My favorite violin and piano duet plays as I attempt to work. It’s becoming more difficult to be productive without an office. Trying to do freelance investigation from my bedroom within our rental house? Challenging.
The song “Time Forgotten” plays. It’s a reminder that neither time nor Sinclair Breckenridge has been forgotten. Three months and more than four thousand miles separate us. It isn’t enough. I think of him all the time. And it’s a fucking problem.
I push the thoughts of Sin from my head and scroll through the photos from my latest PI job—a clear case of a bitter wife looking to nail her cheating husband’s ass to the wall. My aging computer’s trackpad sticks and races through my collection of incriminating photographs.
Images of my client’s husband and his lover flutter before me, each picture flashing like a scene from a stop-motion movie I don’t wish to watch for a second time. I tap furiously against the trackpad in an effort to make it cease.
“Stop. Stop. Stop, you son of a bitch.”
My laptop finally obeys after a bit of physical abuse, but not before coming to a standstill on the one and only image I have of Sinclair Breckenridge and me together.
Wow … talk about coincidence. I have thousands of pictures on this computer. What are the odds it would land on this one?
It’s karma. Or bad juju. I don’t know. Maybe the universe wants to torture me.
The photo in front of me is a shot of us dancing during my initiation ceremony at Thane and Isobel’s country estate. We’re surrounded by the soft glow of candlelight and Sin is cradling my face with his hands. I remember everything about that moment. He told me I was special and then leaned in to kiss my forehead. He had not told me he loved me but I think he was wrestling with saying those three words. I recognized the look in his eyes because I’d been seeing it in my own reflection for some time.
I avoid this picture. Looking at it breaks my stupid heart all over again. I should drag it to the trash and delete it for good. I want to but I can’t bring myself to pull the trigger. That seems to be a common problem with me these days.
I was on the plane home when I discovered the picture on my phone. I wish I hadn’t seen it until I was back on the ground again. The image of us together sent me into a full-blown panic attack midflight. I was forced into the tiny lavatory to talk myself down. I was lucky. The episode wasn’t one of the bad ones but an enclosed area lacking proper ventilation couldn’t be worse when you feel like you’re smothering to death.
I took thousands of photographs while I was in Edinburgh. I must have at least five hundred of Sin—most of which are candid since he was usually unaware. Those are my favorites. I was always behind the camera—and never in front of it—so none of my pictures are of us together. That’s why I treasure this one. Many thanks to whoever used my phone to capture this moment.
I touch the screen. I stroke my finger down his face but it feels nothing like the real thing. I close my eyes so I can imagine the way his scruff felt against my skin.
He rarely grew what I would call a beard. He always kept his facial hair short and scruffy. And I loved it, especially when he would drag his face down the center of my body just to hear me squeal. But the best was when he’d push the crotch of my panties aside and rub his chin up and down between my legs.
“Holy shit, Bleu. That’s him, isn’t it?” I jerk when I hear Ellison’s voice over my shoulder. “That’s the man you were with in Scotland.”
I’m so stupid. I can’t believe I’ve allowed her to sneak up and catch me looking at this photograph. I was preoccupied. That’s my only excuse.
Ellison has interrogated me nonstop about my relationship with Sin. I’ve been vague. She’s on a need-to-know-only basis. That means I haven’t told her shit. But I want to. I need someone to tell me this excruciating pain in my heart is going to ease.
“Yes.” That’s my Breck. My admission feels like a ton of bricks lifted from my shoulders.
“Damn. That is one hottie Scottie.”
“I know.” I sigh as I prop my chin in my hand. I look at the handsome face of the only man in this world besides my father who has been willing to take me the way I am.
Two men. Both know the darkness I carry inside. But they love me anyway.
I’ve lost one. I’m losing the other. And it’s killing me.
“My God, Bleu. Look at the way he’s holding you … like you’re his everything. I don’t know how you walked away from him.”
You’d be surprised by the things you can do when you’re staring death in the face.
“My job was over.”
“You haven’t told me anything about it. Or him. Was it good?”
I recall the words he used to describe what being together was like for him. “The best ever.”
“You don’t think you’ll see him again?”
“No.” I won’t if I want to continue to live.
I feel Ellison’s supportive hand on my shoulder. “That’s too bad, sis.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
Ellison plops down on my bed. “At least now I understand why you’ve been brooding for the last three months. I would mourn the loss of that hottie too. But it’s time to get out and move on. You can’t sit in this house and never socialize again.”
Has she lost touch with reality? “Do I need to remind you that I’ve never socialized? This isn’t new for me.”
“But you didn’t know what you were missing before. You’ve had a taste of great sex. There’s no turning back.”
“I don’t want to have sex with anyone else.” No one will ever make me feel the way Sin did. I’m certain it would only be a disappointment so there’s no point trying.
