~ Improbable Protector 2 ~
J M Dragon

© 2000 by J M Dragon
Email: jmdragon@jmdragon.net

Love/Sex: This story features the possibility of  consensual relationship between adult women.  If this bothers you, is illegal in the State, Province or Country you live or if you are  under the age of 18, find something else to read. There are loads of general stories out there.
Language: Use of some harsh and strong language depicting certain subject matter is utilized to employ and set the tone and behavior of specific circumstances in the story, as well as some general characterizations.
Violence:  Not  in this story.
Hurt/ComfortThere is definitely some hurt/emotional discomfort in this one, and some brief scenes of angst and heartache to be dealt with by the characters.
Dedication: This story is for Mel.
AcknowledgementAlice and Packer,  thank you for all your help and support.
This story takes up after the conclusion of 'Improbable Protector'...

Immediately following the end Improbable Protector...
?Fleur are you home?? Jojo Lackerly shouted as she flung her backpack onto the side table and sheepishly looked around as the less than substantial table tottered. She quickly grabbed hold of the vase of fresh flowers threatening to fall onto the clean floor. What a pleasure it was to come home to a clean house where she didn?t have anything to do but be waited on hand and foot, reminding her of Fleur?s motel three months ago.

Now that was a month she would never forget for many reasons the most notable, her friendship with Fleur. Of course, during that time, she was also given the opportunity at stardom with a potential singing contract in Nashville.

They had arrived in Nashville with little more than the shirts on their back neither woman having much money. Talented in various ways between them but nothing that could be quickly turned into cash, unless you went to the more unsavoury end of the female skill range. JoJo had given that particular cash for favours scenario up and she would make sure Fleur would never be subjected to that situation.

John Henry, her ex-boss, called her Fleur?s Improbable Protector and, although it was out of character, she fulfilled the role admirably. These days she suspected her friend didn?t warrant that kind of attention, however, keeping an eye on the inexperienced woman had become second nature. This made her feel good, especially since Fleur looked after her domestic needs without a murmur. It was turning out to be a very fulfilling partnership?this thing called friendship.

?Fleur you home??

Walking into the kitchen, she was surprised that there were no succulent smells to wet her appetite. The room was empty, spotless and tidy, but empty.

Cynically wondering if ever she would make the big time and be allowed the luxury of a beautiful view from an apartment one-day, she snatched up a cookie from the plate that her friend always had around. Fleur said they were for visitors as they were few and far between as yet. She suspected her friend made then for her, as there was always a fresh batch for Jojo to snaffle.

Munching on the delicious chocolate cookie she walked into the lounge and still no one. Either Fleur was asleep in bed or she was out, the latter being the more appropriate, as it was only four thirty in the afternoon.

Settling down on the sofa and placing her long denim clad legs on the cushions she sank down and switched the TV on, not really watching it merely using the noise for background as she relaxed from her session in the studio.

It had been a very busy day and she was tired. In the past three months she had been practising with the session boys for long hours. Although she knew it was for her benefit her social life was nil!

Closing her eyes she let the peace of the apartment lull her into a nap. Fleur wouldn?t be long she never went far.

~ ~ ~

Fleur Danvers smiled engagingly at her new friend Alice Richards, who rented the apartment above them. Fortunately for them, she didn?t mind the odd late session that Joanna indulged in when she was working on a new song. Alice enjoyed the music and would come around from time to time to see a live performance. Ever the showgirl, Joanna seemed to bask in the interest. Her friend was a star to her and there was no doubt to the whole world one day, she knew it.

?Alice, how?s it been today??

Working in a law firm as an underwriter wasn?t the most sensational job in the world but it had its compensations, it paid the rent. The woman, anyway, was quite happy with her lot in life, except she wouldn?t mind settling down one of these days. She even admitted one day to envying Fleur and her relationship with Jojo.

Fleur had been lucky finding someone of Joanna?s personality and tenacity and she thought that the singer actually did like her?perhaps not to the same degree but she did like her. Fleur was more certain than ever that she loved Joanna Lackerly and always would.

?Great today what about yourself??

Alice caught up with the lovely and pretty blonde woman. At times she wondered how this timid and innocent woman had managed to tie herself to the much more experienced singer. A woman, she suspected, had few experiences in life left to challenge her. Still, they appeared to be the best of buddies and who wouldn?t be with this woman. Fleur was kind, domestic, good cook and what she had done with the dingy apartment was amazing. Now it was a colourful, clean place anyone would be proud to call home. Fleur Danvers had the amazing talent of taking anywhere and making it a home?a place of welcome.

?Oh you know me, I?m enjoying getting around the big city. After living in a small town all my life, it?s a novelty.?

?A novelty you will find will wear off in time, nonetheless, I hope it doesn?t tarnish for you, who knows you could be living with a star.? Alice grinned as they walked towards the small apartment block in the middle priced area of the residential district; it was the average in the tenancy world.

Shining eyes looked up towards the apartment, to one particular window?their own bank of three. Yep, Joanna was a star all right, without her she wouldn?t be here now free from the entanglements that would have eventually killed her?at least emotionally.

?Oh I think there?s a great chance of that in the future.?

As they climbed the steps to the apartment a wolf whistle stopped them as they turned to see a group of leering young men on motorcycles.

Fleur dropped her eyes fractionally; Joanna had tried to make her more assertive to handle what the singer termed the riffraff element of humanity who tried to feed off the innocent in this world.

?Hey beautiful, want to come for a ride?? asked the guy on the lead motorcycle. There was already a passenger on the back, who, not surprisingly, scowled at the suggestion.

Alice turned to face them, she had lived in the neighbourhood for a couple of years now and had gotten used to these guys; they loved to tease, nothing more.


?Oh I wasn?t talking to you red, your friend hasn?t answered me though.? His voice dropped seductively as his eyes roamed the slim body of Fleur. His taunts, reminding her, that she had seen enough of this kind of baiting for a lifetime. I thought I left this behind in Danvers Town.

?No thanks.? Turning briefly to Alice she tugged on her sleeve. ?Let?s go, Joanna will be waiting its after five.?

As she spoke she wished she hadn?t. The biker quickly dismounted his bike and ran up the stairs between them and the entrance to the building before they knew it.

?Want to whisper that in my ear beautiful?? The man was quite handsome in a tough way; his stubble had the effect of giving him an extra dimension to his masculinity, raw sexuality she guessed they called it. Looking up, her green eyes gazed into blue that smiled at hers not intimidating; playful she would put it down to.

?No, thanks for the offer, perhaps another time.?

The young man smiled broadly and where she had expected to see ill kept teeth she saw gleaming even white ones and he really was quite handsome in a rugged kind of way.

As he lifted his hand, he fleetingly passed a finger over her cheek and grinned, ?I?ll hold you to that.?

He vaulted down the stairs and mounted the bike roaring away, leaving Fleur and Alice watching stunned on the steps.

?Wow! Fleur you handled that well.?

?I didn?t do anything. Come on let?s go, Joanna will be home. Want to drop in for supper in an hour??

Smiling and wondering exactly what had happened between her friend and the biker she shook her head. ?Sorry, I have to go to night class, can I have a raincheck??

?Sure, you know you can come anytime.?

They walked into the building and took the elevator to their respective floors.

Walking into the apartment Fleur heard the TV, but no smells from the kitchen indicating that Joanna hadn?t started their evening meal. Not that she expected the singer to do so it wasn?t her field. They had tried it a couple of times but the singer couldn?t add cooking on her many skills tabloid.

?Hi Joanna have you had a busy day?? Fleur picked up the knapsack on the side table and opened the closet door where they kept coats and shoes placing it on a hook inside.

When she didn?t hear any response, she went into the lounge and saw her friend asleep on the sofa. It wasn?t an uncommon sight especially if Joanna had been up early and working late and she had in the past six weeks. Stepping closer, she saw the smooth features that belied the lines that crossed under her eyes and brow when she was wide awake. It was as if in sleep Joanna Lackerly didn?t have a care in the world, when she was awake she carried a burden that caused her concern. Fleur often wondered what that was but they hadn?t ever talked to such a personal degree.

They had been friends now for four months and in that time they had opened up a little each day, at first anyway, now that Joanna was so busy she saw less and less of her. She couldn?t complain after all, as she hadn?t found work of her own yet.

Should I wake her? It took all of a second to say no and turning she went to the kitchen and began preparations for their meal. Knowing as soon as Joanna smelled the cooking she would be awake and sitting at the kitchen table waiting for her food. If there was one thing Fleur had learned early in their relationship, you could make Joanna very happy and content with a decent meal and she was up for that one.

Everything was going well in their world and she was happy, very happy hoping it would stay like this for sometime to come and just get better.

~ ~ ~

?Hi Jack, how?s tricks??

Jack Wicklow tossed his grey head to one side answering the question posed by the beautiful woman who had sauntered into the smallest of the recording studio at Trigon records. She looked as if she owned the place and if he admitted it, she did once she started to sing.

Joanna ?Jojo? Lackerly was a natural!

She had a presence about her that defied her lack of star power. However, that didn?t mean she wasn?t going to become that way. If he had his way she would be taking the whole country by storm in the next six months.

?Tricks are fine Jojo how about yourself??

?Good, I think we need to go over ?Needing You? it lacked something yesterday.?

There, to the point, that was another thing he liked about the woman. She had done nothing but work, work and work harder still every hour he allowed her in the studio and he suspected at home too.

?Andy?s helping Shawn with his backing track but I?ll get him over here after lunch to go over your track again. Do you ever think of anything but music??

Laughing at the observation Jojo wondered that too, not of late she had to admit. Even Fleur had given up on them having time to tour the city together. She had decided to make other friends to get out and about. Not that Jojo minded, nope she was happy with her music and at the moment that was what paid the bills. To her mind, it was a great way for Fleur to stretch her wings and find out what she wanted to do with the rest of her life.

?I promised John Henry that I would give it my best shot plus it pays the bills.?

Jack watched the woman as she picked up the lyric sheet to the next recording they were going to practise today. Her eyes running over the words that she had written for the hundredth time as she answered his question, her mind now on what she felt she did best. He wasn?t going to doubt that either. She had a wonderful raw talent that rarely came into the right place at the right time and he felt that was now and he was going to see it happen. It wouldn?t do his record company any harm either if she became the next overnight sensation.

?You go practice the numbers and what do you say you join me and one of my business associates for lunch?? Watching the quick flash in her blue eyes he knew what she was thinking. ?Nothing sinister Jojo, he?s from New York and believe me I don?t want to have any distractions to the deal I?m making. What do you say??

Tossing her raven hair to the side she grinned at him, so far John Henry?s claims that this record producer was different to those she had met earlier in her career were accurate. Why should she doubt him, she would have to wait for Andy anyway until after lunch. ?Okay you got yourself a date.?

He smiled as he watched her pick up her guitar, strumming a few chords as she prepared for the morning session.

~ ~ ~

It was eleven in the morning and Fleur had done all the basic chores for the day, nothing much left but to prepare for dinner later. She was going to make Joanna her favourite meal or at least one of them. She had a funny habit of saying every meal that she cooked was wonderful.

Smiling she recalled Joanna?s face as she enthused over her session today. She had been excited about one of the songs she had been working on and had said she had finally figured out the arrangement.

Not that she knew what Joanna was talking about but the look of rapt concentration and excitement convinced her that this was a good thing.

Maybe tonight the singer might come home early and they could talk for a change. The more she lived with her, the more Fleur realised that they were still strangers but at the same time they fit together perfectly. Would Joanna ever think that way or would fame and fortune split them up? It was something that preyed on her mind but she refused to let it rule her life.

Picking up her purse and jacket and locking the apartment door, she decided to go on another open topped tour of the city, as it was a beautiful day.

Stepping out of the apartment she smiled, it was a good day she knew it!

Walking along the sidewalk her thoughts drifted to Joanna and her preoccupation with her work, would she still be wanted along if her friend actually made the big time?


Swivelling her head towards the voice she was amazed to see the biker, who had the night before, asked her to go for a ride?was he waiting around for her?


Blue eyes captured her green ones and she couldn?t help herself as she smiled at the boyish expectant look in his eyes. He probably was only a boy too. She was far older than he was, if not in experience, certainly in age.

?Want to take up the raincheck?? He asked, as he looked over to the highly polished powerful silver grey machine, obviously a cherished possession.

