Contemporary  Erotic Romance/73,500 words

Kings of Guardian (Book 6)

Jasmine King loved her chosen profession until she assigned as Chad Nelson’s personal security officer. The sex-fueled country superstar was either a stone cold killer or the target of a deranged psychopath. Regardless, the self-absorbed bad boy was now hers to protect, and she’d be damned if she’d fail—despite the singer’s best efforts to make things difficult.

One minute Chad Nelson the reigning king of country music and in the next, an FBI murder suspect in not one, but two murders. As if that’s not bad enough, he’s in the cross-hairs of someone who wants him dead. He’s got a front row seat to the destruction of his wildly successful and carefully constructed life. 

Jasmine and Chad are plunged into a deadly situation when the race to get him to safety reveals pursuit by not only Chad’s enemies but worse, Guardian’s. Now, positions are reversed as the country star reaches back to a military past to help free Jasmine from a bloody confrontation. Thankfully, Chad’s not the shallow performer Jasmine originally suspected, and she’ll use any advantage to protect her man as Guardian scrambles to find the killer. 


Other Books by Kris



Excerpt

Jasmine King scanned the writhing crowd from her concealed vantage point. Seventy-four thousand overheated, drunk, high, and generally obnoxious people sang, danced, chanted, and pumped their fists in rhythm with the beat of the blaring country music anthem. Country Music’s ‘Voice of the Century,’ Demure Magazine’s ‘America’s Sexiest Man Alive,’ and for the fifth year in a row, country music’s reigning entertainer of the year, Chad Nelson, the man, the myth, and—if you believed his press—the legend, released his unending energy into the Georgia Dome crowd. The man sang, danced, and showed his skill at playing multiple instruments all while pouring his brand of music out to his faithful followers. At one point during a ballad, he stopped singing, and the crowd’s voice lifted to fill the void in the dome. The melody of thousands of voices echoed in a surreal testament to the man’s impact on literally millions of lives. It was probably a performance to remember—if not for one minor detail. At least one of the superstar’s rabidly loyal fans was off-the-deep-end, bat-shit crazy. The question was, who in the thousands in attendance wanted Nelson dead?

Jasmine assumed Nelson’s label had hired Guardian Security when the usual type of weirdness associated with the fans of the famous singer escalated from run-of-the-mill threats to stalker-psycho insane. Someone had placed a mutilated picture of Chad with a hand-scrawled note attached to it on his tour bus. According to the message she’d received when she was diverted to take this case, two things had converged to freak out the suits that handled the superstar. First, the picture of Chad wasn’t a publicity shot. It was a candid shot taken when he wasn’t touring, although the star’s people couldn’t figure out exactly where or when it had been taken. Second, the tour bus had been locked in a secure, guarded parking area. Meaning, the person who had put the picture on the bus could be someone within his inner circle.

The headliner was currently in Atlanta performing a sold-out, three-night show that culminated his Back-2-Me tour. Jasmine King glanced at the performer briefly before she scanned the crowd—again. The musical number the band was playing was the final song of the second encore and it would be the headliner’s last, at least according to the road manager who’d briefed Guardian’s security team when they’d arrived. She’d been late to arrive at the Dome and hoped the information passed on to her from the team already in place hadn’t changed.

Jazz stood just inside the right-wing entrance to the stage. She had an unobstructed view of the performer and the crowd. Nelson’s gorgeous muscled back, sans shirt most of the last encore, glistened with sweat. In the last two hours, she’d been a firsthand witness to why promoters lauded the sexy singer as the hottest act in the nation. The background she’d hurriedly read revealed that with the exception of the rock god, Lucifer Cross, Nelson outsold all artists of any genre in music sales, downloads and concert attendance.

Her earpiece and radio were rendered useless by the deafening thrum of the amplified music and screaming crowd. She hadn’t heard a single transmission since the headliner’s performance started. She systematically scanned the crowd looking for possible threats. The ground-level stage security was in full force beneath Chad and his band. There were barriers keeping the crowd out of a cleared buffer zone in front of the stage. Venue security stood shoulder to shoulder in the area, keeping people from rushing the performer. Guardian had a small presence strategically placed in various locations. They weren’t here to control the crowd. Guardian assets were looking for a needle in a drunk, surging, swaying haystack. That was something she was going to talk to Jared about. Nothing about this detail was normal, from her last-second diversion to Atlanta, the lack of time and coordination on the venue security, to the caliber of Guardian’s high-profile private security officers who currently dotted the Dome. Two and two didn’t equal four, but she’d get to her brother and ask her questions after the job was done.

