My hands shake as I fasten my seatbelt across my lap. Air travel is something relatively new to me, so everything from the odd smell of the air conditioning to the strange rushing sound of the engines fills me with unease. This isn't a normal commercial airliner. It's an extremely luxurious private jet that will be taking me to the city where I'll be kicking off the international leg of my world tour.
Since I signed with Blueday Records, my life has been unrecognizable. My story is a fairy-tale one. A girl who grew up in the care system gets spotted singing for money on a street corner. It's the kind of story that's featured in movies, but no one believes actually happens in real life.
I pinch the soft fleshy part of my hand between my thumb and forefinger, needing the little bite of pain to ground myself. Is it stupid that, after nine months of living this dream, I still need to pinch myself to make sure I'm not really asleep?
My head throbs from the stress that has swamped me today. Just packing my suitcase felt completely overwhelming. My stylist has handled all the gear I require for the shows, but I had to figure out what clothes I would need for all the parts in between: twenty countries, forty shows, and at least five different climates. I rub my temple and try to remember if I packed any nail clippers.
I'm pretty sure someone could go out and buy me some if I've forgotten.
My chest feels strangely hollow as my lack of freedom settles like a weighted blanket around my lungs. Gone are the days I could throw on my hoodie and head down to Walgreens to pick up cosmetics. Now I need a whole security operation to even walk from a limo to my hotel room. I need a suite that can accommodate seven burly ex-military bodyguards because my record company doesn't trust that I'm safe to sleep alone.
This is what fame has done to my life. It's taken a bundle of my old worries and replaced them with a bouquet of completely new ones.
Suddenly, money is no problem, but my safety is.
My phone lights up in my hand, and I swipe at the security screen to find a message from my brother Tyler. Keep safe, baby girl, he says. Message when you get there.
It's been a long time since he called me the pet name from our childhood. Things between us have been strained since Jake died, but maybe they can get better.
As the plane's engines growl louder, I feel lonelier than I have in years. Or maybe lonely is the wrong word. Alone would be better. I am surrounded by people, but no one touches me, not my body or my heart.
I'm like a queen bee, surrounded by workers. I'm the reason all these men have jobs.
Connor is the last to take a seat, having completed whatever checks he felt needed to be done. Who knows what he sees and what he knows? As the boss of the security company assigned to take care of me, all the responsibility for my safety ultimately rests on his broad, muscular shoulders.
Yes, he has the backing of his team. The other Steel 7 bodyguards are all as fierce as he is, but Connor is the one who reports to the senior executives at Blueday. He's the one whose head would roll if I got hurt, or worse.
He secures his belt around his narrow waist, tugging at the sleeves of his impeccably cut black suit jacket. Everything about him is precise, from the brisk way he checks the time on his large silver-faced watch to the shine on his shoes. I wonder if he makes his bed with military corners, the sheets tucked so tightly you can bounce a coin.
I wonder if he ever makes a mess and doesn't bother to clean it up.
His piercing green eyes choose that moment to flick to mine, and a rush of heat floods my cheeks.
Connor is gorgeous because of his meticulousness. The comb lines are still visible in his hair, and his strong jaw is shaven so closely I bet it'd feel totally smooth to the touch.
And those eyes are as clear as the marbles that Jake and I used to play with as kids. Clear and bright but somehow deep as sinkholes.
I have no idea what he thinks of me.
Brat, probably. I'm twenty-one, but I'm the size of an eleven-year-old. There's definitely over a foot of height separating us, and however much of a woman I might be in my curves, being so petite definitely puts me at a disadvantage.
But sitting down, we're almost eye to eye.
"Is everything okay, Miss Evans?" The deep gravel of his voice vibrates between my legs as real as if he moaned against my skin.
Biting the inside of my cheek, I nod curtly. I need to stop having sex thoughts about the men assigned to keep me safe. They are professionals first and foremost. They're all at least ten years older than me and have seen the world already. Even if they weren't employed to watch over me, there's no way they'd be interested in someone like me.
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