Read an Excerpt
Resisting the Musician
A Head Over Heels Novel
By Ally Blake, Allison Blissard
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Ally Blake
All rights reserved.
Lori Hanover's reasons for begrudging Dash Mills's very existence were many and varied. And she'd never even met the guy.
The most pressing was the fact that the man had no email, no mailing address, and a landline phone that was never answered, well, not when she called at least, all of which had led to her current predicament; with her gorgeous Calliope-brand high heels sinking into a muddy puddle a hundred miles from home.
It wasn't as if she had a shoe shortage. Calliope Shoes was her company, after all. But she always preferred samples, making her a tantalizing walking advertisement for what was on the horizon. Though, considering the currently precarious nature of said company, the sassy black mules with their wild ruffles were as likely to become a collector's item as they were a production model.
Toes curling, Lori squinted against the sunshine glinting off the mid-summer drizzle. The greenish gloom beneath a cloistering canopy of towering redwoods shrouded what she could only hope was Dash Mills's house.
The directions her effervescent assistant, Tracey, had tracked down had been indefinite at best — no street name, no number, merely a pinpoint on her GPS leading to a sprawling, low-set arrangement of dark, wet walls, smoky windows lit golden from the inside and black asymmetric rooflines that seemed to fade into the surrounding silence.
The place might have been appealing if Lori could forgive the fact that the only way to get from the end of the driveway to the house a hundred feet away was via smatterings of mossy rock and a lot of mud.
But Lori wasn't big on forgiveness.
A bark pierced the quiet, and a bird cawed and skittered from a tree. Lori spun to follow the sound only to find deep shadow, dappled light, and an echo of flapping wings. Heart rocketing against her ribs, her disapproval of the illusive Dash Mills only compounded.
She glanced back at her shiny black town car fully expecting to see her driver, Mack, enjoying her freak out. Instead, she found the car was more mud-splattered than black after the slippery, mucky final leg of the interminable journey from the city, and Mack was deeply engrossed in his tablet — no doubt worriedly checking his teenaged daughters' Facebook pages.
Meaning she was on her own.
She took a fortifying breath and checked her watch to find five minutes had already been absorbed into the dense silence of the forest. Time to get this over with.
Using the big, pink envelope she held as a make-shift umbrella, Lori stepped from rock to rock, wishing Herve Leger made overalls as well as bandage dresses. In her effort not to land on her backside she glanced up only to check her phone for messages.
The coverage flickered from barely there to non-existent. Fabulous. Nevertheless, she called up her sister's name, her thumb hovering over the phone number. Odds were her sister's phone would be on silent.
That morning, for the first time in weeks Callie had left their Pacific Heights apartment full of beans and keen to dive into a 'super-productive session.' Designing shoes so exquisite they'd take a woman's breath fair away was Callie's god-given gift. Or it had been, until recent events had turned their lives upside down.
Willing to do whatever it took to facilitate Callie's imagination and get things back to the way they'd been, Lori had swiped the pink envelope from her sister's room and taken off into the boondocks, squeezing in time she didn't have in order to do the enigmatic errand Callie had been harping on about so her sister didn't have to.
Lori's thumb moved to the message icon and she typed.
When I was told go halfway to Napa and turn left I imagined beachfront, not the summer residence of the Unabomber family.
A response came within seconds.
Lori swore beneath her breath — so much for the super-productive design session.
I'm standing outside the house of Dash Mills.
Callie's next Message came through fast. OMG! Thank u thank u! It's been at the top of my to do list and still kept slipping my mind!
Of course it had slipped her mind. Ever since Callie had fallen head over heels for rock god Jake Mitchell, everything that had once been important to the Hanover girls had lost significance.
Lori's predisposition to disliking Dash Mills grew nasty, acid-tipped claws. For, according to Callie, the guy was a longtime friend of Jake's as well as a former band-mate, and that made him a cohort of the enemy.
It wasn't as if Jake was the devil incarnate — Callie was too sweet a kid to fall for someone that bad — but he'd brought Lori nothing but bad luck.
Starting with the moment they'd first met. Callie had been designing the wedding shoe for Jake's previous fiancée — an adorable country singer, no less, who had more Twitter followers than God and no compunction about pouring her heart out to each and every one.
As the story went, Little Miss Singer had been smack bang in the middle of her Cinderella moment, sitting on a stool with her wedding shoe in Callie's gentle hands, when Jake had walked in, taken one look at Callie and decided she was the woman for him.
The gutter press hadn't stopped salivating over the story ever since, their overtones salacious, turning Calliope Shoes into a celebrity no-go zone, with stylists refusing to even accept their samples, fearing they'd be tainted by association. And as for the general wedding shoe buying public — who in the world would risk buying a bridal shoe designed by a woman who'd stolen another woman's groom?
