Don’t miss this heartwarming and funny reunion romance from Avon Gale
Indie rocker Victoria “Vix” Vincent knows a good thing when she hears it. The moment Sawyer Bell picks up her fiddle, magic happens. Beautiful and wildly talented, Sawyer is the perfect match for Vix’s band—and, just maybe, for Vix. The dynamic in any group is a delicate thing, but with Sawyer and Vix thrown together on tour, it’s not long before the line between bandmates and lovers gets a bit blurry.
The indie rock life is not what Sawyer ever saw for herself. She worked hard to get where she is—in her second year of Julliard, with a bright future in classical music. But instead of spending her summer working and rehearsing, she’s on tour with her secret high school crush. And even though it was only supposed to be temporary, Sawyer feels like she’s finally found a place she belongs.
This summer with Vix has been like a dream. But every tour must come to an end, and when Julliard comes calling, Sawyer will need to make a choice: continue on the path she’s chosen, or take a leap of faith and follow her heart.
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This book is approximately 63,000 words
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Vix chewed on a pen, placating the pounding headache behind her eyes with whispered promises of imminent Advil and caffeine. Her headache was work related, which was nothing out of the ordinary, but this time it wasn't a result of singing too much or smoking too many cigarettes. It wasn't even the unhappy consequence of too much vodka or late-night partying.
It was all Bryant's fault.
Bryant Davenport, their fiddle player, had decided to get married a few months after Victoria Vincent's spring tour. Which, okay, fine — Vix sang at his wedding and everything — cool, she liked romantic, happy endings as much as the next person. Then, Bryant and his new husband, Aaron, decided they had to be parents, and while they'd expected adoption to take forever ... apparently not, because they'd received their little bundle of joy quite unexpectedly a few weeks ago. Vix was back in her hometown of Germantown, Tennessee, a suburb of Memphis full of mostly boring people, with a little less than two weeks left to find a replacement.
But the kicker, the real problem, and the reason she needed coffee and over-the-counter pain relievers? Everyone who'd auditioned so far sucked.
"I'm guessing that guy bought that violin off Craigslist a week ago," Jeff said with a frown. He rubbed at his own temples. "And was taking lessons off YouTube."
"No way. Any lessons would have sounded better than that," said Connor.
"What about the ..." Jeff flipped through a set of papers he was holding, "the second guy?"
"Nope." That emphatic pronouncement came from Kit. "Veto."
"He didn't sound like he was scalding a cat," Jeff reminded him. "At this point, that's a strong mark in the pro column."
"There were things moving in his beard, dude." Kit shuddered. "Lots of them. And that is a strong mark in the con column. Twice. I'm not spending months in a van with a guy who brought his own parasites."
Vix sighed and propped her feet up on the tattered ottoman in Jeff's basement. It was his parents' house, but they'd left for the Upper Peninsula in Michigan a few days earlier to escape the oncoming Tennessee summer. Since Vix and Jeff had been playing music in the Townleys' basement since Vix was in high school, it was nice to have a familiar base of operations to conduct their auditions. On the other hand, it made her feel like a teenager again.
She pushed her hand through her hair and groaned. "Guys, this isn't good."
It wasn't. Whoever they found to take Bryant's place still needed to learn all the music, and time was dwindling with every terrible audition. Vix hated the idea of going on tour without a fiddle player, but it was looking like she wasn't going to have much of a choice. She'd rather miss that component than have someone butcher the music on stage. Why was finding a fiddle player in the South so hard? She knew there were a lot of ridiculous stereotypes about her home region, but for fuck's sake, it was the fiddle. They should be a dime a dozen, shouldn't they?
"I mean, Bryant can bring a baby on tour, can't he?" Connor twirled a drumstick in his fingers. The drum set that accompanied the sticks was in the garage, as none of the prospective fiddle players who'd auditioned thus far had progressed to the let's see how you sound when you play with us stage. "They're, like, real small."
"No, are you stupid?" Kit scowled at him. "We barely have room in that van for us, let alone Bryant, Aaron, and the baby. Besides, man. A baby."
"I'm surprised no one went for the obvious joke of how we already have a baby in the van." Jeff grinned over at Vix. He winked.
Vix ignored him. At twenty-five, she was technically the youngest person in the band. Even if it was her the band was named after, though she'd been "Vix" to everyone but her parents since the second grade. "Kit's the newest member," she pointed out. "So technically, in seniority terms, it's him."
"I've been here for two years!" Kit protested.
There was a knock at the door that startled them all. Their next audition was here, and Vix's headache was only going to get worse.
Jeff hollered, "Come on in," and Vix readied herself to be disappointed yet again. Jesus, she wanted a Coke Zero. Water sucked and had all the flavor of ... well, water. Ew.
The basement had a walk-out and a separate entrance, which meant they could hold the auditions in air-conditioned comfort and not have strangers traipsing through the nicer areas of the Townleys' house upstairs. Which was a good thing, considering the guy with the beard had also left muddy footprints on the floor, and it wasn't wet outside. But the girl who walked in for the next audition probably would have fit in well with the clean-cut, standard country décor the Townleys favored. She looked like she'd gotten lost on the way to band practice, with her summer dress; long, straight brown hair worn past her shoulders; and perfect-length fringe bangs. Vix envied girls who could pull off bangs. She looked like she was ten when she tried having them, even with the purple hair.
