Country singer Hannah Banks wants what she shouldn’t have.
Will Sutherland, the owner of her new label — the man in charge of her career — is way too hot. So hot he’s all she can think about…so to put distance between them, she poses as her quieter twin sister. That should keep temptation away…
Except Will doesn’t play games. He wants the real Hannah — in his studio and in his bed — as long as what’s between them stays their secret. But when an old rival uncovers the truth, Will must choose between playing the press or playing for keeps…
Will Sutherland settled into the corner leather booth and watched as Hallie Banks wound her way through the tables at Rise and Grind.
This little meeting shouldn’t already have him irritated, but it did. Will didn’t want to meet with Hallie—he wanted to meet with her twin sister, Hannah.
But obviously, Hannah Banks, country superstar and America’s sweetheart, couldn’t be bothered with such mundane things as setting up her recording schedule for the next album or going over the tour dates and venues.
He’d only met her a handful of times in passing at various events within the industry. Will had always found her attractive; he’d have to be dead not to. Hannah Banks could make any man do a double take and he was no different.
As far as knowing her personally, he couldn’t really say much, but this first official meeting wasn’t going as planned.
Her selfish way of thinking might have worked for her old record label, but now that she’d signed with Elite, she was going to have to accept the very real fact that she wasn’t in charge. He was.
Hallie offered a soft smile and reached to shake his hand. “Good morning. Have you been waiting long?”
Will came to his feet and gripped her hand, surprised by how soft and delicate she seemed. He didn’t recall noticing Hallie’s hands before…and he shouldn’t be noticing them now.
He’d already found himself fantasizing about Hallie’s sister, Hannah. The last thing he needed was an attraction to twins. That wouldn’t be good for business, and being attracted to either of them didn’t fit his professional style.
Hallie was more conservative in her wardrobe than her usual blinged-out sister. Perhaps that’s because Hallie was the manager and worked behind the scenes in a quieter, calmer setting. Whereas Hannah was in-your-face, sparkly, over-the-top…and not at all the type of woman he should have been drawn to. Yet, he found himself noticing his new star more and more.
He needed to get his thoughts under control.
“I just got here myself.” He gestured to the seat across from him. “Please, sit.”
She put her bag in the vacant seat and settled into the chair with curved arms. A barista came right over to take their orders before leaving them alone again.
“So where did you say Hannah was and why couldn’t she make it today?” he asked, hoping to get a direct answer this time.
Hallie blinked up at him. “Oh, I didn’t say. She just asked me to meet you. After we talk, I will go over the schedule with her. She did request that she record in her home studio, so that was the main thing I’m supposed to tell you.”
Of course. Will shouldn’t have been surprised, though. Since that horrific storm had swept through Beaumont Bay only a few weeks ago, the town was still trying to recover. It was all hands on deck in this Nashville bedroom community to rebuild the multimillion-dollar homes that had taken a hit and the few businesses that had been affected.
The Bay wouldn’t stay down long. This lakeside community was where Nashville came to play, where all the deals were done, where the country music elite hid their juiciest secrets. And it was a town that legendary music producer Mags Dumond pretty much owned…or thought she did.
He’d give Mags her due. She’d built up Beaumont Bay with her late husband and former mayor. It had been her foresight—and her insistence on hosting all her parties here over the decades—that had made a home, or second home, in the Bay a necessity for anyone who was anyone in Nashville.
Will’s family had been born here, and not to a country music bloodline. Travis and Dana Sutherland were in the real estate industry and owned nearly everything…unless Mags had claim on it.
But the Sutherland brothers had made a name for themselves in the music industry by pulling themselves up by the bootstraps…and staying out of Mags’s way for the most part. The woman had been a thorn in his family’s side for decades, but he refused to think about that now. The next step in building his family’s music empire was his new star, Hannah Banks, and finishing the renovations to the studio that had been damaged.
The reconstruction was taking much too long, although even a one-day delay was too long in this industry. He had music to make and singers relying on him, not to mention the trickle-down effect of the tours that were already being promoted to celebrate albums that were releasing soon.
The whole damn situation was a nightmare and Hannah Banks—the superstar he’d stolen from Mags, whom he needed to make this whole plan a reality—couldn’t find the time for a courtesy, in-person meeting. Sending her sister/manager/twin wasn’t the same.
