughts of the hell I’ve been living seeping through my memories. Closing my eyes, I see his strawberry hair and the light freckles that paint over his beautiful smile, and the pain stabs me harder.
The reality of what I did spreads through me as the sobs consume me. I killed him. I killed him. The only person who was ever there for me, the one that showed me what love was supposed to be, and I killed him. Tears stain my face and my dyed blonde hair, wild from the turbulent wind, sticks to it. I try to swallow back my broken cries as I look around, my eyes squinting at the sign beside me that reads: Hope. My shoulders shake as new tears rise and my throat opens up with cries that refuse to be held back.
Then I see him, or he sees me. I close my eyes to the wind once more, relishing the feel of its caress against my skin before opening them and looking into the pools in his eyes.
“What are you doing here?” he asks.
I mirror his question, unable to find my own thoughts.
“Looking for you,” he mutters, rendering me speechless.
I open my mouth to speak again but uncontrollable shivers invade my body making it impossible for me to form words. My eyes roll back shakily and panic floods through me because I can’t see him anymore. I can’t see the boy that found me.
I can only see the one I failed.
The one no longer here.
He’s gone … and so am I.
When I was six years old, my father held both my arms and shook me so that I would look into his eyes.
“Who do you want to stay with, Brooklyn?” he seethed. “Who do you choose? Me or your mom?”
I looked between both him and my mother. She was standing there with tears running down her face, her hands covering her mouth, and her eyes screaming what her mouth wouldn’t. I didn’t want to choose between them. Truthfully, they were both a terrible option, even in my six-year-old mind I knew that. They were always arguing, always fighting, always screaming—my mother always throwing items at my father. But they were my parents and I loved them both. They were all I knew.
In the end, I never had to end up choosing because they chose each other. They always did. One thing I learned from seeing my parents is that some people would rather stay in a toxic relationship than experience the fear of the unknown. I understand that now. They chose that life and I have made an effort to choose to not become that with anybody. As much as I have to love them because they’re my parents, I never want to marry someone like my father, and I sure as hell never want to become my mother. I’ve tried so hard to distance myself from them and their exuberant lives, yet here I am, waiting to speak to my father. Waiting to see what favor he’s going to ask of me, because there’s always a favor to ask. That’s the thing about my parents: I love them because they gave me life but in return love me under conditions—always theirs. And they don’t leave room for interpretation when I don’t agree to their favors. They threaten me with taking away things like my education. My mother is the queen of threats, amongst other things, and she uses that to her advantage. Boyfriends, cars, concerts, school, clothing, friends … you name it, she has taken it away from me.
At the sound of heels clinking on the marble floor, I rise out of my seat.
“Your father will see you now,” Sherry, his assistant informs me as she turns to usher me to his office.
I roll my eyes at her when she turns around. I don’t need somebody to walk me to his damn office. I’ve been coming here since I was a child. Despite the three mansions he owns, this building (along with three others) is where my father lives. Sherry suddenly jolts to a stop, the short red bob that frames her face swaying into her eyes. She pushes it back quickly and presses down on her earpiece to speak.
“Yes, sir. I’ll be right down,” she says to whomever is on the other end then she turns and smiles at me. “You can make your way in now, Brooklyn.”
“Thanks,” I mutter as I push the two massive iron doors open to enter the foyer that leads to my father’s lair. When I reach the threshold of his office, I stop and look around. Everything is as manicured as it always is: the wooden shelves filled with LPs that adorn the right side of his office are spotless, matching the larger-than-life stark wooden desk that sits in the middle. It’s simple yet masculine, but the thing I love the most about his offices, all three of them, is the stunning view that the floor-to-ceiling windows hold. This one is the most impressive, in my opinion, as it showcases Hollywood. The bold iconic letters on the canyon are as clear as a postcard from here. I’ve always been drawn to those letters. That sign is the one thing that makes me smile, despite the burden the word holds.
“Hey, Baby Girl,” my father croons as he swivels his chair to face me.
“Hey, Pa,” I say, retuning his smile as I round his desk to greet him.
He opens his arms for me and pulls me to sit on his lap, his green eyes bright as he examines my face. That’s the thing about my father, as much as I want to despise him for some of the things he has said to me in the past, and for making me feel like I’ll never be good enough for… anything, I freaking love him. I lean my face into his chest and breathe him in; he smells like cigarettes and honey. He always smells like honey for some reason, I think it’s the shampoo he uses. When I pull back I dust some little white flakes from his light brown wavy hair and smile.
