Friday, April 4, 2014

EXCERPT: Guarded

Title: Guarded
Author: Cat Grant, L.A. Witt
Format: ebook, paperback



It all started the night that cabbie dropped us off at the wrong fucking bar. I could’ve sworn Jase, our new security guy, told the driver to take us to Britt’s, but instead we ended up in front of a dive called Blake’s that had a line trailing out the door and dance music blaring so loud the sidewalk vibrated. The half-assed headache over my right eye started throbbing to the same fucking beat.


Jase ran after the cab, but the driver was already speeding away with our money, including a healthy tip for driving us here from the stadium. “Fuck,” Jase muttered, pulling out his phone. “Sorry, Jordan. Hang tight and I’ll call us another cab, okay?”

Curious glances flicked in our direction. I yanked up the hood on my jacket and hunched down, hands in my pockets. I was pretty good at making myself inconspicuous, but Jase should’ve known better than to call me by name in public. All I wanted was a quiet drink in a place where no one would bother me, not another fucking mob screaming, “Oh my God, it’s Jordan Kane!”

“Let’s go back to the hotel,” Daniel said. “You can get a drink there.”

From the wet bar in my suite, where I’d been cooped up for the past day and a half. Cabin fever hit hard on long tours, going from the bus to another nondescript hotel, from there to the venue, then back on the bus again. Was getting out for some fresh air like a regular human being too fucking much to ask?

I shifted from foot to foot, my Nikes crunching on damp pavement, adrenaline still buzzing in my veins. We’d had a great show tonight, amazing energy from a sold out house, but as usual, it took me a while to wind down. If we went back to the hotel now, I’d drink myself into a stupor and have to be poured into the bus tomorrow morning.

Milo hovered at my elbow, a bald, burly wall of reassurance. He leaned in close as I whispered, “Go see what’s taking Jase so long.”

“So you’re not talking to me?” Daniel said, propping himself against a street sign while he lit up. My breath froze, until I saw it was a Marlboro. “Still pissed about the other night?”

Same argument, different day. But after what happened in Austin, no way was I letting him out of my sight. “Not now,” I snapped as Milo and Jase walked back up.

“The quickest we can get a cab down here’s about forty-five minutes,” Jase said. His Adam’s apple bobbed. Jesus, did he think I was going to fire him on the spot?

“How far is it to Britt’s on foot?” I asked.

Jase punched a few buttons on his phone. “Um, about five and a half miles.”

Fuck. I eyeballed the dive’s front door. At least there wasn’t much of a line anymore. “Let’s go grab a beer while we wait.”

Daniel stamped out his smoke with a snort and headed for the door. I gave Milo the usual “keep your eye on him” look and followed, Jase bringing up the rear. The bouncer waved us through without so much as a second look.

The place was jam-packed, the bass-heavy sound system shaking the walls. Six deep around the bar, and not a single fucking table free. A sign over a door on the far side of the room read, “Patio.”

“Get me a pint of whatever they’ve got on draft and meet me outside,” I shouted into Jase’s ear, then started pushing through the crowd.

The patio was pretty crowded too, but thankfully the music wasn’t so loud out here. Only a handful of postage stamp sized tables, all occupied. I ventured to the edge of the patio—well, okay, more like the lip of the parking lot—fished in my pocket for a smoke, then tilted my head back to look at the sky. Dark, velvety blue dotted with tiny lights. We’d played an outdoor theater tonight, but the stage kliegs were so bright I couldn’t see past the first few rows. How many cities had we blitzed through these last few weeks, stopping just long enough to play a show or two? No time to relax and enjoy beautiful nights like this. Hell, no time to relax, period.

I’d just stamped out my butt when I saw Jase making his way over to me. “Sorry it took so long,” he said, handing me one of the pint glasses he was holding.

“Thanks.” I took a swig, glancing up at the sky again. The heavy beat in my pulse was slowing, post-show drop setting in.

“Want me to leave you alone?” Jase said. “Milo told me to give you your space, so I can go stand over there—”

“You’re fine where you are.” I flicked a glance at him. He still looked jittery as hell. “I’m not gonna fire you over the cab thing, okay? It’s not your fault the guy was an asshole.”

