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Three weeks later, Sunday, July 9th, South Florida Fairgrounds, Sound Advice Amphitheatre, West Palm Beach
She was a bustier-wearing, hard-living, tabloid-headlining, top-of-her-game rock star. And as of tonight, Jason Wilson was responsible for keeping her alive.
Lord Jesus God, what had No gotten him into?
Arms crossed over his chest, legs set wide, Jase stood well back in the wings, watching Sweet Baby Jane gyrate to a hard and heavy rock beat, then strut her stuff across the stage on needle-sharp heels, gearing up to close the first of three West Palm Beach bookings.
Sweet mercy, did the woman have stuff to strut.
No wonder they called her sold-out tour Fire and Soul. Sweet Baby Jane was the flesh-and-blood component of both the fire and the soul.
A wild, thick tangle of long blond hair streaked with shots of chestnut bounced on top of her head. Her lips were painted fireball red. She had a face made for magazine covers and, from where Jase was standing, put the wet in wet dreams. And her body—whoa. That was someplace he wasn't going to go within a Baghdad mile of.
She wasn't any bigger than a bug, her waist so small he figured one of his headbands would fit around it. Best guess, without those heels she'd probably top out at a little over five feet.
It was more than obvious that she was in great shape. Fighting shape. All slim limbs, toned muscle, and steady agility, she moved tirelessly and sometimes frenetically all the hell over the outdoor stage, her skin covered in a glittering sheen of perspiration.
Wet, he thought again. Very. Wet. Dreams.
He shook off the thought, tuned back into her performance. She had a set of pipes; he'd give her that. Although why she wanted to belt out that rock crap when she could groove on a sweet country ballad was beyond him. So was the reason she wanted to wear all that makeup and those skimpy, outrageous clothes—not to mention she seemed to have a thing for tattoos. Small ones—one on her neck, another on her biceps, and one just above her right breast. Probably more he couldn't see, all with some deep, mystical meaning known only to her, no doubt. Babes, he'd learned, were like that.
Then there was the pierced belly button. For some reason, he actually found that a little scary.
But he wasn't here to critique her choice of music—or her wardrobe or her body art. Or, for that matter, to wonder what she saw in Derek McCoy, the bleached-blond pretty-boy drummer with the ostrich-skin pants painted on so tight they announced to the world that he dressed to the left.
To each his own. Jase was here to provide security, not judge the rock world's best bad girl and her bed partners as reported by Entertainer Magazine and half a dozen other rags.
And he was here to prove himself. If not in No's eyes, in his own. He had a lot of proving to do.
Who'd a thunk it? Plowboy Wilson, country boy with a capital C, a personal securities specialist to a rock star. And not just any rock star. According to her file, she was big business, big draw, and major star power.
She was also in a little bit of trouble. Trouble of the crazed-stalker-fan variety.
Jase scanned the sea of fans rocking to the music and crowding the stage. What a mob. Seemed big venues had many things in common—whether it was the WWA drawing the crowd or Sweet Baby Jane. The scent of beer, weed, BO, and about a hundred or so different perfumes and colognes hung in the charged air like smoke.
House security was doing a good job keeping the crowd from mobbing the stage, but since Jase was officially on the payroll as of tonight, he was ready to move in if things got out of control.
The only thing out of control right now, though, was Sweet Baby Jane. Damn, she was a sight. And though she was a mite of a thing, onstage and in person she projected a much bigger presence than on TV or in print. Sure, he'd known who she was. He wasn't a rocker, but he didn't live under a rock, either.
She was "the next big thing," the current decade's answer to what you get when you cross Janis Joplin, Joss Stone, and Madonna.
And No trusted him to protect her. He shook his head, still bowled over by that vote of confidence. Never figured he'd see that on his résumé.
"Max Cogan is an old friend of Dad's," No had informed him at staffing yesterday, explaining about a call from a new client. "They served in 'Nam together."
Ethan, Dallas, and Eve had also joined them at morning staffing, where they doled out assignments and briefed one another on their current clients.
"Anyway, Max manages Janey Perkins—"
"Wait, wait, wait," Eve interrupted her brother, her blue eyes wide with excitement. "Dad is friends with rocker Sweet Baby Jane's manager? Holy shit. Do you suppose I could get her autograph?"
Three sets of eyes—all blue like Eve's—turned on the little sister whom no one in the group would ever mistake for a ditsy blonde.
Jase had heard stories about Eve Garrett—Eve McClain now—from No. Some of them made his short hairs curl. She was sharp and she was shrewd, and behind those cover-girl looks and misty blue eyes, she could hold her own with a Ranger chalk if she had to.
She had to be tough to keep up with the Garrett brothers, all of whom Jase respected. Hell. More than respected. He liked them. Admired them. They were heroes. Veterans. All ex–special ops, like Jase, which, in a way, made them all brothers. Sure, one gene pool had given the Garrett men their tall, dark good looks and another had given Jase a fairer complexion and a little less height, so it was obvious there was no blood relationship, but they were brothers, just the same.
