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An imperious knocking on the door of the opulent hotel suite startled Kate Fitzgerald from her disturbing thoughts. Hurrying to the door, she peered through the peephole and then opened it wide to the man who stalked inside, dragging his hand through his long hair.
"Keep your voice down," she said without preamble, closing the door behind him. "Tenley is sleeping in the next room."
Russell Wilson might look like a British rock star with his skinny jeans, necklaces and leather jacket, but he was one of the most coveted talent agents in the country. Kate could see he was angry, and she couldn't blame him.
"The video of Tenley's meltdown has gone viral," he snapped. "It's only been three days, and every social media and video-sharing website is promoting it. Even the major news networks have picked it up. Bloody hell, what a train wreck."
Kate chewed the edge of her thumb as she watched him pace. Behind her on the flat-screen television, the evening news was running yet another clip of Tenley Miles's anti-military rant, caught by several fans on their cell phones and provided to the media. Kate cringed as she listened to Tenley scream about how the military was medieval in its enlistment tactics, brutal in its treatment of new recruits and uncaring of the young men and women who gave their lives to feed its ravenous appetite. But worst of all, she'd concluded her shocking meltdown by stating she was ashamed to call herself an American. Was Tenley overdramatic? Certainly. But even knowing her sister's tendency toward extreme emotions, Kate had to admit it looked bad.
"I'm more concerned about Tenley than I am about her fans," Kate said. "She's emotionally fragile right now."
Russell gave a snort. "When isn't she emotionally fragile? Whatever possessed her to run off with a complete stranger and get married is beyond me. At least you had the good sense to have it annulled."
Kate sighed and moved to the window to gaze out at the lights of San Antonio. Tenley would perform at the AT&T Center later that night before heading to Dallas for two shows, and then finally home to Nashville. Had it really been only a week since they'd spent three nights in Las Vegas? Since her sister had met Corporal Doug Armstrong, a young soldier who had scored backstage tickets to meet her, and had run off with him? She'd hated hurting Tenley by using her role as legal guardian to have the marriage annulled, but she wouldn't let anyone take advantage of her sister's soft heartor her substantial bank accountno matter how handsome or charming he might be.
"I didn't have a choice," she said tonelessly, staring through the glass at the neon lights of the strip below. "They barely knew each other, and he's stationed in California. What did she thinkthat she and Doug were going to move there and they would live happily ever after?"
Kate closed her eyes against the memory of Tenley telling her she had just gotten married, and her own reaction to the news. If it had been anyone else, Kate might have been inclined to let the newlyweds discover for themselves that they'd made a terrible mistake. But a failed marriage would destroy Tenley, and if they were to have a child
No, she'd made the right decision. The annulment might cause Tenley pain now, but that pain would be far worse if Kate had allowed the marriage to continue. She only hoped her sister would forgive her for interfering.
"Well, so long as the public doesn't learn about the elopement, then no harm done," Russell finally said. "Although it will be hard to keep the information quiet after that public display. People will want to know what caused her to act so out of character, and we can hardly tell them her bitterness toward the military is because her husbandto whom, by the way, she is no longer marriedhas just been shipped off to Afghanistan for a year." Russell gave Kate a smile. "That was a great move, by the way."
Kate compressed her lips but didn't immediately say anything. If Tenley ever discovered that Kate was the one responsible for having the young man peremptorily shipped overseas, she'd never forgive her. All it had taken was a couple of phone calls, and the deed was done. Kate didn't regret her actions. She had acted in Tenley's best interests.
As the daughter of two famous singers, both of whom had been killed in a bus accident when she was just a child, Tenley Miles was the darling of the country-music scene. She'd grown up in the public spotlight and her sweet disposition and naivety, combined with the obstacles she had overcome, had helped to fuel her popularity.
Kate still remembered the day she had gotten the news that their mother and her fiance had been killed. She'd been just two months into her freshman year of college and the news had changed her life forever. She'd wanted to become part of the exploding internet industry and had been excited about the prospect of designing programs that would connect people with others around the globe. But when she learned that her mother had died, she'd left college to care for her then six-year-old sister. That had been twelve years ago. She didn't regret her decision, and if her own dreams of becoming a web designer weren't progressing as quickly as she'd hoped, then she had only herself to blame. She'd made her choice and she told herself that she didn't regret any of it. Besides, she'd been able to help Tenley achieve her own success.
