As Dust Dances
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I couldn't put it down once I started! This is by far one of my favorite of Samantha Young's books. Absolutely adored it.L.H. Cosway
Bestselling Author of the Hearts Series
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The New York Times Bestselling author of the On Dublin Street series and PLAY ON returns to the world of the arts in this intense and emotional standalone romance about love, sacrifice, and surviving both.
Once upon a time Skylar Finch was the lead singer of a hugely successful American pop-rock band. But fame made her miserable. When years of living a lie suddenly ended in tragedy, Skylar fell off the map.
Eighteen months later she’s sleeping in a tent in a cemetery in Glasgow, making just enough money to eat playing music on the streets. She manages to avoid recognition, but not the attention of one of Glasgow’s ambitious A&R executives.
Killian O’Dea works at Skyscraper Records, Scotland’s most successful record label. Raised by his uncle and owner of the label, Killian’s upbringing would have been devoid of affection entirely if it wasn’t for his loving sister. Killian is unflinchingly determined to bring the label more success than ever, and the talented young homeless musician is going to help him do that. Skylar’s music speaks to him in a way he refuses to over-analyze. All he knows is that if it can touch his dark soul, it’ll set everyone else’s alight.
Skylar makes it clear that she doesn’t want to sign with him. But when she experiences the dangerous reality of a woman sleeping on the streets, Skylar has no one else but Killian to turn to. An undeniable connection forms between them. But Skylar doesn’t want the career Killian is trying to forge for her, and when her past comes back to haunt her Killian will be faced with a decision that could ruin him. He must either free Skylar from his selfish machinations and destroy everything he’s ever worked for, or lose a woman who has come to mean more to him than he ever thought possible…
Release date: August 7, 2018
Publisher: Samantha Young
Print pages: 446
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As Dust Dances
My music filled the air, creating a surrounding bubble of melody and familiarity in a city still strange to me in so many ways.
It was an overcast day on Buchanan Street. The gray clouds silvered the blond buildings and dulled the boldness of the red sandstone architecture that made up a part of Glasgow’s identity. Busking on the main shopping thoroughfare in the city center, I stood far enough from the shop entrance behind me to not bother the staff, but not far enough out that I’d feel in the way of shoppers passing by. I played my beloved Taylor acoustic guitar and sang. Unlike some of the buskers I competed with on a regular basis, I didn’t have their fancy portable PA systems with amps and mics. I had to rely on the quality of my voice and my playing to draw people in.
I never felt like a nuisance busking in Glasgow. It was the only time in fact the city didn’t feel like a stranger to me and I to it. I felt like a part of a city that loved its music. If red sandstone was Glasgow’s skin, music was its heartbeat. While I’d made peace with the idea that life had broken me down to dust, the joy of being a beat in the rhythm of Glasgow’s soul smoldered within me.
Sometimes, especially if I was feeling upbeat and decided to do a twist on a well-known pop or dance song, I’d draw in a crowd. That was usually on a Saturday, like today, when people were shopping and feeling relaxed, where they weren’t rushing past on their lunch break to get back to work.
Mostly, however, people either kept walking on by, or they dropped some change in my guitar case as they briskly marched on. I even had some regular workers who dropped the change in like it had become a habit. Not that I minded. Unlike those buskers with their fancy PA systems, I actually needed the money. I wasn’t trying to “get found” on the streets of Glasgow by having my bestie film me on his camera phone and upload it to my YouTube channel.
I was busking so I could buy a meal for the night. And if it was a particularly good day, money to get into the swimming center so I could use one of their showers and a hair dryer. On the days I didn’t make enough money, I had what the local homeless called a “tramp’s wash.” I had to strip off in my tent and use baby wipes to clean my body as best I could.
Glancing down at my guitar case as I sang, I thanked God that today it looked like I’d have enough for that shower.
