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Laurie Breton

Women's Fiction With Heart

Excerpt from FACE THE MUSIC, c. 2017 by Laurie Breton. All rights reserved. Coming in 2017!

 


Late May, Los Angeles

“At eleven-fifteen today, you have a live radio interview with Mac Dodge at KALA. He wants to talk about the tour and the upcoming album. Tuesday, you have an eleven o’clock with the head of the record company. His office. Be presentable, he’ll probably want to take you to lunch. If you can’t be presentable, at least wear real shoes. Ella Shaeffer called again, wants to know when we can book you on her talk show. I said I’d run it by you and get back to her with a couple of possible dates. And a Derek Hansen from Alexis Cruises called. He’s looking for celebrity endorsements and was hoping you’d be interested. You’d get a free cruise out of it. You could take me along as your plus one. Which reminds me…have you talked to Ryan?”

Paige MacKenzie checked her watch for the eleventh time since she’d gotten in the limo at LAX. “Not in the last few days. Why?”

At the other end of the phone, Lucy Benjamin, her executive assistant and best friend, coughed, then quickly recovered. “No reason,” she said briskly. “So what should I tell Derek Hansen?”

Paige sank deeper into the limo’s plush seat, stretched out her long legs, and sighed. “I’ve been on the road for the better part of the last six months. I thought this was supposed to be my down time.”

“Down time is a relative term. You know that.” Lucy made a sound of sympathy. “You just have to get through the next couple of weeks, and then you’ll be free until September.”

“All I want is to go home and play with my dogs. And veg for a while. Is that too much to ask?”

“It depends. Do you want to keep your career afloat, or do you want to be one of those ‘used to be famous’ people?”

“I’m tired, Luce. This one took a lot out of me. I just want to putter around my little house, cook for Ryan, play housewife for a while.”

Lucy cleared her throat. “Yes, well,” she said, appearing to be at a loss for words, which was highly unusual for her. “Look, Paige—”

“Luce, I have to go. I have another call coming in.”

“Paige, wait! There’s something I need to tell you—”

“It can wait. I’ll call you later. After the radio interview. We’ll do lunch, if you can tolerate my footwear.” She cut Lucy off and picked up the incoming call, spent a few minutes talking with her accountant before shutting off the phone, leaning her head back against the seat, and closing her eyes.

Her head hurt. Her feet hurt. As long as she was taking inventory, there was really very little of her body that didn’t hurt. Living in hotel rooms and on buses, eating take-out and room service food, playing every night to screaming crowds and then trying to shut down and actually sleep, was not the nirvana she’d sought when she first started this crazy ride. She wondered, not for the first time, how her dad had managed it for all these years while still maintaining his sanity. Moderation. That was the only possible answer. Dad set ground rules and stuck to them, and tried to avoid extremes at either end of the scale.

Unfortunately, moderation was not a word that had ever been part of her vocabulary, and she’d been on screech for the past five years. But she had a big birthday coming up, the big 3-0. Maybe turning thirty meant it was time to slow down, to give some serious thought to starting a family. She’d spent her twenties focused on building her career. But thirty was a landmark. Thirty meant it was time to reflect on her past and consider her future, because at thirty, her future wasn’t all that far away. Ry had been pushing her for some time to set a wedding date, but she’d figured she had all the time in the world before she needed to think about settling down. Now, suddenly, thirty was knocking on her door, and the time that had once seemed endless was about to become a precious commodity.

The limo turned into the driveway of her house, and her heart soared at the sight of it. She’d bought the house after her first record album went platinum, and she loved the nostalgic cottage feel of it. Loved the roses climbing the trellis out front, loved the crooked wooden floors, loved its lack of pretension. There was nothing of the Hollywood mansion about Paige MacKenzie’s house. It was just a solid, cozy little bungalow that had once been owned by a minor movie actress named Minerva Lawrence. Paige had modernized the 1940s-era kitchen, had added a second bathroom. Other than that, she’d done nothing but cosmetic work. She liked the house’s vibe, liked feeling as though Minerva was hanging out there with her, a benevolent spirit who loved the house as much as she did.

Paige gave the limo driver a generous tip, hoisted her guitar and a single suitcase—like her father, she traveled light—and let herself into the house. A pile of mail sat on the hardwood floor directly beneath the front-door mail slot. The latest issue of People (hers), the newest Sports Illustrated (Ryan’s), a dozen pieces of junk mail. Paige skirted the pile of mail, set down her suitcase and her guitar. “Ry?” she called. “Bo? Janis?”

Silence. “Ryan?” she repeated, a little more loudly. Still no response. He’d probably gone out somewhere with the dogs. Curious, she walked to the kitchen, opened the door to the garage, and checked. His BMW wasn’t there, just her little yellow MINI Cooper, sitting in a splash of sunlight, looking lonely in the middle of all that empty space.

The house felt stuffy, as if it had been closed up for days. Paige went around opening windows to let in fresh air. Downtown might be smoggy, but up here in the Hollywood hills, the air was breathable. She returned to the foyer, scooped up the mail, and tossed it on the counter in the kitchen.

