This is dedicated to the women of the industry:
To Meg Ruley, Dianne Moggy and Margo Lipschultz
for helping me be the best that I can be
To Margie Mullen and Marianne Szamraj
for making the First Ever Midwest Newsgroup tour so much fun
To Sue Grimshaw and Kathy Baker
and booksellers everywhere for getting my books into the hands of readers
And to The Levy Gang:
Pam Nelson, Justine Willis, Emily Hixon, Kathleen Koelbl, Janet Krey, Krystal Nelson and (okay, so you're not a woman - you really need to be mentioned anyhow) DeVar "Heyyyy, Ladies!" Spight for the Sizzling Summer Reads Author Tour. I might not have gotten much sleep, but the laughter and being treated like a queen more than made up for it.
Thanks to you all
Headline, Nashville Tattler
Country Star of Grammy-Winning Song "Mama's Girl" Fires Manager Mom!
JARED HAMILTON DIRECTED the cabbie through dark Denver streets to the old Craftsman-style bungalow that housed Semper Fi Investigations. The taxi pulled into the agency's small parking lot and he climbed from the cab, then watched as the departing vehicle's rear lights grew smaller, blinked red and finally disappeared around a corner two blocks away. Flipping up his collar against the late-spring chill, he turned and climbed the covered front porch to let himself into the dark reception area. Down the hallway a single light glowed through the frosted-glass transom over John Miglionni's door. Bypassing his own office, he stuck his head into his brother-in-law's. "Hey. What are you still doing here at this hour?"
John clicked a command on his keyboard and pushed back to look up at him. "I was actually waiting around hoping to see you."
"Why? What's up?" Dropping his overnighter to the floor, Jared flopped down on the chair facing John's desk. "Must be something work-related. You wouldn't be here at eleven forty-five on a Thursday night if anything had happened to Tori and/or the kids."
The other man gave him a faux paternal look. "Haven't I always said you're brighter than the average Joe?"
"Yeah, yeah. So I ask again-what's up?"
John flashed his famous I'm-so-good-someone-really-oughtta-bottle-me smile. "A very lucrative, high-profile assignment came knocking at my door yesterday."
"Way to go, Rocket!" Congratulations just seemed to call for the military handle his brother-in-law had earned years ago in the Marines.
"Yeah, it's a good thing. Except Willie, who was going to handle it, landed in Rose Medical with a busted appendix this afternoon. And I'm eyeball deep in the Sanderford case."
Stretching out his long legs in front of him, Jared folded his hands over his stomach and gave John a cocky smile. "Guess it's lucky for you then that I just wrapped up my case."
"You might not think so once you discover who we've been hired to find."
Unable to imagine such a scenario, he merely raised both eyebrows in inquiry.
"Wild Wind Records retained us to find your old friend Priscilla Jayne."
Jared's heart gave a single heavy slam against the wall of his chest. He knew it was merely the surprise of hearing that name out of the blue-an assumption that was validated when his heartbeat promptly settled down again. "P.J.?" He met Rocket's gaze levelly. "Why would I have a problem with that?"
John gave him an ironic don't-try-to-kid-a-kidder look. "Well, let me see. Maybe because you two shared a couple of the most intense weeks of your lives?"
"Yeah, we did-fifteenyears ago. Lotsa water under the bridge since then, big brother." He shoved himself a bit straighter in his seat. "So what's the story with country music's hottest new diva? I thought everything was coming up roses for her. How did she come to be missing?"
"Nobody seems to know. But apparently it started Monday when she fired her mother as her manager."
"No shit?" A fierce surge of satisfaction filled Jared. "Good for her.There's a comeuppance that was long overdue." He'd detested P.J.'s mom fifteen years ago and he'd bet the family manse the woman hadn't improved appreciably over the years.
"I don't know how good it is for Priscilla's career though, at least in the short term, since her mom's talking trash to every country-music magazine and yellow journalism rag in the country. P.J.'s due to start a big tour in about two weeks and WildWind Records is getting very nervous that no one seems to have a clue where she's gotten herself off to. If you accept this case, your mission is going to be twofold. First to locate little Miss Priscilla Jayne. Then to accompany her on herSteal the Thunder tour to make sure she doesn't disappear again."
