Bob Seger belted out loudly – urging me to take those old records off the shelf and made me wince. I pulled my pillow over my head to block out the noise but my mother was relentless. And I really, honestly detested that song.

I knew it was time for a new pillow when I was able to hear the timid rap at my door. So much for all that fluffy filling blocking out the world. I groaned and sat up, kicking my blankets to the foot of my bed. "Come in," I shouted.

The door creaked open a smidgen and a tuft of red hair was visible through the crack. I giggled. "Tommy, just come in already. I'm decent."

My little cousin forced the door open and peeked shyly at me. He did this every time my mother played music – the loud noise frightened him and he'd come to me for comfort.

His airplane pajamas were faded and rumpled and showed quite a bit of his ankles but he didn't seem to notice. He smiled when he realized I was telling the truth and I was indeed wearing pajamas and not running around my room scantily clad or nude – not like I did that on a regular basis.

"We have school," he said simply, standing in the doorway. "Aunt Mina is playing loud music and we have school." His freckled nose crunched up in distaste and confusion. Tommy hated to have his morning routine broken by the slightest thing.

"I'll ask her to turn it off, okay Tommy?" I asked gently as I tousled his hair.

He nodded and slipped his hand in mine. "Breakfast?"

"Sure," I said. "Waffles today? It is Monday after all."

His smile was answer enough so I led him down the stairs, wincing again as Mick Jaggar slyly requested some woman to start him up.

My mother loved music – especially the classics. She'd spent her youth bouncing from garage band to garage band, singing and shaking her ass for all it was worth. She'd always dreamed of being on stage in some skimpy outfit with electric guitars screaming behind her and fans cheering in front of her. When that didn't work out, she'd settled for following her favorite band around the country. That was where she met my father. Unfortunately for her –and me, too, I suppose – she just couldn't remember which one helped in my conception. Oh, she narrowed it down to three or four and for that I suppose I was grateful.

I tugged Tommy through the cramped living room and dropped his hand as I marched over to the CD player and pressed the stop button. Blessed silence greeted my ears and I glanced at Tommy and smiled. "Better?'

He nodded.

"Hey! What happened to the music?" my mother asked, frowning as she entered the room. She was still as beautiful as I imagined she'd been in high school with dark blonde hair, thin waist and long legs. She had a pert nose and pretty blue eyes. I was fortunate to have inherited all of her features except the long legs and the large bust – but I wasn't complaining. I didn't need beauty – I needed the brains that I must have inherited from my grandparents. Intelligence and an excellent college degree were what I'd use to get through life. I loved my mother fiercely but I refused to turn into her.

"Tommy didn't like it so loud," I said as I took Tommy's hand again. "It's a school morning, remember? He likes waffles and cartoons."

"Oh, Tommy baby," my mother crooned as she hugged him. "I forgot, darling. Go turn on your cartoons and I'll fix your waffles."

I flashed my mother a grateful smile as we both headed to the kitchen. Thomas was a responsibility my mother definitely didn't need but she would never give him up. Aunt Gloria – my mother's older sister – was even flightier than my mother. She showed up at our door one day about three years ago with an adorable, red-headed little boy and handed him over to my mother. Aunt Gloria just couldn't handle raising a child and especially one with special needs. After Tommy had been with us a few months, I urged my mother to take him to the doctor where he was later diagnosed with a mild case of OCD. That, combined with his red hair and freckles, made him a perfect target on the playground. Luckily for us, Tommy had some strange friendship going on with Gabriel Madison who was rumored to be the elementary school bully. He kept a close eye on Tommy and never let anyone touch him.

"Are you excited about starting college today?" my mother asked as she hunted in the freezer for frozen waffles.

I shrugged and grabbed a granola bar. I peeled away the wrapper and nibbled on the end as I contemplated my day. New classes, new friends, new professors – I wasn't sure excited was the word. And the weird thing was that I would be living on campus.

My mother's house was exactly nineteen minutes from the driveway to the Administration Building of Dunne-Browling University and I would have been perfectly happy to commute every day. Unfortunately, I was not footing the bill for this expensive and elaborate school – my grandparents were. They insisted I live in the dorms and experience college life like a coed should. I suspected it was their way of getting me out of my mother's clutches.

"I guess," I mumbled as I finished my granola bar and raced upstairs to shower and change.

All my things were already in my dorm and mostly unpacked. I had intended on sleeping in my new college bed Sunday night but my mother insisted I stay one more evening at home. Like I wouldn't be home on the weekends.

