A chance to shine . . .
The closest Avery Shields expects to get to the music industry is her janitor position at Charisma recording studio, and singing secretly in her local karaoke bar. Working two jobs and studying full-time, she’s doing all she can to earn her parents’ trust after making mistakes in high school. But now a gorgeous stranger is filling her head with dreams of singing professionally—and filling her nights with desire…
Lazarus Kyson’s A&R career took a hit after he was wrongfully accused of harassment. To restore his reputation, he needs to discover a new talent. And when he least expects it, there she is: singing while she cleans the Charisma offices. As stubborn as she is talented, she refuses to audition. If he wants Avery—her voice and her heart—he’ll have to open himself up for the first time for a love too crazy good to let go . . .
Praise for Crystal B. Bright
“Engaging characters you want to get to know better.”—Library Journal on The Look of Love
About the Author
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"I want that asshole fired!" The petite starlet jutted her finger in Laz Kyson's direction as he sat at the opposite side of the table from her in the Universe Records office.
He wanted to react, but he knew timing meant everything. Controlling himself meant he could manage anyone and any situation. Since the company's attorney acted like a mute as well, he figured his reaction worked.
"He ... he," she paused for effect, "told me that if I didn't do certain things to him, he would make it difficult for me here." Then the sobbing came ... without tears.
Laz shifted in his seat. The heat under his collar started to get a bit unbearable. He began drumming his fingers on the table until he saw Mr. Zinner's stare go directly to his hand.
The man had been salty to him since Laz went to bat for Chantel Woodley, or Shauna Stellar as Zinner continually referred to her when he lamented about the amount of money lost from losing her and Truman Woodley. Zinner had his chance with her, and he had blown it.
Zinner raised his arm like he wanted to pat the young woman's hand to console her, but he stopped as though thinking better of his actions considering what she accused Laz of doing to her. He, instead, spoke in soothing tones. "There, there, Kat."
To punctuate her hurt feelings, she responded to Zinner's sympathy with a protruding bottom lip. Her raven hair along with her sky-blue eyes and pale, clear skin made her a stunning beauty. Yet coupled with her rotten insides, Laz only saw a monster at the end of the table, who had now made it her mission for the summer to get him fired. Not happening.
Music and the music business encompassed every cell in his body until it became all he could think about. He would be damned if some pampered, lip- syncing diva would get him run out with his tail tucked between his cheeks and hide.
"Although I don't want you to relive this traumatic moment again, for the record, I'll need to know what happened. Will you please describe for me and the attorneys present the details of this alleged sexual harassment?" Mr. Zinner leaned back, probably to allow his gut freedom to expand away from the table.
As much as Laz wanted to tune the woman out, he made it a point to listen to each and every word that would come out of her mouth. His livelihood depended on it.
"I was doing my pop-up show at that little venue in Norfolk, Virginia." She wiped underneath her nose with the back of her thumb. "Then he shows up." She pointed at Laz again.
At least Kat didn't say Laz's name. Keep his name out of her mouth and he would be happy.
Kat continued. "I thought it was weird that an A&R rep was there at my show."
"Yes, that is unusual." Zinner cut a harsh look at Laz.
Laz glared back at the man, hoping he picked up his unspoken complaint about doing more for the label. When Zinner returned his attention to Kat, Laz released a long breath. His boss didn't get it.
"He starts showering me with compliments at first, telling me what a great singer I am and all."
Laz tried hard to suppress his laughter but it puffed out. He covered the sound with a cough, and then took a sip of water. He didn't need her stirred up any more.
No way did he think her vocal chops matched that of the great singers out there like Aretha, Christina, Adele, and Chantel. This pop star needed to stay in her lane as far as what she offered to the music industry, and she needed to start being honest. He didn't know how long he could hold out not saying anything while she massacred his reputation.
Kat sniffed. "Then he pulled me into a room."
"Mr. Kyson put his hands on you?" Zinner sat up taller.
So did Laz. He heard his heartbeat pounding in his head and it shook his body. It took every bit of his strength for him to not scream that this woman lied about everything so far except for the fact that he did approach her, but it had been for business, only business.
Kat nodded. "When we got in there, he said that if I didn't —" She hesitated and leaned over to her attorney. "Do I have to say it?" She whispered it to her but said it loud enough for Laz to hear.
The older woman next to her nodded and patted her hand.
"Fine." Kat took a deep breath and tucked a wavy curl behind her ear. "He said if I didn't put my mouth down there that he would make my life miserable." She pointed down in the vicinity of his genital area through the black marble tabletop that covered their lower sections.
A gasp echoed throughout the room. Kat's attorney stared at Laz with her mouth agape. Zinner couldn't even look at Laz now. The studio attorney adjusted his tie, and Laz wanted to scream.
Laz could count to a million in his head and he still wouldn't be able to calm down. He pressed his hands against the cold table while he bounced his knee under it. He had an ace up his sleeve. He needed to wait for his moment.
"That's the reason I haven't been in the studio to record. And because of all this, I'm not sure if I'm up to going in there for a while." She wrapped her arms around herself and shook her head. "I'm too shaken up." With her head down, she peered up at Laz. "That man is a monster. If he's not fired, I'm walking. I have ten million Instagram followers. They'll boycott this studio if I tell them to."
