“SHE’S NOT KEEN on the idea? What kind of musician doesn’t jump at the chance to open a world tour for one of the hottest rock stars of the decade?” Kane Bad said into his rental car’s Bluetooth Friday evening. He should be back in New York City having a stiff drink and deciding which lucky lady would get on her knees for him. Instead, he was in the Podunk town of Oak Falls, Virginia, home to rolling fields, horse farms, and from what he’d heard, the most stubborn small-town musician on the planet—Sable Fucking Montgomery. His younger brother, rock star Johnny Bad, had promised his fiancée that her friend, the guitarist and lead singer for the band Surge, could open for his upcoming tour. As Johnny and his band’s manager, it was up to Kane to make sure Sable was good enough for the gig. If she rocked the stage and if her band wasn’t shit, he’d close the deal with the woman who wasn’t keen on accepting the opportunity of a lifetime. She was obviously either a prima donna or an idiot.
His money was on both.
“The kind that doesn’t want the gig. I don’t know why you bothered going to see her play,” Victoria “Victory” Braden said. Victory owned Blank Space Entertainment, the label that represented Johnny and his band, Bad Intentions. She was also one of Johnny’s fiancée Jillian Braden’s many cousins. “I met Sable at my cousin Nick’s wedding, and trust me, she has zero interest in making it big. If she did, she’d have ridden her brother’s coattails long ago.” Axsel Montgomery was the lead guitarist in the group Inferno, and he was nearly as famous as Johnny.
“I’m here to appease my future sister-in-law, whom I adore and John loves more than life itself. I didn’t think he was serious about this woman opening for the tour until he called me a little while ago to tell me how excited Jilly was.” Kane had been so sure this was a placating trip, he hadn’t even ordered a background check on Sable or her bandmates. He’d gone online to try to find something—anything—about them but found nothing beyond comments in music forums and a few poorly taken cell-phone videos of the band playing at local festivals. None of which were clear enough to get a handle on their sound or their image.
“You should save your time and go back to New York. Let me do my job instead of being hell-bent on micromanaging Johnny’s career.”
“Do I need to remind you how we got here?” Kane owned businesses and properties up and down the East Coast. He’d stepped in to manage his brother’s career, and his band, after it came to light that Johnny’s previous manager had not only spent years paying a groupie hush money to keep quiet about a daughter of Johnny’s that his brother hadn’t known existed, but he’d also embezzled more than a million dollars. Kane didn’t have any experience managing musicians, but for a man who managed billion-dollar businesses for a living, he assumed it couldn’t be nearly that complex. He’d take a boardroom over this nonsense any day, but there was nothing he wouldn’t do for his family.
“I get it, Kane. You’re not leaving anything to chance. But it’s the middle of January, and since the tour’s been moved up to March to accommodate extra shows in two of the larger venues, we don’t have much time. And you know how important pre-event publicity is. I’ll give you twenty-four hours. If you can’t get her to agree to it by then, I’m doing my job and hiring another band to open so Johnny’s tour doesn’t go up in flames.”
Kane scoffed. “If they’re good, I won’t need that long. I can seal a deal with my eyes closed. And for the record, Johnny could have a piss-poor opening act, and fans would still be clamoring for more of him.”
“That’s not the point, and you know it. He doesn’t need more bad press.”
“No shit. That’s why I’m here.” They’d finally gotten past the media nightmare surrounding Johnny’s situation. The embezzling bastard was in prison, Johnny and his fourteen-year-old daughter, Zoey, had settled into a new life in Maryland with Jillian, and they had twins on the way. Kane had never seen his brother happier, and he didn’t want to upset their apple cart. But if this Sable woman and her band weren’t stellar onstage, he’d give Victoria the go-ahead and find some way to make it up to his future sister-in-law.
He ended the call and pushed the pedal to the metal. The sooner he got the job done, the sooner he could return to civilization. But as he passed rural farmhouses and stark fields, his speed dropped. He pumped the gas, but the car sputtered and stalled.
He maneuvered to the side of the road and tried to restart it, but the damn thing was dead. He should have known it was going to be a crappy day when he’d spilled espresso on his Tom Ford suit on the way into his first morning meeting.
He popped the hood and got out to take a look, cursing under his breath as the brisk winter air stung his cheeks. This was what he hated about traveling. Relying on other people’s subpar things—vehicles, hotels, airlines. He had a private jet and a fleet of pristine cars at his disposal and owned several luxurious hotels and properties. Yet here he was, stuck on the side of the road in this godforsaken town. He rolled up the sleeves of his dress shirt to check the oil and realized he didn’t have a rag.
Par for the fucking course.
He wasn’t about to ruin a six-thousand-dollar suit for a rental car. He reached for his phone to call for a tow just as an old cherry-red pickup truck pulled up behind him. A tall woman climbed out of the driver’s seat wearing baggy overalls speckled with paint and a bulky blue jacket. Her dark hair was piled on her head in what his younger sisters referred to as a messy bun, with strands sticking out all over. Their eyes connected, causing an arousing thrum of heat and an unfamiliar clench in his chest, overshadowing the irritation that had consumed him. He was used to women stirring awareness below his belt, but this new sensation threw him for a loop. She sauntered toward him, bringing her full lips, high cheekbones, and slightly upturned nose into focus, her mesmerizing sea-green eyes drawing his full attention.
