MANHANDLED
Epilogue

a Rockstar Romantic Comedy

Hammered Book 2


I want to read it now.

Epilogue

Noah came through the door. “We’ve got to stop meeting this way, Keys.”

“Where have you been?” I struggled to sit up. “I’ve been calling you for hours.”

He held a hand up. “All right. I got here as quickly as I could.”

“They won’t let me see him.” I ran a shaking hand through my hair. I’d been in this damn hospital for two freaking days. I didn’t remember the first one. They had me so pumped full of drugs to counteract what that woman gave me, that I have no recollection of the day or even the time in the car.

Or that Quinn had killed for me.

“I’m on my way to the jail right after I see you. I figured you were going to bust out of this place if I didn’t check in.”

“You would be correct.”

He sat next to me on the bed, his eyes tracking the IV in my arm. “Have the cops been in to talk to you?”

“For a few minutes. The doctor chased them out again which is why Quinn is still in the friggin’ jail cell.”

He covered my hand. “Okay. It’s all right. I’m here to fix it.”

I sat back and closed my eyes. My head still felt as if I was on some really bad trip. And considering I’d done absolutely zero drugs in my life, I was so not okay with this feeling. Who would do this to themselves on purpose?

“She stole from me again,” I whispered. That was one of the worst things about it. Each time this woman had tried to kidnap me, she had used something that scrambled my memories.

I’d been absolutely useless.

At her mercy.

Tears leaked out the sides of my eyes. I dashed them away.

“Ah, sweetheart.”

I hated tears. I tried to swallow them back, but I was just so tired and worried. “If she stole Quinn from me too…” My voice was thick with them now. I cleared my throat and growled. “I’m going to dig her up and kill her again.”

He patted my hand. “Well, she’s not in the ground yet, but I love when you’re fierce.”

I laughed through a half sob. “You suck.”

“Thank God,” Hunter said as he rushed in.

I sniffed and blinked away the rest of my tears. I didn’t want my guys to see me fall apart. They were all worried about me as it was.

He hugged his brother. “I didn’t think you were ever going to get here.”

“I’m getting tired of coming to see this one in a hospital.” Noah tugged at my braid.

“Yeah, well this better be the last of it. No more crazed fans, all right?” Hunter gripped my hand.

“No. No more.”

The woman that still didn’t have a name. Even dead, she was still a mystery. How could someone have no name? I couldn’t even breathe around the insanity.

I pulled the IV out of my arm with a wince and tossed it over my shoulder. I gripped Noah’s wrist. “You have to take me to him.”

“Hold on.” His eyes widened. “Jesus.”

“No, I will not hold on. I’ve been in this fucking room for two days. I need to see him.”

“I’ll get him. His parents are working on bail.”

“He was protecting me! He shouldn’t even be in there.”

“He’s fine. I talked to his father. He’s going a little nuts because he can’t see you, but otherwise he’s fine.”

That was the very definition of a whitewash. I knew Quinn. “A little nuts” was more like stir-crazy. And if the cops had taken him in, there was a good reason. And that reason was me.

I fisted my fingers into his jacket. “I need to see him. Find a way to get me over there or I’m going to raise so much hell—”

“Are you trying to extend your stay?” Noah asked me.

“I’m fine.”

“Your pupils are the size of dimes. Nothing about you is fine.”

“I’m not going to be fine until I see him.”

The nurse bustled in. “Miss Keystone, you have to sit back.”

“I’m checking myself out.” I swung my legs off the bed and tried to stand up. My knees didn’t really work. They sort of dissolved.

Noah caught me and swung me up into his arms. “All right, tiger. Back in bed with you.”

“No. I just need to get my feet under me.” I tried again and stood on my feet this time. “See?” The room swam a little, but I was determined. “Now, someone find me a shirt. This thing is a little too revealing for the jail.”

“She is in no condition to leave yet.” The nurse crossed the room. “We can’t allow it.”

“I can check myself out.” I sat on the chair next to my bed and started pulling on my jeans. I looked up at the nurse. “Right?”

She frowned. “I can’t advise it.”

Noah raked his hands through his hair. “Keys, I’ll go get him out of there. I promise.”

“I need to do this.” I blinked away tears. “He killed someone for me. He saved me.”

Noah crouched down in front of me. “I know.”

“Now, I need to go get him out of that cell and back where he belongs.”

“His job is done,” Noah said quietly. “You’re safe.”

My chest tightened. “This isn’t about his job. It hasn’t been about the job for a long time.” I wasn’t ready to say it before. I wasn’t ready to believe, but I was now.

