Devoured (CHAPTER TWO)
A razor sharp sensation scrapes the wall of my chest as I once again try to come to terms with the fact Seth knew more about what was going on with Gram than I did. Standing by myself a few feet away from them with snowflakes melting the second they kiss my skin, I feel left out – literally like the redheaded step child. As quick as the thought entered my head, I squash it down. What am I, a jealous ten year old?
My brother waves goodbye to me before he takes off in a graceful sprint toward the parking garage where he left the Dodge.
Smiling up at me with a grace and fortitude I've always been envious of, my grandmother jangles the keys to her ancient black Land Rover in my palm and closes my fist around them.
She pulls an umbrella out of her bag and opens it. "Richard wants me to come to his office for a strategy meeting. I'm sure you don't want to waste your time in a boring meeting with an attorney."
I may not return home nearly as often as I should, but I know my grandmother better than just about anyone else. This is her way of telling me she doesn't want me around for whatever she and Nielson have to say to each other.
She doesn't want me involved.
My muscles tighten. I purse my lips into what I hope passes for a good-natured expression. "Sure. I'll just" – I squint at my surroundings until my eyes land on a two-story cafe directly across the street from Nielson's office and the courthouse – "go grab something to eat over at Alice's. I'll keep an eye out for you."
"I'll see you in a few minutes," Gram says. "And Sienna?"
"I'm so happy you've come home."
Tears burn the corners of my eyes. I squeeze them shut, whispering, "Me too, Gram." There's so much else I want to say and do but there are people all around us heading into the courthouse and to various attorneys' offices. I give her a cheerful wave instead. It's only after she disappears into Nielson's building, I let my shoulders slump and drag ass across the street to the cafe.
I haven't been to this restaurant since my mom's legal woes a few years ago, so I'm stoked to find it's now decorated in an Alice in Wonderland theme. My roommate and I are complete opposites but one of the places where we find common ground is fantastical movies and books and . . . you know, Johnny Depp.
The woman behind the counter wearing an elaborate velvet Hatter hat smiles up at me and yells, "Go ahead and seat yourself, hon. Someone'll be right over." I nod my head appreciatively and then find a booth in the far left of the cafe that gives me the best view of Nielson's office and easy access to the wall vent. After I order a double slice of the special – Cheshire pie – and a cup of coffee, I send a series of texts to Tori that sound more than a little neurotic.
Lucas Wolfe is the person who's bought the house. That shitface bought my gram's house.
The universe has to be plotting against me.
WTF is he doing here?
There's slush melting inside of my pumps and I realize I was so distracted by merely seeing Lucas that I forgot to get my bags out of the back of Seth's truck. Yet now the only thing I can think about is Lucas. Not only about how he's trying to throw Gram out of her house, but how he threw me out of his.
I'm still deep in thought and waiting for Tori to text me back when I hear shuffling beside me. I slide my cell phone from the edge of the table, over toward the salt and pepper shakers to give the waitress room. A large and very unfeminine hand covers mine, calloused fingers from playing the guitar gliding across my knuckles. It's a familiar touch that sends an unwanted – and very delicious – jolt through my body. I snatch my fingers, angry at my body's obvious betrayal, and knock over a porcelain bowl full of sugar packets. The sugar scatters across the linoleum. Lucas chuckles.
And I feel the sudden urge to vomit.
Gesturing to the empty seat across from me, Lucas asks, "Room for one more?"
"Not much for spending my free time with strangers," I say through clenched teeth as I shake my head. "So, sorry, there's not."
He slides into the booth anyway, stretching out his ridiculously long legs so that his calves straddle mine. I open my mouth to protest, but he holds up his hand. "Before you try to bullshit me, you should probably know I never forget a face." Then, he lifts his eyebrows wickedly and says, "Or a body."
Who does he think he is? Feeling a sudden need to come right out and ask him, I demand, "I guess you're not used to hearing no, huh?" My voice packs a hell of a punch, surprising me. If he were anybody else I would have already separated myself from the situation. Lucas has an unnerving way of tearing away the layers of my nervousness, my need to shy away, until I'm raw and wanting to lash out at him.
He grins, cocks his head to one side as if he's carefully studying me. "You really have to ask me that?"
My lips part as my senses and every inch of my skin flood with heat. I ball up a sugar packet, squishing my thumb and forefinger into the grittiness and glance away from Lucas out the window toward Nielson's office.
"You're sexy when you're nervous."
"I'm not," I say.
My head jerks back, away from the window, and I give him a wide-eyed stare. "No . . . nervous." But I'm sure he can hear the tremor in my voice, feel how my legs are shaking beneath the table right now.
The corners of his lips pull into a sardonic smile that's infuriating and ridiculously sexy. Once again, I feel electricity flow through my body. I hate myself for having any response toward this man other than dislike. "Tell me why you're here, Sienna," he demands softly.
"Why do you care?"
