NaNoWriMo 2017...Superstar (not me, just the name of my story, but also me)

At the 11th hour--okay, it was October 29th--I decided to compete in NaNoWriMo 2017.

For those not familiar, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It tales place every November, and I have competed in it almost every year since 2012. It helped me get two of my novels, including Tame My Racing Heart, off the ground. This year I decided to tackle a story I've had in my idea file for many years. It would be taking on a rock opera no less, created by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice--and retelling it with a modern twist.

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Although I didn't come close to hitting the 50,000 word goal for the month of November, I wrote most of the first half and have a bunch of ideas that will push me through the second half, whenever I decide to tackle it. Maybe next year...because it's time to get back to the original work-in-progress.

In the meantime, I'm happy to share the first five VERY ROUGH chapters. I've even referenced the scene names from the movie.

This is my tribute to Jesus Christ Superstar.

This is...

Superstar

Chapter One (Overture)

What is it about a vast barren wasteland where nothing really survives?

A torrid expanse that can turn frigid when the sun goes down. A place where the lack of water turns any rainstorm into a flash flood. 

The Mohave.

It’s legend one of bodies being buried by the mafia, where people escaped to in order to fight their demons, and of haunted claims that certain canyons echoed voices of the dead.

It never stopped anyone from trying to tackle it.

The caravan of identically painted tour buses, that raced along the highway at what seemed break-neck speed, was a testament to that truth.

Dust and rock kicked up from the back tires of every last luxury coach. The rumble of the motors sounding much like the thunderous voices of an anticipating audience. Inside, the compartments came to life as the commuters onboard woke up, showered in the claustrophobic quarters, and started the morning routine of guzzling coffee or ingesting whatever stimulant got them going.

The pace at which they prepared for their day mimicked the speed at which they sailed across the unrelenting landscape, as if the train of vehicles were running from something instead of toward. The buzz of conversation hinted something big was happening and they were almost there.

In the mix of the excited tittering and the flurry of activity on each bus, a few troubled faces stood out.

In one such bus, Penn Bradley sat in a far corner of a booth, out of the way from the six men he had bunked with since they’d left New York four days ago. He nursed a cold cup of coffee, catching the equally weary glance of Hank, his older brother, who was usually better at hiding his emotions. 

Two years apart, but they couldn’t have been more different. Where Penn was dark-haired and dark-eyed, Hank was fair. Penn the more studious, while Hank used his street smarts to get his way. And, Hank was the comedian—not professionally, just the funnier of the Bradley boys. He always had a quip or two at the ready for whenever Penn tried to bring the harsh realities of life into the light.

The last few days, voluntarily trapped with men whom Penn met only moments before they embarked on their journey, had gone from optimistic to apprehensive. Maybe it was because the more he got to know these men, the less he really knew or understood. All he knew was these men were here to do four things: work, drink, screw and sleep.

What a sad existence, Penn gathered. 

A sentiment that made it no wonder Penn’s nickname was Mr. Serious, as his family teased, since day one.

Yes, this seriousness weighed heavy inside the bus. Blended with the scent of beer and pot, Penn felt his stomach churn. Such was the life of running your own production company.

As if on cue, Hank pointed a finger at his temple, fake shooting himself.

The guys around Hank didn't get the intent but laughed just the same. Penn rolled his eyes and stared out the window as the world zipped by.

At least they wouldn't be on the road for much longer.

Two buses back, a face emerged through the throng of men waiting their turn to take a piss or pour a bowl of cereal. Julian Soule pushed past them, elegantly dressed as always—although a plain cotton shirt and jeans would’ve looked fantastic on him. Julian’s slim build had that affect on clothes.

And women.

Julian glanced behind him.

A leggy, brainless blonde, the only woman onboard this particular coach, stepped out from the main bedroom—being the business manager had its perks, and Julian used it to his advantage. No way would he sleep in the compartments in the hallway with these savages. Plus, he had a guest and while she was little more than a distraction for him, he’d made it clear that the bedroom cabin was claimed by him whether or not he had company. Plus, he’d earned the well-deserved romp with someone he didn’t give a shit about. Someone who knew her place in the order of things. She’d most likely disappear when they reached their destination and that was fine with him. He turned away as she lazily draped herself across the small couch behind the booth where three shirtless men played poker.

Yes, Greta was useful until she wasn’t anymore, and her shelf-life would run out in about three hours.

At his left, Julian caught sight of the dry landscape and grimaced.

He hated the desert. Hated the heat. No wonder plants and animals, except for those with spikes and tough skin, couldn’t make it out here.

Not that he wasn’t tough. He just preferred either the busy thrall of New York City or the well-manicured resorts of the Caribbean. He would have to remember to call his relator in the next day or two to check on the search for the perfect island home. He knew it would take a while, he had high expectations of where his retirement home would be located. Retirement was decades away but he wanted a winter home to escape to for when Manhattan’s winter months chilled him to the bone.

What he wouldn’t give to be heading to one of those pristine beaches now.

No, instead they were heading to Disneyland for adults. Sin City. Glitter Gulch. He’d almost rather be dropped off at the next cactus and left to his own devices.

Vegas was shit.

But it was where the job was taking them—taking them all.

All the roadies, the merch table attendants, the hair and makeup artists, and , unfortunately, the hangers-on. 

Why couldn't some people be more like Greta and get the hint?

