I wake with a pounding headache and a bear mauling me. The heavy giant, otherwise known as my husband, has me pinned to the mattress beneath his sleeping form. I’d be lying if I said my heart doesn’t do a little flop.

He slept with me.

All night.

Dec always fucked and left. Claimed he had an early day the next day. Left me empty and used.

But Harley?

He’s got me gathered in his possessive grip as though I might slip away from him while he sleeps. His scent is addicting and I find myself just smelling him for a good five minutes. Woodsy. Clean. So Harley.

My alarm starts chiming from the other room and I cringe. Last night I got way too drunk and let my guard down. Harley and I fucked. The stupid smile on my face is wiped right off when I realize where we fucked.

“No…”

Ice freezes my veins as realization fully awakens me. Harley is still out of it, so after some wiggling, I manage to slip from his grip. I’m all but running to the bathroom to grab my robe. I’ve barely wrapped it around me by the time I take off to the diary room.

No.

The room looks like a tornado hit it. My clothes are everywhere. Blood dots the furniture and carpet. And my wine debris is all over the end table. My T-shirt hangs from the diary cam.

Shit!

Half the lens is revealed.

Maybe it was just enough to cover up what we were doing. If not, that means I just had sex in front of millions of viewers. The diary cam is live online.

Oh God.

My phone starts ringing again. I’m horrified when I see it’s Declan calling through. I send it to voicemail and sift through all his text messages. I scroll up and start from the beginning, right after I called his cock an Abe Lincoln.

Jesus, I fucked up.

Dec: You don’t have to be a bitch, Taylor.

Guilt sluices through me. Dec was my on-again-off-again lover before this show and I called his penis mediocre. I am a bitch.

Dec: The blood is graphic but the hero bit where he carried you off is fantastic!!

Dec: Way to soften up the big-ass lumberjack.

Dec: Tay! Look at your phone! CALL ME NOW.

Dec: GODDAMMIT PUT YOUR SHIRT BACK ON.

Dec: You’re letting someone finger you on camera?!?!

Dec: I can’t get you out of this one…CALL ME NOW.

Dec: CALL ME NOW, TAYLOR!

Dec: We disconnected the feed.

Dec: But not before he had his face between your thighs. Jesus, what have you done?

Dec: Management wants to talk to you after the show tomorrow. I wouldn’t be surprised if they let you go for breach of contract. You do remember the fine print?

I’d been so wrapped up in being the center of Harley’s world for a night that I’d totally ignored everything around me. I don’t even remember my phone ringing. My phone buzzes again.

Dec: Ahh, so she wakes. You sent my call straight to voicemail. Well, I hope you’re reading this. You FUCKED up. Big time. Leave the caveman at home and get your ass to the studio. We have major damage control to do. We need to talk about how you’re going to address the audience for your indiscretions.

I blink away the tears, but I realize there are too many. In one heated, careless moment, I may have thrown away my entire career. I’m sick to my stomach.

With a sob loud enough to wake the dead that I desperately try to hold in, I run to the bathroom. I don’t vomit, but I feel as though it’s imminent. Quickly, I start the shower and shed my robe. I’ve just stepped under the warm spray when strong hands grip my hips. My body betrays me and I sink back against his firm chest. His arms wrap around me, hugging me tight.

“What’s wrong?” he questions in a soft, concerned tone.

It makes me cry harder. “Everything.”

He twists me in his arms and walks me backwards until my back hits the cold tile. I shiver as the tears roll out. His massive palms cradle my cheeks as he bores his gaze into me. The liquid chocolate in his eyes calms me a little.

“Tell me what’s upset you. Was it us? Because, babe, I thought it felt really fucking right.”

I blink several times willing the tears to subside. He shocks me when he leans in and steals a chaste kiss. The scratch of his beard feels nice. When I’m in his comforting grip, it’s easy to forget that I have an entire country that will be talking about the ruin of my career because I had sex on camera.

“The diary room…” I trail off.

His eyes darken and his jaw clenches. “What about it?”

“The camera…”

He growls. “I made sure I threw your shirt over the lens.” Fury mars his handsome features. I can’t help but touch his thick beard. “Tay,” he murmurs, kissing me again. “I made sure it was covered so they wouldn’t see.”

The fact that he thought he was hiding us from the outside world is a little comforting. “It must have fallen. Dec said my career is over and—”

“FUCK DEC!” he roars, a murderous gaze washing over his features.

I jump at his sudden outburst and he immediately calms.

“Fuck him. Fuck all of them,” he continues, his voice so low I can hardly hear him over the water. “That was private. Between husband and wife. Yeah, we fucked up and accidentally showed the world. But we are two consenting, married adults. Your career is not over.”

