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Beastly Lights

Struggling artist Freya Coleman is barely getting by. Rock legend Liam Henderson is living in the fast lane. After a series of unforeseen events lands the two in a fake relationship for the sake of publicity, Freya is swept up into Liam’s world. But is it all only for show, or is there a real spark between the unlikely pair?

Age Rating: 17+

 

Beastly Lights by Theresa Jane is now available to read on the Galatea app! Read the first two chapters below, or download Galatea for the full experience.

 


 

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1

Summary

Struggling artist Freya Coleman is barely getting by. Rock legend Liam Henderson is living in the fast lane. After a series of unforeseen events lands the two in a fake relationship for the sake of publicity, Freya is swept up into Liam’s world. But is it all only for show, or is there a real spark between the unlikely pair?

Age Rating: 17+

Original Author: Theresa Jane

FREYA

We SO love your enthusiasm, but I’m afraid we don’t have a spot for your pieces at the moment.

The snooty curator’s words rang in my ears, mocking me, as I stepped out of the trendy gallery—the fifth this month to reject my pieces.

I tried not to think about the dwindling sum in my bank account, which could easily fit inside a small ceramic piggy.

I huffed out a frustrated sigh and took another sip of the complimentary cup of coffee I’d snagged from the gallery—the last I would probably have for a long time.

It was a luxury that I couldn’t justify anymore.

Clinging tightly to the canvases that held my latest self-expression—or lack thereof, apparently—I emerged into the streets of New York City.

I had been living there for over three years, but my lack of funds had largely confined me to my shoebox-sized apartment.

Just walking down the street was a constant reminder of all the artisan foods and trendy clothes that I would never be able to afford.

I checked my phone to distract myself from the enticing window displays that were calling my name.

Shoot.

It was already 4:40 p.m., and I was supposed to meet my friend Darla at five in Tribeca.

LIAM

“KISS HER!” the nameless faces shouted, as if I was an animatron built for their own enjoyment.

I’ll kiss her if you go fuck yourself! I longed to shout.

But I couldn’t.

Not with my formidable publicist, Lucinda, standing five feet away from me.

She’d never let me forget it.

My face was frozen in a fake smile.

My eyes blinded by the flashes of the cameras.

And my hand was firmly locked on to the hip of America’s Sweetheart, and my own personal nightmare, Jazelle Ericson.

Jazelle’s elbow dug into my side.

“Kiss me!” she snarled through her teeth, somehow maintaining her expression of romantic bliss. “Now!”

And then she leaned in close to me so I could smell the mint flavor of her sticky lip gloss.

She grabbed the back of my head with her manicured talons and pulled my face into hers.

“AWWWW,” the photographers shrieked.

Just when I thought I couldn’t stand on the red carpet for another second, I saw Lucinda frantically waving her hands, telling me that my duty was done.

I grabbed Jazelle’s hand and dragged her into the movie theater lobby, away from the ravenous press.

“We should have left five minutes ago so you could make it to the lawyer’s house on time,” Luce said trailing behind. “The car’s waiting out back.”

“Leave?” Jazelle’s voice pierced my eardrum. “You’re not going to stay and hear our song?”

Staying for our song would mean sitting through a three-hour-long movie about a robot learning to love, only to hear thirty seconds of our cash-grab duet thrown in over the credits.

“No,” I said matter-of-factly. “I really am not going to stay for that.”

“But it’s date night!” Jazelle said.

Fake date night,” I spat back. “How many times do I have to remind you that we’re not really together, Jaz.”

“Shh…” she whispered, bringing a finger to her lips.

The middle one.

With that, she turned on her heel and disappeared into the theater.

And I was fucking thrilled to be rid of her.

“Liam,” Luce called out to me in the same voice I often heard her use with her own children.

I wasn’t thrilled about our next destination—but it would be a vast improvement over the circus I was currently at the center of, so I followed Luce to the car.

I needed to make sure that I started off on a good foot with my new lawyer.

The last one had called it quits shortly after my second DUI.

“This one had better work out,” Luce continued as we slid into the car. “I don’t have time to find a new lawyer every month. Or a new maid. Leanne just quit and I’m not gonna be the one cleaning up your messes.”

“You should be used to cleaning up messes,” I retorted. “Those devil spawn you call ‘children’ make enough of them.”

She rolled her eyes, which were the same vivid blue as her brother’s—the only physical trait they had in common.

Luce and I went way back.

Her brother, Anthony, had been one of my only friends when we were kids. I spent more time at their house than my own when we were in junior high.

“Honestly, Liam,” she sighed, “I’m not sure how many attorneys are left in New York that would be willing to represent you.”

