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A man in command.

A woman unwilling to be in love all alone.

A fan determined to teach his once-favorite star a lesson she won’t soon forget…

P.J. Morgan is an up-and-coming Country singer whose life is just about perfect-- until her manager-mom embezzles from her, her biggest fan becomes her worst nightmare, and the watchdog her record label hires to keep her in line turns out  to be Jared Hamilton, the man she idolized once upon a time.

Connected! You met PJ and Jared in Hot & Bothered as two scared teens living on the streets of Denver. Now they're all grown up with a book of their own.

Book IV in the Marine Series

Coming Undone
September 2007
Mira • ISBN: 0373772130

 

Coming Undone See that girl on the cover of Coming Undone? That’s P.J. Morgan. She and Jared Hamilton were a couple of teenagers living on the streets of Denver in my book Hot & Bothered. When I began their storyline, Jared was the brother of H&B’s heroine and central to the plot of her book. P.J., on the other hand, was only intended to be a walk-on character.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the drawing board. That little girl captured my heart and my imagination like no character before her has ever done. Usually it takes a great deal of writing before I fully understand who my characters are, but I knew P.J. in a way I can’t explain. I could see her as clearly as if she stood before me—and I am not a visual woman. She was something no child should ever be—a throwaway kid scorned by her own mother, but with a core of sweetness that nothing could alter.

I wanted to write her and Jared’s story as adults, but it scared the crap out of me too. Because what if I couldn’t do them justice? What if the kids I saw so clearly in that book suddenly buried themselves in the muck and the mire that can sometimes be my writing process in this one?

I’m sooo pleased to tell you that didn’t happen. This was an absolute magical process for me. I’ve always been a slow writer, but this book just flowed. If only every one went so well. But I already know by the way my work in progress is making my ears bleed that’s not gonna happen.

So I’ll simply say, “Thank you,” to whatever gods touched me on this one.

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Coming Undone Available in Audio! Coming Undone is now available as an audio book. (posted 2.23.09)

Coming Undone sells audio rights to Recorded Books. (posted 4.07.08)

RITA NOMINEE! Coming Undone is a finalist in Romance Writers of America's annual RITA competition in the Contemporary Single Title category. The RITAs are the highest award given in romance fiction.

Watch the silly trash talk video that Susan and some of the other RITA finalists for the Contemporary Single Title category put together below. (posted 3.26.08, updated 6.17.08)

BESTSELLER! Coming Undone spends another week on the Borders/Waldenbooks list, where it debuted at #4. It premiered on the USAToday list at #59 and the New York Times Bestseller list at #23. (posted 10.01.07)

Romantic Times BOOKreviews
Romantic Times BOOKreviews
Orange Blossom
Orange Blossom interview

Susan gets featured in the September 2007 Issue of Romantic Times BOOKreviews Magazine. Click on the article (at right) to read the article (pop-up window will appear) to find out more about Susan's new book, Coming Undone. (posted 8.28.07)

Susan is featured on the cover of Orange Blossom (August 2007 Issue) and isinterviewed about Coming Undone! Click on the thumbs (below right) to see the cover and the interview. (A pop-up window will appear) (posted 8.28.07)

“Andersen doesn't disappoint with this snappy and sexy collision between two headstrong individuals. Fans of Hot & Bothered finally find out what happened to several memorable characters. Upbeat and fun, with a touch of danger and passion, this a a great summer read."

Romantic Times BOOKreviews awarding Coming Undone a HOT 4 1/2 STAR review (posted 8.28.07)

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Coming Undone

 

Prologue

Headline, Nashville Tattler
Country Star of Grammy Winning Song Mama’s Girl Fires Manager Mom!


Jared Hamilton directed the cabbie through dark Denver streets to the old Craftsman-style bungalow that housed Semper Fi Investigations. The taxi pulled into the agency’s small parking lot and he climbed from the cab, then watched as the departing vehicle’s rear lights grew smaller, blinked red and finally disappeared around a corner two blocks away. Flipping up his collar against the late spring chill, he turned and climbed the covered front porch to let himself into the dark reception area.

Down the hallway a single light glowed through the frosted glass transom over John Miglionni's door. Bypassing his own office, he stuck his head into his brother-in-law's. “Hey. What are you still doing here at this hour?”

John clicked a command on his keyboard and pushed back to look up at him. “I was actually waiting around hoping to see you.”

