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Unplugged - Chapter One

"What's this mean?" the blonde asked coyly, tracing the tattoo on his chest.

"None of your business," Masen snapped, "and don't fucking touch me unless I tell you to!" His buzz fading, he already regretted bringing her to his room. He'd thought her pretty, with her long hair and blue eyes, but it had been her generous mouth and thoughts of the pleasure it could bring that had made him choose her over the dozens vying for his attention. But once he'd fulfilled those desires, her appeal had faded, and he was eager to be rid of her.

Early in his career, he'd been flattered by the adoration, taken aback—shocked even—by the blatant sexual overtures. He thought many of his female fans, the women who jostled, bribed and charmed their way backstage, attractive. Hell, some were drop-dead gorgeous, and each and every one of them made it abundantly clear why they were there. So Masen indulged liberally and often. Why not, he rationalized; he's a man, after all—who wouldn't take advantage of so much exposed flesh and unbridled lust?

But, more and more, he found himself repulsed by the women's desperation, the lengths they'd go to, and the indignities they were prepared to endure to achieve their goal. The woman beside him was no exception. With the deed done, twice to be exact, he'd become irritated by her prattle and her attempts to turn their encounter, which to him had been nothing more than scratching an itch, into something more. Her mention of his tattoo, though, that particular symbol, and its unwelcome reminder of how monumentally he'd fucked up, made him want to smash things, trash the place—but he wasn't stoned or drunk enough to not consider the consequences. Victoria would go ape-shit if she had to deal with the aftermath again—although, to be fair, it's usually James and not him who goes that far.

"On your knees," he told Chrissie, Chloe, whatever the hell her name is instead.

Cassie scampered to do his bidding as he reached for a condom. He'd only just lifted the foil package when the door was flung open. It hit the wall with an ear-splitting crash, and Victoria stormed in. She threw Masen a murderous glare before she dragged Cassie off the bed and across the floor, the woman trying desperately to free her hair from Victoria's clutches. Victoria's grip remained vicelike; she ignored Cassie's screeching and, with a concerted effort, shoved her into the corridor. Before the blonde could recover, she gathered whatever female clothing she could lay her hands on and hurled it into her face. "Slut," Victoria yelled and slammed the door shut.

She turned on Masen then, but he spoke before her. "Must you spoil everything?" he asked contemptuously.

"You've sunk to an all-time low, Masen. God knows what I saw in you."

"A meal ticket, baby; that's what you saw—what you still see." He sat up against the headboard, not bothering to cover himself. "Oh, and the best sex you ever had—and let's not forget the chance to get your face in the papers," he said like the bastard he'd become.

"What's happened to you? You've turned into a pig— a drunk, junkie pig; no wonder you can't hold onto relationships" she retaliated, unwittingly hitting on a raw, a very raw, nerve.

"I dumped those women because they were soulless and fame-hungry; like you," he snapped, pushing back unwanted thoughts of the relationships he severed—the ones that mattered—the one that meant the most—not the interludes with vacuous models and actresses. "And you and I are not in a relationship; we fuck— occasionally—when no one else takes my fancy."

Victoria recoiled but quickly recovered; her reputation for being a bitch, well earned. "Well, you won't be famous for much longer if you don't pull your head out of your ass and clean yourself up!" She waved a disparaging arm around his hotel room. Masen didn't bother looking; he knew what he'd see—discarded clothes, empty bottles littering practically every surface. Still glaring at him, Victoria moved to the coffee table, swept up the scattered pills and left. Masen heard the toilet flush, and, for just a fleeting moment, he experienced shame, that old, familiar feeling of inadequacy. He shrugged it off. He's no longer that person; he's Masen, he reminded himself.

"And don't expect me to keep covering for you. I'm through," Victoria sneered when she returned.

"I don't need you. My music speaks for itself," Masen shot back.

"You're kidding right—after the last album sales?"

