Out of habit, Bruce glanced through the glass next to his brother’s front entryway to check the alarm status. Seeing the green light signaling that the alarm had been disconnected, his body drew taut with tension. He pulled his Glock out and quietly checked the door. Locked. Slipping the key into the lock, he gently turned it and opened the door to an unknown danger. He moved silently through the house, clearing each room as he calmly and methodically moved forward, looking for the intruder he knew was there.
He had never cared for the opulence Clayton’s home displayed, nor the way his brother lived, but he’d be damned if he’d allow anyone to take anything that belonged to his brother while he was out playing the rock star celebrity role.
Bruce crept into the living room where a fire was crackling in the fireplace. Obviously someone felt at home in his brother’s house. Bruce’s training as a police officer had taught him to slow down, to take everything in, to feel his surroundings.Something was different, he thought to himself. His eyebrows knitted together, he tilted his head to the side, trying to decipher what he was feeling. The air was thick with something he couldn’t identify in words. The surroundings were familiar, but everything felt different. Wrong. Turning slowly in a circle, he scrutinized everything in the room, searching for an answer to what was so off about the feel of this home that he had been inside hundreds of times, but nothing tangible had been disturbed in the house.
As his gaze slowed, his gut clenched as he recognized the feeling that flowed over him. It was an overwhelming sense of sadness. It was the imperceptible, the thick veil of anguish, that was gnawing at him.
His breaths came quickly. Trying to wash this paralyzing sensation from himself with his free hand, he clutched his chest. His heart rate had sped up. Waves of sorrow were washing over him. His eyes closed, and he shivered involuntarily. Something was undeniably awry in this house. He just hoped it didn’t get him killed.
While trying to steady his nerves, he heard it. Going completely still, he listened. Somewhere in the distance, a cell phone rang. He crept forward, trying to follow the incessant ringing, before finally realizing it was coming from outside on the back deck.
“Gotcha,” he whispered as he moved toward the oversized double doors leading to the back deck. The cell phone started ringing again. What an idiot! He smirked at the stupidity of a burglar who couldn’t turn his damn cell phone off for the amount of time it took to pull off a B&E. Then again, the idiot must be planning for a prolonged stay since he took the time to light a fire in the fireplace. Bruce was looking forward to educating this bastard.
As the back deck came into view through the large double doors, his suspicions were confirmed when he saw a roaring fire in the pit. To the right of the pit, a young woman sat at the table, staring out into space, her hand clutching a bottle of whiskey and tears rolling down her cheeks as if she’d lost everyone and everything important to her. The cell phone sat in front of her, its ringing falling on deaf ears.
Her beauty was staggering—long, luxurious, blonde hair, the allure of her face so moving that poets had been writing about such a face for centuries. Her eyes were hidden by the shadows of the night, but he could see the tension in her face, which was covered with tears. Even camouflaged from head to toe with the afghan his mother had made and given to Clay all those years ago, he could see an air of elegance surrounding her as if she were some kind of royalty. He watched her for quite some time, trying to decipher exactly what kind of a threat she might be.
Finally, with no answer to his question, he slipped out between the doors and moved stealthily toward her. The air around her was thick with pain, and it washed over him afresh. The man in him, the protector, his heart and body, wanted to run to her and wrap her in a warm, loving embrace all the while the cop in him, his mind, was yelling at him to put her in handcuffs and whisk her away to jail.
Silence. The damned phone finally stopped ringing. He snapped out of his reverie long enough to mentally kick himself. His anger rose, and a frown crossed his face. “A damn groupie,” he whispered. That thought dispelled his fantasy and woke him up to the reality, stirring his anger even more.
Pointing his gun at her, he ordered, “Let me see your hands.”
Nothing. She didn’t even flinch. Her mind was somewhere far off, too great a distance to hear him.
He moved closer. “Hey,” he yelled, “let me see your hands, or I’m going to have to take you down and cuff you on the ground.”
Her body jerked when he yelled, and the bottle of Southern Comfort she’d been holding fell off the table. Wincing, she stayed perfectly still, except for holding her hands in the air, too afraid to look at the man yelling at her.