“Why? What’s up?” Dropping his overnighter to the floor, he flopped down on the chair facing John’s desk. “Must be something work related. You wouldn’t be here at eleven forty-five on a Thursday night if anything had happened to Tori and or the kids.”

 The other man gave him a faux paternal look. “Haven’t I always said you’re brighter than the average Joe?”

“Yeah, yeah. So I ask again: What’s up?”

John flashed his famous I’m-so-good-someone-really-oughtta-bottle-me smile. “A very lucrative, high profile assignment came knocking at my door yesterday.”

“Way to go, Rocket!” Congratulations just seemed to call for the military handle his brother-in-law had earned years ago in the Marines.

“Yeah, it’s a good thing. Except Willie, who was going to handle it, landed in Rose Medical with a busted appendix this afternoon. And I’m eyeball deep in the Sanderford case.”

Stretching out his long legs in front of him, Jared folded his hands over his stomach and gave John a cocky smile. “Guess it’s lucky for you then that I just wrapped up my case.”

“You might not think so once you discover who we’ve been hired to find.”

Unable to imagine such a scenario, he merely raised both eyebrows in inquiry.

“Wild Wind Records retained us to find your old friend Pricilla Jayne.”

Jared’s heart gave a single heavy slam against the wall of his chest. He knew it was merely the surprise of hearing that name out of the blue— an assumption that was validated when his heartbeat promptly settled down again. “P.J?” He met Rocket’s gaze levelly. “Why would I have a problem with that?”

John gave him an ironic, Don’t-try-to-kid-a-kidder look. “Well, let me see. Maybe because you two shared a couple of the most intense weeks of your lives?”

“Yeah. we did-- fifteen years ago. Lotsa water under the bridge since then, big brother.” He shoved himself a bit straighter in his seat. “So what’s the story with country music’s hottest new diva? I thought everything was coming up roses for her. How does she come to be missing?”

“Nobody seems to know. But apparently it started Monday when she fired her mother as her manager.”

“No shit?” A fierce surge of satisfaction filled Jared. “Good for her. There’s a comeuppance that was long overdue.” He’d detested P.J.’s mom fifteen years ago, and he’d bet the family manse the woman hadn’t improved appreciably over the years.

Coming Undone“I don’t know how good it is for Pricilla’s career, though, at least in the short term, since her mom’s talking trash to every country music magazine and yellow journalism rag in the country. P.J.’s due to start a big tour in a little over a week and Wild Wind Records is getting very nervous that no one seems to have a clue where she’s gotten herself off to. If you accept this case, your mission is going to be twofold. First to locate little Miss Pricilla Jayne. Then to accompany her on her Steal the Thunder tour to make sure she doesn’t disappear again.”

Jared whistled. “The entire tour? Those things can run pretty long —months and months, some of them.” He eyed John warily. “How much time are we talking about?” He wasn’t sure how he felt about giving up his privacy for several months of babysitting P.J. Morgan. Their friendship might have been the most important relationship of his existence the summer he was seventeen, but that was a long time ago.

“Five weeks, give or take a stop or two.”

Okay, he supposed a little over a month was doable. “Does Wild Wind have any idea how much this could end up costing them?”

“They should, I made a point of spelling it out for them in minute detail. They seemed a lot more concerned about how much it will cost them if their million dollar baby takes a powder.”

“That seems pretty unlikely, don’t you think? This sounds like P.J’s big break-- it seems to me she has a vested interest in turning up for something that shows every sign of boosting her career right into the stratosphere.”

“Like you said, a lot can change in fifteen years. I’ve heard more than one report claiming she’s butted heads with the big dogs in Nashville pretty regularly the past couple years.”

Jared could hardly argue with that. Everything he knew about P.J. Morgan these days he’d gleaned from the occasional television report or newspaper article. And those hinted that she could be difficult and demanding.

So who was he to say differently? Their relationship had been intense but brief and was ancient history long before this assignment had come along.

For all he knew, the sweet, feisty little girl he’d once known could very well have grown up to be a stone cold bitch just like her mama.

Coming Undone


Chapter One

Front cover headline Country Now Magazine:
    Where in the World is Pricilla Jayne?


“Oh, for the love of Pete!” P.J. Morgan, known on the country music circuit by her first and middle names, tossed aside the magazine and jumped to her feet. “Mysterious disappearance, my butt! Where do they get this crap?” Scary to think Country Now was one of the reputable publications. She could only imagine what the tabloids were saying.

