Softer Than Steel

Softer Than Steel

by Jessica Topper

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780698192287
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/15/2015
Series: A Love & Steel Novel , #2
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 710,543
File size: 758 KB

About the Author

Jessica Topper is an ex-librarian turned rock ’n’ roll number cruncher. She is the author of the Much “I Do” About Nothing novels, including Courtship of the Cake and Dictatorship of the Dress, as well as the Love & Steel novels, including Deeper than Dreams and Louder than Love. Jessica lives in Western New York with her husband, daughter, and one ancient cat.

Read an Excerpt

Rick

Riding the Wave

Seventeen thousand fans can’t be wrong.

Rick Rottenberg clipped his mic into its stand, lifted his face to the spots and hazers shining high above the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy stage, and threw his head back, exalted.

Sweat-soaked ringlets grazed the middle of his slick bare back. It had taken four years to grow his hair back out to acceptable headbanging, rock-and-roll length. Running a hand through the dark, unruly mass of curls, he smiled. Sometimes he forgot it was there, even dreamed his head was still shaved clean. He had kept it shorn like a Buddhist monk for so long, first in solidarity for Simone, then for years after for no reason he could ascertain.

Simone’s gone.

Gone.

Even in a sea of thousands, you’re alone.

Grimacing, he hoisted his guitar by its neck, high overhead.

The crowd’s response was visceral. A rolling current of fists raised, eyes squeezed shut, and a collective hoarse roar emanated from their throats. Rick ripped out his in-ear monitors by their cords, letting the sound hit his eardrums full-force. Like bracing himself for a hard wave, he took a wide stance in his black leather boots and steeled himself.

I was born to do this.

It was less a thought and more like a full-on sensory experience, as his eyes adjusted to the raised house lights and his ears welcomed the cacophony of applause. Dry ice from the fog machines burned his nose, and the ten-gauge steel of the guitar strings cut into his palm as he used his instrument like a conductor’s baton to whip the French crowd into a frenzied cyclone.

And he tasted victory.

It had taken four years. But Riff Rotten was back.

Because seventeen thousand screaming, rabid, shining, elated metal fans can’t be wrong.

Right?

He flicked a look side-stage toward the large digital clock sitting on top of the monitor engineer’s board. There was still a good eight-minute block for the band to get one last song in before the venue’s strict eleven p.m. curfew. But as he turned to his right to suggest it to Digger, he noticed his bandmate exiting the stage. The only encore that interested his lead guitarist was the one waiting for him in the wings.

Kat.

Rick turned away as Adrian grinned like she was the winning lottery ticket and swung her around in a gravity-defying hug.

From his place at center stage, Rick had barely noticed Kat down in the pit tonight, but Adrian obviously had. He’s always been the one to care about the details, Rick reminded himself. You’re about the big picture. That’s how they’d always functioned.

Or how we malfunctioned, as the case may be.

Corroded Corpse was now back and at the top of their game as the Rotten Graves Project. And Digger Graves was more interested in picking china patterns than tremolo picking his guitar and melting the fans’ faces off.

His timing was certainly crap, wasn’t it?

The neck of Rick’s Gibson slipped through his fatigued and sweaty fingers. In a burst of pent-up energy, he gripped it close to the headstock with both hands and pinwheeled the axe through the air. Sam froze to his left. The bassist had at least had the decency to come downstage for a bow. Now he took a step back and cast a wary glance at Jim, who was leaning over his drum kit.

Guitar met stage floor with a loud crack, like a gunshot. Wood flew and guitar strings popped as Rick pulled it high overhead, sliced it through the air, and smashed it down again and again, to the left, to the right. Jim popped back behind his kit and provided a rising crescendo of cymbals to accompany each upward move and kicked his double bass drum in perfect pace each time Rick’s guitar made contact: with the floor, the riser, the amps behind him, and the wedges in front of him. Sam did a little hop as the entire body of the Gibson Memphis guitar separated from the neck and slid toward him.

The kids in the crowd had lost their bloody minds by then.

* * *

Rick clicked the pause button on his laptop and dragged the bar of the video back so he could watch himself lift the jagged broken neck of his guitar like a conquering hero wielding his sword victoriously—eyes wild, bare chest heaving—while tonight’s crowd screamed its approval. Judging from the dozen or so fan-shot videos that had hit YouTube by midnight, his little spectacle had looked pretty damn good from the audience’s point of view.

Leaning back in the hotel’s desk chair, he twisted his lips into a sardonic smile, shook his glass to loosen up the ice, and took a sip. The single malt’s buttery burn was welcome in his whiskey tonight. Subtle notes of orange peel, burnt caramel, and clove teased his tongue and promised to bring the noise in his head down to a dull roar.

The trill of his room phone summoned him. Padding barefoot across the lush carpeting of his Mandarin Oriental suite, he silenced it by placing it to his ear.

Isabelle needed no salutation to get the conversation going. The band’s publicist launched into her tirade unprompted.

“So what was with that little hissy fit on stage tonight, huh?”

“Bonsoir, Isabelle. Comment vas-tu?”

“Don’t play cute and French with me, mister.”

Rick picked out brash notes of trash talk, Salem Ultra Lights, and Brooklyn in her voice. Not nearly as smooth as whiskey on the palate, he thought, wincing as she doused his ear with her version of twenty questions. And label expectations. And SoundScan numbers. And ticket sales. And who’s not returning her calls, and who needs to do some serious ass-kissing now that payola bribes were no longer in style.

Rick drained his whiskey glass, but felt completely sober. What had happened to the promise he and Digger made four years ago under the roof of Madison Square Garden? Of doing things our way, he asked himself, this time around?

He should’ve known better. This was the music business, after all. Emphasis on business. You could have all the talent and drive, but you needed that army behind you. The minute the two of them had buried the hatchet and agreed to play that reunion show, the armies had assembled and performed a coup d’état. The booking agent, the record label, groupies, and hangers-on had all awoken from what appeared to be an enchanted slumber, as if the last twenty years had passed for them in the blink of an eye. Business as usual.

Only their former publicist/self-appointed interim Queen of Everything had awoken crankier than a disturbed hornets’ nest.

If she hadn’t been Simone’s best friend since childhood, Rick probably would’ve called the exterminator to fog Isabelle out of his life ages ago.

“Behave yourself, finish the goddamn run, and get your ass back to the States in one piece,” Isabelle commanded. “We’ve got the one-offs in L.A. and Chicago, your Rock and Roll Hall of Fame appearance, and the Northeast leg to get through yet. Then we have two months of lockout booked in the studio. Oh, and the mayor’s office has finally given us the green light for the outdoor video shoot.”

