Page 24

Author: Tracy Wolff

Knowing Ryder was too far gone to listen to him, Quinn didn’t say anything. Instead, he sat back and waited for Ryder to wind himself down. It took a while.

“He’s the as**ole who got a big head and started acting like a total dick. He’s the as**ole who f**ked around with his band mate’s fiancée. And he’s the as**ole who f**ked with Wyatt’s head when he got out of rehab last time. And we’re supposed to pay him. Like we’re the ones who did something wrong. No way. No f**king way.”

Ryder paced around some more, muttering more curses and threats than Quinn had ever heard him use—which was saying something. He couldn’t help being glad that Elise was still asleep upstairs—she wasn’t the delicate flower that her father and so many others liked to think she was, but that didn’t mean she was ready to deal with Ryder at his angriest, either. Especially considering the guy currently looked like a berserker in a rage.

But eventually he wound down, as Quinn knew he would, and he sank into the chair next to Quinn’s.

“Let me see the email from the lawyers.”

Quinn slid the tablet over to him.

It wasn’t that long of an email, but Ryder must have read it over a few times because it was close to ten minutes before he opened his mouth again. “You’ve been talking to them since you got this.”

“Yeah.” He tried not to think about the agonizing hours he’d spent on the phone trying to wrap his own head around the f**king unfairness of it all before he brought it to Ryder and the others.

“How much do they think we need to give him?”

“They suggest we start with a flat amount, three million dollars, and then negotiate up to one-fifth of our net profit from the next album—”

“One-fifth? We have to get a new bassist, so that’ll be more than any of us make—”

“And ten percent of what we make from tour.”

The list of obscenities that fell from Ryder’s lips was long and vile and more creative than anything Quinn had heard in quite a while.

He waited a few minutes for Ryder to wind down, but when it didn’t look like he was going to, Quinn interrupted. “It’s the best thing to do. I know it sucks. I know it’s not fair. I know you’d rather throw the guy under a f**king bus than do this, but the lawyers and I have wracked our brains for the least messy way to do this and I swear to you, Ryder, this is it.

“We need this to be over. The band needs this to be over. Jared can’t take a long, drawn-out battle with that f**ker right now and Wyatt…Wyatt’s already beating the hell out of himself for the mess we’re in. Add this to it, and I don’t think we’ve got a chance in hell of keeping him sober when he gets out of rehab.”

Jaw clenched, Ryder poured himself another shot of whiskey and tossed it back. Then he nodded. “Yeah, all right. Let’s just get it done. Then we can start looking for a new bass player and put all this shit behind us.”

“Okay. I’ll call the lawyers as soon as they’re open.”

“Yeah. Do that.” He paused. “When are we going to tell the others? We won’t be able to do this without their okay.”

“It’ll be better for everyone if we get things started. If the balls are all in place, then it’ll look more like a fait accompli. They’ll bitch and moan like you did, but they’ll fall into line.”

Ryder watched him with narrowed eyes. “You planned this whole f**king thing.”

Quinn looked at him like he was crazy. “You’re the one who broke into my house at five in the f**king morning and woke me up. How could I have planned anything?”

“I don’t know, but you did.”

He shrugged. “Dude, I just presented you with the options.”

Ryder snorted. “Yeah, and the Titanic was just a boat.”

“It was. And not a very good one, as history has proven.”

Ryder laughed. “That’s what I like about you, Quinn. You’re always thinking. Always f**king thinking.”

“One of us needs to be.” He pushed back from the table, put the scotch away, then poured himself another cup of coffee. “So, are you going home or are we going to get to work on this album?”

“Work on the album, of course. It better be f**king brilliant if we’re going to make up for the amount of money we have to pay that asshole.”

Chapter Fourteen

Her underwear was missing. It was a strange problem to have, Elise admitted, and one she’d originally put down to the fact that she still felt a little groggy from the pill Quinn had made her take. But she’d spent the last fifteen minutes searching every drawer in her room—and her suitcase, just in case she’d left them in there—and hadn’t found one bra or one pair of panties. Even the ones she’d worn the day before were missing. The rest of the clothes she’d picked up from the music room were draped neatly across the chair near the window. But her bra was gone and so were her panties.

That, more than anything else, convinced her that she wasn’t to blame. That this wasn’t a simple matter of her being too drugged to remember what she’d done with them. No, if every single one of her undergarments was missing, it could only be because Quinn had stolen them.

The jerk.

The scum-sucking bastard.

The no-good, lying thief.

He’d f**ked her brains out last night, made love to her over and over again like she was the most precious thing in the world, and all the time he’d been plotting this.

This meant war.

Pulling on the nearest article of clothing she could find—which just happened to be Quinn’s T-shirt—she marched out into the hall and down the stairs. She wasn’t even at the bottom when she heard the sound of the piano drifting up from the music room. Good. He’d be a captive audience when she found him.

