Savaged Illusions Trilogy, Book 1
Jennifer Lyon Books (June 19, 2017)
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Going away to college gives LIZA GLASNER a chance to escape her painful and dangerous past…or so she thinks. At fourteen years old, she survived an attack by a famous musician. After that, the media, groupies and crazies hounded her with a merciless cruelty that ruined her life. But now she’s thriving—until an internship brings her face to face with the sizzling hot lead singer of a rock band, and she finds herself drawn to the very thing that once destroyed her. Justice is a temptation she can’t resist…and one that could get her killed.
Sexy rock star JUSTICE CADE is determined to take his band, Savaged Illusions, to the top by winning the Court of Rock T.V. show. Tortured by guilt for failing his family, he believes fame is his only path to redemption. But when the fiery college-intern hiding her beauty beneath baggy sweaters and a snarky attitude bursts into his life, Justice is forced to choose between the woman he loves and the stardom he craves. The wrong choice will cost him more than he can bear.
**This is book one in a trilogy and ends on a cliffhanger.
Read an Excerpt
Justice Cade squinted in the vicious sunlight of San Diego, California, as he parked his car. He’d had hangovers that hurt less than the sleep-deprived headache pounding in his skull.
Your own fault, dumbass.
Yet the pain, frustration and fatigue didn’t do a thing to diminish a streak of triumph when he spotted the marquee blazing over the front of the auditorium.
Coming Soon: Court of Rock
Featuring the Bands:
Fury Run, Jagged Sin & Savaged Illusions
Savaged Illusions. His band. His dream. The one single thing in life he didn’t fail at—music. He and his band had made it this far in the eliminations. Two more shows and they could win, capturing the one-year contract with a top record label.
Winning was everything. The only thing. Justice had nothing else but his band and music. He wouldn’t let anything stop them now. Which meant it was time to quit admiring the sign and get his ass into practice.
After getting out of the car, he grabbed his guitar case from the backseat and juggled to carry two coffees across the parking lot. At the steel door of the theater, he handed one of the drinks to Colin, the security guard for the Court of Rock reality TV show.
“No prob.” He winced at the rough sound of his voice. His singing was going to be shit today. He really should have gotten some sleep. Nothing he could do now but power through. Once inside, he got halfway across the lower level of backstage when he heard the shouting.
“You son of a bitch!”
What the fuck? That was Simon’s voice. The lead guitarist of their band rarely lost his temper. Justice ditched his guitar case, set his coffee on a table and launched into a run. Hanging a hard right into the greenroom, he skidded to a halt and took in the scene. Two camera guys were filming as the Savaged Illusions drummer and bassist held Simon back, the man’s face a murderous shade of red.
Ace, the obvious troublemaker from their rival band, Jagged Sin, bellowed back, “You either replace my guitar, or I’ll tell the whole world you’re such an asshole, your own wife killed herself to get away from you.” He glanced at the cameras then back to Simon and smirked. “Oh wait, I just did.”
Simon roared, breaking loose from the two men holding him, and lunged.
Holy shit. If Simon hit the other man—on camera—they’d be fucked. Thrown off the Court of Rock. With zero choice, Justice dove, getting his arms around Simon, spun and slammed him down to the couch.
Caught by surprise, Simon sat dazed for a second.
Taking advantage of his shock, Justice slapped one hand on the sofa arm, the other on the back, using his body to block the cameras and trap Simon at the same time. He had to talk his lead guitarist down. “Cameras are rolling, dude. Get your shit together.”
The other man’s eyes scorched with fury. “I’ll kill him.”
It was all Justice could do to keep from killing that weasel Ace himself. But first he had to keep Simon out of jail. What the hell had he walked into? The feud between Simon and Ace was mounting every damned day, making this competition a powder keg.
“Listen up, man. It’s a setup. We’re being played. Why else would there be cameras here?” There were no shoots scheduled for today. The bands had a day or two to practice without being recorded. Another question occurred to him. “How did Ace know about Julie?” Very few people knew about Simon’s deceased wife.
Simon stiffened, his entire body vibrating. “I never told him.”