“Maybe I don’t need an attorney,” I said, tasting the petulance on my tongue.

“Ha,” she scoffed. “You’re basically on a first-name basis with all the judges in the city.”

“You’re always telling me I need to be friendlier.” I slouched farther down in my seat.

“I’d prefer if you tried being friendlier to your fans and, God forbid, some members of the press, but I know that’s too much to ask.”

FREYA

Shockingly, the J train was on time, so I arrived at Belle Reve Bar first.

One look at the menu was all I needed to know that “I’ll just be having a water tonight, thank you very much.”

Cue the customary death stare from the waiter…

“Freya!” My friend’s voice rang out from across the café.

I looked up and spotted her.

Darla’s brown hair was pinned back perfectly, and her gray suit looked like it was tailor-made for her body.

I plastered a fake smile across my face as Darla approached, but groaned internally when I noticed that she had brought her dull boyfriend, Marcus, with her.

Or fiancé, rather.

The two had gotten engaged a few months back and seemed to think it was the most important event since the moon landing.

I was happy for her, of course, but how she could have fallen in love with this sentient piece of white toast was beyond me.

“Hey, Darla,” I greeted flatly, my mood too sour to achieve the level of perk she always seemed to have these days.

“Hi, Wonder Bread.” I nodded at Marcus as the two took the seats across from me.

His grim face didn’t even twitch, his bushy eyebrows never moving from where they sat atop his murky brown eyes.

I knew my little nickname for Marcus was unwelcome, but I couldn’t help myself. I was never good at hiding my true feelings about people.

“Oh, Freya,” Darla cooed with a fake laugh, while tapping Marcus reassuringly on the thigh. “Always a jokester.”

Then she quickly changed the subject. “How did it go at the gallery?” she asked me.

“Terrible,” I answered frankly. “They didn’t like my pieces.”

“That sucks!” she cried, and I flinched at her insincerity. “Don’t worry, I’m sure the next gallery you visit will love your pieces,” she promised, and I couldn’t stop the snort from escaping.

“Yeah, right.”

“Maybe if you were to finish your degree, a gallery would be more inclined to pick up your work,” Marcus suggested haughtily. “I can’t grasp why someone would quit with just one year left of school.”

If he knew the real reason why I didn’t finish my degree, he might watch his mouth…

After thirty awkward minutes watching Marcus and Darla pick at a plate of eighteen-dollar calamari, Marcus tapped annoyingly at his expensive watch.

“Darla, we need to go,” he said.

“Already?”

“Uncle is expecting us,” he answered with a pointed look.

His boss. Hers too.

“But—” I protested.

“I’m sorry, Freya,” she said resolutely. “We really do have to go.”

“Right, of course,” I muttered. “You have a real job.”

“You’ll get there one day.” She smiled condescendingly, as if she had completely forgotten that we had been in the same financial situation six months ago.

Back when she was still holding on to her dream of becoming an actress.

“Maybe.” I shrugged, gathering my tattered shoulder bag that had more patches than bag left. “Anyway…I’ll see you Sunday.”

“Actually,” she started hesitantly, and I reluctantly brought my eyes to hers again, feeling a sickly sensation wash over me. “I’m—we’re busy Sunday.”

“But we always go to Central Park on Sundays,” I said.

I don’t know why I still clung so desperately to this weekly tradition. It hadn’t been fun for months, but it forced me to get out of my sad apartment and into fresh air.

“I know but…” Darla eyed me warily. “Well, the wedding is in just a few weeks and we still haven’t picked a cake flavor!”

The horror!

“Fine,” I conceded. “Don’t tell me what flavor you pick. I want to be surprised.”

“Oh no, Freya.” Her face fell even further. “I thought you knew…”

“Knew what?” I asked, my voice cracking.

“Well, we went over the budget, and it turns out we can only invite close friends and family…”

A deafening silence hung in the air, and I wasn’t going to do her the favor of breaking it.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I really thought I told you.”

One look at Marcus’ smug face and I knew that my lack of invitation had nothing to do with the budget.

I just wasn’t welcome in their “high society” crowd.

Darla and Marcus rose from their chairs and gave me a final, awkward wave as they disappeared through the bustling bar.

Darla had been my first friend in New York. She had served me coffee every day at the diner on my street until I’d finally asked her to sit down and have one with me.

But ever since she started dating Marcus, moved into his Upper West Side apartment, and got a job from his uncle, we had only grown further and further apart.

This snub was the final nail in the coffin of a friendship that should have died a long time before.

