Authors: Tiffany White
Tags: #Romance, #FICTION/Romance/Contemporary
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
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Copyright Â© 1994 by Anna Eberhardt
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First Diversion Books edition May 2013.
For my friend Donna Julian who inspired this story and co-conspired No. 6 Gadsby Street and Chelsea Meyer â¦ Miss America in training.
outside the Nashville store where everyone who was anyone in the country-music business shopped for boots. She pretended interest in her scarlet nails while Dakota Law, country music's brightest star, took his own sweet time surveying the damage she'd done to his car.
From the corner of her eye, she saw his jaw clench in irritation. His bad mood rather surprised her; only a junkyard owner would consider his clunker of a car a prize.
A more prudent woman would have left a note on his windshield and fled. A more timid woman would now quail at the tightness in Dakota's wide shoulders and the belligerence in his stance.
weren't adjectives anyone would apply to rock music's bad girl, however. Everything from her mane of wild black curls and pouty red lips to her flashy long legs was part of the carefully cultivated image of seductive rebelliousness calculated to help her compete successfully with the rude boys of rock and roll.
Living up to that image of female aggressiveness, Chelsea had gone inside the store to track down the car's owner. In reality, she only rebelled against senseless rules.
At first Dakota had thought she was flirting with him and the story of the crash was a come-on. She'd soon set him straight about that and he'd followed her outside.
Dakota Law was too young to be a legend, but he was one nevertheless. A Southern singer/songwriter of country love ballads, everything he produced rode to the top of the bestseller charts.
He turned on his booted heel to face her.
“Oopsies,” she responded to the look of fury in his dark blue eyes. He had enough hair for a ponytail, but probably not enough guts, she thought irreverently.
“You demolish my car and âoopsies' is all you can say?” he asked, incredulous. He tipped back his white Stetson with his knuckle.
“Iâ¦” She started to explain, but he turned back to the disreputable reject with fifties fins and a color scheme of turquoise-and-gray primer. He kicked a tire, no doubt wishing it was her. “I can't believe you wrecked my car,” he said, turning back to face her.
“How do you wreck a wreck?” she demanded, undaunted by his theatrical show of machismo.
His eyes narrowed. “It may not be much to you, but this car is important to me. It has sentimental value.”
“In that case I'll pay you twice what it's worth,” she said, whipping out her checkbook. She wrote out a check, signed it with a flourish and offered it to him.
“Fifty dollars? Are you nuts?”
“Probably, but I'm feeling generous,” she replied, deliberately misinterpreting him. She'd gone from feeling contrite when she'd demolished his car to feeling irked by his unreasonable attitudeâan attitude that no doubt had a lot to do with her.
“I don't want anything from you,” he said, his tone clinching her assessment. “All I want to know is how in the hell you managed to wreck the entire side of my car.”
“If you must know, I was listening to this song playing on the radioâ¦” she began, inventing hastily, not wanting him to know she'd swerved to avoid hitting a dog.
“Oh, that explains everything,” he said, slanting her a sarcastic look.
Chelsea went back to studying her nails. “It sure does, cowboy. It was one of your songs I was listening to and it put me to sleep at the wheel.”
He let her smart-ass remark ride.
That he could take it as well as dish it out scored a point with her in his favor. She put her checkbook away.
“What is someone like you, someone used to the fast track, doing moseying around in Nashville, anyway?” Dakota asked.
“Buying boots, same as you.” She smiled. So he'd recognized her.
“I hope you use them for walking out of here and back to L.A. where you belong. I never want to see you again, lady.”
“And here I thought you were smarter than the average cowboy,” she taunted, tearing up the check and letting the bits flutter onto the street.
“What are you talking about?” he asked, looking puzzled.
“The check,” she explained. “My autograph alone is worth twenty times the value of your stupid car.”
“Not in my book, lady. Now will you please just go.”
“Later,” she said with a cavalier wave as she climbed back into her rental car, unconcerned about its badly crumpled right-front fender.
Adjusting the rearview mirror as she drove away, she saw him kick the tire again, then throw down his cowboy hat in utter disgust.
She'd gotten his attention, no matter how unintentionally.
