Read an Excerpt
Sam Castle managed to open one eye he wasn't sure if it was his right or his left and tried to remember where he was. Obviously, he was in a hotel room. He'd been in hotels nonstop for the last eighteen months. The air conditioning was blasting, so it was hot outside.
The picture on the wall was tropical, so he was probably in the south. Alabama? No, that was three nights ago, he remembered that much. Florida. That's right, Miami Beach. American Airlines Arena. Through a fog of alcohol-induced pain, he sort of remembered doing a second encore, despite his ears practically bleeding by that point.
Even with the best protection money could buy, and he had a shitload of money, his ears still rang for hours after every concert. But after killing his second, or possibly third, bottle of Jack Daniels, ringing ears were the least of his problems.
He fell more than rolled out of bed and landed in a tangle of sheets and the bedspread. The smell of stale beer and spilled whiskey made his stomach churn as he stumbled to the bathroom.
The lights over the acre of marble countertops and shiny chrome made him wince, but seeing his reflection in the mile-wide mirror had him recoiling. There was no way that could be him. His eyes were so bloodshot they were more red than green, his face was pasty white and puffy, and his shoulder-length black hair was a mass of sweat-dried clumps and snarls.
He turned around, trying to escape the image, but his reflection mocked him from every wall in the bathroom. His hands shook as he turned on the water in the shower. He didn't recognize himself anymore, barely knew where he was or where he was going, forget what he'd done the night before. He didn't have a clue what time it was or what he had to do next.
And worst of all, the music he'd always used as his escape was gone.
As he stood under the multiple jets, letting the hot water pound on him. He tried to find a hint of a melody or tease out a single lyric, but the muse who used to drive him to distraction was silent.
This had to stop.
In the last eight years, he'd written and produced five albums and done six world tours to support those albums. On "off" days what a joke he visited local radio stations, did TV guest spots, and sat down with reporters who all asked the same damn questions.
"Where do you get your inspiration?"
"What does your father, the drill sergeant, think of your music?"
"What's going on with you and supermodel Bridgette? Any plans on marriage?"
And the dreaded, "So what's next?"
He didn't even know the name of the hotels his manager booked him in — how the hell was he supposed to know what he was doing next?
Turning the water to freezing, he tried to shock his brain back into working order. The icy needles punished his aching body and cleared away some of the haze from the night before. Shivering, he turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. Doing his best to avoid his reflection, he dried off and wrapped himself in the plush robe hanging on the door.
His eyes weren't any less bloodshot and his face was still pasty and puffy, but at least he was clean. As he left the bathroom, he noticed a breakfast tray waiting on the glass table in the sitting room of his suite. Coffee, Gatorade, and a covered dish were displayed elegantly between a fancy folded napkin and a single rose in a crystal vase.
How the hell did they know he was awake? Or what he wanted for breakfast? Or if he even wanted breakfast?
"Feeling better?" his manager, Dave Kendrick, asked from where he sat on the couch. He was reading something on his tablet and hardly looked up when Sam stopped in front of him.
"Jesus, Dave. How the hell'd you get in here?"
"I always get two keys to your room, just in case."
"In case of what? I choke on my own vomit?"
"I was going to say in case you lose yours or forget something before the show."
"Did you order breakfast?"
"How did you know what to order?"
He sighed heavily and put down the tablet. "I get the same thing for you every day. Two eggs, over easy, hash browns, white toast with strawberry jam, and a double helping of bacon, Gatorade, and coffee with a side of Jack Daniels."
"What if I want pancakes, or French toast, or an omelet?"
"Do you want pancakes, French toast, or an omelet?" Dave asked. "I can call down to room service for you."
"No, I don't want pancakes, damn it."
"Then what's the problem?"
"The problem is, you're managing me."
"That's what you pay me for. I manage the little details like booking your room and ordering your favorite foods so you can focus on the music. That's why they call me a manager."
"I know that." Sam shoved his hands in his hair in frustration. For someone who'd made millions putting his thoughts to music, he was having a great deal of trouble expressing himself. "Look at me. I can't remember how much I had to drink last night, or what I did, or even what city I'm in half the time. My ears are still ringing, and my throat is raw, and I want that whiskey and coffee so bad my hands are shaking."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying this has got to stop. I can't do it anymore. I need a break."
"Tonight is the last show of the tour," he said, tapping on his tablet. "You're scheduled for some downtime before you go back in the studio. Go to L.A., hit the beach, go to some clubs. It'll be good for you."
"No. I mean a real break. From everything. I don't want to go to L.A. I want to disappear."
"But your next album ..."
"There is no next album," Sam practically growled.
"Your contract states you owe the recording company one more album and an accompanying tour."