Sniffling, I shake my head in disagreement. “It is. This, between us, is over. The fine print says what we did—”

“You’re my wife,” he snarls. “Their stupid contract means nothing to me. But our marriage certificate means everything.”

His fierce proclamation over our sham marriage is the only thing that doesn’t make me feel sick. I seek out his comfort and lean my cheek against his chest. He gathers me in his arms and holds me in silence until the water begins to cool. Finally, I break free from his grip so we can both quickly shower. If my career wasn’t on the line, I’d be taking the time to appreciate his firm body. Maybe even ask him for a repeat of last night. Instead, I’m barely holding in tears as he slips out of the shower to dry off. By the time I step out, he’s gone from the bathroom.

Knowing they’ll put makeup on me and do my hair once I get to the studio, I quickly pull my hair into a wet bun before searching out something to wear. I settle on a pair of jeans and a hoodie over a T-shirt. Then, I seek out my favorite pair of tennis shoes. If I’m getting fired today, at least I’ll be comfortable carrying all of my boxes out of the building and not trying to do it while balancing in four inch heels.

I can hear Harley in the kitchen whistling. Every day for two months, it used to grate on my nerves. How he’d get up at four in the morning with me and stay in my way. We’d have to dance around each other while I ate a quick breakfast. Now, I realize I truly was a bitch. Maybe he got up so early because he wanted to spend time with me. Knowing the living room cameras are most likely on to capture my meltdown, I pull my hood up over my head and hurry to the kitchen.

Harley stands in the kitchen looking good enough to eat. He’s donning a clean pair of holey jeans but nothing else. Even his bare feet are sexy. But that’s not what has my attention. My attention is on his rigid, colorful back that tightens and ripples with each movement—as if the animal tattoos are coming alive. He’s cooking breakfast and my stomach grumbles.

“Sit,” he orders over his shoulder.

“I don’t have time.”

“You’re already in trouble. Make time.”

Biting my bottom lip, I sidestep him and sit at the table in the kitchen. He sets to making some coffee and spills the grounds all over the counter. Normally I’d come unglued. Today, I simply watch. Then, he takes a wet cloth and carefully cleans up his mess. The fact that he’s trying, over something so simple as spilled coffee grounds, has my heart catching in my throat.

I burst into tears.

He jerks his gaze over to me and frowns. “Tay…”

“Don’t say anything. The cameras,” I murmur. “I just want to hide.”

A growl rumbles from him. “I cut the wires. The cameras are dead. Now talk to me.”

I look up and he’s glaring at me. His stare is so intense that a normal person would be afraid. Except I know this big bear is simply trying to protect me. I did nothing to deserve his protection.

“I’m sorry,” I blurt out.

He grins and goes back to flipping bacon. “Me too, pixie.”

The nickname brings back memories of last night. And with it, warmth. I haven’t slept so well in ages. I’d felt secure in his gigantic arms. Cared for. For once in my life, someone was holding me and didn’t seem to want to let go.

He easily moves about the kitchen preparing his breakfast and coffee. I’m shocked though when he sets down a plate and a mug in front of me. “Eat, woman.”

I laugh despite my lingering tears. “You’re such a brute.”

“I’m tired of watching you waste away. This country thinks they own you down to who you marry and what you eat. You’re done being their little puppet,” he tells me, his voice harsh. “I’m not going to sit around and watch them pull your strings any longer. If I have to kick Declan’s pussy ass, I will, just to prove if they mess with my little bull, they’re going to get my motherfucking horns.” He smirks at me, which causes my core to throb in response. How did I not realize our chemistry was off the charts? I spent so much time resenting him and counting down, I never gave him a legitimate chance.

I inhale the delicious breakfast and for once don’t obsess over calories. We eat in silence, but a lot of unspoken words hang thick in the air. I can almost feel his proclamation to look after me. And I like it. I really freaking like it.

“I can’t keep putting it off. I need to go.” I sigh and stand to take my plate to the sink. “If I still have a job, I need to get ready to interview the artist that was scheduled today.” Tears well in my eyes. “I was so excited.”

His chair scrapes against the tile as he stands. Then, the big caveman stalks over to me. He pulls me against his hardened chest. It’s so warm and safe here. I don’t want to leave and face the world.

“I’m coming with you.”

At this, I laugh. “Bad idea.”

“Best damn idea. How are they going to treat you like shit if I’m standing behind you? They can’t.”

I look up at him. He looks a little on the maniacal side with his messy, still-wet hair and untamed beard. Harley would probably scare the crap out of them.

“Baaaaad idea,” I say again.

His gaze softens and he strokes a stray piece of hair away from my face. “I’ll kick all of their asses. Just give me a list of names.”

I appreciate his chivalry, but I need to face the music alone.

“As tempting as that sounds, I’ll take a rain check. I’m going to have to do some serious talking to smooth this over, if it is even salvageable.” I sigh and frown. “But maybe…” I feel stupid even asking.

