~ Improbable Protector ~
The Sequel to The Sequel
J M Dragon
© 2003 by J M Dragon
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/Comfort: There 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.
Acknowledgement: Alice and Packer, thank you for all your help and support.
This story takes up after the conclusion of 'Improbable Protector 2'
?She never used to be this touchy about her stuff Jack, this is the fourth session she?s run out on us.?
?You know Jo, she?s a perfectionist. If it isn?t right to her, she will go over it again and again until she?s satisfied, Dave. I call that true professionalism. Has Steve finished with our new songbird??
?Later today, young Tandy is not only a great looking babe, but she?s talented too. He told me she did everything top speed with no rehearsal time.? The sigh from the man at the console made Jack smile. Their new signing was little more than a fresh-faced kid out of high school, but she could sure belt out a tune and when Jojo had taken months away from work when she got sick, they?d needed the new blood.
?Unlike your current songbird, huh. I?ll talk with her and find out what the trouble is.? Jack Wicklow, the President of Trigon Records, smiled at the sound mixer and left the small recording studio.
Joanna Lackerly was acting way out of character. She had been back in harness a month now and still hadn?t cut her first recording in the studio. At first she had wanted rehearsal after rehearsal. This week she had said she was as ready as she ever would be and they had planned to record at least three tracks for the new album. To-date they hadn?t managed to keep her in the studio to mix one track and at this rate, it was going to be a year before any tracks sufficient for a release would be available. What puzzled him was what was wrong with her. Yes, she?d been sick and had taken a rest, rather longer than he expected, but he had only himself to blame for that. He?d insisted she take the time out, as long as she wanted, and had. He?d been supremely confident though that if she jumped right back on the horse that had thrown her, there wouldn?t be a problem. Her only album release had gone platinum with great street appeal and had only missed out on a top award by the skin of her teeth. Only thing was, in this industry things moved on and he hated to say it, but the youngsters were pilling up behind her to take her crown, Tandy being one of them.
Turning the corner down the short corridor he saw the woman he?d been thinking about and smiled wryly. She had all the makings of a superstar who could remain one indefinitely in this industry, along with the guts and work rate to see it through, but did she want it badly enough? First occasion he met her he thought so, now he wasn?t so sure, she wasn?t driven like the first year. Something else had become more important to her. He didn?t know what that was or how to find out and Jojo wasn?t exactly the most gregarious person about her life.
?Hi, Jo, I was in the mixing room for that last session, looked like things were going well,? smiling at the dark attractive woman who looked at him with a suspicious glint in her eyes.
?Yeah, so why did I leave? I want a new session man.? Jojo replied imperiously.
?Dave is one of the best, Jo, and you know it! Have you thought that perhaps...?
Lifting her eyes to stare at the man who had given her a chance in a million and he hadn?t needed too, not with so many others out there of equal talent, ?Perhaps??
Smiling warmly Jack stood his ground, ?Perhaps it?s you. It?s been a while, you know, maybe you?ve become accustomed to the soft life...not that I blame you, Jo. Hard work, especially the way you go about things, must take its toll.?
Affronted at the remark Jojo replied caustically, ?Are you saying I?ve passed my best??
?Not me, Jo, now others... Want to prove them wrong?? Jack knew that a challenge was the only way to get a rise out of this woman; she had skin thicker than a rhinoceros and then some.
?Do I need to prove anything; the first album went platinum, didn?t it??
?Sure. However, you need at least two to ensure that the pundits out there don?t think it was a freak. Anyway, don?t you want to be singing to the grandkids and embarrassing the hell out of them?? Jack grinned placing his arm about her shoulders in a friendly fashion.
?I?ll do what?s in my contract; you?ll have to negotiate again if you want more.?
Jack heard the bravado, making him inwardly smile. Now that was the woman he knew, not the temperamental one that appeared every time she hit the studios these days. ?I?ll look forward to that. When do I get to meet your new manager? I take it you did finally decide to replace Ms. Danvers??
For a moment there, Jack thought the sun had taken residence in the dark corridor because at the mention of a certain name, Jojo literally opened out like a flower would to the suns rays, radiant he?d call it.
?I didn?t. Fleur decided that she wanted to stay on the job. She will be here tomorrow to take up the full time role,? smiling at the thought of her friend. She didn?t care what people thought, it didn?t matter to her; all that did matter was that Fleur was due here tomorrow and that was the most important thing. She missed her so badly it was affecting her sessions here, not that she was going to tell anyone that. They might think she?d gone soft in the head and she hadn?t...well, not really she just missed Fleur.
?I will have the pleasure of negotiating with Ms. Danvers again? Why thank you, Jo, that?s a wonderful prospect.?
Jojo glanced at him sharply. What did that mean...was he interested in Fleur? No, he couldn?t be, he was too old...then again, wasn?t that bastard banker too old and he?d been downright ugly to boot! Oh no, here she was again deciding her best friend?s interests. Damn, she?d spent too long with Fleur when she was sick that had to be the reason. ?I?ll bring her over when I have tomorrow?s session. Do you mind if I call it a day? I have things to do.?
?No problem, Jo, say we meet in the studio at...??
Jojo mulled over the unsaid question for a moment. Fleur was due in town in just over a couple of hours; tomorrow at ten wouldn?t be so bad. ?Ten ok with you, Jack??
?Perfect, if it?s ten in the morning, otherwise p.m. is not an option, not tomorrow anyway.?
Laughing for the first time since she?d left New York alone a month ago, ?a.m. it is Jack. Will you apologise to Dave, tomorrow I?ll make up for my attitude, I promise.?
Jack grinned at the woman who looked a little happier than she had when he first crossed her path in the corridor, ?Yeah. He?ll forgive you, but I?d like to see a track completed, if you don?t mind.?
Jojo glanced back at him for a few moments as she set off down the corridor to the entrance, ?How about two tracks or more??
All she heard was the chuckle of approval as she opened the door and hit the glare of the afternoon sunlight. Things hadn?t been going well that was true, not well at all! Her mind was back in her old hometown, New York, where her family was, but more importantly where Fleur was. They?d both arranged to come back here together. Unfortunately, Bradley had been taken ill days before the event and Fleur had stayed behind to look after the family business, vowing to follow Joanna as soon as she could. True to her word, she was on her way. Bradley was out of the hospital and Karen, Fleur?s mother, had said everything was under control and she should follow Joanna.
~ ~ ~
?I can?t believe this, Joanna, it?s spectacular!? The awed expression engulfed Jojo in a euphoria she?d never felt before.
?Yeah? See, I have the table here in the hall for you, all you need do is fill it with flowers like you used to!?
Fleur looked at the face of her friend, she was happy. There was a glow about her it brightened up the spacious hallway they stood in. At the same time, she felt an equal emotion. Joanna had always made her feel special, even if she never knew she did, by simply walking into the room. All that mattered at the moment was that they were together and this apartment was superb. Okay, not as friendly as the one they had originally, though they had the wonderful sea view to compensate, although she would have preferred her friends. Her mind drifting to the up coming wedding of Alice and Calum, she was going to be her friend?s maid of honour. Actually, that was something that she hadn?t told Joanna yet, plenty of time for that it was almost a year away. She knew that booking well in advance with her talented friend was essential and she really wanted to have Joanna by her side for the special event.
?You do like it don?t you, Fleur?? Joanna gave her friend a pensive look, she had gone all quiet and thoughtful and that could mean only one thing... ?Okay, spit it out, what?s wrong??
Chuckling at the expression on the singer?s face she reached out unconsciously, gently touching the frown that had appeared on her forehead. ?Nothing?s wrong, nothing at all, everything is perfect. Come on, Joanna, show me around the rest of the place.?
A relieved expression replaced the frown as Jojo grinned happily. Holding out her hand for the smaller one, she literally dragged Fleur around the massive apartment space. Her heart soared when she heard the joy and enchantment from the woman at her side as they moved from room to room.
Finally Jojo stopped outside the door of one of the final rooms in the house. Smiling broadly, she opened the door to the room with a flourish, ?Your very own boudoir Ma?am, hope you like it.? Stepping away as the smaller woman moved forward glancing tentatively inside.
?It won?t bite you, Fleur, I promise.?
She watched from the doorway, as Fleur walked inside like a dreamer in a wonderland. The room was filled to the brim with carnations of every colour available with the bed counterpane having a carnation motive embellished in the centre to compliment the setting. All the furniture was delicate and ornate, having been specially chosen for her friend. It didn?t suit the rest of the minimal furnishings in the rest of the house, however, this was Fleur?s domain and it had to make her want to stay.
As Fleur walked inside, she knew that whoever had selected the furniture pieces for this room had known her well and that could only have been Joanna. The rest of the house was out of a designer magazine and looked like it hadn?t been lived in, which was probably right, knowing her friend?s schedule prior to her illness. Her favourite flowers were a welcome that she hadn?t expected and the thoughtfulness of that alone brought a lump to her throat. How she loved the woman who stood at the door silently watching her every move.
Spinning around to face the singer, Fleur?s face beamed with pleasure, ?I don?t know what to say, Joanna, it?s incredible and the flowers...don?t tell me you went down to the market to select all these yourself??
A sheepish look travelled over Jojo?s face as she hung her head, ?Nope, didn?t have the time, but...but I did ask for every single colour possible. Do you like the room? I did choose the furniture myself, they thought I was crazy.? Her childlike grin making Fleur happy beyond words.
?What did they think; you had gone all delicately feminine on them??
?Something like that, not that I care as long as you like it, do you??
There was an anxious tone in Joanna?s voice as she asked the question again.
