Read an Excerpt
I’m the only person in my apartment building that still gets a newspaper. It sits on my doorstep this morning, and I love the way it smells. I love the crackling noise when I drop into my dining room chair and slap the sucker open. This sound, this smell . . . they remind me of lazy Saturday mornings reading the paper with my dad, his cologne scent engulfing me. By the time I was seventeen, he was gone. As was his morning rumple of my hair and his cologne—but not the smell of the paper. It’s been almost a decade and I still find an incomparable little joy in the smell of this freshly printed newspaper. Until now . . .
Now . . . when the headline of the entertainment section stares back at me, mocking me.
Mackenna Jones Is Back in Town! the headline says, and just reading that feels like a punch in the gut.
I squeeze my eyes shut and open them, my stomach trembling uncontrollably.
Mackenna Jones is back in town!
Fuck, I really need to stop reading that.
Mackenna Jones is back in town!
God. Still reads the same.
The name curls around me like smoke in my insides, and butterflies I didn’t even know I still carried crash into the walls of my belly. I thought it impossible that a single one of these butterflies had survived Mackenna Jones.
He’s coming to town, Pandora. What are you going to do about it?
The thought of him being in the same state makes me scowl bleakly. “Seriously, asshole? You had to come here?”
I begin reading the article about Crack Bikini, how the band has revolutionized music. How even Obama has openly said this band is responsible for turning young kids back to the music of the masters—Mozart, Beethoven. But it doesn’t end there. It’s just getting started turning up the schmooze. The reporter keeps going on and on about how this tour has sold out Madison Square Garden faster than Justin Bieber’s first show, and how it will be the concert of the year, if not the decade.
Briefly, the band’s breakout song flits through my head. For a time, this song played on every radio station in the country, and it made me loathe music with a passion—hell, the mere thought of it angers me all over again.
My hands shake as I set down the newspaper, fold it, and try to move on to another section. I live with my mother and my cousin, and I’ve always had an appreciation for my quiet time on Saturdays, when Magnolia has ballet and my mother has errands. But now, my precious Saturday—time I get our apartment to myself—has officially been ruined. Not only my Saturday, this just ruins my entire fucking year.
Mackenna. In Seattle.
My hands tremble as I go back to the entertainment section and slowly scan for the date of the concert. I find myself clicking open Internet Explorer on my phone and navigating straight to Ticketmaster. Yep, the show is already sold out. So I head to eBay, where I discover the staggering prices the best tickets command.
I don’t know why, but for a moment, I imagine myself in one of those pricey seats, calling him the world’s greatest asshole from up close so he can hear through all the noise he and his band members make.
I don’t know what I’m doing. Or maybe I do know. A cold chill is settling in my body. The show is sold out. The tickets cost a fortune. But no. I won’t miss this opportunity. It’s been almost six years since I last saw him. Almost six years since seeing that hard, perfect man-butt as he jumped into his jeans.
The first time he took me, I could almost see my V card nicely tucked into his back pocket. He told me he loved me and asked me to tell him that I loved him. He was still inside me when he asked if I wanted him to be with me. I cried instead—because something is wrong with me, and I couldn’t. I couldn’t say it back. But I know that he knew.
He kissed me harder than ever when I started to cry, and our kiss tasted of my tears. At the time, I thought it all so painful and raw, the way he kissed me. So beautiful. I trembled as he held me. I couldn’t seem to piece myself back together after breaking for him the way I did during my orgasms. I could hear his breath mingle with my breath as he soothed a hand down my spine, telling me over and over that he loved me.
And that wasn’t the only time he took me. For days and weeks and months, we made hot, fevered love. I was seventeen and he was my everything, and when he took me, I thought he wanted everything I had to give. He left anyway. Bastard.
Mackenna was a secret, you see. He was the closest I’ve ever been to a person in my life—but he was a secret nobody could find out about. Especially not my mother. He knew it. I knew it. But we always managed to see each other anyway. We lied, hid, stole out of our homes and into the night, meeting at the docks and hijacking some unsuspecting family’s yacht until sunrise. We didn’t care who our families were, or what was “best” for us.
As far as I was concerned, he was it for me, and I for him.
He was my best friend too.
