A couple of months ago, Dash Kingston had been living the dream. He’d had women at his beck and call. More money than he’d ever dreamed of earning doing something he loved. Bandmates who were his best friends, and success beyond his wildest dreams. He still had those things, but he also had a huge weight sitting on his chest in the form of an outstanding paternity test, courtesy of one night with a woman he barely remembered and whose name he hadn’t known at the time.
Word had spread over social media, television entertainment and celebrity news, and whatever magazines still showed up in grocery store checkout lines. Instead of talk about the band’s music and their new drummer, Axel Forrester, there was speculation about whether the Original Kings’ lead singer had impregnated a one-night stand.
Talk about a wake-up call.
Dash glanced around his patio, where clusters of people gathered talking. The professionals stood on one side, the roadies and groupies, the women who wanted to fuck a rock star, laughed and partied on the other. His band members were scattered around, all having fun on a hot late-September day in East Hampton, with the alcohol at Dash’s expense.
Whose idea was a party when his entire world might be falling apart? He ran a hand through his hair and decided to head over to his brother Xander’s house, about a mile down the road. Though he could walk, he took his baby, a Ferrari Limited-Edition V12 supercar. Not even the power of the engine or the yellow racing stripe he loved helped his mood.
On the short ride, he thought about the many mistakes he’d made in life and decided he could do better. And though he knew, if the kid was his, he’d step up, he prayed to God he’d dodge this bullet. Panic-induced sweat broke out on his skin, and he pumped up the air conditioner.
When he arrived at Xander’s, his other brother Linc’s car sat in the driveway. So he’d have both brothers to hang out with. Dash let himself inside and heard their voices coming from the kitchen.
He walked into the huge room where Linc and Xander were sitting at the table. “Hey.”
They looked up when he entered. “How are you holding up?” Linc asked.
Dash strode to the refrigerator, opened the door, and took out a can of Diet Coke. “Feeling like shit.” He popped the top and guzzled a long sip.
“How long until you have news?” Xander asked.
“My lawyer should call me any minute. Hour. Day. Fuck!” He raised a hand and caught himself, not wanting to hit anything in his brother’s kitchen. Or break his hand on the granite countertop.
Xander and Linc exchanged knowing looks.
“Come on. Sit.” Xander strode over, hooked an arm around Dash’s neck, and pulled him toward the chairs by the table. Releasing him, which Dash appreciated because he was choking, Xander then braced both palms on his shoulders and pushed until Dash dropped into the chair.
“Look, I’d be as crazy as you are if it was happening to me, but right now the best thing you can do is calm the fuck down,” Xander said.
“I know.” And he did but was it possible? Hell no.
Linc shook his head. “I hope this goes without saying, but once you survive this scare, things need to change.”
Dash did his best not to scowl or punch his brother for thinking now was a good time for life lectures.
“Linc, chill, yeah?” Xander gave Linc a pointed look.
“I’m just looking out for him,” Linc said, leaning back in his chair, always the composed brother.
“I know you are.” Dash got where Linc was coming from. He’d also noticed Linc had said when Dash survived this scare. Not if. Which meant his oldest sibling had faith Dash might get through this unscathed. Not be a father. Dash just hoped Linc was right.
Since their dead father hadn’t been a good parent, Linc had always felt the need to herd the rest of the siblings and make sure they were taken care of. Whether they needed his guidance or not. Dash didn’t blame him. Hell, he appreciated his oldest brother. He just wasn’t in the mood for a lecture.
He was damned lucky the woman in question was willing to do a noninvasive DNA test. A blood sample from Mom, one from Dad, and a fetal cell analysis would provide a result that was ninety-nine percent accurate. The fact that the chick was willing to do one told Dash she wasn’t a money-hungry gold-digger.
If he’d knocked her up, he wouldn’t marry her, but she and the baby wouldn’t want for a damned thing, and Dash would get to know his kid. His stomach cramped at the notion of having a baby with a stranger.
“Are the guys at your place?” Xander asked.
The question shook Dash from his disturbing thoughts. “They were out by the pool when I left.”
Xander folded his arms across his chest. “Any chance I’ll have a houseful of people soon?” he asked, not sounding happy about it.
“You never know.” Dash couldn’t stop the grin lifting the corners of his mouth at Xander’s predictable reaction.
Dash had made it his life’s mission to drive his more solitary brother crazy by showing up uninvited all the time. Xander was uptight and could use a good shaking up. But despite it all, they were close.
