Strung

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Chapter 28. - Release Party

I haven’t seen Lukas since that Saturday at my parents’ house. The last few days before the event was spent with me suspended from the ceiling of the Renaissance venue, hanging expensive chandeliers and fairy lights, stacking flameless candles, and adding live flowers to the mix of fake vines. My arms were sore from the physical work I’ve been putting in, and my body aching from the long days that turned into nights.

Meanwhile, Lukas was practicing with the rest of Hazmat. In between sets, they stopped by multiple radio shows, magazines, podcasts, and even Good Morning America to promote their brand new album.

One song was “leaked” a few days ago, and it has been playing on the radio nonstop. I used the term leaked loosely because Arielle told me their label released it as a teaser for the album – and in hopes to distract the public from… well, me.

The final days before the party were the worst. The paparazzi were following my every step. They even seemed to know where I was headed even before I got there, because no matter where I turned, a group of screaming men with cameras awaited. Oh, and the fans… The fans did not get kinder as the days passed. If anything, the assaults only worsened with time, to the point where I was too scared to log onto my social media accounts.

The only upside of this sudden fame was the fact that my art sold like never before. I had a painting auctioned off for six-fucking-figures at an art gala. I was speechless when the art dealership that promoted my paintings asked me to send in more. They said they cannot keep them on the shelves, no matter what ridiculous price tag they slapped on by the canvas.

The downside was that I couldn’t leave the house – in fact, I had to check into a hotel, and use my newfound art money to pay for a fancy new security system.

Oh, and the harassment. I won’t even mention the harassment.

The only person remotely excited about my fame was Callie. She was, of course, made for to be in the spotlight, and she had the rare talent of distracting the paparazzi from their original questions, to something she wanted to promote – hence how my art dealer was found.

“You’re wearing this dress to the release party!” Callie nodded, chewing on a thumbnail as she scrolled through a designer website.

I took one look at the price tag and shook my head. “No way.”

Although I had to admit, the dress was breathtaking.

I shook my head. “Nope! Can’t afford it.”

Callie sighed. “Of course you can! I saw the check that came in from your paintings yesterday. You could buy a thousand of these.” She nodded towards the screen.

“Can’t do it.” I objected.

“Why the hell not?! I know you’d love this dress – this is exactly what would make you stand out in a crowd of masked ladies, pining for your man.” She pointed at the dress again, opening another photo to show it to me from the side.

I sighed. “It doesn’t feel right to use that money, Callie.”

She frowned. “And why is that? You earned it.”

“Because my paintings sold due to my association with Lukas LaBelle. Not because I’m suddenly a known artist.”

“Of course you’re a known artist! You’re a household name now, London Grey.” She huffed. “You’re talented as hell. Who cares why someone bought your art?! You made a bank!”

I rolled my eyes. “I care, Callie. And that dress costs more than a month’s rent.”

“We’re cooked up in a hotel room because the same people who bought your art are now camping in our living room. You deserve this, and I’m getting it for you.” She informed me, already typing in the hotel’s address in the shipping information.

“Callie…” I started, but my protests were now half-hearted. Instead, I pictured myself in that very dress and accessorized by the black mask and the pine green feathers I’ve picked out.

She chuckled. “I’m telling you, London. You won’t regret it.”

And her confidence was enough. At least, for now.


The night of the album release party finally rolled around, and everything we’ve been working for was finally coming to life. I couldn’t wait. Not only was I going to see my art in the flesh, with all these celebrities and idols inside it, but this would be my very first time hearing Hazmat’s entire new album – before it would be released to the crowds the following day.

The black bustier of the gown looked like a piece of lingerie – the bodice made of lace, but the cups thankfully covered with more fabric, making my small chest look full and lifted, and my waist cinched in. The skirt portion began at the waist, and reaching all the way down to my ankles, with two generous slits on each side, revealing my short, but toned legs. I paired it with a simple pair of black, strappy heels, and Callie added a light smoky eye, and dark burgundy lipstick to bring the gothic sex kitten look to the next level.

The girl looking back from the mirror was not the one who run around wearing dungarees and overalls on a daily basis. The woman looking back at me was sophisticated, elegant, yet wild – and undeniably sexy.