"I'm here for the audition," fringe-bangs said hesitantly. "For the fiddle player?" She held up a violin case, as if maybe they didn't know what that was.
Well, she was the first one that had showed up with her instrument properly stored, so that was already a plus as far as Vix was concerned. She peered at the girl — she was tall, but most people were taller than Vix, and looked nervous, and Vix immediately wanted to lecture her about going to strange people's basements and why that wasn't a good idea.
"Um," said Jeff, when it became apparent they were all staring at her. "Are you old enough to be here?" Trust Jeff to get right to the point.
"I'm twenty-one," the girl said. They all had to lean forward to catch what she was saying. If she played the fiddle as quietly as she spoke, it wouldn't matter if she sucked or not because no one would hear her.
"What's your name?" Vix thought that the girl looked vaguely familiar — but that might be because she looked wholesome enough to be in a soap commercial, or maybe a CoverGirl poster at Target.
"Sawyer Bell," she said.
"Cool name," said Vix. "I'm the Victoria of Victoria Vincent, which is us." She indicated the band with a wave of her hand. "This is Jeff Townley, bass guitarist. Connor Rice, drummer, and Kit Casey, keyboardist, pedal steel player, and occasional guitarist. I sing and play guitar. And usually people call me Vix."
"Nice to meet y'all." Sawyer cleared her throat and held up the violin case. "Should I play?"
"Wait, you do understand this tour runs through August, right?" Vix asked, because in addition to looking like she should be working at Ann Taylor LOFT, Sawyer had to be a college student.
Sawyer nodded. "I don't have to be back at school until September."
"Where do you go to school? University of Tennessee?" That was where Vix assumed people from around here went to college. Most everyone she'd gone to high school with had moved from Germantown to Knoxville, if they'd done the whole college thing.
"Um." The girl ducked her head like she was embarrassed. "Juilliard, actually."
Juilliard ... as in, the performing arts school? Whoa. Vix waved her on. "Okay, well, show us what you've got."
Sawyer opened the violin case and took out her instrument, which was a lot nicer than anyone else's — including Bryant's. The wood on the body was shined to perfection, gorgeous in the flickering fluorescent light of the basement. Sawyer moved so she was standing in the little audition space they'd arranged by moving the furniture. "Any requests?"
"Something good?" Connor offered, and Vix snorted a laugh.
"Whatever," said Vix. She didn't want to get too excited. Just because Sawyer was talented enough to get into Juilliard, didn't mean she'd be any good at playing their kind of music. Okay, no, it probably did, but damn it. Vix didn't want to get her hopes up that this sweet, polite girl was somehow also a violin virtuoso.
Except she totally was. Sawyer started to play, and it became quickly apparent that she was not only better than everyone else who'd shown up to audition by a country mile ... she was better than their actual fiddle player. Sure, she was playing something classical and boring, but the technique was undeniable. She had that spark too; the one that said, I know music, I love music, and I will play the shit out of it.
Not only that, but performing turned Sawyer from a shy girl with too-long hair and a summer dress into ... well, a musician. She closed her eyes and swayed with the notes, her body falling into the rhythm of the bow moving across the strings. The music was pulled out of her in the same way Vix felt when she was singing, when all the words tumbled from her like a storm. Sawyer bit her bottom lip between her teeth as if losing herself in the music, and it was beautiful.
She seemed older when she played, or maybe that wasn't the right word. More mature? Wiser? Something. Whatever it was, Vix knew without a doubt Sawyer would be amazing in their band. She could hardly believe this was real. For the first time in her life, Vix fought an urge to reach down and pinch herself. Sawyer was that good.
Hot, too. Wow.
When Sawyer stopped playing, the room was dead quiet. The echoes of the violin still vibrated through the room, and Vix could feel the chords dancing like rain over her skin. It made her shiver. Even her headache was forgotten.
"Um, so, that was ..." Connor trailed off. "I mean, that was good. Like, really good."
"Can you play something not classical?" Vix interrupted, because as much as it was obvious Sawyer had talent ... they didn't play anything like whatever that piece was Sawyer had performed. "We're kind of an Americana, indie-rock band. So less Mozart, more Uncle Tupelo."
Jeff glanced over at her, an eyebrow raised. Sure, that was probably a dick move, pulling out the Uncle Tupelo reference, but whatever. They were an important influence on Victoria Vincent's musical style. So what if they broke up in 1994? She absolutely would not get this girl on board and then find out she couldn't play anything by anyone who hadn't died in the seventeen hundreds or whatever.
Sawyer smiled a little. "Uncle Tupelo is more alt-country than indie rock, isn't it? Or did you mean Wilco?" Her eyes were bright and happy.
"Ha!" Jeff laughed, then covered it with an unconvincing cough and a that's what you get look at Vix.
