Chapter Sixteen

It was three in the afternoon when the two of us left Blake's room. He had been true to his word, waking me every few hours with his insatiable desire. I was still exhausted but in a very good way.

I followed him into the kitchen, smiling as I rummaged through his cabinets.

"We have no food," he grumbled. "Stella!" he shouted. "It was your turn to do the groceries!"

"No way!" she shouted back from her room with Armando. She opened the door, glaring at her brother. "It was yours. You just had to run away to New York so nothing was done. You missed your turn."

"But that was last week," he argued, leaning against the kitchen counter, his arms folded against his chest. I took a seat at the table, watching the two in amusement.

"So?"

"This week it is your turn."

She rolled her eyes. "But, you missed your turn. It doesn't matter if it is my turn this week. You still need to get them from last week!"

Armando walked in between the bickering siblings, grabbing an apple from the refrigerator. He then took a seat at the table next to me.

"Don't worry. They'll stop eventually."

I grinned. "Do they do this a lot?"

He shrugged. "Enough, I suppose." He motioned to Blake. "Everything okay with you two?"

I nodded. "Right now, yes." I paused, but found myself sharing with Blake's best friend my fears. "I'm worried about his ex. I don't have a right really. We're doing who knows what but I know he really cared about her. She's going to come around and I don't know what he'll do."

Armando frowned. "I don't know what Stella will do about that either." He smiled at me sympathetically. "You can't worry about what might happen though. You might choose to go back to Lars."

I looked at him in surprise. "Lars? No, that won't happen."

Armando wasn't convinced. "Everyone knows the fairy tale story with you two. Whether it is false or not doesn't matter. It would be easy for you to go back to that habit."

"Lars and I haven't been a real couple in a long time."

"A fake couple is still a couple."

I was quiet. Was this what Blake feared? Was that why he seemed quiet? It could also help explain why he seemed so testy whenever my band and Lars were mentioned. He obviously liked Lars but maybe that made it worse.

"I should probably check in with my sister. My phone is still turned off." I giggled. "I can't believe my phone is actually off!"

Blake kissed the top of my head, sitting down across from me at the table. "Keep it off. You deserve a break."

I couldn't hide the stars in my eyes as I stared at him. He was just so damn cute. "I do. I'm just worried about Mercedes. She gets in trouble, as I'm sure you've noticed. I want to make sure she went to the hotel."

Stella laughed as she took a seat in the chair next to Blake. "Yeah right. Mark my words, she's probably still asleep and in Julian's bed no doubt."

Blake and Armando both laughed. "She's right," Armando said with a big grin. "Women love him."

"It's his sexy voice and sexy bedroom eyes," Stella stated matter-of-factly.

Armando frowned. "You're not supposed to notice things like that."

I spoke up. "She's right." Now Blake frowned. Boys could be so cute. "Obviously he's not my type but he's got that look. It will get your band famous."

Stella nodded. "The whole reason I have faith in our band. Julian's sexy voice."

"Enough!" Armando said, crossing his arms over his chest. "I don't want to talk about Jules."

Stella smirked. "Somebody's jealous!"

"Leave Hart alone," Blake replied, yawning. "He's just crabby because you forgot to buy food. Go get some."

"Why don't we go out and get something?" I asked, attempting to quell the fight that was bound to ensue. Stella was glaring at her brother once again.

Blake sighed. "I'd like nothing better. But people know you are in town. Do you want to risk it?"

I was quiet. Should I? Lars and I hadn't gone public, but wasn't I allowed to go out to eat with friends? Blake was obviously more but I could eat a meal without groping him in public. At least, I thought I could. He was pretty damn irresistible.

"Just what I thought," he said, his voice quiet.

"No, we can go get food. I was just worried though."

"About being stalked by your adoring fans?" Armando quipped.

I blushed. "No, not that at all."

Blake leaned forward. "I know what that look means. You're thinking about me naked."

"You're impossible!" I exclaimed, even if it was the truth.

