She vowed to never forgive him...
A dynamic drummer must rely on the sexy director who shattered her heart in order to find her sister.
Once upon a time, Adria Rojas had it all―a budding romance, her music, and a whole family. Then in one year, her bandmate was murdered, her sister vanished, and the man she trusted humiliated her beyond forgiveness.
Now, the only way she keeps her head above water is by losing herself in her drums.
One stupid mistake led to the nightmare Ronan Hawk has spent years trying to rectify. Just as he's given up on ever making things right with Adria, evidence in her sister's kidnapping falls in his lap, bringing him back into her life.
She's determined to keep him out of her heart and her bed, and every spark reigniting between them makes Ronan a distraction Adria can't afford. Not if she intends to bring the group she believes responsible for killing her friend to justice and save her sister before it's too late.
But Ronan isn't going anywhere. Not while Adria is in danger. Not until she gives him a second chance.
Release date: June 14, 2023
Publisher: That's What She Said
Print pages: 400
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Behind the book
With an all-female rock band and the alpha heroes who steal their hearts, this fast-paced, romantic suspense series might just leave you breathless.
SWEET MEMORY is a second-chance, opposite-sides-of-the-track romance. Trouble―that’s what her sister calls him. But she can’t resist him. When his dark past threatens her life, will she be able to walk away before it’s too late?
GREEN JEWEL is an enemies-to-lovers, single-dad romance. He did it. She’ll prove it. Her body’s reaction to him be damned.
CHERRY BRANDY is an opposites-attract, forbidden romance. Being on the run with only one bed is no excuse to touch her…until touching is the only choice.
BLUE MARGUERITE, a frenemy, second-chance, celebrity romance. She’ll never forgive him for humiliating her. Not even when he offers the answers her family desperately seeks.
ROYAL HAZE, the stunning conclusion to the series, is an antihero, secret-society romance. He was ready to torture, steal, and kill to defend the world he believed in. What he wasn’t prepared for…was her.
Each full-length novel has a different HEA couple and a completed suspense plot, but the series is best read from book one to keep track of the overarching murder mystery.
WOULD’VE, COULD’VE, SHOULD’VE
Performed by Taylor Swift
SEVEN YEARS BEFORE. MOVIE SET. BURBANK, CALIFORNIA
RONAN: What the hell have you done to me? Every look you sent my way today had me ready to go off like a pubescent teen.
ADRIA: Looks? You’re accusing me? What about that whole finger stroll down my neck?
RONAN: I had two minutes before my dad called action again, and I had to touch you.
ADRIA: You can’t say things like that.
RONAN: Get over here, Adria. Get to the hotel before we both spontaneously combust without ever being twined together.
Twelve hours later.
RONAN: I woke and you were gone.
ADRIA: We have one last day in the studio. I couldn’t be late.
RONAN: We need to talk.
ADRIA: We already agreed this was a one-time thing. We have lives that will never touch again.
RONAN: No one should lose their virginity in a one-night stand, Star. No one.
ADRIA: This is why I didn’t tell you. You wouldn’t have had sex with me, and we both would have combusted―your words. But that’s all it was, Hollywood—sex.
FOUR YEARS BEFORE. BURBANK, CALIFORNIA
RONAN: Meet me at my place? Seven o’clock?
RONAN: I can’t go another day watching you from behind my camera while you beat on those drums with your skin glistening and those hot-as-fire blue eyes calling me home. I’ll lose my goddamn mind. I need to be inside you.
ADRIA: Don’t you mean Landry? Or Fee? Or Nikki?
RONAN: You’re jealous? If I didn’t flirt with them, they’d see right through me―us―and you told me you didn’t want them to know.
ADRIA: So, your excuse for hitting on my friends and bandmates is so you wouldn’t flirt with me?
RONAN: Yes. I did what you asked. Now do what I ask. Show up.
ADRIA: I’m not sure it’s a good idea.
ADRIA: Excuse me?
RONAN: You’re afraid. You’re afraid you’ll remember what making love really feels like. I’ll ruin you, just like you’ve already ruined me.
ADRIA: ***Eye roll emoji*** Hollywood’s Player Prince wants me to believe the best sex of his life was with a random virgin? I’m not sure what that says about you.
RONAN: Making love, Star. Not sex. Sex is just bodies finding release. What we did to each other left scars. Permanent marks. Gouges in my soul only you can fill, damn it.
Twenty minutes later.
ADRIA: I’m at the door. Buzz me in.
