black falcon complete series collection

Published By: Michelle A. Valentine Books, LLC

ebook edition

––––––––

Copyright © 2015 by Michelle A. Valentine Books, LLC

Cover Art:
Romantic Book Affairs Designs
(stock photo purchased) Edited by:
Delphirose

—Rock the Heart edited by Cassie Cox— All Rights Reserved. This edition is copy written by Michelle A Valentine Books, LLC. No reproduction or utilization of this edition without written permission of the publisher. March, 2015.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

For questions or comments about this book, please contact the author at
[email protected]

www.michelleavalentine.com

Table of Contents

Copyright Page

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The Black Falcon Series

Hard Knocks Series

The Collectors Series

A Sexy Manhattan Fairytail

Wicked White Series

(Black Falcon Series, Book One)

To my little rocker.

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

A Black Falcon Novella (1.5)

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

(Black Falcon Prequel to Rock the Heart)

Chapter 1 | Freshman year... | LANE

Chapter 2 | One Week Later... | LANE

Chapter 3 | End of Junior Year... | NOEL

Chapter 4 | One Year Later—Graduation Night... | NOEL

(The Black Falcon Series, #2)

Chapter 1 | AUBREY

RIFF

Chapter 2 | AUBREY

RIFF

AUBREY

Chapter 3 | RIFF

AUBREY

RIFF

Chapter 4 | AUBREY

RIFF

Chapter 5 | AUBREY

RIFF

Chapter 6 | AUBREY

RIFF

Chapter 7 | AUBREY

RIFF

Chapter 8 | AUBREY

RIFF

AUBREY

Chapter 9 | AUBREY

RIFF

AUBREY

Chapter 10 | RIFF

AUBREY

Chapter 11 | RIFF

AUBREY

Chapter 12 | RIFF

Chapter 13 | RIFF

RIFF

AUBREY

Chapter 14 | RIFF

AUBREY

Chapter 15 | RIFF

AUBREY

Chapter 16 | RIFF

Chapter 17 | RIFF

AUBREY

Chapter 18 | RIFF

AUBREY

Chapter 19 | RIFF

AUBREY

Chapter 20 | RIFF

AUBREY

Chapter 21 | RIFF

AUBREY

Chapter 22 | AUBREY

Chapter 23 | AUBREY

RIFF

A Black Falcon Novella (2.5)

Chapter 1 | AUBREY

Chapter 2 | ZACH

Chapter 3 | AUBREY

Chapter 4 | ZACH

Chapter 5 | AUBREY

Chapter 6 | Zach

Chapter 7 | AUBREY

Chapter 8 | ZACH

Chapter 9 | AUBREY

Chapter 10 | NOEL FALCON (Months later—Bonus Chapter)

Black Falcon, #3

Prologue | It Will Rain | Two Weeks Prior...

Chapter 1 | Closer | Holly

Chapter 2 | I Knew You Were Trouble | Holly

Chapter 3 | Rude Boy | HOLLY

Chapter 4 | Good Girls, Bad Guys | TRIP

Chapter 5 | I Wanna Be Bad | HOLLY

Chapter 6 | Love Crime | TRIP

Chapter 7 | I Said It | TRIP

Chapter 8 | Bringing Down the Giant | HOLLY

Chapter 9 | She Will Be Loved | Holly

TRIP

Chapter 10 | Gorilla | Holly

TRIP

Chapter 11 | Radioactive | Holly

Chapter 12

TRIP

Chapter 13 | Same Old Trip | Trip

HOLLY

Chapter 14

TRIP

Chapter 15 | It Is What It Is | HOLLY

Chapter 16 | Light Up the Sky | TRIP

Chapter 17 | Between the Raindrops | Holly

Rock the Beat Playlist:

Black Falcon, #4

Prologue | “Coming Down” – Five Finger Death Punch | One Year Ago...