My world broke when I heard he left Seattle.
He didn’t even say goodbye.
The last thing he’d said to me was that he loved me.
Now. I. Hate. Love.
I thought that with his absence, the wound would heal. But the wound is still there. It’s festered and bubbled up and grown.
I gave the motherfucker everything that was in my young, stupid heart to give, and he ruined me.
Well, fuck him.
Next week he’s in Seattle. He and his mashers are in town and everyone is going. I call them mashers because there’s no other group like them. They mash their songs to someone else’s—to real music. Bach, Chopin, the masters. The result is a rock band symphony that runs through your body and curls your toes. And if you add in his vocals . . .
Hell, I don’t even want to talk about his vocals.
People choose to fall in love because it makes them feel good. Love makes them feel protected, safe. Not me. I choose hate. It makes me feel good. Protected and safe. Hating him is all that keeps me sane. Hating him means what he did to me doesn’t matter. I can still feel something. I am not yet dead, because I can feel this hate corroding me. He’s ruined me for other men. Stopped me from being the woman I could have been. He’s broken every dream of a future with him I had. He was my first love and my first everything, including my first heartbreak.
Even after he left, all I’ve been aware of is him, and what he left me with, and what he took from me.
The tickets are expensive. I spend most of what I make helping my mom care for Magnolia. But three little clicks on eBay is all it would take. Three little clicks and I can go up that last notch of debt on my credit card and see this asshole again, in the flesh.
Totally worth it, I decide, and go online and buy two of the most expensive tickets eBay has to offer.
Opening my calendar, I find the day and mark it with an X.
Get ready, asshole. Your Seattle concert won’t be considered a success. Not if I can help it.
♥ ♥ ♥
I DIDN’T USED to like black so much. I liked red, and I liked blue, and somehow really liked yellow. Hot pink and purple were good too. But then colors began making fun of me. They felt too happy. Too sweet. Black was safe and neutral. It didn’t remind me of things that made me sad. It didn’t try to be anything other than black. Right after Dad died, I stopped trying to be anything other than what I really was. I stopped trying to fit in. Trying wore me out, and it only made me more aware that I didn’t belong.
I became black and black embraced me. Tonight I blend with all things sinful and dark. It’s a dark day, and mine is a dark life. Even the sky is cloudy because Mackenna is in town. In fact, there’s a thunderstorm. The stands are wet. The fans are wet. Everyone except the band, who’s ensconced backstage until the rain stops, will be solidly on NyQuil soon.
When the rain finally stops, Melanie and I hear the announcement that the SHOW IS ABOUT TO START. And there will be NO OPENING ACTS DUE TO THE DELAY. Just like that, the shot of vodka I had drunk in a toast to my courage leaves my system, and knees that had felt like they were made of steel minutes ago start feeling like jellyfish.
“Stop looking like you have a gun in your bag. You’re going to get us searched, you dodo!” Melanie tells me.
“Shh! I got this, be quiet,” I scold her as we head back to our seats.
Reaching nervously around my neck, I pull the hood of my poncho over my wet head and tug Melanie behind me as we wind through the crowd to our seats at the front of the stadium. She looks even fatter than I do. Turns out this rain was a blessing—Melanie and I don’t appear nearly as voluminous as we really are, loaded with goods under our ponchos. Goods for the band members. One in particular.
Even when my hair is hanging wet down the sides of my face, I think I look good. Intimidating. Black nails, black lipstick, black poncho, black hair—well, my hair is mostly black except for a stupid pink streak Melanie dared me to dye one drunken night, and I can never refuse a dare. Still, I’m going for my usual Angelina Jolie look, and my black high-heeled boots scream, “Men, come near me only if you want to end up without nuts!”
Melanie, on the other hand, looks as happy as a Barbie.
Her boyfriend probably just fucked her brains out.
Lord, why do my friends get the horniest boyfriends?
“I can’t believe we haven’t reached our seats yet! We’re way up front, we’ll be like breathing them,” she tells me with a big grin.
Um, yeah, breathing Mackenna is the last thing I want or need. But the stage keeps getting closer and closer, looming larger as we approach. It almost feels like every step closer to our seats, a year of my life drops away. Until I can clearly remember the way my stomach flipped inside my body as he looked directly at me with those icy gray eyes and watched me take his cock inside me. Motherfucker.
