EXCERPT from Cupid’s Cowboy, (c) Becky McGraw Jan. 2015
Jase huffed out a breath. He was just exhausted, that’s why he was feeling edgy, and worrying about shit he couldn’t change. Fifteen hours of uninterrupted sleep would help tremendously, instead of the three hours a night he got most of the time. Miraculously, after this gig he would have time to do just that.
After he played on Friday night, he was off for two beautiful days, the weekend no less, and he was going to do nothing but veg out in front of his television and catnap, while he dreamed of getting the call from Glen Parsons. If the call didn’t come, he would just keep on doing what he’d been doing until that day came, because one thing he was not going to do was become an accountant. That degree his mother insisted he get could stay on the shelf for good. Jase was never going to let himself be trapped behind a desk with his mind numbed by numbers. He would go bat shit crazy.
Glancing at the scrap of paper in his hand again, Jase tapped on the brakes of his old pickup to ease along the curb and read mailboxes. This was his second circuit through the ritzy neighborhood, and he still couldn’t find the address. Either the address didn’t exist, or Julie, the booker at Tune In A Bucket Singing Telegrams, needed to learn to write better.
Jase would like to call and tell her that, but since today was the busiest day of the year for her, she probably wouldn’t answer the phone. If he wanted to get this over with though, he was going to have to try since the address she’d given him didn’t seem to exist. Stopping at the curb, Jase pulled out his cell phone and dialed. While the phone rang, he scanned the addresses one more time. His eyes snagged on a mailbox that looked like a tack had come loose on one of the numbers, making the six in the address a nine.
That’s why he hadn’t been able to find it.
Hanging up the phone, he pulled his truck up to the curb. He slid out of his coat, before he got out of the truck, and had to grind his teeth to keep them from chattering, as he leaned back in to get his guitar and the dozen black roses the asshole had ordered with the telegram. Jase hoped Leigh Anderson knew she was better off without the scumbag who was doing this to her.
Don’t kill the messenger, he prayed, as he slammed the truck door. A shiver racked him, and he took a deep breath. Exhaling a puff of steam, he started across the yard toward the front porch. With every step he got closer, the tension at the base of his neck ratcheted up. You never knew with Texas women if they had a gun, and considering the message he was about to deliver, Jase might well end up with lead in his tighty-whities as he ran back toward the truck. The embroidered heart on his ass would be a perfect target for her to aim, and his worn out cowboy boots definitely weren’t made for running on this slick grass.
Next door, a neighbor lady walked toward him down the driveway and Jase knew exactly when she really saw him when she stumbled, then stopped to gawk. He was sure it wasn’t every day a half-naked cowboy strolled across one of these perfectly manicured lawns carrying a guitar and black roses. Heat edged up his neck as he passed her, but he didn’t make eye contact. Jase made it to the front stoop, and sucked in another breath, before he rang the buzzer and stepped back to wait. A few minutes passed, and his hopes rose that Leigh Anderson wasn’t home. If that was the case, he was off the hook. Julie could send someone else out to do this tomorrow. Jase wouldn’t have the money, but he’d have something more important to him. His dignity.
The door knob jiggled and his heart bounced in his chest then sank to his toes when the door opened the width of the security chain and a woman peeked out, her nose as read as her bloodshot eyes. It looked like she already knew what he was there to do, so had gotten started on her crying jag early. Either that, or she was sick. He took another step back, because he definitely didn’t need to get sick before Friday if that was the cause.
“Howdy, ma’am,” he said tipping his hat. “I’m Cupid’s Cowboy from Tune In a Bucket Singing Telegrams and I have a singing telegram for you,” he drawled, adding a grin he didn’t feel. What Jase didn’t add to his spiel was a Happy Valentine’s Day, because he knew hers wasn’t going to be happy at all in about thirty seconds.
Jase loved Valentine’s Day and its meaning, always had. When he had a girlfriend, which hadn’t been in several years due to his crazy life, he always went all out to make it special. Just like his father had always done for his mother. Women loved the day of hearts and flowers, and it was a man’s responsibility to make it special. Wade Lawson must really hate Leigh Anderson, he thought, or the bastard’s heart was as black as the roses in Jase’s hand.
With a heavy sigh, the woman rolled her eyes then stepped back. Jase held his breath, because he thought for a second she would close the door in his face, but again he wasn’t that lucky. The chain rattled, the door swung wider and in the doorway stood one of the saddest-looking, but most beautiful women he’d ever seen in his life. Mussed, curly golden hair covered her bare shoulders, and her red nose just made her cuter. Wade Lawson was an idiot is what he was, Jase thought, barely containing the whistle on his lips.
