The first irresistible novel in a hot new series about a rock star on his way up—and the woman he wants to take all the way…
Emmie Valencia has what it takes to be the music industry’s hottest band manager. She just needs to prove it. Determined to discover a killer new band, Emmie is ready to make her move. First stop: Austin, Texas.
As a sizzling-hot lead singer, Slater Vaughn has no trouble raising heart rates—but his band’s been flat-lining for years. When Emmie, his bandmate’s sister, crashes with them in exchange for some free management, her industry know-how lands them a spot in the biggest music festival in Texas. But it isn’t just her business acumen that catches Slater’s attention. Emmie is sexy and warm, and—for the first time in his life—he wants more.
But as irresistible as Slater is, Emmie is done with musicians. In her experience, a man can’t be a rock star and someone to trust with your heart—but Slater is determined to show her he’s both.
About the Author
Award-winning author Erika Kelly has been spinning romantic tales all her life—she just didn’t know it. Raised on the classics, she didn’t discover romantic fiction until later in life. From that moment on, she’s been devouring the genre and finding her true voice as an author. Over three decades she’s written poems, screenplays, plays, short stories, and all kinds of women’s fiction novels. Married to the love of her life and raising four children, she’s lived in two countries and seven states, but give her pen and paper, a stack of good books, and a steaming mug of vanilla chai latte, and she can make her home anywhere.
Read an Excerpt
“Oh, bollocks, Emmie!”
Emmie Valencia’s boss hollered so loudly her teeth rattled. And there was a wall between them. She pressed the button on her intercom and said, “Be right there.” He could be such a baby.
Seconds later, the office came alive with excited voices and laughter. Her coworkers hurried down the hall, heading for the foyer.
Frontierland was back from their tour. Which meant . . .
Her gut twisted hard. Briefly, she imagined ducking under her desk, maybe dashing to the mail room. But, of course, she wouldn’t do that. She could face him. No big deal.
In fact, that’s exactly what she should do. Talk to him as casually as she did the rest of the guys. She hated the way people looked at her whenever he came into the office. Besides, they’d ended it months ago.
One of the interns popped breathlessly into her office. “They’re here.” Her features flushed, she mouthed, “Flash,” and pretended to fan herself. Then she darted down the hall.
Emmie smiled and shook her head. Even though they worked with bands for a living, everyone got all goofy and fawning when the artists came in.
Except Emmie, of course. She’d grown up around musicians. She saw beneath the glitter to their tortured, attention-craving, twisted souls. Everyone wanted a piece of them, to be the one to get in, breach the barrier. To win their hearts. But she knew better. They didn’t let anyone in. Not really. They drew people in with their dazzling charisma and then pushed them back when they got too close. Loving an artist hurt.
Obviously, she’d thought Alex would be different. They’d grown up together. Their parents were best friends. Silly girl. Musicians were musicians. She’dknown that.
As she pulled papers from the printer, she heard, “Emmie!” in a far more upbeat tone than her boss’s. She spun around to find the boys from Frontierland crowding into her office.
Crap, was Alex there?
She’d keep her cool. Treat him exactly the way she treated the other guys. No big deal. Because he was no big deal. Not after what he’d done to her. Lifelong friendship be damned.
“Great job, you guys,” she said, as the drummer pulled her to him. They played an outrageous mix of rockabilly, country, and country rock, so they dressed like badass banditos in leather, vests, and straw cowboy hats. “Have you read the reviews yet?”
“Brenda doesn’t make those fuckin’ scrapbooks like you do, man.” The keyboardist pushed through the others to give her a hug. He smelled of whiskey and patchouli.
“Why couldn’t we score Irwin as our A&R guy?” another one asked.
She winced. Her boss wouldn’t sign them because she’d been dating their bass player.
As the next guy leaned in for a hug, Emmie made a quick scan of their faces. No Alex. Good. But right when the rhythm guitarist belted his arms around her and lifted her off the floor, Emmie caught sight of him.
Alex Paulson, clad in black leather pants and a stretched-out white T-shirt, flirted with the new receptionist across the hallway. Emmie hated that he’d do it right in front of her, of course, but mostly she couldn’t believe he thought so little of their relationship that he actually felt comfortable doing it. Like their time together hadn’t really counted.
It had to her.
Flash, the lead singer, yanked her out of the other guy’s arms and said, “There’s my girl.” Gorgeous in a rough way, Flash had gotten his nickname because in the middle of every show he asked the girls in the audience to “flash me your tits” so he could take a photo on his phone and post it on the band’s website. Classy. “You gonna marry me yet?”
“I think I’d rather marry your fiancée. She’s hot.”
Just as his hand skimmed down her back heading for forbidden territory, she jerked her hips and pulled out of his embrace.
“You’re no fun, Emmie Valencia.”
A sharp pain sliced into her heart. Her gaze flicked over his shoulder to the office where Alex and the receptionist shared a quiet laugh. “So I’ve heard.”
“Hey.” Tilting his head, he gave her a concerned look. “I’m just playing with you.”
“I know.” She smiled, hoping to brush away the uncomfortable moment. God, she had to get ahold of herself.
“But if I can’t get you to marry me, then can you at least get me one of those bags you got Irwin’s kid?”
“You want me to score you the latest Hermès purse?”
“For my fiancée.”
Emmie let out an exaggerated sigh. “What did you do this time?” She whipped her hand up. “Never mind. I don’t want to hear. And you don’t need me to do it—just get yourself on the list. Make a call like I did.”
“Oh, come on. We’re stuck with Brenda. She doesn’t do shit for us. Besides, I don’t have your connections. You make shit happen.”
“Yes, for Irwin. And I don’t have connections. I make them when I need to.”
“I could make shit happen for you.”
Their gazes caught. Behind his incessantly flirtatious vibe lived a shark of a businessman. “You offering me a job, Flash?”
A slow smile ate up his ruggedly handsome features. “Fuck, yeah.”
“What kind of job?”
“What kind of job you want?”
Wasn’t that just the question? She didn’t want just a job. She wanted inside. Eight years on the periphery of the music industry as Irwin Ledger’s personal assistant was enough. She needed to take that next obvious step to A&R coordinator—discovering bands, working with talent—and Flash couldn’t help her with that. Only Irwin could.
“Flash?” his bandmate called. “Leave Em alone and get in here. Bob’s waiting.”
“We’ll finish this convo later.” Flash started to go.
“Hey, can you close the door behind you?” She didn’t need to watch Alex flirting.
Unfortunately, Flash followed her gaze, got an eyeful of Alex and the receptionist, and then looked back at her with a hint of pity. He pointed a finger at her. “Golden rule, baby. Never get involved with the talent.”
She smirked. “So we’re not getting married?” So much for her resolve not to make people uncomfortable. “You know what? Leave it open. I haven’t said hello to Alex yet.”
He gave her an appreciative smile before taking off.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” her boss shouted. “Emmie?”
“Coming,” she said into the intercom box.
“I can’t imagine what’s taking you so bloody long. I have a crisis, Emmie. Cri-sis.”
She pressed the button. “Crisis as in you scuffed your favorite Bruno Magli chocolate suede loafers and they don’t make them anymore so you need me to call the designer himself and get a pair custom-made? Or crisis as in the drummer from Wicked Beast fell off the wagon again and can’t make the show tonight so I need to get to the hotel and get him sobered up?”
“You mock me. I count on you, and you mock me.”
She smiled. “Two seconds.” Grabbing her iPad, she spun around to the door . . . only to catch the receptionist pressing her body against Alex.
Memories slammed her. His hard chest, the spicy scent of his soap, the creak of his leather. How many times had she held him just like that?
Alex’s hand wrapped around the woman’s waist, pulling her tight against him. That moment of intimacy, the way Val conformed her body to his, the way her hands cupped the back of his neck, her features soft—it struck Emmie right in her core.
It was so intimate, so sensual. And it hurt. God, it hurt. Because she wasn’t sexy like Val. She just . . . wasn’t.
Tucking the iPad to her chest, she leaned back against the wall, out of sight. Why did she let him affect her? It wasn’t like she missed him or even wanted him. He’d cheated on her.
The sex is fine. It’s just not . . . you’re not wild, you know? You service me.
She cringed remembering his words.
A guy wants more than that.
Oh, God. She couldn’t bear the memories. She charged out of her office. Just as she turned into the hallway, she saw Alex capture Val’s leg, his hand cupping her thigh, as he murmured against her mouth. Val curled around him, her expression sultry.
God. Emmie had never held him like that. Not with that kind of total abandon.
“Emmie?” Irwin shouted.
“I’m coming.” Seeing Val be the woman Alex had wanted her to be, the kind of woman who melted around a man, who lost herself in sensation, well, it just made it hard to breathe.
The worst thing was that she’d never felt that kind of passion, that urgency. Not for any guy.
She stood there a moment longer, contemplating barging in and greeting Alex, letting the whole office know she was cool with him. Letting him know he didn’t affect her anymore.
