Shake It Up - J. Kenner

Shake It Up


Man of the Month 8

There are a million reasons why I need to stop thinking about Taylor D’Angelo naked.

She’s too young for me, for starters.

She’s too ambitious.

She’s my job.

Romance was the last thing on my mind when I agreed to look into her stalker as a favor.

Now, she’s all I can think about–and in every position I can imagine.

I’m not the only one obsessing.

The threats against her are intensifying along with our connection.

If I give in, if I let our bodies take over, it could draw her stalker out.

Our passion could save her.

Or it could destroy us both.

Meet Mr. August – He’ll do anything to protect her.

Shake It Up
Shake It Up is Story # 8 in the

About this Story

Publication Date 05/01/2018 Story Type Book Series Man of the Month Place in Series Story #8 Genre Contemporary Romance

More About This Story

When a group of fiercely determined friends realize their beloved hang-out is in danger of closing, they take matters into their own hands to bring back customers lost to a competing bar. Fighting fire with a heat of their own, they double down with the broad shoulders, six-pack abs, and bare chests of dozens of hot, local guys who they cajole, prod, and coerce into auditioning for a Man of the Month calendar.

But it’s not just the fate of the bar that’s at stake. Because as things heat up, each of the men meets his match in this sexy, flirty, and compelling binge-read romance series of twelve novels releasing every other week from New York Times bestselling author J. Kenner.

“With each novel featuring a favorite romance trope—beauty and the beast, billionaire bad boys, friends to lovers, second chance romance, secret baby, and more—this series hits the heart and soul of romance.” —New York Times bestselling author Carly Phillips

➜  Don’t miss JK’s interview in USA Today about the creation of the series and the calendar!

➜  Read an exclusive series excerpt!

➜  Add the series on Goodreads!

➜  Order your own Man of the Month calendar!


Chapter One

Taylor D’Angelo grimaced as she handed over her debit card. It was the reloadable kind, and she filled it up from her savings account at the beginning of every month with the exact amount of her budgeted expenses. Then she crossed her fingers, lit a candle, and begged the god of all things financial to let her go one more month without a crisis.

This month, the gods were apparently pissed, because as soon as the cashier swiped that card, Taylor would be officially one-hundred and fifty dollars over her monthly budget.

All because of some jerk who threw a brick through the window of her battered but reliable Toyota Corolla.

Six years ago, she’d talked herself into buying the shiny gray car in the back of the used car lot. Not a dealership. No, she’d gone to the kind of place that either took cash or used a guy named Guido for financing. It had taken her a solid afternoon to finally make up her mind, but she hadn’t regretted the decision. The car was plain, with no bells or whistles, but it was hers. And it represented freedom.

That was one of the few times she’d used the money she got from her dad. As far as she was concerned, it was blood money. For years, she’d tried to pretend the money wasn’t there. But then college rolled around, and she’d had to make a hard decision—postpone school so that she could work and save tuition money, or enroll and use those tainted dollars for something good.

She’d enrolled. And she’d used the money for her first semester’s tuition and for the deposit on her apartment.

By sophomore year, she’d racked up decent grades, and managed to score some scholarships. Between that money and her small work-study salary, she was holding her own. Her father’s money could rot in the bank, for all she cared.

For that matter, now that she was close to getting her masters, she could easily donate all that was left to charity.

Except she didn’t. She wouldn’t. Because someday she might need it again. Not for an education, but for survival.

Someday, she might have to run.

Please, God, no. Let it be over. Let me be safe.

Across the counter, the register spit out a receipt, accompanied by an electronic chirp that pulled Taylor from her thoughts. The cashier slid the receipt toward her, and for just a minute, Taylor hesitated. It would be so easy to use her stash to cover the deductible. To get ahead of the rent and the groceries. Would that really be so bad?

Yeah. Yeah, it really would.

Taylor sighed, the pen loose in her hand.

“Something wrong?” The girl behind the counter had perfect skin, perfectly manicured nails, perfectly styled blonde hair, and probably a perfect life to go with it, not to mention parents who were not only paying her way through college, but actually loved her.

Bitter much?

Taylor shook her head. “No. No problem. It’s just been a crappy week. The expensive kind.”

“I hear you. I was supposed to go to San Antonio with some friends, but I’m a little short on rent, so I grabbed an extra shift.” She waved her hand to indicate the interior of the auto-glass repair shop. A man in a suit sat reading a trade journal. A guy in biker boots and beady eyes cleaned under his nails with the tip of a pocket knife. “But that’s okay. The fun never stops here.”

