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Chapter 1

October 17th, 2016
Munich, Germany
Relentless - New Years Day

As the morning light slipped through the slats of the blinds, drawing long shadows over the duvet, a ray of sun struck directly on her face.

Groaning, Leah turned around and covered her head with the pillow. She didn’t know what time it was, and she didn’t care. All she knew was that it was Monday.

After several minutes of grumbling, she finally got up. With her braid around her neck as if it were a scarf, she zombied to the bathroom.

Fifteen minutes later, still half-asleep, she dragged her feet to the kitchen to start her routine, which included making breakfast and waking up her best friend.

Sending the door flying open without knocking, she walked inside his room. “Dude, get up! You’re gonna be late for work.” She took off the comforter, exposing his almost naked and covered in tattoos body.

“Five more minutes,” he protested as he rolled on the bed, turning his back to the window with his eyes still closed.

“Whatever, but I won’t be here to bug you again later. I have to go to Deals N’ Steals.”

Leah worked from home, in a room they had arranged as a studio, but she had a meeting at a secondhand shop to get a bass for her to repair. “Are you going to get up or will I have to call and tell Klaus you’re dead?”

“I’m awake, I’m awake... Dude, you’re so bitchy in the morning,” he muttered as he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes, his hair a complete mess.

“Sue me.” Leah shrugged, a devilish grin plastered on her face as she pushed him, trying to get him vertical. “C’mon!”

“Will contact my lawyer later, but... what time is it?” Chris yawned.

“Almost nine.” She smirked. Chris had to be at work by ten, and he had a thirty-minute trip to the city center.

“I am gonna be late! Fuck, fuck, fuck!” he cursed as he ran out of his room and towards the bathroom, wearing nothing but his briefs.

Since he was really awake now, Leah decided to go back to her room and get ready. “Want me to drive you?” he asked, peeking his head through the door.

“No need, thanks.” She smiled. “I’m leaving as soon as I get dressed and have a coffee. See you tonight?”

“Yeah, where would I go on a Monday?”

“Hm... To one of your hookups’?” Leah snorted—it wouldn’t be the first time he disappeared for a couple of days.

He didn’t give a shit that she called him a manwhore to his face. He burst out laughing as he kept brushing his hair, pale blue eyes shining humorously.

Leah tilted her head as she looked at him. The lower part and sides of his head were supposed to be shaved, keeping the top longer, but it had grown so much he was starting to look like a lion.

“You should cut that mop of hair. It’s getting out of hand.”

“I might go at the end of the week.”

“That’s a great idea because with the stubble and that hair you’re one step away from looking like a hobo.”

“Always so sweet...” Chris rolled his eyes but couldn’t hide the grin.

“Yup, but you still love me!” She smiled at him.

Their friendship had been that way since she could remember. Being neighbors and growing up together had made them become close friends. They lived for their constant bickering but they were also each other’s rock to hold on to in the middle of a storm.

“Ugh! I gotta go. I’m gonna be late!” she said as she checked the time on her phone.

“Okay. See you tonight!”

Without missing a beat, while Chris stepped into his shower, Leah went back to her room to change her Harry Potter pajamas for something more appropriate to go out in—if it were up to her, she would have put on her boots and coat, and voila. Those pajamas were the best, warm and soft, but people would look at her like a weirdo.

She opened her closet and grabbed the first thing she saw. Some ripped jeans and a black turtleneck. Then she went into the bathroom.

When she had beautified herself, concealing the dark circles under her eyes and putting her wavy hair into a ponytail, she went out and poured some coffee into her ‘I do what I want’ mug—she loved that moody cat showing the middle finger. And stuffing her mouth with a toast, she left the apartment.

As she stepped out of the building, she tightened her coat around her body as a shiver down her spine—it was the middle of October, but the weather had been utterly cold for a few days.

After rubbing her hands together to warm them up, Leah put her headphones on and began walking towards the closest train station, one of her favorite songs blaring in her ears.

Immersed in the brutal drumming and amazing riffs, she tranced out. The harrowing lyrics full of emotions seemed even more intense in his voice.

God. She had never listened to a voice that made her feel so many things at the same time. Søren was a host to chilling low tones and an incredibly consistent and aggressive belting register. The source of a powerful and raspy bass-baritone voice that made her heart race every time he went deep into the second octave.

And he wasn’t only good at singing. He was a brilliant composer and guitar player as well. He had been writing songs since he was in his first band when he was a teenager, and that was why he was so good at it now—she hadn’t stalked him on the internet or anything. Okay, maybe a little.

Absorbed in her own world, she noticed the streets were already packed, cars scattered everywhere, but she didn’t care. In fact, she liked it. Chaos was such a beautiful thing.

Four and a half years had passed since she had been rescued. That time had helped her to move on and to learn how to deal with anxiety and any intrusive thoughts that could slip into her mind in the most inconvenient moments. But still walking on a tightrope, she was terrified of losing control.

