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Excerpt for Whirlwind by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Whirlwind

By J.V. Speyer


Published by JMS Books LLC at Smashwords

Visit jms-books.com for more information.


Copyright 2018 J.V. Speyer

ISBN 9781634866132

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Cover Design: Written Ink Designs | written-ink.com

Image(s) used under a Standard Royalty-Free License.

All rights reserved.


WARNING: This book is not transferable. It is for your own personal use. If it is sold, shared, or given away, it is an infringement of the copyright of this work and violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

No portion of this book may be transmitted or reproduced in any form, or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher, with the exception of brief excerpts used for the purposes of review.

This book is for ADULT AUDIENCES ONLY. It may contain sexually explicit scenes and graphic language which might be considered offensive by some readers. Please store your files where they cannot be accessed by minors.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are solely the product of the author’s imagination and/or are used fictitiously, though reference may be made to actual historical events or existing locations. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Published in the United States of America.

* * * *

For Sophia.

* * * *

Whirlwind

By J.V. Speyer

Chapter 1

Jo had never in her life been so grateful for the stereotypical “rock star” treatment. She usually felt ridiculous with the whole limousine, top of the line, special treatment thing. It made her squirm. Sure, a rock star was supposed to be looked at and get attention, but some things just smacked of desperation.

When the guys at the record company gave her a private jet to get from the tour to her brother’s wedding and back, she could have kissed them.

Simon, her assigned bodyguard for this trip, smirked down at her. “You feeling any better now that we’re on solid ground yet?” His dark eyes didn’t rest on her, of course. He kept them on the crowd, the way he always did. No one seemed to have noticed them, but that could change at any moment.

“No.” Jo could be honest with Simon. She wouldn’t have asked him to come to a family event, all things considered, but she’d been more than happy when he volunteered. “No, not really. But it could be worse.” She took a deep breath and found her center, like that therapist she’d seen exactly three times told her. “We’re staying at a hotel. We won’t have to see family more than a handful of times, and those will be super public times when no one will want to cause a scene. So—we’ll be comfortable. Right?”

“Right.” Simon put a hand on her back, right between her shoulder blades. It wasn’t long, but it was just enough to give her the support and strength she needed. “And for the rest of the time, you’re going to rest, relax, take care of yourself, and maybe get a little bit of sun.”

Jo wrinkled her nose at him. “Ick. Sunshine.” They emerged from the terminal to look for their limo.

Jo didn’t see a limo. She did see a car, but it couldn’t have been farther from a limo if they’d tried. The person holding up a piece of cardboard with Jo’s name on it was a woman, a little bit older than Jo herself, and she wore a light purple pants suit. Her dark blonde hair had been restrained in a bun at the back of her neck, and she wore just a little bit of makeup. She leaned against a shiny red Prius.

With the exception of the Prius, she made Jo weak at the knees.

Simon stopped in his tracks. “You’ve got to be freaking kidding me.” He shook his head. “No. Hell no. This is not what I ordered.” He stormed right up to the petite blonde, keeping himself between her and Jo. “What in the ever-loving hell is this supposed to be, huh?”

The driver looked Simon up and down. “I’m here to give Josiane a lift to the hotel.” God, even her voice was perfect. She grimaced. “Er, Izzy didn’t say anything about two passengers, though. And she didn’t say anything about so much, er, stuff.” She eyed Jo’s baggage cart with suspicion. “Um, were you planning to play a show while you’re here, or…”

Jo looked down at her guitar cases. She’d only brought two. “I can’t imagine anyone would go for that.” She made herself laugh, because she didn’t want the pretty woman to think she was some kind of dour and bitter jerk only five minutes after meeting her. Of course, Pretty in Purple had mentioned Isabelle, so who knew what impressions the woman had already formed. “But I’m going to be here for two weeks, and since I make my living playing the guitar I definitely can’t afford to get rusty.” Her shoulders settled and lost a little of their tension as she got into her topic. She was on firm ground here. “And the one in the flatter case, the electric, is too valuable for me to just leave behind. I trust the rest of the band, but I’d be foolish just to leave it lying around.”