“I would have to check out Hannah’s recording studio before I could commit to that agreement,” Will informed Hallie. “We are going to have to start the production process next week to keep up with the deadlines. Tell Hannah I’ll be at her house first thing in the morning to check out this recording room of hers.”
Hallie pursed her pale pink lips and shook her head. “Tomorrow morning won’t work.” She pulled out her phone and scrolled, then tapped her finger on the screen. “How about Tuesday at ten?”
Considering this was Friday, there was no way in hell he was waiting until Tuesday. Will pulled in a deep breath and sighed. Was Hallie going to be just as difficult as the country diva? The pout of her lips said yes, and something hard and dark moved inside him.
And that’s when he knew something was off here.
“I’m not sure how things went when she worked for Mags at Cheating Hearts, but now that she’s with Elite, I run the schedule and say when things are going to get done.”
Hallie’s eyes narrowed. “Is that right? Well, maybe I should’ve just stayed with Cheating Hearts.”
Will inched forward, resting his hands on the table. “Hannah? Are you kidding me?”
She cursed beneath her breath and Will gritted his teeth. He’d known something felt off, but he’d never thought for a second his newest artist would play such a childish game as to pretend to be her twin. No way in hell would he fall for this swapped-twin trap.
Hannah Banks was about to learn who was in charge real quick.
Damn it. She hadn’t meant to let that slip. How could she pretend to be her sister, even going so far as to dress like her and wear glasses, and yet not be able to simply hold her tongue?
Hannah squared her shoulders and stared across the table. Will Sutherland was so damn sexy, that’s why. He had her so flustered she couldn’t think.
All of this was his fault.
How could she keep up her disguise when all she could think about was raking her fingers through that hair to see if she could mess it up? Those lips, which were now thinned with frustration, seemed soft. Was he a good kisser?
She hadn’t felt much of an attraction toward any man in a long time. Why did this man, of all the ones in her world, have to grab her attention? She’d hoped that pretending to be Hallie would tamp down some of the heat she felt whenever he was near.
No such luck and now she’d gone and blown her cover. As if she needed more problems.
She’d known switching record labels would be difficult, no matter which one she chose. Mags ruled this town and she hadn’t wanted Hannah to move on. But Elite, and Will, were the best fit for where she wanted to go next. So she’d hoped she’d be able to ignore her attraction to one of the sexiest men in Beaumont Bay.
Apparently she’d have to do more than pose as Hallie to keep her head on straight and focus on her career.
“What the hell game are you playing?” Will leaned forward and spoke through gritted teeth, pulling her from her thoughts.
Oh, those deep blue eyes got just a touch darker. Anger and arousal sometimes teetered on the very same thin line.
She clasped her hands together under the table, pushing aside her awareness. No way could she act on her desires. What would come of that? If Will returned her advances, then what? The media would eat them both alive and she’d be seen as getting this deal because she’d slept her way into it. All her work in establishing her new persona—and getting her own songs out into the world—would be for nothing.
No way in hell would she tarnish her reputation or that of Elite Records. Singing and performing were her entire life. She’d already risked nearly everything to leave Cheating Hearts for a chance at something new. She had nothing left to gamble on a fleeting attraction.
Besides, she’d chosen Elite because of their strong familial bond. Will and his three brothers were all in the music industry in one form or another. She knew having all of that surrounding the Elite name would help her in this new phase of her career.
“I’m not playing a game,” she retorted with her sweetest tone.
“Then why the ruse?”
The barista interrupted them by setting down their drinks, then left them alone once again. Hannah reached for her chai tea with a splash of almond milk. Ah, yes. Perfect. A little touch of normalcy and familiarity in this tense moment was exactly what she needed to relax and feel more grounded.
“Hannah,” Will commanded.
She met his gaze and shrugged as she curled her fingers around the mug. “I wanted to know more about what you were like as a person. Hallie met with you before, then we all signed papers, but I wanted a one-on-one in a relaxed setting to get you to know you without the pressure of you realizing who I really was.”
He didn’t say a word, but merely continued to stare with those striking eyes. A muscle clenched in his jaw. It was a strong jawline with a little dark shadowing of facial hair… Yum.
Calm down, Hannah. He can make or break your next career move.
If she wanted to be seen as something more than a young girl with cutesy songs, she needed Will. She needed this change. She wanted out of the rut that Mags had put her in, and the next chapter of her career hinged on getting everything right at this very time in her life. She couldn’t afford mistakes if she wanted to go to the next level in the music industry and be seen as a serious songwriter.
