Page 15

Author: Tracy Wolff

She stood there watching them for a moment, unsure of what to do. Should she join them at the table or would they prefer if she left them alone? Though they were messing with each other, the underlying tone of the conversation sounded serious. Like there was something they needed to get worked out. She didn’t want to interrupt that.

Besides, she couldn’t help being uncomfortable. Out of place. She didn’t belong here, in Quinn’s world. If she was honest, she didn’t belong anywhere. But certainly not here. With him and these other too-beautiful-to-actually-be-human rock gods.

Her indecision must have translated itself to Quinn, because he frowned at her—then nodded his head at the spot she’d claimed earlier. When that didn’t immediately get her moving, he jumped up from the table and came around to her. Conversation stopped as the other two turned to watch him with unabashed curiosity.

“What’s wrong?” he asked quietly, his hand curving around her waist to rest on her lower back. “Are you hurting again?”

She was, but not in the way he meant. And it wasn’t like she planned on explaining to him how out of place she felt here, with him. This man with his beautiful house and his beautiful friends and his beautiful life was not the Quinn she knew, the Quinn she could relate to.

“I’m good,” she finally said. “I just figured you guys might want to be alone.”

Ryder shot her an amused look. “We don’t have that kind of relationship.”

God, could she be more of an idiot? Cheeks flaming at her unwitting double entendre, Elise searched for something to say.

Interestingly, it was Jared who came to her rescue. “Speak for yourself,” he said with a wink in her direction. “I’ve been trying to get Quinn all to myself for years.”

“Sit down,” Quinn told her. “They’re going to be here most of the day. We have plenty of time to talk business.”

“That we do,” Ryder confirmed. “Besides, I’ve been dying to have a chat with you since I came in.”

Quinn shot him a mild look. “I’m sure Jamison will be happy to hear that.” There was an underlying note of warning in his voice, one that sounded an awful lot like jealousy to Elise. Though the whole idea was ridiculous, it still sparked something inside of her. Something that had her ni**les peaking and heat flooding low into her belly.

Crossing an arm over her chest so the nipple situation wouldn’t be quite so obvious, she sank back down into her chair and asked Ryder, “What should we chat about?”

“The possibilities are endless,” he answered with a grin, “but what I really want to ask about is your interesting choice in cast decorations.”

Quinn choked on the sip of coffee he’d just taken and went into a huge coughing fit.

After checking to make sure he wasn’t actually turning blue, Elise turned back to Ryder with a grin of her own. “It is interesting, isn’t it? I particularly like the rainbow ones.”

Jared leaned closer to investigate. “Now see, I like this one.” He tapped one of the drawings. “Gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘blue balls.’”

Elise burst out laughing. “It really does.”

“You know, I think we could start a trend with this,” Ryder said after he stopped laughing. “The next time I break something, I’m totally going to request one of those. The fans will love it.”

“You don’t even have to request it. Quinn took the time to do this for me. I’m sure he’d do the same for you.” She gave Quinn her blandest smile.

For a second, he looked like he was at a loss for words. But he’d never been one to ignore the gauntlet once it had been thrown—obviously—so he eventually nodded. “You bet. Break a leg or something and I’ll definitely do the cast design.”

“Can you do tits, too? Because there’s something about a pair of rainbow colored tits that appeals to me,” Ryder said.

“Of course he can do tits,” Elise told him. “And the best part, once the doctor takes this off I’m going to auction it on eBay. An original Quinn Bradford design. I figure it’ll end up paying for my medical bills.”

This time Jared was the one to choke on his coffee, only he ended up spewing it halfway across the table—and right into Quinn’s face.

As Quinn spluttered and the other two men guffawed, Elise got started on her breakfast. Suddenly, her close to non-existent appetite was back with a vengeance.

Chapter Nine

After breakfast, the guys each grabbed another cup of coffee then headed down the hall to Quinn’s music room. He asked if she wanted to join them, but Elise figured the last thing they needed was a classical pianist hanging around while they tried to write their new album.

Besides, she had revenge to plot. Watching Quinn get a face full of coffee had been amusing, to say the least, but in the grand scheme of things it just didn’t stack up against a cast covered in obscene pictures. She was the one who was going to have to explain it to the doctor, after all.

Quinn was already suspicious, though, so she was going to have to get creative. Which was more than fine with her. It wasn’t like she had anything better to do with her time at the moment.

She wasn’t certain what it said about her that she was this excited to torture a man who had gone out of his way to help her. And to be honest, she didn’t care. All that mattered at this point was getting the best of Quinn.

So while the band spent the morning working on what sounded like a damn fine ballad—one about mistakes and forgiveness—she spent the morning wandering the house and trying to figure out a truly dirty trick to play on Quinn.

The irony of the situation was not lost on her.

Though it took well over an hour, the answer finally came to her when she was poking around the kitchen. After sneaking down the hall to make sure the guys were still absorbed in their songwriting—which they were—she set the necessary supplies out on the kitchen table and got to work.

