BEEP… B-BEEP… b-beep….
What the fuck? Nick struggled to open his eyes, but they were heavy, the lids felt glued together, and, Jesus, did his head hurt. He couldn’t remember what he’d done the night before, but it better have been fucking fun, because he felt like death.
Nick tried to fling his arm out so he could grab whoever the fuck’s phone was ringing and smash it against the wall until it shut the hell up. That damn beeping was drilling into his skull. He lifted his arm… but it went nowhere, and a sharp, stabbing pain slammed through his forearm. Tears welled unchecked in his eyes. Motherfucker.
He sat up and wrenched his eyes open. Fuck the pain. Fuck it all. But instead of the dark gray walls of his bedroom, he saw blurry, white, institutional-looking walls.
What the…? Nick focused on the noise. Everything would be okay if only that damn beeping would stop. He squinted through his blurry vision, trying to find its source, and realized the sound was coming from a monitor connected to his right hand. His left hand and forearm were covered with a thick cast.
How the hell did he end up in… the hospital? Oh, hell no. This is not happening. Nick went to wrench the tubes from his arm, but a pair of iron-strong hands pressed him back against the mattress. He tried to fight, but he couldn’t sit up. All he wanted to do was fucking sit up.
“Nicky, stop. It’s Shane. You’ll hurt yourself.”
“Wha—” He tried to speak, but his choked, dry voice made it nearly impossible to push even that one sound from his mouth.
“Here, Nicky. Water.” His brother jammed a straw into his mouth, and he took a grateful pull. The water was freezing as it slid down his throat, but it felt pretty damn good.
“Shaney, what am I doing here?” Nick shifted on the bed. Fuck. Even moving a few inches hurt. His head was foggy, his body sore. His skin felt like it had been dragged over a cheese grater at least two or three times. Whatever it was he’d done, that shit couldn’t have been good.
“Don’t you remember?” Shane’s face was annoyed, worried. Scared. Nick knew that look. He’d seen it a million times when they were kids, when they weren’t sure if they’d make it out of their dad’s house alive. He tried to fight through the painkiller-induced haze.
“Not really. I remember being in the Viper with Dre. It was pretty icy.”
“You were pretty fucked-up is more like it. You ran into the fucking window at Saks, Nicky.”
Nick squeezed his eyes shut and summoned the pictures he’d thought were a dream—crashing glass, skidding, his arm crunching nauseatingly against the door. He tried to lift his left arm but couldn’t… because of the cast. Jesus. He’d really done it.
“It’s broken. You have cuts all over your body. You’ve been out for nearly two days. I was so fucking scared, dude.”
“He’s banged up, but he’ll be okay. You came out with the worst of it.”
“Good. When can I get outta here?” Nick made to sit up again, and Shane pushed him down. Again.
“You can’t. You’re here until your court date. I’ve been talking to the lawyers for you.”
“Court? Can’t they just… you know?” Nick waved his right hand. Make it all go away….
“No, they can’t just ‘you know.’ Shit, bro. You were caught in a sports car that’s barely street legal, high as a fucking kite, with motherfucking coke in your pocket. The car was rammed most of the way through the window of a Fifth Avenue store. You could’ve killed someone. The suits at the label are pissed. The boys in the band are pissed. I’m pissed. This shit has to stop.”
“Hey, at least Em’s not pissed,” Nick tried to joke. Maybe if he made Shane smile, everything wouldn’t seem so shitty.
Shane glared. “Em is about to have a coronary. You know he thinks of us as family.” Their manager had always treated them like brothers rather than as a means to a buck.
“Well, you can tell him I’m fine.” Guess smiling was out of the question.
“They’re going to send you somewhere, Nicky. The lawyers think they can cut a deal for rehab instead of jail.”
Nick did sit up at that. He ignored his screaming, cut-up skin and the pain in his arm. “Rehab? I’m not a fucking addict.”
“You wanna go to jail? I don’t think they’d pull a ten-hour celebrity special for this one. You really screwed up.”
“I’ll pay a fine.” This kind of shit didn’t happen to people like him.
Shane sighed and sank into the plastic-cushioned chair that had been jammed into the corner of the room. “You need help… and I don’t think I can give it to you.”
“What I need are some better painkillers. You think they have something stronger in this joint?”
