Because you’ve barely spoken since you last saw him, a bitter voice inside my head said. Because you never really had anything to begin with. You were just a journalist covering a story, and he was a rock star, and what happened in the past is staying in the past. You should have fucking listened to Mel.

But before I could berate myself further, Sage suddenly came forward, tossing his paper cup aside, and swooped me up into a big bear hug. My breath was squeezed out of me as his strong muscles held me firmly, and I breathed in his scent of whiskey and seaspray and spice. I closed my eyes and felt every single worry drain out of my limbs and sink into his. I wanted him to hold me forever so I buried my face into his neck (a plus side to being tall) and wrapped my arms around his hard waist.

We stood like that for what felt like no time but was probably a good minute before he broke away from me and eyed me up and down.

“You’re looking good, Rusty,” he said appreciatively, his lips curling into wicked smile.

That was nice of him to say, and that hungry look in his eyes wasn’t going unnoticed, but there was a part of me that balked at the use of my old nickname. You see, when I was with Hybrid, everyone had called me Rusty and Sage was always the only one who called me Dawn. Like I meant more than a nickname to him. But now I was Rusty again.

I was probably reading too much into it and smiled instead, trying to ignore the worry that the hug hadn’t quite eradicated like I’d thought.

“Thank you,” I said. “But the name’s Dawn, remember?”

His eyes widened briefly, taken aback by what I had said. “Of course,” he murmured, scratching at his sideburns. “Sorry. I guess I’m a bit of a hypocrite.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

He shrugged. “No matter. Well, anyway, I was about to go for a walk in motherfucking Paris. Did you want to join me? Looked like there was a nice little bar around the corner.”

I looked back at the hotel, at the stately bellhop stationed outside and the well-dressed people coming in and out of the wonderfully ancient-looking building. “Shouldn’t I go see my room and get settled?”

Sage let out a little laugh and started strolling away from me, kicking away at the paper cup he’d littered on the ground. I noticed he wasn’t wearing his signature flip-flops anymore but instead wore combat boots that looked dirty enough to have been taken from a dead soldier’s feet. Those boots combined with that muscular ass of his as he sauntered away were making me sweat a little.

He called over his shoulder, “You’re with me now, Dawn. I don’t think you’ll feel settled for a very long time.” He kept going until he turned to face me, raising his arms to the side slightly. “Don’t tell me it’s all work and no play for you again?”

I stared at him, bewildered. All work and no play? Is that what he thought of me? How could he say something so glibly considering what had happened to us last year?

I took in a shaky breath and straightened my shoulders. I didn’t know what the hell was going on with him, with us, but I was at least determined to find out. I went after him and we walked side by side, our arms sometimes brushing against each other until other passersby forced us off the sidewalk. It seemed walking in Paris was just as chaotic as driving in it, and there were dog turds littered about, which the locals seemed to avoid without even trying.

Paris. I was in Paris with Sage Knightly, walking down a Paris street and disturbing Parisian pigeons. I should have been happier, but shit—I was with a man I’d loved, who I think I still loved, and it felt like we were having to start all over again.

“Here we go,” Sage said as he nodded to a quaint bar no bigger than my living room at home. There were a few tables inside among the dark mahogany walls and a surly-looking bartender behind the bar, but most of the action was outside on the sidewalk, where oodles of tan-and-black-checkered chairs and glass tables were scattered. It was early evening, prime cocktail hour in Paris, I guess, and people were everywhere, chatting a mile a minute through wine-stained lips, sipping their drinks out of elegant little glasses, and sucking back on long cigarettes.

We managed to snag a tiny two-seater by the door. Sage barely fit in the small chair, his legs splayed open in a decidedly un-Frenchman-like fashion, his arm slung around the back of the chair. Even though the sky was a dull grey, not unlike the black-and-white images of Paris you saw in fancy poster shops, he had pulled a pair of aviator shades out of his pocket and slipped them on. Now, instead of his guarded eyes, I could only see my own face reflected back at me, the shock of wild red hair against a monotone backdrop.

Eventually a waiter came by, in a white apron, black suit, and shiny shoes, and I got to use my terrible French. “Deux bière, s’il vous plaît,” I said clumsily. The waiter rolled his eyes, but at least he understood me.

Sage snorted and I snapped my gaze over to him. “What’s so funny?”

“Your French,” he said.

I glared. “Hey, you should be giving me an A for effort. I haven’t used French since high school.”

“Didn’t you graduate high school, like, yesterday?”

“Very funny. At least I’m not an old man.”

He smiled widely, his dark brows raised to heaven. “Old man?”

Then he leaned back in his chair so hard he nearly fell over. A few patrons shot him an annoyed look, like he was disturbing their peace. Damn, he was a little more drunk than I thought. I wondered if getting a drink with him was a good idea after all.

