Hard to Hold

By: Arell Rivers

Book 2 of THE HOLD series

For my critique partners, Noella Phillips and Michelle Bond. You are the most supportive, creative, generous and brutally honest women I know. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without you amazing ladies.

Hard to Hold

Sad and alone, broken but not out

Fighting for everything, or nothing at all

It’s not true, it can’t be true, I know it’s not

She’s my girl, and I’m hanging on

Why can’t she see it’s her—always her?

I need her in my life

I’ll do whatever it takes

To right this wrong, make her believe

Living without her is not living at all

I need to be back in her arms again

There must be a way to stop the madness

Keep us safe from prying eyes

And protect us from the quicksand

Will I ever be where I belong?

Oh why, oh why is she so hard to hold?

Lyrics and music by Cole Manchester

Saturday evening

“THANK YOU.” I take the ticket from the bellman, who puts my small, wheeled suitcase in the luggage holding area.

Across the lobby, at the registration desk, the Caesars hotel rep taps on her computer. She stops abruptly when Marco approaches her desk. Smiling at him, she leans over and says something while batting her eyelashes. He glances down at her cleavage and slowly brings his eyes up to meet hers with a huge grin on his face. Geez.

Mom spent our entire visit going on and on about Marco. She’s made an exception to her rule about distrusting good-looking, rich men for Marco, since she’s best friends with his mother. At every turn, she commented about what a great catch he is. Swooned over his tall, dark and handsome looks. Effused about how his career as a founding partner of an entertainment production company is exciting, yet allows him to be home every night.

“Unlike that Cole Manchester with his all-night parties, his stalker and bodyguards,” her disapproving voice echoes in my memory.

When Marco showed up again at Mom’s house this afternoon, he made it clear that my mother isn’t the only one who’d be thrilled if we reconciled. But my heart wants someone else, and Marco’s taking me here to Las Vegas cemented in my mind that he’s only in the friend-zone.

I can’t make out what Marco’s saying to the rep, but she blushes and turns to walk into the back office. I join him at the desk. “All good?”

“Yup. They’re pretty full, but I snagged a room.”

Good. I nod. The flirty rep returns and hands Marco his room key. While he’s signing some papers, I get directions to the Ozzy Martinez concert that’s being held in the hotel.

When Marco’s finished, we take off toward the concert venue. I grow more confident with every step I take. Yes, Cole has money in the bank from his music career, he’s beyond handsome and I have a bodyguard because his stalker has it in for me. But he’s also kind and loving, and he’s shown me more than once that he always puts me ahead of everyone else. Plus, as his PR account manager, I’m the one who arranges many of his late-night excursions.

On the other hand, Marco cheated on me back in high school when we were dating. And judging from how he ogles every woman we pass, I doubt he’s changed his ways. How could I have let Mom make me doubt my feelings for Cole?

Finally, we reach the backstage door. My feet throb as if they’ve walked a mile through this gigantic casino. These stilettos probably weren’t the most practical choice, but I know how much Cole appreciates me in them.

Before we enter, Roberto, my bodyguard, clears his throat. “Remember, we’ll slip inside the conference room together, and then I want you two to stay put. I texted Wills, so he knows we’re here. As soon as I get that room key from him, we’re out of here.”

We both nod. Cole’s bodyguard won’t let us down. The sooner, the better. I whisper to Marco, “No matter what, we have to stay off my boss’s radar.” I showed him a photo of Greta on the flight out here.

“Got it. We’ll slink around like teenagers at a bar.” Lovely.

As unobtrusively as possible, we enter the room and take the positions designated by Roberto, who gives us a pointed look before leaving in search of Cole’s bodyguard. Ever since the stalker attacked me in LA, Roberto’s been my shadow. I tried arguing that Marco and I could wait for him in the lobby, which seems busy enough to be safe, but he wasn’t having any of that.