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July

Chapter One

 

“I’m going to string him up by his balls and then I’m going to leave his ass.” Denver Casey knew it was an empty threat, but it made her feel better to say it out loud. Freaking back-alley waste dump of a street and she was searching out the bane of her existence.

Oh, and he was also her best friend.

Couldn’t forget that part. Stupid asshole had quickly become the best part of her job with Warning Sign. Being the babysitter-slash-driver of one of the fastest-rising stars of the rock scene had its perks. She actually got paid to figure out every damn road in the country—her personal passion.

She was weird, and maybe a little obsessive about it, but it hadn’t steered her wrong yet. At least not in five years, twenty-four days.

Her nose wrinkled at the stench of stagnant dog piss and a Dumpster that had been forgotten since before time began. Sweet fuck, it was foul. She panned her palm-sized flashlight over the muck. A shudder raced up her spine as things with far too many legs scattered and eyes glowed out of the dark.

She glanced over her shoulder at a sound at the opposite end of the alley.

“Ryan Waters, where the fuck are you?” Denver glanced down at her phone to verify the GPS locater app she’d installed on Ryan’s phone. It said he was right here.

Jerk actually thought he was being slick. She’d been tracking him for the last week. Not maliciously—no, she’d never go there on anyone. Ever.

But this was her job. Deposit all artists from point A to point B. Period, end of job description. At least on the official documentation. In reality, she was herding cats and dogs with a side of squirrel. Ryan definitely fell into the last category lately.

He’d always been her steady one, and now…well, not so much.

At first, she’d just monitored him on the app. No one else needed the same intense babysitting. In fact, she wished a certain caveman would stop holing up so much. Malachi Shawcross, who’d seemed like the ultimate flight-risk addition to the band, actually had to be ejected from the bus these days. He’d sort of taken over the whole thing. She’d secretly renamed it the Boink Bus thanks to his extracurriculars.

Not so much with her best friend. Lately he’d been gone more than he was around.

Each day that passed, she had to worry about Ryan more and more. In all the time she’d known him, but he’d always been the steadiest one of the group. The most professional one out of all the crazies. He held her loyalty more than any of them. And now he was officially the most scattered. He’d been cutting it closer with each departure time for the last ten days. And today, a complete no-show.

He would not mess with her schedule, or her job. She’d finally found something she loved, and that actually fell into the parameters of her skill set. Her skill set nowadays, anyway. She’d tried the truck-driver thing, but it hadn’t suited her at all. Too much time alone with her thoughts.

Not a good idea.

Driving for Warning Sign was the perfect blend of solitude and action. The band was never boring, and they always kept her on her toes. But Ryan’s behavior was getting ridiculous.

Didn’t he realize he was actually the dispensable one in this circus act? He played harmony and rhythm on all his instruments. He was amazing, but he didn’t have an actual slot in the roster of the band. Jack-of-all-trades, master of none.

Actually, that wasn’t quite right either. He’d mastered every instrument he’d ever picked up. And that was the problem. Once he knew how something worked, he got bored. He could play circles around Michael and Elle, their lead guitarists, when he actually gave a shit.

It seemed like he’d been floundering lately. He was so scattered now that he never settled on one instrument in a song. It made for some amazing performances onstage. He had this steamer trunk full of toys that he opened as if he were Carrot Top in Vegas. She didn’t even know the names for half of them, but he could play every single one.

She’d watched their shows at nearly every stop on the tour. The band was tightening up more and more, but then there was this little pinball named Ryan.

He bounced in between each of his bandmates like a bee drunk on pollen. A fiddle, a flute, a ukulele, a slide guitar, a banjo, an accordion—no hand-held instrument was off limits to him.

It made him amazing, but it also left everyone scratching their heads as to what his place was in the band. Was this a stopgap for him? Was it the perfect foil for his boredom? Was he simply going to disappear one day?

She blasted the flashlight beam onto a higher setting. No, she wouldn’t let that happen. He was the best thing to happen to her in too many years to count. The only guy she’d trusted in forever. She’d do everything and anything to make sure he kept his head screwed on straight.

“Ryan!”

Her phone beeped like a homing pigeon on meth and the little red dot that should be Ryan was right where she was standing. She panned her flashlight across the area. Something reflected from the corner that she didn’t want to think about. It was shiny and dark. She squinted. Liquid—no, that was a phone.

“Shit.”

Denver kicked at the pile of wet boxes next to a crooked Dumpster. Third one in this freaking alley, and this one smelled like death.

“Please, oh please.” Her teeth chattered and her stomach roiled. Memories, swift and scorching, burned behind her eyeballs. Another dark alley. A body more blood than skin. Thick-soled boots slamming—

No.

She shook her head.

Not like that night.

This alley was miles and years away from that day.

“Ryan is fine,” she said aloud to remind herself. She blinked away the fear and then swiped at the slick sweat on her brow.

She tossed away boxes and tried to ignore the skittering of roaches and the thud of another animal—cat, maybe? She hoped it was a cat.

A booted foot came into view, aimed at the sky. A very long leg was turned at a scary angle.

“Don’t be dead, don’t be dead.” She heaved a vegetable box full of rotting lettuce to the side and tried not to gag. Two more black trash bags were on top of the body—no, not body, Denver. The person. The very-much-alive person.

The alive Ryan.

She scooped up the familiar phone with the sugar skull phone case she’d given him. All the guys had the same phones and kept taking the wrong ones when they weren’t paying attention. So she’d bought them cases. Obnoxious ones. She’d picked dancing sugar skulls for Ryan. He had loved them because he was her best friend and had the same sense of humor.

The only other person who’d kept his cover had been Mal. She’d found a skeleton playing drums. He’d deemed it cool enough to keep.

And now she was babbling even more in her own mind.

Fuck.

“Don’t be dead.” She hurled three more bags away and found him slumped against the brick wall. She swallowed a sob and crouched down. His huge hand was draped over his long torso. His shirt was stained and ripped at the shoulder, his knuckles were bloody and dirty.

Then a snore ripped out of him and she blew out a hysterical laugh before she stood up and kicked his boot. “You fuck.” She shined her flashlight over his face and he winced and held up his hand.

“Ma?”

Relief left her lightheaded. “You’re going to wish I was your damn mother. Because she’s probably the only person on this earth who isn’t ready to kill you.”

“Den?”

She kicked him harder. “Who else would be looking for your stupid ass?”

He groaned. “Did you get the license plate of the truck that hit me?”

“No, because there was no truck. Just hands, if I had to make a guess.” She panned her light over his bruised knuckles and face. She had to stop herself from crouching over him and touching his face. It helped that he smelled like a cat had used him for a litter box. “Who beat the hell out of you?”

He struggled to get up and fell onto his ass. “A little help here?”

“Not until you tell me what the hell happened.”

“I got mugged?”

For a moment, her heart blipped and her knee-jerk reaction to help him kicked in, but then she heard the question mark at the end of his statement. Was he actually guessing?

His lip curled up at the corner. “I think there were two of them.”

She put one of her hands on her hip, leaving the light on his face. “Oh yeah, why is your phone still here?”

“Because iPhones are a dime a dozen?”

“Still worth money, jackass. Try again.”

He rolled onto his side and groaned as he got to his knees. “Still no help.”

She sighed and hooked her arm through his and hauled him up. He stumbled against her and she groaned. “You smell like death and trash had a kegger.”

