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His Secret Past

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His Secret Past Ellen Hartman HarperCollins EUR His Secret Past Ellen Hartman www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk) Table of Contents Cover (#udd8af238-db73-525e-84b0-fb578bb82a4f) Title Page (#u6004b5f8-c1b7-5cae-ab5d-c3ef8b57553b) About the Author (#u97db66fb-0af8-5077-b4f5-45f0af7432f3) Dedication (#u0a5f3cbb-9b07-5322-a299-a025f487d4c3) Chapter One (#uc2daf071-5ee5-5551-807c-7087284c6a8f) Chapter Two (#uf0829fa1-f286-5c50-8eac-d77ffa735f02) Chapter Three (#ue6b6bae4-1aaf-5ebc-81f1-1e4bd6e7a9af) Chapter Four (#ufe398bd2-0f80-547f-9239-6c72f008f533) Chapter Five (#u48bbecb0-e560-586b-a4ce-a981f1c08a66) Chapter Six (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Seven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eight (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Nine (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Ten (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Eleven (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Twelve (#litres_trial_promo) Chapter Thirteen (#litres_trial_promo) Copyright (#litres_trial_promo) Ellen Hartman has been making a living as a writer since she graduated from Carnegie Mellon University and went to work for Microsoft writing documentation for Word. (In those days the company had five thousand employees, windows were glass things you opened to get a breeze and Bill Gates was still single.) She met her husband while he was living in Hoboken, New Jersey, and they lived there together as newlyweds. They share great memories of meals at Amandas and late nights listening to music at Maxwells. Currently, Ellen lives in a college town in upstate New York, where she enjoys writing romances, horrifying her husband with her musical taste and watching movies, old and new, with her sons. This book is dedicated to my sister, Anne, and my best friend, Stephanie. They keep me sane, share my unhealthy eating habits (another chocolate chip cookie, anyone?) and are always willing to take to the dance floor at the first hint of Dancing Queen. As always, my hats off to my writing group, Diana, Leslie, Liz and Mary. They kept after me when Anna was eluding me and helped me find her spark. Thanks! CHAPTER ONE April 2007 GNOCCHI. ANNA shook her head as she dropped her hoodie on the arm of the sofa. Food bribes? How easy did theythink she was? Her stomach growled as she narrowed her eyes at the big pasta bowl, full and steaming on her brothers dining-room table. Something was up. Anna eased the front door closed and slid the key into the pocket of her track pants. She considered the table with its cheerful centerpiece of daffodils and the wineglasses shed bought Jake and his partner, Rob, for Christmas last year. She tugged the holder off her ponytail, freeing her curly shoulder-length hair. Someone had goneto some trouble here. Because Rob swore that making gnocchi gave him flashbacks to his grandmothers cooking lessons punctuated by her uncomfortably sharp tongue and handy wooden spoon, he made the pasta dumplings only on special occasions. Annas birthday. Jakes birthday. The anniversary of his nonnas death when he washed the gnocchi down with homemade wine he bought from the Italian mens club at the end of the rapidly gentrifying street. Whenever he or Jake wanted to bribe Anna. She let the aroma of Robs secret family recipe spaghetti sauce wrap around her, pulling her toward the kitchen. Honeys, Im home, she called out as she walked into the brightly lit room, the first Jake and Rob had remodeled since buying the dilapidated Hoboken brownstone three years ago. Jake was leaning on a stool at the island, one leather loafer on the brass foot rail, his elbows propped on the dark soapstone counter. He turned with careful nonchalance when she came in. Anna lifted a hand, not committing to a hello before she knew what was up. Staying with her brother and Rob had its ups and downs. On the one hand, she loved spending time with them. Eleven months out of twelve she was on location or flying back and forth to locations for Blue Maverick films, the production company she and Jake ran. If she had anything shed call a home base, it was here with them. On the other hand, this was their home and not hers. And because the couple were renovating the place themselves, progress on the brownstone had slowed as Jake was kept busy with the steady stream of film work. She stayed in the cramped guest room, sleeping on a foam chair that folded out into a twin-size bed. Her clothes were stowed in a footlocker Rob had had since college. She rarely bought books or CDs or clothes, or anything, really, because she didnt have anywhere to keep them. Although she relished her skill at living light, carrying your entire life in a duffel bag had limitations. Gnocchi, huh? Anna said as she propped a hip on the stool next to Jake. The two sat side by side under the cobalt-blue lamps, staring at the cherry-wood cabinets in front of them. Wheres Rob? she asked. At the gallery. Hes bringing dessert back later. Dessert, too? Youre pulling out all the stops, little brother. Whats that supposed to mean? Jake asked as he got off his stool and stretched in that maddening way little brothers who outgrew their older sisters by eight inches stretched when they wanted to make a point. Point taken. Six feet tall, sporting a reddish stubble that was a shade lighter than his dark auburn hair, thirty years old, Jake wasnt so little anymore. But younger siblings never get the advantage, no matter how tall they grow. That was a universal truth. Rob made gnocchi so you can bribe me, Anna said. He didnt even flinch. You want to eat? Chicken, Anna said. Gnocchi, he countered. Youre a chicken. Spit it out. Jake sank back down onto the stool and folded his hands in front of him. He opened his mouth to speak and then closed it again. Oh God, he was actually scared to tell her whatever this was. Up to that moment shed been fooling around. Fun over, she asked quickly, Youre not sick, are you? Is it Rob? Jake? Say something. He shook his head. Im fine. Everything is fine. Actually, thats the thing. Theyd been business partners for close to nine years and siblings for thirty. Anna knew when Jake was struggling with the truth. Their perfect parents had been all about putting on a front in their shrink-wrapped Long Island home, appearing normal at all costs. That life of lies was what had driven her toward making documentaries. She liked the facts, not the spin. She and Jake had a hard rule that they wouldnt lie to each other. But it was difficult sometimes. Youre scaring me and the gnocchis getting cold, so just say it. Well deal with whatever it is. That seemed to be the permission Jake had needed because he blurted, Robs boss is selling Traction. He offered Rob the right of first refusal and he, um, we, decided to take it. The deals final in August. Anna nodded, encouraging him to go on. Rob managed Traction, a gallery on Hobokens main street. She knew hed wanted more control and now hed have it. So far she wasnt sure what the problem was. Im going to put up half the money, Anna. Not because Rob needs it, but because I want to. Im tired of never being home, tired of the schedules and the budgets. Living other peoples lives instead of my own. I loved Blue Maverick, you know that, but I cant live like that anymore. Cant live like that anymore. Anna felt the room spin. Whatever shed thought Jake might say this wasnt it. Hewas talking about their company in the past tense. But Blue Maverick is finally solid. The schedules and money and the crazy stuff, they wont be as bad now. We can get an assistant full-time. The only way it will be easier is if Im less involved and I cant do that. I cant take a step back and know that someone else is making decisions for my movies. I need to get all the way out. I cant do halfway. Neither of them could. It was part of why Blue Maverick had come so far in such a short time. Theyd started with one documentary financed with credit cards and loans from friends. Theyd parlayed good reviews from that film into corporate work, political commercials and issue films for nonprofits. Another documentary in wider release had led to TV work and steadier corporate gigs. In the past two years Blue Maverick had started to feel viable. How can you walk away now? We can pick our next projectfinally do what we want. Weve spent the past four months brainstorming, for Petes sake. Were you faking that whole time? Jake put his hand over hers. He was the one in their family who was easy with physical affection, where she and her parents were apt to stiffen up. Came from being the baby, probably. Whatever this last project is, Im in. Rob agreed to run the gallery solo so we can do one more together. One more? Thats it? Fine for Jakehe had plans for after. But what did he think shed do? Blue Maverick had been her life ever since she graduated from college. As if hed heard her thoughts, Jake said, You still love it. Living with other people, digging into their stories and then moving on. But I want to settle down. Here, with Rob. I cant do that and Blue Maverick, too. She pulled her hand out from under his and stepped back. And I cant run Blue Maverick without you. Anna, Jake started but she stopped him with a look. The finality of his announcement hit her. No Jake. No Blue Maverick. Everything she had worked for She had to think. Was there a way to go on without Jake? Did she want to? I have to get out of here before I say something Ill regret. Tell Rob congratulations and thanks for the gnocchi. She spun and walked out. She grabbed her sweatshirt from the back of the couch before yanking the heavy wooden front door open. Closing it behind her, the scent of Robs sauce was abruptly cut off. Life would change just that quickly when Jake quit the company. Without her brother she couldnt do what she did. And if she couldnt make her films, what would she have left? HOBOKEN, NEW JERSEY, was one mile square. Anna had jogged the perimeter many times during her visits. Tonight she ran blindly, veering off the curb because it was easier to dodge cars in the narrow streets than pedestrians on the sidewalks. As twilight descended, she gradually came out of her fog. Trotting tiredly past the green spaces of the Stevens Tech campus, she became aware of the people around her again. Just up the block two boys were horsing