Excerpt-Cover Me Up
Book One: The Bridgestones Of Montana
The cellphone should have woken him, but it was the loud banging on the door that cut through Cal Bridgestone’s whisky-soaked dreams. With a groan he swore under his breath and slid one eye open. A mess of blond hair and the kind of tanned skin only achieved from a spray bottle filled his vision. He blinked again and slowly rolled onto his other side, only to find another warm body splayed across the bed. This one a brunette. Short pixie hair, long muscular legs and in possession of more tattoos than any man he knew.
A crooked smile slid across his face. She’d been bendy, that one.
The banging got louder, and he frowned, moving the snoring brunette enough for him to slide onto a seated position at the end of a bed that could fit five. Easily. Brain a little foggy, he gave his head a shake (wrong thing to do) and swore as pain radiated across his forehead. It took a bit, but his eyes adjusted, and Cal peered through the gloom at the clothes scattered across the floor. A sliver of sunlight had managed to find its way inside from between the heavy blinds that fell across the lavish suite, and he spied a lacy pink bra hung from the chandelier over the bed. As his eyes sharpened some more and moved across the room, he saw the matching undies, among the empty bottles of booze that cluttered the large coffee table, or as his housekeeper Janet called it, an occasional table. Champagne glasses, one on its side, were perched on top of the bar along with an empty liquor bottle, and there appeared to be some broken glass on the floor nearby.
“Damn,” he muttered, it had been one hell of a night. His frown deepened as he got to his feet and searched for his boxers. He found them bundled up in the corner where the blonde had pulled them off the night before, and after sliding them on, ran his hands through the tangle of hair at his nape.
He wondered where the boys were, his guitarist Matt and drummer Ollie in particular, because they’d come back after the show. A small groan escaped his lips as another round of pain shot through his head. It could have been because of what undoubtedly was going to be an epic hangover, but he was betting it was on account of a renewed banging at the door.
He was getting too old for this shit.
He swore under his breath as he made his way through the suite and over to the door. “Calm down.” He opened it just as Ivy Wilkens his best friend and PA was about to kick the damn thing in. “What the hell?”
“I’ve been calling your cell for two hours.” She was pissed and not trying to hide it.
“I don’t know where my cell is.”
“Shocking.” The sarcasm, man it was heavy.
He had nothing for that. Not that it mattered because she went on, her voice rising with each word.
“And why are the phones in your suite not working?”
He winked at her because he knew it would piss her off even more. “I had a little party last night and told them I didn’t want to be disturbed.”
She gave him a look that was part exasperation and part something else. If he was fully awake and in charge of his faculties, he might have been concerned about the something else, but as it was, Cal’s frown deepened. It was too early for her to be on fire about something he’d done between the show the night before and right now. Heck, it was just normal shenanigans as far as he could remember. The boys in the band, a couple of girls and a whole lot of Mister Daniels.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
She held his gaze for all of two seconds, before her eyes slid from his and she moved past him, toward the bed, which was perched on a pedestal at the far end of the suite. Cal grabbed a water bottle from the bar and waited for the shitstorm to hit. The girls would want to stay—they always did, but Ivy wasn’t in the mood. That much was clear.
She found the remote for the blinds and sunlight filled the room as she walked over to the bed, throwing clothes at the girls and telling them to get the hell up as she did so. Neither one of them listened, though the brunette managed a middle finger salute.
Shit, this was gonna be good.
Ivy found a pinkish sparkly boot and threw it at the bed, missing little pixie cut by an inch and hitting the wall with a thud.
“You bitch!” The woman yelled. “If that hit me I could have you charged with assault.”
She wasn’t wrong, but what she didn’t know was that back in the day Ivy was the best damn shortstop the Wolverines had ever seen and she could have hit her square in the face. If she’d wanted to, that is.
Ivy said nothing. She picked up the second boot and it landed in the same spot as the first. Almost instantly there was a shriek that cut through the fog in Cal’s head, followed by a string of profanity that would impress most of the men he knew—and they could swear like truckers. He took a swig of water, impressed with pixie cut’s vocabulary, and after a bunch more swearing, and a whole lot of shouting, she stumbled off the bed, clutching a shimmery blue dress across her breasts. The blonde finally poked up her head and moved hair from her face, eyes already seductive and on the prowl as they slid from Cal to Ivy.
“What’s going on?” she asked, stretching her arms far above her head and putting her silicone filled double D’s on display. “Why you have to be so loud?”
“I’m guessing you’re the pink dress.” Ivy tossed a few slips of material onto the bed. “Mr. Bridgestone would like to thank you for accompanying him back from the show, but it’s time to go.”
