Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General, #Anthologies (Multiple Authors)
Too careless to listen to warnings.
She’d have to get invited to the party.
Tom’s office was about the size of her office and Glen’s office and Brenda’s reception area combined.
A plush, deep-blue carpet acted as a stage for ebony furniture—probably the color, not the wood, although given the depth of Mike’s pockets, Ali wouldn’t swear to that.
Head down, dark hair falling forward over his eyes, Tom kept working as she crossed to the desk, her sandals making no noise against the thick nap. As far as she was concerned, the whole I told my secretary to let you in but I’m far too busy to actually pay any attention to you was a childish power play but she wasn’t going to call him on it. She needed him to feel superior if this was going to work.
Pushing a pile of paper out of her way, she perched on the edge of the desk, allowing her skirt to ride up just enough to be distracting. “So, you’ve invited the Noman brothers to play at a private party where you’ll introduce them to everyone they’ll need to know to make it big.”
He looked up then, eyes narrowed.
“And, just to make sure they’ll agree,” Ali continued, “you’ve sweetened the pot with a big old wad of cash.”
“They told you?”
She smiled. “You’re obvious.”
“And you’re not?” He returned her smile then, leaning back in his chair, silk shirt pulling tight across his chest. “You didn’t sign them last night or you wouldn’t be here now.” Frowning, he added, “Why are you here, Ali?”
“I came to warn you.”
“Out of the goodness of your heart?”
Dropping her gaze to the hem of her skirt, Ali rolled a bit of the fabric between thumb and forefinger.
“Believe it or not, I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“Okay fine.” She looked up then, matching the challenge in his eyes. “I don’t want to see you get hurt by anyone but me.”
He looked startled, then he threw back his head and laughed.
White teeth. Long, lean line of throat. And his laugh still sent shivers down her spine. Ali stomped down hard on her reaction.
“All right,” he said at last, “what did you want to warn me about?”
“I know what they are, what the Noman brothers are, and you can’t control them. They’re out of your league.”
“You can’t control them and they’re out of your league.” Tom’s gesture covered the room, the gold records on the wall, and managed somehow to include all the resources the Vital Music Group could access. “What makes you think Mike can’t bring a couple of good ol’ boys to their knees?”
Because these aren’t the kind of guys to take it up the ass for a fat paycheck and a chance to throw their weight around. But she trapped the words behind a smile because they had nothing to do with the Noman brothers and everything to do with Tom walking away. From Bedford Entertainment. From her.
Tom’s smile tightened and she knew he could read her thoughts on her face. “You want proof, Ali?”
he asked, pushing the chair back and standing. “You want proof we’ve won this round?” Leaning forward, he scrawled an address and a date on a piece of paper, straightened, and offered it with a mocking flourish. “Why don’t you come see for yourself?”
She slid off the edge of the desk and just barely stopped herself from slapping the paper out of his hand. This was exactly what she’d expected him to do, exactly what she’d needed him to do if she was going to have any chance of stopping Mike from using the sirens’ power to further his own agenda. If, to be completely honest, she was going to have any chance of signing the band herself. It was just…no matter how much she knew it had to happen, she hated being patronized. Hated it more when Tom acted as the extension of Mike’s so very superior and entirely infuriating attitude.
“Mike will control the Noman brothers, Ali, and when he does you’re going to want to be on his good side. I’m giving you that chance.”
Fortunately, he’d know something was up if she made no protest. Her smile had edges. “So, out of the goodness of your heart, you’re graciously allowing me to play the sycophant?”
“I am graciously not throwing you out of here on your ass,” he growled, moving closer.
And suddenly, it was that afternoon in her office all over again. But this time, there was no Mike to call him to heel and no Glen to tell her this was a bad idea.
Ali knew it was a bad idea and, from the way Tom’s eyes narrowed, he knew it too.
One of them had to acknowledge that and back away.
“Shut up.” As memory replayed the sirens’ song, she decided she’d had all she could take of wanting and not having. Wrapping her hands around his face, she rose up on her toes, and sucked the curve of scarred lip into her mouth, biting it none too gently, then lapping at with the tip of her tongue. He closed his hands around her wrists and pushed her away.