Laughing softly Fleur shook her head ?sorry I?m going to have a tour of the city on one of the open topped buses.?

The young man rubbed his stubble giving him that rugged attraction, reminding her of one of her favourite actors. ?Are you meeting someone or could I accompany you? I?ve never been on an open top before in this city??

Fleur glanced up into the handsome face and saw sincerity there and grinned, it couldn?t do any harm, it was a public place and she would like the company.

?Okay, what about your machine??

?Where are you going to catch the bus??

?Two blocks north, I haven?t seen the north part of town yet.?

?Where the heart of Nashville really is?good choice. Tell you what, how about I give you a ride to the terminal and I?ll find a car park.?

Choices, choices what should she do? He was a stranger and Joanna had warned her about strangers taking advantage, once she was on the bike he could take her anyplace.

Just as something had identified that Joanna was a friend, she felt that this young man wasn?t going to hurt her. Smiling warmly at him, ?I?ve never been on a bike before.?

Blue eyes lit up and a grin that made the man even more handsome brandished his features. ?First time for everything Ms.??

?That?s very true, Fleur my names Fleur Danvers Mr.??

He held out his hand and shook hers warmly as he replied, ?Calum Rowlands at your service.?

Giggling like a teenager she walked with him to the bike and was handed a helmet that he took out of the pannier. ?Has the machine a name??

Striding over the machine he held out his hand to help the slight woman mount the rear seat.  ?Absolutely, Rebel Rouser.?

Laughing at the name, Fleur settled in behind the young man and clutched his jacket instinctively as he revved up the Rouser, she would decide if it was a fitting name later.

Calum grinned as he felt the woman?s small hands gripping him, after a couple of journeys she?d relax and simply hold him around the waist rather than hang onto him for grim death.

?Fleur Danvers welcome to my world.?

Unable to answer the blonde sucked in a shocked breath as they set off at what felt to Fleur like a hundred miles an hour!

~ ~ ~

?Joanna I?d like you to meet Lee Weston, Lee this is Joanna Lackerly my rising star.? Jack grinned at both parties as he introduced them over the meeting table in his office set out for an informal buffet.

?Hi Lee nice to meet you.?

Joanna was pleasantly surprised to see a very handsome well turned out man, who was probably her age, smile slowly at her in a genuine welcome as he stood up and shook her hand. He was even taller than she was and that meant it didn?t give the guy a complex before they had time to get to know each other.

?Hello Ms. Lackerly.?

The quiet but polite cultured English voice resonated in her ears, now that was one accent she was quite happy to listen to all day.

?Joanna please.? Jack Wicklow watched the exchange with fascination, he knew a little of Joanna?s temperament and although he wanted Lee to meet his newest rising star he wasn?t sure she would behave. This was turning out to be perfect, eye contact was a wonderful gauge and each of them was glued.

?Joanna it is then, Jack has told me a lot about you.? He motioned for her to sit opposite him; a beautiful woman was a marvellous adornment at any function.

Scowling at Jack for a moment as she sat opposite the man she smiled wryly, ?conversation would have been short then because Jack knows squat about me!?

Grey serious eyes glimmered with laughter as Lee chuckled, she was right Jack didn?t know that much about her personally but professionally he?d done nothing but enthuse about her talent as soon as he?d stepped in the door.

?Perhaps we can right that over lunch and then if we haven?t finished, would you care to join me for dinner later?at a restaurant of your choice of course.?

Joanna eyed him for a moment, was he one of those charming handsome men who thought every woman over fifteen fell for him? ?Sure, why not. Jack will call the best in town for us later, won?t you Jack??

The door to the office suite opened and two waiters from a nearby restaurant brought in the lunch and placed it in front of them.

?Yep I will.? Grinning, the older man motioned for the waiter to pour the light sparkling white wine and nodded approvingly as Joanna declined.

?So Lee what brings you into town and why here??

~ ~ ~

Fleur laughed happily as Calum pointed to a squirt of mustard on her chin as she munched on her second hot dog with everything! He had been amazed that such a small woman had such a ferocious appetite.

?I always do that, my dad said I couldn?t be taken anywhere!? the woman smiled as she dabbed away the offending condiment and turned to look at one of the plaques on one of the older buildings.

Calum bit into his second burger and allowed tomato ketchup to dribble down his grin also remarking with a smirk, ?Yep, my pop says exactly the same, even now.?

As they walked along the sidewalk munching on their lunch they commented about the open topped bus journey and some of the scenes they saw.

?Are you a Nashville boy Calum??

They had enjoyed an easy-going conversation since arriving at the terminal and all during the tour, once her stomach had settled down after the hair-raising ride she?d undertaken as a pillion passenger on the young man?s bike.

?Nope, I was born in Hawaii. My mother is a native of the island and dad met her when he was stationed there on service duty. They moved around for several years until we settled here about ten years ago.?

Calum spoke with warm affection about his mother but there was a slight aggressive tone when he mentioned his father. Well sometimes that happened but it didn?t sound like a major disagreement to Fleur.

?What about you where are you from, obviously not Nashville or the State either?? they walked a little further along as the blonde gave out a small potted history of her life in Danvers town, leaving out the reason she left other than the business failed.

?You tried to live up to and save your family name, quite at opposite ends to me then.? Calum turned to face Fleur as they stopped at the end of the pedestrian precinct.

?What do you mean Calum??

?My dad wanted me to go into the family business. Had my life mapped out for me for the next ten years and I decided that I wasn?t going to do that, I wanted to live a little. Needless to say my dad is a little disappointed in me.?

Sighing she wondered if anyone ever had a straightforward up bringing with parents who didn?t expect you to be what they were or a life they lived. Admittedly her father hadn?t been any better; he found it hard to loosen the apron strings. In the end, lack of funds had been his final undoing.

?Do you still live with your parents?? They hadn?t discussed age but she thought that the guy should really be in college.

?I was in college for three years, finished last fall and came home to the high expectations from my dad. I live in the house until I can get a job and rent a place for myself.?

He must be twenty-two maybe, which made her six years older than he was, not that much if you said it quickly, however enough to make her wonder why he was bothering with her.

?I went to Uni, studied home economics with a business background. Helped for a while in the motel until the debts mounted up and then I had to leave.?

The young man smiled warmly at her and she saw his genuine compassion in the depths of his grey eyes. ?What did you study??

?Oh this and that.? For the first time Calum wasn?t forthcoming as he changed the subject quickly and he pointed to another burger bar. ?Want to try out a Super whopper??

Knowing when to quit, a trait she?d learnt quickly living with Joanna, she grinned, ?of course, I love food.?

He grabbed her hand pulling her along gently towards the new eating delight.

~ ~ ~

?I heard you sing, you?re very good.? Lee Weston placed a finger down the side of his ice-cold beer glass to wipe away the moisture that settled there.

Jojo decided a steak and beer were what she needed after a heavy session in the studio. He didn?t mind at all, the experience would be great. He?d not had time to do much socialising since arriving from England and becoming a vice president in the Xianthos Corporation. Now this new assignment he?d taken on was beginning to look like it offered everything, especially the woman who looked tired but very beautiful opposite him at the rustic table in this very country style bar.

?Thanks. Jack was talking of doing three or four venues a week around the country for the next three months until the first record came out.?

Weston heard the hesitation in her comment. She needed the live appearances to compliment the record release that much he knew, not much else he admitted but you need to have a public following.

?You don?t sound so sure about that??

?I know why I have to go on tour but I was just settling here and after spending ten years on the road non-stop it was kinda nice to do that.?

Resting his beer on the table he placed a warm hand on hers that idly tugged at the checked tablecloth. Her blue eyes flashed at him and she pulled away her hand, he shrugged and settled back in his chair.

?Once this tour is over maybe you can settle back on your laurels but now you need to do what Jack tells you, he has the experience in this field.?

?I do. I get to take an entourage??

Laughing, Lee considered the question seriously, ?You better ask Jack, he?s the man with all the answers or better yet get your manager to make it part of the deal.?

Jojo looked up sharply at the reply, manager? A manager, she didn?t have one, never had really except the odd boyfriend who thought they were!

?Yeah I guess I?ll get my manager to do just that.?

Smiling at the English man she was beginning to think that all men weren?t a waste of space after all. Some of them did have good points as she warmed to the man opposite her.

~ ~ ~

Fleur paced the hall for the hundredth time, as she didn?t know what to do, should she call the studio and check to see if Joanna had left? That would look bad though, as if she was checking up on her friend if Joanna walked in at any moment.

Her green worried eyes crossed to the clock mounted on the hallway wall, it was nine-thirty and her friend always called to say she was going to be late at the studio if it went past six in the evening.

What if Joanna had been injured, worse was injured and lying alone someplace without any help!

Where are you Joanna?

Walking into the lounge she switched on the TV and tuned to the local station, maybe on the news there might be a mention of a delay on the transport system, anything as long as her friend was okay.

She?d had a wonderful time with Calum. He had been both witty and a gentleman and they had shared some family stories that seemed to help each of them in their own way. He had suggested that they meet up again tomorrow evening for a movie and he?d get the popcorn, she had declined. Sometimes Joanna on a Friday would come home early and they went around to the local bar for a shot at pool. So far she hadn?t beaten her friend at the game but one day she would, even if Joanna didn?t believe it, she did!

The churning in her stomach usually didn?t indicate good things. Then again it might be her stomach reacting to all the fast food she?d consumed today, but it had been fun.

She tried to stop her mind from conjuring up grisly situations for the singer. Her nerves were rattled and she didn?t know what to do. Damn, not even Alice was home so that she could talk with her to keep her mind off Joanna, not that her mind was ever free of the singer, how could it be?she loved her.

Standing close to the window she looked down on the street below and all she wanted was to see Joanna striding along towards the apartment block, she didn?t think that was too much to wish for.

Her face broke into a wonderful smile as she saw the woman who had occupied her thoughts for several anxious hours step out of a cab.

It must have been traffic!

Then her smile died as she saw a man quickly come around from the other side of the cab and enclose the tall woman in an embrace exchanging a kiss.

Who is that! Who is she kissing? She can?t kiss anyone?she can?t!

Tears smarting, she dragged herself away from the window, Joanna had never mentioned a man?why should she?

Despondently Fleur dropped down onto the sofa and dried her tears, no way was she going to let her friend see that it mattered to her that she was seeing a man, how could she? Joanna didn?t know she loved her!

The door to the apartment opened and as usual Joanna dropped her backpack onto the small table and this time Fleur heard, ?Shit.?

Steeling herself for what she would find in the hall, Fleur stood up and went into the area. Jojo was on her knees trying to pick up the broken pieces of the vase that had adorned the small table, which was now turned on its side on the floor.

Watching the scene, Fleur?s tender heart swelled as she saw the dark head bent at the task, several curses emitting from the singer as she tried unsuccessfully to retrieve the situation.

?Leave it Joanna you?ll hurt yourself.?

Deep blue eyes caught hers and Fleur?s heart stopped for a second and then beat erratically as Joanna?s sheepish smile tugged at her heartstrings.

On her haunches Jojo looked at the small blonde and wondered why her heart tumbled like in a nosedive as she stared into the expressive face. Fleur wasn?t happy with her but she was trying to hide it, Jojo always knew and that surprised her too.

?I?m sorry about the vase Fleur.?

Stepping closer, green eyes captured the blue ones, a quizzical expression was held within the green ones that the blue were unable to decipher.

?No problem leave it, I?ll clear it away.? As she knelt down she could smell alcohol and she gave her friend a closer look, is she drunk?

?I had a business meeting.?

The words were lame and she knew it but Fleur didn?t seemed to notice, as she picked up the carnations that were now out of their normal environment, much as a fish out of water.

?I?m sorry I?m late and didn?t call.?

Even Jojo knew she was out of order, it was an after thought apologising for being late. It hadn?t occurred to her when she had agreed to the dinner engagement or through the dinner. Only now looking at the small woman cleaning up did it permeate her brain that maybe she should have.

?You didn?t wait dinner for me did you??

This time Fleur looked up at the expectant face of her friend, ?No, if we?d had a dog I?d say your dinner was in the dog?.?

With that quip Fleur stood up and left the bemused singer watching her back as she went into the kitchen.

?In the dog?? Standing up she tottered slightly and realised that she?d had too much to drink, not drunk exactly but enough that said bed was a good place to be right now. Tomorrow she and Fleur would talk. She?d come early tomorrow night and they could go have a beer and play pool as she floated the manager problem with her friend.