He was mine, and I was his.

End of story.

Actually, more like beginning of the story. Our story.

Noah’s gaze crashed into mine. “Well, it’s about time.”

I laughed and brushed my nose with the back of my hand. No sobbing. Action now—cry later. “I love him. So, you need to take me to him right now.”

The nurse stalked out, muttering about finding a doctor.

They could tackle me at the damn door if they wanted, but I was getting out of there. I grabbed my boots, and wished for my Chucks. Not sure I was three-inch-platform-wedge worthy.

“What the hell are you doing?” Indie scowled from the doorway with my Go-Bag.

“I’m staging a coup?”

“I think you mean jailbreak,” Noah said from the side of his mouth.

“Whatever. I’m blowing this pop stand to get my man.”

Indie’s chin dropped to her chest. “Save me from melodramatic rockstars.” She stalked in and dropped my bag on my bed. “All right, how about these?” She pulled out my black Converse sneakers.

I stood. “Oh my God, bless you.”

“I don’t think you’re quite catwalk-worthy.”

I glanced down at Indie’s ever present four-inch-heeled boots. “Only one of us gets to be fabulous today.”

She grinned up from the shadows of her hat. “Damn right.” She snapped out my Elvis Jailhouse Rock shirt. “Thought it was fitting.”

I laughed for the first time in what felt like forever. “I love you.”

“Yeah, well, I’m just glad you’re okay. Now, we have a moody warden to save, huh?”

“Damn right.”

Indie helped me in the bathroom. My hair was a wreck, but a high ponytail would just have to do. She stood behind me in the mirror and reached around to pinch my cheeks.

“Hey.”

“You look pale as death, girl. I don’t think blusher is appropriate, so old school it is.”

I winced as she pinched again, but at least there was some blood flow going on.

“You look like you hung out in a pot tent for twelve hours.”

My eyes did look way too huge, but I didn’t have time to worry about that. I needed to get to Quinn and fix this mess. I reached into my bag and found the sunglasses I used for when I was getting attacked with flashbulbs.

“There we go. Rockstar chic.”

“Oh yeah. Not obvious at all.” Indie rolled her eyes. “All right.” She turned me around and fluffed my bangs, then straightened my shoulders. “Fair warning, you scare me like that again, I quit.”

“You can’t quit.” I curled my arms around her neck. “You’re my hero.”

She pushed me away. “Asshole.”

I grinned and followed her out the door.

Noah was pacing, his attention on his phone.

“Ready.”

He looked up. “Better. Not great, but better.”

“The ego, she soars around you, pal.”

He put a hand at the small of my back and led me toward the door. The nurse was waiting with a clipboard and a wheelchair. “At least sign this.”

I scribbled at the bottom of the paper and handed it back to her.

Noah pushed me into the chair. “Let’s get out of here, huh?”

I gripped the arms as he zoomed me by my band in the waiting room. Owen leapt out of his seat. “Keys!”

“I’ll see you guys at the hotel.”

He ran into the hallway. “Where are you going?”

“I gotta go get Quinn.”

Noah slapped a button on the wall and the doors opened. The hospital was more like an extended clinic. We got to the front doors and I jumped out as soon as we crossed the threshold. The sun was long gone. October had snatched the longer days and brought a crispness to the air.

He hustled me to his SUV and we took off into town. Noah gave me a quick rundown on why there was no movement on Quinn’s arraignment. Quinn and his family were Saratoga-based, so the Glens Falls police department didn’t give a crap who he was. And again, they knew nothing of Roth Defense, nor did they feel the need for any special treatment.

Especially when Quinn had been less than cooperative when they’d tried to take me away from him.

My heart ached as we pulled into the small parking lot. “This is where he is?”

“Yeah. You can imagine the lack of staff at this time of day on a Saturday. The cops are more worried about the kids partying than getting him set up with a judge.”

I fisted my hands as I walked in. The reception area was empty. I looked around and finally heard someone behind a desk. “Hello?”

“Can I help you?” A woman came out in jeans and a uniform shirt. She had a tired face, and flat brown eyes.

“Hi. My name is Faith Keystone.” At her continued blank look, I kept going. “I was involved in the shooting.”

Noah came up behind me. “You have a man here by the name of Quinn Alexander?”

“Oh, him.”

I twisted my fingers together. “Can we see him?”

“Faith?”

I turned to a female voice. “Maggie?” I weaved a little, but walked to her. “Hi. I’m so sorry.” No waterworks. No waterworks. “Is he okay?”

