Authors: Eden Summers
He took a step back, scrutinizing her, seeing things she didn’t have the strength for him to see.
, Judd.” She ran a hand along her collarbone, making sure the chain around her neck was covered by her shirt.
“Fine. You want to get out of here, then let’s go.” He grabbed the crook of her arm with gentle fingers and yanked the door open. “After you.”
“No.” Of course he had to be shirtless and glistening with sweat when he took her prisoner. He couldn’t be dressed in sweats and a loose shirt that cradled a beer gut. Oh, no, he had to excel at being awesomely gorgeous. “I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“Too bad.” He jerked his chin at Tank, who stood flanked by two security guards. “Get the tour bus ready. You, me, and the little princess are going for a drive.”
“No!” She yanked her arm from his grip and was automatically surrounded by a wall of muscle. All four men closed in on her as if she was a psych patient trying to escape.
She glared at them in turn. “Fuck you.” She pointed at Tank, who only last year had been a close friend. “Fuck you.” She stabbed a finger at the guard beside him. “Fuck you.” She pointed at the man who had manhandled her and jolted her hand for extra measure. “And especially—” she turned to Judd, “—fuck you.”
His nostrils flared and those soulful eyes gleamed with wicked intent. He lunged forward, gripping her upper arms and stealing the breath from her lips with his mouth. He kissed her, hard, with punishing pressure and vicious flicks of his tongue. It was devastating. Mortifying. Destructive.
It was perfect.
She shoved at his chest, hating his flawless lips and flawless taste and the flawless way he made her fall for him all over again in the space of minutes.
“Get movin’, Harper,” Tank muttered behind her. “You know you can’t win this time.”
She increased her glare, giving Judd a much more potent
through the silence. “So you’re kidnapping me?” Her voice was foreign, slightly panicked. “You’ve gotta be kidding, right?” She smiled through the delirium, laughed, then felt the elation flee as Judd’s stance remained adamant.
“You wanted somewhere private. So let’s go.” He jerked his head toward the end of the hall and on cue his thugs encroached, demanding compliance without a word.
“I hate you.” She hated his gorgeousness, hated his passion, she even hated the way he made her want love when she knew their relationship was too complicated to withstand it.
“I know. I see that now.” The corner of his lips curled in a somber smile. “But until I change your mind, you’re staying with me.”
“Oh, wow.” Her eyes widened. “So this is a lifetime commitment to hold me hostage?”
He shrugged. “If it needs to be.” He swung a hand and slapped her ass. “Now get moving.”
She ground her teeth through another curse and started down the hall, Judd to her left, Tank to her right; and the two twits trailing at the rear.
They remained silent through the empty backstage halls, not a whisper, not a word, until she was in the private underground parking lot, staring up at Judd’s familiar tour bus. It looked like the same one from last year, only the signage along the outside was different.
“After you, princess.” He placed a hand on the low of her back, cementing her fate.
She took the first step forward, toward the open bus door and the stairs leading to her doom. She could feel desire welcoming her home, along with the powerlessness that came with it.
was why she dreaded coming tonight. She was weak to temptation, her feet moving of their own accord.
She climbed the stairs, entering familiar territory. She’d had sex on every inch of this bus. Even the tiny bathroom, the aisle, and the unstable dining table that still stood to her left, surrounded by a booth of seats.
“Welcome home,” she muttered.
Tank came up behind her and slid into the driver’s seat. “Make yourself comfortable.”
“Easier said than done.”
Judd remained outside, speaking in a hushed tone to the guard who had left his imprint on her wrist. There was no anger or dramatics. From her viewpoint, it appeared to be a casual conversation. The guard was the one who showed the direction of the discussion. His shoulders were slumped, his expression defeated. Then without a movement of his lips, he walked away and Judd swung around, meeting her gaze as he took the first step onto the bus.
“Did you fire him?”
He continued climbing. “Did you want me to?”
. He knew how her knees caved at the concept of chivalry. “Forget it.”
“Forgotten.” He flashed his teeth at her in victory.
