When she catches her boyfriend Logan in a compromising position with a groupie at a party, Suzi doesn’t just leave him, she takes off with a renowned playboy and disappears. Her friends are worried, especially Brian Ellis, bass player for Touchstone.
Brian has been watching his bandmates meet the loves of their lives while his own shaky marriage crumbled. Six years earlier he’d discovered Suzi’s books and convinced his bandmate Jason Callisto to produce her boyfriend’s band just so he could meet her. He’s been nursing a private passion for her since then, but never thought she’d leave Logan.
And when she does, she runs off with another man and he fears his window of opportunity has slammed shut. After some concentrated searching, he gets in touch with her and convinces her to come to Jason’s house in West Virginia where they will be alone. He hopes that will set the stage for her to see him as more than a friend.
Brian doesn’t realize that Suzi has always seen him as more than a friend. She had a crush on him before she met him and every moment she spent with him was sweet agony because she never thought he could love her back. Besides, she loved Logan with such outrageous passion that she would rather stop breathing than leave him.
A little time alone and the mountain works its magic on both of them.
But Jason thought Brian was just hanging out with Suzi, calming her down so she could reconcile with Logan. So he invites Logan to the mountain.
Now Suzi has to choose between her old friend / new lover Brian and her old lover Logan.
“Can I ask you something?” Suzi said in a small voice.
“Logan’s been edgy.” Suzi started chewing her lips. “I don’t think he gets along with Jason and I don’t know what to do about it.”
“Oh?” Brian used the excuse of talking to her to go sit next to her, though he kept a good foot and a half between then. He hadn’t spent as much time in the studio for the past month, but when he had stopped in, Logan seemed the same as always. Unless Suzi was in the room too.
Suzi shook her head. “You guys are his heroes. He was so excited when he got the call. We were still in that initial courtship dance and he called me just effervescing over the phone. You’re not going to believe who just called me. He never produces anybody and he wants to produce us. I’m pretty sure George Martin wouldn’t have gotten him that excited. But now that he’s here, in the middle of it, he just seems frustrated and angry. Like it’s not quite what he thought it would be.”
“Jason is pretty tough to work with.”
“Yeah, I guess. I guess I really didn’t understand what a producer did. I thought it was analogous to editor, but editors don’t contribute much at all to the creative process. At least mine don’t. With mine it’s more of a stretch this here, shorten that there, does the comma on your keyboard work?” She leaned back and bumped her head on another tree that had fallen behind the one she was sitting on. It had a weird pattern of peeling bark and sat right about head height for her. “I’m sorry. You don’t want to hear all this.”
“No, it’s fine.” Brian licked his lips wondering how deep he wanted to get. He wasn’t the world’s greatest expert on relationships, but she didn’t seem to have anyone to turn to. Unless he counted Greg. She seemed pretty tight with Greg, especially now that Charity had gone home. The idea of her talking to Greg about this burned him though. He wanted to be her hero. “You know what I think the problem is?”
Suzi turned sideways. “What?”
“Jealous? Logan? I’ve never seen it.”
“When you’re not there, he’s fine.”
“So you think I’m the problem?”
“Not really, unless you are planning to leave Logan for Jason.” Brian winced and tried to cover it by batting an imaginary fly off his face. Suzi with Jason? What fresh hell that would be?
“That’s ridiculous. Jason’s married. Even if I was leaving Logan, I wouldn’t be leaving him to steal some other woman’s husband.” Suzi shook her head. “There’s a hole in your story.”
“If he’s worried that I’m going to run away with Jason, why isn’t he worried about you? I just spent most of the last month with you.”
“And the kids.”
She shrugged and bumped her head again. “I’m clever. I could have gotten rid of the kids. Or I could have been using the kids as a reason to get close to you.”
Brian wished they weren’t in the middle of the forest having this conversation. Being lost gave him entirely too much privacy. “I don’t know, but I’m pissed off about it. I mean, I’m threatening too.”
Suzi laughed and peeked under the wad of moss she had pressed over her wound. He could see her putting the pieces together, but what puzzle was she working on? “Logan can’t be jealous. He didn’t act at all like that around Karl.”
“My ex-boyfriend.” Suzi shrugged and bumped her head again. “Logan was never jealous of him.”
