From the queen of heart-pounding, sexy, emotional romance Scarlett Cole comes Lennon Reborn, a stunning, shattering rock star romance in the Preload series.
Lennon McCartney is not a broken man. Because being broken implies being whole once. When a horrific accident deprives him of the one thing he loves—his talent as a fierce and explosive drummer—Lennon is left with a life chained by an abusive mother, by crushing guilt over a tragic past. A life he doesn’t want.
Dr. Georgia Starr is a legend. She’s one of the most successful neurosurgeons in the world, coming from a long-line of respected New York doctors. Her life is built around solving complex medical cases in order to bring relief and hope to sick children. But the one problem she can’t solve is how to live her life. How to be shake loose the burden of being her elitist, arrogant father’s daughter. How to be free.
Can a man who despises his life and a woman who desperately needs to live find the answers, and love, with each other?
**Warning: Deals with dark themes and deep personal struggles.**
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Lennon McCartney's heart pounded in his chest like a man buried alive in a coffin. He scoffed at the analogy, given it was how he felt most of the time, but focused on his breathing anyway. Slower, deeper, kind of how he liked to fuck, but now he just wanted to stop the pending heart attack.
The roar of the crowd filtered through the hallways of the Wells Fargo Center in Philly, through the dressing room, over the chatter of his Preload bandmates, and through the noise-cancelling headphones and foam ear protectors he currently wore.
He couldn't escape it.
And he certainly couldn't tell his brothers, the very men he'd grown up with in a Toronto group home, that it was paralyzing stage fright that found him lying flat out on his back for hours before every performance. They'd assumed his insomniac ass needed sleep before their shows, and he'd never been inclined to correct them.
Or give them a reason to find another drummer.
Because drumming was his life.
It was the only thing in his life.
The leather sofa he lay on had seen better days. As had his favorite faded denim jeans. They were worn to within an inch of their life. Ripped across one knee, frayed near the crotch. He wondered how many more concerts he'd get out of them before the fragile fabric became a hole that left him with his dick hanging out on stage.
There went his heart again. Another reason to dread stepping in front of the crowd. Another way he could fuck it up.
He dropped his arm over his eyes and tried to pretend he was anywhere but here. Anywhere other than a couple of hundred feet from the stage he was due to step onto in about twenty minutes.
Then there was the pressure of the latest edition of Rolling Stone naming him one of the greatest drummers of all time, making him the youngest drummer on the list. "All fast hands and flair," the magazine said. "A steady heartbeat that puts a violent underscore to the Preload sound."
He knew he was a good drummer, but was he really one of the greatest?
A wave of nausea joined his racing pulse.
The opening act closed out with a crescendo as the crowd screamed.
He was going to puke.
Fifteen minutes until he walked on that stage.
You're going to fuck it up.
Give them a reason to hate you.
Give them a reason to turn on you.
They always did. It was the reason he'd lived in so many foster homes, it was the reason his adoption had fallen through, and it was the reason the men around him were the only family he'd had since he was thirteen.
And he clung to them desperately, but like a bar of soap squeezed too hard, he was certain they were going to slip out of his grasp too.
Lennon shook his head to clear the voices and breathed, breathed so fucking hard it felt as though he was going to pass out.
What felt like seconds was obviously minutes when he heard the final call to head to the stage.
Someone shook his leg, and he opened his eyes. Bassist, Jordan, was towering above him. "Time to go," he said, offering his hand.
Lennon took it and stood up before removing his headphones.
Guitarist, Elliott, threw his arm around Lennon's shoulder. "Ready to do this?" he said, shaking Lennon so hard his teeth shuddered. It was playful, it was fun, it was high energy, but Lennon felt unsteady. Flakey like he always did in the minutes before he stepped on stage.
Lennon removed his foam earbuds and threw them at their lead singer, Dred, as he walked by. "You going to sing in tune tonight?" Dred grinned and raised his middle finger. "You going to wake up enough to play?" "Always," Lennon replied.
Nik, the final part of their family and master of the seven-string, bounded toward the hallway, his energy level increasing with every successive concert, only this tour was different. More amplified. Lennon could only imagine how hyper Nik was going to be when they played their last show in New York tomorrow, wrapping up a tour that had involved more countries and venues then he could count or remember.
Nik would be happy. He was getting his way. A sabbatical for the band. At least eight months of no Preload.
They were taking the rest of the year off to do other things. To "live," as more than one of his bandmates had put it. But while the others had plans — families, weddings, solo endeavors — he had a fuckload of nothing. Life was beginning to get in the way of their music, yet music was the only thing Lennon had left in his life.
Another reason for his heart to pound.
He dropped his headphones on the sofa and followed the band along the hallway toward their fans.
Elliott and Nik ran up the steps and took their guitars from the roadies. They always bounced onto the fucking stage as if they were made to be there, Nik with his high energy, and Elliott with his indescribable relationship with his guitar. He envied their confidence.