“I guess that makes sense.” Two spots of color appeared in the stranger’s cheeks. “I’m just a little irritated that Izzy didn’t warn me ahead of time. It’s not that I mind having them around, I just probably wouldn’t have said yes if I’d known. It’s going to be a kind of tight squeeze. A Prius only has so much space.”

Simon folded his arms over his chest and scowled down at her. “And who exactly are you again? Because I know I made arrangements with a company I trust.”

“I’m Valeria Tremblay. I’m the maid of honor. And you’d be…”

“I’m Simon Parrino. I’m Ms. Avery’s head of security for this trip. I understand that Ms. Tremblay is the bride, but she doesn’t get to override security arrangements. No one does. Does she not get that my team has had to fend off six thousand fans seeking access to Ms. Avery alone, never mind to the band in general?”

Valeria flinched, just a little bit. “Look, I’m sorry. She asked me to help out and I said yes. I had no idea there was going to be an issue, but honestly I probably should have thought of it. I’m not all that into rock music, but obviously I’ve heard of Whirlwind. I should have realized arrangements would have been made and looked into it further.”

Jo intervened. “Look. Whatever was going on in Isabelle’s head, I’m sure we’re not going to solve it here. Right? And we’re starting to cause a scene. So maybe we can take Valeria up on her generous offer and call the limo company from the hotel.” She added another bright smile, this time for Simon’s benefit.

Simon glared. They’d been working together for so long Jo didn’t need to hear him speak to understand what was going through his head. This is not what we agreed to.

She shrugged. He would know she meant, No, but what are we going to do? People were staring, and it was only a matter of time before someone recognized her. Westchester Airport wasn’t equipped for a repeat of the mob scenes that had sprung up at some of the sites where they’d been. She just wanted to get out of here. She gestured toward the front seat, with the implication that Simon could have it with all of its extra legroom.

After a long and tense moment, Simon rolled his eyes and slid into the passenger seat. “Fine,” he growled. “But we’re going to have to have a little chat with your sister-in-law about re-arranging travel plans without permission, do you understand me?”

“Oh, I understand.” Jo rubbed the back of her neck and moved toward the back of the car. After a second, Valeria remembered herself and popped the hatchback. “Isn’t he going to help you put your bags away?” she whispered, loading Jo’s suitcase into the car.

“He doesn’t, usually. The limo driver does.” Jo stuffed her laptop into the vehicle, and then her acoustic guitar. Her carryon came next. The electric would ride with her. “He has to keep his hands free. Plus, he’s in a snit. Please don’t take it personally. The last time someone changed travel plans on our security team like this, they tried to kidnap our drummer.”

“Oh my God!” Valeria gasped as she shut the trunk. “Does that kind of thing really happen?” She opened the rear passenger door for Jo and closed it behind her once she was inside.

Something warm sparked in Jo’s chest. She tried to push it down. It didn’t make sense. There was no way, no way in hell, that Isabelle’s sister was into women. Even if she was into women, Jo was going to be here for two weeks. She didn’t even stay in New York City for more than a short stretch at a time anymore. They weren’t going to start anything up. That just didn’t happen.

“Unfortunately, kidnappings and worse do happen. All the time.” Simon tightened his jaw and glanced back at Jo. “Jo wasn’t kidding. The drummer’s family had gotten caught up in something back in her country. They were criticizing the occupying forces, and so the regime decided they wanted to send some people after her. It, ah, it didn’t go so well.”

Jo looked out the window. That had been a terrifying incident, and she wouldn’t forget it soon. She figured Simon would remember it a little longer than she would. He’d been the one who’d had to fire his gun.

“So why were you okay with just yelling at me a little?” Valeria changed lanes and cut a taxi off as she spoke. Jo hugged her guitar a little tighter as the taxi honked at her.

