Read the South of Forever Series FREE on Kindle Unlimited

Extra, extra, read all about it鈥攖he South of Forever series is now available on Kindle Unlimited! It’s also got some updates.

  • The prequel novel聽is now a free bonus when you join the South of Forever email list. I’ve long struggled with finding the proper place for this story; it’s important to the SOF series, but I think a lot of readers聽were confused. No more! Readers get it free. Click here to get your copy.
  • I’m testing new cover designs. What do you think? My favorite is SOF3. Poppy looks like she’s having the time of her life! And her rockin’ hair is love. 馃槏
  • Kindle Unlimited subscribers can read the entire series at no additional cost. Learn more about KU and sign up here! You’ll also get the first 30 days for free.
  • I’ve resumed working on SOF4. More info on that soon!
  • Paperbacks back in stock in 2017. More details soon.

Start binge-reading the South of Forever series now!

Book 1: Diving Into Him

Jett might be sober, but she can’t kick her addiction to Koty.

Read a Sample: Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5

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Book 2: Savannah’s Song

Savannah’s forever has a secret that could destroy them鈥攁nd the band.

Read a Sample: Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5

Buy Now: Amazon USAmazon CAAmazon UK

Book 3: What Happens on Tour

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

Read a Sample: Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4Chapter 5

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Happy reading!

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.聽It’s the middle of the night and I’m聽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鈥攖he third book in my rockstar romance, the聽South of Forever series鈥攊s 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聽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鈥檛 be real.

Read a Sample聽禄


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New to the South of Forever series?

Grab your FREE copy of Book 1

*The Nook edition is on its way! Please use Smashwords in the meantime. 馃挍

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鈥攁nd she鈥攈ad 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鈥檚 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鈥檚 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鈥檙e leaving Monday.”

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

“I know it鈥檚 super last minute, and I wouldn鈥檛 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鈥檚 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鈥檚 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鈥檚 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鈥檚 band members鈥 names. Arguably, she should already know who they all were, considering she was a band manager and they were part of the Boston scene鈥攈er band鈥檚 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鈥檛 Perry used to be King Riley鈥檚 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鈥檙e talking about.” She slowed, glancing at the front porch. It was empty. Breathing a sigh of relief, she put a hand on Griff鈥檚 arm. “Did he ever mention why he isn鈥檛 part of King Riley anymore?”

“Jett got the impression that he left on his own terms,” Griff said. “You鈥檙e 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鈥攁t least, her true age. Everyone in South of Forever thought she was twenty-two, but she was eighteen. All of the guys she鈥檇 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鈥檛 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鈥檚 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鈥檛 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鈥檚 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鈥檛 sure how much she could do in just a few days, especially with the holiday weekend.

She shook her head. She couldn鈥檛 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鈥檚 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鈥檇 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鈥檛, and their curiosity about the man in their house would almost definitely blow her cover. Yolanda and Audrey didn鈥檛 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鈥檓 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鈥檛 it, but she had no other excuse for not jumping at the chance to go on tour. “It鈥檚 just that I planned on being here for the whole weekend. They鈥檒l 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鈥檇 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鈥檝e been so busy, I knew it couldn鈥檛 just be school.”

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

“He didn鈥檛 stay long,” Jay remarked. He shot Poppy a questioning glance, but said nothing else.

She burned to tell Krista what had happened. She couldn鈥檛 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鈥檇 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鈥攁nd 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鈥攊f she can keep all her lies straight.


Chapter 1 路聽Chapter 2聽路 Chapter 3Chapter 4 路 Chapter 5


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Cover Reveal: What Happens On Tour

Untitled design

Drum roll, please鈥攊t’s time for the official聽What Happens On Tour cover reveal! You may have seen my puzzle over on my Instagram profile, but there’s nothing like seeing this baby in HD. Designer Starla Huchton needs some serious applause.

Are you ready? I’m tingling, I’m so excited.




What Happens On Tour (South of Forever, Book 3), by Elizabeth Barone

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

Poppy Hampton may be rock band South of Forever’s new manager, and she may have successfully launched her brother’s music career, but she sort of lied about her credentials. She also may have aged herself up a bit in her resume. It’s no big deal.

All she has to do is make sure they don’t find out.

Until the band’s sexy drummer鈥攁nd the guy of her dreams鈥擥riff tells her that it’s finally happened: South of Forever has been invited to go on tour with the fast rising rock band, King Riley. She’d be thrilled if such an exciting opportunity didn’t mean choosing between her career and her education鈥攐r if dating Griff didn’t mean lying to him about the ten-year age difference between them. Can Poppy launch her career without destroying it before it’s even started? And if she risks everything to follow her heart and be with Griff, can she keep her secret safe?

What Happens On Tour聽is the third book in the聽South of Forever聽series, a steamy contemporary New Adult romance that follows a fledgling rock band on its way to the top.

Available August 19th.


Pre-order now for only $0.99!


What Happens On Tour (South of Forever, Book 3), by Elizabeth Barone

Catch up on the South of Forever series:

Buy Diving Into Him and Savannah’s Song now聽禄

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鈥檚 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鈥檛 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鈥檓 serious,” Jett said. Poppy started, realizing that, once again, she had let herself get swept away by other people鈥檚 drama. “I want everyone鈥檚 eyes on him at all times. I don鈥檛 want him relapsing.”

Poppy sighed. She hadn鈥檛 become the band鈥檚 manager to babysit musicians with drug problems. Still, her success depended on how well the band did. If Max started doing cocaine again鈥攐r touched anything else, for that matter鈥攈er 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鈥檓 sure everything will be fine.” Though Jett couldn鈥檛 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鈥檛 the composed twenty-two-year-old that she pretended to be. She glared down at the open textbook on her desk.

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

Poppy glanced up at her roommate. Dark circles underlined Krista鈥檚 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”鈥攖he 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鈥檚 on me.” She flashed her parents鈥 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鈥檚 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鈥檛 have picked a better roommate. Krista was easygoing and had no problem with Poppy coming and going at all hours of the day鈥攅ven 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鈥檚 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鈥檚 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鈥檛 go for girls like her鈥攅specially 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鈥攋ust 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鈥檛 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鈥檛 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鈥檛 wait to be home.

“Come on, I鈥檓 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鈥檚 not finished yet.” He slanted her a look. “I鈥檓 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鈥檚 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鈥檛 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鈥檛 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鈥檙e 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鈥檚 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鈥檚 all everyone at L.A.B. can talk about.”

“Eventually,” she said, “Mom and Grandma Audrey are going to find out that I鈥檓 managing South of Forever. It鈥檚 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鈥檇 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鈥檛 do anything about this?”

“I鈥檓 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鈥檇 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鈥檝e missed you. It鈥檚 not the same now.”

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

“Ain鈥檛 that the truth.” He put both hands on the steering wheel. “I鈥檓 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鈥檛 sure why she and her brother addressed their grandmother by her first name. Their father鈥檚 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鈥檓 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鈥檇 been years since she or Jay had spent a holiday with their father. After James and Yolanda separated, Poppy鈥檚 dad moved out of state. Last she knew, he鈥檇 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鈥檇 inherited his work ethic.

Watching as her grandmother resumed carving the turkey, she sighed. She definitely hadn鈥檛 inherited that particular gene.