A tender expression flowed from Fleur as she nodded her head vigorously, ?I love it and you knew I would. Thank you, Joanna, for being so...thoughtful.? Her heart was screaming out to say she not only loved the room, but the woman who's made it feel like a home.
Jojo shrugged self-consciously. Fleur watched the familiar action and impulsively ran over to her and hugged her tight, ?Anyone ever tell you that you are wonderful??
Laughing at the smaller woman whom she held so close and remarkably comfortable in her arms, ?I missed you, Fleur. You don?t know how glad I am that you came, I need you here.?
Glancing up into the features she loved, Fleur smiled, ?I missed you too, but I?m sure you?ve been too busy to notice the time flying.?
Jojo caught the teasing expression in the woman?s eyes and gave a rueful glance, ?Oh you ask Jack and my sound man Dave, they will tell you how I?ve been since I came back.? Releasing her friend she walked over to the bay window with a large balcony overlooking the ocean and settled against the railing looking out to sea.
?Fleur watched her best friend standing staring silently out over the horizon and she thought pensively if there was a problem.
?Do you want to talk about it??
Feeling Fleur beside her, but unable to shift her gaze from the ocean scene to her friend, ?Not really, maybe another day.?
There was despondency in the tone, which she hadn?t heard before even in the early days. ?That?s cool. It?s a beautiful view, are you sure I haven?t stolen the master bedroom from you??
Jojo smiled slowly. Fleur was easing the tension she felt and had felt for weeks since arriving back in Nashville. She knew a great part of it had been the separation from her friend, but there was something more and she wasn?t exactly sure what it was. ?Well...it might be the master in some people?s eyes; however, I wanted the one opposite to this. It has a different view, part ocean and part city. It helps the muse when I?m writing my songs.?
?Ah, that means we can wave at each other from our balconies over breakfast.? Giggling at the thought. It would be like living in a hotel.
?Oh please, I?d rather sit directly opposite you and bore you with my up and coming morning. Incidentally, want to accompany me to the studio tomorrow? Jack would like a word or two.?
?Wouldn?t miss it. Anyway, I want a word or two with Jack. Can?t have my girl working too hard, she might get sick again.? They both burst out laughing as they drank in the beautiful tranquil view and the closeness of each other?s company once more.
~ ~ ~
Jack Wicklow entered the studio where Jojo was working and prayed she was still there. Then the old tired expression ?music to my ears? rang out in his when he heard her remarkable voice sound out a wonderful song. He grinned as he looked around the studio, noticing that today the singer wasn?t alone with the sound mixer. A small woman at the back of the booth watched every move the singer performed, a gentle awed expression on her face. Bingo! There was the answer to that dilemma...funny how it was that the smallest packages packed a tremendous punch.
Silently, he walked deeper into the studio giving a thumb up sign to the technician then sat down next to Fleur. ?Great to see you again, Ms. Danvers, I hear you are staying this time.? He smiled warmly to take out any implied sting to his words...he meant them sincerely.
Fleur smiled back though her eyes were unable to give the man at her side her full attention. This song was great and Joanna hadn?t lost her touch at all, she was marvellous. ?Nice to see you again, Mr. Wicklow, and please, my name?s Fleur. I?ll be around for as long as she needs me.?
A thoughtful expression crossed Jack?s face as he turned his attention to the singer behind the glass. She needs you, little lady, that is something you can be sure of, I wonder if she ever tells you that. ?Thank you, Jack will be fine with me too. I?m glad you?re back. She tended to be a lost soul, but now that you are here all that will change.?
?Was she so bad?? As the strains of the music closed, Fleur grinned at her friend then turned her attention to the man at her side, her expression intrigued. Joanna had said it was okay for her to ask about anything and this was a good place to start.
?Bad? Dave, was our Jo a bad girl in the last few weeks?? Jack asked the mixer who turned to them and gave a rueful look of agreement.
?That word doesn?t cover it, boss, as well you know. Mind, I don?t know what you did coming back here, Fleur, but it works a treat. You should be part of the deal every time she steps into the studio.? He turned back to the mixing controls, his attention back to the singer waiting for his verdict.
?I see, what happened??
?Nothing happened, that was the problem, she couldn?t settle. You know Jo. She loves to do her sessions, but not this time. Couldn?t get her to stay in the studio long enough. I think that?s all in the past now, don?t you?? He smiled winking at Fleur then stood up to go over and talk to Jojo from the console.
?Lackerly, you?re the star here again. Don?t let me see you slacking again, okay??
Jojo turned her expressive eyes to the man and for a moment, a slither of ice appeared, which was immediately dissolved when she saw the warmth in his face. ?Yeah, yeah, until the next young star struck wonder comes through your door.?
Laughing at her remark the producer shook his head; ?I think you need to look in the mirror, Jo, I don?t think you have ever been that young, even if you could prove it with ID.?
Fleur listened to the banter between the two of them and smiled. This was looking great. She knew Joanna enjoyed working for the record company and particularly her relationship with Jack or she certainly wouldn?t be letting him speak like that to her. It was more a family affair at Trigon records than a multi million-dollar business and she knew they were doing well for a small business or that large outfit in New York wouldn?t have a share in it. For a moment she let her mind dwell on Lee Weston, Joanna?s ex-fiancé and felt sorry for the man. Okay, she hadn?t liked him and he had dealt her a body blow on their last conversation. However, she had cause to be magnanimous. Joanna was here with her and wanted her in the singer?s life, not so with Weston, he was out and never to return. Did she know that for certain though? They?d talked about it, but when Joanna spoke of her emotions, she buried most of it deep down and once over in her mind, she didn?t take kindly to airing it again.
?Fleur, want to go to my office and talk turkey or better yet, have a coffee and catch up?? Jack asked the small blonde who was sitting there with a far away expression and her thoughts didn?t look that pleasing.
?I?m sorry, Jack, I was thinking. Sure, we can do that I?d love some tea. Though I did promise Joanna I?d stay for the session.? Her eyes travelled to her friend who was strumming on her guitar. The singer was now in a world of her own as she concentrated on her performance.
?If I know that woman, she won?t even know we?ve gone and I promise to have you back by lunch, in time to make her take a break. How does that sound to you??
?Oh, now I know why Joanna likes you so much.? Grinning as she stood up and glancing once more at Joanna knowing the man was right, she?d be back for when the singer actually put the track down on tape.
?You do, do you, young lady. Well, don?t think I?m not as sharp as a knife at the negotiating table because I like her as well.? He took her arm and led her out of the studio talking amicably as they went towards his office.
An hour later her meeting with Jack had gone surprisingly quickly and fruitfully. He appreciated that the gruelling pace Joanna had set herself the year before shouldn?t happen again. Not only for her, but the musicians who went along as her team, they had complained bitterly to him on the last leg of the American tour. Not enough to stop them taking a lucrative European tour date with her shortly afterwards, even if it hadn?t been completed. Obviously the singer was a work demon and expected others to be too. She must have gained a lot of respect or they wouldn?t have bothered. From what Jack implied, the musicians that Jojo had with her would never be out of work, they were too good.
Standing outside the studio she heard the intro of Joanna?s guitar, a good time to get back. As she entered the studio she was surprised to see another guy at the mixing board and a very young woman...maybe ?child? would be a better description, watching her best friend with an expression of concentration and was that...devotion? Something she knew she wore regularly in the singer?s company. Who was this person?
She sat back down on the sofa she had vacated earlier, her silence appreciated by Dave who had signalled her to be quiet as she entered the room. They were going to record, she knew better than to say anything, the introductions could be made later. Her eyes travelled to the singer who was about to begin the cut.
I?ll never doubt it when they say angels have wings
Maybe because I need you to fly right down beside me
For in dreams I loved you for eternity
Will you be mine in reality?When I close my eyes I?m on top of the world
With you close in my arms
No longer alone I have you sharing our soulsAll I have to offer is my love
No fortune can I bring only me
With an offer to stay with you each day
Caring, proud, tenderly sharing our lives
You are my one and only treasureWhen I close my eyes I?m on top of the world
With you close in my arms
No longer alone I have you sharing our soulsForever devoted I?ll wait
Who knows when that heavenly burden will cross my path?
To heal those wounds each moment alone continues to ooze
God speed you here my darling don?t make me wait another minute, hour or a dayWhen I close my eyes I?m on top of the world
With you close in my arms
No longer alone I have you sharing our souls
For a few moments there was a marked silence in the room then a round of applause heralded another masterpiece completed, that would be two that day and it was only lunch. As Fleur watched Joanna take in the recognition of her skills, she was fascinated when the teenager in the room grabbed for one of the mixer?s mic?s shouting her appreciation at the singer. In many ways it was funny, the kid sounded like she had a crush on the singer and probably did.
The young man who she vaguely recalled from her first time here in the studios with Joanna, stood up and pushed the young woman away from the mic. ?We got that wrapped, Jo. Great work, glad to see you back in your best form, let?s take a break for lunch.? He waved and turned to the younger woman in the room then his eyes tracked to Fleur smiling in her direction.
?Hi, Fleur isn?t it?? the young man grinned holding out his hand, which Fleur shook returning his friendly smile.
?Yes, sorry forgive me, but...? Shrugging unable to recall his name.
?Steve, Steve Mitchell, we met about a year ago. However, I have the advantage, Jo talks about you all the time.?
?Oh, you?re Fleur?? the young woman in the studio stared at her arrogantly or so Fleur thought although kids did that these days, they were brimming with confidence.
?Yes I am and you would be??