But he didn’t let her go. His cheeks were flushed and he looked as though he was silently weighing alternatives.
Ali looked up at him from under her lashes and smiled. “Dare you,” she said, just enough mockery in her voice to overrule any remaining remnants of his better nature.
He released her then, but only to shift his grip to her waist.
As he lifted her back onto the desk, she wrapped one leg around him and dragged him up against her—
he wasn’t starting something and then walking away. Not this time. Fingers buried in the thick, silken mass of his hair, she devoured his mouth, using her teeth as much as her lips, loving the low growls she evoked.
Tom wasn’t about risk, he was about control, always had been, and Ali loved making him lose it.
They’d been together for almost five years before Mike had lured him away with the promise of power and no matter how bad things had gotten during those five years, the sex had always been incredible.
He moved his mouth to her throat, licking and sucking at the curve where her neck met her shoulder, bringing the blood to the surface, his hands moving from her waist to her breasts, stroking her through the fabric of blouse and bra, strong fingers finding her nipples as they hardened and closing around them.
Ali fumbled with the buttons on his shirt, needing to feel his skin under her hands.
“You’ve been working out,” she gasped, both hands brushing quick and rough over the hard, hot planes of his chest and stomach as he licked along her collarbone and down over the swell of her breasts. She’d been trying for glib and had a feeling she’d missed it entirely.
He laughed—at her, with her, at this point she didn’t really care—and dropped his hands to her thighs, running them up under her skirt. “I don’t have time…”
“I don’t need time.” Not with the siren song still playing in her head.
He took her at her word, reaching into the center drawer for a condom.
“Do I want to know why you keep condoms in your desk?” she asked, leaning back on her elbows, as he rolled it on.
Eyes dark, his lips curled. “Same reason I always did.”
Same reason. Different partner.
Her lips curled in answer to his. “Be a nice change for you then, back on top.”
“We don’t have to do this, Ali.”
She sat up, grabbed the wings of his shirt. “Yet we both know we’re going to.” She dragged his mouth back onto hers. He tasted like expensive coffee, the apple he always had for breakfast, and memories.
The kiss got rougher, sloppier, wetter.
One hand splayed against the small of her back, Tom pulled her toward the edge of the desk. The other hand slid up under her skirt, trailing lines of want along her inner thighs.
Ali couldn’t keep from crying out as he entered her, wasted a moment hoping his office was as soundproof as it looked or that his secretary was considerably more discreet, then wrapped her legs around him and matched him stroke for stroke.
Matching the rhythm of the music…
It felt like she’d been on the edge since the first time she’d heard NoMan play and it didn’t take her long to fall.
After, as she paused at the office door to slip the piece of paper with the date and address of the private concert into her purse, she glanced back at Tom. Dark curl of hair falling down into his face, his cheeks flushed, he looked like a debauched angel. Buttoning his shirt, he frowned down at the glossy surface of his desk like he was trying to work out just what exactly had happened.
NoMan had happened.
That was one hell of a band and there was no way she was letting Michael Richter have them…
“How nice of you to join us, Alysha. Tom tells me you know what I’m hoping to accomplish here tonight.”
Mike’s smile was all dangerous edges and as he moved closer, Ali felt her heart begin to race. Behind him, Tom’s smile suggested she was totally screwed, and not in a fun way. Not this time. The interlude in his office had been just that—when it came to choosing sides, Tom had made his decision three years ago and, to give credit where credit was due, regardless of any lingering heat between them, he stuck to it when it mattered.
From the hall where Mike had stopped her, she could see the backs of maybe two dozen well-coiffed heads. Heads belonging to the men and women who made the decisions—who recorded what, who got the promotion money, who’d be the new flavor of the month.
“Although,” he continued thoughtfully, “I’m not sure just what exactly you hope to accomplish.” A gesture toward the inner room. “Half of that lot thinks you and your little company that couldn’t quite is on the way out. Make a fuss, run about shouting something about sirens like a crazy woman, and the other half will come to agree with them.”