“I still can’t decide,” Melanie says as we finally sit down, “if I want to get married in a traditional white gown with a big red flower attached to the train, or a simpler pink dress. I’ve got both on hold until Monday. Maybe I should let Greyson see . . .”
She trails off when an awed silence falls over the crowd. One bright light from above narrows and fixes straight at the center of the stage. My heartbeat starts racing against my will. Furious, I breathe in through my nose for five seconds, hold it for five, and let it go for five—some shit I learned in Anger Management.
The light remains focused on the empty center of the stage, and violins start playing in the background. Just when the violins seem to take control of the rhythm of your breathing, the drums start joining in to take over your heart. Ugh, bastards. It’s like the music is overtaking me. The music builds, builds, and builds to a crescendo until the lights shut down.
Gasps erupt from the crowd as complete darkness descends.
In the shadows, he walks out.
I know it’s Mackenna Jones.
His swagger. His shoulders swinging, his hips rolling, and his long, thick, muscled legs. Hands at his sides, a microphone strapped to his ear and discreetly curled around his rocklike jaw, he approaches the public, and us. His chest is bare. He’s wearing black leather pants. And his hair is bright fuchsia today, spiky and standing high. It’s a shock to see that color against his tan skin. The smooth muscles of his torso glisten, as do the dark little bricks of his abs.
Through the light of the moon, I can see every bit of the six feet of him, and he’s so hot I think my clothes just dried. I try to find something to hate in the way he looks, but there’s nothing. I can’t even say I hate that little gleam in his eye, which screams, Bad boy, bad boy, I’m a fucking bad boy and I’m going to fuck with your life.
I liked it.
I used to like it so much.
Until he did what bad boys actually do, and it turned out that his being a bad boy has been the least fun I’ve ever experienced in my life.
A dim light flickers over him. The orchestra in the background begins playing. The light intensifies as he grabs the pink wig on his head and throws it into the stands, yelling, “Hel-fucking-lo, Seattle!”
Seattle screams in return, and he laughs this outrageously sexy chuckle as a group of girls try to leap out of the pit onto the stage, fighting like hellcats for the wig he just threw.
I’m not looking at the catfight; I’m looking at him. The fucking asshole who shouldn’t even deserve to live, much less look like he does. I can’t help but notice the dark, sexy buzz cut curving around the beautiful shape of his head. This only makes his lips stand out more and his nose stand out more and his eyes stand out more . . . the guy is not hot—he’s supernova. He’s got full, beautiful lips and a sleek nose that flares naturally with each breath—then there’s his smile, which makes me angry enough to boil a horse. Hurt and betrayal coil and churn inside me as he flashes that smile at everyone.
“Looks like we have a feisty crowd tonight. Excellent. Excellent,” he rumbles as he walks from side to side on the stage, scanning the crowd. Mel and I are so close, he’d need only look down to see me. But he’s too almighty to look down—and I can do nothing but keep looking up, even if I can no longer see his face because of the big bulge of his cock.
I swear I haven’t had sex in so long, I’ve been revirginized. I can’t even remember what feeling good feels like. I haven’t wanted to. I like feeling fucking bad. So I look up now, and I see him, and the memory of that big, thick cock slides and ripples through me.
I dislike the tingly insecurity it gives me. I dislike it a lot.
He sweeps the crowd with one long, long stare. “You all want some music tonight, huh?!” he asks in a low voice, the question as intimate as if he’d whispered it to each of us.
“KENNA!!” Women are sobbing beside us.
“Then let’s hit it!” He lifts one fist in the air, and a drum beats in the background. He starts pumping his fist high, the drum following an identical answering sound. He rolls his hips and lifts his head to the cloudy sky, making a slow humming noise from deep in his throat that sounds like . . . sex.
While the orchestra noise begins building again, the symphony gathers momentum. From slow and melodic, it heads toward something noisier and crazier. My pulse is somewhere in the stratosphere by the time the rhythm feels absolutely wild, when suddenly two men pop up on a platform from under the stage, striking their electric guitars to an explosion of lights that simulate fireworks. They’re the other two lead members—Jax and Lexington. Daddy’s boys, and identical twins. They got the funding for their first performance from their own Daddy Warbucks, and now the three leads need nothing from anybody.