He hooked his arm around her neck. “Close.” That damn smoky voice had started infiltrating her dreams lately. She so didn’t have time for that crap, man.

She shoved him upright, but when he listed to the left and started to crumple, she shoved her shoulder back under his armpit. So gross. “You stink. Literally.”

“My nose is too swollen for me to tell.”

“Idiot.”

“Aww, c’mon, Den. I didn’t do it on purpose.”

She slipped his phone into his jeans pocket.

“Hey there.” He jerked his hips and turned toward her. “All you had to do was ask.”

“You wish.” Her belly filled with a flight of hornets. Not butterflies, nope, that was too pretty and sweet for how she was feeling. She was angry and buzzy in the worst way. Fear had been ramping up for the last hour, and now with no place left to go, her body was looking for something else. Something she’d been trying to ignore for weeks now, but the hornets were getting louder and angrier.

She jammed her flashlight into her jacket pocket, then hooked her fingers into his belt loops to hold him against her before she hauled him away from the wall. He was about as graceful as a marionette with his strings cut. She dragged him down the alley to the brightly lit street and shoved him against a graffiti-clad brick wall under a streetlight.

She finally got a good look at him and wondered if he really had gotten mugged. “What the hell did you do to yourself?”

“It’s not a big deal.” He stepped away from the wall and instantly his knees buckled. She lurched forward to catch him. “Let’s just get back to the bus.”

“Like this?” She peered up at him. “Do you know how far away from the bus we are?”

He shrugged. “A few blocks.”

“Idiot. More like miles. I’ve been chasing you around the city for an hour.”

“On foot?” He frowned down at her. “Are you nuts? You could have gotten hurt. Where the hell are we, anyway?”

“You’re such an asshole.”

“Stop swearing at me. I know you love me.”

She snarled. “You’re usually my best friend, but lately you’ve been a freaking pain in my ass. Who knows what could have happened to you if I didn’t tag your phone.”

“Tagged my what? You bugged me?” His voice spiked up in outrage.

“Don’t be so dramatic.” She peered up at the street sign and then down the block. “I just used a parental app on your phone.” She calculated the streets and figured they were in the heart of Hell’s Kitchen. Awesome. Welcome to New York City. She blew out a breath and stared at him. “You know, GPS.”

He frowned and pushed his curls out of his face. “When did you do that?”

She shrugged. “While I was playing Angry Birds on it.”

“Huh.” He pulled his phone out and tried to turn it on, but gave up when his fingers fumbled over the thumbprint scanner. He shoved it back into his pocket. “Sneaky. I’d be mad, except I’m kind of impressed.”

“If you didn’t keep disappearing, then I wouldn’t have had to.”

“My question is how did I not notice this app?”

“If I tell you, then you’ll find it.”

“I’m going to find it anyway.”

“Maybe. Then again you shouldn’t have a zillion apps on your phone.”

“I know what each of them does, thank you very much.” He shook his head and squinted.

Maybe he’d been more rattled than she thought. “Yeah, about that.”

He rolled his eyes. “I have a mother, you know.”

“And I’m sure she’d be thrilled with this course of events.” When he only frowned, she beat back a pang of remorse. He was being an idiot. Not to mention this was her job. She was responsible for getting them all to the venue on time.

Yep. That totally requires you hijacking his phone.

She huffed out a breath. “Look, I’m sorry. I’m not your mother, nor do I want to be.”

“That would be creepy. Especially where your hand was about three minutes ago.”

“Would you be serious?”

“Do I have to?”

Damn that grin. She didn’t want to be charmed by him. Not now. Right now she was pissed off at him and was probably going to have nightmares about tonight for weeks. She really didn’t need any more in her repertoire.

He dug out his wallet, opened it, then flashed it at her before tipping his head back. “About that mugging.”

The thing had been practically cleaned out, minus his license. The credit card slots were empty.

She narrowed her eyes as he pocketed the wallet. “Were you really mugged?”

His gaze lowered to the ground. “Let’s just say I was taught a lesson about best practices at a gaming table.”

She rubbed her arm to ward against the chill that raced through her. And the muggy July evening had nothing to do with it. “Dammit, Ryan.”

“I mean, yeah, take the cash, but the cards? Fuck.”

“One of the reasons why I use banks as little as possible.”

He ran an unsteady hand through his hair. “Wait, what? Did I know this?” He shook his head. “I’m a little fuzzy.”

She ignored his question. No way was she delving into that explanation. “You smell like bourbon and bad decisions. Were you drinking?” He didn’t drink.

“Just enough to blend in.”

“Blend in where?”

“I was at...” He blew out a breath. “I was playing cards.”

“You what?” Not Ryan. She shook her head. She had to have heard him wrong.

“I wasn’t losing or anything. Quite the opposite.”

She swept her bangs out of her face. “Then why…” She couldn’t even get the words out.

He shrugged. “The people who own the Rooster sort of frown on counting cards.”

“You did not.” She whirled away from him and paced the sidewalk. “Are you out of your mind?”

“Admittedly not my finest hour, but I was doing really well there for a while. Too well.”

He curled his fingers around his ribs. “So, they made sure I was aware of a few rules.”

“I can’t believe you.”

“It was just for fun. No big deal.”

“Oh, yeah? Feel fun now, you idiot?”

“Would you stop calling me that?”

“Um, no. Not right now.” She stalked over to him. “Because that’s what you are. You didn’t think there would be consequences?”

“Yeah, well. I’d gotten away with it before,” he mumbled.

“Unbelievable.”

He sighed. “Look, I get it. I learned my lesson, mom.”

“Don’t you do that. You don’t get to scare me then say crap like that.”

“I’m sorry.”

She fisted her hands. “God. I am so mad at you.”

He started to slide down the wall, but caught himself just as she grabbed for a fistful of his shirt. “Where’d you leave the bus?”

“In front of MOMA, where you’re supposed to be.” And he’d ruined her plans to walk around Rockefeller Center that night. Not Hell’s Kitchen, dammit.

She looked around. Not even a cab in sight. She flattened her hand against his chest to make sure he stayed upright and flicked through her car apps.

“Can we not?”

She glanced at him. “Not what?”

“Go back.”

She frowned. “Of course we’re going back. You have a radio show at eight in the morning.”

“We’ll go back early, but can we just crash somewhere tonight?” He glanced away. “I don’t want anyone to see me like this. A shower and some sleep and I’ll mostly be back to rights.”

Her chest tightened. “Yeah. You’re not really in any shape to spend it on the bus. We can grab a car and get a hotel.”

“With what money?”

She curled her fingers into his crooked button-down shirt. Anger and worry made her want to club him over the head. Dammit, it could have been so much worse.

Two of the buttons were missing and for once he wasn’t wearing one of his concert T-shirts under it. Her pinkie slipped across his skin and a smattering of freckles seemed to dance in the shadows of the overhead streetlight.

He covered her hand. “Look, I just need a break. Just you and me tonight? I don’t have to think when I’m with you. I can just be.”

Her cold, black heart couldn’t hold up to that. “Not fair, Ry.”

“I’m not really feeling fair tonight, Den.”

“I don’t have much cash on me.”

He was quiet for a moment before swiping his forearm over his sweaty brow. “I can slum it if you can.”

She looked around. A buzzing neon light had a missing L in motel. “Hummingbird Motel for your evening’s pleasure?”