Shake It Up

Taylor laughed, feeling like a total bitch for her earlier catty thoughts. She wasn’t usually so judgy. After all, she knew better than anyone that what you saw on the outside rarely matched a person’s inside.

She signed the slip, then slid it back to the cashier, who traded it for her keys.

Her car was behind the shop, and as soon as she was in it, she closed her eyes and told herself she’d done the right thing and everything was good. That was true, and she knew it. She was just so tired of being broke. Because honestly, doing the right thing paid for shit.

Still, she was getting by. She had a great job with Texas Performing Arts as part of a work-study program, and that took the edge off. It didn’t pay much, but the experience was invaluable. She’d been doing the job since her sophomore year, and now she was close to graduating with her master’s degree. So she tended to get the plum assignments based on seniority alone.

Plus, she was getting paid to stage manage the Man of the Month contest at The Fix on Sixth, and that was fun, quick work for decent money. The calendar contest had been conceived to bring more traffic to The Fix a few months ago when the bar was having some serious financial trouble. It had gone over even better than anticipated, and now the bar was drawing impressive crowds every night, not only on the bi-weekly Wednesdays when the contest was held.

She checked her watch, saw that it was three hours to showtime, and cursed. She liked to have a full three hours for prep, and now tonight was going to be tight.

Frustrated, she turned the key. The car rattled to life, and she pulled out into the five o’clock traffic that was clogging Burnet Road, then navigated south toward The Fix.

With traffic, it took her almost forty-five minutes to get downtown, find a parking space that didn’t cost more than her rent, then sprint to The Fix. She burst breathless through the doors, only to find that someone had already wheeled the spotlight out of the storage closet and set it up exactly how she liked it.

She detoured right toward the bar instead of left toward the stage, then squeezed in beside Jenna, one of the co-owners of The Fix and the woman in charge of the contest. “Did you do that?”

Jenna tucked a strand of long, red hair behind her ear as she shook her head.

Before Taylor could ask who did, Cameron Reed slid down the bar with a Diet Coke for her. “When Mina realized you were running late, she thought she’d help out.”

“I appreciate it,” Taylor said. Mina was Cameron’s girlfriend, and she’d recently graduated from the University with her master’s in film. “Of course, I’d appreciate it more if you’d put a little rum in this.” She shook the ice in her glass. “It’s been a crazy day.”

“What’s going on?” Jenna asked.

“Nothing that shining a spotlight on twelve guys as they strip off their shirts and walk across the stage won’t fix.”

Jenna laughed, and Taylor tossed a grin toward Cam, with his broad shoulders and ocean blue eyes. “We have quite a few calendar alumni working here. Maybe we should make them all go shirtless.”

Shake It Up

“I’m gonna vote no on that,” Cam—Mr. March—said. “And I’m guessing Reece and Tyree would, too.”

“I’ll veto it,” Jenna said, her hand on her belly even though her pregnancy had yet to show. “As far as I’m concerned, except for his calendar photo and those few minutes on stage, no one sees Reece shirtless but me.”

Taylor laughed, but Cam was holding up the soda gun and using it as a pointer as he said, “I almost forgot. Taylor, someone left a note for you. I put it in the office. Give me a sec and I’ll go get it.” He moved back down the bar, leaving Eric Shay, the other bartender working the main bar tonight, in charge.

Taylor watched, the back of her neck prickling, as Cam disappeared into the short hallway that led to the bar’s back office. She took a sip of Diet Coke, telling herself this was no big deal. Just like the first note had been no big deal.

But still, she couldn’t shake the sensation of dread.

About two weeks ago, she’d found an anonymous greeting card inside her backpack. It must have been shoved in at some point when she was in the drama department. She’d changed backpacks that morning, and when the pack wasn’t on the floor in the theater’s scene shop—a cavernous room where the sets were built—

it had been on her shoulder or in the trunk of her car, so there was no other possibility.

She’d found the envelope late that night when she was pulling out all of her junk so that she could settle in at her kitchen table and get some work done. It was tucked in between two scripts and a bound collection of classic farces that she needed to read. Her name glared at her in blue ink, the stylized letters taking up most of the envelope, and she’d assumed it was an invitation to an after-show party.

Inside, an old-fashioned style greeting card featured a window with gossamer curtains flowing in a breeze. The inscription on the inside of card read, Even now, I’m at your window.

Which, of course, would be creepy if Taylor hadn’t understood the reference—a line from a song featured in the musical Sweeney Todd. The musical reference had made her certain that Reggie had left it.

