Hillbilly Rockstar
An Excerpt From
Hillbilly Rockstar
Chapter One
 

After country music star Devin McClain finished a performance, he needed three things: a shower, a woman and a beer.

Not necessarily in that order.

He’d just handed the naked blonde a towel when someone started pounding on his hotel room door.

Devin snagged a complimentary robe and lifted an eyebrow at the curvy woman who hadn’t bothered to cover herself. “Please tell me that ain’t a jealous boyfriend lookin’ for you.”

“No,” she said in a breathy whisper.

He wandered to the door and peered through the peephole. What was his road manager, Crash Cavanaugh, doing here? Devin opened the door. “What’s goin’ on?”

Crash’s face was pasty white even beneath his beard. “Jesus, Devin.” The burly man barreled in and pulled Devin into a bone-crushing hug. “I’m so glad it wasn’t you. Sucks for JT, but damn, man . . .”

“What happened?”

“It’s . . .” His gaze flicked over to the woman peeking around the bathroom doorframe. “Hey, darlin’. You wanna shut the door so I can have a private word with my boss?”

“Sure.”

The door closed.

Now Devin was well past alarmed. “Crash, start talkin’.”

Crash stilled. Then his eyes met Devin’s. “Who knew you’d be in a hotel room tonight instead of on your tour bus?”

“You. I probably told Jase and Gage. I pretty much grabbed my duffel and . . .” What was the blonde’s name? “Gretchen and I skipped the party to head straight here.”

“Did you tell JT that he could crash on your bus tonight?”

“No. Why?”

“Looks like he decided to take a nap in your bed. Someone got onto the bus and beat the shit outta him with a baseball bat.”

Devin’s entire body seized up. “Are you fucking kiddin’ me?”

“No.”

“How is he?”

“Unconscious and in the ICU. He’d probably be dead if Check hadn’t dropped off your guitar after the show. He noticed the bus door was open—which it ain’t ever supposed to be. He went inside and saw your hat on the dresser, your boots on the floor and someone in the bed underneath the covers, blood everywhere. He thought . . .”

“It was me.”

Crash nodded. “He freaked out, called 911 and tracked me down. Big mess when the ambulance arrived because people were still hanging around after Dixon Davis’s concert ended. Only when the stretcher came out of the bus did we see that it was JT.” He ran his hand down his beard and sighed. “Scariest fifteen minutes of my life, man. Don’t know if there were any reporters around. But there were plenty of fans with cell phones. Rumors are gonna run rampant. You don’t need that.”

“I could give a damn about any of that when JT’s in the hospital.” Devin dropped onto the sofa. “Give me a minute to get my head on straight and then we’ll go to the hospital.”

“I don’t gotta tell you that this bullshit has escalated. Which means we’re making some changes effective immediately.”

“Now’s not the time—”

“It goddamn is the time,” Crash said hotly. “The threats are real, Devin. Whoever has been doin’ this the last eighteen months kicked it up a notch tonight.”

He said nothing because the guilt was choking him.

“You oughta know I called Scott Rosenthal.”

Devin’s head snapped up. “Why would you call my agent? He doesn’t need to worry about—”

“His high-profile client’s well-being and safety?” Crash interjected. “I ain’t about to argue the parameters of your agent’s job besides that it’s his right to know.” He threw his shoulders back. “Fire me if you want, but I’m done helping you hide this crap from everyone. Rosenthal is meeting us in Denver the day after tomorrow. And lemme tell you, it took some fast talking on my part to convince him not to pull you out of tomorrow night’s sold-out show in Denver.”

“Jesus. He doesn’t get to decide that.”

“According to him, yes, he does.”

Fuck.

“In the meantime, the cops want to talk to you.” He jerked his chin toward the bathroom. “Probably wanna talk to her too.”

Devin’s eyes narrowed. “Why?”

“To make sure this wasn’t some sort of publicity stunt.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“Then why did they ask me if you were violent and might’ve gone on a rampage after finding JT in your room?”

“Come on. You can’t be serious.”

“You’re in the public eye. Neither of those scenarios is out of the realm of possibility to people who don’t know you.”

“I don’t know which is worse. That they’d think I’d beat the shit out of my bus driver to get my name mentioned in the news, or that I beat the shit out of my bus driver for daring to sleep in my bed. Christ. Do I need a damn alibi?”

“Don’t snap at the messenger,” Crash cautioned. “I’m just passing on what I heard. This is standard procedure.”

“Where are the cops?”

“Waiting for you downstairs.”

“Awesome.” Devin snagged clean clothes out of his suitcase.

Crash angled his chin toward the bathroom. “You want me to handle her?”

Too many times Devin had used Crash to deal with groupies who’d overstayed their welcome. “I’ll explain the situation.”

“Where’d you meet her?”

“In the media room. She’s the features reporter for the Kansas City newspaper.”

“Never a dull moment with you. I’ll tell the cops you’re on your way down.” He left the room.

Devin snapped the last button on his shirt before he rapped on the bathroom door. “Gretchen?”

The door flew open and the tiny blonde stormed past him. Clutching the towel above her ample cleavage, she spun around and glared at him. “Don’t bother to handle me; I heard everything.” She snatched up her clothes and mumbled angrily to herself as she jerked them on.

“This is not how I planned to end the evening.”

“Me either.” She shimmied her skirt up her thighs. “God. I know better than this.” After she pulled the sleeveless black shirt over her head, she glared at him. “I’ve worked very hard to maintain a professional reputation. And now I have to tell the police that I’ve been up here with you for the last hour?”

He kept his tone even. “It was your choice to come with me.”

She wobbled on one foot as she pulled her boot on. “I’m aware it’s my own fault for being blinded by your celebrity, by your devastating good looks, by your Western charm and by your voice . . .” She inhaled a deep breath. “That deep voice of yours is liquid sex . . . It sucked me in like a siren’s call.”

There wasn’t anything he could say at this point.

“I don’t suppose you’d tell them that we were up here finishing the interview from earlier?” she asked hopefully.

Devin shook his head. “I don’t lie. Especially not to cops. Especially not in a situation like this one, where someone has gotten hurt.”

Her eyes turned shrewd, and he realized she’d slipped into reporter mode. “There’s a story there. Do you have a stalker or something?”

He automatically hedged. “I’ve had a string of weird things happen.”

“Think it’s a pissed-off boyfriend or husband of some woman you had a fuck-and-run encounter with?” She smoothed her hair in the mirror above the dresser. “Because you do have quite the reputation.”

“Didn’t seem to stop you from dropping to your knees in front of me, did it?”

Devin probably deserved her fiery glare, but hey, she’d been a willing participant.

The interrogation with the cops didn’t take long—everything Devin had told them about his whereabouts was verified with the hotel manager and Gretchen. Every minute of his time after he walked offstage had been accounted for.

As soon as they were alone, Crash said, “Rosenthal and Carl Carlson are expecting us to meet with them and the security firm in Denver. There is no way in hell you’re getting out of it this time. Don’t get so pissy. Rosenthal is trying to protect your ass.”

“More like protecting his asset,” Devin muttered.

“If you’ve got a better idea, I’m sure he’d love to hear it.”

If Devin had to be saddled with security, he’d damn well choose it himself. No way would he allow a security detail to clog up his bus and hamper his creative process. He’d allow one person to travel with him. One. He’d agree to more security in the arenas and to and from events, but not in his personal space.

Although his bus could easily house the five members of his band, he insisted they have their own bus—a contract stipulation he’d had since he’d hit the big time and that wasn’t about to change now.

Few people understood that with all the time he spent on the road, his bus was his haven. The one place he didn’t have to be on—he didn’t have to be Devin McClain, country music star. He could just be Devin Hollister, a Wyoming ranch kid who’d made good.

