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Paying Her Dues (Price of Love) by Dani Wyatt Book

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Paying Her Dues (Price of Love) by Dani Wyatt Read Book Online And Download

Overview: It’s my eighteenth birthday and you know what I got from my parents?


Nothing. Crickets. They totally forgot.


They are so focused on making sure I earn first chair in the local symphony, I can’t even tell them the conductor promises I’ll do well in my audition, if I give him a private performance playing his instrument instead of my violin.


So, I take my birthday celebration into my own hands and tip back a few too many lime-a-ritas with my best friend. Enter an SOS call to his father for a ride home and well…let’s just say I leave my inhibitions back at the bar.


What’s worse is my best friend’s father is also my father’s best friend and the source of every naughty fantasy I’ve ever had.


He’s older and wiser. He’s tattoos and rough edges and everything I shouldn’t want.


But, I do. So, so much.


Turns out, he’s been doing some wanting of his own and before I can blow out my candles, I’m up against the wall in my birthday suit and he’s giving me a gift that rocks my world.


He’s taking what he wants, and this is turning into the best birthday ever. Only, when our secret is exposed, will it destroy our families…or us?


Paying Her Dues (Price of Love) by Dani Wyatt Book Read Online And Download Epub Digital Ebooks Buy Store Website Provide You.
Paying Her Dues (Price of Love) by Dani Wyatt Book





Paying Her Dues (Price of Love) by Dani Wyatt Book Read Online Chapter One


Jess



Today should be different. Bigger, somehow. A day upon which I launch myself into the abyss of adulthood.


But, it’s not.


It’s my 18th birthday but also, Tuesday means two hours of violin lessons, forty-five minutes in the car, and a whole night of orchestra practice. The car ride to the hall with my parents isn’t over yet, and I’m already dizzy with tiredness.


And I’m hungry. So hungry.


I’m also hot, and North Carolina humidity makes leather seats squeaky, sticky, and uncomfortable. Right now I’m in the backseat of my parents’ Range Rover, feeling slightly carsick; Dad is driving, Mom is shotgun-driving. I watch her foot push on an imaginary brake as she nervously rubs the pad of her thumb over her perfectly manicured nails.


My stomach makes a rude gurgling sound and I suck in my belly. “Mom. Do we have anything to eat?”


Without turning to face me, she plucks a Ziploc bag out of her purse and tosses it back to me.


Celery. Again. For crying out loud. “Anything with any flavor? Or anything with nutritional value?”


“Eat your celery, young lady. And put those ear buds in. That lesson was a disaster. You’ve got a long way to go.”


I swallow a groan. The reason the lesson didn’t go so well is that my stupid fingers were bleeding because she made me practice for four hours and sixteen minutes yesterday, which I told her was a Very Bad Idea. But did she listen? Oh no she did not. As freaking usual.


I press my thumb against the pad of my first finger. Hardly more than a papercut, but super painful. From my backpack I grab a Band-Aid and some antibiotic cream. My mom turns slightly and her eyes flash.


“Make sure that isn’t the numbing kind! We can’t have your fingers numb for practice.”


Correction. We can’t have our fingers any way at all because they are my fingers. I dab the antibiotic cream on and wrap it with a Band-Aid pre-treated with an analgesic agent. I am all about the little rebellions these days, even if they come in the form of basic first aid.


“It’s not the numbing kind. See?”


I hold the tube up for her and she squints. She’s way too vain for glasses and she has to keep her face pinched up like that half the time. It makes my heart hurt.


She used to be lovely and soft and wonderful. She used to remember my birthdays and let me eat like a normal girl. But slowly she’s hardened and now she’s got so many brittle edges that I hardly recognize her anymore.


She is all about control. And my dad, he’s all about making my mom happy. But my dad is softer and kinder, less obsessed with my music, and never focused on my weight. And yet not strong enough to stand up to my mom, either.


I guess it’s tricky for them in some ways. I have a talent, a real talent, or so I’ve been told since I was barely five. And since I was five, my mom has treated my music like her own personal obsession.