A senior in the department, Reggie Jones was one of fifteen underclassmen in Dr. Bishop’s seminar class on scene design. Taylor wasn’t formally working as Bishop’s teaching assistant, but he was her graduate advisor, and when he’d asked her to give a presentation on minimalistic design, she’d eagerly done so.

Afterwards, Reggie had been one of the students who’d hung around to talk shop, and when she’d bumped into him later in the common area, they’d chatted about their shared love of musical theater, and of Sondheim’s work in particular.

Two casual encounters later, and he confessed that he was working up the courage to ask her out.

She’d turned him down, of course. For one thing, she wasn’t attracted to him at all. But since that wasn’t the kind of thing you told a guy, she’d simply said that she wasn’t dating. That there just wasn’t time for a relationship.

Shake It Up

All true, just not the entire truth. She had no interest in getting into a relationship, and her life was far too complicated to date, though she wasn’t averse to the occasional hook-up. But not with Reggie. Not with any guy who might want to stick.

“Taylor?” Startled, she jerked her head up to Jenna, then realized she’d been staring at the bubbles in her drink, probably looking hypnotized. “What? Oh, sorry. I was zoning. I’m fine.” She smiled brightly, and forced her mood to match her appearance.

But as soon as Cam returned with the note, her facade collapsed. The envelope was the same. The size of a greeting card. High quality paper, and her name in stylized handwriting. She swallowed. Probably still Reggie. He knew she worked here. He probably thought he was being cute, wooing her with cards. He probably had a whole campaign planned out. Card after card, and then he’d send one attached to roses, and ask her out again.

It had to be Reggie. Because, dammit, the alternative just wasn’t something she was prepared to think about.

Slowly, she slid her finger under the flap and loosened the glue. Then she pried it up, and carefully tugged out the card. A closed pair of eyes on the cover. Inside the card, someone had written, You belong to me.

The card tumbled from her hand, and she licked her lips. “Hey, Cam?” Her voice, she noticed, sounded so normal. “Did you see who left this?”

“Sorry. It was last night. We were swamped, and I was covering for Eric, so it was just me back here.”

“Right. Sure.” She cleared her throat. “Do you remember if it was a guy with really yellow hair. Kinda messy?” Maybe it really was Reggie. After all, Phantom of the Opera had a song that fit. Close your eyes, the Phantom sang to Christina. And then later, you belong to me.

Not Sondheim, but still musical theater.

Cam shook his head. “Sorry. Doesn’t ring a bell.”

Jenna pressed her hand over Taylor’s. “You’re freaking me out. What’s going on? Who’s got yellow hair?”

Taylor tried to shrug it off. “Just a guy at school. He’s got an aggressive crush.” She lifted a shoulder. “And I’m really not interested.”

She could tell that Jenna wasn’t convinced, and before the other woman could push the issue, Taylor glanced down at Jenna’s still-flat belly. “I’m so glad the baby’s okay. I’m so, so sorry.”

“Are you kidding?” Jenna’s hand went protectively over her belly. “It wasn’t your fault at all. We’re fine. And I’m the one who’s sorry. I mean, your car. You’re going to send me the bill for the windshield, right?”

“Don’t be silly. Insurance totally covered it.” A lie, but she wasn’t about to make Jenna feel any worse than she already did, even if repayment would add a hundred and fifty bucks back into Taylor’s dwindling account. “Besides, it could just as easily have happened to me. I mean if I’d been—”

Of course. How could she have been so stupid?

Shake It Up

That brick wasn’t random, and it damn sure hadn’t been meant for Jenna. It had been a warning for Taylor.

She looked down, then realized she’d crumpled the card into a ball, and now her hand was fisted tightly around it.

Not Reggie. Of course, it hadn’t been Reggie.

He’d found her. Somehow, he’d found her.

“Okay, Taylor, I’m sorry, but you’re starting to freak me out.”

“What? Why?”

“Are you coming down with something?” Jenna reached out and felt Taylor’s forehead, and Taylor almost laughed.

“You’ll make a good mom.”

“And you make a lousy patient.” She lifted her hand, signaling for someone behind Taylor to come over.

“What’s up?” Mina asked, scooting between the two of them and hooking her arms around their shoulders. She wore her hair in a pixie cut and grinned impishly at both of them before blowing a kiss at Cam.

“I’m sending Taylor home,” Jenna said. “She’s coming down with something. Can you play stage manager for the night?”

“Oh, like what I do is just a game,” Taylor quipped.

