Here and Queer: On Writing a Bi Romance Heroine

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*deep breath* There’s something you might not know about me.

I’m queer.

As in, LGBTQIA+. As in, bisexual (but I prefer queer). I’ve blogged about it before, and I’ve been out for years, but it’s not something I talk about often. Even though I’m proud as fuck to be bi—to be me—there’s another part of this story that is painful. Well, a few parts actually:

  • When I tried to come out to family, the first person I told said to me that there’s no such thing.
  • When I came out to my then-boyfriend (who was a complete scumbag anyway), all he could talk about was threesomes.
  • More recently, when discussing my sexuality with someone, they were all “Hold up. You can’t be queer. You married a dude!”

Thankfully, I had a fantastic support system when I came out: a whole bunch of queer people in my high school. We may have all drifted apart, as people tend to do after high school, but I’ll never, ever forget my friends Lisa*, Lacie*, Joy*, Phoebe*, and Starr*, who were all super supportive during the great LGBTQIA+ coming out party. (By the way, I’ve been searching desperately for Phoebe on Facebook, with no luck. I can’t remember her birth name or last name. I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. I was one of very few people that she shared her name with and told she was trans, and I would love to know how she’s doing, how her story after high school unfolded.) This was before Twitter, so I can appreciate how very lucky I was to have such a support system.

Not many people are so fortunate.

via GIPHY

I’ve been thinking about my sexuality a lot lately. A lot. It’s extremely important to me that I don’t lose that piece of me. That it doesn’t get lost in my heterosexual marriage or these strange, dark times we’re living in.

Being queer is an extremely big part of who I am.

I knew that Krista, the heroine and main character of my work in progress Cruising with the Blues, would be queer. I also knew that she and Perry were meant to be. I’ve struggled so much with this novel, writing tens of thousands of words only to scrap them because I just couldn’t get it right. I think I was trying to do too much with one book: play matchmaker, address a few social issues, wrap up the series… You know, nothing major. 😅

In the very first draft I wrote, Krista was a bi woman struggling with depression. I wrote something like 5,000 words and then tossed it because it just didn’t feel right.

In my second try, Krista was a spoonie like me, only living with Lupus. (My disease is possibly pre-Lupus.) She was also bi. Again, I was trying to squeeze too much into one book. I threw away over 16,000 words, which stung.

With my third shot, I wrote another 6,000 or so words, cutting the mental and chronic illnesses. This time I approached the story from another angle, matchmaking Krista and Perry by using their shared desire to get their band mates into rehab. Once again, though, I was focusing too much on things outside of Krista, rather than on Krista herself. So I scrapped those words, too.

Altogether I’ve thrown out something like 20,000 words. Can you say ouch?

But fourth time’s the charm because this time around, I understand Krista a bit better. I now totally get why she’s so upset with Poppy for ditching their plans to share a cabin during the cruise.

Krista is in love with her best friend.

She’s also got a thing for Perry.

There have been two times in my life when I was in love with two people at the same time. It doesn’t seem fair that the heart can be so conflicted, but it happens. It’s a painful experience, something that you can’t just turn off—just like Krista’s and my sexuality.

While I’m still incorporating other elements into SOF4—getting Krista and Perry together, wrapping up the series, getting Jett and Max help—I’m focusing more on bisexuality and the stigma from all sides.

How non-queer people just don’t get how you can have feelings for and be attracted to both the opposite and the same gender.

How queer people often exclude bisexual people, writing us off as “confused” or “looking for attention.”

How you just don’t feel like you fit in with either the straight or gay world sometimes, or all the time.

This kind of erasure—from two opposite parts of your life—can be heartbreaking and confusing, to say the least.

By exploring Krista’s feelings for both Perry and Poppy, I’m hoping to give other bi people a safe haven where they can find characters they relate to. There are so few books out there with bi characters, and the few that do usually have them in same-sex relationships. I’m writing the book that I’ve desperately needed for years, damn it.

I wonder all the time if I’ll someday regret marrying a man. I love my husband with all of my heart, and I’m happily monogamous. Making the choice to be in a heterosexual relationship despite my still-very-much-alive attraction to the same sex is conflicting enough, without other people saying things like “But you’re married. You can’t be queer!”

To which I reply, “The hell I can’t!”

I’m over 6,000 words into Cruising with the Blues now. It’s both painfully and proudly #ownvoices—written based on my own experiences as a marginalized person.

(Side note: I feel kind of weird using the word “marginalized,” but I also feel that it’s important to call it like you see it. A lot of my bi friends have purposely assimilated into heterosexuality, because even though gay people are for the most part accepted by our culture, our society just doesn’t understand or accept bi people. And trans people, and ace people, and… *neverending sigh*)

The first 5,000 words came slowly, but now that I’ve realized where Krista is coming from, man am I on a roll.

Letting her shoulders relax, she melted back into the music. Perry moved with her, letting her set the pace and tone. His hands never wandered—even though she desperately wanted them to—and he kept a respectable distance between them. Still, he was close enough that she could feel the heat radiating off his body.

And something else.

Something like desire.

Or maybe she was just projecting.

via GIPHY

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

What Happens On Tour: Chapter 5

Exhaustion tugged at Poppy. She glared at Jett. She wanted to say something equally snappy. Instead, she brushed past Jett into the condo.

“Well?” Jett spun on her heels. She put her hands on her hips.

“To think, I actually missed you guys,” Poppy muttered. Her eyes met Griff’s. Heat spread across her cheeks. Her eyes flicked around the room. The whole band was there. She nodded to Max and Perry in greeting. They each gave her nods back.

Jett tapped her foot on the floor. “Hello?”

“What’s the problem, Jett?” Griff asked, his voice low. The sound of it caressed Poppy.

She closed her eyes for a moment, bathing in that sound. She could listen to him talk all day. She wondered whether she was bordering on infatuation. Opening her eyes, she met Jett’s gaze.

“That thing out there.” Jett jabbed a finger at the conversion van. Cold air rushed into the condo.

“That thing is our transportation for the tour,” Poppy said. She folded her arms across her chest.

Jett’s eyebrows flew toward her hairline. “Our what?” Her voice took on a dangerous edge. Poppy wondered whether the band had spent the whole day rehearsing. They were probably just as cranky as she felt.

Keeping her tone light, she gestured toward the van. “It was the cheapest thing I could find.”

“Jett,” Griff said, standing. He put a hand on Jett’s arm. “We don’t exactly have the time or money to be picky.”

Whirling on him, Jett stopped within inches from his chest. Next to Griff’s tall frame, the band leader looked even smaller. It was amusing, Poppy thought, how someone so small could be so feisty. She knew exactly why Koty had fallen in love with Jett. The other woman glared up at Griff. “Do you not care about our image?”

Jett’s voice was laced with a dangerous tone that only a woman could inflect. Poppy glanced from Jett to Griff, positive that things were about to get ugly.

Rising lazily from the couch, Perry stretched. He ambled across the room and peered through the door at the van. “Boss,” he said, stretching the word out. “Are we really going to tour in that thing? King Riley is going to have a tour bus.” He turned to Poppy. “Why don’t we have a tour bus?”

Before she could respond, Griff slammed the door shut. “What are you all, a bunch of princesses?”

Max held up a finger. “For the record, I’m good with whatever is out there. Cheaper is better sometimes, anyway. Plus, now we’ll be able to afford hotels.”

Griff shook his head. “No hotels.”

“We can take turns sleeping on the bench seats,” Poppy told them all. They stared at her. “Or not.” She put her hands behind her back.

“Hotels aren’t in our budget, guys. Things are really tight. We don’t have a label backing us, remember?” Griff spread his hands.

Poppy wondered whether he was coming to her rescue on purpose, or if he really didn’t care what they toured in. Her heart fluttered at the thought of him defending her. A smile touched her lips, despite the argument taking place around her.

“Hold on.” Koty held up his hands. “Let me take care of this.” He took Jett’s hands. “I can get us a tour bus and take care of the hotels.”

Jett wrenched her hands away. “Why do you always have to throw money at everything?” She ran a hand through her long, dark hair. “We’re an independent band. We don’t need big-label money.”

Though Koty’s eyebrow twitched, he said nothing. He stepped back, giving Jett room.

Poppy sat down on the couch, slumping back into the pillows. It felt good to relax, even with everyone arguing around her. Part of her felt like an outsider. She had come into the band late, and the relationships between each of the members were already formed. She wondered sometimes where she fit in.

Dating Griff—if it ever were to happen—would mean, in many ways, dating Jett. His job often seemed to entail keeping the lead singer happy. Griff and Jett spent a lot of time together, ironing out details and haggling band business. She wasn’t sure if she would be able to handle that. Then again, she was probably getting ahead of herself. Besides, she reminded herself yet again, she needed to keep things professional. Straightening in her seat, she pushed a stray curl out of her face. “I already put a down payment on it. I drove it over here. For better or worse, it’s ours.”

Griff nodded in agreement. “Come on, Jett. Don’t be such a hard ass about this. We’re going to be up to our eyeballs, dealing with King Riley.”

To that, Perry muttered an “Amen.” He straightened his dreads, pulled back into a ponytail. “They’re not the easiest to deal with.” His eyes dropped to the floor.

“What do you say, Jett?” Griff asked, his voice gentle.

Jett sighed. “I guess it’s better than nothing.” She flicked a glance toward Poppy. “Thanks for bringing it here.” She jerked a thumb toward the window. “How were the roads?”

“Awful.” Poppy grinned. “It was kind of fun.”

Perry gave her a sideways glance. “Fun? Girl, you must be new.”

Ignoring his teasing, she stood from the couch. “I’m beat, though. I need to get back to . . . home.” She swallowed hard. She’d almost said “the dorm.” No one seemed to notice, though. They each mumbled in agreement. They had definitely been rehearsing all day, she decided, glancing at Max’s messy hair. “Get some sleep, everyone,” she told them. “I’ll be back in the morning.” With a smile on her face, she moved toward the door. “We’re going shopping.”

Jett frowned. “What the hell for?”

“We don’t have anything left in the budget,” Griff said, the space between his eyes creasing.

“This one’s on me.” She still had a tiny bit of financial aid leftover. “You’re all going to need something to wear on stage, right?”

Jett raised her eyebrows. “We usually just wear our own stuff.” Koty wrapped his arms around her, and she melted into him, visibly relaxing.

