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Every Single Part of You

Cinder, Book 1 Unchained Chaos Tour

Published by LSJ Romance

Cover Art by Kellie Dennis at Book Cover by Design

www.bookcoverbydesign.co.uk

Edited by Missed Period Editing Services

www.missedperiodediting.com

Copyright © 2016 by London Saint James

ISBN: 978-1-5323-0442-2


All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of

this work, in whole or in part, in any form by any electronic, mechanical or other means

now known or hereafter invented, is forbidden without written permission of the copyright holder.



Authors Note

This book contains mature themes, includes explicit language and sexual scenes.









Every Single Part of You

Cinder, Book 1

Unchained Chaos Tour







London Saint James

Contents

Dedication

Part One

Prologue

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Part Two

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Part Three

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Epilogue

About the Author

Dedication


To Lynn. Thank you for starting out on this crazy writing journey with me and the boys of Cinder. Your contributions were and still are very much appreciated. Thanks also for being a part of my life. Your friendship is even more so appreciated. I hope your continuing life journey finds you happy and loving whatever you do.


Part One


Whatever it takes to find the real you, don't be daunted if the rest of the world looks on in shock.

-Stephen Richards

Prologue

“Sara Holbrook, will you do me the extraordinary honor of becoming my wife?”

My attention, which had been appropriately focused upon the sea of Washington’s most powerful and influential people filling the Grand Ballroom at The Willard, snapped to the tall, blond man in the Armani tux, standing on the platform alongside my father and I.

Did I hear him right?

We’d only been officially seeing each other for a few months. The whooshing of the blood pumping hard in my ears must have distorted the sound. He couldn’t have—

My gaze dropped to the hand I hadn’t realized he held. I blinked. My head went fuzzy, and my palms grew clammy as a huge, emerald cut diamond ring sparkled beneath the chandelier lights, sending a kaleidoscope of colors over the vintage Dior gown I wore. I couldn’t be sure, but those intermittent huffs of hysterical laughter as a three-carat ring slid on the third finger of my left hand more than likely came from me.

The confident, chiseled features of a Nordic god with eyes the perfect shade of sapphires moved into my line of sight and gave a prompting squeeze to my fingers.

On some level, I became aware that the polished, polite smile I’d been trained to wear had frozen on my face, and my lips were unable to move—unwilling to form the words he and my father wanted to hear. This proposal was way, way too soon.

Proposal. Pierce proposed. I’ve been publically ambushed.

I tried to swallow the lump of cotton lodged in the back of my throat. It didn’t budge. I was nowhere near ready for marriage. My feelings toward Pierce were ambivalent at best. I certainly didn’t love him. When it came to the subject of us as a couple, there really wasn’t a spark. At least, I’d never felt one. But, spark or not—and ambushed or not—I knew all too well what was expected of me. I understood what I was supposed to say.

I could see tomorrow’s headlines:


THE PRINCE AND PRINCESS OF THE REPUBLICAN PARTY TO TIE THE KNOT


I even figured I knew what the accompanying article would say…


Pierce Fitzpatrick III, eldest son of Senator Sean Fitzpatrick and the golden boy of the GOP, pops the million-dollar question during a five thousand dollar per plate charity event hosted by the Holbrook Foundation in Washington D.C. on Thursday evening. Senator Jentsen Holbrook’s announcement to run for President took a momentary backseat during the event, giving center stage to the young lovebirds.


The feeling of being on a tilt-o-whirl struck me, and the glitzy room started to spin.

My father gave Pierce a manly slap on the back. “Son, I think you’ve rendered my daughter speechless.”

Clearly, the two of them—my father and the man he’d handpicked for me—were in cahoots. However, I didn’t have the ability to be upset, because I was too busy trying to stay upright on my Louboutins.

I focused on not making a complete fool out of myself in front of four hundred and fifty people.

Pierce nodded at my father, and then gave the crowd his bazillion-watt, dimpled smile. “There’s always a first time for everything,” he joked.

Heat infused my cheeks as a wave of laughter from our well-dressed audience washed over me.

Pierce lifted the hand weighted down by the over-the-top engagement ring and brushed a kiss there before he met my gaze. “Sweetie. Don’t keep me on pins and needles here.”

Fear of becoming the perfect, plastic, politician’s wife had the cotton ball in my throat morphing into a bolder the size of Texas. I never wanted to be eye-candy on a man’s arm. The trophy that is seen and never heard. I didn’t want to wake up one morning to find I was in the winter of my youth, and wonder what I’d done with my life.

My stomach knotted. A cold sweat broke over my heated skin, and that tilt-o-whirl I’d unwillingly found myself on kicked into supersonic speed, causing me to sway while I worked hard to pry my glossed lips apart. When they finally parted, no sound came past my tongue. Instead, the world around me blurred like a smear on a lens. A collective gasp sounded in my ears as my knees gave way and my body crumpled.

So much for not making a fool out of myself, I thought an instant before the world around me faded to black.


***


The feel of softness cradling my body and the scent of flowery perfume slowly seeped into my awareness. Fighting past the swimming sensation in my head and unsure where I was, I forced my eyelids open.

“Are you all right, Miss Holbrook?”

Gingerly, I pushed up into a sitting position. My father’s personal assistant, Vivian Darrow, sat on the edge of the hotel bed I lay upon, peering down at me. That’s when it all came crashing back. The dinner. My father’s announcement. Pierce’s marriage proposal.

A tornado swirled in my stomach. I was going to be sick.

“Miss Holbrook?”

Placing an arm over my midsection, I willed the feeling to settle and glanced around. My assumption as to where Pierce’s concerns really lie solidified into stone when I didn’t see him.

My gaze slid down to my left hand and the huge rock on my third finger. My chest tightened, and the floral-patterned walls of the suite seemed to press inward as my vision wavered.

“Miss Holbrook?” Vivian inquired again. “Are you all right?”

I managed a single nod to rid myself of her unwanted company while sucking in as much air as my constricting lungs allowed.

“Good.” She stood and smoothed down the fabric of her designer gown while straightening her shoulders. “Your father has asked that you rejoin him as soon as possible.” She gave me a withering stare. “His having to carry you from the ballroom—” With a disgusted shake of her head, and lips pursed, she turned to leave.

