Page 14

He hit the door running, determined to get out of sight before things got really out of hand. He expected Jamison to get out of his way—she’d been around the band enough to know how crazy things could become—but she must have expected him to stop because she didn’t budge.

He checked himself at the last second, managed to avoid barreling into her full strength, but he still hit her pretty hard. They went down in a tangle of limbs.

For a second, Ryder did nothing but lay there and absorb the feel of Jamison’s lush, peach-scented body against his own. It threw him back to those long, sexy minutes he’d spent with her on the couch the night before, only this was better because he was fully alert.

Caught up in the feel of her, in the gorgeous sight and sound and smell of her, he shifted without thinking. Pressed himself against the apex of her thighs. And nearly groaned at the inviting heat of her.

Jamison gasped, a soft, broken sound that arrowed straight to his dick. He did groan then, moving so that she was above him, straddling him. He looked up at her, nearly came at the sight of her pursed lips, wide eyes, and oh-so-wild hair. He reached for her, would have run his hands through those fuck-me curls if Jared hadn’t chosen that moment to lean down and grab his sister’s hand.

He pulled her up even as he scowled at Ryder, his own eyes filled with a warning Ryder would have had to be blind to miss. He wasn’t sure what it said about him that he didn’t give a shit. At that moment, if Jamison had given him any encouragement, he would have grabbed her and taken off into the night. Would have told his best friend to fuck off completely.

But encouragement wasn’t what he saw on her face at the moment. Climbing to his feet, he kept a wary eye on Jared and Jamison, both of whom looked like they wanted to take a swing at him. He wasn’t sure his jaw could take it—bitter experience had taught him that they both knew how to throw a punch. He and Jared had tangled on more than one occasion growing up and Jamison…well, she’d taken exception to his and Jared’s teasing one night and ended up clocking both of them.

Still, those long-ago memories didn’t mean he wasn’t going to have his say. He might be wary, but he was nobody’s pussy, after all. “Jamison, I’m glad you’re here—”

He never got the chance to finish his thought as seconds later, Wyatt, Quinn, and Micah tumbled through the open door. They all looked a little worse for wear—Quinn was also missing his shirt while Micah’s hung off of him in long, jagged strips and Wyatt was in nothing but a pair of boxers. Not surprisingly, each of them wore wide, satisfied grins. But then, exhibitionism had never been a problem for Shaken Dirty’s members…or their groupies.

He glanced at Jamison, wondering if she would be upset. But she was smiling as she drawled, “You boys look like you had a good time.”

“You know it, Jelly Bean!” Wyatt gave her a loud, smacking kiss on the cheek before dropping face first onto the sofa. Seconds later, he started to softly snore.

Ryder caught Jared’s eye, saw his own worry mirrored there. Which only made him feel worse. Jared was a pretty laid-back, take-things-as-they-came kind of guy. Pretty much the opposite of Ryder and Jamison, though in very different ways. And if he was stressed out about the Wyatt situation, then it had to be as bad as Ryder was imagining. Maybe even worse.

He glanced between his bandmates’ faces, saw the strain they all tried to hide. And knew that his suspicions were right. This wasn’t the first time Wyatt had used. It was just the first time Ryder had caught him.

“Hey.” Steve, their bus driver, popped his head in from the front. “Everybody ready to go?”

“Yeah,” Jared said. “Let’s get out of here.”

It was a testament to just how worried Ryder was about Wyatt that they were already on the freeway heading north before it hit him.

Jamison was still on board.

Chapter Eleven

“What do you mean your sister is going on tour with us?” Ryder asked for what had to be the fifth time. He, Jared, and the rest of the guys—sans Wyatt—were in the back bedroom discussing her sudden appearance on the bus. They were making an effort to keep their voices low, but the bus was too small for real privacy. Especially when she was standing a few feet away from the closed door, doing her best to eavesdrop without actually putting a glass—or her ear—up against that same door.

As it was, she’d heard enough to make her want to sink through the floor. Jared had assured her that he would clear it with the guys before anything was decided for sure, but obviously that assurance hadn’t been worth much. Maybe it was a good thing he was on the other side of that door. If he hadn’t been, she’d be tempted to kick his ass.

“What’s the big deal anyway?” Jared demanded. “You love Jamison. She loves you guys. She’s a great cook. I don’t see the downside.”

“I don’t have a problem with it,” Quinn said. “Your sister’s great.”

“Absolutely,” Micah chimed in. “And if she’s going to cook for us, I say, hell, yeah.”

Jamison smiled at the support. She really did love these guys and it would hurt if they didn’t want her to tag along with them for a few weeks. She’d understand— or at least she told herself she would—but it would still hurt.

“I just don’t think it’s a good idea.” Ryder’s voice, when it came, was so low she had to strain to hear it. Then was sorry she had. “I don’t want her here.”

“You know, you can’t penalize her for what happened between you two last night.”

“Whoa. What happened between them?” Quinn demanded.

“You tapped Jelly Bean?” Micah sounded more intrigued than scandalized.

“Don’t even think about it, asshole!” Ryder and Jared growled the exact same thing at the exact same time.

Then Ryder continued, “That’s not what I’m doing and you know it.” He sounded furious. “Anything can happen to her if she’s on tour with us. You know a lot of these guys aren’t trustworthy, right?”

“Which is why I talked to Max about staying away from her. The word has already spread about how you took him apart—Jamison will be fine. Plus, I feel a hell of a lot more comfortable with her here, where we can watch her, than in that dismal little apartment searching for a job anywhere she can get one.”