As different as they were, Poppy mused, they were perfect for each other. “You guys need an image,” she said. “If you’re going to play bluesy, catchy rock, you’ve got to look the part. I have some ideas.” She thought of the sketchbook on her desk in her dorm room. She would be up all night sketching outfits, she realized.

“That’s a great idea.” Griff stretched, yawning. From across the room, he winked at her.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” Jett said, “but I’m too tired to care anymore.” She stifled a yawn.

Poppy’s own eyes burned. “See you in the morning.” She lifted a hand in parting, then headed toward the door. As she stepped back into the frosty snow storm, she hoped that the band would like whatever she came up with.

* * *

“That one’s good. I like it,” Krista said, tapping the sketchbook with a finger.

Early morning sunlight streamed through the window. Poppy was positive they were the only ones awake on campus. “Do you think she’ll wear it?” she asked, remembering the attitude Jett gave her over the van.

Her roommate nodded. “Based on what she wore when she was with Perpetual Smile, I’d say you nailed it.” Krista’s finger traced the camouflage green joggers, black heels, and loose white tank top that Poppy had sketched the night before.

“And what do you think about Griff’s outfit?” Poppy asked, her cheeks reddening.

Krista turned the page. She studied the blazer, plain white T-shirt, and jeans. “It’s definitely him,” she said, “but I feel like it needs something.” She flipped to Max’s page. “You’ve got Max wearing a denim chambray shirt over a white tee and khakis, but his hair is styled. You’ve got Jett’s hair in a pinup style. What about Griff?”

Poppy scrunched up her nose. “I didn’t even think of that.”

“That’s why you need me on this tour,” Krista said. She turned the page to Perry’s outfit. Color appeared high in her cheeks.

Poppy narrowed her eyes slyly, a smile tugging at her lips. “You like him,” she teased.

Her roommate’s blush deepened. “I just didn’t know what he looked like until now. You always talk about him like he’s a huge pain in the ass, but he’s hot.” She traced Perry’s broad nose and arched eyebrows. Covering his dreads with a finger, she giggled. “If he cut his hair, he’d be like a whole new guy.”

Poppy squinted at the page, trying to imagine Perry without dreads. “But they’re so him,” she said.

Krista nodded. “And that beard stubble,” she said with a dreamy smile. She moved her finger, exposing the bandana that Poppy gave him for the stage. “Does his face really look like this? Is he really that muscular?” She touched the rippling muscles in his arms.

“Girl, you need to get laid.” Poppy took the sketchbook out of her roommate’s hands. “I tried to get his features, but you better meet him before you set your sights on him. He’s trouble.”

“What about Griff?” Krista asked innocently.

Surprised by the sudden change in subject, Poppy turned away. “What about him?” She bent over the sketchbook.

“Is he trouble?” Krista’s voice was gentle. “He’s a lot older than you.”

“So what?” Poppy shrugged. “It’s not like I’m going after him.”

Her roommate leaned into her. “The look on your face says otherwise.”

Poppy pressed her lips together. She couldn’t be that readable. Besides, she had decided not to pursue him—mostly. Between the tour and juggling school, she had way too much going on to throw dating into the mix. Still, she was surprised that Krista had picked up on her thoughts.

“You were moaning in your sleep about him,” her roommate said.

Her jaw dropped open. “I was not!” She twisted in her seat, facing Krista. Her cheeks burned.

Krista nodded, an eyebrow quirked. “You tossed and turned for a good half hour, and you kept saying his name.”

Poppy’s eyes widened. She definitely didn’t remember having any sexy dreams about Griff. She wished she did. Her dreams were the only sex she was going to have anytime soon. “That’s not even possible.” The words caught in her throat. She swallowed hard. “Krista, you know I’m a virgin. How could I be dreaming about sex?”

“Your subconscious seems to know exactly what you want.” Krista winked. “Or need.” She gave Poppy’s hand a squeeze. “It doesn’t have to be a serious relationship, you know. It can just be for fun.”

Shaking her curls, Poppy stood from her desk. “No way. That would jeopardize the band.” She moved to her closet. Her eyes roamed over her clothes and shoes, looking for something appropriate to wear. Though the snow had stopped, the temperature was still low. She hoped she would remember to buy a pair of boots while they were at the mall.

Krista snorted. “Everyone else is dating in that band. Why not you?” Poppy turned to look at her friend. She put a hand on her hip. Before she could say anything, though, Krista grinned mischievously. “The first thing I’m doing when we go on tour,” she said, “is hooking up with Perry.”

Poppy grabbed a shirt from its hanger and tossed it at Krista. “You’re killing me.”

Shrugging, Krista held the shirt up. She studied it. “I might wear this today.”

“You’re more than welcome to,” Poppy told her, selecting her own outfit. She dressed quickly, casting aside her usual blouse and skinny printed pants for a sweater and pencil skirt. She wanted to look as good—and professional—as possible for the band’s shopping trip. She picked through her shoes until she found a pair of ankle boots. They weren’t exactly made for winter, but they would work.

Turning away from Krista, she dressed quickly. After throwing on some makeup and touching up her hair, she grabbed the keys to the van. “Do you want to come with me?”

Krista shook her head. “I’d love to, but I need to update the blog with the tour schedule.” She smiled. “Thanks for letting me tag along, by the way.”

Poppy smiled back. “Thank you for coming. I have a feeling I’m going to have my hands full.” Lifting a hand in departure, she strolled out of the room.

The drive to Jett and Koty’s condo didn’t take long. She recognized Griff’s car parked out front. It seemed as if everyone was already there. Smiling and checking her hair a final time, she slid out of the van. She walked up to the door and rang the doorbell.

She expected Jett or Koty to answer. When the door swung open, though, Griff stood on the threshold. His gray-blue eyes met hers, and heat pooled in her belly. “Hey,” he said.

For a moment, she just stared at him. Her eyes roved over his smile, the crinkle at the corners of his eyes. Her gaze dropped down to his jeans, then whipped back up to his face. Maybe Krista was right. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to pursue him—for fun, if nothing else. She licked her lips. “Good morning.” She eased past him inside.

Jett sat curled up on the couch under a throw blanket, her head resting on Koty’s shoulder. Three mugs of coffee sat on the coffee table, steam rising into the air. Jett yawned, wiggling her fingers at Poppy in greeting. “Morning,” she said, voice husky. Poppy wondered whether she had slept.

“Want some coffee?” Griff asked.

Glancing around for the rest of the band, Poppy nodded. “Please.” Just as she was about to ask about him, Perry emerged from the kitchen, a mug in his hands.

“Morning, gorgeous,” he said, leaning in close to her. He pressed a kiss to her cheek, his freshly shaved face caressing hers for a moment. He smelled like cool scented soap and cologne. He hadn’t spoken to her like that since she first joined the band, and he had definitely never kissed her.

Blinking her eyes, she took a step back. Heat spread across her cheeks.

“Easy,” Griff rumbled to Perry.

She held up her hands. “It’s okay,” she said, still flustered. Krista, she decided, was going to fall head over heels in love with Perry—and she wasn’t sure whether that was a good thing. On one hand, her roommate could whip him into shape. On the other, he could just as easily break Krista’s heart. “Just don’t let it happen again.” She looked at Perry, eyes narrowed. “I’m your manager, not a contestant on The Bachelor.”

Though he nodded in response, a flirtatious smirk danced on his lips.

She glanced around the room. “Where’s Max?”

“Late, as usual.” Jett yawned again. She snuggled into Koty’s arms. “Why are we doing this so early?”

Trying not to glance at Griff, Poppy wished she had someone to hold her like that. “Because we don’t have a lot of time.” She thought of all the arrangements she needed to make with the college. Pulling her phone out, she tapped a quick email to her advisor asking what she would have to do to switch to online classes temporarily.

Someone cleared their throat. She looked up. Everyone in the room was staring at her, as if they expected her to say something else. “What?”

“I asked if you could help me with merchandise orders tonight,” Griff said. His eyes glinted, a smile curling his lips.

“Of course,” she said without giving it a second thought. She swallowed hard and sent the email before anyone could ask her what she was doing.

“Are you managing any other bands?” Jett asked, eyes narrowed at her suspiciously.

The front door opened, saving Poppy from having to explain. Max lurched inside, his eyes wide and his hair springing in all directions. That was nothing new.

“Sorry I’m late,” he blurted. The top two buttons of his plaid shirt were undone. He closed the door behind him and strode farther into the living room. “What did I miss?”

Jett glared at him. “Would it kill you to be on time?”

“Probably,” he replied. A grin burst from his lips.

“Looks like someone got lucky,” Perry crooned. He flashed Max a thumbs up. Griff snorted.

Poppy put her hands on her hips. Though she wanted to laugh along with everyone else, they had work to do. She exchanged eyerolls with Jett. “Can I remind you gentlemen that we kick off this tour in less than three days? Max, next time you’re late, we’re docking your pay.”

Max’s jaw dropped open. Jett nodded in approval. Perhaps Poppy could forge a bond with her, after all. She bounced the keys to the van in her hand. “First order of business,” she said, eyeing everyone’s tired faces. “Coffee.”

She drove them to the mall in silence. Parking crookedly, she jumped out of the van and led the way inside, straight to the Starbucks on the mall entrance floor. The members of South of Forever filed in behind her, Jett on her heels.

“Nice work, Hampton,” Jett said. “You shut them right up. You’re a girl after my own heart.” She nudged Poppy with an elbow, then took the lead.

Pride thrummed through Poppy. With Jett’s approval, her confidence bolstered. She didn’t even mind waiting behind Jett for her own caffeine fix. She hung back, letting the other members of South of Forever go ahead of her. She watched as they ordered coffees, glad that they were listening to her.

Griff joined her in line. “What are you getting?”

“Some frap or other,” she said, struggling to keep her tone light. “I haven’t decided yet.”

“Well,” he said, putting his hands in the pockets of his jeans, “I’ve got it.” He stood so close to her, she could feel the heat from his body.

Swallowing hard, she lifted a shoulder. “It’s okay. It’s a business expense for me.” She gave him a wink, but her heart fluttered in her chest.

Griff nodded. “Okay. Maybe later we can get a non-business coffee, then.”

She blinked. “What is this?” she blurted.

Stretching his shoulders inside his leather jacket, Griff glanced at the others. They stood off to the side, sipping coffees. The barista watched him expectantly. He was next. He turned his gaze back to Poppy. “Well, I’m asking you out,” he said in a low voice.

