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The True Platinum 8 Book Bundle (EBOOK BUNDLE)

The True Platinum 8 Book Bundle (EBOOK BUNDLE)

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Welcome to Wales, the birth place of some of the best rock bands in history.

Over 8 steamy books, join Rhiannon and The Brightside as their bands climb to music fame — and wrestle with their personal lives along the way.

✔ Persistent frontman Ryan pursues love-resistant Alys in Chasing Alys.

✔ Trapped in an elevator, Daphne clashes with her sabotaging ex-Matt in Charming Daphne

✔ Guitarist James fights for a second chance with ex-Nia in Winning Nia.

✔ Bassist Dan grapples with a surprise toddler in Enticing Mel.

✔ Bad boy drummer Jared met his match in Defying Ella.

✔ After a drunken night in Las Vegas, Emily wakes up wearing a ring from hot rocker Owen in Needing Emily

✔ A charity date goes awry for Lily and Rhys in Braving Lily.

✔ And the fallout of a drunken fling forces Alex and Ceri back together after eight years apart in Daring Ceri.

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J
J.J.
Rockstar Romance Galore!

Rockstar Romance hasn't ever really been my thing...ENTER CHASING ALYS.!
I can definitely say that I fell in love with the genre the more I read in the series. I thought I liked Ryan...enter James. I thought I loved James...ENTER DAN (SWOOOOOON) and Don't forget the broody bad boy drummer, Jared.!
Bevan has a way of pulling you into the world of romance, giving you the perfect balance of charm, steam and cuteness. It's all you need all wrapped up in one.!

THE BOOKS INCLUDED IN THE ULTIMATE ROCK STAR ROMANCE BUNDLE

When love’s song takes over, you’re forced to find the beat.

Once a player, always a player. And all men, in my experience, are. It's like they can't help themselves.

Usually, that reminder is enough. I dismiss most before I even meet them. Especially the hot ones.

Like Ryan. Lead singer of the band Rhiannon.

So hot it hurts, he can have any woman he wants. (And has, if the rumours are to be believed, and why wouldn't I believe them?)

But he keeps trying. And I don't understand it. He shows up at the Winter Wonderland. Sends me an MP3 player full of music to keep me company on a long drive.

So maybe I'll give in. At least, long enough to get it out of our systems. I mean, once he gets what he wants, he'll disappear, right?

Never mind how I'll feel when he does.

TROPES: He Falls First, steamy, spicy, strangers-to-lovers, chance encounters, angsty romance, MF, Welsh/British characters/setting, forced proximity, slow burn

charming daphne manager romance trapped in elevator

There’s always one, isn’t there?

And he was it; Matt Brodie. The one that sabotaged my biggest opportunity.

I picked my ass up and changed the game plan, I found another way. But I never would have had to, if he hadn’t stepped in and blocked my path.

I thought I’d put it behind me and moved on with my life, but when he steps in before the elevator doors close, I know I haven’t.

It’s been five years and now I’m trapped in an enclosed space with the biggest obstacle I’ve ever faced.

Will I be forced to work with my unresolved feelings? Or can he find his way back in to my good graces?

TROPES: He Falls First, steamy, spicy, chance encounters, Second chance, Stuck in an elevator. Old flame, close proximity

I don't need a rockstar to be my knight in shining armour. Especially one who already had his chance.

My first love broke my heart when I was sixteen. James Tyler was everything I’d ever wanted, until he up and left. That’s what I get for falling for a musician whose plans for world domination never included me.

My second love, photography, would never let me down.

Or so I thought until I discovered that making it as a music photographer is a lot harder in reality than in my dreams – and my savings account can only take a beating for so long before I have to swallow my pride and start grovelling to my arrogant, estranged father.

And if things couldn’t get any worse, James is back…

Arriving with a job offer I shouldn’t refuse, and a confession big enough to send shockwaves through the past, he throws my entire life upside down. But I don’t care how successful his band is or that he insists I’m the one for him. If he thinks I forgive him tossing me aside ten years ago, he’s got another thing coming.

To anyone else, James is a second chance wrapped in muscle and black ink. Too bad for him, I’ve never believed in second chances.

TROPES: He Falls First, steamy, spicy, second chance, close proximity

Enticing Mel rock star secret baby romance

What happens when your past catches up with your present? I’m not sure I want to know.

Five years ago, my childhood sweetheart left me with more than a broken heart as his band rose to stardom. I’ve tried to move on and build a life without him.

I should’ve known the peace wouldn’t last. Eventually, his band would come home, and I’d be forced to face the dreamy bassist who still owns my heart. But I’ve been hiding something and my secret is about to be revealed.

As much as I don’t want his flaky lifestyle impacting my daughter — our daughter — I can’t lie anymore. Dan still makes my heart flutter and steals my breath.

He’s sure we can pick up where we left off now that he’s not touring. But I’m not the carefree girl anymore, and I’m not sure I can let him in again, not when someone else’s heart is on the line.

Will I listen when my head says no? Or will he be able to entice my heart once more?

TROPES: He Falls First, steamy, spicy, second chance, close proximity, secret baby

Defying Ella close proximity rock star romance

One cabin, one badly timed snowstorm, and one asshole drummer. What could possibly go wrong?

He has it – that thing. You know the one I mean, right?

It’s not just the natural-born talent that cascades from him in musical waves when he's on stage, and it’s more than drive, more than passion.

It’s the one indescribable thing I can’t nail down for myself, and the man I despise more than anything right now, is throwing it away like it’s nothing. It’s infuriating.

He’s infuriating.

I didn't expect to spend so much time with him, near him, on this tour. And so, when the opportunity arose to escape to the quiet of the cabin, I took it. Only for the self-obsessed prick to turn up not long after.

Now, I can’t escape him and the reminders of the week we shared, what feels like a lifetime ago.

He’s got what I want, what I need. But can he help me find mine? And do I even want him to?

TROPES: He Falls First, steamy, spicy, enemies to lovers, close proximity, trapped in a cabin, grumpy sunshine, best friend's sister, one bed

One night in Vegas with Owen Parry. It should have been simple. It wasn’t.

He’s hot. He’s always been hot. Half of the problem is that he knows it - something the Marable following aren’t shy about letting him know.

Of course, with a few drinks in hand, one thing led to another. You can see where this is going... What I wasn’t expecting, was the ring I woke up wearing.

I’m not ashamed to say I ran. I have no doubt he's only looking for arm candy, this rock star life isn't made for marriage. For love.

Either way, the knock on my door comes as a surprise. He’s here, and he wants a chance to get to know his wife.

TROPES: He Falls First, steamy, spicy, accidental Vegas wedding, instalove

Braving Lily Rock Star Romance female rockstar

What happens when the limelight isn't all it was meant to be?

Lily

It's like the entire world is rushing ahead and I just want to stop the ride, I want to get off.

I need a rest. A break. An easy half-hour with someone who doesn't have stars in their eyes and money on their mind.

So, I sold a date in a charity auction, and when the recipient doesn't even bother to turn up, I question whether normal men are worth the effort. Turns out the rock star variety aren't.

But it irks me. Men don't stand me up – nobody does. I'm Lily Tyler, goddamnit.

What I know of this man is enough to pique my interest, and I'm not going to take no for an answer now. I'm having this date, one way or another.

Rhys

A setup, with a rockstar, organised by my mother. That's not what I'm looking for.

Some self-entitled little girl looking for a doe-eyed boy to worship her, I think not.

It's safe to say, after my marriage crumbled before my eyes, that I'm not interested in opening myself up to any kind of heartbreak again, ever.

But when I find myself backed into a corner, when she's asking for nothing more than a coffee, can I say no?

Will Lily manage to strong-arm her way into this date? Will Rhys get more than he bargained for if she does?

Tropes: reverse billionaire, Opposites attract, the nerd gets the girl, grumpy sunshine, second chance at love, boy next door

Daring ceri second chance forced proximity rock star romance

The spotlights stole her heart once. Now they're stealing her future — and she's not leaving without a fight.

Alex

Who knew a drunken ceremony in Fiji could be legally binding? Not me, but I'm not complaining.

I couldn't figure out how to make her give me a second chance, how to prove I've changed from the jerk who dumped her years ago. Now I have my chance to show her the man I've become — and this time, the finale will be just the start.

Ceri

I'm engaged. I've moved on. Yet destiny drops the man who broke my heart back into my life with no warning.

Now the rock god who ditched me for fame is blackmailing me into a three-month tour that will wreck everything I've worked for.

I know better. Some days, I hate him. But despite our history, his rhythm still calls to me.

I won't be another conquest. If he thinks I'll surrender to the same fantasy that ruined me before, he's wrong. But refusing him could mean losing it all.

Tropes: He falls first, Childhood sweet heart, enemies to lovers, second chance, band on tour

Can these rising musicians balance rocketing careers and intense romance, or will one side derail the other? Join us for the journey and find out.

This discount is only available here on the author's web store. 

You will pay more than double at retailers like Amazon, Apple Books, Google Play or Barnes and Noble. 

After checkout, the ebooks will be sent to your ereader of choice via the book delivery service Bookfunnel. 

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FAQs

HOW WILL I GET MY EBOOKS?

Ebooks are delivered instantly by link in your confirmation email (and as a backup, also by email from our delivery partner, Bookfunnel). If you don't see it in your inbox, check your spam and then double check the email. You can reach out to me at store@morganabevan.com if you you can't find it.

HOW DO I READ MY EBOOKS?

You can read the ebooks on any ereader (Amazon, Kobo, Nook), your tablet, phone, computer, and/or in the free Bookfunnel app.

CAN I READ A SAMPLE OF CHASING ALYS?

Music blared from every direction, deafening the eclectic mix of people crammed into the dark, modest bar. Most ignored the band prancing around the small stage, choosing to shout at their neighbour between winces instead. Some crowded the bar itself, while others stood in groups on the dance floor before the stage. Almost all of them wore black band t-shirts and jeans. I’d missed the memo on the t-shirts, but then, I didn’t own any. My green blouse would have to do. 

Other women were going against the uniform who stuck out worse than me. A dark dive bar didn’t seem like the place for short dresses, stilettos or faces caked with make-up, but then, it wasn’t my scene, so what did I know? 

As far as I was concerned, heels would just stick to the dirty rubber floor. The air was so stagnant and hot that sweat dripped down the walls. My face already felt like it was melting, and I wore only a thin layer of foundation. I hated to think about the time these girls had wasted perfecting their eyeliner and the curve of their lashes. It would all end up being nothing more than a black streak down their cheeks in a couple of hours. 

I pressed my spine into the pillar between the bar and the stairs leading down to the entrance. Then I remembered the sweat coating the walls and shot away before it could seep into my blouse. It was the perfect vantage spot. Emily wouldn’t be able to miss me when she finally turned up. 

After scanning the growing crowd for what felt like the hundredth time, I took a deep glug of wine and grimaced, fighting an instant need to spit it out. Served in a plastic pint glass, I’d naively thought it couldn’t get worse. But the burn in my throat begged to differ. That’s what I get for drinking wine from a bar that smells like stale beer. 

Had the music been better, this gig might have turned the tide on my distaste for live music. There was a crowd, but it wasn’t claustrophobic. I still wouldn’t be able to have a conversation without losing my voice the next day, but at least I didn’t feel like there was no escape. 

Thirty minutes passed. My feet stuck to the floor, my ears felt like they were bleeding, my taste buds were a thing of the past, and Emily was nowhere to be seen. I couldn’t even get drunk to drown out the screams of the man on stage who had forgotten how to produce words. 

Foot tapping against the disgusting floor, I glared at the gaunt figure holding the microphone. He needed a haircut and an introduction to running water. Long black strands stuck to his thin body – when had he lost his shirt? – and it had nothing to do with sweat. That shine seemed far too pronounced. 

Reverb squawked through the small space, and I winced in tandem with the rest of the crowd. Why had I given in to Emily so quickly yesterday? I should have argued, resisted for at least an hour. 

I lived with Emily and when production was in full swing, we didn’t see each other much. A production coordinator’s day started far earlier than a school counsellor’s, and it ended much later. That meant we only caught sight of each other when I had a down day, which was few and far between. If my day off didn’t fall on a weekend, the most we managed was sharing a meal. Yet despite being like passing ships most days, we could still read each other with very little effort. 

I don’t know how I’d survived without my wayward best friend for the first eleven years of my life. Her attaching herself to me had been the best thing to happen, and not only because she ran off a bully with the whack of a textbook. She’d made life more exciting in our tiny village. Of the two of us, she was the daring one. She’d climb forty-foot trees on the regular, getting stuck almost every time. People would tell her she wasn’t allowed to do something, and she’d defy them all.

Back then, I’d wished she’d approach love with the same daredevil outlook. I’d thought she was missing out. Now I knew better.  

My eyes strayed to the entrance yet again – and snagged on an oddly familiar blond-haired man. He stood on the opposite side of the room, staring at me whilst surrounded by a group of men. All four of them were varying degrees of hot, and together they packed an effective punch. Around them, men outright gawked and women tried to catch their eyes. 

Not a single one of their watchers approached, though. Nothing but empty space surrounded them, and except for Blondie, they seemed oblivious, laughing and joking with each other. The four of them were chiselled, over six feet tall, and gave off an air of unaffected calm in the face of so much attention. I could understand why they pulled focus; they were the epitome of cool and confident. 

Despite their competing good looks, my gaze kept coming back to the blond-haired one. His friends chattered around him, but he was silent, oblivious to them. His expression was oddly restrained as he stared at me across the smoky room. His face tickled my memories, but I couldn’t pinpoint why he seemed familiar. His hair fell to his shoulders in effortless waves that would make any woman envious. 

Then his eyes snared mine, pulling me in until the music faded. An easy smile tipped up the edges of his lips, and my heart beat faster. An image of him walking down the stairs towards me last night popped into my head. What were the chances that I’d stumble upon him twice in two nights?

He looked different with his long hair falling in messy waves. Last night he’d been cleaner cut with his hair pulled back. He’d been hot then, but this… 

Glancing away, he raised a bottle to his lips and my eyes dipped, taking in the tight swimmer’s build hidden beneath his plain white t-shirt and black jeans. His trousers moulded to his thighs, and the shirt was so thin he might as well have been topless. If I’d met him last year, I might have taken it as an invitation. 

Why did I remember him? I was usually terrible with faces, and our interaction had lasted a matter of seconds. 

I caught my gaze before it could fall further and forced my attention back to his face. His lips twitched and my face warmed. He’d caught my once-over. Still, I couldn’t look away. I didn’t think I’d ever grow tired of that smile.

A tall, thin guy covered in tattoos turned to follow the direction of his stare. He smirked, slapping my watcher on the back before leaning in. His lips moved, and the pair laughed. He gave him a shove towards me, and my stomach dropped. Looking was one thing, but being approached in this dive bar was not on my agenda. I didn’t care how he made my pulse race; I was done with men. 

I tore my eyes away and unlocked my phone to check messages, social media – anything to distract me. When my eyes tipped up again, drawn to him by some cruel magnetic force, he was openly grinning at me from across the room. 

Heat suffused my body, and I willed it away. All of my attempts to let people in had backfired. I was tired of trying, of getting my heart broken. And I was sick of men taking advantage and treating me like their plaything. After my last mishap, it was becoming clear that true happiness would not include a man. I wasn’t sure I wanted it to, anyway. 

A nice house with Emily close by would do me fine.  

I frowned at my phone. It revealed no more clues than the strangers surrounding me. It wasn’t like her to ditch me without at least a text, and Emily hadn’t been online in four hours. My fingers hovered over the keyboard while I chewed my lip in indecision. She hadn’t seen my last ten messages either. This was not like her. 

Fuck it. Another text couldn’t hurt. 

Alys 

Where are you? Gig’s started and the wine sucks. HURRY UP! Xxx

I stared at the screen for another minute out of some misguided hope that little speech bubbles would appear. They didn’t. 

“You’ve either been stood up or your friends are late,” someone shouted above me. Air tickled my ear. The sound startled me enough that I added my foul wine to the sticky cocktail coating the old rubber floor. 

My head snapped up. The god from across the room grinned down at me, his crystal-blue eyes captivating. His slightly crooked smile jump-started my pulse, and my grip on common sense slipped. 

I frowned at his nose. Not quite a god. The tiny bump on the bridge would have ruled him out of godhood.

“None of the above?” He leaned towards me to be heard over the caterwauling filtering through the amps. His trim body blocked out the stage, and I couldn’t find it in me to be mad about it. 

