Good morning! We’re just a few days from the release of Missing the Beat, so it’s time to share the first two chapters!
You can pre-order the ebook here. The paperback will be available September 22nd as well.
Chapter 1 Maya
Pain speared through Maya’s skull as she came to. Her eyes fluttered in the morning light that seemed entirely way too bright. She felt as if she was going to be sick.
“I am never drinking again,” she muttered, bringing a hand to her forehead.
Or at least, she tried to. The familiar weight of someone’s arm was draped over her. That someone stirred behind her at the soft words she’d spoken.
Maya shifted to look over her shoulder, and her breath caught at the sight. Ever so slowly, she inched out from beneath the man’s arm until she landed in a heap on the floor.
A very naked heap.
Cursing herself, she scrambled around, searching for her clothes that had scattered in their haste the night before. She pulled on her short red dress as quickly and as quietly as possible. There was no way she could face him; she had to get out of there. But one shoe was nowhere in sight. Hobbling on one heel, she searched the hotel room, kicking aside his clothes.
“Looking for this, Cinderella?” a deep, groggy voice asked.
Maya sighed and closed her eyes for a long second before turning toward the bed. Toward Xander, who lay with an arm bent behind his head—the picture of ease, with the sheet lying low on his toned abdomen. Her other strappy heel dangled from his free hand.
She snatched it away, wanting to smack that cocky smirk from his face. As she sat on the edge of the bed to put it on, she hissed, “You tell anyone about this, you’re dead. Hear me?”
Xander pushed himself up, sitting close to her back. His breath stirred her hair, and she was all too aware of that sheet sliding down to his hips. “Oh, come on. Are you really going to pretend like this just didn’t happen?”
“Yes,” she snapped. “It was a mistake.”
“You didn’t seem to think so last night. Not as you were begging me to—”
She whipped around to glare at him, ignoring the piercing pain in her head. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence.”
He grinned. “I was going to say cuddle.”
To avoid throttling him, Maya stood and headed toward the door.
Her feet stopped moving, even though her brain was screaming to ignore him and leave. Instead, she did as he asked; she waited.
The bed creaked slightly, and the rustling of fabric sounded. When he gently tugged on her arm and she faced him, she was relieved to find he’d put on a pair of sweatpants. Not that it helped much. He was still shirtless, and those stupid gray pants… She curled her hands into fists and crossed her arms, denying the urge to touch him.
Xander moved closer, sliding his hand up her arm to the side of her neck. She licked her lips, and his dark brown eyes flicked down. Her hands fell as she relaxed into his hold on her. Like she was under a spell, she took a small step forward. For a second, she could pretend this was real—that the past was just a nightmare.
But then, he opened his mouth. “You sure you don’t want another round before you go?”
She let out a forced breath. “Unbelievable.”
Putting both hands on his bare chest, she pushed him away. He stumbled back a couple steps with a laugh that hurt more than the arrogant words and looks sent her way the past few days.
“Stay away from me, Alexander,” she said.
His eyes widened a fraction—the only hint that she got to him—but she didn’t stick around to see if he put things together. She couldn’t.
Swiping her purse off the floor, she stormed out of the hotel room, slamming the door on her way. Outside the elevator, she wiped at an errant tear. She would not break down. Not here. She needed to wait until she was back in her trailer. Even if that meant doing the walk of shame through campus and set.
The elevator dinged, and the doors slid open. As she stepped inside, a voice she knew as well as her own called, “Wait!”
Maya steeled herself, turning to hold the doors open for her best friend. Eliza ran down the hall while pulling on a dark blue hoodie over a large t-shirt that clearly wasn’t hers. Her long, bare legs peeked out from below, and Maya hoped the girl at least put on some shorts. She voiced the concern as Eliza darted into the elevator.
“W-what?” Eliza sputtered, her face turning a dozen shades of red. “Of course I’m wearing shorts.”
Snorting, Maya looped an arm through Eliza’s. “How’s Lucas?”
“Sleeping.” Eliza bit the corner of her mouth, grinning as she glanced at her feet. “I heard shouting and the door slam, but he barely stirred.”
Maya nudged her in the side. “Wear him out last night?”
“How’s Xander?” Eliza asked as she looked back up.
