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As they launched into “Battleground,” their most famous single to date, Ryder ripped off his shirt and tossed it into the crowd. It landed a little to the right of her and the people around her went nuts trying to get to it. Jamison didn’t move, though. She couldn’t, not when all that bronze skin and that perfect eight-pack of abs was on display. Not when he was standing up there, the black tribal tattoos that covered his torso just adding to the image of the sex god the media portrayed him to be.

She shuddered, pressed her legs together to stop the burn even as she crossed her arms over her suddenly aching breasts.

No, she thought as Ryder continued to sing. The need was nothing new. But this brutal intensity—that had come when he’d thrown that I-want-to-fuck-you look her way and made it impossible to do anything but feel—sure as hell was.

After clawing her way through a mob of crazed fans and flashing her backstage pass at the security guys working the side entrance, Jamison slipped into the small crack they’d opened for her. As the door slammed shut, she couldn’t help the feeling of unreality that overwhelmed her.

All those screaming fans in the audience had been for Shaken Dirty.

All those frantic girls clawing at security—and each other—had been for her brother’s band.

It was beyond bizarre. Oh, from the very beginning, the guys had had girls, lots and lots of girls, sniffing around them. More than once she’d had to push her way through them to get to the guys. It was part and parcel of the shaggy-haired, rock and roll band thing. But that had been at dingy little clubs when they were just getting their start, back when she’d tagged along anywhere they were willing to bring her. But this, this was different. It was out of a movie—or a Rolling Stone article. The band had hundreds upon hundreds of groupies, all desperate to be shaken. Dirtied.

It was going to take a little while for her to adjust to the new reality, especially when that new reality left her a little bruised and battered. Nothing like battling through a throng of screaming women to take it out of a girl.

Glancing around, she tried to get her bearings. She was at the end of a long, windy hallway. There were a bunch of doors on each side, but none of them were labeled, so she had no idea if one of them was her brother’s dressing room or not. And considering there were four other bands on tour with Shaken Dirty, it probably wouldn’t work for her to just start knocking on random doors. The last thing she wanted was to be kicked out for disturbing “the talent.”

Behind her, the door opened again and two girls squeezed through. They were young, barely nineteen or twenty if she was to hazard a guess, and very, very excited. “Omigod!” squealed the one with the shortest skirt and heaviest makeup. “I can’t believe that worked!”

Her friend grinned. “I told you. Now remember, you can have anyone you want—except Ryder. He is all mine.”

“I know, I know. I like Micah anyway. He’s sooooo cute and nowhere near as kinky as Ryder.”

“Hey, kinky can be good. The more you let them do to you, the more they like you. And Ryder can do anything he wants to me. All that dark sexiness really turns me on.”

Jamison stiffened at the proprietary note in the girl’s voice. She didn’t even know Ryder yet she was talking about him like she was aware of his every little secret. Even worse, like she knew he and the other guys would be more than willing to use her in whatever way she’d let them—and that apparently Ryder had a kinky side Jamison had never even imagined.

The thought sent a little shiver of awareness down her spine, but she ignored it. Ryder had already rejected her once and if he’d sunk to one-night stands with teenagers—teenagers, for God’s sake—she didn’t want him anyway.

But even as she was selling herself on that, her traitorous mind couldn’t help going back to that moment when he’d stared at her. Snarled at her. Made her want him more than she’d ever wanted anything. If that was the look he gave all the girls, no wonder they were back here, desperate to get to him. No wonder they thought they had a chance with him.

More bothered by that realization than she wanted to admit, Jamison decided to hell with it. Groupies or not, these girls seemed to know so much more about the band than she did right now. It probably couldn’t hurt to follow them—maybe they could get her to the right dressing rooms, at least.

But they hadn’t gone very far before one of the doors opened and a guy she didn’t recognize, but whom they obviously did, drawled, “Hello, girls.”

They squealed loudly enough to break the sound barrier, and then the one who had claimed Ryder for her own flipped her hair back for all she was worth. “Hey, Simon!” She sounded so breathless it was a miracle she’d been able to get the words out at all.

“Hey.” He nodded to her, then stepped back and held the dressing room door open. The girls grabbed onto each other’s hands—out of nervousness or excitement, Jamison wasn’t sure—then darted through the door like the hounds of hell were after them. Or like they thought he was going to change his mind when something better came along.

Simon continued to stand there after they’d disappeared behind him and it took her a minute to realize that he was watching her, a quizzical look on his face. “You coming?” he finally asked.

Her cheeks caught fire. “Uh, no. Thanks.”

“You sure? We’re having quite the party in here.” He let the door fall open a little more and she got just enough of a glimpse inside to realize he wasn’t exaggerating.

“Actually, I’m here for Jared Montgomery. I’m his sister.”

“Cool.” Simon smiled then, and it lit up his face from within. Made him look like a little boy instead of a rocker who’d been around more blocks than she’d even walked on. He also backed off so quickly she knew that damn pact had struck again. Back in high school she’d figured out pretty quickly that there was an unspoken agreement among most rock gods—thou sister shall be off limits, whether she wants to be or not.

Jamison didn’t know if that was what had kept Ryder away from her all these years, but she knew it had worked on a bunch of other guys. And since she’d spent most of high school hanging at her brother’s gigs, it had meant her social life had been particularly dismal.

Not that that had changed much, even when the guys weren’t around, but still. It was a valid theory and she was sticking to it.

“Jared’s a good guy,” Simon added with a clumsy pat to her shoulder.

