Authors: Susan Scott Shelley
"Tonight, we can
come back here and I can show you over and over again." The light in his
eyes, that sexy smile, and the determination in his features, almost made her
forget about all of the drama with the fans.
"It's a date."
She pulled out a casual navy and white striped t-shirt dress and red flats with
thin straps that laced around her ankles. Complementary to Luke's outfit of a
white v-neck t-shirt and navy shorts, but not too matched. She needed to feel
like they belonged together, especially after so many of the hateful comments
For the first time in his career, he
resented the fans. Luke shoved his phone into his pocket and leaned his head
against the booth. The hotel pub in Chicago's North Side where he was due to
meet the next contestant had great atmosphere, but he couldn't enjoy it. A week
had passed since the first negative comments appeared, and they didn't show
signs of slowing down. If anything, they'd increased. He was pissed off and
baffled by why the fans cared so much about who he spent his time with.
Irisa had advised Audrey
and him to not engage or respond, but holding his tongue was killing him.
He sipped his Guinness
Beside him, Irisa had her
laptop open. She'd accompanied him to Chicago in place of Ivan, claiming that
she would be lonely at home with her fiancé away on a long road trip. Luke
figured the real reason she'd come along for the ride was more as babysitter
than to cover camera duties, in case he snapped under the pressure. She knew
him well. "The poll for selecting the new band's name has a clear
favorite. Wild Intention is leading by twenty thousand votes."
continued to drink, focused on the door, thoughts on Audrey and what she was
doing. She'd headed to Florida to visit her parents a few days earlier.
exclaimed under her breath, then glanced over at him. "There's a new
thread in the fan page forum, dedicated to trashing Audrey."
fucking kidding me? On our own website?" He yanked the computer away from
her and it around to see the screen. "Fucking assholes. No more ignoring
this." Pushing back from the bar, he got to his feet and shoved a finger
in Irisa's face, his stool scraped the floor as angrily as he felt.
"Ignoring it looks like I'm condoning it. And I'm not."
back her computer and spoke too calmly for Luke's taste. "I'll post
something in the forum."
do it." He grabbed at the laptop.
Irisa handily swiped her computer out of his reach. "You're too angry and
will go off on a rant. I'll do it."
right, of course, but the urge to smash something burned hot in his veins. He
took out his frustration on the dart board until the red haze receded.
waved him to the table and turned her screen to face him. "Check it
guys, this is supposed to be a fun place, not a hateful space. And while The
Fury always loves hearing from their fans, we will not tolerate malicious,
hateful threads or comments toward anyone—band member or not.
we're trying to help Luke!
who continue to post disparaging remarks will have their fan club privileges
revoked immediately and permanently.
Luke shook his head.
"They're trying to
me? What—they think all my brains have
"Apparently. I also
deleted the thread. This isn't going to stop them from starting their own
thread somewhere else, but they won't be able to do it on our own site
"What about my
personal pages? I delete comments as I see them, but keeping up with it is a
full time job."
"Jayne and I will
help with your stuff. We divvied up all the band's sites and pages and are
it." His phone vibrated again, followed by the distinctive ring of his
video chat. Happiness streaked through the annoyance. "That'll be
He engaged the chat and
her image came to life on the screen. Her hair, pulled back in a high ponytail,
put all the focus on her face. Her features looked a little pale. Odd,
considering she was in a beach town and supposed to be soaking up the sun. Her
expressive eyes were missing their spark.
How's the visit going?"
"It's nice seeing my
folks. How did your fan audition go?"
"It didn't start
yet. Oh, and Irisa's here." He tilted the phone enough for Irisa to wave
at the screen. "You look upset."
"I... Your fans are
getting worse. They aren't just leaving comments on your page or the band's
page, now they're clogging up my social media accounts with the comments, too.
Pictures I posted of items from my collection and from the runway show now have
Better thank Luke for this success, bitch
see through you eventually
Hey user, leave Luke alone.
have control over comments on certain sites. My only option would be to shut
down my page or profile, but I can't do that. I need to be reachable. I can't
risk losing business, but if a potential client sees these messages, it might
push them away from me. This is almost like slander."
There had to
be something he could do. This was out of control. "I'm hiring an attorney
and the best egghead money can buy. No one's going to fuck with you or your
"I'm on it."
Irisa made a sound of disgust and immediately began typing on her laptop.
Luke moved the phone
closer to his face. Reaching through and touching her would be the only thing
to make him feel better. "I wish I was there with you."
"I can fly down to
see you tomorrow."
"No. Don't change
your plans. I'm all right." The quaver in her voice didn't sit well with
him. "I just needed to vent for a minute."