Nodding my thanks at a couple of teenage girls as they dropped some change in my case, I kept singing the melancholy song I’d chosen to fit the weather. “Someone Like You” by Adele. A firm crowd pleaser, it was drawing one like it always did. I pulled it out of the bag when I really needed the cash. I have a good enough vocal range to sing Adele but anyone can have a good vocal range and still not be able to sell a song. You have to be able to fall into the lyrics and sing a song like you wrote it. Which is much easier to do if you did write the damn song. For the longest time, I only ever sang my own songs so that wasn’t a problem for me.
Busking was different. People didn’t really want to listen to unfamiliar tunes. That might have been an issue for me a few years ago. I wasn’t very good at putting myself in someone else’s place. Or empathizing.
But now … well, now I could sing sad songs like my heart was truly breaking. I’d look into the small crowds gathered around me and see more than a few tears in strangers’ eyes. I loved that part of performing. Making people feel like that. I just hated all the other shit that came with it.
As I sang about time flying and yesterday being the time of our lives, I felt those words deep in my soul. I controlled a voice crack on the word “lives” and found a familiar face in the crowd.
Ignoring the frizzle of awareness that zinged down my spine, I kept staring at him, singing to him, telling him with that stare I could give a damn that he was there. He didn’t scare me. He didn’t creep me out. Didn’t he know that I was unshakeable these days?
I didn’t know the man’s name. I didn’t know anything about him except that he had the kind of presence that made everyone else around him fade. At around six foot he wasn’t overly tall; he had an athletic build so it wasn’t really his size that made you look. It was a quality. I couldn’t tell what color his eyes were because he’d never gotten close enough, just that they appeared dark, and they were intense. There was a hardness to his expression, a remoteness that seemed at odds with his apparent interest in my performance. Today he stood apart from the small crowd, his hands in the pockets of his jeans, his head tilted slightly as he listened with that aloof countenance.
When I got to the part about finding “someone like you,” I drew my gaze to the darkening sky from beneath the brim of my fedora, my tone as mournful as those heavy clouds above. After the final strum of an F-sharp minor lingered in the air, I lowered my head and let the gentle applause settle over me.
I didn’t take much of a break before I immediately began singing an original song. Like I said, most people wanted to hear songs that were familiar to them, but I was a singer/songwriter and it was difficult for me to not sing what I truly felt at least once during a set. Plus, I’d noticed over the last few weeks that the stranger only walked away after I sang one of my own songs.
Weird but true.
Almost everyone who had been standing to listen to the Adele song stayed to listen to my perky, upbeat song with its sad lyrics. When I finished, a few came over to drop change in my case, some offering me praise, even thanks. It was hard to watch the people who walked away without offering me a token of appreciation, so I let them fade out in my peripheral and smiled at those who were kind enough to give me money.
There was enough there for a meal, a shower, and use of the laundromat.
If someone asked me for advice about sleeping rough, I’d tell them how important it is to keep your feet clean and dry. Change your socks every day. There was a laundromat a twenty-minute walk from where I’d pitched my tent and a ten-minute walk from the swimming pool. I could wash and dry the few clothes I had and keep my socks fresh.
Feeling grateful, I was filled with smiles as I thanked people in my fake English accent. I would’ve faked a Scottish accent if I could but it always came out sounding Irish with a hint of Australian. I was good at a generic southern English accent so I went with that. Why fake an accent at all? Well, I didn’t want anyone recognizing me, and if they put my face to my voice and then to an American accent, things might get complicated.
As people dwindled away, I decided to pack up for the day. It was only three in the afternoon but I wanted my shower badly. Plus, those clouds looked ready to break any minute. It was nearly an hour’s walk to the swimming center from here and as I pocketed my cash, I wondered if it would be foolish to use some of it on bus fare. If I got soaked I might get sick and then what the hell would I do?
I glanced back up at the clouds and saw one looking ready to give birth to a whole shower of raindrops.
Yeah, I was going to get the bus.
Feeling a familiar prickle on my skin, I looked up and saw the guy was still standing there, his arms crossed as he studied me. I scowled at his assessing attitude.