The music peaked, and pyrotechnics flamed, erupting in twenty-foot spews of sparks and smoke that dramatically ended the show. Thank God they warned us about the fireworks. Jazz purposely looked away from the flames and focused on the crowd. She glanced momentarily at an interlinked mesh of neon-yellow-clad event staff as they stopped fans from rushing the stage to get closer to the superstar. The faces smiled, screamed and looked adoringly towards the media and the fan-appointed demigod who bowed to his fanatical, surging audience.

The house lights came up, and she identified her subject just as the realization that the concert was over rippled through the crowd. He was a big, burly man with a wild mop of brown hair and a long, thick beard. He had his eyes focused on the stage like everyone else, but he wasn’t partying, laughing or reacting like the crowd around him. A quick glance toward the front of the stage confirmed that assistance from the ground-level security detail or other Guardian personal security officers was out of the question. Feral fans pushed forward in a vain attempt at getting to their idol. The Georgia Dome’s security team had their hands full, and other Guardian assets weren’t close enough to help. The deafening roar of the audience negated any chance of radio communication.

Jasmine could see both men, her charge and her target, in her peripheral vision. The performer started walking towards her at the same time the man in the crowd made his move. The front-line security didn’t see her suspect effortlessly vault the barrier near the right wing of the stage. He launched up onto the platform in two bounding steps.

Jazz moved from the shadows and bolted between the country singer and the crazed bear of a man heading his way. The performer, some of his band, and one or two stage crew stopped short as she bolted in front of him.

“Get out of here. Now!” Pushing the startled star backward, she turned on her heel. Luckily, the focused rage of the man charging the stage blinded him to all but his intended target. With the man’s size, that would be her only edge. She assessed and acted. Concentrating every ounce of athleticism she could muster—she clotheslined the bastard.

The hit to the man’s throat did absolutely nothing except spin him toward Jasmine and deflect his rage to her, which, hey, worked for her. Protect the client at all costs. Mission accomplished. The man hunched forward. His reactionary jab deflected, Jazz countered his move. She didn’t anticipate the curved hunting knife in his hand, but countless hours of training had formed muscle memory patterns. She reacted, instinctively grabbed the man’s wrist as he lunged, and used his momentum against him. The movement controlled the knife and allowed his body to go forward while she twisted his arm, swinging it behind his back. Her speed and his weight worked in her favor. He flipped forward and landed on his face. Jazz followed the man down and landed with her elbow in his kidneys. The blow would have taken out most normal men. But it didn’t faze the crazed behemoth. Whatever extreme emotion or mind-altering drug the man was flying high on kept him going and blinded him to the pain Jasmine knew she had inflicted. He threw her off and launched forward.

Jazz followed him up, positioning herself between where Nelson had been and the lunatic. She shifted to the balls of her feet. The psycho still grasped the knife in his hand and brandished it at her. He sliced using quick, unpredictable thrusts. Shifting her weight, she feigned to his left, dodging the knife as it passed her arm. Grabbing his wrist with both hands, she pulled him into her body. The knife and his arm shot past her. Jasmine once again used his momentum and her speed to pull him off balance. She stomped on the arch of his foot with all of her might, grinding her boot heel into his foot. He bellowed out an enraged cry and loosened his grip slightly as he opened his stance to try to get to her.

Jazz moved instinctively, jerking her knee up and forward with as much force as she could gather. She felt his cock and balls compressed into nothing under the impact of her blow. Though she winced in pain, Jasmine felt nothing but relief when her knee connected with his pubic bone. That dropped the son of a bitch to his knees and then to his side, where he curled into a fetal position, retching. Using her body weight to slam him forward onto his face, she ground her uninjured knee into his neck and braced her shin on his lower back while she handcuffed the beast of a man. When she released him, his body once again curled instinctively in on itself in agony.

The man wheezed a high-pitched, “Fucking cu—”

Jasmine dropped down and slammed her hand against his chin, stilling his venomous words, and hissed, “This was supposed to be an easy assignment. You have no idea the day I’ve had. Shut up and save us all some pain.” Jazz dropped her hand from the man’s face and lifted his arm about two inches. The shoulder joint hinged just at the popping point. “Give me a reason to dislocate your shoulder. Just one. That’s all I need. It has been a really bad day.”

