Copyright © 2012 Lexxie Couper
All rights reserved — a Samhain Publishing, Ltd. publication
“Hello, Lauren,” a deep male voice said behind her.
Lauren squealed. An honest to goodness squeal. At the same exact second she spun on her heel and swung her satchel, weighed down with two textbooks, her uneaten lunch, car keys, half-empty water bottle, twenty-two hand-drawn self-portraits tucked in a sturdy cardboard folder, her purse and her iPad.
The satchel smashed into the temple of the man standing behind her.
There was a solid thud, a surprised oof, followed by an even more surprised, “shit, that hurt,” before the man went down like a bag of bricks, collapsing to the ground in one fluid, graceful drop. No, not just the man, the rock star. The rock star the whole world idolised, the one who’d grown up in this very parochial town with her.
The rock star who’d stolen her heart in that life she refused to think about.
Lauren’s mouth fell open. Her pulse turned into a sledgehammer. She stared at the motionless man lying at her feet, refusing to believe what her eyes were telling her. Nick Blackthorne was here in Murriundah, and she’d rendered him unconscious with the very satchel he’d given to her fifteen years ago.
The words were a whispered breath. She dropped to her knees, the ground’s winter-damp seeping through the linen of her trousers as she reached out with one hand and gave Nick’s shoulder a gentle push. “Nick?”
He didn’t move.
Oh boy, Lauren, you’ve KOed the world’s biggest rock star.
She shoved him again, a little harder this time. “Nick?”
He didn’t make a sound. Not a bloody one.
Her heart slammed into her throat, just as hard as the satchel had hit his head. She licked her lips and brushed a strand of his black hair from his forehead. He was just as gorgeous as always. Older, yes. He was almost thirty-seven after all, but the years looked good on him, so good. In fact, they suited him. When he’d been a teenager, he’d been god-like in his beauty. When he was in his twenties, that god-like beauty had verged on painful to look at. She’d spent many nights lying in the bed they’d shared for a year and a half, gazing at him while he slept, wondering at his perfection, her belly knotting with love, her sex constricting with longing. And then it had become just her bed, Nick nothing but a ghost in her heart.
She’d stopped reading articles about him somewhere in his late twenties, knowing each one would only make her stupid heart ache. But it was impossible to avoid seeing images of him. He kept popping up on the national news. Australia loved one of their own, especially when they’d won a Grammy or Billboard Award, or when they were dating Hollywood royalty or British royalty, something Nick Blackthorne seemed to do on a regular basis. Even worse was the local Murriundah Herald, the small newspaper constantly keeping the town aware of their famous son and his activities. Those images were hard to escape, and when she had let herself stare at them for longer than a heartbeat, she’d noticed his late twenties and early thirties only elevated his looks to a lived-in sexiness. The tiny seams around his eyes, the lines by his nose, they all heightened what she’d never forgotten—Nick Blackthorne was a sexy, sexy man. And now here he was, unconscious on his side in the Murriundah Public School’s muddy playground, looking even sexier than she remembered.
Damn it, what was he doing here? What the hell was he doing back here?
She frowned, shaking her head at the notion. No. Nick wouldn’t be here for her.
Could be. Isn’t that what you’ve dreamed about for the last fifteen years?
Her frown turned into a scowl. No, it bloody well wasn’t. She had moved on. She wasn’t still the naïve young woman with impossible fantasies and fairy-tale wishes of happy-ever-afters. And if he was here for her—her heart smashed harder into her throat at that thought—he could bloody well bugger off. The last thing she wanted was—
He groaned. A barely audible noise deep in his chest.
Lauren started, a tiny yelp slipping from her. “Nick?”
She nudged his shoulder again, but the groan was about it. “Well, at least I know I didn’t kill you,” she muttered, giving him a glare. He lay there on the cold ground, long, lean body decked out in black jeans, a black shirt and a black leather jacket she knew would cost more than she earned in a month.