“I get it. You don’t have to go out and find your next lay tonight but you do have to go out.”
Says who? “No, I don’t.”
“Please, Bleu. I’m going to Memphis with some work friends tonight. We’re going to Beale Street.”
Beale is Memphis’s version of Bourbon Street. I was assigned to patrol it when I was on the force. Nothing but trouble.
“We’re meeting at Coyote Ugly in a couple hours. You’ll have fun. I promise it’ll help take your mind off your Scottish hottie.”
I have some serious doubts about that but Ellison has dated a lot. She probably knows the remedy for this pain better than I do.
“Who’s going?” I don’t really handle people well, specifically silly females. I have no patience for them.
“Clancy and April.” She’s counting people off on her fingers as she says their names. “Bree, Ashley, and Callie for sure. Maybe more. I never really know until I get there.”
I don’t like to make small talk with people I’m not acquainted with. I wasn’t blessed with the gift of gab.
Besides, I have a date. I’m spending the evening with my camera. I have shots to get for a photo contest I plan to enter.
Ellison must see my hesitation. “I know you don’t love crowds but they’re all cool. Swear.”
My sister doesn’t understand how painfully awkward going out is for me. “I’d rather have toothpicks driven into my eyeballs.”
“That can be arranged if you say you won’t go.”
I guess I can drink whisky until I drown out the lady chitchat. “I’ll go for the Johnnie Walker.”
“Yes!” Ellison gives the air a fist pump. “Be ready to leave at seven.”
* * *
I’m not sure what I was thinking when I agreed to this. I’m southern but not country. There are too many cowboy hats and boots in this place for me.
I’m not a fan of drunken people dancing on the bar or letting strangers take shots from their bared abdomens. I swear I will beat Ellison’s ass if she tries either.
Ellison’s new work friends aren’t my kind of people. In their defense, I suppose not many are. At least they’re better than the ones she had at her old job in Memphis.
I hold up my empty glass when our server comes around and she returns with my third Johnnie Walker of the night. It’s going to take quite a few more of these to achieve an acceptable level of amnesia where Sinclair Breckenridge is concerned.
“You go, sista.” Ellison holds up her drink. “Here’s to getting wasted and forgetting about …” She shrugs and giggles. “See? I’ve already forgotten what I’m supposed to be forgetting.”
Her poison for the night is Long Island iced tea so she’s already drunk. I know this by her annoying horselaugh. Classic Ellison.
Is she referring to the doctor who asked for the threesome with another man? I should go kick his ass for hurting my sister. “Who are you drinking to forget?”
She shakes her head and purses her lips. “Not going there, Bleu. We’re here for one reason and one reason only—to have a fucking fantastic time so I refuse to talk about that douche rocket.”
I’ve been so wrapped up in myself lately that I’ve failed to consider the problems my sister has been having. She had a humiliating incident with the ER doctor she was dating, which was really unfortunate since she was already choosing baby names for the four children she planned to have with him. She left her nursing job of more than two years because she was passed over for a promotion, which by all accounts should’ve been hers. She took care of Harry by herself the entire time I was gone. And although I’m back, she’s the nurse. I’m not sure I’ve been all that much help since returning.
She has a lot resting on her shoulders. I’ve been selfish, too focused on my own hurt to be mindful of Ellison’s troubles.
“You’re right. I want you to have a good time. But I want to talk about the things going on when you’re ready.”
Oh God. She has her “I’m gonna clobber you with a drunk hug” look. And she does, nearly sending me off my barstool onto the floor. “I love you, Bleu.”
Ellison’s an affectionate drunk. She loves everyone. I guess a friendly drunk is always better than a fighting one. I’ve seen my fair share of those while working undercover and it never ends well.
“O … kay, Elli. Maybe you should slow down with the Long Islands.”
“Come on, Bleu. This is only my third one.”
Her speech is slowed but not yet slurred. I’d prefer it didn’t come to that. I’m not in the mood to babysit a drunken Ellison.
“It’s your third in an hour and a half.”
“That’s a mighty fine high horse you sit upon. I wonder if you’d give me a ride some time.”
I’m straightening in my seat and helping my sister do the same when my eyes catch those of a man I haven’t seen in ages.
I push Ellison upright. “Cody Wilson.”
He grins and those dimples I remember from years ago make an appearance. “Wow. It’s been years.”
“At least seven or eight.”
God, I once adored Cody. We met when I was seven, after I came to live with my new family. He was my neighbor, eight houses down the street. We were best buddies until junior high. He was my only friend in the world—until he kissed me. I kicked him in the balls and that was the end of our friendship. I’ve always felt badly about doing that to him.
