The Girl's Got Secrets by Linda Kage - Read Online
The Girl's Got Secrets
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Summary

Here’s the same old “girl posing as a boy” story but with a rock-n-roll twist.

Remy Curran dreams of one day being in a band, except the group she wants to join refuses to hire a girl drummer. So, she auditions as a guy...and makes the cut.

Becoming “Sticks,” a member of Non-Castrato, isn’t quite what she dreamed it would be, though. She spends most of her time keeping up the subterfuge and learning how to walk, talk, act, and drink like a man.

But what’s even harder to deal with is acting oblivious when the band’s heartthrob lead singer, Asher Hart, treats her like one of the guys and not a woman. She never imagined he’d be so much more than a pretty face with a nice voice. But he’s better than perfect. He’s perfect for her.

When love and lies combine, Remy must keep up the act or lose everything. But who knew lying to reach one dream could prevent you from attaining an even bigger dream?

Published: Linda Kage on
ISBN: 9781310711282
List price: $2.99
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THE GIRL’S GOT SECRETS

The Forbidden Men Series - Book 7

Linda Kage

The Girl's Got Secrets

Copyright © 2015 by Linda Kage

Smashwords Edition

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, businesses or establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this book—except in the case of brief quotations in reviews—may be used or reproduced without written permission of the author.

Contact Information : linda@lindakage.com

Publishing History

Linda Kage, November 2015

ISBN: 9781310711282

Credits

Cover Artist: Ada Frost

Editor: Stephanie Parent

Proofreader: Shelley at 2 Book Lovers Reviews

Proofreader: Autumn at The Autumn Review

Spanish Translator : Eli Castro

Dedication

For Eli Castro

(Yes, The Original Elisa)

I can’t thank you enough, chica, for all the time and effort you put into helping me with this story and with, well, everything you’ve done. You’re a one-of-a-kind amazing!

Author’s Note:

I decided not to italicize all the Spanish terms in this story because there were so many of them. And in some cases, my Spanish translator’s suggestions contradicted my English editor’s marks (like the capitalization of proper nouns!) so not everything uses perfect Spanish grammar in difference to this being an English-told story, sorry.

For anyone not familiar with a Spanish phrase you may encounter, I have an English translation chart at the end of the story if you’d like to know what each word/phrase means!

I opened my bleary eyes, half-awake from postcoital bliss as the naked woman on top of me shifted, the soft, smooth warmth of her flesh caressing my own. She slid off the bed and presented me with a spectacular view of the most perfect ass ever, and my smile grew eager...until she pulled on a pair of panties and then reached for her bra.

Wait, no, that wasn’t supposed to happen. Blinking myself back into better consciousness, I tried to sit up and found it damn near impossible. What’re you doing? What’s wrong?

She didn’t answer, which wasn’t surprising. I hadn’t been able to pull more than a dozen words from her since we’d met, and nothing she’d said so far had been in English. But in the lyrics of Jason Derulo, her booty hadn’t needed explaining. Not then, anyway.

Apparently, it did now since she’d gone and hidden hers under a silky piece of black lace. And damn, she looked really good in those silky black panties, especially from the back, where I could see two tanned cheeks peeking out the bottom of all that swirling lace.

You’re not leaving, are you? I tried to sit up again. Still wasn’t happening. I frowned at the fur-covered handcuffs constraining me to my headboard and spent a few seconds muttering until I could twist into a somewhat upright position.

Across the room, she pulled on her stretchy black yoga pants I’d taken off last night with my teeth.

I guess it was time to pull out my high school Spanish. This was going to get ugly, but I didn’t care.

Sentarse. Shit, no. That was sit, not stay, wasn’t it?

Quedarse, I tried again, finally remembering the correct word for stay.

The waistband of her pants indignantly snapped into place on her hips as she spun around to send me a lethal glare; not that I blamed her. I had just given her dog commands.

I winced and repeated, Quedarse, then added a pathetic little, por favor.

She sighed and rolled her eyes before jerking on her top and reaching for her purse.

No! Don’t go. Please, don’t go. I’m sorry. I don’t know what I did wrong, but I’m sorry. Shit, what’s sorry in Spanish?

Lo siento, she said, her voice a quiet, sexy hum that was damn near a whisper.