Julian slipped into the passenger seat next to—Don? Dave? Did it matter?—the bus driver. Nodded a good morning and centered his attention on the bus ahead of them, where the reason for the trip was probably fast asleep.

Jayci—just Jayci and yeah, not her real name—stretched across the queen bed in the back bedroom of the bus, careful not to wake her guest. As the other buses were packed to the gills with her entourage—even thinking that made her stifle a giggle—Jayci had this bus to herself.

It was more room than she needed or knew what to do with, but over the last few days it had been a welcomed sanctuary. And, a chance for her to take a moment for herself.

Sort of.

She rolled onto her side and studied the man sleeping next to her.

Mason McElroy, she’d decided, had the most beautiful eye lashes. Most women would kill for natual length like that; or dish a pretty penny for a tube of mascara that had a similar effect.

It didn’t hurt that the man had perfect bone structure either. Hell, if he wasn’t the walking incarnation of Michelangelo’s David. So different looking from the man he’d been three years ago. Part of her still ached, remembering that night after the show, when she’d found her childhood friend, lying in the alley behind the Lincoln Lounge.

Jayci hadn’t seen him in years and barely recognized him. He’d lost weight, his hair was a knotted mess and dried blood caked his forehead and the side of his face. And, he was half-dead.

As the morning light fought past the heavy curtains, settling on his tanned profile, she studied the barely visible scar over his eyebrow.

Yeah, scars were sexy, but she cringed knowing this one was the result of addiction and violence.

Mason went from living with his middle class bible-thumping parents to barely getting by in a drug den with the wrong type of friends, before he was seventeen.

That night, after she’d pulled him literally out of the gutter and took him the local hospital, she vowed to help him. To do whatever it took to set him down the right path. And, in return, Mason pledged his loyalty and friendship to her. Which came in handy when you were surrounded by a lot of people who claimed to be your friend.

How far he’d come from that lifestyle of pushing uppers and downers on people to touting organics and meditation. Mason was now the picture of perfect health;. His mind was clear. His well-defined muscular physique proof that treating your body like a temple had its benefits.

She ran her fingers through her funky new haircut, and her gaze settled again on the man she shared a bed with, despite never having had sex with him.

Not that she hadn’t considered it. She just didn’t want to ruin the best relationship she had by complicating matters. Lately, however, their flirty banter and sideways expressions were taking on more meaning. Jayci knew it was just a matter of time. And she imagined it would be epic.

How far they’d both come from their small town Midwest existence. 

Jayci—Jessica Camile Hayward to her momma and dad—had gone from playing her guitar in coffee shops and clubs to full arenas almost overnight. Went from helping her momma clip coupons to buying her parent’s their first new luxury SUV all thanks to the sound of her voice, the songs that she wrote, and a business manager who had a knack for making stars out of ordinary college dropouts, so to speak.  

Of course, now that she had money, Jayci intended to finish out her degree once the next few weeks were over. She could even afford to go to a fancy college, and most likely, her stardom would open a few doors. Julian had even agreed on that. She could also finish plans on opening that addiction shelter in her hometown, Mason’s place—wouldn’t he be surprised she names it after him. Thank god Julian had trustworthy realtor connections. Jayci could practically see herself driving the shovel into the ground where her clinic would be or the oversized scissors cutting into the big ribbon of a renovated building.

She had a lot ahead of her.

She just had to get through the next thirty days.

Chapter Two (Heaven on Their Minds)

Julian was the first one off the cavalcade of buses.

All but one coach pulled up to the loading dock of the Viceroy resort and casino, where they were met by hotel representatives. 

He let them get to work and without looking back, made his way to the backstage entrance.

An army of men were already lined up along the hallways to receive the cases of equipment needed to put on the show. Scruffy, somewhat muscular from years of loading and unloading other people’s materials, men who were unionized and tattooed. They were carbon copies of the men on every stop of the tour they’d just finished.

Julian stepped past them and onto the main stage.

In typical Vegas fashion, heavy floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains flanked the stage in hues of amethyst and gold. The seating area started a quarter of the way back from the stage, leaving an open hardwood floor for the audience to stand upon. Both levels of seats were made of premium leather and Julian wondered how long they’d stay nice with the clientele about to descend upon the multi-million dollar venue.

He glanced up at the ornate designs carved into the balcony’s balustrade as he stepped down off the stage, making his way to the exit. He shook his head at the expense it must’ve taken to build the place and pushed through the heavy wooden door.

Out on the casino floor, cigarette smoke assaulted him as bells, dings, and music sent a spike into his temple. Spinning wheels, digital screens, and TV-show themed slots rang non-stop amid the shouts and hollers at the roulette and blackjack tables. It made him wish they’d never agreed to coming to here.

Hopefully, this might be the one and only time he’d have to actually walk through the casino, so he sucked it up and strode to the lobby.

Through the glass doors, the crowd that had gathered outside were standard-issue Jayci groupies. As expected, they were mostly young women from the age of fifteen and up. Some were dressed in Jayci tour t-shirts while others wore a variety of neon and denim, a tribute to one of her hit songs. Older women, most likely moms to the younger followers, attempted to look cool. Lots of leopard prints and big sunglasses adorned their botox-filled profiles.

The men, however, were just that—men. Some were gay but most just inappropriate and creepy.

Who was he to judge, they had money just like everyone else. 

Julian neared the door and frowned. The group of fans was smaller than usual. He pulled his cell from the pocket of his suit jacket and tapped out what the hell with both thumbs.

The reply came almost immediately.

