Three of Hearts
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Haylee Tremayne is tired of the road. The concert tour for Three of Hearts was a success, but she’s confused by the inexplicable tension between her bandmates, Ben and Lucas. She’s also ready to go home to her boyfriend in Nashville. Time off would probably help everyone relax, even if it is Christmas, a season with too many bad memories.
But right before their last concert, Haylee discovers she’s been dumped for a sexy girly-girl. Story of her life: all guys see is tomboy Haylee. At the after-concert party, she drowns her sorrows and—desperate to feel feminine for once in her life—asks Ben and Lucas for a threesome. And it’s just as sexy and fun as she hoped.
Back in Nashville, Ben and Lucas prove again and again that their first night wasn’t a mistake. But the tension between them is still high, and on Christmas Eve, their ménage takes a stunning turn. When it all falls apart, Haylee is terrified that their crazy relationship might cost them the band, their success, and worst of all, each other.
Twenty percent of all proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the It Gets Better Project.
The It Gets Better Project’s mission is to communicate to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth around the world that it gets better, and to create and inspire the changes needed to make it better for them. Visit their website for more information and to find out how you can get involved: http://itgetsbetter.org/pages/about-it-gets-better-project.
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Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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Waited all my life, wanted so much more . . .
It should have been a good day.
It was our last night on the road before heading home to Nashville for Christmas, the last stop on our sold-out concert tour opening for country music star Clayton Walker. I wasn’t looking forward to Christmas—I hated Christmas—but I was looking forward to seeing my boyfriend Doug after being away for so long touring. Doug and I had been seeing each other for about six months, and I kind of missed him. Also, my Three of Hearts bandmates Ben and Lucas weren’t getting along lately. Not fighting, but I sensed a tension between them at times that bothered me. Probably they were as tired of traveling as I was. So going home was good.
But instead of having a great day, I was in my hotel room, frozen in my chair in front of my computer, staring at pictures of my boyfriend with another woman.
I’d sat down just before our concert for a quick check of email, Twitter, and Facebook, ready to message Doug something cute about seeing him tomorrow. One glance at my Facebook timeline had my lungs seizing up. I gaped at pictures of Doug with Cheyenne Ranger, a runner-up on American Idol a few years ago who was now super popular. And super sexy, with the whitest smile and prettiest dimples, long golden-blonde curls, and what I was pretty sure were recent breast implants.
I wasn’t the most confident person about my looks, but I knew I didn’t need implants.
The photographs showed Cheyenne and Doug at a club with her on his lap, their arms around each other, kissing.
As I stared at the images with horrified fascination, my stomach took a dive and my heart started sledgehammering in my chest. I couldn’t help but read the editorial that went with the pictures.
“Doug,” I whispered. “How could you?”
I closed my eyes and slumped back in my chair.
My stomach rolled over, and I flattened my palm on my abdomen, willing away the nausea. Useless thoughts spun through my mind, like . . . maybe it wasn’t what it looked like. Photographers were good at getting shots that seemed incriminating but really weren’t. I’d been a victim of it myself. There was the time I’d gone out to Starbucks with no makeup and ended up on the Country Tunes website looking like a hag with big circles under my eyes. And the time I was wearing a big yellow Predators hoodie, and the photograph had made me look like I weighed two hundred pounds, and rumors started about how much weight I’d gained.
I cracked open my eyes and started scrolling and clicking around the internet. There were more photos and stories about them now being a couple. Doug being a professional hockey player and Cheyenne a rising country music star made them a popular item. There they were, smiling and gazing into each other’s eyes. In another photo, he had his arm wrapped around her shoulders and his lips pressed to her temple. Fuck. That one really got to me because it looked so intimate . . . like he really cared about her. It must be true.
My heart constricted, and my eyes stung.
The knock at the door made me jump, but then I closed my eyes and slumped into the chair again. It was either Ben or Lucas or maybe both of them, ready to head to the concert venue.