No idea what lo siento meant, but it sounded stimulating as hell coming from her lips. My body responded, and I had to bend a leg to try to cover my exposed hard-on, so she wouldn’t see how aroused I was while she was trying to ditch out on me.

Elisa! I cried, my voice cracking with desperation. I even banged my cuffs against the metal rails of my bed’s headboard to get her attention.

When she paused at the doorway, her back to me, I held my breath. Such a crucial moment. Whatever I said now could be the deciding factor for her to stay or go. But all I could think to say was, I’m sorry. And I didn’t even know what the hell I was sorry for. I just knew I’d done something wrong, and it was making her leave.

It couldn’t have been the sex. Last night and this morning had totally rocked my casbah. It had hers too; the minx definitely wasn’t quiet when she came. So, what—

She turned back slowly. My heart stuttered in my chest when I saw the tears streaming down her face. Elisa? I whispered, worried as hell.

What in God’s name had I done wrong?

En serio lo siento tanto, she choked out, her face red as she began to sob into her hands. Tengo que hacer esto.

I shook my head. Derulo was freaking whack. This definitely needed explaining.

But as I opened my mouth to spit out more broken Spanish, begging her not to go, Elisa whirled back to the exit and raced up the stairs until I could hear the door at the top slam shut.

Hey! I yelled, my frustration morphing from the worried kind into the pissed kind. "What the hell? Elisa! You can’t just start crying and then run off like that. Get your ass back here and uncuff me from this fucking bed! Tell me what I did wrong. Please! ELISA!"

She didn’t return. And I couldn’t chase after her.

I spent the first thirty seconds of my solitary confinement throwing a major tantrum, thrashing on the mattress and trying to dislocate my wrists by failing at pulling them free of the handcuffs. The damn things were no longer fun...or kinky.

The next thirty seconds, I filled the air with a profanity I’d never used before, blatant and blaring. But nothing I screamed freed me from this bed.

After that, the panic set in. With bruised wrists and a sore throat, I wondered how long I was going to be trapped buck-ass naked to my own bed. People would worry about me eventually...after a few days maybe. The guys in the band. Pick. They’d come around to check on me.

But what if I dehydrated to death before then, or the building caught fire and burned down around me? Or...

Fuck. Now I had to take a piss.

Hadn’t Stephen King written a horror book about someone left handcuffed alone in a bed? I hated horror movies. I didn’t want to star in one of my own.

I jerked on my bonds a few more times to relieve some of my anger and rising fear, but I only succeeded in injuring myself further.

How the hell could she have just left me here like this? It wasn’t as if I didn’t know where she worked. I could find her. And, oh...would I be finding her. She would not be getting away with this without repercussions.

And what had those tears been about? It freaking messed with my head. I wanted to be nothing but pissed, except I was worried too. But I tried to focus on the rage.

Wrong fucking move, princess, I told the empty room, grinning bitterly as I plotted my revenge. Wonder how she’d feel if I handcuffed her to a bed and forced her to tell me every mysterious thought in that pretty head of hers with torture tools like feathers...and chocolate syrup?

And damn it, there went my stupid dick again, hardening at the thought of her in handcuffs and drizzled in something that needed to be licked off. Didn’t the little fucker realize I was in dire straits here? So not the time to be thinking about sex.

Even if last night had been the crème de la crème of marvelous encounters.

On my nightstand, my phone rang. I whipped my attention that way and gaped at it sitting so close and yet so far away.

It rang again, and I could make out the name Sticks on the screen. Perfect. If I could confide in anyone on earth during a situation like this, it would be him. I knew I could count on Sticks for discretion, loyalty and hopefully some freaking help.

Now, I just had to finagle a way to answer his call.

I swung my leg over and used my big toe to try to slide the answer button on. Took two tries, but by God, I did it.

With another tap of the trusty toe, I turned it to speakerphone. Hey, man, I panted out, impressed by how casual I was able to sound while handcuffed buck-ass naked to my bed. What’s up?

Not much. His voice filled my apartment and was like music to my ears. I was starving and thought pizza sounded good for lunch. Want to come with?

Sure, I said; I even shrugged a bare shoulder to keep it all laid-back and casual-like. Yep, I was just chilling here without a care in the world.