At exactly eleven-fifteen, her house phone rang. Paige picked it up, greeted the KALA producer who’d placed the call, then was switched over to rock jock Mac Dodge. “Today, folks,” he said in his booming announcer’s voice, “we’re talking to rock-and-roll icon Paige MacKenzie about her recent tour and her upcoming album. Paige, thanks so much for being here.”

Knowing the protocol by heart—even though she hated it—she responded with, “Thank you, Mac, for having me on your show.”

“So, Paige, I understand you just finished a tour. Can you tell us a little about it?”

She’d done this before, dozens of times, and didn’t even need to prepare. “Sure. The first leg of the tour, we hit all the major U.S. cities, and we sold out everywhere. We set up meet-and-greets with fans at every stop, and it was so much fun to meet everyone. Then we traveled to Asia: Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore. I’ve never seen so much enthusiasm, especially in Tokyo. The fans there are amazing. We took a few days of R&R in the Philippines before moving on to the last leg of the tour, where we played sold-out shows in London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Helsinki. It was a fabulous experience.” She wasn’t bragging, or exaggerating. It always humbled her when she stepped on stage and fifty thousand people screamed and applauded. “Our fans,” she added, “are the best in the world.”

“Sounds like a lot of fun. Tell us about the new album. What’s on it, and when can we expect it?”

“We go into the studio the first week of September. The record’s due to hit stores right before Christmas. This one will be a bit of a departure from the usual. I’ll be writing most of the songs, but I’ve also been having a very positive response to some old country ballads in my live concerts, so I decided there’ll be a sprinkling of those, too.”

“You’re not worried that recording a country album will alienate your hardcore rock fans?”

“I’d like to think my fans are open-minded. Like I said, the response in my live concerts has been really enthusiastic. And it’s not a country album. There’ll only be two or three country songs on it. The rest will be classic, hard-rocking Paige MacKenzie.”

“Well, folks, you heard it straight from the source! Just in time for Christmas, Paige MacKenzie’s new album will hit all your favorite retail outlets. If you don’t mind, Paige, I have just one more question. I know I’m dying to hear the answer to this, and I’m sure your fans are, too. How are you handling the breakup?”

“Excuse me?” She must have heard him wrong, for she had no idea what he was talking about.

“I’m referring to your split from Ryan. How are you handling it?”

Mac Dodge should have known better than to believe yet another baseless lie perpetrated by the Hollywood rumor mill. In the five years she and Ry had been together, wagging tongues had split them up a half-dozen times. Was it jealousy or maliciousness? Maybe a combination of both. “I’m not sure where you heard that we broke up, Mac, but it’s not—”

 “Wait. You’re telling me that People magazine got it wrong? That Ryan didn’t marry Vanessa Ortiz in Las Vegas four days ago?”

Everything around her went still, the silence growing increasingly heavy as she tried to make sense of his words. What he was implying wasn’t possible. Ryan wouldn’t do that to her. Would he?  But even as her brain tried to deny it, she realized that they hadn’t talked in more than a week, which was so unlike him. They usually stayed in close contact when she was away. But she’d been so distracted by wrapping up her tour that she hadn’t even noticed the absence of those regular phone calls. Now, Lucy’s words rushed back to her in a flood of glaring Technicolor warning:  Have you talked to Ryan? Paige, wait! There’s something I need to tell you. And she’d been too impatient to wait and hear what Lucy was trying to say.

Oh, shit.

Afraid she might vomit, Paige stared numbly at the telephone receiver in her hand before disconnecting the call and carefully replacing the phone in its cradle.

She found the People magazine at the bottom of the stack she’d left on the kitchen counter. Paige yanked it free, scattering sales flyers and credit card offers all over the floor. With trembling hands, she held up the magazine and stared at the cover photo of her fiancé, Ryan Legend, with his arm around his lovely co-star, Vanessa Ortiz, who played his sister on the daytime drama 17 Harwood Street.

It’s WEDDING BELLS for Ryan and Vanessa! the headline screamed. Her lungs aching, Paige opened the magazine and flipped through the pages until she found what she sought:

Handsome TV hunk Ryan Legend, recently single after his break-up with rock musician Paige MacKenzie, wed his stunning co-star, Vanessa Ortiz, in a secret ceremony in Las Vegas last night. “We’re very much in love,” Vanessa told People’s entertainment reporter Liza Honeywell. When asked about the break-up with Paige, Ryan told us, “It’s been a long time coming.” Below, a photo of the happy couple moments after their nuptials, accompanied by their two dogs, Bo and Janis. Big congrats to both of you!

Heat suffused Paige’s face. Her throat tightened, and she had to struggle to drag in a breath of that fresh air she’d been so enamored of just minutes ago. He’d dumped her. Dumped her and married that little slut without so much as a “Hey, Paige, I don’t think this is working out for us.” He’d let her find out about it on live radio, had let her be blindsided by the news in front of half of Southern California.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, he’d stolen her dogs.

 

FACE THE MUSIC, coming in 2017