Walking towards the kitchen she dropped her head behind the door, ?I?ll catch you in the morning Fleur. I?m tired and I have an early start in the morning, see you at breakfast goodnight.?

As the blonde didn?t turn or acknowledge her words Jojo shrugged her shoulders and left for her room.

Closing her eyes as she gripped the basin, the tears she had prevented now trickled slowly down her cheeks, bottom line was Joanna Lackerly didn?t care about her and that hurt. It hurt so much she wished she didn?t have to live under the same roof as the singer, as she thought that, she also shook her head because it wasn?t what she wanted at all. She would take any morsel of Joanna?s company?any at all!

Turning and picking up the dustpan and broom she started back to the hall and the mess out there. As she did she switched off the stove?Joanna?s favourite dinner was ruined anyway!

~ ~ ~

Calum watched the blonde woman; she had said little since he had called to collect her from the apartment around four this afternoon. The movie wasn?t until seven and they had settled in their seats slightly earlier than usual as it had started to rain outside.

Once he?d collected her, they had ridden out to a favourite spot of his and watched the city from a Mountain View. Maybe that had made her quietly reflective. He?d been pleasantly surprised when she had called him this morning having changed her mind and he didn?t mind at all. He liked her, she was the first woman he?d taken seriously other than his mother and he wanted to get to know her better.

?How about I go collect our popcorn now, the vendor will be ramping up?? He saw her gives him a pre-occupied smile, she wasn?t here with him she was elsewhere but would she tell him if he asked?


?See you in five.? He sauntered off and left her to her sombre thoughts.

Fleur was pre-occupied; she had cleaned up after Joanna last night and cried herself silently to sleep. That had caused her to be late waking in the morning and when she had, her friend had gone to the studio.

Her anger at Joanna increased at that too and before she knew it, she was dialling Calum?s number and agreeing to go to the movie with him. Not only that, she hadn?t made any dinner for Joanna and made Calum come far too early to collect her so that she didn?t have to see her friend.

This was all out of her normal character; she hadn?t even left a message at first. How would Joanna have reacted to that, probably she wouldn?t even know! This new ?business? person she was having dinner with would maybe want to take her out again and by the time she got home Fleur would be back and in the apartment.

She was behaving like a petulant jealous child and she couldn?t help it. Then again it wasn?t a child was it? She was a jealous woman, bottom line?she was in love with Joanna and she didn?t have a clue what to do about it!

What was she doing with Calum? He was a nice guy and she was using him! What would he say if he knew that her thoughts were all full of someone else and that someone was her flatmate and a woman? Damn! How had her life become so complicated? Daisy had said follow her heart but was she crazy to do that this was now hurting her more than her problems with George!

?Hi did you miss me?? Calum vaulted back into the chair beside her and handed her a large cone of popcorn which she gratefully took, she was starving, All this emotional drama had left her unable to eat anything but now she could easily eat the largest steak that you put in front of her.

?Yeah, what took you so long?? the man?s eyes flashed as he heard the banter in her tone...maybe he was worrying about her for nothing.

?Long? You say I was long? Well?how would you like a giant chilli dog with the popcorn?? He handed her a chilli dog and saw the smile that wreathed her face and that was thanks enough as he settled in beside her and munched on his own dog.

Fleur bit into the chilli dog and relished the taste, well if nothing else Calum was going to be good for her waistline too or should that be bad. Settling in to the seat as the feature began, she was going to enjoy this as she would the food, the revues had been great!

~ ~ ~

Okay fair?s fair, I was late and now Fleur is making me pay for not calling. I can understand that but she?s not like that. She?s too polite and hasn?t a spiteful bone in her body.

As she deposited a can of beer in the rubbish bin she noticed that a meal was congealing inside and it was one of her favourites. Not that she had a particular favourite with Fleur?s culinary skills; she was wonderful everything tasted great.

?Shit!? Her mind going over the brief conversation they had the night before that the small woman hadn?t kept dinner and if she had, it was in the dog. Well, now she knew whom the dog was.

It was now six and Jojo was worried, enough to have called Alice in the apartment above who wasn?t home yet. Maybe they were together. Fleur liked the younger woman and although she was a little too sensible for Jojo she would be okay for Fleur as a friend, a safe one.

Settling in the sofa with another beer she pondered her problem of a manager, she?d never had a manager, why change now? Then again she wasn?t up for all this negotiation stuff. All she wanted to do was make music and people happy with her music. That had been the driving force that kept her on the road for so long. Ten years without a break except for now and did she really like the break?

As she chewed over that the phone rang, this must be Fleur, rushing so much to get the call she kicked over the can of beer and cursed as she looked down at the mess. Fleur wouldn?t like that two days in a row.

Then their answering machine kicked in and she heard a quick mumble and the phone went dead. Damn!

Looking at her socks and wriggling her toes in the dampness of the beer, Jojo was annoyed as she waltzed over to the answering machine and selected play.

?Hi, its Fleur, I?ve gone to the movies with a friend.?

That is it? Which friend?

As she considered that question she was annoyed at how much she was hurt that Fleur wasn?t home!

Well, it was early and the movies usually meant people were home by ten. She?d go to the bar have a couple of beers play a little pool and see Fleur at home.

Anyway she had a day off tomorrow maybe she and Fleur could do something together!

~ ~ ~

?Who was that??

Fleur was astonished at the attack as soon as she stepped into the apartment, what business was it of Joanna?s?

?I don?t know what you mean??

?Yeah you do, the leather clad boy you hitched a ride home with??

Jojo was upset, annoyed, concerned and fascinated all at the same time. How had her shy friend met such a hunk, not to mention take that extraordinary step and go out with him?

?Oh? Are you spying on me now? I never mentioned the guy you played lip sync with last night did I??

Fleur retaliated with the only information she had, what happened next she didn?t expect. Joanna laughed a loud and cheery sound that reverberated around the hall.

?Touché my friend touché, does this mean we have secrets we want to share or not??

Looking up into the dazzling blue eyes that shone with merriment as they attached themselves to the green serious ones of her friend.


Chuckling softly Jojo placed a friendly arm across the small blonde?s shoulders and whispered into her ear, ?I?ll tell you about mine if you do yours??

With that all of Fleur?s previous anger with her friend disappeared, ?okay but I want to make a sandwich first I?m starving!?

?Oh! He couldn?t afford to feed the beast then?? Jojo followed behind the woman who threw her a scathing glance.

?Whatever do you mean??

?Nothing, nothing. Hey Fleur I need to talk about a problem I have, at least I think I have a problem. Want to help me out??

?Sure, want something to eat? Or should I say have you eaten??

A dark head descended towards her at the words and for one heart stopping moment Fleur thought Joanna was going to kiss her but she didn?t, she merely tapped her on the nose.

?I?ve eaten?but I?d love a club if you want to take pity on me.?

An hour later they were contemplating the manager position and neither knew what to do.

?Do you need one, really??

?At the moment probably not but I hate all the paper work and stuff so yeah, I guess if I want to do this right I have to take on a manager. Who in their right mind would work for pipe dreams and that?s all I have to offer anyone at the moment.?

?I thought that was what a good manager did, hooked onto the potential and reaped the rewards later??

?In your dreams Fleur, now if it was you as a manager, yeah I?d go for that because you would but?.?

Jojo was stopped from saying anymore as Fleur jumped up shouting, ?that?s it, that?s it!?

?What? What?s it??

?Me! That is, I can be your manager! I believe in you and you pay me by letting me stay with you rent free and you pay for everything at the moment so it?s the least I can do.?

Jojo frowned at the suggestion, which she considered another of the blonde?s wacky plans. Not that any had been wacky really, except maybe that idiot engagement to the ?bastard banker? but that was way down the line now.

?I don?t??

?No, please Joanna, what have you got to lose? If I fail, heck, you sack me and get someone else. It?s easy and who knows, we might make a good team.?

Considering the suggestion seriously for a moment seriously, wondering if it might work, as Fleur said, if she failed what the hell did it matter? Anyway, she could keep a keener eye on the blonde, especially if she was succumbing to the charms of bikers.

After all, wasn?t she the Protector here?

?Tomorrow we go over what I want and I?ll arrange a meeting for you with Jack.?

Smiling at her friend, ?no I?ll call Jack and arrange a meeting. You do your stuff, I?ll do mine.?

Grinning at the confidence that brimmed from her usually less than self-confident friend, ?okay, it?s all yours manager, just remember one thing.?

?Yeah what?s that?? Fleur turned speculative green eyes to the dark head that suddenly bobbed up with a grin across her features.

?Don?t give way to a sob story please, Jack can be real persuasive.?

Laughing she slapped the taller woman on the shoulder, ? Yeah and who else gets taken in by a sob story hmm???

Placing a friendly arm around the blonde?s shoulders she grinned at the banter and they did banter, it was something she enjoyed and hoped would never leave.

?Come on, you can tell me more about Calum and I?ll give you the low down on a Brit and what he?s like to kiss.?

?You can?t ask me that??

?I just did didn?t I?? laughing in easy companionship they settled down to a friendly conversation about the new men in their lives.

~ ~ ~

Jack Wicklow looked at the shadow of the young woman that had arranged the appointment to see him, stating she was Jojo Lackerly?s manager. .

Pressing his intercom, advising his secretary he was ready to receive the visitor.

As the door opened he was surprised at the small blonde woman that walked into his office, she didn?t look the confident bullshitter he was used to, no she looked nervous as if this was the first time she had ever been in this position.

?Ms. Danvers, nice to meet you, please, take a seat.?

Shaking his hand Fleur hoped her nervousness didn?t transmit in the handshake.

Jack secretly smiled as he felt the tremor in the hand of the young woman, this should be interesting.

?Do you want coffee or anything else to drink??

?No, no I?m fine. Thanks for asking.?

Fleur tugged at the hem of her skirt. She had bought a skirt suit yesterday to make an impression or so she had said to Joanna who had grinned and paid for the addition to the wardrobe.

Considering that aspect at the end of the day, the man before her had inadvertently paid for her clothes. What a strange world we lived in. For some reason that gave her the confidence she had been lacking as she?d sat outside the office for fifteen minutes.

?Then I guess my next line is, what can I do for you Ms. Danvers??

Sucking in a deep breath, I?m not good at this! But my friend, no, the woman I love, her livelihood?depends on it.

?I represent Ms. Lackerly and she tells me that you intend to send her on a three month tour. She does have certain requirements for such a tour.?

Jack once again secretly smiled, I?m sure Jojo did but did she have to send a child to do the job for her or was it a ploy?

?Well, you have my attention Ms. Danvers, please what requirements does Ms. Lackerly need??

An hour later Jack Wicklow doubted his own sanity, he had been subtly brow beaten by the young woman before him. She had deceptive qualities that made you think you were in control when really she was calling all the shots.

At the end of the session he had conceded a personal three-person entourage, an increase in salary?well, doubled?and personal transport of her choice and that was just the tour!

Taking a breath Jack motioned to the door, ?how would it be if we saw our girl in action??

Fleur jumped up and smiled warmly gushing ?Yeah, I?d love that thanks.? Making Jack wonder if she had a personality.

?Well, lets go then.?

He showed her out of his office and they moved along the building each one engaged according to the panels on the door and as they moved to the final door on the corridor Jack opened it and they went inside.

Fleur had never been inside a recording studio and two guys who were mixing greeted her. However, her eyes were quickly drawn to the glass plate window and the sight of her friend dressed casually as always in jeans and today a pristine white figure hugging T-shirt talking animatedly with the piano player.

?How?s it going Joe??

?So, so Jack. Jo?s attention span is nil today.?

?Really, there?s a surprise.? Jack turned to Fleur.

?Would you shed any light on that part for us??

Smiling slightly Fleur shrugged, ?Artists, you can never predict their moods.?

Laughing, Jack bent over the mixing station and spoke into a mic. ?Quit the bickering Jo and give us a song. Your manager wouldn?t thank you for going back to the table if you suddenly become difficult.?

Fleur?s eyes sought the deep blue of Joanna?s as the singer searched the glass plate for her friend and then she held her hands up in a gesture that indicated she wanted to know how things went.

Smiling broadly now Fleur gave her the thumbs up sign and Jojo jumped off the ground and shouted something indistinctly to the piano player.