“What’s up?” I ask, getting up and perching myself on the edge of his desk.
He exhales a long breath. “Are you still dead set on that microphone company?” he asks.
The swinging of my legs die down and I swallow loudly, waiting for the impending question. I already know what he’s going to ask of me, so I start to blink away the tears that I know will soon form in my eyes.
Blink. Blink. Blink.
I have an issue when speaking to authority. For some reason tears well up in my eyes when they speak to me. I can sit here and psychoanalyze myself the way I’ve done, the way others have done, and say that it’s because the authoritative people in my life never paid attention to me when I was a child, but that would be an odd reason for the water in my eyes. Regardless of what the reason behind it is, they’re there, swimming in my sockets, burning before my iris, and threatening to spill out. Blinking one last time, I tear my gaze away from his face and look out into the horizon. My parents have always had this pull on me. They know how to twist my arm hard enough to see that I agree to what they ask of me. Growing up, my mother wanted me to follow in her footsteps and be a model, as if anybody can just snap their fingers and become one. When she saw that I didn’t have a model body like her, despite her efforts in making me diet from a young age, she gave up on me—with much dismay, I might add. I decided to study business because I wanted to start my own empire—of anything. I just wanted to be part of something big that I could call my own.
Petty dreams, I guess, even for an eighteen year old that had just gotten out of a stint at rehab. When I declared my major to be business, I had to convince my mother that I would use it in fashion one way or another. That was the only way she would agree to not take my car away from me and continue paying my tuition. My father, of course, would defend me, saying that business was a great option. He didn’t care much about what I did, he had my older brother to hound and make an employee of his. Still, the fact remained that I was good for the music industry, as much as I hated it. I was good at scouting for talent. I was the best, really, though nobody knew this because my father’s label, Harmon Records, took all of the credit.
My father is the best there is, and his label is the biggest in the world. Nobody can take that away from him, but he lacked something that he had when he first started out: the spark. The one thing that separates him from the rest of the guys trying to sign artists to their labels: the drive. New artists come to us because a lot of people they look up to are signed here, but Harmon is always looking for different sounds, unheard talent. My dad doesn’t scout anymore because he’s built an empire with the Harmon name and branched it out from music to clothing and alcohol.
“Yes,” I say, my voice steady, even though I can feel the anger burning from within. “We’re doing really well. I really believe in my brand.”
I’ve been working with my best friend Allie on a line of microphones. Obviously my parents think it’s a joke, but ever since one of the biggest entertainers, Shea Roberts, started using them, our line has taken off.
“I know that, sweetheart, and Fab is an amazing brand,” he says in an exhale. “But I need you in Harmon.”
I turn my face back to him, feeling those words like a jab in the gut, not that I expect him to care about the way they make me feel. My eyes take him in again, he looks dashing, as usual, with his light brown hair brushed perfectly and his tailored blue suit fitted perfectly over his body, but he looks so exhausted. Chris Harmon has been overworking himself for the past forty years and it’s finally catching up to him. His deep green eyes plead with me and I know he’s about to go in for the kill. I also know I’ll fall for it, so I put my hands up so that he’ll let me speak.
“You know, all my life I’ve done everything I’ve thought you guys wanted me to do.” I pause when he raises an eyebrow and gives me a look. “I’ve done these things hoping you guys would notice me, be proud of me. And it’s never mattered because everything I’ve ever done gets overlooked. I know that I’ll never be as good as Hendrix, but anytime I find something that I think I can finally excel at, one of you takes it away from me. When will you be happy with what I’ve done? What do I have to do?” I ask, waving my hands around for dramatic effect.
He walks over, moving his seat in front of me. When he stops before me, he cups my chin so that I’ll look into his serious eyes. “Bee, I am proud of you! We’re all proud of you! Look at how far you’ve come in just a few years. You turned your life around. You quit all your bad habits and got back on your feet. Do you know how hard it is for some people to do that in this city? It’s because of how much I value you that I need your help. I need you to help me find new artists…”
He lets the question hang between us. His eyes tell me that he’s not really asking me to do this—he’s telling me that I will. I roll my neck and look outside again. The sunny sky that’s slowly clouding, the cars stuck in traffic on the highway, the nightclubs that I used to frequent, the streets that made me crazy once and restored me to believe in myself again.
“What do you want me to do?” I ask.
