“You do know where my hotel is, don’t you?”
He nodded. “Absolutely.”
She might have been satisfied at that, but when he finally pulled off the highway it was in a residential area. One with huge houses and not a lot of traffic. Not at all where she remembered her hotel being.
“This isn’t the way to the W,” she finally said as he stopped at a red light. When he didn’t answer, she demanded, “Where are you taking me?”
“To my house. It’s on the lake and a much better place to recover than a hotel. Besides, here I can keep an eye on you.”
“You can…?” Surely she’d heard him wrong. The Quinn she knew didn’t keep an eye on anyone. Besides, going to his house didn’t make sense. Not when: “All my stuff is at the W. I have to go there.”
“Actually, your stuff is in the trunk. I had the hotel pack it up for me.”
She whirled around, stared into the backseat like she expected it to cough up her Louis Vuitton suitcase. But the backseat was empty except for a black leather jacket, a pair of scuffed Doc Martens, and some loose sheet music.
“That’s not possible,” she finally said. “I had reservations—I spoke to them to confirm yesterday afternoon. They wouldn’t just pack my stuff and give it to a virtual stranger.”
“Ah, but I’m not a stranger. I’m a local celebrity, and a pretty popular one at that. When I explained to the hotel manager that I was an old friend and that I’d be taking care of you during this difficult time, she was more than happy to have someone pack up your suitcase for me.”
“But that’s illegal!”
He waggled his head back and forth. “Maybe, maybe not. She—”
“No. There’s no maybe about it. It’s definitely illegal! She can’t just go giving people’s stuff away like that. What if you’d been a thief?”
“Do I look like a thief?”
“You look like a thug. Or worse, a gang member.”
He had the nerve to laugh. “Gangs aren’t exactly a big problem here in Austin.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I do. And I’m sure she figured someone with my money didn’t need to scour hotels in an effort to steal from hapless concert pianists.”
“Yeah, I’m sure that’s what she was thinking,” Elise told him with a snort. More likely, the hotel manager hadn’t been able to get past his hotness long enough to remember how to do her job. It was a sickness, one she was intimately acquainted with.
How, then, could she blame some hapless hotel employee who’d been completely unprepared for the force of nature that was Quinn Bradford on a mission?
“I can’t go home with you,” she said with narrowed eyes.
Because accepting a ride from the man who had once broken her heart was one thing. Staying with him for a week while she recuperated was another thing all together, especially when she was on pain medication that made her more than a little loopy. She’d already had more than one fleeting thought about tracing every inch of his tattoos with her tongue. And while she’d convinced herself the thoughts didn’t count—she’d been heavily medicated when she had them—she wasn’t taking any chances being alone with him.
“Because— Because—” she spluttered, searching for an answer that didn’t involve her fear of jumping his bones. “I just…I can’t…I—”
“Well, that makes perfect sense. Thanks for clearing up the confusion.”
She made a frustrated sound at the back of her throat. “Could you cut the heavily medicated woman a break?”
“That’s what I’m trying to do.” He made a sharp left turn, then paused in front of a large iron gate and punched in a code before continuing down a winding, tree-lined path. “You don’t really want to be on your own for the next week, do you? Who’s going to make you blueberry pancakes to cheer you up? Or get you ice cream at two in the morning?”
He rolled his eyes. “You know what I mean. The hospital said you needed to rest, to give your whole body a chance to heal, not just your hand. You’re not going to get that chance if you’re by yourself, constantly having to do everything on your own.”
“And you think I’m going to get lots of rest here?” she asked as he finally pulled the car to a stop in front of a huge, Mediterranean style house. Mansion. Palace. She wasn’t sure what word applied best. Geez. There was rock star and then there was Rock. Star. When she very deliberately hadn’t been looking, Quinn had obviously become the latter.
“I know you are. I’m going to see to it myself.” He opened his door, started to climb out, but she stopped him by resting her injured hand on his arm.
“I’m not going to stay here with you, Quinn.”
“Sure, you are.” His dark eyes gleamed brightly. “It’s the perfect solution.”
“No, it isn’t. The perfect solution is me hanging at the hotel for a week before flying home to Chicago, not crashing at your place and interrupting your whole life.”
“My life’s already been interrupted. I should be on tour right now, but we had a couple of issues, and the tour was canceled. Which means I’ve got nothing to do for the next few weeks but hang out here, work on our next album, and take care of you.”
“I don’t need you to take care of me!”
“Well, you sure as hell need somebody to. Because, no offense, but anyone looking at you can tell you’ve been doing a pretty shitty job of it yourself.”
“I was just in an accident that killed my best friend. I just had surgery—”
“I know all that. But I also know that you’re exhausted and emaciated. Why do you think the nurses kept shoving pain medication and pudding down your throat? They wanted you to rest. To eat. You’re one of the sexiest, most beautiful women I know, Elise, but you’re in bad shape. You’re completely worn down and you look like hell. Everyone seems to know that but you!”
