He did it. She’ll prove it.
A fiery rock star and a ruthless businessman battle to expose each other’s secrets.
The only family The Painted Daisies singer and harpist Fiadh Kane has left in this world is her band. When their leader―her best friend who stood by her through the worst―is killed, she’s determined to find who did it and make him pay.
Fiadh is convinced the band’s new label owner knows more about the murder than he’s shared. She plans to reveal Asher’s skeletons by any means possible, even if it means using the magnetic lure blooming between them in ways she never expected.
Asher Riggs is paying penance for the sins of his youth. Raising his daughter and securing his company’s future are his only priorities. He certainly won’t be giving in to the wild temptress of a musician who lights a fire in his blood that’s a convoluted mix of lust and fury.
When a freak snowstorm forces Asher to take the brazen rock star to his home, the ice outside can’t tame the heat that ignites…or the shadows that come lurking.
But if they can’t find a way to trust each other with their secrets and their hearts, they’ll only be left with misery when the blizzard passes.
With an all-female rock band and the alpha heroes who steal their hearts, this fast-paced series might just leave you breathless. 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. Are you ready for it?
Release date: April 12, 2023
Publisher: That's What She Said
Print pages: 389
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Behind the book
Five HEA stories in five months, are you ready for it?
The epic saga two years in the making is finally here! With an all-female rock band and the alpha heroes who steal their hearts, The Painted Daisies might just leave you breathless.
March 15th - SWEET MEMORY, is a second-chance, opposite-sides-of-the-track story. The world’s sweetest rock star falls for a troubled music producer whose past comes back to haunt them.
April 12th - 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.
May 17th - 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.
June 14th - 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.
July 12th - ROYAL HAZE, is the stunning conclusion to the series. It’s 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.
Get ready to be swept away!
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.
Performed by Natalie Imbruglia
NINE DAYS BEFORE
Fiadh ran down the hotel hallway with her heart pounding as loud as her feet in her clunky Doc Martens. Fear, anger, and guilt blended together into a swell of emotions so large they compressed the air in her lungs until she was gasping.
Her bodyguard was on her heels. He’d barely said the awful words before she’d fled the room, desperate for one thing―to get to Paisley. Standing outside in the muggy air left over from the storm, she cursed the amount of time it took the detail to bring her a car. Once she was safely inside, nausea took over, making her wish she was anywhere but the back seat. Fee’s body shook until it felt like it would implode, or explode, or some version of bursting.
God…I’m so sorry, Lan, Fiadh whispered silently to her dead friend. I’m so sorry I couldn’t keep your sister safe any more than I kept you.
“How the hell did you all miss this?” Fiadh growled at the two men up front.
Chin shot his almost-black eyes in her direction and rubbed a hand over his shaved head. He was square and muscled and wore dark cargo pants and a black T-shirt that was the uniform for Reinard Security.
“There was no indication the stalker was anyone other than Artie Mason,” he said, but Fee heard the frustration in his tone. She imagined they felt as pissed as she was. As sick to their stomachs.
Fee no longer had faith in any of them.
Landry had been killed while their last security company, the FBI, and the U.S. Secret Service hovered around them. And now…now Paisley had almost been kidnapped…attacked…
Her stomach churned again, bile burning its way up into her throat.
The only reason she wasn’t at the same hotel as Paisley was because the people protecting them had sworn splitting them up would make it more difficult for the stalker to find them. What a joke. All it had really done was leave her friend―her sister―alone. Damn it, where had the rest of their detail been?
The SUV had barely rolled to a stop when Fee shoved open the door without waiting for her bodyguard. A cacophony of press burst into life outside the hotel as soon as her feet hit the sidewalk. A wall of questions was thrust at her. “Is it true there was another attack on the Daisies?” “Is Paisley Kim alive?” “Are you canceling the tour?”
The questions only made her chest tighten more. What were Paisley’s parents going to say? The Kims had been through so much already. They’d been adamantly opposed to Paisley coming back on tour.
Chin jogged forward, shielding Fee from the bulk of the shouting and flashing lights as he guided her into the hotel lobby. Two men in dark suits stood in front of one of the elevators, and as soon as they saw Fee running toward them, they pushed the button, and the doors popped open.
Inside, out of breath, heart stammering, Fiadh caught her image in the reflection in the shiny metal door. She looked pale, the shadows of her hangover clinging to her. Her mahogany hair layered in lavender was a rat’s nest of curls because Chin had woken her in order to tell her about the attack.
She was a mess―inside and out. Almost as bad as their manager. He’d been drunk or high almost twenty-four seven since Landry’s death. Last night, Fee had allowed herself to get lost in alcohol as well because their first concert without Landry had been a brutal reminder of the gaping hole she’d left behind, ratcheting up the loneliness clinging to Fiadh even though she was back with the band. Heartache and sorrow hung over her so deep it bled through every vein.
Fee bit her lip and clenched her jaw in an effort not to cry.
The elevator dinged open, and she saw the other bandmembers were already there, hovering outside the doors to the penthouse where Paisley and Jonas had been staying. They turned toward her, expressions as dark and worried as hers, as she sprinted down the hall to them. She pulled them in for a group hug, the emotions wafting through them so strong they almost vibrated in the air. Fear. Regret. Relief. Sadness.
“What are we doing out here? Where’s Paisley?” Fiadh demanded as they broke apart. Adria, Leya, and Nikki were all tall and dark-haired, but it suddenly struck her how different they looked these days, whereas before, the band had played up their similarities.
Adria turned her gaze to the two bodyguards at the door. “They told us we couldn’t see her until the FBI had debriefed her.”
Rage spiked through Fee.
“Feck that,” she said, her Irish accent coming out when normally she hid it well. She moved to face off with the men. “Let me in, or plan on getting a different job.”
The two guards eyeballed each other, eyes shifting toward Chin and the other security team members standing behind the Daisies. It was the Secret Service agent assigned to Leya, due to her dad being the Vice President of the United States, who broke the silence. “Let them in.”
Fee barely had time to shoot him a grateful look before they all burst into the penthouse, calling Paisley’s name.
