It was just after midnight when the Princess of Pop made her escape, leaving behind the syrupy-sweet ballads and the tyrannical manager who had made her famous. All Harley Jane Miller wanted was a vacation: two weeks on her own in New York before recording her next album. Yet now that she's tasted freedom, the Princess of Pop's gone electric: changing her clothes, her music, and her good-girl image. And she's never going back. Harley knows it will take some quick thinking to shake her greedy manager. But she never suspects she'll be waylaid by a diamond heist, the French mafia, and a devastatingly gorgeous detective who's determined to bring her inby way of his bedroom...and when he does, Harley Jane will be more than willing to comply....
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.19(w) x 6.85(h) x 0.88(d)|
Read an Excerpt
She smiled as she headed down to Sixth Avenue. She had a date with Manny's Music. She would walk, she would fulfill a teenage dream by visiting the Musicians' Mecca, then she would feel better, and that was that.
She strode down Sixth Avenue to West Forty-eighth Street and discovered almost a full block of music stores, with a tiny park and waterfall separating two of the buildings about halfway down the street. Magic turned up in the oddest places.
Then she saw the sign for Manny's Music. White wrought-iron vines climbed up posts at the door and along the display windows that held trumpets, drums, a sax, an electric guitar, flutes, and clarinets. She felt as if she were coming home.
Smiling, she stepped under the dark green awning, opened the front door, and crashed into a broad chest. Muscular arms went around her to steady her.
"I beg your . . . pardon," she faltered as she stared. He was about six feet of tanned virility. He had short, black, naturally curly hair and expressive black eyes that were a little wide and a little startled just at present. His broad chest was encased in a plum-colored T-shirt. Tight faded jeans lovingly enveloped long, muscular legs. Brown leather shoes and a forest green jacket completed the ensemble.
Harley's heart began beating wildly in her breast. "Wow," she said, and then realized that she'd said it, and blushed. She couldn't bring herself to look any higher than his chest. His yummy chest. "I-I-I mean, I'm sorry I barreled into you like that."
"No problem," he said. His hands were on her shoulders. She could feel their weight, their strength, their warmth. It hadbeen so long since a man had touched her. She dragged her eyes back up to his. Wow! He blinked and took a sudden step back. "It . . . was entirely my fault. Are you okay?"
"That depends," Harley said, her brain still leaving her completely in the lurch. "Are you any relation to an Oklahoma tornado?"
He had a lovely smile that crinkled the corners of his black eyes. "My mother was a glacier and my daddy was an earthquake. Were you just coming in?"
"Yes. I . . . I thought I'd look around."
"I hope you enjoy yourself," he said, stepping aside and holding the door open for her.
She walked past him, turned to thank him, but he was gone.
Darn. She'd just made a complete ninny of herself in front of the most gorgeous hunk of manhood she'd ever met. So much for feeling better this morning.
Harley turned and found herself in bedlam. The place had just opened, but already it was crammed with people, all colors and kinds of people. Hundreds of black-and-white photographs of all the famous musicians who had come to Manny's crowded every inch of available wall space. Down the narrow aisles she could see every size of amplifier and every imaginable instrument. Manny's packed a lot of music into a very tight rectangular space.
But it was the right wall that held her transfixed. Guitars of every shape, color, size, and style ran the whole length of the store. "Oh . . . my . . . God," she whispered. Guitar heaven. Mesmerized, she took the few steps necessary to bring her into contact with nirvana. She reached up. Her fingertips brushed the glossy finish of a Paul Reed Smith. She shivered. Slowly she walked down the wall, gazing rapturously at Martins and Gibsons and Ibanezes. She stopped in front of a turquoise blue six-string Washburn acoustic guitar. It was gorgeous.
A little more than halfway down the room, she faltered to a stop once again. She stood before a small alcove, a three-sided room with electric guitars, dozens of different electric guitars, hanging from the walls and ceiling. Her gaze narrowed, all peripheral vision lost as she stared up at a Fender Stratocaster. A black Fender Stratocaster hanging in a sea of Fender Stratocasters. The most universal of all electric guitars. It could, and did, play anything. The beloved of Buddy Holly, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton was hanging right before her eyes. She could reach up and touch it, but dared not.
"May I help you?"
Vaguely, Harley was aware that a young man with long red hair combed back from his forehead was standing to her left.
"Are you looking for anything in particular?" he asked.
Harley gazed back up at the Fender. "Can I touch it?"
He smiled. "You can play any guitar in the store."
"Nice girls don't play electric guitar!" her mother had insisted.