Lori's phone buzzed, and, glancing at it, her shoe slipped out from under her, but she caught herself in time. Nevertheless, it took a few moments for her heart rate to resettle.
Time enough to curse the fact that six months earlier, had Callie never met Jake and they'd both been sitting pretty. While that afternoon, Lori had a meeting with Calliope Shoes' biggest department store account, and she'd bet her right boob they were going to cancel the order of next year's spring line. They wouldn't be the first.
But it couldn't go on like this forever, surely. Something had to give. One way or another. Hopefully not with her ending up face down in the mud.
This time she checked the message before taking another step.
Best sister ever. Love you!
Right back at you, kid, Lori thought. Then typed:
Save it for when you *really* need a favor. Like bail. Or the Heimlich.
Lori glanced at the mysterious envelope Callie had been carrying with her for days. 'Eyes only' was written on the front in Callie's curly writing. The girl's imagination had always extended beyond designing shoes.
What do you need me to do? Just hand it over?
Forced to cross her legs to avoid stepping on a rock balanced atop another rock, her tight skirt was the only thing stopping her from doing some kind of spinning splits.
Which, of course, was when her phone rang. She pressed the speaker button to find Callie already talking. "Promise me you won't laugh."
Untwisting herself slowly, Lori grimaced, "No fear of that."
"Okay, here goes. The envelope — more specifically the contents therein — is my engagement present for Jake."
Mid-twist, Lori shifted her grip on the pale-pink envelope as if the words upon it were written in poisoned ink. The way Callie had been fretting about not being able to get a hold of Dash Mills and needing to get 'the work' to him, Lori had assumed it was a shoe design. That maybe Callie was moving into menswear. That maybe that might be a way for them to survive this PR mess.
But no. It was about Jake Freaking Mitchell.
Glancing back at the car, and the slippery, rutted road they had to once again attempt on the long road home, Lori gritted her teeth.
Oblivious, Callie went on, "What do you get for the man who has everything?"
"I've written Jake a song!"
Oh Callie, Lori thought, her heart twisting for her sister.
"I've written the lyrics, at least. I need Dash to write the music. And, get this — I'm going to sing it. On stage. As a surprise!"
Lori pictured Callie singing, terribly, off key, with all her heart. If the tabloids found out, and juxtaposed that with Little Miss Country and Western, they'd eat her alive.
Callie went on, "I'd floated the idea of the song the night I met Dash. I'd had a few cosmos — who'd admit they wrote secret poetry about their shiny new fiancé to a practical stranger without the aid of muchos vodka, right?"
Hang on a second. Was Callie saying this wasn't fait accompli? If she'd come all this way for nothing ...
"He'll do it," Callie persevered, finally seeming to catch on to Lori's mood. "He's awesome. And Jake says he's one of the best. Would totally use him still if the others didn't have issues with the way Dash vamoosed from the band ... you know?"
No, Lori didn't know, but by that point she didn't much care.
"Anyway, for this gift to have the resonance it requires, it has to be Dash," finished Callie with a flourish, while Lori felt like sitting down in the mud might not be an altogether terrible option right about then.
Rubbing at her temple instead, Lori said, "Let me get this straight. When I thought you were working on some fabulous, super-secret, ground-breaking, world-amazing shoe ... you were writing poetry. For Jake."
Callie's silence wasn't a happy one. "I know I haven't been drawing as much lately, but things will settle soon. You have to believe in me."
"I do. You know I do." But if she hadn't have pushed Callie, she'd still be scratching out her drawings on the backs of the paper napkins at the grim little Big Sky Café in their inconsequential home town. "And you know it's not your resolve I'm worried about."
Selective hearing at play, Callie asked, "How did you even find Dash's place? I tried getting it out of Jake, without sounding like I gave a hoot, but he's so bad with details. A half hour past the best hot pie shop on the west coast, was all I got from him. And the number I secretly swiped from Jake's phone was never answered."
"Tracey," Lori said, talking about her loyal, long-time assistant. "Google maps. And ways and means I find it best not to know about."
"The woman's a menace," said Callie with reverence.
"Thankfully, she's our menace."
Callie laughed, then said, "I know I should have asked for your help in the first place rather than keeping things so hush-hush."
Lori swallowed, understanding too well why Callie hadn't wanted to involve her. She hadn't exactly been encouraging of the relationship with Jake. When it fell apart, she'd be the best sister in the entire world.
"And if Dash needs a last little nudge to convince him to help me, who better to nudge than you? We Hanover girls can be pretty convincing when we want to be."
