“Is that the Hound?”
Reed’s spine stiffened and his shoulders hunched as a woman’s high-pitched squeal ripped across the parking lot.
“Bas Korba? Oh my God! It is you! Isn’t it?” Each word spilled from her mouth louder and faster than the one before it. The shrill, excited shouting ended with another squeal as Reed peered across the narrow parking lot. A large man dressed in leather and sporting a feathery, faltering Mohawk grinned at the girl, who bounced on the balls of her feet in front of him. A vague sense of familiarity nagged at Reed’s mind as he studied the large, well-muscled man. He didn’t pay much attention to celebrities, not even local ones, so he shrugged off the thought as coincidence and nothing more.
your music!” The girl clapped her hand over her mouth, falling stock-still. Her self-imposed silence lasted two seconds before she squealed again and dug in her pocket. She held up her phone. “Can I get a picture?”
Reed tightened his grip on the car door and held his breath. The man was beauty in motion. Maybe he should pay more attention to who was who around Jackson. The man she’d called the Hound threw an arm around his screaming fan and leaned close as she snapped a picture. After the photo, he shook his head at the girl, who pouted but pulled a pen and paper out of the pocket of her smock and handed them to him. The Hound turned his back to her, and to Reed, to use the store wall to write a note for the bouncing girl. Strong thighs connected to a bubble-shaped ass that immediately sent Reed’s blood plummeting toward his crotch. He was tall and broad through the chest and shoulders, with a rich Mediterranean complexion and a quirky, crooked smile that flashed at the girl’s enthusiasm when he turned around to hand her the paper he’d apparently signed for her.
A cool breeze tossed Reed’s hair into his eyes. He slammed the car door and stuffed his keys in his pocket. The man exuded pure sexuality, but between the bad-boy leather, the wild punk hair, and the flirting girl, he was the last man on earth Reed would pursue. Besides, with a nickname like the Hound, he had to be a dog, some kind of player. Reed smiled and shook his head. Guys like that were proud of such things. While Reed occasionally sought out one-night stands like celebrities were famous for, he preferred his discreet and quiet. This leather dog obviously liked being the center of attention, and currently that attention came in the focus of a woman--not a man. The girl had ceased her excited squeals but still looked like she’d explode if he flashed another one of those sexy, sultry smiles in her direction. The pheromones on that side of the lot were probably nauseating.
Reed braced himself against the wind as much as another anticipated outburst from the woman and hurried across the lot. He glanced at the man along the way, admiring the flow of his body, easily discernable under the leather. The Hound smiled and chatted politely with his fan, and as Reed passed them to enter the store, he looked over her shoulder and met Reed’s gaze.
With an ungraceful stutter in his step, Reed slowed, holding the man’s gaze for a long second before looking away to reach for the door to the store. “Wow,” Reed whispered to himself. If he had been in the market, he’d have wished for someone who would look at him like that. He entertained a brief fantasy inspired by that look. The Hound swung both ways, and Reed could be his other half. Yeah, right, Reed smirked inwardly, because the limelight to Reed was the opposite of moths to flame. He’d run away from the Hound just as quickly as he’d let him star in a brief daytime fantasy. Quiet was a good thing, and screaming women were...too much.
As he hurried through the aisles, selecting groceries from a mental list, Reed brushed away thoughts of the man in the parking lot. The charm he’d poured over the girl made his interest in her obvious. Reed was man enough to admit he’d probably exaggerated the meaning in the way the Hound looked at him. It had been a while since he’d slipped away from his cozy, peaceful home to seek out some physical companionship. He’d thought he’d long ago given up crushing on straight men, but maybe his lack of release had inspired that old bad habit to return. From the girl to the punked-out look to the basking in all that loud, overdone attention, the Hound couldn’t be further away from Reed’s preferences in men. Reed loved his place up on the mountain above town where the only disruptions were the birds in the morning and the crickets at night. Fangirlsscreeching his name--or a boyfriend’s name--would never do.
Like he could handle a boyfriend anyway.
Maybe a one-night stand?