Cool. I’ll swing by and pick you up in a bit, then.

Sounds good. But, uh, quick question first.

When I didn’t ask anything within five seconds, he said, O...kay. Shoot.

I bit my lip, debating whether I really had it in me to confess what had happened. The embarrassment would kill me. And though he’d be the kindest about it, I doubt even Sticks would let me live this down.

But then I thought about the whole Stephen King thing, and my bladder gave another lurch, reminding me how full it was. So I clenched my teeth and sucked up my pride.

You don’t happen to have...handcuff keys, do you?

One Month Earlier

Rocking my zebra-striped Chuck Taylors, ripped fishnet hose, blue jean miniskirt, silver-studded belt and a skintight tee featuring the band The Pretty Reckless, I readjusted my wig full of spiky blonde hair.

My toes tapped to the rhythm of the muffled music hammering through the closed door, and I let it pour through me, plugging me into the mood...until the drummer on the other side of the wall missed a beat.

Feeling the sympathy, I winced even as my heart accelerated with anticipation.

So long, sucka. The guy next to me chuckled as the guitars and bass inside the studio lurched to a stop, cutting the song short.

I glanced sideways at my bench companion, and he smirked my way, lifting his fist for a congratulatory bump. Since he was decked out in metal and tattoos, I figured he was competition, but ...oh well. I complied, knocking my knuckles against his as a small grin twitched across my lips.

There went one less drummer out of our way.

Picturing the ass-chewing the dude inside the auditioning room must be getting, I began a countdown, wondering how long it would take for the band to kick him out of there.

Ten, nine, eight— I murmured under my breath, never reaching seven because the double doors burst open, and a pissed-off guy in dreadlocks stormed into the hall.

Fuckers, he growled before sending a piercing scowl to the row of waiting applicants sitting on the bench against the opposite wall, all of us hoping to succeed where he had obviously failed. He gave us a derisive snort and spun away. His rampage down the hall accompanied him kicking one door and throwing his drumsticks as hard as he could toward a trash can.

Kind of a sore loser, don’t you think? my bench companion mused mildly as he watched the temper tantrum.

Meh. I shrugged. I’ve seen my six-year-old cousin throw down more drama than that over a broken doll.

With a smirk, he gave me an approving nod. You’re all right, rocker chick.

I was better than all right. But I didn’t want to scare him. I could tell by the cocky gleam in his eyes, he was certain he’d do better than I would today.

Didn’t want to crush his fragile ego, so I merely sent him a cool smile. Yeah, I was all right.

Next, an irritated voice called from within the auditioning room, making my heart leap into my throat.

Dios, was it my turn already?

Self-confidence plummeting, I stood on trembling legs and smoothed down the front of my skirt. Since the guy next to me had been so kind, the inner submissive in me itched to glance at him with worried eyes, seeking some kind of reassurance. But he was the competition; he didn’t want me to succeed any more than I wanted him to.

Except I just couldn’t help it. I glanced his way, biting the inside of my lip, and totally obliterated the awesome girl-power image I wanted to project. When he grinned and flashed me a thumbs-up with both hands, the boost I needed kicked me back to life.

I gave him a saucy wink and whirled away to sashay through the door, tugging my hot pink drumsticks from my back pocket as I went.

Low ceiling, dim lights, and a large open space surrounding the band in the middle of the room had me slowing to an intimidated stop as soon as the door clicked shut behind me. Only three people occupied the chamber, and none of them knew me, but I knew who each member was without even glancing at which instrument they held. Because I’d gone online to their website and done my homework.

I had only actually seen them play live once, at some Day in the Park event where all the local bands had come together to show off their talent at the Memorial Park’s pavilion. And they’d been good. But the best part: Fisher, my ex-fiancé—though not ex at the time—had hated them. Absolutely despised them. Probably because he’d been pea green with jealousy. Non-Castrato had better sound, more talented musicians, and a way hotter lead singer than his band. More fans too.

Back then, I’d loyally supported Fisher, telling him his band Fish ’N’ Dicks was so much better than Non-Castrato...even though they totally weren’t. In reality, I’d been mesmerized, unable to look away the entire time Non-Castrato had played.