Still, I'd stayed and I was actually grateful I did. Tommy would never open his mouth to tell my mother to shut off the music – instead he would have sat in his room, rocking back and forth on his bed, until she shut it off. And she wouldn't have thought to check on him.

I sighed as I dressed and thought about the schedule I'd posted on the refrigerator.

"Mom, make sure you follow this," I said, tapping the schedule with my finger as I waltzed back in the kitchen. "You know how upset Tommy gets."

"I will, I will," she said, removing Tommy's waffles from the toaster. She dropped them on his favorite soccer plate and buttered and cut them. She squeezed just the right amount of syrup on top then called gently to Tommy. He scuttled into the room and sat in his usual chair at the table.

I glanced at the clock, kissed the top of Tommy's head and snatched my keys off the holder near the back door. "I need to go," I announced. "I want to at least meet my roommates before my first class."

"Oh," my mother said, pressing her hand to her heart. "My little girl is off to college."

I refrained from rolling my eyes and settled for pecking her cheek. "I doubt if I will be home for dinner tonight. I need to get situated."

"Well, call me," she ordered as she clutched the back of Tommy's chair. I promised I would, waved and exited quickly.

I sprinted to my car and nearly squealed out of the driveway. I was on my way to freedom.


"You must be Irelyn Colby," a very slim brunette grinned as I breezed through the dorm room door. I was determined to start this whole new experience off with confidence.

"I would hope," another girl snorted as she lounged on a sofa, dark eyes on the television. "Otherwise, someone made copies of our keys." She stood and smirked, offering me a hand. She had striking features and long, nearly jet black hair. She had exaggerated curves and a pronounced bust – just what I'd always wished I'd had. Her eyes appeared black, too, but as I drew closer I could tell they were just an unusually dark shade of brown. "I'm Bailey Foxworth." She shook my hand and gestured toward the other girl. "That's Morgan Taylor."

"I'm Irelyn," I said, though they already knew that. "It's nice to meet you."

"So, why didn't you sleep here last night?" Morgan asked. She was cute – shoulder length hair, hazel eyes and a slender figure. And a warm, sweet smile.

I grinned sheepishly and dropped to a chair. "It's actually sort of stupid," I admitted. "I live less than twenty miles from here but my grandparents really wanted me to live in the dorms."

Bailey snorted and shared my disdainful smile. "Ah, the adults – always know what's best for us, don't they?"

"So they think," I mumbled.


I adjusted to my classes rather quickly – though I'd always been sort of a nerd. I made a few tentative friends and agreed to join a study group. Life was settling in to be comfortable.

Neither of my roommates were in my classes but we always managed to gather in the evenings and watch reality shows or just talk about the new people we'd met. Neither one of the girls had a steady boyfriend – although Bailey had plenty of experience – and they loved to question me about my eighteen month relationship with Dustin Summerlin.

The other girls had adjusted to college life, too, and often had adventurous stories to tell me every Monday when I returned to the dorm. While I spent my weekends with Mom and Tommy, and having dinner at the country club with Dustin, they spent theirs meeting interesting people and attending fun parties.

One Thursday night about a month after the semester started, we huddled in our pajamas on the cozy sofa Bailey's parents had paid for and ignored the TV as Morgan bounced up and down, exciting news ready to burst from her lips.

"This girl, Candace Harvey, she's in my Lit class," Morgan gushed, her cheeks flushed and her eyes bright. "She said that everyone is going to Rusty's tomorrow night. Apparently, Out Back is playing and she said we should go check it out."

My brow furrowed as I tried to grasp her words. It was a difficult task due to all the bouncing that made her speech a little hard to follow. "Okay, call me stupid but what is Rusty's and what is Out Back?"

Bailey clamped her hands on Morgan's shoulders and forced her to sit still. She turned her beautiful eyes on me as her luscious lips curled into a smirk. "Rusty's is a bar and Out Back is a local band. I've heard them - they're pretty good- and word around campus is that they've made quite the name for themselves in the area."

"Candace says local critics have compared them to Fall Out Boy and Linkin Park," Morgan squealed.

I stifled a groan and nodded. I wasn't much into modern music as my mother gave me daily doses of classics. Aerosmith I knew – Fall Out Boy, or whatever, not so much. I was a little leery to reveal my ignorance so I just nodded my head. "Cool."