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

Poppy鈥檚 mouth watered. “I鈥檓 just thinking about how I鈥檒l 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鈥檚 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鈥攂oth financially and in the music industry. Maybe it was unnecessary to worry about such a thing, but she couldn鈥檛 help but wonder how far L.A.B. would go to get back their prized pop star.

“Honey, you can鈥檛 even boil water,” Grandma Audrey replied. She nudged Poppy with an elbow.

“Exactly.” Poppy forced herself to be present. She hadn鈥檛 gotten to spend time with her family since she鈥檇 started college. “I鈥檓 practically starving at school.”

Plunking down several more slices, Grandma Audrey turned to look at Poppy. She raised an eyebrow. “You don鈥檛 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鈥檝e got all the right curves in all the right places. You鈥檙e no size zero, but you鈥檙e far from being overweight.” She popped a piece of crispy turkey skin into her mouth. “Don鈥檛 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鈥檛 take holidays, she often said.

“I鈥檓 just glad you鈥檙e 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鈥檚 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鈥檛 bullshit me, young lady. Your brother鈥檚 a fool and I鈥檓 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鈥檇 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鈥檚 here to see you, Poppy.” A smile played on his lips.

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

“I鈥檓 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鈥檚 no one here.” She stepped gingerly toward the living room, heart pounding in her chest. It couldn鈥檛 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鈥檛 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鈥檙e 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鈥檛 be real. She wished that Krista had come home with her. Her roommate didn鈥檛 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鈥檛 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鈥檛 know we were having company.” A strange, bright smile took over her face. She held her hand out to Griff. “I鈥檓 Yolanda, Poppy鈥檚 mother. It鈥檚 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鈥檚 hand. He didn鈥檛 mention the band.

Poppy breathed a sigh of relief. Let her mother think that she had a boyfriend. Grabbing Griff鈥檚 arm, she pulled him toward the door. “We鈥檒l 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鈥檚 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鈥檚 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鈥檛 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鈥檚 kinda sketchy down that end.” She led him deeper into the neighborhood, toward the nicer side. “So Max didn鈥檛 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鈥檛 make any sense. Though South of Forever was Jett鈥檚 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鈥檓 just gonna say it.” He bounced on the balls of his feet, the grin still on his lips. “King Riley鈥攖hey鈥檙e another big band in Boston, with a sound similar to ours鈥攊s 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鈥攁 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鈥攊f she can keep all her lies straight.


Chapter 1 路 Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4 路 Chapter 5



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Savannah’s Song: Chapter 5

After registering Chloe for day care, Savannah had said nothing else to Max about the whole thing. Barely sleeping that night, she tossed and turned, worried that she鈥檇 just sealed her relationship鈥檚 fate. When morning came, she waited until Max left to bring Chloe to the day care, her frazzled nerves sizzling under the hot sun. She took the T home alone, and the silence was deafening.

The apartment seemed smaller without Chloe. Savannah sat on the warm couch, the TV off, a full cup of cold coffee in her hands. Biting her lip, she shifted position. Maybe it was time to get up. Without Chloe, though, she didn鈥檛 know what to do. No small hands tugged at her shirt. No chatter filled the empty spaces between her thoughts.

鈥淚t鈥檚 for the best,鈥 she reminded herself. The ache in her heart didn鈥檛 seem so convinced.

She needed to put her free time to better use. She had never gone through anyone else鈥檚 things before. Even when she tidied up, she merely organized. Max didn鈥檛 seem bothered by it, and she could probably throw away his old ATM receipts and scribbled lyrics, but it felt wrong. It felt even more wrong to purposely dig through his belongings.

Perhaps trying to talk to him again would yield better results, especially if she straight-up asked him what was going on. Or he would yell at her some more. Maybe he would even get aggressive. The Max she fell in love with wasn鈥檛 violent, but she hardly knew who he was anymore. That Max hadn鈥檛 kept secrets, either.

His nightstand was the obvious place to start. Kneeling in front of it, she pulled on the top drawer. As if refusing to betray him, the drawer stuck fast. She yanked harder. Papers crushed against each other. She gave the nightstand a flat look, wondering when it had gotten so full.

Putting all of her strength into it, she wrenched the drawer open. A stack of papers slid into her lap. She gathered them in a rush, then hesitated. If she was going to snoop, she should go all the way.

She fanned the papers out on the floor, eyes skimming each page. Most of them were drawings by Chloe. In the bottom corner of each one, she recognized the date in her own handwriting. She grinned. There was an obvious evolution to each piece. Chloe was getting good, for a little kid. She just might take after her.

鈥淲e don鈥檛 share any DNA,鈥 she reminded herself in Spanish. There was no way that Chloe would ever be like her. It was probably for the best. She hoped that Chloe would grow to be honest and direct, less of a coward than she was, sleuthing through her boyfriend鈥檚 drawers for answers.

The first stack of papers contained nothing else of interest. She put it to the side and reached in for another. The receipts she found were mundane, things like Big Gulp purchases and groceries. One had a phone number scrawled on it, but when she examined it closer, she remembered that it belonged to the cell phone they shared. Neither of them had been able to memorize it when they first moved to Boston, after canceling their individual, more expensive plans.

She put the papers back where she found them. Perhaps there was nothing else to find.

Or, she surmised, she was looking in the wrong place.

She returned to the living room, went to the desk, and woke up the laptop. A twinge of guilt twisted through her as she navigated to Max鈥檚 email. His password was easy to guess. Scrolling through the messages, she skimmed the subject lines. Much of it was spam. The rest were from her鈥攔eminders to pick up milk after work鈥攐r from the other members of South of Forever.

She slumped back in the chair. So far, her search had turned up nothing useful. She started to shut the computer down when a thought occurred to her.

If Max was cheating on her while he was supposedly at work, the best way to find out was to watch the studio.

She snorted, shaking her head. The idea was preposterous, and yet, it made sense. She might be turning into the obsessive, stalker girlfriend.

Rubbing at her face, she told herself that she needed to stop. Whatever was going on would reveal itself in due time. Things like that always came out, she reminded herself. Her abuela liked to say that secrets were like farts.

Savannah wished that she and her own mother were so close. Maybe, when things calmed down a bit and she had a better idea of where she would be living, she could invite her parents and older sister to visit, to try to make amends. There was no point in contacting them if Max was about to break up with her. If that happened, she would have to go back to Connecticut. Though she hated the idea of crawling back to her parents, there was no alternative.

She had nowhere else to go.

Wrenching her thoughts back into the present, she left the computer on the desk and grabbed her keys.

She wasn鈥檛 sure how much she could observe in the two hours she had before the art show began. Still, she hopped onto the T and took it over to the studio. More than ever before, she relied on her own two legs since moving to Boston. The city had a romantic, alive feel to it that no other city she ever visited had possessed.

There were plenty of cities all throughout the United States that fostered careers in the business. Something drew her and Max to Boston, though, and that had to count. They couldn鈥檛 really be at the end of their relationship. They had to grow old together, first, she mused.

Stepping off the T, she headed toward the studio. The scent of burnt coffee from a nearby stand pressed down on her. Dread pitted in her stomach. Her mind reeled. The muscles in her shoulders tensed with each step.

Stopping outside the building that housed The Den, she paused. For the first time in her life, she wished that she was a smoker. Then, at least, she would have something to do, rather than standing outside idly.