The beat, the words, the awesome guitar riffs had moved through me with an almost unnatural fascination. I’d been waiting with Fisher and his boys behind stage because they were set to go on next, so I’d had a lousy side and kind of behind view of Non-Castrato’s performance. But still...it had kicked ass.

After Fisher betrayed me months later and broke my heart, my trust, as well as my freaking iPod—the ass—I’d made sure to buy every song Non-Castrato had recorded, mostly as a kind of fuck-you to the man I now despised.

But the strangest thing happened after I listened to about their fourth song. I actually fell in love with their music. All of their music. Every single piece.

When I’d heard they were looking for a new drummer, it had felt like providence. I loved their songs, I loved their style, I loved how so many of their lyrics resonated with me, deep in my soul. I’d always wanted to be the drummer in a band. But most of all, I needed something to shove in my ex-fiancé’s face with a big fat, "Ha! I’m in a better, more popular, way more talented band than you are! Suck on that, asshole."

And this was my golden chance to accomplish everything I wanted.

Uh...can we help you? The guy with a six-inch Mohawk in his orange hair asked. He was the bassist, Billy Galloway. The crazy bastard went balls to the wall every time he was on stage. He was the one who gave Non-Castrato their wild reputation because he liked to flash his junk at screaming lady fans...or so I’d read online.

I cleared my throat and nodded. Yeah. I’m here to audition. When all three of them just blinked, I shuffled my feet and cleared my throat again. Umm...for the drummer’s position.

Hello? Why else did they think I was here? I even waved my drumsticks to really drive the point home, since they didn’t seem to get it yet.

Finally, Galloway snorted. Yeah...I don’t think so, sweetheart.

Say what?

Though the bottom of my stomach dropped out, I frowned at him in confusion. Rejection was my biggest fear, and hearing it right off the bat was worse than all those hours of dreading it out in the hall put together.

When no one cracked a smile and told me they were just joking, I shook my head, puzzled. Excuse me?

Galloway leaned forward slightly as he pointed toward the door. "We don’t want you. So, git."

Git?

I glanced toward the other two members of the band.

The rhythm guitarist, Heath Holden, was the most nondescript. He didn’t dress harsh, act rough, or pretty much talk...at all. The only extreme things about him were the tattoos he had racing up each massive bare arm along with the badass biker beard he was growing. He didn’t seem like he had much of a personality, if you wanted my opinion. But, man, he could play a wicked lick whenever the occasion called for it.

As my gaze skimmed over him, the tops of his cheeks brightened and he suddenly turned busy, refusing to make eye contact as he concentrated on digging dirt out from underneath his fingernails.

So I moved my attention to the lead singer. Asher Hart. Aside from singing all their songs, he played the guitar, piano, and he was by far the designated hottie all the girls dropped their panties for and screamed over whenever Non-Castrato stepped onstage. His brilliant voice was the reason they had any talent at all.

And, wow, had I mentioned he was unbelievably hot?

A crazy-attracted sizzle rose from my belly as I took him in. But damn, he was too gorgeous to be real. Not that I was into lead singers. I was so totally over that phase, thanks to my lousy asshole ex.

You suck, Fisher!

Still, Asher Hart was a looker. And obviously too bored to care about me in the least. Paying no attention to my penetrating stare, he unscrewed the cap off a bottle of water and took a long drink as if I was taking up too much of his precious time.

Since the douchebag bassist was the only one bothering to talk to me, I focused my attention back on Galloway. Is this some kind of joke? Though I wasn’t amused, I let out a harsh laugh. You haven’t even heard me play yet.

Don’t have to. You’re a chick.

I lifted my hands in a what-the-hell manner. "Wow. Congratulations. Not many people get that right on the first guess. But, yes, I am female. So what?"

So, we don’t want a girl in our band. We’re called Non-Castrato for a reason, honey. Because we all have dicks.

Like I cared about any of their icky dicks! These days, all dicks sucked. To me, they could go choke on...well, themselves.

Besides, castrato would’ve meant they didn’t have balls, not dicks. Idiota. Except I didn’t tell Galloway that because I was too confused.

But I’m great, I argued. I’m freaking amazing.

Hart cocked a glance my way, lifting an eyebrow as if surprised to hear such glorious self-praise.

But Galloway only shrugged, totally not giving a shit. Then go join an all-girl band.