Crossing the room to the window, she pulled aside the faded olive drape to look out. Not that there was much to see in this wide-spot-in-the-road rural town. At a time in her life when she could finally afford to stay in posh four star hotels, it was ironic that she’d instead picked a low-rent motel off a secondary highway on a hot, still Texas plain.

“Well, hey.” A humorless laugh escaped her. “You can take the girl out of the trailer park, but there’s just no getting that trailer trash out of the girl.”

Blowing out a breath, she dropped the curtain and turned away. This wasn’t exactly what she’d planned when she’d taken off on Monday. She’d been headed for Los Angeles, a city she had never seen. It had seemed exotic, was a good long way from home and she’d figured not many of its citizens were likely to give a good goddamn where one beginning-to-make-a-name-for-herself country singer had gotten herself off to.

With thoughts of parking herself by a palm tree-shaded pool to drink her fill of fruity concoctions sporting frilly paper umbrellas, she’d driven seventeen hours straight, stopping only to stretch her legs and fill up the tank. When she couldn’t keep her eyes open to drive another mile, she’d pulled into The Wind Blew Inn, a clean but ancient motor court in the Texas Panhandle. She’d promptly fallen into bed and when she’d awakened thirty-six hours later, she’d stayed put instead of hitting the road once again. Something about this nowhere little town’s one block long main street reminded her of the never-ending series of hick towns she’d lived in growing up.

And when things go to hell, she always said, stick with the familiar.

Her stomach growled, and she realized she was hungry. What day was it, anyway—Thursday? No, God, it was Friday.

Her appetite had been nonexistent since Monday. And if that wasn’t indicative of her state of mind, she didn’t know what was. One summer a lifetime ago, she and a boy named Jared had gone hungry together on the streets of Denver. It was an experience that had hardwired her ever after not to miss another meal. Yet, except for about six gallons of coffee and the occasional candy bar grabbed when paying for her gas, she’d barely eaten a bite.

Twisting her hair up off her neck, she reached for her baseball cap and pulled it on, then donned a pair of oversized dark glasses. Slipping a handful of bills into her shorts pocket, she headed for the door.

It was hotter than usual for early June and the swamp cooler laboring in her room’s window dripped green-tinged condensation onto the concrete next to the two-step stoop outside her door. Blinking against the glare, she tugged the brim of her navy cap down and set out across the lot.

The Prairie Dog Café was a squat orange building next to Elmerson’s Feed and Seed, and P.J. pulled open its screen door to the clatter of heavy crockery, the rumble of male voices discussing crops and Lari White singing about flies on the butter from an old Wurlitzer in the corner. She stepped out of the sun into the smell of frying meat and cigarette smoke. Slipping off her dark glasses, she noticed that the only customers who didn’t have John Deere tractor caps planted firmly on their heads had straw Stetsons hooked over the back rails of their chairs.

Conversations faltered for a second, then resumed their accustomed rhythms. P.J. noted she was the only woman in the café this time of day, then shrugged the observation aside and crossed to the counter to claim one of the few vacant red vinyl swivel seats. If she’d allowed men to intimidate her in her line of work, she would’ve quit singing about the same time she’d first attempted to go professional. The truth was, she liked the company of men. She worked primarily with them-- her backup band consisted of two of the species and the roadies that set up and broke down shows and transported the equipment from city to city were almost exclusively male.

Moving aside an ashtray, she reached across the counter for a laminated menu stuck in the rear prongs of the stainless steel condiment holder.

A waitress with Sandy embroidered above the breast pocket of her pink uniform came over a few minutes later and set a glass of water in front of P.J. “What can I getcha, honey?”

She ordered a ham and swiss on sourdough and knew she should ask for it to go. But the murmur of voices was comforting to a woman accustomed to being surrounded by people, and she couldn’t quite bring herself to relinquish the sound to return to her too-quiet room.

She realized it wasn’t a smart choice, however, when Sandy said something as she clipped her order to the wheel above the pass-through to the kitchen and the short order cook immediately poked his head through the opening to give P.J. the once-over. She also caught the waitress stealing glances at her as she bustled about the room filling coffee cups and slapping down bills torn from a pad in her apron pocket. Then Mama’s Girl, P.J.’s very first recording, came on the jukebox and with an inward groan she settled a little deeper into her chair.

Coming UndoneSandy brought the bill a moment later. “That’s you, isn’t it?” she demanded with a tip of her chin toward the Wurlitzer.
P.J. could lie with the best of them and she looked the other woman straight in the eye. “Don’t I wish.” She smiled wryly. “People are always mistaking me for her. Darn shame I can’t sing a lick.”

