WILD HARTS: ROCKSTAR SHIFTERS BOOK 1 – SWEET BEAR O’MINE
Jax Hart knows exactly what his smile can do to women. As the lead guitarist of Wild Harts, Jax has taken advantage of everything his smoking looks, rockstar fame, and raw talent have given him. But that’s before he sees her in the front row–his fated mate. He’d left Montana behind hoping to rid himself of shifter lore and clan power struggles, but he can’t deny what he’s feeling … or what his bear is demanding. Now, he just has to convince Tiff Anderson they’re soulmates before his band hits the road. And before a danger from his past comes back to exact revenge.
Tiff Anderson wouldn’t have even gone to see Wild Harts if her best friend hadn’t dragged her. But she has to admit, the Hart brothers are hot—especially sexy guitarist Jax. Despite an instant connection, Tiff can’t forget Jax’s reputation. Is she just one more woman in a string of broken hearts he leaves behind? Rumors are swirling, obscuring the real danger—a threat that lurks in plain sight, waiting for the perfect moment to destroy Jax and Tiff’s love for good.
Together, Jax and Tiff can conquer anything in their way … but only if they can look past the lies and learn to trust each other.
Read the First Two Chapters
The amphitheater chanted his name. It pulsed through him, joining the thrum of stomping feet, of whistles, of his own pounding heart.
They wanted him. No, more than that. They needed him. Jesus, it was like a drug. Jax Hart shoved his hands through his dark, wild hair and grinned at his brothers, his bandmates.
“Should we give them what they want, brothers?” Chase Hart raised a pierced eyebrow in question. “Give the people of bumfuck nowhere the night of their lives?”
“Fuck, yes,” Jax growled in reply.
The four members of Wild Harts pulled in close, their broad shoulders touching. The energy of the crowd splintered through them like a lightning storm. It was dark backstage, and the air was tinged with smoke, but Jax could still look into the eyes of each of his brothers. He fisted one hand, so hard his muscles jumped and quivered in his forearm, and pounded it to his chest in a rhythm to match the crowd’s desire. Next to him, Chase gripped his drumsticks and took up the pounding beat, then Bret, then finally Drew, until their little circle was pulsing with it. Jax growled, low and guttural, and his brothers did the same.
The crowd beyond the stage was near frenzied. It was the opening night of the Firefly Festival, and Wild Harts was the evening’s headliner. Bret locked eyes with Jax, and the pounding stopped as suddenly as it’d started.
“Love you, brothers,” Bret said, then turned and strode on stage. The cries and shouts for the band’s lead singer pierced the air and shivered over Jax.
Chase and Drew nodded to each other then went next, taking their place behind the drums and at the bass guitar. Jax swayed on his feet, feeling the rhythm through his steel-toed boots and into his powerful thighs, up into his wide chest. He nodded to himself and jumped up and down.
Shadowed by the rafters, half-buried among sound boxes and equipment, Jax caught the eye of Derek Craven, the band’s new tour manager. The man was sneering, his teeth catching the strobe light as it flashed by. But then he caught Jax staring and pulled his sour expression into a weak smile. Jax frowned, but now was not the time to dwell on his antagonistic tour manager.
Now was the time for something else entirely. Something primal and raw. Jax growled again and strode onto the stage.
Lights burned overhead, making the stage glow like high noon. Beyond the lights, there was only sound, only movement, only the hint of summer-sweet air whipping through the amphitheater. The crowd roared, enveloping him in warmth and desire that hardened his dick. There was nothing in this world that could beat this. Playing on stage with thousands in the crowd chanting his name so loud, he’d swear the stars above felt jealous of the attention.
Jax lifted his guitar off its stand and slipped it over his head. It rested like a familiar lover against his chest. He ran his long fingers through his hair again and flashed a smile toward the crowd. Women shrieked in approval. Just like he knew they would. He hadn’t met a woman yet who could resist him when he smiled.
Chase picked up the beat, and Jax’s fingers went to work at the strings of his electric guitar, the opening bars of “Honey Pot,” one of the singles from their debut album, Run Wild. As his eyes adjusted to the hot lights, he was able to pick faces out of the crowd. He stared at different women in turn, reveling in the adoration as they lost their minds for the music, for him.
