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Chapter One

“What’s the name of this band again?” Sansa asked for the umpteenth time, still only half paying attention. She flipped open her powder compact and applied a layer of sheer, cherry-flavored lip gloss. In a rainbow of rippling colors, the city lights reflected on the Chicago River and cascaded by her as Sansa’s eyes flickered out the window of Gendry’s ’69 Firebird, his pride and joy. 

Arya huffed in the front seat and swiveled around to Sansa with a look of utter annoyance plastered on her face.

“Cannibal Star! I’ve told you, like, five thousand times.” 

Her little sister, although hardly little anymore at sixteen, rolled her eyes in mock exasperation but quickly conceded.  Sansa was doing her a tremendous favor and Arya knew it. She had begged and pleaded with Sansa to come and even offered to do Sansa’s chores for the next week if she agreed, just this once, to help her out. 

Last weekend, Arya had been caught, once again, sneaking out to meet up with Gendry, a boy her parents didn’t quite approve of. Although three years older than Arya, Gendry was a nice guy and had a good job at the steel mill.  If he was a college student working hard to secure a future as a boring accountant or pompous Wall Street broker, Sansa doubted her parents would have had such a problem.  Even she had to admit it was a little unfair.  Either way, Arya’s rebelliousness had gotten her grounded despite Gendry procuring tickets and backstage passes to their favorite metal band. 

Their father had been adamant that Arya couldn’t go and no amount of whining changed his mind. It was her punishment for not only breaking curfew, but sneaking out to meet up with “that guy.” Arya complained all week, slowly breaking down her parents’s resolve instead of quietly accepting her punishment, as Sansa was apt to do.  Per usual, their mother relented first after Arya buttered their mom up with compliments and help around the house until she agreed to discuss the matter with their father. 

He was a harder sell, but after a lengthy discussion between the parental unit, their father had begrudgingly conceded under one condition: Sansa had to go with Arya and Gendry to the concert, a chaperone of sorts, although she was only two years older than Arya.  Regardless, Sansa was the responsible daughter, always trying to politely follow the rules and make as little waves as possible. Her reward for that was having to “escort” her sister to some stupid metal show. 

“Did you have to dress like a goddamn yuppie?” Arya huffed and looked mortified that she’d have to be seen with her prim and proper sister. 

With a cursory evaluation of her outfit, Sansa didn’t see what the problem was. She thought she looked quite nice; even their mother had said so.  Sansa had chosen a pleated skirt in her favorite shade of baby blue, a sensible white blouse, and a soft pink sweater.  Perhaps tying the sweater around her neck was a bit much, but the night was bound to grow chilly and she didn’t want to be without something to cover up with. Besides, who knew what sort of freak shows would be roaming around the place they were going. She didn’t want to be too exposed. 

“Arya, I really wish you’d watch your mouth.” Sansa tucked away her compact and lip gloss into her cross body purse. “Did you two have to dress like Sid and Nancy?” she added and motioned towards the front seat. 

“That’s quite a compliment. Thanks, Sansa.” Gendry beamed as he caught Sansa’s eyes in the rearview mirror. He had teased his hair almost as much as Arya, except his hair, much to Arya’s chagrin, was a few inches longer and fell well below his shoulders.  Sansa had stifled a laugh as she watched the two of them pass the Aqua Net back and forth while perfecting their coifs in Gendry’s bathroom mirror. 

“She didn’t mean it as a compliment, dummy!” Arya chided and whacked Gendry across the arm. The boy responded with a wink and the two of them exchanged a laugh across the center console.  Sansa had to admit, they were a cute couple and she was happy for her sister.  Although her own relationship with Joff had gone to hell in a hand basket, Sansa held out hope that perhaps she’d find someone she could share a genuine connection with, as Arya shared with Gendry. 

Parking in downtown Chicago on a Friday night was an absolute nightmare, and Sansa groaned in frustration when Gendry finally parked the car on a side street about ten blocks away from the concert venue.  He killed the engine and shifted his eyes between Sansa and Arya. 

“Ladies, we’ll have to trek it through the mean streets of Chi-Town,” he declared with a grin and jumped from the car. 

