The cold shocks the heated skin on my knuckles as I shove my hand into a bowl full of ice. Beating the shit out of some local redneck isn’t exactly how I planned on beginning my low-key life here in Sarahsville, but there is no way I’m just going to stand by and let some douche bag talk to Iris that way and get away with it.
Not going to happen.
The fucker is lucky I didn’t kill him. The thought of ending his miserable existence crossed my mind the moment he put his hands on her, and he’s lucky I have enough self-control to reel myself back from going off the deep end. I’ve been known to go a little berserk when I’m angry, which is something I’m not proud of, because I’ve learned through time usually it’s better to keep a cool head. Being around Jane Ann for so long tamed me quite a bit. What losing my temper would do to my career if the media ever got wind of it made me think twice before I acted out, and it ended up making me soft—a fucking pushover yes-man—but there are times when going a little crazy is needed in a situation. I would do anything to protect someone I care about.
If this incident today had happened five years ago, before Jane Ann discovered me, Jeremy would’ve not been able to walk away without the help of some medical assistance.
I grab a cold beer from the fridge and then thrust my throbbing hand back down into the ice. Being around this girl is not good. The overwhelming urge I have to protect her and take care of her now that I know she’s all alone in this world like me is pretty damn strong. Hell, look at what already happened. I haven’t gotten that out of control in a long time. But she needed the help. I have this feeling down in my gut that I’m supposed to be the one to look out for her.
I should do the right thing and hop on my bike and put as much distance between me and this place as possible. Eventually the media circus will find me, and the craziness of my world will be brought down all around Iris and her peaceful little existence, and she doesn’t deserve that.
Just before dark there’s a knock at my door. I push myself off the couch, bringing my beer with me as I fling the water away from my fucked-up hand and flex my sore fingers.
When I open the door, Iris stands there with a plate full of cookies wrapped in cellophane. She smiles, and this irks me because no matter how big of a dick I am to this girl, she still won’t give up being friendly to me.
“What?” I say a little more briskly than I mean to, and it causes her to flinch.
She swallows hard. “I brought you a peace offering.” She tilts the plate a little to draw my attention to the chocolate chip cookies. “And since you’re new in town, I thought maybe you’d want to come with us tonight to a bar in Cambridge to get out of this place for a while.”
“Which bar?” This invitation is tempting. So tempting, in fact, for a moment I consider saying yes. Selfishly, I crave more time with her.
She smiles, and I swear to God my heart skips a beat. “My friend Birdie and I are going to the bar she works at, Angel’s. You game?”
The thought of being out somewhere with this beautiful girl before me, dancing with her, holding her body against mine, is almost worth being recognized for. But I know if I’m playing it smart, I can’t be seen out with anyone. If one person notices me and is able to figure out who I am, the media and Jane Ann will be all over me before I have a chance to ditch them again. I’ll be forced to go back on tour and into a life that I no longer want to lead. I’m not ready to face that yet.
I sigh and hold up my beer. “Why would I leave when I got all the booze I need right here?”
Her green eyes flick over to my beer and then back to meet my gaze. “I was hoping we could start over—at least be friendly toward one another.”
It makes me more excited inside than I’m comfortable admitting that she wants me around her, but still I can’t let my guard down and get too comfortable here.
I let out a heavy breath. I guess I can I turn down the dick factor just a touch; God knows she’s really done nothing to deserve my cruelty. “Some other time, maybe. Be safe.”
Iris’s bottom lip juts out a bit as she pouts. “Okay, then. I guess I’ll see you around.” She halts midturn and holds out the plate in front of her. “Hope you like them. I made them myself.”
I raise my eyebrow. “They’re not poisoned?”
She laughs. “No. The last thing I would ever want to do is hurt my knight in shining armor.”
She doesn’t say anything else, simply turns and leaves me standing there with a plate full of cookies that she made especially for me. My heart does a double thump in my chest at the thought of being her hero, but it’s not good that she sees me in that light.
A kind heart like hers isn’t something that’s easily found. Why couldn’t I have met her before I decided to take my ass into hiding and shut out the entire world? I can’t allow myself to get to know this girl, because our entire relationship would be built on nothing but lies and deceit. But besides all that, fame and the media would eat a nice girl like her alive.
Close to nine, laughter from Iris and her friend spill into my trailer through the open window in my kitchen that faces Iris’s place. I know I shouldn’t, but I can’t help myself from rushing over to the nearest window and taking a peek.
