James’s jaw clenched, and he lowered his brows. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Max,” my friend said.
“No offense, Yoda, but I’m talking to my star right now. A star who is about to throw away everything we have going for him. So please, mind your own business.”
James parted his mouth to give Max a piece of his mind, but I held a hand up to stop him. James’s face was bright red with anger, and it took a lot to get him to that level. I knew if he snapped on Max, there would be no going back from it.
When James grew upset—which hardly ever happened—he turned into the Incredible Hulk, and he would’ve smashed things. Like Max’s face.
“They are my parents,” I said, knowing there was no reason to lie. “They haven’t been in my life for years, due to their drug problem, and when they found out about my success, they came around looking for money.”
Max sighed and rolled a hand against his face. “Please don’t tell me you gave them money; please don’t tell me you gave them money,” he begged.
“I did, but I told them they couldn’t come back for more. It’s over.”
“God dammit!” Max said, standing from his sitting position and stomping around like a damn child. “No! No. You never give addict family members money. You know why, Ian?”
“Enlighten me,” I grumbled, annoyed by my manager.
“Because they never fucking go away! If you give a druggie a penny, they come back again asking for a dime. This is shit. This is fucking shit.” Max dug into his fanny pack–type bag, pulled out his prescription pills, and popped them into his mouth. He took a deep breath and tried to ground himself. “Okay. Okay. That’s fine. I’ll fix this. But in the meantime—don’t go around handing out any more money to anyone, okay? Your career is just starting, and I really don’t want it to end because some meth-head parents decide they want to get rich quick and write a tell-all story about Ian Parker.”
“They have nothing to tell. They haven’t known me for years.”
“People don’t care if they are telling the truth! They just want drama!” he shouted.
Before I could reply, he was already making calls and storming off.
The guys all looked at me with the most sincere looks on their faces. It was clear they were more concerned about my well-being than Max was, but I wasn’t in the mood to talk about it.
“Not now, you guys,” I muttered, leaning back against the chair. “I can’t talk about it now.”
“I get it, man,” Marcus said, patting me on the back. “But when you’re ready to talk, we’re here to listen.”
That night’s performance was probably one of the hardest ones I’d had to put on, but I followed through, and when it was time to get off stage, I dashed to my dressing room. I wanted nothing more than to avoid all human contact, go crash in my hotel room, and live in my self-pity.
As I opened the dressing room, I noticed a person sitting in the chair near my mirror with their back to me.
“Uh, excuse me?”
“You know, you have to be more careful about these dressing rooms having better security.” Hazel swung around in the chair and gave me her smile. The smile that fixed things. “Otherwise any fangirl could come in here and try to touch your butt.”
I didn’t reply to her sassy comment. I just beelined toward her and pulled her in for a hug. I held her tighter than ever.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” she whispered, nudging her head against my chest.
“You’re right on time. Where’s Rosie?”
“Big Paw and Holly are watching her for the next two days, with the help of Leah, until I get back to town.” She pulled back a little and placed her palm against my cheek. Her dilated eyes pierced me. “Are you okay?”
I shook my head.
She hugged me tighter. “Okay.”
Just then, the dressing room door swung open, and Max came barging into the room. “Ian, we need to—” He stopped. He arched an eyebrow and eyed Hazel up and down. “Oh. Uh, sorry, I didn’t know you were with company.”
I stepped away from Hazel and gestured toward Max. “Haze, this is Max, my manager. Max, this is my girlfriend, Hazel.” It felt good introducing her that way to people—as my girlfriend.
Max’s eyes began to study Hazel a little more, and for the first time since I’d been working with him, I realized what he looked like. He looked like a rat, always studying things to see if he could get something from them.
He pushed out a smile, walked over to Hazel, and offered her a handshake. “Max Rider. Nice to meet you. So you’re the one taking up a lot of Ian’s focus, huh?”
Hazel grinned. “Guilty as charged.”
Max kept his lips pressed together tightly and traced his eyes over Hazel once again. “What’s your last name, Hazel?”
She cocked an eyebrow but answered. “Stone.”
Max whistled. “Hazel Stone and Ian Parker. It has a good ring to it. Anyway, I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I just wanted to remind you of the party tonight with some big names, Ian.”
I cringed and shook my head. “I was hoping to lay low tonight with Hazel. It’s been a crazy twenty-four hours.”