She had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The psychiatrist had told her that time and therapy would help decrease the symptoms, and he was right, she was much better now, but there were still so many things that triggered all those memories and that was why she’d rather keep her mind busy.

When she came back home, she went straight down to work.

She sanded off the material and gave it the first layer of primer. Then, she let it dry and grabbed a guitar she had been working on for a while.

After finishing her art studies, she never thought she would end up working on restoring musical instruments. It was so ironic. Although she had always loved music, once she got away from the bass player she had started dating when she was eighteen, she didn’t want to do anything with it. It reminded her too much of him, bringing only bad memories and pain.

Until her father reminded her she couldn’t let him win.

‘You can’t let him steal this from you.’ Those words changed her life forever. It was hard at the beginning—even touching a guitar made her chest tighten—but giving up on music because of Ryker would be like giving up on herself and she wasn’t going to allow that to happen again.

Admiring the robustness and smoothness of the instruments’ bodies, fixing cracks, the smell of wood and adhesive, the sound of the wood lathe blending with the background music. Broken things coming back to life. There was something poetic and healing about it.

The commissions were mostly to repaint, cover scratches, and fix an occasional neck half-down. However, once in a while, she would go to a flea market in search of a relic to bring back to life.

And there she was, giving the last layer of shellac to a guitar she had dismantled a month ago to completely restore it. She had to hand it to a client the next day—a wealthy one because what he owed her for that beautiful guitar would pay for her rent for two or three months—and she wanted it to be perfect.

Some customers would ask for specific things or details they wanted on their instruments, but not him. He had told her from the very beginning that he trusted her talent, that the works displayed on her Instagram account were proof enough for him to know what she was capable of. He said she was the one to make those decisions on just one condition, to have it ready by the time he went to Munich on a business trip.

Leah didn’t know what that man called S. Wolff looked like, but the passion he had for music was contagious. And that he understood he wasn’t only paying for the instrument but for her knowledge, time, and effort and didn’t haggle a penny, felt nice for a change.

Without realizing, the sky had turned dark. It was always the same. She got so engrossed she forgot about her surroundings, sometimes working into the middle of the night. However, Chris and Marc walking into the apartment like a herd of elephants snapped her back to the real world.

She took off the latex gloves and threw them into the trash, organizing and cleaning her desk before she went out to see her friends.

“Why is he here?” she quipped, pretending to be mad as she pointed at Marc, who was pouting, faking a nonexistent innocence.

“Hello to you too!” Chris retorted while opening a beer.

“Hey, Leah!” Mard greeted her.

“Got lost on your way home?” she asked as she hugged him. He smelled like aftershave mixed with leather and tobacco.

“I missed you.” He grinned, dark brown eyes shining with mischief.

“Yeah, right...” She ruffled his black and insanely long, straight hair. “You ran out of beer and came to drink mine!”

Marc burst out laughing. “You know me so well!”

“As if I was your mom... Anyway, I’m going to take a quick shower. Pizza?”

“Yup.” Chris nodded as he played with his left earplug.

“With extra cheese, please, and thank you!” Leah smiled from ear to ear before closing the door of her room.

After spending the entire weekend with her friend, Julia, feeding on nothing but alcohol and small portions of pretentious food in fancy-ass, expensive restaurants while bugging the shit out of her so she would trip her coworker and take her to the VIP area with her on the concert they were attending that weekend, her body was screaming for fats and carbs in tons.

Once inside the bathroom, she put her phone on the speaker, turned on the hot water tap, and let her hair down, caressing her waist. It felt heavy and the chestnut brown waves were matted because she hadn’t used a brush in a couple of days. I need to do something with this; Leah thought as she untangled knots.

As she stepped into the shower and her hair stuck to her skin, she shuddered, the scar on her back burning. It was psychological, she knew, but it still put an uncomfortable pressure on her chest that made it hard to breathe.

To avoid that persistent sensation climbing even higher and turning her stomach upside down, she tried to focus on the soothing atmosphere around her, feeling every cell in her renewing as water ran down her body.

Wrapping a towel around her body, she stepped on the bathmat and dragged it with her feet towards the sink. As she removed the fog on the mirror with her palm and looked at her face, dark circles under her eyes standing out, she huffed, “God... You look like death.”

When she walked out to the living room, wearing a Metallica sweater over her pajamas, she spotted the missing member of their band already on the couch with the others.

“Hey, Leah!” Erik greeted her.

“Hey!” She hugged him, his short beard tickling her face. “How are you?”

“Good.” He sipped from his beer.

“Just got out of work?” she asked, pointing at his suit. He had already taken off his jacket and tie, sleeves slightly rolled up putting on a full display all his tattoos.

“Yeah...” he sighed.

“Hard day?” Chris asked as he leaned back, putting his feet on the coffee table.

