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Because of Low (Chapter Four)

Willow

My sister wasn't going to let me stay the night. I slipped my hand into the pocket of my jeans and squeezed the key Cage had given me. As much as I feared wearing out my welcome I needed somewhere to stay. Besides I'd left my suitcase in Cage's bedroom this morning. To pay him back for yet another night this week I'd do our laundry this evening. Feeling somewhat better about being a freaking charity case I headed for the stairs.

"Low, hey gorgeous it's been too long," Preston flashed me his pretty boy smile and tucked a strand of white blond hair behind his ear. The boy knew his affect on females but apparently he hadn't picked up on his lack of affect on me.

"hello Preston and yes it has. I'm surprised you're not around more now that your friend is living here." A small frown puckered Preston's forehead. He glanced back up the steps at the door to the apartment then turned back to me.

"Uh, yeah well about Marcus. He's having a bad day. His sister is up there and she's really upset over some family stuff they've got going on. Why don't you and I go grab something to eat and head over to hear Jackdown play over at Live Bay tonight that is if you're not working tonight. I haven't seen Dewayne and Rock in awhile. I'm sure Dewayne would love to see you."

Going to listen to Jackdown wasn't what I needed to do tonight. I had a fair amount of homework and tomorrow I would be working a double shift at the restaurant side of Live Bay. However, I also didn't want to intrude on a family problem. I knew enough about those kind of problems to know Marcus needed some privacy.

"Um, okay, sounds good. Uh," I glanced back toward the stairs, "Do you think maybe I could run in and change real quick. I'll just go straight to Cage's room and come right back out."

"Oh yeah that's fine. I just meant they needed some time alone. They're probably in Marcus' bedroom anyway and I doubt they even hear you come in. Come on I'll go with you and grab a drink while you change."

I slipped my hand into my pocket and pulled out my key feeling the strange warmth inside me at the sight of it. It was odd how something so small made me feel secure.

We stepped inside and I left Preston in the kitchen as I stepped into Cage's room. I could hear talking coming from Marcus's closed bedroom door as I'd passed by it. Maybe I could get out of here before they realized I'd come in.

Marcus seemed okay with my being here a lot. I didn't want that to change.

I slipped into a short jean skirt and put on an emerald green halter top and then pulled on the black leather jacket Cage had given me for Christmas two years ago. My cowboy boots sat in his closet lined up beside his and I laughed at this small hint from Cage. He wanted me here. That much was obvious. The boy had no clue how impossible he made things.

Stepping out of the bedroom I noticed Preston and Marcus whispering in the living room. I halted not wanting to intrude when Marcus eyes met mine. Slowly his green eyes traveled down my body and back up causing my pulse to race. I stood frozen in my spot until his eyes found mine again.

"Damn girl let's get your sexy ass out of here before Cage shows up. He'll have me hung up by my balls and you changing clothes while he stands guard at the door." Preston's words were meant to break the silence but it only made Marcus's eyes flare up.

"Um, okay, good idea," I forced a smile and then willed my legs to move until I was beside Preston. His arm slipped around my shoulders and he leaned his head down and sniffed me. "Mmmm… you even smell good." Marcus cleared his throat loudly causing Preston to chuckle.

"Go deal with Manda bro. I just gave y'all the privacy you need. Cage has a date with some girl from Monroevil e down here for spring break. And I intend to keep this one out late."

My face heated up at the insinuation in his voice. Surely Marcus knew I wasn't going to be out doing what Preston made it sound like I would be doing. What was wrong with him anyway? He never laid his flirting on this thick.

"Good night Marcus, I hope you get things worked out." I managed to say in a calm voice with no hint to the frenzy his attention had sent my pulse into.

He nodded and turned around without a word.

Marcus

Cowboy boots. Did she have to wear freaking cowboy boots with that tiny little skirt? I slammed the refrigerator door without getting a drink. A beer sounded really good after watching Preston walk out with Will ow tucked against his side. But Amanda needed me. I couldn't drink even if right now all I wanted to do was get really trashed and forget this crazy mess my dad had laid in my lap.

"Why're you slamming things?" Amanda asked stepping out of my bedroom.

