Romance Roundup

The lovely Jade C. Jamison has organized this awesome contest for romance readers! One-click your way to a happily ever after, then enter to win one of three Amazon gift cards (or the equivalent at the ebook store of your choice).

Check out the Romance Roundup. Click here!

As part of the Romance Roundup, Twisted Broken Strings (South of Forever prequel) is FREE. Grab your copy now!

If she lets him into her band, she’ll have to let him into her heart.

Koty Jackson wanted to be a rock star, not a singer in the boy band ESX. When he finds out that Jett Costa is looking for a new guitarist and vocalist for her band, Perpetual Smile, Koty is determined to get his demo to her label. But his agent thinks he’s crazy, and when he runs into Jett for a late-night television interview, she tells him that she’ll never allow him in her band.

Jett Costa wasn’t looking for love. After losing the love of her life and the man who helped her build Perpetual Smile from the ground up, all she wants to do is get through their tour in one piece. She never thought she would let a boy band singer in her band—and she also didn’t think she would fall in love with him.

But if things stay the way they are, neither of them will ever get ahead in their careers. Somehow, they’ve got to come to an agreement—or they’ll both fall into obscurity.

Twisted Broken Strings is the PREQUEL to the South of Forever series.

Get Your Copy Now

Read Twisted Broken Strings for FREE

If she lets him into her band, she’ll have to let him into her heart.

Koty Jackson wanted to be a rock star, not a singer in the boy band ESX. When he finds out that Jett Costa is looking for a new guitarist and vocalist for her band, Perpetual Smile, Koty is determined to get his demo to her label. But his agent thinks he’s crazy, and when he runs into Jett for a late-night television interview, she tells him that she’ll never allow him in her band.

Jett Costa wasn’t looking for love. After losing the love of her life and the man who helped her build Perpetual Smile from the ground up, all she wants to do is get through their tour in one piece. She never thought she would let a boy band singer in her band—and she also didn’t think she would fall in love with him.

But if things stay the way they are, neither of them will ever get ahead in their careers. Somehow, they’ve got to come to an agreement—or they’ll both fall into obscurity.

Twisted Broken Strings is the PREQUEL to the South of Forever series.

Read Now for Free

Twisted Broken Strings is now FREE everywhere ebooks are sold. Grab your copy now!

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Get Diving Into Him, the first book in the South of Forever series, for FREE when you join my email list. Click here now!

Read Diving Into Him for FREE

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

Sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll—that was Jett Costa’s old life. After her wildly popular band falls apart, she’s determined to remain sober and rebuild her career. There’s just one problem. The only person who still has any faith in her is her ex-boyfriend Koty, and Jett isn’t sure that she can keep her hands off him.

Maybe living together wasn’t such a great idea after all.

She may have been sober when she made that decision, but she definitely wasn’t when she agreed to play a show on behalf of a band that no longer exists at one of the biggest bars in Boston. Now she has less than three weeks to get her new band together. Can she ignore the sizzling sparks that fly between her and Koty every time they play?

Diving Into Him is the first book in the South of Forever series, a steamy contemporary romance that follows a fledgling rock band on its way to the top.

Read Diving Into Him for Free

Get a FREE ebook copy of Diving Into Him when you join my email list! You’ll also receive:

  • series extras (such as teasers, song lyrics, character profiles)
  • excerpts from upcoming books in the series
  • news about my other novels
  • exclusive discounts, promotions, and giveaways
  • and more!

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Treat Yourself to 10 Romance Ebooks for $0.99 Each!

I don’t know about you, but here in Connecticut, it’s been cold and windy, and Mother Nature keeps dumping snow on us. This Valentine’s Day, I’m collaborating with nine other authors in an exciting $0.99 sale. Diving Into Him (South of Forever, Book 1) is only $0.99 through February 18th.

Warm up with 10 romance ebooks for $0.99 each—and enter to win a $25 Amazon gift card.

Click here to get started »

Read the South of Forever Series FREE on Kindle Unlimited

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

  • The prequel novel 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 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. 😍
  • 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 1 · Chapter 2 · Chapter 3 · Chapter 4 · Chapter 5

Buy Now: Amazon US · Amazon CA · Amazon UK


Book 2: Savannah’s Song

Savannah’s forever has a secret that could destroy them—and the band.

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

Buy Now: Amazon US · Amazon CA · Amazon UK


Book 3: What Happens on Tour

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

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

Buy Now: Amazon US · Amazon CA · Amazon UK


Happy reading!