“He’s fine, honey. He just needs a shower and possibly a fifth of whiskey.”

I laughed. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him drink more than wine or the occasional beer.”

“Then you be careful around him when he’s with El.” She hugged me tight and smoothed her hand down my ponytail. “He’s been asking about you.”

“Yeah?” I sniffed back the tears that kept threatening. “I’ve been so worried.”

“Faith? What the hell are you doing here?”

I broke away from Quinn’s mom. He stood in the middle of the dreary hallway. His clothes had seen better days. His folks must have brought a new shirt for him, but there was a stain of red on his arm and rusty streaks on his jeans.

I swallowed. “I’m here to rescue you.”

He frowned. “You should be in the hospital.”

My lips trembled. I’d really needed to hear that gruff voice. “Nice to see you too, Warden.”

He closed his eyes and I saw his fingers shake before he fisted them.

No way I could resist that. I ran to him and threw my arms around him. He was so stiff, his shoulders and arms like granite. “I’m here. I’m okay. I swear I’m okay.”

His forehead dropped onto my shoulder first. “Faith.”

I looped my arms around his waist and put my nose right into the middle of his chest—warmth, fabric softener, and the underlying mint that always clung to him.

Home.

Quinn.

Mine.

Finally his arms came around my shoulders. He crushed me to him. “They took you from me. Never again, you hear me?” He gripped my ponytail. “Never again.”

I couldn’t stop the grin into his shirt—or the tears. Damn him. I wiggled until I could get my face out of his chest. I peered up at him. “Never?”

“Never.” He snatched the sunglasses off my face, then frowned. “How high are you?”

I laughed. “Those are hearts in my eyes, buddy. You’re ruining my buzz.”

His frown deepened, then he looked over my shoulder. “You let her out of the hospital like this?”

Noah held up his hands. “She required an audience with her beau.”

“You’re an asshole.”

Noah folded his arms across his chest. “Is that any way to talk to your best friend? The hero who brought your girl to you?”

Quinn looked down at me. “I was on my way to see you.”

I curled myself into his side and pressed my cheek against his chest. “I saved you a trip to the hospital.”

“You should still be in bed.”

“How about you tuck me in?” I batted my eyelashes at him.

He pressed his forehead to mine. “You drive me fucking nuts.”

“The feeling is entirely mutual.”

I love you.

I love you to a stupid degree.

The words were a logjam in my head.

I wanted to tell him, but all of a sudden, the hallway exploded with people. The detectives that had come to my room wanted a statement, then there was more paperwork.

Endless questions that I couldn’t answer because I was incoherent at the time. There was the concert, the laughter, Quinn holding me, then a face that could have been mine.

A face that was finally burned into my memory.

“She was me.”

“No, she wasn’t.” Quinn’s hand cupped my shoulder as he crouched beside me. “She was a very sick girl who somehow got focused on you.”

“A little more than that I’m afraid.” The detective scratched his buzzed short hair. He pulled a large bag marked evidence out of a manila envelope and placed the sealed bag in front of me.

I swallowed at the photo of her identification. It had my name on it.

Quinn sat down next to me at the table. With shaking hands, I shook the bag of cards they’d assembled. Her license and even her insurance had been under my name.

I blinked up at the officer. “How?”

“All it takes is getting a hold of your social security number.”

“But…” I pushed the cards through the bag until I came to the license again. My address. I looked at Quinn.

“That’s why we couldn’t find anything on her.”

“Because she was trying to be me. Become me.”

The detective pulled out another bag. This one smaller, holding a cell phone. “From what we can tell, she cloned your phone. I wish it was hard to do, but a little know-how and a Google search make it a lot easier than you think.”

Quinn’s fingers fisted and he slid his hand under the table. “Your cell problems.”

I swallowed. “The weird double texts I got.”

He nodded. “I should have picked up on it. She was using your own cell to track you. Everywhere you were, that geotracker that’s in most cells—talk about a damn homing beacon.”

I sat back in the chair and curled my arms over my stomach. “All my conversations…”

His fingers curled over my knee. “It’s over.”

I nodded numbly. “Right. Over.”

The detectives spoke to Quinn a little more, but the charges were finally dropped in light of the evidence. I signed where I was supposed to sign and we were sent on our way.

Quinn led me to Noah’s car. “We’re going to stay at my folks place tonight. All right? Your parents are there with my mom.”

I nodded. “Okay.”

He helped me into the back seat and snapped my belt. “Faith.”

