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|Strings of the Heart(Runaway Train #3) by Katie Ashley|
“No problem. Let me know if you have any other problems with it,” the roadie replied, before heading out the door.
“Did you break a string during rehearsals?”
“Yeah, the E-string, which totally fu—” Eli glanced around at all the kids within earshot. “Totally messed up the entire set of strings. I didn’t know what I was going to do at the show tonight.”
“Couldn’t you have just borrowed one?” I asked, bouncing Jax on my knee.
At my simple question, Eli sucked in a horrified breath while Abby rolled her eyes. “Did I say something wrong?”
Abby shook her head. “It’s just Eli gets a bit OCD about his guitars.”
“I’m an artist, and artists are always particular about the palette with which they use,” Eli countered.
“When Jacob’s Ladder was just starting out, his favored guitar got left behind on a tour stop. When Eli realized what happened, he freaked, and although he had an exact replica to play with, he still barely made it through the show without a ton of mistakes.”
“I had no idea you were so particular,” I replied.
Strumming the guitar, Eli seemed to tune us out for the moment. Almost instantly I recognized it as Kenny Chesney’s You and Tequila. For a moment, I was transported away from the dressing room and back to my time in Savannah. Any time the word “tequila” was mentioned, I always thought of Rhys and our night together. It was hard to believe out of all of the songs out there, Eli would choose this one to play.
As I started humming along, I bounced Jax in my arms. When Eli abruptly stopped and the guitar strings made a screeching noise, I jumped. “You,” he said, pointing a finger at me.
“You could totally sing duet with me on this song.”
I widened my eyes in horror. “No, I couldn’t.”
“Oh come on, I’m dying to do this song live, but Abby refuses to sing it with me.”
Abby laughed. “Call me crazy, but for some reason, it seems a little odd to be singing a duet with your brother. I told you we could totally do it with you as a solo.”
When I giggled, Eli scowled at us. “I have one simple request, and I can’t make it happen.”
Taking pity on him, I eased down on the couch beside him. Once I adjusted Jax on my lap, I smiled at Eli. “I’ll sing it with you now, but only so you can practice it to do it alone. I’m not a professional singer, and I’m certainly not going in front of thousands and thousands of people to sing.”
“You really will?”
I nodded. “It doesn’t hurt that Jax and Jules love to be sung to, and it’s almost their nap time.”
Eli grinned at me. “I’ll take it any way you’ll give it to me.” Scooting closer to me on the couch, he adjusted the guitar on his knees. After he turned toward me, he then began strumming the opening chords to the song again. It was just pure dumb luck that I even knew the lyrics to the song. I hadn’t always been a huge country music fan. It had just grown on me after Jake and Abby got together. I’d tagged along with them to the CMAs, and after meeting Kenny Chesney in person, I started listening to his music.
When Eli started singing the first verse, Jax eased back to lie against my chest. Just like Abby, Eli had an amazing voice. It almost wasn’t fair that he was so good-looking and so talented. Not to mention he had such an endearing personality. He really was a triple threat who was going to make some woman very happy someday—I just hated that it most likely wasn’t going to be me.
As we got to the chorus, he winked at me. And then I chimed in with him. “You and tequila make me crazy—run like poison in my blood. One more night could kill me, baby…”
Pausing in his singing, Eli closed his eyes in mock ecstasy. “We sound amazing!” he cried, enthusiastically over the music.
Abby and I laughed at his over-the-top comment. In my arms, Jax craned his tiny neck up to watch me as I sang. I smiled down at him, and when I finished my part, I kissed the strands of his dark hair. When we started the second verse, I came in whenever the original singer, Grace Potter, usually sang.
Halfway through, I glanced up to see Rhys framed in the doorway. One hand was braced on the doorframe and his knee was bent as if he froze in mid-walk. His eyes bore into mine, and I felt a rush of warmth singe my cheeks at the intensity of his stare. For a moment, I didn’t bother tearing my eyes away from his. Instead, I was too interested in surveying the range of emotions playing out on his face. Curiosity at why I was singing with Eli was there along with actual interest and enjoyment in hearing me sing again. My heartbeat ratcheted up a few notches at what I hoped was the sight of jealousy seething below the surface as he watched Eli directing his singing to me. There was also acknowledgement of the importance of the subject matter of the song.
In his mind, tequila had been our undoing back in Savannah. While it had somewhat attributed to my uninhibited behavior with him, it certainly didn’t make me do anything I hadn’t dreamed of doing for many years. Regardless of what warped ideas he had in his mind about why we couldn’t be together, I knew what the truth was. He was just too damn scared to admit that he cared for me. He feared Jake, but more than anything else, he feared giving himself to someone else. He’d been burned by those who were supposed to love him, so he had no idea how to actually love someone else without getting hurt.
Rhys’s brows shot far into his hairline when Eli sang the line, “When it comes to you, oh the damage I could do. It’s always your favorite sins that do you in.” His free hand came up to rub along his jawline before moving back to grip the strands of his hair at the base of his neck.