Since we’re getting so close to release date, I thought I’d give you guys a little sneak peek of what I’ve been working on. This is the second chapter in book 6 of the Ransom series, The Ransome Brothers. Enjoy!
I sit alone at the bar, drinking a beer, more than two thousand miles from my boys, watching them on television.
Reed is off, I think, tilting my head toward the screen as if that might help me to hear better over the noise of the bar. Yeah, definitely off. Not much, barely noticeable to most people. But I’m not most people. And I always notice that kind of thing.
I squint at the screen, trying to get a clear view of my oldest son, but the camera is focused on Daltrey at the piano. He looks pissed, I think. In fact, they all look pretty pissed. Cash is scowling, Lennon’s head is bent over his bass, his hair covering his eyes, and Daltrey has that flat expression on his face that says he would rather be anywhere else. And Reed…I don’t really want to think about how Reed looks right now as he subjects his drum kit to the frustration and anger I know he’s feeling.
Levi, the tour manager, is in New York with the band tonight, and probably knows what’s wrong with them, why they all seem like they’d rather be at a funeral than up there playing. I sigh, flexing my fingers against the bar so I don’t reach for my phone. I’m not supposed to be calling Levi. I’m supposed to be giving them space.
“Oh, I love this band,” a girl says, sliding up onto a stool further down the bar. “Aren’t they amazing?”
Her friend nods eagerly as she joins her. “So amazing. And gorgeous. Just look at Daltrey.”
“I’m more of a Cash girl myself,” the first girl giggles. “Those arms.”
They both sit quietly for a moment, watching. “They sound great,” the second one says. “Hey, didn’t you see them live last year?”
“Best concert ever,” the first girl says. She gestures at the TV screen. “I mean, listen to them. They’re crazy good live.”
I shake my head. It’s always hard for me to remember that the things I pick up on aren’t necessarily obvious to everyone else. I look at those boys and can read every emotion on their faces. Can hear every minor mistake they make. The average fan just sees a great band playing one of their hits.
“Need another beer?”
“Sure, thanks.” I slide my empty bottle across the bar, still not taking my eyes off the screen. They’re nearing the bridge and Cash had been having trouble with it the entire time we were in Europe.
“You must be a pretty big fan,” the bartender says as she places another Heineken in front of me. “You’ve barely blinked.”
I snort. Big fan. Yeah, you could say that.
My phone rings in my pocket and I grab it, eyes still glued to the TV. “Will,” I say.
“You’re watching?” Levi asks, and I exhale in relief. We had decided it would be better if I gave the boys some distance, but Levi must know it’s driving me crazy.
“Yeah. They sound good.”
“Yeah.” Levi’s quiet for a moment. “Reed’s off.”
“I didn’t want to mention it.”
Levi chuckles. “Not much point in me telling them. No performances on the horizon.” He clears his throat. “So we’re heading right to the airport from here. Anything you want them to know before they go their separate ways?”
I try to push away the stab of pain that comes with his words. It’s bad enough that I need someone else to keep me up to date on the comings and goings of my own kids, but it’s even worse that I need to rely on Levi to pass along information to them.
My sons aren’t taking my calls.
I can tell from Levi’s tone that the younger man is feeling sorry for me. Up on the TV, the camera zooms in on Daltrey’s hands.
“What’s Dalt’s problem?” I ask, unable to help myself. “Reed and Lennon being pissed off, I get…”
“Daisy stayed in Nashville with the baby,” Levi says. “It’s the first time he’s left them. He wasn’t thrilled about it.”
There’s another stab, this one deeper. “And Cash?”
“I think Cash is just annoyed that the rest of them are being pissy.”
“Any fights lately?”
Levi snorts. “Not any more than usual.”
“Just keep them from killing each other, Levi.”
“I always do.” He clears his throat again. “So…anything to pass along?”
“Just remind them of the conference call coming up.”
“Sure.” He’s quiet for a long moment. Up on the screen the boys are finishing up. “You gonna be on that call?”
I release the breath I’ve been holding. “I guess we’ll play that by ear.” I watch as they leave their instruments, gathering in the center of the stage to take their bows, arms around each other’s shoulders, the way they finish every performance. “Thanks for checking in, Levi. You have a good week off.”
“Will do.” He pauses. “Try to relax, okay, Will? You could use it.”
“Sure.” It’s a bullshit answer. Relaxing has never been something I’m particularly good at, and Levi knows it. “Safe flight, Son.”
“Talk to you soon.”
I end the call, slipping the phone back into my pocket. The TV is on a commercial now. I look down at my bottle. I should have gone for something stronger.
