Authors: Rollins, Emme
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Who knew loving a real rock star could be so hard?
Sara is Dale Diamond's biggest fan—and one of his biggest secrets. Catapulted to fame, Dale and his band, Black Diamond, are learning to deal with the grueling realities of the music business... including frenzied groupies. Dale's agent, determined to preserve the musician's image as a sexy single man, won't let fans know he has a girlfriend.
All Dale wants is to make music and love Sara. But he's caught up in the demands of recording and touring, while Sara has graduated art school and found a job. She and her rocker boyfriend are starting down different paths. Sara knows she's the luckiest girl in the world to have Dale in her life—but luck is about to run out.
A lurking, dark past will come back to haunt them both, forcing two young lovers to face harsh realities about life and each other. When the weight of the world is on their shoulders, will Dale and Sara be able to hold it all together for the sake of their love?
By Emme Rollins
TABLE OF CONTENTS
About the Author
“Sara, where are you?” Aimee snapped her fingers and waved a hand in front of my face
“Huh?”I blinked in surprise at being caught, distracted, meeting her eyes in the mirror. I stopped picking little bits of baby’s breath off the bouquet in my lap, wiping them off the satin of my dress and onto the carpeted floor. “What? I’m here. Right here.”
Where are you?That was the question.
Where are you, Dale Diamond?
“Liar.” Aimee gave her a knowing smirk. “He’ll be here. He promised.”
“I wasn’teven thinking about Dale,” I lied.
Of course he’d promised. I’d talked to him on the phone late last night. He was already supposed to be in my arms by then, but there had been more excuses.
I know, Iknow, but they had us booked to tape some show and there was nothing I could do. I’ll catch the redeye. Don’t worry, sweetheart, I promise. I’ll be home tomorrow.
“I was thinking about you.” Ichanged the subject, getting up from my perch on the edge of the counter, putting my bouquet down—pink roses, white ribbons and baby’s breath—to join Aimee in front of the full length mirror where she stood in her wedding gown like something out of a fairy tale. “I still can’t believe you’re actually getting married.”
“More likefinally!” Aimee rolled her eyes, leaning in to check her make-up. “I’ve only been planning for two years!”
“I know, I know.” Ilaughed. “I was the one who helped you pick out the dress, remember?”
“Gorgeous isn’t it?” Aimee sighed happily, eyes shining, as she ran her hands down the ivory satin brocade front of her gown. “What will Matt think when he sees me?”
Of course Matt hadn’t seen her in her wedding gown, according to tradition. He was somewhere in the church with his bridegrooms, probably already starting in on the night’s drinking, just to take the edge off the nerves.
“He’s going to think he’s theluckiest man in the world.” I leaned over and let my lips lightly brush my best friend’s cheek, not wanting to leave a trace of lipstick or gloss. “And he is.”
Aimee sniffed, her eyes welling up andmine did too and then we were both hugging and laughing and crying a little, digging in our little clutches for Kleenex.
“Okay you two, break it up!” Wendyinsisted as she slipped into the room. Carrie followed, not far behind. They were both wearing the same dress I had on—blush satin, ruched bodice, full skirts that swept the floor when they walked. “There’s no crying before the wedding pictures!”
I felt my heart sink when Isaw the two of them—not that I didn’t love them both dearly. Next to Aimee, they had become my closest friends since we’d all managed to finally graduate from Iselin Academy, an alternative school for “non-traditional students.” The latter just meant we were dropouts, for various reasons, and had to do our time. We’d all managed to put in our hours and get our GEDs. Aimee called us the “four musketeers.” No, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to see Wendy and Carrie—it was that I’d been hoping it would be Dale.
Aimee’s eyes brightened when the door opened, meeting Carrie’s dark, heavily made-up eyes. She still managed to look a little punk, even though she’d dyed all the pink streaks out of her hair and it was piled up in short pin-curls on top of her head. Wendy, too, had cleaned up for the wedding, her longer dark hair pulled back and up into a gorgeous, intricate bun, tendrils trailing down beside her pretty, round face. They both looked like goddesses sailing in, fresh and bright with their flower bouquets clutched in their hands.
“Is it time?” Aimee’sshiny blue eyes widened. It was the first time I thought she looked really nervous.
“Not quite.” Wendy threw herself ungracefully into one of the chairs, tossing her bouquet onto the counter. “They’re still directing people to sides—his and hers.”
“Think if we got married, it would be hers and hers?” Carrie put her bouquet next to Wendy’s, edging up to sit on the edge of the counter where I had been seated moments before.
Wendy gave a short bark of a laugh.“We couldn’t get married in Vegas, let alone in a Catholic church. They’d burn it to the ground first.”
“Catholics are stupid.” Imade a face, glancing at Aimee. “No offense.”
“Matt’s the Catholic, not me.” Aimee tucked her Kleenex back into her little satin clutch. “I just converted for the wine.”
“You mean mymomis the Catholic,” Carrie interjected. Matt was her older brother, one of five—Carrie was the lone girl, and her very strict, Catholic mother had no idea her only daughter was a lesbian. “Unless it’s blessed by a priest, it didn’t happen.”
“Oh it’s happening.” Aimeeleaned in to the mirror, rubbing a finger under one eye, getting rid of a slight mascara smudge. “I’m marrying your brother and we’re going to live happily ever after.”
“Someone’s gotta live the fairy tale.” Wendy grinned. “Do you have something for all your superstitions? Old, new, borrowed, blue?”
“Of course!” Aimee scoffed.“I’ve got all the bases covered.”
Aimee proceeded to show Wendy how she intended to assure her happily ever after by appeasing some ridiculous superstition with handkerchiefs, jewelry and garters.
I took that opportunity to lean in and pose the question I was dying to ask.
“Hey, Carrie, did youhappen to see… him?”
“Sorry, doll. No sign yet.” Carrie shook her head. “But you know Dale—he loves to make an entrance, right?”
Wendy frowned, overhearing our conversation. “If he doesn’t show up, who are you going to walk down the aisle with?”
“He’ll be here,” Aimee insisted with far more confidence than I felt.
“It’s pretty close to the finish line, that’s all,” Wendy mumbled.
“Did you see my mom?” Aimee asked. “She said she was going to see if it was time yet. That was twenty minutes ago.”
Carrie nodded. “She’s out there talking to Dale’s dad.”
I glanced at the door, thinking about John—Dale’s father. Last night, I’d spent the night at Aimee’s, of course, but after we had our hair done together, we had parted ways. Aimee went back to her place, and I had gone home. The only home I had now. John had been amazing, taking me in after what I calledmy other life.He had taken me in because Dale loved me, but I knew John loved me too. He treated me like a daughter and I looked at him as a father. It was true, he already had a daughter—but never saw her. And I had a father—but I’d never even seen a picture of him.
Wehad driven to the church together, after I straightened John’s untidy tie and made sure his long, dark hair was pulled back into a neat ponytail. I remembered how we’d exchanged glances—he said was coming. He promised.But we didn’t say anything.
We’d lived together, all three of us—Dale, John and me—in a little townhouse just outside of the Rutgers’ campus, for two years. Two years of hit-and-miss Dale, but always steady, kind John. I couldn’t have asked for a better replacement father figure if I’d dreamed him up, and I was more than grateful for the man who had taken me in like a stray puppy out of a storm.
All because Dale Diamond had chosen me.
And Ihad to admit, I was still head over heels for him. Just thinking about him coming through that door, his slow, sexy smile, the dark light in his eyes when he saw me, made my heart gallop like wild horses. I imagined him taking three long strides and sweeping me into his arms, kissing me so hard my lips would bruise—not that I would care—and whispering my name again and again, as if he wasn’t quite sure I was real.
Where are you, Dale Diamond?
Outside, music began. Aimee’s head came up and she turned to look toward the sound like a deer caught in headlights, eyes widening, mouth dropping open.
“Oh my God,” she whispered, andI saw her hands tremble a little as she gripped her bouquet. “Oh my God, you guys, I’m getting married!”
“We know!”We chorused, all three of us bridesmaids half-laughing, half-crying already, as we surrounded her in a sashay show of soft pink satin support. I had never seen my best friend look more beautiful or radiant—and now, more nervous. We’d been through everything together, and she was now about to sail through to this new, uncharted territory—marriage. Living together with one person. Forever.
Ididn’t know how it was going to change our friendship and that scared me a little, but we’d been best friends since grade school. I couldn’t imagine a life without Aimee. I was thrilled for her, so much in love, so healthy and lovely and happy. It really was picture perfect, a snapshot that deserved to be saved in time.
As if on cue, the photographer came inagain—they’d done all the pre-wedding shots already—carrying a big digital camera. We didn’t really pay attention to him. We were too busy fussing over Aimee, her dress and veil and hair and make-up, as he started taking candids, but I knew these were memories the bride would look back on with a sort of gauzy, sweet fondness for the rest of her life.
A day made of perfection.
What more could you ask for in a wedding?
So why, I wondered, as I took a step back, watching Carrie and Wendy ready Aimee’s long train, did it all make me feel so sad?
Because I want Dale.
The realization was a stab to my belly. It was true. I did want him. I wanted him and I wantedthis.This together, forever, moving forward with him, starting a life. I wanted a wedding, a marriage, a start, all those things he’d promised me when he got down on one knee in front of thirty-thousand people two years ago and proposed. I looked at the ring on my hand—a tiny little diamond, but it meant so much. His promise. Our life together.
ButI couldn’t have what Aimee had. Not yet. I had to wait.
And the waiting was killing me.
“It’s time!” Aimee’s mother popped her head into the door with a stage-whisper, and I saw tears in Mrs. Wells’ eyes when she saw her only daughter turn toward her in her wedding dress, Aimee’s gorgeous red hair piled high, her cheeks as pink as her bridesmaids’ dresses. Linda Wells was a single mom, a hard-working lawyer, smart and sharp and always well-dressed, but she turned to a puddle at the sight of her baby girl about to get married.
Icouldn’t help but think of my mother and the thought made me want to cry too.
Enough,I told myself.This is Aimee’s day. Get your head out of the way.
Mytherapist would have told me it was okay to feel the feelings, whatever they were—but I couldn’t, still, a lot of the time. They felt, mostly, like they didn’t belong to me at all. Today they were far too close to the surface for comfort. I felt fragile and on edge and far too raw to be out in public, exposed and on display.
“Come here, Mom!” Aimee stretched out her hand, smiling, andMrs.Wells came in, shutting the door behind her. They touched cheeks and held hands and there were more wet eyes and whispered words and tissue, the camera snapping away. The music outside grew louder, insistent.
“It’s really time?” Aimee asked, glancing around at the circle of women.
“The boys are out there,” her mother replied. “Line up. Wendy, Carrie. Then Sara, as maid of honor. And finally, the bride. We’ll go out into the back hall and pair up before you walk down the aisle. Your father’s waiting.”
Aimee’s father was giving her away. Her parents been divorced for years and had their issues but it was funny how a wedding broke down all those barriers. I had seen them talking earlier, two people who could barely stand to be in the same room together, clasping hands, eyes bright, talking about the child they had brought into the world twenty years ago, happy for their daughter in spite of whatever had happened in between.
“Matt’s out there,” Aimee whispered.
“He’s waiting.” I nodded, thinking of Dale, who wasn’t.
Isaw a stray eyelash on Aimee’s cheek and instead of brushing it away, I plucked it up between thumb and forefinger.
“Oh, quick Sara, make a wish!” Aimee insisted. “Hurry!”
I didn’t believe in fate or superstitions or any of that stuff. But Aimee did.
Just this once, I wanted to believe too.
Mysenses were full of Dale, imagining him right there, bigger than life. The thought of him being out there, right now, waiting for me, brought gooseflesh up on my arms. Everything looked hazy and far away and I closed my eyes for a moment, making a wish, the one Aimee had taught me when we were kids, before opening my eyes and blowing the eyelash gently off my finger.
“It will come true,” Aimee urged, looking at the door. We were both thinking about what might lay beyond it for us. “I wonder what he’s thinking,”
Iknew she meant Matt, Aimee’s future husband. Her very near future husband.
“He’s going to think you look BEE-utiful!” Carrie snorted, nudging her future sister-in-law with an elbow, dredging up an old joke—the one Matt and Aimee had met over.
Icouldn’t help laughing but Aimee gave me a quelling look so I turned my face and tried to hide my smile. Aimee was irrationally terrified of bees and had made a fool of herself in front of Matt trying to get away from one. He had, like most boys, picked it up and run with it, creating the most interesting bee puns imaginable to mercilessly tease her about it.
Which only proved, of course, that he liked her after all.Just like their kindergartner teacher, Mrs. Stowe, had once told them.
In fact, Matt had liked her enough to marry her.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” Mrs. Wellsushered us toward the door, the photographer following, camera still going. There were two more photographers in the church, along with a video camera. Aimee wasn’t missing a moment of the day.
My heart dropped when Igot to the door and saw the guys in their tuxes in the hallway with their matching pink cummerbunds—two of Matt’s brothers. No Dale. It was time and he wasn’t here. The music swelled. I could feel the church, full and warm, the congregation restless, waiting for the show to begin. My belly fluttered, excited, nervous. But there was a hollow space there, a holding cell, something missing.
Dale, where are you?
Aimee’s father took her arm, whispering something into her ear, making her blush and smile. It was such a simple, sweet thing, and my heart felt like it was being torn from my chest. My father would never walk me down the aisle—if I ever made it to one.
“Oh! My bouquet!” I remembered—I’d left it sitting on the counter.
Irushed back into the room. It was quiet and still now, the bustling energy all gathered out in the hallway. My bouquet was on the counter and I grabbed it, glancing at my reflection in the mirror. It was the spot where Aimee had been standing, the bride-to-be, just moments before. My maid-of-honor dress was lovely and I smoothed it over my belly. It thankfully hid all my scars. Aimee had been very cognizant of that. Besides, Aimee had insisted there would be no half-undressed Madonnas at her wedding.
Just long, pink, flowing dresses and a perfect June wedding day.
Ihad gone early that morning to the hairdresser with Aimee—after a night sleeping over, of course, just like we used to before Tyler Vincent concerts. We’d giggled and stayed up talking just like old times, too excited to sleep much. We’ve even watched MTV, although now I was waiting to hear Dale’s music, not Tyler’s. It was Dale whose dark looks and deep blue eyes made me swoon. I’d spent so much of my adolescence on Tyler—when I looked back, it felt like a wasted life. But I knew it had served a purpose. Tyler had gotten me through some tough times. And if my obsession with rock star Tyler Vincent felt like a million years ago, it was still part of the thread of our past. And, in some ways, our future. I couldn’t just forget him, but he had faded, like so many things.
Itwirled the blond tendrils at the sides of my face, adding a little extra curl and bounce. My face was flushed, eyes bright—I looked for all the world like a happy maid-of-honor, and on the outside, that was perfect. But it was always the things hidden underneath, the darkness no one else saw, that mattered most.
The door opened.
“I’m coming!” I called, turning with my bouquet in hand, putting on my brightest face.
And it was him.
Dale slipped into the room and knocked the breath from me instantly. He wore a black tux, his hair cut short now, no longer the shaggy mess it had been when I met him. I couldn’t remember whose decision it had been—which manager or producer or publicist—but I liked the change. I could see his eyes, all that dark heat focused directly on me. It had been a month since we’d been in the same room together and here he was, finally materialized in front of me like a dream.
I wasn’t sure Iwasn’t dreaming until he spoke.
“Sara.” Just myname, but it was in his mouth, soft and full, spoken like a little prayer.
And then he was onme, just as I’d pictured it—two strides and I was in his arms, swept up into his embrace, mouth crushing mine with the force of a kiss we’d both been waiting for, longing for, dreaming about and remembering. It was like breathing again after being so long underwater you forgot where you were.
It waslike coming home.
“You’re home,”I murmured against his lips, the heat of his body burning me like a brand, even through the layers of satin, far too much fabric between us. My God, I wanted him. There was a whole world waiting out there for us, a church full of people—it was Aimee’s day, not mine—but I was so full of him in that moment I could have forgotten it all. That was what Dale Diamond did to me.
“I promised.” He nuzzledmy neck, sending delicious shivers down my arms, actually making goose bumps. I clutched at him, flowers still in my hand, arms around his neck, unable to believe he was here, real, flesh. “I told you, I’ll always come for you.”
Ismiled at his words, those sweet song lyrics he’d written just for me. They were the first single on his album, just released and doing so well on the charts it was dazzling. I heard “my” song on the radio twenty times a day, saw Dale on MTV more now than I’d ever seen Tyler Vincent back during my dark, obsessive rock star days. And still, I craved more this man.
“I couldn’t wait to come home to you,” he whispered, lips burning a trail along my neck. “I can’t think about anything but you when you’re not with me.”
“I know. Me too.”I moaned softly as his hands moving over my dress, all that flowing, slippery satin. I felt his desperation, his urgency, and met it, using my bouquet of flowers to draw his head in toward me to kiss him hard, giving me a strong, heady combination of sweet roses and Dale to fill my senses. Our tongues met and slid and our mouths and arms locked as we lost and found each other in the moment.
“Okay you two, break it up!” Carrie poked her head in, grinning.“Get a room!”
“I intend to,” Dale whispered, his hand pressed to the flat of my back, keeping me close as he turned to glance at Carrie. I could barely breathe, I wanted him so much. I tried to clear my head but Dale wouldn’t let me go.
“C’mon, we’ve got a wedding about to start out here, remember?”Wendy’s head appeared next to Carrie’s. She was grinning too.
“Right.”I took a deep breath, putting a hand on Dale’s chest and pushing him away—slightly. “Let’s go walk down the aisle, handsome. We’ll get in trouble later.”
He didn’t letme go so easily, bending his head to whisper into my ear, “Promise?”
