Authors: Chloe Cole
Book three in the Rock Hard series.
Since Christa Reilly broke his heart ten years ago, Tai-Nan
Rivera has steered clear of emotional attachments. Life’s okay, though. He’s in
an amazing band, has great friends and has put his troubles with the law behind
him. He’s even managed to forget about Christa…almost. Until she comes
barreling back into his life, talking about forgiveness. He lets her know that
a reunion isn’t on the menu but he’d be happy talk to her…after some hot,
sweaty sex, of course. The thought of slumming again will surely send her
running back to Daddy. Then maybe he can put their past behind him for good.
When Christa sees Tai’s face on a billboard after years of
searching, she drops everything to find him. But the boy she’d loved is now a
man who can’t forgive her for their tumultuous past. He finally agrees to talk
to her, but for a price. She’ll risk everything to prove she’s worthy of his
heart, if only he would trust her with it…one more time.
Ellora’s Cave Publishing
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Taming Tai Copyright © 2012 Chloe Cole
Edited by Grace Bradley
Cover design by Syneca
Electronic book publication February 2012
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This book is for Tai-Nan. Thanks for the inspiration, but
more than that, thanks for being my hubby’s Rad Bromance. You made him laugh
every single day, and I love you for that.
As always, I want to thank my editor, the amazing Grace
Bradley. I never forget how lucky I am, I swear.
The screech of tires only vaguely registered as both bare
knees connected with the pavement. And holy hell, did it hurt. What did they
make the streets out of in this city, shards of glass?
Christa Reilly fought through the pain, pushing to her feet
with a wince. She turned and nearly smashed her face on the grill of a hulking,
black SUV. Her heart gave a thud. Geez, that had been a close call.
Before her life even had the chance to flash before her
eyes, the driver who had almost run her over laid on his horn. “Get the fuck
out of the road!” he shouted through the open window.
Christa hobbled off to the side of the road as the traffic
that had gotten clogged to the point of gridlock started flowing again. The
looky-loos on the sidewalk scattered as she approached, one giving her a
sheepish smile before scurrying away. Most of the throng hadn’t even noticed.
God, she hated this city. Back home, if someone had almost run her over, they
would’ve at least gotten out of their car to see if she was okay. Even if,
technically, it was her fault for jaywalking.
She spared a quick glance at the slim gold watch on her
wrist. Only ten minutes to get to The Electric Factory before it was too late.
She let out a muffled curse. No way she was going to make it. Still, she was
sure as hell going to try. No point in almost getting killed for nothing.
Using a telephone pole for balance, she bent and yanked off
one red-soled Louboutin shoe, then the other. Hiking up her skirt, she weaved
her way through the masses of people. At first she jogged, years of breeding
making her loath to call attention to herself. But with each passing minute,
the urgency of the situation pressed on her chest a little harder and soon she
was running flat-out. She risked another glance at her watch, not slowing her
pace. Five minutes. Her scraped knees throbbed in protest as she dialed it up
to a full-on sprint.
A blinding flash lit the sky, followed by a boom of thunder
seeming to come from all directions. The heavens parted, and it started to
pour. Like a synchronized flash-mob, the city-dwellers whipped out giant, black
umbrellas. With a groan, she thought back to the one she’d abandoned at the
restaurant. She tried to cover her hair with her hands as she ran, but it was
pointless. She was soaked through inside of thirty seconds. It might seem as if
fate was trying to tell her something, if she believed in that kind of thing.
Good thing she didn’t. Fate could piss off.
Cold rain ran in icy rivulets down her face, almost blinding
her, but she pressed on. It felt like forever had passed when she finally saw
the neon-lit marquis.
Hank Lemon and the Law, ONE NIGHT ONLY!
This time she looked both ways before crossing, splashing
through puddles in her stocking-clad feet. While the pencil skirt and silk
blouse had been perfect for drinks at Deaux Bistro after the conference, they
did little to shield her from the quickly plummeting temperatures. Her teeth
chattered as she approached the building. She ran an ineffectual hand through
her sopping hair before pushing through the double doors.
“Can I help you, ma’am?”
She found herself eye-to-chest with a wall of a man in a
t-shirt emblazoned with the word “Security”. Craning her neck back, she tried
to find his face.
“I’m here to see the band,” she said, her breath coming in
“Do you have a ticket?”
She swallowed hard and shook her head. “No. But I’ll buy one
right now.” As she reached for her purse, her stomach dropped. Her purse was
still on the back of her chair at the restaurant along with everything else.
to think it through, Christa.
