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Authors: Diana Palmer

Tags: #Millionaires, #Impostors and imposture, #Contemporary, #General, #Romance, #Large type books, #Fiction, #Friendship

After the Music

BOOK: After the Music
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After the Music
Diana Palmer

Chapter One

It was sad to see a tour end, Sabina Cane thought as she watched the electricians strike the lights at the auditorium where she and the band had performed the night before. It had been a sellout performance here in Savannah, and thank God for road tours. Times had been hard lately, and as it was, they'd make only a small profit after all the hands were paid. Sabina often wondered if there would ever come a time when she'd have financial security. Then she threw back her head and laughed at her own silly fears. She was doing what she loved best, after all. Without singing, she'd have no life at all, so she ought to be grateful that she had work. Besides, she and The Bricks and Sand Band were already booked for two weeks back home in New Orleans at one of the best clubs in town. And this month on the road had netted them some invaluable publicity.

She stared down the deserted, littered aisles, and spared a sympathetic smile for the tired men taking down equipment at, this hour of the night. They had to be in New Orleans tomorrow for rehearsals, so there was no time to waste.

Sabina stretched lazily. Her slender body in its satin shorts and sequined camisole top and thigh-high cuffed pirate's boots was deliciously outlined by the fabric that was her trademark. The Satin Girl had wavy dark hair, which she wore down to her waist, and eyes almost like silver. Her complexion had been likened to pure pearl, and she had eyelashes no photographer believed were actually real.

Albert Thorndon grinned at her from the front of the auditorium, where he was passing the time with her road manager, Dennis Hart, who was also doubling as their booking agent. Dennis had done well so far for a young publicist seeking new directions. She smiled at both of them, waving at Al.

He was one of her best friends. She'd met him through her childhood pal, Jessica, who was hopelessly in love with Al. He was Jess's boss at Thorn Oil. Al didn't know about that infatuation, and Sabina had never betrayed Jess by telling him. The three of them went around together infrequently, and maybe at the very beginning Al had been mildly attracted to her. But Sabina wanted nothing from a man in any emotional or physical sense, and she let him know it right off the bat. After that, he'd accepted her as a friend. It was Al who'd managed to get them the club engagement in New Orleans, and he'd flown here all the way from Louisiana to tell her so. Thorn Oil had many subsidiaries. One of them was that nightclub in New Orleans. She wondered if his older brother knew what Al had done.

She'd heard plenty about Hamilton Regan Thorndon the Third, and most of it was unfavorable. The elder brother was the head honcho of Thorn Oil, which was headquartered in New Orleans, and he had a reputation for more than a shrewd business head. Rumor had it that he went through women relentlessly, leaving a trail of broken hearts behind him. He was the kind of man Sabina hated on sight, and she was glad Al had never tried to introduce her to his family. There wasn't much family, apparently. Only the two brothers and their widowed mother, who was on the stage somehow or other and spent most of her time in Europe. Al didn't talk about his family much.

At times, it all seemed odd to her. Al was always avoiding his family. He never even invited Jessica to those big company barbecues out at the family ranch in Beaumont,
Texas
, and Jess had been his secretary for two years. Sabina found his behavior fascinating, but she never questioned him about it. She'd thought at first that her background might have been the reason that he didn't introduce her, and she'd felt murderous. But when she realized that he'd left Jessica off the guest list, too, she calmed down. Anyway, Al didn't know about her past. Only less did, and Jess was a clam.

Al murmured something else to Dennis, and with a wave of his hand, went to join Sabina. His green eyes frankly approved of the baby-blue and silver-satin shorts that displayed her long, tanned legs to advantage. She laughed at the stage leer, knowing it was only an old joke between them.

"Well, aren't you the picture, Satin Girl?" he said with a laugh. He had dark hair and was just her height.

"I don't know. Am I?" She struck a pose.

"My kingdom for a camera," he sighed. "Where do you get those sexy costumes, anyway?"

