She and Bobby had been in Nashville for two days now. It ought to have been perfect. Their room at the Loews Hotel was breathtakingly beautiful. They’d splurged on romantic dinners in the restaurant and eaten breakfast in bed. They’d toured Opryland and seen the Country Music Hall of Fame. Most important, Bobby had aced his auditions. All four of them. His first had been in a dank, windowless office, with a low-level executive listening. Bobby had come home depressed, complaining that his big shot had been heard by a kid with acne and a poor sense of style. That night, they’d drunk champagne and tried to pretend it didn’t matter. Claire had held him close and told him how much she loved him.
The callback had come at 8:45 the next morning, and it had been a Ferris wheel of opportunity since then. He’d sung his songs for one executive after another until he’d finally found himself in the big corner office that overlooked the street of Country and Western dreams: Music Row. Each new executive had introduced “his” discovery to the man above him.
Their lives had changed in the last twenty-four hours. Bobby was “someone.” A guy who was “going places.”
Now, they sat at a front table in a small, unassuming nightclub, she and the executives and her husband. In less than an hour, Bobby was scheduled to take the stage. It was a chance to “show his concert stuff” to the executives.
Bobby had no trouble talking to the men. Among them, there was rarely a pause. They talked about people and things Claire knew nothing about—demo records and studio time and royalty rates and contract provisions.
She wanted to keep it all straight. In her fantasies, she was Bobby’s partner as well as his wife, but she couldn’t seem to concentrate. The endless flight from Kauai to Oahu to Seattle to Memphis to Nashville had left its mark in a dull headache that wouldn’t go away. And she kept remembering how disappointed Ali had been that Mommy wasn’t coming home on time.
The smoke in the club didn’t help. Neither did the thudding music or the shouting conversation. She clung to Bobby’s hand, nodding when one of the executives spoke to her, hoping her smile wasn’t as fragile as it felt.
Kent Ames smiled at her. “Bobby goes on in forty-five minutes. Usually it takes years to get a spot on this stage.”
She nodded, widening her smile.
“This is where Garth Brooks was discovered, you know. Not by me, damn it.”
Claire felt an odd tingling sensation in her right hand. It took her two tries to reach out for her margarita. When she took hold, she drank the whole thing, hoping it would ease her headache.
It didn’t. Instead, it made her sick to her stomach. She slid off the bar stool and stood there, surprised to find that she was unsteady on her feet. She must have had one too many drinks.
“I’m sorry,” she realized that she had interrupted a conversation when the men looked up at her.
“Claire?” Bobby got to his feet.
She pulled up a smile. It felt a little weak, one sided. “I’m sorry, Bobby. My headache is worse. I think I need to lie down.” She kissed his cheek, whispered, “Knock ’em dead, baby.”
He put his arm around her, held her close. “I’ll walk her back to the hotel.”
Ryan frowned. “But your set—”
“I had to call in a favor to get you this opportunity,” Kent said stonily.
“I’ll be back in time,” Bobby said. Keeping a close hold, he maneuvered her out of the club and onto the loud, busy street.
“You don’t have to escort me, Bobby. Really.”
“Nothing matters more than you. Nothing. Those guys might as well know my priorities right off the bat.”
“Someone’s getting a little cocky.” She leaned against him as they walked down the street.
“Luck’s been on my side lately. Ever since I took the stage at Cowboy Bob’s.”
They hurried through the lobby and rode the elevator to their floor. In their room, Bobby gently undressed her and put her to bed, making sure she had water and aspirin on the night table.
“Go to sleep, my love,” he whispered, kissing her forehead.
“Good luck, baby. I love you.”
“That’s exactly why I don’t need luck.”
She knew when he was gone. There was a click of the door and the room felt colder, emptier. Claire roused herself enough to call home. She tried to sound upbeat as she told Ali and Sam about the exciting day and reminded them that she’d be home in two days. After she hung up, she sighed heavily and closed her eyes.
When Claire woke up the next morning, her headache was gone. She felt sluggish and tired, but it was easy to smile when Bobby told her how it had gone.
“I blew them away, Claire. No kidding. Kent Ames was salivating over my future. He offered us a contract. Can you believe it?”
They were curled up in their suite’s window seat, both wearing the ultrasoft robes provided by the hotel. Bright morning sunlight pushed through the window; Bobby looked so handsome he took Claire’s breath away. “Of course I can believe it. I’ve heard you sing. You deserve to be a superstar. How does it all work?”
“They think it’ll take a month or so in Nashville. Finding material, putting a backup band together, that sort of thing. Kent said it isn’t unusual to go through three thousand songs to find the right one. After we make the demo, they’ll start promoting me. They want me to tour through September and October. Alan Jackson needs an opening act. Alan Jackson. But don’t worry. I told them we’d have to work out a schedule that was good for the family.”