“Oh. Thanks.” The nervous glint in his eyes didn’t fade, though. What else did I expect? He’d only been with the tour a few weeks. I could just imagine the stories the crew had told him about me.

We drank our beers in silence, trading furtive glances. I’d noticed him looking at me like that before, but I didn’t think it meant—well, what else could it mean? Sure, he wanted me. Everybody did, until they found out what wanting me entailed, then they couldn’t run for the fucking door fast enough.

At last my glass was empty. “Want another?” Jase asked.

I shook my head and handed him my glass. “I’m good.” I’d drunk it fast, and now that sweet liquid-warm buzz started creeping through me. One beer, so it wouldn’t last long—just long enough, hopefully, to get back to the hotel and collapse.

If I didn’t end up collapsing right here. Leaning against the concrete wall, I let my eyes drift shut. Shit. I was more tired than I thought. One drink didn’t normally affect me like this.

Jase’s hand landed tentatively on my shoulder. It felt good—warm and strong, with just enough of a grip to set things stirring below my belt. Fuck. Not here. I hastily zipped up my hoodie.

“You okay?” he whispered.

Where’d that sexy rumble in his voice come from? “Fine. Just give me a minute.” I blinked hard, trying to banish the ghosts from the flickering fluorescent lamp overhead. No one out here was paying us any attention, except this one guy squinting at me from a few feet away.

He started toward us, until Jase pulled a pack of smokes from his pocket and offered me one. He leaned in as we both lit up, close enough feel the warm puff of his breath over my skin—God, was he doing that on purpose?—subtly but effectively putting himself between me and Mr. Curious. I peered over Jase’s broad shoulder as the guy halted in his tracks, his expression morphing from, “Is that really…?” to “Nah, can’t be.”

I exhaled a long breath that wasn’t all smoke. “Thanks.”

“No problem.” His lush lips quirked up in a shaky smile. “That’s what you pay me for, right?”

I’d never seen him this close before. Looked about thirty, though from a distance he could pass for younger—a few years past pretty either way. Something behind those clear green eyes told me he’d seen a lot—hardly a shocker. Nobody stayed innocent very long in this business.

That gaze sent a hot flush creeping up the back of my neck. Time to get this convo back on a more professional footing. “You getting along okay?”

“Um, yeah.” Why was it so hard to look me in the eye? He’d never had trouble before. ‘Course, he’d never flirted with me like this before either. “Milo’s showing me the ropes.”

“This your first tour?”

“As part of a road crew? Yeah.” He zipped up his jacket. “I did a couple of regional tours with my old band.”

Which didn’t surprise me either. Most roadies were musicians too. In fact, pretty much all the good ones were. “What happened?”

“Same old song—we broke up, I needed a job, so... here I am.”

“Well, welcome aboard.” Weird thing to say after all this time, but I tried to keep the crew at arm’s length. Sure, they all signed confidentiality agreements, but that didn’t stop a couple of slackers I’d shit-canned from spilling stuff to the tabloids. Compared to them, Jase was a dream employee. He showed up on time, never complained about the crazy hours or balked at anything I asked him to do. He kept the nutjobs away, brought me food when I was starving backstage before a show, and made sure I had quiet time when I needed it.

I’d been in this business so long, I could tell within thirty seconds if someone was trying to play me. Jase didn’t give me that kind of vibe. He’d never hit me up for any special favors—or hell, even for time off.

I sucked down another lungful of smoke, then, “What was the name of your band?”

“Oh, um…” His face went red. “You’ve never heard of us.”

“Try me. I listen to a lot of stuff.”

“Ever heard ‘Day of the Dead’ by Flogging for Coffee?”

“Holy shit, that was you?” I’d downloaded their EP a while ago, on one of those long nights in the back of the bus when my brain wouldn’t shut up. “Impressive debut, man. Why’d you guys break up?”

“Our bass player’s girlfriend got pregnant, and he didn’t want to leave her to go back on tour. And there was some... well, bad blood between me and the drummer.” He shrugged, fidgeted. “The usual stuff, I guess.”

“That’s a fucking shame. I liked your sound.” Sort of punk, sort of metal, with a dash of alternative. Sort of what we sounded like back in the day. “You record it yourselves?”

The shrill buzz of his phone cut in before he could answer. “H’lo? Okay, we’ll be there in a minute.” He hung up. “Cab’s here. I’ll text Milo to meet us up front.”