The fucker still struggled, but she’d done her job. Her cuffs secured his meaty wrists behind his back. With each breath, his insults got louder, stronger and more inventive. Whatever, at least the bastard was in custody. Barely.

The entire confrontation had taken mere seconds. Personal security was ninety-nine percent preparation and one percent ‘oh shit’. Tonight that one percent of effort had taken everything she had to give. Jazz pulled in ragged breaths as her chest heaved. Looking down at the bear squirming on the ground, she saw a widening pool of blood on the man’s back. Her mind and body chose that moment to sync up, and she felt a sharp burn along her forearm.

A quick glance confirmed a cut on her arm dripped blood onto the man’s shirt. “Honestly? This is just what I didn’t need.” She lifted her gaze and swept the immediate area. A swarm of neon-yellow t-shirts was headed her way. It took less than twenty seconds for the stadium’s security detail, along with two Guardian personal security officers, to respond and take control of the bull of a man. Jasmine stood as they grabbed him and carried the maniac away.

Her body thrummed from the adrenaline rush that amped her system. The throb radiating from her arm drew her attention downward and she caught her first good look at the slash on her forearm.

“Awesome.” Blood dripped down through her fingers and pooled on the stage.

She raised her injured forearm higher than her heart. Holding the cut closed with her other hand, she headed away from the stage area, looking for something to stem the blood loss. At least ten roadies scurried around pulling cables and moving equipment. She wondered if they even realized their meal ticket had been in danger. Probably not. In her experience, people mimicked sheep. Most of the time they were blissfully ignorant of the wolves in their midst.

Jazz cast a quick look at the expanse of the backstage. With the house lights up everything seemed smaller. Less impressive. What would impress her would be a way to stop the slice in her arm from bleeding. Was it too much to ask for a bathroom? Where had she seen it? The map she’d burned into her mind seemed to be misfiled, because, for the life of her, she had no idea which way to turn. Lord, the non-public area of this facility could be used as a Halloween maze. The feel of blood leaving a warm trail down her arm pulled her eyes toward her injury again. Dark crimson slowly pulsed from the slice on her forearm down to her elbow and dripped onto the floor. Yep. Awesome. Jazz cast around looking for an ad hoc bandage. A few paper napkins left on a stack of chairs in the outer wing of the stage caught her attention.

She took two steps toward the chairs and yelled, “What in the hell!” Unable to keep her balance, she stumbled backward. White cloth blocked her vision for a second, then her elbow was grabbed and material wrapped around her arm. Jazz pulled back violently, dropped to the balls of her feet and crouched, ready to fight.

“Hey, hey… it’s alright. You need to apply pressure to the wound.” A man bent down slowly, cradled her arm, and tightened the material around her cut. Her medic slash attacker was quick, she’d give him that, and he wasn’t gentle.

“Ouch! Stop it! That hurts, you freaking gorilla…”

Jasmine yelled at the chest and shoulders in front of her and pushed against the solid wall of muscle that had plastered itself all up inside her personal space.

“Sorry, darlin’ but you have to get that bleeding stopped.”

Jasmine stilled instantly. She recognized that voice. She’d heard it for the last two hours. She tipped her head back and her gaze traveled up from a gorgeous chest and shoulders to the chiseled chin, high cheekbones, strong straight nose and vivid blue eyes of country superstar Chad Nelson. His black hair was wet with sweat from the physical exertion of his show. He was still standing in the wings of the stage. And that fact pissed her off.

“Didn’t I tell you to get out of here? What were you thinking other than, ‘Oh, hey! I’ll be an idiot today?’”

His famous and well-documented sexy smile made an appearance. White teeth flashed as his dimples deepened. “Well, let’s see, in the scant one minute since you pushed me backward into a stack of chairs, my band came off stage, formed a human shield around me and almost prevented me from watching you kick some serious ass. Impressive, by the way. You’ve got some moves. I saw your arm and knew you needed to stop the bleeding. I was in the Army for six years, and I know a thing or two about treating wounds. Now, we could stand here while you bleed, or we could go to my dressing room and get you some medical attention. If you haven’t noticed, blood has already soaked through my shirt.”

Jasmine dropped her eyes to her arm and grimaced at the drenched fabric. No, she hadn’t noticed until he mentioned it. But she could tell her adrenaline rush was starting to subside. The dull throb of her heartbeat in her forearm and the ache from the wound were becoming pronounced. She took a deep breath, counted to five and exhaled. This day just wouldn’t end.

