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“I just beat the shit out of him.”

“What’d you do that for?” The guy looked more surprised than concerned.

“Because he’s an asshole.”

For a second, it looked like Jake was going to argue with him. Eventually, though, he just shook his head. “True that.” After disentangling himself from the groupies, he called, “Max fucked up again. Someone give me a hand.”

Satisfied that there’d be no problems from Oblivious’s front—though he didn’t really give a shit if there were—Ryder moved on to his own dressing room. Of course he’d forgotten the damn key, so he had to pound on the fucking door and wait until one of his bandmates deigned to let him in.

Wyatt was the one who finally answered, a dark scowl on his face. “Where’s the fire, asshole? I was just about to—” He broke off in mid-sentence when he saw Jamison, a dull flush creeping up his world-famous cheekbones. “Jelly Bean! What are you doing here? I thought you weren’t coming ‘til tomorrow night.”

“I wanted to surprise you guys.”

“Well, you did that.” Wyatt opened his arms and Jamison walked right into them. Wyatt gave her a huge bear hug and then reluctantly passed her on to Quinn and Micah, who were crowding him from behind.

Figuring Jamison was in good hands, Ryder headed toward the bathroom. Opening the closed door without bothering to knock, he shouted to Jared, who was in the shower, “Jamison’s here.”

“What? Now?”

“Yeah, now. And I just beat the shit out of Max Casey. Thought you should know.”

He closed the door before Jared could pick his jaw up off the ground and bombard him with questions. Then crossed to the bar in the corner and poured Jamison a shot of Patron silver. She was holding steady, but it was his experience that a shot of tequila worked wonders on frayed nerves.

By that time, Wyatt and Quinn had her settled on the sofa between them while Micah was ushering three groupies out the door. They didn’t look exactly pleased, and once they were at the door, one of them grabbed onto him and refused to go. Ryder didn’t envy him. Especially when the chick starting crying and begging him to let her stay. Seconds later, he all but slammed the door in her face. Which was rude, sure, but often necessary. Just one of the many reasons Ryder didn’t mess with groupies unless he had to.

Ryder handed Jamison the drink just as Jared burst out of the bathroom. He had a towel wrapped around his waist, but it was obvious that was all he’d taken time to do. He was still soaking wet.

Jamison didn’t seem to care as she launched herself at him. He picked her up and twirled her around before giving her a smacking kiss on the cheek. “I didn’t think you were coming until tomorrow night, Jelly Bean! I would have sent someone to bring you backstage before the concert if I’d known you were here.”

“I haven’t seen you guys play in eighteen months. The last place I wanted to be during your set was backstage. You were amazing, by the way. The crowd loved you!”

“They were a good crowd,” Jared told her.

She snorted. “For you. They weren’t anywhere near that enthusiastic when Oblivious was onstage. Or for that first band. What were they called again?”

“Eclipse.” Ryder gritted out the name from between tightly clamped teeth. “Oblivious sucks,” he sneered. Just the sound of Max Casey’s band on her lips made him want to beat the shit out of the bastard all over again.

“Whoa. What’s eating you?” Micah demanded.

Before he could answer, Jamison reached for the shot of tequila he’d brought her and slammed it back like a pro. He didn’t know where she’d learned to drink like that, but whoever had taught her had taught her well.

“It’s my fault,” she said after a second, glancing back at the door. “But believe me, I’ve learned my lesson. I am never going to try to surprise you again.”

Jared and the others looked confused, at least until Ryder told them what he’d interrupted in the hallway. Jared jumped up then, murder in his eyes, but Ryder had been expecting that.

He crossed to the dressing room door, leaned back against it as he waited for his best friend to calm down. It was going to take a few minutes. For all of them, as Wyatt, Micah and Quinn were nearly a protective of Jamison as he and Jared were. Not that he blamed them for being pissed, but the last thing that needed to happen was for them to go over and start whaling on Max all over again. Just in case Oblivious got the dumb idea to call the police, Ryder didn’t want anyone else going down for what he’d done.

“Get out of my way, Montgomery,” Jared growled.

“Not until you calm down, Matthews,” Ryder answered with deliberate insolence.

“I’ll calm down after I teach that bastard some manners.” He grabbed onto Ryder’s shirt like he was going to rip him away from the door.

“Ryder already did that.” Jamison jumped in, ducking under Jared’s arm and insinuating herself between the two of them. Which was a really tight fit considering how close Jared was standing to him—and the abundant nature of her curves. Not that he had noticed them or anything. “He took care of me,” she continued. “I promise, Jared.”

“Did Ryder break his damn neck? Because if he didn’t, he didn’t take care of things to my satisfaction.”

“He wanted to.” She raised her hands to her brother’s, started peeling them off Ryder’s shirt. As she did, she shifted and her lush ass came into contact with his dick—through the not-thick-enough fabric of his jeans—for the very first time. It felt better than it had any right to, especially considering she was his Jared’s little sister.

Hell, she was practically his little sister, Ryder told himself as he worked to tamp down the unexpected flames the contact had caused. He’d spent so much of his adolescence at the Matthews house that they were all practically family.

Sucking air in through his teeth—she smelled as good as she felt—he plastered himself to the door in an effort to get away from all that gorgeous softness. Which might have worked if he hadn’t already been leaning against the damn thing. Or if Jamison hadn’t taken advantage of the extra inch he’d managed to eek out by wiggling herself even more firmly between them.

“Let him go, Jared,” she told her brother firmly. “He’s only trying to protect you the way he protected me.”

Yeah, Jared, let me go, Ryder urged his friend silently. Because if he didn’t, in another minute they were all going to see just how non-protective Ryder was suddenly feeling about Jamison. The thought only made him feel like more of a bastard. Especially when he remembered how he’d found her, Max pressed against her, his dick cradled in the very same spot that Ryder’s was currently resting.