"I make them," she confided, and laughed at his astonished reassessment of her garments. "Well, I did take a sewing course, and it relaxes me when I'm not singing."

"Little Miss Domestic," he teased.

"Not me, mister," she drawled. "I know all I care to about housework."

"In that tiny apartment," he sighed. "Don't make me laugh. You could mop the floor with a paper towel."

"It's home," she said defensively.

"It could be better stocked if you wouldn't give away everything you earn," he said, glaring at her. "Secondhand furniture, secondhand TV, secondhand everything, just because you're the softest touch going. No wonder you never have any money!"

"A lot of my neighbors are worse off than I am," she reminded him. "If you don't believe in poverty, let me introduce you around my neighborhood. You'll get an education in the desperation of inescapable struggle."

"I know, you don't have to rub it in." He stuck his hands in his pockets. "I just wish you'd save a bit."

"I save some." She shrugged.

"End of conversation," he murmured dryly. "I know when I'm beaten. Are you coming to my party tomorrow night?"

"What party?"

"The one I'm giving at my apartment."

She'd never known Al to give a party. She stared at him suspiciously. "Who's going to be there?"

"A lot of people you don't know, including Thorn."

Just the sound of his nickname threw her. "Hamilton Regan Thorndon the Third in the flesh?" she taunted.

"If you call him that, do it from the other side of a door, will you?" he cautioned, smiling. "He hates it. I've called him Thorn since we were kids."

"I suppose he's a stuffy old businessman with a thick paunch and a bald head?"

"He's thirty-four," he told her. His eyes were calculating, "Why do you react that way every time I mention him? You clam up."

She stared down at her black boots. "He uses women."

"Well, of course he does," he burst out. "For God's sake, they use him, too! He's rich and he doesn't mind spending money on them. He's a bachelor."

Her mind drifted to the past. Rich men with money. Bait. Using it like bait. Catching desperate women. She winced at the memory. "Mama," she whispered and tears welled up. She turned away, shaking with subdued rage.

"Odd that he isn't married."

Al was watching her with open curiosity. "My God, no one could live with Thorn." He laughed bitterly. "Why do you think our mother stays in Europe, and I have an apartment in the city?"

"You said he loves women," she reminded him.

"Nobody is allowed that close," he said flatly. "Thorn was betrayed once, and he's never cared about a woman since, except in the obvious ways. Thorn is like his nickname. He's prickly and passionate and rock stubborn. His executives bring jugs of Maalox to board meetings."

"I'd bring a battle-ax," she commented dryly. "Or maybe a bazooka. I don't like arrogant ladies' men."

"Yes, I know. You two would hit it off like thunder," he returned, "because Thorn doesn't like aggressive women. He prefers the curling kitten type."

She'd have bet he'd been hoping all his life for someone to match him. She was almost sorry because the pattern of her own life had made it impossible for her to be interested. It would have been fascinating to take him on. But she was as cold as the leather of the boots she wore onstage. Ironic. She was a rock star with a sensuous reputation, and her experience of men had been limited to a chaste kiss here and there. She found men unsatisfying and unreliable. Her heart was whole. She'd never given it. She never would.

She got up from her perch and flexed her shoulders wearily. It had been a long night.

"I could use a few hours' sleep," she said on a sigh. "Thanks for coming all this way to give us the news."

"My pleasure," he said. "The vocalist who had been hired by the club manager was involved in a car crash. She'll be okay, but she won't perform for a while. They were relieved that you and the band didn't mind rushing home to fill the spot."

Sabina smiled. "We're always rushing somewhere. We're grateful to get the work."

"About tomorrow night." He seemed oddly hesitant.

"The party?" She studied him and sensed something. "You're up to something. What is it?"

He shook his head ruefully. "You read me too well. There's this benefit."

"Aha!"

"I'll tell you more about it tomorrow night when I pick you up. I need some help. It's for underprivileged kids," he added.

