Before he could say anything else, Ryder whipped out his phone. She didn’t know what he was checking, but whatever it was had him cracking up and handing the phone over to Jared, who started laughing hysterically too.
“It’s all over Twitter, man,” Ryder said when he could stop laughing long enough to get a word out. “People are wondering if the website’s been hacked. Or if you’ve been hacked. Or if you’ve had a baby and just haven’t told anyone. Aww, look, they’re calling you Daddy Q.”
“What the bloody hell is going on?” Quinn roared and he sounded so frustrated it was all Elise could do not to cackle.
She was a genius, pure and simple. An evil genius, maybe, but a genius nonetheless. Maybe she should apply for the job of a cartoon villain now that being a pianist was off the table.
The fact that it was taking Quinn so long to catch on only made the victory sweeter. It was his own fault, after all. He’d started this whole thing when he kidnapped her. She was only finishing it.
Pretending to be asleep, Elise rolled over on the couch and watched with slitted eyes as Quinn pulled open his laptop. For long seconds, he didn’t say anything, and then suddenly he yelped like a scalded cat, his eyes darting up to meet hers.
Of course, she slammed her lids shut and used every ounce of willpower she had to keep her features relaxed, but it was too late. She knew it, even before she heard him put the laptop down. Even before she heard the soft rustle of him crossing the room. Even before she opened her eyes and found herself staring into Quinn’s slightly horrified, totally amused ones.
“Really? Justin Bieber? I think I would have preferred you sticking with Barney.”
Exactly why she’d done it.
Over Quinn’s shoulder, she could see Ryder and Jared scrolling through the playlist she’d downloaded to Quinn’s iPod and then set on a continuous loop, one that updated to Shaken Dirty’s website thanks to a “what’s playing on the iPod” program he’d already had in place. Any fans that had stopped by to check out the website today—and there must have been a lot, judging by the twitter interactions she’d observed through the day, had been treated to the knowledge that bad-ass Quinn listened to Barney, Little Mix, and copious, copious amounts of Justin Bieber.
“Aww, come on, I think you’d make a great Belieber.”
“You know you could have just killed me while I slept, right? It would have been less painful.”
“Yes, but you haven’t slept since you stole my underwear. So.”
“So.” He reached out, ran a soft hand down her cheek before curling his fingers in her hair.
She wasn’t sure how she’d expected him to react to this latest prank. With anger, maybe. With annoyance, certainly. But however she’d imagined it, nothing could have prepared her for the bemused tenderness of his touch, the sweet amusement of his look.
“Dude!” Jared cackled from his spot on the couch. “This playlist is sick. You got owned, man. Totally owned.”
For long seconds, Quinn didn’t say anything. Just continued to stroke her hair. And then, just when she thought he wasn’t going to answer, he whispered softly, “I know I did.”
And that’s when it happened. When, despite her very best efforts, she slid headlong into love with Quinn f**king Bradford all over again.
Two hours later, Elise was still berating herself for her stupidity when Quinn stuck his head in her bedroom door. “Wanna go out?”
“With the guys?”
He shook his head. “Ryder and Jared just left. I thought maybe I could take you out for a late dinner and a ride around the lake.”
“A ride?” she asked, intrigued.
“Yeah, on my bike. It’s the perfect time of year for it.”
Her heart jumped a little at the idea of being on the back of Quinn’s motorcycle, her arms wrapped around his waist. She really liked the idea of being able to hold him, even when sex wasn’t involved.
But still, a girl who had just humiliated a guy in front of several million people had to watch her back. It was pure logic. “Are we calling a truce for the night?”
Those gorgeous obsidian eyes of his narrowed to slits. “I don’t know. Are we?”
In other words, take your chances. Normally, just the thought would have chills slamming up her spine—she definitely wasn’t the impulsive sort in her day-to-day life. But something about the way Quinn said it, about the challenge he was very obviously issuing, got to her.
Made her hot.
Not to mention determined not to back down.
“How do I know you aren’t just going to take me out to some deserted spot near the lake and leave me for the coyotes and bobcats?” She threw his words from that first night back at him.
His lips twitched. “Guess you’re just going to have to trust me.”
Yeah, like that came so easily. Still, she wanted to go out with Quinn, wanted to see where he’d take her here, in his hometown.
“Sure,” she said after a few moments. “But I need fifteen minutes to get dressed. And access to at least one set of underwear.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Seriously? Are you still playing it that way?”
He shrugged. “Who says I’m playing? You know there are people who do that kind of thing. Who break into the houses of famous people and steal their underwear. Maybe that’s what happened here.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s what happened,” she told him with an annoyed roll of her eyes. “Do you still have your underwear?”
She snorted. “Then I’d say your theory is seriously flawed. Seeing as how this is your house. Not to mention you’re about a million times more famous than I am.”
“Yeah, but you’ve got better underwear.”