THREE AND A HALF YEARS BEFORE. NEW YORK CITY
RONAN: Can you leave?
ADRIA: What? Why?
RONAN: You know why.
ADRIA: Landry wants to take pictures with the VMA award front and center. She plans on sending it to that dick critic who told her to give up singing and become a phone sex operator.
RONAN: The award is pretty amazing. But you and me, skin on skin, that’s unforgettable. Stars-bursting-into-existence kind of unforgettable.
ADRIA: I hate when you say shit like that.
RONAN: Because you FEEL the words. Your body knows the truth of us.
ADRIA: How many women have you used that line on, Hollywood?
RONAN: I don’t need to use lines with anyone else, Star. Only you.
ADRIA: I can’t leave the party yet.
RONAN: Fine. I’ll meet you in my room in thirty minutes. But I’m not sure how long I can hold off….
Ten minutes later.
RONAN: *** Image of Ronan’s bare upper body that ends just below the divots above his hips. His muscled torso ripples, and his arm extends past the edge of the photo, hand flexed, gripping something out of sight.
ADRIA: You fight dirty.
RONAN: Fighting is the last thing I want to do. Hurry.
THIRTY-FOUR MONTHS BEFORE
RONAN: I’ll be at the concert tonight, and I’d like to see you after.
ADRIA: You’re in Washington?
RONAN: I was meeting with a production studio in Vancouver.
ADRIA: The after-party will last hours. We’re celebrating the end of the tour with the crew.
RONAN: Get me backstage. We can duck out as soon as you think Landry won’t miss you.
ADRIA: Lan will notice no matter when I leave.
RONAN: She’s not your mom or your boss. I know you’ve missed me as much as I’ve missed you.
ADRIA: ***Eye roll emoji*** Neither of us has been lacking in companionship in the year since we’ve seen each other.
RONAN: I’ve told you before, and I’ll tell you again, Star. Sex is sex. What we do…you know it’s more.
Fifteen minutes later.
ADRIA: I’ll leave you a backstage pass at the will-call window.
Ten hours later, she’d barely joined him in the back seat of the SUV when Ronan’s hand slid underneath the hem of her little black dress. His touch along her inner thigh was like an electric shock to her system, sending waves of hot desire through every molecule in her being.
She wasn’t sure if she loved it or hated it.
What she did know was she had to stop this. It had gone on too long.
This had to be their last hookup.
She’d told herself the same thing the last time, and yet, here she was. He’d reeled her back in with a handful of swoony words.
She wasn’t weak, damn it, but he made her feel that way. Needy and desperate.
Even now, when she was physically and mentally exhausted from being on the road for over a year with barely a break, he had her amped up and ready to go with a single touch. She should have gone back to the hotel and slept for a dozen days with their tour finally finished. Instead, she was here, letting him turn her body into liquid lust.
She was pretty sure Fiadh had finally caught wind that something was up between them. Adria had been able to keep whatever this was under all her friends’ radars until Landry had noticed her ducking out of the VMA party. When Adria had shown up at the airport the next day with beard burn on her jaw and neck―and down below where no one could see―Landry had said, “We need him, Ads. We need him so we can keep winning awards, so don’t fuck it up.”
Which was exactly why she shouldn’t have agreed to meet up tonight. Because Adria was most certainly going to screw it up. The over-the-top satisfying release they found together was never going to be a relationship. It couldn’t be. He was the heir to Hollywood royalty, slowly making his own mark in the industry. Adria was one of six women in a band whose fame and demand were rolling downhill and picking up speed. Neither of them had time for more when they were rarely on the same side of the country.
Even if she hadn’t promised herself, ages ago, that she’d never be in a relationship like her parents, spending more time apart than together, she couldn’t be what Ronan really needed. Someone who wanted love and happily ever afters. Someone who fit into his family’s squishy, cuddly mold that looked like a 1990s sitcom.
As Ronan’s long fingers flicked against her panty line, she had to clamp her mouth shut to keep herself from letting out a breathy moan. She glared at him, darting an eye up front to the driver and her bodyguard in the passenger seat.
Ronan just smiled. His sexy smile that was plastered all over the tabloids on a regular basis. He would have made it on the covers of magazines regardless of his mom being an Academy-Award-winning actress and his dad being an Oscar-winning director. He had those timeless good looks Hollywood adored. Chiseled, square jaw. Cinnamon-burnished hair, silky and thick, with just a hint of a wave to it. Intense, stormy, gray eyes that made you feel like you were the center of their universe. A nose that plastic surgeons put on the screen for others to choose from even though his had never seen the underside of a scalpel. And below that perfect face, the corded veins of his neck led to broad shoulders and sharply cut biceps and triceps. His entire body was sculpted as if an artist had carved it out of stone, all sinewy power.
