They say first love doesn’t last. Alana’s ends on the night her boyfriend Dakota dies in a deadly shooting at a Portland club.

In an attempt to look for ways to deal with her grief, Alana reaches out to Dakota’s older brother Mikah, who’s struggling with moving on himself.

Both damaged beyond repair, neither Alana or Mikah know how to cope with their loss. What’s worse, they have zero ideas how to handle the unexpected feelings they start developing for each other.

My teeth are chattering by the time I walk behind the building. Running outside without my coat in the middle of February isn’t one of my best ideas, but the truth is, I’m so numb, I can barely feel anything.
Mikah’s sitting on the edge of a massive concrete flower bed. It must have looked cozy and colorful during the summer, but right now, the soil is desiccated and covered with a blanket of dirty snow.
The gloomy, ominous clouds hang low above our heads, threatening yet another blizzard. This winter has been one of the longest and darkest I’ve ever seen, and I catch myself thinking that I desperately want it to end. Even if it would wipe out all the good memories. I just want to stop feeling broken.
Mikah’s turned with his back to me, cigarette smoke floating around him like a halo.
The snow crunches under the weight of my suede shoes as I try to step quietly over to the flower bed, my hands clutched in front of me, my heart rate kicking up. There are thousands of words in my head, but none of them seem to be appropriate.
“Are you just gonna stand there?” Mikah rasps out after a while without looking at me. He brushes the traces of tears from his cheeks, tosses the last of his cigarette on the ground, and draws another from the pack that’s sitting right next to him on the cement block.
“Can I have one?” I ask, blurting out the first thing that comes to mind.
“Since when do you smoke?” He chuckles, shifting to face me. His green eyes, still glistening from the tears, search mine.
“Since now.” I shrug, shuffling my feet. My toes are completely frozen and my body has reached a point where moving only makes it more painful, but if someone decides to shoot at us, at least there’s plenty of room to run. There are no walls and no missing exit signs.
Mikah rises to his feet and closes the space between us in three strides. “Here.” He takes off his suit jacket, puts it over my shoulders, and hands me his cigarette. When his gaze catches mine, we stand motionless for a few moments, staring at each other, each of us probably wondering if the things we’re feeling are any different. A strange type of connection exists when two people are grieving over the death of the same person. It’s frightening and nerve-racking, yet it’s like we have this invisible bond and understand each other without the need to speak.   
I’ve never smoked in my life and I have no idea how to hold a cigarette and look natural, so I grab it across the middle with my thumb and my index finger, wondering which end goes into my mouth. Although I just saw Mikah smoking, my brain has completely lost it.
“The other way,” he says, stepping back to get another one for himself.
“Okay,” I mumble under my breath. I stick it between my lips but immediately remove it when the unpleasant taste of tobacco on my tongue causes my stomach to churn. My injured palm stings with the movement, but I try not to think about the pain.
“You dated a dude who was in a fucking rock band and he didn’t teach you how to smoke, church girl?” Mikah rolls his eyes and flicks his lighter in front of my face.
Bringing the cigarette toward my mouth again, I pause. “He doesn’t…” I trip over my words. “Didn’t smoke.” My heart feels heavy and swollen. All the little things about Dakota start to crowd my mind—the food he liked, the TV shows he watched, the bands he grew up listening to. It’s terrifying to realize how much a person can integrate himself into your life in such a short period of time.
“Right.” Mikah nods, averting his gaze. “It was a joke. You were supposed to laugh.”
“Oh… Sorry.”
Laugh? He wants me to laugh at Dakota’s funeral?
The air between us shifts again and we’re back to being distant and awkward.
I stare at the cigarette in my fingers while Mikah lights his. He inhales sharply, waits a few seconds, and then blows the smoke out through his mouth and nose, most of it hanging around me like a toxic veil.
“Isn’t smoking bad for your voice?” I ask, studying his features. There’s a tiny dimple on his left cheek and his eyes are big and wide, slightly slanted, like Dakota’s. They normally have a hint of playfulness in them, but not today. Today they’re miserable, with dark blue circles beneath them. It’s as heartbreaking as it is fascinating to see so much of Dakota in Mikah, and it makes something inside me twinge and burn.       
“Kinda.” He gives me a one-shoulder shrug. “Not like I’m doing a lot of vocals, anyway. It’s just backup. No one cares what I sound like.”
“I do,” I say breathlessly, for lack of a better response. There are other questions lingering on the tip of my tongue—not ones to ask today or tomorrow, but they’re there.
Does this mean the band is over now that there’s no singer?
