Friday, March 25, 2016

First Chapter Spotlight: NOTHING BUT A HOUND DOG

By Marcia James

Chapter One

"Mr. Gates—"
"Call me Rowdy, ma'am." With a practiced, self-deprecating smile, Ryan "Rowdy" Gates did his best to charm Judge Marston with what People Magazine had dubbed his "fourteen-carat charisma."
"Mr. Gates. Do you understand the charges against you?"
His "aw, shucks" country boy act wasn't working. Of course, after going on a bender, then spending the night in the Jenkins, North Carolina jail, he wasn't exactly looking his best. Ryan cleared his throat. "Yes, ma'am. I'm guilty of being drunk and disorderly. I'll apologize and make restitution, if you'll tell me what I did and who to pay."
The judge sighed, looking like every person Ryan had ever disappointed in his sorry life. "I realize that in some locales, celebrities are given special treatment. But not in my court."
Damn. He should've called his lawyer instead of believing he could talk his way out of this mess. Judge Marston reminded him of a humorless teacher who'd regularly sent him to detention in Houston...or was it Mobile? Who the hell could remember which teacher did what when you grew up attending eleven schools in almost as many states?
The judge continued, dragging Ryan's attention back to his current problems. "You're very fortunate the man whose horse you 'borrowed,'" she actually made air quotes, "isn't pressing charges. He says the horse is fine and wasn't hurt by your stunt."
Ryan had known returning to Jenkins to headline the Tyler-Dalton Rodeo was a bad decision. His agent had insisted it was too small a venue for a singer who'd won country music's Entertainer of the Year award. But Tom Tyler, his only friend from high school, had asked him to be his rodeo's top draw. And if he were honest, he'd felt compelled to revisit the town he'd left in his rear-view mirror fifteen years before.
Tuning out the judge's droning lecture, Ryan tried to remember what had happened yesterday. The rodeo had drawn a surprisingly large crowd for a town this small, and the gig had gone well. He'd sent his band back to Nashville on his tour bus, staying behind to spend a few days in the last place he'd lived before hitting the streets at seventeen. There'd been some good times in Jenkins—mostly with Tom and his family—but there'd also been times so dark his mind shied away from the memories.
Last evening, after the crowd had gone home, he'd joined the rodeo cowboys for whiskey shots while he'd waited for Tom to wrap up business. The shots had been a mistake. But being back in this town where his father had died had conjured ghosts of past fears, anger, and pain...and apparently he'd tried to drown them in alcohol. A lot of alcohol.
Judge Marston studied a sheet of paper before stating, "There's damage to several cars, and the fountain in Town Square will need some repairs."
Shit. He vaguely remembered riding a horse through Jenkins and ending up at the grassy park in the center of town. For some idiotic reason, he'd been carrying a pogo stick, the rodeo clown's prop. That might account for the damage to the cars. Then the intelligent chestnut mare had balked at jumping into the fountain—clearly she had more sense than he did—and he'd been thrown ass over ears into the water. He was damn lucky he hadn't broken his neck.
Ryan glanced down at his scuffed ostrich-skin boots. Maybe his dad had been right. He was a total fuck-up. But he didn't have time to kick himself right now. He faced the judge squarely. "Ma'am, I can pay for any repairs, if you'll let me know what I owe."
Her eyes narrowed. "If there's one thing I dislike it's an irresponsible person who thinks any problem can be fixed with a check. Well, Mr. Gates, you will pay to repair the cars and the fountain."
She named a price that made Ryan swallow hard before he remembered he made more than that in one day's worth of his song downloads. Still, no matter how successful he got, inside him was that kid who'd grown up dirt poor, dragged around the south by a drunk dad avoiding the bill collectors.
"And," the judge continued, "you will perform sixty days of community service at the Jenkins Animal Shelter. Maybe working with those unfortunate creatures will make you think twice before risking the life of another horse."
Outrage bubbled up from the core of anger he'd carried all of his life. Ryan had never and would never hurt an animal. But he had ridden a horse drunk. That was a fact. Damn, he was an idiot.
Then the sentencing part of her statement struck home. Sixty days of community service? No way in hell did he have the time to work at some shelter. It was March, and in three months, he was launching a nationwide tour. There were still a hundred details to hammer out. His band, his roadies, and every other person who made his performances possible were counting on the income from this year's tour. "Ma'am, could I speak with you privately?"
"No." She slammed down her gavel with a crash that exploded in his hung-over head. "The court will break for a one-hour lunch recess." Without sparing him another glance, she exited the courtroom.
Ryan mentally cursed. He was up to his eyeballs in steaming manure. As soon as he was free, he was calling his agent and his lawyer. There had to be some way to overturn or, at least, reduce the sentence.
The unsmiling bailiff led Ryan to the cashier to pay for his damages and fines. Fifteen minutes later, he was released on a bond that would have supported every Jenkins resident for a year, if he decided to skip town. But he wouldn't do that. It was one thing to live up to his "Rowdy" nickname and another to act like he was above the law. His grassroots fans would never forgive a singer who thought he was too privileged to get his hands dirty. Besides, he'd been sentenced to work at an animal shelter, not a coal mine.