“Relax, Isabelle. We’ve got it under control.”

We. The bloody band. Not you.

“Says the guy who just broke a three-thousand-dollar guitar on stage? Yeah. Okay.” There was a forced exhale, and Rick bet the bank she was standing on her penthouse balcony, flicking ashes down on the heads of the plebs who dared troll her Upper East Side neighborhood. “And where the hell is Adrian? Would it kill him to return a phone call once in a while?”

“Indisposed.”

Rick rubbed his temple, contemplating another glass or the five hours’ sleep he could catch before the bus came to pick up the band. He didn’t care to contemplate what Adrian and Kat were up to in their fancy hotel suite down the hall at this hour.

“Yeah? What’s his drug of choice these days?”

Would you believe me if I said a widowed librarian and her eight-year-old daughter? “Nothing.”

“I wasn’t born yesterday, Rick.”

“And neither was Adrian. In fact, he was born forty-five years ago, this day. It’s his birthday. So let’s all leave him the fuck alone, shall we?” The sarcasm did a number on his throat, way worse than the whiskey.

“Let me guess.” Isabelle gave a dignified snort. “Kat showed up at the show tonight to surprise him?” She barely paused to let Rick respond before throwing out her “Tell me you’re not jealous?” card.

Even though he was an ocean away, Rick kept a poker face and his own hand close to his chest. Whatever the answer was, he sure as hell wouldn’t find it in this long-distance phone call, or in the melting ice at the bottom of his whiskey glass.

“Don’t ask him to choose,” she warned. “You will lose.”

“Isabelle. As much as I’d love to listen to you recite more poetic words of wisdom to me, I’m going to—”

He never asked you to choose between the band and Simone.”

“I’m going to hang up now,” Rick finished quietly.

Whether Isabelle responded or not, he’d never know. The roaring in his ears had come back full force. But it wasn’t the hordes of screaming masses this time around. It was the roar of the ocean, back home in Hawaii.

He reeled back to 1988, standing with Simone on Kauai’s Polihale Beach on the westernmost shore. Miles and miles of deserted sand, mostly due to the fierce currents. He had stood on that beach for what seemed like hours, staring at the incredible sand dunes and the cliffs of the Na Pali.

And had experienced his first, full-blown panic attack.

“It’s the kind of place that makes one realize how insignificant one really is in the grand scheme of things,” he liked to tell people. “Pulled my ego down a few pegs and got my priorities in line straightaway.” With the band just a smoking wreck of its former self, he and Simone had relocated to the island with the children shortly after, and family became his number one priority.

Rick was hobbled by the memory, and his legs threatened mutiny as he careened to the bathroom.

“He didn’t have to ask me,” he said aloud to the mirror, as if he needed to convince the somber dark eyes staring back at him. “I made the choice myself.”

His reflection grimly broke the news: Too late.

Simone was dead within six years.

He gripped the vanity in front of him as the blackness of the memory washed over him, like it always did. Keep your head, he commanded himself now, although he remembered going totally off his nut at the time. The locals had talked about the powerful Polihale heiau, a sacred site believed to be one of the points from which the souls of the dead departed the island into the setting sun. It sounded so beautiful, so peaceful. He had wanted to go and die there, to travel with her. The kids had been the only things holding him back.

The thought of his boys buoyed and anchored him still. All three were now grown up and out in the world on their own. Armed with five college degrees among them, they’d each flown the coop upon graduation without ever looking back.

And what would they have seen had they even bothered?

Rick pulled back his curls from his face with one hand and splashed cool water across his heated cheeks. Face dripping, he let his hair drop into place and contemplated what he saw in the mirror before him. Rangy limbs, their muscles lean from swinging eight pounds of guitar night after night. The strong jut of his jaw, with its dark bristle of five o’clock shadow emerging. Sharp angles where cheekbones met the hollows under his tired eyes. Under his wild mane of charcoal hair, a heavy, determined brow just starting to show the weathered lines of a worrier, aged forty-four this spring.

Father.

Widower.

Rocker.

Empty nester.

His dark brows lifted at that preposterous thought. How could that be? The contradiction in terms describing this current phase of his life brought him back to the present, all threats of his usual, full-blown panic attack abated. He hadn’t had one since leaving Hawaii three weeks ago. So much for that track record. But the tension eased and a strange sigh of relief blew through his lips.

The storm had passed, for the moment.

Now what?

Sleep. Bus. Show. Repeat. He had no problem jumping through the hoops of the rock and roll traveling circus.

It was the looming prospect of time off the road that terrified him.

Rick

Don’t Break the Oath

One more down, here we go. Another town, another show.

Rick found Adrian backstage in the band’s hospitality room in Barcelona, signing black-and-white press pictures in rapid succession. Sharpie marker barely made contact as his hand moved fluidly, his thumb sliding each photo aside before his trademark scrawl had even dried on the page. Jim, who appeared to be building the world’s tallest sandwich from the catering deli tray, would stop his task every few seconds to retrieve a photo that escaped to the floor.

“Aren’t those the signed promo photos the French label wanted?” Sam asked.

He and Martin, their tour manager, had just returned from a Starbucks run. Some things stayed consistent on the road, and finding the Seattle coffee chain was one of them. It didn’t matter the currency or language, one could always order an overpriced Americano and get just that.

“Yeah. Martin can mail them back,” Adrian said, scratching an itch on his cheek with the capped end of the Sharpie before getting back to work.

“But weren’t you the one who insisted we get them done and out of the way last night?” Sam demanded.

The three others had done their share of signing, cramping their hands before the Paris show, while Adrian had promised to do his straightaway after the gig was over. Anger built within Rick as he watched the photos spread themselves across the entire countertop.

Turned out Adrian had had another itch to scratch last night.

“He was too busy with his pit kitten,” Rick said, barely able to keep the contempt out of his voice.

Last night they had been in the midst of a blistering dual bridge toward the end of the second set, playing in perfect guitarmony, neither missing a lick. Suddenly, Adrian started shredding even faster, harder, and more passionately than it seemed possible, leaving Rick completely in the dust. Rick had followed his line of vision and spied his bandmate’s prize front and center. Sweat had streamed rivers toward Adrian’s grin as he just shook his head slowly in disbelief, the crowd’s cacophony reaching an eardrum-splitting crescendo as he wound down to meet the rhythm of Rick and the rest of the band to play the final verse.

“Kat? A pit kitten?” Adrian sputtered a laugh. “Hardly.” The glaze of his ice blue eyes denoted his mind was in a far more delightful place.

Yes, Rick could see the appeal of the small-town librarian. The cascade of chestnut hair, the alabaster skin. But it was her eyes, those bright green jewels, that took you beyond the surface. Wit and warmth were sexy tools operated by an expert engineer suited up in a body that wouldn’t quit.