"Then count me in, whatever it is." She stifled a yawn. "Who's the hostess for you?"

"Jessica." He looked sad and lost. His eyes met hers and fell. "I wish...nothing."

"You've never invited Jess to a party before," she remarked gently.

"Thorn would eat her alive if he thought I was interested in her," he said, grinding his teeth. "I told him I couldn't get anyone else to hostess...Oh, hell, I've got to run. My pilot's waiting at the airport. I didn't have anything better to do, so I thought I'd catch your last performance and tell you about the club date. Pick you up tomorrow night at six, okay?"

"Okay," she said, reluctant to let the matter drop. What a horror his brother sounded! "See you. And thanks for the club date, pal."

"My pleasure. Night." He turned and walked away, and her eyes followed him with open speculation. Could he be getting interested in Jessica? What a wonderful thing that would be. Her two best friends. She smiled to herself.

*****

It was late afternoon when Sabina finally got to her own apartment. She walked up the steps, gazing fondly down at the block of row houses. She'd lived here all her adult life, ever since she'd left the orphanage at the age of eighteen. It wasn't a socially acceptable neighborhood. It was a poor one. But she had good neighbors and good friends here, and she loved the children who played on the cracked sidewalk. It was close to the bay, so she could hear the ships as they came into port, and she could smell the sea breezes. From her room on the fourth floor, she sometimes watched them as they passed, the heaving old freighters moving with an odd grace. But the very best thing about her apartment was the rent. She could afford it.

"Back home, I see, Miss Cane," Mr. Rafferty said at the foot of the staircase. He was about seventy and bald and always wore an undershirt and trousers around the building. He lived on his Social Security checks and had no family-unless you counted the other tenants.

"Yes, sir." Sabina grinned. "Got something for you," she murmured. She dug into her bag and produced a small sack of pralines she'd bought on the way home. "For your sweet, tooth," she said, handing them over.

"Pralines." Mr. Rafferty sighed. He took a bite, savoring the taste. "My favorite! Miss Cane, you're always bringing me things." He shook his head, staring with sad eyes. "And I have nothing to give you:'

"You're my friend," she said. "And besides, I've already got everything I need,"

"You give it all away," he uttered darkly. "How will you heat your place with winter coming on?

"I'll burn the furniture," she said in a stage whisper, and was rewarded with a faint smile from the pugnacious, proud old man who never smiled for any of the other tenants. He was disliked by everyone, except Sabina, who saw through the gruff exterior to the frightened, lonely man underneath. "See you!" Laughing, she bounded upstairs in her jeans and tank top, and Mr. Rafferty clutched his precious pralines and ambled back into his room.

Billy and Bess, the blond twins who lived next door, laughed when they saw her coming. "Miss Dean said you'd be back today!" they chattered, naming the landlady. "Did you have a big crowd?"

"Just right," she told them, extracting two of the huge lollipops she'd bought along with the pralines. "Here. Don't eat them before your dinner or your mama'll skin me!"

"Thanks!" they said in unison, eyeing the candy with adoration.

"Now I really have to get some sleep," she told them. "We've got a gig downtown!"

"Really?" Billy asked, wide-eyed. He and his sister were ten, and Sabina's profession awed them. Imagine, a rock star in their own building! The other kids down the block were green with envy.

"Really. So keep the noise down, huh?" she added in a conspiratorial whisper.

"You bet! We'll be your lookouts," Bess seconded.

She blew them a kiss and went inside. The, twins' only parent was an alcoholic mother who loved them, but was hardly reliable. Sabina tried to look out for them at night, taking them into her apartment to sleep if Matilda stayed out, as she often did. Social workers came and went, but they couldn't produce any antidote for the hopeless poverty Matilda lived in, and threats to take the children away only produced tears and promises of immediate sobriety. Unfortunately, Matilda's promise lasted about an hour or two, or until the social worker left, whichever came first.

BOOK: After the Music
9.47Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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