And then he saw her, and everything else disappeared.
She wasn’t dancing like the other women in the front row, wasn’t singing along to the familiar lyrics. But there was no mistaking her. How could he ever? He’d know that silken black hair, those amber-colored eyes, that delicious body anywhere.
She was the woman from his dreams, the woman who was the key to his lock.
His one true love. His mate.
Lyrics washed over Tiff Anderson, blasting down from the stage and screaming at her back. It was like a million hands pushing at her skin and hair. She felt tangled up in them. Tiff shook her sleek, black hair down her back, making the sticky words tumble free.
How the hell did she end up here on a Wednesday night? Front row for the opening night headliner of the annual Firefly Festival. Jeez, she didn’t even like Wild Harts all that much. It certainly wasn’t worth getting beer poured on her sandaled feet, at any rate.
Love that dress you wear when it’s sunny.
Lift it up, let me taste your jar of honey.
Tiff snorted with laughter. Jeez, these lyrics. It was like every line dripped with innuendo. But by the way the troupe of girls behind her started absolutely losing their minds, the lyrics worked. A lacy, black thong went sailing over Tiff’s head and landed on the stage right in front of her. Wide-eyed, Tiff watched as they sagged there for a moment before slipping out of sight off the stage.
“Tiff!” Lacy Segal screeched in her ear, her voice bouncing around in time with the lyrics of the opening song, “Honey Pot.”
“C’mon, Tiff. Have a little fun!”
As if to demonstrate the foreign concept of “fun,” Lacy lifted her toned, tanned arms above her head and shimmied her hips back and forth. Her tiny T-shirt hitched up her waist. The sight of Tiff’s longtime best friend having fun did little to make Tiff want to partake. Not if fun meant her black tunic would shimmy up her hips. Those were best left under lock and key, and swathed in slimming black for good measure.
But still ….
Dammit if the song wasn’t at least a little catchy. It had a driving drumbeat and the sort of reverberating bass line that Tiff felt all the way into her bones. And the way the lead guitarist’s broad shoulders surged and knotted with muscles as he played ….
Besides, Lacy had asked Tiff to be her plus one—a title she found herself adopting quite a lot, if she were honest. When Lacy had won the front-row tickets and VIP backstage passes from the local rock station out of Milwaukee, Lacy hadn’t had to ask Tiff. But she did, and now Tiff was standing like a bump on a log surrounded by mosh-pit frogs.
Lacy shimmied up closer to Tiff and grabbed her hands, spinning her in a circle. Tiff laughed despite herself and let go. If only for a moment. Gone were the thoughts of her photo assignment due the next morning or her hopes to get up to the cabin that weekend for some more nature shoots. Tiff let it all go, shaking it out of her long, charcoal hair like those sticky lyrics. She closed her eyes and let the pounding music pulse around her. And suddenly, she found herself swaying her hips, bouncing back and forth on the balls of her feet. She shimmied her shoulders—not caring for a rare moment how it made her ample breasts jiggle—and beat out the rhythm on her thigh.
For one wonderful moment, Tiff Anderson let herself go, and it was a wild, heart-pounding thing. She’d used to dance like this—eyes closed, hair flowing over her shoulders—when she was younger. Back before she had to worry about bills and taking care of her dad and brother, back when her mom was still alive. In that moment, Tiff ached with the memories of carefree days.
Her skin prickled all over, goose bumps riding a wave over her arms. She shivered, despite how hot and close it was pressed up next to all the writhing bodies at the front of the stage. Tiff lifted her chin and flung her eyes open to stare up at the stars. She could swear they were envious. A thousand million blinks of light reaching out, yearning to be part of the sensations thrilling through her. Tiff grinned up at the stars and spun in a dizzy circle, her hips shaking in time to the song.
Goose bumps shivered over her skin again. Tiff looked back to the stage and blinked her eyes wide. The lead guitarist, Jax, was staring at her. Sweat-slick dark hair fell over his forehead, but he didn’t drop his gaze. Tiff couldn’t tear herself away from his intensely vivid eyes.
