A widower, single father, and former Army Ranger struggling with PTSD, Sheriff EJ Cowley has his own demons to battle while keeping folks safe. The last thing he needs is a troubled celebrity speeding through town in her bright red Mazerati. But when someone from Emily's past threatens her safety and the peace of McAllister, EJ has no choice but to protect her. And soon both will learn there's more to the other than meets the eye. And that wounded hearts can love again…
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A Singing to the Heart Novel
By Sara Walter Ellwood
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Sara Walter Ellwood
All rights reserved.
Emily Kendall was tired of life-changing events. She'd had enough. But God or whatever fate controlled the universe wasn't done fucking with her life. "Are you sure? Hell, it's been weeks since I've even seen my husband, let alone had sex. Maybe the test was wrong."
She'd heard many life-changing words in her twenty-two years. The first had come when she was fourteen and discovered superstar country singer Seth Kendall was her biological father. A few weeks after that revelation, the man she'd grown up loving as her father had shot her real dad and planned to kidnap her to sell into sex slavery. She shuddered and rubbed her hands over the pricking of goose bumps on her bare arms.
Since then, a lot had happened. She'd become a famous country music star. Most people would even argue that she was more famous than her dad, who helped her get her first record deal when she was barely fifteen. She broke sales records set by some of the best singers in the business, won countless awards, and sponsored everything from acne creams to jeans.
When she was three months shy of turning twenty, she'd met the British pop star Fabian McPhee. They'd collaborated on a TV special for the CMT network. He was fifteen years older than her, mega famous, and super sexy. A month later while she was on tour in Australia, he'd asked her out to a nightclub.
That night had been full of firsts. Fabian introduced her to what would become her drugs of choice--cocaine and gin. Then, she'd lost her virginity to him. She'd thought she was in love. He was like no one she'd ever known. Despite her parents' outrage over their tabloid-crazed, whirlwind relationship, two months after their first date they were married by Fabian's drummer, who happened to be an ordained minister from some online course he'd taken.
The medical director of the facility sitting across the wide, gleaming oak desk leaned forward and clasped his hands. "Your blood test isn't wrong. You are pregnant."
"Fuck." She was on a birth control shot, but she'd forgotten to get it. The last time she'd seen Fabian had been about six weeks ago. They'd had sex, but she thought he'd used a condom. She couldn't remember much of the event, like most of their two years of married life together. They'd split up ten months ago, but neither of them had gotten around to filing for divorce or could resist an occasional tumble in the sack or getting high together.
Not able to sit still any longer, she stood to pace the length of the posh office and folded her arms tightly around herself to stave off the shivering. At the same time sweat ran along her hairline and down the side of her face. She'd been here for three days and already wanted to get the hell out of the medical facility. "How far along am I?"
Dr. Barton slid his finger over the screen of the computer tablet on his desk. "According to the history you gave the nurse who checked you in and your hCG level ..." When she furrowed her brows trying to remember what the letters stood for, he clarified, "Pregnancy hormone. You would have to be six weeks."
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Her skin was too tight and hot. A coating of sweat caused her fingers to stick together, and she wiped her shaky hands on her jeans. Turning toward the window, she stared out at the woodland park surrounding the Fernwood Rehabilitation Center. In the past three years, she'd checked into the facility's drug and alcohol program to sober up three times, and each admission had been against her will. She didn't belong here because she wasn't an addict. Whose business was it if she went a little too far this last time and was booed off stage? The venue, if a college auditorium could justify that name, sucked anyway.
This news was the last thing she needed to hear. She turned and vigorously rubbed her arms, needing a hit right now. The desire for a line of coke brought to mind another issue. She remembered when her mother had been pregnant with her brother five years ago she wouldn't even take Tylenol for her headaches. Did she honestly want to know the answer to what all the coke she'd snorted could have done to her baby if her mother had been afraid to take something as harmless as over-the-counter pain pills? But she had to know if she'd harmed her child. "Do you know if the baby is okay?"
Dr. Barton stood to come around his desk. He leaned his backside on the heavy oak edge and folded his hands before him. "I don't know. Emily, there is a chance your baby will be born with problems. You are an addict." He held up his hand when she started to protest. "No, I'm not listening to your rationalizations. You've got to stop the drugs."
"I can quit. I have before."
He took a deep breath that made his shoulders rise, then fall. "And yet here you are again. Why were you admitted this time?"
She needed to get the hell away. "My manager has gotten a little too big for her pants." Maybe she should fire Trish Russell for talking her into even thinking about this place again. Trish had been her manager for three years, ever since she was promoted by her father-in-law and took Emily on as one of her first clients. She considered Trish one of her few true friends, but, sometimes, the older woman was a pain in the ass.
With a huff of derision, she spun on her heels, which made her lose her balance as dizziness whipped her world out of control. Grabbing the back of the chair to keep from falling over, she tossed over her shoulder, "I think we're done here."
"Emily, I'll let you go as soon as you tell me why you are here."