This Is My #Paingry Face

photo-on-10-12-16-at-4-24-am

It’s five in the morning. My joints are bright hot fireballs of throbbing death. I’m exhausted and have been all day, but the pulsing ache in every single joint of my body is like an alarm clock blaring in my ear. When I’m in pain like this, all I can focus on is the pain. All I want to do is whimper. The only thing I can talk about is how much pain I’m in.

My chronic pain runs my life.

The thick gray smudges under my eyes, the tangled nest of curls bundled up on top of my head, the inward curve of my shoulders—all of it a portrait of the pain I live with when I don’t have a DMARD combatting the inflammation in my joints/tendons. And I’m frustrated all over again, because I’ve been denied those medications. And I’m really feeling it.

I got comfortable. I’d been on SSZ and maybe I took it for granted. Constant headaches and a perpetual metal taste in my mouth seem easy compared to what I’m feeling right now. Maybe I shouldn’t have complained. Maybe I should have kept swallowing the pills and taken what little relief they gave me. I was ungrateful, and now I’m paying the price. The warm summer months rolled in, easing my transition off SSZ. I went swimming. I ran errands. I cleaned my house.

Now I’m lucky I can move at all.

I hate the cold months. I know everyone is reveling in fall right now, but all I want to do is give those who are celebrating sweaters and Instagramming photos of leaves the stink eye. Because for me, October through May is hell unleashed.

If it hurts to die, this is exactly what it feels like.

I don’t mean to be melodramatic. It is five in the morning and I should be sleeping. I’m usually sleeping at this hour. I have places to go and things to do during normal morning hours, yet I will have to choose between resting and getting blood work done. My knees and hips hurt so badly, I feel like I need a wheelchair.

I’d go to the emergency room if I thought they could do anything.

What I need is a different DMARD and a hefty dose of Prednisone to get me through until it starts working. I need a doctor like the ER attending who knew that inflammation was my issue, even if my blood work said otherwise. I need someone like the PA I used to see, someone who listens and won’t give up. Dr. M was becoming that someone, but she left the practice. And now I just feel so fucking lonely and depleted.

I don’t know how I keep doing this. Living with this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, hands down. And I’ve been through a lot of difficult things. I’m not saying I’d rather go through them again—they were eviscerating enough on their own, thank you—I’m just saying that this is so hard and I’m so tired. I’m out of spoons—emotionally, mentally, and physically.

I’m done yearning to be normal. It’s been nearly a decade. At this point,  it’s not going to happen. I just want some kind of quality of life. I don’t want to burst into tears because I’ve dropped the cap to my water bottle and can’t physically make it across the kitchen floor to retrieve it. I don’t want to feel lonely at almost 5am because my husband went to bed hours ago. I don’t want to slap a temporary painkiller Band-Aid on my gunshot wounds, hoping that Tramadol will bring my pain down to a 8/10. I don’t want to feel like I’m missing out while my husband, brother-in-law, and niece hang out at a gallery and I stay home because I feel like microwaved zombie.

I’m just so fucking tired.

I’m not going to do anything more drastic than smoking a cigarette, but I need all of the love, strength, and support that I can get right now. I feel almost cheesy asking for this, but if you can even just leave a comment with hugs, that would be so helpful.

This probably goes without saying, but I’m taking Wednesday off.

On the bright side, I wrote 400ish* words for SOF4, and it’s officially #OwnVoices because I’ve given Krista my enthesitis related arthritis. Tonight’s—this morning’s?—session was basically just a long description of how much everything hurts her, AKA me. Here’s a little snippet:

Hot twinges buried themselves in Krista’s knees, bringing the world into razor sharp focus. She winced, then quickly smoothed the expression on her face.

“We’ve got to do something,” Perry repeated. “The entire band’s gonna implode if we don’t handle this.” A large curled fist lightly smacked the palm of his other hand, punctuating his last few words.

Her cheeks twitched into an involuntary smile. His passion was endearing. “I’ll let you know,” she said softly, her shoulders curling inward. Sliding her phone from her pocket, she glanced at the time. Shit. It was time to get to class. She swallowed hard. She barely had the energy to walk there, never mind sit through the lecture.

“Hey,” Perry said, his voice low and soothingly warm. “You all right? Your cheeks are kinda flushed.”

