Chapter 38. - Way Out
I could smell the perfume as soon as I closed the front door. My house had a certain scent to it - but this time, there was another, distinctive whiff in the air.
While my brain recognized it, I couldn’t place the smell until I came face to face with the woman currently perched on my living room couch. Erika didn’t look out of place in the minimalistic, modern design of my home - but then again, she never had.
And while I’ve never given her - or anyone besides Ash - keys to my house, I wasn’t surprised to find her comfortably inside my home. She was a resourceful woman, with limitless means.
Her simple, but no doubt expensive straight skirt and white, silky blouse suggested class and elegance, but her chin-length hair was more disheveled than last time I saw her as if she continuously ran her hand through it. “I’ve been waiting for you.” She said in her deep voice, rising to her feet.
“Clearly,” I replied, making sure she didn’t for a second think she was welcome here. “What do you want?”
Erika tsk’ed, before stepping closer to me. “You and I used to be a lot friendlier with each other.”
I cocked a brow at her. “We were all young and stupid once. I’m much better at spotting snakes these days.”
Her light blue eyes danced in amusement as she retreated, and sunk back down on my couch. While the moved may have looked submissive to someone looking in from the outside, she didn’t fool me. “I’ll just get to the point then.”
She lifted her phone, typed something for a couple of seconds, before turning the device toward me.
It was a graph. I was never much for math, but even I could tell that the dollar amount associated with the downward curving line didn’t mean anything good. “What is this?”
“The sale of Hazmat merchandise.” She replied, taking her phone back to swipe around, before showing me another, very similar looking drawing. “And this is foot traffic on Hazmat’s website. Are you noticing a trend?”
I knew things have been crazy for the last couple of weeks. “This is just temporary. We are still doing great.” I stated confidently because while the lines may have been doing down, we were still bringing in a fortune.
“Great. But it used to be so much better.” She said in a deceptively gentle tone as she slipped her phone into her designer purse. “I’m here to ask you again, as a friend, to end this nonsense.”
I shook my head. “And I’m telling you, as one-fourth of the band that made you a billionaire, that I can do whatever the fuck I want. And I’m not compromising my personal life for you, or your fucking label.” The calm I felt after leaving London’s house quickly evaporated as Erika smirked back at me.
“Lukas-Lukas…” She sighed dramatically and ran a hand through her platinum locks. “See when I say ask, what I really mean is that you’re either ending it, or Hazmat is over.”
I lifted my brows. “Hazmat is never over.”
Erika shook her head. “That’s where you’re wrong, baby. I own Hazmat. I made it happen for you four, and if I want, I can make it all go away.”
“Our fans would never desert us.”
“Like they’re not deserting you right now with your new fling?” She shot back, lifting a perfectly shaped brow.
Fuck me, she had a goddamn point!
“Look.” Erika started, scooting closer to the end of the sofa to lean forward. Her hand reached my knee and rested against the skin exposed by my ripped jeans. “I don’t think I’ve made myself very clear at our meeting. When I say that I own Hazmat, I mean everything about it. Your logo-” She started, lifting a finger. “-your name-” She added another one. “-your songs.”
I swallowed. Fuck.
“Who are you four going to be, if you can’t be Hazmat? What songs do you want to play? What merchandise do you want to sell? Can you imagine parting with your classics?” She went on, twisting the knife deeper with every question. “Or your new hits, like ‘Coffee’.”
“Enough!” I shot to my feet, knocking her hand away from me.
“Are you ready to give all that up for this girl you have only known for less than two months?!”
I shook my head, pointing toward the front door. “Get out.”
Erika didn’t even blink. “Look, I get it. Your dick is making the decisions for you right now. She’s pretty enough, even I’m willing to admit that.” Leaning back on the sofa, she uncrossed her legs, parting them slightly.
I recognized the power move. She was hoping that I’d be distracted - and a couple of years ago, I would’ve been.
But there was no temptation now. “Don’t embarrass yourself, Erika.”
“What are you going to take her on dates with, without your job? Where are you going to live?” She asked, cocking a brow at me. “Does she want to date an unemployed, failed musician? Because I think there are plenty of those in this city.”