My mouth fell open. This wasn’t happening. It just...it couldn’t be happening. Here was a real, reachable chance to grasp my life’s dream, and some scrawny jerk-off bassist was telling me no because of my ovaries?

No fucking way.

I don’t want to join an all-girl band, I argued, clenching my teeth as I glowered.

Actually, if there were any kick-ass all-girl bands within a two-hundred-mile radius, looking for a drummer, I might’ve been knocking down their doors for a position. But there weren’t. Besides, I wanted to be in Non-Castrato. Their music was my kind of music. Plus they needed a drummer, and I happened to be the best damn drummer I knew. And I wanted to show Fisher my band could out-rock his sucky, limp-dick excuse of a band any day of the week.

Joining Non-Castrato was the perfect solution for everyone.

The only solution.

If only these fools would open their stupid, sexist, pig headed minds to see that.

Okay, fine, Galloway said with a self-righteous, holier-than-thou grin. Name me one mixed-gender band that hit it big, and maybe we’ll give you a shot.

I smirked. Game on.

Black Eyed Peas.

Fuck, he muttered, not impressed as he sniffed derisively. "Those are all singers. They don’t play instruments, princess. They’re not a band."

All right then. I blew out a breath to flutter the spiky white-blonde wig bangs out of my eyes and began to rattle off a new list. Fleetwood Mac, Blondie, Jefferson Airplane, The—

Galloway gave another snort, cutting me off. Yeah, and the only things the chicks in those bands did was sing. We got Hart; we don’t need another fucking singer.

"Talking Heads, I lifted my voice to speak over him. Of which the chick was the bass guitarist, I believe. I spiked a derogatory glance to the bass guitar strapped over his shoulder. And so was the bassist in The Smashing Pumpkins and—"

"None of which were drummers. Galloway held up a hand when I opened my mouth to argue. The fact of the matter is, we don’t want a female. And it’s our band. Our decision. So bye-bye now, sweetie. When I need a groupie to go down on me in the bathroom after a gig, I’ll give you a call."

I narrowed my eyes at him only to turn toward the other silent members. "Are you two lemmings just going to stand there and let this douche make all your decisions for you? Is he, like, your dictator or something?" Heavy on the dick.

Look, I’d listen to you, Asher Hart finally spoke up. Dark green, penetrating eyes lifted to coast over my outfit before settling back on my face. When I only narrowed my eyes, he lifted his hands self-defensively. Honest. But we’re picking our drummer by a unanimous vote, and you already don’t have that. He glanced at Galloway with an irritated scowl. Doesn’t look like you’re going to get it, either, whether he hears you play or not.

Nope, Galloway said, popping the p-sound as he sent me a smug wink.

Tears threatened, but I swallowed them down as I licked my lips. With Galloway, I’d only been pissed by his foul-mouthed rejection. But for some reason, Hart’s sympathetic explanation split me in half and left me bleeding.

After a deep breath, I tried one last time. "Fine, then, Billy." I focused all my attention on him since apparently he was the only guy I had to sway. "All I’m asking for is one shot. If you don’t like my work after that, you can tell me to kiss your ass."

Galloway snickered. I’d rather you kiss my dick. And maybe deep throat it a little. Hell, honey, I’m willing to give you a taste now, if you’re thirsty. He reached for his fly but Hart sharply told him to cut it out.

Clenching my teeth to hold back my retort, I glared at Galloway, envisioning all the ways I could murder him. None of them were pretty. Or fast.

Which brings up another reason we shouldn’t have a girl in the group, Holden finally put in his two cents worth, his voice soft as he winced. With Gally around, you’d be suing us within five minutes for sexual harassment.

I rolled my eyes. Trust me, I can handle the little goat fucker talking smack. I glanced at Galloway with disinterest. As long as he keeps his hands to himself, I don’t give a shit what he says.

Wiggling his fingers, Galloway grinned. Oh, but these hands like to roam, baby. Especially over a landscape like yours.

Oh, brother.

Galloway, Asher bit out, his voice a warning. Then he turned to me and shook his head. I’m sorry; this just isn’t the right place for you. I’m sure you have an amazing talent, but we need to get back to our auditions now. We kind of have a time crunch.

