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Authors: Cheryl Douglas

Tags: #Music

Haunted (8 page)

BOOK: Haunted
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Elle loved that he was the kind of man who
always put the people he loved above his own needs. “Have your parents
retired?”

“They have.” He grinned at her. “I bought
them an incredible house on the beach not too far from here. I knew how much
they loved the Keys when we lived in Miami. They often talked about living
here, so about four years ago, I decided it was time. I picked up the phone,
called an agent, set up some appointments, and bought their dream home.” He
laughed. “It was the greatest high I’d ever had, seeing the tears in my old
man’s eyes when I handed him the keys. They say money can’t buy happiness, but
it sure as hell bought me happiness that day.”

Elle nestled deeper into his arms. Tears
sprung to her eyes as she imagined the scene. “They must have been so
grateful.”

“They were overwhelmed.” He set down his
empty glass so he could wrap both arms around her. “They didn’t want to accept
it. They said it was way too much, but once they realized I wasn’t backing down
and they didn’t have a choice, they were like little kids, running around the
house oohing and aahing over every little feature. They never imagined they’d
live in a house like that, and the fact that I was able to do that for them
made every long day and night worth it.”

“I wish I had someone to spoil,” she said,
pinching her lips together. “It must be wonderful to share your success with
the people you love.”

He kissed her cheek. “You’re an amazing
woman, Elle. If your parents can’t see that, it’s their loss.”

She closed her eyes. “It still hurts
sometimes. I do miss them.” She thought of all the birthdays and Christmases
they’d spent as a family, all the dinners around the table. Even though they’d
rarely asked about her day, she still felt a sense of security. “We had some
good times. I try to remember those.”

“You’ll have your own family someday,
right? You’ll make your own memories.”

Elle wondered what kind of man would be
able to tolerate her crazy schedule or how she could raise a child when she
spent half the year on the road. “I don’t know. I guess for now, I just have to
focus on my career and let the future take care of itself.”

“But you do want a family someday?”

“Sure,” she said, curling her hand around
his forearm. “Someday.”

“When you find the right man?”

Elle’s heart beat double time. She wondered
if he was asking if she could see a future with him. It was easy to imagine
falling asleep next to Caleb every night or running into his arms at the
airport after a long stint on the road, but it wouldn’t be fair to ask him to
sacrifice a life of normalcy just so she could live out her dream.

“I don’t know if there’s a man alive who
could love me enough to be a part of my world. It isn’t easy dealing with the
paparazzi, tour schedule, public appearances, and long hours in the studio.”
She sighed. She was probably pushing him away when that was the last thing she
wanted to do. “The truth is that music is my life, at least for now. There’s
not much time for anything else.”

“That doesn’t sound healthy. What happened
to a life-work balance?”

She scoffed. “Whoever coined that phrase
clearly wasn’t a musician. For us, there’s no such thing.”

“What about all of the musicians who do
have spouses and kids? They seem to find a way to make it work.”

Caleb’s nature was to be optimistic, but
Elle didn’t want him to harbor unrealistic expectations. “Ever wondered why
celebrity marriages never seem to last and the kids are always raised by
nannies? There’s a reason for it.”

“I don’t think that’s the way it is for all
celebrity couples and parents. Some seem to have found a way to make it work
and remain sane.”

“They must know some secret I don’t,
because I can’t imagine ‘normal’ ever being a word I’d use to describe my life.
There’s nothing normal about sleeping in a different bed every night or
traveling to multiple cities in one day.” She smiled when the rush she felt
stepping on a stage swept through her mind and reminded her why she made the
sacrifices she did. “I know it sounds crazy, but I don’t want to do anything
else. I love what I do. I love my fans. I love making music, and in spite of
the whining, I realize how lucky I am to be living my dream.” She also realized
that proving herself was an ongoing chore. No matter how many hit singles she
had, she would always be at the mercy of record executives and country radio.

“I love that you feel that way,” Caleb
said, kissing the crown of her head. “You know how many people seem satisfied
to just go through the motions? It’s sad.” He moved her hair aside to drop a
kiss on her neck. “I think that’s why I’m so drawn to you. There’s something
special about a woman who’s found her place in the world, who’s writing her own
ticket without relying on anyone else.” He brushed his lips against her
collarbone, making her shudder. “I think it’s sexy as hell.”

Elle closed her eyes, leaning into him. She
loved earning his respect, but not as much as she reveled in turning him on.
The breeze was picking up and giving the air a decided chill, but she barely
felt it when his hand slipped under the blanket to caress her stomach.

“I’m so glad you’re here with me.” He
tipped her head back so he could kiss her lips. “I haven’t been here in a
while, and having you share this with me just reminds me why I fell in love
with this place.”

She could understand why he felt that way.
She’d only been here a short time and already she questioned how she would
leave. “Thank you for bringing me. I really needed this.”

He pulled her into his lap, positioning her
so she was facing him with her legs straddling his waist. “I’m also glad you
came into my life, Elle. I haven’t thought about finding love in a long time,
but I’m beginning to think it may have found me.”

Love?
Is
that what this was? It seemed too soon, yet it felt so right.

“Don’t look so scared,” he said, looking
amused. “I’m not trying to rush you into anything, but I know we don’t have a
lot of time together before you have to head out on the road. I don’t want to
let you go before I tell you… and show you… how I feel about you.”

Now
that
was a game of show-and-tell
Elle would love to play. “When I think of you, I smile.”

That seemed like a simple thing, hardly the
kind of statement to instill confidence in a man, but Elle hoped Caleb
understood how much it meant to her. He made her happy when she thought of him,
and that hadn’t happened in a long time. Her relationships were usually plagued
with fear and uncertainty. So being with a man who made her feel secure was a
welcome relief.