My lungs filled with his smouldering, spicy scent, and if I weren’t a trained dancer, my knees might have buckled. What the utter hell? 

Eyes narrowed, I considered his open, patient face. There were two kinds of attractive men: the ones who were oblivious to their power, and the ones who knew their effect and exploited it. 

This guy knew he was good-looking, and he expected me to fall at his feet. I should have spotted it last night. I’d had enough experience with his type over the years to know that I hated that kind of man. They were always looking for better, and they had a nasty habit of disappearing right when your heart decided it was safe to let them in. 

And yet that smile and those eyes still held me. I couldn’t make myself turn away. “My friend’s late.”

“Remind me to thank her,” he shouted.  

A small part of me was grateful for my three-inch boots. With men over six feet, they made the height difference far more manageable. His eyes bore into mine, fixated. I could feel the heat radiating off his body, and my lower belly clenched in response. Hate these men or not, my body couldn’t ignore their charm.

I’d dated a lot over the years – setups, online matches, one-night stands, unwise attempts at relationships – but none of them had made the room fade or my throat close up with nerves. Not even one of them had captivated me with nothing but a smile or made my heart race with the caress of their gaze. Somehow this one cut through the disinterest. I frowned.

“So, this is going to sound crazy, but you seem really familiar,” he said.

Relief snatched my unwanted nerves. I wasn’t odd for remembering such a brief encounter. “We passed each other on the stairs last night at the Old Ballroom.” 

His shoulders relaxed at my response. That easy smile creased his eyes, and my chest tightened. “We did, but I don’t think that’s it.”

I searched his face for clues. I’d have remembered meeting him before yesterday. No way would I forget his quiet confidence or my inexplicable fascination with the quirk of his lips. 

“You were on the set of the Mystery Lines show this summer, right?” 

I nodded. I’d been on it since May, rode out an uneasy couple of weeks short of production staff and still produced what would hopefully be the next contender for an Emmy or BAFTA. 

He raised the bottle to his lips, grinning. “I thought so.” 

My brows creased as I searched my memories from the summer. I couldn’t place him on my set. I would have noticed him. 

“My mate, Shaun Martin, was in it. You’re the woman who told the crew off for being callous idiots.” 

I covered my face, shaking my head. “You saw that?” 

Callused fingers gently pulled my hand away from my eyes. “Don’t be embarrassed. It was brilliant. They all stood about while the chaperone tried to get a handle on that little girl. You jumped right in and calmed her down.”

“She was going blue in the face. Someone had to do something before she passed out.” 

“And that someone was you?” 

“No one else had the sense to, so yeah, it had to be me.” My throat hurt from shouting, but I didn’t want to stop talking to him. 

“I left the set pretty fast. How did they all take it?” he asked, rocking back on his heels while I squirmed with remembered embarrassment. 

“My production manager found it funny. The rest of them tiptoed around me for a couple of days.” I watched the swirl of wine in my plastic cup while I spoke. 

“It was brave,” he said, his tone firm. 

I peeked at him from beneath my lashes. His eyes travelled across my face, seeming to absorb every detail. “You think so?” 

He nodded. “Hundred per cent.” 

“Did Shaun Martin really see?” I asked, my voice tentative and barely audible. He stared at my lips, frowning as he tried to decipher my question. 

Shaun Martin was the leading man of the series and kind of a big deal, even if he had started out trying to tank his career. At the beginning of production for Mystery Lines, he’d tried to get plenty of people fired. He hadn’t been successful, and thankfully he’d gotten over whatever had been making him act out. But I’d still disrupted set, even if I was defending a helpless girl. Someone like him hated wasting time, and I’m sure he could talk a producer into giving him anything he wanted the next time around, including not hiring a brazen production coordinator. 

The frown cleared and Blondie’s amused eyes were appraising when they jumped back to mine. “He thought it was impressive too. His assistant was quite the firecracker. You gave her a run for her money.” 

“You met Mona?” 

He nodded. “A couple of times now. Do you know her well?” 

I shrugged. “A little. I hired her.”

His unfocused eyes shifted to the left. “When she was trying to get out from under Shaun, you mean?”

“I didn’t know they were involved at the time, but I guess so.”

Our production secretary quit without notice two months in. She’d been missed, and the production team had struggled to absorb her tasks. For a couple of weeks, we floundered trying to keep on top of the last-minute transport and accommodation changes for the entire cast and crew, as well as prepare the sides for the next day. When Mona accepted my offer to jump ship and join production, I snapped her up without much thought. Thankfully, Shaun hadn’t been pissed, and it hadn’t backfired on me. 

“Did you find out why she was crying?” he asked, bringing me back to the present. 

I frowned at the sudden question. My mind raced, trying to figure out how it applied to Mona. I’d never seen her cry.

“What?” 

“The girl.” His intense blue eyes snared me like a trap. Why do I feel the urge to spill all my secrets to this guy every time our eyes meet? “Did you find out why she was upset?” 

The genuine interest in his gaze both intrigued and terrified me. Men rarely cared about my job. They asked the perfunctory questions about meeting famous people, but their eyes always glazed over when I tried to go deeper. Not this guy. I liked it too much.

“She missed her mother. She died a couple of months before, and it was her first acting gig without her.” A pang hit me in the chest. I tried to force that memory out of my mind by raising the awful wine to my mouth and focusing on the acidic liquid searing my taste buds. It didn’t help. 

Our only child actress had thrown a fit because no one had danced her around the space or read lines with her. Like her mother did and never would again.

His amusement faded. “Poor kid.” Admiration filled his tone when he added: “I’ve never seen someone soothe a kid so fast. Good work.” 

Heat spread up my neck and into my cheeks. 

“Hey, don’t be embarrassed. It took guts.” He raised his drink to his lips without breaking eye contact. “There were loads of people there whose job it was to look after the kid, right?”

“Yes, but I went about it wrong. I should have spoken to the director and had him step in.” But I hadn’t really been thinking. I’d heard her cry and reacted. 

“Your way was far more badass.” He smiled. My lips curved in response. “I’m sorry for staring. I guess your face stuck with me after that.”

I nodded. My eyes drifted towards the stairs, hoping Emily would magically appear and let me escape his sincere light. But no luck. Emily was still MIA and this guy still drew me in. So much for dousing the flames. 

For the first time, I noticed the sound engineer glaring with his arms crossed at the idiot on stage swinging the mic at the very tip of safe. Somebody really should stop him before he hits someone. Hell, if it meant he’d stop screaming, I’d do it. There was screamo and then there was this ear-destroying monstrosity. There were plenty of leather-wearing men in the room sporting spiky jewellery who probably loved it, but even they frowned at the band. 

“Do you like this type of music?” My persistent companion shouted. He tapped my arm with his cold plastic bottle, drawing my attention back to him. Goose bumps broke out, raising the hairs on my skin.

“How can you call this noise music?” I asked, pretending that I knew enough about it to have an opinion beyond the Top 40. 

He shrugged. “Some people like it.” 

“But not you?” I held my breath, hopeful I’d at last found some reason to push him away. 

“Definitely not me. I like my music to have understandable lyrics.” 

Relief coursed through me before I could squash it. So maybe I didn’t want him to leave. My eyes widened as they travelled between the stage and him. “That has lyrics?” 

He chuckled. “They say it does. I have my doubts.” 

I glanced over his shoulder at his friends. They were engrossed in a heated argument and seemingly oblivious to his absence. They gestured wildly between them, their faces animated and invested. 

“What’s that about?” I asked, nodding towards them. 

“Who knows? Jared probably said something to wind them up.” He pointed over his shoulder. “That’s normal. I’m far more interested in you.”

I laughed. “Smooth.” 

He ran his free hand through his hair, grinning boyishly at me. “I’m not all that great with that kind of thing.” 

I snorted and his lips widened, revealing a flash of his teeth. 

“I’d rather not get drawn into whatever they’re arguing about. Would you mind if I kept hanging out with you?” The words hit me as effectively as if he’d whispered them in my ear. 

The answer should have been no, instantaneous and swift rolling off my lips. I wasn’t interested in taking this brief flirtation further. I definitely didn’t want to lead anyone on. Yet I smiled and nodded. 

Relief slivered across his face before his confident demeanour fell back into place. 

“If you could have dinner with only two of your favourite artists, who would you pick?” His eyes wandered across my face, taking in my surprise. “What? Were you expecting me to ask something else?” 

“Maybe.” 

“I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”

I shook my head, unsure if he meant my pick of artists or the question I’d expected to fall from his lips. The surprising man wasn’t so straightforward. 

“You don’t want to know the answer,” I said. 

“Fair warning. If you say Matthew Tuck from Bullet for My Valentine, I’m going to call you a hypocrite.” His eyes sparkled, and a ridiculous thrill swept through me. I enjoyed him looking at me with that teasing glint. 

I’d heard of Bullet for My Valentine. I’d have to live in a cave not to have. They were a Welsh band from a couple towns over, but I had no idea what they sounded like. “Okay. You still don’t want to hear my answer.”

He stepped closer and his face lit up. He laughed at me. “Now I need to know. It can’t be that bad. You don’t look like the sort to love teeny-bopper music.” 

I laughed too, basking in his attention despite myself. “I’d probably invite Halsey and the Ward Thomas sisters.”

He pointed at me. “That’s three.” 

“I can’t exactly split up the Ward Thomas sisters.”

“Then you need to pick just them.” 

“Or I could pick someone else.” 

He gestured for me to do so. 

“Tanc Sade.” 

He frowned, focusing on a point beyond me. “He’s not a musician.”

“He played one.”

“Yes, but he’s not a real musician.” He smirked, shaking his head. “You’re terrible at this game,” he said, raising the bottle to his lips. 

“I did warn you.” 

He laughed, the sound rushing around me in a rare break in the music and drawing an uncontrollable smile from me. I could feel my resolve weakening. It would be wise to leave before I forgot why I needed a break from men in the first place. My eyes strayed to the stairs, but I stayed rooted to the spot. Just a few more minutes.

CAN I READ A SAMPLE OF CHARMING DAPHNE?

Eyes widened when I blew into the lobby of True Platinum International. I mean, I couldn’t blame them. A soaking wet woman wasn’t your typical sight in the swanky, marble-and glass-covered space at any time of the day, let alone 8 AM. 

It probably didn’t help that I limped past reception, cursing out London cabbies and my new heels. 

I raced into the mercifully empty women’s bathroom and started digging through the cabinets. There had to be a hairdryer in there somewhere. There was one on the twentieth floor where I worked. 

If I set foot in my office looking like a bedraggled mess, right before I had to chew out Casey Jackson for his latest stunt, I’d never live it down. 

Who the hell thought it would be a good idea to go on a rampage at an award show with thirty-eight cameras available to capture every tiny detail, and livestream it to millions of watching fans?

“Casey fucking Jackson,” I growled beneath my breath.

Friday mornings were supposed to be sedate. I’d dealt with enough fires in the last week. I didn’t need an extra surprise right before the weekend. 

“Inconsiderate rock stars.” 

My hand snagged on a black device buried behind a week’s worth of loo roll. Packages scattered as I hissed, “Yes,” and grabbed it before scooting out of the cupboard with care. 

Definitely didn’t need to add a concussion to today’s shitshow.

No, I needed to get my hair dry and my skirt back into some semblance of appropriate for the walk across the busy lobby. Totally doable. Then I looked in the mirror.

Well, shit. 

Maybe keeping my hair to my waist had been a bad move. The lot of it hung in drenched strings around my face. My makeup ran down my face. Not quite the look I wanted, even if panda circles did set my icy blue eyes off really well.

I glanced at the time on my phone.

“Fuck.” 

Ten minutes. Ten minutes until I had to put an idiot know-it-all musician in his place. 

The elevator would eat at least five of those while it stopped at every single floor.

“Shit.” 

I pulled a wad of paper towel from the dispenser, turned on the tap, and frantically scrubbed my face. All the while, my gaze stayed fixed on the clock. 

A minute down, and my heart was racing far too flipping fast to be healthy. 

I dropped the crumpled-up, blackened tissues into the bin, chewing my lip while I tried to sort through the best course of action.

No point wasting time drying my suit. I kept a change of clothes in my office. I just had to face the mortification of the looks I’d get in the lift.

My face could stay bare, too. My boss might not like it so much, but needs must. 

Four minutes. 

I scooped up the hairdryer and rammed the plug into the socket, then I nuked my hair with the highest heat setting. The door opened while I bent over with my hair flung over to one side creating a curtain around me, muttering a string of curses. 

“Are you alright?” a strong Scottish voice asked.

I straightened fast, directing a perfectly sane smile at her. She looked barely twenty-five, and if I didn’t look too closely, she could have been my sister. 

Only I didn’t have one.

So really, letting her vaguely familiar features slow me down would be a stupid idea…

“Fine. A cab got me.” I shrugged before turning my back on her.

I tracked her in the mirror while directing the hairdryer back to the unruly mop of hair. 

She frowned but said no more before disappearing into a stall. I’d been so fresh and optimistic when I was her age. Newly passed the bar and the perfect job lined up. An amazing boyfriend who also worked at the record label. We could have commuted together and shared our woes on hard days with very little explanation. 

I have no idea why I romanticised it like that. It would have just been work… but I’d wanted things to fall into place so badly. 

Until he sabotaged my chance of getting that job.

Pressure prickled behind my eyes and I glared at my reflection. 

What the hell do you think you’re doing, going there?

I’d promised myself five years ago that I’d stop torturing myself with what might have been. I’d meant it then and I meant it now. Traitorous Matt Brodie had no place in my thoughts. 

With my hair mostly dry and the clock screaming that I had less than two minutes, I swept my hair into as clean a bun as I could manage. 

Handbag in one hand and phone in the other, I rushed out of the bathroom, my painful heels clattering against the hard floor while my fingers flew over the keys, texting my work wife. 

Daphne: SOS. Got caught in the rain. Can you pull out my spare suit for me? 

Dots danced in the chat box and I willed it to move faster.

A message pinged on the screen just as I barrelled into a hard surface. My heels slipped out from beneath me and I tipped backwards. My phone slipped from my fingers, clattering to the ground. Probably cracked the screen.

For fucks sake, give a girl a break.

Arms wrapped around me, strong fingers dug into my sides stopping my downward trajectory.

“Sorry, lass. I wasn’t looking. Are you alright?”

My heart stopped as that voice swept over me.

With great hesitation, I lifted my head. My stomach churned with the certainty of what waited for me.

What the hell did I do to deserve this level of shit in one morning?

Matt’s familiar green gaze stared back at me with concern. Five years had aged him well. A scruff of a ginger beard covered his jaw, somehow making him hotter. How the hell was that fair? 

His concern quickly morphed into something I couldn’t read. He righted me and I stepped away from him so fast you’d think he’d burned me.

“Matt,” I spat.

He rubbed his neck. Despite his rugged professional vibes, in a suit that hugged him a little too well for my imagination, old habits died hard. He’d held on to his tells, and I made him uncomfortable. 

Too right he should be uncomfortable. Rat bastard had used his sway to keep me out of a job.

“It’s been ages, Daphne.” The way that brogue licked at my name almost sent a shiver down my spine. Almost. He knelt and picked up my phone. “I didn’t know you were working in the building.” 

My eyes narrowed on him as he straightened. “Why did you need to know? You can’t get me fired from this one.”

I took the phone and brushed past him, striding towards the bank of elevators with determination. And maybe a slightly too aggressive swing of my hips.

I’m well within my rights to torture the ass.

A quick glance at my phone didn’t settle my nerves. My heart raced, the pressure centred in my throat, making it incredibly difficult to breathe or think. 

Ivy had my suit, and Casey hadn’t arrived yet, so I had time. That should have relieved me. 

Yet if I held my hand still, it shook. 

Fucking Matt Brodie. 

I’d worked in the building for six months, handling the legal damage control for the biggest of True Platinum’s artists. Of course, I’d known Rhiannon were signed to Pryderi Records, which TPI owned, but that didn’t mean I had to see Matt. Band managers didn’t spend their lives in this place.

Why was he even here?

I stopped in front of the elevators. A crowd of people gathered, eyes fixed on their phones, feet tapping impatiently while the lifts took their sweet time arriving.

A throat cleared next to me, and my eyes fell shut on a desperate plea for control. I couldn’t start shouting at my ex in front of the staff. He knew better. We’d closed this lid. He wouldn’t…

“Could we catch up later, Daph?”

“Not a chance,” I muttered, trying to keep my voice low. 

I may as well have shouted it. Heads came up, and backs tensed in front of me. Every damn person in my vicinity was listening intently. Fuck. 