The girl looked her over and obviously had a few internal thoughts that she might or might not share all depended on how arrogant she was. Fleur bemusedly watched the expression flitter across her face. ?Tandy Radnor, I?m the next queen of country, isn?t that right boys??
The two men in the room shrugged their shoulders and smiled at Fleur. She was young, arrogant and probably equally talented with the ego to go with it. She knew the men wouldn?t say anything. Who knew, in the future she might be just that and that future could be tomorrow, this business was like that. Pondering what to say next, she was relieved when Joanna walked through the door and the atmosphere changed dramatically.
?Jo, that was fab. Are you going to let me have the song for my album? You promised me one, remember, and I want that one!? Yep, she was a precocious kid all right. Wonder if she was out of diapers yet.
Smiling at the talented woman-child, Jojo tweaked her nose slightly winking at her, ?Not that song, kid, I?ll let you know tomorrow which one.? The singer was still smiling happily as she turned to Fleur, but her eyes shimmered with excitement as they captured her friend?s.
?Did you get back in time to hear the last one, Fleur??
Ah, so she had noticed I wasn?t here. ?Oh yeah, your dad is going to love that one.?
Walking over to the smaller woman, Jojo thought over the comment. Her dad loved every song she sang. Always had since she was a small girl who literally sang anywhere and everywhere. ?Probably, but then he?s my dad, it comes with the territory. If I sang ten notes off key, he?d still love it, he loves me.?
Fleur wanted so badly to say she loved her too. She held back the emotion...it certainly wasn?t the place and with the others in the room, the right company. ?Want to go out for lunch??
?Absolutely.? Jojo responded running a hand around her neck. She needed a shower, but time was of the essence now, she was in the flow.
?Shall we all go to lunch?? Tandy broke into their conversation. ? I?m at a loose end at the moment. Only a few bits and pieces to handle and I can do that later, right Stevie??
?Whatever you say, Tandy.? They all waited, especially Fleur who wasn?t happy at having to spend her precious lunch hour time with the young girl. She wanted Joanna to herself, selfish, but she didn?t care.
Wiping a hand over her forehead, yes a shower would be better, ?not today, Tand, Fleur and I need to talk business. If you didn?t already know, she?s my manager too. I want a shower, you go ahead and we?ll have a rain check on lunch.?
The young girl wasn?t happy. With a pout of her lips she gave them all a glare and childishly rushed out of the room slamming the door behind her.
?I guess I get to calm down the Prima Dona, huh.? Steve muttered good-naturedly and left the room.
?Wow, she?s got a temper. Glad Steve?s on her control panel and not me.? Dave remarked quickly then turned his attention to the computer data blinking at him.
?Yeah, you probably were wishing it the other way around yesterday.? Jo pointed out grinning at Fleur as they left the room leaving behind a very red-faced mixer hiding behind his console.
?Want to go take your shower? I?ll find us some sandwiches and a cool drink, we can eat in today.? Fleur knew she?d said the right thing when Joanna turned to her with a grateful smile nodding her head.
?Whatever would I do without you?? Jojo smiled indulgently having already answered the thought in her mind; she?d get sick again with overwork.
?Probably get sick again, which isn?t going to happen. I?ll catch up with you in your room in half an hour tops.?
?You got it, Fleur, don?t get lost.? The singer practically bounced down the corridor towards her room leaving a rather happy Fleur indulging in all kinds of dreams as she fished for her purse then went towards the exit in search of lunch.
~ ~ ~
Lounging on one of the large sofas in the main living area, Jojo watched Fleur arranging a display of flowers that had, according to her, been totally ruined by the florist. The very thought! Unable to control the wicked smile, which crossed her lips at the thought of her ever having to explain that to one of the most prestigious flower arrangers in Nashville, ?have you ever thought of taking up arranging displays??
Fleur glanced over her shoulder to see the singer, who was taking a much-needed break, relaxing. Tomorrow they were embarking on their first tour since Joanna?s illness a year ago. The last three months had found her working in the studio to produce material for another album. They had also agreed that having three months on the road prior to cutting the final tracks would wet the appetite of any one with any doubt about Joanna having been an overnight sensation. ?Once, back in college when I thought we had the money at home.?
Jojo heard the wistful tone and it sparked a few ideas that might come into fruition in the future. Didn?t they say you had to have a nest egg behind you in this business... she had never been one for wasting money. ?Thought so. Well, who knows what you might achieve in the future, for now, I?m happy that you want to stick around as my manager.? Her grin infectious, Fleur felt the blood racing in her veins at the sight. Sometimes it took all her energy not to rush into Joanna?s arms and confess her undying love, but she managed to hold back the stampeding emotions.
?Good, because I have no intention of leaving you to go off on tour alone again!?
?That?s my girl.? Jojo flashed another wonderful smile that had Fleur?s stomach rushing up and down like a roller coaster.
?Why don?t you go to bed and have an early night, it will be the last you get for weeks. I?ll prepare everything except your clothes for the morning.? Smiling at the singer tenderly, she watched her friend stifle a yawn. That was her Joanna; she never let go even though she was exhausted.
?You are way too good to me, Fleur, thanks I?m rather tired I must admit. I?ll see you in the morning, are you excited?? the singer asked carefully watching the expressions that crossed her best friend?s face. A tour was hard work and not as glamorous as many thought, however, it had its compensations in the adrenaline rush of being on stage, but Fleur wasn?t going on stage, was she.
Fleur laughed at the question. She was probably more excited than Joanna at the prospect; it was another adventure and one she really wanted to share with her. It was so much a part of the singer?s life, a part she had never shared with her before. ?Excited doesn?t cover it, now go to bed I?ll see you in the morning. Good night.?
Standing and stretching in a weary, but relaxed way, Jojo grinned and wishing her friend goodnight left the room. As Fleur watched her leave, she blew out a large sigh. Wow, did Joanna know how sexy she was when she did that? The thought made Fleur shiver in a wonderful way as she sat down at the desk and flicked over the tour dates and locations. Her eyes travelled over the pages to the final gig and it struck her that they would be within thirty miles of Danvers Town, how ironic that was. Maybe she should send Lucy and John-Henry some free tickets for the show. Better yet, invite them to dinner and the show. What the heck... the weekend, all expenses on her. After all, they had been the catalyst to them both being in such a fortunate situation. Coupled with that, her mother admitted it had been Lucy who had reported on a regular basis over the years she had been growing up. Then there was Daisy. She wouldn?t travel on her own, but if the others were coming... Yeah, she would do that, no better time like the present. Picking up her address book she found the first of the three numbers she needed and dialled. It would be fun and Joanna wouldn?t mind at all. In fact, she would be happy to see them, especially John-Henry.
~ ~ ~
?How are we doing, Pete?? Fleur asked the senior roadie who was arranging the final sound positions of the band?s equipment.
?Great, Fleur. All we need now is Jo for her sound check session and we will be right on the button tonight.? The large man had frightened Fleur the first time she had seen him. Not only was he gigantic, but also he was a mass of tattoo?s, some of them sinister in design. Her first thought had been a hell?s angel. Joanna had laughed at the thought and had vouched for the man, going so far as to say that if Fleur was her improbable protector, Pete was certainly her credible one. True to her friend?s prediction, he was a gentle giant to her and Joanna. Others had a harder time; especially those that tried to get too close to the singer when she was on stage.
?Ready, Pete?? Jojo asked entering the stage area from the left wing. That was another thing Fleur had found out about her friend, she was superstitious which side she entered the stage. It had made her laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Who would have thought the singer would have those kinds of views? However, she did...in a big way. Possibly the only thing other than the sound check she was temperamental about.
?Yep, want me to drag out the band?? He didn?t wait for her nod, it was the same every venue. She would do a couple of minutes and then the band would appear. Woes betide anyone who was late...they?d live to regret it and that hadn?t occurred after the first time. Fleur had known nothing about it until one of the roadies had gossiped one morning. According to him, Joanna was particularly ill tempered if her schedule wasn?t adhered too.
?Will you sit at the back for me, Fleur, as I go through the paces?? Joanna asked absently. A part of her instinctively involved the younger woman in the process. Though Fleur knew it wouldn?t have mattered if she were there or not, the sound mixer knew his profession very well. Even so, the fact that her friend did that small courtesy made her feel wanted and that was all that mattered.
?Sure, break a leg.? She quickly left the stage missing the indulgent grin that passed over the singer?s features at the remark.
Half an hour later they were finishing up the last song and Fleur gave her usual thumbs up while returning to the stage where Joanna and the band stood talking over the various songs to be played that evening. Joanna was in her element and as Fleur watched her, she knew that the whole entertaining regime was in the singer?s blood. There had been times when she wondered what Joanna would do if she hadn?t been in a position to go back to her singing career. The answer came immediately. She would make a great manager or better yet, songwriter. She rarely sang other people?s compositions. Before they?d left, Joanna had given her newest song to the new kid on the block, as Fleur was apt to call Tandy Radnor. There was no doubt in anyone?s mind that the young woman wouldn?t do it justice and even Jack was predicting a hit. Joanna had shrugged it off, in a ?who knows in this industry? shrug, but had secretly admitted she expected Tandy to push it up the charts if she chose to release it. Already the publicity machine of the large corporation who owned a part share in Trigon Records was hyping the young singer up.
?Paul, slow the tempo down on the drums a little for Frank to cut in half way through that last song. I want the audience to hear the subtleness of the piano; he?s worked hard on that difficult melody.?
?You got it, Jo, anything else?? Paul Sempter accepted the singer?s change without a word, who would question it. This was her band and he was more than happy to be associated with the woman. She knew her craft and didn?t act like a bitchy superstar, not like some he?d worked with in the recent past.