They found her, locked in Jonas Riccoli’s warm embrace, in the bedroom. He stepped away from her reluctantly, letting them surround Paisley with their love while he watched. Paisley was crying softly, her body shaking, and it brought another wave of tears to Fiadh’s eyes that she barely held back. Leya let out a strangled sob, and Adria and Nikki were right there with her. Waterworks all around. When Fiadh’s eyes met Jonas’s, he started to step even farther away, but she caught him, pulling him into their circle.
He was one of them now. Not only because he and his friend had been the ones to storm the hotel room where Paisley had been held captive, but because he loved Paisley with all his heart. They were a family. Mixed-up, battered, and bruised, but together.
Relief and gratitude flew through Fee.
“Thank you for saving Little Bit,” she told him.
He shook his head, causing his shaggy, dark-blond hair to fall into his vivid, green eyes.
“You need to start calling her Little Warrior instead of Little Bit because I guess she was already saving herself before we even got there.” His deep voice was full of awe and adoration.
Paisley snorted from deep within their circle, her tiny frame dwarfed by the group. She was a good eight inches shorter than the rest of them and more than a foot shorter than Jonas.
Adria chuckled. “Little Warrior. It’s perfect.”
They all stood there, hanging on to each other for what felt like a lifetime.
Eventually, Fee stepped back with reluctance, and the bundle of limbs and love they’d become loosened. She assessed Paisley from head to toe for the first time, watching as she lifted an ice pack to a bump on her temple turning a ghastly shade of purple. Other than that, she looked okay. Her long black hair, straight and soft, swung around her face, drawing attention to her round eyes with lashes so thick they almost looked fake. Her skin, normally the palest of whites, was even more so, emphasizing the star-shaped birthmark by her eye she used to hide with a press of a finger.
Sometimes, it was difficult to look at Paisley without being stabbed in the heart, because she could almost be Landry’s twin. A mirage that wavered until she spoke, breaking it. The band and the Kims had lost so much already. What would they have done if they’d lost Paisley too? The ache deep inside her grew.
“What happened?” Leya asked, and Paisley shivered.
Before she could answer, the door to the suite opened, and a pile of men and women in suits and various uniforms entered.
“You’ll need to leave while we get statements from Paisley and Jonas,” a man in a FBI windbreaker said, shooting a glance at Fee and her bandmates. “Where’s Trevor?”
“I’m here,” the blond-haired giant stormed into the room with his pale-blue eyes snapping unhappily. Fee’s heart flipped with a mix of relief and anger. So many of the people in this room had failed them time and time again. But Trevor hadn’t. He may not have saved Landry, but he’d saved Paisley. It wasn’t quite redemption, but it was more than any of the others had accomplished.
Fee squeezed Paisley’s hand as Jonas stepped up to link their pinkies together on her other side. “Are you going to be okay to do this now?” Fiadh asked her.
Paisley’s chin came up, the soft and shy little girl she’d been when she’d joined the band at eleven years old disappearing behind a fierce façade that had once belonged to her sister. It simultaneously made Fee proud and sad. She wondered what Landry would think of the change.
“I’m okay, Fee. I just want to get this over with.”
Fiadh shot a look over Paisley’s head at Jonas, and he met her gaze with a steely one. He wouldn’t let any of the idiots upset her more than she already was. No longer just the co-manager of their tour, Jonas was now Paisley’s partner. Whenever they were in the same room, they gravitated to each other like magnets rejoining, snapping together as if their opposite poles had been built just for each other.
She hugged Paisley one more time and then followed the rest of the band and Leya’s USSS agent out of the room and into another penthouse across the hall. Like the room they’d just left, the expensive suite was decorated as if it were a chateau in France instead of a hotel in New York. Antique furniture, gold filigree, and luxurious silks draped everywhere.
Adria leaned up against the French doors leading onto a balcony, her fingers steepling nervously. She didn’t have her drumsticks in her hands, and those, more than anything, were what she used to stay calm at times like this.
“Ads, you okay?” Fee asked, perching on the arm of a couch.
This had to have brought back painful memories for Adria of that awful day when everything had gone to hell for the band. The same day Landry had died, Adria’s sister had been kidnapped, and twenty months later, she was still missing.
Adria turned her bright-blue eyes back to Fee. She was the only one of the group who had eyes any color but a variation of brown. Her black hair was as straight as Paisley’s and Leya’s, but she’d added some choppy layers to it, so strands swung around her chin. While the layers suited her, Fee was certain she’d done it simply to reduce the chance of another mistaken identity ending with one of them dead.
Acid burned through Fiadh’s stomach as memories of the night Landry had died assaulted her. The body bag…Paisley’s raw sobs. Things she saw and heard repeatedly in her nightmares.
“I’m glad they caught him…” Adria trailed off.
“But?” Leya’s black brows scrunched together.
“Landry’s killer is still out there,” Nikki finished for her. Her voice was heavy with a host of emotions. She pulled back the mass of onyx corkscrews that had settled around her face, glancing away as, for a moment, remorse settled over her features before it disappeared again.
Adria looked back at the bright sunshine beyond the windows. The sky was the complete opposite of the mood in the room. It should have been gray and shadowed just like them.
“There’s no chance it’s still Artie?” Leya asked, her eyes darting from one friend to the other and then over to the door where Special Agent Kent stood.
“They’ve cleared Arthur Mason,” Kent said. With his light-brown hair, blue eyes, and wide shoulders, he looked like the epitome of the stereotypical captain of the football team. All American. All hero. “He has an alibi for the time of Landry’s death.”
Another thing the authorities had gotten wrong. Disgust filled her. Left to their own devices, she doubted any of them would ever solve Landry’s murder. While they all agreed the murderer’s skill in slashing Landry’s and her bodyguard’s throats in mere seconds was more assassin-like than hate-filled stalker, there’d been no movement on the case. Not a single suspect remained.
Except, Fee had one. A man she hated as she’d never hated another. The man who’d stood by coldly while the band had come apart. The man who’d spoken quietly and calmly into a phone, saying, “It’s done,” while his icy blue gaze had settled on Fee with disgust and contempt.
