Grace Wilson taped up the last of her packing boxes and set it in the corner with the others. She couldn’t believe her life had come to this. She felt like she’d done everything she was supposed to do and yet, here she was, twenty-four years old and being forced to move back in with her parents. She felt like a failure. But after losing her job four months ago, and being unsuccessful in finding a new one, she had to face facts.
She was broke.
Maybe not broke, broke, but her savings was dwindling, and with half the country in the same state as she was, or worse off, finding another job was proving to be impossible. She was one of the lucky ones, really. Her parents had a large home and had graciously offered for her to move home again until she got back on her feet.
This meant moving back home with her siblings. Joy.
Truth be told, she loved her family, but she loved her peace and quiet as well, and her siblings didn’t seem to be interested in leaving the family nest. Her brother, Spencer, was two years younger and still living at home because…well, because he could and her baby sister, Margaret, was in her second year at Washington State University and planning to live at home until she finished school.
“Grace!” Spencer called from the front room. “Ready?”
“No,” she grumbled under her breath.
He appeared at her bedroom door, a grin on his face. “Hey. It’s not the end of the world, you know.”
“I know, Spence.” She smiled. “It’s all first-world, white girl problems. I get it.”
“Just so long as you remember that,” he joked. His chestnut hair fell over his forehead and his hazel eyes sparkled with both mischief and reassurance. He held his hand out. “You dropped your phone.”
Grace took the bane of her existence from him with a groan and shoved the phone into her pocket. “Thanks.”
“You’d be a perfect candidate for a microchip of some kind,” Spencer retorted. “I’m sure the technology to surgically implant a phone isn’t that far off.”
Grace rolled her eyes. “Hey, I’m not the one who insists on me having one of these stupid things. Your father bought it for me.”
“Oh, he’s my father now, hm?” Spencer laughed. “He just wants us safe, but with the number of phones you’ve lost in the last four years, he could probably have hired a bodyguard instead.”
“Oh, you are hi-larious,” she droned as she picked up one of the lighter boxes. “Grab a box, weird one.”
Spencer picked up the box labeled “kitchen” and followed her toward the front door. “Did I tell you I got tickets to the Fallen Crown show on Friday night?”
“Really?” Grace asked. “I thought it was sold out.”
“I managed to get in just under the wire.” He pushed open the door and waited for Grace to precede him to the truck. “Aisha’s coming, and I was gonna ask Maggie, but thought you might wanna go instead.”
“We just saw them.” Grace set her box in the bed of his truck and pushed it to the front.
Three months ago, their parents had surprised them with a trip to the United Kingdom. Their mother had been secretly squirreling money away each month for the last ten years in an effort to pay for the lavish trip. Having never left the United States, the siblings jumped at the chance to see another country, particularly Grace, who needed a distraction from job and boyfriend woes.
Maggie nearly lost her mind when Spencer informed them that he was able to purchase tickets to an exclusive Fallen Crown show in Edinburgh. Grace wasn’t much of a fan, but the Wilson threesome was a team…and Spencer had bought three tickets.
“So?” he challenged.
Grace rolled her eyes. “So, once is good enough for me, and Maggie would absolutely kill you if you didn’t take her.”
“She doesn’t scare me,” Spencer joked as he set his burden into the truck bed, grabbed a roll of twine, and handed Grace an end. “You loved them. Admit it.”
“I’ll admit the band put on a good show,” she said as she tied down her end of rope. “But that doesn’t mean they made me a fan.”
“Oh, really? You seemed like a fan when you spent almost an hour with Sir Maximilian MacMillan.”
“Sir Maximilian MacMillan?”
“Yep. Knighted and everything.”
“Well, in any case,” Grace snorted, “it was twenty minutes, dude. Not an hour.”
At the end of the show in Scotland, Maggie had flirted her way backstage and Grace had been singled out by the Fallen Crown’s lead singer. At first she’d been a little taken aback by his attention, but brushed off her thoughts when security moved them through the line and out the back door. Max probably spent that much time with every woman. He was, after all, a notorious womanizer.
“Well, he seemed to like you,” Spencer said.
“Oh, please. That man likes women, period. I’m no one special.”
“You were attracted to him, admit it.”
“Who wouldn’t be? He’s beautiful.”