“Uh-oh. I know that look,” Crash said as they turned the corner into the hospital’s parking lot.

“What look?”

“The one that says you’ve got something up your sleeve that ain’t no one gonna like.”

Devin scrolled through his contacts list. “Hang on. I gotta make a call before we go in.”

“Dev, it’s midnight.”

“She’s up. And it’s eleven in her time zone. She wouldn’t know what to do if I called her at a normal time.” He listened as the line rang five times.

“So didja finally get yourself thrown in jail and you need me to wire you bail money?” she drawled in that sexy twang.

He laughed. “Tex-Ass darlin’, I love that you’re so optimistic when it comes to me.”

“Hillbilly rockstar, I’ve been a party to your wild partyin’ ways, so it’s not such a huge leap to imagine you’ve gotten yourself ass deep in alligators. Hang on a sec,” Tanna said. “Stop bein’ so fucking smug, Doc. Yes, I know you won.”

He heard Fletch’s deep laughter in the background.

“What’s goin’ on, T?”

Tanna sighed. “I bet Fletch it was his cell phone ringing and not mine, since he’s on call this week. So thanks, buddy. You cost me an hour’s worth of sexual favors, which I’ve just learned will require him using lube and vibrators on me.”

“You ain’t complaining.”

“True. Fletch says hey and thanks. So why are you callin’ me?”

“I need a favor. I just found out that I’m getting a security detail on this next leg of the tour. I’m not happy about it, so I’d prefer to choose my own babysitters. Is your brother, Garrett, still in the private security business in Denver?”

“Yes. But I have to say up front, his business has really taken off.”

“That’s good because I want the best. Trust me; the promotion company will definitely make it worth his while. I thought I’d call him in the morning, but I couldn’t remember the name of the company. Can you text me that and his phone number?”

“Sure. And, Devin, darlin’, you know I’m gonna ask if everything is all right.”

“Everything is fine. Just takin’ precautions. Better safe than sorry.”

“Good. I’ll send Garrett’s contact info. Take care, wild man.”

“Always do. I’m jealous as hell that you’ve got Fletch to take care of you.” He meant that. Part of him had always hoped he and Tanna could make a go of it, but after seeing her with his childhood friend Fletch, he knew they were perfect for each other.

Crash gestured to the phone after Devin had hung up. “Was that the hot, feisty barrel racer you used to pal around with?”

“Yeah. Her brother runs . . . Well, you heard the conversation.”

“I heard the lie. Look, I know you oversee every aspect of your career, but you’ve gotta realize that Rosenthal and Big Sky Promotions won’t waver in this edict. And if the security company ain’t up to snuff . . .”

“It will be.” God, he hoped so. “Come on. Let’s go in and check on JT.”

Chapter Two
 

Liberty Masterson had just finished her daily requirement of PT—thirty minutes of cardio, followed by thirty minutes of kickboxing and fifteen minutes of takedown drills. Right after she hit the showers, she’d check in at the onsite gun range.

This was the best job ever.

The only way it could be any better was if she got to blow shit up.

You used to do that in the army and it wasn’t all that fun, remember?

Yeah, but people were shooting back at her. This was different. She was paid very well as a member of GSC Security—no more living hand to mouth in the world’s sandboxes. She absentmindedly rubbed the jagged scar below her collarbone, the literal parting shot that had ended her military career.

She blotted the sweat from her face and scanned the empty training area. Most of the guys she worked with were on assignment. She missed the camaraderie of her coworkers and she hadn’t sparred with anyone in a week, so she was antsy.

Joe, the boss’s second lieutenant, poked his head in the door. “Liberty, got a minute? Garrett needs you to do something for him.”

“Do I have time to shower?”

“A quick one. Then meet me out front.”

“Be right there.” After rinsing off her body, she scraped her wet hair into a bun. Then she slipped on her uniform—black dress pants, gray blouse, black blazer and black boots. Lastly, she strapped on her gun.

Ready to rock and roll.

She took the stairs at a run and cut through the parking garage to the front of the building

A luxury motor coach idled at the curb, Devin McClain’s face and his name plastered down the entire length of the bus. She’d never been a big country music fan, but she recognized the cowboy singer. His rugged good looks and heart-stopping smile were even more impressive billboard sized.

Joe trotted over with a clipboard.

“What’s going on? You bring in live entertainment for the annual employee barbecue?”

“You wish. This is a potential client. He’s inside with Garrett right now, but the boss wants you to catalog all the possible security breaches for this bus. Then head up to the second-floor conference room and we’ll go from there.” He passed over the clipboard.

“Will do. Is the bus locked?”

Joe scowled. “No. The door wasn’t even completely latched when I got down here.”

“Anyone on board?”

“Nope. It’s all yours.”

She nodded and got to work.

Fifteen minutes later, Liberty entered the conference room. Joe pulled out a chair next to him, but the four guys on the opposite side of the table didn’t miss a beat in their conversation.

Devin McClain was stretched out in his chair, arms folded over his chest with obvious belligerence. He wore a ball cap pulled low so half his face was obscured.

The man in the three-piece suit next to Devin ended with “What we’re asking for is a minimum of two, and we want them 24/7.”

“No,” Devin said with an emphatic shake of his head. “That ain’t happening.”

Three-piece-suit man sighed. “That is not your decision to make anymore.”

“The hell it isn’t. This affects me the most, so it should be solely my decision.”

Garrett scrawled across his notebook. “How long is this ‘Heroes and Heartbreakers’ tour?”

“Four months,” the bearded man sitting on the other side of Devin said. “The shows take place at a mix of smaller venues, like county fairs and casinos, and at bigger event centers, like stadiums. This leg of the tour bounces all around the Southwest for three months. Then there’s a ten-day break before finishing the final three weeks of the tour on the West Coast.”

“We’ll need a copy of the full schedule,” Joe said. “So we can see the security setups at the performance sites.”

“We don’t normally contract out for that long with one person, let alone two,” Garrett pointed out.

Devin scowled. “I don’t need two full-time security guards. I’m still not convinced I need even one. I’m leaning toward callin’ this whole thing a gigantic waste of everyone’s time—especially mine.”

Liberty kept her face schooled, but she was thinking, Wow. Diva much?

Garrett must’ve been thinking along the same lines because his gaze hooked hers. “Why don’t you tell Mr. McClain and his . . . advisers what you found on your security check of the tour bus?”

Liberty addressed the bearded guy, who appeared to be in charge. Holding up the clipboard, she pointed to all the red check marks. “These are considered security weak spots. I found more than a dozen. The first one? Door to the bus wasn’t shut, let alone locked. And upon examination, the lock is nonfunctioning.”

“Maybe the person who beat the shit out of JT busted it when he broke in,” Devin said tightly. “We haven’t had time to get it fixed, and it worked fine before that.”

She had no idea who the JT person was. “Or maybe the fact it was broken beforehand and no one had checked it made access easier?” she said coolly.

“What are you insinuating?”

“Nothing. I’m stating facts.” She waggled the clipboard at him. “Your current security measures are downright laughable, Mr. McClain, since you don’t seem to have any.”

Silence.

Liberty shot Garrett a look. He wasn’t wearing a frown that indicated she’d stepped out of line.

“Who exactly are you?” Devin said to Liberty with a slight sneer in his tone.

Garrett leaned forward, locking his gaze to Devin’s. “Liberty works for me as a security specialist. And before you further insult her, I’ll point out that she spent years in the army, working for various security task forces. She knows what she’s talkin’ about. Questioning her qualifications is not only an insult to her but to me, so tread lightly.”

Devin held up his hands in mock surrender. “I apologize to both of you.” He directed his next question to Liberty. “Please summarize what you see as the biggest security risks.”

