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Sweet Ache (Driven #7)
Author: K. Bromberg

Prologue

HAWKIN

“If you really want someone to manhandle your ass, I’m sure I could arrange for it to happen discreetly for you.”

I whip my head up and choke on the M&M’s I just swallowed. Did he really just say that? I meet Ben’s unamused eyes staring from behind his glasses and he just raises his eyebrows. His out-of-character comment causes me to stutter, while Vince chuckles at my friend’s dig.

“You’re my lawyer—get me out of it.” I shake my head and match him glare for glare. “Earn the big bucks you charge me…. Now, wouldn’t that be something?”

I know I’m being an ass but I’m fed up with everything right now. The lyrics that won’t come to complete the album, Ben sitting across from me daring me to tell him the truth so he can scold me like the kid I was when we first met years ago, and fucking Hunter and his bullshit that has me in this predicament.

Again. But this time with a helluva lot more on the line.

“You want to be an asshole, Hawkin? I can play that part real well too in case you’ve forgotten. How about you come clean? How about you make Hunter pay for his own mistakes and you stop risking everything you’ve worked so hard for?” He leans forward, props his elbows on the massive desk, and continues our visual pissing match over his folded hands. The truth in his words hangs heavy in the air between us.

“I told you—the jacket was mine.” I grit my teeth on the lie. “I don’t know how the blow got in the pocket…. Shit, I was drunk off my ass. I set it down for a few minutes—some groupie probably stuffed the baggy of the shit in there or something. I don’t remember. Party got out of control, cops came, shook us all down, and it was just there in my pocket.”

“You mean it was in Hunter’s pocket.”

This conversation needed to have ended like ten minutes ago. Or better yet, never have happened.

“Nah. It was me. People kept mixing us up all night long because we both had on jeans and dark T-shirts. My jacket, my pocket, my fault.” End of story, Ben. Drop it.

My mind flashes back to the look Hunter gave me and the desperation in his voice as he tossed me his jacket when the cops came barging in. “Please, Hawke. It’s not mine. I swear. I can’t go to jail for this stupid mistake. It’ll kill Mom.”

“Convenient theory.” He breaks through my thoughts and brings me back to the here and now. “But you’re forgetting the simple fact that there are pictures from the party and not once were you wearing that jacket … but Hunter sure as hell was. Your martyrdom is admirable, but I still call bullshit,” he says, leaning back, with contempt in his eyes.

And I hate putting it there, hate seeing the obvious disappointment and knowing that I’m letting him down, but I can’t do what he’s asking. I can’t risk Hunter being locked up for the long haul under California’s Three Strikes law for some stupid coke. Mom’s health is bad enough as it is—losing her baby might just push her over the edge. Might be the last straw.

And besides, I don’t go back on my promises.

Vince snickers again and Ben’s eyes shift over to glare at him. “You think this is a fucking joke, Vinny?” Ben says, reminding Vince of the hoodlum punk he once was and the nickname he’s distanced himself from as much as possible.

The laughter stops immediately, the tension ratchets up another notch, and their inherent dislike for each other rears its ugly head. “You want your boy here locked up? Your new album and tour to go to shit because he’s getting some love in cell block G? Can’t sing to the groupies then, now, can he?”

Vince sits forward in his chair and just shakes his head. I can see his anger vibrating beneath the surface, but thank fuck he reins it in, because I sure as hell don’t need more to deal with.

“I know what’s at stake, Benji. No one has to spell it out for me.” He raises his eyebrows, the come at me taunt written all over his face.

“It was mine,” I reassert to break the hold of our shared history and bring their attention back to the shit I need over and done with.

“I’m still not buying it. You ready to perjure yourself and have both you and Hunter end up in jail? Protecting your brother is one thing, but hell, Hawke, you,” he says on a cough, and I sure as hell know he means Hunter, “were carrying enough grams to be charged with intent to sell. We’re talking hard time here if you get convicted.”

“I won’t be convicted.” I make the pronouncement with certainty, although internally doubt slithers into the cracks of my resolve.

“You said you’d never have a number-one single on Billboard either,” he replies, eyebrows raised, “and I believe you’re sitting on four of them in the last two years…. Never say never, Hawke.”

“You made your fucking point, Ben. Now get off my case and quit passing judgment on me. I—”

“I’d love to get off your case. In fact, there shouldn’t even be a fucking case because it should be Hunter and not you sitting here.” The silence practically suffocates me as his eyes dare me to correct him. To confess I’m taking the rap for my brother.

I want to say fuck this shit, storm out, and go beat the hell out of Gizmo’s drums until my arms are sore and my ears ring, but that won’t fix a goddamn thing. Instead, I lean back in my chair and rest my head, eyes to the ceiling and fingers pinching the bridge of my nose.

I’d bet my ass that a judge isn’t going to throw the book at me. There’s no way.

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