I stared at my hands as they blurred.

“Faith.”

I blinked furiously before I looked up at him.

“You’re going to be fine.”

I tried to put on a smile. I had a feeling it was pretty much a fail, considering the look in his eyes. “I’m already fine.”

He cupped my face, his thumb tracing my cheek. He leaned in and pressed a light kiss to my mouth, then shut the door and got into the passenger seat.

The ride to his house was eternal. I was a mixture of numb and broken. The gentle rocking from the uneven roads and then the highway lulled me into a light doze. They guys were speaking in low voices—low enough that I couldn’t really make out what they were saying.

I tipped my forehead toward the glass. I didn’t really care.

It was over. I just wasn’t sure how over.

The door opening snapped me back in. I blinked up at Quinn. “Hi.”

His blue eyes were tired and red-rimmed. “Ready for the circus?”

I shook my head.

“Your band is here, parents, sister—the whole kit and caboodle.”

I unclipped my belt and stepped onto the gravel driveway. “Oh, God.” I twisted my fingers into his.

He kissed my temple. “You have a lot of people who love you, Faith.”

“I know.”

He led me up the stairs, but I jerked him back before we got to the porch. I turned back around and went toward the horse barn.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m not ready for this. I can’t face all of them.”

He grasped my shoulders and dragged me back against him. “I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

“Will you?” I moved away from him and cupped my elbows. The navy stained wood of the barn got very watery. I tipped my head back, but it was no use.

“Of course I will. I wouldn’t leave you like this.”

Not like this. “But tomorrow?”

“No. Not tomorrow.”

“Next week?” I turned around and dashed away the tears I’d been trying to hide.

He took two long strides to me. He framed my face, his fingers sliding into my hair. “I said never, didn’t I?” He brushed away my tears with his thumbs.

I gripped his wrists. “I’m not your job anymore.”

“No, you’re my life.” He pressed his forehead to mine, then his lips. “My whole life,” he said against my mouth.

Relief and love pushed away the numbness. “Oh man, are you in trouble.”

He laughed. “So much.”

I gave him a watery laugh. His red-rimmed eyes blurred a little. I wasn’t sure if it was my vision or his eyes. I went up on my toes. “I love you.”

“Yeah, I can live with that.”

I pulled his hair. “That’s it?”

His brows snapped together. “What?”

I pulled harder.

“I said you were my whole life. Jeeze.” He leaned down until our lips lined up again. “You want the words?”

I lifted my knee. “You’re going to be walking funny if you don’t spit them out.”

He gripped my knee and wrapped it around his hips, then hiked me the rest of the way up until I had my arms around his neck. “I love you, Faith. All the way, hearts and flowers and diamond rings, babe.”

“I expect a better proposal in the near future, but I’ll go with yes to all the above.”

He kissed me in that wild, wonderfully pushy way of his. I locked my ankles around his back and held on.

“Faith Elizabeth Keystone, you get in this house!”

I winced and hunched up my shoulders at my mother’s voice. “I guess we have to face our family.”

He gripped my ass. “In a minute.”

I grinned against his mouth. “I can work with that.”

~~

Halloween Night

“What are you doing in there?” I paced the carpeted floor outside our hotel room. It was the tenth annual Hammered masquerade and my fiancé wouldn’t come out of the damn room.

I looked down at the filagreed band on my finger with the surprising sparklers. Instead of one big diamond, my guy surprised me with a ring I would never have to take off on stage.

I think he kinda had a thing with the whole mine deal.

He’d stamp it on my forehead if he could.

The fact that I was the same didn’t seem to bother him. We were planning a quickie December wedding while we were on hiatus, but our mothers weren’t making it easy. Oh, they loved us. No worries there. It was more that the guest list kept growing.

If they kept it up, the Hammered jet was going to be more like a pickup bus for families across the nation.

I slapped the door. “Dammit, Warden. Get your hot little ass out here. What is the hold up?” He was probably dressed up like a SWAT team dude or something. That kind of gear was in his damn closet.

Actually, it was more like vests and jeans these days. The current uniform for the Hammered security team that Quinn had revamped. I still said it was a gross misuse of his talents, but he was happy.

And I liked him around me even if he was Mr. Rules and Regulations about everything these days. But we didn’t have to worry about our phones being cloned or obsessive fans getting up into our business. So, there was that.

“No. I changed my mind. I’m not dressing up,” he said from behind the door.

“We don’t have time for that crap. We have to be downstairs in ten minutes to start the costume contest.”