He followed the track of her gaze. “Normally such a classy bird.”

“Pretty on target for a no-tell motel. Quick as a lick.”

Ryan snorted. “That’s true.” His lids went heavy. “You like it quick, Denver?”

She let him go. “Nothing wrong with quick and dirty, pal.”

He hooked his arm around her neck. “That’s very true. However, dirty and long is even better.”

“I’ll take your word for it.” She grunted as he leaned in on her. He looked like one big skinny dude, when in fact he was full of muscle. He was definitely more lethal than he looked, even if tonight he hadn’t come out victorious.

But he was still alive. That was a victory all its own.

She slung her arm around his back and his untucked shirt rode up. More skin, hot and smooth. So different from the Italian men that—

She shook that thought off. No need to think about that right now. The past could stay there, where it belonged.

At a break in traffic, they staggered forward. Heat came off him in waves. Add in the dense air of the July evening and the baked-in heat in the pavement and the whole world was getting a bit too shimmery for her taste.

They weaved to the left and she steered him back to the center of the sidewalk. A crush of teens came barreling down the street. New York City never slept. By some miracle, no one recognized Ryan. It helped that he was even more rumpled than usual.

His scruffy face was heading toward beard. His peach-fuzz curls were normally closely cropped, but they’d grown out until he looked more like a disheveled troll doll minus the pink hair.

Yet he was still super hot, and somehow even more so now that he was all roughed up and dangerous looking. Not that she wanted to view him that way, but some truths were impossible to deny.

“You owe me,” she muttered, groaning under his weight. It almost seemed like the jerk was intentionally leaning more on her than necessary. “Like the never-going-to-let-it-go kind of owe me, buddy.”

“Since when did we keep score?”

“Since you started disappearing like a petulant teen.” And he’d scared the holy shit out of her.

He merely grunted.

She knew something was up with him, but she couldn’t begin to figure it out. He was getting crazier onstage. Almost as crazy as West. To the point that the guys were starting to talk about him in whispers.

Well, in between their own issues. Between the heart eyes coming off West and his girlfriend Lauren, the eternal nighttime Skype sessions with Michael and his wife Chloe, and the dirty talk between Juliet and her duo of delicious boys, there wasn’t a lot of room for the other band members to worry about Ryan.

So, she did the worrying.

And while everything inside of her told Denver to bring him back to the bus, there was a niggling part of her that knew he was right. If the band saw him like this, there’d be more questions than answers.

More arguments especially.

Because Ryan wasn’t ready to talk. While he was usually the most easygoing of the group, when he dug his heels in, it was pretty much impossible to move him.

And only part of it was because he was well over six feet tall and surprisingly sturdy.

“All right, you need to pull yourself together. It might be a hotel that porn is probably filmed in, but they can turn us away for public intoxication.”

“I’m not drunk.”

“No? Then why are you leaning on me?”

“Because you smell good and I kinda like the way your boobs squish against me.”

“Pig.” Why the hell was he talking about her boobs? “And let me tell ya, buddy, I can’t say the same about how you smell.”

He straightened up and sniffed at his collar. He turned away with a grimace.

“Yeah, it ain’t pretty.” She wrinkled her nose at the alcohol coming out of his pores and the less-than-stellar status of his shirt.

July had been a brutal bitch since they’d pulled in yesterday. The air conditioning unit was working overtime on the bus and there were too many bodies crammed into the space.

Not one, but two stowaways were onboard right now. Okay, Lauren Bryant, West’s significant other, wasn’t exactly a hanger-on, but she was one more body. And there was a lot of action going on in that bunk.

Lauren’s sexual revolution was a work-in-progress.

Denver wasn’t jealous—much.

When Ryan listed a little bit, she resumed her place under his arm. As she and Ryan sailed through the front door, they managed to look more like a love-starved couple than a guy who’d been having a very bad day. She hoped.

Deciding it was a better fit for this particular situation, she played up her hold on him. She flicked the remaining button open at the center of his chest and tried not to focus on his smooth, warm skin.

Two women slinked out of the darkness along the sides of the lobby. Harsh faces with eyes void of life made the back of her neck prickle.

She aimed Ryan at the check-in desk decked out in way more Plexiglas than should be warranted for a motel.

“We need a room.”

The disinterested guy gave her a bored stare. He rattled off the prices for an hourly stay, and one for the night.

She shifted Ryan against the counter and dug into her pocket. “The night, please.”

The guy gave a snort when she pulled out her Wonder Woman wallet.

“What?” she asked as she shuffled out the number of bills she needed. She didn’t carry much cash normally, but she was even lighter tonight. She’d frequented a few of her favorite small shops from her college days.

“Wish I had a Wonder Woman taking care of me.” He grinned at Ryan. “Did she bring the lasso with her?”

Ryan’s jaw flexed, but he said nothing.

The dude shrugged and pushed scraggly blue-tinged hair over his shoulder. He tossed a key through the little half circle cut out in the makeshift booth. “Checkout at ten.”

She took the key. “Thanks.”

“Enjoy.” The guy folded a piece of gum into his mouth before picking up his phone and sprawling in his folding chair.

She flipped over the key. “Eight-oh-six.” Denver looked around. A battered orange cone stood in front of the elevator. “No second elevator?”

The guy snapped his gum. The familiar maniacal giggle of Angry Birds came from his phone. “Nope.”

“No rooms on a lower floor?”

“Nope.”

She sighed. The idea of climbing that many stairs in this heat made her stomach churn. “We can just go somewhere else.”

The guy peered up from his game. “No refunds.”

“You’re an asshole.”

The guy shrugged. “Guess he’ll have to earn his fuck tonight, hey? More than the cost of the room, that is.”

Ryan growled. “Don’t fucking talk to her like that.”

The guy smirked. “What are you going to do about it?”

“Feel pretty safe behind that plastic box, huh?”

The guy shrugged. “Pretty sure I could take you, but I wouldn’t want Wonder Woman to have to defend your honor.”

Ryan lunged forward and she looped her arm around his waist. “C’mon, baby, we don’t want to waste a minute of tonight, do we?”

Ryan glanced down at her, his eyes narrowing. “No, I guess not.”

She tipped her head up and slapped a big smile on her face. “No, we don’t. Let’s just get upstairs.”

He nodded.

They shuffled off and she breathed in a sigh of relief. Ryan didn’t exactly have the asshole gene that the check-in dude did, but she had to push down the jittery reaction at the flash of anger in his spring-green eyes.

The mixture of fear and thrill was definitely not a good thing.

At least not when it came to Ryan. He was her safety blanket, her warm sweatshirt on a cold night. He wasn’t the guy who was supposed to get her revved.

Ever.

 

Chapter Two

 

Ryan Waters groaned at the stained carpeting of the narrow stairs. Hummingbird Motel, my ass. This place was a toilet covered in a thin veneer of civility.

He grasped the railing and dragged himself up the first seven stairs. His side throbbed with each step.

The bouncer from the Red Rooster Club had been fairly merciful. Ryan had only taken the house for twenty grand. A drop in the bucket when it came to the underground gambling room. His buddy, Zane, from Brooklyn Dawn had told him about the place.

One wall of televisions fed the sports gambling portion of the establishment. Ryan had never been into that kind of betting. He wasn’t the type to bet on anyone but himself. It was too easy for a sporting event to go sideways because one of the starting players was having a bad night—or worse, an injury.