“I could barely get anything done today since I jumped from meeting to meeting,” he chuckled as he ran a hand through his blond hair, bun half-loose and messy. “This new client is a pain in the neck, to be honest.”

“Why did you study marketing, dude? I didn’t study shit, have my own music shop, and it’s doing better than I ever imagined.” Marc laughed.

“I have no idea!” Erik exclaimed.

The doorbell rang, interrupting their conversation. “I’ll get it!” Leah announced as she walked towards the entrance, grabbing Chris’s wallet from the table.

“You know that’s mine, right?”

“Yeah, you’re buying!”

“And why’s that?”

“Because you love us so much!”

“Yeah, right...” Chris chuckled.

She opened the door, got the money to pay the kid and tip him, and went back to the living room carrying the large pizzas in her hands.

“Don’t you dare start without me!” she shouted as she went back to the kitchen.

Sitting on the floor, a beer in hand, she started drooling like a dog as soon as Chris opened the boxes and that delicious smell invaded her nostrils.

“Bon Appetit!” Marc said before he grabbed a slice of pepperoni pizza.

They talked about anything and everything, laughed, joked, and caught up. It had been a while since the last time they were all together like that.

After signing their contract with a record label two years before, their lives had become a juggling act between their full-time jobs, the music rehearsals, the tours, and their personal lives. It was so rewarding, but it was exhausting, and those homey moments always felt nice.

“You’re recording the vocals tomorrow, right?” Erik’s grey eyes moved between her and Marc.

Marc had stuffed his mouth with food and looked like a hamster with both cheeks puffed. No way he could answer without showering them, so Leah gestured for Erik to wait a second so she could swallow that mass of bread and cheese and answer for him.

“No.” She grabbed a napkin and cleaned her greasy lips before sipping from her beer to wash down the food stuck in her throat. “I’m meeting a client tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow we’re going to the studio.”

“Oh, yeah! The guitar you bought when we went to visit his parents?” Leah nodded at Marc’s question. “You gotta show us later.”

“Sure.” She smiled, looking at them as they went back to talk about their new album.

They were about to sign their contract when Chris asked her to join the band. They needed a new singer after they kicked the previous one out because she had cheated on Erik. It made her nervous having to prove to the record label and to them she was more than average. But after attending all their concerts, feeling the life pumping into her with every bass lick, every drum hit, and guitar riff, she didn’t want to deny herself what her body craved anymore. Music.

For some time she felt her insides breaking down every time she heard a single note, but as she crawled back to the surface, the air finally filling her lungs, she let it in again. Music could be a place of opposing forces, of darkness and light inside her shattered mind, but it had always been a part of her. It reminded her of her childhood and connected her to her mother. It was her shelter, her lifesaver.

Sharing that passion, the experiences, and the emotions with those exceptionally talented and kind human beings had helped her to heal, showing her the place where she belonged.

The night drew longer than expected, but even so, Leah managed to get up early to finish her work before noon, which was the time she had agreed upon with her client.

After putting the pick-ups and the control knob on the body of the guitar, she attached the neck. With everything put together, she bolted a black metal pickguard to decorate it, having only the strings left.

Immersed in her world while admiring that masterpiece, she jumped on her chair, almost clutching to the ceiling like a cat when the doorbell rang. “Fuck!”

Before going out of her studio, she grabbed her mug and sipped from her coffee. The moment it touched her tongue, she scrunched her nose, realizing now how long it had been since she poured it.

Cold coffee’s the most disgusting thing in the world.

Clicking her tongue, she opened the door. Eyes opening wide as she froze on the spot. Luckily for him, she had already downed the coffee, otherwise, she would have spat all on his face.

She had always thought the man in front of her was very attractive and so damn talented, but having him before her felt unreal. He was imposing.

He was a good head taller than her. Straight nose, sharp jaw with a light stubble shadowing it, and perfectly shaped lips. However, what made her forget how to breathe was his enigmatic eyes, the deep blue color in them more stunning than in pictures. It felt as if he was trying to devour her soul, so intense and electrifying she wouldn’t have minded throwing herself into that ocean and resting there for eternity.

“G—Good morning.” Her brain connections stopped working as her confidence sneaked out through the door.

“Woodverse?” The man looked confused. Nobody could blame him, though. She was wearing black yoga pants with a grey t-shirt with holes everywhere over a black, long-sleeve one and a horrible messy bun.

Great. Fucking great.

“Is Jäger here?” he asked.

“That’d be me,” she told him, still astonished.

“Oh.” His expression remained stern, but his eyes slightly glowed with surprise. “I hope it’s not a problem that I arrived a bit earlier than we agreed.” He smiled as his subtle northern accent tingled her ears.

“No, of course not. Come on in, please.” Leah moved to the side, tilting her head, scanning him up and down as he walked into her apartment.

I can’t believe Søren Fucking Wolff is in my house!

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