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One Night Only

Finally Mine ecover.jpg



Chapter One

I couldn’t take my eyes off the tattooed Santa gyrating his hips hypnotically behind his bass guitar. With the stage lights and the distraction of the crowd around me, I couldn’t be sure but it felt like the silver fox was looking directly at me with each thrust.

Maybe it was a final “screw you” to me after he’d single-handedly ruined any shot I had at my dream job.

I wanted to hate Vonn Barlowe, but the man was so damn talented and I’d been a fan for so damn long, there I was in the front row grooving to the punk-rock version of “White Christmas” along with the rest of Hershey, Pennsylvania.

“I can see why it’s a farewell tour.”

Apparently my date, Mark, wasn’t as impressed. He smirked in the direction of the stage, and I sighed. The man was wearing a tie to a punk show. What had I expected?

“Not a fan?” I asked over the screaming guitar riff.

Someone bumped me from behind and I caught myself against the waist-high security fence.

Mark didn’t notice. He was too busy pulling out his phone. I had to stop myself from telling him to put it away. He was my boyfriend—sort of—not one of my kids.

“I gotta take this,” he yelled, holding up his phone to indicate a call from his office.

I waved him off rather than reminding him it was Christmas Freaking Eve and I’d been out of town for two weeks. Two wasted weeks. And wasn’t that exactly what I’d been doing with Mark? Wasting time.

Okay, Vonn definitely just winked at me.

I glared back at him.

“Ohmygod! He’s so hot!” squealed a young, pretty blonde next to me. She was with a posse of girlfriends.

Before I could reluctantly agree, I was jostled from behind into the security fence that separated the front row from the stage. The mosh pit behind us was getting wild as the band stirred the audience up with punk versions of their Christmas favorites.

Back in my twenties, I wouldn’t have hesitated to join them. Two decades, two now-grown children, and a middle-aged body prone to second-day soreness ruled that out. But I was forty-six, not dead. I’d at least dressed the part in skinny jeans, a ripped black tank, and a cropped leather jacket.

Garrett, the youthful lead singer with a voice so similar to his father’s it was eerie, carried them into an energetic “Run Rudolph Run.” I closed my eyes and grooved to the music.

They were a great band. Even after the tragedy. I wasn’t the only one sad that this was the end of the road for the Sonic Arcade. And if it wasn’t for the stubborn, sexy bassist, I could have been the one to tell the story of their farewell.

A pointy elbow connected with my kidney pushing me into the bubbly blonde. “Shit! Sorry. Are you okay?” I asked the girl.

I didn’t get an answer because an entire sweaty body rammed her at full speed sending her into the waist high security fence. I turned around and shoved the guy. “Back off, man!”

He had at least fifty pounds on me and was staggeringly drunk. With the momentum of my push, he careened backward into the center of the mosh pit. Everything happened at once as all hell broke loose. I saw security fighting their way forward as Drunk Guy came back at me.

My last coherent thought before he yanked me into the fray was that Vonn looked way too close to the edge of the stage.

Bouncing off bodies like a pinball, I knew I needed to stay on my feet. Going to the floor in a situation like this was asking for a trip to the hospital.

Someone stepped on my foot and I stumbled into a wall of pointy elbows and flying shoulder slams. I caught a glancing blow to the jaw and saw stars. Hands hit me high on the back, shoving me hard enough that my head snapped forward. And down I went onto the sticky floor, into the sea of boots and feet.

A scuffed Doc Martin stepped on my thigh. Someone’s stiletto—who in the hell wore stilettos to a standing room only punk concert?—caught me in the forehead. Pain was blooming everywhere. I wondered what Addison and Shane would say about their mother being trampled to death in a mosh pit.

They’d probably be embarrassed and blame a midlife crisis. But was it really a midlife crisis when I was just trying to finally live my life the way I wanted to live it?

I felt hands lifting me. Strong arms enfolding me. I wasn’t on the floor anymore. I was definitely already dead because I staring into Vonn Barlowe’s blue eyes as he cradled me in his arms, muscling his way toward the stage.

Chapter Two

“You really don’t have to do this,” I said for the ninth time as Vonn eased up to the curb in front of urgent care. The windshield wipers whipped back and forth as fat snowflakes pelted down in the dark, the roads already boasted a thick coating.

I wasn’t sure how he’d gotten the short straw of chauffeuring me into town after the venue medical staff insisted I needed to get checked out officially. But here I was, in the passenger seat of a badass black Tahoe with Vonn Barlowe behind the wheel. The man who had both crushed a dream and starred in a few of my naughtier ones. The man who had much better things to do than drive me around my hometown in a snowstorm.

I shifted in my seat and winced.

My entire body ached, and all I wanted to do was go home and lie on the couch.

Alone. On Christmas Eve.

It was a side effect of having a healthy relationship with my ex-husband. I couldn’t blame the kids for being excited to spend Christmas Eve and morning with him, his—significantly—younger wife, and their adorable baby.

“Stay,” Vonn barked in the rough rasp typical of his post-concert voice.

“Stay,” I mimicked as he rounded the hood. After spending the last two weeks with the band, it was clear that the bassist was a man of few words. An introverted rocker. How novel.

He opened my door and plucked me off the seat. He had me on my feet on the snowy sidewalk supported by a swarthy arm around my waist.

“You really don’t have to go inside with me,” I insisted. “Everyone’s overreacting. I’m fine.” As I said it, my right knee gave out, and I would have gone down if it hadn’t been for his arm holding me to his side.

“Do me a favor, babe.” His voice was low, gruff.

My feet shuffled toward the clinic’s automatic door as he took more of my weight. “What?”

“Shut up.”

He sounded pissed off, which was more emotion than I’d managed to pry out of him on the northeast leg of the tour.

I couldn’t blame him. Spending Christmas Eve at urgent care was a special kind of depressing. Kind of like spending it at a strip club. Besides, he had better things to do than make sure I wasn’t concussed. The entire band was flying back to the West Coast tonight for a few days off before kicking off the final leg of their farewell tour.

Everyone stared at us when we walked into the waiting room. It had nothing to do with my head wound. Vonn, still wearing his Santa coat over a low-cut black tank that did everything for his muscles and ink, was the attention grabber.

A nurse practically galloped out from behind the desk. “Mr. Barlowe, your manager called ahead; you two can follow me.”

I glanced around the waiting room. There was a harried mother with a toddler who was vomiting into a bucket. An elderly man mid-coughing fit was sandwiched between what I guessed were his two worried adult sons. On the other side of the room was a twenty-something guy wearing sunglasses and lying across three chairs. Holiday hangover, I guessed.

Vonn steered me toward the door the nurse was holding for us.

“I don’t think I should jump to the head of the line,” I hissed.

He stopped and stared down at me. “Babe, you’ve got a bleeding head wound. Trust me, you’re priority.”

My fingers flew to the bandage on my forehead and I felt the dampness through the gauze. Gross.

The mom with the barfing kid was holding up her phone, mouth agape, and taking pictures of us. The thing about Sonic Arcade was they weren’t as big as, say, AC/DC, but they’d been reasonably popular for thirty years. And the older he got, the hotter Vonn got. He wasn’t the most gregarious member of the band by a long shot, but he was easily the sexiest.

As annoyed as I was by him, I knew he valued his privacy and would hate being splashed all over social media.

“Ugh. Fine. Let’s get this over with,” I grumbled.

He waited outside the exam room while I stripped and donned the scratchy gown. I expected him to stay in the hall since the medical staff were less likely to act like lovestruck fans, but when the doctor entered the room, Vonn was right behind her.

“Okay, Mrs. Zimmerman—”

“Ms.,” Vonn corrected. He leaned against the counter and crossed his arms over his chest. My body felt a slow burning fire as his piercing blue gaze traveled my body from head wound to purple toenails.

“Of course, sorry,” the doctor said, shooting me a tiny smile under her purple framed glasses. “Ms. Zimmerman. According to this you were injured at a concert.”

“I was an unintended victim of the mosh pit,” I explained, bracing for the “old enough to know better” judgment. Vonn was still staring at me with an unreadable expression on his stupid gorgeous face.

“What?” I mouthed at him.

He shrugged. But his mouth curved ever so slightly.

“We’ve all been there,” the doctor said, surprising me. “Now, let’s see what we’re dealing with.” Her competent fingers went to work on peeling back the tape on my forehead while Vonn’s blue eyes blazed into mine.

Chapter Three

Mark: Sorry for the vanishing act. Had to sit in on an emergency call with the board. You can find a ride home, right?

“Where’s home?”

I glanced up from the text I’d only just seen. “Sorry?”

“Home,” Vonn repeated.

“You don’t—”

“Brooke, if you say ‘you don’t have to’ one more time, I’m gonna make you regret it,” he announced with a simmering look that made my knees press together involuntarily.

“Bossy,” I muttered under my breath.

“Deal with it. Here,” he said, thrusting a bottle of water at me.

When I accepted it, he dug into his front pocket and pulled out a small bottle of pills. “Extra-strength Tylenol. Doc’s orders.” I watched him thumb off the lid and pour two tablets into his palm.

I wasn’t too proud to admit I had an obsession with the man’s hands. Not just because they knew their way around a bass but because there was something dexterous, competent about the way his hands did everything.

He watched me down the pills, then flicked on the wipers to clear the snow from the windshield.

The snow wasn’t just “coming down,” it was dumping. This was a legitimate blizzard. The idea of having to shovel tomorrow with a battered, middle-aged body was not a happy one.

Vonn took the water from me, helped himself to a healthy swig, then returned it to the cup holder. “Home,” he said again.

I sighed. “Turn left out of the lot.”

The man might’ve been a pain in the ass, but he had turned on my seat warmer. The radio was playing an old Nat King Cole favorite. The headlights panned over a veritable winter wonderland dotted with festive Christmas lights.

My phone buzzed with a text alert.

Michelle: How was your stint as a groupie? Did you get any of the guys naked? Never mind. Save it for brunch! Day after Christmas. Love you!

My best friend and neighbor, Michelle, always made me laugh. She was wildly inappropriate for a mother of three and a real estate agent.

Me: Not much to tell. But I can make something up over Bloody Marys. Try not to be too hungover for Christmas morning!

I stowed my phone in my jacket pocket and stared through the windshield. “You’re pretty good at handling the snow for a California guy,” I noted as Vonn expertly maneuvered around a slick corner.

