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“You don’t need to run off so quickly. Stay and talk to me for a few minutes.”

“Jared’s expecting me.” Which wasn’t exactly true, but it wasn’t like she planned to hang around and argue with Max. Not after getting her first good glimpse of his eyes. He was high on a lot more than scotch—and it didn’t look like a particularly nice high, at that.“Thanks for the help,” she told him, starting down the hallway at a fast clip. She’d only gone a few steps when he grabbed her from behind.

Pushed her face-first up against the wall.

Covered her body with his own.

“What are you doing?” she demanded, feeling once again like she was trapped in an alternate reality.

“You’re going the wrong way.” He leaned forward and pressed his mouth to the back of her neck.

She hunched up her shoulders, tried to squirm away. But he was a lot stronger than he looked and it only took a few moments for her to realize she wasn’t going anywhere if he didn’t want her to.

“Come on, Max, let go!” She tried to cajole her freedom out of him, but the pounding rhythms had once again begun to roll off stage and she was reduced to shouting at him.

He just laughed, then put his mouth next to her ear and said, “Don’t worry. You’ll get to Jared soon enough. I just want a taste, to see if you’re as nice and sweet as they all say you are.”

“Let me go!” she screamed, struggling in earnest now that it had begun to sink in that Max didn’t plan to take no for an answer. He was too high or too conceited to understand that she really didn’t want him. That she wasn’t playing hard to get.

Or maybe he just didn’t care. She didn’t know, and it didn’t matter anyway. All that mattered now was getting out of there before she got the full Max Casey treatment. She couldn’t believe she’d ever thought he was attractive.

“Don’t you know who I am?” he demanded as he pressed even closer. “I’m Max Casey. Nobody says no to me.” He sounded so baffled that she might have felt sorry for him if she wasn’t desperately terrified that he was going to rape her right there in the hallway, thirty feet away from dozens of people who couldn’t hear her cries for help.

“No!” she shouted. “No! No! No!” She brought her foot up, tried to catch his shin with her spiked heel—the stupid things should be good for something—but he only moved closer, so that his body was flush against hers and she had no wiggle room. She nearly gagged when she felt him pressed against her.

“Stop it, Max!” she said, jerking from side to side as hard as she could. But he was holding her so tightly she couldn’t get much traction. “Stop it!” she begged. “Please, please, stop!”

He wasn’t listening or maybe he was just too high to listen. Either way, her stomach turned as he trailed his wet mouth over her shoulder.

“Come on, baby,” he muttered, jerking her head back so he could press a sloppy kiss to her mouth. “Just let it happen.”

She bit him then, clamping her teeth down on his lower lip as hard as she could. It was his turn to scream, to shove at her. He pulled back a hand to hit her and she braced herself for the impact. She’d take a beating over rape any day.

But his hand never connected. Instead, he was pulled off of her and slammed into the opposite wall so hard she heard the thud even over the roar of the music. She went with him part of the way, until he finally managed to untangle his hand from her hair and raise it in a misguided effort to defend himself.

Even then it took Jamison a second to realize what was happening, to realize that she was free. When she did, she scrambled several feet down the hallway, desperate to simply get away. But as she prepared to run, she got a glimpse of her rescuer’s face as he pinned Max to the wall.


It was Ryder who had found her, Ryder who had saved her. And Ryder who was currently shouting obscenities as he beat the hell out of the other singer.

Chapter Two

“Are you out of your fucking mind, Max?” Ryder landed a blow straight to the other man’s nose as fury raced through him like a freight train. “Are you really so fucking high you think you can fucking rape a girl?” A one-two combo straight to Max’s stomach. “Who the fuck do you think you are?” He gave up punching him—Max wasn’t putting up much of a fight—and started slamming him repeatedly against the wall. “Who. The. Fuck. Do. You. Think. You. Are?”

Max gurgled completely unintelligible reply. A warning went off in his head, told him to stop, but the blinding rage ripping through him made it impossible for him to listen. When he’d walked out of his dressing room and seen Max forcing himself on that girl, all he’d been able to think about was Carrie. About what some asshole in their local Battle of the Bands challenge had done to her. And how she’d never recovered. How she’d always blamed him for not being there for her. How he’d always blamed himself.

Pulling his fist back, he plunged it into Max’s face again. The guy was a total douche. This wasn’t the first time Ryder had thought he overstepped his bounds with a woman, but it was the first time it had been blatant enough that he could do something besides making a comment about it. The first time, that he’d ever seen, that Max had actually laid hands on an unwilling woman. The thought that this might have happened before and he just hadn’t seen it, had bile churning in his gut. He channeled it, continued whaling on Max. By the time he was done with him, the other singer would think three or four times before he ever put his hands on another unwilling woman.

“Ryder.” The girl Max had been hassling called his name in a tremulous voice, but it barely registered. He was too intent on making sure Max wouldn’t hurt another woman the way he’d tried to hurt this one. “Ryder, stop.” Her voice was more insistent now, and familiar. Very familiar. “Come on, Ryder. You need to stop or you’ll kill him. Please. That’s enough.”

He turned to her , dazed, , his fist still cocked in midair. For long seconds he wasn’t sure he was really seeing her, that she was really there.“Jamison?”

She nodded. “I’m okay, Ryder. You stopped him. You got here before he did anything.”