“I’m fine,” he announced loudly, looking around him. “Je suis bueno.”

The waiter picked that wonderful moment to set down our beers. At least the glasses were fairly small. I raised my glass and looked at where Sage’s eyes were hidden under his shades. “We should toast. To, you know, I’m here and you’re here and…”

And I really missed you, I finished in my head. And I don’t think you feel the same.

“To Paris,” he said, raising his glass in an exaggerated motion. “And to you. Thank you for coming here.”

I smiled faintly, unsure of how sincere he was, and we both drank back. When he had almost finished the whole glass, he placed it down on the table and began to twirl it in his hands. I watched, my breath hitched, afraid he was going to lose control and the glass would smash everywhere.

“You know, I’m not that old,” he said quietly as the beer sloshed around. “I’m only twenty-eight. Remember when we thought I wouldn’t make it to twenty-eight?”

I swallowed my beer down in a hard gulp, my stomach beginning to swirl. “I remember.”

His face fell slightly, the curve of his lips turning into a hard slash. “It’s funny, huh, to think about that. To have gone through it…you know? I don’t know how we’re sitting here right now, to be honest.”

Oh God. He was stirring up so many feelings in my goddamned soul. I could only nod meekly, so afraid to push it, to talk to him, to really talk to him. I craved that connection we had lost.

Suddenly he stopped the twirling glass and slammed the rest back. He wiped his lips with his sleeve and looked around him. “So, Paris, huh? Is it what you thought it would be?”

“No,” I answered truthfully, replaying the fantasy of him greeting me in the airport. “It’s nothing like I’d thought.”

We didn’t end up staying at the bar for more than a few drinks. Sage said he had dinner with his new bandmates, something he sounded a bit nervous about, though he was hiding it well. I started to think he was hiding a lot of things under that drunken grin.

When we were rounding the corner back to the hotel, our conversation turned off of the serious topics and onto the architecture of the city (hey, it was better than talking about the weather), we nearly ran into a sexpot of a girl in impossibly high heels and dark red lipstick. Her hair was a wavy light blond, which complemented her creamy skin. At first she reminded me of Sonja or any of the GTFOs I had been subjected to on the Hybrid tour (demon groupies, every journalist’s dream), but as she turned her smiling face away from Sage to look at me, I could see she was just a normal woman with light blue eyes.

Eyes that nearly rolled at my existence before they went back to batting at my rock star.

“Sage,” she said in her French accent. Oh, of course she was French. She might as well have been wearing a beret. “I was just going to find you. Your musicians are waiting for you in the lobby.” She sounded like she said Een dee lob-ay, and I was more than a little tempted to mock her.

“Sorry I’m late,” Sage responded, and I kind of liked that he didn’t sound sorry at all. “I was catching up with an old friend here. Angeline, this is Dawn. She’s here covering my tour for Creem magazine. You can’t get a more honest and talented journalist than Dawn Emerson.”

Angeline pursed her lips, giving me the once-over again, before pasting on a fake smile. I added to the false friendliness between us by offering my hand to her.

“Pleased to meet you, Angeline,” I said. Her handshake was surprisingly strong. “And how do you know Sage?”

She gave Sage a dreamy look and addressed him instead of me. “Everyone in France knows Sage Knightly. I am just lucky enough to be hired as…promotional help. I am with the French promoters, making sure everything is going fine. Rock stars like him, they need as much…hands-on help as they can get.” She bit her lip coyly, and I saw a heady look pass between them.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. What the hell was that?

Sage cleared his throat and looked at the hotel, avoiding both my eyes and hers. “I guess I better go meet the makers, huh?”

Angeline leaned forward, grabbing his bicep and kissing him on the cheek, her lips leaving a wine-colored imprint. “Au revoir, Sage, I am off for the evening. À tout à l’heure.” She waved her dainty fingers at him and sashayed away, her heels clicking on the pavement.

My heart burned as I stared up at him, daring myself to ask if there actually was something going on. But I reined it in. I just got here, and I wasn’t about to spoil everything by acting like a jilted ex-lover when in all reality I was probably just overly paranoid.

He didn’t look down at me but gestured to the front of the hotel and started walking toward it. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to my right-hand man.” I followed behind him, trying to erase the uneasiness that was creeping through my veins again, my brain wanting to dwell on things that weren’t real.

“Sage, you asshole!” A strikingly dark-skinned man came running down the steps in a white vest, his leather pants tight as hell and made out of bright yellow pythons. It was hard not to stare at his package. If Sage hung left, this man hung right. “We’ve been waiting and…” his words faltered when he looked at me with wide eyes. “Who is this babe?”

Sage stiffened a bit at the comment but continued walking up the stairs toward the man. “This is Dawn.”

“The Dawn?” Tricky said. He grinned and held out his arms. “The Dawn, I am The Tricky. I keep your man in shape here, yeah?”

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