Authors: Kieran Kramer
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To Devon Elizabeth Wray Hanahan
Much adored sister
Flawless reciter of
A Hard Day’s Night
This Is Spinal Tap
With me through thick and thin
Thank you so much to Jennifer Enderlin and Jenny Bent for being the fairy godmothers who got me to this place I’ve always longed to be. I’m so grateful you’re in my life!
I’m also extremely indebted to the late Matthew Shear, who watched over all of us at St. Martin’s Press with such joy, caring, and encouragement. Matthew, your light will shine always.
Thank you, as well, to the entire team at St. Martin’s Press. What a delight it is to work with all of you!
Susan Adamé, a wonderful collage artist in California, gave me insight into her exciting world, and for that I’m grateful and inspired.
And as always, thank you to my dear family and friends, whose unflagging patience and support sustain me.
When country music superstar Harrison Gamble appeared on the sun-dappled sidewalk outside the hotel on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, the crowd roared its approval—everyone, that is, except True Maybank. She’d as soon scream as chase a pig around a mud pen. Maybanks didn’t holler. They believed in decorum. Tradition. Using something until it wore out. Keeping up appearances even when the world had gone to hell in a handbasket.
“Well, I swanny,” she murmured, her entire body filling with a prickly sensation. She’d never thought she’d see him again.
Behind her late great-aunt Honey’s oversized Nina Ricci sunglasses, she watched Harrison take his fans’ hysteria in stride, as if it had nothing to do with him, his smokin’-hot body, that sparkling white smile, the bronzed skin, sexy stubble, and those sideburns, which were longer than they used to be—just long enough to qualify for serious bad-boy status.
, girl! You got a wedding dress to get home!
She circled the heavily policed chaos, risking her life in the street for a few seconds, and quickly began walking again, uphill. With her mother’s newly repaired vintage gown in her arms, it was as if Mama were walking with her, Mama with all her high expectations and impeccable standards. And here True merely hoped that the double-whammy dreamboat behind her—the first guy she’d slept with
her only one-night stand—wouldn’t somehow recognize her.
At the corner, she couldn’t resist a glance over her shoulder back down at the scene at the hotel.
What a collage that would make
. The thought crept up, wily and insistent, and she fought to dismiss it. But it was too wild, too alive …
It kept coming, the image, blossoming in her mind and taking over her body, making her fingertips buzz with the need to arrange. She would collage this memory. She would. It would be her best work yet.
And no one would ever see it.
Harrison signed an autograph and with a quick kiss to the crowd got into the back of a black Humvee. Two Taylor Swift look-alikes scooted inside as well. The car’s dark-tinted windows slid up, its front tires angled toward the street, and True’s arm began to sweat under the plastic bag.
Change, light, change!
Seconds later the Humvee whooshed past her. Two more scary-looking black SUVs followed behind.
She took a deep breath. There. It was over. Harrison was the Big Bad Wolf to millions of captivated Red Riding Hoods, and once upon a time True had been one of them.
Admit it. You nearly got sucked in again today.
No. She wouldn’t think of him anymore. It had been a crazy minute in an otherwise fairly sane week. All she had to do now was get to the parking garage, find her car, and drive the four hours back to Biscuit Creek. Back to Weezie, her sister. To Carmela, her best friend. And to Dubose, the man she was to marry.
Back to the life that was finally falling into place.
A block later, a sporty aqua-blue coupe with darkened windows slowed to a crawl next to her, and the passenger-side window lowered a crack. “Get in, Miss Junior League,” Harrison said, his voice ringing out loud and clear.
True’s heart clanged like a fire station alarm bell, and she stopped walking.
She was seriously nonplussed. In Biscuit Creek, they’d say she was as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. But True favored words like
, probably because she was a big reader. She had a book stuffed up the right leg of her Spanx right now, a dog-eared Agatha Christie paperback that didn’t fit into her pocketbook. That minimalist creation—a Target find, a faux yellow leather tote—was actually overflowing with three lipsticks of varying coral shades, a two-inch Velcro hair roller, travel hair spray, a pack of Kleenex, Juicy Fruit gum, her cell phone, a round hairbrush, a black Sharpie, her keys (which weighed a ton), a banana, a tube of Advil, a spare pair of sunglasses, and her ancient Cinderella wallet from Disney World, which had a rubber band around it to keep the cards and money from falling out.
“Well?” Harrison revved the engine. “You gonna get in here and tell me what you been up to all these years or stand there stiff as a poker and pretend you can’t see me?”