Hobbling Christ on a crutch, I didn’t want to face them, and I did not want to go and face the rest of the world. Jesus, there were going to be fifteen thousand people at the Tyson Events Center, and all of them would have seen my very public betrayal.
“Haylee!” Lucas called from the other side of the door. “Move your ass! We need to get out of here.”
Ben and Lucas were my best friends. My family really, since my own family was fucked up and far away. I swallowed as I pushed back my chair and stumbled to the door of my room.
I turned away as Ben entered, followed by Lucas, trying to get control of my emotions. Tears had slipped out and my nose was already running. Since I was not a cute little girly girl with dimples, I was not pretty when I cried. Luckily, I didn’t cry often. My life hadn’t always been easy, but that had taught me the importance of always keeping a happy, smiling face in place no matter how bad things got.
“Aren’t you ready?” Lucas demanded. “C’mon, Haylee.”
“What’re you doing, straightening your hair or something?” Ben liked to tease me about the time our manager was trying to get me to spend on my appearance.
I swiped my index finger back and forth beneath my nose. “I’m ready.” My voice came out all thick. I headed back to my laptop on the desk to close it down.
“What’s wrong?” Trust Ben to be the one to pick up on my mood. Although Lucas might notice something was wrong, he’d ignore it if it even hinted at some kind of display of emotion he would rather not see.
I was tempted to answer nothing, which would be so completely female and so completely untrue, but it also was completely not me—and the guys were going to have to know what was going on at some point, because I was actually not sure if I was going to be able to perform that night. It hurt when I swallowed, but I managed to loosen my throat enough to speak. Even so, my voice shook as I gestured at the image on my laptop screen. “Check out what Doug’s been doing while I’ve been on tour.”
Lucas and Ben moved to the desk and bent their heads to study the computer.
Ben was the first to comment. “Fuck.”
“Jesus Christ.” Lucas leaned closer, gaping at the photo. “Who is that . . . Is that Cheyenne Ranger?”
“Yes.” I twisted my fingers together and dug deep for a smile. “Don’t they make a cute couple?”
Lucas’s head whipped around to look at me. “Shit, Haylee, is that for real?”
I shrugged. “It appears to be. There are other pictures. They were having a nice evening at Silver Spurs last night after the game. Which she apparently was at, cheering him on.”
Lucas closed his eyes briefly, but stepped toward me and wrapped me up in a hug, growling into my neck. “What an unbelievable douche bag he is.”
I slid my arms around his waist and pressed my face to his chest. His hug was so warm and solid. My throat closed up again, and I squeezed my eyes shut. As I dragged in a shuddering breath through my nose, the scent of Lucas’s shirt and skin filled my head, comforting and familiar—spicy masculine shower gel and the clean detergent scent of his T-shirt. His arms were strong, his chest hard beneath my cheek. Thank god I had him and Ben.
I have girlfriends back in Nashville, Georgie and Amy, but they don’t get me like Ben and Lucas do. When you spend as much time together as we do—on the road, writing songs together, in the recording studio, even sharing a house—you get to know one another pretty well, and Lucas and Ben probably knew the real me better than anyone in the world.
Lucas stroked my hair. “Asshole,” he muttered. “I’m gonna kick his ass next time I see him.” This was his version of sympathy: a hug and a threat to kick Doug’s ass.
I couldn’t help the smile that tugged my lips. “He’s six foot four, two hundred thirty pounds.” Lucas knew this, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to remind him. “He beats people up for a living.”
That wasn’t true; Doug was a tough player but not a goon. But I had seen him fight a couple of times, which had alarmed me to no end, and he was definitely good at it.
“True. But I can take him.”
I lifted my head to look up at him. His scowl was ferocious, and Doug might have a few inches and pounds on him, but Lucas was tall and built too. But I’d still be worried Lucas would get pounded. “No you can’t.”
“Hey!” He directed his displeasure at me, but his eyes were soft. “I’m offended by your lack of confidence in my fighting skills.”
I gave him a shaky smile and drew back from him. “Thank you,” I whispered.