around on the stoop of an apartment building. They wrestled over a basketball and before Anna even recognized the danger, the ball was in the street and the smaller boy darted between two cars after it. The driver of a black SUV coming down the street slammed on his brakes and his horn at the same time. The kid stopped dead and then sprinted for the sidewalk where his friend had gone still. The driver rolled down the window and yelled something at the boy before rumbling off. Anna closed her eyes and took a breath. When she opened them again, the bigger boy had the younger one in a headlock and was giving him a good-natured lecture. If the car hadnt stopped, if the kid hadnt stoppedbut they had, thank God, and everything was normal again that fast. One more film. One more shot. Anna remembered the fax shed gotten but left lying on her desk all week. One more film. Was it time to put her ghosts to rest? Go back to the night when her life had changed in one minute? One argument, one bad decision and nothing was ever the same again? Shaking off a chill as her adrenaline receded, Anna turned down Sixth Street, heading back toward Traction, the gallery Jake and Rob were buying. It was smack in the middle of Washington Street, Hobokens main drag. As she approached the gallery, the display in the wide storefront window across the street twinkled and shifted. A clever combination of lights, reflective surfaces and electronics created the appearance of a waterfall cascading down the window complete with a foaming spray at sidewalk level. The word Traction appeared randomly in the spray. In the middle of the effect was a display space for a piece from whatever show was currently on. Anna had badgered Rob until he explained how it all worked and then shed promptly forced herself to forget what hed said because the illusion was so cool. It was almost completely dark outside now and the gallery lights glowed brighter. Rob wanting Traction made sense, but Jake? That was a surprise. She knew the complications of their hectic life on the road had started to feel like a burden to her brother. Early on hed gotten as much of a kick as she did out of starting life over with every project, finding a house-sitting gig or crashing with friends, exploring new towns and meeting people. Making intense connections and then moving on. But when he and Rob bought their house, Jake had started looking homeward more than ahead. Shed figured once Blue Maverick was more solid Jake would want to scale back. Turned out shed been partly right, but instead of scaling back he was scaling out. Rob appeared behind the window and Anna crossed the street. He turned when he heard the door open, and then tensed when he realized it was her. Rob Parker was slightly shorter than her brother, blond, slender and good-looking in a hot-librarian way. He was the guy in high school who anchored the debate team and then got discovered by the cool crowd when he sprouted six inches senior year. His dark-framed retro glasses and longish sideburns fit with his job at the gallery but also looked natural when he was up to his neck in sawdust at the house. What would your nonna say if she knew you were prostituting her gnocchi? Rob relaxed when he realized she wasnt angry. Nonna was the master of the food-for-favor exchange, he said. Shed be proud of me for once. Anna appreciated that he didnt even try to pretend the gnocchi hadnt been a bribe. He gestured to the upholstered chairs set under the photos on the east wall. Want to sit? The show, photographs by an artist whod grown up in Asbury Park, the nearby shore town where so much rock history was made, was opening the following night. Anna could almost smell stale beer in the black-and-white photos of dive bars and shore bands. She moved closer to the pictures. The one on the left was a close-up of Mason Star, lead singer of Five Star. His long hair was plastered to his neck in sweaty streaks and his eyes were closed, but there was no mistaking that he was meant to be behind the microphone. Five Star was, after Bruce, the most famous band to grow up on the Jersey shore. If she had ever believed in signs, this would surely be one for the ages. Im not staying, she told Rob as she looked at the next photo. This one showed Five Star walking out the back door of a bar in Wildwood, instrument cases slung over their shoulders. I need to call Jake but I went out without my phone. She tried to keep her voice from shaking as she thought about what she was going to do. Rob pulled his phone out of the pocket of his jeans and held it out to her. Are you going to yell at him? She was touched by his concern for her brother. Not unless he ate all the gnocchi. You didnt have any? And now she heard concern for her, which touched her again. I couldnt eat. Anna met his eyes. But if Jake agrees to my plan, I might feel better. If all goes well Ill be looking for a hearty breakfast. Rob shot her a half grin. That, Nonna would like. She loved gnocchi cold for breakfast. Anna turned back to the photo of the Five Star concert. She stared at the faces in the crowd, knowing it wasnt the show shed attended but looking anyway. Jake answered on the first ring. Rob? Have you seen my sister? Its me, she said, cutting him off before he could say something she didnt want to hear. I stopped at Traction to borrow Robs phone. She took a steadying breath as she gathered her courage. Jake said hed do one last film. One last chance to work with him to find a true story and tell it. Before tonight shed been lobbying hard for them to make a film about a girls hockey team from upstate New York. The competing expectations for on-ice aggression and office femininity created tension for the girls. Overinvested hockey parents with their cowbells and fistfights were a compelling backdrop. She wanted to tell that story, but if she only had one more project, that wasnt the one. I thought about what you said, Anna told him as she touched the frame of the picture. One more movie. The hockey thing is fresh, Jake said. Its good, but its not what I want for our last film. Anna, stop saying last. You can get someone else. With your reputation and the commercial work we have lined up, you can keep going. Colin Paige would work with you in a heartbeat and hes not the only one. She nodded. Youre right. But Blue Maverick is me and you. Maybe I can keep making movies without you and maybe I cant. Either way, it wont be Blue Maverick. So I want our last project to matter. You have an idea? The familiar surge of interest in his voice made her grip the phone tighter. Shed miss the perfect connection she had with Jake. I got a fax two weeks ago from a band. Theyre making a new album, first one in fifteen years, and they want a promotional film. Something they can show on TV to help sell the album. He was hanging in but he sounded confused when he said, But thats commercial work. It was Five Star. There was a long silence. Anna put her hand over her mouth, forcing herself to give him time to think. Is that a joke? Jake finally said. I make movies to tell stories no ones ever heard. The truth. I want to tell what happened to Terri that night on the Five Star bus. What happened to Terri was a tragedy but theres no story there. It was an accident. The crash was an accident. But no one ever said why she was on the bus or who she was with or anything. Its like she was just a body and whatever happened to put her there didnt matter. Digging into that isnt going to help the way you feel about Terri. It wasnt your fault she got on the bus. Jake, she was seventeen and she died in that horrible crash surrounded by strangers who couldnt even be bothered to explain what she was doing on the bus after she died. She deserves to have her story told. So if we do this, if we go after this and find out what happened, what does that get you? The truth. He waited for a second. We shouldnt do this on the phone. Come home. No. I know this is the one. But you said they want a promotional film for a new album. The tour bus crashing and Terri and those other people dying practically wrecked their band. Theyre not going to talk about that when theyre releasing a new album. Jake, please, Anna said. She straightened and paced to the door, looking out at the well-lit street. Getting people to talk about stuff they dont want to? Its our job. Were good at it. Lets end Blue Maverick the right way. Ill do what you want, Anna, Jake said. But I want you to be sure this is the one. Im in if you want it. He paused. Make sure you want it. I want it. Jakes quick okay made her miss him more. She said goodbye and then handed the phone back to Rob. See you in the morning for cold gnocchi. Im sticking with Wheaties. Rob pulled her into a quick hug. But thanks for not hating me. Anna patted him awkwardly. See you. Back on the street, she turned downtown, heading for the Strand, Hobokens art house movie theater. Red River was playing. If Montgomery Clift couldnt distract her, nothing could. Shed look for Terris storyher last shot to find itstarting tomorrow. But for tonight, shed escape. Anna handed her money to Stephen, the Strands owner/ticket taker/projectionist/popcorn maker, at the ticket window where he perched on a wooden stool. Stephen had been a friend ever since he screened Annas senior film here. No date tonight? he asked. Too many offers, didnt want to hurt anyones feelings. Stephen liked to tease her about her love life, maybe living vicariously since hed been in what he called a dry spell as long as shed known him. She didnt want to find out what that felt like. Her situation was different. Shed broken up with her last boyfriend, Boring Bob, on purpose. Maybe if you put some effort in youd get more men, he said as he surveyed her well-worn track pants, black T-shirt and grey hoodie disgustedly. How do you know this isnt my best effort? she shot back. Im in a dry spell, not blind. Youre hot under all that Im-a-bad-dresser camo. He handed her a ticket, a box of popcorn and a large Diet Coke. Just once Id like to see you in a dress. Dream on, she said, laughing. In fact, Anna didnt own a dress. She had two suits, exactly identical, one navy, one black. The navy she wore to business things and any time she had to film a dress-up event. The black she wore to funerals. She pushed open the door to theater one and found a seat halfway back on the aisle. The lights went out and the familiar darkness flowed over her. The projector clicked on, dust dancing in