But then she realized something. She wasn’t cool with him. She wasn’t unaffected at all.
Because he flirted right under her nose with the receptionist.
And that was just a lousy thing to do.
Taking a deep breath, Emmie pushed off the wall and strode out into the hallway. She didn’t even spare Alex a glance as she hurried into Irwin’s office.
She came to a halt when she saw her boss’s expression.
Lips drawn into a taut line, he held the phone to his ear. She walked right up to his ultramodern chair, which hung from the ceiling like a hammock, and he looked at her with utter relief. Immediately, his features turned slack, and he thrust the phone at her.
Placing it to her ear, she had about two seconds to get up to speed, not having the slightest idea who was on the line.
“He wants me to be there, Daddy. I’m, like, his muse. He said he for sure can’t do his best work unless I’m there. Do you want this track to suck?”
“Caroline,” Emmie said. “Who’re we talking about?”
The girl exhaled roughly. “James. He wants me in the studio with him.”
Honestly, Emmie did not have time to deal with this nonsense. “James is a drug addict, Caroline. Your dad had to drop him from the label because he couldn’t fulfill his contract. Do you see why your dad wouldn’t want you hanging out with James while he’s out of the country?”
“So, what, I’m supposed to be all locked up because my dad’s out of town? I’m an adult.”
“Not when your dad’s paying your bills, including the lawyer he keeps on retainer for your indiscretions.”
“Oh, my God—”
“Last weekend the sound engineer got you so drunk you blacked out. Your dad and I spent seven hours racing around the city, out of our minds, trying to find you. You can’t blame him if he’s not comfortable giving you the run of Manhattan when he’s not around.”
“You don’t even know what you’re talking about. Rory didn’t get me drunk. I thought I was drinking iced tea. I didn’t know they were Long Island Iced Teas. That’s not his fault. We were just hanging out. Besides, it’s not like I’m going to be alone. You’ll be here.”
Tipping her head back, she blew out a breath. “Caroline. You know I’m going with your dad. Look, hanging out with James the drug addict is obviously out of the question, but let’s come up with a few—”
“No, you’re not.”
“I’m not what?”
“Going with my dad.”
“Of course I’m going with him.” She glanced to Irwin, found him examining his cell phone, swinging in his chair. He didn’t have a formal office, the kind with the big oak desk facing two guest chairs, a potted plant, and a filing cabinet. Why would he need a desk? No, he had a plush couch, a world-class sound system, a pinball machine, a dartboard, and a Picasso hanging on the wall.
Movement from the corner of her eye made her turn to the door. Alex stood in the threshold, a hint of remorse on his face. Her heart pounded, and her nerves tingled. But before he could take one step into the office, Irwin flew out of his chair, stalked to the door, and slammed it in her ex’s face.
Irwin stalked back to the chair, gripping the metal arm, and set it off rocking again.
“I’m not talking to either of you anymore,” Caroline said. “I’m going into the studio with James because I’m his muse and he needs me. And if my dad doesn’t like it, then you can just come with us and hang out in the lounge.”
“I won’t be able to come with you because I am going to Australia.”
Irwin got up, leaving the leather and chrome chair swinging. He went to the built-in media center that took up one wall and got busy shuffling through his CDs.
“You’re not going to Australia! Dad said. God, why are you being such a bitch?”
Emmie closed her eyes, taking a moment before responding. “And so ends my efforts to help you. Here’s your dad.” With that, she handed the phone back to Irwin. “Hold your ground. She shouldn’t be anywhere near James Beckman.”
He put the phone back to his ear. “What did you say that made your auntie Emmie hand me back the phone?” His gaze kicked up to Emmie’s. “Nothing? Are you sure? She’s usually so indulgent with us.” His brow furrowed. “A bitch? Ah, well, then. I’m afraid you’re on your own on this one, darling. Must go, my love. Kiss, kiss.” He hung up on her. “Wretched child, isn’t she?”
Emmie smiled, knowing how he adored his only kid. But the smile quickly faded. “So, Australia?”
“Yes, right. Slight change of plans.” He ran his hand through his messy, floppy hair. Only the silver streaking through his dark hair made him look anything close to his forty-nine years.
“We’re not going?”
“That would be a total change of plans. Slight means only one of us isn’t going.”
“Irwin. We leave tomorrow.”
“Emmie, darling, I’m sorry, but I can’t leave Caroline alone for six weeks. I’m going to need you to stay here.”
Okay, wait. For months Emmie had planned this trip. Two weeks ago one of the producers had realized his passport had expired. She’d had to wave her wand, cast spells, and rub magic lamps in order to push his renewal through. She’d planned every detail down to the minute of their time there. Down to using MapQuest to find the coffee shops closest to the recording studios. She’d booked reservations, arranged delivery of industry periodicals to his hotels, and spent months researching and contacting up-and-coming bands.
Oh, and hang on. She’d spent last night packing for her boss. Yes, that meant handling his black silk boxers.
Not only that, but this trip meant more than assisting Irwin. She’d gotten him to agree to let her go off and discover some bands of her own. So she could finally get that promotion. But now, the day before departure, he was telling her she couldn’t go. Because . . .
“Wait a minute. You want me to babysit?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course not. You’re not changing nappies. You just need to look after her.”
“You want me to babysit your daughter.” She said it dully, lowering herself onto the plush leather couch. “I’m twenty-five years old, I’ve worked for you for eight years—” She flashed him a look. “Even as a high school intern I did more for you than your own secretary. And your best use for me is babysitting.”
“You make it sound so trivial. This is my daughter we’re talking about. And you’re more like a mother to her than her own mother.”
“I’m four years older than her. I’m not like her mother.”
“No, you’re better than her mother. And something’s off with her.”
Emmie narrowed her gaze.
“More so than usual. You heard her. She’s all screechy.” His phone buzzed, and he quickly answered it.
She needed to get a handle on this situation. Heading to the window, she glanced out, pressing close to look down to the street twenty-seven floors below. If she focused on the steady stream of pedestrian traffic, the yellow cabs, the exhaust-spewing buses, she could tell herself he really was just looking out for his daughter. But she knew better. It was so much more than that.
Oh, hell, she couldn’t hold it back. The unbearable pain of being shut out again rolled in and threatened to just crush her. God, it hurt.
She wanted in so badly. Why was it so elusive? All these feelings . . . God, it was her childhood all over again. Being shut out of her dad’s world for not being creative enough, for not really getting him, had made her too sensitive to these slights. Because, truthfully? Artists didn’t have a lock on creativity. She had it, too, just in other ways. The whole reason Irwin valued her as his assistant was for her ability to think outside the box. She’d proven herself an Amoeba a hundred times over. So why did he hold her back? Sure, he needed her in this role as his assistant. But she could do so much more.
She knew she was lucky to work for the top A&R guy in the business. At the best record company in the world. She didn’t take it for granted, but she also knew it was time for more. If she actually stayed behind and babysat Caroline, she’d never break out of this role. At some point, she had to take the initiative and actually say no to one of his demands. She had to force him to see her in a more creative role, or she’d never have the chance to explore that side of herself. To unleash it.
Besides—hello?—he couldn’t function without her, so how could he get through the next six weeks on the other side of the world?
She spun around, pointing a finger at him. “What are you going to do without me?”
He looked alert then. Most of the time he had a dozen very important ideas going on in his head all at once, so it was nearly impossible to gain his full attention.
Those sharp blue eyes pierced her, and she knew she had it then.
“Right,” he said to the caller. “Emmie will get back to you later.” He stowed his phone in the back pocket of his jeans. “I’m taking Bax with me.”
Had she been standing on a trap door? Because the floor gave way, and she was in free fall. Baxter Reynolds had started as an intern five years ago. When Irwin hadn’t shown any interest in promoting him, he’d attached himself to Bob, one of the other A&R guys.
And now Irwin was showing an interest in him? Instead of Emmie?
She didn’t know what to say. “Bax?” How was Bax better than her?
His phone buzzed, but he ignored it as he came right up to her, close enough that she could smell the Christian Dior cologne she kept stocked for him. He brushed his hand down her arm. “I’m sorry, Em. As much as I need you with me, I can’t leave Caroline alone.”
“Where’s her mother?”
“Well, that’s the point, isn’t it? I can’t really count on Claire. But I can count on you.”
See? When he did that, she caved. Irwin loved his daughter, and who else could he trust to look out for her? His entire family lived in England. Flighty, gorgeous, sexy Claire Murphy flitted around the world on a whim, barely touching down long enough to take care of anything but her most immediate and impulsive needs.
But Emmie needed more. She needed in. She couldn’t stay his personal assistant forever. So what should she do? Of course, if Caroline were in any danger, Emmie would have to help. But the girl was twenty-one. And, sorry, but Emmie simply wasn’t her mother or her big sister.
She didn’t want to let Irwin down. But she was continuing to let herself down if she never took the next step—which meant taking charge of her own career.
