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“Don’t make me prove it. Nobody needs to see my ass hanging out the back of this thing.”

Jamison blew her nose on the rough paper towels near the sink, then splashed cold water on her face in an effort to alleviate the redness.

It didn’t work. She still looked like she’d been on a three-day crying jag. Which at the moment didn’t feel that far from the truth. It had been six hours since Ryder had ripped her heart out of her chest and this was the first time she’d been able to go longer than five minutes without bursting into tears. Could she be more of a loser? Then again, could he be more of a jerk?

The worst part? She’d been holed up in the back of a coffeehouse two blocks from the hospital for the last four hours. When she’d left the hospital, she’d originally planned on going straight back to the hotel. But she couldn’t—not when she was this big of a mess. Jared’s whole life had fallen apart that day. The last thing he needed was to deal with his hysterical sister.

But there was nowhere else for her to go. So she’d wandered the streets of suburban Houston for two hours, pretending to window shop. But everywhere she went, people stopped her to see if she was all right. Damn Texans. They were too nice for their own good—or anyone else’s, for that matter.

After the sixth person asked her if they could call someone for her, she gave up. Thank God she’d been in front of Genuine Javas, a coffeehouse equipped with very dark corners and customers who had no trouble minding their own business.

But she couldn’t stay here forever. In the last hour, her phone had blown up with texts from Jared, Quinn, even Ryder himself—all asking if she was okay or demanding to know where she was. Normally, she’d ignore them all, but it had been a hell of a day. The last thing she wanted to do was add to the drama. Besides, it was two in the morning and the coffeehouse was about to close.

Which was why she was now standing in the bathroom, washing her face and trying desperately to erase the damage caused by her six-hour freak out. She’d texted Jared that she was fine and would be back at the hotel soon. But she couldn’t show up looking like this. Not if she didn’t want him to wrap his hands around Ryder’s throat and squeeze until he was in as bad a shape as Wyatt was.

While that might have been a little satisfying—okay, more than a little—the fact of the matter was Ryder hadn’t done anything wrong. He’d warned her going in that the thing between them was just temporary. That it was just for fun. Hell, she’d said the words more than once herself. It wasn’t his fault that she had let it become more than that.

Which was her own stupidity. After all, hadn’t she always known she wasn’t enough for Ryder? He was a rock and roll god and she, she was just one of the little people. Or not so little people if she was being brutally honest. It wasn’t a shock that he’d dumped her, just that he’d ever looked twice at her to begin with.

She glanced at the clock on her phone, wondered if the cab she’d called had shown up yet. Figuring there was a good shot it was waiting on her, she wandered outside only to be slapped in the face by the darkly humid heat of a summer night in Houston.

Sure enough, there was a yellow cab waiting next to the handicapped spots. She climbed in, gave the driver the hotel’s name. He nodded, then called in to his dispatcher. She didn’t bother to listen to what he was saying—she was exhausted, completely worn out from the emotional roller coaster she’d ridden all day. Settling back against her seat, she closed her eyes and prepared to zone out for the length of the trip. She’d spent the last six hours locked in her head— not a pretty place at the best of times, let alone after everything that had happened that day—and it was more than time for a break.

Except the driver didn’t seem to understand how tired she was. He’d barely pulled into traffic before he started fiddling with the radio, moving through a bunch of stations and a lot of static before settling on one that declared it was the home of rock in Houston.

Her stomach pitched and rolled. “Please,” she said in a voice little above a whisper. “Can you turn that off?” With her luck, they’d play a Shaken Dirty song, and she just wasn’t up to hearing Ryder’s voice right now. Not if she wanted to get to the hotel without having a complete and total emotional breakdown.

“Sure, sure,” the man said in heavily accented English. He tossed a nervous glance over his shoulder at her. “But this is a good station. Good music.”

“I’m sure it is. But I have a headache. I don’t want to listen right now.”

“Oh. Yes. Of course.” He stopped at a red light, reached for the dial. But instead of turning the radio off, he just played with it for a minute, before tuning it back to the exact same station.

She started to ask again, but before she could get the words out, the song ended and the DJ came back on. “That was ‘Take Me’ by Darkness. Now, we have a special treat for you—an in-studio performance of a brand new song by one of your favorite bands. Earlier tonight, Ryder Matthews, lead singer of Shaken Dirty, stopped by and did a quick interview with us, which we’ll be playing in its entirety tomorrow morning at eight a.m.

“But he also sang a brand new song for us, one that’s not on any of Shaken Dirty’s albums. In fact, it’s never been recorded before. So, with no further discussion, here’s Ryder Matthews singing, ‘Pieces of You.’”

Confused, Jamison froze as the opening chords of a song played on acoustic guitar filled the cab. She knew it was Ryder playing—she’d heard him often enough to recognize his style—but the idea that he’d stopped by a radio station today made absolutely no sense. Not when Wyatt was in the hospital. And not after everything that had happened.

Unless he’d been trying to do damage control, to get the word out that Shaken Dirty was just fine, despite the disasters that were recorded in that damn dressing room. But then, why the song? Surely a quick interview would have been enough to at least start on the damage control.

She was still trying to figure out what was going on—while feeling like she’d fallen down a rabbit hole—when Ryder’s dark, husky tones filled the car. Only it was a Ryder that few people ever got to hear, one even she and the other band members didn’t see very often. Somber, languid, heartbroken, the gravelly roughness of his voice worked its way down her spine before arrowing straight to her heart.