Glancing down at her notes on the song sheet she grinned up at him, ?Now, I?ll see you later. Be here by seven sharp, I know what you are like with the ladies.? The man grinned back at her and winked. He was a very handsome man and revelled in being a magnet for all the young chicks that frequented backstage any time of the day.
Fleur heard the tinkle of the piano keys being played and walked over to Frank Allied who smiled at her warmly and motioned for her to sit beside him on the wide piano stool.
?Jo, do you mind if I add an extra two minutes to the instrumental part of ?Lonely?? I?ve been working on it and I know it will be great.? Jojo looked at the man and frowned for a moment. That would allow her a little extra time to take a breather before she sang again. The song was scheduled for half way through the gig and the three previous songs were quite intense.
?Make it amazing and you got it.? Lenny Pickford, the bass guitarist, gave a whoop of joy at the easy agreement. Jo must be in a good mood.
?I?ll do that, no worries. See you at seven sharp.? The man picked up his guitar and left the stage to work on his masterpiece.
Once more concentrating on the sheaves of paper in her hand, she failed to see the two people left of the stage area watching her.
?I think she?s forgotten us.? Fleur whispered conspiratorially to the lanky man at the piano. He towered over her as she sat close to him and knew he was at least a head above her friend and she was tall.
?Could be, want to go for a coffee? I know a great place...?
?Frank, Lenny?s new addition won?t be a problem, will it?? sparkling blue eyes captured the man?s grey startled ones. That woman had bat radar, he was sure. This wasn?t the first time he?d attempted to ask Jo?s manager for a coffee and each time she?d intervened. What was it about the small woman at his side that brought out the protective urges in the singer?
?Not me, Jo. I?ll speak with him and give it a few sessions before we go on tonight.? He stood up from the chair smiling warmly at Fleur while mouthing ?rain check? as he left the stage with a wave of the hand.
Leaning on her elbows watching Joanna again, a tender smile came to her lips. At least that meant she didn?t have to make up an excuse not to go for coffee with the pianist, he was a nice guy, but not her type. Oh no, her type was standing about two yards away from her, totally oblivious.
Jojo lifted her head catching the un-abashed smile from her friend and gave her a gentle indulgent stare back, ?Hi there, want to share a light lunch with me??
What a question!
The singer?s idea of a light lunch was a piece of rye bread and a gallon of coffee. Fleur?s, on the other hand, was a lovely colourful salad and a pot of aromatic tea.
?Do you need to ask, I?m hungry.??
Jojo grinned and stuffed the music sheets in her jeans? back pocket, ?Thought so, let?s go. You can tell me what you thought of the practice session.?
The two friends ambled off the stage chatting companionably.
~ ~ ~
John-Henry Bascome grinned at the two women arguing in a controlled and quiet manner in the far corner of the café. He wondered why women always did that, bringing up all the reason?s why they couldn?t possibly do something when he knew they would do it anyway. Draining his coffee cup, he decided now was as good a time as any to intervene, he was sure he wouldn?t get any fall-out, but then you never knew with the female kind.
?I?d like a refill, Lucy, please.? The low voice of the man asked politely and was given a glance first from the owner of the café, Lucy Evans, then from her sparring partner, Daisy Kendall.
?Sure.? Lucy replied absently walking over for the freshly made brew at the other end of the counter.
?How are you today, Daisy?? the local bar owner asked the old woman who scowled at him initially.
?I?ll be fine as soon as our stubborn friend over there tells me why it?s important I go to St Louis to see a concert when she won?t tell me who it is performing.? The old lady announced dramatically giving the café proprietor a hard glance.
He smiled at the comment. Yes, Fleur had talked with him and Lucy. They had both said that it would be better if the whole situation was a surprise for Daisy, she would love it that way. They had both concluded the old woman might bring up all kinds of excuses for not going if she knew the truth. She hadn?t taken it very well when Lucy had inadvertently told her that Fleur was now living with her once estranged mother. Daisy Kendall didn?t have a good word about the ex Mrs. Danvers even though she knew the circumstances behind the woman leaving her husband and child.
?Will it help if I say I?m going too as your chaperone??
?Chaperone? Why would Lucy and I need one of those? We are both more than able to take care of ourselves! What is it with men who think women can?t go into the big cities and be safe? I?ll have you know that I?ve been to Washington on my own, three times!? Daisy puffed out turning her annoyance now on the man at the other end of the counter.
?Well, I wouldn?t exactly....?
?Here you go, John-Henry. Now, Daisy, let?s go over this one more time, shall we? I have tickets for this concert and I want you to...?
?Yes, I know I?m coming. When are you picking me up?? The old lady announced turning the previous situation on its head.
?Yeah, no problem. I?ll call for you at three, is that okay? We have a flight booked for three thirty, enabling us to arrive in St. Louis comfortably for dinner at...?
?Spare me the details, Lucy, I have things to do, my hair for one. I?ll talk with you both later. Now, why couldn?t you have told me earlier? I?ll have to arrange something special now with Jenny...? Muttering to herself as she left the building. The two left at the counter stared after the retreating old woman in silence. Lucy knew her jaw was dropping since she had spent the best part of an hour talking and cajoling Daisy into going with her to the concert this evening. All of a sudden she had a change of heart when she spoke with John-Henry and bingo she capitulates, that?s charm for you.
Shaking her head she glanced at the man across the counter top, ?What did you say to her??
?Me? Nothing, I swear. Well, except maybe she needed a chaperone in the big city...something along those lines anyway.?
A chuckle reverberated around the café, which was empty except for the two of them, ?Oh, that?s bad, John-Henry. You know how independent she is.?
Grinning knowingly the man simply nodded his head and winked.
?Fleur said she?d meet us at the airport around five and take us to dinner. Jojo will be too busy at that time, but after the concert, we?re going backstage and then onto a late supper. She said Jojo needs sustenance after the gig. Is that what she told you??
?Yep, pretty much. Although Fleur did say I could go backstage and watch from the right wing. She said it won?t spoil the surprise for Jojo since she never appears on stage from the right wing.? John-Henry was going to take up that offer too! He had always wanted to see the behind the scenes action on such a tour.
?Oh no! That means you are leaving me with Daisy! I hope she?s not going to be like one of those unforgiving old women you see in the movies, who do nothing but moan, when she finds out we have deceived her.? Lucy pulled at her bottom lip in consternation, it could happen.
?We haven?t deceived her, Lucy, merely omitted all the facts. That sounds much better, don?t you think?? He smiled warmly at the woman. She was such a tendered-hearted person. He wondered why someone hadn?t snapped her up since she?d been widowed. Then again, maybe she had loved her husband so much she didn?t want anyone else and he could understand that, yes he could in a big way.
?You know exactly what to say, John-Henry. How about a piece of my apple pie on the house??
?Now that is way too hard to resist, thank you, Lucy.? He sat back down on the swivel chair at the counter and waited for the treat.
Neither of them heard the backdoor of the café close as they talked together amiably about the wonderful weekend ahead for them all.
~ ~ ~
Tony Reed scuttled into the bank and without saying anything at all, walked over to the bank manager?s office and barely knocked on the door, entering without formality.
George Andrews? ruddy complexion glowed even more at the rude interruption. ?What the hell do you want, Reed, we have no business!? the angry banker bellowed out, the few customers in the bank hearing him clearly and wondered what was going on.
?You will, you will, boss, I promise.? The thickset man announced knowing he was going to pay heavily if his information wasn?t correct. His breathing was heavy and laboured having run the full length of the main street from the café to the bank in order to give out this piece of gossip. He?d wanted to use the bathroom of the café, but didn?t want anyone to know. Lucy had banned him from her establishment a long time ago when he?d failed to pay up for a meal. He had fallen on hard times when George Andrews had dismissed him from his employ after that bitch Danvers had left town under his nose.
George Andrews looked at the unkempt man in front of him. Reed had always been a slob, but he was a downright derelict now and didn?t have a cent to rub together...so his sources told him. He?d made sure that any money the man received on state benefit was immediately taken from him in one way or another. The man could be delusional, it was true, but he?d learnt that desperate men, on hitting sewer level, often found out some of the most interesting things. ?Okay, what do you know??
Breathing in and exhaling as quickly, the man shut his eyes, and although he wasn?t the most intelligent person on the planet, he needed to live. ?If what I have for you is interesting, will you pay me??
?Get out of here, Reed. I don?t respond to blackmail, unless I instigate it.?
George turned away and pulled out a large handkerchief that had seen better days. Wiping his sweating brow, he sat back down in his chair about to ask one of his counter staff to eject the man from the premises.
?Fleur...Miss Danvers, it?s about her!? Tony Reed shouted urgently. He had only one shot at this.
The words appeared to float in the air between the two men. A marked silence followed for a few moments as George Andrews felt the sudden rush of adrenaline the name always evoked inside him. That bitch had made him a laughing stock of the area and deserved to pay for that in any way he chose. He would enjoy his time over that when he got his hands on the conniving woman and that whore friend of hers who was supposed to be a fancy big time singer now.
Tony decided to inform the banker whose pig like eyes had gone even smaller and looking hard and evil. He had seen that look a few times over the years he?d worked for the banker and it usually meant trouble.
?Lucy Evans, Daisy Kendall and Bascome are all going to St. Louis today to meet her.?
Now standing, the banker walked over to the smelly man in the centre of his office and stood barely inches from the rat, ?How do you know this??
?They were talking in the café. I overheard Lucy and Bascome talking, they don?t know I heard them, boss.? There it was all his information and knowing Andrews; he would take it without any compensation coming his way.