As if reading my mind, the bartender appears in front of me. “You made fast work of that one,” she says, reaching for my bottle. “Another?”
“I’ll take a whiskey. Neat. Glenfiddich if you have it.”
She makes a scathing noise in the back of her throat. “Take a look around, buddy. Do you think this is the kind of place that carries Glenfiddich? You can have Jack Daniels.”
Something in her wry tone has me looking up, really taking her in for the first time. It’s hard to tell in the dim light of the bar, but I think she might be about my age. So it’s a little surprising to notice the small silver hoop in her nose. She wears her hair in a short pixie cut—it suits her heart-shaped face. Tight jeans and a bright purple tank top show off her curves and I’m surprised to feel a rush of attraction. It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced that particular emotion. One of many things I just don’t have much time for.
She crosses her arms now, eyebrows raised. “So did you want the Jack Daniels or did you want to stare at me some more?”
Embarrassed, I straighten on the stool. “Jack would be great. Straight up.”
She taps the bar top with her palms. “Coming right up.”
I try not to watch her walk away—really, what’s the point? I have much bigger things to worry about at the moment. It’s difficult though. There’s something about the way she walks that makes me want to keep looking.
“Not bad,” a familiar voice says. I don’t bother to turn my head as Lee Lamar slides up onto the stool next to me. From the tone of his voice, I’m pretty sure my friend is also checking out the waitress. “Think she’d go for me?”
Annoyance prickles at me. “Not even for a minute.”
“You have no faith in me, old man.”
I finally turn to face Lee. “You’re late.”
“Couldn’t find the place.” Lee looks around the bar, his nose crinkling in distaste. “This is where you wanted to meet?”
I guess I can see where Lee is coming from. The Purple Cat does seem a little…odd. Though it definitely has a beachy vibe to it, little about the place fits in with the sleek Malibu neighborhood where it’s located. With its teak furniture, the turquoise and pink paint, bright paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and garish colored tin flamingos and dolphins hanging on the walls, it feels more like a kitschy Florida beach bar, the kind of place in which you might expect to hear an overabundance of Jimmy Buffett blaring from the speakers.
“It’s half a block from my condo,” I point out.
“Well, I guess if they have cold beer I’m not complaining.” Lee grins as the waitress approaches again, my drink in her hand. “Hey, gorgeous. How’re you doing tonight?”
She settles a flat expression on him. “Pretty tired, actually,” she says, sliding me my whiskey. “I’ve been busy castrating all the slime ball creeps who think they can hit on me.”
I snort as Lee’s eyes go wide with surprise and something that looks a lot like fear. This lady is definitely more than he bargained for.
“Please ignore him,” I tell the waitress. “They don’t usually let him out of the zoo.”
She shoots me a quick smile before turning back to Lee and it’s almost as if the room tilts, suddenly. Damn. That’s some smile. “What are you drinking, zoo boy?”
“Miller,” he mumbles.
“I’ve got Bud,” she says, already moving off to get the beer, not bothering to wait for him to agree.
“I like her,” Lee says under his breath. “Why do I always like the ones who are mean to me?”
“Because you subconsciously feel guilty for the way you treat women and you think you should be punished?” I suggest.
Lee makes a face at me. “God, you’re probably right. Still, she’s pretty hot…”
His voice trails off as the waitress returns, and I smirk. Lee is obviously afraid of her. And as I let my eyes settle on her no-nonsense expression, I can’t really blame him.
“You guys want food?” she asks, leaning against the bar, her hip jutting out to her side. I struggle to keep my eyes off that curve. “Burgers here are pretty good.”
“Burgers would be great,” I say, picking up my drink as I slide off the stool. I nod towards one of the booths at the back of the room. We’re going to need some privacy for this conversation. And I’m starting to think I could use some space from the increasingly distracting waitress. “We’ll be back there.”
“Gill,” she bellows over her shoulder. “Two burgers and fries.”
“You got any turkey burgers?” Lee asks, patting his stomach. “Trying to watch the old figure.” The waitress crosses her arms, looking at him, and Lee clears his throat. “Or, you know, whatever you have will be fine.”
“They’ll be out in a minute,” she says, turning away to wipe the counter. I’m still laughing at him when we reach the booth.
“I like her too,” I tell my friend. “I like how she doesn’t take your shit.”
“Whatever,” Lee says, sliding into the booth. “You want to hear this or not?”
I take a long drink of my whiskey, having the feeling I’m going to need it. “I want to hear it.”
Lee leans across the table, his face uncharacteristically grim. “They’re not happy.”
I scowl. “Shit, Lee, I knew that.”
