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He chuckled softly, letting me know I wasn’t fooling anybody. Then he sat forward, resting his elbows on his knees. His face came fully into the light and I was caught, captivated. My mind blanked.

No question about it. It really was most definitely without a doubt him.

The man had hooker lips, I shit you not. High cheekbones and one of those notches in his chin. I’d never understood the appeal of those things before. Now I got it. But it was him as a whole that blew my mind. The parts meant nothing without the amused gleam in his eye and the hint of a smirk. God, I hated people who smirked. Apparently, I also wanted to lick them all over because my mouth started watering.

“I’m Mal,” he said.

“I–I know,” I stuttered.

His smirk heightened. “I know you know.”

Huh. I kept my mouth shut.

“Sounds like someone had a bad day.”

Nope, I still had nothing. A brain-dead stare was the best I could do.

Why was he out here in the dark? From all reports, the man was the life of the party. Yet here he was, drinking alone, hiding like me. Slowly, he stretched, rising out of his seat. Thank you, Lord. He’d go back inside and I’d be off the hook. I wouldn’t have to try and make conversation. Fortunate, given my sudden bout of starstruck stupidity.

Only he didn’t leave.

Instead, he walked toward me, his lean, muscular frame moving with careless grace. He had maybe five, six inches on me height wise. Enough to intimidate if it was his purpose. Muscular arms put the sleeves of his shirt to the test. Drummer’s arms. They were certainly nice as body parts went, covered in ink and bulging in all the right ways. I bet they felt good, too.

And I was so obviously checking him out someone should slap me.

If I kept this up, I would slap me. Hard.

“What’s your name?” he asked, joining me at the railing. God, even his voice felt good. The little hairs on the back of my neck stood on end with delight.

“My name?”

He stood close enough that our elbows bumped. His bare elbow, since he wore only jeans, a pair of Chucks, and a fitted “Queens of the Stone Age” T-shirt. Mal Ericson had touched me. I’d never wash again.

“Yeeeah, your name,” he drawled. “The point of me telling you my name, even when you already knew it, was so you’d give me yours. That’s how these things go.”

“You knew I knew?”

“The crazy eyes kinda gave it away.”

“Oh.”

A moment later, he groaned. “Never mind, this is taking too long. I’ll just make one up for you.”

“Anne.”

“Anne, what?

“Anne Rollins.”

A brilliant grin lit his face. “Anne Rollins. See, that wasn’t so tough.”

I gritted my teeth and tried to smile. Most likely I resembled a lunatic. One that had spent way too much time imagining him naked. Good god, the shame.

Gently, he tapped his bottle of beer against mine. “Cheers, Anne. Nice to meet you.”

I took another sip, hoping it would calm the shaking. The booze wasn’t hitting me hard enough fast enough to deal with this. Maybe I should move on to something stronger. One’s first intimate conversation with a rock star should probably be conducted over hard liquor. Ev was definitely on to something with her tequila-fueled antics in Vegas. And look how well it had worked out for her.

“What brings you here tonight, Anne?”

“I came with Nate and Lauren. They brought me. They’re my neighbors. They live next door.”

He nodded. “You’re friends with Ev?”

“Yeah, I, well … I’ve always been friendly with her. I wouldn’t want to presume … I mean, I don’t know that I’d say we were close friends, exactly, but–”

“Yes or no, Anne?”

“Yes,” I answered, then snapped my mouth shut against another outbreak of verbal diarrhea.

“Yeah, Ev’s good people. Davie was lucky to find her.” He stared off at the city lights in silence. The amusement fell from his face and a frown creased his brow. He seemed sad, a little lost, maybe. For certain, his much-vaunted party-rocker personality was nowhere in evidence. I should know better. People had painted Ev to be the next Yoko Ono, riding on David’s coattails, sucking him dry of fame and fortune. I didn’t have to be her BFF to know it couldn’t be further from the truth. Chances were, whoever Mal was had little to do with the nonsense flowing freely on the Internet.

But more important, how badly had I embarrassed myself?

“I didn’t really get a crazy look in my eyes, did I?” I asked, dreading the answer.

“Yeah, you did.”

Crap.

“So you’re a friend of Ev’s? I mean, you’re not in the music business or anything?” he asked, focusing on me once more. His face had cleared, his mood shifting. I couldn’t keep up. With the flats of his palms he beat out a swift rhythm on the balcony railing.

“No. I work in a bookshop a few blocks from here.”

“Okay.” He gazed down at me, apparently pleased with my answer. “So what was that phone call about?”

“Nothing.”

“No?” He stepped closer. “What happened to your nose?”

Immediately my hand flew up to block his view of my face. It was only a small bump, but still. “My sister broke it when we were little.”

“Don’t cover it. I think it’s cute.”

“Great.” I lowered my arm. He’d already seen the flaw, so what was the use?

“Why’d she break it?”

“She got mad one day and threw a toy truck at me.”

“Not how. Why?”

I smothered a sigh. “She wanted a kitten and I’m allergic to cats.”

“You couldn’t get a puppy instead?”