Jordan followed them on at his own pace and resumed his spot further back on the stage.
Lennon looked at Dred as he always did, wishing he had the front man's charisma and easy stage presence.
And like always, Dred asked him the same question he did every night. "You got our beat, right?"
"You'd be all over the fucking place without me," Lennon said. He grabbed his sticks from Ted, his drum tech, and raised them as he walked on the stage. The crowd roared in response, a wall of fucking sound he tried to block out.
He just had to get to his stool.
The walk felt like a million miles as he tucked his sticks in his back pocket so he could pull his hair back in an elastic. One of his many one-night stands had once said he had the blond curls of a Botticelli angel, but now it was straight-up surfer waves women seemed to love. He looked to the wings and saw nothing but his bandmates' growing families. Nik's girlfriend, Jenny, stood next to Pixie, Dred's fiancée. Kendalee, Elliott's girlfriend, blew Elliott a kiss that made him grin. Jordan's fiancée, Lexi, was in England, and in a little over twenty-four hours, Jordan would be on a plane to join her.
But as soon as he stepped onto his podium, it was if a soundproof wall raised between him and the audience, kind of like the fancy limo they'd used to get to the stadium. A silence washed over him as he ran the tips of his fingers across his Tama signature snare drum, custom made for him. The black finish of the five-ply shell of bubinga wood would provide the fat low-end tone he required. The round peak of the bearing edge would allow vibrations to travel easily. Playing these babies was better than sex ... well, almost.
He smirked as he pulled his sticks out of his pocket and sat down on his stool.
Nothing would start until he was ready. Until he raised his sticks in the air and gave them the first four beats and set the rhythm for the song, everyone was at his mercy. The rest of the band wouldn't play a note, Dred wouldn't sing a word.
He allowed the vibration he felt through his feet, from the anxious stamping and clapping of the audience, to fill him up. To give him the energy he needed to play the drums like they deserved to be played. With a kind of reverence and yet without mercy.
This moment of silence, in the midst of the chaos, was what he lived for. He felt like a fully charged battery without an outlet. Or like Freddie Mercury had once sung, he was like an atom bomb about to explode.
Everything slowed down. Everything had meaning. He had purpose.
When he was ready, he raised his sticks into the air and smacked them into each other four times, giving the band their cue. As quickly as he'd blocked the noise out, it came crashing over him as he brought his sticks down onto his drums.
And as the crowd screamed, and the other instruments kicked in, he recognized once again that he literally did live for this.
* * *
Georgia Starr yawned and checked her reflection in the mirror of the room where surgeons grabbed sleep between shifts and surgeries, a place she privately referred to as the graveyard. Her shoulder-length brown hair was flattened on one side, a sign that she hadn't moved around much during her power nap. Though she was instantly wide awake, the bags under her brown eyes revealed the truth of how little sleep she'd actually had in the last twenty-four hours. Yesterday she had spent twenty hours on her feet. Undergrad and med school, followed by her neurology residency, had trained her to fall asleep and wake up at will. She stretched her arms into the air and cricked her neck from left to right. She needed to go to the ICU to check on her highest profile patients, twin two-year-olds.
She pulled her hair into the elastic that had been wrapped around her wrist and smoothed it into a ponytail. Georgia pinched her cheeks to add a little color. Some lip gloss would be helpful, but she needed to go check on her patients.
"Great job in there yesterday," Jim Stein, president and CEO of Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York-Presbyterian, said as he caught up with her in the hallway. "Incredible. I know how much you like to push the boundaries of what is medically possible, but when you take on something like this and nail it, it looks good for all of us."
"It was a thirty-person-strong team," she replied. Separating the conjoined craniopagus twins, born with a section of their brains attached, wouldn't have been possible without the extraordinary specialists in neurosurgery and plastic and reconstructive surgery, plus the anesthesiology staff and all the nurses.
"Of course, of course," Jim said nodding effusively. "But your role in the planning and execution of this surgery has been noted by many."
"Thank you, it means a lot to me." she replied truthfully. The recognition from her peers warmed her but it wasn't helping her patients. She hurried down the corridor toward the ICU without waiting for a response, already focused on the checks and tests Hope and Faith would need over the coming days. The twins had shared a "bridge" — five centimeters of fused brains that had needed to be divided. Though it was way too soon to tell what limitations they would have to deal with in life, there was a high probability there would be some.
"How are they?" Georgia asked her friend Eve, the head of ICU, minutes later as she entered.
Eve finished documenting something in a folder and looked up. "All things considered, they're doing well."
The color in Faith's cheeks looked great given how pale she'd looked immediately after surgery. After looking at her stats, Georgia breathed a sigh of relief. Her blood pressure was up and stable after having fluctuated during the night.