Ben was right behind me. “You okay, Haylee?”
I turned to face him. His eyebrows sloped downward and the corners of his mouth were tight. I could tell he was feeling my pain. Ben was more sensitive and emotional than Lucas. His reaction wouldn’t be to punch Doug—which was a good thing, given that he was just under six feet tall, and leaner than Lucas—but I could see his concern.
“Not really.” My lips trembled. “It’s all over the internet! How am I supposed to get up on stage tonight in front of all those people after being humiliated like that?”
They each gave me a bleak look. I loved them, but hey, they weren’t always the best at dealing with tears and emotional females. Ben was better at it than Lucas, but his moods vacillated more and sometimes he ended up all broody too. I’m not usually a temperamental female, but in all honesty, I get wicked PMS about every third month and they still get fidgety about it. Not that I had PMS just then. But getting dumped so publicly and so . . . treacherously was enough to make even me tear up. It really did hurt.
Lucas finally came up with, “You can do it.” He pulled me in for another hug.
“This sucks, Haylee,” Ben said in his quiet way. “He’s a dickhead. Forget about him. He’s not worth it. We got your back, sweetheart.”
My heart expanded hard against my breastbone at their staunch support. I moved away from Lucas, dropped back into the chair at the desk, and slumped down. Ben and Lucas exchanged concerned glances.
“Haylee. You gotta get your shit together for the concert.” Lucas’s golden eyebrows drew together. I knew he was concerned, but as always, he was also focused on the goal.
“I know. I will. I’m fine.”
“Did you really care that much about him?” Ben leaned on the desk near me.
“Well, sure.” I thought about that for a second. “Of course I did. He’s . . . I mean, I thought he was a great guy.” I made a face, then sighed. “It figures he’d go for someone like Cheyenne.”
Once again I caught their exchange of eye contact. “Why’s that, babe?” Lucas asked.
My head jerked back a little at such a stupid question. “Because she’s gorgeous,” I said. “Blonde and pretty and sexy.”
“So are you.” This from Ben.
I snorted. “Riiiight.” It was sweet of him to say, though.
“You’re blonde,” Lucas pointed out. My eyebrows flew up, and he realized how that had sounded. “And pretty and sexy,” he added hastily. Then he muttered, “Fuck.”
“No, I’m not.” They both opened their mouths, and I held up a hand. “Don’t even say it. You know I’m not. And the only reason I’m blonde is thanks to Salon Giorgio.” My hair had been blonde when I was a little girl, especially in summers when I practically lived outside, but over the years it had darkened to mousy brown. Our manager, Brandon, had sent me to Salon Giorgio earlier in the year for a makeover, and now every six to eight weeks I had to endure a couple of hours in a chair looking like a space alien with my hair all wrapped up in tin foil. “Cheyenne Ranger probably looks like that every day of her life.” I threw my hand out toward the picture on my computer screen. “Even when she gets out of bed in the morning.” And then thinking about her getting out of bed with Doug made my heart hurt again.
Ben snorted. “Okay, she’s cute and sexy, but come on. It takes major effort to look like that.”
“Not to mention surgery,” Lucas added, no doubt alluding to the suspected implants.
I grinned. “I love you guys.”
“Look.” Ben dropped to a crouch in front of me and grabbed my hands. “You’re gorgeous and talented. Doug’s a dumb fuck. We need you on that stage tonight focused on the music. Are you gonna be able to do that?”
I pressed my lips together. “Of course I can.” I wasn’t as confident as my words sounded but there was no way in hell I’d let the guys down.
“You’re a professional,” Lucas added. “You’ll be fine.”
I nodded. I was a professional. But my chest was aching, my stomach was churning, and my throat was tightening up again; only a whisper came out when I spoke. “Shit. That asswipe.”
“Channel it into your music.” Ben’s eyes met mine. “You can put all that emotion into the songs. It’s a great way to let it out.”
I smiled and squeezed his hands. “Thanks. I’ll try.” I lifted my chin and straightened my shoulders, then snapped the lid of my laptop down forcefully as if shutting Doug Brandt out of my life.