No, he’d been locked into poker. It was man against man and a little bit of nature thrown in. He’d always been good at reading people. Add in a little math with statistics and card decks, and he’d run the table for an hour before the floor manager had gotten wise to his talents.

He wasn’t even sure one could technically call it cheating. Just because he was an observant guy didn’t make him a monster. However, counting cards was frowned upon in most establishments.

Instead of leaving with his windfall, he’d been kicked to the curb quite literally.

All his money, including what he’d started out with when he walked in the door, was now in the jacket pocket of the guy with ham hocks for fists.

He’d gotten off easy, to be honest, but it didn’t make the steel-toed boot to the ribs any easier to bear. He’d nursed his share of black eyes over the years. His little brother, Jason, had always been quick to swing when they were kids.

Add in Michael and West’s penchant for college shenanigans, and he’d learned how to take a punch. The fact that he didn’t remember how he’d ended up in the alley was the clincher. The dude had a helluva right cross. Denver finding him in that alley had been unfortunate, but it was a lot better than having to explain his situation to his bandmates.

At least she’d keep it quiet.

Ryan huffed out a breath as they rounded the bend for the fourth flight of stairs. The stench of musty piss strengthened, as did the temperature. July in the city was a steambath of bad choices, and he’d walked right into a number of them tonight.

Even worse, he’d lost way more than he could afford to. A hit single and a platinum record didn’t bring a bevy of cash with it—quite the misconception there. The band earned a good living—one that kept him in soda and kitty litter for Elvis, the Siamese cat who sometimes stayed at his place.

Technically a stray, Elvis did what he wanted. They both liked it that way. And he’d never had to worry about anyone else since he’d moved to Los Angeles.

He lived with West, but neither of them did much more than land at the apartment as a last resort. Between touring, the studio, and the occasional hookup, there wasn’t much reason to stay there, but they needed a home base. And he didn’t want to fuck with West’s precarious situation with Lauren. They were living in their little happy bubble and Ryan wasn’t going to be the one to pop it.

Now he was overextended to the point where he wouldn’t make rent without a serious intervention from a money fairy. He could probably get an advance from Lila, their manager, but that would bring questions.

Again, questions he didn’t want to answer. He’d gotten a taste of winning and had sat at the table for too long. He’d gotten too cocky.

Even now he wanted to borrow a twenty from Denver and turn it into the grand he needed. Just a little seed money and he’d be good to go again. He’d be more careful this time.

He clenched his fingers until his bones cracked.

“You’re not telling me something.”

“What’s there to say?”

Not much when your best friend had to peel you off a pile of garbage bags. Oh, now he was supposed to ask her for money too?

The idea of it made his dick shrivel to a bean.

“You can tell me anything, Ry. You know that.”

He scrubbed the top of his head. “Not this, Colorado.”

“Nothing you can say will be worse than finding you in that alleyway.”

He growled. “You would be wrong.”

“Is it drugs?” She looked down at her sneakers as she jammed her fists into her pockets. “We can get you help.”

“No. God, no. It’s…stupid.”

She peered up at him. “Alley, remember?”

He tipped his head back. “As if I can forget.”

“Then spit it out.”

“I fucked up. Like killed-my-bank-account fucked up and now I can’t make rent.”

“Oh.” She blinked at him. “That’s no big deal. I can float you the money. I know you’re good for it.”

“No.”

Her eyebrows snapped together. “Why not? It’s just money.”

He huffed out a laugh. “Only people who have money say that.”

“Well, I’m not swimming in green, but I have plenty. I get my daily per diem and barely use that. Most of my paycheck just goes in the bank.”

“Is that why you carry cash?”

She shrugged. “We get twenty-five a day just for pocket money when you’re a driver. You see what I eat and drink.”

He sighed. “Tea bags aren’t all that expensive.”

She punched his arm. “Don’t forget the cupcakes.”

“How could I forget your chocolate Hostess cupcakes?”

“Damn right.” She bounced on the balls of her feet a little. “What do you need?”

He blurted out his half of the rent before he could chase his tongue back into order.

“I’ll have it to you by tomorrow.”

“Are you sure?”

“Look, I know you guys have to wait on tours and shit to make the real money, but royalties will be coming in anyway, right?”

“Yeah, supposedly.” They’d gotten advances set up like paychecks with an option for a bonus if they hit the charts. Well, they’d hit the top twenty on Billboard. It just took time for the money to come in.

“Then you can give it back to me next paycheck. All good. Now can we go?”

“Yeah.” He blew out a breath and turned for the stairs with a hiss. He’d almost forgotten how hard he’d landed on the pavement earlier.

“Are you sure you’re all right? We can—”

“I’m fine. Just a little banged up. A hot shower and some sleep is all I need.”

Her huge brown eyes searched his. Even now he knew he was squirming under her scrutiny. He’d never been great at subterfuge when it came to his friends and family. Poker tables were easy. It was a game to find a way around tics and tells when it came to strangers.

Denver Casey saw way too much.

Since the first day he’d met her, she’d called him on his bullshit. It was one of the main reasons he’d glommed on to her. He’d only kept things in the friend zone because she didn’t seem inclined to get naked with him. After a few weeks, he’d become more worried about messing up their friendship, so friend zone he stayed. Usually he could ignore the knocking of his cock against his zipper.

Most of the time.

His eyes dropped to her ass as she hiked the stairs ahead of him to the next floor. With herculean effort, he moved his gaze to her slim back and bouncing ponytail. Much safer.

He actually liked her. She made him laugh, and she seemed to need the same kind of adrenaline highs. Of course, hers were often attached to her mountain bike or sometimes a crazy hike.

It was past time he focused on those kinds of highs again himself.

Denver made it to the next landing and turned around to check on him. With her hands on her hips and chin lifted in that haughty I’m-still-mad-at-you way, she was ridiculously gorgeous. It was often the look she gave him when he wussed-out on a climb. He’d prefer a different kind of sweaty hour with her, but he’d learned to deal with what she offered.

Right now, he saw a little something different in her eyes.

Dark eyes that were just a little too big and intelligent. Everything about her was just a little too much. Her personality, her curves, her mouth—fucking A, her mouth. And right now, it was pinched with anger and worry.

“I’m good, Den. I swear it.”

She sighed. “One call and we could be on the bus, you know.”

No, there’d be questions and too many people poking at him. He wanted a few hours without the band. He honestly couldn’t remember the last time he’d been alone.

He wrapped his fingers around the banister and the rounded balustrade wobbled and nearly came off in his hand. Yeah, this was one classy place.

He sighed and forced one foot in front of the other up the stairs that squished too much for comfort. When he got to the top, a five-foot vending machine filled the space.

She glanced over her shoulder at where his eyes tracked. “Cheetos, Hubba Bubba gum, Fruit Roll-Ups, and condoms. Full-service vending,” she quipped.

He peered around her. “Condoms?”

She met his gaze. “Want me to call one of the working girls sitting in the lobby?”

“You caught that?” He grinned.

“Only a blind person could miss it.”

“Nah, I’m good. The Cheetos do look good, but I think I’ll pass. They’re probably older than I am.”

Denver snorted. “Bet the condoms are too.”

He squinted down at the box in the twisty feeder of the machine. “Oddly enough, those seem to be new.”