I know, I’m disappointed.

Julian grunted. “Worthless ass.”

Exiting into the queue area by the cab stand, he shielded his eyes from the sun and spotted the small cluster of paparazzi poised across the circular driveway. The sight made him clenched his teeth. 

Again, not the reception he had hoped—or paid—for.

He hated that he was this desperate.

Three years of his life had been managing Jayci’s career twenty-four-seven; and up until a month ago, her status and revenues from the long tour she just finished had been through the roof. Now, she was about to embark on a two-week practice for her week-long residency at the ultramodern gem of the Vegas Strip and she was being greeted by a disappointing crowd.

Julian should’ve turned around, went back into the casino and laid a bet down that waning interest in his client was tied to that incessant mongrel Mason McElroy.

McElroy had been in the background of Jayci’s life until one day, he was front and center. Suddenly, he was her date to award shows, seen in picture after picture with his perfect physique and shit-eating grin. He was rumored to be anything from her trainer, to her guru, to her lover.

It made Julian sick to think that junkie was anything more than a friend to her. And, he knew from experience, the second you seem the least bit unattainable to your fans—or your fans disapprove of your companion—it’s over.

Then, there were the comments she kept making about the music industry. The cost of tickets for one, and how people deserve to pay a fair price for the two hours of entertainment any musician offered. It wasn’t just a flippant comment either, she made it in front of a large group of fans and bloggers. He never predicted how seriously it would blow up in their faces when the tickets for her show started at over two hundred dollars. 

Jayci immediately begged for cheaper options. She never understood they’d barely be able to cover the cost of production, even without an opening act, if they budged on the price.

Now it looked like they weren't even close to selling the place out every night like he’d promised she would. Not even with the opportunity of meet and greets with the higher priced admission moved the needle. 

The livelihoods of everyone involved—minus the entourage of idiots that seemed to follow her—they could piss right the hell off.

And, the casino’s managers were breathing down his neck to fix the problem of less-than-stellar sales. So he’d spent the last few days on the bus brainstorming ideas but time was running out.

Screams erupted from the crowd of fans as the singular bus pulled onto the driveway, and turned slightly to accommodate the paparazzi’s sightline for pictures and video.

Julian pulled his cellphone out and hoped she had her phone on.

Exit alone. Do not have him with you, please.

Julian waited for the notification confirming she’d seen it.

The bubble appeared she was responding. 

Fine.

He breathed a sigh of relief and a small semblance of a smile twitched at the corners of his mouth.

Like clockwork, the casino’s security stepped up to the bus to receive their celebrity guest.

When she appeared through the doorway, he instantly recognized her as pop idol Jayci. Not the girl in braids he’d met in the coffee shop with the secondhand guitar. This was the superstar with the funky haircut and the designer clothes.

She smiled and hugged every person she came into contact with, posed for pictures, signed autographs and listened with genuine interest as each fan poured their heart out to her. He’d give her one thing, she had charisma and knew how to work a crowd—even if it were a pathetic turnout. 

Although people still seemed to be enamored by her, that love meant nothing unless it turned into cash.

Jayci was scheduled for five shows a week for the next four weeks. He needed to find ways to sell those tickets fast, or they’d lose money on this deal, and he could kiss that island home goodbye. 

Julian was the first to admit, all of this affected his personal gain, but he truly cared for Jayci, or Jessica, as he called her by her real name behind closed doors, when they had to have real talk.

Maybe it was time for that talk again.

Chapter Three (What's the Buzz / Strange Mystifying Thing)

The paparazzi were usually good at keeping their distance.

Jayci assumed Julian had untethered them from the sidelines because in her peripheral, the crowd suddenly grew around her. The clicks of cameras went off in her ears and the assault of questions commenced.

How was the long trip from New York, Jayci?

Are you excited to be playing at the Viceroy, Jayci?

Can you tell us if you’re working on a new album, Jayci?

What do you think about ticket sales being so low, Jayci?

That one grated her nerves.

It took every ounce of willpower she had not to turn around and tell them exactly what she thought. That the prices were too high, that the casino raking in millions every day from gullible customers was being greedy, and after this, well—she very well might be done with the industry.

No new album.

No next tour.

No more ridiculous ticket prices.

She’d squirreled away enough money that she could get out and go back to living a normal life if she really wanted. Question was, what did she want?

Jayci would admit it had been fun at first. The attention, the chance to sing her songs to packed stadiums of people singing along; and the money wasn’t bad either. It afforded her luxuries she would’ve never acquired strumming day and night in half-empty coffee houses and taverns.

It was the lifestyle that was getting to her. The constant security detail at events, the long days and longer nights, even the inability to go to Target for toothpaste—alone. Mostly, she missed her privacy. Every sneeze or misstep was cataloged and discussed and analyzed. And when the media was cruel, it was hard not to personalize the assumptions they made about her.

Julian had tried to coach her through most of it.

Glancing over at him, where he leaned against the wall near the casino’s entrance, she remembered the night they met. It felt like thirty years ago, even though it had only been three and she was only twenty-seven.

He’d given up so much to get her this far. He’d lost his wife—although Julian had said their marriage was doomed before it began. When the record company made it clear they weren’t invested in marketing her album, half of Julian’s divorce settlement helped fund the promotion of it. He got her a stylist, secured morning show interviews on radio and television, and put provocative ads where her target audience was sure to see them.

He was business savvy and ruthless, but he was also the person she trusted the most.  And besides Mason, Julian was the only other person she could be herself around.