Ronan leaned in, the tip of his nose barely skimming her jawline. His warm breath sent goosebumps over her skin, and her nipples hardened. His lips lightly caressed the side of her mouth. “Hello, Star.”
Yet another thing she hated and loved―the nickname he’d given her the first time they’d ended up twined together. From the moment their fingers had collided on a soundstage, she’d been flooded with a desire she’d never thought possible. She’d been sought after, pursued by boys in high school, even men around the pageant circuit she’d been on, but she’d never had her body light up for someone. Not until him.
And now, years later, it still lit up whenever he was in the same room.
She ground her teeth together, knowing those kinds of thoughts were the ones that would damn them both. She grabbed his hand, pulled it from under her dress, and set it back on his thigh. The curve of his grin pushed against her cheek.
“Shy isn’t your style,” he whispered.
“Neither is banging some guy in the back of a car while my detail watches,” she hissed.
He pulled away slightly.
“God, I’ve really missed that growl.”
Her heart tugged at the idea of him missing her. Of anyone missing her attitude and snark. For most of her life, it hadn’t been seen as a positive. Hadn’t she lost more than one beauty pageant because she didn’t say what the judges wanted to hear? Hadn’t her mom begged her to soften her tone?
The car stopped at a back entrance of the hotel the band and Ronan were staying at, and he alighted first, extending his hand to help her out. All gentleman. It would disappear when they were in the room. He would be masterful and commanding but hardly polite, and it made her entire core clench. He was an addiction she couldn’t stop feeding even though she knew it would end up with one or both of them broken. They’d give each other just a hair too much of themselves and never be able to get it back.
In the elevator, with her bodyguard at the front, Ronan tilted his head and kissed her temple while his hand slipped up the back of her thigh, under her dress, and squeezed a cheek left bare from her thong. Her insides convulsed. She was almost ready to explode from a handful of touches.
¡Díos! She was a lost cause.
A ding announced their arrival on Ronan’s floor, her bodyguard cleared the hallway, and then Ronan held the elevator door open as she exited. His eyes strolled down every inch of her, his grin growing wider and wider.
The door to his hotel room had barely clicked behind them before he slid her dress off, and she ripped his T-shirt over his head. Hands, fingers, and tongues were in a battle to find every last groove and valley that they’d been without for over a year. Hot. Wet. Needy. His pants were gone, her bra and underwear were gone, her shoes flung somewhere, and he had her on the bed, hovering over her with his lean muscles straining. His mouth trailed down her body, and every single nerve ending burned as if a stick of incense was being dragged along it.
She was gasping, panting, craving exactly where he was going and the heaven he’d bring when he was there, and then suddenly—
He was gone.
Air and space between them.
“Fuck. Hold on,” he said. He stared down at her, eyes dark and heated, before wheeling around and searching in a messenger bag thrown over a chair. She lifted herself on her elbows, breath uneven. Desperate longing beat through her veins as she waited for him to come back with a condom.
When he turned around, his boxer briefs were straining to contain him, and her heart hammered as she took in the entirety of him. His muscles rippled over his entire frame as he moved. Stomach. Thighs. It was the thighs that made the ache in her grow even more. She wanted them encasing her, pushing into her.
He sat on the edge of the bed, setting down the foiled wrapper she’d expected, but it was the other items that caught her attention—a key, a piece of paper, and a pen.
Confusion bled through the lust.
“This isn’t how I wanted to do this,” he said, rubbing a hand over his short, clipped beard. “I had plans of champagne and strawberries before we ended up skin on skin. I wanted to start with this and not the naked bodies.” His lips twitched upward as he waved the key in her direction.
“What is it for?” she asked, reaching for it.
He bent toward her, nuzzling her jaw again, and it sent another fiery wave through her, blending in with the inferno already blazing. “It’s a key to my condo―our condo.”
Her heart tripped at his words. They had to be a mistake.
She pulled back, scanning his face, managing to get out a choked, “What?”
His smile faltered, and it pricked at her soul. This…this was exactly why she should never have agreed to meet up with him. Not tonight. Not the last time. Not any of the times after that first one.
His hand skated over her thigh, eyes soft and pleading. “Your tour is done. I’m between gigs and actually considering making a movie. I thought LA would be the perfect home base while we figured it all out.”