Zinner shook his head, letting the sweat that poured from it fly. Droplets littered the table. "Let's not be hasty, dear. I'm sure there's a misunderstanding." Finally, Zinner directed his attention to Laz. "Mr. Kyson, is there anything you want to say on your behalf?"
The air in the expansive boardroom went still and made it difficult for Laz to breathe. That wouldn't prevent him from responding. He had his name to clear. Before he did that, though, he would have a bit of fun.
"Yes. I have always preferred tea over coffee." Laz took a deep breath, relieved to finally say anything even though the thing he said seemed to not make sense.
"Excuse me?" Zinner braced his meaty hands on the table.
"And I would rather have a cat than a dog. Cats are quiet." Laz, realizing what he had said and the name of the woman across from him, amended his statement. "An older cat though. No kitties." He glared at the pop star.
"He's making this out to be a joke." Kat's pale face turned crimson. "I'm prepared to go to TMZ and People."
Laz reached into his front jacket pocket and pulled out his phone. "I'll be glad to help you with your story."
"I think you've said enough." Zinner held up his hand, then directed his attention to Kat. "You can take as much time as you need to record your fourth album. We can push the tour out as well."
Kat leaned over to her manager sitting on the other side of her this time. She whispered something in his ear.
The manager nodded. "For her inconvenience and mental trauma, Kat would also like a ten-million-dollar kicker to her contract."
Hush money. No way would Zinner agree to that. He had kicked out Chantel Evans, a far superior singer and entertainer, when she asked to be fairly compensated.
"Done." Zinner slammed his hand on the table.
"Hold on." Laz held up his hand. He clipped an attachment to his phone to project a video on the wall. "I think you all need to see this."
He pressed play and made sure to turn the volume up as high as it would go. Even though Laz had only been in the music industry for less than ten years, he knew enough to cover himself.
The stories about Kat's predatory behavior ran rampant throughout the industry. She played virginal, but she had a voracious sexual appetite.
Laz did not dig Kat's vibe or her aggressive nature. In his world, he ran things, that also included his intimate life. Now, he had his head on business.
The night in question, Laz had set up his phone to record in Kat's dressing room where he had been told to wait for her after her show. He had his phone on a shelf above to look at the full scene below. It showed him in a full suit, pacing back and forth in her room with her hair and makeup people.
When the door opened, Kat walked in wearing her trademark sparkly leotard, sky-high booties, and her hair piled high on her head.
"Get out." She waved her hands in the air to get everyone to leave the room. The people started to go, including Laz, but she put her hand on his chest to stop him. "Not you." She laughed.
"We don't need to see this." Kat started to stand.
"Sit down." Her attorney held her client's arm and pulled her down to sit. "I need to verify if this is authentic."
"He had this video doctored. I told you exactly what happened."
Kat's screeching voice pierced Laz's eardrum. He continued playing the video, especially since Zinner couldn't stop staring at the image.
"Thank you for seeing me. It's great that you want to talk about the progress of your next album. We have a pretty aggressive schedule planned, so it would be beneficial to get the ball rolling on the music. I was fine talking to you afterward on the tour bus with your manager." Laz took a few steps back from her.
"I'm not really down for a threesome, not tonight." Kat pushed Laz down on a couch in the room, and then straddled him.
"Um, that's not me. I think that's one of those drag queen impersonators." Kat pointed to the image on the wall.
In the video, Laz tried laughing off her antics in a polite yet reserved way. "Look, I would be a lucky man to be able to bed the famous Kat."
"Bed, couch, wall. I'm very flexible." She swirled her hips. "Yes, you would be very lucky. I'm really good at what I do."
Laz put his hands on her shoulders. "I'm only here to talk about your album and that's it. I don't want or need anything else." Laz, while trying hard not to touch her anywhere lower than her shoulders, managed to get himself from under her and stand.
Even after he stood, Kat wrapped her arms around the back of his neck. She kissed his neck, chin and cheek. "I haven't had you yet. I think this will be fun."
"Oh, God." Kat hung her head down at the table while the incriminating evidence played.
The video continued. "Wow. You are strong." Laz pried her arms from around him. "Trust me. This would not be a good idea. I'm the jealous type. If I see you talking to another man, whew." He shook his head. "I don't want to think about how I would react. And since I'm the idiot for turning down this insane offer, I definitely won't say anything to anyone." He winked. "Our secret."
Kat cocked her head and crossed her arms over her chest. "What? You think I should be embarrassed or something, like I did something wrong? I'm a young woman. I have needs. It gets lonely out on the road."
The group kept their full attention on the video even when Kat tried interrupting their viewing pleasures with her frantic voice and gesturing.
"Stop this." Kat waved her hand in the air.
Laz didn't. He wanted his name fully cleared. Here he thought he had been polite to her, gave her every opportunity to bow out of the situation graciously, even pinned the lack of performance on him. Yet she still tried destroying him.
In the video, Laz said, "All I want to do is talk about your music. You owe Universe —"
"Universe can kiss my ass." Kat punctuated her point by slapping her small ass cheek.