“A real assassin wouldn’t have referred to Ms. Tremblay as Izzy.” Simon paused before answering, but he was honest with her. “Also, no assassin would drive a Prius.” Jo caught a little bit of his smirk as he stared out the windshield.

“Excuse me? It’s a perfectly sustainable, sensible choice.” Valeria frowned at him, just a little bit.

Simon gripped onto the handle and clenched his jaw. “It also can’t get out of its own way, the styling is too unique to blend in with a crowd, and it doesn’t have enough space to bring your gear or hide a body. It’s a perfectly practical city car, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not a good car for an assassin or someone like that.” He turned to look at her. “I was with the FBI for ten years chasing down people exactly like that. The ones who picked cars like this? They made it easy.”

Valeria puckered her lips, just like she’d bitten into a lemon. “Now I have to rewrite something like fifteen scenes. Maybe more.” She glared at him, almost hitting a town car but swerving just in time. “I’ll be grateful after I’ve gotten some sleep, you know. I don’t suppose you’d be willing to sit down with me and talk about that a little? I’ll buy you a drink for your time.”

“I guess I could.” Simon tilted his head to the side and frowned. “Is body guarding rock stars really all that exciting?”

“I’m an author. I write mysteries. I can imagine some things, but some things I clearly have no clue about.” She sighed. “Like the fact that my main antagonist in my work in progress drives a Prius. I thought his concern for the environment would humanize him.”

“In this case it’ll just annoy other drivers and drive them to homicide.” Simon chuckled. “I’d be glad to help you out with whatever you need, though. Just as long as it doesn’t get in the way of my job. Are you published?”

She chuckled and swerved around a slow-moving taxi. “I’ve got a book or two out, yeah. I use a pen name, though. You know how my mother is about some things.”

Jo grimaced. She didn’t want to say anything against Valeria’s mother, but she could hardly be expected to be unbiased. Sarah Tremblay had built her fame and fortune on bashing people like Jo, and sometimes actually Jo herself. “So do you feel comfortable sharing the name you use?”

“Err, V.T. Saller.”

Jo blushed. She couldn’t help it. “Wow. I’ve got, like, three of your books on my e-reader right now.”

She saw Valeria’s eyes widen in the rearview mirror. “Wait, really? No way.”

“Yeah. I’ve got Colonial Horror, Back to Basic, and Earning Her Wings. I don’t sleep easily, so I read to calm me down. I love—I just love—the way your characters look like the real world, you know? You’ve got characters with addictions, characters who aren’t white, characters who are gay and bi and lesbian—it’s like the real world, but with satisfying conclusions.” Jo couldn’t stay quiet. The words came bubbling up out of her, like guitar riffs. “Sorry. Remind me to be nicer to babbling fans.”

“You’re too nice to babbling fans,” Simon told her with a teasing grin.

“I’m really glad you like them,” Valeria said in a soft voice as she pulled up in front of the Ritz. “It means a lot to me. I’m a little—well, we can talk later. I’m sure you want to get settled in and stuff.” She passed her card over to Simon. “And yeah, I’d really love to pick your brain at some point. Thanks again.”

Simon got out and helped Jo with her luggage, and a bellhop helped them into the hotel. They checked in—adjoining suites, of course—and Jo finally got to unpack and take it all in.

She slipped into the shower and washed the grime of her journey away. Last night had been one of the best shows Whirlwind had done in a while. All of their shows were good, of course. Their fans gave great energy, and Whirlwind gave it back to them in spades. Last night had been special, though. She’d almost felt like she was on top of the world last night.

Of course, it was easy to feel on top of the world when you knew just how far you were about to fall. She finished washing up and dried her hair. Maybe someday she could come back to Westchester County without feeling like some kind of fugitive, but today was not that day. For crying out loud, she was a grown woman and staying at the Ritz to boot. She could walk out into the mall today and have a thousand fans cheering her name. She didn’t need to worry about rejection anymore.