She shook her head, turned to look down the black-painted hallways behind the stage, and sighed. “This probably needs stitches. My people are busy with your psycho stalker. Event security is busy with your rabid fans. I need to call in and get a ride to the emergency room.” That wasn’t a call she relished making. Getting injured on the job meant paperwork that her brothers would see. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as she assumed. She glanced down at the soaked t-shirt. Yeah. Right.

The man put his hands on his hips, catching Jasmine’s eyes with the movement. So her gaze happened to linger over the prominent lines of his Adonis belt formed by the very well defined abdominal muscles he flaunted. It wasn’t her fault. She was hyper-aware after the fight. That was her alibi, and she planned on using it.

“The stadium has a doctor on staff. Come with me and we’ll get him to take a look at that for you.”

Well, that would eliminate the paperwork. One less thing for her brothers to fuss about, right? She could hear Jason going on and on and on in her mind. She loved her brothers, but they smothered both her and her sister Jewell. No, definitely best they don’t find out. Jazz nodded to herself and pulled her shoulders back. His soft chuckle brought her gaze back up to his amused expression. She lifted an eyebrow and waited.

“Sorry, watching the wheels turn in your head just now was interesting. You have very expressive eyes.” He turned on his heel and started down one of the hallways. His jeans clung to his muscled thighs and hugged his perfect ass. He stopped and glanced over his shoulder at her. He cocked his head in question.

The pain in her arm had dulled her senses. Yep, that was it. Muddled senses. Fractured thinking kept her following those massive shoulders. Brain damage forced her down the stage’s access ramp to the labyrinth of the stadium’s belly. Shock. She was in shock, and it had nothing to do with that man—not a thing.

Jazz caught up with him and glanced around. It was an involuntary habit carved into her everyday existence from years of training and working security. She cast a quick look around the facility, taking in the door positions, and located adjacent hallways while sweeping the area for threats. She was still on the clock, and the job always came first. Jared had sent her down here to play bodyguard to Mr. Howdy Doody. What she’d done to piss off her brother enough to be assigned to this grunt detail escaped her. She’d checked in the day she left Italy to communicate that her assignment with a world-famous opera singer had ended. There’d been no hiccups or problems with the principal, but at the last minute she was detoured from the final leg of her flight home and instructed to board the first plane to Atlanta. Of course, her luggage didn’t get the message to deviate. Last time she’d checked, the bags were flying to Dulles. Naturally.

The short walk to the dressing room resembled a rush hour traffic accident or a logjam. Roadies, event staff, tour crew members and what appeared to be an excessive amount of fans made it impossible to walk down the corridors. Jazz started detailing faces as a distraction to keep her mind off the blood-soaked shirt around her arm. Women of all shapes and sizes lined the hallway. Jasmine glanced at scores of beautiful women while they all ogled the still shirtless singer. Why? Jasmine glanced at the t-shirt on her arm. Oh. She was using his clean shirt as a bandage. She held back a completely inappropriate bubble of laughter. Well, at least she’d done her part to enhance the fan experience. If she wasn’t bleeding, this portion of the show might have been entertaining. Every last one of the female groupies positioned themselves to present a seductive display to the band members scattered down the hallway. Once the crowd registered Nelson’s presence, the corridor shrank with an immediate press of people.

Nelson put his arm around her shoulder, shielding her injured arm from the jostling crowd, protecting her with his body. When the heat of his arm surrounded her, she realized she was cold. The obvious after-effects of the fight and adrenaline. She shrugged off his arm and pulled away from his side. She wasn’t a shrinking violet who needed a male to play caveman. She had enough overprotective testosterone in her life, thank you very much.

The crowd surged, and Jasmine winced when someone hit her arm. Chad reached for her and tugged her against him again. Oh, this right here? This is not happening. Who in the hell was he to protect her when she’d been sent to save his ass? She couldn’t allow this Neanderthal thing the man had going on to continue. If her brothers or co-workers had tried it, she’d have taken out a few knees or broken some fingers. Jasmine pulled away again and stepped back into personnel security mode, her new course of action decided: One, get the client to his dressing room. Two, get the hell out of this place. Three, suck it up and go to the hospital for some stitches, and four, clock out. Oh, and five, find her damn luggage. The job was done, and so was she. What a day.