"I'd like to try . . . that one," she said in a strangled voice, pointing to the black Stratocaster.
He lifted it down as if it were just an ordinary guitar. He plugged it into a small amp sitting on the floor of the alcove and handed the guitar to her. "Here you go."
She stared at the Stratocaster a moment and then watched herself hold out her hands, taking it from the blurry young man and slowly pulling it against her body. "God!" she whispered. It was slim and light and fit perfectly against her belly and diaphragm, cupping the undersides of her breasts.
She strummed an E chord, and then an A, shuddering a little as the music filled the alcove.
"It's better than sex, isn't it?"
Harley focused her eyes on the shop clerk. He was probably in his mid-twenties. A name tag on his white shirt read "Clark."
"It's even better than double chocolate mousse," she said.
He laughed. "Been playing long?"
"Fourteen years," Harley said, playing chord after chord. "But acoustic, not electric."
"Seems to me like you've found your guitar of choice."
Harley stroked the gleaming black surface of the Fender. "Oh yeah."
She hadn't planned it, she hadn't even imagined it, but ten minutes later she was removing sixteen hundred dollars from her money belt to buy the Stratocaster, complete with carrying case, strap, and guitar picks. She placed a few hundred more down on the light oak counter in the center of the store to buy a Maxi-Mouse amplifier so she could start practicing.
She found herself standing under the green Manny's Music awning, the guitar case in her left hand, the amp in her right. She didn't think about checking out of the Hilton, or about the Bartlett Museum, which she had planned to tour later this afternoon, or about Cote Basque, where she had a dinner reservation, or about the show she had planned to see that night.
Right now, what she wanted more than anything was a place to sit down before she fell down.
Dimly she saw the tiny pocket park with a fountain splashing down a stone wall across the street. Forgetting to look left, let alone right, she crossed the street and entered the narrow oasis. She sat down with a thump on the nearest stone bench and stared at the cascading water opposite her.
A Fender Stratocaster. She had just bought a Fender Stratocaster! She set the amp down on the ground and hugged the guitar case with all her might.
She wasn't naked or alone or restless anymore. And she felt lots better.
"Hello again, Miss Miller."
Harley's heart stopped. There was a roaring in her ears. Slowly she turned her head and looked up. A man stood beside her bench. It was the hunk from Manny's, and he knew who she was. Staring up into those dark eyes, she knew it was futile for her to even attempt to pretend that she didn't know that he knew who she was. "Are you Duncan Lang, the man who was asking questions about me at the RIHGA yesterday?"
"One and the same."
"Did Boyd send you?"
"Boyd hired me. I found you thanks to high technology and brilliant deductive reasoning."
Harley stared up at him. "Can you be bought off?"
His dark eyes crinkled in amusement. "'Fraid not. Dad would be peeved. Colangco has a sterling reputation for honesty and results. Sorry," he said as he picked up her Maxi-Mouse. "Shall we head back to the Hilton for your things?"
Crud, he knew where she was staying. Harley tried to think, but her brain felt like iced sludge. It was over. She hadn't even had two full days of freedom yet, and it was over.
Her chest ached. "I'm twenty-six, a grown woman, legally independent," she stated. "You can't just haul me back to Boyd like he owns me!"
"I can when that's what I'm hired to do."
"But I haven't even had a chance to try out my new guitar," Harley said, hot tears welling in her eyes. She hurriedly pushed them back. "Boyd is not about to let me keep it. He hates electric guitars. He doesn't think they're feminine."
"And he won't let me wear black clothes, or red clothes, or anything resembling a bright color. And no jeans. Not even slacks."
"He's got a tight rein on you," Duncan Lang agreed as he sat down beside her.
"He is sucking the life's blood out of me."
"Why do you let him?"
"Boyd is deaf to anyone's "no' except his own," Harley replied bitterly.
"But as you pointed out, you are twenty-six and legally independent. You don't have to put up with his crap if you don't want to."
"Why do you care?" Harley demanded, glaring up at the treacherous hunk.
"I don't," Duncan Lang stated. "I'm just curious. You did a very good job of hiding yourself among eight million people--"
"You found me."
"Ah, well," he said, ducking his head in false modesty, "I'm a trained investigator, after all." His winsome smile must have charmed every female who'd even glanced at him sideways from the time he was sixteen. It made Harley's teeth grate. "My point is that," he continued, "Boyd's opinion not withstanding, you seem fully capable of taking care of yourself. Fire the control freak and get on with your life."