“Shit. This is bad.” He glanced over his shoulder. Their three other band members, River, Gray and Lynx, had spread out, forming a wall to block the cameras.
Returning his attention to Simon, he said, “Someone did.” Hot anger jacked his pulse and made his muscles twitch to kick some ass. “The ratings whores strike again.”
Simon’s eyes narrowed. “Bastards.”
The show execs were always looking for ways to create more tension between the bands. Especially now that the show was heading into the final two episodes. They’d done extensive backgrounds on all the band members, so they’d know about Simon’s wife. It’d been a few years since Julie died, but for Simon it was an open wound. “You need to hold it together. Or leave. Let me handle this.”
He took a deep breath. “I’m staying.”
Yeah, he figured. Simon didn’t talk about Julie much, but he was fiercely protective of her memory. “You hit Ace and we’ll be tossed off the show. They’ll have you dragged out of here in handcuffs and put it on the air. You hear what I’m saying?” The show played hardball. The group had known it going in, but the payoff if they won was worth it—a contract with the record label, Tangent.
Their ticket to the big time.
“Got it,” Simon said, back in control.
After pushing off the couch, Justice crossed the room to the show’s producer, Frank. “What’s going on? It’s our practice time. Ace isn’t supposed to be here.” His band practiced after Savaged Illusions was finished. All this was usually tightly scheduled.
“He trashed my guitar.” Ace’s thin face contorted as he waved around the two pieces of his Gibson Les Paul Standard electric guitar.
“Didn’t ask you.” Justice’s hands twitched with the need to punch the lies out of Ace’s mouth. Fucktard. He’d disliked the guy before, but now after baiting Simon with his wife’s death? What kind of scumbag did that? Hatred brewed in his belly.
“Give it a rest, Ace, you made your point,” Frank said, resignation riding every word. The last eleven weeks of traveling around the country, dealing with rock bands and drama, had left the man looking like a candidate for a massive heart attack. He faced Justice. “Ace’s story is that he’d put his guitar in his car yesterday, and he found it broken in the greenroom this morning. He’s sure that since he and Simon were at the same club last night, Simon stole it out of his car and trashed it, then left it for him to find today.”
Justice rolled his eyes. “Bullshit.” One look at the instrument’s broken neck told him exactly what happened. He glared at Ace. “You got drunk or stoned and did it yourself. Showing off for some chick, or were you raging? Woke up this morning and realized you’re out almost a thousand bucks.”
Ace’s cheeks mottled. “You savages are going down.” He stormed out, dragging his busted guitar with him.
Jesus. One problem down, but they had more to deal with. Spinning to the producer, he snarled, “Don’t use that footage.”
“Not your call.”
His head pounded. Violence gripped his muscles. They were fucked. They’d signed the contract, giving Court of Rock the rights to all their footage, including editing it. They wanted to make Jagged Sin the underdogs to manufacture a fiercer competition. He glanced over at Simon, who was flanked by their other bandmates.
That was the one thing all five of them could count on—they had one another’s backs. Always.
But there was a publicity shitstorm brewing. Justice could accuse the show of telling Ace about Simon’s wife’s suicide, but they’d edit it out. Frustration added to his fury. “Let’s go practice. No cameras.” Not that he could enforce it, but—
“One more thing,” Frank said.
“Your publicist will be here to meet you during practice.”
If ever they could use a publicist, it was now. Ace’s accusation that Simon’s wife had killed herself to escape Simon was a time bomb that could explode in their faces. Women were a huge chunk of their fan base, and that lie could easily turn them against Simon, and by extension, the band. They needed every single fan vote to win Court of Rock. So yeah, a publicist was a godsend. “Who is it?”
“Liza. She’s a student at UC San Diego.”
“What?” He barely held on to the last brittle strand of his temper. “A college student? Our contract says if we made it to week eleven, we’d get a publicist, not a college kid.” The show and the record label were jacking them around mercilessly.
“This is what Tangent Records wants, and they’re the sponsor. They ran some contest. Our biggest demographic is college-aged—”
“Screw the bullshit. It was in our contract.”
“You don’t have a choice, Cade. You were promised a publicist, and they consider her qualified enough.” The producer scowled. “Either suck it up or quit the show.”
