His Secret Past Ellen Hartman Ëèòàãåíò 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 Amanda’s and late nights listening to music at Maxwell’s. 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 hat’s 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 brother’s 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 she’d 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 grandmother’s cooking lessons punctuated by her uncomfortably sharp tongue and handy wooden spoon, he made the pasta dumplings only on special occasions. Anna’s birthday. Jake’s birthday. The anniversary of his nonna’s death when he washed the gnocchi down with homemade wine he bought from the Italian men’s club at the end of the rapidly gentrifying street. Whenever he or Jake wanted to bribe Anna. She let the aroma of Rob’s secret family recipe spaghetti sauce wrap around her, pulling her toward the kitchen. “Honeys, I’m 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 she’d 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 didn’t 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. “Where’s Rob?” she asked. “At the gallery. He’s bringing dessert back later.” “Dessert, too? You’re pulling out all the stops, little brother.” “What’s 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 wasn’t 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 didn’t even flinch. “You want to eat?” “Chicken,” Anna said. “Gnocchi,” he countered. “You’re 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 she’d been fooling around. Fun over, she asked quickly, “You’re not sick, are you? Is it Rob? Jake? Say something.” He shook his head. “I’m fine. Everything is fine. Actually, that’s the thing.” They’d 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 wouldn’t lie to each other. But it was difficult sometimes. “You’re scaring me and the gnocchi’s getting cold, so just say it. We’ll deal with whatever it is.” That seemed to be the permission Jake had needed because he blurted, “Rob’s boss is selling Traction. He offered Rob the right of first refusal and he, um, we, decided to take it. The deal’s final in August.” Anna nodded, encouraging him to go on. Rob managed Traction, a gallery on Hoboken’s main street. She knew he’d wanted more control and now he’d have it. So far she wasn’t sure what the problem was. “I’m going to put up half the money, Anna. Not because Rob needs it, but because I want to. I’m tired of never being home, tired of the schedules and the budgets. Living other people’s lives instead of my own. I loved Blue Maverick, you know that, but I can’t live like that anymore.” Can’t live like that anymore. Anna felt the room spin. Whatever she’d thought Jake might say this wasn’t 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 won’t be as bad now. We can get an assistant full-time.” “The only way it will be easier is if I’m less involved and I can’t do that. I can’t ‘take a step back’ and know that someone else is making decisions for my movies. I need to get all the way out. I can’t do halfway.” Neither of them could. It was part of why Blue Maverick had come so far in such a short time. They’d started with one documentary financed with credit cards and loans from friends. They’d 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 project—finally do what we want. We’ve spent the past four months brainstorming, for Pete’s 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, I’m in. Rob agreed to run the gallery solo so we can do one more together.” “One more? That’s it?” Fine for Jake—he had plans for after. But what did he think she’d do? Blue Maverick had been her life ever since she graduated from college. As if he’d 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 can’t do that and Blue Maverick, too.” She pulled her hand out from under his and stepped back. “And I can’t 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 I’ll 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 Rob’s sauce was abruptly cut off. Life would change just that quickly when Jake quit the company. Without her brother she couldn’t do what she did. And if she couldn’t 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 Steven’s 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 hadn’t stopped, if the kid hadn’t stopped…but they had, thank God, and everything was normal again that fast. One more film. One more shot. Anna remembered the fax she’d 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, Hoboken’s 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 she’d promptly forced herself to forget what he’d 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 he’d 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. She’d figured once Blue Maverick was more solid Jake would want to scale back. Turned out she’d 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 wasn’t angry. “Nonna was the master of the food-for-favor exchange,” he said. “She’d be proud of me for once.” Anna appreciated that he didn’t even try to pretend the gnocchi hadn’t 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 who’d 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. “I’m 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 didn’t have any?” And now she heard concern for her, which touched her again. “I couldn’t eat.” Anna met his eyes. “But if Jake agrees to my plan, I might feel better. If all goes well I’ll 