"I'll get to hold
you in a few days." The reminder was for her, but also for himself. The
only thing getting him through was her planned visit to L.A. and Vegas with
Lines formed on her
forehead and she bit her lip. He could see her hands wring together. "I'm
not sure my coming out to visit is a good idea, given the circumstances. You
don't need me to be physically there for the launch party. You guys already
have the clothes you want."
"No." He shot
to his feet, upsetting the water glasses he'd ignored earlier. "No fucking
way. They aren't taking this away from us. You have your flight already set.
We'll wear goddamn wigs, hats, and sunglasses the whole time if you want, but I
need to see you. And I need you at that party."
"We can talk about
it later." She turned and her focus moved off camera for a moment.
"My mom wants to go out for drinks. I have to go."
"I'll call you back
tonight." He ended the call and tossed the phone on the table before
dropping back into his seat. "I don't fucking understand this. I get that
the fans feel like they know me pretty well, but the reality is that they
don't. I've given everything to them, and this is what happens? Not that I'd
wish this on Zander and Jayne, but no one seems to be freaking out about them
Irisa sighed and sipped
her wine. "While the group as a whole has fans, you each have your own
core base too. I guess yours are just more protective, vocal, or jealous. Maybe
a combination of all three. I'm not blaming you for being fan-friendly, but you've
always been very accessible, and some girls think they actually have a shot
with you. Look at what happened with Mikala. I think jealousy is a huge factor
"Along with being
judgmental. And misinformed. They've had the wrong idea about her from the beginning.
I need to set it straight."
"No. I waited like
you wanted and it hasn't done any good. I'm not going to sit back any longer
while my woman gets trashed."
"I understand where
you're coming from, but you need to be calm when you post. And to be perfectly
honest, whatever you write may not change their opinions anyway. You know you
can't reason with crazy."
The contestant, Steve,
entered the pub holding hands with a woman. Luke stifled a sigh. Exhausted and
stressed didn't make well for a good night, but he pasted on a smile to greet
"Hey, man." He
shook hands. "Good to meet you."
"Thanks. This is my
girlfriend Ursula. It's cool if she watches, right?"
waited until they'd met Irisa, then said, "Let's head to the conference
room and get started. You're performing
My Fist, Your Face
Steve was the opposite of
Hugh—overconfident. He sang well but something about him seemed a little too
smug, a little too much like Owen. Luke didn't want his dislike of Owen to
color his initial impression of Steve, so after the audition, he invited Steve
and Ursula back to the pub for drinks and conversation.
All Steve wanted to do
was drink beer and talk about concerts and music. That suited Luke fine and he
warmed up more to the contest hopeful. Ursula was quiet for the first half of
the night, chatting with them off and on, but the more she drank, the more she
talked, and then sang and danced by the table. By the end of the night, she'd
dragged first Luke, then Irisa to the bar to sing karaoke with her. The tune
she'd selected was the one Luke had sang to Audrey while on Jett's show.
He took it as a sign. And
when he bade them goodnight, he sat down at the bar with Irisa's computer and
drafted out his message to his fans.
Guys, lately you may have
seen me photographed with a sexy brunette. I'd like to introduce you all to
Audrey. She's an amazing woman who is kind, talented, and has a huge heart.
I've never been this happy and I hope you'll all celebrate my happiness with
me. On a related note, there have been a lot of rumors flying around that don't
hold any truth. While I can appreciate concerns, I'm the best judge of who and
what is best for me. Please respect my wishes to keep all posted comments on
this page positive. Thank you, Luke
Hopefully, it would be enough to end the drama.
between Tampa and Los Angeles, Audrey was convinced she'd made the wrong
decision in visiting Luke. She wanted to see him, and he'd said he'd needed
her, but the recent backlash from his fans in response to his statement about
their relationship was enough to make her want to hide in her apartment.
He'd asked them to
refrain from posting mean comments on his pages. They'd respected his wishes,
but redoubled their efforts by peppering her pages instead.
Baseball cap tugged low,
she dug through her bag and unearthed a bottle of water and a chocolate bar.
Seeing insults daily cut through her self-confidence.
Fat, ugly, troll,
slut, user, bitch, whore
... the list went on and on. Renee, her fierce
warrior of an assistant, had insisted on taking over most of the posting. She'd
temporarily shut down two of the pages that had spiraled out of control.
A lengthy conversation
with the lawyer Luke had hired had lead her to believe there wasn't much that
could be done from a legal standpoint. Common sense dictated the comments would
eventually stop. Audrey would just be in hell until that happened.
As the plane
circled and then touched down at LAX, excitement over seeing him outweighed
everything else. Deplaning took too long and she grew impatient. Finally
released, she rushed as fast as she could to baggage claim. She didn't bother
looking for her luggage snaking around on the baggage tram. Instead she scanned
every face, expecting to see Luke.