En route to my apartment in Alphabet City, still clutching my rejected paintings, I found myself weaving through streets lined with manicured trees and beautiful brownstone apartments.

As I walked, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to live in one of these buildings without the fear of not being able to make rent or pay for next month’s phone bill.

Were those homes filled with love?

Or were the tenants as alone as I was?

Was it true that no amount of money could buy company?

I couldn’t be sure.

But there was one thing money could definitely buy…

Food.

Something I could barely afford those days.

As I charged past every grocery store, my stomach growled in protest without a morsel to soothe its cries.

If I wanted to eat that day, I had only one option after I dropped my rejected art off at my apartment.

Mason.

***

Luckily for me, Mason had forgotten to take back the key to his place after I’d moved out.

I had slept on my brother’s couch in the Financial District for eight months when I’d first moved to the city, but now I just came by every once in a while to borrow twenty dollars for groceries.

He never acted like he minded. I always paid him back when my next check came in, and as a successful lawyer, Mason was hardly strapped for cash.

Slipping inside the front door, I closed it gently behind me.

As I made my way down the hall, obnoxious drunken laughter rang out through the apartment.

Oh no.

It’s Friday.

Poker night.

I had been hoping to make this a quick visit; the last thing I wanted to do was get stuck in a conversation with Mason’s equally intoxicated friends.

I’d have preferred to get out of there unnoticed and send him a text about the missing money afterward.

Rather than go to the kitchen, I made my way to his bedroom undetected and beelined for his dresser, where he usually kept his wallet.

But my heart sank when I realized that it was missing from his drawer.

“Damn it,” I hissed, slamming it shut in frustration.

Again I heard laughter ring out through the apartment, and I knew my last option was a risky one.

But if I was going to eat tonight, it had to be done.

Slowly, I crept down the hall and peered around the corner of the archway that led into Mason’s living room.

My eyes immediately rested on the wallet, which was sitting beside him on the table.

I was about to resign and step back from the door when I heard my name yelled out from across the room.

“FREYA!” Mason yelled again, and I cringed at how much scotch it must have taken him to reach this stage of drunkenness.

Shit.

“Mason,” I answered quietly, reluctantly coming out from my hiding place.

“Who’s this, Mason?” another voice rang out, cool and clear. “Have you been holding out on us?”

My eyes immediately jumped to the man sitting across from my brother and—

What.

The.

Fuck.

I almost fell over in shock.

It couldn’t be…

I dragged my feet across the floor, all too aware of the many eyes on me, none more piercing than those of the golden-eyed rock star.

I couldn’t even begin to imagine how he had ended up there, sitting in my brother’s living room, looking even more perfect than he did on all the billboards and magazine covers around the city.

But as I got a closer look, it was undoubtedly him…

The golden god himself.

The Liam Henderson.

 

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2

LIAM

This lawyer, Mark Coleman…

Or Matthew. Or Marvin…

Oh right! Mason.

…was not so bad, after all!

I was expecting another robotic lawyer, telling me some bullshit about stipulations and addendums.

But instead, as soon as I walked into his apartment, he thrust a drink into my hand and sat me down at a table of his buddies.

A poker night was in full swing, and I was always happy to find a good reason to burn some money.

Blowing through cash on expensive things—the cars, the women—had gradually lost its thrill.

But gambling…now that I could still find some joy in.

The best part of the night was that the four other old dudes sitting at the table didn’t seem to know me from Adam.

And they were already several drinks deep—so I was looking at some pretty good odds.

The guy next to me, who had the distinct scent of weed and BO, accidentally tipped his cards to me when he leaned over to grab another beer.

He would be a fool not to fold.

Which he did just a few moments later.

Now it was just me and Mason left in the round.

When the river was flipped, I took a quick gulp of the scotch Mason poured for me to stop myself from grinning…because I now had a royal flush.

It was Mason’s turn.

He threw down the last of his chips, eyeing me warily.

I was nearly out of chips myself, but I was sitting on too good a hand to back down.

“I see your bet,” I smirked, “And I raise you—”

“Hah! What can you raise me with? You’re almost out of chips!”

“I’ll raise you with something else, then,” I retorted. “I’ll raise you my car.”

“Come on,” Mason scoffed. “You must be joking.”

“Not in the least,” I said.

“Okay…” Mason said warily, his cheeks flushed with liquor. “I see your car, and I raise you…”

We had been locked in a staring contest, but now Mason broke my gaze, looking to the other side of the living room.

I’ve made him nervous now.

I took another sip of Mason’s expensive scotch.

Following his gaze, I caught a flash of red before it disappeared behind a wall.