Chapter 2 | “Mad World” –Gary Jules

Chapter 3 | “Pain Killer” –Three Days Grace

Chapter 4 | “Buttons”—Pussycat Dolls

Chapter 5 | “Man in the Box”—Alice in Chains

Chapter 6 | “Red”—Taylor Swift

Chapter 7 | “Behind Blue Eyes” –Limp Bizkit

Chapter 8 | “Desire” – Meg Myers

Chapter 9 | “The Morning After” –Meg Myers

Chapter 10 | “Wicked Game” – Stone Sour

Chapter 11 | “Through the Glass” –Stone Sour

Chapter 12 | “No Matter What” – Papa Roach

Chapter 13 | “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” – Panic At the Disco

Chapter 14 | “It Goes Like This” – Thomas Rhett

Chapter 15 | “Try” – Pink

Chapter 16 | “Change” – Def Tones

Chapter 17 | “Say It” — Blue October

Chapter 18 | “Nobody Knows” – The Tony Rich Project

Chapter 19 | “Creep” – Radio Head

Chapter 20 | “Slow Ride” – Foghat

Epilogue | “Marry You” –Bruno Mars | One Year later

A BLACK FALCON CHRISTMAS BONUS SCENE | “NOEL”

With Love From Riff | Valentine’s Day Bonus Scene

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––––––––

Disclaimer:

These books are intended for adult audiences due to strong language and naughty sexual situations.

Michelle A. Valentine Books

The Black Falcon Series

ROCK THE BEGINNING

ROCK THE HEART

ROCK THE BAND

ROCK MY BED

ROCK MY WORLD

ROCK THE BEAT

ROCK MY BODY

Hard Knocks Series

PHENOMENAL X

COMING SOON –XAIVER COLD

The Collectors Series

DEMON AT MY DOOR

COMING SOON—DEMON IN MY BED

A Sexy Manhattan Fairytail

NAUGHTY KING (Releases March 17
th
2015)

COMING SOON—FIESTY PRINCESS

COMING SOON—DIRTY ROYALS

Wicked White Series

WICKED WHITE (Releases June 24
th
2015)

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Rock the Heart

(Black Falcon Series, Book One)

by
Michelle A. Valentine
–––––––– Rock The Heart (Black Falcon 1) Playlist Faithfully – Boyce Avenue Familiar Taste of Poison – Halestorm One More Night – Maroon 5

Forever – Papa Roach You Stupid Girl – Framing Hanley Fix Me – Ten Years

The Fire – Rev Theory The One That Got Away – Katy Perry Somewhere With You – Kenny Chesney It Will Rain – Burno Mars Pick Up the Phone – Falling in Reverse Casual Sex – My Darkest Days Never Be the Same – Red Somebody That I Used To Know – Boyce Avenue Erase My Scars – Evans Blue

To my little rocker.

I’ll always be your number one fan.

Love, Mom

Chapter 1

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I
’m in the most uncomfortable seat in the entire world. The stiff, high-backed leather chair nearly swallows me whole, and my legs stick to the seat. If I didn’t know better, I would say someone left on the heat. A bead of sweat trickles down my spine, and I reach across the table to pour a glass of water. I can’t believe I’m this nervous. It’s only a board meeting, for crying out loud. The glass meets my lips, and I gulp down a drink.

My best friend of four years, Aubrey, pats my wrist. “Sweetie, it’s fine. This is no biggie.”

I muster up a smile and nod. Of course it’s no big deal to her. She’s been through countless marketing meetings. This is my first one. Sure, I’m only an intern, but proving myself could earn me a spot at Center Stage Marketing. I’ve wanted that since my freshman year in college.

Aubrey and I earned degrees from the University of Texas, and she somehow landed an assistant position to one of the top executives in the in the well-known New York company. They actually pay her to be here, while I’m just the annoying tagalong in training.

Diana Swagger, one of the most respected female marketing executives in New York and the president of the firm, strides in and sits at the head of the long table. She’s put together from head to toe—not one red hair out of place on her well-groomed head. Her black suit screams money, and from what I’ve heard about her in the staff lounge, she’s a no nonsense type.

Aubrey clicks her pen, ready to jot notes for her boss. Even though I’m only here to observe, I mimic her actions and do my best to pretend as though I belong.

“Can anyone read the goals we discussed two weeks ago?” Diana asks while she unbuttons her jacket.

A middle-aged man to Diana’s right rattles off a list that might as well have been said in a foreign language. None of Center Stage’s current projects involve products or companies I’m familiar with, but I keep my eyes trained on him as if he’s the most interesting person in the world.

“...And we received the go ahead from Black Falcon’s people to proceed with the children’s campaign,” he says.

That automatically catches my attention. Black Falcon hits a little too close to home for me. Most people know them for their music, but I know their front man, Noel Falcon. The star-studded rocker is a huge part of my past. He’s in every one of childhood memories.

Diana makes a note on her yellow legal paper. “Good. We need a volunteer to wine and dine Noel Falcon for a few days. We need him to know we’re serious about his charity.”