Mackenna starts singing in a voice that is low and raspy and sexy as fuck. I hate him. How fluid his muscular body is. How it oozes testosterone. How dancers join the three men onstage, dressed in formal black-and-white men’s suits. I even hate the way they tear off their suits to reveal their black-painted skin that makes them look sleek as panthers.
Melanie is so enraptured; her lips are parted and she’s gaping. I swear, the electric, primal, and animal way these three men move up onstage is something to behold; the three are being irreverent with their bodies but reverent to their music.
My body is in an uproar. I have purposely not been a music girl for years. Mainly to avoid listening to any song of his by mistake. But now his voice is on every fucking speaker. It reverberates in my bones, awakening some strange pain inside me along with an extra truckload of anger.
The concert continues like some form of exquisite torture. The band prolonging not only my torment but the torment of every spectator waiting anxiously to hear their most recognized song. And then . . . it happens.
Finally, Mackenna starts singing “Pandora’s Kiss,” the breakout song that topped the Billboard charts and hit #1 on iTunes for weeks:
Those harlot’s lips
To taste and torment me
Those little tricks
That tease and torture me,
Ooooooooh, oh, oh, OH
I shouldn’t have opened you up, Pandora
Ooooooooh, OH, OH, OOOH
You should’ve remained in my closet, Pandora
A secret I will forever deny
A love that would one day die
Ooooh, OH, OH, OH
I should’ve never kissed . . . those harlot’s lips . . . Pandora
Rage bubbles up inside me full force.
“Now?” Melanie keeps asking me.
I. Loathe. Him.
“Now?” she asks again.
I loathe him. He’s the only boy I’ve ever kissed. He took kisses that meant everything to me and turned them into a joke of a fucking song. A song that turns me into some sort of Eve, torturing and teasing him to sin. He is the sin. He is the penitence, the hell, and the devil, all in one.
I reach into my bag, nicely tucked under my poncho, and grab the first thing I find.
“Now,” I whisper.
Before Mackenna knows what hit him, Melanie and I have sent three tomatoes and a couple of eggs flying through the air.
The orchestra music isn’t enough to drown out his muttered “fuck,” audible through the microphone.
His jaw clamps and he yanks the mic down over his chin as he jerks his eyes around to find the source of the attack. I feel delirious when I see the genuine anger on his face. I squeal, “The rest!” and grab the remaining things we brought and just keep throwing. Not only at him, but at anyone who tries to get in the way—like the stupid dancers who rush to protect him. One of them makes a whimpering noise as an egg hits her face, and Mackenna jerks her back by the arm so he can take the hits himself, his furious eyes trying to find us in the crowd.
Then I hear Melanie shout, “Hey! LET GO, asshole!”
My arms are yanked behind me, and I’m suddenly shoved and pulled out of my place and down the aisle.
“Let go of us!” Melanie cries, struggling as two burly guards drag us away. “If you don’t let go of me right now, my boyfriend’s going to find your home and kill you in your sleep!”
The guard yanks me back harder, and I catch my breath as pain rushes up my arm.
“Asshole,” I hiss, but I don’t even bother to struggle. Melanie’s getting nowhere and I know it.
“She knows them! She knows the band! Who do you think he was singing about just now, asshole?” Melanie kicks into the air. “She’s Pandora! Let us fucking go.”
“You know Mr. Jones?” one guard asks me.
“Mr. Jones!” I scoff. “Seriously! If Mackenna’s a mister, I’m a unicorn!”
They seem to chuckle among themselves as they lead us past more security, around the stage, and to a small room in the back. One guy starts speaking into a radio as he unlocks the door.
Melanie struggles and tries to kick out, but the enormity of what could happen starts settling on me, and I grow quiet.
Holy. Shit. What have I done?
“You don’t have to look so happy, dickface. My boyfriend will find your home too and kill you next!” she tells the other guard.
They yank a door open and shove us inside. I stumble as I take a step, fighting for some dignity as I wiggle free of his grip. “Let go,” I grit, and he finally releases me.
