I stand in the road, still steaming mad as I watch the pricy BMW pull out of the trailer park. I can’t believe Tanner Lawrence had the nerve to not only show his face here, but had the audacity to ask me out on a date after the way he screwed around on me right after high school.
“You handled that well, honey,” Adele calls from the rocker, her usual seat when the weather is nice. “Gee-Gee would’ve been proud of the way you stood up to him.”
I smile at her. Gran and Adele never liked Tanner. Oh, I suppose they tolerated him for my sake, but they certainly didn’t enjoy his company. Gran told me after I broke it off with him that she thought he was a dirty snake and was glad I discovered how he really was before I did something crazy like marry him or get knocked up by him one day.
I wonder what Gran would’ve thought about Ace? I bet she would’ve liked him.
My eyes flit to Ace, who appears to be overly chummy with Adele, which is odd, considering Adele really doesn’t like anyone and does her best to keep to herself. Gran was about the only person who ever visited Adele, with the exception of Birdie’s mother, who would stop by from time to time to bum money off her, and Birdie once she got her first job at sixteen.
I debate going over to hang out and chat with Adele to get some advice from her until I’ve cooled off, but with the way Ace has been ignoring me for the past week, I think I’d better not, since he’s sitting over there and I just might lay into him too.
I take a step backward and Ace frowns at me like he’s disappointed that I’m not coming over.
“I’ll see you later, Adele,” I say.
Ace leans forward in his chair, and for a moment it appears that he might be coming after me, but he stops the moment I shake my head slightly to discourage him.
I’m too worked up over this whole tax situation with Tanner, and I don’t need Ace around right now, reminding me of how he rejected me.
I need time alone—time to think.
The rest of the afternoon and into the evening I busy myself with sorting the last of Gran’s things. I tape the last cardboard box full of clothes shut just as there’s a knock on the door. I glance up at the clock on Gran’s nightstand. It’s time for Birdie to be getting off work, so I’m sure it’s just her coming to hang out as usual.
“Come in,” I call from the back bedroom. “I’m in Gran’s room!”
“Iris?” Ace calls.
I gasp and catch a glimpse of my sweaty face in the mirror on Gran’s dresser.
I look like hell.
Quickly I work on smoothing down the unruly curls that have sprung out all around my face. “Be right out.”
Oh my God. What’s he doing here?
As my pulse quickens beneath my skin, I hurry out of the bedroom and down the hall, trying to figure out what he could possibly want.
The minute my eyes land on Ace, my heart does a double thump against my ribs.
He’s got on those expensive-looking jeans again that hug his sexy backside perfectly, and a tight T-shirt that shows off his toned chest. Could this man be any more stunning?
He holds up a pizza box and a six-pack of beer. “I brought the peace offering this time. It’s not cookies . . . but . . . I figured this could work, since I don’t bake for shit.”
His eyes meet mine and he chews on the corner of his lower lip like he’s worried I might tell him to take a hike. While I should be angry with him for the way he walked out on me and then ignored me, I can’t. I like him too much. Now that I know his secret, I understand why he’s fighting so hard to keep me at bay. He doesn’t want to be found out for some reason, so I can respect his decision to push me away, even though I wish I could tell him that he doesn’t have to—that he can trust me.
“Great. I’m starving.” I smile at him, and the worried expression morphs into a lopsided grin.
I walk past him and head straight for the kitchen, where I wash my hands and then open the cabinet that holds the plates. I grab two and set them on the table.
After we each put a slice on our plate and open a beer, I ask, “What were you and Adele talking about earlier? You two looked chummy.”
Ace takes a bite and grins as he swallows it down. “You, actually.”
I raise my eyebrows, shocked by how easily he admitted to talking about me, but now my stupid curiosity is piqued. “What about?”
He shrugs. “About your mother—how you went off to New York, how she hates Tanner. You know, basically your whole life story.”