“With you?” I smiled, twirling away from him in my dress. I felt lighter than air. “That’s always a promise.”
He grinned, following me out the door.
“I can’t wait to get you home.” Dale pressed his lips to my ear and I shivered, toes curling in my matching dyed-pink heels as his mouth trailed down my exposed neck, forcing me to tilt my head sideways. His hands wandered down the satin back of the dress, stopping at the large pink bow in back, giving it a gentle tug. “And out of this dress.”
“Shhh, Dale.”I giggled, but I didn’t really mean it as he tugged harder, finding it sewn on, just for decoration.
There were bodies dancing all aroundus toI’ll Be Loving Youby New Kids on the Block. It was number one on the charts for weeks in June of 1989—I’d started paying close attention to the Billboard Charts again just like I had back when I was obsessed with rock star Tyler Vincent. I was hoping Dale’s band, Black Diamond, was going to rock that insipid little boy band out of the lead.I Will Always Come For Youhad climbed the charts like a rocket and was holding at number eight.
Things were finally winding down. Dinner had been sit-down and becauseI was in the bridal party, I was seated with the rest of the bridesmaids, a solid row of pink. As maid of honor, I sat next to Aimee, who kept groaning and rolling her eyes during dinner because the clatter of knives rapping on champagne glasses kept interrupting the meal, signaling the bride and groom to kiss.
“My lips are going to be chapped!” Aimee had protested, but shehadn’t looked truly unhappy when she turned her face to Matt’s.
After that,everyone mingled. The DJ played everything from Paula Abdul’sStraight Upto Tone Loc’sWild Thingand Dale pulled me onto the dance floor and wouldn’t let me go. Being on a dance floor with Dale Diamond was like sex and it gave us both an excuse to touch. We clung to each other during the slow songs and dirty danced our way through the fast ones, only we were far worse than Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey had been in the movie. We even dirty danced through that song—The Time of My Life—Dale’s body propelling me around the dance floor like I was attached to him, my pelvis locked with his.
Ihad insisted on going over to see the cutting of the cake—both because I didn’t want to miss it and because I was so turned-on I thought everyone must be able to tell. I had to have a little break or Dale was going to make me come for him right there on the dance floor! So we’d watched the newlyweds cut the three-tiered columned wedding cake decorated with—of course—pink roses.
Aimee hadtold me that Matt was planning to get her face full of cake when they fed each other bites of the first-cut piece, but she got him first, smearing it all down his chin. I had never understood that tradition, but they looked like they were enjoying themselves, licking cake off their fingers—and each other.
Then it was back onto the dance floor with Dale and the endless torture of his lean, hard body againstmine, the musky, masculine smell of him filling my nostrils, the sweet sound of his voice as he sang along to his song—my song. They were playing it, I WillAlways Come For You.My wish had come true—he was here in my arms, this close—yet neither of us could really do what we wanted to. The dance was just a slow, hot tease, heightening my senses and making me dizzy with lust.
The music changed andI lifted my head from Dale’s shoulder in surprise.
“Chicken dance!” Carrie exclaimed, hooking her hands under her armpits, elbows out, flapping her “wings.”
“I think we can sit this one out.” Dale laughed, taking my hand and leading me off the floor. As more people crowded on to do the goofy, traditional chicken dance, Dale pulled me past the tables decorated with pink and white roses as centerpieces, out of the room and down a quiet hallway.
“Where are we going?”I whispered although there was no one there to hear me.
Instead of answering, Dale turned and pressed me to the wall, instantly taking my breath away. His mouth coaxed mine open—not that I needed much coaxing—and I wrapped my arms around his neck, feeling his thigh slide snuggly between mine, a perfect fit. His hands moved over my dress with a frustrated urgency, as if fabric was something new and foreign to him, something that just shouldn’t exist between the two of us. And I couldn’t have agreed more.
“Dale!” Igasped when he broke the kiss to trail his mouth down over my collarbone, his hands cupping my breasts through the slippery material. My nipples were so hard they hurt. I ached all over, wanting him, feeling suddenly inadequate to fill his urgent need. Dale eclipsed everything. He gave off a kind of energy everyone noticed, but when he was like this, nuzzling and rutting against me, growling things that might have been words, once, against my skin, he was like a caged animal pacing back and forth, his gaze never leaving his prey.
“What if someone comes,” Iwhispered, imagining one of Aimee’s prim out-of-state aunts wandering down this hallway, catching me with my dress halfway up and Dale’s hands roaming over my bodice.
“I don’t care.” His words were muffled inmy cleavage, his breath hot against my skin. I slid my hands through his hair, still marveling at how short it was now. He was like a different person without his ragtop shock of dark hair always falling over his eyes. Now I could see the dark heat in them when he lifted his face to mine, capturing my mouth again in a kiss that sent hot, white tingles through me, like shooting stars, traveling like lightning through my veins.
He forcedme harder against the wall, reaching down and grabbing me by the hips, lifting me so our bodies were matched, even, his pelvis pressed into mine. I clasped his waist between my thighs, hanging on for dear life as if his kiss was a wild roller coaster and I the only rider. This was the energy he gave out on stage in front of thousands—soon to be hundreds of thousands—of people. But here, it was all for me and I drank it in like sweet liquid after a thousand mile trek across a desert.
“Oh God, Sara, I want you so fucking bad,” he whispered againstmy lips. I felt how much he wanted me, in spite of all the fabric between us. “Can we please just go now?”
Imoaned, feeling his hips shift, pressing harder, if that was even possible, between my open thighs, and almost gave in. But I glanced down the hallway and saw someone coming out of the dining room, where Aimee and Matt’s reception was still going on.
“After she throws the bouquet.”I could barely get the words out—he had his full weight against me, and it was alarmingly delightful.
Now it was his turn to groan. “You promise?”
“Well, Matt has to throw the garter,” I replied, smiling as he lifted his head, his cheeks as flushed as mine felt. I touched that sweet little dimple in his chin, remembering the very first time I’d done that, and how long I’d thought about doing it before it ever happened—before Dale had been mine. “And then the guy who catches it has to put it on the girl who caught the bouquet.”
“Haven’t they outlawed that tradition yet?” His gaze had dipped down again tomy cleavage. I wasn’t outrageously blessed in that department, but the dress, and the bra underneath it, did wonders. “Didn’t Carrie and Wendy say it was sexist?”
Ilaughed, remembering that conversation. Both girls had been adamant that it wasn’t so much the bouquet and garter throwing part—whoever caught it, according to superstition, would be the next person married—it was the girl who caught the bouquet sitting in a chair in the middle of the dance floor and the guy who caught the garter sliding it higher and higher and higher up her leg while the DJ played some sort of stripper music. That last part was sexist, they insisted, and should be outlawed. Dale obviously agreed, although his reasoning wasn’t quite the same, I was sure of it.
“Aimee insisted. It’s really just harmless fun”I felt him letting me go, relenting, and I planted a soft kiss on his cheek as he set me on her feet again. I clung to him anyway. I was still too dizzy to stand up straight. Dale took a deep breath, kissing the top of my head, all arranged in curls.
“Let’s go see if we canmove them along.” He took my hand and led me back down the hallway, head down, like a bull charging a matador. I stumbled after him, trying to keep up—he was in an awful hurry! I was out of breath by the time we turned the corner and went back into the room.
“Dale!”I laughed, tugging on the sleeve of his coat. I still couldn’t get over how handsome—and different—he looked in a tux. “Slow down!”
He stopped so abruptly Ialmost ran into him. Then he turned and took me into his arms. The moment our eyes met, everything else melted away in a sea of white and pink around the edges of my vision. Aimee had made sure her pink and white theme carried through from the church to the hall. There was a huge display of decorative pink and white balloons behind the head table, near where they stood. Dale had teased Aimee all night that he was going to use them for dart practice.
“If I don’t get my hands on you in the next hour, I’m going to take you right there on the head table.” Dale whispered this intomy ear and I felt a deep, crimson heat fill my cheeks. I laughed nervously, feeling his arms tighten around me. “I’m not kidding.”
“Okay, Mr. Impatient.”I smiled, twisting out of his arms and twirling away. Like I was any more patient? But I didn’t tell him that. “I’ll go see what I can do.”
Ireached the head table, where Aimee and Matt sat, heads bowed, talking. It was such a sweet, intimate moment, I didn’t want to break it up. Then I remembered Dale’s whispered words and they propelled me forward.
“Hey, Aims.” I leaned on the table in front of them. “Are you guys doing the bouquet toss soon?”
“In a hurry to get somewhere?” Aimee looked up, raising her eyebrows, but she was grinning. She knew exactly whyI’d asked.
“Well… you know…” AndI thought my cheeks couldn’t get any more red.
“I’ll go find the photographer.” Matt stood, looking down at his bride. She looked stunning in all that white satin, her cheeks rosy from dancing. Even with her veil slightly askew—the headbandsecuring it had slipped—she was just gorgeous. “I think he’s out there mingling and taking candids.”
“You look gorgeous,”I said, voicing my thoughts as I came around the table, taking the seat Matt had vacated. The rest of the bridesmaids were out dancing to Cyndi Lauper’sGirls Just Wanna Have Fun.As always, I scanned the room for Dale. He’d been waylaid by his father. John leaned his head in close to Dale so he could be heard over the music.
“You look like you’ve been making out in the hallway.”Aimee reached up and straightened her veil. “This damned thing.”
Igaped at her, the blush spreading down my cheeks to her throat.
“Wendy saw you leave.” Aimee laughed, seeing the shocked expression on my face. “She peeked.”
“Oh God.”I reached out to help Aimee secure her veil because no self-respecting maid of honor would let the bride walk around like that. I finally got the veil straight—there were little combs with teeth that grabbed onto her hair. “Did anyone else see?”
“I don’t think so.” Aimee shrugged. “Besides, who cares? Everyone’s drunk and having a good time. I can’t wait to get into the hot tub.”
Ilaughed. Aimee and Matt were staying at a hotel for one night. Their flight to St. Bart’s left in the morning and they would be gone for a full two week honeymoon. Matt knew the boss, so he’d been able to get the time off—he worked at his dad’s accounting firm.
“So what are you and Mr. Rockstar going to dotonight?” Aimee smirked like she knew exactly what we were going to do.And she’s probably right.Aimee and Matt were going to have wedding-night sex, but I thought nothing could beat homecoming sex. Every time Dale had to travel for an extended period, the sexual tension between them built up, like a pressure cooker, the temperature rising and rising until it finally burst the moment they touched again.
“He says he can’t wait to get me out of this dress.”I blushed at the memory of his words, meeting Aimee’s eyes.
“Funny, Matt said the same thing about mine!”
We both laughed, exchanging a knowing look. Aimee could practically read my mind and vice versa, we’d been friends so long. I sat back in my chair, looking around the room we’d planned to the last detail while we lolled around on Aimee’s living room floor, eating popcorn and watching MTV. We went through hundreds of Brides magazines, cutting out the perfect centerpiece, the perfect dress, creating the perfect wedding. I couldn’t believe it had actually all gone according to plan.
Icouldn’t help but think of how far we’d come in the last two years. We didn’t talk about it much anymore, but that last dark year of high school had impacted them both enough that graduation had to be put off. But I wasn’t sorry about that, not anymore. If I hadn’t attended Iselin Academy, we would never have gotten close to Carrie and Wendy. Aimee never would have met Carrie’s brother, Matt.
And Sara never would have met Dale Diamond.
That was something she just couldn’t imagine.
Aimee was theone who believed in fate and superstition and magic. I didn’t quite believe, but I sometimes did them anyway, wishing on an eyelash or a shooting star, hoping Aimee was right and the world might really deliver things that were kind and good. I had hope because the universe or God or whatever force it was that moved the world had delivered Dale Diamond to me. For that alone, I would be forever grateful.
“Time to throw your bouquet!” Carrie rushed up to the table carrying a smaller version of Aimee’s bouquet. Aimee’s was so big and full, sitting on the table in front of her, it looked like a showpiece. “I’m gonna catch it!”
“Oh no you’re not!” I bolted around the table, reaching for it, butCarrie held it out of my reach. She was five inches taller than me on a day when shewasn’twearing four inch heels. All of the Green kids were tall.
“Okay, okay.” Aimee laughed, swishing around the end of the table. Her train was all bustled up but she swished when she walked because there was so much fabric. “Give it to me, you vultures, and line up with the rest of the girls!”
Carrie reluctantly handed over the flowers. The DJ was doing his thing, calling out, “All the single ladies onto the dance floor. It’s your chance to catch the bouquet and see if you’ll be the next lucky lady to catch her man!”
All the girls squealed and jostled for position. I reached down and pulled off my heels, standing there in my nylons, the floor cold, but I didn’t care. I tossed my shoes aside and saw Dale standing there with his dad. Dale had his arms crossed over his chest, a bemused look on his face as he watched all the drama. John just winked at me.
“Watch my shoes!”I pointed to them and John reached over and picked them up.
A fewgirls saw my strategy and started taking off their shoes too. Carrie was next to me and the taller girl didn’t unstrap her four-inch heels. Hers was clearly a treetop strategy. She could see over all their heads and her arm’s reach was freakishly long, probably twice mine.
“Are you ready?” the DJ called.
Girls screeched and elbowed each other in front of me. I went up on my tiptoes, trying to see and then saw my chance. I moved a little to the left, behind one of the junior bridesmaids—Aimee’s cousin, Lauren. She was just ten, but the important thing was, she was short and I could see over her head.
The DJ began the countdown.
“On three!” he said. Aimee gave him a nod, holding the bouquet over her head and glancing back over her shoulder, looking at the gaggle of girls waiting to jump for it.
My heart raced. It was stupid. Just a superstition. I didn’t even believe in superstitions.
It didn’t mean anything if I didn’t catch it. It didn’t mean Dale wasn’t going to marry me. And even if I did catch it, that didn’t mean anything either.
The bouquet sailed through the air, pink and white ribbons fluttering madly, and I could have sworn I had never wanted anything quite so badly in my life. The trajectory was skewed to my left, which was good—it was away from Carrie’s long arm, which stretched in front of me, barring my way. So I ducked under it, elbowing Lauren aside and grabbing the hanging ribbons, tugging the bouquet toward me.
I got it!
I had it, for a moment. The ribbons were clenched tightly in my fist and I yanked on them, realizing there was some resistance. It was Lauren. She had hold of the handle underneath. But I wasn’t going to let a ten year old who had at least another decade to wait before marriage win this little tug of war.
“Gimme it!” Laurensnarled.
“No way, kid!” Igrowled right back, grabbing the handle underneath, above the younger girl’s grip, and I yanked it free. “This is mine!”
Iheld it up in triumph and the crowd cheered. Lauren pouted, crossing her arms over her chest, but Aimee came over to put an arm around the girl.
“You’ve got a long way to go beforeyou’re really ready to catch a bouquet,” Aimee said with a laugh, nudging her young cousin. The girl gave her a reluctant smile. “Besides, you know what happens next?”
The girl shook her head.
“Matt throws the garter and whoever catches it gets to put it on the girl who caught the bouquet.”
“What’s a garter?”
Aimee leaned down to whisper in her ear.
“See, aren’t you glad Sara caught it instead?”
It suddenly occurred to me that Iwas going to have to sit in the chair the DJ was unfolding in the middle of the dance floor.
Daledidn’t look very happy about me catching the bouquet when I joined them, taking my shoes back from John and slipping them on.
“I caught it.”I held it up, triumphant, although now I felt a little sheepish, seeing that look on Dale’s face. “What? What did I do?”
“No way.” Dale shook his head as the girls dispersed, laughing and talking. The DJ was calling for all the single men to come out onto the dance floor. “There is no way another guy is going to…”
He couldn’t even finish the sentence. His jaw clenched and unclenched as he looked out over the dance floor at the gathering of guys, like he was sizing them up, getting ready to do battle.
He looked down at his waist, reaching around and unhooking the pinkcummerbund that had come with the tuxedo. All the guys in the wedding party were wearing them.
He handed the pink band of material to his father and John took it, shaking his head.
That was the first timeI realized Dale was wearing a belt—his belt—under his cummerbund. It was black and studded and had belonged to his father. Not John, but Dale’s real father. I still couldn’t believe John didn’t know that Dale—and Dale’s sister Chrissy, who lived in Maine with her mother—wasn’t really his. I understood why Dale kept it a secret, but I didn’t like it. If it were me, I would want to know. Sometimes I wondered if Dale might harbor the belief that if John found out, he wouldn’t love his son anymore.
I knew that was impossible. John loved me, and I wasn’t his real daughter. If he ever discovered the truth, I knew he would still love Dale and think of him as he always had—as his son.
“Dale.” I leaned in closer, touching his forearm. “It’s okay, really. I—”
He turned and kissedme, crushing his lips against mine. He had me by the upper arms, holding my whole body against him and then just as quickly as it had happened, he let me go. I almost stumbled, but John was there to catch my arm.
“You’remine.”That’s all he said before he turned and stalked over to the laughing, joking group of guys who were, I had just noticed, all fixated on me. Of course, because I was going to be the one sitting in that folding chair, pulling up the hemline of my dress, so one lucky gentleman could slide the white garter with the blue bow up, up, up, my leg, until…
“He’s just Fred Flintstone to your Wilma, isn’t he?” Aimee laughed, joining them.
She’d overheard Dale’s emphaticyou’re mine.Aimee liked to joke that Dale would drag me around by the hair like a Neanderthal if he had his way. It wasn’t like that, but it was hard to explain.
Matt and Aimee loved each other, butI’d watched them as a couple for two years and realized it was different than what I had with Dale. They joked and teased each other, they held hands and Matt always kissed her goodbye and said I love you, but their energy wasn’t the same as ours. Aimee and Matt’s love was the tropical beach kind with sunshine and palm trees and white sand—not unlike the place they’d decided to honeymoon together.