My throat went dry and I once again experienced the overwhelming need to sob. But I held it in. Gritting my teeth, I glanced at all three members, who gazed back with three different expressions on each of their faces, waiting for my response.

"So you all would rather be just another rock band cliché? I asked. With your leather pants— I pointed toward Galloway with a disgusted wrinkle of my nose before targeting Holden. —tattoos and piercings, and hot lead singer man-whore. With a scathing glance at Hart, I set my hands on my hips. Good luck getting anywhere with that."

Sniffing my derision, I spun around and marched toward the exit, only to pause at the door and glance back. "Oh, and maybe you should Google Karen Carpenter, Moe Tucker and Honey Lantree. All were female drummers for big time mixed-gender bands. Certainly bigger than you losers will ever be. Chinguen a su madre."

I didn’t slam the door as the drummer who’d tried out before me had. But it obviously only took one look at my face for all the others waiting in the hall to know just how badly I had failed.

Tucking my pink drumsticks back into my hip pocket with all the dignity I could muster, I lifted my head proudly and swallowed down the pain.

My so-called pal next in line smirked. Didn’t want a chick, did they? The gleam in his eyes told me he’d known I wouldn’t make it all along.

I didn’t honor him with a response. Notching my chin higher, I strolled regally down the hall, out of the studio and into the dismal, cloudy day. I didn’t burst into tears until I’d gotten into my car and was pulling out of the studio’s parking lot, the defeat making me drippier and even more pissed that I had to own ovaries and so many freaking emotions.

Thirty minutes after the ruin my life had become, I turned down the volume of I Love It by Icona Pop on the radio and parked a block away from Castañeda’s Mexican restaurant.

Face wiped free of the thick black eyeliner and lipstick I’d worn to the audition from hell, I checked my reflection to ensure my eyes were no longer red and puffy. When I saw myself, though, I snorted. Proof of my tear-fest might be gone, but I looked hideous anyway—as virginal and Christianly as a Sunday-school teacher. And yet I knew my uncle still wouldn’t approve. The tyrant preferred me in turtlenecks and cardigans over drab, ankle-length skirts made of sackcloth. But I had compromised as best I could with jeans—the denim ripped out in the knees—and a loose black sweater that liked to dip off one shoulder and revealed the strap of my purple tank top—to match the purple highlights in my hair.

My punk-rocker wig gone, I finger combed my dark mane one last time and then grabbed my purse.

I bypassed the main entrance of Castañeda’s and ducked down the alley beside it, calling a greeting to Mick, the homeless guy who camped out there and waited for stray scraps.

After unlocking the back door of the restaurant, I slipped inside and hung my jacket on a hook. Behind me, the radio played a familiar Latino tune while a humid heat crawled up the back of my sweater.

If you keep coming in late, mi padre’s going to take a strap to you, prima.

I yelped and spun around to find my cousin Big T, short for Tomás, mixing dough. Half a dozen raw, already stuffed and sealed empanadas sat on a cookie sheet ready to go into the oven. A hairnet covered his dark head of thick black hair and flour powdered his heavy arms up to his elbows.

Cállate, I muttered as I stashed my purse and found my own hairnet to slip on.

He belly laughed. What’s this? I abandon my post at the stoves to take over your oven job for you and all I get is a shut up? In Español, no less. My sweet prima offends me.

Realizing I had been bitchy to one of my favorite people on earth, I let out an apologetic sigh. Plus a great big gracias and kiss on the cheek for my wonderful Big T. I wrapped my arms around his wide barrel chest from behind and leaned over his shoulder to stamp a big, wet, sloppy one right to his cheek.

He flushed but grinned his appreciation as he shrugged me off and continued to mix the dough with his beefy hands. Shoo. Enough of that. Tell me how your audition went. You must’ve done well if you stayed this late. Made the first cut, ¿sí?

My smile dropped. The audition? It was...bien. I nudged him aside with my hip and took over where he’d left off, since the baking was technically my job. I put all my attention into pounding my palm into the dough that suddenly worked as a nice stress ball. Fold, pound. Flour. Fold, pound. Forget all auditions, sexy lead singers, and the tears it had brought. Flour. Fold, pound—

Tomás grasped my elbow. Hijo de puta, it’s dead already. Stop torturing the poor dough.