Narrowing her eyes, Maya said, “Touché.”
Her friend laughed. When the doors opened, she pulled Maya behind a tall plant, not walking out with her. She tilted her head toward the front desk, “I don’t want my boss or co-workers to see me like this.”
Maya agreed quietly, but she still couldn’t otherwise speak. Her mind kept replaying bits and pieces from the night before that were returning to her. Fireworks lighting the night sky. Fighting on the way back to the hotel. Tearing clothes off. Falling into bed.
“Seriously, are you okay?” Eliza put a hand on her arm, concern filling her gaze. She was the only one who knew the truth. The only one who knew just how big of a deal it was that Maya slept with the person she despised most in this world.
“I’m fine… I…” She didn’t know what to say. Eliza saw through the lie and wrapped her in a hug. Maya relaxed into the embrace and whispered, “Waking up beside him… I don’t know how this happened.”
“Well, you were arguing, and then—” Eliza leaned back and wagged her eyebrows up twice with a smile.
Maya rolled her eyes. “What happened to my sweet, innocent friend?”
“Lucas Warner happened.” Her smile grew wider.
“A week in a movie star’s bed and you’re corrupted forever,” she teased.
She was happy for her friend though—both of them, actually. As much as she was against them dating in the beginning, all that mattered was their happiness. The only reason she’d tried to keep them apart was because she didn’t want Eliza to get hurt when the movie wrapped and Lucas left town. They decided to work through it though.
“He’s really going to look for an apartment here?” she asked, crossing her arms to fight off the chill of the air-conditioned lobby.
Eliza gave an enthusiastic nod. “Yeah, he is. He’s going to stay while not filming. And when he is working, I’ll visit him on school breaks.”
It was so serious so fast. The girl had never been in a relationship—had never done more than kiss a couple dates here and there—before Lucas. Now, they were practically planning a life together. It made Maya nervous, but she’d seen them around one another. She’d seen the way Lucas watched Eliza like she was the most precious thing in the world. She wouldn’t be the one to burst their happiness bubble, even if she had her doubts about this working out.
“Maya?” Eliza said, bringing her back.
Maya shook her head. “Sorry, I should get back to my trailer. My head is killing me, and I need more sleep.”
“Okay, well, if you need to talk, I’m here.”
“I know.” Maya hugged her again. “Thank you.”
“The apartment is open if you want to go there instead.
“Thanks,” she said, nodding as she realized that sounded like a much better plan.
Without another word, she walked away. She ignored the stares of the few people she passed on the way out of the student center. No doubt making their assumptions about why she was leaving the hotel side of the building in a tight red dress and heels, her hair and makeup a mess. She didn’t care. She never had.
That was what happened when one’s heart had been turned to stone at an early age. Their words and accusations couldn’t reach her. She’d shut down that part of her emotions four years ago—locked them away deep inside. She’d sworn off relationships and love, claiming none of it was real. Dating around was fun, but she never made commitments because the last time she wanted to, her heart was shattered by someone she never thought she’d see again.
Yet, somehow, he had returned.
And she’d just woken up in his bed.
Chapter 2 Xander
The door opened just as Xander lifted his fist to knock.
Lucas chuckled and stepped aside to let him in. “I was on my way to find you.”
His friend’s hotel room looked identical to his own a few doors away. Down to the rumpled sheets. The only difference was some of Eliza’s clothes and belongings were scattered about. She was staying here a lot after working nights at the front desk. Lucas grabbed a bra off the floor and quickly shoved it in a drawer as Xander sat on the small, turquoise sofa in the corner.
“You two are getting awfully cozy,” Xander said with a smirk.
Sliding his hands into the pockets of his jeans, Lucas shrugged. A bright grin spread across his face. “I love her.”
Xander’s own smile softened. He was truly happy for his friend. Lucas deserved a girl who cared about him and not his status. His last girlfriend had been a piece of work. Xander knew personally just how manipulative and toxic Tori was, even more so after he’d fallen into bed with her on a bad drunken night a year earlier. He’d felt sick about it since. Lucas and Tori had broken up and gotten back together so often that it had been hard to keep track of. It didn’t excuse his behavior though. Xander had known better, and he’d regretted it immediately afterward.