Jase walked ahead of me, elbowing our way through the crowd. I looked around for Milo and Daniel once we got inside, but I didn’t see them. I almost lost Jase when some half-drunk asshole lurched between us. Jase shoved the guy away, then offered me his arm.

Warm, solid muscles bunched and flexed under my fingers. I didn’t want to let go, even after we’d exited the club. The cab was waiting at the curb, but still no sign of Milo or Daniel.

Jase checked his phone. “Milo hasn’t texted me back. Get in the cab. I’ll go find them.”

“Jase, don’t—” Too late. He’d already dashed back in. And here came that familiar old knot of anxiety twisting in my gut. I hated having to go out in public with bodyguards. Wasn’t so long ago—four, five years—when I could walk down the street without getting mobbed. Now one lousy drink in a public place required more planning than storming fucking Omaha Beach.

Leaning against the cab, I lit up another cigarette. The bouncer started eyeing me, so I turned around. I’d just inhaled my second puff when this wave of sound rose up behind me, a roar of voices that nearly drowned out the thump-thump of the shitty dance music—

And Milo, Jase and Daniel burst through the door like it’d spat them out, a flood of people on their heels.

“Get in! Get in!” Milo screamed, shoving me and Daniel into the backseat. He and Jase piled in behind us. “Hit the gas!”

Didn’t need to tell the cabbie twice—he punched it so hard he flung us against the seat cushions. The mob shrank in the view from the rear window, but that didn’t stop my heart from thrashing in my chest.

“Th-the fuck?” My gaze flicked from Daniel to Milo. “What happened?”

“Mr. Wonderful here started chatting up some girl, and she recognized him.” Milo scowled, wiping at a cut on his forehead. He had a red mark on his cheekbone that’d be a gorgeous shiner by tomorrow. “She told her friends, and they told everyone else.”

And from Daniel’s smug expression, he’d no doubt done it just to fuck with me. I stared out the window, watching flat concrete and a parade of high rises zip by, fists curling and uncurling in my lap. Not in front of the cabbie. Last thing you need is for this to show up in the papers.

The driver dropped us off at our hotel’s back entrance. Milo paid the guy and we headed inside. The elevator doors slid open the second I touched the call button. I waited until it started moving, then I hit “stop” and shoved Daniel against the wall. “What the hell did you think you were doing back there? You nearly started a fucking riot!”

“Aw, c’mon, I was just trying to have some fun. You remember what that’s like, huh?” His jittery, bloodshot gaze locked on Milo and Jase, like he was expecting them to come to his rescue. “Can we go upstairs? I’m fucking tired.”

I didn’t smell booze on his breath, and for a change he seemed fairly lucid. But from the way he was shaking—and sweating like he’d just run a fucking marathon—he had to be high on something. God, not meth again. Anything but that.

I hit the “start” button, my heart dropping down the fucking elevator shaft. I couldn’t face this, not tonight. Couldn’t entertain the prospect of another tour cut short because Daniel needed to go back to rehab. The thought simply wouldn’t fit in my mind.

We had the entire top floor to ourselves, two suites on opposite sides of the hallway. Daniel opened his door and disappeared inside. Milo shot me a “What d’you want me to do?” look.

“Don’t let him out of your sight,” I said. “Sit on him if you have to.”

A familiar resigned sigh. “Whatever you say, boss.” Milo nodded at me and Jase and went inside, the door clicking shut behind him.

Which left me standing here so fucking exhausted I wasn’t sure I could make the two lousy steps to my own suite.

Jase’s hand slid under my elbow. “Give me your card.” I wrestled it out of my pocket and handed it over. Jase unlocked the door, letting it swing open. “There you go.”

“Thanks.” I stepped inside, glancing around the living room. Comfortable—elegantly so, in fact—but nondescript. I’d spent too many long, lonely nights on tour in rooms like this, waking up the next morning with no fucking clue what city I was in. I didn’t usually invite employees inside... well, except when I did. Sometimes the nights got too long and lonely. Too quiet. “I’m gonna have another drink. Care to join me?”

I could see the wheels turning in his head. Say yes, and confirm the reason he still couldn’t meet my gaze? Or refuse, and risk offending the boss?

