When I wake the next morning, I feel strange.
Strange because my heart is bursting with emotion after my night with X at the same time as it’s breaking because of everything else.
I think about Martha and how I’ll have to live with the weight of her death on my shoulders. I won’t exactly miss her, but she was an icon in the music industry—now a legend. I think about Bella, and how she saved me that day long ago, and I think about Sandy and my crew and how I have no idea what I’d do if something happened to them.
And I think about X. I think about how my annoying, invasive bodyguard is now a source of pure happiness. We’ve unexpectedly connected on a level I would have never anticipated, and I know he sure as hell didn’t see it coming, either.
But here he is, naked and tangled in my sheets.
I know his alarm is set to go off at any minute, and I want one more moment with him before the sun comes up and he’s back in bodyguard mode. For a few seconds I just admire his body. He’s a perfect specimen, and hell if he isn’t taking some sort of growth hormone for his nether regions.
I sigh inwardly and decide not to climb on top of him like I want to. I’m pretty sure we had sex five times last night, and I need to give the poor man a break. Easier than it sounds, I think, as my gaze roves over his rock-hard abs and chiseled face.
I press my lips against the skin above his ear instead. “Good morning.”
He turns to me and blinks a few times. Then he pauses, as if remembering everything that happened the night before. I know I have to be careful, as what’s happening between us is probably even scarier for him.
Is he going to jump out of bed and run out of the room? Does he regret it?
Those worries are dismissed when he tilts my chin up to kiss my lips. “Good morning.”
He rubs a warm hand down my back, squeezes my butt, and rests his forehead against mine. Then he jumps out of bed, and I get an amazing view of his backside as he heads for the shower. I sigh, but I know better than to mess with his morning routine.
I may have broken down some of his walls, but he’s still a man of discipline.
I decide to get up, too, and I’m surprised when I find Sandy standing in the kitchen. It looks as if she didn’t get a moment of sleep.
“Hey,” she rasps out.
“Hey.” I walk over to her and put my hand on her shoulder. “What are you doing up so early?”
She shrugs. “Just reading social media. Everyone’s talking about Martha. No one knows about the note, though. The police are keeping it quiet, as they said they would.”
I nod, reaching behind her to open the cabinet and grab three mugs. “That’s good.”
“How are you holding up?” she asks quietly.
I sigh, not sure if I’ve even processed all my thoughts. “I feel guilty. Sad. Scared. No, terrified.” I turn toward her again and cross my arms over my chest. “You?”
Her face crumples. “Not so good.”
“Hey.” I pull her into a hug. “It’s going to be OK.”
She lets out a tearful, sarcastic laugh. “Right.”
Something is bothering me, though. Sandy was acting strange even before all this happened. I want to ask her if anything else is going on, but there’s a knock on the door.
Before I can answer it, X comes racing out of the room, a towel around his waist. “Stay there,” he commands.
He looks through the peephole and growls before throwing it open. Joe, Big, Michonne, Jacques, and Rob stand in the hallway. When they see him in the towel, their eyes widen.
“Ooooweeee! Talk about a wake-up call,” Jacques says with one brow raised as he sizes X up.
“Good morning to you,” sings Michonne, giving me the eye over X’s shoulder.
“Bad time?” Joe asks, spotting Sandy and me and throwing a shit-eating grin in my direction.
I roll my eyes. “No, you guys can come in.”
Everyone pushes into the room and starts talking at once.
“E, I’ve been thinking about you all night,” Michonne tells me, her dreads now pink. She must have been stressed if she had Jacques do a late-night dye session. For her, a bad day means a new hair color. “I know you must feel terrible—”
“But nothing is your fault,” Joe cuts in. “I refuse to let you mope around.”
“We’re going to catch this guy,” Rob says, his voice determined. Well, I had certainly never seen him so riled up.
Everyone clearly has a lot of unspent energy. I look to X, who’s quiet, leaning against the door, obviously not caring that he’s in a towel. My gaze rakes down his body, amazed that I had that man inside me last night.
The warring emotions inside me come to a head. “Can I say something?” I ask loudly to the group. Everyone goes quiet as they prepare to hear what I have to say. I can tell some of them are thinking I’m going to cancel the tour. And maybe I should. I don’t know.
“It’s been a trying few days,” I begin. “And, yes, while I do feel a lot of guilt”—I hold up a hand to quiet any response—“I do want to continue on with the tour.”
“Thank God,” Rob says, putting a hand to his heart. Michonne shoots him a dirty look. “What? We shouldn’t be bowing down to this animal! He’s got the force of the FBI, the police, and X on his tail. His days are numbered.”
I can only hope.
“We’re behind you, Ellie,” Joe says as he stands next to Sandy. “Whatever you decide.”