She needed the promotion. “I’m not going to babysit Caroline, Irwin. You need me in Australia, and I need to go to Australia to see the bands I’ve been researching.”
He let out a deep sigh. “Truth is, you’ve set everything up perfectly, as you always do. You’ve got my every moment organized and arranged to the point that I don’t need you there.”
“But you need Bax?”
“You’ve given me the list of bands to check out, along with the scheduled times to meet them. So, yes, I need Bax.”
“I researched those bands.”
“From the privacy of your office. Bax lives it, Emmie.”
“You’re saying I’m not good enough to be promoted?” She felt the sting of it, like he’d doused alcohol on a blister. No, no, no. That was bullcrap. She wasgood enough.
“I’m saying that I need you right where you are.”
“And I need a career. Not just a job.”
His phone buzzed again, and this time he checked the caller ID. “I have to take this.”
“No. Please, Irwin. Not until we settle this.”
“It is settled, Em.” He said it gently. “I’m taking Bax.” He punched the button on his phone. “Yes?”
“Then I quit.”
Irwin’s eyes flared. His features burned crimson.
She stood there, letting the words settle around her. The only sound was her own breathing, the only movement the wild and erratic beating of her heart.
Had she actually done it? Quit her coveted job?
“Wait, wait, hang on a moment,” he said into the phone.
“I’m sorry, Irwin. I can’t keep doing this. You have no intention of promoting me.” Standing on the periphery hurts too much.
“You can’t quit.” He turned back to the phone. “Let me get back to you.” Without waiting for a response, he hung up. “You can’t quit.” He looked utterly lost and baffled. “Why would you quit?”
“I’ll find my replacement.” She turned to go.
“Good God, Emmie. You cannot leave me.”
“You’ve given me no choice.”
“All right, just stop this. Stop it right now. I can’t function without you, and you know that. You’re threatening me. That’s not a good way to get a promotion.”
“It’s not a threat. I told you I needed a career, and you told me you needed me right where I am. Fetching your Americanos and cajoling your landlord into letting you keep amphibians in your penthouse apartment isn’t a career. I can’t be your personal assistant the rest of my life. You get that, right? I’ve loved working for you, but it’s supposed to be a stepping stone. You’ve just shown me it’s a cage. I deserve more.”
He had a strange expression, like he was listening to an incoming message from an ethereal source. “It’s not right for you.”
“What isn’t?” He’d punched the accelerator on her pulse, making it rev so fast she went light-headed. This is not happening. He was not shutting her out of this world.
“I . . .” She found it hard to take a full breath. But he was wrong. Of course it was right for her. She pretty much did the job anyway. Maybe not discovering the bands, but . . . oh, God. She needed to breathe. Deep breaths. “That’s ridiculous. I’ve been doing it for eight years.”
“Em, look, I have to get to the studio. You simply can’t quit. I won’t allow it. We’ll find a way to compromise, right? I want you to be happy.”
“I’m not happy babysitting your daughter.”
He winced. “Loud and clear.”
“I need to know there’s a place for me here other than going through your laundry room and drawers looking for a missing cashmere night sock.”
Looking pained, he touched her arm, ignoring his buzzing phone. “Let’s both think on it. Come up with a solution.”
“Am I going to Australia with you tomorrow?”
She bit down hard on fear. It was scary as hell, but she had to do this.
“Emmie . . .”
She turned and walked out of the room.
It’s not like Slater Vaughn didn’t like lingerie. Hell, the only thing he liked better was peeling it off a woman’s body. So, when the panties started flying, he tried to convince himself that catching just one single pair and meeting their manager’s expectations was a no-brainer.
Clutching the microphone, taking in the screaming crowd as Ben doubled his beats on the high hat, he knew if he didn’t do it this time—if he didn’t snatch the underwear midair and pretend to breathe them in—the manager would bail.
And it’d be Slater’s fault. He’d drive off yet another one. Which, he was pretty sure, would mean the end of the band. How many could they go through? They were getting too old for this shit.
But hell. Sniffing random underwear?
Fuck it. He couldn’t do it. The panties landed like confetti around his feet. He looked toward the bar, across a sea of ecstatic faces, where John, the manager, yanked a bill out of his wallet and tossed it on the counter. He got up to go—just when Slater should’ve launched into the first verse of the song—and looked him dead in the eye. John shook his head with a bitter frown and strode out of the club.
He didn’t want to see his bandmates’ reactions. He especially didn’t want to see Derek’s. The guys kept playing, and Slater tried to pick up the beat, find his way back to the opening, but he couldn’t. He had to know if he’d just put a bullet through the brains of the band. The other guys would probably forgive him, but while he loved them like brothers, they were just instrumentation. Snatch could carry on without them. Derek, though? He was the CEO of the band. If he’d had enough, if Slater had finally pushed him too far . . .
Derek would walk. He’d have to. He’d kept up his end of things—the bookings, publicity, social media. Christ, he was Eddie Valencia’s son—success in this industry was his legacy. What the hell was Derek doing with Slater anyway? Whose only legacy was failure?
The melody kept looping back, and each time Slater let it pass. Because he knew. It was different tonight—he’d sensed a change in Derek. A growing impatience. Was tonight the breaking point?
Time to find out. Slater turned—just as he sang the opening line, just as the crowd started screaming—and found Derek . . . jamming.
That’s it. Head lowered, fully concentrating on the bass. Not a care in the world.
What the hell?
* * *
After the set ended, the guys gathered around their usual table near the stage. Slater headed for the bar, grabbed the beer that always waited for him, and let the girls swoop in. Sure, he’d have to face it. But, hey, he could stall a few minutes while the girls rubbed his dick or pressed their tits on him. It’s not like the guys expected anything different.
Yeah, okay, no stalling. Not tonight. He hoisted his beer and nodded his thanks to the bartender, pushing a bill his way. As Slater disentangled himself from the girls, one of them slipped her hand into the back pocket of his jeans and cupped his ass, giving it a lusty squeeze. He turned to see which one and wasn’t disappointed. The blonde with the huge tits and juicy lips. Perfect. He leaned down, licked the shell of her ear, and said, “Twenty minutes.”
“Mmmkay.” She breathed it like she was two seconds away from a climax, bringing her other hand to his cock and rubbing it with the heel of her hand.
As Slater approached the table, he watched Derek clear out the groupies. They scattered—all of them except one. Only she didn’t look like a groupie. She looked . . . well, Slater didn’t know what she looked like, other than maybe a teacher. A kindergarten teacher. She wore her dark hair long and straight—no particular style—and he could actually see her complexion, uncovered as it was by makeup. What was she doing at their table? She glanced up at him and smiled. All sweet and innocent, like he was her date at the movie theater, bringing the popcorn and soda.
Like she didn’t want anything from him at all.
It felt like Slater stopped moving. Even though his legs continued toward the table and cold beer slid down his throat, it felt like time just . . . stopped. But it hadn’t, because he wound up at the table, standing behind an empty chair. He took her in—the shiny hair that ended in a slight bounce. She was pure, innocent, clean . . . and yet she had a mischievous look in her eyes that made him wonder. She turned back to Ben, the drummer, giving him her attention like she actually cared what he had to say—not like she was trying to get with him.
Slater set his beer bottle down. It was go time. “Come at me, bitches.”
Derek tilted his head. “You didn’t catch the panties, man.”
Slater returned Derek’s challenging look.
“John told you if you ignored one more thing he wanted you to do, he’d quit. And you know what?”
“Yeah. I know. He quit.” Feigning nonchalance, Slater glanced over his shoulder to the bar, found the blonde watching. He gave her a slow smile, and she nodded with a deliberate lick of her glossy lips.
“The guy was a douche.” Cooper drained his beer.
“The guy was our fifth manager.” Derek scraped his chair back and stood, folding his arms over his chest. “And last.”
Get to the fucking point.
“You want to know why I’m not losing my shit right now?” Derek asked.
The woman looked between them, completely unfazed, like she didn’t notice the crackling tension. Slater just cocked his head, pretending like he cared. Well, he did care. He cared a lot. But he wasn’t going to let Derek know that.
“Because I have a solution to our problem.”
Slater held Derek’s gaze, curious but not giving anything away.
“We’re done with them. Managers, agents, fuck ’em. We obviously don’t play well with others. So why don’t we manage ourselves—”
“You mean, you manage us,” Slater said.
“Are you gonna do it?”
“Let him finish,” Ben said, his arm stretched across the back of the woman’s chair. Man, she sat so primly, and yet, there was something about her. Like she had a naughty secret. Who the hell was she?
“I’m twenty-seven years old,” Derek said. “I don’t know about you, but I’m not fucking around. We’ve got one chance to make a go of this band. I’m too old to start another one. Look, I can manage us, right?” He looked around the table, and everyone nodded in agreement.
He continued. “We don’t need anyone telling us what we should look like, how we should act. What kind of music to play. I mean, the hell with John, right? Telling Slater to capitalize on his ‘man whore’ image? How’s that going to get us a record contract?”