“Um, yeah,” he said finally. “Thanks.”

I went over to the bar and poured us single Scotches while Jase ventured into the living room. He shoved his hands in his pockets, eyeballing the cream-colored couch like he was afraid he’d get something on it.

“Sit wherever you want,” I said, handing him his drink. I waited for him to choose a spot, then sank down close enough to him to touch if we wanted to, but far enough that he hopefully wouldn’t feel like I was trying to crowd him. “So,” I went on, picking up on our previous conversation, “did you record that EP yourselves?”

He chuckled. “Kinda obvious from the shitty sound quality, huh?”

“You should’ve heard our early demos. Sounded like we recorded ‘em in a fucking bathroom.”

“But you graduated to a world-class studio after you signed with Millennium Records.” He gave a rueful shake of his head. “No one in their right mind would’ve ever signed us.”

“You’re lucky. Wish I had a time machine so I could go back five years and un-sign our contract.”

“I thought everybody in this business wanted a record deal.”

That’s what I’d wanted too, before I knew better. “If you don’t mind letting the corporate overlords rob you blind, have at it. I’d rather make music.”

“Is that why you’re always touring?”

“Aside from the money issue, yeah. Nothing like getting in front of an audience to remind you why you’re alive.” Even now, just thinking about performing sent adrenaline surging through my veins. No matter how sick or exhausted I got on the road, seeing that crowd out there waiting never failed to get me pumped. “The kicker is, I love playing so much, I’d do it for free. But don’t tell anyone.”

We both laughed. Jase slumped against the cushions, resting his glass on his chest. I watched, half-mesmerized, as it rose and fell with every breath he took. “Can I, um... ask you a personal question?”

I instinctively stiffened, then said, “Go ahead.”

“How come you’ve never recorded ‘Forth Into Light’?”

Not what I expected, but it still made me smile. “That’s not very personal.”

“Sure it is. You play it in your acoustic set practically every night, and you change the lyrics every time. Is it one of those songs that never stops evolving, or”—he waved his hand around, like he was trying to pluck the right words out of the air—“is it too close to your heart to let go of?”

All this insight from a guy who’d been silently watching my back the past few weeks. The man was a philosopher, and I hadn’t a fucking clue. “It’s a work in progress. I’ve been toying with it for a couple of years now. I still can’t get the bridge or the last verse right.”

“Takes that long, huh?”

“Sometimes.” But there was another reason too. “It’s my favorite of all the songs I’ve written. I can’t... no, I won’t let Millennium turn it into a fucking product.”

“It’s my favorite too,” Jase said softly. A jolt of pure lightning jagged through me as his fingers closed over mine. Strong, supple fingers with tiny hard calluses at the tips—the mark of a guitarist. A damn good one, too—those wailing riffs on his EP nearly scorched my eardrums. He set down his drink and looked at me.

Bad idea. He’s an employee, for Christ’s sake. Laugh it off and show him the door.

Or—oh, fuck it.

I leaned closer, sliding my hands over his shirt and the warm, firm muscles rippling underneath. The pulse in his throat thrummed, his stubble prickling my fingertips. And God, that mouth, those lips, parting just for me—

Something buzzed, vibrating against my hip.

My fucking phone.

With a call from Milo flashing on the display.

I hit the ‘answer’ button. “What?”

“Jordan, you’ve gotta believe me, I only left the room for a couple minutes. I thought Daniel was asleep, so—”

“What’re you talking about?” But my plummeting stomach already knew. I only ever heard that scared, frantic tone in Milo’s voice when something truly heinous hit the fan. “Is he—”

“Gone. He locked me in the bedroom and took off. I called hotel security, but…”

They wouldn’t find him. Daniel’d had plenty of practice giving security the slip. He’d be back when he ran out of money, coked to the fucking gills and with half the city’s police force gunning for him.

No, not again. Not if I had anything to say about it.

Chapter Two


“Fucking idiot,” Jordan muttered, and started for the door. “Daniel’s gone.”

I grabbed his arm before he could get past me.

He stopped, blinking. “What the—”

“You stay here.” I loosened my grip but didn’t let go. “I’ll find him.”

Jordan shook his head and pulled away. “I know him. I’ll find him.”

