Jake Sorenson is an infamous playboy and a world-class music producer, but when it comes to work, he never gives in to temptationeven when it takes the alluring shape of his newest client, Caitlin Ryan. Stunning, talented and vulnerable, she's an irresistible force and the ultimate test of Jake's golden rule.
Caitlin's determined to focus on her music, but she's never met a man quite like Jake, and their craving for one another soon builds to a crescendo. Now that they've tasted rebellion, it seems that the strictest rules might just be there to be broken
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'What do you think?' Unable to suppress the disagreeable sense of disappointment that was churning in his gut, Jake Sorenson glanced up at the stage at Rickhis 'partner in crime'who was all but wearing out the floor, pacing back and forth in his worn Cuban-heeled boots. The auditions weren't exactly going well.
Rick abruptly stopped pacing to spear an exasperated hand through his dull gold hair. Studying Jake, he snapped, 'What do I think? I think that Rosie Rhys-Jones, or whatever her name is, just isn't good enough. God knows Marcie is a hard act to follow, but Rosie. '
'Josie. Whatever ' Scowling, Rick folded his muscular arms across his leather waistcoat and continued. 'The woman would be fine on a cruise ship, entertaining folk with more money than taste, but she's not lead vocalist material and that's a fact. Bottom line is, Jake, I can't see any of the singers we've heard so far fronting a potentially great band like Blue Skycan you?'
In answer, Jake stared off into the distance. Mentally reviewing the past few auditions, he couldn't help but agree. He returned his arresting blue gaze to his friend and the characteristic dimple that highlighted a rare smile appeared at the side of his mouth.
'You're right, of course. We'll just have to keep on looking.'
Jake rarely elaborated. Not unless he absolutely had to.
But he knew that when it came to making a decision ultimately the final say would be his. Although Rick had been in the music business even longer than he hadat the height of his career Jake had been one of the most successful record producers in the businesshe knew that the other man valued his expertise and judgement.
'Is there anyone left outside to see?' Yawning as he rose to his feet, Jake stretched his arms high above his head. The movement made his shirt ride up several inches to reveal a taut flat stomach tapering into lean hips and long-boned thighs, currently encased in faded dark blue denim.
At the same time Rick expertly jumped off the stage and ambled across the dusty wooden floor to join him. 'Not unless they're lurking in the graveyard out there' he joked.
He feigned an exaggerated shiver, his bemused expression conveying exactly what he thought about conducting auditions in an obscure village hall deep in the heart of rural England. But Jake knew that doing things this way at least afforded them a certain amount of privacy that wasn't always possible in London.
The music press and tabloids were always keen to know what he was up to. He was the man who had famously brought several acts from the UK to prominence. But at the height of his career he'd been caught up in a destructive scandal that had cut short his seemingly unstoppable rise to the top when it hit the headlines. After that Jake had dropped out of producing and promoting bands to lick his wounds, reassess his life and reflect on what he might do instead.
For a few years following his very public fall from grace he'd become a perpetual nomad, travelling the world. And while he'd thought he would never entertain the idea of working in the music industry again, when he'd been travelling he'd begun to listen to and study the ethnic music of other cultures and realised that he couldn't leave music alone. It had always been and still was his abiding interestthe thing that made life worth living. And when he'd finally brought his explorative sojourn to an end he'd returned to the UK and made the decision to go back to his roots.
He'd started out managing a band long before he'd become a producer and now, after fifteen years in the business, had come full circle to manage Blue Sky.
Glancing down at his watch, he grimaced. 'Anyway, I think I've heard enough to know that we haven't found our singer yet. Want to call it a day?'
Dropping his hands to his hips, Jake glanced across at the three band members who were waiting expectantly for him to make a decision about what they were going to do next.
'No doubt these guys have had enough, too. So let's go get a hot pie and a beer. We can make an early start in the morning. There's a girl from Birmingham that might be a possibility. She's lead vocalist in a band that have attracted quite a following in her home town'
Despite trying to sound hopeful, Jake knew his downbeat tone conveyed that the girl from Birmingham was more than likely another no. What he was looking forwhat they were all looking forwas someone extraordinary, a girl who stood out from the crowd, who could hold her own fronting a band that had been on the brink of major success before Marcie's sudden and abrupt departure.