“I grew up in Colorado.”

“Right. I forgot. Is that weird?” I asked, turning to him.

“That you forgot where I grew up?”

“That strangers know where you grew up.”

“There’s weirder things.”

“I can’t imagine meeting someone and having them know what I was doing ten years ago, what my favorite song is, and when my birthday is,” I mused.

Apparently head wounds made me introspective.

“Imagine meeting a stranger and being expected to tell them all your deepest, darkest secrets.”

It was a dig at me. While I was officially an administrative assistant in the local high school, I’d dusted off my old dreams of being a music journalist. A few successful if not well-paying freelance gigs had landed me the Sonic Arcade farewell tour assignment.

“Excuse me if fans want to know how you feel about breaking up a band that’s been together for thirty years.”

“Nothing’s ever enough,” he muttered, looking straight ahead through the windshield into the storm.

“You know, no one asked you to drive me to the clinic. No one asked you to take me home.”

“No one asked me to jump into the crowd to pull you out when your dumb-as-shit boyfriend left you alone in a dangerous situation either. That’s fucked up.”

It was the most emotion I’d seen out of the man in the past two weeks. He was pissed off. And now so was I.

“You seem to have unusually strong feelings about Mark. I’d ask you if you want to talk about it, but I think we both know what the answer is. Turn right.”

My sarcasm seemed to shut him up, and the silence descended.

The street practically glowed with Christmas lights, and I felt a nostalgic pang. I hadn’t put any up this year. Mostly because I knew I’d be traveling with the band for two weeks leading up to the holiday. But even if I’d been home, I still wouldn’t have done it. That had always been Ryan’s job. I’d handled the holiday decorating inside, and he’d dealt with lights and the inflatable reindeer outside.

With the kids out of the house, it just didn’t seem worth the effort.

Divorce wasn’t just one big loss. It was thousands of small ones.

“This is me,” I said, nodding at the last snow-covered driveway on the cul-de-sac. The house and land with the small barn had seemed like the perfect place to raise a family. And it had been. But now that I was the only family in residence, I felt like I was constantly trying to put on a pair of jeans that just didn’t fit anymore.

Vonn pulled up to the garage. And I tried not to think about what a pain in the ass it was going to be to shovel the driveway. Not to mention the path out back for Betty and Whinnie.

“What are you doing tomorrow?” he asked suddenly.

“I have the house to myself. My kids are with their dad until tomorrow night. I’m going to lounge in pajamas all day with a bottle of wine and work on the story.”

The story that should have launched my writing career from freelancer to staff writer. The story that was one glaring viewpoint short thanks to a certain sexy, bearded, nameless grump.

“What are you doing for Christmas?” I asked as the house finally came into view.

He pulled up to the garage door and turned off the engine. “Guess I’m watchin’ you drink that bottle of wine.”


He released his seatbelt. “What’s your garage code?”

“Four-four-three-three. Can we go back to the part about your Christmas plans?”

“Missed my flight. Airport’s closed. Crashin’ with you tonight.”

And then he ducked out of the vehicle, leaving me open-mouthed and staring.

Chapter Four

Betty was beside herself. The kids’ golden retriever that I’d inherited when they’d gone off to college and beyond was a blonde, shivering blur under Vonn’s affectionate hands.

His luggage was stacked up in the kitchen, where it had been abandoned in favor of Betty’s exuberance.

I was spending the night with Vonn Barlowe.

A man I’d had a crush on for the better part of thirty years. A man who’d single-handedly ruined my chance at my dream job. A man who was currently sprawled on his back on the kitchen linoleum as my dog did her best to French kiss him.

It was official.

This was the weirdest Christmas Eve ever.

I stepped over Vonn’s legs and turned on the lights. My kitchen had been renovated a decade ago when there had been a busy family of four in the house. We’d done bright white cabinets and dark green counters. The fridge once crowded with pictures and report cards now just held a simple calendar that tracked the comings and goings of one. On the opposite side of the eat-at bar was a round dining table in front of a set of doors that led to the patio and backyard.

My stomach growled, and I realized I was supposed to go to dinner with Mark after the concert. Mark, who had yet to notice or care that I hadn’t texted him back.

If I was hungry, I guessed the man who’d just spent two hours rocking out on stage was ravenous.

“Are you hungry?” I asked, opening the refrigerator door and stifling the moan as my muscles protested.

Vonn turned his attention away from my dog and looked at me. It was the first time I’d ever seen him smiling. Really smiling. He had a dimple in his left cheek just barely visible above his beard.

“Starving,” he rasped.

Something fluttered in my core, and I decided it was safer to look at the contents of my refrigerator rather than directly at the punk rocker.

I heard him get to his feet and then felt a wave of heat at my back. “You’re not cooking,” he said in my ear. Our bodies weren’t touching, but the thin buffer of air between us was charged with an electric awareness.

“I don’t think we’re going to have any luck getting delivery in this storm.”

“I’m cooking.”

Betty nosed at my hand, reminding me she needed to go out.

“You cook?” I asked, taking a deliberate step back.

He assumed my position in front of the fridge. “Man can’t live off takeout on tour without there being consequences.”

It made sense. I’d only spent two weeks behind-the-scenes, but it was enough time to know that that sculpted body was the result of healthy habits. “Are you any good?”

Vonn leveled me with a look, one dark eyebrow arching. “Babe, I’m the best.”

Betty dashed over to the back door and barked. I followed her and opened it. Cold hit me in the face, which I didn’t mind since being that close to Vonn had significantly raised the temperature of my blood. The wind had picked up, howling as it whipped around the back of the house.

I could only faintly make out the lights from the Milton Estate across the field.

There was a good six inches of snow on the patio already. A fact that delighted Betty. She let out a triumphant bark and pranced into the thick of it, shoving her nose into the white stuff and racing into the yard.

I turned on the backyard lights. “I’ll be back,” I called over my shoulder to Vonn, who was unloading the contents of the refrigerator.

I pulled on the boots I left at the back door and followed Betty into the snow. The walk to the tiny barn seemed longer than usual with all of my muscles vehemently protesting, but I made it.

Betty sprinted inside ahead of me and went directly to Whinnie’s stall.

“Hey, girl,” I greeted the horse.

She was a pretty little thing, dappled gray with a dark mane. My daughter, Addison, had starting riding lessons when she was seven and stuck with the hobby. On her sixteenth birthday, we’d gotten her her very own horse.

The horse, like the dog, was now mine by default.

Whinnie went nose-to-nose with Betty, their usual greeting, before snorting at me to let me know she was ready for dinner.

I fed her, gave her an evening rub down, and with some only minimal bitching and moaning added some more straw to the stall.

“Last thing you need to be doing right now, babe.”

I jumped, then winced at the chorus of ouch that rolled through my body.

Whinnie swung her head toward the man in the door and snorted.

Vonn pushed away from the doorway and approached. He ran one of those big, competent hands down the horse’s velvet nose. “You ride?”

“Only when I have to. She belongs to my daughter, who’s in college. Addison left me a thirty-six-page manual on the care and feeding of Whinnie. A neighborhood kid comes out a few times a week to exercise her.”

Vonn said nothing but gave Whinnie a long stroke down her neck. The horse shivered with delight. I couldn’t blame her.

“Anything else need doing out here?” he asked, those fierce blue eyes landing on me.

I shook my head. “She’s all set for the night.”

He nodded. “I’ll shovel a path out here in the morning.”

“You don’t—”


It sounded like a warning.

“Sorry,” I muttered.

He hooked a thumb toward the door. “House. Let’s go.”

We ducked back out into the snow, Betty leading the way and Vonn bringing up the rear.

“What’s that place?” he asked.

I turned and saw he was peering through the dark and the snow at the golden glow.

“That’s the Milton Estate,” I explained. “One of the town founders built it. It’s gorgeous. There’s a pool, an actual rose garden, and this barn the last owner turned into studio space for his wife’s photography business.”

The fanciful stone house and outbuildings sat on three acres of prime real estate like a modern day fairytale come to life.

“Wow,” I said, sniffing the air when we returned to the house. It smelled like my favorite scent: homecooked meal that someone else made.

“Needs about half an hour in the oven,” he announced.

“I’ll show you your room, then. So you can get changed and shower…” I trailed off, realizing he would be naked. Mere feet from my bedroom.

“Sure you don’t have a concussion?” he asked, lips quirking.

“Oh, shut up. I’m tired and hungry and sore.” I led the way upstairs, admittedly a little slower than usual. “Guest room is here and the bathroom is right across the hall.”

He stood there holding an impressive amount of luggage, taking in the gallery of family photos I had hanging in the hallway. That assessing gaze came back to me, and I couldn’t ignore the effect it had on my heart beat.

Betty galloped up the stairs and plopped her butt on the floor between us, waiting for one of us to move. But still he watched me.

“Thanks,” Vonn said finally.

“Yeah. Sure. I’ll see you downstairs.”

I closed myself in my bedroom and leaned against the door.

“Pull yourself together,” I whispered to myself.

Chapter Five

I felt almost human again after a hot shower, during which I tried not to fantasize about the bassist in the guest shower. The mirror had revealed some pretty spectacular bruising in a few places, but nothing I couldn’t handle.

The cut on my forehead hadn’t fared as well under the faucet. It had opened again, and between the shower water and fresh blood, I needed to change the bandage. Dressed in soft leggings, a tank top, and a long, cozy cardigan, I made my way downstairs.

My fuzzy-socked feet came to a stop.

Vonn had beaten me downstairs and made himself at home. The lights on the Christmas tree were on. Soft, instrumental Christmas music hummed from the speaker my kids had insisted I needed. Best of all, an honest-to-goodness fire crackled in the hearth.

I loved the romance of a fire. But now it never seemed worth the effort to build one for myself.

The kitchen timer brought me out of my stupor, and then Vonn put me right back in it.

The man had changed out of his stage clothes into a pair of gray sweatpants and a white V-neck T-shirt. His feet were bare and his hair was still damp. He looked delicious. And whatever he was checking on in the oven smelled just as delicious as he looked.

Betty obviously agreed because she was sprawled at his feet, staring at him lovingly.

He chose that moment to look up. I felt his gaze travel from my purple snowflake socks, up my legs, over my torso and chest before stopping on my face. We locked eyes for a long beat before his eyes moved to my forehead.