“Because you dumped him. Karl was the past.”
“Karl dumped me.”
Brian’s mouth fell open. “He dumped you? Is he crazy?”
Suzi put her hand over her face. “See, now you’re making me blush.” When she lowered her hands, she was indeed blushing and it was very fetching. “My friend Laurie says she thinks the competition was too much for Karl.”
“Is he a writer too?”
“No, an English major, but he was poised to be the big dog among the English majors but then I showed up with my publication credits, such as they are, and started turning the heads of the profs.”
Brian nodded as if he understood. Things must be different at college. He couldn’t imagine a teacher dating a student, but he could understand any man alive wanting to get closer to Suzi even if it wasn’t quite kosher. After all, that’s why he was sitting here. “But you weren’t with him any more so he wasn’t your type. Logan thinks he’s your type and if he’s your type then Jason is too. Only more so.”
“How more so?”
“He’s got lots of money. He’s established. He’s really fucking famous.”
“Then you should be just as big a threat. You have all those characteristics in common with Jason and you’re separated from your wife.”
“But I’m not leaning over your shoulder when you’re doing something.” Dammit.
“I suppose not.” Suzi frowned. “So if I were your girlfriend and you thought I was drifting toward some other man or some other man was trying to steal me, what would you want me to do?” She looked up at him with her wide brown eyes as if he had the answers to the universe.
If you were mine. There would be no question. I’d trust you even if I didn’t trust the other guy. “How should I know?”
“Because you’re a guy and you’re more similar to Logan than any other man I’ve ever known. And you’ve got good insights.”
“Yes. I love Logan and I want to make him happy, but I don’t know how.”
Brian glanced at the peeling bark of the tree. Did she know that she’d just handed him the keys to make her his? He could give her bad advice, set his divorce in motion and wait until Logan was out of the picture. No one would ever figure out that he’d orchestrated it all. The perfect crime.
Except for the victim sitting next to him. He couldn’t do that to her.
“I wouldn’t want to you to pretend to be someone you weren’t,” he said. “If you started to act different and I found out later that you were just pretending to be someone you thought I wanted, I’d be mad. I’d just want you to keep reminding me that you loved me and I had no reason to doubt you.”
“I didn’t realize I’d given him a reason to doubt me.” She stared into stream.
Brian resisted the desire to hug her. It wouldn’t stop there. She was far too vulnerable right now. “I bet he’s not doubting you. I bet he’s doubting himself. I don’t know what his other producers were like, but every producer’s different and Jason’s making him question everything he does. And he’s just new with you so he probably feels like a jerk.”
“Because he – he’s not confident.” Suzi looked under her wad of moss again and tossed it into the stream. It looked like she’d sponge painted her ankle red, but he could see the scrape through the middle and it was no longer bleeding. “And if he’s not confident, he’s afraid he won’t be able to hang onto me so he’s projecting that fear and making a monster out of the nearest target.”
“Sounds likely.” Brian shrugged. It wouldn’t be the first time someone had made a monster out of Jason. He usually had a hand in creating the image himself.
“So you think I should just keep doing what I’m doing.”
“I guess so.” Brian decided he was an idiot. There were a thousand things he could have said that would have sabotaged her relationship with Logan and still kept him sitting pretty when things fell apart. Instead he’d gone and been Mr. Nice Guy and screwed himself.
“You probably think this is kind of stupid.”
“No. I wish someone would worry about me as much as you worry about Logan.” Brian bit his tongue. He shouldn’t venture into that territory at all. Not with this woman. Not in this place.
“I just-” Suzi swallowed. “I just want so much to make him happy. I can’t remember who I was before because I want to be what he wants so much. And I want him to be happy. I want everything to be perfect for him. And I’m afraid–I’m afraid–I’m afraid-” Her eyes filled with tears.
“Hey, calm down. Logan’s not going to leave you.” And I’m not going to try to steal you away. I couldn’t do that to you. “He loves you.”
“But for how long? What am I going to do without him? When I’m not with him, I feel like I can’t breathe.” Her voice had risen to a painful squeak.
Brian caught her chin and made her look at him. She didn’t look like she was breathing now. “Suzi, he’s not going to leave you. And if he ever does, I’ll be your oxygen.”
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