Strung

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Chapter 18. - After

The knocking was insistent, loud, and never-ending. Until finally, I gave in and opened my eyes.

Groggy, and only half awake, I walked to my door-

-and my brother nearly fell in. “Finally!” Fitz groaned. “God, London, you sleep like the dead!”

I crinkled my brows as I looked up at him. “And you’re here, because…?”

But instead of giving me answer, he just rolled his eyes, and barked “Get dressed. Ten minutes!” And with that, he turned around. “Don’t make me come back!” He yelled over his shoulder, and threw my door shut.


Ten minutes later, I was crowded around the small kitchen counter with Callie and Fitz. Even my mother joined us on Skype. “What is this about? An intervention?” I inquired, still annoyed that my brother would so rudely awaken me on a Sunday morning. Especially since I didn’t get in until very late last night.

Or very early, depending on the way I looked at it.

Callie chuckled. “Even better!” She dialed Ginger’s number, who came on Facetime on her phone, joining the foursome we already had going. “London is a celebrity now!”

“What?” Ginger and I asked at the same time.

My mom spoke up next. “It’s okay, sweetie. You did nothing wrong, this will all die down in time!”

I was too confused and sleep deprived to put it together. I needed coffee like I needed my next breath, and instead of letting me lie in for once, everyone in my life came over to shout at me. Or dialed in, same difference. “What will?”

Fitz frowned as he exchanged a worried glance with my mom. “London, honey… Someone took a picture of you last night.”

While my mom was explaining the photo, Callie managed to pull it up on her phone and send a copy to Ginger as well. I was sitting on the back of Lukas’ bike, with the black helmet he gave me hugged to my chest, grinning at him carrying the bags of food like a lovesick fool. Thankfully, Lukas has kept his head on – literally. “How did they-“ I asked, but Callie was ahead of me.

She swiped to the next photo, which showed Lukas sitting on the same bike while chatting with Ash. No helmet this time. The picture was taken in the daytime, and I wasn’t sure if it was before or after our date…

But then again, it didn’t matter. It was clearly the same bike. Obviously the same rider.

I swallowed. I knew what was coming next all too well – after all, I’ve been a part of Hazmat’s fandom before it consisted of more than a dozen people.

When there was a girl, there was drama. Aside from Nikki of course, who started dating Brian before Hazmat rose to fame, making her just as much part of the band as her now-husband.

But for the rest of them? There was hell.

Women were inherently jealous creatures. It was in our bones, our very joints to hate each other if a man we admired paid attention to another. No matter how unlike the chances were of the relationship ever furthering. I knew from first hand experience the rage and anger of the dark side of the fandom, which swept over the innocent girlfriend like a tornado. There was a reason the three boys were single, and it wasn’t simply because they chose to be.

Callie squeezed my hand. “It’s not that bad, London. Honestly.”

I shook my head. “At least don’t lie to me.”

My eyes met my brother’s. “What now?” I asked, knowing he was the sane, reasonable one of the group.

Fitz took a deep breath. “We hired security for you. There’s three guys, they will be rotating around the clock, until this dies down. I ordered a doorbell camera – anytime there’s a movement out front, you’ll know. Same goes for your studio.” I nodded, and he continued. “You don’t go anywhere on your own, always take your security with you – even if you go to the toilet. Don’t laugh, Callie, this isn’t a joke!”

She quieted. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry!”

“You will call mom or me every night when you get back home. Either of you.” He pointed at my blonde best friend. “Check in daily and keep us updated. We can get you more security if you need, that’s not an issue. Avoid crowds and busy places – for now.”

I swallowed. Having security with me at all times? A person who followed me around, watched my every move, knew my every secret… It sounded like the worst layer of hell to me. Sure, people like Arielle did it. But for fuck’s sake, I was a lot less interesting and beautiful than her.

“You know, this could all go away in a matter of days, if-” Fitz raised his brows as he trailed off.

“If?” I asked.

“If you just stopped seeing him.”

“No.” I replied, without hesitation. “That’s not an option.” Then, when I saw the worried glances from my mother and the annoyance from Fitz, I added. “I work for them, remember?” At least, I hoped I still did.

“It’ll pass, London.” My mom said again. “There’ll be some other news in a couple of days, and the paparazzi will move on. I promise!”

I smiled. Oh, how I wanted to believe her!


The ride to my studio was an act of madness on its own. My security detail had to physically push people back, so I could get in my car, then he got in the passenger seat, instead of following me with a second vehicle. He said it would be safer, in case someone tried to throw themselves in front of my car, or pull me out at a red light! I won’t even mention the obscene things the crowd screamed at me while I was running for my life…

But I knew that despite the insanity that followed, I would have never been able to stay at home, cooped up in my bed. I needed my studio, the smell of paint and canvas, and to keep my hands busy. That’s how I’ve dealt with every other obstacle in my life, and this would be no different.

The situation in front of my studio was no better.

In fact, if anything, the mob seemed to have doubled. I barely found a parking spot between the moving bodies, and it all went to hell when they recognized me.

To my surprise, instead of just my bodyguard, there were two more pairs of strong hands holding on to me from either side, while a couple other parted the mob like the red sea to make a path.

It got eerily quiet when the door of my studio slammed shut behind all of us.

Lukas was lounging on one of the stools, and swirled around dramatically when he saw me. He grinned. “Good morning!” He was way too cheerful towards someone who just got a thousand dollars offered for a lock of her hair.

I won’t even mention from which body area they wanted my hair from...

Brian and Nikki were perched on the only other two chairs, which left me standing over them awkwardly. “Or whatever you want to call it…” I murmured, wishing we could’ve stopped on the way for coffee. I needed about a bucket right now. “Should I ask what I owe the pleasure to or…” I trailed off.