I couldn’t wait to see Lukas’ reaction to me – even if it was going to be delayed. He invited me to the event weeks ago, after I was first hired on for the job. But he never asked me to attend with him, despite the many dates we went on.

I shook that thought away.

I shouldn’t have been cross about that. This was his special night, celebrating the hard work and pure, raw talent his band breathed into their music. This wasn’t about me, and I felt guilty for trying to make it so – even if it was only in my head. I was going there as a fan, and as a proud artist, overlooking five long weeks of work.

Not as Lukas’ girlfriend, because of course, I wasn’t. His girlfriend.

I sighed.

To pass the time while we idled in traffic, I pulled my phone out of my purse and opened the group message I had with the girls.

Me: Almost there. How are your nights?

Callie: At a bad with a few models downtown. Send pictures!

Ginger: I’m stuck at the lab with Albie. This is shaping up to be another all-nighter.

Callie: Perhaps London won’t be the only one getting some tonight ;)

Ginger: I hope you’re referring to yourself. Know-it-all-bie is not a turn on.

Callie: I have yet to see you turned on about anything other than science. Unlike London, who is a total horn dog! Snap a picture of your dream man tonight. I’m sure he’s going to look dashing!

Me: There are professional photographers at the event.

Callie: Yes, but they won’t get to see him naked! ;)

Ginger: Yuck.

Me: I might not get to see him naked either. Barely talked since my parents’.

Ginger: He wanted you there. You’re fine.

Callie: What if Fitz and your dad really scared him off?

Ginger: Stop talking nonsense. He’s a big boy. I’m sure he’s heard worse over the years.

Me: Leaving this conversation now. We’re pulling up.

Callie: Good luck! I’m so proud of you, Londie!

Ginger: Break a leg!

The moment I stepped out of the car, I was hounded by the photographers. But instead of pushing close like they normally did outside of my studio, they even backed up a bit, in order to get a shot of my full outfit. The questions came flying at me, and if I didn’t have the practice from the paparazzi following me every step of my life over the last few weeks, my head would’ve spun.

‘Why didn’t you come with Lukas?’ ‘Are you two over already?’ ‘Are you expecting his baby?’ ‘Is it true he got your name tattooed on his crotch?’

Okay, so that last one made me smile, which in return, made the flashes go off like crazy.

No one stepped in my way as I walked down the rolled out carpet, where there was a backdrop with the band’s logo and a few X’s on the ground where celebrities should have been standing. When I kept going, Tina ran up to me. “No, get your picture taken!” She grinned, then went right back to typing on her phone.

Tina was Arielle’s partner and right-hand assistant in the business. “They’re not here for me.” I said simply, making her look up to cock a brow at my statement.

“Oh, I’d beg to differ!” Then, she nodded behind me. “She’ll pose.” She said, then winked at me before walking away.

I was surprised when every camera on the wall turned to me. There were dozens of photographers, all stacked up on a stand, yelling: ‘This way, London!’ and ‘One more here!’ or ‘Now one from the back!’ and ‘Put the mask on for this one!’

I posed for what felt like an hour and ten seconds simultaneously. My vision was blurry from all the lights flashing in my face, and my stomach hurt from trying to suck it in so hard. I had no idea how Callie did this all day long, multiple times a week, but I personally couldn’t wait to have some cake and a glass of champagne.

When I walked inside the building, I felt transported into a world of magic. I saw the setting before – obviously – but having the crowds here, hearing the soft lullaby of an instrumental version of a Hazmat acoustic song float down the hallway… It was spellbinding. I felt like a fabulous little red riding hood, stepping into a magical forest, that just happened to be filled with A-list celebrities, the biggest names in music, and the man I was in love with.

Somewhere.

I had no idea where Lukas and the guys stayed before their public announcement, but I spotted Arielle as soon as I walked in.

It wasn’t hard, because she was being mauled by a giant, long-haired, bearded man, who continuously tried to stick his hand up her dress, while she kept batting it away. I smiled. The two of them really were relationship goals. “Hi there!” I greeted her and her husband as I stepped closer.