My mouth gapes open. Damn. I guess Adele was just a wealth of information for him, and that isn’t like her.
I push the pizza around on my plate. “If you wanted to know something about me . . . why didn’t you just come and ask me?”
I know that isn’t a fair question, seeing as how I just Internet stalked him, but I would’ve answered any question he asked me openly. Unlike him, I have nothing to hide about myself.
He shrugs. “I didn’t go prying, if that’s what you’re thinking. Adele just told me all of that stuff.”
Ace is quiet for a moment, and then he asks, “What’s going on between you and that Tanner guy? Are you seeing him?”
“No!” I blurt. “God no. He was my boyfriend back in high school and for about six months after until he decided he wanted to start screwing every coed on campus that would have him when he went off to college.”
“I see.” He nods, like the little show Tanner and I put on in front of him and Adele now makes sense.
He takes a long pull from his beer, and I can’t help but notice the way his sexy mouth works against the bottle. It causes a shiver to run down my spine, remembering how his lips felt on mine and how electric we seemed to be together.
“Iris . . . about us.” His russet eyes meet mine, and I see nothing but sincerity in them. “I want you to know, that what happened in the shed—”
“Please,” I whisper, not wanting to hear his reasoning why we can’t be together yet again. “You don’t have to apologize. I shouldn’t have been so forward. I kissed you. I started it. I should be the one apologizing to you, but I can’t say I’m sorry that it happened.”
I wish I could just come out and tell him that I already know what he’s hiding. I don’t care why he’s running from his life, because his career isn’t him, he’s got the right to decide if he wants to quit.
I want him to know that nothing will change the way I feel toward him—the desire I have for him has nothing to do with his fame, if that’s what he’s worried about. I lusted after him before I found out who he was.
He reaches across the table and threads his fingers with mine. It’s a small gesture but an intimate one, and it immediately makes me smile. “I’ve been pushing you away since I got here, and I’m sorry. It’s just I’m so insanely attracted to you that I know once I have you, it’ll be all over for me. Today, just watching that guy beg you to go out with him—it made me so fucking jealous. I wanted to tell him to take a fucking hike because you weren’t available, but I didn’t have the right.”
“He’s not the one I want,” I say, hoping he will catch the hint in my voice.
An expression of relief floods his face as his eyes soften. “Good, because I’ve decided I have to figure out a way to make you mine.”
The beautiful admission coming from his mouth causes a swarm of butterflies to take flight in my belly.
I bite the inside of my bottom lip but then allow the goofy smile I’m trying to hide shine through. “You did?”
He brings our interlaced hands to his face and he kisses my knuckles. “Yes. I’m willing to do whatever I have to do in order to be with you.”
I reach up and stroke the side of his face with my fingers, and he closes his eyes and leans into my touch, clearly enjoying the comfort of it. I need to try to make him understand that what he’s hiding . . . it doesn’t scare me. “I don’t care what it is you’re running from, Ace. I’ll be with you anywhere. I’m yours.”
In one swift movement Ace is up on his feet, pulling me with him. He yanks my body flush with his and wraps his strong arms around my waist. I sigh as I melt into him, overwhelmed that I’m finally getting what I want: him.
Both of his hands glide up my back before he brings one around to trace the line of my jaw with his index finger. “Stunning.”
That’s all I manage to let him say before I attack him with my lips. There’s no resistance in his kiss this time. He cups my face and his greedy tongue seeks entrance into my mouth. I part my lips, allowing his hot, slick tongue to slide against mine, and they begin their sensual dance of foreplay.
Every nerve inside me is alive with need for this beautiful man before me. It’s not just his amazingly good looks that turn me on, but how he’s been there for me the past few weeks, helping me whenever I seem to need it the most.
My fingers walk their way up the coarse material of his jeans and then slip under the hem of his T-shirt to play with the soft skin on his waist.