It was good advice. Because as we say in the biz, the show must go on.
I shouldn’t want these things,
Especially from you . . .
I took Ben’s advice and put everything I had into our music. The disappointment and humiliation and even anger all came out. These were emotions I’d experienced before. I had to fight the rush of memories these feelings brought back: memories of that horrendous Christmas when I’d been seventeen and feeling like this on stage. Only this time I wasn’t alone, like I’d felt back then. Now I had Lucas and Ben.
Lucas and I sang to each other on stage with a passion and intensity I don’t think we’d ever had, and the crowd loved it. When we sang “All of You,” staring into each other’s eyes, full of angst and yearning, the audience hushed and then exploded. I needed a moment after that song, and Lucas had to improvise with the crowd as I composed myself.
I wanted to kill out there. The short, skintight, gold-sequined dress was the sexiest one I owned. I’d let the makeup artist polish my arms and legs, and I was wearing gold satin platform pumps with five-inch heels. I owned those shoes and how powerful they made me feel, strutting and planting my feet as I sang into the mike. I shook my hair back, let my entire body get into the music, and laid it all down there on the stage.
I knew it was ridiculous—that Doug wasn’t there and would never see the concert—but I wanted to show him what he was missing. And somehow, because of those old memories, I was also showing my dad who I’d become.
I love performing. Seriously, all that attention on me just makes me come alive. Most of the time, I’m energized by it. It’s what I live for: entertaining, pleasing a crowd, singing. But tonight, by the time we’d finished our second encore and left the stage, I was exhausted and filled with a whole storm of emotions I had a hard time sorting out. All I wanted to do was go back to my hotel room and curl into the fetal position in my bed for about a year.
But somehow Lucas and Ben pushed me along once we returned to the hotel, and there we were at the after-party in Clayton’s suite. It was packed with people—some music biz people, our agent, our manager, our producer, Clayton’s people, and a whole lot of groupie girls. Jason Aldean’s “My Kinda Party” played loudly enough that hotel security had probably needed a bribe to ignore it.
Lucas and Ben filled plates from the extravagant buffet set up in the suite, handed me one, and proceeded to devour meatballs, shrimp, and smoked salmon. I picked at a few things, not really hungry, but guzzled down glass after glass of champagne. Beer was usually my drink of choice, but the champagne tasted pretty damn good and was giving me a pleasant buzz.
I became aware that the music playing in the background had changed to Rascal Flatts’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Blergh. My skin crawled and my stomach twisted into knots at the familiar yet dreaded Christmas song. Now I really didn’t feel like eating.
“Are you gonna eat that?” Ben pointed at an untouched skewer of chicken on my plate.
“Nah.” I offered him the plate.
“Shut the fuck up.” Lucas elbowed in between us to snag the skewer. “I want it.”
“You just ate ten of those!” Ben tried to grab it back. “And there are more on the table.”
“Suck my dick.” Lucas gave him the look, the one he was so good at: one corner of his mouth lifted and the opposite eyebrow raised. It was super sexy and wicked, and he was famous for it.
“In your dreams,” Ben said.
“Yeah right. As if I’m that desperate.”
Which was undoubtedly true. Both guys had girls following them around constantly. Groupies lined up at the front of the stage, trying to get their attention. In fact, there were lots here at the party giving them the eye. I sighed. “I’ll go get you more.”
“No.” Ben stopped me. “Lucas is just being an asshole.”
This banter went on all the time between Lucas and Ben. And me, when I was on my game. But tonight, I’d noticed an edge to it.
“I need another drink.” I moved to the bar that had been set up on a table. The suite was luxurious―well, as luxurious as you could get in Sioux City, Iowa. Far nicer than my room, anyway. I surveyed the selections. I was feeling the effects of all the champagne, and another glass probably wouldn’t be smart. Another drink period probably wasn’t smart, but I was also not in a mood to be smart. I was exhausted and sad and kinda . . . pissy.
