The second book in the new Ransom Family series will be available TOMORROW! I can’t wait to share Rose’s book with you. In the meantime, check out this sneak peek of the first chapter.
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As far as summer jobs go, it could be worse. There’s good music playing, the night air is warm, and the tips have been freaking fantastic. All in all, not bad.
Which I would know, considering I’ve worked just about every job you can imagine during my six years of undergrad and grad school. I’ve done all the usual things—fast food joints, mowing lawns, hauling boxes for a moving company. Endless grunt work filing papers in an insurance office. Painting houses. Construction. One summer I even had a weekend job working for my buddy’s uncle’s boating company in Maine, carting tourists out to the ocean to sightsee and fish.
This job, though, bartending at the summer’s biggest music festival—this job I could get used to. Especially since I somehow managed to get moved into the VIP section. With the kind of tips I’m pulling in tonight, I just might start the first semester of my PhD with some money in the bank after my rent gets paid.
“View ain’t bad,” my friend Bodhi says, nudging my arm, and I know he doesn’t mean the view of the concert itself. The VIP section is set to the left and slightly behind the stage, giving us an obstructed sight of the band currently playing. But since few of the rich and beautiful people in this section seem very interested in watching the show, I guess it doesn’t matter much. Their focus seems to be socializing. Clumps of them are gathered around the swanky club seating, chatting and drinking. There are a few couples making out in the shadowy corners. A sizable group is dancing in the middle of the space—we might not be able to see the band back here, but the sound is amazing.
And that’s the view Bodhi is obviously talking about. The scantily dressed women shaking their asses just a few feet from our station.
“Maybe less ogling and more pouring,” I tell him, slapping a clean pint glass against his chest. “Guy at the end of the bar wants that IPA on tap.”
Bodhi fills the glass as requested, never once taking his eyes off the group of girls. “Leo, man, you can’t tell me you aren’t at all interested. Look at that redhead!”
I just shrug. The redhead is hot, definitely, but I’ve been too busy pouring drinks to pay much attention. The more drinks I pour, the more tips I bring home. And that’s the entire point of being here.
“Come on, man,” Bodhi presses. “I saw the way she was flirting with you when she came over for her appletini.”
“She wasn’t flirting.”
He snorts. “You’re really clueless, you know that? Maybe you’d be able to tell when a girl is into you if you weren’t so anti-social.”
There’s a lull at the bar so I grab a towel and start cleaning the counter. “First of all,” I tell him. “I do just fine with the ladies. And secondly, I’m not anti-social.”
“Right.” His eyes sparkle with amusement under the flashing lights from the stage. “You just hate people.”
“I like some people.” I toss the wet towel at him and he bats it away.
“It’s a damn short list, my friend.”
“Be careful,” I warn him. “Or I might just remove you from it.”
He snorts with laughter. “Yeah, right. You couldn’t get rid of me at this point if you tried.”
We both know he’s right, though God knows I did try when we first met. The last thing I thought I needed was a friend, but Bodhi’s tenacity—maybe obnoxiousness is a better word—eventually wore me down.
“She’s looking at you again,” Bodhi says, nudging my arm. “The redhead.”
Since there’s still no one waiting for a drink, I allow myself to follow his gaze to the group of dancing girls. It’s not that I would be opposed to a random hook-up tonight. The new school year is fast approaching, my first as a doctoral student, which means my life is going to get even busier than normal in a few short weeks. This could be my last chance for a night of fun in a while.
Assuming I can make my move without getting in the way of work. That has to be the priority. It’s always the priority.
I squint into the crowd, trying to find the redhead Bodhi won’t shut up about. But my eyes snag on someone else, a tall blonde chatting with a friend at the side of the dance floor, her back to me. She stands out from the crowd of girls in their club wear, her plain tank top and cut off shorts incongruous with the slinky, sparkly fabric clinging tightly to the other dancers.
Then she turns around.