The radio transmitter on his hip emits a sound. A voice says something I can’t make out, but it sounds a lot like cursing.
“Remove these,” one of the guards commands, pointing at our ponchos.
I pry the plastic off my body and Melanie does the same, then we watch helplessly as they strip us of the bags we’d hidden underneath the ponchos.
Melanie groans when they set our things on a table to the side. Cell phones. Two more tomatoes. Car keys.
“Wow. You guys can’t take a little joke now, can you?” Melanie asks them with a haughty little scowl.
I close my eyes and try to quell the panic rising in me.
Fuuuuck. What was I thinking?
I haven’t done anything this reckless in years.
And it felt good.
Also wrong. Very, very wrong.
But good. Great, in fact.
Hell, I can still picture the pissed, disbelieving look on Mackenna’s face. It gave me intense pleasure. Orgasmic pleasure. But now the intense feeling I’m experiencing is more along the lines of paralyzing fear.
What if the guards call him into the room to ask if he does, indeed, know me?
What if I have to stand here in this small stuffy room and look at him from thisclose!
I feel sick to my stomach. Later, Melanie’s going to want explanations. Big-time explanations, more than what I’ve told her so far. She’s going to have to tell Greyson what happened, and he’s going to want to know everything, because these stupid security guards messed with his girl. I don’t even know if I can explain to her the kind of past Mackenna and I share. January 22: the day I unfailingly get drunk and don’t bother to even see the light of day—I’d sworn to myself I’d never discuss that day. But Melanie and Greyson? They will want me to open my box of secrets. Of me and Mackenna Jones.
Hot, wet mouths melding . . .
Him, pushing into me, stretching me, taking me, loving me . . .
The kind of hatred that’s only born of an intense, out-of-this-world love that went woefully wrong.
What am I going to say to him if I see him?
What am I going to do?
Please god, don’t punish me by making me look at him thisclose.
I pace and pray, pace and pray while Melanie studies her nails, the wall, and me, sighing with the bored confidence of someone who knows she’s getting out of here intact. If I see Mackenna, I really doubt it’ll be so easy. My stomach’s already in knots, and I’m having the most awful urge to vomit right now.
The concert seems to last forever. One of the guards comes and goes while the other opts to stand a few feet behind Melanie, standing all military-like, as if waiting for something.
Oh god, please let that something not be Mackenna.
I’m wearing off a layer of my boots’ soles when, a century later, the door swings open and a chubby man in a suit and tie steps in. My blood pools in my feet from my nervousness. Lionel “Leo” Palmer, the band manager. I saw his face and interview in this morning’s paper, but I have to say he looked much happier in that picture.
He glares at us—Melanie glaring back, me standing motionless—and his hands make meaty fists at his sides.
“Have you any idea what you just did?” he grits out, chubby cheeks blazing red. “How long we could keep you two cozy in a fucking lady prison? What kind of fucking fans are you?”
“We’re not fans,” Melanie says.
The door swings open and the twins, in all their male glory, join the melee. They look intimidating all the time, but now—with their blond hair, odd-color eyes, and perfectly pissed-off scowls—they’re a force to be reckoned with.
I can’t breathe.
“Who the fuck are these bitches?” the one with the snake tattoo demands.
“I’m getting to that, Jax,” Lionel says.
So the other one must be Lexington. He charges forward and looks at me, eyebrow piercing and all, then he looks at Melanie. He points his index finger, swinging it from her to me. “I hope you two have a lot of money, because one of our dancers is injured. If she’s screwed up for Madison Square Garden—”
“Don’t worry, Pandora, Greyson will take care of this,” Melanie says easily.
“Pandora,” Lionel repeats suddenly. He grows still, his eyes sliding back to me. “Your friend called you Pandora. Why?”
“Because it’s my name? Duh.”
I’m in the middle of rolling my eyes when the door swings open and a figure fills the space. I don’t think my heart is beating anymore. I feel like someone is strangling me and punching me on the inside.
A few feet away.
In the same room as me.
Bigger and manlier than ever.