He wasn’t just staring. His lips were close to a microphone as he sang back-up on the chorus, and he was singing to her. Tiff heard the lyrics as loudly as if he had whispered them hotly in her ear.
Girl, I need you, you, you
Sticky sweet on my tongue
I’ll do the dirty deeds until you’re done done done
Be my honey pot, honey pot
Tiff didn’t look away, accepted the challenge in Jax’s intense eyes. She rotated her hips, reveled in the way the movement made heat rise between her thighs. Jeez, those fingers working away at the instrument. Imagine what they could do to her. A private, half-smile floated across her lips, and Tiff almost startled to see Jax match her grin.
“Oh, shit!” Beside Tiff, Lacy squeaked. “Jax Hart is totally undressing me with his eyes!” She was staring up at Jax too, and dancing just as sexy. No, sexier. Infinitely sexier. She was Lacy, after all, possessor of tight abs and blond hair.
Tiff’s insides went cold. She stopped dancing, frozen solid to the spot. Someone sloshed beer down her arm. Jackass.
No, she was the jackass. Shame burned up the frozen chill and made her cheeks flare with color. Tiff bobbed her head to the music—she didn’t want her embarrassment known. Nothing to see here, folks. I’m just the fat friend plus one along for the ride.
Next to Tiff, Lacy turned it up to eleven. She was practically massaging her own breasts.
How could she have ever thought Jax Hart was looking at her? Why would Jax, the pretty boy who was rumored to sleep with at least two girls in every town, ever ever look at her?
“I’ve got to go find the bathroom,” Tiff shouted in Lacy’s ear.
“Yeah, whatever,” Lacy shouted back, not taking her eyes off Jax.
Tiff pivoted on the ball of her foot and ducked her head, trying to be as unobtrusive as possible as she wound through the crowd. And the whole way, she could have sworn she felt eyes on her back.
“C’mon, Lace. I just want to go home.” Tiff was whining. She could hear it in her voice, but her voice was doing nothing to hide her feelings. Stupid voice. She just wanted her bed, and a cuddle with Mal the bulldog, and maybe some ice cream. She wanted to forget she ever thought for a single second that a hot, famous rockstar had been looking at her.
Lacy’s fake fingernails dug into Tiff’s arm.
“Ouch!” She grimaced and yanked her arm free from Lacy’s talon-tipped grip.
“Tiffany Marie Anderson, you are not leaving me by myself.” Lacy said all this while still projecting a mega-watt smile. The two friends huddled with a group of women at a gray, metal door backstage. Behind them, the amphitheater was still emptying out, but the sounds that reached them were muffled and quiet.
One of the women at the door with them swung around, her bright red hair flowing in big waves down to the middle of her back. Her heavily-mascara’d eyes went wide. “Lacy? Lacy Segal?”
“Oh my God, Ashley!”
Tiff stood back and crossed her arms over her chest. The two women hugged like long-lost best friends even though Tiff knew for a fact that Ashley Stevenson—a year behind Lacy and Tiff when they were in high school—was a noted social climber and even more notably married to New Scandia’s city hall accountant. Tiff rubbed at her bare arms. She felt like a circus elephant dressed in a costume.
Tiff took another step back. But before she’d gotten even six inches away, Lacy’s hand shot out and caught her.
“Ashley, you remember Tiff. We won VIP tickets through W-ROC. I swear, Jax Hart was eying us during the concert. How’d you score backstage passes?”
Ashley inspected her nails. They were painted chartreuse. “Oh, you know Ronnie can always get me this sort of thing. I’ve been bugging him to see Wild Harts for ages. He went home early, though, to relieve the sitter.”
Lacy nodded sympathetically, but shifted a glance Tiff’s way. New Scandia wasn’t a big town, and it wouldn’t take long for the story to get out that Ashley Stevenson had been out partying with rockstars while her husband was hone with their kid.
“Anyway, I heard Jax has a bet with his brothers to see how many girls he can sleep with while on tour, so ….” Ashley laughed, high and thin. “I mean, not that you’d have a hard time catching his eye. You look ridic, Lacy.” Ashley paused and smiled, adding a little too late, “You too, Tiff.”
