Jett Costa splashed cold water over her face. She stood in the airport bathroom, the only person in the room—for the moment. Swallowing hard, she stared at her puffy brown eyes and messy dark hair. There was no denying it. She looked like she had been crying.
Gritting her teeth, she reached into her handbag for her makeup bag. She needed to hurry if she was going to catch her flight. Her hands shook at the thought of missing it. With trembling fingers, she touched up her eyeliner and mascara. Then, taking a deep breath, she burst out of the bathroom.
Crowds of people moved through the airport. Her chest felt tight. She longed for open space. It had been ages since she had any real freedom, though. In the nearly ten years since she had started Perpetual Smile, the band had never stopped touring.
She was tired, but not as tired as she imagined Phillip Hilton was.
Her heart twisted at the thought of him. Tears burned her eyes again. She blinked them away. She didn’t have time for more crying.
Hurrying through the airport, she headed toward her gate. She pulled her rolling carry-on suitcase behind her. Every so often, it skipped and snapped at her heels. She was glad that she had worn her thick leather boots. She had dressed carefully that morning, picking out one of Phillip’s favorite shirts to wear over her leggings. Screw him for not letting her come visit him. She was going to see him at the hospital, whether he liked it or not. Their video chats weren’t cutting it anymore, and she was terrified that she might never see him in person again.
Cancer was a bitch like that.
Buried deep in her thoughts, she almost didn’t hear someone calling out her name. Her head snapped up as someone jogged toward her. Recognition flooded her senses. Gritting her teeth, she lifted an eyebrow at him, but kept moving. She didn’t have time to stop.
He jogged alongside her on the walkway. "Dakota Jackson," he said, using his full name. He held out his hand. "Are you in a rush? Can I buy you a drink?
She wondered whether he was stupid. She was practically running through the airport. Of course she was in a rush. Everyone at the airport was. She leered at him. They neared the end of the walkway. She hopped off, her pace quickening from the momentum. He hurried to keep up with her. "I remember you," she said, moving over to the side to let other people pass. She didn’t want to stop, but he obviously wasn’t going to be shaken off so easily.
They stood in front of a bar and grill. Koty gestured to the bar. "What would you like?" The look on his face was hopeful, like a puppy waiting for playtime.
She snorted. Of all the things she had to deal with, she hadn’t expected him to keep coming on to her. In fact, she had hoped that she would never see him again after Late Night with Maz. Though she was grateful for his tip about the coffee, she found it laughable that he wanted to try out for Perpetual Smile. It must be some kind of ruse. "Are you trying to hit on me?" She put her free hand on her hip.
He ran a hand through his hair. "I sent my demo to your people," he said. "Do you know if they’ve listened to it yet?"
She tipped her head back and laughed. It came out harsher than she meant it to, but she couldn’t help it. Leveling her gaze at him again, she turned serious. "I know you Hollywood types. Maybe your A&R department head told you to shack up with another pop star, but let me tell you something, honey." Her lips curled into her most deadly sneer. "I am not a pop star, and I don’t sleep with boy band members." She flicked her fingers, dismissing him.
Resisting the urge to look at the time, she took a step away from Koty. A small group had formed around them, though. She pressed her lips together. No one had recognized them—yet. For the moment, they simply appeared to be lovers in a quarrel.
Koty cleared his throat. Heat flushed the back of his neck. "I’m not trying to sleep with you," he said in a low voice."I just want to grab a drink and talk shop with you."
She clapped her hands in mock praise. "Well done, sir." She bowed, gesturing for him to bow as well. "You put on a great show, poser."
He flinched at the word. Straightening, he tried again. "Look, if you’d just let me explain—"
She rolled her shoulders. He was wasting her time. "I don’t have to let you do anything. You think that just because you’re pretty and get everything handed to you, you can just jump into my bed?" She poked him in the chest. "I am not a piece of meat, and I will not be part of your little publicity stunt. I work hard, okay?" She narrowed her eyes at him.
Glancing into the crowd, Koty rubbed the back of his neck. He looked at his body guard.