I went for a beer. My feet were killing me in my heels, so I turned and tried not to limp as I carried my beer over to a couch. I sat, tugging my short dress down on my thighs, now not so comfortable showing that much. On stage I was finally learning not to constantly do that—it just drew attention to my awkwardness in such girly clothing. But now, I couldn’t stop myself from adjusting the drapey neckline, checking my cleavage, and pulling on the hem.
I grew up in Grand Forks, North Dakota, a tomboy who played baseball and basketball, loved fishing and ATVing. I’d read the press about my lack of style. My voice has been described as raw and sexy, but on stage, my jeans and baggy shirts and boots were decidedly unsexy. Brandon had been working with me to try to glam up my image, and I hated it and all the memories it brought back from when I was a kid. I felt like a fraud in short, sparkly dresses, and at first I’d teetered dangerously around the stage on platform heels. But I did it for my bandmates Lucas and Ben because I loved them and we all wanted to succeed at this.
I stretched my legs out straight to admire the shoes. Damn. My legs did look pretty good, the shine on them making them appear way more feminine than I’d always thought they were with the muscles I had from playing baseball and basketball.
Brandon sat beside me. “Hey, Haylee. Great concert.”
He started going on about the crowd reaction, especially to “All of You” and one of our new songs, “Treasure.” I hadn’t said anything to him about Doug, and I guessed he didn’t know or didn’t care—and why would he? I mean, I knew he cared about us, but for him, this was all business.
I watched Lucas across the room, now talking to two girls—one with long, curly dark hair hanging down her back, the other with perfectly straight auburn hair, both slender and glamorous in tight jeans, stiletto heels, and skimpy tops. The groupies had made their move.
My gaze wandered around, searching for Ben, and found him in a similar situation, only with just one girl, a Heidi Klum look-alike. A guy had once told me I reminded him of Heidi Klum, and I’d laughed so hard I’d pulled a muscle. Ben was listening to Heidi talk, but when I followed his gaze across the room . . . he was watching Lucas. Huh.
As always, they were the center of female attention at any gathering, and I was sitting alone on the couch with Brandon, who was probably going to tell me that I needed to get my eyebrows waxed or collagen injections in my lips.
“I need another drink,” I stated when I could get a word in. I gave him a bright smile as I rose to my feet. “Will you excuse me?”
Of course he agreed, and I made my way back to the bar. I grabbed another beer from a silver tub of ice, cracked it open, and drank straight from the bottle. Crisp and cold, the liquid bubbled down my throat. I resisted the urge to swipe the back of my hand across my mouth when I lowered the bottle. But as I turned, I caught Ben’s eye. He was watching me, lips quirked.
I gave him a crooked smile and lifted my bottle in a wry toast. Perhaps my guzzling half the bottle at once amused him. I’d impressed the guys early into our acquaintanceship with my beer-chugging skills—learned, I’m sad to say, in high school.
Ben grinned and turned back to the tall blonde, who’d set her hand on his arm and said something to him.
I wandered up to our drummer, Tim, who was talking to some of Clayton’s back-up band, and they easily shifted to include me in the conversation. I didn’t feel like talking, but they were having a good laugh about a screw up that happened during Clayton’s concert, that he’d handled like the experienced professional he was.
Some movement near the door caught my attention, and I looked over to see Lucas and the two girls leaving together.
I pursed my lips and suppressed a sigh. He was such a dawg. This wouldn’t be his first threesome. I also knew he and Ben had had threesomes together where they’d shared a girl, and, one memorable night I’d accidentally stumbled upon them in a foursome with two girls.
Neither of them had had a long-term relationship in the two years I’d known them. I suspected Ben was wary because of having had his heart broken by someone, though he’d never been forthcoming with details. Lucas just laughed when I asked him why he didn’t have a girlfriend, making some smartass comment about how no woman would put up with him for long.