Asher Riggs had barely arrived in Grand Orchard on the day Landry had died. As the new owner of their label, he’d spouted nonsense about making the band smaller, eliminating some of them. Eliminating Fiadh. And then, it had been Landry who’d been gone.
“Whose room is this?” Fiadh asked as a sudden foreboding shifted over her spine. Her gaze met Kent’s, knowing what he’d say before he spoke.
“Mr. Riggs’s,” Kent replied.
“Where is he?” she demanded.
“He and Tommy are handling the press,” Nikki answered. “Don’t start on Asher, Fee. We don’t need it right now.”
“Asshole-Asher, that’s his name, remember,” Fee groused.
No one responded. They couldn’t because they all knew the truth. He was an asshole. He’d threatened to sue them mere weeks after Landry had been killed if they didn’t finish the album and get the tour back on track. It was only after some intense negotiating that he’d agreed to wait this long. Twenty months… God, Landry had been gone for twenty months already.
Fee’s throat bobbed as she tried to keep back her tears.
She looked around the room, focusing on the hatred that burned through her instead of the loss. None of her friends knew the deep, dark secrets Asher kept. And as ridiculous as it might have been to think the co-owner and president of Ridgeway Media Industries would hire a hitman to take out a band member, she knew to the very bottom of her soul he was guilty of something. Something that could have ended with Landry’s death.
All she had to do was prove it. She had to move on to Plan B. She couldn’t count on Angel any more than she could count on the failed authorities around them. Fee rose, heading toward the bedroom.
“Fee,” Nikki’s voice was pure warning, and her friend didn’t even know what she had planned. She probably just thought Fiadh would swap his toothpaste for shaving cream.
The door of the suite swung open to reveal the asshole himself, along with their manager. Asher’s gaze immediately landed on Fee, eyes narrowing, and she glared back, her body acutely aware of every move he made. His dark-brown hair was shaved slightly on the sides and longer on the top. Not one lock was out of place, as if even his hair was afraid to move and disappoint its owner. There was a hint of gray at his temples that seemed more pronounced these days. Like always, he wore an impeccably tailored suit cut to fit his wide chest and shoulders. The steel-gray made his cobalt-colored eyes stand out even more than they usually did.
His jaw ticked as they continued their stare-down. The chiseled lines, hard as stone, made him appear exactly like what she thought he was―a heartless, soulless creature. A mere statue of a human being.
“No one talks. Is that clear?” he commanded, eyes finally releasing her to take in the entire band. All his demand made Fee want to do was run out and find the nearest reporter just to spite him.
His gaze returned to her, scowling as if he could read her mind and daring her to challenge him. She crossed her arms over her chest and met his glower with one of her own. His eyes fell, taking her in, inch by inch, resting briefly on her diamond-studded nose ring before scrolling languidly downward. He scrutinized each tattoo wrapped around her arms and shoulders before returning to linger on the lines written across her chest just above her slouched black T-shirt. The neckline had shifted to reveal the swell of her breasts and edge of her black lace bra.
She hated the way her body burned everywhere his eyes landed almost as much as she hated the idea of him completely. Why him? Why did her body react to this damn man? Electricity flew between them like a live wire whenever they were in the same room together. Attraction she had no power to stop but refused to give in to either.
Asher Riggs was only thirty, but there was an aura around him that screamed dominance and submission. As if he was the male lion who’d easily win the battle for the pride, casting aside the former king with a mere flick of a paw. But she wasn’t going to just stand by and let him take over. She wasn’t one of his lionesses, ready to fall at his feet and do his bidding. She’d continue to do what she’d been doing since Landry’s death―fighting to uncover the information she needed to bring him to his knees. She’d die before she stopped.
She dragged her eyes away from him and back to their manager, who’d made his way over to the bar in the hotel room. Tommy looked as he always did—as if he was an aging rock star instead of a music manager. His black hair was gelled into perfect spikes, and his sleeves of tattoos were on display under an artfully torn shirt layered with several pounds of gold chains dripping down to the ripped jeans he had on instead of his almost ubiquitous leather pants.
She frowned as Tommy tossed back one drink and poured himself a second with shaking hands. There’d been a few nights in the first weeks after Landry’s death that Tommy and Fee had drowned their sorrows together. But she’d pulled herself together after that, determined to be there for Paisley and the Kims―the people who’d helped her get on her feet when her own family had abandoned her. But their manager… He’d just continued to derail.
“That’s enough, Tommy,” Asher growled.
Tommy looked over, startled by Asher’s rebuke, and an awkward silence settled down in the room. Fee bit her lip. Normally, she would have snapped at Asher to mind his own damn business, but today, she held her tongue. Not only because she was worried about Tommy, but because of the plan she needed to enact.
There was a timer counting down above her now. She had until the end of the tour to discover the truth about him. After that, the band would be asked to re-sign with Lost Heart Records and Ridgeway Media Industries, and she had to have a solid reason to give her friends for why they shouldn’t. Something more than Asher being the ultimate jerk.
She needed the truth. She needed to uncover all his dark secrets.
She’d tried Angel’s way. She’d waited patiently.
There was only one thing left to do. It made bile rise in her throat and yet, perversely, filled her with excitement at the same time. Regardless, she had no other choice left.
She had to seduce her enemy.
EVERYBODY’S A FOOL
Performed by Evanescence
Fiadh swiped another layer of liner on with shaking hands, determined to hide the dark shadows below her eyes with heavy makeup. She pulled her hair up, hiding it under a knit beanie while doubts flickered through her. After everything that had happened today, staying in was the better call.
A quiver of residual fear traveled through her just like it had all day whenever she’d thought about what Paisley had gone through. She’d almost fecking died.
And where had Fee been?
Passed out in her room. Hungover from the after-party and the emotional toll the concert had taken on them. She was sick and tired of doing nothing. Of leaving their fate in the hands of people who seemed unable to protect them from even one of their own.
If Landry’s murder was going to be solved, Fee had to take matters into her own hands.
Which meant she had to go out tonight.
She was following the enemy.