It was a crying shame that the woman should have decided at the eleventh hour that she'd rather marry her childhood sweetheart and go and cultivate grapes in the Dordogne than front a rock band. But that, as they said, was showbiz. Still, if anyone could work a miracle Jake knew that he could. All he needed to prove it was to find an amazing singer.
A door slammed loud and hard and the shock in the room was tangible. The sound reverberated round the vaulted high-ceilinged hall like a cannon exploding. What the hell ?
Jake was taken aback when he saw the perpetrator. Tall, slim and dark-haired, she was struggling with the belt of her raincoat, which he could see had become trapped between the hall's back doors when they'd slammed shut. His transfixed gaze worked its way up from long black suede boots to slim toned legs clad in sheer black hosiery. For a long moment he was fixated by a shapely knee, where its smooth flesh peeped intriguingly through a frayed tear the size of a small coin. As she struggled to free her belt the girl emitted a breathy little sound that might have been a curse.
Briefly turning his head, Jake found Rick grinning. He knew it wasn't just because the girl had got herself in a fix. When she finally extricated the belt and lifted her head to murmur a blushing apology he felt as though all the air had just been punched out of his lungs. She was absolutely stunning. Even at a distance he could see that her eyes were the most dazzling emerald-green he'd ever seen in his life. Add to that apple cheeks, and full, luscious lips stained the colour of ripe cherries, and Jake sensed all the testosterone in the room heave a collective sighhis own included.
Rick was the first to recover. 'Hi. Can I help you?' he called out cheerfully.
'This is where the auditions are being held, isn't it?'
Glancing nervously round her, the girl took in the five men standing there, as well as the stacked plastic chairs lining the walls, the dusty floor and the lofty ceiling with its yellowing cracked plasterwork. Her expression was definitely bemused, as if she couldn't quite believe where she'd landed. She still hadn't moved any further away from the door.
'Am I too late? I'm sorry I couldn't get here a bit earlier but I've been stocktaking' Swiping a hand down her short black skirt, she tugged the edges of her raincoat together in front of it, as if she might have inadvertently displayed more than she wanted to.
'Stocktaking, you say?' Rick's wolfish grin grew even wider. 'You can check my stock any time you want to, honey.'
Time to take charge, Jake thought with a flash of irritation. The girl might be easy on the eye, but she was more than likely another time-waster or wannabeand God knew he'd auditioned enough of them in the past four days to be honestly weary of hearing any more.
To make matters worse, he'd lived with a girl just like that and she'd all but broken him with her relentless desire for fame and fortune. Not to mention what she'd been prepared to do to get it. In any case, the girl in front of him probably couldn't sing for toffee.
But even as his cynical gaze surveyed her he felt a hot flash of desire throb through him. He was almost dizzy with the power of it, and in that moment he saw it as a warning to steer well clearbecause something told him that, given the chance, the allure of this incredible beauty would be too hard to resist.
The realisation that he might be tempted honestly scared him. Temptation was never a simple option. In Jake's book it equalled weakness, and he was a man who liked to be in control. From a young age he'd quickly intuited that if he didn't take care of himself and instigate boundaries then he was damn sure no one else would.
'Actually, you're too late.'
But even as the words left his lips he immediately belied them. Helplessly drawn, he found himself moving towards the bewitching woman, and somehow the necessity to get her to leave and quick melted clean away. All his instincts told him to take the chance to admire her beauty while he could. After all, it wasn't every day that a veritable angel presented herself in front of him
'What I mean to say is' he went on 'is that you're too late for the auditions today but you can come back tomorrow if you're serious. If not, then all I can do is thank you for your interest and wish you well.'
'You're questioning if I'm serious or not? If I'm not serious about auditioning then why do you think I'm here?'
Surprised that she would come back at him like that, Jake sighed. His innate instinct was for self-preservation, and his mind scrambled to give her a legitimate reason why he couldn't let her audition today.
'Well, if that's the case, then you won't mind coming back tomorrow, will you? We've been auditioning since early this morning and we could all use a break,'
Watching her wrestle with the emotion his words must have wrought, he saw her hand tuck her hair behind her ear, then free it again as if she wasn't quite sure what to do next.
'I was really hoping you could hear me tonight. The thing is, I won't be able to make it tomorrow'
'Then you can't be that serious about auditioning, can you?'
Hot colour suffused her apple cheeksbut not because of embarrassment, Jake guessed. His cutting rejoinder had infuriated her.