It didn’t normally disturb me that they did kinky things like three-ways, but I guess because tonight I was teetering on the edge of depression, it kind of bummed me a bit. Knowing I’d go back to my room alone didn’t usually bother me because I’d think about going home to Doug, but now Doug was an asshole and I was alone.
I stared glumly down at my gold shoes.
I should just leave.
As I turned to walk out, the room spun just a teeny bit around me. Whoa. Apparently the champagne and the beers were now entering my bloodstream. Well, good. Maybe I should have one more before I left, and then I could just stumble in my high-heeled shoes and sparkly dress down to my room three floors below and pass out on my bed. I headed back toward the bar, but before I got there Ben stepped in front of me.
“Hey hon.” He narrowed his eyes a bit. “Think you’ve had enough?”
“Probably,” I said agreeably, pushing past him to get to the beer.
He took hold of my arm, and his hand was big and strong on my bare biceps. “You okay?”
I pulled out a smile. “Of course.”
“Then why’re you drinking like a frat boy on Friday night?”
I had to laugh. “Because that’s my roots, Benny.”
His lips twitched at the nickname. I was the only one who ever called him that, and he hated it. Which is pretty much why I did it. Pushing his buttons amused me.
“I know,” he said. “You ready to go?”
“I was going to have one more beer.”
“Honey, you’re about two chugs away from passed out on the floor.”
I sighed. He wasn’t wrong.
“Let’s go now.” He steered me away from the bar and toward the door. I tried to dig my stiletto heels in, but he was way bigger and stronger than me. “C’mon.”
Whatever. I’d been ready to leave anyway and didn’t want to make a big scene. It was the last night of a successful tour, everyone was happy, and I sure didn’t want to blow another opportunity to go on the road with someone like Clayton Walker.
Ben glanced back to the suite as we stepped into the hall. “Where’s Lucas?”
“He left a few minutes ago with two hot chicks.”
His mouth tightened, and his eyebrows lowered.
I held my hand out to the wall, trailing my fingers along it for balance as we walked. “D’you wish you were with them?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“Jesus, Haylee.” He pulled his cell phone out as we walked—he walked, I staggered—down the plush carpet of the hall. He let go of me long enough to thumb in a text message and then we were standing—he stood, I wavered—in front of the elevator.
After he pressed the down button, I leaned against him, laying my head on his chest, and sighed. “Oh Benny . . . I love you.”
His body tensed, so briefly I might have imagined it, and then he kissed the top of my head. “Love you too, hon. Let’s get you down to your room.”
The elevator doors slid open, and we stepped in. Once in the elevator, I slid my arms around his waist and snuggled into him. He felt so good, big and warm and strong, and he smelled good too; his arms coming around me comforted me. “I’m sorry,” I mumbled to his chest. “Maybe I did drink a little too much.”
“I’ve seen you worse.”
Yeah, he had. I twisted my mouth up at that, preferring not to be reminded that he’d seen me at my worshipping-the-porcelain-altar worst.
Don’t think I’m a lush or an alcoholic or anything. I grew up with an alcoholic father and hated it. I also know I don’t have that kind of relationship with booze. But there’d been a few nights of hard partying with the guys since we’d gotten together. It kind of went with the territory, and I was determined that no guy would drink me under the table. In the two years we’d been together, I’d been puking drunk once. But Ben had seen it.
And amazingly, he still loved me.
As a friend. That’s what all that love talk meant. We were friends. Partners. Him and Lucas and me.
And I was having a bad night, that was all.
The elevator door opened. Ben guided me out into the hall, and I blinked to see Lucas leaning against the wall outside my room, arms crossed.
“How’d you get here?” I frowned at him. “I thought you were off somewhere having a threesome.”
He straightened. “Not tonight. Where’s your key?”
I dug in my purse and found it; Lucas plucked it from my fingers and pushed it into the slot. I laughed.
They both looked at me.
“What?” I walked past them into my room. I tried to strut, but my feet were seriously killing me in those fucking heels.
Ben closed the door behind us. “What’s so funny?”