She closed her eyes against a rush of tears. The word home…the idea of coming home to someone, or someone coming home to you…it was too much.
She pushed his hand away and picked up the document, and that was when a chill filled in behind the layers of desire and panic. It was a non-disclosure agreement. And not just the standard one the people who worked for The Painted Daisies signed. This one was deeply personal. It was them promising to keep all aspects of their relationship and their lives, from hygiene to food habits, confidential. Worse, it stated any arguments or disputes they had that couldn’t be resolved directly between them would be mediated by his agent. His agent! And the coup de grâce was the paragraph where she agreed to remain on birth control until he signed a waiver agreeing she could come off it. Fury sparked as her eyes flicked to his signature already at the bottom, and her entire being iced over. Every last ounce of desire disappeared in one rapid beat of her heart.
She stood up, searching for her underwear, as her body shook with a sea of emotions. If, for some godforsaken reason, she’d even been willing to contemplate an actual relationship and sharing a home together, she wouldn’t, simply because of the NDA. It was like saying, I care about you enough to ask you to move in, but I don’t trust you enough to not secretly get pregnant. What kind of screwed-up way to start a relationship was that? Even more screwed up than her parents being married and never living in the same city.
“Star?” For the first time, there was a hint of concern in his voice. Confusion.
She couldn’t have this conversation naked, but when she went to step into her thong, he was there, pulling it away. He put one hand on her waist and the other on her chin so she was forced to meet his beautiful, hopeful gaze.
“Talk to me.”
“I’m not moving in with you, Ronan.” She went with the simple fact because it allowed her to keep her emotions hidden just like she’d been taught to do for decades.
“We’ve had a handful of one-night stands. I don’t even know you.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it,” he said. “We know each other.”
“Do we?” She tried to pull away, and his grip tightened. She had to fight to keep her voice calm. “If you really knew me, you’d know I don’t want any kind of long-term commitment, and you sure as hell wouldn’t need to ask me to sign an NDA to know I’d never sell your underwear online.”
His jaw ticked as he scoured her face, looking for the emotions she was desperate to hold back. “Is this really about the NDA, or is this about your parents?”
“Don’t.” One word was all she could manage. She jerked away from him and was finally able to put her bra and underwear back on all while he watched.
“Where are you going?” he demanded as she picked up her dress from where it had fallen. When she didn’t respond, he continued. His voice was low with frustration carved through it. “I never thought I’d see the day the badass rock star ran chicken.”
She tried to ignore his attempt at goading her, but it still pricked, and she tossed back a response before she could help it. “Just because you turned this into something I never agreed to, doesn’t mean I’m chicken. You’re too used to everyone pandering to you. Do you ever think about what someone else wants, or do you just expect them to fall in line?”
She’d struck a nerve, because his eyes narrowed, and he crossed his arms over his chest.
“You want it, Star. You want me, us, the whole shebang. This, what you’re doing right now…it’s not about moving in with me or being pissed that I tried to protect us both with an NDA. It’s about you loving your parents, and them not being around long enough to show you how much they love you back. You think by not getting close to anyone, by walking out before they can, you can protect yourself.”
It tore apart scars she pretended she didn’t have. Her parents were good parents! They’d loved her. They’d said the words. She’d been hugged and held and kissed goodnight…or goodbye. She and her siblings had everything they’d ever wanted. Except them, a little voice chided, but she shoved it away.
She wasn’t sure what was worse, that he’d torn open her hidden wounds, that he was right about them, or that he didn’t understand just how hurtful the NDA had been. Like a wounded cat, she struck back, nails and all. “Don’t go all psychologist on me, Hollywood. Stick to what you're good at.”
“And what exactly is that?” he demanded.
“Charming your way into people’s panties and using Daddy’s name to help you make a video or two.”
His face reflected the pain her words had caused, and she regretted the words as soon as they were out. But then again, she regretted everything about tonight. From acknowledging his text, to agreeing to meet, and walking into the unsuspecting trap he’d laid.
She pulled on her dress, shoved her feet into her spiked heels, and stormed to the door. She’d barely gotten it open an inch when he reached over her head and slammed it shut before she could escape. His arms caged her, and she flipped around to glare at him.
“Damn it. Don’t leave. Not like this,” he said, his tone a command and a plea all rolled together. “Fight with me. Tear up the NDA. But don’t go until we’ve settled it.”