She stared at the entrance and debated whether to go inside. Doing so would put her at risk of being seen. There wasn鈥檛 much she could observe outside, though. Hoping that she wasn鈥檛 about to make yet another mistake, she slipped inside the entrance to the stage. Before heading up the stairs, she glanced around to make sure that no one from the band was around. The coast clear, she bounded up two steps at a time. When she got to the landing, she paused.

Her heart thudded in her chest.

Other musicians occupied the hall. She ducked back into the stairwell. She couldn鈥檛 tell if anyone from South of Forever was out there. If they saw her, she would have a lot to explain. Drawing a shallow breath, she crept back into the hall. Her eyes darted from face to face. None of the musicians looked familiar.

Her own heavy breathing echoed in her ears.

The room adjacent to South of Forever鈥檚, she remembered, had a one-way window into their recording booth. It was mainly for videography purposes. Now and then, The Den was used as a space to film music videos. More than likely, the room stood empty at the moment. She tiptoed toward it as if the door was about to burst open. Putting a hand on the knob, she paused for a second. It could be locked. Muttering a silent plea, she twisted the doorknob. It turned easily. She pushed the door open.

Darkness greeted her. Letting out a sigh of relief, she eased into the room. Her heart continued to pound, her mouth dry. She used her tank top to dry her sweaty palms, then walked toward the window.

No one occupied the booth at the moment, but the door was open. She saw Jett head to head with Koty as they pored over a notebook that was full, she assumed, of lyrics for their EP. Perry leaned against the couch, an arm slung over the back, his fingers brushing against Poppy鈥檚 hair. She scooted away from him, her chest rising and falling as she sighed.

Griff joined Jett and Koty. Though Savannah couldn鈥檛 hear him or read his lips, his body language and hand gestures told her enough. Poor Perry wasn鈥檛 getting the message that Poppy was off limits.

Her view was only a fraction of the room, and it didn鈥檛 include Max. She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against the window. Spying on him was stupid, especially if she couldn鈥檛 see him.

Opening her eyes, she took a step away from the window when movement caught her eye. Max sat on the other side of the couch. Poppy turned toward him, more out of gratitude, Savannah suspected, than actual want of conversation. The booking manager鈥檚 body language was purely professional, and Max didn鈥檛 seem interested in her, either鈥攁t least, not on a physical level. He looked as if he was going to drop, though.

Dark circles wove around his bloodshot eyes like stage makeup. He pushed his hair out of his face, and Savannah made a mental note to trim those locks later. He had a notebook balanced on his lap where he scribbled something down every so often. Savannah couldn鈥檛 tell whether he was taking notes on what Poppy was saying or not. He didn鈥檛 seem to be paying attention to her, other than a polite nod every few sentences.

Deciding that she had seen enough, Savannah turned away. Max was at work, where he was supposed to be. She needed to get to the gallery, or everything that she had done to get Chloe into day care would be for nothing.

Suspicion still tugged at her, though. If he wasn鈥檛 cheating, she needed to find out what was going on.

* * *

Savannah took the T to Seven Deadly Brushes, the painting tucked under her arm. Her nerves popped and sizzled, a frazzled mess under her skin. Even with the air conditioning on the T, her hair plastered to her forehead. She looked down at her sneakers and shorts, debating whether she was underdressed for the occasion. She suddenly wished that she had thought to call her father. Despite their lack of communication, she probably could have talked him into sending her the money to order a dress with overnight shipping. Begging for their help might be a little like cheating at adulthood. Her shorts would have to do.

Before she knew it, she stood in front of the gallery. She smoothed her hair and, taking a deep breath, forced herself to go inside.

She glanced around. Zachary hadn鈥檛 told her where to go once she got there. Eyes scanning the art on the walls, she noticed all of the paintings were Latina-themed. She searched for a blank space to hang hers. There was nothing available.

As she turned to go, a hand caught her arm. She gasped as she met Zachary鈥檚 eyes. 鈥淲ell, hello there.鈥 She held out her free hand.

Instead of shaking hands, he leaned forward and kissed her cheek, his warm lips lingering. It had been a long time since someone greeted her with a kiss. His scent teased her nostrils. It was a combination of, perhaps, whatever cologne he wore and his own natural scent鈥攕picy, matching the heat of his lips. 鈥淕lad you came,鈥 he said. His lightweight, button-down shirt clung to corded muscles.

She indicated the full lobby. 鈥淭hese people are all here for your show?鈥

鈥淣o, beautiful. They鈥檙e all here for you.鈥 He lifted a hand and directed her gaze to an easel standing alone in the center of the clean, brightly lit lobby.

She lifted an eyebrow at him. 鈥淲hat鈥檚 that?鈥

鈥淭hat,鈥 Zachary said, 鈥渋s where we鈥檙e displaying your piece.鈥 His eyes gazed into hers. Warmth shot down into her pelvis. Her grip tightened on her painting.

鈥淲hoa. There鈥檚 no way I can do that.鈥 She avoided his eyes. If she looked into them too long, she feared, she would be sucked in.

He put his hand lightly on the small of her back and steered her toward the easel. 鈥淭his is my gallery, and I can feature whoever I want.鈥 He lifted the painting from her grasp and began peeling off the paper it was wrapped in. 鈥淟adies and gentlemen.鈥 His voice boomed above the chatter. 鈥淲elcome to Seven Deadly Brushes, where you can view and buy Latina art and, if you鈥檙e feeling crazy, get inked.鈥

Polite laughter rippled through the group, though no one seemed particularly interested in getting a spontaneous tattoo.

Setting her painting on the easel, Zachary stepped to the side. 鈥淧lease welcome our featured artist, Savannah Santos.鈥 The way her name rolled off his tongue made her slightly dizzy. Applause undulated through the crowd, and people pressed closer. Leaning down, Zachary whispered in Savannah鈥檚 ear. 鈥淚 have to go mingle now. This is going to sell. Just stand here and chat with people. I guarantee, you鈥檒l walk out of here with money.鈥 He gave her another kiss and sauntered away, raising an arm in greeting to someone she couldn鈥檛 see.

Though she wanted to wrap her arms around herself, she made her hands hang limply at her side. She tried to look inviting, though she had no idea how she was supposed to do that.

鈥淭hat鈥檚 beautiful.鈥 A woman in her forties stepped closer. She pointed at the painting. 鈥淗ow long did it take you to paint?鈥

Savannah glanced at the filigreed skull eyes and the pouting lips. She returned her gaze to the woman. She thought of Chloe, of the tiny hand that was currently missing from hers. Guilt pulsed through her, but she shoved it down. She could feel guilty later. “A couple days.”

鈥淎mazing.鈥 The woman nudged the slightly older man who escorted her.

He nodded. His gaze drifted across the room. 鈥淎h! Let鈥檚 go look at that one.鈥 He led the woman away, but she winked at Savannah over his shoulder.

鈥淵ou might want to start tracking your time.鈥 A thin woman in her early thirties stood at Savannah鈥檚 elbow. She wore purple lipstick, a stark contrast to her dark skin. Her long black hair was piled in a bun, and she spoke with a light Mexican accent.

Savannah turned toward her, switching into Spanish. 鈥驴Por qu茅?