Being subtle and just exacting her revenge over his pranks was one thing. But this wasn’t a few obscene pictures on her cast. This was every piece of underwear she owned and she was not the type to go anywhere without a bra.

She hit the music room at nearly a run, found Quinn sitting at the piano exactly as she expected to. “You just can’t go around stealing people’s underwear,” she snarled at him. “I want my panties and I want them now.”

Before he could say anything, a warm chuckle came from behind her and she turned to see Jared and Ryder walking into the room, cups of coffee in their hands.

“You heard the girl,” Ryder said. “You should probably take her panties off and give them back to her.”

Quinn casually flipped him off before turning back to her. “Why would I have your panties?” he asked, and he looked so bewildered that she might actually have bought the confusion if she didn’t know him as well as she did. But she did know him and there was no way she was falling for his act.

“Because you are an evil, evil man and I swear, I will bring you down if you do not give my underwear back to me right now.”

He spread his arms wide, palms up. “Do I look like I have your underwear? Where would I even be hiding them?”

He made a good point, considering his jeans had enough rips in them that she could practically see everything there was to see. But she wasn’t about to concede now, not when she was standing in front of him and his friends wearing nothing but an oversized T-shirt. “Yes. That’s exactly what you look like. Now give them to me.” The last sentence came out as little more than a whine and it infuriated her so much that she clamped her mouth shut, gritted her teeth.

“Don’t worry, darlin’,” Ryder said as he sauntered into the room. “I’m sure we can drive you to Barton Springs to pick up more.”

“That’s not the point!” she yelped. “He took everything. Every last bra, every last pair of panties. I don’t even have anything to wear to go shopping in.”

“Every pair, huh?” Jared asked, suddenly a lot more interested in the hem of the shirt she was wearing. “That’s a real shame. Why don’t you come sit by me and tell me all about it?”

“Are you f**king with me right now?” she demanded. “Are you seriously f**king with me?” She glared at him in annoyance, even as she tugged at the hem of the shirt she was wearing, trying to get it to cover another inch or two of bare skin. Stupid, oversexed rock stars.

“Jared, stop looking at my girlfriend like that,” Quinn told him, reaching for the throw he kept on the back of the couch and tossing it to her. “Or I’m going to knock your teeth down your throat.”

“You’re the one who stole her underwear, man. I was just enjoying the view.”

“Yeah, well, don’t.”

“You are all ridiculous,” Elise told them as she wrapped the blanket around her and marched for the door, but not before she heard Ryder say, “Hey, what did I do?”

She was too annoyed to answer¸ but still, she couldn’t help being a little bit happy about how natural Quinn had sounded when he’d called her his girlfriend.

Which was ridiculous, of course. This wasn’t high school where she needed the guy she was with to brand her. And it wasn’t like she was angling for a permanent relationship or anything. She knew this thing with Quinn was temporary, knew that the only reason he’d let himself be with her last night was because she was leaving in a few days. But while her brain was very good at reminding her of that fact, her heart was just as good at ignoring it. She’d pay the price later, but she wasn’t going to be concerned with later. Not right now, when she was still buzzing over what it felt like to have Quinn inside of her. Or she would be, if she wasn’t concerned about going commando for the next five days.

Just the thought made her crazy.

Since Ryder and Jared were there the whole day, she spent the whole time in a pair of yoga pants and a baggy T-shirt—a very baggy T-shirt. Definitely no need to have a repeat of the music room that morning.

But in the end it wasn’t even necessary—she barely saw them. They spent the whole day holed up in the music room, only coming out for lunch and snacks. Which was fine with her, since it gave her more than enough time to plot her revenge…and enact it. Admittedly, it was no stolen underwear prank, but considering what she’d had to work with, she thought it was pretty good. Especially when Quinn got a phone call from one of the assistants at their PR firm around six o’clock.

He and the guys were in the family room, relaxing for a few minutes while they waited for Jamison—and dinner—to arrive. Elise was curled up on the couch, warm and drowsy from the pain pill Quinn had practically force-fed her at lunch. Yet another thing she needed to get revenge for, she thought a little resentfully. She knew he was just trying to take care of her, but she was getting sick of him deciding when she needed to take a Vicodin—especially since that seemed to be pretty much about every six hours or so. Which meant she’d spent a lot of the day in this state of blurry lassitude. Not exactly conducive to trying to figure out her life and the completely unplanned future that suddenly stretched in front of her.

“No, I’m not babysitting anyone,” Quinn said into the phone, sounding completely confused. “I mean, except Jared and Ryder.”

Jared flipped him off lazily, while Ryder—who looked like he knew something was up—just raised an inquiring eyebrow.

“No, there are no kids around at all. Why would you even ask me that?”

Elise forced herself not to move, not to give anything away, but the drowsiness faded some as the conversation continued. Nothing like the sweet sound of victory to make everything a little clearer and brighter.

“What are you talking about?” Quinn finally asked, exasperated. “I’m not even listening to music, let alone the theme song from Barney.”