She shimmied into tight black jeans and a sleeveless, black, lace top before pulling on her flare-heeled boots with oversized silver eyelets and buckles. It was a normal outfit for her, but she skipped the leather jacket with her green jewel daisy emblazoned on it to go with a simple jean one instead. It wasn’t much of a disguise, but with her hair covered, she might be able to skip past all but the most rabid fans.
She shoved her I.D. and some cash in the pocket of her jacket and then stared down at her phone. She jotted off one last text.
FIADH: How are you feeling?
PAISLEY: Tired, sore, relieved, and frustrated. All at the same time.
Fee’s chest was so tight she wasn’t sure she could breathe. Maybe she should go over there and leave her plan for another night? But then she remembered Paisley had Jonas at her side. She didn’t need Fee. So, instead, she tossed back a line that would hopefully make Paisley laugh or at least smile.
FIADH: Good thing you’ve got sex god Jonas there with you to pound out all those emotions.
PAISLEY: *** eye-roll GIF ***
FIADH: Really, Little Bit, are you okay?
PAISLEY: I will be. I wish it had been him, Fee. I wish I’d faced Landry’s killer and watched him get arrested.
The semi-permanent lump in Fiadh’s throat grew to an almost painful level.
FIADH: We’ll find him, Paise. I promise you.
PAISLEY: What are you doing tonight?
She hated lying to any of them, but if she told them the truth, they’d think she was off her rocker. And maybe she was.
FIADH: Watching old Benatar videos and deciding how to incorporate her look into my wardrobe.
PAISLEY: Funny you mention her. I’ve been playing around with some chords that make me think of her sound.
FIADH: Go make love to the sex god, Paise, and forget about the band and music for a night. Just revel in being here with us. With him.
PAISLEY: I love you.
Fee’s throat bobbed again. Her bandmates were the only ones left in her life who said those words to her. She didn’t truly belong to anyone anymore. Not even the Kims. They’d helped her get settled into her own apartment when her parents had walked away from her, but they hadn’t taken her in and loved her as one of their own.
In some ways, Asshole-Asher had been right the day he’d insinuated the band didn’t need her. No one really did.
The thought rang through her brain like a bell going off. Landry needed justice, and Fee wanted to find it for her. To bring peace to all of them.
Asher hadn’t seemed surprised that Paisley’s attacker hadn’t been Landry’s killer. Other than commanding the Daisies to keep their mouths shut, heads down, and out of the media’s sights, he hadn’t seemed perturbed by what had gone down on his watch at all.
He’d moved right on to business as usual, getting them to Boston for their first official concert stop and making sure this didn’t give the band another excuse to derail his plans. In fact, he’d been so unconcerned with what had happened that he’d arranged to go see another band tonight with Tommy. A group he was interested in signing under the Lost Heart Records label.
She brought up the CarShare app on her phone, ordered a ride, and then looked at herself in the mirror over the dresser one last time. She inhaled deeply before grabbing the vodka leftover from last night and walking out of the room. Chin stood by her door with his arms crossed and eyes alert.
“Going out, Ms. Kane? Shall I call for a car?”
Fiadh shook her head, plastered on the saucy smile everyone knew her best for, and swung the bottle in his direction. “No, just going down to Leya’s room.”
She’d been moved from her hotel to the bed-and-breakfast where Leya had been staying after the paparazzi had discovered her room number and flooded the hallway, waiting for her.
Chin started to follow her, but she waved him off. “After everything today, could you just stay and make sure the room is secure? Leya has Special Agent Kent with her, so I’ll be good.”
He looked uncertain.
“You can watch me walk down the stairs, how’s that?” she asked, winking at him.
She was almost certain he flushed, and she sort of felt bad. He was new to the detail, and if he’d been around longer, he probably would have known not to let her escape.
She headed for the bed and breakfast’s main stairwell, waving to Chin one last time before disappearing out of sight. She continued past the second-floor landing where Leya’s room was, not even looking down the hallway for fear of making eye contact with any security. Instead, she kept a nonchalant, nothing-to-see-here look on her face until she hit the ground floor. Two guards stood outside the front door with their black outfits visible through the beveled glass. She ignored the entrance, easing her way toward the kitchen instead.
When the owners had shown her around earlier, she’d paid extra attention to the bathroom near the kitchen with a huge window overlooking the owner’s quaint herb garden. She beelined for the room now, locking herself inside and sliding the window open. She pushed out the screen and stuck her head out. No sign of security on this side of the house. She knew they patrolled the perimeter, so she’d be lucky if she had a minute or two before a guard appeared. She slithered over the wood casing and landed with a thump amongst the plants.
She held her breath, waiting for someone to come running, and when they didn’t, she slipped along in the shadows. This was the tricky part—getting out of the backyard and onto the street without someone seeing her. She ducked behind a tree just as a dark figure rounded the corner, his earpiece squawking. The voices sounded panicked. Shit. She’d already been missed.
The bodyguard headed away from her, and she quietly and swiftly pulled herself up over the low fence into the neighbor’s yard. There, she eased out the gate. On the street, she ducked her head and walked quickly along the sidewalk, but not so fast as to draw eyes. She rounded another corner with a sigh of relief, watching as the car she’d ordered got closer.
A smile, real this time, lit up her face as she slid into the back seat.
She hadn’t had that much fun ducking out since she and Landry had done it as teens. While the Kims’ quiet home in a gated community had made it almost impossible to escape unnoticed, it had been easy to leave hers. Her parents were always too busy with the chaos of her younger siblings to realize they were gone. She and Landry had seen a whole host of live shows before her parents had caught on and put a kibosh on it.
“That was for you, Lan,” Fee whispered and felt a calm come over her that she’d been missing ever since finding out Paisley had been attacked.
A few minutes later, the driver stopped outside a club on a street busy enough to allow her to feel safe but not so busy it would increase her chances of being identified. The bar’s neon-pink sign blazed down, spreading a dream-like hue onto the small line of people waiting to get in.
She kept her face averted, nose buried in her phone, until she’d reached the front. Thankfully, the bouncer hardly glanced at her I.D. before waving her inside. The lights were low, a country anthem blared from the band onstage, and the tables buzzed with energy. The dance floor was packed with people line dancing, clapping and tapping to the beat.