I shrugged not wanting to share with my sister how I was having a small melt down over a girl I'd just met while we had bigger issues to deal with.

"Does it have anything to do with the girl's voice I just heard in here with Preston?"

Slumping into a kitchen chair I glanced up at her intending to tell her "no" and instead replied, "Yeah".

Amanda frowned at me and pulled the chair across from me out from under the table before sitting in it.

"Is Preston dating her?"

"No, not if he doesn't want a death wish." Amanda's eyebrows shot up in surprise, "You mean you like her enough to fight Preston over her?"

"Not me. Cage. He thinks he's going to marry Low." Amanda laughed, "Cage married? Has he gone from smoking pot to crack recently?"

It sounded ludicrous to me too but she hadn't seen him with Will ow. He was different with her. He actually gave a shit.

"It's complicated."

Amanda picked at the red fringe on the placemat in front of her. The placemats were just another one of those small touches around this place that Will ow had a hand in.

Preston was as bad as Cage when it came to women. I hated knowing he was out with Will ow.

"I need to get home to Mom. I'd say you could come with me but the awful scowl on your face would frighten her. You need to go get changed into something sexy and go after the girl. Preston wouldn't have taken her if he knew you liked her this much. Heck , he probably took her somewhere just to get her out of the apartment for our sake."

She was right. At least I hoped she was right. I stood up and glanced down at the faded jeans and Alabama football t-shirt I had on.

"What's wrong with the way I'm dressed?" Amanda sighed and stood up. "Come on my clueless brother. I'll make you look irresistible. Trust me, okay. I mean the last girl you liked you completely let slip through your fingers. I'd say you need my help."

"I was up against a rock star Manda. It wasn't exactly a fair game."

Amanda shrugged, "Maybe so but Preston and Cage are no Jax Stone. This time you're definitely the hottie in the group."

"Did you just call me a hottie? And Jax isn't better looking than me. He's just famous."

Amanda let out a loud cackle of laughter.

"No brother dear, Jax Stone is hotness incarnate with or without the guitar and sexy as hell singing voice. You never stood a chance. He was what you call playing with the big dogs. This time you're definitely playing within your league."

"Whatever, just tell me what to wear and get out of here.

You're pissing me off."

Willow

"You want a beer?" Preston asked pushing us through the crowd of people toward a table with familiar faces.

"No thanks. But a Coke would be good," I replied loudly so he could hear me over the music. Jackdown hadn't taken the stage yet but the band on before them had the crowd on their feet. From the sound of the band it was probably the alcohol that had them all on their feet screaming and dancing. The band wasn't that good. Jackdown was the reason the crowd was here tonight. They always drew a crowd from the locals.

"Okay, go on over there and sit with Rock, Trisha and Dewayne. I'll get our drinks and meet you there."

"Okay."

Rock and Dewayne were friends of Preston's I'd gotten to know through Cage over the past year. Trisha was Rock's wife. They reminded me of Kid Rock, with a shaved head, and Pamela Anderson. Trisha wasn't very natural but she could definitely find success as a centerfold if she ever wanted to. That or an exotic dancer. Dewayne noticed me first and a smile spread across his face. His long dredlocks were pulled back in a ponytail tonight and the shirt he was wearing was snug enough to show off his impressive chiseled body.

"Low!" Dewayne called out in greeting as I came up to their table. Trisha smiled brightly at me and gave me a small finger wiggling wave, "Hey girl. Didn't know you were coming tonight. When we talked to Cage he said he had some date tonight with a girl and he doubted they'd be leaving her hotel room."

Rock nudged Trisha and she flashed a frown at him,

"What? Low isn't an idiot. The girl knows Cage is a slut."

"God baby drop it," Rock begged.

I shook my head and laughed taking the chair beside Dewayne. "She's right Rock. I know where he is and what he's doing. Just because he tells the world he's going to marry me doesn't mean I'm going to marry him. The boy is crazy. It doesn't bother me at all who he's with and what he's doing."

Rock nodded then a small frown creased his forehead. "So you came by yourself?"

"Nope, she's with me," Preston announced as he placed a Coke in front of me and took the chair on the other side of me.

