Outside of Austin, Texas
Those were the last words my father ever uttered, and coming from him, they were shocking enough to tear my attention away fromPeople magazine. I looked up, past his headrest, through the windshield, and the latest gossip about Brad and Angelina flew right out of my head. A massive SUV was coming at us in our lane, its giant chrome grill looming larger by the second as it barreled toward us at seventy miles an hour.
“Hang on!” Mama cried, bracing a hand on the dash. At the last moment, Daddy jerked the wheel to the right and we jounced off the pavement and onto the stony shoulder. The SUV whizzed past, missing us by inches.
We’d been spared. Thank you, God. I collapsed back against the seat, heart thundering from the gallons of adrenaline pumping hot and cold through my veins. In the front seat, Mama sobbed with relief. Daddy said nothing, just turned the wheel of our Passat to steer us back onto the pavement.
If that had been the end of it right there, the whole episode would have been just a story to tell my friends, one that wouldn’t have sounded half as terrifying as it was. But it didn’t end there, because as we left the shoulder our rear wheel caught the edge of the pavement, and through some principle of physics or act of God the whole car spun ninety degrees to the right and shot down the six-foot embankment.
When we hit the bottom the car kept going, skidding forward as if Daddy wasn’t standing on the brake. We slammed into a cottonwood head-on. The front air bags detonated, momentarily smothering Mama and Daddy, then deflating with a hiss. Daddy slumped forward over the wheel.
Dazed but conscious, Mama brushed her hair from her eyes. After a quick glance at Daddy, she swiveled her head to look at me. “Lilianne? Are you okay?”
The seatbelt had practically strangled me, but I said, “Yeah, I’m fine. But what’s wrong with Daddy?” Blood trickled from his ear, staining his white shirt.
She felt his wrist for a pulse. “He’s alive.” She laced her fingers through his, held on tight. “Honey, you have to get help.” Her tone was calm but urgent.
“Me? How?” I was frozen in place. I needed her to tell me what to do.
“Just open the door,” she said quietly, “and climb up to the road. Wave at the first car you see and tell them to call an ambulance.”
It sounded simple, but I was trapped in one of those dreams where you desperately want to run but your legs won’t move.
Then flames licked out from under the hood. Mama quit feigning calm. “Get out of the car!”
Galvanized, I yanked on the door handle. But the frame had bent. The door wouldn’t budge. “Mama, help me!”
“I can’t!” she shouted. And that’s when I noticed the dashboard sitting in her lap. Her legs were crushed, she was pinned to her seat. It was up to me to help her.
Unlocking my seatbelt, I leaned across to the other door. The car was tilted that way, so the door swung open when I touched the handle. But before I could bring my legs around, fire belched up from underneath. I leapt back, singed. Flames curled into the car. Mama was yelling. “Get out the back! Go! Go!” I yanked down the seat. The trunk was jammed with suitcases. I clawed at them. But Daddy had loaded the largest first, wedging it tight against the seat, braced by the smaller bags.
“I can’t,” I wailed. “I can’t move them!” And it was too late anyway. The flames were all around the car, the air inside so hot it seared my lungs. Reaching forward, I wrapped my arms around Mama’s neck; she clawed at my shoulders, trying to pull me between the seats, into her lap, to shield me with her body.
And then my door flew open, and a man thrust his shoulders right into that furnace. Mama saw him, and with all the strength she’d been using to pull me forward, she pushed me back toward him. “Take her! Take my daughter!” His arms locked around my waist and he hauled me backwards. Insanely, I clung to Mama, trying to bring her with me. She batted at my grasping hands. “Go with him!” And though I struggled at first, I had no choice. He was big and strong. He threw me over his shoulder and ran.
At the roadside, he set me down in the grass. The car was a fireball, the cottonwood jutting above it, burning like a torch against the dusky sky. “Mama!” I screamed, trying to get up.