“He is,” she agreed. “You wouldn’t happen to know which dressing room belongs to Shaken Dirty, do you?”

“I think they’re on the other side of the stage.” He gestured vaguely to the left. “Past the entrance to the sound booth.”

They weren’t quite the explicit directions she’d been hoping for, but they would have to do. Especially since he was already closing the door, his attention very obviously somewhere else.

Pulling her cell phone out of her pocket, Jamison pulled up Jared’s number and headed off in the direction she thought Simon had gestured. She’d hoped to surprise her brother by coming tonight instead of tomorrow, but that obviously wasn’t going to happen. Backstage pass or not, she couldn’t just wander around all night knocking on doors and hoping she ran into him.

Stopping for a second at the end of the hallway, she fired off a quick text, then waited impatiently—and in vain—for an answer. Shaken Dirty had been off-stage for fifteen minutes now. Surely Jared should be back in possession of his phone by now. Unless he was in the shower. Or having mad phone sex with his fiancée, something she didn’t want to think about but that was completely believable.

The thought made her a little sick, not because of Jared, obviously, but because that girl’s words kept replaying in her head. Ryder, kinky. Ryder, all mine. Was he even now tying up some barely legal teenybopper and having his dark and wicked way with her? Ugh.

She texted Jared again, more emphatically this time. The last thing she needed was to walk into the middle of that.

She waited a few more minutes, watching as dozens of girls streamed past her, all in groups of two or three. Most of them wore enough makeup to single-handedly supply a MAC store and so few clothes it was a wonder they hadn’t developed hypothermia waiting for their turn to come in. Others were fresh-faced and thrilled to be there and reminded her so much of her high school and college selves that it was painful to look at them. Some days it felt like she’d spent half her life waiting for Ryder to notice her.

Seconds later, Darkness began to play onstage, and Jamison finally decided to hell with it. She crossed the bustling backstage area, doing her best to stay out of the way of the working roadies. A couple of times she’d started to ask for directions, but everyone had looked so busy that she hadn’t wanted to bother them. Plus, the music was so loud back here that they probably wouldn’t be able to hear her anyway—especially since they all wore earplugs.

She was just wishing she’d thought to bring her own set when she stumbled upon a long, winding hallway much like the one she’d entered from. Figuring this was the area Simon had been gesturing to, she headed about halfway down and then knocked on the door that mirrored his. Nothing happened, but she didn’t know if that was because the dressing room was empty or because of the level of sound pouring off the stage.

She pounded again, and this time Darkness wrapped up their opening song at the same time her knuckles were rapping on the wood. They began to banter with the crowd, giving the eardrum-splitting music a rest for a few moments. Thank God.

Seconds later, the door flew open and Max Casey, lead singer for Oblivious, stood there, a grin on his way-too-handsome face. He was shirtless and barefoot, with the top button of his jeans unfastened and a look on his face that screamed trouble.

Jamison knew it was stupid, juvenile, but for long seconds, she couldn’t find her voice. This was Max Casey, singer of one of her favorite bands ever, and he was staring at her like he wanted to go a round right here in the middle of the hallway. She wasn’t tempted in the slightest, but still, all that angst and intensity was nearly palpable. What was it with lead singers anyway? It was like they shot out pheromones that turned every woman within smelling distance into a blithering idiot.

“Come on in,” he said, stepping backward and gesturing her inside.

“No, thanks,” she answered, proud of the fact that she’d managed to untie the knots in her tongue and actually speak in something that resembled English. She wasn’t interested, but she was female, and she’d be lying if she said he hadn’t had an impact on her. “I’m looking for Shaken Dirty.”

“What do you want with them? I promise, we’re a lot more fun.” A chorus of laughter sounded behind him, seeming to underscore his point.

“I’m sure you are, but Jared—”

“Forget Jared. I’m better in bed—and out of it, too.”

What the hell? She tried to picture Ryder or Jared saying something so douchey but couldn’t manage it. Maybe she was more naïve than she thought.

Or maybe Max Casey was just a really big sleaze. Disgust replacing some of her involuntary excitement at meeting him, Jamison took a couple of steps backward. “If you could just point me in the right direction…”

A flicker of anger crossed his face but was gone so quickly that she decided she had imagined it. Especially when he said, “I can do better than that. If you really want to see Jared, I’ll take you there. Things can get pretty confusing back here.”

That was an understatement. Still she hesitated as, behind him, two girls called his name in pouty voices. “I don’t want to take you away from who you were doing.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she wanted to take them back. Talk about a Freudian slip. “What! I meant what you were doing.”

But Max just laughed and pulled the door closed behind him. “They’ll keep.” He stepped closer, put a hand on the small of her back as he guided her farther down the hallway.

Jamison stiffened at the proprietary touch, and the bitter scent of scotch that clung to him. But when she tried to move away, he wrapped his hand around her waist and pulled her into his side.

“Seriously,” she told him as alarm bells went off in her head. “Jared’s my brother. If you’ll just point me towards his dressing room—”

“Lighten up. I told you I’d take you there and I will.” The hand around her waist grew tighter and that’s when she went from being slightly alarmed to seriously starting to freak out.

Still, she couldn’t imagine that she had anything to worry about from Max freakin’ Casey. Especially not when a bunch of people were only about thirty feet away. At the same time, though, she was a big proponent of better safe than sorry.

“Really. I’ve got it.” She moved away, this time shoving at his restraining hand until he was forced to let her go. Then she pulled out her phone. “Jared just texted me,” she lied. “I know where I’m going now.”