"We should so go," Morgan said. "It'll be great."

I definitely wasn't excited about the prospect of spending a Friday night in a cramped bar with a bunch of drunk college kids puking and screaming while a band did their best to imitate their idols. If that were the case, I could go home and help Mom out in the pub she managed.

"I'm in," Bailey said with a shrug. I'd only known her a short time but I could tell that she was already planning to hook up with some guy for the night. She glanced at me and my heart jumped – I thought she'd read my mind. "You in, Irelyn?"

It was on the tip of my tongue to bow out but I really wanted to fit in here. I wanted to make friends and do well in my classes and start my life. Besides, what would it hurt? I didn't have to drink and it wasn't like I was going to guy hunt. I smiled, suddenly eager. "Yeah, sure. I'm not going to see Dustin this weekend, anyway."


I nearly changed my mind when we pulled up to the bar Friday night. The place was packed and the girls had dressed me in a short, tight skirt and a shirt that dipped far too low in my opinion.

I took a deep breath and tossed my blonde hair over my shoulders. I was determined to have fun and maybe have a funny story to tell Dustin when I called him Saturday.

"Let's go," Morgan said eagerly as she took my hand.

Bailey rolled her eyes and strolled casually behind us. "Morgan, quit acting like a virgin looking to get laid and relax. The band doesn't go on for twenty minutes yet."

In the pale light, I could see color touch Morgan's cheeks but the smile never left her face. I was a little surprised because she struck me as more like my type – quiet, studious and not much of a party person.

The bar was larger than it appeared outside. A bar stretched across the back, dirty-mirrored wall. Every stool was full and three harried waitresses scurried among the thirty or so square tables, delivering drinks and collecting tips.

A stage was positioned opposite the bar and a drum kit already sat waiting, along with two microphone stands and a couple of guitars. I didn't see any band members anywhere though I was probably looking for someone with long hair wearing spandex - my mother's type of band members. I wasn't really sure what people who played in bands looked like these days – even guys who were only known in my little corner of the world.

"There's a table!" Morgan shouted above the din and dragged me to the corner of the stage. Empty bottles and overflowing ashtrays covered the top but the chairs were empty so we snagged them.

A waitress floated over and cleared the mess with a meager smile. Bailey ordered a whiskey and soda while Morgan and I just ordered soda. Bailey gave us one of her fabulous eye rolls and informed us that we would be drinking something with a little more kick by the end of the night. I hesitated to tell her that the hardest drink I'd ever had was a little red wine with dinner at my grandparents' house. The look on Morgan's face told me that she was in the same boat as me.

I didn't dwell on the drink situation because the house lights flickered on and off as three guys jumped on the stage. The bar patrons went wild and I straightened, ready to see what the fuss was all about.

Once the spotlight hit the lead singer, my breath left me in one loud whoosh. Luckily, the music so loud that no one noticed. I finished my soda as my eyes drank in the lean form strumming his fingers manically over the guitar strings and singing with his mouth provocatively close to the microphone.

He wasn't as tall as Dustin in my estimation but he was thinner. He'd ripped the sleeves off his black t-shirt and revealed a decent muscular build. His hair was sandy brown and gelled in a messy fashion and his eyes reflected the spotlight – their color still unknown to me.

He definitely wasn't as clean-cut handsome as Dustin but something about him attracted me like bees to honey and all those other cheesy sayings. I closed my eyes and listened to his voice as I imagined being wrapped in his arms on some lumpy mattress in a smoky hotel room.

I sighed and opened my eyes, my cheeks burning. My greatest ambition was to be a writer and I often found myself letting my imagination run away in situations like this. But this man singing was the epitome of any leading man I'd ever conjured.

By the time the band started their second set, I was on my second vodka and cranberry juice, compliments of Bailey. And it wasn't too bad. It at least helped me relax and enjoy the music.

My pulse shot through my veins when the band started a ballad and the lead singer's eyes met mine. His lips curled in a sardonic smile as his gaze remained fixed on mine. My heart thumped in my throat and I couldn't move. I understood immediately how a rabbit felt when it hopped innocently into the path of a rattlesnake.

Bailey chuckled and rested her arm on the back of my chair. She leaned in close to me and whispered in my ear. "I think Lucas likes you."

"Huh?" I asked, still mesmerized by the man on the stage.

