Authors: Pam Godwin
Tags: #Romance, #Music, #Adult, #Thriller, #Contemporary
Rio’s half-growl, half-groan was a heavy, continuous reverberation as he stretched his ogreish biceps toward the roof. The dude was big and carried his intimidation the way he carried his muscle mass. Viscerally and without force. It just sort of clung to him, much like the rough-hewed women who made up a good portion of their fan base.
“I want high energy.” Rio glowered and stressed every syllable. “Lots of aggressive, wet dripping beats. I want
Said the drummer who could tap out a mellow ride with more dynamism than the fast double strokes of a punker. He met his glare. “No.”
The sudden tilt of Rio’s lips cracked his stony mask. “I guess you can’t write about cuntapus when you aren’t getting cuntapus.”
Whatever. After a month of celibacy, he was used to their taunting. Especially as the sexual offers heightened with
’s skyrocketing notoriety. Hot girls, too. As in big-tittied, tight-bodied, wild-in-the-sack kind of girls. They cornered him after shows, in parking lots, and followed him into the fucking bathroom. He moaned inwardly.
Just made him want Charlee more. And dammit, he would come to her as a clean and deserving man. Thank Christ the clinic in Florida confirmed he was free of STDs.
With all his focus on seeing her again, his neurotic episodes and bouts of depression had become less frequent. How was that possible?
His youth counselor had used terms such as
internal and external triggers
cognitive behavioral therapy
. It was difficult to identify what cued his internal trigger. Sometimes all it took was the recollection of a memory. His external trigger was simply a hand, intentionally placed on his body. When he was unable to manage his environment, rather than turning to drugs like he used to, he simply thought of Charlee.
He tried not to think about what might’ve been going on with her and her boyfriend or if there would be any room for a rising musician in her life. The possibility that he could win her on the other side of their tour was enough. One more month.
Impatience buzzed through him. “How about we make St. Louis our next stop and I’ll write your damn song.”
“You know we can’t do that. We’re booked every night along the Gulf until we return to L.A.”
Disappointment sunk him into the seat. They were opening for some of the biggest rock bands in the business, and concert goers had begun to take an interest in them. If he bailed out, he’d be bailing on his friends. A venue cancellation would void thousands of ticket sales, and the penalties would be monstrous.
Rio’s grin widened. “I guess if you’re going to compose while you’re hung up on a girl, just try to save your menstrual tearjerkers for your jerk off sessions.”
“Where’s the faith?”
“I have faith in you, but we’re not a soft rock band.”
“I’m not writing soft.” He traced a finger over the fret of his guitar. “It’s a rock ballad.”
The stare returned. “As good as
the night he met Charlee, and the fans loved it. “It’s better. Now go change your tampon or whatever it is you do in the bathroom, so I can make a phone call.”
A laugh burst from Rio’s barrel chest. “I like this.”
“Straight edge, pussy-whipped, jolly Jay.” He jumped out of the van and leaned in the open crack of the door. “Just don’t let that faggoty shit anywhere near our music.” He slammed the door.
Jay shook his head as he pressed
on his cell and put it to his ear. “Please pick up. Please pick up.”
Ringing blared down the line. Once. Twice. He sucked in a breath.
Fuck. He squeezed the phone to keep from throwing it through the windshield. Then he did what he always did when he heard her voice over the recording. He closed his eyes and visualized her gorgeous blue eyes and blinding smile.
“You’ve reached Kilroy Tattoo. I’m either inking or sleeping. Leave your deets and I’ll holler back.”
“Hey, Charlee. It’s Jay Mayard again. I really need to talk to you…uh…about finishing the tattoo. You should have my number”—he’d only left it a hundred times—”but here it is again.”
He rattled off his digits. What else could he say to convince her to call him? “You know, I realize I might’ve come across like a dick the night I was there. If I did, I’m sorry. I…um…”
Christ, he was fucking this up. “The tattoo…it…well, it changed a lot of things for me. Made me look at things differently, and I’m anxious for you to finish it. I’ll be there in a month, but I would really like to talk to you about it ahead of time. Just…just give me a ring, okay?”
His voice was dripping with desperation. Time to shut it down. “Well, I’ll…uh…catch you later.”
and stared at the phone with an ache in the pit of his stomach. He left messages every day. Several times a day. At all hours. How could she not answer the phone for thirty-three days?
In the back of his mind, something murmured. Deep behind his longings, buried beneath his Charlee dreams, his greatest fear whispered.
Heat flared through his face. No, he hadn’t lost her. Her voicemail box was never full. She was picking up the messages. She was just busy. Or annoyed.
He’d give his Martin acoustic for her cell phone number. Hell, he’d give his soul for her returned call.
Cross-legged and naked on the cold hardwoods, Charlee leaned her forehead against the floor-to-ceiling window and waited for the sunrise to cast its glow on the Golden Gate Bridge. But it was the sensual voice humming through her ear buds that held her frozen to the glass, as though under a spell.
The music player was the first thing she’d earned in her two months of perfect obedience. Roy allowed her one song. When she requested anything by
he gave her their only hit single.