“First, it sounds like you have zero personal protection right now.”

“I wouldn’t say zero. I have security escorts at the larger event centers.”

“That’s your biggest mistake right there, especially if you’ve been dealing with any kind of personal threats. You need daily personal protection. Did you have security guards in Kansas City?”

“Yes.”

“Where?”

“Inside the arena.”

“Did they escort you from the bus inside the building?”

He shook his head.

“Whose decision was that?”

“Mine. I usually walk with the band.”

“That would be the first thing I’d change. More than safety in numbers, you need professional security. I doubt your drummer would know what to do if you were attacked.”

The bearded guy laughed and covered the noise with a cough.

“What else?”

“Take your face and your name off the side of the bus. That’s just inviting trouble. If having your face billboard sized is a vanity thing, get over it. A nondescript vehicle cuts your security risks in half since no one knows you’re on board.”

Devin’s mouth tightened, but he didn’t respond.

So she continued. “There are four bunk spaces, but it looks to me as though they’re being used to store random sh—stuff. It’s an easy place for someone to hide or to hide something. The band doesn’t travel on your bus?”

“The band travels in a separate bus, as do the roadies who handle the equipment.”

“How many buses are in the Devin McClain traveling show?”

“There are three tour buses and two semis.”

“We’re getting sidetracked here,” three-piece-suit guy interjected. “I need to know if GSC can handle Devin’s security needs.”

Garrett tapped his pen on the table. “I’m getting mixed signals. Who makes the final decision on this?”

“I do,” Devin said, keeping his focus on Garrett. “So let’s cut to the chase. Here are my revised security requirements. One security specialist who will blend in with my crew. While security is your main concern, privacy is mine. I require time alone to work. I understand this person will need to be close by at all times, but you all need to understand that if I have to choose between my safety and my ability to make music, the music will win every time.”

For the first time, Liberty understood Devin’s underlying frustration with the situation.

“Give me time to confer with my team. Any last questions before we duck out for a few?”

Liberty’s stomach pitched when Devin aimed those intense blue eyes at her. “Anything else you want to add?”

The cool tone wasn’t only a challenge, but his clear displeasure that she’d voiced an opinion. Because she was a woman? Or because she’d dissed his operation? She let her gaze flit across the men on his side of the table, three-piece-suit guy, bearded guy and a guy wearing a cowboy hat who hadn’t said a word. “Brutal honesty, Mr. McClain? You’ve reached a high level of success in the music world. You deserve a nicer bus than that piece of shit parked out front, especially if your safety truly is their number-one concern.”

The man didn’t even crack a smile.

Just as they were walking out the door, the guy in the cowboy hat said, “Hold up.” He meandered over and handed Garrett a sheaf of paper. “Here are the rates we’re prepared to offer for this contract. So you know we’re serious.” Then he murmured something to Garrett.

Interesting. Liberty wondered if Devin McClain knew what his safety was worth.

After the cowboy hat guy trotted off, Garrett and Joe conferred in low tones. She wanted to eavesdrop, but something in their stiff postures worried her, so she hustled into Garrett’s office.

A few minutes later, Joe plopped next to her in the chair opposite Garrett’s desk.

Garrett refilled his cup of coffee before he took his seat. He unfolded the paper and raised both his eyebrows before passing it to Joe.

“That good, huh?” Liberty prompted.

“Holy fucking shit would be appropriate here.” Joe squinted at the paper. “This is one of the highest pay rates I’ve ever seen.”

Liberty snorted. “It’d have to be since Mr. McClain is a dickhead and no sane person would ever take on the assignment.”

“Liberty.”

Although she’d been chastised, she pushed her point. “Why are you even considering taking this job? It’s not like GSC needs the work.”

Garrett sighed. “It’s a personal favor. My sister, Tanna, went through a rough patch, and Devin was always there for her in ways I couldn’t be. So I owe him. And he’s more messed up about this latest incident than he’s letting on.” He summarized the past trouble in Devin’s world. She was shocked someone in Devin’s position just kept going about business as usual—as if none of the threats mattered or had affected him at all.

“Liberty?”

Her gaze snapped to Garrett’s. “Sorry. What did you say?”

“I asked if you’ve ever met Devin before.”

“No. Why?”

“You know the connection between your sister and mine is what brought you to my attention in the first place. Tanna and Harper are both married to men who grew up in the Muddy Gap/Rawlins area. That’s where Devin is originally from.”

“I’ve heard Harper and Bran talk about him, and I guess he goes back there sometimes, but I’ve never met him.”

“I’m hopin’ that’ll work in our favor,” Garrett drawled.

“I don’t follow.”

Garrett and Joe exchanged an oddly wary look.

“Should I shoot myself in the foot now?”

Joe laughed. “And everyone says you don’t have a sense of humor.”

She scowled at him and then said to Garrett, “Go on.”

“The best—hell, the only solution—is to send you out on tour with Devin McClain. And hear me out before you pull your gun on me. You’ve been begging us to send you on assignment. You are an excellent trainer, but this is a better training opportunity for you. Not only because of the money for us.”

Liberty fought the urge to laugh. It was always about the money. “With the big swinging dick that Devin McClain wields, there’s no way he’ll agree to having a woman as his personal security. No way in hell.”

“It’ll be his only choice if he wants to hire us.” Garrett fiddled with his pen. “The rest of the guys won’t agree to be away from their families for that long. Not only that. You’ve asked for a job like this for the past four months. Here’s your chance to jump to the next level and prove you’re qualified for fieldwork.”

“Slathering on compliments?”

Garrett smiled. “And you’re deflecting them. I don’t say it unless it’s true—you know that about me.”

“Yes, but I’m still on probation.” Garrett required a year of probation for all his new hires. While it sucked that the slightest infraction could get her shit-canned, it ensured the ones who hit the twelve-month mark were worthy of carrying out the sometimes dangerous work the job demanded.

“In four and a half months you’ll be within a week of permanent status. You take on this job, I’ll give you that last week.”

“Sorry, but no. I’ll pass.”

Joe and Garrett exchanged another look.

“What now?”

“This information doesn’t leave this room. The promoter has sweetened the pot. There’s a hundred-thousand-dollar bonus if the bodyguard lasts the entire tour. So if you agree to take this assignment, in addition to getting paid your regular rate, we’ll let you keep the bonus.”

She perked up at that prospect. “Seriously? Every penny?”

“Every penny, and I’ll kick in enough to cover the taxes on it.”

That money would provide a hefty down payment on a house. Roughly four months out of her life would make her dream of home ownership a reality, and she’d get experience in the field that would increase her base pay rate. Win-win.

“Deal.”

Joe slapped a twenty-dollar bill on the desk. “You suck.”

Garrett swept the money into his desk drawer. “I warned you not to bet against me, Joe.”

“What the hell kinda bet did you two make about me?” Liberty demanded.

“That you’d be more interested in the money than living in close quarters with one of People magazine’s hottest men in music.”

Liberty rolled her eyes. “Seriously, Joe? You haven’t learned anything about me in the past eight months? I oughta make you pony up twenty to me for the damn insult.”

Joe grinned. “I almost wish I was going along to see you bust this guy’s balls on a daily basis.” He leaned forward and pleaded with Garrett. “Please let me be the one to tell our client that Liberty is his new bodyguard.”

“Fine, but you’d also better warn him that Liberty is . . .” Garrett laughed. “Never mind. He can figure it out for himself.”

On the way out, Garrett stopped her. “The head of the promotion company was very clear in this offer. McClain isn’t to know anything about the performance bonus. If you tell him about it, it voids that part of the contract.”

“My lips are sealed. I promise.”