She laughed and shook my shoulders. "Lucas, the lead singer," she said a little louder. I snapped my head in her direction as my jaw fell. She stuck her index finger under my chin and closed my mouth. "You'll catch flies."

"What are you talking about?" I managed to utter.

She laughed again, her dark eyes filled with amusement. She nodded at the stage and I chanced a quick look over my shoulder but the lead singer's eyes were darting throughout the crowd. "His name is Lucas and he can't stop looking at you."

But…but…" I stammered. "I have a boyfriend." I winced as I heard the stupid words fall out of my mouth. The lead singer, er, Lucas, wouldn't know about Dustin. An electric thrill zipped through my body. Maybe it was the alcohol. "What should I do?"

"Smile at him," she said with a lift to her shoulder. She leaned back confidently in her chair and lowered her lids. "And not an idiotic smile."

I nodded, slightly doubtful. It wasn't cheating, right? Just flirting. I tossed back the remainder of my drink and motioned for the waitress to bring us all another round. My heart was free and I was feeling adventurous. I wanted to be able to giggle and laugh with my friends on Monday as we relived the weekend together.

The band ended their performance to raucous applause and Bailey nudged me annoyingly. "Go say hi," she said. With Dutch courage, I scooted my chair back clumsily and made my way through the hordes of fans anxious to congratulate the guys. By the time I reached the stage, the guys were gone. I heaved a sigh and perched on the edge, dejected. I glanced at our table and blinked rapidly, trying to focus, and found a few brave guys congregating around Bailey and Morgan. I sighed again and considered either grabbing a cab or getting another drink when someone sat beside me and offered me a glass.

"Cranberry and vodka," he said with a hint of an accent. "That's what Marissa said you were drinking."

I looked into the soulful brown eyes of Lucas, the lead singer. I smiled, hoping it wasn't idiotic, and accepted the drink. "Thanks. Um, Marissa, whoever she is, was right."

He smiled and I immediately fell in love with his mouth. His teeth were perfectly straight and amazingly white and his eyes crinkled in the corners. "I'm Lucas, by the way. Lucas Newton."

"Um, Irelyn Colby," I said and sipped my drink. "You guys are really good."

"Thanks. Glad you enjoyed the show."

I inched closer, not able to help myself. His grin widened as he planted a palm on the stage right behind me. He inclined his head closer and his beer breath tickled my ear. "It's sort of stuffy in here – want to go grab some air?"

"Yeah," I said a little too quickly. "Sure."

He plucked the drink from my hand, set it on the stage and laced his fingers through mine. He stood and led me through a narrow hall and into an alley. The air had a bit of a bite to it and I shivered. He pushed me against the brick building and rubbed my arms, trying to create a little friction. I could have told him that his touch was enough to heat my insides but I was enjoying his hands on my body far more than I should.

"Better?" he asked with raised brow. Before I could nod, his lips were on mine. I clutched his t-shirt and wrinkled it in my fists as I returned his kiss. When his tongue traced my bottom lip, I groaned and my knees buckled. He grabbed my hips and pulled me to his body. My hands climbed his chest and laced behind his head. I couldn't believe this was happening but I didn't want it to stop. Never had so much passion raced through my body – even when Dustin and I let things get out of hand.

"Want to take this inside?" he asked as he dragged his lips from mine and trailed them along my jaw. I lifted my neck so he could reach my throat.

"Yes," I gasped.

"If you're sure," he mumbled. He edged back and his glossy eyes bored into mine.

I already missed his touch. "I'm sure."

His lips returned to my neck. I could feel his smile on my skin as he steered my body up a set of metal stairs. I held tight to his shoulders so I wouldn't fall and clung to his body as he dug a key out of his jeans pocket and unlocked a door.

I barely registered where we were as he backed me into another room. I fell on a mattress and yanked him on top of me. I felt like an animal that had escaped from a lifelong imprisonment as he resumed his frantic kisses. The heat from his body was scorching and I happily helped him remove my clothes.

As heated as our kisses had been, I expected the sex to be the same way. But it wasn't. Lucas slowed his pace and left not one inch of my body unexplored. When he finally took me, every nerve in my body was on edge and aching for him.

Afterwards, he dropped beside me, his chest heaving. I was having the same struggles with my breath – and with my guilt. What had I done?

A/N: This chapter pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the story. If it offends you, I apologize and recommend you don't read the story. I promise it won't get too graphic.

Anyway, the epilogue for RTC will be up Monday. Thanks for reading and have a great weekend.