Lori glanced around at her unlikely surroundings. Yeah, she thought, we can. "So, while I do this for you, I need you to promise to do something for me."
"Remember what Marilyn said?"
Lori had few good memories of her childhood in Fairbanks, Montana, but their mother — a true Marilyn Monroe fan — directing them through horrendously off-key renditions of Two Little Girls From Little Rock was one of them. Callie's high-glamour designs owed a great deal to the warm hazy blur of weeks when their mother had Gentlemen Prefer Blondes on rotation.
In Lori's sharper recollections of the darker days, Bus Stop played in the background ad nauseam. The day their father had finally left for good, their mother's Marilyn DVDs had been put away for good.
Lori played along. "Marilyn said, 'Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world'."
"Now get to work."
"Yes, boss. And ... have fun, okay? And play nice."
With that, Callie hung up.
Play nice? Callie's version of nice was as different to Lori's as Snow White was to the Evil Queen. But somebody was forced to be the bad guy after their father had left — to stand up to the mean girls, town gossips, and debt collectors — and with their mother near catatonic it had fallen to Lori.
Splat! A wet tree branch fell from on high, missing Lori by inches. She leapt back, squealing like a little girl and ...
No, no, noooo! Sludge seeped between her toes, filling the delicate black ruffles as her shoe sank into a thick, cold puddle. On a whimper, Lori lifted it free with a slurping suck to find it an inch deep in shimmering brown mud.
What horrible thing had she done in a former life to deserve ending up here? Tossed litter out the car window? Damaged a library book and given it back without telling? Seduced a priest?
A rare urge to throttle her sister came over her, but no, it wasn't in her DNA to blame Callie for anything. She could have strangled Jake, but at least he kept Callie so thoroughly distracted she hadn't a clue about the depths of trouble their company was in.
Add a two and a half hour round trip to deliver a damn package because some putz had decided to go completely off grid, and the focus of her ire condensed to one Dash Mills. Friends with Jake Pain-in-the-Ass Mitchell and now he'd ruined her shoes? The guy may as well have had a target tattooed to his head.
Chin down, Lori took a straight line toward the house till her mud-caked heels slid and clacked against the dank steps leading up to the dark wrap-around porch.
She'd give over Callie's lyrics, give the guy a brief and a deadline, and off she'd go, never having to be put out by him again. Glaring at the heavy front door, she wrapped her fingers around her phone, curling her other hand into a satisfying fist as she prepared to pummel —
When she heard a noise.
A scrabbling. A snuffling. The sound seeming to come from ... inside? Behind her? Everywhere.
Fight or flight instincts spiking, the first things that hit her — literally — were two huge gray and white streaks as a pair of massive husky dogs appeared in a whirling dervish of legs and claws and lolling tongues. And then they were gone, leaping off the end of the porch and gamboling off into the forest.
Heart in her throat, lungs full to bursting, and blood rushing every which way, Lori barely had the chance to collect her breath when she realized they were merely the forewarning.
What followed was a man. And as he slowly made his way up the steps toward her, despite her own five feet eight inches — plus the added benefit of four-inch heels — she found herself looking up, and up, and up.
With the muted sunlight at his back and the darkness of the porch at his front, he was a shadow. A huge man-shaped shadow in a crumpled gray T-shirt attempting to contain his wide chest, scruffy jeans clinging to thighs the size of tree trunks, and dirty-blond hair sticking out at every angle.
And was that some kind of weapon slung over his shoulder? An axe? A gun?
Lori gripped her phone so tight her fingertips lost feeling.
If she was the Evil Queen, then here was the huntsman. Did the huntsman take down the queen? She couldn't for the life of her remember. She couldn't even remember which fairy tale it was from.
What she did know was that apart from two absent wolf dogs and her distracted driver, she and this mountain of a man were alone.
The man-shape clearly wasn't so taken aback. In a voice so deep it left reverberations in its wake, he said, "You're not Reg."
She opened her mouth to agree that she was not Reg, but the man didn't wait to be told. He merely shouldered his way past — a wall of heat knocking her out of his way before he even had to — opened the unlocked door and headed into the even deeper darkness of the entrance of the house. Once inside, he nudged off his huge muddy boots and shook of any raindrops that dared cling to him.
Lori was somewhat mollified to see the weapon over his shoulder turn out to be a stick. A big stick, sure. The perfect kind to throw to a dog ... or two.
When he shot her a guarded glance through a pair of bedroom eyes she knew the sooner she got this over and done with the sooner she could get back to the real world.
Excerpted from Resisting the Musician by Ally Blake, Allison Blissard. Copyright © 2014 Ally Blake. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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