“Where are we headed?” Tank asked, revving the engine to life.
The floor vibrated beneath her, precisely the last thing she needed when she was already being white-washed with estrogen.
“Head out of town.” Judd’s confident gaze chilled her blood. “Find a deserted street where we’re not going to be interrupted.”
A sardonic laugh bubbled from her throat. Somewhere dark and desolate so he could tear your defenses limb from limb, she thought.
“You know, I could have you arrested for this.” Slight exaggeration on her part. She had her cell in her back pocket and a keycard in the front. Escape was only a phone call away. If only she could bring herself to leave him again.
He shrugged and started for her as the bus began to creep forward. “I’ll risk it.”
She backtracked, already sensing the increase in his seductive pull now she was in his domain. She’d succumbed once already. That was enough. “What about Tank? He probably has a long list of previous offenses. If I call the cops, he’d be in a whole heap of trouble.”
A snort drifted from the driver’s seat. “Nice try, sweetheart, but I’ve got a clean record and I’m more than willing to risk whatever necessary to see the two of you back together again.”
She startled. Stiffened. Froze entirely.
Judd did, too.
“Is that what this is about?” She reached out a hand, gripping whatever her fingers brushed first and hoped it looked like the sway of the moving bus was challenging her balance.
The change of gears was the only response.
“What if I said yes?” He took a step toward her. Then another.
“Then I’d say you’re delusional.” She slid backward, moving further and further down the aisle. He didn’t even know her. It didn’t matter how many months they spent together through the last tour, she’d never really let him in. She’d even warned him daily that she wouldn’t stick around. She couldn’t handle the lack of control she had on her senses when she was with him. And she hated that she didn’t fit in with the people surrounding him. They were all pomp and circumstance, and she was all curse words and cheap alcohol. Except Tank. The rough thug was one of her people, but he was the hired help, so he didn’t count. “You’re only interested in fun, and I no longer want the same thing.”
His jaw ticked and the flare of his nostrils showed a rare glimpse of spite. Through months of fictitious fighting to instigate the best sex of her life, she’d never actually landed one of her blows. All her catty remarks were deliberate air swings. Fraudulent barbs to spike excitement and lust. What she’d just said hadn’t even been an attack. It was the truth. Yet the look in his eyes said she’d hit a nerve.
“So what do you want, princess?” he growled.
She wanted to be herself without the fear of rejection. She needed to be his equal even though there was no hope of that happening. And more than anything, she wanted to find a home with him, a metaphorical place where she could finally feel a sense of belonging.
Everything she craved was impossible.
It was one of the many reasons she’d walked away.
When they were together, the stakes were high. Everything was intense—the lovemaking, the fights. Especially the persona she had to keep up to maintain his interest. It was either high or low, barely ever in between. What she needed was slow and lazy, maybe even a little taste of boring to even things out.
“I…” She swallowed, hating how invested he was in her answer when the response she wanted to give would leave her vulnerable. “I need to use the bathroom.”
He scoffed and shook his head. “Fine. But if you think you’re gonna lock yourself in there, think again. It doesn’t take much to get the door open from the outside.”
“Did you find that out with your last victim?” She backtracked to the bathroom, her fingers gliding over the latch.
He flashed his teeth. All predator. No charm. “Maybe.”
She slipped inside the tiny space and closed the door behind her. The tension in her chest loosened at her first deep breath of solitude. She hadn’t always been this pathetic. Judd Hart hadn’t been a blip on her radar until she heard he was looking for a new stylist.
The first day of her new job sealed her fate. She’d been annoyed at his late arrival to their first appointment and hadn’t bothered to hide her PMS-induced ire. One catty remark turned into a flirtatious verbal sparring match that lasted ten excruciatingly long days and culminated in tangled sheets and sex-ruffled hair. The gentleman of the billboards had been no gentleman to her, and the devilishly dominant side of him had turned addictive.
