Wanted to crawl under the couch and never, ever come out.
Or, barring any of those scenarios, she at least wanted to bury her face in her hands and pretend the last hour and a half had never happened.
Why, oh why, hadn’t she stayed in her room? Why had she woken Ryder up? And why had she stayed with him, pushed at him, when it was obvious that he wasn’t interested in her? That he would never be interested in her?
It had been humiliating to stand there listening to Jared talk about the crush she’d had on Ryder. Had been even more humiliating to listen to Ryder dismiss that crush—and her—as nothing. As not being his type—which she knew was just another way of saying she wasn’t sexy enough for him. Wasn’t pretty or glamorous or skinny enough for the rock star he was. One would think she’d have learned her lesson by now. It wasn’t the first time she’d been rejected, after all. She’d thrown herself at Ryder at seventeen and he’d turned her down. hard. What had made her think that things would have been any different tonight?
He was talented, smart, gorgeous, rich. And she…she was just the chubby, uptight, ridiculous younger sister of his best friend.
Ignoring the way they were both watching her—Ryder warily and Jared with remorse—Jamison crossed the room and picked up her purse. She recognized the looks and she wasn’t going to fall for them. Not this time. No matter how much she wanted to crawl into a hole and hide, she was going to see this conversation all the way through. She’d walked away from more than enough this week.
She started with her brother. “Really, Jared?” she asked, pushing to her feet.
He held his hands up in a very obvious gesture of surrender. “We were just talking, Jelly Bean.”
“I get it. You live in this weird-ass world where you’re rock gods.” She swept her gaze over to Ryder, making sure he understood her words were for him as well. “Where you get anything you want with the lift of a finger. Where women beg you to sign their breasts or sleep with them or do any manner of sexually deviant things. Which hey, is great work if you can get it.
“But all that sex and fame and rock and roll has a tendency to skew how you see the world. It warps you, makes you forget you’re just people like everyone else. People I knew long before you were rock gods and long before you were—” She popped her fingers in the air, made air quotes— “two of People Magazine’s ‘sexiest men alive.’
“I grew up with the whole group of you. I saw you screw up with girls, crash your cars, fail tests, get grounded. Hell, I saw both of you cry over guitar lessons and GI Joe dolls. And now you’re all grown up, bad-ass rockers who can have anything and anyone they desire. Whoop-de-do. All that means is I spend an inordinate amount of time worrying you’ll drink yourself to death.” She forced herself to look Ryder over with distaste. “Or come down with some horrible, untreatable STD. Now why exactly would I want a piece of that?”
Tossing her hair over her shoulders, she made a grand exit, making sure that she closed the suite door softly behind her. She wanted to slam it, but there was no way in hell she was giving either of them that satisfaction. Nothing like giving a speech that made her knees knock together and then blowing it all by showing them just how much they’d gotten to her.
She walked swiftly down the hallway to the elevator, determined to get the hell out of there before Jared came after her. She couldn’t afford it, but she would totally eat the cab fare back to her apartment if it meant getting out of there with the last vestiges of her pride intact. She loved her brother and the other guys, but she couldn’t face Ryder right now. Couldn’t look him in the eye and behave normally when the derision in his voice was still ringing in her ears.
She’s not exactly my type. Like his could-be-disease-riddled ass was such a good catch?
She’s a little too much. Like she needed an announcement to tell her that? It wasn’t like she’d spent the night trying to get into his pants, for God’s sake. He was the one who had backed her up against that wall. He was the one who had kissed her. After you bit him, her conscience reminded her.
Ryder had made it abundantly clear that he would never be interested in her. She wasn’t going to waste the next ten years of her life the way she’d wasted the last—pining away for a man she could never, ever have. It might not have looked like it last night, or this morning, but she had more self-respect than that.
Determined not to think about it—about him—any more, Jamison punched the down button and prayed that the elevator would come quickly. It wouldn’t take Jared long to throw on a T-shirt and come after her. She needed to be gone by then.
She heard a door slam behind her and every hair on her body stood straight up. She leaned forward, punched at the elevator key like her life depended on it. Logically, she knew it wouldn’t make the stupid thing come any faster, but it made her feel better.
But it wasn’t Jared’s hand that closed around her arm just as the elevator doors finally slid open, wasn’t Jared’s thumb that stroked softly over the veins at the underside of her wrist. “Let go of me,” she said, wrenching her hand out of Ryder’s grasp.
He let go, but stepped into the elevator and hit the stop button.
“You can’t do that!” she growled, as she tried to look anywhere but at him. He hadn’t bothered to put on a shirt before he came after her and all his glorious skin was still on display. Not that she was tempted to touch it or anything.
“Because people need the elevators?”
He waved a hand dismissively. “It’s the middle of the night. No one but you is going anywhere.”
“It’s nearly seven a.m.! People have to go to work.”
“At this hour?”
“Well, we can’t all be rock stars, Ryder.”
He rolled his eyes. “Come on, Jamison. Don’t run away. I said I was sorry—”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Well, I am. Sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“As if.” Tears pressed against the backs of her eyes, but she refused to let them fall. She hadn’t cried over her car, her boyfriend, or her job. She’d be damned if she’d cry over him. “Look, I really need to go.”
“Fine.” He shoved a frustrated hand through his hair. “But this isn’t over. We’ll talk about it when you come to the concert tonight.”