“Whadya know? Safety first. Too bad they didn’t spend some of that money on the carpeting.” She wrinkled her nose. “It’s squishy.”

“Right?” They both shuddered and laughed. He nodded to the machine. “They’re catering to the clientele.”

“Can’t dispute that.”

He shoved his hand into his pocket. Look at that, they didn’t find every dollar on him.

“What are you doing?”

“Buying some rubbers.” He pulled out the wrinkled five.

Her expressive eyebrows shot up. “Are you delusional?”

He shrugged. “There’s a skull and crossbones on the pack, man. I gotta have it.”

She rolled her eyes, but her gaze shifted to the floor, and then to his neck before returning to her battered Chucks.

He swallowed down the instinctive flood of saliva in his mouth. She kept glancing at his chest and neck. Normally that would be a green light for some serious flirtation, but this was Denver.

She didn’t flirt.

At least not with him.

He’d caught her getting slightly friendly with a guy on a Harley after one of their shows once. Though Ryan was fairly certain she was drooling over the guy’s chrome and leather, not the biceps be kept showing off. Didn’t mean Ryan had liked seeing her show interest in some bullshit motorcycle club dude, but he didn’t have any hold on her.

And most of the time he didn’t even think about her that way. “Most of the time” being the operative words. He was a red-blooded male, and Denver filled out a pair of jeans like no other. Add in the paper-thin plaid shirts she wore—just like tonight—and he’d had a stray thought or seven about her naked.

Okay, maybe seventeen.

He punched the correct number and the condoms dropped to the bottom like a stone. Now buying them felt fucking weird. He retrieved them and stuffed them into his pocket.

She jammed her fists into her denim jacket and headed up the next flight of stairs without a word. The three-pack burned against his thigh. He had a fourth tucked behind his license in his wallet—maybe even a fifth.

It had been a while since he’d had to dig in and look. Most of the women he’d been with lately had a stash in their purse. They went into one-night stands with a purpose and safety first.

He couldn’t say that wasn’t hot. He always appreciated a straight-forward woman. Probably why he liked Denver so goddamn much. And why everything about tonight was dangerous. Even with bruised ribs and a sore jaw, he had way too many ideas about what he could do to, and with, her.

He adjusted his buckle and groaned as he faced the next flight of stairs. This time a whole different ache was prohibiting his climb.

By the time they got to the eighth floor, his chest was tight and he was cursing the fact that he hadn’t grabbed that bag of Cheetos. Or a Coke—especially the Coke. Fuck, his mouth was dry and the metallic tinge of blood still lingered around his molars.

She didn’t wait for him. Instead she went right for their door, and the rattle of the key in the ancient lock made him wince. Yeah, secure-as-fuck place.

Good thing there wasn’t anything in his wallet.

Though he wasn’t especially happy about the wad of money he’d seen in Denver’s Wonder Woman wallet. A chunk had been given to the front desk, but there was still a good stack of tens and twenties in there.

He couldn’t remember the last time he’d carried cash with him. The green at the poker game had been the most he’d seen in a long while. Most of his life was lived by his phone and the Apple Pay app, or his credit card.

“They can’t be serious.”

Ryan’s eyebrow rose at Denver’s voice. His gaze tracked to the next door down the hall. Roof access. Figures.

He followed her inside. “Penthouse, ha.”

“What?” Her huge eyes were wide with shock.

“The next door over says roof access.”

She peered out the window. “Bet a few wanted to hurl themselves off the roof after seeing this room.”

 The place was shabby, but not terrible. No, her reaction was to the biggest piece of furniture in the room. Naturally the large, round bed had a blood-red comforter with a hummingbird and black flowers stitched on it. The wrought-iron headboard that curved around half of it was the real clincher.

Holy fuck.

Ryan snickered. “I wasn’t expecting that.”

Matching red blinds covered part of the neon light barging into the room. The black hummingbirds and silhouette flowers were probably supposed to show a little class. Instead they made the place look even shabbier with a side of ridiculous.

“Who the hell designed this?”

“Aw, come on, honey. It’s probably the honeymoon suite.”

“Nightmare suite, maybe. Is that supposed to be romantic?”

He came up behind her. “Pretty sure that bed is made for fucking.”

She crossed her arms over her belly. “We’re supposed to be here for you to rest.”

“I sleep like a baby after fucking.”

She whacked his arm. “You couldn’t handle me, Waters. I don’t do Boy Scouts.”

“Christ, Den. Who says I’m a Boy Scout?”

“Please. You’ve practically got a badge sewn onto your zipper.” She swayed a little. Her tell. When she was nervous, she swayed side to side, almost as if she was comforting herself. “Where the hell am I going to sleep?”

He searched the room and found a fugly brown chair that he wouldn’t let a dog sit on. “On the bed with me. I can behave. Mostly.” He threaded his fingers through the ends of her ponytail. Her earthy honey scent wafted up from her hair. Fuck, it always smelled so good. How many times had he wanted to bury his face in that those thick dark strands?

How many times had they been crammed into his bunk and her shampoo distracted him? How many times had he thought about sliding over that line to more than friends?

Too many, that was how many.

He moved in a little closer. “Unless you don’t want me to.” His voice was low, and just this side of broken.

Bad things could happen if he wasn’t careful. Especially with condoms burning a hole in his pocket. Oh, and the idea of her wanting things a little left of vanilla was officially going to kill him.

She shivered and stopped swaying, but didn’t pull away like he expected her to. His dick hardened painfully. Considering it had been halfway there already, it didn’t take much.

“I should take a shower,” he said.

“Yes, you should.” She stepped forward, hugging her crossed arms.

 “Right.” A cold shower was definitely in order. He glanced at her one more time before closing himself into the bathroom. He winced when he saw his reflection.

As if she’d want to fuck him looking like a derelict on a two-month bender. Jesus.

He turned the taps on and set it to hot. A very thin towel was slung over an ancient towel bar, but it would do the job. He kicked off his boots and draped his jeans over the sink. They weren’t in too bad shape.

His shirt, however...

He flicked the curtain back and stepped inside with the shirt. The shower wasn’t too bad. Scrubbed to within an inch of the porcelain’s life, but it was clean. And it smelled of bleach.

Small victories.

He stepped under the punishing spray and dumped half the miniature bottle of shampoo on his hair and scrubbed out the dirt and grime, then used the other half for the rest of him. He tackled his shirt with the small bar of cheap soap, wrung it out, and flipped it over the shower bar. At least the shirt should be semi-dry by morning. He braced his hands on the tiles and let the rest of the hot water wash away some of the aches.

When the water started to cool, he turned off the taps. He wrapped the towel around his waist and peeked out, but no Denver. He crossed the room and found a notepad on the bed, along with her jacket. Her scrawl informed him she was on the roof.

He hurried into the bathroom and pulled his jeans over his damp legs. The small box of condoms dropped to the battered tile. Crossbones and a leering skeleton grinned back up at him.

The box was practically winking up at him, for fuck’s sake. “Don’t give me that look,” he muttered, and shoved the box back into his pocket. He was just asking for trouble even contemplating their use.

Just move the fuck on, son.

He jammed his feet into his boots and clomped out the door, slamming it behind him. He swiped his wet hair off his forehead as the thick heat of the night slapped him in the face.