The shrinking box of a room threatened to snuff out my life, and the word ESCAPE boomed inside my thoughts with the force of a bomb blast.

“Wait,” I managed to gasp.

Vivian paused and glanced over her shoulder, an imperious brow raised.

I cleared my throat and swallowed, trying to work some saliva into my dry mouth as my insides trembled. “Have Arthur bring the car around.” Her gaze narrowed, and she opened her thin lips, but I hurried on. “I’m not feeling well, and need to go home to lie down.”

“Your father is going to be disappointed,” Vivian snipped as her chin lifted.

Gaze lowering, I nodded. “Tell him we’ll talk in the morning.”

With a sniff, she yanked the door open and sashayed out. A second later, the lock snicked shut.

I scooted to the edge of the bed and dug my fingertips into the comforter, feeling the ring constrict my finger. I hadn’t said yes, yet my life seemed to be spiraling down the perfect plan my father had created, falling into line with what he and everyone else expected. What everyone wanted.

Except me.

A sob caught in my throat, and I pressed my fist against my lips to stop the sound.

Chapter One

Sara

I lowered myself onto an economy-class seat on the first Tacoma-bound plane I’d been able to book. Head tipped back, I inhaled until my lungs hurt, and tried to still the jitters wreaking havoc inside me.

The foundation’s gala would be wrapping up any moment, and in about an hour, Father would arrive home and find I wasn’t where Arthur had dropped me. I imagined both he and Pierce would try my cell in attempt to locate me, but my tiny clutch bag—big enough for only my phone, compact, and lip gloss—had been left behind in the ballroom.

My stomach twisted into a tight knot while I stared out the darkened window beside me, the land and scattered lights disappearing as the plane climbed. Nothing of my manicured thumbnail, except for a pitiful nub, remained by the time the plane reached cruising altitude.

I didn’t have to bear witness to know the second Vivian had left me behind in that plush hotel suite she’d made a beeline to my father. She’d whisper the tale of my leaving The Willard in his ear. Outwardly, he would have maintained his calm, cool, composure, but he would certainly be furious. And when he realized I wasn’t at home, he’d probably burst a blood vessel.

I slammed my eyes shut.

Months of planning, not to mention thousands of dollars, were spent in order to create the perfect night in which Father would announce to the world his plans to run for president. And I, the only family member left to support his decision, took off like a scared rabbit after passing out like a weak fool.

My breath left in a rush, and I bit on the inside of my lip.

I’d let Father down. Ruined the evening—and the proposal he’d most assuredly instigated, or at the very least, strongly encouraged.

With my pulse thrumming in my ears, I struggled to draw breath as a slow burn flared in my chest. Anxiety dug its claws in, stealing the oxygen from my body. I whimpered, drawing the attention of the woman beside me.

“Are you okay, honey?” She peered at me, her brow carved with worried lines and kindness sparkling in her eyes.

I opened my mouth, but only wheezing escaped. My vision started to fade around the edges.

Self-suffocation at 10,000 feet, the headlines would read.

The woman beside me leapt to her feet, waving her arms, and hollered for assistance. Heads turned. Recognition lit in more than one gaze as my head darted from side to side, hands clutching the armrests as I fought for precious sips of air.

A flight attendant thrust a brown paper sack in my face, and I grasped her wrists, holding the bag in place.

“Nice and easy,” she cooed and smiled while settling onto her knees, half in the aisle and half in front of the seat beside me. “Relax and breathe easy. In and out. In and out.” I kept my gaze glued to her face as she continued to whisper encouragements. “There you go. That’s it.”

My body’s oxygen level seemed to be returning to normal with each crinkling of the bag.

A shudder rippled through me, and I finally dropped my hands to my lap. “Better?” the attendant asked, rocking back onto her heels.

“Yes.” My voice cracked. “Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome.” She squeezed my shoulder while standing. “I’ll get you some water.”

My neighbor reclaimed her seat. “Sure you’re all right?”

“Not a fan of flying.” I forced the lie out to shut her up.

Head lulling back, I closed my eyes to avoid the stares of the other passengers. While death hadn’t come, embarrassment had—and not just for me. From the moment my father entered politics, both he and I lived within the public’s purview. Everything, no matter how minuscule, became of interest to the press and fell beneath the paparazzi’s scrutiny, so I knew my panic attack on one Tacoma-bound plane would be leaked and plastered on more than a handful of front pages come morning.

Part of me couldn’t believe I was running across the country to avoid facing the truth of my life, and trying to circumvent an engagement I didn’t want but was required to accept. While the other part, though frightened of the crap storm that would eventually come, wanted to celebrate the going, and that wasn’t me. At least, it hadn’t been.


***


“What the—damn, it’s good to see you!” Briar, my best friend since childhood, tugged me into her apartment to hug me tight. “You scared the shit out of me banging on the door at three a.m. What the fuck is going on?” She stepped back, holding me at arm’s length, sleep-crusted hazel eyes studying my face. “Sara?” she asked when I didn’t answer.

“I—” The whole of my night came crashing down around me, and I let loose a broken sob.

One arm around my shoulders, Briar slammed her front door shut with her foot and led me into her living room, wheeling my carry-on behind her. “Sit.” She pointed at the couch. I flopped down, hiding my face in my hands as the tears rolled. Less than a minute into my pity party, she stopped rubbing my back and huffed. “All right. Enough with the waterworks already. Tell me what the hell is going on.”

Between gulps of air, sniffles, and hiccups, I spewed out the events of the previous ten hours. More than one cussword hissed from her lips—especially when I told her I’d woken up in that hotel room without Pierce or my father beside me.

She glanced down at my left hand. “Where’s the ring?”

I wiped the last of my tears off my cheeks. “Pinned to my underwear.”

Briar snorted and pulled back her long, wavy hair into a messy bun. “Safest place, for sure. Ain’t no man getting in those cotton granny panties.”

Warmth flooded my face.

“What?” She peered at me, her perfect brow quirked. “Did you finally give up the goods?”

I nodded my head as exhaustion flooded me, sagging my body back onto her couch.

With hands planted on her hips, she glared at me. “Why didn’t you tell me before now?”

