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Flowers on the Wall
Hart of Rock and Roll Book One
By Mary J. Williams
Brook PublicationsCopyright © 2016 Mary J. Williams
All rights reserved.
THE KNOCK ON the dressing room door was firm and decisive. Whoever it was seemed to know what they wanted. He sighed. Pushy or tentative — it seemed someone always wanted something. All he wanted was a hot shower and a few blissfully uninterrupted hours of sleep. He should have gone straight to the hotel instead of collapsing on the sofa. After all these years, he knew better.
He didn't answer when the pounding got louder. With a sigh, he slung an arm over his eyes and hoped against hope that whoever it was would take the hint and go away.
Shit. Hadn't he locked the door? He heard the doorknob turn. Nope. He definitely hadn't locked the door.
"Mr. Hart? Ryder? Do you mind if I come in?"
Ryder didn't bother to look. She had a nice voice. A little husky. But his interest was zero. Neither his brain nor his dick was in the mood.
"Sorry, sweetheart. I don't fuck groupies. Try two doors down. I hear the opening act isn't picky."
"They might not be, but I am. Don't worry, Mr. Hart, your virtue is safe. I'm not looking for bragging rights. My name is Quinn Abernathy. We have an appointment."
"I don't think so, honey."
"It's Quinn. Not sweetheart. Not honey. If you can't remember my name, I occasionally answer to hey, you. But keep the sugary platitudes for your adoring fans."
Interesting. In spite of himself, Ryder raised his arm enough to get a look at the lady with the acid tongue. Well, shit. He had hoped she would look like somebody's aunt. Instead, Quinn Abernathy was a knock-out. He felt a stir of interest. But not enough to do more than roll over so his back was to her. It was meant to end the conversation.
"I spoke with your manager, Mr. Hart. He —"
"Jesus H. Christ." Ryder whipped around. "I don't give a fuck. My head is pounding. My knee has swollen up to twice its normal size, and I need something to eat besides the crap they put out in my dressing room. Whatever you want, can it wait until morning?"
"Sure." Concerned, Quinn's blue eyes lowered. "What happened to your knee?"
"Old war injury."
It wasn't far from the truth. Ryder's entire childhood had been lived in a war zone. He survived because he learned how to avoid the ever-present landmines. One time, when he was ten, he wasn't fast enough. The result had been a baseball bat to his knee. It had healed. But now and then — like tonight — it flared up.
Ryder didn't know what the lovely Quinn thought of his explanation. She had a mighty fine poker face.
"I won't keep you. Get some ice on that knee. And I would recommend a steak. The hotel where you're staying serves a mean ribeye."
"How do you know?"
"I had one for dinner."
"Wait." All of sudden, Ryder wasn't as anxious for her to leave. "Are you staying at the St. Regis?"
Shaking her head, her lips curved. Nice lips tinged with a touch of red gloss. Ryder wondered about the flavor.
"Not yours." Halfway out the door, Quinn paused. "I'm a photographer, Mr. Hart." She patted the bag that hung over her shoulder. "Not a groupie."
"I don't have sex with groupies."
"I remember." Quinn laughed. "I'm not immune, Mr. Hart. And maybe — somewhere down the line — we'll see what we see. But for the time being, let's keep this professional."
"I didn't proposition you." Ryder wasn't used to women setting boundaries. That was his prerogative.
"You were going to." With that closing shot, Quinn shut the door.
Refusing to let her have the last word, Ryder hurriedly limped across the room.
"Hey, you," he called out. Quinn was already at the end of the hallway, but she heard him. To his delight, she stopped. Slowly, she turned toward him. In the glow of the harsh fluorescent lighting, Ryder could see that she tried not to smile.
"Why do I need a photographer?"
"Because I'm the best."
Ryder loved a woman with confidence. "That doesn't answer my question."
"I guess you'll have to wait and find out."
"Lunch? One o'clock? My room?" When Quinn hesitated,
Ryder laughed. "I promise ... your virtue is safe. For now."
"I don't know your room number."
There were at least a dozen women roaming the hall. Ryder already had their attention. When his room number was mentioned, they practically began to salivate.
"Call my manager. He'll give it to you."
Ryder watched until Quinn was out of sight, then closed his dressing room door. This time, he made certain it was locked. He hadn't noticed the other women. At this point in his life, he rarely did. Before he became famous, when he and his band played one-nighters for peanuts, the women were always around.
It was the music. Rock and roll. Country. Jazz. Classical. If a guy could play an instrument, he could get laid. It was a truth as old as time. Ryder imagined back in prehistoric days, the first caveman who figured out how to carry a beat with a stick and rock found himself beating the women off with his club.
However, everyone had their saturation point. Ryder liked sex. Hell, it was one of life's great pleasures. But after over a decade of countless anonymous women, he no longer went for quantity over quality.
Nobody would call Ryder Hart a monk. He simply liked to know a woman's name before he stuck his tongue down her throat. Or any other place on her body.
Quinn Abernathy. It was a nice name.