I scowled at him but obeyed, yanking up the rolling pin and flattening it into a disc. Crossing his arms over his chest, my perceptive cousin leaned his back against the table beside me as he studied my face.

They’re not the only band around, you know.

I ground my teeth, trying to ignore him as I snagged a knife, then a nearby plate to use as a stencil and cut the dough into perfect circles. "But they’re the best band."

He snorted. Matter of opinion.

A die-hard Los Horóscopos de Durango fan, he didn’t get my fascination with all things pop, rock, or punk.

Hey, wipe the glum off your face. Abuela’s here tonight, working the cash register. Seeing her is always reason to smile. Plus, she’ll know as soon as she gets a look at you that something’s wrong. You don’t want to upset our fragile, aging grandmother, do you?

After he arched a censorious eyebrow at me, I sighed and let my shoulders deflate. No. You’re right. I’ll stop being a drama queen.

Bien. Because it makes you a total pain in the ass to be around. Then he picked up a handful of flour and flicked it at me...as if that would help cheer me up or something.

Tomás Emmanuel Fernando Castañeda! I screeched in outrage and tore off my hairnet, frantically brushing flour from my locks. How could you? Pendejo.

Elisa! The sharp crack of my uncle’s voice instantly had me snapping to attention and lifting my shoulders until my back was military straight.

Fuck. Even though I felt like I was at home in this building where I’d spent most of my childhood, I never failed to flinch at that voice. But I hated getting caught spouting expletives in front of Tío Alonso. It reminded me too much of when I was little and he’d smack my knuckles with a spatula every time he heard me curse.

He no longer verbally censored my language or took a spatula after me, but he sure as hell sent me the ultimate scowl of disapproval as he plowed into the room.

Drawing in a short, bracing breath before turning around, I looked up at him and said, ¿Sí?

Llegas tarde.

I shifted my weight uneasily from one foot to the other as I stared at the patriarch of my family. Though I had lived with and been raised by my grandmother, Tío Alonso—my grandmother’s oldest son as well as Big T’s dad—had been the only father figure in my life since I was two. So, despite the fact I didn’t care for his autocratic attitude, he still knew how to make me behave...and rebel.

After lifting my chin, I gave him a tight nod. Yeah, I know I’m late. I’m sorry, but I... I paused, trying to come up with a plausible reason for my tardiness that wouldn’t get me an overly long lecture—since he abhorred my love for his least-favorite kind of music—but he obviously didn’t want to hear excuses today.

Carmen didn’t come in tonight. We need you up front, pronto.

I bit back an immediate curse. But...damn it. I hated waitressing more than anything. Fingering the hem of my sweater, I said, I’m not dressed to work out front.

Solo hazlo, he muttered his command.

Sí, tío querido. My answer made him scowl, because it reminded him how much of a tyrant I’d repeatedly told him he was. He hated it when I called him uncle dearest in my sweet angelic voice, like some kind of meek servant—since he knew I was anything but meek or sweet—about as much as I hated how he refused to call me by my first name.

Tío Alonso was the only person on earth who addressed me as Elisa, my middle name, because he thought Remy was much too masculine and not nearly Latin enough for his taste.

And Elisa? he grumbled, his accent thickening with his irritation.

I sighed, wondering what he was going to pick on now. ¿Sí?

Limpia tu camisa. He waved his pointer finger at my sweater.

I glanced down to see flour spotting the cloth. Muttering under my breath, I beat at it, to clean it off as best I could while Tío Alonso pushed his way back through the doorway and left us.

Behind me, Big T chuckled softly at my scolding.

Idiota, I hissed at him, using the much more kosher word this time, just in case Tío Alonso could still hear us. Look what you did to me.

He only smirked harder. Hey, I didn’t know you were going to be forced to waitress tonight.

"How about you wait tables then, and I’ll finish up these empanadas," I begged, fluttering my lashes at him. But I must’ve tried that trick one too many times; he totally wasn’t swayed.

Not on your life, prima. Get out there.

Asshole. I flipped him off before hurrying my way through the doorway and finding myself behind the front counter facing the dining area where dozens of tables were already full. Ugh! I so did not have the disposition to be a good server tonight, and since it was a Monday, more of the family scene would be present, including obnoxious bratty kids and irritable fed-up parents.

