Screaming fans surrounded Jenna Wentworth as Garrett Steele’s rich, seductive voice and acoustic guitar drove the enraptured women into a frenzy. And despite her painful past with him, his lush baritone melted her insides.
Thirtieth row, floor seating. Jenna peered through the chaos, but with everyone standing, she couldn’t see much onstage. Her first country music concert. Ever. Stale beer assaulted her senses and her ears would probably ring for a week. Why had she come?
Because her friend Tori had promised to attend church with her in return, but. . .that wasn’t the whole story.
Truth be told—she couldn’t resist getting a glimpse of Garrett again. Pathetic.
The music stopped. Applause, whistles, and screams shattered her eardrums.
“What an awesome crowd.” Garrett’s words boomed over the speakers. “We’re taking a short break but we’ll be back, so don’t go anywhere Dallas.”
The crowd roared and the lights brightened. She stood on her tiptoes long enough to peer around the tall man standing in front of her to get a fleeting glimpse of Garrett leaving the stage before it went dark.
“I can’t believe I’m here,” Tori shouted over the clamor. “He’s even better looking in person.”
Jenna’s mouth went dry as the arena lights brightened. “How can you tell what he looks like?”
Maybe his floozy, boozy lifestyle had taken its toll, but Jenna couldn’t tell from the few glimpses she’d gotten of him.
“He’s just the greatest.” Tori did a little bounce.
Sure. Jenna rolled her eyes. The greatest guy to ever walk out on her.
“Okay, Jenna, I know you don’t really like him, but can’t you humor me?”
Time for a distraction. “I’m thirsty. Let’s get something to drink.”
They inched slowly up the stands toward the lobby, along with half the crowd in the American Airlines Center.
She could happily not talk about Garrett—if only she could stop thinking about him too.
Tori would be beside herself if she knew Jenna had grown up with him. That she’d once had feelings for him much deeper than like. Had once been the girl he’d claimed to love.
Though the cold bite of New Year's Day lurked outside, the lobby was toasty warm. But the line at the concession stand was endless. At this rate, they’d never get anything to drink.
Amongst the crowd of adoring fans, dutiful husbands and shrewd boyfriends, Jenna blended in like a Queen Anne wingback in a farmhouse.
Several amorous couples surrounded them. Men obviously brought their dates to Garrett Steele concerts to perform the dance of seduction for them. And it was working. All too well. Jenna closed her eyes.
Past simply thirsty, her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth.
“Look! It’s Garrett Steele!” Excited voices echoed through the lobby.
In the distance, security guards cleared a path. Garrett ran toward the concession stand pursued by a trail of women.
Tori and a herd of females surged toward him. Men, deserted by their dates, stood as if rooted to the spot. Jenna moved closer to the counter to avoid the mob. Surreal. At least she’d get her tea faster now.
Though the women ran to meet Garrett head-on, they ended up in the throng behind him with the security guards keeping them at bay. Hands grabbed and clawed at Garrett as he and his entourage got closer to her. She could no longer see Tori. The rush forced abandoned men to move out of the way.
Please don’t see me. Please don’t see me. Please don’t see me. The pathetic one he’d turned his back on—at his concert with the rest of his minions.
Brilliant green eyes locked with hers. A flick of recognition followed by a familiar grin. Her heart went into overdrive. Surely she’d swoon. Mere feet away from her now, he held his hand out toward her. As if of their own volition, her fingers clasped his as he ran past, dragging her with him.
What was she doing? Hadn’t she been sucked in by him once before? And in exchange for her brainless devotion, she’d gotten her heart broken.
Jenna fought to keep up with Garrett’s pace. Too late to turn back now, the stampede behind them encouraged speed despite her strappy heels.
He slowed only when they squeezed through a doorway and descended the stairs back into the sunken arena, then surged toward a smaller platform at the other end from the main stage. Security guards surrounded them as Garrett guided her up the steps. A guard tried to pull her hand from his.
“No!” he shouted above the chaos. “I want her onstage with me.”
Her stomach did a flip-flop. “No!”
The pandemonium surrounding them carried her protest away and the guard helped her up the stairs.
“It’s okay. I won’t force you to sing.” Garrett winked. “Even though you have a lovely voice.”
Her heart pooled at his feet, but her insides twisted in knots as he led her to a tall stool. Weak-kneed, she gratefully perched on it. His band and backup singers faded to the back of the stage. A spotlight blinded her.
