“5 Phenomenal +++ Stars!!! I would give it 10+ Stars if I could! This book rocked my world.” – Red’s Hot Reads
SISTER GOLDEN HAIR
She has a new love, but music is his mistress. And neither of them is good at sharing.
Recently widowed and newly jobless, 42-year-old Rhett (yeah, she knows that’s a man’s name) Davis has a major life decision to make. She can either stay in the little Texas town where she was never really accepted, driving the same old beat-up Dodge and sliding toward genteel decrepitude, or she can buy a Jag, get some highlights, ditch the frumpy clothes, and strike out for the big smoke of Dallas. Hey, she never liked that Dodge, anyway.
The one thing she’s not looking for in the Big D is romance, but when her upstairs neighbor turns out to be the delectable and very single Rhys James, frontman for the band Illicit, Rhett decides that she just might give this love thing a shot…assuming she remembers how to go about it, that is. It doesn’t take her long to figure out that Rhys is anything but a predictable, paint-by-numbers sorta guy. Music is his mistress, and she’s not good at sharing. Throw in a scheming ex-wife and a demanding daughter, and Rhett’s quest for her old crush’s heart just got a hell of a lot harder.
But Texas women don’t scare easy. And Rhett will be damned if she lets this English Rock star go without a fight.
Released June 2014
READ CHAPTER 1
Copyrighted Material Juli Page Morgan 2014 – All Rights Reserved Carey On Publishing LLC
Rock and roll has no beginning and no end because it is the very pulse of life itself. — Larry Williams
Flashing yellow lights warned of the school zone ahead, and Rhett eased up on the accelerator. Even if the lights hadn’t been activated, she would have slowed out of habit. Not only did she drive the same boring route to work every day, she’d endured twelve years of incarceration in the faded orange brick buildings on the Claiborne Public School campus and was well aware of the traffic snarl in that area each morning and afternoon.
As she crested the small hill at the back of the school’s property, she kept an eye on the bus headed toward her. Just as she suspected, the driver disregarded her nondescript white Dynasty and made the left turn into the school like she wasn’t even there. Rhett hit the brakes and prayed no one would come over the hill and rear-end her. Though she knew the bus driver couldn’t see her, she aimed a malevolent glare in that direction, angered by the way the children’s safety was put in danger. She made a note of the number on the bus, but knew deep down she wouldn’t call the school district to report the driver. She never did things like that, much as she knew she should.
Start, stop. Start, stop. Progress down the narrow two-lane road was slow as cars halted to deposit glum children, or stopped at the crosswalk as teachers made their way from the faculty parking lot across the road. Impatient at the delays, Rhett checked her wristwatch – the clock on the Dynasty’s dash was broken – and sighed. Even held up by school traffic, she was going to be early for work. Par for the course, though. No one ever worried about Rhett Davis being late for anything. One of her pet peeves was people who made a habit of showing up at least ten minutes late, whether it be a family dinner or a job. As irritated as tardiness made her, she was pretty sure her arriving early for everything was just as annoying to others. Todd had always bemoaned the fact that they were the first guests at any gathering, insisting it was rude to the hostess. Rhett had always responded it wasn’t nearly as rude as being late, and he never argued with her. After twenty-four years of marriage, he knew which battles to pick.
She finally cleared the school zone and joined the long line of vehicles waiting to turn left onto the busy highway. The rhythmic click-clunk of the turn signal serenaded her since the car’s radio crapped out at the same time as the clock. Or maybe they were connected; Rhett had no idea. Todd had been the family mechanic, and kept the aging Dynasty and his monster of a truck running well beyond the time they should have become scrap metal. Since his death ten months ago, the car had declined at an alarming rate. Rhett’s neighbor, Sam Harris, told her just two days ago he thought there might be an electrical problem. His somber voice and sorrowful face indicated it was a dire situation. Rhett knew she should trade it in before it was completely worthless, but she didn’t need a car payment. Even if she threw in Todd’s truck, she figured she couldn’t get more than a couple of thousand in trade-in for both. A new car, even if it was a pre-owned model, would take a substantial bite out of her paycheck.
Todd’s life insurance money was still sitting in the bank, right where she parked it as soon as she got the check. A separate policy with the mortgage company paid off the house, and one of the benefits of Todd’s job with the city had been a burial policy that covered the funeral expenses. Rhett intended to use the life insurance money to take care of taxes, homeowner’s insurance, and any repairs on the house. Okay, there was more than enough to buy another car, but a lifetime of living from paycheck to paycheck left her terrified to spend any money she didn’t have to. After forty-two years of being just one catastrophe away from residing in a cardboard box, she wasn’t going to blow anything in savings, no matter how much might be there. Her salary as a receptionist for Metal Specialties covered her day to day living expenses, but wouldn’t stretch to pay for another vehicle.