“I know I can trust you.”

“But I don’t know if I can trust them.”

Garrett waited for her explanation.

“We both know they’ll pay you at regular intervals while I’m on assignment. So I want their guarantee that I’ll have that bonus no later than three days after the end of the tour. I don’t want to wait ninety days while they dick around about payment.”

He smiled. “Excellent point. Are you sure I can’t talk you into takin’ an admin position when your probationary period is up?”

“Do I still get to Taser people from behind a desk?”

“No.”

“Then no way.”

Chapter Three
 

What the hell was taking them so long?

Devin fought the urge to get up and pace; instead he focused his frustration on his agent. “All of JT’s expenses are bein’ taken care of, right? Including transportation back home so he can recuperate?”

“The legal team wants to run it past accounting—”

“I didn’t ask about the legal team. They weren’t in that hospital room. They didn’t see the damn bloodstains on my bed. The man took hits that were meant for me—”

“Don’t say that,” his agent warned. “Neither you nor the tour promotion company is claiming any culpability for the attack. I know you’re upset, but this situation is a lawsuit waiting to happen. We don’t need any more ammo fired at us.”

Carl Carlson, the head honcho from Big Sky Promotions, nodded. “You just go right on telling folks that the beefed-up security is a requirement of headlining as one of the hottest solo tickets in country music. Remember, we’re allowing this meeting at your request. Be warned, son. I will overrule you if they don’t propose a security plan that I approve of one hundred percent.”

“That woman already gave us all the answers to our questions about security problems.”

“No. She gave us the tape to fix the leaks, but we still need someone keeping watch so no more unexpected leaks show up. Console yourself with the fact we’re not demanding two bodyguards.”

“Fine. But I’d better have a different goddamn tour bus in four days, when we leave for Salt Lake City.” It’d been humiliating enough having his name and his face plastered on his bus—he’d always hated that—but it really chapped his ass that anyone would believe he actually wanted that blatant promotion.

The door opened and the GSC trio walked in.

Devin tried to keep his focus on Tanna’s brother, but his gaze kept landing on Liberty, the ballbuster, which annoyed him; the chick was nothing special to look at. She wore shapeless monochrome clothing, her angular face was free of makeup and her eyes were a nearly colorless gray. He wasn’t even certain of her hair color since she’d plastered it to her head and secured it in a bun.

Garrett’s associate Joe, a bruiser the size of a small truck, took the reins. “As you’re aware, we don’t normally contract for such an extended amount of time, but we’ve figured out a way to make it work.”

Devin knew the only reason GSC had taken this appointment was because of his friendship with Tanna. “And I appreciate that.”

“Luckily for you, our security specialist has agreed to take the job.”

“Who?”

“Me.”

Oh no. Oh, fuck no. Devin looked at the woman and found her staring back at him . . . with zero emotion. His mouth opened before his brain engaged. “You seriously think I’ll let a woman protect me? That goes against the way I was raised and everything I believe in. Men protect women, not the other way around.”

“You wanted discreet security,” Garrett pointed out. “And Liberty is the best possible solution.”

“You do have a lot of women hanging around, Dev. No one would think twice about her bein’ there,” Crash added.

“Does she look like the women who hang around my shows?” Devin snapped. “No one in their right mind would ever believe I’d be with a woman like her.”

That brought a flush to Liberty’s cheeks, and Devin felt like a dick for saying it—even when it was true.

“Devin, can you not jump to conclusions?” his agent asked. “This sounds to me like the ideal solution.”

“Tryin’ to pass her off as my girlfriend?”

“We were thinking more along the lines of a personal assistant,” Garrett said.

“That theory will be blown when she’s conferring with the event security, wearing an earpiece and holstering a firearm under her business suit. Or if she perceives a threat and pulls a gun, because she—and no offense, sweetheart—looks awful trigger-happy.”

She set her forearms on the table. “You have no idea how true that statement is. But right now the person I’d be gunning for most is you, sweetheart.” Then she smiled.

Holy shit. The smile completely transformed her face—but Devin wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing because the grin straddled the line between sexy and evil.

“I know it’s hard for you to keep your morbid sense of humor in check, Liberty, but please try,” Garrett drawled.

That wasn’t exactly a reprimand from her boss. Christ. The woman had threatened to shoot him. Had no one caught that?

Devin bristled. “I’m not joking when I say that you’re not even close to my type.”

“I assure you, Mr. McClain, you’re no more my type than I am yours.”

“Does your type have breasts and a vagina too?” It slipped out of his mouth before he could stop it.

Rather than bristle, she looked at each of the men beside her. They seemed . . . amused. Or maybe slightly scared of what she might do or say next.

“I’m not a lesbian—not that it would matter if I were. I’m very good at my job, but I see you’ve got too much ego to find that out for yourself. I doubt it’s your naturally protective male instincts telling you that it’s a crime against nature to hire me, but more your testosterone-laden fear that someone—your fans, your friends, your family in Wyoming, your way-hotter-than-me female groupies—will think less of you for having to hire security at all.”

It pissed him off that she already had his number. If she could read him that well, how quickly could she assess a potentially dangerous situation? “Go on.”

“People want a piece of you. People think they know you through your music. While ninety-nine percent of your fans are just normal, everyday people who love music, it’s my job to be concerned about that other one percent who boarded the crazy train. And, honestly, if it’s only about appearances for you, wouldn’t you rather people know it takes only one butch woman to protect you instead of two former linebackers? That makes you look badass, not weak.”

Damn. This woman was really, really good.

So he shocked the shit out of her by saying, “So much for my theory that you’re the fade into the background with your mouth shuttype.”

“Only when it’s warranted, sir.”

Devin directed his question to Garrett just to see if she’d become outwardly indignant. “Has she ever saved someone’s life?”

“Absolutely. She’s a bona fide hero,” Joe inserted with pride. “Two years ago, while serving in Afghanistan, she took three bullets as part of a security detail. The intended target was . . . ?”

“An ambassador to the UN,” she supplied.

“Did you know him?” Devin asked.

“No. But that didn’t matter because I did my job—which was protecting him.”

“Liberty received an honorable discharge.” Garrett paused. “If you have any further questions, please address Liberty directly.”

“Fine.” Devin locked his gaze to Liberty’s and said, “Everyone out. I want to talk with G.I. Jane one-on-one.”

After the door closed and they were alone, Devin said, “No offense. I really don’t want to hire you. Not because you’re a woman, but because I don’t want to hire anyone.”

“I’m aware of that.”

“You should also know that I’m not sexist, but—”

“In my experience, men who say that usually are sexist.”

He fought a sigh. “You don’t give an inch, do you?”

She maintained eye contact. “After spending more than a dozen years in the military, I’m good at doing what I’m told. But I was also in a position of command, so when I issue an order, I expect it to be followed. I suspect you’re not the type to follow orders—from men or women.”

G.I. Jane had definitely hit the nail on the head. Devin scrubbed his hands over his face. “Look. I’m not an asshole.”

“In my experience, men who say that—”

“Usually are assholes. Yeah, yeah, I get it.” He paused, needing to take a different, less antagonistic tack with her. “How’d you know I’m from Wyoming? Did you read my bio?”

“No. My sister lives outside of Muddy Gap.”

“Who’s your sister?”

“Harper Turner.”

His jaw dropped. “Are you fuckin’ serious? Hot, sexy beauty queen Harper is your sister?”

“Hard to believe, isn’t it?” she said with a hint of humor. “Harper got the looks in our family and our little sister Bailey got the brains.”

“What did you get?”

“Resolve.”

Not the answer he expected.

As they stared at each other across the table, ready to battle, Devin realized her eyes weren’t a boring hue, but almost a shimmery silver.