Lauren rubbed at her mouth. What was he doing here? And was he alone? Surely he travelled with an entourage? A bodyguard? She’d seen enough paparazzi images of him to know there was usually a hulking great big guy shadowing him wherever he was. Where was that guy?
She sat back on her haunches, studying the empty playground around her. There were no massive hulking great big guys running at her, which meant she would have to deal with the unconscious Nick.
A tight twisting sensation stirred in the pit of her belly and she bit back a groan. She was not going to get all horny and excited at the idea of dealing with Nick. Besides, there wasn’t a hope in hell she could lift him by herself and carry him to her car, even if she wanted to. At five-foot-six and one-hundred-and-thirty pounds wringing-wet, she wasn’t exactly the lugging-unconscious-rock-stars-around type even if said unconscious rock star had more than once lay full-length atop her in bed, on the living room floor, the kitchen bench, the—
Lauren slapped her hands to her face, killing the utterly insane train of thought. God, was she an idiot? What the hell was she doing thinking about Nick making love to her?
“You a masochist, Lauren Robbins?” she snarled under her breath, grabbing at her satchel/instrument of destruction before digging her phone from its lethal contents.
She turned it on, keying in Jennifer’s number. Hopefully, her best friend was sticking with Friday-afternoon tradition and had closed her vet clinic early. Jennifer was used to dealing with heavy, unresponsive animals, being the only vet in the district. Dealing with an unconscious Nick Blackthorne would be a breeze.
“I’ve got the margaritas chilling in the fridge already,” Jennifer Watson said the moment the connection was made, not bothering with any kind of greeting. “Tell Josh you’ll be home later than normal tonight.”
“I’ve got a problem, Jen,” Lauren answered, trying hard not to let her gaze roam over Nick. Trying but failing, damn it.
“What’s up? And if you tell me you’re marking school books I’m coming over there to thump you.”
“I’m not marking school books, Jen.” Lauren rolled her eyes. “Now shut up and listen carefully.”
Jennifer made a dramatic ooh sound before laughing. “Okay, Miss Robbins, I’m listening. What’s your boggle?”
Lauren bit at her bottom lip. “Umm, you know how I told you I once dated Nick Blackthorne?”
Jennifer let out a sharp snort. “You mentioned it in passing years ago and never let me bring up the subject again. Is this a confession? Did you lie to me? Or are you going to tease me some more with tales of your past? Did you also date Hugh Jackman? Guy Pearce? Geoffrey Rush?”
Lauren laughed, rolling her eyes. “No, I didn’t. But I did date Nick Blackthorne.”
“And I’m going to say the same thing I said when you told me before—lucky bitch. Now tell me what’s up?”
Lauren took a deep breath. “Well, he’s here now.”
Silence answered her. For a good twenty seconds or so. Then Jennifer said, “Nick Blackthorne is here?” Her voice, normally calm and laced with mirth, like she knew a really funny joke and was on the verge of sharing it, raised an octave. “In Murriundah?”
Lauren gazed at Nick’s face, his stormy-grey eyes shuttered by thick black lashes resting on cheekbones high and strong. A decidedly purplish bruise was beginning to make itself known on the side of his face. “In Murriundah,” she answered on a sigh.
Jennifer made a strangled little sound. “And?”
“And I just knocked him unconscious in the school playground.”
Lauren jerked the phone from her ear.
“What the hell do you mean you just knocked him unconscious?” Jennifer continued, her voice far from calm and loud enough Lauren could hear each word even with the phone nowhere near her ear. “Why? With what? And why? Jesus Christ, Robbins, who are you really and what—”
Lauren returned her phone to her ear. “Jenny!” she snapped, “I don’t have time right now. I need your help. I can’t move Nick by myself and I can’t leave him on the ground. He’ll catch a cold—”
“A cold?” Jennifer interrupted. “You can’t leave him on the ground because he’ll catch a cold? How ’bout you can’t leave him on the ground because he’s Nick Blackthorne?”