Before he turned away, Nick saw Shane slowly shake his head. Damn. He was fucked.
NICK STARED at the old brick building through the town car’s tinted windows as his driver pulled to a stop. Aside from the address and the word GLENWOOD spelled out in plain white letters above the double doors, the building wasn’t any different from the dozen or so others they’d passed on the hospital campus. Depressing. Ugly as hell too. But even with the shit-colored bricks and the bare, creeping vines of ivy that covered the entire right side and part of the front, it didn’t look particularly scary.
And yet something about the old place made him feel kind of queasy.
His palms were damp, and he had that churning thing going on in his stomach, like when he’d gotten on the Gravitron at a carnival when he was fourteen after eating too many hot dogs and scarfing down way too much cotton candy. The dizziness was back again, but this time instead of the ride, it was as if the interior of the car itself was spinning and the floorboard under his feet was dropping away. Nausea rolled over him in a wave, and the upchuck rose fast in his throat. Nick did his best to hold it in so he didn’t spew all over the snow-covered lawn the moment he got outside, but the effort made his mouth tremble and a sheen of sweat break out on his skin.
Glenwood didn’t look like a prison… much. But for all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what it was to him. As it stood, he might as well be in for life. Three months was fucking eternity, and Nick was there on court-ordered lockdown for exactly that long. He couldn’t just walk out if the place pissed him off. He’d be stuck with no car, no license, and no cell phone, so he couldn’t even call someone to come get him. Nick had never been so closed off from everything and everyone he’d ever known. Even though he didn’t particularly want to see his brother’s stupid face ever again, it sort of pissed him off that if he had wanted to see Shane, he wouldn’t be able to until his counselors gave the okay. Hell, he wasn’t even allowed to bring anything in with him except for the clothes on his back. He’d been told everything he’d need would be “provided by the facility.”
Fucking rehab. Nick felt like such an asshole. He didn’t need some lame-ass, twelve-step program. He wasn’t a goddamn junkie. So he liked to drink, and maybe there were times when he needed some smoke so he could chill. And maybe he occasionally liked to do a little blow just for shits and giggles. That shouldn’t have been a fucking shock to anyone. It wasn’t really that big of a deal as far as he was concerned. For shit’s sake, it wasn’t as if he was some tweaker hanging out on the street corner, offering to suck some guy’s dick for another hit of meth.
But his choice was either submit to rehab or risk the chance of jail time, and there was no way in hell he was going to prison to be some beefed-up convict’s unwilling bitch boy for however the fuck long they left him there. He wasn’t stupid. With a face like his, he wouldn’t last five minutes in prison without being bent over the nearest object and ass raped, and then he’d probably get shanked trying to fight the guy off. He’d take rehab over that any day. But fuck if he was going to like it.
The motion of his car door being opened startled Nick out of his thoughts. He went to hide his face, but nothing waited for him on the other side except his driver, a cracked cement walkway, and the ugly-ass building. He took a slow look around but didn’t see anything suspicious. They’d circled the area for a long time, trying to lose the reporters who’d been waiting for him outside his condo. He wasn’t about to make a damn statement, and he sure as fuck didn’t want his picture taken by a flash mob of paparazzi that happened to appear out of the blue as he made the walk of shame into the facility. But it looked like the coast was clear. Thank freaking hell.
Nick slowly got out of the car.
“Sir? Are you ready to go inside?”
Hell no. “Whatever.”
Not like he had any choice.
“HERE ARE your latest files, hon. We have a few new patients checking in this morning.”
Luka looked up from the meal plan he was working on and smiled at the nurse who’d just set a stack of manila folders on the corner of his desk. “Thanks, Mel.”
“You’re going to like the guy who just came in.”
Luka arched an eyebrow. “Yeah? Why do you say that?”
Melody just grinned at him. “Well, he’s kind of battered up and scrawny right now, but once he gets some meat on him….” She trailed off with an appreciative sound, much like someone would make when biting into a slice of gooey chocolate cake.
Luka laughed outright. “Hey, now, remember the rules. No fraternizing with the residents.”
Melody winked at him. “I’m going to come back and ask how you feel about that rule once you’ve actually seen him.”
Luka laughed again and shook his head. “Look at you, trying to stir up trouble.”