Claire loved him more in that moment than she would have imagined was possible. She grabbed his robe and pulled him close. “You will only have men and ugly women on your bus. I’ve seen movies about those tours.”
He kissed her, long and slow and hard. When he drew back, she was dizzy. “What did I ever do to deserve you, Claire?”
“You loved me,” she answered, reaching into his robe. “Now take me to bed and love me again.”
Meghann was not relaxed by her day at the spa. Between massages, facials, and Jacuzzi tub soaks, she and Elizabeth had talked endlessly. No matter how often Meghann tried to control the direction of their discussions, one topic kept reemerging.
Elizabeth had been relentless. For the first time, Meghann knew how it felt to be pummeled by someone else’s opinions.
Call him. Quit being such a chicken. The advice had come in dozens of ways and hundreds of different sentences, but it all boiled down to the same thing:
Honestly, Meghann was glad to take her friend to the airport. The silence came as a sweet relief. But then Meghann returned to her silent condo and found that Elizabeth’s voice had remained behind and so, she’d kept busy. For dinner, she bought a slice of pizza and walked along the wharf, window shopping with the steady stream of tourists that came off the ferries and spilled down the hilly streets from the Public Market.
It was 8:30 by the time she got home.
Once again, the quiet of her home was the only greeting that came her way.
“I need to get a cat,” she said aloud, tossing her handbag onto the sofa. Instead, she watched Sex and the City, then a rerun of The Practice (Bobby Donnell was crying again). She turned it off in disgust.
Yeah. Male defense lawyers are a weepy set.
She went to bed.
And lay there, eyes wide open, for the rest of the night.
Call him, you chicken.
At 6:30 the next morning, she rolled out of bed, took a shower, and dressed in a plain black suit with a lavender silk shell.
One look in the mirror reminded her that she hadn’t slept more than two hours the night before. As if she needed to notice her wrinkles to remember that.
She was at her desk by 7:30, highlighting the Pernod deposition.
Every fifteen minutes, she glanced at her phone.
Finally, at 10:00, she gave up and buzzed her secretary.
“Yes, Ms. Dontess?”
“I need the number for a garage in Hayden, Washington.”
“I don’t know the name or the address. But it’s across the street from Riverfront Park. On Front Street.”
“I’m going to need—”
“—to be resourceful. It’s a small town. Everybody knows everybody.”
“Thanks.” Meghann hung up.
Ten long minutes passed. Finally Rhona buzzed on line one.
“Here’s the number. It’s called Smitty’s Garage.”
Meghann wrote down the number and stared at it. Her heart was beating quickly.
“This is ridiculous.” She picked up the phone and dialed. With every ring, she had to fight the urge to hang up.
Meghann swallowed hard. “Is Joe there?”
“Just a sec. Joe!”
The phone clanged down, then was picked up. “Hello?”
“Joe? It’s Meghann.”
There was a long pause. “I thought I’d seen the last of you.”
“I guess it won’t be that easy.” But the joke fell into silence. “I . . . uh . . . I have a deposition in Snohomish County on Friday afternoon. I’m sure you won’t want to . . . I shouldn’t have called, but I thought you might like to get together for dinner.”
He didn’t answer.
“Forget it. I’m an idiot. I’ll hang up now.”
“I could pick up a couple of steaks and borrow Smitty’s barbecue.”
“You mean it?”
He laughed softly, and the sound of it released that achy tension in her neck. “Why not?”
“I’ll be there about six. Is that okay?”
“I’ll bring wine and dessert.”
Meghann was smiling when she hung up. Ten minutes later, Rhona buzzed her again.
“Ms. Dontess, your sister is on line two. She says it’s urgent.”
“Thanks.” Meg put on her headset and pushed the button. “Hey, Claire. Welcome back. Your flight must have been on time. Amazing. How was—?”
“I’m at the airport. I didn’t know who else to call.” Claire’s voice was shaky; it almost sounded as if she was crying.
“What’s going on, Claire?”
“I don’t remember the flight from Nashville. I also don’t remember getting my luggage, but it’s right here. I don’t remember getting my keys or walking through the garage, but I’m sitting in my car.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I, damn it,” Claire screamed, then she started to sob. “I can’t remember how to get home.”
“Oh, my God.” Instead of panicking, Meghann took charge. “Do you have a piece of paper?”
“Yes. Right here.”
“Yes.” Her sobs slowed down. “I’m scared, Meg.”
“Write this down. Eight twenty-nine Post Alley. Do you have that?”
“I’m holding it.”
“Keep holding it. Now get out of your car and walk toward the terminal.”