Authors: Susan Scott Shelley
The coffee shop buzzed with music and
murmured conversations from the other patrons. Luke leaned back in his chair
and tapped his fingers on the table. A cup of coffee sat untouched in front of
him. His seat gave him full view of the window and the busy street outside. He
couldn't help glancing up at every passerby.
To help distract himself,
he checked his messages, sent texts to Irisa and the guys, reconfirmed his
flight information for Nashville, then did his afternoon social media sweep,
dropping several responses to fans' comments. He loved seeing their excitement
over his interactions.
Then a tag of his name
Owen Riess Fan Page: Just
heard Excite Records will be releasing a greatest hits album for The Fury.
Greatest hits??? Anyway, a little bird told me the label feels the band is
waning and dropped their asses. Told you, Luke Thompson. Your band is a bunch
of overrated S.O.B.s. So long, suckers!
Goddamn Owen. Luke's hand
clenched around his phone. He and the lead singer of Swindle Ox had never
gotten along. Mutual hate was a better term. Owen had caused a lot of headaches
for him and his band over the years. Someday, he'd get his. The guy was asking
Within seconds, Luke's
own page blew up with questions from fans begging for more information. After
drumming his hands on the table for a few minutes, he crafted his reply.
Guys, The Fury has a HUGE
announcement coming up soon. Something special is in the works. Stay tuned.
After making sure the
band was aware of Owen's announcement, he went back to people-watching. And
waiting for Audrey.
Minutes ticked by.
Thirty... forty-five... a full sixty. Then fifteen more.
Unease edged through him.
She'd show up... right?
Wishing for something stronger
than the coffee growing cold in front of him, he fisted the cup and swallowed
some undiluted caffeine to ease his parched throat.
Finally, the door swung
open and Audrey walked into the shop. She pushed her sunglasses into her hair
like a headband and met his gaze. A smile flickered across her face. She waved
and then turned to place her order with the barista.
buzzed and he tore his eyes away from Audrey for a second. Irisa—wishing him
good luck. He'd need it. He tucked his phone into his pocket as Audrey glided
"I'm sorry I'm late.
My client was late and she likes to talk. A lot." She settled into the
other side of the table and her perfume teased his senses. Floral with a hint
of spice. He wondered if she'd taste the same.
"I'm just happy you
Tiny lines formed on her
forehead. "I wouldn't stand you up."
"Good to know,
Slim hands clutched her
iced coffee. Inches from his. "So..."
"Irisa said you
broke up with that suit."
Her brows rose and he
. Damn it. Not the way he'd intended to start.
"Dante? Yeah. I
couldn't go through with it." Her thumb rubbed the base of her ring
finger. He could easily picture the square-cut diamond that had once resided
"Why did you end
She released her hold on
the coffee and leaned forward, gaze direct and voice lowered. "Why are you
Business first, and maybe
he'd get himself together enough to talk about the rest. "The band is
forming our own label."
happen with Excite?"
"Let's just say we
don't see eye to eye anymore. Anyway, we're forming our own label, and we're
running a contest where we're auditioning fans for a chance to win a spot in a
new band that will be under our label."
exciting." She offered him an encouraging smile.
"We're unveiling the
label news on Jett Hale's TV show in two weeks, so we'll need clothes for that,
and a logo. Then, in six weeks, we're having a party in Vegas where we're
announcing the winners and the new band's name. So we'll need clothes for that,
too. And finally, the new band will perform on Jett's show two weeks after
that, and we'll need a set design, the new band's logo designed, and clothes
for the four of them and for us."
"And you want me for
"We want you for
She blinked, eyes widening.
design, and logos."
She sat back in her seat
and blew out a breath. "I have to say the project is intriguing. I've
never done set design before. Or logos, except my own."
"We know you're
talented but most importantly, we can trust you. I'll be honest here, you're
our first choice."
"Whoa. That's a
pretty big compliment."
"So, what do you
say?" He pulled out the proposal and a separate page with their payment
offer. He'd researched well enough to know what would be considered fair, and
then increased it by twenty percent. "You can take time to think it over.
The payment amount is negotiable, too."
She read over the details
and her brows arched when she looked at the amount they'd offered to pay. Then
she leaned forward. "I'm in. I'm definitely up for the challenge."
"I'm glad." He
extended his hand for a formal shake. When her palm pressed against his and her
fingers curled around his hand, he wanted to stand up and cheer. Instead, he
released her. "The guys all submitted ideas. We thought you could work off
"Send me everything
and I'll get started. I can have the logo for you in time for Jett's show. The
timing for everything else you need should be fine once I'm finished with my
"You'll be working
with me. I'm handing most of this."
"That's not a
"Good. Then that
moves me on to the other reason I'm here." He took a deep breath and laid
his hands, palm up, on the table.
"I screwed up
before. Big time. I was an idiot not to tell you how I felt, and I didn't want
to lose another chance. As simplistic as it sounds, I like you—a lot." He
reached across the table and grabbed her free hand in his. "Too damn much
for me not to say anything about it. Too damn much for me to want to be with
Her fingers stiffened in his, but he couldn't let go.
already this far in—might as well finish the rest. "I'm not pulling any
punches. I want to be with you. I want a relationship. With you."
