Page 5

Under her mesmerized eyes, Ryder lifted the shot to his lips. Tilted his head back. Slammed down the clear liquid. His throat worked as he swallowed and Jamison was so tempted to grab him, to jump him, that for a second she thought about sitting on her hands, just to be safe. But then he was getting even closer to her, his muscular chest rubbing against her aching nipples and she forgot all about her no touching rule. Her hands went to his waist of their own volition, her fingers weaving themselves through his belt loops as he pressed her back against the bar.

Holy shit! Even with her brain muddled with alcohol, she couldn’t believe this was happening. Couldn’t believe that after all these years, after all this time, Ryder was doing this here. Now. With Jared only a few feet away.

Not that she cared. At that moment, the only thing that mattered was the fire exploding between the two of them. Ryder was touching her, was leaning in to kiss her, was—

Her real-life fantasy crashed down around her as he snagged a lime slice from the glass of them on the bar behind her. Then he was stepping away, biting into the tart fruit with a careless grin and an off-the-cuff comment to Jared about one of the women down the bar. Her brother ignored the woman—he was too in love with his fiancee, who also happened to be his high school girlfriend, to pay attention to any of the women buzzing around him.

Still, heat exploded in Jamison’s cheeks as she realized what an idiot she’d been. All that fire between them, all that need she’d felt welling up, had been completely one-sided. He hadn’t been brushing against her because he wanted to, but because he needed to reach something.

It was humiliating. And somehow so much worse than if he actually had realized what was going on inside of her. At least then she would know he saw her as a person, as someone beyond his best friend’s little sister. As it stood, she felt more like the band’s asexual mascot than the sexy, desirable woman she so wanted to be for him. To him. It was doubly humiliating when she considered the fact that that groupie had been so certain she could get him into bed. That she could satisfy him. What did some heavily made-up little tart have that she didn’t, Jamison wondered bitterly. Besides the ability to attract Ryder, that is?

Ryder signaled for another round of shots, then scooted between Jared and her to rest his elbows on the bar. He was turned away from her, talking to Jared, but suddenly she couldn’t stand to be close to him. To have his body brushing carelessly, meaninglessly, against her own when she was still so wound up she wanted to beg him to touch her. Not that she would ever do that, she assured herself. If Ryder didn’t want her then there wasn’t a chance she was going to beg for it.

The bartender placed three shots of Patron down in front of them, and before she could think about what she was doing, Jamison slammed them back, one after the other. Her head spun as she slapped the last glass onto the counter and she realized Jared and Ryder were both staring at her, wide-eyed.

Forcing a grin she was far from feeling, she sent them a what’s-the-problem look. At that moment the DJ—bless his heart—spun out a Beyoncé song from a couple of years before and she turned toward the front of the club. “I want to dance,” she tossed over her shoulder as she made her way to the crowded dance floor.

Now that she was walking, the room was spinning like a top, and it took every ounce of concentration she had not to stumble as she weaved through the crush of bodies. But she was determined to make a dignified exit—she could feel their eyes on her and there was no way she was going to look like some stupid kid who couldn’t hold her liquor in front of Ryder.

Even if it were true.

Micah was leaving the dance floor as she got there, towing a cute blonde in a hot pink dress behind him. She waved at him, and he wagged a finger back and forth between him and her—asking if she wanted him to stay with her. She did, but she didn’t want to cramp his style either. The blonde definitely didn’t look like she wanted to share.

So Jamison just shook her head and burrowed into the crowd on the dance floor. She didn’t stop until she was practically in the middle, and then she closed her eyes and started to move. Just because she couldn’t have Ryder didn’t mean she couldn’t have a good time.

“You aren’t really going to leave her alone out there, are you?” Ryder demanded of Jared. The crowd was thick, especially on the dance floor, but Jamison’s red hair made her unmistakable. His jaw—and body—clenched as she tilted her head back and moved to the music. She wasn’t the most scantily dressed woman out there, and he knew objectively that she might not be considered the most beautiful. But she was to him. He was mesmerized, couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

She was dancing like the song was meant for her, shoulders swaying and curvy hips swinging in perfect synchronicity with the catchy lyrics. Her crazy corkscrew curls were flying in every direction, and the look on her face was sexy as hell. Eyes closed, cheeks flushed, full, crimson-slicked lips parted invitingly, she looked like a goddess.

When she leaned back, shaking out her hair in time to the music, he realized he wasn’t the only guy in the place who had noticed. A bunch of the men on the dance floor—even some who were dancing with other women—were looking at her like she was a shiny present they couldn’t wait to unwrap. It made him crazy. Nearly as crazy as brushing against her full, soft breasts had made him earlier.

He shouldn’t have done it. He’d known it at the time, but he hadn’t been able to help himself. Reaching for the lime had just been an excuse. He’d wanted to touch her, to feel all that softness pressed up against him if even for a minute. He’d meant to tease her a little bit, but all he’d ended up doing was torturing himself.

Which was nuts. She was one of his closest friends in the world, not to mention his best friend’s baby sister, and he had no business noticing how lush her breasts were. How curvy her ass was. How long her legs were. He’d known her since she wore pigtails and played with Barbies. Thinking about how much he liked the way she looked was sick. Twisted.

As was sitting there as a bunch of men lusted after her. She’d already gotten into trouble once today. He’d be damned if he sat by and watched while it happened again.

“You’re really not going to do anything?” he again demanded of Jared, who seemed more interested in his drink than he was in keeping Jamison safe.

“And get my ass handed to me?” Jared asked with a smirk. “You know how she gets if I interfere too much. Besides, Wyatt and Quinn are out there. They’ve got her back.”

