Read an Excerpt
Her Forbidden Hero
A Heroes Novel
By Laura Kaye, Heather Howland
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2012 Laura Kaye
All rights reserved.
With seventy-five dollars and a maxed-out credit card to her name, Alyssa Scott sat in the driver's seat of her beat-up Corolla and stared at the building where she hoped all her dreams would come true.
Whiskey's Music Roadhouse might not be the stuff of other girls' dreams, but it was the biggest event venue in Western Maryland. Between Alyssa's love of music and her weeks-old degree in restaurant management and event planning, it was exactly the kind of place she wanted to build a career. That Marco Vieri, her brother's best friend and the man she'd loved for as long as she could remember, also worked there made Alyssa feel like today's interview was bigger than just a possible job — it felt like the beginning of the rest of her life.
She opened the car door and stepped into the sticky heat of the late May sun. Her car was one of the few in the giant parking lot — not surprising for eleven a.m. on a Thursday morning. According to the website, Whiskey's wasn't open for lunch except on Sundays when they held two shows, one in the afternoon and another in the evening.
Huge interlocking neon signs in the shapes of a curving keyboard, electric guitar, and bottle of whiskey stood dark along the length of the roof. She bet that at night, they illuminated the whole parking lot with a rainbow of flashing colors. As she made her way to the front doors, Alyssa's imagination took off and placed her in the center of a packed show — the frenetic energy of a charismatic band, a pounding bass beat throbbing through her bones, great music setting her soul on fire, and the heat and excitement of the audience all around her.
Alyssa tried the door handles but found them all locked. She walked over to the side, but it appeared a long way to the rear of the building, and she didn't feel comfortable poking around by herself.
Back at the double doors, Alyssa leaned in close to peer through the glass, humidity pressing down on her shoulders. Inside, a wide lobby sported black and white posters on the walls of upcoming bands, and a ticket booth with a shuttered window sat to the left. A thrill of excitement shot through her. One day, she'd be responsible for organizing events like those.
She wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead and fished through her purse for her cell phone, trying to avoid thinking about not just how much she wanted this job, but how badly she needed it. Her intended roommate had gotten engaged a week before they'd been set to move into their new apartment, forcing Alyssa to forfeit her share of the security deposit until her roommate could pay her back. If she paid her back. That deposit represented most of what she had to her name, and the only people who had answered her last-ditch Craigslist ad were total creepers.
No way was she taking a chance.
Alyssa had debated scrapping her plans to return to Frederick, but it was the only place in the world she had any roots, and she couldn't afford to accept the unpaid internship offer she'd received from a previous employer in DC. As a teenager, she'd always thought of Whiskey's as the place where she could pursue all her interests. Once she landed the interview, knowing Marco worked there, it just seemed ... right. And definitely too good to pass up.
So she'd thrown all her chips into Frederick, and now she really needed this job. And she intended to get it. The alternative was not an option.
Finally, she found her phone and dialed. The manager's number rang once, twice, and she glanced into the lobby —
Right into an older man's face.
She gasped and bobbled her phone, unable to catch it before it clattered to the pavement.
The man fumbled with a key ring for a moment, then unlocked the door and pushed it open a few inches. "Can I help you, miss?"
Taking a deep breath, she stooped to retrieve her cell. Pull it together, Alyssa. "Oh, uh, yes. I have an interview. My name is Alyssa."
"Ah, yes. Come on in. It's already blazing out there." He pushed the door wider and waved her in. "I'm Pete Wilson, the manager of this joint."
Alyssa stepped into the lobby, the air-conditioning setting off tingles over her skin after those long minutes outside. "Alyssa Scott." She held out her hand and he smiled as he shook it, his eyes crinkling at the corners.
"Well, Miss Scott, let's grab a seat so we can talk. How 'bout it?"
Alyssa followed Pete across the lobby and past the large, dim bar area where her brother had mentioned Marco worked. Her heart gave a weird little skip at the thought of him. "Is Marco Vieri here?" she asked.
Pete slid his hands in the pockets of his slacks and turned to her. "Yes, ma'am. You know Marco?"
"We grew up together. He's my brother's best friend."
"Oh, is that right? Marco's a good kid."
"Yeah, he's the best." Alyssa chuckled. Never once had she thought of Marco Vieri as a kid. Tall, dark, and nearly five years older than her, "kid" was the least likely description she'd ever use for him. He was the cutest, most loyal guy she'd ever known, and her chest ached with the desire to see him again. It had been so long. Too long. But now that they'd both come home — her from college and him from the army — maybe she could finally have the chance with him she'd always wanted.