Lee holds my gaze. “I think you guys need to lawyer up, Will.”
My stomach sinks. I’d been hoping it wouldn’t come to that. “Tell me.”
So my old friend—and inside source at the band’s record label—lays it out for me. The suits are pissed, and rightly so. They’re out a ton of money on the canceled world tour, and the band’s refusal to even talk about rescheduling is not helping to soothe the anger.
“They understood about altering the schedule after Lennon’s accident,” Lee says, not meeting my eye. There’s a pang in my chest at the word accident, like always, but I push it aside. I can’t let myself go down that road right now. “They felt like the limited Europe tour was a good compromise at the time. But the plan was always to get on the road for a full tour after that. And now they’re not hearing anything from your end…they’re talking about protecting their investment. And that means lawyers and contract fights and all that nasty stuff.”
I release a breath, leaning back in the booth. I obviously knew the label was upset—Ransom is currently in breach of contract, and everyone takes that shit pretty seriously. But I’d hoped that between me and Lee we’d be able to hold them off for the foreseeable future. At least until things are more settled.
“I’m assuming,” Lee says, his tone cautious, “that you guys haven’t discussed touring lately?”
I could have laughed. The thought of approaching the band with plans for a tour is ridiculous. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be getting out of that particular meeting without broken bones.
“I’ll take that as a no,” Lee says, watching my face. “Do the boys even know anything about this?”
“No,” I say sharply. “And I want to keep it that way. They have…there’s enough on their plates right now, okay?”
Lee is quiet for a moment. He doesn’t know all the details of what happened with the Ransome family over the last few months, but he knows enough not to push. “Look, there’s one thing I can think of that might pacify them,” he says, and from his expression I can tell that I’m not going to like hearing whatever he has to say.
The waitress appears at our table then, two plates in her hand, and Lee beams up at her with what he clearly thinks is an enticing grin. “He doesn’t give up, does he?” she asks me, setting our plates down.
“Hardly ever,” I say, surprised to find that I’m smiling at her in spite of the way my stomach is still churning from the contract talk. “It’s kind of sad, really.”
“Pathetic,” she agrees. “You guys need anything else?”
She nods once and heads back to the bar, both of us watching as she walks away. I manage to pull my attention away first, snapping my fingers in front of Lee’s eyes. “You were saying?”
Lee shakes his head, as if trying to clear it—there really is something about that waitress—and reaches for his burger. “Tommy was floating the idea of a residency.”
“What?” Half the patrons in the bar turn to us at the sound of my outraged cry.
Lee rolls his eyes. “Just listen.”
“They’re not doing a residency,” I snap. “What the hell, Lee? You think I’m going to let them end up in some Vegas dive like a bunch of washed up lounge singers?”
“No one said anything about Vegas,” Lee says calmly. “Though I should point out that entire scene has changed, Will. These pop stars that have set up shop down there are top of the game, you know? We’re talking tens of millions of dollars. Britney Spears, Lady Gaga—”
“Ransom aren’t pop stars,” I growl.
Lee holds up his hand. “Fine. But, again, we’re not talking Vegas. I’m just saying, residency is a viable option for top-tier talent. Springsteen is doing several months in New York, you know. And Billy Joel is doing the same at Madison Square Garden. We’re talking dozens of shows.”
I rub my chin. “Would it have to be New York?”
“Not necessarily. LA would probably be an option. Couple years ago Prince set up at the Forum for twenty-one shows. The band becomes the destination, you know? And Ransom has the pull to fill a stadium for an extended run.” Lee’s eyes drift down to the table. “Either way, there’s talk about tying it into a special.”
“We’ve recorded concerts before,” I point out.
Lee still doesn’t meet my eyes. “They were thinking some behind-the-scenes stuff—”
“No reality show,” I bark.
“Not a reality show,” Lee says quickly. “More like…a documentary. A full on Ransom special. This could be big bucks, Will. That would appease the label. They have some interest from HBO and Netflix…”
I give him a sharp look. “They’re that far ahead in the planning and they haven’t talked to me yet?”
Lee sighs. “They’re talking to you now. I didn’t come here out of the goodness of my heart, buddy.”
I shake my head. “They sent you.”
Lee offers a weak smile. “Sorry I didn’t tell you earlier. I wanted to get a sense of where you were before you put on that dealing-with-the-label front you’re so good at.”
I suppose I can’t blame the guy. I have a reputation as a hard-ass when it comes to this stuff. But it’s always been my job to stand up for my kids, to get the best for them. And that’s stillmy job, even now. Even if none of them want to talk to me.