“I don’t know you very well.” She forced herself to focus on the business and not the attraction that settled between them. “But I risked a great deal to come to your label. I wanted to know a little more about you as a person before I spoke to you as me.”
“That makes no sense,” he said. “And from here on out, there are no games.”
“I’m not playing a game,” she insisted again. “This is my career. I’m simply looking out for myself.”
Hannah refused to let him into her head. She wasn’t ready to share all the reasons behind her switch. All he’d been told was that Hannah hadn’t been getting along with Mags and that’s all he needed to know.
Mags and Hannah’s grandmother went back decades, when they’d both first broken into the Nashville scene. Hannah’s grandmother was the world-famous Eleanor Banks. The woman had sold more records in the country music industry than any other woman—move over Dolly.
No one could hold a candle to Eleanor’s stardom and Mags was jealous. When Mags married, her husband was the mayor of Beaumont Bay and had dealings with real estate. He ended up buying her a record label to keep her happy and let her still have a hand in the industry. Her life intertwined with everybody’s…and if it didn’t, she’d place herself there.
Two generations later and Mags’s jealousy was still in effect—it’s why she’d wanted to sign Hannah nearly ten years ago.
Now after a decade of being ruled by Mags, Hannah wanted to break out of the twenty-something persona she’d been shoved into and delve into deeper, more emotional lyrics that really showcased her talent, ability, and creativity. She wanted to take her art and songwriting to the next level and reveal that she had more talents than just her voice. She truly believed she had something to share with her lyrics.
So she’d signed with Will and had agreed to the conditions that she’d record a song written by Cash Sutherland—one of Will’s brothers—and that his brother would be her opening act for her new tour. Cash had that bit of a bad boy reputation and Will was convinced having the two team up would only help Cash’s image with his climb to stardom.
“We will record at my house,” she went on, keeping her tone firm. She’d learned from Mags that she had to be firm to get her way, so she was laying down the groundwork now that she wouldn’t be bossed or bullied. This move to Elite Records was her chance to make her own way and for once she would be in charge.
“You can come look and judge all you want,” she continued, “but that’s the best place. I’m comfortable there and everything is state-of-the-art. You won’t find better equipment anywhere else.”
Will shrugged. “We’ll see. Once my studio is restored, we will be working from there. I trust you looked over Cash’s song? The one that I sent through your sister?”
Hannah nodded. “I wanted to talk to you about that. I’m not sure that’s the first song we should release as a single.”
Considering she wanted to start over with a brand-new sound, she didn’t want to rely on someone else’s lyrics right away. She had her own lyrics, several songs actually, but she’d kept them locked away as a secret. Even her sister didn’t know those pieces existed.
She’d hoped to present them to Will and see if they could make this launch new in every way. Up until now, she’d always recorded other people’s songs. She really wanted her own to be on her first album with Elite.
“Cash’s song was written into the contract,” Will replied, as if she didn’t know that legal agreement forward and backward. “Nonnegotiable.”
The way he delivered that final word coupled with his intense stare had her feeling…way too much. She didn’t want to find his dominance sexy. She wanted to get to work and be taken seriously as a singer-songwriter. But, in order for the songwriter part to happen, she would have to open herself up.
Not quite yet, but soon.
The idea both terrified and excited her. She’d never exposed herself like this before. Singing words from someone else’s mind was one thing, but letting her fans in on her own private thoughts was entirely another.
Even though she was Hannah Banks, five-time winner of the female artist award and vocalist of the year for the past six years, she still had insecurities. Rejection was always a fear and could be a detrimental roadblock if she didn’t scrounge up some courage soon. She’d made the leap to Elite; she’d find the courage to ultimately take that final step.
“I’ll need to come by and see your house,” he stated, cutting into her thoughts.
His long fingers curled around his mug and she couldn’t help but stare. Everything about him screamed power, sex appeal, and too many other equally alluring—and frustrating—qualities to count. There was risk here—a risk she refused to take. It took every ounce of her willpower to remember she needed to shut down any hint of attraction. Will and Elite would take her to the next level of her career…and nothing more.
“Since tomorrow doesn’t work, we’ll go now.”
Hannah laughed. “Now? That’s not possible.”
“Fine,” he growled. “In an hour.”
