Serenading Reagan by Julia Jarrett

 

Chapter 1

Reagan Grant was a total mess. She couldn’t decide which was worse; the fact that she had run away from the one man who could turn her on with nothing more than a look, or that she had disappeared from her best friend’s wedding reception. Not exactly appropriate maid of honor behavior. Either way, she was exhausted, embarrassed, emotional, and worst of all… aroused.

She leaned against the wall of the elevator in her apartment building wearily. What started as a day full of fun and celebration, had turned into a whirlwind of emotional chaos.

Her best friend had married the man of her dreams, earlier today. The ceremony was beautiful, the reception intimate and full of love. Reagan was thrilled for Callie and Jake and couldn’t be happier with how the day had gone. Then, he had kissed her. He, of course, was Chase McCormick. Sexy, broody Chase. The tattooed musician who haunted Reagan’s dreams, was the inspiration for all of her fantasies, and the man Reagan knew had the power to destroy her more than any other man had before. He was everything she dreamed of in a man; he was tall, muscular, mysterious. But Reagan figured there was no way a sexy man like him—who could probably get any woman he wanted—would ever be interested in a curvy, size fourteen woman who loved brownies as much as most women loved shoes.

Still, for just a moment she closed her eyes and let the memory of Chase’s words wash over her. “…Well guess what, Red, I’m attracted to you too. Have been for a while, and that sexy-as-fuck dress you’re wearing has been driving me crazy all night. I can’t stay away from you any longer, and the longer you are in my arms the more of an idiot I feel for keeping my distance all this time.”

When he’d finished that proclamation, he had done the unthinkable. He’d actually leaned down and captured her lips in the best kiss of her life. She could still feel the tingle between her legs from his tongue sweeping into her mouth, and the firm touch of his lips. Of course, Reagan had been so filled with panic from the intensity of their brief kiss and terrified that she would be lost to his seductive spell completely, she had pulled away and ran from his embrace. No way could she risk the mortification she was certain would come if he got his hands on her body. She had quickly gone to find Callie and Jake, lied about having a headache, and disappeared. Thank goodness the reception was almost over by that time, or Callie would never have let her go without a better explanation. Even still, Reagan knew she would have to explain her abrupt departure to Callie and their friend Anna sooner rather than later. Especially since, according to Ryan—Anna’s fiancé and Jake’s business partner—everyone in their group of friends knew Chase and Reagan were attracted to each other.

Now Reagan was finally home and could process the night’s events in peace. The elevator let her off on the fourth floor of her building, and she walked slowly, heels in her hand, toward her door. She decided a hot bath, and one of the leftover brownies from the brownie wedding cake she had constructed for Callie was in order. The two friends had always joked that they did their best thinking under the influence of chocolate.

That plan was thwarted when her neighbor Marvin, who lived across the hall, opened his door, and stepped out. Given the box of recycling in his arms, it was clearly a simple coincidence. Still, it was a coincidence Reagan was not looking forward to. Marvin was nice enough, but he was always asking her on a date, never getting the hint that she wasn’t interested. Reagan wondered how many times she would have to turn him down with a flimsy excuse before he got the message. Sure, it was flattering that he was so interested, but he was so not her type. And tonight, of all nights, she was not in the mood for his awkward attempts at flirting. Not with images of Chase and their kiss flooding her consciousness.

“Oh, um, Reagan, um, hi. You look um, lovely,” Marvin stammered out his words, as usual.

“Thanks, Marvin. It was Callie’s wedding today,” she gestured to her dress, “so, you know, I had to dress up. Anyways, I’m really tired so I’m going to go inside.”

“Oh yeah, of course. Right. Well I ah… Tomorrow, if you weren’t busy, I was thinking we could maybe do something?” Marvin pushed his wire-framed glasses up his nose with his free hand and looked at her earnestly.

“Marvin, that’s sweet but I—”

Reagan was interrupted by the ding of the elevator arriving on their floor. She glanced over to see who it was and felt her heart skip a beat, that traitorous organ. Chase was somehow there, striding down the hallway toward her and Marvin. How does he know where I live? she wondered distractedly, before the real question hit her. What the hell is he doing here?

“Chase? How did you know where I live—no wait. Why are you here?” she asked incredulously. Marvin and his awkward offer of a date faded into the background as she watched the sexy, tattooed man come toward her.