I shot Matt a look filled with murderous warning. He just stared back at me with confusion. 

The lift pinged its arrival and the doors opened. People in front of me filed on, and I edged forward, willing there to not be enough space for us both.

No such luck, of course. I don’t know why I expected anything more. The universe had decided to dump on me.

With my stomach sinking to the marble ground, I stepped into the car. The doors shut, and no matter how I moved, my shoulder brushed against Matt’s. Such an innocent, inconsequential touch should not have had my smutty mind racing into the gutter, but try talking sense after a morning of stress. 

Matt tilted his head towards me and I held my breath, waiting for the sod to try and reason with me in a very public space.

“So how’ve you been?” Matt asked. 

Every inch of my body stiffened. “You don’t need to talk to me.” 

Matt chuckled. “Okay, but I want to.”

“Then stop the wanting, and shut up.” 

By the time the nightmare ended, everyone in the building would think of me as a colossal bitch. And I would own it.

They didn’t know what this man had taken from me. They could judge all they wanted but Matt Brodie was dead to me. 

The lift stopped on the third floor and a swarm of people cleared out. It barely dented the headcount inside the metal box. My neck itched with the pressure of their gazes, and I bit the inside of my cheek hard to stop myself from shouting at them.

Do not drag innocent people into your nightmare, Daphne.

“When did you start working here?”

I sighed as I turned my head to glare at him. “Seriously? I tell you to shut up and you go with that?”

He smirked. “Just curious, Nymphy.”

Why did one word have the power to cut me off at the knees? Surely that shouldn’t be possible. Yet the sound of that stupid pet name rolling off his tongue, wrapped up in that delicious accent, still made me weak in the knees.

“Stop calling me that. Stop talking. Stop looking at me.” I breathed in deep, trying to control the spiralling pressure behind the words. “Just stop.”

Matt’s brows rose, something a little too close to amusement shining at me in those deep green eyes. If he kept looking at me like that, I might murder him with my shoe.

The door opened again on the fifth floor, ridding me of a couple more witnesses.

Half a dozen suits remained, all of them now looking vaguely uncomfortable. Good. That’s what you got for eavesdropping on private, annoying and unwanted conversations. 

“Thought we agreed to stay friends?”

“Fucking hell. You can’t quit can you?”

Matt turned toward me, giving up all semblance of relaxation and disinterest. “I’m highly confused, so no I’m not going to quit.”

I faced off with him too. Avoidance be damned. If he wanted to keep pushing, I’d give him what he wanted. 

“If you wanted a friend, Matt, you shouldn’t have sabotaged me to protect your fucking ego.” My voice might have risen with each word. 

The doors opened again on the eighth floor, and another two suits disembarked, shooting us odd looks over their shoulders. Oh yes, there would definitely be a company-wide memo going around before I got to my desk. 

“You were obsessed with us working together, Daphne. And I was leaving the label.” He held his hands out at his sides in that universal sign of frustration. “I don’t understand you right now.”

“Oh yes, for your precious band. I remember.” I crossed my arms. “Hear that worked out well for you. Your new girl good with you never being home?” 

His eyes narrowed on me and his jaw ticked. “I forgot how frustrating you could be.” He dragged a hand through his hair before turning away from me.

“So that’s a no then? Too bad.”

“Like you’re doing any better,” he muttered. Unfortunately, his words still carried over the annoying elevator music. 

For a music company, you’d think they’d pump in some decent music. Probably too cheap to pay their own royalty fees.

“I am, thanks.” It was a total lie but he didn’t need to know that.

He spun around, smirking at me with far too much knowledge. 

“Oh yeah? What’s his name?”

A name. I could pull absolutely any random name. It didn’t need to sound believable. He’d never bloody know it was a lie.

Yet nothing came and my tongue fused itself to the roof of my mouth. 

“Thought so.” He shook his head and turned back to the door.

The lift stopped on the tenth floor and I glared at the counter. Could it not just make a run for the twentieth and free me? Why was that too much to ask of fate after all it had dealt me already today?

The remaining suits rushed out. With just the two of us left, the doors shut,' and we separated to our own corners. I frowned at the control panel, at the singular light highlighting our next floor. Why was he going to the twentieth? 

“I didn’t sabotage you, Nymphy.” 

“Stop calling me that,” I growled. I refused to look at him. 

His calm demeanour chafed against my expectations. How could he be so unaffected by his own bullshit? I needed to get my emotions under control. I couldn’t keep ceding so much power to him.

“Okay,” he gritted out. “But I didn’t sabotage you.”

“Really? What would you call it when someone gets offered a job and then it miraculously goes away after she tells you about it?”

Matt dragged a hand across his face.

“’Cause I’d definitely call that sabotage, but what would I know? I clearly wasn’t a great judge of character.” I glared at him, all of that old hurt roaring to the surface. “You were so weird about it, too.”

I hadn’t thought I’d bottled it up. My friends had heard my woes on repeat back then, to the point that they got sick of hearing me repeat it. But with the amount of vehemence coating my words, I must have done. 

And that pissed me off even more.

“Now c’mon, Daphne. You can’t write off everything we had over one thing.” He pushed off the elevator wall, his body tense beneath that slate grey suit. 

I couldn’t stop my gaze from tracking down his torso. Couldn’t stop my mind from throwing up far too many images of his naked body, sprawled out in my bed.

“Watch me,” I muttered under my breath.

“Watch me?” Matt’s brows climbed. “When did you start acting like a toddler?”

My mouth dropped open and Matt’s eyes fell shut on a groan.

“Shit. I didn’t mean that.” 

“No, I think you did. What else did you keep to yourself, Mattie?” I stepped towards him before sense could take control of my movements. “Maybe some idiotic belief that I wasn’t good enough for your record label?”

Matt surged towards me, denial written across his earnest face. It couldn’t be earnest. If it was, he never would have talked me out of a job. My instincts about this man had been wrong. I needed to accept that and if I couldn’t do it five years ago, now would be a good time to start.

The lift jolted hard, and the lights flickered. I lost my footing and almost fell into the doors. Strong hands caught me around the waist. Matt pulled me into his chest before bracing himself against the wall.

For the second time today, Matt Brodie saved me from a painful fall. Indignation flooded me, and I opened my mouth to demand he let me go. 

Then the lift jolted again, bucking hard enough for my feet to leave the floor and ripping a scream from my throat. The blood drained from my face as the lights went out.

We couldn’t be trapped. It had to be a fluke.

I tried to relax, tried to will myself from Matt’s arms, but every inch of me locked up with fear. I’d never been trapped in an elevator, had no idea what we were meant to do. 

Could we plummet to our deaths? 

“Breathe, Nymphy.” Matt squeezed me, reminding me that he still held me. “It’ll be alright.”

Easy for him to say. He wasn’t trapped with the person who’d broken his heart.

CAN I READ A SAMPLE OF WINNING NIA?

“Oh, that’s a great idea! Block half the road, why don’t you!” I shouted at the taxi who had stopped in front of me without warning. His passengers merrily climbed out of the car, not a care in the damn world for how slowly they moved. “It’s not like the rest of us have places to be.” 

Turning on my indicator, I dragged in a deep breath and tried to relax. The clock said I had thirty minutes, but thirty minutes in Cardiff city centre rush hour traffic meant very little. It’s fine. The studio was ten minutes away in normal traffic. I moved into the other lane and raced away from the asshole taxi driver, willing myself to leave the stress in the middle of the road with him. 

I’d been looking forward to this audition for a month. At this point, I didn’t want it, I needed it. Wedding photography was a great filler, and I had my regular gig nights at two local music venues, but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t quit finance and piss my father off just to scrape by each month. 

In the last few years, I’d held tight to my camera, even as my father demanded I follow the plan and grow up. When I finished uni, I retired my camera skills to part time to appease him. I followed his plan and hated every single moment of it. Without the filter of a lens, the world seemed so stark. I didn’t want to live like that, trapped in shades of grey, bored out of my mind, waiting for death. 

Six months ago, I’d decided enough was enough. I couldn’t live with a part of me missing any longer. 

I parked outside the studio and stared up at the building with a furrowed brow. This couldn’t be it. On the outside, it looked like any ordinary industrial estate, complete with a metal garage door and a red steel door. Only the sign gave away the fact a music studio lay beyond the brick facade. 

I rechecked my equipment before approaching the building. Partly because I was paranoid something would go wrong, but it also gave me something to focus on. Auditions always made me nervous — not because I didn’t think I was good at my job, but mistakes happened. 

This particular audition was worse. It meant too much. My hands shook as I let myself in, and I had to give myself a pretty stern talking to. The instructions said I was meant to meet the band’s manager in the reception area, but I didn’t even know his name. It was all so cloak and dagger and I couldn’t understand why. 

I stopped dead in my tracks in the lobby. The interior did not match the industrial estate exterior. Huge metal doors didn’t scream chic modern with marble floors, mood lighting and a polished, smiling receptionist. No way was I still in the industrial estate. 

“Prynhawn da. How can I help you?” The pretty receptionist asked from behind her massive glass welcome desk.

Fixing a confident smile on my face and gripping my equipment bag tight enough to hopefully hide the tremor, I approached her desk. “I’m here for the band photography audition.”

She turned to her computer and started tapping at her keyboard. “Nia Thomas?” 

I nodded, struggling to keep my eyes on her. There was a wall of framed records behind her. Every major Welsh band had a place up there. I itched to study them closer. 

Was Rhiannon up there? 

I squashed the thought. 

“You can take a seat in the waiting area, while I call to see if they’re ready for you.” She pointed to a corner with a white leather sofa and a coffee table to the right of the desk. 

I did as I was told, picking up a music magazine as I went. Mindless reading, exactly what I needed to forget how important the next hour would be for my career. 

When I finally bit the bullet at the start of the year, I’d been full of dreams and optimism. Despite my years of plugging away in the music scene in my free time, I naively thought landing contracts with music mags would be easy. 

Now, my savings were dwindling, and if I didn’t make some kind of progress soon, I’d not only be faced with asking my father for help, but I’d lose a part of myself. 

I’d barely flipped through half the magazine when someone cleared their throat. A woman smiled down at me. Her red hair flowed over her shoulders in waves that I would have been envious of, if I could actually stand having long hair. Mine was cut into a short blonde bob. My hairdresser almost cried every time I returned for a trim because it kept getting shorter. 

“Nia?” she asked. Kindness radiated from her, putting me at ease without effort. “Hey, I’m Alys. If you follow me, we can get you set up.” She gestured to the hallway leading off reception. 

I blew out a breath as I stood. Time to win the dream job. Do not fuck this up, Thomas.

Multiple doors lead off the hallway. All of them had red light boxes above the doors indicating there were at least six studios in this building. Impressive. Only two of them were currently active. 

“You can set up now. The guys will be here soon,” Alys said as I followed her into a room. 

The recording studio stretched further back than I’d expected. In the control room, a couple of black sofas were lined up against the walls while a sound desk and wall of glass divided the room from the wood panelled studio. Bright colourful rugs broke up the wooden floor and musical instruments were lined up around the edges. You could fit an orchestra in the room and still have room to dance around. 

I stopped ogling the space and turned back to Alys. “I was led to believe their manager was a guy?”

Alys nodded. “Oh he is, but Matt’s been a little distracted lately. He tapped me in for meet-and-greets while I’m free.” Alys leaned against the desk, studying me like she might crack all my secrets without a word. “Sorry he didn’t update you.” 

“It’s fine. Have you been with the band long?” I asked, distracted but curious. Setting my bag down, I started setting up, laying out my equipment on a free stretch of counter to the side of the sound desk. 

“Not that long,” Alys said. I glanced up at the odd note in her voice. She grinned. “It’s complicated.”

My brows rose. “You’re seeing one of them?” 

She chuckled as I continued laying out my prime lenses. You never know when you need to switch things up for a narrower 50mm shot. 

“Guilty as charged. I spent a couple of months as Matt’s assistant, too. Hence complicated.” 

“You don’t work for them anymore?” 

“Technically, no. My TV career calls too loudly.” She pulled a face. “Plus, it’s a tad weird to be working for your boyfriend.” 

Nodding, I plucked up my camera body and attached my 35mm. “Knowing I earned every opportunity I receive is important to me, too. I get it.” With the strap safely secured around my neck, I held it up to Alys. “Do you mind if I snap some test shots while we wait?” 

“Of me?” She blushed when I confirmed but agreed all the same. “Go ahead.” 

I snapped some test images to check the light levels. Fiddling with the settings to adjust them to the darkened space, I frowned at the light sources. I could have done with some extra lighting, but every single light was switched on, and all of them were ambient, chill-out lighting. Was this meant to be inspiring?

I lined the shot up, focusing on Alys while blowing out the background. She’d positioned herself perfectly next to one of the spotlights. It illuminated her, while everything else faded to black with subtle hints of gold and lifted the whole image to another level. We chatted about inconsequential things like the fact the studio was surprisingly well hidden as I moved around the room. 

Time ticked by unnoticed. I captured her smile and the way it lit her blue eyes. She had a wonderfully expressive face, and I couldn’t help but sink into the process, shaking off my nerves and just enjoying it. 

“Red, looking for a new career already?” Someone asked behind me, amusement dripping from their tone. 

I lowered my camera and turned to the source of the voice. Craning my neck, I took him in. The guy was over six foot, built, with shoulder length blond hair. Sharp blue eyes laughed at me, and I frowned at the newcomer. Something about those eyes tickled my memories. 

And then Dan walked into the room. 

My heart hit the floor along with my stomach. I should have known somehow that I was auditioning for Rhiannon.  

How many up-and-coming bands did Wales have? 

I should have fucking known. It would have gutted me, but I wouldn’t have hung my hopes on this job. I wouldn’t have sent my portfolio in the first place. 

“Dammit, Nia,” Dan muttered. His green eyes creased with amusement. “I was all prepared to rub it in. Thanks for ruining my fun.” His lips pursed with an exaggerated pout, drawing a chuckle from my tight throat. He still towered over me, and his auburn hair hadn’t lost any of its shine. The beard was new. 

“You’re still shit at betting I take it?” I asked, forcing the words through the lump in my throat. Somehow I managed to keep my face and voice deadpan despite the unpleasant surprise slapping me in the face. 

I peeked at the blond again as the pieces clicked into place. Ryan. He pulled Alys into his arms and pressed a chaste kiss to her lips. I’d known of Ryan in school, but it was secondary school and everyone knew of everyone in our small Valley’s town. 

“Uhm Dan,” I cleared my throat while I searched desperately for the badass who could handle this situation. “He’s not — James isn’t…”

Dan pressed his lips together, his uncertainty clear for me to read. The man’s eyes had always been too expressive. 

Backing up a step towards the door, I said, “I think I —”

“Nia!” A familiar lilting voice interrupted me. 

I stiffened. My heart pounded with a mixture of excitement and dread. I couldn’t explain the excitement; it shouldn’t have been a factor. 

Yes, the reason I would have turned this job down was a man. I never thought I’d be one of those women who avoided her exes with passion, but it had merit. No stress, no reminders of the way he threw you away without a second thought, or how he then strung you along on a sham of a long-distance relationship for a year before ghosting. 

Irritation bit through me, and I gritted my teeth against it. I needed to be polite for an hour, and then I never had to see him again. Except you want the job…

Shit.

I hadn’t seen James in years, but I’d done enough internet stalking in that time. I knew what waited for me if I turned around. He’d been a lanky, clean-skinned boy the last time we’d seen each other. Now he was ripped, with black ink flowing down his left arm and his short dark blond hair neatly swept back. He’d well and truly changed.  

Unlike me. Aside from quitting my safe job for freelance life, I had done nothing daring. My hair was still the same shoulder-length, light blonde. I’d toyed with dying it brown, but Sophie had talked me out of that disaster waiting to happen. I couldn’t imagine my icy-blue eyes paired with any other colour. My dress sense hadn’t even changed — sometimes I’d throw in a pop of colour here and there, but I was happy with my neutrals. They matched best with my trusty ankle boots.

One minute, we’d had a standing phone date, every night at nine on the dot, and he spent his days distracting me with an endless stream of texts. The next, he vanished. At first, I’d assumed balancing university work and the band was too much for him. So I waited, expecting him to surface eventually. That didn’t happen.

Instead, when he came home for Christmas, he meticulously avoided me. I’d go in the front door of his family home with his sister—my best friend, Sophie—and he’d slip out the back with some made-up story or another. By then, I’d assumed he’d changed his mind about making things work between us. Neither of us had needed to tell his family we’d broken up. The tense atmosphere spoke volumes. I used to love going to their house for Christmas; it was fun and festive there, unlike mine. 