My brow furrowed at the memory. My first time hadn’t been great. In fact, the whole conversation leading up to the big event, which Pierce instigated about moving forward to the next level, had been rather disappointing. He informed me of his loathing of latex, stating he’d only be using a condom until I was ‘covered.’ Told me of how many lovers he’d had. Showed me his clean bill of health. Assured me of his fidelity, and decided unilaterally that I would make an appointment for birth control injections. Everything had been cold. Clinical. Free of spontaneity or romance.

“Remove your clothes and get on the bed, Sara,” he’d said, removing his gold cufflinks.

I’d done what he’d asked, feeling beyond awkward, thinking he’d surely touch and kiss me. But he complained about me being too rigid when he settled his muscled body against me.

“I’m sorry,” I’d said.

Instead of apologizing, I should have told him the honest truth…he went too fast, I wasn’t prepared, and nothing leading up to our encounter was a turn-on.

“I didn’t tell you, Bri, because I was embarrassed,” I confessed.

“Embarrassed?” She laughed. “Who was it—and better yet, how was it?”

A heavy sigh escaped as I pressed my palms into my aching eyes while yawning. “Pierce, and nothing special.”

“That bad, huh?”

“It certainly wasn’t anything like you read in books, that’s for sure.”

“Tiny cock?”

I snorted on laughter and opened my eyes. “I don’t think so.”

“What do you mean, you ‘don’t think so?’”

I scrunched up my nose. “I never really saw it. He just sort of climbed on and went for it, but I can confirm it hurt like hell.”

“Oh my God, Sara. If the jerk knew how to get a woman wet and ready, things would have been better.”

“I should have known.” I peered up at my friend, filled with a kind of love that must be what having a sister felt like.

“Known what?”

“That you would get right to the root of the problem, and make me feel like less of a loser.”

Briar play-smacked my arm. “You are not a loser. Some men are just selfish pigs in bed.”

I nodded. “So, best friend who always has the answers, what should I do about my father and the proposal?”

“I say keep going with your gut reactions for a change and make your own damn decisions.”

I smiled, but didn’t feel any joy other than over the fact Briar had done exactly that on the day she turned eighteen and escaped from beneath her own parents’ religious thumbs.

“Did you sleep on the plane?” she asked.

“No.”

“Let’s go.” Briar tugged me up, and I followed her down the hallway. “Just like old times. You on the left, and me on the right.”

Eyes all but crossing, I stripped and pulled on the long T-shirt she threw at me. And after a quick visit to the tiny bathroom across the hall where I cringed at the reflection of my bloodshot eyes and puffy nose in the mirror, I snuggled into bed, my head on the pillow that carried a faint trace of Briar’s favorite patchouli oil.

“No pillow talk tonight.” Briar spooned my backside and kissed the askew up-do I’d worn for the charity dinner that seemed days past instead of hours. “Sleep. I’ll deal with your father’s uptight ass in the morning.”

Heaving a sigh, I gave into the delightful darkness and drifted off.


***


“The fuck you will!” Briar’s raised voice jolted me awake. “Be content in the fact that she’s safe and sound.”

I leapt up and hurried into her living room, arms wrapped around my midsection. Briar, phone to her ear and scowling, held up a finger asking me to wait. “She’s still sleeping.”

My shoulders relaxed.

“You need to give her some space,” she said.

“Don’t you tell me what to do, young lady!” My father’s voice raised enough that I could hear him. “Now you go wake Sara up and put her on the phone!”

“Sorry, sir.” Briar winked at me. “No can do.”

“Why you—”

“Like I said earlier, Mr. Holbrook, Sara needs some time to think, and thankfully, my girl came to a place where there will be no outside interference to sway decisions she needs to make about her life.”

“You listen to me—”

Briar hit the end button and tossed her cordless phone on the couch as she chuckled. “Nothing makes me happier than telling that pompous, self-righteous windbag how it is.” She held out her arms for me. “How’d you sleep?”

“Like a rock.” I leaned into her and rested against the one unmovable person in my life I knew I could count on no matter what.

“Let’s go out tonight to celebrate your newfound rebelliousness.”

I frowned. “I’m not rebellious.”

“Bullshit.” She snorted. “You’re here, aren’t you?”

“Coffee,” I muttered, leaving that conversation and the comfort of her arms for the kitchen.

Briar steered me to a chair at the table rather than to the coffee pot where she knew from past experience I’d either make it too weak or burn the blessed nectar.

After taking a seat, I slumped, placing my elbows on the table top. Way too cheerily, she spun, and flicked on the radio. A rock song blared to life. With her hips swaying to the loud music assaulting my ears, Briar ground beans and got the coffee going.

“You’re listening to KISX, the station that rocks Tacoma!” a low baritone spoke over the fading song coming from the radio’s speakers. “Know what time it is? Time to rock someone’s world. I’m opening the lines, and caller ten will win two VIP passes to the summer kickoff of Cinder’s Unchained Chaos tour tonight at the Tacoma Dome!”

Briar squealed and sprinted from the room.

I got up from my chair to turn the radio down as another song’s bass and drums started to thump between my ears. Leaning over the coffee pot, I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply before searching her cabinets for a couple of mugs.

I knew my father would be ticked at my leaving, and it wasn’t a secret that he didn’t hold any love for Bri, but he’d never hollered at her before like he did earlier over the phone. I suppose my choice the previous evening to hightail it out of D.C. and hole up at my bestie’s place wasn’t the smartest thing I’d done by far, and I knew I couldn’t hide out forever. In the end, I’d have no other choice but to eventually return and try to make things right.

But damn it, I don’t want to.

A squeal resonated through the apartment and broke my inner musings.

“I won!” Briar slid around the corner in her slouching rainbow socks, catching the door jamb to keep from skating past the kitchen’s entryway. “I fucking won!” She tossed a victorious arm in the air. “Two front row tickets to go see Cinder tonight, along with after party passes. And you, my dear,” she pinched my backside while dancing past me to the fridge, “are going to

have a drink or three, dance until you shine un-ladylike with sweat, and drool over the gods the world currently bows to.”

“Who’s Cinder?”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Briar’s eyes widened as she turned toward me, container of hazelnut creamer in hand.

I shook my head and resumed my seat.

“God, what rock have you been hiding under?”

