Damien clapped his buddy Adrian on the back. “Thanks for the invite.”
Adrian Brown tipped his chin. “Glad you were in town to come. Least I could do after you’ve been in the studio with me so much.”
Adrian had needed a drummer. Damien was a drummer. End of story. Plus it had been awesome to work with someone he respected as much as he did Adrian and his sister Erin.
He’d been in a band with his brothers since they were nineteen, twenty and twenty-two. They’d made a lot of music together, they knew each other well, worked magic most of the time. But it did something good for his soul to work with other people.
He’d met Adrian several years ago and they’d clicked. Hell, they even shared a manager and a record label.
Plus, he liked Bainbridge with its small-town appeal though it was just across the water from Seattle.
Tonight was Adrian’s engagement party. He was set to marry the lovely Gillian in one month, something else Damien would be back for.
“Come through. I’m looking for Gillian and I’ll bet you she’s in the kitchen trying to dislodge Jules or Mary.”
The gorgeous old farmhouse the party was being held at was the backdrop to the yard, which was dotted with tables and conversation areas. There were little tented areas in case of rain, which thankfully had missed them that day. Pretty lights in the trees and candles flickering all over the place.
It was pretty. Simple. Full of friends and laughter. It reminded him an awful lot of the ranch his family lived on.
“I go to parties like this one very rarely. I wish it was more common.”
Adrian gave him a lopsided grin as they moved through the front room toward the kitchen. Damien heard feminine voices and laughter and quickened his step.
“The road has its charms. Nice hotels, well, a lot nicer than in the old days anyway. Travel to lots of places. Swanky parties. But this life?” Adrian waved as they came around the corner into a kitchen filled with activity. “With my friends and my family. No paparazzi. No drama. Just great food and drink. That keeps me grounded and sane. Makes me happy.”
Damien tended to agree. Though he did like fast cars, parties and fast women, he appreciated the slower pace on the ranch his entire family lived on. There would be no games here tonight. No label people to impress or try to impress you. It was real people and god knew he needed that.
A pretty blonde scooted out the back door and he was disappointed as he loved a pretty blonde. But then he saw her. Dark hair held back from her face though acres of curls strained at their confinement.
She was bent over a counter, slicing a tomato. Her hands glistened against the red flesh. He’d seen women cut up tomatoes hundreds of times over his life and had never actually gotten wood. Until that moment.
And when she looked up, it was on a full-throated laugh as Gillian put her head on Curly’s shoulder, also laughing. Gillian was friendly and sweet, but this woman was clearly comfortable with her friend, totally open.
“English, there you are.” Adrian stepped to his fiancée to give her a kiss.
Gillian smiled up at him. “I was trying to shoo Mary out of here. I already got Jules gone. Thank goodness for Cal, who was more than willing to help with that. But Mary is being difficult.”
Mary, ah, a name then.
Mary gave Gillian a somber look. “I have problems with authority.”
Curly glanced up to catch his eye. “Hey there. Damien Hurley is standing in Gideon’s kitchen.”
And then . . . he blushed. Damien couldn’t recall the last time he blushed, but it had been a while.
“Mary Whaley, this is Damien Hurley. Damien, this is Mary; she’s responsible for the food you will gorge yourself on. Trust me on this. Once you start, you can’t stop. She’s also our very dear friend.”
Gillian wrapped an arm around Mary’s shoulder, beaming. Clearly so very proud. Damien couldn’t help but respond in kind.
“I’d shake your hand, but mine are covered in tomato.” She held them up. “Hang on, let me wash up.”
He watched as she moved to the sink. As she washed her hands with precision she spoke over her shoulder to one of the servers. She dried up and then took the apron off.
Underneath the apron she wore a dress that hugged her curves. And she had them.
“I’m so glad you went with that color.” Gillian beamed and Damien agreed.
“Raspberry sorbet.” Damien hadn’t meant to say that out loud.
Mary looked to him, holding her hand out. He took it in both of his, bending to kiss her knuckles instead.
“Pleasure to meet you.”
“Please tell your mother I said she raised you right.”