“Need a hand?” she asked in a voice as sweet and rough as whiskey.
Wasn’t she adorable, thinking she could help? She probably saw the Mercedes, got an eyeful of him, and thought it was her lucky day. Maybe it was his lucky day, too. Not that he had time to entertain the attraction, but for her he might find the time. Sure enough, her gaze drifted down the length of him, interest gleaming in her eyes. At six-plus feet, with jet-black hair, perfectly manicured scruff, a body full of tattoos, and expertly tailored clothes, he was used to getting more than his fair share of female attention.
“Thanks, sweetheart, but I’ve got it under control.” He closed the hood.
She stopped a few feet away and planted a hand on her hip, eyes narrowing, a scowl forming on those plump lips. “You sure? I’m pretty handy with cars.”
Maybe in the back seat, which doesn’t seem like such a bad idea at the moment. “I’m sure you are. But I’ve got this.”
Her brows lifted, eyes sharpening. “I can see that by how well your fancy car is running. Sure you don’t want a hand?”
He wasn’t much for country girls, but he liked her sass. He raked his gaze down the length of her, imagining what she looked like without those baggy clothes. He’d bet she had smoking curves and long legs that would feel fucking fantastic wrapped around him. He didn’t even have to wonder what she looked like without the usual mask of makeup some women wore. She was makeup free and stunning. If he was stuck in this rinky-dink town overnight, he might as well enjoy himself.
“With the car,” she hissed, bringing his eyes back to hers.
Damn. This one had claws and breathed fire. A definite plus in his book. Holding her gaze, he closed the distance between them. “You sure that’s all you’re offering?”
Her eyes narrowed even more, but there was no hiding the hunger in them. “Keep it in your pants, Casanova. I don’t share space with arrogant city boys.”
“I assure you, I’m no boy, and my arrogance is well earned.”
“Not a boy, huh?” She lifted her chin defiantly. “Ever wrangled a steer? Built a barn? Get those tattooed hands dirty with something other than money?” Before he could respond, she said, “You reek of entitlement, and you’ve already taken up too much of my time. Good luck with your shitmobile.” She turned and stalked away.
“Says the woman driving a twenty-year-old truck,” he called after her, amused.
She looked over her shoulder with a victorious smile. “Forty-plus years, and she still purrs like a kitten.” As she climbed into the driver’s seat, she hollered, “Call Charley’s Auto over in Rockingham. They’ll fix you up.”
He watched her drive away and called roadside assistance. When he mentioned Charley’s, they said Rockingham was two hours away, and they’d send someone from a local repair shop.
Half an hour later he was still thinking about the way the paint-speckled, sass-mouthed beauty had fucked with him when a flatbed tow truck arrived. He went to meet the driver and was surprised to see the snarky brunette climb out.
“Hello again, sweetheart. You drive for the auto shop? Does your old man own it or something?”
“I own it, and if you call me sweetheart again, I’ll hook you up to this flatbed and drag you down the road.” She held out her hand, flecks of gold shimmering in her serious eyes. “Sable Montgomery, and you are?”
Fucked. That’s what he was.
He’d wanted to fly under the radar until he’d heard her perform, but he couldn’t very well do that now. He should have done his homework. Sable owning an auto shop was news to him, and it made her even more intriguing. “Kane Bad. I’m here on behalf of Johnny Bad to listen to your band play.”
He reached for her hand, but she pulled it away, eyes shooting daggers. “I already told Jilly I’m not interested.” She strode away and began lowering the lift.
“How can you turn down an offer that hasn’t been made yet?”
“Pretty freaking easily.”
“And here I thought Southern women were supposed to be hospitable.”
She didn’t bother to respond as she loaded the car onto the lift, tight jawed and furious. She moved with the confidence of an expert and the stealth of a she-panther. Which he found strangely, and insanely, sexy.
On the way back to town, she kept her eyes trained on the road. “The car just sputtered and stopped?” she asked icily.
A safe subject. Smart woman. “That’s right. It’s probably the transmission. Think your mechanic can get it fixed quickly?”
She gripped the steering wheel tighter. “It’s more likely an ECU failure. These cars are known for them.”
“Engine control unit. The brain of the vehicle. It manages and controls various aspects of the engine’s performance.” She glanced at him, smirking. “Don’t tax your pretty-boy head over it. I’ll get it taken care of, sweetheart.”
He laughed. “So you do have a sense of humor.”
“And a short fuse for bullshit, so how about you ride and not talk?”
“Afraid of a little conversation?”
“You didn’t look uninterested when you were checking me out back there.”
She scoffed. “Dream on, city boy. Men like you are a dime a dozen.”
“Yeah? Are there many self-made billionaires out here?” Kane disliked people who threw their status around, but the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them, like a young boy trying to impress a girl instead of a man who needed to impress no one.
“Is that how you win women over? You wave money and they come running to stroke your overinflated ego?”
“Do I look like a man who needs to wave money to get women to stroke my ego? Or anything else?” He leaned closer, lowering his voice. “Before you answer that, remember, I was there. I saw the way your eyes traveled over my body.” He sat back. “But if that’s how you want to play it, it’s cool. It’s not like I’d sleep with a woman I’m going to do business with.”
“I’m just saying—”
She glowered at him. “We’re not doing business together, and I’m definitely not fucking you.”
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