She looked over at Julian again. 

He was staring into the distance. He looked tired. Probably because he’d been losing a lot of sleep—thanks to her.

The most recent bout was definitely her fault with the snarky remark about ticket prices. If only she’d kept her mouth shut. Julian always advised her to keep her opinions to herself in public, but she’d felt such outrage when someone asked her why she thought it was okay to charge such extraordinary amounts for concert seats.

Jayci felt a hand on her shoulder. Two of the security team members near her started to guide her toward the casino’s entrance as the other two men in black uniforms became a shield behind her. 

The crowd and the paparazzi followed regardless. 

Nope. Jayci would not miss this one bit. The constant need for protection. The need to be herded in and out of places.

As she and the crowd filtered inside, Julian caught up to her and cupped her elbow. 

“The paps normally can't come inside with their cameras but I've taken care of that,” Julian muttered and looked around the casino. “Maybe the commotion will drive some interest in this sorry lot.” 

Jayci scanned the room. The bar off to her right was buzzing with conversation and ahead she could see the flashing lights of the machines.

Few heads turned her way. Just another day in a Vegas casino. 

Still, she plastered on her best smile.

A group of young women suddenly ran up to her screaming and jumping up and down. They drew the attention of other curious casino patrons, who headed her way. Soon the room was buzzing and camera phone flashes went off. 

Additional security swarmed at them immediately, building a bridge between her and the crowd. Jayci turned and waved before they rushed her toward the elevators. 

Inside the elevator car, when she and Julian were finally alone, her smile dissolved.

“So, how much did you pay those girls to do that?” she asked, staring up at the numbers counting to the penthouse.

“Don’t worry about that. It’s been a long trip here, and we have a few days before rehearsal. Just take advantage of the down time.”

“All I’ve had is downtime, Jules. Day after day on the road to get here. I’ve had downtime in spades—forgive the casino pun. I need to do something. If coming up with creative ways to sell seats is part of your agenda, it should be part of my agenda.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him stiffen.

“Like I said, don’t worry about it.” He pulled a keycard from his pocket.

When the elevator doors opened, Julian exited first, slipping the card into the hotel room door. 

Jayci put a hand on his shoulder as he opened the door for her. “We’ll figure it out. Together, okay?”

“Sure. In the meantime, get some rest.”

Music sounded from inside the penthouse, signaling they weren’t alone. 

It was a party song, and cheers erupted.

Julian’s shoulders dropped in defeat as a giddy smile spread across Jayci’s face.

The entourage had already settled in.

Jayci sashayed into the room of people who’d become her friends over the last year—the make up artist, the hairstylist, some of the dancers, and other companions who helped put on her recent tour.

The penthouse looked like something out of a movie, with high-end furniture and sconces on the walls that could’ve come from Buckingham Palace. It was bigger than most apartments, complete with two bedrooms, a dining area, and a full kitchen. Huge floor to ceiling windows gave a thirtieth floor view of the Las Vegas Strip, with its impressive mountain backdrop. 

The group was popping open bottles of champagne and danced around the living room in celebration of her arrival.

Then came the chorus of questions.

Can you believe this hotel, Jayci?

Have you checked out the view, Jayci?

Are these just the most adorable sequined pillows, Jayci?

Couldn’t you just die on this plush sofa, Jayci?

It was as if the paparazzi had possessed them. 

As Jayci lightly laughed and hugged each of them, she saw that Julian had moved over to the window. His expression conveyed just how annoyed he was by the chaos.

“Yes, yes. We are really lucky to be in this beautiful hotel. I’m anticipating a long hot bath before we have dinner tonight.” She held out her hands and two of the dancers took them, pulling her into a group hug.

The team swirled around her and it made her a little dizzy. More questions followed.

Should we order you some food now, Jayci?

Do you think we have enough to drink, Jayci?

Want us to hang up your clothes, Jayci?

Did you hear what the media’s said about you, Jayci?

Nausea hit her. She didn't want to know what was being said. She didn’t care if she ever watched the news again.

Like clockwork, the kitchen door opened and Mason appeared with a tray. 

Jayci glanced at Julian. He rolled his eyes, instantly crossed his arms and stared out the window. 

She knew he didn’t approve but the scent of chamomile filled the air, and she decided to ignore Julian’s reaction.

“Come, J,” Mason motioned for her to sit on the sofa as he set the tray down.

The Chinese ceramic tea set she traveled with was laid out before her as she sank into the cushions. 

Mason poured her a cup and sat down next to her, rubbing his hand across her back. 

The first sip was perfection as his fingers dug into her shoulders.

“You’re so tense. Maybe we can get you into the spa, or have someone come up to work these knots out.”

Julian’s voice boomed from across the room. “Okay, everyone. It’s been a long road trip so let’s give our girl some time to unwind. We can continue all of this when we see you at dinner.”

Cries of disappointment rang out but they seemed to understand her need to decompress. With promises to see her later, they all left the room, taking the bottles of champagne with them.

All except Mason.

Jayci could feel Julian’s glare, and it wasn’t being directed at her.

She put her hand on Mason’s knee. “Can you give me a minute with Julian, sweetie?”

Mason squeezed her shoulder. “Sure. I’ll go unpack.” He lifted off the sofa and avoided passing by Julian. He circled the table and headed into the master suite.

Mason had barely shut the door when Julian spoke.

“He’s staying here?”

