Jared grumbled good-naturedly under his breath, before shrugging and asking, “So what do we do?”
Elise walked over to the keyboards where Quinn was standing. “What if you try something like this?” she said, playing a series of notes with her right hand only. It was a bold combination, one that took the basics from the chord they had just been working with and then turned it on its head.
“That’s sick,” Jared told her, already copying the notes on his guitar.
“Yeah,” Ryder agreed. “Play it together—keyboards and guitar.”
They did, Quinn taking over from Elise so he could use both hands to get the full spectrum of the notes.
“That sounds good,” Ryder said after a minute. “You are a genius, Elise McKinney.”
She blushed, shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
“Then you don’t get a vote,” Jared told her with a grin. “Because I think you’re brilliant and since I know what I’m talking about when it comes to making music, you should just take the compliment.”
“I should, huh?”
“Absolutely,” Ryder told her. “We may never be able to write a song without you again.”
Elise kind of froze at that, then glanced back at Quinn uneasily. He pulled her against him, dropped a reassuring kiss on her bare shoulder. Though he’d told her more than once that he wanted her to stay with him, he didn’t think she believed him. Which was a problem, since he wanted her with him all the time.
Oh, he still worried about hurting her, still worried that he wouldn’t be good for her in the long run. But it was hard to focus on that right now, when she’d improved so much with just a little care. He wanted to give her more, to lavish her with affection and care and love for a while, to see where that got them. She deserved it, she deserved everything, and he wanted to be the one to give it to her.
And if his father’s legacy still haunted him, if he still had nightmares of Elise lying on the ground next to that piano bench, blood on her head from where she’d struck the corner of the bench when he’d tried to shove her out of the way of his father’s temper, then that was his cross to bear. Because he was determined to never hurt Elise again, and to never let anyone else hurt her either. She’d spent too long at the mercy of her as**ole father for Quinn to ever take caring for her lightly.
“He’s right,” he told her with another soft kiss, this one on her temple. “I’ve gotten used to having you in the studio. You should probably stick around for a while.”
She laughed. “Maybe I will.”
“No maybe about it,” Jared told her, reaching a hand out to tousle her hair as he walked over to the mini-fridge in the corner and pulled out a bottle of water. “You’re staying.”
“Then I’d better earn my keep,” Elise said, playing a couple more chords with her right hand. “So what do we want to do after this? I feel like it should escalate, right? We’re coming to the end of the bridge, getting ready to launch into the final verse. It needs to be powerful and—”
She broke off when someone started pounding on the door of the recording studio, over and over again. It was a separate building from the house and as such had its own entrance.
Quinn glanced at the other guys, but they looked as surprised as he was. Sure, technically, this place was a separate building from the house with its own entrance, but no one knew it was here and no one ever came to the door except the five of them.
“Fans?” Ryder asked, walking toward the window to try to get a look outside.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you want me to get it?” Elise asked. “I promise, no sex-crazed fans are going to be interested in me.”
Quinn shot her a look. “I think I can handle it.”
But he’d spoken too soon, because it wasn’t a few intrepid fans waiting for him at the door. It was so much worse.
“Are you going to let me in?” Micah demanded, staring at him with bloodshot eyes.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded, making no move to step out of the doorway.
“You thought I wouldn’t show up again? You thought you could just send that insulting as f**k offer to my lawyer and I wouldn’t have anything to say about it?”
“Frankly, I don’t give a shit what you say about it,” Quinn told him with a negligent shrug. “But I do care that you’re here. Get the f**k off my property.”
“Is that really how you want to play this?” Micah demanded, puffing himself up and getting right in Quinn’s face.
“Damn right. You don’t belong here.”
Micah tried to shove past him then, but Quinn stood his ground. No way this f**ker was getting past him. No way he was getting in the studio to f**k with Jared’s brain any more than he already had.
Except, Jared wasn’t the type to stand back and let his friends protect him, even from douchebags like Micah. “What’s he talking about?” he demanded. “What offer?”
Fuck. Quinn glanced at their lead singer. “Ryder…”
“I got this. You take care of fucktard over there.”
“You don’t have anything,” Jared responded, voice flat and eyes dead. “Let him in. I want to hear what he’s got to say.”
“No, you don’t.” Quinn went to close the door in their ex-bassist’s face, but Jared was right here, wrenching the thing away from him and stepping back so the other man could come inside.
“Say what you came here to say, Micah.”
“Well, thanks so much for your permission, Jared. Nice to see you’re still as big a pu**y as ever.”
“Hey!” Ryder got in his face, shoved him back a few steps. “Shut your f**king mouth.”
“Who’s going to make me?”
“What are you, three?” Quinn demanded, stepping between them before Ryder could plant a fist in Micah’s face. Not that the other guy didn’t deserve it, but he didn’t want that kind of violence around Elise. “If you came to pick a fight, you need to leave. Now.”