Mikah brings his lighter toward me, so I place the cigarette between my lips again and he curls his hands around the end, lighting it carefully. “Just breathe in,” he instructs. “And try not to burn yourself, all right?”
“All right.” I gingerly hold it between my index and middle fingers since that seems to be the least painful position, and then I inhale. The thick smoke coats the inside of my mouth. It tastes bitter and clogs my throat.
“Take it into your lungs,” Mikah says, slipping the lighter into the pocket of his slacks.
I start hacking and my chest feels like someone forced a bucket of ash into it. I have to pluck the cigarette out of my mouth before it drops to the ground.
Mikah shakes his head, amusement flickering in his eyes.
“How the hell do you get addicted to this?” I force through the cough.
“You get used to it.” He snickers. His face lights up for a brief moment and the corners of his lips curl, which makes me feel somewhat content because, in a way, I just made him smile.
We stand motionless, facing each other, with our noses and cheeks red from the cold. He smokes slowly and elegantly while I’m choking and wheezing until a new set of voices drift toward us from around the corner. I don’t bother hiding the cigarette, because it seems silly. After surviving a bullet rain, I reserve the right to have whatever bad habit my heart desires, and no one’s going to stop me from trying things. 
Not even my father.
“Hey, you two,” Luke mutters, maneuvering his wheelchair around the piles of snow. Blaze follows him like a shadow, his face blank.
It’s strange to see them wearing suits instead of their usual denim and leather, especially Luke. Right now, I’m missing his ill-fitting pants.
“You mind if we join the party?” His eyes shift between Mikah and me as if he needs our permission.
“Nah, man.” Mikah tosses what’s left of his cigarette on the ground. “Knock yourself out.”
“Is Jess inside?” I ask, dropping my cigarette as well. We haven’t spoken since The Crystal Room, which is weird because we usually talk every day.  
“Yep.” Luke draws a brand new bottle of Jack Daniels from the folds of his coat. 
We form a small, quiet circle and stand like that for a few minutes, staring at the dirty snow beneath our feet.  
“Fuck, man.” Luke runs his palm over his face. “Fucking DK, man. I’m going to miss him.” His voice cracks and I can hear him fighting a sob.
Mikah nods, drawing another cigarette from his pack. His gaze darts to me, but I wave it off because my mouth still tastes like an ashtray.
“Let me have one too?” Luke requests.
They smoke in silence while Blaze works on opening the bottle of Jack. He tosses the cap aside and says, “To DK. May he rest in peace.”
“Yeah, man. Rest in peace,” Luke adds with his cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth.
Blaze drinks straight from the bottle and offers it to Mikah next.
The dark clouds drifting above our heads have grown bigger and heavier, and the sky now looks angry. A gust of cold air circles around me like a twister and bites the cuts on my cheek.
My gaze follows the bottle of Jack and lingers on Mikah’s lips wrapped around the rim. He tips it up and takes a few swigs, his Adam’s apple rolling up and down under his olive skin.
“You okay, Alana?” Luke calls to me, eyeing the bandages on my hands.
“Yeah,” I breathe out.
Truth is, I don’t know what I am right now. Half of me is numb and half of me is hurting while my brain tries to get used to the idea of Dakota being dead. It feels almost as if the last three months of my life were borrowed from some epic romance novel, and then the writer decided to go all Shakespeare on me and took my boyfriend away.
“You need anything, you let me know, right?” Luke motions to the space between us.
“Okay. Thanks,” I tell him.
Mikah tears the bottle away from his lips and wipes the liquor dripping from the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand. His eyes seek mine and he offers me the Jack.
I’m too cold to move.
“It won’t kill ya.” Blaze sniffs, giving me the side-eye. His tone is low and bitter. Something tells me he’d rather not have me around right now. 
I grab the bottle with both hands and bring it to my mouth; my gaze is trained on Mikah because out of everyone present, he seems to be the least intimidating. The liquor burns my throat and I seriously think about eating some snow, but the idea stays in my head. Instead, I drink some more and then give the bottle to Luke.
“Atta girl.” Blaze chuckles. “I knew you had it in you, Cupcake Queen.”
A small part of me wonders whether this has been my nickname for a while or he just came up with it, but most of me is frozen from the cold and wants to crawl into my bed and never leave it.
“Aren’t you on antibiotics?” Mikah asks Luke.
“Fuck the antibiotics.”
There’s a long pause. The Jack makes another trip around our circle, and by the time it reaches me, there’s almost nothing left. I end up drinking the last of it.
“Finished?” Blaze checks the bottle.
“Yeah.” I clamp my lips together.
“Make a wish then, Cupcake Queen.”
“Okay.” I nod, my head starting to feel really fuzzy. “I think I’m drunk.”
“You’re all right. Let’s go,” Mikah says. “You’re going to freeze to death.”
I give the empty bottle to Blaze and follow Dakota’s brother back inside. It’s only when we reach the lobby that I realize I forgot about my wish.  