“Totally agree,” Ben said. “What’s that got to do with the music, man?”
“Snatching panties out of the air?” Cooper snorted. “Fuckin’ lame.”
Derek got energized. “Exactly. Dude was an idiot. Anyhow, we’ve already got a following. We just need someone to get us bigger gigs, get us some publicity.” Derek waited for a response. Pete’s gaze roamed the room, barely hanging on to the conversation. Ben nodded warily, and Cooper rubbed the label off his bottle.
“Slater?” Derek said.
“I guess.” To be perfectly honest, Slater was like a lizard, wanting nothing more than to sun himself on a rock. With a good book in one hand and a spectacular pair of tits in the other. He liked singing and writing—well, he needed to write. Couldn’t stop the lyrics and tunes from coming. But the rest of it? Couldn’t give a shit.
Not that he didn’t want to be famous. Huge. A mega–rock star. Sure. But Derek would take care of that end of things.
And who was this woman sitting with them? She didn’t look like a publicist or someone in the music industry. Plain hair, plain clothes, not much makeup . . .
And why did his brain reject the word plain when he took her in?
“Bottom line,” Derek continued, “we don’t need someone to mold us into some kind of fake image. We don’t need anyone building us into rock stars. What we need is someone to get us to that next level. Because, guys? We’ve done all we can here. We might be the biggest college band in Texas, but that’s all we are. And we’ve been that for too long. If we don’t take it to the next level, we become just another sad wedding band. I’m not down for that.”
Hell, no. “And how do we find this person?” Slater kept his tone snarky.
Derek motioned to the woman, looking pleased with himself. “Emmie.”
Slater’s gaze slid to her. She smiled sweetly. Her? Turning back to Derek, Slater gave him a look that said, What the fuck?
Derek scowled. “I told you she was coming out. I’ve been talking about it for the past couple of days. Haven’t you been listening?”
Slater’d been working the last two nights. What had he missed? Cooper tossed a damp, wadded-up napkin at him. “His sister, asswipe.”
The woman stood up, and he couldn’t help noticing her plain V-neck T-shirt and floral skirt. Shouldn’t she be going to class or something? Working at Gap?
“Hi, I’m Emmie.”
Did she live on a prairie? Seriously, she looked like she churned her own butter.
Oh. Oh, shit. Emmie. Of course. “You work for Irwin Ledger.” Biggest A&R guy in the business. Shouldn’t she look a little more rock ’n’ roll? He’d always had an image in his head of what Derek’s sister—not just an A&R chick from New York City, but the daughter of Eddie Valencia, a fucking jazz legend—would look like, and this wasn’t it.
“I do,” she said. “But I’m taking a leave of absence.”
“Here’s the deal,” Derek said. “Irwin’s in Australia right now, so we’ve got Emmie for six weeks. She’s in Austin to check out some bands. So, we give her room and board, and in exchange she’ll get us gigs and promote us. Emmie’s the shit. Believe me, if anyone can get us to that next level, it’s her. So, what do you think?”
“Fucking great.” Pete pushed his chair back. “Now, I’m gonna go get laid.”
“Wait,” Derek said.
“Are you gonna get us a record deal?” Ben asked.
“Hey, hey, that’s not what she’s here for.” Derek sounded a little too protective. If his sister needed protecting from a simple question, how the hell was she going to live with them?
“Isn’t that the next level?” Cooper asked.
“No,” Derek said. “The next level is getting exposure beyond Texas college towns—”
Emmie cut her brother off. “I did play Irwin your demo a while back, but he wasn’t interested.”
“Why not?” The way her head snapped toward Slater told him he’d sounded too harsh. Well, it was a damn good demo.
“Don’t put her on the spot,” Derek said. “Let her just get us some gigs, okay?”
“You worried I’m going to drive off your little sister?”
“You’ve driven everyone else off.” Derek gave Slater a hard look.
“Okay, jeez.” Emmie touched her brother’s arm, giving it a gentle rub. It was a soothing gesture, and Slater felt it on his own skin.
“Jeez?” He waited for a wounded look, but she just kept her serene smile. “Really? Is that how they talk in New York City?”
“What’s your problem, Vaughn?” Derek said. “Do you want this or not? Because we don’t have a lot of options left.”
Slater couldn’t help filling in the omitted part of the sentence, because of you. “I need another beer.” He waved the empty bottle to his blonde, and she immediately spun around, flagging down the bartender.
“She says jeez, Derek. How the hell is she supposed to live with us?”
The guys all looked to Derek. Legit question.
Slater scrubbed a hand over his chin. “And live where, exactly? The five of us can’t fit in the house. How do we add a sixth?” He gave Derek a meaningful look, hoping he got the message. Not just another person, but a woman. With all the debauchery that went on, adding a Girl Scout would never work.
“Ben and I are moving into the garage,” Derek said. “She can have our room. It’s only temporary.”
Across the hall from Slater’s bedroom?
“Why would you want your sister living with us?” If he had a sister, he wouldn’t expose her to guys scratching their balls and belching as they stumbled around the house hungover and sporting hard-ons.
Warm fingers clasped around his upper arm, and the blonde thrust a beer bottle at him. “Thanks, babe,” he said.
Derek shot a look to his sister and smiled. “What do you think, Em? Think you can handle us?”
“Oh, come on. I’ve been around musicians all my life. And you have no idea what I’ve seen as Irwin’s assistant.”
“The bigger issue,” Ben said, “is, you know, hooking up.”
Pete spat out a mouthful of beer. “Hooking up? What the fuck? I’m not banging Derek’s sister.”
“Thank you, Pete,” Emmie said, like he’d just defended her honor.
“It’s not you I’m worried about.” Ben turned to Slater. In fact, all the guys looked at him.
Me? Like he’d get it on with an American Girl doll, prairie edition? She probably wore waist-high cotton underpants. If she’d ever even had sex, which seemed unlikely, she’d been flat on her back looking up at the ceiling, waiting for the guy to finish.
Not sure why he was thinking about her having sex.
Must be that saucy look in her eye. Underneath that wholesome exterior, he suspected she had a whole sideshow going on in there. She had something going on. He just couldn’t figure out what.
“Slater won’t touch my sister,” Derek said. “That’s a deal breaker. He wouldn’t end our friendship or the band over it.”
“He fucked the manager before John,” Cooper said.
Actually, he hadn’t fucked her. That had been the problem. But the why never mattered, did it? Just the results.
“Okay, hang on,” Emmie said. “I’m here for six weeks. No one’s getting naked. Guys, seriously, I’m here to work.”
“You’d be surprised what Slater can accomplish in six weeks,” Cooper said.
Emmie sighed. “Yeah, yeah, he’s hot. I get it. Sorry, just . . . not my thing.” She glanced at his blonde, who pressed against him. “Seriously, you guys have nothing to worry about. I don’t party. I don’t drink, do drugs, or sleep around, and I don’t get involved with musicians. Period. So, see? I don’t want you, and you certainly don’t want me. Perfect match.”
“So, are we good?” Derek asked.
The blonde’s hand slid down Slater’s ass, diving between his legs, and curving around to his junk, her fingernail scraping over his balls. He nearly buckled right then. “Fucking good.”
Holy mother of God. She hadn’t had a single cup of coffee, and yet her body vibrated like a live wire.
Seriously, what had she done?
She’d taken a gamble, and she had no idea if she could win. Just because she had six weeks in Austin didn’t mean she’d discover a band in that time.
Not like she was panicking or anything.
Her lungs seized. She was totally panicking. Finding a band took total immersion in the music scene—something she’d never been able to do while serving her boss’s constant demands—but it also took a degree of luck. Could she find the talent in such a short time period?
Heavy footfalls on the stairs pulled her mind away from the list she’d been working on. “Em?” Derek called.
“In here.” Quickly adding the last tip from her friend at Capitol Records, she closed out the document. With all the information she’d gathered from the promotions guys in Austin and her own research, she’d put together a comprehensive list of bands to visit. She had enough acts to fill up her calendar for her whole stay.
“Hey.” Her brother leaned in the doorway, hands braced on the frame. Even his Best Buy uniform couldn’t contain all that made up Derek Valencia. From the bulging muscles to the tats and leather bands around his wrists and neck, he screamed pure badass. “I’m off. Just making sure you’re all settled in.”
“Yep. I’m good.”
“Uh-huh.” One side of his mouth hitched up in a look that said he wasn’t buying it.
“No, I mean, sure, I’m a little worried. But I’m mostly excited. This is a great opportunity to, you know, get to the next level. Yeah, I wanted to go to Australia—it meant something to me that he was taking me. But this is even better, I think. I get to prove myself on my own.”
Dipping his head, he smiled. “You’re freaking out.”
She let out a shaky breath. “I’m freaking out.”
He came into the room, worrying the bands around a wrist. “You know you’re awesome, right? I mean, there’s nothing you can’t do.”