"And who the fuck's fault is that? Yours—for pushing me into that shit," he yelled.

"It's what the public wants, Masen. It's what sells!"

"Then why the fuck did you sign me? I've never been interested in that kind of music. You knew that."

"I didn't sign you for the music you were making; I wanted you because of your potential. You're a brilliant songwriter and musician, you have the looks, and you ooze sex. I knew I could make you big."

"What about what I wanted? You screwed me over. If I'd known you wanted a front man for a fucking boy band, I would never have signed!"

"Don't blame me for your gullibility. You should have asked the right questions; your lawyer should have," Victoria said, smug, her eyes gloating.

"The lawyer you recommended? Just another slick trick, right?"

"I don't see why you're complaining; look at the success you've had," she argued, her tone conciliatory. "The album failed because you're not focused. Look at yourself, Masen; how low you've sunk! You partied before, sure, but you were never a falling-down drunk. You didn't get stoned all the time, and you certainly didn't pop pills with groupies. What the fuck did you think you were doing, sharing drugs with that slut? You don't even know where the stuff came from—and thank God you still have the smarts to use condoms. I can understand James not giving a shit; he doesn't have the talent you do."

"That was my shit you flushed away, and I know exactly where it comes from; you fucking know. And, again, let me remind you that you teamed me with James. You insisted that we collaborate despite our different styles. Has it occurred to you that the album failed because of that? It's hard to produce good music when you don't believe in what you're doing—when you don't feel it! I still don't get why you forced me into it." A moment of betrayal crossed his face. His expression, when she replied, reverted to derisive anger.

"It's simple, Masen. Arrius needed a band, and with your success, who better to front the group?"

"You truly are a toxic bitch. A&R my ass! You're not developing my career; you're managing yours—at my expense."

"You'd still be playing shitty pubs if it weren't for me."

"I don't need you. I'm a musician, not a performing monkey, which is what you want—and I was playing the music I want!"

"Look…most band members who go solo fail, but lots like Clapton, Sting, Ritchie, Timberlake made it. They're amazing musicians, and so are you. You can go out on your own again—eventually—but, for now, trust me; this is best. We make a good team, Masen; at least, we did until you went off the rails. We could be good again, babe," she cajoled. She sat on the edge of the bed and stroked his thigh.

Masen batted her hand away. "Victoria, don't patronize me, and you and I are not a team. We never were, and we never will be. And in case you haven't noticed; I only fuck you when I'm drunk—and only when there's no one better around!"

She stood; her attitude arctic, and the two continued to verbally eviscerate each other. Whatever good feelings existed between them, if any, was lost that night, and Victoria, true to her word, withdrew her support. She did nothing to intervene or relieve the tension developing between Masen and senior Arrius executives, who, because of continuing weak sales, were no longer willing to tolerate what they termed the band's 'undesirable habits'. A message, Victoria gleefully relayed in the second last week of their tour after a paparazzi member, again, caught and filmed James snorting coke.

Ironic that those same executives, once they realized that Eclipse's, more specifically, Masen's fans, embraced the bad boy label, tacitly encouraged the conduct. Drunken public behavior, leaked stories about sex in dressing rooms, and rumored drug taking would, in normal circumstances, have met with widespread disapproval. But the entertainment world is far from conventional, and, in the music industry, especially it seems, outrageous conduct is tolerated—celebrated even. Atrocious behavior often enhances rather that detracts from fans' adulation as history would attest. Record executives and artists' managers—those, who could, potentially, curb the excesses—more often than not turn a blind eye. After all, attention drives their business, and whatever keeps their clients in the spotlight, as long as it doesn't negatively impact income, is encouraged. Bad behavior is deemed good business.

Victoria had been right when accusing him of changing. The twenty-year-old she'd discovered seven years ago, loved getting buzzed but drank beer, not hard liquor. He enjoyed a joint, but was, by no means, hooked, and he didn't do hard drugs. Speed, coke, ecstasy, molly—you name it, and chances are they were available in the places he'd frequented and performed at. Edward, as he'd then been known, could not be tempted. Hard drugs hand not been his thing. "Music's my high," he'd said.