Just like that, all the air goes out of me. Bodhi is saying something, but I don’t even hear him. I can’t focus on anything except for the sight of the woman standing still amongst the dancing crowd in front of me.
Skin. Miles and miles of golden, smooth skin fill my vision as the flashing overhead lights catch her. I have the strangest urge to reach out and touch her, to jump right over the bar and go to her.
I have zero clue why this stranger is so uniquely captivating to me. It’s like I physically can’t look away, and I have no idea why.
Maybe it’s her eyes. Even in the dim light of the VIP area I can see how blue they are. Or maybe it’s the masses of white blond waves that cascade down over golden shoulders and arms. Or it could be the shape of her, all smooth lines and perfect curves on a tall frame. Or maybe—
“Leo?” Bodhi says, and I startle. I’d completely forgotten that he was standing next to me, that we’re in the middle of our shift. Hell, I’d pretty much forgotten where I was entirely.
“Right,” I say, shaking my head a little to clear it.
My reaction is too late. Bodhi follows my line of sight and makes a surprised noise, his gaze snapping back to my face. “Dude.”
I grab some lemons so I can busy myself with prep work. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to keep my gaze on the knife in my hands. Every instinct in my body is begging me to find the blonde woman in the crowd.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you stare at a chick like that,” Bodhi says, his voice alarmingly giddy. He’s not going to drop this. “You should go talk to her.”
I actually consider taking the suggestion, which tells me how affected I am by this stranger. I would normally never think about ditching work for a woman, not even for a few minutes. But there’s something about those blue eyes…
Luckily, there’s a break in the music as the band on stage finishes their set, and the bar gets slammed immediately, preventing me from indulging in the nearly overwhelming desire to abandon my station to go talk to her.
I’m suddenly grateful that I spent so much time tending bar in the last few years. I can fill pints at the tap and mix most of these drinks in my sleep. It’s a damn good thing, because I can’t concentrate for shit right now. My attention keeps drifting back to the blonde woman. She’s still chatting with her friends in the exact same place I first noticed her.
God, she’s fucking gorgeous. The kind of beauty you usually only see in magazines or on a television screen. It’s almost hard to believe that she’s real.
She must catch the intensity of my continued gaze, because she glances up and meets my eyes, a pretty pink blush immediately coming to her cheeks. I’m struck with a strong rush of satisfaction. I like that I’m affecting her, even in this minor way.
Another customer slides up to the bar, cutting off my view of the woman. I rush to make his rum and Coke so he’ll get the hell out of my way and I can get back to ogling her. I’ve just handed the drink across the counter when Bodhi begins hissing in my ear. “Incoming!”
The guy in front of me finally moves, revealing ice blue eyes. Their impact is even more intense up close. A shy little smile plays around her lips. “Could I have a beer, please?”
Damn, I like the sound of her voice. It seems to fit her, the sound light and airy, almost like there’s something musical about it. I wonder what that voice would sound like whispering in my ear. I don’t realize she’s asked me for a drink until Bodhi nudges me. Shit. I blink several times, trying to break the spell of those mesmerizing eyes.
“Sorry, what’d you want?” My voice sounds all weird to my own ears, husky and low. Behind me, I can hear my supposed best friend wheezing with suppressed laughter. Asshole.
“A beer,” she repeats, a little louder, probably assuming my lack of service had something to do with the noise level in the area, and not the fact that I’m clearly struck dumb by her mere presence.
“Anything in particular?” At least my voice sounds a little more normal.
She glances up at the chalkboard menu over my head, giving me a chance to study her while she studies her options. Now that she’s standing right here, I can see that my initial impression of her beauty didn’t even come close. This chick has the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen, and they’re huge, seeming to take up half her face. The rest of her features are delicate, her skin creamy and smooth even under the flashing neon lights. That mane of white-blond hair hangs thick and wavy around her shoulders and I have the strangest urge to reach out and touch it, to see if it feels as silky smooth around my fingers as it looks.
