The fun thing about reading a book that's not published yet is that you might be reading a section of the book that won't actually make it into the final draft.
I doubt that will happen with this chapter, because I do love it. To set you up with the scene, Quinn and Izzy have just spent the night working at the Waffle House, serving the homeless coffee because of an unseasonable cold snap in Nashville. They've now returned to Izzy's place over the coffee shop, where Izzy promised Quinn a shower and breakfast in return for his help.
Quinn dried off after his shower and studied the bathroom. The room was small, it was difficult for him to turn around, but there were no frilly towels or decorative soaps cluttering the shelves. There was little in the way of sprays, perfumes, and lotions. Everything was simple and tidy.
Putting on his jeans was enough contortionism for him, so, shirtless, he opened the door. “It’s all yours.” He set his duffle on the table and pulled out a pair of clean socks.
Izzy ended her phone conversation shook her head. “You didn’t have a shirt in your duffle?”
Am I blushing? “Hey, don’t blame me. There isn’t room in there for me to put a shirt on.”
“Don’t get defensive.” She grabbed some clothes from the edge of her bed. “I didn’t say I didn’t like it.”
Quinn wanted to think she was flirting. And he did, until she closed the bathroom door and the sounds of the shower didn’t drown out her giggle.
“You don’t do much for a guy’s ego, you know,” he shouted at the bathroom door. Izzy’s giggles turned into full blown laughter.
He pulled on his socks. He always loved the feel of clean socks after a shower. Since giving up drinking Quinn spent far more money on clean socks than most people. Old jeans and new socks. Most comfortable things in life.
Except for this apartment. A table, two chairs, two nightstands, a killer TV…and a big, soft bed. That’s all anyone really needs to be happy, as long as they have a life they like, right?
So what’s my defect? My life is a mess…why can’t I let go of what’s not working?
Because if I did, I’d have to give up what is working, too.
He lay on the bed, his feet dangling near the floor. His eyes closed, he tried to picture a world where he could be as at peace as he was in this still moment…and still keep the trappings of his glory days. That place doesn’t exist. But then, neither does a world where Izzy knows what I really am and she still lets me shower in her tiny bathroom and lie on her massive bed and be at peace.
A knock on the door jolted Quinn out of his reverie. “Coming!” He pulled on his other sock and opened the door. “Hey, Cat.”
Cat stared at him for a beat. “OH COME ON!” She shouted, shoving a tray of food at him and storming down the hall. “You cannot be serious!”
“Wait, wait…” Quinn juggled the tray a bit before setting on the table. “Cat!” He stuck his head out the door. “Cat?”
“What’s all the yelling?” Izzy, dressed in soft sweatpants and a long sleeved thermal shirt walked out of the bathroom. “Oh good, Cat dropped off the food. Ooh, cinnamon rolls.”
“Yeah, what’s up with her?” Quinn liked how she looked. Her hair, still damp, trailed onto her shoulders. Her face was clean and smooth. He’d never seen her look prettier.
Izzy looked at him. “Did you answer the door like that?”
“So, a guy can’t take his shirt off around here?”
Izzy bit deep into a cinnamon roll. “No, most guys can. I’m sure those Monty Python guys downstairs, they could strip naked and Cat probably wouldn’t make a big deal about it.” She licked a bit of frosting off her fingers, a move that stirred something in Quinn. “But you…well, have you seen yourself?”
Quinn couldn’t stop the faint shiver that ran up his spine. So she thinks I’m good looking. “Fine, fine. I’ll put on a shirt.”
“Don’t get huffy, think of it from another point of view. Cat is a lonely, lonely, lonely woman. And you…well, you’re like guy on the cover of a romance novel. Guys like you can’t just wander around without a shirt; you have no idea what sort of trigger sequence you’re launching.”
Quinn laughed out loud as he pulled a long sleeved t-shirt over his head. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a woman equate arousal with launch sequences.”
She picked up her coffee cup, walked past him, and sat cross legged on her bed. “I used to watch a lot of the History Channel. My husband…he liked it.” A veil of melancholy passed over her face. “Anyway…” she drank more coffee, seemingly unaware she’d stopped talking.