I never went back after that. I never wanted to see the pity on his mother's face again. Instead, the girls and I had met anywhere but our houses. We continued the tradition to this day. 

Turning around might have been the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. Forget fighting fourteen-year-olds for front row shots at a gig. Gathering the courage to face James Tyler was worse. I forced myself to do it.

Studying his newly filled out, muscular frame as he grinned at me from the doorway, those resentments reared their head. They put a bitter tang in my mouth. So maybe I’d been lying to myself the last few years; I wasn’t over it. And I was definitely not ready to deal with him and the soft, appraising gleam in his gaze. 

My eyes lingered for far too long, memorising the new shape of the only man who had ever had a grip on my heart. 

“It is you! I was hoping I’d run into you at some point.” James stopped in front of me. His eyes dipped in a lazy perusal of my very basic jeans and Fleetwood Mac t-shirt. My body heated with the ghost of passion past. 

I willed the awareness away. “Matt didn’t give you a list of names for these auditions?” 

James scratched the side of his neck, a guilty glint shining in his eyes. “Okay, you caught me.”

With the full force of his mischievous eyes on me, I was almost transported back to easier times. Before The Brightside had taken off and taken his cousin with them, leaving him behind, before he’d followed Dan to Glasgow because why not, before he’d crushed me with his silence. 

Even after all these years, he had a devastating effect on my body. There was a light in his brown eyes that scared me. Okay, scared wasn’t the right word, more like unnerved. He was looking at me the way he used to look at his guitar: with endless hope. 

“When the label asked if we knew any local photographers, we couldn’t not give them your name.” He glanced at Ryan. “Right, guys?” 

They all nodded dutifully while their drummer, Jared, wandered into the room with another guy. This one, I definitely didn’t recognise. He tipped his chin to the guys and went straight to the sound desk. 

“Did it blow up in your face yet?” Jared asked, pushing past James and heading for the sofa at the back of the room. He dropped onto it, phone in hand and a scowl on his face.

James eyed me. “Not yet.” His focus fell to my T-shirt again. “Does the t-shirt win her any points, Ry?”

Everyone focused on me and I glanced down at the dancing penguin plastered across my chest. “Why? Are you a big Fleetwood Mac fan?” 

“Where do you think we got our name?” James asked.

I searched my memory for the information and came up blank. “The Welsh Goddess?” 

“Inadvertently,” Dan said as Ryan muttered, “Not quite.” 

“Ryan had a thing for Stevie Nicks’s voice,” James explained. “The song Rhiannon helped him find his way back to music.” 

Understanding widened my eyes. “So you’re also a fan of Fleetwood Mac.”

Ryan nodded. “Just a little.” 

“Shall we start with you in the booth, Ryan?” The sound engineer asked, mercifully diverting everyone’s attention from me. “We still need to lay down the vocals before we can move on.” 

Ryan agreed before his eyes fell on Dan. “You’re in charge. Get Nia started.” 

James spluttered. “Why can’t I get Nia started?”

Ryan cut him a hard look that cowed James into silence. He walked into the recording room and stepped into a smaller booth which butted up onto the glass of the control room. 

I gripped my camera as I turned to Dan. “How do you want to play this?” 

“You still want to audition?” James asked, surprise dripping from his tone. 

“I’m here, so why not?” At least, right now I still wanted it. Who knew how I’d feel once the shock had worn off and I had time to weigh up the cons. 

Dan collapsed onto a sofa, sprawling out on the cushion. “Just start taking photos. I think Ryan wants to review them all afterwards and pick the best ones to send to the label.” 

“Jesus, Dan, way to make her comfortable.” 

Dan’s brows rose but he didn’t comment. James turned back to me with a harried look in his eyes. If it wasn’t for the uncomfortable situation and the fact it was him, I might have laughed. 

“Do you know everyone?” James gestured around the room, not waiting for me to respond. “You already know Dan, of course.” He rolled his eyes at the bassist. “Jared.” He pointed at the thin drummer, who was steadfastly ignoring everyone around him and typing furiously at his phone. 

“Stop bugging her! She is not going to answer you,” Alys muttered. Jared’s eyes flicked up at her, but his attention went back to his phone. She shook her head and turned her back to him. 

“The redhead giving Jared a run for his money is Alys, the reason we’re all here.” 

“We’ve already met, James. I let her in, remember?” Alys smirked at James before taking a seat on a swivel chair. She spun to face the clear glass dividing us from Ryan. He wore headphones and was singing into the microphone. The sound played low over the suite’s speakers but it couldn’t dull the effect of Ryan’s voice. It turned gravely as he worked through an emotional verse, scraping my nerve endings and giving me chills. 

“Rob, here, is the magician who makes us sound incredible.” The sound engineer, who’d entered with Jared, glanced away from a desk of complicated dials and nodded at me with a welcoming smile. 

“And this completes our tour.” James opened his arms. 

I unclipped my bag. “Shall I get started?” 

James frowned. “You want to work already?” 

“Isn’t that why I’m here?” 

I ignored his puppy dog eyes and picked up my camera, focusing on switching out the lenses. 

His gaze burned against my skin as he tracked me around the room. It had been a long time since I’d been caught in the grips of his intense attention. If I’d known I would run into him, I might have been prepared. One could dream, at least. 

Instead of giving him attention, I got to work. Alys stared at Ryan behind the glass with a singular focus, the love in her eyes clear to see, and I immortalised it in one shot. Ryan’s eyes were open now and fixed on Alys. With the background fading out, it almost looked like they were two lovers separated in the dark. 

If his voice hadn’t moved me, the expression of pain on his face would have. Tears streamed down his cheeks as he sang about losing the love of his life. Still, he didn’t miss a single note. It was both heartbreaking and beautiful. 

The song ended, and Ryan wiped his eyes. The sound engineer pressed one of many buttons and leaned into a microphone. 

“That sounded great, Ryan. I think we can wrap this one up,” Rob said, his cheerful voice lifting the sombre air which had quickly invaded the room. 

Ryan nodded and removed the headphones. As he pushed open the door connecting the studio to the suite, Alys sprung out of her chair, threw her arms around his neck, and clung to him. They whispered to each other, their heads pressed close together and their faces wet. I couldn’t resist snapping one last picture before I turned my back to give them privacy. 

James watched me with an intense stare. The moisture in his eyes gave me pause. Had he put us in their place in his head? The song certainly had some minor correlations, but it didn’t sound like Ryan had lost Alys on purpose. 

James cleared his throat and smiled over my shoulder. A heavy hand landed on my shoulder, and I turned to face the smiling frontman, the nervous energy reigniting in my gut. 

“Can I see what you’ve shot so far?” Ryan asked, his eyes on my camera. 

The photos felt like an invasion of their privacy. I pulled up the last shot of them. After wrapping the strap around my wrist, I handed the camera to Ryan. His eyebrows rose but he didn’t comment. 

I chewed my lips as he and Alys flicked through the pictures. I watched their expressions like a hawk. What I was searching for, I have no clue. 

“These are incredible,” Alys whispered, her wide-eyed gaze latching on to mine. “I can’t believe we look like this. I mean, I know we do, but the emotion and — I have no words.” She threw her arms around me in a startling hug. 

“Can you send me these?” Ryan asked, his voice soft. 

I nodded while I awkwardly patted Alys’s back. Surely she had to let go soon? 

James must have sensed my unease, because before I knew it, his hand was burrowing between our bodies and pulling me out of Alys’s grip. 

“Alright, Al, let’s not asphyxiate her before she’s finished her audition or taken me back,” James said, his tone teasing. His hand spread against my stomach, pulling me back against his front. I frowned at his words, even as a shiver raced through me at the intimate press of him against me. My body almost sighed, tricked with the memories of happier times. His other arm wrapped around my waist, and he rested his chin on my head, exactly like he used to when we were between classes in school. My breath hitched at the reminder. 

I had no clue what to do about it, and it showed, apparently. Ryan chuckled at my pained expression, and Alys gifted me a sympathetic smile, but neither did anything to help. 

My brain took its sweet time coming online. Anger rippled through me, but it had nowhere to go. 

That’s a lie. 

I could have directed it all at the culprit. He deserved it, after all. Yet, something stopped me. It couldn’t have been the job. I was too logical to believe James and I could work comfortably side by side. Hell, I flat out didn’t want that. No, my hesitation had nothing to do with the job, and that was concerning. It meant I actually cared about James’s feelings.

“I can’t work with you wrapped around me, James,” I muttered, the smallest bite of anger coiling around the words.  

“I’m pretty sure you’re finished, anyway. Right, Ry?” 

Ryan nodded, but the certainty didn’t reach his eyes. “These are brilliant,” Ryan said, a note of understanding in his voice. “But they might not be enough for the label. We should run a couple of tracks and give Nia something to photograph, to be extra sure.” 

James slowly released me. His hands dragged across my stomach, retreating, but eliciting another shiver. I needed to get control of my damn body before he developed more ideas. He only stepped away from me once the rest of the guys had set themselves up in the studio. 

“Your guitar isn’t going to plug itself in, James,” Dan shouted from the other room, his amusement ringing loud and clear across the space. 

Grumbling to himself, he left me and walked into the studio to a round of jeering laughter. Oh yeah, avoiding that pesky box of feelings was going to be so easy. Not

“If he ever gets to be too much for you, let me know,” Alys said, squeezing my shoulder and dragging my attention from James. There was a serious quality to her voice I hadn’t noticed before. “They can get uber focused. It works for some people.” She grimaced, shaking her head. “It worked for Ryan. I think they forget some women don’t like being chased.”

My eyes returned to the studio and the waiting band. James watched me like a starving man would look at a piece of bread and I had to wonder if it would ever go away. 

Did I want it to go away?

Yes, of course I did. It was too complicated to share this city otherwise. And in any case, he hadn’t stuck around before, there was no reason he would now…. All he’d talked about when we were growing up was getting out of our small Valleys town. 

I could resist James Tyler.

For half an hour, the band played, racing through their top hits. Thankfully, the lighting in the recording space was much brighter than the control room, and I didn’t have to worry about making do. 

For most of it, I ignored James. Or I tried to. It felt like he went out of his way to pull focus from everyone else, and I couldn’t pinpoint how he was doing it. Whenever I’d give him my attention, he was playing his guitar, nothing out of the ordinary. And yet, I could almost guarantee that fifty percent of the photos I snapped featured him heavily. 

I had to force my attention back to a smirking Ryan or Dan far too many times to count, but they all kept their lips sealed, which I was grateful for. More for my pride than a need to hide it from James. He knew he was winning. The confident grin lighting up his face said it all.

Once I’d captured enough wide angles of the band, I switched back to the 50mm and focused on them as individuals. It went smoothly until I moved back to James. Something about the closer view made every glint in his eyes and every lift of his lips more intimate. Whether he tugged his lower lip between his lips and fixed me with that smouldering look or let his eyes fall shut, enjoying the music with a small smile curling his lips, it had a devastating effect on my ability to concentrate. 

When he opened his eyes, the heat there caught my breath and froze me to the spot. For a couple of moments, we were still lovers, still each other’s confidante. Desire clenched deep inside me, the ache a sharp reminder of what used to be. It also served to break the spell James cast over me with his gorgeous hazel eyes.

By the time we wrapped it up, I was ridiculously exhausted. 

“I think that went pretty well,” Ryan said, stepping away from the mic with a reassuring smile. “How do you feel about it?” 

I pressed the button to display the shots, recalling an image of Jared in full swing and studied it. I’d caught some light rebounding from the cymbals. It highlighted a melancholic light in his eyes I’d missed back in the control room. 

I shrugged. “Pretty good.” 

And it was true. I’d been working with bands since I was old enough to enter a venue. I knew my way around a stage. My abilities weren’t in question. But that didn’t mean I could convince a record label to pay me. Didn’t mean I wanted to convince them, either. 

Ryan held out his hand for the camera, and I surrendered it with far less hesitation this time. James and Dan gathered to study the shots over his shoulder. Jared hadn’t moved from his kit. He sat typing furiously at his screen again. 

Ryan took in the first shot, and his eyes widened. He glanced towards Jared with pinched lips. Something was clearly up with their drummer, but I shrugged it off. I wanted a job, not drama. 

“I can see why you’re confident.” Ryan chuckled a few moments later. I didn’t miss the sagging of James’s shoulders. “Email me with your best picks, and I’ll get them sent over. I don’t think we’ll have to do any persuading.” He handed the camera back with a smile.

Ryan left us, muttering about needing food. There was a chorus of positive replies, but I was too distracted by the six-foot one guitarist tackling me in a bear hug. My feet left the ground as he spun me around. 

“I knew you’d ace it, Shutterbug.”

That one word struck a match inside me and my body went up in flames. Not the good kind. Memories rattled at their chains. 

I hadn’t heard the nickname since he’d cut me out of his life. My dad hated it. It still sent a thrill through me, even if it was accompanied by choking dread now. The last time he’d said it, he vanished the next day. 

I pressed my face into his shoulder, his fresh linen scent tickling my nose. For a moment, I relished it and breathed him in. When my feet met the floor once again, he gripped my hand and tugged me towards the studio door, a determined light in his eyes. “C’mon, we need to celebrate.” 

“I’m sorry, I have plans.” I shook him off and took a guarded step back. 

“Okay, what are you doing tomorrow?” Eagerness vibrated from him, and at any other time in my life, I might have struggled to say no. Once upon a time, I craved his attention. Now that I had it, my feet itched to run. 

“Busy, sorry.” 

I started packing up my gear, resolutely focused on placing each item safely back into my bag. My skin wasn’t flushed at the feel of James’s gaze on me. He mercifully stayed silent while I finished packing. When I shouldered my bag and said my goodbyes, I didn’t look at him. 

Was it cowardly to run? Maybe. Did I care? Hell no.

CAN I READ A SAMPLE OF ENTICING MEL?

Four years and seven months later

CONFIRMED — ROCK BAND RHIANNON RETURNS TO WALES PERMANENTLY.

“What the fu — duck!” I muttered to myself. My gaze jumped to Phoebe splashing happily in the bath. My shoulders relaxed marginally when she didn’t react to my almost slip.

She held out a rubber duck, her head tilting as she smiled at me. “Duckie?” 

“Thank you, honey.” I took it from her and placed it on the side, my phone still gripped tightly in my other hand. 

Surely, it was wrong? Dan had always said he’d never come back to Wales. 

My eyes were drawn to the screen. I couldn’t stop scanning the article. My hands shook as I scrolled, searching for proof that it was nothing but a rumour. Alt Rock Daily had it wrong. They must have. Glasgow and Cardiff were two entirely different music scenes, and Rhiannon were taking off. I’d expected their next move to be LA. Not home.

“No Duckie?” Phoebe asked, dragging my focus back. 

She frowned up at me, her copper locks plastered to her head, the foam almost turning her short hair white, and her smart green eyes narrowed as she studied me. She looks more like him every day. My breath caught painfully. 

“Time to get out, Phoebs.” I cleared my throat and forced myself to lock the phone and place it on the counter. 

“No!” my toddler screamed. She backed herself into the furthest corner of the bath and pouted at me. 

“It’s bedtime, Phoebs.” 

“No,” she growled. 

If I wasn’t exhausted and shaken, I’d laugh. If it wouldn’t destroy all my serious parent leverage that is. 

“Which would you rather, more bath time or a bedtime story?” 

She pursed her lips, clutching her soaking wet doll to her chest. 

Sometimes reasoning with my nearly four-year-old was harder than soothing the ruffled feathers of our biggest social influencers. One day, she’d make an excellent hostage negotiator. 

But right now, I needed to beat her at her own game, and I wasn’t above bribery. 

“If you come out now, you can have potato waffles for breakfast.” 

Her green eyes widened. She flung herself at me with very little warning, trusting I’d catch her tiny body. My t-shirt soaked through instantly, and water dripped down my back. 

My lips twitched and I bit my cheek. Do not laugh, Mel

“How about standing back while I grab the towel?” 

She stepped back. Her doll was still clutched in her hands. She took it everywhere, and no matter how many new toys I bought, she refused to get rid of it. The plastic was scratched, and her hair had been sheared off. 

Phoebe stared at me, her face set in serious lines as she considered my see-through t-shirt. 

“Sorry, Mammy.” 

I held out the forest green towel – the colour had absolutely not been influenced by how much I’d loved Dan’s eyes – smiling, despite my reminders to be stern. I could never hold strong when she looked at me with that guilty look. 