Remember the cameras. But damn, he’d spent his whole fucking life without choices and sucking it up. No way was he quitting the show. They’d eat shit until they won and got that one-year contract with Tangent Records—their ticket to real fame.
Then no one would fuck with them.
“We don’t quit. Not now or ever.” He stormed out. Once in the hall, he slapped his hand against the wall. Calm the hell down. He was too fried, the pressure riding him relentlessly. All of them were showing the cracks.
“You gonna puke or something?” Lynx, their drummer and his longtime friend, leaned next to him, eyebrows raised.
“Something. Not hungover, just strung tight.” So damned tired and angry. They had too much on the line in the next couple weeks. He pivoted in time to see River and Gray flanking Simon as they walked to the stairs leading up to the stage. Suspicion took shape. “The suits engineered this. They’ve been sitting on the knowledge that Simon was married and his wife…”
He nodded. “Yeah, but they sprang it now, then tell us we get a kid as our publicist. My guess is they’re creating fires for the publicist in some other game we don’t have the rules to.”
“For ratings,” Lynx snapped. “But Ace, he’s smacked. Guy’s so messed up he doesn’t know reality.”
More than likely. “Coke?”
“Or meth. Don’t know, don’t care. What he did to Simon today, man, that’s twisted.”
“Yeah.” Justice glanced around the lower floor of the huge auditorium close to the University of California’s campus. It had all the equipment the show required, but at this point in the season, after traveling to so many locations near colleges—their demographic—it all looked the same to him. He closed his eyes, needing a minute to get his head to stop with the drilling.
He pulled in a breath. Lynx saw too damned much. “Back off.”
“You went looking for him, didn’t you?”
“Get off my ass. Had business to take care of.” He opened his eyes and shoved off the wall. “Where’s my coffee?” After storming to the table, he snatched it up and drank the lukewarm brew.
“Your voice is shit today. You didn’t sleep, and you’re cranky as a crack baby. You spent the night out on a futile search instead of getting the shut-eye you need.”
His gut burned. They’d just gotten into town last night after weeks of traveling and performing, fighting not to get eliminated every show. He’d barely put his stuff down in his house before he’d been out the door, only returning home in time to grab a shower before heading to practice. And now Lynx was dogging him. “You’re two seconds from my foot up your ass.”
The silky invitation tempted him, but he was too damned tired. Lifting his gaze, he admitted, “Couldn’t find him. He might be dead for all I know.” And Justice would have failed. Again. He’d sworn to his grandmother before she died that he’d take care of his father.
So far he hadn’t lived up to his deathbed promise.
The old anger stewed in the mix of everything else. He just needed this day to be over. Done.
“Your dad doesn’t want to be found, J. That’s reality, and you need to deal. We didn’t get the full house in our family hand, we got the jokers.”
Justice eyed the drummer, catching the strain around his eyes. They’d both grown up in San Diego, but at least Justice’d had his grandmother until she passed away last year. Lynx had definitely gotten the worse deal. “You have a key to my house, crash there. Take a break from the sterile hotels for a while.” They might not be blood, but Lynx was a brother to him. And they both had the band, their only real family.
“Nah. I can’t bring chicks to your grandma’s house.”
Nostalgia swept over Justice. “Still afraid of her, huh? You think her ghost is going to smack you upside the head?” Not that his grandmother had ever smacked Lynx, but the image amused him.
“Respect, asshole. Not fear.” He tapped on the table in time to some beat playing in his head. “She let me live there when I got sprung from juvie.”
Being back in their hometown made them both edgy, a reminder that they’d been judged and labeled losers. Justice hadn’t even lasted a day before he’d been out on the streets, scraping his childhood wounds open to expose the festering sore. “We’re going to show them when we win Court of Rock.”
Lynx nodded. “Damn right. I’m going up.” He tilted his head to the stairs leading to the stage.