“He spent more time with you than anyone, Gracie. Pretty sure he liked you.” Spencer chucked her the roll of twine and she tied off the end and threw it back to him.
“I’m pretty sure he likes anyone with boobs.”
Spencer laughed again. “Well, you weren’t watching him watching you, because you were too busy looking for an escape, but he couldn’t take his eyes off you.”
Grace sighed. “It doesn’t matter if the lead singer of some stupid band spent time with me, you weirdo. He’s a degenerate rock star, and I’m a good girl. Besides that, even if he was remotely interested and available, I’m not looking. Why this sudden need to set me up with someone?”
“I don’t know. You’ve just been kind of sad.” He shrugged. “You could always get back with Trey.”
Grace had broken off her relationship with her boyfriend just after she’d returned from Scotland. Putting distance between the two of them had made her realize they were going nowhere, and she wanted something more than football games and testosterone-filled bar and grill dinners.
“Not gonna happen,” Grace stressed, and then forced a smile. “You can still be friends with him, Spence. He’s a great guy. He’s just not the right guy for me. And I’m fine. I promise. I’m just working some stuff out.”
“Okay. On the Trey subject, though, he was kind of a jerk at the end there, and you know me, sisters before misters,” Spencer quipped.
Grace giggled. “That’s why you’re my favorite brother.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Once Spencer secured the final loop of rope, he dropped the remainder into the truck. “Is there anything in here you don’t want stowed in the basement?”
Grace shook her head. “Nah. It’s all good.”
“Okay. I’ll drop this off and then I’ve got a date.”
“Thanks for all your help.” She hugged him and then wrinkled her nose. “Oh, and make sure you shower before your date, mm-kay? I don’t know how Aisha puts up with you.”
“Get a good whiff, sis.” He raised his arm and leaned into her. “My manliness is a beautiful thing.”
Grace groaned and shoved him away just as Maggie drove up. “Your ‘manliness’ should be considered a deadly weapon.”
“Hi,” Maggie called as she climbed out of her ’90s Honda. Her dark hair, the same color as Grace’s, was cut in a bob just above her shoulders. Even though she had on her oldest pair of jeans and a paint-stained sweatshirt, she still looked like she was stepping out of the pages of a fashion magazine. “Sorry I’m late.”
Grace smiled. “No problem. We just got the last of it loaded. Now we can clean.”
“Yay,” Maggie droned. “The best part.”
“See you guys tomorrow,” Spencer said. “I’ll be out late.”
“How is that different than any other night?” Maggie asked.
Grace shook her head. “Careful, Magpie, he may give you a whiff of his ‘manliness.’”
“Oh, he already did. His smell lingered in the house for several hours this morning.” Maggie shuddered. “You are disgusting, Spence.”
He gave them a mock salute. “And my job is done.”
“Thanks again,” Grace called as Spencer climbed into his truck. “You’re a life saver.”
Spencer waved out the window and took off toward home.
“What’s left to do?” Maggie asked as Grace led her back into the apartment.
“Just a final deep-clean. Kris’ll be here in about fifteen minutes to help, and then I’ll turn the keys into the landlord.”
Kristen Armstrong and Grace had been close friends since meeting at church six years ago. Both were on the worship team and often found themselves paired up. The timing of their friendship had been perfect as Grace’s best friend, Charlotte, had just moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.
Maggie sneezed and pulled a tissue from her pocket. “Ugh.”
“Are you sick?”
“I think something’s starting,” she said. “Been feeling a little run down. But it’s no big deal. I’m too excited about you moving home to let it bug me. This is going to be awesome. You know that, right?”
Grace nodded. Sometimes her sister looked so much younger than twenty. “I think spending more time with you will definitely be awesome.”
Maggie grinned and hugged her. “Good answer.”
* * *
Maximilian MacMillan flopped onto the sofa in his well-appointed Portland, Oregon hotel suite and glared at his brother, Niall. “How hard is it to find one woman in this damned country?”
Niall grinned from his place at the desk and shrugged. “Broc did find her. She just doesn’t live there anymore.”
“He bloody well missed her by one day,” Max snapped. “He should have gotten a forwarding address.”
“Her landlord wouldn’t give it to him.”