They stepped into the venue's cavernous rectangular space. A row of lights illuminated the entryway and first group of tables. "Have a seat. I'll go grab my paperwork."
As soon as Pete disappeared down a hallway off to the right, Alyssa sank into the worn wood chair, dropped her purse to the floor, and looked around. She'd never seen a show there, and in the darkness, she couldn't make out the far end of the space. The floor was tiered so the room was higher in the back and tables formed a horseshoe around the stage. She imagined that created an exciting intimacy with the performers.
"Here we are," Pete called.
Alyssa forced herself to focus as he pushed the place setting out of her way. She handed him her résumé and accepted the application he asked her to complete. She was so filled with nervous energy — over the job and at the thought of seeing Marco — she couldn't keep her foot from shaking. Deep breaths, Aly. She took her own advice — twice — and managed a bit more calm. At least the application was straightforward.
As he reviewed her materials, he asked her to tell him more about her degree and internships. Landing this job would really help everything fall into place, so Alyssa shoved her nerves aside and detailed her coursework and experience for him, her confidence growing as she spoke.
When she finished, Pete nodded. "This is an impressive résumé, Miss Scott. You're obviously qualified. Maybe too qualified." He dropped her paperwork on the table. "This is a family-owned business, and the owners believe strongly in employees working their way up from the bottom."
"I understand, Mr. Wilson. I'm willing to work hard and learn all parts of the business. And I've worked as a waitress for four years." She leaned forward. "I hope it's not too much to say, but I'm good at it. I'd be an asset to you."
He stared at her for a long moment. "Pluck. I like it. Never be afraid to sell yourself, kid. No one else will do it. And call me Pete." He glanced down at her application and a slow grin brightened his round, friendly face. "You'll work any shift? And you're available immediately?"
Alyssa smiled at the enthusiasm in Pete's voice. "Yes, definitely."
Her spirits lifted even higher when he told her about the hourly wage and great tips many of the waitresses pulled in. Man, if she could make that kind of money, she'd be able to find a little apartment all her own and not worry about another unreliable roommate. And maybe even put something in the bank.
"I need to check these references, but assuming everything works out, I'd like to offer you the job, Miss Scott. I'm shorthanded and the summer is always crazy around here. I need good help, like, yesterday. And if you live up to the potential I see here, there's no reason you can't work your way up through the business."
Yes! "You can count on me, I promise."
He smiled. "When could you come in for training? Read the manual, spend some time with the menus, take the tour. All that good stuff. It's paid time, of course."
"As soon as it's convenient for you. My schedule is totally free."
"Yes." No sense beating around the bush. Not with only enough money for one night's hotel stay in her wallet.
"In that case, sit tight and I'll go grab an employee manual."
Alyssa clasped her hands together and released a deep, relief-filled breath. Holy crap, she'd done it! Take that, universe! After the debacle with the apartment, she'd really needed this to go her way.
Pete returned with a soft-covered binder and several forms. "This is the employee manual. Why don't you read through it and fill out the tax information while I call your references. Just need to dot my Is and cross my Ts."
When Pete left, Alyssa settled down with the lists of policies and procedures. The adrenaline rush of the almost-job stirred up the flock of butterflies already doing loop-the-loops over the possibility of seeing —
"Hey, Pete?" a voice called out from the bar's darkened archway.
Alyssa's breath caught. She'd know that voice anywhere. She heard it in her dreams.
"Pete?" he shouted again.
Turning in her seat, she could feel her heart racing as Marco stepped into the light. Her gaze drank him in. He carried a cardboard box in his hands, heavy enough to pop out the biceps under his short-sleeve T-shirt. The last time she'd seen him, he'd been on leave between deployments and he'd been wearing camouflage — "drop-dead sexy" was the only way to describe him in uniform. Now, his brown hair was longer and messy on top, as if he'd run his fingers through it, but he still looked every bit the soldier he'd been. He hiked up the box and it pulled at the hem of his shirt, exposing a thin slice of lean abdomen. Her eyes trailed down over a pair of black jeans that hugged him in all the right places.
Her chest swelled with everything she felt for him until it was hard to breathe. Alyssa shoved up out of her chair, his name hanging on the edge of her tongue, but her throat was too dry to speak.
"Sorry, I didn't see ..." He trailed off and his brow furrowed. Walking into the room, he studied her, then his eyes went wide. "Alyssa?" He kicked out a chair with his boot and put down the box. Smiling big enough to show off the dimple on his left cheek, he came right up to her, blue eyes bright with surprise. "I'll be damned. Look at you."
Nearly dizzy from his proximity, his dazzling grin, and the clean male scent of his skin, Alyssa struggled to reply. "It's great to see you, Marco," she finally managed. God, he was even more gorgeous than she remembered.