鈥淎ltagracia,鈥 the woman said, pointing to herself. She leaned in and air kissed Savannah. 鈥淚 did that one over there.鈥 She pointed to a black and white painting of a woman dancing in traditional Campeche dress, long red skirt fanning out around her.

Savannah gasped. 鈥淪he鈥檚 beautiful.鈥 She started toward the painting, a hand outstretched. She air traced the long, flat nose and round, dark eyes, picturing how the woman in the painting would look tattooed on her shoulder. Altagracia drew her back.

鈥淭o answer your question, it helps you price things better. Stick by this.” She touched Savannah鈥檚 painting. “It鈥檚 going to sell fast.鈥 Altagracia nodded toward the crowd milling around.

Everyone kept saying that. She wanted to believe it. Savannah bounced on the balls of her feet. Anticipation thrummed through her. The second that she could get away, she was going to check out the rest of the artists. Glancing at the rest of the paintings, it seemed as if she had fallen into her own personal heaven.

鈥淚t鈥檚 true.鈥 Altagracia patted her hand and ambled away, her black skirt swirling about her ankles as she moved.

Most people passed by, giving Savannah a smile or nod. There was no mistaking the interest in their eyes, though. She had no idea that Boston had such an affluent Latina culture. She supposed that it made sense, though. The people fleeing conditions in South and Latin American countries wanted to get as far away as possible. For a moment, she wondered how many of the artists in the room were legal American citizens. She decided that it didn鈥檛 matter. They were safe from the violent gangs, and that was all that she needed to concern herself with. She had enough worries on her list.

Still, the thought of children and their families fleeing such violence often weighed heavily on her. A young man stood in the corner in front of a scene painted on cardboard with acrylic. In the painting, a teenager lay on the ground, blood gushing from a gunshot wound in his chest, hand outstretched. In the shadows, his shooters walked away without a second glance.

The artist didn鈥檛 look a day over seventeen. With his dark skin and haunted eyes, he could easily be a refugee. The painting was probably based on a real event. She made a mental note to figure out a way to ask him without sounding insensitive. She spent so much time wrapped up in her own problems that she often forgot about the suffering in the rest of the world.

鈥淭his is gorgeous. How much is this one?鈥

Turning, Savannah came face to face with a man wearing a shabby suit. Glasses sat askew on top of his head, and crow鈥檚-feet etched the corners of his eyes. She held out a hand and introduced herself.

鈥淒erek Galloway, songwriting professor at Berklee.鈥 He shook hands with her, his grip cool but firm. 鈥淚 walked in, and your piece drew me right over.鈥 His voice was gentle, soothing in a grandfatherly way. 鈥淚 try to bring color to my office, to inspire my students. I have to have this. How much is it?鈥

Her mouth opened, then closed. She gasped a sharp laugh. 鈥淗ow much is it?鈥 she repeated. She looked around for Altagracia, but didn’t see her. 鈥淓xcuse me, one moment.鈥 She slipped away, eyes scanning the crowd for a familiar face. Her heart pounded in her chest. Someone wanted to buy her painting.

She found Zachary first. He stood talking with a man in a crisp suit. When he saw Savannah, he put an arm around her and drew her into the conversation. 鈥淗ere she is, my star artist.鈥 He introduced the other man as an art acquisitions manager for a local museum, but Savannah barely heard his name.

鈥淐an I steal you for a second?鈥 She hoped that the other man wouldn鈥檛 be offended.

鈥淥f course.鈥 Zachary led her to a less crowded spot, a hall that appeared to connect the lobby and gallery to the tattoo parlor. 鈥淲hat鈥檚 up? Is everything okay?鈥 His eyebrows knit in concern.

鈥淪omeone wants to buy my painting.鈥 She tugged at the hem of her shorts.

鈥淒idn鈥檛 I tell you?鈥 Zachary hugged her with one arm, and she was once more enveloped in the heat of his scent.

She backed away. 鈥淚 don鈥檛 know how much to ask for, though.鈥

鈥淎h.鈥 He drew her farther into the hall. The voices from the lobby drifted away slightly. 鈥淗ere鈥檚 my advice. You don鈥檛 want to lose them by going too high, but you don鈥檛 want to cheat yourself, either. Let them make you an offer.鈥

Her brow furrowed. 鈥淲hat if they go too low?鈥

Zachary snorted. 鈥淭rust me, they won鈥檛.鈥 He indicated the well-dressed crowd. Her glance flicked to Professor Galloway, though, eyes roving over his worn suit. He ambled toward the young man with the painting of the dying youth.

鈥淭he tragedy of this one!鈥 Professor Galloway lifted his arms.

鈥淛ust let them make you an offer, okay?鈥 Zachary released her and sauntered back toward the crowd. Her knees wobbled in his wake.

Tilting her head back, she closed her eyes. She needed to get a grip. It didn鈥檛 matter how chiseled his chin was, how warm his eyes were, or how solid his body appeared. But, apparently, it mattered to her body. She wished he would stop touching her. Collecting herself, she walked back into the fray.

An elderly woman with her long white hair woven into a braid tottered toward Savannah. She leaned on a cane. 鈥淎re you the artist of the two sugar skulls?鈥 she asked in Spanish.

Savannah nodded.

鈥淗ow much do you want for it?鈥 The woman limped back toward the painting. 鈥淚 want to give it to my granddaughter.鈥

For a moment, Savannah thought of telling her that she could have it for free. The woman鈥檚 braid reminded her of her own abuela. But she could use the money toward fall and winter clothing for Chloe. She took a deep breath. 鈥淚t鈥檚 up for negotiation,鈥 she said, keeping her voice light. Her heart thundered in her chest.

鈥淗ow about a thousand?鈥 The old woman鈥檚 eyes glinted.

Savannah鈥檚 own eyes widened. 鈥淎s in, a thousand dollars?鈥

鈥淥r $1,500?鈥 The woman swung her braid over her shoulder. It trailed down her back. Gnarled hands gripped her cane.

Savannah shook her head. 鈥淣o, a thousand is fine.鈥 Her voice came out in a squeak.

鈥淪old. I鈥檒l go see Zachary.鈥 The woman tottered away. 鈥淒on鈥檛 you go double-crossing me, selling to anyone else while I turtle my way over there,鈥 she called over her shoulder.

Savannah looked for something to lean against. Her legs felt like jelly. She wanted to laugh. Blinking in disbelief, she glanced around the room. The youth in the corner shook hands with Professor Galloway. It was a firm sold handshake. Altagracia threw another number at the art museum鈥檚 acquisitions manager. He nodded. All around her, the other artists haggled with buyers. She watched as various forms of signs went up on paintings, marking them as sold. She wished she had thought to bring her own.

A short time later, she walked out of the gallery with $850 in her pocket. Humming to herself, she hopped onto the T. She couldn鈥檛 wait to tell Max.

Savannah’s forever has a secret that could destroy them鈥攁nd the band.

Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3Chapter 4 路 Chapter 5

Savannah’s Song, Book 2 in the South of Forever series, is now available.


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Savannah’s Song: Chapter 4

The front door opened and Max shuffled in, hair disheveled. Her fingers twitched with the desire to run her hands through that hair, to try to tame it. Part of her wanted to know why he was home from his paper route later than usual, though.

Shoving her questions down, she wiggled the phone at him. 鈥淕uess who just called me?鈥 Her lips broke into a wide grin.

