Authors: Elle Christensen,K Webster
What the fuck has gotten into me? Since when do I care what woman I’m with or what another woman thinks about it?
It’s just an off night. I don’t care. I never have.
I let out a growl of frustration, but turn to confront the owner of the voice.
She runs up and throws her arms around me. Without any gentleness, I pull her arms down and literally lift her body away from me.
“Where have you been? You just disappeared and never called.” Her voice is hurt.
Inwardly, I roll my eyes at her display.
Put your emotions on the line like that and your enemy will take you down.
“You knew it was a one-night thing . . .” What was her name? It doesn’t matter. “I was very clear about that.” My tone is flat and bored.
What is it with these women not grasping the concept of a one-night stand? For fuck’s sake! I tell them up front that, after we get each other off, I’m outta there.
She steps forward again, pressing her body to mine. “There was something special between us, Slade. I know you felt it too.”
I have to say something to get her to leave me the hell alone. “The only thing I remember about that night was a lousy lay,” I tell her even though she was actually one of the best I’ve been with. I’ll find another one just as good in a day or so.
She sucks in her breath and steps back, looking at me with disgust. Looks like it worked. But just to be sure she won’t continue to pester me, I drive my point home.
“I didn’t call because you weren’t worth remembering.”
Her eyes fill with tears. I mentally shrug. This conversation is over. As soon as I turn and stroll away, I’ve already forgotten her.
I walk Niki to the door and make sure she’s in her car and driving away before locking up and heading to my room. I hesitate outside J’s door then roll my shoulders to loosen them up, as they are tighter now than they were earlier this evening. Striding into my room, I grab a towel before taking a fucking freezing shower.
I jolt awake to the sound of bloodcurdling screams. After I grab the gun on my nightstand, I fly across the hall. J is thrashing around in the bed, all tangled up in the sheets. A passing glance around the room confirms that she’s in the throes of a night terror. My chest feels as though it’s splitting open with each of her desperate screams. I swiftly shut the door before going to her bed. Then I put the safety on the gun and set it down on the table next to her bed before slipping between the sheets.
Once I’ve made quick work with untangling the sheets, I tug her into my arms, holding her tight and whispering calming words. After a few minutes, her screams turn to gut-wrenching sobs. I pull her even closer, soothingly rubbing my hand along her back until her breathing finally evens out and she settles back into sleep.
I feel gutted. The sound of her torment has me shaking with emotion.
Continuing to hold her and rubbing my hand slowly up and down the smooth skin of her back, I assure myself that she is safe, protected. As the haze begins to clear, I realize that the skin I’m stroking is bare. Damn, her skin is like silk. And when I tuck her against me a little tighter, it hits me.
I look down at her body curled into mine. She’s naked. I’m naked.
My breathing rapidly picks up again. I know I need to let her go and retreat to my own room. But goddammit, her naked body feels like heaven plastered up against mine.
When I place a soft kiss on her forehead, she stirs and I go completely still, waiting. She turns onto her side, her back to my front, and scoots her sweet little ass up against my dick, which is now hard as fucking granite. She lets out a little moan, and instead of being turned off, I somehow get even harder. Her dark hair she’s been straightening has gained a little of its body back, and I bury my nose in her soft curls. She smells like vanilla and brown sugar.
As soon as I feel the need to find out where else she tastes sweet, I know it’s time to get the hell out. I slowly ease her from my arms and get a bitter taste in my mouth at the thought of leaving her and my jaw clenches as I slip out of the bed. Grabbing my gun, I make my way to the door.
Glancing around, I realize just what an asshole I’ve been. She was right—it’s a damn cell. I make a note to order some furniture tomorrow. When I reach the door, I notice a pile of black material sitting on the desk chair. A small grin plays at my lips, and I stalk across the room, grab the skirts, and leave.
Once back in my room, I throw the skirts in the trash and sigh in relief before grabbing my towel and, once again, taking an arctic shower.
LAST NIGHT, I had fun playing Jill. But today, I mourn the loss of Joss. I don’t know what’s gotten into me. Maybe it was the nightmare. Maybe it was overhearing Slade basically agree to fuck Niki. Or maybe it was the way he traced a delicate kiss along my lips.
He’s an asshole. A confusing one at that.
The night before, after a quick shower, I didn’t even have the energy to dress. I fell into an exhausted heap on the bed completely naked. This new job is the hardest I’ve ever worked on anything in my entire life. It did a great job, however, of keeping my mind off the whole reason why I’m here.
I roll over and a faint hint of soap mixed with his unique scent invades my senses. It’s like he visited me in my dreams. My eyes flit over to the window. Today, in the early morning, it is darker than usual because of the rain. I wish I could curl up in this bed and sleep until this entire thing blows over.