Mina stood up straight so she could rub her hands together. “I totally can. I’ll just aim the spot at whoever’s the hottest, and—”

“Yeah, yeah,” Jenna said. “If I let you do that, you’d just keep it aimed over the bar on Cam.”

“Not a chance,” Mina retorted, as Cam squared his shoulders and buffed his nails on his chest. “I don’t want to point him out to the rest of the world any more than necessary. You’re mine,” she added to Cam.

“Wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The women laughed. “Good answer,” Mina said.

“You sure you don’t mind?” Taylor focused her attention on Mina. “I really do feel off today.”

“Are you kidding? It’ll be fun.”

“Thanks.” She slid off the stool, leaving a bill for the soda and a tip. “I’m gonna get out of here before it gets crazy busy.”

Since it was early August, the sun hadn’t set yet, though it was dipping low in the sky behind her, casting long shadows in front as she walked east along Sixth Street toward the parking lot. She kept her eyes on the shadow, only realizing how jumpy she was whenever another shadow encroached, indicating someone moving up fast behind her.

Twice, she whipped around to see who was walking, only to end up startling a man in a business suit, and a tall girl in jeans and a tank top who was bopping along to the sound of her earbuds.

“Chill,” she ordered herself, then jumped a mile when the chirp of her cell phone signaled an incoming text. She cursed her nerves again, opened the text, and froze.

It was a picture of herself leaving her apartment, decked out in skinny jeans and a Phantom of the Operatouring company T-shirt, her long brown hair hanging loose around her shoulders on one of the rare days when she hadn’t pulled it back. Yesterday.

She stood there, waiting for another text. A message. An emoji. Anything to tell her what this meant. Or to tell her for certain who it came from.

Shake It Up

Except she already knew the answer to that question. Didn’t she?

And if she was right, she had only two choices: Run. Or get help.

She thought about starting over. About the logistics of finding a safe place to hide. About being alone without her friends. Without a job. With absolutely nothing except her wits. And, of course, her father’s money.

A shudder cut through her, and she knew what she had to do.

She turned around, and one step at a time, she started walking back down Sixth Street toward The Fix.


Chapter Two

Taylor paused outside The Fix, still uncertain. But what choice did she have? She could either run, or she could get help. And—


She turned, to see Megan Clark behind her. A makeup artist by trade, Megan had recently started working at The Fix to make some extra money. A fact that reminded Taylor that she could surely do the same if the new hole in her bank account made it necessary.

“Why aren’t you in there? Aren’t you working today?” Megan asked.

“Mina’s covering for me. I’m feeling crappy so Jenna sent me home. But I really need to talk to Brent, so I thought I’d grab him before I go mega-dose on NyQuil and crash.” As soon as the words were out, she regretted them. Megan would want to know what was so important it had Taylor running to Brent. Not because she was inherently nosy, but because they’d become good friends. And good friends talked.

She cleared her throat, then rushed on before Megan could get any reply in. “Are we running this weekend?” Megan, Mina, and Taylor had started training together for a 5K, with the ultimate goal of running in the Capitol 10K next year. A goal they probably wouldn’t reach since most of their running sessions turned into too-short runs and too-long breakfasts.

A couple circled them, then pulled the door open.

“We’re blocking traffic.” Megan shoved her cat’s eye glasses up her nose, then reached for the door as it closed behind the couple. “And yes,” she said, holding it open for Taylor. “Absolutely we’re running. And after, there’s this new place that’s supposed to do amazing Tex-Mex breakfasts. We should check it out.”

Taylor bit back a smile, amused by how well the conversation was tracking her own thoughts. “Sounds good,” she said, then stepped inside. Immediately, the noise surrounded her. The familiar, constant din of a bar full of carefree people who’d come to have some fun. “I’m going to go find Parker,” Megan said, referring to her ultra-sexy boyfriend. “I was supposed to have met him five minutes ago. Oh. There’s Brent.”

Taylor followed Megan’s finger to the back, told her friend she’d catch up with her later, then wove her way through the crowd until she reached Brent, who was standing by both Tyree and Reece. Great. So much for keeping this on the down low.

“I thought Jenna sent you home,” Reece said in lieu of a greeting as Taylor approached.

Shake It Up

“She did. I needed to come back.” Taylor looked between the three of them, working up the courage to pull Brent aside and spill all of her woes. She knew she needed to, and the sooner the better. Already she felt calmer, just standing near the three.