The man pushed me down. Holding my face between his hands, he forced me to look into his eyes. “I’ll get them out, but you have to wait here. Promise me.” He seemed so steady and sure. I didn’t know what else to do, so I nodded. And without another word, he stood up and ran straight toward the car.
He was almost there when it blew apart. I watched him fly through the air and land on his back. Please, God, let him get up. But I knew he wouldn’t. He’d never get up again. All around him, grass fires sprang up, flickering and flaring as the breeze picked at them. It was blowing away from me, so I was safe, but in moments his body would catch fire.
I couldn’t let him burn too, not after all he’d done. I got myself up and went to him. He was heavy, close to two hundred pounds, but I figured out that I could drag him by his ankles, so I did. No chance of getting him up the embankment, though. When we were clear of the fires, I sat down beside his body.
By then the prairie was in flames, a wall of fire marching northward, smoke billowing ahead of it. Yet where I sat, it was strangely peaceful. Minutes passed. Time slowed to a crawl. I thought of nothing sensible, just random images: the gray mare we’d passed five miles up the road, nursing her gangly foal; my history classroom, fourteen desks and a map of the Middle East on the wall; Eleanor, my speckled hound, snoring peacefully on my pillow. Each thought floated in, then out, of my sluggish mind. After a while, I lay down in the dry grass and slept.
* * *
“Hey, wake up.” A hand rocked my shoulder. “Wake up.”
I opened my eyes. The man was squatting beside me. “You’re alive,” I said with wonder.
“Yup. You hurt?”
“I don’t think so.” I sat up and looked around, disoriented. Then I spotted the charred skeleton of the cottonwood silhouetted against the receding flames. The world crashed in. “My parents . . .” My throat closed. I started to cry.
He sat down cross-legged and pulled me onto his lap. “I got you,” he murmured into my hair. His voice was so kind. I burrowed into his chest like a small child, knees drawn up so he could wrap my whole body in his arms. We rocked like that for a long time, his soft words soothing me. “It’s all right, I’m here.” By the time the first sirens screamed in the distance, his voice was the only thing I cared about, and his arms seemed like the only safe place in the world.
Of course, none of that mattered to the cops. When they got there, it was dark. From the roadside they couldn’t see the twisted remnants of the car. They knew nothing about the accident. All they knew was that thirty acres were burning, and since they assumed we must be responsible, they weren’t going to listen to anything we had to say until they separated us.
The problem was, I refused to be separated from the only person who seemed to care about me. I clung to him, and when he realized they were acting like I was a criminal instead of a victim, he held on to me too, refusing to let them drag me away. That pissed off the cops. They got a little rough. And in the confusion and swearing and struggling that ensued, things escalated.
In the end, it took all four of them to tear us apart. That pissed them off even more, so while the lone woman officer twisted my wrist up behind my back, the three men threw him against a patrol car and held him there with a nightstick across his throat and a Taser in his ribs.
At that point he finally stopped fighting and stood still, glaring at them, and I got my first good look at him. He was taller than any of them, with straight black hair that fell past his shoulders. His face was streaked with soot, his ripped jeans filthy and scorched from the fire.
He was younger than I’d thought, just a few years older than me. But I had to admit that in his leather jacket and black boots, he looked like a badass. After the fight he’d put up, it was no wonder the cops weren’t taking chances.
A guy in a brown suit walked up to face him. “I’m Detective Scott,” he drawled. Then he looked closer. “Hell, I know you. You’re Jack McCabe.”
“Yeah, that’s right.” Jack’s tone said he knew Scott too, and detested him. “Now will you for Chrissakes get her to the hospital? Can’t you see she’s bleeding?”
Scott’s eyes narrowed. “Shut your mouth until I tell you to talk.”
Jack’s lip curled in disgust. “You’re a fucking idiot.”
“That’s it, we’re done.” Scott turned to a patrolman. “Put him in the car. And cuff him. He’s a goddamn menace.”