July in New York should be illegal. It was swampy and heavy, where California was dry and arid. One of the reasons he loved LA so much. The nights were made for sleeping with windows open and no sheets.

This? Even without a shirt on, this was like wearing a wet blanket on his skin the whole damn night.

He pushed his hair back and raised his arms. He stopped mid-stretch and his chest seized. New York City trumped LA when there was a woman like Denver on the roof. Her ponytail had been transformed into one of those knot things that his female bandmates did to their hair. She’d stripped down to one of the strappy little tanks she always wore under her plaid shirts. This one was a blinding white that glowed off her golden skin. There were no other lines to mar the perfection of her shoulders and back.

Just smooth skin with a light sheen of sweat in the play of lights from the city.

The whole of New York City was on display from their vantage point. Old brownstones and row houses with hotels and shops came into view the closer he got to her. But the skyscrapers of Manhattan speared into the inky sky took the view from a wow factor of five to a full ten.

Add in Denver’s striking face with a bit of moonlight dancing along the crest of her cheek and he had to force himself to take a deeper breath.

It was stupid to even look at her like a woman. She was his friend—his closest friend these days. Oh, Michael and West would forever be his triangle of best friends. History and loyalty would always see to that, but they were moving on with their lives.

Love and babies had trumped the day-to-day fun they used to have together. They still had the stage and an innate connection he’d never found with anyone else on the planet, but his buddies had fuller lives now. He’d been left in the shadows, until Denver had come into the picture.

She was laughter and fun. She kept him sane on the nights that he couldn’t wind down after a show. She kicked his ass when he didn’t know what to do with himself on off days.

And now she was here in the heavy stillness of a July night, bailing him out of trouble. There’d been censure in her voice and the same boot-to-ass personality coming at him full steam, but she was the only one who’d looked for him.

Hours later there had been messages on his phone waiting for him, but it was Denver who’d worried after him. Denver who had saved him.

Pride smarted under the appreciation. She’d been the one to find him in that alley at his lowest point. Now he had to add in the inconvenient sexual tension that had sprung up where it didn’t belong.

The echo of her Boy Scout comment didn’t help keep his head on straight either. He may not be banging randos on the bus like Mal, but he wasn’t a saint. And he sure as shit wasn’t a boring fuck. When he noticed the tightness in his fingers, he relaxed his fists.

He could usually shake off her insults. They were often the cornerstone of their conversations, especially when it came to tough trails that she picked out on the days they got away to ride. Trash talking was one of her attributes.

Right now, she didn’t seem like his hardass best friend. Not with the stray dark hairs sticking to her neck and minus the layers of clothing that made it easier for him to forget she was a woman—an attractive one at that.

She’d rested her hands on the half wall at the edge of the roof. It cut her off at the ribs, making her look even smaller than usual.

He walked up behind her and she jumped as he trailed his knuckle down her neck, leaving a trail through the baby-fine hairs. “Were you hoping for some relief?”

“What?” Her fingertips whitened on the brick as her stance went from relaxed to vibrating.

“From the heat.”

“Oh.” She bobbed her head. “Yes. The room was stifling.”

He placed his hands on either side of hers on the brick. “Helluva view.”

“What?”

Heat radiated from her and the warm scent of honey and vanilla filled his lungs. The tips of his fingers went numb and he had to relax his grip again. He wanted to crowd into her, to see if her skin was as warm as it seemed.

“The view,” he said roughly. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a finer view.”

She peered up at him. “You’re not looking at the view.”

“Nope.”

“Ryan…”

“Do you want me to back up?” he asked.

She swallowed hard. He could see it there as her long, elegant neck spasmed.

Was her throat as dry as his? If he pressed his chest to her back, would her heart be racing the same way?

Her head fell forward on her chest, leaving her neck and shoulders completely exposed. Was she looking for a way to let him down easy?

So many questions and right now, she was giving him zero answers.

He lowered his lips to where a droplet of sweat clung to the edge of her hairline. The salty drop dissolved on his tongue as he buried his nose in her hair with a low groan. “Tell me to step back.”

 

Chapter Three

 

She didn’t say a damn thing.

He closed his hands over hers and laced their fingers. He moved his nose from her neck to buzz along the shell of her ear.

“Do you want me?”

Her chest rose and fell faster and her fingers flexed under his.

“Because I want you. I’ve always wanted you.”

She drew in a ragged breath and let it out on a little moan. “This so isn’t a good idea.”

He scraped his teeth down her neck to her shoulder. “Probably not. Want to do it anyway?” He crowded in like he’d wanted to do since the first day he’d seen her. She was so damn small and compact in ways that made his mouth water and his dick take notice.

He was male, his dick took notice of women whether he wanted it to or not, but she’d been different.

She’d always been different.

And he was stupid for doing this, but he couldn’t think about anything other than losing himself in her sweet, tight body. To hold her there against the brick and slide into her with the night sounds and city lights blurring around them.

He hummed against her neck as he swirled the tip of his tongue around the little spiral of curls behind her ear. “Tell me to step back.”

She tipped her head to the side to give him more access to her neck.

Acquiescence.

Was he just wishing for it so hard he was blind to everything else?

She slid her ass along the front of his jeans with a long, slow undulation.

He released one of her hands then curled his fingers along her hip. He held her closer as he ground against the sweet curve of her ass.

She lifted her free hand to his hair and sank her fingers into his still-wet curls with a soft sigh.

“Hands back on the brick,” he rasped.

Her gentle touch would undo him. And right now, he couldn’t go there. He wanted to show her he could be everything she needed. Even if it killed him in the process. “You don’t want a Boy Scout, you’re not going to get one.”

She slowly lowered her hand back to the brick. “I was only kidding earlier.” Her voice was husky and low.

Enough that he knew she hadn’t been kidding. That if he was going to do this—if he was going to take this step—then it needed to be an all-in situation.

“Palms flat. Don’t move them no matter what I do to you.”

Her short nails went white as the pads of her fingers pressed harder into the brick.

He was certain he’d find her soaking wet if he slid his hand into her jeans right now. The fact that he was currently losing all blood to below his belt meant he was in a similar situation.

He’d played a little with a few girls who were adventurous, but nothing like this. Thrill coursed through him, adding a kick of adrenaline to the already precarious night.

“Last chance.”

“Just fuck me already.”

He flicked open the button to her jeans and dragged them down without fanfare. Definitely not slow, and definitely without finesse.

She slapped the brick, but didn’t let go.

He crouched behind her and pulled one shoe out from her pant leg. He wasn’t sure if they’d be interrupted, so it seemed better to keep it easy for her to be covered as quickly as possible.

He glanced at the windows around them. Anyone could see them. He curled his fingers into the worn denim. The idea of anyone watching her made a growl burn through his chest. But he didn’t want to bring her inside.

Not just yet.

He raked his fingers up the backs of her legs. His nails were short, but it was enough to see faint score lines from his touch rise on the backs of her thighs. A shudder thrummed through her legs as he stood behind her.

The scrap of white-and-red-striped panties had rolled down a little with his swift removal. Instead of shoving them down to her jeans, he snapped them back into place as he widened her stance. “Are you already wet for me?”

“You wish.”

He curled his fingers under the ends of her tank and scored across her belly in much the same way he’d done along her legs. She hissed, but he felt the tremor again.

She liked it.

His dick throbbed.