Ryder turned around, scanned the crowd near where Jamison was dancing. Sure enough, his drummer and keyboardist had ditched the women they’d been hanging with and had started dancing with Jamison instead. It should have made him feel better, did make him feel better. At least until the music changed to a slow song and she threw her arms around Quinn’s neck and whispered in his ear.

Quinn laughed at whatever she told him, then settled his hands on her waist and pulled her close. Too close, in Ryder’s opinion, but a glance at Jared—who was totally relaxed as he nursed a beer—told him he might be overreacting a little. The knowledge did nothing to cool his blood, or the sudden urge he had to break his bandmate’s fingers. Who cared if they were at the beginning of a worldwide tour? The guy didn’t actually need his fingers to play the keyboard, did he?

Feeling like an idiot for being so overprotective, yet unable to do anything about it, Ryder turned to the bartender to order another drink. When the shot came, he tossed it back, gestured for another. It was going to be a bad night—was already a bad night—and after years of them, he knew getting shit-faced was the only way he was going to make it through.

Except, when he turned back to the dance floor, Quinn was making his way back toward the bar and Jamison was slow-dancing with someone else.

Someone who wasn’t Wyatt or Micah.

Someone who looked like he was seconds away from putting his hands all over Jamison’s sexy ass. She wasn’t pushing him away, but she’d had way too much to drink tonight, so it wasn’t like her judgment synapses were firing on all cylinders. Jared might be too stupid to figure out his sister was in trouble, but Ryder wasn’t going to make that mistake ever again.

Adrenaline roared through him and he was halfway across the club before he even realized what he was doing.

The asshole on the dance floor had moved his hands so that they rested on Jamison’s lower back. It wouldn’t be long before he moved them lower still. Ryder grabbed onto Jamison’s elbow as soon as he reached her. “My turn,” he said, spinning her to face him.

“Hey!” The jerk she’d been dancing with started to object, but Ryder didn’t give him a chance. He snarled, “Get lost!” at the same time he shoved the loser hard in the chest. The guy’s fists clenched and for a minute, it looked like he was going to come after Ryder. But a well-placed glare had him turning tail and slinking back into the crowd he’d come from.

Ryder smiled grimly. Sometimes looking like a badass really did pay off.

And sometimes it didn’t. He turned to find Jamison staring at him, a furious look on her face. “What are you doing?” she demanded, voice about three octaves higher than it normally was.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m dancing!”

“You’re drunk.”

“So what?”

“That guy had his hands all over you!”

She narrowed her eyes, tossed all of that glorious hair, and it took every ounce of self-control he had not to reach out and touch it. Not to wrap it around his fist and tug her closer to him. Not to—

He shifted uncomfortably as his cock grew hard. Damn it. What the hell was wrong with him?

“It’s called dancing!”

He saw red, even as he shot her a disbelieving look. “Yeah, well it looked like an invitation to fuck to me.”

She blanched. “You’re being a real jerk.”

“And you’re being careless. You don’t know these guys. You can’t trust them.”

“I just wanted to dance.” Her voice shook a little and her amethyst eyes were nearly incandescent with rage. And something else. Something that looked a lot like hurt. It made him feel like a total prick for throwing what had happened earlier in her face. He’d wanted to protect her, not hurt her. She was his friend, Jared’s little sister. It was his job to look out for her. Wasn’t it?

He glanced back at the bar, where Jared was deep in conversation with Quinn. But if Jared wasn’t concerned, why should he be? Jamison was entitled to have a little fun, wasn’t she? Especially after the evening she’d had.

Of course she was. He stepped back, thrust a frustrated hand through his hair. “Sorry,” he muttered. “I made a mistake.” Except it hadn’t felt like a mistake. Getting that guy’s hands off Jamison had felt as necessary as breathing.

He shook his head to clear it. He needed another drink. Badly.

“You aren’t just going to leave me out here alone, are you?” Jamison grabbed onto the back waistband of his jeans. “I still need a dance partner.”

He froze. Her fingers were brushing against his lower back, setting off all kinds of sensations deep inside of him. “I need a drink,” he told her, refusing to turn around.

“And I need to dance.”

She let go of his waistband and Ryder breathed a sigh of…relief? Disappointment? He couldn’t tell. At least not until her arms wrapped around his waist and she splayed herself against him. He nearly groaned at the feel of her breasts pressed against his back. What the hell was she up to? And then she started to move, swaying softly to the ballad that had just started.

It was one of theirs: “Entice.” He and Wyatt had written the lyrics during a three day bender—after Wyatt had broken up with his girlfriend—and Ryder had added the music about a week later. It was a favorite of his. A favorite of a lot of people, it seemed, since it was currently sitting at number three on the charts after a seventeen week run at number one.

He’d heard the song a million times, had analyzed every word in the verses he’d helped put together, but this was the first time he’d really connected with the chorus Wyatt had insisted upon.

I push, you pull.

I walk. You run.

I reach for you and you slip away.

Why do you entice me so?

Why do you Eentice me so? I’m stunned. I’m stunned. I’m stunned.

It was surreal standing here, listening to his voice as he sang about the same emotions that were currently ripping through him. “What are you doing, Jamison?” he demanded, turning to face her.

“What do you mean?”

He started to snap at her, to tell her not to mess with his head. But her eyes were slightly unfocused and this time when she swayed, he knew it had a lot more to do with the tequila she’d consumed than the music currently blasting through the club. He couldn’t be angry with her when she was drunk, and he couldn’t blame her for being drunk after what had happened earlier. Which meant there was only one thing he could do. Dance with her. Because there was no way he was leaving her out here, vulnerable to any jerk who wanted to take advantage. Jared could act as unconcerned as he wanted, but he knew the second Jamison started grabbing on to strangers the way she was currently grabbing on to him, her big brother would be all over that shit. It seemed…expedient to just dance with her himself and keep things on an even keel.