Her shaking from the cold worsened, and she felt thirsty and dizzy. Had she lost more blood than she’d realized? It didn’t matter. She needed to get the hell out of Dodge. She took a quick inventory of the sea of cowboy hats lining the hallway. Another ill-timed bubble of mirth forced its way up. She gave a small smile. Get the hell out of Dodge wasn’t just a figurative statement tonight. With this many cowboys, she could rebuild Dodge City. She gave a small snort and shook her head. Damn, she needed to focus.

Nelson filled his lungs and yelled, “Kirk, clear this damn place! Get a doctor to my dressing room now!” A few members of the Dome’s security team, band members, and road crew scurried at his demand and worked to part a way for them through the crowd.

The dressing room he led her into was surprisingly small. A loveseat and a recliner sat a comfortable distance from each other opposite a minuscule area that could be used for makeup and hair. A single comb, deodorant, toothpaste and covered toothbrush lay on the vanity by the tiny sink. A large clothing rack held two shirts and a pair of jeans. Jasmine gave a mental tick in the man’s favor. Chad Nelson didn’t appear to be a prima donna, unless this wasn’t his dressing room. So far that was the one and only mark in the ‘good’ column she’d admit to giving the singer. Well, that and the protector thing, but that really didn’t count because it pissed her off. One good mark. Eight or nine bad marks, starting with ‘doesn’t listen to directions’ and ending with ‘legendary womanizer.’ She’d learned her lesson the hard way when it came to wandering eyes and cheating men. Unfortunately for her, the hard way seemed to be the normal method of tutelage if you were a King.

Chad motioned for her to sit down on the couch. He grabbed a clean hand towel from the bathroom and returned quickly, dropping on his knees in front of her. He lifted her injured arm. Jasmine started to pull the blood-soaked shirt off the wound.

“No, don’t take that off. If the blood has started to coagulate, we don’t want to disturb it and get it bleeding again. I am just going to wrap this over the top to soak up the blood.” Jasmine held out her arm as he carefully snugged it over his t-shirt.

The man was so close when he leaned in, his body forced her legs open. Oh crap. She could smell his cologne. It was spicy and rich, and his musk entangled in the aroma. Heavenly. His bare chest and shoulders were directly at eye level. And good God, what an eyeful they were. No wonder he was on every magazine cover in the free world. He could be immortalized in stone and forever be looked upon as the perfect male form.

No, no, no, no… more bad marks than good. You are not interested. Jazz closed her eyes as his long fingers tucked the end of the towel close to her wrist. The technique secured the edge to prevent it from unwrapping. When his fingers ghosted over her wrist, she shivered because it was cold in the room—no other reason.

He lifted her left hand and lightly pinched the nail bed of each finger of the injured arm. “You have good capillary refill. Can you feel me touch you?”

Only with every nerve ending in my body. He was so close there were only inches between their faces. Jasmine looked up into his eyes and hitched a breath. The intensity of those riveting blue eyes turned her entire body into a molten mess. Closing her eyes, she inhaled and purposefully exhaled in one, long, deep breath, clearing her senses. “Yes, I can feel you.”

He continued his ministrations. “Clench your hand into a fist gently around my fingers.”

Slowly, her fingers clenched and released.

“That’s good. Doesn’t look like the idiot damaged too much.” He lifted her chin, and his sea-blue eyes seemed to look through her again.

His scent and touch played havoc with her normal, rational sensibilities. Desperate to find space to breathe, she pulled away. Her mouth felt lined with cotton batting. She squirmed backward again, leaning deeper into the loveseat cushion to create a wider space between them. She croaked, “May I have a drink of water, please?”

His hand dropped from her chin as his eyes searched hers before he spoke. “Yeah, it is rather hot in here, isn’t it?”

He lifted his hand and tucked a strand of her hair back behind her ear before he rocked effortlessly back on his heels and stood, giving her a perfect view of the sizable bulge behind the button-up fly of his 501s. Oh, holy hanging hammocks, her mind fritzed like a static-filled screen. She immediately lost focus on whatever the hell it was they were talking about. Jasmine blinked twice to reboot her brain and then closed her eyes tightly. God, she’d lost too much blood, that was the only explanation for her delayed responses. She’d worked and lived around good-looking men her entire life. Nobody had affected her like this. It had to be blood loss. Shock. She was in shock. There was no other explanation. Thankfully, he added distance when he walked across the room to the small refrigerator and pulled out two bottles of generic labeled water.

