COMING FRIDAY AT 7 PM PST. GUEST AUTHOR OF: RISING STAR: TERRI OSBURN SEE EXCERPTS
7 PM PST.
Can love survive the bright lights of fame?
A popular DJ at the hottest station in Nashville, Charley Layton is doing what she’s always wanted to do: living in the heart of country music. Charley puts her career first and relationships second, but when a charismatic stranger in a black cowboy hat invites her back to his place, she decides to give herself one night of no-strings fun.
But Dylan Monroe isn’t a no-strings kind of guy. Charley is beautiful, brainy, and brassy as hell—the kind of girl he’s always wanted. When his record label books him an interview on Charley’s show, he’s determined to find out why he woke up alone, and when he can see her again.
With Dylan now the most eligible bachelor in country music, Charley doubts their fling stands a chance, but she’s willing to try. Dylan dreams of fame, but he also craves a life offstage with Charley. Can he convince her that both of their dreams are worth chasing, and that love is still possible, even in the spotlight?
“I haven’t seen a penis in ninety days. Hurry your little heinie up, Charley, before all the good ones are gone.”
Ruby Barnett’s words hung in the August heat like granny panties on a clothesline, and Charley Layton couldn’t help but shake her head. After nearly three months of working with the bawdy woman, she was no longer shocked by Ruby’s crass, if honest, outbursts. As a longtime radio personality, some might think that the older woman would possess a stronger filter than most, but they’d be wrong.
All the same, Charley picked up her pace as the distant sound of singing hopefuls, ever present in this part of downtown Nashville, was interrupted by an unexpected voice.
“I’ll show you mine, Ruby,” offered a deep tenor from behind them. “Come have a look.”
Charley turned to see the incorrigible flirt, Trevor Mulligan, relieving himself next to his pickup truck in a far corner of the parking garage. The good old boy from Tulsa couldn’t carry a tune to save his life, but he could write a hit song like nobody’s business.
The voice that woke Nashvillians five days a week on Eagle 101.5 replied, “Gee, Trevor, if I’d known you were going to be so accommodating, darling, I’d have packed my magnifying glass before leaving the house.”
The elevator doors slid open, and the two ladies hopped in. Trevor hustled to join them, struggling with his zipper as he shuffled along. Flashing an evil smile, Ruby pressed the button that shut the doors in his face.
“That’s rule number fourteen,” she said, nodding toward the closed doors. “Never tickle the first pickle that comes along. There’s always a better specimen to be had. And in this case, a cleaner, less gnawed on version.”
Poor Trevor. Charley didn’t know him well, having only met him twice, but he seemed like a nice enough guy. Not very selective, as Ruby vulgarly pointed out, but charming in his own way.
As for the rule thing, ranking at number fourteen meant Ruby had learned this lesson early in life. Charley’s would-be mentor lived by a long list of rules and rattled off life lessons on an almost daily basis. Just this morning, she’d shared rule number thirty-seven—never say “hand-applied” and “express lube” in the same sentence.
To be fair, they’d been broadcasting live from a car wash, and Charley had only been reading the talking points she’d been given.
“Trevor isn’t so bad,” Charley murmured, dabbing beads of sweat from her forehead.
“If you want to wait for him outside, I’m sure he’d happily make you the same offer he made me.”
“I’m not in the market for any pickle, gnawed on or not,” Charley replied as the doors once again opened.
Ruby snorted. “So you keep saying. But a woman needs a man to light her fuse every now and then. If you ask me, a little birthday sex sounds like the perfect way to celebrate twenty-five years on this spinning heap of dirt.”
Exiting the garage behind the saucy redhead, Charley inhaled clean air, hot and heavy as it was. “I’ll celebrate twenty-five with a couple beers and some laughs with friends. That’s good enough.” And safer, too, she thought. Men were much too fickle—and all too likely to leave destruction in their wake.
“That wasn’t cool, Ruby,” said Trevor as he stepped from the stairwell. “I’m already late for the gig at Legends.”
Trevor’s parting gesture conveyed his opinion of Ruby’s response.
“I don’t think he liked your advice,” Charley said, laughing.
“I’ll try to recover from the slight,” she replied with dripping sarcasm.
They strolled half a block down Second Avenue, serenaded from every open door they passed, to reach their destination. The line for the popular country venue stretched to the corner at Broadway, where another four blocks of honky-tonks welcomed natives and tourists alike. Eager two-steppers, perspiring beneath their cowboy hats, waiting anxiously to sweat even more on the enormous Wildhorse Saloon dance floor.
As Ruby and Charley slipped through the entrance, calls of “We love you, Ruby!” and “Why are they cutting in line?” penetrated the stifling humidity. Being semifamous to the locals did not mean tourists gave two bits who you were.