“Thank you for the fire,” I said.

“Bleeding again,” he stated.

“Yeah. I was wondering if you could…” Lamely, I held up the box of butterfly bandages and a bottle of liquid bandage.

He crooked his finger at me, and my feet shuffled forward of their own will. When he turned to wash his hands I tried unsuccessfully to pry my eyeballs off his very nice ass. The man was the perfect physical specimen. Hands washed and dried, he approached. I held my breath as he stepped into my space.

At five feet, eight inches, I was tall with long legs. But Vonn cleared six feet with room to spare. Standing this close to him I was looking at the tattoo that peeked out of the neckline of his shirt. In a trance, I watched as he reached toward me. His fingers made contact under my chin, nudging it up.

There was something desperately intimate about the touch. My eyes met his, and I saw no evidence of a smile or the dimple he’d shown earlier.

His hand dropped from my chin only to splay on my stomach, the strip of exposed skin between the hem of my tank and the waistband of my pants catching fire at his touch. I wanted more. I wanted him to slide that hand under my shirt so his palm was hot and hard against my stomach.

I didn’t realize he was guiding me backward until my back met the counter.

He stepped in closer, his feet between mine as I leaned back ever so slightly. I couldn’t stop staring at his mouth. Surrounded by that salt-and-pepper beard, his lips looked so kissable.

We weren’t touching, but every cell in my body was aware that all it would take was one tiny inch. My nipples puckered under my shirt, and I immediately regretted not putting on a bra.

I could feel his breath on my face. The heat pumping off his body. The intensity of his gaze. I didn’t understand how a man could be so infuriating and infatuating at the same time.

“Still breathing?” he asked, his mouth twisting in a gentle smirk.

I nodded, then sucked in a breath.

“Let’s see what you’ve got here,” he said quietly.

For a second I thought he was going to kiss the hell out of me or at least whip my shirt off. But instead, he went for the gauze on my forehead. Disappointing.

Carefully he peeled back the tape and went to work.

“I shouldn’t be the one doing this,” he murmured as he dabbed at the wound.

“I can probably handle it from here,” I decided. Being this close to him was a mistake. I tried to shift away from him, but he caged me between his arms, hands on the counter on either side of my hips.

“Not what I meant, babe.”

My eyes met his, and I stopped breathing again. “What did you mean?”

“Why are you with that asshole?”

“Who? Mark?”

“My woman brings me to a concert, I’m sure as fuck not deserting her in the middle of it. She gets hurt? I’m not letting another man take care of her. Get rid of the dead weight, Brooke.”

“Not that it’s any of your business,” I said, feeling snarky, “but Mark has a lot on his mind.”

He pressed a butterfly bandage into place, then dipped down until I met his eyes. “From where I’m standing, he’s got the wrong things on his mind.”

Okay. That was flirting. Right? Or was it the head wound confusing things?

“He…had an important call.”

“On Christmas Eve, when he hasn’t seen his woman in two weeks,” he prompted. “What the fuck are you doing wasting time with him?”

I didn’t know why his opinion mattered. But for some reason it did. “I’m trying to break up with him. Okay?”


I dropped my hands and crossed my arms. “We met through a dating app. I thought it would be fun to date a younger guy. I thought he’d be interesting, energetic. My ex-husband married a woman eleven years younger than I. They made it look exciting. But Mark is…”

“A narcissistic prick,” Vonn supplied.

“You met him for a minute,” I said. I’d taken Mark backstage to meet the band before the concert. He hadn’t been particularly impressed or gracious.

“Already knew I wasn’t gonna like him,” he continued, pressing a second bandage into place. “Just didn’t realize there’d be good cause.”

His hand slid down to my neck, thumb at my throat. It felt amazing. “Why were you going to hate him?”

All amusement disappeared from those blue eyes. “Because he’s yours.”

“Seriously? What does that even mean? You’ve spent the last two weeks ignoring me! You refused to sit down with me. You refused to answer every single question I asked. The rest of the guys had no problems talking to me, but you acted like I was chasing you with a machete.”

“What do you wanna know, babe? Ask me anything.”

His flippant reply made me mad. “Don’t play games with me, Vonn. You made sure that I didn’t get the story. And now I don’t get the job that went with it.”

His hand tightened at my neck. “Explain.”

“I’m hungry,” I said petulantly. And bizarrely turned on.

“I’ll feed you after you explain.”

My sigh was half groan. “The magazine told me if I got you to actually open up and talk about saying goodbye to the band, the fans, that I’d make staff writer.”

“Is that something you wanted?”

“Well, yeah. I’ve always wanted to be a music journalist. I thought this was my shot to get out of a mom job and into something I wanted to do.”

It was Vonn’s turn to blow out a breath. “You know and they know I don’t do one-on-ones. I don’t talk about anything but the music,” he insisted.

He had me there. The man was a vault. He was infamous for avoiding questions and getting downright pissy when journalists didn’t take the hint. And part of me couldn’t blame him. He’d been hounded mercilessly by the press ever since the death of his best friend and the band’s original lead singer.

“This your farewell tour. You’ve been doing this for thirty years. Why don’t you want to talk about that?” I asked in exasperation.

He was angry now. His hand dropped from my neck and landed on the counter next to my hip. “Because it’s never fucking enough. It’s not enough that I write and play music people like. That I get up on stage and perform for them. They still want more. They want pieces of you. Pieces they can hold up under a magnifying glass to judge their worth. Be raw. Be real. Be fuckin’ vulnerable. Let me judge you, dissect you, digest you to decide if you’re good enough.”

It was more words than I’d heard him say in an entire day. And I wished I’d had my voice recorder on.

“Wow,” I breathed.

“You want this story? This job?”

I nodded.

“Then you gotta earn every answer.”

I wet my lips and wondered if it was wrong to hope that he wanted me to earn answers with really awesome punk-rock sex.


“Quid pro quo, sweetheart. You get an answer; I get an answer.”

Chapter Six

I accepted the plate Vonn handed me. I was trying to figure out his angle. I was a divorced mother of two adult children. I lived in a small town in Pennsylvania. I didn’t have secrets like a man who had been on a dozen world tours did.

“Do you want some wine?” I offered.

He shook his head. “No thanks.”

I remembered then that he didn’t drink. An interesting quirk in his line of work.

“We got a deal?” Vonn asked, strolling into the living room.

Betty barked, and I looked down to see her sitting in front of me, tail swishing across the kitchen floor.

“Dinner. Right,” I said. I put her kibble dinner in the bowl before following Vonn.

He was sprawled on the couch. Feet propped up on the coffee table.

Gray sweatpants had been invented for Vonn Barlowe.

Not only did they put the perfect globes of his butt on display, they also paid quite the flattering homage to his crotchal region.

I snapped out of it and took the opposite end of the couch, pulling my feet up and resting my plate on a throw pillow. It was roasted chicken legs with sprigs of rosemary, fat wedges of red onion, and… “Are these grapes?” I asked, poking one of the purple globes. It smelled divine.

“They are.”

I took a bite of grape and onion and chicken. My eyes rolled back in my head. “Yum. This is really, really good.”

“I’m a man of many talents.”

It was safer not to respond to that.

My phone rang on the coffee table, and I realized he’d brought it into the living room for me.


“It’s my daughter,” I said, putting my plate down and swiping to accept the call.

Shane and Addy’s faces popped up on my screen. “Merry Christmas Eve, Mom,” they sang.

I grinned. Once again surprised and delighted by the combination of traits both kids got from me and their dad. Hair. Eyes. Jaw. Nose. Yet all four of us were completely different people. Addy was a bubbly perfectionist hell-bent on growing up as fast as possible. Shane was a laid-back athlete who didn’t waste time on things like planning for the future.

“Merry Christmas Eve, guys. How about this snow?”

“I know, right?” The camera shifted as Addy panned through the large wall of windows in her dad’s living room. Beyond the tornado of baby toys and piles of wrapped presents, the snow fell.

“Beautiful,” I said. Betty nosed her way into the frame, always happy to hear the kids’ voices.

“How was the concert? Did you feed Whinnie?”

“The concert was great. Whinnie is fine. She had her supper and she’s bedded down for the night,” I assured her.

“What are you having for dinner?” Shane asked.

“Chicken,” I said, holding up my plate so they could see.

“Is Mark there?” Addy asked. I wasn’t imagining the tone. Both kids had met Mark once or twice. Neither of them liked him.

Vonn snickered, and I shot him a disapproving look.

“No. Mark’s not here,” I hedged. “Something came up.”

“Told you she’d end up alone on Christmas Eve,” Shane said, shoving his sister.

“Oh my God, Mom!” Addy screeched. “What happened to your head?” Somewhere in the background, their half sister added her voice to my daughter’s distress.

I winced. “It’s nothing. I’m fine.”

“You have a head injury and you’re alone on Christmas Eve,” Addy said in a half shout.

“This blows,” Shane said.

“I’m fine. Betty and I are relaxing. It was just a minor bump on the head at the concert. I didn’t even need stitches.”

Vonn rolled his eyes at my little white lie.

“I’m coming to get you. You shouldn’t be alone,” my son said firmly.

The last thing I needed was to be treated like an invalid old lady at my ex-husband’s house on Christmas.

“You’re not going out on these roads. It’s not supposed to stop snowing until morning. Stay at your dad’s, and I’ll see you guys tomorrow night.”

My kids gave each other a look. “Fine. But text us when you go to bed and then call as soon as you wake up,” Addy said. Shane nodded.

“Fine, weirdos. Now go play with your sister before she eats her way through that gift box.”

“Bye, Mom! We love you!”

“Bye, guys. Love you too.” I blew them a kiss and ended the call.

I tossed the phone onto the cushion and went back to my plate. I could feel Vonn’s attention on me.

“How bad of a guy am I when it’s better to let your kids think you’re spending Christmas Eve alone instead of with me?” he wondered.

I nudged him with my foot. “Funny. If I told my kids I was shacked up for the night with Vonn Barlowe, they’d strap on snowshoes just to get back here.”

“Fans?” he asked, capturing my foot with his hand.

Even through the thick layer of sock, I liked the contact. A lot. “They grew up with me as their mother. They didn’t have a choice,” I said, trying to sound normal.

“So we got a deal or what, babe?” Vonn asked, his thumb pressing into the arch of my foot. It felt like heaven, and I almost forgot what he was talking about.