Everyone at the table busies themselves with paperwork. All of them avoiding Diana’s stare.

Diana peers around the table. “No one is interested? Harold?”

The man to Diana’s right looks up and adjusts his glasses. “Sorry, Diana. Rock stars aren’t well known for working well with us boring ad types. Last time I tried working with one, he blew me off then became irate that his marketing wasn’t what he had envisioned. No offense, but this isn’t the type of account I’m willing to take on. It’s a time suck.”

Diana leans back in her chair, steeples her fingers together, and presses them to her lips. “Is no one interested?” Her eyes scan her employees—all of them avoiding her stare—before they land on me. “How about you? You seem to be the only one interested in this account.”

Shit. Eye contact is a pain in the ass. I swallow hard, and my hand clutches my throat. “M—me?”

She leans forward. “Mr. Falcon would surely give a young, pretty thing like you the time of day. All you have to do is get him to spend some time with you and find out exactly what his vision is for the children’s charity Black Falcon is heading up.”

My throat goes dry. How can I face Noel again? I want to scream that I can’t, but if I want a job at Center Stage, I need to be a yes woman until I get my foot planted firmly inside the door. I can do this—talk with an old friend on a professional level. It might be a piece of cake. I take another huge gulp of water, trying to calm my nerves, while Diana stares expectantly at me. If I let my history with Noel slip, she might yank the opportunity away, and I can’t let that happen. Not when I’m so close to landing my dream job.

Aubrey nudges my leg under the table. She knows why I’m stalling. She’s heard the stories about Noel.

I set down the glass and nod. “I would love to take on this job for you.”

Diana smiles and leans back in her chair. “At least someone is willing to go the distance for this company. What did you say your name was again?”

“Lanie... Lanie Vance.”

Diana makes another note on the paper in front of her. “Does anyone have Black Falcon’s tour schedule? We need to get Ms. Vance to their next show and get things rolling on this.”

Harold types something into his tablet. “Black Falcon’s next show is tomorrow night in Houston, Texas. Then it appears they have a break until Rock on the Range in Columbus, Ohio a few days later.”

Tomorrow? I scrunch my nose. That’s a hell of a lot sooner than I expected. I figured I would at least have a few days to mentally prepare myself. What in the hell will I say to Noel? “Sorry for stomping on your heart four years ago. Oh, and by the way, I’m only here to land my dream job.” I resist the urge to bury my face in my hands. What have I gotten myself into?

No, I have to look on the bright side. Houston is only about thirty minutes from my hometown. It’ll be a free trip home for the weekend. I haven’t seen my mom a couple months, and I miss her like crazy. New York is a hard place to get away from. I can do this, right?

“Someone schedule this girl a flight for tomorrow and give her the run down on this charity so she’ll know what information we need from the band,” Diana says.

When I open my mouth to tell Diana I’ve changed my mind, Aubrey says, “Ms. Swagger, I’d like to volunteer to go with Lanie. She’s only an intern, and I could go along and show her the ropes on navigating clients.”

Ms. Swagger nods. “Okay, I’ll allow that. Go ahead and book a flight for yourself and Ms. Vance. Report back to me on Monday after the initial meeting.”

I slump in the chair. This may be the worst decision of my life.

Aubrey leads me into the hallway after the meeting is over. Every nerve in my body zings with adrenaline. This is my big break to show Ms. Swagger I deserve a job in her company, that I’m a marketing slave. The only problem is facing Noel.

Aubrey grabs my wrist and yanks me into the supply closet. “Oh. My. God.” She shakes her head, and her auburn curls bounce around her shoulders. “I don’t even know what to say. On one hand, I’m thrilled you have the chance to show these stuffy assholes some of those mad marketing skills, but on the other, I’m freaked the fuck out. Noel Falcon, Lanie?”

I sigh. “I know, I know, but what was I supposed to do? Tell Diana no because I have a painful history with the lead singer? I can’t admit that to her. This opportunity just fell into my lap. I’d be crazy not to jump all over it.”

Aubrey grabs my hands and squeezes. “You’re right. You can get through this. It’s only Noel Falcon. We go down there and take him to dinner. You’ll be fine because I’ll be there the entire time for moral support.”

I wrap my arms around her slender frame. “Thank you for doing this with me.”