She'd need to check next on Hope's heart, which had been the engine for the twins. Before the first of their surgeries, her blood pressure had been three times higher than normal, while Faith's had been sluggish.
Across the three previous surgeries, Georgia had rerouted about seventy percent of the girls' shared blood vessels, resulting in Hope's blood pressure dropping significantly. Ahead of the final surgery, the girls' plastic surgeon, Dr. Robert Woo, had then placed balloons under their skin to stretch it so their skin could cover the separation.
"I was hoping to see the parents. Do you know where Samantha and Jacques are?" Georgia had spoken to them after the surgery and twice more during the night as the girls' vitals had shifted, but she hoped to reassure them further that the girls were indeed holding their own.
"We persuaded them to go take a shower, get some food," Eve replied.
"Really good to hear." Georgia sighed with relief. Normalcy was nearly impossible for parents when their children were in the hospital. While it was completely understandable for parents to want to be near their children, the horrible truth a doctor could never tell a relative was that sometimes in cases like this they were simply in the way during the critical surgery window. They were really most needed, most useful, in the post-surgery days when their children began to regain consciousness and had to deal with pain and boredom. By which time, parents were often too exhausted to be of real use.
"Thanks so much for doing that," Georgia said. "I'm leaving soon for my brother's birthday party, but you know how to reach me."
"Will do," Eve said. "Have fun and drive safe. It's hard to believe it's the start of freaking April. It was like an ice rink when I came in this morning."
Georgia glanced at the clock on the wall. Two o'clock. She had time to shower at the hospital, but she was ready to get out of there and breathe some unrecycled air. She'd take her clothes with her and shower at her parents' four-story place in Midtown, where she'd be celebrating her eldest brother Ezra's forty-fifth birthday. The guests wouldn't be showing up for hours, meaning she might have time to blow-dry her hair and get a couple more hours sleep in her old bedroom before she'd have to face all four of her brothers and their perfectly curated families. While the men in her family were all happily married or dating, she was the only one still single.
She pulled a sweater on at her locker, slid her arms into a long thick parka, and changed into snow boots. It was hard to believe it was the first day of April. The weather was one giant April Fools' joke. If she did take a job at another hospital, it would be in Miami or some other place in the sun.
She grabbed her purse and made her way to her car. Driving was going to take a ridiculous amount of time in this weather, but there was no way she could have taken the subway carrying a custom-made, engraved axe. Nor could she have brought the barbaric hunting knife her brother had been hinting at in a not so subtle way into the hospital so she could grab her usual car service. At the time she'd picked it — with a variety of other outdoorsy tools — as a birthday gift for Ezra, it had seemed like an inspired idea. He'd recently closed on a cottage in the Adirondacks fitted out with solar panels and now fancied himself a weekend lumberjack, claiming he wanted to experience being "off-grid" and "outdoorsy." His words, not hers.
So, car it was. And she hated driving. It was the only thing she disliked about New York.
"Dumb move, Starr," she said as she climbed into her Mercedes and started the engine. The Dave Brubeck Quartet burst through her speakers. One of her absolute favorites, "Strange Meadow Lark." She pressed the button on her phone to take the song back to the beginning. The song brought forth memories of sitting and listening to it in the greenhouse on the roof of the penthouse that had once belonged to her grandfather, the true jazz connoisseur, and had been her home since his death.
As the piano intro played, she listened for the moment that was coming up. "Listen, Georgie," her grandfather would say. "Listen how seamlessly it moves from the unclear time signature in the solo to four-four time when the others come in."
She felt her body finally start to relax in a way it hadn't even when she'd slept. Some of her colleagues were into meditation to calm down, but a burst of jazz had always worked better on her mental state. So did thinking of her grandfather, the man who had loved her unconditionally and cheered for her every success — unlike her father.
Snow hit the windshield as she pulled out of the lot and put on her wipers. The music and rare April snow might have seemed romantic had she been tucked away in her Upper East Side condo with a nice glass of Barolo. But she wasn't. She was navigating her way through the city to a party she was dreading. But thankfully, the traffic was cooperating. A miracle, given how clogged the main streets usually were.
When her phone rang, she answered it out of habit without looking at the screen.
"Georgia." Her father always sounded like he'd chewed on gravel when he spoke. "Why did I have to hear from Woo's father about the surgery you completed yesterday? I just called Stein. Heard it went well."
It was so like her father to abuse the privileges of his position as the current president of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, blurring the lines of professionalism and nepotism. And so typical of him to call someone other than her to validate whether her surgery had truly been a success.
"Yes, it did. I'm on my way to your house as we speak. I'm just south of the park," she said.
"Very good. Before dinner you can share your findings with your brothers and me, perhaps see if we can't offer some perspective that might have aided the surgery in a more ... effective manner. For example, I'd like to review your decision to split the superficial system of veins in the outer layer of the dura mater."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Lennon Reborn"
Copyright © 2018 Scarlett Cole.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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