Ourlove was more like a hurricane. Category five.
“You probably should have let the ten year old have it.”John shook his head again, wearing the same bemused smile I’d seen on Dale when I rushed off into trouble to catch the bouquet. “They would have cancelled the garter toss.”
“Probably,” Iagreed with perfect 20/20 hindsight vision.
The DJ was getting to the counting stage. Dale was waiting.I could almost see how tense his limbs were under that tux, like he was ready to burst through the material itself. He was like a cat waiting to pounce, focused on his target but still paying full attention to his periphery—and his competition.
I closed myeyes and sent up a little prayer to… whoever…
If you’re up there, or out there, or wherever,whatever you are, will you please just let him catch it because… because he loves me… and he wants to protect me… and he’s right, I am his. I belong, heart and soul, to Dale Diamond, for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health, all those things they said in the vows today. Even if I never get to say them in a church, they’re all true. I’ve said them all in my heart. I am his and I don’t want any other man to ever come between us again.
Iopened my eyes, whispering a little, “Amen,” as the DJ started to count to three.
Dale’s eyes widened, focused on the garter. Matt was very tall—he played basketball in high school, all the Green boys did—so it was easy to see the target.
Matt waved the garter back and forth and Dale’s eyes followed it like a big cat watching its prey zig zag in hopes of getting away.
A sea of black suits and tuxes fell onto each other reaching for one little bit of white satin.
“I can’t look.”I turned and buried my head against John’s shoulder. “Tell me when it’s over.”
Please, please, please, just let it be him, let it be Dale, please…
“I got it!”
That wasn’t Dale’s voice.
My eyes flew open and I saw Steven, one of Matt’s brothers, holding his fist up high in the air—and he was tall, like Matt, so that fist wasreallyhigh in the air. And still Dale stayed focused on his target. He jostled guys aside to get to Steven.
“We have a winner!” the DJ announced. “If thelittle lady and the lucky man would step over to the chair please.”
The chair.I looked at it, sitting alone in the middle of the dance floor as the guys started to disperse, slapping Steven on the back and making wisecracks about copping a feel and how high could he go? I took a step toward the chair, glancing over at Dale, and then looked back to the chair. It stood waiting. I felt like I was walking to the electric chair, not a little metal fold-up from the hall’s basement.
“Come on, don’t be shy!” the DJ called. Other girlspressed around me, the ones who hadn’t caught the bouquet, urging me toward the chair. I took another step, looking over at Dale. He was saying something to Steven, who was so tall Steven had to lean down to hear him. Music played. Keep Your Hands to Yourselfby the Georgia Satellites was apparently the song choice for copping a feel. Ironic.
“You don’t have to.” Aimee’s voice, behind me. “Really, you don’t.”
But the crowd was gathering, this time near the chair. Everyone wanted to see the show andI was the star.
“Dale,”I called, but it only came out as a squeak. The crowd pushed and pulled me, getting its way. I couldn’t fight the momentum. I managed another, “Dale!” louder this time, but I’d lost sight of him, somewhere behind me.
ThenI was sitting on the folding chair, everyone looking at me.
This isn’t happening.
I closed my eyes, wishing it away. How many times had I done that? Sometimes it even worked. My mind flashed back to the last time a man touched me when I hadn’t wanted him to. I had willed it away. Granted, Steven was harmless and I knew he wouldn’t overstep his bounds. He was certainly nothing compared to the stepbeast. I shivered, remembering, trying to unremember everything with my words.
This isn’t happening. This isnothappening.
I couldn’t stop shiveringlike I was cold, but the room was actually warm from all the body heat and the candles on the tables.
“You ready for this?”
I gasped, opening my eyes.
“Got it.” He grinned, holding up the garter.
Ididn’t bother asking how. Matt’s brother had obviously conceded, and the garter—along with the garter-holder’s responsibilities—now rested with Dale. He held it up, stretching it, wiggling his eyebrows and ogling as I slid the hemline of my skirt slowly upward. Everyone was watching, laughing at Dale’s antics. He pulled the garter back like a rubber band, making a show of taking aim, and let it go. It hit my chest and fell into my cleavage.
“Nice hit!” someone called out.
“Now go get it, boy!”
“With your mouth!”
Okay that was enough. I blushed and threw it back to him.
“Are you gonnaplay with it or are you gonna put it on her?”
All the voicesblended together. I couldn’t differentiate one from the other. And I couldn’t focus on anything but Dale on one knee in front of me. It was the proposal stance and my breath caught as he looked up at me, garter in hand. I hadn’t seen him do this since the night Black Diamond won MTV’s Battle of the Bands, the night our lives changed forever. It was also the night he proposed, just like this, on one knee in front of thirty thousand people, holding out a velvet box and asking me to marry him.
Iwas still wearing the ring. I never took it off.
Dale grabbed my left foot, sliding myshoe off, letting it clatter to the floor. He tickled my instep and I giggled, pointing my toes as he slipped the garter over my foot.
“Higher!” the DJ called, encouraging the crowd—not that they needed encouragement.I was starting to lean toward Wendy and Carrie’s assessment of this ridiculous tradition. It was beyond sexist—it bordered on obscene. Of course, Dale wasn’t helping. Every time he moved the garter up when they yelled, “Higher!” he would lean down and plant a kiss there, first the top of my foot, then my ankle, now my shin. I was only peripherally aware of the photographer circling us, getting pictures for posterity. Great, we would forever be captured in Aimee’s wedding book like this, me blushing with Dale’s hand up my dress.
Just below my knee. Could he feel me trembling? I met his eyes and saw the heat there. We would go home after this. I had promised. The look on his face told me we might not even make it to the parking lot, let alone home.
His lips brushed my leg, just above my knee. He held my calf in one hand, cradling it as he moved his way up my thigh, inching his body between them.
“Dale!”I whispered, glancing around at the overly interested crowd.
“Higher! Higher! Higher!”they called.
Another inch, two, three.My skirt was almost all the way up, the garter pushed up to mid-thigh.
His mouth on my inner thigh. Oh my god. Not here.
Iclosed my eyes and felt my sex clench in response, wanting him, goose flesh spreading, nipples hardening as his mouth traveled up and up.
“Okay, let’s have a round of applause for our lucky lady and gentleman,” the DJ interrupted. The crowd grumbled, but the DJ kept talking. “Let’s have everyone in a circle for the hokey pokey!”
Ilooked down at Dale as kids flooded the stage, dragging their inebriated parents along. Bridesmaids grabbed their husbands or their groomsman. The floor started filling up around us.
“Mine.” Dale whispered, grabbingmy hands and kissing the top of each one before standing and pulling me with him.
“Do you want to do the hokey pokey?”I put my arms around his neck, standing on one foot—the one that still had a shoe. The other was still on the floor.
“Is it anything like hanky panky?” He grinned, drawing me closer. “If it is—”
“Comewith me.” A low voice behind us made me startle in Dale’s arms. I turned to look, seeing a tall, bearded man who was built like a brick wall, even in a tux.
“Russell, what’s up?” Dale held me even tighter as I turned in his arms to face the giant. I’d never seen him before. “Sara, this is one of my… I guess, bodyguard is the best word. Russell, this is Sara.”
“Introductions later.” The big guy took a step toward us, grabbing Dale’s arm. “We’ve got to go.”
“What’s up?” Dale asked again, his brow furrowed. “Is something wrong?”
“We were just leaving anyway,” I said. “Just let me get my purse and my other shoe and I have to say my goodbyes—”
That’s whenI heard it from across the room.
“There he is! That’s Dale Diamond!”
Ifelt Dale’s muscles tense instantly and before I knew what was happening, the bodyguard, Russell, pushed us in the opposite direction. I tried to protest—my purse, my other damned shoe!—as I hobbled along wearing just one heel. I couldn’t keep up this way. I glanced behind us, seeing a crowd of people—all girls as far as I could tell, none of them dressed for a wedding. They were coming after us all right. Running after us, more like it. The girl out in front looked familiar and I even hesitated for a moment, trying to remember where I’d seen her.
That’s when Dalegrabbed me, twisting his body down and sideways for a moment so he could pick me up in a fireman’s carry. Then I was draped over his shoulders as Russell and Dale ran across the dance floor, breaking the hokey-pokey line where they were just putting their left foot in.
“To the left!” Russell insisted, guiding Dale. “Emergency door. I can take her if you want.”
“No.” Dale turned and hit the door with his hip. I read the red letters upside down—EMERGENCY EXIT ONLY ALARM WILL SOUND. And they weren’t kidding. It drowned out everything, the music, even the girls screaming and chasing after them. It blared out in bursts, so we heard waves of sound.
You put your—
And shake it all about.—
“Up the hill.” Russellhadn’t even broken a sweat. He pushed Dale to move faster, but of course he had the extra weight of me on his shoulders. “Limo’s waiting.”
I took huge gulps of the night air. It was cool, but not cold. I gasped as Dale jostled me, almost losing his footing.
“Sorry,” he gasped. “Damneddress shoes. Slippery. Grass is wet.”
It hadn’t rained, but the hall was also a golf course and they had likely had the sprinklers running.
“I can walk,” I insisted. “You don’t have to carry me.”
“Left, left!”Russell guided him. I heard the crackle of a walkie talkie.
“Do you have the package?” came through on the radio.
“All tied up with a nice pretty bow,” Russell replied. I could see him far better than I could see Dale.
“Ever think you’d be running from rabid fans?”He winked at me.
“I hope they don’t bite.”I couldn’t see them in the dark but I could hear them. Had they made it through the door before it was shut? The alarm wasn’t sounding anymore.
The radio crackled. “The eagle’s ready to fly.”
“Ten-four.” Russellsaid into the radio as they crested the hill.
Istrained to see as Dale mostly slid down the wet grass in his dress shoes, taking me with him. There was a limo in the parking lot, the back door open, driver waiting. He was holding a walkie talkie.
Dale had to put me down, which he did. Iwobbled—still wearing only one heel. He pressed me into the limo, climbing in behind.
“Thank you, Russell!” I called, leaning over to wave to him.
“All in a day’s work.” He grinned, giving me a half-salute.
“I guess this means you’re really famous,”I said, glancing at Dale.
That’s whenI saw them coming down the hill we’d just traversed. How many? Fifty? At least! I turned to Dale as Russell shut the door and the limo began to pull away.
“Poor Aimee!”I saw them through the tinted glass. They weren’t stopping. In fact, the crowd picked up speed when they saw the limo leaving.
Itwisted in my seat to look out the back. Three girls were out front, calling after them, the rest bringing up the rear. One of the three looked familiar.
“I think I know her.”I frowned. “I think she was one of Aimee’s friends from high school. Laura? Something. Oh, Lisa! She was there when you played that show at the mall. Do you remember?”
“When I pulled you on stage?”He pulled me into his lap and I straddled him, my dress riding up.
“Mmm yes.”I traced his full, pouty lips with my finger.
“And almost… kissed… you…”With each word he brushed his lips near mine.
“Almost!” I groaned. “You were such a damned tease. So mean. Making me wait and wait…”
“Was it worth it?”His lips almost, almost touching mine.
“Beyond,” I whispered.
Then he kissed me, his mouth slowly slanting, teasing mine open for him. I surrendered completely in his arms, his kiss the only thing in the universe that mattered, now and forever. His lips were so soft and full, his tongue deliciously thrilling, sliding along my teeth, playing with my tongue.
His hands moved down my waist, my hips, following the lines and curves of my body. He caressed the outside of my thighs, my calves, still encased in nylon.
He blinked at me when we stopped for breath and asked, “Hey, where’s your other shoe?”
“I told you! It’s still on the dance floor! And my purse!”I cried.
“I’llhave the driver call the hall,” Dale shook his head, smiling. “They’ll keep them for us.”
“Aimee will probably hold onto them. If she’sstill talking to me after this,” I added, sliding off his lap onto the seat beside him. He didn’t want to let me go too far and pulled my legs over his as I stretched out on the bench seat.
“Well, atleast we gave them a good show,” Dale said, sliding his hand up to locate the garter.
“You always give them a good show,” I said proudly. Then I sat up, remembering, exclaiming, “Your dad!”
“Where I’m taking you tonight.”Dale smiled.
“You’re taking me somewhere?”
“Where?” I asked.
“You know I have to work in the morning,” I reminded him.
“You cancall in.” Dale shrugged one shoulder, still playing with the garter on my thigh.
“Josh is counting on me. We have a really big order of—”
Now his fingers were moving higher than the garter, seeking the heat between my thighs. He rubbed me gently, his smile never wavering, his eyes locked with mine.
“Well…” I swallowed and moaned softly when he rubbed me just a little bit faster. “Mmm…maybe I can go in late.”
Hereached for me, and I went to him, arms around his neck as he kissed me back onto the seat, stretching out next to me, his thigh between mine. We kissed like we hadn’t seen each other in years, desperate, longing kisses that did nothing to really put out the fire. In fact, it just added more fuel.
“I missed you so much, Sara,” he murmured against my neck. “When I’m away from you it’s like I can’t take a full breath. It’s like I’m drowning and you’re my life raft.”
“You’re so sweet.” I cradled his head in my hand as he kissed his way down my cleavage. “There’s a song in there somewhere…”
He chuckled. “You know me too well.”
“You missed me?” I asked. “You thought about me every day?”
“Every minute…” He assured me with kisses all over the tops of my breasts. “Every second.”
His hands were working my skirt up, up. He glanced down at his handiwork with a deep sigh.
“You’ve got sexy damned legs.”
“Do I?”I looked down, pulling my dress up even higher to look.
“Don’t do that.”
“Do what?” I pulled my skirt up almost to my hips.
“Sara…”There was a warning in his voice, in his eyes
“Can he see us?”
“Good.” I grabbed his hand and slid it under the elastic of my pantyhose. He curled his fingers around my sex, his palm over my pubic bone, rocking gently.
“Tease,” he groaned as his fingers slid through the slippery seam of my sex.
“Me?” I gasped, shifting my hips. “Oh that’s so good…”
I kissed him, sliding my tongue along his lips, desperate for him.
“Is it going to be a long ride?” I asked.
Dale sighed. “Not long enough.”
“Then I guess this is the best we can do for now,” I whispered, rubbing the heel of my hand through the thin material of his trousers, feeling him, hard and wanting me.
“For now.” He groaned, his hips rocking with my motion. “Oh God, this is torture.”
It was—the very best kind of torture. We continued to tease and torture each other to the brink of insanity, igniting that pure, animal lust that took over our bodies and minds whenever we were together.
Then the limo pulled up to our destination and I sat up and straightened my dress, my hair, and prayed that wherever we were, it had a nice, soft bed and plenty of water.
Because we were going to need them.
When the driver opened the door to the limo, Dale got out first, holding his hand out for me. I took it, my remaining shoe in my hand as I walked barefoot—well, almost, I was wearing nylons—into the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria hotel.
“Dale, you didn’t.” But of course, he had.
I had a rush of déjà-vu as we stood at the counter, checking in. We had just been talking about first times in the limo, and here we were at the Waldorf Astoria, the place he had brought me two years ago. It had been the first night we’d ever spent together. Dale was recreating it, from the limo ride to the hotel.
“Same room?” Iasked, watching Dale sign the paper the desk clerk put in front of him.
Dale just smiled andthat little dimple his cheek appeared, making him look even more mischievous. He slid the paper over to the desk clerk, an older man, tall with almost white-blond hair he slicked back. He wore round wire-rimmed glasses and he peered over them at me.
“It’s not Halloween,” the desk clerk remarked.
“Huh?”I cocked my head at him, questioning.
“I assume you’re Cinderella?”He pointed to the shoe in my hand.
“Oh no, I’ve already found my Prince Charming.” I laughed and hooked my arm through Dale’s.
“Iassume everything’s ready?” Dale inquired, slipping his wallet into his suit jacket pocket and glancing at the desk clerk.
“Everything you asked for, Mr. Diamond. Have a glorious stay.”
“Oh we will,” I agreed as Dale led me toward the elevators.
Before I’d met Dale, my only experience of a hotel had actually been an old Howard Johnson’s down in Florida. The owners had converted and re-named itThe Lookout Motel, although I hadn’t found the scenery—a set of railroad tracks complete with a train that went by at 4 a.m. next to a self-serve storage facility—much to look out at. I thought maybe they had meant something else, like “Lookout for cockroaches!” and, in the case of the shower, “Lookout for inconsistent water temperature!”
That had been before, whenmy mother was alive. It was the only family trip I remembered taking and, as usual, it had been spoiled by the stepbeast and his incessant drinking. They drove down from New Jersey to visit my mother’s family, although there weren’t many left. Her mother had been an only child, her father had just one brother, and my grandparents were both dead before I turned five. It was a cousin’s wedding, which I found boring at the age of thirteen, but I was unbelievably excited at the prospect of visiting Disney World. The stepbeast had promised we could go.
Of course, he broke that promise. The night after the weddingI went to bed nearly vibrating with excitement. The next day was Disney World! When my eyes finally closed, my body having reached its peak of exhaustion, I didn’t remember anything until early the next morning when I woke and found myself face to face with a mouse. It was sitting there cleaning itself right in front of my face.
Of course, Iscreamed. My hand jerked involuntarily, moving to shoo it away, and only succeeded in flattening it between my hand and the wall. The panicked mouse bit my thumb and tore off running along the side of the cot to the edge and then dropped down onto the television stand, disappearing behind the box.
Myscream woke my mother and the stepbeast, who was very sluggish and hung-over and yelled obscenities as he tore the room apart looking for the elusive mouse. When he couldn’t find it, he called me a fucking liar and said my punishment for lying—he accused me of getting them up early so we could go to Disney World sooner—was a trip back home. Right then. He made my mother pack while he took a shower and then made us both load the car while he checked out ofThe Lookout Motel.
