I purposely arrive an hour late to the bar. Arriving dead on eight would have given the wrong impression – that I was interested, even eager, to spend time with Cassie. The last thing I need right now is an emotional entanglement. That’s not why I’m here.
Problem is I’m not sure whether the wrong impression would have been given to Cassie or to myself. Cassie is cute, she makes me laugh, and the afternoon I’d spent with her helped me forget the reasons I’d left the city, for a little while anyway.
But here I am – outside The Corner Pin, just before nine. From the noise spilling out through the door, karaoke night is in full swing. I wince as a female voice aims for a particularly high note and fails miserably, then push the door open and enter.
A quick scan of the dim interior and I locate Cassie sitting near the bar with her sister and I head over to them. As I get close, I see Cassie look toward the other end of the bar and there’s a fleeting expression on her face that suggests she’s upset. I follow the direction of her gaze and see her ex and her roommate standing close together.
I take the final step needed to bring me close to her and stoop slightly to whisper. “Staring is only going to make him think you’ll take him back.”
Her head snaps around so fast, I’m surprised she doesn’t get whiplash. I lean past her, catch the bartender’s attention and order two bottles of beer, then take a long drink.
I don’t know why I let her put my name down for a karaoke song. I could say it was because of the look in her eyes whenever she caught sight of her ex. I do know it’s a stupid thing to do when I’m supposed to be cruising under the radar, but the enjoyment she gets out of picking out a song then refusing to tell me what it is amuses me.
When my name is called and I find out what she’s picked, I can’t hide my grin. Especially when I spot the battered piano just to the right of the stage. I know she’s expecting me to fail, and if I let the song play through the karaoke machine it would hide most of the problems a less-talented singer would have with it. But I have a good voice. Actually, I have a great voice and, no that’s not me being overly arrogant. It’s the simple truth.
People look at me and see the tattoos and long hair. Then they hear I’m the vocalist of a rock band and they make assumptions. The most popular one being that I cannot sing. I like proving people wrong.
I jump off the stage and grab Cassie’s hand to drag her across to the piano with me. She’s looking at me like I’m crazy and I am looking forward to seeing that look change.
If she had any clue who I was, if she recognised me, there’s no way in hell she’d be expecting this to go as badly as her face suggests.
I fiddle with the mic, positioning it on top of the piano so that it will pick up both my voice and the piano, then hit a few of the keys. Then I start to play. I throw Cassie one final smile and open my mouth to sing.
The familiar buzz of performing before an audience embraces me like an old friend. The feeling of satisfaction as people stop what they’re doing and take notice. When faces turn to watch, their drinks and games forgotten as the music washes over them.
I fall into the role of entertainer, my fingers finding the keys while my voice takes the crowd on a journey through the song. When I hit the final note and the piano is silenced, I turn my head to look at Cassie.
She’s staring at me, her eyes wide with genuine surprise, her lips parted and I just can’t help myself. I lift a hand, meaning to brush a finger against her cheek but find myself cupping her face instead and stealing a kiss.
I feel her hand land on my leg, just above my knee, but she doesn’t pull her lips from mine. I take that as a green light and deepen the kiss, my tongue swiping across her bottom lip once, twice until she opens wide enough to let me in. I can taste the beer she’s been drinking, but beneath that there’s a sweeter flavour. It reminds me of strawberries, both sweet and tart. A little like the woman herself. The woman whose fingers are currently digging into my thigh, kneading and flexing as our kiss continued.
I was considering scooping her up and taking her somewhere private when a voice intruded.
“You’re Shaun Jacobs, aren’t you? What are you doing here in Greene Valley?”
Cassie stiffens and I sigh against her lips before lifting my head to find the person who spoke. I rest my hand on top of Cassie’s, effectively stopping her from removing it, while I answer the question.
“I’m on vacation.”
“Wait!” Cassie’s sister pushes her way toward us. “I knew you looked familiar! Don’t you remember, Cass?” She turns her attention to Cassie. “He was all over the news a few months back.”
I should have expected someone to recognise me, but it doesn’t stop the sharp disappointment I feel when Cassie pulls her hand free and stands up. I probably shouldn’t have got up to sing, I acknowledge to myself. It was never going to end well.
Cassie is rubbing her bottom lip with the tip of a finger and, now that I know what she tastes like, I can’t help but want to replace her finger with my mouth again. She’s staring at me, eyes narrowed as she processes what her sister is telling her.
I say nothing, sitting still on the piano’s bench. I idly tap out a tune while the crowd argues around me over my identity. This kind of attention I’m used to, I can tune it out easily enough. My attention appears to be focused on the piano, but I’m aware of every move Cassie is making beside me. I don’t know what she’s thinking, but I know the moment she comes to a decision and tip my head back to look at her.
“Is it true?” she asks me.
I ignore the feeling of regret at her question and pull the role of the Shaun Jacobs Rockstar around me. “Which part?”
“Any of it.” I’m still picking out a tune and she settles back beside me on the bench. “Shaun?”
“I’m definitely Shaun Jacobs and I’m vacationing in Greene Valley,” I throw her a cool smile. “And yes, I have been in the news.” I pause, pursing my lips. “I’m in the news a lot, actually. Probably more than I should be.”
She bites her bottom lip and the action makes me want to bite it, which angers me. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
I stop playing and arch a brow, needing to get control of the sudden desire I have for her. “Why would I? You broke into my home, remember. I assumed you knew exactly who I was.”
“Is that why you kissed me?” Her fingers are toying with her lip again and I push myself to my feet before I’m tempted to kiss her again.
“No, Goldilocks,” I tell her. “I kissed you because I’m the big bad wolf and you needed a warning to stay out of the woods.” I stalk toward the doors, but her voice stops me.
“Goldilocks was in the Three Bears. The big bad wolf was in Red Riding Hood.”
I swing back to face her, and I’m unsure whether I should laugh or say something cutting. The expression on her face keeps me silent, though, and I turn back to leave.
“I might buy a red cloak for the next time I feel like walking in the woods.”
Her final words follow me as I walk out of the door.