Scott walked over to me, looked me up and down. “Christ, you’re just a kid. How’d you get hooked up with a guy like him?”
“I’m fifteen,” I shot back, “and he saved my life.”
He snorted. “Yeah, he’s a goddamn superhero.” He shook his head in disgust. “Do your parents know where you are? And who the hell you’re with? I swear to God, I hope I’m there when they bail you out. I’ll tell them a few things about Jack McCabe that’ll make them lock you in your room till you’re thirty.”
I looked past him to Jack, face down on the hood of the car while they cuffed him, and I knew the world couldn’t get any more off kilter. Jack, a stranger who risked his life helping me, was being treated like a criminal by Detective Scott, the public servant who should have been helping us both.
Once I was able to tell my story, Jack would be off the hook. In fact, he’d be a hero. But at the moment, no one was willing to listen, least of all Detective Scott. And he’d insulted my parents too. There was only one thing I could think of to say to him.
I looked him straight in the eye. “Jack was right. You’re a fucking idiot.”
Unsurprised, he smirked. “Take her to the medics.” And he turned away from me.
From the back of the ambulance, I watched the patrol car drive off into the night, lights flashing. As it disappeared, a wall of loneliness crashed down on me, as black as the night, as heavy as my grief.
New York City
“Lilianne, my love, I’m coming home tonight. We’ll have the whole weekend together.”
“Oh, crap,” was my disappointed reaction.
Fortunately, Claude couldn’t hear it. He was en route from France, while I was listening to my voicemail as I walked down Bleeker Street.
I stuck my phone in my pocket.
I should break up with him.
It wasn’t the first time that thought had run through my mind, and as usual, I raked myself over the coals for it, remembering how I’d ached from loneliness until I met Claude, how his love had given me the confidence to let go of my parents memory and live my own life.
But then, also as usual, my thoughts jumped forward to the future, where Claude saw us married with children, living in his chateau and vacationing in the world’s most luxurious resorts, while I pictured myself . . . without him. Doing what, I couldn’t tell. But he wasn’t in the frame.
A wolf whistle sliced through the street noise, calling me back to the present. I’d wandered into the crosshairs of a dozen construction workers sitting along the Jersey barriers that separated their work site from the sidewalk. They were eating lunch and checking out the girls, including me. Most of them were grinning. One waggled his fingers in a wave.
Hiding behind my sunglasses, I pretended to ignore them while I checked them out from the corner of my eye. They were the usual assortment of sizes and shapes. A few beer guts, a few shaved heads. But when my gaze hit the last guy in the row, I did a double take. And then I froze in my tracks.
Jesus Christ, it can’t be him!
But it was. I would have known him anywhere.
Slowly, inexorably, I walked toward him. Obviously, he didn’t recognize me. He wasn’t whistling or grinning like the others, just watching me with a calm expression, admiring but not leering.
I stopped directly in front of him. “Jack? Jack McCabe?”
Surprise flickered in his eyes, but he said coolly, “Who’s Jack McCabe?”
I pulled off my sunglasses. “He’s the man who pulled me out of a burning car six years ago.”
His eyes widened. “Well, hell,” he breathed. Then he broke into a smile so dazzling that it literally knocked me back a step.
My God, he’s gorgeous! His face was cut from the finest granite, rugged with two days’ beard. His black hair was straight and glossy, falling loose to his shoulders. And when he stood up, he towered over me, six foot two and built like you dream about, narrow waist rising in a V to wide chest and broad shoulders, his long arms roped with the lean muscle of a man who earns it the hard way—by working, not lifting weights at a gym.
Touching one big hand to the small of my back, he started to walk, drawing me away from the rest of the guys. They were hooting and hollering, calling out to someone named Mac. I looked up at him, wondering if I was mistaken. He read the confusion on my face.
“They call me Mac here. You know, for McCabe.”
“Oh.” I nodded slowly. The whole thing was surreal.