“Okay, I forgot my bag. But please. I need to
get in there. I’m an old friend of the bass player and I really need to talk to
him. Please,” she whispered, ready to grovel if she had to.
He shook his head, but not unkindly. “Wouldn’t
matter if you had the money or not. If you don’t already have a ticket, it’s a
no-go. The show is sold out. Plus, it’s almost over anyway. They only have like
one more song.”
“Even more of a reason to let me in. It’s almost over. No
one will even notice me.”
His eyes widened incredulously as a crack of laughter
escaped his lips. “You look like you either murdered someone and hid the body,
or just escaped someone trying to murder
. You don’t exactly blend.”
She spared a glance down at her clothes. He was so right.
Her shirt was sopping wet and had come partially untucked. Her legs were
streaked with blood and her stockings looked like someone had attacked her with
a cheese grater. The shoeless, dirty feet just put the icing on the cake. What
would Father say if he could see her now?
Shoving that thought away, she tried one last time,
desperate tears stinging her eye lashes. “I’ll do anything. I’ll come back and
pay you. I’ll make you a cake. I’ll groom your dog. Just…I’ve got to get in
there.” She wrung her hands together and considered getting on her knees and
She must have looked seriously pathetic because the beefy
bouncer finally sighed, rolled his eyes and lifted the rope. “Go ahead, but if
anyone asks, I’m telling them you snuck in.”
Her knees almost buckled in relief. Finally, something was
going her way. “Thank you, thank you!” She sprung to her tiptoes and attempted
to plant a kiss on his cheek, but ended up kissing his chin when she couldn’t
reach. He blushed, quickly turning back to his post.
She followed the faint sound of music, walking down a short hallway,
then pushed through a second set of doors. The music exploded in her ears as
the female singer she couldn’t see yet sang of heartbreak and revenge. Christa
stepped in, groaning in relief as the warm air of the crowded room enveloped
her. The sea of people didn’t want to budge, but she was small, and squeezed
through even the tightest space, methodically pushing her way toward the front.
It took a few painstaking minutes—literally, because her
toes got stomped on more than once—but she made it. She shouldered her way
through the last of the jostling bodies and stared up at the stage, her gaze
unerringly drawn to one spot like a heat-seeking missile.
The music faded to the background and the blood rushed to
her ears. She swayed, suddenly unsteady, as she stared directly into the
stunned, dark eyes of Tai-Nan Jose Rivera.
The only boy she’d ever loved.
Tai froze, his nimble fingers going limp as he looked down
into the audience and into the face he’d never expected to see again. Surely
his mind was playing tricks on him. There was no way fate could be this cruel.
Even as he tried to deny it, his body knew better. His pulse hammered, his
stomach clenched, his chest grew tight.
Christa fucking Reilly.
She must have been just as shocked as he was, because she
looked as if she’d been rabbit-punched in the gut. He imagined he looked about
the same. It had been a long time. Ten years. So long ago that seeing her again
should have been nothing more than a road bump. Something to file under
“Annoying Coincidences”. So why did it feel as if he were being pressed to
death by a slab of granite?
Because it was Christa fucking Reilly, that’s why. And
crushing him was her favorite pastime.
The music that had somehow become nothing more than white
noise the moment he saw her halted as applause exploded from the crowd.
“All right, Philadelphia! We got one more for you tonight.
We’re Hank Lemon and the Law, and we thank you so much for coming out. Ready,
He wrenched his gaze from Christa and met Quinn’s concerned
eyes. Suddenly he became aware of the forgotten bass in his hands.
Middle of a concert.
He gave his singer a grim nod and tried to focus.
She sent back a reassuring smile, leaned back and called to
the rest of the band. “And one, two, three, four!”
Thank God she was such a pro. He’d totally beefed it,
although he had no idea how badly. Had he dropped out completely, or worse,
played a bunch of discordant nonsense? He’d know soon enough because even if
Quinn let him off the hook, the guys would be razzing him about it for the next
He just had to get through one more song. He phoned it in,
hands on autopilot, as he actively avoided looking anywhere near the spot
Christa had been occupying. She probably left the minute she’d gotten over the
shock of seeing him but he wasn’t taking any chances.
Beau wrapped up his fiddle solo, cueing the end of the song,
and Tai let out a sigh of relief. Now to get the hell out of here before the
rest of the band started grilling him. The guys might think he’d just gotten
distracted for a minute, but Quinn was way too perceptive and a butt-insky to
boot. She’d blow off the mistakes, but she’d be merciless in trying to figure
out the cause of them.