At first cradling it, fostering it, but then slowly controlling it, judging it, managing it. And so now, she really is more my manager than my mom. I don’t think I need a manager, and I sure do miss my mom.


Her obsession with my music got so intense that my parents held me back a year in seventh grade to give me the best chance possible at a stellar music career. But it also means I had to repeat seventh grade, which was miserable. And now it means I’m a year older than all my friends, but not in a cool kind of way.


More in an ugly-duckling-never-a-swan kind of way. That’s how it feels, anyway.


I shove a piece of celery in my mouth, and as I chew, I indulge in a soon-to-be-realized fantasy. The one good thing about orchestra practices is that there are no parents allowed in the building.


It’s the top orchestra in the area, and at some point, somewhere along the line, the orchestra founders realized that we young musicians feel much more comfortable without our parents hovering around us constantly, constantly, constantly. So for four hours twice a week, we’re free.


And so even though it’s hard and tiring work, it’s a little slice of something better than this.


Next to me, in an actual freaking car seat, sits my violin, strapped in with its own seatbelt. It’s the most expensive thing in our house, except for our house itself. And I love my violin. With all my heart. But sometimes I wish I could just scoop her up in my arms and…


…. Run.


But that’s not an option. Because I have no money. And no car. And no control. All I’ve got are my music, my private thoughts, and my little rebellions.


Here’s another one. When I am at orchestra practice, my mom allows me two bottles of water, that I pay for at the vending machines with the debit card she gives me. Two-fifty a pop equals five dollars. If I spend more than that, I’m in trouble. But do you know what else equals five dollars?


A bag of M&Ms and a bag of pretzels. Woot!


I munch my celery and imagine sweet and salty goodness coming my way. I sigh and watch the world whiz past. Wild hydrangeas in bloom streak along at 70 miles an hour, fuzzy comets of white.


With a stick of celery pinned between my teeth, I fish my earbuds from my bag and put them in. Then I unlock my phone. My mom turns to watch me. “The Paganini. On repeat. Show me.”


I suppress an eye roll and nod. I flip open my music app and star the Paganini. It’s pretty, or it was, until Mom decided it was what I’d be playing for my chair tryouts. Now it’s only this-much-better than nails on a chalkboard. I show her my phone screen and she settles in to her seat, foot still pumping her imaginary brake.


Once she looks away, I make two quick swipes of my thumb. And just like that, Paganini turns into Taylor Swift. Yessssssssss.


I close my eyes and let T Swift transport me to another life, where I can do what I want and eat what I want and live like I want. Where I wear cozy sweats and get gel manicures and have winged eyeliner. But through her sweet, sweet singing, all poppy and peppy and unclassical, I hear my parents talking. And then I hear the magic word.


Mike.


I swallow hard. Just his name drives me absolutely bananas. I tap my phone to pause T Swift. Because that’s how much I want to know about Mike. He beats T Swift. Every. Single. Time.


Dad is talking. “Mike is on top of it, Janet. I’ve seen the financials. Fantastic ROI, low risk. You know he knows what he’s doing. You know we’re going to make a killing at it.”


Mom clucks her tongue and looks up at the sunroof. “I know, Ben. But self-storage? Really. Really? How am I going to tell my bridge partners that with a straight face?”


Dad grumbles and changes lanes to get around someone learning to drive. Like I probably never, ever will. “You can tell them whatever you want, Janet. All the way to the bank.”


Mike is my dad’s investment partner, but he is so very much the opposite of my dad. My dad is loafers and golf shorts and aftershave. Mike? Mike is jeans and big boots and motorcycles. And a beard.


And tattoos.


My dad has been henpecked into submission by my mom. But Mike, Mike is single, and as cocky as rooster.


Cocky.


Cock-y.


Cock.


I feel a honey-warmth fill my body. Instinctively, I press the cold celery bag into the V of my lap trying to cool down the throb between my legs.


I haven’t always felt this way about Mike. He’s my best friend’s dad, actually, and for years he’s been nothing more than a kind-of uncle to me. The sort of uncle you have a girl-kind of crush on but never really understood what it meant.