“It’s you,” Sandy insisted. “I saw you on Austin City Limits once and I’ll never forget your speaking voice.

Damn. Didn’t it just figure that would give her away? She hated her speaking voice. It was raspy and made her sound as if she were a three-pack-a-day smoker. She’d always figured God had given her a good, strong singing voice to make amends for saddling her with such a ridiculous conversational one.

Still she insisted, “Oh, this isn’t the way I usually sound. It’s the tag end of a nasty case of laryngitis.” But recognizing a blown cover when she saw one, she left a hefty tip and headed for the door. It looked like she might see California after all.

“Pretty cold-blooded to fire your own Mama, you ask me,” the waitress called after her.

Ouch. Ouchouchouch! Given the mess with her mother earlier this week, Sandy’s parting shot was a direct hit.

“Nobody asked you,” she muttered under her breath when she was out of ear shot. Damned if she intended to make excuses to someone who didn’t know the first thing about her relationship with her mother. She stomped back to the Wind Blew Inn.

She had just zipped her suitcase closed and was looking for her flip-flops when there was an authoritative knock on the door.

She stilled, her head raised to stare at the peephole-free door. Dear Lord. Reporters already?

Then she willed herself to relax. Don’t be ridiculous, it’s probably just the manager. Even if Sandy had called someone, which was iffy, the only reporter who could have gotten here this fast would be from a local weekly, and she could be three states away by the time that edition hit the streets. She crossed to the window and lifted a corner of the curtain, trying to see who was on the other side of the door.

A tall man stood on her tiny stoop, but the angle was wrong to see more than the fact that he had wide shoulders in a navy blue t-shirt, neatly trimmed brown hair and was wearing a faded pair of jeans. His right forearm, she saw as he raised his fist to knock on the door once again, sported a long, narrow tattoo that undulated subtly with the movement. It was mostly green and almost looked like a Praying Mantis.

“Ohmigawd.”

She lunged for the door, pulling it open. The man jerked back his fist, but she barely even noticed how close it had come to her forehead. Her gaze went first to the tattoo, which was exactly what she’d expected to see, then to the man’s face. “Jared?” she whispered. “Jared Hamilton?”

“Hello, P.J.”

“Ohmigawd!” she said again. A frisson of pure pleasure buzzed along her spine and, laughter erupting, she leapt out at him, her arms snaking around his neck in a strangle-hold, her legs
wrapping around his waist. “Oh. My. God!” Leaning back, she gazed into his face. And grinned. “You sure grew up good.”

That was an understatement. He’d been good-looking at seventeen but now his features were honed in a way that made it nearly impossible to look away. Hard jaw, aristocratic nose, stern mouth with a full lower lip. His hair was still the sun-streaked brown she remembered but he wore it shorter these days. And he’d grown into his long, skinny bones. He was still tall and lean, but his shoulders were wide, his body muscular.

His fingers, which had clasped her butt with a light touch when she’d jumped him, tightened infinitesimally. A slight smile pulled up one corner of his mouth. “You grew up pretty well, yourself.”

Well. Not good-- well. Some of her pleasure dimmed. It was due to Jared that she’d worked as hard as she had in her language arts and English classes in junior high and high school, and her grammar was much better than it had been at thirteen. Not good enough, though, evidently. “Grew up good, grew up well.” She shrugged. “Not everyone has the advantage of your prep school upbringing, rich boy. Some of us are simply never gonna speak like some stick-up-the-butt banker.”

“It wasn’t a put-down, Peej.” His hands slid from her rear to her hips. “It was merely an observation. You look great.”

“Oh. Well. Thank you.” Unwrapping her legs from around his waist and loosening her choke-hold on his neck, she allowed him to set her back on her feet just inside the door. Curling her bare toes into the worn motel carpet, she tipped her head back to look up at him. “Want to come in?”

Coming Undone“Absolutely.” He stepped over the threshold.

Her native caution belatedly kicked in as she backed deeper into the room. “What on earth are you doing here? This isn’t exactly your type of accommodations.”

“I wouldn’t have thought it was yours either these days.”