“I’ll be there in a sec.” Just one more minute to get this headache under control and get his shit together. He finished off his coffee, tossed the cup, grabbed his guitar and headed up the stairs to the big stage facing the five-hundred-seat auditorium. Gray sat at the piano, while Lynx took a seat at the drum kit. They were both at the back of the stage. Justice took center, with Simon on his right. River, the bassist, fell in behind them. After all the weeks of performing in various locations all over the country, it was a familiar routine. They automatically adjusted positions to make sure the two in the back weren’t blocked during a show.
After freeing his guitar from its case, he strummed it, the sound helping soothe his head and focus him on what really mattered—their music.
Simon tuned a few strings on his BilT Revelator guitar. “I’d have killed him if you hadn’t walked in.”
“Any other time I’d have grabbed some popcorn and pulled up a chair.” Happily. He shot Simon a hard look. “They’re going to use the footage. We can’t stop it.”
The quiet acceptance ripped a hole in Justice’s chest. Simon had watched all their backs time and again, loaning Justice the money to cover his grandmother’s funeral before he got the estate settled. God knows what he’d done for the others, and none of them could stop the pain train coming for him. Whatever had happened, Simon had loved his wife. “Look, maybe we can hire a real publicist.”
“Can’t. In the contract, remember? No unfair advantages.”
Damn it. “We’re up shit creek. Not only aren’t we getting a real publicist, but we have to babysit some sorority girl whose only experience at promotion is taking selfies.”
“Or a groupie,” River added. “More interested in snagging a rock star than doing the job.”
Justice fought a groan. He loved groupies, they needed them. But right now they needed an experienced publicist more.
“Actually…” A voice came from the wings at the top of the stairs. “I’m not in a sorority, I’m a bit old for a babysitter, and I don’t even like rock stars.”
Justice spun around to see a woman who was barely five and a half feet tall, wrapped up in jeans and a blue T-shirt with a long, dark open-front sweater over it. Her reddish-brown hair was scraped back into a low ponytail, and nerd glasses finished the look. She wore credentials around her neck, which explained how she’d gotten past the show’s security. There was only one person she could be.
Their new publicist.
* * * * *
Liza tried not to laugh. Justice Cade pulled up short, his blue eyes going wide as he took her in.
Not a sorority girl or groupie. Nope, Liza rocked average so hard, people forgot her before she left a room. Exactly as she wanted it—for now anyway. The other band members were spread out on the stage with their instruments, or she guessed it was them. Liza was sure she’d recognize them from the hours she’d watched the show and videos—except she couldn’t drag her gaze away from Justice long enough to really look.
The lead singer and front man for Savaged Illusions packed a lot of talent in his six-foot-plus frame. Sex-messy hair with surfer-blond streaks that stood out against darker strands. Black T-shirt and jeans molded to lean muscle.
No wonder girls lost their minds for Justice Cade.
Not her, she reminded herself harshly, and shifted her scrutiny away from him. She was immune to rockers and musicians in general. She’d learned that brutal lesson, and she wasn’t likely to forget. Ever.
“You must be Liza.”
The sound of his voice yanked her attention back to him. Smooth and rich with a hint of the deep resonance he sang with when he really opened up his vocals.
“Yep, I’m Liza Glasner. I’ll be Savaged Illusions publicist for as long as you remain on the show.” She took in the grim mood. What was going on here? She’d figure it out, but right now, she had to establish her place. “Whether you want me or not.”
She needed this gig. First, if her band won, she’d get the paid summer internship with Tangent, which she required for enough credits to graduate after the fall quarter. Second, her roommate was moving in with her boyfriend, and Liza had to be out of her apartment in three weeks. If she didn’t get the internship that came with the studio apartment, she’d be forced to go home for the summer. The thought of going back to her aunt and uncle’s house in Santa Barbara made her chest tighten. But the band didn’t need to know how desperate she was.
Or who she was. For the three years she’d been in college, she’d been just Liza—an average college girl.
Justice twisted his full lips. “Yeah, sorry. It’s not personal, Liza.”
“I’m not taking it personally.” Nope, this wasn’t her first experience with rock-star arrogance. Of course they thought they deserved better than a student. “But here’s the deal. I met Karl and Nikki, the publicists who got the other two bands. Both are college students and go-getters. They’re each going to work hard to help their band win. But I’m going to make sure Savaged Illusions wins, so get used to the idea.”