“Keep your hands in the air. Stand up and move away from the table,” he ordered.
She stood quickly, her hair bouncing around her shoulders, catching the light of the fire. Bruce fought to ignore the impact that such a simple act was having on him. Finding comfort in protocol, he holstered his gun and moved toward her with his cuffs. He pulled her right arm behind her and then her left as he restrained her.
Still feeling a little jittery from what felt like an emotional assault on him by this woman, he did what he did best. He struck out with his caustic words, fully intending to make her feel the fool instead of himself. “Don’t you groupies have a network or something? Can’t you just spread the word that Silk’s house is out of bounds? I just don’t understand you women.”
He swung her around. “I mean, look at you! You’re beautiful. Why are you wasting your time with a man who doesn’t give a shit about women? Don’t you know his reputation?” He angrily swiped his hand through his hair. “Good Lord! He’d swallow you up and spit you out without so much as a blink. You should have a little more respect for yourself than that.”
Watching this man who had just handcuffed her giving her a motivational speech made her smile before sending her into hysterical laughter. Being a cop, Bruce knew that people reacted differently to stressful situations, but her laughter startled him nonetheless. Was she one of those certifiably crazy groupies? Instinctively, his hand moved to his holstered gun. The movement set her to cackling so hard, she couldn’t stand up straight and was having a difficult time catching her breath. When she did, it degenerated into snorting.
He took a step back, his anger growing steadily. “What the hell is so funny?” Still bent over, she held her hands up behind her back so he could see them and then held up one finger to indicate she’d need a minute as she convulsed with laughter yet again.
Putting his hands on his waist, he grew more and more agitated as he stood there, placing his weight on his left foot while angrily tapping his right. Who the hell does this woman think she is? His irritation escalated.
She stood up with a broad smile on her face, and it was obvious she genuinely felt better. The sorrow he had seen on her face earlier was still there, but a sparkle of playfulness had emerged.
Lilly watched the cop’s face for the familiar reaction. She couldn’t believe it. This cop didn’t recognize her. For the first time in a very long time, she was just another woman. Incredible! Her smile grew brighter, the warmth of her very being radiating out from her, as she immersed in this newfound freedom. Before Bruce knew what he was doing, he smiled back. Dammit, he thought as he transformed his smile into a scowl again.
“I’m sorry. There’s been some sort of a mistake, officer. Ding … I mean Silk invited me to stay here.”
Bruce waved his hand at her, clearly dismissing her as a liar. “He would have told me. I watch after the place for him when he’s gone.”
Her smile never faded, completely unnerving him. “Well, he actually gave me the key two years ago along with an open invitation to visit whenever I wanted.” She turned her back to him and awkwardly held her cuffed hand out to him in greeting. She cocked her head and declared, “Hi, I’m Lilly. It’s nice to meet you.”
Knowing that Clay, or Silk as his hundreds of thousands of fans knew him, had never invited even one of his numerous lovers to what he referred to as “his real home,” Bruce returned her gesture with a skeptical stare.
When it was clear this angry police officer was not going to shake her cuffed hand, she turned and nodded to her phone on the table. “There’s my phone. Call him. He’ll vouch for me.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled his own phone out.
“Excuse me, officer, but you should probably use my phone. He’s not going to recognize your number and probably won’t answer it. He’ll answer if you use my phone, no matter what he’s doing. We’re close friends.”
His face lit up with a mischievous smile like he was getting ready to tell her a funny story. I should probably tell her my brother always answers my calls, but I’ll just keep that to myself for now. He chuckled.
Lilly couldn’t have looked away from him if she had wanted to. There was something so masculine about him. The man exuded an inner strength and—what is it? she thought to herself, and then it hit her—a cockiness about him, that drew her to him like a moth to flame. As much as she wanted to examine what was so attractive about his personality, she was having difficulty looking past the uniform. There is just nothing sexier than a great big man in uniform. She grinned.
Wishing she would stop smiling at him, he held her gaze as he picked her phone up. Going through the contact list, he looked back at her, smirking from ear to ear. “Hmm. I’m not seeing him listed in your contacts.”