Gentle strains sprang out and Jack pulled out a chair for Fleur as Joanna strummed on her guitar and started to sing.

I know I needed you like the soil needs the rain,
You are my love the one that makes me yearn I feel no pain
In time you will see you are meant for me
Who will care who will share my life if you don?t stay beside me?
You were so small so insignificant bit something called.
I cannot say if you will stay, why should you play my game
Know only this I?m there for you until the end of time they say
I know as I look in your eyes it might be the last time, who knows
You gave me love and I?m thankful of
No devotion can you give that means so much as you do to me
Yet through it all I?ve never said what you mean to me
I know as time goes by we might never be
I?ll always know you love me
Who can take away the pleasure that gives
No one here on earth I think

The piano tinkled on a few bars more and the session came to an end, As it did so, the two guys in the mixing room shouted it?s a rap!

Fleur was mesmerised, she felt that Joanna was singing the song to her and that a message was being relayed but it was a plaintive love song...how could it mean anything between them.

Jack Wicklow smiled as he heard the blonde whisper probably to herself, ?that?s my girl.? Because he suddenly appreciated something as he saw the look on the singer?s face as she sang to the blonde that was her girl, interesting.

~ ~ ~

?We did it Joanna, we did it!? Fleur was bouncing around the apartment like a kangaroo. It made Jojo chuckle as she watched the blonde dance around. At the end of the day she deserved it! Fleur might have been a poor man?s excuse for a manager but she had done a great job.

?Want to celebrate??

That laconic sexy voice seemed to cover Fleur like a blanket as she stopped dancing around and smiled at her friend, if only!

?Aren?t you too tired??

For a second she allowed the tiredness to seep in and then squared her shoulders, ?No! Let?s go have?how would it be if you chose??

?Me? You want me to chose where we go??

Laughing at the astonishment in the tone, ?sure! Am I that bad??

Shaking her head chuckling as she did so, ?No, no not at all but there are places you really don?t like to go.?

?Yeah so I?ll get used to it.?

This was Fleur?s night she deserved it. Her friend had done something wonderful on her own and helped her in the bargain.

Fleur went serious as she thought about the opportunity. It would be so easy to ask Joanna to go to a decent restaurant; in fact she was sure her friend expected that.

?How would you like it if I sent you out for a Chinese take out and a bottle of wine??

Screwing up her eyes she wasn?t sure she was being teased.

?Is that what you want Fleur??

?Yeah it?s what I want and then you can go to bed and get some sleep, you look all in.?

Joanna for the first time in?who would know?wanted to cry at the sincerity of her friend?s request. Gulping in a deep breath she smiled. ?You got it.?

As Joanna left the apartment for the take out, Fleur considered her last words and said to the lonely kitchen, ?I wish I did have you, I really do.?

~ ~ ~

Three months later

Fleur heard the local music channel raving over Joanna, and deservedly so, tonight her friend was home after being away for eleven weeks and four days. Yeah, she was counting even the hours?did that make her a sad case? Probably!

Tonight was going to be special. She?d prepared Joanna?s favourite dish, at least one of the ones she always enthused over and soon very soon her friend would be home.

The phone rang and she ran to it expecting it to be Joanna. As she answered she was disappointed when it wasn?t her.

?Hi Calum, no I?m alone at the moment.?

?She?s home tonight I can?t make it.?

?How about I see you the day after tomorrow you could come around for dinner??

?Yeah that?s sounds great, I?ll see you then, hey take care on Rouser I want you in one piece.?

It was strange, she should be flattered that a young handsome man was courting her but all she felt was friendship, a deep friendship, but certainly nothing more. They had kissed true but it felt more like a friendly kiss than one in passion. They had been out on numerous occasions since Joanna had gone on tour and even Alice had been envious. Strange thing was she thought that Alice was actually better suited to Calum but who knew where cupid?s arrow struck.

As she checked the roast, the door to the apartment opened and she rushed out to the hall to see her friend.

?Joanna, its great to see you!? rushing forward to fling her arms around the taller woman.

Laughing at the affectionate gesture Jojo remarked, ?Love you too Fleur, now will you please stop strangling me!?

Fleur?s heart jumped at the expression love you too and then settled as she scanned the woman before her. She looks tired and in need of a good rest and she looks thin too! Don?t they feed her on tour?

?Want to take a nap and then have dinner??

?Love to Fleur but I have another engagement.?

 ?Where shall I dispose of your luggage Jo??

A tall, taller than Joanna, figure appeared at the doorway clutching several bags as he eyed the two women hoping for an answer.

?Hey Lee come on in I?ll show you but first?first you need to meet my best buddy and manager Fleur.?

The man with gentle grey eyes, which settled on her green ones with a friendly expression smiled, ?Hello Fleur I?ve heard a great deal about you.?

?Really? I haven?t heard anything about you!?

Jojo saw the change of stance and maybe wished she?d done this a different way but what the hell.

?Hey Fleur I told you about him remember? He?s the love of my life, so much so we?re engaged.?

The silence in the hallway was interesting that was all you could say.

?Oh, that love of your life!?

?Absolutely Fleur, so how?s the stud in leather??

Jojo knew she was out of order and she really had meant to tell Fleur about her engagement alone, however things happen and it hadn?t gone that way. Fleur would understand?she was Fleur, her friend. Her only true friend.

Gathering her chaotic thoughts Fleur answered as she had been taught or had she? ?Congratulations to you both, when did this happen?? Her heart broke in a million pieces.

Lee Weston saw the tension and wondered about it as he smiled politely, ?Jo accepted my proposal two nights ago in Seattle, it was a surprise for us both.?

?I wish you well.? She?d been polite, now she needed to get out of the apartment.


?I have a date with? the stud in leather, there?s dinner in the oven if you want it, if not I?ll give it to the dog.?

As Fleur spoke Jojo felt herself battling with her heart again. When the blonde was far away she could do her own thing but with Fleur in her midst, she felt that the attachment that had called to her originally now drew her like a spiders web.

?Can we celebrate later??

?Sure, don?t wait up for me. Good evening?Lee, Joanna.? Fleur walked as quickly as she could to her room and sank on the bed, her body drained of any energy.

Engaged! Joanna is engaged and I thought they were friends! What a mess!

~ ~ ~

?I think you should talk to her, it?s been three weeks and she has her first TV appearance on the release of her record tomorrow and you?re part of that!? Alice had been watching the gradual deterioration of her friend?s mood since Joanna had arrived back home after her tour and the surprise, perhaps even shocking, announcement that she was engaged to some mighty businessman from New York.

Fleur turned her anguished green eyes to that of her friend?s and wished that were the truth but it wasn?t! All she had done was sponge of her friend all the time she had been in Nashville and now it was time to get her act together and find a job. Not that she hadn?t thought or attempted to do so in the past, Joanna had said no to all her attempts?said for the time being Fleur should just enjoy seeing the sights and having a break from the work routine. At first she had been self-conscious about the lack of money earning but then she realised that in a way she was earning her keep by doing the domestic chores for Joanna and more recently helping her with the management side of her career.

Not that the singer had been informed of her dealings with Jack Wicklow the record producer. She was either out all day at the studio or venues around the city or spending time with her new fiancé.

The real gut ache was the engagement scenario. She really didn?t blame Joanna her choice because Lee Weston had all the right attributes that made him the best possible choice for her friend. He appeared to love her so what more could you ask for?

One thing?she?s mine!

?Are you going to sit around and mope Fleur or get off your butt and see to it that Joanna knows you are part of the team too??

Alice rolled her eyes; she had been trying for days to convince her friend that the singer was too busy with the new career and her engagement to see that Fleur was being left behind.  It was up to Fleur to show Joanna that she was part of her life, for the moment at least. What the future held, well the two would have to work out and she felt that the singer wouldn?t just abandon Fleur, she cared about her too much, not perhaps in what she said but in how she acted.

In this town, manager?s were ten a penny and most would have been grateful and snapped up the offer to represent Jojo but she had feigned ignorance in the area and given the plum role to Fleur. She might have convinced her friend that she didn?t know anything about the recording industry but the singer was as sharp as a razor she would know it all, she didn?t miss a trick.

For all of Fleur?s delicate ways, she had enjoyed being the singer?s manager and from what she heard on the grapevine and she knew one or two at the recording studio, the small woman had amazed Jack Wicklow and he held her in the deepest of respect.

?She doesn?t have time for me to be around now Alice, her life is going a totally different direction to mine.?

?How so? You can go along right with her, you?re her manager aren?t you??

Feeling sorry for herself she hung her head as she considered that point, it was valid to a degree.

?Joanna is big news now. She will want a more experienced manager; it was only a temporary situation after all. I expect her any day now to come in the apartment and announce that she has replaced me.?

Just as she was about to try again the door opened and in stepped the person they were talking about.

Weary steps could be heard walking down the hall and a thud as her knapsack was deposited on the floor, not the table this time, which was a relief as Fleur had only that morning put on a new display.

The door to the kitchen opened and the dark familiar head popped around and gave them both a tried slow grin.

?Hey, what you two planning?? the tall frame brought the rest of her body inside the small room.

?You know us Jojo, were working on a couple of projects.?

?Really, anything I can help with??

?Well as it happens?.?

?No! Nothing that you need to worry about Joanna, have you eaten?? Fleur knew that Alice might say something and at this moment in time the singer had enough on her plate than listening to her whine about her situation.

?Not today?maybe not for two days it?s been kinda hectic. Jack said to go home and get some sleep once the TV shot is over. I might not get the chance of a peaceful six hours for sometime to come.?

Fleur stood up and walked over to the fridge and pulled out a bottle of Joanna?s favourite beer. ?Thanks, you always know what I need.?

?After today your fridge will probably be filled with champagne.?

Jojo heard the inflection in the voice of her friend but she was too tired to ponder it further. It had been a tough time recently and she knew that she owed Fleur a decent explanation of her engagement and how she envisaged the woman in her life. However, it hadn?t happened yet. Still, there would be plenty of time and Fleur was her manager, which was something she really needed to talk to her about.

?Well, I have to study. I have my finals next month and unless I buckle down I?ll be taking the semester all over again and that I wouldn?t care for. Good luck with the show tomorrow Jojo and Fleur, I?ll catch up later okay.?

Alice heard her two friends reply but left them to it. As she did so and closing the door to their apartment, the elevator door opened and Calum walked out. As always he was dressed in leather but he made it look like he was modelling it for a fashion show. It looked so good on him, if only he were interested in her, oh well; they say you can dream don?t they?

?Hi Calum, what brings you to this part of town on this lovely evening??

?Hey Alice, just thought I?d see if my girl wants to go look at a sunset. She?s been kinda down lately?thought it might help.?

Sometimes you meet people and you wish with every essence of your being that they would be saying just that to you but they never did and she really didn?t think that Fleur appreciated Calum. He was just a friend to her and she suspected always would remain so. How the young man thought of Fleur was another thing altogether and she doubted that she would ever find out.

?How would it be if I invited you for coffee for say an hour and then you go see Fleur?  Jojo?s just arrived home and they are discussing stuff.?

Okay, it wasn?t exactly true, she didn?t know if they were or not but at least she would give them a chance if the man agreed.

?Sure, I can understand that, Fleur being Jojo?s manager and all. Makes me wonder why Fleur doesn?t spend more time with her though. I thought that?s what manager?s did.?

?Me too but this is maybe a little different. Come on we?ll walk, I?m the next floor up.?

~ ~ ~

Jojo watched the smaller woman whiz around the kitchen and within twenty minutes she was enjoying a wonderful omelette with a side salad and fries. As she munched on the fries and enjoyed her first forkful of omelette, Jojo watched as Fleur sat opposite with a glass of soda.

?I guess you ate earlier?? she spooned in another forkful of the delicious mixed omelette.

?Oh yeah, I had a heavy lunch.?

Relishing every bite, they talked intermittently about things in general. Then as Joanna polished of the remains of her meal, she lightly placed a hand over her stomach and smiled in satisfaction.

?Thanks for the meal Fleur, I enjoyed it.?

?Anytime you know that.? Didn?t she pay for her to be there to do this anyway! The thought was uncharitable but she felt that way.

Standing up and stretching her lean tall body, Fleur had stop herself from sighing at the sight before her, no matter what Joanna would always be a sight for sore eyes to her.