What the hell had Kat been thinking? A metal show was a full-contact sport up front. It was a mosh pit down there, Rick thought darkly. Not a coffee klatch. She didn’t belong on that side of the barrier.

All evening, security guards had plucked sweaty, battered fans over the railing from the vise grip of center stage. Kat had indicated it was her turn and, with the help of her fellow mates in the trench, she had been lifted up, up, and over. Adrian had signaled to a second guard, who escorted her to the inner sanctum of backstage rather than just expelling her safely back onto the floor. She hadn’t even brought her laminate.

Fancy that, someone we know actually buying a ticket for one of our shows. Thanks to Jim’s and Sam’s social butterfly tendencies, the guest list had begun to grow exponentially every night since the reunion.

“Seeing her down there gave you quite the hard-on, I’m sure.”

“Bigger than the one you got from smashing that vintage Gibson,” Adrian lobbed right back.

Sam choked on his six-euro cup of coffee, although of the three witnesses in the room, he was the one most familiar with Adrian and Rick’s witty brand of bandied insults.

“Right, I’m sure you put yours to good use last night. Giving your groupie her twelve-hundred-dollar orgasm.”

Chatter in the room ceased at Rick’s comment. All that could be heard was Jim’s cold cut hitting bread with a wet slap.

Adrian calmly resumed his task. “How do you figure, mate?” The marker squeaked across another glossy photo as everyone else in the room held their collective breath.

“Let’s see: her first-class plane ticket to Paris, the five-star hotel room, the car and driver . . .” Rick ticked them off on his fingers. He knew the expense meant nothing to Adrian. Nor to Kat, compared to witnessing the dawn of recognition on Adrian’s face. Surprising her fiancé by showing up for one night in the middle of his band’s European tour to celebrate his forty-fifth birthday had probably been, as the MasterCard commercials say, priceless. But Rick couldn’t help himself. “Still paying for sex after all these years, Digger?”

Whether it was because of the sneering use of his stage name or the reference to his debauched behavior from decades back, Adrian’s patience had clearly thinned to the point of breaking.

Just one more crack—

“I know exactly what you want me to do.” In a flash, Adrian was all up in his grill, as his sons would say. Platform boots brought Adrian nose to nose with Rick. “You want me to take a swing, to hit you, so we’ll be even.” He shook his shaggy blond head of hair, even let a ghost of a smile slip through. “Not gonna happen, mate.”

It was Rick who felt the chill through his veins, as the realization sunk in and doused him with icy shame.

“How about you write a song about my future wife, have it hit the charts with a bullet, and I’ll take credit for it? Maybe then we’ll be even, huh?” Adrian finished.

From the corner of his eye, Rick saw Sam and Jim exchange a look. He knew what they were thinking. Far be it from Rick to write any song, much less a chart-topping song like the one Adrian had penned about Simone so long ago.

Adrian, after all, was all about the details. And Rick, the big picture.

Sanitize my insanity . . . cleanse me, make me whole again, Simone . . .

Darkness loomed, threatening his vision with a fade to black.

Oh ruddy fecking hell.

It was no wonder writer’s block had chased him from coast to coast, the muse eluding him both on and off-stage. In an unspoken decree as the King of Doom, Rick had forbidden the band’s greatest hit to appear on any set list henceforth. Since reuniting, nobody had dared address the lingering ghost in the room.

Until now.

“I’ll have no school yard squabbles on my watch,” Martin boomed, “not while I have Isabelle back in the States to reckon with!” His Scottish burr was very apparent. “She’ll mop the floor with the lot of us.” All six and a half feet and fifteen stone of their tour manager quivered at the utterance of her name. “You’ll take the stage in ten, you’ll play the poxy gig, and when the tour is done, you two can go your separate ways. Understood?”

Adrian sputtered a laugh. “As if it were that simple! Rick’s let Isabelle sell us into indentured servitude. VIP packages, meet and greets, Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, and propping us up in the Hall of Fame museum like the bloody relics we are, before prodding us like cattle right into the studio. It never ends!”

“Is that what you want, then? For the whole thing to be over with again?” Another wave of anxiety rolled up Rick’s frame as he stared his oldest friend down.

Adrian should want for nothing, he thought. With his instant American family waiting for him back home. But me?

“Enough,” Sam hollered, startling everyone. “It could be worse. It has been worse. Remember Cass? Remember Wren?” Everyone bowed their heads at the memory of their fallen crewmate, and scuffed their soles at the mention of Corroded Corpse’s wretched tour manager, who left them broken down in his dust. “It’s better now. Because it’s ours to make it better, yeah? No one else’s.”

He plucked the Sharpie out of Adrian’s clenched fist and foisted it upon Rick. “Your turn to write the set list, Rotten.”

* * *

The band exploded across the stage in a myriad of lights as Jim’s machine-gun drum fills ricocheted through the arena. Sam was up prowling the catwalks, slapping sound out of his bass to the roar of the audience. Opening with “Blood Oath” was always a solid crowd-pleaser, Rick thought as he and Adrian galloped through the intro like a well-oiled machine. Although his excuses and apologies had lodged stubbornly in his throat backstage, he now exorcised them through glass-shatteringly high screams and unwavering, crisp lyrics to the song he and his best friend had penned as school chums.

Adrian’s fist rose in solidarity with the masses sprawled below, and one of the movers from the lighting truss overhead highlighted the raised scar on his inner arm. They had been just boys, hopped up on Norse mythology and the idea of að blanda blóði saman—“to mix blood together.” Rick flicked a glance at the hollow of his own elbow, to the identical mark hatched there.

Blood brothers.

A storm of emotion gathered deep in Rick’s chest, and on its bare surface, the thin, simple misericorde dagger tattooed there rose and fell, rose and fell, as he belted out the final chorus to “Blood Oath,” of promises kept and tears wept.

A bump to his shoulder told him Adrian had come to share the microphone under the spotlight of center stage. Rick leaned into him, his bare back coming into contact with Adrian’s leather-clad one as their fingers scurried across the frets of their guitars, playing rhythm and lead. Beneath the vest he wore, the twin to Rick’s dagger graced Adrian’s skin, and he breathed life into it as he sang in unison with his blood brother.

We bear some of the same scars, Rick thought, matching Digger’s smile with a genuine one of his own as they made peace with a high five of their headstocks and strutted back to their respective spaces on stage.

Sharing war wounds, like the brothers in the song who loved each other dearly, yet hated each other fiercely.

But some we must carry alone.