But in the last year or so, I’ve noticed things I never noticed before. Muscles. And veins. And cologne. And in the last few weeks, as I’ve gotten closer to my birthday, I’ve noticed a new way he has of looking at me. A certain twinkle in his eye. A certain intensity. A certain… heat.


I press the celery against myself a little harder. That heat, I must be imagining it. I must be. Because he’s never done anything to encourage these feelings in my heart. Or this wetness between my legs.


The sound of a motorcycle cuts through the air conditioning and my heart leaps into my throat. I know the sound of his bike; I’d know it anywhere.


And it’s him, with my best friend Sam riding behind him. They’re so cute together. Mike, all big and burly, a former linebacker. And Sam, thin and elegant and oh-so-wonderfully gay.


They wear matching custom black leather motorcycle jackets—Mike’s rippling around his huge muscles, ruched and worn at the creases at his elbow, stretched tight over biceps and his massive, muscular back; Sam’s is delicate and smooth, perfectly fitted, like couture. They are yin and yang. They are the best. I see Sam’s face streak past, beaming, and the two of them disappear between traffic.


He'll beat me to orchestra, as usual, but he’ll be waiting for me as soon as I walk in the door, arms open, and singing, “Yasssss Queen!” Sam is only in orchestra because I am, and because it’s some of the only quality time we get to spend together during the week. He’s been playing since he was around ten but it’s not his passion like it is mine.


Or my parents. I’m not sure anymore, it’s hard to differentiate between what I want from what they want.


But, Sam and I make the best of practice time, for sure. And I happen to think we go together just exactly like pretzels and M&Ms.


We are so attached to each other that when my parents held me back, Mike held Sam back, too. It was the nicest thing in the world but Sam also had struggled with a learning disability when he was younger so in essence it was kind but also the right thing for Sam. And it meant I went from the girl who had to repeat seventh grade to girl who had to repeat seventh grade with her best friend. It made all the difference.


I watch Mike weave back and forth between cars, hugging the center line. “No matter how long it’s been, I still can’t believe that man is your business partner and best friend,” mom says, all judgmental and icy. And then turns away in a huff.


I press my thighs together. I honestly can’t believe it either, but I’m so very, very glad. Because I don’t have much of a private life, but whatever I do have in my head that is private features Mike Hawthorn. All. The. Time.


My nipples turn to peaks thinking about him. I’ve indulged fantasies of him for so long but lately, it’s about more. About us. Being us. Him. Being. Mine.


I turn T Swift to a reasonable volume as we near the orchestra building. It’s a concert hall, three towns over from where we live in Cherryville. By this time in the day on Tuesday and Thursdays, the parking lot is empty of staff and visitors. Now rows of white SUVs and over-priced foreign sedans sit tidily in each space, each one holding a pair of helicopter parents, waiting for orchestra to be done, parked as if in suspended animation, with brake lights on and air conditioning running.


I scan the parking lot for Mike’s bike, but of course it isn’t there. He never waits around. He’s got other stuff to do. With bikes. And muscles. And whatever else he’s packing in those jeans of his. God.


We pull up to the loading zone and I unbuckle my violin from her car seat. I glance from my dad to my mom and back again.


Surely, they haven’t completely forgotten today. Surely one of them will remember. Surely my eighteenth isn’t the year when Tuesday means more than birthday. I decide to give them one more chance. “Does anybody know what day it is?” I ask, with my hand on the doorhandle.


My mom shoots me a look over her bony shoulder. “It’s Tuesday. One week until your chair tryouts.”


I nod, let out a sad sigh, and slip out of the door.


Mom says pointing to the Ziploc back on the back seat, “Jess, don’t forget your….”


And I slam the door hard, cutting off the word celery before I lose my freakin’ mind.


 

* * *


Practice goes well—Schubert’s No. 8 in B Minor, the Unfinished—until the very end. Because by the very end, our conductor has been hitting his water bottle of gin and tonic all evening and now he’s getting tipsy. And handsy. His cheeks are flushed with gin-fever redness.