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 wasn’t the show she’d attended but looking anyway. Jake answered on the first ring. “Rob? Have you seen my sister?” “It’s me,” she said, cutting him off before he could say something she didn’t want to hear. “I stopped at Traction to borrow Rob’s phone.” She took a steadying breath as she gathered her courage. Jake said he’d do one last film. One last chance to work with him to find a true story and tell it. Before tonight she’d 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 wasn’t 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. “It’s good, but it’s 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 he’s not the only one.” She nodded. “You’re right. But Blue Maverick is me and you. Maybe I can keep making movies without you and maybe I can’t. Either way, it won’t 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. She’d miss the perfect connection she had with Jake. “I got a fax two weeks ago from a band. They’re 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 that’s 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 one’s 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 there’s 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. It’s like she was just a body and whatever happened to put her there didn’t matter.” “Digging into that isn’t going to help the way you feel about Terri. It wasn’t your fault she got on the bus.” “Jake, she was seventeen and she died in that horrible crash surrounded by strangers who couldn’t 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 shouldn’t 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. They’re not going to talk about that when they’re 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 don’t want to? It’s our job. We’re good at it. Let’s end Blue Maverick the right way.” “I’ll do what you want, Anna,” Jake said. “But I want you to be sure this is the one. I’m in if you want it.” He paused. “Make sure you want it.” “I want it.” Jake’s 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.” “I’m 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, Hoboken’s art house movie theater. Red River was playing. If Montgomery Clift couldn’t distract her, nothing could. She’d look for Terri’s story—her last shot to find it—starting tomorrow. But for tonight, she’d escape. Anna handed her money to Stephen, the Strand’s 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 Anna’s senior film here. “No date tonight?” he asked. “Too many offers, didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.” Stephen liked to tease her about her love life, maybe living vicariously since he’d been in what he called a “dry spell” as long as she’d known him. She didn’t want to find out what that felt like. Her situation was different. She’d broken up with her last boyfriend, Boring Bob, on purpose. “Maybe if you put some effort in you’d 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 isn’t my best effort?” she shot back. “I’m in a dry spell, not blind. You’re hot under all that I’m-a-bad-dresser camo.” He handed her a ticket, a box of popcorn and a large Diet Coke. “Just once I’d like to see you in a dress.” “Dream on,” she said, laughing. In fact, Anna didn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 wasn’t making movies, what could she do? If she didn’t 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 wasn’t in it and they both knew it. When Christian’s 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 Christian’s 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 he’d lined up with the coffee cup across the room. “Get your phone. We’ll 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 he’d lost his short game, too. Mason hoped Christian’s 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 he’d 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 he’d started the place. Back then he’d been newly sober and doing everything he could to be a man worth respecting. Mulligans had seemed like a perfect name for the community he’d 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 he’d 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 he’d 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 hadn’t 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 didn’t 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 couldn’t 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 Chris’s 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 wasn’t sure himself—maybe he just wanted to keep this connection open, have it feel like old times. When Christian didn’t answer, Mason said, “What? I always took you for ice cream when you won in soccer.” Christian gave him one of those looks—the 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 we’re going to be onstage at Madison Square Garden with the Shreds!” He looked dazed. “It’s so awesome.” Christian’s 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 hadn’t 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 Maker’s Mark and whatever drugs happened to be in front of him. His mother hadn’t been concerned with his diet, choosing to concentrate on her share of his earnings and his Maker’s Mark. Remembering what his life had been when he was Chris’s age prodded him on. Being a good parent sometimes meant you had to be a bad guy…although not quite as bad as his son’s mother. Ten years ago she’d dumped the scrawny, scared seven-year-old on his