MY EYES fluttered open when the car came to a stop at a red light. It was dark outside and raining hard enough to make visibility an issue, but I figured we had to be close now. I’d been traveling for days… no, weeks. The concept of sleeping in my own bed seemed like a dream or a decadent luxury. I was afraid to get too excited on the off chance I found myself being escorted to another hotel in yet another city. I slipped my headphones off and smiled as I peered out the streaked window. The neon lights of a restaurant three doors down splattered a rainbow of color along the slick pavement in front of my Tribeca building. I was home. Finally.
“I’ll come up with you to make sure nothing is out of the ordinary in your apartment.”
“Don’t worry about my place, Brian. It’s fine. I’ll call you if I see anything suspicious,” I said as I reached for the door handle.
“Sir, I take your safety seriously. It’s my job to—”
I twisted in my seat and gave my earnest bodyguard a sharp look I hoped wasn’t ruined by the shadowy interior. “Look, I appreciate your concern, but I can handle my safety and well-being from here. I’m a big boy and this is a secure building. I’ll call you if anything looks out of place. This is where we say good-bye.” I paused to stuff my headphones into my backpack before giving him an over-the-top lascivious grin. “Unless you want to come upstairs for another reason. You strike me as the shy type, but—”
“I’m straight, sir,” he replied in a deadpan tone.
I narrowed my eyes as though I wasn’t convinced he was telling the truth, and then winked. “Just playin’ with you, Bri. Catch you later.”
Brian yanked my arm. “Not so fast. There are five young women loitering near the entrance and two men with large cameras. I’m going with you.”
I sighed heavily as the car door opened. I was unsurprised to find a doorman waiting to escort me from the curb to my building. It was hard to believe I ever thought life in the limelight would be fun. At the moment, it felt like hell. And it was killing my homecoming buzz big-time.
I made a mad dash to the entrance but stopped briefly to wave at the young women screaming my name before I darted toward the elevators. I wished I had enough energy to soak in the familiar ambience of the small contemporary lobby with its contrasting dark-wood-planked walls and marble-slab reception desk and the two enormous drum shade chandeliers overhead. It was chic and sexy. The kind of place I’d wanted to build once upon a time.
Most of my fans knew if I hadn’t found music and eventually landed a gig as lead guitarist in a fledgling rock-and-roll band, I’d planned on becoming an architect. I’d wanted to build dazzling skyscrapers that kissed the clouds with improbable grace. I wanted to be the next Frank Gehry, not the next Keith Richards. But life had taken an odd turn. Instead of drafting innovative engineering feats, I was dodging rabid fans after completing the international leg of Spiral’s world tour. The weird factor was hard to ignore most days. However, it barely registered now. After months abroad I was home. And all I wanted was my bed.
The ride to the seventeenth floor didn’t take long, which was good for Brian’s sake. I should have known my studio-appointed bodyguard wouldn’t take no for an answer. He was at my heels with his hand on the door before the elevator had a chance to whisk me away. I didn’t waste my breath arguing. As he’d said, he was only doing his job. I studied his stone-faced countenance and wished I had the energy to mess with him. The guy was very ordinary. Brown hair, brown eyes. Though I suppose the same could be said for me. He had to be somewhere around my age too. But normal thirty-two-year-olds didn’t have a stick up their asses 24-7. Or did they? I probably wasn’t the best judge regarding normal behavior anymore.
I fumbled for my key as I strode toward my corner unit.
“Let me help you, sir.” Brian deftly snatched the key from my hand and inserted it into the lock before I could protest. He immediately froze in place and furrowed his brow. “Someone is on the premises. I was told you had a houseguest, but—”
“A houseguest?” I felt my forehead crease in puzzlement. What the fuck was he talking about? God, I was tired. Job or not, I was done here. I leaned against the door with one hand outstretched. “Hand it over. You’ve officially crossed the line into pissing-off-Isaac territory. Give me—”
The door unexpectedly swung open from the inside. I fell sideways into my condo and almost landed on my ass before I righted myself.
“Welcome home, Ize! Long time, no see.”
I was immediately enveloped in a bearlike hug by a mountain of a man. I made a mewling noise of protest and pushed at his chest. When he finally released me, I punched my assailant in the stomach and then moved past him into my spacious great room.
“Sir, your name?” Brian asked in a threatening tone. He was poised to attack, seemingly unconcerned the other guy had him by at least four inches and twenty-five pounds.