He kicks the door shut behind him. He’s wearing aviators, so I can’t see his eyes, and ohmigod, I hate him with a passion. I came here to hurt him, but I’m so overcome by my anger, I can’t seem to do anything but stand here with my breath getting trapped in my lungs, my heart squeezing in my chest, my body trembling as all my suppressed anger bubbles up inside me.
He is tall and dark, and the remains of a red gooey liquid trickle down his chest.
But what a perfect chest, and then that thin trail of hair that leads the way from his navel to his dick. Tight leather pants mold to his bulging thighs. A bulging cock too. I swear girls might think he sticks a loaf of bread down his pants, but I can assure you that fucker is real. As huge as his fucking ego, and I remember it used to get as hard as his fucking head.
Not everyone can pull off a buzz cut, or a diamond stud earring, but he has a perfectly shaped head that makes you want to curl your hands around it and trace the curves with your lips. The diamond glints almost menacingly in his right ear, and when he takes off the sunglasses with an angry jerk, I see his brilliant, furious silver eyes, and I swear that it feels like coming home.
To a home that was wrecked, and burned, and there’s nothing left, but it’s still your home.
How fucked up is that?
God, please let him not be real. Let this be a nightmare. Let him be on the other corner of the world while I hate him safely from my corner in Seattle.
“She’s fucking Pandora?” Lionel asks Mackenna.
When Mackenna’s hard jaw only tightens, Lionel turns slowly around to study me. My brain is a tangle of confusion because Mackenna is staring straight at me like he can’t believe I’m standing here.
I can barely take his steely gaze. I thought this night would give me closure. That I could make him feel in front of his fans like I felt when he left: humiliated. Instead he stands there, every inch the rock god, even with tomato puree on his chest. He owns the room, carrying that unnamable X factor that nobody can pinpoint but that he has in spades, that tells you he owns this room and everyone in it.
And that fact only serves to piss me off further.
“Lionel,” he says in a low, warning tone.
Just one word makes Lionel ease back. Now nothing stops Mackenna from staring straight at me.
My face burns as I remember how I loved him. Deep, hard, completely.
Don’t think about that. You hate him now!
“Nice hair.” He shoves his glasses into the belt loops of his pants.
His voice, oh god.
His eyes run down the length of my hair, and Melanie offers, “I suggested she add a little spirit to her hair, so at least she looks happy.”
He doesn’t even look at Melanie. He looks at me in the most intense way, specifically the pink strand in my hair, waiting for me to answer. I loathe that pink strand, but not as much as I loathe him.
“Nice tights,” I return, and gesture to his leather pants. “How’d you get into them? From the top of a building and with a pound of butter?”
I refuse to let his chuckle move me, but I feel it run down my legs as he starts approaching. “No need to use butter anymore. These pants are a part of me.” He holds my gaze helplessly trapped. “Like you were a part of me once.”
He’s coming closer, and every step affects me. My cheeks burn. The gall of him to remind me. I’m so angry. Years of hurt simmer in me. Of loneliness and betrayal.
“Fuck you, Mackenna.”
“Already done, Pandora.” His eyes burn with equal fury as he takes a tomato from the table and surveys it with glinting gray eyes. “Is this for me too?”
“That’s right. All. Yours.”
His lips curl in derision as he tosses it up like a ball and easily catches it, all the while watching me.
“Your show is so bad, Melanie and I felt we had to give your fans some real entertainment.”
He runs his eyes across my face, studying me. “Yeah, by humiliating the fuck out of me.”
I can’t stand the way he looks at me, his eyes tracing the same path. My eyebrows, my nose, my lips, my chin, my cheekbones. He makes me wonder if I looked at the wrong mirror today, as if there’s something even remotely interesting to see. I swear nothing prepared me for having his eyes on me again. Nothing. I want to get out of here so fast, he won’t even see my butt as I go.
“Let me go, Mackenna.”
“All right, Dora. But first a parting gift.” Saying my least favorite nickname, he crushes the tomato in one fist, then lifts his hand, dropping little pieces of it over my head, watching me as I gasp and the juice spreads down my face and the side of my neck.
“There you go,” he croons, his smile wolfish as he works his fingers into my hair to make the juice seep deeper. When I struggle to pull free, he grips the back of my head and presses his nose to my ear, making me tense to stifle a shudder. “You just pissed off my entire fucking band. Do you realize the kind of charges we’re going to press?”