He steered me into a coffee shop. “Hey, Mac.” The barrista smiled indecently, squeezing her arms together so her breasts ballooned even higher out of her skimpy camisole.
“Hey, Gretchen. Two coffees.” He reached in his pocket and gave her a ten without seeming to notice her cleavage. Then he touched my back again and guided me to a corner table. We sat down across from each other.
Flustered, I fiddled with my cup, taking the lid off and blowing on it. There were a million things I wanted to tell him, things I’d rehearsed, things I’d written in my journal . . . things I couldn’t for the life of me recall now that I had the chance.
Then I met his eyes and my mind went even blanker. Outside, I’d been startled by their sea-green color. Here, in the dimmer light of the coffee shop, they were even more incredible, the velvety color of moss.
He gazed back at me, probably waiting for me to thank him for saving my life, but I just kept staring into his eyes.
“Are you a photographer?” he asked at last.
My jaw dropped. “How did you know?”
A slow smile spread across his face. “I’d like to say I’m psychic, but the truth is, that big camera you’re carrying is a dead giveaway.”
I’d forgotten about the Leica hanging from my shoulder. Blushing, I swung it around and set it on the table. “I’m just a student. At NYU. Studying photography.”
I sounded like a half-wit, but he didn’t seem to notice. While I was tongue-tied and sweating, he was perfectly relaxed, kicked back in his chair, almost slouching. His long fingers turned his cup idly on the table. He might have seemed disinterested if not for the way he was watching me. His eyes were very interested. Not checking me out—he’d already done that while I was walking toward him—but curious.
“So you’ve been living in New York?” he asked.
I nodded like a mute. Use your words, Lilianne. “Only since I started college. I’m a junior. I lived in Paris before that.”
“Paris, France. With my uncle and my cousin. They were the only family I had left.”
He nodded slowly, as if that answered some question he’d been wondering about. “What was that like?”
I checked his eyes again, wondering if he was simply being polite. But he looked back at me with genuine interest. He cares. He really wants to know what my life’s been like since the accident.
I relaxed a little. “It was weird at first,” I said. “My uncle Pierre was my mother’s brother, but they’d lost touch when my parents moved to the States. Even though I’d never met him, he took me in and he was great to me. I think of him like a father now. And Isabelle—his daughter—she’s like a sister.”
“Paris must’ve seemed strange. You know, compared to Texas.”
Had it ever. In France, I’d been a stranger in a strange land, their language and culture utterly foreign to me. For months I’d felt as lonely as if I’d been beamed to another planet.
But this wasn’t the time to get into that. Instead, I smiled. “The cars are tiny.”
He laughed. “What, no pickup trucks?”
“None. And no barbeque.”
He shuddered, then got down to the serious stuff. “How’s the coffee?”
“Delicious. And the cafés are nothing like this.” I gestured at the line of people waiting to grab and go. “In Paris people sit in cafés for hours, drinking espresso and talking about everything. You’d love it.” I paused, surprised that I could tell that about him, but certain it was true.
He smiled, confirming it. “So what brought you to New York?”
“Isabelle wanted to go to FIT, so I came with her.” I shrugged. “I’d rather have stayed in Paris, but NYU is great for photography.”
“Better than the Sorbonne?”
That surprised me. “You’ve heard of the Sorbonne?”
His lips quirked. “Is it a secret?”
“Well, I don’t mean to sound like a smarty-pants, but most Americans can’t even find Paris on a map, much less discuss the Sorbonne.” Which, of course, made me sound exactly like a smarty-pants. My cheeks broiled as Jack bit back a grin.
“Well, I don’t mean to sound like a smarty-pants either,” he said, “but I can find the world’s major cities on a map.”
“I didn’t mean you.”
“Uh-huh.” He was smiling outright now, but he didn’t let me off the hook just yet. “Must be the drawl. I sound like a good ole boy, right?”
“No, I love the drawl!” It was deep and warm and reminded me of home. “It’s just that you’re so good-looking . . .” I stopped, appalled that I’d now managed to insult—twice in one minute—the man who’d risked his life for mine.