The music started—the opening notes of his signature wedding song—“One Day.” She’d heard it countless times over the past month with his voice crooning to her at Walmart, restaurants and the streets of the Fort Worth Stockyards historic district as Texas proudly gave its star plenty of airtime.
Until finally, she’d downloaded it on her iPod. A few times, she’d allowed herself the guilty pleasure of listening. Okay, more than a few times.
Pathetic. She inwardly cringed.
His green gaze imprisoned hers as he sang the words of adoration.
Years of searching finally over,
just when I’d given up on love.
You’re my lucky four-leaf clover,
only sent from up above.
Desperate to tune out his serenade of undying love for her, she picked a spot on a speaker to stare at. But her gaze returned to him as if pulled by a magnet.
His dark, wavy hair hung way past his shoulders. Nothing like the short mop-top he’d worn in school. She didn’t usually like long hair on men, but the flowing waves and olive skin were the perfect contrast for his grass-green eyes and framed his high cheekbones, chiseled bone structure, and scruffy beard shadowed jaw—male model material.
His honky-tonk years hadn’t hurt his looks a bit. Only God could put something so breathtaking together.
When the instrumental part of the song began, he knelt at her feet—as if to propose. The proposal she’d dreamt of. The proposal that had never come. Her heart took a nosedive.
Since middle school, Garrett had had one goal in mind—stardom. And in the end, it hadn’t included her.
Yet Jenna remembered him in the church choir. Okay, she’d joined the choir just to be close to him. Yep—pathetic.
Despite the intense heat given off by the lights above, she shuddered. It wasn’t because of his proximity. No, she was so over him. She was just nervous. Onstage in front of thousands of people.
The music swelled and his baritone tugged at her.
Can’t believe I finally found you,
I looked for you all of my life.
I don’t know what I did without you,
but I know one day you’ll be my wife.
As he mesmerized the audience, making her the envy of every woman there, she resisted the urge to clamp her hands over her ears and block him out. Okay, she wasn’t over him. And probably never would be. She’d die an old maid still in love with Garrett Steele.
The song ended. He stood and kissed her hand as the lights brightened.
Her hand tingled and warmth swept up her arms. She could still feel the strength of his arms, the tenderness of his kiss as if it was yesterday.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Jenna Wentworth. Jenna and I grew up together, so when I saw her in the lobby, I couldn’t resist staging a little impromptu reunion. Give Jenna a big hand for being such a good sport.”
The crowd erupted. With the glare of hot lights, she couldn’t see a thing and sweat trickled down the hollow of her back.
Garrett took her hand and led her to the steps. He shot her a wink and handed her over to a security guard. Dismissed.
The security man led her off the stage. Her heel caught on the step, but he steadied her. “I’ll escort you back to your seat.”
“Thank-you, but that’s not necessary. I’m going back to the concession stand.” Her legs wobbled, her pulse hammered. Jenna climbed the stairs up to the lobby with as much nonchalance as she could muster. Thank goodness for the handrail.
“Even more beautiful than I remember. Oh. . .” Regret sounded in Garrett’s voice. “I forgot to get her number. Sebastian, get her number for me.”
Heat crept up her neck.
Whistles, catcalls and laughter rippled through the crowd.
“Not like that.” Garrett’s sigh huffed in the microphone. “Just to keep in touch.”
Just walk. Ignore him. He’s only putting on a good show. Toying with her. Get through the rest of the concert. Go home and back to normal. Leave him behind just as he’d left her eight years ago.
Finally up the endless stairs, she walked to the lineless concession stand and ordered her long-awaited large tea. The cool liquid bathed her parched throat as she trudged back to the arena. At least she’d gotten her exercise for the day. If only she could talk Tori into leaving—now.
She’d had enough of memory lane. She’d wanted a glimpse of Garrett. Not a close-up. Great! Now his eyes would haunt her dreams. Again.
As Garrett sang another love song back on the main stage, Jenna climbed over feet and purses to her seat.
Tori grabbed her arm and jumped up and down. Her mouth moved, but Jenna couldn’t hear a word. Surely the concert couldn’t last much longer.
The rest of the love songs blurred in Jenna’s mind. Garrett finally closed the last song and left the stage. But, as the cheers resonated through the building, he reentered and stepped onto center stage.
“What a great crowd. Thanks, Dallas. It’s great to be home and thanks, Jenna for—” his voice caught “—letting me bask in your beauty.”
Heat seared her cheeks.
The drummer counted a beat and the band struck up again for Garrett’s encore.
