Paul jogged onstage with my Gibson. I swapped the electric guitar for the acoustic and slid the strap over my shoulder. Amazing that I could be sitting on a cold stool in the hot lights of a open-air college amphitheater with five thousand screaming fans and still feel so damned alone.
I sucked in a slow breath, my fingers instinctively reaching for that first chord. My Gibson was my focus. With her in my arms, everything else faded away.
“I love you, Logan!”
I peered into the blinding spotlight and leaned into the mic. “Love you, too.”
The crowd went ballistic. Tonight was my twenty-third birthday, and I was spending it with my alt-rock band, Logan and the Howlers. We were finally starting to see some success. Our songs climbed up iTunes charts as fast as we could release them, and our concert venues were getting bigger without the backing of a big record label. We were busy.
Even on my birthday.
Luke, my twin brother, was waiting somewhere in the wings. After the show, we were going to grab a couple of beers to celebrate, and I’d paste on a smile for my brother. For me, it was just another empty year. As my Pack brothers each found their mates, the one woman he would ever love, the ache for mine grew, but unlike the rest of the Pack, there was no hope of me being with her.
I blew my chance years ago.
Pushing the memories away, I leaned on the stool while the rest of the Howlers vanished offstage for a water break. This was my song. The crowd erupted as I strummed the first chord. “Madness in the Moonlight” was still one of our top selling singles, and a favorite at live performances. My pain on display.
She haunts my dreams.
Shadows of the past.
Ripping my heart down the seams.
No one to blame but me.
I’m a lone wolf now, but I still stare up at the moon,
Call her name, and wonder if she’s looking, too…
I sat back, letting the crowd finish the chorus, wailing the anger and rage.
Madness. Madness. Madness.
Wishing won’t change a thing.
Tell that to my fucking heart.
Welcome the pain, feel something.
Got to let her go.
Another verse, another chorus, but as I hit the key change, a familiar scent, clean and spicy like cinnamon ignited my senses. Oh shit. From where?
I was the only member of the Howlers who actually howled. Once a month, the wolf in my soul came forward and I shifted my form, surrendering to the animalistic part of my spirit. And right now the dormant wolf was clawing toward my consciousness, no longer content to rest in the background. Even as a man, my senses were heightened—especially my senses of smell and hearing, but my vision didn’t suck, either.
I’d performed this song hundreds of times. My fingers found the chords instinctively, but I almost missed my vocals, stumbling over the next verse while I scanned the crowd. Finally I turned toward the wings.
In the shadows offstage, my brother Luke waited for me…with a ghost from my past.
I forced myself to face the crowd. This was no time to lose my shit. What the hell was she doing here? I powered through the ending of the song and stood to accept the cheers.
Grabbing the hand mic, I tried not to check the wings again. “Thank you. There’s no place I’d rather be for my birthday!”
A deafening roar erupted from the crowd. “Happy Birthday, Logan” signs waved back and forth as my bandmates came out to join me, taking the decibel level even higher. Stryker jogged out, still shirtless, his untamed long hair bouncing with each stride. The guy was a monster on the drums. He raised his drumsticks while Levi, tall and slender, pumped his fist from behind the keyboard.
Levi had a degree in music, and a knack for fleshing out harmonies. Plus he was our de facto social media manager, saving the rest of us from being near a computer. We loved him for that.
And finally Zane hustled out with his bass guitar on his shoulder, waving to fans. He was the “Old Man” of the Howlers. It didn’t help that he liked to keep his hair slicked back in a 50s pompadour.
Zane stopped next to me. “You okay, man?”
There was no way any regular guy would’ve heard it through the roar of the audience, but I caught every word. I glanced at the wings, relieved to see them empty. Maybe I’d imagined her.
Wishful thinking. I’d recognize her scent anywhere.
I swapped my Gibson for the electric guitar and hit a chord. The Howlers had my back, filling the concert hall with a wall of sound, but I couldn’t lose myself in it this time. Any movement offstage had me jumpy and tense. This concert couldn’t be over soon enough.
“Night, Logan.” Zane grabbed his guitar case. “Good show, and happy birthday.”
“Thanks, man.” I dried the sweat from the back of my neck and tossed the towel in my bag.
Stryker was still dismantling his drum set. We could afford roadies to do it now, but he got territorial when it came to his drums.
He looked up, flipping his mop of hair out of his face. “Later. Have a birthday beer for me.”
My bandmates had grown accustomed to me being on my own. It was tough to keep secrets from people you care about, so I kept my distance.
I hit the exit, and her scent assaulted me. Luke sat on the bumper of my pickup with Anna standing beside him. Their conversation halted as I came closer. As impossible as it seemed, she was sexier than I remembered, her curves more pronounced in her tight black dress.
Something inside me came unglued. The wolf howled, filling the empty space in my chest where my heart should have been.
Luke hopped off the bumper. He kept his dark hair shorter than I did, and working outside on the horse ranch made his skin a little more tan than mine. But he wasn’t wearing his faded ranch clothes now. He looked sharp in his black denim and white T-shirt, trying to impress a ghost from my past.
My eyes narrowed on my brother. “I didn’t know we were bringing dates.”
He frowned, draping his arm around her shoulder. “Oh, come on. Vivi’s like family. Did you know she’s staying up in Lake Tahoe right now?”
No, I didn’t know. She haunted every dream, every quiet moment. Her face fueled my muse.