Wedrove away just as the sun was coming up over the horizon. I remembered my mother saying, “Pete, she could get rabies. I saw the bite on her hand.” The stepbeast had grunted and replied, “If she gets rabies, we’ll put her down. Dumb woman—there was no fucking mouse.” I cried silently in the back seat, letting the tears fall onto my jumper, forehead pressed to the window. I didn’t get rabies but I did get a nasty infection. And I never got to go to Disney World. That was the last Florida mouse I ever saw—and it definitely hadn’t been Mickey.
The Waldorf Astoria wasn’t just astep up fromThe Lookout Motel—it was more like a giant leap. Dale had begged and borrowed—although he probably hadn’t stolen anything—to get the room for us the first time. Tonight, he just pulled out his credit card and paid. We’d both come a long, long way since then.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Dale nuzzledmy neck as we stood waiting at the elevators.
“You’d need more than that.”I half-smiled as the elevator opened. It was empty and we stepped inside.
“Inflation?” Dale smirked, pushing the button. It was forty-seven floors to the top.
“Deep well.” I put my arms around his neck. “You are the most amazing man in the whole world and I love you with all my heart, Dale Diamond.”
“Quit trying to get out of it.” He grinned and put his arms around my waist, pulling me close and nuzzling my curls. “What were you so lost in thought about?”
Isighed and told him, knowing he wouldn’t give up until I did. By the time I was finished, the elevator doors were opening.
“That bastard,” Dale breathed, his arms tightening protectively aroundme. “I hope he rots in jail for the rest of his life.”
“Theyreduced the sentence to aggravated assault, remember?” I reminded him with a little shiver. The thought of the stepbeast getting out of jail, after what he’d done, haunted me, mostly at night when Dale was asleep—or worse, out on the road. “Just five years.”
“You don’t have to remind me.” He liftedmy chin, searching my eyes. “But by then we’ll be long gone, living in L.A. behind a fortress with an army of security guards. You’ll be as guarded as the Queen of England.”
“IfRussell was any indication of the kind of security we’re going to have…” I joked. I didn’t like to think about the stepbeast and his inevitable release.
“Hey, he got us out of there, didn’t he?” Dale put his foot out to keep the elevator door from closing. He pulled me with him into the hallway, taking out the key card and opening the door. Dale flipped on a light and the room came to life. It was like Dorothy stepping into the Land of Oz for the first time. Except we’d been in this room before.
“Strawberries and roses and champagne.” I smiled., looking at the table where the goodies were all laid out. “You remembered.”
“Of course I remembered.” Dale took of his suit coat, loosening his tie. “I may forget appointments or my times tables—Mrs. Dunwitty would be ashamed of me—and sometimes I even forget my own song lyrics. But I don’t forget you.”
“You’re pretty unforgettable yourself, you know.” I put my satin pink high heel, dyed to match my dress, on the table with the flowers and champagne. I eyed the strawberries, remembering we’d left before I could even taste the wedding cake.
“I know.” He grinned, untying his dress shoes and sliding them off. Now he looked a little more like the Dale I knew, in black slacks and a white button-down shirt. The pink cummerbund was gone. I couldn’t remember where it was. The rental place was going to charge him for it—not that it mattered.
“It was a really beautiful wedding.” I sat in one of the chairs, picking up a strawberry and licking at the hardened chocolate.
“It was all right I guess.” He popped the top on the champagne and turned over the champagne flutes. “Ours will be better.”
“Ours?” I raised my eyebrows in surprise.
He knew I wanted to marry him—and he’d proposed to me, so the feeling was mutual. But everyone from his manager to his publicist to his hairdresser said we shouldn’t. Not yet. Greg, his manager, had been the most adamant, of course, followed by Jan, his publicist. They insisted on keeping me a secret. Dale’s band, Black Diamond, was going to make them a hell of a lot of money, and since Dale Diamond himself pretty much was the band, the other members utterly forgettable, they focused solely on their money maker.
And they didn’t want their money maker romantically attached. Because that didn’t make them money. What made them money was a very sexy, very single rock and roll star who exuded so much sexual energy on stage girls passed out from screaming his name. Some of the reporters on shows like Entertainment Tonight said they hadn’t seen anything like it since Elvis—then they’d show clips of Elvis and girls screaming and falling over. Followed by clips of Dale and girls screaming and falling over.
So we’d stayed engaged and postponed the actual marriage. I told him I could wait forever for him, which was true. He said he didn’t want to wait but he left it up to me. And here we were, waiting.
Besides, it would have been impossible to plan a wedding. At first, I wasstudying at New York Studio School and Dale and Black Diamond were recording their first album. Even after I’d graduated from the Studio School’s one-year program and got a job, I didn’t make a lot of money—thankfully John was so sweet and generous, he said we could live there forever, although I still liked to contribute—and Dale was now preparing with Black Diamond to go out on their first road tour as the opening act for Dark Wing. I knew we’d get married eventually. I just didn’t know when.
Dale handed me a champagne flute and I sipped it, the bubbles tickling my nose as I looked around the room. A glorious stay, indeed. There was a living area with a couch and television, all of it richly furnished. There was a small kitchenette too. To the right there was a bedroom with a huge mahogany canopy bed, if I remembered correctly.
“A girl could get used to this.” I smiled at him over my glass.
“I hope so.” He put down his glass, holding his hand out to me. I gave it to him and he pulled me to standing, gathering me in his arms. “I want to spoil you. I want to give you everything you’ve ever wanted in your whole life. I want to give you so much, you won’t even be able to answer when someone asks you what you want because you’ll already have it all.”
“Oh Dale.” I lifted my face to meet his eyes, feeling tears stinging mine and I blinked them back. “I already have everything I want. Everything I could ever want. I have you.”
“You’re my best thing too,” he breathed, leaning down to kiss me. It was like putting the key in and starting the engine to a soft purring muscle car. I felt a low rumble and that sweet anticipation before the car moves into gear. That gentle hum of just beginning, before the race even started, was the sweetest moment in the world.
“Take me to bed,” I murmured.
“Hang on.” Dale grabbed me around the waist, lifting me, and I clasped my arms around his neck, my legs around his waist, as he carried me into the other room. I glanced at the bed in the dimness, expecting him to put me on it, but instead he paused just inside the door, reaching for the light switch.
The giant king-sized mahogany bed had a beautifully draped, cream colored canopy. The coverlet matched,a shiny satin or silk covering soft down. Dale let me slowly down and I squinted at the bed, not quite sure of what I was seeing. There was something on the bed, all over the bed—and it was red. My first crazy thought wasblood!But no. That was silly, Of course it was rose petals. Red rose petals all over the bed.
I glanced at Dale, smiling, bemused.
I took a step closer, then another, realizing they weren’t rose petals after all.
“There’s a stool at the side of the bed,” he said from the doorway.
I looked back at him leaning against it, my heart skipping at the delicious sight, shirt now unbuttoned and untucked, dress pants drawn low with his hands in his pockets, his belt, that studded belt, so damned sexy.
“Stand on it and look down.”
“What?” I wrinkled my nose, confused, but I did what he asked, getting up onto the wooden stool and looking down at what I had first thought might be blood or rose petals, but were neither.
They were Skittles. Just the red ones. And they spelled out:
Sara Will You Marry Me?
I couldn’t hold back the tears then, remembering the first time I met Dale, when he’d sauntered into my chemistry class, larger than life. He could have sat anywhere, but he’d picked me. I was so embarrassed when my stomach started to growl in front of the cute new guy. I wanted to disappear. But he heard it—I think the whole class heard it—and instead of making fun of me, he’d offered me some of his Skittles.
Looking down at the bed, I could see himin my memory, that dark mop of hair that always fell over one eye, wearing all black, including his combat boots, and that sexy, studded belt. Had I fallen instantly in love? Maybe I had, but if I had, it sure took me long enough to realize it. But I think Dale knew then. I don’t know how it could be possible, but when he picked me to sit with that day, he really pickedme.
“Do you remember?” Dale’s voice, closer.
I nodded, not trusting my voice, not turning around. How could I forget? We’d gotten in so much trouble that day for writing back and forth on Mr. Woodall’s desk. He made us stay and clean them. It was all Dale’s fault and he knew it. We didn’t have much time left in class when Mr. Woodall caught us, but in that brief time, Dale had reached into his Skittles bag, lining up all the red ones and then making a peace offering.
A red heart made out of Skittles.
I sniffed, wiping at my eyes with the back of my hands, seeing them smeared with mascara, ready to tell him, of course I didn’t forget, how could I possibly forget? Every minute I’d ever spent with or even without him since the day he walked into my life had been about him. I lived and breathed Dale Diamond and would until the day I died.
I stepped off the stool and turned around to find him down on one knee holding a little blue box.
“Oh my God.” I really thought I might faint. I met his eyes, confused. “But… you already…”
I looked down at my left hand where I wore the ring he’d givenme the day Black Diamond won MTV’s Battle of the Bands. He’d proposed on one knee, in front of a stadium full of people, giving me this engagement ring. But at the time, Dale didn’t have much money. He’d begged and borrowed to pay for our first night at the Waldorf Astoria, but I didn’t want to ask what he’d had to do to buy my engagement ring. It was a small solitaire—just a quarter carat—but I loved it because it was from Dale.
“I wanted you to have something real.” He held up the blue box and it dawned on me where it was from. I had overheard Aimee and some of her friends—the popular kids, the ones whose parents had a lot of money—talking once about married girls who would only give their husbands blowjobs as a trade-off for “blue box” jewelry.
The blue box was from Tiffany’s.
I put my palms to my cheeks to cool them as he opened the box, letting me see what was inside. The ring on my finger was nothing compared to the one Dale held. The diamond was huge. I blinked at him in shock, unable to even breathe, let alone speak.
“Will you?” he asked, looking up at me with those gorgeous blue eyes. He was really asking. Like he thought it was a real question, as if I could have any other answer but…
“Yes!” I cried, laughing through my tears, holding my arms out to him. He had me inthem in one motion, hugging me close. “Did you really think I would say no?”
“I don’t know.” He breathed me in, his chest expanding against my cheek. “It’s been a rough two years. I was gone so much and you…”
He pulled back, cocking his head and looking into my eyes.
“I was afraid you might not want to marry a rock starafter all.” His smile was small, tight. “I thought maybe you’d decided the fantasy was better than reality.”
“No.” I touched his lips with my fingertips, hushing his words. “Never.What in the world made you think that? You are my fantasyandmy reality. I don’t want anyone or anything but you. You don’t need to give me everything. Youaremy everything.”
“So you want me to return the ring?” He smirked, moving to put it in his pocket.
“No!” I laughed, reaching for the box. “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
“Give me your hand.” Dale held the box up, taking the ring out with his other hand.
I looked down at the engagement ring I’d been wearing for two years. It seemed as if I’d been waiting forever for my life to really start. First it was finally graduating high school. Then Aimee was planning a wedding and I was at the New York Studio School and Dale had marching orders from his new record company—he had to go whenever and wherever they said. I hated it—but I knew, he hated it even more. Dale wasn’t used to being bossed around.
And all the while, he had to keep me a secret.
“It’s almost ours.” Dale kissed my finger, pressing his lips to the first ring he’d given me. “If we can hold on just a little longer, it will all be ours.”
“What will be ours?” I watched as he slid that ring off, slowly sliding the other one on.
“Everything.” Then he kissed that ring too. It was surprisingly heavy.
“I told you, I don’t want everything.” I held my hand out for the other ring and he gave it to me. I slipped it onto the ring finger of my right hand. “I just want you.”
“Here?” He grinned, standing up and tossing the now empty Tiffany ring box aside, a wide grin spreading over his face. “Now?”
“Dale!” I warned, taking a step back, but I was too late. He pounced, pinning me to the bed. The weight of our bodies made the down under the coverlet rise up and Skittles flew everywhere. I heard themplinking on the night table beside us, saw some fly past the lamp, and felt more of them under my back.
“The Skittles!” I lamented.”You forgot about the Skittles.”
“I didn’t forget.” Dale grinned. “Some day I’ll be on tour and I’ll send a list to the hotel of all the things I want. Skittles will be on the list—but just the red ones.”
“You’d make some poor lackey separate out the red ones for you?”
“That’s what rock stars are supposed to do.” He picked up one of the Skittles on the mattress, popping it into his mouth and chewing. He pressed one to my lips and I accepted it, chewing thoughtfully.
“You’re gonna regret thiswhen you’re on your way to the bathroom and you step on a bunch of Skittles.” I stuck my tongue out at him.
“I regret nothing.” He leaned over and kissed me softly. “Now, let’s get you out of this dress. Roll over.”
I laughed but complied, rolling over onto my belly. There were Skittles right there in front of me so I licked a few of them, letting them stick to my tongue so I could draw them into my mouth while Dale unzipped me. He pulled the fabric off my shoulders as I wiggled my way out of the satin like a very unsexy inchworm.
“Okay, now these things.” Dale frowned, plucking at the stretchy nylon of my pantyhose. “Weird. They’re like something out of a science fiction movie, I swear.”
I giggled. “They’re ruined anyway. Look at the feet.”
“What were you doing, walking on hot coals?”he exclaimed.
“Running from rabid fans, remember?” I reached down, hooking a finger in one of the gaping holes and pulling. Thematerial ripped and Dale’s eyes lit up.
“My turn.” He grabbed the nylon in two hands and pulled. It ripped all the way up to my inner thigh. “Wow! Nice!”
Then he did the other leg, so they were completely wrecked.
“I don’t know why, but that’s sexy.” He ran his hands up my bare legs. The sensation of his soft palms and his rough fingers—calloused from years of playing guitar—caressing me sent sweet waves of pleasure through me. Dale touched me like he was playing music, listening to notes only he could hear as he kneaded my flesh in his hands. I bit my lip and whimpered, wiggling on the bed.
“What am I going to wear tomorrow?” I wondered as Dale rolled the elastic top of the pantyhose down, stripping me of them completely. Now I was in just panties and my bra.
“I’ll buy you something.”He kissed one knee, then the other. “I missed your knees.”
“Both of them.” He flicked his tongue around my kneecap and down to the bend in my leg, making me moan. “See? You love that. I love that you love that.”
“I love that you know I love that.” I ran a hand through his hair, soft as raven’s wings.
“I love that I know that you… wait…”
I laughed, reaching for him. “Shut up and kiss me.”
And that’s how the night really began.
I was sore when I got up to go to the bathroom. The clock on the nightstand said it was two in the morning as I made my way back to the bed. Dale was sleeping, completely nude, one leg off the edge of the bed, his foot dangling, the other knee cocked. The sheet was tangled at his waist, just across his hips. The comforter was somewhere… oh yeah, we’d taken it into the kitchen because having sex on the tile was too cold and far too hard.
But now I was cold. I went to the kitchen, seeing the remnants of the minibar on the counter. I think I was still a little drunk. My head was swimmy.I grabbed the comforter off the floor, putting it over my shoulders and wrapping it around me. I opened the little fridge and picked out one of the chocolate covered strawberries, eating it as I wandered into the living area.
I was tired but I couldn’t sleep. Having Dale home again made my mind race almost as fast as my body. I missed him when he was gone, but I missed him almost as much when he was home. His focus was so often elsewhere these days. His rock star dream was really coming true. The album had been released—with my cover art, I was so proud of that—and the first single too. But he was right, he never really forgot me. Even when he was up on stage, singing to thousands, he was singing my song, thinking about me.
“Why’d you come out here?” Dale came out of the bedroom, rubbing his eyes. He’d put on a pair of boxers.
“Had to pee. Can’t get back to sleep.” I held an arm out, holding the comforter open and his eyes lit up when he saw I wasn’t wearing anything.He snuggled up, grabbing the remote from the coffee table.
“Wonder if there’s anything good on.” He started flipping through channels while I played with his hair—what was left of it. It was so soft. I loved how it felt under my fingertips at the back of his neck.
“Mmm.” He shivered. “I like that.”
“This?” I lightly traced my nails there and he shivered again. Then I spelled out the words, “I love you.”
“Hey, look, it’s porn.”
“What?” I blinked at the television, trying to focus. The picture was all scrambled but I could almost make out a hint of skin.
“Want to watch porn?” He grinned, pushing buttons on the remote.
“Won’t that show up on the bill?” I gaped at him as the loud sounds of people having sex filled the room.
“The record company’s paying, remember.” He cocked his head, looking at the screen. “And they kind if expect it.”
“They expect you to watch porn?”I looked at the screen and saw a blonde with very large, very fake breasts doing a little striptease.
“They’d pay for escorts too, if I wanted them,” he replied casually, his hand stroking my thigh.
“So this is porn.” I watched as the blonde spread her legs for the camera, spreading her labia with nails so long they were more like garden tools.
“You’re kidding me?” Dale sat up. “You’ve never seen porn?”
“No…” My eyes widened when the blonde started putting her fingers inside. “Not movies anyway… she’s going to hurt herself!”
Dale looked and laughed. “That’s what I always thought too. Those fake tits and the bleach blond hair and those nails. Ugh.’
He grabbed the remote and changed the channel.
“There’s more?” Now there were two women kissing, touching each other.
“Mmm. Nice.” Dale perked up and I saw his cock tenting his boxers.
“You like that?” My fingernails traced the hairline at the nape of his neck. “What if I told you Aimee and I did that?”
He turned to look at me, mouth hanging open.
“I’m kidding.” I giggled. “No way. Gross. Never happened.”
“I didn’t think so.” He scoffed, making a face and looking back at the girls. “But for a minute there, you got me thinking about it…”
I watched the dark-haired girl spread her legs for the blonde. At least these two women were far more real. Their breasts didn’t defy gravity and their nails weren’t registered as deadly weapons. The blonde kissed her way down the brunette’s smooth, taut belly. I ran my hands down my own, stopping at my scar.
