“Really? That matters more to you than if he kills himself?”
“Don’t be such a drama queen, Ryder. He’s obviously fine—none of you guys even noticed before tonight. Besides, you’re damn right it matters. I’m not in this band for my fucking health, you know. I want to go big, really big and this is our shot.” He shoved another bite of cobbler in his mouth, chewed, swallowed. Then shrugged. “Besides, having a fucked up drummer just gives us street cred. Feeds the mystique.”
Jamison gasped, shocked at the way Micah talked about Wyatt and his very real demons. She glanced around, realized the rest of the guys didn’t look shocked. Just disgusted. Suddenly the gulf she’d sensed between them and Micah last night made so much more sense. She couldn’t help wondering what had happened to him. Or if he’d always been like this and they’d just never noticed before.
Ryder lunged across the short distance between them, got in Micah’s face with a growl so deadly it sent shivers of dread sliding down her spine. “Keep it up, asshole, and the only ride you’re going to be taking is straight back to Austin, one way.”
“Oh, yeah?” Micah straightened up, shoved Ryder in the chest. “And who’s going to make me?”
“Oh, I am.” Ryder hadn’t so much as flinched under Micah’s assault, but when he shoved him back, the bass player stumbled. Would have gone down if he hadn’t managed to catch himself on the kitchen counter. “If you don’t start looking out for the band instead of number one, I’ll fucking ruin you. And I won’t even think twice about it.”
Jamison was shocked at the anger that throbbed between the two, wondered what had caused it. Ryder, Wyatt, Micah and Jared had been close friends for well over fifteen years. Quinn had come along a little later—just about ten years ago—but he’d fit in seamlessly and it hadn’t taken long before he was a close-knit member of the group. But when she looked at Jared and Quinn, they both looked as disgusted with the bass player as Ryder was.
Before she could say anything to diffuse the tension, Wyatt rolled over and shoved himself into a sitting position. “Jeez, I was just having a little fun. Nothing for any of you to get so bent out of shape about. Relax, will you?”
“It doesn’t look like much fun from where I’m sitting,” she told him softly enough that the others couldn’t hear, before moving to stand up.
His hand shot out, pulled her back so that she was cuddled into his side. “Don’t go, Jelly Bean.”
Surprised, she glanced into his face. Saw those damn demons prowling behind his eyes no matter how carefree he sounded. Relaxing against him, she murmured, “I’m not going anywhere, Wy.”
“Good.” He draped an arm over her shoulder.
“But you’ve got to eat for me.” She held up a spoonful of the apple crumble. “You’re way too skinny.”
“You sound like my grandmother.”
“Obviously a wise woman.”
His smile, when it came, was a little off, but the darkness in his eyes had dissipated some. It dispelled more when he leaned forward and she slid a bite of dessert into his open mouth. “God, that’s good.”
He allowed her to feed him a few more bites before he buried his head in the curve of her neck and rubbed his nose back and forth against the sensitive skin there. Jamison laughed at his tickling, then shoved at his head in response. “You smell like cinnamon.” He sniffed deeply before rubbing his face against her again.
“And you smell like dirty sweat socks.” She poked him in the ribs, tried to wriggle away from him. He responded by putting the plate aside and tickling her in earnest.
“Oh, yeah? I’ll show you sweat socks.” He wrestled with her, doing his best to get her face into his bare armpit.
She fought him, but her struggles weren’t all that effective considering she was laughing like a hyena all the while.
“Knock it off, Wyatt!” Ryder snapped.
Wyatt ignored him, flipping her around so that he was on top of her. She continued to wrestle with him, but he was way too strong for her. He might be too skinny, but years of playing the drums gave him really impressive upper body strength.
She could hear Jared and Quinn laughing from the sidelines, calling encouragement to her though they made absolutely no attempt to intervene. It only made her fight harder—she’d spent her adolescence wrestling with these guys. Now that she was a grown woman, she’d be damned if she lost as easily as she had at twelve.
“Take it back,” Wyatt taunted her from above, his wild blue eyes filled with laughter for once. That, more than anything else, convinced her to keep struggling. If she gave in, no doubt he’d go right back to brooding. Right back to hurting. She couldn’t stand that. Not when she knew how self-destructive he could become. “Come on, Jamison. Say I smell good and I’ll let you go.”
“Never!” she cried, closing her eyes and bucking against him.
He gave a maniacal laugh. “Then prepare to pay—” He stopped mid-cackle, his grip loosening abruptly as his words cut off.
Then she was free.
Jamison opened her eyes to see Ryder standing above her like a conquering barbarian, his drummer dangling from his hands like he weighed nothing. Then he was tossing Wyatt aside and reaching for her hand.
Her heart thudded hard against her ribs—once, twice—before kicking into high gear. She let him pull her to her feet and this time she made it a point to meet his eyes. He was pissed, no doubt about it, his eyes alight with a wild fury she rarely saw in him.
Too bad she couldn’t bring herself to care. Not this time. He didn’t want to hang out with her, fine. But that didn’t mean she was going to give up her friendships with his bandmates. Like Jared, these guys were her closest friends in the world. If Ryder didn’t like it, then that was his problem.
Leaning forward with an insouciance she was far from feeling, she patted his cheek in a deliberately insolent manner. “Thanks for the rescue. But I think I’ve got it from here.”
Then, taking her time, she turned and sauntered toward the bedroom at the back of the bus.
It wasn’t much as far as exits went, but then it wasn’t like she had anywhere to go when the bus was speeding along the interstate at close to seventy miles an hour.
Behind her the guys razzed him mercilessly and for the first time it really hit her just how difficult the next few weeks were going to be. Being in such close proximity to Ryder and not being able to touch him, kiss him, stroke him was going to be more torturous than she had ever imagined possible.