Her eyes widened like
saucers. A light came into them and he hoped he wasn't imagining what it meant.
"But what I want
doesn't do any good unless you're feeling it too. I thought you were before.
But maybe I was wrong." For the second time, he wished for something
stronger than coffee. Alcoholic truth serum would make this easier.
Her head shook a quick
no. "You weren't wrong."
his fingers around hers and stroked his thumb in small circles over the top of
her hand "No?"
She pressed her lips
together for a moment. Vulnerability flashed across her face a second before it
settled into the blue depths of her eyes. "You've been on my mind since
the day we met."
exact words he wanted to hear damn near made him high. A lump swelled in his
throat and he had to swallow hard to speak. "You too."
The corners of her sweet smile drifted down and she carefully extracted her
hand from his grip. The warmth in her gaze cooled. "I was serious when I
said I didn't want to date a rocker again."
Even as he
witnessed her barriers slide up, he couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"You're crossing me off because of my career?"
"Rob was always
touring, always recording. You are, too. He always put his fans first. So do
"I'm not him."
"No. But you're
always pulling out your phone to chat with the fans, or being pulled away
because of the band. You've been doing that every time we've met. When we hung
out during your last tour, you did it all the time."
"We owe everything
to our fans. I can't ignore them."
"I'm not saying that
you should ignore them, but... Damn it. That last night, you and I were having
a moment in the dressing room by ourselves. Moving closer and closer together,
and I really thought we'd end up kissing, but instead when Irisa knocked on the
door and yelled for you to greet the fans, you pulled away then, too. If you
pull away at
moment, what am I supposed to expect to happen in the
"I'm sorry. I was an
idiot. The first of many occasions where I messed up." He paused as an
idea formed. "That's why you began seeing Dante, wasn't it?"
Her shoulders lifted and
then fell. "He has a regular job, a regular life, and he made me feel like
I was an important part of it. Everything I thought I needed, but..." Her
eyes met his, needy and hungry and denying them both. "I couldn't stop
thinking about you."
"I like that. I like
being on your mind. I was pretty messed up for a while, thinking I'd lost
you." Taking a chance, he laid his hand over hers again. Her fingers
immediately curled around his.
"The three years I
spent with Rob were the loneliest times of my life. I can't pretend that I
don't want you, but I also can't pretend that I don't have concerns." Her
bracelets clinked as she pushed her other hand through her hair. "I lived
with being an afterthought with Rob for too long. I need a partnership. I want
to be a priority. And I'm going to be completely honest here: I don't know if
you can give me that."
He could understand her
fears. Every touring musician knew how hard maintaining a relationship could
be. "Will you at least give me a chance? Work with me on this project. I'm
not going anywhere, unless you boot me out."
"You say that now,
but what happens when this project is over?"
"You'll have to
trust me. I want to be there for you. You're always on my mind, Sunshine. I'll
prove to you that I'm serious."
She was quiet for a long
moment. Her gaze fixed on their joined hands. He rubbed his thumb over her
knuckles. Even that small motion was enough for him to feel her all the way to
Slowly, her gaze roamed
from their hands, to his arms, to his chest, and then finally to his face.
"Okay. But we need to go slow. Baby steps."
do baby steps." He drew her hand to his face and sighed against her
knuckles then planted a gentle kiss on them.
"Are you free the
rest of the day?"
"I have to finish up
a few things at the studio. And then I want to get started on some ideas for
tonight?" He'd have to plan something special. It had to be the best first
date in history.
Her smile bloomed until
it beamed across her face and brightened the room. "I'd like that."
They sat, sipping coffee,
and talking about her upcoming show and his upcoming auditions and possible
ideas for the TV show and label designs. The clouds that had been hanging over
his head for months dissipated like a sky clearing after a storm. The heavy
weight lifted and the sunlight of Audrey poured in.
When they drained their
drinks, she glanced at her watch. "I need to get back."
you." He drew her to her feet. He wanted to hug her, hold her. And damn,
he wanted to kiss her. But not yet. He'd have to hold back. She wanted slow.
She needed to see that he wouldn't hurt her. No matter what he wanted, her
needs came first.
Five hours later, he
stood outside the brownstone housing her second-floor apartment. The cab idled
by the curb, revving its engine every few moments, matching the beating of his
heart. When Audrey came through the door, Luke nearly swallowed his tongue. He
smoothed a hand down his chest and quelled the jumping sensation residing
there. "You look beautiful."
The simple white dress,
thin straps at her shoulders, and the way the fabric draped across her chest,
hinted at curves he'd imagined far too many times. A delicate gold chain, one
of her designs, with a teardrop stone the color of the ocean laid against the
hollow of her throat. "Thanks. You clean up well, too. I approve of the
She should. It was from
her most recent collection. "The designer's pretty special."
A blush tinted her cheeks
and her lips curved in a soft smile. The need to touch her was too great to
ignore. He reached out and linked their fingers and then raised her hand to his
lips. More softness. More of what he'd been missing. "Ready to go?"
voice breathless, she glanced at the cab. "Where are we going?"
"I made a
reservation at that French restaurant you told me about the last time I was in
I've been dying to try that place. They're supposed to have the best desserts
in the city."