“Yes, of course, he’s staying here.” She sipped her tea.

“Why are you wasting your time with this guy, Jessica?”

 “Do we have to do this again, Jules?”

“Look, I get it, your childhood friends. You have a history. But, you don’t need this—this distraction.”

She set her cup down and glanced at the bedroom door. 

“He’s not a distraction. I need him here.” She looked up at Julian, who stared out the window again. “I need him as much as I need you.”

Julian’s head snapped to look at her. He stabbed his finger toward the bedroom. “He’s an addict, Jess. Why can’t you see that?”

Jayci was on her feet and crossed the room to him. “Lower your voice. And do not talk about him that way. He’s come a long way from those days.”

“I’m not talking about drugs, I’m talking about his behavior. He’s always around, always up in your business. He’s in the way.”

“Says who? You?” She glared at him.

“Yes. Me.” His chest heaved as he inhaled. “I’m trying to make sure this whole thing doesn’t implode, and he’s making you tea and advocating group meditation. Meanwhile, he lives like a king. He’s using you.”

Jayci took a deep breath and blew it out. Her emotions were about to get the best of her and she didn’t want to say something out of anger. 

Granted, Mason had taught her that. Stop, breathe, think.

“In the end, isn’t everyone using me to get what they want?” 

Her words hit home. Julian’s fury lessened and he looked away. 

She reached for him, taking his hand.

“Jules, you know I’m on board here, right? I’m ready to do what it takes so we can all succeed. Please don’t ask me to give up the one thing that might allow me to be happy once this is all said and done.”

His eyes roamed her face and after several moments, he asked, “Do you love him?”

Jayci dropped his hand and shrugged. “I—I need him. I need both of you.”

Julian nodded. “Fine.”

But Jayci had a feeling it was anything but fine.

Chapter Four (Then We are Decided)

Christian Warner waited for his business associate in the Viceroy’s restaurant bar, a glass of Knob Creek whiskey in his hand.

His dress shirt was unbuttoned with the tie hung askew, his other hand dug into his thick black hair. The Warner men were gifted that way. His grandfather had a full head of jet-black hair until he died at ninety years old. The downside, frequent haircuts to keep it under control.

Right now, scheduling an appointment with his barber with the last thing on his mind.

The bottom of the glass rubbed against the wood grain table as Christian turned it, making a subtle scraping noise that seemed to help him think.

He had a lot to think about.

The first-ever residency for the Viceroy that he was sure would draw in millions of dollars was tanking before it even began. The Viceroy’s owners and the board of directors were in turmoil over it. For the first time in his long career managing casinos, he’d placed all his chips on a bad hand.

The pop star who’d just come off a sold out stadium tour couldn’t fill the Viceroy’s four-thousand seat theater. Not even on opening night.

Her manager promised he would fix it, find a way to incite interest and sell tickets. Julian Soule could be a real snake when he needed to be but Christian didn’t have much faith in anyone but himself and his business associate. They would come up with a solution, not the artist’s manager. 

Although Soule’s buy-in would be needed to help turn this thing around, Christian really only needed the one person who would mastermind the plan.

That person now walked toward him from across the room.

Anna Cortez looked stunning in her tailored black suit with her signature houndstooth accessory. She was never without a splash of the bold pattern somewhere on her outfit. Today it was a scarf around her neck.

She even owned houndstooth-patterned panties. 

Christian knew because he’s had firsthand experience removing them in the confines of his office last July. 

It had been an unexpected end to a long evening of working together. The grand opening of the casino had gone off without any issues, and the trades were writing articles of high praise. The result was the hotel being completely sold out for the first six months.

Christian had opened the bottle of cognac he’d been saving for a special occasion. It took one glass and Anna was all over him.

They’d been having a secret affair every since.

Secret, not because they were married to other people, but due to their roles within the company.

As the Viceroy’s marketing vice president and social media maven, Anna Cortez was also one of the owners daughters. No matter how successful either one of them were in their own right, neither wanted their secret to tarnish their careers. One hint that they were screwing would surely make their colleagues and people in the industry think differently about them.

Plus, that’s all it was.

Screwing.

Not love-making, just outright screwing.

Christian didn’t love her. Not one bit. He enjoyed having sex with her. Appreciated the way he felt inside her. She was convenient, available and willing. He trusted her as his advisor and respected her as a business associate, but there was no future for them as a couple.

Anna always knew what to do when he was frustrated, and it went well beyond blowjobs in his office. She was smart and business savvy, and with today’s arrival of their resident pop star, Christian needed her help. 

“Sorry I’m late.” Anna set her Prada handbag on the chair next to her and signaled the bartender for a club soda. Her gaze crossed over Christian’s face. “You look like hell.”

“Did you see my email? Opening night has us already in the hole.” Christian nodded as the bartender refreshed his glass. “There isn’t one night over that whole week that is more than fifty percent capacity and we only have two weeks to go. I don’t understand. Her tour did so well.”

“I told you she was, at best, a one hit wonder.” Anna tapped her long red nails on her glass.

“The board is going to have my head if this tanks.”

“Well, it’s a good thing you have me to make sure that doesn’t happen. I put a call into a friend and I think I have a solution.”

Christian raised an eyebrow at her.

“Simone.”

Christian’s eyes widened. “Simone? As what, the headliner? We’ve already done all the marketing for Jayci.”

“No, not as headliner. Simone would open.” Anna pursed her lips onto the straw and sipped her drink.