“That’s the problem right there. We have settled it. You just don’t like the way it landed,” she tossed back, and he was already shaking his head as if to disagree, which just frustrated her so much that she threw out another jab. “For heaven’s sake, it was just sex! And not even that great.”
His eyes narrowed, a flush of irritation coating his cheeks. They both knew it wasn’t true. The sex had been off the charts. Addicting. A candy you couldn’t turn down whenever it came within reach. Even her first time had been life-altering. Her friends all said losing their virginity had been so painful and awkward they’d barely been able to get through it. Not her. Ronan had ignited her until she felt like she was coming apart in the very best kind of way. Pleasure and sin wrapped in one heady package.
“Liar,” he growled.
To prove it, he trailed a hand down over her breast hidden under the thin dress and flicked a finger over one taut tip. She had to bite her tongue before she let out a longing gasp.
“It was never just sex between us. If it was, you wouldn’t still be wet and hungry for me right now. You’re going to ache for days if you walk away.”
“Any dick will satisfy me. Hell, even the toy in my drawer or my fingers will do just fine, and they won’t ask me to sign a stupid NDA,” she said, lifting her chin in defiance.
“Star,” he growled out in a tangled mix of something like remorse but also a warning.
The nickname curled in her stomach, an ache for something she’d never get back. Not after tonight. But then, it had never truly been hers to begin with. It had been a mirage she’d let herself hold on to for a handful of hours whenever their worlds crossed.
“Don’t ever call me that again.”
She pushed his hand away from her chest, ducked under his other arm, and jerked the door open. He didn’t stop her this time, and somehow, that hurt almost as much as walking away did.
“I hate to break it to you,” Ronan’s voice, full of condescension and anger, carried down the hall, “but putting someone else inside you, putting anything inside you, won’t make you want me any less, Beauty Queen. Just like running chicken won’t fix the hurt of your childhood.”
His hotel room door banged shut, and she realized, with a flush of humiliation, that there was a little group of people at the elevator who’d just heard everything he’d said. They were all making a good show of not staring by darting surreptitious looks under their lashes. Her cheeks turned red, and she hated that almost as much as the fact everything he’d said was right.
One of the men in the group cleared his throat.
She knew he was going to ask for her autograph. A picture. Hell, maybe he was going to offer to try and fill the void Ronan had promised couldn’t be filled. This god-awful, mortifying moment was going to be all over the news. Daisy Drummer storms from hotel in a cloud of sex-filled innuendos. And if they’d recognized Ronan, it would be worse.
She whirled on her feet, heading for the stairs with her bodyguard on her heels.
She was already halfway down the flight of stairs when Ronan's new nickname for her hit her in the chest. Beauty Queen. He’d used it as a sneer when being a beauty contestant was hard work. It took talent and smarts, but he’d used it as a dagger. A way to strike back when he hadn’t gotten what he wanted. And the Hollywood Player Prince always got what he wanted.
But he couldn’t have her.
Not now and not ever again.
SOME OF US
Performed by Starsailor
EIGHT DAYS BEFORE
Ronan rolled his suitcase out the door of the guest cottage on his parents’ estate and headed for the main house. Skirting the infinity pool looking over the Hollywood hills, he let himself in through the back door and into the kitchen. It smelled like burnt toast, which meant they were between cooks again. Every other year, his mom, or his dad, decided they could make their own meals and let their private chef go. It would last maybe a month before they hired one back.
His mom looked up from buttering a piece of black charcoal. Born Gayle Benson, his mom had long ago legally changed her name to her Greer Bennett after two of her all-time favorite movie stars. She was in her early fifties but didn’t look much older than him. Ronan had inherited both her willowy frame and her cinnamon-colored hair and hoped he’d inherit her agelessness as well.
She looked up and smiled until she saw the suitcase. “You heading out again? I feel like you just barely got home,” she said.
“Off to two more concert stops in Texas,” he said.
“You ever plan on finishing the documentary?” his dad asked, walking in and kissing his wife on the cheek.
The question stabbed into Ronan’s chest where an aching wound had long ago begun to fester. Two and a half years was an eternity to spend on any film, let alone a documentary on a rock band. But he never could have predicted that everything would go to hell weeks after he’d started filming. When he’d first pitched the exposé to Asher for the streaming service his best friend had kicked off for Ridgeway Media Industries, it had seemed like a cakewalk. A way of killing two birds with one stone.
Now, he couldn’t let it go for more reasons than he could count.
He owed it to himself, to Landry, and all five of the brave women who were getting onstage every day to show the world they wouldn’t let murder and mayhem stop them.