She pulls away and pushes my dark hair back before resting her hands on my shoulders. Her emerald eyes bore into me. “You’re welcome, sweetie. There’s only one thing left to do...” Her lips twist, and she picks at my shirt.

I raise an eyebrow at her mischievous expression. “Oh no, I know that look.”

Aubrey’s grin broadens. “I can’t wait to see Noel’s jaw hit the floor when he sees you.”

I roll my eyes and do my best to look displeased, but deep down, I can’t wait to see that either.

Chapter 2

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T
he last chord of the song hums in my ears. I can’t believe I’m out in this blistering heat. The sun beats down on my back, and I just know my fair skin will scream at me later. But I have to be here, even if it is the last place I ever want to be—front row of my high school boyfriend’s concert. God knows where he gets the inspiration for his music.

The lead singer from the opening act, Embrace the Darkness, walks back onstage in his tight, black leather pants and ripped T-shirt. The crowd is predominantly women because my old boyfriend is a rock-sex icon. They scream even louder when the rocker grabs the microphone off the stand. Two fights broke out during the opening band’s set, so I’m a bit nervous to find out what will happen when the main act goes on, but I’m not leaving this spot. I’ve waited out here since the gates opened at noon. I want the best view possible to lay eyes on the first boy I ever really kissed.

“You guys are awesome. Thank you so much.” The singer smiles, and the rampant crowd of horny women shove one another even harder to get closer to the stage. “Are you ladies ready to drop your panties for Black Falcon?”

That gets them pumped up again. I look behind me and watch the waves of people scream. My ears ring, but I don’t want to look like a total wuss by stuffing my fingers in them in the midst of all these hard-core rocker chicks. That might get my ass kicked. The middle-aged woman behind me screams Noel’s name followed by “I love you” at least ten octaves higher than her normal voice. The woman shoves into my back, and I crunch into the iron fence in front of me.

“Give it up for BLACK FALCON!” the rocker screams, and my insides jitter.

I’m not sure why I’m nervous. It’s not like he’ll even remember me. He sees tons of women every night, and after a while, faces probably all start to look the same. My gaze glues to the stage. Noel Falcon enters from the right and looks just like I remember him—tall and lean with shaggy, dark-brown hair. He’s not the goofy boy I knew anymore. The past four years have been good to him. Really good. He wears twenty-two well. The dark, scruffy hair on his jaw brings out the blue in his eyes, and for a second, I kick myself for the night we broke up.

Noel stops center stage, wearing a sexy grin, and takes in the arena packed with his adoring fans. He’s close. I can practically reach out and trace the intricate tattoos on his arm. The spotlight beams down on him, and he points out to the throngs of people in the upper deck. The crowd goes nuts, but I stand there awestruck. Not because Noel Falcon, one of the hottest rockers on the planet, is five feet in front of me. He’s Noel Falcon, the first boy I ever loved. He used to be my best friend. The guy I thought at one time was my forever.

Noel pulls the microphone off the stand. “Wow!” He laughs as he stares around. He looks unbelievably hot in his jeans and tight black T-shirt. “I can’t tell you how great it feels to be back in my old stomping grounds. I grew up not far from here, so tonight—”

“I LOVE YOU, NOEL!” shouts the lady behind me again, practically right in my ear.

Noel flicks his gaze down and makes eye contact with me. Surprise registers on his face, and he pauses for what feels like an eternity to me.

“So tonight,” he says, still staring at me, “is a very special night. It gives me a chance to revisit my past. See people I haven’t seen since high school. The good and the bad.” Noel’s gaze leaves me, and he glances back out at the crowd. “Are you guys ready to rock?”

Noel’s band starts off with a fast song. Every person in the arena thrashes, pumping their fists and jumping like crazy Mexican jumping beans.

“Oh my God, Lanie, he totally recognizes you!” Aubrey squeals while grabbing my arm.

“No, he doesn’t.” I attempt to blow off her words. She has no clue how intense my and Noel’s relationship was. She’s only heard stories.

“Hello? Are you kidding me? He even just said ‘high school’ when he looked at you. We have to put these passes to use and get backstage.” Aubrey bounces in time with the beat.

Tonight for her is all about fun and meeting one of the hottest bands around, but for me...I’m not really sure what I expect. Noel’s always been the “what if” for me. The one who got away. Noel straps his guitar around his neck and haphazardly slings it over his shoulder. He grabs the mic with both hands and brings it to his full lips, reminding me of the way he used to kiss. He’d always put his entire soul into everything he did, including the way he loved me.

