She should have kept running.
Lia Brown slammed the door of her ancient Nova a little harder than was necessary, cringed, and shot a glance over her shoulder. Bright morning light reflected off the two other cars in an otherwise empty parking lot: her friend Jay’s Mustang and an unfamiliar white sedan.
"You’re paranoid," she muttered, as she started toward the currently empty nightclub. "Frank probably doesn’t even know you’re back in EastRiver, and he sure doesn’t know where you’ll be today."
Rehearsal. The band getting together to do a reunion concert. She couldn’t quite wrap her head around it, sixteen years was a long time.
A noise had her breath catching in her throat. She jerked around to see, and the uneven gravel caused her ankle to twist. A quick burst of pain shot up her leg into her bad hip, and her hand went automatically to the spot — as if touching it would help — while her eyes did another scan of the area.
"He’s not here," she reassured herself. More careful this time, she picked her way toward the building. Falling flat on her face wasn’t fun. She knew from experience.
Shaking off the surge of memories, she took one long breath of the fresh autumn air and pulled open the heavy door of the Riverside Lounge.
Coming from the bright sunshine of a beautiful Tennessee morning into the darkness of the interior blinded her. The stench of beer and stale cigarettes nauseated her.
She smiled. It was all familiar, this sensory assault, familiar from a time long gone. A time when things were simpler and more innocent. A time before she’d discovered just how hellish life could be. Her smile vanished like the naiveté she’d once had.
What the hell did she think she was doing? Wasn’t it Thomas Wolfe who said you couldn’t go home again? Whoever, they had better sense than she did.
She looked around her, trying to get her bearings. The currently unoccupied nightclub was a single huge room, dimly lit, filled with round tables and chairs upside down on top of them. The familiar sight tore at her heart and had her yearning for a time long past.
Then she heard Jay’s voice, and a smile touched her face. She saw him, in the slightly better light of the dance/stage area toward the back of the club. As she started in that direction, she realized he was why she was here. He’d talked her into coming back home to Tennessee three months ago. He’d made sure she had a place to live, in a duplex apartment his aunt owned. He’d been a friend when she needed one, and was the brother she’d never had.
Who was that man he was talking to?
"You and your network can shove it up your ass!"
Hearing Jay yell sent shivers down her spine, and she backed against the nearest table.
"Look," the stranger said, "I know you don’t want me here, but I am. I guess we’re both just going to have to live with it."
He wasn’t yelling. In fact, the voice was deep, melodic. Interesting.
A spike of curiosity swept through her in spite of an intense desire to run. She edged in the direction of the door — and bumped into a table. The noise was loud enough to cause both men to look in her direction, leaving her with nothing to do but smile and say, "Hi!"
Jay rushed toward her, pulling her into his signature bear hug. "Hello, sis."
There was no reason to be scared of Jay. She’d known him forever. No way would he hurt her. Still, she had the urge to shove him away and run. Would she ever feel safe with a man again?
He pulled back, and she managed a smile.
Jay draped an arm around her shoulders and walked her over to the man he’d been arguing with. "Lia, this is Eric Weiss, from the Classic Music Network. Weiss, this is my sister and co-vocalist, Lia Brown."
He was broad-shouldered and several inches taller than Jay’s five-ten. He had dark hair and eyes, was well dressed; and his gaze was currently raking her light brown hair, green eyes, and five foot, two inch, curvy body. She suddenly gained a new sympathy for the animals in a zoo.
"You’re the other lead singer?"
Jay gave her shoulders a quick squeeze. "Lia’s a great vocalist. We’re lucky to have her."
"What instrument do you play?"
She wanted to run away. Instead, she forced her chin up a notch. "I just sing."
Weiss raised an eyebrow, while he continued to stare. "I see."
"Don’t let that ‘just’ fool you," Jay said, "she sings like an angel."
Weiss turned the scathing look on Jay.
Jay ignored the man, as he walked toward the side of the dance floor, where his guitar leaned against a chair. His arm was still around Lia, so she had little choice but to go along. Even if she would much rather run for the door.
Once away from Network Man, she whispered, "Maybe this isn’t a good idea."
Jay turned to her, his green eyes nailing her with their gaze. "You’re a big part of Celebration. We can’t do this without you."
"And I’m not really your sister."
An expression she couldn’t quite name crossed his face, and then he grinned. "Close enough." He put his hands on her shoulders. "And if Celebration is going to have a reunion concert, you absolutely have to be part of it. Besides, it’ll be fun."
"I guess." She glanced toward the man in the expensive clothes, who sat at a nearby table looking through some papers he’d pulled out of a briefcase.
"Oh hell, you aren’t letting that suit intimidate you, are you? I argued with the network for a month, but they insisted on sending us a babysitter to make sure the group is ready." He rolled his eyes. "They wouldn’t budge on the six weeks of rehearsal, either. That’s a ridiculous amount of time. They know as well as I do that we could be ready in two."
Insecurity flipped her stomach. "I’m not sure I could."
"Baloney, you’d be fine."
She put her bag on a chair and pulled out her sheet music. Sixteen years was a long time. Would the group really be able to recapture the magic?
Dark eyes sent their accusing stare toward her, and a lump swelled her throat so she couldn’t breathe. Who was she kidding? She had no business trying to pretend she belonged here.
Copyright 2008 by Cheryel Hutton