“I’m close,” he said. It was only a partial lie. He had almost all the footage he needed, while at the same time, it didn’t feel like he’d ever have enough.
His dad saw through him, raising a dark, bushy brow in his direction. Strong and fit for a man who’d just turned sixty, his dad had barely any white in his beard, but the wrinkles around eyes as gray as Ronan’s made him look his age in a way his mom’s face didn’t.
“No matter how much we’re enjoying a project, we still have to call it quits at some point. Either the money or our energy will run out if you don’t,” his dad said.
Ronan would never admit how right his dad actually was. Just like he wouldn’t tell him that the budget for the documentary had long stopped coming from RMI’s cups and had been bleeding into his profits from his movie, The Secret of Us. He was hoping to recoup the losses with a sequel to the film. The new movie was going to be the first thing the production studio Asher had bought and handed over to Ronan would make.
His gut flipped with anticipation, thinking about everything he was going to accomplish as president of Ravaged Storm Productions. With the scripts, the decisions, and the money fully in his hands at last, he wasn’t going to have to listen to a sea of rejections before doing what he really wanted. He just had to finish the damn documentary, hire an assistant, and get to work.
“Is your head hurting?” His mom’s concerned question drew him back to the fact he’d been rubbing the scar on his temple.
A flicker of panic ran through him that he’d gotten good at pushing aside. His injury hadn’t truly hurt in months, but the nightmares and the waves of anxiety still threatened to pull him under on a regular basis. The powerlessness he’d felt the day of the attack would wash over him at unexpected moments, and he’d live through it all over again. He’d obsess over ways he could have prevented being cuffed, taped, and thrown into a tub by Paisley Kim’s attacker. He was still working through it.
Therapy and hand-to-hand combat had helped.
“Not really,” he told her.
Both his parents were staring at him with that look—the one that said as much as they cared about him, they had some tough-love speech to deliver.
“We feel like the longer you stick around the band, the harder it’s going to be for you to move on,” his dad said gently.
Ronan didn’t feel like he was ever going to move on. Not because of what had happened in Albany, but because of a blue-eyed, black-haired drummer who’d stolen his heart and never given it back. A woman he’d hurt and who hadn’t let him close enough to her again to apologize.
He’d almost found a way in with Landry’s help. They’d concocted a scheme that would have given him a fighting chance, but then she’d been murdered, and Adria’s sister had been kidnapped. While Ronan hadn’t felt the loss in the same way as Landry’s family had, he’d still been shaken up by the events of that awful night at Swan River Pond long before the attack in Albany ever had impacted him. He’d considered Landry a friend, and when she’d died, he’d wanted to mourn her with the rest of the Daisies. But they’d scuttled into the woodwork. Adria had disappeared to Colombia with her mom, and Ronan had been forced to give up on any ideas of reconciliation.
By the time the band got back together earlier this year, he’d convinced himself he was finishing what he’d started only because it was what Landry would have wanted. She’d believed in the documentary. Believed it would bring them closer to the fans, allowing them to be seen as real people and not just vague, unattainable superstars. Every fiber in Ronan’s being wanted to honor her and her wishes. But as soon as he’d seen Adria again, he’d known the truth. He’d needed to do this for much more than Landry. This was his last chance to apologize for pushing too hard and too fast. For the fucking NDA he hadn’t even read until it was too late. It was his last chance to find the part of his soul that had shriveled up when she’d stormed out of a hotel room in Seattle.
A chance that still hadn’t happened. He’d been with the Daisies for months now, and she continued to push him away—maybe even more than before everything had gone to hell in her world.
“Ro,” his mom called to him, and when he looked up, her eyes were concerned, pleading with him. “What’s really holding you up?”
A long-legged former beauty queen.
Ronan tugged at the beanie on his head. He almost hated wearing it these days. The image consultant he’d hired to convince the world he was more than just a pretty face, more than just his parents’ son lucking into every open door in Hollywood, had insisted it made him look artsy and hip. But these days, it seemed to remind him of all his mistakes. With Adria. With Landry. With an attacker who had nearly killed him.
Worse, he couldn’t get out of his head that if he hadn’t gotten sidetracked by his grand gesture that awful day at the pond, he might have been able to save Landry’s life. But he supposed the truth was that he might have wound up dead too. After all, he hadn’t been able to save Landry’s sister either. Paisley had all but saved herself while he’d lain useless in a tub with his hands tied.
