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At his words, she felt the last of her anger melt away. Even though Ryder wasn’t offering her what she wanted—what she’d always wanted when it came to him—he was giving her the biggest part of himself he could. Rejecting it because it wasn’t enough would mean rejecting him.

And that she couldn’t do, not when she knew how much it took for him to open up even this much.

Not when she knew just how afraid he was of messing up the few things in his life that he couldn’t help caring about.

That she was one of those things… It might not be enough, but in a lot of ways, it was more than she ever could have hoped for.

Squeezing him just as tightly as he had squeezed her, she dropped a kiss on Ryder’s heavily stubbled jaw. And forced herself to let go—once and for all—of all the silly schoolgirl fantasies she’d harbored for him through the years.

“Come on,” she told him, pulling gently away when the pain of touching him became too much for her to handle. “First one to find the pancake mix wins.”

“Wins what?” he demanded, eyes narrowed in sudden interest.

“You’ll have to win to find out!” And then she took off running toward the center of the store, the sound of his laughter ringing out behind her.

Chapter Thirteen

Five days later, Jamison dished up yet another batch of blueberry pancakes while the band, along with Steve and their equipment manager, Vince, jockeyed for third, or in some cases, fourth servings. Even Wyatt was eating with enthusiasm, something she didn’t see very often if dessert wasn’t involved. Then again, he had enough syrup and whipped cream on his pancakes to send himself into serious sugar shock.

“Do you have more?” Quinn asked, a hopeful look on his face as he once again handed the platter back to her.

She looked at the empty bowl beside the stove and let out a little sigh. “I guess I can whip up some more batter if you’d like.”

“That’d be great.” He gave her his sweet smile, the one that had been getting him pretty much everything he wanted for as long as she’d known him. “With extra blueberries?”

“Of course with extra blueberries.”

She turned back to the stove, feeling more like a preschool teacher with an unruly class than the cook for a bunch of grown men. Then again, rock musicians weren’t exactly known for their emotional maturity. Even Jared, who was by far the best of the bunch, could revert to childhood without too much effort.

“I don’t mind making extra pancakes,” she said as she mixed up another batch of batter, “but don’t you guys have to be on stage soon?”

“Twenty-five minutes,” Ryder grunted as he shoveled in the last of his breakfast. “We go on at ten.”

Jamison shook her head as she flipped the first pancakes. She’d been on the road with Shaken Dirty for six days now and she still had a hard time dealing with the schedule they kept. The hardest part was that they had their days and nights all turned around—hence the reason they were eating pancakes at nine thirty at night.

Most days, they’d roll out of bed around six in the evening, hang out, eat, perform and then spend the night and morning doing whatever it is they did before falling into bed around eleven a.m. before doing the same thing all over again the following evening.

The only days that varied were ones where they played at strange times—like mid-afternoon at that music fest in Portland—or when they weren’t performing at all. But so far, they’d only had one day off since she’d hit the road with them. The organizers had jam-packed this tour with stops, and at each one they played to a capacity crowd.

Tonight, they were performing in Denver, Colorado. Last night, it had been Salt Lake City, Utah. Tomorrow would kick off a three-night run in Las Vegas and after that she didn’t know where they were going to be. Maybe New Orleans, followed by Orlando? But she thought there might be a few Texas dates mixed somewhere in there as well. Which was a good thing, as Jared was dying to see his girl. Though the whole band called Austin home, very rarely did they get to spend much time there.

Not that it really mattered to Jamison where they went. After all, her job was the same. Cook breakfast, then either hang out or watch the band perform. Cook lunch and try to ignore the groupies and over-the-top fans. And the guys wondered why she was okay with her bunk, why she didn’t want to take her turn in the back bedroom? God only knew what she’d catch if she actually spent a night in those sheets. Despite all the action they saw, she was fairly certain they hadn’t been changed once in the time she’d been traveling with the guys. She would do it, but again, she’d have to touch them and she’d left her gloves and industrial strength cleaner at home…

The only two who didn’t seem to be getting any action back there were Jared and Ryder. Jared because he had a fiancée in Houston and Ryder because…well, to be honest, she wasn’t sure why Ryder hadn’t hooked up with any groupies in the last few days. Based on what she’d overheard back in San Diego, and what she knew of him, she had trouble imagining he spent much time abstaining.

Which meant he was either taking care of things on the other bus—the one the roadies and equipment manager rode on—or she was cramping his style. And while she knew it was masochistic and wrong on so very many levels, especially when she’d sworn to herself that she’d stopped waiting around on Ryder to want her, still Jamison couldn’t help hoping it was the latter. That Ryder, for whatever reason, had given up on groupies for the duration. It was probably a vain hope, but it was one she clung to anyway.

Ten minutes later, the guys pushed back from the table as one. “Thanks, sis,” Jared said, dropping his plate in the sink and a kiss on her cheek.

“Break a leg, tonight!”

“We’ll try.” Wyatt gave her a hug, which she returned with interest. She tried not to dwell on how skinny he’d become, but it was hard. Especially when she was pretty sure he was using regularly again. Oh, he hadn’t gotten high in front of her or the guys since her first night on the bus—at least not that she could tell, and she was watching—but still, there was something off about him. Something that told her his past was riding him a lot harder than usual.