“Are you serious about this?” I asked him.

“You want the story, don’t you?”

“Yeah, but why would you be willing to—”

His thumb dug in a little deeper, and my question turned into a low moan.

Wicked. That’s what his smile looked like in the firelight.

“Before I say yes,” I began, trying to control myself, “I think it’s only fair to remind you that you wouldn’t be getting wild celebrity secrets out of me. I’m a forty-six-year-old divorced mom. The last two decades of my life have been dedicated to raising a family, not shooting tequila on a yacht with supermodels.”

“It’s interesting to me that you don’t see just how interesting you are.”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah. Right. You’ll answer all my questions with actual words, not just grunts?”

His thumb shifted higher on my arch, and I wondered if it was possible to orgasm from just a foot rub.

“Anything you want, babe.”

Chapter Seven

“I want the first answer,” Vonn announced.

Our plates had been cleared. The leftovers stored. He’d forced more Tylenol on me before adding another log to the fire. Betty was snoring on the loveseat. Bing Crosby was softly crooning about white Christmases. We were facing each other on the couch, my phone on the cushion between us recording our conversation.

I had a bad feeling about this. “Fine,” I said.

“Why the hell are you with that asshole? The truth this time.”

The truth. I winced, and Vonn’s smile turned lethal. “Not so easy being on the receiving end, is it sweetheart?”

“The truth is I meant what I said about thinking it would be fun to date a younger man. But I picked the wrong one. We’re not compatible. At all.” I thought about the sex, or lack thereof, and winced. “I’ve been meaning to break up with him for almost two months. But every time I figure out what I’m going to say, he’s so stressed out about work or his parents or life in general. I don’t want to add to his stress when it’s already manifesting in physical ways.”

“He can’t get it up,” Vonn stated.

I blinked. “How in the hell—” I shook my head, cheeks flaming. “Never mind. I don’t want to know how you know.”

“You gotta stop wasting your time, babe. It’s not your job to fix him or his life or his dick. That asshole abandoned you, left you without a ride, scrapped your dinner plans, and still hasn’t texted to see if you made it home okay. You’re dumping his ass.”


He shook his head. “Don’t waste your time with someone too dumb or too blind to see how special you are. End it.”

The man was right. He was also blunt and rude and cocky. But he was right.

“Right now?” I asked.

His lips quirked. “You can tell him tomorrow. Or whenever he pulls his head out of his ass. But just so we’re clear, it’s over now.”

There was a warm feeling in my belly that pretended he' meant something important by that.

“Okay. It’s over,” I agreed.

“Good. Your turn.”

“Uh. Why don’t you drink?” It was the first question that came to mind. It was also one that he’d never publicly addressed.

He gestured at my foot. Still feeling that warmth in my core, I extended my leg and he took my unrubbed foot between those delicious hands. “Because the last time I drank, I had sex with a stranger, she filmed it, and I got her pregnant.”

I let out a noise somewhere between a moan and a yelp because as he’d delivered that news, he’d found a tender spot under my big toe and pressed into it.

“Wait,” I said, my entire body tensing. I hit the Pause button on the recording. “Are you telling me Shayla West recorded your sex tape?” The sex tape that was still mentioned occasionally on late night television. The sex tape that had landed Vonn’s ex a starring role in a reality TV show.

The woman had made a career out of being a rock star’s girlfriend. She and Vonn had gotten together for a few years over two decades ago. They’d never married, but they had a daughter together. Laney was twenty-nine and a model/actress/activist.

“Why’d you stop the recording?” he asked looking amused.

“Because that’s deeply personal,” I said, exasperated.

His blue eyes glinted in the firelight. “Yeah. It is.”

I got his point. My job was to drag deeply personal stories out of him and show them off to the general public. Because he was there to entertain.

“Turn it back on, Brooke.”

“I don’t think this is a good idea.”

He squeezed my foot. “Turn it back on, babe.”

Reluctantly, I did as I was told. I rubbed at my forehead and tried to focus. “That tape came out years after Laney was born. After you and Shayla broke up.”

His fingers worked my foot, but his eyes were on me. “I got wasted. I fucked a girl I didn’t know. I was so far gone I didn’t notice the camera or the fact that she kept angling us toward it. When she came at me through my manager two months later it was with a pregnancy test and that tape. If I didn’t do right by her, she’d leak the tape.”

I wanted to punch Shayla West in her lousy face.

“Not that she needed the blackmail. I would have stood up for my kid no matter what. We made it work. At least for a while. It was a business arrangement. She raised Laney while I was on the road, and I made sure she had all the money she needed. She surprised us both and ended up being a good mom. Lucky for me because I was gone. Either in the studio or out on tour. I was the guy who would come home every few weeks with presents before disappearing again. I was living my dream, and family just got in the way of that. Eventually, Shayla got tired of being ignored. She got pissed. We split. She sold the tape.”

“She took advantage of you.”

“We took advantage of each other,” he countered. “It could have been a hell of a lot worse.” He kneaded my foot with slow, gentle strokes.

“In what way?”

“I could have been the bad guy. Too wasted to know or care about the signals. Too full of myself to worry that a girl might say no. I could have made a woman feel the way Shayla made me feel. Used. Ashamed. Violated.”

He peeled off my sock, and the contact of his fingers on my bare skin made me feel dizzy. “That was the last time I had a drink. The last time I fucked a stranger.”

“Does your daughter know?”

Vonn didn’t break eye contact as he shook his head slowly. “No one but me and Shayla. Now you.”

He gestured for my other foot. When I gave it to him, he pulled that sock off too and pulled both feet into his lap. My feet were in Vonn Barlowe’s lap. I was suddenly sure that I had suffered a concussion and that any minute now I was going to wake up in a hospital bed.


“Yeah, babe.”

“I’m sorry that happened to you. You didn’t deserve it.”

He gave my feet a squeeze. “Least I learned from it. Now, how about you tell me why you’re sitting around here like you’re the curator of some family museum instead of out there living your life.”

“Um. Ouch,” I said, trying to pull my feet back, but he merely tightened his grip.

I saw a wink of dimple. “Come on. What are you doing alone on Christmas Eve in a four-bedroom farmhouse full of memorabilia taking care of a horse that’s not yours?”

I laughed then. “It may not look it, but I’m mid-transformation. I call it my Becoming.”

This time when he returned my foot to his lap, he settled it higher. Against the rigid outline of his cock. My insides went molten. The rush of arousal between my legs was warm, wet, instantaneous.

“I’m listening.” His voice was like gravel against my awareness.

Too bad for the rock god on my couch I’d suddenly lost the power of speech.

My heel wedged against the softness of his balls. My arch was pressed against the root of what felt like a champion erection. A hall-of-fame arousal. I wanted to replace my foot with my hand, my mouth, my everything.

I could feel the pulse of blood in his flesh beneath my sole. Still he rubbed and soothed my other foot with his hands.

My senses were on fire, and he’d touched nothing but my feet. If this was what his penis could do to me just by touching my foot, I was worried about what it could do elsewhere.


My name caressed with his rough voice brought me back.

“You said you’re mid-transformation,” he prompted.

“Right. Yes. That,” I said. “After the divorce was final, I realized I’d organized my entire life around my family to the point that when they all left, I had nothing of my own. I didn’t even have a hobby. Nothing around me fit this new marriage-less, kid-less existence,” I confessed.

Vonn remained silent as his thumbs kneaded my foot.

“So I decided I was going start living for me. It started small. With a hair cut. My clothes. Got rid of the minivan. Started boxing lessons. Got a tattoo.”

His eyebrow quirked. “Where is this tattoo?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I said archly.

“Very much.”

“We’ll see,” I said. “Things like the house, the horse, the job, those are bigger changes. They’ll take longer. Addy’s twenty-one. She’s in college, and it’s not like she could take Whinnie with her. When I mentioned that I was thinking about selling the house, downsizing, she and my son freaked.”


I shrugged. “I don’t know if they think they need this place to come home to or maybe they can’t imagine me as anyone but the mom who’s lived her their entire lives. You’d think I told them I wanted to burn down an orphanage when I mentioned selling. ‘What about Whinnie?’ ‘Where will I store my six hundred boxes of Legos and action figures?’”

“So you stayed.”

“For now. I shifted my focus to the job portion of the Becoming. I started taking freelance jobs about two years ago. With the concert venues here it was easy to specialize in music. The editor at the magazine told me if I could get an exclusive with you on your thoughts and feelings about the farewell tour he’d make room on the staff for me.”

“Is that what you want?”

“A full-time job with benefits that lets me interview musical artists from all genres? Yes, please.” I took a breath. “But enough about me.”

“I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think what?”

“I haven’t had enough of you.”

“Are you flirting with me, Vonn?”

“Yes. Is it working?”

I grinned at him, then changed the subject. “Do you want some tea? I have honey.” It had been with much amusement when I discovered that the tattooed badasses of hard rocking Sonic Arcade drank green smoothies in the morning and hot tea after shows. They did yoga, and some, specifically Vonn, even meditated before shows.

“Tea would be good,” he said.

I needed a few minutes of space. Because if I didn’t get it now, I was going to crawl into his lap and beg him to fuck me. And I was pretty sure that was a journalistic no-no.

Vonn rose when I did.

“Stay. I’ll get it,” I insisted, waving at the couch.

“You’re injured. I don’t want you waiting on me like I’m some guest.”

“You are a guest,” I said flippantly as I headed for the kitchen.

“Brooke.” A warm hand on my wrist stopped me. His grip was firm.


“How do you feel?”

Hot and bothered. Hornier than a thirteen-year-old boy at the community pool. Wetter than Costa Rica’s rainy season. “I’m fine. Between the shower and the dinner, I feel pretty damn good.”

“Good.” He pointed up. There in the open doorway between the living room and dining space dangled a plastic piece of mistletoe.

Chapter Eight

“It’s not real,” I said, referring to the mistletoe, as if the plastic nature of the leaves had any bearing whatsoever on Vonn’s intentions.

“I’m superstitious,” he countered. He was, as was the rest of the band. Drummer Kaio had to walk on stage with a drumstick in his back pocket and one in his hand. Keyboardist Steve wore the same patterned socks for every performance. When the pattern was retired, he’d used his star power to convince the manufacturer to make a few hundred more just for him.