Sidra

Beatles or Rolling Stones

Sidra Sullivan dropped herself and her yoga bag down at the table recently bussed clean by her brother, heaving out a potent sigh. Thank nirvana for the Naked Bagel. Although their linguist father might argue otherwise, there was a portmanteau for what she felt: hangry. It was the impatient and emotional intersection of hungry and angry.

She needed food and serenity—now.

“You know, if you keep showing up here like this, Sid, my boss is going to name a bagel after you.”

Seamus turned both his ball cap and a chair backward. Such a guy thing to do, Sidra thought as her brother pushed the hat down on his thick blond locks with the flat of his large palm before straddling the seat across from her.

At the moment, she was completely disgusted with all guys and their moves.

Although Seamus, to his credit, had at least given her the best table in the house.

“Too late!” Liz breezed out from behind the counter, rocking a tight black T-shirt that proclaimed Bagels. What’s Your Excuse? “One Manhattan Goddess bagel, on the house.” With a flick of her wrist, she set Sidra’s plate spinning down in front of her.

“You know, if you keep giving freebies to your friends, you’re going to go broke,” Sidra called, but Liz’s back, sporting Go Naked or Go Home in bold red lettering, had already turned. “Let me pay, for once! I want you to take my money.”

“Too bad!” Liz trilled. She had already rocketed herself back behind the counter, slicing a half dozen to go for the next customer in line before Sidra could even reach into her bag.

“Here,” she said to her brother, palming a twenty into his hand. “Go make me a taro bubble tea and put the change in the tip jar.”

She had no idea what Liz’s rent was like for the Naked Bagel, but she could only imagine it hiked higher with every street sign here on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

And just like with Evolve, Sidra’s yoga studio on the Lower East Side, every little bit counted.

Seamus pocketed the soft, worn Andrew Jackson in his apron with a grin. Sidra knew her brother was as honest as the day was long, but he couldn’t resist trying to rile her up.

“And don’t be a scammer,” she added, cocking a dark brow in his direction as he sauntered toward the cash register.

Sidra was pretty fed up with those, too.

Using the length of orange ribbon she never left home without, she tied her glossy black ponytail tight and high and inhaled deeply, relishing the nutty fragrance of the toasted sunflower bagel. It was studded with flax and filled to bursting with albacore tuna and smooth, ripe avocado. Indeed a treat fit for a goddess, and as the shirt Seamus was wearing boasted, Happiness Is a Warm Bagel.

“Which one, Sis? Fab Four or Glimmer Twins?”

Seamus held a fistful of bills and coins over the two tip jars on the counter. Like the workers’ shirts, the sayings on the jars were clever and changed daily.

“Both,” she managed around a mouthful of bagel.

He dropped the bills into the Beatles’ jar and the change into the Rolling Stones’ jar with a melodic clunk, and then went to work on her tea. Sidra watched as owner and right-hand man swerved around each other in the tight space behind the counter, tossing, reaching, and calling out to each other as they sailed through what was left of the lingering late-lunch crowd. It was like a fluid ballet: Seamus’s muscular bronze arms shooting past Liz’s pale freckled ones, working in synchronicity.

“Delivery to Fifty-fifth and Lex,” Liz commanded, shoving brown-bagged orders down the counter. “Then the usual two dozen to the doctor’s office on York.” She relieved him of Sidra’s bubble tea and righted his ball cap. “Sixteenth floor.”

Sidra had already polished off the first half of her sandwich and was contemplating its equally tempting twin. Teaching always worked up her appetite, especially the free lunch break yoga class she sometimes led at a nearby park. Although her hunger pangs had diminished considerably, her anger and disgust still lingered after this afternoon’s episode.

“So, what gives?” Liz plunked herself into the chair Seamus had vacated and slid the pale purple drink across the table.

“Ech. Guys.” Sidra swiped a hand in front of her face as if the entire male race were a cloud of gnats annoying her. “Why do they have to be such dogs?”

Liz took a quick scan of tables around them before allowing her mossy green eyes to meet Sidra’s brown ones. The lunch crowd had officially dissipated, it seemed she could finally relax.

“Come on, can you blame them? You’re standing there with your tight little body, telling them to assume the position. Down dog, up dog . . . Trade that mat for a flogger and you could be dominatrix of all the dogs.” She twirled Sidra’s abandoned straw wrapper around a finger and added with a devilish wink, “Probably make a helluva lot more money, too.”

“Seriously, Sid. Time to grow up and get a real job.” Seamus grinned, clipping on his space-age-looking bike helmet.

Sidra gave a snort. “Says the guy about to pedal across town with bagels in his basket.”

“Bagels that aren’t getting any younger, or warmer,” Liz added. “Get going, you.” She pointed to the front door. “Let us have our girl talk.”

“See ya back at the ranch, Sid.” Seamus dropped a kiss on the top of her silky head.

“So,” Liz said. “Where were we? Oh yeah. Floggers.” She snuck a bite of the bagel from Sidra’s plate.

“I’m serious. Male yoga teachers probably don’t have to put up with this shit.”

After five years of teaching every type of yoga across three different boroughs, Sidra thought she had heard every pickup line, from Hey, I’ve got a yoga mat built for two, to Gee, I bet you could bounce a quarter off that asana! Frowning, she stabbed her straw at the fat black pearls of tapioca at the bottom of her bubble tea. “Let’s just say this guy thought getting in touch with his inner self gave him license to touch me.”

“That’s not a dog, that’s a fucking pig.” Finally, Liz was appropriately outraged. “It’s not you. And it’s not yoga. It’s Manhattan. What do we expect, living on an island two miles wide and thirteen miles long?”

“Is that why you’re dating a guy who lives twenty-eight hundred miles away?” Sidra teased.

“As if.” Liz gave a snort. “Hardly ideal.” She sighed, folding the thin wrapper and squeezing it between her thumb and forefinger like a tiny paper accordion. “I’m telling you, this borough’s run dry. All the good guys here are spoken for. Or gay. Time to import some new ones.”

Sidra chewed on a boba thoughtfully. Liz made it sound easy, like heading down the Jersey Turnpike to IKEA. Sidra didn’t want to settle for quick, cheap, and some assembly required. She wanted a drama-free relationship that would stand the test of time, with a solid, decent guy. Was that so wrong?

Yeah, but would you even recognize him if he came along?

The last time Sidra went to IKEA for something practical, like a rug, she ended up coming home with a single bar stool and a string of lights shaped like margarita glasses. Hardly sensible. Hell, she couldn’t even choose between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

“Could we at least export a few of the bad ones,” Sidra joked, “and even out the dating pool?”

Bells above the bagel shop’s door clanged, grabbing both women’s attentions.