I release a sigh, rubbing at my forehead. I always seem to have a headache lately. “Just talk to them,” Lee says. “They’re smart boys. You know they don’t wantto be in breach of contract.”
They don’t even know they are, I think.
Lee’s still talking. “This would get them off the hook and still let them be settled somewhere, right? Isn’t that what this is all about? You told me they needed a little consistency.”
“I said they needed a break.”
Lee shrugs. “A string of concerts in the same place sounds like a break to me. They won’t have to be on a bus. No airplanes. They can sleep in the same bed every night, get to know one city. Doesn’t seem too bad.”
There was a time when the boys probably would have jumped at the chance to perform in one place for an extended period of time. But that was before everything got so fucked up. Now I don’t know if they’ll be willing to play a single show. Just look at their TV performance tonight—they’re pissed and they’re tired and playing music is the last thing on any of their minds.
“Will.” Lee sets down his burger. “Tell them what’s going on. See what they say.” He waits until I make eye contact. “But you should do it soon, because the big guys are going to want to bring it up during the conference call.”
I release a breath. Less than two weeks. Great. Plenty of time to get my kids to forgive me for lying to them about their mother for their entire lives and putting their brother’s life in danger. Sure.
“I will,” I tell Lee.
He seems more relieved than I would have thought and I wonder just how angry the label actually is. We both turn our attention to our burgers, not talking while we eat. I have no clue how I’m going to get my boys in the same room as me. Lennon will be the easiest, I figure. Maybe Daltrey, too. But I have a feeling Reed will flat out refuse.
Maybe I can get Levi to talk to them, I think bitterly.
“Hey,” Lee says suddenly, dropping his burger. “I totally forgot to ask—how’s the baby, gramps?”
I look up to see the waitress returning with fresh drinks, one eyebrow raised, a smirk on her face. I’m not sure if I should be annoyed at Lee for letting that detail fly in front of the very attractive woman—or if I should be grateful that she’s chosen this moment to approach. Because now maybe I won’t have to admit to my old friend that I haven’t seen my granddaughter since she went home from the hospital.
“This old man?” Lee asks, grinning at her. “Of course he’s a grandfather. He whittles wood on the front porch and yells at the kids to keep it down and everything.”
The waitress hands me my drink, meeting my gaze as she smiles. “Funny. I wouldn’t say you look anywhere near old enough to be a grandfather.”
There’s something in her tone, something almost flirtatious, that I find I like very much. Even more than I like the sullen expression on Lee’s face—he still isn’t on her good side.
“The baby is only a few months old,” I tell her.
She puts her hands on her hips. “Well? Do I get to see this baby or not?”
I grab my phone from my pocket, pulling up a close-up photo of Rose in the hospital, trying not to think about how long ago that was. The waitress leans over my shoulder to look and I catch a whiff of her perfume, something flowery, almost delicate, the last thing I would have expected from this take-no-prisoners chick. Somehow that makes me like it even more.
“Aww,” she says, looking down at the picture. “What a sweetie. Name?”
She looks over at me, her face very close in this position, and narrows her eyes a little. “I can see the resemblance, gramps.”
I’m finding it kind of hard to breathe with her this close, and I wonder what in the hell is wrong with me. I’m way too old to be getting breathless over a woman.
“Look at that hair,” she’s looking at the photo again. “Babies don’t usually have so much, you know.”
My eyes go back to the photo, that familiar stab of pain shooting through my chest. “She looks like her dad,” I murmur. “He had the exact same hair when he was a baby.” I can still see Daltrey the day he was born, the image burned into my brain. That shock of white hair, so much like Reed’s. I’d brought all the boys up to the hospital to see their little brother, lining them up in a love seat, placing the baby in Reed’s arms. Daltrey had cried, tiny Lennon covering his ears, while Reed sat stock-still, like he was afraid to move. Cash just looked bored.
“Looks like you’ve got a lot to be proud of,” Ruby says. And then she’s placing her hand on my shoulder, the pressure soft and gentle, and I have the strangest thought that she could somehow hear the pain in my words.
“Yeah,” I mumble, putting the phone back in my pocket while she straightens.
“Better get back to it,” she says. “Enjoy the rest of your food.”
As she leaves, I sense Lee’s eyes on me. “You okay?”
“Fine,” I say, reaching for my burger.
“It’s fine. Look, I’ll talk to the boys, okay? I’m not promising they’ll go for it, but I’ll talk to them.”
Lee grins as he grabs the last fry off my plate. “You’ve always been able to convince those boys of anything.”
And that,I think morosely, no longer at all hungry, is exactly the problem.