?Today you say? Now why St Louis?? Muttering to himself, George went over to his desk and dialled his secretary. A pretty young thing that he?d employed three months ago because he liked to look at a pretty face coupled with the fact she was one of those fashion conscious kids who liked to show off their body to anyone who looked.
?Jane, find out who is performing live in St Louis tonight, singer?s not acting.? He barked out sharply and put the phone down.
?What about me?? Tony asked, wanting nothing more than a few bills and to get out of this town for good. Not that he had anywhere to go, but it was better than here. He?d never work again hereabouts, George had seen to that.
?If Jane finds out something that corroborates your story, I?ll pay you. Now get out of here until I look you up one way or the other.? Tony had no choice. If he didn?t go, Andrews would send the sheriff after him and that would mean another stretch in the local county jail. He?d been there twice already in the past two years, he?d rather be dead.
?I?ll be outside the bar.? Tony opened the door and left the building as quickly as he?d entered.
Andrews stood at the window of his office musing over the information. How strange, almost two years ago to the day that Fleur had left and her name should be brought to his notice again, a fitting anniversary. The phone peeled, picking it up he listened intently to the young woman?s results of her search.
?Book me two tickets to St. Louis on the next available flight. Tell Stanley the next hour would be fine.? He put down the receiver and opened the drawer to his desk and pulled out his firearm. Well, you never could be too sure in the big city, could you? Slipping the revolver into his jacket pocket, he collected his briefcase and left the office.
~ ~ ~
Jojo, for the fifth time, flicked through her sequined wardrobe and came up a blank. Each time she thought she?d decided she changed her mind. In the old days, it had never happened. She?d only possessed one decent change of clothes for her performances. Her eyes strayed to the well-worn jacket that she?d refused to retire to the dustbin. It was as much a part of her and her history as any of these outrageously expensive outfits she now owned would ever be.
?Damn, why do I have too many choices?? A tinkle of laughter brought her attention to her friend who had walked towards her silently. Not many could do that, but Fleur had the knack.
?Joanna, there is no such thing as too many choices!? the genuine smile Jojo always associated with the woman came easily. She relaxed visibly, always did when her friend was in the vicinity. One of the reasons she suspected her health improved as dramatically as it had when she?d been sick. The doctors hadn?t been that hopeful at the time, even to the point of implying that leopards like her never changed their spots in the stress department. She suspected that was true, unless you had someone like Fleur at your side and she did, thanking God every single day for that remarkable fact.
?Want to help me decide?? Jojo winked at her wickedly. This was going to be interesting.
Half an hour later both women looked at each other in exasperation, ?You have too many choices.?
?Told you so.? Jojo replied smugly.
?Hmm, okay, close your eyes.? A puzzled look came over Jojo, but she meekly complied. She was startled for a moment when a small hand clasped hers and laid it gently on the rack.
?Chose, Joanna.? Fleur said simply. This was the only way she could think of to choose a costume for the performance. That and she really needed to be leaving for the airport and didn?t want to give the secret away. She knew her friend would be excited when she met up with their old friends again.
A smile flickered across Jojo?s lips realising what her friend wanted her to do, probably the only way too. Her hand glided for a moment before dropping decisively on a hanger.
?Great choice, Joanna.? Fleur?s voice encouraged the singer as blue eyes opened wide and a chuckle passed the singer?s lips. Ironically, it was the very first outfit she?d looked at when she started the exercise. A pale green leather jacket with silver tassels and her name embellished on the back in diamond sparkling studs. A plain cotton shirt and beige jeans accompanied the ensemble.
?You know, there?s something to be said for blind faith.? Jojo quipped pulling the clothes from the wardrobe rail laying them out on the lounge chair in the room.
?I know what you mean. I was thinking that maybe after the gig we could go to a club...I know, I know, only if you can have a good square meal.? The smile crinkled up the corner of her eyes as she saw the slight frown at the suggestion.
?Hey, I never heard you yet say you didn?t want to join me. You do eat almost as much as I do after a gig.? The tone teasing and both women knew it. Thank goodness she never put on any weight. Fortunately, Joanna?s performances helped to keep the late eating pounds off her lithe body, but she?d had to work back into shape after the long lazy stay in New York. Joanna?s parents mollycoddling hadn?t helped in that department, especially her father who had daily broken every one of Joanna?s rules not to eat the delightful pastries he baked especially for her.
?Okay, I?ll book somewhere, say around Midnight??
?No problem with me, I?ll eat anything.? Jojo?s mind was now re-focusing on the performance this evening and picked up her lyric sheets to go over them again.
?Great. Now I?ll leave you to your own personal rehearsal and I?ll catch up with you before you go on stage, as usual.?
Now engrossed in her work, Jojo softly whispered that was fine. Fleur smiled at the woman tenderly. She?d be surprised in a couple of hours when she wasn?t there to have a final break with, but she?d arranged with Pete to see that the singer?s coffee arrived at the precise time she and Joanna would have the ritual.
Leaving the room, Fleur looked around and smiled. It was going to be a great evening and in just over an hour, her friends would be here with her too. She was looking forward to seeing them again, especially Daisy, she?d missed the old woman greatly. Although she?d written and called her several times, Daisy had either not responded to her messages or been very abrupt on the phone. Today would be different she knew it.
As she left the building she saw Pete, the head roadie, watching her grinning at him. ?I?ll not be long, I promise to be back before she?ll miss me.?
With arms folded across his gigantic chest, Pete gave her a serious glance and then a glint appeared in his eyes, ?She?ll miss you, she always does. Make sure you are back, Fleur, before the show goes down or we will all be in trouble. Want to tell me where you?re going for safety sake?? For such a large man he had an incredibly gentle tone quite at odds with his aggressive appearance.
Fleur smiled warmly, ?promise not to tell her??
?You got it.? He gave her a conspiratorial wink.
?I?ve invited some friends from the old town where I used to live. Joanna knows them too and I want it to be a surprise. They arrive at the airport in half an hour and I?m taking them to dinner then bringing them here for the show. Even booked the best box up top to make it special, Joanna won?t know until the end. Frank?s going to see that one of our friends watches the show from the right hand side of the stage. You know our friend won?t ever go to that side, so he?ll not give away the surprise. What do you think??
The giant of a man grinned at her and the gold tooth he had at the front shone out as the afternoon sun hit it directly as he replied. ?I think she should be grateful she has you for a friend. You?d best be going. I?ll personally make sure Jojo doesn?t get to know about the surprise.?
?Thanks, Pete, don?t forget about her coffee.? Fleur was happy; everything was going to work out great.
Pete stood at the corner of the building watching her flag a taxi down and remained there until she was headed in the right direction. His eyes scanned the streets then pulled out his cell phone and dialled a number. ?Fleur?s on her way to the airport, it?s up to you now.? He turned and went back into the building.
~ ~ ~
?I can?t see her, can you?? Lucy whispered to John-Henry as they hurried purposely forward with Daisy muttering under her breath, the younger generation never knew when to walk slowly.
?Nope, she?ll be here. Fleur would never let us down.? The man at her side remarked laconically. His eyes dove into the crowd of people waiting for their own family, friends or acquaintances to come out of the baggage and customs areas.
?I can see her, she?s there, and she?s there look!? Lucy, excited, flew forward and within seconds engulfed the much smaller woman into a warm friendly hug.
?Fleur, you look wonderful, this travelling with Jojo must be good for you.? A muffled reply was all she managed in the bear hug. On finally being released, she saw John-Henry who gave her a wide smile before taking her in for a second warm hug.
?Where?s Daisy?? Fleur asked excitedly, her face wreathed in smiles. This was so good; to see people she cared about again.
The other two looked a little sheepish as they pointed towards the older woman who was looking around agitatedly, her face less than happy.
Fleur grinned happily and shot off to greet her old friend. ?Do you think we should have told her about Daisy??
?Nope, that?s up to the two of them and I think old grumpy will give in. In the end, she never could say no to young Fleur, could she?? John-Henry gave the woman at his side a wry smile.
?Too true, but she might be antsy.?
?Well, we can put that down to a bad flight. It was kinda bumpy up there.?
They stood side by side watching the young woman as she sought out the much older one and instinctively pulled her into a loving hug.
The sight of Fleur did not only take Daisy aback, but that she was here to greet them, how did she know? Then it dawned on her...those two conniving no good so-called friends.
?Oh, Daisy, it?s so good to see you and I?m really pleased you came. I have a wonderful dinner planned in a restaurant I know you?ll love then we have Joanna?s concert and then supper at a great club.? Fleur was gushing she knew it, but the old woman?s face didn?t look welcoming. She?d seen it often enough growing up with her and usually that was because something didn?t sit right with her.
?Humph, I wasn?t...? ?Now come on, Daisy, let?s go I?m starved.? John-Henry intercepted the caustic comment he was certain was due.
?Yeah, let?s. I arranged for a car to take us to the restaurant. We can catch up as we go along.? Putting her arm in Daisy?s and then Lucy?s, the four of them left the terminal where they were whisked away in a large black limousine that Fleur had arranged to be at their friends? disposal until they left tomorrow evening.
An hour later Lucy was giving Fleur a sympathetic look in the restroom of the restaurant. ?Sorry, Fleur, we should have told you that Daisy wasn?t that friendly towards you. We figured that she might change her tune once she saw you. Seems we were wrong.?
Fleur gave the woman a long-suffering look then glanced at herself in the mirror. Two years ago she would have been devastated that Daisy was upset with her. Now she realised that people had opinions and that they didn?t always agree with others. That was the stance she was taking and if Daisy wanted her to disown her mother, she was barking up the wrong tree. It wasn?t going to happen, ever! ?She doesn?t know all the facts, Lucy, she can?t possibly or she wouldn?t be talking like she does.?