His dick was on fire. Even with worries about Wyatt spinning in his head, he could barely think through the arousal. Through the need.
Jamison was in the bunk below him—she’d refused to take the bedroom and mess up the rotation, and they’d refused to let her get on the other bus with the rest of the road crew—and he could smell the rich cinnamon-and-honey scent of her. Could practically taste the sweetness of her peaches-and-cream skin.
Muffling a groan, Ryder rolled onto his side. Punched his pillow. And told himself that he couldn’t—absolutely couldn’t—climb down from his bunk and into her bed. He couldn’t kiss her, couldn’t lick her to orgasm. Couldn’t fuck her.
He grew impossibly harder at the images running through his head, bombarding him until he couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe without wanting her. Yet, he couldn’t have her. Even if her brother hadn’t been sleeping directly across from him, he couldn’t just roll down there and make love to her no matter how much he wanted to.
And right now, he really, really wanted to.
Beneath him, she shifted, the sheets whispering over skin he knew from experience was silky soft. He closed his eyes, ground his teeth together. And did his best not to imagine what it would feel like to be that sheet. Draped over her. Stroking her. Whispering across her every intimate place.
Throwing his own covers back, he hopped lightly down from the bunk. Refusing to so much as glance at Jamison—not sure he could withstand the temptation without standing there watching her, touching her when she was unaware like some kind of skeeze—he picked his way through the scattered clothes on the floor and went into the small bathroom they all shared, making sure to close the door behind him.
Flipping on the light, he studied himself in the mirror once his eyes adjusted. Shit. He looked like a crazy man. Eyes wild, dick sticking out of his pants, body twitching with a need he had no hope of controlling. He hadn’t been this riled up—with no hope of relief—since before he’d lost his virginity when he was fifteen years old.
Knowing only that he couldn’t go back out there like this, not if he didn’t want to jump Jamison right there and to hell with Jared and the others, he turned on the shower. Stripped down. And climbed in with a curse, determined to let the frigid water do its work.
Five minutes in, it had barely scratched the surface of his need.
How could it when his mind kept wandering back to the night before, when Jamison had bit his thumb? When she’d arched into him, her actions a blatant plea for him to kiss her beautiful, pale pink nipples. When she’d moved against his thigh, the warm, wet scent of her arousal so fucking sexy he’d almost come down his leg like a schoolboy.
With a groan, he gave up. Turned the water to warm. Braced his left arm against the cool tile of the shower wall as he fisted his cock with his right. And pretended it was Jamison touching him, Jamison on her knees before him. Jamison with her beautiful breasts in his hands and her hot, sexy mouth on his dick.
It didn’t take long before he was, indeed, coming like a schoolboy, with a muffled shout and an orgasm so powerful it nearly drove him to his knees. And still he wasn’t satisfied. Still he wanted Jamison. Her touch. Her smile. Her laugh. Her sex.
Fuck. He groaned, once again fisted his cock. And jerked off a second time before he finally thought he had enough control to go back out there. He didn’t think he had a chance in hell of actually sleeping, but maybe now he wouldn’t attack her like a rabid animal. At the moment, it was the best he could hope for.
He’d just pulled his sweats back on when the bus slowed down and veered to the right. Grabbing a clean T-shirt from the stash they kept in one of the bathroom cabinets, he headed for the front of the bus, making damn sure to avoid the area where Jamison was sleeping with the others. Maybe Steve was pulling into a truck stop to get gas. He could run out, grab a cup of coffee and a pack of the cigarettes he’d given up two years before.
Desperate times called for desperate measures.
Sure enough, the bus shuddered to a stop under a few bright lights. Wyatt groaned from his spot on the couch, pulled a pillow over his head. Ryder took mercy on him and yanked the shades down over the blacked-out windows to block the small amount of glare that was leaking through. Then slipped his feet into a pair of shoes—he wasn’t sure whose—grabbed his wallet, and joined Steve where he was getting ready to pump gas.
“Hey, man, where are we?” Ryder asked, leaning against the bus.
“Artichoke capitol of the world—or at least that’s what the sign we passed a few miles back said. We’re about three hours from San Francisco.”
Ryder looked beyond the lights, out into the fields of crops that blanketed the area as far as he could see. “Artichokes?” he asked, nodding to the big, leafy plants that looked more like weeds than a food source.
“That’s what they say.” Steve started pumping the gas. For long minutes, neither of them said anything more, until he turned to him. “So, you going to tell me what you’re doing out here so early, man?”
A million answers ran through his head, but he left it at, He looked across the parking lot, at the brightly lit grocery store that was the only thing open at this hour. “I’m going to get a cup of coffee. You want anything?”
Steve smirked, but didn’t call him on his bullshit. “Coffee sounds good.”
He was at the checkout, paying, when Jamison walked in. She was dressed in jeans and a black hoodie, all her glorious red hair somehow bundled under the sweatshirt’s hood. Not exactly her sexiest look, but still, one glimpse of her had his dick hardening and every nerve ending in his body standing at attention.
Cursing his unruly libido under his breath, he crossed to her. Held out one of the cups. “Want some coffee?”
“No, thanks.” She avoided his eyes as she spoke, which made him nuts considering the dreams he’d just been having about her.
“Then we should head back to the bus.” He stepped too close, deliberately crowding her in an effort to get a rise out of her. It was knee-jerk, and a total asshole move considering he had no right to pursue anything with her. But right now, he didn’t give a shit. She looked soft and cuddly and half-asleep and he wanted nothing more than to convince her to climb back into bed—this time with him.