the light streaming toward the screen. Anna was home. She made movies to tell the truth. She watched movies because they made her forget the truth. She was sure, deep in her bones, that she wouldnt be able to keep making movies without Jake. He was the only person she trusted enough to be as open and vulnerable as she needed to be to find the stories. Jake made her life work. He was her business expert, her partner, her friend, her home base. If she wasnt making movies, what could she do? If she didnt have her movies to fill her life, what would she have? All that uncertainty loomed over her life outside. Here, in the dusty darkness of the Strand, Anna forgot it all and let the story carry her away. CHAPTER TWO August 2007 MASON STAR PROPPED his putter on his shoulder and glared at his son, Christian, but his heart wasnt in it and they both knew it. When Christians cell rang somewhere in the hall outside his office, Mason was glad for the reprieve. Coward. The name fit. Made him feel guilty. But the fact was, he was tired. Tired enough that for the first time in years, he wished there was another parent on the scene. Not Christians mother, but someone stable and responsible. He needed a break. Christian barely acknowledged the ringing phone, ready to keep on arguing. Give the kid credit, Mason thought, reluctantly admiring the dogged stubbornness of the seventeen-year-old. He shrugged a shoulder at the door and put his head back down as if the interrupted argument mattered even less to him than the putt hed lined up with the coffee cup across the room. Get your phone. Well finish this conversation later, he muttered as he swung the putter and then watched the ball miss as Chris disappeared down the hall. His long game sucked and now hed lost his short game, too. Mason hoped Christians call would be an important one. Long, distracting, all-consuming. Possibly lasting the next three or four years. He dropped the putter on the floor and slumped in his desk chair with his feet up on the oak file cabinet. The walls of his office were covered with photos of former Mulligans residents, interspersed with the golf course signs people had given him over the years. The first sign had been a housewarming gift when Mulligans opened its doors ten years ago. The community hed founded to provide a base for people starting over, using their second chance, was named after taking a mulligan, golfer slang for a do-over shot. No harm no foul. That first sign read Course Re-seeded. Please Respect the Greens. He kept that one over his desk to remind him of why hed started the place. Back then hed been newly sober and doing everything he could to be a man worth respecting. Mulligans had seemed like a perfect name for the community hed envisioned where the residents would support each other to remember the past, but not live in it. That mantra was essential for his peace of mind. The six homes, former railroad workers cottages, faced onto a parklike yard and the larger community-center building. Mason and Chris lived upstairs over the community center. Ten years after hed opened this place, life was screwing with him, trying to tear him apart again. It had taken almost this long to feel as if he knew what he was doing, knew how to live this life right. And now it was all messed up. He picked up the letter hed been reading before Christian came in. The Lakeland zoning board requests your presence at a hearing to examine the extension of zoning waivers for Mulligans. The waivers are delayed pending a hearing to allow public comment from neighborhood groups opposing the extension. Mason put the letter back facedown. It rattled him to know neighbor groups had formed under his nose and he hadnt heard a word about it. He jumped when, out in the hall, Christian let out a whoop that could only mean one thing. Mason closed his eyes and leaned his head back against his chair even as his son yelled for him. Dad, we got it. Alex booked us to open for the Shreds. The Shreds, Dad! Christian skidded around the doorway, his unruly, dark brown hair flying back from his face. His hazel eyes, for once not obscured by his ridiculous long bangs, were lit up. They both knew this changed things, gave Chris power over his dad in their yearlong argument. Which meant Mason had to do something, say something, fast. Before he lost the fight and his kid quit school and was out the door on the road with his band. But man, Christian was happy. Happy didnt come that often these days. Maybe when he was alone or with his friends Chris still cracked a smile. Here? At home with his dad? Happy was rare enough that Mason couldnt shut it down. So he climbed to his feet and smiled. Tried to keep some pissed-off dad in his expression, but there was his kid. And this was big. Chris was happy and wanted Mason to be happy for him. Crossing the room, Mason put his right hand on Chriss shoulder. Your band is good. We both know it. Looks like the Shreds know it, too. Christian pumped his arm, the way he used to when he scored in soccer back before his band became the only thing he cared about. Mason missed soccer. I gotta call Drew, Christian said. Want me to take you all out for ice cream? Christian stared at him, unsure if he was joking. Mason wasnt sure himselfmaybe he just wanted to keep this connection open, have it feel like old times. When Christian didnt answer, Mason said, What? I always took you for ice cream when you won in soccer. Christian gave him one of those looksthe one that meant my dad is a total loser. Used to be an offer of ice cream made you the cool dad. But the rules had changed and Mason was, once again, fumbling to catch up. Thanks, Dad, Christian said, and then his voice rose, but were going to be onstage at Madison Square Garden with the Shreds! He looked dazed. Its so awesome. Christians arms, skinny, ropy with muscle earned from hours playing the guitar, moved disjointedly by his sides. The kid had a lanky, almost six-foot frame. Mason had been skinny, too, at that age, but in his case he hadnt had access to three square meals a day. Or any square meals a day. As lead singer of Five Star, a notoriously hard-touring, hard-living band, his diet had consisted mainly of Makers Mark and whatever drugs happened to be in front of him. His mother hadnt been concerned with his diet, choosing to concentrate on her share of his earnings and his Makers Mark. Remembering what his life had been when he was Chriss age prodded him on. Being a good parent sometimes meant you had to be a bad guyalthough not quite as bad as his sons mother. Ten years ago shed dumped the scrawny, scared seven-year-old on his front porch with little more than a hissed Hes yours now and a birth certificate listing Mason as the father. Getting this gig is a huge accomplishment, Chris. Recognition from a band like the Shreds is fantastic for you guys. He paused. The Shreds were a great band. Opening for them was huge. Mason knew better than most what this gig meant and he knew Chris and his band deserved the spot. Pride and fear sat uneasily next to each other in the pit of his stomach. But this doesnt change anything. Youre finishing high school. Youre not taking your band on the road until you have your diploma. Christians hands balled into fists. Mason hated that hed wiped the joy off his kids face and replaced it with disgust. Thats completely unfair. Just because you screwed up doesnt mean Im going to. He was gone before Mason could call him on the attitude or the insult. Not that he had the energy anyway. Holy hell. If living with this particular incarnation of a seventeen-year-old pain in the ass was penance for his own misspent youth, well, Mason wished for the nine millionth time hed been a better person. He slammed a hand on the office door frame before pulling the door shut. His open-door policy was one of the founding principles of Mulligans, but he had to put himself back together. Chris and the guys had no business touring at seventeen. What father in the world knew that better than one whod been on the road at sixteen and in rehab at twenty-three? If his mother had done her job and said no once or twice, maybe his life would have turned out different. Maybe if he hadnt been so young, hadnt latched on to David and Five Star so hard, he wouldnt have sunk so low when it ended. Hed protect Chris. Keep him home as long as he needed to until he was sure his boy was ready to face the crap waiting out there for him. He glanced at the door. Anyone who wanted him bad enough would knock. He picked up his putter, but he couldnt even line up on the ball. Mulligans and Christian were all that had kept him sane and sober these past ten years. Now there was this zoning opposition, whatever the hell that meant. And Christian was determined to skip out on the normal, middle-class life Mason had worked so hard to put together for them. Crap. Hed never been much of a thinker. Give him a job and hed get it done. But there was nothing concrete here, nothing he could pin down. He flicked open his e-mail. He highlighted five stock tips, two penis-enlargement messages and three other messages that looked like spam, and started to push delete when he saw the name. David. Giles@fivestar.com. He blinked. Just looking at the name made him sick, remembering the last time hed spoken to David, fourteen years ago. Mason had been begging. Been so far out of it, wasted didnt even begin to describe it. Somehow hed gotten it into his mind that Five Star would take him back if they heard the song he had been working on. Hed been singing, or doing what his hollowed-out brain thought was singing, and David cursed him out. David Giles. The guy had been like an older brother once. The most important man in his life. The man who screwed him up so much he almost didnt make it. Mason opened the e-mail, but his finger hovered over the delete key. Mason, Heyman. Been a while. I guess you know me and the guys are still touring. Not the same without you. Guess you know that, too. Were in the studio now, cutting a new album. Sounds amazing. You should come up. Bring your songs. Give me a call when you get this. (212) 5552413. David So that was what it looked like. The invitation had finally come but it was fourteen years too late. Thered been a time when this was all hed wanted. Five Star, the guys he thought of as his family, had reconsidered and invited him back. Still touring. Yeah. With his songs and his name. Notthe same without you. That would have had