One hand rose and rubbed the skin between her eyebrows, an attempt to smooth the scowl that accompanied the thought of her job. Working there made her life a living hell, but she was damned if she’d let it give her frown lines, too. She longed for the years she spent as Traffic Manager for the local cable television company. The repetitive routine of scheduling commercials now seemed restful even though she once considered it the most stress-inducing job on the planet. Despite all the aggravation, it was a piece of cake compared to what she had now.
It had been a dumb idea to quit the cable company after Todd died, but she wanted to make her life as stress free as possible, and being a receptionist sounded like the perfect solution. Before her first full day at Metal Specialties ended, she learned the definition of receptionist had done a one-eighty since she last worked as one back in high school. In addition to answering phones and directing calls, she found herself typing contracts, filing, and making travel plans for the sixteen executives in the office, as well as being responsible for accounts receivable. Damn it all, that’s not what a receptionist did! Those were the duties of trained secretaries and financial type people, not the woman who answered the phone and made coffee. By the end of her first week she’d been close to emotional collapse, worse than the days following Todd’s death. Her daughter, Lilith, had been pragmatic.
“Mom, just quit if you hate it that much. There’s no reason for you to work anyway, right?”
Well, thank God Lilith’s degree wasn’t in financial planning with that attitude. Rhett was proud of her twenty-four year old daughter, and pleased she worked at what she loved, teaching eighth-grade science in one of Fort Worth’s private academies. But Lilith just didn’t seem to understand her mother’s situation. She seemed to think, as so many others did, that Rhett would live comfortably on Todd’s insurance, a lady of leisure with no worries in her head. No one had any idea of the reality of the financial uncertainty of being a relatively young widow. Not that they cared. Rhett’s tiny circle of friends faded away soon after Todd’s death. Screw ‘em. She didn’t need them anyway. Much.
After negotiating the turn onto the highway without getting creamed by an eighteen-wheeler or a teenager late for class, Rhett saw the squat, flat cinderblock building that housed the offices of Metal Specialties coming up on her right. It crouched in the crushed limestone parking lot like a malevolent toad, the gray metal door at its center a hungry mouth just waiting to grab her and send her straight into the bowels of hell. A few ostentatious luxury cars were already in the parking lot, and she knew no matter how early she was, the owners of those cars would be annoyed since she hadn’t gotten there at the ass-crack of dawn to prepare their coffee. What an unpleasant bunch of arrogant assholes with their tailored suits, power ties, and carefully gelled hair.
The car got closer and closer to the building, but instead of slowing, it speeded up. Rhett didn’t even stop to question her actions as she depressed the accelerator and shot by the office at ten miles an hour over the posted speed limit. All she knew was that she was tired of solitary lunches, unending work she wasn’t qualified for, the condescension of her co-workers, and the view of the parking lot from the window next to her desk, a view that was more and more frequently blurred by tears. She’d be damned if she ever set foot in there again.
She uttered a nervous little laugh, and gripped the steering wheel so tight her fingertips tingled. Hell, this felt good! In fact, she hadn’t felt that good since before the horrible work accident that took Todd’s life and left his best friend Jack in a wheelchair. With a burst of exhilaration, Rhett realized the woman she had been before tragedy struck was still alive and kicking, and ready to start living again.
Maybe Lilith was right; after all, the kid had a college education. And her husband worked as a financial analyst, so why should Rhett be so quick to reject her advice? Maybe it would be okay to live on that insurance money for a while. After all, it’s not like she’d never find any other job ever again. Shoot, she was still a beautiful woman, maybe not as beautiful as the knocked-up homecoming queen Todd married while they were in high school, but still a looker. If nothing else, she could move to Dallas and become a high-priced call girl.
Shocked at the idea, Rhett laughed aloud. Well, and why not? She was only forty-two years old and still had a huge chunk of her life ahead of her, wide open and waiting for her to grab it and shape it into what she wanted. Yes! She pumped her fist in the air and smiled. The rear-view mirror showed the hated office growing smaller with every revolution of the tires, and Rhett rolled down the window. The early March breeze caressed her cheeks and whipped through her hair. She didn’t know where she was going, but she would look tousled and sexy when she got there.
As it turned out, where Rhett was going was home. She only had a quarter tank of gas left, and her hair wasn’t the right length to either tousle or look sexy. When she checked it in one of the side mirrors, the windblown, messy strands did not say alluring woman. Instead, they screamed homeless bag lady. Besides, it was too cold to be cruising around with the window down. The wind that caressed her face had also started to chap her skin. With the hair and the too-red cheeks, she now resembled a blonde Raggedy Ann doll, about as far from sexy as she could get.
She parked the car next to Todd’s big-ass truck, and lowered the garage door. For some reason, she felt like she was breaking a law by being home on a weekday morning, and didn’t want to advertise her presence there to any of the neighbors who might be around.