She stared at him, unable to believe her ears.

“It’s a simple question,” he told her. “Yes or no?”


South of Forever’s first tour is about to begin, and so is Poppy’s career—if she can keep all her lies straight.

CONTINUE READING

Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5

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What Happens On Tour: Chapter 4

Poppy ducked her head into the hall and glanced down the staircase. Soft snores drifted up through the living room. Her shoulders lowered in relief. Both her mother and grandmother were in food comas. She could hear the slow drone of the TV in the background, punctuated by the women’s exhales. She couldn’t have planned it better herself.

She tiptoed back into the bedroom, shutting the door behind her. Plopping down on her childhood bed, she looked at her phone. All she had to do was tap Griff’s name, and she could tell him that she was in.

Her nerves sizzled. Biting her lip, she slapped the slim phone against the palm of her hand. She’d never called Griff for anything—he reached out to her, or she discussed business with him at practices. Sweat slicked her fingers, and she nearly dropped the phone.

She took a deep breath in through her nose. There wasn’t a shy bone in her body. There was no reason for her to be nervous. She straightened her shoulders and scrolled through her contacts.

Griff answered immediately, as if he had been waiting for her. “Hey,” he said. His voice was a cool purr against her ear, and she smiled. A tingle ran through her body, her limbs going soft. Her brain felt as if it were being stroked, fuzzy static buzzing through her head.

“Hey.” She pressed her lips together as she tried to think of something else to say.

“Hey,” he said again.

A laugh escaped her lips. They sounded like two kids in high school.

“You’re laughing at me?” His voice was playfully defensive.

Crossing her legs, she glanced out the window. Streaks of pink and orange trailed across the sky. She wished suddenly that she had invited him to stay for dinner. They could be sitting on the porch enjoying the sunset together. She pushed the thought away. She needed to focus on work. She was supposed to be a cool, composed professional—not some starry-eyed teenager. Though she supported herself, to him she was just a kid—especially if he ever found out the truth about her age. They could never be together.

“I laugh when I’m nervous,” she blurted. She dipped her chin, fingers massaging her temples.

“Do I make you nervous?” His tone was light and teasing.

He made it so hard to focus. Scooting back on the bed, she leaned into the pillows piled against the wall. She stared down at the nail polish on her toes and willed herself to be as cool as the grayish blue color she had painted them. Instead, she couldn’t help but think how similar the color was to Griff’s eyes. She cleared her throat. “So, this touring business. Can I still get in?”

He hesitated, as if surprised by her question. “Of course,” he said, sounding slightly disappointed.

“Good,” she said. “Where do we start?”

“Poppy,” he said, his voice dropping.

Her heart did a somersault. Her resolve to focus on work withered, and she leaned forward. “Yeah?”

For a long moment, he said nothing. Her eyebrows furrowed. Heart slamming in her chest, she swallowed hard. She gripped the phone tighter, pressing it to her ear. The seconds stretched by. Her imagination ran wild. She saw him sitting in the apartment he shared with Perry. He ran a hand through his hair, bleached to a lighter blond. Her fingers tingled with the urge to run them through that hair, even if only in her fantasy. He took a deep breath. It was almost a sigh. “So, I have a list for you,” he said finally.

Disappointment coursed through her. Composing herself, she leaned farther back into the pillows. She wished they would swallow her. The silly teenage part of her needed to let go of the idea that maybe he liked her. He was professional in almost all of their interactions. In some ways, he was her boss. She needed to focus on being Poppy the band manager, not Poppy the lovestruck college student. She glanced around the room for a pen and piece of paper. Her old desk still sat in a corner.

Kicking off her wedges, she padded over to it. She opened drawers until she found an old notebook and a blue gel pen. Grimacing, she uncapped it with her teeth and poised it over the paper. “I’m ready.”

“Don’t hate me,” he said. “A lot of this is coming from Jett. If you can’t do it all, let me know and I’ll see what I can take care of. It’s not like I have anything better to do.” She heard the smile in his voice. “She wants us to spend these next few days rehearsing but, Poppy, I really think we’re good. So if you need me, just let me know.”

Again, her fantasy wrestled with reality. There seemed to be so much more in his words. She couldn’t possibly be imagining all of it—unless she was totally delusional. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath. “I can handle it.” At least, she hoped so.

“I’m going to email you the tour schedule,” he said, jumping right back into business. “I need you to do whatever you can to get some publicity rolling. This is a super last minute announcement, and I’m not even sure we have fans outside of Boston. That’s being generous,” he added.

“Stop,” she told him. “We’ve got plenty of regulars coming to our shows.” It felt natural, referring to the band and herself as a collective soul. “And I’m positive that a lot of Perpetual Smile fans have followed you and Jett over.” She smiled. “The blogs and social media are still buzzing about Max, but they do mention Perpetual Smile now and then.”

He considered her words for a moment, comfortable silence lapsing between them. “Yeah,” he agreed. He took a deep breath. “This next thing is big. Are you sitting down?”

A line creased Poppy’s forehead. “What is it?”

“Can you get us a tour bus?”

She blinked. “King Riley’s label isn’t providing that?”

“Not for us. We’re just the support. We’re responsible for our own travel and lodging.”

“Lodging?” she repeated.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “As long as we get a big enough tour bus, everyone will be comfortable.”

Squinting, she tapped her chin. “So we won’t be staying in hotels?”

He chuckled, a gentle sound. “Not this time.” He sighed. “If we were Perpetual Smile status, this would be so easy.”

Shaking her hair from her face, Poppy forced a bright smile. Even though he couldn’t see her, he could still detect her attitude. And, as Grandma Audrey always said, her altitude was defined by it. “Don’t worry,” she told Griff. “I’ll take care of it all. What’s our budget?”

He made a sound halfway between a laugh and a cough. “Right. So, keep in mind that we’re going to need to overnight some merchandise, and since it’s a holiday weekend, we don’t have much to work with.”

“How much is not much?” She had coordinated all of Jay’s touring expenses before he got picked up by L.A.B. Even on their tiny budget, she had made things happen for him. South of Forever had even more money, due to their EP sales. It would be easy to get a tour bus.

“I can give you five.” He sounded uncomfortable.

“$500,000, or five bucks?” She kept her tone light and teasing, but dread pitted in her stomach.

“Thousand,” he responded.

“What?” She laughed. “That might not even be enough for a down payment on a tour bus. Those things are as expensive as houses—more, sometimes.” It had been a couple of years since she and Jay had looked into one, huddled in his slightly finished bedroom in the basement, the laptop they shared flickering as its battery died.

“I know,” Griff said. “Just do your best.”

She wanted to laugh. He was asking her to do the impossible. Even if she had more time, she didn’t have the line of credit needed to put down such a low deposit. She knew that without even calling around.

“I’ve got to go,” Griff said suddenly. “Jett says break’s over.”

Rolling her eyes, Poppy put down the notebook and pen. In some ways, Griff seemed almost married to Jett. She wondered how Koty felt about them spending so much time together. It couldn’t be easy. She wasn’t even with Griff, and she was jealous. “Aye-aye, Captain,” she told him. “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow?” His words held promise.

She licked her lips. Her heart fluttered in her ribcage. “Of course,” she told him, and hung up. She stood in the middle of her old bedroom, wondering how in the world she was going to get a tour bus in just one day, for such little money.

* * *

“What about that one?” Jay pointed to the screen of her iPad.

Poppy tapped the image. The product page loaded, showing a larger photo of the bus. It slept twelve and had a working shower. “We can even cook in it,” she said to her brother, pointing at a photo of a gas stove. The description said that it was used, which had to mean that it was a lot cheaper than the $500,000 tour buses they kept running across. She moved the page down until she found the price. Wincing, she sucked in her cheeks.

Jay whistled. “And that’s the cheapest one we’ve seen.”

She did the math in her head. South of Forever couldn’t afford a $300,000 tour bus. Even if she could somehow talk the seller into accepting a $5,000 down payment, there was no way they would be able to afford the monthly payments—and that was assuming that nothing happened to it. On the road, anything could happen.

“Too bad we can’t just rent one.” She sighed and pushed the iPad from her lap. It slid onto the futon that occupied what had once been Jay’s room.

Though her mother still mostly used the basement for storage, her brother used his old bedroom to crash occasionally, and to record demos. She glanced at the microphone on the stand and the mixing board in a corner. The small room wasn’t as soundproof as the studios that South of Forever used, and it probably wasn’t as fancy as the studios that L.A.B. provided, but Jay had a soft spot for it. It was where he had recorded his first EP, and was part of his journey as an artist.

“They don’t rent them?” he asked.

“For a disgusting amount of money, and there aren’t any payment plans.” She slid down from the futon onto the floor, carpeted by a large area rug. Resting her head against the cushion of the futon, Poppy sighed. “I’m screwed.”

Nodding toward the old digital alarm clock that still sat on a nightstand, Jay held out his hands to her. “Come on, little sis. It’s almost two in the morning. Maybe you’ll have some ideas after some sleep and coffee.”

She snorted, but took his hands and allowed him to haul her to her feet. “If I come up with a solution that fast,” she said, throwing her arms around him, “it’ll be a miracle. Goodnight.” Planting a kiss on his cheek, she turned away. She padded out of the room and up the stairs, avoiding the creaky spots so that she didn’t wake her mother or grandmother. She reached the main floor and closed the door behind her softly.

* * *

In the morning, a steaming cup of coffee in front of her on the kitchen table, she started making phone calls. Jay was right. There had to be someone that would give her a good deal on short notice. She Googled “tour buses” again and went down the list, calling dealers from all over Boston and surrounding towns. None of them would take less than $10,000 as a down payment, though one dealer did offer her a four-sleeper tour bus for $8,000 down. She wished she could use part of her student loan toward it, but she had already spent part of it on an iPad and most of the rest on tuition and textbooks.

She put her head down on the table and sighed, the sound of her voice echoing in the empty kitchen. Her mother was at work and Grandma Audrey had gone grocery shopping. Jay snored in the basement. He had always been the type to sleep in.

She was out of options. She closed her eyes, her warm breath bouncing off the wood of the table and hitting her in the face. It smelled like coffee. She stood and went to the counter, refilling her mug from the carafe.

The basement door creaked open and Jay stumbled into the kitchen. “Good morning,” he said, reaching for a mug.