The next two weeks weren’t about her, though. They were about Tom, and his future.

She got dressed and headed back into the living room, where she found a text from Simon. You decent?

She grinned and snorted. Never. But I am dressed.

Simon slipped through the door between their suites. Apparently he, too, had felt the need to shower and change because he wore dress pants and a different shirt. Jo raised an eyebrow. “Got a date?”

Simon snorted. “I wish. No, Marcel’s at home. But you usually do like to hit the hotel bar.”

Jo made a face. “Is it weird that I feel like I’m sneaking out to grab booze behind the bleachers whenever I drink around here?” She headed for the door. “We’re not going to get dinner any other way, I don’t think.”

“No, there’s only the bar and the steakhouse on-site. There’s room service, but you hate room service.” He shook his head at her and followed. “I spoke to the limo company about letting random people change plans. And then I spoke to a new limo company. We should be all set for tomorrow’s fitting. I reached out to the dressmaker on the plane. She was uncomfortable with turning the cameras off, but I made her see reason.”

Jo chuckled as they got into the elevator. “I’ll bet you did. You CC’ed the lawyer, right?”

“Hell yeah I did.” He put a hand on her shoulder. “Are you going to be okay, Jo? Two weeks is a long time to deal with this stuff.”

Jo rolled her shoulders and stood up straight. “Tom wants me here. He’s my brother. And if he wants me here, then I’ll be here.” She let out a smirk, one that looked almost like the ones she threw people in the audience. She could see it in the elevator mirrors. “Besides, me being okay pisses an awful lot of people off. And that’s kind of what I live for, so I’m going to have to find a way to be okay. Right?”

The elevator doors opened. Jo and Simon headed out to the bar together, heads held high.

* * * *

Valeria rested her head against the white and gold wall and closed her eyes. The bridal salon was a direct vision from the depths of hell, and everyone in it was a demon. The owner, a heavily made up woman in her sixties with graying hair piled on top of her head, might have been Satan. The consultants, all with glistening lips that pulled back from their huge teeth in rictuses that passed for smiles and hair that reeked of spray, they were lesser demons, but they were demons nevertheless. All of the random tulle, that was just to disguise the pools of molten lava. Valeria was sure of it.

A figure cast a shadow across her closed eyes, so Valeria opened them. “Ms. Tremblay?” The speaker was one of the consultants. She wore less pink than the others. Her smile was less forced, and she held out a cup of coffee as a peace offering. “Your sister and mother are up in the gallery.”

Valeria accepted the coffee and forced herself to smile. She was supposed to like this stuff, right? This was supposed to be her “wheelhouse.” Whatever that meant. She’d never quite grasped where the term “wheelhouse” had come from, and she guessed she didn’t have to.

“Ms. Tremblay?”

Valeria laughed at herself. “Sorry. I’m not a morning person.” She hauled herself to her feet and dragged herself up the ornate marble stairs.

Izzy had sprawled across one of the sofas. She wasn’t a morning person either. She tried to be, for her job, but most of the people on her floor at the bank just left her alone until eleven. Valeria’s mother sat primly on the edge of another chair, handbag clasped in her hands. “I don’t see why that little tramp isn’t here yet,” she snapped.

“I couldn’t say, Mom.” Valeria kept her voice even and light. She didn’t have to ask who the “little tramp” might be. “The appointment doesn’t start for another fifteen minutes, so it’s probably early to start worrying.”

Valeria wouldn’t blame Josiane if she’d gotten right back on the plane, turned around, and headed back to where she came from, or maybe took a two-week vacation. If Valeria were Josiane, she wouldn’t have ever come back to Westchester County, not for all the money in the world. Of course, Valeria wouldn’t have been Josiane. Valeria wouldn’t have ever dared to stand up and admit to being with a woman.