?You?re tired, why don?t you go put your feet up on the sofa and watch a little TV, it will do you good.?

Fleur had missed that too. Admittedly, mostly when Joanna settled in the sofa she fell asleep but she was still there and that?s what had been missing all these lonely weeks, Joanna?s presence.

?Okay?why don?t you come too and we can talk??

Jojo watched through hooded blue eyes the reaction from her friend. They hadn?t been getting on that well since she?d arrived back from the tour and had announced her engagement. Perhaps today was a good day to solve that and they could start fresh tomorrow as her life was going to take on a different reflection.

?I can do that, want another beer?? Fleur?s heart tumbled as she met the blue eyes of her friend. This was what she had been yearning for; a small measure of contact, she didn?t want much just a little part of her time. This could be the last time, in reality all hell might break lose after today and she doubted they would get the chance to just sit and relax as they used to do.


An hour later they had talked about the TV show and what Jack planned for her next. Fleur had agreed and given her opinion on a few of the things. Certainly the odd comment had been new to her but generally she knew of Jack?s plans, after all, she had agreed to them on behalf of her friend.

A silence descended for a few moments and then Jojo cleared her voice.

?We never did get the chance to talk about my engagement Fleur and what it means.?

Expressive green eyes latched onto blue and Jojo saw fear beneath that shouldn?t be there and sorrow too, what did that mean?

?No, we didn?t, I guess we have both been too busy.?

Shrugging her broad shoulders and looking down at the dregs in the bottle of beer she held, the singer smiled. ?Yeah I guess.?

?Are you happy Joanna??

Jojo looked up into the clear innocent face of her friend, but was she still innocent? It was hard to say now, somewhere along the way they had gone their own separate ways and that was natural really, under the circumstances. It did however leave Jojo wondering about her friend and her future. What did Fleur really want to do with her life?

?I guess so, I wouldn?t have said yes otherwise.? Chuckling as she drank the last contents of the beer and put down the bottle at the side of the sofa.

That wasn?t a definite Yes was it? More of a sure anything goes kind of statement that her friend often made. ?That?s all that matters and I?m happy for you too. When?s the wedding??

This time Joanna laughed loudly and sat up on the sofa. ?God knows I doubt this year if everything goes according to plan. I?m going to be touring for a year at least.?

Fleur?s eyes flashed up at that statement. Jack hadn?t indicated anything of the sort in their discussions. ?Really? I must have missed something in the discussions with Jack.?

Standing up Jojo stretched and as Fleur watched her, it was becoming too much of a burden to watch her friend and know she could never be hers.

?It wasn?t Jack?s idea, it was mine.? She walked over to the apartment window smiling. Looking down at the gradually darkening street below she thought maybe her wish would come true and she might yet get an apartment with a decent view. The ocean sounded like a good choice to her.


Turning she smiled at her friend, ?because that?s what it will take to make the big time and I?m going to make it this time Fleur I know it but I have to work for it.?

Rushing over to the window to stand beside her friend, she placed a gentle but insistent hand on her arm and blue eyes looked down at the contact. Normally she wasn?t much for personal contact but whenever she and Fleur had any contact it was good. It made her feel warm inside and she never had understood why she just accepted it as a part of their friendship. It was good to have a best friend and she felt that this woman beside her was that, even if her way of acknowledging that to Fleur was minimal.

Moving slightly she placed warm friendly arms around the much smaller and frailer shoulders of her friend and pulled her closer.

?You already have made the big time in my eyes.?

?Yep I know and when we have that window view over the ocean everyone will know it as well.?

Fleur closed her eyes at the words. One word in particular?we. She must have forgotten she was going to share that view with her husband to be. For an instant it didn?t matter, she would bask in the glow of knowing that at this moment in time, Joanna perhaps did mean her.

Then both women captured each other?s glances and starred into each other eye?s. Was this drowning, mesmerised by the mellow conversation and the feeling of togetherness, it was so right for?

The doorbell rang and the moment passed. Joanna smiled at Fleur, released her hold on the smaller woman and went to see who was calling.

Two minutes later Joanna walked back in, ?did you say we didn?t want any visitors this evening??

Joanna cleared her voice as Calum walked in behind her giving Fleur, who now had rather red streaked cheeks, a long serious expression.

?I?ll leave you two alone, got a heavy day tomorrow, goodnight to you both.?

?Joanna please?? The singer had gone leaving Calum to feel like he had interrupted something important.

?If you want me to go Fleur I will, sorry I thought maybe you would like a little company.? He half turned to leave and the small woman stepped forward and held him back.

?I?m sorry for the earlier remark Calum. We were having a good talk, the first for weeks. I didn?t expect you??

Another lame excuse she knew it and saw the light return to the young man?s eyes. Whatever he did see in her, she wasn?t worth it.

?No, stay. Want a drink?? As she moved towards the kitchen she was surprised as he said no and pulled her towards him.

?I?d rather have a kiss.?

She allowed the kiss and returned it a little but her heart wasn?t in the action nor would it ever be. Now was perhaps a good time to explain that to him too. After all tomorrow they would all be embarking on a new phase in their lives. She needed to make sure she was true to herself as well as Joanna.

~ ~ ~

This was Joanna?s day and Fleur didn?t want anything to stop it from being a success and her miserable countenance wasn?t going to help. So it was best she stay in bed until her friend had gone. She could call her later and wish her luck.

A soft knock on the door heralded the dark head of the woman she had been thinking about peeping inside her bedroom. ?Are you awake Fleur??

What should she do, feign sleep and not answer or be honest and at least acknowledge the woman?s question?

?Hey, I thought you might be excited and want to come with me this morning??

Closing her eyes not in fatigue but in dismay at the tentative words from her friend. Now she didn?t know what to do, it was all crazy again.

?Asleep huh, never mind, I?ll call you later and tell you how it went.?

Fleur heard the words and her tears welled up as she picked up the disappointment as the door closed behind her. Rushing out of bed, she tangled herself up in the bedclothes, which delayed her getting out of the door and Joanna was closing the outer door behind her.

?Damn, I?ve missed her!?

Standing in the cold hallway her feet bare and her flimsy nightdress unable to keep out the chill.  She realised that for once her friend might have needed her and she hadn?t had the courage to face her. All this time she had thought she had overcome her timid ways but once again they overshadowed her and made her less than strong.

?I?m so sorry Joanna.?

Words she whispered into the cold empty hallway, in many respects it reminded her of how her heart felt at the moment and what a barren future she had in store for her once Joanna had moved onto her new life.

It was time to move on with hers too but where would she go?

No way was Danvers town an option. As soon as she set foot in the town, George would no doubt press-gang her into marriage and she had no money or prospects to counter that.

Then like a bolt out of the blue, she realised she did have an option. It might be remote but something she had to at least try for and she would, it was her only hope?

~ ~ ~

?Are you nervous darling??

Jojo looked at Lee Weston and for a moment she thought he was talking to someone else and then it dawned on her that he was actually referring to her.

?Me? No, why would I be nervous, I?m going to slay them??

She was too, she knew it in heart and this was one chance she refused to let slide by without at least attempting to make it happen.

The man slowly traced a finger down her cheek and then stopped a little as he stared into her beautiful eyes. He couldn?t believe his good fortune in having secured a wonderful job and along with it the chance to meet the love of his life. Relationships had been few and far between as he?d concentrated on his career but now he felt that he had settled enough to allow a woman into his life and lucky for him he?d found the woman.

?Want to tell me why you look so pensive if it?s not the show??

Was she? Hardly that, it wasn?t part of her character makeup; maybe he was looking at someone else?

?Hand me that mirror on the table Lee.?

Dutifully doing so, Lee waited as she glanced into the glass and saw her frown for a few moments, ?I?ll help you sort the problem out if you would allow me to??

?I guess I do look strange at the moment, I was thinking about Fleur.?

?Really, I was expecting her to be here as she?s your manager and flatmate too. Couldn?t make it??

Jojo didn?t like the tone of voice he used. As if he?d already made up his mind that Fleur was a hanger-on and not worthy to be her manager. In the last few weeks he?d even asked her to change to someone with more experience. His excuse, Jack was a great man and very fair but others out there weren?t as nice and he indicated Fleur wouldn?t be up for the job if that were the case.

Hesitating in her answer, her blue eyes then flashed with ice as she replied. ?Fleur is busy with a final request from me before the show. She must be stuck in traffic.?

?Okay, while you go for the final practice session I?ll look out for her and bring her to your room when she arrives.?

Bending to kiss her passionately Jojo experienced that same emotion, one of familiarity and warmth, but the excitement she had initially experienced was missing. Had she made a mistake in becoming engaged to Lee? A question she really didn?t have time to answer as she watched him leave her room. She looked in the mirror again and saw her reflection. She was changing she knew, had been for sometime and the change in many ways had been for the good, what had been the catalyst? The contract with Trojan Records and this bid for stardom, age and experience tempering her old temper tantrums or?or was it Fleur?

?Ms. Lackerly, you have your slot in five minutes.?

Jojo acknowledged the call from the TV set and picked up her guitar wishing Fleur were going to arrive. She hadn?t really lied to Lee. Her friend deserved to be here to see her win or lose this battle. After all, she was an integral part of it happening and it wasn?t the same without her friend by her side. She needed the small woman who had become her best friend. Together they could take on the world?its what her heart told her and that more than anything else reminded her that maybe she had made a mistake in agreeing to Lee?s proposal.

~ ~ ~

?Where are you going Fleur??

?I?m going to make my own way in the world as Joanna and I discussed last night.?

Alice couldn?t believe what she was seeing; never mind what she heard, as she watched the woman collect her battered suitcase. The tender woman was her friend and she didn?t think that Jojo Lackerly would have been so cruel as to suggest her leaving, especially on such an important date in the singer?s life. It wouldn?t have been in her character.

?She didn?t really say that did she??

Fleur had told the white lie to stop her friend from arguing the point. She was upset enough and now all she wanted to do was be on her way out of town and on the next greyhound to her next destination.

?Not in so many words but we discussed that as she was moving on so should I and I?m not exactly without any skills am I? I can cook, clean and work in a motel. I should get work easily.?

Alice wanted to wring this woman?s neck. She was older than she was but by god she didn?t have the sense she was born with if she abandoned Jojo now. It would be cruel and the singer didn?t deserve it. Okay, she might not have been that forthcoming over her engagement and she had left Fleur alone for long periods of time. However, she had come home eventually and had paid for everything for the two of them from the time they had come to Nashville and more besides. Jojo even gave Fleur an allowance, enabling her to have money of her own. She?d heard the singer jovially tease Fleur that now that she had her independence maybe she would leave. Wasn?t that what their mutual friend was doing now?

?Does she know you?re leaving today??

Fleur looked around the comfortable apartment, which was clean, tidy and welcoming. Joanna had often commented on that fact it made her feel relaxed as soon as she walked through the door, her haven she called it. At times it had made her feel that she had been just the cook, cleaner and glorified maid for Joanna and not a best friend as she had thought. Perhaps that was her problem?she really didn?t know where she fit in the singer?s life now.

?No, not exactly today.?

?I think you should tell her that you?re leaving and not allow her to find out when she arrives home exhausted and expecting to see you and not a note. I take it you were going to leave a note??

?Yes! Yes of course I was?am! I?ve booked a ticket on the greyhound to leave at five today. I won't have time to wait for her to come home, she?s normally later than that.?

?Then why not go over to the studio now and see her do the show. Then you can tell her and leave from there to the bus station. They?re recording the session in an hour and that will give you plenty of time.?

As green eyes flashed up to hers, she saw the formulation of a negative response and immediately checked it, ?I?ll even give you a lift there and to the bus station.?

Oh god, she didn?t have any way out. Alice was good, very good. ?Okay, don?t let me be late for the bus.?

?Sure thing? grinning as she helped Fleur pick up her possessions, they left the apartment noticing her friend give it a once over and the wistful longing not to leave in the expressive eyes. This really shouldn?t be happening. What had gone so horribly wrong that Fleur wanted to run away from Jojo, who was on the brink of stardom. Certain that the singer had no intention of leaving Fleur behind, she was so sure she would have bet her next paycheck on it.

?By the way how did Calum take you going away??

?Oh that?s another story??

~ ~ ~

?Hi Lee thought you?d be with our girl, she?s on in ten minutes isn?t she??

?Yep, her practice session went reasonably don?t you think??