She closed her eyes and let the deep, velvety voice she remembered from that night in her tattoo shop wrap around her. “Huntress of the room in my head. Fearless and knowing.” The melodic voice hit the high notes and sent a shiver through her. “Your blue eyes plunder the depths of my song. Tonight is only the beginning.”
A flutter unfurled in her chest. Then his voice dove so low she felt it in her belly. “Nothing can stop me. To be who you saw. To be the steel. To be yours.”
His words…God, his words stole her breath.
The instrumental change in rhythm seemed to lead to a close, but it didn’t. His whispered baritone sent a chill down her spine. “You showed me beauty in survival. I’ll show you strength in healing.”
She sucked in a breath.
. He was singing to her, about her, about his tattoo. She looked down at the leather bound sketchbook in her lap, the only other thing she’d earned during her captivity. Flames leapt around the sketched scars and bled off the page beneath her pencil.
Jay was the only memory she allowed herself to linger on. He was alive, and
confirmed he hadn’t forgotten her. The power in that was fortifying. She could suffer another two months, hell, she could endure years beneath Roy’s whip knowing someone out there thought of her and maybe even missed her.
“Come back to bed!” Roy’s shout bellowed over the music.
The lead tip of her pencil snapped and rolled off the paper. She lifted her head from the window, yanked out her ear buds, and blew the graphite dust from her drawing. The graphite that had enabled her to hold onto the vividness of her memories. “What time is it, Sir?”
“Five in the fucking morning. Bring the book.”
She hugged it to her chest.
Not the book. Please, not that
. She ate with it, slept with it, staved off insanity with it. She’d drawn the same flames over and over again, perfecting the illustration. Someday she would finish Jay’s tattoo, and her conviction in that was often the only thing that got her through another day.
If she disobeyed him, he would destroy her music player. She set the device aside and rose from the floor, an effort that sent her molars crashing together. The hours spent hanging from the ceiling the prior night had torn something in her shoulder. Just thinking about it sprung tears in her eyes. She swiped them away, kicked the chain from her path, and trudged to the bed.
The pencil was plucked from her hand and flung outside the reach of the tether. Didn’t matter. A few practices on her wrist confirmed it wasn’t strong enough to pierce his trachea.
He gripped her hips and pulled her over to straddle him. Then he opened the book to the last drawing. His customary callousness blanked his expression as he studied the page. “Always fire. Why?”
“A couple months without clothes.” She shrugged. “I’m drawn to warmth, Sir.”
He set the book aside, stared at it, then swung his hand and struck her face. The force of it whipped her head back. “That was your only warning.”
Perfect obedience hadn’t warded off daily beatings. His strikes still hurt like hell, but her body had grown pliable. When the hand reared, she didn’t stiffen. She bent with it. “It was the last tattoo I did when I was free.” Truth, yet it meant so much more.
“Whose?” His voice was calm, eyelids half-mast.
Lying wasn’t an option. Perhaps because it took a liar to know a liar. “A walk-in. Some musician.” With a beautiful voice, a steel determination, and a body rendered for art.
“What do you know of your mother?”
Her shoulders drooped even as her brain scrambled to keep up. Her mother? All she knew was the woman died of health-related issues a few months after giving birth to her. “I don’t have a mother.” Had Roy tried to find her?
He watched her in his calculating, unblinking style that made her want to look away. “I searched for her when I lost you four years ago. I thought maybe you’d seek her help.”
She’d had no one until Noah. If she had a mother, Roy would’ve killed her, too. A lonely ache swelled in her chest, and more damn tears burned down her cheeks. Would she ever run dry?
“You had no money. No family. No skills. And no education beyond tenth grade.”
She didn’t like the direction the conversation was headed, and she wanted to flail on him for the last part. Not worth another strike to the face.
“Rather than succumbing to drugs or prostitution, you leveraged an impractical talent in the most efficient way.” He wrapped his hands around her waist and ground her groin against his. “I made you who you are. I gave you the strength to survive.”
Even as he boasted his perverse pride, he was trying to unbalance her, weaken her emotionally. He could try all he wanted. Her tears were involuntary, but she was
broken and her strength was her own. She gave him her weight and her eyes.
There was a self-interested air about the way he regarded her. “You tattooed to earn money. Yet you have none yourself.” He smirked. “Money, nor tattoos.”
Another one of his games. Whenever his dick wouldn’t harden from his physical lashings, he turned to humiliation and verbal fighting. Fuck him for being such a cruel, sadistic bastard. “No, Sir. I was the payment for a gambling debt, remember? Not the heir of a billion-dollar monopoly.”
His fingers dug into her waist, and his eyes narrowed. “Tell me why you aren’t covered in skulls and flames.” He smacked the sketchbook, sent it flying off the bed. “I want to hear you say it.”
His dick swelled beneath her, and the need to draw into herself strained her voice. Fuck that. “A girl on the run needs plain looks to go unnoticed. No identifiable marks.” Someday, she would have a tattoo.
The room held still and his eyes didn’t stray from hers.
“Tell me, girl-on-the-run, what are you planning now?”
She could lie and get the truth beat out of her. Or she could tell the truth and maybe learn something from his reaction.
“You should remove the chain.” She rotated her ankle. “Because I intend to strangle you with it while you sleep.” She kept her muscles relaxed, prepared to absorb the next strike.