"Ah shit man," Rock moaned and Dewayne joined in with a frustrated sigh.

"What? Marcus and Manda were having some family issues and he was dealing with her at the apartment. So I figured Low and I could come hang with you guys and hear Krit."

"Bad move," Dewayne mumbled before taking a swig of his beer.

"Whatever, Cage won't care. Besides he's out banging some girl tonight from Monroevil e."

"As fascinating as this conversation is I think it's up to Low to decide what she does and who she does it with. Cage isn't her daddy. Everyone stop acting like she belongs to him and let her have a life," Trisha's annoyed tone shut everyone up and I was grateful.

She stood up and held her hand out to me, "Come on girl.

You and I are going to go shake it out there and create a stir to give these boys something to do." I frowned, "What will they do?"

She took my hand and pulled me up. "Threaten and scowl and possibly man handle all the guys who're going to drool over us."

I could hear Rock's growl as we pushed our way into the crowd.

"Don't you get tired of everyone acting like you're Cage's property?" Trisha asked pulling me closer to her as we made our way to the front of the crowd. Jackdown would be on in a few minutes and I knew she was getting us to the front so we could see them. And so Krit could see me.

She'd been trying to fix me and her brother up for months now. Cage always seemed to ice her attempts but tonight Cage wasn't here.

"Cage is all I've got. He's my best friend and I overlook his issues. If a guy comes around worth fighting over I won't let Cage stand in my way. But so far he hasn't kept me from anyone I really want."

Trisha studied me a moment. She didn't like my answer. I could see it on her face. "But if you don't date around how will you know when the right one comes along?" I shrugged thinking about Marcus and pushing that thought immediately out of my mind. He was so not even close to my league. That was pointless to even fantasize about.

"I'll just know."

She shrugged and started to say something when the lights went down and the sound of Krit's electric guitar squealed out sending the crowd into a frenzy of screams and cheers.

out sending the crowd into a frenzy of screams and cheers.

"Here we go," she replied smiling and turning her attention to the stage. Smoke had engulfed the stage. Krit stepped out of the smoke into the single spotlight as he made the chords on his guitar sing. His long blond hair was so similar in color to Trisha's it made me think maybe hers wasn't out of a bottle after all. Instead of pulling his hair back he let it fall down over his naked shoulders. Which was a trademark for Krit. He never wore a shirt on stage. The jeans he wore hung loosely on his hips giving the females and probably some of the males a thril from the small peek of hip bone he flashed. His chest wasn't as broad and muscular as Dewayne and Rock's but he had lean muscle and a very obvious six pack that was covered on the right side by a coiled snake tattoo.

The rest of the band stepped out of the smoke and Green's voice joined the electric guitar. Green was Krit's best friend and the bass player slash alternate singer in the group. Krit was the lead singer but Green could sing too and he got several songs in each set. Green almost looked like Krit's dark headed twin. The same long hair in a dark brown.

Except Green wore a shirt of tattoos. His entire chest and arms were covered in tats. Looking at Green one would never guess he was in his second year of law school. A girl to the right of me starting screaming his name along with a few rather colorful things she wanted to do to him after the show. Shaking my head to clear the mental images I so did not ask for, I glanced toward the back of the stage at the drummer, Matty. His bright orange hair stuck straight up. It wasn't short either. The guy had to use a ton of hair product to get that stuff to stick up like he did. His chest was covered with a tight black t-shirt and although he was sitting behind the drums I knew his jeans would be just as tight.

The boy liked his skinny jeans.

"I can't wait until he sees you down here," Trisha squealed excitedly in my ear.

I really just wanted to dance. Getting Krit's attention was the last thing on my mind. I turned my attention toward, the keyboard player, Legend. He was a hairy guy. He had a full on beard which was weird for a twenty four year old guy but he was proud of his hair. His shaggy brown hair was just long enough to tuck behind his ears and his jeans hugged his hips tightly and hung low enough to show off his flat stomach where his tight Aerosmith t-shirt that could have been mine it was so small, didn't meet his waist line.

Krit's voice joined in with Green and they began their most popular original song, "Aces".

