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Wicked White (Wicked White Series Book 1) by Michelle A. Valentine (9)

ACE

It’s been two weeks since I spoke to Iris—nearly three since I walked off stage—and the dark-paneled walls of this trailer feel like they are about to close in on me. The two books I brought with me, I’ve already read at least five times each, and for the past two days I’ve done nothing but stare at the guitar I brought. It’s been sitting there, taunting me to play again, so I finally give in and pick it up, enjoying the peace that strumming a familiar tune brings me.

Music has always been my one emotional release. It wasn’t always easy talking about my feelings or how things were going in my life, and my mother understood that about me. She reached out to the broken little twelve-year-old the state dumped on her doorstep and encouraged my love of music.

While I would love to say that music instantly straightened me out and made me the reasonable man I am today, that’s not exactly how it happened. It took a long time for me to mellow out. When I was younger, I had a lot of anger built up inside toward my biological mother, who left me stranded in a hotel room when I was just six so that she could run off with her pimp boyfriend. I used that aggression to lash out physically every chance I got to help ease the pain from the loss of the only existence I had ever known. Even though life with my biological mother kept me frightened most of the time, I was scared to be without her. She was the only constant in my ever-changing surroundings as we moved from place to place with whoever would take my mother and me in.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my real mother leaving me in that room was the best thing that could’ve happened to me. Sure, it was rough bouncing from home to home until Sarah took me in, but at least I got fed and finally got the chance to go to school.

My fingers pluck at the strings as I close my eyes and allow my thoughts to drift, and I’ll be damned if the very first thing that pops into my head isn’t a vision of Iris. Her soft, smooth skin and flowing, thick brown hair only heighten her exquisite face. The green of her eyes and the natural pink pout of her plump lips draw me in every time, along with her long, toned legs. That body of hers is simply banging, and I’d give anything to be able to touch her the way I want.

She’s everything I’ve ever dreamed about finding in my perfect woman, because coupled with her unbelievable beauty, she actually acts like she gives a shit about me—not my stardom, but about me as a person.

I shouldn’t be thinking about her like this, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to whisk her into my world anyway.

Just as I begin to hum a melody that’s flowing through my brain as I’m picturing Iris, I hear the unmistakable crank of an engine that’s struggling to turn over. The racket is coming from outside, next to my trailer, which strikes me as odd because I didn’t think Iris owned a vehicle that actually ran. Every time I’ve ever seen her leave, Birdie has been driving them somewhere in her little white Corolla.

Curiosity wins out and I set my guitar down and push up off the couch. Through the small window over the kitchen sink I spot Iris’s sexy little ass as she leans over, checking the engine under the hood of what looks like a late-nineties Cavalier.

Without hesitation I take my opportunity to rescue her yet again in my lame-ass attempt to apologize for being a major asshole the last time we spoke. I’ve wanted to apologize but haven’t been able to work up an excuse to talk to her again.

I have to stop turning into a complete fucking nutcase every time the girl starts asking questions. If I were her, I’d be curious as hell about me too. After all, I did come into this small little town, where everyone seems to know everyone, as a complete stranger. I guess I’m lucky that no one other than Iris has taken an interest in getting to know me better.

The gravel crunches under the soles of my black boots as I approach her. “You need a hand?”

She turns toward me. While I expect her to point a nasty scowl that I rightly deserve in my direction, I’m surprised by a sweet smile instead. “Do you know anything about cars?”

The tension I’m carrying in my shoulders releases and they instantly relax as I take another few steps to stand beside her in front of the car. “I do. For instance, to me it sounds like you’ve got a dead battery.”

Iris rests her hip against the car as she stares up at me. “You could tell that from just listening to me try and start it?”

I smile at her and hold back a chuckle. Her lackluster knowledge of engines apparently extends to cars as well. “I could.” I glance over at my bike and then flick my gaze back to Iris’s face. “Do you have any jumper cables?”

She frowns. “I’m not sure. If Gran had any, they would be in the shed.”

Iris pulls a set of keys from her pocket and singles out one from the ring before handing it to me.

I nod and then turn and head to the small ten-by-ten blue-and-white tin shed. The door creaks on its hinges as I pull it open. As soon as my eyes adjust to the dim light, I’m shocked by what I see.

It’s not cluttered in here like I expected a shed would be. Walking in, I imagined random junk would be piled from floor to ceiling, but only the back wall has shelves, lined with boxes of items that are clearly labeled. The rest of the shed is lined with thick blankets, while a microphone rests on a stand in the middle of the small space. A karaoke machine sits on a small, wooden table.