front porch with little more than a hissed “He’s 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 doesn’t change anything. You’re finishing high school. You’re not taking your band on the road until you have your diploma.” Christian’s hands balled into fists. Mason hated that he’d wiped the joy off his kid’s face and replaced it with disgust. “That’s completely unfair. Just because you screwed up doesn’t mean I’m 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 he’d 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 who’d 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 hadn’t been so young, hadn’t latched on to David and Five Star so hard, he wouldn’t have sunk so low when it ended. He’d 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 couldn’t 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. He’d never been much of a thinker. Give him a job and he’d 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 he’d spoken to David, fourteen years ago. Mason had been begging. Been so far out of it, wasted didn’t even begin to describe it. Somehow he’d gotten it into his mind that Five Star would take him back if they heard the song he had been working on. He’d 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 didn’t 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. We’re 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) 555–2413. David So that was what it looked like. The invitation had finally come but it was fourteen years too late. There’d been a time when this was all he’d 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 hadn’t 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 didn’t want that life back. But that didn’t mean that it wasn’t 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 they’d shot during the recording session earlier that day. Five Star’s 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 janitor’s closet. Still, it was privacy, which mattered. She’d never worked on a project where she felt so uncomfortable with the subjects. Even the politicians they’d worked with for campaign ads had more integrity than this group. The only one of the four band members who didn’t set off her liar warning system was Harris Coleman, the keyboard player. As far as Anna could tell in the two months they’d spent with the band, he didn’t talk. Ever. “Blue Maverick rule number 4, Don’t 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. “I’m stating a fact. That’s allowed.” Jake turned the volume on the monitor down slightly. Anna slapped his hand away and shot him an annoyed look. Jake’s my-sister-is-a-big-fat-meanie expression hadn’t changed since he was three years old. “It’s hurting my ears,” he said. Anna paused the video and turned off the monitor. “This is serious. If they keep sucking this much there isn’t 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 interviews—she’d explained it as framing for the story—she’d 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 she’d been on the bus. The only interesting thing she’d 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 Anna’s 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 Terri’s story. “You know what David told me? Mason’s mom was a dancer—in nightclubs. She changed her name legally to Sierra Star. Isn’t that wild? Imagine being a boy, growing up with a stripper name?” Suddenly the door opened behind them and David Giles walked in. He hadn’t 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 he’d worn in his twenties, considerably more of David Giles’s middle spilled over the waistband than seemed comfortable. “Anna!” He came up behind her and rubbed her shoulders, more irritation than massage. “How’s my beautiful director today?” Jake answered, “I’m great. Thanks for asking.” “Oh. Ha. Ha. You wish you were as good-looking as your sister here. Look at this hair—it’s just begging to be touched.” Anna’s 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 she’d ever been to breaking Blue Maverick rule number 18, Don’t Punch the Client. She shifted and rolled the chair to the left, temporarily out of punching distance. “Going over the film?” David’s high, excited voice grated even when he wasn’t 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 wouldn’t see her smile. “We’re jazzed about the stuff we have down,” David went on. “It’s gelling. Organic, you know?” Anna kept her eyes on David—if she looked at Jake she’d laugh. The music was organic in the same way half-cured compost was organic. “We’re glad you’re feeling good.” David shifted, touching his hair with his fingertips, a habit she’d 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 wouldn’t 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 don’t show raw tape to anyone, David. We’ve discussed this before.” “But this is me. Let’s 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. “You’re not seriously thinking about changing the name of the band, David. Even you can’t 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 David’s light. He quietly adjusted the shade on the desk lamp to erase the shadows on Nick’s face. Chet stepped up to Nick. “That was a private conversation. You weren’t supposed to hear it,” he said. David held up his hand. “Okay, Nick. I didn’t mean for you to find out this way, but yeah. I brought up a name change to management and they agree. There’s four of us, not five. Mason’s not around but