Denver’s acid-tongued and bravado-filled responses should have been a clue. Even if there was a part of him that wanted to offer softness and romance, right now he fed off her reactions.

She wanted this.

She wanted it a little rougher, a little left of center.

He made circles on her flat belly and down farther into her panties. Her thighs twitched as he made his way lower, to the curve of her pelvic bone and the sweet strip of hair just above her slit.

The rest of her was smooth and damp. From the night? The still, heavy air that held no breeze and no relief.

He delved between her thighs with his two middle fingers and groaned. Slick didn’t cover it. She was drenched.

Her head fell back against his chest and she arched her back. Her nipples were beaded up and pushing against the thin cotton of her tank.

With his other hand, he cupped her breasts and tugged at each nipple through the material until she was squirming against him. Her hands slid to the edge of the brick.

“Hands,” he growled.

She moved them back with a groan.

“That’s a good girl.”

“Fuck you.”

He smiled into her neck. “That’s the plan.” He bit down as he tugged the front of her tank down to expose her breasts to the air. He cupped one roughly and slid his fingers deeper inside of her.

Her fingers started to roll under into fists and he released her breast to grip a handful of her hair. “Palms flat.”

She hissed, and goddamn if her pussy didn’t get wetter. Hair pulling for the win. He tightened his hold and rubbed the heel of his hand along her clit. He didn’t thrust in and out of her with his fingers, just rubbed lightly.

She arched at his hold and her nipples got even tighter. For just one moment he wished for more hands. Or that he could turn her around and feast on her with his mouth, but that wasn’t part of the game.

And right now it was all about the game.

Her breath came out in a pant and he stilled his hand. He didn’t want her to go over this way. He wanted her to come on his dick. This first time it needed to be her squeezing around him.

He slid his fingers from her warm body and she shuddered against him. She hummed out a gasping breath and sagged against the wall. He jerked his buckle open and dug into his pocket for the little box burning against his leg.

Overthinking it would make it worse. All he could think about was getting inside her, making her his.

It was a clawing need he didn’t have the mental fortitude to examine at that moment. Good thing his lizard brain had taken over.

Get inside her.

Get inside her.

He snapped the latex on and tugged out the band holding all her hair away from him. He twisted the thick length around his palm and pulled until she arched onto her toes. He glanced down to make sure he wouldn’t hurt her.

Her palms were flat and braced. Her body ready and tuned to his. Waiting.

He jerked her panties aside and slammed inside of her. She let out a guttural cry that echoed through his chest.

Instinct urged him to ask if she was okay, but that was what a Boy Scout would do. She didn’t want that.

She wanted it rough.

She wanted it raw.

He had to trust it was exactly what she craved, because there was no doubt it was what he needed too.

He wrapped his arm around her middle to shield her from the worst of the brick before he plunged into her again and again.

Curled around her, he felt his thighs scream at the angle. She was so much shorter than him and he had to crouch a little to drive up inside of her.

His dick dripped with her. The clasp of her heat and perfect pussy was the ultimate high. He shot over and up through the pleasure and past the pain until he was mired in her scent and her screams of pleasure.

Quivering thighs—maybe hers, maybe his—were the only things that saved him. Part of him could have fucked her all night long, but there was a deeper drive for release that wouldn’t be denied.

He tried to concentrate on the clasping spasm of her body. He chased it, obsessed with finding the finish line no matter how long it took.

She shattered over him.

There was no other word for the way her voice cracked and her body convulsed before she came all over him. He buried himself to the hilt and followed her. His skin was scorched and his chest heaved with exertion as he filled the condom as if it was the last one he’d ever fucking use.

The lights blurred and the city sounds drowned out against the deep breaths and caramelizing of his brain. He slumped against her and the brick that had scraped the holy hell out of his arm.

Fucking worth it.

The chaos he’d been living with went silent and his chest started working again. She trembled against him and he held her tight. He was loath to pull out of her.

There would be the harsh realities of fucking his best friend.

He wasn’t ready for them.

If he could, he’d walk her into the damn motel with his dick still half hard inside of her. But he couldn’t. He pressed his forehead between her shoulder blades and hissed as he pulled out.

He jerked his pants up and swung her into his arms.

“Ryan!” She gripped his shoulder, her huge brown eyes just a little unfocused. Good. He needed to keep her there.

Shit. Her jeans still hung off one ankle. He shuffled her closer and flicked the denim up until it pooled in her lap. “Inside. I’m not done with you.”

“You’re not?”

“Definitely not.”

He juggled her so he could open the door. No one was in the hallway, so he hurried back into their room. The door was ancient enough not to have locked behind him when he left.

Good thing. He wasn’t quite sure where the key had ended up.

He dumped her on the bed and her sneakers tumbled to the floor before she whipped off her jeans, flinging them over his shoulder. She was tiny enough that he could lift her up and toss her up toward the wrought-iron headboard.

He jerked the comforter out from under her until there was nothing but her golden skin on the pure white sheets. He pushed at her tank until it was up and over her head.

Her dark hair tumbled over her shoulders, her eyes as wild as the thick waves that had fallen forward.

The long strands hid her tiny tight nipples. He crawled between her legs and lifted her hands up above her head. His cock stirred at the way her eyes flashed defiantly. Her breasts and silky hair brushed over his chest and he groaned. Part of him wanted to linger and see where things went.

He was used to a more playful situation when it came to one-night stands. It didn’t matter because he’d be gone in the morning, or the afternoon if it was a really good time. Denver didn’t slide into either of those situations.

She was his friend, but he’d never had a friend under him like this. Add in the fact that she’d been the one to save him tonight and his head was all fucked up. So, he went with the only thing that made sense.

“I want to explore the front now.” He lingered over her as he jerked at his belt with one hand.

“Is that right?” Her eyes widened as he looped his belt around her wrists and dragged them up over her head.

“You think you can handle it?” He looked around for the pillows that had scattered and jammed two behind her shoulders and head. “Comfy?”

She scrunched back until she was reclined with her arms now loosely cinched above her head. “Surprisingly.”

“Good. What’s your word?”

Her eyebrows shot up. “So, you’ve done this before?” She swallowed. “A little bondage, some rougher play.”

“I told you—”

“Yeah, yeah. Not a Boy Scout.”

“Since you’re not surprised, I’m assuming you have too.”

She lifted her chin. “Something like that.”

He was tempted to tighten the belt, but decided he liked that she could move a little. He inched back and indulged his need for a taste of her. He glanced up at her as he sucked on one nipple until it was tight under his tongue, and she hissed in reaction.

He let it go and watched it flush even darker. He moved lower and dragged her underwear down before widening her legs. “Your word, Colorado?”

“Ryan.”

“Nope, can’t be Ryan. You’ll be shouting it anyway.”

“How about asshole?”

“Nah. You call me that too much.”

“Well deserved,” she grumbled.

He grinned. “Word?”

She looked around the room. “Pink.”

He swiped his thumb around her clit. “Like this pretty pussy?”

Her hips jerked up. “No. Like the neon light over there.”

He licked the pad of his thumb with a groan. His mouth watered for more. “Now that we got that out of the way, it’s time for the best part.”

She licked her lips. “More fucking?”

“We’ll get there.” He eased onto his belly. He was too tall, so he had to bend his knees and swing his feet up to keep himself on the bed. He curved his fingers under her ass and lifted her to his mouth. “But no, this is the best part.”