The second the words left his mouth, Quinn knew they were the wrong things to say. Not because they weren’t true, but because he could see Elise completely shut down in front of him. He couldn’t even blame her. No woman liked to be told she was looking less than her best, no matter how true it was. Not that he didn’t think she was beautiful. She was. But she was also so fragile looking that it hurt.
“I’m sorry,” he said, laying his hand on her thigh. “That didn’t come out the way I wanted it to.”
She jerked her knee from his grasp, then turned her whole body away from him as she moved to look out the window. “Oh, I think you said exactly what you wanted to say.”
Shoving a frustrated hand through his hair, he swallowed back the growl that was forming at the back of his throat. Damn Wyatt and his ridiculous advice. Kidnapping her was going about as well as he had expected it to—which meant it wasn’t going at all.
Taking a deep breath, he counted to ten before blowing it out and saying, “Look, why don’t you come inside? I’ll make dinner and you can be comfortable while we talk about this.”
“I’m not going into your house, Quinn. I’m not going anywhere with you, except back to my hotel.”
“Well, you’ve got a problem then, because that’s the one place I’m not going to take you.”
“Excuse me?” She turned her head to stare at him incredulously.
“You heard me.” He crossed his arms over his chest, put his most badass snarl on his face.
“You can’t hold me here against my will!”
“But that’s kidnapping!”
“I prefer to think of it as an intervention. But hey, potato, potahtoh, tomato, tohmatoh.”
Her eyes narrowed dangerously and he must have been a sick fuck, because he loved seeing it. This was the Elise he remembered. Cool, in control, but with an underlying base of fire that had turned him on from the moment he’d understood that girls were different from boys—and that that was a good thing.
He waited for her next argument, but she didn’t say anything else. Instead, she pulled out her Smartphone and started to Google something—probably a cab company. Sure enough, she dialed a number a couple of minutes later and said, “I’d like to request a pick-up as soon as possible.”
More amused than annoyed, he crossed his legs as he leaned back against his SUV and just waited. It didn’t take long.
“The address?” she asked, her head shooting up as she looked around for something to tell her where she was. But unfortunately for her, they were a quarter mile onto his land—there was no street sign or number in sight.
When she realized that fact, her face was priceless. As was the pleading look she shot at him when she asked, “Quinn, where are we?”
“By the lake.”
“No, I mean, your address.”
He just shrugged and smiled.
“I’m by the lake,” she told the person on the other end of the phone. But this time her voice was high and questioning, like even she knew how stupid that description sounded. “Which lake? I, umm, I don’t know.”
He couldn’t hear what the dispatcher had to say to that, but it couldn’t have been good judging from the look on her face. But then she said, “Oh, wait a minute. I’ll find it.”
Then she was leaning forward, rummaging in his glove compartment. It only took him a second to figure out that she was looking for his registration— she was nothing if not smart—but he kept it in a pocket in the driver side visor, so he figured she’d be looking for a while.
“Goddammit!” Elise slammed the glove compartment shut and turned to him with a glare. He couldn’t help grinning—at the look on her face and the very uncharacteristic loss of control when she’d always prided herself on keeping her emotions locked behind an unbreachable wall. He loved watching her give in to her temper, loved even more that he was the one who caused it.
“Who the hell doesn’t have a piece of paper with his address on it in his car?” she snarled.
He lifted a brow, made sure to plaster his most obnoxious smirk on his face as he said, “A paranoid rock star?”
Her phone squawked, an impatient voice coming over the speaker. He was too far away to hear what the guy said, but he could tell it wasn’t good.
“Just give me one more minute,” she pleaded, then started pushing buttons on her phone.
He leaned over to get a look at what she was doing, but she shoved his head away from her. Then crowed in delight when she said, “Yes. I’ve found it. I’m at—”
Before she could say another word, Quinn ripped the phone out of her grasp and threw it as hard as he could. He’d expected it to land on the lawn or in some bushes, somewhere where it would take her a couple minutes to retrieve it. Instead, it soared well over the hedges and landed, with a plop, in the huge stone fountain that filled the center of his courtyard.
For long seconds, neither of them moved. They just stared at the fountain in wide-eyed, open-mouthed astonishment.
Elise recovered first. “You didn’t!” she screeched at him.
But he had. He really had. Amusement bubbled up inside him and though he knew it was akin to suicide, he couldn’t stop himself from bending over and laughing his ass off—all under her vengeance filled eyes.
“You bastard! You dirty bastard!” She fumbled for the door handle and all but fell out of the car. “That’s my phone.”
“I know, I know.” He did the best to swallow his amusement, but every time he looked into her astonished eyes, he just ended up laughing harder. He couldn’t help it. She looked like a puffer fish, all gaping mouth and head about to explode. “I’m sorry.”