Gritting his teeth, he turned back to Jamison. Took her in his arms. And did his damnedest not to notice how sweet she smelled. Or how soft she was. Or how perfect her body felt pressed against his own.
She rested her head on his shoulder—he was suddenly, absurdly grateful for the five-inch heels she wore that enabled her to do that. She was tall for a woman, about five-eight in her bare feet. But he was six-foot-five and it wasn’t often he could just bend his head and place his cheek on a woman’s head. He did it now, savoring the sweet peaches-and-cream scent of her and the way her crazy hair tickled his nose.
“Thanks,” she murmured.
“For this.” She sighed. “No one’s ever worried about me before. It feels kind of nice.”
He stiffened. “Jared worries about you.”
“That’s not the same thing. He’s my brother. He has to worry.”
“And what am I?” He held his breath, unsure of what her answer would be. Suddenly unsure of what he wanted it to be.
She pulled back, looked up at him with wide, shimmering eyes. “You’re Ryder.”
He tamped down on the frustration—and the arousal—raging through him. “What does that mean?”
“You see who I really am instead of what you want to see.” She sighed, snuggled back into him. “Just like I see you.”
He froze at her words, at the implication that she saw all the things he wanted to hide. The thought pissed him off, terrified him. But it also turned him on—he hated to admit that, but it wasn’t like he could deny it while his dick grew impossibly harder by the second. He shifted away, not wanting Jamison to feel how she affected him.
She stumbled as he moved his hips back, fell against him. He gritted his teeth, started to move back a second time. But again, she flopped against him.
Anger ripped through him. Why was she doing this? Did she really want to drive him crazy? He put his hands on her shoulders, nudged her back so he could see her face. And that’s when it hit him. He was an idiot.
Jamison wasn’t deliberately trying to get close to him, wasn’t trying to make him want her at all. All the while he’d been lusting after her, she’d been so drunk that she’d passed out cold in the middle of the dance floor.
Jamison woke up in the dark, with a pounding headache, a fuzzy brain, and absolutely no idea of where she was. The last thing she remembered was downing three shots of tequila in a row. She had a fuzzy recollection of dancing with Wyatt and Quinn some time afterward, but that was it. There were no memories of how the night had ended or how she’d gotten to wherever she currently was.
She should have been panicking—and any other time she probably would have. But she’d been with Shaken Dirty last night. There was no way her brother or Ryder, or the others, would have let anything happen to her. And there was no way they would have let her do something stupid like go home with some strange guy.
Groaning, she rolled over and buried her face in one of the pillows. Ugh. And her friends from college had wondered why she didn’t like to party? Who wanted to be so out of control that they couldn’t remember anything they’d said or done the night before? Or worse, so out of control that they’d had to entrust their own safety to someone else? It was humiliating, especially considering what had almost happened to her backstage last night.
Face still buried in the pillow, she tried to make sense of the shattered edges of her consciousness. She definitely remembered dancing with Wyatt. She’d flirted with Micah, she thought, though she couldn’t recall anything that had been said. And she’d…slow-danced with Ryder? The thought had her shaking all over again, trepidation swamping her as she wondered what she’d said. What she’d done. Whether she would be able to look him in the eye once it got light or not. She’d spent years hiding her feelings for him. The idea that she had blown all that in one night was horrifying.
But no matter how hard she tried to remember, nothing came to her. It was like the memories were there, buried beneath a pile of quicksand. Every time she reached for them she started to sink, but somehow never got any closer to what she wanted to remember. It was awful.
Taking a deep breath, Jamison told herself to calm down. But it was easier said than done, even when she was distracted by the delicious scent of the pillow she currently had her face buried in. It smelled warm and fresh, like citrus mixed with the wild saltiness of the ocean.
It smelled, she realized with no small amount of apprehension, like Ryder.
Which was a crazy thought, she assured herself. If she was in anyone’s bed, it was probably Jared’s, while he crashed somewhere else. Her brother might trust Ryder and the other guys with his own life, but he’d made it clear early on that he wasn’t nearly as trusting with his sister’s virtue. His over-protectiveness had driven her crazy when she’d been younger, drove her even crazier now. But at the same time, she couldn’t help appreciating it. There was something to be said for knowing that when she was with him and the rest of the band, she was safe.
She sat up gingerly, looked around. She couldn’t see much in the dark, but what little she could see made it obvious that she wasn’t on the tour bus. The bed was way too big, the room far too opulent. She was definitely in a hotel, and from the looks of it, in one of the fanciest rooms in the place.
Which meant she was probably back in the guys’ hotel suite. Jared had mentioned that they only stayed on the tour bus if they were on the move. If they were in the same city for more than one show, the label usually put them all up at a hotel.
Knowing she wasn’t going to be able to go back to sleep until she knew for sure where she was, Jamison pushed off the covers and climbed carefully to her feet. The room spun around her a little bit, but she didn’t feel nauseous. Just thirsty and headachy.
She reached for the bedside lamp, switched it on, then cursed as the pain in her head exploded one hundred fold. After slapping at the lamp until she managed to turn it off again, she sank onto the bed for a second and waited for the pain to subside. As she did, she cursed herself. What on earth had made her think partying like a rock star would be a good idea?
For some reason, Ryder’s pissed-off but concerned face hovered at the back of her eyelids, and she groaned. Prayed that it was just a hallucination and not a memory. She could handle a lot of things without freaking out—obviously—but making a fool of herself in front of Ryder was not one of those things. For a second she actually contemplated sneaking out in the middle of the night rather than facing him in the morning, but she knew that would only worry Jared and the others. Even with a sketchy memory, she was certain she’d already done more than enough of that at the club.