“I want to kiss you,” Vonn said, his voice low and dangerous. “But if I do, it’s not going to stop there. If that’s not something you want, I need to hear it now, babe.”

He used my wrist to tug the rest of me into his body. This time it was my stomach cuddled up to his hard-on. My thighs quaked.

Lazily, as if he had all the time in the world, he put his arms around me, sliding his hands under my cardigan and splaying his palms over my back. We were pinned at the hip. My hands went to his chest and fisted in the cotton of his T-shirt. Suddenly, launching my career with this story seemed much less important than being with a man I’d fantasized about for a few decades.

“You said you didn’t fuck strangers,” I whispered stupidly.

“Think we’re still strangers, babe?” he asked, amused.

He had a point…and an erection. Neither of which I felt like arguing with.

“Good point,” I whispered, mentally prepared as his mouth lowered slowly toward mine.

The kiss was warm, hard, consuming. Awesome. He wasn’t polite or tentative. He confidently plundered my mouth and set my soul on fire. I was melting, combusting in his arms.

His hands were on the move. One sliding lower to squeeze my rear end, the other traveling around to cup the outer curve of my breast. My nipple was painfully aware that the attention it sought was mere inches away.

I let out a low moan as his tongue swept into my mouth. He wasn’t just sampling, Vonn was devouring.

God, it had been too long since my last satisfying sexual encounter. A one-night stand a few weeks after my divorce was final. Since then, I’d found it hard to put into words what I wanted from a new lover. And Mark’s sexual dysfunction hadn’t exactly done anything for my self-confidence.

But I knew from the sweep of his tongue, from the rock of his arousal against me that Vonn would be different.

“Fuckin’ knew it,” he murmured against my lips.

The lights seemed to flicker before my eyes, and then I was plunged into darkness as he expertly kissed the life out of me. It took me several long, embarrassing seconds before I realized the lights really had gone out.

“Power outage,” I gasped into his mouth.

“I’m aware,” he said smiling as he stroked his thumb over my sensitive nipple. Once. Twice.

My knees went weak.

“I can still make tea,” I squeaked. “On the stove.”

“Baby, fuck the tea.” His breath was warm on my cheek.

To emphasize his point, he ground his erection against me.

“Okay,” I agreed.

“Stay here,” he said, giving my butt a gentle squeeze. And then he was gone.


I heard the strike of a match in the kitchen and the hiss of a candlewick. The kitchen grew progressively brighter as he lit several candles.

The man had cooked me dinner, force fed me Tylenol, rubbed my feet, and gathered candles in case of a power outage. I’d never felt more cared for in my entire life.

When he stepped back from the counter, my eyes were drawn to his crotch. His bulging erection on full display through the thin material—thank you, Jesus and the inventor of sweatpants.

Just one kiss with me had done that to him. I blew out a shaky breath.

Vonn took two fat pillar candles and jerked his head toward the living room. “I want you by the fire.”

He could have said, I want you spread eagle in the snow, and I would have happily trotted outside without pants.

I followed him back to the living room and stood awkwardly as he placed the candles on the coffee table, then added another log to the fire. I didn’t know what to do with my hands or if I should sit down or jump him as soon as he finished stoking the fire.

He took me by the hand and led me back to the couch. But he didn’t settle back on its deep overstuffed cushions. He sank to the floor in front of it and pulled me down to straddle his lap. He bent his knees behind me, and I slid down his hard thighs until his iron-hard shaft notched between my legs.

He let out a guttural moan that had my toes curling in wicked delight.

Our mouths were so close we were breathing the same air.

“Tell me you want this, Brooke.”

“Yes. Please,” I begged.

“Thank fucking God.”

He took my mouth again and gripped my hips, dragging me over his erection.

Up and down. Back and forth until I was panting for more.

A realization hit me. “Shit. Wait!”

He lifted his head, concern written on his gorgeous face. “You okay?”

I reached past him, the change in angle inciting more torture between my legs. Grabbing my phone, I stabbed at the Record button and turned it off.

“Now, I’m okay.”

His grin was downright lethal as he hooked his fingers in the neckline of my tank top and pulled down. I had just enough time to shrug out of my sweater before his mouth fastened onto my nipple. His arms, tattooed monuments to a wild life, wrapped around me as his beard abraded my breast.

Even as he sucked and licked, as he bucked his hips, I noticed that he was careful with me. Avoiding the bruising, holding me still.

“You don’t have to be gentle,” I murmured against the top of his head as my empty core spasmed with need.

“Babe, I don’t want to hurt you.”

“If this is our one night together, I don’t want to waste it being careful.” To emphasize my point, I dragged down the waistband of his sweatpants.

Of course the man went commando.

A moan escaped my throat as his erection sprang free. It was proud and thick enough, long enough to guarantee I’d be sore tomorrow. I couldn’t wait.

I gripped him at the base, wrapping my fingers around the shaft.

He nudged my chin up, and I met his gaze.

“Been dying to watch you like this,” he confessed. “Two weeks I’ve been watching, wanting. Now I get to see you up close.”

I blew out a breath, my grip tightening on his impressive cock.

Vonn wanted to see me.

The man I’d dreamed about since my twenties was seeing me. Not Addison and Shane’s mom. Not Ryan’s ex-wife. Not the woman handing over change at the sports boosters concession stand.


“It’s been a little longer for me,” I confessed. “A few decades. Sure hope you live up to the hype.”

He responded with a chuckle and a stinging slap to my behind. “Funny, sweetheart. Very funny.”

Then neither of us was laughing. His hand covered mine on his erection, and he gave a few quick, savage pumps. My fingers slicked against the smooth flesh as a thick drop of moisture pearled at the tip.

My heart rate was rocketing. We weren’t even officially naked yet and I could barely catch my breath.

“We’ve got all night, sweetheart. But this first time’s gonna be fast and hard,” he warned. “We’ll circle back to foreplay after.”

We took turns stripping each other of our clothing before resuming our position. Vonn produced a condom and rolled it down his swollen length, gritting his teeth at the sensation. Then he gripped me by the hips and lowered me until the broad head of his penis was just parting my opening.

I was slick with need. Aching to be taken. I shifted and hissed out a breath as the first two inches breached me.

“Damn it, baby,” he whispered. “Fuck.” His fingers tightened their grip on my hips, and he yanked me the rest of the way down as he gave one vicious upthrust.

The intensity of his invasion made me dizzy. Stretched. Full. Overwhelmed. The pleasure laced with just a sliver of pain from his size. I was reclining against his thighs, my knees pressing into his shoulders.

It was beautiful.

We were beautiful.

Moving together. Working together. Partners worshiping each other. Vonn’s cool blue eyes burned with a fire and never left me.

“So fucking beautiful, Brooke,” he whispered.

Bringing my hands to his shoulders, I shifted forward, wincing at the change in angle that granted him an even deeper access.

“So are you,” I whispered. My teeth grazed his neck as my hips rolled against him.

He wrapped his arms around me and held on tight. Thrusting into me fast and hard. The sounds of our flesh sliding and slapping a sinful new soundtrack to the winter night.

I felt it building, felt the first flutters of my inner walls.

“Christ. That’s right, baby. I can feel you getting ready to let go,” he groaned against me and then his teeth sank into my shoulder. “Show me how hard my dick makes you come.”

The bite coupled with the demand left me no choice but to do as he ordered.

One second, I was Brooke Zimmerman, middle-aged empty nester. The next, I was a sex goddess hurtling into an orgasm so violent I worried I might die.

My vision grayed as the waves of pleasure pounded me mercilessly. I felt my inner walls clamp down hard on his straining erection as my thighs quivered and my head spun.


He was turning me inside out. Tearing me apart and reassembling me into something new.

His triumphant shout rang in my ears as he thrust once more into my still convulsing core. I felt the devastating pulse of his orgasm as he emptied himself inside me.

Chapter Nine

“Best Christmas ever,” I whispered.

“Damn right,” Vonn agreed.

It was officially Christmas morning. The dark hours of it anyway. The power had come back on at some point, and we were tangled up together in my bed. Fingers trailing over new skin, lips exploring uncharted territory. We’d put a more than respectable dent into the box of condoms Addison had hilariously given me along with a lecture on safe sex when I’d started dating again.

Vonn’s body was warm and hard, full of unexpected pleasures.

His fingers brushed my tattoo, a musical note on the inside of my right hip.

I felt…wonderful. Lit up from the inside. Loose and warm and ridiculously happy.

He threaded his fingers through my hair, separating the strands and letting them fall. “Why didn’t you ask about him?” His voice was a rumble in his chest against my ear.



I shifted to look at him. Tommy Kwik had been the original front man for Sonic Arcade. A punk icon whose tragic death had rocked fans. Vonn and Tommy hadn’t just founded Sonic Arcade, they’d been best friends.

Vonn had driven Tommy to his last stint in rehab. He’d been best man in all three of the lead singer’s weddings. They’d written all of the band’s songs together.

And by all accounts, it had been Vonn to find his best friend’s body in a hotel room in Miami after Tommy had overdosed two years ago.

He’d never once discussed it publicly. Never once talked about what had happened that night. Which had led a rabid public to devour and manufacture a steady diet of rumors and half-truths. The desire to know exactly what had happened to the beloved singer still gripped the music industry.

I remembered the footage of a grieving Vonn leaving Tommy’s funeral. The flashes from cameras, the shouted questions. A disrespectful trespass into territory where none of them had belonged.

I hadn’t asked him. Not because I didn’t want to know. I, like the rest of the public, was driven mad by the unanswered questions. But I didn’t want him to tell me. I didn’t want to make the call whether to keep the secret or to share it with the world.

Hell, I’d already compromised my integrity by having four orgasms with the man. But this seemed even further over the line.

“It’s too personal,” I said.

“I’ve never talked about it.”

“To anyone?”

He rocked his head back and forth on the pillow. “No one.”

We were silent for long minutes. Betty snored indelicately from her dog bed in the corner. A mix of snow and sleet hissed against the windows. His fingers trailed up and down my arm like he was playing chords.

“Been keeping it inside long enough. Might be nice to know that someone else out there in the world is keeping it with me.”

“Vonn, it doesn’t have to be me.”

“You’ve got all my other secrets.”

“I’m writing a story. If this is something you don’t want out there in the world, you need to at least tell me it’s off the record.”