Now that Xander lived with his fiancée, Dash had stopped using his key and rang the bell instead. Unless he knew he wouldn’t be interrupting them. Linc’s car in the driveaway had indicated he’d been safe to enter today. He had no desire to walk in on Xander and Sasha doing shit he didn’t need to see.
“Dash! I didn’t know you were here, too.” Sasha flowed into the kitchen because that’s what his brother’s fiancée did. She glided across a room like the actress she was. Good thing she was down-to-earth, too.
“Hello, beautiful.” He winked at her and caught Xander’s glare.
Dash had every reason to suck up to Sasha. He’d crossed a line with Cassidy, Sasha’s best friend and former personal assistant, despite both Xander and Sasha warning him against making a move. Things between them had escalated out of control after Sasha had been hurt by her stalker. Cassidy had needed a shoulder to cry on, and Dash had been admittedly struck dumb from the first time he’d laid eyes on her.
He’d acted with his dick and all his other body parts that were drawn to the California girl. Their one night had blown his mind, and even for a guy who’d had more than his share of women, that was a huge understatement.
He’d woken up as sober as when he’d slid into her the night before. No drunk excuses. Sunlight was streaming into the hotel room, illuminating her silky blond hair, porcelain skin, and delicate profile that would inspire songs in his future, and he’d freaked the fuck out. Instead of acting like a man, he’d dressed and disappeared before she woke up. Things had been awkward since.
“Knock, knock, we’re coming in!” Dash recognized his lead guitarist Jagger’s voice followed by footsteps, letting him know Mac, the bassist, and Axel, the new drummer, who happened to be Cassidy’s brother, were with him. And fuck no, Axel did not know what had happened between Dash and his sister.
“In the kitchen,” Dash called out.
“Really?” Xander asked, eyebrow raised in annoyance.
Sasha squeezed his shoulder. “It’s fine.”
“It’s not. What’s wrong with your house?” he asked Dash. “I love you but half the time it feels like you guys live here.”
Dash lifted his shoulders. “Our road manager came by, called a few friends…”
“There’s a party at his place,” Mac said as the guys filed into the kitchen dressed in bathing trunks and sneakers.
Sasha narrowed her gaze. “Where’s Cass?”
Cassidy used to be Sasha’s personal assistant until the band’s latest one quit. Xander, Sasha, and Harrison Dare, a movie star friend of hers, were creating a production company and had asked Cassidy to be their creative director. With her ad agency background prior to working for Sasha, she was a perfect fit.
But there was time before they’d need Cassidy to start work. Axel had convinced her to lend the band a hand. Again, because Axel had no idea that Dash had fucked his sister and walked out, making certain she understood what one and done meant. Because yeah, when Dash got feelings, he was that much of an asshole.
“She’s at the pool, keeping an eye on shit,” Axel said, wincing under Sasha’s pissed-off glare.
Normally Dash would get the brunt of her anger, but Axel had been the last guy to leave the house. And he was Cassidy’s brother.
“You left her there with your goddamn entourage and the groupies?” Sasha walked over and smacked Dash upside the head.
“Hey! I didn’t do it,” he muttered.
She shot him a look that let him know he’d done other things to earn him that swat, and he couldn’t deny he deserved it. Nor could he fight with her in front of the band.
“Overseeing your parties and babysitting your groupies isn’t part of her job description.” Sasha swiped a set of car keys that sat in a bowl on the counter.
“Where are you going?” Xander asked.
“To save my best friend.” She waved at Xander with a warm smile that Dash had to admit would make any man envious, ignored the rest of them, and strode out of the kitchen.
“Good job,” Xander muttered. “Way to piss her off.”
Dash ran a hand over his face. “Look, I have a lot on my mind!”
Xander looked at him, his jaw tight, and Dash didn’t say a word. Of his two brothers, he could read Xander better. And Xander wanted to give Dash the same lecture Linc had.
When this nightmare was over, Dash needed to get his shit together. ASAP.
* * *
Cassidy Forrester sat on the edge of the saltwater gunite pool and dipped her feet into the warm water, ignoring the half-naked groupies hanging on to men who were friends with Dash Kingston, the owner of the East Hampton home.
“I want a raise,” she said out loud to no one in particular. Because she sure as hell wasn’t paid enough to babysit the entourage of the Original Kings, an award-winning rock band, comprised of man-child idiots who did what they wanted, when they wanted, everyone else be damned.