Now she had to play her bad-girl image for all it was worth, pretending a confidence she didn't have.
AKOTA FELT LIKE A
His bad day hadn't been entirely her fault, yet he'd taken all his frustration out on her. It didn't matter that her attitude had rankled him. And if the truth be told, it may even have excited him a little. But he'd been raised to be a gentleman. There was no excuse for rudeness.
The next time he saw Chelsea Stone, he'd apologize.
Maybe even buy her dinner.
But not because he was interested.
Because he wasn't. Chelsea Stone would eat him for breakfast.
And then he smiled. He supposed there were worse fates.
offstage awaiting her turn at the microphone. She hadn't had a hit record in some time, but that didn't matter at the Farm Aid benefit. This was a one-shot performance doing two or three of her biggest hits with her old band.
The fact that she was a rocker didn't make her out of place at the essentially country benefit. Neither did her black Harley-Davidson T-shirt, matching baseball cap and skintight jeans. The Farm Aid benefit was a loose mix of performers of everything from country to hard rock, all pitching in to help save the family farms. She'd seen Willie, Axl and dozens of artists from several music genres.
But she hadn't seen
“Have you seen him?” she asked Tucker Gable, the lead guitarist from her old band.
The rumor mill had pegged Tucker as her lover. He'd formed his own band a year agoâbefore her throat surgery to remove a couple of benign growths on her vocal chordsâbut she and Tucker were still close.
“Seen who?” Tucker asked, fiddling with the small gold hoop in his ear.
“Dakota Law,” she answered. John Mellencamp nodded as he brushed past Chelsea on his way to the stage.
“Why are you looking for Dakota Law?” Tucker asked. “Or is it that you're looking out for him? You still trying to avoid running into him because you wrecked his car?
“Relax babe. I don't think the dude will be carrying a grudge over something that happened months ago. Besides, you told me it was an accident. It's not like that time we hid the Mindbenders' instruments when we were on tour.”
“I'm not looking to avoid Dakota, I'm looking to find him, Cheesebrain.”
Tucker ignored her pet name for him. With his romantic long blond hair and bare chest beneath his trademark black leather vest, he looked like a dim bulb. He wasn't.
“Ahâ¦” Tucker wrapped the word with meaning as he gave her a considering look. “Should I be worried about you? Have you gone sweet on him?”
“Oh, don't go getting your knickers in a knot, babe. I was only teasing. I know I'm a hard act to follow.” He winked broadly. “Nearly impossible, wouldn't you say?” he added insufferably.
“Why don't you go find a mirror to play with?” Chelsea retorted, punching his hard, tattooed biceps good-naturedly. The tattoo was a tiny rose with the name Chelsea done in script beneath it.
Chelsea and Tucker were each other's only support system in one of the most unstable businesses. They had each left an abusive home at an early age, and were alone in the world. Tucker had had his tattoo done to show her he would always be there for her.
Chelsea had balked at a tattoo at first, but had finally given in to the sentimentâsort of. Her tattoo was located on the inside of her ankle and was an even smaller rose with Tucker's name ribboned around it. It was only noticeable up close and legible only upon very close inspection.
The first time Tucker had seen the inscription, he'd laughed out loud.
It readâ¦ Cheesebrain.
“Quit doing that,” Tucker said, rubbing his arm.
“It's not good for my image to have women hitting on meâwell, not that way, anyway.”
Mellencamp finished warming up with his band and launched into “Paper and Fire.” The huge crowd swayed with the music as he boogied across the stage, his snake-hipped moves similar to Jagger's and Axl Rose's.
Chelsea and Tucker enjoyed the class-reunion feel of the benefit. They picked up their abandoned conversation after Mellencamp's “Rain on the Scarecrow” finale and his appeal for donations for the heartland of his roots.
“So,” Tucker teased, his eyes twinkling, “why exactly are you looking for âDa Law'?”
“I'm not entirely certain I want to tell you.”
Tucker shook his head. “You have to tell me, Chelsea.”
“Because we tell each other everything, babe. Remember?”
It was true. They did tell each other everything. They'd picked up the habit of sharing their lives early on when they'd met as runaway teenagers. They had left the nightmare of abuse to follow their dreams and neither had ever looked back. Their success in the music business had been improbable, but their talent, guts and determination had made their luck happen.