As the final notes faded away, the stage went black to thunderous applause. The arena lights came on, the crowd began to quiet and the two friends inched into the slow moving throng toward the lobby.
“I can’t believe you know Garrett Steele.” Tori whacked her on the arm. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Would you have believed me?”
“You know him and got to go onstage with him. You don’t even like him. That’s so unfair!” Tori wailed.
Jenna shrugged. “He wasn’t Garrett the country star when we had chemistry together.” In more ways than one.
“Garrett Steele.” Tori grabbed Jenna by both shoulders and shook her lightly. “The Garrett Steele just sang a love song to you! He kissed your hand! You can never wash that hand again. How can you stay so calm?”
Calm. She could still feel the touch of his lips on her hand. Her quivering insides were anything but calm. A long time ago, he’d kissed her lips—on more than one occasion.
Several other women in the crowd recognized her and gathered around her as if she were an exhibit. A few even asked for her autograph. She made it to the lobby, without signing anything, and headed for the refuge of the bathroom.
A large muscular man stepped into her path with the word Security emblazoned in gold letters across the front of his black T-shirt.
“I’m Sebastian. Mr. Steele would like to see you backstage, Miss Wentworth. Follow me, please.”
How dare Garrett summon her. Did he really expect her to do his bidding? To show up all moony-eyed over him?
Why wouldn’t he? She’d practically drooled onstage. Oh why couldn’t she get over him?
“Jenna?” Tori’s finger dug into her ribs.
“Umm.” Jenna swallowed hard. “I think he was just kidding.”
Sebastian’s eyes widened.
Probably no other woman on the premises would question the request. Several concertgoers shot her curious glances on their way to the exit.
“Mr. Steele never jokes about such things. He told me to find you and bring you back.”
She sucked in a deep breath. Just how many women did Sebastian retrieve each year for Garrett? She knew all about Garrett’s reputation and exploits. How could he have turned his back on Jesus? On her?
Her heart clenched. So she wasn’t over him, but maybe she could remind him of where he came from. And how far he’d strayed. But at the risk of losing her heart to him again?
“I really need to head home.” She pulled off an indifferent shrug. “It’ll take forever just to get out of the parking lot and we’ve got an hour drive ahead of us.”
“Mr. Steele simply needs a few minutes of your time to thank you for your cooperation. In the meantime, the parking lot will clear. And if it’s still congested when you’re ready to leave, I can get you out.”
“Are you crazy?” Tori tugged at her arm. “He wants you backstage. Garrett Steele wants to see you backstage. Don’t blow it. Go!”
Despite everything, she did want to see him. And if Jenna got Tori an introduction to Garrett, maybe she’d come to church more than just once.
“Can my friend come too?”
“Sure.” Sebastian nodded. “Follow me.”
Tori let out a whoop.
Maybe God did have a plan in all of this.
“You know I wouldn’t do this for just anyone.” Jenna whispered as they followed the guard. “You owe me big, and we can’t stay long, just a couple of minutes.”
“I can’t believe this!” Tori giggled almost hysterically. “I’ll never forget this night as long as I live!”
Jenna rolled her eyes.
They followed Sebastian down a long hallway lined by expectant-looking fans. Were these people waiting for the band to walk through? Sebastian opened a door and ushered them inside a large, sparsely furnished room.
Garrett stood in the middle of a small crowd, but when he saw her, he rushed toward her with a hug.
Why did his arms have to feel just as good as they had eight years ago? She pulled away before she could get too used to his embrace.
“This is my friend, Tori Eaton.” She swallowed the boulder in her throat. “She wanted to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you.” Garrett’s gaze never left Jenna’s face. “I just wanted to thank you for going along with me out there.”
Please don’t ask me why I did.
“We always do the lobby run, but I’ve never taken anyone onstage.” He took her hand and his touch shot fireworks through her veins. “I saw you and just went with it. I think it added to the concert.” He winked at her. “Maybe you should travel with me and we could make it part of the act.”
Steam would surely blow out her ears any minute. So he had used her. She was only part of his act.
“I don’t think so.” At least she sounded calm. She looked past Garrett and tried to catch Tori’s eye. Her friend, busy getting autographs and visiting with the band, was completely oblivious to Jenna.
“You’re not in a relationship, are you? I mean—I don’t want to worry about some irate boyfriend.”
“Nothing to worry about there.” The only man she’d ever wanted a relationship with was him.
“Then why couldn’t you travel with me?” He shot her a wicked grin.
Her blood flared again. She could handle a lot of things, but not Garrett’s teasing. “Because I love my home in Aubrey and my mother would be horrified if I took up country music. No offense.”