“Do I really need to answer that?” I propped one elbow on the table, chin in hand. “My father plans to run for the presidency,” I bemoaned. “Which means—”

“He’s a prick?” She smiled before she spun and set the container of creamer on the counter. “Tonight, you’re going to step into a whole new world and leave your troubles behind.”

“It’s that easy, huh?”

“It’s that easy, Pooh-bear.”

Chapter Two

Holy cow. The energy swirling through the dimly lit Tacoma Dome was a living, pulsing entity unlike anything I’d experienced before. Twenty thousand-plus people packed the space, chanting, “Cinder! Cinder!” while holding lighters and cellphones in the air, so many it was as if millions of fireflies took flight.

Briar and I stood in the VIP section with our after party passes—the wide logoed bracelets on our wrists—completely surrounded by warm bodies. Our bellies were being pressed into the barrier separating us from the security personnel outlining the front of the stage. Cobalt blue laser lights danced and smoke rolled like fog, making the details of the stage hard to see, even from our close vantage point.

Leaning into me, Briar placed her forehead to mine and smiled wide. “Isn’t this fucking awesome?”

“It is,” I agreed.

“You two going to slip each other the tongue?” some guy hollered from behind us.

Briar turned, giving him her signature hip cock—are you serious?—lift of brow. “You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

“Hell yes.”

She flipped him a not so elegant bird. “Kiss this, asshat.”

“Bri,” I admonished, ready to throw myself in front of her if the guy went ballistic, but he laughed and turned his attention to the stage.

In front of us, shadows moved. The whine of a discordant guitar, followed by a “Ba-bump. Ba-bump,” reverberated from the domed ceiling.

“Oh my God!” Briar screeched in my ear as she latched on to my blouse, practically jumping in place, and almost removing the short, fluttery sleeve in the process. “This is it, babe.”

An unbelievably deep voice bellowed out a war cry that mixed into the sound of rumbling thunder and vibrated the floor beneath me.

Multiple LED screens lit up the entire backstage with a picture show of a churning fire, followed by devastating nuclear explosions. Along the side of the stage, real flames and sparks

shot into the air as a shirtless man, half-surrounded by a massive set of drums, lowered from above on a lit platform—muscled arms working, leg tapping.

The crowd went wild.

“That’s Sayer Adler,” Bri yelled near my ear. “Isn’t he gorgeous?”

I looked at the man pounding out a wicked beat, and decided—with his mussed, dark hair with platinum blond tips, sporting long sideburns highlighting a strong jaw, and a sculpted upper body covered in colorful tattoos—he was striking.

A huge flash of light and perfectly timed kaboom went off, drawing my gaze. As the smoke cleared, another member of the band came into view. “That’s Kris Kline. The bassist,” my bestie informed. Then two more men, with fingers flying over their respective guitars appeared together, leaning back to back within their own light show. “The hottie with the mirrored sunglasses and black tour beanie on his head is Cross de Raven. He’s lead guitar. And the other, Mr. I’d-do-him-in-a-heartbeat, is Eryk Hale, rhythm guitarist.”

The two of them had this inexplicable sensuality about them in the way they swayed together, which pretty much kept my attention trained on them until the last guy rose up from an opening in the floor, reminiscent of a leather-clad gladiator stopping center stage, causing the two guitarists to break apart—one going left, the other right.

Beside me, Briar wolf-whistled.

“Shit, yeah! I love you, Fade,” she screamed at the top of her lungs. Then my friend, never one to mince words, flashed sparkling eyes at me. “I so want to have that man’s baby!”

With a saucy wink, she returned her attention back to the action, threw her arm in the air, her fingers making devil horns, and started rocking her head, long hair swishing about her face.

The vocalist curled his ring-covered fingers around a freestanding microphone that looked like a burnt, twisted twig of a tree sprouting up in front of him, which he uprooted. I tried to soak in the experience as he did this combination of singing and screaming about annihilation. The lights, the sound, the penetrating vibrations, the feel of bodies in motion, and the way the members of Cinder worked every square inch of the stage was mesmerizing. I didn’t know much if anything about metal music, but it was clear they were talented.

Cross ground out an amazing sound on his guitar, palm sliding across the neck, fingers on the frets—his instrument dropping down between his muscular thighs as he lunged. Pure, euphoric pleasure emanated from his handsome face, and a vivid image of him having hot, sweaty, sheet-clawing sex came to mind.

What in the heck is wrong with me?

I pushed the naughty thoughts aside and tore my gaze away from the guitar god, focusing on Eryk, only to find him making love to his guitar. Gah! I needed to get my mind out of the gutter.

Focus on something else.

I watched the drummer again. Slipped my attention to Fade. Moved my gaze over to the bassist. I also returned to watching Cross and Eryk. If they kept up their current high-powered pace of stomping, jumping, and leg lunges throughout the duration of the concert, they’d never need to darken a gym, because they were doing some killer cardio.

When the song ended, Fade bellowed, “How are you tonight, Tacoma?” in a gravelly voice.

The crowd went berserk.

He put his hand to his ear. “I can’t hear you. I said, how the fuck are you doing tonight, Tacoma?”

I wouldn’t have believed it possible, but the concert goers grew even louder.

“Are you ready to bring the motherfucking roof down?” Fade held the microphone out toward the audience as their collective voices came back with a resounding yes. “Then let’s unchain the chaos!”


***


After a second encore song, the band exited the stage for the last time. I’d been so preoccupied watching Cinder perform for the previous couple of hours that I hadn’t thought of my father, Pierce, or the trouble I’d caused myself by leaving D.C.

I gave Briar a quick cuddle of gratitude.

My body buzzed. My ears had a strange sort of woom, woom, hum-thing happening. An odd combination of energy and weariness spread through my limbs as if I’d just run a marathon, though I still had a few more miles left in me.

Briar’s eyes were bright, face aglow. “I saw you shaking your thang during the last few songs. Was that the best show on the planet or what?”

“It so was,” I agreed.

“God.” She did a fist pump. “I can’t believe we’re going to the after party.” Briar grabbed her hair, lifted the long strands, and fanned the back of her glistening neck. “I’m totally going to hit up Fade for his autograph.” She dropped her hair and pointed to the girls highlighted by the low-cut shirt she’d worn. “It’s going here, and then I’m getting it permanently inked.”