Lucy didn?t know what to say, Daisy Kendall knew all the facts! The old woman had many redeeming qualities, except for one, her blind faith in Daniel Danvers, Fleur?s father. Karen hadn?t stood a chance against that kind of total blindness and the poison that Daniel had filled Fleur?s mind with about her mother, equally touched Daisy in much the same way. ?Daisy is a little set in her ways, I?m sure she?ll come around. Anyway, I?m real happy you asked us here and John-Henry can now boast even more about Jojo.?
?He boasts? Really, what about?? Fleur smiled, her mind now on the man outside who was trying to be a peacemaker between them.
?Anyone who wants to know and some who don?t, especially when they play Jojo?s songs on the jukebox, he?s there telling them that she used to play in the bar before her big break. Mind you, we are all proud of her and you Fleur, it wasn?t easy to leave town and now look at you both.?
Fleur felt the genuine warmth and sincerity in every word the woman said and Joanna was going to be so embarrassed when she heard that John-Henry spoke so highly of her.
?We?re doing well now. We?ve had our moments, but somehow we can?t stay apart for long.? The words spoken so quietly Lucy strained to hear them.
?Your mother mentioned Jojo was quite ill for a time and you helped to nurse her back to health??
?Yes, it was a shock. She nearly killed herself with the work load and other things, now she?s more careful.? Fleur wondered if it was Joanna who was more careful or she was on the singer?s behalf. Whichever it was really didn?t matter as long as the outcome was the same; Joanna remained healthy and happy.
Lucy heard the tenderness in the tone of the woman at her side and smiled inwardly. Karen was right when she said her daughter loved the singer. It was in every nuance of her speech and facial expressions when Jojo?s name was mentioned. It would be interesting to see her body language when the singer was in the same vicinity.
?I?m glad for you both. Shall we get back to our patient man? He might decide to go to the men?s room and leave Daisy on her own and I?m not sure any one of us could take that.? The two friends laughed together at the thought and left the restroom for another interesting part of the meal.
~ ~ ~
George Andrews sat in the back seat of the hired car watching intently every person that came and went out of the revolving door of the restaurant he?d followed Fleur and the rest of the group from Danvers to. He?d not had a chance to make his strike. The blonde had arrived from an angle he couldn?t get to before the others arrived. He hadn?t been too upset. A crowded airport was hardly the place for what he had in mind. Now here, beside the restaurant, he?d parked in a position that blocked the dark limousine that was waiting for them. The driver was talking amiably to Reed. They were having a smoke together, all nice and friendly.
He?d decided to take Reed with him; he needed a patsy anyway. His old one time heavy would make the perfect one and besides, he didn?t have a clue. Having arranged the flight, he?d picked up Reed outside the bar and gave him a room at the motel to shower and clean up having bought a cheap suit for the man for the journey. All in all, it was going to be an inexpensive situation for him and he would have his revenge on Fleur Danvers and that set of cronies she called friends. Only thing missing was the whore singer, but who knew what might happen to her. She probably had enemies everywhere, even people who were close to her.
?You okay in there, boss?? Tony Reed opened the passenger door of the vehicle and smiled at the man.
?Yes, are you finding out what I need to know??
?Sure thing, boss. He?s going for a leak inside now, said his people are due out in a minute.?
?You idiot! Get in the car; let?s get to the entrance now.? Tony pulled a face and shrugged his shoulders as he closed the passenger door and got up front. Revving the engine, he pulled forward towards the entrance just as the very people they wanted to see exited the revolving doors. Fortunately for them, Fleur Danvers led the quartet.
~ ~ ~
?Anyone seen Fleur?? Jojo asked sharply as she scanned the corridor outside her door. The usual coffee break had arrived on time except for one very important aspect...her friend hadn?t arrived with it. Normally they would chat about insignificant items for an hour and then Fleur would leave her to the final preparations for the evening performance. Not today it would seem!
A young roadie, who had never been on tour before with anyone and was in absolute awe of the performer, shrugged his shoulders; his cheeks going a ruddy colour as he quickly left the area. He?d been told to stay away from the singer unless she spoke directly to him and he did just that. Cannoning into Pete the boss roadie as he turned the corner.
?You?re in a hurry, where?s the fire.? Pete held the man at arms length to prevent his flight.
?She wants to know where the blonde is?? the young man quickly explained.
?Ah, she does, does she? Didn?t take her long.? Pete, smiling, released the man to go on his way. As he rounded the corner and looked down the length, he saw Jojo glancing up and down the corridor immediately seeing him.
?Hi, Jojo, hear you?re looking for Fleur?? There was no use prevaricating, she would get upset and you didn?t upset the star attraction the evening of a gig, in his experience anyway.
?Yeah, have you seen her, Pete??
?About three hours ago she went into town on an errand and said she?d be back before you missed her.? The gentle giant of a man announced trying not to grin when he saw the frown appear and then a look of relief flood her face.
?I think she mentioned something about seeing me later. I didn?t realise she meant that much later. Since you?re here, is everything going okay with the equipment?? Jojo asked though her mind was going over the fragment of conversation she?d had with her friend prior to her leaving earlier. Nothing untoward, knowing Fleur she?d probably gone to find a decent place for them to eat later, which would be in keeping with Fleur?s nature. Sure, that must be the reason she wasn?t here.
?Like a dream, the guys love working for you.? Pete smiled at her. It was true, these days the guys did like working for her. Previously they put up with her because she was a professional, but demanding. Now she was professional, demanding, but tempered with common sense when it came to a workable schedule.
Quirking an eyebrow at the comment she gave him a wry look, ?Bet they never said that a year or so ago.?
Winking at her he grinned broadly. ?Go have your coffee, boss lady. I?ll tell Fleur you were looking for her when she returns.?
?Okay...oh and Pete??
?Are we employing younger roadies these days or is it that I?m getting old?? Jojo asked absently as she opened the door to her room.
?A bit of both, boss, a bit of both.? He laughed as he left her to check out what the young roadies were doing.
Jojo sank into the chair in the room and poured herself a coffee. It smelt good and always did because Fleur ensured a particular brand always travelled with them. Pity her friend wasn?t here to enjoy the beverage time with her. She enjoyed the peaceful hour before the show just chatting generally. Sometimes she couldn?t believe that life was so good and in the past she would half expect her luck to change for the worse. Nowadays she didn?t feel so negative about things probably because Fleur told her if she constantly thought on the black side, it was bound to happen. You had to make your own luck in this world and she felt that together they were.
Not a day went by these days that she didn?t smile at the sheer act of waking up in a morning knowing that her friend was right there to share the day with. Over the years she?d wanted desperately to have someone to confide in, share laughter and even the tears that dogged life?s footsteps. Now, here today, she knew she had that. Probably had more than just a wonderful friendship, it bordered on love. Not that she wanted to look too deeply into that word; it meant so many things to individuals depending on the person you loved and why. Her trial and tribulations on the romance front had made her admit that she wasn?t cut out to love romantically, but the love for a friend with everything but sex, she felt she could handle these days. It wasn?t so much handling it; she was already embroiled in the middle of such a love affair, if you could term it that.
She stood up stretching her whole body like a cat in a sensuous movement she hadn?t at first realised she engaged in. Although once she knew, she did it for the hell of it when she and Fleur were alone; her friend always went all shy and blushed. A part of her wanted to ask why. It wasn?t as if she was buck-naked. She usually had her clothes on, but she accepted that her shirts did reveal more cleavage than her demure friend was used to. All the more reason she teased her and she, for some insane reason, enjoyed the reaction. It wasn?t the first time she?d experienced that kind of look from a woman either, but that was years ago, when she was starting out at club level in New York. Not that she had ever acted upon the crushes some of the young women in the club had on her. She hadn?t, she was too busy with the drugs side of her life at that time.
As she sat back down and poured another coffee, she wondered if her friend was happy travelling around with her. Maybe she wanted to settle down and do something of her own, a flower arranging business or motel perhaps. At this rate, they would end up old maids together...what a pleasant thought!
Replacing the coffee mug on the table she sank back and closed her eyes, relaxing, her thoughts on what she and Fleur would be like as old women. It made her smile thinking her best friend would look attractive and wonderful whatever age she was.
~ ~ ~
Fleur, with a happy smile, glanced around the entrance for their car. She?d called the driver five minutes earlier and asked him to come back for them, from wherever drivers go on such evenings. The limousine wasn?t around, but she expected him any moment.
As she stepped closer to the curb side, she pulled back abruptly as a silver sedan moved with lightening speed towards her position and stopping with a screech of rubber as the driver?s door opened abruptly. Her shock, as she immediately recognised the driver, made her gasp loudly and felt rather than saw John-Henry move closer to her wondering what the problem was.
?Get in, Miss Danvers, if you know what?s good for you.? The man shouted nastily. He?d never liked the prim woman or the friends she associated with, especially that singer friend of hers.
?What? Are you joking? I?m going no place with you, are you mad?? Fleur composed herself and shouted at the man. Now Lucy and Daisy came closer to her to find out what the commotion was about.
?What?s the matter, Fleur?? Lucy asked worried that something wasn?t right and as she took in the man who had stopped the car she realised it wasn?t. What the hell was he doing here, better yet, how did he know where to find them?
?No problem, Lucy, seems we have another old...acquaintance...who?s in town from Danvers.? Fleur remarked. Her body moved to shield the woman as John-Henry tried to stop Daisy getting involved. He felt the old woman would only make matters worse.