My hand was hovering over the center of the table, with enough chips to call the bet, when Mason let out a low chuckle.

“FREYA!” he shouted.

“Mason.” The timid voice was followed by a slim girl wearing paint-splattered jeans and an oversize T-shirt.

Gathered loosely atop her head was a mop of deep red hair, almost matching the blush that had spread across her cheeks.

She was a mess.

Even from where I was sitting, I could see the streak of paint in her hair and a stain from what I assumed was a coffee on the baggy T-shirt.

“Who’s this, Mason?” I smirked, glancing back down at my cards. A needy ex-girlfriend I figured. “Have you been holding out on us?”

“This is my sister, Freya.”

My buzz died out.

But with the practiced ease of a performer, I was able to keep my composure.

The girl walked into the room.

I didn’t want to stare, but for some strange reason I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off her.

Suddenly, she was the most interesting thing in the room.

I knew she recognized me. I could tell by the way she was assessing me, and it was easy to see that she was trying to figure out how I had ended up in her brother’s living room.

“You need money, don’t you?”

I could hear Mason’s mocking tone ringing out across from me, and I watched in anger as her cheeks grew even brighter with his question.

With great reluctance, she nodded her head, and I felt something heavy rest in my chest.

“When are you going to get yourself a real job?” Mason jeered.

He was beginning to lose all the good favor he’d won with me.

Muttering a reply, the girl started to leave the room, like a scolded puppy with its tail tucked between its legs.

“Wait, Freya,” I blurted out, although I wasn’t sure what I was planning to say next. “You might just make this night interesting.”

Without missing a beat, I fixed my face with my trademark smile that always sent crowds into a frenzy.

But her face didn’t break.

Unlike her brother and his friends, she had a hell of a poker face.

FREYA

It took everything in my power to not collapse under the weight of his gaze.

But finally I was able to steady myself enough to speak.

“How could I possibly make Liam Henderson’s night more entertaining?” I shot back.

“What are you thinking, rock star?” Mason asked, eyeing Liam skeptically.

“I have an idea of something you can bet,” Liam said.

Immediately, I hated where this was going.

I wished my brother had the good sense and sober head to back down, but instead he just said, “Oh, yeah?”

“Mason, stop,” I warned, wary of the dangerous glint in Liam’s eye.

“Stay out of this, Frey,” Mason muttered.

“But she’s relevant to the game.” Liam smirked.

“What’s the bet?” Mason asked.

“Well, I’m in need of a new maid, and it seems your sister here could use a job,” he explained casually.

I couldn’t keep my composure.

I felt my eyes go wide in horror.

“No way,” Mason said, and I felt relief wash over me.

“You afraid you aren’t going to win, Mason?” Liam jabbed. “I’m not sure I can trust the affairs of my life to a man who’s not ready to take a gamble now and then.”

Suddenly I realized how the two were connected.

Liam was my brother’s new “high-profile” client that he had been bragging about.

My brother was never one to back down from a challenge.

At least not since our mother died.

It made him view every person as his opponent, an outlook that helped his career greatly, but was a detriment to his personal life.

“Exactly,” Liam taunted, “she’s your sister. That will make you even more determined to win, won’t it?”

“Mason, come on,” I said, trying to keep a jovial tone.

I mean, this was ridiculous.

“What’s it gonna be, Mason?” Liam challenged, ignoring my plea.

My brother’s eyes darted between the two of us. Finally, he opened his mouth to speak. “Fine.”

I felt sick.

My own brother was using me as a bargaining chip in a poker match with one of the most famous men on the planet.

“Let’s play then, Coleman,” Liam said.

My stomach twisted.

I should have just walked out right then and there, but something kept my feet glued to the spot where I stood—like I was watching a car wreck.

As the cards played out, I felt myself unknowingly biting my bottom lip, terrified of the outcome.

And when the final cards were laid out, Liam jumped out of his seat in celebration.

“See you on Monday, Freya,” he cheered.

Like hell, you’ll see me on Monday.

I turned and walked out of my brother’s apartment without another word, determined to forget all about this embarrassing, demeaning encounter.

***

Breathe.

The next morning, I turned onto the last block, staring at my reflection in the windows of the trendy Williamsburg boutiques and cafés that I passed, trying to summon the slightest bit of courage.

It was the last gallery who’d agreed to see my work.

This could be my last chance.

I didn’t want to think about what would happen if I didn’t sell any of my pieces.

I already owed my landlord, Mr. Peabody, two months of unpaid rent…

I HAVE to get this.

Taking one last deep breath, I pushed inside.