At long last
she recognized his swagger cutting an impressive swath through the crowd. He
met her gaze and a huge grin spread across his face. "Hey, Sunshine,"
he hollered. And then she was in his arms, breathing him in and holding him
it's good to see you." His lips descended and captured hers. She wasn't
prepared for the emotion welling in her soul.
Ten days had passed since
she'd kissed him goodbye at the airport in New York. Ten days wasn't long
enough to miss someone the way she missed him. Neither of them were returning
from war or a long journey. But it didn't matter. The last week and a half sure
had felt like a constant barrage of attacks. Perhaps that was it. Pressing in
tighter, she deepened the kiss.
The flash of a camera
light too close to her face startled her. Audrey pulled back, but Luke tucked
her against his chest and glared at the camera's owner. He smiled again when he
glanced down at her. "Let's grab your bags. My driver's waiting for us
outside. It's about a twenty minute drive to my place."
He pointed out some
landmarks during the drive, and kept touching her—on her leg, her arm, her
face, her hair.
She leaned against him,
fully relaxing for the first time in days.
"My place is right
up here." He pointed to a three story modern-design home on their right.
The car pulled in to a long and gated driveway.
"You live on the
beach?" He'd told her he lived in Hermosa Beach, but she hadn't realized
his house was beach-front property. The sand colored house blended in with seaside
colors. Four palm trees lined one side of the property, and a privacy fence the
color of driftwood surrounded the home. Three stories, two balconies, and a
large patio for the bottom level.
He bade the driver
goodbye and carried her luggage into the house. "I'll give you the
She slipped her hand in
his and followed him.
Sparsely decorated with pale gray furniture and a fireplace in the corner, the
room had a light and airy feel, thanks to white walls and sandy wood floors, a
set of sliding glass doors to the second-level balcony, and two bay windows
letting in tons of natural light. She could picture Luke stretched out on the
couch after a long day. Or them together on the balcony, sharing a drink after
wood cabinets, sleek appliances, with counter tops and tiles the color of
polished sea shells, the open-concept room overlooked the dining and living
room. He showed her his collection of beer mugs—souvenirs from his travels
around the world. An image struck her, of cooking with Luke, lingering over
touches and tastes of each other. Or putting that breakfast bar to better
use... it was the perfect height for a more intimate form of cooking, if the
bedroom was too far away.
"Down the hall is an
extra guest bedroom and bathroom. It's boring. Let's head upstairs."
"Is that where the
magic happens?" She followed him up a spiral staircase with an overhead
skylight to the top level of the home.
"I guess we'll find
out tonight." He paused in the hall, winked at her, and then pointed to
his left. "My bedroom." The master suite faced the ocean and had its
own balcony. Dark furniture polished to a high shine set off pale gray walls. A
large TV hung on the wall opposite the bed, next to a shelf containing a stack
of action movies and a collection of true crime novels.
She glanced at the bed,
twice the size of hers, with its custom headboard covered in what she knew to
be a very pricey fabric. Being in that bed with him later... a shiver of
anticipation ran through her.
The amazing view of the
ocean drew her onto the balcony, decorated with two lounge chairs and a small
table. "I would sit out here every day if I had this view."
He caged her in against
the railing, arms bracketing her on both sides. "I would sit out here and
think about you. I never thought I'd actually have you here, in my space."
"I like being able
to picture you here. I'm glad I got to see it. Now I'll know what to imagine
when you're back here and I'm in New York."
The light in his eyes
dimmed. "Let's finish up the tour."
The sea theme continued
through the master bath, with pale shades, and light wood and slate gray
accents. With two sinks, a jetted tub big enough for two, a separate shower
stall, and a large, frosted window for privacy, the room was four times the
size of her studio's bathroom.
"Can we use the tub
"We? Hell, you're
reading my mind." He linked their hands again. "Anything you
He pointed out another
bedroom and full bath, then took her down to the lowest level. "Here we
have space that I'm not using."
A powder room, a dry-bar,
a large room with sliding glass doors that led onto a patio and faced the
ocean, and a separate room that could be another bedroom or office. The entire
floor was bigger than her
Audrey Pierce Designs
"This is incredible.
Really, I love the entire house."
"I'm glad you like
it. I'd hoped you would. I want you to feel at home." He looked like he
wanted to say something more, but then he pulled out his phone and mildly
swore. "I have my last fan audition at three o'clock. Come with me? I need
a camera person."
"Who is it
a twenty-two year old woman from Anaheim. She told Jayne that she would be
bringing a small group of women with her as support."
Her heart plummeted. She shook
her head, held up her hands, and backed up a step. "No thanks. I don't
want to be subjected to any more mean comments."