“And everyone in the city knows who you are.” I locked eyes with him. “Guy like him won’t be hard to find. He’s a junkie.”

Fury flashed in his eyes. His lips peeled back across his teeth as he snarled, “You have no idea what—”

“You want me to go find him?” I snapped. “Or do you want to argue about whether he qualifies as a junkie?”

Jordan broke eye contact, and his shoulders slumped a little as if I’d just hurt him. Maybe I had. Those two had been friends since the dawn of time, and regardless of what it did to their music career, it had to be hell watching Daniel slowly self-destruct.

“You’re too easy to recognize,” I said gently. “No one knows who I am.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “Jordan.” When he met my eyes, I said, “I’ll find him.”

Breaking eye contact again, he nodded. “All right. Go.”

There’d be time to pick up where we’d left off—had I really made a move on Jordan Kane?—and maybe figure out what the fuck we’d been doing, but priority one right now was Daniel.

Jordan gave me his room key so I’d be able to make it up to the penthouse when I came back. Without a word, he watched me go, and as soon as the elevator doors had closed behind me, my mind shifted to the task at hand. Though I was and always would be a musician, I’d also done time in the military, which was what had led me into private security after the band fell apart. When shit happened, that training kicked in, and I was on autopilot.

All the way down the tall building, I considered every possibility. Daniel had been high when we’d left the bar, but he’d been lucid. No doubt he’d gone off to score another hit. Money wasn’t an object, so he wouldn’t have to risk whatever cheap shit he could get his hands on out on the street, and in an unfamiliar town with no connections—I assumed—he’d take the easiest route. That is, find a place where similar-minded people congregated, and his drug du jour would be easy to acquire.

Which meant I needed to find someone who knew where those people congregated.

In the lobby, I went to the front desk. “I’m looking for my friend. He just left. Did you see him leave? Blond, maybe yay tall”—I held my hand up around my chin—“with a goatee? Leather—”

“You just missed him.” The desk clerk gestured at the entrance. “He took a cab maybe five minutes ago.”

“And I don’t suppose you heard him say where he was going?”

She shook her head.

“Shit,” I said under my breath. “All right, thanks.” I went outside and looked around. There were several cabs parked in front of the club across the street—the one Jordan hadn’t dared show his face in if he wanted to sleep in this place tonight—and just my luck, there was also a cop car cruising down the street.

I stepped up to the curb and flagged down the patrol vehicle. When the officer stopped and rolled down the passenger window, I rested a hand on the door and showed my ID from the security agency with the other. “I’m trying to track down a buddy of mine, and I think he’s going to try to score some blow. Any idea where he might go?”

The cop scrutinized my ID for a moment. “Your buddy got a preference? Coke? Meth?”

“I’m not a hundred percent sure what his thing is right now. He’s been into both. If I had to guess, probably…” I hesitated. “Probably meth.”

The cop nodded. He reached across the passenger seat and opened the door. “Get in. I’ll drop you off a block or so away from the club.”

“Thanks.” I got in, and he drove me into one of the sleazier parts of town. One of those graffiti-covered places where even I didn’t like walking alone, with or without the forty-five I kept under my jacket.

The cop pulled up next to the curb in front of a dry cleaner that had probably been closed since the 1970s. As the car came to a stop, he said, “There’s a club about one block that way.” He gestured down the road. “Shitty place, but if he wants a quick score in this town, that’s where he’ll find it.”

“Great. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. Good luck.”

I got out of the car and headed toward the club. This was definitely the part of the city where someone would find cheap and easy blow. And it was a damned good thing Jordan hadn’t come out here. Even a junkie would recognize him, and if someone caught a picture of him in a place like that, all the rumors would start up again. The tabloids had finally given up their insistence that he was a closeted cokehead about a year ago, and they didn’t need anything to reignite that bullshit.

I gritted my teeth just thinking about that, and walked a little faster. I’d seen the tabloids well before I’d gotten this job, and they hadn’t really registered either way. But now Jordan was my responsibility.

And as I ran the tip of my tongue across my lower lip, searching for just a hint of that short-lived kiss from earlier, I tried to convince myself he was only my responsibility. Not my lover. Not my friend. My boss and my responsibility. Nothing more. As for the near-kiss? Well, I’d been the closest warm body after a stressful evening, and he’d probably fire me tomorrow for making a pass at him anyway. Not that he’d exactly objected to it.

