'Fate can kiss my big, country ass' is the only thought that music sensation Joselyn Tillman , can string together as she kicks the cold, hospital bed. Country music hearthrob, Dean Covington, watches the love of his life go from the vibrant, healthy lead singer of their band, Whiskey Bent, to lying in the hospital choosing to die. Will the lovebirds of country music ever make sweet music again? Or will they have to cancel the show?
The white leather from my form fitting pantsuit makes my ass cheeks sweaty. Still, I plaster on my best awards show smile. I’m surrounded by satin and sequins. Elegant, flawless, and definitely not for me. After five years on the stage, I still get nauseated. My tummy flip-flops and my legs turn to warm jelly. Would I change any of it? Not on your damn life.
I live to sing.
Dean leans in and whispers, “Camera,” giving me the usual heads up. It’s the damnedest thing. For some reason, I never pay attention to the roaming photographers in the audience. Which is totally out of character for me since I constantly worry about the fans, the media, and even worse, the critics.
As the lens zooms past our section, Dean wraps his arm around my shoulders and plants a big kiss square on my lips. Exactly what one would expect from the lovebirds of country music. Here we go.
Two of my mentors present the nominees for best Vocal Group of the Year. This part never gets any easier. Either you are left struggling in support of your peers, or you’re trying to remain humble while making sure you don’t trip, have a wardrobe malfunction, or fart. Regardless, it sends me into a full anxiety meltdown.
Thank god for Dean. My prince charming in Chuck T’s.
“And the winner of the Vocal Group of the Year is…” The presenter pauses for effect. “Wow, for the second year in a row, Whiskey Bent!”
Applause breaks out among the crowd, bittersweet clapping from those nominated. Dean stands and offers his hand. I’m beaming as I gaze up at him and graciously accept. I’m floating on cloud nine as I make my way to the stage. The hot lights cause little beads of sweat to break out along the nape of my neck, leaving me thankful that I remembered to wear my hair up. Deep auburn tendrils piled high, revealing my bare shoulders.
I glance down and notice my cleavage bouncing with every step.
Shit. Come on girls, play nice. No wardrobe malfunctions tonight.
Everything is a blur. I hear a voice, my voice. Somehow, through the knots and queasiness in my tummy, I manage to form words. Dean’s hand remains on the small of my back. The slight weight of his hand serves as my security blanket.
I flash a smile, blow a kiss, and step aside, allowing Dean to do what he does best. He exudes charm. The true face of Whiskey Bent. Women hang on his every word. Men attempt to figure him out, the muscular country music heartthrob who wears sneakers and ear gauges.
After the rest of the band members share a few words, we’re ushered off the stage through the side curtain. I grin for the photographers who are hoping to snap shots of my misfortune. Negative pictures sell for a shit ton more money than positive ones these days.
Once we’re down the hall, we have a moment to breathe.
“You did it, baby. It’s all downhill from here.”
I nod and smile because I know that he wants me to. That’s all Dean’s ever wanted, my happiness. That’s probably why he insists on taking a break from recording and touring to go home and spend some time on the ranch. He thinks it’ll make me happy, claiming it would be good for me, whatever that means.
The thought of stepping away from country music, even for an hour, makes my chest hurt. The brief visits home are nice, but only for a few days. It doesn’t take long for me to start itching for that microphone. I can tolerate the fancy award shows and the crippling panic attacks. It’s a small price to pay for the way my body buzzes as I belt out that first note.
Now, that’s a feeling that never gets old.
I roll over in the oversized hotel bed, rubbing my groggy eyes with the balls of my palms. I examine the room. It’s like making a pit stop in a mansion compared to the compact, tour bus. My head throbs as the large vein thumps against my temple. Too much celebratory toasting.
I spot the spread on the round dining table. Fresh strawberries, blueberry muffins, and Greek yogurt. All of my favorites. The room smells of black coffee and the spicy scent of Dean’s aftershave.
I hear his deep, baritone voice humming a new tune. I have goose bumps.
“Hey baby, it’s a gorgeous morning. I thought we could have a cup of joe and maybe go for a drive up the coast. What do ya think?”
I see the hope in his stunning, crystal blue eyes. He misses the downtime. Unfortunately, for him, I’m the exact opposite. Downtime is dangerous. Thoughts creep into unwanted territory.
“Sorry, love. I’m gonna hit the gym for a couple of hours. Then I have to meet up with Eric to work on those harmony pieces for the solo project. Maybe later?”
Dean stands and leans in for a kiss, allowing his lips to linger for just the right length of time. Perfection. Comforting, yet full of fire, leaving me yearning for more.
“Yeah, darlin. You do what you need to. I’m gonna check in with the boys and see if we can’t get a pickup game started.”
I wrap my arms around his thick neck. “Sounds good,” I say before snagging a second kiss. “We’ll meet back up here later?”
“Of course.” He winks and disappears.
I breathe a weighty sigh. Alone. I glance around the large, spacious room, longing for the confinement of my metal box on wheels.
“Yeah, take it from beat four and let’s lay this shit down.”
Eric Crenshaw is one of the most sought after music producers in the country. Top notch. We always find time to connect when Whiskey Bent is in Los Angeles on business. The boys don’t really dig his direction, but a few months back, he suggested that we work on a solo project together. I jumped at the chance.
Any deal with Eric Crenshaw is considered an instant success. It calls for double the hours and the effort, but I’ve found it to be worth every headache.
After putting in time at the studio, I grab my gym bag and head downstairs. Being a five star hotel, there are plenty of celebrity sightings. However, it still gives me butterflies to hear people gush when they spot me in public. I would be lying if I said I hated the attention. It was a little more difficult to wrap my brain around at the beginning, but now, the draw is like a drug.