I’m sure my eyebrows flew up into my hairline. “You’re seriously going to tattoo his name over your right breast?”

“Oh yeah I am.” She gave me the once over, reaching for my shirt. “Unbutton some of these.”

“Hey!” I protested, swatting at her busy fingers.

“Be proud of those, babe, and show a little flesh.” Two of my button’s plinked on the floor.

So much for re-buttoning.

“That’s better,” she said, appearing pleased.

I glanced down to see a peek of my pale skin. Thankfully I wasn’t too indecent.

Briar had the whole badass rocker-chic thing happening with her dark, smudged eye-makeup, plaid school-girl skirt, and combat boots. And the looks flung my way pretty much confirmed I stuck out like a sore thumb as we were being herded in the direction of the after party.

Holding onto my hand, Briar took charge and tugged us through not one, but two security checks. My Donna Karan floral print blouse, tan capris, sweat-laden face, and blonde bedraggled hair separated me from the pack of other salivating women—and men—begging to go where we were headed.

More crazy lights, bumping music, a bevy of voluptuous, half-dressed girls pole-dancing on a raised, slowly spinning platform greeted us as we walked through the door. More girls, wearing skin-tight, Unchained Chaos Tour shirts, and cheek-baring short-shorts served finger food and booze.

Briar snagged a beer from one of the passing booty-gals. “Here,” she said, shoving the drink at me.

I scrunched up my nose. “I’m not sure—”

“You’re letting loose tonight, chica.” She pressed the uncapped bottle into my hand. “Drink.”

Tentatively, I put the cool glass bottle to my parched lips and took a sip. I winced as the bitter brew coated my tongue. “Mm—no.”

“That’s not how you drink.” Briar took the beer from me. “Watch.” She tipped her head and chugged, wiping her mouth with the back of her wrist when she finished. “Now. You try.” Back came the half-empty beer bottle.

I’d never get any peace if I didn’t at least attempt to placate her, so I went for it, eyes clenched shut, trying not to gag as the cold liquid slid down the back of my throat.

A velvet-smooth voice tickled my ear. “Way to throw one back, angel face.”

My eyes popped open, and I tried not to choke while lowering the bottle.

“Oh my God, oh my God!” Briar squealed. “Cross de Raven. I’m such a huge fan.”

He winked. “Thanks, doll.”

The beanie and the mirrored shades he wore on stage were gone, freeing his black, shoulder-length hair, and displaying the features of his perfect male-model face, unleashing a devastating pair of chocolate colored eyes.

His gaze swung to me. “Are you a ‘huge fan,’ too?”

Heat spiraled up from the depths of my core and warmed my cheeks. “Uh. Um…” I took a breath. “Well—”

“This is her first concert,” Briar said while making moon eyes at him, saving me from being a monosyllabic moron.

Cross tilted his head and took me in, from the toes of my mini-wedges to the top of my head. “You don’t say.”

I just nodded and shifted from foot to foot, fidgeting like an idiot.

“Who ya got cornered here?” Eryk asked, strolling up beside Cross.

Briar squeed her delight and grabbed onto my arm, jostling the bottle I held in a death grip. “I’m Briar Scott,” she said, “and this is Sara.”

The strobe lights pinged off one of the metal rings in Eryk’s ear as he tore his steel-gray gaze from me and over to Briar. “Nice to meet you, Briar Scott.”

Another high pitched squeak fell from her pretty, plump lips. “You, too.”

“What do you say to joining us over there?” Eryk nudged his head in the direction of a plush grouping of leather chairs and a raspberry-colored, crushed-velvet couch where several people had started to congregate.

Some bleached-blonde girl lifted her shirt and flashed her large, bare breasts at Fade when he walked in.

“Uh—” My mind and voice failed me. This was so much more than a new world. I’d entered an alternative universe.

“We’d be happy to join you guys,” said Briar, hip-checking me.

Eryk’s eyes flashed and one side of his sexy mouth quirked up into a crooked, sinful grin as he looked at me. “I promise.” He gently ran the tip of his finger down my cheek, causing goose bumps to riddle my skin. “We won’t bite.”

Cross held out a big hand for me. “Speak for yourself, Hale.” He gave me a bone melting grin.

On the inside, I swooned. On the outside, I gave him my proper, practiced smile before reaching out, feeling the warmth of his long, strong, fingers wrap around mine, and sucked in a breath. I swear an electric current zapped up the length of my arm from where we touched and set off a chain reaction, causing the baby-fine hairs on the back of my neck to stand on end.

Eryk slung his arm around Briar’s shoulders, and she melted into his side as the four of us made our way through the energetic, loud gathering.

Apparently, I’d be partying with the rock stars tonight.

Chapter Three

Cross led me to a leather loveseat, where I ended up sandwiched between him and Eryk. Briar chose a seat on Eryk’s right, and pulled it—legs protesting the movement across the polished concrete floor—until she was close enough to hear over the room’s din.

Both of my arms brushed against the men, and each movement of skin caressing skin sent my nerves into hyper drive. I don’t think I’d been more aware of anyone in my life. Jitters attacked, and I lifted the drink, thinking perhaps a little numbness might be a good thing. I managed a big gulp, like Briar had shown me, without gagging or spewing beer out of my nose.

“So what’s your favorite Cinder song?” Cross asked, lying his arm across the back of the couch and encasing me in his warmth.

The guys must have somehow showered after the show. Rather than the scent of body odor from their workout on stage, an intoxicating, spicy-sweet aroma met me.

My body pressed closer to Cross without conscious thought. “I—um.” Lower lip between my teeth, I glanced at Briar.

“This is her first time hearing you guys, actually,” she said, eyes still alight.

“No shit.” Eryk shoulder bumped me. “What’d you think?”

“I…Well—” I cleared my throat and tucked a piece of hair behind my ear. “You’re all very talented.”

“Perfect rhythm. Fade’s got a killer voice, and the way you two play,” Briar said, “it’s like you’re making love to those guitars. It’s no wonder women can’t keep their hands off you.”

Cross let out a low chuckle, causing his upper body to vibrate against mine as he pressed me against his hard as steel torso. “Except for this one. Not into tattoos and rockers?”

