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Chapter One

 

“Small wedding, my ass.”

“You said a bad word, Aunt Molly.”

Molly McIntire winced. “I sure did, munchkin. Sorry about that. Remind me to drop a dollar in the jar back at the hotel room.” She crouched down next to her niece, Briana Duffy, and brushed a curl out of her face. Bri was still little enough to want to cuddle into her.

She looped an arm around her niece and gave her nephew a big smile. “How’s it going, Pickle?”

“No one calls me that anymore.” He tugged his suspenders strap back up onto his shoulder.

“Mama does,” Bri said matter-of-factly.

“Is that so?” Molly peered over at Bri then back to Dylan. “I’m no longer special enough?”

He gave a long suffering sigh as only five-year-olds could. “I guess. But not around the other kids. Pickles aren’t cool.”

“Can’t have that, now can we?” She scooped up Bri and sat on the small chair. Her damn arches were killing her. She was used to being barefoot or in ballerina flats. Most of the time because she towered over the women in her band, and heels would edge her out on the guys too. But she was in full wedding gear and that included freaking stilts. Denver Casey—well, now Waters—had seemed like she was more of a cool and funky wedding girl. The bride got to wear Chucks. Epically unfair.

And yet, no…the bridesmaids ended up in red dresses with matching shoes to offset the classy Vera Wang dress Denver had ended up buying at a trunk sale.

And yes, Molly had definitely advocated for the Vera wedding gown. Nothing else had been half as perfect. It had screamed Denver. Molly had noticed it while wandering around the little alcoves filled with designer dresses. She might have even fantasized about a princess one in the lightest of blush pinks for half a second.

But then she’d been ushered into the far off section of the one-offs sale. Denver had been so sure the entire outing was going to be a waste of time. The fact that Denver, Elle, and Lauren Bryant—West’s girlfriend—had invited her to go dress shopping with them had been a surprise.

That she’d had fun, a miracle.

It wasn’t like she wanted to jam everyone up and be el numero uno bitch of the band, but someone had to keep everyone on track. Their band, Warning Sign, could be a maddening puppy pile of crazy when no one was cracking the whip. It just seemed easier to be the bad guy and keep them focused on the end result.

To be the best band in the damn universe.

She wasn’t being unreasonable. In fact, she was exactly what the band needed one hundred percent of the time. Okay, possibly ninety-eight if a person wanted to get technical.

But even with the endless touring they’d been doing, and the whispers she heard behind her back, they were becoming the band she’d always dreamed about. They were so damn close.

Now the girls were actually starting to expect her to participate in the crazy schemes Lauren and the others came up with on the bus. Juliet had dumped five pairs of shoes into her lap four weeks ago and made Molly choose which one to wear.

Well, fuck.

So she was technically the dumbass who had come up with the shoe problem. Molly couldn’t blame Juliet as she’d thought.

On top of it all, she couldn’t even kick the stupid shoes off. They were laced up her calf to show off her curves. Again, her fault. She’d been lured by the sexy factor to match the dresses. So her throbbing foot was due to her own stupidity.

She wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to examine that any longer. Being a slave to fashion had never been her thing. But this wedding was the first time she’d felt actually included and she’d wanted to make sure everyone was…well, happy.

And gloriously photogenic, because this little wedding had gone viral in a very big way.

“You have very sparkly shoes.”

She looked down at the death traps then turned her ankle so one of the straps sparkled thanks to the twinkle lights glowing in a canopy above them. “I do. Do you like them?”

Her niece nodded furiously. “I wish I could wear them.”

She knew kids were growing up fast, but she’d be damned if her cute little niece would ever be wearing something this sexy. Not just because she wanted to protect her from the big bad world, but she was fairly sure her brother-in-law, Gray Duffy of Oblivion fame, would lock Bri in a tower in Iceland before that would happen.

Just a feeling.

She tucked Bri onto her lap and unwound a ribbon from her dark hair. “How about we do this?” She tapped Bri’s foot. “Hold out your foot like me.”

Bri immediately flung out her leg and pointed her toe on the black patent leather Mary Jane shoes. Molly threaded the red ribbon around the strap then crisscrossed it up her chubby little calves and tied a bow at her knee. “See? Just like mine.”

Only not as painful.

Bri squealed and clapped. She tore her other ribbon out of her braid. “Other one.”

Molly laughed and repeated the pattern.

“Let me down.” Bri wiggled in her lap and clattered to the floor. She bent at the waist to look at her feet then stood and beamed at Molly. “So cool.”

Jazz Duffy came careening around the corner with two plates full of kid-sized pastries. “Hey guys.” She stopped when she got five feet from Bri. “What’s up, hot mama?”

Bri twirled. “Aren’t they fabrilous, Mama?”

“Fabulous,” Jazz and Molly corrected.

“That’s what I said.” Bri folded her arms for a hot second, then swung them back down and twirled again. “Aunt Molly did it. So cool. I match her.”

“You so do.” Jazz set the two plates on the shorter table for the kids. “That was very nice of her.”