And why not? She was awash in a sea of testosterone. And she was certain that any one of the three would help her if she asked and protect her if she needed. They were just those kind of guys. Reece, the bar’s manager, with his stellar body covered with intricate tats, and the shaved head and beard he rocked so perfectly. Tyree—the original owner and founder of The Fix—who stood like a grizzly of a man, exuding both strength and patience. And Brent, a former cop and single dad who ran security for the bar. He was the only one of the three who hadn’t been anointed as a Man of the Month, although Taylor happened to know that wasn’t for lack of trying. Jenna was forever harassing him to enter, and lately Megan had jumped on that bandwagon, too.

Taylor figured they’d win that battle eventually. And when they did, Brent would win the contest. He had the kind of good looks Hollywood casting agents rubber-stamped with Leading Man. And the best part about Brent was that he didn’t even seem to realize it. He focused on his job, his daughter, and his friends.

Today, Taylor really hoped she ranked in that last category, because his help was the reason she’d come back.


She shook her head to clear it, then realized she’d only heard half of what Reece had said. “I’m sorry. What?”

“I said, hurry and get whatever you came back for, then get out of here. Trust me.”

“He means that Jenna is in full-on mother hen mode,” Brent said, chuckling. “If she sent you home, she wants you home.”

“Got it,” Taylor said. “But could I talk to you first?”

Brent’s whiskey-brown eyes widened. “Well, sure. But the contest—”

“I know,” she said. “But it’s important. It’s, um, a security thing.”

At that, he shifted from laid-back to all-business. “We can talk in Tyree’s office. I’ll catch you guys later,” he added to the other two, who, to Taylor’s relief, didn’t ask a single question.

As soon as she’d crossed over the threshold, she shut the door behind her. Brent noticed, but said nothing, just nodded to the guest chair in front of Tyree’s desk. She sat, expecting him to sit in Tyree’s chair. Instead, he leaned against the desk, his brow furrowed with concern. “So what’s going on?”

“It’s not about The Fix,” she said quickly. “I’m sorry if you thought there was some sort of crisis on the job. There’s not. Or, I guess, if there is, I don’t know about it.” She wanted to spit everything out. Instead she was rambling. Why was this so difficult?

Except that was a ridiculous question; she knew damn well why it was difficult. Because she’d been self-reliant for so long that getting help almost felt like she was breaking a secret pact she’d made with herself all those years ago. In a way, she supposed she was. But things had changed, and she loved this life. And, dammit, she wasn’t going to give it up without a fight.

Shake It Up

“It might be easier if you close your eyes,” Brent said gently.

A laugh burbled out of her. “Is that what you tell Faith?” she asked, referring to his five-year-old daughter.

“Sometimes. It works.”

She shook her head. “I’m okay. It’s just hard figuring out where to start.”

“Start with what brought you here. Then you can go backwards.”

“I’m being stalked.” There. She’d said it.

In front of her, Brent’s face remained exactly the same, and she thought that he must have made a damn good cop if he could sit across from a witness or a suspect and not react at all. “You’re sure?”

She nodded.

“Tell me what’s happened.”

She passed him the crumpled note that she’d shoved into the leather messenger bag she used as a purse. “Someone left that for me on the bar. Cam found it yesterday and gave it to me just a bit ago.”

He took the note carefully, then moved around the desk to unfold it, using a tissue so that his fingers didn’t directly touch it.

She grimaced. “I didn’t think about messing up fingerprints. And I left the envelope on the bar. It’s probably buried under a mountain of old food and yucky napkins.”

“I doubt there are prints anyway, but I prefer to be careful.” He continued what he was doing, then frowned when he saw the words.

“You belong to me,” he quoted, then looked up. “Do you know who sent it?”

“Maybe,” she said, then explained about the other note with the quote from Sweeney Todd and how the note he was holding might be a reference to The Phantom of the Opera. “There’s a guy in my department at school who’s been asking me out. But I just don’t think he’s the type to take pictures of me or throw bricks.” She shuddered, once again thinking about what could have happened to Jenna. She’d lost control of the car, but the damage to the car had been minor. Crunched metal, but nothing that affected how the car drove. And Taylor could live with a bumped and bruised Corolla.

“Tell me about the picture.”

Obediently, she passed him her phone, open to the text message.

“You’re wearing a Phantom T-shirt. You might be right about the student.”

“Maybe.” She hoped she was. A scary Reggie was a lot less scary than the alternative. “I don’t know. He’s so … mild,” she finished lamely.

“Still waters,” Brent said. “And if he has psychopathic tendencies … well, you just never know what he might be capable of.”

