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Built to Fall: Chapter 9


INSTEAD OF STAYING AT A HOTEL IN MIAMI, I rented a house on the beach. Three nights straight in Atlanta was more than enough for me. Here, I could step outside without being swarmed and surrounded. Not that I was under any illusion photographers wouldn’t use zoom lenses to capture my picture, but I had no intention of walking around with my dick out or doing blow by the window. To stay sane, I needed to be able to stretch my legs a little, not hole up in one room unless I was working.

Claire and Marta explored the house we’d spend the next two nights in while I kicked back on the expansive patio by the pool. Florida sun beat down on my face, absorbing into my black shorts and T-shirt.

From inside, Claire’s voice carried. “Are you sure I shouldn’t stay at the hotel?”

“Nope. It would be such a waste. There are ten bedrooms in this joint. Do you honestly think you’ll be in his way?” Marta asked.

“It’s hard to say with him,” Claire answered.

That had my lips twitching. I hadn’t been the friendliest to my new PR assistant, but it wasn’t really personal. People weren’t my thing, and young, sweet women were so far outside my wheelhouse, I had no idea how to handle them.

Claire wasn’t as skittish as I’d first assumed…and maybe not even as sweet. I’d gotten used to her presence. Hell, I didn’t even mind it. In fact, I’d told Marta to invite Claire to stay in the house with us.

“Get out here,” I called. “Both of you.”

They appeared together, a study of darkness and light. Like me, Marta was dressed in all black, but a lot less fabric. Claire wore a white sundress that would have been sweet and innocent if not for the diamond shape cutout below her breasts. When she shifted, I kept catching a glimpse of the under-curve of her tits, which messed up my mind.

I’d dismissed her outright when I first saw her on the plane, and it had been a relief. I didn’t want to be attracted to her. Our working relationship would be a hell of a lot simpler if I didn’t wonder what it would feel like to slip my fingers inside the cutout and trace the supple flesh peeking out.

“Think you can set up a dinner for tonight?” I asked Marta.

“Sure. Are we doing Cuban?”

“Sounds good. Invite the other guys,” I said.

Marta gawked. “Who do you mean? The other bands?”

I nodded, amused by her reaction. “Yes. See if they’re up for dinner. I could stand getting to know them, and I’m sure you’d rather have their company than mine.”

“Um…okay.” Marta swiveled around in a circle. “You’re serious, right?”


She went back inside to make phone calls, and Claire started to follow her.


Turning back, she took a step closer to me. “Do you need me?”

“You wouldn’t be in this house if I didn’t want you here.” I cocked my head, allowing myself a moment to look her up and down from behind my shades. “I don’t play games, and I always say what I mean. You’d be stashed at the hotel if you weren’t welcome.”

Her eyes rolled skyward. “Somehow, that wasn’t very comforting. But thank you anyway. This is by far the nicest house I’ve ever been in. A girl could get used to this.”

“Well, don’t.”

It seemed like she could see right through my mirrored lenses, from the startled glare she gave me.

“Enjoy the sun. I’ll go see if Marta needs help.”

Call me a sadist, but I enjoyed a pissed-off Claire far more than I should have. And from the bounce of her curls as she retreated, she was mighty pissed off.


Only The Seasons Change made it for dinner, but Marta had ordered enough Cuban food for an army. We sat on the patio, drinking mojitos, eating good food, and talking.

Well, they talked, I listened. I didn’t often feel out of place, especially not on my own tour, but tonight was an exception. These guys were all in their early twenties, just starting their lives, bright-eyed and fresh. My bright eyes had long ago faded.

“This house is crazy.” Iris, the lead singer, shook her head, then lifted her gaze to meet mine from the other end of the table. “Do you still feel awe at being here, or is this normal now?”

Rocking forward in my chair to rest my elbow by my plate, I contemplated her question. “Being able to afford to stay in beautiful places is normal to me and has been for a long time. The house is nice, no doubt. The views are spectacular. But I’m here for the privacy and the sunshine. The rest is cake.”