Let’s get this night over with, Sansa groaned internally and pushed the door open with a sigh.  She had never heard of Cannibal Star or whatever this band was called, but if it was anything like the music she heard blaring from Arya’s walkman, Sansa knew she was going to hate it.  To be fair, Arya hated Sansa’s music too and was constantly making fun of her for singing along to her Madonna or Cyndi Lauper tapes.

After walking five blocks, Sansa regretted wearing the blue pumps Margaery lent her.  While the heel wasn’t particularly high, the leather around the sides dug painfully into her skin, rubbing it raw with each step. Two steps ahead, Arya and Gendry chatted excitedly as they rattled off all the songs they hoped were on the set list.  “Gravedigger,” “The Hounds of Hell,” “Meat for the Butcher with the Sword.” Those had been but a few Sansa overheard them gushing about. After that, she stopped listening and instead started an internal countdown of when this night would be over with.

They neared the concert venue where a hoard gathered in line outside, shifting restlessly while waiting for the doors to open. Most were garbed in black from head to toe, hair teased wild and with shit-kicking boots on their feet.  Even Arya looked the part—torn up jeans over a pair of sheer black tights; black cowboy boots; a leather jacket that covered a tattered Cannibal Star t-shirt she borrowed from Gendry, who was dressed almost identical to his girlfriend. 

Both Arya and Gendry seemed to have read Sansa’s mind as they stopped one block short of the venue. Shucking out of her leather jacket, Arya balled it up and shoved it at Sansa. 

“You’re going to stick out like a sore thumb. Here. Put this on before you get laughed out of the venue.” 

Sansa shot Gendry a pleading look. “This is, like, embarrassing to the max,” she whimpered. 

Whatever sympathy Sansa hoped to gain from Gendry was lost as he grasped her by the shoulders and gave a soft squeeze.    

“Sansa, you know I like you, but if you get laughed out of the building, Arya and I are going to have to pretend we don’t know you. I busted my ass to get these backstage passes.”

By busted his ass, he meant incessantly calling into the local rock station who was giving out tickets and backstage passes to the show. As luck would have it, Gendry was eventually the one-hundredth caller and snagged the tickets he had spent so long rambling on about.  

“Yeah, yeah. I get it.” Sansa loosened her Izod cardigan from around her neck and tied it around her waist. As she slipped into the heavy leather jacket, she had to admit it was warm and didn’t quite call so much attention to her as the sweater did. Regardless, she’d hardly blend into the crowd and was bound to get stares anyway. 

The doors of the venue had just opened as they approached. The concert goers howled wild with delight as they were slowly shuffled into the building. By the time Sansa, Arya, and Gendry made it to the front of the line, the din of the crowd poured through the doors, intermingling on a haze of cigarette smoke which cast the room in a dull, dingy glow. 

“I need to see some ID,” a heavyset bouncer barked out. He cast an annoyed glance to the line that extended behind well them and wrapped around the building. Sansa’s heart skipped a beat. Arya was a minor, and there was no way this no-nonsense bouncer was going to let her through. As Sansa was about to turn to Arya with a feigned look of sympathy at having to call the night short, her sister produced an Illinois driver’s license with the picture of a woman Sansa did not recognize. 

Arya hardly seemed fazed, even as the bouncer shined a flash light on it and studied Arya’s face. Handing the ID back, the bouncer let Arya through. After showing her ID and being waved through, Sansa caught up with her sister.

“Since when do you have a fake?” Sansa asked, incredulous though it didn’t quite surprise her.

“Since I started dating a guy who knows a guy who makes kick ass fake IDs.” Arya appeared satisfied with herself as she flashed a smile at Gendry who shrugged his shoulders in response. 

The inside of the venue was a sea of writhing bodies, all packed in as close to the stage as possible. Red lights glowed like embers from wall sconces. Adjacent to the stage, a bar extended the length of the wall and was manned by two individuals covered in tattoos and sporting severe scowls as they served up beverages to the rowdy crowd. 

Sansa scanned the room. With their studded accessories, tight leather clothing, and teased out hair, everyone looked like they had just come off the set of a Judas Priest or Iron Maiden music video. Even with the leather jacket, there was no hiding that Sansa didn’t belong here.  She tapped Arya on the shoulder and pointed to the wall opposite the bar.

“I’m going to stand over there.”

“Sansa, come up front with Gendry and I,” Arya pleaded and took Sansa’s hand. She tried to pull her towards the crowd gathered in front of the stage. 

