My latest novel, WHEN STARS ALIGN, is available now on Amazon. It’s a slow-burning second chance romance between a larger-than-life rock star and a former swimmer who needs a reason to dream again.
Read the first chapter below:
“Your last album was good,” Nick said, his hands on the arms of his executive chair, giving him the aura of a Bond villain. “Maybe even great, Natalie.”
Nat sat in an overstuffed, impossibly expensive leather couch across from the president of her record label and waited for the but. After fifteen years of working with Nick Fox – as well as his predecessors – at Golden Child Records, Nat was getting pretty good at anticipating the buts and she knew this was going to be a big one. She glanced at her agent, Clive, who was sitting in a matching leather loveseat and giving her a look she knew well – don’t jump to anything drastic.
We’ll see, she thought.
She gave Nick a small smile, acknowledging the compliment, then took a sip from the caramel latte that Nick’s assistant, Angie, automatically brought her at the beginning of every meeting. Sometimes it was good to be a rock star.
Nick leaned forward, his tie falling across his large mahogany desk, and said, “But you know every artist is only as good as their last album. It’s been nine months since Starlet Express dropped. We need to get you out on tour again, and I’m really hoping you came here to tell me you have a dozen new songs to lay down for your next album.”
Nat set her cup down on a glass coffee table in front of her and folded her hands patiently in her lap. This was far from the first time she’d had this conversation with Nick. It seemed like every time she made the trip up to this ivory tower, it was because he wanted more from her – more tour dates, another album, a hotter single.
After a decade and a half, Nat was getting tired of this old song and dance.
“You know how much I love my fans,” she said. “And I do have some songs brewing.” She glanced at Clive, who gave her a knowing look. After her very public breakup with Zoe Asher, whatever songs came out of her next would most definitely not be mushy love ballads. Nat turned back to Nick, ready to deliver a but of her own. “But I was on the road 315 days last year, and 294 the year before that. You’re running me ragged.”
“That’s the price of fame,” Nick said. “I don’t know what to tell you. If you want to continue being Nat Butler, rock goddess, you gotta get out there and light up those stages.”
“Maybe we can work out a deal where Nat spends the first few months of the new year in the studio,” Clive suggested. He’d been working with Nat since her first album, Dreamcatcher, and he could always spot her moods a mile away. He was in damage control mode already.
“I’m not asking for more studio time,” Nat said. “I don’t want to renew my contract.”
The room went silent as Nick and Clive both struggled to comprehend the bomb Nat had just dropped. The words came out of her mouth more or less unplanned, but as soon as she said them, it felt like a weight had lifted off her chest.
Nat was turning thirty-nine this year and she had more than a few gray hairs streaked through her brunette locks. She loved the music. She loved the adrenaline rush of stepping onstage in a sold-out arena to the deafening roar of thousands of her fans. She loved the pretty groupies. But she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life on tour and the longer she sat in Nick’s fancy office on the twentieth floor, the more sure she was that she wanted out – at least for a while.
“You’ve been with Golden Child Records since you were twenty-four,” Nick said.
“Yeah, that’s kind of my point,” Nat answered. “It’s time for a change.”
“Do you know how much money Golden Child has poured into you in the last fifteen years?” Nick asked, beginning to grow red around the collar. He was clenching his jaw as he leaned across his desk again and asked, “What are you going to do, go across town and sign with Empire?”
“No,” Nat said. “I don’t know what I want to do. I just know I don’t have the energy to go on another world tour right now. And for the record, Nick, my music has earned back every marketing dollar you’ve ever thrown at me. You wouldn’t be fighting so hard to keep me right now if it didn’t.”
“Okay,” Clive said, putting up his hands to stop their argument. He put on his mediator’s hat like a good agent and said, “Nat’s contract isn’t officially up for another forty-five days. Why don’t we all take a little time to think about our options and come back to talk about it closer to the date?”
“I’m not going to want to tour any more in forty-five days than I do now,” Nat said.
“And I’m not going to have enough time to start promoting the show if we leave it to the last minute,” Nick objected.
“You know what you haven’t had in a long time?” Clive asked Nat. “A vacation. Do you remember what that word means?”
She smirked. “Barely.”