The shrill ring of the phone met her ears as she entered the house through the kitchen door. A quick check of the caller I.D. confirmed her worst suspicions. It was Metal Specialties, and the sight of the name spelled out in bold LED letters made her heart flutter in panic. Oh, sweet baby Jesus, what had she done? All her earlier bravado vanished at the thought of actually telling her bosses they could take their job and shove it. The land line was still ringing when her cell phone’s ringtone played merrily from her purse. She dug it out and squinted to decipher the number on the outdated flip phone’s inadequate screen. Metal Specialties.
Well, hell. Wasn’t that a little bit of overkill on their part, two phones at once? She breathed a sigh of relief as the kitchen phone stopped ringing and the cell phone went to voice mail. Almost immediately, though, the land line rang again. The caller I.D. indicated it was Metal Specialties. Again. This time, Rhett wasn’t panicked. In fact, the whole phone ménage tag-team thing got her dander up. When the cell phone rang at the same time – yep, Metal Specialties – the woman who sped past the offices picked up the wall phone.
“Uh…Rhett? Is that you?” The somewhat nasal tones belonged to Lane Sterns, the son of the owner, and one of the most obnoxious little pricks to ever graduate from Claiborne High School. And that was saying a lot.
“Yes, Lane, it’s me.” The fire of righteous indignation warmed her and made her feel ten feet tall. How dare they badger her by telephone? Wasn’t making her uncomfortable in the workplace sufficient? Rhett had had enough.
“You are supposed to be at work right now, in case you haven’t noticed.” Any confusion in Lane’s voice vanished, and he went right back into his normal mode of Lord God King Asshole Supreme. “Where are you?”
No Are you sick? or Has anything happened? Just Where are you? That level of concern mirrored what she’d dealt with since the day she took that job, and it pissed her smooth off.
“Where am I? Where the hell do you think I am, Lane? You called my house, so I’m obviously at home. Furthermore.” She interrupted what would only be a condescending tirade on his part. “I have noticed what time it is, thank you. I have also noticed that I applied for a job as a receptionist, and got stuck being an executive secretary and a billing manager, and that you’re getting all that while still paying me a receptionist’s salary. Another thing I’ve noticed is there’s no amount of money that would make me stay there and work for you unfriendly, ungrateful, unbearable people. I may be a lot of things, but I’m not stupid. Surprise!”
“Are you quitting?” Lane’s voice rose half an octave which brought a smile to Rhett’s face. After all those months she’d finally broken that smooth, I’m-So-Much-Better-Than-You exterior of his.
“Very good, Lane. You got it right. Maybe nepotism wasn’t the only reason you got your job after all.” Rhett dropped the phone back onto its hook, cutting Lane off in mid-sputter. For good measure, she flipped it the bird. Her grin had to be up there in Creepy Clown territory, but she couldn’t help it. Man, that felt good! Even better than blowing past the office. Good thing she’d taken no personal effects to work with her during her eight months of employment. She didn’t think Lane would be inclined to send any of it back.
Satisfied with finally telling him off, she went into her bedroom which lay quiet and still in the morning sunlight. She shrugged out of her lavender faux-linen jacket, and performed a Woman-Unzipping-A-Dress contortion so she could get out of her work clothes. The dress fell into a puddle at her feet, and for the first time it hit her just how butt-ugly it was. What in Sam Hill possessed her to buy it in the first place? She picked it up and examined it with a grimace of distaste. The thing had no shape to it at all, just a long, sleeveless column of black polyester with a garish pattern of large blue and lavender flowers around the hemline. It looked like something her own grandmother might have worn. Not that she’d known either of her grandmothers, but the principle was the same. She reached into the closet for a hanger, but stopped with her hand outstretched. Every single item in the orderly row of clothes was ugly. It was a dowdy grandmother’s delight of old lady clothes in muted colors and unflattering shapes. Why had she never noticed that before?
Stunned, she dropped her dress on the floor again, and as she bent over to pick it up she caught sight of her shoes. Like most work days, she wore the serviceable black sandals with the clunky one-inch heel, chosen for comfort, and because they’d go with anything. Shoes she bought at Wal-Mart because they were cheap. Rhett extended a leg and observed the effect. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, the shoes made her look like she had cankles, which she assuredly did not, thank you very much. Over the past year she had dropped almost fifty pounds of excess weight, and her cheap shoes made it appear all of it dropped into her damn ankles.