“He’d been clean for nineteen months. Longest stretch yet. Tommy was a partier. Always had been. He loved the stage, the spotlight. When he was offstage, he was constantly chasing that feeling. We all dabbled off and on in the early years. But the rest of us learned our lessons. We got over it. Tommy never did. He couldn’t stand being alone. If he had a day off from touring or interviews, he’d throw a party or show up at some hotspot and make news.”

As Vonn talked, his hands continued to stroke my flesh. As if touching me made the words come easier.

“He thought he was the life of the party. But for us, he was becoming a liability. He didn’t show for practices. He was late for shows. There were a few times when he could barely stand on stage. Every time we shipped him back to rehab. And every time he tried. He fucking tried. But he couldn’t stand being sober and alone.

“We told him it was his last shot. He had one more chance to get clean, or he was out. He was my best friend, but I couldn’t even look at him anymore. So we sent him back to rehab. And this time it looked like it stuck. Long enough that I started letting my guard down. We were writing songs again. Touring. Things were good. It took me a while before I started to notice the little things. The fidgeting. The too-loud laugh. The showing up late or not at all.

“We had a show in Atlanta, and it was fucking clear as day he was using again. We put it up to a vote on the tour bus that night. He was out. Tommy begged me to change my mind, to change everyone else’s mind. But he’d blown his last chance. I told him that. I couldn’t stand by and watch him kill himself slowly.”

I sucked in a sharp breath.

“We got to Miami and crashed for the night. I woke up early feeling like something was wrong. I went to Tommy’s room and let myself in.”

I clung to Vonn, trying to put myself between him and the memory.

“He was still alive. High as fuck. Pills and coke on the coffee table right in front of him. ‘I started a new song, Vonn. We can finish it together.’ He couldn’t even hold his head up, and I knew something was wrong. So fucking wrong. I called the doctor, then sat on the floor with Tommy.

“He kept sayin’ he was sorry. So fucking sorry. And I just held on to him. I wrapped my arms around him and held on tight like it was gonna keep him with me.”

Vonn’s voice was tight with emotion. It felt like a knife in my chest. “I loved him like a brother.”

Hot tears escaped from my eyes, slipping down my cheek to slide against his chest.

“Told him he was going to be okay. That we were gonna be okay. He told me it wasn’t my fault and that he wanted me to finish the song. Our last song. He was reciting lyrics one second and gone the next. His heart stopped. On Christmas Eve.”

“I’m so sorry, Vonn.” Words felt meaningless when stacked against his palpable pain.

He sighed, his breath ruffling my hair. “It was always going to end this way. That was the first line of the song.” His fingers trailed up and down my arm like he was playing chords. “There’s no new music without him. I’m no good with words. He was the lyrics. I was the music. But there aren’t any more songs without him.”

“That’s why this is your farewell tour?”

“Yeah.” He was silent for a while, threading his fingers through my hair over and over again. “Not sure who I am without the band. Not even sure how to find out. But seeing what you’re doing…maybe it gives me hope that I can become someone besides a bass-playing punk rocker.”

We were from opposite worlds facing the same existential crisis.

“You probably don’t have a minivan to sell. But if you did, you’d be surprised at how liberating it feels,” I ventured.

His laugh was music to my ears.

“I’m so sorry, Vonn.”

“I know, baby. I am too.”

“I didn’t know Tommy. But I bet he’d be proud of how you’re mentoring his son. Garrett really looks up to you. The rest of the band too. But you especially.” It was the truth. Vonn was patient with the boy who was barely a man, guiding him through the pitfalls of money and fame.

Vonn pulled me down so my back was flush with his front. He nuzzled into my neck. “Thank you, Brooke.” 

Chapter Ten

“Morning.” Vonn’s rough voice was even more jagged when it was laced with sleep.

I stretched luxuriously in his warm, solid arms. “Mmm, morning. What time is it?”

“Early. Go back to sleep,” he said, slipping away from me.

“Mmmph.” He gave me a pat on the butt, pulled the covers up around me, and left the room. I heard Betty jingling after him. I’d get up in a minute to feed her, I decided. Just one more minute snuggled up between sheets that smelled like Vonn.

One minute turned into another REM cycle. When I woke again, the sun was unnaturally bright outside, reflecting off the blanket of white.

Betty was curled up next to me, her tail thumping rhythmically on the duvet.

I gave her ears a ruffle and rolled over to bury my face into the pillow as my brain slowly came back online.

Christmas morning.

The concert.

Vonn Barlowe.

Last night.

I launched myself into a seated position and peered around the room. No underwear or socks or pants that didn’t belong here. No watch or phone or condom wrappers. No evidence that I’d spent the night sharing secrets and having wild sex with the punk rock god.

Had I dreamed the entire thing? I flopped back against my pillow. Was I imagining his scent on my sheets? The delicious soreness between my legs?

Another smell caught my attention. Coffee.

My phone buzzed on the nightstand, and I reached for it.

Michelle: Okay. I know I hit the eggnog pretty hard last night. But am I hallucinating or is there a sexy silver fox shoveling your driveway????

I bolted out of bed and whipped the curtain back from the window.

There in the midst of an official winter wonderland was Vonn in jeans, sunglasses, and a Henley with the sleeves pushed up, shoveling my driveway.

“Holy shit,” I whispered. It really had happened. I’d spent the most intimate night of my life with the man of my dreams.

I raced to the bathroom and quickly executed my routine, spending a few precious minutes on mascara, tinted lip gloss, and making my messy bun just right. I dressed at top speed while my mind raced through the events of the night before. Ending with Vonn’s confession about Tommy.

The scales weren’t balanced. He’d shared something so intimate with me that I felt like I still owed him.

Deciding not to overthink it, I grabbed the moleskin journal out of my nightstand drawer. I flipped it open to a page.


I was meant for more than this

Too much for one life to hold

Release the guilt and pain

For not being what they wanted

Feeling a little queasy reading my own words on the page, I closed the notebook, and I headed downstairs.

My side ached. My forehead head was sore. But my mood outweighed my physical condition. I felt buoyant.

In the kitchen I poured myself a mug of coffee, noting that there was already a path shoveled from the back door to the barn. Shaking my head, I went to the front door. Betty dashed out when I opened it and raced to Vonn’s side. She gave a happy bark which he returned with a shovel of powdery snow that had her jumping in the air in delight.

He must have sensed me because he planted the shovel in the snow and turned to face me. “Morning, gorgeous.”

My insides turned to quivering mush.

“Morning. I see you didn’t miss your morning workout.”

He grinned and started toward me. That was I noticed two things: Michelle was plastered against her living room window, staring at us and Vonn’s SUV had been cleaned off.

“You have to go,” I guessed as he mounted the steps. Disappointment settled over me like a wet blanket.

Vonn took the mug from my hand, set it down, then dragged me in for a long, hard kiss.

His face and lips were cold from the winter air. But the rest of his body pumped off heat that had me snuggling into him.

When he pulled back, he ran a thumb across my cheek. “Runway will be clear in about half an hour,” he said.

A Christmas anti-miracle. Crap.

“I understand,” I said.

“Still got time for a cup of coffee, if you’re willing to share,” he said.

“Since you made it I think I can spare a cup.”

He nudged me back inside and whistled for Betty. My dog dragged her face out of the snow and trotted to the door.

“You pour,” I suggested on our way back to the kitchen. “I’ll feed Whinnie. She gets cranky if I don’t follow her schedule.”

“Already done,” he said.

I stopped on the linoleum. “What? How?”

He nodded toward Addy’s binder on the counter. “Your girl’s instruction manual.”

“Wow,” I whispered.

He flashed me his trademark smirk as he thumbed open the bottle of Tylenol. “Sore today?”

“In a variety of places for a variety of reasons,” I admitted with a grin.

He passed me two tablets, then poured himself a cup of coffee.

We were facing each other on opposite sides of the counter. I reached over and grasped his arm. “Vonn, thank you for last night and this morning. I just… Thank you.”

He leaned down on his elbows, bringing himself closer to me. “Thank you.”

“I’m not writing the story,” I told him, the words coming out in a rush. My editor would shit a brick. Which meant not only would I not be getting the staff writer job, I also wouldn’t be getting any more freelance assignments. But what had happened between me and Vonn was bigger, more significant than a job.

He cocked his head. “Why not?”

“It’s not right. Sharing with the world what you shared with me?” I shook my head.

“I wouldn’t ask you to give up your dream for me,” he said quietly.

“To be honest, after looking at it from your perspective, I don’t think I’d be happy as a journalist. I love music. Not prying into people’s tragedies.”

Vonn’s confidence in me meant more than any job or any byline.

I’d find another way, another job.

He reached out and cupped my face in his hand. “You’re a hell of a girl, Brooke.”

“And you’re one sexy Santa.”

“I want you to think about me,” he said firmly.

As if I had a choice.

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” I assured him.

“I want you to remember that there’s someone out there who knows your secrets and has your back.”

This was one hell of a one-night stand. An abbreviated romance that I knew I would look back on fondly for the rest of my life.

“There’s actually one more secret.” I pulled the journal out of my pocket and slid it across the counter to him. “Don’t open it now, or I’ll die of embarrassment.”

His big hand covered mine on the notebook. “What’s inside?”

I wet my lips. “I write…poems. I have for years. Just little stanzas. Silly records of my life. They’re laughably terrible,” I warned. “I’ve never shown anyone. Ever.”

“And you’re trusting me with them?”

“I’m trusting you with everything.”

I really had. I’d given him every piece of me, and he hadn’t thrown them back in my face or laughed or judged.

He blew out a breath. “I wish I didn’t have to get on a fucking plane.”

“Me too.” But what was alternative? Me leaving my family and friends to move to LA until our relationship inevitably ran its course? Him giving up his life on the West Coast and moving to Hershey, Pennsylvania, and doing what? Making chocolate?

We didn’t make sense.

The clock on the microwave caught my eye. “You’d better go,” I said.

He swore under his breath.

“This isn’t goodbye, Brooke,” he insisted.

But that’s exactly what it was.

“Let’s not pretend this is something it isn’t. We had a night. A great night. A night that will ruin all other Christmas Eves forever.”

He didn’t laugh like I wanted him to.

I squeezed his hand. “I’ll never forget last night for the rest of my life. And I want you to know that no matter what you decide to do with your retirement, I’ll be here cheering for you. You deserve to be happy, Vonn. Tommy would want you to find your way there.”