When Tori revealed their secret betrayal before leaving town last weekend, he feared Lucas would never forgive him. The man had good reason not to trust people. But he’d repeatedly said to forget about it.
Easier said than done. Xander might have a reputation, but he never wanted to hurt his friend.
Leaning against the short dresser, Lucas crossed his ankles. “So, what did you do?”
“This morning,” he said. “Why did my girlfriend run out of here after hearing your door slam shut?”
Xander narrowed his eyes. “If you know that much, I’m guessing you know why.”
“Yeah, but I want to hear your side.” Lucas removed his hands from his pockets to fold his arms over his chest. “I thought we agreed you wouldn’t cause trouble while visiting?”
“I don’t think I ever agreed to that,” Xander said. “Besides, I didn’t do anything. She started it.”
“You sound like a child.”
He was aware, but he couldn’t stop. “I’m serious.”
“Look,” Lucas moved across the room to sit next to him, “you know you’re my best friend—I love you like a brother—but she’s not just my co-star. She’s become a really close friend, and I don’t want to lose that just because you couldn’t keep it in your pants.”
That hurt more than Xander wanted to admit. “Not that it matters, but she kissed me first. But don’t worry, it was a one-time thing. It won’t happen again.”
Even if he couldn’t get the images from the previous night out of his head. The way she took control, pushing him onto the bed. Her moving to straddle his waist.
He ran a hand over his head. No, he’d made sure it wouldn’t happen again. Because it couldn’t.
“I’m leaving in like a week, then you’ll be free of me and my drama,” he said, aiming for a teasing tone. The words held an iota of truth in them though. He couldn’t deny it.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Lucas smacked him in the arm before getting back up. “I’m meeting Jax at the diner; want to join us?”
When he hesitated, Lucas added, “Maya won’t be there.”
Xander stood. “Then, absolutely. I need food pronto. My head is killing me, and I’ve been dreaming about those freaking milkshakes.”
They headed to the elevator and down to the lobby, laughing and teasing each other about the night before. Apparently, Xander and Maya had caused quite a scene leaving the quad after the fireworks. He didn’t even remember what started the argument. He did, however, distinctly remember how hot she’d been when all fired up. She’d yelled at him, stomping the whole way back to the hotel with the other two.
He hadn’t said anything when she followed him to his room. They’d barely made it inside before she was tugging at his clothes and kissing him. Xander was pretty sure he’d never been so turned on in his life. He wanted to blame the alcohol, but he hadn’t had that much. Though for someone who usually avoided drinking, he’d definitely had a nice buzz going. But that wasn’t it. It was just the passion, the fierceness of Maya that got to him.
At the front desk, Eliza smiled as they walked through the lobby. She’d switched to the morning shift to have the previous night off. With a quick glance around, Lucas circled the desk, turned her chair toward him, and kissed her. Xander couldn’t think of a single time in their few years of friendship that he’d ever seen the man so open and happy. It was like a weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Eliza was so good for him.
Xander braced himself on the marble top with his forearms. “Good morning, Eliza.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Morning.”
“Please be nice,” Lucas whispered against the top of her head, grinning.
From what Xander had been told, the girl didn’t have a mean bone in her body. He didn’t want to push it though. He raised his hands in mock surrender.
“We’re going to breakfast.” Lucas tilted her chin up toward him. “Want me to bring you anything?”
“I wouldn’t say no to some French toast.”
“Okay.” He kissed her once more. “I’ll see you in a bit.”
Xander waved before following Lucas outside. The sun already sat high in the sky, nearing its peak. They walked down the street that had started to become familiar. With the campus mostly empty, other than the filming crew, it was peaceful. Apparently, not many students took in-person courses during the summer.
“So,” Lucas began, “are you going to see them while in town?”
Them meaning Xander’s parents. “No.”
Lucas nodded in understanding. “I just…”
“What?” he snapped as he held the door open to the diner. A small bell tinkled above, and Maria greeted them with a smile. It seemed like the waitress lived there; she was always around.
They took seats at their usual corner table. Lucas thanked the woman when she brought them coffee. After telling her they’d wait for Jax to order food and she walked away, Lucas went on. “I just think it would be good for you.”
“In what universe would that be good for me?” He hadn’t seen his parents in four years, and he had no intention of changing that anytime soon.