Bad morning.” She moved out of his way so that he could make his own coffee. Returning to the table, she sat down, heaving into her seat.

“No luck?” He went to the refrigerator for cream.

“We’re out.” She lifted her mug of black coffee in a salute. “Join me on the dark side.”

Grimacing, he sat at the table with her. He took a small sip of his black coffee, the scowl on his face deepening. “Bad morning,” he agreed.

“All of these dealerships want too much money,” she complained.

“Maybe you’re looking for the wrong vehicle.” Jay ran a hand over his hair, patting his springy curls back into place.

“What do you mean?” She tapped her iPad. “It’s not like we can all pile into a Honda and hit the road.”

“Maybe not a Civic, but what about a van?”

She opened her mouth to tell him that was a ridiculous idea.

“Remember Grandpa’s stories of how he followed blues bands around in the sixties and seventies?” Jay lifted an eyebrow at her. “They traveled in those . . . What were they called?”

“Conversion vans.” She tapped her lips. “You might have something there.” Waking up the iPad, she went back to Google and searched. Her eyebrows knit together. She leaned forward. As she scrolled through the results, her hands shook—whether from nerves or low blood sugar, she couldn’t tell for sure. Swiping through the vans on one website, she stopped at a used one. “This one’s in our price range.” Her eyes scanned the listing. “But there’s nowhere to sleep.”

Jay scooted closer to her. He studied the page. Pointing at the four rows of bench seats, he said, “There’s your beds, and you can fit two more people up front. You’d have to take turns sleeping.”

Her eyebrows lifted. “Sleep on those? Are you crazy?!” She thought of her bed in her dorm room, piled with memory foam toppers and pillows. She wouldn’t be able to sleep on the hard bench seats, with seat belts poking up at her. No one would.

“It’s in your price range.” Jay held his hands up. “I’m just suggesting it.”

Tilting her head back, Poppy glared at the ceiling in frustration.

“At least call them and talk to them. Who knows? You might even be able to get it for less.” He brought his still hot mug of coffee to the sink. “You could even get air mattresses and sleep on those, on top of the bench seats.”

“Don’t pour that out,” she said, holding her hands out for his mug. “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to need all of the caffeine I can get.”

Jay passed her his mug. He ambled toward the stairs. “I’m taking a shower,” he mumbled.

She wondered how much later he had stayed up. L.A.B. was putting a lot of pressure on him to complete and release a full-length album right away. In some ways, she wished that he had never signed the deal with them. For the next five years, he would be almost completely out of her reach. She longed for the days when it had just been the two of them, drinking coffee to stay up late and strategize his next move.

Those days were over, though, and she had her own problems. Her insides felt coiled, a rope tightening around her neck. If she couldn’t get a vehicle for South of Forever to tour in, then she was finished. She wouldn’t be going anywhere but back to campus. Anxiety roiled in her stomach. Maybe she wasn’t ready. Maybe she needed to call Griff and call the whole thing off.

On such short notice, though, they could never go on tour without her. They needed her. “No pressure,” she told herself in the empty kitchen.

Waking up her iPad, she scrolled through the search results until she came to a dealer that was close by. It was about thirty minutes away from her neighborhood with traffic.

If she ever told her family that she chose Northeastern University because she knew she could easily find a job managing a band in the city, they wouldn’t know what to make of her.

She dialed the number slowly, fingers shaking. If the dealership didn’t have the van anymore or, even worse, they wanted more than $5,000 for a down payment, she was done.

“Ace Pre-Loved Auto,” a crisp male voice answered.

“Hi,” she said slowly, immediately wincing at her uncertain tone. “I’m interested in the conversion van that’s on your website.” She gave him the ID number.

“Just a sec.” He tapped the number into a keyboard.

“Is it still available?” She leaned forward and held her breath.

“I believe so,” the man told her. “I’d have to visually confirm, but the system says it’s still on the lot.”

“Great.” She stood from the table. “Hold it for me.”

The man laughed. “I don’t think that’ll be necessary. It’s from the seventies.”

Blinking, she tilted her head. “What kind of a salesman are you?”

“I’m not,” he said, dropping his voice. “This is my uncle’s dealership. Since I took this semester off, he’s got me manning the phones for him.”

“Well, hold it for me anyway.” She hung up. Dropping her phone onto the table, she raced up the stairs. Her feet pounded up the steps. Skidding to a stop in front of the bathroom door, she pushed it open. “Jay, we’ve got a van!”

Her brother shot her a cool look. He wore a towel around his waist and held a razor in one hand, his face covered in shaving cream. “You do know this is awkward, right?”

“Well,” she said, tapping her chin, “I don’t have it yet. I need a ride to the dealership.” She gave him her best little sister smile. “Please? I’ll give you gas money.”

Shaking his head, he put the razor down. “Out, Poppy.” He shooed her out of the bathroom.

She backed up until her feet touched the carpet of the hall. “Is that a yes?”

Jay rolled his eyes. “Just give me a few minutes.” He closed the door.

“Yes!” Pumping both fists in the air, Poppy bent down and sprang back up. Her hair bounced with her. “You’re the best!” She darted into her room to get ready. As she yanked clothing out of her closet, though, she hesitated. Even though Jett and the guys were pretty laid back, there was a chance that they wouldn’t like the van. She didn’t even know if it would fit all of their equipment.

She bit down on her lip. “You can’t start down that path, girl.” She forced a smile onto her face. Even if she had to fake it until she made it, there was no way she was letting the doubts creep in. She dressed quickly, choosing a bright pair of floral patterned pants and a bright top to match. Cupping her curls, she flashed a smile at herself in the mirror. “You look good. You’ve got this!” Still, as she said the words, doubt crept back into her conscious. She frowned.

The second Jay opened the bathroom door, Poppy sprang back into the hall. Anxiety thrummed through her system.

Jay raised his eyebrows at her. “You gonna make it, little sis?”

She started to tell him that of course she was, but bit her lip. She had never been able to lie to her brother. Swallowing hard, she led him down the stairs. “I’m just nervous,” she said as she reached the landing. She turned and forced herself to meet his eyes.

“What are you nervous about?” His tone was gentle, but he crossed his arms.

She could tell he was confused. She normally didn’t let anything get to her. “Well,” she said slowly, “if I don’t get this right, then they won’t let me come on tour with them.”

Jay nodded. He motioned for her to go outside to the car. “You can’t let yourself get caught up in that black and white mentality,” he said from behind her as they filed out. “It’s not all or nothing, here.”

“But it is,” she said, turning around. She forced her hands to stay at her sides. Tightness locked her shoulders, though. “They think I’m a professional.”

He snorted. “You are a professional, Poppy.” He slid into the driver’s seat.

Poppy got in on the passenger’s side and buckled up. “Not really,” she mumbled. “I’m just pretending.”

Backing out of the driveway, Jay slanted her a look. “You got me to where I am. How does that not make you credible?”

“Maybe it was luck.” She sighed. Before they got to the dealership, she needed to pull herself together. She had to think positively. Going in with a negative attitude would only get her a bad deal, and she needed the dealership to work with her. The more confident she felt, the more likely they would accept her small deposit.

They rode in silence, the cool whisper of air from the open windows caressing Poppy’s skin. Winter was fast approaching, but she couldn’t blame Jay for wanting the fresh air. She missed the simplicity of summer. It felt like ages had passed, when really only months had slipped away. She was no longer the confident seventeen-year-old girl fresh out of high school who lied about her age so easily and made South of Forever think that she was experienced. Somehow, in the short time that had passed since Griff told her about the tour, she had lost her edge.

The pressure was on.

She thought of the way Griff’s gray-blue eyes went far away to a bright future when he talked about the band, all of his hopes and dreams reflected in them. His confidence was sexy and infectious. If she could hold onto that, wearing his personality like she wore her clothes, she could handle a little tour.

Jay pulled into the dealership. Balloons bordered the driveway and sidewalk, a friendly cordon. Fresh, bright blue paint brought the building into bright focus. Most of the vehicles available were conversion vans. Poppy wondered how many people still used them. She couldn’t recall ever seeing any on the road. Then again, she rarely drove, and was usually oblivious to other vehicles.

“Want me to come in with you?” Jay navigated the car into a parking spot.

She wanted to tell him yes. Having her brother at her side would definitely alleviate some of her anxiety. It wouldn’t look professional, though, she decided. She needed to convince the salesman that she was all business. In order for that to happen, she had to stand on her own. She swallowed hard. “Keep the car running, in case I embarrass myself and we need to make a fast getaway.” The smile she gave her brother was wooden.

He squeezed her hand. “You’ve got this.”

Poppy stepped out of the car. The autumn air swirled around her bare toes. Sooner or later, she was going to have to trade her wedges for boots. She shuddered at the thought of keeping her feet trapped all winter. Cold weather was coming, though, and she was going to have to dig out her winter gear soon.

She marched toward the building, squaring her shoulders. She forced herself to keep her chin up. As she pulled open the door, she put a confident smile on her face. She made herself walk up to the only salesman she saw without faltering. “I’m here about a conversion van.” She recited the number for him, her words crashing together.

The salesman’s lips tugged into a smile. “You must be the one my nephew spoke to.” He ran a hand through salt and pepper hair. “It’s still on the lot.” He waved for her to follow. “Come on. I’ll show it to you.”

She hurried to keep up with his long strides, almost tripping in her wedges. She bit her lip, forcing herself to walk with more grace. She’d never been a clumsy person, and she couldn’t afford to start, ever.

The salesman led her back outside, holding the door for her. He bent his head against a gust of wind. Poppy frowned, shivering in her blouse. “They’re calling for snow,” he called over his shoulder. He led her around the building. The vehicles got older and older as they walked deeper into the lot.

The temperature had dropped in the few minutes since she had stepped out of her brother’s car. In Massachusetts, the weather was temperamental, changing attitude as quickly as the people who lived there. Poppy hoped that the weatherman, as her grandmother always said, was wrong.

The salesman stopped in front of a white conversion van. Pulling a key from his pocket, he unlocked the door, exposing four rows of bench seats.

Poppy peered inside. She squinted into the darkness, the gloomy light from the threatening sky seeping in. Even with the seats, there was plenty of room in the back for South of Forever’s equipment.

“The seats fold down,” the salesman explained, “so depending on what you’re hauling, you should have plenty of room.”