He’d started showing up to watch me play about four weeks ago. Since then he’d appeared every Saturday, watching from a distance. I knew it wasn’t about physical attraction because I wasn’t really looking my best these days. It had to be about my voice and it freaked me out. Busking was a risk because all it would take was that one person to guess who I was from my voice.
Hence the fake accent.
Had this guy figured it out?
Fuck off, I tried to send him the telepathic order.
He began walking toward me. I tensed as I put my guitar in the case. This was new.
He stopped a couple feet from my case and I straightened to full height. I wasn’t diminutive at five foot six but I wasn’t tall either. Still, it was better than being crouched down while this stranger towered over me.
My expression was challenging.
His was blank.
Which was why I was surprised when he offered without preamble, “You can sing. You can write.”
I frowned, tilting my head slightly as I studied his face. Finally, I replied, “I know.”
His lips flattened and I wondered if that was his version of a smile. “Let me buy you a coffee.”
Suspicion flooded me.
Despite my best efforts to stay as clean as possible, I couldn’t rid myself of the aura of someone who slept rough. I had a large rucksack I carried everywhere and inside was my one-man tent. Once a week I had a shower and on the days that I couldn’t, I sprayed my hair with a can of cheap dry shampoo that I used sparingly. I was careful with the few shirts and two pairs of jeans I had, attempting to keep them as clean as possible. But there was dirt under my fingernails I couldn’t seem to get rid of and most importantly hard flecks of cold reality that I couldn’t wash out of my eyes.
I was homeless and most people seemed to sense it intuitively. That meant I was familiar with strange men approaching me to proposition me as if I were a common prostitute.
“Why?” I bit out, hating him as I hated all the men who thought they could take advantage of me.
He responded with a look of derision. “I’m not looking for sex. I just want to talk. About your music.”
“Let me take you for a coffee and I’ll explain.”
“I don’t drink coffee.”
He scowled, dragging his eyes down my body again. It was reassuringly nonsexual and insultingly disdainful. When we locked gazes, he said, “Then save your cash and let me buy you a hot meal.”
I pondered this, severely tempted. It was broad daylight, we were on Buchanan Street. If his plans for me were nefarious, there wasn’t a lot he could do to me. I glanced to my left, up the street. The red-and-white, candy-striped sign of TGI Fridays beckoned like a seasoned seductress.
However, the concern over what his interest in me was, and whether he’d discovered my secret gave me more than pause. I bowed my head, hiding my face behind my hat. “Find another form of amusement. No thanks.” I strode past without looking at him.
He didn’t call out after me, and the more distance I put between us, the more I felt the tension in my neck muscles loosen, my hunched shoulders lowering to their normal position.
The north end of Buchanan Street started on a hill at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. It sloped downward at a gradient, leveling out at around the halfway point. I’d been busking on the level, so it took me less than five minutes to get to the bus stop to the left on busy Argyle Street. Less than five minutes to put the guy to the back of my mind. There was no time for worrying about trivial things in my new life. That was the whole point of it. I only had time to worry about the basics. It was liberating in a way I couldn’t have ever imagined.
“Busker Girl!” I heard as I approached the bus stop.
My attention was drawn to the two homeless people sitting in sleeping bags outside the Argyle Street Arcade entrance. Old shopping arcade, not an amusement arcade.
Since my bus hadn’t arrived yet, I walked over to Ham and Mandy. I met them not long after I’d arrived in Glasgow and found myself without enough cash to stay in a hostel. I think I’d been sleeping in the cheap tent I’d bought for about a week when they approached me one day while I was busking.
“Hi,” I said as I walked over, staring down at them with sympathy twinging in my chest. It was odd, but I didn’t feel like I had anything in common with them other than that we were all homeless. I just couldn’t picture myself looking as uncared for as these two.
“How ye doin’, Busker Girl?” Mandy grinned up at me. Her teeth were thick with grime and decay that I no longer flinched at the sight of. I bought a new toothbrush every six weeks. It wasn’t electric but it was better than nothing and I used little disposable dental floss harps too. I was vigilant about keeping my teeth and gums healthy.