Hannah sighed and shook her head. “That’s not much different than now.”
Will eased aside his mug as he leaned toward her. “I’m not sure of how you handled your working relationship with Mags, but with me, I’m hands-on, and I will be with you each and every step of this process. My name is associated with this label as well, so I won’t let even one slipup happen.”
“Do you think I want something to go wrong?” she asked, barely containing a sneer. “This is my career. I’m taking a huge leap leaving Mags to sign with another label and letting your brother open for my upcoming tour.”
Hannah glanced up to see a young teenage girl wearing a nervous grin.
“I’m sorry,” the girl stated. “But you’re like my favorite singer and would you mind giving me an autograph?”
Hannah never tired of meeting fans and giving autographs. This was a part of the business she absolutely loved. She remembered how sweet her grandmother had always been with the public. Gram had always said without the fans, there would be no music business. So Hannah was grateful for each and every autograph and photo with the people who bought her music and kept her in the industry she so loved.
“I don’t mind a bit,” Hannah replied with a smile. “Do you have something to write on?”
The girl’s face fell as she reached for her little cross-body purse and started searching.
“Here.” Will grabbed a clean napkin from the stack and pulled a pen from his pocket. “Will this work?”
“Perfect.” Hannah slid the items across and glanced back to the girl. “What’s your name?”
“Tasha. I listen to your music every day when I’m practicing dance. It really helped me escape since my parents separated.”
Hannah signed the napkin, using her familiar heart signature. Everyone who asked for an autograph always told her how her music affected them and she loved every story. Affecting people’s lives in a positive way—that’s what she wanted. She loved hearing how she’d helped someone get through a difficult time, no matter what it might be.
“I’m so sorry about your parents,” Hannah replied as she handed Tasha the napkin. “I’m glad I can comfort you in some small way.”
Tasha looked to the autograph, her beaming smile returning. “This is so cool. Wait until I show my friends. Thank you so much.”
Hannah pushed back her chair and came to her feet. She held out her arms and embraced the young girl.
“It was my pleasure, Tasha. I’m so glad I could meet you.”
The teen practically skipped back to the counter where she retrieved her drink and headed out the front door. Hannah sank back down into her seat and scooted toward the table.
She stilled when she caught Will’s gaze studying her.
“It’s not every superstar who would let a meeting or a coffee date be interrupted for an autograph.”
“First of all, this is not a date.” Good grief. It was as if he’d gotten a glimpse into those unwanted thoughts she’d been hiding. “Second of all, if you’re offended because I interrupted our little meeting, then get used to it. If it weren’t for my fans, I wouldn’t have a career and you wouldn’t have money coming in from me.”
Will’s lips quirked into a grin and she realized he could be both frustrating and sexy at the same time… Well, that would equal nothing but trouble.
“I wasn’t complaining about the interruption,” he explained. “You should always talk to your fans. All I said was it’s not just anyone who would do that.”
Flustered and still turned on from his arousing good looks and take-control attitude, Hannah huffed and turned in her seat to cross her legs. If she hadn’t slipped up, she could still be pretending to be Hallie and then she wouldn’t have to worry about anything. Hallie was calm, quiet and determined, but in a controlled way. Hannah too often felt like her emotions were out of control, like she’d lost herself somewhere during all those years when she’d let Mags determine her public persona. She was still trying to find herself.
Which was why she needed to focus on this pivotal point in her life and career.
“I don’t want to argue,” she told him. “So if you want to come to my house, let’s go. I have other things to do today.”
Things that were none of his business and things that she didn’t want to share. She might be in every magazine and splattered all over the internet, but she still wanted to keep her insecurities to herself. While she loved the life she’d created, she also still valued her privacy. And just because Will owned her music now didn’t mean that he owned her as a person.
Trying to prove to her fans and the public that she wasn’t the diva Mags had portrayed her as would take some work, too. But Will didn’t know her or her working style and there was only one first impression to make.
Annoyingly, Hannah also had to keep reminding herself that they were only working together…nothing more. Which meant she couldn’t want him or even flirt with him. This next chapter of her life had to be completely aboveboard professionally so she could start showcasing herself as an adult performer and a serious songwriter.
Just because she hadn’t been turned on by a man in longer than she could count did not mean she should act on her attraction now.
Hannah’s desires would have to just go away because she refused to risk it all for a one-time, but surely delicious, romp in the sack with Will Sutherland.