Hoping that she could be done with him, Jett twirled the ring on her index finger, the one Phillip Hilton had given her when they were dating. It was sterling silver, the metal twisted into a series of knots. "These are forever knots," he had said, sliding it onto her finger. It was the only ring she wore on that hand.
She blinked false lashes at the man standing in front of her. Koty, she reminded herself. He said his name is Koty. She didn't really care what his name was. His face was plastered everywhere she went, and that was obnoxious enough. Throw in the fact that he wanted to play guitar and sing in her band, and the sight of his perfectly chiseled baby face made her want to hit him.
"Wait," he said. "I'll sing for you."
Her lips twitched, and she held up a hand. The airport lights glinted off the rings she wore. "Please don't. You want to be in my band, yet you work for a manufactured pop sensation. You didn't write any of the music you dance to, and everything is produced by machines." She made a flicking motion with her fingers. "You're nothing to me." She was probably coming on too strong, she realized, but his mere presence irritated her. All she wanted to do was get onto her plane so she could see Phillip.
"What about Nine Inch Nails?" he asked. "And Florence and the Machine?" He quirked an eyebrow at her. "They both use drum machines, yet you probably wouldn't criticize Trent Reznor for it."
He had her there.
Before she could reply, he continued. "Look, I know ESX isn't your kind of music." He lowered his voice. "It isn't really mine, either."
For the first time, Jett looked at Koty. His unwavering optimism grated on her nerves. It reminded her of the way Phillip insisted everything would work out. Phillip was dying, yet he never missed an opportunity to reassure her. She ran a hand through her hair, blinking hack tears.
"You all right?" Koty asked her.
She twisted her face into a sneer. "I will be, when you get out of my face." But she couldn't hold the sneer long. Her eyes softened and she looked down at her boots, shame washing over her. Not too long ago, she had been hungry for the opportunity to play on stage, drums at her back and smoky lights in her face. If Perpetual Smile's manager hadn't given her ten minutes and listened to their demo, she would still be begging dive bars to let them play. She bit her lip, her eyes meeting Koty's.
"What?" he asked, perhaps anticipating more snark.
She sighed. The crowd around them had grown. The second Jett noticed, someone called out, "Koty Jackson! Koty, is that you?" in a shrill voice. The voice did not belong to a female fan, though. She watched as three more irritatingly familiar faces pushed through the crowd, their body guards trailing after them. The thick man who she assumed was Koty’s body guard continued to lean against a column, his arms crossed.
"Oh, Koty," one of the men crooned. He was tall and clean shaven, his hair spiked. "There you are." He slung an arm around Koty's shoulders. "I was so worried about you."
"I can't believe it's Koty Jackson," a second shrieked. He held his hands up to his face in mock surprise. "Will you sign my panties for me?” He had a round face that could easily be mistaken for chubby. His eyes were red and glassy, and Jett wondered whether it was from fatigue or something else.
The third member of ESX gave Koty a small, sympathetic smile. He was thin and short, almost elfish in appearance.
"Hey, guys," Koty said, returning his gaze to Jett. "So good of you to show up right now." He swallowed hard.
Jett merely smirked back at him. It served him right. She tightened her grip on her carry-on, preparing herself for an escape. She wondered if she should be thanking the other men.
Koty gestured to his group mates. “Johnny Z,” he said, pointing to the man who draped an arm across his shoulders. “Benny,” he said, gesturing to the red-eyed member of ESX. “And Dev,” Koty finished, pointing to the smallest.
"We've been looking all over for you," Johnny Z crooned. "We were worried that our little heart throb here wasn't going to show."
"And now we know why," Benny added. He nodded in Jett's direction, giving her a smile. "How you doing, baby? You want an autograph?"
She gritted her teeth."Thank you, gentlemen," Jett said, gesturing to all four men. “You’ve been a perfect Exhibit A.” She took a step away.
"Wait, Jett," Koty said.
She gave him her best glare, the one that Phillip said could kill a kitten. “Goodbye, Princess,” she said. She turned and strode away, her boots clicking on the linoleum.
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