“Oh, now I get it,” he drawled, sagely. “I didn’t realize looks and brains can’t go together. My mistake.” He cocked his head, gave me a pitying look. “Must suck for you, huh? Being so much dumber than all the other girls?”
“I-I’m not dumb,” I sputtered.
He shook his head regretfully. “I’m sorry to tell you, but you must be extremely dumb.”
Suddenly it dawned on me that he wasn’t insulting me back. He was very gently calling bullshit on me, and at the same time letting me know that he thought I was pretty, even beautiful.
“Well played,” I said with a smile.
“Score one for the redneck.” He flashed his own smile. The difference was, his smile was like a lightning bolt. It electrified me.
“Um, how about you?” I asked, trying to keep my head. “How’d you end up in New York?”
He glanced at the wall clock. “Damn,” he said, “I gotta go.” My heart hit the floor. Then he added, “Are you busy tonight?”
My heart leapt up off the floor. And continued up into my throat when I realized I hadn’t said a word to him about Claude.
He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a business card. Spin, a nightclub in the Meatpacking District. “I’ll be working there tonight. I’d like it if you came by.”
I did some fast thinking. It was Thursday. Claude wouldn’t be back from Paris until after midnight. Then he’d go straight to his place to sleep because he’d have meetings all day on Friday. I could do this.
“Okay,” I said.
Another breathtaking smile. “I’ll leave your name at the door.”
“You remember it?”
I gazed into his eyes and my heart positively grew three sizes. He remembered my name. After six years, he remembered my name.
Pulling myself together, I scooped up my camera and we headed for the door. He touched my back again, and for a guy who made a room seem small, he was graceful as a dancer, managing to maintain contact even though the shop was packed.
Outside, he turned to face me, his hand skimming lightly around to my elbow, holding on a little like he didn’t want to let me go. He stood so close I had to tilt my head back to meet his eyes.
“Look for me around midnight,” he said. And with a last, gentle squeeze of my arm, he dropped his hand and walked away.
I put on my sunglasses and watched him go, all long, lean power in a tight white T-shirt.
I checked my watch. Eleven hours until I’d see him again. It was the blink of an eye compared to the six years since the accident. But in the last twenty minutes, those years had compressed down to nothing, so eleven hours seemed like a very, very long time to wait.
Outside Spin, the line stretched down the block.
Isabelle caught my arm. “Oooo, the Devils are playing tonight!”
“Never heard of them,” I said.
She rolled her eyes, very French, her way of saying that I needed to get out more. “The singer’s supposed to be amazing,” she informed me. “Phenomenal voice and totally hot and gorgeous.”
“That’s nice.” I wasn’t really interested in anything but seeing Jack again. I hadn’t stopped thinking about him for a minute.
We cut the line, heading for the doorman. I let Isabelle lead because people—especially men—always cleared a path for her. She’d inherited her mother’s curly blonde hair, baby blue eyes and, to Isabelle’s everlasting dismay, the ten extra pounds she could never seem to shed. It bothered her to no end, but to everyone else’s eyes, she was gorgeous.
We looked nothing alike. My own mother was Italian, and I’d inherited her dark, wavy hair and pale skin, and her unusual eyes. That I was naturally slender was, to Isabelle, my only unforgiveable sin.
“So this Jack,” she asked, “how did you recognize him after all this time?”
“He’s hard to forget.”
“Not at all.” Cute didn’t fit Jack. “He’s hot. Tall. Sexy.”
“Sexy?” She sounded surprised, and curious. She knew I didn’t throw that term around lightly. “What does he do here?”
“Probably a bartender.” I grinned at her. “Free drinks.”
We made it to the doorman at last. He was seven feet tall, and I looked up to give him my name, but the words died in my throat when the poster behind him caught my eye.