“Well, I guess we’ll see about that.”
She knew that troubled look. He had something to say. “Yeah, but I mean, even if Irwin doesn’t promote you, you’ll get a job somewhere else. You’ve got enough connections and—”
“He’ll promote me.” Of course he would.
“I know. I’m just saying if he’s dumb enough not to, you’ll get an A&R gig with another label. Irwin’s great, sure, but he’s not the only game in town.”
She got up to face him. “But he’s the best game. And I’m this close to getting inside. All I have to do is discover a band, and I’m in. Anyone else will hire me as a secretary. You think I haven’t gotten offers? They all want me to do for them what I do for Irwin. But I’m not going to start over with someone else. Not after putting in eight years with Irwin.”
“Inside what, Em? You’re already in the music industry. You always have been.”
“I’ve always been on the periphery. I don’t want to book a tour bus. I want to work with bands. I want to be in the studio, helping them choose their first single. The important things.”
Derek’s lips pressed together, his brows pulling in.
Did he not think she could do it? “What? If you have something to say, then just say it.”
“No, I just . . . I can relate. We both work so hard, we’re both damn good at what we do, and yet we’re still on the outside.”
“Oh, my God, you’re a musician. You’re in the club. I’m a glorified secretary. I sit on the other side of the closed door. It’s not the same thing at all.”
“Of course it is. How many years have I been inviting A&R guys to come see us, sending out our demo, and I get nothing but rejection. It sucks.”
She’d never thought of it like that. He was right. How funny she’d only ever seen his musical abilities as making him an insider. Well, the fix for him seemed simple enough. “I know you don’t want to use Dad’s connections, but he said—”
“No. I won’t be associated with him, you know that. He’s an asshole.”
She knew Derek needed to achieve success on his own. The intense need to prove their dad wrong—to become the self-supporting musician her dad said he’d never be—fueled his every move.
Well, she wouldn’t give him platitudes or make baseless promises. Of course she’d help him, but she needed to go to more shows, spend time with them to see how they worked as a band, before she could assure him of the success that eluded him.
He rubbed the back of his neck, drawing in a breath. “It’s just . . . it’s all too familiar, you know? This frustration. This wanting in all the time.”
“What do you mean? Familiar how?” She had a sense of something, could feel the energy of it like a hand hovering just over her skin but not making contact.
He tipped his head back, pulling his bottom lip into his mouth. “It’s like . . . Dad all over again. He just . . . he never fucking let us in.”
Nothing was more vivid to her than sitting on the floor outside the basement studio in her flannel nightgown listening to the laughter, the disjointed music through the walls. She could feel the pressure of her dad’s hand on the small of her back—to this day she hated when a guy guided her that way—as he shut the door behind her. Go see your mom, he’d say, before shutting her out. “But you were with him all the time. He let you into his studio.”
“You’re kidding me, right? He fucking tormented me. His friends would ask me to jam with them, and then my own father would make fun of me. Make those shitty comments about how my music didn’t count because it was just noise. That I cared more about my ‘costumes’ than about learning technique. He always had to tear me down because I’m not some virtuoso like he is.”
“Derek, God, I didn’t know that. I mean, of course I heard you guys fighting all the time. But I didn’t know he did that to you in front of his friends. That’s awful.” How could she have known? She’d been shut out of the studio.
He lifted his arms, the muscles bunching, like he wanted to hurl something, and then he looked around. Finally, he crossed them over his chest. “He’s an asshole, and I never understood how you could’ve worked for him all those years.”
“He’s my dad.” Other than musicians, her dad had difficult relationships with everyone. His son had moved out the day after high school ended, his wife had divorced him, and his girlfriends came and went like patients in a waiting room.
But he was her dad.
“He treated us like shit.”
“I know that. But he’s an artist. He—”
“Stop.” He shook his head. “I can’t listen to you defend his asshole behavior. I’m just saying it all feels too familiar. Me wanting to get signed by a label, and you wanting this damn promotion. I just . . . I don’t want Irwin jerking the same strings Dad always did, making you feel you’re not good enough. Youare good enough. You’re better than good enough. Em, you’re amazing. No one gets shit done the way you do.”
“He didn’t say I wasn’t good enough.” She drew in a tight breath. “He said it wasn’t right for me.”
“What the fuck does that mean? That’s all you’ve been doing the last eight years.”
This was good. She could throw her deepest fears onto the screen and see her brother’s reaction. Her brother knew her better than anyone, and he wouldn’t lie. She shrugged. “Maybe it means I’m not creative enough. I’m obviously not musically inclined. Maybe to guide an artist’s career you have to be one yourself. You know?” She watched him carefully.
“Is Irwin a musician?”
“Not really. He’s always in the studio with his bands, and he knows what he’s doing.” No one could question Irwin’s creative genius.
Derek stroked the short patch of whiskers on his chin, looking thoughtful. “I don’t know. It makes sense—how else can you relate to the work, you know? How else can you recognize talent in its primitive form if you don’t understand music?” He gazed off unseeingly. “Maybe he’s right. Maybe A&R isn’t right for you.”
The arrow pierced her heart, giving a jolt so violent it practically lifted her off the ground.
So her brother agreed. She wasn’t creative enough.
“But who cares?” he continued. “There’re a dozen other jobs you’d be great at. Publicity, management. Christ, Em, you could do anything. Not just because you’re smart, resourceful, and fucking tenacious, but because working with Irwin’s given you exposure to literally everything. You don’t need him or A&R anymore.”
No. “I don’t want any other job—I only want to work with the artists creatively. Besides, I know this job inside and out. So what if I can’t help them in the studio—they don’t need me for that. That’s what the producer and the sound engineer are for. I’m creative in a different way—a problem-solving way. And you know what? Bax might have a better sense of which producer should work with which band, but I can guarantee you there’s no way he’ll ever be better than I am at making the decisions that are important to a band’s career.”
Breathing too quickly, she set her hands on her hips. Her body shook with how right she felt.
Derek’s slow smile started before he cocked a finger gun at her. “Amen, Sister. Fucking A. That’s the Emmie I know and love.”
She smiled. “I feel so much better.”
He laughed. “I can see that. Listen, I’m out. Can’t afford to lose a paycheck.”
She followed him out of her room, knowing the fear that chased him. At some point, most bands broke up for economic reasons. The guys got married, had kids, had bills to pay. They grew up. Every day that passed took him one step away from the luxury of being able to wait it out.
At the bottom of the stairs, she rubbed his back. “We’ll get you there, Derek.”
He gave her a tentative smile, and her heart ached for him. “If anyone can help us, I know you can. I’ll see you tonight.”
After the door closed behind him, determination set in. She wouldn’t just get Snatch some gigs and put together their press kit. No, she’d do more.
In fact, what about that singer her dad had been talking about? Piper Lee not only wrote her own songs, but she was gorgeous and sexy, and had movie-star charisma.
He’d said she was gearing up for her first big tour. She’d need an opening act, wouldn’t she? Of course, Emmie’d have to see Snatch live a few more times, get a better feel for their stage presence, but in the meantime, she’d do some research.
Imagine Snatch opening for a rising star like Piper Lee.
Emmie would totally make that happen for her brother.
Emmie slipped the folded piece of paper in her pocket and headed downstairs. Time to address her second agenda. The secret one.
It felt weird to be alone in this house. Thrift-store furniture, bare walls, bookshelves that held nothing but a basketball and some empty beer bottles . . . the place felt like a well-used fraternity house. Entering the all-white kitchen, she immediately spied the ground beans her brother had left out for her. The aroma, rich and robust, filled the room. She tipped the beans into the filter, set the carafe under the faucet, and thought, Should I really be doing this?
Well, she’d already gotten the contact information for Piper’s manager, finished compiling her research, filled the dates on her calendar—and it was only eight in the morning—so, yeah, she could spend some time on herself.
She stilled, listening for sounds, before pulling her secret list out of her pocket.
Her brother had made it clear she had the place to herself until at least noon. They’d all arranged their work schedules so they could get off at four, leaving plenty of time for rehearsals and gigs. Slater tended bar at the hottest club in town, so he didn’t come home until at least three in the morning. Later, more likely, since she guessed he did his hooking up after that. Derek assured her she wouldn’t see him until at least noon.
So, she was good. All the time in the world to address her personal issue. Unfolding the list and smoothing it on the counter, hope unfurled in her chest when she read the words. My Body Electric. She’d thought of a dozen titles—Getting Wild, Unleashing the Inner Vixen—but nothing had hit her as hard as the Walt Whitman poem. She loved the whole concept of rejoicing in her sexuality, her femininity. Besides, what if someone found the list in her purse or on her dresser? Can you imagine? She would die if one of the guys found it. Body Electric wouldn’t mean anything to them.
But, honestly, it wasn’t like she had sexual hang-ups. She and Alex had done it in bathrooms, the office supply room, even in a utility closet at a gig in Greenwich Village. Hadn’t he liked any of it? He’d certainly seemed to at the time. But he’d said she wasn’t passionate. She wasn’t wild.