more pull if they hadnt been the ones who booted him out of the band with no warning, no time for talking and not one single look backward. Bring your songs. As if he owed them one more thing. Mason felt a satisfaction all out of proportion to reality when he pressed the delete key. He refused to admit he also felt a twist of panic when he closed the door on Five Star again. He didnt want that life back. But that didnt mean that it wasnt unnerving to say no to the offer when the life he had here was falling to pieces. DAVID GILES WOULD GET cut in the auditions for American Idol, Jake said. He was standing behind Anna, watching the monitor over her shoulder as she ran some of the footage theyd shot during the recording session earlier that day. Five Stars rented studio was a converted warehouse in Jersey City. The band had given them a small room to use as an office. It was windowless and with enough lingering scent of Lysol that Anna suspected it had formerly been a janitors closet. Still, it was privacy, which mattered. Shed never worked on a project where she felt so uncomfortable with the subjects. Even the politicians theyd worked with for campaign ads had more integrity than this group. The only one of the four band members who didnt set off her liar warning system was Harris Coleman, the keyboard player. As far as Anna could tell in the two months theyd spent with the band, he didnt talk. Ever. Blue Maverick rule number 4, Dont Make Fun of the Documentary Subject, she said absently to her brother, eyes on the screen, mind running over all the problems with what she was watching. Im stating a fact. Thats allowed. Jake turned the volume on the monitor down slightly. Anna slapped his hand away and shot him an annoyed look. Jakes my-sister-is-a-big-fat-meanie expression hadnt changed since he was three years old. Its hurting my ears, he said. Anna paused the video and turned off the monitor. This is serious. If they keep sucking this much there isnt going to be an album to promote, much less a film. If the album had come together, Five Star might be almost finished in the studio and the movie would be well on its way to complete. As it was, the music was so bad, Anna was sure the footage they had was as useless as the session tapes. Although the band and their managers had agreed to let her include some archival footage and do new interviewsshed explained it as framing for the storyshed gotten nothing about the crash or Terri. Chet, Nick, even the normally silent Harris, had all given her the same noncommittal answers. Hard show, late night, everyone bunked down, no idea how the driver lost control. No one knew Terri or why shed been on the bus. The only interesting thing shed heard was when every one of them asked some form of the same question. Did you talk to David? David. He told several stories about heroic crew members pulling Mason Star out of the bus after the crash, several more about his own injuries, which as far as she could tell consisted mainly of a fat lip and interrupted sleep. Then he said if she wanted to know about the crash she should talk to Mason. So everyone pointed to David and then he turned right around to point at Mason. In Annas experience, when fingers got pointed it was because there was something to point at. Somewhere in the intersection of David and Mason there was something to know. Her instincts told her that something was Terris story. You know what David told me? Masons mom was a dancerin nightclubs. She changed her name legally to Sierra Star. Isnt that wild? Imagine being a boy, growing up with a stripper name? Suddenly the door opened behind them and David Giles walked in. He hadnt knocked, of course. David played bass and had taken over as lead singer when Mason left. He was larger than life with an outsize ego and the mistaken belief that he was irresistible. It looked as if David had drawn a line in the sand, daring age forty to touch him. His shoulder-length blond hair was highlighted, teased and sprayed to cover the fact that he had passed thinning and was well on the way to bald up top. His fake tan was more Sunkist than sun kissed and, while his skinny jeans were probably the same size hed worn in his twenties, considerably more of David Giless middle spilled over the waistband than seemed comfortable. Anna! He came up behind her and rubbed her shoulders, more irritation than massage. Hows my beautiful director today? Jake answered, Im great. Thanks for asking. Oh. Ha. Ha. You wish you were as good-looking as your sister here. Look at this hairits just begging to be touched. Annas curly brown hair had been exasperating her for the past thirty years. The way David obsessed over it and felt free to touch it was making her crazy. He was pushing her closer than shed ever been to breaking Blue Maverick rule number 18, Dont Punch the Client. She shifted and rolled the chair to the left, temporarily out of punching distance. Going over the film? Davids high, excited voice grated even when he wasnt singing. Does it look as good as it sounds? Jake crossed his arms and said, Yep. Anna lifted her shoulder and turned her head, hiding her mouth in her sleeve so David wouldnt see her smile. Were jazzed about the stuff we have down, David went on. Its gelling. Organic, you know? Anna kept her eyes on Davidif she looked at Jake shed laugh. The music was organic in the same way half-cured compost was organic. Were glad youre feeling good. David shifted, touching his hair with his fingertips, a habit shed noticed shortly after meeting him. It was as if he was reassuring himself the hair was still there, while making sure not to move it even slightly. It was a tic so delicate and unconscious and heartbreakingly desperate she might have found it sympathetic in a person she liked even the littlest bit. In David it made her clamp her jaws shut so she wouldnt tell him to get over himself. You want to run through some of the stuff you shot of that last session? We were really working that one. Jake bent deliberately to tie his shoe. We dont show raw tape to anyone, David. Weve discussed this before. But this is me. Lets see a bit, sweetheart, huh? She was saved from having to answer when the closet/office door banged open and Nick Kane, the Five Star drummer, pushed his way in followed shortly by a furious Chet Giles, the guitarist. Youre not seriously thinking about changing the name of the band, David. Even you cant be that stupid, Nick yelled. Anna instinctively reached for her camera and swung it to her shoulder, adjusting the wide-angle lens so she could see all three bandmates. Jake stepped back out of Davids light. He quietly adjusted the shade on the desk lamp to erase the shadows on Nicks face. Chet stepped up to Nick. That was a private conversation. You werent supposed to hear it, he said. David held up his hand. Okay, Nick. I didnt mean for you to find out this way, but yeah. I brought up a name change to management and they agree. Theres four of us, not five. Masons not around but were still using his name. Five? Star? None of it fits anymore. The G-Men? Nick sputtered. David looked irritated. It was just an idea. What about this idea? Were Five Star. Besides, Masons coming back. You got in touch with him. You said hes got new songs. Right? Only years of practice at keeping still and silent during shoots kept Anna from reacting. Mason Star was comingout of hibernation? She wanted to look at Jake, be sure he was hearing the same things she was, but she didnt dare look away. We need a plan B, David said. He might not say yes. Nick looked startled. Mason was crushed when we kicked him out. He had no idea what happened. Of course hell say yes. You said he was working on stuff already. I told you not to worry about this, Nick. You need to back off and let David do what needs to be done, Chet said. He reached out and poked Nicks chest. Got it? Nick was the oldest member of the band; hed turned forty-seven earlier that year. Right now with his dark eyes narrowed and his heavy jaw set, he looked dangerous. And pissed. You did not just poke me, Nick growled. I certainly just did, Chet growled back. Anna focused in on Nicks face as it tightened and colored. He stared in furious disbelief from Chet to David. Anna mentally scoped out the desk behind her, ready to do what she could to protect the equipment if the brawl brewing in front of her bubbled over in the small space. You know what? Go to hell. I should have walked out the day you cut Mason loose. That was wrong then and this is wrong now. If he comes back tell him to call me. Nick spun on his heel and left the room. Chet turned on her. Turn off the camera. Then he walked out. David put his hand up as if he was going to run it through his hair, but he stopped himself, fluttering his fingers off the crown instead. Drama, huh? he said. Hell be back. Nickll be back, youll see. He moved toward the door. Were not definitely changing the name. G-Men was just an idea. When Nick comes back well straighten this out. Anna and Jake nodded. BUT DAVID WAS WRONG. A week later he came into the office where Anna was at the desk wolfing down a container of leftover risotto shed brought from home. David said he was shutting down the studio and the movie. Nick was holed up on the farm he owned outside Princeton and he showed no signs of returning to the studio. The album was on hold until the rest of the band figured out what they wanted to do, either find a new drummer or wait for Nick to come back. Annas mouth dried up and she put her fork down. She struggled to keep her voice even as she spoke. David, we have a schedule. You committed to the movie. How can we Music doesnt have a schedule, Anna, David interrupted her. You gotta let it flow. Organic, you know? Anna thought fast. She couldnt let him go. She hadnt gotten what she needed yet. If youre taking time out of the studio thats perfect for the movie. We can do more interviews. Get the historical and background pieces down. Listen, sweetheart, as much as we love spending time together, were closing down. If you want to meet up, theres a club on Sixty-fourth No, she snapped, the thought so repulsive she couldnt even keep her client manners in place. Obviously irritated by her quick refusal, he said, Were out of here at the end of the day. Take anything you need. She reached desperately for something to keep him talking. Have you heard from Mason? Is he coming back? He has our offer. Thats all I can say. What did Nick mean when