Straightening her shoulders, Poppy pulled a business card from her back pocket. “I’m the manager of a band.”

The older man took the card, glancing at it. He slipped it into his pocket, and produced his own card. “Tony Vaccarelli,” he said, offering his hand.

She shook it. His grip was firm but gentle. “Is the online price still good?” she asked.

Tony gave her a nod. “I’m a man of my word.”

“And you’ll take a $5,000 down payment?” She flashed him her best smile.

He scratched at his hairline. “Well,” he said, drawing out the word, “it’ll depend on your credit report.”

Poppy’s shoulders slumped. “How long does that take?”

“Depends on whether our system wants to cooperate. Sometimes we get it back right away. Other times, it could take a few days.” He spread his hands. “We’re a small business.”

Her mind raced. She needed that van, right away. “What if I tell you that I have $5,000 on my debit card?” She would have to check to make sure that Griff had transferred the money, but he was usually good about sending her funds for the band quickly. Getting Jett to pay her just as fast was another story, sometimes.

“Well,” Tony said again. He tapped his chin. “If the transaction goes through, I don’t see why not.” He lifted a finger, his eyebrows furrowing. His voice grew stern. “But you’ll have to make your payments on time. I charge twenty-five percent interest.”

Her eyes widened. She swallowed hard. “Yes, sir.”

“Well then,” he said, “let’s go back on inside. It’s getting cold out here.”

By the time they finished the formalities, the sky was dark. Poppy bounced the keys in her hand as she walked toward the van. Griff would have to arrange monthly payments but, for the time being, the van was theirs.

Jay pulled up alongside the van. He rolled down a window and nodded to her. “Do you want me to drive it?”

Shaking her curls, she put the key in the lock to the driver’s side. “I’m going to have to drive this thing on the road. I might as well get used to it.”

The ride home was smooth, and ended all too quickly. Poppy eased the van to a stop in front of her mother’s house, swatting at one of the hundreds of air fresheners swinging from the handle above the van’s door. The van had to be the site of many parties back in its heyday.

She packed quickly. She hadn’t brought much with her from her dorm. After saying her goodbyes, she rolled her suitcase out to the van. As she loaded it into the back, the first snowflake landed on her nose.

She scrunched her face up at the sky. Though she had her driver’s license, she hadn’t driven since before leaving for college. Jay had made sure that she passed her test, but she definitely hadn’t driven in the snow. She swallowed hard. Of course it had to snow on her first solo drive.

Taking a deep breath, she hopped up into the driver’s seat. She found the switches for the van’s defroster and four-way flashers. Hoping that the tires were as good as Tony told her while they filled out her paperwork, she eased forward.

The van glided over the slick pavement, but never faltered. She kept a tight grip on the steering wheel until she reached Jett and Koty’s condo, though, and her shoulders didn’t relax until she shut off the engine.

Her heartbeat thudded in time to the ticking. “Okay, girl,” she told herself. “It’s show time.”

Griff’s car was parked next to Jett and Koty’s. She wondered if the entire band was inside. She closed her eyes for a moment, then steeled herself.

Poppy opened the door and scooted out. Cold snow enveloped her toes, and she swore, cursing herself for forgetting her boots at home in her excitement. She slipped and slid all the way up the front walk. Before she could ring the doorbell, the door opened.

Jett’s eyes met hers, then slid past her to the van.

“What the hell is that?”


South of Forever’s first tour is about to begin, and so is Poppy’s career—if she can keep all her lies straight.

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Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5

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What Happens On Tour: Chapter 3

Krista sucked in a deep breath. “Okay, can I scream now?”

“No.” Poppy glanced at the door to the room she used to share with Grandma Audrey. At any moment, her grandmother could walk in—and it wasn’t like she could demand privacy. She didn’t have the heart to, anyway. Since she had gone away to college, the room had metamorphosed into her grandmother’s personal heaven. Floral curtains covered the windows, replacing the electric blue ones that Poppy had hung. Her old bed still occupied one side of the room, but her grandmother had turned it into a sofa of sorts with plush, extra-large pillows. Poppy had to admit the room looked cute, in a country sort of way.

“When, then?” Krista giggled. “You’re going to go on tour with Griff.” She sighed, a long and dreamy sound.

“I can’t,” Poppy said. “That’s the problem.” If her grandmother knew, she would say that Poppy just didn’t want it badly enough. She licked her lips. “I’m going to lose this job,” she said in a low voice.

“No, you won’t. We’re going to figure something out.”

She could imagine Krista sitting in their room, legs crossed as she sat on her purple bedspread. “Are we? I don’t think it’s going to work.” Scowling, she jumped up from her grandmother’s bed and paced the room. “Unless I drop out. My family would never forgive me, though.” Jay would understand, but she would need her whole family’s support. She loved her brother, but he flew back and forth between New York and Los Angeles practically every week. His support was strong, but it wouldn’t be constant.

“Hmn.” Krista clicked her tongue ring against her teeth. “I don’t think that’s the best idea. I mean, you’re already almost done with your first semester. Why stop now?”

“I know.” Poppy moaned. “But what other choice do I have?” She bit down on her lip. “I’m just going to have to give up South of Forever.” The second the words were out of her mouth, she knew it was the right choice. Her mother and grandmother were right. Without an education, she wouldn’t get very far in the world. Even if South of Forever did really well, if something happened and she had to get a new job, her new employer would expect some kind of degree.

Krista gasped. “Don’t do that. You’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

“I’m tired of playing the game, though, Krista.” Poppy sat down on her old bed and hugged a pillow to her chest, cradling the phone between her face and her shoulder.

“You’ve come so far, though. You turned that band around.”

“They’re talented. They have Jett and Griff. They’ll be fine.” She lifted her chin. She had to stand by her decision, even if it meant saying goodbye to Griff forever. Her heart twisted at the thought. She had known him for barely six months. It seemed crazy that saying goodbye should be so hard, but there it was. She would even miss Perry and Max, as crazy as they made her. She would miss the guys’ banter and Jett’s poise in the studio. She’d miss hanging out with Max’s girlfriend Savannah during practices. She couldn’t call them friends, not yet, but she was close. Give her another six months and they would all be tight. She sighed. Letting go felt like losing a second family.

“Are you trying to convince me, or yourself?” Krista asked gently. “I know you’re really attached to this band.” She snapped her fingers, the sound traveling to Poppy through the phone. Krista must be wearing her earbuds, or had Poppy on speaker. “I have a crazy idea.”

Switching the phone to her other hand, Poppy drew her knees to her chest. “Yeah? I’m open to anything at this point.”

“What if,” Krista said, “you took school on the road with you? Admissions told me that you can switch back and forth between online and regular classes. They’re super flexible.”

“What?” Poppy squinted. “That is crazy. It’s kind of genius, though.”

“Right?” Krista laughed. “It’s not too late to add/drop. You could even make up a family emergency if you needed to. I’m sure they’ll be understanding, though. From what the admissions counselor told me, it’s pretty common.”

“Huh.” Poppy tapped her chin. “What would I do?”

“Just talk to your advisor. I bet she could do it really quickly.”

“I don’t know.” Poppy tossed her hair over a shoulder. “I’m already struggling.”

Krista snorted. “Oh, stop. Your GPA is like a 3.9, you perfectionist.”

Twisting her lips, Poppy nodded. “I did buy the iPad with my student loan money, and I’ve already been using it for school and work. It wouldn’t be much of a change from what I’m doing now.”

“You would just pop in whenever you need to, rather than showing up for a physical class. My brother did online classes for a while.”

“You have a brother? Is he cute?” Poppy smiled.

“Ew, keep your pants on. He’s an asshole, anyway,” Krista said. “We really shouldn’t waste time talking about him.”

Poppy considered her options. It was either drop out or go digital. She could handle it. She had to. Not only was her career at stake, but everything she had ever dreamed about was on the line. Once, not so long ago, she and Jay had planned on being a team, with Jay performing and Poppy managing him. When L.A.B. came into the picture, though, they made it very clear that they didn’t want someone still in high school managing their new star. It didn’t even matter to them that she was a senior, about to graduate. She ground her teeth just thinking about it.

“What do you think?” Krista asked. “Are you going to do it?”

“I don’t know. It’s a little crazy. Plus it’s a holiday weekend. No one will be in the offices until Monday, and Griff said that’s when we’re supposed to be leaving.” Poppy squinted, thinking. Remembering the way that Griff had looked at her while they talked, her cheeks warmed. Dipping her chin, she smiled. She couldn’t pass up a chance to find out what might happen between them. It was entirely possible that, during this tour, she would find more than one kind of success.

“I have another idea.” Krista paused. She blew out a breath into the phone. “It’s another crazy one, but you tell me. What if I go with you?”

Frowning, Poppy jumped off the bed. “What do you mean?”

“I can be your assistant!” Krista snapped her fingers again. “You know that music blog I’ve been working on, right?”

“Wait, wait.” Poppy paced the room. “You would do that for me?”

“Of course. You’re my favorite friend.”

“I’m getting the feeling I’m your only friend on campus,” Poppy said.

“Stop. You know I’m your only friend at school, too.” Krista laughed. “We’re freshy besties.”

Groaning, Poppy wished that she was in the same room so that she could throw a pillow at her. “You’re the worst.”

“Seriously, though,” Krista continued. “I can help you with all of your manager stuff and build up my music blog in the meantime. Do you have any idea how much it would help to document a new band on the road? It’ll be like reality TV. People love that shit.”

“That is a good idea.” Poppy tilted her head back. “Okay! Let’s do it.” She clapped a hand over her mouth. If she was any louder, her mother and grandmother would have a lot of questions for her. She glanced at the door, and lowered her voice. “This may be the craziest thing I’ve ever done.” It would surpass sneaking into bars at seventeen to watch her brother’s shows, or the time that she had skipped school to drive to New York with him to meet with L.A.B. She would have to be extremely careful. With Krista by her side, though, nothing could possibly go wrong. At least, she hoped not. “Do we have a deal?”

“Hell yeah.” Krista laughed. “Oh, this is going to be fun. The two of us, a bunch of hot guys, and the open road?”

Poppy giggled. “I think Perry is single.”

“Oh, hell no!” Krista sounded shocked. “From what you’ve told me about him, I’d be better off alone.”