Her actual title was personal assistant to the band, a job she’d taken as a favor to her brother. The four core members had disappeared, leaving her to deal with the people, party, and mess they’d left behind. Nobody else would watch over the house and make sure these guests respected boundaries and stayed outside.
Not that Dash deserved anything from her, but her brother did.
“Hey, Cass,” a familiar female voice said.
Cassidy glanced up, shading her eyes from the sun, just as her best friend, Sasha Keaton, joined her, sitting by her side and also dipping her bare feet into the pool.
“What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be home with your hot fiancé?”
Sasha leaned back, her hands behind her on the bluestone patio. “When the guys showed up, I figured you’d want company.”
Cassidy smiled. “And that’s why I love you.”
“Back at you,” Sasha said, tilting her face toward the sun.
Sasha and Cassidy had been based in Los Angeles and traveled to locations where Sasha filmed until a couple of months ago, when Sasha had come to New York for a role. Cassidy, as her then personal assistant, had joined her. Sasha and Xander Kingston, Dash’s brother and the author of the book on which the movie was based, had history they’d rekindled. After filming ended, Sasha had decided to move across the country to be with Xander and, along with him, open a production company with another famous actor, Harrison Dare.
Cassidy eventually planned to work for their new company, K-Talent Productions, a name they’d recently updated, but for now she’d agreed to help the band until they could hire someone they agreed on permanently.
“I came to take you to Xander’s. You don’t need to babysit the house,” Sasha said.
“I take it the band made their way over there?” Cassidy asked.
Sasha nodded. “If they don’t want to be here, there’s no reason for you to be, either. Let’s go hang out at my place.”
“I like that you consider Xander’s house your place. I’m glad you’re happy.” Her friend had soared to stardom, sacrificing her relationship with Xander in the process. But in the end, things had worked out and they both deserved it.
“I want the same thing for you. So while we’re alone, I just wanted to make sure you’re not upset with me,” Sasha said. She lifted her feet out of the pool, and they both stood and reached for towels on the chairs behind them.
“Why would I be?” Cassidy asked while drying her legs.
Sasha did the same before sitting down to buckle her sandals as she replied. “I know you don’t want to be around Dash, but when Xander and Axel asked if the band could borrow your talents for a short time, I couldn’t lie. It’s going to take a while to get the paperwork for the new business going, and Harrison is finishing up a movie. We all have downtime now.”
“I know. And I didn’t have to say yes when Axel asked. This job isn’t your doing. It’s my brother’s and that’s because he has no idea I slept with Dash.” Cassidy winced at the reminder of the best night of her life that had ended in the most humiliating morning after.
“I want to throttle Dash for being such an asshole,” Sasha muttered.
There was nothing Cassidy could say to that since she agreed. And if Axel found out, he’d kill Dash himself.
Cassidy and Axel’s parents had died in a car accident when Cassidy was five and Axel seven. Their grandmother had raised them until she’d passed away, leaving an eighteen-year-old Axel to deal with Cassidy, a sixteen-year-old girl just finding herself. Though Cassidy felt like they’d looked out for each other, Axel had deemed himself her father figure and still acted as such.
Sasha sighed. “Yeah. I’ve seen how overprotective Axel can be. I don’t think he’d take the news well, and the last thing you want is an issue between the band’s lead singer and their new member. They have enough crazy publicity as it is,” Sasha said.
“Agreed.” Neither one of them mentioned Dash’s baby scare out loud.
Sasha probably didn’t want to hurt Cassidy by discussing it. And Cassidy didn’t want to puke into the man’s million-dollar pool. She was aware based on the timing that he’d slept with the woman before he’d been with Cassidy. Not that it mattered. He hadn’t been with her in any way that inspired loyalty or monogamy. But the thought of Dash fathering some skank’s baby made Cassidy want to alternatively be sick and cry. How could she have let herself fall for the proverbial rock star?
A shriek came from the far side of the grass. Cassidy and Sasha turned to see one of the big-breasted women pull off her bikini top and jump into the deep end of the pool. Three men shucked their shorts and followed.
“Oh. My. God.” Cassidy spun away, not needing to see more.
“Come on. Let’s get out of here.” Sasha gathered her things, and Cassidy pulled her cover-up over her bathing suit and slipped into her flip-flops, happy to join her friend and leave this hedonistic nightmare behind.