“You smell like vanilla and cinnamon.” Why he kept blurting stupid shit he had no idea. He was normally far more finessed at this. “That’s a compliment, by the way.”
She laughed. “I made some coffee for my brother, Cal. He likes vanilla and cinnamon in it.”
He liked the sound of her laugh.
“Mary, out of the kitchen now. I know you’ve pestered your staff more than enough. Everything is wonderful. I want you to enjoy this party and I forbid you to do any more work.” Gillian snatched something off a tray and popped it in Adrian’s mouth.
“Okay, okay. I just want everything to be perfect.”
Damien bent his arm and held it in her direction. “Shall we go outside then?”
So, yeah, she knew Gillian would only tolerate her fussing with the food for so long before she nagged her to stop and come enjoy the party. But to up her game with this?
Damien Hurley sat across the table from her, drinking champagne and laughing with Miles, Adrian and Gillian’s son, before Miles grabbed his plate and ambled off with his friends.
He was a thousand times more arresting in person than he was on the television screen. Long and tall—and she had a weakness for long and lanky—he seemed to take up the air in the room when she’d looked up to find him standing in the kitchen with Adrian.
He had dark hair, a bit too long so it flopped down over his eye every once in a while so he’d have to push it back. A casual gesture that worked wonders with the muscles in his biceps. Drumming muscles.
A rogue’s eyes, her mother would say. Big, fringed with lashes as dark as the hair on his head. Intelligent with the light of humor in them. His lips were framed by a neatly trimmed mustache and beard. She knew too that he had lots of great ink on his body, though most of it was hidden by the clothes he wore.
He had energy. Even as he relaxed he seemed to hum with it. She tended to like that, as she was the same sort. And he kissed her knuckles. Who kissed knuckles?
“Are you thinking dirty things?” Daisy slid into the chair next to Mary. “And if so, fess up.”
Daisy was Mary’s closest, dearest friend. She had few filters, a heart bigger than Texas, was an incredibly talented artist and dancer and was absolutely gorgeous. If it weren’t for all the other stuff, it would be easy not to like her at all.
Damien swiveled to catch her eye. “Dirty, huh? We all need to hear.”
Mary, admittedly, was surprised he didn’t seem to give Daisy a second glance. Daisy was, well, the aforementioned gorgeous.
“Pay no attention to her. She’s trying to start trouble.” Mary waved a hand in Daisy’s direction.
Daisy laughed. “True. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know that look on your face.”
“Don’t you have a handsome man to poke at?” Mary looked around for Levi, Daisy’s boyfriend. Man friend. Lover. Whatever. They’d found something powerful together and Mary liked Levi a great deal. Very few people would be good enough for her friend. He managed to be.
“He’s off with Brody talking tattoos. And who are you then?” Daisy smiled up at Damien.
“This is Damien, he’s a friend of Adrian’s. Damien, this is Daisy.” Gillian made the introductions.
“Nice to meet you.” Daisy grabbed a server as he passed with a tray. “What’s this? I haven’t had this one yet.”
“Figs with cheese and prosciutto. You had these just a few days ago.”
“Oh, yes. Then I need several because they are fabulous.” True to her word, Mary watched as Daisy grabbed three little plates and put them down on the table. “I got one for you, Damien because you didn’t have any and you should.” She pushed one his way and then dug into hers.
Damien took a bite obediently and Mary got sort of sweaty when he closed his eyes for a moment and sighed happily. Normally she liked it when people enjoyed her food, but this, well, he was delicious.
“This.” He nodded solemnly.
Warmth flooded her. “Thank you. People often miss how good simple food can be. Fresh makes a difference too.”
Mary tried to rein it in because she loved talking about food and ingredients and she could go on and on.
“She’s an artist. You have music, she’s got food.”
Mary blushed. “Thank you, Adrian.”
“She’s doing the food for the wedding too. Next time you’re in town we’ll have to be sure to go to her supper club. Insanely good food.”
“I’ll be back for the wedding next month.”
Her heart sped for a few moments. It would be fun to flirt with him again.