What did wild mean, exactly? No, she hadn’t pole danced for him. And she’d never been so carried away she’d screamed when she came. Did anybody really do that?
But, God, to say she’d serviced him.
The humiliation burned in her chest, an ember that flared and sparked every time she thought of it. She’d been so secure in her relationship. Talking about him in the office as though they were a solid, happy couple, when all along everyone knew what he was doing on the road . . . everyone but her.
It made her feel so inadequate. Of course she knew he was the jerk for cheating on her. But that didn’t take away the deep, enduring sense that she just wasn’t sexy enough.
He’d struck her where it hurt the most. In her core—her femininity. She’d always suspected she wasn’t all that sexy. His behavior—his words—had only reinforced it.
She wasn’t hot.
Okay, okay. Stop this. She’d made her checklist, for goodness’ sake. She was working on it.
She’d get in touch with her sensuality. Ignite that flame that surely glowed deep within. You can’t be sexy if you don’t feel sexy. And then she’d meet the right kind of guy. No more musicians. God, never again. No, a good guy. A solid guy. A guy she could trust. She could let herself go with someone like that.
Coffee ready, she poured herself a cup, then looked into the fridge for creamer. Yuck. Crud caked the shelves—probably spilled milk, leaked sauces. Other than some decaying take-out boxes, she found beer bottles . . . and more beer bottles.
Okay, she needed to talk to the guys. While she wasn’t going to become the housekeeper, she did need to eat. She wouldn’t do their laundry, but she would happily cook for them. Because she needed food. And not crap. She’d talk to them. Maybe they’d all put money in, and she’d do the shopping and cooking.That she could live with.
She didn’t drink her coffee black, so she dumped it in the sink and opened the sliding glass door. The heat felt wonderful, and the air smelled fragrant, so she stripped off her T-shirt and shorts, setting them on the counter. Then, she stepped outside in her red bikini.
On to the first challenge on her list: skinny dipping.
Checking out the backyard—a concrete patio, a small kidney-shaped swimming pool, a tall wooden fence, and all kinds of weird foliage that looked like elephant ears towering over it—she made very sure no one could see her.
The bathroom window looked out onto the backyard, so if Slater got up to use it, he would definitely see her. But how likely was it that he would wake up this early? Four hours after crashing?
Come on. She was safe. No excuses.
She pulled the tie at the back of her neck, but the cups of her bikini remained stubbornly over her breasts. All she had to do was yank on the bow at her back, and the girls would spring free. Instead, though, she stripped off the bottoms. Okay, so, halfway there . . .
Just do it. She was sick of herself already. She tugged the last tie protecting her modesty, flung the bikini top aside, and dove right into the pool.
The shock of the cold water made her eyelids snap open, and she watched the bubbles swirl around her as she pawed her way to the surface. She broke through, gasping for air. Oh, God, that’s cold. She clung to the wall, and her legs fluttered. Scraping the hair off her face, she watched the ripples arc across the pool.
When her body got used to the temperature, she started to notice how the water felt as it churned around her. It rumbled between her legs, creating shock waves across her skin. Her nipples hardened, and she pushed off the wall, enjoying the rush of sensation. She kicked, doing a butterfly stroke, loving the cool water gliding across her skin.
Oh, I like this.
* * *
Not ten minutes into the set, and Snatch’s energy electrified the club. Emmie stood in a sea of moving, shrieking bodies, her gaze fixed on Slater. Holy smokes, the man was hot. Not just his hard, sculpted body, but his whole look. He kept his thick dark hair cut short but stylish. His tight black T-shirt stretched across well-defined muscles and a broad chest, and his worn jeans hugged an extremely tight and perfectly round ass.
But he was more than just an incredibly hot guy. He had presence. He didn’t just sing. He sang to someone. Well, several someones, since he shifted his attention from one girl to another, holding long enough with each to make her feel singled out. Noticed.
Something about Slater just . . . riveted. That man could sing.
She’d watched a couple of bands on Facebook earlier in the day, after her swim. They were all right, she guessed. Hard to say if they had potential or not. Maybe she was too new at looking for talent. But Snatch . . . she knew.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket, and she reluctantly took her eyes off the stage. Alex’s name lit up the screen.
Alex? What did he want? She needed to pay attention to the show, but curiosity compelled her to answer. “Hello?”
“Hey, Em. How’s it going?”
Really? Small talk? Since she’d caught him in the act all those months ago, they hadn’t talked once. And now he wants to chat? “Great.”
“You’re at a show?”
She had to press the phone to her ear to hear him over the music. “Yep. What’s up? What do you need?”
“Ouch. Come on, Em. We’ve been friends forever.”
Friends? Friends didn’t . . . She drew in a deep breath. Not the time or place to get into it with him. “Alex, seriously, I can hardly hear you. What do you want?”
“I just, uh . . . Do you want to go outside and talk?”
Just then, Slater lifted the mic, tilting his head back and knocking out a note that had such clarity, such perfect pitch, such emotion, she all but stopped breathing to hold on to it and ride it out with him.
“Yeah, I’m here. I’m just . . . God, can he sing.”
“Who? What band? Where are you?”
She slid off the stool, making her way to the stage. “Derek’s. I’m in Austin. They’ve got serious potential.” Slater could be a superstar. If he wanted it enough, if he focused. But everything she’d heard about him led her to believe he’d just languish at the college level for a few more years before sputtering out and becoming a manager at Best Buy. He was a slacker who cared more about his groupies than his career.
“Em? It’s too loud. Should I call you back?”
Bodies knocked into her as the crowd erupted in wild applause at the end of the song.
“Just say what you have to say.” Curiosity led her to the red neon Exit sign, though, and she stepped out into the warm September air.
“Yeah, all right. Listen, Flash told me . . .” He paused, and she leaned against the brick wall of the club.
What had Flash told him? That’d she been pining for him? Because that wasn’t true. Just because she’d asked Flash to close the door . . . God, she hoped Flash hadn’t said anything that would lead Alex to believe she still cared about him. Because she didn’t. “What? Flash told you what?”
“Look, I shouldn’t have done that. With Val. Right outside your office. I wasn’t thinking.”
A dozen responses danced across her mind. No problem. Hey, you can flirt with whoever you like. But nothing came out of her mouth. It had been a rotten thing to do.
“I want us to get along,” Alex said.
“In other words, Flash told you not to piss off Irwin’s assistant.”
“No. Not at all. It’s not like that. It’s about you. Us. We used to be friends and now . . .”
Now what? You screwed your brains out on the road. She didn’t think they could ever be friends again.
“I shouldn’t have been such a dick, messing around with Val like that right in front of you.”
“Whatever. Look, I have to watch the band. Let’s—”
“No, not whatever. I’m sorry, Em. And I really want to be friends again.”
“I don’t see that happening, Alex. You . . . God, you treated me like dirt.” She’d never had this conversation with him, and while she didn’t want to have it just then, she couldn’t keep the words from charging out. “Why didn’t you just break up with me before you guys left? It didn’t have to be like this.”
“I know. But you’re not easy to break up with. You took care of me. I miss that.” He paused again. “You’re good, Em.”
“Not good enough, apparently.”
“Hey, you’re the one who started drifting.”
“What?” How could he say something like that?
“Oh, come on. Soon as you got us signed and we started working with Bob, you started pulling away.”
Unbelievable. “Whatever you have to say to live with yourself.” Blaming her because he couldn’t keep it in his pants?
When the door to the club opened, she could hear the intro to the next song. She quickly held it open to peer inside. The audience seemed to know this one because they started screaming, jumping up and down. She thought maybe some girls up front were crying.
Slater had his eyes closed, like the song brought up emotions too powerful to bear. And then his hand flexed on the mic, his mouth opened, and he keened. There was just no other word for it.
She blew out a breath, forcing her attention back on Alex. “Listen, Alex, I appreciate the apology, but I really should go.”
“Hey, listen. I’ve got a friend in a band out there. You should check him out.”
“I’ll definitely do that. Why don’t you text me the information?”
She cut the connection and entered the club.
The whole world narrowed to the haunting sound of pure pain coming out of Slater Vaughn. And then he gasped for a breath, lifted the bottom of his T-shirt to swipe the perspiration off this forehead, and launched into the bridge.
Take it back, take it back,
You don’t get to say those words
Take it back, take it back,
They’re mine. You left. You lose
Tears streamed down the girls’ faces. How did he do that? She could feel her own eyes burning. And, really, she wasn’t even susceptible to rock stars. He was good.
A new chord progression started, and the song shifted again. Goodness, the crowd was having seizures. Slater fell to his knees.
Puncture me, again and again, I don’t mind
It’s the only way I know I’m here
Without the wounds you might never even see me,
So go ahead and puncture me
At least I know I’m alive
Her stomach churned with emotion as she watched Slater’s head tip back, his features twisted in agony, as he sang.