Getting her dry and into her pyjamas went by with the usual chatter, only tonight, concentrating was hard. There was a hand wrapped around my heart, squeezing until I could barely breathe. I needed a minute. I couldn’t have a minute, so instead, I plastered a smile on my lips and pretended everything was fine.  

Phoebe chattered obliviously as I dried her off and ushered her to bed. She’d had a full day at nursery but you’d swear she hadn’t left the house or seen a soul. Her energy levels were off the charts, and if I let her, she’d make me read an entire book of fairy tales and still have the energy to run around the house. This kid did not like going to sleep. 

Neither did I, but I’m pretty sure our reasons were very different. 

She had a fear of missing out. I just feared dreaming. My subconscious liked to torture me with every what-if scenario. 

What would happen if my ex knocked on my door tomorrow? Caught me at a cafe or park with Phoebe? Every time, I stood there, blinking, frozen with indecision and fear. The proverbial deer in headlights in the face of all my life choices and mistakes coming back to bite me in the ass. 

It was like my subconscious was mocking me for the coward I was. 

Maybe it was better than the first year of nightly reminders. 

But then I’d traded dreams about our peaceful and heated past for guilt trips. I’m not sure it was a better development. 

Despite all the dreams, I didn’t know what I’d do if Dan Lloyd knocked on my door tomorrow. Would I get the words out, explain it all, or would I hide behind the anger? He was back in town, seemingly for good, so the chances of running into him had increased exponentially. 

I’d made it my life’s mission to avoid him for nearly five years but that luck wasn’t going to hold up. 

The time was coming, and I needed to prepare myself. 

My dad had given me a front-row seat to the kind of relationship musicians wanted, and I wasn’t capable of it. I didn’t want to be someone’s second choice, and Dan had made it abundantly clear that I was. In school, he’d left me with no warning. One day he was going to Cardiff uni, and the next, he was on a plane to Scotland. No explanation, no discussion. 

I sighed as I sat on Phoebe’s bed. She glanced up at me sharply. Her tiny brows pulled tight as she stared up at me. 

“What wrong, mammy?” Her tiny, soft baby hands settled on my cheeks. “Don’t be sad.” 

Despite the uncertainty turning me inside out, I smiled at the sweet girl before me. At least he gave me her. 

“Do you want to do my work for me?” I asked, grinning conspiratorially. “It’ll be fun.”

She pursed her lips, unconvinced. Smart kid. 

If that had been the end of it, ten years ago, I might have recovered, might have gotten over him. Instead, he kept dropping in, reappearing with no warning. One random text, and he was outside my flat, and I couldn’t for the life of me push him away. I wanted that loveable asshole too much. 

I smoothed a brush through Phoebe’s rapidly drying hair. My hands followed in its wake. 

Every time he’d disappear just as fast as he appeared, no warning, no texts, just poof. Each time I’d promise myself that would be the last time. Next time, I’d be stronger. I never was…

Until I got pregnant with her. 

The week the band signed, he danced in again and just as quickly danced out. A flying visit. But it was enough. Two months later, I’d called him. 

I have no idea what I wanted from that call. For him to tell me it would be alright. He’d always had a way of putting me at ease, even when it felt like life was spiralling out of control. 

Instead, he picked up the phone, heard my voice, and handed me off. 

I didn’t tell him. I didn’t tell anyone for so long. 

And now it was all going to come back to bite me. Staring into Phoebe’s softening features, fear gripped my heart too tightly. 

What if he walked back into our lives and then vanished again? 

He was a musician. A good deal of his job involved travelling. He would leave me again. Only this time, he wouldn’t just be leaving me. 

He’d be abandoning Phoebe. 

How do you explain to a toddler that her dad cares more about his job than her?

The thought of her looking at Dan the way I’d looked at my dad – with distrust and resignation – it would break my heart. 

No, I’d protect her, as long as I could. 

“Story,” she demanded, dropping a large, hard book in my lap and freeing me from my thoughts. 

I chuckled. “Which one would you like tonight?” 

She clambered into her little bed, tucking herself in while I settled back against the headboard. 

“Gretel.”

I glanced at her sharply. It was one of her favourites, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Did she understand that Hansel and Gretel’s father abandoned them? I’d never been courageous enough to ask. 

Instead, I cracked open the book and read. 

She knew who her dad was. There were enough omissions in my life, I wasn’t going to outright lie to my daughter. The day would come when she’d go searching for him, but at least by then she wouldn’t be the trusting innocent she was now. She’d go to him with an open mind, rather than with a defenceless heart. 

The witch was just inviting the kids into her house when Phoebe’s breathing evened out. I placed the book on her bedside table and edged away.

It was still early—the sun shone outside the wall of windows taking up one of the living room walls. The waters of Cardiff Bay glistened, and in the distance, I could just make out the people spilling onto the pavement, enjoying the bars. The rest of their night stretched out before them. 

I’d given all of that up when I found out I was pregnant. Sometimes I missed it, being carefree with my entire future laid out before me. This mystical thing that could branch off in so many directions. 

Regret wasn’t a thing I allowed myself. I couldn’t regret Phoebe, but sometimes on nights like this, when the flat was quiet and the world outside so vibrant, I wondered. Wondered what it would be like if I’d been stronger, if I’d said no to Dan the first time? Had I shut the door firmly on him when he left me for Glasgow with no warning, my life would have ended up so differently. 

I shook myself, breaking the endless cycles of what ifs and turning my back on the window. 

It was inevitable. Cardiff might be a city, but it had a way of drawing lost friends back to each other. If the article was right, my time was running out. 

* * *

One Month later

I was dressed up for my first Friday night out in years. The nature reserve had been crucial to Nia’s happiness over the years, and I wanted to support her. She was involved in a local community auction trying to raise funds for a visitor centre at a coastal nature reserve. She adored the place, and when she asked me and Sophie to go to the event, we couldn’t say no. 

Especially not when her dickhead of a boyfriend had up and disappeared on her with no warning. He’d spent a month trying to work his way back into her good graces after a ten-year absence, and then pulled something as stupid as getting on a plane to the other side of the world, without a word, on their anniversary, because a producer said jump. 

Spoiler, she was going to forgive him, but I couldn’t see why. 

Once my mother left with Phoebe, I shimmied into my dress and heels. It was a little more flash than a local town auction called for, but Sophie and I had decided that we might as well enjoy the occasion and maybe hit up a bar afterwards. If I was going to feel guilty for having a night out, then I might as well make it a night to remember.

People were milling about when I arrived. The car park was packed, and the old social club filled with row upon row of chairs. The noise level was like a wall of sound, distant from the entry, but once you stepped through it, it embraced you, driving you to shout at your friends to be heard over the conversation happening next to you. 

I needn’t have worried about being overdressed. This was an event for the local town and everyone present had pulled out their good clothes. Teenagers loitered in the corner while their parents looked on with frowns and their grandparents smirked at their discomfort. It was a regular family affair. 

Spotting Nia and Sophie off to the side, I weaved my way through the densely packed crowd. The sooner people took their seats, the better. Sophie hugged me when I stopped at her side. 

As well as being my best friend since we were toddlers, Sophie also happened to be the sister of Nia’s boyfriend, and oh how she hated that. 

“Nia’s gone a bit doolally,” Sophie whispered close to my ear so our best friend wouldn’t hear. “She almost forgot her camera and nearly shut her fingers in the car. Watch her.”

She pulled back and threw Nia a sunny smile. Nia glowered at her with suspicion clouding her icy blue eyes. 

“What’s with that face?” Nia asked, circling her finger in front of Sophie’s face. 

“Nothing.” Sophie glanced around the room. “Is that frame on a slant?” 

I bit my lip, trying not to laugh at Sophie’s distraction attempts. Nia didn’t even look; her eyes just narrowed on Sophie. 

“Okay, so you’re being a bit…” Sophie waved her hands. “Intense. Maybe you should just call James.”

Nia’s mouth dropped open.  

“Is that what you want to do?” I asked before Nia could launch herself at Sophie, because I would, in her shoes. 

“No. I had to wait ten years, he can wait until he’s in the bloody country,” Nia said, a hard bite in her tone. “I just don’t understand what’s taking them so long. Record the damn thing and come home.”

“They’re perfectionists.” I shrugged, feigning a nonchalance that I would never feel when faced with Dan’s return. 

Nia hummed in agreement. 

They always were. 

Some days, I didn’t begrudge Dan his success. He’d gotten what he wanted—his dreams were coming true. 

The fire drained from Nia and her shoulders slumped. “What if I’ve got it wrong, Mel?” she whispered, uncertainty shaking her words. “What if he’s changed his mind again, and he’s decided there’s no point in telling me?”

It was a very real concern. One we both shared. 

We’d learnt early on that musicians were a fickle lot. Thanks to my dad, Dan, and James. My dad was hardly ever home growing up, always on the road, missing birthdays and milestone moments he always promised to stick around for. In the end, the music always called louder. 

He loved it more than he loved me. 

That’s how things were with Dan. 

And with James. 

In the last month, James had come to his senses and fought for Nia. He’d messed up again, but this time, he wasn’t giving up without a fight.

“I don’t think that’ll happen, Nia.” There was a conviction in my voice that I envied. I wished I could be so certain about my own life. “This time is different. Hold onto that, and if you can’t wait, you can always call him.” 

She huffed. “Not happening. I’m not the easy girl I was in uni. This time he’ll come to me on his knees or not at all.”

I laughed. It came out strained, muddled with the conflicting wants warring in my head. I wish I had her strength. Instead, I’d spent the last month hiding like a coward from Dan Lloyd. Technically, I’d gone on holiday, but it was directly influenced by his supposedly permanent reappearance in my city. I’d managed to avoid running into him thus far, but it was only by sheer force of will. And the girls giving me the heads up. My luck was going to run out.

What if I was going about this all wrong? What if sharing the secret wouldn’t be as bad as I imagined?

“Everything alright, Mel?” Nia asked, reading me like a fortune cookie.

“What if I made a mistake, not telling Dan in the first place?” I whispered, the words barely a wisp of sound.

Sophie and Nia shared a look, each of them daring the other to ask the hard question. 

“Do you think you made a mistake?” Sophie asked.

“I don’t know, but I’m still scared.”

“Scared that he’ll find out, or scared that he’ll leave?” Nia whispered, her gaze dancing around our quiet corner. 

It was just the girls—I could say anything to them, and they wouldn’t repeat it or force me to follow through. Talking didn’t mean I had to take action. 

“Scared that he’ll stay, out of some sense of obligation and either resent me for it or break Phoebe’s heart when he realises we’re not enough.” They were just words. Just letters strung together. And yet, they had the power to make my eyes burn and stab a knife through my chest. 

“I don’t know the answer,” Nia said, her words measured but thick with emotion. She understood better than anyone else. She’d nearly pushed James out of her life again through fear too. “Our situations are alike, but you have more to protect than me. But if you’re thinking about this now, maybe you should consider whether you’re willing to take the risk. If you are, do something, and if you’re not…”

Then life was going to get extra painful. 

The city hadn’t been big enough for Nia to avoid James. If Dan was here to stay, we would run into each other eventually, and then I’d be faced with a choice. 

Lie, or let him in.

The auction got underway and Nia circled the room, photographing the event, while Sophie and I hung out at the side with a plate of appetisers. 

It wasn’t all that exciting, but still, it was nice to be somewhere different. Usually, we spent our time together in one of our flats or at our favourite pub on a Saturday afternoon. This was a refreshing change of scenery, and I enjoyed watching the people around us. Some furiously threw their paddles in the air, glaring at their opponents like they’d personally insulted them by daring to get in their way. Others were more leisurely in their movements, too busy chatting to their neighbours to really pay attention to the fact they were about to bid £500 on a photograph of the lighthouse. The look of shock on their faces when Phil, the white-haired warden acting as auctioneer, declared them the winner was priceless. 

Things were starting to wrap up when the doors opened. A hush descended on the room; heads craned to catch a glimpse of the latecomers. 

My heart stopped. 

James stood in the doorway, grinning and surrounded by his stone-faced bandmates. His gaze fixed on Nia next to me, but I couldn’t keep my eyes from Dan. His stoic features warmed as they roamed my face, causing my pulse to flutter in my throat. 

Alys and Lily pushed past the guys, tutting as they waltzed into the room. They wrapped their arms around Nia, whispering in her ear. 

I couldn’t focus on their words. My ears were ringing. I was frozen, just like in my dreams. 

Distantly, I noticed Alys returning to Ryan, and Lily approaching the stage, but it might as well have been happening in another room. 

“You alright?” I asked Nia, hooking my arm through hers, trying with all my might to be normal. 

She side-eyed me, noting what was probably panic in my eyes. 

He couldn’t be here. I wasn’t ready for this. 

Why couldn’t they have waited for a less public event to make their return? Or better yet, no event at all? A random day when I’d be tucked away in my flat with Phoebe. 

“Finally,” Dan seemed to say.

Rats.

She patted my hand. “You can leave if you want.” 

I studied her, trying to assess whether she meant it. She couldn’t possibly. If I were in her shoes, I’d be a bag of nerves and want my friends around me. 

“It was going to happen one day,” I whispered. 

“You’re not going to tell him now?” 

“No, but I will.” Determination broke through some of the panic, infiltrating my voice and helping me put up a much-needed front. My grip still tightened on her arm. 

“Ladies and gentlemen.” Phil’s excited voice boomed around the room and I jumped. “We have some new entries to the auction.” 

More lots were announced and a bidding war ensued but I couldn’t focus on any of it. James approached slowly, Dan edging along behind him. The closer he got, the tighter my grip on Nia’s arm grew. 

“Sold for ten thousand pounds.” Phil slammed his gavel down, the noise ricochet through the huge open room and I flinched.

On the lots went, and still I couldn’t tear my gaze from his. Thankfully, he hung back, clearly trying not to overshadow James’s moment. I’m not sure if that was worse or better. The longer they took, the stiffer I grew. I couldn’t feel my toes from lack of movement, and my shoulders positively ached. 

“Hey,” James said, finally stopping in front of Nia. I could barely take in his nerves, my gaze fixed on the red-haired giant at his back.

As James’s speech wound on and the tension drained from Nia, my tolerance hit the bottom of the barrel. Staring into his gorgeous green eyes was too much. I shouldn’t have come. I should have stayed home, just in case. I didn’t need to be here, Nia would have understood. No one would have missed me. 

And I definitely wouldn’t be staring at the man who broke my heart… over and over and over again. 

The man I thought I’d grow old with. 

The only one to light me up and uncover truths I didn’t know existed. 

The one who gave me my hyperactive little munchkin. 

God, one look at her and no one would argue that she was his. She had his eyes, his hair colour. Her nose and poker straight hair were all me, but that was where our resemblance ended. In appearances, one could argue that she’s more his kid than mine. 

No, if I’d just kept playing it safe this wouldn’t be happening. He definitely wouldn’t be stood there, his eyes eating me up. I steeled my shoulders against the shiver trying to overtake me. 

Gah, why did he have to get hotter with age? How was that even fair? Couldn’t he have gained some weight or have one of those irritatingly long beards? 

It was too soon. I wasn’t ready.

James was apologising to Nia and I couldn’t focus on a word of it. Whether I’d have heard him over the pounding of my heart was questionable but still, Dan was making me be a shit friend and miss a very important moment. 

There was a security door right next to me. One quick shove, and I’d be in the car park. I’d be free. 

I wasn’t a coward. 

I could do this. 

I needed to get it over with. 

Dan stopped before me, wearing the biggest grin. My stomach flipped as it lit up his eyes. 

“You haven’t been avoiding me, have you?” he asked, his tone light and teasing. He didn’t believe it. Probably couldn’t fathom why I wouldn’t want him, despite his piecemeal offerings. 

He reached for a hug, his arms wide but his movements slow, like he thought I’d disappear in a puff of smoke. 

Screw being brave. 

I turned tail and ran.

CAN I READ A SAMPLE OF DEFYING ELLA?

Six hours. 

I had to survive six more hours with Jared Michaels, and then freedom would be mine. I’d lasted an entire month on tour with his band, Rhiannon. A couple more hours wouldn’t kill me. I hoped. 

“Five minutes to soundcheck,” Matt, the band’s manager, shouted as he barrelled down the hallway. 

For some reason, I’d expected him to be like Dan, my sister’s boyfriend. Upbeat and easy to deal with. After one show with him, I quickly realised that the only thing Matt and Dan had in common was the red tone of their hair. The man acted like a drill sergeant, and I’d happily leave his girlfriend to unpack that. I had a wily toddler to find.