“Anyway, like I’m one to talk.” Liz stood and brushed invisible crumbs off her apron-covered miniskirt. “Kevin’s true love is his restaurant. He’s been talking about moving back east for four years already. I’m beginning to think he only bothers to enter my zip code when his favorite band comes to town. It’s starting to give me a complex.”

Now it was Sidra’s turn to snort. At least Liz’s zip code was seeing some occasional action. Ever since Sidra had kicked Charlie out, the only action she got in her zip code was self-addressed, so to speak.

“Be thankful he’s just a fan of the band and not in it. Talk about being married to the job,” Sidra grumbled. The road had been Charlie’s bride for years, and she had had to settle for being mistress muse. “Musicians are the worst.”

Liz ducked back behind the counter. “I’m hardly the authority,” she began, wielding her huge serrated knife, “but I’d like to think that chivalry isn’t quite yet dead.” With that, she lopped an everything bagel in half and anointed it with a schmear of cream cheese.

“Oh, sh—” Liz bit her lip, censoring herself in the customers’ presence. “Seamus!” She groaned at the sight of the lumpy brown bag still sitting on the counter. “Your flaky brother forgot to take half the order!”

“No worries, I’ll take them,” Sidra offered.

“Seriously? That would help tremendously. I’m down a guy. I would take them myself, but . . .” She jotted down the address on an order pad and thrust it at Sidra. “I owe you a solid, big-time.”

“Well, I owed you for my last ten bagels. So we’re even.” She smiled.

“You sure you have time? It’s a bit of a maze in there. Huge medical complex.”

“I’m sure. My beginners class downtown isn’t till five.” Sidra grabbed her yoga bag and the warm order of fresh bagels.

“Still rocking that senior set, huh?”

“You know it.” She waved. Actually, Sidra didn’t mind teaching the geriatric group that often showed up for her Monday beginners class at Evolve Yoga. They didn’t show off, they didn’t hit on her, and they were open to new poses. She smiled as she crossed Lexington, remembering how her class had mastered Lizard last week. Age spots and crepe paper–like skin had lent themselves well to the pose.

Lizard pose always reminded Sidra of Charlie’s iguana. Banana Louie was the only thing she truly missed about her ex-boyfriend. She used to get nervous when Charlie would let the creature roam free in her apartment. A lash from its powerful tail could easily draw blood or break one of her mother’s few remaining sculptures. But with time, she came to like watching Banana Louie. Especially when he’d bask under his UVB bulb and let her feed him green beans.

Turned out Charlie was the one you had to look out for. Chasing tail and biting the hand that fed him. Turning wild when given the allowance to roam free.

Dark thoughts swept in as she crossed 64th Street, clouding Sidra’s mind and tightening her chest. Set your best intention for the day, she told herself. Just let it go.

Maybe chivalry isn’t dead, Sidra reasoned as she breezed through the door of the medical center. Maybe it’s just being kept on life support somewhere. Waiting for the right person to come along and breathe life into it.

Or to pull the plug and put it out of its misery.

Rick

Shafted

Rick surveyed the crowd before him, clearing his throat loudly. Discordant chatter fell to an expectant hush, and all eyes were on him. Camera flashes popped.

I don’t belong here.

A prod in the back from Isabelle reminded Rick that this wasn’t about him.

He looked down at his hands and almost burst out laughing. It was like one of those horrible dreams you had as a kid, showing up at school and suddenly realizing you’re naked. Except he was way overdressed, in a bespoke suit with a horrible Brioni tie strangling him in ways his guitar strap never could.

But that sinking feeling of the dream, of looking down to the utter shock of nakedness? Yeah, that was there. He had no guitar to hide behind. But what he did have in his hands was a pair of gigantic, ceremonial scissors.

“Don’t hurt yourself,” Isabelle wisecracked from behind him.

“Right.” He knew the drill. Welcome everyone, allow the hospital president to say a few words, shake hands for the camera, cut the blasted thing, and call it a day. Both his publicist and the hospital’s spokesperson had been over it ad nauseam.

He opened his mouth and words started to flow. But the audience began to murmur again, shaking their heads and raising brows to one another.

“Sorry, sorry.” He tapped the dead microphone, then remedied it with a flick of the switch. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had to sound-check my own mic,” he joked. “Check, check one-two.” That garnered a laugh, mainly from the under forty crowd.

Rick had done the easy stuff earlier. Posing for pictures with various board of director muckety-mucks, signing autographs for them and for some of the doctors, their children, and their children’s children. Now came the hard part. He glanced down at the wide, orange satin ribbon stretched out before him as Isabelle gave him another nudge. It was the only thing keeping him from performing a perfect swan dive into the arms of the city officials and dignitaries seated below.

That and social decorum, he supposed.

“Thank you all for coming, and for giving me this honor. Simone would be . . .”

Simone would be what?

Rick glanced around at the shiny new cancer wing of the famed Manhattan hospital. His wife had died far away from here, the city of her birth, and from her parents, who had been unable to make the opening due to unforeseen circumstances. They were the ones who tirelessly raised the money and spoke for the cause, year after bloody year. He was just another checkbook, a token figurehead. Putting money where his mouth—or daresay where his heart—was not. He certainly didn’t deserve this honor that had fallen upon him right in the middle of his band’s tour, yanking him from the promise of the road and back to the crapshoot of reality.

“Simone would be . . .”

As he searched for the right words, the devil riding shotgun on the shoulder seam of his designer suit provided some choice ones.

Simone would be here if it weren’t for you, you pompous, self-centered prick.

His fists clenched, and he heard the crisp bite of stainless steel cutting through the satin. The orange bits fluttered to either side of him, and he stepped back, feeling faint. A collective gasp emanated from below and the president gaped uselessly, unread speech gripped in his hand. Isabelle was at the podium now, not a hair out of place and smiling as the crowd recovered and politely clapped.

“I have to get out of here,” Rick hissed at the back of her perfumed neck, “or I’m going to lose it.”

“Fine. Go. Take the service elevator,” she replied, mouth still frozen in her happy publicist’s smile. Isabelle was on the board of the Simone Banquet Memorial Foundation and was certainly equipped to provide the lip service for it. “There’s a car waiting downstairs to take you back to the airport.”

She relieved him of the Goliath shears and planted what felt like the kiss of Judas on his cheek. Exposing him for what he really was. Why, why, why did he let her talk him into this?

Rick bounded behind the pipe and drape toward the old part of the hospital, away from the Simone Banquet Memorial Cancer Center wing that he had just prematurely dedicated.

