Dirty Pleasures (Page 25)

“The label is going to shift the entire record around after you turn this bad boy in. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the first single.”

His words fill my chest with warmth, and I pick up my guitar and flip a page in my notebook. The rest of these are going to bare my soul just as much, so I might as well get through them and make them as good as they can possibly be. This is more than my career, this is my passion, and I’m blessed to have this chance—and lucky to have Vale’s time.

“You ready to hear the next one?”

“Lay it on me, girl.”

I begin to play, and the smile on his face grows. By the time I finish, he’s rubbing his hands together.

“Okay, a few tweaks to the chorus, a rework of the bridge, and I think this one is going to be fucking awesome too.”

I reach for my pen. “Let’s do it.”

Vale packs up his guitar and leaves the bus at a quarter to twelve. We shake hands, and I feel like he’s seeing me as a professional now, which is validation I didn’t realize I wanted from him. I’m not just the naive girl who stepped off the stage of Country Dreams; I’m a rising talent in the world of country music, on both the songwriting and performing fronts.

With that confidence bolstering me, I tinker with the songs some more until the clock reads 12:20. Still no sign of Creighton.

My confidence in Creighton and not being an afterthought takes a blow, however. He’s still gone, and he hasn’t called. I’m interrupted from the slow slide into the pit of doubt by my buzzing cell phone—the one that arrived that arrived yesterday via express mail. Inside the box was a note from Tana.

Don’t you dare let your focus slip from that tour to your husband’s fine ass. This is your future, girl. Love ya, T.

Even long distance, she’s still dispensing her brand of wisdom, and it was a good reminder.

My phone buzzes again, and I finally look down. I don’t recognize the number, and normally I’d let it go to voice mail, but right now, I’ll take any distraction I can get.


“Will you accept a collect call from the Clay County Jail?” a computerized voice asks.

What the hell? I haven’t gotten a call from jail in a long time. Not since the year before I moved in with Gran, and Mama was thrown out of a bar for fighting over her latest in a long string of men.

I should hang up, but my curiosity and need for avoidance spur me to respond, “Yes, I’ll accept the charges.”

The voice that comes next sucks me right back into the past.

“Hey, baby. Mama missed you.”

After the fifteenth in-person interview is complete, I finally have two competent security professionals assigned to Holly. The security contractor didn’t object to me doing the interviews, but he did object to me bringing in someone who wasn’t on his team.

“We can’t vouch for him, and if something goes down, we won’t be taking responsibility for it.”

“I can vouch for him,” I say, looking over my shoulder at the brick shithouse who barred me from getting backstage in San Antonio.

His name was easy to get, and his background check showed he was a three-tour Army combat vet formerly of the First Infantry Division.

The man proved his character to me when he turned down my money, but I never would have considered letting him near Holly without a clean background check and a personal interview. He was late coming in from San Antonio, and now I’m running late for lunch with Holly.

A check of my watch shows I’m running really fucking late. As in, if I make it back to the bus in ten minutes, I’ll be just in time to tag along to the radio spot.

Glancing at my two new hires, I wave my hand toward the Escalade. “Load up. Your new job starts now.”

When we arrive back at the bus, it’s empty. Chaz, the driver, is smoking a cigarette and shooting the shit with the crew. According to him, Holly left only a few minutes earlier.

We pile back into the Escalade and head for the highway, which is closed. For a goddamn presidential visit.

“Fuck!” I slam my fist against the dash.

“Sorry to say it, boss, but we ain’t gonna make it on time. This ain’t my hood, so I don’t know the back roads like I would if we were in SA.”

Earlier, I handed off the keys to Marcus, aka the brick shithouse. Ironically, he wasn’t trained in evasive driving maneuvers like the other guy I hired, but considering he dodged roadside bombs in a Humvee, I feel pretty comfortable with him behind the wheel. It would remain to be seen who would be driving Holly around when I wasn’t with her.

I scrub a hand over my face.

“Yeah. I know. Shit. By the time traffic clears, she’ll probably already be on her way to the venue.” I glance from Marcus to the guy in the rear of the SUV. “Let’s head back, and I’ll introduce you to her crew first, and then Holly. She might balk, but regardless of what she says, you stick to the plan. You report to me, not her.”

The man in the back nods wordlessly.

From the driver’s seat, I get an altogether different response. “You gonna be up shit creek for being late, boss?”

I think about how I left things with Holly.

“Then kiss me. Mark me. Let him know that I’m absolutely and completely out of his reach because I belong to you.”

I’m not sure I’ll ever forget her words. They’re etched on my brain and have reverberated ever since she spoke them.

When I started down this road, I couldn’t have envisioned ending up in this position. And I’m not talking about the fact that I’m in an Escalade with two bodyguards driving down the side streets of Dallas. I’m talking about the fact that I’m caught up in this woman in a way that I’ve never been with another. It might have started out as purely physical, but I should have whiplash from how fast things have changed.