Authors: Eden Summers
Only the sound of Judd’s laughter had never been as clear in her dreams. So sleek. So captivating. Yet it sank into her ears with more weight than Nicole’s psychotic screech.
“It looks like Harper
here,” he drawled. “Why don’t you come down and see me, princess?”
The far off scream came from the upper level. Judd squinted and still couldn’t make out the owner of the voice. It definitely wasn’t Harper, though. There was no way his moody, snarly femme fatale would screech like that. Not for him. Well, at least not anywhere other than the bedroom.
The high-pitched noise had to be coming from a friend. Maybe Nicole. At least he hoped so. If some whack job was pretending to be his Harper, he’d lose his shit. Especially when his heart was already thumping at the possibility of seeing her.
“I’ve got a better idea.” He glanced to side-stage on his left, pinning Kyle, his assistant, with a stare. “Why don’t we send one of the security team to escort you backstage?” He stepped back from the microphone, still holding Kyle’s attention. “Don’t let her leave the building. Do you hear me? I want her backstage when I finish the show. And tell whoever she’s here with that she won’t be leaving with them tonight.”
Kyle nodded and slunk from view, always eager to keep his six-figure salary.
Judd returned his focus to the crowd, honing in on the woman who now stood in the middle of the upper level stairwell. His throat tightened, his legs grew heavy, and for the first time in a year, his cock stirred with a lethargic pulse, as if awoken from hibernation.
His Harper. Even from the opposite side of the stadium, he could recognize her—the black hair, the petite height, the hand gesture that he couldn’t quite make out but had the sneaking suspicion was the bird.
He chuckled and repositioned his ear piece, enthusiastic to get his performance over with. Two of his security team were already closing in on her, and he was confident they’d ensure she didn’t leave.
“Okay, Denver. Let’s get this show back on the road.”
On cue, the stadium fell into darkness. A wave of squealing and yelling battered into him, vibrating the stadium floor and thrumming into his limbs. The stage lights burst to life, increasing the noise to a deafening pitch. He blinked through the temporary blindness as his band kicked off the next song, and together they blew the minds of everyone in the building.
Well, almost everyone.
He wasn’t a mind reader but he was positive Harper wouldn’t be impressed at being escorted backstage. He could picture her screaming his name just like the fans before him, only she wouldn’t have the same favorable tone. She would be furious and he couldn’t wait to witness it for himself.
She deserved retribution for what she’d put him through. Every show was haunted by her. No matter how many people he performed to or where he was in the world. He could be surrounded by wall to wall adoration, yet he could never make out the faces of his fans. None of them were unique. All of them were her.
Every fucking one of them.
He would’ve taken the punishment if he’d been the cause of their relationship break down. But she was the one who walked out on him. Without a word or a kiss, she penned a note and never looked back.
His pride still hadn’t recovered. Not completely.
Now it was time to get the answers he deserved.
He ploughed through the rest of his set, unable to wipe the smirk from his face. He could already picture the reunion. There’d be snarling and hissing. Maybe a bite or two. And after the fighting would come the inevitable fucking. Just like the good ol’ days.
“Good night, Denver.” He spread his arms wide, sucked in the euphoria streaming through the air and then jogged from the stage. There was no encore. No tease for one more song. He was currently riding the most epic natural high of his life and he lacked the restraint to stay away from his woman a moment longer.
“Where is she?” He dislodged his in-ear monitors as he reached Kyle in the wings.
“Your dressing room.”
His steps didn’t falter as he yanked off his tank and tucked part of the material into his pocket. He untangled himself from the wires leading down his back to the receiver pack attached to his jeans and shoved the equipment at his assistant’s chest.
“You know your fans will roast you online for not doing an encore.”
“I’ll deal with it.” He increased his pace, striding out the distance as fast as he could without running.
He clenched his fists and squeezed his eyes shut briefly, oh so briefly, to stop himself from making a scene. Pride had kept him from going after Harper all those months ago, but it was an unwavering gentlemanly persona that now stopped him from yelling
I don’t fucking care
and launching his arms in the air to give the world the middle-finger salute.