“Look at me. I see you now. The way we used to be...” Noel sings in perfect rhythm.

His smooth voice fills my ears, and it takes me back. I close my eyes and listen to his words. I remember all the times we sat on the old boat dock overlooking the lake that separated our childhood homes. That was our spot. The place we met in secret so many nights. The first place he sang to me. The first place we made love. It was also the place our love ended—where I told him to give up on his foolish dreams to become a rock star and do something sensible, like me, and go to college. I broke his heart when I said I could never be with a dreamer because dreams don’t pay the bills.

Look at what I knew.

He’s totally made it, and I’m struggling to land my perfect job in this tough economy with my “sensible” degree. Life without him has been lonely. A tear rolls down my cheek. How I silly was to listen to people who said that Noel was a loser going nowhere just because he loved music. We could’ve been happy. We could’ve beaten the odds. But I guess I’ll never know. Just another chapter in my life I need to walk away from because it’s too late.

I open my eyes to take one last look at Noel. His eyes close as he belts out the chorus. Sweat beads his face under the spot light. He’s truly beautiful. But he’s a stranger now. Someone I used to know. It’s time to quit torturing myself and move on. I’ll just have to kiss the job at Center Stage good-bye. “Aubrey, I need to get out of here. I can’t do this.”

Her pink lips twist. “Why? Because of him?” She points at Noel.

My eyes flit up to Noel’s face, and at that second, he looks down at me while he strums his guitar. His eyes hold mine for a second before I glance back at Aubrey and nod. “I have to get out of here. This is torture.”

Aubrey’s whole body slumps like a deflated balloon. “You know we can’t do that.” She sighs. “You have to suck it up and talk to him. You won’t get a job, and I’ll lose mine. Diana doesn’t mess around.” She takes my hand and pulls me through the crowd. I glance back and watch a pile of girls shove into our spot.

The arena is so loud I can hardly hear my own thoughts. We make it to the back of the crowd as the song ends. People scream Noel’s name while they wait for the next song to begin. When it’s oddly silent, I think about taking one last look before I walk out on him again—one last look to remember him by.

“This next song goes out to the girl who shredded my heart back in high school. It’s called “Ball Busting Bitch,” and Lanie, this one’s for you.”

My entire body freezes, and my mouth goes dry. What a dick! My blood boils and my fingers shake as I resist the urge to storm the stage and punch him square in the face. On second thought, that sounds like a fantastic idea. I lunge forward, and Aubrey snags my arm.

“What the hell are you doing?” she asks.

“I’m going to kick his ass,” I snarl.

Aubrey rolls her emerald eyes. “As much as I would love to see you do that, it’s impossible, and you know it. The guy probably has ten hunky bodyguards to protect him from the likes of you. Besides, we have to be civil to that cretin, remember?”

My shoulders slump. Oh, right. I have a job riding on getting Noel to like me. The last thing I want to do is talk to him, let alone be nice to him, but what choice do I have?

“You’re right. Let’s just get through tonight, get the info we need, then get our asses back to New York where we belong.”

Aubrey wraps her slender arm around my shoulders and gives me a little squeeze. “There’s the Lanie I love. Come on. Let’s weasel our way backstage and get to work.”

My fingers rub my aching forehead. This is a bad idea, but I reluctantly tell her okay. She grabs me in a tight hug—her vanilla perfume super strong in my nose—and leads me toward the Restricted Area sign with our backstage passes tight in her hand.

Chapter 3

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B
eing backstage at a rock show isn’t as glamorous as one may think. It’s filled with dirty, sweaty men—most of whom are overweight and look as though they haven’t showered in six months. Plus, the way they leer at me is creepy, like I’m a dessert ready to be licked. I shudder at that thought and grip Aubrey’s hand tighter.

“Damn, Lanie, loosen up. You’re killin’ my hand,” she complains.

I drop her hand. “Sorry. Where the hell is the band? Their set has been over for at least fifteen minutes.”

We come to a hallway filled with people and music equipment. Something tells me we’ve come to the right spot. The sheer volume of scantily clad women milling about shocks me. Some of them are even walking around topless as though it’s no big deal. I smooth down my fitted leather halter and jean shorts, feeling like one of the only modestly dressed women around. Do these girls have no self-respect?

Aubrey runs a hand through her auburn curls. “How are we supposed to get any one-on-one time with him in this freak show? Harold is right. Rock star accounts are definitely not the usual.”