?Get in or there?ll be trouble.? Tony Reed began again, this time seizing her arm and pulling hard to drag her towards the car as the passenger side door opened.
?Go to hell!? Fleur replied aggressively. She hadn?t been around Joanna for a couple of years to not take some of her less attractive qualities on board.
This didn?t make sense and just as Fleur thought that the person in the rear of the vehicle moved half way out into full view...oh shit, not him!
?George? What?s the idea, no way will I get in a car you are in.? Fleur said trying hard to get out of the vice like grip of the hired goon. Now it all made perfect sense, in a strange kind of way.
?Now, we don?t want to cause a scene do we, Fleur? Please, my dear, get in the car and we?ll have a nice chat for old time?s sake.? George Andrews purred in his smarmy way making the blonde cringe at the thought of being within a hundred miles of the banker, never mind sharing the back seat of a car with him.
?Leave her alone, Andrews, she doesn?t want anything to do with you. Lucy, go inside and call the cops.? John-Henry gave the two men from Danvers a look of distaste, some men never knew when to call it quits.
?Shut up, Bascome, you weak kneed idiot. Evans, I wouldn?t go anywhere if I was you.? Andrews pulled out his revolver and aimed it at Fleur, his finger held close to the trigger. ?You go anywhere and she?s dead. Now get in the car!?
Fleur shut her eyes unable to comprehend the situation that had developed. She knew George had been devious, but a murderer? No, surely not?
?Please, George, put the gun away and I?ll talk with you. We can go inside for a drink and talk about old times, just what you wanted.?
A laugh that sounded anything but happy emanated from the man as he scoffed at her suggestion. ?Oh, my dear, a public place is not what I had in mind at all, you owe me, remember??
Daisy was being restrained now by John-Henry as she watched her little girl being man-handled by those two good for nothings. Fleur might not have done what she expected in regards to her mother, however this was totally different, no one was going to hurt her little girl.
?Get the hell off her, George, you should know better!?
?Shut up, old woman, your opinion is worthless. I?ll not ask again, get in the damn car!?
Fleur bit her lip and moved a fraction closer when she heard another car screech forward and a door open. Tony Reed pushed her towards Andrews who held her arm and dragged her half into the vehicle.
?I don?t think so, scum, leave the lady alone.? The driver of the limousine had arrived coming to their rescue just like a knight in shining armour.
All eyes turned to the well-set driver of the limousine who looked the type you didn?t argue with. George realised it was now or never. Should he meekly go or should he battle it out...
The next few minutes were a blur to Fleur as she felt herself being pushed to the ground her knees scraping painfully, first against the rim of the door ledge then on the pavement. Her head then collided with the open door. Although she felt the painful sensation, she wasn?t sure if she actually screamed out at the pain.
Tony Reed was desperately trying to get back in the driver?s side when George had shouted angrily for him to drive away. John-Henry clutched at the man?s arm preventing him from fleeing from the scene. This was a kidnap attempt and the bastards were going to go down, he?d make certain of that.
As George saw his chance of escape fading rapidly, he struggled out the other side of the passenger door and raised his gun at them, ?I?m not going to let you get away with this a second time, Bitch!? The crazed man growled as he pulled the trigger and with the gunshot ringing in his ears, fled down the alley.
~ ~ ~
?Where the fuck is she, Pete?? Jojo turned scathing ice blue eyes in his direction, the look enough to wither the strongest spirit on the spot.
The giant of a man held up his arms giving the irritated and upset singer a chagrined glance. He?d promised everything was going to be okay, even to the point of arranging Fleur?s car escort, a bodyguard friend of his from way back, without the woman knowing. This was just the situation he had hoped to avoid. Jack or the other promoters weren?t going to be happy if this final gig went bad, everything had been going so well.
?Truthfully, I don?t know. However, I know the driver of the car she used, let me call him. Why not see the guys for your usual sound check, I?ll get you an update when you finish the first set, deal??
?You know the driver, huh? Well, he?d better not be the reason she?s not here or so help me God, Pete, you?re a dead man.? Jojo?s thoughts were churning away on every possible unfavourable scenario she could think of. From a car accident, mugging or her friend being lost in a strange city at the mercy of any transient. Turning her back on her head roadie, she made for the stage area and her waiting band.
?Any news, Jo?? Frank Allied asked defying the looks from the rest of the band. Everyone knew that the singer?s current bad mood revolved around one certain blonde manager who wasn?t here to see the beginning of the show.
?No! Let?s get this show on the road, any objection.? Jojo barked out at the three men who watched her carefully. This wasn?t going to be a good gig. If anyone made a mistake out there, she would make they would pay for it, big time.
The lights in the concert room went down and Jojo?s signature tune hit single played as their intro. Heaving a sigh, Jojo picked up her guitar and ran out on stage to thunderous applause. The band followed closely on her heels and within minutes, the first song was in full swing. No one would know that anything was amiss.
On the sidelines, the head roadie was frantically calling his friend, ?Damn you, Sonny, pick up your fucking cell!? Pete spoke to the constant ringing tone of the cell in his hand.
Just as he was about to give up and try again in a few minutes, a voice answered.
?Sonny, god damn man, where are you? More importantly where are your passengers?? Pete hollered into the phone, the words echoing down the deserted hall.
?Pete, you are not going to believe what?s happened here! Man it?s a total zoo, unbelievable, who is this woman??
?Who do you mean...Fleur?? Pete was perplexed. The young woman was one of the most unassuming people he?d ever met. Now Jojo on the other hand, he could imagine that question being asked of.
?Yeah, she?s one brave lady. Some sucker tried to kidnap her and decide to shoot it out when he couldn?t get his own way.? Pete closed his eyes at the comment. A cold chill swept through him as if someone had just walked over his grave. Did this mean Fleur was hurt...or worse?
?Is she okay? What about the people with her??
A snort of laughter followed his inquiry, ?Thanks, pal, what about me? I?m the one with the hole in the arm and a medical bill you?re not going to thank me for. Not to mention a session with the cops I can do without.?
Pete heaved a sigh of relief. Did this mean what he thought it meant? ?And??
A hearty laugh could be heard at the other end of the line. ?Give me a minute.?
Several moments later a female voice answered the cell. ?Pete??
?Fleur! Wow, am I glad that you are okay, she would have killed me.? Pete smiled. He couldn?t help it, the sound of the young woman?s voice meant that he would keep his balls intact this time around.
?She doesn?t know anything, does she, Pete?? Fleur asked anxiously.
?Other than you?re not here and she?s worried sick about you. Will you be here for the interval?? That would ease the situation somewhat. No way was he going to tell the singer that Fleur was either at the hospital or with the cops. She would cancel the performance in a heartbeat and go wherever the blonde was.
?Let me check, I?ll be a minute, Pete. Joanna wasn?t too anxious, was she? I know what she can be like if she?s upset. The performance doesn?t always go according to plan, does it?? Fleur was concerned for her friend, especially her public image. George Andrews wasn?t going to have the satisfaction of unconsciously ruining Joanna?s credibility with her fans.
?Listen.? Pete held the phone out and the echoes of the sound system and the performance could be heard reasonably clearly in the hall.
She heaved a sigh of relief as she heard the faint vocals in the background.? Good, let me speak with the officer and I?ll be right back.? Pete shuffled around for a few minutes then heard Fleur again.
?He said we could go now, he has all the information he needs for the moment. However, we need to see him again tomorrow morning, which I think I?ll arrange for late morning. We?ll all need a bit of rest from the excitement.? Fleur replied absently as she gave the phone back to the driver of their limousine with a small smile. Her mind was now on how to explain the situation to her friend after the concert.
?I can?t drive, Pete. One of the cops is going to escort them back to the concert hall and stick around until they?ve caught whoever tried to kidnap her. I?m going home. The drugs they gave me are kicking in and I feel like shit. Catch you in the morning.?
?Sonny, hey man, I?m sorry, how bad are you?? Pete realised he?d been unfair to his friend and appeared to be the only one injured.
?Nothing that I haven?t had before. Takes me back to when you and Kenny were practising with that damn rifle on your dad?s farm. Similar injury, I?ll survive. You owe me one, man, I?ll catch you later.?
Pete glanced down at the cell in his hand. That was an understatement. He?d personally take care of the medical bill. It was the least he could do under the circumstances. Hopefully Fleur would be back before the end of the first half. He would prefer her to explain the situation to the singer and he certainly didn?t think she?d take it from him.
~ ~ ~
Daisy Kendall had lived seventy-two years and today she felt every single one of them. Her instinct had been to help Fleur, but John-Henry had thankfully, in hindsight, held her back. For if he hadn?t, the chances were that more than the driver of their vehicle would have been injured. Lucy had been in such a state of shock she had been rooted to the spot until John-Henry had shouted at her to call for help. That stupid fool Andrews didn?t have the brains he was born with. To try such an idiot stunt in public, what had he hoped to achieve? This wasn?t the small town where he had power. No, this was a heaving metropolis where Andrews was as insignificant as a bug under foot.
The most amazing thing had been Fleur and her handling of the situation. She must have been scared and frightened, especially when the gun appeared. However, she had kept her composure and that, more than anything, had probably saved her life along with the driver of their vehicle...he pushed Fleur out of the range of the gunshot George Andrews had fired before he fled the area. Daisy had watched the young woman struggle up from the floor where she had landed a few moments earlier and becoming an easy target. If it hadn?t been for the quick thinking of the driver, things might have been totally different. He had, of course, sustained an injury, which thankfully turned out to be a profusely bleeding flesh wound in the arm. It could have been so different.