What the fuck? Since when do you give a shit about her eye color? Focus. “What now?”

“How about you listen to my stipulations before I hear yours? We can go from there.”

He motioned for her to bring it.

“If you hire me, I will be by your side 24/7. I have one job: your bodyguard. I don’t fetch coffee. I don’t cook. I don’t clean your tour bus. I don’t chauffeur you around. I don’t wash your clothes. I don’t run errands. I don’t mix drinks. I don’t answer your fan mail. I don’t procure groupies for you to fuck. I don’t get on my knees and suck you off. I’m not paid to kiss your ass; I’m paid to protect it.”

No confusion on her job expectations.

“Now, what were your concerns?” she said frostily.

“You’re a little prickly, aren’t you?”

“If you’d dealt with as many pricks as I have over the years, you’d know some of that attitude was bound to rub off on me.”

He laughed. “Well, my set of conditions is a bit different. You protect me, but you don’t get to judge me. I like women, I like sex and I have a lot of both. I’m up late, which means I sleep late, but that don’t mean I’m lazy. I work out at least every other day, so you need to keep up. That said, I need time alone to write, and the only time that happens is when I’m on my tour bus. I’ll be one hundred percent safe while we’re traveling down the road, so during that time, you’ll need to entertain yourself.”

“Not a problem.”

“My biggest stipulation is that you can’t tell anyone you’re my bodyguard, especially your sister. I don’t need this spread among my friends in Muddy Gap.”

“GSC is discreet and professional. I have nondisclosure agreements with them, and I’m fully prepared to sign them with you. I don’t talk about my work with anyone.”

“I appreciate that. Now, here’s my final concern. Crash will tell everyone associated with the tour that you’re my new personal assistant. However, when you store your stuff in my tour bus, no one is gonna believe it. They’ll assume we’re fucking. Will that be a problem for you?”

She shook her head. “I don’t care about anything except doing my job.”

Devin raised an eyebrow. “Even if it means I’ll parade groupies past you?” he countered. “You prepared for the questions from my bandmates? You don’t care if they think you’re a star fucker? You can honestly act like you don’t give a shit who I fuck as long as I’m givin’ it to you on a regular basis? Because in my past experiences, no woman ever deals well with that.”

That gave her pause. Then she offered him that evil smile. “Maybe since I’m a more . . . masculine-acting woman—your words, not mine, Mr. McClain—that means I proudly embrace the same I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude that men do when it comes to casual sex.”

“You gonna toss my knee-jerk comment about your physical attributes in my face every chance you get?”

Liberty cocked her head. “Yep. You wouldn’t have said it if you didn’t mean it, which means you have to accept that I won’t forget it. You’re used to saying whatever pops into your head, and I doubt anyone ever calls you out on it. Be warned: I will.”

“So noted.”

“And I don’t shy away from asking what I need to know.”

“Such as?”

“When was your last relationship that lasted longer than a box of condoms?”

He refused to let her get a rise out of him. “Four years ago.”

“Then no one is expecting you to suddenly become monogamous.”

“True.” He took a sip of his cold coffee. “But I’ll expect you to look like the type of woman I’d hire. Or have in my bed.”

She scowled. “What does Devin McClain’s type look like?”

“Not that.” He gestured to her outfit. “Wearing a getup like that will be a dead giveaway that you’re not who you claim to be. And I’m not all right with that. You shouldn’t be either. Darlin’, you gotta blend.”

Instead of bristling, she nodded. “Understood. But I won’t wear constricting clothing. I can’t run in high heels. My gun needs to be accessible at all times.”

“Will you always be carrying?”

“It’ll depend on the situation. But, yes, I’ll either have a handgun or a stun gun on my person, which is standard in the personal-protection business regardless of your gender or mine.”

Devin didn’t want this—he truly felt he didn’t need it. But in the case of picking the lesser of two evils, he’d choose her. He managed a smile. “You’re hired. I play Denver tonight and Cheyenne tomorrow night. The tour leaves in three days. See that you’re ready.”

“I will be. And thank you.” She pushed back from the table. “I’ll bring the others back in so you all can iron out the final details.” She slipped out the door.

He closed his eyes. Given how much they’d butted heads in the past hour, he’d better stock up on headache medicine.

After a minute, the chair next to him squeaked, but he kept his eyes closed. His agent said, “Everything all right?”

“I guess.”

“Choosing her is the smart move, Devin.”

Like they’d given him a choice. “Why? Because I’m not attracted to her in the least?”

His agent cursed softly, then leaned closer. “No. Because it’s what the tour promoters want. After agreeing not to play the song that’s brought everyone a buttload of trouble, and following their security demands, you’ll be seen as a team player. They’ll reward you. Mark my words.”

“Great.”

“It will be.”

Devin opened his eyes. Liberty had retaken her seat but wouldn’t meet his eyes.

Carl and Garrett were passing papers back and forth. Everyone else was silent.

Wasn’t long before Liberty said, “Garrett, you need anything else from me right now?”

“No. If you have something else to do, feel free.”

She stood and left the room.

Talk about a hasty exit. His gaze connected with Joe’s, and the level of animosity surprised him. Then Joe murmured something to Garrett and took off after Liberty.

What had happened? Was his new bodyguard involved with one of her bosses?

Before he could ask about the Joe/Liberty dynamic, he was hit with a barrage of questions. Now that he’d been muscled into agreeing to full-time security, the remaining negotiations didn’t interest him. He tuned out, focusing on the tune in his head that’d been giving him fits over the past week.

He heard a soft sigh and glanced over at Crash. His road manager was bored out of his skull too.

“We’re done here,” his agent said. “You and Crash are meeting Carl and me at our hotel to finalize tour plans.”

“How am I supposed to get there? I came on my bus. And since ridin’ around in it is like painting a bull’s-eye on me . . .”

“Garrett will escort you. Get anything you’ll need off that bus. The transport company providing the new bus will transfer the rest of your belongings.”

Devin grinned. “Hot damn. Do I get to choose my bus this time?”

Carl shook his head. “But I guarantee it’ll be top-of-the-line, with all of the safety recommendations. Only the best for our best and brightest.”

Carl’s slimy smile dimmed Devin’s happiness. No good deed was offered without strings. But he knew how the game was played. If he acted grateful, maybe those strings wouldn’t choke him.

“We’ll see you at the hotel.” Hands were shaken. Then his agent and Carl left him and Crash alone with Garrett.

Crash stood. “I’ll get your guitar. I know that’s all you really give a shit about.”

“My day travel duffel is in the first bunk.” He kept an emergency bag packed at all times. That came in handy when he was called to fill in for last-minute gigs and had to hop on a plane at a moment’s notice.

“Got it. See ya down there.”

Garrett stood. “I’ll give you the nickel tour on our way down to the parking garage.”

He followed Garrett into the hallway. “I appreciate you makin’ this work, Garrett.”

“I guarantee you’ll find Liberty a better fit into your lifestyle than the guys from LaGruder Security.” He punched the elevator button. “As it is, you’ll get a taste of that type of protection the next couple of days.”

Devin frowned. “What do you mean?”

Garrett crossed his arms over his chest. “You really are the last to know. Carl already hired two bodyguards from LaGruder. They’ll be with you until Liberty takes over.”

“So I’ve got two fuckin’ babysitters?”

“I wouldn’t use that term around security specialists,” Garrett said dryly, “as it tends to piss them off. But, yeah, LaGruder is the big dog in this town in the personal-protection business. That’s why Carl picked them sight unseen.”

Devin changed the subject when they stepped into the elevator. “How’s Tanna? I haven’t had a chance to talk to her much.”