Silent tears slipped down her face as the wounds she’d spent all evening cauterizing tore wide open.

“Please,” she choked out. “Please turn it off.”

“Listen,” the driver told her. “Listen.”

She didn’t want to listen. Only she didn’t have a choice, because he was making no move to turn off the radio and she was in no shape to do it herself.

Though she did her best to block Ryder out, it was only a matter of seconds before the words he sang sunk into her consciousness.

“Pieces of you,

Like a puzzle in my mind—

fitting together

In a pattern I just can’t find.

The freckles on your cheeks,

A perfect dot to dot

The words at your fingertips

Painting pictures that I’ve sought.

Little pieces hold the secrets,

little moments hold the clues,

to the whispers deep inside yourself

and the truth I couldn’t choose.

The sweetness in your touch

skimming down my back.

The glitter in your eyes

that won’t see all I lack.

The fire in your heart,

before we turned to frost.

The roses in your lips

for the kisses that I’ve lost.

I want to hold you

I want to kiss you

I want to love you

Can’t stand to miss you

Cuz, baby, needing you is oh-so-easy to do.

The pieces all asunder

The puzzle a scattered mess

Your smile a fading memory

Your love a broken test.

Little pieces hold the secrets,

little moments hold the clues,

to the whispers deep inside yourself

and the truth I wouldn’t choose.

I want to hold you

I want to kiss you

I want to love you

Can’t stand to miss you

Cuz, baby, loving you is oh-so-easy to do.

Yes, loving you is the only thing I know to do.”

By the time the song drew to a close, Jamison was a mess. She didn’t understand, didn’t know what it meant. How could he say things like that, how could he sing that song, mere hours after ripping her heart out of her chest?

“It’s okay, miss. It’s okay.” The driver handed her a box of tissues. She grabbed a few, used them to wipe from her cheeks tears she hadn’t even been aware of crying. So much for putting herself back together again.

Of course, the driver chose that moment to pull up to the curb. She reached into her purse to pay him, when she glanced out the window and realized her hotel was nowhere in sight.

She glanced down the street, in case she’d just gotten the address wrong and he’d dropped her further up the block. But nothing looked familiar—this was definitely not the right street.

“This isn’t my hotel.”

“It’s okay,” the driver repeated.

“No. It’s not okay. I need to get to—”

“Here. You need to get here.” The driver nodded encouragingly, pointed to the door. “You need to get out now.”

“No. I need to get to the Marriott. It’s on—”

She broke off as the cab door swung open to reveal Ryder standing there. “Come with me,” he told her. “Please.”

For long seconds, she didn’t move. Didn’t breathe. A million questions clamored in her head, but she couldn’t ask any of them. Her tongue was tied into too many knots.

He reached for her hand and like a moron, she gave it to him. How could she not when the lyrics of that beautiful song were crashing through her brain over and over again?

She’d barely climbed out of the cab before Ryder was closing the door and it was speeding away into the night. It didn’t even occur to her that she hadn’t paid the driver until he was already gone.

Ryder moved her slowly down the sidewalk to a concrete and glass bench that was nestled up against the side of a building. Above it were the letters of a Houston radio station. The same radio station she had just been listening to.

“How?” It was the only question she could ask, the only syllable she could force from her tight throat and trembling lips.

“After spending two hours looking for you, I decided to get crafty. I paid off every dispatcher in every cab company in Houston so that when one of their cabbies picked up a woman dressed in a pink blouse with long red hair, they would call me. Finally, when I was on the brink of ripping out my own vocal chords—not to mention every hair on my head—one of them did.”

Jamison nodded like she understood, but she didn’t. She knew he was speaking English, but nothing he said made any sense. Nothing had made any sense since she’d heard that song playing on the radio. Because if she listened to the lyrics, if she let herself believe them—

“Why?” It seemed monosyllables were all she was capable of.

He stopped in front of her, his eyes searching every detail of her face. And she knew no smile in the world was going to hide the fact that she’d been crying.

“Why?” Ryder asked, his voice even huskier than it had been while he was singing. “Because I’m an asshole. I’m sorry, Jamison. So, so sorry.”

Hope swelled inside of her, but she forced it back down. Instead, she swallowed convulsively before whispering, “For what?”

“For breaking your heart.”

That was what she’d been afraid of. He felt guilty. Ryder thought he was such a badass, but when it came to people he cared about, he was notoriously softhearted. And she knew he cared about her. Too bad it wasn’t in the way she needed him to. But still, she couldn’t let him feel guilty. Shaking her head, she pressed a hand to her mouth in an effort to stifle the sobs that were ripping at her throat. “I broke my own heart, Ryder.”

“No. No, you didn’t.” His hands closed convulsively over her shoulders. “I fucked up. I got scared and I fucked up and I hurt you. I’m so sorry that I hurt you.”

“It doesn’t matter—”

“Oh, it matters. It matters because you matter. More than anyone ever has.”

“Don’t do this. Don’t lie to me because you feel sorry for me.”

“Feel sorry for you? How could I feel sorry for you? You’re strong and smart and kind—”

“I’m not a damn dog!” The words burst from her before she knew she was going to say them. But she was so sick of being described like less than a woman just because she wasn’t sexy enough or beautiful enough.

He stared at her, obviously baffled. “What does that even mean?”