She stopped halfway to the door. If she didn't answer him, he'd only follow her. Letting out a long breath, she stared at the white-painted ceiling. "I'm here because I was too high to sing."
The past five shows were a blur. Nothing fun or amazing about any of them. No fans waiting for her to autograph their T-shirts. But then again, when had she last taken the time to talk to her fans after a show? How long had it been since she did anything special for them? Once upon a time, she'd put on massive productions in front of stadiums full to bursting with screaming, adoring fans.
Her last tour hadn't even sold out to rundown opera houses and college auditoriums. In the early days, she'd arrange spontaneous private showings for more fans than had showed up for her current tour. She'd simply leave a date, time, and place on Twitter and a hundred or more of her fans would come for a show. When had she last sent one of her own Tweets? She knew Kelly, her assistant, did all of her social media crap for her these days.
"I'm here because my record label said if I don't sober up, they're cutting me."
"They aren't happy with you?"
She shrugged and started pacing again. The temperature of the room seemed to increase with each pass across the shrinking floor space. "No. My last album is six months past due its production deadline. But I can't help that all the songs suck."
"Why do they suck?"
Turning, she met the doctor's steady gaze. She wanted to tell Dr. Barton her label and her manager had sabotaged her by giving her shit songs, but she couldn't. Were the songs bad? Her father's old friend, pop superstar Amanda Lang, had written four of them and had given them to Emily as a gift, despite three other singers wanting them. The other two songs she'd recorded were from an award-winning songwriter, and they, too, had been sought after by the best in the business.
She blinked when the realization hit her. The songs weren't the problem nor were the studio musicians playing on the record. She was. "I don't want to talk about my career. I want to talk about my baby. Is there any way we can determine if it's okay?" As she laid her trembling hand on her belly, she silently prayed to a God she doubted would listen to anything she asked of Him. Please let my baby be okay.
Dr. Barton looked down at his hands, then went back to his big leather chair and sat. "I'd like you to meet with a colleague of mine. Doctor Marcella Summers is an OB/Gynecologist who specializes in babies born to addicted mothers. She'd be the person who might know the answer to your question."
She faced the wide windows again, but the early summer day and the forested mountains surrounding the center weren't what she saw. "Okay."
How was she going to handle a baby? Hell, she could barely take care of herself. What if it had a major problem from all the crap she'd put into her body?
She closed her eyes and fisted her hand over her belly. Dear God, what would Fabian say about the baby? He'd warned her when they got married he didn't want any kids. Would he blame the pregnancy on her as he had many other things over the past two years?
"Emily, I don't know an addict who easily admits they are one." Dr. Barton broke into a tirade of questions bombarding her. "By your own admission, you use cocaine at least four times a week, but most weeks you use it every day."
She glanced over her shoulder at him. He swiped his finger over his tablet, then paused to read more of her medical record. "In August twenty-eighteen, your father admitted you to Fernwood when he found you passed out on your tour bus. According to your blood toxin levels, you were only a snort of coke away from overdosing; then in June of last year, you were admitted after falling off stage and breaking your arm. Again, your blood work showed dangerous amounts of cocaine and alcohol."
Although she snickered at the memory, the humor choked in her throat, and she sobered. That had been her last stadium show. Tabloid and entertainment reporters hounded her after her release from Fernwood. Fabian's own career also took a nosedive when he was arrested for drunk driving and resisting arrest. The two of them and their antics had been a favorite topic in even mainstream news since then.
He cleared his throat and folded his hands in front of him. "Your blood results weren't as toxic this time, but if you don't make an honest attempt to get clean and stay clean, not only will you jeopardize your child, you're going to end up dead."
The truth smacked her hard in the gut. She was an addict. Up until now, she never believed she was one. She used coke and drank gin because she liked them, not because she couldn't live without them. At the reality, she curled her hand into a fist over the sour pain in her belly and admitted to herself she used drugs to deal with life and all of its shit.
Would she have become screwed up if she'd never met Fabian McPhee? Or had she been destined to a life of drug use due to her messed up childhood and sudden superstardom? Who knew? She hated the man who first introduced her to drugs and destroyed much of her life. Her country music career was dead, and the fans she'd garnered when she put out a total pop album a year and half ago at Fabian's insistence had abandoned her. She hadn't spoken to or seen her parents, except from a distance at award shows, since her marriage. Since severing her ties with her mom and dad, she hadn't seen her four-year-old brother. Now, she was responsible for developing a tiny baby who may end up paying for her lousy judgment.
She turned and met the doctor's patient brown eyes. The man had to be a saint to manage the care of spoiled brat idiots like her. "Okay, Dr. Barton. I'm an addict. I use coke because I can't deal with life." She squared her shoulders and let out a breath. "There, I owned it. Set up the appointment with the OB. But there's something else I'd like you to do." One of the conditions of admission into Fernwood was no contact with the outside world except for approved visitors on an extremely short list. "I want to file for divorce before I tell Fabian about the baby."