He raised his eyebrows. “How?”
His doubt grated on her nerves, but she tried for a conciliatory tone. “I realize you don’t know me, but—”
“You don’t know us either.”
Fine, he wanted to challenge her? “Wrong. I did my research, Justice Noah Cade.” She took one step closer, keeping an arm’s length between them. “You’re the lead singer and front man of the band. You also write songs, have a juvie record, are quick-tempered, impulsive, stubborn and insanely talented. And you obviously like to prejudge people before meeting them.”
He opened his mouth, but Liza turned away before she got sucked into those penetrating blue eyes. Something about his gaze unnerved her. She focused on the tall man holding the gorgeous guitar. “Simon Bender with the lion eyes. Although they look more brown than gold to me, at least in this lighting. You’re the lead guitarist, backing vocals, with enough talent to head up a song if you chose.”
Simon held out his hand. “Liza. Nice to meet you.”
After shaking his hand, she covered a few steps to the man with long dark hair leaning on the bass guitar. She could feel Justice’s stare on her, almost a weight on her skin. Which was ridiculous since she had on a shirt and cardigan covering it. She’d needed the extra layer of protection, even with the weather in the seventies. Focus. “River Donovan, the playboy charmer. You’re the bassist and can play anything with strings. And backing vocals too. You add a dark throb to the band’s savage sound. Think you can focus on winning for the next few weeks and not college girls?”
“I can multitask. Don’t wanna disappoint the pretty chicks.”
Time to shut this down with some bluntness. “The last thing I want to do is clean up one of your sexcapades gone bad. That stuff catches fire on social media.” She knew all too well how easy it was to twist facts. It was one of the reasons she’d been drawn to communications and publicity—learning to control the story.
River laughed, regaining her attention. “I’ll try to be a good boy.”
She stopped next at the keyboard rig. “Grayson Price, nice to meet you. You’re the newest member of the band, can play piano or any keyboard and some guitar. Went to Juilliard, impressive.” Curiosity propelled her to add, “You were a classical music prodigy. Interesting that you ended up in a rock band.”
Gray stared back with zero expression in his piercing blue eyes. “Is it?”
Right, he didn’t want to talk about it. She was the last person who would poke at old wounds. “I can barely eke out ‘Chopsticks,’ so yeah, talent and commitment like that are fascinating.” As she turned away, she noted that he could use some coaching in coming across as more accessible in interviews. He seemed to have an automatic shutdown that made him distant.
“Liza?” Gray called out.
Liza returned her attention to the pianist. “Yes?”
“Most people call me Gray.”
Awesome; she’d cracked the ice with him. She smiled. “Gray, then.” She headed to the drum kit. The percussionist watched her with the amused expression of a cat toying with a mouse.
“Lynx Steele. I’m curious, where’d you come up with Lynx?” His real name was Aiden, which didn’t fit the hard-angled man.
“Oh. Tough guy, huh?” Rather cliché for a drummer.
“Like, a literal street name I saw once and thought was cool.”
Liza blinked, then laughed. “Okay, that’s awesome. We’re so using that. But the name fits you.” The man definitely had an untamed edge to him. “So you and Justice started this band together. You’re not only the drummer, but under all those tats, leather and party attitude, you’re also a writer and composer. You’re driven in everything you do, including drinking.” Liza glanced at his water bottle.
Lynx scooped it up and held it out. “Wanna check?”
A chill rippled down her spine, chasing out her earlier amusement. It wasn’t the drummer, but the sight of his hand holding out the drink. Stop. Don’t think about it. “Pass.” She had to swallow the sudden wave of nausea.
That hadn’t happened in a while. Stress maybe? Didn’t matter, she had a job to do and ignored the queasy reaction.
“Done showing off?” Justice said. “We’re burning practice time here.”
Spinning to face him, she sensed confusing undercurrents, like she’d walked into the middle of something, but she had no idea what. Right now she needed to work on gaining their trust and cooperation. “I was making a point. I’ve prepared for this job, and you need to check your ego so we can work together. I want the same thing you do—to win.”
