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Because it wasn’t like she was looking for happily ever after with him—hell, she was smart enough to know that wasn’t going to happen. Not with Ryder. Not with his background and not when he didn’t believe he had a happily ever after in him.

She disagreed, thought he would one day make a woman a fabulous husband—once he came to understand that a lot of the shit in his life really wasn’t his fault. She’d spent years trying to prove it to him—as had Jared—but neither of them had ever gotten through to him.

And then Carrie had come along and he’d been better. For a while. Right up until she’d been attacked at one of the band’s shows. Ryder had been onstage singing while she’d been raped in the dressing room, and the guilt and rage had nearly killed him. How could it not, when Carrie had constantly blamed him for what had happened to her? Even her suicide note had been a fuck-you to him, a cacophony of hatred and pain that blamed him for everything bad that had happened to her.

And Ryder had believed her. No matter what Jamison or Jared or any of the other guys had said, he’d never again been able to see past the villainous view of himself.

Blinking back the tears that came every time she thought of what he’d suffered, Jamison traced the art on his left arm. Like the phoenix he’d had tattooed on himself, he’d risen from the ashes of his nightmare of a family. Had reinvented himself. But was still so locked inside his own perceptions of himself, still such a victim of the damage his family—and Carrie—had dealt him, that he couldn’t see past the bars.

That didn’t mean she was going to quit trying to convince him of his worth. Ryder was too wonderful of a person—strong, talented, protective, not to mention deep down good. He didn’t deserve to suffer for the sins of those who had failed him.

And neither did he deserve her condemning him for what he couldn’t change. Here she was, still glowing from the most incredible sex of her life, and she was doing everything she could to put distance between them. That wasn’t fair to either of them.

So why couldn’t she have him—even if it was just for a little while? She’d taken a leap of faith when she’d jumped on the tour bus and fled San Diego and the mess her life had become. Had given up control of her destiny while she struggled to write a cookbook she had no guarantee would ever go anywhere.If she could do that in her professional life, why couldn’t she do it in her personal life as well? Not forever, but for the duration of this tour? Why couldn’t she just say to hell with love and responsibility and happily ever afters and just enjoy being with Ryder as long as he wanted to be with her? It wouldn’t last forever—it might not even last the week—but that didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy every second, and every orgasm, he was willing to give her.

Decision made, she slipped away from Ryder. Felt a tug deep in her heart at the loss of his warmth around her, inside her. But she shut that down quickly, determined to make the next few minutes about what he needed.

Turning to face Ryder, she threw her arms around him. Hugged him to her as tightly as he’d allow. And tried not to notice the way he stiffened against her. It was a subtle thing, but she’d had a lot of years to get used to it. Ryder could fuck her brains out, could go down on her until she screamed and then do it all over again, but he couldn’t handle the simple affection of a hug.

She held on an extra second anyway—if she could give him nothing else in their time together, then she wanted to give him this. The ability to touch and be touched in a way that wasn’t only sexual. He deserved it. Then again, so did she.

But the tension continued to build in him, so she pulled away and shot him a casual smile as she bent down and retrieved her shorts and underwear from where he’d dropped them on the ground. Then did her best not to tremble as she pulled them up her legs. The only way this was going to work was if she acted completely nonchalant.

She wasn’t ready to give him up. Not yet, not when she’d just gotten him. If that meant she was going to end up heartbroken later, she’d take it. For once, the woman who tried to control everything was saying to hell with that and giving herself up to the chaos. Tomorrow could take care of itself.

As he shepherded Jamison back toward the bus, Ryder wasn’t sure what to think or how to act. Part of him was happier than he could ever remember being—which was crazy, he knew. After all, he hadn’t been in a real relationship since Carrie, hadn’t been looking for one now. But Jamison wasn’t a one-night-stand kind of girl, wasn’t even what he’d call a one-week- or one-month-stand kind of girl. Not just because she was going to be on the road with him for the next few weeks, thus making a one-night stand impossible, but also because she meant more than that to him. A lot more.

When Jared had asked him to, he’d promised he would stay away from Jamison. And when he’d made that promise, he’d had every intention of keeping it. After all, she was sweet and smart and funny and innocent—or maybe not so innocent if he considered all of the things they’d spent the last hour doing. Still, she was too good for the likes of him—way too good.

He knew she had a whole life to get back to anyway, one that didn’t involve fucked-up rock stars and fucking up against an equipment trailer. Trying to change her future, to weigh her down with all his bullshit baggage, wouldn’t be fair to anyone. Least of all her.

And maybe it was the really great sex or maybe it was the way she’d hugged him afterward—like he mattered as something more than bragging rights to her friends—but either way, he wasn’t ready for it to stop. Wasn’t ready for the pleasure, any of it, to end. Before Jamison, sex had always been just a means to get out of his head. Even with Carrie, he’d used it for the momentary pleasure instead of the emotional connection. That had never bothered him before, because he hadn’t let it.

But now Jamison mattered more than the pleasure and the surcease. She mattered more than all the shit that haunted him from his past. And while he knew he wasn’t good enough for her, knew he couldn’t keep her, he wasn’t ready to give her up. Not yet. Not when the need for her was still a fire torching him from the inside out.

Reaching over, he grasped her hand. Laced her fingers with his own. And stroked his thumb over the back of her hand.