“Am I ugly?” I asked, getting Dale’s attention. His hand had wandered under his boxers and his attention had clearly been carried away by the image on the screen.
“Are you kidding me?” he exclaimed, his gaze roaming over my body. I was uncovered, my thighs slightly open, leaning back on the couch.
“My scars, I mean.” I winced, running my fingers over the raised spots. They were hard, knotted.
“No baby.” He leaned over and kissed my fingers, my scar too. I wouldn’t let him see me naked for months afterward. Sex always had to be with the lights off. “You’re beautiful. You’re so beautiful you make my heart ache from the inside out. And the best part about you is you’re real.”
He glanced back at the screen, making a dismissive noise in his throat.
“That’s fun, sometimes, but it’s fake. You’re real. You’re you.”
“But you like that.” I nodded toward the screen.
“I like watching, sure. I don’t know any guy who doesn’t. Any straight guy,” he added. Then grinned. “And gay guys just watch gay porn.”
“There’s gay porn?”
He laughed, grabbing the remote, pushing the button.
“No!” I protested. “I don’t want… oh. Wait.”
Now the image was of a couple. They were kissing, fondling each other, getting undressed. I watched her unzip him, his cock springing free. I loved that feeling, when Dale’s cock practically escaped out of his jeans into my hand.
“You like that?” Dale cocked his head, smiling.
My sex clenched. God I was so sore from him inside of me. I couldn’t count how many ways or times we’d had sex. The kitchen, the bathroom, the bed—oh god, those damned Skittles—and then the kitchen again, this time with me on the counter…
But my body responded when I watched the girl on the screen kneel and take his cock into her mouth. I could almost taste him. I licked my lips.
“What are you doing?” I asked as Dale slid down between my thighs, parting them with his palms.
I did. Wow, I was learning a lot. I loved taking him in my mouth like that because of the way he responded. He loved being in my mouth, my hand, watching me lick the tip.
“Ooohhh yesss,” I moaned as Dale’s tongue slid up and down between my cleft. My nipples, already hard from being exposed to the air, grew even harder, the skin around them puckering.
The sound of sex filled the room. Now the man had the woman on the bed and he was licking her, just like Dale was licking me. Except she was completely bare down there except for a strip of dark hair at the time.
“Would you like that,” I murmured, my hand in his hair. “Would you like me to shave all my hair down there for you.”
He moaned against my flesh, lapping faster, pressing his tongue against the sensitive bit of flesh right up top. He knew just what I liked, the way to flick it with his tongue, tease it round and round, then toggle it back and forth like turning a light switch on and off at lightning speed.
The couple on the screen were fucking. He was inside her from behind, her breasts swaying. The camera got up close and personal, showing the slick shaft of his cock moving in and out.
I glanced down and saw Dale had slid his boxers down his hips. He fisted his cock, the head red and leaking pre-cum. I whimpered at the sight of it, wanting him.
“Mine,” I whispered, reaching for him, falling far short, my hand opening and closing on the air. “I want you in my mouth.”
Dale grabbed my hips, pulling me up, and I sighed when his mouth moved from my sex. But he moved quickly, reclining on the couch and settling my pelvis over his face. I nuzzled his crotch, taking his cock in my hand. It was thick and hard and, I noted with a strange sort of pride, bigger than the guy on screen.
Dale moaned when I took him between my lips. His pre-cum was peppery and I swallowed, using my tongue and bathing him with saliva. The sweet press of his tongue between my legs was taking me to climax like a freight train at full speed. I wasn’t going to be able to stop it. I stroked him in my hand, moaning and rolling my hips, my eyes half closed as I watched the man on the screen. He pulled out of the woman and pumped his cock, once, twice, and then he was exploding, giving out a loud yell as climaxed.
“Oh!” I cried out, surprised by the sudden force of my orgasm. My hips bucked involuntarily and my hand grasped Dale’s cock so hard the head was almost purple. Dale didn’t stop, using his tongue to tease every last quiver and shudder from my body.
“Oh wow.” I shivered on top of him. “That was… wow…”
Dale slid out from under me and I collapsed onto the couch, still trying to catch my breat. He stood looking down at me, his eyes so full of lust it was almost scary. He licked his lips, then his fingers, tasting me still.
“I want you.” His voice was hoarse.
“How?” I smiled up at him, so sated and sleepy now.
He grabbed the comforter, folding and folding it, tossing it onto the wood coffee table.
“There.” He pointed. “On your hands and knees.”
“Ohhh.” I got up, climbing slowly and carefully onto the coffee table, afraid it might not hold my weight, but it did.
“Hang on.” Dale grabbed my hips and I gasped, looking for something to hold on to! I gripped the edges of the coffee table with my fingers, feeling his cock sliding up and down, teasing. It was the perfect height and with one, swift motion he was inside me. I cried out, biting my lip. I was sore, but oh, it hurt so good.
He went slow at first, easing himself out only half way before sliding back in. There was another couple on the screen, doing exactly what we were doing, a mirror image.Dale gripped my hips and thrust himself in deeper, using longer strokes, really driving into me now.
“Dale!” I cried, gasping for breath. “Oh God. Oh!”
The way he did that, using all his force to take me, made me tremble all over. His thighs spread mine and the sounds of our sex mingled with the sounds coming from the television, moaning and slapping, the hot, aching sound of fucking.
“Sara,” he panted. “Oh sweetheart, I’m… Ohhhhh nowww!”
I cried out when he came. I wasn’t going to climax again, not this time, but the force of his orgasm shuddered through me as he thrust, thrust, thrust, hard, fast strokes, emptying himself into me with a force that threatened to tear me apart. I whimpered when he slid out of me, glancing back at him over my shoulder.
His eyes were glazed, his look dreamy. He grabbed the remote, turning off the sounds of sex, almost as if it was an affront to the senses now. He helped me off the coffee table, grabbing the comforter and wrapping us both in it.
“Think you can sleep now?” he murmured, kissing the tip of my nose.
“Like a baby.” I rested my cheek against his chest.
He scooped me up like it was nothing and carried me to bed. I listened to the sound of his breathing, both of us snuggled under the covers. His hand was on my breast, his thigh over mine, claiming me, even in his sleep. I closed my eyes and decided to count blessings instead of sheep, but as my eyelids grew heavier and heavier, I realized it just wasn’t possible to count that high.
* * * *
I sat straight up in bed, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. The first light of morning crept across the plush hotel carpet, not quite reaching the bed. Dale’s side was empty.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” Dale’s voice, growing louder.
“What is it?” I croaked. My throat was dry and I was incredibly thirsty. Either I was a little hungover from the lure of last night’s open bar or I was dehydrated of all bodily fluids after our wild night of homecoming sex. Probably both.
“Look at this.” He burst into the bedroom wearing just his boxers, tossing something on the bed. I was far too interested in him standing there shirtless—how could I possibly be thinking about sex after the night before was beyond me, but I was—to really pay attention. “That goddamned wedding photographer sold pictures to the paper!”
“What paper?” I grabbed it, scanning the top. It wasn’t the Times—they wouldn’t have bothered with it. It was the New York Daily News, a complimentary copy slipped under the door by hotel staff for light breakfast reading. We weren’t on the front page—Dale had it opened to the entertainment section, where they’d printed a fuzzy photograph—me pressed against the wall, my legs wrapped around his waist like a monkey, our mouths slanted in an open mouthed kiss.
“Fuck.” I swore, skimming the article. There were more photographs—Dale sliding the garter up my leg, my dress pulled up sky high, another of the two of us dancing together, bodies pressed close. The article named me and speculated that I was the girl Dale had proposed to during the Battle of the Bands.
Dale’s manager and pubicist had done everything they could to quell that incident, telling all the tabloids and teen mags we’d broken it off. Reporters had never found out my name and the story had died off. Besides, whenever Dale jetted off to L.A. to do television spots or interviews, he always denied being involved. Whenever someone asked him about me, he said, “It’s over. I don’t like to talk about it,” giving the world the impression he was a now-a single broken hearted rock star on the rebound—which is just what his manager wanted everyone to think.
I hated it. It was like a knife twisted in my gut every time I heard him say it. But Dale hated it even more. I remembered the first time hismanager had broached the subject, me sitting between John and Dale, sipping wine at a restaurant so fancy they had bathroom attendants. Fancy shmancy, Dale didn’t let that stop him. It was the manager’s fault—he was like a dog with a bone, he just wouldn’t let it go. He insisted I be kept a secret, hidden away.
“You can still see her, I don’t care,” hismanager had said. “But we’re telling the media you broke up. I can’t sell a married young rock star to the buying public. It’s not the image you’re going to need to project.”
“I don’t care about my image,” Dale had scoffed.
“Then you’re done before you even got started.” The manager had thrown his napkin on his plate, pushing away from the table. “She goes or I go. And if I go, all your dreams of fame and fortune go with me. Bye-bye!”
“Fine.” Dale had squeezed my hand under the table. I remember themanager’s knowing smile. He had clearly done this before. He was anticipated the outcome like a gambler counting cards in Vegas, calm and cool, arms crossed over his chest.
He definitely hadn’t expected Dale to get up and walk away from the table.
Of course, after all the posturing and two more meetings with the manager—he brought Dale’s publicist along to back him up—Dale had finally relented. But not before he asked me if I was okay with it, and I’d lied through my teeth. It was the night before the last meeting and we were in bed. Dale tossed and turned and groaned into his pillow until finally, I just told him, “It’s okay. Let them play their little game. It’s probably better the world doesn’t know about me anyway. We don’t want reporters hanging around outside.”
I’ll never forget what he said.
“Sara, I can’t do it. I can’t live that lie. I love you and I want everyone to know it. All I want to do is play guitar and love you. That’s it. If I can’t have both—then I choose you.”
I couldn’t be responsible for him not living his dream. I just couldn’t. So I lied.
“You can have both. Just do what they say for now. Then when your first album goes platinum and you’re selling out on tour, you’ll have the leverage to say no.”
He was thoughtful. “I’ll walk away from it all right now, Sara. I swear to God I will. All you need to do is say the word. You’re more important to me than anything.”
“I know. You don’t need to prove it to me,” I reminded him.“If our relationship isn’t strong enough to withstand this, then I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
“I love you, Sara. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to tell you how much.”
“So show me.”
And he had.
I stared at the paper in my hand while Dale picked up the phone, remembering that first concession—the first of many. He got tired of fighting, after a while, and just starting giving in. At first he was adamant. He wasn’t going to lie about me, so he said, “I don’t like to talk about it.” The manager and the publicist eventually wore him down and he started saying, “We broke up, I don’t like to talk about it.” Then it was his hair. He refused to cut it. They insisted. Arguments ensued. Finally, they won. By the time they got around to recording the album, I think they believed they’d molded him into something soft and pliable they could bend, but they were wrong.
On the album, Dale refused to compromise. All of the songs were his—and he’d even insisted that I do the cover art. He’d conceded on everything else, even on me, but he wouldn’t compromise his dream. I loved him for that, more than he would ever know.
I put the paper face down on the bed. I didn’t want to see the pictures, read the speculation.
“Gregwants to meet.”
Greg was his manager.
“In two hours. At our house.”
Our house was John’s house. Dale would have to call and let him know.
“I’m sorry, baby.”It was a big mess.
“It’s okay.”He shrugged, looking at me still curled up in bed. “Cheer up—we’ve got time to order room service. And if we hurry, we can still soap each other up in the shower.”
“Why does the rest of the world seem to disappear when I’m with you?”I asked, only half kidding.
“Because I am your world?”Oh that smirky smile, the one that brought out that sweet little dimple.
“That must be it.”I laughed. “I’ll call room service. You get in the shower.”
We arrived home wearing various designer clothes from the gift shop in the hotel lobby.
They carried several designer lines, marked up of course, which meant they were so expensive none of them even had price tags. Their clientele obviouslynever asked and I didn’t either—I was too afraid. I just grabbed some Calvin Klein—jeans and sweatshirts—and took them back to our room so we could change. The salesman asked what room we were in as I went to hand over Dale’s card, and then he waved it away and told me he would charge it to the room.
I had lugged the new clothes upstairs, barefoot in my formal bridesmaid dress. After we changed, I was careful to fold Dale’s tux before puttingit back into the now empty bag and Dale had laughed at me.
“What? It’s a rental, remember?” I had said, putting my dress in too, along with my one remaining shoe. I’d also picked up two pairs of Nikes and two pairs ofRalph Lauren socks. I didn’t even know he made socks.
Dale had put his arms around me, chuckling.
“Sweetheart, after this tour is over, we’re going to be able to buy everything in that store.”
The concept was so foreign to me, I couldn’t quite grasp it.
When I’d asked how we were going to get back home, Dale just made a phone call and there was a limo waiting to drive us when we got downstairs to the lobby.
Rutgers’ full-time faculty housing was nice—instead of apartments, they were townhouses all stuck together in rows. John was a professor there and he’d insisted we move two years ago after everything happened with the stepbeast. He said it was because he didn’t want people hounding Dale once his name was out there and the Black Diamonds were famous, and I’m sure that was partially true.
Rutgers’ full-time faculty housing was completely private—they didn’t want students bothering the professors at home. For that reason, it was near campus but technically not on it, hidden away in a little wooded cul-de-sac. You’d never know it was there—it didn’t even have a street sign. All the mail went through the university, so while the townhouses had addresses, they weren’t published or used anywhere. The only bad thing about it was we could never get pizza delivered—they couldn’t find the house!
I think that was the reason we’d managed to keep it from the pressfor so long that Dale had a girlfriend—me!—and she was living at his house. They could have traced Dale’s father—they had the same last name—to Rutgers, but that would be as far as they could go, unless someone directly told them John lived in faculty housing. And even then, they’d have a hard time finding the townhouses.
The limo driver even passed it twice, the driveway was so hidden. Finally, he pulled up at the townhouse and we climbed out.
“He’s here.” Dale nodded to the Porsche 911 that reminded me of a squished VW Beetle in front of the house with the license plate: SPD DMN. Speed Demon. It was like he was asking to get pulled over, but that was Greg—bold, brash and in your face.
“Awesome.” I carried the bag with our clothes in it up the steps. “I can’t wait.”
John and Greg were sitting at the kitchen table. I smiled at John but I didn’t even acknowledge Greg as I passed them on the way to the stairs. The townhouses were built with one, two, or three bedroom units. We had the latter. John’s bedroom was on the ground floor and ours was upstairs. The third bedroom, on the other side of the bathroom from ours, he used as an office.
“Sara!” John called after me. “I made cinnamon rolls!”
He knew they were my favorite.
“We ordered room service,” I called back over my shoulder, seeing Dale standing there, hands in his jeans pockets. He’d told me to go straight upstairs, that he would handle things with themanager. Which was fine with me. Greg Richer didn’t like me and vice versa. It was always better when we weren’t in the same room together.
“Are you sure?” John asked.
“I’ve got to get ready for work.” I trudged up the stairs, heading into our room at the top of the stairs. I loved coming home. When Dale was gone, I spent a lot of time in our room, on the bed where we made love, smelling him on the sheets. The room was an amalgam of us—my easel and paints, his guitars and sheet music.
I tossed the bagand crawled into bed, hugging my pillow and closing my eyes. I hadn’t slept much the night before—not that I was complaining—but the moment my body hit the mattress, I realized how tired I really was.
I hadn’t shut the door so I could hear them. At first it was just talking, mumbled voices, nothing clear. Then the voices got louder. And louder.
“I don’t give a flying fuck if they know!” That was Dale. “I’m going to marry her. If I lose some crazy little girl bubblegum pop fans because they can’t handle that? Well so fucking what!”
“If this gets picked up by the teen mags, you’re over before you even started, kid.”
That was Greg. When Dale told me his full name for the first time, I couldn’t believe it. Greg Richer. Managers, as a concept, were mind-boggling to me. They took twenty percent of an artist’s income, and for what? It was Dale who had put his foot down with the record company. They had songs and tracks for him all planned out—they wanted him to sing whattheywanted.
Dale refused. He’d been the one to negotiate with them, not Greg. In fact, Greg had insisted he concede or there would likely be no record deal at all.
But he was wrong.
Dale had gotten what he wanted—Black Diamond had recorded all of their own, original songs. I often told Dale Greg’s last name was apropos because as far as I could tell, Greg got richer while Dale did all the work. But for some strange reason, a manager was considered necessary. A necessary evil, maybe.
“What do you want me to say? Our friends were getting married. I wasn’t going to skip out on them because there might be cameras around.”
“You didn’t have to dry hump her in the hallway!” Greg snapped. “They’ve got a picture in here of you grabbing her crotch under her skirt.”
“I was not. I was putting on a garter. It’s a tradition.”
“Image is not about what happened. It’s about what it looks like happened. And right here, it looks like you’re grabbing her crotch.”
“She’s my girlfriend,” Dale said. “So it’s out. We deal with it.”
“Jan’s got to find some way to spin this.”
“Did you come here to lecture me or was there a point to this meeting? My fiancé is waiting for me.”
“The record company wants to cancel the tour.”
My head came up off the pillow, my heart dropping to my toes. I couldn’t even imagine what Dale was feeling, hearing those words. I ran to the doorway, straining to hear.
“I told you, image is everything. So you can sing, big deal. You have a pretty face and you can play the guitar and make girls go nuts. Big fucking deal. Do you know how many others there are just like you? Kids like you come and go in this business.”
I couldn’t hear anyone then. I held my breath, trying to hear something—anything!
“Did you talk to Roy Masters?”