The first thing I noticed was what a great photograph it was: black and white, a man standing with his back to the camera, wearing snug jeans and a tight white T-shirt, his head thrown back so his sleek black hair hung almost to his waist, his outflung arms roped with muscle. He was lit hard from the right, so his shadow fell to the left, a distorted mirror image of the cross made by his body. Across the bottom it saidThe Devils. Very affecting.
The second thing I noticed was that the hair, the arms, the narrow waist and the broad, muscled shoulders all seemed awfully familiar . . .
Isabelle nudged me. “Tell him you’re on the list.”
I shifted my gaze to the doorman. “Lilianne Marchone,” I said. He checked his iPad and waved us in.
Inside, it was even darker than out on the street. The sound system throbbed with a bass line that could reset your heartbeat. Hundreds of people packed the floor, an undulating mass of tats and piercings.
I checked my watch. Midnight. Standing on my toes, I scoped out the bartenders. No Jack. My pulse sped up. “Let’s go up front,” I shouted to Isabelle.
It was almost too packed to move. We wriggled through to the other end of the room and got close to the stage, which was just a platform two feet off the floor. A guy with dirty blond hair and two full sleeves plugged in a couple of guitars, checked the mikes.
When he stepped down, the stage lights went black. The sound system went silent.
Suddenly, everyone stilled. A thousand eyes turned toward the stage as three shadowy figures stepped onto it. One slid in behind the drums, two others picked up guitars. The bass player plucked some notes, clear as a bell in the weird silence of the room.
Then the fourth figure stepped up. The spotlight hit him, and the crowd went insane. Totally nuts. They were yelling. Shrieking. Even sobbing. He grabbed the mike and started to sing. And instantly I understood. He was why the club was packed. He was what they’d been waiting for.
From the first word, he unleashed himself. His passion, his agony. His fury and love and joy. He gave it all away to us, his pain and his ecstasy, and we gave him ours in return, and he channeled it for us and sang it out. It was symbiotic. It was instantaneous. It was mind-blowing.
His voice was amazing, deep and rich, and he controlled it flawlessly, from a whisper to a roar. But his voice was just part of it; he sang with his whole body, a magnetic core that pulled every pulse into synch with his, every breath in time with his own. It was like he was us, and we were him, and we were all vibrating with the same cosmic rhythm.
Yet at the same time, he wasn’t like us at all. He was beautiful and perfect and sensuous and totally, utterly, unbearably hot. Watching him, hearing him, feeling him, I was mesmerized. I couldn’t move, couldn’t rock with the people around me. Isabelle gripped my arm, fingers digging in. I glanced at her; she was staring at him with the same spellbound look that was on every face; on my own face. A photograph caught in the instant of rapture.
It went on like that for an hour, every song a catharsis, a journey with him through darkness into light, a climax like the best orgasm you’ve ever had.
And then he left the stage. The crowd roared, not wanting it to end, but he didn’t come back. It was over.
Isabelle squeezed my arm. “Wow, now I get it.” Then the sound system kicked in and drowned her out. She pointed at the bar, wondering which bartender was Jack.
I shook my head, pointed at the stage.
She gaped in disbelief. “Which one?” she mouthed.
When I held up my hand like a mike, her eyes grew so round that her brows disappeared. Then a guy in a Devils T-shirt tapped me on the shoulder. I grabbed Isabelle’s hand and followed him.
He led us to a door behind the stage. Jack was waiting just inside, dripping sweat like he’d been swimming. He hit me with that smile, and my already weak knees wanted to buckle.
Shifting his gaze to Isabelle, he amped his smile down exactly one notch, still brilliant, but not the smile he’d given me.
“Jack,” I remembered to say, “this is my cousin, Isabelle Oulette.”
“Nice to meet you,” he said.
She was speechless. If an alien spaceship had landed in front of her she couldn’t have looked more awestruck.
He caught my hand. “Come on back.”
We stepped into a hallway jammed with girls auditioning to go home with the band. Every single one of them leaned in toward Jack, smiling and wriggling suggestively. He ignored them like they were invisible.