“Out with it.”

His demand sends a shiver of excitement through me.

“Maybe you could come pick me up after the show. I may need help carrying boxes if they fire me. And if they don’t…” I force a smile. “Maybe we could have a celebratory lunch.”

He grins one of his signature crooked grins that used to annoy me, but now makes me weak in the knees. “We’re going to have lunch either way, Tay. If they fire you, then we’re celebrating me getting to spend more time with the real you. The beautiful you. The vulnerable you. Just you.”

Why does everything look so much better from his perspective?

We compromised. Instead of taking the train to the studio like usual, I let Harley drive me in his big-ass truck. Traffic wasn’t too bad at just after four in the morning and we even make it to the studio with a few moments to spare.

“Oh, God,” I grumble and fidget in the seat. “Here goes nothing.”

Just as I slide away from him, he grips my elbow. “Get over here and give me a kiss.”

I blush at the way he stares at me as if I’m something much more beautiful than I am. Obeying his simple command, I lean in and brush my lips across his. His hand slides up my throat and I shiver.

“Never took you for one who’d like getting choked,” he murmurs. Warm lips press firmly against mine. I part them open so I can taste him. Toothpaste and the lingering hint of coffee. Like a teenager, I could straddle him and make out with him all day. Unfortunately, real life beckons for me. Adulting sucks.

“Never took you for one who’d say sweet things,” I utter back as I pull away.

He winks at me. “Keep your chin up, beautiful. Call me if it gets too bad. I’ll be there before you can even hang up the phone.”

When I slide back across the seat, his phone rings. His face grows serious when he looks down at the screen. “It’s my brother,” he tells me frowning. “I need to take this.”

I mouth a goodbye to him as he answers. His brother seems frantic on the other line and I can hear him shouting. Harley gives me a clipped nod. I’d wanted to stay and see what’s the matter, but I have bigger fish to fry. No more stalling.

The walk through the lobby isn’t too bad. I don’t run into anyone I know. A tall man with dark brown hair steps into the elevator with me. His handsome face is screwed into a worried frown. He keeps checking his watch as he waits for the doors to finally close.

He looks familiar. I try to place him, but come up short. Finally, it dawns on me. None other than Lucas St. James is sharing an elevator with me. Well-known CEO of some energy company on the west coast, but more specifically, the husband of the artist I’m interviewing on the show today.

“Mr. St. James?”

His gaze cuts over to mine and irritation flickers in his brown eyes. “Do I know you?”

I glance down at my hobo-looking attire and frown. “Sorry. I haven’t been to hair and makeup yet. I’m Taylor Cunningham. Interviewing Jade today on Taylor Talk.” I attempt to smile, but it falls flat.

He checks his watch again before clenching his jaw. “I’m sorry, but she won’t be on the show today. We’re leaving. I’m headed up to fetch her now.”

Confusion trickles through me. “What? Why?” And then shame burns through me like a blazing forest fire. “Because of what happened last night on the diary cam?”

This time he’s the one who’s confused. He gives his head a slight shake. “No…” he trails off and stalls. “Miss Cunningham, I’m going to give you a simple piece of advice.”

Avoid television.

Don’t Google your name.

Keep your legs closed while in front of a camera.

“Yeah?” I choke out.

“Get out of the city. Now.”

The doors open and he strides through them with purpose. I’m still stunned at his hissed words. I snap out of my daze and trot after him.

“Wait!” I call out. “What do you mean?”

By the time I catch up, he’s already snagged the wrist of a gorgeous blonde about my height. “Come on, sweetheart, we’re leaving.”

When she puts on the brakes and arches a perfect brow up at him, her green eyes glimmering with defiance, I think he’s going to grind his teeth to dust. “Babe, I have this interview. I can’t bail because you’re in one of your possessive moods.”

He runs his fingers through his hair in exasperation. “Jade, we’re leaving. The city isn’t safe right now.”

Once again, he scares me with his ominous words. He must scare his wife too because she clutches what I can see is a very pregnant belly and frowns. “Okay. Let’s go.” She turns to me and regards me with remorse in her eyes. “Taylor?” Her hand extends toward mine. “I’m so sorry to have to leave. Especially after…”

I drop my gaze and she releases my hand. Could this day get any worse?

“It’s okay,” I squeak out. But it certainly is not okay.

“Take my advice and get out,” Lucas barks out as he drags her away. “You probably have another couple of hours tops.”

I’m still gaping after them long after the elevator doors close. My phone starts ringing in my hoodie pocket, but I ignore it in case it’s Declan. The last thing I need is to listen to his yelling. If I can get to my office and take a breath, I can begin to formulate a plan to correct this. I’ll lock Lorelei in with me until we come up with a solution. But even as I try to fix the biggest horror of my life, I can’t help but think about Lucas St. James’ words.