Adrian looked back and forth between them and leaned to say something to Gillian, who nodded. Mary knew that look on Gillian’s face.
“Damien and his brothers are going on tour with us.”
“Really? Awesome. I saw you guys. Twice actually. Once at Lollapalooza over at the Gorge. Another time Daisy and I drove down to see you in San Francisco.”
Daisy mock-slapped her forehead. “I knew you looked familiar! Sweet Hollow Ranch, right?”
“We sat so freaking far back for both those shows. Up on the grass at the Gorge. Though when you go places with Mary she brings treats. So everyone else will be eating eight dollar crappy nachos and she’ll whip out fresh mozzarella and tomatoes. Tailgating is swankified with Mary on your side.”
Damien wanted to reach over and kiss that mouth. Every time Mary spoke, her bottom lip was so juicy and shiny it began to make his cock throb in time with his pulse.
She seemed to gleam in the starlight and the glow of the fairy lights in the trees. He liked the way she lit up when she spoke with her friends. He liked the way she talked about food too.
“You’ll have to come see us when we’re touring then. I promise to get you better seats than up in the rafters if you’ll bring me something tasty.” Like that mouth.
One corner of said mouth tipped up and he had to strangle back a moan.
“All right. I’m getting pretty good at traveling with food.”
“She can whip up a freaking gourmet meal from a convenience store on the dashboard of a car. She’s amazing.”
Damien also dug the way her friends spoke about her. Adrian had mentioned to him that Gillian had a very close group of friends there on the island. Clearly their love for one another was genuine and deep. It said a lot about a person—who loved them best.
“Who’s that guy who keeps staring over here?” Damien asked Adrian in an undertone. The way the guy stared, he began to wonder if it was the boyfriend of one of the women at the table. Of Mary, which would totally bum him out.
“That’s Cal. He’s Mary’s older brother. He’s with the pretty blonde sitting across from him with the other blond guy. He’s with her too. And with Cal.”
This was the second triad he’d learned of in this group. Was it something in the water?
Big brother stares . . . ah well, he’d had more than one in his lifetime. And this woman was clearly capable of handling herself anyway.
“Would you like a drink, Mary?” He stood.
“Yes, I would, thanks.” She stood as well and he couldn’t resist a leisurely tour from the toes of her shoes, up a pair of shapely legs over the breasts, good god, the breasts, the long neck and to her face. Gracious.
“The bar is over there.” Mary indicated the opposite side of the yard before she took his arm.
“Did you always know you wanted to be a musician like Adrian and his sister?”
“My oldest brother Ezra works the ranch with my father. He’d bribe me and my brothers to do chores with the promise of being able to use the barn to practice music in. ’Course he was a wild one too, Ezra.” He’d been in the band for a few years. But the road, the life wasn’t meant for everyone. Ezra’s demons had been rehab sized and he’d retired from the band to save his life.
Last year they’d renovated that barn and made it into a home studio.
“My parents are musical. They sang in the choir. My dad plays piano and guitar. They got me drums, well actually, my uncle got me drums to punish my dad.” He laughed, pausing as they got to the bar.
She ordered a beer and he wasn’t sure why, but he was charmed by that. He especially liked that she left a tip. He’d worked as a server and at parties like this one and had people treat him like crap. From then on, he’d always tipped generously.
“Anyway, so we lived in the country so it wasn’t like we could get up to trouble anywhere else. So we rode horses and motorcycles and then when I was nineteen, Paddy, that’s my next oldest brother, and Ezra started a band for real. Vaughan and me, well we just went along because why not? Once we were all of age, we played shitty clubs and couch surfed and then my mother showed up and would spend a few months at a time with us. She’d rent a house and feed us, take care of stuff for us while we tried to hit it big. And then we did.”
“I like your mom already.”
“She’s pretty impossible not to like. She’d pester you until you at least faked it. We wanted her to manage us but she refused. But she helped us find someone. That’s how we met Adrian and Erin actually; we share a manager. To this day our mom keeps an eye on our manager and the money people. She’s smart about making sure we save for retirement and all that too.”