Yes, I do. My mother is a lawyer, so I have a pretty good idea.
So why did I think the fact that he deserved it gave me a free pass to be reckless tonight?
He’s got me fucked.
And he’s so close. I’m strangely paralyzed as his lips move by my ear, causing an unwanted quiver down my legs. My nipples hurt all of a sudden and my body is in some strange contracting mode.
“Are you suicidal, or just looking to leave home? Because trust me, jail won’t be much of an improvement.”
“And your fucking face isn’t much improved with the egg facial I gave you.”
His friends, the twins, explode in laughter, but Mackenna doesn’t.
He surveys me with ill-concealed anger, and somehow I have an acute memory of the last time I looked into those slate gray eyes. His heavy stare and the touch of his tongue on mine zipping like white-hot lightning through my body. Him moving, his hands on my hips, holding me beneath him while I thrash. His groans telling me how much he likes being inside me.
It hurts. The sight of him hurts.
I didn’t expect it to.
As if my proximity has just triggered the same memories in his mind, he blatantly studies my body, his gaze lingering on my breasts, my mouth—a gaze hot and tactile and making me squirm—before he focuses back on my face as he speaks to the others.
“I’ll take care of the damages,” I hear him say, those eyes still on me, ruthless and calculating as if he’s just come to a decision. “And I’ll settle accounts with her directly.”
“Ha! You’re settling nothing with anybody here,” Melanie scoffs.
He lets out a cold male chuckle and pins his attention on her. “What’s your name, Barbie?”
“Melanie Meyers, asshole.”
“Leave her alone—” I start, but he cuts me off with a hand and tells the guards, “Escort Barbie to her car.”
“Dream on, pink wig. I won’t leave without Pandora!”
“This goth is seriously Pandora?” one of the twins finally asks. “Our Pandora? She was supposed to be a myth, dude.”
There’s a tense silence as every one of his team members looks at Mackenna. And I can’t help but notice with a prick in my chest that Mackenna looks none too pleased in a manner suggesting he’d hoped some eighteen-wheeler had run me over at some point, burying his secret.
He’s handed a towel, which he drags over his built chest as he shakes his head, raking his fingers through the beautiful buzz of hair on his scalp as he tries to get all the shit off his head. His silence and the thoughtful lines on his face render me beyond nervous and edgy.
Fuck, I don’t like that he’s taking control of things now.
I don’t like the effect he has on me.
The ways he could torture me.
The power he has over me, knowing how I’m privately afraid of my own mother—he’ll fucking know I will do anything to keep her from finding out.
As he’s about to speak again, Lionel says, “Kenna, a word.”
Mackenna heads over to him, the twins joining the little circle. The twins look like Vikings, and Mackenna a pirate who steals and deflowers girls like me. I can feel them watching us as they speak. Mackenna trails his eyes over my body as he listens. He doesn’t even seem to realize how blatantly he’s checking me out. Checking me from the top of my pink-streaked hair down to my badass boots.
Finally, he looks into my eyes, narrows his own, and shakes his head angrily. “No fucking way.”
“Yes fucking way,” Lionel counters.
Sighing over his front man’s stubbornness—which is a palpable thing, as big as an elephant in the room—Lionel ushers out the Vikings and the pirate, the door slamming shut behind a cursing Mackenna.
Melanie and I remain there for what feels like forever, exchanging a what-the-fuck glance.
The two guards stay in the room, watching us—watching me, especially—while little pieces of tomato slide down my face.
I want to punch something.
Something with gray eyes and a buzz cut.
Mackenna returns and grabs the towel again, the rest of the guys shuffling in behind him. “Just let her apologize to us and clean up her mess, then she can go.” He lifts the towel in the air and signals at me to come over, curling his finger in a mocking way.
“Fuck. You,” I breathe, suddenly seething.
“Mackenna,” one of the guys groans, laughing in an Are you fucking kidding me? She’s got you this worked up? way.
“You two look like nice girls. Well, at least one of you does.” Lionel smiles benignly at Melanie, then takes in my Angelina Jolie attire before scowling and adding, “Look, we can put you both in jail. Even a day can haunt you. Is that what you want?”