He had a point. A little screaming might save the band but ruin her.
“If you’re planning on warning the brothers, well, they clearly haven’t listened to you up to this point or you wouldn’t be here.”
Ali flashed him her brightest, falsest smile. “I’m here to witness your victory. Just ask Tom.”
A muscle jumped in the toned line of his jaw. “Tom’s judgment isn’t exactly sound where you’re concerned, Alysha, but I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt.”
“Thank you.” Her response was exactly as sincere as the statement that prompted it.
“Given the stakes, however, you will remain here only under certain conditions.”
Before she had time to ask what those conditions were, Tom grabbed her arms, dragged them behind her, and Mike snapped a pair of handcuffs over her wrists.
“Kinky,” she muttered, trying to get free.
“Just a precaution,” Mike purred. The soft wax pressed into her ear didn’t exactly take her by surprise.
With Tom’s fingers digging into her jaw, angling her head toward his employer, Mike paused before sealing the second ear. “When the Noman brothers sing,” he told her quietly, “no one will hear them and they’ll be mine.”
Ali pasted the false smile back on. “Isn’t this where you’re supposed to laugh maniacally?”
“If you like.”
“One question before…” Her gaze flickered to his fingers and then back to his face. “How did you convince that lot to stuff wax in their ears? Tell them a story about Ulysses?”
His answering smile was entirely sincere. “They’re industry executives. They don’t actually like music.”
The second piece of wax left her feeling as though she’d been cut off from the world. Ali fought the rising panic, kept her head high and her expression disdainful—a meltdown now would help no one.
Not her. Not Brandon and Travis. Mike held her while Tom slid his own plugs in then kissed her forehead gently, patronizingly, as he handed her back to her ex.
Who seemed to be overcompensating for their tryst in his office.
His hands wrapped around her arms above the elbows, his grip just on the edge of bruising, Tom held her about a foot out from his body. She struggled, just enough to know she couldn’t get free, and then, together, they watched Mike make his way to the makeshift stage. Drummer, bass player, guitarist—
they’d already taken their places back out of the light. They seemed to know what everyone else knew; they didn’t matter.
When Brandon and Travis came on stage, Mike gestured and Ali saw the members of the audience clap politely—part of Mike’s show, pre-arranged. Walking away, he plugged his own ears, then turned just behind the last row of chairs to face the band.
Although she could see both Travis and Brandon, the stage was angled in such a way that unless they turned specifically to face the hall, they wouldn’t see her. Tom’s grip kept her from moving into their line of sight.
By the middle of the first song, the brothers knew something was wrong; Ali could see it in the way they moved, their easy confidence replaced by the wariness of wild creatures sensing a trap. Trouble was, they’d sensed it a little late. She fought the urge to yell, Still think you don’t need me? and concentrated instead on figuring out a way to get the wax out of her ears. Companies like Vital Music Group had the luxury of long-term planning; companies like Bedford Entertainment survived by improvising.
It wasn’t a great metaphor but it was all she had.
First, Tom had to release her.
Ali stepped back, taking him by surprise. Reaching out with her cuffed hands, she cupped him through the fine wool of his dress pants. When he gave her a shake, she curled her fingers and gently squeezed.
His grip tightened on her arms but she continued caressing him as he hardened. Let him think she wanted a replay of that morning in his office and, hopefully, let him remember what Mike’s reaction to a replay would be.
She was starting to think she needed another plan when he jerked back and all but threw her against the nearest wall. Face flushed, he moved to block her view of the stage and silently snarled at her to stay put.
Fine with her.
The paintings hung along the hall had been illuminated by small halogen lights. Glad she’d worn the three-inch heels, Ali gritted her teeth and pressed the side of her head against the brass casing over the closest light.
She could feel blisters rising where casing touched her cheek and the back of her ear but she could also feel the wax softening so she thought about the smell of cotton candy and the wail of a fiddle on a warm summer afternoon.