Before Vix could say anything, Sawyer started to play again. It began with the melody from Uncle Tupelo's "Whiskey Bottle," segued into Wilco's "Casino Queen" and ended with Son Volt's "Windfall."
When Sawyer put her violin down again, Vix had to laugh. "Okay, you schooled my pretentious ass. Nicely done." She hopped up to her feet. "Now, let's see how you sound playing our music. Bring your fancy fiddle and follow me."
They went to the garage, and Vix took her place at the microphone stand while Jeff opened the garage door to let some air in. Vix smiled fondly, remembering the days she'd spent playing music in this garage. Of all her band-mates, Jeff was the only one who'd been with her since the beginning. He was three years older than her and had dropped out of college to pursue music while living in his parents' basement, and when Vix had graduated high school, they'd set off to find fame and glory. What they'd found was a long, grueling road to achieve any kind of notice, a few band members who hadn't worked out for various reasons, and the knowledge that while this life wasn't easy and there were no guarantees, they wouldn't want to be doing anything else.
They'd also found that their intense romantic relationship — which started when Vix was a senior in high school — wasn't cut out for the rigors of touring and band life. Jeff knew Vix better than anyone and was her best friend, but their breakup had almost ruined the band and Vix knew they weren't ever going to be anything else. That was all right. Lovers came and went, but good bass guitarists and bandmates were harder to find. Besides, they hadn't gone through the drama of nearly ending the band over their relationship to give up their obvious musical compatibility. Losing one band member because of the situation was bad enough.
Vix turned to Sawyer, who was shyly standing on the outskirts of the group, and waved her over. "Okay, here." She gestured to a music stand and a folder. "There's some of the music. We don't have fiddle on all the songs, but a fair number of them, especially from this last album."
Storm Cell was their most recent album and the one that had gotten them the most attention thus far from both critics and fans, so they'd be playing basically the whole thing whenever they could. Vix had been hoping that whoever took Bryant's place might want to ad lib some fiddle parts into some of their other music, though that dream had died a slow death as she'd watched the succession of terrible auditions over the last few days. She'd settle for someone who could play the fiddle parts already written, but if Sawyer was that good ...
"We'll start with 'Ozone Break,'" Vix instructed as she shouldered her guitar. Sawyer flipped through the folder like a professional, studied the music, and tucked her violin under her chin.
"Ready," she said, eyes on the music.
Vix raised her eyebrows but said nothing, and gestured to Connor to count them off. Playing a few tunes by memory was one thing, but this was Vix's music and Sawyer probably had never seen it before, so she expected a few mistakes here and there. But the moment Vix started to play, falling into the rhythm of the words and the familiar chords of the guitar, she didn't notice anything but perfection. She heard the fiddle exactly where she'd wanted it to be when she'd written the song, when it was an echo of a sound in her head. "Ozone Break" was an upbeat song with a bit more of a twang than some of the others on the album, and Sawyer's playing matched it perfectly.
When the song ended, Vix didn't look over at her as she said, "Let's try 'Shelter' next," and adjusted her fingers on the guitar. She waited for Sawyer's murmured, "Ready," before she began playing. Vix was halfway through the song before she noticed a few improvisations on Sawyer's part, which fit the song nicely even if she was a little surprised that Sawyer would be bold enough to throw them in there at what was technically still an audition. Her talent was undeniable, and for fuck's sake, anyone who played Uncle Tupelo from memory was Vix's kind of girl.
She stopped singing and glanced at Sawyer, who was flushed and smiling, a sheen of sweat on her brow making her bangs stick out from her forehead. She caught Vix's glance and shrugged a little. "Sorry. I didn't mean to be pushy."
"It was great," Vix said, because really, they all knew Sawyer had the job. "In fact, let's try one of our songs without a fiddle and you can show us what you've got. Spice it up for us, yeah?"
Sawyer's smile was slow and easy. "Yeah," she said, confident and poised, like she was a totally different person than the girl who'd walked into the basement and barely spoke above a whisper.
One song turned into three, and by the time it was over, they had a crowd of neighbors, a new bandmate, and Vix's headache was nothing more than a memory.CHAPTER 2
Seven Years Earlier
The hallway was silent and empty as Sawyer headed quickly for the door. She knew she only had a few seconds before someone saw her, and being out in the hall between classes was totally against the rules. They'd harped on that during freshman orientation enough that it was burned into Sawyer's brain, even though she never would have considered being anywhere but class during class time.
That was before ten minutes ago, when Sawyer had the pleasure of listening to a few junior girls from the school orchestra rake her over the coals — and not because she was first chair violin as a freshman, either, though she was certain her parents would tell her that was the reason. Maybe it was, but Sawyer didn't think they cared about orchestra enough to be jealous. Also, they played the viola, what did they care?
"Did you see Sawyer, the freshman first chair violin?"
"Oh God, you mean that unfortunate-looking creature with the long hair and those ugly glasses? Yeah, ugh, we have a hard enough time making the guys pay attention to us over the cheerleaders. Thanks a lot for being fugly, Sawyer."
"Well, think how much better we'll look compared to her!"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Love Song of Sawyer Bell"
Copyright © 2019 Avon Gale.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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