Two and a half hours later, she had just finished putting everything away when a woman carrying three large pizza boxes let herself in through the same door Ryder and Jared had come in earlier. Tall and curvy, with long red hair and a smile as bright as the sun, she dropped the pizzas on the table then pulled Elise in for a peach scented hug.

Elise went along with it—mostly because she didn’t know how to get out of it gracefully—then breathed a sigh of relief when she was finally free. She didn’t know who the woman was, but logic said she was probably a “friend” of Quinn’s. And while Elise had no claim on him herself, she wasn’t exactly thrilled to have her competition hanging all over her.

Not that the gorgeous redhead was actually her competition. Elise wasn’t competing for Quinn. Not at all. Not even a little bit. The fact that she didn’t stand a chance next to this woman was completely superfluous.

“You must be Elise! I’ve heard so much about you! How are you feeling? How’s your hand? Quinn said you were doing really well, but I wanted to come over and check on you. See if there was anything you needed. Quinn’s a great guy, but even great guys don’t always understand that sometimes women need more than a can of beer and a television set to be comfortable.”

Elise found herself nodding along with the words tumbling out of the other women’s mouth. Not because she agreed or disagreed, but because they were coming so quickly she could barely keep up. And she hadn’t even taken the pain medication Quinn had given her that morning because she’d wanted to keep her wits about her.

But before she could respond—or ask who the woman was—Ryder came strolling into the kitchen, Jared and Quinn at his heels. “I knew I smelled pizza.” He leaned down and gave the redhead a lingering kiss before finally drawing back. As he pulled her against him—her back to his chest—Elise finally clued in to who the woman was.

“You’re Jamison?” she asked tentatively. “Ryder’s fiancée?”

“And my sister,” Jared said, reaching over to ruffle Jamison’s hair.

“Of course I am. I—” Jamison broke off mid-sentence, her eyes going comically wide. “Did I forget to say that?”

Elise nodded.

“No wonder you looked at me like I was a crazy person. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong. But yes, I’m Jamison. Jared’s sister. Ryder’s fiancée. Quinn’s friend.”

She stressed the last word a little and Elise looked down at the ground as her cheeks flushed. Maybe Quinn wasn’t the only one whose jealousy was obvious.

“Thanks so much for going shopping for me when I was in the hospital. You got everything I could possibly need and I really appreciate it.”

“Don’t be silly!” Jamison waved off her thanks. “I’m surrounded by men all the time. Going shopping for girl stuff is fun for me. Although,” Jamison eyed her up and down, “Now that I see you, I’m guessing the stuff I bought was too big. I was going off Quinn’s descriptions, but I couldn’t be sure.”

“Everything was great. And only a little too big, which made it really comfortable, actually. So, again, thanks.”

“Anytime. Really.” Jamison’s smile was so real that Elise couldn’t help relaxing. No matter how out there they looked, Quinn’s friends were really nice people.

Jared settled himself at the table and reached for the pizza boxes. “What kind did you get?”

“Don’t worry. One of them is prosciutto and pineapple, just for you,” Jamison told him with an indulgent smile.

Soon the group of them was all gathered around the table, scarfing down pizza and beer and talking over each other as ideas for the new album flew fast and furious between them. Elise’s earlier opinion about them being a close-knit group was reinforced by the way they finished each other’s sentences and the way their energies fed off of one another.

She expected to feel like an interloper, or at least an unwanted intrusion. After all, she’d pretty much lived her whole life as one. She was the unplanned pregnancy that had stolen her mother’s touring career. The unwanted baby who had killed her mother, and the love of her father’s life. The unwanted girl who could never measure up to the genius she had stolen from the world. And that had come from her father, from the man who was pretty much required to love and take care of her.

She didn’t even mind feeling like that, not with Quinn. After everything that he had gone through, she was just happy that he’d found some place that he fit in, with people who loved and respected him for who he was. She was more than happy just being an observer, and getting a chance to see him in his element.

So she settled at the end of the table with a piece of pizza and a soda and planned to just enjoy the show.

The way Quinn would shout out an idea and somehow get everyone at the table excited about it.

The way Ryder’s face would light up whenever Jamison brushed against him or smiled at him or even looked his way.

The way Jared, who she was coming to realize rarely looked anything but sad, tapped experimental rhythms out on the table to match up with Quinn’s lyrics or descriptions.

But it didn’t take long for Quinn to realize that she’d isolated herself. Then he was reaching over with one powerful arm, dragging her chair closer to the rest of them. Putting her solidly in the middle of the fray. Soon, she was throwing her own ideas out about baselines and melodies and even contributing to the lyrics of a chorus while Quinn feverishly scribbled everything that was said into a battered black leather notebook.

It was fun. Way more fun than she ever could have imagined. Not just the fact that they listened to her and made her feel like she had something to offer—which was amazing in and of itself—but the actual act of composing. Of putting words and notes together from nothing and making something wonderful.