“I can change in ten minutes.”

Owen closed the door to his room next door. “What’s the hold up?”

My eyebrows shot up. “Hello, Hook.”

“Ya like?” He turned with his brocade vest and long black jacket. His bright blue eyes were smudged with guy-liner and he wore a black silk shirt open way too wide.

“Quite the man-pelt you have going on there. Manscape a little, maybe?”

Owen squinted at me. “I’ll have you know that women love my hairy chest.”

I nodded sagely. “I’m sure they do.”

“Bah, what do you know, Claire?”

I grinned. “I knew making you watch Outlander would pay off.” I flattened my hand down my historical dress. The thing gave me hips for days with the bustle of the dress and hiked up the girls in a serious way, but man, it was pretty. “Like?”

“Aye, Sassenach.”

I stuck out my tongue. “Stick with the Irish.”

He laid his hand on his chest. “You wound me. Besides, the Scots are beasts. We’re lovers at heart, full of song.”

I laughed. “Is that how it works?”

“Yes.” Owen frowned. “Where’s the warden?”

“He won’t come out.”

“Come on, mate, it’s just a costume ball.” He glanced at me. “Did you try to make him dress up like Jamie?”

“No.” I tried. And failed.

“I’ll come out when he’s gone.”

“You know everyone is going to see you eventually, right?” Owen asked.

“Go!” Quinn thundered through the door.

I laughed. “Okay. Go, Hook. I’ll take care of this.”

“Is he gone?”

Owen peeked from around the corner and held up a finger to his lips. I waved him away. He pointed his hook hand at me and made a rude gesture.

“He’s gone.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“Quinn!”

“If you laugh, I’m wearing my dignitary dinner suit instead.”

“Oh the horrors.” Quinn looked damn fine in a suit, but now I was very intrigued.

The door opened a crack. “Seriously. I thought this would be funny, but now I just feel dumb.”

“Get out…” My words trailed off as he opened it a bit farther. “Wow.”

He started to shut the door. “Nope.”

I slapped my hand on the jamb. “Oh, no way. You’re so coming out here.” Good thing I had this ridiculous dress holding down my girls. My chest flushed right up my neck. “Wow.”

His hands fisted at his sides. Black leather pants hugged his hips and thighs and fell down straight in a boot-cut over his motorcycle boots. He wore a thick belt with a mouthwatering buckle and a tight Megadeth T-shirt that I was pretty sure was actually his. He had on his motorcycle jacket and a single silver necklace that I’d seen tucked away under his shirt a few times. Tonight, the Celtic cross was plainly visible.

His eyes, though. Those silvery-blue eyes were smudged with black liner.

Holy shit. My bodyguard had dressed up like a hot rockstar.

I dragged him out the door. “Did I mention wow?”

“I look dumb,” he growled. Then his eyes tracked over my chest, down my dress, and then back up to the hair bundled on top of my head. “You, however, are ridiculously gorgeous.”

“Why, thank you.” I pressed my hand down the super tight bodice. “I can’t breathe, but the dress is awesome. And my almost-husband is delicious.”

“Your sister did the eye thing.”

I laughed. “I wondered about that.”

He gave me another once-over. This time, not so hungry.

“What?”

“Can you move in that thing? What happens if someone tried to grab you?”

I rolled my eyes. “Quinn. This is a party and our mystery girl is long gone.”

“Do you realize how many people are on your orange list? I put five on the red list just this week.”

I reached up and cupped his jaw. “Quinn. Repeat after me. My girl isn’t stupid and has the hottest bodyguard next to her at all times.”

“I’m not saying that.”

“You think I’m stupid?”

“No.” His eyebrows snapped down. “You’re far from dumb, but this party has a million—”

I moved my hand over his mouth. “You can’t keep me in a bubble.” He mumbled under my hand. I let him go. “What?”

“I can keep you in bed.”

I grinned up at him. “Yes, you’ve tried that for the last two weeks. And we can revisit that sequence of events again,” I looked down at his banging abs under the concert shirt, “right after the party. Or maybe if we sneak into one of the other ballrooms…” I tapped his stubbled chin. “Actually, I think there’s a library.”

“Now, that’s an escape plan I can get on board with. Speaking of, you know where all the—”

“Yes! Yes, I know where all the exits are. Now come downstairs so I can show you off.”

He frowned. He crooked his arm for me to take it. “If I see one picture of me on the band Instagram account, I’m going to punish you.”

“Promise?”

I might just have to make that little threat from my bodyguard come true.

 

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