Strung

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Chapter 39. - Night Changes

*London*

Five. The exact number of days I’ve had left with Lukas LaBelle before he left for tour. He would be gone for three whole months, leaving me to deal with this mess of a situation.

Listening to Callie, who was the closest thing I’ve had to a social media expert, I’ve stayed off of all platforms. Lukas didn’t post about me either, although, I wasn’t sure if that was due to what my blonde best friend said, or if he just wasn’t ready to publicly claim me as his.

Aside from the song, of course - which was surprisingly the solid chart-topper in fifty countries since it was released. Despite the fandom not liking me, they were all in love with the song. And who could blame them?!

I’ve been listening to it on repeat since that night.

Sighing, I rolled over, positioning my sketch pad under me as I held myself up by my elbows. I found myself drawing not one, but two figures now - entangled in each others’ arms. And while the bodies were naked, I did my best to bring out the passion and love in there, and not focus on the sexual aspect.

A low whistle sounded from behind me, snapping me out of my daze. I glanced up, spotting Jesse’s dark head peeking over my shoulder. “I hope that’s not supposed to be you and me there, Londie.” He said, shaking his head. “I have a good friend who would be very upset if it turned out you were daydreaming about me this whole time!”

Despite my current situation, I smiled. “What are you doing here?!”

Jesse helped me get on my feet and gathered me into a tight hug. I sunk into his chest, enjoying the feel of his strong arms around me. For the last few weeks, all I’ve seen were my parents and my two best friends - with the occasional visit from Lukas here and there.

But despite their best efforts of keeping me entertained, the getaway home started to feel like my own personal little prison.

“I came to take you out!” Jesse winked down at me as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Get dressed, baby. We’re going to hit the city!”

I lifted a brow, skeptical that he really meant that. “Are you sure you want to be seen with me? Apparently, I’m cursed.”

He dismissed me with a small chuckle. “Please! Don’t think so highly of yourself.” He walked over to my closet, which contained all my belongings now that the apartment I shared with Callie was on the market. Callie found a posh, stylish loft, in a much better neighborhood, that had a doorman and security around the clock - so she didn’t need to worry about what could happen while she was traveling for work.

Jesse picked out a mahogany colored, simple dress, and some heeled, black boots to go with it, and tossed them on the bed next to me before heading to the door. “Twenty minutes, London. I’m going to help you mom write a kick-ass rockstar romance novel, and then we’re leaving.”


Thirty minutes later, I walked down the stairs of my parents’ house. Unlike in the movies, my entire family didn’t wait for me at the bottom, while staring at me in awe and complimenting my beauty. Instead, I found my father in front of the television, while my mom and Jesse chatted in the sitting room just next door to it.

“Sweetheart, I think you and the boys ought to release an autobiography.” My mother said in wonder, her eyes shining darkly at Jesse, who waved her off.

“Please! Our label execs would have a coronary if we publicly talked about any of our shenanigans!” His dark eyes turned to me then, sliding down the length of my body in the dress he picked out. “Lukas is going to be jealous as shit when he sees you looking like this.”

My heart skipped a beat. Before I could stop myself, the words already stumbled out: “Is he going to be there, too?”

Judging by Jesse’s grimace, I could guess the answer. “He has some other things he has to deal with tonight.” The explanation was vague and borderline dismissive, and while my stomach twisted in a tight knot, I tried to remain positive.

After all, this was my once chance out for God knew how long. “Alright. Let’s go then!” I smiled, hoping that if I faked enthusiasm, I would actually start feeling it.

My mother stood with us and pulled me into a tight hug. “Be very careful tonight. And you-” She pointed at Jesse when she released me. “-take good care of my little girl.”

He nodded. “I’ve got the big guns with me tonight. We’ll be just fine.”

Jesse held out his arm for me, like a noble knight from one of my mom’s books, and I laced mine through his. “You know, you’re going to make a wonderful boyfriend to a very lucky girl one day,” I whispered, once we were out of the house.

His response was a burst of deep, booming laughter. “I’m not boyfriend material, Londie. I’m the last reckless mistake before she settles down.”

I rolled my eyes. “You’re selling yourself short.” Jesse walked around to the passenger side with me and opened the door to his expensive sports car. He helped me get seated, before walking around to his side and sliding behind the wheel.

I gave him an ‘I told you so’ look, as he started up the car with a loud roar.

When he didn’t reply, I decided to change the subject. “Where are we going?”

“To a private event.” Then, when he spotted my reaction, he added quickly. “Don’t worry! No one will say anything bad to you.”

I nodded, although, I couldn’t help my nervousness. People in Hazmat’s circle hasn’t had the best reaction to me historically, and there was nothing that I’ve done that would change that. In fact, if anything, I just brought more trouble and mean paparazzi with me. “Is it safe?”

