Chapter Eighteen

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"I think this drink is on me," Shelby yelled, following Emily to the bar at the back of the Troubadour.

Emily barely heard her as she slid onto a barstool. While Shelby leaned across the counter to shout their drink order at the harried-looking bartender, Emily turned to look at the stage.

She watched Jesse's fingers fly over the strings of his cherry red Gibson Les Paul, his hair bobbing along with his head to the beat of the song he played. Below him, three young girls pressed themselves up against the stage, directly in his line of sight. They cheered in appreciation when Cole walked over to his side of the stage and almost stood on top of him while he sang. Jesse's tanned face broke into a grin, and Emily couldn't be sure if he was amused by Cole's antics, the girls below him, or both.

She felt Shelby nudge her. "Stop staring at Jesse or I'm taking you home," she warned, handing Emily her drink. So far, Shelby had resisted commenting on her misplaced loyalty to Jesse, which she knew had to be difficult. When she'd asked her to come to Jesse's show two nights ago over coffee, her best friend had looked at her like she'd grown a second head. Then she'd simply nodded.

Emily looked away from the stage and raised her glass to Shelby. "I'll drink to that." She was about to take a large sip of her drink when she saw Shelby pause, looking at something behind her. She felt a warm hand on her shoulder a moment later.

"Hey." She flinched at the sound of Cory's voice. Before she could even think to get up and move away from him, he slid onto the empty barstool next to her. "Are you enjoying the show?"

"Aren't we all?" she answered, looking back at the stage. She wondered if the sarcasm would be lost on him.

If he'd heard the edge in her voice, he didn't let on. "How have you been, Em? I've missed you."

Sure you have, she thought, not knowing what to say. Small talk with Cory was not high up on the list of things she wanted to be doing tonight. She'd been dodging his calls since she'd texted him after reading his Wally Hood Goes Hollywood interview. Sending that first text to him was something she had soon regretted.

She glanced around the room for a means of escape, finding it when she spotted the doorway that led to the front section of the bar. "Sorry to cut this short," she said, hopping off the barstool. "I just saw someone I need to say hi to."

Shelby saw her leave the bar and hurried to catch up to her. "What was that all about?" she asked, following her through the doorway.

Emily shrugged and sat down at an empty table. "Whatever it was, I'm sure that Wally Hood or some other gossip bloggers will be more than happy to explain it to all of us in the morning."

Shelby sat down on the wooden chair across from her and slung her purse over the chair's arm. "If you think you've already been spotted, then why are we in here? Don't you want to watch the guys play?"

"I told Cory there was someone I needed to say hi to, so I could get out of talking to him." Emily avoided Shelby's eyes and turned her head to watch the TV in the corner of the room. "Besides, this is the last song of their set."

"You should have just told Cory to kiss it. I can go back over there and do it for you, if you'd like?"

She peeled her eyes away from the television set and looked at Shelby, just in time to see her face light up. She knew Shelby wasn't kidding, and that she would drop kick Cory into the next county if she could. As recently as this afternoon, she might even have let her try. Tonight, though, all she wanted was peace, if even for just a few hours. She was finding it hard to remember the last time her life had resembled anything other than what she imagined the seventh circle of hell must have been like.

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