Eventually the pain subsided to a dull ache and she stood up a second time. Then headed for the attached bathroom, where she rinsed her face and brushed her teeth in an effort to feel somewhat human, before fumbling her way down the short hallway to what looked like a living room. Someone had left a small lamp burning and the TV was on low, an infomercial about acne medicine in full swing. She would have rolled her eyes at the ridiculous claims it was making, but just breathing hurt at the moment. Eye rolling would be torturous.
Instead, she headed around the couch toward the television set so she could turn it off, only to freeze when she realized Ryder was stretched out on the couch, sound asleep.
She froze. Had she taken his bed, then? She blushed a little, grew warm as she thought about the fact that she had just crawled out from between Ryder’s sheets. That the warm, citrusy scent she’d awoken to had indeed come from him sleeping the night before in the exact spot where she had been lying.
Ryder drew her attention back to him when he rolled over in his sleep, mumbling something she couldn’t understand. He looked so beautiful lying there. So open and unguarded and innocent. None of those were words she would normally apply to him—he’d had a rough life and when awake, he wore his response to that roughness like a shield. But here, now, asleep, he looked so vulnerable that it broke her heart.
Before she even knew she was going to do it, Jamison crouched down next to him. He was shirtless, wearing only a pair of black pajama bottoms that rode low enough to reveal the cut lines of his abdomen. She itched to touch him, to run her hands and lips over the strong contours of his chest. The dark, sexy lines of the tattoos that covered so much of his torso. But she didn’t have that right. He wasn’t hers, would never be hers, and she wasn’t so desperate that she would take while he was asleep what he would never give her while awake.
So instead, she just sat there, watching him in the dim light. Memorizing him. After all, she’d probably never get this opportunity again.
She studied his tattoos for long moments, wondering why she’d never before noticed that the placement of the thick black tribal bands seemed to be imprisoning the phoenix on his arm even as it rose from the ashes. It was one of the most beautiful pieces of ink she’d ever seen, but looking at it now, from this angle, it was also devastating.
Like so much of Ryder was.
Oh, she’d seen him in this pose before—all wild hair, bare chest and bad-boy ink—in a layout for Rolling Stone. Just like tonight, his jaw had been shadowed with two days of facial scruff, his ears—and one of his nipples—pierced with thick hoops. But the resemblance ended there. For the photo shoot, Ryder had obliterated any trace of vulnerability until all anyone looking at him could see was the carefully crafted image of sex, drugs, and badass rock and roll. He wore the image well, so well that it was almost impossible to remember that it really was just a facade.
There was none of that distance while he was sleeping, no signs of the wall he usually kept between himself and the rest of the world. Instead he looked tired, worn-down, like the act of hiding his true self was too exhausting to handle.
It made her hurt, made her wish he could see how wonderful he was. How he didn’t have to hide who he was anymore. Not that she didn’t understand. When you grew up with a father like Ryder’s, who beat your mother and you and then blamed your very existence on everything that was wrong in the world, it was hard to look past that and believe you were actually a worthy human being. Harder still to let anyone in, not when you were desperate to hide your perceived flaws.
Ryder stirred again and she forced herself to her feet. She could spend the rest of the night just sitting there, looking at him, but it was an invasion of his privacy. One she knew he wouldn’t take kindly to if he were aware of it.
A little steadier on her feet now that she was fully awake, Jamison made her way to the bar in the corner of the suite. She got herself a bottle of water out of the mini-fridge, drank it down in long, greedy swallows. Then got another one and started in on it at a much slower pace as she swallowed a couple of Advil from the bottle sitting on the bar like it was waiting for her. After re-capping the bottle, she made her way to the large picture window that gave her a glorious view of San Diego.
The city looked so peaceful from way up here, so clean and beautiful and perfect. She didn’t know what hotel they were in, but it must be near the harbor because she could see an inky blackness past the fluorescent glow of the skyscrapers that could only be the water.
She smiled, a little giddy at the view. She might not like partying with rock stars, but she certainly couldn’t find fault with living like them. The suite was beautiful, the view amazing. It was a far cry from the apartment Shaken Dirty used to share while they were waiting for their big break. An even farther cry from her cramped little inland apartment, where bars on the windows and three locks on the door were necessities of life.
She reached out, traced a pattern on the glass as she looked at the sleeping city far below. And thought about how dismal her immediate future looked.
She wasn’t sure how long she stood there, drinking her water and trying not to think as fatigue weighed heavily on her. She hadn’t slept at all the night before—she’d been too worried about the car, the boyfriend, the job and the meager state of her finances to relax enough to drift off. And she must not have gotten much sleep yet tonight, either. It had been close to two a.m. the last time she’d glanced at her watch and if dawn was just now beginning to creep across the sky, she couldn’t have been out for very long.
Which meant the guys wouldn’t be up for hours. That might have annoyed her normally—she was a total morning person—but at this exact moment, it felt just about right. After all, it wasn’t like she had a job to get up for. She could sleep as late as the guys would let her.
She’d just crossed the room to turn the TV off when Ryder made a strangled sound. It was low, unintelligible,, fraught with discomfort and desperation. Her heart jumped to her throat and she whirled to face him, convinced he was going to be sick. Maybe she wasn’t the only one who had gotten drunk at the bar.
Except her first good look at his face told her that sickness would have been preferable. Anything would be. He looked terrified, traumatized, his eyes squeezed tightly shut and his mouth open in horror. He was thrashing around, kicking out at the leg of the couch as he made terrible noises that cut to the very center of her.