Max scowled. “You know, for a man whose name means ‘badger,’ he’s lousy at badgering people.”
“What the hell are you laughing at?”
Niall raised his hands in surrender. “Nothing.”
Max shook his head. “Sorry, Nye.”
“There are other ways to find her, you know,” Niall said.
“I know.” Max sighed and dragged his hands through his hair. “But Pepper insisted I not stalk her. The problem is, at what point does looking for my mate cross over to stalking? You’re the one who seems to have a problem with me using a satellite to track her.”
“Yes, you’re right. I do have a problem with that.” Niall chuckled. “But I think you’ve already crossed the stalking line.”
“I shouldn’t have let her go in Scotland.”
“It’s not like you could have made her stay,” Niall pointed out.
“I could have tried.” Max scowled, knowing Niall was right. “Anyway, I’m open to suggestions, brother.”
“We could hand out raffle tickets to random people at the show on Friday night.”
Max frowned. “Random people?”
“Well, random given that the staff would give them to women who match her description.” Niall shrugged again. “Better yet, draw a picture of her.”
“I’ve already done that,” Max admitted.
“Of course you have.” Niall smiled. “Will you let me see it?”
Max shook his head. His art was something very personal to him, and he rarely shared it.
“Not ‘never,’” Max said in exasperation. “Just not yet. Anyway, I think your idea falls under the stalking definition. Besides, what if she doesn’t come to the show? I’ll be stuck playing nice with a bunch of annoying females.”
Niall’s mouth dropped open. He rose to his feet, opened the blinds, and stared out the window.
“What are you doing?” Max asked.
“Just looking to see if the world’s ending.”
“What are you talking about?”
Niall turned from the window. “I figured the day you didn’t want to do a meet-and-greet with gorgeous women would be the end of the world.”
Max swore as he grabbed a pillow from the sofa and chucked it at his brother. Niall caught it with a laugh.
“Do you know if she’s an empath?” Niall asked.
Max shrugged. “I don’t know anything about her, other than what I found out when we met. But even if she is an empath, I won’t be able to speak with her telepathically until her Ár mökun.”
Niall nodded. “When’s her birthday?”
“Two weeks from today,” Max said in despair.
“So, you have stalked her.”
Max glared at him.
Niall grinned as he crossed his arms. “We could always talk to that reporter.”
“You want to talk to a media shark?” Max sneered as he stood and paced the room.
“She seems nicer than most…and easier to control.”
“They’re all blood-sucking vultures.”
“Just think about it, Max. If you do the interview, you could slip in Grace’s name, offering her…and maybe her siblings…tickets to the show.”
Max continued to pace the floor. His brother had a bloody good idea. Not that he wanted to admit that, but he’d done everything else he could think of, and he just wasn’t willing to start their life off with stalking…as tempting as that might be. According to Pepper, Grace needed to have as much say in this as Max.
“Fine. Set it up,” he said. “Just make sure Kenna understands this isn’t an invitation to anyone else.”
“She gets it, Max,” Niall said. “She’s the best in the business.”
“Bloody hell, the shite’s gonna hit the fan.”
Niall chuckled and dialed their publicist’s room. “Hey, Kenna. You still have the number for that local reporter? Aye. We’ll do the interview. But no one else. Aye.” Niall laughed. “Of course.”
Max had a feeling Kenna was saying something uncomplimentary about him, and was glad Niall was the one calling her. Everyone adored Niall.
“Yeah, tomorrow’s fine. Thanks. ’Bye.” Niall hung up.
“And how’s Kenna today?” Max droned.
“She’s good. But you may want to be nicer to her from now on,” Niall said.
“Why? Because her brother bound the princess?”
“No, but that wouldn’t be a bad reason.”
“You’re forgetting my best friend’s the spare.” Max pulled on his coat. “And your best friend’s been bound by the third in line. Fiona’s fourth, not to mention illegitimate, so she’s all the way at the bottom.”
“You’ve given this some thought, I see.” Niall’s phone buzzed. “Number three,” he said, and answered the call. “Hey, Brodie. No, nothing major. We’re just heading out to dinner.” Niall grinned. “Aye. Of course I can. Alaska’s the last show for a couple of weeks, then D.C., then home. Aye. Just keep me posted. Okay, thanks. ’Bye.”