"I'm right," he replied, leaning back with a satisfied grin on his face. He put his hands behind his head as he stared at me, a familiar glint in his eyes. I was quickly coming to love that glint. "As much as I would love to satisfy your insatiable needs, I do need to reenergize. You wore me out, kitten."

"Kitten?" Stella repeated, snorting. "You have a pet name for the famous Isabelle Reid already?"

I shrugged. "He wants to stand out from the rest of my admirers."

Blake nodded. "I do. Though my sex drive and stamina do that already. Not to mention the size o-"

Stella hit him on the back of the head and cut him off before he could continue. "Shut up, Blake." She pointed a finger at Armando who was laughing at Blake's comments. "You too." She gestured to me. "Isabelle, please feel free to hit Hart whenever he acts like an immature five year old."

"Anyway," Blake continued. "I'm impressive."

I smiled sweetly. "If you were so impressive, we wouldn't be out here talking."

Both Stella and Armando laughed at Blake's surprised look. "Okay, okay," he said over there laughter. "Enough with the jokes."

I arched an eyebrow. "Who's joking?"

Blake grinned. "There's the claws."

Armando spoke up. "So, let's go get food. I'm starving and Stella owes me."

"Why do I owe you?" she grumbled.

Armando stared at her stonily. "You didn't buy it."

Stella blushed. Blake looked at her in surprise. "She's blushing? What didn't she buy?"

Armando sighed sadly. "The sexy lingerie. I really was hoping she would so I could have some good memories to dream of while I'm here all alone."

Blake cringed. "Oh man, that's my sister."

"I am going to. I want it to be a surprise and it's not a surprise with you in the store."

Armando looked as devious as Blake. "You like it when I'm there. Then I get to watch you change in the dressing room."

Stella snorted. "You don't last long enough for me to even decide which is best. You're always in a rush to get home."

"Again, too much!" Blake stated. "I'm going to move out if you continue talking like this."

Stella punched his shoulder. "So it is okay for you to talk about how much you want Isabelle but not us?"

Blake nodded. "Exactly. I'm so glad you see it my way."

I laughed. "Let's all get some food. I'm going to call Mercedes first and just make sur-"

Blake stopped me. "I'll call Jules. He'll know and you can still continue ignoring all those calls."

I ended up listening to him. It had to be those dimples. When he smiled at me like that, my heart turned to mush.

Stella generously lent me an old beat up t-shirt supporting Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and a pair of well-worn fitted jeans. I put on my jacket, hoping I wouldn't be too cold in this weather. At least we were hitting a warm spell. It wasn't as frigid as the past few nights had been. Or maybe that was Blake cuddling up against me.

I put on my jacket and was ready to go.

"Here," Blake said, putting a black newsboy hat upon my head. "It's camouflage courtesy of Stell."

I stared at him. "Aren't you sweet?"

He wrapped an arm around my shoulders, pulling my bundled body closer to his. Even through the jacket I could feel his warm body heat. "You know I am," he murmured, leaning down to kiss me. It was one of those slow, thorough kisses. He kissed as if he knew he had all the time in the world and could let it go on forever. Everything outside of us didn't matter.

Well, that wasn't true. Stella clearing her throat and stomping her foot mattered.

"I'm hungry. Let's go."

She stomped out of the apartment. Blake pulled away, looking at Armando questioningly. "Hart?"

"She's pissed at me. She wants me to go on tour with you guys. I told her I have to stay around for the band."

Blake slapped Armando on the back. "She'll get over it. You know Stell when she's hungry."

"I heard that!" she snapped from the hallway.

We all headed to the elevator. "Did you call Julian?" I asked Blake, my concern for my sister bringing me back to reality. Maybe I should check my messages at least.

He placed his hand at the base of my neck, massaging it gently. God, he always had to be touching me. Not that I minded. Especially at this moment, but it made it hard to concentrate.

"I talked to him. He took your sister out to eat then drove her home before depositing her at her photo studio. He said she was going to do some work."

I relaxed. Good. She listened for once. I could enjoy today without worry. For now, at least. Though I couldn't wait to grill her about what happened last night. Julian drove her home?