After the paperwork was done, his belongings were returned to him. Ryan slipped his wallet into his blue jeans' pocket without checking its contents. When his cell phone was handed over, its battery was dead, of course. Muttering a curse, he shoved the phone into the inside pocket of his leather jacket. Then, head lowered, he strode down the courthouse hall and almost ran into Tom.
The former stockcar driver turned entertainment complex owner held up his hands. "Ryan, I'm really sorry—"
"No." He shook his head, instantly regretting the movement. "This is on me."
"But I invited you here. If you hadn't agreed to perform at my rodeo—"
"You didn't pour the whiskey down my throat." Ryan sighed. "I was glad to help. And it was a chance to catch up with you, now that you're not on the circuit anymore." He glanced around the sterile hallway. "Let's blow this joint."
They walked outside, and Tom led him to a black SUV. "I heard about the community service." His friend's expression darkened as they climbed into the vehicle. "Within a few hours, the national press will have the story. Then the gossip reporters will be crawling all over town."
"Yeah. That just adds another layer of shit on this lousy day." Ryan held up his dead iPhone. "I need to go somewhere quiet where I can borrow a phone to call my lawyer." And he needed solitude so he could wrap his hung-over brain around the events of the last twenty-four hours.
"Your duffle bag and guitar are on the back seat, and I'm taking you to my parents' place." Before Ryan could protest, Tom continued, "When I was recuperating from my car wreck, I stayed at the cottage behind the main house. It's better than a hotel room, where you'd be an easy target for the paparazzi. And it's a walled estate, which will keep out the reporters. I'd take you to my house, but you wouldn't get a lot of sleep with Wylie demanding to be fed every couple of hours."
Ryan forced a smile. "Congratulations again on your baby girl. Who would have thought Tom 'Torque' Tyler—champion player on and off the track—would settle down and be a daddy to boot." He'd met Tom's pretty wife Meg and their cute baby yesterday, before the rodeo. As it had then, his gut twisted with envy. Would he ever have what Tom had found? Hell, would he ever belong anywhere with anyone?
"Mom and Dad are out of town on a round-the-world cruise, so you'll have plenty of privacy." As they drove the short distance to the Tylers' home, Tom explained he'd bought the 1800's-era mansion with his race winnings, as a way to thank his parents for always being there for him.
Ryan nodded. Susan and Glen Tyler were special people. They'd been kind to him the year and a half he'd lived in Jenkins. They'd never discouraged Tom from hanging out with "that Gates boy" from the bad side of town. Even in this friendly community, there were bigoted people who judged a kid by his clothes or his blood relatives. The Tylers had never held his father or his circumstances against him.
"This is it." Tom pulled into a driveway and punched a code into a box that opened a wrought-iron gate. "I'll give you the code and a key, once we get you settled."
He drove around the stately, white-columned house, then parked in front of a cottage that was a miniature of the main building, complete with a white exterior and black shutters on the windows.
Ryan got out of the truck, moving slower than his friend, who had carried his duffle and guitar case to the cottage's porch.
Tom unlocked the front door. "C'mon. You can use my phone. And if you want to shower and change, go for it. I'm taking the day off, so I can hang out until you're ready to leave for the shelter."
Ryan glanced down at his clothes, wrinkled from sleeping on the jailhouse bunk. He smelled like horse, booze, and sweat. "A shower would be great."
"When you're finished, I'll take you to grab some lunch." Tom walked into the cottage. "I have a classic Harley that's collecting dust in my garage. You can use it to get around, if you'd like."
"Thanks." Ryan stepped over the threshold. The place was neat and bright. The combination living room, dining room, and kitchen was smaller than the laundry room in his Nashville mansion, but it had a welcoming vibe. There was a hall that led to a bedroom, where he assumed the bath would be. And, more importantly, there was a landline phone next to the leather sofa.
Tom set down his duffle and guitar case, then backed toward the door. "I'm going to check on my parents' house while you make your calls. I'll be out front when you're ready to leave." He left, closing the door behind him.
Ryan dropped onto the sofa and picked up the phone, fighting the sense that he'd lost control of his life. Even these kind offers of Tom's felt a little like being railroaded, which was ridiculous. But ever since he'd been handcuffed and booked into the jail, he'd been caught up in a shit twister that was sweeping him along against his will. He had too many people counting on him for their livelihood to give in and cancel his tour. He needed to fight what his drinking had set into motion.
He needed a plan.

Love Notes releases April 19th! Pre-order your copy today to get Nothing But a Hound Dog and seven other stories full of country music and romance!

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  1. This was my favorite to write so far in my Klein's K-9s series. ;-)

  2. This was my favorite to write so far in my Klein's K-9s series. ;-)