He said nothing for a beat, then let out a long sigh. “Never forget you, gorgeous.”

Then he fisted his hand in my shirt, yanked me toward him, and kissed me goodbye.

Chapter Eleven

Fifteen minutes after I waved Vonn off from my driveway and dried my tears, Betty bolted for the door. The signal that someone was here.

I threw the blanket off my lap and vaulted off the couch. I was halfway to the door, heart singing, when it opened and in tumbled my kids.

Disappointment crashed over me like a wave at the beach.

Dutifully, I shoved it aside, reminding myself that it was Christmas morning and two humans that I had birthed had chosen to surprise me rather than spend a leisurely morning with their father and stepmom.

“What are you two doing here?” I demanded, hands on hips, trying to remember how to look like a mother and not a wanton groupie with no regrets.

Addy’s cheeks were pink. She was dressed like she was ready for an Instagram photoshoot, wearing a vest, leggings, and one of those wool hats with the puffball on top. Her dark hair hung to her shoulders in a styled loose wave. Shane was still in his pajama pants and an ancient Pittsburgh Steelers sweatshirt. He looked half asleep with his blondish-brown hair standing up at adorably odd angles.

“You didn’t think we were going to let you spend Christmas morning alone, did you?” Addy said bossily. She got that from me.

Shane abruptly ended his full body rubdown of the delighted dog and hugged me. “Addy’s worried you have a concussion, and I missed your peanut butter-chocolate chip pancakes,” he whispered.

I felt a warm glow in my chest buoyed by the rush of relief that my kids hadn’t decided to “surprise” me earlier.

“I’m fine, guys,” I promised.

“I bet you’re better than fine. And I’ll forgive you for not telling me all about it last night if you spill it now,” Addy said, taking her turn to hug me.

“Spill what?” I hedged like a guilty teenager.

The kids shared a can you believe Mom look.

“She’s talking about Vonn Barlowe, Mom,” Shane said.


I’d texted Michelle back, swearing her to secrecy with a promise to tell her everything—well, not everything—the following day. But no one else actually knew Vonn had spent the night.

“What about him?” I asked, trying to sound innocent. My children and I had someone traded places. Now it was me worried about evidence of misdeeds like condom wrappers.

“It’s all over Twitter,” Addy said, shoving her phone in my face.

It was a grainy video from the concert last night.

“I can’t believe Vonn freaking Barlowe jumped offstage, punched two guys in the face, and carried my mom backstage,” Shane said. He managed to sound only moderately ill when he said the part about me being his mother.

I snatched the phone from my daughter and pushed Play. There I was, at the bottom of the screen getting snatched into the mosh pit. What I hadn’t seen in real life, being distracted by trying not to get trampled to death, was Vonn shrugging off his guitar and vaulting off the stage after me.

The crowd went wild with him in their midst, wading toward me with security on his heels.

The camera panned over just in time to see Vonn’s fist connect with Drunk Guy #1. The guy went down hard. It was hard to tell what happened next, but I saw tattooed arm pull back and fly straight. Then there I was, cradled in Vonn’s arms as security closed around us.

I decided I was going to watch this video every day for the rest of my life.

“Where the hell was Mark?” Shane demanded. “I thought you were going with him. We’d never have let you go alone.”

“He had a work emergency,” I said lamely.

“I never liked that guy,” Addy told us over her shoulder as she marched into the kitchen.

The doorbell rang, mercifully saving me from having to answer. “I’d better get that.”

“Don’t think this is getting you out of telling us what happened backstage, young lady,” Addy called.

“It’s probably Dad and Val,” Shane said. “They wanted to make sure you were okay. They were a couple of minutes behind us.”

Christmas morning with my ex and his new—admittedly perfect—wife? I guessed the holiday couldn’t get much weirder than it already was.

I escaped to the front door and yanked it open.

Instead of Ryan and Val, I came face-to-face with a huge floral arrangement.


“Brooke Aucker?” the person behind the flowers said. I could just make out a florist van in my driveway behind Shane’s ancient Ford Escape.

“That’s me.” Or at least it had been me before I’d gotten married and taken Ryan’s name.

“Here you go. Merry Christmas.” The delivery man shifted the arrangement into my arms.

“You’re delivering on Christmas?” I said stupidly.

He grinned, then winked. “Honey, for a thousand-dollar delivery bonus I got no problem opening the shop for an hour.”

“Thanks,” I stuttered.

He tossed me a little salute and whistled his way back to his van.

“Who are those from?” my son demanded when I walked into the kitchen.

“Are those from Mark?” Addy asked. I could tell by her tone that she was reassessing her opinion of the man. My daughter was easily swayed by expensive presents.

I snatched the card away before either of them could get to it.


Thanks for last night, gorgeous. I’ll be thinking about you. Always.


My cheeks flushed and my stomach got that warm, tickly feeling in it.

“Look at her face,” my daughter hissed.

“What’s wrong with her face?” Shane wanted to know.

“She’s flushed.” Addy frowned. “Do you have a fever? Do head wounds cause fevers?”

“I’m fine,” I insisted, pocketing the card.

The doorbell rang again.

I opened the door to find my ex-husband and his wife, holding their gorgeous one-year-old. The three of them were dressed in matching Christmas pajamas that Ryan looked less than thrilled about.

I bit my lip to keep from laughing. Ryan was not the sentimental let’s pose for a picture type. Which was ironic since he’d ended up marrying a woman who worked as a freelance social media manager and therefore documented every aspect of their life online.

“Merry Christmas,” I greeted them.

“Are you okay?” Ryan asked, stepping in and giving me a kiss on the cheek.

It was weird having him ring the bell at a home he’d spent two decades in mowing the lawn and grilling hamburgers. But that was what life was, weird change.

“I’m fine,” I assured him.

“We thought we’d bring Christmas morning to you,” Valerie said chipperly, handing baby Mathilda over to Ryan.

“I’ll get started on the pancakes,” he volunteered.

Valerie gave me one of her patented back rubbing hugs and then pulled away. “I gotta say, for someone who almost got trampled at a concert, you look fantastic.”

“Uh, yeah. I slept really well last night,” I fibbed.

Valerie glanced over my shoulder, then whispered, “That’s not the face of a good night of sleep. That’s the face of a good night of no sleep.”

She slipped past me, calling greetings to Betty and the kids.

I was just closing the door when another body appeared on the threshold.

“Mark?” I couldn’t hide my surprise.

He had his hands in his pockets and was looking sheepish. “Hey, sorry about last night. The call went long, and I just forgot to get back to you. I saw the news this morning about the concert and recognized you in the video. Are you okay?”

Don’t waste your time with someone too dumb or too blind to see how special you are. Vonn’s words echoed in my head.

I joined Mark on the porch and closed the door on the happy Christmas chaos behind me.

“Actually, we should talk.”

Chapter Twelve

Four Weeks Later

“Have I mentioned that I’m thrilled you’re putting this place on the market,” Michelle said as she popped open the carton of pad thai.

We were in my kitchen after compiling the “Fix Before Listing” punch list.

After my night with Vonn, I’d shifted gears and temporarily tabled my job search in favor of focusing on my living situation. It hadn’t been a difficult choice, seeing as my editor had been really, really pissed that I’d wasted two weeks on tour and come home with nothing. But it had been the right call. Guarding Vonn’s secrets felt better than distributing them to a voracious public. Besides, I’d lost the ability to be objective when it came to a certain tattooed silver fox.

“It’s time,” I agreed, scooping my curry into a bowl.

I was casually shopping for a condo or a townhouse. Someplace dog-friendly that I could make all mine without the crushing weight of maintenance. I didn’t want to face another summer of endless mowing and power washing. I wanted to spend my time the way I decided, not the way an aging farmhouse dictated.

“How did the kids take it?” she asked as we headed into the living room where we’d left our wine glasses.

I’d finally sat the kids down and explained to them why it was time for me to move on…and why it was up to them to find new homes for their childhood memorabilia. Whinnie was going to be boarded on a horse farm just outside of town where she would be part of group riding lessons. Shane’s fifteen storage bins of action figures and toys were in the process of moving to the crawlspace over his father’s garage.

“They were shocked at first. But I think they’re coming around to the idea that I have an entire life outside of being their mother.”

“I’ll say,” Michelle said with a wicked smile. She sank down on the end of the couch where just weeks before Vonn had sat and somehow changed my life. “Have you heard from him?”

I shook my head. “I didn’t expect to. It’s not like we exchanged phone numbers or anything.” No, my night with the sexy, tattooed rocker had been just that. One night. One night that I’d never forget. Vonn had gone on to finish the West Coast portion of the band’s farewell tour, and I had returned to my quest to Become.

Though, I had to admit, there was something comforting and romantic about the idea of a man out there in the world safeguarding my secrets.

Some days I could almost feel him cheering me on.

“I just think that after a night like that and a floral arrangement delivered on Christmas morning he’d have made an effort to keep in touch. Even just to booty-call you. You’re definitely worth a booty call.”

“You’re such a romantic,” I teased.

Michelle and her husband had been married for twenty-three years. Long enough that neither one of them cared if one of them forgot their anniversary, but not so long that they were no longer interested in regular sex.

But I’d known the score when I’d kissed Vonn. It was for one night only.

Of course, that didn’t mean I hadn’t been Googling him daily, soaking up any new stories or pictures.

Vonn Barlowe announces retirement at last concert

Vonn Barlowe plans to mentor young musicians with new production company

“Brunch daddy” Vonn Barlowe steps out with daughter

Sonic Arcade had played their last concert the previous week. A sold-out show in LA Not a bad way to say goodbye.

“You are freaking awesome, you know?” Michelle pressed. “It’s easy to forget who you are outside of family life. But you’re one of my favorite people because you’re so damn amazing.”

“You’re just saying that because you’re my listing agent.”

“Speaking of real estate,” Michelle said. “I sold it.”

“Sold what?”

“The Milton Estate. The deal closed yesterday. Finally!”

“You’re kidding? Congratulations!” I slapped the back of the couch with enthusiasm. The Milton Estate had been on Michelle’s portfolio for two long years. It was a gorgeous property, but there was a very small pool of buyers who could both afford it and wanted to live in our small town.

“I mean, it’s no one-night stand with a rock star. But I thought I was going to be stuck with that place forever. So, I’m pretty happy.” She winked.

“One one-night stand and you never hear the end of it,” I said airily. “This calls for more wine.”