Krit's bright blue eyes, which I happened to know were enhanced by the help of contacts, found me. No one's eyes were that electric blue. Cage had informed me of their false color when I'd first met Krit and commented on his eyes.

Krit winked at me and licked his lips suggestively. I couldn't help but laugh. The guy was outrageous. Not my type at all but very entertaining. His naked chest wasn't hard to look at either.

"I knew he'd love having you up close," Trisha yelled over the music. Smiling I let my body move to the music.

After several songs and several dance partners, I made my way back through the crowd toward our table. My mouth felt like cotton. I needed my Coke even if it was probably watered down by this point. Preston was talking to a girl with wild curly brown hair. I smiled to myself thinking I just might need to snag a ride home with Trisha and Rock.

Feeling eyes on me, I turned my attention to the other people at the table. Marcus was sitting in the chair Trisha had vacated earlier. I hadn't expected to see him here tonight.

"Hey," I said walking up to the table unsure where I should sit since the brunette talking to Preston was in my seat.

"Low, you're back. Here," Preston stood up from his seat,

"sit down. You thirsty? Your ice melted. I'll get you another Coke."

"No, Preston sit back down. I'm good. You continue your conversation. I'll go get my own drink." He didn't sit down and his expression looked unsure. Chuckling at his obvious confusion, I turned and headed for the bar. Preston didn't just have pretty platinum blond hair. He was really as air headed as one would imagine someone with his surfer boy good looks to be.

"He doesn't seem to know any better. I'm sorry." Marcus's voice was low and close to my ear. A shiver ran through me from the warmth of his breath tickling my neck.

He'd followed me. The goofy smile on my face was unavoidable.

"Preston's a sweetheart. I overlook him. Besides it isn't like I'm his date."

"You're not?"

I turned my head slightly so I could meet Marcus's gaze,

"No, of course not. It's Preston. We're just friends." A smile lifted the corners of Marcus's mouth making it hard for me to look away. The boy was just down right sexy.

"Do you go out as friends with him often?"

"No. Not really. I mean when I do I'm normally with Cage too. But tonight he felt like you needed some alone time with your sister."

His smile vanished and a frown replaced it as he nodded.

We reached the bar and Marcus came up behind me caging me in with his arms on each side of me. The small thril from his warm body pressing against my backside had me fighting the urge to snuggle in closer. I reminded myself that he was doing this to keep me from getting crushed in the sea of people swarming the bar. It was a protective gesture. Nothing more. But I liked it.

"Ricky! Two Cokes make one a stiff."

The bartender looked our way and gave Marcus a short nod and started fixing our drinks. That was quick service. It helped to be a local around here.

"When did you get here?" I asked Marcus as we waited on our drinks.

"About two minutes before you walked up. I was about to come find you and see if I could convince you to dance with me."

The acute sense of losing out struck me. Pressing against Marcus while we moved our bodies to the music would have ranked on one of my favorite moments in life list.

"Oh," was all I could manage in reply. My heart was racing from the fantasy playing out in my head. Being wrapped up in Marcus clean masculine scent didn't help matters.I was having a strange but oh-so-pleasing fantasy of crawling up under his shirt and licking his chest when our drinks were placed in front of us. Marcus slapped some money down and took our drinks. He nodded his head back toward our table and I instantly missed his touch. Withholding my pathetic sigh I led the way back to our friends.

Preston had moved the brunette to his lap leaving me an empty seat beside the two of them. Awesome.

"I thought you were leaving," Marcus said to Preston as I sat down in the vacated seat.

Preston took a swig of his beer and glanced up at the girl in his lap. Her red fingernails were playing with his silky blond locks.

"You going with me?" He asked her.

She giggled and nodded sending her curls bobbing all around her shoulders. He looked around her at me, "Is it okay if I leave you with Marcus? He said he'd give you a ride home."

YES! I managed to mask my pleasure at the change of plans and nodded, "Of course."

Preston grinned and stood up with his arm wrapped snuggly around the girl's waist. "See y'all later." I gave a small wave while I took a long drink of my Coke.

Rock was still on the dance floor with Trisha and I had no idea where Dewayne had gone. It was just Marcus and me.