“Oh my God! You’re Joselyn Tillman! A young teen drags her parents in my direction. I smile in spite of my half hazard ponytail and yoga pants.
“Hey, hun. How ya doing?”
Her young eyes dance. She bounces on her tiptoes, making my heart swell.
“I’m so excited! I can’t believe I’m standing here talking to you.” The girl squeals and lunges for a hug.
I respond with a slight embrace, my eyes round and full. The personal space thing is still an issue for me.
The mother steps forward, placing her hands on her daughter’s shoulders. She offers a sympathetic nod. “I’m so sorry. She’s a huge fan.”
I chuckle. “Yeah, I can see that.” I turn toward the teen. “What’s your name, sugar?”
The girl shrieks. “Allison. My name’s Allison. Can we take a picture? Can we mom?”
The mom gazes at me with pleading eyes.
“Sure.” I awkwardly place one arm around her shoulder. The girl closes the gap and squeezes me by the waist.
I silently count to ten, waiting anxiously for the mother to take the damn picture. I spy the father ogling me, scanning me with his beady, narrow eyes.
“Thank you so much.” The mother rests a hand on my arm. The girl lingers for a moment longer before finally stepping back.
“Well, you sure did make my year, hun. You all have a good day, now.” I smile like an idiot. The mom takes the girl by the hand and steers her away. They wait for the dad as he pretends to tie his shoelaces, angling his head in my direction.
I drag myself back to my hotel room. The small health facility was empty, allowing me to finish my workout in half the time. I strip off my sweaty clothes, peeling away my yoga pants and sports tank. My worn out body is ready to quit, but I refuse. I close my eyes and begin to hum. I’m surprised to find that it’s the same tune Dean was whistling earlier. Something about it gets in my head, under my skin. I sway. Pulling the tie from my hair, the long, auburn locks cascade down my back.
The private moment is revitalizing, and equally necessary. The only thing that could make it any better walks through the front door, glistening from a sweaty game of basketball.
“Hey baby,” Deans says after tossing his saturated tee onto the floor.
“Hey yourself. Good timing.” I stroll across the room, totally aware of my lack of clothing.
“Oh yeah?” He wiggles his dark eyebrows. He coils his firm arms around my slight hips. I tug on his athletic shorts, slipping them down his long, muscular legs, followed by his black Calvin Kleins.
His fingertips trail the small dips above my backside. “You’re so damn soft.” He peers down into my face before bending to brush my lips with his. I moan into his mouth. He grips me tighter. His body reacts. His swollen erection presses against my abdomen.
Dean’s hands roam past my waistline. “I sure hope you have another workout in ya.”
The simple touch makes me gasp. His words send a shiver through my tummy. I squeeze my eyes shut. A cool breeze grazes my body as he lifts me into the air. I wait. Anticipation invades my chest. Even when the moment finally happens, my insides tighten. The surprise warmth of his hot skin sends goose bumps across my sensitive flesh.
I see the hunger in his fiery eyes as he takes me, owning every part of me with his skilled touch. A sweet release.
“Darlin, you are so fucking perfect.” Dean collapses onto the bed, pulling me into his chiseled arms.
“You’re not too shabby yourself, stud.” I skim my lips along his rock hard chest.
He releases a long sigh. This is how I know that he’s deep in thought, struggling to find his words. He’s never been one to speak loosely. When Dean talks, it’s intentional, with purpose.
“Joselyn, I know you’re tired of hearing it, but I really think we should head back to the ranch for a while.”
I tug the sheet up over my chest. “Not this again.” I roll my eyes, hoping he takes the hint.
“Come on, baby. We haven’t been home for months, and even then, it was only for a couple of days. We just wrapped up the tour. It’s the perfect time. Think about it, fresh air, riding horses, and drinking coffee on the front porch while we watch the sunrise. Better yet, sleeping in until noon. Doesn’t that sound like a little piece of paradise?”
He squeezes me and plants his lips on the top of my head. I snuggle closer, attempting to soften the blow.
“You know I can’t leave now. I’m in the middle of finalizing details for the solo project. It’s really important to me and Eric only has so much time on his hands.”
“Darlin, we’ve been going nonstop for years. This is the payoff, the reward. You can’t keep going like this. You’re pushing yourself too hard. Besides, you said we would slow down. Said we’d talk about the whole marriage thing.”
“Dean, I’ve worked my whole life to get to this point. You know that. I’m not going to let it all go to waste just because you need a vacation. And don’t start with us getting engaged again. Not now.”
His kind face hardens. I regret my words and the way they clearly pricked his heart.
“Don’t be like that. I didn’t mean it like it sounded. It’s just bad timing. Why don’t you head back to Nashville for a while? It’ll be good for you. We both get what we want. You get to spend some time at the ranch and I get to finish up this project.” I peer into his face, searching his eyes. “Sound good?”
“Darlin, whatever works for you, but it ain’t home without you. You stay, I stay.”
I skim his lips with my fingertips. He responds with a delicate kiss.
“I’m glad. You know I’m lost without you.” I pop up from the bed. “I’m gonna grab a quick shower. Eric and I have a dinner meeting with Joe Thatcher. Says he has something he wants to discuss that’s time sensitive.”
“You need me for that?” Dean asks.
“I always need you, baby.” I smile and wink at him before disappearing into the bathroom. My best friend. My rock. Yet, I continuously break his gigantic, fractured heart.
Love Notes releases April 19th! Get more of Whiskey Bent and the other stories for 99 cents!
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