I watch him like a hawk as I carefully pack up my violin, nestling the polished burl wood into its velvet padding. He saunters over to me in uneven steps, leaning on my music stand nearly knocking it over. “So, Jessica.”


I watch him with slow blinks as I rub rosin on my bow. “So, Dr. Markham.”


He sniffs with a smug superiority. He likes that, being called “doctor.” Though I honestly don’t know how a Doctorate in Musical Arts qualities anybody to be called doctor. But whatever. I know full well that it’s best if I stay on his good side, because he will make or break me next week. If I get first chair, it’s my golden ticket to Julliard. If I get second chair, my music career is effectively o-v-e-r.


To be honest, I like the sound of o-v-e-r. But my parents most definitely won’t.


“Next week are your tryouts. How is practice going? Still planning on the Paganini?”


Screeeeeeeech go the nails on the chalkboard in my head. It’s time for another little rebellion. “I’m not so sure, Dr. Markham. The Paganini is coming along. But I’m also working on something else. Something more… daring.”


I note the greedy flash in his glazed eyes. I’ve heard the rumors—there are rumors like this about conductors everywhere. Basically it boils down to this: if you put out, you get moved up. The music business will always be locked in a time before Me Too and HR complains and Harvey Weinstein and the rest. It’s full of sleazy men taking advantage of young girls and guys. But I have never been able to get a good read on Markham. Until he says…


“If you’re up for something really daring, then we should talk.”


Bastard. Now it’s confirmed and I want to take a cold shower and wash myself clean of his lustful glances. Gross.


“By daring I meant Tchaikovsky, opus six, number six.” I snap making it clear what daring means in this context.


He looks mildly annoyed. And that annoys me, because Op. 6, No. 6 is magic, and all this jerk can think about is nookie. “What a shame,” Markham says.


Is it? I’m not so sure. There’s something about him that just screams antibiotic-resistant chlamydia.


“See you next week, Dr. Markham,” I say. And then slowly, gracefully, stand up from my chair and make my way to the back door. When I’m sure the coast is clear, I karate kick it open with my foot and stomp through the back exit.


Sam is waiting for me, taking a delicate drag on a delicate little French cigarette. “Queen. Calm. Now.”


“I hate him,” I seethe, shoving a handful of pretzels and M&Ms into my mouth. I’m mad enough that I don’t even mind that a few M&Ms land on the hot asphalt. “Genuinely,” I sputter.


“I hate him. Gross, gross, grooooooooosssssss.”


Sam carefully stubs out his cigarette on the brick wall and places it back in his antique case. He only smokes a tiny bit at a time. A pack lasts him six months. “What do you say we walk down to Chilis, get an onion blossom, two burgers, and get shitfaced on a huge wine-a-rita in a fishbowl glass?”


That sounds amazing. But I grip my violin case to my chest. “I can’t.”


Sam pouts. “I’m not receiving you, girl.”


I can’t help but smile and my mood starts to lighten just being around him. He always says that. When he doesn’t like something, or won’t hear of it, he says, “I’m not receiving you.” He learned about it on Tik Tok. It’s very empowering.


“I’m eighteen as of two weeks ago. And you’re eighteen as of right now. And the great state of North Carolina, in its questionable wisdom, will let us both drink wine and beer tonight. So?”


I tip the last of the M&Ms into my mouth from their paper packet, thinking it over and savoring the crackle of the candy-coating shattering against my teeth. There is exactly zero chance I am ready to go home. It’s my birthday, and it’s time to celebrate. “Can we get the seasoned fries?”


“Yes, we fucking can, girl!” Sam says.


I nod and inhale, and then pull out my phone. Even though my parents are parked on the other side of the building, I call them instead of going out to the car. I don’t like lying and especially not directly to their faces. But this is a very special occasion. As the dial tone whirrs in my ears, I whisper to Sam, “Think your dad would let me stay the night?”


“Pffft. Let you stay? He’d like you to live with us, Queen.”