Jack inclined his head, ah a little tiff perhaps as he noticed the reluctance of the businessman to answer his question fully. ?Yes it did, she?s gonna take the country world by storm I know it. Jason called, he wants you to call back after you?ve finished here.?

?Okay that I can do, in fact, Jojo doesn?t need me at the moment I?ll go do it now.? Walking away from the record producer he remembered the reason he was there. ?Oh and if you come across the negligent manager, Jojo wants to see her when she gets here.?

The words hung in the air like a heavy mist as Lee left the studio area in search of privacy to make his call.

Musing on the words, Jack had to chuckle, so that was it, Fleur Danvers had got under the man?s skin and she was such a slip of a girl too. As he shook his head and walked towards the dressing room Jojo had been given in the building, he noticed the very person he had been told to look out for.

?Hey Fleur, looking for Jojo??

A little flustered as she had been bundled out of the car by Alice, who had noticed her delaying tactics hoping the singer might have started her session. ?Yes Jack, it?s like a rabbit warren here, nearly didn?t make it in time.?

?Yeah, some studio?s are like that. Lee was waiting for you and had to leave, he said Jojo was expecting you.? Motioning her towards the small corridor and the door to the left.

?Tell Jojo I?ll catch up with her after she?s wowed them all. Oh and Fleur glad you could make it, she?ll be fine now.? Smiling, he disappeared as Fleur had to shake her head as the thoughts whirled around in her brain. Why was Lee Weston had been waiting for her? Joanna had expected her and Jack mentioned that Joanna would be fine now that she was here?

?Will do, thanks Jack.?

He grinned good-naturedly at her as she aimed for the door and knocked sharply on its blue fronted fascia.

?Come in.?

Taking a deep breath she opened the door and went inside but didn?t at first see Joanna, she was behind a screen.

?Joanna it?s me!?

Maybe Joanna was busy and didn?t have time to speak to her. Then she was surprised and flustered as the singer emerged from the screen a beaming smile on her face, ?you came??

Fleur knew there was no way she was going to puncture her friend?s buoyant spirit, she would need it for the performance. Her eyes were unable to stop moving over the scantily clad figure. Joanna was wearing a lace black bra that barely covered her breasts and the black matching thong was?breathtaking?she could hardly breath.

?I came. How could I miss your first TV performance, I?m your manager aren?t I??

The hug she received made her heart beat erratically, if only?.

?I?m glad. I thought you had taken to sleeping late these days.? The grin Fleur received made her wonder why she was even contemplating leaving her friend and going away into the unknown.

?No not really, I?m sorry about this morning I was up late.?

The arched eyebrow brought a smile,  ?leather clad certainly looks good, is he??

Chuckling at the red stain that crossed her friend?s face, she flicked her chin gently, "you don?t need to say anything Fleur, I?m just glad you?re here.?

A knock at the door announced that she had five minutes. ?This happens to us far too frequently don?t you think??

?Yeah it does, we never complete a conversation these days. I do need to talk with you Joanna.?

?We will, I need to change into something a little more substantial,? said as she flipped her hand towards her state of undress and moved back behind the screen.

?Want me to leave you to it??

?Nope stay, we?ll go out together. After all we started this journey together didn?t we??

Everything was working out fine, wonderful in fact. Jojo knew she could do it now, her friend was here and they would do it together.

When she emerged, Fleur?s voice refused to function as she saw the stunning image of her friend clad in a green sequinned leather jacket with black leather pants and boots that looked as if they were going to light up.

?What do you think?? As Jojo twirled and the back of the jacket revealed her name in sparkling paste diamonds.

?I?I?I?m lost for words, you are quite amazing. How can they not like you??

?If you approve, then that?s okay I?ll go with the flow. I think it?s too flashy myself but Lee and Jack think it looks the part and if you do too we shall see.?

Fleur was brought back to reality at the mention of Lee...he was the real reason. There was no point denying it and blaming other factors?her jealousy was eating at her and she had to leave.

Jojo selected a guitar from the two she brought with her. Holding out her hand as she opened the door, ?Come on manager, let?s see what I can do out there shall we.?

?Yeah, go slay them Joanna.?

Neither woman noticed the tall man standing in the shadows who watched them leave Jojo?s room hand in hand. An acute stab of jealousy hit him as he watched them proceed to the recording area. Shouldn?t it be him at her side? Surely that was part of the deal when you were engaged and in love?

~ ~ ~

Fleur watched from the wings of the studio Joanna being greeted by the host of the show and ask her a few questions. The blonde settled against a post to watch the interchange, her features happy and for the moment content watching her friend go through the motions.

She jumped as a masculine voice spoke to her from behind.

?She?s quite something isn?t she??

?Yes, yes she is and she deserves this chance, she?s worked so hard for it.?

?Yes I agree, which is why I wanted to speak to you about something.?

?Really, what??

?I think you should vacate as her manager and let someone more professional take over.?

Fleur reeled from the comment, why? Why should he say that? Everything I have done so far for Joanna met with her approval and I haven?t faltered with Jack Wicklow at all! What could a professional do that I haven?t?

?If Joanna asks me to step down I will.?

?You?re her friend she won?t do that. Nonetheless, you must see she has the potential to have the world at her feet. Would you want to screw that up for her if you make some inexperienced bad deals on her behalf??

Fleur turned to the man craning her neck upward to see into his face and what she saw there, she didn?t like. Much of her dislike was centred on the fact he was engaged to Joanna and she wanted her. However, it was also his condescending attitude that he knew best! How did he, how? Wasn?t it up to Joanna to say?had she been discussing it with this man and couldn?t tell her?

Her green eyes despairingly trailed to Joanna who was now climbing on the stool to commence her song for the TV cameras and the studio audience, the gentle strains of the tune carrying over to them.

Love is in my heart it needs you now don?t you know
Life brought us burdens that we shared and shed along the way
Who will know but us what brings us to this tryst
There can be no one for me but you and I know you know it too
Don?t despair let me repair that need in you that calls to my heart and binds our souls for eternity
I?ve never expected to be this secure usually always the one who?s bored
It doesn?t matter to my heart that you might never feel you take the part
I know that deep inside of me I?m calling out your name you see
Foolish people often say intelligence left that day
The very day you entered my life to stay
Don?t despair let me repair that need in you that calls to my heart and binds our souls for eternity
The stars will shine the heavens awake to my cry
I want you in my life again, it doesn?t hurt you see anymore
Because I know you will return to me if you go away
Your heart is mine if only you could see
Don?t despair let me repair that need in you that calls to my heart and binds our souls for eternity
My love will grow with endless energy
Make no mistake I?m here for you and if your tears flow
I?ll wipe them away and make you smile
Tomorrow will be ours for all time
Our souls guarantee that above all
Don?t despair let me repair that need in you that calls to my heart and binds our souls for eternity

Is Lee right? Does Joanna want me to relinquish the manager-ship? Does it really matter? Isn?t that the reason I am here anyway, to leave my friend and allow us both to move on with our lives, whatever and wherever that might be?

The song was underway, her friend was enjoying herself and she had never sounded so wonderful, now was a good time to leave. Obviously it was expected of her from at least one source and at this moment Lee Weston was an integral part of Joanna?s life. They were going to share the rest of their lives together, how could she stay!

As the tune died away the applause crashed around the studio including the technicians who were probably quite blasé about this type of performance. Lee was so taken up with his fiancée's reaction by the audience he didn?t see Fleur leave?he was far too happy. Not only was she going to be a big star, she was also going to be one on a record label that his company part owned, everyone was going to be happy.

As he remembered the small blonde, he noticed she had left the area. Okay, not everyone would be happy. Danvers wasn?t necessary in this adventure anymore, Jojo had him now and he was sure she would be overjoyed that everything was falling into place. One lost friend along the way wasn?t going to cause that much trouble.  Jojo was going to be a star, no, if he had his way, a superstar!

~ ~ ~

Alice sat with Fleur at the bus station waiting for the greyhound bus to announce boarding. She?d been shocked when the blonde had rushed out of the TV studio obviously distressed but unable to communicate just why. Even now, an hour later, she still hadn?t said a word, although her sorrow and pain could be seen etched in every line of her face. One thing she?d make certain of was when Jojo Lackerly arrived back at the apartment she would give her a severe talking too, even if the woman threw her out of the apartment.

?Do you have enough money for the journey Fleur??

Glancing down at her purse held securely in her small hands, the woman replied without emotion, ?yes thanks Alice, enough to see me over for a week or two.?

?I don?t mean to pry but what about accommodations??

Where Fleur was going it would be expensive for accommodations, even for some of the fleapits they called hotels at the cheaper end of the market. Maybe Fleur had friends or relatives in the town who would help her, she hoped so. The woman beside her was far too caring and trusting to be out on her own in that big city.

?I?ll manage.? Fleur looked at her friend and she saw the concern mirrored in her eyes. Did she always warrant the knight-errant to come out of the trees to protect her? As she thought that, tears stung the back of her eyes, her thoughts about Joanna and her role as her improbable protector.

Oh god, how I wish things hadn?t changed Joanna and we had kept on that bus and passed by Nashville and all that it offered you. The words crashed around in her mind but as she related to them she knew that it would crush her heart to prevent Joanna succeeding in anyway.

?Will you call me when you get a place to stay and let me know you?re safe, I?d appreciate that??

Placing a warm friendly hand on Alice?s arm she smiled at her weakly.

?Yes I will and Alice?thank you for being such a good friend, will you do something for me??

?Sure anything!?

Pulling out an envelope she had originally intended to leave at the apartment she handed it to her friend. ?Please give this to Jojo for me, she?ll understand when she reads it.?

?You didn?t tell her did you??

?I couldn?t! She was so happy and her performance was marvellous how could I burst her bubble telling her I was leaving.?

Feeling the pain for her friend she hugged her tight and whispered into the blonde hair, ?everything will work out Fleur, it will, you see if it doesn?t.?

Greyhound bus number 679 now boarding, all passengers please make their way to platform three.

There it was, her call, as the two tearful women broke apart. Fleur gave Alice a watery smile. ?I?ll miss you Alice, if you get the chance please check in on Joanna for me from time to time.?

?Of course I will, count on it.?

Walking with Fleur they handed the luggage to the driver for stowing as she climbed the steps into the bus.

?Safe journey my friend and please call me.?

?I will, goodbye Alice?oh and Alice? Calum?s a great guy, why not check out Sam?s bar on a Thursday one evening.?

With that she entered the bus and Alice could do nothing but smile, damn Fleur knows about my secret crush on the biker.

Ten minutes later the bus left the station and Alice watched her friend leave the city. She wondered as she made her way back to the car park just what a certain country singer would do when she found out her best friend and manager upped and left.

Well soon enough she would find out!

~ ~ ~

The dressing room was packed with people as Jojo fought to find Fleur in the morass of bodies. She could see Lee, who was smiling at everyone that came over to shake his hand; her record producer was in his element.

Her friend must have gone home, she hated fuss and this was FUSS!

Roll on four hours time when she could say bye, bye to all this and go home for a long bubble bath and good company. Not that she didn?t have good company in Lee because he was that, but when she was strung out like this, Fleur knew how to smooth it away with her gentle chatter. Her friend had the gift and she needed to have this in her life, which was something she had decided today. Finally realising it was what were ensuring she remained on this path, her friend?s understanding and faith unconditionally.

?Jojo would you care for a glass of champagne?? Lee walked over to her with a flute and she looked at it and shook her head.

?I?d rather have a beer is there any??

The party was in full swing in her dressing room and she wondered how so many could get into such a confined space. She didn?t care for it that much herself, people were a little too close to her for her personal comfort zone.

?Darling if you wanted a brewery, I suspect on the strength of your performance today Jack would be willing to buy you one.?

?Yeah, one beer will do thanks. Did you see Fleur around or did she leave when the masses arrived?? Smiling at the people who were waving to her and grinning stupidly at her. Yesterday she was nobody today she was being fawned on like royalty, go figure!

?She left when the masses arrived I think, I didn?t see her go. She?ll be at the apartment waiting for you I guess. Although I was kind of hoping you might want to spend the night with me, I have to go back to New York tomorrow if you recall??

Jojo heard the slight disappointment in his charming tone, damn I've  forgotten!  ?Lee I?d love to spend the evening with you but??

