Series: Off the Record #3
Author: Madelynne Ellis
Genre: Rockstar Romance
Tropes: Polyamory/Bisexual Lead
Release Date: July 25, 2023
When your angst-ridden past collides with your present, you wind up broken, and you walk away, lest you break everyone else.
Rock guitarist Spook Mortensen has spent a decade hiding from his traumatic past. Now everyone knows his secrets, and their judgement leaves him broken inside and out. To avoid destroying everything that matters to him, Spook leaves both Black Halo and the woman he loves.
But there’s no running from the demons that lurk in the darkest corners of your soul, because they hitch a ride with you wherever you run.
There doesn’t seem to be a path out of the darkness, until the band’s irresistible, sex addicted, bad boy frontman swoops in determined to stage an intervention.
Xane’s prepared to do whatever it takes, no matter the sacrifice, to mend the hole in Spook’s heart and ensure he returns to where he belongs – Allegra Hutton’s arms and the Black Halo line-up. What neither of them expects is how intense the bond between them will become.
Refrain is an angsty, spicy, heart-wrenching rockstar romance with flawed characters, broken and damaged souls, intense friendships, all the feels, and a lot of bed sharing. It’s complicated… okay?
This is the third novel in the Off the Record series and forms part of the wider Black Halo world. These books are intended to be read in order.
Early June. Southampton, UK.
“Don’t die. I’ll never fucking forgive you if you die.”
The miserable rain wouldn’t let up. It dripped into his eyes and hammered incessantly against Xane’s head and back as he folded himself over Spook’s prone form. The cacophony of it drummed in his ears in place of the heartbeat he was frantically trying to detect. “Spook. Goddammit. Please.”
What did he do? What the fuck did he do?
Why wouldn’t his fingers work?
He managed to wrestle his phone from his pocket. “Ambulance,” he barked at it. So many questions. Too many that he didn’t have answers to. The moment the operator ended the call he hit speed dial for Luthor. “Shipping containers about a hundred yards from the bus. Spook’s out cold. He’s been attacked.”
“Badly hurt?” his boyfriend asked.
“There’s blood everywhere. He’s a fucking mess.”
“Tell me you called an ambulance first?”
“Course. Fucking get here. Please.”
“Hang tight. I’m already on my way.”
Luthor continued to talk to him, but Xane dropped the phone, so that he could strip off his leather jacket and gently cover Spook’s shoulders. It did little to keep off the rain. Fucking weather never cut you a break when you needed one. By the time Luthor skidded to a halt beside him, Xane was wet through and shaking so hard he could barely communicate.
His lover dropped the bus’s first aid kit between them but didn’t bother opening it. Sticking plasters weren’t going to cut it. He fell onto his bare knees and entwined Xane in a rough hug. “Ash is watching for the ambulance. Help’s coming. Who did this? Xane… Who did this?”
“I don’t know,” he croaked into the warmth of Luthor’s shoulder. “Is he breathing? I don’t know if he’s still breathing.”
Heedless of the dirty red puddle, Luthor leaned right down so that his cheek was on a level with Spook’s mouth. “He is. He’s still with us, Xane. He’s hanging in there. What he needs is for you to do the same. Take a breath for me, eh?”
His hand touched Xane’s face, bringing both focus and comfort.
“Steve,” he blurted. “He wasn’t nearly this badly…” That event was imprinted directly over the top of the present. Steve, blood erupting from his nose in a gush outside the casino in Monte Carlo. Red everywhere. Red as the pool they were kneeling in. Red as the rivulets coursing over Steve’s parted lips and mingling with the hairs of his designer scruff. Red as spilled ketchup. Red as the entire right side of Spook’s head.
He should have stayed with him. Should never have taken his eyes off him.
“Xane. It’ll be okay.”
The gleam in Luthor’s mismatched eyes was too bright. “Don’t promise me. You don’t know that.”
“What happened to Steve was a freak accident. He was alone. This isn’t the same. We’re right here and you don’t have to let Spook out of your sight, not for a second. Nothing’s going to spirit him away. You can ride with him to the hospital. They’ll be here soon. But only if you keep it together, otherwise you’re no use to him. Do you understand me, Xane? Nod that you understand.”
“I get it. Yeah.”
He shivered, desperate to rid himself of the clammy sensation creeping over his skin. “I’m good.”
Luthor squeezed his arm. “Another few minutes, that’s all.”
The sound of running feet had them both turning. Rock Giant’s moss green hair settled like fronds of seaweed over his eyes as he slid to a halt, sending a spray of water into the air. “Which bastard did this?”
Ronnie Bush shunted in behind him, canopying them with a corporate golfing umbrella. “Shouldn’t we get him out of the puddle?”
“I don’t think we should move him.” Luthor reached a protective arm over Spook’s prone form. “Let’s leave it to the experts, eh? He’s not at risk of drowning, only of getting cold.” On cue, Rock Giant shrugged off his coat, and spread it overtop of Xane’s jacket. “Where’s Alle? Has someone told her?”