She gave him a questioning look and then giggled knowingly. “Oh, I’m sorry. He’s listed as Dingo.”
His eyebrows shot up in surprise. Dingo? He turned his attention back to the phone, looked at the number listed under the name Dingo and realized that it, in fact, was his brother’s private cell phone number. He pressed the send button and stood there, staring at this handcuffed, regal vision in front of him.
He heard Clay answer the phone and say in the background, “Don’t worry. I’m going to get to that spot, sweetheart. This is an important call, and I have to take it. I’ll be right back.”
He closed his eyes and shook his head at the thought of his brother answering a call from this woman while having sex with another. The thought that she must be pretty important to Clay irritated the hell out of him. The next words Bruce heard lifted his anger level to an all new high. “How is my luscious baby girl doing?” Then in a voice so sincere that Bruce couldn’t believe it was actually coming from his brother, Clay declared, “Damn, I’ve missed you so much, Lilly. Please tell me you’re calling to say you’ll join me for the rest of the band’s tour.”
It took a moment before Bruce could string a sentence of words together that didn’t solely contain swear words unbefitting a cop in charge of the situation. Dammit, she must be really important to him, he thought. Why did that make him feel so bad, he wondered as he finally found his tongue.
“Just hold on a damn minute, Clay.” Putting the cell phone down on the table, he pulled his key out of his pocket and walked over to Lilly. She twirled around so he could reach the handcuffs. He quickly uncuffed her.
She turned back to him while rubbing her wrists. “I’ll go in and make some hot chocolate for us while you finish your call.” Reaching the double doors into the house, she turned back. “Please tell Ding ... Clayton that I’m fine and not to worry about me.” With that, she went inside the house.
Bruce stood there and watched her go, his hands clenching into fists, not understanding why the thought of this woman as his brother’s girlfriend was so upsetting. He turned his attention back to the phone in time to hear Clay screaming profanities directed at him. He picked the phone up and yelled back. “You should probably tell me when you invite guests to your home so I don’t end up taking them to jail.”
“My God! Lilly’s at my house? Is she all right? Is she hurt?” Clay cried out into the phone.
Once again, Clay surprised him with the depth of concern in his voice. “Clay, she’s fine.” Hesitating, he added, “Something’s happened because when I found her, she was crying and …” Without thinking, he put his hand on his chest and rubbed it, trying to scrub away the pain he had not only seen, but felt emanating from her.
“And?” Clay screamed, impatient for a response.
Bruce shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. She’s sad. Really sad,” he whispered.
After a slight hesitation, Clay said, “I’m coming. I’m going to cancel a few stops on my tour, and I’ll take a flight out as soon as possible.”
Shocked by his brother’s uncharacteristic solicitude, Bruce interrupted him. “What? You’re going to cancel your tour? For a woman? What the hell is going on? Who is she, and what is she to you?”
Bruce could hear the surprise in Clay’s voice. “Umm, dude, you’re kidding, right?”
Sighing in frustration, Bruce said, “I’m feeling a little out of the loop, Clay. Will you please tell me what is going on?”
“Jeez, Bruce, do you ever pick up a newspaper, a magazine, turn the TV on, listen to the radio? The person you met tonight is Lilly. Lilly Cabrera.” Pausing, Clay shrugged as he spoke. “You probably won’t know her last name. No one does, but Lilly is famous, dude. She’s an international superstar. Where the hell have you been living the last three or four years?
“She’s also very special to me. She’s gotten me through some pretty rough times in my life, and I’m going to be there for her when she needs someone.” Pausing, he added, “That time is now, Bruce. You can’t let anyone know she’s there. She’ll never get any peace.”
Over the phone, Bruce could hear Clay slamming doors and unzipping what sounded like a suitcase. “I’m on my way there. Don’t leave her alone. If she’s there, it’s bad. She’s going to need someone with her. I’m worried about her. Take care of her, Bruce, until I get there.” Without any further conversation, the phone went dead.
Bruce looked at the now dead phone he held in his hand with absolute astonishment. “Stay with her?” he asked out loud. “You’ve got to be kidding!”
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