Not that any of that mattered if I didn’t come back to the penthouse with Daniel.  Jordan’s temper was legendary, and from what I’d heard, he wasn’t above firing everyone within earshot if someone pushed him far enough. More often than not, that someone was Daniel.

I stopped in front of the club. The cop was right. Between the passed out drunks on the sidewalk, the vomit in the gutter, and some all too familiar scents in the air, this was probably little more than a crackhouse with a deejay.

I tugged at my jacket to make extra certain my weapon was concealed, and then headed in.

A huge bouncer stood in front of the door. “Cover’s fifteen.”

Shit. I had no cash.

I gestured for the guy to lean in so he could hear me over the music. “Listen, I’m not here to party. I need to find someone before he gets into trouble.”

The bouncer shook his head and didn’t move. “Can’t help you, man. Still gotta pay the cover.”

I glared up at him. “You can let me in, or you can let the cops in.” I held up my cell phone. “Your call.”

His lips tightened. Then he stood aside. “Ten minutes. You stay in there a second longer, I’m coming in to—”

I was already through the door and didn’t hear the end of the threat. Whatever. Ten minutes, half hour, however long it took, I wasn’t leaving here without Daniel.

I put in some earplugs just like I always did at the shows, and continued through the club. Though I was used to bright lights and loud music, I wasn’t usually this wound up and I definitely wasn’t usually trying to find someone in all the chaos. The flickering lights fucked with my eyes, and the thumping bass smacked the insides of my skull as I searched for Daniel in the crowd.

Faces came in and out of focus. Male. Female. They all blurred together, the lights and movement making it impossible to tell one from the next. Panic simmered beneath my skin—what if I couldn’t find him? Jordan hadn’t fired me over the cab incident, but I doubted he’d be so forgiving if I came back without his best friend in tow.

The “song” blasting through the speakers changed. The new rhythm jarred me, confusing both my thoughts and my pulse. Everyone moved in time with this one, and the lights changed color, drenching people in pink and purple instead of blue and green. 

Get it together, Jase. I was used to environments like this, damn it. But being lost in this crowd and trying to find someone in it were two entirely different things. And there was that fear in the back of my mind that this wasn’t the right place. That he was in a back alley somewhere, surreptitiously swapping cash for powder. Or that he’d found some shady backwoods motel and was already wasted.

No, this was the place. It had to be. This was Daniel’s scene. Music, drugs, flashing lights, women—this was the flame for a moth like him. This was his fucking bonfire.

Shouldering my way through the crowd, I edged toward the hallway between the two bars. If any transactions went on here, they were probably—


Propped up by a wall and two barely dressed girls, his distinctive leather jacket gave him away. Places like this were too hot for jackets like that, but the huge embroidered No Rules insignia on the back got him the attention he craved as much as the dope.

Relieved that I’d found him and worried sick that I was a little too late, I worked my way toward him. He shifted his weight, and nearly collapsed, grabbing onto one of the girls and laughing hysterically. God, he was all kinds of fucked up.  He’d been high when he’d left, but now, he was an overdose waiting to happen. The sweat on his forehead gleamed in the flickering lights, and his hair was visibly damp. His gestures were big and imprecise, nearly knocking a Solo cup out of one girl’s hand.

When I finally made it through the crowd, I grabbed his arm and pried it off the brunette’s waist.

“Excuse you,” she snapped.

“It’s time for him to go.”

Daniel’s head lolled toward me, and when he looked up at me, he grinned deliriously. “Hey, Greg. You made it.” He gestured at the girls. “Tell ‘em I ain’t lying ‘bout who I am.” Definitely wasted—he didn’t even know who I was. Hell, he probably didn’t know who he was.

“Yeah, yeah.” I put my arm around his waist. “Party’s over. Let’s get out of here.”

“Hey, wait!” One of the girls glared at me. “We were talking to him.”

“Hope you enjoyed it,” I grumbled. “Come on, let’s go.”

Daniel slumped against me. He tried feebly to fight me, but I was stronger than him even when he wasn’t fucked up.

The other girl staggered a little and grabbed her friend for balance. “So is it true he’s Daniel Barrett? Do you know Jordan Kane?”