I wanted to kick myself for having to ask that question. Three months ago, I came and went as I pleased, and no one batted an eye at me. But now?! Now everything was different.

“Very.” He reassured me. “Don’t sweat it. You’ll have fun.”


Twenty minutes later, Jesse pulled the car into a small, private road. We barely had to stop at the gate, before it opened. “I’ve registered the license plate this morning.” He explained, but I didn’t have time to ask more questions, because the view in front of me took my breath away.

A five-story, modern building was hiding behind the tall bushes, completely unseen from the streets of the city. The entire masterpiece seemed to be made out of glass, so it was easy to see the club on the top floor, and the balcony above. Bodies gyrated to the music that thumped even through the distance as a valet opened the car door for me. “Miss.” He said politely, as Jesse rounded the vehicle and tossed the keys at him.

“Be gentle with her, Noah!” Jesse grinned, and the fact that he knew this guy by his name put me at ease immediately.

Instead of the reaction, I expected - the reaction I omitted myself the first time I met Hazmat - Noah didn’t seem fazed by the presence of either Jesse or myself. “I’ll do my best.” He said instead, with a cheeky smile as he rushed to get behind the wheel.

“Do you come here often?” I asked Jesse, as he put his arm over my shoulder, and started walking us toward the entrance.

“This place is brand new - it’s not even open yet. But I’ve got Noah this job.”

I lifted a brow at him. “Really, now?”

He shrugged. “Our moms go to church together. Mine would’ve made my life a living hell if I didn’t help sweet Noah out.” He changed his voice when he spoke those words, no doubt mimicking their mother - whom I’ve read about on gossip blogs before, but never had the pleasure to meet in person.

We got in the mirror-covered elevator, and I watched our reflection as we climbed. “Where is Lukas tonight?” I asked, no longer able to hold my tongue. Jesse was my friend, and if he cared about me just a tad, he would’ve told me if there was something Lukas was hiding. At least, I hoped that he would.

“He has some things that he needs to see to,” Jesse said, giving me the same non-answer as he did in front of my mom. Then, he sighed, just as the elevator came to a halt. “Look, it’s business. There are some things going on with the label I really shouldn’t talk about. But it’s nothing for you to be concerned about.”

The way his dark eyes refused to meet mine told a different story, but I didn’t push it. Sooner or later, the truth was going to come out.

“Alright.” I said, my tone not hiding the fact that I didn’t believe him for a second. “Let’s see what this place is all about, then.”

Jesse took my arm again, as we began approaching the source of the music. “A friend of mine owns this place. Well, rather, he’s a friend of Ash - but I knew him too. This is his idea of a country club. There is a spa and massage salon on one floor, a movie theater on another. I’m not sure what else, we can ask him, but the point of this place is to provide all-inclusive entertainment for the rich and famous, who are looking to hide away from the ordinary people. Except, instead of doing the same old stuffy thing, he made it cool, targeting the youngsters of the city.”

I whistled, impressed not only by the idea but by the beautifully decorated interior. The entire place screamed modern, chic, and filthy rich, with a touch of a rock star vibe. There were studs on the vases of black roses, and dark leather couches by the elevators that provided an intimate, yet relaxing atmosphere.

“This place doesn’t even open for another week, so this is an unofficial, soft opening party, with only fifty people on the list.” Jesse now had to yell in my ear, because we approached the club area.

And sure enough, it wasn’t nearly as populated as I’d expect a place like this to be. But the people dancing seemed to have a killer time. “Should we get a drink?”

Jesse directed us toward the bar, where I’ve ordered a naughty sounding cocktail. “A bottle of water for me.” When he noticed my shocked expression, he added. “I’m driving you home, remember?”

“Should I even-”

I was about to offer to order water too, but he cut me off. “Don’t worry about it. You need to let loose.”

The bartender barely slid the drink in front of me when a familiar voice called my name. “London! It’s so nice to see you!” Arielle’s wide smile greeted me. I said hello to her, and the short, blonde girl by her side, who looked just about ready to explode.

“Savannah! But my friends call me Sass.” She said, smiling warmly at me as she extended her hand while keeping the other wrapped protectively around her huge belly. When she noticed me looking, she added. “I’ve got another month to go, can you believe it?!”

“London!” I shouted my name at her, as Jesse leaned down to speak into my ear. “She’s Damon Maxwell’s wife. They own this place.”

“Oh!” I gasped, recognizing her now. I’ve read a ton about their romance - and even watched her on a TV dance competition back in the day. “It’s so nice to meet you! I’m so sorry for staring…”

Sass’ smile widened. “Don’t worry, I get it! My beauty has that effect on some people.” From the playful glint in her eyes, I could tell that she was teasing me, and I decided that I really liked her.