“It’s what I do.” Melody turned and waved as she left his office. “See you at lunch.”
Still smiling, Luka went back to his meal plan. After a few minutes, though, curiosity got the better of him, and he reached for the files Mel had dropped off.
The name on the last file caught his attention. Nicolas Ventura. Why did that seem so familiar? And then he got it.
Luka’s eyes widened. No freaking way. He hurriedly flipped open the file and checked the picture. It was him. The Nick Ventura, the notorious rock god who’d been all over the headlines a couple of weeks back after crashing his hundred-thousand-dollar sports car through one of the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue in a drunken haze.
“Oh my God.”
Glenwood had treated the occasional C-list celebrity, but never anyone of Nick Ventura’s caliber. Even Luka, who wasn’t a fan of rock by any stretch of the imagination, knew about Nick’s band, Luck, and had heard a few of their songs. Luck had been too big for too long to be completely avoided. Not to mention the recent media frenzy surrounding the marriage of Luck’s lead singer, Nick’s older brother, Shane, to Kayden Berlin, the gorgeous lead singer of Moonlight, the biggest band to come out of the UK since The Beatles. They were impossible to miss.
Luka shook his head in disbelief. He would have bet everything he owned against Nick being assigned to Glenwood. It was one of the better rehab facilities on the East Coast, true, but they weren’t what he would call hard-core. There were other facilities that dealt with people who needed serious help, the kind of people who were so high on whatever they’d been shooting up that they didn’t even remember driving into a department store. That was the type of place he figured someone with Nick Ventura’s problems would end up—at least if the courts made the decision.
Apparently not. Luka shrugged. He must’ve had an amazing lawyer.
Nick stared up at him from the grainy photograph taken during the registration process. Surly. Gorgeous. Dark brown hair fell into his eyes, and faded yellow-black bruises marred the left side of his face. His expression was filled with so much animosity it was nearly palpable, even through the picture.
Oh, he’s gonna be a handful. Luka could already feel it.
Melody had been right, though. He was too skinny by far. And judging by his pale complexion and the purplish half-moons under his eyes, he probably hadn’t slept well in weeks, if not longer.
It was definitely the worst he’d ever looked, and Luka would know. Thanks to his best friend, Jeana, and her love of trashy gossip magazines, he’d seen dozens of pictures of Nick Ventura over the years. In just the last few months, Luka had watched him go from thin but healthy to exhausted and downright bony. Not a look that normally worked for anyone, but with Nick that wasn’t really saying much. Even beat-up and underfed, he was still way too hot for his own good.
He really rocked that whole bad-boy persona too. So much attitude, the stretched earlobe, all those tattoos. Everything about him seemed hard. Except for his mouth, which Luka had always thought was pretty and soft-looking and maybe just a little bit… vulnerable. And his eyes, which were big and blue and gorgeous and now seemed huge in his overly thin face.
Easy to see why Mel thought Luka might like him. Nick wasn’t Luka’s usual type, not by a long shot—normally he went for the clean-cut, preppy guys—but there was no denying that Nick Ventura had been blessed with some spectacular genes. Both he and his brother, from what Luka remembered seeing in the magazines. Good looks. Talent. It really was sad to see how far he’d fallen. He’d gone from the top of the proverbial pack to publicly disgraced tabloid fodder pretty much overnight.
Quite the bruise to his fragile little rock-star ego, I’m sure.
Nick at least had one thing going for him, though. He’d wrecked his car and caused thousands of dollars in property damage, but he was still alive and breathing. He had time to fix things and turn his life around, and that couldn’t be said for a lot of the musicians who’d come before him and died in their prime without ever getting help.
Luka hoped, if nothing else, that Nick would put his time at Glenwood to good use and get his life together. He didn’t want to see the guy become yet another “lived fast, died young” cautionary tale that wannabe rockers everywhere just ignored anyway. All Nick had to do was take that first and most difficult step. Easier said than done, though, even for the average Joe. And Nick Ventura, well, Luka had a feeling he was just about as far from average as they came.
UGH. I need a fucking drink. Nick lay on the twin-size bed in his tiny assigned room, staring up at a water stain on one of the grayish acoustic ceiling tiles and listening to the steady hum of the heater. Or maybe three. Hell, even just his iPod would be nice. It’d been days since Nick had listened to any real music. Probably the longest he’d ever gone in… well, ever.