we’re 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? We’re Five Star. Besides, Mason’s coming back. You got in touch with him. You said he’s 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 didn’t 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 he’ll 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 Nick’s chest. “Got it?” Nick was the oldest member of the band; he’d 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 Nick’s 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. “He’ll be back. Nick’ll be back, you’ll see.” He moved toward the door. “We’re not definitely changing the name. G-Men was just an idea. When Nick comes back we’ll 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 she’d 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. Anna’s 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 doesn’t have a schedule, Anna,” David interrupted her. “You gotta let it flow. Organic, you know?” Anna thought fast. She couldn’t let him go. She hadn’t gotten what she needed yet. “If you’re taking time out of the studio that’s 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, we’re closing down. If you want to meet up, there’s a club on Sixty-fourth—” “No,” she snapped, the thought so repulsive she couldn’t even keep her client manners in place. Obviously irritated by her quick refusal, he said, “We’re 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. That’s all I can say.” “What did Nick mean when he said it was wrong to let him go—” “I told you, we’re 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 wasn’t their movie anyway. Never had been. So what if she hadn’t 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 Terri’s 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 Giles’s 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 wasn’t even in the top twenty. The primary problem was he just couldn’t 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 hadn’t 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 he’d grown up middle class he’d get these people better. Because the fact was, Mason just didn’t 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 daughter’s birthday-party guest list in second grade. The reason his kid wasn’t on her kid’s list? At the Mulligans Opening Day ceremony right before school started, Roxanne confessed her teenage crush on Mason’s teenage self and suggested they re-create the sex-on-the-hood-of-the-Firebird scene from Five Star’s Dirty Sweet video. Mason turned her down flat—wrong 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 Giles’s e-mail, but he was having serious dåj? vu. When he’d 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 he’d helped build, had kicked him out he’d been a kid. He’d been so hurt and lost he hadn’t fought back. He’d made a mess of things back then and the consequences came down on him hard. This was different. He wasn’t 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. She’d learned quickly, he’d give her that. She’d replaced her wardrobe of Kohl’s bargains with designer knockoffs of just high enough quality to help her pass for upper middle class. She’d 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, she’d 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, he’d done the same thing. He understood that costuming supported image and that’s 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, Stephanie’s body language was always carefully controlled; she didn’t make accidental gestures. Right now her stillness and slight forward lean looked polite and professional to the other people in the room. He’d 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 didn’t look away from Roxanne as she whispered back, “She’s 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. Mason’s 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, we’re asking the zoning board to withdraw the permits for Mulligans. It’s time to admit what’s 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 didn’t 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. “We’re ready for your statement.” Stephanie gave him a quick nod. They’d 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 shouldn’t 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 he’d been in front of a crowd of strangers? He used to know how to do this, but he realized now he’d 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, who’d made bad choices and couldn’t 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. “I’m at a loss how to respond to Roxanne’s statements,” he said with a wry smile as he hefted the twenty-page document she’d passed out. He made eye contact with Roger Nelson, an overweight board member with a comb-over, who’d 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. We’re all regular people with regular lives. We’ve chosen to live together to try to make things easier on all of us, but in every other respect we’re just like the rest of you.” He gestured to the round table in the front of the room where he’d put up his table display about Mulligans. The three-panel poster included shots of the ninety-eight people—kids, adults, seniors—who’d 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 who’d 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 didn’t 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 faces—and typing up pages of innuendo—well, she had another think coming. He started