“It’s nice to see you out of the house, London. I can’t imagine what you must be going through…” Arielle trailed off. “Actually, scratch that. I can! And let me tell you, you will get through it. You’re a kickass woman, and this is just a small hiccup along the way.”

Her words were so encouraging, I nearly believed them. “Thank you.”

“Besides, I need you back at work in a month. We’ve got a huge wedding coming up!” She grinned, then waved the bartender over. “Keep her drinks coming. And another round of cocoa for the pregnant lady, please before she eats me alive!”

I couldn’t help but laugh, relaxing in public for the first time since the night of Hazmat’s release party.

Jesse’s arm tightened around my shoulder. “See? I told you you’d have fun!”


*Lukas*

Eight years ago, we were a group of eager kids, ready to take on the world. We would’ve signed for minimum wage and free food if that was what the label had offered. But when we saw the zeroes after the number, we lost our heads.

The contract didn’t matter, then - the fact that we made it did. And since we couldn’t afford lawyers to advise us on the terms yet, we just scribbled our names on the bottom.

It all sounded too good to be true. The four of us would be rich overnight. We’d get to write our lyrics and songs, and perform them in front of thousands. We were going to get on the radio, and have an actual album out, with an official cover on the shelves. Nikki would still be with us, working alongside her husband.

We thought we hit the fucking jackpot - and back then, we really did.

But I’ve learned along the way that when something seemed too good to be true - it really was.

Now, eight years later, I was ashamed of the stupid kid that I was. “Who the fuck reviewed this contract?!” Dom groaned, before tossing the papers on the coffee table. “You’re in deep shit.”

Eight years ago, I couldn’t afford a lawyer. And now, I couldn’t afford not to have the best lawyer working for me.

So when the absolute best money could buy told me the situation was hopeless, I knew it to be the truth. “Long story short, they own your ass.” He said, in that deep, booming voice of his. “Erika wasn’t lying - but she didn’t need to be. The label owns sole rights to your songs and your brand. There’s even a clause, saying that if you try to dump them, instead of the other way around, they retain their rights to all your products.”

I frowned. “Can we sue them?”

Dom shook his head. “You won’t win this. It says here-” he pointed at a lengthy paragraph. “-in black and white, that if you try to get out of the business, you owe them a ridiculous sum, and the rights to everything you did while you were signed to them.”

“So we can’t leave the label?” Ash chimed in, leaning forward in his position from next to me. He looked just about ready to explode - but both Dom and I could handle it.

“You can. But they’ll take a fuckload of your money, and you can never be caught signing the songs you’ve had with them. If you leave, your hits stay with them. When they get played on the radio, the label still makes money, you don’t. And not only that, if you continue to have a public career, you can never play the tunes or sing the songs ever again.”

“Fuck.” I groaned, running a hand through my hair. “What can we do about it?”

“If we lived in a magical world, you could sign a separate agreement with the label, that amends the clause and gives you the right to perform your music after you leave.” Dom paused, chuckling. “But a cold-hearted bitch like Erika would never go for that.”

“And if we stay?” I pushed, eager to find a solution that didn’t suck as much as every other one that has been presented so far. “Can they really make London go away?”

Dom nodded. “Abso-fucking-lutely.” He flipped to another page and pointed at another lengthy paragraph. “We could argue this one, but the label can control your personal life if it interferes with the image of the brand. The only real way around this, though, is if we turned London into an asset, rather than an issue. Which, right now, she is.”

My hand balled into a fist.

“There’s really one clear solution to this.” Dom went on.

“To blackmail Erika.” Ash suggested, earning a cold-hearted smirk from Dom.

“I like the way you think!” He praised. “But from a legal standpoint, I was going to suggest just simply letting this girl go. This is more trouble than any chick is worth. You’ll find another tight pussy, Lukas.”

I jumped to my feet, my vision going red at his words. “Get the fuck out!” I turned to Ash. “We’ll find another lawyer! Go and find another fucking lawyer, that knows what they’re doing!”

Ash shook his head, staying surprisingly calm. “There’s no one better, man.” He turned to Dom. “This is a touchy subject for our boy. Don’t mind him.”

“Un-fucking-believable!” I groaned. Ash was making amends with people for me now! Where the fuck was this world headed. I began pacing back and forth, trying to think of a good reason why I shouldn’t put my fist through the wall, while the two men appeared to ignore me.

“Legally, you have to suggest the easiest way out.” Ash started and after a curt nod from Dom, he went on. “What can you suggest illegally?”

A slow, calculated smile spread over the lawyer’s lips. “I can suggest that if you want to hear more options, my fee triples.”

I paused. Becoming curious, I circled back around and took my seat across from Dom.

“Consider it done.” Ash said, leaning forward. “Let’s make this more interesting.”

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