He was the head of Sonic House, the label that had put out Black Diamond’s album. He was a gruff old man, nearly entirely bald, who smoked cigars and rasped when he talked. I had met him only once, when Dale had taken me to L.A. to show me around—it had been my very first time in an airplane. Roy had gotten up from the chair behind his desk, which was no easy feat, considering he had to weigh three-hundred pounds, and peered at me, frowning.
“So this is the young lady who’s giving us so much trouble?” Roy mused, glancing at Dale, then back to me, where I was pressed tight against Dale’s side. “Well son, she looks like the good kind of trouble to me.”
Then he’d laughed and puffed on his cigar, sitting back down in his executive chair, the leather making a “whoosh” sound under his weight.
“He’s the only thing standing between you and disaster, punk.” Greg again. He sounded weary and I smiled. I couldn’t blame him. When Dale wanted something, he was tireless and fearless in his pursuit. And breaking him down wasn’t easy, although I’d watched it happen over the course of the past two years, inch by inch.
“That andI’ll Always Come For Youjust hit Billboard’s number one.”
Greg said it like an afterthought but his words seared through me like fire. I couldn’t breathe, I was so stunned. Then I was running, bolting down thestairs, jumping the last two and tearing around the corner, heading to the kitchen.
“Number one? Number one!” I squealed, putting my arms around Dale, who looked so stunned I nearly knocked him over. He grabbed me by the waist, meeting my eyes, and I laughed when he squeezed me tight and swung me around the kitchen.
“I have to call the band.”
“You have to lay the fuck low!” Greg insisted, wagging his finger at both of us. “And you, missy, you need to be invisible. You hear me? In-fucking-visible! Don’t you goanywhere.”
I laughed as Dale put me down. I heard his heart hammering in his chest when I rested my flushed cheek there. Greg Richer wasn’t going to put a damper on this day, I wouldn’t let him.
“Go to hell.” I stuck my tongue out at him and hugged Dale harder. “He’s got the number one single!”
“I know.” Greg stood, running a hand through his thick, dark hair. I was sure he had it dyed because the lines around his eyes told me he was at least fifty, in spite of the spray-on tan. “But that all happened before this.”
He picked up the newspaper and shook it at us.
“Shake the stupid paper and yell all you want, he’s still number one.” I grinned up at Dale and he grinned back,
“If I thought it would do any good, I’d roll it up and smack you both on the nose like the naughty damned pups you are.” Greg glanced over at John, who just sat quietly, sipping his coffee. “John, can you talk any sense into these two kids of yours?”
“Only one of them is officially mine,” John reminded him over the rim of his coffee mug. It had a reprint ofMunch’s “Scream” on it. “But I’d love to make the other one official, since I already think of her as my daughter.”
His words filled me with warmth.
“If he marries her, all this goes away!” Greg exclaimed. “Don’t you get that? Nights at the Waldorf Astoria and two hundred dollar pairs of Nikes go bye-bye!”
He waggled his fingers, glaring at me. I looked down at my shoes, feeling guilty. Had they really cost two hundred dollars?
“You don’t know that.” I turned to the manager, frowning. “So the news is out now. Let’s see what happens. Black Diamond is number one and the world now knows Dale Diamond has a girlfriend.”
“A fiancée,” Dale countered, putting his arms around my waist from behind. I closed my hands over his.
“So let’s see what happens,” I said.”Maybe it won’t make any difference at all.”
“I can tell you after twenty years in this business, it’s going to make a very big difference, young lady.”
“You can’t cry over spilled milk,” John interjected. “The horse is out of the barn, as they say. So let it run.”
“Let it run?” Greg put his head in his hands. “Listen, kid, I’m on your side. Quit treating me like the damned enemy. I do what I do for a reason. You might not know what that reason is, but I always have one.”
“You’re just afraid your gravy train is going to run dry,” I countered.
Greg gave me a sharp look and then met Dale’s eyes over my head.
“Did you ever think about what would happen to Sara if it leaked out that she’s your girl—fiancée? She’s going to be hounded, constantly, by the paparazzi. And they can be brutal. Once they know her name, they are going to uncover everything they can about her. And I meaneverything.”
“What?” I felt suddenly faint.
“Didn’t think of that, did you, sweetheart?” Greg gave me a sad little smile.
“Fuuuuck.” Dale drew the word out, arms tightening around me, resting his cheek against the top of my head. “I’m sorry, Sara.”
“It’s not your fault.” If anything it was my fault, for nudging Matt to ask Dale to be a bridegroom, so we could walk down the aisle together, even if it wasn’t my wedding. What had I been thinking? Of course it would mean they’d dig into my past. They’d find out about the stepbeast, about my mom. About everything.
“Well I’m glad you both now see the gravity of the situation.” Greg leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Well what do you want me to do?” I threw up my hands, exasperated. “Become a hermit and never leave the house again? Move to Taiwan? Kill myself?”
Dale’s arms tightened at that last.
“No of course not.” Greg sighed. “Well… maybe that first one… just until the tour is over…”
“About that…” Dale kissed the top of my head. “It’s probably not the best time to bring it up, but I want to bring her on tour.”
The manager looked at him, aghast, and so did I.
“Absolutely not.” Greg’s jaw tightened. “I forbid it.”
“Everyone already knows, right?” Dale shrugged. “So if she’s on tour with me, we have round the clock protection. If she’s here?”
“I’ve been fine here,” I protested, glancing at John. “We’ve been fine, haven’t we?”
“True.” John nodded. “But that was before they were focused on you. Now they have a name to go with the face. We’re secluded here, but notthatsecluded.”
“You really want me to go with you?” I turned in Dale’s arms, looking up at him.
“I’m tired of being apart.” He pressed his forehead to mine. “I can’t stand one more goodbye.”
“But…” That sad look in his eyes broke my heart. “My job…”
It wasn’t much, but it was mine. I’d finally started feeling what it was like to have my own life, a new sense of autonomy. I’d finally been able to contribute to the rent—well, really, I just used my money to grocery shop for the week. John refused to take my money so I snuck it in that way.
“Just think about it.” Dale kissed me softly on the lips.
“You won’t need to think about it.” Greg stood, picking his leather briefcase up off the floor. I watched as he set it flat on the table and opened the gold tabs. “Because you’re not going. No girls on tour. Here’s your copy of Billboard.”
I couldn’t resist. I ran over to pick it up, and there it was, right at the top.
I Will Always Come For You- Black Diamond
“I’ve got to run. I’m late for my next appointment.”Greg snapped his briefcase closed. “Would you two please,pleasestay out of trouble?”
Greg was looking at Dale, not me, so I dared to stick my tongue out. But I pulled it quickly back in when themanager glanced over at John.
“Please? We’ve got a few monthsuntil the tour. Just keep them under wraps until then, eh, John?”
“I’ll do my best.” John shrugged one shoulder in response.
He left and we all stood there looking at each other, grinning like idiots.
“Number one.” Dale whispered.
“Look!” I took the paper over to show him. I couldn’t stop smiling.
“That’s one dream come true.” John smiled too, coming over to give Dale a hug. “I’m so proud of you, son.”
That brought tears to my eyes. I think even Dale’s eyes were a little shiny when they let go. John saw me tearing up and leaned over to kiss my cheek as they started to fall.
“You’re a good girl, Sara. You didn’t do anything wrong. And whatever dirt they decide to dig up, it doesn’t reflect on you. You understand?”
I nodded, even though I didn’t quite believe him. It was going to reflect on all of us and I dreaded it. I didn’t want anyone else to be hurt by it, least of all Dale and John. They were the only two men I’d ever felt I could really trust.
“Oh crap!” I glanced at the clock on the microwave. “I’m going to be late for work!”
Dale sighed as I ran over and grabbed my car keys out of the dish on the table by the door—thankfully I’d only been carrying a small clutch at the wedding with some tissue and a little bit of cash in it. John had taken his car to the wedding, so my keys where right where they should have been.
I ran back to give Dale another kiss, full on the lips.He folded me in, his mouth reminding me of our night together, our homecoming. I wanted him so much in that moment I couldn’t think of anything else.
“Sure you don’t want to call in?” he breathed when we parted. I stared at those sweet, pouty lips, my tummy doing slow flips as I remembered his mouth on me. Everywhere.
“I can’t.” I groaned, pulling myself reluctantly away. “I’ll be home around five.”
“Spaghettifor dinner,” John called.
“Yum!” I opened the door, glancing back over my shoulder. Dale was looking after me with longing eyes. “Number one!”
Then he smiled. It was slow to start, but then he was grinning, the light back in his eyes.
That was how I left him.
Everybody tells artists that art school is a waste of time. For most artists, that seems to hold true. If you’re truly an artist, you’ll do it because you’re compelled to do it, not because it’s your “major.” If you’re not, it will end up as either a job or a hobby. Most artists are hacks. They sell out for the money and work in advertising where corporate executives dictate their lives, forcing them to draw happy families in front of brand new cars. The artists who end up practicing art as a hobby are usually happier but far poorer. Those are the artists you see airbrushing t-shirts at the local fair.
I went to art school because I wasn’t good at anything else except drawing, but everybody was right. It was a waste of time in that it didn’t prepare me to go out into the world and make a living as an artist. Art school didn’t guarantee me a job or even make me more attractive to potential employers. What it did do, no one ever could have told me and I never would have expected.Art school didn’t teach me how to draw—art school taught me how to see.
“I don’t know how you do it.”Josh had a way of sneaking up on me, quiet as a cat.
“Do what?” He’d startled me and I had jumped, smearing some of my India ink on my board. Frowning, I worked to make my mistake look like it was meant to be there.
“Customers bring this in, and you make that?” Josh picked up the picture I’d been working from—a little girl, just a toddler, holding onto a cat’s tail. The cat glanced back at her with that haughty look only cats can give, like, ‘Would you mind?’
I studied my drawing. Silkscreen printing t-shirtswas very lucrative. Josh’s father had a booming business making team bowling shirts for all the local leagues for years. It was Josh who urged him to expand into making t-shirts. According to Josh, his father doubled his profits the first year, and quadrupled them the second. At first they printed mostly slogans like “Where’s the Beef?”—copyright be damned—but people began to ask for images. Basic ones were easy, the outline of a cat or dog for the local humane society for example, but when the demand for original artwork began, Josh put an ad in the local paper for a designer.
And I got the job.
“It’s like magic.” Josh shook his head, looking incredulous.
People who didn’t know how to draw said that a lot, as if it was some impossible feat, but it really wasn’t. I heard, “I can only draw stick figures” a lot. What they didn’t realize is they just stopped drawing at stick figures when they were about six or seven and academia pushed them into focusing more on letters and numbers. I didn’t stop at stick figures. I just kept drawing. While everyone else was learning their times tables, I was drawing, learning as I went.
“It’s not magic.” I smiled, putting down my brush so I could stretch. I got lost sometimes when I was drawing, forgetting everything, including things like time, or basic needs like eating or peeing. My bladder ached and my stomach growled.
“So I hear the prodigal son returned?” Josh pulled up another tall swivel seat to my station. “I saw you two in the paper!”
It was almost six—quitting time. His father, Dave—his name silkscreened on the left breast pocket of his blue t-shirt, along with the name of his team,Oddballs, in the center—had given his son the keys and left for his league night, bowling bag in hand.
Joshhad been out sick for a week and we hadn’t talked in a while. Dave started asking me to do a lot more in Josh’s absence, including answering the phones and taking orders. He even started teaching me how to silkscreen. But I was glad Josh was back, because trying to keep up with my projects and do Josh’s job was getting to be taxing!
“Yes. He’s home.Some fans crashed my friend’s wedding. It was a total bummer. We barely got out alive, I swear.” I shivered, remembering the gaggle of girls chasing us down. What did they think would happen if they caught us? What did they want, exactly?
That was you, not so long ago.
Well yes. I’d been an obsessed fan once too. I told myself I wouldn’t have chased Tyler Vincent down like a dog after a rabbit, but the truth was I probably would have. There was something about that state of mind, when fans worked themselves up into a frenzy. The star became an object, not a flesh and blood person. They became something to want, to covet, to own or possess. Dale was right—I think they would have torn the flesh off him just to have a piece. Fans, when they got into a group like that, weren’t in their right mind.
“I’m surprised they haven’t been hounding this place for more pictures of you.” Josh glanced out the window into the parking lot. The building was in a strip mall and there were always people coming and going.
“Maybe they won’t find me.” That was my best hope. The thought of being trailed by paparazzi made me very nervous. Dale said they did it all the time in L.A. Thankfully, the one time he’d taken me out there, we never had a problem. He’s been careful about where we went just for that reason. Of course, back then, no one even knew we were together. I was the invisible girlfriend.
“So he’s home for how long now?”
“Til the end of the summer.” I slid off my stool, taking my brush over to the sink.
I didn’t advertise my relationship with Dale—in fact, I hardly ever talked about him to anyone. Hismanager and publicist had impressed that upon me emphatically. But Dale had come in to pick me up from work once and Josh had been there, so he knew we were dating.
I had gone to high school with Josh—he reminded me that we’d been in the same freshman English class, although I only vaguely remembered it. He was a jock and ran with a whole other crowd. I knew the rumors about him and Holly Larson—that she had a baby and gave it up for adoption. It was probably true, since Holly had gone to Iselin Academy with us. But they weren’t together anymore.
Josh saida football injury his senior year kept him from playing college ball. That’s why he decided to hold off on college and work with his dad at the print shop.
“Well that’s good news for you, huh?” Josh followed me over to the sink, watching as I squeezed the brush with my fingers under the tap until the water ran clear. “What’s next for Mr. Rock Star now that the album’s out? I hear that song everywhere I go.”
“It’s just hit Billboard’s number one.” I couldn’t keep the pride out of my voice as I headed back to my station to clean up. I was glad Josh was around to answer phones and take orders so I could finish this design. Dave was making t-shirts in the morning. The toddler on the t-shirt was turning eighteen and her mother had ordered t-shirts for everyone to wear at her graduation party as a gag.
“Wow, I had no idea.” Josh took a seat on the stool again, watching as I cleaned up my station. “The big time!”
“He’s going on tour at the end ofAugust.” I fished my purse out from under my drawing table. “Opening for Dark Wing.”
“Wow!” Josh said again. It was impressive—Dark Wing was huge, a classic rock band still going after their early 1970’s debut. “For how long?”
“Too long.” I sighed, slinging my purse over my shoulderand leaning my elbow on the desk. “But he wants me to go out on tour with him.”
“What about your job here?”Josh didn’t look very happy at the prospect of my leaving and I didn’t blame him. When he hired me he said he’d gone through three designers already who had either quit or he had to fire. You’d think there would be more starving artists out there willing to draw for six bucks an hour but apparently not.
“That’s what I said.”I shrugged. “It would be hard to just pick up and go. Then again, I miss him when he’s gone, so… I don’t know.”
“Well I’m sure he’s rolling in the dough by now.” Josh sounded bitter. “You probably won’t need this job for long anyway.”
“Oh he hasn’t seen any royalties yet. He won’t for quite a while.”
“They didn’t give him money up front?” Josh frowned. “What a rip-off.”
“Well he got an advance,” I explained. “But he has to pay for everything out of it. Making the album, promotion, marketing, the tour, making the music video. All of that comes out of his advance.”
“They should call it leftovers, not an advance.”
“That’s more accurate.” I laughed. “Plus he still has to pay his manager. He gets twenty percent. And there’s his publicist. I don’t know how much she gets. But when everyone else is paid, then Dale gets a quarter of what’s left.”
“There are three other band members in Black Diamond.”
“Oh right.” Josh sighed. “Man, I thought rock stars were millionaires!”
“I guess you have to be doing it longer—and sell more.”
“Number one is pretty good!”
“It’s awesome,” I agreed. “But the way the world works, somehow it’s always the artist who gets shafted. They’re the ones doing the work—authors write books, musicians write and sing songs, artists paint paintings—but everyone else gets the bulk of the money. It’s kind of backwards if you ask me. Because without Dale—there’s nothing for all these people to sell.”
“Yeah but what if he sucks? I mean, obviously he doesn’t. But what if the record company takes a chance and no one buys the album or goes to the concert?”
“Then no one makes any money.I think it’s kind of a balancing act,” I explained. “They’ll have some artists who take off like a rocket and sell millions and some that fall flat. The ones who sell millions make up for the ones who don’t.”
“So do you think you’ll go?”
“On tour?” I shrugged. “I really don’t know yet.”
“I guess having a rock star boyfriend is kind of like being a military wife. My uncle was in the military and he got deployed for months at a time. My aunt didn’t even know where he was.”
“Well I guess that’s something.,” I said. “At least I don’t have to worry about him getting shot at.”
“There’s looking at the bright side.”He grinned. “Hey, are you doing anything after work? I’m starving, I was going to head over to Connie’s Diner and get a bite. You want to come?”
“Sorry, I can’t.” I shook my head. “I have to get home.”
“Oh right, rock star waiting and all.”
“John will have dinner waiting.” I smiled. “Have a good night, Josh!”
* * * *
Pavlov would have been proud. My stomach growled the minute I pulled up to the townhouse and smelled John’s spaghetti cooking. I looked around furtively before getting out of the car but didn’t see anything unusual. There were no reporters with cameras surrounding the house. Maybe we would all be able to go on with our lives after all. People would forget about the pictures and the article, the one with the headline, “Diamond Rocker Back Together With Girlfriend?”
I had hoped they wouldn’t print my name but it was there, in black and white. Sara Wilson
“I’m home!” I announced, kicking off my shoes and dropping my purse near the door. The house was redolent with the smell of John’s spaghetti sauce. I glanced into the kitchen and saw garlic bread waiting to go into the oven. The table was set. Where was everybody?
“John?” I called, stopping near his bedroom door. It was closed.
“I’m on the phone!” His voice was muffled through the door. “Be out in a few! Would you stir the sauce for me?”