to get into it. Roxanne had never been on the cover of Rolling Stone. She’d 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 he’d last entertained a crowd? He’d 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 he’d 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, that’s safe, affordable child care. For some of our seniors, it’s transportation and a feeling of safety during transitional times.” A neighbor, Dan Brown, was on his feet. “That’s all very sweet, but the fact is, Mulligans is a flophouse. It’s full of addicts and alcoholics. It’s a magnet for crime and trash and a drain on our community’s resources.” Mason realized he’d 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. “I’m new to Lakeland so I don’t know anything about this stuff you’re talking about. All I know is, I’m living on the same block as an institution with a ten foot fence and no financials on public record.” Mason hadn’t met this woman before, but he was determined to placate her. “Mulligans is privately funded. We don’t have to publish our financials.” “Privately funded by whom?” she asked. “Me.” Before he could add anything else, she’d turned to the board. “Which is exactly my point. The information I know about Mr. Star is far from encouraging. He’s 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 he’d 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 wasn’t sure who’d 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, Chet—even his own mother—yelled 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 couldn’t hear the insults and lies coming at him from all sides. What the hell had happened? Of the four board members who’d wanted to screw him five minutes ago, three wouldn’t 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 wouldn’t 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.” “There’s no way you could have known. I live next door to them and I didn’t know. It’s been an underground revolution.” He shook his head. It was the same as Five Star—he hadn’t seen that coming, either. “I had no idea they thought we were running a flophouse.” “That hearing wasn’t about what Mulligans is or isn’t. That was about people and their money—flat-out greed.” Mason ran his hand over his short-cropped hair. “I don’t know. Some of it sounded pretty personal.” “Not everyone’s going to be your fan.” “I’m not looking for fans,” Mason protested. “It’s Mulligans. I can’t believe they don’t 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. “We’ll beat this, Mason. Suburbanites don’t 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 she’d be living at Mulligans, his companion in homelessness if they lost the zoning fight. Failure wasn’t a word anyone associated with Stephanie Colarusso. That was good. He went back toward where he’d parked his black Pontiac Firebird. It was the last thing remaining of his rough living Jersey-boy days—he’d 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 he’d 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. “Smoking’s not healthy.” Startled, Mason released the smoke before he was ready. A woman was standing in front of him. He’d been so absorbed he hadn’t heard her come up. She was about Stephanie’s 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 he’d recognize her if she was from the neighborhood—the way she filled her jeans was hard to overlook—but he’d better be civil on the chance she was one of them. “I only take the one drag a day.” “What?” The woman’s 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. “Haven’t 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 he’d have remembered her if they’d 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 didn’t 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 didn’t seem awestruck like a fan. “One drag,” she said. “That’s 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 wasn’tso far out of the question. CHAPTER FOUR HE WALKED AWAY. Anna should have expected that. He’d hung up on her just the day before after ignoring almost fifteen messages she’d 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 hadn’t known about the freckles and she found them oddly arresting. She’d 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 she’d sighed over in high school. His voice was gravel over dark chocolate when he said, “I don’t need company.” “I need a drink, too,” she said, pretending indifference. She’d read about his drinking and other addictions and knew they’d been the reason he got kicked out of Five Star. Listening to him speak about Mulligans in the zoning hearing she’d been surprised to feel grudging respect for the man. For a few years after he’d left the band, Mason had bounced around the celebrity scene and she’d found plenty of tabloid evidence that he’d elevated hedonism to an art form. Then he dropped out of sight. She knew he’d spent time in a rehab place run by Craig Jordan, a former session musician from Nashville. After that there wasn’t much. She’d been lucky to stumble over the notice for the zoning hearing tonight. She hadn’t expected to see Mason. The best she’d hoped for was a word with his lawyer. She’d figured Mulligans was some tax shelter anyway—he lent the place his name and showed up for a charity function twice a year. But she was pretty sure from what she’d heard that he actually lived there. So what was he doing heading out to a bar? If she’d 