With an internal eye roll, she realized there was no way she’d blend in here. Her purple-and-red hair, black Docs, and tattoos stood out in the mass of jeans, plaid shirts, and cowboy boots.
She scanned the tables, looking for Tommy and the Asshole, but couldn’t find their manager’s spiked hair anywhere. Her chest tightened, hoping he hadn’t done something stupid that had sent both men back to their hotels early.
The song came to an end, and a round of applause broke out. The band thanked the crowd, taking a quick break before diving into another song. The sea of people on the dance floor parted, and that was when she saw him. Her stomach gave a delicious little flutter she shoved back into the dark recesses of her soul.
He was in a booth at the back, glass in front of him, and his phone in his hand. Every time the Asshole had ever looked in her direction, there’d been a frown on his face that took his full lips and flattened them out, so it was a surprise to see a soft smile curving them upward as he looked at the screen. The quiver in her belly grew, pulse hammering. The grin transformed him from a stonelike statue into an approachable human being. It took him from handsome to beautiful. If Jonas was a sex god, then Asher was a titan. A deity above the rest. Even hating him, she could acknowledge how perfect he was. She was sure it was what had allowed his misdeeds to go unnoticed by others. A disguise, almost like the one she wore every day.
Unwanted curiosity filled her. What could possibly have made the grumpy, cold-hearted bastard smile like that? She pushed aside the thought, heart skipping several beats as she eased her way not to his booth but to the bar. She wanted him to think he’d seen her first. Wanted him to hunt her down so he believed he was in charge—just the way he liked it.
She elbowed her way to the front and caught the eye of a blue-haired bartender with vivid pink lips. She asked for a lemon martini, and the bartender squinted at Fee as if trying to place her. Fiadh looked away, hoping she’d maintain her cover for a few more minutes.
When the woman came back with her drink, Fee slid some cash her way, saying, “Keep the change.”
As she started to leave, the bartender stopped her with a flirtatious smile. “This might not be your scene, but there’s a bar down the street called Kay Jay’s. I’ll be there in an hour. There’s a punk-rock band playing tonight.”
The woman was pretty and confident, which was normally Fee’s catnip. But tonight, a lion was calling to her. A lion she had no desire to lose herself to but had every intention to seduce. If she got close enough, she could get into his room, his phone, and his life. She could find out the truth. She would do it. For Landry.
“Thanks,” Fee said, returning the woman’s wink with a large smile. “I’ll think about it.”
Fiadh headed toward the dance floor, and she knew the minute the Asshole spotted her because she felt the ripple of his gaze like a touch. It scorched her from head to toe, just like it did every single time he looked her way.
She ignored it, pulling off the beanie, and stuffing it into a pocket of her jacket that she tied around her waist. She dragged her finger through her curls and swallowed her drink in a couple of gulps. The band broke into a slow song. It was sensual and sexy and just the right thing to torment one Asher-fucking-Riggs. She turned to the man standing next to her. He screamed cowboy from the huge gold buckle at his waist to the boots on his feet and the pearlescent buttons on his shirt.
Fee touched his shoulder gently and gave him her very best come-home-with-me smile. “Wanna dance?”
The man’s eyes widened a little, taking in the spirals of burgundy, her shoulders and chest on display, and the tattoos wrapped around her body before landing back on her face.
“Sure, darlin’,” he said.
She put her hand in his and led him onto the floor. They moved together slowly, legs tangling, hips sliding against each other’s. His hands found her ass and pushed her against him tighter. It was overly friendly, but she’d known what she was getting into when she’d asked him onto the floor, just like she’d known she wasn’t his type. She wasn’t someone he’d bring home to Mama, but she was someone he’d fuck.
She tried not to look in the Asshole’s direction, pretending she didn’t know he was here. But once they’d spun around, her eyes flitted to his booth only to find it empty. Her partner had just slid his palm underneath the hem of her top at the back when a large hand landed on his shoulder.
“Remove your meat hook,” Asher’s deep voice was low and threatening. It sent unwanted tingles through Fee.
“Excuse me?” the man asked, feet stalling as he took in Asher’s frown and wide stance. Fee hadn’t noticed when he was at the table, but he wasn’t in a suit or any of the business apparel she’d come to associate with him. Instead, he was in jeans and a T-shirt, blending into the country bar twenty million times better than Fee. Only the Salvatore Ferragamo dress shoes on his feet didn’t fit.
Asher ignored the man as his cold gaze landed on hers, holding it. Anger simmered in the depths.
“Where’s your detail?” he demanded.
Her dance partner quickly caught up to the fact that there was more going on than just some random guy interrupting them, and he took a step back. “Sorry, darlin’, I have no desire to get into a fight tonight, but thanks for the dance.”
Then, he practically ran.
“What a jerk,” Fee breathed out.
Asher’s eyes narrowed. He grabbed Fee’s wrist and all but hauled her off the floor. If this hadn’t been what she wanted, Fiadh would have put up a fight. She would have dragged her booted heels and even made a scene. But this―Asher pissed and coming after her―it was exactly what she needed. Maybe even craved in some sick way. Not only because her body seemed to love his touch but because she wanted to expose him, and making him lose his control was the only way she could think to do it.
He all but tossed her into the booth he’d been at, sliding in next to her and blocking the exit. He stabbed at his phone and barked into it, “Tommy, what the hell is Fiadh doing at a bar without her detail?”
The growl of her name pronounced so perfectly, just as it was supposed to be―like Thea with an F―and with a hint of an accent only her family had ever done, made her chest ache. Made her miss her mom, her siblings, and even her dad in a way she hadn’t allowed herself to do in a long time.
Whatever Tommy’s answer was, Asher didn’t like it.
“I’ll bring her back, and then I want the person at her door fired.”
“You can’t fire Chin!” Fee exclaimed, anger finally filtering through the lust, longing, and loneliness. “You have no right. Our security detail has nothing to do with you.”
He hung up on Tommy and turned his arctic gaze to her.
“I have every right. I’m the person footing the bill.”
“Not for the detail. That’s personal.”
He laughed, and it was cold and disdainful. The anger she’d seen in his eyes on the dance floor had been carefully tucked away. “Who told you that?”