Oh, my body was into them all right. A thousand watts of electricity zapped through me, something I’d never experienced with Pierce, or with anyone.

I guzzled more beer, forcing my mind to focus on the present, rather than the crap heap I had to return to in a few days.

“I’m pretty sure every woman in the arena tonight was thinking about being fingered by those magical hands.” With a laugh, Briar sat back and fanned her face. “I know I was.”

“And, when you and Eryk played face to face, your guitars all but kissing each other—” I bit down on my lip as my thought escaped aloud.

“Oh, don’t stop there,” Cross said, his dark eyes filled with laughter and something I couldn’t quite decipher.

Eryk angled toward me, propping his elbow on the couch’s back, his fingers doing loops with the ends of my hair. “Do tell, Petal.”

Petal?

Heat infused my cheeks, and I shot Briar a look, praying she’d help me out. With a smirk, she tipped her bottle to her lips, leaving me to swim alone in the deep end with two beautiful sharks.

Both men stared at me with more intent than a reporter on a mission, and I had to clear my dang throat again while scrambling for something to say.

“For Christ’s sake, Sara.” Briar rolled her eyes. “Your father isn’t here. Speak your mind for a change.”

I hadn’t even thought about someone recognizing me. A quick glance around didn’t turn up any flashing cameras, but dozens of gazes, stares, and glares shot our way.

What the heck.

My attention returned to Eryk. Then Cross. “I bet every single woman wanted to squeeze between your bodies and feel your hands gliding over their skin.”

“Every single one?” Cross’s grin, sexy and way too dangerous, set my pulse thrumming.

I made a noise of agreement in my throat, though I doubted he could hear it above the thumping music.

Another tilt of the bottle to my lips emptied it. Surprisingly, the beverage didn’t taste nearly as bad as I’d first thought.

Eryk’s fingertips brushed against my upper arm, calling me to him. “Everything about you screams innocence.” His hot breath disrupted the strands of my hair and tickled my ear. I gulped a mouthful of air as the warmth rushing through my body centered between my thighs. “But that thought you just shared sure as hell doesn’t.”

The sane, more responsible version of Sara should have been running for the nearest exit. Instead, I’d left her behind in D.C., and this version—who hid her face from the many people downing drinks, making out, and having a hellishly good time—stayed put. So, even though my entire body hummed with energy, I melted into the couch, my mind emptying of everything but the nearness of the men and the swirling, human pheromones I never really believed in before.

“Want another drink?” Cross asked, flagging down one of the baring-it-all chicks handing out beers.

“Why not?”

Briar grinned and air-toasted with her new, sweating bottle. “If you boys don’t mind, I’m going to go over and try to snag Fade’s attention. There’s only one bitch hanging on him, so I might stand a chance.” She stood and tugged her tight, scoop-necked shirt down even lower. “If you need me, Sara, just holler.” With a wink, Briar left me alone with two of the sexiest men I’d ever met.

And, I needed to pee. Damn it.

Not two seconds after Briar turned her back on us, a tattooed woman with purple streaks in her black hair and a hoop adorning both her eyebrow and bottom lip slid into the vacated seat. “Oh. My. God.” Her voice, shrill and piercing, made me wince. “I’m like your biggest fan. Seriously. I went to ten of your shows last year. Ten! And, I never got close enough to tell you how much you rock! My God! This is like the best. Night. Ever.”

“Thanks, doll,” Cross said, all honey-coated and grinning when she paused for breath.

She squealed onward, arms waving. “You’re so, so talented. Every word of every song hits me right here.” Fist thumping against her chest, she did a lovely job of allowing more cleavage to spill. Another inch, and we’d all have an eyeful of nipples. “It’s like you’re both in my head, you know? Fade singing the songs you two play in my heart.”

I chugged down half of my new beer while she prattled on and the guys tried to get a few words in. They were polite. Patient with her, even.

Empathy swept through me in full force. Along with prying press, which even though I didn’t see any reporters at the moment, I imagined sexy rock stars weren’t immune, Cross and Eryk had intrusive, salivating bimbos hovering, dying for them to toss a bone their way. She gushed and all but propositioned Cross, even though he had me pressed up against his side and kept squeezing me. I had no right, but my fingernails itched to scratch her eyes out.

Annoyed with my strange emotions and thoughts, I turned away, scanning for a restroom since my bladder was threatening to erupt.

“Need something?” Cross asked against my ear as the woman continued to blather on.

“Restroom?”

“Come on.” He leapt up as though thrilled to leave our present company and grabbed my hand. “Eryk, hold our drinks, will ya?” he asked at the same time Eryk offered to do exactly that.

“Don’t get lost.” Eryk plucked the bottle from my hand with a grin.

I stood, and the room wavered.

“You good?” Cross intertwined his fingers with mine.

A rising giggle had me biting on my lip. I nodded. He led me through the throng of partygoers.

I lowered my head, hair framing my face. Better to be safe than sorry, I figured. Being seen holding hands with a rocker mere hours after Pierce slipped a ring on my finger would be disastrous. Though there was no denying the lack of that ring lightened my mood, and I almost giggled again. The diamond wasn’t pinned to my panties any longer; rather, it had a new home in Bri’s jewelry box, where I wanted to leave it. Forever.

From the corner of my eye, I saw groping hands and curvaceous bodies trying to touch or press against Cross, which he shrugged off.

“The private restrooms are back here.” Cross maneuvered me past a lumberjack-sized guy in a tight blue T-shirt that had ‘Security’ written in bold yellow letters, and into a secluded hallway. A few steps in, the hallway angled to our left, quieting the noise from the after party.

I watched my wedges move one in front of the other while enjoying the lightheaded buzz I’d only ever heard about. Not even in my recent college days had I partied and drank.

We rounded another corner and another. I was completely lost in the maze of corridors, and at the mercy of the hunk of muscle who walked slightly in front of me, squeezing my fingers. My smile widened. No wonder Father didn’t want me drinking. Inhibitions? They’d pretty much floated away.

“Here you are, milady,” Cross said, pushing open the restroom door for me.

I awarded his chivalry with one of my dazzling smiles usually reserved for the press. “Thank you, kind sir.”