“Arya, no.  I really don’t want to.” Sansa pulled her hand away. The last thing she wanted was to get caught up in a mosh pit and ruin her clothes. Besides, her feet were killing her where the shoes had rubbed her raw. 

Rolling her eyes and growling in frustration, Arya threw her hands up in the air.

“Fine! Be a boring prude, Sansa. One of these days, I’m going to break you out of your shell.” 

Sansa shouldered her way through the crowd and ignored the intermittent cat calls and lewd stares as she went. She perched against the far wall and was surprised to find that she had a decent view of the stage, not that it mattered much. Mindlessly, she picked at her nails and tried to occupy herself the best she could. Her mind wandered to what she should be doing right now. 

Margaery had invited her to Loras’s surprise birthday party, a fete that was being thrown at a swanky restaurant downtown courtesy of the Tyrell family’s extraordinary wealth. Her friend had begged her to bail on Arya and spend the evening eating, drinking, and dancing the night away. As much as Sansa would have rather attended Loras’s party, she didn’t have the heart to blow her sister off. Besides, Joffrey was likely to be in attendance at the party and Sansa wasn’t quite sure she was ready to be in the same room as him just yet. 

The sudden sound of a bass drum reverberated through Sansa’s chest and the lights of the venue lowered until the room was cast in complete darkness.  Everyone in the building seemed to simultaneously gasp before a hush fell over the crowd. Clear as a bell, an undulating guitar riff sounded out from the speakers and elicited cheers from the concert goers. 

After a few bars of the riff, a low, guttural singing echoed through the room as the song slowed in its tempo until the room went silent once more. The energy of the building turned electric. The crowd steadily pushed forward and tension seemed to rise as silence wore on and smoke rippled across the stage. 

Once more, the bass drum pounded through the room along with two guitars, now dueling through complicated riffs. As soon as the singer’s voice pierced through the darkness, lights flashed against the stage, illuminating the band as they seemed to emerge from the smoke. The crowd broke into deafening cheers as the rhythm picked up. The room moved in unison with the beat, rocking and swaying with each pound of the drums. Standing on her tippy-toes, Sansa could see Gendry and Arya up front. Their hair whipped to and fro as they head banged to the song. 

Sansa had been to concerts before, but never had she ever felt as though her ear drums might burst. The music was beyond deafening. She could hardly hear the thoughts in her own head as the song wore on and the crowd belted out every word.  The lead singer sauntered around the stage clothed in quite possibly the tightest leather pants known to man. Sansa imagined the singer had been sewn into them and exhaled a laugh at the thought. That was what she didn’t understand about this type of music; these men fancied themselves hard and tough yet wore clothes tighter than any woman would and some even wore make up. 

Sizing up each member of the band, Sansa could see they fit the bill for most metal bands: obnoxious leather outfits, hair teased to the high heavens, and a few wearing heavy black eyeliner.  However, one band member stood out from the rest. Situated on the right side of the stage nearest to Sansa, this man’s form lurked in the fleeting shadows of the stage. 

Her attention was drawn back to the lead singer as the song came to a gradual end.

“Thank you, Chicago!” the singer belted out in falsetto before laughing into the microphone.  “We’re happy to end this tour back in our hometown. Make some noise for Cannibal Star!”

Before the singer could finish, the crowd erupted into more cheers as the next song set in and  quickly drowned out the horde. A steady pressure built in Sansa’s head. Blessedly, the song began to slow after awhile, and the drums fell away. The musician who lurked in the shadows stepped forward and drew the undivided attention of the crowd as he set into a wailing guitar solo. 

Mesmerized like all the rest, Sansa stared at him. He was quite possibly the tallest man she had ever seen, towering over his band mates who were by no means short. The black guitar was dwarfed in his hands and yet he played with intricate delicacy, his fingers moving deftly up and down the strings. 

Unlike the others, his hair wasn’t teased, but instead fell in raven black waves past his shoulders. With a curtain of hair around his face, Sansa couldn’t quite make out his features until his head fell back with eyes closed as he reached the climax of his solo.  His features were decidedly masculine: a strong jaw, heavy brow, and hooked nose. 