Tiff swore to herself that if Ashley complimented her eyes, she’d be out of there so fast that polish would peel off Ashley’s garish nails. Why was it that curvier girls always had beautiful eyes or a pretty face? Like the other ninety percent of their bodies were a disaster zone. Indignation made Tiff stand taller—and she was already a head taller than Lacy or Ashley.
Just then, the metal door swung open. Some of the women actually gasped.
“Boys,” someone drawled. “The entertainment’s here.”
Before them, a tall, weedy looking man with a snub nose leered at the group. The rest of the women filed into the room without a glance his way, but Tiff shot a look at him, suppressing a shudder. Everything about the guy was just this side of slimy, from his thinning hair that he’d slicked back exposing a pointed widow’s peak to the crescent of dirt under his nails.
Tiff had to tilt her torso to get past him without their bodies touching, but the man didn’t budge over. Dick. Then his hand was at Tiff’s hip, and she recoiled.
“No VIP pass, no entry. Can’t have any old thing sneak in, now.”
Tiff wrenched her head up to glare at the man. “I have a pass.” She patted her chest, where the lanyard had been hanging, but it was gone. Shit. Shit. Did she take it off in the bathroom? Tiff reached into the slouchy black bag hanging over her shoulder and fished around. She felt a back-up lens in there, a bunch of markers, even an old precision knife, but nothing like a pass. Tiff had wanted to go home, but she sure as heck was not going to let this goon turn her away.
“I have a pass,” she repeated, stalling for time. She craned her neck to try and catch Lacy’s attention, but her friend was already across the room pouring something amber into a plastic cup.
“Sorry, babe,” the man said. His lopsided grin looked more grimace than anything. “I can’t let you—”
“She’s fine, Derek,” another voice said.
Derek startled. Just slightly.
And then Jax Hart was taking Tiff’s hand and tugging her into the room. Her heart flipped over in her chest at the way his fingers—large and warm and so … firm—slid along her skin. Jeez. He was gorgeous on stage, but he was even hotter up close, with his height framed by broad shoulders and muscles last seen on statues of Adonis. All the Hart brothers were striking, but where a couple of the brothers were bulky, Jax was lean and hard. Jax darted a look over his shoulder at Tiff, his intense, gray-green eyes practically smoldering, and she was fairly certain that look alone nearly made her come. It was altogether embarrassing.
Tiff tugged her fingers free. “You didn’t have to—”
“I wanted to.”
“You didn’t even let me finish.”
Jax crooked one eyebrow. It was unbearably sexy. He was all dark hair and angled features and arms that looked like they passed their free time wrestling Olympians. The Greek god variety, not the everyday kind. Tiff dropped her gaze, but that only made her eyes land on the tattoos marking up his forearms and disappearing into the sleeves of his snug, black T-shirt. Tiff ached to trace the dark, graphic lines of Jax’s tattoos and find their terminus. First with her eyes … then with her fingers … then with her lips.
“Sorry that I rescued you from the skeevy door man,” Jax said, his voice dipped low and heavy with unspoken laughter. “Should I take you back there, or would you prefer a drink?”
Tiff was helpless to resist. “Club soda?”
“Club soda and …?”
“Just club soda.”
Jax shook his head and grinned, a grin that made Tiff’s knees quake. He held up a finger—one second—then sauntered over to the makeshift bar tucked into the corner of the room. Tiff took a breath and glanced around.
The room was a box—no windows, sparse lighting, the cinderblock walls painted white. There were a few couches and loveseats, and a wheeled rack of clothing pushed against one wall. Some food and enough alcohol to stock a college rager filled two long tables along the other wall. Music—it sounded like Kanye—pumped from an unseen sound system, and there was a door ajar across from Tiff where she watched Derek slip through.
And there were women. So many women. Doing shots, lounging on the couches, fawning over the three tall, broad men who were laughing and talking together. A thrill of excitement zig-zagged through Tiff. She was backstage with Wild Harts! She’d never met anyone famous in her entire life, unless you counted that chief photographer for The Washington Post, a man Tiff had met on a college internship. But right now, that guy totally didn’t count.