She crossed her arms over her chest and said, “The bill I get every month told me, Asshole.”
His eyebrows lifted, but his gaze flitted to her breasts before returning to her face.
“That’s only half of their actual cost. Do you even read the contracts you sign? The label has been picking up fifty percent since before The Red Guitar Tour.” Condescension dripped from his voice.
His arrogance shouldn’t turn her on any more than his manhandling had. And yet…she was turned on. Suddenly, she felt in over her head, as if she might drown, and it caused a wave of panic to flow through her. She shoved at him, trying to push him out of the booth so she could get out, but he didn’t budge. His large shoulders and muscular frame made him exactly the statue she’d imagined him to be.
“I came here to dance, not be some wallflower like you. Let me up,” she insisted, trying to keep the quiver out of her voice.
He scoffed. “I don’t think you can call a man a wallflower.”
His look flickered over her again, the blaze returning, but it wasn’t anger she saw as his eyes narrowed in on her mouth. The heated gaze made her chest spin and her pulse leap. At least she knew the stupid attraction was mutual. She could use it to get what she wanted. What she needed. What Landry needed.
She pushed aside her panic and pasted on her smartass smile.
“Wall.” Fee pointed to the wood paneling she was tucked up against. “Sitting.” She pointed to the booth and then to him. “Not dancing. Isn’t that the epitome of a wallflower?”
“I’m not here to dance.”
“You’re here to check out the band,” she said, and his eyes squinted. She held her breath. Crap. She’d wanted it to have been some random coincidence that they’d met up. “Where’d Tommy go, anyway? I thought he’d be here?”
She played it off with a toss of her curls.
“Because Tommy would dance with you?” he asked, expression turning impossibly colder as disapproval radiated from him. “He’s old enough to be your father.”
“I wouldn’t be screwing him. I’d be dancing with him. One doesn’t always lead to the other.”
He looked back out at the dance floor where the cowboy she’d been with had found another partner. The way the couple was shimmying and shifting made it clear how their night would end.
“Your partner disagrees,” he said dryly.
Asher’s thigh was tight against hers from when she’d tried to push herself out of the booth, and the heat of it bled into her. The scent of him, something earthy and yet citrusy, was a sensual combination filling her senses. Every synapse in her body was on alert, leaning toward him, wanting to taste him. Wanting him to taste her. It made what she was here to do easier and harder because she couldn’t afford to let her natural attraction make her forget the truth.
He was the enemy.
Performed by Imelda May
Asher felt every single millimeter of where her body was pressed against his. The heat was almost ungodly. Devilish. Which was exactly what she was, tempting him as he hadn’t been tempted in years. He wanted to devour her, peel back every tough layer and saucy look and find the real Fiadh beneath it. The one he’d seen backstage in Korea.
He'd agreed to the concert after closing a deal with his Korean distributor. They’d practically begged him to go, and Asher had expected to hate every moment of it. But watching the band―her―had put the idea in his head to expand RMI into the music industry. When his business partners had used their backstage passes to meet The Painted Daisies, he’d stepped away and watched from the shadows, eyes drawn immediately to Fiadh and the glow that seemed to emanate from her.
She’d taken a call, and her face had turned soft, eyes crinkling and lips quirking. One side of her mouth had gone up slightly higher than the other, completely fascinating him in a way that screamed danger. Observing her, he’d been overwhelmed with the same feeling he’d had the day Wren had been placed in his arms. Like his life had shifted.
Then, one of the crew had called her name, and everything soft and sweet had disappeared from her face, returning to the fiery flame the world knew as Fiadh Kane. Her smile had grown larger, the sides evening out. He’d known then, and every time he saw her smile since, that her large one was her fake one. That night, not even knowing her, he’d ached to have the small one back.
To this day, he’d never seen it again. Not a single time.
It definitely wasn’t there now as she sat, arms crossed, next to him, pushing the swell of her breasts up over the top of her indecently see-through top. She wasn’t smiling, but she still knew exactly what she was doing―how her body was sending coded messages to his. She was using it to get her way. What she didn’t realize was he knew every game women played and had become immune to them long ago.
Liar, his brain screamed as the feel of her body lined up against his threatened the control he prided himself on.
“I’m finishing my drink, and then I’m taking you back to the hotel. The hotel you should never have left after today’s events,” he told her calmly. It was a challenge to keep every ounce of growl and snarl out of his voice. But he was practiced at showing an unemotional face to the world while his insides churned. He had to be. Otherwise, it only aggravated the other temptress in his life.
“Maybe that’s exactly why I need to be here,” she said. “To forget what happened. To silence the constant loop in my brain screaming how I almost lost Paisley too.” Her voice cracked at the end, and damn if that didn’t flip his insides more. He gritted his teeth, determined not to let her emotions affect him.
He’d long ago learned exactly what tears could do. They broke down your shield, allowing the person inside, where they festered and grew until they stabbed at all your weak spots and left you bleeding. Every man in the history of the Riggs family was familiar with it. But Fiadh would never get inside him. She’d never earn the right to his feelings.
“Fucking your way through your grief won’t help you feel any better in the morning,” he replied dryly. He knew this for a fact because he’d watched the failed attempts of others as they tried to do just that.
A flare of knowledge hit her eyes, making him regret the words that had revealed something even as he’d tried to hold back. She’d slid past his defense with her cherrywood scent and curls he ached to touch.
“Is that what you think?” she asked. “That I’m denying my grief just because I’m not hiding it in cold stoicism like you?” When he didn’t respond, she kept going. “The cruel reality of grief is that it’s unique to each person. A solitary journey. Some people demand to be cocooned in warm embraces, while others rant and rave and storm. Some people try to solve all the issues and control the death. Some people retreat into an apathetic void where they grieve internally and privately. Others lose themselves in their daily routine, keeping going as if nothing has changed. And then, there are those who need to be alone, and if you touch them, they’ll break and shatter and not be able to be put back together again.”