“How? She’s ten times the star Jayci will ever be. Would she really lower herself to play a half hour show?”

“Funny enough, Simone is a huge fan of Jayci’s. All we have to do is pay her a hundred grand per show. She said she wants to get back to her roots and do an acoustic set. We can use Jayci’s guitarist, so that’ll save us a ton. And we have an option to have her come out during Jayci’s set for a duet.” Anna raised an eyebrow and a sly smile appeared on her lips. “I’ve calculated the projections for what it would do for the show. All we have to do is slap stickers on the posters that say ‘with special guest’ and those tickets will sell out.”

Christian sat in awe of the woman before him.

“You just have to bring it before the board. You might have to scare them with bankruptcy if they falter. But also tell them, we will option for Simone to headline if we have to. We can call them co-headliners to save face. Julian Soule will have no choice.”

Christian’s stare smoldered. “I want to take you up to my office right now and show you how much I appreciate this.”

“Good, because I already have the contracts already sitting on your desk.”

Chapter Five (Everything's Alright)

The properly “sauced” party retreated back to Jayci’s penthouse after dinner, much to Julian’s displeasure.

Mason knew if Julian had his way, no one would be allowed in her suite, especially him.

He’d heard every word that had been said earlier. The closed bedroom door wasn’t much of a barrier.

Not that it was a surprise to Mason. He knew Julian didn’t like him very much. But, he also knew how Jayci felt—mostly.

He’d held his breath when he heard Julian ask Jayci if she was in love.

Her answer, I need him, was meant to protect Julian as much as it was meant to protect herself.

Mason empathized with her need to build walls around herself. At one time, his had been made of cocaine and booze. He’d run from his demons by hurtling himself into bad habits and they’d almost killed him.

Until she came back into his life.

Although they’d not been super close as kids, they had hung in the same circles. They went to the same kids parties, had some of the same classes, even partnered on their seventh grade science project.

Mason had always liked the girl he knew back then as Jessica Hayward. 

How he ended up in the emergency room with her by his side over a decade from the last time he’d seen her was like some sort of miracle. He probably would’ve been dead if she hadn’t found him.

One of the Bradley brothers elbowed him. It was Hank.

Mason liked Hank. He was always cynically positive about things. His brother, Penn, always looked worried or stressed.

“So, Mason,” Hank said and swirled the beer in his frozen mug. “I’ve been thinking about going vegan. Any suggestions?”

“Vegan? Why on earth would you want to do that?” Mason asked.

Hank seemed to ponder the question and shrugged. “Yeah, I guess that’s pretty dumb, huh? I did just eat a big ass filet and it was delicious.” He laughed and put his arm around the girl standing next to him, but she pulled away.

Mason watched her cross the room and sit down near Jayci, who was on the sofa among a group of dancers and backup singers. Ethereal music played, and it looked like almost everyone had a decent buzz going. Two of the women were carrying on about some sort of clothing mishap. Jayci looked completely interested in what they were saying but Mason knew better.

He could see it in her eyes.

She was exhausted and she felt obligated to them. These people made every single show possible and Jayci would never let that fact get clouded by mood or energy level. 

Still, maybe Julian wasn’t wrong to want to cut the evening short.

Mason crossed the room to the dining table and reached into the small shopping bag he’d brought back from wandering the Strip that afternoon.

He produced the bottle of essential oils he’d purchased and brought it over to where Jayci sat.

The group looked up at Mason and he nodded with a small smile. Like trained cats, they all slinked away to the other side of the room. 

Mason sank onto the sofa next to her.

“My savior,” Jayci whispered and laughed.

“Just returning the favor.” Mason opened the bottle and put a few drops into his palm. He rubbed his hands together and ran his fingers across her forehead. “Just relax, J. I know you’ve got a lot going on inside that pretty head of yours.”

Jayci closed her eyes and laid back against the cushion. “That smells so good.”

“Lavender. I went out before dinner while you were sleeping. Great little store in the corridor between this hotel and the one next door.”

“How much did that cost us, Mason?” Julian’s words sliced the air of tranquility Mason had been trying to produce.

“Julian.” Jayci lifted her head from the cushion as Mason began to rub the oils onto her wrists.

“Don’t ‘Julian’ me, we need to watch what we’re spending. We just had a thousand dollar dinner and I can’t be funding Buddha-Boy’s hobbies.”

Mason did his best to ignore Julian’s hurtful words but it was upsetting his friend.

“I paid for it myself,” Mason interjected.

“With what money? You don't work.”

“Julian!” Jayci shouted and a few heads turned in their direction.

Mason saw the look Julian shot his way and he suspected the three glasses of wine at dinner were the culprit of the glassy-eyed glare being sent his way.

Jayci shifted on the sofa. “Don't pay any attention to him, Mason.” She waved her hand in Julian’s direction.

“Oh, I’m pretty sure he pays absolutely no attention to me.” Julian muttered over his shoulder as he turned to pour another drink.

“Come on, J,” Mason said. “He’s just as concerned for you as I am.”

Julian set the bottle of vodka on the drink cart hard and turned with a sneer. “If you were concerned, Mr. McElroy, you wouldn’t be out wasting your money on bullshit. You’ll need that money when your meal ticket realizes what you’re doing.”

Jayci shot off the sofa but Mason grabbed her hand.

“Breathe, J,” Mason said in a calming voice as he stood up beside her.

Julian shook his head. “Yes, breathe. Air, at least, is free.”