“Adam McBride. Nice to meet ya.”
I listened with exasperation to their abbreviated greeting. This was not what I’d envisioned. At all. I wanted peace and quiet; a refuge from my insane life in a band. Instead I got an overzealous bodyguard and an unexpected houseguest.
“It’s fine, Brian. You can go,” I said, casting a dirty look at my old high school buddy. “He’s cool. Sort of.”
“If you’re sure.”
“Brian….” I pointed meaningfully at the open door. When he paused to remind me he’d programmed his number into my cell, I didn’t bother to hide my eye roll. Or curb my sarcastic response. “Great. If I get horny, I’ll give you a call.”
“I’m straight, si—”
I slammed the door and locked it before pivoting to glare at Adam with my hands on my hips. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“Nice trip, honey?” he countered with a winning grin, brushing his dark bangs away from his eyes.
I flung my backpack across the rough-hewn hardwood floor. It skidded to a halt when it met the edge of the bright red rug anchoring the black leather sofa and barcelona chairs situated in front of an enormous flat-screen television. Adam chuckled softly as he followed me into the open kitchen.
“Am I going nuts, or did you stay for a week and forget to move out? You’re squatting,” I snarked.
“It’s called extended stay house-sitting, not squatting.” He flashed another smile, then gestured toward the door. “So you travel with a bodyguard now?”
I looked out at the great room behind him and noted that my usually sparsely furnished home was sullied with crap that wasn’t mine. A battered acoustic guitar with a Smiths sticker leaned against the sofa. A pair of grungy-looking red Converse high-tops was tucked under the glass coffee table, which was littered with at least five Sports Illustrateds. Mysterious crumbs dotted the rug. High-school friend or not, I was going to hurt him.
“No. Well, yes, but—don’t distract me.” I wasn’t in the mood to discuss fanatical fans or souped-up security. I poured myself a glass of water and leaned against the counter. “We talked in July. What happened to one week in Manhattan to clear your head? It’s September now. You said you and Deb—”
“We got divorced.” His tone was casual. Not sad or pensive. It was the same general cadence and pitch one might use to describe the color of the sky on any random day.
“Divorced. Past tense? I thought you just needed some time apart. Are you okay?”
Adam slumped into a barstool. Then he sighed theatrically before draping himself over the marble island. I tousled his wavy dark hair. When he didn’t budge, I pulled it. Hard. He yelped, then sat up and gave me a withering look tinged with something resembling defeat.
“I’m fine. It’s better this way.”
I stared at him for a long moment. Sure, I was irritated to find I wasn’t alone. If I had my way, I would already be in bed with the covers drawn over my head, preparing for serious hibernation. But the good-looking goofball at my kitchen island wasn’t someone I could turn away easily.
Adam McBride was an old friend. Technically he was my best friend from high school’s older brother. But I’d spent more time at Ned’s house during my teen years than at my own. Ned and I had a ton of classes together and had often paired up as lab partners because we were both serious students. If I wasn’t studying with Ned, I was taking guitar lessons with his eldest brother, Ian, and hoping for a glimpse of Adam. Yep. He was my first crush. Who could blame me? The guy literally looked like Superman.
Adam was six foot four, muscular, and fit with dark hair, brilliant blue eyes, a square jaw, and chiseled cheekbones. He was gregarious, charming, handsome, and had been a star athlete on the football team. But he was straight, and until five minutes ago, I assumed he was a married man who had a few issues to work through.
Though truthfully I hadn’t thought twice about Adam or his marriage problems after I’d agreed he could stay at my place while I was out of the country. I’d confirmed his name with the building staff and made up something about him house-sitting. Out of sight, out of mind. I’d outgrown my teenage crush years ago. And I’d been too busy this summer to think about much beyond Spiral’s outlandish schedule.
No one had warned us about the endless travel involved in promoting a successful rock-and-roll band. Our lives were consumed by concerts, radio appearances, and television gigs. We’d just wrapped up the European leg of our world tour and were scheduled to continue with a few East Coast dates in a couple of weeks. I’d had no time to think about life outside of Spiral.
Until it showed up on my doorstep and didn’t leave.
I pursed my lips and took a quick glance at my watch. Ten o’clock. According to my body, however, it was three in the morning. Whether or not Adam belonged here, he looked mighty at home, and he certainly wasn’t going anywhere tonight. I grabbed a bottle of chardonnay from my wine refrigerator and two wineglasses.