Mary had to admit she liked that he seemed close with his family. Her perception of musicians, especially at his and Adrian’s level used to be that of spoiled, self-centered jerks, but all the ones she’d actually met had been lovely and warm. Centered even.
“What about you? Has this been a lifelong thing? Cooking?”
“I’ve always liked to cook. When I was little I used to make snacks for my brothers to get them to let me play with them. Of course later I figured out they got into a lot more trouble than I did, so playing with them involved punishment and/or injuries. My god. The stuff they used to do.” She rolled her eyes.
“Anyway, it became a way for me to pay for things I wanted. Then I started these dinners at my house. One day a month. People kept saying they thought I should go into business. I started to believe it. First I had a food truck, which taught me a lot about business and dealing with regulations and all that. The dinner club grew more and more popular. I started getting a few catering jobs which began to multiply. So I quit the truck and put down roots in a shop I share with my friend Jules. It’s her shop actually and, oh my god, you just asked a simple question and here I go. Sorry, I talk a lot.”
“I like to hear you talk, so that’s a win. How about we sit over here and look out over the party and you can tell me more. Jules is the blonde with your brother, who was staring daggers at me earlier, right?”
She laughed. “He was? Oh, he’s so silly. But he’s my brother. My other one probably did too, but he’s wilier than Cal.”
He pulled a chair out for her and she sat, happy to be off her feet ’cause the heels she had on were pretty and all, but they hurt like hell.
“So hang on one sec.” He dashed off, returning with a tray filled with all sorts of small plates. “I’m starving so I figured we could eat your food while you told me the rest.”
She sipped her beer. “I warned you. By the way, that sauce there”—she pointed—“is perfect to put on top of the strawberries.”
He tried it and nodded. “What is this deliciousness?”
“Roasted strawberries with balsamic reduction. You like?”
“Hell yes, I like. Now, you started working from a shop. Continue. I’ll be eating and listening.”
“She runs a bakery called Tart. Probably as you can figure out, the best tarts you’ve ever tasted, along with a variety of other awesome baked goods. So I put out some stuff from that evening’s catering gigs if I have extra so people can buy it along with her pastry. I also moved my supper club to that space twice a week and we’re fully booked for the next five months. So suddenly I’m very busy, but really excited about the prospects. It doesn’t hurt that my friend is marrying a rock star who gives my card to all sorts of people who like to throw catered dinners.”
“Wow. That’s amazing. Congratulations.”
“Thank you. To you as well.”
Music started up in the background and he shoved a few mushrooms into his mouth. “I’ve got to run. We’re doing a little something for Miles. He wanted to do a warm-up. You know before the wedding. Which is a secret so, god, don’t tell Gillian.”
“I can’t wait to hear it. And of course. Your secret is safe. Gillian will be so pleased.”
It wasn’t something she’d really shared with Gillian, but she did love to watch a man at his art. Be it painting, dance, food or music. The sight of Damien up there as he got behind his drum kit made her tingly and a little wet.
He rolled his sleeves up before picking up the sticks, waiting for Adrian as he spoke and addressed the crowd and his fiancée.
Gillian, Daisy and Jules stood to her left as they all watched. She was glad she wore the waterproof mascara too, because Adrian and Miles pulled out all the stops, showering Gillian with love. What they had planned for the wedding would be even more sniffle-worthy. Mary knew it would be a two-hanky day.
“You’re so lucky.” Mary leaned in to kiss Gillian’s cheek.
“I am, yes.” Gillian sniffed, dabbing her eyes with a handkerchief. “Thank you for being here to share it with me.”
“Where else on Earth would I be?”
It wasn’t his party. But he liked playing with Mary watching anyway. He liked the way she cocked her head, the sway of her hips. Sensual. Playing music always made him think of sex, and while he did, he watched her watch him.
And imagined fucking the hell out of Ms. Mary Whaley.
Sadly, they hadn’t any more time to really chat as the party went on but they were never alone after that.
He kissed her cheek as he left, liking the way she blushed. “See you next month at the wedding?”
“Definitely. I’m in it and you’ll be eating my food too.”
“Two great reasons to come back to Bainbridge then.”