“Sorry, Lissy. Can’t help you.”
“Then I can’t go!”
“Really? You’re going to let a little thing like missing underwear stop you from having a good time?”
“Yeah, well, we can’t all have rock star sensibilities, you know.”
“Sweetheart, you already have them. You just don’t know it yet.” He started to leave, but then poked his head back in the door. “How’s your hand feeling?”
“Better.” It still twinged, but the constant, steady pain was gone. At least for now.
“Good. Don’t take a painkiller then. I don’t want to have to worry about you falling off the back of the bike.”
Then, with another one of his wicked grins and an absolutely lascivious wink, he disappeared down the hallway.
Elise stared after him for long seconds, wondering what it was he thought she was going to do. And then, even though the idea of going completely commando out into public horrified her, she got up and started looking for clothes anyway. Because, stolen underwear or not, her time with Quinn was getting dangerously short and she didn’t want to miss one second of it.
“I think we should play that game again,” Elise said after tossing back her second shot of tequila.
“What game is that?” Quinn asked with a grin. He was both amused and turned on by the way she was looking at him, her big green eyes wide and just a little unfocused, her skin flushed a gorgeous, rosy pink. And her lips…her plump, raspberry colored lips were raised in a smile that was part childlike joy and part sexy invitation. She was all enigma, his Elise, cool and distant one moment, open and warm the next, and always, always thinking. Always a step or two ahead of him, like with the iPod thing. Totally diabolical and completely ingenious. He loved it, and he was more than a little concerned that he was beginning to love her too. Or maybe it wasn’t that he was beginning to. Maybe it was still.
He didn’t know which it was. He’d loved her when he was seventeen and had walked away from her. He loved her now, at twenty-seven. But there was a part of him, a pretty big part, that was telling him he’d loved her all along. Even through the years they weren’t together.
The thought scared the hell out of him.
Because this wasn’t the right time for this. Elise was at a crossroads in her life. Her career was over, her life was a shambles, and to think that they could build anything from that—now—was crazy. And completely unfair to her. She needed time, to heal, to figure things out, to decide who she was now that she wasn’t Elise McKinney, concert pianist. What she didn’t need was a lovesick rock star mooning over her, making her feel uncomfortable and nervous and trapped.
He knew that, he did, and still he wanted her with an intensity that bordered on obsession. Still he needed her, in his arms and his bed and his heart.
Fuck. He raised a hand and gestured to the waitress that he’d like another beer. A little cyanide might be nice too, just to clear his head.
“The question game,” Elise told him, jerking his attention back to her right before she lifted a sliver of lime to her lips and bit into it.
“The question game.”
“Absolutely. We’re sleeping together and aside from the fact that you’re a crazy, rich rock star, I know almost nothing about what’s happened to you in the last ten years.”
“Isn’t that enough? I mean, it has taken up most of my time.”
She laughed, a full, rich sound that was completely at odds with her delicate appearance. He grinned; he couldn’t help himself. Elise’s laugh—when she let it escape—was one of the things he’d always liked best about her.
“Come on,” she told him. “I’m curious.”
He sighed with pretended reluctance. “I get to ask questions, too?”
“Fine. But I get to go first.”
“Okay.” She watched him with narrowed eyes. “But only if you promise not to distract me before I get to ask my question.”
He deliberately widened his eyes, and put a hand to his chest. “You malign me.”
“I know you.”
“Then remind me why we’re playing the question game again?”
She crumpled up her drink napkin and threw it at him.
“Okay, okay. First question. I’ll start with an easy one. Where do you live?”
“Nowhere.” The word seemed to pop out before she could think better of it. But as it hung there, between them, her eyes dimmed a little and she looked nervous. “I mean, I still have a house in Chicago, but I haven’t been back there since my father died and…”
“I don’t know. I don’t know if I want to go back there. I mean, I know I should since ostensibly that’s where my doctors are, but…” She shook her head. “I don’t know. I’ve never really liked it there. It didn’t matter before, because I travel ten months of the year, but now, now I think it probably will matter.”
Quinn wasn’t sure what to say to that. He knew what he wanted to say—to hell with what she should do, it was past time for her to start doing what she wanted to do—but he wasn’t sure that was the best way to go with this conversation right now.
He was spared from having to formulate an answer when the waitress showed up with their food—a steak for him and a pasta dish for Elise.
Quinn watched as she leaned over and breathed in the spicy sauce, a small smile curving her lips as she sighed happily. And he couldn’t help responding, couldn’t help growing hard at the pure, sensual enjoyment on her face. She was just so damn beautiful.
“My turn,” she told him as she twirled pasta onto her fork. “Who’s Wyatt?”
“Wyatt?” He glanced at her in surprise.
“You’ve mentioned him several times and I get the impression he’s in the band, but I’ve never seen him at the house with the others.”