Tessa Sullivan rushed out of the fancy Boston restaurant, her vision blurred with unshed tears. She was so gutted that she stepped off the curb distractedly, startled when a strong, masculine hand grabbed her arm.
Her head jerked around and she tilted her chin to look up—way up—at a man she’d never seen before.
“The traffic is busy tonight, and I was afraid you were going to keep walking. You look like you’re in another place. It’s hard to believe you didn’t hear the traffic. You must be really distracted. I hope I didn’t scare you. I’m sorry.”
Honestly, she might have kept walking if he hadn’t detained her. Her brain was so muddled, her world so silent that she couldn’t hear the cars. “Thank you,” she said quietly. “I’m deaf.”
He was tall, broad, and he definitely had the “bad boy” look going on. But when he grinned at her, Tessa had a difficult time not smiling back. For as tough as he looked on the exterior, his eyes were kind.
“You read lips?” He let go of her arm slowly. She nodded as she took in his black leather jacket and the baseball cap he was wearing. She guessed he was a few years older than she was, but it was hard to really tell. There was spiky, dark hair escaping his hat, and his eyes were the color of milk chocolate and seemed very kind, which for her made him highly likable, since those eyes held an empathy and warmth that was more than welcome at the moment.
“You need a ride? My car is right across the street.” He waved his arm at a limo sitting directly across from them.
She shook her head vigorously. “My fiancé’s car—” She caught herself, her voice shaky. “I mean my ex-fiancé’s car is here somewhere.”
“You just broke up,” the stranger guessed, his smile fading.
“Yes.” She thought better about confessing her problems to a stranger and corrected herself. “No.”
Then she looked into the eyes of her rescuer and wondered why she cared about telling anybody the truth. She had nothing to lose anymore. “Yes,” she murmured sadly. “I’m sorry. I guess since it just happened, I’m not quite used to admitting I got dumped.”
The big man took her hand. “No reason to ride with an asshole. Come with me.”
Tessa let herself be led across the street before she had a chance to tell him that Rick wasn’t going with her. A driver hopped out and opened the limo door for her as her mystery man jumped in on the other side.
Looking around frantically, she couldn’t see Rick’s car and driver anywhere. She hesitated like any normal woman would do when a stranger offers her a ride, but she was beyond being cautious. The guy had a driver as a chaperone, and she was fairly certain serial killers didn’t ride in limos, at least not when they were going to commit a crime.
Tessa was still deciding what to do when a group of women across the street started to wave frantically at the car. It was obvious that they were screaming, trying to get the passenger’s attention, but Tessa had no idea why.
Mr. Bad Boy leveraged his body across the backseat and stuck his head out the door so she could read his lips. “Get in or we’re going to get mobbed. I’m recognizable, and I really don’t want anybody to get hurt. Please.”
His look was so persuasive and urgent that she jumped into the car without another thought, the driver hurrying to close her door and get the car in motion before the women could cross the busy street and descend on them.
The man turned on the light in the back of the limo. “We made it.” The cap came off his head quickly and he raked his hands through his short, dark, spiky hair. After he discarded the jacket, too, he reclined back on the seat, still angled toward her.
Tessa couldn’t help but be slightly amused by the relieved look on his face. “Your fan club?” she questioned teasingly.
“Actually, yeah. A few of them, anyway.” He looked at her curiously. “You still don’t recognize me?”
He was wearing a T-shirt, and she could see now that he had some very ornate tattoos on his biceps. She generally didn’t care for tats on a guy, but somehow they suited him, and they weren’t done up to the point of overkill. “No. I really don’t. Should I?”
“My name is Xander. I’m a musician. We’re performing here in Boston tomorrow night to a sold-out crowd. Our first album sold millions. I’m working on our next one.”
Tessa pointed at her ear. “Deaf. Remember? I don’t keep up with the music trends much. Besides, I’m a classical-music kind of woman.”
“How do you know I’m not a classical artist?” he retorted.
She looked him up and down a few times. “Okay. Maybe I’m stereotyping, but you look like a rocker. I’m sorry. Do you perform classical? If you do, I’m not familiar with your work.” As an afterthought, she told him, “My name is Tessa, by the way.” She was a little surprised that he didn’t recognize her, either, but the two of them were obviously worlds apart.
He grinned mischievously. “Hell, no. I like all types of music, but I like to rock the house.”
He asked where she wanted to go, and Xander made arrangements with the driver before closing the window between them again.
“So some idiot dumped you tonight, Tessa?” he asked once he had leaned back in his seat again. “Why?”
Before she knew it, Tessa was blurting out the entire story of her and Rick’s breakup, and some of the events leading to the split.
“What an asshole,” Xander commented as she turned into a blubbering idiot. He moved closer and put a comforting hand on her shoulder.
She continued to sob. “He’s right. Things have changed. He signed up for the old me, not the deaf me.”
He moved back a little and looked down so she could see his face. “Don’t you fucking dare make excuses for him. When you love somebody, you love the whole person. Losing your hearing shouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference. Yeah. I’d be sad if somebody I loved had something happen to make their life more difficult, but you don’t just fall out of love. I think real love grabs a guy by the balls and never lets him go. Superficial shit shouldn’t matter.”
Tessa wouldn’t exactly call losing one of her important senses superficial, but Xander was validating what she thought love should be. “I think so, too,” she answered softly.