he said it was wrong to let him go I told you, were shutting the movie down, David said, cutting her off. No point in answering questions right now. Abruptly he turned and left. It took her seven seconds to go from stunned to furious. She dumped everything out of the desk into her work duffel. Let them shut down the studio. This wasnt their movie anyway. Never had been. So what if she hadnt had the guts to pursue it on her own at first? She did now. She was through wasting time. Finished waiting for someone to hand her Terris story. Blue Maverick was better than that. Anna was better than that. She was already working on her to-do list as she locked the door behind her. Number-one priority? Track down Mason Star and make him talk. CHAPTER THREE LESS THAN A WEEK after Mason was blindsided by David Giless e-mail, he got knocked on his ass again by his friends and neighbors from the Lakeland Neighborhood Association. There was a reason Mason would never be a politician. Actually, there was more than one reason, and the fact that he definitely had inhaled wasnt even in the top twenty. The primary problem was he just couldnt understand why so-called normal people had this need to ban anything and anyone the slightest bit different than themselves. It was yet another rule he hadnt learned growing up the way he did, where the only thing that mattered was if you had the rent or most of it come the first of the month. Maybe if hed grown up middle class hed get these people better. Because the fact was, Mason just didnt get them. Take this zoning hearing. Take Roxanne Curtis. Take her to the top of the Empire State Building and drop kick her off. Roxanne had been rubbing him the wrong way ever since Christian was the only kid left off her daughters birthday-party guest list in second grade. The reason his kid wasnt on her kids list? At the Mulligans Opening Day ceremony right before school started, Roxanne confessed her teenage crush on Masons teenage self and suggested they re-create the sex-on-the-hood-of-the-Firebird scene from Five Stars Dirty Sweet video. Mason turned her down flatwrong time, wrong place, wrong memory. And definitely wrong person. A month later, Christian had come home from school crying, crushed by social disgrace. Using a seven-year-old kid as a pawn in revenge for a sexual rebuff was every kind of wrong. Now Roxanne was after his other baby. Maybe it was the hearing so close on the heels of David Giless e-mail, but he was having serious dj? vu. When hed bought his property, refurbished the buildings and built the community center, it had been next to impossible to give away real estate in Lakeland. But the real estate boom had pushed even the upper middle class out into formerly scorned suburbs. Home prices in Lakeland, a twenty-minute train ride to New York, had skyrocketed and suddenly Mulligans was an unsavory, unwelcome neighbor in a town on the way up. When Five Star, the band hed helped build, had kicked him out hed been a kid. Hed been so hurt and lost he hadnt fought back. Hed made a mess of things back then and the consequences came down on him hard. This was different. He wasnt letting Mulligans and all the people living here and taking their first vulnerable, fragile steps into rehabilitation get kicked out without a fight. The point of Mulligans was to make a community that would support everyone to get back on their feet. Everyone who lived here contributed what they could to help the others make it through the next step. He was ready to fight every one of the wannabe real estate moguls in this room before he let them touch his place. Roxanne was standing in the aisle, one hand on the back of the chair in front of her. She was one of the native Lakeland ladies who were determined to ride the current wave of real estate money into a whole new set of friends and circumstances. Shed learned quickly, hed give her that. Shed replaced her wardrobe of Kohls bargains with designer knockoffs of just high enough quality to help her pass for upper middle class. Shed cut out her bad perm and tinted her hair that particular shade of blond that meant high-end shop job, not a drugstore box on the bathroom sink. And then, in her final coup, shed remarried, a banker or broker or some money guy who worked in the city and rode the train home every night. Roxanne was on her way up and she was not taking no for an answer. Tonight her crisp blue shirt was casually and calculatedly untucked over soft, narrow black pants. She was dressed to impress the zoning board with her values and citizenship. Of course, hed done the same thing. He understood that costuming supported image and thats why he was in a gray suit with an understated blue stripe, a dark blue dress shirt and a low-key tie. His clothes said serious, upstanding and smart. Respectable but not desperate. Mason leaned toward his lawyer, Stephanie Colarusso, who was sitting straight-backed in the chair to his left, her angular face a picture of polite attention. An athlete her whole life, Stephanies body language was always carefully controlled; she didnt make accidental gestures. Right now her stillness and slight forward lean looked polite and professional to the other people in the room. Hed been friends with her long enough, though, to read irritation in the tension of her jaw muscles and stubbornness in the uptilt of her chin. I need a crossbow, not a lawyer, he whispered. Stephanie didnt look away from Roxanne as she whispered back, Shes going down, Mason. Make no mistake. In the ten years since this facility opened, our neighborhood has put up with more than enough, Roxanne said. Masons hands twitched as he considered strangling her with the strap of her imitation-leather messenger bag. My neighbors and I have been more than generous, she went on, letting these people live among us, letting their children go to our schools. We, the tax-paying citizens of the Lakeland Neighborhood Association, ask you to consider our needs. This facility should never have been allowed under our existing zoning codes. Now that the ten-year waiver has expired, were asking the zoning board to withdraw the permits for Mulligans. Its time to admit whats been going on behind the fences. Specific objections are outlined in the document you have before you. Thank you. Mason clasped the sides of his plastic chair so hard he was surprised it didnt crack. How dare she sit there saying these people and expose and burden about Mulligans? Social-climbing suck-up. Mr. Star? Larry Williams, the zoning board chair was looking his way. Were ready for your statement. Stephanie gave him a quick nod. Theyd agreed that he would do the talking. After all, this was supposed to be a neighborhood issue and he was the neighbor. Mason stood and nervously crossed his arms. He shouldnt be this worried. This was only Hearing Room A in the Lakeland Town Hall. But the room was packed. How many years had it been since hed been in front of a crowd of strangers? He used to know how to do this, but he realized now hed forgotten the tricks. Besides, he knew what people saw when they looked at him. He knew what Roxanne meant when she said these people. People like him, whod made bad choices and couldnt be trusted not to make them again. When he noticed no one at the zoning board table was smiling, he dropped his arms to his sides and forced himself to relax. Focus, Mason. Im at a loss how to respond to Roxannes statements, he said with a wry smile as he hefted the twenty-page document shed passed out. He made eye contact with Roger Nelson, an overweight board member with a comb-over, whod rolled his eyes when Roxanne passed out her notes. Roger rolled his eyes again and winked at Mason. One, he thought. Maybe he could do this. Despite living near us for the past ten years, I think Roxanne may have a wrong idea about what Mulligans is, who we are. She mentioned facility, but Mulligans is a community. Everyone who lives there does so voluntarily. Were all regular people with regular lives. Weve chosen to live together to try to make things easier on all of us, but in every other respect were just like the rest of you. He gestured to the round table in the front of the room where hed put up his table display about Mulligans. The three-panel poster included shots of the ninety-eight peoplekids, adults, seniorswhod been part of Mulligans over the years. He loved that display. Brian Price, his manager, used it in presentations to social service agencies. The faces of so many friends whod managed to get on their feet and move on gave him confidence. How could anyone feel threatened by those people? Roxanne Curtis now had her arms crossed and her mouth was compressed to a thin, irritated line. She didnt look appealing or charming, Mason was pleased to see. If she thought she could win this by tossing out insults about Mason and his friends and making sour facesand typing up pages of innuendowell, she had another think coming. He started to get into it. Roxanne had never been on the cover of Rolling Stone. Shed never had an entire stadium howling for her to give them more. She had no idea the depth of charm Mason could pull out when the occasion required. So what if it had been fifteen years since hed last entertained a crowd? Hed start with the board. There were only nine of them. Ducking his head, he looked up at the board table with a glint in his eye and the you-love-my-delinquent-self smile that he knew made women wish hed throw them down on the closest bed, Firebird or zoning hearing room table. Two of the women at the table uncrossed their legs, one recrossed hers, and the last one fiddled with the second button on her shirt. Two, three, four, five. Mulligans provides low-fee housing and community support to a wide array of people. Everyone who lives there has been down on their luck, but with help, most of them make it back on their feet and go on to lead independent lives. We do provide financial assistance, but the main goal is to provide for the material and physical needs to help our residents reclaim their dignity and sense of purpose. For some people, thats safe, affordable child care. For some of our seniors, its transportation and a feeling of safety during transitional times. A neighbor, Dan Brown, was on his feet. Thats all very sweet, but the fact is, Mulligans is a flophouse. Its full of addicts and alcoholics. Its a magnet for crime and trash and a drain on our communitys resources. Mason realized hed clenched his hands