The doctor's surprise registered in the slightest widening of his eyes. "If that is want you want."
Emily couldn't help the snort as she sat in the chair in front of the desk again. "Oh, don't be coy, Dr. Barton. I know you've been hoping I'd ditch Fabian McPhee since the first time my father dragged my sorry ass into this place a year and a half ago." She looked at her hands as a rare moment of clarity blasted away the rosy sheen she'd painted over her life with her husband. "My counselor is right. Fabian and I do have a crazy love type of relationship. He might not beat me, but he has made me dependent on him by making me an addict."
For the first time in years, she felt relief flood over her. She smiled and met the doctor's eyes again. "For my baby and for me, I have to get away from him."
* * *
Emily laid a t-shirt in her suitcase and turned at the knock on the doorframe. She smiled at the willowy woman as she entered the room. "I'm glad to see you. I'm ready to get out of here."
The eight weeks she'd been a resident of the rehab had been the longest time she'd ever stayed, but once she faced her demons and committed herself, she didn't want to leave until she was free of her addiction.
Trish tucked her medium-length bright red hair behind her ear. "Paul isn't happy about postponing your record," she said, referring to the CEO of Midland Records. "But I convinced him you needed a break to get completely sober and stay that way."
Emily laid another t-shirt in the case. Her reason for being at Fernwood was no secret, but the only person outside of her doctors who knew about her pregnancy was Trish. After telling her, Emily asked her to convince her record company to push her production deadline to sometime in the future. "He doesn't suspect anything, does he?"
Trish sat on the overstuffed chair in the corner of the modest room. "No. I made a convincing case about your wanting to finally quit the drugs. He's not happy, but he's also glad."
Emily moved the suitcase off to the side and sat on the edge of the bed, facing Trish. "Has Fabian signed the divorce papers?"
"Yes. Reese is filing them today, in fact." Reese Goodwin was a family friend and a Nashville divorce lawyer. "Your divorce should be final by the end of the month."
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath full of relief. Although she hadn't demanded anything of Fabian, she feared he'd delay signing the papers to end their ill-fated marriage. "Thank God."
Trish leaned back in the chair and folded her hands in her lap. "When are you going to tell him about the baby?"
With a shrug, Emily stood, opened a dresser drawer, and pulled out a stack of bras. As she set them in her bag, she said, "I'll set up a meeting with him sometime before I go home to Texas."
She planned to get out of Nashville before she started showing. At almost four months pregnant, she knew she was on borrowed time.
"How do you think he'll take the news?"
Emily went back to the drawer and took out a stack of panties. "Hopefully, he won't take the news well and will leave me and my baby the hell alone."
She swallowed at the thought of her baby never knowing her father like she hadn't known Seth, but Fabian wasn't a good man. Despite being nearly forty years old, he still partied too hard and didn't take much seriously. He'd wasted most of his own fortune and a large portion of hers on fast cars, drugs, and lavish parties. She gritted her teeth until her jaw hurt at how stupid she'd been to let him manipulate her.
"He didn't fight about selling the penthouse and the mansion?" Three months after they were married, Fabian talked her into moving out of her downtown Craftsman home she'd bought on her eighteenth birthday and into buying a twenty- million-dollar estate outside of Nashville. The place was too big and flashy and put a considerable dent into her savings. He'd convinced her by arguing that as two successful entertainers, they were expected to live in such extravagance. Besides, he swore he'd pay his share of the cost. Instead, he conned her into buying a penthouse in Manhattan. He spent a lot of time there, but she hated New York and preferred to live in Nashville.
"He wants the penthouse." Trish pulled her iPad out of her purse. The woman never went anywhere without the thing. "But he's okay with selling the Nashville property and letting you keep the money from the sale if he can keep the penthouse."
"I'm glad he wants the penthouse." Emily closed her suitcase and smiled as she turned to face Trish with her hand over the slight swell of her belly. "Because then I have a bargaining chip to keep him away from us."CHAPTER 2
Today marked the second anniversary of his wife's overdose.
McAllister County, Texas, sheriff EJ Cowley hated the memory of finding Raquel in the bathtub and of their hungry six-month-old son screaming from his crib. He'd lain in his soiled diaper for at least five hours. Raquel's body had been colder than the water. Two empty medication bottles were found on the floor by the edge of the tub: one held Adderall and the other Zoloft. She had been given the latter medicine to help deal with her postpartum depression. She'd taken Adderall as a kid for ADHD, but as an adult had outgrown the need for it. He'd discovered afterward she'd bought the pills on the internet using a bank account he hadn't been aware she had. She'd become addicted to the amphetamine after the birth of their son, which formed a deadly combination with the antidepressant when taken in larger doses than a doctor would prescribe. However, the bottle of Zoloft she'd emptied hadn't been hers.
Excerpted from Heartland by Sara Walter Ellwood. Copyright © 2016 Sara Walter Ellwood. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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