“No.” I adjusted Daniel’s arm around my shoulders. “He’s just too fucked up to know who he is.”

They both pouted and sauntered back into the crowd.

“You sumbitch.” He tried and failed to push me off him. “I was going to—”

The music drowned him out, and I wasn’t listening to him anyway. Whatever he said, it was the drugs talking, and I didn’t want to hear it, so I just focused on dragging his ass through the thick crowd toward the front door.

Outside, ignoring both him and the bouncer—who insisted I’d overstayed my ten minutes—I hauled Daniel down the road to one of the main thoroughfares.  There, I flagged down a cab and dumped him unceremoniously into the backseat. He mumbled something and tried to fight me, but he was high and I had a good thirty pounds on him, so he didn’t win.

I directed the driver to the hotel as I took out my phone. The driver muttered an affirmative and pulled into the road.

I texted Jordan: On our way back.

Hopefully that was enough to calm him down. Though once he saw Daniel, he’d probably flip out again. Couldn’t say I blamed him. A musician’s career was precarious enough without a junkie on board. People had been after Jordan for years to quietly replace Daniel and move on, but he refused. The band was Daniel’s life just like it was Jordan’s, and he wasn’t going to take that from him.  At this rate, he might strangle him, though…

My phone buzzed.

How is he?

Daniel slurred something I didn’t understand, and slumped against the door. His breathing was still fairly even, though he was delirious and sweating profusely. He looked a little pale too.

“Hey, man,” the cabbie said. “He okay?”

I nodded, eyes still fixed on Daniel. “He’ll be fine. Just needs to sleep it off.” I hope. With anyone else, I’d have gone straight to the hospital just to be sure.

I finally messaged Jordan back, High as a kite, but I think he’s okay. After a moment, I added, Should I take him to get checked out?

My phone stayed silent for almost a minute. Then, Is he lucid?

I looked at Daniel. His eyes were open, if a bit glassy, and he stared out the window. “Hey, Daniel.” When he turned his head toward me, I said, “How’re you feeling?”

His glassy-eyed gaze turned into a glare. Facing out the window again, he muttered, “Fuck you.”

He’s lucid, I wrote back. Sort of.

Bring him home. I’ll have Milo keep an eye on him.

Will do.

As the cab took us from the shitty part of town to a slightly safer-looking area, I relaxed a little more about Daniel’s condition. The less I had to worry about him, the more my thoughts drifted back to the moment before Jordan’s phone had come to life and killed the mood.

We’d stayed rigidly professional prior to tonight. I was the bodyguard, he was the client, and that was that, no matter how much I’d admired him as a musician and lusted after him as a man prior to getting this gig. I had no idea what I’d been thinking tonight. Maybe I was just relieved he hadn’t lost his shit over the bar mix-up, or maybe I’d just let myself get carried away because I was suddenly behind closed doors with him even though it was hardly the first time we’d been alone like that. Or I thought I might have a shot since it wasn’t exactly below Jordan to sleep with men on his payroll. Some might’ve even called it a habit. One that didn’t usually bode well for continued employment by his paramours.

Fuck if I knew what had possessed me to do it.

But I’d made a move, and then…

Jesus Christ.

Did Jordan Kane really try to kiss me? Really?

And how far would it have gone if his phone hadn’t suddenly interrupted us?

If the rumors about Jordan were true, we’d have gone far. Insanely far. The odd ex-lover had made comments alluding to the man being insatiable and incredibly kinky. They said he liked pain. An ex-girlfriend of his had spilled to a tabloid that he liked having her choke him in bed. Not just a little roughness involving a hand on the throat either—he wanted to be choked until he blacked out. She claimed it freaked her out, but she’d also stayed with him for two and a half years, and from what she said, this had started early in their relationship.

If it freaked you out that much, sweetheart, I don’t think you’d have stuck around.

Much as it creeped me out that the gossip rags insisted on publishing that kind of thing about people, I couldn’t deny I’d been intrigued by that article. By what it might be like to be the one with my hands around Jordan’s neck. Even now, I couldn’t help closing my fingers into tight fists just thinking about that. I’d been hot for Jordan for years, long before I’d met him or started working for him, and knowing he was as kinky as I was drove me insane.