into fists. He knew for a fact that Dan Brown used his leaf blower to relocate leaves from his lawn into his neighbors yards, called the police when people left their recycling bins out overnight and gave out apples, not candy, at Halloween. Being mean as spit apparently qualified him as a spokesman for the newly gentrified neighborhood. Mulligans is an intentional cohousing community, not a halfway house, Dan, Mason explained. And you know it. You know who lives at Mulligans. Normal folks with normal lives. Like me. People who wanted to live in Lakeland when a lot of other people were calling it undesirable. The woman sitting next to Roxanne stood up. Im new to Lakeland so I dont know anything about this stuff youre talking about. All I know is, Im living on the same block as an institution with a ten foot fence and no financials on public record. Mason hadnt met this woman before, but he was determined to placate her. Mulligans is privately funded. We dont have to publish our financials. Privately funded by whom? she asked. Me. Before he could add anything else, shed turned to the board. Which is exactly my point. The information I know about Mr. Star is far from encouraging. Hes doing God knows what behind that fence. Mason was stunned. Did this lady really think his money was tainted? By what? His reputation? Gossip? The history hed never been able to shake? Stephanie cleared her throat. He kept his mouth shut. A voice from the crowd called out, Property values are low because of Mulligans. Lakeland needs higher standards. Mason wasnt sure whod said that. Comments were coming rapid fire from all around now. He sat down abruptly when Stephanie tugged on his wrist. His head spun and for one second he was back in that hotel room in Chicago listening as David, Nick, Cheteven his own motheryelled and threatened and finally told him to get out. He bit down on the inside of his cheek, using the pain to center back on this room, this crowd, which was all that mattered now. Larry banged on the table, trying to settle people. Mason stared straight ahead, wishing he couldnt hear the insults and lies coming at him from all sides. What the hell had happened? Of the four board members whod wanted to screw him five minutes ago, three wouldnt meet his eyes. Three of the men were glaring at him. Roger, his comb-over askew, was shouting at someone in the audience, and Larry wouldnt stop banging long enough for Mason to get a read on him. Stephanie pushed past him and went up the aisle to bend down next to Larry Williams. She whispered in his ear and Larry looked relieved. The chairman hollered over the din in the room, I move that we table the discussion of Mulligans until our next meeting! The one woman who still wanted to screw Mason seconded and then looked quickly at him. He managed a grateful nod. Stephanie gathered the poster display and followed him outside. I apologize, Mason, she said. I had no idea this was going to be out of control. I should have anticipated it. Theres no way you could have known. I live next door to them and I didnt know. Its been an underground revolution. He shook his head. It was the same as Five Starhe hadnt seen that coming, either. I had no idea they thought we were running a flophouse. That hearing wasnt about what Mulligans is or isnt. That was about people and their moneyflat-out greed. Mason ran his hand over his short-cropped hair. I dont know. Some of it sounded pretty personal. Not everyones going to be your fan. Im not looking for fans, Mason protested. Its Mulligans. I cant believe they dont see what Mulligans does. Clearly we have some work to do, she agreed. While they walked slowly to her white, 1968 VW bug, she dug in her purse for her keys. He stood watching while she got in and buckled her seat belt. She started the car and then leaned out the window. Well beat this, Mason. Suburbanites dont frighten me. He nodded. He trusted Stephanie. She was book smart, street smart and, after him, she was Mulligans biggest fan. Plus, next weekend she was marrying Brian Price, the community manager, and then shed be living at Mulligans, his companion in homelessness if they lost the zoning fight. Failure wasnt a word anyone associated with Stephanie Colarusso. That was good. He went back toward where hed parked his black Pontiac Firebird. It was the last thing remaining of his rough living Jersey-boy dayshed never been able to trade it in for a Subaru. He rested the poster display on the hood while he leaned on the car, patting the pockets of the suit jacket hed worn in the hopes it would make him seem trustworthy. He might as well have worn camo. Just when he pulled out a pack of Marlboros and his silver lighter, a breeze kicked up. He turned his shoulder as he put a cigarette in his mouth and flicked the lighter. He dragged the smoke deep into his lungs and held it there, eyes closed, feeling the burn and savoring the scent. Smokings not healthy. Startled, Mason released the smoke before he was ready. A woman was standing in front of him. Hed been so absorbed he hadnt heard her come up. She was about Stephanies height, a little less than shoulder high, but that was the only thing the two had in common. Where Stephanie was all neatly contained planes, this woman curved and swerved. Her light brown, gently curling hair was streaked liberally with dark gold and tumbled down her neck, with smaller curls springing around her face. Her eyes, golden brown with a dark circle around the iris, tilted at the corners, contrasting exotically with her small, slightly upturned nose. He thought hed recognize her if she was from the neighborhoodthe way she filled her jeans was hard to overlookbut hed better be civil on the chance she was one of them. I only take the one drag a day. What? The womans eyes widened in surprise and her expression was almost studious, like she was taking notes. She shoved quickly at the soft curls the wind had blown into her face, twisting and pushing them behind her ear. Mason caught the flash of chunky silver rings on slender fingers as her deft hands quickly and decisively tamed the curls. Woman 1, Wind 0. One drag, Mason said. I kicked the six-pack-a-day habit but I miss it. The smell of it, the taste, the fire. He flipped the top of the lighter back and flicked the wheel, smiling at her through the flame. If the day really sucks, I take two drags. He took a second long drag and then carefully ground the cigarette out on the edge of the trash can next to the Firebird before tossing it in. Havent had to take three yet, though. The woman studied him intently, seemingly unconcerned that he had no idea who the hell she was. Again he thought surely hed have remembered her if theyd met before. And okay, she was round and sexy with her curvy hips and the black V-neck T-shirt shaping itself to her, but he didnt pick up strangers on the street. He grabbed the display, intending to cut this encounter short. She could be an old fan, but this woman with her sharp gaze didnt seem awestruck like a fan. One drag, she said. Thats a fascinating detail. Peculiar and vaguely masochistic, but fascinating. She stuck her hand out. Anna Walsh. Nice to finally meet you, Mr. Star. Ambush number three. Suddenly that third drag wasntso far out of the question. CHAPTER FOUR HE WALKED AWAY. Anna should have expected that. Hed hung up on her just the day before after ignoring almost fifteen messages shed left during the week. He seemed taller than the six-one quoted in his bio and he was moving fast down the street. She appreciated walking with someone who moved as quickly as her for once. His hair was shorter now than it had been when he was with Five Star; more military than rock and roll. But the front was gelled with short, careless swoops that kept it south of severe, hinting at some leftover not-ready-to-settle-down. Rocker Mason had been a pretty boy. At thirty-five, grown-up Mason was a man, shoulders broad and muscular, the planes of his face set and defined. He was saved from looking flat-out intimidating by the deep laugh creases at the corners of his eyes and the sprinkling of freckles on the tops of his cheeks and bridge of his nose. She hadnt known about the freckles and she found them oddly arresting. Shed thought her mammoth teenage crush on Mason had died that night with Terri, but despite her wish to remain professional, the attraction had come barreling back five minutes ago when she watched him light his cigarette. Her fingers twitched as she thought about getting his face in front of a camera. How long would it be before she could sit him down and ask him questions? Because answers were all she wanted from Mason, no matter how pretty his green eyes were. Where are we going? she asked. I need a drink, he answered. He strode forward, his long legs working effortlessly, the sexy swagger in his hips reminding her of the Five Star videos shed sighed over in high school. His voice was gravel over dark chocolate when he said, I dont need company. I need a drink, too, she said, pretending indifference. Shed read about his drinking and other addictions and knew theyd been the reason he got kicked out of Five Star. Listening to him speak about Mulligans in the zoning hearing shed been surprised to feel grudging respect for the man. For a few years after hed left the band, Mason had bounced around the celebrity scene and shed found plenty of tabloid evidence that hed elevated hedonism to an art form. Then he dropped out of sight. She knew hed spent time in a rehab place run by Craig Jordan, a former session musician from Nashville. After that there wasnt much. Shed been lucky to stumble over the notice for the zoning hearing tonight. She hadnt expected to see Mason. The best shed hoped for was a word with his lawyer. Shed figured Mulligans was some tax shelter anywayhe lent the place his name and showed up for a charity function twice a year. But she was pretty sure from what shed heard that he actually lived there. So what was he doing heading out to a bar? If shed been hoping to get the inside story on Mason Star, this was certainly a start. Halfway down the second block he turned abruptly and pulled the door of a shop open. Not a bar. Putting Petes? Was it possible shed just followed Mason to a golf shop? He held open the door with one foot, looked up at the sky with a dramatic sigh and then waved her through. No point in being ruder than Ive already been, he said. Its like youre missing the take-the-hint gene. Occupational