“I don’t know, but we aren’t leaving until we talk to him.” I grab her wrist and tug her forward. “We’ll check every one of these rooms if we have to.”

Aubrey giggles uncontrollably as we rush from room to room, throwing the red doors wide open in search of Noel Falcon. Somehow we end up turning it into a silly little game of shocking people as we slam open doors. A majority of the rooms are locked or empty, but I have the feeling if we keep this up much longer, we’re going to get thrown out. The last room we come to has music blasting. Aubrey twists the handle, throws open the door, and shouts, “Booyah!”, causing me to laugh so hard I double over.

“Oh, um, sorry,” Aubrey says while yanking my arm.

I stand up straight, trying to curb my giggles, and stare right into the eyes of Noel Falcon. My smile drops completely off my face. Two topless women press against him, one on each side, and his arms wrap around them. A slow, lazy grin spreads across his face, and I feel the urge to hurl.

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t my old pal Lanie,” Noel says. “Please, by all means, come in and join our little private party. I was going to take it easy tonight and settle for just these two, but you and your friend are more than welcome to join in. The more the merrier, right, ladies?”

The blondes giggle and run their hands up and down his chiseled chest while they lean in and kiss each other. He continues smiling at me, loving that he’s paying me back tenfold.

I shake my head in disgust. “You’re a real piece of shit, you know that? Come on, Aubrey.”

Aubrey grabs my shoulders, holding me in place. “Lanie, we can’t. What about our jobs? We have to talk to him.”

I shake my head and glance at Noel. “Fuck the job. I’ll pass.”

I storm away with Aubrey close on my heels. I don’t know how I’m going to explain this to Diana Swagger, but it’s just too much. It’s way more than I bargained for. No sane person could speak to such a condescending, egotistical prick of an ex-boyfriend, let alone work with him. I’ll just have to find a new dream.

Aubrey keeps up as I blast past the people in the busy hallway. I’m so angry with myself. I can’t believe I let myself think this would be easy or that I’m even capable of facing Noel. The exit door flies open as I shove through. I gulp down the thick Texas air and push my hair back from my face. I’m not even sure how to find our rental car from this area of the parking lot, but I keep trudging forward. I need distance as much as I can get from Noel Falcon.

“Damn, Lanie, would you wait up? These boots aren’t exactly made for running a marathon,” Aubrey complains.

I sigh and stop in my tracks. “Aubrey, you just don’t—”

“What?” she snaps. “Don’t understand? If you tell me that one more time after I’ve listened to you pine after him for four freakin’ years, then I’m going to murder you here and now. Capiche? I know what he meant to you and how much tonight hurt you, but now you know there’s nothing left for you with him. You can move on. Forget about Noel Falcon and focus on your career. That douche is the only thing standing between you and your dream job, so go back in there and face him. Get your answers.”

She’s right. I can’t let my emotions get in the way of the biggest career opportunity I’ll ever have. “All right. Jeesh. You don’t have to go and get all mafia on me. I’ll think about it.”

Aubrey tilts her head and pops out her bottom lip. “Please, Lanie. Please? I need you as my coworker.”

I rub my aching forehead. She’s not going to let this go. Even though I know it’s a bad idea, I reluctantly tell her okay. She squeaks and grabs me up into a tight hug.

She pulls back. “You’re doing the right thing.”

I frown. Second thoughts plague me, and my gut twists into a knot. Maybe it isn’t such a good idea after all. When we return to the building, it seems even more crowded than before. We find ourselves weaving between people as though we’re in a packed night club. The red doors in the hallway remain shut, and I cringe when I think about what’s behind the last one.

Aubrey stops me from bursting into his dressing room again. “Sure you don’t want to wait for him to come out? I can only imagine what’s going on in there now.”

I shake my head. “No. If I wait, I’ll lose my nerve. We are getting what we came for. Do me a favor, though?”

“Anything.”

“When I toss the two hookerbots out, keep them out. I can’t fight both of them and get info from Noel at the same time.” I turn and shove through the door. “All right, everyone, get the—”

Noel glances up from his guitar and glares at me. “Can I help you?”

I shut the door, closing the two of us alone in the small room. “Where’d your sluts go?”

Noel’s eyes narrow. “Why? You jealous or...maybe they’re more your type now.”

“Fuck you.” It slips out before I remember I need to stay calm.