She kicked off the sandals with the same violent gesture she’d use to dislodge a snake from her leg, and gathered them up with the offending dress. Holding them out in front of her as if they were covered in fresh manure, she stalked into the bathroom and dropped them into the trash receptacle. Ha. So much for Dowdy Grandma Office Wear. Of course, they were still good clothes, and someone would undoubtedly be grateful to have them. Rhett stopped in the act of reaching for the discarded garments. If she retrieved them, they’d go right back into the closet. And if they went into the closet, she’d end up wearing them again, ugly or not. She knew herself all too well. With a decisive motion, she ripped a length of toilet paper off the roll and blew her nose into it. Standing over the flowered plastic trash can, she dropped the used tissue on top of the clothes. There. That made them officially garbage. Now she wouldn’t be tempted to ever wear that particular outfit again.
Back in front of the closet, she pondered her choices. There wasn’t much there other than the row of ugly work clothes. It disheartened her even more since it emphasized how boring her life was. Work, home, work, home – that was it. There were no fun clothes for weekend jaunts to interesting places, no fancy clothes, no casual dinner clothes, and nothing even remotely pretty to make her feel good.
Her gaze lifted to the top shelf where she spied a fold of denim peeping from under the extra quilt she kept for cold nights. She extracted the jeans, still festooned with the tags they had come with. Lilith had given them to her for Christmas, but she’d never worn them. In fact, she’d never tried them on. When she saw the Neiman-Marcus tags, she cringed. The jeans probably cost the earth, only to be shoved into the top of the closet and then forgotten.
Rhett shook out the denim and pulled on the jeans. She approached the full-length mirror on the back of the bedroom door sideways, as if to take her image by surprise. The jeans hugged her body more than her other clothes did, and if that put all her flaws on display then a preemptive peek into the mirror would be best.
Through narrowed eyes she checked out the side view. Her mouth dropped open in astonishment, and she faced her reflection head on. Well, hot damn! These things looked nice. No, they looked great. Her thighs actually came across as slender, and her legs appeared ten miles long. Smiling in delight, Rhett turned around and looked over her shoulder to take in the rear view. Double hot damn! There was her ass, and a nice ass it was, too. What kind of jeans were these, anyway? She pulled out the store tag attached to the waistband and peered down at the name. Rhett shrugged. She didn’t know who or what 7 For All Mankind was, but if they – or it – could make a pair of jeans that gave her shapely thighs and an honest-to-goodness ass, they were okay by her.
With a little extra swagger in her walk, she went to the dresser and opened the bottom drawer, the repository for all the clothes kept for sentimental reasons but never worn. After a bit of digging, she came up with the T-shirt she loved more than anything else she owned. It might have been twenty years old, but it still retained most of its deep cobalt blue color, and the name of the band jumped out in clear, shocking red. Illicit, Rhett’s favorite band, the band whose music rocked her soul, the band with the lead singer who set her fantasies on fire and led her dreams into delicious, naughty directions for the past twenty-five years. Her current mood of Fuck-It was perfect for an Illicit T-shirt.
She pulled it on and returned to the mirror. The blue cotton was a tad snug over her breasts, and the bottom of the shirt barely reached the waistband of her jeans. All in all, though, not bad. A fashion photo shoot didn’t appear to be on today’s schedule, and no random visitors would drop by since everyone thought she was at work.
Work. Reaction set in, and she sat on the edge of the bed before her shaking knees dumped her to the floor. What the hell had she done? Quitting a job without having another lined up went against the way she was raised. It was irresponsible, and no one had had reason to attach that description to Rhett in years. Her mother made sure both her girls knew and practiced responsibility, and drilled into them from an early age the value of hard work. Everything Rhett did that morning flew in the face of those teachings.
The thought of her mother made her blanch. The minute Bettina Vandergriff found out what her daughter had done, she was sure to utter the phrase Rhett dreaded hearing.
“You’re just like your father.”
Myles Vandergriff had been the polar opposite of responsible. No one would attach that term to a man who ran off and abandoned his family when Rhett was seven and her sister Melanie was ten. Left to raise her daughters alone, Bettina turned into a hard, no nonsense woman, vocal in her criticism of any deviation from her personal rules of acceptable behavior. Or maybe she’d always been that way. Rhett couldn’t remember her mother as anything other than a stern woman who worked her fingers to the bone as a waitress at the Claiborne Grill, and ruled her house with an iron fist. All of it was done with a sense of martyrdom that even little Rhett was able to comprehend. And the worst thing Rhett or Mel could do was to behave in a way their mother deemed just like their father.
Nothing stung worse than having her behavior compared to that of a man who hadn’t bothered to contact his children since he disappeared from their lives. Rhett had spent her life trying to escape the taint of her father’s blood, but now she’d gone and done something truly Myles-worthy. The last time she’d done anything deemed just like her father was when she allowed the best-looking wide receiver to ever play football at Claiborne High School to impregnate her just before senior year. It took almost twenty years to live that one down. Now she’d given her mother and the rest of the town twenty more years worth of ammunition.
All of a sudden, moving to Dallas and becoming a high-priced call girl sounded like the best idea she’d ever had.