The breath seemed to catch in his throat as his gaze skipped down my face and stayed on my lips.

I pulled myself away and hurried in to take care of my moaning bladder—my dizziness making me reach for the wall more than once. A peek in the mirror revealed a flushed face, sparkling green eyes, and mussed up blonde hair.

“Jeez.” I swiped at the unruly strands.

Unable to tame the mess with my fingers, I huffed and turned away, feeling a tad wobbly. My eyesight seemed to move at a slower pace toward the exit than my body, too.

Once I stepped out into the hall, I paused, feeling air whoosh along my back as the door shut behind me. Cross leaned against the wall opposite the restroom, arms crossed, but he appeared strung as tight as his guitar’s strings.

I took in the sight of him. Shoulder-length hair the color of midnight framed the chiseled features of his face. Broad shoulders. One muscled forearm covered in ink. My gaze dropped lower, sliding down powerful thighs hugged by worn jeans—my perusal ending on the toes of his scuffed, black, biker boots.

Upon lifting my head, I caught Cross doing the same to me. Looking his fill.

Boldness, like I’d never experienced before, had me forgoing my usual filter, giving me freedom to say what I wanted to. “Do I look even half as good as you?”

Cross’s dark gaze jerked up to my face, and the heat in his eyes danced through my entire body, bringing smoldering desire to flaming life.

“Angel,” he all but growled, “you have no clue.”

Moisture gathered between my legs and dampened my panties in a way I’d only imagined. Dreamed about.

I wet my lower lip with my tongue, and my brain emptied of any thought but Cross and the havoc he wreaked on my libido.

“Come here.” His voice, low and rumbly, demanded movement, which my feet willingly obeyed.

I stopped before entering his personal space.

He unfolded his arms and grasped my wrist, pulling me against him. “I meant, right here.” His other arm encircled my waist, and with a quick shuffle of feet, he turned us until my back pressed against the wall. “Do you have any idea what I want to do to you?” He lifted my left wrist overhead, his thumb rubbing erotically against my palm, while his warm breath caressed my face.

I shook my head, closed my eyes, and gave in to the sensation coursing through me. There was no thought, only need as I waited—room spinning from much more than alcohol alone.

Forget the barely there swipes of lips I was accustomed to. Cross claimed my mouth with no regard for whatever innocence he thought I possessed.

My free hand found its way to the back of his head, and I gripped his hair, holding on for dear life as he plundered, thrusting his tongue into my mouth to taste me. I moaned, and like a wanton woman, raised my leg around his waist to press my throbbing center against him.

With a groan, Cross’s hand curled around my knee, hiking it higher, and ground his hard length right where I needed it.

“Oh, God,” I gasped and opened my eyes as his mouth left mine to travel a path down my throat.

Flash. Click.

No!

I jerked my face away from the person walking toward us with the camera.

“Sara Holbrook?”

“Get the fuck outta here, man,” Cross grumbled, lowering my leg and giving me some breathing room.

“You are Sara Holbrook, aren’t you?” the man persisted, his footfalls bringing him closer.

“Please, Cross—” I lowered my chin to my chest so my hair would block my face.

Without a word, Cross took hold of my hand and strode up the hallway with me struggling to keep upright on my weakened legs. “How the fuck did you get past security?” I heard a scuffle, but I didn’t dare look up. “Outta my way.”

Something thumped and another click sounded as we left the paparazzo behind.

Two more corners, and Cross slowed a bit. “You all right?” he asked over his shoulder.

“Y-yes,” I managed to say past the tightness in my throat. “But, I need to leave.”

“I’m getting you out of here.”

A warbled, “Thank you,” fell from my lips.

We stepped back into the overcrowded, too loud room, but I kept my gaze on Cross’s firm butt and the way the denim cupped the perfection beneath. My limbs trembled, but only partly due to the pictures sure to damn me.

Someone grabbed my elbow, and I started to jerk away. “Sara?” Briar asked, following after our quick strides.

I raised my head enough to see her face. “Press.”

Gaze narrowed and jaw clenched, she looked like an avenging angel on the warpath. “Fuckers,” she hissed as we approached Eryk, who was sitting with a handful of women.

“Time to go,” Cross said, striding right on past.

Eryk hopped up and walked by my side as Cross continued to lead the group of us through the jostling crowd.

“Ms. Holbrook! Wait!” that damn voice sounded too close behind us.

Briar dropped her hold on my arm, and I dared a quick peek. She spun to face the reporter from the hallway and shoved at the camera he lifted for another shot. “What the fuck?” she asked, incredulous. But Cross pulled me through a doorway. It slammed shut, blocking everything—the bumping bass of the music, the buzz of the crowds, the man’s voice—out.

Chapter Four

Without slowing, Cross took us a dozen more steps before he turned toward me. When we stopped, he lifted my chin and brushed hair away from my too warm cheeks.

I glanced up at him, and something, some emotion I couldn’t put into words squeezed my heart.

“What the hell was all that about?” Eryk asked, moving to stand beside his friend.

“The dickhead with the camera had a hard-on for Sara. And not totally because she was with me. He was more focused on her.” Cross slowly swept the pad of his thumb across my lower lip once. Twice. Three times. Chills spiraled along the length of my spine. “You okay?”

A simple nod seemed to be all I was capable of.

“Why go after Sara?” Eryk inquired.

Cross tilted his head, watching me. I could only assume he was wondering the same thing.

I glanced down.

“Petal?” Eryk called, the soft tone in his voice caressing me. “Why would some reporter want pictures of you?”

There was no avoiding the truth, no matter how much I wanted to.

I heaved a sigh and lifted my chin. “Do you guys follow politics?”

Their brows furrowed in unison.

“Not much,” Cross admitted.

“Okay. Well.” I rubbed at my eyebrow. “Have you heard of Senator Holbrook?”

Eryk scrubbed two fingers along the side of his stubbled jaw. “The conservative dude who’s been bashing gay marriage?”

I nodded.

“Holbrook,” Cross said as if struck with recognition. “Sara Holbrook. You’re his daughter.”

It wasn’t a question, more like he’d put two-and-two together, but I answered with, “I am,” anyway.