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 Pete’s? Was it possible she’d 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 I’ve already been,” he said. “It’s like you’re missing the ‘take-the-hint’ gene.” “Occupational hazard,” Anna answered absently, too busy observing him to take offense. She was glad she’d gotten this far, but she needed to concentrate. She’d surprised him tonight and probably wouldn’t 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. “It’s in the rack. We’re 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. “That’s 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 couldn’t 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 he’d owned the stage, she thought, comfortable in his body and his surroundings. He’d looked like that in front of the zoning hearing until chaos broke out and then he’d crumpled. “You’re good,” she offered, confident in her assessment after a childhood of weekends spent at her parents’ country club. “The platform’s 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 don’t suppose you tracked me down to ask me about my golf game, although I’d like to state for the record I’m a scratch golfer on a good day.” “If you’re a scratch golfer, I’m Tiger Woods!” Pete hollered back from the front of the store. “Jealous,” Mason mouthed to her pointing at Pete. He’d 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. She’d need to be careful because she didn’t 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 couldn’t 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. Mason’s eyes weren’t a messing-around color like hazel. They were green like a beer bottle. She’d never been sure if, given the chance, she would have gotten on the bus with Terri that night, if she’d have fallen under the rock and roller’s 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. Anna’s 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 she’d 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 couldn’t 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 wasn’t a seventeen-year-old kid with a crush on a rock star anymore. She wanted his story because it might give her Terri’s. Period. “I want to make you an offer,” she said. She and Jake had done their research looking for his vulnerability. She hoped they’d 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 weren’t quite dimples but then again, definitely were. She leaned back, took her eyes off his mouth, thought about Terri. “You don’t 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. I’ll be polite. Make your offer.” He cocked an eyebrow and waited. “I assume you’re not familiar with my work.” He shook his head. She felt a twinge of disappointment, which surprised her. Why did she care that he hadn’t 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 she’d 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 she’d held a golf club she’d been seventeen, playing in a father-daughter tournament at the country club. After Terri died and her relationship with her parents fractured, they’d barely spoken, let alone played golf. While she lined up her shot, she went ahead with her pitch. “Our music videos are top notch. We’ve won video-music awards. The one we did for Del Sweeney was on TRL for fourteen weeks straight.” Which wasn’t 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 “—I’ll shoot a video for your son’s band free of charge. I guarantee he’ll love it.” She hadn’t expected laughter. His laugh was throaty and full of gravelly undertones like his voice and she wondered how many years he’d 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 wasn’t laughing with her, he was laughing at her. “Nice swing, but, oh, man. You don’t know me very well if you think that’s the bribe that’ll get me into your movie.” She was stung. She and Jake had misjudged, which didn’t happen often. “That’s 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 don’t want to know me. The guy you want? Mason Star, lead singer of Five Star? That guy doesn’t 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 don’t 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 he’d been. “There’s more to the story of what happened. A story like that can’t be left untold.” “I don’t know what you think you know. But here’s your truth. I’m not that guy anymore and digging all that up won’t do anything good for me or anyone else.” “David Giles told me to ask you about the crash.” Mason’s face settled, the light left his eyes. “You talked to him? No.” He shook his head. “Forget I asked that. I’m 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 couldn’t tell. They’d 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 aren’t too thrilled, are they?” He’d 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. It’s the neighbors that killed you. Ms. Tidy Pants and the PTA brigade.” His shoulders slumped. “Roxanne Curtis and her upwardly mobile assassins. If they’d 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, I’ll 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 I’ll start making one for Mulligans right away.” He shifted the poster and took the DVDs but didn’t look at them. “I appreciate the offer, Anna, I do. And I can honestly say I admire your confidence. But I’m 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.” She’d meant the movie, but he’d misinterpreted her. Deliberately or not, she couldn’t tell. When he turned left outside the