"I DON'T KNOW, Dad. I just started a new project. However, I will try to get there for Cora's birthday."
"How often does someone turn thirty?"
Quinn wondered if that was a trick question. Cora, her father's third wife, had celebrated her thirtieth birthday last year and the year before. At this rate, it wouldn't be long until her stepmother magically became younger than Quinn.
"How are you doing?" There were times when a change of subject was the only solution. "Are you sticking to your diet?"
"No caffeine and one small whiskey a day? Don't get me started on the steamed vegetables. Have you ever tried to live on broccoli and kale?"
Quinn could almost see her father shudder. Michael Abernathy was a man who had always lived life on his own terms. He made his own rules and lived with the consequences. That attitude had made him one of the most successful corporate lawyers in the country. Which meant he was reviled as much as he was admired. Just ask his ex-wives. One hated him — with good reason. The other loved him — despite the extramarital affairs and the divorce.
"The doctor and Cora are trying to keep you alive. Those chest pains you suffered last year were a warning sign, Dad. I would like you to stick around for another thirty years or so."
"Your mother would have snuck me a little hollandaise."
"My mother would dance on your grave."
Michael laughed. "Belinda had passion. Still does. I miss her, Quinn."
Then you should have treated her better when you had her. Her father had a habit of rewriting history. In his mind, he hadn't destroyed his first marriage with lies and betrayals. It had simply been a series of unfortunate misunderstandings. The fact that her mother hadn't spoken to him in twenty years was a minor matter he chose to overlook.
"Mom is happily remarried, and you have Cora." Whether her father was happy was up for debate. "Be glad you have someone who cares enough to make sure you eat properly."
"Cora is sweet. But she doesn't challenge me the way your mother did." Michael sighed. "Speaking of which. How's the job?"
That was her father's less than subtle way of saying, like his wife, her job was fluff, and she never should have dropped out of law school. He was wrong on both counts. However, Quinn knew it was a pointless argument. There were only so many times that she could knock her head against that brick wall. It resulted in nothing but harsh words and headaches.
"I was on my way out the door when you called. Give Cora my best. I love you."
Her father didn't make it easy, but Quinn did love him. It helped that they didn't speak often and saw each other even less. There had been a time when pleasing him was all she cared about. She had been a year from getting her law degree when she had come to her senses. She didn't want to be a lawyer. Working at her father's firm would have ended in disaster — Quinn had no doubt.
Convincing her father was another matter. He was convinced that photography was a frivolous whim. When she was ready to return to the real world, he promised not to say I told you so — more than every other day for the rest of her life.
Photography was her passion. Her joy. The reason she spent long hours in her studio only to drop exhausted into bed. Quinn had a reputation as a perfectionist — something her father would appreciate in anyone else. She never settled for a shot that was almost right. She pushed herself to be the best. Nothing was going to stand in her way. Not her father. And not a rock star with an inflated idea of his own appeal.
I don't fuck groupies. Ryder Hart had said it with such disdain. As though the women who threw themselves at him were beneath contempt. He might not fuck them now, but Quinn would bet he had at one time. And hadn't blinked at doing so. How had he spoken about them then? Not much better, she imagined. Arrogant prick.
She had hinted that she would sleep with him because it would feel so good when she turned him down. After he gave her what she wanted.
Quinn checked the clock. Quarter to one. She slid her feet into her boots before checking her reflection. The heels brought her to just under six feet tall. Her long legs were encased in her favorite pair of jeans. They were soft from frequent wear and washings. Her leather jacket was a pale gray and underneath, she sported a bright yellow t-shirt. Her look was casual but trendy. She loved when comfort and fashion meshed.
Quinn had kept her makeup to a minimum. A little mascara. Some blush and a touch of color for her lips. She left her shoulder-length auburn hair loose. A pair of silver hoops in her ears and she was ready to go.
This assignment was going to lift her career to the next level. A full spread in Rolling Stone. It was a coup for any photographer. Covering the final weeks of Ryder Hart's wildly successful world tour was the chance of a lifetime. He and his band were notoriously publicity shy. Access to the inner circle was harder to come by than a ticket to one of their concerts.
Grabbing her camera bag, Quinn took a deep breath. Whatever it took, short of using sex as an inducement, she was determined to win over Ryder Hart.CHAPTER 2
"SHE'S A GODDAMNED photographer, Ryder."
"Why are you going to so much trouble? She's here to do a job. If she impresses you. Not the other way around."
"Room service went to the trouble, not me." Ryder shifted the salt shaker, aligning it with the pepper. "I picked up the phone and placed the order. And what is wrong with adding a little class? Would you prefer I had a pizza delivered and popped the top on a couple of beers?"
"Rather than lobster and a five-hundred-dollar bottle of wine? Yes."
As managers went, Ryder supposed that Alden Christopher wasn't any more protective than the next guy. But how would he know? Alden was his first and only.
Ryder had hustled his first paying gig when he was sixteen years old. A few bucks under the table and a couple of hot meals had meant the world to a kid struggling to get by. Things got better. But it had been a slow, hard fight. Alden had been the first person who believed in Ryder's talent. For that reason alone, he would have put up with a lot.