He was tired, cranky, and his left arm itched like a motherfucker under the thick plaster cast. He would’ve killed for a wire hanger to unbend so he could get in there and scratch at it. Nothing but plastic hangers in the closet, though, and the constant itchy achiness was driving him nuts. The squeak of shoes on the linoleum floor out in the hallway was driving him nuts too. The rock-hard mattress. The T-shirt and stupid gray sweatpants he’d been given to wear. Everything was driving him nuts.
Nick wanted out, and he hadn’t even been at Glenwood for an entire day yet. But there was no out. He was going to be staring at these four walls, and that stained ceiling tile, and sleeping on that uncomfortable-ass bed for the next twelve goddamn weeks, and the very idea made him want to fucking puke.
What had he done to deserve this shit? Nobody had gotten killed. He didn’t get why the court wouldn’t just let him pay for the property damage and be on his merry way. He’d only lost control of the car because the ground was slick. Could’ve happened to anyone.
Nick did feel bad about Dre getting hurt, though. He’d never meant for that to happen. His entire body had turned to ice when he’d woken up in that hospital room and Shane had told him what’d happened. After that he’d remembered everything: the slick, icy road; Dre asking him to pull over; losing control; that horrible, crunching, jarring impact. He probably should’ve stopped when Dre asked and just let his friend drive. But it was too late to think about what he should have done.
And now here you are, stuck in rehab like a punk.
Nick shook his head and gave a humorless laugh. His life had turned into one of those cheesy-ass Celebrity Rehab episodes, which of course he never ever watched just so he could make fun of the losers on it. Talk about irony. It sounded like the start of a bad joke. Well, if this was a joke, he was still waiting for the goddamn punch line.
At least the worst of his withdrawal symptoms had passed. Those first few days in the hospital had been a bitch to get through. The chills, the body aches, the cramping, clawing pain in his stomach. He was still exhausted and irritated, but most of the physical discomfort was gone except for the perpetual ache in his arm, and nothing but time could fix that.
In a way, Nick was glad for the pain. It stopped him from thinking about Shane. About how, when his lawyer suggested plea bargaining for rehab and fines instead of risking a trial by jury, Shane had agreed without even hesitating. About the fight they’d had the day before the accident, when Shane told him he needed to grow up and be more responsible. Stop with the drugs, stop with the drinking.
He’d gone out the next night just to spite Shane and his bullshit spiel about settling down and getting his shit together. What the hell did Shane know anyway? Just because he’d bought a house and willingly shackled himself to a fucking husband, it didn’t make him some kind of authority on responsibility. Shane was a goddamn hypocrite. Before Jesse had come back into his life, he’d spent the last decade drinking booze, snorting coke, and banging anything with an ass and a cock. Nick had done the same thing, only with a shitload of pussy thrown into the mix too, which was why Shane’s new self-righteous attitude made him fucking sick.
But he didn’t want to think about Shane. And he sure as hell didn’t want to think about Jesse. Underneath it all, Mr. Extreme Makeover was still the same pocket-protector geek from high school whose presence had annoyed Nick from the very start. Nick wished they’d never agreed to the Lucky Moon tour. Things had been fine before then. Mostly fine, anyway.
Looking back, Nick could tell Shane had never really seemed very happy. Not that it mattered anymore. Shane had Jesse, and apparently that was all he needed, because he’d sure as hell been doing a good job of ignoring Nick’s existence ever since he’d taken Jesse’s dick up his ass and turned into the ball-less wonder. Next thing Nick knew, his brother was writing sappy love songs like he was fucking John Mayer or some shit, proposing, getting married. Fuck. Just remembering the pathetic, cock-whipped look on Shane’s face during the wedding ceremony made Nick want to gag.
Well, Shane and Jesse could go fuck themselves. So could everyone on the staff at Glenwood. And that asshole judge who’d sent him here in the first place. He didn’t want to deal with their dumbass therapy. He wanted to light up a joint, down a bottle of Jack, and forget that any of this shit had ever happened.
Too fucking bad. You ain’t getting outta here anytime soon, asshole.
And it was his own damn fault.