Placing his forearms on the table, he leans forward. His sleeves ride up just enough for me to see the tattoos on his wrists. I squeeze my eyes shut, vividly picturing the rest of the tattoo sleeve on his right arm. Anyone who follows his music would know about it. I mean, he and the drop dead gorgeous female lead singer of Wicked Lambs were on the front cover of some rock magazine a few months back – he was shirtless and so was she, with him standing behind her, cupping her breasts.
But in another time, I'd seen Lucas's ink up close. I'd gotten to trace my lips along the intricate patterns that ran along his muscled body as he wound his fingertips into my hair and whispered for me to kiss, to taste. I shiver. I wish I could say it was from the 33 degree weather.
Lucas finally answers me, untangling me from the memories. I hate myself for being disappointed. "Because being around you is – " He stops speaking so that the waitress can put my lunch on the table. He grants her his trademark buy-my-album-and-vibe-off-to-it grin. She fumbles, blushing as she asks him if there's anything she can get him. I frown. If he orders, that means he'll stick around and really, I just want to hurry this along so Lucas and I can go back to being . . . well, nothing to one another.
Luckily for me, he declines.
"Being around me is what?" I demand the moment we're alone again.
Twirling a spoon around in my coffee, he flicks the tip of his tongue over his top teeth. I can't tell whether he's smiling or grimacing. And I have no idea why I should give two shits either way.
My cell phone plays the ringtone I've assigned it for calls and messages from Tori – a Britney Spears song that she swear she loathes but sings in the shower every morning. I reach for it, but Lucas captures my hand in his, threading his fingertips between mine. "You could be bad for music," he whispers, bringing my fingers to his lips. "And that's what I'm here to do – make music."
My stomach ravels into hundreds of knots as he kisses each of my fingers slowly, his eyes never leaving my own. We're in public, and there are people all around us. But for a good minute, Lucas Wolfe and I are the only people in the world.
"Lucas – " I start, my voice threadbare. Staring down at the sugar packet disaster on the table, I take a deep breath and then rake my teeth over my top lip. I don't know what to say to him so I don't appear weak. When I glance up in time to see his beautiful face breaks into a smile that makes my chest clench, I realize it doesn't matter what I say. He's already realized he's my Kryptonite.
"The second I saw you, I promised myself I wouldn't do this with you again, Sienna," he growls.
Do what – lead me on? Boot me out of his life without so much as a proper goodbye? I'm about to demand an explanation, but then I see the door to Nielson's office swing open and Gram walks out. I immediately feel like the worse granddaughter in history because at some point during my exchange with Lucas, I managed to forget she's the reason I'm in this cafe to begin with.
Pulling my hand away from Lucas, I toss my phone into my bag with a little too much force. "I'm here because some douchebag musician from California bought my grandmother's house."
I can't mistake his sharp intake of breath or the way his long legs go stiff beneath the table, squeezing my own. "I see."
"So you'll understand why I'm saying this: Go fuck yourself, Lucas."
Our eyes meet. His are mocking and angry and something else. Something that I'd seen two years ago, the night I went home with him. Something I'll pretend I don't see. "I've only heard you that forceful once, so I've got to ask: Was that for your grandma or for what happened with us?"
I untangle my legs from his, stand, and put money under the untouched platter of Cheshire pie. "Both," I say.
I'm so flustered – emotionally, mentally, and dammit, physically – by my encounter with Lucas that I'm only half-tuned in to my conversation with my grandmother on the ride to her house. I hear her ask if my flight was comfortable, how long I'll be staying in Nashville. I listen to myself respond like a robot. "It was great, Gram. . . . I'll be here as long as it takes. . . ." Then Gram starts asking me a new series of questions, and I give her more mechanical answers. Our entire exchange sounds like a hazy dream to me, but Lucas's voice plays loud and static-free in my head. It's teasing me, warning me that I'm bad for music.
Whatever that's supposed to mean. Maybe I inspire him to write angsty music where the rocker doesn't get to screw the girl, or something. When I think of it that way, I guess that is a career drainer.
The only thing I'm entirely sure of is that I wish the person snatching away the home my grandparents loved so much was anyone else in the world but Lucas.
Navigating the Land Rover up the narrow hill leading to the house where I spent most of my childhood, I draw my brain away from Lucas Wolfe and back to the most important dilemma.
"Why didn't you tell me?" I ask quietly. "You came to L.A. to see me for Christmas, you must've known then."
"I thought I could fix things. What am I saying? I can still fix things. The last thing I wanted to do was burden you with something that would make you stress."
"Oh, Gram . . ."
"Don't you dare give me that pitying voice, Sienna Jensen. There's still time left. It's not over yet," she says, her voice hard as steel. But when I look at her out the corner of my eye, I notice her eyes are glistening, and she's gripping the arm rest for support.
But she sighs. We both know the land around us, the house we're drawing closer to, is all but gone. In less than two weeks, maybe a little more if we're fortunate, Gram will be homeless. I refuse to leave Nashville until she's settled somewhere else. I'll swallow my own inhibitions and go to battle for my grandmother's happiness.