Molly stood and shook out her skirts until they settled around her knees. She resisted the urge to groan. Oh, what one did for super hot legs and fashion. Somehow she managed not to wobble.

Jazz set one plate in front of Dylan and one identical plate where Briana was sitting. “Say thank you for watching us, Aunt Molly.”

Bri climbed back into her chair, shoes forgotten in favor of chocolate-covered strawberries and cake.

“Thank you,” Bri and Dylan parroted back.

Molly grinned as her sister straightened and stuck her thumb in her mouth to get the chocolate off. “You didn’t have to rush back.”

“I know, but you should be out there having fun. Not at the kids’ table with me.”

Molly’s gaze drifted out to the dance floor where Ryan and Denver were swaying in a slow dance as if no one else was around.  He’d lost his suit jacket and dress shirt in favor of a Kiss T-shirt. They both had matching Converse sneakers—his a ruby red sparkle to her silver. Just to be Ryan, he’d left the red suspenders on with the T-shirt.

They were adorable as hell. And they made her ache, in the tiny recesses of her brain that she successfully ignored most of the time. Work was a lot more fulfilling than having a man screwing everything up.

Because that was what they did. At least all the men she’d ever been involved with. Or the ones her mother had brought around when she was younger.

The rumble of a male voice behind her made her glance back at the happy circle of humans she called family. Gray’s long legs were bent unnaturally with his knees reaching his chest, but he had a huge smile on his face as Bri babbled about something. Dylan was jumping beside his dad, trying to get his attention.

Instead of ignoring him, Gray wound an arm around his son and settled him against his side as he listened to Bri first. The pang hit a little harder. Molly had never been hugged tighter as a child. She was more likely to get a swat from her mother or grabbed by one of the dozens of “uncles” who’d flitted in and out of her life.

She was glad Jazz had escaped. No, not even escaped. That was what her mama had said. Every day she’d reminded Molly that her sister hadn’t wanted to stick around. The truth? Her mother had turned her away.

So much lost time.

So many lost moments.

But Molly was stronger for it. She’d made herself stronger. She hadn’t really had a choice. But the best artists were made from deep, dark pits of shit. And she’d certainly climbed out of one.

She flipped a curl over her shoulder and didn’t look back at the happy little family Jazz had created. That wasn’t her life. It was her sister’s life. Hers was right there in the crazy crush of people in the center of the tent.

Lauren and Jules were jumping up and down to an ancient song from Kris Kross. Mal, their grouchy drummer, had disappeared. Shocking. Actually, the shocking part had been the fact that he’d shown up. Malachi Shawcross didn’t play well with others. Too bad his crappy disposition made him even more desirable to the masses.

Elle, one of their guitarists, was mid-flirt with a guy that probably had “jock” tattooed above his dick. Molly wasn’t sure why Elle picked the biggest loser in the room nearly every time, but there it was.

At least this time Molly wouldn’t hear her quietly crying on the bus after the bag of dicks broke her heart. They had some time before the next tour started. Denver and Ryan would get some honeymoon action while she…what?

Wrote?

Maybe she could convince Jules and Elle to head into the studio. They were both amazing with lyrics. And between them there was an endless supply of instruments at their disposal. Juliet was a savant. She could play anything she picked up.

Molly grinned as she cut through the people who shook their ass as the song changed from “Jump” to the more contemporary “Kissing Strangers”.

Lauren tried to drag West out onto the floor, but he shook his head with a placating kiss and went back to the table of guys seated in front of an array of beers for tasting.

Blech. Beer.

Lauren twirled in her red dress, her sparkly shoes gone. Little red flats with equal bits of shiny had replaced them. Dammit, Molly should have gone for the backup flats. While the girls had been on shopping trip number fourteen, she’d been traveling to Nowhere, New York to duet with Lindsey York from Brooklyn Dawn.

 A spot had opened up on the Christmas album Logan King did every year. Luc Moreau was the original artist, but he’d ended up in rehab.

His loss, her gain.

So while the girls were Tweeting and Instagramming their way through a sample sale in July, she’d been singing “Blue Christmas” with a kickass chick. A kickass chick who owned the stage these days.

Molly didn’t want to be the next Lindsey York. She wanted to be the one people emulated. But until then, she’d been excited to be included in the very short A-list of singers.

And while her arches were screaming now, the shitty trip to Winchester Falls to do the song had been worth it. But man, at least one of the girls could have texted her for her shoe size.

Then again, she was so damn tall. Finding her size at a sample sale was luck wrapped in a prayer, dipped in unicorn dust. So, Molly would grin and bear it.

She wanted to dance. She needed to dance. To feel like a part of the group for a damn second.

Lauren started jumping up and down as the song changed over and her very tall, very delicious best friend strutted his way onto the dance floor.

Professor Ethan Haywood in all his six-foot-two blisteringly perfect muscled form. A flashback from the summer flushed her skin and tightened her nipples. Inconvenient reactions be damned, the man had a doctorate in the art of kissing. That much she couldn’t block out. The way his large hands had cupped her ass and pulled her into him, the crisp cotton of his dress shirt, the impressive bulge he was packing—all of that she’d managed to stuff down.