His eyes were the same gray-green she remembered but no longer did the fear and worry she’d once seen reflected in them exist. Instead a watchfulness lingered in their mossy depths, a cool reserve that she had a difficult time reconciling with the boy she’d known. And she was beginning to get a bad feeling in her stomach. “What brings you to the Wind Blew Inn, Jared? How did you find me?” She inhaled sharply as sudden suspicion hit her like a bomb out of the blue. “Oh, jeez, tell me you’re not a reporter!”

“For Christ sake, Peej.” His dark eyebrows slammed together over his nose. “That would be the last occupation I’d choose!”

She’d forgotten for a moment about his own persecution by the press back in the day when he’d been the number one suspect in his father’s murder. “Of course it is. I’m sorry, J,” she said, the old nickname slipping out easily beneath the press of old memories of a time when he’d been the one person in the world who made her feel safe. “I forgot all about your dad.” But her desire to make peace only went so far and she narrowed her eyes at him. “So why are you here?”

Straightening to his full height, he met her suspicious gaze head-on. “Wild Wind Records hired me to see that you get to all your shows while you’re on tour.”

“They did what?” She couldn’t possibly have heard that correctly.

He merely looked at her, however, and her stomach went hollow. She hadn’t felt this stunned since the time one of her mother’s boyfriends had backhanded her for sassing him. “My label hired a watchdog?”

“If you care to look at it that way.”

Anger started low and slow but escalated faster than smoldering embers sprayed with kerosene. She straightened to her full if less than impressive height. “No one gets to accuse me of being irresponsible. I’ve been taking care of business as long as I can remember!”

He shrugged. “I’m merely telling you what I was hired to do.”

“Well, bully for you.” She strode back to the flimsy door, yanked it open and gave her one-time true friend a pointed stare. “It’s been a long time, Jared, and it was good to see you again. Don’t let the door hit you in the butt on your way out.” She hated that her breathing had grown so ragged she was nearly panting, and inhaling and exhaling a deep breath, she got herself back under control.

“I’ve been getting myself to gigs since I was eighteen years old,” she continued quietly. “I’m damned if I plan to blow my career now by failing to show up for the biggest concerts of my life.” It was probably unfair to hold Jared responsible for the mess she was in, but learning her label felt compelled to hire someone to ensure she showed up for her own tour was a huge slap in the face. Not to mention he was handy and she was disappointed that he’d turned out to be nothing like the boy who’d filled so many of her daydreams over the years.

He didn’t move. “Sorry, P.J,” he said, but he didn’t sound the least bit conciliatory to her. “But we signed a contract.”

“Who’s we, Bosco? I didn’t sign any contract.”

“No, but Wild Wind Records and Semper Fi Investigations did.”

“Semper Fi?” Small world. Just Tuesday she’d had occasion to mention that very name—and not in conjunction with the U.S. Marine’s motto. “The agency of that P.I who found us in Denver?”

“Yeah. You remember him? He’s my brother-in-law now.”

“Of course I remember him.” John Miglionni had been nice to her, had been, in fact, one of the first adults who’d ever treated her as if she had as much worth as anyone else on God’s green earth. But the smile that tickled the corners of her lips at the memory of the tall, dark man she remembered slid into a scowl as she stared up into the face of another long and lanky man. “You’re a private investigator, too?”

He nodded. “Yeah. We do that and personal security.”

“Huh. I thought for sure you’d be the CEO of some hoop-de-do-dah corporation by now.”

He snorted.

“Guess not. Well, how nice for you. Now go away.”

“Not gonna happen, Peej.”

She had to tip her head way back to stare up at him and frustration sizzled along her nerve endings. He was big and steely and she had zero chance of physically ejecting him from her room.

But if there was one thing she knew, it was how to bluff. So she looked him in the eye and said calmly, “Fine. Then I guess I’ll just have to call the police and let them remove you.”

He shrugged and sat in the room’s only chair. Sliding down on his tailbone, he stretched his long legs out what appeared to be halfway across the room and crossed his arms over his chest. “Go ahead.”

Crap. Like she could afford to add another indignity to the scandal that was already dogging her footsteps. But she crossed to the telephone and picked up the receiver. When Jared simply slouched deeper into his seat and watched her with cool eyes, she punched out a number she had only this week memorized.

The phone on the other end of the line picked up. “Benjamin McGrath Management Company,” said a professionally dulcet female voice.

“This is Pricilla Jayne Morgan.”

“One moment please-- I’ll connect you with Mr. McGrath,” the woman said without further ado and the line went silent as P.J. was placed on hold.

Almost as quickly, her call went through to her new manager. “P.J.” Ben McGrath said in his brisk New England accented voice. ”What can I do for you?”