“Surely you can’t tell me that one bottle of oil is gonna break us, Julian, because I happen to like it. Maybe I’ll go out and buy more.” Jayci shifted her weight from one hip to the other.

Mason could feel dozens of eyes staring in their direction.

“You don’t need it. We need to stay under budget if we can’t sell out the theater.” Julian downed the drink he poured and set the glass on the table.

Jayci’s shoulders dropped. “We start rehearsals in two days. Why can't we just enjoy what we've got right now. It'll all be over soon enough and everyone will part ways and move on.”

A collective sound of aw’s came from across the room.

Mason realized perhaps Jayci had a few too many cocktails herself as she pulled from his grasp and addressed the room.

“We just had a great year, have we not?” she asked.

Everyone nodded collectively.

“And I guess you all know this residency isn’t pulling nearly the numbers.” Jayci looked pointedly at Julian, who leaned against the wall with his arms folded.

 Mason wondered where this was heading.

“I imagine if we don't hit the goals this over-indulgent hotel has asked us of, then some of you may not get paid quite what you expected.” She stared at the Bradley men. “I imagine you two can only do so much on a skeleton crew.”

Penn Bradley nodded at her.

“It's safe to say we don’t really know what the future holds. So, I want each of you to know how much I appreciate you sticking with me, but if you need to find other avenues of income, I get it.”

The immediate response echoed throughout the suite. They'd never leave her.

Mason joined her at her side.

“We’re the lucky ones.” Mason put a hand on her shoulder and the room stood.

We’re here for you, Jayci.

Whatever you need, Jayci.

We’d work for peanuts, Jayci.

We love you, Jayci.

In Mason’s peripheral, Julian set down his glass and crossed to the penthouse door, slamming it behind him.

Jayci jumped at the sound but smiled at the group before her.

Mason leaned in and whispered in her ear. “Everything’s going to be alright.”

***

Thanks for reading!

Location, location, location

Not bad for a late October day in the Windy City

Not bad for a late October day in the Windy City

Chicago.

I love reading and writing stories that feature it.

It's home.

Even though I grew up in the western suburbs and live there now, even though technically I only lived in city for a total of 3-4 years, even though I only worked half of my entire career in the Loop.

Chicago. Is. Home.

This became even more apparent to me as my hubby and I wandered a small section of it yesterday with our nephew. From the Mart to the Lake, from Daley Plaza to the Bean--the nephew's goal to take 250 pictures for photography class and our goal to show him the city he's barely seen. The sliver of land we covered was just a taste of everything Chicago offers but I saw things I never noticed before, and they all reminded me why I love the city.

When I was younger, the city was a mystery to me. I remember some of the first trips I took with my dad to concerts or sporting events, entranced by the skyline, mesmerized by the activity, and intrigued by the people. Then, when I was in college, my friends and I hit some of the bars. China Club, Medusa's, The Exit, The Beaumont, to name a few. My college radio friends took me to Wax Trax and the Alley, where I bought music and black t-shirts.

From meeting (Ogilvie Train Station), to dating (so many places), to living with (Lincoln Square) and then marrying my hubby (in the Hancock Center), there's no doubt to how much we love it.

The next novel I'll be working on is based in Chicago. It's the story of new beginnings for the heroine, and a career comeback for the hero's brother. It's based in the music industry (working 15 years in radio helped shape the story for sure), and the city plays an important role.

I had spent 2011-2016 working in the northern suburbs thanks to a job change. I missed Chicago. Maybe not the commute, but the energy, the opportunities, and that skyline. I literally created the role I'm in now (the day job) so I could be back in the city.

Every day, whether it's the view from the train or my car, that skyline still makes me swoon.

Highlights of our route with the nephew (doesn't include a quick trip to Wrigley Field or Wilmette to photograph the Bahai Temple)...15,000 steps on the tracker!

Highlights of our route with the nephew (doesn't include a quick trip to Wrigley Field or Wilmette to photograph the Bahai Temple)...15,000 steps on the tracker!

Monthly Blog: Back to "School"

It's mid-September and the leaves are starting to change on the trees outside my home-office window. Despite some 80+ degree temps in Chicago, and my A/C still running, we are on the verge of Fall.

Those cute booties I packed away months ago are already calling out "wear me." The three hangers of pretty scarves in my closet are ready to make their reappearance.

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I am a huge fan of fall (aka less sweat and pumpkin spice). Still, if there's one thing I truly miss when it gets to be this time of the year, it's back-to-school shopping.

The fresh set of pens and the notebooks that just begged to be filled with words...some of them even school-related words! While the studying and homework part lacked appeal, knowing that I had college-ruled pages available, made me giddy.

Perhaps that was when the addiction started.

Suffice it to say, as I writer, I still buy notebooks to write in. These have much more personality than Mead or Five Star could even attempt to bother to design. They come from a variety of places--bookstores, book fairs, museum stores, etc. My boss used to get them at conferences, or vendors would send them his ("my") way. Sometimes Walgreens even has a unique option.

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Wherever they come from, for some reason, each notebook has it's own distinct purpose. Taking notes for creative writing classes, journalling, brainstorming story ideas, sightseeing ideas and results of trips we've taken. I have one textured notebook with gold-tipped pages that I started journalling in five years ago. It started as a place I'd put ideas for my novel, website, blog, but then it became a place I would celebrate accomplishments or bitch about life. The last two years, the entries have become few and far between. I usually write a brief update about what's been going on lately, just to catch up with myself so to speak. I know this lack of "dear diary" is due to my intense guilt (I have it now writing this blog), that any writing I'm doing should be focused on my current novel. But I like knowing that I have that notebook. That I can pull it out, grab a pen and just write--manually.

