By: Skye Jordan

“They must not have seen what kind of day we had.” Troy tossed back the rest of his bourbon. “Please tell me you're as sore as I am.”

“Hell, yes.” Her soft smile revealed perfect teeth that reflected the strip's glow. “I'm going to make one more round of small talk here, then I'm headed to the hot tub, the masseuse, and bed, in that order.”

“Damn, that sounds good.” He imagined hot water and skilled hands easing his aches and pains. “Why didn't I think of that?”

“Probably because you're too busy thinking about what you've been trying to forget since you got here.”

He pulled his gaze from his fellow Renegades stuntmen, Keaton and Duke, where they chatted up a couple of blonde production assistants, and refocused on Zahara. “If that's a riddle, I give up.”

Her gaze returned to the window, her focus directly across the strip. She lifted her drink toward the Mirage. “She's really beautiful. So…country fresh, you know? And her voice…” Z shook her head and sighed. “There really are no words. She's absolutely amazing.”

Troy's heart took a free fall straight to his stomach. His hands clenched around his glass.

He scanned the people in the room, searching for the leak to his past. Giselle had been long gone by the time Troy had hooked up with the Renegades. Then his mind came around to Rachel, Renegades' former secretary turned location scout, who now lived in Virginia with Nathan Ryker, Troy's best friend since childhood and the closest thing he had to a brother. Which meant…

“Fucking Ryker.” he rasped. “This is worse than a family with everyone tattling on each other.”

“She just wanted me to know so I could watch your back, make sure your head was two-hundred percent into the stunts. Would you rather she told one of the guys?”

“I'd rather she talked to me about it.”

“She was going to, but you've been so busy, you two have been playing phone tag. She thought with the demands of the film, an outside perspective might be better. We all need that sometimes.”

“That doesn't make it okay.” Nothing about his situation with Giselle was okay with him. Not the way they'd broken up. Not the way she'd ignored his calls the first few months after. Sure as hell not the way she still talked to Ryker but not to him. Never to him. Not one damn word since she'd bailed for the bright lights seven goddamned years ago. And he really hated the way Ryker seemed to think Troy was still so fucked up that he might junk a stunt just because he'd seen her picture. “In fact, it's damned insulting.”

“Did you know she had the title song for this film before you came?” Zahara asked.

“No.” Not that it would have made any difference in his role here, but it would have been nice to know that her face would be splattered over every inch of the strip advertising her Take Me Home tour. “Overheard it on set. Ryker could at least have told me.”

“I saw her in concert once,” Zahara said, “when I was filming in Nashville. She's an incredible performer. Blew the crowd away.”

Pride clashed with residual anger and tangled Troy's chest tight. Where Giselle was concerned, his emotions were as complicated as nuclear physics, as touchy as nitroglycerin, and as potent as TNT.

“Her voice is extraordinary, that's for damn sure,” he admitted, his own voice edged with a bitterness he hated but couldn't seem to overcome.

“She's really changing up her image. Transitioning from country to pop. They're calling her the next Taylor Swift.”

“Fuck that.” Troy laughed at the ludicrous understatement. “They aren't even in the same hemisphere talent-wise. Giselle may sing in the country genre, but her voice would rock rhythm and blues, alternative, soul, jazz, contemporary. She's got the vocal dynamics of Mariah Carey and the technical ability of Celine Dion. She's always had a strong voice, but over the years, she's honed it into a fucking powerhouse. And her control…” He shook his head. “It's just unbelievable. She's got Beyonce's dexterity, flexibility, can lift it to be light and airy or push it to be solid, rich, and dark. She's even got a spunky, come-to-Jesus gospel flare she whips out once in a while. It all blends with the emotion she puts into every song and marks her work as something really, really special. So, no”-he shook his head, his gaze locked on the carpet-“Giselle is not the next Taylor Swift. She is already way beyond any level Swift will ever reach.”

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