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She is a grieving mother. He is a spoiled rock idol. The only thing they have in common is a flashy tabloid headline. Or so they think.

Running away from her tragedies and the demise of her marriage, Hazel Alexander retreats to a friend’s Lake Tahoe cabin with big plans to drown her memories in bottles of wine. Being dragged into someone else’s messy, high-profile divorce is not what she needs.

Especially if that someone else is Justice Cross, the frontman of the popular rock band The Deviant.

Born into a family of rock royalty, Justice lives his life fast and easy. When he comes across Hazel while at a local bar, his gallant attempt to get her home safely takes a complicated turn.

A PR nightmare forcing Justice and Hazel to spend time together triggers unexpected and intense feelings between the two.

With the constant attention of fans, haters, and press, now it’s up to Hazel and Justice whether they want to fight for their relationship or end it once and for all.


Fame can be a two-faced bitch. More often so lately than back when I was in my twenties. 
Running my palm over my scruffy cheek, I drink in the crowd packing The Black Lagoon. I don’t hate shaving per se, but I do hate the fact that I have to do it religiously day after day when I’m on tour. 
Ditching the ritual for a few weeks feels good. Makes me feel…more human.
"Back to the studio in January?" Tony, one of the bouncers working for Marvin, grins at me from his spot across the table, then shoves a handful of onion rings in his mouth. 
Marvin, the owner of the joint, went all out when I told him I was going to stop by to see my nephew, Jake’s, band. He called in extra security and loaded our table with every item on his menu. Not that it’s that big of a menu. The Black Lagoon is no Spago. Either way, I don’t have much of an appetite. I’m still on European time. 
"You know what they say. No rest for the wicked." I nod, watching Jake talk to his bandmates. Reminds me of my own first show here. Back when I somewhat worshipped my famous jerk of an uncle, Elijah, when his opinion about my music mattered to me, when my best friend, Chance, was still clean and sober. When we were merely a couple of local guys full of dreams, ready to kick ass, ready to rock ’n' roll. We had no clue our first EP would blow up the Billboard charts a few years later. We just wanted to play music. Dirty, loud, and unapologetic music. 
"You need a break, man," Tony says, shaking his head. 
Tonight he’s undercover, sporting a blue Dodgers jersey, jeans, and a pair of sneakers. 
TMZ rarely stalks me all the way to Tahoe, but since a leaked copy of my divorce papers is the hottest Twitter trend at the moment, having extra security by my side can never hurt.
At the start of my career when I changed my last name, my publicist hired a few computer wizzes to clean up my presence on the net. The things money can buy. Elijah isn’t listed as my uncle anywhere. Not on my Wikipedia page, not in any of the fan clubs or socials. Press isn’t allowed to ask about my relation to the infamous Hale. Fuck that asshole and fuck The Gates of Hale legacy. I made it okay on my own. 
"It’s time to write another album, brother," I say, watching the crowd.
It’s not that I disagree with Tony—after over a decade of nonstop touring, I could definitely use some rest. But the short breaks we’ve taken in between have always been deliberate, always coinciding with our longing to be back in the studio. It’s become as routine as brushing our teeth. The question is whether we need another album right now. We’ve got six of them. All platinum. 
Ready to turn my thoughts elsewhere, I take a sip of my beer that I’ve been nursing for almost ten minutes. Alcohol doesn’t have the same hold on me that it does on my soon-to-be ex-wife. Nikki has been to rehab more times than she’s done the red carpet. I consumed my fair share of booze and drugs in my twenties, but a sense of self-preservation kicked in after my first and only overdose. A wake-up call like never before. After that, the desire to keep getting fucked up dulled down on its own. I can still have a drink or two and be able to stop if needed, which makes me think that maybe I was never into that shit in the first place. Everyone in the band was doing it because it was cool because that’s what a bunch of dudes with tons of cash coming in do when they’re on tour. 