“Ease up, Justice,” Simon cut in. “She’s all we have.”
Dropping his crossed arms, Justice sighed. “Okay, I get it. What do you need, Liza? We really are short on time. Our practices are tightly scheduled.”
Well that was marginally better. “I’m going to be with you guys for the next couple weeks. Pretty much everywhere you go, I’ll be tagging along.”
“With all of us?” he asked.
The suspicious note in his voice made her uneasy. What was he looking for? Attention all on him? Or was it something else—maybe the underlying tension she’d picked up on? It was unnerving the way all five band members seemed to be silently communicating with one another. “Specifically with you. Tangent wants me to focus on the front man. Both your professional and personal life.”
“Oh hell no.” His shoulders swelled beneath his T-shirt, and his eyes narrowed. “That’s where I draw the line. Savaged Illusions is the five of us, not just me.”
“They’re pulling more bullshit,” River snarled.
“Fucking typical,” Lynx added. “We’re getting cut out.”
Whoa. Justice was pissed, whereas she’d half-expected he’d just assume it was his due. But no, he was insisting that all the members of the band mattered. Gazing around, she noted that no one was surprised by his reaction. Huh.
“Okay, hang on,” Simon said. “If we win, the deal is that Tangent has to sign the band, all five of us. There are no exceptions, no substitutions. We had the contract checked for exactly that.”
Justice nodded. “With you so far.”
“If that means you’re featured in our media campaign, big deal. As long as we win, we get the contract.”
“I still don’t like it.” Justice compressed his mouth, his full lips whitening.
“Look, man, it’s shitty, yeah.” Lynx snatched up his water bottle and strode over. “But what can we do? We gotta play the game.”
These guys really had her interest now. It was the whole loyalty thing. The way they watched out for each other intrigued the hell out of her. That kind of allegiance had been scarce in her life. What was it like to trust like that?
But she wasn’t there to answer a question about trust, she was there to do her job. Didn’t mean she couldn’t be creative about it though. Ideas began buzzing and taking shape. “I don’t have a lot of choice, but I can find a way to do both. Keep Justice front and center, while working in things that show the five of you together are the heart of the Savaged Illusions band.” The challenge of that fascinated her. She loved creating and controlling the story. “I’ll start with you, Justice, so I’m going to need an interview and see a bit of your daily life with the band and away from them to satisfy Tangent.” She swept her gaze over them. “Then I’ll figure out ways to do features on all of you that appear organic.”
Justice turned the full force of his attention on her. “You’d do that?”
“Well yeah. Look, I get that you don’t like me, or you’re pissed that I’m not a real publicist. But I’m here. Let me do my job, okay?” She hated having to beg. That old fear that if she said or did the wrong thing she’d be sent away crept up. But these guys were a job, not a life partner. “It’s two and a half weeks and you’ll never see me again.”
Justice took a deep breath and closed his eyes, then opened them. “I’m sorry about being an ass to you. It was totally uncalled for.”
The apology caught her off guard. “Uh, thanks.”
He nodded. “We have a party tonight at Screech’s Nightclub. I assume you’ll want to go?”
Tonight? Damn, that was jumping right into the fire. Nerves jangled her stomach, but she had to do it. “Just long enough to get some pictures. If you give me the address and time, I’ll stay an hour or so.” She’d be in the background, so no one would notice her.
“Won’t work. Screech closed the club to the public. It’s invitation only. Meet me at my house, and I’ll get you in.”
His house? “I’d rather meet you at the club.” She was stubborn on that point. Always.
His gaze stayed level. “Do you want an interview? We could get started on that at my house before we leave.”
“Why not now?”
“Practice. We only get four-hour slots and then have to be out. Things like interviews have to be outside of practice time.”
They were serious about their music. She was supposed to follow Justice, and getting a few pictures of him at home would be good. She could do this. “Okay.”
Taking out her camera to grab some shots as they began warming up and playing, Liza told herself over and over that she could handle it.
The last time she went to the house of a rock star had ended with her in the hospital, her dad dead and her mom under arrest.
But she knew better now. She’d never again trust the wrong person like she had that horrible night.