The joy.

Wherever the hell Carmen was, I hoped her absence from here was worth it, because I was going to kill her for making me go through this today of all days. If I hadn’t been forced to work right now, I’d be at home, slaughtering Nazis or zombies on my Call of Duty game...because I was in the perfect mood to draw some virtual blood.

I was fishing a spare waitressing apron out from under the counter along with an extra order pad when a soft voice called my name from the cash register. I glanced over and caught sight of my tiny, gray-headed grandmother perched on a stool watching me.

I’d totally forgotten Big T had said she was here tonight...if that didn’t tell you how scattered my brain was after my auditions.

Abuela. I hurried to her to give her the dutiful granddaughterly hug. Te extrañé.

Abuela had been my legal guardian since I was nine, when enough drugs had fried my mother’s brain to the point she’d been put away in a mental institution. But since Abuela had lived with Tío Alonso ever since they’d come to the US on work visas two years before I was born, I’d been raised pretty much under his roof...and his rule. And even though my grandmother could be sassy when you crossed her, she was still the sweetest soul and usually compliant to her eldest son’s authority.

Mi linda nieta, she murmured, cupping my face and looking into my eyes. Te ves triste.

I forced a smile and shook my head. I’m not sad, I tried to reassure her in Spanish, all the while biting the inside of my lip and hating that she could always see so much in me. I couldn’t tell her about my failed audition either; she loathed my kind of music just as much as Tío Alonso did. Just...upset about having to wait tables.

Shaking her head, she swatted me away, telling me to get to work before commanding me to stop by more often to visit her. With a quick kiss to her cheek, I was off and catching a table of waiting customers that my younger cousin Luis didn’t seem to have gotten to yet, since he looked busy trying to clean up a drink spill across the room at another table.

Hola. Buenas noches, I greeted with a smile to the family of three I approached. Have you guys gotten your drinks ordered yet?

Castañeda’s boasted authentic Mexican food, despite the fact that the crunchy tacos here were nothing like a true taco back in México, where my family had migrated from. Tío Alonso called the tacos we served the locals chingaderas, aka pieces of shit, but they were one of our most popular orders, so we continued to supply them.

Other than that, everything else we served was a true Latino dish. And everyone who worked here was of true Latino descent. I was nearly the exception, since my blood was diluted. My father had been American with German-Irish ancestors, and he’d stuck around long enough to marry my mom and get me the Curran surname before he’d taken off to parts unknown. But I looked Mexican enough and my mother had been a Castañeda, so I guess that gave me my in to work at the family restaurant.

And gave me the enjoyment of having the kid at the table in front of me spray my pant leg with queso-gooped snot as he sneezed on me.

Nice.

I smiled through clenched teeth at his parents as if everything was bien, even though I wanted to strangle their brat who was currently singing about Bob the Builder at the top of his lungs and tossing his tortilla chips onto his seat so he could march them into crumbs as they studied their menus, oblivious. Gritting back my irritation, I took their order and escaped before I unloaded my frustrations of the day onto them.

Six hours later, I trudged into my apartment and flopped onto the couch, where I moaned out my misery and slapped my hands over my face.

This—this—was my life. And it looked as if it was going to remain my pathetic existence for the next long while. No drumming position. No new band membership. Nothing but serving asshole customers who wrote LOL on my tip line instead of providing a single penny of gratuity after my damn fine waitressing, if I did say so myself, despite how much I wanted to curl into a ball on my sofa and cry while killing things on video games...and maybe stuffing my face with chocolate and ice cream. And piña coladas. God, and drowning myself with so many piña coladas! And maybe singing really sappy, sad love songs like My Heart Will Go On as I envisioned all the zombies I slaughtered were Fisher...or that bassist for Non-Castrato and the way-too-hot lead singer, Asher Hart.

Work had somewhat helped distract me from my melancholy all evening, but now, not even the half a dozen smelly grease stains on my clothes or my sore feet could keep my mind off those stupid auditions and that bastard group of band members who’d laughed in my face. Actually, my greasy smell and sore feet only helped highlight how awful it all was.

I was never going to be accepted into any band. I don’t know what I’d been thinking to audition today. Not even dating the lead singer of Fish ’N’ Dicks had gotten me into their band. Why had