“Cal,” the blonde said making one syllable stretch into two. She turned to him; her voice raspy from what he guessed was a pack a day habit. An exaggerated pout made her overly plump mouth look ridiculous. “You said we could go to the next show with you.”
“That sure would have been fun but, darlin’,” he pointed to the slim redhead whose narrowed eyes were about to spew bullets. “Ivy here says it’s time to shut down our little party and well, she kind of runs things.” He kept his tone light, but truthfully in the harsh light of day he was embarrassed for Ivy to be here with him.
The blonde shot a hateful look at Ivy before turning back to him. “You’re Cal Fucking Bridgestone. Who cares what some dumb chick with glasses the size of coke bottles says?”
“Well now,” he said as he pulled his jeans off the edge of the sofa. “Why’d you have to go and insult Ivy like that?” He zipped up, and nodded to the door, his eyes wintry, his tone sharp. “Like the lady said, it’s time to leave.”
The girls knew he meant business. “You’re an asshole,” pixie cut bit out on her way by.
“I’ve been called worse.”
“He sure has,” Ivy retorted for good measure. “By me.”
He didn’t give the blonde a chance to say anything and slammed the door shut behind her, then slowly cracked his neck and stretched.
“You have awful taste in groupies, you know that right?”
Cal ignored Ivy’s comment. He’d give his left pinky for a bacon and egg.
“Now what the hell is so important you had to interrupt round two before it even had a chance to start?” He turned back to her and immediately went still. Ivy’s blue eyes, large and magnified by her glasses, were somber as they gazed across the room at him. For the first time he noticed her rumpled clothes, and the fact that she’d pulled on her top so quick she hadn’t taken the time to button it up properly. Her long auburn hair was a tangled mess, secured on top of her head in a loose knot that would fall apart with one tug.
“Ivy?’ He took two steps toward her and paused, his gut turning over as her mouth opened and the words spilled from between her lips.
“There’s been an accident.” Her voice was halting and low, hitting a timbre that was somewhere between bad news and really bad news. “Your brother.”
His gut clenched, an involuntary movement that brought with it a roll of nausea and the kind of sweat that covered his body in an instant sheen. He could have blamed it on the tequila, or the Jack, but that would have been too easy. This was a visceral reaction because he knew what was coming would be about as far away from good as you could get.
“How bad?” he asked slowly, his tongue so thick it was hard to swallow.
“Bad.” Ivy was never one to sugar coat.
He looked out the window and saw a plane slice through the bright blue sky, a tail of smoke fading in its wake. In the distance Sydney Harbor glistened like diamonds and the sight of it reminded Cal that he was as far away from Montana as a man could get.
“Who?” he managed to say as he exhaled and glanced Ivy’s way. He had two brothers and two sisters. His youngest brother, Ryland, was a senior in high school, and the other…
Benton Bodean Bridgestone. Bent was the oldest and had eight years on him. He’d practically raised Cal and the rest of the Bridgestones after their mother died, and as a youngster Cal had worshipped Bent. They’d been so damn tight and closer than anyone he’d known, but life had a way of making some things that seem certain, break apart, and Cal hadn’t seen or talked to his brother in nearly six years. Not since that Christmas Eve when punches were thrown on both sides and things were said, the kind of things you don’t take back.
The kind of things that cut through flesh and bone to become unseen silent wounds that settle in hearts and souls and never heal. Regret, the kind that chokes a man up and fills his throat with sawdust, made it impossible to speak. Cal could only stare at Ivy wordlessly, waiting for the hammer to fall.
“We need to get you back to the states right away. I’ve got a private jet waiting. Vivian should be there when we arrive, but no one can get hold of Scarlett. She’s apparently backpacking somewhere in Europe. I’ve been in touch with her friends, and I’ve left messages so as soon as she checks in, which,” Ivy paused her forehead scrunched, “I think will be by tomorrow latest we’ll get her home. Don’t worry about the rest of the tour dates, we’ve already rescheduled, and a press release will go out after we’ve arrived in Montana. But I want you to have some time before it all hits. It’s good that we had three days between shows so no one needs to know yet.”
“When did this happen?” his voice was so low he barely heard his own words.
Ivy hesitated, and then whispered. “Two days ago.”
Anger flared as his head shot up. “Why the hell am I just finding out now?”
“I don’t know,” she replied softly. “I don’t have any details other than it’s important to get back as soon as we can.”
“Because he’s not gonna make it.”
“Let’s not think like that. Let’s just get home and then we can see where things are at.”