A low grunt sounds in the back of his throat and he yanks my hips into his even more, allowing me to feel the growing erection inside his jeans against my belly. Turning him on like this excites me. I throw my fingers into that beautifully messy head of bronze hair and continue to kiss him.
He pulls back and kisses a fiery trail across my cheek to my jaw before he kisses the tender flesh below my ear and then whispers, “You smell fucking delicious. I can’t wait to taste you.”
Oh. My. God.
I nearly combust right there on the spot as my toes curl at just the thought of having Ace’s face between my legs. I squirm against him as my panties grow wet with my own arousal.
Just like in the shed, Ace reaches down and hoists me up so that my legs wrap around his waist, and he begins walking us over to my couch. I unwrap my legs and stand before him as he backs up against the couch. Unable to wait any longer, I grab the bottom of his shirt and whip it over his head in one swift motion. My eyes follow the long, lean muscles in his chest down to the incredible set of drool-worthy abs on display in front of me. Most rock stars I’ve ever seen pictures of are covered in tattoos, but surprisingly, Ace only has one. It’s a line of script above his heart.
I run my fingers over the words and read them aloud. “‘To thine own self be true’?”
He smiles. “It’s a quote from my favorite Shakespeare play, Hamlet. It’s a reminder to me to always put myself first.”
I smile seductively. “How’d you become so knowledgeable about something so romantic?”
“Let’s just say I’m more than a pretty face.”
He laughs and I wrap my arms back around his neck, giggling along with him. I toy with the hair at his nape, loving the way it feels between my fingers. “Kiss me.”
His playful smile grows serious and his eyes flood with desire after hearing my request. “Happily.”
The caress of his hands as they grip my hips and yank me to him feels amazing. How I’ve longed for him to hold me like this—need me like this—want me like this.
When our lips meet again, the warmth of his kiss nearly sends me over the edge. Eagerly I meet every thrust of his tongue inside my mouth with a moan that I can no longer hold back. This feels so good—he feels so good—so right.
I shudder when his fingertips find the bottom of my shirt and his pinkie grazes the skin across my back.
“I want to see you,” he whispers before he slides his hands up my torso, bringing my shirt up along with them.
The moment my shirt comes over my head, he lowers his head and kisses my exposed shoulder. His calloused fingers caress my bare skin before his right hand tangles itself into my bra in the back and unhooks it.
Ace stares into my eyes as he takes his sweet time torturing me with his gentle touch, slowly pulling each strap down, allowing my white lace bra to fall at our feet.
No man has ever had this much self-control with me, and it’s absolutely killing me slowly.
His tongue darts out, and he leans in and licks my top lip before he presses his lips to mine yet again. “Exquisite.”
I love hearing him speak. I love the sweet, romantic words that flow from his mouth, and greedily, I want more. “Do you know any more lines from Shakespeare?”
“I know plenty,” he murmurs against the soft, sensitive skin below my ear.
I toss my head back to give him better access as he works his way down my neck. I gasp the moment he sucks one of my nipples into his mouth. Careful to give my other breast the same attention, he flicks his tongue across the taut skin as he works the button of my jeans loose, and then the zipper.
When he kneels down, he stares up at me adoringly. “Lift your foot.”
I do as he orders, and he removes my Converse sneaker and then motions for me to repeat the action with the other foot. Once that’s done, he works the stiff material of my jeans down my hips, pausing to kiss my stomach just above my underwear before removing those as well.
Standing there on display for him, I should feel self-conscious as his eyes roam over me, but I don’t. The way he’s staring at me with his desire-coated eyes—it makes me feel powerful, and sexy. I love that I do that to him.
He lifts my left leg and sets my foot on the seat of the couch and traces a finger down my wet folds. “Perfect,” he says as he stares up at me adoringly, and I shiver.
The first tender touch of his tongue against my flesh causes me to suck in a quick breath as I grab a handful of his hair. His eyes dart up to my face and we make eye contact while he continues to roll his tongue against my throbbing clit.
