Authors: Andrea Laurence
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Sports, #Contemporary Fiction
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This book is dedicated to my tireless agent, Jessica Alvarez. She “gets” my weird, tolerates my neurotic writer brain, and has been a valuable source of information and guidance. I wouldn’t have ended up here without her help. Thanks for taking a chance on a virtually unknown writer and helping me make the most of my career!
“Is Blake Chamberlain
the one with the tiny penis?”
. This was just one of a million reasons why Ivy Hudson hadn’t stepped foot into her hometown of Rosewood, Alabama, for nearly six years. Standing in her mother’s beauty salon, Ivy wished to God she could disappear.
“Dotty!” Francine Doyle chastised from under the hair dryer, but the other women in the salon just snickered into their hands.
Dorothy Baker was oblivious to the horrified expressions of the five other women around her. Miss Dotty always said whatever she thought, however inappropriate it might be. Her family told people that she’d had a stroke a few years back that eliminated her polite southern filter, but Ivy suspected that Miss Dotty was just old and opinionated and didn’t care what people thought anymore.
She wished she was the same way. Then maybe she could ignore the whispers in the nightclubs, the cruel media coverage of her latest breakup, and the music critics that said her shtick was played out. Kevin, her manager, must agree, because he’d practically forced her back to Rosewood to reinvent herself. Ivy went along with it because Kevin Lynch was a star-maker and she was damn lucky to have him looking after her career. Singers either took his advice or ended up in musical revues on cruise ships.
That didn’t mean she had to like it, though.
Coming off a scandal that had damaged her image as the sweet but unlucky-in-love singer, Ivy supposed it was fate. She needed Rosewood and Rosewood needed her. When Kevin had been contacted about Ivy coming to Rosewood to help raise money to rebuild the high school gymnasium and football stadium—destroyed in a tornado earlier this year—her manager saw it as a feel-good opportunity that could garner her some positive press, get her away from the swarming paparazzi, and save her music career.
At the moment, she’d happily play Maria in
West Side Story
on rough seas to escape this uncomfortable discussion. Like in any small town, the salon was the center of gossip, and if her mother, Sarah, didn’t own it, she wouldn’t dare step inside. Curls was one of the few safe havens for Ivy. The gossipmongers would have to go elsewhere to whisper behind Ivy’s back for fear that Sarah might turn their hair bright blue. Unfortunately, that didn’t stop them from just asking her flat out about Blake.
Ivy had been in Rosewood for exactly seven minutes, and it only took three of those for Blake to come up in conversation. If she’d had her way, she would’ve just gone straight to her parents’ lake cabin, avoiding everyone for as long as possible, but her mother was using the keys as bait to lure her into the shop. In a town like Rosewood, her dad could’ve just left the cabin unlocked for her, but oh no . . . she
to come get the keys.
That meant she finally had to face what she’d done to the great Blake Chamberlain. The song that launched her career had been written about him after their tumultuous breakup, and it wasn’t the most flattering. The title, “Size Matters,” pretty much summed it up. She’d discussed the subject at length in interviews for magazines and television shows, but she hadn’t had to face the people at home who knew Blake. She also hadn’t faced Blake himself.
Of course, if Blake had been so concerned about his reputation, he shouldn’t have stuck his tongue down that cheerleader’s throat.
“What?” Miss Dotty asked, her hair wrapped in foil. “I’ve heard the song. Everyone’s heard it. I figured if anyone knew the truth, it would be Ivy.”
“That’s not what the song is really about,” Ivy tried to explain for the millionth time. “It’s just what it sounds like.”
A part of Ivy expected a crowd to be gathered in the town square, torches and pitchforks at the ready for the moment she arrived. Her recent breakup with teen idol Sterling Marshall and the backlash that followed was nothing compared to what had happened with Blake. Kevin just didn’t get it. Her manager had never lived in a small town like Rosewood. He could never understand what these people were like. She’d not only abandoned them all to become a rock star, she’d insulted a Chamberlain. The Chamberlain family practically owned the town. It had been named after one of the Chamberlain girls. The place was built on land they’d deeded over from their plantation on Willow Lake.
Blake had been the high school quarterback who took the team to the state championships. He’d gotten a full-ride scholarship to play football at Auburn and led an undefeated regular season as a junior. Terms usually associated with Blake had included “Heisman,” “bowl game,” and “first-round draft pick.” Ivy had been kind enough to add “emasculated” and “laughingstock” to the list.