Oh geez. A hazy image of Mike in boxers drinking coffee in the kitchen every morning pops into my head. His dark hair with a hint of silver speckle coming through. He’s successful and does things his own way. Never brags or acts pretentious but I know just from being around, he’s got to be close to being a billionaire but he doesn’t act like it. He’s big like a protective bear and I bet his thighs are like marble and in that split-second, I realize I’ve never seen him in shorts, or a bathing suit…but the idea of thin, wet, nylon fabric clinging to his--


My mom’s voice, sharp and annoyed, fills my left ear. “Yes, honey?”


“Hi. I’m going to stay late to practice, and so is Sam. We are going to really knuckle down for a couple more hours. Then, tonight we’d like to practice more, help each other. He knows the Paganini and his critiques are brutal.” I say watching Sam nod on a silent laugh. “Then, I’ll just stay over at his house.”


Mom sighs. I know she’s going to say yes; Mike and Sam’s is the only place I’m allowed to stay. She knows Sam won’t put the moves on me, because I’m not Sam’s flavor of ice cream. And Mike, even though she thinks he’s irritatingly rough around the edges, is like a member of our family. Sort of. Or he was, until I started admiring those veins in his forearms. “I suppose. But make sure you practice but also sleep.”


“I will, Mom. Love you.”


“Love you, too, and sweetie?”


My heart swells. Here it comes. She’s remembered. She’s remembered today is my birthday. “Yes?”


“Make sure you don’t get into all their junk food. You know they have some very poor eating habits.”


My heart plummets and a stinging of sadness fills my nose. “Yes, Mom,” I say, and end the call.


 

* * *


Three hours later and I’ve got a tummy full of buffalo chicken sandwich and seasoned fries and an onion blossom, and dining room at Chili’s seems…wobbly. I smack my lips around the straw that sits in the almost-finished wine-a-rita. “Are you sure it’s just wine in here?”


Sam giggles. “Yes. But seeing as you’ve never had a drink of anything more adult than club soda, you’re gonna have the spins.”


“The spins, oh my god, yes. I think I am heading into the spins.”


“Right, you’re cut off, you lush,” Sam says, taking the fishbowl away from me. He pecks at his phone with an elegantly manicured finger then says, “Dad. SOS.”


Mike’s gorgeous face appears on the other side of the FaceTime screen. I resist the urge to swoon right into a heap on the slightly sticky booth seat.


Mike sweeps his big, muscular hand through his salt and pepper hair. I can tell from what’s behind him that he’s not at home; things that look vaguely like motorcycle parts line the shelves behind him. So that’s what he does instead of hovering. “Tell me.”


Sam flips the camera around as he explains, “Wine-a-rita. Big one. Chilis on Route 8.”


Mike chuckles out a laugh. I hear keys jingle. “You good, Jess?”


I prop my face up with my hand and can’t help but stare at him like a star-struck little girl. Even his eyebrows are gorgeous. “We’re going to have brownie sundaes next. Gonna be ‘mmmmmmazing.”


Mike lets out a deep, sexy laugh. “I’ll just drop off the bike and grab my pickup. I’ll be there before you know it.”


He looks at me for a long second and behind my belly button there is this fluttery warmth then he says, “Happy Birthday, Jess. Welcome to adulthood.”


And the screen goes dark but everything inside me light up.


Our sundaes arrive, mine with a candle in it, and the whole waitstaff sings happy birthday to me. I am dying with embarrassment but loving it so much. And then I am lost in the magical land of warm brownies and cold ice cream and caramel sauce. The best.


Once we’re done eating, I manage to gulp down two big glasses of water. Sam pays the bill and we totter off toward the unisex bathrooms. “God. I love gender equality!” Sam says, holding the door open for me. Together we pee, in adjoining stalls, and then do our lip gloss in the big mirror. Sam is just fussing for the sake of fussing. But I’m fussing… for Mike.


Sam’s phone chirps and he takes my arm in his, leading me outside into the fresh night air. A group of guys is off to one side, being loud and rowdy. But I barely notice them. Because there, standing by his big, burly, black pickup, is Mike.



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