“Probably as horrified as mine was.”
His parents. Such wonderful people. He should be ashamed for all the embarrassment he’d caused them. But apparently he had no shame. “I run into your parents every once in a while. How are they?”
“Enjoying travel. I finally convinced them to let me bankroll their early retirement.” He winced. “It was the least I could do for all the hurt I’ve put them through.”
Maybe he did have shame.
“It’s good to see you, Jenna.” His knuckles lightly grazed her cheek.
The sound of her name on his lips numbed her brain as his touch ignited flames across her skin. Double whammy. She shivered. He’s only a man, she reminded herself. A very promiscuous man.
“I knew you hadn’t changed a bit when I saw you standing there in the lobby.”
Concentrate on his words instead of the tingling cheek. Maybe she hadn’t changed, but he had.
“This thunderous storm swarmed around me and there you stood, so calm, the eye in the middle of my hurricane.” Seduction laced his voice. “Have dinner with me?”
He’d probably used a similar line on countless other females. Yet his charm tempted her to do whatever he wanted. Had Eve’s serpent sounded like Garrett Steele?
She took a step back. “I can’t. We need to go. It’s late.”
“Wait.” He gently caught her arm. “You own some kind of business, don’t you?”
“Worthwhile Designs, an interior decorating boutique.” He’d never understood her dream. She sighed.
A genuine smile made his eyes shimmer. “That’s awesome. You achieved your dream.”
Not exactly. She’d dreamed of a store at the upscale mall Galleria Dallas. Instead, she sold custom designed horseshoe-embellished curtain rods and wagon wheel light fixtures. And she’d dreamed of being married to Garrett.
But Fort Worth had been good to her. “And you achieved yours.”
“Somewhat.” He shrugged. “So do you actually do the designing?”
“Yes. Tori and I met at design school and she works for me.” Jenna peered around him for Tori, but her friend had disappeared.
“Do you work on Saturday?”
“No.” Where had Tori gone? Her stomach twisted. They needed to leave. She needed to get away from Garrett and his beckoning green eyes.
“Then you don’t need to rush off, since you don’t work tomorrow.” Garrett smiled.
Oh yes, she did need to rush off. She scanned the room. “Where’s Tori?” Her voice came out tight.
He frowned and turned away. “Andy, where did the other girl go?”
“Rick invited her to the party with the band.”
“What?” Tori had left without her?
“There’s always a party after the concert. I guess my band invited your friend. It’s at the Hyatt. Would you like to go?”
“The only place I want to go is home.” Desperation sounded in her tone.
The door opened. Let it be Tori.
A woman entered. She exuded elegance. Flawless skin, sleek blond hair topped with a red cowgirl hat tipped just so. The red blingy dress hugged all the right curves and revealed long legs. Even with the stilettos, she still stood on tiptoe to kiss Sebastian.
Jenna’s gaze darted away from the private moment.
“Listen, I usually skip the party anyway. Join me for dinner? I have a suite. We can order room service and one of my boys can bring your friend back in an hour or so.”
“I’m not going to your suite.” She propped her hands on both hips. “Please get one of your boys to bring Tori back now.”
“Hey, it’s me, Garrett. Have I ever tried anything with you?”
Only sweet kisses. Her cheeks warmed. But that was before all his groupies and supermodels.
“Just give me an hour. We can catch up.” He took her hand. “Look, your friend is having the time of her life and she’d never forgive you if you ruined it for her.”
Her heart pounded harder than the bass drum in Garrett’s band. Tori was a black belt. She could take care of herself. She probably did this sort of thing often. Mental note—never go anywhere with Tori outside of work again.
“I’m not like Tori. I don’t go to hotels with men. Even if I used to know them.” All the sadness she felt came out in her tone. He used to know that about her. She didn’t know the Garrett he’d become.
“That’s not what I meant.” Garrett sighed. “You’re safe with me. You know that. Or you should. The party scene got old a year ago.”
Her heart clenched. Had he really changed his ways? Was this Garrett closer to the one she used to know?
“I want someone who cares about me.” Garrett squeezed her hand. “Not for my fame or money, but for me.”
And he was looking straight at that someone.
“A friend, that’s all I’m looking for. The road gets long and lonely. I could use somebody to touch base with, maybe call every once in a while. To keep me grounded. You were always great at that.” Loneliness echoed in his voice. “Say yes.”
Jenna couldn’t form the words, and worse, she didn’t know what she’d say if she could.