My mouth parted to speak, but no words came out. It was as if Max had stolen every ounce of courage from my bones as he stared my way. What I hated most was how there was so much truth to his words. Those same thoughts had been flying through my mind for weeks now. How would it look if I were on Ian’s arm, especially now with Rosie in the picture? What would people say? How would people judge us?
What would happen to his career?
“I can tell that it’s sinking in. I can tell you’re putting the pieces together in your mind. I’m not trying to be the bad guy, but if that’s how I’m coming off, so be it. I’ll take that bullet in order to make sure that these guys get the best shot at a career. I’ve been doing my job for a long time, and I know what it looks like when people have the ‘it’ factor. Ian Parker has it in waves. All I’m asking is that you don’t weigh him down. You have to let him fly. They are getting ready to soar. Break it to him sooner than later. It will be harder if you drag it. I mean, I get it.”
“You don’t,” I snapped.
“Trust me, I do. You both are from the same world. His parents are druggies, and yours are too.”
“That’s not the reason I connect with him. You have no clue.”
Dirt roads. Bonfires. Holly’s cooking.
“Sweetheart, it is. You’re from the same world, but Ian? He’s on his way to a whole new planet. I mean, look at him,” he said, gesturing again toward the twins and Ian. “That’s his future. Those are the kind of women he needs on his arm. Just be content with being a part of his past. It will end up being a good story to tell your grandkids someday, that you dated Ian Parker, the superstar, for a short period of time.”
I didn’t say another word to Max.
Max Fucking Dickhead.
The man who spoke the truth even when my heart didn’t want to hear it.
I walked away from him and headed straight in Ian’s direction. The nerves that were shooting through me eased as he looked up toward me and gave me his smile. Not his famous Ian Parker smile but his real grin. The one that he saved only for me.
That’s real. We’re real.
I stepped in front of the twins, and Ian held his hand out toward me. I took it into mine, and I felt at home once more. Sure, I didn’t look like the ladies surrounding me, but Ian looked my way as if I were the most beautiful woman alive.
He pulled me into his side and gave me a tight squeeze. More comfort. “Erin and Trina, this is Hazel, my girlfriend.”
They looked at me as if I were trash, and I couldn’t help but smile. I held my hand out toward them for handshakes. “Nice to meet you,” I said.
“Same,” they replied in unison.
Ian leaned into me and whispered against my ear. “Can we get the hell out of here, put on pajamas, and order room service?”
“You’re speaking my language.”
We excused ourselves from the conversation, and I swore the twins were left dazed and confused. Ian had a car waiting for him out back, and when we stepped outside, he looked deep in thought as he studied the sky.
My fingers fidgeted together as Max’s words played over and over again in my head. I wanted to tune them out and allow my feelings for Ian to be the strongest thing in the world, but it was impossible not to feel an ache in my heart.
If Max had been able to find out that information about my past in a short period of time, I was certain others could too.
Ian and I had happened so fast. We hadn’t even had a chance to fully wrap our heads around the idea of us being together before he’d been off to Los Angeles. Then, after that, everything with Rosie had happened, which had added another wrench to our situation.
We were still so fresh, so new to the possibility of our love story, that we hadn’t had a chance to really be concrete about it all.
Ian kept looking up at the sky, and I kept looking at him. “You know . . . every night since I’ve been gone, I’d go outside and look up at the moon. I’d sit there for a while staring at it in all its phases, and I’d feel a weird sense of comfort. Los Angeles is different, Haze. It’s a land of its own, and there’s so many people, but it’s as if no one really knows or cares for each other. It’s not personal. It’s stiff. Don’t get me wrong—I’m happy for what I’ve been given. The opportunities have been out of this world. But it gets lonely, and I miss home. So when I look up to the moon, I feel a little bit better. Because I know you’re staring at the same thing back in Eres.”
He didn’t have a clue how much comfort his words gave to me.
We’d crawled into bed after stuffing our faces with deep-fried foods. It was the first time we’d been able to truly talk about everything that had happened with his parents. I didn’t want to push him, but I was happy when he brought it up all on his own.
“I want to pretend that it didn’t fuck with my head, but it did. I want to pretend I didn’t pray they’d choose me, but I did. I want to pretend I didn’t drink to get through the show tonight, but I did. I’m a mess, Haze, and seeing them in the shape that they were screwed with my head so much. I just want to stop for a while and not be forced to act happy like I had to at the party tonight. I don’t want to do shows feeling miserable, but I have to do it. If I didn’t, I’m not only fucking myself over, but I’m screwing the guys up too. This isn’t just my dream—it’s theirs, and I can’t pull back because it would affect so many more people than just me.”