Sansa felt the heat hit her cheeks as she took in the sight of him. He wasn’t wearing a shirt, only tight fitting black leather pants paired with Doc Martens. His chest and abdomen were a chiseled expanse of taut muscles that rippled beneath his skin. Much like the rest of him, his arms were sculpted to perfection; his biceps and triceps defined in thick swathes of muscle.  Sansa couldn’t take her eyes off of him and instead found that her stare was magnetized towards him. 

The man opened his eyes as his solo waned behind the steady rise of drum beats. His gaze landed on Sansa and she could have sworn he was staring straight at her. She expected his eyes to roam away. Surely, hers was just another face in the crowd, if he could even make out any faces. His eyes remained glued to hers in a heavy stare as his hand continued to move up and down the guitar neck.   

Sansa shifted a flustered glance over her shoulder, certain he had locked eyes with someone else. The space behind her was empty. Sansa turned around, but the intensity of his stare was still on her. Members of the crowd seemed to notice. Much like her, they turned to see who he was looking at. 

She let her eyes drift up to him and felt her lips part as she pulled in a shaky breath. The corner of the man’s mouth pulled into a smug half-smile as he turned away. With the left side of his face now visible, Sansa let out a gasp. It was a disfigured mass of burned flesh extending from his forehead down to the middle of his cheek.  Locks of his black hair gave feeble cover to the worst of it, but the effect was still horrifying. 

Turning around once more, the good side of the man’s face was now visible to Sansa again, and when his stare landed squarely on her, she couldn’t help but lower her eyes. His scars were repulsive, that was for sure, but that wasn’t quite why she couldn’t meet his gaze. Swallowing hard, she felt a small flutter in the pit of her stomach. She didn’t want him to keep staring at her, and yet when she lifted her eyes again and found he was no longer looking, a sliver of disappointment welled up within. 

For the remainder of the concert, Sansa watched him, but he never again returned her stare.  After a lengthy encore, the band retreated from the stage. Good. We can go home now. As Arya came bounding up to her, out of breath and covered in a layer of sweat, Sansa remembered the backstage passes and felt her temporary joy evaporate. 

“Fuck yeah, that was awesome!” Arya screeched, her voice hoarse from screaming and shouting to the music. 

Gendry fell in next to Arya, equally as out of breath yet looking as though he were on cloud nine.  

“Did you have a good time?” Gendry gulped for air. 

Unbidden, images of the guitarist and the way he had been looking—no, staring—at her flashed across Sansa’s mind.

“Yeah.  It wasn’t so bad, I guess.” Her head pounded and she could already tell her hair and clothes reeked of cigarette smoke. 

After a majority of the crowd cleared the building, Sansa followed Arya and Gendry as a band aide led them down a hall to the backstage area. They approached the door and Gendry turned an apologetic stare towards Sansa.

“We only have two passes.  I’m sorry, kiddo.” 

Fine by me. What if I run into that guitarist? I don’t want that. 

“That’s fine,” Sansa assured with a smile.  “I’ll just wait outside. Have fun.”  

The two disappeared behind the door labeled Employees Only and Sansa headed down the hall towards an exit door. A bit of fresh air sounded a lot better than hanging out with a bunch of greasy, hairy metal dudes anyway. As she was about to push through the door, Sansa heard loud squeals from the other end of the corridor. Turning over her shoulder, she watched a group of girls heading backstage. 

With short skirts, high heels, and pounds of make up, each one seemed more scantily clad than the next. Sansa rolled her eyes and pushed through the door, but barreled into someone as she hurried through. Tripping on her heels, Sansa careened towards the ground until two hands reached out and gripped her firmly on her upper arms. 

 “I’m sorry!” Sansa exclaimed on a breathy exhale as she spun around.  Her eyes were met with a man’s broad chest, and as she lifted her gaze, she realized her body was flush with the guitarist from the band. 

“You’re shaking.  Do I frighten you that much, girl?” the man growled on a deep voice, the timbre seeming to match his size. 

“N-no,” Sansa stammered and lowered her eyes. She tried to wriggle from his grasp but to no avail. “You just startled me is all.” It was a lie. His size was intimidating and his face was gruesome. 

The man barked out a rough laugh as he let go of her and sat on the half flight of stairs leading to the ground below. 

“That’s a lie if I’ve ever heard one,” he remarked, equal parts bitter and amused. He wore a black t-shirt now and a pair of torn up jeans. 