“We’ve got your back,” Big tells me. “Right, X?”
When I look in X’s direction, I can tell he’s been watching me the whole time. He gives me a small nod, as if in approval of my decision. “Right.”
And so it went.
The next three shows went off without a hitch. There were no scares, no letters, no drama, and no sign of the crazy psycho who had been wreaking such havoc in my life.
Things almost started to go back to normal. I knew the investigation was carrying on as intended, but I wasn’t privy to all of the details. X was on the phone a lot, though, talking to his boss, the police, and the FBI in turn—frustrated with the lack of progress. I knew he wanted to go out and start looking for this creep on the ground, but I also knew that he wouldn’t dare leave my side.
After our first time together, the next two weeks flew by. X and I spent every night in each other’s arms, talking well into the morning about everything under the sun and touching each other until exhaustion forced us to close our eyes. If I had been able to see all the layers he had hiding underneath his rough exterior from the beginning, I probably would have fallen in love with him on the spot.
I found out that we agreed on politics, which surprised me. I found out that we both had dreams of backpacking across Europe, carrying nothing but the clothes on our backs. We both wanted a big house in the country somewhere one day, and we both hated watching reality TV.
The biggest surprise of the two weeks constantly in his company was discovering his sense of humor. It existed! Surprise, surprise—X loved to make funny faces, and the first time he did, it was so unexpected I fell into hysterics. If things got too sad or too serious, he’d throw me a funny face, and it would instantly brighten my mood.
We also couldn’t keep our hands off each other. That man’s talent in bed was mind-boggling and like nothing in even my wildest daydreams. Where he found the time to hone those skills over the years was beyond me. He always seemed to know exactly how to move, exactly where to touch next to send me gallivanting off into another life-changing orgasm. And the things he’d whisper to me at night as we stared into each other’s eyes—“Thank you, E.” “I can’t get enough of this body.” “Don’t ever stop being who you are.” “Your face is the best face.”—would always put me over the edge.
It didn’t take long for everyone on the tour to get wind of our relationship. Some people were surprised, mostly the men, while the women seemed to nod knowingly. They saw it coming, they told me. Michonne said she knew the second she saw X that it was inevitable for two beautiful people like us to get together. Rob was a little wary at first, but X had a conversation with him and his boss to put everything on the table. I’d been so proud of him for doing that. A risk so far out of his comfort zone. I’m not sure how the conversation went, but I’m pretty sure both men understood that X was not going to leave my side even if it was a conflict of interest.
I didn’t know what I would do if he had to leave. I was completely dependent on him being there. Now, us being together felt as natural as a sip of water. It was hard to look back on where we’d come to where we were now.
I tried not to dwell on anything but the tour. I tried to block out the media as much as I could. Especially because of the show—the sixth one—that I had tonight.
I was especially looking forward to this show, because it was at Madison Square Garden, a place I’d only dreamed of performing.
As I stand backstage, admiring all the pictures on the wall, I feel someone come up behind me. I whirl around, nervous, sensing that it isn’t X.
“Picture for Instagram?” Sandy says, a tight smile on her face. She hadn’t really bounced back like the rest of the crew, and I wasn’t sure she was totally into continuing on with the tour after everything that had happened.
“Sure,” I say. I pose next to a framed photo of Whitney Houston, pasting a silly grin on my face as she snaps a few pictures.
“Got it,” she says with a smile in her voice. “Thanks, Ellie.”
She goes to turn away, but I grab her arm. “Hey? You OK?”
She doesn’t meet my eyes. “I’m fine. Just can’t shake everything, I guess.”
I sigh. “I know it’s hard. Thank you for standing by me. But…you’ve been my assistant for a while now. I can tell when something is off with you. What is it?”
She shakes her head. “I…I don’t know if I can tell you.”
My stomach seizes. What is she hiding? “You can tell me anything. You know that.”
She looks over my shoulder at that point, and I feel X’s presence behind me a second before he appears. “Jacques needs you,” he says. He nods to Sandy before pulling out his phone. When I look up, Sandy is walking away.
“Wait!” I call out. “Can we talk later? At the hotel?”
When she gives me a short nod, I let out a sigh of relief. I’ll get to the bottom of things. I hate seeing her walking around like this.
X is still busy on his phone, so I slip my arms around his waist, kissing the pulse point at his neck, which I know he likes. I’m rewarded with a low growl. “Hey, watch it now,” he whispers. “You don’t want to start something you can’t finish.”
“Ellie,” Michonne says, coming up behind us, “we need you in hair and makeup stat. Jacques wants to try something new.”
I give X the eye. “You’re in trouble later, mister.”
He throws me one of his saucy faces, and we all laugh as we make our way to the dressing room.