“She went to all the trouble of having the fitting room changed, she can have the courtesy to show up on time.” Sarah tossed her long, faded hair over her shoulders. “Honestly, I’m sure she must have run absolutely wild. Don’t French mothers discipline their children?” She added a vicious glare at Izzy here.

“It’s not Nathalie’s fault Izzy turned out this way, Mom.” Izzy roused herself to speak now. “She did her best. Some kids are just born bad. But Val’s right. The salon isn’t even open yet. She can hardly be expected to know anyone would let her in.”

Valeria frowned, but kept her mouth shut. She suspected Simon, Josiane’s security guard, had more to do with the fitting room change than Josiane had. What she couldn’t do was to figure out why. Hopefully Simon would have time to explain before they headed out on tour again.

Sarah harrumphed, unwilling to be mollified. Valeria hadn’t expected anything else. She gently changed the subject to the bridal shower, which Valeria was hosting later on that week. Izzy got a little worked up by that subject, but at least it woke her up. Mother, on the other hand, did much better once she was weaned away from the subject of Josiane Avery.

Josiane showed up exactly two minutes before the store opened, with Simon in tow of course. Mom gaped at them both. “Who is this?”

Josiane gave a brittle smile. “Mrs. Tremblay, I assume. This is Simon Parrino. He’s my head of security. Simon, you remember Isabelle, Tom’s fiancée. And this is her mother, Sarah Tremblay.”

Simon didn’t offer to shake Mom’s hand. He narrowed his eyes at her instead. “I understand you’re the one who called and cancelled our ride arrangements yesterday.”

Valeria cringed. Simon couldn’t know, of course. He’d never met her mom, never interacted with her. He’d almost certainly seen her on TV, but he wouldn’t have experienced the full force of her personality. He couldn’t know she couldn’t be challenged, not head on like this.

Sarah drew herself up to her full height. “I most certainly did. And I’ll do it again. This is Isabelle’s time, not Josiane’s. Josiane is here only at her brother’s insistence. She may be an attention seeker, but I simply will not permit her to steal the lime light on Isabelle’s special day.”

Valeria had seen legislators, statesmen, and military men quail in the face of that tone from Sarah Tremblay. Simon didn’t bat an eye. “What you do not get to permit or not permit is measures I take to ensure the safety of my clients. It was very kind of Valeria to be willing to take time out of her busy day to pick us up and drive us around, but those were risks she took and time she spent that she didn’t need to take onto herself. Do you realize that the last time someone took it upon themselves to do what you did I had to shoot a man in the head?” He stepped in a little bit closer to Sarah.

“Are you threatening me?” she gasped. Valeria was ninety percent sure the way her mom clutched at her pearls was just for show.

“There were four men trying to kidnap our drummer.” Josiane interrupted. “You can feel free to look it up. It was fairly public at the time. In the meantime, I see our consultant is here and ready to get to work.”

Their consultant, who introduced herself as Bea, walked in with three dresses. She shot Josiane a grateful look before turning to Simon. “I know you had concerns, Mr. Parrino, about the camera situation. Perhaps you’d like to examine the camera room before we begin?”

Izzy and Sarah both turned pale and exchanged glances, but Josiane just sat down with a calm expression on her face. “Cameras?” Izzy objected. “What in the world are you talking about?”

“It’s a fairly standard practice in boutiques that sell high-end gowns like this.” Josiane didn’t look like the kind of person who would know about any of that. She wore low-slung jeans, and an olive drab tank top that made it clear bras were something that just didn’t apply to her today. Valeria tried not to stare, but Lord, she wanted.

“Why in the world would that be legal?” Mother sniffed. “You’re making this up.”

Josiane fixed Sarah with a penetrating stare. “Which one of us has a Marie Claire cover again?” She yawned. Somehow Valeria had missed the tongue ring yesterday. She wished she hadn’t noticed it now. She wasn’t going to be able to stop thinking about it all day. “Anyway, they do it to stop people from stealing designs. The issue is that people get hold of pictures taken while certain, er, high-value targets are dressing, and you can see where it becomes a problem. So it’s not that unusual to have certain types of clients ask to have the cameras off when they’re in places like that, and it usually works out as long as a consultant is in the room.”