He wanted peace. He wanted privacy. He wanted Harper.
But he had to maintain the tiny sliver of professionalism he had left. He had to pretend he wasn’t entirely mindless over a woman.
“What do you want, Kyle?” He swung around, walking backward through the maze of stage crew and musical equipment.
“Just be aware, she’s a little…” the man cringed, “confrontational.”
Judd’s stomach dived. It wasn’t a nauseating plunge, more like a sky-diving freefall. Fear and excitement mingled into one. “Perfect.” He grabbed the dangling tank at his thigh and used it to mop up the sweat on his neck and face. “Anything else?”
“Just be careful, okay?”
He grinned and lightly punched Kyle in the shoulder. “I think I can handle her.”
“Sure you can.” His assistant raised a disbelieving brow and planted his feet. “Good luck.”
Judd didn’t need it. He could probably use a few more condoms, but luck wasn’t on the shopping list.
He turned back toward his path and started jogging. The progression toward Harper was a blur with the scream of fans slowly dying to a dull murmur. By the time he reached the hall leading to his dressing room, he was panting, equal parts exhaustion and exhilaration as he approached two of his security team.
“It takes more than one of you to keep an eye on her?” They didn’t acknowledge the humor in his tone. There was no laughter. Not even a smile.
“Both of us,” the man closest muttered, “plus Tank who’s already inside.”
“The crazy bitch bit me.” The second guard held up his arm, showing the light red circular marks embedded in his wrist.
Judd kept the smile on his face even though the elation evaporated from his system like an instantaneous drought. “After holding her captive for over an hour, I’m surprised she didn’t set her sights on more important appendages.”
The thought of someone else’s hands on his woman inspired rage. The name calling was even worse. Yes, she was a crazy bitch, but she was
crazy bitch. Nobody else had the right to judge her.
“She did.” The man lowered his arm. “I’m lucky my reflexes are quicker than hers.”
Judd gave a humorless laugh and moved between them to grasp the door handle. “Very lucky. Can I give you a piece of advice, though?” He glanced over his shoulder, pinning the man with a harsh stare.
“Call her a bitch again, or any other name, for any reason, and you’re going to see yourself in the unemployment line.”
The guy’s lips parted on silent words.
“Yes.” The man raised his chin and moved back to stand flush with the wall. “Crystal.”
“Glad to hear it.” Judd turned back to the wooden barrier separating him from Harper and took a deep breath. This was it. The time to claim what was his. He swallowed over the anticipation drying his throat, twisted the handle and stepped into what he hoped would be a new stage of his life.
The room was silent, the air thick and filled with tension.
Tank leaned against the wall in the far corner, his shoulders straight, sweat beading on his forehead. But it was Harper who stole Judd’s attention. She sat in front of the mirror bordered with lights, her head lowered, not meeting his gaze in the reflection. A vase full of flowers was to her left, the bright colors the second most beautiful thing in the room.
“I’ll take it from here.” His voice was tight. Restricted from longing.
Tank pushed from the wall, his dark eyes bleak as he made his way to the door. “She’s not happy to be here.”
Judd nodded. He would’ve been surprised if she was.
Tank stared him down as he moved closer and lowered his voice. “Take it easy on her, okay?”
Judd clenched his teeth. The two of them had worked together for years, they’d been friends even longer. No insult would’ve been intended. But it flowed through anyway. He didn’t need direction when it came to Harper. He was aware of her limits. He knew how hard he could push her before it turned from a game into something cruel.
“I said, I’ll take it from here.”
Tank inclined his head. “I’ll be waiting on the other side of the door if you need me.”
Judd stepped away and waited until the click of the latch announced they were alone. Finally. After a year flying solo, he had her back.
“Fancy seeing you here, princess.”
She grew two inches with the stiffening of her spine. The long strands of her hair fell like silk around her shoulders, tempting, oh so tempting to his fingers. She pushed back in the chair and stood, slow and graceful, entirely unlike her usual movements that it put him on edge.