One look at Matt’s determined face, and the roadies around me dived out of his way. Hell, I dived out of his way and I wouldn’t normally give standing up to the man a second’s thought. His focus fixed on me nevertheless and I resisted the urge to gulp. Maybe I should have dived further. 

“Ella, have you seen Jared?”

No one ever asked me for the manwhore’s location. There was no earthly reason I should even know it.

Except, I normally did because I was a hyperaware idiot when it came to that man. 

Five months ago, when Rhiannon decided it was time to grace Wales with their permanent presence after ten years away, I made a big, huge, idiotic mistake. 

I slept with Jared Michaels. 

Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. 

His reputation and his affiliation to Rhiannon were a mystery to me. I didn’t learn that he spent his days playing music until weeks later. He blinded me with the tilt of his flirtatious smile and the intrigued light in his eyes. 

The static thrill that kissed my skin whenever he brushed close to me in the club and the tattoos crawling up his neck might have done some sweet-talking too…

I shouldn’t have let him touch me, but then again it was only meant to be a night of fun. A night turned into a week. One amazing week. After which his unfocused flirting ways reasserted themselves pretty damn quick, and I cut my losses. 

It wasn’t like I wanted a serious relationship anyway. 

What twenty-four-year-old trying to enjoy her life does? 

Especially one who hadn’t long returned from a year of travelling and needed to find her feet.

And definitely not with someone like him.

He seemed so ungrateful for the massive career-affirming opportunities chasing his band. It boggled my mind how someone could have their life’s dreams come true and not revel in it. If I had the tiniest clue what I wanted to do with my life and I found myself in his position, I’d hold on tight, nails dug so far into it that no one would ever separate me from it.

Anyway, when I saw that same flirtatious expression resurface and directed at someone else, I kicked myself, but I moved on. I ditched him, deleted his number, and tried to push all thoughts of his almost never-ending store of energy out of my head. Life continued in its weird uncertain way, but the memories fought suppression. The man had probably forgotten me, yet my dreams wouldn’t let it go.

And then bam!

The bastard sat in my sister’s flat, playing with my niece and making nice-y nice-y with my family. What the absolute hell?

“Why don’t you check a storage cupboard?” I sneered.

Matt nodded like it made perfect sense, which it would, because the drummer had a history of doing stupid shit. Matt glossed over the bite of irritation in my voice and brushed past me. 

A twinge of guilt settled in my chest for the groupie Jared had snuck in there.

Quit it. She probably knew what she was getting into better than I had. 

I continued down the concrete hallway, trying to shake off the tension riding my shoulders. 

Mindlessly, I dodged roadies prepping for their final soundcheck of the tour and continued my hunt. For my sister. 

I’m not sure how she expected me to babysit my niece when she kept randomly vanishing with her. I joined the tour specifically for that reason, and in the last few days, I’d spent a load of it twiddling my thumbs or sightseeing. It felt weird, being paid to be a childminder and not having a charge. 

I wouldn’t even touch the weirdness of working for my sister, but Mel needed me and I’d been rather absent the last year. Guilt could be a powerful motivator. 

Yes, the sister who invited Jared into her flat like it was no big flipping deal. She let the manwhore touch my niece with those hands that had been god knows where. It made me want to wipe Phoebe down with alcohol wipes. 

I still kicked myself for not knowing, for not connecting him to Phoebe’s dad. 

And then I would tell myself to chill out because how could I have known? 

We hadn’t exactly spent a lot of time together growing up. Sure, we went to the same school but he played no part in my sister’s or Dan’s lives then and with five years between us, he wouldn’t have paid me any attention anyway. 

I might have purposefully avoided asking the obvious questions — where are you from, where did you go to school, do you know X? Every time those words left my lips, I’d learn something off-putting and at the time, I just wanted to get off. I didn’t need to know his connection to an ex or a former best friend, or worse, childhood enemy.

Rhiannon hadn’t formed until years later. The first time I laid eyes on their drummer, it was through a press still after they signed with a label, and let me tell you, the images did not match reality. 

What the hell happened to the scrawny, lanky kid with bedraggled hair? 

I could have resisted that person with ease. 

Plus I’d been blissfully unconnected for a year. I never concerned myself with the whereabouts of Wales’s latest hit band, even before catching a plane off the island. Of course, just because I didn’t pay attention to them, didn’t mean the universe had any issue messing with me.

Was it too much to ask that I be allowed to enjoy my life without the consequences of rash actions coming back to bite me at the most inappropriate of moments? 

But enough of Jared. I had a small child to locate.

“Has anyone seen my sister?” I shouted above the ruckus of the black-shirted crew rushing around me. 

“Phoebe, no!” Mel’s voice echoed down the hallway before any of them could answer. 

A loud crash followed and everyone around me winced.

“Try the stage,” a black-haired guy with a goatee called over his shoulder. 

“Thanks,” I muttered. Not that I needed help now. 

Why was she on the stage when she had work? 

Frowning, I headed in that direction. 

I stepped into the auditorium and groaned. Half the drum kit lay on its side and Mel stared at it, red-faced, dragging her hands through her hair while roadies were picking up the pieces. Phoebe danced around her feet, gleefully oblivious to the destruction she’d wrought. 

“Now don’t you wish you left her with me?” I called from the side of the stage. 

Mel spun to face me, her light brown hair whipping around her. Despite her being three years older than me, we generally looked alike. Lately, we’d diverged quite a lot. I’d lost the will to wash my hair with the back-to-back tour stops. Dry shampoo was my friend while Mel somehow maintained her denial. 

I shouldn’t chuckle at the pained grimace on her face, but we’d had this conversation so many times at this point, we had a script. Mel had spent the first four years of Phoebe’s life a single parent before she let Dan back into her life. Taking her eyes off my hyperactive niece might have been a challenge for my dear sister. 

“I’ll take that as a yes.” 

“Auntie Ella,” Phoebe screeched, throwing herself at me. I grunted, too slow to catch her before she whacked me in the stomach. “I played drums. I was great. Right, mam?” 

Mel bit her lip. “Sure, just don’t tell your dad.” 

“You really mean don’t tell the band, right?” 

It didn’t look like Jared’s kit but he’d probably still lose it. Unpredictable piece of work. 

Just the thought of him being pissed off filled me with joy. I spun the little delinquent in a circle as a reward and she squealed in delight. 

Mel smirked, seeing right through me. She’d clocked our bitter familiarity that first day in her flat and spent the next few months trying to get the whole thing out of me. I refused to give in. There was no need to drag a mistake into the open like that. No, it could just fade into the past. One day, I wouldn’t feel disgusted whenever he opened his mouth or aroused when he stepped off stage, topless and plastered in sweat. 

“When’s mam and dad getting here?” I asked, placing a pouting Phoebe back on the ground. 

Mel shrugged. “Any minute now. They were going to do some sightseeing before stopping by for the munchkin.” 

The munchkin being Phoebe. We hadn’t told her that she’d be heading home with our parents while we drove down to the Alps for a much-needed girls’ fortnight away from the guys. After a month on a tour bus with them, we all needed a break. So, the moment the show ended, Mel, Alys, Nia, Daphne and I would be Lutago bound. A fancy-pants lodge in the Italian Alps awaited us. 

Two weeks of blissful escape. Hardly any signal, great company, and a lot of wine. 

I couldn’t wait. 

“What the hell happened?” Jared roared from the house floor. 

Mel chewed her lip, watching him approach, but I didn’t bother turning. I didn’t need to see the fire in his eyes to know he was about to set me on edge and maybe push me over it. It didn’t take much these days. One well-placed jab and we were at each other’s throats. To think I’d hated the predictability of my boring call centre job a month ago. If it meant escaping him, I’d go back to the call centre, even though I knew it would never lead me to my purpose.

Not wanting to give Jared any of my time, I crouched in front of Phoebe, pasting a huge grin on my lips.

“Shall we go count the pieces?” I held my hand out to her and allowed that mischievous feeling I always got fucking with Jared’s mood to surface.

For a second she chewed her lip, but I knew she wouldn’t hold out on me. My niece loved to play. Her smile was slow to grow, but then she nodded at me, a sly look in her own eyes. 

“Just a little accident,” Mel said, facing down the raging bull without a moment’s hesitation.

“The kit is trashed. How is that a little accident?” Jared growled, gesturing wildly. 

I turned away from him and led Phoebe over to the kit. We settled on the ground, our legs crossed and our backs to the glowering asshole.

“One.”  I pointed out a part of the dismantled drum set. 

He pounded across the stage. The vibrations thumped through my chest, but still, I refused to look at him. Instead, I focused on Phoebe, mouthing the next numbers to her as she counted. I couldn’t get angry with such cuteness before me. 

“It’s not trashed. They’ll have it back together before you know it.” Patience filled Mel’s voice. 

I could feel the burn of her gaze on my back, on Phoebe. The awkward smile she favoured whenever Phoebe was around for arguments probably claimed her lips.

“Who did it?” Jared bit out. 

He stepped up to the kit and robbed me of the ability to ignore him. For a moment, he was just a black blob in my peripheral vision. If only I were strong enough to not look. 

If I’d been that strong, I would have saved myself a whole lot of pain in the last month. Wouldn’t have seen him flirting with other women, leading them backstage or onto an empty bus.

But if I couldn’t see him, I conjured up extreme situation after extreme situation and tortured myself. It was better to look than imagine. 

I sighed as my head turned, almost against my will. My eyes immediately trailed along his body. Why did he have to start working out? It would have been so much easier to ignore the bastard if he didn’t fit my type to a tee… if he hadn’t started hitting the gym twice a day and still looked like the skinny rake I vaguely remembered from school.

For some reason, he’d decided to buff up between Rhiannon signing and my meeting him. Someone in their PR team had helpfully forgotten to circulate new press stills. 

Or I’d blanked their existence out. 

Anyway, the result was a ripped six-foot-plus guy with short, dirty blond hair, striking green eyes and a contagious grin — if he chose to break it out in your vicinity. 

Yet another reason I didn’t recognise him that fateful night in the bar.

Notice how I glossed over the tattoos painted across his chest, arms, back and creeping up his neck? They highlighted his hard muscles far too much for my peace of mind.

Maybe if he never took his hoodie off, I’d finally stop having to fight to resist him. 

“Who did it?” he roared again, ignoring Mel completely and I ground my teeth. He stared around the stage, eying roadies with a hard expression. “Was it you?” he growled at a poor unsuspecting guitar tech, catching his t-shirt and pulling him closer. 

The guy shook his head and scrambled away, taking my ability to ignore the pain in the ass with him. 

“Go to your mam.” I helped Phoebe stand before giving her a gentle push towards Mel. 

I jumped to my feet, the low burn of annoyance itching against my skin. His eyes widened for a fraction of a second as I stomped toward him. He clamped the surprise down fast, directing that scowl at me.

“Phoebe did it. Are you going to shout at a four-year-old too?” 

Jared glared down at me as I squared up with him, toe-to-toe. I glared right back at him, my temper boiling high enough to outdo him if he wanted to start throwing his toys out of the pram. He could be a reasonable, nice guy when he wanted to be — I’d seen it. My sister wouldn’t let him anywhere near Phoebe if it wasn’t the case. I’d even seen him play with the munchkin and talk to his friends like a normal human being. 

Today wasn’t going to be one of those days. 

He had a manic glint in his green eyes. The last time I’d seen it, I’d caught him at a bar, late for our date, and all over another woman. I still hadn’t figured out where our wires crossed, and I had no interest in trying. 

“Mel, why don’t you take Phoebe to the green room?” 

Silence followed my request. I glanced at Mel.

“Are you sure?” she asked, eying me with concern while Phoebe hugged her leg. 

That set my blood on fire. My niece barely knew the meaning of the word fear!

I turned back to Jared and crossed my arms. “I’ve got this asshole. I’ll meet you there in a couple of minutes.”

Jared’s brow rose while a smirk claimed his lips. The fragments of memories unearthed by that look were not welcome. They could stay buried beneath my bed and not haunt me with the sight of him groggy in the morning, his hair sticking up at all angles. Nope. That image no longer resembled the guy standing before me. 

“No, Phoebe, that’s a bad word,” Mel said as she herded Phoebe off the stage. “Auntie Els needs her mouth washed out with soap. You don’t want that.” 

My lips twitched at her pointed threat. I still hadn’t come up with more child-friendly but equally as insulting words to direct at Jared. I’d get right on that after I escaped this tour.

The side door closed, finally allowing me to breathe.

“Go back to your flavour of the day, Jared. Let the roadies fix this.” 

Confusion swept away the intensity in his gaze. “What are you talking about?”

I sighed. “Where did you leave today’s girl? Matt’ll tear your head off if he finds strangers wandering around backstage.”

A frown morphed his features. “What girl?” 

“You’re unbelievable,” I hissed, my indignation stronger than my will to hold the words in. “They have feelings, Jared. You can’t just use someone and toss them aside.” 

The heat of his body buffered me in the freezing cold arena. A couple of months ago, I would have leaned into that warmth, would have taken comfort in it. Hell, my gut reaction still urged me to lean into him, to give into the itch in my fingers to trace away his frown. 

I schooled my features, hiding the interest I’d never been able to extinguish. Nothing was off-limits with him. If he figured it out, he’d find a way to use it against me. Why, I couldn’t explain. 

His expression cleared as his lips curled. “Don’t worry, El. You’ll have plenty of company at your next ‘I hate Jared’ meeting.” 

Such an innocuous thing shouldn’t have flared my temper but combine the jab behind the words — I was just another girl he’d used — with the lazy, playboy smile, and I could almost breathe fire. 

“Great. Thanks for building my army for me.” I forced a cruel grin to my lips. “Have you ever wondered what happens when a group of women you’ve used and abused get together in a room?”

He shook his head, his amusement unmarred. “I don’t give much thought to my conquests. You know that, El.” 

You were nothing but a notch on the bedpost. 

I refrained from clenching my jaw, but my body burned with the force of my anger. I stepped closer to him and bared my teeth. 

“Then maybe you should start sleeping with one eye open. One of these days, someone won’t take too kindly to your wine and dine routine, pretty boy.”

With that, I breezed past him, my shoulders pulled back, and my head held high. 

“Nah, I’ll just wave goodbye to my mousy haired shadow and enjoy my life,” Jared shouted after me. 

I didn’t turn around, didn’t so much as acknowledge his newest claim that I’d only joined the tour for him. He’d worn out the jab at this point. I kept moving while the roadies flowed around me, unravelling millions of wires, lining up cases and hefting heavy-looking lights into the air. 

To them, it was just another day on the road. Some of them were probably sad to be finishing the tour. 

For me, it should have been a happy day. Escaping Jared, a holiday in the Alps and another new experience to add to my growing list. All I felt was the sizzle of anger as I rushed back down the hallway. 

And irritation with a dash of sadness.

Why do I let the asshole get to me?

I stepped into the green room, my head pounding. Deep breaths did very little to calm the anger. The rest of the band sprawled out on the sofas, their other halves tucked into their sides. Mel took one look at my face and shot to her feet, leaving Phoebe tugging at Dan’s tightly trimmed ginger beard. 

Seeing the pair of them together, with identical ginger mops of hair and the same mischievous grin, cooled some of the fire in my veins. Too cute.

Mel caught my hand before I could take more than a couple of steps. She guided me into the corner, away from the drinks table and the scattering of people. 

“Are you okay?” she whispered, leaning close. 

My eyes fell shut as I tried to force my breathing to even out. Jared was an asshole. I already knew that, so getting upset about it was a waste of energy. I blew out a breath, opened my eyes and smiled at Mel.

“I’ll be fine.” Even I could tell my smile was wonky. “Only five more hours to go.”

“One day, you’ll tell me what went on between you two, right?” Mel squeezed my hand, concern creasing her eyes.

I bit my lip. If I could help it, I wouldn’t utter another word about Jared to anyone. 

Mel’s gaze shifted to Dan and Phoebe. I could see the cogs turning behind her eyes. What those cogs were, I had no clue. Dan stared back at her quizzically, equally in the dark. 

“Listen,” she turned to me, leaning in close again, “why don’t you head to the lodge early?”

“But Phoebe —”

She shook her head. “Don’t worry about Phoebe. It’s your day off.”

Is it? 

Well, that would explain why she and Phoebe had disappeared without a word. 

“There’s no reason for you to stick around and breathe the same air as him.” She smiled, a careful but encouraging look in her eyes. “Mam and dad will be here soon to take Phoebe. It’s less than four hours to the lodge, you could be there before the guys even go on tonight.”