Right this second, Jax Hart was bringing Tiff a drink. She smoothed her hands over her black tunic and peeked down to make sure her boobs were behaving in the V-neck. The tunic was simple, but it skimmed over her body and let her have fun with some quirky jewelry done in matte gold and rough-cut emeralds she’d scored at a market in Madison her last year of college. Tiff shook her hands through her hair—a nervous habit she’d picked up long ago from her mom. It was straight as ever, but at least it was shiny. Tiff slid her eyes Jax’s way, nervous to be caught staring.
Jax was smiling and talking to Lacy.
Tiff’s insides shriveled. Of course he was. He was just being nice to Tiff, that was all. Lacy laughed at something and let her hand fall lightly onto Jax’s arm. Jax darted a look toward Tiff, but she didn’t look away. She hitched a half-grin and raised an eyebrow, determined not to show this playboy that she’d hoped for something different, something impossible.
There were two drinks in Jax’s hands, but Lacy still kept a hold on his arm as he led them Tiff’s way. Everything in her wanted to turn around and run away, to not witness Lacy flirt with Jax. But she didn’t move, couldn’t move. Not without looking like she was fleeing.
“You didn’t slip something in that, did you?”
Jax raised his eyebrow again. “No.”
Tiff took the proffered drink and sniffed at it. “You can’t trust rockstars, you know.”
Jax laughed. It was deep and rumbling, as big of a laugh as he was a man, and Tiff’s cheeks turned to fire. “You know many rockstars, do you?”
Tiff raised an eyebrow of her own. “Hundreds. Thousands. I live in New Scandia, Wisconsin, we are a hotbed of rockstars.”
“She’s joking,” Lacy offered.
Jax didn’t look away from Tiff. “Yeah, I figured.”
Lacy giggled and slapped playfully at Jax. “Hot and a good sense of humor,” she purred. “Why don’t they talk about that in the gossip blogs?”
“So what do you do, when you’re not entertaining celebrities?” Jax asked, his question directed to Tiff.
“She takes photos,” Lacy cut in. Tiff pulled a face at her career description, but Lacy was barreling on. Her friend cocked her head and played with the wishbone necklace nestled in her cleavage. “I do hair. At a salon, you know?” Lacy pushed up on her tiptoes and fingered the curled edges of Jax’s dark hair. “I could give you a cut. You look like you have really strong, uh, follicles.”
Jax frowned. “Yeah, us Hart brothers. Strong follicles are what we’re known for.”
Lacy giggled, but Jax was already swinging his attention back to Tiff.
“So you’re a photographer?”
Tiff sipped her drink, giving herself a microsecond to internally squeal. A rockstar was asking her questions. Like, asking her questions. It was insane! She nearly pinched herself.
“Yeah, mostly for business clients, so it’s all very advertising heavy, but my passion is nature photography.”
Lacy rolled her eyes. “Don’t get her started on golden hour in the Northwoods or whatever or you’ll never get out of here.” Lacy turned to Tiff and raised both eyebrows. “Tiff, my very best friend, weren’t you saying you had to get home early anyway? Photography calls, etcetera.”
“Oh! Yeah, I guess I—”
“Don’t go,” Jax said suddenly. There was urgency in his voice, urgency and something else, something deeper and wilder that made Tiff’s heart beat very fast in her chest.
Tiff looked up at him, drawn into the intensity of his eyes on her. She shifted uncomfortably, her body and mind at war. This man was clearly a player. And what had Ashley said? He had a bet with his brothers over how many women he could bed on the road? She was probably just considered a very easy target.
“No, I should probably ….” She was already turning away.
“Please,” Jax said, and he reached out for her. His large hand was warm on Tiff’s arm, but his touch was feather-light.
Tiff swung around at the new voice. It was the drummer … at least Tiff thought it was the drummer. Chase, was it? Jax would probably lose interest if he knew how casual of a fan she was.
Chase was just as tall as Jax, but thicker, from shaved head down to black-booted toe. Tiff didn’t know where to look—at the multiple piercings or the double sleeves of tattoos. Instead, she looked at the phone that seemed dwarfed in his wide hand.