Garrett’s eyes warmed slightly. “Happy. Busy. She’s still runnin’ the circuit, but she’s struggling to stay in the top fifteen. I know she has her heart set on back-to-back world titles. But she and Fletch are tryin’ to start a family, and she wants that even more.” He paused. “And don’t worry that I’ll tell Tanna anything. I don’t fuck around when I promise my clients confidentiality. I have the same policy for those who work for me. No one in Wyoming knows that Liberty is on my payroll.”

“How’s that possible?”

“Tanna mentioned to me that her friend Harper’s sister was lookin’ for work after bein’ discharged from the military. I contacted Liberty and interviewed her.”

“I get it. I’m sold on her.” Mostly. If he had to be saddled with a babysitter, he’d prefer someone with a personality—even an abrasive one—to humorless goons.

They stopped outside a large window that looked into a workout room with weight machines, heavy bags, speed bags, and training dummies. Two people in full gear were sparring on the mat. Even through the glass, Devin could hear the sound of the gloves striking against flesh and the safety gear. Neither one held back.

“Do they always train this hard?”

“Yes, if they want to be employed here.”

“How long will they go at it?” Devin asked.

“Until one falls.”

“Why’d they pair up like that? Seems the bigger guy has a huge advantage over the smaller guy.”

“Because threats come in all shapes and sizes. My employees train against each other, but I also bring in other specialists in different martial arts disciplines so they don’t get complacent with their skills.”

“With a setup like this, and your employees being mostly ex-military, I’d suspect you were running a private black ops group and not just a personal security company.”

For the first time ever, Garrett Barker smiled. It wasn’t a friendly smile. And the man neither confirmed nor denied Devin’s comment.

Scary shit.

Devin refocused on the fighters, watching as the smaller guy landed a punch to his opponent’s gut and then swept his legs out from under him.

“And we have a winner,” Garrett murmured.

The victor offered a hand to the loser to help him up. Then they removed their gloves and helmets.

The smaller “guy” wasn’t a guy after all, but Liberty. And her opponent was big Joe. The man was actually limping as they walked off the mat.

Devin knew why Garrett had suggested a tour—to show him Liberty in action.

“Never underestimate her,” Garrett said softly.

He didn’t respond. He watched Liberty and Joe peel off their protective gear as they continued their conversation—an intense and intimate one, if the familiar way Joe touched her cheek was any indication. When she smiled at Joe, her face full of joy and her eyes shining, it didn’t matter that she was soaked in sweat or what she wore; Liberty Masterson was the most compelling woman he’d ever seen.

Not attracted to her at all? Bullshit. Maybe that’s your problem. You are attracted to her and she’s not your usual type.

The next four months in close quarters with this woman just got a whole lot more complicated.

Chapter Four
 

Sparring with Joe hadn’t taken the edge off. Liberty still wanted to beat the shit out of someone, namely one smarmy-ass country singer.

Because I am not attracted to her in the least.

Motherfucking son of a bitch, that stung.

It wasn’t the first time she’d heard that. Usually she blew it off, but this time it weighed on her and she didn’t know why it stung so much.

Maybe because he’s one of the sexiest men you’ve ever met.

No lie there. The man had it going on. Lanky—but a holy-shit well-built lanky. Broad chest, equally broad shoulders, muscular arms beneath his tight long-sleeved T-shirt. His face hit the perfect mark between rugged and pretty. His hair had to be ten different shades from pale blond to a rich, dark brown. Neither the color nor the riot of curls that made all those hues stand out had come from a bottle, and damn if those sexy, loose curls didn’t just beg for a woman’s fingers to get tangled up in them. That million-dollar smile of his was way more potent in person than on the pages of a magazine—not that the man had bestowed that infamous grin on her. But even when he had smiled at Garrett, it hadn’t reached his piercing turquoise blue eyes. The constant wariness in them didn’t bother her; in fact, it would make her job easier. Better to have a cautious client than a cocky one.

Liberty climbed into her car and dropped her head back, closing her eyes. Even the new-car scent of her pride and joy—a baby blue Mustang—didn’t settle her like it normally did. She ran her hands over the steering wheel as her mind raced.

How was she supposed to completely make herself over into a simpering, insipid, scantily clad groupie in three days? It’d take two weeks to get an appointment with a brain surgeon to suck half her brain out. She snorted. Few besides herself appreciated her sense of humor.

She didn’t know where to start in assembling a new wardrobe. There’d been an adjustment period after she retired from the army, transitioning from wearing the required uniform to choosing civilian clothes. Comfort, not fashion, was her priority. So, yeah, she could admit her clothing was boring. She had two styles: not work clothes and work clothes. Her not work clothes consisted of ratty sweats and baggy T-shirts, worn jeans, long john tops and camo shorts. Her work style wasn’t any better. She owned one sundress, which she’d bought on a whim. Her official work wardrobe was black, black and gray. Black pants, black jackets, sturdy black shoes. But she’d mixed it up and bought suits in navy blue and dark brown. The good thing was, it didn’t take her long to get ready in the morning.

Times like this she wished her sister Harper lived closer. Although Muddy Gap was a lot closer to Denver than Fort Bragg, where Liberty had been stationed for years. She glanced at the clock. Noon. Probably Harper was doing ten thousand things at once, but she called her anyway.

As always, Harper’s breathy sex-phone-operator voice was ruined by little boys’ shrieks in the background. “Hey, sista. I was just thinking about you.”

“I assume you’re at home?”

Harper laughed. “How could you tell? Jake, get down. No, Tate. He doesn’t need your help.”

Liberty grinned. Those two little boys were a handful. But they were sweet as well as wild, and she loved them with a fierceness that surprised even her. “How are my darling nephews?”

“Needing a nap. Or maybe just Mama is. I’m fixing lunch before I pass them off to Bran for the afternoon. I’m heading in to the store. What’s going on in your life?”

“I need your help,” Liberty blurted. “Like really need it to the point I’m about to have a damn panic attack.”

“Hang on a sec. Bran just walked in.”

Liberty heard, “Hey, hot mama,” and imagined Bran kissing Harper’s neck, like he did whenever they’d been apart for more than five minutes. They were so crazy in love it’d be sickening if not for the fact they shared that love with everyone around them. From the instant Bran had married Harper, the gruff rancher had considered Liberty as much his sister as Harper’s. He’d been such a pillar of strength for both her and Harper in the months during Liberty’s recovery and after leaving the military.

So she couldn’t be jealous of her sister’s good fortune; Harper deserved the happiness she’d found with Bran. Still, Liberty secretly believed that type of forever, soul-mate love was a fluke.

“Heya, sis. Come visit us soon. The boys miss you,” Bran said into the phone. Then the sounds of background noise faded.

“Okay, now tell me why I’m getting a panicked call from you,” Harper said with concern. “You’re never panicked.”

Liberty exhaled slowly. “After eight months of training, I’ve scored a long-term assignment where I’ll be traveling. At the meeting today, the client insisted that I”—it pained her to admit this to her beautiful, fashionable sister—“look less dowdy and more hip to fit in.”

“Your jerk of a client said that to you? Good Lord, Lib. How much is the guy limping? Or did you just shoot him?”

She loved how quickly Harper got indignant on her behalf. “Neither, because he’s right. I have no sense of style. I’ve always told you I don’t care, and that was true when I was on active duty, but now? Now I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m thirty-five years old and I’m so overwhelmed by all of it—girl hair, makeup, clothing—that I don’t even know where to start.”

“Well, sweetie, you came to the right place. Take a deep breath. We’ll get you through this.”

“Thank you.”

“Oh, you’ll be cursing me when I tell you that I’ve been waiting for this day to come, and I’ve prepared for it accordingly.”

Liberty frowned. “How did you prepare for it?”