“Pan, don’t even listen. Grey will make sure—”
“No, Melanie, this is my problem.” I shake my head stubbornly. It’s not like her boyfriend and I get along that well anyway. Hell, I’m not on good terms with any man, so fuck that. I don’t need rescuing. I’d rather stew in jail for a couple of nights. At least before my mother officially kills me.
“Let’s cut to the chase,” the twin with the tattoo says—Jax, I think. “Just tell her the deets, Leo.”
“No, thanks,” I interrupt before they can even say what they want. “I’d rather do jail time than do him.”
A muscle works angrily in the back of Mackenna’s jaw as he slowly crosses his arms over his chest. “That’s assuming you could turn me on.”
“Kenna, shut up,” Lionel growls, then he turns to me again. “We’re currently filming for the Crack Bikini movie. Did you know?”
“The whole world knows. I’m just glad you’re not filming now.”
“We were filming during your little shenanigan.” He gestures at Mackenna’s ripped chest. “We’re wrapping up at Madison Square Garden, and now that your existence has been revealed . . .” He looks accusingly at Mackenna, then at me. “Now that we know that there is, in fact, a human Pandora whom our lead may have based his lyrics on, we want you in the movie.”
“She’s not going within an inch of those cameras,” Mackenna grits out as he charges toward the door.
“Jones, listen to me. This is brilliant. People will eat this up with a fucking spoon!”
Mackenna angrily swings the door open. “I’m not interested, so you might as well leave her out of this.”
“Like you left me out of your stupid song, huh, jackass?” I suddenly explode. “And I’m not interested either!”
“I’ll pay you enough to interest you,” Lionel calmly tells me.
Mackenna stops at the threshold, and that glittering serial-killer look in his eyes makes me want to agree just to spite him. God, I hate him. So much so that I feel spikes in my stomach from my rage. But it doesn’t feel like his glower is for me. It almost feels as if it’s for his manager.
Who continues on with building his case. “Look, you two can fight or not, I don’t care. All I care about is that at the final concert, when Crack Bikini performs, you two will be up there and you’ll kiss in tribute to our number one hit—‘Pandora’s Kiss.’ ”
Mackenna laughs, the sound making me feel like someone just crawled over my fucking grave. All the little hairs on my arms are standing on end.
“Lionel, we’ve got this. We don’t need her. The fans want us, not her.” He points at me, then runs his hand all the way through his head to the back of his neck in sheer frustration. Then he storms out through the door, calling with deadly authority, “Leave her out of this or I promise someone will have hell to pay, Leo!”
I don’t know why, but I don’t like him having the last word.
I don’t like feeling as if he’s protecting me from the cameras.
I don’t like any of it, and before I know it, my voice stops him. “Ha! Like your promises ever mean anything, dickhead!” As I speak, I tear free the ring hanging from my necklace and chuck it at the open door.
Time stands utterly still.
Deathly slow, Mackenna steps back into the room to where the ring lies on the floor.
He looks at the small white-gold band with the sparkly diamond resting at his feet, and his expression changes from surprise to anger, then to something I don’t comprehend. He lifts it and looks at it for the longest moment of my life, then he lifts his head and stares at me with an expression that wrecks me on the inside. He clenches his jaw, turns around, and slams the door shut.
Battling with the urge to run after him and . . . and what?
I hate that I can still feel the warmth from his hand when he used to hold mine. I hate that the memory of his mouth on mine still wakes me in the middle of the night. I feel a dull ache at the loss of the ring I’ve been hiding under my tops, and I ache at the sound of his voice and the sight of his face, and I hate that I don’t know how to stop it.
When I press my lips to my talisman bracelet as I try to hold myself together, fighting for those in the room not to notice how easily Mackenna gets to me, Lionel steps forward and takes my arm. “Dear, you wanted his attention?” he asks me, both amused and confused.
“I don’t want his attention. I don’t want anything from him!”
“You’re getting a lot of him, whether you two want it or not.”
I yank my arm free. “I’m not for sale. There’s nothing you can say or do to convince me to do this.”
“How about . . .” He leans over and whispers a very long, very big number into my ear.