Lucas flicked on a lamp, and I threw myself into a chair and lifted a foot to take off the strappy platform shoes. “You pushed the key into the slot,” I mumbled. Okay, maybe it wasn’t as dirty as it had sounded in my head.
“Here hon, let me help you.” Ben went to his knees on the carpet in front of me, and something inside me went all warm and soft as he held my foot and unbuckled the tiny strap. I just stared at him as he concentrated, setting the shoe aside, lowering my foot, and picking up the other one. And his fingers on my ankle suddenly made me tingle.
His fingertips were rough from playing guitar and fiddle. The gentle abrasion made all my nerve endings quiver. Then he held my foot, my heel in his palm, his other hand stroking over my instep, and a shudder worked its way over my entire body.
“Feet hurt?” he murmured.
I could only nod, my mouth suddenly dry. I complained vociferously about wearing high-heeled shoes, which was why he’d asked. But I no longer felt any pain from my feet, only heat and . . . tremors.
Ben stood and moved away, and I set my bare feet on the soft carpet, blinking. I clutched the armrests of the chair.
Lucas had turned on the TV and settled onto the bed with pillows tucked behind him. I turned my attention to him. “What are you doing?”
“Just seeing what’s on TV.”
I pursed my lips. “You guys don’t have to stay with me. I’m fine.”
They both lifted their big shoulders, Ben taking a seat in another chair, watching the TV too. “We can stay for a while,” he said. “Wanna make sure you’re okay.”
“I said I’m fine.” I stood, proud of my perfect balance now that I no longer had to deal with spindly heels.
I gave a small huff and set my hands on my hips.
“Give me the remote,” Ben ordered Lucas.
“Like hell.” Lucas kept it firmly in his hand, surfing through the available channels.
Ben frowned and crossed his arms. “For fuck’s sake. How can you find something to watch when you go that fast?”
Lucas gave Ben a brief narrow-eyed look, then ignored him.
I bit my lip. There was that edge again. This wasn’t the first time they’d argued over the remote or what to watch, but tonight it felt . . . tense.
Whatever. They wanted to stay and watch TV and argue over the remote, fine. I rolled my eyes and headed to the bathroom. I stood in front of the wall of mirrors, hands on the edge of the marble counter, and lifted my chin. I wasn’t really that drunk. Maybe it wasn’t something to be proud of, but I could hold my liquor.
My face still looked unfamiliar with all the makeup I had to wear for performances. At first, I’d felt like I had a mask on all the time. Now I was getting used to the feel of it. I tipped my head. My flat-ironed, highlighted hair fell forward over my shoulder. I saw flawless skin, smoky eyes, shiny lips.
I closed my eyes, assailed by a fresh wash of sadness at Doug’s perfidy.
I’d never been exactly sure what Doug Brandt had seen in me. He was a professional hockey player with the Nashville Predators—a talented athlete, a multimillionaire, good-looking (yes, he had all his own teeth) with a killer body. Whereas I was . . . nobody.
Well, not exactly nobody. Three of Hearts was doing well. Last year we’d released our debut album, and our lead-off single “All of You” had peaked at number two on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs. We’d won a Grammy for Best New Artist and were nominated for a few CMT Music Awards. Just before this tour we’d released our second album Pictures on Silence and the concert tour had been sold out in every city. So I wasn’t nobody, but I didn’t know if the day would ever come when I’d feel like . . . somebody.
I kept thinking about Cheyenne, how perfect and beautiful she was. No wonder Doug had dumped me. He wasn’t the first guy this had happened with. Guys always saw me as one of them—a sister, a buddy. Chugging beer and playing basketball and belching out loud. I’d always had lots of guy friends, and they liked me, but they stared at and drooled over the other girls, the ones in skirts and makeup and curls, like the girls who’d been up in Clayton’s suite, all easy in their glam gorgeousness.
I walked back out of the bathroom. Lucas and Ben were both on the bed: Lucas now on his stomach, head at the foot of the bed, and Ben reclining on the pillows.