“Please. Did you forget I own a clothing store? I see thousands of pieces of merchandise every year. And ever since you got this job, when I saw something that would look great on you, I’ve set it aside.”

“Christ. Like some kind of Liberty-becomes-a-fashionista hope chest?”

Harper laughed. “Exactly. I know you like baggy, comfortable clothes and I kept that in mind when I picked pieces that are . . . absolutely nothing like that at all.”

Liberty groaned but admitted, “God, you annoy me, but I love you anyway.”

“I know. I’ve set aside two dozen pieces. Some will work well together, some need another piece to complete the outfit, but they’re all stylish and yet fit with your personality, job and lifestyle. When do you need them by?”

“We leave Denver on Monday.”

“Okay. Not a problem. I’ll overnight them to you today . . . under one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“That we finish every ensemble tomorrow afternoon—including shoes. Which means you will take me along as your personal shopper and we’ll be on FaceTime for as long as it takes.”

Don’t groan. “That sounds”—like torture—“good.”

“You’re such a liar. I’ll include ideas of what I think will finish off the outfits and where you can find individual pieces. We’ll start at department stores.” Harper paused.

“What?”

“Is money an issue?”

“Depends on if you’re sending me shopping at Saks or Kmart.”

“Places like Nordstrom, Dillard’s, Forever 21, Charlotte Russe and Anthropologie will work just fine.”

“Then I’m good.” Now that the hundred-thousand-dollar paycheck loomed, she could afford to spend a little of her nest egg.

“What about hair and makeup?”

“I was hoping you’d have all the answers for that too.”

“That’s something you need to handle on your own. But let me ask Bernice if she knows anyone in Denver who specializes in makeovers.”

Bernice. That crazy woman who told her she had the perfect face for a crew cut. Liberty had enough problems looking feminine without that. “I’m not sure—”

“Bernice won’t steer me wrong. I promise. As far as makeup, I’ll text you a list of basics you need in your toolbox. Then I want you to go on YouTube and watch ‘how to’ segments. I’d suggest a department store makeup counter, but I know you, sis; you’re hands-on. The best way to learn is to do it yourself. And this time you have to learn. Your job depends on it.”

Some of the tension melted out of her. “You don’t have any idea how much I appreciate this.”

“Yes, sweetie, I do. I’m really tickled you came to me first.”

“As the former Miss Sweetgrass, you’re the expert. I never even considered calling anyone else.”

“I wish we could do this in person.” She paused. “How long will you be on assignment?”

“Four months. But I get a ten-day break after three months so I promise I’ll drive up and hang out with you and your boys.”

“We’d like that. And maybe before you leave you could FaceTime with Tate and Jake? They love the stick horses you sent.”

She grinned. Spoiling her only nephews was her right. “Sounds good.”

“I’ll text you Bernice’s salon recommendation and I’ll talk with you tomorrow. Love you, Lib. Thanks for needing my help.”

“You might be sorry you said that,” she warned. “Love you too. Kiss the fam for me.”

Four hours later, Liberty was sitting in a beauty chair, facing a mirror. The stylist had spent fifteen minutes offering suggestions about color changes and style.

Now the decision rested solely in her hands. She looked at her baby-fine, reddish brown hair, which brushed the tops of her breasts. Over the years she’d worn her hair either long or short, no in between. She’d never changed the color. She’d never really cared before now.

Be daring. And face it—even a shitty haircut eventually grows out.

“So? What’ll it be?”

Liberty smiled—although it looked more like a grimace. “Do it all. Cut it. Color it. I don’t want to recognize myself when you’re done.”

Two days later . . .

Devin studied the outside of his new tour bus. No gigantic image of his grinning face, no signage at all about who was on board. But there was no doubt this still looked like a rockstar’s bus. The inside was even better. He had a big master bedroom and decent-sized master bathroom. The promotion company had even found a bus with only two bunks instead of the standard four. This one had a second bathroom as well as a small alcove where the bunks would’ve been. The main living area had a half-wall on both sides that allowed for separation from the kitchen. The driver’s area was enclosed like the cab of a semitruck. The only access was through a sliding glass window.

His roadies had unloaded his bags in his bedroom and stashed his favorite guitars in the closet. He didn’t give a damn if his clothes got wrinkled; he cared that his guitars were protected and accessible.

Crash wandered over with an update. “We’re loaded. The equipment trucks are gone. The roadies’ bus is following. We’re waiting on Tay, but the rest of the band is ready to roll.” He peered over the top of his sunglasses. “Where’s your new personal assistant?”

“Who knows? I haven’t heard from her. If she ain’t here in ten minutes . . . we’re still leaving.”

“Nope. Sorry. I got my orders, Dev. We’re waiting on her.”

“Goddammit. This is so fucking stupid. I don’t need—”

As he spoke, two arms circled his waist and he jerked away violently.

Yeah, maybe he was a little on edge.

He whirled around and saw the shocked face of his string player and songwriting partner, Odette.

“Geez, Devin, jumpy much?”

“Sorry, darlin’.” He hugged her. “You all set?”

“Yes. Thanks for scoring us a new bus too. It’s sweet. Steve and I will be breaking in that king-sized bed very soon.”

“TMI, little O. And if you tell me that my drummer’s got the right rhythm, I will put you two lovebirds in a single bunk and rotate Tay, Gage, Leon, and Jase into the bedroom.”

She whapped him on the chest. “That’s just plain mean. Sounds like someone needs to get laid.”

“You have no idea.” Although he had groupies lined up for him before and after shows, in the past eighteen months, after all this shit started going down, he hadn’t fucked any of the women he’d invited into his ready room. He’d kept sexual contact to blow jobs and hand jobs. If those women lied and bragged he’d banged them, well, he didn’t give a damn. He couldn’t go back and change the manwhore reputation he’d built over the years—most of which had been exaggerated anyway.

A jacked-up Ford truck screeched into the parking lot and the driver slammed on the brakes. A scrawny, bearded guy leaped out of the cab and climbed onto the back bumper, lifting suitcases out of the truck bed and tossing them to the ground.

Just then Tay came around the back end of the truck, yelling obscenities at the man.

“You have got to be fucking kiddin’ me,” Devin said. “Is Tay an asshole magnet?”

“Yep. This dude followed her to Denver from Kansas City. They were going at it like rabbits. We were in the room next to theirs,” Odette said.

Then Tay took a swing at him with her laptop bag.

The guy ducked, jumped back into the truck and sped off, tires spitting gravel.

“Looks like another breakup to me,” Crash muttered. “Can’t wait for her and Jase to start fucking and fighting again . . . Not.”

Jase, the laid-back lead guitar player, and Tay, his keyboard player and backup singer, had an on-again off-again relationship. Their fights—and subsequent makeups—were loud, obnoxious and the main reason after Odette . . . Devin never got involved with a woman he worked with.

“Is Jase here?” he asked, watching Tay head toward the band’s bus, Odette hot on her heels.

“He left with the equipment truck,” Gage said behind him.

“Wise choice.”

“A hundred bucks says they’re back together by Friday,” Leon, his steel guitar player, said.

“Whose turn is it to run the pool?” Steve asked.

“Gage did it last time,” Crash said. “I reckon it’s Devin’s turn.”

“Get your bets and money to me by showtime.”

“Who’re we waiting for?” Gage asked.

Just then a gorgeous baby blue Mustang pulled up. The driver’s-side door opened, and a pair of boots hit the concrete. He saw only a flip of the woman’s hair and her jeans-clad backside—and sweet baby Jesus, what a sweet backside it was—before she was hidden, rooting around in the open trunk.

Even as his suspicions surfaced, his head was telling him no, that couldn’t possibly be her.