“Jared doesn’t want me to leave,” Micah taunted him. “He seems pretty interested in what I have to say.”
“Yeah, well, Jared’s head hasn’t been exactly clear since he found you screwing his fiancée while Wyatt f**king OD’d in the next room. This is my property and I want you to get the f**k off of it.”
Micah didn’t budge and Quinn gritted his teeth against the urge to shove him through the nearest window. He was trying to be rational about this, but it was hard when Micah was being such a douche. He didn’t want Elise, or Jared, around this guy and the poison he spewed and it was getting harder and harder not to physically remove him.
But the lawyers had warned about physical altercations, had told him and Ryder that it would only end up costing them more in the long run. Judging from the way Ryder was clenching and unclenching his fists, that warning seemed to have gone out the window for him. Which meant Quinn needed to be the voice of reason, even if all he really wanted to do was rip this f**ker limb from f**king limb.
“This is the last warning I’m going to give you, Micah. Then I’m calling the police. And then I’m going to escort you to your car, one way or another.”
“I still want to know what offer he’s talking about.” Jared spoke for the first time since he let Micah in.
“They didn’t even bother to tell you?” Micah sneered. “Typical. You’d think when they tried to kick somebody out of the band they’d actually talk to all the band members, but not Quinn and Ryder. Oh no. They like to do things all on their own.”
“We’re not on our own. Nobody wants you in Shaken Dirty anymore.”
“Well, f**k you, I don’t want to be in this piece of shit band anymore, either. You’re all a bunch of f**king losers. But I helped make this band and if you want to get rid of me, you’d better come up with a hell of a better offer than two million dollars.”
“Two million dollars?” Jared demanded. “You were going to give this f**ker two million dollars?”
“Oh, they’re going to give me a lot more than that before this is over,” Micah boasted. “And some of it’s going to come right out of your pockets. How’s that make you feel, Jared boy? To know I’ve got your woman and your money?”
“Okay.” Elise spoke for the first time. “Let’s just everybody calm down for a second. Jared, don’t let him—”
But Jared was already leaping across the room, fist raised. Quinn beat him to it. As Ryder grabbed hold of Shaken Dirty’s guitarist, Quinn buried his fist in Micah’s jaw despite the lawyers’ warnings. Sometimes “physical altercations” were the only thing that would get it done. “Get the f**k out.”
He grabbed Micah by the shirt, started yanking him toward the door, but the bassist squirmed and wiggled until he’d broken Quinn’s grip. Then, face livid with rage, Micah went after him.
Quinn let him hit him, once, just to make the police report look good. Then he set about taking Micah apart. The one thing he hadn’t counted on, though, was the bastard’s desire to hurt Jared any way he could. He took another few punches from Quinn, then ducked around him in an effort to get to Jared, who was waiting for him, legs spread and face set in dead lines.
But somehow Elise—who was reaching out to Quinn in an effort to calm him down—got caught in the crossfire. Micah shoved her out of the way as he scrambled toward Jared.
Quinn watched in horror as she lost her balance, instinctively reaching out to grab something with her right hand to stop her fall. But she was not quite a week out of surgery and her hand—even with the cast on it—wasn’t strong enough to support her.
Quinn went running for her, but he was too late and she went down, hard, striking her head on the corner of the coffee table.
For a second, just a second, he was paralyzed as that long ago night came back to him. They’d been in Paris as part of a young pianist’s tour and Elise and he had just made love for the first time. They’d slept for a while, and when he woke up, he’d wanted to take her out. To show her the town.
But his father had shown up, livid that he’d missed a practice he hadn’t needed or wanted to go to. They’d argued, the old man knocking him around because, back then, he hadn’t wanted to raise his fists to his father. Elise had gotten caught in the middle then, too, only he’d been the one who had made her fall when he’d tried to get her as far away from his father’s wrath as he could manage. He was the one who had shoved her out of the way as his father came at him, who had hurt her, made her bleed.
“Elise,” he roared as the past and present blurred together. “Lissy, sweetheart! Are you okay?”
He leaped past Jared and Micah, who were both just kind of standing there, mouths open, as they watched Elise’s blood leak onto the floor.
Ryder got there first. “She’s out like a light, Quinn.”
“No. God, no.” Quinn knelt on the ground beside her, gently probed the cut on her temple. Wasn’t that the worst place to be hit, he wondered frantically. He remembered hearing that years ago, when some celebrity’s wife had died after a blow to the temple.
“Call an ambulance,” he demanded hoarsely. “Call—”
“I’m on it,” Jared said, his phone already in his hand. Seconds later he began barking orders for an ambulance, and a police car.
“Fuck that shit!” Micah spoke for the first time since he’d knocked Elise down. “I’m not going to jail. Not over some bitch who wasn’t smart enough to get out of the way.”
He made a run for the door, but Ryder was right there to grab him and throw him back against the wall.