Stop! He did
not look at you like
By the time he reached the checkout counter, Reed had managed to forget about the scene in the parking lot and the resulting fantasy. In stilted sentences, he maintained a casual conversation with the owner, Hannah, as she rang up his purchases. While he answered her politely, he also did his best to avoid leaving an opening for another question. It had become a game now. Every time he stopped at her store, Reed tried to avoid a real conversation while Hannah plugged away at him with questions and comments as if they were old friends. Sometimes he’d barely say more than yes, no, or thank you, and other times, like today, he’d give in and share a tidbit or two about his week. He never could corner her into silence before she bade him a good day and a great week with receipt and groceries in hand.
Reed ducked out the door and into the cool, crisp breeze of the parking lot. He dashed between a car and a motorcycle and nearly tripped over a small tricolor beagle sitting beside the back wheel of the bike. She leaped up, not to get out of his way but to wag her tail at him. She whined and wiggled as if Reed were her best friend in the world, while her tail whipped back and forth so fiercely it appeared to brush her sides with its blur of motion. Her big brown ears flapped with her excited hound-dog dancing. Reed glanced around but saw no one except the sexy man chatting up the beaming, excited woman--just where he’d left them. His nickname might be dog related, but he sure didn’t look like a dog person.
With a shrug, Reed squatted and set his grocery bag behind him to scratch behind the dog’s ears. She put her paws on his knee and stretched her neck up to sniff him. Her warm tongue rasped over his chin as quick as a snake strike, but when he pulled away, she sat back and cocked her head to the side, studying him with deep, dark eyes.
“It’s all right,” he said. “Just no licking.”
As if she understood, she stood and wiggled, her tail flying back and forth at double speed, happy with the negotiations.
“You’re lonely, huh? Don’t I know that feeling.” He rubbed her back from neck to tail. When she shoved her muzzle into his hand, he scratched under her jaw. She flopped over on her side and lifted a leg, begging for a belly rub, which Reed happily provided.
“She doesn’t usually like strangers.”
Reed would normally jump if someone sneaked up behind him, but the beagle had lulled him into that content, relaxed state that only dogs could provide. He glanced over his shoulder, intent on making a friendly comment in return, but lost his voice when his gaze hit leather knee-high boots and then traveled upward over thick leather-encased thighs to an impressive leather-cupped package. Reed gulped and licked his lips. He tore his gaze off the man’s crotch and looked up into chestnut eyes lined with smudges of black.
Just like the dog.
The beagle’s eyes looked lined too, thanks to her well-bred coloring. Though on the dog, they looked soulful, and on the man... Reed swallowed hard. Maybe an extroverted bad boy wouldn’t be so bad after all.
“Daisy,” the sexy hound said, nodding at the dog by means of introduction. “She’d much rather sniff out lingering evidence of everyone who’s been in this lot in the past week than greet someone actually standing before her.” He shook his head, and his dark hair flopped around his face. Reed wondered if the Mohawk was meant to be falling down like that, because if it was, it was definitely working for him. The sides weren’t shaved but trimmed short and messy. Did that define a Mohawk nowadays? Reed admitted he didn’t know, and it didn’t matter. Two thin blue streaks raced through the longest part of the Hound’s floppy hairstyle. Reed hadn’t noticed the extra-unnatural color from across the lot. He could picture all that teased black and blue hair falling around his face like a veil as the man leaned over to kiss him. If only.
“You must have a dog spirit,” the Hound said with a friendly smile.
“Huh?” Reed blinked and corralled his thoughts as he rose to his feet. Most men couldn’t strike him dumb, but the Hound looked even better close up than he had across the parking lot. And strangely familiar, again, but Reed couldn’t quite place him. Reed had to consciously struggle not to touch him, not to lick his lips as his gaze traced the line of--What’d she scream? Bass?--Bass’s jaw.
Though Reed stood now, the Hound still towered over him by a good five inches, but three of those had to be the boots. He’d never seen a man in platform boots before, but the Hound pulled it off while still looking masculine and tough. Daisy whined and leaned heavily against Reed’s leg, reminding him to breathe and answer the hot man standing in front of him.