She’d turned the town golden boy into a joke and made a career out of it. Blake wasn’t the only man she had used as inspiration for her songs, but her first hit, the one she would always be known for, had the entire country singing along about the woes of an underwhelmed woman. Payback’s a bitch.
Pepper Anthony, her mother’s only employee, had just finished cutting Vera Reynolds’s hair when she spoke up. “I know Lydia Whittaker was gloating a few weeks back at Bunco that the song was all wrong and Blake was a big, hangin’ man,” she said, shaking her head and making the flame-red curls of her hair dance around her pale face. “It was a little uncomfortable for everyone. Of course, Lydia is happiest when everyone around her is uncomfortable.”
Ivy curled her hands into tight fists at her side, digging the keys to her rental car painfully into her palms. She didn’t want to appear outwardly jealous—Blake hadn’t been hers for a very long time—but the thought of him with the wicked Lydia Whittaker set her blood to boiling. As teenagers, she and Lydia had been mortal enemies. Lydia had made her life hell all through school, and when Ivy and Blake became an item her sophomore year, Lydia had doubled her efforts. She’d always thought Ivy wasn’t good enough for Blake. She’d wanted him for herself. And now, it appeared as though she’d succeeded.
“Well,” Ivy said with a nervous chuckle, “I hope she enjoys it while it lasts. Knowing Blake, he’s probably hangin’ in someone else’s bedroom by now.”
The ladies in the salon twittered with laughter once again.
“That boy does know how to turn on the charm,” Miss Vera said. “The single women around town have been falling all over themselves to catch his eye since he moved back. I see him out and about with a different woman every month or so. Pretty soon, he’s going to run out of prospects. If I was thirty years younger . . .”
“He’s a flirt like his daddy,” Miss Francine confided with a disapproving frown. “I wouldn’t be surprised if there were more than just the six Chamberlain kids we know about. Norman Chamberlain couldn’t keep it in his pants. I know because every time Helen caught him, he’d order a big bouquet of flowers from my shop. Not enough to make up for it, if you ask me, but I wasn’t going to turn away his money. He was a bit of a rascal. Like father like son, I’m sorry to say, Ivy.”
“Now where were you and this little insight when Blake and my daughter were dating for all those years?” Sarah asked, her hands planted on her hips.
“Well, I was hoping I was wrong,” Miss Francine said. She tossed her magazine onto the seat beside her. “But even if I had said it, no one would’ve believed me. The Chamberlains’ toilet is gold-plated and their shit smells like my finest roses.”
Ivy suppressed a chuckle beneath her hand. Miss Francine was right—the Chamberlains were the town celebrities who could do no wrong. Every one of them was attractive, successful, and oozed charm. They were like sweet-smelling fly traps, and Ivy had been a willing victim.
At fifteen, she’d had no defense against Blake’s bright smile and baby-blue eyes. The junior football star had approached her after their chemistry class one day and asked if she’d like to go to a movie on Saturday. She couldn’t believe he even knew her name. Her heart started racing, her palms were sweating, and her knees softened beneath her. She’d said yes as calmly as she could, and once he was gone, she’d nearly collapsed into a puddle on the floor.
Blake had that power over women of all ages. A part of her wondered if she’d have the same response when she saw him again . . .
“You’re looking good, Ivy,” Pepper interjected, saving Ivy from the painful downward spiral the conversation was taking. She followed the statement with a knowing wink. “I like the bangs on you. They’re youthful and hip.”
“Thank you,” Ivy said, although more for the saving than the compliment. Pepper was the same age as Ivy, but they’d never been really close in school. Even then, they’d shared a bond forged by being from the unpopular crowd. But Pepper hadn’t had the benefit of dating a Chamberlain to up her social standing. “My stylist gave me a different look for the trip so I could get out of New York without the press or fans following me. It’s been a lot worse than usual lately.”
Ivy turned to look into one of the salon mirrors to check her disguise for the day. Her long dark-brown waves were pulled up into a tight bun. Her stylist had added some temporary extensions to create bangs and done her makeup differently. That, together with big sunglasses and a scarf wrapped around her head, was enough to cause doubt in the average teenager’s mind so they didn’t scream her name and chase her through the concourse.