She nodded, feeling both numb and oddly better. She was doing something, and action felt good. “So you think it might not be out of character for him to have thrown the brick?”

“I’m not sure he did throw it. Three other cars had bricks thrown through their windows that week. The police have been searching footage from nearby cameras, but so far, no leads on who did it.”

“Really?” She sat back in her chair, relieved that it was looking less and less that her past was coming back to haunt her. Still, she wasn’t too keen on being stalked in her present. “So what should I do?”

Shake It Up

“Well, you’re not staying at home tonight. Not until we get you some decent security at your apartment.”

She nodded, thinking about how much that was going to cost.

“And I’m going to talk to Landon.”

At the name, Taylor felt something warm and reassuring flow through her. She didn’t know Landon well, but she trusted him. A gorgeous black man with kind eyes, a close-shaved scalp and beard, and a full lower lip, she’d first noticed Landon when she’d bumped into him—literally—at the entrance to The Fix.

That had been mortifying—she’d been such a klutz. And despite the fact that the feel of those hard muscles had definitely resonated, she’d put the memory aside. At least until the next time Landon had caught her eye. He’d been at The Fix with Derek Winston, the heir to a hotel chain and one of tonight’s contestants for Mr. July.

Then again, caught her eye wasn’t entirely accurate. More like captured her with his intense, heated gaze.

That night, Landon and Derek had been sitting at the bar, and she’d been sitting with Mina and Megan just a few feet away at one of the tables by the windows. He’d turned, their eyes had locked, and zing—Taylor had felt the shock of his gaze running all the way through her, heating every part of her body all the way down to her toes—and more interesting parts in between.

They hadn’t said a word, but that was the moment that Landon had become her unreasonable crush and her favorite bedtime fantasy, with his perfect ass and broad shoulders taking second billing to all the wonderful things that gorgeous mouth could do to her.

Then the full scope of what Brent was suggesting hit her, and Taylor shook her head. “I can’t,” she blurted. “I don’t want to go to the police.”

Brent’s brows furrowed, because obviously any sane person would be happy to go to the police. Taylor, however, did not. “He’s on leave, actually. Three weeks. Take it or lose it vacation, so he took off to do some work on his house.”

“Oh. It’s just—”

He moved closer, so that he was right in front of her, his eyes on hers. “I know the idea of going to the police makes people nervous, so I’m giving you a pass on that with the caveat that you file a report if anything more happens. And with the caveat that you let Landon help you.”

“Can’t you?”

He shook his head. “I’ve got too much on my plate right now. Landon’s painting and redoing floors, but he’s tackling it slowly.”

“Still, that’s time-consuming. And I doubt he wants to play detective when he’s on vacation from that very job.” She needed to shut up, and she knew it. There was no reason to turn down Landon’s help, and the only reason she was hesitating was the fact that she was attracted to him.

The corner of Brent’s mouth quirked up, and she had the uncomfortable feeling that he’d read her mind. “He’ll want to help you. I’m sure of it. And, hell. Maybe you can help him paint his house.”

Shake It Up

She drew in a breath, then slowly released it. “Okay. Sounds good. Thank you.”

He nodded. “I’ll give him a call in a bit. In the meantime, you can stay at my place tonight.”

“Oh, no.” She shook her head vehemently. “It’ll probably all be fine, but if something bad did happen—I mean, with Faith there.” She met his eyes. “No. Thank you, but no way.”

For a moment, he just held her gaze. “Is there something you haven’t told me?”

A chill raced down her spine. “No,” she lied. “I just—she’s a little girl, and I’d feel horrible if…”

She trailed off, and he nodded. “Fair enough,” Brent said. “We’ll get you a room at The Winston. Since Derek’s about to strut his stuff across that stage, I’ll get Reece to check you in, and I’ll tell Derek as soon as he’s done with the contest. He can give a heads-up to hotel security so they can keep an eye on your room. Just in case.”

“Okay.” She forced herself not to think about the dollars that were stacking up. “And Landon? I mean, Detective Ware?”

“I think Landon works just fine. I’ll talk with him and explain the situation. I’ll have him come by to see you in the morning. And I’ll send Mina over later tonight so you have some company. Okay?”

She nodded as he checked his phone, then confirmed he had her cell number.

“You ready? We can go track down Reece and get you settled.”

For just a moment, she hesitated. She didn’t like being a burden. More than that, she didn’t like being under a microscope. Too many secrets that had the potential of coming out.

But she also didn’t like the idea of ending up dead. Or worse.

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m ready.”


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