Iris pursed her pretty lips and leaned in like I had. “Why chase fame if privacy is so important?”

“Are you chasing fame? Is that what The Seasons Change is about?” I countered.

“Hell no!” Rodrigo pumped his fist above his head. “We’re about the music, baby.”

I tipped my chin at him. The kid never stopped moving, but I couldn’t find fault in his enthusiasm. “Me too. That’s always what I’ve been about. The landscape becomes more volatile the more successful you become, and the hoops you have to jump through change, but music is always the centerpiece of my motivation.”

Iris plucked a piece of her platinum hair. “They made me go blonde. I hate it so much.”

The woman was crazy gorgeous, but she was a rocker first. I could understand how being forced into a cupcake image ruffled her leather-and-metal feathers. “Yeah…well, record labels can be dicks.” I tugged at the short hair on the crown of my head. “One day, you can tell them to go to hell and stick up your middle fingers as you go gray.”

Marta gave my shoulder a shove. “Look at you, being all supportive. Who would have known?”

I returned her shove, chuckling. “I have my moments.”

Iris slumped back in her chair, her foot resting on her knee. “I just want to be scary. Who’s scared of a sorority-looking bitch?”

Claire raised her hand. “Me. You’re intimidating as hell until you smile.”

“But you’re scared of everyone, aren’t you, Claire?” I drawled, raising my drink to my lips, picturing her cowering at Dale. I’d never wanted someone to stand up for themselves more than I had then. At the same time, I’d been close to tearing Dale’s head from his shoulders for putting that fear in Claire’s eyes.

She turned her head sharply. “There’s a difference between being intimidated by how gorgeous and cool another woman is and being genuinely fearful of a man. You know that, right?” There was no anger or admonishment in Claire’s words. If anything, she’d said them gently, like I was an idiot who wouldn’t understand the difference.

Iris reached a hand across the table, grabbing Claire’s. “I’d never want to scare you, you beautiful honey bunny.”

Adam, the kid who’d stumbled out of Claire’s room in Atlanta, was seated beside her. He gently massaged her neck and murmured something too quiet for me to hear, fading the frown on her face.

The conversation moved on, and Marta slugged my bicep. “I thought we talked about you not being mean to Claire,” she hissed.

“I wasn’t trying to be mean.” Get a rise out of her, yeah. Mean, no. Sometimes, I came across that way unintentionally, though, and I was aware of that—something to work on in my next life.

“We should do two truths and a lie.” Adam clapped his hands, finally releasing Claire’s poor neck. “Who wants to go first?”

Marta pointed at me. “I think Dominic does.”

I slowly opened my palms. “I don’t know how to play.”

“Dude, it’s pretty self-explanatory. You tell us three things about yourself, and we have to figure out which is the lie,” Adam said.

I cocked my head, brows pinching. “You better go first. Show me how it’s done.”

He chuckled and wrapped his arm around Claire’s shoulders. “You’re more interesting. You go.”

Marta grumbled. “Someone fucking go, or I’m going to walk into the ocean.”

Claire grinned and lifted her mojito. “I’ll go. Don’t ruin your cute outfit on my account.” She took a sip, her eyes alight with amusement. “All right, here we go. I grew up in Texas and can lasso a calf with my eyes closed. I’ve been to exactly five concerts, counting the one in Atlanta. I got my very first tattoo last month, and it’s as big as my hand.”

Everyone started shouting their answers, most agreeing the concert one had to be false.

“What about you, Dom? What’s your answer?” Marta asked.

I scratched my chin under my beard, considering. “The tattoo. I don’t think Claire has a tattoo.”

“Well,” she cupped her cheeks, her nose wrinkling, “you’re wrong. I do have a tattoo. The lie was about Texas. My parents moved there when I went to college. I’ve never lassoed a calf, but I went to a rodeo once when I visited them.”

Adam tugged her closer. “We’ve gotta get you to more concerts.”

Marta raised her hand. “I want to see this tattoo.”

“I’d have to take my dress off, and as much as I like you guys,” Claire pointed around the table, skipping right past me, “that’s not happening.”