She put a hand on her curvy hip, and he saw the Kleenex wad in her fist. Because he couldn’t stop them, his eyes locked onto the hard dime-sized points of her obviously unrestricted full breasts that rose and fell with her agitated breaths. He could almost see them through the paper-thin cropped football-type t-shirt she wore. His gaze slid down to the waistband of the low-riding boy shorts, then streaked down her long, long legs to her pink-tipped toes.
“If you’re done with the inventory, could you hurry up?,” she asked impatiently, folding her arms over her chest. “It’s cold out here.”
Blood rushed up his legs, and Jase dragged his eyes back up to hers, before he embarrassed himself more than he already was. Hiding that kind of reaction when he was wearing only tight, white underwear would be impossible. Huffing out a breath, he occupied his mind with recalling the song he was about to sing to her.
“I’m sorry ma’am. Did I catch you at a bad time? I can wait until you get dressed,” he offered, his voice a little huskier than usual.
She sucked in a weary breath, and her eyes filled. “Just get it over with.”
Jase didn’t want to get it over with. What he really wanted to do was go find her boyfriend and kick his ass for doing this to her. The man must have a screw loose to want to get rid of her. That is not your business. Delaying this wasn’t going to get this job done, and he really was freezing his ass off out here too. Just get it over with.
He handed her the roses with the note, then shifted his guitar to the front. She took the roses, plucked out the note card then tossed them onto the table in the entry. Jase swallowed hard, as he strummed the strings. “Um…this is from Wade Lawson,” he stuttered, as he ran the words through his head once more.
“Lovely—I can only imagine what that bastard has to say to me since he hasn’t called me back in two weeks,” she said with disgust.
Jase cleared his throat again, gritted his teeth and picked out the first few notes of the song. He lifted his eyes, but settled his gaze on the doorframe over her shoulder. There was no way he could look her in the eyes and sing this. “Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame…you give love a bad name,” he sang, putting a country spin on the old rock standard. “I’m sick of your crap and hate your games…darlin’, you give love a bad name.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her face go pale and her lower lip started to tremble. Slow silent tears track down her cheeks, and he realized right then he wasn’t getting paid enough for this crap. Here it comes, he thought, as he sang the next verse, then repeated the chorus. Wade Lawson should be here doing his own dirty work. These tears and drama weren’t his, and Jase was done. There was no way he was going to sing the rest of this chop job the man had done on this song to hurt this pretty lady.
His hand stilled on his guitar and he took a step forward. When a soft sob came out of her mouth, it punched him in the gut. “I’m sorry,” he said gently.
She took a step back and scrubbed at her eyes with her knuckles. “No, it’s okay. I was gonna dump his sorry ass anyway. I only went out with him because I needed him to sign with me,” she admitted.
Well, at least she wasn’t stupid enough to date such a loser voluntarily. Manipulative was better than stupid, he guessed. “You’re better off without him in my opinion. I’m sorry he hurt you.”
Her face stilled and she laughed through her tears. “He didn’t hurt me, he double-crossed me,” she said wiping her eyes with the Kleenex. “My boss told me last week he signed with a bigger company, and I better get him back before the ink dries, no matter what it takes, or I could be out of a job.”
Jase tilted his head to the right to study her make-up-free face a little closer. For some reason she looked damned familiar, but he couldn’t come up with a connection. “What do you do?”
“I’m the manager of new talent development for a music label, but probably not for long now,” she replied, and Jase’s head rocked back on his shoulders. “I’ve been there four years, and Wade was my next big thing. Once Leo hears he’s not coming back, I’ll be fired,” she said, and her lower lip wobbled again.
Jase slid his guitar around to his back. That’s what the hell was wrong with the music industry—they bet on the wrong horses. Here he was a nice guy, with a decent voice, looking for a label, and they wouldn’t look twice at him. But give them an arrogant asshole like Wade Lawson, and they were salivating at the mouth. Evidently Jase needed to change his way of doing things, and he’d get signed too. “That sucks, because the guy is obviously an asshole.”
“He is an arrogant, pompous ass who thinks he’s God’s gift to country music. I hate to break the news to him, but he’s in for a rude awakening when he gets to Nashville.” She shook her head which sent her wild blonde curls dancing around her shoulders, and made Jase’s fingers itch to touch them to see if they were as soft as they looked.