“It would give you closure.”
He knew his friend meant well, but he didn’t want to discuss this. Again. “I don’t need closure. I need to go on pretending like they don’t exist.” When Lucas opened his mouth, Xander held up a hand. “No. I’m done with this conversation.”
The bell over the door chimed, and Xander looked up to find Jax entering. For the first time since he’d met the baseball player, the man didn’t have his younger sister in tow. He slowly sat down with a quiet groan.
Xander chuckled. “Long night?”
Jax crossed his arms on the table and then laid his head atop them. “Someone kept giving my sister sugar last night. Between her and Kaley, I have no energy left. I just want to nap for the rest of the summer now that the season is over.”
“You and Sierra are heading to Kaley’s parents’ house tomorrow, right?” Lucas asked, signaling Maria for another coffee.
“Yeah, we’ll be in Summersville until school starts, but we’ll be visiting my aunt some too.” Jax sighed and straightened in his chair as the waitress placed a mug in front of him. They ordered a heaping amount of food, and then he went on, “I need to register Sierra for school soon, and I think it begins earlier in August than my classes, so we’ll only be gone about a month.”
Xander patted him on the shoulder. Jax had explained before that his parents had died, leaving him to decide the fate of his sister. It had taken a while, but he’d finally decided to keep her with him instead of sending her to live with their aunt five hours south.
“I don’t know how to do all this,” Jax said in a hushed voice full of pain. “I know nothing about being a parent, and I hate dragging Kaley into this.”
“Kaley loves that little girl,” Lucas said as Jax took a sip of his coffee.
Xander wished he knew what to say—how to help. He didn’t have any siblings, and his parents weren’t exactly loving role models. The only family he had in his life was his aunt and cousin on the West Coast. And Lucas.
“Did you know she used to call me in the middle of the night crying?” Jax said. “After the accident, when our dad was in a coma and Aunt Pat was staying with them. She’d call me because of her nightmares, and I’d jump in my car and go to her if I wasn’t out of state for a game.” He swept a hand through his hair, making it stand on end. “What do I do if that continues? How do I help her?”
“You’ll figure it out.” Lucas reached over and gripped the man’s wrist. “It’ll all work out for the best. And you’re not alone in this.”
“I just feel like keeping her with me is so selfish.”
Xander turned in his chair toward him more. “I know we just met like a week ago, but I can tell you that Sierra loves you to pieces. Like you said, you’re the one she wants after a nightmare. You’re already a parent to her—you’re everything to her. Wanting to hold on to that isn’t selfish at all.”
“Thank you. It’s just so much. I’m so scared I’m going to mess up.” Jax gripped his mug once more but didn’t lift it. He stared into the steaming beverage, as if it might have the answers he needed.
“You probably will.” Xander shrugged. “Most do. But the fact that you’re even concerned about it shows how right the decision is. You want what’s best for her; you love and care for her. That’s what truly matters.”
“When did you get so wise and deep?” Lucas asked with a raised brow, amusement clear in his tone.
“I know what a bad parent looks like.” He nodded toward Jax. “You aren’t one.”
Jax smiled a little, took a deep breath, and cleared his throat. “Okay, enough of this. New topic. Why’d Maya show up at the apartment this morning in a huff? What happened after we left last night?”
Lucas snorted, and Xander kicked him under the table. The waitress brought their food, smiling as always. Maria was a sweet woman, who’d quickly moved on from the shock of seeing two celebrities frequently eating here. The second she left, Lucas said, “Maya slept with him.”
“Seriously, dude?” Xander shook his head and took a bite of his omelet.
“How did that even happen?” Jax asked with a laugh. “Doesn’t she hate you?”
“She was yelling at him the entire way back to the hotel,” Lucas said around his own mouthful of food. “So, I’m curious too.”
Xander couldn’t believe his friends. He didn’t know how he’d come to be here—a world-renowned rock star sitting in a small-town diner, gossiping with friends like a bunch of old women. But he also kind of loved it. It had been too long since he could relax like this. Flinging an elbow over the back of his chair, he smirked. “Clearly, neither of you have had angry, passionate sex. I highly recommend changing that.”
Want more? Pre-order Missing the Beat here!