Lifting a shoulder, he ambled past her toward the coffee pot on the counter.

Grabbing Chloe鈥檚 breakfast, she moved to the side so he could make his coffee. Savannah put the fruit and waffles in front of the little girl and practically danced to the refrigerator. 鈥淚 submitted one of my paintings to a gallery.鈥 She leaned toward Max, hands clasped, ready for his reaction.

He measured coffee grounds, his back to her.

Face falling, she inched closer until she stood next to him. 鈥淒id you hear me, papi?鈥

鈥淪o?鈥 He turned the coffee pot on and reached for a mug amidst the dishes drying in the drain.

鈥淚 got in.鈥 She waited for understanding to dawn on his face. It didn鈥檛. Rocking back on her heels, she mumbled in Spanish to herself about how men were so oblivious to everything. 鈥淭hey鈥檙e going to sell it, for money. My art is being displayed to people!鈥 There. Sometimes, she had to break things down for him. Men and women truly lived on different planets.

He gave her a nod and headed for the refrigerator.

鈥淭hat鈥檚 it?鈥 She lurched into his path. 鈥淵ou鈥檙e not going to congratulate me?鈥

His eyebrows knit together. 鈥淲hy?鈥

She shook her head and moved to the side. 鈥淣ever mind.鈥 As he opened the refrigerator door and grabbed the half and half, she tried again, from a different angle. 鈥Mira, the showing鈥檚 gonna be early in the day. I kinda have to show up. I was thinking, maybe we could enroll Chloe in a day care. Maybe I could start painting again, a couple hours a day.鈥

Max slowly turned to look at her. The half-gallon of creamer slipped from his grasp. It crashed to the floor, splashing against the cabinets and Savannah鈥檚 feet. 鈥淒ay care?鈥

Grabbing the dish towel, she knelt to sop up the mess. 鈥淵eah. Probably just one of the ones where they socialize, you know? Not one of the accredited ones.鈥 She steeled herself for the argument. She knew they couldn鈥檛 afford childcare for the whole day, but if she could bring Chloe just a couple of times a week, it would be the perfect compromise.

鈥淎re you serious?鈥 He crossed his arms.

He glared down at her. She grimaced. 鈥淒o you want me to say I was kidding?鈥 Meeting his eyes, she smiled. 鈥淛ust think about it. I know we don鈥檛 have the money, but鈥斺

鈥淵ou want to just dump my kid with strangers?鈥 His words cut into her like shrapnel. At the table, Chloe burst into tears at her father鈥檚 sharp tone. Max never yelled.

Lifting Chloe from her seat, Savannah rocked her back and forth. She shot Max a glare. 鈥淚t鈥檒l only be a few hours a week. Besides, the interaction with other kids her age will be good for her.鈥

Will be?鈥 Max鈥檚 hands balled into fists.

Ignoring him, Savannah brought Chloe into the living room. The little girl鈥檚 favorite cartoons were on. Reaching for the remote, Savannah turned the volume up. Max followed her, though, and she sighed. So much for drawing attention away from their fight.

鈥淵ou鈥檙e not putting my kid into some kind of baby farm.鈥 He pointed a finger at her.

Taking a deep breath, she moved back into the kitchen, hoping that he鈥檇 follow. He stomped behind her, and when she turned, he looked even bigger than usual. Huffing, he reminded her of the Hulk. She took a step back, eyes darting for a way around him鈥攋ust in case. Lifting a hand, she searched for a way to calm him down. 鈥淚鈥檓 just trying to make us all happy.鈥

鈥淪o you鈥檙e not happy?鈥 He bristled and appeared to grow another few inches.

She rubbed her temples. 鈥淭hat鈥檚 not what I鈥檓 saying.鈥 Glancing at the clock, she tried to change the subject. 鈥淎ren鈥檛 you going to be late?鈥

Max looked at the clock, too. Deflating, he nodded. 鈥淚 had to cover someone else鈥檚 route on top of mine, and I got lost.鈥 Stepping over the still-wet spot on the floor, he grabbed the pot of coffee and poured it into a thermos. Spinning away from her, he moved into the living room. He kissed Chloe鈥檚 forehead. She looked up at him, cheeks still wet. He turned away. Without another word, he left.

Blinking back tears, Savannah sank to the floor. The Max she knew rarely even raised his voice. If Chloe did something he didn鈥檛 like, he merely redirected her. She had never seen him angry, never been afraid of him. She pressed a hand to her lips. Both of her hands shook. Forcing her shaking legs to still, she stood. She needed to figure out what was going on with him. There was no way she could live in a home with so much negative energy swirling around.

Her gaze landed on the cell phone on the counter. She bit her lip. Arguing with Max was one thing. Going behind his back was another thing entirely. Though she would never let him run her life like she was some kind of Stepford robot, she hated to break his trust. When it came down to it, he had a certain parenting style, and she usually didn鈥檛 try to undermine him or work against him in any way. He relied on her to take care of his daughter.

She sighed. Missing the gallery wouldn鈥檛 kill her, but it would probably hurt her chances of selling the painting. It wasn鈥檛 as if she didn鈥檛 trust the little girl to behave. No matter how good she normally was, though, Chloe was only four. She had her moments. It could be embarrassing.

She reached for the phone. All she had to do was email Zachary. She could figure out the rest later.

Hands shaking, she opened up the email application. She started to type out a message, then deleted it.

She couldn鈥檛 do it, even if it meant giving up her dream. Chloe and Max were her dream instead. They had to be.

She put the phone down on the table and made herself walk away.

In the living room, Chloe sat in front of the television.

鈥淗ey, baby girl, let鈥檚 go to the park. Come on, let鈥檚 get you dressed.鈥

Chloe ignored her, her eyes fixated on the screen.

Savannah chewed on the inside of her cheek. 鈥淐hloe.鈥 She made her voice slightly sterner and marched across the living room. 鈥淐ome on, cutie.鈥 Even as Savannah plucked her from the floor, Chloe鈥檚 eyes remained on her cartoon.

Pausing, Savannah watched the characters. There didn鈥檛 seem to be a plot, and the things they said hardly made sense. When they did say something logical, it was completely inappropriate for a four-year-old.

She put Chloe down, her mind made up.

In several long strides, she was back in the kitchen. She retrieved the phone from the counter and opened the email app again. Taking a deep breath, she sent Zachary a simple message: I鈥檒l be there. Then, closing her eyes and hoping she wouldn鈥檛 regret it, she pressed send.

When she opened her eyes, she wished she could take it back. She could only move forward, though.

Squaring her shoulders, she went into her and Max鈥檚 bedroom. Throwing open the closet door, she searched for the box that contained all of their personal records. Max hadn鈥檛 done much to organize anything back in Waterbury. When they moved to Boston, the first thing she did was bring order to the mess.

She found the box underneath a box of winter clothing. She hoped she wouldn鈥檛 regret her next move.

She tucked Chloe鈥檚 folder underneath her arm and pushed everything else back into the closet.

鈥淭here鈥檚 no going back, girl,鈥 she told herself in Spanish. Her grandmother would say that she needed to give it to God. Savannah couldn鈥檛 remember ever believing in a higher power, but she could believe in herself. Still, she whispered the phrase her abuela often used. 鈥Vaya con dios.鈥 She suspected that her abuela was actually referencing an old Western, but Savannah liked to think she had been as pious as she always claimed to be.