"Relax. Aren't you the one who convinced me to meet with her? I don't like anyone hanging around the band. And for two weeks? I want to get a feel for Quinn Abernathy. A nice, relaxed lunch will be a good start."
"Why didn't you invite the rest of the band?" Alden frowned as Ryder fussed over the place setting. "Vote like you always do. Either she's in or out."
"Nothing will be decided until everyone has a say." Satisfied that everything looked the way he wanted, he gave the chilling wine a turn around the ice bucket.
"Ashe won't care one way or the other. Dalton will say no. And Zoe will be a wild card. Nothing changes. We always end up on the same page eventually. Otherwise, it's a no. Simple as that."
"You want to sleep with her."
"All discussion of my sex life is off limits, Alden. Always was, always will be."
It was a sore subject with Alden. It rankled because he knew that Ryder never thought about what had happened all those years ago. And Alden thought about it all the time.
"If she's as professional as Rolling Stone claims, it won't be an issue. Quinn Abernathy doesn't sleep with anyone she photographs. It's practically written on her résumé."
"No! Goddamn it, Ryder. I wasn't issuing a challenge."
Ryder grinned, the green in his hazel eyes seemed to gleam brighter than usual. "Isn't that a gauntlet I see on the floor?" With a flourish, he made a production of picking up the imaginary item. "Challenge accepted."
"I thought you didn't treat women as trophies." Alden's only hope was to appeal to Ryder's sense of chivalry.
"I won't sleep with the lovely Quinn unless she knows the rules." Ryder patted Alden on the back. "Relax. I've been celibate too long. A little fun under the sheets might be just what I need."
"It's been a long tour, Alden. And I've been a very good boy." There was a knock at the door. "Don't I deserve a treat?"
This was not a discussion Ryder wanted to have with Alden. Or anyone. Except Quinn. And wasn't he going to enjoy that conversation? When the time came. But he planned on enjoying the dance. Let Alden think what he wanted.
"Ms. Abernathy. Right on time." Ryder stood back so Quinn could enter the room. "This is my manager, Alden Christopher. I believe you've spoken."
"Mr. Christopher." Quinn nodded as Ryder took her bag. "Careful. You have my livelihood in your hands."
"I will treat it as if it were one of my guitars."
Quinn relaxed. She had read that Ryder's guitars were his babies. She knew how he felt.
"I suppose I should leave you to get acquainted."
"Yes, you should." Ryder carefully set Quinn's bag on the sitting room table. "Make sure Paul is here to pick us up by five. The sound check was iffy last night, and I don't want to leave it to the last minute."
Alden nodded, sending Ryder one last look before he exited.
"Doesn't the show start at eight?" Quinn asked.
"Do you always get there three hours early?"
"Wine?" Ryder picked up the bottle.
"I like to think of myself as a perfectionist. My bandmates aren't as complimentary." He handed her a filled glass. "But we agree on one thing. We want to put on the best show possible. Every night. The fans who shelled out their hard-earned money don't care that we've been touring for a year. This could be the only time they see us live. It has to be perfect."
"That's admirable. Do all entertainers feel the same?"
"I can only speak for myself. But I hope so."
Quinn knew the answer. It was a big fat no. She had been at performances where it was obvious the artist phoned it in. Last night had been her first Ryder Hart concert. It was a dazzling experience. She looked forward to seeing them again tonight. And hopefully every night for the next two weeks.
"How is your knee?"
"It's kind of you to ask." Ryder was surprised by the genuine concern in her voice.
"Better. A couple of Advil and some ice fixed it right up." There was a time he would have chased that with a snort of cocaine, but thankfully those days were over. "Are you hungry?"
"Famished." Quinn wasn't a breakfast person. That meant she usually ate lunch around noon. One o'clock meant her stomach was past ready to be filled.
"Lobster? I ordered the chicken in case you had an allergy to shellfish."
"Lobster is fine. Great. Thank you."
This was not what she had expected. Ryder held her chair, sitting her at a table with a spectacular view of the New York skyline. White linen. Expensive plates and silverware. Quinn would have been fine with pizza, beer, and paper plates. Though she had to admit, she preferred lobster and cold white wine.
"You smell amazing."
Quinn had been so busy taking in the view and the table service, she had almost forgotten Ryder. Almost. He wasn't a man one could ignore for long.
"What is that fragrance?"
Ryder didn't sniff at her like an overly friendly dog. He simply breathed in without touching her. It was a strangely erotic moment.
"It doesn't have a name. Just a mixture of soap, shampoo, and body lotion. Unscented."
"Then it's you."
"I guess so."
Without further comment, Ryder took the seat opposite her and began serving lunch. Quinn quickly forgot about the city view. Her attention was focused on him.
Excerpted from Flowers on the Wall by Mary J. Williams. Copyright © 2016 Mary J. Williams. Excerpted by permission of Brook Publications.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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