“London!” Arielle smiled, turning to me. “The party is a huge hit! Everyone is crazy about the decoration!”

I felt my cheeks heat. Hearing that my work was a success gave me this feeling of euphoria I could never tire of. “I’m glad! How is everything running? Any issues?” I asked, stepping closer to peek at her iPad, which was alight with incoming messages.

When she caught me looking, she lifted it to her chest, obscuring it from my view. “Not tonight, missy! You’re here as a guest – I’m working now.” Arielle winked at me, before pointing at the giant behind her. “You remember Maks, don’t you?”

“You’re a very memorable man.” I smiled, as I extended my hand toward him. “It’s nice to see you again. How is Katya these days?”

Maks huffed. “Probably causing trouble somewhere. She’s not known to be subtle.”

I agreed, knowing his sister well enough to recognize how true those words rang. “Well, I suppose I should go mingle. Do you know when Hazmat is coming out?”

Arielle lifted a brow as her look changed to mischievous. “They’re not here yet. Their limousine will come around in fifteen minutes.” Then, she turned to her husband and added. “London is seeing the guitarist, remember?”

To which he nodded absentmindedly, but judging by the pink haze over his eyes when he glanced down at Arielle’s lips, he wasn’t hearing much of the actual conversation.

I sighed, seriously wishing I could ever be lucky enough to have a man look at me that way. And not just any man

“Anyways…” I added awkwardly, while I watched Arielle return the same lust filled look. “See you two later!” They murmured their goodbyes but kept their gazes locked on each other as I sauntered away.

Me: They’re not here yet.

I typed into the group chat, running out of people I knew to talk to. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long.

Callie: Go to the bar – get a drink!

Ginger: A coke, or sparkling water, London! You know you’re a lightweight.

Callie: Champagne! I bet they have the best stuff on tap for tonight!

I sighed, spotting a waiter walking around with a tray full of drinks. I held my hand up to catch his attention. “Beautiful mask!” He complimented. “Are you enjoying the party?”

“Yes!” I lied. The party would have been a whole lot better if I had my friends here. Or at least, someone I could talk to. Instead, I was standing alone, while others were chatting in groups around me.

And I couldn’t even spot a familiar face, because everyone was wearing masks.

So I did what any self-respecting woman would – and walked to the corner to check my phone.

Callie: I heard Channing Tatum is going to be there tonight!

Ginger: Haven’t you already met him?

Callie: There is no such thing as meeting Channing Tatum enough times. And I heard he’s single now! Give him my number, will you?

Ginger: Do NOT give him her number.

I grinned, wishing now more than anything that I could spot Channing Tatum in a crowd, during a masquerade.

Callie: Wait, why are you texting with us, Londie? Go socialize!

Me: Can’t. I don’t know anyone here.

Callie: That’s the best kind of party!

I shook my head. Not for me, I thought. And that was when someone took the stage, tapping the microphone. When the light shone on her, I recognized Nikki – Brian’s wife, and the band’s manager – on the stage.

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!” She spoke, her face obscured by the white mask she wore, but her smile wide. “I’m so pleased to welcome you to this masquerade! I know the boys are equally excited to see everyone’s enchanting costumes for the night. Just as excited as you all must be to hear their brand new album – Imagine!”

Everyone clapped, and there were a few shouts, but overall, the room stayed very civilized. The atmosphere was unlike the one at their concert, where Hazmat fans were screaming their heads off for the guys.

“We will start our evening with an opportunity for everyone to mingle, chat, and take a few pictures with Brian, Jesse, Ash, and Lukas!” Nikki continued, pausing in between the member’s names for the applause. “During which, you will first hand hear the entire new album, Imagine!” Again, clapping. “And then the four heartbreakers will play you their three favorite songs – live!”

To this, the crowd roared around me – and I had to admit, I was cheering along with them.

“Please enjoy the drinks, the appetizers, and of course, the incredible music.” Nikki smiled, taking a short dramatic pause, before the curtains opened at the back of the room, revealing the four guys, standing there in the flesh. “Ladies and gentlemen – the band, Hazmat!”

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