"Fucking hell, how long are they going to make us wait?" Jules hissed, shifting in his chair like a schoolboy in church. "Something happened, you feel it mate?"
"Aye," I grunted. "It ain't like them to make us wait."
"And where the fuck are the others?" Niall piped up, shifting around and staring at the still-closed door. "Why is it just us?"
I shrugged, unable to think of an answer that didn't make this way the hell more ominous than it already was. Neither Killian nor Jane were called into this emergency meeting with the label, it appeared. I didn't dare think what that meant for the future of our band.
"Feels like they're gearing up to tell me me mum died," Jules complained, shifting again. He settled his hand on his knee and began drumming out a staccato rhythm that seemed to soothe him but only served to make me feel more jangly.
The big oak door on the left finally opened and I leaned back in relief to see Roger Blumenthal come in with a stack of papers. Our American label head was a decent bloke, if a little prone to dramatics. Making us sit here waiting for him for ten bloody minutes was actually pretty mild for him.
I blinked and sat up straighter when I saw he wasn't alone. A pretty little brunette trailed behind him, carrying a stack of papers at least two inches thick. I'd never seen her around the offices of Crux Records before, of that I was certain. I would have remembered that pretty narrow face, dark eyes hidden behind oversized tortoiseshell glasses. She was tiny, looking like a child playing dress up in her mum's clothes with that ridiculously conservative suit. But I knew — with that instinct I'd honed after almost a decade playing music in dimly lit pubs — what kind of body she was hiding under there. I could picture lifting those glasses from her face and letting her dark hair tumble down from that tight bun...
I sat up straight again, realizing I'd missed whatever Roger had said in greeting. Too busy staring at his cute little shadow. I shot her the grin that soaked panties on both sides of the Atlantic, but she only gave me a nervous little half-smile.
Jesus, who fucking died?
"I'll cut right to the chase," Roger was saying.
"Thank bloody Christ," Jules hissed from his slumped position in his chair. I kicked him with my boot.
Roger knitted his fingers together and rested his chin on them. "Boys. Killian was arrested last night."
I felt a shock akin to the one I'd felt when I jumped in that icy lake in Sweden on tour last winter. My heart thudded in my ears as I turned in my chair to look at the lads.
Niall was wearing this positively gormless expression, all dopey eyed and slack-jawed. Jules made this little yawping sound that sounded like someone kicked a Chihuahua.
And then all three of us burst into raucous laughter.
"Holy shit, you serious?" Jules crowed as Niall and I cackled like a couple of first form schoolboys. "Bloody hell, it's about fucking time, innit? Goddamn rat bastard finally got what's coming to him!"
Roger remained silent, looking like he had indigestion as he sat there watching us celebrate the long-awaited downfall of our prat of a lead singer. But the pretty brunette, whatever her name was, stood up and shouted for us all to calm down, looking for all the world like she'd smelled dogshite.
"All right, all right," Jules grumbled.
Niall was still giggling delightedly to himself when a thought finally occurred to me. "What'd they haul him in for?" I wondered.
"Being a fucking knob?" Jules supplied, sending Niall into another wave of giggles.
"No," the pretty brunette shouted, sounding quite agitated. "It was for domestic abuse."
We all snapped our mouths shut, Jules's making an audible popping sound. The silence stretched out to infinity as the slow-rolling realization sent the bile churning in my stomach.
"Bloody hell," Jules exhaled.
"Jane," Niall breathed.
I felt like someone had punched me straight in the gut. "What'd he do to her?" I demanded, a protective growl rising up from my throat.
The brunette shook her head, keeping her lips tightly closed, which only served to make the guilt in my stomach churn even harder. "Have you talked to her?" I asked, my voice rising. "Has someone called to see if she's doing okay? I mean fuck, I know she went AWOL back in September, but I always figured Killian... fuck..." I repeated as it dawned on me. "Did he...did he go after her?" I asked, feeling like I was about to vomit.
"No one knows for sure," Roger piped up. "Her lawyer got in touch with us..."
"She doesn't want to talk to us," Niall said sadly.
"I mean, I get it," Jules said bitterly. "If Killian was beating on her and we didn't fucking notice."
"I knew something was wrong," I declared, feeling defensive. "We all did, didn't we?"
"Yes," the brunette said softly, cutting into our self-recrimination. We all looked at her expectantly, as if hoping she'd absolve us of our guilt. Fucking Jane, our female lead singer, the wild banshee that she was on stage, how could a firecracker like her be a victim, and yet, we all fucking knew there was a screw loose when it came to Killian. We just hadn't known how loose until right now. "I knew. She told me a couple months before she disappeared..."
"Not in so many words," Roger interjected hastily. "I mean..."
"Wait," I said, raising my hand for silence and looking back at the girl. "What's you say your name was?"
"I didn't," she said primly. "I'm Celia Gilbert. CeCe. I'm interning with Mr. Blumenthal."
"Ewan," I said with a nod.
She smiled. "I know who you are, Mr. Boyd."
That little grin was like a shaft of sunlight piercing the storm that was raging in my chest and for a second I was distracted from the question that was boiling my brain, but all at once I remembered again. "What did you say, CeCe? About Jane telling you..."
"That Killian was beating on her?" Jules growled.
"Fucking Christ," Niall muttered under his breath.
"She came to me," CeCe said crisply, turning to Roger. "I told you. She wanted to be let out of her contract so she could be rid of him..."
"Fucking Christ," Niall said again, sounding like he was ready to fight something. I understood. I was feeling that way too.
And since I couldn't beat Killian into the ground, I lashed out. My pulse thundered in my ears as I stood up and slammed my hands down on Roger's desk. "You're fucking telling me," I snarled. "That you knew six months ago that that creep was hurting Jane? That she came to you..."
"Not me," Roger corrected, waving me off. "She never told me."
"I told you..." CeCe piped up.
Then she snapped her mouth shut again, but I was already nodding along. "Yeah, you knew Roger. You knew we had an abuser as a frontman and you didn't do anything? You didn't help her? You didn't even fucking tell us?"
"Fucking Christ," Niall repeated, a little louder this time.
I shook my head, straightening back up again. Roger looked at me, his face perfectly composed. Too perfectly. Like he was wearing a mask of faux concern.
Pure disgust wrapped around my throat and I had to choke to get the words out. With undisguised loathing, I looked at our label head. "Well fuck," I said, eloquent as always. "Hope some asshole get fired for this one. Because we're walking out."