Leave a scar
You’ll never see me,
But I’ll always know you’re there
The song came to an abrupt end with a clash of instruments that sounded like a car crash. The audience screamed, stomped their feet, and clapped thunderously.
Slater smiled. Good God. Slater clutching a mic, voice soaked in emotion, wrung her heart out. But Slater smiling, his eyes sparkling with mischief, lit her up inside. Standing near the stage, all she could see were arms waving, thrashing, reaching. His voice, his energy, swept her away.
And when had she made it to the stage? She stood dead center, two rows back. Perspiration glistening on his skin, he held the gaze of first one, then another girl in the crowd. The corners of his mouth tipped up in a sexy smile, and it made her want to know what he was thinking, who he was—
His gaze hit hers. Adrenaline punched through her system, and energy sparked along her spine. He looked at her so intensely, like he knew her intimately. Like if she reached out to him, he’d grab her, yank her onto the stage, and pull her body up hard against his.
Heat exploded in her core, radiating out in shimmery waves, making her legs go weak. And then he looked away, leaving her feeling limp and ragged.
Okay, what had just happened? Shaken, she wove through the sea of bodies toward the table with the Reserved sign on it and slumped in a chair to watch the rest of the show.
Body Electric? Who needed a checklist when she could just watch Slater perform and feel all the things she’d never felt before.
The man was good.
Slater stumbled out of bed and made his way to the bathroom. His head hurt, his throat burned, and his dick was hard enough to break through wallboard.
Standing in front of the toilet, he heard a splashing sound through the open window. They didn’t have someone to clean their pool, so . . .? He stepped around the toilet and gazed outside. Vision still blurry from not nearly enough sleep, it took him a moment to make sense of what he saw.
Luscious pink nipples poked out of the water. Sudden awareness wiped out the haze of exhaustion, and he leaned against the window, full-on staring. Derek’s sister did the backstroke, dark hair fanning out, breasts arching out of the water with each lift of an arm. The curve of her waist, the flare of her hips, the splash of water with each stroke of her feet . . . Christ, he hadn’t imagined he could get harder than he already was, but he fucking hurt.
But, wait, Emmie? The prairie girl?
With her eyes closed, the sun burning her back, Emmie sliced her arms through the cool water. Turned out she loved skinny dipping so much, she’d swum every day this week. She loved the water rushing over her bare skin, loved the feeling of wantonness. She couldn’t say it aroused her—not, like, on fire, I have to go have sex right now—but it did make her feel aware of her body in a way she hadn’t been before. The day before she’d tried to touch herself, hoping the awareness would spark into arousal with the stroke of a finger, but she found the water washed away the slickness, so . . . nothing had really ignited.
What People are Saying About This
“This is an author to watch.”—RT Book Reviews
"Sexy, lyrical and electric with hot, romantic tension." –New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Lauren Blakely
"Lovable characters and pulse-pounding chemistry make this one of my favorite reads of the year!"—New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Laura Kaye
“Slater is a complex, multi-layered character that you are going to fall in love with.”—Bookish Temptations
Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews: “Entertaining, sexy and exciting, this is a book you don’t want to miss!”—Guilty Pleasures Book Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Rock Star Romance books. All three so far have been excellent. The stories and characters have been cleverly written and the men are to die for. I hope there are more coming. Give this author a chance. Great stuff!
You Really Got Me by Erika Kelly is the first book in her Rock Star Romance series. It is a slow build of passion and romance with some rock star angst and misunderstandings mixed in to keep it really interesting. This was a solid steady read - everything happened at a pace it took me a little bit to get used to. I think that reading a lot of novellas and serial novels leaves you ready to expect insta-love and sudden, shocking events all the time. This was a pleasant switch where slow-and-steady really did win the race. Emmie Valencia is a solid and competent woman trying to prove her worth in the music industry to her boss. She takes a six-week leave and goes to spend time with her brother (and his band) and ends up putting her skills to use and getting them more exposure and helping their image pushing them towards their goal of becoming famous. It would all be that simple if the lead-singer of the band, Slater Vaughn hadn't fell for her hard and them had no relationship experience AT ALL to help him not mess it up. There were times the story got a little bit too slow for me but the characters are so endearing that there was no way I was stopping. Not only did I care about Emmie and Slater but I also needed to know more about the other members of the band. Thankfully the next book is about Emmie's brother Derek and I cannot wait to read that.
Slater was so sweet & hot. Love this series!
Enjoyed this book. Eagerly awaiting the next book in the series.
One of the best books I've ever read!! So great!! Loved Slater & Emmie's story. Slater is so awesome and just about the best boyftriend ever!! Highly recommend this one.
You Really Got Me is a phenomenal rock star romance that won me over from the beginning. I had the hardest time putting this one down. Oh boy did I ever!! WHEW!! And the emotions this book brought out, was something I wasn’t really expecting in this book. Most rock star romances I have read have never been so emotional as this one was for me. I would even move it into the “forbidden romance” trope, just for the reason of the circumstances of these two and how they try to make a relationship work, and well Slater are Emmie are forbidden by Emmie’s brother to have any kind of romantic relationship, but you know how that all goes right? But I did love Derek, he knows Slater and his past and doesn’t want to risk his sister getting hurt, he is just being a protective brother. We get to meet the other members of the band, and boy were they fun even if they got a bit crazy at times. But I surely did love them and what they brought together as a team and a group of brothers who loved music. What was so heartrending was every aspect of the story. But the focus is Slater and Emmie. Both characters just worm their way into your heart, and you want them together so badly, it hurts. The way Erika Kelly weaves this story is just beautiful, because she makes it real and human and as a reader you just connect on every level with the story. That is what I loved most is the way its written, and how it made me fall in love with the characters and this love story that tore out my heart at times. I mean honestly these two had it bad for each other, and they really have to battle with themselves, each other, and some villains who try to break them apart to get their HEA. But it does happen and the ending was just so perfectly played out! This is a must read for anyone that loves a winning love story.
Loved the story,can not wait for the next in this series!
One of the best books I have read in a long while. I sdore Slater! Hope we see more of hid hsppy ending in future stories!
When I received this ARC, I suspected I was going to like it. What's not to like about a book about a sexy rock star? But I didn't know I was going to love it. Read-it-until-1 a.m.-when-my-computer-ran-out-of-juice love it. And then wake-up-the-next-morning-and-read-obsessively love it. You Really Got Me by debut author Erika Kelly immerses you, the lucky reader, in the fantasy of being head-over-heels lusted after by the most gorgeous rock star you've ever wanted. It's laugh-out-loud funny (and I seldom LOL at books), it's blazingly erotic and, most importantly, it's real. Our heroine, Emmie Valencia, is a real girl, smart, organized, kind, with just the right of amount of goofy. And Slater Vaughn is the perfect embodiment of the beautiful rock star you once saw at that club. He's a guy trying to "make it" and Emmie is the smart and capable woman who can get him and his band there. The hangups that initially keep our two protagonists apart are real, and the slow-building friendship and slow-burning desire are real as well. Erika Kelly makes you wait for the combustion to happen between these two, making it all the hotter when it does. Slater Vaughn is viscerally sexy; he's intense and raunchy and soulful. He's joined the ranks of my favorite contemporary romance heroes; he's right up there with Lisa Kleypas' Blue-Eyed Devil, Hardy Cates. I knew I was going to get my happily ever after, but Erika Kelly presented such a real scenario to keep these two lovers apart that I was stressed. She looks at all the angles of managing a relationship in the harsh glare of the spotlight, and gives us a satisfying resolution. Erika Kelly has given us a fantastic rock star fantasy with great writing and realistic scenarios and most importantly, a fantasy worthy hero.
I loved this so much! It was fantastic! A wonderful story with these great characters filled with so much passion. It was just an exciting read! Emmie and Slater were excellent characters. Emmie Valencia, this girl. Wanting so much but having so many insecurities, trying to be strong and push through them. She's so sweet and smart, just a normal girl. I totally got her and understood her. Sometimes I wanted to shake her and say "you got this" but I could totally relate to why she held back at times. Slater Vaughn, this man. Oh goodness, he was fantastic. Talented, sexy, protective, and sweet. There were moments where Slater really showed how vulnerable he was and it made my heart melt. I loved the fact that this is from both of their POV’s, that’s one of my favorite things. I love how Emmie and Slater were friends first and their relationship really grew and evolved from there. I could feel the build between them, it was so great to get all those different levels of emotion from them while they were fighting their feelings. It was a steady build that really grew and developed and it was timed perfectly. I kept getting tingly feelings in my body and my stomach flipped while reading because I could feel their connection. Together they had this undeniable passion that built and built and then bam! combustible! I loved their hotness together, just the perfect amount. I was excited learning all the details and how things developed, I was hooked from the beginning! Besides Emmie and Slater, there was also the story about the band. I really liked all the guys and getting to know them. I loved the connection that Emmie had with her brother Derek and I’m excited that the next story is about him. I was into everything that was happening with the band and and the conflicts involved. Besides the passion, there was a lot of anxiety and tension. I got stressed out on more than one occasion. Not a fan of Piper Lee but she was a definitely a well written bad guy. This was just a full wonderful story that was full of passion, had really good development, and awesome characters. Loved it!