"It's not that easy," Harley said, her arms tightening around the guitar case. "I owe everything to Boyd: my career, my success, my fame, my money. I'd still be a little hick from Oklahoma if it weren't for him. And I'm not so sure I can make it in the industry without him now."
"He has run a number on you, hasn't he?"
"Oh yeah," Harley said, staring down at the concrete ground.
"So why did you run away?"
Harley felt her stomach freeze over. Her jaws began to liquefy. She stared blindly at the fountain. "The music stopped coming," she whispered.
"I thought so," Duncan Lang said.
Harley turned her head and met his sympathetic black gaze. It nearly undid her. Oh God, her music! "It's been two months and not a note, not a lyric." The well she had depended on all of her life had gone dry. There was nothing left to be tapped. She looked up at him, pleading for a stay of execution. "I thought if I could just have a few weeks of fun. A few weeks of not being Jane Miller. A few weeks of just letting go, and maybe it would come back. Maybe I'd be okay again. Then I'd fly to L.A., get back on the treadmill, and make the damn album for Sony."
Harley almost clapped a hand to her mouth. Years ago Boyd had forbidden Jane Miller to swear in public or private.
"A reasonable plan," Lang agreed.
"Then let me go!" Harley said, her hand clutching his arm."Let me have my two weeks. No one will be hurt. I'll come back and fulfill all of my obligations, I promise."
"Sorry, Princess, that's not part of the plan."
"Who the hell do you think you are?" Harley exploded. "You're not God. You have no right to tell me where to go or what to do. I'll fly off to Brazil if I feel like it and you can't stop me."
"Oh yes I can," he retorted.
"By physical force if necessary."
He looked like he could do it too. "Oh, I hate men," Harley seethed. "The arrogance. The stupidity."
"I'm actually pretty intelligent," Duncan Lang retorted, dark eyes glittering. "Don't forget, I found you."
"If you found me, you can lose me."
"I signed a contract, Princess. I am obligated to fulfill it."
"But not today," Harley pleaded. "You don't have to fulfill it today, or tomorrow, or even a week from tomorrow. Give me back my holiday, Mr. Lang."
"It won't do you any good. Boyd would just fire me--"
"I'll pay you whatever fee your firm wants!"
"--and he'd hire some other private detective who would find you like I did and turn you over to Boyd," Lang concluded gently.
Harley felt bloodless. "But at least I'd have a few more days of freedom."
"I'm sorry, Miss Miller, I can't help you. I have a responsibility to my client and to my company, and I've been given something of a deadline."
Harley's gaze locked on his surprisingly sympathetic eyes. "I have never begged for anything in my life, Mr. Lang, but I'm begging you now. Let me at least have until midnight tonight and then you can take me back to Boyd."
"Sorry, Miss Miller. If I return you to Mr. Monroe now, you've got enough time to catch a one o'clock flight to L.A. today so you'll only be one day late to the recording studio."
"What are you talking about? I'm not scheduled to start working again until the middle of next week."
She had surprised him. "Then why is Boyd Monroe so desperate to get you back and get you back fast?" he demanded.
She shrugged, antipathy welling once again. "Beats me. You're the great detective, you figure it out."
He was staring at her Maxi-Mouse. "Why do I get the feeling that there's more going on here than even you know about?" he murmured.
At first she was puzzled--what on earth was he talking about?--and then she realized that opportunity was banging on her door. "If you think there's something wrong," she said eagerly, "don't you think you ought to check it out before blithely throwing me back into what could be a lion's den?There are many different kinds of results, Mr. Lang. Shouldn't you protect your company's sterling reputation by investigating anything that seems off-kilter?"
Knowing dark eyes smiled down at her. "You just want another day of freedom."
"Of course I do!" Harley exploded. "But aren't I also right?"
It occurred to Duncan that she just might be. He realized now that his intuition had been bothering him during his initial interview with Mr. Monroe. Why had Boyd kept him from interviewing Annie Maguire? Why had he lied about who Harley was and what she was capable of doing? Why had he lied about the recording date? Why was he sweating? Could he be hiding something, and could it endanger Harley?
He looked down at her. A gamine with breasts, dressed all in black. He'd known an odd kind of fascination as he'd surreptitously watched her in Manny's Music. She had a quality . . . like Sleeping Beauty just waking up from a hundred years' sleep and discovering the world anew. Her thoughts and her feelings had been right there on her slightly freckled face for all the world to see. No makeup. No masks. She had looked like she was in nirvana, and Duncan had wanted nothing more from life than to join her.