Staring down at my glass of Coke and running my finger through the condensation trickling down the sides of it became fascinating, or so it would seem. I didn't know what to say and I suddenly felt awkward.

"Thanks for giving Manda and me some privacy today but you don't ever have to feel like you can't stay at the apartment. No matter what's going on with me you're always welcome."

I lifted my gaze from my glass and smiled at him. "Thanks.

But I have family issues often and I know privacy is always best."

He frowned and took a long sip of his drink that I was pretty sure was mixed with whisky. "Well I'll be having a lot of family issues over the next few months so don't worry about me. If Manda shows up crying or is tucked away in my room don't ever feel like you have to leave. Stay. I'd rather you stay than run off somewhere."

Had he come looking for me? Surely not.

"Thanks," I wasn't going to argue with him. Although if that happened again I would not stick around and make them uncomfortable. But there was no point in arguing.

"Hey bro! I didn't know you were here. Day-um it feels good to have you showing up on a weekday. I miss your ugly mug when it's off at college." Dewayne slapped Marcus on the back and took the chair beside me grinning. Dewayne, Rock, Marcus and Preston had grown up together.

According to Cage they were all really tight. A strange combination if you ask me. Marcus was the rich man's son although he sure didn't live like it and Rock owned his own parasailing company, Preston had no purpose in life but surfing, baseball and girls, then Dewayne was well…. I wasn't sure what he was. He looked dark and dangerous with tats and dreds, but his personality reminded me of a big teddy bear. He was always so nice and easy to talk to .

"I needed to get out and my roomies had both left me for the night so I followed the pretty one here." Did Marcus just call me pretty?

Dewayne chuckled, "Don't let Cage hear you call her pretty.

He goes ape shit when guys mention Miss Will ow's attractiveness," Dewayne winked at me and lit up a cigarette leaning back in his chair.

"Cage is full of hot air," I assured them both but mostly Marcus who I did not want to scare off if there was any chance at all he might be interested in me.

Dewayne let out a laugh as smoke wafted out his noise and mouth. "Naw, baby, he's dead serious. I've seen him in action when someone said something about you. It ain't pretty."

Shut up Dewayne. I glanced over at Marcus and he was frowning again. Dangit, I needed to stop Dewayne and his mouth.

"Marcus! Hey you! I had no idea you were back in town.

Why haven't you called me? I'm hurt." She was gorgeous.

Figures, tall blond and all will owy. Just like the girls Cage is so fond of.

"Jess," Marcus stood up and hugged the girl. My insides cringed.

"Come dance with me," she pleaded not letting go of her hold on him. She looked around him and smiled brightly at Dewayne. "Hey D! How ya doin' baby?"

He nodded, "Good Jess. You broke up with that wanker again?"

She scowled, "Yes for over a month. He got someone pregnant this time. I can't forgive that." Dewayne let out a low whistle, "Ouch… guess not. Daddy Hank. Never thought I'd hear that one." She shrugged and pulled Marcus closer. "It's okay, I got me a handful of Marcus Hardy to make it all better," she cooed.

Marcus glanced down at me and I forced a smile then turned my attention to the stage that Jackdown had just returned to after their break. I couldn't watch him walk away with her. Seeing him with someone like her just reminded me of how out of my reach he was. "One dance," I heard Marcus say.

Jess squealed and led him into the crowd.

I would not think about it. I would not think about it.

"She's Rock's cousin. He couldn't turn her down." Dewayne's voice interrupted my mental chant. My face instantly heated at his words. He could tell it bothered me.

Well that was freaking perfect. Now I was really pathetic.

The low class plain jane crushing on Marcus Hardy.

Suddenly I wanted to leave. I wanted Cage. I needed to feel safe.

"Doesn't bother me. I didn't come here with him." That didn't even sound believable. My voice had cracked for crying out loud.

"Hmmmm," was all Dewayne said through drags off his cigarette.

"I need some fresh air and I need to make a phone call," I said standing up. Dewayne raised his eyebrows and then nodded. I didn't need his all-knowing eyes on me. I headed for the door. Away from the warmth of the overcrowded bar and Dewayne's cigarette smoke blowing in my face.

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