Play a show. Get fucked up. Bone some chicks. Pass out. Wake up. Repeat. Week after week. Year after year. 
Until someone slips. 
Chance was the one who slipped. 
Tony’s voice pulls me out of my reverie. "You’ve been on the road for two years now." 
"I’ll rest when I die," I mutter, relaxing on my bench. 
The booths weren’t here eighteen years ago. Marvin’s remodeled since then. The Black Lagoon isn’t simply a dive bar now, it’s a dive bar with class where rich assholes like me can hide out in so-called VIP sections. I laugh internally at Marvin’s idea of VIP. It’s just a fucking booth. And despite my pleas to not bring attention to my spot, he still put two extra bouncers nearby…in case anyone wants an autograph. 
Pulling the hood of my sweatshirt over my head, I close my eyes and inhale the sharp smell of alcohol, cigarette smoke, and sweat—the smell of live music. People are fools for thinking being in a rock band is glamorous. It’s anything but. The only glamorous thing about The Deviant is the posters. We’re bad motherfuckers in full gear, with our war paint and our stage costumes. Women all around the globe, and I suspect men too, want to lick us from head to toe. Sex appeal sells. And we’re going to keep selling it for as long as we can. 
The first sounds of music blast through the bar like a merciless tornado. I can hear every mistake the mixing board guy is making, but I don’t think this crowd can tell the difference. They don’t know what a good sound engineer can do in a place this small if they haven’t worked with mine. 
Jake has always been into more aggressive music. He’s breathed Metallica since he was a toddler. If he wants to scream his guts out on stage, it’s his call. 
My eyes drift open when the first song comes to an end and I take in the sight of the raging mass. They seem to enjoy the music. I do too. I like the rawness of the sound. 
Tony moves his head to the beat. "Jake is killing it."
I agree. 
The thought of posting a short video on my Instagram crosses my mind, but deep down, I know this can lead to a potential disaster. Any other time of the year, sure. But not right now. Not three days into my vacation. This tour cycle has been brutal. The only human interaction I can bear tonight is with Tony and Jake. 
I film a few segments with my phone and send them over to May. 
She texts me back before I finish typing my note explaining that it’s Jake’s band.  
May: What’s this?
Justice: My nephew’s band. 
May: Are you in Tahoe?
Justice: Yes. Post this on my Instagram in two hours. 
May: Why are you in Tahoe in the middle of the divorce clusterfuck?
Justice: Your point? 
May: The press is crucifying you.
Of course, TMZ got their hands on the divorce papers before my soon-to-be ex-wife was served.
Justice: Tell me something I don’t know. 
May: This?
I clench my jaw and click on the link I receive from May. Blood starts pounding behind my ears as my eyes sweep over the text. Fucking Nikki. She’s always been a drama queen, but calling me violent is a new low. I swallow hard and shove my phone into the pocket of my jacket. How the hell did the two of us stay married for seven years? 
Lesson learned, Justice. Don’t ever date an actress! 

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N.N. Britt is a Los Angeles-based music journalist and photographer. Her photos have graced t-shirts, billboards, and CD covers. She pens realistic, thought-provoking novels about today's world of art and music and the flawed people who live in it. When she's not writing or drinking coffee, she's probably reading or attending a heavy metal show. 

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