She inhaled sharply, as if debating whether to go on, and then, in typical impetuous Fee way, continued. “That doesn’t mean any of those people aren’t grieving properly. The doers. The stoppers. The criers. The ranters. The loners. The extroverts. They’re all mourning. They’re all fighting to figure out how to keep the last remnants of the precious thing they’ve lost. Don’t judge me for how I grieve, or the person who is making twenty meals, or someone staring out at the sunshine, wondering why it’s not raining. We all have to process and heal in our own way.”
She reached for his drink and took a sip, leaving her mark on the glass, and he felt it low in his groin and high in his chest, as if her mouth had landed on him.
“That stupid saying that time heals all wounds may be true,” she said. “But in the meantime, we hide behind scabs and scars and layers of cotton gauze until we find our way back to breathing again.”
Asher watched as her eyes flashed. Watched as the fiery shell that was Fiadh Kane cracked just a bit and gave him a glimpse of the soft underbelly she hid from the world. He suddenly found himself wanting to know what had happened to make her retreat just like he had. His shell was a cold, heartless bastard. Hers was a passionate, saucy dynamo.
What would they look like without their layers? Without the scabs and cotton gauze?
Fee took another deep breath, this one pushing the swell of her breasts upward and making his entire body rock hard in two seconds. It wasn’t just from the way she looked or the way she smelled. It was because she’d shared a little piece of herself. A piece he couldn’t afford.
She looked down at his glass of scotch she’d taken a sip from, picked it up, and downed it. Then, she met his gaze with a hard one, her walls back up, and said, “I need to dance.”
She pushed against him again, and he almost caved. He almost let her up so she could find a way out from underneath her grief by dancing and screwing and forgetting the weight of her anguish for even two seconds. Then, he glanced at the crowd and the men making their moves, and he knew there was no way he could sit here and watch her while she was wrapped in someone else’s arms. Not if he wanted to walk away from tonight without hitting someone. Without losing the cool he prided himself on. That not even Nova was able to break. Not anymore.
“No,” he grunted out.
Her face contorted into fury. “It’s what we do best, right? Us women rock stars? Shake our pretty little asses. It’s what you told us to do when you demanded we hold this ‘practice’ concert before we were ready.”
His eyebrow arched, remembering the words he’d tossed at her in the bar in Grand Orchard as they’d celebrated finishing the album. He’d been watching her and Leya as they’d moved their bodies sensually together on the crowded floor. It had made him hard and uncomfortable, just like now, which had made him angry at himself for the damn electric current drifting between them. He’d tossed the words out, knowing they’d piss her off and that her reaction would then turn him off.
Except, it hadn’t. Just like all of her emotions tonight were doing nothing except making him want her more.
He didn’t respond nor did he move, and she pushed at his arm again.
“You ass. You don’t get to control what I do. Either you let me find a dance partner or take me out there yourself.”
Her eyes widened as if she couldn’t believe the suggestion had slipped from her mouth. And hell if it wasn’t tempting, but he knew better. In his current state, if he had his arms wrapped around Fiadh, it would become obscene in two seconds. He’d have her hips slammed against his, his fingers in those damn curls, and his lips would devour every inch of her.
As if she’d read his mind, her gaze drifted to his mouth. She whispered breathlessly, “I think we should dance.”
He didn’t even bother replying. He wasn’t dancing with her. Couldn’t.
Asher’s fingertips dug into his thighs with the effort of not touching her.
“Maybe if we did, we’d stop hating each other,” she offered with a small shrug, and it was clear she was talking about more than dancing.
He dragged his gaze from hers, searched the room for the waitress, and raised his chin in her direction. The waitress scrambled over.
“Can I get you another?” she asked.
“Just the check,” he said.
The waitress looked at Fiadh, eyes widening slightly, and then she scurried off to the POS system. As she typed in his order, she kept glancing back at the booth while jabbering at another waitress. When the second woman turned in their direction, he knew they were screwed.
Asher turned to Fiadh and growled, “Put the damn beanie back on.”
“You’ve been recognized. Put it on.” He stood up, took a wad of cash from his wallet that was triple what his scotch cost, and threw it on the table.
She still hadn’t moved.
“Fiadh, get your ass up, put the beanie on, and help me get you out of here before we have a mob at the table.”
Fee glanced at the waitress and the little crowd forming around the computer screen. She swallowed hard, fished out her beanie, and attempted to tuck her waves away. He leaned in, pushing some of the escaped curls underneath the edge. Electricity zipped along his fingers, the tendrils softer than he’d ever imagined, her skin a satiny embrace. Her lips parted, their eyes locked, and something in his chest let go, bursting into an inferno that was more than desire. Every tormented emotion he’d ever felt and kept hidden seemed to swell through him. His thumb landed on her lower lip, brushing it, the sensation of the velvety plushness going straight to his balls.
Goddamn. He’d never wanted someone like this―as if not having her would be the thing that destroyed him rather than if he did.
She nipped at his thumb, and it sent a shock wave down him.
“They’re coming,” she said, head tilting toward the waitresses.
Asher searched for an escape route. The back hallway to the bathrooms had a neon emergency exit sign glowing at the end.
He gripped her arm, all but yanking her from the booth, and pushed her in front of him down the darkened corridor smelling of beer and sweat and urine. He didn’t slow down, not even when they reached the door almost simultaneously and his body engulfed hers. When he shoved it open, the back of her brushed against his aching front, and she stumbled as if realizing exactly what she’d felt.
Asher ignored the hard-on, urging her forward again until they were both in a back alley that smelled worse than the hallway. He wrapped his hand around her wrist and hauled her toward the street and the bright lights. The noise of the city burst around them―car engines and drunken laughter.
Fiadh ducked her head, looking down and shifting closer to him as if she’d suddenly realized what would happen if even one of the intoxicated revelers recognized her. It pissed him off, sending the waves of lust spiraling into the background. She’d been stupid to come here by herself. To duck her security. And for what? A drink? A dance? A fuck? Tommy?
The last thought filled him with a sudden desire to fire the man.
He was already on Asher’s shit list because every time he saw him, he was inebriated or as high as a kite. Tommy Barbados had once been one of the most desired music managers in the industry, but now he needed rehab.