* * *
Dash huddled in the corner of the overly large sofa in Xander’s family room. While grumbling about too many people in his house, Xander had moved the band and Linc to a space with more sitting room. Status quo for his best-selling thriller author brother, whose books were made into hit movies. He liked a more solitary life.
Why Xander put up with Dash and his shit was beyond him. But Dash loved his older brother and always had. He’d pulled the same crap when they were kids, sleeping on the floor of Xander’s bedroom until his mother bought a trundle bed so Dash was more comfortable.
Xander had grumbled then, too, Dash thought wryly. But if his life went to hell, Xander would be there and not say, I told you so. Not much, anyway.
Dash’s cell rang, silencing everyone. He pulled out the phone from his pocket, glanced at the screen, and his heart began to pound harder in his chest.
“It’s the lawyer,” he said to his audience, men he trusted with his life. Men who’d been waiting to hear the news along with him. The band because of the publicity Dash had thrust on them, and along with his brothers, they cared.
Palms slick with sweat, Dash stood. He took the call, putting it on speaker because he didn’t want to have to repeat the news if it was bad. “Peter, talk to me,” he said to his attorney.
“Got the paternity results in my hand,” the man said.
At that moment, Sasha walked in, Cassidy by her side. Because why shouldn’t the woman who affected him on a soul-deep level witness his humiliation?
“Dash, you are not the father,” Peter said without wasting time, and damned if Dash didn’t drop to his knees in relief and disconnected the call.
“Fucking sounds like an episode of Maury,” Axel said. “But you must be relieved. Congrats, man.”
Linc and Xander surrounded him, and he rose to his feet, promising himself that, from this point on, his life would change. No more fucking groupies, no more being too wasted as an excuse.
He blinked, his gaze refocusing until he met Cassidy’s damp stare, her pretty green eyes wet with unshed tears. She’d wrapped her arms around herself and his stomach cramped at the hurt he saw in her expression. Unable to deal with the pain he’d caused when he was still in the process of reconfiguring what he wanted out of life, he turned away.
“I think everyone should go back to your place and send the partiers home.” Xander squeezed Dash’s shoulder. “You stay here and calm down. You can head back when you know it’s quiet there.”
Dash inclined his head. “Sounds like a good idea.” He turned to the band. “Guys? I appreciate the support but I need some time.”
One by one they slapped him on the shoulder and headed out the door, each giving him a word of congratulations as they left.
And when he turned back to face Sasha and Cassidy, the women were nowhere to be found.
* * *
Needing space, Cassidy walked into the kitchen of Xander and Sasha’s home. She headed straight to the counter, braced her hands on the granite, and dipped her head, releasing a long-held sigh. Dash was not the father of some groupie’s baby.
Why the hell was she so relieved? After the way he’d treated her, why did she care?
A little over two months ago, she’d met Dash Kingston, and the floor beneath her had shaken as if an earthquake hit, and having been born and bred in LA, she’d experienced plenty of them. Her reaction had been ridiculous. As an assistant to an A-list actress, she’d met more handsome men than she could count. She’d recently been dumped by a man she thought she’d loved. Yet, standing in a club full of people, she’d taken one look at the lead singer of the Original Kings, and it was like no one else was in the room. And damned if he hadn’t stared back at her, looking shaken, as if he felt the same way.
Later that night, when she’d been mistaken for Sasha and attacked by her friend’s stalker, Dash had been frantic. He’d even gone to the hospital and waited there to make sure she was okay. Not the actions of an unaffected man. Which was why, after Sasha had been attacked and Cassidy panicked, she’d given in to the attraction and need.
She’d thought she was different than his other women. The groupies. Until she’d woken up alone the morning after, and he’d never mentioned their night together again. She closed her eyes, trying to rid herself of the painful memory, only to recall the panic on his face when he’d been on the phone with his lawyer. And the sheer relief when he’d heard the paternity results and realized his entire life wouldn’t be upended.
She’d been happy for him. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“Are you finished with the self-flagellation?” Sasha asked. She’d followed Cassidy out of the room filled with men congratulating Dash and, as a good friend, had given Cassidy a few minutes to pull herself together.
Cassidy stood up and straightened her shoulders only to find Sasha staring, her gaze narrowed.
“What?” Cassidy asked.
“It’s not terrible to still have feelings,” Sasha said, quietly so nobody would overhear.
Cassidy shrugged. “I don’t have feelings unless you count being happy for him that he dodged a bullet.” They both knew she was lying. “That’s what I don’t understand about myself. Why do I care after he was such an ass?”
