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“Good. Now, why don’t you take me upstairs and get me a drink? I’ve been waiting down here for more than two hours. And in the meantime, you can explain to me exactly where you’ve been all day.”

But that was the problem. She couldn’t tell him she’d spent the day looking for a job. He’d freak out and try to hand her a big check to tide her over. She didn’t want to be the baby of the family anymore, the one Jared always felt like he had to protect even when she didn’t want or need his protection. He might think of it as his job as her big brother, but she sure as hell didn’t. Not anymore.

She leaned in to give him a kiss on the cheek—breaking eye contact as she did. Lying was hard enough for her. Doing it while she was looking straight into her brother’s eyes so wasn’t going to happen.

“I’ve been working. I had some new recipes I needed to try out.”

“Oh, yeah?” Jared stepped back, quirked an eyebrow. “What kind of recipes were they?”

“A couple new cakes,” she told him. “I want to try something new, but not too different--”

He sighed heavily. “I went by the restaurant, Jamison. They told me they had to downsize—right after they tried to get me to take a photo with the owner and chef.”

“Shit. I’m sorry. I—”

“You think I give a damn about the photo request? I want to know whyyou didn’t tell me you got laid off.”

She shrugged, tried to blow it off. “It’s no big deal. With the recession, people aren’t eating out as much—especially at fancy restaurants. They had to downsize and since I was the last employee hired, I was the first fired. You know how it goes. At least they gave me a good , recommendation. It shouldn’t be that hard to find another job.” As long as she didn’t mind asking customers if they wanted fries with their burger, anyway.

“Do you have enough money to get by?” Jared asked as he followed her up the stairs to her third-floor apartment.

“Yeah, of course. I’m fine.”

He snorted, but didn’t say anything else as he waited for her to open her front door. Once they were inside her apartment—which she liked to think was furnished in shabby chic, but in all actuality was really just shabby—he sprawled across her couch and asked, “What happened to your car?”

She closed her eyes, blew out a long breath. She’d really been hoping he hadn’t seen her getting off the bus. “I was in a wreck earlier this week.”

“A wreck?” He jumped off the couch, crossed to her. “How bad was it?” he demanded, his eyes moving over every visible inch of her body, searching for damage.

“I’m fine. It wasn’t a big deal. But my car’s not drivable right now.” Which technically wasn’t a lie, she told herself, since the stupid thing would never be drivable again.

Jared looked more than a little suspicious of her answer, but he didn’t call her on it.

Determined to get him off his line of questioning, she gave him a hug, then laid her head on his shoulder. “I appreciate your concern, I really do. But did you seriously come all this way to talk about my car?”

“No. But now I think we’d better.” He glanced at the clock on her wall. “Where’s Charles? I thought you had plans with him tonight?”

“No, not with him.” She waved a hand dismissively. “We broke up. It’s no big deal—it was brewing for a while.”

“Really?” Jared’s eyes narrowed. “What did he do?”

She sighed, exasperated now. “Nothing for you to worry about.”

But as usual he wasn’t listening—or paying any attention to the back-off signals she was throwing out all over the place. “The jerk just happened to dump you the same week you lost your job and your car? When she didn’t answer, he ground out, “That bastard.” Jared pushed past her, walked into her postage stamp sized kitchen. Opened the fridge and stared at the dismal contents before slamming the door shut and turning back to her. “When were you going to tell me all this?”

“I wasn’t, actually. It’s none of your business.”

“None of my business? My baby sister is stuck in San Diego with no job, no car, and no boyfriend to help her out. Does that about cover the situation?”

“I don’t need a man to help me out! I’m not an imbecile, you know.”

Jared rolled his eyes. “I was talking about him giving you a ride every once in a while. This isn’t exactly a public-transportation-friendly town.”

Didn’t she know it? She’d been on four buses and the trolley today, and that was just what it had taken her to get home. “I’m fine. I—”

He cut her off with a downward slice of his hand. “You are patently not fine, sweetheart.”

His words cut right through her—even though she knew they were true. Her carefully organized life had spun completely out of her control and she didn’t have a clue what she was going to do about it. She tried to hide her discomfort, but Jared must have figured out how much he’d hurt her because he started backpedalling. “You know I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just that you have such a hard time accepting help. You always have, ever since Mom left. But, Jelly Bean, there’s nothing wrong with needing someone sometimes. I can help you. Let me help you.”

“I don’t need your help!”

This time he was the one who winced. “Has it ever occurred to you that sometimes I need to help you? You’re my sister. I know you can do whatever you set your mind to. But I love you and I worry about you and I can’t just walk away and leave you here in this ridiculous apartment, with no job, no car, and no money.”

“I have some money. Besides, I don’t want to take advantage of the fact that —”

“What? That I’m a rock star? Give me a break. I have more money than I know what to do with. Let me give you some—”

“I’m not doing this with you, Jared.” She crossed to the door, opened it. “You need to go or you’ll be late for the concert.”

“I’ll leave when you come with me.”

“That’s not going to happen. I need to look for a job.”


“Where else?”

“I don’t know. Back home maybe? You moved here because of that job at that damn restaurant. Now what’s the point of staying?”