“And what’s my other alternative?!” I shot back, no longer bothering to hide my anger. “To kick her to the curb, simply to appease you?!”
“Only if there was another way…” Erika trailed off, rising to her feet. “I came to your house, Lukas. There is no one else here.”
“If you came for sex, you’re going to leave very unsatisfied.”
A confident, amused half-smile settled on her filled up lips. “I came here to make a very different proposition. I see that I cannot turn your head from this girl-” She paused, eating up my eagerness. “-so I’m willing to offer you an alternative that would allow you to keep her.”
“And what is that going to cost?”
She masked her facial expressions well, but her eyes shone with excitement. “You.”
I cleared my throat. “Sit back down.” I ordered, nodding toward the space she just occupied.
I watched as Erika took her time, arranging her purse next to her, then crossing her ankles, before resting her hands on top of them.
“Are you done?” I asked and she nodded. “Then cut the shit. Tell me what you really want.”
“To tell you the truth, this scandal couldn’t have come at a better time. I was getting bored with Hazmat.” Her statement shocked me. We were the most successful music group ever. We’ve broken all records set by any band ever, and that included the Beatles.
We were fucking chart toppers, and had it not been for this outrage about London, we would’ve only continued up. In reality, I’ve had no doubts that this would die down with time, and everything would go back to how things have always been - except, I’d have had my girl by my side.
“We made you rich beyond imagination. How can you be bored?”
“That is true.” Erika agreed. “Eight years of climbing higher and higher. But everything has a ceiling, Lukas. And Hazmat just about reached it.”
“There really is no shame in admitting it. You’ve lasted more than most, and you really have had a long run. But, alas, all good things come to an end.”
I cut her off. “What do you want from me?”
A small smile settled on her lips. “I didn’t take you to be the impatient one. But I guess so many years with Ash, some of his bad qualities really have rubbed off on you.”
I lifted a brow. “Spit it out.”
“I want you as a solo act.”
Deep laughter erupted from my chest. “No fucking way, Erika! You’ve lost your head.”
“Lukas…” She chuckled, pacifying me. “I think you’re underestimating yourself.”
If there was one thing I was never short of, it was self-confidence. I knew where I stood, and I knew that I was a damn good guitarist. But a solo act?! No. Just simply no.
“I’ve heard you sing before. You sound great.”
“I’m not Ash.” I protested, then wanted to kick myself for playing into her games. “And it doesn’t fucking matter, because I’m not singing for you.”
Erika smiled knowingly. “I think you will. Because if this is the only way you could keep the girl you’ve been wondering about through all these years, I just bet you’d be willing to make a deal with me.”
“And what about the rest of the guys?”
“They’ll have things come up. But you’re the real talent here. Sure, Ash is a great singer, and the rest of the guys are good on their instruments… but you are a legend, Lukas LaBelle. You are extraordinary.”
I swallowed. “You’re making me choose between London and Hazmat.”
A second ticked by. Then another. Erika’s emotionless eyes remained on mine. Finally, she said:
“You are the whole package, Lukas LaBelle. You can write lyrics and music, and you play it better than anyone out there. You are young and handsome, and everyone already knows your name. So what if you don’t carry the range Ash does? There are tricks and nips for that.”
“And where does that leave London?”
“Where do you want her?” Erika shot back, one blonde brow lifting in question.
“You said there’s nothing you can do about her bad image.” I sighed, having had enough of her mind games. “You came here, telling me she needs to go, because the fans just won’t have her.”
“I lied.” She said shamelessly. “There’s always something I can do for you. But only if you make it worth my while.”
“So you are making me choose between the only family I’ve ever known, and the girl who could be my future.”
A small smile played on her lips. “Even you can’t have it all, Lukas LaBelle.” Erika rose to her feet, ready to leave. But just as she passed me, she placed a perfectly manicured hand on my shoulder. “You have until the end of the tour to decide what you want to do. Don’t say I never had a soft spot for you.”
And just as silently as she came in, she walked out of my house, taking any hopes I’ve had of the perfect future along with her.