He lowered his head to tease the bottom of her mound, where her honey scent blended with arousal.

Now that his brain was clear again, he could enjoy her. He sampled the sheen of cream on her inner thighs before slowly teasing his way up to her pussy. He lapped at the sweet skin above her clit. “I told you I wasn’t done with you yet.”

She took a deep breath through her nose as he covered her slit with his lips. The seal was complete and his tongue searched out every live-wire nerve.

He watched her face the entire time. Partly to figure out what she needed, but mostly just to see the pleasure roll over her features. The more she flooded his mouth, the more her eyes drifted from hardened resistance to desperate.

His dick pulsed as she fell apart for him. She rattled at the restraints keeping her tied to the headboard and lifted her hips away from him, but he held her still. His arms ached and his tongue throbbed in reaction to her swollen pussy, but he didn’t stop.

He wouldn’t stop until she screamed.

Her jaw tightened and her head thrashed but she didn’t let anything out but a small moan.

He wanted her so far gone that there would be nothing but his name on her tongue. Only then would he relent, even if it killed him.

She tightened her knees around his head. Surrounded by her scent and taste, his vision fuzzed around the edges, but he didn’t let go. He dipped his thumb along the cleft of her ass.

He hummed at the coating of her juices there, waiting for him. She was so fucking responsive. She might not give him an inch when it came to her smart mouth, but her body was his for the taking.

His thumb slid along her pucker and she vised around his head, her eyes widening. He circled it as he circled her clit and her body shuddered. He didn’t stop until his thumb was inside of her to the knuckle.

The scream that ripped out of her was cracked with emotion. Fury and release chased itself around her features. She shook the headboard until the leather unraveled from its knot.

She slid her wrists free and grabbed his hair. Instead of pushing his face away, she held him tighter and panted out his name as she curled around him. The sounds coming from her were feral, and he was so goddamn wound up, he finally pulled his mouth free.

“No!”

He laughed and flipped her onto her belly as he jerked out the pack of condoms. She rose up and he held her down at the small of her back. “She-cat.”

“Oh, God. Fucking hurry up.”

He peeled his jeans away from his dick with a groan. “I know what you need, baby.”

“I need you to shut up and get that cock inside me.”

He huffed out a laugh and rolled the latex down his aching shaft. He shoved her legs together and straddled the tops of her thighs.

“Ryan. What the hell are you doing? I’m not into getting my ass fucked.”

“We’ll see about that.”

She thrashed against his hold.

“Not now, but someday.” He drew his knuckle down the dip in her spine to the high arch of her perfect ass.

She instinctively rose to his touch and he dropped his head back for a moment to get ahold of himself. He blew out a breath before he guided his dick along the slippery tightness of her thighs to her pussy.

He swore as her body fisted around him. The angle and her position was heaven and hell along the surface of his cock. So goddamn tight. He lowered his belly to her ass and stretched over her to reach for the headboard.

She curled her fingers around the same rung under his hand and he growled out her name as he drilled into her until there was nothing but skin and two bodies.

He snapped his hips back and drove into her again and again in long, measured strokes, until the room blurred and the bed squeaked out a protest. And he kept going as the drug named Denver obliterated his brain.

The clasp of her body was the ultimate torment in a day that had gone from amazing to shit, and back around to incredible. When she switched her grip from the iron posts to his wrists, he groaned and buried his face in her neck.

His thrusts went from smooth to erratic as she cried out his name and pulsed around his dick. She moved her head to allow him more access, and he scraped his teeth and tongue down her neck to her shoulder as he fucked her until his body wouldn’t allow it anymore.

Sweat pooled between them, poured off his skin and slicked down his back. He knew she’d come, but it wasn’t enough. Not nearly enough.

He rolled them until they were spooned and he could hook his arm around her knee to peel her open. His spine screamed at the angle, but he didn’t stop. He burrowed his other arm underneath her to get to her clit.

He powered his cock into her, and her little clit was so fucking high and tight he only had to circle it a few times, and she was lost. Her thigh shook and back arched. It was all he could do to hold on to her as her body milked him.

Gone.

So fucking gone.

He pressed his forehead into her shoulder and growled out her name. His bones fucking melted as he finally let go. When his vision cleared again, and the bed stopped vibrating from the punishing storm, he became aware of her labored breath and the pink neon light washing over her perfect tits.

His cock was still lodged inside of her. It didn’t want to be let go any more than he did. In fact, if he could find a way to stay just like this for the next few days, he’d be happy.

She was boneless and quiet. Both oddly discomforting. He wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Denver not in a frenetic state. And if not moving, she was usually intently focused on something else.

He grabbed the condom at the base of his dick and slid away from her. Immediately she curled into herself and covered her head with her arm.

Shit.

That was not what he wanted as a reaction. At all.

He quickly tied off the condom and crossed to the bathroom to dispose of it, then detangled himself from his twisted-as-fuck jeans. He flipped them over the shower curtain rod with his shirt and cleaned up before returning to the bedroom with a washcloth and towel.

She pressed her face farther into the pillow as he smoothed the rough washcloth down her back.

“Den, come on.”

She shook her head.

He rolled her onto her back and fought with her to open her arms for him. “Don’t be a spoiled brat.”

Her brown eyes blazed up at him. “Excuse me?”

“I just pounded the hell out of you.”

“Fuck off, Ry. I’m not some dainty emo chick you have to take care of.”

He dragged her up into his arms. “No, you’re my best friend. And I was rough.”

She was stiff in his embrace for a long time, but he waited her out. It was becoming a thing between them.

He figured he better get used to it. Because this wasn’t going to be the only time he was inside her. No way, not after he knew what she felt like, smelled like—fuck, what she tasted like.

Finally, her arms came up and around his back and she pressed her cheek to his shoulder.

“Den—”

“Can we just not?” She nuzzled down closer to his chest. “I don’t want to psychoanalyze this. Please?”

“We don’t have to.”

“Good.”

He eased back against the wrought-iron headboard until she was cradled into his body. His back wasn’t happy with the situation, but he’d grin and bear it.

For her, he would.

He didn’t know how long they stayed that way. Eventually, they ended up in some crazy pretzel that shouldn’t have been comfortable, but it so was.

Maybe he’d have to invest in a circular bed. His bandmate Jules crowed all the time about the one she and her guys, Tris and Randy, had in their bedroom.

The next time he woke it was to a crowing rooster from his phone and an empty bed. He fumbled for his phone and found it next to him on the mattress.

“Den?” He squinted down at his phone. An ungodly seven stared back at him, as well as a twenty.

The twenty and a white envelope stuffed with his rent money cleared out his brain faster than anything. “What the hell?” He looked around the room, but there was no trace of her.

Even her scent was gone.

She’d left the damn money like he’d earned it last night. What in the fuck?

He stumbled out of the bed into the bathroom and found his shirt and jeans folded on the sink with another piece of aged stationery on top.

“This should get you to the radio station. Had to get to the bus,” he read aloud.

He crinkled the note and tossed it into the waste can below the sink. She’d just left him there?

Christ.

He stepped into his jeans and pulled his stiff air-dried shirt on. He looked like he’d been on a goddamn bender.

Or like he’d been fucked to within an inch of his life.

Ding, ding—hello, door number two with a whole new vice.

One Miss Denver Casey.

Son of a bitch.

 

 

 
 

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