I’ve never had anybody look at me with so much intensity before, especially while pleasuring me, but I like it.
It’s so damn hot.
After I’m dripping wet, he slides a finger inside me and begins working me into a frenzy as he continues to pump and suck at my most sensitive flesh. Soon a familiar tingle erupts through me and I tense, not ready to give, but not able to stop it either.
“Oh, Ace,” I cry out as I come hard against his mouth, and he continues to lap at my juices.
He sets my leg down on the ground and stands and wraps me in his arms until the shudders subside. I rest my head against his chest and sigh contentedly but find that I’m still hungry for him.
I don’t think I’ll ever get enough of him.
I lean back and kiss his lips, tasting my own arousal on him.
“‘Hear my soul speak: the very instant that I saw you, did my heart fly to your service,’” Ace says against my lips, and it takes every inch of self-control I have to not attack him with my lips instead of allowing him to take his time with me.
Now it’s my turn to please him.
I make quick work of yanking his jeans down and then find myself staring at the huge bulge in his boxer-briefs. I bite my lip as I slide my hands into the waistband and then work them down over his hips.
His cock springs free, hard and at full attention, and I lick my lips as I nudge him back until he sits on the couch. I kneel before him and remove his boots and clothes, and then push myself between his knees.
He reaches up and tucks his index finger below my chin before running his thumb across my lips. I suck his thumb into my mouth and it sets his eyes ablaze with lust. “Let me please you.”
I grab the base of his cock in my hand and stroke it one time. His mouth drifts open as he watches me touch him, and it turns me on knowing I’m turning him on.
I tuck my hair behind my ears and then lean in, taking the tip of him in my mouth. I swirl my tongue around the ridges of his head, and he gasps.
“Holy fuck!” he whispers loudly and then lays his head back. “Jesus. You can’t keep doing that. I’ll come. I’ve wanted you too long. I won’t last.”
I smile devilishly as I suck him as far into my mouth as I can without gagging myself. I only pump him in and out a few times before he taps my shoulder and says, “Not like this. I want to be inside of you the first time.”
I pull back and nod, agreeing because I’m still so turned on that I’m not done with him yet. My body craves him—needs him inside of me.
He reaches down and grabs a foil package from the pocket of his jeans, and I raise an eyebrow. “Expecting to get lucky tonight?”
He chuckles as he rips the package. “Not expecting, but hoping.”
I laugh as I take the condom from him, and things turn serious again the moment I touch his cock and begin rolling the thin sheath down his thick shaft.
Ace guides me to stand up and then to straddle him on the couch. The moment his cock slides against me, I rock my hips a few times to coat him in my arousal.
I groan into his ear as he pulls my chest against his and holds me tight. He raises his hips and thrusts once, and the tip of him enters me. My fingers curl into a fist, clinging to him as he allows my body to adjust to his considerable size.
“‘This is the very ecstasy of love,’” he whispers in my ear and then sucks a quick breath between his teeth as he pushes all the way inside of me. “‘Such is my love, to thee I so belong, that for thy right, myself will bear all wrong.’”
I moan as he presses his cheek against mine, and I allow myself to get lost in the essence of him.
I close my eyes as I rock my hips in time with his. Each thrust, coupled with the sweet lines he’s whispering in my ear, stokes the coals of desire smoldering in my core.
I buck wildly, searching for my release, and he digs his long fingers into my hips. “Jesus, Iris. I don’t know how much longer . . . fuck.”
Loving that he’s losing control, I pump faster, wanting him to get lost with me. Warmth spreads through me, and I cry out, gripping a handful of his hair as I come even harder than I did only moments before.
“Ahh . . . Iris,” he groans as his body grows rigid and he comes.
I watch in awe as this man below me lets go and his face contorts in pure pleasure.
I collapse against him and he traces light circles against the bare skin on my back.