Our meal flew by as the four of us enjoyed the food and company at a nearby restaurant. I was recognized, but not by many people. The waitresses had me sign a few things for some of the staff members and that was it.

Afterwards, I impulsively grabbed Stella's arm, pulling her away from Armando. "We'll see you two later."

"We will?" she asked in surprise.

"We will."

She stared at me for a moment before turning to give her brother an evil grin. "I'm going to tell her all sorts of embarrassing stories about you."

The smooth Blake Hawkins actually looked nervous. He stared worriedly at Stella for a moment before forcing a grin. "Fine. I'll just te-"

Stella snorted and cut him off. "You'll what? Tell Armando all my embarrassing stories? You forget that he's been there for all of them."

I laughed. As soon as the two of us were away from them, I turned to Stella. "Okay, I have a plan."

"I don't know you well enough yet to know if this is good or bad."

I laughed. "Probably both. I thought we could go shopping."

"Shopping," Stella repeated slowly. "I can do that."

"Good. We're going to get some killer outfits so we can knock the socks off those two arrogant boys."

Stella laughed. "Killer outfits and me don't really go together. I like comfortable clothes."

"One night won't hurt. And I think we should go lingerie shopping."

Stella looked at me. She took a deep breath before nodding. "I do need to pull out some tricks to convince him to come along with me."

"He has a point you know," I said quietly, unsure if I should be offering her advice or not. "I know it's not the same thing at all, but when we finally made it big, I wanted my sister to come with me, just like you. I was trying to force her to break away from this guy she was seeing. She knew it. She yelled and refused to do what I wanted. In the end, she made the choice to leave him and finally grow up on her own. Forcing her on tour with me would probably have prolonged the relationship. Maybe she would still be with him otherwise. It definitely would have pushed us apart though."

"I worry about leaving him," she said with a heavy sigh. "For so long I was just Blake's sister. I mean, he told me he always felt this way, but it's so hard to trust in it. I know he's it, but I'm still scared."

"Then you need to make sure he never forgets you!"

"What about you? I don't think you need help keeping my brother's attention."

I shrugged. "Hell, it never hurts. Plus, I always feel much more confident with some good underwear on underneath."

Stella opened the door to Victoria's Secret. "Alexis definitely doesn't hold a candle to you." She shared her brother's intuition.

"Sometimes that doesn't matter."

The two of us shopped and my opinion of Stella grew. She would pick up certain bras and cross the store just to show them to me, laughing at certain styles she thought were ridiculous. In the end, both of us left with several new additions, though I did splurge a more than her.

We continued our shopping spree around center city, going to cheaper stores like H & M to more expensive places like Juicy Couture. I loved it. I hadn't been shopping for myself in such a long time. I had forgotten what it was like. I definitely went overboard but it was fun to do so. I even managed to convince Stella to let me buy her some things as well. She kept protesting, stating she wouldn't have me buy her friendship. I informed her she could still not like me but I needed insane amounts of clothes to piss off my manager and she would be doing me a favor. The idea of annoying Karl with my sudden individuality hadn't been my original plan, but after the words left my mouth, I knew I had to make a stand. I was taking back my life whether he wanted me to or not.

We arrived back at their apartment bogged down with our purchases several hours later.

"Dear lord, Stella shopped?" Blake asked in horror.

I headed into their living room. Blake and Armando were there, hanging out with Julian. My interest increased. What happened between him and my sister?

Blake gestured to my room. "Put it wherever. You can try it all on for me later."

I laughed. "Why would I do that?"

"I saw Victoria Secret, sex kitten."

I blushed, not replying. I didn't want to encourage him in front of his friends.

I tossed my bags on his bed with my jacket and purse. I finally caved in to my curiosity. I picked up my phone from his bedside table. I turned it on. Instead of checking the numerous text messages and voice mails, I called Lars.

"Did he kidnap you?" he quipped when he answered his phone.

"You wish!" I laughed. "I'm not listening to my messages. They are probably all Karl crying because I'm ignoring him. I just wanted to say hi and check in."

"Thanks Princess. I miss you when you aren't around."

I groaned. "Oh no. I know that tone. What do you need?"