Great. She inhaled through her nose, gathering her strength. “I’ve got to go.” With every ounce of energy, she pushed up from the bench. “I’ll talk to you later?”

He shrugged. “Sure thing.” He raised his coffee in a salute.

Turning, she forced herself to walk away like a normal person. Her joints protested, the ache deepening. If that was even possible. She gritted her teeth, stifling the scream rising in her throat. She was so tired—tired of being in pain, tired of trading her life for more rest. And now, with South of Forever in such a bad position, she was going to be even more tired.

* * *

Krista was in a bad mood when she finally got out of class. For one thing, it’d run fifteen minutes over. The pain in her knees had increased, as well as taken residence in her elbows and wrists. For some reason, the knuckle of her left thumb was aching, too—a hot, pulsing flare. Yet, from the outside, her body looked completely normal.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket. Stepping off to the side of the hall she was walking through, she fished it out and read the text from Poppy.

Where are you? We need to start recording. xx

The double exes were like a haphazard “LOL,” thrown in as insurance. Their sole purpose was to placate the terse, demanding tone of the other words. Krista was fluent in girl speak.

Sighing, she texted back a simple “OMW,” and resumed her trek toward the building exit. Her body protested with each step, hinges stuttering when they should have bent smoothly. By the time she got to the double doors, she’d made up her mind.

She opened the Uber app with a quick swipe and a tap, not even bothering to look at the screen. She knew her iPhone better than she knew her own body—a fact that was twice as true, since said body was constantly rebelling. She longed for the warm summer months when she’d have little pain.

Her heart whispered “Soon,” and she shuffled through the double doors and into the sunshine.


*I initially thought I wrote like 600 words, but I just checked the word count and was kind of disappointed. But something is better than nothing, right?

What I’m Working On (Release News and More)

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

Occasionally I like to check in with my goals for the year and to share with you what I’m currently working on. Usually it’s not this late in the year but I’ve been crazy busy! If you want a better idea of what’s up, join my FREE email list to get my newsletter.

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2016 Goals

This year, my goals were:

  • release something every 2-3 months
  • write six new novels
  • maybe join a social club
  • read more books
  • practice acceptance

I’ve done pretty well on all of these so far.

A couple of my releases were actually re-releases through my now closed publisher, but I released books in March, June, and August, and have a new release scheduled for November 18th. That book is Just One More Minute, a standalone NA romance in a duology, and I’ll be sharing more details soon.

I definitely didn’t write six books, but I’m extremely proud of the two I have written so far this year. One of those was Just One More Minute, and the other was the first in a new series that you’ll be hearing about probably in 2018.

Though I didn’t join a social club, I did work really hard on my PTSD. A lot of my anxiety eased up this year, and I was able to get out and enjoy lots of activities with friends and family. Much of the work I did was practicing acceptance, and I’ve forgiven myself and recognized that none of the traumas I’ve endured were my fault. That, to me, would’ve been a win enough for the year.

But I also managed to squeeze in lots of reading. You can see some of the books I read this summer here. I’ve also read the much talked about Author Anonymous by E.K. Blair and the beautiful Pretty Pink Ribbons by K.L. Grayson, which I’ll gush about in my autumn reading wrap-up in December.

This year didn’t go as planned—as life usually tends to do—but I’m extremely proud of every single second of it.

Writing and Release News

As I mentioned, I’ll be releasing a standalone NA romance on November 18th. Just One More Minute is part of a small town duology; this book is a complete standalone about Rowan and Matt, and the other book is a complete standalone about Char and Amarie (release date TBA). It will be available on all ebook retailers for $2.99, though I may be running a promo for the first few days. The duology name is Not Just Any Love.

I am currently working on the fourth South of Forever book, tentatively titled Dancing on Broken Strings. The book is outlined and was going to be the final book in the series, but after reading through some recent reviews and seeing how much readers love these characters, I knew I had to write more. Plus, if I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t ready to let go of Jett, Koty, and the gang, either. The fourth book will release in early 2017, and then I’m going to take a break because…

…it’s time to focus on wrapping up the Comes in Threes trilogy. I never meant to be away from this series for so long. When I released Crazy Comes in Threes in 2013, I had every intention of immediately writing and releasing the other two books. But I had a really hard time writing Trouble Comes in Threes. The story hits so close to home, and I was dealing with some other personal things. Then I signed with a small press and it felt like the right choice to focus on my rockstar romance series. I never stopped thinking about Quinn and Tara, though, and over the last three years countless readers have asked me when their story will continue. It’s high time. I am currently outlining the sequel and, as long as my body cooperates, will be writing it as soon as I’m finished with the fourth SOF book.