I waited, not sure what type of reaction I would get from the two of them. Maybe a look of pity for the poor little rich girl? Perhaps an expression of disdain? Odd curiosity, or blatant disgust for my father’s political views? But no. They were staring at me as though I were something priceless. Precious, even.

The why of it momentarily shook me. The three of us had only just met a couple of hours ago. Am I imagining things?

Cross tapped the tip of my nose. “Do you want to go somewhere private and quiet for a while?”

“Please.”

“Eryk, go get Sara’s friend. We’ll—”

“Be on the bus,” Eryk said. He placed his palm on the ball of my shoulder. “Don’t worry. We won’t let that asshole with the camera near you.”

“I’m pretty sure he already got the money shot,” I mumbled.

Eryk and Cross shared a look before Eryk’s gaze slid back to my face. “I’ll get Briar. We’ll be at the bus in a few.”

“All right.”

A warm, summer-nights breeze kissed my cheeks. I took deep, even breaths, though the scent of diesel exhaust filled the air.

“Come on.” Cross took hold of my hand and tangled our fingers together once more. “Let’s go.”

The clack of my wedges accompanied the sound of Cross’s boots thumping in time with my heartbeat as we made our way across the pavement. When that picture of me wrapped around Cross’s body leaks to the press…

I swallowed hard, attempting to combat the rising nausea bubbling up from my roiling stomach. Father’s disappointment in me would be epic. Not only would I be a disgrace to the Holbrook name, but my actions would put a blemish on his untainted, snow-white record. He stood for decency and morals. Abstaining. Marriage between a man and a woman. Family values. He preached about the principles our country was built upon from his political pulpit, even though more than a handful of attendees at those town hall meetings, rallies, and debates booed his conservative views. But, the religious, those grounded in their faith, and the conservative-minded adored him.

Another surge of impending sickness rolled through my belly. The good girl with the squeaky-clean image, who always stood by her father’s side, had been busted playing a rigorous game of tonsil hockey with the lead guitarist of a metal band like some common floozy.

With my mind caught up in the scandal which was sure to hit like a tsunami, I hadn’t even noticed the open door to Cinder’s tour bus until Cross tugged me up the few stairs leading into what appeared to be a living area. The dimly lit interior was covered in black leather, gleaming marble, dark woods, and stainless steel.

“Wow,” I said, glancing around the space. The bus rivaled many of the five star hotels I’d stayed in. “This is really nice.”

“Yeah, well, it’s our home away from home.” He gave a nonchalant shrug of his shoulder.

“You guys are on the road a lot?”

He nodded. “This portion of our U.S. and Canadian tour will run for almost a year.”

I’m sure my eyes widened. “A year?”

“Yep. We’ll have a few small breaks here and there between shows.”

I ran my hand over the arm of one of the couches, glanced past a kitchen and down a hall that was lined with inset bunks on either side.

Feeling weary to the bone, I asked, “Do you mind if I sit down?”

“Of course not.” Cross patted next to where my palm rested. I took a seat, sinking into the cool, soft as butter leather. “Can I get you something?” he asked. “We’ve got beer, and—”

I waved dismissively. “No more beer.”

Briar came bounding onto the bus, Eryk bringing up the rear. “Awesome digs,” she said. She did a three-sixty, taking it all in before she came to where I sat and plopped down next to me, making herself at home. She pursed her lips, hazel eyes assessing. “You okay, babe?”

“I’m not really sure.”

She swiped her hand across my crinkled brow. “The reporter got tossed, but not before the straps of his Nikon gave way and his camera—”she made a gesture, fingers flowering out from a fist “—went boom.”

“Oh my God, Bri. You didn’t smash it, did you?”

She shook her head, a wicked grin spreading across her face. “Nope. Security broke up the slap-down I was giving him, and in the tussle, they broke it.”

I wrapped my arms around my bestie and gave her a hug. “You don’t need to go kicking butt on my behalf.”

She squeezed me back. “I know I don’t have to.”

“But I love that you do,” I admitted. She chuckled. “Love you, Bri.”

“Aw,” she cooed. “I love you, too, Pooh-bear.”

When we let go of each other, I glanced up at both Cross and Eryk. They’d leaned their backsides against a cabinet, arms folded across their chests, smiling at us.

“Well,” Briar said, “the night can’t end yet. I still need a certain someone’s autograph.” She tapped her right boob.

I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “Go get your signature.”

“Don’t you want to come?”

I shook my head. “I’d rather not.”

She glanced up at our two muscled spectators. “Is it cool if Sara hangs here for a while?”

“Yep,” Eryk said.

Cross nodded.

Briar peered at me. “Will you be okay?”

“Sure.”

She gave Cross and Eryk the squinty-eye. “You’ll make sure she is, right?”

“We will,” said Cross.

Briar cupped her mouth and whispered in my ear, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” She laughed, jumped up from the couch, and put a hand on her hip. “You good?”

“I am,” I said.

Evidently, whatever she saw on my face convinced her. Briar’s gaze flickered over to Cross and Eryk, who were still watching us as though amused. “You guys wouldn’t have a pen I could borrow, would you?”

Eryk chuckled under his breath, half-turned, pulled out a drawer, snagged a pen, and tossed it to her.

“Thanks,” she said, giving him a salute with it. “You take good care of my girl while I’m gone.”

“Will do.”

She blew Cross a kiss, and with a swish of her hips, disappeared.

Shaking his head, Cross came over to sit beside me. “Interesting friend you’ve got there.”

“No doubt,” Eryk agreed, claiming a seat on my left.

“I know she can be a little over the top and outspoken, but that’s what I love about her.”

“How did you two meet?” Eryk asked. “You’re so—different.”

I knew what he meant. She was bold and carefree while I was, well…wasn’t.

“We went to grade school together,” I answered. “And, her father is the minister of the church where my father and I attend.”

One dark brow rose on Cross’s handsome face. “Briar’s a PK?”

I nodded. “A preacher’s kid whose father believed firmly in spare the rod and spoil the child.” I paused, working my bottom lip over with my teeth. Briar’s life story wasn’t mine to tell.

“That must have sucked.” Eryk surprised me by cupping my cheek in his hand.

Heat inched up my torso. “Yeah,” I whispered. “It pretty much did.”

“Fuck,” he muttered, his pinky finger tracing the curve of my jaw.

“What?”


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