“I don’t see what the big deal is—just give her some money. Or if you don’t want to, then I will. She can get a decent place to live and—”

The alarm she’d set forty minutes earlier chose that minute to go off. Jamison leaped away from the door and dove for her cell phone, which was sitting on the kitchen counter next to the small stove. She blinked tears out of her eyes, shocked at just how desperate Ryder was to get rid of her. He actually wanted to pay her to go away? Had kissing her really been that bad?

Mortified heat flooded her cheeks as she bent to pull from the oven the apple cobbler she’d made from the ingredients she’d cleared out of her apartment. If she’d had any better options—or any options at all, really—she would have been out of there. As it was, she was stuck and she knew it. She wanted to put her head down and sob at the unfairness of it. She wanted her job back, along with her independence. Even more, she wanted the relationship she’d had with Ryder just yesterday. How could things have gotten so horrible between them so quickly?

She didn’t have time to cry, though. Didn’t have time to do anything but put the apple cobbler on the counter before the door to the bedroom swung wide open, the guys obviously alerted that something was up by the sound of her too-loud alarm.

Seconds later, the tiny kitchen was filled with large, handsome males, still in varying states of undress, all of them jockeying to see where the sweet cinnamon-and-sugar smell was coming from.

“You baked for us?” Quinn sounded ecstatic as he reached out and snagged a clump of the sugary crumble off the top and popped it in his mouth. He moaned a second later. “God, that’s good!”

“Jared, could you get me the ice cream out of the freezer behind you?” she asked as she reached for five plates from the cabinet next to the refrigerator.

“That’s it,” Micah said with a glare in Ryder’s direction. “Jamison stays.”

“Damn straight,” Quinn agreed.

Jared didn’t say anything—she knew he hadn’t planned on this going any other way—but neither did Ryder, who just stood there, returning Micah’s glare with interest.

Though she was embarrassed all over again, Jamison pretended not to notice. Instead, she concentrated on dishing up five large portions of dessert and handing them out to the ravenous guys.

She deliberately avoided looking at Ryder as she handed him his plate, but he was having none of it. “Hey,” he said, blocking her into the corner so she couldn’t take more than one step without bumping her body against his—something she would rather die than do at this point. “You know this isn’t about you, right?”

It sure felt like it was about her. Not that she was going to say that to him. If she did, she was afraid she’d end up crying and that she would not do. Not when she’d already had more than her fair share of humiliation this week.

When she didn’t answer, he said her name all deep and rumbly and determined. If she’d had her way, she would have stood there all night, refusing to meet his eyes until he finally gave up and went away. But she was conscious of the other guys watching them. So she dug deep, put on her breeziest smile and most carefree look. “Didn’t I give you enough ice cream?” she teased gently, knowing his weakness for the stuff.


God. Why was he making this so difficult for her? Couldn’t he see she was desperate to get away from him?

“It’s okay.” She reached up and patted his cheek with a playfulness she was far from feeling. “I promise, I won’t attack you in your sleep. Your virtue is safe with me.”

“Damn it! That’s not what I meant.” His frustration was obvious and her knees quivered a little as she wondered what he was going to do next. Which was stupid as there was nothing he could do, not in front of the other guys. And not when Jared had obviously had enough. Her brother wrapped his hand around her wrist and gently tugged her out of Ryder’s reach.

Grateful for the rescue, she went over to sit on the couch next to Wyatt. He was taking up most of the sofa, so she perched carefully on the edge of the middle cushion, then placed a gentle hand on the center of his back. “Come on, sweetie. Don’t you want any dessert? I made your favorite.”

And she had. Partly because the apples she’d brought from home were pretty much the only thing she had to work with and partly because she’d seen the darkness in his eyes the night before and she’d wanted to lighten it, even for a few moments. When she’d been growing up, he’d spent almost as much time at their house as Ryder had and she’d been as crazy about him—but in a totally platonic way—as she’d always been about Ryder.

Wyatt stirred, opened bleary eyes. “Jelly Bean?”

“Come on, sweetie. Why don’t you eat something?” She hated the way she could see the bumps in his spine, the way she could count every rib.

“Not hungry.” He turned his face away, closed his eyes again.

Tears trembled on her lashes, this time for a totally different reason. “How long has he been using?” she demanded, her harsh whisper echoing in the sudden silence of the bus.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out.” Ryder glared at his fellow bandmates.

Jared held his hands up. “I was as surprised as you tonight.”

Quinn shifted guiltily. “I thought he might have been high the other night, but I wasn’t sure. It’s the only other time I’ve noticed.”

Micah didn’t say anything, which was strange enough that it had all of them looking at him. “What?” he said, around a mouthful of ice cream. “I didn’t know.”

“Really?” Ryder asked. “You sure about that?”

He shrugged. “Okay, yeah, I suspected. Have for a while, really. But I didn’t kno—”

“Why the fuck didn’t you tell us?” Jared demanded. “The fact that our drummer is using again is pretty pertinent information.”

“He’s fine,” Micah answered with a careless roll of his eyes. He seemed a lot more interested in his dessert than he did in Wyatt’s problems. “He’s keeping it together.”

“That’s not the point.” Ryder’s arms were crossed, his eyes a hard obsidian. “We agreed we’d watch out for him.”

“I was watching out for him. I was watching out for all of us! We can’t afford to blow this tour, not now when we’re about to hit really big—”