hazard, Anna answered absently, too busy observing him to take offense. She was glad shed gotten this far, but she needed to concentrate. Shed surprised him tonight and probably wouldnt get a second chance. The gambit she and Jake had come up with to persuade him to participate in the movie was the best they had, but she wished she was more confident it would work. I thought you said you were getting a drink. I said I needed a drink. Not the same thing, he replied. Hey, Pete, Mason said to the man behind the counter. You get that Ryan putter? Pete waved to the back of the store. Its in the rack. Were closing in half an hour. Got it. Mason headed down the aisle. The entire back of the store was a fake putting green built up on a platform. A panoramic poster on the wall behind it gave the impression you were standing on the eighteenth hole of some golf course. Anna was flying by the seat of her pants, way out of her depth. Mason held out the poster from the hearing. Grab this? It was an awkward size and she bobbled it when he handed it off. His hand flashed out to steady it. Careful, he said. Thats my baby. The way his eyes crinkled even as he cautioned her made an odd combination of brusque and friendly, vaguely insulting but genuinely good-natured. She couldnt decide which was real but the story hound in her was intrigued. She got a hold on the poster and then stepped back to watch as he pulled a putter out of the rack and moved a bucket of balls close to the line. He stepped up on the platform and with absolutely no self-consciousness proceeded to sink five balls in a row. He moved with confidence, the same way he had when hed owned the stage, she thought, comfortable in his body and his surroundings. Hed looked like that in front of the zoning hearing until chaos broke out and then hed crumpled. Youre good, she offered, confident in her assessment after a childhood of weekends spent at her parents country club. The platforms a funnel. Pete wants to sell these stupid expensive clubs so he makes you feel like a hall of famer. Mason cleared the balls out of the hole and went back to the line. With his head down, concentrating on the ball, he said, I dont suppose you tracked me down to ask me about my golf game, although Id like to state for the record Im a scratch golfer on a good day. If youre a scratch golfer, Im Tiger Woods! Pete hollered back from the front of the store. Jealous, Mason mouthed to her pointing at Pete. Hed stopped hitting and was gauging her reactions as surely as she was studying him. Performers did that, she knew, waited to see what the audience wanted and gave it to them. Shed need to be careful because she didnt want a line, she wanted the truth. In the file she and Jake had compiled on Mason were pictures from when he was with Five Star, his magnetic personality obvious even in fifteen-year-old photos. Pictures couldnt do justice to the color of his eyes, though. Blond glinted at the temples of his rich, dark hair. His thick lashes were chocolate brown and his sculpted eyebrows a shade lighter. All that dark framing made the green of his eyes startling. Masons eyes werent a messing-around color like hazel. They were green like a beer bottle. Shed never been sure if, given the chance, she would have gotten on the bus with Terri that night, if shed have fallen under the rock and rollers spell. But the man standing in front of her would have no trouble persuading most women and a heck of a lot of men to do whatever he wanted. Annas imagination strayed to what he might want, how he might ask for it in his smoky voice. Was this what Terri had felt? Was this why shed made that fatal decision? Mason Star had lived his life and he had the laugh lines and care lines to prove it. What had made him smile often enough to make those deep crinkles? What had put the care in his eyes? What combination of experience and personality and family had created this man who couldnt seem to help being polite to a stranger he wanted nothing to do with? What was he like when he was with people he did enjoy? Stop it, Walsh. She needed to remember what she was here for. Who she was here for. She wasnt a seventeen-year-old kid with a crush on a rock star anymore. She wanted his story because it might give her Terris. Period. I want to make you an offer, she said. She and Jake had done their research looking for his vulnerability. She hoped theyd chosen the right hook. No, he said and then casually knocked another ball in the cup. He quirked his lips, though, in almost a smile, softening the rejection. Progress. She wished she had a camera to film his mouth. It was decadent, sculpted lips with little lines at the corners that werent quite dimples but then again, definitely were. She leaned back, took her eyes off his mouth, thought about Terri. You dont even want to hear what I have to say? You left fifteen messages. I heard. A movie. Five Star. My story. No. He sighed. Oh, all right. Ill be polite. Make your offer. He cocked an eyebrow and waited. I assume youre not familiar with my work. He shook his head. She felt a twinge of disappointment, which surprised her. Why did she care that he hadnt even taken a second to Google her? My brother and I make documentaries, but we have to pay the bills, so we do other things, too. Campaign spots, travel pieces, commercials, music videos. Mason leaned on the club, waiting her out. If shed expected him to react, she was disappointed again. Can I try? she asked, stalling, unable to take the plunge. He handed her the putter, taking back the poster display. She tested the weight and balance of the club before kicking a ball into place. The last time shed held a golf club shed been seventeen, playing in a father-daughter tournament at the country club. After Terri died and her relationship with her parents fractured, theyd barely spoken, let alone played golf. While she lined up her shot, she went ahead with her pitch. Our music videos are top notch. Weve won video-music awards. The one we did for Del Sweeney was on TRL for fourteen weeks straight. Which wasnt bragging but salesmanship. He needed to believe she knew what she was doing. You agree to be in my movie and she swung the putter smooth and easy and waited until the ball sank Ill shoot a video for your sons band free of charge. I guarantee hell love it. She hadnt expected laughter. His laugh was throaty and full of gravelly undertones like his voice and she wondered how many years hed smoked. The lines at the corners of his eyes deepened and crinkled in a way that made her want to laugh with him. Except he wasnt laughing with her, he was laughing at her. Nice swing, but, oh, man. You dont know me very well if you think thats the bribe thatll get me into your movie. She was stung. She and Jake had misjudged, which didnt happen often. Thats the point of the movie. No one knows you. We should. He shook his head, suddenly serious. He leaned one forearm on the railing around the platform and his face was closer to hers than was comfortable, but she forced herself to hold still. No. You dont want to know me. The guy you want? Mason Star, lead singer of Five Star? That guy doesnt exist anymore. He rubbed his hand back and forth in his short hair, leaving the front sticking up in messy points, and then looked at her, his head cocked to the right. Matter of fact, why dont you put that in your movie. Mason Star died. RIP. She held the club tighter, pressing her thumb into the grip. She needed Mason. What would motivate him? People deserve to know what happened with the crash and afterward. They deserve the truth. What? He looked more engaged than hed been. Theres more to the story of what happened. A story like that cant be left untold. I dont know what you think you know. But heres your truth. Im not that guy anymore and digging all that up wont do anything good for me or anyone else. David Giles told me to ask you about the crash. Masons face settled, the light left his eyes. You talked to him? No. He shook his head. Forget I asked that. Im living here now. He gestured around the pro shop, but she knew he meant Lakeland. Five Star is history for me. The corners of his mouth turned down, the not-quite dimples deepening, communicating disgust. About her? The crash? She couldnt tell. Theyd misread him. He was slipping away. She had to think fast and find the right thing. Mason she started to say, but he shook his head. The last thing I need right now is for people to remember I was in a rock band. She noticed the protective hold he had on the Mulligans poster. Your neighbors arent too thrilled, are they? Hed called it his baby. You were at the zoning thing? Stalking you. Sorry. Witness to the execution, he said wearily. I can help. She put down the club and stepped off the platform. She tapped the poster, focusing his attention. His eyebrows lifted. You bribe zoning boards? You and your charming smile were doing okay with the board. Its the neighbors that killed you. Ms. Tidy Pants and the PTA brigade. His shoulders slumped. Roxanne Curtis and her upwardly mobile assassins. If theyd come over and see Mulligans. Get to know us. Watch the movie I make about it. Watch the? You agree to speak on camera about the Five Star bus crash, Ill make you a kick-butt film about Mulligans I guarantee will not only solve your zoning problems, it will have your neighbors eating out of your hand. You guarantee? Here. She reached into the inside pocket of her jacket and pulled out two DVDs in plastic sleeves. Go home and watch these. Then call me and Ill start making one for Mulligans right away. He shifted the poster and took the DVDs but didnt look at them. I appreciate the offer, Anna, I do. And I can honestly say I admire your confidence. But Im not going to talk about Five Star. Not to you. Not to anyone. He backed up, cradling his poster carefully under his arm. He put the DVDs in his pocket, though, she noticed. Can you at least think about it? she asked as she followed him to the front of the store. I think about that crash every day. Shed meant the movie, but hed misinterpreted her. Deliberately or not, she couldnt tell. When he turned left outside the shop, she let him go. She hoped that last offer had been the right one. The way hed looked when she mentioned the zoning board made her think she had a shot at least. She never would have expected him to be as involved as he seemed to be in Mulligans. She knew quite a bit about getting people to discuss things they wanted to