“He seems pretty popular with the ladies. He must be doing something right.” Poppy glanced at the clock. She had been on the phone for over an hour. Jay was probably in the basement, working on his song and dying to know why Griff came to their house. “Okay, let me go,” she told Krista. “We’ll draw up a formal contract when I get back tomorrow.” She giggled, letting Krista know that she was kidding.

“You’re coming back tomorrow?”

“As long as Jay is willing to drive me back.” Poppy grimaced. She was going to owe her brother big time.

After they hung up, Poppy sat down again and pulled a throw pillow onto her lap. With Krista in her corner, she should be able to relax a little bit, but her nerves were as tightly wound as her natural hair. The tour was a huge deal for the band, and her career. If they pulled it off without a hitch, everything would change for the better. Should they fail, though, it could send them back several steps. With Max fresh out of rehab, he might have a hard time being away from his family—especially his daughter Chloe.

She took a deep breath. Things would work out. She would make sure of it.

They had to. There was no other choice.


South of Forever’s first tour is about to begin, and so is Poppy’s career—if she can keep all her lies straight.

CONTINUE READING

Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5

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Happy Release Day to Me!

Usually by now I’m shot, crawling into bed and popping on a podcast that I always fall asleep halfway into. Not tonight. It’s the middle of the night and I’m wired. The underbelly of my skin is tingling with anticipation, because today is a holiday like no other.

Today is release day.

What Happens On Tour—the third book in my rockstar romance, the South of Forever series—is live, baby!

For a long time, I didn’t think this day would ever come. A whole year, to be exact. I wrote this book in a haze of panic. Fear that I wasn’t good enough, that I was fizzling out only halfway through my first full-length series. My characters weren’t speaking to me and I wanted to quit so badly.

But I didn’t, mostly because I went onto the porch, smoked a cigarette, and let my husband talk me back into being an author.

And now release day is here.

I’m already checking sales and rankings, because habit, but none of that really matters because holy shit, I did it. Again. And I’m going to keep doing it, even when my joints ache and depression and anxiety whisper to me that I’m not good enough. Because I’m a writer, and this is what I do.

What Happens On Tour is still $0.99, and I’m going to leave the sale price up a little bit longer.

Aside from the fact that Griff stood in her childhood home, he was also complimenting her baby pictures. Her life couldn’t be real.

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What Happens On Tour: Chapter 2

After what seemed like the longest pause in the history of her life, Poppy exhaled. She rocked backward on her heels, heart split down the middle. Part of her wanted to be thrilled. Going on a national tour was everything that South of Forever—and she—had been working toward. That kind of success would surely put them on the map, and probably give her the kind of job security that her generation so rarely saw. Still, it was too soon.

She’d hoped that South of Forever had a good few years before they hit that kind of critical mass. Most people wanted their success in a hurry, but Poppy wanted to finish school. She needed to, she thought as she twirled a strand of hair around her finger. Frizz lined the strand, her natural, tight coils threatening to escape her sleek waves. Pretty soon she’d need to get it relaxed again.

She bit down on her lip. The last thing she needed to be thinking about was her hair. Griff eyed her with something between concern and suspicion. For a moment, it was as if he could see straight through her. She swallowed hard.

“That’s amazing,” she croaked. There was no way that she would be able to go on tour and make it to her classes. If she went with the band, she would inevitably flunk out. If she stayed in Boston, though, she would be giving up everything she had ever dreamed of. Glancing at Griff, she lifted her chin. She needed to say something more positive than that. She was his manager, after all. “When?”

The question flew out of her mouth before she could catch herself. Once again, she was speaking without thinking. Her mother would say that she invited trouble just by opening her mouth.

Griff seemed not to notice the struggle clawing at her heart, though. He put his hands in his pockets and turned back toward her mother’s house, keeping his pace slow and leisurely. If things were different, she might be able to pretend that they were on a romantic walk, digesting their Thanksgiving meal. His next words burst that particular bubble instantly. “This is kind of springing it on you, but Saul said that they’re leaving Monday.”

Her eyebrows flew toward her hairline. “This Monday?” she squeaked.

“I know it’s super last minute, and I wouldn’t normally ask you to take off in the middle of a holiday.” He spread his hands, chagrin lining his face in a grimace. “But I need you.” He cleared his throat. “We all do.”

She took a moment to collect herself. “Who’s Saul?” she asked, changing the subject. Her mind roiled. There was no way she could juggle school and a tour. A national tour meant that she would be thousands of miles away from Boston at any given time, hours away from class.

As they neared her mother’s house, Griff slowed even more. She wondered whether he was prolonging their time alone together, or if he was just naturally a slow walker. Or maybe, she mused, he just wanted privacy to discuss band business.

“He’s like the Jett of King Riley.” Griff lifted a shoulder, an amused smile playing on his lips. “He definitely seems to be in charge, but he’s also their lead singer.”

“Oh.” She looked down at her toes. Despite the chill in the air, she was glad that she had worn her wedges. They made her legs look great, her floral printed skinnies practically painted on her. She put a finger to her lips. If she went on tour with South of Forever, she was going to have to learn King Riley’s band members’ names. Arguably, she should already know who they all were, considering she was a band manager and they were part of the Boston scene—her band’s stomping grounds. Technically, they were competition. She rocked back as she remembered a conversation that she had overheard between Perry and Max not so long ago. “Didn’t Perry used to be King Riley’s bassist?”

Pressing his lips together, Griff nodded.

“Is that going to be an issue?” She crossed her arms over her chiffon blouse and raised an eyebrow at him.

He lifted a shoulder. “I hope not.”

“Perry is a guaranteed problem,” she reminded him. Though he had mellowed out considerably since she’d met him that summer, he still made half-hearted passes at her and drank too much during shows. Even if he could tame his womanizing and borderline alcoholism, she could see him being the first to pick a fight with the other band. “Is this even a good idea? What did he get kicked out for?”

Griff chuckled as he angled back toward the house. “You think he got kicked out?”

“This is Perry we’re talking about.” She slowed, glancing at the front porch. It was empty. Breathing a sigh of relief, she put a hand on Griff’s arm. “Did he ever mention why he isn’t part of King Riley anymore?”

“Jett got the impression that he left on his own terms,” Griff said. “You’re right, though. No one asked, and he never said.” His eyes met hers, and a tingle zipped through her. Though her hand was still on his arm, he made no move to pull away.

Her breath caught in her throat. Blinking, she forced herself to focus. Griff was ten years older than her—at least, her true age. Everyone in South of Forever thought she was twenty-two, but she was eighteen. All of the guys she’d dated in high school had been her age or a couple years older. There had never been a need to lie.

“So, barring any Perry incidents, are you up for this?” He grinned at her and, for a moment, she thought she might faint.

He wasn’t the kind of smoking hot that made it on the covers of magazines or in underwear ads. He had a certain boyish charm that easily bent, fitting the rock star image. He could go back and forth between any look if he wanted to. She had seen pictures of him during high school, with hair grown out to his chin and the slightest hint of stubble on his face, thanks to Jett breaking out the scrapbook she kept. Poppy would have never pegged Jett for the sentimental type, but she had photos of Griff that even his own mother would probably never show mixed company. Poppy’s cheeks reddened at the thought of a photo of his bare ass. It was from his Perpetual Smile days, during a drunken night on tour. He’d mooned the entire band and Jett had snapped a photo that she later pasted front and center in her scrapbook.

Poppy realized that she had spaced out more than usual. Her cheeks blazed and heat pricked at the back of her neck. Clearing her throat, she started walking back toward the house. “I should really get back to dinner,” she said, avoiding his question.

“Of course.” Griff kept pace beside her. He ran a hand through his hair. He touched her arm as if he wanted to say something else, but then drew away.

Again, she couldn’t help but wonder what might happen if she went on tour with South of Forever for a few months. It could be like a vacation. Of course, she would be working, coordinating merchandise and hanging out backstage. She beamed at the thought of herself standing behind a merch table. She could wear one of the band’s T-shirts. Better yet, she could bring a real sense of fashion to their wares. So few bands even carried shirts for women and, when they did, they shrunk easily or were cut wrong. Then again, she wasn’t sure how much she could do in just a few days, especially with the holiday weekend.

She shook her head. She couldn’t go on tour with them, not if she wanted to finish school. Her mother and grandmother would kill her if she dropped out to go away with some band. She could only imagine the looks on their faces. They might even disown her. They’d come close enough when Jay announced his new career as J-SON, L.A.B. Records’s new face of hip hop.

She wanted to cry. A perfect opportunity was about to be wasted.

She realized that they were standing in front of her house. A sigh escaped her lips. “Well, I’d better get back to dinner.”

Griff nodded, shifting from foot to foot. “Yeah, sorry for interrupting.”

She wished that she could invite him in. If things were different, she would have no problem bringing a guy home. Her family would have a million questions, though. Jay knew the truth, but her mother and grandmother didn’t, and their curiosity about the man in their house would almost definitely blow her cover. Yolanda and Audrey didn’t understand tact or saving their questions until boyfriends went home. Poppy was pretty sure that they enjoyed embarrassing her.

Clearing his throat, Griff nodded toward the house. “I’m sure you have to discuss things with your family.”

Her jaw dropped open. It was as if he knew. Licking her lips, she shook her head. She wanted to tell him that wasn’t it, but she had no other excuse for not jumping at the chance to go on tour. “It’s just that I planned on being here for the whole weekend. They’ll be disappointed.” She gave him a smile, lifting a shoulder.

“Well, let me know what you decide.” He pulled keys out of his jacket pocket and pressed a button. The lights flashed on a glossy rental car that she had overlooked. She heard it unlock. He leaned in, as if to give her a kiss. Her heart stopped. She tilted her face, shock freezing her thoughts. Instead, though, he gave her a quick one-armed hug, then stepped away.

She watched as he climbed into the car, almost too small for his tall frame. Then, forcing her feet to move, she headed up the front walkway. By the time she got to the porch, he was gone. She wondered if she’d just imagined the entire exchange. As she eased back inside, though, she realized her entire family sat in the living room.

Her mother beamed at her. “I knew you had a boyfriend,” she blurted. “You’ve been so busy, I knew it couldn’t just be school.”

Grandma Audrey gave Poppy a knowing look. “He’s cute.”

“He didn’t stay long,” Jay remarked. He shot Poppy a questioning glance, but said nothing else.

She burned to tell Krista what had happened. She couldn’t think of a graceful way to exit the conversation or to ditch dinner, though. Krista was the closest thing she had to a best friend. She’d had friends in high school, but none of them had been super close, and they had all gone to different colleges around the country. Some were even overseas, traveling the world with the military.