“I have a lease. I have a life here.” And absolutely no desire to run back home with her tail tucked between her legs. She’d left Austin with big plans. She wasn’t—she refused to be—her mother’s daughter, running home at the first sign of failure.

“Obviously.” She could tell the second his patience ran out. “Go pack a bag.”

“I’m not going home to Dad, Jared.”

“You’ve made that clear. So, fine. If you don’t want to go home, don’t. But then you’re coming on the road with me.”

She laughed. “Yeah, right.”

“I’m not joking.” He shoved an irritated hand through his hair. “Why are we arguing about this?”

“I can’t just pick up and go on the road with you. What about the guys?”

“What about them? They’d love to have you.”

“Nothing like a little sister tagging along to ruin all the fun.”

Jared waved off her concern. “Trust me. Having you along won’t cramp anyone’s style.”

What about Ryder? she wanted to ask, but knew doing so would make her sound too much like a needy, insecure little girl—an image she was currently doing her damnedest not to project. Besides, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer. Even after everything that had happened that morning, she wasn’t sure she could deal with not cramping Ryder’s style. Seeing him with girl after girl, groupie after groupie. Her stomach churned at the thought.

Crossing to the window, she looked out over the parking lot. Watched a drug deal go down on the corner. And despite her better judgment, found herself asking, “What would I even do on tour with you?”

“Anything you want. Hang out. Party. Work on that book of recipes you keep saying you want to write.”

“And what am I going to do for money? Just live off of you?”

“Yes! Yes, live off of me! What’s wrong with me helping you out for a while?”

Nothing, except it would shred what little self-esteem she had left. “I can’t be a parasite, Jared. I just can’t.”

“You’re nothing like her.”

She turned away before he could see the tears she wasn’t strong enough to keep buried. But Jared knew. He always knew.

She’d spent her whole life watching their mother pop in and out of their dad’s life. Watching her get his hopes up only to disappear in the middle of the night with whatever money she could get her hands on. Jamison knew her father and brother would give her anything, everything, but she couldn’t take it. Couldn’t take the chance of ever becoming what her mother had always been.

“I can’t live like that, Jared. You know I can’t.”

Silence as he considered her words. Then, “What if there’s a job for you on the road with me?”

“Band groupie isn’t exactly a job. Especially when I won’t put out.” Except for Ryder. She was desperately afraid he could turn her into a groupie with little more than a touch. Maybe it was a good thing she wasn’t his type.

Jared just shook his head, made a disgusted sound deep in his throat. “I was thinking more along the lines of a cook.”

“A cook? For the band?” she asked dubiously.

“Hell, yeah. We eat crap pretty much twenty-four-seven while we’re on the road. You could fix that.”

His voice gained enthusiasm as he warmed to the idea. “I can almost taste your apple pie now.”

She wanted to argue some more, but the idea had merit. She knew it did. She could go on the road for a few weeks as she looked for another pastry chef job, could cook for the guys and maybe even save a little. But, still …

Pride made her want to say no. There was a part of her that was deathly afraid that she was just like their mother. That all the crap that had happened this week happened because she was genetically predisposed to screw up her life. Giving in and running away with Jared just seemed to prove that idea.

But at the same time, her rent was due in two weeks and unless she found a job ASAP, she wouldn’t have the money. Her landlord wasn’t exactly the understanding sort, which meant she’d have to borrow from Jared or her father if she didn’t want to run back to Texas a total failure.

Just the thought of it made her skin crawl. She couldn’t handle being the cause of more disappointment to her father, couldn’t handle having the neighbors look at her the same way they’d looked at her mother. Like she was a failure.

Could she do this? she wondered, a slightly panicked feeling in the pit of her stomach. Could she just ride away with Shaken Dirty tonight after the show? Just leave behind the life she’d begun to make for herself here and start a new one? One where she actually created new recipes and wrote the cookbook she’d been playing with since her sophomore year in college? One where she lived for the moment instead of for her ten-year plan?

She thought of Charles. Of her lost job. Of the way her carefully planned life had imploded in less than a week. Jared’s offer was a godsend and she knew it. Especially with as tight as newspaper jobs were right now. And so what if he was giving it to her to get her out of trouble? She could still be the best damn cook any rock band had ever had while on the road.

At the same time, she couldn’t believe she was seriously considering her brother’s offer. Especially since Ryder came as a part of the package. She wasn’t sure she was ready to face him—that she’d ever be ready to face him after everything that had happened in that hotel room early this morning.

But the band did have two tour buses for their exclusive use. She’d just make sure that she was on whatever bus Ryder wasn’t. How hard could that be?

“Come on, Jamison.” Jared held a hand out to her. “Don’t make me leave you here alone. Come on the U.S. leg of the tour with us. It’s only seven weeks.”

To hell with it. Maybe a couple months away from her real life was exactly what she needed. As long as she pulled her weight, there’d be no problem. And she would pull her weight.

Reaching forward, she took her brother’s hand, squeezed. “How long before you have to leave for the amphitheater?”

He glanced at the clock on her wall. “I should have been out of here ten minutes ago.”

Trepidation was a tight ball in the pit of her stomach as she headed for the bedroom. But she’d made her decision and she would stick with it, even if a lack of options had speeded things along.