"Don't you get it? There isn't another album. I haven't written a single thing in months. I don't have so much as a guitar riff."
"Yeah, oh. As in, oh shit."
"And another thing, it isn't normal to start your day off with Jack in your coffee."
"To be fair, it's already two o'clock in the afternoon," Dave said.
"I don't care if it's happy hour. If I can't get through a day without a drink, you know what that makes me?"
"You're not an alcoholic. I know alcoholics. Trust me, it's just the rock and roll life."
Sam thought about that for a moment. Thought about his buddies in the business, about how many of them had died or burned out in the twelve years since he'd released his first self-produced album.
"It has to stop. I have to stop." Maybe if he kept saying it, he'd actually do it.
"There are plenty of discreet rehabs. We can check you in for a couple of weeks, get you detoxed and cleaned up."
He thought about his father's reaction to seeing his only son in "one of those tree-hugging country clubs where they eat bark and talk about their feelings and how it's somebody else's fault they're so fucked up" and barely held back a shudder. Although he'd stopped trying to please his father a long time ago, he found himself agreeing with the sentiment.
If he was going to clean up his act, he was going to do it on his own.
"No celebrity rehabs. Find me some cabin, or someplace no one knows about. I don't care if there's a pool or wifi or even cable. I want someplace quiet, where nobody knows me, where I can think."
"I'll ask around. Discreetly. Are you going to be able to do tonight's show?"
He thought about standing up in front of thousands of people, singing what basically amounted to his diary.
He cracked open the tiny bottle of Jack and poured it into his coffee. "Yeah, I can do the show."
"Momma, I don't care who he is, as long as his check clears and he keeps to himself," Faith said to her mother who had called to get the scoop about her latest guest.
"But, Faith, he has to be someone famous. Who else would have a manager make the arrangements? Aren't you just the tiniest bit curious about who he is?"
"Not really. I'm just happy he's willing to pay in advance."
"It doesn't seem strange to you that someone who has enough money to have a manager make the arrangements for him wants to stay in Dale for two whole months? What's he gonna do in that tiny little cabin for all that time?"
"Cottage, Momma, cottage. And I don't care if he sits in a corner and contemplates his navel for two months. This is the easiest guest I've ever had. His manager said to stock the fridge and leave him alone, so that's what I'm gonna do."
"Momma, I've got to go. Mary Ellen will be back with Piper in half an hour, and I have a to-do list a mile long. I'll see you and Daddy in two weeks."
Faith's attention was only half on her mother's reply. She was focused on tidying the guest cottage and stocking the tiny kitchenette with all the items Mr. Kendrick had listed, although why someone needed a coffee grinder and coffee beans specially shipped from Columbia was beyond her. Once she was done, the cabinets fairly bulged with food, and the fridge was filled with Gatorade, fruit, eggs, and bacon.
As she left the cottage, her brain spun with all the things she still had to do. It was hard work running the bed and breakfast by herself, but it gave her a sense of purpose, not to mention satisfaction.
For weeks after her husband's death, she'd been in a fog of pain and grief. It wasn't until almost a month after Matthew's funeral that she realized she was pregnant. Suddenly, she'd had decisions to make, and another life who depended on those decisions. She couldn't sit around the condo and cry anymore.
As much as she'd loved growing up on the farm, and as supportive as her parents were, she hadn't wanted to move back home. When she'd all but given up hope of finding either the right house or job, she'd spotted a listing for a "rustic bed and breakfast" in Dale.
Although she'd majored in business, she'd minored in hospitality and had worked in restaurants and hotels all through high school and college. Running a bed and breakfast in a tiny town in rural Georgia had meant she was able to keep her baby with her all day and make a decent enough living.
After six years, she was still trying to make that decent enough living.
To say Faith's home was off the beaten track was an understatement, but Dale drew hundreds of hunters every season. Most of the homes in her vicinity were hunting cabins from the 1950s. Faith offered her guests a clean bed, a hearty breakfast, and for a nominal fee, she even prepared lunches and thermoses of coffee for the hunters to take with them. She'd teamed up with some locals who guided the hunters, and word had spread. All four of her guest rooms were filled every night from September to May.
To make up for the lean times in the summer, Faith advertised nature walks and guided hikes, and more recently, trail rides. Summer was still pretty slow, but she had enough business to keep from dipping into her savings. She'd probably never get rich, but she was able to stay home with Piper and make an honest living doing something she enjoyed.
She just hoped whoever her mysterious new guest was, he appreciated clean and comfortable and wouldn't run for Atlanta after getting one look at his five hundred square foot home for the next two months.
Mr. Kendrick had said his client wanted quiet. He'd sure get plenty of that here. If there was something she had in abundance, it was quiet.