He sighed. "I kind of screwed up."

"You're scaring me. What happened?"

"Remember that interview I went to? It was with Zoey Jane. Remember her?"

"Your crush from high school? The one who butchered your musical skills in her high school article about us? How could I forget her? She was awesome back then. You told me about your interview with her the other day and how you shared."

"Karl tossed her under the bus. I told him before she went to press. He got her fired."

My voice rose in disbelief. "What? What the hell is he doing? How could he fire her?"

"He has pull at Rolling Stone. Said it was a bunch of lies and we'd never give them another interview if they printed it."

Karl had some nerve. "How are we fixing this?" It didn't matter if I was ready or not to go public. I couldn't let Karl get away with his highhanded attitude anymore.

Lars took a deep breath. I was getting more nervous by the second. "She was really pissed. She wants to do another interview with both of us. She wants free reign to ask whatever she wants with a tape recorder this time or even doing this on air with MTV."

I bit my lip, looking out of Blake's bedroom to where he sat with his friends, hanging out and having fun. "Book it. And if we're going to this, we may as well go all the way. MTV it is."

"Serious?"

"I'm sick of the lies. Let's get it all out. If we lose our fans, so what? We've got the money. We've seen the world. Fame like this is too stressful. We'll finally be able to do what we want when we want if everyone hates us."

Lars chuckled. "Blake's good for you. I forgot you used to be as crazy as your sister once."

"Did you ask her out?"

"Your sister?"

"Zoey!"

"Why would I do that?" Lars replied, evading the question.

"Because you've been crushing on her for years. You wussed out in high school."

"You were my girlfriend back then."

I dismissed his comment. "Semantics. So?"

"She said no. She doesn't date playboys. I don't think she believes that we are really broken up. I think the story she thinks she has is that I'm a two-timer."

I snorted. "While true, even you wouldn't lie about us not dating to get a chick."

"I'm not a playboy!"

I laughed. "Lars, you are definitely a playboy. You need to get a good woman. Set up a time and I'll talk you up to Zoey."

"She's still a sexy librarian."

My laughter grew. "I can't believe you have a thing for sexy librarians who scold you."

"We're going to a bar later. You guys joining us?"

"Probably. I'll talk to Blake. Is Mer with you?" I bit my lip. "I really like us now."

He didn't need to ask what I meant. Our relationship was much easier with the lies behind us. "Me too. Me too."

"Is Mer with you?"

"She's safely tucked in a room. No need to worry."

I hung up the phone, heading out to the living room. Blake frowned when he saw the phone in my hand. It began to ring. I looked at the caller ID and silenced it as soon as I saw Karl's name. He smiled in relief.

I took a seat next to him. "Good news. I'm a single woman."

Julian smirked. "Blake will help you change that."

Armando laughed.

"I thought you already were a single woman?" Stella asked, her eyes narrowing.

"I have been but Lars and I, we're taking this public."

"Really?" Blake asked, his surprise evident.

I nodded. "Lars has a thing for this reporter. He likes the literary types."

"Lars?" Blake, Stella, Armando and Julian all asked at the same time.

"I know, right? He digs librarians."

"Why did you two date for so long?" Blake asked. "You're definitely not a librarian. Sex kitten sure, but no shrinking wallflower."

I wrinkled my nose. "Not wallflowers. Just more women who are all business. You know, black skirt, blouse with hair pulled back? It's probably because he needs someone to take charge of him."

"A dominatrix," Julian stated.

Armando grinned. "Glad to hear that. Stella, you're safe from him if that's what he likes."

Stella leaned into Armando, smiling up at him. "You're still worried? I thought you liked him."

Armando put an arm around her shoulders. "Doesn't mean I want him flirting with you all tour. I would prefer to hide you away from both him and Kevin."

"So, you're going to officially be single?" Blake asked. "I'll be able to actually date the Isabelle Reid without worry?"

I grinned. "Soon enough. I'm nervous but really excited as well." My phone began to ring once again. Karl. I silenced the call. "Karl is flipping out. He doesn't want us ruining his whole fairytale image."