Not wanting to be swayed by her angelic face and big green eyes, he told himself to stand firm. Nonetheless, he heard himself ask, 'What's your name?'
'It's Caitlin. Caitlin Ryan.'
'Well, Caitlin ' Folding his arms across his chest, he let his light-coloured gaze flick an interested glance up and down her figure, simply because it was too irresistible to ignore. 'Like I said, if you're serious about auditioning then you'll come back tomorrow, when it's more convenient for us to hear you. Shall we say around eleven-thirty?'
'I'm sorry ' The woman's incandescent emerald gaze was immediately perturbed. 'I don't want to be a nuisance, but I honestly can't make it tomorrow. A close friendthe manager of the shop where I workis having her wisdom teeth removed, and I'm the only one who can stand in for her while she's away'
Jake fought down a compelling urge to laugh out loud. Of all the answers he might have expected her to furnish him with, the imminent removal of a friend's wisdom teeth hadn't been one of them!
He could almost sense Rick's laughter bubbling up behind him. Damn. It was going to be pretty hard to refuse this beauty anything when she was staring back at him like some little girl lost, those big green eyes of hers reflecting equal measures of hope and disappointment.
'Give the girl a break, man.' As he planted himself beside Jake Rick's amiable features creased into a persuasive smile. 'The band is still set up, so what have we got to lose?'
My sanity, for one thing, thought Jake, with grave misgiving. If Caitlin Ryan looked like a little lost puppy now, before he had even heard her sing a note, God only knew what she was going to look like when he told her Sorry don't give up the day job.
Expelling an aggrieved sigh, he dragged his fingers impatiently through his mane of dark hair and stared at her.
'Okay,' he drawled, his tone painfully resigned, 'I'll give you ten minutes to show me what you can do.' Or, more to the point, what you can't. He couldn't pretend he was expecting very much.
Caitlin's heart beat double-time. Okay, I can do this, she told herself. Singing is second nature to me.
But her morale-boosting self-talk didn't seem to be having a great deal of effect as she nervously made her way across to the stage. The three young men already there ambled casually back to their instruments and she wondered how many singers they'd already auditionedbecause frankly they weren't looking too impressed.
Registering the band's name on the large bass drum in front of the drum kit, and privately acknowledging that she'd never heard of it, she somehow made her lips shape a smile. The lead guitarist introduced himself first. Telling Caitlin that his name was Mike, he extended his hand to help her as she negotiated the final step of the wooden staircase that led onto the stage. He had an open, friendly face she noted, unlike Captain Ahab down there, who looked as if he'd just as soon as take a bite out of her rather than throw away a smile on someone who was clearly a time-waster.
Why, oh, why had she thought this was a good idea? Just because she loved to sing, it didn't mean that she had anywhere near enough talent to make it her career
'By the way, I'm Rick. The man who told you to come back tomorrow is the head honcho. Aren't you going to take off your coat?'
At the foot of the stage the fair-haired man who'd persuaded his boss to give her a chance grinned up at her, with a teasing twinkle in his dancing hazel eyes that was in complete contrast to the reception Caitlin had received from his stony-faced colleague.
As his dark, brooding friend stayed ominously at the back of the hall she noticed he was staring back at her, as if to say, Your performance is going to have to be exceptional if you're going to impress me. He was regarding her as if he fully expected her to disappoint him. Who was he anyway? Caitlin wondered? He might be the man in charge of the auditions, but although he'd asked for her name he hadn't volunteered his own.
In answer to Rick's comment about removing her coat, she answered, 'I'd rather keep it on, if you don't mind. I'm feeling a little bit chilly.'
Her hand curved round the mike stand as if to anchor her to something solid. Oh, why had she worn this stupid short skirt? Because her friend Lia had told her she should make an effort to 'look nice' for the audition, that was why. Caitlin should have stuck to her preference of wearing jeans and a T-shirt.
Raising his voice so that she could hear him clearly, Rick asked, 'So what are you going to sing for us?'
Caitlin told him. It was a song that was regarded as a classic in the annals of rock culture. Although it had a driving, pulsing beat, there was also great passion and pathos in the lyrics and she loved it.
'Good song choice.'
She couldn't help colouring at the approval in his voice and turned her head towards the band so that he wouldn't see he'd unsettled her. 'Is that okay with you?' she asked them.