True pivoted on a heel to face the car. “I see you, all right.”
Daddy always said if you couldn’t run with the big dogs, stay under the porch. True wasn’t an under-the-porch sort of gal.
* * *
Harrison hid his amusement behind a cool stare, the one he dragged out when the higher-ups interfered too much with his creative vision or a fan overstepped her bounds, which was basically getting naked without asking him first.
That wasn’t going to happen with True. She was a lady—at least on the surface. But those snapping blue eyes gave her away. Beneath that prissy exterior, a sexy damned hellion wanted out. He’d seen her. He wished he could forget her—he’d written songs trying to exorcise her from his brain—but sometimes he still dreamed her arms were wrapped around his neck and her sweet body was beneath his.
Now she leaned down to peer inside his passenger window, a bulky garment bag slung over her arm. She smelled good, like some kind of magical spring flower in a secret bower filled with singing chipmunks and tweety little bluebirds. “I can’t ride home with you, even if I wanted to.”
Implying that she didn’t. Typical of her. She’d always been too proud for her own good.
“But we can talk,” she added. “Lemme buy you a Coke.”
Which meant any drink. Everything was a Coke in the South, especially in Atlanta.
“Not thirsty,” Harrison said back. “Gimme your keys. I’ll get my manager to drive your car all the way home.” Harrison had always wanted to show Dan around his old stomping grounds anyway.
True shook her head. “The last thing I expect you to do is come back to Biscuit Creek.”
No one expected him back. Ever. Which had always been fine with him. He went to LA. Aspen. Tropical islands.
“I don’t have all day to argue,” he said. “The paparazzi are hot on my trail. I gotta keep moving. So let’s drop the polite chitchat and get down to business. Knowing you, you can’t dillydally, either.”
True never sat still.
“I might as well stop by and say hello to Gage,” he added. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen him.” But he’d make the visit to his brother short. Harrison was due in the Hamptons at the beachfront home of an equally famous singer, a sexy, single woman who wasn’t looking for a serious relationship but wouldn’t mind the occasional fling and the publicity that went with it.
True hesitated. “There’s a lady about to cross the street, and she has a tattoo of you with a guitar in your hand walking down her belly into her pants.”
“My first album cover. People do all kinds of things with it.”
True carefully laid her garment bag on his car roof, then dug through an enormous purse and managed to pull out a huge set of keys tethered to a pink rubber ball with pink rubber spikes all over it. “All right,” she said. “I’ll ride with you.”
“That’s the ugliest key chain I’ve ever seen,” Harrison said to cover up how awesome he felt about her actually getting in his car.
“But I can see it, and feel it. It’s gushy.”
?” Such a True word. He lowered the window farther.
She dropped the keys in his palm, but even so the tips of her fingers brushed his, and he had an instant memory of those fingers trailing over his naked back, curling into his hair. “Only you would want a gushy key chain.”
She arched one eyebrow. “Lots of people like them.”
“Is that so? How would you know?” Teasing her had always been his go-to diversion when wild sex fantasies intruded. Of course, now she had a big rock on her finger. A
“They have a huge barrel of them at Walmart.”
Always the authority on things. She hadn’t changed one bit. But when had she started shopping at Walmart? And who’d given her that ring?
“Was the barrel empty or full?” he asked her.
“Full. There were hundreds. Different colors, too.”
“It would have been nearly empty if everyone liked ’em, though, right?”
“Maybe they just restocked.” She sighed. “Look, Harrison, could you let me in? Preferably before the rest of the world figures out you’ve escaped your guards.”
He unlocked the car door. “Like King Kong?”
“Something like that.” She yanked the door open, grabbed her garment bag, and slid inside.
“Let me.” He took the bag off her lap and laid it behind them. It was heavy and said
across the front.
Damn. She was getting married soon, from all appearances. Not that he’d ask.
“Thanks.” She had two little spots of pink on her cheeks when she pulled her door shut.
The window on her side hummed upward and shut—his doing. “I’ll drop the keys off with my team, and you and I will be on our way.” He caught a glimpse of her tanned calves and tapered ankles. Bad idea. Heat flooded his belly. “What’re you driving these days?”
“Really? You’re a loyal customer. Did you get a convertible this time?”
She gave him a sideways glance. “It’s the same car I drove in high school.”
Whoa. That surprised him. “Good for you, keeping it up so long. How many miles you got on it?”
She shrugged. “A hundred eighty thousand.”
“Still got some juice, then.” When his truck finally bit the dust, it had 245,000. “Nothing better than a reliable car.”