“Rock Star Issues”

It was as if Jesse James was leading a double life.

On the one hand he had lacrosse, studying for his MBA, and Elise Thompson. On the other hand … there was Pinks and The Outlaw’s cover band.

In Henderson, he was known as the Outlaw.

And though he was not exactly paid, all of his expenses were paid to get him to and from the events where Pinks and he were required to play for free. Always for the advancement of Henderson.

Team Henderson brought him back to play for Harvest Daze every fall. They brought him back for the Opening Day Spectacular every baseball season. The last time they brought him back, he played with Jagger Yates from The Cavaliers. That had been something.

When he was in Henderson for these events, he fell into the role of the Outlaw–Rock Star personified. It happened to Pinks, too. The moment they stepped on stage and the women started screaming, they let it go to their heads and all bets were off. Shit inevitably happened.

Hotel keys were thrown on stage. (As if there was a legit hotel within miles.)

Phone numbers were slipped into jean’s pockets after the show.

Panties were tossed about.

It was all good clean fun, except the one time Elise happened to read about it online via the Henderson Happenings. Whoever wrote that shit always made it sound much more lascivious than it actually was.

For the love of God, he was mad for Elise. And yeah, he’d admit it was a big ego boost having women scream for him in a crowd, but this was small-town Henderson shit. Nothing Elise would ever need to worry about.

Only she did.

It was the one incident with the panties—the picture of him holding up the skimpy little naughties on stage with a big grin on his face that had been her undoing. And really? Who could blame her? It certainly gave the impression that whenever he played in the band, women were throwing themselves or their unmentionables at him.

And there was no talking her down.

So the one secret—the only secret—he kept from Elise, was when he headed to Henderson for one of their gigs.

It wasn’t an issue while he was at Princeton. But now that he was earning his MBA at CU Boulder—not only a soothing balm to his parents but also a no-brainer due to the free tuition perk his symposium initiative provided—and not actually living with—but, come on—living with Elise, he had to delve into white-lie territory.

What she didn’t know wouldn’t make her crazy.

It wasn’t like he didn’t understand where she was coming from. If the roles were reversed and she was the one singing on stage and getting propositions thrown at her feet, you can be damn sure he’d have been front-row center at every one of her gigs.

But Elise wasn’t interested.

She didn’t want to accompany him to Henderson, even though they were all dying to meet the infamous girl who’d gotten his ass tossed out of the Forest for the summer. The powers that be would have gladly paid her way, and the two of them would have been welcome guests at the Evans estate where he was invited to stay whenever he was in town. That crazy Evans clan would have loved Elise, and he had no doubt she would have loved them back.

To her credit, she did have a helluva lot on her plate at any given moment. It was a struggle for her to stay up with her studies due to the number of extracurricular campus activities she was involved in. She headed up her sorority’s philanthropy program, she participated in as many theatrical productions as she could manage, was involved in CU’s community outreach, and played intramural sports. Jesse couldn’t keep up.

Thank God he had his own hectic schedule to keep him busy and truly, she barely noticed when he’d vacate the campus for a long weekend home. He didn’t like pulling the wool over her eyes but he didn’t like worrying her either. He loved her. What would be the point?

So every so often he lived his double life as the Outlaw and as much as he always enjoyed seeing Pinks and Vance and the rest of the crew, and having the chance to play for a crowd, he always ended up missing Elise and not liking himself very much for misleading her. She would have enjoyed making s’mores with Jagger Yates.

He said as much when he’d returned to Boulder.

“I wanted you to be there with me. It hurt not having you there to share such a heady experience. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you where I was going and what I was doing. The reason I’m telling you now is because I’m at the point where I don’t want to accept another gig unless you’re willing to go with me.”

“I kissed Jamie Love,” she blurted. “While you were gone. I kissed him. And I hated it. I hated how I felt immediately afterward. I’ve never done anything like that before, and I really don’t know why I did it. We were just dancing like we’ve done a million times, and the next thing I know, we’re kissing.”

“You were kissing?” The buzz inside Jesse’s head was loud and alarming.

“Yes. We were kissing.” She started to cry.

“Where? Where were you kissing?”

“On the dance floor.”

“For how long?”

“I don’t know. Not long. It took me by surprise, but as soon as I realized what was happening, I stopped.”

“You stopped.”

“Yes.” She sniffled.

“You stopped kissing him.”

“Right.” She wiped at her eyes.

There were a few key words Jesse’s brain clued in on. I kissed him being three of them. He didn’t want to believe it.

“You kissed him,” he reiterated.

“But then I stopped.”

“Yes, but”—he really shouldn’t press this—“you were the one who kissed him.”

Her tearful nod was full of regret.

Fuck. “Why?”

“I don’t know.”

“Were you drunk?”

“I was buzzed. Not drunk. And we were all having fun at the Dance Off. Jamie and I weren’t in the finals, we’d gotten cut long before, but the party was great, one of the Deltas was in the finals, so we were really cheering her on and I just felt overly happy and …”

“You kissed him.”

She nodded, looking truly remorseful.

He knew he’d better move before he spoke again. Shake off some of the energy surging through his body. Shake off some of the pain. Some of the anger.

He got off the couch and headed to the kitchen, grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge and downing half of it before she joined him, wrapping her arms around his middle and hugging him close. His free arm hugged her back, how could he not? He loved her. What was he going to do?

“Are we—” He stopped. “Am I—” He stopped again. He refused to entertain the thought that they weren’t going to end up together. That’s when the night he’d jumped off stage and kissed the shit out of Piper Beaumont three summers ago continued to flash through his mind. He understood the adrenaline rush of being overly happy. He’d been on that side of things.

Maybe he should cut them both some slack.

“Look,” he said, putting his bottle down and wrapping both arms around her. “That summer I was banished from the Forest, I had a moment like yours. An overly happy moment. It meant nothing. In fact, it about got my jaw busted.”


“Yeah. I inadvertently kissed somebody else’s girl.”

“Again. What?”

“Long story.” And not one he should probably tell since she already had a problem with him playing the Outlaw. “Suffice it to say, maybe I’ve been where you were Saturday night. Not that I like it, Elise, because I don’t like you kissing anybody but me, and I especially don’t like you kissing Love. As long as you can tell me you don’t have feelings for the guy—”

“I don’t. Of course I don’t. I love you.”

“Then please. Try not to get overly happy unless I’m around for you to pounce on.”

She grinned up at him, pretty much lighting up his fucking soul.

Man, he was a goner.


To be continued.

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