I loved reading You Really Got Me! The book moved quickly, with witty conversation between characters and an interesting look into the struggles of an up and coming rock band. What really got ME (get the pun?) was the unbelievably hot and incredibly romantic connection between the book's main characters, Emmie and Slater. A must read for those who like intelligent characters and smokin' romance.
Why can't more guys love like this
This was my First time reading anything written by Erika Kelly and I have to say I LOVED IT. I could not seem to put this book down. I can't wait to read the next book in this series that will be coming out I believe July 7, 2015. I would highly recommend this book to any and everybody. Looking forward to exploring other books written by her!!!!
Imaginative, no nonsense: YOU REALLY GOT ME is the first installment in Erika Kelly’s contemporary, adult Rock Star Romance erotic romance series focusing on the rock band currently known as Snatch. This is song writer and front man Slater Vaughn and industry assistant Emmie Valencia’s storyline. When Emmie’s shot at a promotion is passed over for someone with less experience, Emmie takes it upon herself to make the up and coming rock band Snatch a household name. What Emmie never expected was to fall in love with Slater Vaughn-a man who would break her heart and destroy her faith in love. Told from several third person points of view the storyline follows the rise and fall of Slater Vaughn- a talented song writer whose star is on the rise. Enter Emmie Valencia, a woman whose own success has yet to make it in the music industry and the person who would pull her brother’s band Snatch into the spotlight. But like all rising stars, there are people waiting in the wings, riding the road to success and willing to do anything to make it big. As Slater and the boys slowly rise to the top, Emmie realizes that her relationship with Slater will suffer the fall out from notoriety, the media circus and a woman who sees Slater as her ticket to the big leagues. Already reeling from a disastrous relationship with another rock star, Emmie is unwilling to let her heart be trapped by another wanna be star. Slater’s reputation with groupies and women precedes his introduction to the band’s newest manager, but that doesn’t stop Slater from trying everything in his power to grab Emmie’s attention. Mistakes will be made, jealousy will rear its’ ugly head, and Emmie and Slater’s slow building relationship will take a back seat to all the trappings of a public relations nightmare. The sex scenes are intimate, sensual and spontaneous. The secondary and supporting characters ( Snatch band members-Cooper, Ben, and Derek) are colorful, well developed and add an emotional depth to the story. Derek is Emmie’s over protective big brother and with good reason when Slater begins to spiral out of control. As the band members ride the ‘high’ of success, too much excess will bring the band crashing back to reality with no apologies. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll is not only a line but a lifestyle that will interfere with music and the band. Erika Kelly writes an imaginative, no nonsense, gritty storyline about the uglier side of rock and roll. No one is safe from social media gossip; the PR machines work hard to manipulate a reputation that has yet to see the light of day; and one woman will lose her heart to a man who sees himself a failure in the eyes of the people he loves. There are destructive moments of anguish and heartbreak followed by intense passion and provocative love. Erika Kelly will captivate your imagination with her introductory Rock Star Romance storyline YOU REALLY GOT ME.
Way to go Erika Kelly. This was my first book by Erika and I'm looking forward to the second book in the Rock Star Romance series. What a fun world to enter. Musicians on the cusp of becoming rock stars.
I absolutely adored You Really Got Me. I generally don't care for rocker novels, but Erika Kelly rocked it. She should be the new model for romance. It was a passionate whirlwind. Slow and simmering beginning, but in a GREAT way that had me begging for more. And when Emmie and Slater finally got together, I swooned. No joke. Honestly, one of the most passionate, insanely hot and sexy scenes I've ever read. I love them together, and they work hard, first when they're trying to ignore the heat between them, and then when they finally get together and trouble hits. And the trouble, it's real. Honest to god real conflict which I appreciate after reading so many contrived issues. New favorite author!
One word, one feeling- WOW. I picked this book up this morning expecting to work through it during my free time this week but 6.5hrs later I'm staring at the back page wishing the story didn't end. You Really Got Me did just so... After a little bit of research, I am relieved to see this is the first book in a series. I will be waiting anxiously to get my paws on the second that comes out in June! I could not put this book down for anything today. You know you have just read a good book when you have to sit back and let all of the overwhelming emotions sink in and register before you are mentally capable of re-entering humanity. I am sitting here wishing I was Emmie and wondering where my Slater is!!! Fictional characters have it made. This was an irresistible, sexy read. Erika Kelly is one of the most phenomenal story tellers she has left me hungry for more, I cannot wait for what is next in this series.
Hot new rocker romance grabbed me up in its turbulent story and carried me along so that I was not ready for it all to end when I reached the last page. I felt so drained, but in a good way. This was a new to me author and a new to me series and I will definitely be going back to rock out with this group of guys and their special heroines the moment the next book releases. Story opens with Emmie learning that her boss at a big music industry record label doesn't think she has what it takes to be promoted from her job as his assistant to the one who goes out with him to discover new talent. Her famous musician dad never thought she had what it took and her recent cheating ex-rocker boyfriend definitely found her wanting and said so. Now this! Emmie delivers an ultimatum to her boss and shucks out for Texas and her brother. She'll crash with Derek and 'discover' a band and that will show her boss that she can do it and then he'll give her the coveted promotion that will be her proof that she has finally arrived in the music industry and isn't still the little girl on the outside of the door. When she arrives, she finds out that Derek's band has driven off a half dozen managers that aren't good fits for them. There's nothing wrong with his band that is popular locally and just needs a break to hit it big. One night watching them perform or better yet getting dry mouthed and squirmy over the lead singer, Slade, is enough to convince her to work with them in her off time between looking at band talent. She'll help them connect with a big local concert and maybe get on as the opening band to a touring singer. Meanwhile, she will convince herself to keep that strong reaction to Slade under wraps and just work with the band on improvements to get them noticed. After the experience with Alex and the rocker lifestyle, never again. She will find a guy who will love her faithfully and that she can be with and raise a family instead of wondering what he's doing out on the road. Easier said than done. Why can't Slade just be the shallow manwhore stuck on himself that he lets the world see him as? Slade is curious about the buttoned up woman with the spark of secrets and naughty just under the surface. He knows Emmie is Derek's sister and she's the relationship type so definitely not for the likes of him. He has to focus on his career and succeed where his dad had failed. He works hard on his songwriting and improving his music. He will do whatever Emmie offers for advice. Emmie has gotten past his walls. She is the first woman friend he has ever had. He wants her so badly, but she doesn't seem to want him and he continues to tell himself that he shouldn't want her because she's returning to NYC and if her work for them goes where he thinks it will, he'll be on tour and focusing on the band. But as time goes by, he wonders more if a long distance relationship can work because he really wants to go for it with Emmie. Can he convince her to give them a chance? Alright, so this was a rocker romance and I have to say that it felt like a rocker romance. I've read quite a few and many of them felt like the music world was just backdrop and sometimes distantly at that. This author wrote a wonderful conflicted romance that was immersed in the world. In fact, I imagine that much of the activities, emotions, and thoughts were very much what it must be like. Authenticism was a definite plus. Then there was the characters. Man alive! Slade, Emmie, the guys in the band, her boss, Ben's girlfriend, and heck the groupies, and the headliner star were all so marvelously written. I had a strong emotional response to all of them. Slade and the guys had the brotherhood dynamic going. Emmie and her boss, Irving, just cracked me up the way they went back and forth in that playful non-sexual flirty way. Derek and Emmie as siblings, Slade and his mom. Such wonderful connections! And the vixen of the piece? I totally wanted to snatch her bald and do other mean, painful things to her. But the two main characters profoundly worked on me. They were both so messed up growing up as children of musicians. Emmie especially just broke my heart the way she struggled so hard to find herself, to please her jerk of a dad, to protect her wounded heart by holding off Slade with all that she had deluding herself that it was because he couldn't be trusted. She wanted him, but she wouldn't believe in his love and kept one foot out the door to run off. She was a beautiful, talented loveable woman and she couldn't see it. Slade was off track too, but unlike Emmie, after a while he got past things at least with her and gave her his all. He was incredible the way he stuck with Emmie when her jealousy and insecurity would have driven most guys away. He didn't play around and was honest. He gave her his all through his words, his songs, and his actions. This guy was just...sigh. The passion for his music and for Emmie was just incredible to read. Let's just say Emmie has a real treasure there. All in all, this was a fantastic book and beginning of a series. I really hope Derek's story is next. This series is definitely worth the read for rocker romance lovers and other contemporary romance fans who don't mind two flawed characters who make the reader get the feels for both them and the music world they inhabit. My thanks to Penguin Group for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Will definitely read the next series.