“Huh.” Valeria found her voice. “I hadn’t thought of that. I wouldn’t have ever thought of that, but I guess it makes sense.” The kernel of a new mystery took root in her head, one involving stolen designs and cameras. She hoped the idea would still be there when she got a chance to write it down.

Sarah scoffed. “Let me guess, they got nudes of your drummer that way before they tried to kidnap her?”

Josiane’s eyes blazed, but she just pulled out her phone. Twenty seconds later, she passed it over to Sarah. She almost didn’t take it, but she evidently didn’t want to cause a scene. She scanned whatever article Josiane sent over.

“Hm.” Sarah looked away. “Disgraceful. But of course there wouldn’t be such a market for lewd images if young women didn’t go around flaunting their bodies the way you do.”

Josiane just rolled her eyes and took her phone back. The consultant was returning, with Simon, so there wasn’t time for them to fight anymore anyway.

The women were escorted into the fitting room, and the consultant brought the dresses in. “I thought it would be good to try on the other dresses while we were here,” she explained, getting the first dress ready. “Yours is first, Ms. Avery, because you’re going to require the most work. It’s a rush job, I understand.”

“Er, yes. I wasn’t available for an earlier fitting.” Josiane was already taking her clothes off for the fitting, and oh God, Valeria wasn’t going to survive this. Those black tattoos on all that pale skin, those well-defined muscles, the body jewelry—Josiane was everything Valeria had ever wanted, couldn’t have.

“Well, nothing that can be done about it now.” The consultant pulled the pale gray dress on over Josiane’s head and frowned. “Okay, I was told you were a size two.”

“I am.” Josiane turned her head back as the consultant tugged at the garment. “Why?”

“Because this is a size two, and I’m going to have to take out enough fabric to make it a size zero. You’ve lost weight, I suppose.” She heaved out a long-suffering sigh. “Can you try not to lose any more over the next two weeks?”

Josiane snorted. “Well I’m not going to be up on a stage sweating out half my body weight every night, so hopefully that can be arranged.”

Izzy rolled her eyes. “Spare us. Are you using?”

Valeria smacked her sister on the arm without thinking. “Were you raised in a barn?”

Sarah smacked Valeria. “It’s a legitimate question. These rock musicians are all using. Everyone knows that.”

Josiane looked up at the ceiling with those beautiful hazel eyes of hers. “How’s it going with Dr. Mounce? He’s been your personal physician for what, four years now, hasn’t he?”

Sarah paled. “Have you been stalking me?”

“I don’t have to. I’m not the only one with a following.” She grinned back at Sarah and winked. “Anyway. Do you think you can get the work done in time?”

The consultant took a stack of pins out of her mouth and looked up at Josiane. “I think I can, but leave me your number. We’ll have to do a few fittings anyway, but because of the halter style top of the dress I want to make sure we get it right. And also, we’ll have to do a lot of hemming. You look taller on television.”

Josiane laughed. “I get that a lot. It’s the camera angles. And the boots.” She winked at the consultant, who blushed a bright red color. Interesting. Would Sarah or Izzy pick up on that? Valeria tried to tamp down her jealousy. She didn’t have the right to Josiane’s attention.

Valeria’s fitting came next. She didn’t look nearly as good as Josiane did in her dress, but Sarah didn’t see it that way. “Now look at that.” She beamed. “This dress was made for someone like you. You don’t have all of those wretched tattoos popping out. You look beautiful just the way you are.” She petted Valeria’s hair, making her want to run away screaming. “Isabelle, dear, shouldn’t we find a way to cover all of those lovely pieces of art on your sister-in-law’s skin?”