“If you must know,” Chelsea said with a sigh, “I want to do a little business with Dakota.”
“Business?” Tucker's brow furrowed. “What kind of business? He's a country singer, not a rocker. And from what you said about his attitude, I don't think he's a paid-up member of your fan club.”
Chelsea shrugged. “He doesn't have to like me to write a song for me.”
“A song? You're kidding.”
“No, I'm not kidding. Much as I hate to admit it, everything he writes is a hit. Something I could really use right now. In case you haven't noticed, since the surgery my songs have been moving in the wrong direction on the chartsâ¦ at ballistic speed.”
“But Dakota Law only writes balladsâ
“And maybe I can sing them. With the warning my doctor gave me about doing any more damage to my vocal chords, I don't have much choice about changing what I sing. Even the songs we're doing today I picked because they were the least taxing.
“Besides, country music has changed. Heck, look at Garth Brooks. He hit number one over rap and rock and soul. The lines between country and rock are blurring, anyway.”
“You really think your public will accept a softer image of Chelsea Stone?”
“Why not? I'm a woman, aren't I?”
“Oh yeah, you're a woman. Butâ”
“But what?” she asked, looking at him through narrowed eyes and flicking her dangerous red nails as she waited for his reply.
“I don't scare easy, remember?” Tucker said with a laugh. “Put down your weapons. I was only saying that you built your career on being a bad girl. Do you really think your fans are going to accept you as sweet and innocent like the women who sing Dakota's songs?”
“No, but there must be a middle ground. My throat has healed but I can't go on abusing it like I used to. And I can't not sing. I think Dakota can help me.”
“Yes, but will he?”
“Why wouldn't he?” she asked, as The Beach Boys took the stage.
“Because he can pick and choose the women who sing his songs. I hear he's very particular.”
“So am I.” Behind her bad-girl image lay a perfectionistâsomething only Tucker knew. It took tremendous drive and willpower to maintain her public image. In public, she was never seen or photographed not looking like “Chelsea Stone,” the reigning female pop star of the past decade.
Tucker shook his head. “You aren't going to let him say no, are you, babe?”
“Did I let you?”
“No. No, you didn't,” he agreed, hugging her affectionately.
“I know it's not going to be a piece of cake, Tucker. You have any suggestions how I might get Dakota to write a song for me? I'm all ears.”
Tucker looked at her closely. “What? You're listening to my advice, all of a sudden?”
“Enjoy it. It won't last.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
“Come on, Tucker. You're a guy. What would get you to write a song for me?” she persisted, as the crowd joined The Beach Boys in their most famous surfing song.
He pulled her closer and leaned down to whisper in her ear, then gave a rich and raunchy laugh at her reaction. A blaze of scarlet stained her face.
“Tucker Gable, you should have your mouth washed out with soap.”
“Well, you asked,” he said, tears of merriment leaking from his eyes.
The Beach Boys were on about their fifth go-through of the surfing song. “Looks like they're going to have to get the hook,” Tucker said with a nod. “Once you get a sixties group onstage, it's all over.”
“I like The Beach Boys,” Chelsea said in their defense, not that they needed any from the cheers of appreciation coming from the crowd.
“So do I, but I'd like to get onstage and do our set in this lifetime.”
“Forget about The Beach Boys, will you? They don't need your help and I do. What should I do about Dakota?”
“Why don't you just ask nicely. That would be a novel approach for you.”
“And if that doesn't work?”
“Then do what you always do,” he said, slapping the hand of Brian Wilson as he came offstage.
“What I always do?” Chelsea looked puzzled. “What are you talking about?”
“You know, do what you always do to get your wayâpester the hell out of him.”
“Really?” Tucker's eyebrow rose. “You didn't leave dozens of notes and small tokens of your esteem for me when you were trying to get me to head up your band?”
“But that wasn't pestering.”
“No, that was nurturing, building up your self-esteem. I know you don't like to admit it, but you needed that. Everyone does.”
“Chelsea, I was saying no and you wouldn't listen.”
