Pete’s 69th Street Bar wasn’t located on Sixty-ninth Street, so I had no idea where the name originated. I did understand that Six-Ninths had derived their name from it, after playing on its stage for a number of years. I also understood that the restrooms in the back had provided a place for Brett Kline to screw my wife.
I wanted to lay my fists into him for that. She deserved palaces and private islands, not seedy bar bathroom stalls.
Pete’s wasn’t quite a dive, but it was classless. A beach bar that looked best under cover of darkness and known mostly as a place for SDSU students to hook up and drink ’til they couldn’t remember what they did or whom they f**ked.
After I tore the place to the ground, they wouldn’t remember the bar, either.
The choice in venue was deliberate and quite brilliant on Yimara’s part. It put me on edge and drove home what was at stake. If my decision to show up alone and dressed in jeans and T-shirt threw him off in return, I’d consider the challenge well met.
I leaned back in my seat, watching him carefully. The bar had a few patrons, most of whom were seated on the patio. Only a handful of us occupied the beach-themed interior. “Have you decided to accept my offer?”
“I’ve considered it.” He crossed his legs and angled so that he could lay his arm along his seat back. Overconfident and not smart enough to exercise caution. “But hey, considering what you’re valued at, I’m surprised Eva’s privacy isn’t worth more than a million dollars to you.”
I smiled inwardly. “Eva’s peace of mind is priceless to me. But if you think I’ll up my offer, you aren’t thinking clearly. The injunction against you will go through. And then there’s the pesky little detail regarding the legality of filming Eva without her consent, a very different scenario from a mutually agreed-upon private sex tape gone public.”
His jaw tightened. “I thought you wanted to keep this quiet, not make it part of public record. Eva would be on her own with any lawsuit, you know. I’ve already talked to Brett and we’ve worked things out.”
Tension tightened my shoulders. “He’s seen the footage?”
“He has it.” Sam reached into his pocket and pulled out a flash drive. “Here’s a copy for Eva. I figured you should see what you’re paying for.”
The thought of Kline viewing sexual images of Eva sent rage surging through me. His memories were bad enough. A recording was unacceptable.
My hand fisted around the flash drive. “It’s going to come out that the footage exists; I can’t stop it. You contacted too many reporters with your offer to sell it. What I can do is destroy you. Personally, that would be my preference. I want to watch you burn, you piece of shit.”
Sam shifted in his seat.
I leaned forward. “You got more than Eva and Kline with your cameras. There are dozens of other victims who didn’t sign releases. I own this bar. Hell, I own the band. It didn’t take much effort to find the regulars and Six-Ninths followers who were here when you were illegally filming in the bathrooms.”
The last bit of avarice in his gaze dimmed, then blinked out completely.
“If you were smarter,” I went on, “you would’ve leveraged for long-term gain instead of an immediate payout. Instead, you’re going to sign the contract I’m about to put in front of you and walk away with a check for a quarter million.”
He straightened. “Fuck that! You said one million. That was the deal.”
“Which you didn’t accept.” I stood. “It’s no longer on the table. And if you take any longer to decide, the new offer won’t be, either. I’ll just run you into the ground and straight into a jail cell. It’s enough that I can tell Eva I tried.”
As I walked away, I shoved the flash drive into my pocket, where it promptly burned a hole I couldn’t ignore. My gaze met Arash’s as I passed where he sat at the bar waiting for his cue to step in.
He hopped off his bar stool. “Always a pleasure watching you scare the hell out of someone,” he said, before heading toward the seat I’d just vacated, the necessary contract and check in hand.
I stepped outside the dim bar into the bright San Diego sunshine. Eva didn’t want me to view the footage; she’d made me promise I wouldn’t.
But she was feeling something for Kline. He remained a very real threat. Seeing them together, intimately, might give me the information I needed to fight him off.
Had she been as sexually raw with him as she was with me? Had she been as desperate and greedy for him? Could he make her come like I could?
I squeezed my eyes shut against the images in my head, but they wouldn’t go away.
Remembering my promise, I crossed the parking lot to my rental car.
Is it silly that I’m nearly as excited to be your “friend” as I am to be your wife?
I laughed inwardly as I read Eva’s text and replied. I’m as excited to be your lover as I am to be your husband.
OMG . . . fiend.
That had me laughing aloud.
“What was that sound?” Arash looked at me over the edge of his tablet, having made himself at home on the couch in my hotel suite. “Was that a laugh, Cross? Were you seriously just laughing? Or were you having a stroke?”
I flipped him off.
“Seriously?” he shot back. “The finger?”
“Eva says it’s a classic.”
“Eva’s hot enough to get away with it. You’re not.”
I opened a new window on my laptop and logged into my social media profile, linking it to Eva’s with the Engaged to designation now that we were “friends.” As I waited for her to accept the relationship link, I clicked on her profile and smiled again at the cover image she’d selected. She was exposing herself to the world for the first time, and she was doing so as the woman who was mine.
I texted her back when she approved our joined status. Now you’re both.
I’m keeping my half of our deal.
My gaze moved from the message window to the photo of us on her profile. I brushed over her face with my fingertips, resisting the urge to go to her. It was too soon. She needed what space I could bear to give her.