keep to themselves. There was a time to push and a time to back off. Mason needed to stew over her offer before she gave him another nudge. And she needed to deal with the feelings hed stirred up in her. CHAPTER FIVE MASON STARED at the screen. He couldnt believe hed ever been the kid who was standing center stage singing the hell out of Stage Fright. Hed been twenty when this movie, Five Star Rising, was shot. It was mostly a concert video, intended to support the Five Star Rising album during what ended up being his last tour. Tonight he was fast-forwarding through all the backstage coverage. Couldnt stand to see the bottles and women and himself wasting his life as fast as he could. He never watched this movie. Damn Anna for making him seek it out. Hed come home expecting to clear up some paperwork and get to bed, but hed been too restless. Angry about the zoning board, pissed off at David and his e-mail and really mad about Annas offer. What the hell was David thinking talking to anyone about the crash? Telling her to come here? Without the zoning fiasco, hed never have given her offer to make him a movie another thought. But the hearing had been bad. He knew Stephanie would do her best, but people, not just Roxanne, a lot of people, were really upset. He used to be able to get people on board with his plans without even trying. But hed lost something after Five Star. Now he couldnt even get a suburban zoning board to leave him alone. The last time people turned on him and he couldnt fix it, hed lost everything. What if he couldnt fix this and this time Mulligans was the price? Anna had said her movie would save Mulligans. But hed have to talk about the crash. Shed said people wanted the truth about it. Hed never told the truth. Hed had his reasons then and he still thought hed made the right decision. What did Anna know or think she knew? He was pretty sure he and David Giles were the only ones who knew what really happened that night. David had his own reasons for keeping quiet. If he agreed to talk to her, how much would he have to say? What would she be able to figure out? Those questions had led him out to the video store and then here, to this place in his past where he didnt like to go, thinking about the tour that led to the crashand everything else that happened. He had all the lights off and was sunk deep in the leather couch in the small room he and Christian used as a private family room above the common rooms where the residents ate communal meals several nights a week, did their laundry, conducted meetings and held functions. This room had always felt safe to him. Seeing his old life in the midst of this real one was jarring. Before he moved into Mulligans, Mason had never lived anywhere permanent. With his mom thered been a string of trashy apartments and sketchy trailers. With Five Star hed been a hotel nomad. He hadnt had much furniture here at first, but after Christian moved in, hed needed to fill the empty spaces. Hed hired a decorator because he hadnt had the first clue about how to change a room into a home. Hed wanted Christian to feel normal and fit in, but Mason hadnt known what normal looked like. The couches and chairs were deep and comfortable, large enough to handle his tall frame and durable enough to resist the energetic boy Christian had been. The natural-cherry bookcases lining two walls were crammed with his books and CDs, Christians outgrown picture books and paperbacks, board games and puzzles. Photos of him and Christian, their friends, Mulligans, everything he held close were framed in black metal and hung up on the third wall. He looked back to the screen when he heard the boy hed been launch into the second verse. Stage Fright was a cover but it suited his voice and had always set up the audience perfectly for Five Stars own soaring ballad, Live. The screen flashed as the spotlight swung off him and out over the audience. In the brighter light, he caught a shadow and realized his son was standing behind him. He hadnt heard Christian come in. He turned the volume down and the room fell abruptly quiet. You dont think Ive seen that before? Chris stayed behind him. Of course, Mason should have known Chris had seen the movie. But until that very second, yeah, he did think the kid wouldnt have seen it. Sometimes parents were the dumbest people on earth, brains dulled by loving their stupid children too much. I never showed it to you. Its on Netflix. Was it too late to tighten the parental controls on Chriss Internet connection? He tried to think of something to say, but everything he came up with seemed awkward. He was half-afraid hed blurt out something about ice cream again. Most of what passed for conversation between him and Chris these days was uncomfortable small talk strung together with uncomfortable silence, spiced up with occasional bouts of yelling. He rolled his head on the couch cushion and saw that Chris hadnt moved. You want to sit? He was careful not to react when Christian came around the back of the couch and settled deep into the cushions next to him. Why are you watching it? Christian asked. The movie ran on, Five Stars music sounding small. I had a bad night. Zoning board. The neighbors put up a roadblock. Your friend Angels mom is the ringleader. Roxanne Curtis? Mason held up a warning finger. Do. Not. Say. That. Name. Christian grunted. Shes just a woman, Dad. Satan spawn, he said, referring to Roxanne. Mostly. Chris gestured toward the TV where the song was winding down. So does this relax you? What was the word for the opposite of relax? No. Christian kicked his sneakers off and moved the DVD case over so he could put his feet up on the table. I like this picture, he said, holding up the Five StarRising movie box. Sort of doesnt leave you a leg when you complain about my hair, though. Mason surprised himself when he said, I hate that picture. The whole band hated it. On the screen Five Star kicked into Live. His younger self was holding the microphone close, singing with his eyes closed. He used to hang on to the stand like that when the spins got bad. Yeah? See how the stylist put me so far out in front it almost looks like the rest of them are in a different room? Pissed them off. None of them believed me when I said I didnt care. You guys fought a lot. I was a lot younger than them. They were together five years before I started playing with them. Your mom met them, right? Slept with David Giles. He hadnt known that until later. His mom had been fifteen when hed been bornbarely thirty when she met David. She was waitressing at a bar they played when their singer quit. She talked them into giving me a tryout. He shrugged, pushing aside his uncomfortable memories. Guess you and I got the bottom of the mom barrel. Too young. Too poor. It must have sucked for her. Not as bad as being her kid had sucked, but close. Too bad there wasnt a Mulligans for you guys. Yeah. Not that shed have applied anyway. Shed enjoyed her addictionsbooze, men, risktoo much. Want to turn it back up? Chris asked. No, Mason said with no inflection. He didnt think he could stand to have Chris in the room with that. Watching the parts onstage would be bad enough, but the rest How come you wont talk about it with me? I tell you about it all the time. Just the crap, the drugs and the scary stuff and the fighting. Christian gestured to the TV. We never talk about what that felt like. You and your guitar and the audience. When I watch that movie its like Im seeing someone whos not even you. Youve seen it more than once? Dad. Every guy in America whos in a band has watched it more than once. That was depressinghed been so careful to keep Five Star out of Chriss life. What could he say that wouldnt make the kid even more determined to take his shot with his own band? He must have hesitated too long because Christian leaned forward again and picked up the plastic sleeve holding Annas DVDs. Whats this? he asked. City at War? Someone recommended it. Huh. Christian finished reading the back and then tossed the disk back on the table. So youre not going to tell me why youre sitting here in the dark watching a movie about yourself that you had to rent and a documentary about Toledo public schools. Detroit, not Toledo. Chris looked at him directly for the first time since he sat down, and the familiar anger was back. Whatever. Before Mason knew what happened, his son was off the couch and halfway out the door. You cant ever let anything go, can you? Chris spat before he left the room. At least Im not always pissed off! Mason shouted just as Chriss bedroom door slammed. He clicked the volume back up and watched as Five Star scooped up seventy thousand fans crammed into the aisles at Giants Stadium and carried all of them along through Live and straight into Beating Down the Door and Dirty Sweet. He had no idea what he should have said to Chris. That hed never felt better than he had when he was onstage with those guys and those songs and his guitar? That hed been so drunk most nights that he wasnt sure what was real and what hed made up? That he didnt watch this video because it made him ache, literally hurt, with wishing he hadnt missed so much of it? That he wasnt sure hed done a good enough job, made Christian strong enough to resist what hed find out there? That hed never forgive himself if he let his boy go before he was sure hed done everything right to protect him? He hit the remote, cutting the credits off. He punched the open button on the DVD player and slid City at War in. A haunting violin piece played over the opening credits, black-and-white footage of an inner-city neighborhood and then what could easily have been Lakeland but was most likely a Detroit suburb. Kids faces flashed by, on the streets, reflected in the windows of a school bus, and in classrooms and school hallways. Mason settled back into the couch, arms crossed, prepared to find flaws. Nitpicking would suit his mood right now. Unfortunately for him, Annas confidence had been on target. By the time the forty-five-minute film was over, Mason would have been prepared to write a check to support the school bond if it hadnt already passed by a seventy-three-percent margin. Why did it have to be this person making the movie? . . , (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39926274&lfrom=390579938) . Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, , , , PayPal, WebMoney, ., QIWI , .
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