“Jamison,” he repeated again as he finally relinquished his hold on Max’s shirt. It had been the only thing keeping the other singer upright and left to his own devices, he slid slowly down the wall to land in a bloody heap on the floor.

Ryder didn’t even spare him a glance. Instead, he wrapped an arm around his best friend’s little sister and pulled her into his chest. “Are you really okay?” He couldn’t believe she was here. Couldn’t believe that she was the woman Max had just been assaulting.

The fury came back, burning hotter than ever. There was a part of him that wanted to keep beating on Max until the other man was unconscious. Until he’d ripped him apart with his bare hands. He’d touched Jamison. He’d scared Jamison. The bastard didn’t deserve to live.

More than prepared to finish what he started, he turned back around with a growl. Would have started back in on Max all over again if Jamison, pale-faced but solid, hadn’t grabbed onto him and held him in place. Not with her strength, but with the look on her face. With the words that she spoke.

He stiffened as her words hit home. He pulled away, not liking the way her voice had gone all soft and grateful. He didn’t deserve her gratitude, didn’t deserve anything when he’d almost been too late.His gut clenched as he was bombarded with images of what might have happened to Jamison if he hadn’t come out when he had. Even worse, of what might very well have happened some other night to some other woman while he’d been safely ensconced in his dressing room.

He shut his brain down, not wanting to go there tonight. But what he wanted and what he got were often two very different things—rarely did he catch more than a couple hours of sleep before the nightmares found him. Tonight wouldn’t be any different.

Especially not after what had just happened with Max. Not to mention what had made him leave his dressing room to begin with. He’d showered crazy fast, had a drink, then had slammed into the hallway with some asinine idea of trying to find the redhead in the purple dress. The one he’d seen while onstage and had felt such an incredible pull toward. The one he’d spent the whole second half of the concert singing to, while his brain filled up with one lascivious thought after another.

Looking at Jamison now, standing in front of him in her pretty violet dress, he felt lower than low. He hadn’t recognized her from the stage, hadn’t known he’d been lusting after Jared’s little sister—and one of his closest friends. And now that he did, he didn’t know what the hell to do with all the thoughts—the needs—that were still clawing at him from the inside.

Behind him, Max finally stirred and he clenched his fists against the urge to beat the asshole all over again. After all, it’d kill two birds with one stone—release some of the escalating tension inside of him and teach the asshole the importance of understanding the word no.

“Come on, let’s get you into the dressing room,” he told Jamison, leaning close to her and speaking loudly to be heard over Darkness’s set. “Check you over and make sure you’re okay.”

“I’m fine,” she told him again, staring up at him until he was forced to look into her violet eyes. They were shadowed, but they were also steady. That calmed him more than anything else could have. At least until he glanced down and realized the red on her lips was blood, not lipstick.

“You’re bleeding.” The words cut like broken glass as he forced them from his suddenly tight throat. “He hurt you.”

She raised a trembling hand to her mouth and that’s when he realized she wasn’t as unaffected as she wanted him to believe. Her eyes told one story, but those blue-tipped fingers told another. A fresh wave of fury tore through him.

“I don’t think it’s my blood,” she said, after a minute. Her voice was rife with satisfaction. “I bit his lip when he tried to kiss me.”

That matter-of-fact satisfaction was what finally convinced him she was okay. “A shame you didn’t get his tongue. I’d like to see him try to explain why he couldn’t sing after that.”

“There’s no way I want his tongue close enough to me to bite, thank you very much. Besides, I don’t think he’ll be singing for a while. Or doing anything else for that matter.” She glanced over his shoulder. “Maybe we should call an ambulance.”

“He’ll be all right. I didn’t break anything.”

“How do you know?”

Because he knew what it felt like to break a bone—his own and someone else’s. Knew just how much pressure he had to exert to get the job done. And he hadn’t gone there with Max. Not because he hadn’t wanted to damage the guy permanently, but because if he’d broken bones the fight would have been over a hell of a lot sooner.

“I just know,” he finally told her, hoping she wouldn’t press.

She didn’t. Not, he knew, because she wasn’t curious, but because the specter of his past was always there between them. It was just one of the many reasons he’d kept his distance from her throughout the last decade. She was too tender-hearted. When she looked at him, empathy brimming in those crazy amethyst eyes of hers, it made him want to say things that should never be spoken out loud. Things that, once said, couldn’t be unsaid.

His dick surged at the thought of connecting to Jamison like that, only got harder as images of stripping her out of that violet dress and kissing every inch of her soft, voluptuous body blasted through his brain. But the crash of need was followed by an even stronger wave of self-loathing. This was Jared’s sister, the same girl he’d comforted after she’d forgotten her lines in the school play or broken up with her first boyfriend. He had no business thinking of her as anything but a friend.

“Where’s Jared?” she asked, bringing him back to reality with a thud.

He jerked his chin toward the dressing room Shaken Dirty had been using the last couple of days. “Come on. I’ll take you to him.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and propelled her down the hall, doing his best to be gentle. He didn’t know if Max had bruised her or just scared her, but he wasn’t taking the chance of hurting her.

As they passed Oblivious’s dressing room, he pounded on the door hard enough to be heard over the blaring music. A few seconds later it swung open to reveal the band’s nearly naked bass player. Each of his arms was wrapped around a different girl. “What’s up, man? You want to party?” Jake stepped back as if to let them in.

Ryder jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “You might want to check on Max.”

“What’s wrong with him?”