Zinner cleared his throat. Laz enjoyed the slight tingling sensation that took over his body. Vindication felt good.
In the video, Kat's phone rang. "You wait right there. I'm not done with you."
"That's what I'm afraid of." Laz headed toward the shelf area.
Kat answered the phone. "Hello?" She paused. She clicked a button on the phone first. "It's my bitch of an attorney. This will be quick. Don't you dare go anywhere or I'll make your life a living hell." She ducked into a room next to her dressing room.
The end shot showed Laz grabbing his phone. "Insurance just in case." He winked in the camera and stopped recording.
Kat let her feelings be known about the video and her statement by throwing up on the floor. The stench of her vomit stung Laz's nostrils until he had to turn his head away for a moment and breathe through his mouth.
Laz, confident that he got his point across, ended the video. "You want to go to a gossip site and a magazine with your claims?" He pointed his phone to Kat. "May not be a good idea. I don't want to do it, but if pressed, I'll release this video." His gaze dropped down to Kat's hand. "Before you leave, make sure you put your purity ring back on. Fans are standing outside waiting for you to come back out. They want to believe in the image you've created."
This time when Kat cried, real tears rolled down her cheeks. She stood from the table. "Next week. I'll be in the studio next week." She waved her hand wildly in front of her. "No kicker needed."
"Wait." Her manager tried to grab her other hand to stop her.
"No. No more games. I tried holding out to get more money. I tried a lot of things." She glared at Laz. "I'll do what I agreed to in my contract. I'm sorry." She turned to her attorney. "I don't think you're a bitch."
Her lawyer must not have believed her. She collected her belongings and walked out before Kat.
Kat started to leave. When she got behind Laz, she grumbled, "Asshole."
"Hope you're feeling better, Kat." Laz slipped his phone back into his pocket.
When Kat's team vacated the conference room, Laz finally smiled, a first since hearing of Kat's accusations a couple of days go. He turned to the staff attorney, expecting him to share in Laz's delight. He looked more pissed than Kat.
The attorney shook his head. "Should have kept your mouth closed."
Zinner addressed the attorney. "Prepare the gag order." Then he glared at Laz.
"Done." The attorney picked up his tablet and left Laz there with Zinner.
When the attorney closed the door behind himself, Laz faced his boss. Surely this man would have his back.
Wanting to get Zinner's opinion on the situation sooner rather than later, Laz spoke first. "I didn't do what she accused me of doing. I never touched her."
Zinner snickered. "You idiot." He shook his head. "Do you really think you're the first person in the music biz accused of sexual misconduct with the talent? Hell, you're not even the first person Kat has been with on this staff. This is not unusual, and you're not special."
At that moment, Laz didn't even feel heard.
"I knew what she was trying to do." Zinner swung himself back and forth in his chair.
Laz nodded. "Yeah, take down my career."
Zinner held up his hand. "Bigger picture, kid. She wanted more money. It's always about money. Nothing more. Nothing less."
"And you were willing to pay her more money for a delayed album and tour?"
Zinner slammed his hand on the table. "Ten million is nothing compared to the revenue we could have generated from her. She is a pop music money machine. The pre-sales for the album she has yet to go to the studio for has already sold a quarter-of-a-million copies. Her tour would have paid us even more, on top of lucrative endorsements for the sweet-as-pie, goody-goody act she puts on so well. We could have gotten her to sign an additional contract with us ... until today." He snickered. "Thanks to you, more than likely she'll fulfill her obligations to this contract and then move on to another company or, worse yet, pull a Shauna and put out music on her own."
Laz shook his head. "Paying her for a lie meant that my reputation would have been tarnished, and I would have been out of a job. She wanted me fired."
Zinner didn't blink, didn't react.
Laz was not special.
"I could have talked her out of seeing you let go. I would have made sure to keep her away from you, which, by the way, why did you even approach her? You're A&R. I just need for you to acquire talent. We have people on staff to talk about contract obligations. Those people are managers and attorneys, not you." When Zinner pointed at Laz, it looked like he wanted his finger to be a gun and he yearned blowing Laz's head clean off his shoulders.
"I told you I wanted to do more here. I've been here long enough to go into management. I've heard music from unsigned artists who would be perfect for Universe, like this one named Destiny Starr. I don't know who she is, but if I find her, I would love to sign her and represent her." Laz sat up taller. "I can be used more."
"You could have." Zinner stood. "Not anymore. Pack your shit and go." He pointed to the door.
Laz stood with him. He hoped his towering height would give him a little bit of an intimidation factor. "What the hell? You saw with your own eyes that Kat lied. I never dragged her into a room and asked her for oral sex. She jumped on me. Why am I getting let go if she was the one in the wrong?"
The automatic blinds in the room started to lower on their own, casting a shadow on the scene.
"You're poison to us now. The threat that you may release that video will keep Kat from saying anything publicly, but privately, with other up-and- coming talent, our business will be mud, including this unknown talent you have a hard-on for."
Excerpted from "Love Like Crazy"
Copyright © 2017 Crystal B. Bright.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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