Has she mentioned Jason by name once since she’s lived in Nashville?
Eager to bring the light mood back, Quinn sat on the edge of the bed, coffee cup in hand. “So why the ice cubes in the coffee?”
Izzy shook herself out of her thoughts. “I don’t know. I do it with wine and coffee. Something about the ice…I don’t know. I’ve done it for years. I don’t even remember when I started drinking coffee.”
“Oh wine!” She chuckled and set her empty coffee cup on the nightstand. “No, that I remember really well. Col and I…”
“I’m sorry, who’s Col?”
She leaned against the pillows. “Collier James. My very best friend growing up. We used to sneak…we used to sneak into his father’s office and one night he had this bottle of cherry wine.”
Quinn set his cup on the opposite night stand and slid next to her. “How old were you?”
“Thirteen. Col was fifteen and really rebellious. We drank the whole thing. I got so sick.” She laughed at the memory. “That was my first kiss.” Her smile faded slightly and she looked at Quinn. “I’d forgotten that part.”
Oh good move Murray. You’re finally on a bed with the woman and you’ve got her thinking about someone else. Nice.
“Anyway, our parents had a fit. How about you? What was your first experience with demon liquor?”
Izzy shrugged. “History Channel.”
“I was young, too. I think my brothers snuck me into some party when I was in high school. I was older than thirteen though. That’s young.”
“Well, things were sort of…in fast forward for me.” She sat up and hugged her knees to her chest. “You say you wanted to take me up on that favor. I’m guessing a hot shower and some breakfast won’t quite cover it?”
Quinn adjusted to her conversational gear shift. “You see…I’ve got this charity thing in a few days. It’s for the Make a Wish Foundation. Some little boy here in Nashville wanted to skate with real NHL players. It’s not a huge deal, but my…assistant sort of bailed on me last minute. I could use someone to, you know, maybe greet people at the door, hand out parting gifts. Maybe skate a little in a scrimmage, if one comes up?” He studied her face to see if his request sparked anything in her.
“Can you skate at all?” He felt stupid asking the question.
“Oh a little. I mean, I used to go to skate parties with Jenna.” She hugged her knees tighter. “I won’t crash into the wall, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Crashing into the wall? I’m more worried about falling to pieces if you really start to skate. “So it’s a yes?”
She was quiet for a moment. Then, as if she’d finished some internal battle, she relaxed and lay back on the pillow. “Possibly. But first you need to answer a question that’s been bugging me.”
“Okay, I’ll try.” And I’ll try harder to not take you in my arms right now.
“Why don’t you sing more often? Like you did at Chance’s?”
“There’s no money in it.” The words were out before he could stop them. Where did that come from? Am I really that tied up in money?
“Ah, so you just do stuff for the money?”
Her dark eyes pierced through the protective layers he’d wrapped around himself. “No, of course not. But I’ve got the radio station thing and I’m on the road with the Preds a lot.”
Her eyelids drooped. “You were so good that night, Quinn. When you sang that last song…that Night Ranger song…there was something so…so pure about it.”
The first time anyone’s used the word pure next to my name. “I’ve never given it a real thought I guess. I’ve always only done what I do…because I’m good at it. Who could believe I could do more than a short show at a local dive?”
“I believe it.” She yawned and rolled onto her side facing him. “You think about it. You promise to think about it, and I’ll help you out with your charity event.”
“I’m going to hold you to it.” He brushed a damp strand of hair away from her face. Completely relaxed, her face looked like porcelain. He brushed his fingertips lightly on her cheek, unable to keep from touching her.
“Okay. Promise.” Her voice was far away, dreamy.
Watching her sleep, her face a perfect image of an angel, Quinn thought about her words. How great would it be to turn my back on everything and sing for a living? He’d never given it a thought. And Izzy believes in me. His heat beat a little more quickly. Could I make that big of a change?
Serena would never allow it. She would completely ruin me.
And of course, I’d be broke in about a month.
Could I live that way?
I could, maybe, if Izzy could forgive my past.
But that is very unlikely.
His cell buzzed in his pocket. He eased off the bed. Wrapping a quilt around Izzy, he made sure she was safe and warm before he left. Serena summons. Time to go pay the rent.