Handing her one after he opened it, he asked, “So do I keep calling you darlin’, or are you going to tell me your name?”

His voice curled around her in a slow southern drawl that she was sure every woman in the stadium would love to hear one-on-one. Jazz pulled a tight smile as she took the water. Distance was the way out of this very confusing situation. When he’d asked her name, he’d handed her an advantage that she’d use. Jazz leaned back, and for the first time tonight, she relaxed before she plastered on a subtle smirk. “Whoever hired my company should be able to find out for you. They’re paying us, after all. Ask them.”

An eyebrow rose before he asked, “So you’re a security specialist?”

Jasmine batted her eyes and shook her head. “Oh no. You see, I won a local radio contest. I was the fifth caller, and I got a backstage pass.” She put the bottle down and muttered, “They grow them smart down here, don’t they?”

“Okay, fair enough, I earned that one. But seriously, what’s with the secrecy? I mean, I just want to know who to thank.”

Jasmine saw the devilish light in his eyes and upped the ante. The distraction from the ache of her arm was more than welcome. Her natural southern accent lilted as she bantered, “Why, you would thank me! So there you have it, I am me, and you are you, and there is absolutely no need for any other introductions.”

“Well, as I believe you might happen to know my name, I don’t think we’re even.” He laughed as he placed the water to his lips and took a drink.

Jazz waited until he started drinking and quipped, “See, that’s what the problem is. I don’t like to be even. I prefer to be on top.”

The country star choked, spewing out the gulp of water. Chad wiped his mouth and stared her from across the room. His deep voice sounded like liquid sex as he raised an eyebrow and drawled, “Really, I had you pegged as someone who would want her man to be the one in control.”

Jasmine suppressed a shiver induced by his natural timbre and forced a chuckle. “Isn’t that rather overdone these days? I seem to recall I just kicked some serious ass without any help from…” Jasmine lifted her uninjured arm and made quotes in the air with her fingers, “…a man. Why on earth would I need a man to lord over me?”

He leaned back in his chair, his stare disturbingly direct. “Such a spitfire. I bet you’re in control of everything, every minute of every day. Don’t you ever want to be able to let go, even for a few moments?”

“No.” The response was emphatic and honest. “No, I don’t.” Jazz held his gaze. Losing control meant getting hurt. Been there, done that and had the unused wedding invitations and the bridal planning book to prove it. This cowboy had stepped over a line that she allowed no one to cross. Even though the sexual tension between them was palpable, she wouldn’t back down. She’d be damned if she’d let this man play games with her head. She had five brothers to do that job. Jazz knew only too well the cost of losing control, and she wouldn’t pay it, not again. They both swung their attention to the door as a tall blond man walked into the room and stopped. He stared at his boots while he held a phone to his ear.

The guy wasn’t as tall as Chad but was cut from the same cloth. Heavy muscles, bright eyes and that ‘good old boy’ feel. His nose had been broken a time or two, and he wasn’t as genuinely handsome as the singer, but he was good looking in a more rugged, less perfect way.

He stood with his hand on his hip as he surveyed the dressing room briefly before he stared blankly at the wall on the far side of the room. “Well, how long will it take?” He looked down at the floor and then at Chad. “Thirty minutes?” The pause was pregnant. “Yeah, keep me posted.”

He spoke to Chad as if Jasmine wasn’t in the room. “The doctor is dealing with a cardiac arrest in the mezzanine.” He turned towards the door. “We cleared the backstage area; you’re good to leave the dressing room to do whatever you want.”

“Great.” She muttered under her breath as Chad stood and pulled a t-shirt from a hanger of his very limited wardrobe. The man must think she was one of Chad’s conquests, because he seemed disinclined to give her the time of day. Obviously, the man had seen this scenario too many times. Jasmine stood and walked out the dressing room door, leaving the sexy singer in the small room. She got her bearings and headed toward the rear exit before she glanced in Chad’s direction. “Thank you for the triage. I believe you’ve stopped the bleeding. I’ll be fine.”

Chad caught up with her. He fell into step, pulling his shirt on as they walked down the hallway. “I’ll drive you to the hospital.”

She stopped in the hallway and looked up into those brilliant, probing blue eyes. “Mr. Singer Dude, you need to listen to me. I’m leaving, you’re not. You need to stay with your band’s normal security team. You’re not welcome to come with me, but thank you for your hospitality.”

