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Due to the lateness of the hour and what Shanna considered a miracle, they had only a twenty-minute delay before the plane finally lifted off.
While her companions dozed, Beth in the window seat behind her and Max on her left, Shanna glanced through the newspaper. In her usual postconcert high, she was too wired to sleep. The headline story drew her attention: Recording Magnate Dies.
Andrew Morgan, founder and president of Morningsong Productions, died Friday of a massive heart attack. Morgan was seventy-five and is succeeded by his wife, Mary, and their grandsons, Joshua and Tom Morgan.
Shanna folded the paper. She didnt need to read any more. The Morgans had built the largest conglomerate in the music industry. Andrew had been her mentor as well as her employer, and while she hadnt always agreed with his methods, she loved him.
Shanna stuffed the paper into the seat pocket in front of her, then turned to stare into the black, starless night outside the 747s tiny window.
It would be 3 a.m. before they reached Nashville. Once on the ground, theyd drive another hour to the Morningsong Estate, catch a few winks, then attend the memorial service at eleven. Shanna released the seat and leaned back. If she could sleep, she wouldnt have to think too much about Morningsong or Andrew or Joshua.
Shanna startled when she felt a callused hand on hers.
You OK, darlin? Max leaned forward in his seat and fixed his concerned gaze on her.
No, Im not OK. Im angry, Im afraid, and I want to go back to Colorado and then on to the West Coast. I want to get as far away from Joshua as possible. In spite of her thoughts, she smiled and said, Im just tired. There would be no turning back. Besides, she wanted to pay her last respects to Andrew. Even in the worst of times, hed offered his support.
Max lifted his hat and combed his fingers through his unruly black-and-silver hair. Its going to be a long trip.
After several minutes passed he spoke again. Hard to imagine Morningsong without old Andrew. Course, I doubt things will change much. Joshua will step in and fill his granddaddys shoes just fine.
Im sure he will.
Max must have felt her stiffen, seen the look of panic in her eyes. He stared at her for a moment, fingering the band of the hat that seemed as much an appendage as his ears. Whats troubling you, sugar? And dont tell me its Andrews death. Losing him is a terrible thing, but I know its something more.
Shanna clenched her teeth. I know it sounds crazy, but I cant work with Joshua. I Im going to have to leave Morningsong.
Sure you can. It wont be so bad. Joshuas a great guy. Max leaned back against the seat and settled the hat back on his head.
To you, maybe. She swallowed past the lump in her throat. How could she explain her feelings to Max? She hardly understood them herself. All she knew was that being with Joshua again would tear her apart. Shed worked too hard to overcome the past to have her life disrupted all over again.
Look, Shanna, I know working with your ex wont be easy, but you dont have much choice. You signed an ironclad contract with Morningsong Productions. You cant leave for at least another year.
Dont remind me. Id never have signed on again if Id known Andrew would die on us. Shannas voice broke. The tears shed held in for what seemed like an eternity slipped down her cheeks. She accepted the hankie Max offered, as well as his sympathy and advice to have a good cry.
When the tears diminished she chided herself for being so weak. Somehow youll make it through this, she told herself with renewed certainty. Youll go to the funeral, finish the tour, and get on with your life. Shed start by moving away. With Joshua at Morningsong Estate, it wouldnt do to stay on the grounds. Shed find an apartment or house in another city or state. Then shed see about getting out of her contract.
There has to be a way out, Max. Ill hire a lawyer. Shanna put words to her thoughts. She was beginning to sound desperate. In a way she was.
Suit yourself, but I wouldnt hold my breath. Even with Andrew dead, Morningsongs got the power. If I were you, Id hang loose for a while. See how things shape up. Who knows, maybe Joshua has changed. Maybe he still loves you and wants to work things out. When I talked to him on the phone, he seemed pretty anxious to see you. He poked a finger at the brim of his hat, lifting it so he could look her full in the eyes. That is what you want, isnt it? For the two of you to get back together?
Shannas face warmed. It most certainly is not!
Max gave her an empathetic look. You might say so, but I know better. Ive seen your face when someone mentions his name.
My face If you see anything, its contempt.
Oh, I dont think so. Trust me, darlin. What youre feeling for Joshua is not contempt.
Flustered, Shanna took a deep breath. Look, just forget I said anything.
OK, no need to get huffy. Just trying to tell you not to worry about what might happen. Relax and deal with things as they come. I learned long ago to leave my problems in Gods hands.
Well, God may have handled your life all right, but Hes made a mess of mine. Still, maybe youre rightabout waiting to see what happens. It doesnt do much good to get all worked up. She tipped her head back and massaged the muscles in her shoulders. Do you think hell make many changes, Max? If he runs things like Andrew did, I wont have to worry. I dont spend much time at Morningsong anyway. Maybe I wont have to see Joshua at all. You could do all the negotiating for me. I suppose you think Im being childish, but I dont know if I can take being around him. She was rambling now and couldnt seem to stop.
Max sat up and caught his hat in his hands. Everything will work out fine. No need to work yourself into a frenzy.
Im trying, Max. I really am. Its just that I have this feelingyou know, like everything is coming apart. Come on, Shanna, she scolded herself. Get a grip. Youve had plenty of time to get over him.
Its been six years, hasnt it? I never did learn the whole story about your breakup, but I should think youd have had long enough to sort out your problemsyou know, forgive and forget. I figure its about time you two resolved your differences. Andrew mentioned awhile back that hed like to see the two of you get back together.
Shanna shook her head. Thats impossible. Even if Josh loved me and I loved himwhich I dontI could never go back. There is no way Id subject myself to that kind of hurt again. Even if I could trust Joshua, a marriage could never survive my career.