Nodding toward the kitchen, Poppy indicated the food, probably cold. “Are we eating, or what?”

Her grandmother shot out of her seat on the couch and bustled into the kitchen, Yolanda close on her heels. Poppy heard Grandma Audrey swearing, and stifled a laugh.

“So what happened?” Jay whispered. “Everything okay?”

“Later,” she mouthed. She would tell him everything, but only after dinner—and only after she conferenced with Krista first. If anyone knew what to do, it would be Krista.


South of Forever’s first tour is about to begin, and so is Poppy’s career—if she can keep all her lies straight.

CONTINUE READING

Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5

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I’ve Got the Pre-Release Jitters

via Unsplash
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All I can tell you about my book cover right now is that it’s pink—in the most badass of ways.

I can’t sit still.

There’s nothing else I can do at the moment, but the anticipation is killing me. I’m impatient by nature, mostly in an excited puppy way; I want to share this book with the world now, dammit. I got the final cover design from my designer this morning and I’m just itching to get rolling on my cover reveal plan. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about this gig in the last five years, it’s that there is payoff in patience.

I have a plan, and it’s a cool plan, therefore I must stick to it.

So much about this release has been unpredictable, to say the least. My publisher closed and, even though I was determined to get What Happens On Tour out on time anyway, the financial burden of having to re-publish four books in one month kind of threw things off. But I’ve learned something else in the last five years: There is always a way. My choice was either way another month or two, or give crowdfunding another shot.

I’ve done crowdfunding in the past, and learned that the all-or-nothing route doesn’t work for me. I’m thrifty and can make even a little bit work. So this time, I went with GoFundMe, which allows you to keep an open timeline and any donations you receive, regardless of whether you reach your goal. Not gonna lie, I also sold some things on eBay so that I could kick in, too. Within two weeks, we hit our goal.

Even though I hoped to still release on the 19th as planned, I decided to just go with the flow. If I had to release a few days or even weeks later, no big deal. Lady Luck was on my side, though, because my designer was faster than usual. In less than a week, she had a final product for me to see.

And now I’m dying to share it.

This book is a bona fide underdog. I had a hell of a time writing it. But I pushed through career doubts and character clashes, and got it done. If it weren’t for a handful of people, I really don’t know if it would’ve happened. What Happens On Tour is by far the hardest book I’ve birthed, and that’s why it’s the book I’m most proud of.

It also takes the series to a whole new level. All I’m gonna say is, I worked really hard to pull off the story I wanted to tell, and I think I did it. Of course, I’ll let you decide.

Read Chapter 1 now, then purchase your copy on August 19th.

What Happens On Tour: Chapter 1

Poppy twirled a pen between two fingers, her phone pressed between her cheek and a shoulder. “No problem,” she told Jett Costa, front woman of the band she managed. South of Forever’s keyboardist Max Batista had recently gotten out of rehab. Jett wanted to make sure that everything went smoothly. Poppy could understand. The band had been through a lot in a short amount of time. She still wasn’t sure why, but a few months before Jett brought her on, the singer had been hospitalized, too. Poppy had overheard their drummer Griff Whalen talking to Jett about it. No one knew exactly what had happened, but Jett had assured the band that it had nothing to do with her own rehab stint over a year before.

“I’m serious,” Jett said. Poppy started, realizing that, once again, she had let herself get swept away by other people’s drama. “I want everyone’s eyes on him at all times. I don’t want him relapsing.”

Poppy sighed. She hadn’t become the band’s manager to babysit musicians with drug problems. Still, her success depended on how well the band did. If Max started doing cocaine again—or touched anything else, for that matter—her career would be over. Pushing the thoughts away, she did her best to convince Jett that she was thoroughly capable of keeping Max on the wagon. “If you can stay sober,” she said, “so can he.”

A pause stretched on the other end.

Poppy bit her lip. Perhaps she had said the wrong thing. She tossed her long, brown waves over her shoulder and swapped the phone to her other ear. “I mean, I’m sure everything will be fine.” Though Jett couldn’t see it, she flashed the smile that she had once upon a time used to book shows for her brother.

“Yeah.” Jett cleared her throat. “Just keep an eye on him.” Without another word, she hung up.

Grimacing, Poppy put her phone down on her desk. If she kept at it, Jett and the rest of South of Forever would realize that she wasn’t the composed twenty-two-year-old that she pretended to be. She glared down at the open textbook on her desk.

“I’m going on a Starbucks run. The usual?”

Poppy glanced up at her roommate. Dark circles underlined Krista’s blue eyes. Her blonde hair hung limply around her face. Midterms were definitely starting to take their toll. Luckily, Krista had escaped the “freshman fifteen”—the fifteen pounds that most students supposedly gained during their first year at college. Poppy, on the other hand, had gained at least thirty. The last thing she needed was another fattening beverage, but if she was going to get through her study session and babysit Max, she definitely needed the caffeine. She reached for her wallet.

Krista shook her head. “This one’s on me.” She flashed her parents’ credit card, grinning. For a moment, she looked like the cheerful young woman that had moved into their room at the beginning of the semester. She tucked her hair behind her ears. “You got the last one.”

“True.” Poppy tapped her pen on the corner of her desk. She longed for winter break when, for a few precious weeks, she could just be Poppy the band manager. Juggling her classes, work, and keeping South of Forever from finding out that she was a fraud was starting to wear on her. There were bags under her brown eyes, and her once smooth, deep brown skin sported more than a few pimples. She was also pretty sure that she had a wrinkle near her nose. Next up, she thought, she was going to start sprouting gray hairs.

Krista turned and slouched out of their dorm room in defeat. Poppy glanced at the laptop open on her roommate’s desk. The cursor blinked on an empty page. Krista was supposed to be writing a paper for her communications class. At the rate things were going, neither of them were going to make it through their first semester.

It was too bad. Poppy couldn’t have picked a better roommate. Krista was easygoing and had no problem with Poppy coming and going at all hours of the day—even when she crawled into bed in the middle of the night after a particularly long rehearsal night with South of Forever. She was lucky that she woke up in time for her marketing classes most days.

Sometimes, she wished that she had chosen an easier path in life.

She turned back to her desk, her eye catching the framed photo of her and the band. She stood next to Griff, his arm draped across her shoulders. His fair skin was a stark contrast to her deep copper complexion. A tingle ran through her as she thought of that day, how his touch had lingered long after Max’s girlfriend Savannah took the photo. She had uploaded it to their website later that night, proud to be part of the South of Forever family. Her eyes roved over Griff’s face, his eyes slanted to the side. It looked like he was looking at her.

She blinked, peering closer at the photo. His blue eyes were so light, they were nearly gray. He was definitely looking in her direction, but whether or not he was peeking at her was a different story.

She shook her head. She needed to be studying, not worrying about whether Griff liked her. Her cheeks flushed and her heart fluttered in her chest. She should be so lucky. Rock stars like Griff didn’t go for girls like her—especially girls who lied about their age and college degree.

She chewed on her lip and made herself look away from the photo. She just needed to get through the next week. After midterms, she could spend Thanksgiving with her family—just far enough away from the band and all of the stress weighing on her shoulders.

The door swung open and Krista entered their room, cradling four lattes in a tray. Behind her, the hall stood empty. It seemed as if the entire campus was burrowed in, studying for exams. It was easy for everyone else to focus so early in the semester. Poppy wished it could be the same for her.

* * *

Poppy stood outside her dorm, her rolling suitcase parked in front of her. Shifting from foot to foot in her wedge sandals, she watched as yet another Honda Civic entered the complex. Instead of cruising past her to the line of visitor parking spots, though, it rolled to a stop in front of her. A tinted window rolled down.

Heavy bass poured out, punctuated by lyrics she hadn’t heard yet. Her brother Jay leaned out of the window and nodded to her. “Get in.”

Poppy snorted. She had expected Jay to come in a limousine or maybe even an SUV driven by someone from his record company. “Why a Honda?” She tossed her suitcase into the trunk and hurried around to the passenger side. Her fingertips barely brushed the seatbelt as Jay peeled out of the dorm parking lot.

“You blend in,” he said, whipping around the corner.

She lifted an eyebrow at him. “And this isn’t standing out?” She could hear a bit of Grandma Audrey in her voice, even though it had been months since she last saw her grandmother. A soft smile touched her lips. She couldn’t wait to be home.

“Come on, I’m just having fun.” Jay maneuvered into traffic, slamming the brakes as the light turned red at the bottom of the hill.

Poppy rolled her eyes. She nodded toward the iPhone plugged into the dashboard. “New song?” Reaching for the dial, she twisted it until the entire car rocked with the bump of the bass.

Jay slapped her hand away and turned the music down. “It’s not finished yet.” He slanted her a look. “I’m not ready for the public to hear it.”

Poppy blinked, wondering whether anyone on campus would recognize her brother. Until just a few short months before, she had been J-SON’s manager. Only he had been surprised when, at a show she had scheduled, someone from a label approached him and invited them to dinner to discuss a recording contract. She, on the other hand, had always known he’d make it. He hadn’t been with L.A.B. Records long, but he was already one of their more promising artists. The two singles he had released were doing well.

“Don’t take this the wrong way,” she said, relaxing back into her seat as he pulled onto the highway. “I expected more fanfare, now that you’re all big and stuff.” She grinned at him.

“Incognito,” he said, putting sunglasses on against the morning glare of the sun. As he urged the Honda to the standard eighty miles an hour that the rest of traffic adhered to, he glanced at her. “How did finals go?”

“Midterms,” she corrected, “and they were a bitch.” She wanted to forget the last week of her life as quickly as possible.

“And how’s the band?” He gave her a sly smile.

Neither their mother or grandmother knew what she was doing, but Jay knew everything. They had always trusted each other with their secrets. “Running me ragged.” She bit her lower lip. “You heard about the scandal, right?”

“You kidding me? Everyone knows about it.” Jay switched off the song and tucked his phone into the center console. He punched buttons until he found Hot 93.7, an old school rap song trickling into the car. “It’s all everyone at L.A.B. can talk about.”

“Eventually,” she said, “Mom and Grandma Audrey are going to find out that I’m managing South of Forever. It’s inevitable.”

“Is he still sober?”