Iris’s long, brown hair is down, bouncing around her bare shoulders with each step as she makes her way to Birdie’s Corolla. The halter top she has on screams clubbing clothes, and paired with the jean skirt she’s wearing that shows off her long, toned legs, is just the right amount of sexy.
I pull the knuckle I didn’t even realize I was biting away from my teeth as she jumps in the car.
The idea of her being out there tonight, alone, drives me nuts. The mere thought of another man touching that smooth, soft skin that I long to caress with my own hands is enough to make me go out of my mind with jealousy.
As I grab the keys to my bike, I quickly convince myself that following her tonight is purely for her safety. I need to be there to protect her and watch out for her. I won’t allow another man to put his hands on her like Jeremy did today. She needs me.
After driving thirty minutes to Cambridge, I stop at the first gas station I come to and ask for directions to the bar Iris said she would be at. It doesn’t take me long to find Angel’s and spot Birdie’s little white Corolla parked outside.
It’s not a big place by any means, but judging from its two-story brick exterior, it should be plenty big enough for me to move around inside without Iris noticing me watching her like a total creeper.
I park my bike around the side of the building and then make my way up to the bald-headed bouncer wearing a black T-shirt that reads “Angel’s” across the chest.
“ID,” he asks as I approach.
I fish my wallet from the back pocket of my jeans before handing him my driver’s license. Momentary panic sets in as the tank of a man scrutinizes my identification card a little longer than necessary before handing it back to me. “Have a good time.”
Whew. That was close. For a moment there I thought the haircut and shave wouldn’t be enough to throw a true fan off my scent, but lucky for me, the guy didn’t let on that he knew who I was even if he did. He’s probably not exactly a pop music fan.
I stuff my wallet back into my pocket and then dip inside. The lights are dimmed low, but the sunken dance floor is lit up with a rainbow of swirling lights that keep time to the beat of the song the DJ’s playing.
The crowd parts on the dance floor and I spot Iris immediately. Her long hair falls in soft waves as she sways her hips to the beat and sings along to the country song that’s being spun. I don’t know the song at all because I don’t listen to that genre of music, but I find myself mesmerized by the hypnotic rhythm as I train my gaze on Iris. Her fucking smile could light up this entire goddamn room.
“Sugar, can I get you a beer?” I turn to the bottle-blond twentysomething waitress who’s balancing a tray against her hip while snapping her gum as she waits on my response.
I nod. “Yeah, Bud Light in a bottle.”
“You got it,” she answers before she scampers off just as quickly as she appeared.
I lean against a nearby column as I continue to watch Iris. She doesn’t know it yet, but it’s so unlucky for her that I’m this interested. Eventually my old life will catch up to me. Jane Ann won’t stop looking for me as long as I’m costing her money, and Iris will be caught in the media crossfire if they find me here hiding with her, and that makes me feel guilty.
It’s cruel of me to be so selfish, but I can’t seem to stop myself from wanting to be near her. I can’t explain it, but I can’t help but be drawn to her. Besides the fact that she’s fucking beautiful, she’s been nothing but kind to me since I arrived, even though I’ve been a complete jackass to her, which makes me want her even more. It’s like she can put up with my moody ass and still see through to the inner part of me that’s good.
Hell, maybe I’m drawn to her so much because I’ve been around such shit people lately that I need something positive in my life. Either way, though, I need to fight the urge to claim her as my own, because she never asked for my crazy life to be brought on her.
A group of guys who seem to be in their midtwenties saunter over to the edge of the dance floor. Most of them seem harmless, cracking jokes and laughing together, just out to have a good time while checking out the girls on the floor, but one catches my eye, making my hair stand up on end.
There’s nothing special about the guy, really. He’s of average height and build, with a baseball cap turned backward covering his shaggy brown hair, but what makes me notice him is how he hasn’t been able to tear his eyes away from Iris. It’s hard to miss Iris because she’s simply breathtaking, and I understand any man would be fucking blind if he didn’t notice her, but he’s fixated on her, studying her, like he’s planning to make a move. I don’t fucking like it.
Unable to stop myself, I ball my fists up at the thought of this douche bag getting to touch her. I don’t think I’ll be able to stop myself from yanking him off her, which is crazy because she might be into the guy. It’s not my place to interfere, only to keep her safe if she needs me.
“Here you go, sugar.” The waitress pulls me out of my anger-filled daze as she hands me the beer.