I walk over and pick through the stack of CDs piled next to the machine, each containing music from Broadway musicals. I smile, loving the idea that Iris is into a more classic sound that focuses on the voice of the song.

“Did you find any cables?” Iris calls from the doorway.

I turn to look at her and find an odd expression on her face when she notices I’m going through her things, so I decide to just ask about what I’ve found. “You sing?”

She hesitates for a long moment and then nods. “Yes, but as you can tell, I only really sing one sort of thing.”

I hold up the soundtrack of Wicked, and she smiles as she approaches me. “That’s one of my favorites.”

The curiosity of what her angel’s voice would sound like singing flows through me, and I ask, “Would you sing for me?”

She bites her lip and the shy expression on her face causes my heart to race. Every time I think she can’t possibly be any more attractive to me, she finds a new way to surprise and excite me, making her even more beautiful. “Okay.”

She flips a couple switches, and red lights on the machine turn to green as a tiny screen lights up. “This little machine doesn’t have the best sound, but it works. Gran got this for my seventeenth birthday—back when I decided being on Broadway was what I wanted to do after I graduated from high school.”

“What happened with that dream?” I ask, trying to figure her out. “Did you ever give it a shot?”

She slides the CD into the slot and then works on selecting a track. “I did, or, well, still am, rather. I moved to New York a year ago after working for two years to save up some money, but came back here when Gran passed to get things in order.”

I nod, remembering how not too long ago I set off to California in search of a music career as a soulful indie artist. Iris and I aren’t so different after all. Matter of fact, it’s almost as if we were cut from the same cloth.

I’m not sure where her parents are, but I’ve been around her long enough to figure out that they aren’t in her life—that her grandmother raised her. So there’s that, which we have in common, but we also both apparently really dig music, and not just any music, but music that almost takes on a life of its own—music that we can throw ourselves into and sing with every inch of our beings because we love it. In order to sing show tunes, you have to feel the music. Emotion is impossible to fake through them if performed well.

Iris sighs, pulling me out of my thought. “I started going to every open audition I could find. So far, I haven’t had much luck, so I’m waiting tables until I can catch a break, but I know it’s going to happen for me one day, because I’m never going to give up.”

I smile, excited by her passion. “Well, let’s hear it then.”

“This one’s my favorite. It’s called ‘I’m Not That Girl.’”

The music plays softly, and she steps up to the stand and licks her lips as she wraps her hands around the mic. Even though I don’t know this particular song, the symphonic melody sets a dreamy atmosphere, and I already know she’s about to blow me away before she even has the chance to open her mouth.

She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes like she can’t bear to look at me while she sings. The moment the first word leaves her mouth, I smile at the buttery tone of her voice.

I was right. This girl is a fucking angel.

The pitch of her voice is perfect as she lands every note that the song calls for. I get lost in watching her perform this song, but I wish she would look at me. That’s where I feel she’s losing connection. If she does that when she auditions, it’s the one thing holding her back from getting those parts she wants.

There’s so much with the performance aspect of her singing I could help her with, but if I do that, I’ll be opening myself up for a string of questions that I know inevitably will come—questions I don’t think I’m ready to answer.

Finally, as she ends with the last note of the song, she opens her eyes to find me studying her intently.

A fierce blush rushes to her cheeks and she shrugs, like she doesn’t know what to say under the scrutiny of my stare.

She bites her lip nervously. “Obviously, I still have a lot to work on . . . I’m self-taught, so my singing is still a work in progress.”

I shake my head and, going against everything I just said I wouldn’t do in my head, I step toward her, wanting to help. I want to tell her what I think she’s doing wrong so that she can have a shot at her dream, even if that means I could out myself. Helping her also seems like a good way to apologize for being a dick.

“Iris . . . that was amazing. You’ve got so much talent,” I praise.

Her green eyes light up with excitement like a child’s do on Christmas morning. “You really think so? You’re not just saying that?”

“No. I never bullshit about music. You’ve definitely got the chops for Broadway, it’s just . . .” I hesitate, not wanting to hurt her feelings, but I know that in order for her to get better, she has to be told what she’s doing wrong.

She lays her hand on my forearm. “Please, tell me. I can take it. Promise.”

I stand beside her, so close that my chest nearly touches her shoulder. I’m itching to touch her, but I won’t do it without permission. “May I touch you?”

She draws in a ragged breath and then nods. “Yes.”