And if he didn’t stop touching her, I’d go out of my fucking mind.
Her voice was deep, rich and smooth like melted chocolate. She had dark eyes that used to see all the way into my soul. Could she see how empty I was inside now?
I swallowed the lump in my throat and did my best to sound flippant. “I didn’t know you were a fan of the Howlers, Anna.”
“You don’t get to call me that anymore.” Her brown eyes flashed. She shook her head and took a step back. “It’s Vivi or Vivianna.”
Not to me.
Her heart was pounding. I didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t want to hurt her.
Too fucking bad.
She brushed her hair over her shoulder. “And I’m not a fan. I was here for work.”
I needed to touch her. Clenching my fists, I fought the desire. I’d never be strong enough to walk away again. She needed to leave me. Now.
“Were you selling merch?”
Her brow furrowed, her jaw dropping a little. “Seriously?” She shook her head. “Thanks for reminding me what an asshole you are.”
“Good to see you, too. I’m going to get a beer.” I pinned my brother with a stare. “I’ll meet you at Lou’s.”
Without waiting for an answer, I put my guitar in the cab. I should’ve gotten in and driven away, but I turned back one last time.
Anna grabbed Luke’s hand. My brother turned toward her, and bitterness burned my stomach. Maybe they were on a damn date. The light from the streetlamp glistened on her long black hair, teasing me. Every angle of her face tempted me. I hadn’t spoken to her in just over five years, but my hunger for her hadn’t faded. Far from it.
“Happy Birthday, Logan.” My name sounded cold on her lips, like a dagger in my chest.
What could I say? I broke her heart, but I’d do it all over again if it meant her dreams would come true. Our futures were always headed in opposite directions. I made the right choice.
It took every ounce of my will to get in my truck. I slammed the door and drove away. Longest damned drive to Lou’s in my life.
The dive bar was dimly lit, with a pool table in the far corner. The juke box blared “Hotel California” while I nursed my second whiskey, neat. I sat on a stool in the shadows at the end of the counter. The last thing I was in the mood for was some drunk chick to recognize me. A few years ago, I tried to drown my sorrows in fast women and band groupies, but nothing filled the void Anna left behind.
No amount of no-strings-attached sex was ever going to hold a candle to making love to her. Ever.
My brother finally walked through the door. I held my breath, but it didn’t open again. Anna wasn’t with him. The only trace of her was her scent on his fucking shirt.
“Hey, Logan.” We clasped forearms, the traditional Pack greeting. “Happy Birthday.”
“Yeah. You, too.”
He glanced at my glass. “Moved on from birthday beer, huh?” He took the stool next to me. “What the hell happened back there with Vivi? I thought you’d be happy to see her.”
I growled, downing the last of my whiskey. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
He ordered a beer then turned my way. “She’s been staying up at Lake Tahoe with a college friend. I ran into her a couple weeks ago. She’s never seen you in concert…” He shrugged. “I thought it would be fun.”
Maybe it was her scent on his shirt, or the way she held his hand as I drove away, but I caught his wrist before I realized what I was doing. My grip tightened like a vise. “You can have any woman in the world. Not. Her.”
My final words were more animal than man. Luke’s eyes widened, and I let go of him, dragging a shaky hand back through my hair. My wolf was dangerously close to the surface, and the full moon was still two weeks away.
“First, we’re just friends, and second, I hate to break it to you, but you don’t get to call the shots here.” Luke leaned in close. “You dumped her and never even told her why. She waited for you in her prom dress. You humiliated her.”
“I was there. I remember.”
He groaned. “She hates you.”
“She should.” My voice cracked as I signaled for another drink. Anything to kill the ache inside.
“Okay, then why threaten me about seeing her?”
I met his eyes, staring at my mirror image. “Because she’s my mate.”
His jaw slackened for a second as my words sank in. I wasn’t sure how I expected him to react, but shoving me back into the bar wasn’t it.
“You selfish prick.” He shook his head and lowered his voice. “How could you not tell me?”
“What was I going to say?” I took a swallow of my drink. “Anna is my mate, but we’re too young? It’s complicated?”
“It could have been that simple.” He shook his head. “But you didn’t trust me to understand.” He slammed his hand on the bar. “Our whole Pack blew off the stories of one mate for life. You knew it was true all this time, and you never said anything.”
“You don’t understand.”
“So help me. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because it was none of your damned business.” I pushed the glass away. It wasn’t helping anyway. “It was between me and Anna.”
“And five years later, she’s still clueless. You never told her, either.”
I dug inside the pocket of my jeans and pulled out a few bills. Slapping them on the bar, I glared at my brother. “I’m not doing this here.”
He caught my arm. “Logan.”
I sighed and met his eyes. “Yeah.”
“If she’s your mate, then she’s the only one for you.” A crease formed on his brow as he lowered his voice. “You’re choosing to be alone…forever?”
My gut twisted. “I loved her. I still do. So I’m walking away.” I yanked free from his grasp. “Just do me a favor and stay out of it. And stay away from her. The sooner she gets out of town, the better.”
He glanced at his boots, shaking his head. “Good luck with that.”
“What do you mean?”
“She’s got a chance for a staff job at Rolling Stone. Her dream job.” The bartender set Luke’s beer on the bar. He took a swig and tried not to smile. “That’s why she came west to stay with her friend. She’s here to be the first to get an interview with reclusive indie rocker, Logan Reynolds, from Logan and the Howlers.”
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