I did what he asked, taking a spoonful as payment of course—and rather than thanking me, my stomach growled in protest—more, more! Halfway up the stairs, I heard the sweet sound of Dale’s guitar. My heart lifted in my chest and I bounded up the other half, throwing our door open and leaping at him.
“Hey!” He barely had time to put his guitar aside before I tackled him, covering his face with kisses as we rolled on the bed. “Wow. I always wanted to get a dog so I could be greeted like that, but I think I like this much better.”
“Woof.” I panted like a dog and he laughed, sliding his hand behind my neck so he could pull me down for a real kiss. His mouth was soft and open and he tasted like honey. He had started sucking on Ricolacough drops to soothe his throat. Singers needed a lot of those, apparently. I just knew their Ricola commercial with the three Swiss leprechaun-looking fellows annoyed me to no end.
“You taste like dinner.” He smiled rolling so we could be side by side. “Is it ready?”
“I hope so. I’m starving.”
“How was work?”
“Same as always,” I said. “I’m glad Josh is back. I actually got to draw today.”
“I don’t like him.”
“Oh don’t start. Josh is harmless.”
“He flirts with you.”
“He flirts with every girl,” I said, exasperated. “So was it quiet here today?”
“Except forDad complaining about grading first year essays. He’s pretty sure we’re all going to be illiterate by the next century.”
“Not a peep.”He shook his head.
“Maybe we got lucky.”
“Kids!” John called up the stairs. “Dinner!”
It was funny how he called us kids. I guessed maybe we would always be kids to him.
“I love Mondays.” I sighed happily, taking a seat at the table. Mondays was John’s day off from teaching—he had no classes on Monday, just office hours in the morning. He always cooked something delicious on Mondays. He had already put all the food on the table and poured me a glass of milk. Dale had a bottled water and John had a beer.
“Most people hate Mondays.” John smiled. “Back to work day.”
“Monday is spaghetti day.”
Dale looked at me.“I thought that was Wednesday?”
“That’s Prince spaghetti day,” John said. “For shame. I make my own pasta.”
I nudged Dale on the table, smiling at him.I felt his hand on my knee and smiled. He gave it a gentle squeeze and a look that said, “Later.” It made me shiver.
“So it was quiet here all day, Dale says.”
“Except for his incessantguitar playing,” John joked. “When are you gonna go out there and get a real job?” John’s eyes were twinkling but Dale didn’t take the bait.
“That’s funny, I thought it was quiet except for all your whining about students who didn’t know the difference between there, their and they’re.”
“All sound the same to me,” I said, grinning.
“Oh the humanity.” John groaned. “To answer your rather obtuse question with a direct answer—no reporters called today.”
“Well that’s a relief,” I replied.
“However, I did get an interesting phone call from your mother, Dale.”
“What did she want?” Dale’s hand gripped my knee.
“Your sister wants to come live with us.”
Dale dropped his fork, staring at his father. I knew that look. My stomach knotted up tight. I’d been hungry but now there was no room for food.
“Let me guess. She wants to go to Rutgers,” Dale snapped.
“She did just graduate,” John reminded him. “And it makes the most sense, given that tuition is free since I’m a professor there. You could have taken advantage of that fact too, you know.”
Dale ignored that last point.“I don’t want to have anything to do with her. When is she coming?”
“Just before the tour,” I said.
“Good. We’ll be gone soon after she arrives.” Dale resumed twirling his spaghetti around a fork. “It’s good timing.”
“What if I don’t go… on tour, I mean.”
Dale didn’t answer that. I knew he didn’t want to consider that as an option.
“Are you giving her my room?”I asked.
“No of course not,” John replied. “I’ll dismantle the office, put most of it in my room or in storage. She’ll have her own room.”
“Is she flying?”Dale asked.
“No, your mother’s driving her and bringing all her stuff.”
“Great.” Dale put his fork down, pushing aay from the table. “Just great.”
“Aren’t you going to finish?”John asked as Dale got up.
“I just lost my appetite.”Dale walked out of the kitchen and started upstairs.
John sighed.“I guess I should have waited to tell him until after dinner.”
“I’m going to go upstairs too.” I put my fork down.“I’m sorry, John.”
“Go on.I’ll clean up.” John waved me on. “He’ll raid the fridge at midnight.”
Of course he was right.
“Dale?” I called, slowly opening the door to our room.
He was face down on the bed, words muffled, but I understood them anyway.
“I can’t do it. I can’t be in the same room with them. They’re just going to pretend like nothing happened. And fucking Chrissy. She knows! She knows damned well and she’s going to take advantage of him anyway.”
“Johnthinks she’s his daughter,” I reminded him.
“Thinksis the optimum word there.”
“Okay fine. So she isn’t really his daughter.” I sat next to him on the bed. “What about me? He took me in and he loves me. He treats me like a daughter. Why would he treat Chrissy any differently—even if he did know?”
“Because you’re not the result of an affair with his best friend.”
He had a point. What would John do, if he knew?
I remembered the first time I’d found out Dale had a sister who lived in Maine with his estranged mother. It had been enough of a shock to discover that Tyler Vincent, the man I’d worshipped from afar, whose music I listened to constantly, whose videos I stayed up late and waited for on MTV, whose movies I attended religiously on opening day, just happened to be John’s best friend. They’d met before Tyler became a star, back when Tyler was teaching music at the University of Maine, the same place John had been teaching English.
Then Dale had told me an even deeper secret, one John didn’t know—Dale and his sister, Chrissy, weren’t John’s biological children. His mother hadbeen involved with Tyler twenty years ago, a torrid affair—and she continued to have an affair with him, according to Dale, even though both she and Tyler remained married to other people. Dale’s mother had finally asked for a divorce—Dale said she was convinced Tyler was going to finally leave his wife for her, but he didn’t—and still, she never told John about the affair. Or the fact that his children weren’t, in fact, his.
When thechildren were asked where they wanted to live, Dale had chosen John, who already had a teaching job lined up in California, and Chrissy had chosen to stay in Maine with her mother. John had no idea his wife and his best friend had betrayed him—but his children knew. Dale told me Chrissy knew, although he wasn’t sure how his younger sister had found out. Dale had discovered his mother’s sordid secret because he’d walked in on them, his mother and Tyler. She’d sworn him to secrecy, but of course Dale would never tell. John was the man who raised him, and regardless of biology, was the man he would always think of as his father. He would never do anything to hurt him, and he’d told me more than once, he believed telling John the truth about Tyler Vincent would kill him.
I knew Dale resented his little sister for siding with her mother. He felt it was like condoning what she did. He thought Chrissy had stayed because she thought, like her mother had believed, rich and famous Tyler Vincent would take care of them. I guess, to some extent, he did, according to Dale. But apparently that didn’t extend to college tuition.
For that, Chrissy was turning to the man who had raised her, even though she knew full well he wasn’t her real father. I understood why Dale felt so angry and betrayed, both by his sister’s decision to stay and live in Maine with her mother—Dale made it clear he’d never talk to Chrissy again if that’s what she chose, and I think he meant it—and now her decision to come sponge off the man who had raised her, a man she’d called “Dad,” most of her life, until the truth was revealed—a man she had ultimately rejected.
“I’m sorry, baby.” I put my hand on his shoulder, feeling the muscles tighten at my touch. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“There’s really nothing to talk about.”
I heard the phone ringing downstairs. We had one in our room but Dale had the habit of unplugging it when he was practicing.
“Sara!” It was John, calling up the stairs. “Phone for you!”
For me? It had to be Aimee—was she calling me fromSt. Bart’s? I never did get a chance to talk to her after we’d made our quick exit from the wedding. I braced myself, knowing she was going to be mad. I couldn’t blame her. If my best friend’s boyfriend was a rock star and had been the sole reason a whole bunch of crazy fans crashed my wedding, I’d be mad too.
“Aimee?” Dale watched as I scrambled for the phone, having to find the cord under discarded clothes and socks, mostly mine, so I could plug it into the end.
“Most likely.” I picked up the phone, hearing that strange sort of open sound that meant John was still on the line downstairs. “I got it, John, thanks.”
Johnhung up and I waited, already feeling guilty, for Aimee to scold me for ruining her wedding.
“Hello?” I finally said, meeting Dale’s eyes. He was watching, curious.
“Hello, Sara Wilson?” It was a man’s voice and I blinked in surprise. My first thought was,oh no, a reporter!Why hadn’t John asked who was calling?
“Yes, this is Sara,” I replied cautiously.
Dale frowned and I knew he was thinking what I was thinking.
“I’m sorry, I told the man who answered—was that John Diamond?—I told him I was Dave. From the t-shirt shop.”
But he wasn’t Dave from the t-shirt shop.
“Who is this?” Idemanded. Dale was trying to grab the phone from me and I pushed him away, turning, the cord wrapping around my legs.
It had to be a reporter. Who else?
“This is…” He cleared his throat. “Well, this is your father.”
I dropped the receiver to the floorlike it was on fire.
“Sara, listen to me.” Dale reached across the table and took my hand. It was clammy and trembling but I didn’t pull it away.
“I’m listening.” I was listening. But my eyes were on the door. Every time the little bell over it rang I jumped.
“I know this man says he’s your father,” Dale began.
I rolled my eyes. This again? When the man on the other end of the phone said he was my father, the image of the stepbeast, the only father I’d ever known, rose up to tower over me. My father, my real, biological father, was dead. That’s what my mother always told me.
“Dale, come on.” I met his eyes briefly over the scones we’d ordered. I lovedCuppa Joe’shot chocolate. Dale was drinking coffee—black. “He passed every test I could think of. He knew the hospital I was born in. He knew my mother’s maiden name. He knew her middle name. He knew my middle name.”
“All things he could have looked up in public record,” he reminded me. I glared at him. “Look, I’m not trying to be the bad guy here. Really, I’m not. But this guy shows up the day after your picture is in the paper connected to me? Everyone knows rock stars are millionaires, right?”
I regretted telling him about my conversation with Josh. But I always told him everything.
“How did he know about my birthmark?” I had tears in my eyes imagining my father—my real father—holding me as a tiny baby, kissing the dark question-mark on my right shoulder. “Everything he says rings true. He’s from Florida. That’s where my mother’s family is. He knew everything about her I could think of to ask, at least from when she was younger. He even knew my grandmother’s middle name. Even I had to look that up!”
“Well, don’t you think that’s a little strange?”
“Now he knows too much instead of not enough?”I had been holding back tears but now they slipped down my face.
“Sweetheart.”Dale wiped my tears. “I love you. I’m here for you, no matter what. It’s me. Dale.”
“I know. I’m sorry.”
“I just…”He sighed. “I should probably just shut up.”
“No, say it.”
“It just seems like a pretty weird coincidence that he happened to be in New York, saw your name in the paper, wondered if you might be the same Sara Wilson and decided to try to find you. And how did he find you, considering we had a whole city full of reporters who were trying and they failed?”
“You know, I told you.” I sighed. “He said he tried finding me but I wasn’t listed. So he looked up you—and found out John taught at Rutgers. He said after that it was easy because so much of John’s information was public. He called up USC in California where he worked before you moved here. He talked to some professor… Lane Murdoch?”
“Yeah he and my dad were friends.”
“So when he called Rutgers looking for John, he found out about faculty housing and knew that was a dead end. He tried calling the university and asking for John. He got John’s assistant, Carol.”
“Then he pretended to be this Lane Murdoch fellow, said he would be in NY on a layover for just a few hours and wanted to see him. Could he possibly have his home number?”
“And she gave it to him.”
“I don’t know!” I exclaimed. “He said… he said he charmed her into it.”
“Exactly,” Dale replied. “And what did he say when you first talked to him on the phone? Who did he tell your dad he was?”
I hesitated.“Dave… from the print shop.”
“But how did he know you worked there?”
“I don’t know.”
“I just don’t like it.” Dale said. “It feels wrong to me.”
“Everything involving me and anotherman feels wrong to you,” I snapped.
“I’m just trying to be rational,” he said softly.
“Fine, why don’t I just tell him up front I’m going to require a blood sample, so we can do some DNA testing?” I rolled my eyes.
“Those take weeks. By the time we had the results, if he is what I think he is, he’ll be long gone.”
“You’re impossible.” I felt the corners of my mouth twitching, ready to smile.
“And you’re incredibly sweet and trusting and I love you.”He leaned over and kissed me. “But maybe you should ask for that blood test.”
“Dale!”I punched his shoulder.
“Damn, remind me not to get in the ring with you.”
“Oh my God that’s him.” My mouth went instantly dry. I couldn’t even swallow. He was tall and lean, wearing khakis and a button-down light blue chambray shirt, just like he said he would be. He had short, sandy blond hair, not quite a military cut but close. I searched his face for any resemblance as he scanned the room, hesitating in the doorway.
His gaze skipped over me to Dale and then back to me. Our eyes met and he smiled, lifting his hand in a wave. I waved back, hoping I didn’t look overeager. Ifeltovereager and had for weeks. I’d been ready to get in my car and drive to LaGuardia, where he first called me from. He was heading back to Florida—he’d only been in New York for a few days on business, he said. But he promised he would be back in a month.
And here he was, keeping that promise.
He’d given me his Florida phone number and we’d talked on the phone several times. He assured me I could ask him anything I wanted. Dale had woken up a few times in the middle of the night to find me sitting next to the bed on the floor with a notebook and a flashlight, writing down all the things I wanted to know, things my mother had never told me. A lifetime of questions crammed into two weeks.
And now that he was here, I didn’t know what to say.
He strode over to our table and Dale stood, reaching his hand out.
“Benjamin Barnes.” Ben shook Dale’s hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Dale Diamond.” He looked over at me. “I’m going to take my coffee over there and let you two talk.”
“Oh you don’t have to do that.” Ben’s smile widened when he glanced at me and I smiled back. My cheeks hurt from smiling.
“That’s okay, I need to catch up on my reading.” Dale held up a copy of the New York Daily News. I didn’t realize he’d brought it along, but then I saw the picture of us that had been printed two weeks ago. He’d folded it so Ben could see it clearly when he held it up. I rolled my eyes at the posturing—did he really think someone would make up a story so elaborate?
Daleleaned over and his lips brushed my cheek and he whispered, “I love you.”
“Take a seat,” I said to Ben, nodding at the chair across from mine. I still didn’t know what to call him. Ben seemed so formal and calling him “Dad” didn’t feel quite right yet either so I tried to avoid calling him anything.
Dale took a step back, letting Ben pull out the chair.
“Sara, I’ll be right over there if you need me,” Dale said again,pointing to an empty table near the window. I just nodded.
“Do you want something?” I asked, looking down at my hot chocolate that was, by now, not hot at all. Dale had taken his coffee and scone.
“No, I’m good.” Ben leaned his elbows on the table, looking at me. “How are you?”
“Fine.” Such a stupid answer, but what was I supposed to say? Dale and John had both encouraged me to go to a therapy appointment—or to at least callDr. Jarvis—but I hadn’t. I knew what Dr. Jarvis would ask.How does it make you feel?I was excited, nervous, anxious, confused, afraid, sad, and a little angry. The neurotic seven dwarves. But I wasn’t about to tell Ben that.
“How about you?” I asked. “How was your flight?”
So we were both fine. Everything was fine. Awkward, but fine. Why could I manage to ask him a hundred questions on the phone but feel so strange and distant when we were face to face?
“Oh, I brought those pictures.” I grabbed my purse, unzipping the top and digging through. They were in a white envelope. I put it on the table, sliding it over to him. “Mom had a whole box, but I just brought a few. The sample pack.”
He smiled, picking up the envelope and taking out the pictures.
“I tried to pick ones of me at different ages,” I said, watching him study each picture and then put it down on the table when he moved on to the next.“If you really want, we can go through the whole box some time.”
“Sure.” He nodded, putting another picture down on the table. Me at age three—I knew, because there were three candles on the cake Mom was helping me cut. Then me as a newborn, almost completely bald. It was a black and white photo and I was propped up on a couch with pillows.
“That’s how I remember you.” Ben tapped that photograph, glancing up at me. “All these years I pictured you as a baby.”
“Sorry I grew up.”
“I’m not.” He smiled sadly. “I’m just sorry I missed it.”
“Me too.” I reached over and picked up the picture of me as a baby.
“Oh, wow, look at that.” Ben put a picture of me and my mom on the table. I was about fourteen or fifteen. My freshman year in high school, because I recognized the painting I was holding. It had won some sort of contest. “Carolyn never aged a bit, did she?”
“Not much,” I agreed, looking at the two of us, her arm around me. We were like twins, blond and blue-eyed, same nose, same smile.
“Aww, look at you.” Ben put another photo on the table. “Your first bike?”
“Yeah.” It was a white bike with a banana seat and pink streamers. I was riding toward the camera, head down, determined. I’d learned late—all the other kids on my block knew how to ride a bike before me. It wasn’t until my mother metPete Holmes, future stepbeast, that she could even afford to buy me a bike.
“Is that your stepfather?” Ben tapped the photographed. “In the background?”
“That’s the stepbeast,” I agreed. My mother had been behind the camera. “Although I don’t think they were married yet. I was in second grade when that happened.”
“He really did all those horrible things to you?”
I leaned back in my chair, pulling up my t-shirt to expose my midriff. The doctors did the best they could, but when you have a six-inch piece of splintered door frame hammered into your side by a two-hundred and fifty pound man—let’s just say my days of wearing bikinis and half-shirts were over.
“Good God.” Ben cringed. I pulled my shirt back down. “And Carolyn’s dead? What did he do to her?”
Not half as much as he did to me.