“That was . . .” I sigh contentedly, so relaxed I can’t even finish a coherent thought.
“Phenomenal,” he finishes for me, and we both laugh.
I pull back so I can gaze upon his breathtaking face, and then I push a loose strand of his bronze hair off his forehead. “That was pretty amazing.”
He gives me an adorable smile. “You’re amazing.”
I lean in and kiss his lips and correct him. “We’re amazingly perfect.”
We lie there, still attached as one, enjoying each other for a while, kissing and caressing each other’s bodies. When he pulls out of me to discard the condom, I immediately miss his warmth but am pleased when he rushes back from the hallway with the blanket from my bed in his hands.
Ace lies back down beside me, putting me between the couch and his side before throwing the blanket on top of us. I hook one leg over his and rest my head against his chest. I absently trace patterns across his toned chest while reliving what he just did in my head.
What happened between us just now was clearly more than casual sex. Those quotes . . . they were the some of the sweetest words I’ve ever heard. It’s hard to fathom that this very sensual man feels that way toward me. It blows my mind.
“What are you thinking about?” His voice rumbles in his chest.
I sigh, not wanting to admit what’s on my mind, but also wanting him to open up to me. “Why me?”
His thumb absently strokes my shoulder, and it feels nice. “At first, I’ll admit, I was drawn to your looks, and that pissed me off.”
I giggle and snuggle in tighter. “You were mean to me because you liked me? That makes it sound like we’re in the second grade.”
He chuckles. “I suppose it does. I was a complete asshole to you and I apologize. You did nothing to deserve my animosity.”
“But you didn’t like me much at one time?” I ask, unsure if I really want to hear the answer to that, but I know I need to.
“Yes,” he says simply. “I didn’t want to be caught up in anything, and you . . . I knew if I allowed myself the chance to get to know you, that I would be hooked. I wouldn’t ever want to leave you if I had you like this, and I was angry that you were making me want to stay and abandon all my plans for a life on the road.”
“What changed your mind?” I ask, questioning his sudden change of heart.
He tips my chin up so he can gaze upon my face. “It was impossible for me to stay away from you. Your beauty drew me in, but the way you looked at me, like you wanted to know the real me . . . it sealed your fate. You and I . . . we’re kindred spirits. We have a lot in common.”
I nearly laugh, knowing that his lifestyle and mine are completely different. Then guilt hits me for keeping silent about the fact that I know his secret.
It would be so much easier between us if he would just come out and tell me who he is. Then I wouldn’t have to pretend that I don’t know.
Maybe if I hint around . . .
“Can I ask you something?”
“Anything,” he replies as he stares down at me with a smile on his face.
“How did you know how to help me with my singing?”
His body below me tenses. “About that . . . there’s something I need to tell you about me. You might not like it . . . and I’m not sure how you’re going to react, but I need to be up-front with you about who I really am and what I’m running from.”
“Ace . . . I don’t—”
He holds up his hands. “Just hear me out, because I want you to understand me and why I may need to leave again one day without much notice.”
“Ace, I know who you are,” I say, wanting to put him out of his misery about having to explain something I already know.
He sits up, pulling me up with him. A panicked expression flashes in his eyes as he fixates his stare on me.
My heart races, and suddenly I’m afraid of making him angry with me for snooping around about him, but I know if we’re to ever have any type of real relationship between us, then we shouldn’t keep secrets from one another.
“Please don’t be upset with me. Last week, after you pushed me away, I had to know why. I had to know what you were running from—what was so bad that you had to protect me from yourself. I wanted you, more than anything, and I knew you wanted me too, but you wouldn’t allow yourself the chance, and I had to know why.
“So, I drove to the closest library and used their computer to look you up.”
There’s an incredulous expression on his face, but he still hasn’t said a word, and the suspense of not knowing what he’s thinking is killing me. “Say something, please.”