The abrupt change of subject made both of her eyebrows nearly touch her hairline. “Why do you ask?” She crossed her arms, twisting in her seat so that she could face her brother full on.

“Did you know that Koty Jackson is from L.A.B.?” Jay took off his sunglasses and regarded her with somber brown eyes.

She almost giggled. Of course she knew. Up until very recently, she’d had an ESX poster in her bedroom at home. When Koty left the boy band to join the rock band Perpetual Smile, she had migrated with him. If she thought about it too much, it was all just too crazy. In a million years, she had never dreamed that she would be managing the Dakota Jackson and Jett Costa.

Then again, things were much different with South of Forever. They still had ages to go before they achieved the kind of success that Perpetual Smile had known. She could get them there. She wouldn’t accept anything less.

Jay cleared his throat. “Daydreaming again?”

The Honda slowed as I-95 clogged, the morning commute just beginning.

Poppy groaned. She waved to the traffic. “Your people can’t do anything about this?”

“I’m not that famous yet.” He chuckled.

“I know exactly where South of Forever stands,” she said. “Does L.A.B. really talk about them that much?”

Her brother nodded. “Scott Woodrow is on double duty. He manages ESX, but still keeps tabs on Koty.” Switching lanes, Jay urged the Honda to go faster. Traffic slowed again, and he stomped on the brakes. “This is bullshit. I thought we’d miss this.”

“J-SON, traffic in Boston is ever present,” she said in her best Southern belle accent.

Just as he had when they were little, Jay dissolved into giggles. “Oh, Poppy.” He squeezed her hand for a second. “I’ve missed you. It’s not the same now.”

“It used to be us against the world,” she said. “Now we’re both in separate corners, kicking ass and taking names.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” He put both hands on the steering wheel. “I’m proud of you, girl.”

Swallowing the lump in her throat, Poppy nodded. If she could survive Thanksgiving break without her life imploding, she would be proud of herself.

* * *

The carving knife clattered to the floor. Poppy darted back, the blade missing her toes by inches. She glanced at her grandmother. Their eyes met, then they both dissolved into giggles.

“Quit throwing things at me,” she told Grandma Audrey. She wasn’t sure why she and her brother addressed their grandmother by her first name. Their father’s parents had passed away before either of them had been born, so there was no need to differentiate. Her grandmother had been Grandma Audrey for as long as she could remember, though.

“I’m just crazy like that.” Grandma Audrey stooped to retrieve the knife, and then ambled over to the sink. “Thirty-second rule,” she said, rinsing it off.

Poppy settled an elbow back on the counter, texting her dad a quick “Happy Thanksgiving” with one hand. It’d been years since she or Jay had spent a holiday with their father. After James and Yolanda separated, Poppy’s dad moved out of state. Last she knew, he’d taken yet another odd job. Even though he no longer owed her mom child support, he still sent Yolanda money every month. Poppy treasured their few visits and occasional FaceTime chats. Her dad worked hard and had a great sense of humor. She hoped that she’d inherited his work ethic.

Watching as her grandmother resumed carving the turkey, she sighed. She definitely hadn’t inherited that particular gene.

“What’s wrong, sugar?” Grandma Audrey dropped a slice of turkey onto a platter. Steam rose from the meat.

Poppy’s mouth watered. “I’m just thinking about how I’ll never be as good a cook as you.”

Tucking her chin into the palm of her hand, her thoughts again strayed to South of Forever. Jay’s words haunted her. She had tossed and turned in her sleep, unable to stop visualizing Scott Woodrow stalking Koty. She felt naked. From what Jay told her, L.A.B. had a lot of resources—both financially and in the music industry. Maybe it was unnecessary to worry about such a thing, but she couldn’t help but wonder how far L.A.B. would go to get back their prized pop star.

“Honey, you can’t even boil water,” Grandma Audrey replied. She nudged Poppy with an elbow.

“Exactly.” Poppy forced herself to be present. She hadn’t gotten to spend time with her family since she’d started college. “I’m practically starving at school.”

Plunking down several more slices, Grandma Audrey turned to look at Poppy. She raised an eyebrow. “You don’t look it.” She poked Poppy in the ribs.

“Hey, it takes work to look like this.” Poppy put a hand on her hip.

Grandma Audrey winked. “You look fine. You’ve got all the right curves in all the right places. You’re no size zero, but you’re far from being overweight.” She popped a piece of crispy turkey skin into her mouth. “Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.”

“Thanks, Gran.” Picking up the platter, Poppy carried it to the table. At any moment, her mother would be home from work. Even though it was later than most families ate Thanksgiving dinner, Yolanda had to work at the hospital. Emergencies didn’t take holidays, she often said.

“I’m just glad you’re in school,” her grandmother continued, “unlike your fool of a brother.” She clucked her tongue and shook her head.

“Jay is doing so well, Gran.”

Grandma Audrey rolled her eyes. “He’s not getting an education.” She pointed a finger at Poppy. “You better stay in school.”

Pressing her lips together, Poppy nodded. She sat down at the table. Her grandmother sat across from her. Indicating the potatoes, turkey, and the rest of the Thanksgiving spread, Poppy tried to change the subject. “Everything smells great.”

“Don’t bullshit me, young lady. Your brother’s a fool and I’m not changing my mind. Your mother is still heartbroken.” Grandma Audrey crossed her arms.

As Poppy opened her mouth to respond, Jay burst into the kitchen. He’d been in the basement, working on his new song. She gave him a grateful look. Even though she loved spending time with her grandmother, her spiel about the importance of a college education was getting old. No amount of lecturing was going to eject Jay from his path. Poppy was pretty sure that her mother and grandmother resented her for helping him get there.

Jay gave her a sly look, his eyebrows wiggling. “Someone’s here to see you, Poppy.” A smile played on his lips.

Shaking her head, Poppy remained sitting. “Yeah, right. I’m not falling for that one.”

“I’m serious. Some white boy with a blond faux-hawk.” Jay crossed his arms. “Do I need to read him the riot act?”

Pushing her chair back, Poppy stood. Her knees wobbled. “No, because there’s no one here.” She stepped gingerly toward the living room, heart pounding in her chest. It couldn’t be who it sounded like. Jay had to be making it up. She froze in her tracks as she entered the living room.

Griff stood in the entryway, his hands shoved into the pockets of his leather jacket. He leaned over a table, studying photos of Poppy and her family.

Her mouth hung open. The Griff Whalen was in her house. She couldn’t believe her eyes. Mind whirling, she fumbled for a cool way to greet him. Instead, her lips sagged even farther apart.

He turned around, his gray-blue eyes settling on hers. “Hey,” he said. He removed his hands from his pockets and jerked a thumb toward a photo of her first day of kindergarten. “You’re so cute.”

She gaped at him. She was pretty sure her legs were going to give out from underneath her. Aside from the fact that Griff stood in her childhood home, he was also complimenting her baby pictures. Her life couldn’t be real. She wished that Krista had come home with her. Her roommate didn’t get along with her own family, and had stayed on campus. Poppy had tried inviting her along, but Krista had declined, saying that she needed the veg time.

She needed to say something, she realized. If she continued gaping at him, he might think that she had hit her head. Still, she couldn’t think of a single thing. Thank you sounded too egotistical, and it was too late to say hello. “What are you doing here?” she blurted. Smooth, Poppy, she thought.

Before he could respond, the front door swung open. He moved to the side, and her mother strode in.

Yolanda did a double take, eyes darting from Poppy to Griff. “I didn’t know we were having company.” A strange, bright smile took over her face. She held her hand out to Griff. “I’m Yolanda, Poppy’s mother. It’s so nice to meet you!” Her eyes danced.

“Oh Lord,” Poppy muttered. Her mother thought she had brought a boy home for Thanksgiving. Heat striped her cheeks. She glanced around for a place to sit down, but the couch was several paces away.

“Griff Whalen,” he said, shaking her mother’s hand. He didn’t mention the band.

Poppy breathed a sigh of relief. Let her mother think that she had a boyfriend. Grabbing Griff’s arm, she pulled him toward the door. “We’ll be right back.” She tugged Griff outside and into the bright November afternoon.

The door closed behind her, but she swore she felt her mother’s eyes on her as she led Griff down the street.

“Sorry to show up like this,” he said.

She realized that she still had his arm. Releasing him, she stumbled away. “What’s going on?”

Suddenly, she realized that, for all she knew, something awful had happened. She needed to put her band manager hat on. Whatever had happened, she could handle it. At least, she hoped so. She hadn’t planned on working at all during the long weekend at home.

“Everything is okay,” Griff said as they rounded a corner.

Poppy halted at the stop sign. She shook her head, jerking a thumb toward the sloping hill that dipped down from her street. “Not down the hill. It’s kinda sketchy down that end.” She led him deeper into the neighborhood, toward the nicer side. “So Max didn’t relapse or anything?” She clapped a hand over her mouth. Again with the word-vomit, she scolded herself.

Chuckling, Griff shook his head. “Nope. I have good news, actually. I wanted to tell you in person, so I could see your face.” He stopped, a grin breaking across his face.

Blushing, she wrapped her arms around herself. Though the sun was still out, the evening was growing cool. “Tell me what?” His words replayed alongside her pulse, the perfect beat. She wondered whether he actually meant what he said, or if he was just there because Jett had sent him. She bit down on her lower lip. No, that didn’t make any sense. Though South of Forever was Jett’s baby, Griff handled all things administrative. Whatever he was about to tell her was either really bad or really big and, since they’d already ruled out catastrophe, she had a feeling her world was about to change. Perhaps things were going to change in more ways than one, she realized as her eyes settled on his.

“So, I’m just gonna say it.” He bounced on the balls of his feet, the grin still on his lips. “King Riley—they’re another big band in Boston, with a sound similar to ours—is going on tour.” Eyes dancing, he took a step toward her and grabbed her hands. “I know this is usually your area, but they contacted me and I already said yes.”

“Yes to what?” Her eyes darted from his hands to his face. His skin was warm, and she shivered, delicious heat flooding her body at his touch. There was definitely something at work, pulling them together. Part of her wanted to yank her hands away, though. She had to be very careful.

Tipping his head back, he laughed—a content sound that thrilled her to her toes. He dipped his chin, gazing at her.

“King Riley invited us to open for them on their national tour.”


South of Forever’s first tour is about to begin, and so is Poppy’s career—if she can keep all her lies straight.

CONTINUE READING

Chapter 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5

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