Max raised an eyebrow. “That was cryptic.”
“Brodie’s planning a secret wedding for Payton,” Niall explained.
“What’s that got to do with the price of fish?”
“Nothing really.” Niall laughed. “Brodie wants me to be there, because he knows Payton will want me there.”
“We don’t do weddings.”
“I know we don’t,” Niall said. “But Payton loved Samantha’s. She enjoys the human custom, so Brodie wants to do this for her.”
Max slipped his wallet into his back pocket. “He’s going to all that trouble?”
“Of course he is. He’d do anything for her,” Niall said.
“Just seems over the top.” Max rolled his eyes. “Ready?”
Niall nodded. “Would now be a good time to point out that you’re doing an interview in order to get the attention of your mate?”
“I plan to find her, bind her, and bring her home where she belongs. Once she’s settled, things will go back to normal.” Max held the door open and motioned Niall out.
His brother let out a guffaw as he left the suite. “Oh, this is going to be bloody brilliant.”
* * *
The next afternoon, Max, Niall, Oliver Bardsley, Fallen Crown’s bass player, and Henry Keys, strangely enough, their keyboardist, all sat in producer’s chairs facing Christine Beach, the pretty blonde reporter from KRTV. Cameras and lights had been strategically placed around Kenna’s suite, and she went over the last minute list of questions with Max and Niall as the band was mic’d up.
Max hated interviews. In all honestly, he’d rather have his teeth pulled, so when Kenna told the rest of the band he’d agreed to an interview, they suspected he was up to something. Which he was. Just not what they thought.
Before Max could dwell on whether or not this was a good idea, the director counted down from three and the camera’s red light popped on.
“Fallen Crown. Welcome. I must say, this is a rare treat,” Christine said. “I understand you’ve only done one interview in the last six years and that was in London. Thank you for taking some time out from your busy tour to meet with me.”
“It’s our pleasure, Christine,” Max said. “Thank you for having us.”
He saw his brother grin at him out of the corner of his eye. In the rare times Fallen Crown had done an interview, Max let Niall or one of the other guys speak. He would sit, silent, sunglasses on, and brood. According to the media, it added to the mystery surrounding the band and led to six-figure offers for an exclusive. “So, how do you like Portland?” She glanced at her notepad and then at Niall. “I understand you’ve never played here before.”
“We’re loving Portland, Christine,” Niall said. “And it’s true, we’ve never been here. The closest we’ve played is Seattle.”
“That’s right. In fact, your last American tour was almost a decade ago. What made you wait so long to come back?”
“We’ve been recording and focusing on shows in Europe,” Niall explained. “We just never made it back.”
“Well, gentlemen, the city’s abuzz with your arrival. What made you choose Portland this time around? I understand you canceled your Seattle show not long ago.”
Niall chuckled and Max forced himself to keep a blank expression on his face.
“We did, Christine,” Niall confirmed. “We decided to spend a little extra time here after meeting a family from Vancouver at our last show.”
“The other Vancouver.” Christine giggled. “But in all seriousness, there are quite a few Washingtonians who claim to be from Portland, you know. But who wouldn’t? We take great pride in our city.”
Max and Niall shared a familiar look which the outside world probably wouldn’t be able to translate. Even Niall, as nice as he was, didn’t like pretension on anyone, and Christine Beach was full of it.
“So,” Christine continued, “you’ve had to add another date to your tour schedule. Friday’s show sold out in three minutes, which is unheard of here. You’re playing the Rose Garden Saturday as well, correct?”
“Aye,” Niall said. “We’re looking forward to it.”
“Any plans to reschedule Seattle?”
“Not at this time,” Max said. “But we would like to take this opportunity to invite Grace, Spencer, and Maggie Wilson to one of the shows this weekend. We’ve got backstage passes for them.”
“So, which one of them made such a huge impression on you?”
Kenna cleared her throat and shook her head at Christine. This question was off-limits.
Christine took a deep breath and then smiled. “Right. So, I understand that you, Max and Niall, were knighted by the queen several years ago…”
Now that he’d let the Portland Metro area know that he wanted Grace to come to the show, Max was confident she wouldn’t be able to resist him. His job was done. He let the guys finish the rest of the interview and then went back to his room for a drink.
* * *
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