Alle. Christ, yes. Xane hadn’t given so much as a thought to Spook’s girlfriend. Hard to think of her as that, after watching his friend actively avoid relationships for the best part of a decade. Someone ought to tell her what had happened. “I have her number in my phone, if you want to call.”
“It’s okay, I’ve got it.” Ronnie passed the umbrella to Paul then hunched against the shelter of the nearest shipping container to see his phone screen. It was more likely that Alle would pick up a call from Ronnie. While she’d taken what had gone down between him and Spook back in Gothenburg a darn sight better than his girlfriend, that didn’t mean she wasn’t holding a grudge. Fuck, it was all a right bloody mess in an all too literal sense.
“I’m not getting a reply. I even tried calling—went straight to voicemail.”
“Could just be shitty reception,” Luthor griped.
An electronic chirp sounded nearby. “Did you hear that?” Xane asked.
The answer was evidently no.
Rock Giant mushed his lips together, which lent his jawline an extra granite-like quality. “Wasn’t she hanging out with Dani and Mrs Gore today? Maybe give one of them a try.”
“Luthor?” Xane prompted his lover. Dani had barely said a word to him in the last twelve hours. It was unlikely she’d take his call, and being used as a messenger service to reach Spook’s girlfriend was going to go down like a lead balloon regardless of the emergency.
“I’ll try.” Luthor rose and backed away from their little huddle. His absence left a chill down the side of Xane’s body. The shakes hit him again as a continual tremor. “Paul, will you try Ginny?”
“Would do,” the big guy said. “If I had her number.”
“Why don’t you?” He had been in possession of it. They all had.
“Ash purged it from my contact list before the wedding. Something about unnecessary schmoozing. Seriously, he’s lost his marbles since they cut that cake. All I asked was whether she had a spare pair of fishnets I could b—”
“Not now, eh?” Luthor cut in. “I’m not getting a response.”
“I’m still not having any joy either,” Ronnie remarked. “And I’ve set it to auto redial.”
Xane swore he heard another electronic chirp.
Luthor re-joined Xane on his knees, having stuffed his phone back into one of his many pockets. “Dani’s going straight to voice mail. Wherever the ladies are, it’s obviously a reception dead zone.”
“Maybe Ash—” Rock Giant began.
“Let’s not distract him.” It was far more important that Ash directed the paramedics to the right place. Xane didn’t want them delayed, even by a second.
Time drizzled on. Xane wound his fingers around Spook’s wrist. There was a certain measure of relief in feeling the steady rhythm of Spook’s pulse. He’d frozen in place by the time the paramedics arrived, breaking the stillness that had settled around them like a shroud. He had to uncurl each finger separately, then his legs protested him rising too. Bits of gravel clung to the skin of his knees. He knew he ought to feel sore, but he couldn’t feel much of anything anymore. He’d stopped being cold, though evidently, he was still shaking as someone wrapped a blanket around his shoulders.
“Is he okay?” Xane asked.
One of the paramedics shone a light into his eyes.
“I want to go with him,” he blurted as the ambulance crew were hopping into the interior with Spook strapped to a trolley.
“Maybe get dried off and follow.”
“No.” Xane threw off the blanket. “I need to be with him.”
Luthor wrapped him up again. “It’s important,” he told the woman.
She inclined her head as if to say your call, but you’re gonna stay wet. Like he cared about that. Steve had died because he’d let him go. There was no way he was leaving Spook. “Fine, just stay out of the way. She pointed him at a seat. Buckle in, don’t move.”
Luthor slipped Xane’s phone back into his hand, then kissed him goodbye. “Keep us updated. We’ll find Alle.”
“And you’ll explain to Dani.”
“She’ll get it, Xane. No explanation necessary.”
He didn’t quite have Luthor’s faith. Maybe she’d understand that Spook needed him right now, but maybe it’d be confirmation that he cared more for Spook than he did for her. It wasn’t true. He didn’t rank the people he loved.
What she had to understand was that while he’d apologise for his actions as many times as she liked, he’d never regret making them. Time over, he’d do the same thing again. And, if he was really the man she wanted him to be, the man worthy of her love, she’d never ask him to do otherwise.
The slam of the ambulance doors snapped him out of his thoughts. It didn’t matter. None of it did. The only thing of importance right now was Spook. He clasped his friend’s ice-cold hand. “Stay with me, eh?” The words were as much for his benefit as Spook’s. He wasn’t even sure Spook could hear him.
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Releasing August 8
Madelynne is a New York Times & USA Today bestselling author. She wrote her first novel after discovering Black Lace Books in the 1990s. Having escaped the Hotel California, she dived into storytelling full-time. Her books are filled with bisexual bad boys who like to get down and dirty, and stories so angst-filled you know they’re going to hurt.
She lives in the UK near the Welsh border, where you can find her surrounded by books, drinking rapidly cooling decaf coffee, and listening to loud music. Her family still haven’t grasped that noise-cancelling headphones really do mean she can’t hear them.