Why had he even bothered to come? He was useless at these types of things. Beyond useless, actually, and tipping over into the hazardous category. God, he couldn’t get out of here fast enough. He should be safely on the other coast with the band in Los Angeles, not here. Anywhere but here. Fingers worked to loosen the tight knot at his throat as he proceeded down the hallway toward the service elevator, which was miraculously opening at that very moment to allow a worker off.

“Hold the lift!” he barked as the doors began to close upon his approach. He saw no one inside move a finger in response. “Dammit!” Curse New York and its bloody New York minute, with everyone rushing and no one taking the time—

A slim, tan leg shot through the gap in the doors, causing them to spring open again.

Rick murmured his thanks as he wormed in, past the tiny sandal dangling from the foot holding the door at bay.

“Crap. My flip-flop!”

The owner of the leg shifted a huge paper sack of heavenly smelling baked goods in her arms, just in time to catch a glimpse of her shoe slipping neatly through the crack as the doors slid shut with a smug ding.

“Son of a bitch!”

The expletive hardly matched the wisp of a girl who had uttered it. She had the delicate features of a china doll and barely came up to Rick’s chest. Yet he and the other occupants of the elevator cowered as she swore like a trucker.

“Sorry,” was all Rick could muster.

“Me too.” The girl glared at him with eyes startlingly bright, banded in colors that reminded Rick of the tiger iron stone he used to bring back as gifts for his sons after tour stops in Australia. She mumbled something about good deeds unpunished and left it at that.

As they rode in uncomfortable silence, Rick realized the elevator was going up, not down. He had been so intent on escaping, the thought hadn’t even occurred to him that it might not be going the way he wanted.

Nothing was going the way he wanted these days.

He sighed, his eyes drifting down. The girl was balanced like a stork, her bare foot nestled against the inner thigh of her opposite leg. How she was able to stand like that while the elevator took its time to stop at every other floor, Rick had no clue. Not that he could blame her; he wouldn’t want his skin coming into contact with any part of Manhattan’s terra firma, whether inside or out. Her arms were still clutching the huge bag. Rick caught a whiff of cinnamon swirling with honey and walnuts and realized he had not eaten since landing on American soil.

An older woman in pink scrubs commandeering a cart full of hospital supplies finally spoke up. “Here, chica.” She rummaged through the items on the bottom shelf of the cart. “You take,” she continued in her broken English, smiling and offering up a scrunched handful of something.

Without a word to Rick, the girl handed off her bag to him so she could slide what looked like a pale blue paper shoe over her bare foot.

“Gracias,” she said politely and pointedly to the woman. Which seemed to imply No thanks to you as far as Rick was concerned. She was a firecracker, this one.

Pink Scrubs got off at the next floor, leaving just the two of them on board. She took back custody of her bagels and kept her eyes on the lighted panel above the door. The only number left lit was sixteen, and they were almost there. Rick leaned past her to press L, feeling like an idiot. L for Loser. The girl smirked but didn’t comment.

Her hair was straight and glossy, darker than even his, and caught back in a ribbon the same orange hue as the one he had just snipped in half back in the multi-million-dollar wing that bore his wife’s name. He had felt so useless earlier. Now he had the sudden urge to do something, say something, to remedy the current situation.

“Can I buy you a coffee?” he blurted. Lame. “A new shoe?” That earned him a roll of those tiger iron eyes, flecked with golden jasper and bits as dark as black hematite. “How about a tetanus shot?”

With a dismissive snort, she scuffed down the hall in one paper shoe and didn’t look back.

Sidra

Cinderella in Reverse

Do a good deed and what do you get? Sidra thought. The shaft.

Literally.

Truth be told, she had been too busy sneaking a glance at the gorgeous specimen who had entered the tight quarters of the elevator to notice her silly shoe was falling off her foot.

And that accent. Talk about imported!

Guys in power suits usually intimidated her, but something about this guy was different. Make no mistake—he absolutely owned the look. Especially with that cascade of long hair. The unexpected contradiction made him even more intriguing.

His suit had appeared tailor-made for his body, and that tie screamed spendy. Sidra would bet the last bagel in her bag that his shoes were a) Italian and b) worth more than her whole wardrobe combined. Not that her wardrobe contained much more than yoga pants and sports bras, but still. His shoes were really nice. Way too expensive (and whoa—big!) to ever lose down an elevator shaft.

She thought back to her “where have all the good guys gone?” conversation with Liz. Gay? Maybe. Taken? Maybe that, too. He had had a faint but fresh-looking lipstick mark on his cheekbone, she had noticed. Shoot. Oh well.

Sidra delivered the bag of bagels left behind by Seamus with little fanfare. The receptionist even gave her a tip. Enough for the subway ride home, but since she only had one damn shoe, she’d have to spring for a cab. No way was she going to deal with the hassle of the MTA while a paper bootie was cinched to her ankle.

Mr. Import had offered to treat her to a tetanus shot. Cute.

And she totally blew him off for his trouble. Nice one, Sid. You may as well have given Manhattan’s last knight in shining armor the finger.

She wondered if he was a doctor. Plenty of them seemed to have abandoned the white coats these days. And the way he carried himself gave the impression he was some sort of big cheese, compared to the other lab rats in the maze of a medical center. But why the hell had he been riding the service elevator? Sidra knew why she was on it. Upon checking in at the front desk, she had been relegated to taking the route reserved for deliveries and dirty laundry. Certainly not the preferred mode of transportation for someone so well dressed.

The clap-scuff of her hurried pace echoed through the empty hall. Back to the scene of the crime, she thought as the elevator doors slid open.

“Your chariot awaits.”

Mr. Import was back, and he had brought a wheelchair.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Sidra laughed self-consciously. She hoped the Manhattan Goddess bagel hadn’t given her tuna breath.

“It’s the least I can do.” He pointed to the seat. “In you go.”

Sidra humored him. Maybe he could roll her down to the taxi stand, at least.

“Do you make a habit of this?” she asked.

“Of what? Absconding with hospital property?” As his laugh rumbled above her, she wished she hadn’t taken the seat so she could see the smile that went with it. Like his suit, she bet it looked like a million bucks. “Hardly.”

“No, of riding the dirty service elevator all day.”

They passed by two more floors before he answered. “Only when there’s the possibility of rescue and redemption.” The handsome stranger’s stilted murmur was close to her ear, raising goose bumps and questions she didn’t dare ask.

The ride going down was fast and smooth, with no stops in between. He whisked the wheelchair into the busy lobby and finessed his way to the sliding glass doors, humming something in a melodic baritone as he pushed.

“Okay, well. The ride stops here. I’m fine, thanks.” She really needed to get downtown so she could grab another pair of shoes from home and hoof it to the studio. “I’m going to be late for work.”

“Well, you certainly can’t go to work barefoot.”