He frowned and moved
toward her. "I'm not going to let anyone say anything mean about you or to
"I'm sure they'll
take pictures and they'll want to post those pictures..." And then the
comments would appear... cutting her to pieces. She held a hand to the ache in
softened to concern and something else she couldn't name. He cupped his large
hands around her face. "Let them see that you're this amazing person who
could be their best friend. Who knows, maybe some good comments will start and
counteract the bad."
She didn't hold much hope
for that, but didn't want to let him down. And he
be there with
her. "Where are you meeting them?"
"A hotel in Long
Beach. She'll do her audition, and then we can grab dinner with her
She was starved for time
with him, and if he really did need her to help with recording, she wanted to
be there for him. "I'll go. You'll be there the whole time, right?"
A smile lit his features
and then his lips touched hers in a quick kiss. "Absolutely. We need to
leave now. Its takes between thirty to forty minutes to get to Long Beach, and
I don't want to be late."
"Is your driver
coming back or did you call a cab?"
He walked over to a bowl by the door and picked up a spare set of keys.
"Do you want to drive? I can't get behind the wheel for another few
months, but as long as you're here, you can use my car. Having you drive it
will be better than letting it sit or having someone else along when we'd
rather be alone together."
She'd read about him
losing his license after the arrest a few months ago. "Can I ask what
happened that night?"
"The arrest? The
night I found out about you and Dante, I was out on my boat, thinking, and
ended up drinking too much. Stupid, reckless mistake. One I take
seriously." So solemn and contrite, he held her gaze. She didn't judge him
for his mistake, especially not when he'd been hurting then and was so
obviously sorry it had happened.
They'd both made
mistakes. She'd pulled him in close and hugged him tight. His arms came around
her and he rested his head on top of hers. They stayed wrapped together, just
holding each other, for a long moment.
An hour later, Audrey
stood in the hotel lobby before five sisters ranging in age from eighteen to
twenty-six. Nicole, Coco, Serena, Desiree, and Olivia were stereotypically
friendly Italians, hugging Luke and her like they were old friends or family.
The youngest sister,
Olivia's, brows rose. "Oh, you're
A long, uncomfortable
pause followed while Audrey bristled up to defend herself. Luke's hand at the
small of her back gave an extra layer of support.
Nicole slapped her sister's
shoulder and Olivia yelped and jumped away. "What my baby sister means is
hello and we're happy you're joining us."
With the exception of the
baby sister, busy rubbing her arm and mouthing
, the other sisters all
smiled at her and echoed the welcome.
After weeks of meanness,
the friendly tone was an unexpected surprise. Audrey clung to it. "Thank
you. Luke played your demo for me. You have a beautiful voice."
Luke slid his arm around
her and lightly squeezed her shoulder. "Let's get started."
Audrey settled into a
seat next to Luke in the conference room and set the camera to recording.
He smiled at her and then
into the camera. "Hey, Fury fans, Luke here. I have our final contestant,
Nicole. Tell us about how you got started singing."
"I've been singing
for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up, my sisters and I would
perform musicals in our yard."
"Really? I love
that." Audrey smiled at the sisters, and then laughed as all five began
talking at once about the musicals, and then again when they broke into song at
Luke's request. Finally, they quieted enough for Nicole to audition. She
, ending with a standing ovation from her sisters.
The group moved into the
hotel restaurant. Over the next hour, the constant chatter and laughter from
the sisters helped soothe Audrey's soul. Each one included her in conversation
and treated her like family. Being an only child, Audrey didn't fully
understand the sibling dynamic, but the women teased and laughed and seemed
genuinely delighted by each other's company.
When Luke accompanied two
of the sisters to the bar, Olivia moved in to the open seat next to Audrey like
she'd been waiting for the chance to talk to her alone.
Unease curled in her
stomach. Luke, Nicole, and Serena were at the other end of the room, and Coco
and Desiree peered out the windows looking at the bay. All were out of earshot.
Olivia had been the quietest with her all afternoon. Audrey raised her brows
and smiled. "This is pretty cool, isn't it? I never get tired of looking
at the ocean."
Olivia bit her lip,
looking pained. "I wanted to apologize for earlier. I was surprised to see
you, that's all. I didn't mean anything by it."
"Nicole says I speak
before I think sometimes." She glanced at her sister. "Anyway, you
seem really nice. I don't know why the girls online are being so mean. I really
hope it stops soon."
The unease fluttered away
and for the first time she was happy around Luke's fans. "Thank you. I
appreciate that. It's been a really hard time for me."
"I was bullied
really badly all through high school, so I know what it's like." The brief
sadness darkening Olivia's face tugged at Audrey's heart.
Audrey pulled her in for
a hug. "I'm sorry about that. No one should have to go through it."
"The Fury's music
really helped me. I was so excited when Nicole won the fan audition because I
wanted a chance to say thank you to Luke."