She started a little, looked up through her lashes. Then smiled at him shyly. In that moment she looked as different from the woman who had begged him to fuck her as he was sure he looked from the clean cut guys she was used to dating. Alarm bells went off in his head.

There was a part of him that wanted to ignore them. He wanted her, more badly than he could ever remember wanting anything or anyone. But at the same time, he didn’t want to hurt her. He wanted to make love to her, to feel her arms and legs wrapped around him, to see her smile at him just like that over and over. But he didn’t want to lead her on. He couldn’t let her build castles in the air about the two of them and what they could mean to each other. Even though she meant more to him—even though the sex had meant more to him—than anything had for a long, long time, he couldn’t let her think there was more to them than what he was able to give.

“Jamison.” He said her name softly.


He started to speak, to tell her everything he’d just figured out. That he wanted her but didn’t want to hurt her. That he wanted to keep making love to her but didn’t want her to fall in love with him. But when she looked at him like that, eyes wide and bright and curious, he couldn’t get his tongue around the words.

“That was…”

“I know.” She squeezed his hand before bringing it to her lips and pressing a soft kiss against his knuckles. Heat spread through him where her lips touched and for a second he wasn’t sure he could stop himself from taking her again, right there in the middle of the back parking lot. Only the fact that he didn’t have a condom stopped him. That and being within sight of the band buses.

“You know it’s okay, right?” she said as she slowly lowered their joined hands.

Actually, he wasn’t sure anything was okay. He felt unsettled, topsy-turvy in a way he usually avoided like the plague.

When he didn’t answer right away, she continued, “You don’t need to worry about me falling in love with you. I know what we’re doing here.”

He was glad one of them did, because he was in uncharted territory. But that was what he loved about Jamison. She’d always understood things without him having to tell her.

“You know I care about you.”

She rolled her eyes. “God, don’t get all sappy on me, Montgomery. Let’s just relax. Enjoy ourselves. And when it’s done, it’s done.”

He felt his mouth drop open. “Who are you and what did you do with Jamison?”

“I’m sick of being the good girl and want to have fun for a while.” She kissed his shoulder, ran her tongue over the top curve of his tattoo. “I can take care of myself.”

The last of the tension in his stomach dissolved. If she knew what he was offering and wanted it anyway, who was he to argue? Besides, maybe he’d been nuts to think a girl like Jamison would want anything else from a guy like him.

He pulled her in close, licked a slow path across her collarbone. Enjoyed the salty-sweet taste of her, especially when she moaned a little. Lifting his head to look at her, he teased, “And here I thought you enjoyed the way I took care of you.”

“Oh, I do,” she answered, arching into him so that her breasts brushed against his bare chest. “And I look forward to you taking care of me again soon.”

God, so did he.

Chapter Sixteen

Three weeks later, Jamison luxuriated in the feel of Ryder against her as he pressed soft kisses to her spine and shoulders and lower back. “Mmm,” she told him as she leaned in to his touch. “Do that again.”

“You’re a greedy thing, aren’t you?” But she could feel his smile as he trailed his lips over her shoulder and down her bicep to the side of her breast.

“Why shouldn’t I be? I’ve got Ryder Matthews in my hotel room, all to myself. It’s pretty much a prerequisite that I be greedy.”

He stiffened against her for just a fleeting moment, but by the time she turned her head to look at him—to see what had bothered him—the stiffness was gone. Or at least most of it was, she thought with an inner giggle as he rolled her onto her back and underneath him in one smooth move.

They were face-to-face now, a position she’d found out Ryder wasn’t particularly fond of. At first it had stung a little, the way he always seemed to turn her away from him before slipping inside of her. But then she’d realized it was his way of keeping his distance, of putting a little bit of space between them. And while that had hurt a little bit more, she’d understood that he was trying to protect both himself and her. But still she couldn’t help wondering—who did he think needed the distance more?

Reaching up, she brushed her hand through all that wild hair of his. He preened a little, pressed into her touch like a hungry cat would. So she stayed where she was, loving the feel of the silken strands as they slid through her fingers.

Loving the fact that he was allowing her this intimacy when he was usually so careful about who he let touch him—and where.

Just loving him.

Oh, she knew it was stupid. Knew if she let herself love him that she was going to end up with her heart broken, no matter how many assurances she’d given him to the contrary. But she couldn’t bring herself to care. Not now, when she was underneath him, all that intense sensual energy of his focused exclusively on her. And not when they were out in the world and he was so damn thoughtful, so sweet and charming and caring, that she wanted to wrap herself around him and hold on forever.

But that wasn’t possible, she reminded herself even as she twined her arms around his neck and pulled his lips down to hers. Happily ever after was just a pipe dream for her. But happy for now? She was so there.

Ryder kissed her slowly, thoroughly, his tongue exploring the corners of her mouth and the curve of her bottom lip before sliding inside of her mouth and exploring her there, too. She tilted her head, opened for him. And reveled in the low groan he made deep in his throat.

Then his hand was in her hair, fisting her curls while the other held onto her hip in a grip that was proprietary to the extreme. If another man had held her like that, even in such an intimate situation, she would have bristled. Moved out from under him. But this was Ryder and everything he did to her felt right and good and sexy as all hell. Besides, wanting to belong to him was a primitive, all-consuming desire inside of her. One she fought back on a daily basis, but one she knew was there nonetheless.

Not that she for one second would ever let him know it.

“You taste so fucking good,” he growled, lifting his head to look her in the eye. “I can’t get enough of you.”