“Everyone has a rude awakening there,” he said with a snort. “He better get humble fast, or he’ll be right back here before a song plays on the radio.”
Leaning on the door, she folded her arms over her chest. “You sound like you know, cowboy.”
He shrugged. “Let’s just say I’ve seen it happen more than once.”
Three times in fact, and the first time he was just as pompous and arrogant as Wade Lawson. That had been thoroughly whipped out of him by the time he’d hauled enough bricks as a laborer to scrape up the money for a bus ticket back to Dallas. The other two times had been better, but he’d definitely gone with a different attitude.
It didn’t matter though, he still wound up back home.
Leigh Anderson tilted her head and pursed her full lips, while she studied him from head to toe. “If you’re in the business, what the hell are you doing here breaking up with me for another man? In your underwear, no less,” she asked with a snort.
Blood crept up his neck to heat his face, and he shrugged. “I do what I have to do to keep the lights on. If you think this is skimpy, you should see the uniform for my nighttime job,” he replied with a wink.
Her eyebrows lifted along with the corners of her lips. He liked being responsible for that little curve. At least she wasn’t sad anymore.
“What’s your name, cowboy?” she asked.
“Jason Smith,” he replied, clearing his throat as he reminded himself she was a music exec and if he needed her to remember his stage name, not his real name. “Call me Jase. I, ah, use Sutter for a stage name.”
Her smile widened, an adorable dimple appeared in her left cheek and Jase knew right then exactly who this woman was—Leigh Anderson of Hearts Afire Records. That distinctive dimple, the long golden curls and that gorgeous smile had been on the stage beside Sarah Carpenter and Leo Hart, the owner of Hearts Afire when Sarah accepted her award for new country artist of the year last year. No, she wasn’t in the silver dress that was cut down to her navel or the come-fuck-me heels, but it was definitely her.
Jase’s heart took a couple of energetic leaps in his chest, then settled into an unsteady beat as adrenaline melted the ice in his veins. Even though Hearts Afire was much smaller than Twang, and wasn’t based in Country Music USA like most of the big labels, they had a couple of big names in their stable. A smaller company would have fewer artists, so they would have more time to devote to promoting him, making him better.
If Jase ever had the choice between a big and small label, he’d pick a smaller label any day. But Jase was dreaming, because he’d take the first offer someone threw at him in all likelihood. That’s just how desperate he was at the moment. He was almost thirty, and with each day that passed, he saw his dream slipping farther away.
I only went out with him because I needed him to sign with me.
Leigh Anderson had evidently slept with Lawson to get him to sign a contract with her. Jase had been in the business long enough to know how things worked. An audition amounted to a session on the casting couch. Maybe Lawson got wise to what she was doing, and that’s what this was all about. Suddenly, he didn’t feel quite so sorry for Leigh Anderson, or so bad about delivering the message for Lawson.
As appealing as Leigh Anderson was to the eyes, Jase wasn’t that desperate. He would never be that desperate. The first time he was propositioned by a seedy female agent in Nashville, he decided he would never take that route. Jase was determined he was going to make it in the business because he was a good singer, not because he was good in bed.
But he was damned curious how long Wade Lawson’s audition lasted with this woman. “How long did you…” Jase cleared his throat again. “Um, date him?”
“Six months too long,” she admitted and her lips turned down at the corners. “I put up with his crap for six damned months, and this is what I get for it.” Her eyes narrowed then took a leisurely stroll down his throat, over his chest to scorch a path to his crotch. “Jase, do you have a demo tape?” she asked, pursing her lips.
His heart leapt up to his throat to pound in his ears. “I’m a country singer, ma’am, I always have a demo in my truck.” I am not going to audition for you though, darlin. But goddamn, he sure wanted to. If she’d put on those shoes she wore to that awards ceremony, he would audition for her all fucking night long. An award-winning performance.
“Go get it,” she invited, as she turned to walk away from the door, leaving it open for him to come inside. His eyes fixed on her delicious rear end, and watched the boy shorts ride higher with every flex of her cheeks as she walked.
Jase’s cock sprang to attention and his fingers flexed as his heart took several heavy thuds in his chest. This was not a good idea at all. He was not in the right frame of mind for business right now, and neither was she. But this was his chance. Probably the only one he’d have, and he could not let it pass. He had worked too damned hard for too long to do that. What he’d done to date sure hadn’t worked.
Maybe it was time for him to change, be that asshole, try out the easy route for a change, he thought, as he strode across the yard toward his pickup.
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