The consultant managed a thin smile. “I’m sure we can find a complimentary shawl. Ms. Tremblay, you look wonderful. I think we’re done with alterations here. And now the bride.”

It took fifteen minutes just to get Isabelle into the dress, without buttoning it. Even so, she looked amazing. She should have looked amazing, considering how much she was paying for that gown. Valeria smiled and simpered at her while Izzy preened, but inside she had to shake her head. It was a good thing she could never be open or honest about any of her relationships, because the thought of shelling out this kind of money for a wedding made her want to throw up.

It wasn’t that she couldn’t afford it. She had plenty of money from trust funds and from her work. She just couldn’t understand the need to throw it around on something like this. Izzy wanted it, or at least she wanted her mom to be happy, and Valeria wasn’t going to try to object to it or anything like that. She just couldn’t understand it.

By the time she turned around, Josiane was back in her clothes and Izzy was ready to struggle out of her dress. “Thanks so much for all of your help,” Valeria said to the consultant, and then she addressed the others. “Hey, do you think we could all grab lunch together? It would be good to spend a little time together, you know?”

“Oh yes, we’ve already scheduled a lunch meet up with Nathalie.” Sarah beamed. “Great minds think alike. We’re meeting her at Siwanoy at noon.” She turned her nose up at Josiane. “Only four to play golf. You understand, of course.”

“Of course. I wonder if Nathalie’s slice is as bad as it used to be?” Josiane smirked. There was a little bit of bitterness to it, but Valeria couldn’t do anything about it right now. She could only watch as the most beautiful woman in the world walked away, hips swaying ever so slightly. “Have a great day.”

Sarah and Izzy watched her go, too. They probably had different ideas than Valeria did about the subject, though. “What a dreadful woman.” Sarah shuddered.

Izzy made a face. “It totally creeped me out, having her in the room with me while I changed, you know? She was totally checking me out.”

Valeria just looked away. “She wasn’t checking you out. You’re marrying her brother, for crying out loud. Do we actually have to go and play golf?”

“Don’t be silly, Valeria. I wouldn’t expect anyone to be seen playing with you. Not until you spend more time improving your game.” Sarah waved a hand. “We are meeting Nathalie at Siwanoy, though. And she would never tolerate having that in the same room as herself.”

“Right.” Valeria straightened her back. At least if they went to the stupid country club, she wouldn’t be expected to stay all day. Her mother and her sister’s jibes at Josiane turned her stomach, but she’d gotten used to them by now.

* * * *

Chapter 2

Jo stretched and looked into the little webcam on the top of her laptop. “How’s your vacation treating you?” God, it hurt seeing the band like this. Everyone else got to be together while she had to be…here. At least they all looked good. They looked rested, and happy, and like they’d been having fun.

Anna, the bassist, grinned and rubbed the shaved sides of her head. “I went surfing yesterday. Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I got to go surfing? It’s been forever. It was awesome.”

Jo relaxed into her seat. At least some good was coming out of all this, right? “I’m glad. It sounds amazing. Did you take the others with you?”

Aghavni yawned. “Some of us found less athletic pursuits, thank you very much.” She stuck her tongue out at Anna and grinned. Jo could sympathize. If Anna wanted to get out there and surf, that was fine with her. Aghavni and Jo were usually the most front and center band members, and they never stopped moving on stage. They figured they were allowed to be slugs for a few days, when they got a break. “I spent three days in my hotel room. I got room service. It was beautiful.”

Salima, the drummer, winked at Jo. “But really, how are things going in lovely White Plains? Is the Ritz just as exciting as you thought it would be? And did you take a holy water spritz bottle to spray Sarah Tremblay with?”

Jo had to laugh at that. “I’ve only had to deal with her once, thank God. She was as unpleasant as I remembered.” She rubbed at the back of her neck, remembering that encounter in the bridal shop.

“I’d have figured, with all that lecturing on civility she does, she’d be more polite in public places.” Aghavni made a face and sipped from a cup of coffee.

