Dirty Billionaire (Page 5)

He raises an eyebrow. “Never say never.”

I turn to Morty and Jim. “My contract doesn’t say anything about agreeing to something like that. Getting engaged is serious business, and you can’t make me.” I might sound like a petulant child, but I’m dead serious.

Jim, who puts off a fatherly air as opposed to Morty’s slimeball vibe, smiles at me.

“Sit down, Holly. I think we can all come to an agreement here. You want what’s best for your career, don’t you?”

I take a deep breath, shoving down the urge to scream again.

“Yes. That’s all I want. What’s best for my career, and this can’t be it.”

“We’ve been in this business a lot longer than you have, darlin’. You need to trust us. We’re not going to steer you wrong.”

Patronizing. There it is again.

Morty starts carrying on like this is a done deal. “It’s fucking perfect. JC, during your last song of the night, you’ll call Holly up onstage and drop to one knee. People will eat that shit up.”

“You can’t do this!”

All three men look at me, and their smiles send chills down my spine.

Holy. Shit.

“Deal with it, Wix,” Morty says with a smug smile. “This is happening, or you’re on the first bus back to the trailer park. Maybe we’ll even let you keep the diamond when it’s all over.”

Nothing I can say is going to change a thing right now, so instead, I swallow back the protests I want to scream and speak as calmly as I’m able. “This discussion isn’t over, but I have to get to practice.”

My head reeling and stomach churning, I pull my trucker hat lower and head for the door without waiting for a response.

“Let’s take that one from the top again,” I call out to my guys in the band.

I want to apologize for wasting their time today, but I don’t because then I’d have to explain why—and I can’t. But it’s impossible to concentrate on the music when I feel my dream slipping away. What won’t I do to save it? Can I go through with this farce? Everyone has a line, and I’m not sure where mine is.

But that’s not a question I’m going to be able to answer right now, so I’d better freaking focus. We have a new song that we want to add to the set list, and if we can’t get it together, we’re all going to look like idiots at the next show.

I study the guys, and am once again thankful that Homegrown didn’t screw me over on this front. My band is an amazing crew, and I’m lucky to have them. I could have ended up with a bunch of washed-up has-beens, but I got seasoned musicians with serious talent. Shocking, right?

The bitterness I feel toward Homegrown is ridiculous. It’s so hard to reconcile the fact that I have them to thank for giving me a shot to live this dream, and now they’re demanding I fall in line or sacrifice it. How is that fair? I guess it’s lucky that I wasn’t raised to think life should be fair. And besides, I’ve had my share of good fortune—if I didn’t win Country Dreams, I’d still be serving up deep-fried pickles at the bowling alley.

And Gran might still be alive, the voice of guilt whispers in my brain.

“Holly, what the hell? You planning on singing anytime soon, darlin’?”

I jerk my head around, shaking the thought from my mind as the guys silence their instruments . . . several bars after my cue.

“Sorry. I was a million miles away.”

“You need to take a breather, hon?” Lonnie, my drummer, asks as he spins one stick.

“Nah, I’m good. I just need to get my head back in the game.”

The guys look at each other, and suddenly I wonder if there’s something I’m missing.


Darius, my bass player, finally speaks. “You getting homesick thinking about being away on Christmas Eve? Because we’ve all decided we’re catching flights home on our own dime right after the show. You should do the same.”

He’s talking about our show in three days, the one that will finally get me onstage at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Talk about a completely different universe. Little old me from Gold Haven, Kentucky, opening for country’s bad boy on a stage only slightly less impressive to me than the Opry itself. I just hope I don’t develop stage fright.

I consider Darius’s question. I’m a little homesick, but not because I want to go home—because I don’t really have a home to go to anymore. The only family I had that mattered is six feet under. My first Christmas without Gran is going to be brutal. My first everything without her has been tough, so why should this be any less painful?

Maybe I deserve the pain. Maybe I earned that pain.

But wasting this opportunity isn’t going to bring her back or absolve me of the guilt I’m carrying. Nothing will.

“You ready, Holly?”

I shake it all off as best I can—JC, the record execs, my guilt—and straighten my spine, standing taller in my worn-out boots.

“I’m ready. Let’s take it from the top.”

The rest of practice goes well because I force myself to stay firmly in this moment, firmly in the music. Singing my songs, even on this practice stage, is enough to finally drag me out of the dark place I’ve been sliding into.

As we pack up the gear when practice is finished, I check my watch. I’m headed back to Mick and Tana’s for dinner, and then home to pack for the two shows we’ve got before our extended break. First stop Philly, and then the Big Apple.

I shrug my bag over my shoulder and feel it vibrate with a text. Fishing my phone out, I see one from Tana.