Now it was Sidra’s turn to laugh as she accepted his large hand and allowed herself to be helped out of the wheelchair. “Actually, I can.”

He raised one heavy, sculpted eyebrow. “Look. You said no to my offer of coffee—”

“And to your offer of immunization,” Sidra interjected.

“—so let me at least replace your shoe. I insist.” He was already signaling to a—no joke—long, black limousine idling out front. Its driver popped out and stepped lively toward the back door.

“Dude. I’m not getting in a car with a total stranger. Sorry.”

Mr. Import’s dark brow furrowed as if he didn’t quite understand. He so wasn’t from around here.

“You’re not getting in a car with a total stranger, you’re getting into a car with . . .”

“James, sir.” The driver tapped his own name tag with a smile.

“You’re getting in a car with James.” He turned to the driver and Sidra saw the flash of a bill disappear into the liveryman’s breast pocket as they spoke in hushed tones. “James is going to take you to a shoe store, and then he’s going to take you to work.” Now Sidra caught a glimpse of his smile, which appeared to be tinged with the tiniest bit of regret. “I’ve actually got a plane to catch.”

Sidra watched from the open window of the limo as Mr. Import stepped to the curb and raised his arm. “JFK Airport, please,” she heard him say.

So, chivalry isn’t dead after all, she thought. It’s hailing a yellow medallion cab to Queens.

* * *

“There’s a Duane Reade.” Sidra pointed, but James appeared to have strict orders to not stop until he had reached a proper shoe store. They were on Third Avenue, which brimmed with Upper East Side expensive choices. Step on it, Jeeves. Tick-tock! She had class in an hour, and her seniors weren’t very Zen about being made to wait.

“They’re ten-dollar drugstore flip-flops,” she insisted impatiently. “And I only lost one. So why not give me five dollars of the hundred he slipped you and we’ll call it a day?”

James’s eyes met Sidra’s in the rearview mirror. “I promised him we’d get you proper shoes, miss.”

Of course they had to be proper. Sidra could still hear Mr. Import’s oh-so-proper accent ringing in her ears. So smooth. “Pretty elaborate pickup technique, don’t you think?”

“Or just a good Samaritan, I suppose.”

Sidra contemplated James’s reply. For a smooth talker, her Prince Charming hadn’t offered up a name, or asked for hers. Perhaps this was just one of those weird pay-it-forward things, like covering the toll of the car behind you, or treating the next customer in line at the drive-thru. Manhattan usually didn’t see such random acts of senseless kindness. Or, at least, Sidra didn’t.

“Here we are, miss.”

Sidra balked at the storefront; she recognized the name brand from flipping through those thick fashion magazines her friend Fiona was partial to.

“Um, the hundred dollars he gave you isn’t going to buy an Odor-Eater in this store, James.”

Her driver reddened as he ushered her through the front door. “That was just my, um . . . tip. Everything else is on the company account.”

Sidra felt her ears burn. As if it weren’t embarrassing enough to walk into a high-end boutique wearing a paper hospital bootie! “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. “I shouldn’t have assumed.”

Thankfully, the sales girls didn’t bat an eye at Sidra’s odd choice of footwear and went to fetch her size. “Just the cheapest you’ve got. Last season,” Sidra called after them. They enlisted James, who brought her a sizable stack of boxes. Even the cardboard looked expensive.

“This is ridiculous,” she said to no one in particular. Half the styles she nixed just on the prices alone. The other half she longed to play dress-up with, as they were flirty and fun but totally not practical for walking the uneven and broken sidewalks of her East Village neighborhood. James stood by at the ready, as if he had all the time in the world. But Sidra knew time was a-wasting; she had to get back downtown to teach her beginners class at Evolve.

She slid her feet into the most comfortable and decadent pair of flip-flops she had ever encountered. The suede-covered cork footbed practically sighed as it molded around her foot and supported her arch and heel. The straps were genuine black patent leather, not the plastic stuff, and heavily embellished with rhinestones.

“These are perfect. I’ll take them.”

James looked on approvingly, and for a millisecond, Sidra entertained a fantasy that instead of a suited chauffeur, her Mr. Import was standing there in all his fineness and finery, helping her choose. A pang of regret reverberated through her. She should have at least asked him his name. Not that it mattered, but . . .

A salesgirl discreetly disposed of the dirty paper shoe while the other clerk rang up the purchase. Sidra cringed at the price, knowing her new flip-flops cost roughly eighteen times more than her old pair.

“What’s your return policy?” she asked as James supplied Mr. Import’s line of credit. She had half a mind to bring the pretty shoes back tomorrow. Although the other half of her brain must’ve been connected to her feet, which insisted she was never going to take them off.

“Thirty days. Would you like to keep this?” The salesgirl held up Sidra’s lone cheap flip-flop.

“Sure, what the heck.” Perhaps she’d tack it to her bedroom wall. It could serve as a reminder that Manhattan hadn’t run dry of the good guys just yet.

*   *   *

The limo glided down Second Avenue. Sidra made good use of the surround sound stereo and had James rocking rhymes with the Beastie Boys and singing along to seventies Motown by the time they had reached Houston.

“So this is it, I guess.”

“It’s been a pleasure, miss.”

“Please, call me Sidra.”

But it was a little too late for introductions, as the limo pulled away from the dusty, littered curb of Rivington Street and the spell was broken.

Back to reality, I guess.

Sidra glanced up as she gave the doorknob of her family’s building a vigorous pull. There was the old sign for Sullivan and Son Bicycles, its red and black letters barely legible amidst the curls of peeling paint and splintered swollen wood. Nailed to its bottom frame was the sign Seamus had painstakingly designed and airbrushed for their cousin Mike: a biomechanical steampunk logo for Revolve Records. While the name was fitting for an establishment that still sold physical forms of music, it was really more of an homage to their family’s old trade. Although, Sidra thought grimly, Revolve was quickly on its way to becoming a relic itself. Besides Mikey and a few other purists, no one cared about vinyl. Or even CDs anymore, for that matter. Seamus kidded about just airbrushing over the R in the sign once the record store flopped. “Evolve or die,” he had joked.

Which was how Sidra came to name Evolve, her month-old business.

She really should have a sign made, too. Word of mouth could only travel so far. Still, it secretly pleased her to know her unlabeled yoga studio brought more income into the property during that short time period than her cousin’s record sales had in the last quarter.

“Nice shoes.” He whistled from behind the counter. “What, did you mug Paris Hilton?”

“All the better to kick you with, Mikey.”

Sidra blew her cousin a kiss as she breezed through the deserted record store and into her back sanctuary. Judging from the number of attendance cards out and lockers in use, it looked like she had ten students waiting for her.