I’m hesitant to post any kind of release schedule, because both life and the publishing industry are unpredictable. However, for those of you who like neat lists, my tentative schedule looks something like this:

November 18th, 2016
Just One More Minute
Standalone, Not Just Any Love

Winter 2017
Dancing on Broken Strings
Book 4, South of Forever

Spring 2017
Trouble Comes in Threes
Book 2, Comes in Threes

Untitled
Book 3, Comes in Threes

Summer 2017
Untitled
Book 5, South of Forever

Dates may change, of course, and I may switch up the fifth SOF book with the Char/Amarie book or another standalone, depending on how things go. However, the plan is for the SOF series to be my main, longer series, with releases alternating with shorter series and standalones.

Miscellaneous

30% off THE NANNY WITH THE SKULL TATTOOSThe Nanny with the Skull Tattoos is 30% off on Kobo through October 31st! Use code 30OCT at checkout. You can download the Kobo app on your smartphone or tablet for FREE. Click here to purchase your copy.

7-spooky-storiesJust in time for Halloween, my short story collection The Last Minute Before Midnight is back on Kindle Unlimited! Click here to read for FREE with your KU subscription, or to purchase for $2.99.

If you want to keep up with all of my happenings, join my email list. You’ll receive freebies, news, and exclusive excerpts—all straight to your inbox.

Want to keep me caffeinated so I can write more books or contribute to publishing costs so I can focus on writing? Buy me a coffee or donate another amount here.

💋

8 Reasons Not to Date the Band

via Unsplash
via Unsplash

Last night @SeriousGirlGang threw one of their usual hashtag parties. They’re always a blast, and often trend, but #ReasonsNotToDateMe was especially fun. There are a lot of reasons not to date me, but since Mike took care of that problem three years ago, I thought it’d be fun to tweet from the point of view of the South of Forever gang.

It was way too easy to riff on these guys.

If you want to see all of my #ReasonsNotToDateMe tweets, click the tweet below to see the thread.

Since they were so fun, I figured I’d do a few more.

Reasons Not to Date Jett

  • I’ll spend all of my money on boots… then all of your money on more boots.
  • If you like hot showers, don’t hold your breath. I take long, hot baths.

Reasons Not to Date Koty

  • Because of my stint with the boy band ESX, I never have to work again, and I’ll always try to rescue you with my cash.
  • I have zero taste in home decor, unless you count stainless steel and leather.

Reasons Not to Date Savannah

  • I’ll put your kid in daycare behind your back so that I can focus on my painting career.
  • Most of the closet we’ll share will be occupied by half-finished paintings.

Reasons Not to Date Max

  • My ex is crazy. Like, legit crazy. She’ll sneak attack you without you ever even seeing her.
  • I have a B.S. in education, but I impulsively moved to Boston and joined a band instead of finding a teaching position.

Reasons Not to Date Poppy

  • I will always look more put together than you. I have outfits for days.
  • The first time I ever drove on my own—licensed, of course—was in a snow storm. Wearing wedges.

Reasons Not to Date Griff

  • Since I’m pushing thirty, I have a bad case of family fever.
  • If things with the band don’t work out, I’ll go back to playing minor league hockey. Or just retire early with my trust fund.

Reasons Not to Date Krista

  • I’m not looking for a relationship. To quote Group X: I just want bang-bang-bang.
  • Hos over bros. Sisters before misters. Period.

Reasons Not to Date Perry

  • I enjoy long walks to the liquor store and relaxing one-night stands.
  • My hair will always be cooler than yours. Fuck yeah, dreads!

For more of the South of Forever gang, pick up your free copy of Diving Into Him.

Kindle · iBooks · Nook · More

What Happens On Tour: Chapter 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Griff shook his head. “No hotels.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jett frowned. “What the hell for?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What about Griff?” Krista asked innocently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Want some coffee?” Griff asked.

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

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

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

“Easy,” Griff rumbled to Perry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She stared at him, unable to believe her ears.

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


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

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What Happens On Tour: Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hey,” he said again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Poppy,” he said, his voice dropping.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can you get us a tour bus?”

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

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

“Lodging?” she repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thousand,” he responded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They don’t rent them?” he asked.

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pressure was on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the hell is that?”


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

CONTINUE READING

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

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