Keeping hold of me, he led us through the crowd to a small room near the back exit—a couple of rickety tables, a sprung couch, and, of course, more girls. Some guys too, from The Devils or one of the bands that played earlier. I couldn’t tell who was who.
Jack waved us into some folding chairs, then bent down and pulled a beer out of a tiny fridge, held it out to me. I shook my head, so did Isabelle, so he twisted off the cap and poured half of it down his throat, then the other half, and tossed the bottle into the overstuffed trashcan. A water bottle stood on top of the fridge and he did the same with that.
Still breathing hard, he sat down with us and leaned forward, forearms on his knees. Lifting his face to me, he said, “Thanks for coming out.”
“Uh, th-thanks for asking me. Great show.” The understatement of the century.
He smiled that smile again and my heart, already beating crazily, skipped another beat. “Would you like to get something to eat?” he asked as politely as any mother could wish.
“Sure.” Whatever he wanted was fine with me.
After a heartbeat, he looked at Isabelle, including her in the invitation. She got the hint, uttered her first words. “I should go home.”
“I’ll call you a cab.” He pulled out his cell and hit a button, had a quick conversation. “Five minutes,” he told her. She started to rise but he touched her arm and she froze solid. “Let me change. I’ll walk you out.”
He disappeared into the bathroom and she turned to me, eyes huge. “Be careful, Lilianne. He’s dangerous.”
I blinked in surprise. “Dangerous?”
She nodded slowly. “Anyone who can do that, who feels things that . . . that intensely, is dangerous.”
She had a point.
“And he’s gorgeous.” She flicked an eye around the room. “I mean, do you see these girls? He could have any of them. Or all of them. All at once.”
I couldn’t blame them. I was totally turned on myself. I didn’t say it out loud, but Isabelle knew me too well.
“Does Claude know about him?” she asked.
Heat crept up my cheeks. “There’s nothing for him to know. This isn’t a date. I’m not going to bed with him.”
She arched an eyebrow, would have said more, but Jack emerged from the bathroom, hair slicked back with the water he’d splashed on his face. He’d changed into a fresh white T-shirt and faded jeans that fit him just right, snug in the crotch, hugging his thighs, then flaring slightly over his boots.
A big-boobed blonde jiggled up to him. “Hi, Mac.” She managed to speak, smile, and lick her lips all at once.
He didn’t even look at her, just shook his head once and walked by. “I told the taxi to pull into the alley,” he said to Isabelle. “I’ll take you out the back.” To me, “Lil, will you wait here for me? I have to see somebody before we go.”
As soon as they left, one of the other guys sat down. “Hi, I’m Gus.”
“I’m Lil.” No one had ever called me that before, but I liked the way Jack said it.
“What’d you think of our show?” he asked, tipping me off that he was one of the Devils. I wouldn’t have known; in the hour they were on stage, my eyes had never left Jack.
“Amazing,” I said truthfully. “Best show I’ve ever seen.”
He grinned. “Haven’t seen you here before.”
“It’s my first time. Do you play here a lot?”
“Every Thursday. Tomorrow we’re at the War Room, and Saturday we’re at . . .” He called to a guy sitting on the couch. “Martin, where we at Saturday?”
Gus turned back to me. “Saturday we’re at Arrow. Want me to put you on the list?”
“Thanks, but I’m out of town this weekend.”
“Too bad. Some other time?”
Before I could reply, Jack walked in. Without another word, Gus stood up and moved away. Jack dropped down beside me. “Anything special you want to eat, Lil?”
“Whatever you want. You must be hungry after that.”
“I always go to the same place. I’ll take you there if you don’t mind. But first I’ve got to see Percy, he’s the money man.” He cut a sharp glance at Gus, then took my hand. “Why don’t you come with me?”