I hummed in agreement. Very seriously tempted despite the guilt of ditching them all.

“Andy said the keys are in a lockbox. I can text you the code. The place is fully stocked so you wouldn’t have to do anything but pick up another hire car.” Mel smiled, silently imploring me to take the escape hatch she offered. 

Who was I kidding? I didn’t need that much convincing. My body already vibrated with the need to skip out of this place with my bags in hand. 

“Are you sure? The others won’t hate me for ditching out early?” 

Mel snorted. “Don’t be ridiculous. We’d all go with you if we could.” She tapped my arm and gave me a little shove towards the door. “Now go. Before Jared reappears and steals that tiny happy buzz from you.” 

“Thank you.” I pulled her into a hug and squeezed tight. 

“No need. Just look after yourself, Els.” Her arms tightened a little harder and then she stepped back. “I know a thing or two about running from difficult things, remember?” Her eyes screamed at me with a mixture of suspicion and understanding. “Now, go.”

I didn’t need to be told three times.

For the first time in weeks, as I dashed out the door, it didn’t feel like I carried a three-pound weight on my shoulders. 

Freedom, here I come.

CAN I READ A SAMPLE OF NEEDING EMILY?

“No,” I whispered, staring at the gold ring on my finger. 

“What?” Owen groaned, rolling towards me. He pressed his forehead into my shoulder, totally familiar, like he had the right to be encroaching on my space this early in the morning, while the mother of all hangovers ravaged my brain.

The first time I laid eyes on him in LA a couple of days ago, he took my breath away in a way no guy had ever done. Not even my ex, who I wasted three years of my life with. Between his almost white-blond hair and his piercing blue eyes, Owen was captivating.

I hadn’t been in the best of moods, waiting for Rhiannon’s tour bus to roll into LA, knowing that I needed to present a happy front when Ryan proposed to Alys. My best friend deserved every ounce of joy he could give her, but my life hadn’t been sunshine and rainbows for a while. It didn’t help that rumours were floating around claiming that bad boy Jared had let a woman tame him, when he’d done nothing but lead me on for months.

Then, a gorgeous guy walked into the coffee shop with quiet confidence, all smiles and easy-going laughter. A complete stranger, and he seemed to see straight through me. We spent the afternoon chatting like normal people, just two strangers getting to know each other. No baggage.

It was glorious.

Of course, I wasn’t blind. His baseball cap didn’t have a chance at disguising his identity. Especially not when his own Welsh accent had barely dulled with all the years he’d lived in LA. Owen Parry was the lead singer of Marable, and I could totally understand why millions of women all over the world salivated over him and his music.

Did that mean I was okay waking up in bed with him and a goddamn ring on my finger?

“No.”

“I’m going to need more words, Sweetness.”

I took a break from staring at the ring to glare at him. 

“I’m not your sweet anything.”

“Whatever you say.” He settled in, going back to sleep. Oh, no you don’t.

I shoved the ring in his face, stopping short of straddling him. “What is this?” 

He peered at it with one eye open. “A ring.” 

“Yes, I got that. Why is it on my finger?” 

Owen shifted away from me, positioning all the extra pillows on the excessively big bed behind himself. He studied me with his jaw set, a wariness in his eyes I’d never seen. Not in all the interviews he’d done. 

Yes, I’d followed his career. Very few Welsh bands hit it big. Marable took off into the stratosphere nearly ten years before The Brightside. With Owen Parry fronting them – with that traffic-stopping face – everyone and their mother watched them. 

“It’s what happens when you get married, Em.” He chuckled. 

My eyes narrowed and I waved his answer off. “Yeah, yeah, that’s lovely. Explain to me how that happened.” 

Every ounce of amusement drained from his face. I swallowed. I couldn’t remember him ever looking that serious. Not at me anyway. He was the fun-loving frontman, eager to wind up unsuspecting victims. 

I’d only known him for three days, mind. Maybe I had him all wrong. 

“You don’t remember?” The words fell from his lips slowly, with a deadly calm I wasn’t believing. The stillness. It was unnerving. 

I shook my head and immediately regretted it, as pain shot through my frontal lobe. No sudden movements. 

He pinched the bridge of his nose and groaned. 

Why was it a problem I didn’t remember? Surely, we just got too drunk after their Las Vegas show and made a mistake. 

He eyed me from beneath his lashes, his lips pursing. It was a mistake. Right?

“Was it my idea or yours?”

“Why does it matter?” he asked, all cagey. 

“Because I’d like to not feel like an ass when I blow up at you and it turns out you went along with my drunk impulsive ideas.” 

I tilted my head, considering the enigma of the man sprawled out naked before me. Almost naked. His chiselled torso was something to behold, plastered in black ink. As drool-worthy as it was, though, I couldn’t tear my gaze from the bulge hidden beneath the white sheet. 

Would it be bad of me to ask him to remove the sheet while I was telling him off for marrying me? 

Yes, Emily. That would be a seriously fucked-up request. 

“It takes two to sign a marriage licence,” Owen said, dragging my attention back to his face. His lips twitched, but he made no comment about my distraction. 

Heat filtered into his blue eyes, triggering a deep ache between my legs. I pressed my thighs together. It would not be a good idea to jump my unwanted husband while sober. No matter how hot he looked sprawled out before me. 

Before I could do something reckless — more reckless — I rolled back, fixing my gaze on the ceiling. Safer to make life-altering decisions when not tempted by a gorgeous rock star. 

“I should have known better.” I groaned. “I was a children’s counsellor, for fuck’s sake. If anyone should have impulse control, it’s me.” 

Sheets rustled, the mattress dipped, and Owen’s body heat caressed my side. I refused to turn my head. Somewhere inside my brain, logical Emily, who possessed a shit tonne of psychology training hid. I needed to find her. 

She’d get me out of this mess. 

Too bad I’d put her on ice after catching the prick-who-shall-not-be-named in bed with an exchange student. 

No. Not too bad. That girl was weak and far too trusting. 

The new me wouldn’t take shit from anyone. Not Jared, who thought he could use me as his plaything while he cowered behind a wall of anxiety at his band’s mounting fame. Definitely not the guy in Hong Kong, whose name I’d completely forgotten. 

Would Owen make life painful? 

I peeked at him out of the corner of my eye. Despite the monumental screwup we’d made, he looked peaceful. Relaxed, like it wasn’t a huge misstep that would bring him a world of paparazzi chaos if those sharks ever caught wind. 

That would put a dent in my travel plans. 

What would an unplanned marriage do to my visa? Surely the Australian border control wouldn’t stop me because none of my ID technically matched my legal name. It would not be for long. 

Although Emily Parry had a ring to it…

No. Don’t bloody go there. It was a mistake. No one wanted a chaotic mess like me in their lives permanently. Especially not Owen Parry, the Welsh rock god himself. 

Owen’s strong fingers grasped my hand, tugging me from my doom spiral. 

“After the show last night, we both agreed that it was worth a shot.” 

I twisted my head, my brows tugging together as I considered his patient expression. “Worth a shot? We planned this?” 

When I’d agreed to jump on his private jet yesterday morning, backstage passes were the only things on my mind. I’d never seen Marable live, and I seriously wanted to tick that off. Plus, being the new uncontrolled and spontaneous me, an unexpected trip to Las Vegas sang at the right frequency. Especially after using my best acting skills to see Alys through Ryan’s greenroom proposal. Escape had been a perfectly reasonable reaction after smiling so hard my face hurt. 

A ring hadn’t been on the cards. 

He nodded. “We drank a lot between the show ending and going to the registry office, mind you, but yes, we planned it. From what I remember, you were pretty convincing.” 

My jaw dropped. “And you went along with it?” 

Owen pressed his lips together and said no more. 

“You do not want to be married to me, Owen. I’m an unmitigated disaster.” Settling on my back again, I scowled at the ceiling once more. “I have no idea what I want out of life anymore. All I can do is keep following the urge to move. If I stand still too long, life gets too serious, and I…” I swallowed, letting the silence claim my courage before I spilt far too much of myself to this virtual stranger. 

 It didn’t matter how much it felt like I knew him, as if he’d always been a solid feature in my life. Spilling my guts was a bad idea. No one needed to hear my pathetic woes. There were people in the world with far worse problems. 

People with serious struggles that far outweighed the crisis of self I was suffering after finding my ex cheating and enduring Jared’s games for far too long. 

What did it matter if all the men who flocked to me saw no one but themselves? I had me, no matter how impulsive I’d become. 

No regrets. 

Those two words had become my new motto. My guiding star. If something seemed too big or daunting, I reminded myself of that, and then I did the scary thing. 

I glanced at Owen again. I guess that’s what I’d done with him. Drunk me probably reminded me it was a bad idea and then recited my stupid fucking motto back at me, getting me in trouble. 

One day, I was going to find myself in a hole too deep to escape unscathed. 

Owen watched me, his brows puckered, and something far too close to concern darkened his eyes. He used his grip on my hand to pull me into his arms, settling me against his chest. My eyes fell shut, both savouring and guarding against the peace and comfort of his hold.

“Everything will work out, Sweetness. Just go to sleep.” His hand smoothed up my back, soothing away the chaos. “I’ve got you.”

With my ear pressed to his chest, I let the racing panic inside me fade into the silence. It was so effective, I didn’t even tell him off for calling me that ridiculous name again. Didn’t the man realise by now, there was nothing sweet about me anymore? 

I’d been robbed of my soft edges.

CAN I READ A SAMPLE OF BRAVING LILY?

Lily

The hour ticked by fast, and a sinking feeling settled in the pit of my stomach. I rubbed my eyes, tired and ever so slightly off-put. Who knew offering an hour of my time for a good cause would bring so much unnecessary stress into my life?

“What do you want to do now, Ms Tyler?” 

Noel glanced back at me from the front seat of the SUV, his dark gaze ever watchful, and his posture straight and alert. Sitting didn’t rob him of his imposing presence, yet so many of my stalkers had made the mistake of misjudging him. His hulking, broad-shouldered frame should have been warning enough.

“I’m not sure yet.” I fished out my phone. 

A complete stranger shouldn’t have been able to push me off my axis. Especially not without meeting me. 

Yet Rhys Jones had done just that. 

If I couldn’t trust ordinary people not to mess with me, where did that leave me?  

But then, the only men you’ve dated have been fame-hungry assholes.

Truth. 

Something I couldn’t avoid no matter how hard I tried. If I ran across one more, I’d have to start wondering what about me as a person drew them like flies to rubbish. 

No one stood me up. Ever. 

When the realisation hit, when I applied the words to the hour-late date, it rocked me to my core. It didn’t help that my cousin and all his friends had been present to witness a failing someone couldn’t logically blame me for. 

Yet the foreign feelings of rejection and shame took hold of my heart and squeezed it until I had to wonder if the ache would ever go away. 

I’d tried twice now to fulfil the commitment. Surely, no one would expect me to keep rescheduling a date.

Or you could try one more time.

Sighing, I hit dial on a number I’d used far too frequently. The phone barely rang before the upbeat voice of an older woman spoke.

“Lily, how wonderful to hear from you so soon.” Her deep Welsh accent filled my ear, her voice clear as a bell, each word carefully enunciated and rolling off her tongue with a certain lyrical quality. “How was the date? Was Rhys well-behaved?”

Well behaved?

How old is this guy?

I bit my lip, her hope momentarily giving me pause.

“He didn't turn up.”

I should have worded it differently, but with the burn of rejection seeping into my bones, I didn't have the energy to make it sound pretty.

She gasped. “That can't be.”

I rolled my eyes. Unless he made himself invisible, there was no other explanation.

“He didn't contact you to say he couldn't make it this time?”

I didn't have his number. In the beginning, it had seemed simpler, and Noel had argued that sharing my personal number with too many strangers wouldn't end well. 

“He didn't.” Annoyance pinched her voice. “I'm so sorry, Lily. I don't know what happened.”

“It's okay, Mrs Jones.” It wasn't, though I'd never admit that to her. She'd tried. I could hardly hold her accountable for her adult son. “But this is the second time. We tried, right?” 

Silence on the line, and Noel's brows rose. I shook my head before turning my body more towards the tinted window.

“I hope that doesn’t mean you’re giving up.”

“I’m not sure what else I’m meant to do if he doesn’t want to make use of the date.”

“You're not getting out of this, Lily.” Her voice hardened. “I paid for a date. He’s getting a date.”

I paused, shocked by her sudden change in tone. She’d always been cheery and pleasant, but this? I frowned at the phone. 

“If you won’t fulfil your end of the deal, I’m not above rescinding my donation.”

“When you put it like that,” I ground my teeth, “I can’t really say no.”

“Correct answer.” She sounded so pleased with herself. “Give me five minutes, Lily. I promise I’ll get this sorted out.”

I held back my exasperated sigh. Just tell her no. 

“Okay, five minutes.”

We hung up, and Noel shook his head at me.

“You're too bloody giving, Ms Tyler,” he said, his voice hard. He turned around, muttering to himself about manipulative people. 

Tell me something I don't know, Noel.

* * *

The car raced across Cardiff, the traffic unsurprisingly heavy for a Saturday. Even with the horns blaring and the constant stopping, none of it really registered.

For the second time in my life, a man consumed my every thought. Only this time, I didn’t even know what he looked like. 

Why the hell did I let her talk me into this?

My fingers drummed against the door handle, impatient for the fiasco to end, but the closer we got, the more unfamiliar nerves danced beneath the surface. 

Nervous. Me?

I’d forgotten the meaning of the word over ten years ago. Perform for a stadium full of hundreds of thousands of screaming fans and you become mostly immune.

But here I was, letting anticipation consume me. 

Foolishly hoping this mystery man might have at least one redeeming quality to justify the whole mess. 

When I broke up with Shaun, excitement for all the possibilities had filled me. We’d gotten together as teenagers. Everything either of us knew about romance and love, we learnt from each other or films. I wanted the zing of attraction every book and romantic comedy shouted about. 

Two years later, and all I had to show for it was a smattering of tabloid rumours and multiple men on my publicist’s shit list. Bitterness festered inside of me, destroying my faith in humanity one date at a time.

The closer we got, the harder my heart pounded. I should have refused. 

The SUV slowed to a halt in a suburban area, and I inhaled a nervous breath. Trees lined the street, and small lawns stretched between the houses and the quiet residential road. 

“We’re here, Ms Tyler.” He glanced back at me over his wide shoulder, dark eyes creased with concern he’d never voice.

I could see the questions flitting across his face, could feel them echoing inside me. 

What the hell am I doing? 

Lily Tyler did not chase men. 

She took her time choosing from the ones who threw themselves at her feet. She did not corner the man who stood her up… 

I don’t get stood up in the first place. 

I nodded and glanced out the window at the small, semi-detached house. A driveway stretched down the side of the red-brick facade. Small shrubs lined it, giving a neat edge to the property.

Kind of cute, in a cookie cutter sort of way. The fact it wasn’t a terrace house surprised me. Every house I’d encountered since leaving South Wales had been an old-school terraced house from the mining age, unless it was a council estate my parents forbade me from visiting.  

There were no lights on, but then the sun still shone. No car in the drive either, but the garage door stood closed. 

Mrs Jones promised he would be home. Yet as I gazed at the quiet house, I couldn't help but suspect she’d been wrong.

I reached for the door handle, my fingers wrapping around it. My hand tensed but I didn’t push the door open.

Are you actually going to do this?

I released the door and covered my face, massaging my temples as if an answer would come in the silence. Or the quiet thrum of indignation would melt away. 

Neither happened.

Despite what his mother claimed, I had a hard time believing he hadn’t stood me up. I couldn’t shake the need to understand. 

Why did he do it?

He knew who I was. Did that mean he did it consciously, and if so, why?

“Fuck,” I groaned into my hands. 

Then I bit the bullet and threw the door open. I slid out of the SUV fast, my eyes narrowing on the navy blue door at the end of the path. 

The door slammed behind me and as I raced up the path, my heels clattering loudly against the concrete. I noted a second slam. One glance over my shoulder confirmed Noel had exited the car and leaned against his door, arms crossed, watching me and the surrounding area with his usual tension.

The sight eased a little of the anxiety inside of me. Even if the guy turned out to be a psycho, my trusty bodyguard would be close enough to save me. 

I tapped my fist against the door, applying more force than was strictly necessary. Tension coursed through me, pulling my shoulders back and locking my muscles while the moments ticked by and no one moved inside the house. 

See? Not in.