I didn’t dislike being kissed by Cody. In fact, I liked it very much after I had some time to think about it, but I was caught off guard in the moment. Harry had been training me for several months and I guess I had a snap reaction. It’s unfortunate his balls were the ones to pay.
What is he doing back in Memphis? “The last I heard from Dad, you were in the Air Force stationed somewhere on the other side of the world.”
“I was but I got out a few years ago and moved back. My mom’s health hasn’t been great for a while now.”
That’s right. Mrs. Wilson is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. She didn’t have a clue who I was the last time I saw her.
“I’m a pilot for Delta now.”
Weird. Knowing he flies planes just made him a little more attractive. “Nice.”
“What about you?”
“I was a police officer for a couple of years and then a special agent. I left the Bureau to go freelance.” Not the whole truth.
“What does freelance involve?”
More naked asses than I’d like. “I get hired to obtain the proof of cheating husbands and wives. My clients are mostly people in the midst of nasty divorces.”
He lifts a brow. “Sounds interesting.”
Interesting is not how I’d describe it. “More like disturbing. I feel like I’m mostly shooting really bad porn with middle-aged people during their midlife crises.”
“Sorry,” I say. “I shouldn’t put such unsavory images in your head.”
“You don’t sound fulfilled by catching cheaters in action. Have you considered going back to police work or the FBI?”
If only I could.
“I was following in Dad’s footsteps but it turns out it wasn’t for me.” Lie.
I was awesome at being an officer and an agent. I think it’s a job that could’ve made me happy for a long time but I ruined my career when I chose to pursue Thane. I’d be screwed if the FBI investigated me and discovered my connection to The Fellowship.
“I’ve considered opening a professional photography studio.” I’d prefer babies and brides over naked, cheating asses any day.
“You always had a camera around your neck. Or a violin in your hands. Do you still play?”
“Every day.” It’s the only thing that brings me comfort, as though it bridges the gap between Sin and me. I sometimes imagine he’s with me and we’re playing Canon in D Major together.
I know. Totally nuts.
“I play bass with a band. It’s just for fun but we have a gig here tonight. We go on in forty minutes. I’d love for you to stick around.”
“Oh, that’s right. You play guitar.” I can’t believe I forgot that. I always thought he looked hot strumming that thing.
“Our fiddler had to cancel on us at the last minute.”
“Very, and even more so considering we’re in Coyote Ugly. This crowd always expects to hear ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia.’”
“Yeah, that’s a super one.”
“And not possible without a fiddler.”
“Definitely not,” I agree.
A grin spreads across Cody’s face. “You still know it?”
“Hell, yeah.” It’s the only country song I know.
“What a coincidence.” He shrugs and points toward the door. “I happen to have Digby’s violin in my truck.”
“Oh God, no.” I’ve never performed publicly except for recitals as a kid, and those were involuntary.
“I don’t play for other people.” I use my violin as private therapy.
“You’d be surprised by how much fun it is.”
He’s crazy if he thinks I’d go on stage without practicing. “We’d need to rehearse.”
“We have forty minutes.”
“Really? You expect me to practice with you for less than an hour and then join your band on stage to perform in front of all these people?”
“Why not? You’re a fantastic fiddler. You have the song memorized forward and back.”
“You’re out of your mind.”
“Probably. Have a few more whiskies and you’ll forget your nerves.”
I’ve played my violin a lot since returning from Edinburgh so I’m in tiptop playing shape, probably the best ever.
I’m desperate to feel anything other than the misery of living without Breck. Although I’m certain this isn’t a good substitute, it’s a start.
I hold up my JW and toss it back. There’s no way I’d agree to this if I weren’t buzzing a little. The whisky has clouded my judgment. “Okay. But you’re buying.”
I have three more Johnnie Walkers for good measure as I do a run-through with Cody and his band in the back room.
“Damn, Wilson. This girl is good. We might need to use her to replace Digby on a permanent basis,” the drummer says.
“Ohhh, no. I’m not a performer. I’m only doing this because I owe Cody one.”
He looks puzzled for a moment before bursting into laughter. “You talking about busting my nuts?”
I’m laughing hard, and it feels good. Nice to laugh in place of crying for a change.
“Playing one song with us won’t begin to make up for that. Mmm,” he groans as he shifts his hips. “I’m still feeling that one.”
“I never apologized. I’m really sorry.”
I feel I owe an explanation for my reason but what do I say? Sorry, Cody. I was being trained to become a killer so I was a little overly responsive to being pounced upon.
“It’s okay. You got your message through loud and clear.” It’s been twelve years and I still hate that I did that to him.
The lead guitarist comes into the back room, interrupting our conversation. “Showtime.”