Then she directs her attention back to me and it’s everything I can do to stop gaping at her like a freaking creeper. “The chocolate stout sounds good.”
I bite back a groan. She’s this gorgeous and she likes good beer? I’m totally fucked.
“You got it,” I mutter. Just as I bend over the tap a chick with jet black hair joins her at the bar. “Rose!” she squeals, pulling on her arm. “He just asked for my number!”
Rose. It suits her, I think. Pretty name for a fucking gorgeous woman.
“Of course he did, Everly,” she says, her soft, musical voice somehow managing to be heard over all the noise. “You’re gorgeous and fun. He’d be crazy not to call you.”
The friend jumps up and down, doing a little dance, and Rose laughs, catching my eye. Her expression is a mix of fondness, amusement, and exasperation. I wonder who the girl—Everly—is to her. I wonder what they’re doing here. I wonder a lot of things about her, all of a sudden. I think I might want to know everything about her.
But for now, all I have is a name. No sooner do I hand her the pint does Everly pull her back over to the rest of their friends. I can’t help but stare after her, enjoying the view of her ass in those short jean shorts.
“Dude, put your tongue back in your mouth,” Bodhi says, sounding way too amused. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this.”
His continued chuckle is already grating on my nerves. “Your face is like…all soft and shit. Where’s the grumpy asshole I know and love?”
“My face isn’t—what—k” I splutter, caught off guard. “Shut the fuck up, Bodhi.”
He laughs harder. “There he is.” He points over at Rose and her friends. “Quick, look back at her.” When I automatically do, he practically howls with laughter. “See? Total heart eyes. Shit—I never thought I’d see the day.”
“Shut. Up.” I growl, casting a worried look at Rose.
“She can’t hear me,” he says easily. “But seriously—you’re obviously into this girl. Why didn’t you try to talk to her?”
“I talked to her,” I mumble, not liking the self-conscious feeling coursing through me at his teasing. I don’t embarrass easily, but I’m feeling pretty mixed up at the moment.
“You said two words to her!” he chides.
“Her friend came to get her.”
The dickhead actually stands up on his tiptoes to peer at the girls. “She’s pretty hot, too. I like the dark hair. Think she’d go for me?” He nudges me with a campy, overdone wink. “We could double date.”
His ridiculousness has the much needed effect of shaking me out of my stupor. “Okay, can we back to work now? The line is getting long.”
I can tell Bodhi doesn’t want to drop it—and I’ll for sure be hearing more about this later—but he thankfully starts filling orders. He knows how much I need the money from this gig. He might be obnoxious sometimes, but he would never fuck around with that.
I mix drinks and pour beer while the next band takes to the stage. I do my best to keep my attention on the task at hand, and not the gorgeous blonde a few feet away, but I know my eyes drift in her direction more often than they should. Several times I look over and meet her gaze. Is she trying to sneak glances at me too? It’s ridiculous how much that possibility makes my chest puff up.
About halfway through the set, she approaches the bar again, this time without her friends. They seem to be watching her go, giggling and whispering behind their hands.
“I’m assuming you want to take this one,” Bodhi mutters in a dry undertone, jerking his head towards the approaching goddess. I get a little distracted when she stops a few feet away to gather that mass of hair into a messy knot at the top of her head, showing off the long line of her elegant neck.
My mouth is dry by the time she reaches us. “Back again,” she says, that shy smile so damn cute I want to kiss it off her face.
“Hmm.” She rests her elbows on the counter, leaning forward a little, and I manage to only glance down at her newly revealed cleavage for a couple of seconds. “I think I want something lighter. It was good, but kind of heavy.”
It takes me a minute to realize I’m leaning towards her, my pose mimicking hers. I’m sure Bodhi will add this to the list of things to rag me about later, but I don’t really care. This girl is just too mesmerizing not to get closer.
“There’s a fruity brown ale on the menu,” I tell her, but she makes a face.