Even if the person that I'm fighting is Lucas.
Shutting off the engine, I pull the keys out of the ignition and stare out at the cabin, which really isn't a cabin at all but what can only be described as a log mansion. For the last few years, I've told Gram that it's way too much house for her and she needs to downsize. Now . . . I feel like shit for even joking with her like that.
"You make yourself at home, sweetheart. I'm going to go on upstairs and lie down. I've not feeling like myself lately," Gram says once we're enclosed in the warmth of the house. She's hanging her coat on the rack in the foyer, so she doesn't see the way I pull at the high collar of my blouse – my grandmother keeps the house stifling hot.
"Room still the same?" I ask, and as soon as the words leave my mouth, I kick myself. What an awkward, horrible thing for me to say.
She makes an unnatural noise that's supposed to be a chuckle, but it makes me cringe. "For the next couple weeks."
"You get some rest. I'll be fine, okay?" But if I'm so fine, why does it feel like someone's stomping up and down on my chest right now?
While I help myself to a frozen meal in the kitchen – my grandmother is obsessed with the convenience – I call Seth. Of course he doesn't answer, so I have to leave him a message. "Hey Seth, it's me, Sienna. I left my bags in your truck. Can you bring them by ASAP?" And because I know he'll complain at the inconvenience of having to drive across town, I add, "I'll give you twenty bucks for gas money." I re-record the message two more times until I'm satisfied with how it sounds, and then I call Tori. The first ring is not even halfway through when she answers. Immediately, she starts talking rapidly.
"Oh my God, Sienna where've you been? Don't you check your texts, woman? I've been trying to get in touch with you for the last hour! You don't just send a message like that and completely disappear." She pauses for a moment and takes a deep breath. I can actually picture her right now, fiddling with one of the random whatnots she keeps on her desk because she's so worked up. If stress balls didn't exist, Tori would self-implode because it's absolutely necessary for her hands to stay busy. A nasally female voice says something to her, and Tori hisses back that she'll do it when Jenna, her boss, confirms the instructions.
"Please, please, please, tell me you're kidding me about Lucas Wolfe. Please tell me that this is a let's-screw-with-Tori-moment," Tori finally says in a low, breathless whisper.
"Nope. Not joking. Definitely him. And sorry for not calling you back sooner, I was . . . occupied."
She groans, and I hear a door slam then the clacking of her high heels. When she begins to speak again, there's an echo, like she's in a stairwell. "Sorry, had to get away from the donkey witch in the next cubicle. So . . . does he remember you? I mean, it was two years ago and you didn't actually fu – "
"He remembers," I snap.
She makes a noise that's a hybrid of a groan and a squeal, like she's both disgusted by the prospect and excited. "Well, what did he say? What did he do? Holy shit, why is he in Nashville of all places? No offense, babe, but it's not exactly L.A."
I'm still wondering the exact same thing. I give her the explanation he gave me: "He's here to make music. Apparently, my grandma's house is the right place for him to hole up in while he does it."
She's silent for such a long time that I have to pull the phone from my ear to make sure the call hasn't dropped. It hasn't. The moment of Tori inserting dramatic silence gives me time to load my chicken pot pie and a Coke on a breakfast tray. I start upstairs, toward the bedroom I slept in as a kid, before Tori says at last, "And that's it?"
I pause at the top of the steps, supporting my weight against the bannister. There's a major part of me just dying to confide in her about how Lucas had made me feel in that cafe, but the other part warns me not to touch that subject at all. Hadn't Tori been the person I bawled to after the disastrous night with Lucas. Not to mention when I found out Your Toxic Sequel never wanted me on the set of any of their music videos again and thought my career was ruined.
If I told her I still felt the slightest bit of attraction towards Lucas she'd be in Nashville on the first available flight to slap some sense into me.
"Well, I did tell him to go fuck himself," I say. It's somewhat true, even if it had been uttered after Lucas had deliberately frustrated me.
She claps her hands slowly. "Bad ass, Jensen. See, that wasn't so hard, was it?"
Ugh, she has no idea.
"Look, I better run, but I'm proud of you, Si, for not letting Lucas run all over you and telling him off. I'll text or call you tonight."
But I feel like crap when I hang up the phone and walk into my bedroom, closing the door quietly behind so I won't wake Gram. With my appetite suddenly a thing of the past, I leave the tray sitting on my dresser.
It's comforting to see that Gram's left my room the same as it was in high school and college. The same furnishings, same pink and orange hibiscus bed spreads and Have-A-Day posters.
I curl up in the fetal position on my old bed, burying my face in pillows that smell like fabric softener, and listen to the bitter sound of nothingness in a house that I'll miss as much as my grandmother. Silent prayers roll through my mind for the next couple weeks to be easy. And more than anything, I hope today is my very last encounter with Lucas Wolfe because I never want to feel that dull ache in my chest again.