That thought galvanized him like nothing else could have. Out of patience, he shoved at Jared. Hard. And resisted, barely, the urge to go beat the shit out of Max all over again.

His friend hadn’t been expecting the push and he stumbled back a little. Not far, but just enough for Ryder to extricate himself from a situation that was rapidly becoming unbearable. “I took care of it,” he said as he headed back to the bar, this time to pour drinks for all of them. “That asshole won’t be bothering Jamison, or any other woman, for a long damn time.” The words were as much a reassurance to himself as they were to Jared, and Ryder promised himself he’d have another little talk with Max in a couple of days—just to ensure he had, indeed, learned some manners.

The fight seemed to go out of his best friend at that. “I can’t stand that he touched her. I want to make him bleed.”

“Jamison already did that.”

As she explained how she’d bitten the jerk, Ryder tossed back a shot of tequila, then poured himself a second one. He could still feel her. Still smell her, all peaches and cream and rich, sweet honey. It should be illegal for a woman to smell that good. To feel that good.

Jared laughed as Jamison demonstrated the wimpy way Max had screamed when she’d bitten him. Then he crossed to Ryder and slapped him on the back. “It looks like the two of you really didn’t need me,” he said as he did his own shot of Patron. “Though I’m not promising not to deck the bastard the next time I see him.”

“Just let it go,” Jamison implored. “I haven’t seen you guys in almost a year. The last thing I want to do is spend the rest of the night talking about that jerk.”

“So what do you want to do?” Micah asked, draping a casual arm over Jamison’s shoulders. Ryder watched him with narrowed eyes for long seconds, then did the second shot. It seemed to him that lately Micah had been getting way too friendly with women he had no business getting friendly with. Just last week in Houston, he’d been draped all over Jared’s fiancée when the guitarist wasn’t around. They’d both had their clothes on, but still. Ryder hadn’t liked the looks of it—any more than he liked the looks of this. It took every ounce of concentration he had not to tell the jerk to back the fuck off.

Jamison obviously didn’t mind, though, as she snuggled deeper into Micah’s embrace. “What do you think? You guys killed it tonight. I want to celebrate.”

“Hell, yeah!” Wyatt said. “Let’s go get drunk.”

“Not quite what I had in mind,” Jamison told him dryly.

“Oh, yeah? What did you have in mind?” Micah asked, pushing one of her long red curls back from her face. Ryder fought the sudden, inexplicable urge to plow his fist into his bandmate’s face. Maybe Micah wasn’t the problem after all. Maybe he was, he decided as he slowly relaxed his fist. He had no reason to be thinking like this. Feeling like this. And he’d do well to remember that.

“I want you guys to take me dancing,” Jamison said.

“Dancing?” Quinn repeated incredulously.

“Yes, dancing. There are a ton of great clubs around here. It’ll be fun.” She turned to him for support, just as she’d been doing since she was ten damn years old. “Right, Ryder?”

“Yeah, sure. Big fun.” He slammed back a third shot. Jared was looking at him strangely, but Ryder ignored him. If he was actually going to have to get out on a dance floor with Jamison and all those gorgeous curves of hers—or worse, stand there while she snuggled up to the rest of the guys—he was going to be dead drunk when he did it. Anything else didn’t bear thinking about.

Chapter Three

Sitting at the bar in the VIP section of one of the most popular clubs in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter, Jamison tossed back her third shot of tequila under her big brother’s watchful eye. She knew the look on his face, knew it was only a matter of time before he demanded to know what the hell was up with her. While she enjoyed a shot of Patron as much as the next girl, she’d never been one to down three of them in a row. Never been one to over-imbibe at all, to be honest.

Which was depressing, now that she thought about it. How had she gotten to the ripe old age of twenty-three without ever being drunk? She’d gone to college, even dated a frat guy or two. Not to mention spent most of her adolescence hanging out with a rock band. How could she not have thrown caution to the wind at least once in all that time?

She was making up for her teetotaling tonight, she decided, as she gestured to the bartender for another shot. Jared started to object, but the look she sent him told him to butt out. If a girl couldn’t get drunk with five of her closest friends in the world after losing her boyfriend, her job, and her car all in the same week, then when exactly was she supposed to get drunk?

The bartender slid the shot in front of her and she reached for it. But another hand closed around it first. Highly indignant, she turned around to give whichever of the guys had stolen her drink a piece of her mind, only to freeze as she found Ryder standing behind her, his eyes dark and intense as he waited for her reaction.

The club was hot—even back here where there weren’t so many people—and she watched, helplessly, as a single drop of sweat rolled down his throat. It disappeared beneath the collar of his simple, black V-neck and for a second she wanted to go after it. To lick up the salty-sweetness of it before tracing his beautiful chest and abs with her lips. Her tongue. After so many years of wondering, she was dying to know what he tasted like.

Ryder’s eyes narrowed, almost as if he knew what she was thinking. Then he shifted closer, his hard thighs brushing against her hip, his chest mere centimeters from her own. She knew he was playing with her, crowding her just to see how she would react, as all of the guys were want to do on occasion. If it had been one of the other guys who’d stolen her drink, she would have elbowed him in the stomach or bumped him with her knee as she tried to wrestle it away from him.

But this wasn’t Wyatt or Micah or Quinn. This was Ryder and no matter how much she longed to touch him, she knew she wouldn’t do it. Not now, when she was so turned on by his proximity that she was afraid to open her mouth. If she did speak, she knew she was going to end up revealing just how much she wanted him. Not the smoothest move, especially when her very over-protective big brother was only inches away.