I met his eyes and thought about telling him the rest. How the stepbeast had started coming into my room drunk in the middle of the night when I was fifteen. How I’d finally worked up the courage to tell my mother two years later after I’d already missed three periods, and how she’d turned away, not believing me. How I’d missed my last year of high school, hiding in my room, afraid of the stepbeast, and with good reason. Somehow I’d known it was going to happen. The inevitable beating. The baby girl who stopped kicking inside me when I was about six months pregnant. How the stepbeast kept me locked in until all the bruises had faded before letting my mother take me to the hospital. And how she lied. And I lied too.
But how could I tell him that?
“She killed herself.” I picked up the picture of me and my mother. Freshman in high school. Fourteen or fifteen. Had he started raping me yet, I wondered. “I guess she just couldn’t handle it.”
“Jesus. What a mess.” That about summed it up. “So you were left all on your own?”
“I had Dale.” I smiled, glancing over at him. He had headphones on, but he was watching us. “And John’s been like a father to me.”
“I’m glad.”He put all the pictures down on the table, leaning in and taking my hand. “If I couldn’t be there for you, I’m glad you had someone.”
“Well you’re here now.” I looked at him and noticed his eyes were blue, like mine. I looked so much like my mother it was hard to see if there was any of him in me. I looked down at our hands together, his swallowing mine. He had a healthy Florida tan. His watch was off-kilter and a white band of skin showed underneath.
“I know this is all new to you. Me too. And I haven’t asked you what you want, but…” His gaze dropped to the photos on the table. “I missed so much of you already. I really want to be a part of your life. But I’d understand if you don’t want that.”
Was he kidding? I’d spent my whole life believing he was dead—my mother told me he’d been in a car accident. She didn’teven have any pictures of him. The few times I asked, she’d been very vague about the details—just that they’d been young and in love. Then he died while I was still a baby and she had to raise me on her own. Until the stepbeast came along. I think my mother saw him as our savior. I saw him as the antichrist.
And I spent years wishing my father was alive, wishing he could come save me. Then I’d focused all that energy on Tyler Vincent, rock star, movie star—the perfect man, the perfect husband, the perfect father. He had a wife and three children he publicly adored and he lavished all sorts of gifts and attention on them—while I had the stepbeast and dreaded going to sleep at night. It took me a year in therapy afterit all happened to realize I’d just been placing all my hopes on Tyler as a replacement father. My real father was dead, my stepfather was a beast, so Tyler Vincent would have to do.
Ironic, considering how it all turned out.The more I listened to Dale’s manager, Greg, talk about the music business, the more I realized how the lie of “image” was created. No one in the public knew the real truth about celebrities and that was the point. To the rest of the world, Tyler Vincent was still a rock star, a movie star, the perfect man, husband and father. But Dale knew better. And so did I. Tyler Vincent was a lying philanderer. Everything about him was a lie. I was beginning to believe that was just part of being famous. People liked hearing comforting lies instead of the truth. The truth was too dark and twisted and full of demons. No one wanted to hear the truth.
“I shouldn’t have asked, I’m sorry.” He sat back in his chair. “I know I have no right…”
“No.” I shook my head, trying to work my voice around the tears caught in my throat. “I’d like that. More than you could ever know. I’d really, really like that.”
“I’m so relieved.” He leaned forward, smiling, and took a deep breath. “Because I have good news. I just got a job here in New York. I’m moving up here next month.”
“What?” I couldn’t believe my ears.
“That’s the reason I’ve been traveling back and forth. Today was my last part of the interview process. It’s not official-official yet but the manager pretty much assured me I’ve got the job if I want it.”
“Oh my God.” I sat back, incredulous.
“Too much, too soon?” he asked.
“No.” I gave a little, strangled laugh. “No, I just can’t believe my luck. Every time something bad happens, it’s like the universe turns it around into something good.”
“What do you mean?”
I couldn’t even tell him all the things.
If I hadn’t missed my last year of high school, I never would have gone to Iselin Academy, where I met Dale Diamond. And even then, if my stepfather could hold down a job, I wouldn’t have been hungry the day Dale walked into class and heard my stomach growling. He wouldn’t have offered me Skittles and started up our conversation.
And if I hadn’t been head over heels crazy-obsessed with Tyler Vincent, Dale wouldn’t have offered to get me front row seats at his concert. (Of course, at the time, I had no idea Tyler Vincent was Dale’s real father—that didn’t come out until much later. And sometimes I still wondered if Dale had picked me because he saw the “I heart Tyler Vincent” scribbled on my notebook. Like he saw me as a challenge. I didn’t wonder about it before seeing Dr. Jarvis but I did now).
But Dale was my best thing, my most lucky thing of all.
Still, if the stepbeast hadn’t lost control that day, if he hadn’t beaten me and tried to kill me, I might never have moved in with John and Dale. Who knows, I might be dead. If Dale hadn’t been there, I most certainly would be.
And now, that stupid photographer who sold the pictures to the paper, the pictures that threatened Dale’s whole career, had brought my father—my real father—back into my life. My whole life was like being pushed off a cliff only to find I had a soft place to land after all.
“I’m just glad you found me.” I couldn’t stop the tears now. “Now you can walk me down the aisle and dance at my wedding. And you can be there when your first grandchild is born.”
“Okay now you’re scaring me a little.” He laughed, holding his hands up in surrender.
“Sorry.” I sniffed, using a napkin to wipe my face. “Don’t worry, if Dale’s manager has any say in it, we’ll never get married.”
“But you’re wearing a ring.” He nodded at my hand. “A nice one too.”
“Yeah, well, I’ve had this one for a few weeks.” I looked at the huge diamond on my left hand. Then I showed him the ring on my right hand. “But I’ve had this one for two years and we’re still not married. I’ll believe it when the preacher says, ‘And now you may kiss the bride.’”
Ben glanced over at Dale. He had his combat boots on—ready for battle—propped up on a chair. He leaned back in it, arms crossed over his chest, headphones on, just watching us.
“He doesn’t like me much, does he?” Ben asked, jerking his head toward Dale.
“He just loves me. He’s very protective.” I smiled at Dale but he just raised an eyebrow at me and didn’t smile back. “He doesn’t want to see me hurt anymore.”
“That makes two of us,” Ben said, giving me a long look. “Are you gonna tell him that he’s going to have to be good and share his things or do I have to?”
I laughed. “Once he gets to know you, he’ll be fine.”
“So tell me, is Aimee back from her honeymoon yet?” he asked, picking up the picturesagain and leafing through them. I’d mentioned Aimee in our phone conversations.
“Yes, we’re having dinner with them tonight actually.”
“Oh look at this one.” Ben laughed, holding up a picture to the light. “You were the most beautiful little girl. Did Carolyn put curlers in your hair?”
“Is that the Shirley Temple picture?” I glanced over, seeing the white lace dress and the long blonde curls. “She made me wear those curlers to bed. They were torture.Child abuse, I tell you!”
“Is this where you grew up?”
I nodded, looking at the picture. Me and a snowman in front of a little house. Back when the stepbeast only drank—and beat up my mother—on special occasions. I couldn’t remember how many jobs he’d gone through before he couldn’t keep up the mortgage anymore and we’d moved into the apartment complex. Of course, Dale lived in those apartments too, so perhaps it hadn’t been all bad. The universe giveth, the universe taketh away.
Ben continued to sift through pictures, asking questions, genuinely interested, and I found myself unravelingmore of my past for him, untangling it as I went. It took hours and we both laughed and cried a little, but it was one of the memories I would hold onto forever, kept in my mind like a sensory snapshot—the smell of roasted coffee, the sweet taste of hot chocolate, the feel of my father’s hand in mine, the big, roaring sound of his laugh.
And when Dale came over and told me it was time to go to dinner, I couldn’t believe it. Had we really talkedso long? It had gone by in a blink. I tucked the pictures back into my purse, but I let Ben keep the one he asked for—the Shirley Temple snapshot. And then Ben put his big arms around me and hugged me goodbye. And for the first time in my life I called someone, “Dad,” and meant it.
And even when Dale insisted, I still didn’t want to let him go.
“I just don’t get why he didn’t try to find you before now.” Dale parked the car in the Olive Garden parking lot, pocketing the keys. Dale still didn’t own a car so we were driving my old Dodge Dart.
“When my mom took off, he says at first he was relieved.”
“Nice.” Dale opened the door for me and I stepped in, my stomach growling. I’d only had a scone and a hot chocolate all day and now I was starving. Icould smell garlic and onions. I was suddenly wishing we’d called ahead because all the people waiting in the lobby were standing between me and my dinner.
“Come on, he was just a kid—younger than us,” I reminded him. “Would you want to have to take care of a newborn at that age?”
Dale didn’t answer.He was looking over the crowd, trying to find Aimee and Matt.
“Once he got a little older and thought about looking, he couldn’t find us,” I explained, hanging onto his sleeve as he weaved through the crowd.
“He seemed to findyoupretty easy,” Dale countered. “Took him just one afternoon.”
“Well he agreed to the blood test,” I snapped.
Dale stopped, looking back at me. “You asked him?”
“I figured I’d better, before you brought it up,” I said, sticking out my tongue.
He snorted, taking my hand and leading me toward the bar.
“I don’t get why it was so hard to find you before. Didn’t your mom tell her family where she was going?”
“She didn’t see them much.” I shrugged. “One of my first memories is of grandmother asking for our address so she could send me a birthday gift and my mother refusing. I was so mad at her. I just wanted my birthday present.”
“Why didn’t she want them to know where she was?” Dale asked, brow knitted. He was still trying to find Matt and Aimee but I was beginning to think they weren’t here yet. “My grandfather used to beat her. That’s what my mom told me.”
“Why does this not surprise me?” Dale muttered. He stopped, turning around and putting his hands on my hips. “What did Dr. Jarvis say about that when you told him that?”
“You know exactly what he said.” I rolled my eyes. “And he also said he was proud of me for breaking that abusive cycle.”
“With me,” he replied smugly. Then he leaned over, grabbing my ass and whispering, “Because as often as I want to spank you, I refrain.”
“We still have time,” I reminded him, laughing as I pulled away. “We haven’t had kids yet.”
“There will be no spanking in our house,” he proclaimed. “Unless it’s me finally spanking you—”
“Hey guys!” I waved to Aimee and Matt. They were already here, sitting at the bar. My stomach seemed to understand that meant we would get to eat sooner and grumbled loudly.
Turned out we were twenty minutes late, which was perfect because the hostess called us before Dale and I could even find seats. The hostess seated us at a booth and the waitress came to take our drink orders. Aimee had pictures back from their honeymoon. We’d already heard about how blue the water was and about the giant tortoise they’d seen when they were snorkeling and how burnt Aimee got the first day because she forgot to put on sunscreen, but now we got to hear about it all over again, with visual aids.
“At least I didn’t get all sunburned before our wedding night,” she said sheepishly.
“Close enough!” Matt protested. “She wouldn’t let me touch her for three days. Three days!”
“I was beet red.” Aimee sighed. “I think I was redder than my hair. I made him keep going down the hall to get more ice for the bathtub.”
“Just what I wanted to do on my honeymoon,” Matt interjected through a mouthful of breadstick.
“My mom even warned me. She put sunblock in my purse for pete’s sake.”Aimee slapped her forehead. “And I still forgot!”
“You were justtoo caught up in being Mrs. Aimee Green,” I teased, taking a sip of my Diet Coke and wishing the waitress would hurry up with my Tour of Italy. I couldn’t wait to eat my lasagna—even if it wasn’t quite as good as John’s homemade.
“Anyway, how did the meeting go?” Aimee asked, leaning forward, all ears.
“Yeah, enough about our honeymoon.” Matt shoved the pictures back into the envelope. “Unless you want me to regale you with the tale of four times…”
“Matt!” Aimee blushed, nudging him with her elbow. It must have been pretty hard too because Matt coughed, spewing little bits of bread into the table. “Shut up!”
“That’s nothing,” Dale scoffed. “One night we—”
I didn’t elbow him. I reached over and shoved a breadstick into his mouthinstead. Dale bit it and chewed, giving me a doughy grin.
“The meeting was… amazing.” Of course I’d told Aimee about Ben—it was still hard to call him “my dad,” even in my head, but it was getting easier.
“I knew it!” she exclaimed. “Sara, I’m so happy for you.”
“Hold onto the happy for a while,” Dale countered, washing down his bite of breadstick with my Diet Coke. “We haven’t seen the results of blood tests or anything yet.”
“Oh come on, Dale.” Aimee raised her eyebrows at him. “Do you really need to?”
I hadn’t explained Dale’s conspiracy theory about Ben just looking for something sweet out of the deal that had nothing to do with me.
“He could be anybody. I mean, there’s no father’s name on her birth certificate and her mother isn’t exactly around to tell us.”
I winced at that and saw Aimee’s look of sympathy which somehow made it worse. She still had both a mom and a dad—even if they didn’t get along very well, with the exception of her wedding.
“It just seems suspicious to me, that’s all. Maybe I’m wrong.” Dale sat back in the booth, putting his arm over my shoulder. “If the DNA comes back and he’s really Sara’s father, I’ll be the first one to welcome him to the family.”
“Those tests take a long time, don’t they?” Matt asked.
The waitress had arrived with salad and then it was yes, cheese on the salad and yes, we need more refills and sure, bring another basket of breadsticks.
“I saw a show on DNA evidence,” Aimee said. “It took like a month to get the results but they’re pretty conclusive.”
“They’re actually starting to use it to get people out of jail,” Matt remarked.
“Yeah, that was it!” Aimee stabbed an olive on her plate. “It was a death row inmate and the DNA evidence proved he wasn’t even at the scene of the crime!”
“I don’t need a blood test,” I said softly, pushing Italian-dressing soaked lettuce around on my plate. “I just know. Besides, he can answer every question I asked him. He even knew about my birthmark!”
“The one on your shoulder?” Aimee raised her eyebrows. “Geez, Dale. That’s pretty conclusive. You’re going to make the guy submit to a blood test?”
He shrugged. “I’d just feel better if we did one.”
“He agreed to it right away,” I said. “I don’t think he’s worried about it.”
“Well there you go,” Matt said, pointing his fork at Dale. “It’s like lie detector tests. Innocent people never balk at taking them. It’s the guilty ones who hem and haw and find excuses.”
“Like I said, if he’s really the guy, I’ll shake his hand and call him Dad myself.” Dale put his olives on my plate—he hated them and knew I loved them. “I just… I don’t want Sara’s hopes dashed. She’s been through enough.”
“Aww.” I put my arm around him and rested my cheek against his shoulder for a moment. “You’re so good to me.”
He kissed the top of my head.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you!” I sat up, looking at Dale and then over at Aimee and Matt. “He’s moving here!”
“What?” Aimee exclaimed. “Oh wow! For you?”
“No. He had a job interview here that day he saw my picture in the paper.” I laughed, shaking my head. “That’s why he came back today. To finalize things.”
“You’re kidding.” Dale stared at me.
“Nope.” I shrugged. “I swear, my life is one long string of weird coincidences.”
“Right.” Aimee snorted. “It’s not fate or anything.”
“Or God’s plan,” Matt offered.
“Matt!” Aimee elbowed him. “Ix-nay on the od-gay.”
“What? It could be fate but it couldn’t be God?”
“You have to admit, it’s all pretty weird.” Aimee didn’t answer her new husband. “You’re obsessed with Tyler Vincent—and you meet Dale Diamond, who happens to be Tyler Vincent’s love child.”
“Shh!” I put my fingers to my lips. “No one’s supposed to know that.”
“Okay, okay.” Aimee lowered her voice. “But you fall in love with Dale, and he wins that Battle of the Bands and gets all super-famous.”
“Not yet.” Dale smirked. “If I was super famous we wouldn’t be able to sit in an Olive Garden without interruption.”
Aimee ignored him. “Then that goddamned photographer—by the way, Dale, you should sue him. Take him to the cleaners. I won’t buy one wedding picture from him.”
“Aimee, don’t do that!” I exclaimed. “They’re your wedding photos!”
“My mom bought a bunch. I’ll get hers when she’s dead,” she replied. “Anyway, one picture in the paper and poof! Your real dad finds you!”
“I know.” Hadn’t I just been thinking the same thing earlier? “It is weird.”
“It’s fate.” Aimee insisted. “Like meeting Matt. If you hadn’t stayed after school that day—”
“Washing desks with Dale,” I reminded her.
“Then I wouldn’t have gone home with Carrie and Wendy. And I never would have met Carrie’s brother.”
“What about the bee?” Dale asked. “Was that fate too?”
“Bees are the devil.” Aimee shuddered involuntarily, glaring at him.
“Oh there’s a devil, but no God.” Matt rolled his eyes, getting another breadstick out of the basket.
“Besides,” Aimee said, waving her hand in dismissal. “Matt didn’t fall in love with me because of the bee.”
Matt swallowed and blinked.“I kind of did.”
“What?”Aimee clearly didn’t like hearing that.
“Tread carefully here,” Dale interjected, wagging his finger at Matt. “I don’t want to see you guys on Divorce Court.”
“I just mean… you were so cute, falling all over yourself trying to get away from that bee…” Matt stammered. He was started to turn red. “And you know, I had to get out and rescue you.”
“And no guy can resist rescuing a damsel in distress,” I weighed in.
“But you wouldn’t let me hear the end of it, Matt!” Aimee put her fork down. It clattered on her empty salad plate. “Oh, Aimee, sit here BEEtween me and Carrie. Oh, Aimee, I do BEElieve I see your house. Oh Aimee—”
“I told you, boys only tease you because they like you,” I reminded her. “Mrs. Stowe was right about that.”
“BEEsides.” Matt leaned over and kissed her cheek. “It was that stupid BEE who brought us together.”
Aimee crossed her arms, not looking at him, but I could tell she was relenting.
“You should thank him for giving his life, because the way you jumped in my arms, girl. I was totally…” Matt stopped, searching for the word, turning her face to his. “BEEguiled.”