He fell into step with her as she walked down the hall. “You’re covered in blood.”

Tired of the day that just would not end, she stopped again and pegged him with a stare. The pain in her arm was obnoxious and throbbing. She was tired, dressed in blood-soaked clothes, had no idea what hotel she was checked into, and as far as she knew, didn’t have a toothbrush to use before she fell into a heap at said mystery hotel. Enough was enough. “Contrary to your assumption in the dressing room, I don’t need you or anyone else’s protection or company. I’m a big girl. I take care of myself. I’ve been doing it very well without your help for many years, and I’ll continue to do so when you get on that big bus and drive away. Go play your games somewhere else.”

She’d reached the limits of her tolerance—granted, never very high—and her voice lost all emotion. “I hope you enjoy your life. Good night and goodbye, Mr. Nelson.” Jasmine turned on her heel and walked away.

~~

 

Chad leaned against the wall and watched that peculiar woman walk away. He’d never met anyone who was simultaneously so damn willful and yet selfless. Hell, the woman wouldn’t even tell him her name. That alone earned his curiosity. He thought it was some ploy at first, but it appeared she honestly didn’t want to give him her name. And that was… odd. He was used to the adoration and the games the groupies played. This one? Well, she had his interest, alright. Leaning against the wall, he breathed deeply, mentally reviewing the events of the evening. He’d noticed her several times in the wings. Nondescript, or at least she tried damn hard to be, although it was rather like putting a thimble over a searchlight. Didn’t stop the damn thing from shining brightly. She’d never looked at him and had purposefully moved away from him when he stood next to her while he waited to go back on stage after his break. He didn’t have time during his performance to wonder who or what she was. He figured she had something to do with the Dome. But security, who’d have believed it?

She reminded him of a colt he once owned. All legs and spirit. With those boots on she could nearly look straight into his eyes. He decided he liked the heels on those boots and smiled to himself. She was more striking than pretty. Take your breath away striking. The expression in those big green eyes told him she’d seen a lot of life. She didn’t wear any makeup, and the dark circles under her eyes became more pronounced as the evening had worn on. Or maybe he’d just noticed her more as the evening progressed. Not a designer clothes person, either. She wore inexpensive black jeans that fit loose and a simple white shirt. She’d buttoned it up to the top button when he noticed her earlier in the evening. She must have popped open a couple when she wrestled the brick shithouse of a man to the floor. And damned if he didn’t enjoy the cleavage the fight had exposed.

With her black hair pulled back and pinned up in an unflattering bun, he’d normally pass her by without a second look. But he had looked, and he’d liked what he’d seen. The woman was all natural. She had looked up at him as he wrapped his t-shirt around her wound… those eyes. He could only describe them as deep mossy green, and they held emotion that spoke straight to his soul. Exactly what that emotion was eluded him, but there was a vulnerable softness behind that frosty exterior, and it called to him.

Chad drew a deep breath. God, he should have been more of a gentleman. His mom would tan his ever-loving hide if she’d known what an ass he’d been to his mystery woman when she was hurting. But hell, what type of man could have resisted propositioning her? Well, a better man than him, that was for sure.

He’d sensed she wanted him. He’d felt it during the split second she’d molded into him when he pressed his body against hers in the hall. Even if that tiny surrender only lasted a second, he’d felt it. Damned if that moment hadn’t stoked his desire. He wanted her. Imagined his kick-ass-and-take-names mystery woman soft and compliant under him, surrendering herself. Well, that thought sent a jolt straight to his dick. He could still smell her. Cinnamon, with some other light fragrance he couldn’t place. She was a live wire with a quick wit. Radio show winner. Huh, the girl had spunk. And she wants nothing to do with you.

He would’ve pushed himself off the wall and walked to his dressing room as soon as she’d left, but his body was in no condition to move. For no apparent reason, that woman did it for him. Chad chuckled to himself. Maybe he should say did it to him. It had been a long time since he’d wanted to be involved with a woman for more than a one-night event or a scene that lasted a couple of hours… a long time. Damn. He shifted his rock-hard cock in his jeans and pulled away from the plaster that was holding him up.

Well, if the mountain won’t come to Mohammad… Ole’ Mo was fixing on doing some hiking. He laughed at his joke and busted out in an old John Denver song. A little sunshine on his shoulders would definitely make him happy. Life for his mystery woman was about to get interesting. Kirk, his road manager, needed to get his chief of security on the phone. He wanted a name.