“Fruit does not belong in beer.”
I laugh. “Agreed. You want to try a mixed drink?”
She leans a little closer, her eyes sparkling. “Sure. What do you recommend?”
“What do you like?”
Every word out of my mouth seems heavy with double meaning. But she doesn’t seem put off by it. From the way she’s smiling, I’m pretty sure she’s considering flirting right back.
“Nothing too sweet.”
An image of all the not too sweet things I could do to her flashes through my mind, and I have to clear my suddenly graveled throat.
“How ‘bout I make a couple different things and you can try them out?”
Her eyes light up at that, making me feel like the king of the fucking bar or something. “That sounds fun.”
I ignore Bodhi’s gleeful glances as I pull the ingredients I need, moving quickly so I can get back to her. Another one of those shy smiles has my heart rate speeding up as I arrange my supplies on the counter in front of her.
“How can you remember all these different drinks?” she asks, watching my hands while I work.
“Lots of practice.”
“You’ve been bartending for long?”
I shrug. “On and off over the years. It’s a pretty decent gig while I’m in school, because I can pick up lots of hours on the weekend.”
Again, her face lights up. She’s so damn expressive. “I’m in school too.”
My stomach clenches as I look her over. She’s got an over-21 tag on her VIP access bracelet, so I didn’t ask for ID when I got her beer. I hope she’s actually legit, and not some freshman who snuck back here or something.
“Senior?” I ask hopefully.
She grins, and I get the sense she knows exactly what I’m suddenly worried about. “Grad school, actually. First year in September.”
I relax. “Me too. Well, not a first year. I just finished my master’s and I’m starting my doctorate in the fall.”
She sits up straighter, obvious interest in her expression. “Really? Where are you—”
The rest of her question is cut off when Bodhi clears his throat next to me. “Sorry, man.” He sounds genuinely regretful to interrupt us. “This chick is asking for a Lemon Drop and I’ve never made one.”
Since that’s one of the drinks I’d planned to make Rose, I have all the shit I need right in front of me and I get to work. “Hey,” Bodhi says to Rose in what I’m sure he thinks is his most charming voice. “How’s it going?”
“Good. You guys are pretty busy, huh?”
“Only for a little while longer,” he says. “Once the big guns get up on stage, no one will be worrying much about their drinks.” Out of the corner of my eye, I see Rose stiffen, but then Bodhi leans over the counter, his hand outstretched. “I’m Bodhi.”
“Rose,” she says.
He smacks my back. “I’m assuming you’ve met my friend Leo.”
“Dude.” He sounds aghast. “You didn’t even tell her your name?”
“I was getting there,” I mutter.
He rolls his eyes. “You really need to work on your game.”
Rose laughs, holding out her hand. “Rose.” I wrap her soft, small hand in mine, giving it a squeeze, trying to ignore the electricity that buzzes through me at her touch. The sudden yearning I feel to touch a hell of a lot more of her.
Rose meets my gaze, her eyes matching the intensity I’m sure is mirrored in mine. “His game is just fine,” she murmurs.
Jesus. I’ve never in my life had this kind of a reaction to a complete stranger. Where in the hell did this girl come from?
I hand Bodhi the drink for his customer without looking at him, my eyes still locked on Rose’s. “Okaaaayy, then,” he says, his tone amused. “I’m just gonna…leave the two of you to…talk.”
I barely notice him walking away. “You ready for this?” I ask her, pointing at the drinks in front of me.
She sits up straighter, looking excited. “Hit me.”
I slide the first glass across the counter. “We’re starting pretty safe here, Rose.” Rose. Fuck do I like the way her name feels on my tongue. “This is a Lemon Drop. Vodka, lemon juice, and simple sugar.”
She brings the glass to her lips and I get majorly distracted watching her mouth. “That’s pretty good.”
“It’s refreshing, right?”
She nods, wiping her mouth. “Definitely.” She gives me that breathtaking smile. “Still a little too sweet for me.”