“I have a situation here. There’s a man named Jared Hamilton who refuses to leave my room. He says he’s here from—“

“Semper Fi Investigations.”

Her stomach sank but she prayed that when she glanced at Jared her face didn’t show the sudden distress jittering her nerves. He was watching her with a slight frown pulling his eyebrows together.

“Do you mind?” she said coldly. “I’d like a moment of privacy.”

He climbed to his feet and walked out the door, closing it quietly behind him.

P.J. turned back to the phone. “You know? What the hell is going on, Ben?”

“You haven’t seen any of the tabloids lately, I take it.”

“No, only Country Now magazine. That was bad enough, so I was afraid to see what twist the rags might have given the story.”

“Smart girl. Wild Wind is nervous about all the publicity your mother is generating. She’s got them convinced you have a history of running away when the going gets rough. She went public with your time in Denver when you were a kid.”

What? Why would she do that? I didn’t run away back then—she threw me out!” But indignation couldn’t hold a candle to the sickness churning in her stomach. Oh, God, everyone knew. Her own mother had seen to it that everyone knew she’d lived on the streets at one time.

“I know. But Wild Wind is afraid you’re going to renege on your obligations and—“

“I’ve never reneged on a contract in my life!”

“You’re preaching to the choir, Pricilla. But you keep tying my hands by refusing to let me go on record with all the garbage your mother’s pulled. So when Wild Wind insisted on hiring a babysitter to assure you get to your concerts, all I could do was suggest who they hire. Let me go public with what really happened with your mom and—“

“No. I told you before—I’m not going to talk about that.” It was bad enough the world knew she’d been homeless for awhile. The last thing she could bear in addition was for everyone to discover that her mother had never loved her.

Ben’s sigh filtered down the line. “If you ever come to your senses I’ll put the proper spin on all the shit that’s been flying around. Until then I thought if you had to have an escort, you might at least like someone who was once good to you.”

“Right this minute, Ben, I regret telling you about him at all.” She’d only done so because he’d insisted on hearing everything that might be used against her. Revealing that time in her life had led to mention of the boy who’d kept a scared-to-death thirteen year old girl from losing all hope. That in turn had given her such a warm fuzzy rush that she’d then confided how John Miglionni and Jared’s sister Tori had rescued them.

“The truth is, I didn’t expect your old friend to be assigned to the case. A business like mine doesn’t generate the need to locate private eyes or security specialists as a rule. But when this came up I remembered you mentioning the Semper Fi Agency, and I thought it might at least be a place to start.”

Well, I guess that’ll teach me to be so damn chatty, she thought bitterly.

“I actually had the owner in mind to handle this-- figuring someone you once admired might make the situation more bearable. I didn’t know Hamilton worked there until Miglionni called to let me know how the agency planned to handle the assignment,” Ben said. “And I’m sorry for the necessity, Pricilla, but Wild Wind insists. This is your big break—“

“I thought that was when I won the Grammy.”

“That was your first break—this tour is the one that’s going to put you on the map. So I’m afraid you’re just going to have to suck it up and do what your label wants.”

She managed to hang onto her temper long enough to get off the phone, but she was seething by the time she hung up.

She’d worked one job or another since she was fifteen years old. She had been the family breadwinner more often than not, and Wild Wind dared suggest she couldn’t be trusted to show up for a series of contracted concerts?

Staring out the window, she scowled at Jared, who lounged against the wall on the shady side of the court, his hands in his pockets and one foot propped against the faded cinderblock. He had an eye on her room and catching her peering out the window, he straightened and headed across the lot.

Her spine snapped as straight and steely as a length of rebar. Enough was enough. Mama was sufficient trouble all on her own—P.J. didn’t need the embarrassment of a watchdog on top of it.

She’d had it with handlers and people telling her what to do. She wasn’t stupid—singing was the only thing she could call her own and she had every intention of showing up for her shows.

But the tour didn’t start for another week, and she needed some alone time to lick her wounds and get centered and focused before it began. She sure as hell didn’t need her one-time best friend to herd her toward her first gig like a Blue Heeler with one calf. And while it appeared she had no choice but to put up with him once the tour began, she saw no reason to tolerate his escort until then.

So let him catch up with her in Portland. Because the first opportunity she got, she was shaking Jared Hamilton from her heels like the dust of all those dinky towns she’d left behind.

 

End of Excerpt.
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