“I need you to move to New York. You can work out of there. Hey, maybe on your free time you can work with your Aunt Mireya. She can help you out with that line of yours,” he offers with a smile.
“How thoughtful of you,” I quip.
He raises an eyebrow but lets out a laugh. “Always the smart alec,” he says. “You can leave tomorrow. I’ll have the plane ready for you. You can stay at our place in the city, and your brother will walk you through anything he needs you to do in the office. What time can you be ready?” he asks, getting up from his chair and shrugging on his suit jacket.
He’s effectively dismissing me, knowing he just got me to agree to something that I never concretely said yes to. Knowing that he’s asking me to give up everything I’ve been working on. For a second I wonder what would happen if I turn him down, and then I have a flashback to things that have happened when I’ve turned him down in the past. I know it’s not worth it.
“Good seeing you, Dad,” I mutter, turning to walk out of his office.
I hear his footsteps follow me and stiffen when he grabs my bicep and turns me around to face him. “Hey, you’re the best there is at this, Baby Girl. Be happy, you’re going to change people’s lives.”
I guess in a sense he’s right, I do change people’s lives when I offer them a chance to sign with Harmon Records. I also effectively screw over a lot of them, but I try not to dwell on that thought.
“I’ll be ready at ten,” I say, in response to his previous question. “I’ll call Hendrix to let him know I’m coming.”
He smiles his empty yet charismatic smile. “He already knows you are.”
That doesn’t surprise me and as I turn to walk away, one last thing occurs to me. I turn around and ask him before I lose my nerve. “Can we maybe not tell anybody in the company who I am?” I know this is something my brother still struggles with, the idea that people have that he hasn’t earned his place. They all think he was just placed there because he’s my father’s son. They’re not entirely wrong, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that my brother has been working since he was sixteen.
His eyebrows furrow. “You don’t want people to know that you’re my daughter?” he asks, and for a moment I think he may be hurt by this. Maybe he is, maybe I don’t care.
“Nope. I want to do this for me, to prove myself worthy of working there.”
His mouth pops open and I know he wasn’t expecting that one. The first chance he got, my brother Hendrix took the job of CCO and ran with it, never looking back or wondering whether or not he was a good candidate for it.
“But you’re a Harmon, of course you’re worthy of working here. It’s your company, Brooklyn,” he says, frowning.
I shake my head. “No, Dad, it’s your company. The artists that I sign from here on out are my artists.”
He searches my face as if trying to figure me out. “Are you saying you want a commission? Because that’s already assumed, Brooklyn, you’ll get a commission.”
“I never did before,” I say quietly with a slight shrug.
He lets out a laugh. “Whose commission would you have wanted, BK? Let me guess … Shea?”
I grind my teeth together in hopes that I won’t lash out.
“From what I remember, you got a lot more than signing brags with Shea,” he says. He knows he’s hitting a nerve there, and it’s a low blow, even for him.
“I can’t believe you just said that,” I say, my voice a broken whisper as I take a step back.
He shrugs. “Yeah, well, it is what it is, right? Be at the airport tomorrow by nine.” He shoots the last part over his shoulder as he turns and walks away. I hear him tell Sherry he’s headed to his next meeting.
The difference in the way he treats me and all of his employees is incredible, you would think he fathered them and not me. I don’t call him out on it though. I just let it be like. My best friend Ryan used to get mad at me for that, but somehow I always find a way to excuse his behavior and berate my mother’s instead. She is much worse, after all. My father comes from nothing; he’s the oldest of three children of a cocaine addict and a deceased father. Growing up in Brooklyn wasn’t a walk in the park for him and he doesn’t take anything he has for granted. I think he’s done a pretty good job in instilling those morals on to us. My mother, on the other hand, thinks everything is owed to her. The air she breathes should pay her because she allows it to go into her golden lungs, that’s how she sees it. I’ve always wondered what attracted my father to her to begin with because I just don’t see it.
I take a moment to gather my breath and make sure my tears aren’t going to spill over before I begin to walk quickly. He stops to pick up some papers from Sherry and I make my way to the elevators. I know he has to walk by me on his way to the conference room, so I take a deep breath and click the down button when I see him approaching.
“Hey, Dad,” I call out and wait for him to acknowledge me. “For the record, nobody knows I signed Shea. I gave you all the credit.”
Thankfully the elevator door closes before I get a chance to glimpse his face one last time. It’s not like he would ever apologize to me. He’ll never tell me I’m right, and he’ll never thank me. And I think I’m okay with that now.