He held out his arms. "What, no hug? It's been two years, right?"
"Almost," she said, her throat tight as she stepped into his embrace. The instant her chest came in contact with his, she knew she was in trouble. His arms wrapped around her and hugged tightly. He kissed her hair, and Alyssa squeezed right back. And, good God, had he always been this muscular? This tall? This broad? His body totally encompassed hers, and every ounce of attraction and affection she'd ever felt for him came roaring forward until she was sure he must feel her heart thundering against her breastbone.
"How are you, Aly-girl?" he asked, still hugging her.
"I'm good," she said, both loving the term of endearment and feeling disappointed at the proof they'd simply slipped right back into their old patterns. She shoved the thought away. The important thing was that Marco was here — healed from the injuries that had gotten him discharged from the Army Special Forces and out of harm's way. "I was so worried about you. I'm glad you're home."
Marco pulled back, and Alyssa couldn't help but notice the scars that twisted over his left arm and hand. She forced herself to look away before her gaze turned into a stare, and she found him watching her. He crossed his arms, his unblemished right covering his left.
Before her eyes, his grin and the happiness she'd seen in his eyes melted into discomfort so thick, it choked the air around them.
Marco's jaw ticked, telling her he felt it, too. "So ... what are you doing here?"
"Oh, um, I applied for a job." She forced a smile, hoping maybe he'd smile back so she could stare at his dimple again.
She shifted her feet and her scalp prickled. Crossing her arms, she struggled to catch up with his mood change. She became suddenly aware that her body posture mirrored his, as if discomfort was contagious. "Uh, yeah."
His gaze narrowed and the angles on his face sharpened, highlighting dark circles under his eyes. "Oh, no, Alyssa, not here."
Her stomach dropped at his disapproving tone. "Why not?"
"It's too rowdy here for you. This is not the place for a girl."
Alyssa huffed, that final word chasing away the last of her happiness and stirring up a hornet's nest inside her. "I'm not a girl, Marco. I'm a woman."
Scoffing, he braced his hands on his hips. "Look, there has to be a better place. What would Brady think if he knew you worked here?"
"He knows." He just doesn't approve. She hugged herself tighter. "And what does my brother have to do with anything?"
"I just ..." He shook his head and seemed to struggle for words. "I get too busy behind the bar to be able to keep an eye on you," he said, frustration and exasperation turning his tone harsh.
Her mouth dropped open. She was looking for a job, not a security detail! Why was he being like this? And had he ever spoken to her that way before? One of the things that had drawn her to him when they were younger was how kind he always acted toward her, when surely the presence of a friend's kid sibling must've been a drag.
She needed this job. Heck, she wanted it. "You know what? I don't need you to worry about me. I can take care of myself." The only good thing about his harsh tone was that it fueled her resolve, which kept those threatening tears at bay.
An emotion she couldn't name flashed through his eyes. "Alyssa, you're too damn — "
Pete's voice sounded from down the hallway. Marco pressed his lips into a line and ran a hand through his hair. Pete stepped into the venue, phone pressed to his ear and a big grin on his face. "Thank ya much," he said.
Alyssa looked from Marco's scowl to Pete's smile, and the contrast on top of the unexpected fight nearly left her dizzy.
Pete pressed a button on his phone and dropped it into his pocket as he joined them. "Well, I'm delighted to report that everyone had only glowing things to say about you." Pete extended his hand toward her. "You're hired, starting immediately."CHAPTER 2
Marco watched Pete and Alyssa shake on her new job with a sense of foreboding sinking through his gut. Whiskey's wasn't the place for an innocent girl to work — he'd seen how the patrons sometimes treated the waitresses as if they were part of the show. Alyssa was sweet, shy, young — someone who would need taking care of around here.
So what the hell was Brady thinking giving her the okay? He would kick Marco's ass if something happened to Alyssa.
Marco had first promised to look out for her back when his parents' house was all that stood between the Scotts' drunk father and the foster care system. After he and Brady graduated high school, they'd moved into an apartment and brought Alyssa with them, specifically staying in Frederick until she was off to college. Then, as if that ancient history wasn't enough, Brady had gone and saved his ass in Afghanistan last year. So any way he cut it, Marco was honor bound to his best friend to protect his little sister. Even from her brother's stupidity.
Problem was, Marco could barely take care of himself. And the last time he'd tried to save another, it had gone to shit.
"Alyssa says you two grew up together," Pete said, drawing Marco from his thoughts.
Excerpted from Her Forbidden Hero by Laura Kaye, Heather Howland. Copyright © 2012 Laura Kaye. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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