My bleary thoughts lift when I remember the piano I discovered last night. I was looking for more martini glasses and checked in a cabinet covered with a tablecloth in the corner of the bar. I’d already turned the place upside down, so that was my only real option left. When I had bent over and lifted the corner, I died. Not really of course, but the moment I saw the brass-colored foot pedals, I nearly cried.
With a purpose on this dreary day, I don’t bother getting up and ready this morning. Instead, I snag the warm blanket I’m not ready to part with just yet and wrap it around me. The bar should be empty this early. And I know that Slade is probably still tangled up in the sheets with Niki. I shudder with a twinge of uncalled-for jealousy.
Before I head downstairs, I slip into the restroom to brush my teeth and pee before my bladder explodes. As I quietly exit the bathroom, I pad barefoot over to Slade’s door. Then I listen intently with my ear against the wood for any signs of life inside. Nothing. With a drop of my heart, I try desperately not to imagine him fucking the bartender. What a pig.
Deciding that I’m alone, I make my way down the stairs and over to the piano. Since I opted to go in nothing but a warm blanket, the entire act of uncovering it one-handed is an ordeal. Finally, though, I manage to free what I’m pretty sure is an unrestored Bluthner Upright. The dark, mahogany-colored wood is aged but still absolutely gorgeous. If Slade weren’t such an asswipe, I’d suggest that he get it restored to really enhance its beauty.
I pull out the rickety bench seat and slide down onto it. They have this thing pushed into the corner facing the wall on the far side of the bar. If this were my piano, I’d display it proudly for all to see. With a contented sigh, I softly begin playing the song I always warm up with. It’s the very first song I ever learned, so I honor that memory by always, without fail, playing it first.
My fingers gently begin the G . . . C C . . . C D . . . E pattern of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Even though the piano is old and slightly out of tune, it still produces magically beautiful notes. I’m in love. I continue lightly tapping through the song and ignore the twinge of pain every time my ring finger hits a note. It’s still bruised from a few nights ago. Ignoring the discomfort, I quickly launch into Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 35 in an effort to forget that night. This insanely tough piece is what got me into Julliard.
The memory of the agonizing stress rushes into me and I lose myself to it while my fingers play the notes by heart.
“This is an extremely difficult piece, Miss Parker,” Gloria Stone says coolly.
She’s my least favorite of the three judges. The other two men seem to actually enjoy their job—getting to hear some of the most talented individuals in the country. Mrs. Stone seems bored. Her lips press into a firm, unimpressed, wrinkly line.
“Yes, ma’am. I hope I do it justice,” I stammer out, my voice quivering wildly. I only hope I can still the fluttering in my heart and the shaking of my fingers.
“Well, I know this piece well and teach parts of it to my students in my secondary piano class. Seeing that you’re only a high school student, I can’t understand how you would have learned such a piece at this age. Please be advised that, once you begin, you can’t change your mind. Are you absolutely certain you want to do this piece?”
She’s giving me an out. I can see it written all over her face that she doesn’t believe I can do this. But what she doesn’t know is that I’m my mother’s child. I may not have learned from her, but I watched home videos my father had taken of her at many of her concerts, which I obsessed over to the point that the tapes became worn. Dad had to spend an insane amount of money to have them restored and put on DVDs, forever letting her music live on. My father spent more money on expensive lessons than he did anything else. I may not have had a Christmas tree, but he made sure I had this.
“I had many private lessons from the very best. Oh, and Jossanna Parker was my mother.” I didn’t want to name drop, but I couldn’t help it.
The unimpressed smirk on Mrs. Stone’s face was replaced by a glowing grin—a grin that actually made her look pretty.
“Well, then, by all means, please begin. I anticipate this performance immensely,” she speaks politely. Then she adds with more feeling, “And your mother will forever be missed. She was a favorite student of mine.”
And then I nail it, earning myself a spot in Julliard and going on to be Mrs. Stone’s new favorite student.
As the memory ends, so does the song and I yank my fingers away as if I’ve been burned. Tears sting my eyes as my finger throbs and I choke back a sob. God, I wish I could have known her. She was an angel in everyone’s eyes.
My realization that the blanket has fallen to pool around my waist, leaving me naked from the belly up, comes when I hear soft clapping nearby. The smell of coffee mixed with soapy man invades my senses, and my stomach actually growls.
“Maybe you should take a break, naked Beethoven, and have some breakfast,” Slade suggests lightheartedly as he sits back in a wooden chair.
His eyes are glued to my chest, and I swear he could burn a hole right through me with his gaze. How long has he been here watching me? Quickly, I yank the blanket up to end his show.
“I thought I was alone. And that’s Frédéric Chopin,” I snap with a snooty tone.
My eyes hastily skim down his half-naked body when he stands. His chest is all hard lines and shadows in the dimly lit bar. I’m not sure there’s a soft spot on his body. Each one of my fingers begs to play a song of their own on that piece of art.