At the moment she looked like someone who might be confused for Ivy Hudson on the street. That was good enough.
“She’s as beautiful as ever,” Sarah declared, reaching out to put her palm to Ivy’s cheek. “Just as gorgeous in person as she was on the cover of
“She’s looking a little thin,” Miss Dotty pointed out. “Those Hollywood girls are always too thin.”
“It’s all the sushi and kale chips, Dotty,” Miss Vera chimed in. “What you need is some fried catfish and macaroni and cheese!”
Ivy knew Miss Vera’s macaroni and cheese was the best in the universe. She tried to mentally calculate how many flights of stairs her personal trainer would make her climb to work off a gut-busting feast like that—enough to make her legs quiver like gelatin for an hour afterward, at least. No way. She was already on the larger end of the weight scale for Hollywood, a healthy size six, which of course was about twenty pounds underweight for the rest of the world.
One more reason she had to get out of Rosewood as soon as she could. Folks might be annoyed with her, but that wouldn’t trump their sense of hospitality. The women in town would make a beeline to her cabin with casseroles and cakes, feeding her until she picked up an endorsement for a weight-loss product or had to moonlight on
Dancing with the Stars
to shed the pounds.
“She’s not too skinny!” her mother protested. “She’s beautiful and perfect as always.” Sarah leaned in to hug her and plant a kiss on her cheek. “I’m so glad you’re home, even if it’s just for a few weeks.”
“It’s good to see you, Mama.” Ivy hadn’t seen her parents since the holidays. Life had been so crazy. Her spring and summer had been spent touring. She’d had a break over Christmas, so she’d flown her parents to Manhattan to spend it with her. They’d enjoyed the lights and excitement of the city decorated for the holidays. It was nice. But as always, it was short. They went home and she went back into the studio.
Sarah smiled, her eyes a little moist, and then she turned away to walk over to her station and get her purse. “Now, I know you’re going to be busy with all the town events, but maybe you can come over this afternoon to watch the Alabama game or tomorrow after church for Sunday dinner.”
“Roll Tide!” Pepper yelled with a smile as she swept up around her chair.
“Roll Tide!” Sarah responded, and then continued on as though her sentence hadn’t been interrupted. “Your daddy got a new grill and he’s keen to fire it up.”
“Sunday dinner sounds good. Maybe I’ll be able to make the game next weekend.” Ivy didn’t know how much free time she would have while she was here. She wasn’t given many details about what she was doing to help raise money for the high school, but the organizers would be fools to schedule anything on a Saturday afternoon in the fall. Everyone would be parked in front of their televisions, cheering for their college team of choice. Her father had been a Crimson Tide fan her whole life. There was even a baby photo of her in a University of Alabama onesie. It was a good thing they had a good music composition program there. It might’ve broken her daddy’s heart to send his money somewhere else.
“I went to the market and stocked the fridge with the things I know you like. They didn’t have any of that fancy carbonated water at the Piggly Wiggly, but I found most everything else.” Sarah handed over the key to the cabin.
“You didn’t have to do that, Mama. I can buy my own groceries.” As Ivy spoke, she could hear the familiar lilt of her suppressed southern accent creeping back in. In California, it was easy to drop the melodic speech. But the minute she got around someone from the South, she had to fight not to start
“We can’t have a Grammy Award–winning star roaming around the Pig looking for Greek yogurt.” Sarah smiled. “Anyway, it was nice to be able to do something for
for a change.” Her mother’s dark eyes met hers when she spoke. There was a lot of meaning behind her words.
They hadn’t ever had much money when Ivy was a child. Her father was the band teacher at the high school and her mother ran this shop. Every penny they had went into getting by, so there wasn’t much for extras. Even then, when Christmas or her birthday came around, they always managed to surprise her with something wonderful and expensive, like a new acoustic guitar.
Money was not much of a concern for Ivy now. She had plenty, and she was happy to spend it on her parents. When her first album went platinum, she had paid off their mortgage and bought them both new cars. When she wrapped her first world tour, she’d bought them a cabin by the lake so her daddy could fish and her mama could sit on the screened-in porch with a tall glass of sweet tea.
What she couldn’t give them in face time she tried to make up for with vacations and much-needed cash infusions now and then. She liked that she could help them out and give them things they wouldn’t have otherwise. They had given her so much, it was the least she could do.