I slide over the next drink, a Manhattan. “This is pretty much the opposite of sweet.”
She takes a sip and immediately flinches. “Oh, God. I hate it.”
I laugh, taking the glass back. “Tell me how you really feel.”
She gives me a sheepish smile. “I’m sure you prepared it just right, I’m not like, doubting your bartending skills.” Then she surprises me by reaching over to place her hand over mine. Once again, those buzzy sparks go crazy on my skin. “But please don’t make me drink that ever again.”
I force out a chuckle, even as my heart beat goes into overdrive. I’m pretty sure I would give this girl anything she ever asked for so long as she added that breathy little please into the mix.
“Ready for attempt three?”
She smacks her palms against the counter. “Let’s do it.”
“This is a hurricane. Rum, passion fruit, lemon juice.”
“Oh my God,” she says, pushing the glass away and wiping at her mouth. “You said you weren’t doing sweet!”
I have to laugh at the outrage in her expression. “Sorry, I just wanted to make sure. Sometimes girls say they don’t like girly drinks but really…”
Her eyes narrow. “Are you saying you don’t trust me to know my own preferences because I’m a girl?”
I hold my hands up. “No. Definitely not saying that.”
Her eyes remain angry little slits. “Good. Because saying something that misogynistic is a surefire way to get your testicles punctured with a stiletto heel.”
My eyes widen. “That’s an awfully specific threat.”
She shrugs, smirking a bit. “I have three brothers.”
I laugh and it hits me how much fun I’m having, just talking to her. This doesn’t usually happen, at least not to me. Bodhi hadn’t been entirely wrong when he called me anti-social. It’s not that I hate people—I just don’t always have the easiest time relating to them.
That doesn’t seem to be a problem with Rose, though. And I like that a whole lot more than I want to admit.
She gives me a stern glare across the counter. “Now give me a good one.”
I grin. “Okay, I think this might be it. This is called a gin fizz. It’s a little old school, but I think it’s a classic.”
She takes a sip, her eyes widening. Then she takes another, the softest little moan escaping around the glass. It’s everything I can do not to rip the drink away from her mouth and replace it with my lips.
“Leo, this is good.” Her eyes are wide, excited, and it occurs to me that’s the first time she said my name. I like it. A lot. She takes another sip. “Yeah. I think this might be my drink.”
I nod seriously. “Having a signature drink is an important part of adulthood.”
Rose raises an eyebrow. “What’s yours?”
She bursts out laughing. “The one I hated so much?”
I shrug. “Guess your palette isn’t quite so refined as mine.”
She rolls her eyes, but she’s grinning, the beauty of that smile making the rest of the room go a little fuzzy. This girl is like liquid sunshine. And I just want to get closer to her warmth.
I need to ask for her number. Or ask her to meet me after the concert. Or to run away with me. I don’t even know, I just know I need something more, something big. Something only Rose can give me.
Just when I’m about to embarrass the hell out of myself by voicing any of that, a hand comes down on her shoulder, making her jump.
But this time, it isn’t the overly-excited black-haired friend. This time, it’s a man.
A very, very famous man.
“I’ve been looking for you,” he says, smiling down at her. “I thought you were coming back stage.”
Rose’s entire body has gone still. Her blue eyes shoot back to mine, somehow even wider than they’d been before. “Um, I guess I lost track of the time.”
He grins at her. “Let me guess—dancing with your cousins?”
The man’s laugh sounds a lot like hers. But not nearly so similar as his eyes, which are also an icy-blue. Or his white blond hair.
Rose makes a strangled sound that might be a laugh. “Yup. Pretty much.”
“Well come say hi to your uncles before we go on stage. You know how they get about their good luck charm.”
This time when she laughs, it sounds a lot more normal. “Tell them they’re ridiculous.”
He squeezes her shoulder. “Tell them yourself. I don’t want to put up with their grumpy asses if they don’t get their hugs before the show.”