The more time she spent with him, the more they bickered, and it was always with seductive smiles and the low of her belly in a mass of tingles. They became inseparable. And so did her psychotic attitude. She went out of her way to be feisty and compulsive just to see the flash of passion in his eyes.
Her life began to revolve around his excitement.
That was, until she fell in love.
Then shit got real.
Everything inside her fractured. Including her mental stability. Each day brought clarity to their situation. Judd was famous for dating her exact opposite. Prim and proper women with impeccable manners and professional dress sense. He was a gentleman by nature. Not this ferocious, gritty man.
Their time together had an expiry date and she grew torn between pulling away and clinging tighter.
She began inserting warnings into their daily conversations.
We can’t do this forever. Once the tour is over I’m leaving. You need someone who isn’t so crazy.
Not once did he acknowledge her insecurities. He didn’t care then, like he didn’t care when she left.
So damn pathetic.
She reached behind her neck, unclasped the necklace hidden under her shirt and placed the ring dangling from the dainty chain into her palm. It was the same ring she’d worn hanging from her neck since the day she walked away.
It no longer had a place on her hand. It never really did to begin with. She shouldn’t have accepted his gift when their end was already in sight. But she’d been completely messed up. In a tangled wreckage of love and insecurities, that made her think a commitment ring could fix everything.
Two weeks later she was gone.
Maybe walking out was just another psychotic bender aimed at inspiring more profound sex, but he didn’t come after her. Apart from a missed call on her cell and a few text messages, he’d let her go, only proving her theory that they’d never been destined to have a future together.
“Come on, Harper.” Judd banged on the door. “This can go on forever, but I’d prefer if it didn’t.”
She closed her eyes and squeezed her hand around the gold. There were two choices. When the bus stopped, she could sneak back to the bathroom, check the GPS on her cell and text her brother to come save her. He’d probably start a fight with Tank and get his ass kicked in the process, but he’d get her out of here. Or she could enjoy this slip into the past and use it to say a proper goodbye—the one she hadn’t given him all those months ago.
I heard you.
” Her lips twitched at the adrenaline spike that always accompanied dueling with him.
“You’ve got five seconds.”
She sighed and stuffed the jewelry into her pocket. God knew he was probably preparing the necessary tools to take the door off its hinges. “I’m coming. I’m coming.”
She splashed water on her face, patted down the stray strands of her hair and yanked the door open to his looming figure. He stepped forward, placing his hands on either side of the frame and caged her in.
“Finished?” He raised a taunting brow.
“With this?” She waved a hand between them and scooted out from underneath his arm. “Barely. You dragged me here for a reason, and I intend to speed up the process.”
The curve of his lips increased her pulse. He stalked her, making her retreat toward his private room at the rear of the vehicle. She could’ve closed the door in his face and flicked the lock. At least she should’ve. Instead, she continued backtracking. Her calves hit the bed and the momentum, along with their cruising speed down the freeway, sent her toppling onto the mattress.
“Sex wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.” He reached out a hand, all gentlemanly charm and casual grace. It was his blazing eyes and the hungered lick of his lower lip that spoke of seduction. “I’ll adapt to the change in plans, though.”
“I bet you will.” She refused his offering and gripped the quilt for strength. His gaze lowered, focusing on the fingers she had clutched tight into the material.
“You’re not wearing my ring.” His tone was flat, almost lifeless.
“No.” She fought to keep her grip in place and not wring her hands together. “I pawned it,” she lied. “The easiest grand I’ve ever made.”
He laughed, his tempting lips spreading in a way that had her chin lifting to get closer. “A grand? Really?” He retreated to lean against the wall. “The broker must’ve loved you.”
She shrugged. “We were both pleased with the transaction.”
“You didn’t get a second opinion on the price?”
“Why bother? I didn’t need to keep it when we were no longer together. So I spent the money on booze and drank you out of my life. Any more than a grand and my liver never would’ve recovered from the bender.”
At least half her statement was true. She hadn’t been able to let go of the keepsake. She needed to be reminded of him. Not only of the memories sprinkled with perfection, but the ones that forewarned a future with this man was a fairytale concept.