There's something about writing longhand with a pen--the right pen--that is almost therapeutic. It not only takes me back to my teen years of when I would write my stories in those boring old spirals, but it allows me to think. Typing is sometimes too fast for my brain to work out an idea. When I am hand-writing something, it gives me a chance to think of the next words as I neatly, in cursive of course, parse out my thoughts.

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but give me a smooth ballpoint and a notebook and I can write for hours. Stick me at a keyboard and I feel that the starts and stops merely disrupt my creative juices. I guess that's why I keep lined paper in the drawer under my laptop. 

Sometimes, you just have to go old school.

 

Story Tasting: TMRH

Instead of writing the random blog this month, I decided to share an excerpt from Tame My Racing Heart. I am rounding the bend in the second act and heading for the finish line (see what I did there?) so I thought I'd offer up a small taste...and I'm super lazy right now. LOL

Chapter Five

Gray had been awake for nearly an hour when he heard movement from the bedroom. The sound of the blankets shifting was followed by Sami’s footsteps to the bathroom. 

He’d spent the night on the sofa in her hotel room, just to make sure she didn’t pull another stunt like last night, and also to intercept Stevens if he made a surprise visit. 

You should have taken her out of the nightclub as soon as the event was over.

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He knew too well that all it took was that one brief moment. It could mean the difference between life or death. One moment you’re in a chopper with your buddies and the next, you’re treading water, two of your friends are dead and your shoulder is split in two by a bullet.

Okay, maybe the situation with Sami wasn’t exactly the same, but that one brief moment he’d looked down to tell Sasha to get lost, had cost him.

Gray heard the shower turn on and checked his watch. A car was coming to get them in an hour, so he headed into his room for a quick shower and to pack. 

Just as he was zipping up his carry-on, his phone rang.

Mom appeared on his screen.

Gray barely got the title off his lips before Peggy Finch was speaking over him.

“Grayson, you know it would be really nice if you’d just call once in a while. I don’t care how old you are, I’m always going to worry about you.”

“Yes, Mom. I’m sorry, I know it’s been a while.”

“A while?” Peggy laughed into the phone.

“How are you, Mom? How’s your knee?”

“Oh, not so great. Looks like I’ll need a replacement. I just don’t know when I’ll have the time. We have so much going on here.” He listened to his mom rattle off a list of events she was in charge of at the senior community where they lived in Scottsdale. “Plus, I just started delivering for Meals on Wheels and I can’t let them down. In the meantime, some of the ladies in my water aerobics class swear by some new herbal candy that’s supposed to help with pain management. Tomorrow, a bunch of us are going to see if we can buy some at the pharmacy.”

Herbal—

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“Mom, those are called edibles and they have cannabis in them. They sell them at a dispensary, not a pharmacy. It’s medical marijuana. You know that, right?”

“How do you know about it, Grayson?” Peggy’s tone sent him right back to adolescence.

“Mom, I mean, come on.” Gray rubbed his forehead.

“I’m just saying, you still have shoulder pain, maybe it would do you some good—“

“How’s dad?” Gray never asked about Jack Finch, but he’d do anything not to talk about weed or his chronic shoulder pain with his mother.

Peggy seemed to be caught off guard with the questioning and stammered a bit. “He’s doing well. Should I tell him you asked about him?”

Gray grunted. “I have to go, Mom, I’m heading to the airport soon.”

“Well, it’s nice to hear your voice.” She cleared her throat. “You know, your dad turns sixty-five in a few weeks. It would be nice if you could come to the party we’re having. I’ll email you the info.”

“Yeah, okay, Mom. I really gotta run. I’ll call you in a few days.” Gray ended the call before Peggy could speak again and grimaced. She’d find a way to make him feel guilty for that the next time they spoke.

He ran a hand over his face and pulled his suitcase over to the adjoining door.

Instead of barging in, he decided to politely knock before opening the door.

Sami stood in faded jeans, a cotton shirt with Myrtle Beach silk-screened on the front, and a black suede baseball hat over hair that was pulled into a low ponytail. 

She looked smaller, almost innocent. Her eyes remained downcast, but Gray could see the puffiness around them.

“Is this your incognito look?”

“This is my hung over look.” Sami slipped her sunglasses on. “I need coffee before we go.”

Gray followed her to the Starbucks in the hotel lobby and stood to the side as she ordered. He looked across the beige marble columns to the checkout desk where Chris Stevens stood with the woman who’d succeeded in distracting him last night.

Breathing through the urge to go over and beat the shit out of Stevens, Gray glanced over at Sami, curious how she’d react to seeing them. She had put her ear buds in to take a call, not noticing the couple at all.

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“Alec? Hey, sweetie.”

The boyfriend.

Sami’s tone was casual, like she hadn’t just cheated on him—but had she? Either way, she had flirted with another guy, stood for pictures with him at the event, even went back to his room.

Gray bit his lip.

And what would you have done if she’d told you she was going back to Stevens’ room? Tell her no. Stand outside the room while they—

Either way, she was acting like a spoiled brat. Sneaking away like that eighteen-year-old girl he once knew—except back then, she was sneaking away to be with him.

Gray heard Sami whisper “love you” into the phone.

He couldn’t get on that plane fast enough.