She dressed quickly then, in the living room, tugged clothing onto Chloe.

鈥淲anna go to school?鈥 she asked Chloe.

The little girl鈥檚 eyes lit up. 鈥淪chool? Like, where you play?鈥

鈥淏asically.鈥 Savannah held out her hand. 鈥淐ome on. Let鈥檚 go sign you up.鈥 She just hoped that, when the time came to explain, Max would understand.

Savannah’s forever has a secret that could destroy them鈥攁nd the band.

Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3 路 Chapter 4

Savannah’s Song, Book 2 in the South of Forever series, is now available.


Or one-click buy for your Kindle:


Savannah’s Song: Chapter 3

A groan rippled across the apartment. Savannah sat at the desk in the living room, her chin cupped in her hand. A yawn escaped her lips as she strained to listen for further movement. When no other sound reached her ears, she decided that it was probably just the building settling鈥攐r her imagination. With Chloe finally in bed and Max still at work, the house felt eerily silent. Plus, the late hour didn鈥檛 help.

She focused on the computer again. A web page displaying samples of logo designs sat open on the screen. She scrolled through, studying each piece. She figured that if she looked at enough examples, she would eventually come up with an idea for South of Forever鈥檚 logo. So far, all she had accomplished was keeping one eye open while her body grew more exhausted.

Instead of taking a nap, Chloe had spent an hour throwing a tantrum on the living room floor. Gazing at the screen with bleary eyes, Savannah resisted the urge to look up parenting blogs. Whatever was making Chloe boycott naps was probably normal. Besides, she needed to focus.

She eyed the kitchen through the pass-through and chewed the inside of her cheek. Maybe a cup of cocoa would energize her enough to get through the next couple of hours. Pushing back her chair, she padded into the kitchen and retrieved a pan from a cabinet. Within a few minutes, the scent of cocoa permeated the air. She poured it into a tall mug.

Carrying her drink back into the living room, she switched on a lamp. Max didn鈥檛 need to come into a dark house.

She set the mug down on the desk next to the computer and slid back into her seat. As she sat, something poked her bottom. Frowning, she lifted up and examined the chair. No stray screws protruded from the fabric. She slid a hand along the fabric of her shorts. Her fingers brushed something. Shaking her head at herself, she dipped her fingers into her pocket and withdrew the crumpled business card.

Smoothing it out, she leaned closer to read the small text. Her heart fluttered in her chest as she replayed her meeting with Zachary. She reached for the keyboard to look up Seven Deadly Brushes. From what the business card said, it seemed as though Zachary鈥檚 tattoo shop was also a gallery.

The home page proclaimed that they were taking submissions for their gallery. She wondered if Zachary actually had any staff, or if 鈥渢hey鈥 stood for just him. Maybe he was hiring. She scrolled through the page, skimming the entry requirements. All someone had to do was email a photo of the painting they wanted to include in the exhibit. There wasn鈥檛 even an entry fee. She could submit one of her skull paintings.

Rolling her eyes at herself, she shook her head. She had no business submitting her work to any gallery. Nowhere near professional level, she would only be disappointed when she was rejected鈥攐r when she didn鈥檛 hear back from the gallery at all.

Still, her fingers itched to peel off the paper she had wrapped her paintings in. Something had to be worth submitting. Even if she never heard back, she had to try.

Shrugging, she reached for the cell phone that she and Max shared, then darted into their bedroom.

She slid open the closet door and pulled out a large wrapped canvas. Her fingers danced back and forth as she unwrapped the painting. By the time she finished, sweat beaded her hairline. Without air conditioning, the apartment was hot鈥and she’d just been drinking cocoa.

Three sugar skulls painted in vibrant pink, green, and purple stared back at her, surrounded by bright orange marigolds. She moved the phone around until the entire painting was in the frame. Then, before she could think about what she was doing, she pressed the button to take the picture.

She re-wrapped the painting and slid it back into its place behind her and Max鈥檚 clothing. A sigh escaped her lips. Her fingers twitched with the urge to pull out the last canvas she had worked on鈥攁 painting of Max that she had yet to finish.

Tapping a key, she woke up the computer, then connected the phone into the USB port. When the screen popped up asking if she would like to import the photo, she clicked yes and went back to Seven Deadly Brushes鈥檚 website.

Filling out their form, she uploaded the photo. Then, before she could change her mind, she pressed the send button. It zipped off into cyberspace to Zachary鈥檚 inbox. She wiped her sweaty palms on her T-shirt.

鈥淎nd then right to his trash,鈥 she muttered. Unplugging the phone, she deleted the photo. Her eyes swept toward the time on the display. Grimacing, she shut down the computer. She had spent far too much time on the gallery鈥檚 website. Steam no longer rose from her mug of cocoa. It was just as well.

She wondered what life would be like if she had finished college and started her own freelance design business. While she had never considered graphic design, she could have fallen in love with it, if she had given herself the chance. Instead, she had wasted her art history and English courses sketching rather than taking notes. She had seen the college鈥檚 required courses as a waste of time and wanted to spend more time on her actual major, and had paid the price.

Taking a deep breath, she walked back to her bedroom and closed the door behind her. It was time to stop dwelling in the past, especially when she had such a beautiful family. Given some time, maybe she could talk Max into having a baby of their own. Even though he didn鈥檛 make much money, they were relatively settled. Chloe would love being a big sister.

She pulled off her clothes and tossed them into the hamper. A satisfied sigh escaped her as the satin sheets enveloped her naked body.

The front door swung open, the creak groaning across the apartment. Max moved through the short hallway and into the living room. Imagining him weaving around their furniture, she propped her chin in her hands and prepared herself.

The door to their bedroom inched open. Max eased inside, probably because he thought she was already asleep.

鈥淗ey,鈥 she whispered.

Light from the street spilled into the room from between the blinds. As Max鈥檚 eyes adjusted to the dim room, his mouth dropped open. She rolled onto her side, exposing her breasts. He yanked his shirt over his head as he crossed the room. Kicking off his shoes, he joined her in bed.

The scent of his cologne hit her a second before his lips crushed to hers, his fingers tangling in her hair. Using his free hand, he cupped her breast, thumb roving over her nipple until it hardened. His other hand moved to stroke the back of her neck. She gasped, and he took advantage of the opportunity. His tongue flicked into her mouth, caressing hers. She pressed her body against his, feeling his erection against her thigh. Fingers trailed his chest, pausing at the waistband of his jeans. He kissed her harder.

She unbuttoned his jeans and dipped her hands into his boxers. She stroked the velvety skin of his head, drawing him out of his pants. He exhaled sharply into her ear, and her skin tingled. Finally, the moment she had been waiting so long for was about to arrive. Scooting to the side, she pulled him toward her with one hand. With her other hand, she helped him shed his pants. He kicked them off.

Grinning, she pressed him against her. His teeth nibbled at her earlobe. His fingers stroked the back of her head, tangling in her hair again. The slight pull only turned her on more. She arched her hips and thrust until he was inside of her. Adrenaline shot through her body, erasing the long day and her worries. Moving against him, she put her hands on his shoulders, and frowned.