She eyed the staircase and swallowed hard as she realized she would have gone tumbling down it had he not caught her. Sitting with the unburned side of his face visible to her, the guitarist took a long pull on a whiskey bottle. She wondered if he was drunk, a thought that filled her with dread. She didn’t know this man and they were alone outside together.  Stepping away from him slightly, Sansa pressed her back against the adjacent wall. A heavy silence settled between them. 

“You played very well tonight.” Sansa didn’t quite know why she felt compelled to compliment him. It’s not as if she owed this man a conversation or anything.

The man laughed again; this time, short and mirthless. 

 “As if you would know,” he mumbled and stared out at the parking lot. “You get separated from the rest of the groupies?”

“I’m not a groupie!” Sansa blurted out, offended that he would even think that of her. “My sister and her boyfriend had backstage passes. I’m waiting on them.” 

The man turned to her and let his eyes flicker up and down her body, stilling Sansa’s breath with each pass and making her wish she could melt into the wall and disappear. 

“And you didn’t want to go back there with them? A pretty little thing like you would’ve made it backstage just fine without a pass.” The man continued to leer openly at her with a not-so-subtle smirk pulling across the ruined side of his mouth. 

“This isn’t really my scene.” Sansa pulled the leather jacket tight around her and let out a breath when the man averted his gaze. 

“I can see that. I imagine you’d rather be at the mall, maxing out daddy’s credit card, yeah?”

He was mocking her. He assumed she was a certain type of girl, probably one of those Valley girls from California who were vapid and self-absorbed. The thought stung, although she didn’t know why. 

 “Why aren’t you back there with your band mates and the groupies?” Sansa shot back, hoping that he’d realize what he was missing and leave her in peace. 

“Not my scene,” he countered smugly and turned an intense stare at her. “Although, I’ll probably fuck one of those groupies later. We’ll see how the night goes,” he added with a shrug of his shoulders as Sansa’s mouth fell open. “You wouldn’t know anything about that, though, by the looks of you.”  

If the condescension wasn’t infuriating enough, the implication was downright vulgar and none of his damn business besides. He was making her nervous, and Sansa toyed with the idea of fleeing back inside. She could make something up about being cold or wanting to check on her sister; it would be that simple. However, she was rooted to her spot. 

“You’re vile,” Sansa said, but glared at the parking lot.  This was the perfect ending to a perfectly awful night. 

“And you’re a prude,” the man jeered without hesitation. “You need to loosen up a bit. Here.”  Holding out his arm, the man offered her the bottle of whiskey and his eyes matched hers in a heavy gaze. 

Instead of looking away, Sansa kept his stare and noticed for the first time that his eyes were pale grey. 

“No, thank you,” she murmured and butterflies inexplicably fluttered in her stomach. Licking her lips, Sansa finally broke the stare after it lasted a handful of seconds longer than any normal glance should. 

“Suit yourself.” He set the bottle down and leaned back with his elbows resting on the top step.  When he craned his neck to look up at her, Sansa realized he was appraising her once more.

“You look like that red-headed broad. Can’t think of her name.”

With an exasperated sigh, Sansa rolled her eyes. Ever since “I Think We’re Alone Now” came out, she was constantly getting compared to the red-headed pop star.    

“Tiffany? I look nothing like her,” Sansa groaned, her typical reply. Somehow she found herself more annoyed than usual by the comparison. She didn’t like the way he assumed that all she did was hang out at the mall, spend her dad’s money, and try to emulate Tiffany. 

The man must’ve sensed her annoyance. He laughed and Sansa imagined he was about to fire back another mocking jab. 

“You’re right. You’re a hell of a lot cuter than her, but that’s not who I was talking about.” 

Her cheeks burned hot now and the butterflies seemed to turn molten in her stomach as the heat spread through her body. After a long silence, the man snapped his fingers. 

 “Tawny Kitaen. That’s who you look like.” 

Initially, the name didn’t ring a bell until Sansa remembered the latest Whitesnake video and the buxom redhead doing the splits on top of a Jaguar.  Just when she thought she couldn’t be more mortified, another wave of embarrassment hit her.

The man stared up at Sansa and measured her reaction with an amused smile. This time it was he who licked his lips. 

“Just sayin’.  If you ever want to roll around on the hood of my Mustang in a skimpy dress, I wouldn’t exactly stop you.”