Nikki was the one who spoke up. “We’re so sorry for the commotion.” Her face was sympathetic, her expression soft. But I could tell she would get down to business soon enough. “I like you, London, I really do.”

“I sense a ‘but’ coming.” I smiled, which came out more as a grimace. “Just tell me. We can skip the small talk.”

“The label wants to know where this is going.”

My brows pulled up in confusion. “Excuse me?” Sure, I realized that the publicity of the situation would probably begin to worry Hazmat’s management. After all, it was their job to keep the boys in line. But I was hardly the first girl who has been seen on the arm of Lukas LaBelle.

“Lukas here-“ Nikki pointed toward the still smiling man who I’ve gotten to know quite intimately last night. “-says you went on a date.” She paused, and I nodded. “And he says it won’t be the last one.”

My eyes flashed to his golden brown ones. I haven’t seen him since… Well, since he dropped me off. But even this insane situation just outside of my door couldn’t stop me from wishing I could go up to him and run my hand through his blonde curls.

“Do you want to date Lukas as well?” Nikki interrupted my thoughts that were quickly headed into R rated territory. My gaze flashed back to hers, her question catching me off guard. This was the kind of conversation my girlfriends and I had back in high school. Not at the fragile age of twenty-four. “Well?”

“I don’t see how this is any of your business. That’s on Lukas and I.”

I thought I saw a small smile playing on the corners of Nikki’s lips as she replied. “I wish that was the case.”

Brian leaned forward, speaking up for the first time since I found them in my studio. “Look, it’s for your own protection. We don’t mean to be nosy-“

Nikki rolled her eyes. “Speak for yourself, B!”

I grinned as he went on. “Fine. We all actually want to know… But we’re here because we want to make sure you’re safe, and aware of what you’re getting yourself into – no matter what your decision is. Although, Lukas here is quite a catch…” He trailed off, winking at me.

Like I didn’t already know that. When I didn’t reply, Lukas stood. “Can we get a minute alone, guys?”

Brian and Nikki looked around, pretty much synchronized as they looked for another room to go into. There was none – the whole studio was a multiple car garage I’ve converted over the years. And by converted, I meant that I put in a few shelves. “There’s a bathroom.” I suggested.

Lukas grabbed my hand, and pulled me in the direction of said restroom, and locked the door behind us.

As soon as it was closed, he swirled around and pushed me up against the sink. Lukas’ lips were light as he planted the softest of kisses on my mouth. My breathing sped up, my heart racing through my chest as I inhaled his signature, sandalwood scent. “Did you sleep well?” He asked, pulling back slightly.

I nodded, still dreamily. “Good. Before my brother nearly broke my door down to tell me I’m famous.”

He chuckled. “Yes, you are. What are we going to do about it, Oregon?”

I frowned. “Oregon is a state. You’ve obviously been too occupied last night to add cities to your list.”

Lukas shrugged carelessly. “I’m expanding my horizon.”

“Your horizon is already broad enough!” I teased, pulling him down for another kiss. “What do you want to do?” My eyes scanned his, carefully observing every reaction. Last night has been heaven, but I wasn’t under any illusions that Lukas LaBelle would magically fall in love with me in consequence of that. He obviously had better things to do than to worry about my security while he fans broke down my studio door, and I was rational enough to realize that. “What now?”

“I think I’ve made it pretty clear last night that I’m interested in you.”

Unable to locate my voice, I just nodded. Like a total moron, who was tumbling and crashing into love with a man as unattainable as God.

“I obviously want to continue seeing you, and carry on just as we have been. Albeit, with more security around this time.” My heart was beating so damn hard, I was pretty sure I pulled a muscle around it. If this was what a cardiac arrest felt like, I would welcome it with open arms. “I’m not promising you anything! Let’s just see how things organically evolve.”

Ouch.

It felt like I got punched in the stomach at his last words. But… I could live with that. Actually, that was more than what I could’ve hoped to ask for. So it should’ve been enough.

Except now it wasn’t. It really really wasn’t.

Lukas nudged me. “So, what do you think? You wanna be my girl?”

I swallowed. “Yes. I’d love that.” I managed to croak out. And I did! I would’ve loved to be his girlfriend. Someone he was exclusively linked with. In fact, that was what I have been dreaming about since I was sixteen!

But being his girl? I had no idea what that’d entail. Because from where I was standing, Lukas LaBelle hung the damn moon...

Oblivious to my inner turmoil, Lukas grinned. “Good! That’s settled then. Now let Nikki do her thing.”

I sat silently on Lukas’ lap while Nikki went over the details. The public statement from the band – which was a very respectful request to respect their privacy, saying something without actually confirming or denying any of the rumors. She made me promise I wouldn’t give any interviews, and that included talking to the paparazzi waiting outside the doors right now. She asked me to keep any public posts on social media about Lukas on the safe side, and offered her help if I ever wondered if I should post something or not.

“With that said, the boys are aware of the same rules too, but they hardly follow them…” She trailed off.

Brian chuckled. “Especially Ash.”

I saw Nikki’s lips press together in a thin line. “He’s a whole another story.”

You barely follow these stupid rules, Nikki!” Lukas chuckled, poking fun at her as if she was one of the boys. And in a way, I suspected that she was.

Nikki winked at me. “You’re a smart girl. You’ll figure out the loopholes.” And with that, her and Brian stood. “Your work is incredible, by the way! I especially like that painting.” She tilted her head toward the one I still had on the stand about the first time Lukas LaBelle has ever kissed me.

Yes. Just kick me while I was down, please.

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