God, I could only imagine what we’d have been doing right then if I hadn’t had to dart out into the night and chase down…

My gaze slid toward Daniel.

Oblivious to me or my you cock-blocking son of a bitch thoughts, he murmured something, but then he was quiet. His eyes were closed, and he still slumped against the door, face pressed against the glass. Whatever he was on, he must’ve been coming down off the high. At least he wouldn’t fight me once we got back to the hotel.

The hotel, which was now in sight.

I texted Jordan: Just getting to the hotel. Be there shortly.

The cabbie stopped, and after I’d paid him—thank God he took plastic—I dragged Daniel out onto the pavement. He wasn’t fighting me, fortunately, but his legs were almost useless. Arm slung over my shoulders, the man was dead weight against my side as I led him into the lobby.

The desk clerk did a double take, eyes wide. “Is he all right? Do you—”

“He’s fine.” I forced a smile. “Just partied too hard. He’ll feel like shit in the morning, but he’ll be fine.” I hope.

She relaxed a little, but still watched us with a concerned expression as we headed toward the elevator.

Inside the elevator, I pressed Daniel against the wall with my hip so he wouldn’t fall, and dug the card key out of my pocket. I put it into the reader, and when the light turned green, pressed the button for the penthouse.

As the elevator lurched upward, I pocketed the key and adjusted Daniel for the twelfth time so he’d stay upright.

Jordan was waiting when the elevator doors opened. Given that legendary temper—he wasn’t quite a diva, but definitely a force to be reckoned with when someone crossed him—I fully expected him to rip into Daniel the second he saw us.

He didn’t, though.

He stood off to the side, arms folded loosely over his T-shirt, expression blank as he watched Milo and me escort—more like drag—Daniel to their suite.

Once we were through the door, Milo took over, letting Daniel hang on him. Unlike me, Milo was quite a bit smaller than the drugged-up guitarist, and struggled under his weight, but before I could step in and help again, he managed to get Daniel to the huge sofa. With a groan—whose, I had no idea—they both dropped onto the cushions.

Milo stood, straightening his shirt while Daniel melted across the couch.

“Is he going to be okay?” I asked.

“He’ll be fine.” Jordan glanced at me, but then returned his gaze to his semiconscious friend. “As long as he doesn’t try to get out and score another hit, he’ll just sleep it off and be fine tomorrow.”

“I’ll keep an eye on him,” Milo said to Jordan. “He’s not going anywhere.”

Jordan nodded, gaze still fixed on Daniel. “I don’t think he’s going anywhere any time soon. But, yeah, don’t let him out of your sight.” He made a tired, almost dismissive gesture at his wasted friend. “He can come out of that and be ready to go again in no time flat.”

Milo sighed. “Believe me, I know.”

I glanced back and forth between them as they silently watched Daniel. I had more experience with junkies than I cared to think about, and knew all too well what it felt like to be as exhausted as Milo and Jordan looked.

To Milo, Jordan said, “If you need a hand with him, you know where to find me.”

“I’ll manage.” Milo was looking at Daniel. “Now that he’s had his fix, he’ll probably just sleep.”

“Yeah, probably.”

Milo turned to Jordan. “Get some sleep, man. I’ve got this.”

Any other night, I’d have expected Jordan to insist on sticking around, but his shoulders and eyelids seemed to get heavier by the second. Nodding, he said, “All right. Call or bang on the door if you need something.”

“Will do.”

Jordan and I left the suite and stepped out into the hall. On his way across to his own suite, he released a long breath. Just pulling the card key out of his pocket seemed to take everything he had. The man had been nothing but barely contained energy earlier, but now he looked like he was ready to collapse under his own weight.

At the door, he faced me. “Thank you, Jase. I don’t know how the hell you found him, but…”

“Don’t worry about it.” I cleared my throat. “Anyway, I should let you sleep. I’ll, uh”—I gestured at the elevator—“head down to my room.”

“You don’t have to leave.” He came closer. “I was, um, kind of hoping you’d stay, actually.”

That kiss seemed like it had happened years ago instead of earlier this evening, but now it felt fresh on my lips, tingling like he’d just pulled back.

I gulped. “Even after, uh…” I waved a hand toward Milo and Daniel’s room.

Jordan exhaled. “Especially after all that.”

And before I could form another coherent thought, he kissed me.


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