And he was grateful as hell that all four Garretts—Eve, who'd once been a Secret Service agent, included—had given him a thumbs-up when Nolan had introduced him to them three weeks ago and they'd welcomed him to the firm.
Their father, Wes, a Vietnam veteran, had founded E.D.E.N. Securities, Inc., after he'd retired from the West Palm PD. Now, under the Garrett siblings' capable hands, E.D.E.N. had expanded and built on Wes's principles of integrity, trust, and excellence.
Jase was impressed as hell. He'd spent the past weeks familiarizing himself with company protocol, done some job shadowing, and sketched out a plant security plan that had been implemented. But he'd been itching for his first hard assignment. He'd do anything. Night security. Surveillance. Hell, he'd clean the head if they wanted him to, but that day at staffing, he'd been ready for something other than paperwork.
"I was just asking," Eve had said with a roll of her eyes when her brothers' "give us a break" stares told her what they thought of that idea of meeting the star.
"Cogan wants us to head up all aspects of security for Janey. Or Baby. Or Sweet. Or whatever the hell she wants to be called," No had finished with a frown.
Then he'd tossed a file folder across the conference table toward Jase. "The tour moves from Miami to West Palm tonight and E.D.E.N.'s been tagged to provide personal and ongoing security for the star. This one's yours, Plowboy."
Jase had blinked. Stared at the folder. Looked around the table to see if anyone was laughing, like No had just pulled a big joke or something. No one was.
He picked up the folder. Squinted at his boss. "No shit?"
That had made them laugh.
"No shit," No confirmed with a grin. "Read the file. It's a six-month contract, subject to renewal. Pack a bag and head over to the fairgrounds. You're about to break your cherry big-time."
And that had made Jase laugh. A nervous, thanks-for-the-vote-of-confidence laugh.
He wasn't laughing now. Sweet Baby Jane rock star was a tornado. A firestorm. He was going to have to pull out all the stops to keep up with her.
"Whatever it takes," No had said.
Looked like it was going to take an army, Jase thought as she skipped across the stage, then leaped gracefully up onto a speaker. Fist in the air, she belted out the last notes to a hard-living, hard-drinking song about life and love on the road.
Yeah. It was going to take an army all right. An army of one.
The booze from the free bar flowed like a fountain. Janey avoided it and greedily gulped bottled water while around her everyone helped themselves to their alcohol of choice and a steaming buffet filled with local Cuban cuisine that ranged from black beans to plantains. Max Cogan, her manager and ever the promoter, schmoozed with the press, the local radio jocks, and their sponsors.
She was always dry after a concert. Dry and ready for some time to wind down alone. But the show was never officially over until the after-concert party wound down. Fans with backstage passes shoved concert programs under her nose and the noses of her band members and backup singers, then flushed red when they scored a much-coveted autograph.
As usual, her drummer, Derek McCoy, was eating it up with a spoon and making his usual and tiresome post-concert play for her.
"You were hot tonight, babe." Slinging his arm over her shoulders and pulling her close, Derek made a big show of nuzzling her neck like it was something he had a right to do—which he sure as hell didn't. If you believed the tabloids, however, Derek was her on-again, off-again love interest. Derek would like nothing more than to make those stories true.
Wasn't going to happen.
He smelled like booze and smoke and the expensive leather of the black vest he wore over his bare chest. Twin nipple rings peeked out with winking diamonds whenever he moved. From the corner of her eye, Janey caught a glimpse of Chris Ramsey's video recorder catching all the action. Janey gritted her teeth, not for the first time wishing she'd never let Max talk her into letting the freelance videographer tape the tour for an MTV documentary. The last image she wanted preserved for posterity was one of her and Derek in a clinch.
"What do you say we put a cap on the night in my room?" Derek continued, not taking Janey's hint when she pushed against his side. "We can make the night even hotter."
Janey squirmed out from under Derek's imprisoning arm. For the sake of the gathered crowd, she forced a smile rather than snarl at him. "Okay, we've gone over this before, but for clarity's sake, what part of ‘when hell freezes over' isn't registering with you?" she asked sweetly so only Derek could hear.
How a man with such a swaggering ego could affect the look of a pouty little brat she'd never know.
"You know, one of these days, I'm going to quit askin'," Derek warned through a smile that held more venom than regret.
She waggled her almost empty bottle of water at him. "This is me—living for the day you keep that promise."
She was beyond caring that she'd dealt his massive ego another blow. Derek was becoming a pest—one she really didn't have time to deal with.
"'Fraid you can't handle my brand of action?" he taunted with a sneer.
She couldn't help it. She laughed. Derek considered himself God's gift, and it royally pissed him off that she wasn't interested in unwrapping his "package." "If that's what you want to think, you just run with it."