“Good afternoon, everyone.” She kicked off her overpriced flip-flops. “Let’s begin in Child’s pose.”

Shedding her tunic in favor of the lightweight black tank top underneath, she grabbed her mat and spread it under the light and shadows cast by the lone Moroccan-style brass lamp hanging high in the back space she had claimed as her own.

All of her seniors folded up and rested their torsos on their thighs like dutiful children. “Balasana.” Sidra breathed the Sanskrit name as everyone, herself included, surrendered to gravity and the state of non-doing required of this pose. As her forehead met her mat, she was grateful for an excuse to clear her mind of the surreal events of the day.

Rick

Shot to Hell

Thank goodness for the Pacific Time Zone. Rick was traveling backward, gaining hours as he lost consciousness against the plush headrest of his first class airline seat.

He drifted in and out of deep and shallow dreams, with images of orange ribbons and scissors. He saw himself back at the new wing of the hospital, wordlessly cutting, then at the hospital in Kauai, watching helplessly as Simone cried while what was left of her beautiful golden hair fell from her pillow to his feet. Then he saw his hands slowly and seductively pulling the tight orange bow that kept the delivery girl’s hair in place, imagined the midnight black sweep of her hair covering his eyes as he pulled her to him.

He awoke horny, restless, and ashamed, clutching the armrests of the seat as he catapulted six hundred miles per hour through the air like it was no big deal.

“Anything to drink?” the flight attendant asked.

“Tequila, please. With a lime.” Rick sat up straighter.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Rotten. We have a limited beverage menu in-flight.” She looked twenty-five if a day, and genuinely sympathetic.

“Well, that’s a crying shame, darlin’. I thought I could get anything I wanted in first class.”

With the events of New York halfway behind him, Riff Rotten had reached cruising attitude.

* * *

“And how was your flight?”

It took Rick a moment to answer Isabelle’s long-distance query, as his mouth was full of tequila. “Uneventful.” He dragged his tongue from the flight attendant’s navel and up the salt trail of her body, ending at her neck.

“Is there anything you want to tell me?”

Rick teased the lime from between the beautiful girl’s lips and sucked on it thoughtfully. “Not that I can think of,” he murmured, reaching for the bottle to start the process again.

“Take me off goddamn speakerphone,” Isabelle said, annoyed with the girl’s squeal as cold alcohol sloshed in her navel once more. “Whatever you’re doing, I doubt it requires your hands.”

Rick made the lustful loop once more down and back up her body, phone now pressed to his ear.

“Don’t you ever sleep?” he asked wearily. If dusk was descending over the Sunset Strip out his hotel window, then it had to be well past midnight in Isabelle’s world.

“Not when you’re on tour. So . . . no transvestite confessions you’d like to make? Are you developing a shoe fetish in your old age? You owe the Foundation a hundred and eighty-three bucks.”

The elevator girl.

Rick spit out the lime and chuckled. Was that all? “They were a present. For a friend.”

“What, did you go for a quickie before the airport? A booty call?”

He thought of the girl giving him the total piss off as she scuffed out of the elevator in her one shoe and paper slip-on bootie. “Bootie” call indeed, Rick joked to himself. He was drawn to her call, all right, like a siren’s song. There had been something about her . . .

The flight attendant held out the saltshaker and another shot to him, but he waved it away. She sucked on a lime and pouted. As far as Rick was concerned, their layover was over. He was tired, he was drunk, and now he couldn’t get that girl with the bagels off his mind. He wished he could’ve stuck around and shopped with her. Maybe she would’ve given him that lone surviving shoe as a souvenir. Like a jousting knight, he had collected his share of lady favors throughout the years. Rock and roll–style tokens of appreciation: bras, panties . . . but never a flip-flop. Was that considered a fetish?

“What did she buy?”

“How the hell should I know?” Rick heard the scratch of a lighter before she continued. “The receipt said Mephisto Hakira sandals. They hardly sound like Jimmy Choo fuck-me heels.” Isabelle’s own snobbery definitely extended into stiletto territory, and he knew her preference ran in the four-figure bracket.

Good girl, he thought. He hoped she really liked them.

And would think of him whenever she wore them.

Customer Reviews

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Softer Than Steel 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great book. It's beautiful in its details. I love that the characters are older. It seems more "real" if ya get what I mean. Definitely worth reading, again and again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Just wow!!! I fell for riff and sidra as hard as i did for adrian and kat!!! All i can say is that i cannot believe im the first nook review for this for jessica but im honored! I fell hard for her writing in june after resding dictatorrship of the dress but after resding louder than love &this series of hers my library collection of hers has become a priority high favorite! Great job! Thanks Sincerely traci w of south fl hugs
gigiluvsbooks More than 1 year ago
As rock star "Riff Rotten", Rick Rottenberg has enjoyed all the perks that fame can offer, especially now that he's reunited with his former band mate, Adrian "Digger" Graves. But despite his success, Rick is a mess. Still reeling from the death of his wife years ago and terrified his demons will end his career, he agrees to seek help for his anxiety. Burned by a musician in the past, Sidra Sullivan has closed her heart to love. So when Rick walks into her yoga studio, she wants nothing to do with him--until the bad boy shows an unexpected soft side. As Sidra and Rick work through their painful pasts, they realize just how strongly opposites can attract. But when a crisis threatens the delicate balance they've forged, they'll discover if their love is strong enough to weather another storm or just too broken to survive... Review: This is one of my favorite series. Though this book was to me a lot different in tone than the previous two stories. That does not mean I like it less, I just liked it for different reasons than I did the previous stories. Ms. Topper must do a ton of research or she has a great, varied knowledge of things. I mean I did not know there was such a thing as groups that play a mix of Bhangra and Celtic music, plus the details about Jewish culture, music and yoga. One of the reasons I liked it is that there is so much description and detail in her stories, that help me immerse into the character's world. This detail does slow down the story in parts, but I quite enjoyed all details. This story is told from a dual point-of-view, so it was good to see where both were coming from and how the past has shaped them. I did find that for a lot of the book that Sidra and Rick were not really together and that was a little strange for me since it is a romance. They are thinking or talking about the other, but not actually together. When they were together, there was a lot of miscommunication and so they were at odds. I thought the ending was perfect though and that really made the book for me. That Sidra and Rick are not your typical characters for a romance, made the story unique and kept my interest. One thing I found funny was it seemed there was a "Six-Degrees of Separation" game going on throughout the story, Sidra and Rick were so connected and they did not even know it. This is the second full book in the series and I really would recommend reading them in order to get the full enjoyment out of the series. I don't know if there will be another book in the series, but I hope so and will definitely pick it up! 4Stars *Received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.*