The trunk shut, and she started toward him. Wind tousling her shoulder-length auburn hair, her hips swaying in jeans that hugged her every curve. With a duffel bag slung over her shoulder and another one clutched in her other hand, she flexed her well-defined arm muscles. Her cherry red lips curved into a smirk as she fastened her gaze on him.

Holy mother of God. It was a miracle that he managed to keep from drooling. Or from cursing at the sky because the fucking universe had a sick sense of humor.

Or maybe this is karma beating you with the stupid stick for boldly proclaiming that you didn’t find Liberty Masterson attractive. And for challenging her to look the part of your groupie entourage.

What a cruel joke—his groupies never looked that goddamn good.

Devin had about ten seconds to prepare himself before she reached him. Good thing he had his sunglasses on—maybe they’d keep his eyes from popping out of his head.

That’s when his gaze landed on not one but two bruisers behind her. One guy carried two suitcases; the other guy hefted an enormous cooler. Given the sheer size of the first guy, he could’ve been a Broncos linebacker or a WWE wrestler. The second guy was a mirror image of the first.

Liberty offered a quick smile. “Sorry I’m late. I had to grab a few last-minute things.” She set down her duffel bags. “Which bus is ours?”

Devin pointed to the forward bus.

“Sweet upgrade. Guys . . . do you mind?”

Immediately, Hulk #1 and Hulk #2 carted the suitcases and cooler aboard the bus. Then they were back, awaiting Liberty’s instructions.

She stood on tiptoe to get in Hulk #1’s face. “You’ll make sure she’s protected? No matter what?”

“Baby girl, don’t worry. I promise I’ll take as good care of her as you do, okay?”

“Okay.” She smiled and pressed something into his hand.

Then the guy picked her up off the ground and spun her around, giving everyone his massive back so no one could see if he was laying a big steamy kiss good-bye on her or copping a feel or what. Then he tossed her to Hulk #2, where she received the same treatment, except Hulk #2 slapped her ass and whispered in her ear before he set her down and lumbered back to the car.

It was surprising the King Kong twins fit into the front seats.

She didn’t turn around until the car was out of view. “Sorry. I have separation anxiety.”

“At bein’ away from them?” Devin asked sharply.

Liberty gave him a you’re-an-idiot look. “No. From my car.”

“That’s your car?”

Another you’re stupid, Captain Obvious look from G.I. Jane.

Crash said, “Happy to have you with us, Liberty.”

Odette rejoined them. “And who are you exactly?”

“Liberty Masterson. I’m Devin’s personal assistant.”

A beat passed, and then she laughed in Liberty’s face. “Right. So how long have you been personally assisting him? Since you met him in the bar last night?”

Liberty didn’t respond. She merely stared at Odette until she backed down.

Devin stepped forward, taking his life in his hands when he draped an arm over Liberty’s shoulder. Not only did she look good; she smelled good. “Liberty is handling the venue logistics, my promotional appearances, and all that stuff I hate doin’ and Crash is too busy to deal with since I’m headlining this time. So to keep everything streamlined, she’s traveling on my bus.”

Looks were exchanged, eyebrows were lifted and Odette nudged Tay and muttered, “Personal assistant, my ass.”

Then Devin introduced Liberty to his band.

“Nice to meet all of you. But if you’ll excuse me, I have to get the rest of my shit on the bus so we have an on-time departure—since keeping Devin on schedule is part of my job.”

Her bright smile was totally fake; Devin choked back a snort.

She reached for the straps on her bags and Devin moved to help her. The damn woman was so stubborn that they played tug-of-war until he shouldered her aside. “Now, sweetheart,” he said from gritted teeth, “what kind of a man would I be if I stood by and watched you struggle with your luggage by yourself?”

She smiled—the devious one that made his stomach drop. “You’d be like every other man on the planet.” She picked up the smaller bag and hoofed it to the bus.

Devin was so focused on the mesmerizing way her butt jiggled that he didn’t budge until Crash elbowed him.

“Quit standing there and move it. I’m right behind you.”

He snagged the handles and let out a grunt. Had she packed cannonballs in here? He trailed behind her, trying like hell—and failing miserably—to keep his eyes off her ass. So he nearly plowed into her when they entered the bus.

“Holy friggin’ hell.” Liberty had stopped in the living area and was gawking.

“Keep movin’. I’ve gotta get these bricks unloaded,” he grumbled.

“Funny. Which bunk is mine?”

“Both. Since you’re the only other passenger.”

“Sweet. I wondered where I’d put everything.”

Devin dragged the duffel bag the last few feet. “I figured you’d be the type to pack light, not drag four bags along.”

“Guns and ammo take up a lot of room.”

She had to be joking.

But the look on her face said she wasn’t.

Devin pointed to the area below the first bunk. “There are locking drawers for all your firepower.”

“Thanks.” Liberty didn’t ask for help hoisting her bags.

“All right. See you guys in Salt Lake because I don’t plan on stopping.”

Liberty looked at Crash. “You’re on the other bus?”

“I’m driving the other bus.” He grinned. “How do you think I got my name?”

“I’m thanking the universe I’m not riding with you.”

After Crash departed, Devin stood there like a dumb-ass, staring at her.

Of course she caught him staring. “What?”

“You look . . . different.”

Her gaze sharpened. “You told me to look different, remember?”

“Yes, but I didn’t think you’d look like this.” His admiring, borderline lustful gaze swept her body from head to toe and back up.

“Seriously? I get the slack-jawed response that Sandra Bullock got in Miss Congeniality after her makeover and there’s no one around to see it?”

“And that’s where the comparison ends, because there ain’t nothin’ congenial about you.”

She blushed but kept her stubborn chin lifted.

Feeling ornery, he didn’t let it go. “I find the section of blue hair . . . interesting. Why’d you do it?”

“I swear a blue streak and thought my new, improved look should reflect that.”

Devin laughed. “It worked. You look”—fucking fantastic—“incredible.”

Her silvery eyes turned a dark, stormy gray. “It’s a damn good thing you’re not attracted to me in the least, don’t you agree?”

Now he looked away. That’d been an asshole thing to say. And the fact she’d overheard it? Now he knew why she’d given him the cold shoulder at the GSC offices. “Takes two to two-step, darlin’. You swore I’m not your type either.”

Her startled expression indicated she’d forgotten that.

“Now, we done with this who’s hot and who’s not sniping so I can show you the rest of the bus?”

“We’re done.”

“Come on.”

Liberty was properly awed by their luxury traveling coach. “I spent so many years riding in the back of transport trucks and in Humvees, I doubt I’ll get used to this. This place is way nicer than my apartment. It’s a little surreal.”

“For me too,” he confessed. “Even after a dozen years in this business, I keep expecting I’ll wake up and find it’s all been a dream.” Why had he told her something so personal? Now she probably thought he was even more of a pussy.

Yeah, you hauling her luggage proved you’re one badass dude.

Three knocks sounded outside the door. “Just wanted to let you know we’re taking off.”

Liberty moved and offered her hand. “I’m Liberty, Devin’s personal assistant.”

“I’m Reg.” The rotund guy in his midfifties shook her hand with much enthusiasm. “Happy to meet you, ma’am. If either of you needs something, hit the intercom switch. It’ll turn on the light on my dashboard. Since I wear headphones, it’s best that you approach me that way and not through the beer window. Better not to scare the dickens out of me and I end up wrecking the bus.”

“Good point.”

Devin watched as Liberty put away her groceries—every bit of it labeled. “You don’t have to do that,” he said when she added a big L to the side of the milk. “I ain’t gonna steal your food.”

“Sorry. Habit left over from military life.”


Hillbilly Rockstar

Hillbilly Rockstar

A Blacktop Cowboys Novel