The kissing thing?

Fuck.

She’d always been a sucker for a man who took the time to seduce with his mouth. Too bad he’d ruined it by speaking after it. If only he’d kept kissing her, she might have had some release finally. Didn’t he realize how hard it was for her to find a guy who turned her crank?

But nope, that cocky asshole had ruined it.

Said cocky asshole looked over Lauren’s head and zeroed in on Molly with all the directness she wished she could forget. He started dancing with the ridiculous Lauren, the blinding white of his teeth flashing as he dared Molly to come over and join in.

No words were needed.

And everything inside of her said to spin around and head out of the tent and back to the hotel. No way in sweet hell was she going to wade into that minefield.

But then he lifted one eyebrow and his wide smile turned into a smirk.

A stupid smirk that also made things clench inside of her that had no business being awake and…clenchy, dammit.

She shook her hair back and sashayed her way into the crowd of people. Red dresses twirled around her like teacups in an old fair ride, but she only saw one person. A man who’d made her feel something for the first time in a damn long time.

The same man who could piss her off more quickly than anyone she knew.

He swung Lauren out and back, then flipped her over his arm as the song slid into a ska and swing hybrid. With this crew of musicians, one never knew what would make it on the playlist.

Lauren squealed and swung through partners on the floor—Juliet, Elle, and finally, Ryan and Denver in a crazy trio of insanity. Everyone else was sweating and breathless, but Molly had eyes for no one but Ethan.

His crisp white shirt was a bit wilted with the heat being generated in the tent. He was tan and his gray eyes were sparkling with some joke for which she never seemed to have the punchline. But it was the scent of him that made her mouth water.

Pure ocean. A freshness she wanted to breathe into her lungs until she was full. Her life revolved around far too many manly smells on the bus. Not the fun ones either. Men were pigs and to combat the extreme smells Elle was always burning some candle.

Headache city for Molly.

With him? No headache. No, instead there were all sorts of different aches.

The moment she entered his sphere, the song changed. Someone had a definite sense of humor. And because of the truly shitty remake of Dirty Dancing, they’d been listening to the old soundtrack and watching the original movie around the clock.

Everyone laughed and started miming the scene from the movie. The famous log scene where Johnny and Baby were learning to balance. Molly immediately turned out her heel and moved toward Ethan.

He fell into step without a damn blink.

The push and pull of the old song, and the old steps lent an intimacy she didn’t want to examine. She couldn’t stop the smile as everyone sang “Hey Baby” and the dance floor flooded with people.

Ethan slid a hand along her hip and around her back.

His smile widened as their legs brushed and thighs bumped with the beat of the fun song. His thumb followed the dip in her spine up the backless dress. His gray eyes heated and suddenly, he swung her around and dipped her back. Without thinking, she brought her knee up along his hip and gripped him. Her muscles quivered and her breath hitched. He lowered his mouth to the deep vee of her dress and looked up at her before bringing her back up so that her breasts grazed against his chest.

So damn firm everywhere. It really wasn’t right on a number of levels.

“Hello again. Been awhile, Stretch.”

She wrinkled her nose. “I hate that name.”

“I know you do.” He drew her hand between them and curled his long fingers around hers. His chest was warm and her skin was already dewy from the crush of bodies around them, but he only tightened his grip when she tried to draw back into her dance space.

She was already self-conscious about not being cute and dainty like the rest of the women around her. They were tiny and pocket-sized with all their feminine wiles. She was too tall, and had to try too hard not to lumber around like a freak.

She’d learned how to make her height work for her, but she’d never been easy in her skin. Ethan actually made her feel small. When he held her, she didn’t feel like she was going to break him.

The music slowed and couples paired off. West actually dragged Lauren off this time. The acoustic tones of Tesla floated through the cooling night air. The bright torches dimmed and the twinkle lights of the tent glowed overhead like stars.

Ethan peered up at the canopy of lights. “Not nearly as impressive as outside.” He drew her closer and they swayed to the old song. “I could use some air. How about you?”

She glanced around. The laughter and wild party atmosphere had settled some with the music change. So many of her people were paired off. She didn’t want to think about the loneliness tonight. She didn’t want to think, period.

She knew it would only take a signal from her and Ethan would be receptive.

Too receptive.

The man was the definition of a player. And yet, wouldn’t he be perfect for what she needed tonight?

The last time they’d almost hooked up, she’d run because she’d been recognized. Well, that was part of why she’d run anyway. She had spent so much time making sure people knew just how serious she was about music and her career. She didn’t allow herself to be tabloid fodder like most musicians.

She didn’t have a new man every other month. Hell, she hadn’t had a man in too many months to count. So many that it could be termed in years at this point.

But tonight was just friends.

Just family.

Just a pocket of time that could be a snapshot she put in a drawer.

If anyone could understand what she needed, it would be Professor One and Done.

She smiled. “Air sounds like a great idea.”

 

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