Out in the club, Jack was mobbed immediately. Women rubbed up against him, pressing their breasts to him, groping for his crotch. I’d never seen anything like it. He shook his head and they fell away, only to be replaced by others. Men swarmed him too, hero worship in their eyes, some of them musicians, some of them gay, some hoping to pick up his castoffs.
All of them tried to snap selfies with him, but he kept a tight hold on my hand, moving through the throng at a steady pace, too fast for anyone to stick to him, but not fast enough to seem like an asshole.
Pulling me behind the bar, he introduced me to Percy, who gave me a measuring look as he handed Jack a stack of bills. I couldn’t hear anything they were saying, but Percy must have made a joke because Jack cracked up. I hadn’t seen him laugh out loud before, but I liked it. It made him seem human again, which made me realize how starstruck I’d been since his supernatural performance on stage.
He’s hot and he’s amazing, but he’s still the same guy I had coffee with today. He’s still Jack.
Backstage again, Jack handed out cash to Martin, Gus and the third guy, Simon. Then he took a leather jacket off a hook. Looking me over, he cocked his head. “You don’t have a jacket, do you?”
I shrugged. “It’s not cold outside.”
He pushed the back door open with his shoulder. “Thing is, I don’t exactly drive a Lexus.” And he nodded toward a big Harley.
I gulped. I’d ridden plenty of Vespas, but never a giant bike like this. I couldn’t imagine wrapping my legs around that huge engine—and around him.
He watched my reaction with a faint smile. “I can call us a cab if you don’t want to get on.”
“N-no, it’s fine. It’s just . . . I’ve never ridden one before.”
“Nothing to it. I’ll do all the work, you just sit there and look pretty.”
My cheeks heated up again. Then he held up his jacket for me. “You’ll want to wear this.”
“Thanks.” I stepped into it. It smelled great, like leather and soap and gasoline. Guy smells. Guys from Texas.
He took a step back and looked me over, and he started to laugh. Looking down at myself, I had to laugh too. The jacket hung below my crotch, the sleeves three inches past my fingertips.
Still grinning, he handed me a helmet. I put it on and tightened the chinstrap. He reached over and tightened it more. Then he put on his own helmet and threw his leg over the bike, turned the key and it roared like a grizzly.
“Put your feet on those,” he pointed at the pegs, “and keep them there. Wrap your arms around my waist and don’t let go. And remember that acceleration can throw you back, so hang on tight whenever we take off. Any questions?”
“Then climb on.” I did. He waited a moment, then said over his shoulder, “You already forgot rule number two. Wrap your arms around me and don’t let go.”
I was already sweating at being so near him. He gave off heat like a furnace, but that wasn’t it. It was me. Sitting there with his ass between my thighs, I was fighting the urge to run my hands all over his back. His muscles stretched the white cotton irresistibly, flexing with every movement.
But there was no way I’d throw myself at him like those other girls. And anyway, I had a boyfriend.
“Well?” he prompted. He was waiting for me to get a grip, literally.
Sucking a deep breath, I linked my arms very gingerly around his waist, managing not to touch him. He kept sitting there, didn’t pull out.
“I’m ready,” I said over his shoulder.
He flipped up his visor. “I’m still waiting for you to wrap your arms around me.”
“They are around you.”
“Really?” He looked down at them. “Well, hell, not like that. Like this.” And he tugged them around him so tightly that my breasts flattened against his back. When he said, “Yeah, that’s how I want it,” a chill ran down my spine and curled between my legs.
“Ready?” he asked.
He hit the throttle and the bike leaped forward. I clutched him for dear life as he laid it over to take the turn out onto the street. When we stopped at the corner the momentum propelled me forward, so all the parts of me that weren’t already plastered to him slid smack up against him, thigh to thigh, crotch to ass.
Well, hell. I imitated his drawl in my head. That’s how I want it too. So I might as well enjoy it. The light turned green, he hit the throttle, and I forgot about everything else, the wind tearing at me as we hurtled through the deserted streets of two a.m. Manhattan.