Home > Stand (Bleeding Stars #6)

Stand (Bleeding Stars #6)
Author: A.L. Jackson


Zee ~ Seven Years Earlier

A smoky dimness cloaked the night sky. City lights glowed against the fog that sagged so low and thick, I could almost reach out and touch it. It cast my entire world in an ominous haze, everything I’d ever known vapors and mist.

I sucked in a desperate breath. Guilt ate me alive as I pressed my cell harder to my ear. “I’m sorry. I’m so goddamned sorry,” I begged.

Grief clogged his voice as it traveled across the miles. “You’re sorry? You were my best friend. My brother. I trusted you. Would have trusted you with my life.”

I blinked hard, trying to see through the torment. “It was a mistake.”

But simply labeling it a mistake felt like committing treason. Another dose added to the mounting disloyalty.

His words trembled with anger. “A mistake? You betrayed me.”

My hand fisted in my hair, and I began to pace. With each desperate step, loneliness closed in. My chest felt too tight and too empty, like I could feel the connection that had always bound us together loosen.

Because I couldn’t ever take back what I’d done.

I could feel the world splintering around me, my foundation crumbling beneath my feet.

Opening to reveal my wrong.

It tossed me headfirst into a bottomless chasm.



“I’m sorry, man. I’ll do anything. Anything. Come back to LA. We’ll work it out. Just…tell me you forgive me. Tell me you’re okay…that this won’t cause you to slip.”

His laughter was hollow. “What’s the point of staying clean…the point in working hard for what is right…when it’s just taken away from you anyway?”

I gulped around the agony. “Mark—”

“I have to go.”

He ended the call, and I choked over a strike of fear that hit me like a bolt of lightning.

Searching for an answer, for courage, I turned my face to the heavens that glowed like I was at the brink of day without the promise of a sunrise.

The stars were obscured.


Stars I knew shined and glimmered so damned bright when you stepped out of the limelight and depravity of this sordid city. Somehow, I’d always thought those twinkling stars the guardians of the wishes I’d cast upon their fallen as a child.

As if they held them protectively where they forever danced until the day those wishes were released and that dream became a reality.

In that moment, I swore I heard a silent curse uttered that left them permanently dimmed.

As a kid, I had breathed a million of those wishes.



Now I could feel them falling all around me. Burning and bleeding out.

Disintegrating into nothing.

That had been the last time I talked to my brother. I knew I deserved it. I could never ask for anything more. I never questioned it. Never dreamed it could be any other way.

Not until the day I met her.

Chapter One


It was late when I took the walkway toward the modest house in the quiet suburban neighborhood. My flight from Savannah had been delayed, and I was fucking wiped.

Ash and Willow had arrived a week ago. The rest of the band and their families would be there within the next few days so we could finalize plans for the next tour, which was kicking off next month.

Over the last couple of years, things had skyrocketed for Sunder, the band gaining more fame and prominence than we ever could have dreamed. We’d been working our asses off in Savannah, putting the final touches on the album we’d recorded while there over the last couple months.

Now we were shifting gears and turning our focus to the promotion, which meant playing live and getting in front of our fans.

Thank God we got to take a breather for a bit, because I was exhausted.

Still, I shouldn’t have been surprised this was where my feet carried me the second we’d landed.

I rapped on the door.

Four months had passed since I’d been back in LA, a sin in and of itself, and my chest tightened with a shot of anticipation that always came with a healthy dose of regret as I lifted my hand to knock at the wood.

Waiting in the shadows of night, I sucked in a deep breath, wondering again how the fuck I’d gotten this deep. Torn between two worlds. Pretending one didn’t exist.

I guess none of us really knew what direction our lives were gonna go. As kids, we imagined and dreamed. Most of the time, those dreams were bigger than life.

Outrageous and bold.

Unattainable and impractical.

Sometimes we got real close to reaching them, and other times we landed in an entirely different stratosphere.

What seemed ridiculous was I was the one who’d landed here. Living the life so many kids considered the wildest kind of dream.

The rock star life.

Endless roads and boundless fans.

Money, fame, and fortune.

Crazy, because I never really felt I was living it. Just a stranger who glided along the periphery. Close but never quite stepping over the line.

I hadn’t wanted it. Had never pictured myself in this position. The things I’d wanted had been similar but distinct. Different but the same.

Truth of the matter? That’d been me and my brother Mark all along.

Polar opposites but entirely in sync.

Contradictory but identical.

He’d been my hero, and I’d been his rock.

Maybe that’d been our demise.

A light flipped on somewhere in the house, and anticipation flooded me. How could I regret any of that now? Maybe I’d done everything so incredibly wrong, but it’s true what they say—sometimes miraculous, beautiful things come out of your greatest tragedy.

I’d be lying if I said the situation wasn’t shitty, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t the best thing I had. What got me through the lonely nights.

A silhouette passed by the opaque drape that hung across the side window and movement rustled on the other side of the door. I swallowed around the nerves that gathered fast at the base of my throat.

This was the part I hated—dealing with her.

Metal scraped as the lock disengaged, and those nerves shivered and spiked with warning when the door barely cracked open two inches.

Guarded, a woman I’d never seen before peeked out at me, confusion in her sleepy gaze. “Can I help you?”

I did my best to ignore the dread that climbed into my chest.

“Is Veronica here?” The question came out harder than I intended.

Something registered on the woman’s face. “Veronica? The girl who used to own this house?”

That dread took a sharp turn south and blazed into anger. “Used to?”

Warily, she blinked, stammered as if she was the one who needed to explain herself. “W-we bought this house almost three months ago.”

I nodded, though it was entirely in disbelief. Of course, I wasn’t really surprised now, was I?

Not at all.

I was fucking pissed.

I took a step back, trying to hold it together. “Sorry to bother you so late at night. I haven’t been in town for a while.”

She looked at me almost apologetically. “I hope you can touch base with her.”

“Thanks,” I said before I spun on my heel and yanked my phone from my pocket, thumbs banging out her number as I stalked back down the walkway.

It rang four times before her sickly sweet voice came on the line, recorded and just as fake as the rest of her. I listened to her message before I was growling the words right after the beep.

“You better have a good explanation. Because I’m fucking done.”

Chapter Two


No fear. Just life.

No fear. Just life.

No fear. Just life.

I chanted it over and over beneath my breath and tried to make it true. To pretend terror didn’t saturate my skin with a sickly sweat and that my breaths didn’t come both labored and shallow as I tried not to inhale the vile stench of the darkened alleyway.

I could smell him everywhere, this nauseating odor that reeked of something wicked and corrupt.

I tried to stand my ground. I was there for my sister, and I wasn’t leaving without her. But fear had me fumbling back another step. My back hit the pitted exterior wall, and I gasped when I realized I’d walked myself straight into a corner.

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