His chest grew heavy, and his entire body felt weighed down.
Nothing good would come of reliving any of those memories.
Maybe his dad was right. Maybe it was time to call it quits.
His heart screamed in objection. His heart wanted what it had always wanted—the wild connection he felt when he was tangled with Adria. They’d seen beyond the false faces they both presented to the world to the real people beneath. But it was the fact he’d seen the truth of her that had sent her scrambling in the first place. She was terrified of anyone actually seeing her, of wounding a heart that had already been scraped too many times as a child.
But he knew, with a certainty he could never explain, that what bound him and Adria, the ties that went all the way to the bottom of his soul…he’d never find that again with anyone else.
So, he’d go back on tour with them for one more concert.
But because his parents were right, because he had to stop at some point before his pride and his heart were completely obliterated, he’d make this his last effort. If she still hated him, if she still refused to even meet with him to finish her interview for the documentary, then he’d find a way to walk away. He’d put this part of his life behind him.
He crossed the kitchen to his parents, kissed his mom on the cheek and gave his dad a one-armed hug. “Thanks for looking out for me. I think this will be the last trip. I have a studio to pull together, after all. And a house to buy.”
“You’re moving out?” His mom’s eyes grew wide. “That’s not… You don’t―”
“I’ve left the Oscar-winning actress tongue-tied,” Ronan laughed. “I know. You like having me here, but it’s about damn time I flew the nest, don’t you think?”
“I like my nest full,” she said softly.
She hugged him to her, and he hugged her back before stepping away.
He was so close to having all his dreams come true. It was missing an important chunk, but this trip would have to be his last attempt to fill it. The longer he chased after Adria, spinning his wheels, the more it jeopardized the other things in his life that mattered. Asher and Asher’s dad had trusted him with the production studio, and he wasn’t going to let them down. If he couldn’t have Adria, he’d have to be satisfied with accomplishing his professional dreams and not his personal ones.
♫ ♫ ♫
By the time Ronan got off his flight in Arlington, he was antsy as hell. He’d had to play nice with his seatmate in the first-class cabin, listening to the man drone on about all the things Ronan’s dad had gotten wrong in his Stilleto movies. The guy had acted like he was a spy himself and had been personally offended by the inaccuracies.
But more than his irritation with the guy tearing into his parents’ films, what had bugged him even more was how the man had looked decidedly like the asshole who’d attacked him in Albany. Or maybe hadn’t looked like him as much as there had been a vibe coming off him that screamed unhinged stalker.
So, once Ronan checked into the hotel, the first thing he did was change into his workout gear and head for the hotel’s exercise room, hoping to find a sense of control through the martial arts moves he’d recently learned. The two men in the black uniform of Reinard Security at the door had him simultaneously wanting to beat his head against the wall and go storming inside to see which of the Daisies was in there.
“Gym’s closed. Come back in an hour,” one of the men said. The guy was new and didn’t recognize Ronan. Or maybe he did, and he’d been given the “Don’t let Ronan near me” speech.
Before he could respond, she was there, stepping up behind the bodyguards, looking like the pageant winner she’d once been, even with sweat glistening over her forehead and dripping down her chest. She looked completely and deliciously hot and bothered. Just like she’d looked coming apart beneath him as they moved together in a sea of white sheets with her black hair spilled across the pillows. Her brilliant blue eyes had burned for him back then. They’d warmed him up like a fire that would never die—except it had. Now, as those lapis eyes landed on him, all he felt was ice.
Her tiny pair of workout shorts and sports bra showed off every line of her lean frame and every curve that bordered on being too much for her fragile bone structure. And yet, every piece of her was goddess-like perfection with naturally red lips, high cheek bones, and a classic oval face. She was an enchanting image that had haunted his dreams from the first time he’d seen her on set in a Burbank studio.
“I’m done, Red. Let the man in,” she said, easing past her guards and into the hall.
Her hand accidently brushed his arm, and they both jumped as a shock wave rushed through them. It shouldn’t have pleased him as much as it did that she still felt the same overwhelming rush, but he couldn’t help it. He was sick. He had an addiction. He needed her. As if nothing in his life would truly be right if she didn’t agree to be the person at his side.
It was ridiculous.
When the media had labeled him the Hollywood Player Prince, it had been for not needing anyone. For leaving a string of hearts behind him as he’d moved from one to the other. But the truth was, those past conquests…they hadn’t really wanted him. They’d wanted the suave exterior the world saw as Greer Bennett and Quentin Hawk’s son. The few people he’d let past the façade had been confused by the moody, sensitive artist they’d found there. Of all his friends and girlfriends, only Asher had stuck once he’d seen past the shiny surface.