He'd been thrilled when, at one of his gigs, Victoria introduced herself as an A&R exec from Arrius Records, Los Angeles. She'd professed to love his music and invited him to join her for a drink. He did, listening with rapt attention as Victoria spoke about her job finding and recruiting new talent and then overseeing their development. A&R, she said when asked, stands for Artist Development and Repertoire and explained that she assists in song selections, helps to choose a producer, a recording studio. Essentially, A&R execs are the link between artists and other departments within a record company. "You'll come to depend on me," Victoria told him and smiled in a way that could only be described as seductive.

"You haven't signed me," Edward joked.

"Oh, I will," she said and asked if he had any demo CDs. Edward, of course, did. What hopeful musician doesn't travel with at least one?

"Tell me about you," she'd invited then questioned him about his family and job.

"I'm pre-med at Penn."

"So… medicine not music? What a waste of talent." Victoria pouted her red lips in mock dismay.

"Well, music's my passion, but my father thinks it's a waste of time." Edward couldn't disguise his bitterness. "He's a cardiothoracic surgeon with a God complex," he said as if that explained everything.

"Has he heard your music? Heard you perform live?"

"He has, but never willingly, and he's never seen me perform." Edward's tone, his body language, made it clear he didn't want to pursue the subject. Victoria smiled sympathetically and moved on.

"What about girlfriends? Someone like you must have your pick of women."

"I have a girlfriend," Edward said, smiling.

"She must be special to make you look like that."

"She is." His eyes softened, but, again, he refused to elaborate.

"Girlfriends and boyfriends often get in the way of new artists' success. I've seen many talented hopefuls careers stalling, even failing, because their partners couldn't understand or cope with what it takes to make it in the music business. Or, because of jealousy."

"That wouldn't happen with me."

"So your girlfriend's not jealous—won't resent the amount of time you'd have to spend apart?"

"She understands me better than anyone and has always supported me. I don't see that changing. She has her own ambitions, and you keep talking as if I'm a professional musician; I'm not. I'm a med student who makes music and performs in my spare time."

"For now," Victoria said, gracing him with another sultry smile. "Anyway, I should go; do you have that demo?"

Edward handed over the CD, gave her his cell number when she asked, and they said goodbye. He didn't expect to hear from her again but hoped. A month later, he'd forced himself to stop thinking about it when Victoria rang to ask for an email address. She wanted to send him a deal memo, a non-binding agreement to establish a business relationship between him and Arrius Records.

"Shit! I'm excited, Victoria; but ... hell…" he broke off, his euphoria dashed by the thought of his family's—more notably, Carlisle's— response to him dropping out of college.

"Chances like this don't come along often," Victoria said in the pause that followed. "Do you know how many musicians dream of something like this happening to them? I'm considering a couple of other guys, and I need to make a decision, so you need to seriously think about my offer. I'd like you to travel to LA next week to meet with Mitch Walker, our A&R VP and perhaps even Aro."

Edward's heart pounded in his chest. He'd read about Aro Larsen, a maverick record exec, who, twenty years ago, following a disagreement with his boss, started his own business, Arrius Records. He stole some of his former company's biggest names right from under their noses and, with that coup under his belt, turned his attentions to other labels' choicest clients.

"I'm not sure..." Edward answered Victoria, tamping down his excitement.

"For fuck's sake, Edward, I'm not asking you to sign anything binding. We'll only formalize a contract when our lawyers and your lawyers have negotiated and agreed terms. All I'm asking—if you're interested and serious about your music like you said— is that you meet with my boss and a couple of producers. I'm even offering to pay for your trip. What's there to lose?"

"Give me a couple of days." Edward hung up, cringing at the thought of the shit storm about to erupt at home.

Thank you for reading.

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