"I'll help you ruin your image," Blake said with a smile. Oh, those dimples.

Julian laughed. "I bet you will. So are you guys hanging out later?"

I looked to Blake. "Lars mentioned going out. You want to?"

Blake tucked a stray hair behind my ear. "Yes. It's an open mic night."

My eyes widened in delight. "Seriously? We have to go. It is so much fun."

Blake looked at his friends, his surprise as well as theirs evident.

"You don't understand. Lars ends up being a ton of fun. He makes the entire bar an organized chorus. It is a blast. It's like an impromptu jam session mixed in with people showcasing their original stuff. I wonder if Mer knows. She has to go!"

Julian spoke up. "She mentioned that she would be going."

I turned my stare to him, smiling my Cheshire Cat grin. "Oh really? I heard you two hung out last night."

Julian nodded. "That we did."

I looked at Stella who nodded sympathetically. "It's hard getting gossip out of him."

"She stayed over?"

He just nodded.

If he was going to be evasive, I would take matters into my own hands. "I'll just call her then."

Julian didn't bat an eye. I dialed Mercedes number, getting up and heading into the dining room. Julian's stare followed me.

"Izzy! There you are," she exclaimed.

Like I was the one who stayed at some stranger's house. "There you are! I heard about you staying over at Julian's house."

"Lars and his big mouth," she grumbled.

I was going to enjoy this. "Not this time. I heard from Julian."

Mercedes quickly replied. "Really? He was talking about me?"

My sister actually like a boy. I was going to have to be just like her and push and push till she finally caved and spilled. "Maybe. I'll share after you tell me what happened between you two."

She groaned. "No way are we doing this over the phone. Tear yourself away from lover boy and come see me. I want to hear all about how wonderful he is in bed."

"Mercedes!" I looked up, not surprised to see Blake eavesdropping from the kitchen. He winked. "I'm not calling to gossip. Besides, if I go to the hotel I'll be trapped. Karl has left a ton of messages on my phone. He's probably furious about the interview."

"You?"

This wasn't interesting to talk about. I wanted to talk about boys. Too bad the boys were now congregating in the kitchen, a few feet from me. Julian had joined Blake, grabbing a drink from the fridge.

"Happy. It is a big relief. It will get it all out in the open. Then I won't have to worry about being in public with Blake." Though he was talking with Julian, his grin grew at my comment. Yes, he definitely was listening.

"So the two of you are planning on being in public together then?"

"Later, okay?"

"He's right there?"

"Yep," was my quick reply.

"So, what did Julian have to say about me?"

"I knew you were interested!" I exclaimed victoriously.

"Hey, keep those thoughts to yourself. I don't want your new guy blabbing to his friend that I have a thing for him."

"He won't have to. Julian is sitting right here." Technically he was standing, but it didn't matter. The smirk on his face meant he had heard my comments and put two and two together. My sister was certainly in trouble now.

"Izzy! You are talking about him to me in front of him! You are going to make me look like an idiot. I don't need this today."

My happiness flew out the window. Russell. "Why? What happened?" She was quiet for a moment. It was a moment too long. "And don't say nothing happened. I'm not an idiot. You've got a tone."

"There is no tone." She was defensive. What could have happened? "You are an idiot." She sighed. "Don't go getting all excited. I was just talking with the manager of the photo gallery and she told me about how she is the sister of the drummer in Blake's band."

"So?" I prodded. What did this have to do with Russell?

"So, she told me about her two sisters who are enamored with men in bands. The one has a crush on Kevin and then she told me her other sister had a thing for Julian."

I laughed yet again. This was what she was hiding? "I knew it!"

"Don't get all excited. I was just weird about it since we made out today. I wasn't expecting it."

"You what?" I exclaimed. I looked to the kitchen but Julian had returned to the living room with Blake.

She groaned. "Damn. I didn't mean to let that slip."

"This is great news! I'm so proud of you." I was. My sister might finally be ready to move on from her old relationship.

"Seriously, Iz? If Julian is sitting right next to you, I would really prefer not to have you make statements like that. The next thing I know you're going to be singing 'Julian and Mercedes sitting in a tree'."