When he got to where she and Marvin stood outside their respective doors, Chase looked between the two of them curiously. A frown flitted across his face when he looked at Marvin. Reagan blinked, coming back to reality with a jolt. Chase was here, at her apartment. And poor Marvin was still standing there, with a confused look on his face.

“We need to talk, Reagan.” Chase’s voice was low and slid across her skin like silk.

“No, we don’t. There’s nothing to talk about,” she replied quickly.

“Bullshit, Red. I’m not going to let you push me away.”

Reagan bristled at the domineering tone to his words. “Back off, Chase, I’m not one of your groupies. I have no idea why you’re here or what you want, but I’m tired and I want to go into my apartment and go to bed.” She turned to Marvin and in a softer tone said, “Marvin, sorry for all of this. I need to go. Have a good night.” She watched as Marvin nodded silently then went back into his apartment. He was so meek and submissive Reagan knew she could never stand to be in a relationship with him. Chase is definitely not submissive… the dangerous thought flew across her mind before she could stop it. Flustered by the rush of arousal she always felt around Chase, Reagan turned back to the man who was leaning against her door frame casually, as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

“I mean it, Chase. I’m going to bed. I don’t know how you found me, or what you want, but I’m done with this madness. That kiss should never have happened, and it won’t happen again.”

Chase dropped his arm to where Reagan’s hand had reached out to unlock her door. His large hand covered hers, infusing it with his heat. She shivered and pulled her hand away.

“Don’t go, Red, please. Just talk to me. That kiss was… Damnit, it was amazing. I’ve wanted to do that for a while, and I think you have too.”

Reagan was shocked at the earnest tone she heard in Chase’s words. For a man who didn’t disclose much, even to their friends, he certainly was open with his feelings about her.

“Chase, there’s nothing to say. That kiss was a mistake; you don’t want me, and I don’t want to be just another notch on a sexy singer’s bedpost.”

Chase’s eyes turned black, whether from lust or anger Reagan was not entirely certain. When he spoke, his voice was deceptively soft. Even so, the commanding tone of his words was not lost on her.

“Listen, Reagan, something as explosive as our kiss can’t possibly be a mistake. And you could never be ‘just another notch’. As for me not wanting you, you could not be more wrong. I can tell you’re not ready to talk about this, so I’ll go, but, Red… We will talk about this.”

All Reagan could do was stare dumbly at him as he turned on his heel and stalked back down the hallway. The elevator doors opened, and he entered them without a backward glance. It was only once the doors closed that Reagan moved, let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, unlocked her door, and went inside. Then, on autopilot, she dropped her shoes, locked the door, and stumbled over to her oversized sectional couch. She sank down onto the soft grey cushions.

“What the hell was that all about?” she said aloud to the empty apartment.

After a few more moments lost in shock at what Chase had said, she stood up.

“Okay, enough. I’m not going to get caught up in all of his sexy drama. Nope. No way,” Reagan muttered to herself as she walked to her bedroom and unzipped her dress. Stepping out of it, she stood in her panties and strapless bra. With her hands on her voluptuous hips, she looked in the mirror at her curvy body and rolled her eyes. “There is no freaking way that man wants all this, unless it’s for sex and nothing else.” Sex with Chase…she shivered involuntarily at the thought, before pushing it from her mind. “Never going to happen.”

Self-criticism was something Reagan was sadly far too familiar with. She knew she was beautiful, and always tried to portray her own brand of sassy confidence, but on the inside, she could never shake the belief that her curves were too much for most men. No matter what Callie, Anna, or the guys said to her, she could never seem to shake the inner voice that told her she was too big to be loved by the muscled, inked, badass men she was secretly attracted to. That was why Reagan had made a habit of dating the Marvins of the world. Chubby, nerdy, awkward men, who didn’t exactly turn her on, but seemed a safer bet. Too bad none of those guys had ever treated her the way she wanted. Even her ex, a scrawny accountant with bad B.O. had cheated on her with his secretary, and the man she briefly dated before that had dropped so many hints about her weight, she finally had enough and kicked him out.

Reagan fully believed that everyone deserved happiness, and hoped she would find it someday. Yet still, she struggled with her confidence. And it wasn’t just her body image that was the stumbling block in her journey toward happiness. Reagan questioned her ability to achieve most of her dreams in life, doubted her capability to be successful, and feared failure more than anything else. That was why she stayed in a job that she was miserable at, working as an executive assistant at an investment firm in Portland. Her not-so-secret ambition was to escape the corporate jungle and open a bakery specializing in her brownies. The experience of making Jake and Callie’s brownie cake for the wedding had shown her the possibilities, she just needed to find the courage—and the start-up money—to make the dream a reality.