Ronan watched as Adria moved down the hallway without a word in his direction.
“Nice to see you, too, Adria,” he called after her, chest hammering and body aching.
What he got back was a one-fingered wave.
His jaw ticked. They’d both been at fault that night in Seattle. He’d pushed too hard and had stupidly not read the NDA ahead of time. But she’d also overreacted. Words had been said that they’d both regretted. The hard truth was, Adria didn’t want him to apologize. She was still running scared. She didn’t trust him to stick when that was all he wanted to do.
Her bodyguards followed her down the hall, and he entered the gym with yet another layer of frustration to burn off. He went to the boxing bag first, pounding on it for a few minutes, and then turned to the mat jammed up against the mirrors and worked through a sequence of punches and kicks.
“Jerome show you that move?” a quiet voice asked.
Ronan turned to see Nikki standing there dressed in workout gear similar to Adria’s. As tall as her bandmate and with hair just as black, Nikki was the leaner of the two. Adria was toned and shaped with strong arms from pounding on her drums, but Nikki was defined everywhere. Ronan didn’t think there was an ounce of her that wasn’t muscle.
“He did,” Ronan answered.
Jerome Barry was a former Green Beret who was a friend of Nikki’s family. After the attack in Albany, she’d put Ronan in touch with the man, promising he’d be discreet. Barry had been more than discreet. He’d been a godsend. He’d helped rebuild Ronan’s confidence in a shorter amount of time than he thought therapy ever could have.
“Feel like sparring?” she asked, closing the distance to face him on the mat.
He raised a brow and ran a hand over his beard before glancing toward the door where her bodyguards waited.
“They’re not going to come after you for working out with me,” Nikki laughed.
“Fine, but I’m not going easy on you because you’re a girl.”
She huffed. “As if.”
Then, she swirled and kicked at him. He barely blocked it. He moved on instinct, batting each offense that she sent his way, but just barely. They moved around the floor in a dance that surprised the hell out of him. He’d known she was strong, but this was skill from years of practice.
When he finally ended up on the floor with her elbow up against his throat, she laughed. She rose and then offered him a hand. When he got up, she was still smiling—something he didn’t see often in Nikki these days. She’d been quiet even before Landry had died. Not shy in the way Paisley had been, but just reserved. As if she saved all her words for when they really mattered. But now, she seemed to have a shell around her that was all but impenetrable, even by smiles.
“Barry teach you also?” he asked, uncapping a water bottle and taking a long drink.
“My dad and Jerome. These days, I mostly workout with my stepmom.”
He frowned. “She’s here with you?”
He had a vague recollection of a tall woman with plain brown hair and thick black eyeglasses who’d shown up at the farmhouse that awful night when Landry had died. But he didn’t remember seeing her on the tour with them.
Nikki shook her head. “No. I just mean when we’re together. She might be joining me for a few concerts stops, though. She’s in between jobs.”
“What does she do?” he asked.
“She’s worked mostly as an executive assistant for a couple of CEOs and studio execs. But in the last two years, she’s had some bad luck. Positions being downsized, that sort of thing.”
“You know I’m looking for a personal assistant, right?” he said.
Nikki glanced over, wide-eyed. “No, I didn’t.”
He chuckled. “Serendipitous, then. When Asher fired the Ravaged Storm president and put me in his place, the guy’s assistant took it personally and walked out. I need someone and soon. Have her send me her résumé.”
He headed for the door, and Nikki called after him, “You’re done? Was I too much for you, Hollywood?”
His chest tightened at the nickname, wishing with all his being it was her friend saying it instead of her. Nikki was beautiful, stunning even, but she wasn’t Adria Rojas. She’d never be able to make his blood pressure spike and his groin ache. He didn’t even have it in him to flirt with Nikki anymore. What did that say about the player prince? When was the last time that name the paparazzi had coined for him had even truly applied?
Years. Maybe since Seattle.
“I’m man enough to admit that if we kept going, you’d continue to whip my ass,” he said, shooting her a hand wave as he left.
Her laughter followed him into the hall.
And just like he’d wished it was her friend’s voice, he wished it was Adria’s laughter. Wished he’d been able to share half as many words with her as he’d just shared with Nikki. Maybe then, his Star would finally hear and accept the truth. They’d both been wrong. But it wasn’t too late to fix it.
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