shop, she let him go. She hoped that last offer had been the right one. The way he’d 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 he’d stirred up in her. CHAPTER FIVE MASON STARED at the screen. He couldn’t believe he’d ever been the kid who was standing center stage singing the hell out of “Stage Fright.” He’d 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. Couldn’t 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. He’d come home expecting to clear up some paperwork and get to bed, but he’d been too restless. Angry about the zoning board, pissed off at David and his e-mail and really mad about Anna’s offer. What the hell was David thinking talking to anyone about the crash? Telling her to come here? Without the zoning fiasco, he’d 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 he’d lost something after Five Star. Now he couldn’t even get a suburban zoning board to leave him alone. The last time people turned on him and he couldn’t fix it, he’d lost everything. What if he couldn’t fix this and this time Mulligans was the price? Anna had said her movie would save Mulligans. But he’d have to talk about the crash. She’d said people wanted the truth about it. He’d never told the truth. He’d had his reasons then and he still thought he’d 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 didn’t like to go, thinking about the tour that led to the crash…and 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 there’d been a string of trashy apartments and sketchy trailers. With Five Star he’d been a hotel nomad. He hadn’t had much furniture here at first, but after Christian moved in, he’d needed to fill the empty spaces. He’d hired a decorator because he hadn’t had the first clue about how to change a room into a home. He’d wanted Christian to feel normal and fit in, but Mason hadn’t 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, Christian’s 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 he’d 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 Star’s 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 hadn’t heard Christian come in. He turned the volume down and the room fell abruptly quiet. “You don’t think I’ve 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 wouldn’t 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.” “It’s on Netflix.” Was it too late to tighten the parental controls on Chris’s Internet connection? He tried to think of something to say, but everything he came up with seemed awkward. He was half-afraid he’d 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 hadn’t 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 Star’s music sounding small. “I had a bad night. Zoning board. The neighbors put up a roadblock. Your friend Angel’s mom is the ringleader.” “Roxanne Curtis?” Mason held up a warning finger. “Do. Not. Say. That. Name.” Christian grunted. “She’s 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 doesn’t 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 didn’t 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 hadn’t known that until later. His mom had been fifteen when he’d been born—barely 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 wasn’t a Mulligans for you guys.” “Yeah.” Not that she’d have applied anyway. She’d enjoyed her addictions—booze, men, risk—too much. “Want to turn it back up?” Chris asked. “No,” Mason said with no inflection. He didn’t 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 won’t 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 it’s like I’m seeing someone who’s not even you.” “You’ve seen it more than once?” “Dad. Every guy in America who’s in a band has watched it more than once.” That was depressing—he’d been so careful to keep Five Star out of Chris’s life. What could he say that wouldn’t 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 Anna’s DVDs. “What’s 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 you’re not going to tell me why you’re 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 can’t ever let anything go, can you?” Chris spat before he left the room. “At least I’m not always pissed off!” Mason shouted just as Chris’s 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 he’d never felt better than he had when he was onstage with those guys and those songs and his guitar? That he’d been so drunk most nights that he wasn’t sure what was real and what he’d made up? That he didn’t watch this video because it made him ache, literally hurt, with wishing he hadn’t missed so much of it? That he wasn’t sure he’d done a good enough job, made Christian strong enough to resist what he’d find out there? That he’d never forgive himself if he let his boy go before he was sure he’d 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, Anna’s 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 hadn’t already passed by a seventy-three-percent margin. Why did it have to be this person making the movie? Êîíåö îçíàêîìèòåëüíîãî ôðàãìåíòà. Òåêñò ïðåäîñòàâëåí ÎÎÎ «ËèòÐåñ». Ïðî÷èòàéòå ýòó êíèãó öåëèêîì, êóïèâ ïîëíóþ ëåãàëüíóþ âåðñèþ (https://www.litres.ru/pages/biblio_book/?art=39926274&lfrom=390579938) íà ËèòÐåñ. Áåçîïàñíî îïëàòèòü êíèãó ìîæíî áàíêîâñêîé êàðòîé Visa, MasterCard, Maestro, ñî ñ÷åòà ìîáèëüíîãî òåëåôîíà, ñ ïëàòåæíîãî òåðìèíàëà, â ñàëîíå ÌÒÑ èëè Ñâÿçíîé, ÷åðåç PayPal, WebMoney, ßíäåêñ.Äåíüãè, QIWI Êîøåëåê, áîíóñíûìè êàðòàìè èëè äðóãèì óäîáíûì Âàì ñïîñîáîì.