Ivy was right. There was no use speculating when didn’t know jack shit. His vision blurred at the thought of Bent lying in a hospital bed. It twisted him up in a way that should have been surprising considering the state of things, but it wasn’t. How many times had he grabbed up his cell to call Bent? To tell him his last album had gone triple platinum in a week. That he held the record for the most downloaded songs ever?
Hell, just a month ago he’d bought a new stallion, a beautiful paint he planned to breed at his new spread in California, and he’d dialed the house before he knew what he was doing. When he heard Bent’s voice on the other end, he’d froze up and all those words tangled inside him like a ball of thread wound so tight it would never come apart. And like a twelve-year-old idiot he’d hung up without saying anything.
Him. A grown ass man of thirty. And now he might not get a chance to speak to his brother again.
He glanced down at his bare feet and spied his boots in the corner, near the bar. He was halfway across the room before he stopped cold. But Ivy knew what he was going to ask before he spoke the words, and as he rasped, “What about Daisy May?”
“She’s still not in the picture,” she said slowly. “No one has heard from her in about four years.”
He had more questions but couldn’t seem to get them out. What about little Nora?
That regret inside him was starting to get big. So damn big he could barely swallow. He said nothing more and got dressed, and while Ivy gathered the rest of his stuff, his guitar, and some clothes, he emptied the contents of his stomach in the garbage can.
A bodyguard met them outside the suite and helped them carry everything down to the lobby, where even at this time of day a crowd of fans lay in wait. He ignored them all, which was not the norm, and slipped into a large black SUV that would take him to a private airstrip outside of the city. To a jet that would take him back to Montana. Back to the Bridgestone Ranch. To a brother who was broken and maybe dying. To a father he had no relationship with. A family scattered with one sister in Alaska and the other in New York City when she wasn’t galivanting around the world. All of them frayed ends of a thread that were blowing in the wind, unspooling faster than they realized.
Cal was headed back to a past he’d been running from all his life it seemed. A past rich with heartache and enough tragedy to fuel the songs he wrote. Songs that had made him the number one country star in the world and gave him everything he thought he’d ever wanted.
And yet as he climbed the stairs of the private plane and took a window seat far from Ivy and his publicist and manager, he couldn’t help but think that he’d got it all wrong. None of this felt right or good or satisfying. Because at the end of the day he was just a cowboy singing songs into the dark, alone.
He took out his cell and ran his fingers over his contacts, eyes lingering on a name, thinking of a woman who disliked him more than anyone on the planet. A woman who had every right to feel that way.
He should just leave her alone. That would be the right thing to do. Wouldn’t it? The plane’s engines rumbled beneath him and before he could talk himself out of it, Cal hit up a number he hadn’t called since before he’d left Montana. The fact it was still in his contacts said something. It rang several times, and he was embarrassed to admit his relief that it hadn’t picked up. But then the ringing stopped, and he heard a whisper of memory as her voice filled his ear.
“You on your way?” Millie Sue Jenkins was direct and to the point. It seemed some things never changed.
“I’m in Australia.”
“I know. I was the one who called Ivy.” That surprised him. There was a pause, a quiet that stretched uncomfortably. She wasn’t gonna make this easy.
“Just don’t come through the front doors of the hospital. We all know you like to cause a ruckus, but this isn’t the time.”
The line went dead, and he stared at it for a good long while. Long enough for the engines to ramp up as the plane began to taxi down the runway. Once they were in the air, he tucked the phone back into his pocket and tried not to think about home and Bent and the ranch. About his dad and all that pain and regret.
Mostly he tried not to think of Millie—hell, he tried real hard—but as the plane sliced through the blinding sunlight, it wasn’t Sydney Harbor that filled his view. It was auburn hair, sky-blue eyes, and cinnamon freckles that kissed the bridge of a nose he knew better than his own. It was a mouth made for sin or singing or pretty much every fantasy he’d ever had as a young buck. A mouth that used to smile for him.
But that all ended the day he left, and he was pretty sure hell would freeze over before he saw her light up again. At least, not for him.
“Shit,” he muttered. He’d really made a mess of things. He closed his eyes somewhere over the Pacific Ocean and fell into a deep, trouble sleep. He had no way of knowing about the storm he was headed into, because if he had, he might have turned the damn plane around and stayed as far away from Montana as he could. Sent his well wishes to Bent and offered whatever he could from a remote location.
But fate has a way of playing hard with those who leave carnage in their wake. Those touched by the sun and good fortune and the kind of things Cal took for granted. She had a way of saying, time’s up buddy, it’s your turn to deal.
And for Cal Bridgestone, that time was now. He just didn’t know it yet.