I skulk onto the stage with the four band members, violin in hand. Each guy takes an instrument while Mark, the lead singer and guitarist, goes to the mic. He introduces every member and lastly comes to me. “Digby couldn’t be with us tonight so Miss Bleu MacAllister has graciously volunteered to step into his shoes on a number we couldn’t possibly do without a fiddler.”
He plays a few chords to liven up the crowd. “‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia.’” I drag my bow over the strings since it seems like a cue. “This is the way it sounds when you put a Tennessee girl on a fiddle.”
We jump straight into the song, which is good. It means this will be over quicker.
The crescendo of the song approaches and Mark motions for me to take center stage. Shit. I don’t want to be seen. It’s bad enough being heard. It becomes clear he isn’t going to give up so I concede and move forward until I’m front and center. Not my forte.
I shouldn’t have had those whiskies.
I’m thrilled when the song ends. Without a word, I quickly sneak away from the stage and back to my table.
Ellison gives me another drunk clobber hug. “Bleu! I haven’t heard you play like that in years.”
She turns to her friends. “My sister is a total badass, am I right?”
Five drunken voices agree and shout comments about my playing.
Cody is back at our table as soon as his band finishes. “You did a great job. Thanks for being a good sport.”
“You can thank Johnnie Walker. I wouldn’t have agreed otherwise.”
“Why not? You’re amazing. It’s a shame to keep that kind of talent to yourself.”
Has Cody forgotten me entirely? “Have we met?”
Cody laughs. “I see not much has changed with the MacAllister sisters in twelve years. You still prefer to hang in the background.”
“I’m content with not being seen or heard.”
Ellison and her friends squeal loudly over some sort of nonsense. “There was only room for one attention whore in our family. She was there before me so I never had a chance.”
Ellison leans in between us. “Heeeey, Bleu. We’re tired of this place. We want to go hear the dueling pianos at Silky O’Sullivan’s.”
Oh God. I shouldn’t have agreed to come. I am not up for pub crawling. But I’m stuck.
I look at Cody and shrug. “You heard the boss.”
“I guess they’re in the mood for piano music,” Cody says.
Ellison’s not really a fan of the country scene either. I’m guessing her friends are the ones who chose this bar. “I think they’re more in the mood to troll for guys. The ones here aren’t Ellison’s type.”
I hug Cody. “It was really great seeing you again.”
“You too. Thanks again for bailing us out. It was really nice of you.”
“Then I can consider us even?”
“Yeah.” Cody laughs and his dimples reappear. “We’re even.”
I follow Ellison and her band of nitwits down Beale Street to Silky’s. We luck out and find a recently abandoned table. They order two divers, the bar’s specialty drink—a secret blend of libations served in a gallon bucket with no fewer than a dozen foot-long straws.
Oh lordy. As if any of these airheads need to suck on anything containing a gallon of alcohol.
I realize an hour into our excursion that our DD has been partaking in the divers and is wasted. What the hell? That means we have no sober driver to get us home. “Ellison. Ashley is hammered.”
“Yeah?” She’s completely oblivious to what that means.
“She’s supposed to be our ride home.”
“It’s cool, Bleu. She’s a nurse. She isn’t going to drive drunk and risk losing her license. We’ll just get a couple of rooms.”
Get rooms, my ass. There’s no way I’m sleeping with any of their drunken asses and waking up with crusty puke in my hair.
“I did not sign on for a drunken slumber party.”
Fuck this. “You know what? I’m not feeling great. I think I’ll head home.”
“It’s that damn medicine you take. Your doctor shouldn’t have increased your dosage. She’s dumber than snake mittens.”
Oh goody. The drunken buffoonery begins. “Stay. Have a great time with your friends. I’ll see you in the morning. And please be safe.”
I leave the bar and walk to the spot where taxis are lined and waiting for drunks in need of a lift.
“Hey, Bleu.” It’s Cody’s voice I hear in the distance.
He jogs up to me right before I get into the cab. “You’re leaving?”
“Yeah. Bar hopping is not really my scene.”
“I know what you mean. I only came out because we were playing. I rarely come to Beale anymore. I sort of got my fill of all this in the Air Force.”
It’s impossible to enjoy this type of atmosphere after you’ve experienced whisky bars in Scotland. It puts this place to shame.
“Need a ride?”
“Yeah, but I’m going to take a taxi.”
“No way. Let me drive you.”
He must not know we no longer live in Memphis. “Thanks for the offer but I live in Southaven now.”
“That’s not too far.”
“It’s over twenty miles to my house.” I don’t want to put him out.
He shuts the door on the cab. “A taxi will cost a fortune. I’m taking you home.”
I can see this isn’t an argument where I’ll be the victor.
“Okay. As long as you don’t try to talk me into joining your band. ’Cause I’m never stepping foot on a stage again.” Shit. That was brutal.
“I make no promises.”