Jared whistled. "The entire tour? Those things can run pretty long-months and months, some of them." He eyed John warily. "How much time are we talking about?" He wasn't sure how he felt about giving up his privacy for several months of babysitting P. J. Morgan. Their friendship might have been the most important relationship of his existence the summer he was seventeen, but that was a long time ago.
"Five weeks, give or take a stop or two."
Okay, he supposed a little over a month was doable. "Does Wild Wind have any idea how much this could end up costing them?"
"They should. I made a point of spelling it out for them in minute detail. They seemed a lot more concerned about how much it will cost them if their million-dollar baby takes a powder."
"That seems pretty unlikely, don't you think? This sounds like P.J.'s big break. It seems to me she has a vested interest in turning up for something that shows every sign of boosting her career right into the stratosphere."
"Like you said, a lot can change in fifteen years. I've heard more than one report claiming she's butted heads with the big dogs in Nashville pretty regularly the past couple years."
Jared could hardly argue with that. Everything he knew about P. J. Morgan these days he'd gleaned from the occasional television report or newspaper article. And those hinted that she could be difficult and demanding.
So who was he to say differently? Their relationship had been intense but brief, and was ancient history long before this assignment had come along.
For all he knew, the sweet, feisty little girl he'd once known could very well have grown up to be a stone-cold bitch just like her mama.
Front cover headline,Country Now magazine:
Where in the World is Priscilla Jayne?
"OH, FOR THE LOVE OFPETE!" P. J. Morgan, known on the country music circuit by her first and middle names, tossed aside the magazine and jumped to her feet. "Mysterious disappearance, my butt! Where do they get this crap?" Scary to thinkCountry Now was one of the reputable publications. She could only imagine what the tabloids were saying.
Crossing the room to the window, she pulled aside the faded olive drape to look out. Not that there was much to see in this wide-spot-in-the-road rural town. At a time in her life when she could finally afford to stay in posh four-star hotels, it was ironic that she'd instead picked a low-rent motel off a secondary highway on a hot, still Texas plain.
"Well, hey." A humorless laugh escaped her. "You can take the girl out of the trailer park, but there's just no getting that trailer trash out of the girl."
Blowing out a breath, she dropped the curtain and turned away. This wasn't exactly what she'd planned when she'd taken off on Monday. She'd been headed for Los Angeles, a city she had never seen. It had seemed exotic, was a good long way from home and she'd figured not many of its citizens were likely to give a good goddamn where one beginning-to-make-a-name-for-herself country singer had gotten herself off to.
With thoughts of parking herself by a palmtree-shaded pool to drink her fill of fruity concoctions sporting frilly paper umbrellas, she'd driven seventeen hours straight, stopping only to stretch her legs and fill up the tank. When she couldn't keep her eyes open to drive another mile, she'd pulled into the Wind Blew Inn, a clean but ancient motor court in the Texas panhandle. She'd promptly fallen into bed and when she'd awakened thirty-six hours later, she'd stayed put instead of hitting the road once again. Something about this nowhere little town's one-block-long main street reminded her of the never-ending series of hick towns she'd lived in growing up.
And when things go to hell, she always said, stick with the familiar.
Her stomach growled, and she realized she was hungry. What day was it, anyway-Thursday? No, God, it was Friday.
Her appetite had been nonexistent since Monday. And if that wasn't indicative of her state of mind, she didn't know what was. One summer a lifetime ago, she and a boy named Jared had gone hungry together on the streets of Denver. It was an experience that had hardwired her ever after not to miss another meal. Yet, except for about six gallons of coffee and the occasional candy bar grabbed when paying for her gas, she'd barely eaten a bite.
Twisting her hair up off her neck, she reached for her baseball cap and pulled it on, then donned a pair of oversized dark glasses. Slipping a handful of bills into her shorts pocket, she headed for the door.
It was hotter than usual for early June and the swamp cooler laboring in her room's window dripped green-tinged condensation onto the concrete next to the two-step stoop outside her door. Blinking against the glare, she tugged the brim of her navy cap down and set out across the lot.