When they reached the midnight-silver Tesla Roadster he’d driven up from Boston, he pressed a button, opened the passenger door, and all but tossed Fee inside, much like he’d flung her into the booth. Just like inside, she let out a surprised huff that he ignored.
He stormed around to the other side, got in, turned the car on, and zipped out into the traffic. Horns honked around him, but he didn’t give a shit. He needed to get her back to the hotel and out of his space before he did something he’d regret. Kill her. Kiss her. Kill her by kissing her.
“So, you’re an asshole in everything you do, including driving?” she said.
“I’m the asshole?” He risked looking at her and saw the beanie had fallen back, sending her purple and mahogany curls dancing around her face.
She looked offended. “Are you implying I’m an asshole in some way?”
He snorted. “You tell me. You’re the one who ditched your security to go dancing in some random bar on the same night your friend was attacked and nearly murdered. Seems like a selfish, asshole move to me.”
It wounded her. He could tell because she flinched. But better he wound her than let her get under his skin. She looked away from him, out the window, as the streets went by in a blur.
“Paisley didn’t need me tonight. She had Jonas,” she said quietly.
His jaw clenched. He would not feel sorry for her. He would not let the little wounded ache he heard in her tone squeeze inside his cracks.
“What about your other friends? This had to have brought back pretty strong memories for Adria. You ever think maybe one of the others might need you? Of course you didn’t, because all you were doing was thinking about yourself.”
“You don’t know shit about my motives for going out tonight,” she stormed, facing him again instead of the window.
“Your little rant at the bar told me everything. You wanted to grieve―your way.”
“What I was doing tonight had nothing to do with me and everything to do with Landry!” Her voice broke again, and when he glanced over at her, she looked frazzled, as if she’d said one too many things.
Asher’s eyes narrowed, goosebumps going over his skin as something skittered at the edges of his mind. “What does that mean?”
He could feel her gaze on him as he navigated the streets.
Her voice was suddenly calm and cool and almost deadly with promise as she said, “I will find out who killed her. I will find them and make them pay if it’s the last thing I do. That’s what I can do for Paisley. For the band.”
He frowned. “You thought he was there? Tonight? Or were you baiting him? To come after you?”
She didn’t respond, and he couldn’t tell if it was anger or fear threatening to burst from him. He thanked God when the bed-and-breakfast finally came into view. He skidded to a stop in front of it, slammed the car into park, and turned to face her.
“You’re not serious right now, are you? Paisley almost died today! The last thing this band―this label―needs is another dead Daisy. What the hell were you thinking?”
“Like you care,” she sneered. “There were too many of us in the band anyway, right? We’re down to five. One more dead Daisy means you’re at four. Would that be the perfect number for you?”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” he growled.
Her eyes narrowed. “That night we met in Grand Orchard, you told me six women leads were too many.”
Asher’s chest tightened as he tried to recall his words. Six women were too many. For him. For his life where women had done nothing but stab and steal and tear enormous holes in his soul. But had he said that to her about the band? He’d thought it, wondering if they really needed all the members or if some were just coasting on the talented coattails of the others. Now, after having watched them in the studio and onstage multiple times, he could see they each had a unique role, a unique sound they brought to the band. The space Landry had left behind hadn’t been filled completely. Nikki had taken up the slack, picking up Landry’s vocals and lead guitar, and the bassist they’d hired had backfilled her, but it wasn’t the same. The band was incredible, maybe even better than before, but there was still an element missing without Landry there. It had proven that none of them could be lost without affecting the whole.
Fiadh, with her fiery looks, tantalizing Irish accent, and range of instruments would be the hardest shoes to fill after Paisley. And that was only because Paisley wrote their songs. Adria was one of the best woman drummers on the planet, so she’d be difficult to replace, but not impossible. The Indian instruments Leya played would take some serious luck to try and replenish. Out of everyone, Nikki’s talent on the guitar would be the easiest to find. But getting someone with the husky tone she had―that Landry had once had as well―still wouldn’t be a picnic.
The band was refreshing and successful because of how they came together.
Asher didn’t remember saying the words, but if he had, it would have been for the same reason he’d snarled about her shaking her ass onstage. As retaliation for the way she’d assaulted him by just being in the same room. He’d been personal when he never was. Seeing Fiadh knocked him for a loop every damn time, just like it had the first time in Korea. She shredded his self-control, filled him with a desire that burned away at his insides until there was nothing left but flames.
So, he was an asshole instead.
Fee’s bodyguard approached the car, looking as pissed as Asher felt.
Asher closed his eyes and gripped the steering wheel so he wouldn’t be tempted to yank her to him and soothe away her anger and hurt and grief just like she’d been wanting someone to do tonight. It would be better if she thought he was unfeeling and cruel. Just like it would be better if he kept thinking she was a selfish woman, because the alternative was a disaster.
“Get some sleep, Fiadh. And don’t dodge your security again, or so help me God, I’ll strangle you myself.”
She jerked open the door and stomped out. Then, she ducked her head back in and said, “You’re not my dad, my manager, or my friend. You don’t get to tell me how to live my life. You’re the money. That’s it. And after this tour is up, you won’t even be that.”
She slammed the door, and his heart raced.
They weren’t going to sign with Lost Heart Records again?
If he lost them, the label would crumble. There’d just be Brady O’Neil left as the big ticket, and he was pretty sure O’Neil felt the same damn way about him as Fiadh did. Asher’s dad and the RMI board were ready to wash their hands of the two music labels after the clusterfuck they’d both been since bringing them onboard. They’d almost lost millions in the lawsuit with Ziggy and the Serpents. They couldn’t afford for Lost Heart Records’ two largest artists to walk away.
Asher couldn’t fail. Not now. Not only because he never failed, not only because he was determined to see the company his great-great grandfather had started survive into the next century, but because he wanted his dad to hand him the chief operating officer position he’d earned. He’d do anything to make sure he got the labels back on track, even if he had to manage The Painted Daisies’ every move himself.
An idea hit him as he watched Fiadh sway her way inside the front door. It was smart and foolish all at the same time because it meant Fiadh Kane would be too close, but it might just save everything. He hit the gas pedal, barreling out onto the quiet street and heading for Tommy’s hotel.
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