Classic Brooks & Dunn pulsed through the club as they made their way to the bar not far from the entrance. Waitresses in short shorts and well-worn cowboy boots sliced through the crowd, trays balanced skillfully above their heads. Ruby ordered two beers while Charley slipped into tourist mode, gawking at her surroundings.
A swirling design, etched to perfection in the custom floor tiles, drew the eye toward the endless expanse of glistening dance floor. The life-size porcelain equines scattered about, all done up in their most dapper western gear, brought a smile to her lips. And the two-steppers twirling in front of the empty stage, showing off their moves with style and grace, reminded her of weekends back home in Kentucky, when she’d spun away more than one Saturday night at the Barn Dance.
“I’m going backstage to check in,” Ruby said, handing Charley her drink. “You coming?”
“I’ll wait for Matty.”
Matilda Jacobs—Matty to her friends—was stunningly beautiful, terrifyingly brilliant, and unapologetically late for everything. At twenty-nine, she’d been navigating the Nashville nightlife for seven years and had grown disturbingly cynical. That she’d agreed to wade into what she considered shallow waters for even one night signified how much she liked her new roommate.
The depth of the dating pool meant little to Charley. She had one priority—to build her career in radio. A relationship would only be a distraction she didn’t need or want.
“I’m here,” called Matty, platinum locks catching the lights as she squeezed between two burly patrons. “Did I miss anything?”
“Nope. Ruby and I walked in a few minutes ago.” Charley had no idea how Matty had skipped the line but assumed she’d charmed a bouncer while flashing her radio station credentials.
Sculpted brows arched. “Then I’m earlier than usual.” She nodded to the bartender who’d appeared out of nowhere. “Glass of red, please.”
Dimples materialized as the man grinned in response. “Coming right up.”
As usual, Matty didn’t notice the adulation in the young man’s eyes. Though Charley considered herself pretty enough—reasonably sized nose, good natural highlights, tolerable legs—men did not fall at her feet, nor did they hop to do her bidding. Of course, Matty also had the petite thing going for her. Even in four-inch heels, she stood a solid two inches shorter than Charley’s five foot eight. To win in both looks and brains should have been against some law of nature, but as her roommate, Charley knew that Matty shaved her toes and had her mustache waxed every six weeks.
Proof that true perfection did not exist.
“So where is our redheaded wrecking ball?” Matty asked.
Charley grinned. “She’s backstage.”
The bartender returned with her glass of wine, saying, “Here you go, darling.” Matty withdrew a twenty from her clutch purse, but he waved her off. “Compliments of the gentleman down the bar.”
Her perfect features contorted as she shoved the money back in her purse. “I hate this game. Now the idiot is going to come over here and try some stupid line.” She said this without bothering to even glance in her benefactor’s direction. Charley succumbed to curiosity and leaned to the right to find a skinny guy in a ball cap staring at her friend. He wasn’t bad, but he certainly wasn’t anywhere close to being in Matty’s league. She couldn’t help but give him points for confidence.
“He hasn’t left his stool,” she shared, losing her breath when the man next to Mr. Ball Cap turned around.
Black cowboy hat, intense blue-gray eyes, and a scruff-covered chin straight out of a high-fashion magazine topped a slender, yet muscled frame. The slight crook in his nose was the only visible flaw, but it added character to what might otherwise have been considered a too-pretty face. As he spoke to the man beside him, full lips parted to reveal straight white teeth, and Charley couldn’t look away. Interest stirred as Ruby’s words floated through her mind.
A woman needed a man to light her fuse now and then.
Charley’s fuse was good and lit, and the man hadn’t even made eye contact. And then he did, and her mind went blank the same moment her knees threatened to give out. She didn’t smile, and neither did he. In fact, he looked away, showing no interest at all. Ball Cap gave what looked to be a passionate speech, and the Adonis turned once more. This time, he shook his head, and Charley went cold.
Screw him, she thought. He probably sucked in bed anyway.
Abby Williams lost her husband—and the future she envisioned—to a roadside bomb in a foreign land, so a kitchen fire is no big deal. When the local firemen show up to put out the blaze, the army widow finds herself attracted to one hot volunteer firefighter…until she realizes it’s Justin Donovan, a man five years her junior.
Justin has long carried a torch for Abby. But after she got married ten years ago, he put her out of his mind, left Ardent Springs for Chicago, and got a job as a real estate developer. Now he’s back—for reasons he’d rather not share—and he wants to prove to Abby that age is nothing but a number.
Will Abby’s reluctance and Justin’s secrets extinguish any attempts at romance? Or will the sparks between them ignite a second chance at love?