Salima gave Aghavni the side-eye. “Why, exactly, do you know how much lecturing Sarah Freaking Tremblay does on civility? Do you listen to Satan too?”

Aghavni shrugged, utterly unashamed. That was the thing about Aghavni. Shame wasn’t a word that stuck in her vocabulary. “The remote got stuck one night and I was too lazy to shut the TV off manually. She’s creepy. I’ll give you that much. I mean we’re talking deep down, bone chilling, make you squirm creepy. I can’t understand how anyone listens to her. But to her, I think, civility is an obligation for the rest of us. She and her followers are exempt.”

“She accused me of using.” Jo sniffed. “The gloves came off at that point, and I did get her to shut up then. But I don’t mind telling you just how pissed off I was. She had the unmitigated gall to accuse me of using drugs when she’s been seeing that pill-pushing quack for four years!”

Anna held up her hands. “Her body her choice,” she reminded her. “Let’s not go getting judgy now. I want pictures of you in your bridesmaid’s dress, by the way. I bet you outshine your sister-in-law six ways from Sunday.”

Jo looked down and away. There was only one person at that wedding she wanted to look good for, and the wonderful but eternally straight Anna wasn’t it. “That’s not really the goal,” she demurred. “I mean of any bridesmaid’s dress. That’s why they only make them in unflattering fabrics and colors.”

“That’s why it’s so awesome when you do look better, sweetie.” Anna beamed at her. “Seriously, though, have you been taking care of yourself? I know it’s not easy for you, going back.”

“It isn’t.” Jo shrugged and looked out toward the window. It was a beautiful July day. She’d love to spend it doing something outdoors, but that wasn’t an option here. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to enjoy her parents’ lawn, put her feet up and just relax in the sun? “Simon’s been a godsend though. He made me go and get a hot stone massage yesterday. I thought it was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard of, until I went and got one.”

“Good. You deserve a little pampering.” Salima smiled at her. “What’s he got you doing tonight?”

Jo made a face. “Tonight we’ve got dinner with the happy couple.” She rubbed her wrists. “I’m looking forward to seeing my brother. I am. And I hope he and Isabelle are doing well together, you know? I want them to be happy and all that.”

“And all that,” Aghavni scoffed. “You’re so cute when you pretend to be jaded.”

Jo blushed. Okay, so the whole thing with her ex hadn’t worked out. “It’s not that I’m jaded. I don’t have a great opinion of Isabelle, and I’m not entirely sure how anyone could possibly be happy marrying into a family like that, but you know. Details, right?” She made herself grin even though Valeria’s face flashed before her eyes.

Maybe she shouldn’t hold the whole family responsible for Sarah Tremblay’s sins. She suspected Isabelle fell a little closer to the family tree than Valeria, as apples went, but she still shouldn’t make assumptions. Tom had to see something in her, right?

The rest of Whirlwind laughed at her for a little while, and then they parted ways. Jo had hated the way Isabelle insisted on having a wedding in the middle of the summer festival season, when Whirlwind would be touring. Then again, Isabelle probably hadn’t been thinking of Jo at all when she did the wedding planning. Jo knew exactly how welcome she was here.

Well, maybe not here. So far, her encounters here in White Plains had been pretty benign. She could probably get away with heading up to the rooftop pool—it was a hot day, and she wouldn’t mind just sitting in the sun like a lizard on a rock. She wouldn’t typically like to expose herself like that, but this was the Ritz. They were generally pretty good about protecting their guests’ privacy.

She texted Simon and asked if he thought it was a good idea, and he replied that they might as well give it a shot. She slipped into her bathing suit and a cover-up waited for Simon, and they headed upstairs.

There weren’t a lot of people up there in the middle of the day. Jo had been counting on that, actually. She left her cover-up and towel on one of the lounge chairs by the side of the pool and slipped into the cool water while Simon stayed alert for any sign of trouble.


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