The thought didn’t relax me. It only made the questions blare louder. If he wasn’t in, then his mother had lied to me. Did that mean she’d lied to me before? 

I had two weeks before rehearsals for the biggest tour of my life started. Traipsing around Cardiff hunting for a man who knowingly or unknowingly fucked with me shouldn’t have been on the cards.

Yet I couldn’t make myself walk back down the path and leave. 

“Can I help you?” A man called, dragging my attention away from the solid, unmoving door. His deep Welsh accent stroked my nerve endings in ways they hadn’t experienced in years. Not since Shaun. 

I turned towards him, chiding myself for missing the car pulling in. Noel leaned against our car, his gaze fixed on the man but his lips pressed firmly together. The bastard could have warned me.

“Are you Rhys Jones?” I asked, my voice strong and confident and not vibrating with the confusing mix of annoyance and anxiety filling me. 

He eyed me as he made his way to the front door. 

“Yes? Do I know you?” 

Piercing blue eyes snared me, burning through my nerves and momentarily making me forget why I should bristle at his question. 

For a second, I lost control of my eyes. I scanned his body, his athletic build, clad in jeans and a tight black t-shirt, and swept-back brown hair. Dark stubble covered his jaw making me wonder what it would feel like against my cheek and… other places. 

He cleared his throat and sense rushed back. My cheeks burned, yet another unfamiliar feeling. 

Do I know you!

“You stood me up a few hours ago.” 

“Oh. You’re…”

“Lily Tyler, yes.” 

He continued to stare at me with no visible reaction to my name at all. No guilt, no sheepish glance at the floor, not even a glimmer of indignation at my appearance in front of his house.

“Five-time Grammy-winning lead singer of The Brightside?” The words tripped off my tongue harshly, immediately followed by a stab of shame.

Rhys shook his head, turning the dagger of guilt in my chest. 

“That’s not going to work on me,” he said, tone bored. He brushed past me. 

I spun on my heel, brows drawing tight. “What isn’t?” 

“The affronted pop star act.” He slotted the key into the lock and glanced at me. “I don’t care who you are, how many awards you have or how many fans you’ve got.”

“Is that why you stood me up?” I asked, my voice hard. 

I shook my head as he threw open his front door. A bitter laugh escaped me. “I think I get it. I’m famous and, therefore, it’s perfectly fine to be an ass?”

He stopped in the doorway, his shoulders stiff. 

“No, that’s not —” Rhys spun around, his eyes wide and his cheeks burning with what I hoped was shame.

“It’s not what you did?” I crossed my arms and glared at him. “So you make it a habit to stand every woman up?”

“No, I—”

“Decided it was okay to do it to me because you didn’t arrange it yourself?” 

“Can you give me a minute to think, woman? Jesus.” He growled, then dragged his hand through his hair. “I did not expect you to turn up on my doorstep,” he muttered, then stopped dead in his tracks and dropped his hand. “Do you have any idea how creepy this is? You might be okay with people camping out on your doorstep, but we normal people don’t expect to be ambushed in our homes.”

“Okay with people camping…” The number of times some asshole shrugged it off as a given of the job…

“You have some serious issues with fame, don’t you? Why the hell did you let your mother bid on a date with me if you hate famous people that much?”

“I didn’t know,” he forced through a clenched jaw. 

“And that makes it perfectly okay for you to treat me like a blow-up doll?”

“I don’t think you’re a…” he struggled over the words.

His gaze tracked down my body in a way that should have made disgust coil inside of me. Instead, the burn of it made me hyper-aware of his proximity. At some point, he’d stepped towards me. Mere inches separated us now, and even in three-inch heeled boots, I had to tip my head back to stare into his stunning eyes.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

My mouth dried and the words on the tip of my tongue evaporated. His voice was heavy with sincerity, and I couldn’t bring myself to look away.

Then his expression hardened. “How did you find out where I lived?”

“Your mother.” 

All the colour drained from his face. “My mother sent you here?” 

Had he ever actually agreed to any of these dates?

I glanced up at Rhys, latching onto him like a lifeline. “I don't understand.”

Rhys sighed. “I tried to tell her not to.”

My lips pursed at his weak response. "So she decided it would be perfectly okay to waste my time and put me in danger?”

His brow furrowed. “How did my mother put you in danger?”

I hooked a thumb at my bodyguard. “He’s not for show.”

I’d only agreed to meet at The Hound because Rhiannon had a deal with the landlord to lock off the back room whenever they were in. Every exit had been covered. Noel had wasted a week preparing for it. All for nothing. 

“Is that a gun?” Rhys swallowed hard when I nodded. He paled and went back to staring at stone-faced Noel. “Shit.”

Inside, I chuckled at his shock. Outside, I eyed him just as hard as my bodyguard, all pissed-off woman, sick of men (and their mothers) messing her around.

With a concerted effort, Rhys turned away from Noel and focused on me again. He dragged another hand through his hair and gripped the nape of his neck. Something softer had crept into his hazel eyes; it cut away the sharp edges, making him even more tempting and giving me pause. 

“Okay, as much as I argued against it, my mother clearly didn’t think about the consequences.” 

“That's one way of putting it,” I muttered. 

“I'm sorry she dragged you into my mess.” Rhys winced. “That was a dick move.” He crossed the space between us and grabbed my hands in his. His touch felt warm against my cool skin. “My mother can be quite bullheaded,” he continued with a rueful smile. 

He bit his lip and searched my face. Whatever he saw eased him. His shoulders relaxed and his expression hardened with determination. 

“I’m not changing my mind on the date, but can I at least buy you a coffee to apologise?”

My turn to be indecisive. 

Why are you here, if not to prove a point? 

In two weeks, I’d be on a jet out of the country, prepared to spend two weeks straight in a rehearsal studio with my dancers, choreographing for the biggest and longest tour of my career. Setting myself up for attachments or more unexpected emotions would only make my job harder.

But then he flashed a smile and butterflies took flight in my stomach.

“Fine, one coffee, but Noel’s driving.”

CAN I READ A SAMPLE OF DARING CERI?

Ceri

I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, twisting my diamond engagement ring around my finger while I waited my turn at the registry office.

Once I got the marriage licence sorted, I could enjoy my rare free afternoon. What I’d do with it, I had no clue. An endless line of options piled up inside my head.

A new dance film had just released that Richard refused to watch with me. I didn’t really like the idea of going to the cinema alone, but at least I’d get to see it.

And I’d almost definitely leave with the deep-seated urge to dance. Then I could stop by the dance studio after.

When I finally reached the clerk, her fingers flew over the keys in a flurry as she double-checked the records on her outdated monitor. Seconds after she started her fingers froze and something inside of me twisted. 

Something’s wrong.

Her brows pinched together, and her lips puckered, twisting that knife of concern deeper. When her eyes lifted to meet mine, I tensed. 

“Ms Daniels, there seems to be a problem.” She turned the monitor to face me and pointed at a blurry licence. “According to this, you’re already married.”

My heart stopped.

Married? That was impossible. Someone must have made a mistake.

But then my eyes narrowed on the signatures, my own, and a sickeningly familiar name next to it. 

“I can give you papers to file the divorce, but as you’ll understand, I can’t issue a marriage licence until this one is dissolved.”

I vaguely remembered ending up in Fiji with Alex one summer, getting stupidly drunk. But I didn’t know we were married, let alone that it would be legally binding.

We must have been, I don’t know, twenty-one? Eight years had passed at least since I’d last laid eyes on the man.

How could Alex do this to me? And what would happen to my life now that I was legally bound to him?

What would Richard say?

I sat in my car, staring blankly at the steering wheel.

I couldn’t tell Richard. Not if I wanted a chance of maintaining the life I’d painstakingly built. He’d lose his shit.

No, I needed to handle this.

With trembling hands, I pulled out my phone and searched for Alex on social media, something I hadn’t done in years. It used to be a daily habit. Until Fiji, come to think of it. After I got back, I decided to stop torturing myself, keeping track of him and all the models he was pictured with.

A video of him in a familiar bar loaded, posing in a familiar hallway plastered in rock magazine covers, pointing at one with his band.

The timestamp marked the post an hour old.

Of course a millionaire musician would be hanging out in a bar in Cathays on a Saturday afternoon. Only us people like me had to work.

Why was he even in Cardiff? He’d lived in LA for eleven years, pretty much ever since we broke up. He left for the headlining tour and never came back, unless it was to talk me into some whistle-stop holiday that I’d never been able to make myself refuse.

He wouldn’t make it easy — nothing ever was with him — but the timing… that had to mean something.

Still, no matter how serendipitous his being in Cardiff right when I needed him was, some part of me would always be the naive, lovesick seventeen-year-old he left. 

And that lovesick girl had a major problem. She couldn’t see him for the wolf he was.

It would be far too easy to let him sweet talk me, to fall into old habits. I needed to be prepared to push all of the good memories away, to push him away, and take what I wanted for once. No way in hell would I let him stand in my way when I was so close to getting everything I wanted, the life I deserved.

I took a deep breath and steeled myself for what I had to do. I put the car in gear and headed towards the pub. 

* * *

By the time I got across Cardiff, there were no free tables, and the line at the bar stood three people deep. The football crowd had well and truly turned out for the weekend game. 

Not that any of it mattered. I wouldn’t find The Brightside out in the open. No, they were far too recognisable now. 

I pushed through the crowd, trying to be as gentle and polite as I could, but my patience ran out when five minutes ticked by and I’d barely cleared half the room. A chorus of grumbling followed me as I picked up my pace and liberally used my elbows, but I made it to the hallway tucked in beside the bar. 

For a second, I could breathe again, but my relief died before it could fully form. Two guys in suits blocked my path, arms crossed in a way that brooked no argument. 

That’s new. 

The one on the left was a hulking ginger, his beard doing little to hide the smirk tugging at the corners of his mouth as he eyed me. His companion was taller still, with dark hair and eyes that skimmed over me with bored indifference. Something about his gaze suggested he judged everyone by appearances alone, and mine had already been found wanting.

I stifled a groan. At least the ginger seemed to find this whole affair entertaining. His companion looked ready to toss me out with the rubbish.

Anger simmered in my veins, fuelling my resolve. However long it had been, their guards were no match for my determination to take back control of my life. I would see Alex if I had to move heaven and earth and all the overstuffed suits that came with them. 

“Bathrooms are to the right,” the ginger one said, his Scottish brogue tinged with amusement. 

My brow furrowed as he gestured towards the main bar before crossing his arms again. Granted, I hadn’t looked at myself in the mirror since leaving the house this morning, but surely anyone with even a lick of sense could see the anger hardening my expression. 

Instead, he stood there smirking like I was the best entertainment he’d seen all day. 

Tell him where to stick his condescending smile and get on with it.

As appealing as the idea seemed, I didn’t do that any more. I had a handle on my temper now. 

“I’m here to see Alex,” I said. 

The Scot gave me a once over, his brows climbing. “Hate to break it to you, love, but you’re not his type.”

I bit back a biting retort. “Just tell him Ceri’s here to see him.” 

The Scot chuckled. “Sorry, sweetheart. Mr Thomas doesn’t take unscheduled visitors. His manager would have my head if I let just anyone back there.”

“Mr Thomas?” I tried not to snort at the ridiculousness of it but it was hard. “I’m not just anyone. We’re... old friends.” I kept my tone indignant but calm. For now. 

He eyed me doubtfully. “Even if that were true, Alex has particular tastes in women. And you don’t fit the bill.” His gaze tracked down my body again. “For one, you’re far too leggy.”

My hands clenched into fists. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. Tell Alex that Ceri needs to speak with him. Now.”

He smirked. “I doubt he’d care. I suggest you run along before you cause a scene.”

I stepped closer, meeting his glare with one of my own. “The only one causing a scene here is you. Tell Alex I’m here or I’ll—”

“You’ll what?” he scoffed. “Stamp your foot some more? I’ve dealt with groupies far more intimidating than you, sweetheart.”

Groupies. He thought I… 

Rage boiled up inside me at his arrogance and the insinuation that I would ever throw myself at a musician because of their fame. Apparently I couldn’t even get rid of the one I had. 

“Maybe if you were better at your job, you’d know I’m not some obsessed fan. I’m his bloody wife!”

A familiar voice spoke from behind him. “Wife?”

I peered around the bodyguard to see Alex standing there, completely stunned.

He looked the picture of a successful rock star — if your image included a man over six foot three, wearing ripped skinny jeans and band shirts that he’d almost certainly owned since we were in school. 

When we first got together, he was the typical skinny musician. Over the years, his lanky body had filled out. I wasn’t delusional, I knew the bastard would be just as hot as when we’d parted, but couldn’t time have made him a little less attractive to me?

The guard whirled around, his confused gaze darting between Alex and me. “Have you been holding out on me, pal?”

Alex’s brow furrowed, his eyes never leaving my face. “I haven’t the faintest idea what she’s on about either, Brodie.”

I bristled at the way he spoke, as if I weren’t there, but held my tongue. After so long, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from him. 

The picture of a man who’d just rolled out of bed after a good fuck.

“You’re saying you two aren’t…?” Brodie gestured between us, struggling for words and tearing my attention away from ogling Alex’s body. 

“No!” Alex insisted. 

“Say it with a little more conviction.” Brodie snorted. “Well this is one for the books. How’d you manage to misplace an entire wife?”

“I didn’t misplace anyone!” His eyes collided with mine, searching for answers. “It’s a joke, isn’t it, Cez?” He ran an agitated hand through blond hair longer now than it used to be but still unruly as ever. “Getting back at me after all these years?”

Indignation flooded in, quick and hot. As if I had nothing better to do these past eight years than plot revenge. Please. 

“According to the records I saw today, we’ve been legally married for eight years,” I said, my voice perfectly level and not brimming with a need to strangle him.

Alex stared at me, slack-jawed. “How... how is that even possible?”

Brodie chuckled. “I was just taking the mickey about forgetting a wife. How’d you really manage that?”

Alex threw up his hands in frustration. “I didn’t manage anything! I don’t know what she’s on about.” His expression turned pleading. “Please. Be serious.” He stepped around Brodie, grabbed my hand and tugged me into the hallway.

“Hey!” Brodie protested. 

Alex cut the bodyguard a hard look and his mouth slammed shut. Then he focused all of that attention back on me. My treacherous body loved the feel of those intense eyes fixed on me and only me.

“We’re not married.”

My simmering anger reignited in an instant. Maybe I needed to take more meditation classes because this shit was not holding. I unfolded the paper I’d tucked into my pocket at the registry office and slammed it against his chest.

“Then explain this.” 

His bewildered expression melted away as he read the photocopied marriage certificate.

“Fiji?” He glanced up, his blue eyes fixed on me with an odd, calculating light. A slow grin spread across his face. 

What the hell was he thinking?

“Well, what do you know, Twinkle Toes? I always said you couldn’t get rid of me that easy.”

His casual declaration and use of my old nickname set my teeth on edge. Brodie peered over his shoulder, brows climbing as he read. “You’ve kept me in the dark all this time, you sly dog.” He shook his head, chuckling. “No wonder you’ve been so tight-lipped about your love life.”  

Alex glanced at him in disbelief. “Don’t look at me, I’m as shocked as you are! But can’t fight the facts, apparently.” His gaze swung back to me, grin unwavering and that disconcertingly calculating look in his eye. “Or fate, seems like.”

I folded my arms, pulse racing. This could not be happening. “There’s nothing about this that’s fate, Alex. I have a life now...”

I needed this divorce.

Why was he smiling like that?

“It was just a local ceremony. There wasn’t even an officiant.” I bit back the edge of panic but only just. Alex noticed; he always noticed. “We can’t actually be married!”

Alex quirked a brow. “Says right here we are.” He pointed at our signatures on the certificate. “And after so long, I doubt an annulment would do the trick. We’re well and truly stuck with one another now, Twinkle Toes.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hey! I'm Morgana, a steamy celebrity romance author who loves writing about men who fall first and feisty heroines that give them a run for their money. I'm Welsh and you'll find that most of my books have at least one British character, some of them are even set in the UK.

I'm a Swiftie and, as you can imagine, I lurve a good easter egg. My goal is to introduce you to loveable characters before they get their book while dropping delicious cameos of past characters. With me, you can pretty much assume that if I've said it, it might be a hint to the future. I once set up two entire series in one novel (can you guess which book that was?) and we've now reached the point where my incredible editor, Dayna, is only adding to the madness.

Right now, I'm travelling the world, searching for inspiration while letting the characters chatter away in my head. A handy thing when I have a band embarking on a massive two year International tour, don't you think?