Ryder was the last to drop his plate in the sink. She went to move out of his space—the only way being on the bus with him worked for her was if she made sure not to touch him—but this time he was having none of her usual evasive maneuvers. Instead, he caged her against the counter, an arm on either side of her and his big, sexy body in front of her. He wasn’t breaking the unvoiced rules, wasn’t touching her, but the point was moot. She was surrounded by the wild ocean scent of him, by the crazy intense warmth he gave off without trying.

“You coming to watch us tonight?” he asked.

“I—uh—I don’t know. The dishes—”

“Forget the dishes.” He reached for her face, gently squeezed her chin between his thumb and forefinger until she moved her head in an effort to get away from his grip. It didn’t work, but it did help him get what he wanted. With her neck tilted the way it was, it was impossible to look anywhere but in his eyes. “You haven’t listened to us once since your first day on tour.”

That wasn’t true. She’d been to most of their concerts. She just didn’t stay very long—and made sure to keep out of sight when she was there. Because watching Ryder onstage turned her on like few things ever had. He was so raw, so primal, so sexual when he sang that all she could think about was going down on him. Or having him inside her. Or— She cut herself off before she could go any further down that path. Dwelling on what she couldn’t have only made things worse for her, not to mention ruined the whole just-friends vibe they were both striving for. “I’ve been busy. Trying out recipes, writing…”

“Writing, huh? How’s the cookbook going?”

“I think it’s going well. At least none of you have complained about the recipes I’ve come up with.”

“What’s to complain about? Your food is amazing.” He smiled. “And since it’s going so well, you can take the night off and not feel guilty.”

Feeling vulnerable, exposed, she searched for another excuse. But there was none, not when he leaned down and whispered, “I need you there, Jamison. I like knowing you’re watching.”

“Hey, Ryder! You coming, man?” Before she could respond, Quinn’s voice drifted through the bus’s still open door.

“Go ahead,” he shouted back without ever taking his eyes from hers. “I’ll catch up with you.”

“You should go.” She tried to duck under his arm, but he refused to let her.

“Not ‘til you say you’ll come.”

“Why does this matter so much to you?”

“Because I miss you.” The words seemed yanked from him against his will.

“I’m right here,” she said, shoving harder at him.

“No. You’re not. That’s the problem.” But he finally got the hint and moved away from her. He smiled, but it was one of his stage smiles. The kind he gave the fans no matter how shitty he was feeling, but that never quite reached his eyes.

“Hey, Ryder.” This time she was the one trying to make eye contact and he was the one avoiding it. Only she wasn’t big or strong or tough enough to make him look at her—not physically and certainly not emotionally. Which was why when he stepped toward the door, she didn’t try to stop him. Didn’t do anything but watch him go.

“Don’t worry about it,” he tossed over his shoulder. “I guess I’ll see you later.”

“Yeah, later.”

He gave her a casual little half wave as he took the stairs in one giant step and then headed into the night, the door slapping closed behind him.

If only she could slap her own emotions closed half as easily.

Part of her was angry, really angry, that he’d used all that brooding sex appeal against her. Especially since he was the one who’d backed away from that aspect of their relationship, the one who didn’t want her despite the crazy sparks they struck off each other.

But another part of her was worried. He’d looked so lost when he’d walked into the night, so much like the boy she used to know instead of the tough, don’t-give-a-shit rocker he’d forged himself into through the years. It was stupid—she knew it was stupid—but she felt herself falling for it all over again.

Not for him. She’d learned her lesson on that front. But just because she’d made up her mind not to think about Ryder anymore—or, more accurately, had her mind made up for her—didn’t mean she’d stopped caring for him. She couldn’t, no matter how much she sometimes wished it might be otherwise. There was too much history between them. Too many feelings, especially on her side.

Which meant, she realized with a sigh of disgust, that she was going to break her own rules. She was going to try to figure out what was up with Ryder, what was hurting him. And the best way to do that was to do what he asked—to go see Shaken Dirty play and let him see her there. Maybe then he’d open up to her again, let her see inside of him.

And if he didn’t? a little voice inside of her asked. Well, if he didn’t, at least she’d tried. Maybe knowing that would be enough … for both of them.

He could feel her watching him.

There were twenty-three thousand people crammed into the amphitheater in front of him, all of them staring at him—focused on him—and still he could feel Jamison’s eyes on him. He hadn’t expected her to come, not after the way she’d shot him down earlier, but he was grateful that she’d changed her mind.

He’d thought that early morning trip to the grocery store would clear the air between them, would get them back on an even-keel. And maybe it had, since she was no longer looking at him with that undisguised longing in her eyes. No longer staring at him like she was imagining him naked and inside her.

He’d thought that was what he wanted. For things to go back to normal between them—Jared’s best friend and Jared’s little sister, just hanging out, having fun. But it turned out he was a sick son of a bitch, because now that things were the way he’d been sure he wanted them, he couldn’t stand it.

All he could think about was the way Jamison smelled and tasted and felt. The way she’d melted when he touched her, and run like warm, sweet honey on his fingers. He wanted to taste that honey, to feel it on his lips, his tongue, running down his throat.

He wanted her, was one step away from saying to hell with Jared, their pasts and their futures, and just taking what he wanted. What he needed.

“Careless” drew to an end to loud screams and catcalls. Bras and panties—and even a few T-shirts—pelted the stage. He dodged a bright red lacey number only to get beaned right in the face with a hot pink and white polka dotted bra.