"K-I-S-S-I-N-G," I taunted.

"I'm hanging up."

"No, don't. I'm in the kitchen by myself. We are going to have to talk about this you know."

"Well, I'm in a big fluffy robe. You can come to me."

"But you want to see Julian and he's here," I retorted but my reply was lost on her. She was speaking to someone else.

"Uh-oh Iz. I better go. Kevin walked in and he looks evil."

"Get dressed. I told Kevin he isn't allowed to see you naked," I joked. I looked up, startled to see Julian staring intently at me. The look in his eyes was definitely not friendly. He abruptly turned around, heading back to the living room. Whatever reason he had for coming here was lost.

"I think Julian is jealous," I said quietly.

"What?" Mercedes asked dubiously. "Jealous of you and Blake?"

"No! He came out and heard me make that remark about Kevin. He stormed out of here in a huff." At least her feelings were returned.

"Not now, Kev! He stormed out? He couldn't be jealous."

I didn't get to respond as Kevin began speaking on the other end of the line. "Isabelle! Karl is going crazy looking for you." He didn't give me a chance to speak. He rambled on, speaking fast. "Lars threatened to take his tie and choke him. We're falling apart. I'm in a hotel room with your sister naked! We need you to keep us in check."

Mercedes came back on the line before I could reply. "Kevin, get out of here now before I punch you in the face. I'm relaxing."

I could hear him over the phone taunting her. "You're primping for your new man. I've never seen you primp for a boy before."

"Get out before I kick you in the balls," she threatened.

She returned to the phone. "He finally left." Her mind hadn't strayed far from what we were speaking about before. "Julian acted jealous?"

"Yes, he did," I answered distractedly. I was more concerned with what Kevin said. "Was he serious?"

"Was who serious?" she asked confused.

"Kevin! Is it really bedlam over there?"

She groaned. "Don't worry Izzy! Kevin exaggerates. Look, I think Lars is going to some open mic tonight. Why don't you join us? Karl won't be there and you can check in with everyone."

"I think we will. Julian was over inviting all of us anyway."

She sounded pleased. "Good. I get to see your new boy in person. I didn't get the chance to properly grill him last night."

That was what she was pleased about? Not the fact that her crush would be attending? "Don't you dare, Mercedes! I'll spill the juicy gossip to Julian if you do."

I hung up with her, a smile on my face. Blake came into the room, running his hands up and down my arms. "What did you say to piss Jules off?" he asked. "He's very grumpy."

My grin grew. "I think he's jealous."

Blake laughed. "Julian is never jealous."

"He is now. I made a joke about Kevin and Mercedes and he stomped out of the room."

"It was a joke?" Julian asked, appearing behind Blake.

Blake moved to stand at my side, his arm touching mine. "Yes. The two of them are close but that's it. It's like Lars and Mercedes. They're like siblings."

Julian relaxed. "Oh. Well, I wasn't that jealous."

Blake laughed. "Damn! You were pissed because of that?"

Julian shrugged, his easygoing manner returning. "I guess I was a little bit." He motioned to the front door. "I'm rounding up Cooper and Neil. I'll meet you guys there, okay?"

Blake nodded. As soon as we were alone, Blake wrapped his arms around me, pulling me into his tight embrace. "I've been wanting to do this all day."

I rested my head on his chest, listening to his steady heartbeat. "I'm sure this isn't what you have been wanting to do all day," I joked.

He tucked a finger under my chin, lifting my face to meet his. "I'm certainly wanted more, but this was up there." He leaned down, kissing me softly. It was such a sweet tender kiss. He was doing a damn fine job of getting me to fall head over heels for him. I really needed to put up my guard. I was going to get hurt. I knew all of this, but the stars were back. I couldn't seem to care about the aftershocks of this fling. I wanted it all. The tenderness, the loving gestures, the passionate embraces, everything that was him.

"You're spoiling me," I said softly, my lips inches from him.

"Good." He kissed me again. "That is a very good response." I fell further into his embrace as he fell further into my heart.