“I wanted to but Mom said no. My sister still blamed me.”

He scowled. “So you never had any pets growing up?”

I shook my head.

“That’s f**king terrible. Every kid should get to have a pet.” He appeared sincerely outraged on my behalf.

“Yeah, well, time’s past and I’m kind of over it now.” I frowned and swallowed some more beer. Everything told me I was going to need it. This conversation was just plain weird.

He stood, watching me with his faint smile. Just that easily I was riveted once again. My lips curled into some sort of vaguely hopeful idiotic half grin of their own accord.

Mal.

Mal Ericson.

Damn, he was beautiful. My long-dormant hormones broke into a dance of joy. Something was definitely going on in my pants. Something that hadn’t happened in a very long time.

“There go the crazy eyes again,” he whispered.

“Shit.” I shut my eyes tight. Lizzy walking in on me and my boyfriend seven years ago had been pretty damn embarrassing, especially given that she then ran and told mom. Not that mom had been coherent enough to care. This, however, topped it.

“Your cheeks have gone all rosy. Are you thinking rude thoughts about me, Anne?”

“No.”

“Liar,” he taunted in a soft voice. “You’re totally thinking of me with no pants on.”

I totally was.

“That’s just gross, dude. A massive invasion of my privacy.” He leaned in closer, his breath warming my ear. “Whatever you’re imagining, it’s bigger.”

“I’m not imagining anything.”

“I’m serious. It’s basically a monster. I cannot control it.”

“Malcolm–”

“You’re pretty much going to need a whip and chair to tame it, Anne.”

“Stop it.”

“That okay with you?”

I covered my hot face with my hands. Not giggling. Not even a little, because grown women didn’t do that shit. What was I, sixteen?

Inside the condo, Nate started shouting. The sound was only slightly muted by the sliding glass doors. My eyelids flew open as he hurled abuse at the TV, arms waving madly. Lauren laughed and my brain came back on line, sending all sorts of emergency signals throughout my body. Like I didn’t already realize I needed to get the hell out of there before I humiliated myself further. Good one, frontal lobe. At least I could think if I didn’t look at Mal directly.

This was a brilliant and timely discovery.

And it worked right up until he leaned over, getting in my face, making my lungs feel like they were about to explode.

“You have a little gap between your two front teeth,” he informed me, eyes narrowed in perusal. “You know that?”

“Yes.”

He studied me like I was an alien species, a curiosity that had been dumped on his doorstep. His gaze slid down my body. It wasn’t as if he could possibly see anything what with me wearing a coat, jeans, and boots. But that knowledge didn’t help at all. His lazy, appreciative grin made my knees knock. It took about forever for his gaze to return to my face.

Damn, he was good. I’d been professionally sullied without a single item of clothing removed.

“Your eyes are a pleasing shade of… Is that blue?” he asked. “It’s hard to tell in this light.”

I cleared my throat. “Yep, blue. Will you please not do that?”

“What?” he asked, sounding vaguely aggrieved. “What am I doing?”

“You’re staring at me and making me feel all uptight. I don’t like it.”

“You stared at me first. Besides, you were wired long before you came out here. If I had to guess, I’d say you’re uptight in general. But don’t worry, I’m here to help. Go on; tell Uncle Mal all your troubles.”

“Wow, that’s really kind of you. But I’m good.”

He shuffled closer and I shuffled back. Pity there was nowhere for me to go. “What were you talking about on the phone before, Anne?”

“Oh, you know … personal stuff. I don’t really want to discuss it.”

“You were saying your friend ripped you off and you’re going to lose your place, right?”

“Right.” I slumped, my heart hurting. Fucking Skye. I wasn’t a pleaser, but I did look after the people I loved. Stupid me, I thought that’s what you did. When mom got sick, I’d stepped up, done what needed doing. There’d been no other choice. The state of my finances right now, however, would suggest it had become a bit of a bad habit. “Yeah. That about sums it up.”

His eyes widened in sudden alarm. “Shit. Don’t cry. I’m not Davie. I don’t know how to deal with that.”

“Shut up, I’m not going to cry.” I blinked furiously, turning my face away. “I told you I didn’t want to talk about it.”

“Didn’t think you’d burst into tears. Christ.”

My beer was empty; time to go. Besides, I needed to escape before my watery eyes betrayed me. And Mal had to have better things to do with his time than talking to me. Teasing me. This had been the most excruciatingly awkward and awesome conversation in my entire life. For a while there, I’d forgotten all about my problems.

He’d made me smile.

“So.” I thrust my hand out for shaking, wanting that final contact, needing to touch him properly just once. He’d been on my bedroom wall back home for years. I’d end meeting him on a high if it killed me. “It’s been lovely to meet you.”

“Are you trying to get rid of me?” he asked, laughing.

“No, I–”

“Stop looking over my shoulder, Anne. Look me in the face,” he ordered.

“I am!”

“Are you scared you’re going to make crazy eyes at me again?”

“Yes, probably.” I clicked my tongue, exasperated. “Do you normally taunt your fans like this?”


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