Nothing in the world gives me more joy than sharing my music with my fans. Meeting them, however, is a close second. The noise was deafening once the doors opened and had barely let up for the past half hour as people filed in and out. I’m doing my best to acknowledge everyone, trying to make every person who showed up feel important. But the fifteen-second time limit is rough.
The whole thing is jarring, since I was alone for so much of my childhood. Abandoned. Forgotten. Music had been—and still is—a therapy for my troubles, and if I can soothe someone else’s with my words, then I have a purpose. There’s nothing more important than that. Especially when you don’t have any real loved ones.
I smile into the face of a young teenager who’s visibly shaken as he walks toward the table. His vulnerability floors me. So far there has been excitement, giddiness, a few happy tears, but nothing like this. As he gets closer and I wave hello, he begins to sob into his hands. Affected, I get up and try to walk around the table. X stops me with a hard grip on my arm.
“Let go,” I hiss, meeting his hard gaze.
“No contact,” he replies, clearly guessing at my motive to give him a hug.
“You can’t be serious. He’s upset!”
“You can take a photo or sign a picture, but no contact. I’m not wavering on that, E.”
Frustrated, but not wanting to make a scene in front of my fans or the cameras, I sit back down. I send X a glacial stare, which he promptly ignores. The nerve of him. He’s going to hear it from me later.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?” I ask the boy.
“Trent. I’m your biggest fan,” he sniffs, clearly trying to pull himself together.
I quickly sign the CD, thank him for coming out, and watch as the next group files in. There are three men, probably midtwenties like me, each of them shirtless and carrying signs. I can’t help but laugh as I take in the words.
Marry Me, Eloisa!
No, Marry Me, Eloisa!
Be My Wife, Eloisa!
All three get down on one knee in front of the table as if they are actually proposing. Sandy giggles and takes a picture to put on social media. I place a hand on my chest in amusement. “Men, I am beyond flattered. Three proposals in one day!”
They all grin and start talking at once. They are sweaty and probably had a couple of beers before coming in, but all in all they’re harmless. Sandy hands them each a photo, and I have a small laugh with each of them as I sign.
X mutters something under his breath as they file out. I turn to look up at him and notice his frosty glare.
“Did you say something?” I ask politely. From this angle I have a direct view of his insanely muscled bicep and lean waist. My eyes trail up that chiseled frame before landing on his eyes.
“They were drunk.”
“So? They seemed of age.”
“It does take a little liquid courage to propose to a girl!” Joe pipes in from where he and Big stand guarding the back hallway. “I’ll probably need a whole bottle of the stuff before I pop the question to Sandy.”
Sandy doesn’t acknowledge the declaration and just continues writing something in her notepad. Poor Joe. Sandy barely gives him the time of day. Probably for the best, since they have to work together.
X is glaring down at me. “It makes them unpredictable. And it’s dangerous.”
“It’s not against the rules,” I respond, his irrationality making my temper rise. “And I listened to what you said—no contact.”
“You toed the line,” he replies, waving forward the next set of fans. “You have to remember, E. I’m doing this for your own good. I’m here to protect you because someone out there wishes you serious harm. Please don’t forget that.”
His little speech removes the passion behind my argument. As two guys and one girl approach the table, I feel a switch flip in my head. Could it be them? A sliver of fear runs through me. I’d never looked at my fans with anything but absolute trust. But now…man, it’s depressing.
The signing lasted three hours, and I was exhausted. I’d met so many wonderful people, but my thoughts had been a bit morose by the end.
I helped Sandy and Lynette pick up some trash and errant photos once the doors were closed.
“You go on,” Lynette insisted, bringing me in for a hug. “I’ve got the cleaning crew on the way, and they’ll have everything back to rights in no time.”
“OK. Thank you so much again. This was incredible.”
When I turned back to X, he was ending a call. “Everything’s secure outside. You ready?”
I nodded. Walking toward the back door, I realized he hadn’t left my side the entire time. Did he even use the bathroom? It was like he was a bodyguard or something. I told him as much, and he spared me a quick glance before we walked outside.
“I’m your personal security detail. Everywhere you go, I go.”
The words sounded strangely intimate in his deep, husky tone. Feeling a bit off balance, I made sure not to brush up against him as he helped me into the waiting SUV. It was impossible, however, not to be affected by his large presence. It was almost as if he was a superhero. You knew he was dangerous, but you trusted him at the same time.
“Eloisa! Eloisa, wait!”
The door suddenly slammed, and X went charging forward. Before I could blink, he had a man on the ground, his large forearm pressing the man’s neck to the pavement.
Once I got a good look at the face, I gasped.