I lay a ten-dollar bill on her tray. “Keep the change.”
The blond doesn’t immediately go away. Instead, she stands there, biting her lip. “I’m not usually so forward, but I get off in a couple of hours and thought maybe since you’re here alone, you’re looking for a good time. I wouldn’t mind being your just-for-tonight girl.”
I take a long pull from my beer as I debate her offer. Maybe if I take this girl back to her place and screw her brains out, this twisted mess of feelings I’m experiencing over Iris will go away.
But the crazy thing is, the thought of being with this random girl repulses me. I’ve had her type many times in the form of my groupies. The sex is meaningless. Those women were just out to use me. None of them ever really cared about me. They cared about my celebrity and the bragging rights being with me gave them, and I’m not in the mood to deal with that kind of bullshit right now. Besides, my brain is fixated on Iris, and I’d rather have no one if I can’t have her.
“I don’t think so, doll,” I tell her, causing the flirtatious smile to drop from her face and an angry scowl to replace it.
“Your loss, asshole,” she snarls before she turns and walks away.
The short interaction I had with the waitress caused me to take my sights off Iris, but I quickly find her again, only this time she’s not dancing alone.
The same fucker who was stalking her moments ago now has his hands gripping her shoulders as he grinds his crotch into her ass. I try to remain calm and not rush out there like a crazed psycho as I watch the scene in front of me unfold.
At first, it appears that Iris might be having fun as she rolls her eyes at Birdie, who’s dancing in front of her, but then when Iris steps away from the man to distance herself, he refuses to give up, shoving himself right back into her backside.
I stiffen and take a step forward but halt the moment Iris turns and shoves the man away from her. That same spunk she shows me when I’m being a rude jackass is amplified tenfold as she yells at the man to back off.
I didn’t know she could handle herself like that. Maybe I should’ve given her a little more credit for being able to put Jeremy in his place before I jumped in the middle of the situation to defend her. But I’m quickly learning when it comes to her I can’t seem to help myself from defending her.
When the man tries to touch her again, Iris scowls at him before grabbing Birdie by the arm and dragging her to the other side of the dance floor. The guy watches for a long moment like he’s debating following Iris, trying to dance with her yet again, but ultimately decides against it as he rejoins his friends at the edge of the floor.
There’s only four of them, and I’m angry enough that I might have a shot at getting a few good punches in before his buddies tear me off him. The prick needs to be taught a fucking lesson in manners. Ultimately, I decide to bide my time until I can get him alone, wanting to keep things private. A roomful of witnesses won’t be ideal.
The rest of the night Iris keeps jumping up to the bar and taking shot after shot in between songs while I notice Birdie restrains herself, probably seeing as how she has to drive back home. The two women never notice me in the bar. Turns out I’m pretty good at hiding if I don’t want to be found, but I keep my watchful eyes trained on Iris and the guy who got a little rough with her earlier.
I’m not a fan of touching anyone without permission. It’s an invasion of privacy—one I know about all too well. Guys like this douche bag from the bar are the type of people who decide if they want something from somebody, they’ll just take it. I lived in a couple foster homes where the people that were supposed to be my protectors felt they had the right to lay their hands on me, some even sexually. It wasn’t until I got placed with Sarah that I felt safe and learned not everyone did that. That’s why I vowed to myself that I’d always protect vulnerable people when I could.
Still stewing, I keep my eye on the group of guys, allowing my protective jealousy to cloud my mind, which makes it impossible for me to forget how he pawed her earlier.
When he detaches himself from the group, I double-check that Iris and Birdie are now sitting safely at a corner booth before I follow him into the men’s room.
He stumbles as he makes his way over to the urinal and I lock us inside the restroom. Alone. I pull the hood of my sweatshirt over my head and begin to stalk my unsuspecting prey.
Without warning, I rush over and grab the back of his head and slam his forehead into the wall. A loud thud echoes around the tiny room and his hat falls to the floor by our feet.
“Ah, oh,” the drunken man cries as he covers his face with his hands, but he doesn’t look directly at me, merely squeezes his eyes shut as he’s riddled with pain.
I grab a fistful of his hair and yank his head back so I can whisper in his ear, “You should think twice about putting your hands on a woman without a fucking invitation. The next guy you run into might not be as nice as me.”
I shove his head forward and he stumbles a bit as I turn and rush out of the small, urine-smelling room.