The bed was king-size, but two big men took up a lot of room. I stood there, hands on my hips, eyebrows raised. “What are you watching?”
They looked up at me and for a moment I felt . . . studied. Their gazes tracked up and down my body, from my bare feet and legs to my tight dress and back down. My immediate response was to snap something like, “Take a picture, it’ll last longer” or “Put your eyes back in your damn heads, it’s me, for god’s sake.” But for some reason, the words didn’t come out, and I felt a tingly sensation all through my body. Appallingly, my nipples tingled most of all, contracting into hard points. Oops. I didn’t have a bra on, and I wasn’t sure if they could see my nipples through the sequined dress.
They’d seen me dressed like this a hundred times. A thousand. Whatever.
“Walk the Line. Come watch with us.” Ben patted the mattress beside him, between him and Lucas. Johnny Cash. I loved that movie. I crawled up between them.
But I wasn’t comfortable. The short skirt rode high on my thighs. I tried to ignore it, but they kept glancing at my legs. At me. My nerves twitched. The air thickened. Awareness vibrated around me.
My forehead tightened as I tried to focus on the television, tried to relax in my bed.
Ben slouched lower on the pillows and slipped his arm behind my shoulders. “Don’t be sad. That asshole isn’t worth it.”
“I’m okay.” My voice came out small.
Ben gave a soft laugh and hugged me tighter. “That’s what you always say.”
“But I always am okay. Right?” I tipped my head to look up at him.
“Yeah. You always are, sweetheart.”
“I just . . .” I couldn’t even go there, and say what I was so afraid of.
“What, babe?” Lucas muted the TV, rolled to his side, and turned to face us, elbow on the mattress, hand supporting his head.
I lowered my gaze to my hands clasped on my stomach and expelled a hard breath. “Nothing.” I narrowed my gaze at Lucas. “Why aren’t you with those girls?”
I sensed Ben’s body tensing at my question.
Lucas shrugged. “Not tonight.”
“Did Ben ask you to come here?”
Lucas smiled. “Yeah.”
“You didn’t have to do that.”
“You’re hurting. Of course I’m here for you. Not gonna leave you alone at a time like this.”
My chest ached. “Thank you,” I whispered. Trust Ben to be the one who took care of me. Not that Lucas didn’t. He just wasn’t as sensitive as Ben. He could come across as unemotional, but I knew Lucas did have feelings under that take-charge exterior. Unfamiliar tears once again prickled at the corners of my eyes, and I squeezed them shut briefly. “You know what? I don’t really care that much about Doug. I just feel like such a big loser.”
Ben gasped. “You are not a loser.”
“Shut the fuck up.” Lucas pushed up to sitting. Again, his way of comforting me didn’t exactly ooze tenderness. But I knew without a doubt he was sincere.
“Haylee.” Ben tipped my chin up so our eyes met. “Tonight on that stage—you were fucking on fire, you were so hot.”
I blinked at him.
“Didn’t you feel it?” Lucas asked. “You were so into the music. Putting everything you had into it . . .”
“It’s true.” Ben shifted closer as he affirmed what Lucas had said. “I could feel it. There wasn’t a person in the audience who could take their eyes off you.” He hesitated, the corners of his eyes tightening ever so slightly, his mouth lifting at one corner. “You two looked smokin’ hot together.”
He was in a better position to judge, being our back-up vocalist. I’d been so swept up in the emotion, I’d barely been aware there were people watching until the applause had exploded.
Ben lifted some hair away from my face and tucked it behind my ear. “You’re gorgeous. Mesmerizing. Sexy as fucking hell. It wasn’t only the audience who couldn’t take their eyes off you.”
I stared into Ben’s eyes, and something shifted in them and inside me.
[P]acked with heat...a fun and erotic read.
[A] great story about friends becoming lovers...likable characters and a well-written story.
I read it in one sitting and…did I mention the sex is hot as hell? ...Highly recommend.
A heartwarming (and steamy) holiday story that was a wonderful read.
[J]ust something about it that I couldn't resist.