I curl the fingers of my right hand around her right shoulder and pull back a little so that her posture is perpendicular to the floor. At this angle, I can’t help but notice her heaving chest and how her perky tits move in sync with each breath she takes.

I slide my left hand against her toned stomach and my pinkie grazes the warm patch of skin that’s exposed between her T-shirt and the waistband of her jeans.

Our contact is fucking electric, and my own breathing picks up speed as I attempt to fight back the arousal I feel for her boiling beneath my surface.

“Everything about you is magnetic,” I whisper in her ear, and she shivers at my words. “Don’t be afraid to open your eyes and watch your audience enjoy you. Be confident and project. Let go.”

I let go of her shoulder, and move to face her before pressing the repeat button on the machine. As the intro of the song plays, I say, “Do it again, but this time I want you to look at me.”

This time when she opens her mouth to sing, when she begins to tip her head down, I slide my index finger under her chin and angle her head so that she’s forced to peer into my eyes.

Her words are just barely above a whisper, so I slip my hand back on her abdomen and say, “Project—from here. Sing it like you mean it.”

It’s like lightning strikes this beautiful woman in my arms as she sings to me without fear. The words of the song come out effortlessly, and her voice could rival any of the greatest female vocalists of all time.

She’s that damn stunning.

I nod approvingly and smile. “Yes!”

With that little bit of encouragement, she shocks me even more when she pushes herself to hit notes that are above and beyond what she reached the first time.

Only on the last lyric does she close her eyes while she holds the note there until the music stops. She releases a contented sigh as soon as the music ends, and when her beautiful eyes meet mine again, they swirl with emotion.

Completely blown away, I fumble with the words to tell her just how impressed I am. “Iris, that was—”

Without warning, she throws her arms around my neck and crushes her lips against mine. I know kissing her back is wrong, but I’ll be damned if I don’t want her so badly at this point that I can’t stop myself from giving in. I’ve been so good with restraining myself when it comes to Iris, because protecting her from the chaos that I’ll bring her is what’s always been on the forefront of my mind.

Her fingers thrust into my hair, and I reach down and curl my hands around her thighs before hoisting her into the air. Instinctively she wraps her legs around my waist, and I thread one of my hands into her tousled curls while the other is busy cupping that perfect ass of hers.

“I’ve wanted you since you walked into my trailer,” she breathes against my lips.

A thrill shoots through me at her admission of how long she’s wanted me. “You’ve been driving me out of my mind from the moment I first saw you.”

“Then take me.” Her words leave her mouth in a breathy sigh as she gives me permission to ravage her body.

I’ve wanted her so much for so long, it would easy for me to say fuck it and give in and fuck her right here in this shed, but I know that’s a dick move on my part. Iris Easton is not the kind of girl you can sleep with one time and never see again. She’s the kind of girl that makes you change everything you thought you ever wanted in life just to be with her.

And I know for a fact I won’t be living in Sarahsville long-term. If I want to keep avoiding Jane Ann and Mopar Records, then I have to keep moving, which means one day I’ll leave this place and Iris behind.

Sleeping with her now, knowing that, would make me a fucking prick.

I pull back, breaking the lingering kiss we were just sharing, and sigh. “We can’t do this, Iris.”

A confused expression crosses her face. “Is it me? Did I do something wrong?”

I shake my head. “God no. It’s me. I don’t want to tangle you up with what’s following me. I’m not looking to put down roots here, and I’ll be leaving soon. I won’t hurt you that way.”

She blinks a couple times as she sets her feet back on the ground but leaves her fingers wound into the hair on my nape. “You can trust me, Ace. I like you. I want you. Whatever it is that you’re running from—”

I cut her off. “Isn’t your problem and I won’t drag you into the crazy life I lead. Maybe someday when I get everything sorted out, I’ll come back for you and we can try being together when everything calms down, but I don’t know how long that will be. And I won’t be a selfish bastard and ask you to wait while I figure it out. I don’t want to make my issues your problem.”

Tears drop out of her eyes and then roll down her cheeks. I’m doing exactly what I didn’t want to do. I’m hurting her and it’s killing me. I want to be with her. I want her to know the real me, but until I can figure out who the real me is now, I can’t mix her up in my madness.

She pulls away from me, and I’m tempted to grab her wrist to stop her—force her to stay with me while I spill my guts out—but I’m afraid of how she’ll react after finding out who I really am.

I don’t want to lose the realness I feel with her.

So instead, I let her go while I watch the only person I care about walk away, hurt by me.