He laughs and strums his guitar. “No thanks. For some reason, I’m not in the mood anymore.”

I sigh and run my fingers through my hair. “Look, Noel, I didn’t come here to fight with you.”

Noel raises a pierced eyebrow. “Really? Tell me, Lane, why
did
you come here?”

“Lane.” I haven’t heard that in a long time. Noel is the only person alive who shortens my name. I shake the memories away. This isn’t the time to reminisce. It’s time to get down to business. “Well...” I clear my throat. “I’m an intern at Center Stage Marketing, and my boss, Diana Swagger, flew me down to discuss Black Falcon’s charity with you.”

“You?” He shakes his head. “Out of all the people in the entire fucking world, they send you down here to talk to me. Did they think because we’ve fucked I wouldn’t fire you?”

My hands ball into fists. “How can you say that? I’m not one of your groupie whores. What we had was real!”

He lays down his guitar and stands in front of me—his six feet two frame towers over me. “Then why did you leave me, huh? If it was so real, why did you walk away from it?”

I can’t look at him. My reasons for leaving him that night on the dock are unbelievably selfish. Noel twirls a strand of my brown hair just like he always did when we were a couple. I slap his hand away. His touch is just too soon.

The corners of his lips turn down. He tucks the loose strand behind my ear. His fingertips linger on my cheek. “Why do you always fight the inevitable? You’ve always made things so difficult.”

I step away from him, but he closes the gap even tighter—his chest against mine. “There is no inevitable with us,” I say.

“Sure, there is. Fate brought you here, didn’t it?” Noel cradles my face. I try to pull away, but he doesn’t let me go. A smile flirts along his lips. “You look exactly the same. Still the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.” He brings his lips toward mine. His warm breath touches my face, and all I can think about is kissing him. Would it be just like old times? “How about a kiss? Don’t you remember how hot things were between us?”

My heart thunders with anticipation, and I bite my bottom lip. He runs his nose along my jaw, and I close my eyes and inhale his spicy sent. He smells delicious. Noel’s eyes search my face while his lips hover over mine. I feel his heat against my face, and my legs tremble.

He leans in closer but stops just short of my lips. “Now you know what it’s like to want something you can’t have.” His hands drop away from my face. There’s no emotion on his face, but his eyes look pained, and knowing I have this effect on him crushes me. Noel steps back and runs his hand through his shaggy hair before stepping around me and walking out the door.

The breath I didn’t even realize I was holding expels from my chest when the door closes. I feel as though I should have said something, maybe even apologized for what I did to him four years ago, but I couldn’t. The ground holds my feet steady when I hear the door open behind me. My heart falls around my ankles, and I think about how easy it’ll be for him to stomp on it. I don’t deserve any kindness from him, but the emotional smack in the face of still hurt like hell. This is Noel’s payback—to hurt me.

A small pair of hands rest on my shoulders. “Did you get your answers?”

I nod but can’t bring myself to face Aubrey. “Everything I needed to know.”

Chapter 4

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T
his is the first time since the start of my internship a month ago that I hate being at work. Admitting I failed will be hard. Noel didn’t tell me jack crap about his charity. The only information I have is that it’s some type of children’s charity. I pinch the bridge of my nose. He knew what the job meant to me. He’s taking this away from me on purpose, and it pisses me off. Aubrey leads us into the conference room for our meeting with Diana and the rest of the executive staff at Center Stage. My stomach rolls as I sit and scoot closer to the table. I fold my hands on top of the notepad I brought and take a deep breath.

Ms. Swagger takes her seat and looks at me before slipping on her glasses. “Ms. Vance, would you care to fill us in on how your meeting with Mr. Falcon went?”

The fingernails of my left hand dig into the skin on the back of my right. Telling her I screwed up will be like nailing my coffin shut, but what other choice do I have? I readjust myself. “Actually, Ms. Swagger, I—”

She holds up a finger before she pushes a button on the intercom in front of her. “Jillian, dear, there isn’t any water in the conference room. Could you see that some is brought in immediately?”

“Right away, Ms. Swagger,” the secretary replies. I can tell by her response that Diana always gets what she wants.

Without skipping a beat, Diana returns her attention to me. “Ms. Vance, can I just say I’ve never received a call quite like the one I got from Mr. Falcon yesterday.”

My heart leaps into my throat. Oh God. Here comes the boot. I need to do everything I can to keep my internship. “I can explain about that.”