She turned to walk away, but he grabbed her arm, jerked her up tight against him, and pressed his mouth to her ear. "You're a cock tease, you know that? Sometimes I wonder why I even bother. But there's one thing I do know. One of these days, you're going to be sorry for stringing me along. Very, very sorry."
Janey dealt with the little shot of unease that zipped through her blood by turning it into outrage. She glared from his hand where it wrapped in a bruising grip around her upper arm to the ugly anger in his eyes. "You are very close to crossing a line here, Derek. Get your hand off my arm and walk away and I'll chalk up your little tirade to the booze and a bad day. . . .
"Now," she ordered when several seconds passed and he still hadn't let go of her.
"Fuck it," he swore, and released her with a flourish. "No skin off my ass." And finally, he walked away.
After a deep breath, Janey finished her water and grabbed another bottle, her attention suddenly riveted on a clean-cut, all-American-boy type approaching her.
Just what the doctor ordered. A diversion from that nasty little scene with Derek. And what a diversion. He was not the prototype of her usual fan, who preferred grunge to gleam. This boy practically shined.
His hair—a sun-bleached brown—was buzz-cut, his black T-shirt and jeans pin-neat and free of holes. Not a scrap of leather, a piercing, or a soul patch in sight. His complexion was apple-pie and wholesome. She'd guess him at about five nine, five ten. And while it was obvious he'd spent hours pumping weights and bulking up the impressive muscles that strained the seams of his black T-shirt, she'd bet tonight's gate receipts that those baby blues hadn't witnessed half the things most rocker fans his age had seen.
Innocence. Something about him flat-out shouted it.
She couldn't resist smiling at him as he came within a yard of her. And when he actually blushed, she felt a curious surge of protective instinct. All that naïveté was refreshing. And kind of cute. So was he—in a baby-face, beach-boy-with-a-body kind of way.
For the first time ever, she considered the merits of a one-night stand. That's how hot he was.
And that's how deprived you are, she told herself with a self-effacing smile. Ah, the downside of celibacy.
Oh well. A little harmless flirting couldn't hurt.
"Hi, sweetie." She was still jazzed on the residual adrenaline that always gave her a buzz during and after a solid performance. Plus, she was a little revved up from her face-off with Derek. "You a member of the fan club? And does your momma know you're out this late?" she added with a teasing grin.
He smiled then. All slow and amused and lazy. And something amazing happened to his face. It transitioned from Babe in Toyland to just plain babe. Twin dimples dented his clean-shaven cheeks. The Michael Douglas cleft in his chin widened. And though he couldn't have been much more than seventeen, he suddenly looked a whole lot older—and just a little more naughty than he might be nice.
The fleeting notion of groping a groupie raised its ugly head again. Especially when she got a whiff of him. Clean. Mostly he just smelled clean. It was a turn-on of epic proportions.
She gave herself a mental head slap while a hundred conversations from the gathered crowd buzzed around them. Can we say statutory rape?
"Actually," he said, in a voice that was gruff and gravelly and way outdistanced the youthful picture he made, "I'm on the payroll."
She brushed a fall of damp hair behind her ear, ran the cool water bottle over her forehead. "Yeah?"
She did a double take. Looked him up and down.
"Jason Wilson, ma'am." He offered his hand. "I'm your new securities specialist."
Janey blinked. Then blinked again as a wave of disbelief rose inside her like a helium balloon. She pushed out a laugh.
"That's a joke, right?"
He tilted his head, shrugged. "No, ma'am. No joke."
"Oh, for the love of . . . Max!" she yelled, and, grabbing Jason's hand, tugged him across the room in her manager's direction.
"Yo, what's up?" Max Coogan turned, cigarette in one hand, gin in the other, still smiling over something a local sponsor had said. He sobered abruptly when he saw her face. "What? What's wrong?"
"By any chance, have you met my new bodyguard?"
Max's brows rose as he glanced from Janey to the "bodyguard" in question. He managed an uneasy smile. "Problem?"
"Problem?" She couldn't believe this. "Yeah, there's a problem. While he plays bodyguard for me . . . who's gonna babysit him?"
Janey rode the hotel elevator in silence, tuning out Max and her new "bodyguard's" conversation as they ascended to the Breakers' penthouse suite.
She mentally shook her head and thought back to the conversation that had landed her in this position in the first place. It had been Monday night, after the third and last Miami concert.
"Things are getting out of control, snooks," Max had said, slumping in the backseat beside her as the limo crept away from the back entrance of the concert hall. He'd tugged at his ripped jacket sleeve, then given up on setting it right, with a disgusted grunt.
As usual after a concert these days, hundreds of fans had crowded next to the stretch, screaming her name, some of them crying, some of them stoned, all of them hoping for a glimpse of their rock idol behind the bulletproof smoked-glass windows.
"And I'm getting too old for this shit," he'd added wearily.
"I'm getting too old for it." The adrenaline rush that always followed a performance had started to let her down.
Copyright © 2006 by Cindy Gerard