He balanced on an elbow, eyes closed. For a moment, she thought he may just be savoring the moment. When his eyes remained closed, though, she stopped moving. He sagged to the side, slumping into a pile of pillows. Her jaw dropped. He had never fallen asleep during sex. Despite their recent dry spell, they joked all the time that it was their favorite pastime. Savannah turned onto her side and poked him hard in the chest. A soft snore rippled from his nostrils.

Shaking her head, she scooted down, intending to entice him into further activities. She cupped him in her hand, then frowned. He was already going soft.

Gritting her teeth, she glanced at the time. It was just as well. She needed to be up soon with Chloe, and he needed to rise early to deliver more newspapers. Curling up on her side next to him, she kissed his cheek, the stubble on his face prickly against her lips. The beard was new, too. She closed her eyes and waited for sleep to come.

It didn鈥檛.

Thoughts swirled through the darkness, diving into her mind. Perhaps he wasn鈥檛 interested anymore. Maybe, she supposed, there really was someone else. Poppy hadn鈥檛 seemed interested, but he still technically had time after practice for a quickie with someone else.

Savannah鈥檚 eyes flew open.

If that was the case, she should hardly be worrying about designing something for his band. He didn鈥檛 deserve it.

Hugging a pillow to her chest, she turned away from him, tears slipping from her eyes.

* * *

Sunlight streamed into the kitchen. Chloe stared through the pass-through, transfixed by her cartoon in the living room. Standing at the counter, Savannah sliced a banana, arranging it next to Chloe鈥檚 mini waffles. If all the kid was going to eat was carbs and sugar, she was going to sneak something healthy into her diet.

As she dropped the knife into the sink, the cell phone vibrated against the counter. She didn鈥檛 recognize the phone number. She almost let it go to voicemail鈥攕he didn鈥檛 want to waste their minutes on a telemarketer鈥攚hen she realized that it was a Boston area code. Her heart skipped a beat.

Taking the call, she pressed the phone to her ear. 鈥淗ello?鈥

鈥淚s this Savannah Santos?鈥 a smooth, masculine voice asked. He sounded familiar.

Her jaw dropped. Her mind went blank as she realized who she was talking to.


Shaking her head at herself, she gathered her thoughts. 鈥淵es,鈥 she said. 鈥淭his is Savannah.鈥

He chuckled. 鈥淕ood, because I was going to be embarrassed if I called the wrong person.鈥

She laughed, too, though she wasn鈥檛 sure why.

鈥淚 think we met in the grocery store yesterday,鈥 he continued.

His confidence only sped up her heart rate. 鈥淪orry,鈥 she feigned. 鈥淚 meet lots of guys when I鈥檓 shopping for milk. Which one are you again?鈥

鈥淚鈥檓 the one who鈥檚 going to make you a lot of money.鈥 He paused. Heat enveloped her face. The phone nearly slipped out of her grasp. She wiped her hands on her pajamas. 鈥淚 like your submission,鈥 Zachary said.

鈥淥h?鈥 She leaned against the counter, urging her heart to stop its galloping.

鈥淚t鈥檚 amazing. The color, the detail鈥擨 think it would be a great fit for Seven Brushes and what I鈥檓 trying to do. And I鈥檓 going to sell it for you, get your name out there.鈥

鈥淵ou鈥檙e awfully certain of that, papi.鈥 The term of endearment flew out of her mouth before she realized it. Clearing her throat, she forced her next words to come out quickly. 鈥淗ow can you sell it?鈥

鈥淎ll you need to do, baby girl, is show up. I鈥檓 opening the exhibit at noon tomorrow. Just come, bring some business cards, if you have them. If you don鈥檛, you鈥檙e going to be kicking yourself.鈥

She barely heard him. There was no way that she could go to a gallery smack in the middle of the day鈥攏ot with Chloe underfoot. For a four-year-old, Max鈥檚 daughter was really well-behaved, but a gallery was no place for her.

鈥淪o I鈥檒l see you tomorrow?鈥 Zachary asked.

Hesitating, Savannah glanced at Chloe. She could probably figure out something. 鈥淭otally,鈥 she said finally. She considered her options. 鈥淚 mean, would it be okay to hang the painting and leave, if all else fails?鈥

鈥淥f course.鈥 The smile in his voice shot heat into her pelvis. He switched to Spanish. 鈥淚t鈥檚 your painting, Savannah. I鈥檓 just here to help you succeed.鈥 The way the words rolled off his tongue made her sag against the counter.

She had to get herself under control. Just because she was sexually deprived didn鈥檛 give her an excuse to go all loose-limbed whenever he spoke. She cleared her throat and forced herself to respond in English. 鈥淚鈥檒l email you.鈥 Her voice came out husky, thick with lust. Heat blazed across her cheeks. She turned on the faucet in the kitchen sink and grabbed a towel.

鈥淚鈥檓 going to sell that painting within the first hour, Savannah,鈥 he said.

She wet the towel and pressed it to the back of her neck. 鈥淪ure.鈥 She nodded, her resolve strengthening. 鈥淚鈥檒l see you there.鈥 Then she hung up before he could say anything else鈥攐r entice her any further. She dropped the phone and leaned over the counter, the dish towel cold against the back of her neck. She needed to get a grip. She also needed to get laid, and soon.

Her mind flashed to the night before. It wasn鈥檛 like Max to fall asleep like that, she thought, but she would turn it around. She had to.

Savannah’s forever has a secret that could destroy them鈥攁nd the band.

Chapter 1Chapter 2 路 Chapter 3 路 Chapter 4

Savannah’s Song, Book 2 in the South of Forever series, is now available.


Or one-click buy for your Kindle:


Savannah’s Song: Chapter 2

Stepping into the studio, Savannah guided Chloe to the sofa, without taking her eyes from Max and the new girl. She released Chloe鈥檚 hand and barely noticed as the preschooler climbed onto the couch. Eyes narrowed, she watched Max touch the woman鈥檚 arm lightly, a smile playing on his lips.

The men鈥檚 voices were a babble, drowning out Max鈥檚 conversation. But Savannah had learned to read lips along with her friends in middle school, when talking in class resulted in detention.

The young woman鈥檚 eyes never left Max鈥檚. Savannah easily made out her next words: 鈥淚t鈥檒l definitely be a pleasure working with all of you.鈥

She gritted her teeth and started toward them.

Perry squeezed between Max and the beautiful woman. 鈥淧oppy, if you鈥檙e free after this, I鈥檇 love to take you to a great bar for a drink.鈥

鈥淪he doesn鈥檛 even look old enough to drink,鈥 Savannah muttered.

鈥淵ou can鈥檛 afford to take yourself out, never mind her,鈥 Griff told Perry.

Poppy played with a stray strand of curly hair, full lips glistening with lip gloss.

Jett joined Savannah. 鈥淚sn鈥檛 it amazing, how men can be distracted so easily?鈥

Savannah nodded. 鈥淲ho the hell hired her?鈥 Her voice was nearly a growl.

Jett sighed. 鈥淚 did.鈥

Poppy untangled herself from the group of men. 鈥淓xcuse me, gentlemen, but I鈥檝e got a list of shows that I鈥檝e already booked for you.鈥 She winked at Jett as she strode toward the couch. She clutched a binder to her chest. 鈥淚 actually do have some shows booked, if you鈥檙e interested.鈥 Her brown eyes met Jett鈥檚 again.