Diana leans back. “Please do. It seems some of my account executives could learn a thing or two about reeling in a client.”

My brow furrows, and I glance over at Aubrey. She just shrugs. “I’m sorry, but I’m a little confused. What exactly did Noel, er, Mr. Falcon say?”

“We had a lengthy conversation about the long-term goals of the marketing campaign for his children’s literacy program, and Mr. Falcon is adamant that you take the lead on this project. He seems to think you are the only person on my team who understands him and his goals. Of course, I explained that you’re only an intern and that I felt it best for someone with more experience head this up, but Mr. Falcon refused. He said he wants you, and you only, or he pulls the account.”

My eyes widen. “Are you offering me a job?”

Diana smiles and removes her glasses. “Yes, with the stipulation that you are successful with the Black Falcon project. If it fails, then I’ll have no choice but to let you go.”

All of the other marketing team members focus on my reaction. Children’s literacy hits home for Noel. He has dyslexia, and reading was always a struggle. He knows that I know that. It explains why he thinks I’m the best person for his job. I rub the back of my neck as I feel the pressure push down. Even though I’ve known him forever, I don’t understand why on earth Noel would make that kind of request. He hates me; he made that perfectly clear in Houston. Why would he want me around more? To torture me, probably.

Is a job really worth all of this?

Yes. I have to grab this opportunity with both hands and do my best to keep my relationship with Noel strictly professional. I swallow hard. Those are some hefty stakes, but I’m willing to take it on. “Understood.”

She nods. “Good. Welcome to the Center Stage family. Aubrey, see that Human Resources changes Ms. Vance’s employment status to full time.”

I watch my best friend make the note in her elegant script. “Yes, Ms. Swagger.”

“Oh, and Aubrey, find this young lady a desk so she can get to work.” Diana winks at me.

After the meeting ends and everyone clears out of the room, Aubrey yanks me into a tight hug. “Oh my God, Lanie! What the hell just happened? Instead of getting the boot, you got handed a job on a platter. I thought you said Noel didn’t tell you anything.”

My head spins. All of this doesn’t seem real. “He didn’t. He seemed like he couldn’t get away from me fast enough.”

She twists her ruby-red lips into a slight grin. “Sounds like he’s doing whatever he can to keep you close.”

I roll my eyes. “He wants to punish me for breaking up with him. You saw how he loved shoving those two naked skanks in my face.”

Aubrey sighs. “That was pretty gross, I’ll give you that, but it wasn’t like he meant to do that. He didn’t know we’d come busting through the door unannounced.”

“Yes, he did. He even invited us to join.” I growl in frustration. “Whose side are you on anyway?”

“Yours, always yours. You know that. All I’m saying is that he went out of his way to make sure you got this job. Would he really do that just to get back at you? Give him a chance. Maybe it was an off night. He might actually want to be friends again.”

I shrug. Damn her. Why does she have to be so rational?

Aubrey smiles. “When you meet up with him again, plaster on the biggest smile you can and win him over. He’s the key to keeping your job. Remember the old saying, ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’”

I nod. That’s exactly what I’ll do. “You’re right. I’ll do whatever it takes to keep this job.”

“Of course I am. Now let’s go pick out your shitty cubical.” Aubrey giggles and pulls me into the hallway.

An hour later, I sit at my new desk staring at Noel’s contact information. What am I going to say to him? Do I thank him for basically getting me a job, or do I play it cool and pretend his phone call didn’t pull any strings? Either way, I have to call him. Talking with Noel is the only way to get things rolling. The only thing I know about the charity he’s establishing is it’s for children’s literacy. I rub my forehead vigorously. It’s just a phone call. How hard can it be? The nerves in my hand twitch when I pick up the phone. Each number makes my stomach knot a little tighter, and when it rings, my skin grows cold and clammy.

Noel answers on the fourth ring. “Yeah?”

I tuck my hair behind my ear. “Noel? Hi. It’s Lanie Vance, and I’m—”

He chuckles. “Lane Vance, to what do I owe this pleasure?”

I squeeze the phone tighter. “Actually, I’m calling on behalf of Center Stage Marketing. I’ve been assigned to your account, and I wanted to touch base with you.”

“Touch base?” He laughs. “Listen to you sounding all professional. If you really want to touch my base, that can be arranged. All you have to do is ask.”

His nerve is unbelievable. “Ugh. You’re a real asshole, you know that?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do know that. Thanks to you. You made that quite clear in Houston.”