So am I, angel mine.
THE theater in the casino wasn’t a huge venue, but it wasn’t small, either, and it was easier to fill. It was better for Six-Ninths to boast sold-out concerts than to risk embarrassingly empty seats, even in their hometown. Christopher would’ve thought of that.
My brother was good at what he did. I’d learned not to tell him so, though. It only made him more of an ass**le.
As the rows of seats slowly emptied, I made my way toward backstage. Not my turf, despite the all-access pass I carried as primary shareholder of Vidal Records. Kline definitely had the advantage.
But I hadn’t been able to stay away until morning, even though I knew it was the wiser move. Then, he’d be exhausted. Possibly hungover. I would have the upper hand then.
I couldn’t wait that long. He had the footage. He would’ve watched it at least once. Maybe more than that. I couldn’t stomach the thought of him watching it again. Getting it away from him was the most important thing on my agenda.
And I wanted him to know I was close by before he met with Eva. I was marking my territory, so to speak, and I chose to do so in the jeans and T-shirt I’d worn when I met Yimara. Anything to do with Eva was a personal matter, not business, and I wanted that to be clear the moment Kline saw me.
I entered stage left and walked straight into chaos. Scantily clad women f**ked up on their drug or booze of choice lined the scuffed, narrow corridor. Dozens of tattooed and pierced men broke down and packed up equipment with efficient, practiced skill and speed. Hard-grinding music piped out of hidden speakers, clashing with the tunes spilling out of individual rooms. I weaved through the pandemonium, searching for a distinctive head of frosted spikes.
An achingly familiar blonde stumbled out of an open doorway several feet away, her hair falling around her shoulders and drawing attention to the lush curves of a great ass.
My footsteps slowed. My heartbeat quickened. Kline followed her out, a beer in one hand and the other reaching for her. She caught it and pulled him out into the wing.
I knew how that delicate hand felt, how smooth the skin was. How firm the grip. I knew how those nails felt digging into my back. How those fingers tugged at my hair as she came against my mouth. The electric sizzle of her touch. The primal awareness.
I stood frozen, my gut knotting. She stood close, too close, to Kline. Her shoulder leaned against the wall. Her hip was cocked provocatively, her fingertips brushing suggestively over Kline’s stomach. He gave her a cocky, flirtatious smile, his hand rubbing her upper arm in a far too intimate way.
No one who saw them together could mistake that they were lovers.
Rage fired my blood. A sick darkness radiated through me.
Pain. Searing and soul deep. It took my breath and every ounce of control.
A woman’s arm draped over my shoulder. Her hand slid beneath the neck of my T-shirt to touch my chest, while her other wrapped around my hip to stroke my dick. Cloying perfume assaulted my nose, spurring me to shrug her off violently even as a model-thin brunette with heavily made-up blue eyes tried to sandwich me from the front.
“Back off!” I growled, glaring at both in a way that had them stumbling back and calling me an ass**le.
In another time, I would’ve f**ked them both, turning the feel of being hunted into one of complete control.
I’d learned how to handle sexual predators after Hugh. How to put them in their place.
I surged forward, pushing through the crowd, remembering the feel of Kline’s jaw against my fist. The unforgiving hardness of his torso. The grunt of air leaving his body when I hit him with everything I had.
I wanted him laid out and battered. Bloody. Broken.
Kline bent over her, speaking close to her ear. My hands clenched. She threw her head back and laughed, and I stumbled to a halt. Startled and confused. Despite the volume of noise, the sound struck me as wrong.
It wasn’t Eva’s laugh.
It was too high. My wife’s laugh was low and throaty. Sexy. As unique as the woman it belonged to.
The blonde turned her head and I saw her in profile. She wasn’t Eva. The body and hair were similar. Not the face.
What the f**k?
My mind caught up with reality. The girl was the one from the “Golden” music video. The Eva stand-in.
Roadies and groupies filtered around me, but I remained fixed in place as Kline caressed and seduced a pale imitation of my incomparable wife.
My phone vibrated in my pocket, startling me. I cursed and pulled it out, reading the text from Raúl: She just arrived at the casino.
So, she’d changed her mind about seeing Kline. Working the situation to my benefit, I typed back: Get her to the left wing now.
I backed up against the wall, sidestepping into an alcove half hidden by steel equipment cases stacked on hand trucks. The minutes ticked by slowly.
I sensed her before I saw her, felt the frisson of recognition. Turning my head, I found her easily. Unlike her imitator, who wore a small tight dress, Eva was dressed in jeans that hugged every curve and a simple gray tank top. She wore heeled sandals and hoop earrings, casual and relaxed.
Hunger hit me with brutal force. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen and easily the sexiest woman alive. Other women turned their heads to follow her when she walked by, envying her effortless beauty and sexuality. Men eyed her with heated interest, but she didn’t seem to notice, her attention on Kline.
Her gaze narrowed as she took in the same scene I had moments earlier. I watched her assess the situation and knew when she reached the same conclusion I had. A myriad of emotions crossed her face. It had to be odd for her, seeing a former lover so desperate to recapture what he’d once had with her.