“I won’t argue with that,” my friend said.

I topped off our glasses and pulled my feet up under me. “So who’s the lucky buyer?”

“Some corporation,” she said around a mouthful of Thai food. “Becoming, LLC.”

I choked on my wine.

“You okay?” Michelle asked, slapping me on the back.

“Fine,” I rasped. “Totally fine. Did you say Becoming?”

“Yeah. It’s a holding company for who knows what. Not that it matters. It could be a serial killer consortium and I’d still happily collect my commission.”

My head was spinning.

I stood up and stumbled to the back door to stare across the pasture.

“I drove by on my way home from the grocery store, and there was a furniture truck out front,” Michelle called after me.

It had to be a coincidence. Right?

What were the odds that—

My inner pandemonium was cut off by the doorbell.

I spilled my wine in my mad dash to the front door.

“You expecting Publishers Clearing House or something?” Michelle wondered from the living room.

I yanked open the door, ready to throw myself into the arms of…a stranger with an official looking envelope.

“Can I help you?” I asked, trying to smother my disappointment.

“Ms. Aucker?”

My heart was thumping in my head, chest, and feet. “Yes.”

He held out the envelope. “For you.”

“Um, thanks?”

I closed the door and returned to the living room tearing open the envelope like a toddler on Christmas.

“What’s that?” Michelle asked, a spring roll clutched between her teeth like a cigar.

I frowned. “It looks like legal papers.”

She wiped her hands on her jeans. “Gimmie.”

I handed them over and fought the urge to run out the back door to check out my new neighbor.

“Definitely legal,” Michelle reported. “Looks like a contract. Huh. That’s weird.”

“What’s weird?”

“Are you a songwriter?”

“Uh, no,” I said with a nervous laugh.

“Well according to this, Becoming Records wants to pay you for a song you cowrote…with Vonn Barlowe and Tommy Kwik?” Her screech had Betty looking a little nervous.

“Holy shit,” I whispered.

“Hey, there’s a note in here. It says, ‘Howdy, neighbor. Thanks for the words. Dinner at my place?’ And it’s signed with an X. No wait. That’s a V. Definitely a V.”

I snatched the note out of Michelle’s hand and read it.

“Is this real? Is this actually happening?” Michelle demanded. Betty was now tap dancing between us trying to figure out what we were so excited about.

“I’ll be back,” I said. In five seconds I had pulled on my back-door boots and was out the door running, tears on my cheeks and a smile so wide it hurt my face.

There on the far side of the pasture stood a lone figure leaning against the fence. Even from that distance, even through the tears, I could just make out the silvery beard.

Bonus Epilogue

Five Years Later…

I slid the headphones off with a grin and did a celebratory spin in the chair. Stopping to stare out the window at the lazy flakes, I took a minute to just bask.

It was Christmas Eve, which meant our backyard studio was empty. We didn’t work on holidays. Especially not holidays that involved our home being invaded by several generations of family. But when I saw the email saying the demo was uploaded, I decided to take just a few minutes to sneak outside and get my ears on it.

The song was good. And by the time we were done with it, it would be great.

Satisfied, I made quick work out of shutting down the equipment before shrugging into my coat and stepping into the backyard.

The Milton Estate had always had a reputation for quiet elegance. But thanks to my husband and our motley crew of guests, the place was a lot less quiet and a little more rowdy.

My boots crunched into the thick crust of snow as I headed toward the main house. My breath appeared in silvery clouds. The graceful gray stone and tall windows were softened and warmed by Christmas lights. Every year since the first, we had a line of cars parked in front of the house to take in the over-the-top holiday splendor. The lights and decorations in the front yard were timed to a different Sonic Arcade Christmas song every year and drew quite the crowd.

The backyard, however, was just for us. Strings of colored lights connected the house and studio. Every inch of the tall, fat evergreen in the center of the yard was doused in more lights, its glow creating the perfect view for all the rooms that overlooked the backyard.

I glanced over my shoulder across the pasture, into the past.

There was a new family living in my old house. Two moms and their twin sons. They had four cats and a huge garden which produced an impressive amount of cucumbers and peppers that they generously shared.

My Christmases with Vonn had begun there. In a snowstorm on that unforgettable Christmas Eve. Five years and a few hundred yards separated us from that beginning. Yet it felt like a lifetime. Life was different. I was different. Vonn was different.

But here it was, Christmas Eve and snowing again. Another white Christmas. It was part of the magic of Vonn Barlowe, I supposed.

With a grin, I stuffed my hands into my pockets and headed toward Vonn’s office door on the far side of the terrace as fat flakes clung to my eyelashes.

I let myself in the French doors and found Vonn’s office empty. It was a gorgeous room. Walls paneled in rich, dark wood. Luxurious carpet. Tall bookshelves. The art on the walls colorful and wild. Garrett Kwik’s gold record was proudly displayed alongside Sonic Arcade memorabilia. His computer was shut down, which meant my husband was officially done with work for the next forty-eight hours.

I headed into the hallway and poked my head into the living room. It was a room dreams were made of. The tall, cathedral ceiling and massive stone fireplace made it the perfect space for a twelve-foot Christmas tree. While we had plenty of professional help with most the decorating, the tree was all us.

Stockings, too many of them to hang on the mantel, were propped against piles of presents that took up the entire wall of windows. Our family had grown in the past five years. More evidence of this could be found stuffed onto every shelf of the dramatic built-ins that flanked the fireplace.

There were pictures. So many pictures. Vonn with his daughter, Laney, and her two kids. Shane’s little boy, who would be two in January even though I kept telling him to stop growing up. Addy’s picture-perfect wedding last spring. Garrett Kwik and Vonn hugging it out backstage at an awards show.

But what made me smile was the fact that it wasn’t just a shrine to the mementos of others. My life was up there too. Our wedding day. Christmas Eve four years ago right here in this house. Vonn looking impossibly sexy, me looking deliriously happy. The party had lasted until dawn.

We’d honeymooned in Italy. There were photos of that and other trips as well as souvenirs we’d picked up around the world. The two of us on red carpets, in hammocks, posing in the studio for a magazine spread.

It had taken nearly two years for my son to stop calling his stepdad “Vonn Barlowe.” Addy had adapted a little quicker. She adored her stepsister Laney. I secretly thought my ex Ryan still felt a little jealous. But I chalked it up to the fact that neither he or Valerie had had a full night’s sleep in the past few years. “One more kid” had turned into twins. Twins who were adorable, delightful holy terrors.

Every time they left our house, Vonn and I high-fived over our life choices. And then we had loud, dirty sex usually in the kitchen or dining room just because we could.

My gaze caught on a gilded gramophone.

The burst of pride was different than what I’d felt when my ex and I had walked Addy down the aisle or the first time I’d seen Shane hold his little boy. It was a different kind of pride I felt when I paused long enough to appreciate the presence of three Grammys tucked between mementos of a life well-lived.

One was Vonn’s.

One belonged to us for the song we cowrote together with Tommy’s lyrics.

And one was just mine.

Vonn still wrote occasionally, but he focused more on mentoring through his record company now. I wrote songs whenever the mood struck. The demo I’d just listened to was for a young Black country artist who was so close to her big break, I could taste it.

It turned out that in this life there was always something to look forward to.

Every morning when I thought I couldn’t wake up happier than the day before, I proved myself wrong. Becoming was hard work. But I counted my lucky stars every day that my punk rocker had carried me off in his arms.

I caught hints of garlic and onion and followed my nose into the kitchen. A punk Christmas song played on the kitchen speakers, managing to be both energetic and nostalgic. There was always music in our house. Something else I appreciated my husband for.

And there he was. My happily ever after. The man who taught me to play piano, to snorkel, to build a catchy bridge, and to honor the power of shared secrets.

Vonn was at the stove in sweatpants and a T-shirt, scraping chicken from a cutting board into a huge, simmering pot. Betty stretched on the floor at his feet before wandering over to me, tail enthusiastically wagging. She was an old lady dog now, a little slower in the yard, a little whiter in the face. But she still loved like a puppy.

I gave her a kiss on the head.

“Hey, gorgeous,” Vonn said, looking up.

Somehow the familiarity of those blue eyes had never managed to lessen my reaction to them. The tattooed bad boy working in the kitchen still took my breath away.

“Hey,” I said, sidling up to him and peering into the pot.

“Figured I’d make a big ass batch of soup since we’ll have a full house.”

The guest rooms were all set, each with fresh sheets and towels and their own artificial Christmas trees. The bathrooms were stocked with every toiletry imaginable. The fridge was full of ingredients for tonight’s family feast and tomorrow’s holiday brunch. The presents were wrapped. The walkways shoveled and salted.

And I hadn’t had to do it all myself. Between me, Vonn, and our amazing housekeeper, I’d never been this relaxed before a major family holiday.

I wrapped my arms around his waist and pressed my face into his muscled back. “I love you, Vonn.”

I heard him put the lid on the pot and then he was shifting around, his hands slipping under my arms.

I found myself sitting on the marble of the island, with Vonn between my legs.

“You like the song?” he asked, cupping my jaw and looking into my eyes. His lips quirked. “Yeah, you liked it.”

“It’s good. Really good,” I said, feeling giddy—and only partly from the music.

“A lot to do in the new year,” he said.

“Yeah. But I’m ready to relax and enjoy the chaos of our families.”

“Laney’s flight gets in at five,” he said, glancing at the clock on the wall.

My pulse ticked higher. “Shane and Addy and company will be here around six.”

“Guess we’ve got an hour or so to ourselves before the madness descends,” he teased. His fingers traced the tattoo on the inside of my wrist. The one that said Becoming, written in Vonn’s tight scrawl. He had a matching one in my handwriting on his chest over his heart. “Any ideas on how you want to spend it?”

I locked my ankles behind his back and slid myself to the edge of the counter.

“I’ve got a few.”

Those big, beautiful hands of his traveled up my thighs to my hips where he tugged at my leggings.

My fingers busied themselves in the waistband of his sweatpants.

“Have I told you how much I love it when you wear sweatpants?” I murmured just before his mouth closed over mine.

“Only about a million times or so,” he whispered. “Have I told you how much I fucking love you?”

My grin was rightfully cocky. “Only about a million times or so.”

I kissed my husband like it was the first time just as Sonic Arcade’s version of “White Christmas” came on.

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