***

I tapped my fingertips nervously on my knees as the posh curator studied a couple of my most recent paintings.

I was intimidated by this woman from the moment I walked into her trendy gallery.

With her long, black duster coat, blunt bangs, and geometric statement necklace, she looked like nothing short of a work of art herself.

And now I was waiting with bated breath for her assessment of mine.

Finally, after the longest two minutes of my life, she opened her pursed lips.

“It’s…” she began, “amateurish at best.”

Ouch.

“Not in its style, so much as in its themes,” she continued. “Come back to me when you have something original to say. Something real.”

With that, she thrust the canvases back into my hands and retreated to the adjoining office, leaving me alone with my swirling, frenetic thoughts.

How am I going to pay my rent?

***

I wearily climbed the steps to my fourth-floor walk-up, pausing on the landing when I heard the sound of massive pounding on one of the doors.

“FREYA!” Mason yelled. “OPEN THE DOOR OR I’M GOING TO BREAK IT DOWN!”

“Shut up!” I heard a neighbor call out through the thin walls.

I slowly climbed to the top of the steps, stopping to stare at him.

“Mase?”

My brother stood outside of my door, looking hungover and deeply distressed.

“Freya!” he croaked, taking a step back.

I was surprised he had even found his way out from under the covers of his bed, let alone all the way to the door of my apartment.

“What are you doing here?” I growled, moving past him to unlock my door, then ushering him inside.

“Freya, I’m too tired for your games,” he said. “Tell me what you did before my career goes up in flames.”

“What I did?”

“Yes,” he snarled. “Explain this to me.”

He thrust his phone into my hands.

The screen illuminated a text.

Liam Henderson
Tell Freya that she is due at my place Monday morning at 10 a.m.

Below his abrupt message, Liam had included the address.

A laugh escaped my lips. “He can’t be serious.”

I thought there was no way he would follow through on that bet.

Just some drunken antics…

“What does it mean!?” Mason looked at me, his face filled with confusion, and suddenly I realized…

“Mase…do you not remember what you did last night?” I asked.

It definitely wouldn’t be his first blackout…

“What do you mean?” he asked. “I was just playing poker with Liam and some other clients and then…”

He stopped talking midsentence, and I watched his face contort in horror.

“No,” he gasped as realization began to surface in his alcohol-impeded mind.

“Fix this, Mason,” I growled. “I’m not a bargaining chip for you to bet.”

“Of course,” he said. But then a conflicted look came over his face.

“What?” I demanded.

“Freya…” he said solemnly. “I really need this client.”

“What are you saying?” I demanded.

“I can’t back down from this bet. He’s Liam Henderson,” he emphasized.

“And I’m your sister,” I said, mimicking his punctuated tone. “Aren’t you supposed to protect me?”

“Of course, Freya, but he’s the highest paying client I’ve ever brought into the firm. And he’s a rock star.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” I asked incredulously.

“He’s spoiled!” Mason cried out. “He’s used to getting everything he wants. And if I renege on this, he might not stay with us. I could get fired.”

“So this is all about money?”

“N—yes—no… Freya, not all of us can live like you do,” he sighed.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Look at this place!” he cried out, pointing wildly around my tiny apartment. “You have no stable job…

“Most months you barely have enough money to feed yourself. If you didn’t come over to take my money, we wouldn’t be in this position in the first place. One of us needs to be responsible.”

“Responsible?” I laughed darkly. “You want to talk about responsible? Last night you got blackout drunk with one of the most infamous party boys in the world! So spare me the lecture.”

“That was business.”

“No, Mason, that was just you being you,” I snarled. “When are you going to admit that Dad affected you? When are you going to admit that you have a problem?”

“I don’t have a problem!” he shouted, reaching out and grabbing my shoulder harshly.

Immediately, my eyes went wide and my vision narrowed.

Memories filled the cracks where reality began to slip.

My entire body flinched as he held me, and another familiar voice filled my mind.

“Freya!”

Mason’s voice quickly snapped the world into focus again.

I blinked my eyes a few times until they settled on my brother’s wary expression.

“Just leave,” I whispered, shaking his hand from my shoulder. “Leave me alone.”

“Freya, wait,” he pleaded, but I pushed him toward the front door.

“Freya, I’m sorry. Please,” he begged.

He’s serious.

And he’s not going to take no for an answer. We’ll be caught in this deadlock all day.

“Don’t worry, Mase, I’ll be there on Monday. Your job will be safe,” I replied, watching as my brother’s forlorn frame filled my doorway.

When it came down to it, I had to face the sad truth:

I desperately needed a job…

And Liam Henderson was offering me one.

 

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