“It’s Mac. There’s some … clan business.”
Clan? Like, Highland Clan? But whatever he meant, Jax didn’t seem to care. He waved Chase off to focus back on Tiff just as Chase apparently noticed Lacy. He shouted over his shoulder for Bret, then chucked the phone. It sailed through the air and the other brother reached out and snatched it. Chase was already whispering into Lacy’s ear and leading her away.
But that only meant Tiff was alone—truly alone—with Jax. She was suddenly at a loss for words. What does one talk about with a rockstar?
“So, clans? Do I take that to mean you’ve got a secret kilt addiction you’re keeping out of the press?”
Jax smiled again, and Tiff noticed dimples in each cheek. “Oh, that. We just mean family. I blame being from Montana. We’re all strange there.”
Jax stared off over Tiff’s shoulder for a second. “Listen, do you want to sit down? Somewhere we can talk?”
Tiff slid her eyes over to the couches, where a trio of girls were trying to entice two of the Hart brothers by making out. Only one still had a top on. For a quick second, Tiff wished she had that sort of confidence. She also wished her boobs were two cup-sizes smaller. You can’t have everything. Well, unless your name was Lacy Segal. Speaking of, Tiff realized suddenly Lacy and Chase were nowhere to be seen. “I don’t think ….”
“Just to talk,” Jax said, that note of nearly pleading back in his voice. “No funny business.”
That made Tiff laugh. How could he say that when over in the corner a woman was currently bouncing her breasts in one of the brother’s faces? Also, “Funny business? What are you, my Nana?”
Jax’s cheeks colored. “Just something my uncle says.”
“Well, I’d advise your uncle to try out some new phrasing.”
Jax grabbed up Tiff’s free hand in his own. “Really ….” His eyes suddenly went wide. “I don’t even know your name!”
Tiff looked up at this surprising man. He seemed so … normal. Other than being some sort of rumored sex maniac, Greek god come-to-life rockstar, that is. Tiff pressed her lips together for a second, then said, “Tiff. I’m Tiff Anderson. And who are you?”
“Hello, Tiff. I’m Jaxson Hart, of the Montana No-Funny-Business Harts, and I want to talk to you.”
But that was what gave Tiff pause. Why her? No really, why?
“Why?” Jax frowned, and Tiff realized with horror that she’d spoken out loud. Her throat went bone dry. “Because you’re amazing, that’s why. Your eyes, they’re ….”
Tiff tugged her hand free, confusion working between her dark eyebrows. Confusion, and disgust with herself. She was a mark, she had to be. Just now, the brothers would start laughing at the chubster who thought she’d actually enthralled a rockstar and Tiff would be sent home in shame. Tiff looked down at her beer-sticky toes and blinked back a sting of tears.
Screw them. She wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.
Tiff raised her chin defiantly and made a big show of rolling her eyes. “Nice try, jackass.” Tiff pulled her purse more securely onto her shoulder and pitched the nearly-full club soda. “You know, I might be a small town girl who doesn’t know any better,” Tiff snapped. “But I’m not an idiot, and I won’t be made one just so you and your brothers can have a chuckle.”
“Oh, save it for a bumpkin who’ll actually buy it.” Tiff hitched a thumb toward the couches, where she noticed Ashley full-on making out with the lead singer. “Try those three over there.” And before Jax could respond, Tiff yanked open the door and let it slam behind her. She froze, sucking in big, deep breaths. And the tiniest part of her hoped she’d hear the door open behind her and Jax call her name, but it didn’t happen. Because of course it didn’t.
Tiff stalked through the narrow halls backstage and emerged in the wings. She couldn’t find stairs down to the seating, so had to crawl down from the stage. It was dark and empty in the amphitheater. Tiff had her finger over the speed dial on her phone when she stopped and slipped her cell back into her purse. She didn’t want her deputy father or cop brother figuring out what just happened—jeez, what she’d wanted to happen.
Tiff spared a glare for the indifferent stars above and started walking home. But suddenly, home and her dog and, hell, even ice cream were the last things she wanted.