At just eighteen years old, Tenley Miles was the biggest thing to hit the country pop scene in more than three years. She'd signed her first recording contract at just fifteen years old, and her debut single had spent eight weeks in the number-one spot on the country charts. A year later, she had released two albums and won five Grammys, along with a dozen other awards. By the time she was seventeen, she was filling music halls and stadiums around the country and each of her four albums had gone platinum. Her anti-military rant could definitely have a negative impact on her image, especially if the news got out about her elopement with a soldier. The last thing Kate needed was for Russell to drop his young client just when the country singer's career was skyrocketing.
"Look, I'll do damage control, I promise," Kate said to Russell. "We'll figure this out."
Russell whirled on her in disbelief, his eyebrows nearly disappearing into his hairline. "Damage control? Are you freaking joking?" He gave a laugh of disbelief. "Katie, darling, do you realize her little diatribe cost her nearly half of her audience attendance at last night's concert? Her recording label called this morning to say that she's already receiving hate mail. They can't afford this kind of negative publicity and are actually considering dropping her. What kind of damage control can you possibly do after that?" He stabbed his finger in the direction of the television, where a fan had caught the country pop star having her very public, very ugly meltdown. "It's bad enough that she eloped during a concert tour with some soldier, but now this? It's like she's deliberately trying to sabotage her own career."
Kate bit her tongue and forced herself to remain calm. "You know Tenley," she replied. "She's impulsive. That's why she has me."
"And what are you going to do about this?" Russell snapped in irritation. "In less than five minutes that girl has managed to destroy everything we've worked so hard to create. She's alienated every patriotic and uniformed person in this country. Christ, there's a public outcry to boycott her music. Even the liberals are lambasting her."
"Keep your voice down," Kate admonished, glancing toward the bedroom door. "I have an idea, one that will demonstrate her goodwill toward the troops."
"It had better be good," Russell snarled. "If she has to cancel the rest of her tourwhich is looking more likely with every passing hourthis is going to get very expensive, very quickly."
Kate pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and began scrolling through her extensive list of contacts. "I've been thinking about the huge Independence Day concert tour taking place in Afghanistan next month," she said, slanting Russell a quick look. "Everyone is talking about it. In fact, I believe several of your biggest clients are participating. Let me make a few calls and see if we can squeeze Tenley into the lineup."
"You can't be serious," Russell groaned. "Do you know the hoops I had to jump through to get my other clients on that tour? Even if you could pull it off, it's too late! Tenley can't just cancel her scheduled performances to go overseas."
Kate arched an eyebrow. "To hear you tell it, she'll be lucky if her remaining performances aren't canceled due to lack of interest. But I'm not buying it. Tenley is a box-office juggernaut, and I can't imagine that the USO won't be thrilled to have her join the tour."
"And what makes you think Tenley will agree to go over there?"
Kate gave a tight smile. "Are you kidding? She'll jump at the opportunity to be in the same country as her lost love, even for just a few days. Not that there'll be any chance of seeing him, of course. My understanding is that he was sent to one of the remote outposts in the northern part of the country."
Russell was silent for a moment as he considered Kate's words. "That might just work," he mused. "Of course, the USO may not agree to finance her trip, especially at this late date, so we could have to pay for it out of pocket. That's disappointing, but if it works "
"I'll make it work," Kate promised.
Russell raised his eyebrows. "You've always been so protective of Tenley. Are you sure you want to send her to a combat zone?"
Kate gave him a tolerant look. "If Carrie Underwood and Faith Hill can do the tour, then so can Tenley. It's not as if she won't have ample protection. Besides, I'd rather send her to Afghanistan for a week than see her career crash and burn."
Glancing toward the bedroom door, Russell lowered his voice. "I've always thought you were too easy on her, and I'm glad to see you finally take off the kid gloves."
Kate looked at him in exasperation. "I'm not doing this to punish her. I'm doing it because I care about her. After all, she's my baby sister."
"Half sister," he corrected.
"The point is," Kate said carefully, "I'm all she has. Nobody else is going to look out for her, and she's certainly not capable of looking out for herself. The fact that she ran off with the first guy she met is proof of that. She needs me."
"Hmm," mused Russell. "Still, it is Afghanistan."
"This is a huge Independence Day event," Kate said. "Trust me, if there was any danger, the USO wouldn't allow the concert to proceed. In fact, my plan is to arrive a few days ahead of Tenley, tour the various bases where the concerts will take place, and ensure the proper security measures are set up." She smiled at Russell. "She'll have the entire United States Army to protect her. What could possibly go wrong?"