Rose shoots me a worried glance. “I’ll be there in a minute.”
The guy finally seems to notice that she was talking to someone, and his eyes, so much like the ones I’ve been gazing into all night, snap to me, suspicion suddenly lining his face.
He doesn’t say anything though. Just gives her shoulder another squeeze before walking away, half the room stopping what they’re doing to watch him pass.
I guess that’s the kind of reaction you get when you’re Daltrey Ransome, arguably the most famous singer in the world.
Rose isn’t meeting my gaze anymore. “Sorry about that,” she murmurs. “My, um, Dad. I promised I’d go back stage before their set.”
Her dad. Daltrey Ransome is her dad. And she promised she’d go backstage before their set. Before Ransom’s set. Holy shit.
I suddenly remember the way she had seemed to stiffen when Bodhi mentioned the “big guns” taking the stage. He’d been referring to them, of course. To Ransom. The festival’s headliner.
Rose’s family, apparently.
“Uh, right,” I manage to say, my voice practically unrecognizable.
Rose gives me a smile—a sad, shaky little smile—and holds up the last drink. “Thank you for this,” she says.
Her face seems to crumple, just for a second, but then she straightens her shoulders, expression flattening as she pulls some bills out of her pocket.
“No,” I say, my voice too sharp. But something about her offering to give me money for the minutes we just spent together has my hackles rising. “It’s not necessary,” I manage in a softer tone. “Drinks are free in the VIP section.”
“I want to leave you a tip,” she says softly.
I grit my teeth. “It’s really not necessary.”
But she slips a bill into the jar in front of me all the same. “Thank you, Leo.” Even though her tone is soft, her expression remains blank. Completely different from the bright, shining smile she’d worn before.
Then she’s turning to follow the path Daltrey Ransome just took backstage.
I turn to see Bodhi standing at my side, mouth gaped open, eyes wide. “Was that…”
“Daltrey Ransome,” I mutter. Rose’s father.
“Seriously? The Daltrey Ransome?”
“Why is that so surprising?” I snap. “He’s performing in less than an hour.”
“Yeah, but he was standing right there. Breathing the same air. You talked to him.”
I hadn’t talked to him, but I don’t bother correcting Bodhi. “I need to go grab another case of the Stella,” I mutter. “The line will get long before the headliner goes on.”
He nods, mouth hanging open, and I can tell he’s still reeling with excitement at the up-close celebrity sighting we just experienced.
Excitement is the last thing I’m feeling.
I’d had every intention of leaving tonight with Rose’s phone number. I still thought Bodhi was full of shit—no way did I have heart eyes, whatever the fuck that means—but it would be pointless to say I wasn’t attracted to this girl. That there wasn’t something about her that drew me closer in a way I hadn’t ever felt before. There had been a spark there, damn it, and I’d already been planning the best way to convince her that she should spend time with me after my shift was over.
She’s a member of rock and roll royalty, for fuck’s sake. Her dad is the lead singer of Ransom. Which means he’s also one of the co-owners of their hugely successful music label. No one has produced more top-selling artists in the last decade than Six Man Band Records.
All of that adds up to one thing—Rose’s family is completely loaded. Loaded and famous and beloved by just about every rock music fan in the country. I can’t even imagine what her life must be like. Glamorous and exciting, I’m sure. The polar opposite of mine.
Rose is the kind of girl who hangs out in the VIP section. And I’m the kind of guy who gets paid to make drinks for rich girls like her and crosses his fingers for a tip at the end.
I bring the case of Stella back to the bar and see that, just as I predicted, the line is growing long again. I’m grateful for the distraction of the work, grateful to have something to do with my hands.
Even before Ransom takes the stage to thunderous applause, I know I’m not asking for Rose’s number. What I don’t understand is why that bothers me so much. She’s hot, sure, but it’s not like I even know this girl.
What I do know is that she’s completely and totally out of my league. And that upsets me more than I’ll ever admit.