?But?? Something already told him the answer?it was a blonde woman with green eyes. How could he compete with a woman? A man yes but a woman, not a chance! He was no fool they were friends and he figured that soon enough the friend would be out of the picture, so why take away this one night, he and Jojo had a lifetime together.

?Fleur, she?ll be waiting for me. I said we?d talk and I want to share this with her Lee, she?s the reason I stuck around so long and kept up the long hours to get to this. I owe her big time, soon enough I wont have much free time will I??

Placing his arms around her he hugged her close, ?So very true darling and when we get married I promise you what little free time you have I?ll commandeer it.? Kissing her lightly, he released her to the hordes that bayed for her attention. As she slipped into the public eye once more, he smiled slowly as he sauntered over to Jack to say he would contact him next week from New York.

~ ~ ~

Jojo put her key in the door sighing heavily as she tried to rid herself of the fluttering stomach she?d been plagued with for several hours. At first thinking it was the telecast but once that was out of the way it remained. Fleur would have some tonic for her nerves she was sure, who would have thought that hard, cynical Joanna Jojo Lackerly would be struck by nerves, hadn?t she seen enough in her lifetime so far to rid herself of that emotional upset? Obviously not!

As she walked into the hall it was in darkness, no sounds could be heard. The place felt cold too, maybe there was a problem with the power?

?Fleur I?m home and am I glad to be here.?

Her voice appeared to echo in the hall as she waited for a reply that never came. A puzzled expression crossed her face as she walked around the apartment. No one in the kitchen either, no evidence of any cooking having been done today.

Then it dawned on her as she neared the lounge and the door was shut tight. I bet she?s having a celebration party for me, I?ll walk through the door and there she?ll be with candles, a cake and a beer! Better school myself for the surprise.

Opening the door as it gradually open into darkness, yep, sure thing, Fleur is up to something.

Expecting to hear a shout from her friend or applause or something! Blinking several times in the darkness she ran her hand over the switch socket turning the lights of the room on. As the area illuminated she saw it was empty too, what was going on?

Scanning the area quickly, her heart beating erratically as she turned and rushed out of the room. Flinging the door to Fleur?s bedroom which was neat and tidy, however nothing that represented her friend was there, not even her friend?s nightdress on the bed for the night nor any of her other knick-knacks.  Moving automatically towards the closet she opened it, closing her eyes and biting her lip as she saw empty hangers forlornly waiting to be filled.

?She?s left me!? the words floated in the air, as the singer sank to the floor, her head in her hands as the tears of exhaustion and pain flooded her cheeks.

This isn?t happening?it can?t be?it is a dream?I?ve fallen asleep at the party and my worse nightmare is coming true. I need Fleur in my life?this can?t be happening!

Realising that it was all her fault for being so selfish and unthinking of her friend?s needs. I brought her here only to abandon her and for what? For the first time since Jojo could remember, she cried like a baby as the fact pierced her heart and soul?

Fleur is gone! What will I do now?

~ ~ ~

Fleur gazed unseeingly through the window of the bus as it travelled further and further away from Nashville.

Now Fleur indulged in a few more tears that she had wanted desperately to shed as she waited with Alice for the bus to leave. She hadn?t wanted to go, however her edifying conversation with Lee Weston had summed it up for her?she wouldn?t be needed in Joanna?s life after today. Her friend was going onto bigger and better prospects, hangers on needed to be dispensed with and she was the first casualty on the singer?s road to fame.

The last time she had travelled any distance on a bus she had been running away from a fiancé, her hometown and all that meant. Although once she?d met Joanna she had felt that the singer was her home and she could face anything the world threw at her. Now she was alone and running away again. This time the reason was Joanna and her friend couldn?t be part of her life. Her heart broke into a thousand pieces. No, she hadn?t wanted to leave her home behind because Joanna was her home, would always be her home wherever she was, regardless of the geography. Fleur knew she would never be truly happy again, how could she, Joanna was her happiness.

Her eyes stung as she closed them briefly, the pain in her chest threatening to engulf her. This shouldn?t be happening?she should be celebrating with Joanna and considering the next step in their futures.

All she had done was leave her friend without a goodbye; she hadn?t had the decency to do that, leaving only a note. What was it with her? Was she going to spend the rest of her life running away from her problems? Would she ever gain a backbone and stand up for herself or was she forever going to need a protector in this life?

Oh god, Joanna please, can?t you see I want you as my improbable protector for the rest of my life, please don?t let me go forever! I love you! Will always love you. I had to go Joanna. I really did, perhaps one day you will understand and come get me. I?m hoping you do?no?my life depends on you coming to get me!

As the bus steadily moved closer to its destination, Fleur looked at the city map on her lap, her tears fell on the document and she wiped them away, contemplating what life would be like in New York.

~ ~ ~

Ten Months Later

?More, more!?

Fans screamed and shouted around her as Jojo finished the concert performance in Atlanta. Tomorrow she would be back in Nashville and normality?although that wouldn?t include Fleur. How could anything ever be normal again without her friend?

Her life the past ten months had been surreal and totally crazy. Yes, she?d made the big time. At least that was what Jack said everyday as he touched base with her. The concert reviews and the record sales were phenomenal with the icing on the cake?a nomination by the Country Music Association. She was consumed ?eating, sleeping, and drinking music and more music! Not even allowing herself the luxury of a day off, which didn?t sit well with her road crew who were now damn tired.

Well, tomorrow they could rest and go perhaps on to other projects. She hadn?t really decided if she wanted to take on the road crew permanently, although Jack had asked her to consider it in the wake of her popularity.

Ten months, thousands of miles and numerous concerts under her belt, she was now being called a workaholic and truth be told, she was.

Now she had to go back to the apartment and face her despair at losing her friend all over again. It would be for the last time and she didn?t have to do that if she didn?t want to. Jack had said he would have the apartment cleared out and move all her stuff over to the new apartment she was renting in Nashville or to the apartment complex she?d bought on paper two months ago overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Now she would have her sea view, no one to share it with but a sea view nonetheless.

Her engagement to Lee Weston had been broken the day after Fleur up and left, it was the only thing she could do under the circumstances. No way was it going to work out. That much she?d been certain of once she acknowledged that the only person who was important to her had been Fleur and she had been too selfish to see that. Otherwise, why would her friend leave? Fleur had been the only soul she really cared about and it had broken her heart finding out that she had left without a trace. Not even those sad words on the note that Alice had thrown at her, with some choice words, the following evening had helped.

Dear Joanna,
I know you are wondering what?s going on and I can?t blame you as I write this I wonder too!

Nevertheless I?ve decided to break out on my own, it was time. I can?t let you continue to fund everything for the rest of my life and it was beginning to feel like that! Please don?t think me ungrateful because I?m far from it!

As I look at our months together, I realised how much I?d grown up and could handle myself. I owe that to you Joanna and only you! Maybe one day in the future we can meet up again and talk about old times and reminisce on how we have both faired in the world.

One thing I know for sure is that you are a star in my eyes and always will be. I wish you so much success my friend you deserve it. I won?t, of course, tell you where I?m going because I know you too well, you will try to find me and I think it?s time for us both to move on.

Wish me the same in your heart Joanna and know you will always be with me in my heart wherever I travel.

Take care my friend,

Throwing herself into her work had numbed the pain and she had to admit being the centre of attention had done her ego a world of good but still she felt hollow inside. What did it all matter if she couldn?t move on as her friend had decided to do? She didn?t really blame Fleur leaving, she had been so engrossed in achieving her dream that she forgot other people needed her, one person in particular. After all, it had been her choice to bring Fleur along, her friend hadn?t deserved being abandoned and neglected. Having spent agonising hours awake at night hoping that her friend had found a safe haven, how she wished she knew for sure then maybe she could settle down to a life too!

Smiling at the people who asked for her autograph duly complying with their eagerness, to own a memento of the concert and her. As she made her way back to the dressing room, she slumped down in the leather chair and wiped away the perspiration from her brow looking at herself in the mirror, what did she see today?

She saw an exhausted, unhappy and lost person, who had no one to share her success and failures with. What seemed liked a long time ago now, she had considered wealth and success her major goals in life. Now, she?d be happy playing a local town bar if she had someone out in the audience whom was happy with her as a person, as Fleur had once been.

Guess she was dreaming again but she had to admit she had come close, pity she had thrown it away.

Maybe Fleur would be in the audience one day, she would continue to hope.

~ ~ ~

Fleur gazed over the small lobby of the hotel where she worked, her mind blank, totally blank. It didn?t happen as often as it used to but from time to time the melancholy overcame her and she lapsed into a place only she was allowed to travel.

?Hey Fleur, penny for them??

A voice she recognised immediately having the effect of pulling her out of her trance with a smile, ?oh Mom, I wasn?t even thinking of anything not even worth a penny.?

?Really? And you looked so intense too. Have the Henderson?s arrived yet?? Her long tapering well-manicured fingers swung around the guest register as she scanned the arrivals and departures.

?They called about an hour ago, said they were caught up in some traffic problem at Albany, so would be late. I said not a problem, we would see them when they arrived.?

Karen Adams grinned at her daughter; yes, true, Fleur would make sure the new arrivals were greeted properly, even if they turned up at midnight. That was one of the wonderful bonuses of having her daughter arrive out of the blue one morning almost ten months ago. Not only was it the perfect present for her birthday, Fleur had brought with her a flair for the hotel business and since she had taken on the role of assistant manager, the small hotel had gone from being an average place to upmarket and always full.

Whatever had happened to bring her daughter back into her life, she was eternally grateful for. Although at times like now, when she saw her pensive features, she knew that it hadn?t been a happy choice for her daughter to leave her old life behind. At first she?d been inquisitive but the child hadn?t given anything away, other than she had lived in Nashville with a friend for a short time after leaving Danvers and that it had been time to move on.

?Are you happy living here at the hotel Fleur, you could move in with us you know??

Smiling, the blonde, who looked the spitting image of her mother at the same age, vigorously nodded her head. ?Yes, I love it here. I get to do what I enjoy and have my independence too! What more could I ask for??

?How about a social life, other than coming over on Sunday?s for dinner? You don?t take much time off, except the odd sight seeing tour you arrange during the afternoon or early evening.?

Laughing softly Fleur didn?t make friends easily and all she wanted to do at the moment was make her way in the hotel business and maybe the social side could come later. Anyway the only friend she really wanted in her life didn?t care enough to make any contact, not even when she?d left messages on her machine for a couple of weeks, which were never returned. Admittedly, the letter she left had been explicit, she wanted to make her own life now but surely Joanna could have replied just once.

?Alice is coming to town soon and she?s a friend. I promise to make the effort and go out and about with her while she?s here.?

Snorting slightly, Karen blinked her green eyes at her daughter shaking her head; ? yes your friend is in town for what two days??

?No! She?s coming over for four nights on her way to see relatives. Then she promised at Christmas she would stay longer if she could. See mom almost a week!?

As they were chatting, the swing door opened and in walked a short stocky man virtually bald with a ready smile and twinkling eyes, alongside him a taller young man with a similar expression. ?Now, what are you two ladies scheming? If I know you Karen, it might not be in my best interests??

Karen Adams grinned and turned to hug the man, ?now when have I not been in your best interests Grayson?? as the man held her close he whispered something into her ear and kissed her lovingly.

?Oh give it a rest can?t you! Fleur can?t you tell them it?s embarrassing.? The young man voiced in mock censure as his smile grew even wider.

?Bradley I think our mom and your dad make one cute couple. How would you like to share a coffee while they continue to get to know each other again.?

The comment was ridiculous as they had seen each other at breakfast only three hours before but it made them all laugh as Bradley Adams walked over to his half sister relishing her talent for coffee making.

?You should live in the same house Fleur, then you might consider I?m right.? Grinning, he placed a warm arm around his big sisters shoulders as they entered the back office.

?You look worried my dear??

Grayson had fallen in love with Karen when he visited the Danvers area during his sales travelling. He knew she was married with a child and hadn?t wanted to rock the boat. He was from a family who had very devout ethics about the sanctity of marriage. However, the more he came to the town and got to know the woman, he couldn?t help himself, he fell hook, line and sinker and felt that Karen wasn?t immune to him either. She was caring, gentle and loved her daughter; the husband on the other hand was a different matter. He had been a drunk, gambler and the towns' joke?yes, he might have been harsh in his assumptions but it had been clear that Daniel Danvers wasn?t ever going to change.