“First of all, there is no this.” She wagged her finger between them. “And secondly, I’m not coming tonight.”
He looked shocked, and more than a little horrified. “Don’t let what happened between us chase you away, Jamison. I was an ass. I never should have gotten so upset and I sure as hell never should have grabbed you like that. I swear, it won’t happen again.”
“You think that’s why I’m upset? Because you ‘grabbed’ me?” She put the elevator back in service, then hit the button for the lobby. Ryder didn’t move even as the doors started to close.
“Say you’ll come tonight,” he said as they rode down the twenty-three floors to the lobby.
She ignored him. It wasn’t easy—rock stars didn’t get to be rock stars because it was easy to overlook them—but she managed it. At least until the elevator doors slid open and she started to exit.
He blocked her, standing in the middle and spreading his arms so there was no way out. For a second she was pressed up against all that hot, hard, male flesh. Her knees went weak despite her best intentions, but that only made her angrier—and more determined to get away from him. It was like she was an addict—the longer she was in his presence, the more she was willing to do to stay there. Her only hope of escape was to go cold turkey.
Desperate to get away before she started to cry, or gave in, she stepped on his foot. Hard. Then took advantage of his momentary distraction to twist away from him and dart from the elevator.
“Jamison!” He trailed her through the busy lobby. “I’ll leave tickets at will call—”
She kept walking. “I already told you I had plans.”
“Break them.” His voice rang through the lobby. She glanced around, realized they were attracting attention, but for once she didn’t care.
“For whom?” she demanded, whirling on him. “For you?”
He froze, an uncertain look on his face. In that moment, she knew she was—finally—looking at the real Ryder and not the rock god. The knowledge further weakened her resolve. Or it would have, if she had let it.
Silence hung in the air between them for one beat, two, as she waited for Ryder to say something. Anything. But he didn’t—of course he didn’t—so she had to. “I didn’t think so. Good-bye, Ryder.”
She turned and walked away.
“Jamison!” he called after her.
She wanted desperately to turn around, wanted desperately to run back to him and beg him to forget about Jared and his past and everything else that he thought was standing between them. But her days of begging him to notice her, to be with her, were long gone.
So she kept walking right out the spinning glass doors. And she never looked back.
Hours later, Jamison limped into her apartment building with blisters the size of silver dollars on her heels. She’d spent the day pounding the pavement, looking for a job—any kind of job—to fill the gaps until she could find work as a dessert chef. Unfortunately, all the colleges had just gotten out for summer and jobs were scarce as the students had already snapped up most of them.
Which meant she was in trouble, no doubt about it. Unless she got really lucky—something she sincerely doubted would happen—she was completely screwed. Once she got upstairs, she’d log on to the state database and file for unemployment. Then run a job search in the San Diego area—the third such search she’d run in as many days—and see if anything new popped up.
Depressed, pissed off, and more than a little scared—though she hated to admit it, even to herself—Jamison shuffled her way over to the mailboxes, trying not to lift her feet as she moved. She wasn’t sure the blisters could take it. Already, she could feel blood oozing around her heels. It was a testament to just how crappy her neighborhood, and apartment building, were that she hadn’t taken off the damn shoes the second she’d stepped off the bus. But God only knew what there was lying around to step in.
She had just opened her mailbox and reached for the letters inside of it—all bills, she was certain—when Jared’s voice sounded behind her. “Where the hell have you been?”
Spooked at the loud, angry sound, she jumped, bobbled the mail. Then winced as the whole collection of it fell onto the dirty ground beneath her feet. Great. She’d have to remember to wash her hands after she got upstairs. “What are you doing here?” she demanded, squatting down to pick up the scattered envelopes. “Don’t you have a show in a couple hours?”
“Screw the show.” Jared bent and helped her gather the envelopes. “I came here to apologize, but now I want to know what’s going on with you. And I’m not leaving until I get a straight answer.” His eyes were dark and steady on her and for a second Jamison felt like a little kid again. One who could run to her big brother and let him fix everything that was wrong. Because that was who Jared was, who he had always been.
From the time she could walk—and even before then, if their mother was to be believed—Jared was the one she’d turned to when something went wrong. He was the one who fixed her toys when they broke, who made her smile when she was sad, even the one who advised her on boys—though he’d been more than a little uncomfortable with any advice that didn’t begin with “guys are scum and you shouldn’t trust them. And you sure as hell shouldn’t get in the back of a car with any of them. Ever.” Which was more than their dad had ever told her, but still. Not what a girl wanted to hear from her big brother.
Then again, she probably would have been better off if she’d followed that advice. Especially in regard to Evan Schuller and his eight hands.
But this mess was her life. She was a big girl now and she needed to fix things on her own. No more running to her big brother and asking him to make it all better. She was twenty-three years old. It was definitely time to stand on her own two feet…or at least it would be, once she got these damn Louboutins off.
“Sorry I left so quickly this morning, but you and Ryder really pissed me off. I’m a grown-up now, Jared. I sure as hell don’t need my big brother threatening to beat up every guy I make out with.”
“Fine.” He sighed heavily. “I promise not to embarrass you again like that—if you promise to make an effort never to have a make-out fest outside my damn bedroom door again.”
She flushed. “Yeah. I can totally do that.”