“Because you’re a good person, Cass. Are you sure you want to work with them?” Sasha asked.
Cassidy nodded. “This week is a radio interview. The first with the entire band since Axel joined them. The focus will turn to music, the guys will hunker down in the studio, and all will be fine.” At least that was the story she was telling herself.
“Okay then.” Sasha glanced at her watch. “I need to take a call, but I’ll drive you back to Dash’s house right after. I shouldn’t be long.”
“I’ll take her. I’m going home, anyway.”
Cassidy jerked, surprised by the sound of Dash’s voice. He stood in the entry to the kitchen. He wore a pair of swim trunks and an open button-down shirt, and his tanned, lickable abs were on display. His jet-black hair had been recently cut and was longer on top, looking like he’d been running his fingers through it in agitation.
Of all the Kingston brothers, Cassidy thought Dash the best-looking, his face lean, his features chiseled. He had full lips and he knew how to use them to give maximum pleasure. At the reminder, she folded her arms across her chest, covering her nipples so he couldn’t see how he affected her.
Sasha glanced at Dash. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Actually, it’s a perfect idea,” Cassidy said. “Dash and I can discuss what he and the band need from me.” She shot Sasha a reassuring gaze. Though Cassidy appreciated the support, she could handle Dash.
“Okay.” Although Sasha’s forehead wrinkled in worry, she walked over and gave Cassidy a hug, which she gratefully returned. Sasha was the sister she’d never had, and Cassidy loved her.
Sasha strode out of the kitchen, pausing to whisper something in Dash’s ear that caused him to wince. A threat to the family jewels if he hurt Cassidy again, no doubt.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
She nodded. She’d left her handbag in the kitchen, grabbed it from one of the chairs, and followed him out, coming to a stop in front of the almost-five-hundred-thousand-dollar sports car. This she knew from her brother and his obsession with them.
“Boys and their toys,” she muttered as he opened the door for her.
Dash chuckled, the sound a low rasp in her ear she was eager to escape, but as she slid into the low-slung seat, she caught a whiff of his familiar, musky scent. She inhaled, and arousal hit low in her abdomen as he shut the door, leaving her in the small interior, surrounded by the heady cologne. Already, she regretted not waiting for Sasha to drive her back.
There was no conversation thanks to the loud engine revving as he drove, but when he pulled into his long driveway, he parked the car and cut the motor.
Before she could find the door handle and escape, he spoke. “Cassidy, wait.”
Her hand froze and she had no choice but to turn toward him.
He’d placed his tanned, inked forearm onto the top of her seat, bringing them together in the small car. She’d already been inhaling his scent and getting worked up enough to squirm in her seat. Now his handsome face was too close for comfort. She’d gone from thinking they should clear things up between them to wanting to get away from his magnetic pull.
“What do you want?” she asked.
“You said we should talk about what the band needs from you,” Dash said.
She rolled her eyes. “I know how to do my job. I just didn’t want to make Sasha go out of her way to take me to my car when you were leaving anyway.” She pivoted toward the door, intending to make her getaway.
“I’m sorry.” His low tone reminded her of the rumbling voice on stage that had women throwing their panties at his feet.
But damn him, his words stopped her from leaving. “You’re sorry. For what?”
If he was going to apologize, she wanted him to spell out what he’d done wrong.
“Look at me and I’ll tell you,” he said.
She turned. The man across from her wasn’t the cocky rock star who strutted around on stage like he owned the world. This Dash Kingston appeared to be a mere mortal, not a rock god. He was a man who’d been humbled by his actions. Although she didn’t kid herself that he’d have apologized otherwise, she couldn’t help but respond to the real person behind the cocky façade he presented to everyone else.
She raised her eyebrows, waiting for him to explain.
A muscle pulled in his jaw. “I shouldn’t have left you the morning after without saying goodbye. That was a shitty thing to do.”
“Yeah, it was.” She blew out a breath, relieved he hadn’t apologized for sleeping with her. She didn’t think she could deal with being one of his regrets.
“I should have dealt with things better.” He ran a hand through his already disheveled hair. “Hell, Cass. I should have handled you better.”
Glad he not only recognized he’d treated her like one of his groupies and pleased he’d acknowledged it out loud, she decided to put her night with Dash where it belonged. “Thanks, Dash. It’s in the past but I appreciate the apology.”
Forcing a smile she didn’t feel, at least not in her heart, where somehow this man had gotten to her, she turned and let herself out of the car.
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