“She has a name, ye know.” Ham rolled his eyes at his woman.
I’d given them the false name of Sarah.
“Busker Girl is closer to the truth,” Mandy said, giving me a knowing smile.
She saw through me. I didn’t think she recognized me, but she knew I wasn’t called Sarah and she made me squirm with the way she seemed to be able to peer into me. Still, I liked her because she never pushed me for real information.
“Ach, leave the lass alone,” Ham said. Ham, short for his surname of Hamilton, wasn’t the first heroin addict I’d ever met. He was the most tragic. Tall, all lean muscle and tattoos, he had beautiful green eyes and a face that would’ve been incredibly handsome if it weren’t for the physical effects of the heroin. It was thin, drawn, his skin a grayish color, and his teeth were even worse than Mandy’s. Not only yellow and diseased, but his left canine tooth was broken and his right incisor was missing entirely. They had told me their stories the first time we met.
Mandy ran away from an abusive home life. Her mom’s boyfriend sexually assaulted her on a regular basis and her jealous mother liked to slap her around in punishment, as if it were her fault. I’d felt sick to my stomach listening to the casual way Mandy told her story. As if she’d grown numb to it. I understood the numb part.
Living on the streets led Mandy to prostituting herself to survive. She developed severe anxiety and depression and was one more awful sexual experience away from committing suicide when she met Ham. Where Mandy wasn’t originally from the city, Ham was from a place called Ibrox that was less than fifteen minutes outside the city center. He got hooked on heroin at fifteen and his addiction cost him his family, most of his friends, and the ability to hold down a job.
Ham’s addiction didn’t bother Mandy. At least that’s what she told me. I felt sad for them both, not only because of what they’d been through or because they were sleeping on the streets. I felt sad because I could tell Ham loved Mandy. But when Ham had wandered off that day to speak to another homeless guy they knew, Mandy told me she was only with him because he protected her from other men and he didn’t mind the bad days she had with her untreated anxiety. Don’t you love him? I’d asked. As a friend, she replied. But it was clear she was offering him more than mere friendship for his protection, and I wanted to cry for her, because she was still prostituting herself … just in a different way.
“What’s up?” I asked, not really wanting to spend much time around them because they were too much of a dose of harsh, cold reality for my liking.
Before either could answer, the first fat raindrop fell from the sky.
“Fuck,” Ham glared upwards. “Knew it.”
“Are you guys going to find shelter?”
“It’s just a bit of rain. First wash I’ll have had in days,” Mandy laughed.
“Where ye off tae?” Ham asked.
I shrugged. I didn’t tell anyone where I camped out. “Going to get a wash, a meal.”
Mandy suddenly scowled at me. “Ye still on yer own? What did we tell ye about that, Busker Girl? Ye need a man. Or ye need tae find yerself some other women.”
Ham gave me a look of concern. “Or stay with us. We’ll protect ye.”
I knew he didn’t mean anything sexual by it, but I still shuddered at the thought. They both insisted that I was leaving myself vulnerable to assault by being on my own. Having wandered the city for a good few months now, I did see quite a few homeless people in pairs or as they’d suggested, women who camped out in small packs.
But I was being smarter than all of them. I slept where no one ventured, far away from the city center. I didn’t need anyone else to keep myself safe.
“I look like a slight breeze could knock me over but it’s only a façade. I can kick arse, you know.” I grinned, trying to reassure them as I took a step back. “I can look after myself. Promise.”
“Ye’re going tae find yerself in trouble one of these days, Busker Girl!” Mandy called after me, and her words sounded prophetic in a way that sent a blast of cold shivers down my spine.
You’re being silly, I told myself, shaking off the feeling. I was fine.
I didn’t have their problems. I was being smart because despite my age, I had a lifetime of experience to fall back on.
This was my life right now. I liked it like this. I worried about important, basic-necessity stuff and all the other shit went away. I’d keep being smart as long as it meant not having to think about who I used to be.
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