“It’s safe to go in,” Justin said, coming up behind her and scaring Abby out of her boots. He steadied her as she jerked around. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
The heat of his grip penetrated the soft material of the thin coat. “I didn’t hear you pull up,” she said, easing away from his touch. A long night of no sleep provided plenty of time for Abby to come to her senses about this young man. Regardless of Haleigh’s goading and Abby’s neglected libido, Justin Donovan was entirely too young for her.
Not to mention way out of her league. Men who looked like Justin dated model types, not boring widows.
“Sorry about that.” He tucked his hands into the pockets of his low-slung jeans. Though she’d been on the verge of shivering, Justin wore no protection from the cold over his hunter-green button-down, which turned his eyes almost sage. “Do you want to go inside?” he asked.
She took a deep breath and then let it out. Might as well be honest. “I’ve been trying to do that for the last five minutes.”
Picking up what she didn’t say, Justin dropped into a voice reserved for timid two-year-olds and cowardly grown women. “It’s going to look worse than it is,” he assured her. “And I’ll be with you the whole time.” Stepping closer, he flashed a supportive smile. “You can do this.”
Karen Donovan often described her son as a good man. Looking into Justin’s caring face, Abby knew the words to be true. With another deep breath, the apprehension melted away. “Okay,” she murmured. “Going in.”
After unlocking the door, she led Justin into the house, lungs protesting the moment they crossed the threshold. Hand over her nose and mouth, Abby hesitated in the foyer.
“Worse than it looks,” Justin repeated. “And smells. Opening the windows will help.”
His determination to help her through this brought a smile to Abby’s face. They weren’t sneaking up on the boogeyman, for heaven’s sake. Time to woman up and stop acting like a wuss. Within minutes they had every window in the house thrown open, and as Justin had promised, the smell receded.
Unable to put off the inevitable, Abby finally stepped into the kitchen and gasped at the sight before her. The back wall looked as if someone had taken a spray gun and painted the middle four feet coal black from the backsplash to the ceiling. The microwave rested in a melted heap on the damaged stove top, and doors of the upper cabinets swayed on their hinges.
And then there was the water damage.
Forcing herself to remain standing, she said, “You lied. This is very bad.”
“I promise it really isn’t. Some sheetrock. A new stove . . .”
“New cabinets. New flooring. New countertops,” she added. “The only things I can save are the sink and the fridge.” Abby crossed to the farm sink she’d always loved. “Thank goodness for cast iron.” Swiping a finger along the blackened granite, she barely left a mark. “This is going to cost a fortune.”
Justin leaned a hip on the center island, heedless of the blackened surface. “The insurance company should cover the majority. You also might want to consider contacting the manufacturer of the stove. Mention the word lawsuit and you’ll likely get immediate action. An upgrade on the stove, if nothing else.”
Abby didn’t want to contact, let alone sue, a manufacturer. Nor did she want to deal with insurance companies and a construction crew in her house. All she’d wanted was a flipping cake. Smothering the urge to wave her fist at the sky, she instead walked to the fridge and beat her forehead against the stainless steel surface.
“Come on,” Justin said, turning her around. “I know this sucks, but in a month you’ll have a great new kitchen, and this will all be a bad memory.”
She snorted. “I have enough bad memories. When am I going to get some good ones for a change?”
Though her question had been rhetorical, Justin still offered a solution. “I could take you out for ice cream after this. Won’t undo the problem, but a frozen treat can help you forget for a while.”
Such a tempting offer. Too bad he wasn’t five years older. Shaking off the pity party, Abby pushed the hair out of her eyes. “Thanks, but I’ll have to pass.”
“Because, as I pointed out last night, I’m a little too old to be running around with a twenty-something.”
Justin didn’t hold back. “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Annoyed, she said, “You have your opinion and I have mine. If you want to date an older woman, that’s your prerogative, but that woman will not be me.” She would not embarrass herself by believing she could hold his attention for more than a few days, at best.
Justin opened his mouth to argue when a knock at the front door cut him off. “Hello?” called a female voice.
“We’re in here,” Abby said. Eyes still locked with his, she lowered her voice. “There are plenty of girls in this town, Justin. Don’t waste your time on me.” She stepped around him to greet the adjuster.
Terri Osburn writes contemporary romance with heart, hope, and lots of humor. After landing on the bestseller lists with her Anchor Island Series, she moved on to the Ardent Springs series, which earned her a Book Buyers Best award in 2016. Her work has been translated into five languages and sold more than a million copies worldwide. Her new series is set against the glittering and gritty world of the Nashville music scene and kicks off with Rising Star, available now. Terri lives in middle Tennessee with her college-student daughter, four frisky felines, and two high-maintenance terrier mixes. Learn more about this author and her books at www.terriosburn.com. Or check out her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TerriOsburnAuthor.
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