Couple of hours tops.

Unease that has nothing to do with my scandal sours my belly. I’m seconds from calling Harley to take him up on his offer of protection when someone roughly grabs my arm. I jerk my head to meet the blazing blue eyes of Declan Sullivan.

“In my office, now,” he hisses as he drags me down the hallway. People are beginning to arrive and we’re getting lots of stares. Someone laughs and I overhear the words “worse than a sex tape.”

As soon as we’re inside, he slams the door so hard, all of his pictures on the wall rattle. I nearly jump out of my skin.

“We had a good thing going, Taylor,” he snaps.

“Us?”

He laughs scornfully. “Not us,” he seethes. “The show, goddammit!”

Once again, I wince at his harsh words. And to think, two months ago, this man was six inches deep inside me. We all know I gave him that extra inch to be nice. It’s most definitely a six-inch.

“It was a mistake. Harley and I—”

“So you’re a couple now?” His nostrils flare as he picks up his paperweight from the desk. The way he clenches it, I almost wonder if he would throw it at me. He’s that pissed.

“We’ve been a couple for over two months now,” I mutter out.

His blue eyes snap to mine. “I thought you were waiting until after the show. For us. Remember?”

I scrunch my nose in confusion. I don’t remember. I’ve been chasing this guy for three years. He’s done nothing but dangle the idea of a relationship in front of me without ever letting me actually catch it.

“Dec,” I say slowly. “You’re being unreasonable. You’ve probably been dating other women.” For some reason, some part of me that still holds onto him wanting me, I hope he denies my statement.

“I’ve been fucking Lorelei,” he blurts out. As soon as he says the words, he launches the paperweight at the window. Thankfully the glass is super thick, so it makes a loud clang before bouncing off.

“Okay,” I bite out as I start back for the door. “You’re too upset. I’ll be in my office until you cool off. I get it. I fucked up. But you do not get to throw things and have a tantrum. It was my naked body that accidentally got shown across America. The least you could do is feel one iota of sympathy for my mistake. Instead, you’re making me feel worse. Not to mention, you’ve been fucking my only other friend. I thought we were more than that.”

He shakes his head. “I fucked you because you were there and so goddamned needy. But you can kiss my Benjamin goodbye.”

Fury rages through me and I flip him off. “Abe Lincoln, asshole. I had the real Benjamin last night and it wasn’t you.” I glare at him. “And he put it in my pussy. Not a fucking silk purse!”

His mouth pops open and Mr. GQ looks more like a plastic mannequin. What did I ever see in him? Without waiting for a response, I storm out of his office. Lorelei sees me coming for her and quickly slips into someone else’s office to hide. She’s not even worth going after.

With hot tears in my eyes, I stomp past everyone and ignore their nosy stares. By the time I make it to hair and makeup, I’m barely containing a big time ugly cry. Sebastian and Stacey, my hair and makeup people wisely remain quiet as they set to work. It takes everything in me to keep the tears at bay and from ruining their hard work. Two hours later and I’m looking much like the Taylor that America is used to seeing. This Taylor is wearing clothes.

I swallow and look down at my wedding ring. I’ve kind of ignored it this entire time. But now, I carefully inspect it. It’s old. Has character. I single diamond on a gold band. A couple of smaller diamonds are wedged in beside it. I twist it on my finger. I’d never really appreciated it until now. Now, I feel a sense of ownership over it. Like I want to keep it there always.

“Taylor,” Jeanie, my other producer barks at me. “You’re on in five. Wardrobe, now.” Her normally hard gaze is soft as she regards me sadly. “I’m not supposed to warn you, girl, but they’re going to fire you on air.”

I blink at her in shock. “They are?”

“And,” she huffs and looks visibly upset over the idea, “they’re going to highlight the scenes from last night while drilling you about what happened. If I were you, I wouldn’t do it. They plan to make a public mockery of you.”

Mom and Dad are most definitely rolling over in their graves.

I swallow and pull my phone from my pocket. Seventeen missed calls from Harley in a little over two hours. I’ve only missed one text.

Harley: Sit tight, pixie. I’m on my way.

With my hero ready to fight my battle, I stand and meet her stare. I’ll face the music Taylor style. Chin held high. Green eyes blazing. Middle fingers in the air.

“You’re going on, aren’t you?” Jeanie groans.

I nod. “I am. But I’m wearing this,” I motion to my comfy hobo clothes. “Fuck them.”

Jeanie, who never smiles, grins at me like the Cheshire cat. “There’s my girl.”

I strut out of the makeup room and head toward my public career hanging. Before I make it to the stage, I turn and give her a grim look. “When my husband gets here, let him in.”

She winks at me. “You got it, doll.”