Ace rakes his hand through his sexy mess of hair on the top of his head and lets out a ragged breath before meeting my gaze again. “You aren’t pissed at me for lying to you about who I am?”
I shake my head. “No, because I’m pretty sure I got to know Ace Johnson pretty well over the last month. You can introduce me to Ace White slowly.”
He shakes his head. “You don’t need to know Ace White. He’s a fucking poser and I hate him.”
I frown, not liking the way he’s speaking about himself. “Ace . . . he’s a part of you. Don’t say that.”
“But it’s true, Iris. None of what Ace White does is me. It’s all an act. It’s not my kind of music, clothes, or even the fucking hairstyle—the record label that discovered me . . . that was all part of my contract. I signed it because I thought it was my big break and that someday Mopar Records would give me a shot to become the artist I really want to be. Singing this lame-ass pop rock that I didn’t have any creative input on isn’t me.”
I reach over and thread my fingers through his. “Is that why you left?”
He shrugs. “That’s part of it. No one in that business gives a damn about me. I was just a voice and a face to them, not a person. They discounted my feelings and, well, it was the tipping point when my foster mother, Sarah, was on her deathbed and they wanted to stop me from going to her because I had scheduled shows. She was the only person in this world that ever took the time to love me—to care about me. I was going to be damned if I put people who didn’t give a shit about me before her, so I left—just walked out and walked away from everything. I was tired of killing myself to make everyone around me rich while making myself miserable.”
My heart squeezes in my chest. “I’m sorry they treated you that way.”
He frowns. “That’s why I’m never going back. I signed a contract, and I’m sure if they find me, they can threaten me with enough lawsuits that I’ll give in, so that’s why I’m running. I don’t want to be found. I don’t want to be forced back into the spotlight.”
Everything begins making perfect sense. “So if they get to close to finding you here . . .”
“Then I’ll leave,” he whispers. “Only now, being with you like this . . . it’ll make it impossible for me to not look back.”
Ace takes both of my hands in his. “I don’t know exactly what this is, but it’s real, and I’m tired of trying to fight it. I want you . . . and I want to see where this leads. If the reporters or my bitch of a tour manager, Jane Ann, get too close, I want you to leave with me.”
I gasp. “I can’t just leave this place behind . . . I have to stay and figure out how to get the taxes paid so everyone doesn’t lose their homes.”
“If the time comes, I’ll pay for the taxes. You can leave Birdie or Adele in charge, and we’ll leave—just you and me.”
I debate what exactly I’m agreeing to here if I say yes—a life on the run like a fugitive. “I don’t know if I can do that.”
“It won’t be forever, Iris. We’ll come back eventually, after the frenzy surrounding the band and my disappearance dies down. What I need is a good attorney who can read my contract and give me some solid advice.”
That doesn’t sound so bad. His plan seems logical, and I completely understand his reasoning for not facing the label and the media until he’s ready. But besides all that, I don’t want to be without him. He’s worth leaving everything behind for a while.
Finally, I nod. “Okay. I’ll go with you when the time comes, but in the meantime you can talk to Mr. Stern. He’s the attorney who handled Gran’s estate, and I’ve known him my entire life. You can trust him.”
Ace nods. “Okay, we’ll have to go to Sarah’s house in Columbus and get my contract so the attorney can go over it.”
Ace grins and pulls me into him, suddenly seeming extremely happy. “Thank you.”
“For what?” I ask, confused because I haven’t really done anything to be thanked for.
“For agreeing to leave with me, and”—he gives me a wry smile—“for agreeing to be mine. No one has ever belonged to me before.”
I raise my eyebrow, not believing that this sweet, intelligent, beautiful man before me has never had anyone be his before. “No one?”
He shakes his head. “No one has ever been the total package before—just you, Iris. You’re the one.”
This is all happening so fast, but I don’t care. I’m not going to allow the logical side of my brain to ruin this happiness for me. For now I will revel in it. For now I am his.