“I bet it would help,” Clive said. “Why don’t we let Nat reset for a little while, then we’ll come back in, let’s say, three weeks and talk again?”
“Four,” Nat said.
“Fine,” Nick agreed. “Take a month and do what you have to do. But I want to hear some new songs from you when you come back, ready to sign that contract – I’d like to get your next album ready in time for Golden Child’s fifty-year anniversary promotions in the spring.”
He always had a talent for bluntness. A lot of people in the music industry had a way of talking in platitudes and vagaries, obscuring what they really meant and letting it hit you in the elevator down to the parking garage. Nick always let Nat know where she stood, and usually that was a good thing.
“Good,” Clive said, turning to Nat. “Does that work for you?”
They were both staring expectantly at her and suddenly Nat felt like the pop divas that she’d been privately mocking for the last fifteen years. She smiled and softened her demeanor. She’d gotten what she wanted, after all. “Yes, a month sounds like a much-needed respite.”
On her way out of the office, Nat handed her empty coffee cup to Angie. The girl was a blonde, in her early twenties, always humming a new tune under her breath, and she fangirled big-time whenever Nat came into the office.
“The caramel latte was good,” Nat said with a wink. “Thank you.”
She was in a good mood and today she couldn’t help playing into the doe-eyed looks that Angie always gave her. It was hard to tell if there was anything more to it than simple musical admiration, but Nat had, on occasion, enjoyed the fantasy of seducing Angie.
Of course, she would never actually do it – part of the reason Nat had enjoyed such a long and successful career was her strict policy of never shitting where she ate, and that included flirting with her label exec’s administrative assistant.
“You’re welcome Miss Butler,” the girl said, batting her lashes at Nat. Yeah, she wants me, Nat thought as Angie added, “I’ve had a lot more practice with the espresso machine since the last time you came for a meeting.”
“Your talents are wasted here, Angie,” Nat said. “Maybe one day Mr. Fox will realize you’re good for more than just lattes.”
Nat had had plenty of conversations with the girl while waiting for her appointments. Nick always liked to keep her waiting for at least a few minutes, and Nat was always blown away with the depth of Angie’s musical knowledge. She knew all Nat’s favorites, from Janis Joplin to the Velvet Underground, as well as all the new bands burning it up on YouTube – from the Frequent Flyers to The Hero’s Journey.
Angie’s cheeks colored and Nat wondered if the look she’d given her had been a little too suggestive. Time to reel it in.
“You ready?” Clive asked as he walked with her to the elevators at the other end of the lobby.
“Yeah,” Nat said.
Clive called the elevator and they stepped inside, and as soon as the doors slid shut behind them, he snapped, “What the hell was that?”
Nat shrugged. “I was just having a little fun with her. I do think Nick is wasting her talent by making her answer phones and get coffee, though.”
Clive rolled his eyes and said, “I wasn’t talking about Angie. Could you not have given me a heads up that you were going to try to drop your contract before we walked into that meeting?”
“I’m sorry,” Nat said. Clive was right – she’d practically ambushed him, but it hadn’t exactly been a planned maneuver. “I didn’t go in there meaning to cause trouble. You know how tired I’ve been, with the last tour overseas and everything that happened with Zoe. You’re right, though – I do need a break.”
“I just wish you’d given me some indication you were going to do that,” Clive said, irritation still edging all of his words. “I’m your agent and I can’t help you if you keep me in the dark.”
“Did you know that Dick Dale is eighty-one years old and still touring?” Nat asked. “The man is the king of the surf guitar and he can’t stop touring or he won’t be able to pay his medical bills. I don’t want that to be me, Clive.”
“You’re thirty-eight,” Clive said. He let out a sigh as the elevator came to a stop on the parking level, then asked, “So, what are you going to do about it?”
“I don’t know yet,” Nat said thoughtfully. “But thanks for the vacation.”
“You’re welcome,” Clive said grudgingly. “You’ve got some serious soul-searching to do this month, girlie. I’m always just a call away.”
“Thanks,” Nat said. Then they parted ways and she practically floated to her Lexus parked at the end of the row. She was scared and optimistic all at once. Nat couldn’t remember the last time she’d had more than a couple of days off, and now an entire month stretched before her in which she would need to figure out her next move.