Sam watched his GPS and slowed to a crawl, searching for a road in the godforsaken forest. He'd told Dave he wanted to get away from everything, and Dave had come through. There wasn't a McDonald's, Walmart, or any other franchise for miles. Hell, since he'd gone through the center of town, he hadn't even seen a street light.
Even going barely five miles an hour, he passed the road and had to back up. The directions said follow the service road for half a mile before turning into the graveled drive. His headlights jumped as the SUV bounced over the rutted path. There was nothing out here but trees. Who lives out here, Goldilocks and the Three Bears?
After what felt like forever, his headlights lit up a sign for Adams' Hunting Lodge. This must be the place. He turned up the gravel drive and grinned at what passed for a hunting lodge in these parts.
From what he could see in the dark, it was more of a farmhouse. The back porch was lit up and a path wound its way back into the trees. A hand-lettered sign pointed to "The Blue Cottage" and "The Green Cottage." There was a third path, but where it led to was anyone's guess, as it had no sign.
He turned off the engine and was about to step out of the truck when a dog the size of a small bear barked at him from the porch steps.
"Holy shit!" He hopped back into the SUV and slammed the door. What the fuck was he supposed to do now?
"Sadie, down, girl. Hush."
He stared at the girl — no, she was small, but she was all woman — who had her hand on the dog's head.
His mouth dropped open. The woman who controlled the dog couldn't be more than five feet tall, but there were a whole lot of curves packed into those five feet. He hoped the dark hid his scrutiny, because he couldn't stop looking at her. Her breasts were lush and ripe and strained the limits of the washed out T-shirt she wore. Her waist dipped in before hips that made his fingers itch to touch them and tapered down to toned, tanned legs in a pair of faded, cut-off shorts.
"Can I help you?" she called, staying on the steps with the dog.
He swallowed before opening the car door. "Hi, I'm Sam Castle, uh, Castleton. Dave Kendrick rented a cabin for me." It had been so long since he'd used his real name instead of his shortened stage name, it felt weird to introduce himself that way.
"Oh, you made it. It was so late, I was worried you'd gotten lost, but I didn't have a number to reach you." She opened the door to the house for the dog. "Go on in, Sadie."
Ten o'clock was late? Where was he? Mayberry? He waited until she closed the door behind the dog before stepping fully out of the SUV.
"Let me grab the key and I'll show you to your cottage. I'll be just a sec."
She turned, and he saw her hair was blond and fell to the middle of her back even tied back in a high ponytail. Her ass was a thing of beauty.
Jesus Christ, what had Dave gotten him into? He needed peace and quiet. A place to recharge and dry out. He wanted to concentrate on his music, not get distracted by a five-foot Aphrodite. How the hell was he supposed to write new songs when his testosterone-flooded brain could barely form coherent thoughts?
A few seconds later, she was back, carrying a flashlight and a basket. "You're staying in the blue cottage. I've had the air conditioning on low all day because I wasn't sure when you'd get here. The kitchen is fully stocked, but if you get sick of your own cooking, just let me know and I'll bring you over a plate of whatever I'm making for the other guests."
"What other guests?" he asked as he grabbed his duffle bag and guitar case out of the back of the SUV.
"Well, right now, none, but hope springs eternal." She clicked on the giant flashlight and used it to point to the middle path. "Right this way."
The last thing he wanted was some other guest banging around and distracting him. With his luck, he'd be recognized, and TMZ would be out here with zoom lenses trying to find him doing something worthy of a news bite. "How many guests do you usually have?"
"It varies. During hunting season, I'm usually full up in the main house and rent out both cottages, but this is the off season, so I have plenty of room at the inn."
"How many guest rooms are in the main house?"
If she ended up renting those rooms, plus the other cabin — sorry, cottage — there could be a minimum of five people in his business. Fuck. "How much do you rent the rooms for?"
"Off season? The guest rooms are seventy-five dollars a night, which includes breakfast. The cottage is a hundred a night or six hundred for a full week. I gave you a special rate because you're renting for two months."
"How much am I paying for two months?" he practically growled. He had a headache, and her chattering wasn't helping.
"Don't you know?"
"If I knew, I wouldn't ask."
"Oh. Your check was for four thousand dollars. I already cashed it."
He ignored her while he did some math in his head. "I'll give you fifteen thousand dollars if you don't rent any of the rooms or the other cottage while I'm here." It wasn't as much as she'd make if she rented everything, but it was more than she'd probably make in the off season, if he'd done his math right.
"Fifteen grand, cash, so I can have absolute privacy."
Excerpted from "Storming the Castle"
Copyright © 2017 Arianna Hart.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.