Savannah tightened her grip on the cooler and took a step away from the couch. A pang twisted her heart as she glanced at Max. She wished she could work with him in the studio. Jett got to work with Koty. Though Savannah sensed that Jett had initially tried to keep Koty at arm鈥檚 length, they now spent their days writing songs together and practicing harmonies. With no musical inclination, though, there was nothing Savannah could contribute to the band.

鈥淲ait.鈥 Jett tapped her shoulder, holding up a finger to Poppy. Savannah spun to face her, blinking her thoughts away. 鈥淚 actually wanted to ask you something.鈥

Savannah followed her across the room. The table was cluttered with notebooks and sheet music. 鈥淲hat鈥檚 up?鈥

Jett slid her hands into the pockets of her jeans. 鈥淲e鈥檙e almost done recording the EP. Your boyfriend鈥檚 been harassing me to just upload it somewhere, rather than trying to get a record deal first.鈥 She nodded toward Max. 鈥淗e even offered to handle everything. I have no idea how to do any of that stuff.鈥 Jett shrugged, a sheepish grin playing on her lips.

A strand of hair escaped Savannah鈥檚 side braid. She tucked it behind an ear. 鈥淵ou want me to talk him down?鈥 Max hadn鈥檛 mentioned anything. If he was that excited about the EP, he should have shared it with her. Something was definitely going on with him.

Jett waved a hand. 鈥淣ah. I think it鈥檚 great. He鈥檚 got a lot of energy.鈥

Savannah鈥檚 eyebrow shot up. The Max that she knew dragged himself around the apartment, alternating between ignoring her and snapping at her. If he wasn鈥檛 acting that way at work, then he definitely had a problem with her. Dropping the cooler onto the table, she started to turn away. She needed to collect Chloe and go home, figure out what she was going to do.

Jett caught her by the arm. 鈥淎ny chance I can harangue you into designing a logo for us, and the cover of the EP? I鈥檒l pay you,鈥 she added quickly. 鈥淓ventually.鈥

Savannah鈥檚 mouth dropped open. 鈥淥h.鈥 Mind racing, she glanced at the group of men. Max and Koty sat at the mixing board, while Chloe bounced around her father trying to get his attention.

鈥淚 know it鈥檚 kind of last minute,鈥 Jett continued, 鈥渂ut I’ve seen your work, and I think you鈥檙e fucking amazing.鈥

Fingers pulling at the hem of her shirt, Savannah struggled for a graceful way to decline. 鈥淚鈥檝e never really designed anything for the internet.鈥

鈥淵ou鈥檇 be great,鈥 Jett said. 鈥淚 know you can do it.鈥

Before she could say anything else, Poppy appeared at Jett鈥檚 elbow.

鈥淎re you free to talk about the shows now?鈥 Poppy asked. She held out the open binder.

Nodding, Jett sat at the table and indicated for Poppy to do the same.

鈥淚 started with a show here at The Den,鈥 Poppy said. 鈥淚鈥檝e got a distributor who can have CDs of the EP made in a few weeks, just in time for the first show.鈥

Savannah cringed. She would need a lot more time to draw up a logo and make the cover, especially if she was going to have to learn Photoshop.

Joy unfurled across Jett鈥檚 face, though, something Savannah had never seen from her. 鈥淵es!鈥 She pumped a fist in the air. 鈥淚 knew I hired you for a reason.鈥 She hugged Poppy with one arm.

Eyes wide, Savannah tucked the cooler under her arm and turned away. If she was going to work on the project, she needed to get started that afternoon. She wasn鈥檛 sure she wanted to, though. If Max was planning on breaking up with her, there was no point.

Chloe sat at Max鈥檚 feet, her lips twisted into a pout. He still hadn鈥檛 so much as acknowledged her. It was flat-out weird. Maybe his problem wasn鈥檛 just with Savannah. Maybe he was tired of playing house, period. The Max she knew lived for his daughter. Before she met him, he had been raising her alone.

Frowning, Savannah crossed the room. She tapped his shoulder. “Hey, Daddy, someone鈥檚 here to see you.”

Max swiveled in his seat. He flicked an annoyed glance at Savannah, then scooped Chloe into a hug.

Though Savannah鈥檚 heart leapt at the sight of him with his daughter, she wished that he would put his arms around her. She wondered what his deal was. He was acting so weird.

But Max released Chloe quickly, his attention already drifting back to the mixing board. The little girl鈥檚 shoulders drooped, a whine escaping her lips.

Savannah swatted at the back of Max鈥檚 head. 鈥淵our daughter misses you.鈥 She shook her head, wondering how Max could so easily dismiss them.

It was as if he didn鈥檛 hear her. He slipped on headphones.

Koty glanced at Savannah, his eyebrows furrowed in concern. 鈥淟et鈥檚 take a quick break.鈥 He jumped up from his seat and ambled toward the table where Jett and Poppy still sat.

Savannah held out the cooler to Max. 鈥淚 made you lunch.鈥 Even though she had done nothing wrong, she needed to make up with him.

Max glanced at the proffered peace offering. 鈥淭hanks.鈥 He accepted the cooler and leaned in to kiss her. His warm lips met hers. His mouth moved against hers, his skin soft and warm. Tingles shot through her body, and she inhaled a sharp breath. Maybe he was merely distracted, overwhelmed with work. Dimples appeared in her cheeks. She would find a way to unwind him when he got home, that was for sure.

He pulled away and, nodding, turned back to the mixing board.

Holding her hand out to Chloe, she ducked out of the studio, back into the cool hallway. For a moment, she rested against the wall, her head tilted back. Her heart thumped in her chest, her body still reacting to the kiss and her doubts. Forcing her breathing to slow, she closed her eyes for a moment. The hushed whisper of cool air pumping through the vents eased her frazzled nerves. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly.

鈥淣a Na.鈥 Chloe wriggled out of her grasp.

She opened her eyes. Sometimes, she wondered if Chloe was trying to say her name or call her Mama. She refused to take that title, even if Nicole鈥擬ax鈥檚 ex-girlfriend and Chloe鈥檚 mother鈥攄idn鈥檛 deserve it. She couldn鈥檛 remember the last time Nicole had seen her daughter. 鈥淵es, nena?鈥

鈥淟et鈥檚 go!鈥 Chloe walked toward the stairs and pointed down.

Savannah took her hand and let the little girl lead the way back outside. Her thoughts swirled frantically. Maybe she had made a huge mistake in accepting Jett鈥檚 proposal. Aside from being rusty, she had dropped out of college before ever cracking Photoshop open. She had no idea how to use it for her old assignments, never mind create a logo.

It was nice that Jett believed in her, but if she couldn鈥檛 deliver, she might really mess things up for Max. The last thing she wanted to do was lose his respect.

Savannah’s forever has a secret that could destroy them鈥攁nd the band.

Chapter 1 路 Chapter 2 路 Chapter 3聽路 Chapter 4

Savannah’s Song, Book 2 in the South of Forever series, is now available.


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#TeaserTuesday: Exactly Why We Should

teaser_playingforyou_01_06212016“That鈥檚 exactly why we should be together,” he insisted, his voice low, caressing her. “There鈥檚 something between us, Jett.” Lifting an eyebrow, his eyes bore into her, heat pouring out of them.

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