One day, he?d come home after losing all their money from a cattle sale that was going to take them through the winter and expected Karen to exist on nothing. He would never forget the day he walked into the motel and found her crying inconsolably in the small lobby, that had been the final straw for him and he asked her to go away with him. She?d naturally said no as he expected and he remembered seeing Fleur who was as pretty as a picture hug her mother comforting her, though not understanding her parents heartbreak.

Three months later they had left town together and Karen had to leave her only child behind, it had broken her heart but she couldn?t have stayed, not after the bastard tried to sell his wife?s favours in the local bar. Karen hadn?t even known about it at the time and he decided there and then that this woman wasn?t going to go through something so sordid because she had a waster for a husband. They had always intended to fight for the child and would have. However, Daniel Danvers had sobered up and caused such a stir calling Karen a slut and not fit to be a mother that their lawyers had indicated that the chances of Karen being in a position to prove she hadn?t recklessly abandoned her child were slim.

Over the years, Karen had tried to stay in touch but Daniel saw to it that Fleur never received anything her mother sent her. She never stopped caring though and had a friend in Danvers town that gave her regular updates to prevent her going insane. When Daniel died, they?d considered going to talk with the young woman but Bradley had been taken ill and the time flew by that the chance was lost. When she?d left the town, it had given Karen cause for concern but her friend had said it was the very best thing she could have done and the person she had gone with would look after her. Now after all these years they were reunited as a family and Karen had never been happier and that?s all that mattered to Grayson.

?I don?t think she?s happy Gray, there?s something in her eyes that remains permanently sad. She won?t talk about it, so how can I help her??

?In time she will Karen, she?s finding her feet that?s all.?

?Do you really think so? I wouldn?t want to lose her again, not after waiting all this time for her to be back in my life.?

?Yeah I do and anyway, wherever she goes in the future she knows we are here for her and that must mean something, right??

?I love you Grayson did I ever tell you that??

Chuckling the man slipped his arms back around her and gave her a tender kiss on her lips, ?everyday my dear, everyday. Lets go see how our brood are doing shall we??

Hand in hand they went behind the reception counter into the back office hearing laughter as they opened the door warming both their hearts.

 ~ ~ ~

As Jojo surveyed the empty rooms of the apartment she couldn?t help thinking that Fleur would walk through the door and ask her what she was doing! Her friend would be aghast at the mess she was leaving behind and that mess only amounted to a couple of empty boxes and the dust that had accumulated over the time she had been touring. Okay?it hadn?t been cleaned properly since Fleur left.

As she looked around one last time, she sighed heavily. This was the end of this particular journey. In the future she would never need to live like this, the house on the coast was paid for and belonged to her?something she thought might never happen in her life.  For now she was renting, with the option to buy, a super apartment in the most desirable area in Nashville, once more her thoughts travelled to her friend. She would love all the labour saving gadgets and the décor in the apartment being light and airy. Fleur would have a wonderful time filling the place with her plants and flowers.

Her bank balance was healthy or so Jack said and she had no reason to distrust him. She was due to tour Europe and Asia in three months time, the world literally at her feet. However, she felt restless, unable to enjoy the accolades she was receiving at the moment. Jack was worried about her schedule. He said she?d burn out before she could reap the rewards. Maybe he was right but something inside her refused to allow her to stop or she might simply not get up again.

?Hi.? A voice she barely recognised hailed her from the open doorway.

?Alice! How are you??

The last time the two had spoken it had been in antagonism, mainly from the other woman. Jojo had been too shocked and unhappy to properly retaliate, now she might be tired but she wouldn?t put up with another tirade from the woman.

?I?m fine, you?re looking?well you?re doing well.? Alice finished lamely. No way did the singer look good she was too haggard.

?Yes, I?m doing well.?

Alice wasn?t sure if she should talk, the singer obviously wasn?t happy to see her, but then why should she be after the last time they spoke. The situation had seemed so unfair at the time and still was today but Fleur had explained the situation a little more clearly, especially her growing feelings for the woman in front of her, the situation would have seemed untenable at the time.

?I wasn?t sure if you would ever return here? I?ve seen the odd person come around who had a key but I hadn?t seen you. I figured you?d given the place up.?

?I have now. I decided it wouldn?t be right to just leave everything to a stranger. Besides, there was the odd item or two that belonged to Fleur, I couldn?t let anyone else deal with those.?

Alice heard the inflection of sadness in the voice, maybe all was not lost on that friendship front, if she ?

?I need to go, I have another appointment.? Jojo jangled the keys and looked around the hall and the memory of throwing her knapsack on the dainty table that always held welcoming blooms came to the forefront. It was a bittersweet recollection and how she wished she could do that again. She could of course, all she had to do was have the housekeeper place a table in her new apartment hallway with fresh flowers and it would be the same, expect her heart knew it wasn?t.

?I won?t keep you, I hope you?re career continues to shine. See you around Jojo.?

Alice turned to leave and stepped towards the stairwell for her one flight up, she might as well walk. The singer would want the elevator to go down in.



?Have you heard from Fleur?? There she?d asked, no way could she have left without knowing, even if Alice didn?t know anything. Closing her eyes she prayed for positive news.

?She?s fine Jojo, working hard but she?s well.?

?Where is she??

?I?m sorry, if she wanted you to know that, she would have told you. I promised that I wouldn?t tell anyone.?

?I see. Will you tell her?tell her, I asked about her??

?Yes of course I will, maybe now that you are back in town she?ll call you.? Alice knew that wasn?t in the cards, Fleur had indicated that she had tried several times with no result. She knew their mutual friend wouldn?t shame herself even more by hounding the singer.

Blue eyes stared at the closed door of the apartment dragging in a jagged breath, ?yeah, perhaps she will, see you around Alice.?

The singer jabbed the elevator button and it arrived seconds later. As the doors closed behind her, Alice realised that with the way the singers' lifestyle was taking off, there wasn?t much chance of them meeting again. Oh well, she could always boast she had been friends with Jojo Lackerly the singer, in the future.

Now, to go back to her apartment and call Fleur. She would want to know that Jojo had been here and it would be up to her how she handled it.  Already knowing that her friend probably wouldn?t do anything, the die had been cast and Jojo Lackerly had been tarnished with it well and truly.

 ~ ~ ~

One Month Later

?Hi Stella how are you doing today??

?Why Fleur I?m good, what about yourself? I see you are laden down as usual. Can?t you get some help??

Grinning, Fleur walked in step with the elder sprightly woman, who owned her own seamstress business at the same location as her husbands bakery business. She didn?t make much money but it suited her, saying she doubted she would ever retire.

?Yes I know, but I love coming round the village, it?s a nice change from the hotel.?

?You should get our more! I keep telling your mother so and she says you will not heed our wishes. You young people are all the same, think you know best, when we have already experienced it before.?

Fleur grinned at the comment. ?Bradley was going to help but he had baseball practice. I swear he?s going to make the Met?s in a few years time.?

?Oh that boy is spoiled.? Chuckling, the older woman realised that she herself had done the same for her son. Now he had children of his own and was finding that parenthood wasn?t easy sailing.

?Yeah, but I never knew I had a brother, so I?m making up for lost time. He?s a very caring young man and reminds me of someone I knew once.?

?Ah, so our Fleur has a secret love affair buried away, has she??

Laughing at the remark because it was so off the mark, however Stella would never know that. ?Nope, a friend, a good friend at the time, he was very caring like Bradley. We berate men but some of them are wonderful, don?t you think??

Stella and her husband had been married for almost forty years so of course she would answer positively. This weekend the event would be marked with a party at her mother?s hotel.

They entered the bakery shop and Fleur breathed in the wonderful aroma of freshly baked bread. She loved to stand on the threshold and take in the distinctive aromas all day if Alexander would allow and her work at the hotel of course.

?Ah, two lovely ladies, what brings you here to my fine establishment?? A tall strikingly handsome man with swarthy Mediterranean looks, twinkling brown eyes and the sharp Grecian nose that indicated his heritage.

?Alex you flatterer, you will be having me spying on all your customers in a calculating way if you carry on.?

The man moved from around the counter and hugged the elder woman his love evident, ?Stella you are my one true love, no one can ever take your place.?

Turning, in his gentle loving, Stella grinned at the younger woman who was smiling indulgently. She began to wonder if in this part of New York it wasn?t magical. Everyone who was a couple seemed to thrive in the environment. For a few moments she wondered if things would have been different with her and Joanna had they come here first?

?Fleur when you have this, don?t give it away?ever! No matter how absurd or impossible it may seem.?

Shaking her head, she had to wonder if ever she would ever get the chance to feel like that?okay she did but it had to be mutual, right?

?Leave the girl alone Stella, she has plenty of time. Although I do know one or two eligible bachelors??

?No! No, please Alex, I?d rather try to find the right person on my own, thanks all the same.?

Winking, the man released his wife and went back around the counter; ?you should bring someone to our anniversary party Fleur, they would be most welcome.?

?Thanks but the weekend would be rather short notice I think.?

Smiling broadly, the man chattered on about family and things in general as he made up her usual order.

Her mind drifted to the conversation she?d had with Alice, if only she dared called Joanna. What a surprise that would be, if she invited the singer to the party and she turned up! Fleur knew the older couple enjoyed Joanna?s music. She had seen the CD both here in the bakery and the area Stella worked. It would probably make Joanna self-conscious to see the fan worship or maybe it wouldn?t, her friend had always been very confident.

Coming out of her musings, the very CD she was thinking of flooded the room and Joanna?s rich voice could be heard. Making her smile tearfully as she recalled the song. It was the one she had last heard, at the TV studio.

?Why do you look so sad Fleur, don?t you like our choice in music??

Stella and Alex looked at each other for a moment, ?oh yes, very much. She has a wonderful voice doesn?t she??

?Yeah she does, a rags to riches story I heard.?

Alex answered quietly more to himself than to the women in the room, ?she was always rich?just never realised it.?

Fleur turned a surprised gaze towards the man wondering what he meant. ?I don?t understand??

Stella jumped in at that moment answering for her husband. ?What he means Fleur, is with a voice like that and so much talent, how could she ever be poor??

?Of course, that makes sense.?

All three smiled as they chatted about people they did know. In the background Jojo Lackerly?s voice gathered strength as she hit a high note finishing that particular number.

 ~ ~ ~

?I think you should reconsider Jojo, you have had a throat infection and it isn?t clear yet, give it another week or two. We can rearrange the concerts in France and Germany, start the tour in Italy and I?ll have them reschedule.?

Jack pleaded with the singer in earnest. She had been ill for most of the month, having reluctantly agreed to a vacation before another gruelling tour. This time it wouldn?t be as arduous, only four months, although it was an immense amount of travelling, which would take its toll eventually. However, she didn?t seem to care one-way or the other. If it hadn?t been for the housekeeper informing him that Jojo was ill, he wouldn?t have known to send in one of the top doctors to help.

?No! I?ll be fine, trust me, I know my body?it hates sitting around. Once I?m back on the road everything will go like clockwork.?

?I don?t agree! This tour is too soon after the last one. It?s your call of course?and it won?t do the new record release any harm. Promise me if at any time you decide you?ve had enough, let me know, we will work it out, okay??

Jojo knew he would do exactly that if he had to for he had a compassionate nature that refused to allow him to feed off others. He was a true gentleman.

?How would it be if I did the world tour and then had a three month vacation for real??

Looking her over, Jack knew she needed more than a break. Jojo needed to find the spark that was lacking in her life. He wasn?t sure if it was the loss of her manager and friend or her fiancé that was the missing link, although he had a good idea. Whichever it was, she needed to make her peace and have it back in her life, no matter the cost. Not that he would tell her that, oh no, she was too valuable a commodity to upset. Currently they only had a handshake type of contract, which was how he liked it for both parties.

?How about you go home to bed and see what you feel like in the morning. Tomorrow is another day.?

?I have the flight to New York tomorrow and that stands.?

Walking over to the concerned man she grinned, bending to kiss his cheek, winking as she left. ?How come you?re still free and single??

?Away with you and that virus, I don?t want it. I?m older than you remember? We aged types can?t take the strain anymore. Anyway, who says I?m free and single??

They both laughed as she vacated the office, Jack continued to smile at her remark. Maybe one day he might let her into that secret.

~ ~ ~

Continued in Part 2

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