He set the bass down on its stand and stepped forward to
give the crowd a wave. Every instinct screamed for him to try to find Christa
again, but he resisted, letting his vision go blurry until the screaming fans
all blended together into one giant mass. He skipped the usual hand-slapping
with the front row and hightailed it backstage, thanking the crew as he passed.
The plan was to get his shit from the dressing room then get to the Man Bus
before the rest of the band got back. Evasion tactics. At least until morning.
It was all systems go until he walked out the backdoor of the
club. About halfway between him and his target destination stood the source of
his angst. Christa Reilly.
His heart sped up even as his pace slowed. Her face was
turned away from him and he attempted to backtrack before she caught sight of
him but the heavy metal door slammed shut right before he could catch the knob.
He froze for a second, weighing his options. She had to have heard it. In fact,
he could almost feel her eyes drilling into the back of his skull. Short of
being totally obvious and running back inside with his tail between his legs,
there was no getting out of it.
He pasted a blank look on his face, turning toward her. Then
he forced himself to put one foot in front of the other, nice and easy. As he
got closer, he noticed what shock had kept him from noticing before. Her
corn-colored hair was plastered to her skull, literally dripping wet. A pair of
fancy shoes hung from her manicured fingertips, and a gray silk blouse clung to
her skin like papier-mache on a balloon. But it was her eyes, those haunted
blue eyes, that told him all he needed to know.
Her showing up tonight wasn’t a coincidence at all. Christa
Reilly had come here for him.
He looked like a dead man walking, his expression so
resigned, so utterly hopeless, she almost wanted to let him off the hook. To
leave and never look back. Maybe then he’d be happy. But there was too much
unfinished business between them, things that needed to be said. And at least
the rain had stopped. Maybe it was time to rethink that whole fate thing and take
it as a good sign.
“Hi,” she croaked as he stopped a few feet in front of her.
She tried not to stare but it was no easy feat. Man, he was beautiful. His
jet-black hair was cut close, with a longer thatch in front almost in his eyes.
And those eyes. Dark as sin and so expressive he barely needed words, they
dominated his face. His skin was spun gold, his mouth full and firm. It was
only the severe slash of cheekbones and the scar on his chin that saved him
from being too pretty. He looked just as she remembered, only older. Harder.
Guarded. Because of her?
The guilt that had been a near-constant companion for the
past decade settled into the well-worn space in her gut.
“Hello, Christa. Been a long time.”
He inclined his head in a polite nod, but his voice was so
cold, she flinched. There was one more difference between this Tai and the old
one. The warmth that had lit his eyes when he used to look at her was nowhere
to be found.
So this was how it was going to be. She’d tried to prepare
herself for his possible reaction on the run over, but still, it hurt. “Yeah.
Ten years. In fact, I thought I might see you at our reunion a few months ago.”
His black brows winged up in disbelief, the cool mask of
indifference slipping for a moment. “Seriously?”
Her cheeks burned. “Well, I mean, I hoped you might.”
“Not really a whole lot I’d want to go back to there.”
She nodded dumbly, wishing she could take back her words. Of
course he wouldn’t want to go back to Fairfield. The town held nothing but
a part of her wanted to scream.
“So what brings you to Philadelphia?” As he spoke, his gaze
shifted to the tour bus twenty yards away. It was clear he wanted nothing more
than to escape her presence.
She swallowed hard to dislodge the lump wedged in her
throat. “Business. I was at a conference. We went for drinks afterward, and I
happened to look out the window and see a billboard with your face on it.”
He tipped his head to the side and regarded her warily. “So
you just decided to drop everything and come here?”
She opened her mouth then closed it, not trusting herself to
speak. What could she possibly say?
Yeah, I basically left potential clients
at the restaurant.
With the bill, she recalled with a wince.
Then I ran
over here in the rain just so I could see your face one more time.
Despite the chill in the air, her cheeks were on fire now.
He was still watching her, those expressive eyes totally inscrutable. What the
hell had she been thinking coming here like this? Their past had been such a
huge part of her. Not a day went by that she didn’t think of him and what
they’d been through. But why had she assumed the same was true for him? He was
a successful musician with a dream life. She was likely nothing more than a
nuisance to him now. An unwanted blast from the past. The thought made her
stomach turn almost as much as the guilt did.