The game went on, but I didn’t have much interest in guessing the lies from the truth. After a while, I wandered from the table, turning the music up on the speakers. Latin beats hummed through the humid, ocean breeze. Marta pulled Claire to her feet and onto the center of the patio. They danced something vaguely resembling salsa, quick stepping and snapping hips. Claire’s dress floated around her legs, and when she raised her arms above her head, pivoting around in a tight circle, her cheeks were flushed and her chest dewy.

I tried to hang back and only watch, but when Adam took Claire away, Marta came for me.

“You’d better get off your old ass and dance with me.” She held her arms straight out and curled her fingers to the beat of the song, urging me to come to her.

Marta could be a dog with a bone, and she wouldn’t rest until I got on my feet, so I did. With one hand on her back, the other clutching hers, we rocked together through the rest of the song.

“Admit you’re having fun.” She poked my chest and gave me a mojito-grin.

“I’m having fun.” It was a slight exaggeration, but I wasn’t having a terrible time. I twirled her twice, then dipped her low. “Why are you dancing with me and not your girl?”

Iris and Rodrigo were hopping around, completely offbeat, while Marta kept stealing glances. It was pretty damn clear she wanted her arms wrapped around someone who wasn’t me.

“I’m biding my time, obviously.” She spun away from me, breaking out of my loose hold and cutting in between Adam and Claire.

With a laugh, Claire twirled my way. I told myself if I didn’t slide my arms around her, it would hurt her feelings—and I’d done enough of that tonight.

Her full breasts brushed my chest, and the warmth of her body seeped into mine, hotter than the Miami sun I’d bathed in all day. Her hands glided up my chest, coming to rest on my shoulders, and her head tipped back for her to see me. She moved like liquid in my arms, smooth and sensual.

“Hi,” she breathed.

“Hi, yourself.” My fingers splayed on the dip in her back, right above the slope of her round ass.

“Are you being nice now and not poking at my fear?” When I first met Claire, I’d thought her throaty voice didn’t match her sweet, soft exterior. Now that I’d spent some time with her, I realized how well it suited her quiet confidence and slowly blossoming sexiness.

“I was trying to tease you like I do Marta, not poke. I’m an asshole, but not that big of an asshole.”

Her lips curved into a barely-there smile. “Okay.”

“That’s it? I’m off the hook?” I pressed her back, bringing her a centimeter or two closer.

“Well…you didn’t play.”

“Play what?”

“Two truths and a lie. You missed your turn.”

I released a short, hard breath. “I don’t like games, Claire.”

Her bottom lip barely pushed out. “That’s a shame. They can be fun sometimes. Do it now.”

“Do what?” That pouty lip shouldn’t have been tempting, but it was. I could’ve leaned down and captured it between my teeth. That thought led me to wondering what sounds Claire would make if I did.

Her cool fingertips barely touched the side of my neck. “Tell your truths and your lie.”

It took a lot of effort not to allow my muscles to tighten and pull her even closer. Her breath smelled like mint and lime, and the spark in her eyes evoked a lightness in me I hadn’t known existed before that moment.

“All right.” I tipped my chin and brought my lips near her ear, wanting this game to be ours and ours alone. “I think about quitting the business and living on an island for the rest of my days all the time. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a professional soccer player and even got a full-ride offer to play in college. I don’t think love is as real and lasting as everyone tries to convince us it is.”

“Oh,” she breathed. “That’s easy. The first one is a lie. I think you love what you do.”

My head jerked back in surprise. “I’m impressed with how quickly you got that.”

Her smiling eyes twinkled. “I can picture you playing soccer. And the love thing…well, I agree to an extent, so…” She shimmied her shoulders to the music and spun out of my arms. “Thanks for playing!”

I followed the roll of her hips across the patio, and when she landed back in Adam’s arms, my gut twisted in an unfamiliar and unrecognizable knot. I’d be a fool to have any reaction beyond mild interest in any of them. A few weeks from now, the tour would be over, and with the exception of Marta, I’d probably never see any of these people again.


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