“You’re the kind of man a woman can count
on, the kind of man I wasn’t sure existed.” She smiled wistfully as she framed
his handsome face with her hands. “I knew great guys are out there, men like
Drake and Evan and Ryan, but I never thought I’d find someone like that for
myself.” She dipped her head, feeling shy and uncertain about how much she
should reveal.

“Go on,” he whispered.

“I love knowing you’re the kind of man who
wants to take care of his parents, to show your gratitude for the sacrifices
they’ve made for you.” She kissed him gently to punctuate her point. “I love
that you would do a friend a favor even though you probably had better things
to do than babysit me when Drake asked you to.”

“I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.”
He winked.

She slid her hands over his cropped dark
hair. “I appreciate that you’re a self-made man. You know how hard it is to
make it, and you’ve done it all on your own. I not only like you, I respect
you, and that’s the highest compliment I can pay you.”

“You could tell me you think I’m hot and
it’s taking everything in you not to tear my clothes off right now.”

She threw her head back and laughed. The
roar of the ocean carried away the sound of her joy. “And you make me laugh
just because you’re being you. It’s effortless.”

“That’s the way being with you feels.” He
guided his hands up her back as he pulled her closer. “Effortless. Like it’s
almost too easy. I’m used to drama in relationships. I don’t think I’ve ever
been with someone who’s made it so easy to fall in love with them.”

Elle locked eyes with him. She’d expected
him to look away, but he didn’t, and his gaze confirmed he meant every word.
She suspected he didn’t toss that word around lightly, and she cherished it all
the more. “You know it’s way too early for us to have these feelings for each
other.” Even though she hadn’t said it, she wanted him to know she felt the
same way about him.

“Who says it’s too soon? Is there some
pre-determined timetable I don’t know about? Hell, I know people who’ve fallen
in love within minutes of meeting each other, and they’re still happily
married.”

Falling in love meant trusting her
instincts, and after what had happened with Ricky, that prospect terrified
Elle. When it came to her career, she always trusted her gut to guide her, but
love was different.

“I’m not him,” he whispered. “I don’t know
which guy put that haunted look in your eyes, Elle, but I’m not him. I’d never
hurt you the way he did. You’ve got to believe me, to trust me, if this is
going to work.”

Trust. There’s that word again.
She’d trusted her parents to love and take care of her, and while
they’d provided the basic necessities for as long as they were legally
obligated to, they’d left her feeling emotionally abandoned.

“Did you hear what I said?”

“Yes,” she said, pulling herself out of the
past. Caleb had the right to expect her to be fully present, but with her
recent past dogging her, it wasn’t easy. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to let my
mind wander. I heard what you said, and I know you’re right.”

“Does that mean you’re willing to give me a
chance?”

She nodded, but he didn’t look impressed.

“By that, I don’t mean I want you to spend
time with me when you can squeeze it into your schedule,” Caleb said. “I mean
that I’d like to know I’m a priority in your life. Naturally I’d promise you
the same.”

Her top priority had always been her music.
Was he asking her to shift her priorities to make room for him as a test, to
see if she would agree to his demands? “I can’t make any promises, Caleb.” She
gripped his shoulders when she saw him shut down. “It’s not because I don’t
have feelings for you. I think you’re great, but this is happening too fast. I
need time to process. Please try to understand.”

“I do.” He tipped his head back and closed
his eyes as he blew out a breath. “I’m sorry for coming on so strong. It’s not
like me to be so… insecure.”

That was the last word she would have used
to describe him. He seemed so confident, so comfortable in his own skin. That
was one of the things she loved most about him.

“You have no reason to be insecure,” she
said. “I am invested in this, in us. If I gave you the impression I wasn’t, I’m
sorry.”

He opened his eyes and lifted his head. “I
told myself it was no big deal that you’re a celebrity. I’d almost convinced
myself that you’re a regular person, but you’re not.”

“Yes, I am.” Elle hated when people put her
on a pedestal just because God had blessed her with a good voice and the
creativity to put her feelings into words.

“You have cameras trained on you all the
time, people following your every move.”

She wrinkled her nose. “That’s the part of
the job I could live without.”

“There is a nation of men who’d give their
right arm to trade places with me right now.”

Elle rolled her eyes. “I think you’re
exaggerating.”

“Do you?” He closed his hands around her
hips. “Would you think I was pathetic if I told you I’d checked out your social
media pages?”

“No.” Elle had checked out his website and
Googled him. She figured it was common practice. “But what does that have to do
with anything?”

“I read some of the things guys tweeted about
you. Not to mention the posts they left on your fan pages. Those guys are
obsessed with you.”

She laughed lightly. He was making way too
much of nothing. Social media was both a blessing and a curse. “They’re fans of
my music, that’s all.”

“You can’t deny men proposition you every
day.”

Caleb looked annoyed, though she couldn’t
understand why. “You have nothing to worry about. I like you. I’m here with
you. That’s all that matters.”

“If some reporter asks you about the new
man you’ve been seen with, what will you say?”

“I’ll tell them the truth—that we’re seeing
each other.” Elle thought that would be pretty obvious, since that was their
game plan all along, but she didn’t mind putting his fears to rest. When he
didn’t seem satisfied with that response, she said, “Unless you’d rather I
not?”

“I want you to say whatever feels right.”
He tightened his hands into fists before loosening them.

She shifted to lift herself off his lap. “I
don’t know what’s going on here. I feel like I’ve done or said something wrong,
but I can’t figure out what it is.”

BOOK: Haunted
9.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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