As the man broke into laughter, Sansa shook her head and was surprised to find a small laugh escape her own lips. 

“I think I’ll pass.” 

When another silence dragged between them, Sansa fumbled with the sleeves of the jacket and clutched the ends in her palms. 

“What’s your name?” she asked, wondering if he might be offended she didn’t already know.  Surely, this gave her away. She wasn’t an adoring fan who already knew his name and everything else about him. 

But somehow this seemed to strike a chord in him and he looked up at her with another half smile, although there was nothing bawdy about this particular one. Instead, there was a bit of appreciation to it. 

“The Hound,” he said, voice gruff and dark. 

“No, your real name,” Sansa pushed, assuming he had more than likely given her his stage name. 

“My real name doesn’t matter, not unless you plan on moaning it later while I’m on top of you.”  

Immediately, he swiveled his head up towards her, his mouth curled in a devilish smile and contorting his scars in a hideous manner. All Sansa could do was gasp in response. Why does he have to be so crude? Pouting, she looked away. Why are you still standing out here if he’s so crude?  The question lingered in her mind and she didn’t quite have the answer. 

“I’m sorry. That was really uncalled for,” the Hound conceded. Satisfied with an apology, Sansa took slow steps towards the edge of the staircase and sat next to him. With a guilty stare, the Hound matched her eyes in earnest. 

“I should have been more considerate.  If it means that much to you, you can be on top instead.”

Mouth agape, Sansa felt a blush creeping down her cheeks and neck towards her chest.  He was lewd, and no one had ever talked to her like this before. An unsolicited image of her straddling him flashed across her mind. Sansa shook her head to erase the thought as quickly as possible. Never would she ever do anything like that with a man like the Hound.  

He erupted with loud laughter and clutched his side while Sansa sat in dumbfounded silence. 

“It was a joke.” He elbowed her gently. The contact between them, brief as it was, caused Sansa’s breath to catch in her throat. “Lighten up a bit.”

Sighing her relief, although she was still troubled about the intrusive thought of straddling this man, Sansa settled back and released the tension in her body. She extended a timid hand to him. 

“My name’s Sansa,” she said softly and somehow managed to meet his eyes.

“Sansa,” he repeated and took her hand. She noticed his gaze flicker to her lips momentarily before returning to her eyes. 

“My name’s Sandor,” he said, hand still wrapped around hers. Although his hand was rough, his skin was warm against hers, the sensation rather pleasant. 

“Nice to meet you, Sandor.” His eyes wandered to her lips again, as if he had studied the way his name curled around her tongue and mouth. Maybe he didn’t notice, or perhaps he did, but he was still holding her hand. 

Behind them, the door bursted open, and Sansa yanked her hand away from the Hound’s. A fresh wave of embarrassment hit her as Arya and Gendry stood there, both of their eyes shifting between Sansa and the Hound. Sansa stood and brushed off her skirt. She felt as though she had been caught doing something she shouldn’t have.  All I did was shake his hand…

“There you are! We’ve been looking all over for you,” Arya chided before turning to the Hound. 

“You fucking rocked tonight! I think I have whiplash from all the head banging I did,” Arya beamed. Gendry had fallen into star-struck silence next to her. Sansa vaguely remembered now how Gendry went on and on about the Hound and the way he could shred on the guitar. 

“I…I…wow! You’re just…you’re like my idol, man,” Gendry stammered as the Hound stood up, towering over all three of them. He crossed his arms about his broad chest.

“Thanks, man. We’ve got band practice next week if you’re interested in stopping by.”

Paling and appearing as though he had just seen a flying saucer blaze across the sky, Gendry’s mouth fell open and he responded with a frantic nod.

“Yes! Jesus titty-fucking Christ, yes! That would be…holy shit…that’d be incredible!” For a moment, Sansa thought Gendry might hug the Hound for how gleeful he was. 

Grasping Arya by the shoulders, Gendry shook her, perhaps a bit too hard as Arya stumbled forward.

“Can I bring my girlfriend too?”

The Hound looked to Sansa. 

“As long as she brings her sister.” 

The Hound gave Gendry an address and time before striding for the door. He stopped beneath the doorframe and swiveled his head over his shoulder as he gave Sansa a wink and a smile.