Walking into her bathroom, she ran the hot water into her soaker tub, added some bubble bath, and sighed. The roller coaster of her emotions was exhausting. She was drained from the push-pull of desire and fear, hope and doubt. With a shake of her head, she tried to dispel the last of the turmoil that had built over the evening. She climbed into the steaming water and sank down into the rose-scented bubbles.

“Enough. Time to stop thinking about Chase McCormick and his sinful body, deadly kiss, magnetic eyes…” her voice trailed off, echoing through the bathroom. “Damnit, NO. I will not let him break my heart. Come on, Reagan, you’re smarter than this.”

With a huff, she let her body go lower until everything except her head was submerged in the warm water. Her habit of talking to herself continued, as her inner voice took over and asked the question she was really wondering: He must be messing with me. But why?

* * *

Chase tried to be subtle adjusting his hard cock as he walked down the street to where he had parked his car. Reagan Grant aroused him, intrigued him, captivated him in a way no other woman ever had. He was baffled that she truly did not seem to believe that he could be—and was—attracted to her. Her curves went on for days, and he longed to get his hands all over her luscious body. But he had to get past her walls first.

The warmth from the day still radiated from the sidewalk, and he was glad he had discarded his suit jacket and was only wearing his dress shirt and pants. With his sleeves rolled up, his arm tattoos were on full display, and his clothes fit him well enough to show off the solid yet trim muscle of his torso, earning him some appreciative glances from women as he stopped beside his car, an unassuming, small SUV. He didn’t even notice the attention, never had. Since he had moved to Portland just over a year ago, after spending several years driving around the country, trying to shed the skin of his former life, Chase had done his best to blend in and not give off the edgy musician vibe that might tip people off about his true identity. He had bulked up with muscle, changed his hair, removed some piercings, and shaved off his beard. All in an attempt to seem part of the more relaxed Portland music scene.

Chase McCormick had left the ghost of superstar drummer Chase Thomas in his past, hopefully forever. His old life had been filled with sky-high success, and rock-bottom failure. As a member of a very high-profile rock band, he had experienced the best of fame, and the worst—that seedy underbelly where drugs and sex were the commodities of choice and the pressure to participate was always heavy. Chase wanted to start over, away from the drama-filled music scene of New York. Portland had felt like the perfect place to still indulge his love of music, but in a much more chill way, without the lure of the dark side of the industry.

Playing at Jake and Ryan’s pub, The Lucky Strike, was exactly what he had wanted. Instead of drums, Chase had picked up a guitar, and sang. Mostly covers, and a few new original songs. Sometimes by himself, sometimes with a few other guys backing him up. It was relaxed and easy, and fun. Exactly the way he wanted music to be. The friendships he had formed with Jake, Ryan, Callie, Anna, Noah, and of course, Reagan were an unexpected bonus. Wanting more than friendship from Reagan wasn’t anything new, he had been fighting his attraction to her all year. First, because she was getting over a breakup with an asshole ex who had cheated on her for god only knows what reason, and then because the ‘stay back’ vibes she’d sent him were loud and clear. Not to mention Chase’s worry that if he let a woman get too close, they would figure out who he was. And then what would happen? Could Reagan, or anyone else, look past his mistakes and see him for who he was today? Or would he lose everything. Up until now, Chase hadn’t been prepared to take the risk.

But something had changed tonight. Seeing her in that dress, all dolled up for Jake and Callie’s wedding, Chase no longer had the strength to resist his attraction to Reagan. Jake and Ryan had told him they were certain Reagan was into him, but he had never acted on that information, exercising the same restraint that had made it possible for him to stay clean for years. Until, that is, tonight when he found himself holding her in his arms, smelling her sweet scent, an alluring combination of apples and honeysuckle. There was no way he could resist kissing her.

Then she had fled. Without a second thought he had followed, getting her address from Ryan who had apparently seen everything. For a moment, at her apartment when he saw her talking with her neighbor he wondered if that was why she had pushed him away. Maybe she was in a relationship. But he couldn’t deny the heat that flared in her eyes when she’d seen him, nor could he deny the intensity of their chemistry in that brief kiss they had shared. He needed more, he needed her.

Now he just had to get her to see that she needed him too.