“That's because I knew how good we'd be together. We are good together, aren't we, Tucker?” She trailed a flirty nail down his biceps.
“The best, babe,” he said, lifting her hand to his lips and gently kissing her palm as the stage manager signaled they were next onstage.
AW STOOD OFF
to one side, about twenty feet away, watching Chelsea and Tucker's affectionate love play. Chelsea Stone was hotter than a bubbling cauldronâan apt description since she seemed to have put some sort of spell on him. His life had pretty much gone to hell in a handbasket since their inauspicious meeting six months ago in Nashville.
He'd changed his mind. There weren't worse fates than Chelsea Stone. He planned to steer clear of her.
Her hot rock and roll belted out in a husky alto bravura was not his style at all. She was not the kind of lady he approved of. With a great deal of effort he tried to force his gaze from the exhibitionistic fit of her jeans and the spot where Tucker Gable's hand rested on them.
But he couldn't stop watching Chelsea and Tucker flirt outrageously onstage as they did their songs. They were a matched pair of gorgeous rebels.
And the songs were as sexy as rock and roll gotâwhich was saying a lot. Chelsea stood toe to toe with the boys of rock and roll and gave as good as they gave. Women, oddly enough, loved Chelsea; girls from preteens to women several decades older copied her hairstyle, red lips and sexy clothing. They also copied her attitude.
“Ouch!” Dakota swore at the thorn on a mis-thrown long-stemmed rose that pricked his skin.
Onstage, Chelsea and Tucker were taking their bows as roses rained around them. Maybe her recent records hadn't done so well on the charts, but it was clear Chelsea Stone singing live was another story. All she needed was the right song and she'd be back on top, he knew.
He rubbed his finger over the thorn prick on his neck, licked it and tasted blood. It crossed his mind then that that was what it would be like with Chelsea Stoneâshe was the type of woman who drew blood from a man.
A smart man would give a woman like her a wide berth. And that was just what he intended to do.
He'd do his bit for the benefit and then head back to Nashville where their paths weren't likely to cross again. She'd already done enough damage.
Deep in thought, he failed to notice Tucker and Chelsea leave the stage.
The next thing he knew, Chelsea was standing in front of him. Tucker was nowhere to be seen.
“Is that for me?” she asked, reaching out to take the rose he was still holding.
“Uhâ¦ yeah. It's, uh, it's for you,” he mumbled like a tongue-tied schoolboy, his eyes darting around for an escape route.
The stage manager gave him one with the signal that he was on next.
“I've got to go,” Dakota said, and bolted for the stage. What on earth was wrong with him? It must be the heat. The crowd. Stage nerves.
Tucker returned with something cold to drink to soothe Chelsea's throat and the two of them watched as the crowd cheered Dakota's arrival onstage. A few of the rowdier fans yelled out requests for their favorite hits from his albums that had gone Platinum in record time.
“Thanks,” Chelsea said to Tucker, taking the cold soda he'd scrounged up for her. Tipping it to her lips she began to drink thirstily.
A look of concern crossed Tucker's face when she started to cough a few seconds later. “Are you okay, Chelsea? How's your throat?”
“I'm okay. I just drank it too fast and choked,” she assured him.
“You're sure?” he asked, watching her closely.
“Positive. Now, will you stop being such a worrywart. My throat held up pretty well, I think. Of course, I took it easy up there. I knew how tempting it would be to get caught up in the fans' enthusiasm. Thanks, Tucker, for picking up my slack.”
“Hey, we're a team, you and I.”
“Team, eh? Then I take it you'll cross over with me if I make the switch to the country-music scene,” she teased. She knew there was no way Tucker would leave his beloved rock and blues.
“Nice try,” he said, shaking his head negatively. “You can be a little bit country all you want, babe. Me, I'm all rock and roll.”
“Hmmâ¦” Chelsea murmured, watching Dakota adjust the mike after talking to the band. “Do you think he sleeps in that?”
“The white Stetson,” she answered, nodding to his headgear.
“You'd have to ask the groupies,” Tucker said, flashing her a wiseass grin as he lifted her black Harley-Davidson cap and put it on her head backward.
“He's got groupies?” Chelsea asked, a pout in her voice as she readjusted the cap on her head.