“I don’t know about that,” Reed said, “but I nearly tripped over her. She seemed to like the attention.” He paused, silently trying to avoid the dirty thoughts racing through his mind. He’d love to pin the man down and have his way with him all night long. “She’s a nice dog.” He winced as he said it, his lack of social skills offending even him. He had no intention of actually trying to pick the man up, but for once it’d be nice to be able to talk to an attractive man without sounding like the introverted office mule he was.
“She gets plenty of attention. Don’t you, Daisy, you spoiled pooch.” Up close Reed noticed the shift in the man’s smile. It was brighter than the expression he’d worn for the girl. He obviously cherished the beagle. She, in turn, pranced in place as she whined at him and then spun in a circle, tangling her leash around her front leg.
“Oh, Daisy, for such a smart girl, you never could figure that out.” The Hound crouched down and untangled the dog’s leg and then gave her a hardy rubdown that had her wiggling to keep up.
Drinking in one more long look at the man for later use, Reed shuffled back a step, picked up his groceries, and quietly headed for his car.
* * * *
Bas scratched the beagle’s belly, back, ears, and every other spot she loved. The stranger had floored him with the most exquisite eyes he’d ever seen. Windows to the soul, they said, and now Bas was certain of that. He looked tortured and peaceful, nervous and eager, beautiful and fractured, all wrapped in those eyes that reminded Bas of thunderheads. He also didn’t seem to recognize Bas at all. Bas recognized him, and it felt weird--not only to miss the recognition of his band, but this guy, a total blank, apparently hadn’t remembered the look they’d exchanged while he’d been chatting up Nicole at her office last week. Bas shook his head and gave Daisy one more hardy pat before looking up, intent on taking Mairin’s advice.
The man was gone. What the fuck?
Bas froze and looked around. Daisy flipped her feet underneath her and then lifted her head to lick his chin. Normally she’d draw his attention with that maneuver, but Bas spotted the stranger across the lot, climbing into a beige compact in dire need of a good wash and wax.
“Hey!” Bas called. He stood and took two steps but stopped short when the car flew backward out of the parking space. Bas called out again and walked closer. The man either didn’t hear him or ignored him completely as he shifted the car into drive and sped away.
Daisy barked repeatedly, unusual for her, pulling his attention back to his beloved pet. “Yeah, girl, I know. Weird.”
“Weird doesn’t begin to describe him.”
Bas turned and plastered his greeting-the-fans smile back on his face for the girl who’d already trapped him in the parking lot once today. He loved his fans, he really did, but this one didn’t know when enough was enough. He’d signed her notebook and her employee smock, but only because she started by asking him to sign her ass. He’d been considering her for a quickie in the storerooms until he spotted Daisy charming the skittish man with alluring gray eyes. Still, if she knew the sexy guy with the canine spirit, Bas would do more than sign an old, stained apron.
“You know him?” he asked.
She nodded. Her gaze raked his body with the movement, but he’d long since grown accustomed to the leers from men and women alike.
“Who is he?”
“Oh, I don’t know his name, but he lives up on Liberty Ridge, I think. He keeps to himself. He talked to your dog more than he’s ever talked to me.”
She rolled her eyes, but Bas refused to reciprocate. She was pretty, but the stranger was drop-everything-and-strip-naked hot. Bas frowned in the direction the car had gone. He knew where Liberty Ridge was, but he’d never explored that part of Jackson Village. The houses, he’d heard, were miles apart once you passed the unofficial northern line marked by Gary’s Auto Repair and the Old Times Diner.
“Thanks,” Bas said. He turned his back to her and untangled Daisy’s leash from her legs and his bike. With tender care, he lifted the dog into a milk crate strapped to the back of his bike and then threw his leg over the seat, hitting the ignition.
The girl said something else, but he shrugged and shook his head, unable to hear her over the roar of the engine. He waved and smiled at her before easing the bike out of the space and angling it toward the exit and Liberty Ridge.