Humph, Max snorted. Thats a bunch of hogwash.
Of course he couldnt understand. No one could, except maybe Elizabeth and the few members of the band who had tried and failed to make their marriages work. When youre on the road performing at two hundred concerts a year and shuffling recording sessions and television appearances in-between, theres little room left for a husband or wife. While Elizabeth may have colored Shannas opinion of marriage and men, Shanna knew from experience how pointless it would be to try again.
Max, look around you. Every one of the band members that ever tried marriage is divorced. The rest are smart enough to know it cant workat least not for long.
I could point to several couples in this business whose marriages are still going strong after fifteen years. Take Jess and Margaret, for instance. She travels with him whenever possible, and when she cantwell, I think thats where the difference comes in. Jess is as faithful then as when shes around.
Max was right about that. Jess, their lead guitarist, and his wife seemed to be doing fine; but that was only one success in who knew how many failures. Unfortunately, Joshua isnt like Jess. Shanna stroked her forehead with the tips of her fingers to ease the beginnings of a headache. Anyway, I dont want to talk about Joshua anymore.
Just as Shanna closed her eyes, the flight attendant offered them drinks. She asked for a Perrier. Max declined.
Sure you dont want to tell me about it? Max asked, handing Shannas drink over to her.
No. But I suppose I should. It might explain my position. Shanna took a sip. Joshua and I were very close growing up. I suppose part of me always knew wed be together someday. We fell in love. Maybe if Elizabeth hadnt worked so hard to keep us apart, things might have been different.
Im not sure I understand. Why would she want to keep you apart?
She was afraid, I think. She never liked JoshuaIm not sure why. She rarely let me out of her sight. Whenever Joshua came around, shed find some excuse for me to do something or go somewhere. After a while we started sneaking off and meeting secretly. As I look back on it, Joshua and Mother always seemed to be fighting over me.
Fighting, huh. Who won?
I dont think anyone did, really. I suppose that sounds strangethe fighting part. There werent any knock-down-drag-outs. Mostly it was like a mental tug of war.
Joshua finally convinced me to marry him. We eloped. It was just two weeks before my eighteenth birthdaya big mistake. When we got home, Andrew and my mother were furious. Mother insisted on an annulment. Andrew sent Joshua to Los Angeles to head up Morningsong West. A week later the tabloids printed a picture of Joshua and one of his singers in a magazine. The article said Laurie Daniels was his new flame.
And you believed those gossip rags?
I may have been young and gullible, but I wasnt stupid. Joshua didnt have to go to L.A. And he certainly didnt have to play around.
That doesnt sound like the Joshua I know.
Pictures dont lie, Max. Besides, when Laurie gave up her career to have his baby, I knew.
Humph. Dont believe everything you hear.
It was true, all right. He never spoke to me after he moved to L.A.not even when I wrote to tell him I was pregnant. But then, why would he care about mehe had Laurie.
You had a baby? Max frowned. I I didnt know.
I gave him up for adoption. I didnt want to, but what choice did I have? Joshua was gone and apparently wasnt coming back. I was eighteen and what kind of life would a child have with a playboy father and me for a mother? Elizabeth and Andrew helped me make the right choice. And this way, my little boy has a chance at a normal life.
A strange sadness filled Maxs dark eyes. Ever regret it?
Sometimes. All the time. Every time she saw a little boy, she wondered what her baby was like. Did he have a good home? Was his hair blond like Joshuas or red like hers? Did he have his daddys smile? Or her dimples? It was for the best. Shanna took another sip of sparkling water.
Youre a hard one to understand, Shanna. Looks to me like youd be a great wife and mother. Dont know why youre so bent on denying it.
You wouldnt say that if you knew my background. My parents had a miserable marriage. Of course, Im mostly to blame for that.
Shanna licked her lips. The memories of her parents bitter quarrels still haunted her. Shed been too young to remember much, but Elizabeths hateful words still burned in her memory like a brand on cowhide. My marriage wasnt worth the paper it was written on. Were better off without him, Shanna. Michael OBrian had been an alcoholic and a womanizer, and after countless separations, her parents finally divorced. Hed never bothered to contact them and died a few years later.
Youre being kind of hard on yourself, arent you?
Well, I dont know. Why dont you tell me about it? Sometimes it helps to talk things out.
Maybe some other time. Shanna folded her arms and turned her face to the window. She suddenly missed her father very much. Maybe it was something Max said or the way he said it. It helps to talk things out. Shanna remembered her father wanting to do that the last time shed seen him. Hed been drunk and crying and begging them not to leave.
Oh, Daddy, I wanted to stay, a small voice inside of her struggled to be heard. I wanted to take you with us. But Mama said you didnt love us anymore. And the music Mama said we couldnt give up the music.
Suit yourself. Maxs voice broke through her reverie. Better get some shuteye. Mornings gonna come mighty quick.
Shanna didnt answer. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Max shrug his shoulders and retreat under his weathered hat.
She was thankful for Maxs comments, but she needed to force the unwanted memories back where they belonged. Years ago she had boxed up those hurts, sealed them tight, and buried them in a distant corner of her mind. Sometimes a thought or two would slip out when she let herself get too tired, but she had always been able to deal with themforcing them back to where they didnt hurt anymore. But Andrews passing seemed to have undone all her hard work and triggered a landslide of feelings and memories.
No, not now. Definitely not now. She had enough to think about with having to go back to Morningsong. Max was right, of course. Shed have to face Joshua eventually. Somehow she needed to gain the courage.