He took a cautious step forward as she straightened to her full height. They shared a frozen moment. A glimpse in time where neither of them did anything. They didn’t talk, didn’t move. He didn’t even breathe. It was peaceful. Reminiscent. Until she lunged for the vase, snatched it off the counter and launched it at his head.
“Fuck!” He had one-point-five seconds to duck and weave as the projectile sailed through the air. It brushed his shoulder, flowers flying everywhere, before it hit the ground and shattered, leaving a trail of blooms in its wake.
was the Harper he remembered. She was all action and anger, energy and excitement. This feisty viper was the woman he’d fantasized about every night since they first met.
“God, you’re beautiful when you’re mad.”
He wouldn’t have thought those eyes could glare with more ferocity. He was wrong. She glanced at the table beside her, then scoured the rest of the room with her gaze.
“There’s nothing left to throw.”
She raised a brow as if accepting a challenge and gripped the back of the wooden chair, lifting two legs off the ground. “Why am I here?”
“I was going to ask the same thing.” He couldn’t contain his smile.
, he enjoyed this woman. She revived him. Energized him. Even after a two hour performance. “I would’ve thought my concert was the last place you’d want to be on a Friday night.” His smile crept into a smirk as the devil sparked in her eyes. “I guess I’m still hard to resist.”
She huffed as she raised the chair and launched it haphazardly in his direction. All it took was a slide to the left to miss the trajectory.
The last thing any sane man would do is laugh, but this was what he loved about Harper. She didn’t take any shit. Instead, she gave it out in truckloads. She was a spark of life amongst the dreary yes-men and placating groupies he was surrounded by.
“Have you got that out of your system?”
Her gaze narrowed. “Are your goons going to let me go home?”
“Not until I tell them to.”
She crossed her arms over her chest, plumping up her breasts in the loose charcoal T-shirt. She definitely was beautiful when angry; she was also more alluring than he remembered. Her eyes were a deeper blue, vibrant and hypnotizing. And her mouth…those dark, plump lips would be the death of him.
“Well, I guess I need to find a better weapon.” She turned back to the counter, gripped it with both hands and hung her head with a sigh.
There were red marks on her wrist. Three specific impressions that looked like finger marks.
“What the hell are they?” He bridged the distance between them in four steps, and took her elbow in his hands.
She turned into him, her eyes wide. “Back off.”
“Who did this?”
“Who do you think?” She tugged her arm from his grip. “Your henchman thought I was a meek, vulnerable female and tried to manhandle me.”
His heart crept into his throat, climbing higher with his fury. “The guy you sank your teeth into?”
“Yeah.” Her smile was smug. “He tasted like chicken.”
“I’m sorry.” More so than his words would ever convey. He wanted to kick the ass of the guard who touched her. He wanted to kill him. Problem was, he had a persona to uphold, one based on bullshit charm and charisma with a heavy dose of manners and integrity. If he landed a punch on one of the security team, he’d never live the publicity down.
“Don’t be. Isn’t it his job to hold women hostage until you finish your set?” She laughed and shuffled backward to lean her ass on the counter. “You’ve definitely streamlined your seductive process in the last year. I’m surprised it hasn’t made the news.”
He stepped into her, knee to knee, and loathed the way she stiffened at the brush of contact. “It takes a lot to become newsworthy these days.” He reached out and trailed his fingers over the marks on her wrist, trying to soothe her pain and his. “I’d have to create a harem and fill it with kidnapped women before I gained any sort of attention.”
“I’m sure the idea has crossed your mind more than once.” She slid along the counter and out of reach. “Can I leave now?”
“Nope.” He took her position seated against the counter.
She chuckled, the sound half-hearted. She wasn’t enjoying the game like she had in the past. “I suppose you want me to scream.” She strolled along the edge of the room, trailing her fingers over the rack of clothes, the wall, the chairs. “To beg.” She met his gaze. “To plead.”
All of the above.
“It’s not going to happen, Judd. So let me go home.”
He almost believed her desire to leave. Almost. He crossed his arms over his chest and frowned at her, trying to read what was going on in that puzzling brain of hers. “What were you doing sitting at the back of the stadium? You know I would’ve given you tickets. All you had to do was ask.”