Now here they were in a police car on the way to the concert venue. An anticlimax, one would have thought, as they were each silently going over the last few hours of their lives and what it meant to them. Yet, they still had to go through Joanna Lackerly?s reaction and what that brought to the evening?s scenario. It wasn?t going to be a pretty sight knowing that woman?s violent character, she?d shown her aptitude for using force once before in Danvers. The singer had a marked hatred of Andrews, always had, from the first moment she saw him in a Danvers motel. If the police didn?t capture the man soon, Daisy suspected that the singer would do her utmost to find the man and deliver her own brand of punishment and that, she suspected, wouldn?t be pleasant. There was a hard core to Joanna Lackerly that Fleur either hadn?t come across or ignored. No one goes through the life the singer had without gaining a hard exterior. It was in those eyes of hers when something didn?t sit right with her.
The police car arrived outside the side entrance of the concert hall and Fleur thanked him as they all got out of the vehicle. The officer advised her that he would remain discreet as requested, but he?d be within her sight at all times. Reluctantly Fleur nodded her head at the comment. She would have to tell Joanna sooner rather than later. Within seconds of entering the building, a man who could only be described as larger than life greeted them.
?Hi, Pete, are we in time?? the large man gave her a grin and unexpectedly hugging her close while whispering he was pleased she was okay.
?Yep, she?s on her last song for this session. Want to go to the side stage; I know she?ll want to know you are here.? Fleur grinned at him then turned to her friends, she couldn?t just leave them like this.
?Fleur, you go on, I?m sure your friend here will see us to our seats. One thing I know is, I could do with a stiff drink after this is all over.? John-Henry smiled warmly at the woman who looked like she was struggling with a dilemma.
?Yes, Fleur, go. I?m sure Jojo wants to know you?re in the building.? Lucy smiled slowly as she hooked her arm in Daisy?s and winked at John-Henry provocatively.
?You guys are wonderful. I?ll catch up with you when she goes on for her second half, I promise.? Fleur smiled brightly at them all. For a little while, the wave of shock and fatigue from the events of the past hours were pushed into the background. Later, when she was alone in her room, she would shed those tears of fear and helplessness, but not now. Now, she was needed elsewhere and that, to her, was far more important than her own shattered composure.
Walking as fast as she could towards the stage area, a wonderful sense of peace overwhelmed her when she saw her friend performing on the stage. The song might be poignant, but it didn?t matter, she was here to hear it and that was all that mattered. How fragile life was and how so easily she might not have survived George?s deranged episode. Her eyes glimmered with unshed tears as she watched the performance and the face of her beloved friend. As she did so, she saw the scowl and knew she was responsible for that; the next session would be easier for them all...she was here now.
As the applause rang out, Jojo waved to the crowd and turned towards the stage. Her expression brightened considerably when she saw Fleur standing there watching her.
Rushing off the stage faster than she would normally, she tripped over a cable and Fleur?s hands went out to steady her friend, preventing her falling on her face and a possible injury.
?Hey, I didn?t know you missed me that much!? Fleur grinned playfully. She experienced a stare that seared her soul and lit up a flame inside her that would never perish. It was always that way when Joanna looked at her in this way.
?You?ll never know how much. Where have you been?? the relief Jojo felt couldn?t be communicated properly. She was a mass of nerves and living on adrenaline. Her whole body now felt alive again and there was only one reason for that...this woman now inches from her.
?If I told you now, you?d never get back on stage. Come on, let?s get you your fluids and later over supper, I?ll explain.? Jojo gave a long concerned look towards Fleur. She was holding something back and probably because she wouldn?t like what she would hear. However, she trusted her friend and over a meal, they?d talk and discuss what had happened.
?Okay, let?s go get that water. I have a feeling the next session is going to be more upbeat than the last one was.? Jojo grinned happily and slung a gentle arm around the shoulders of her friend as they walked off to her dressing room.
~ ~ ~
The concert was a hit if the playfully raucous crowd was anything to go by. Joanna certainly knew how to play to the crowd and get them involved. She had a confidence level that stuck her up there on a pedestal, probably why Jack predicted such great things for her if she wanted it badly enough. Funnily enough, it was hard to judge exactly what Joanna wanted to achieve these days. They just kind of went with the flow on things and it seemed to work for them.
?She?s even better than she was back at the bar.? Lucy spoke loud enough for them to hear over the noise below them. Having a personal box at the concert had been a great idea. John-Henry had given up the idea of the side stage area for the luxury of sitting with them and having a drink as he watched the performance. Fleur had watched the pride he felt watching Joanna seep out at every song she delivered to the crowd. He had every right to feel that way too. More than anyone else, he was instrumental for her being on stage performing to the masses rather than in a small town bar.
?I?d say she would be wonderful anyplace she sang.? The man said softly as he hummed to the song Joanna, who was totally lost in the performance, was singing.
Fleur smiled. Did the bar owner have a crush on the singer too? It wouldn?t surprise her. She knew only too well how that worked. Grinning at Lucy, they both turned to Daisy and asked in unison.? What do you think, Daisy??
Fleur had watched the old woman tapping her feet to most of the songs and knew that she wasn?t immune to the singer?s blend of songs. ?I?m more a Patsy Cline fan myself, but she?ll do.?
Lucy and Fleur smiled. She?ll do sounded mighty fine with them.
As the song ended, there was a short silence while the singer pulled forward a stool, sat down and her whole body relaxed, ?I wrote this song for some very special people in my life. We?ve never performed it before so cut us a little slack if I forget the words.? Laughter greeted the words and Fleur smiled slowly. Joanna had never forgotten the words to any song as far as she knew. Fascinated as the gentle guitar strains heralded the start of the new song, had she even heard it before?
My Mama told me you got to be good in life; My Papa said you have to try
I didn?t believe them going out on my own; being good wasn?t part of my life?s mysteriesThere was a life to live, places to be and people to meet
I did it all and didn?t care how or who was hurt on the way
Telling myself being good wasn?t part of the dealYears took their toll, as I split from town to town never knowing you see
That you had to want to be good to be allowed to stay free
I floundered and cried, I?d even sadly tried
To end it all one day
Until I met you and all I could feel was you inside me
Telling me the darkness was nothing at all
To break away and live to be free be good that?s all it takesBeing good wasn?t an option in me or so I tried to tell myself frequently
However with you by my side, I gladly surrendered to all that you taught
For good was in you to lighten my way and I?ll never fail
Because you showed me the way allowing good in my life, sharing and caring
Eventually reaping the rewards you thought lost in your lifeMy Mama was right my Papa too but it took me a while
To find what was missing and see the real me
That thankfully others saw and faithfully stand by me today
I found out all you need do is care and it will be returned a thousand fold
For I?m prepared to break down the best fences built
And ask nothing in return because the greatest reward
Is the goodness that friendship helped build.
The magic that called to Fleur every time she heard Joanna sing reached out a little more with tendrils that attached to each of them making them one entity. Was that song for her? She didn?t dare think it was, but she could hope, she?d ask Joanna when they were alone.
?That was a beautiful song, is it someone you know of, Fleur? Jojo got a new beau?? Lucy asked applauding the singer?s performance vigorously.
?First time I?ve heard it. She?s been keeping it under wraps, even from me. I?ll ask her later.? Fleur answered absently unable to comment on the boyfriend question. She was certain the singer hadn?t a new man in her life. They spent too much time together. Joanna wouldn?t have had the time, would she? God she hoped not! Maybe it was one of the band, they were about the only men the singer spent time with alone. Couldn?t be, she didn?t ever single any of them out, especially on a romantic basis...
?Fleur, she?s performing her last song. Are we going to surprise her by greeting her off stage?? Daisy asked. She?d watched Fleur?s expression through the whole performance and the young woman was as deeply in love with the singer as she had been when she left Danvers, probably more so. How awful for Fleur to live with unrequited love, maybe there was something they could do about it.
?Oh, God yes, let?s go, she?s going to be so surprised!? Fleur?s mind turned back to her friends and more pleasing thoughts.
~ ~ ~
The small homely Italian restaurant that she?d chosen with Pete?s help earlier that day was a bonus as at this time of night, during the middle of the week few people frequented the place. In fact, they?d arranged for all the roadies and other support staff to join them on this last night of the tour. Many of them would be going their separate ways tomorrow until the next time, and there would definitely be a next time, everyone was raving about the performance.
As predicted, Jojo had been surprised, pleasantly so, when she first saw John-Henry. Her heartfelt hug and genuine appreciation at his appearance near the stage was something you took pictures of and hung in your parlour later in life as one of life?s pleasurable memories. After that introduction, Lucy appeared from the wings then Daisy and managing to welcome both women at the same time; overjoyed they were there. Fleur was then ensnared by a look that she?d never forget...surprise, happiness and love. Yep, she was sure that was there in equal measure as well.
Within an hour they were all out of the concert hall and ensconced in the friendly family run restaurant. Jojo visibly relaxed from the rigours of the concert and her emotional upset when Fleur hadn?t been at the start of the gig.
As they settled down at one end of the long table made up especially for the twenty strong group, some of the local support unfortunately had either gone home or had places to be and couldn?t join them. Jojo looked at the three people who had made all the difference in her and Fleur?s friendship and being where they were today, she knew that was no mean feat. As the waiter brought over the drinks they?d ordered when they arrived, Jojo picked up her glass of beer toasting the table.
?Thanks to a marvellous team, I couldn?t do it without you guy?s. Special thanks to Pete and the crew for making sure Lenny?s equipment sounded so good, no one would notice if he was playing at the correct times or not.? Winking in the direction of the drummer who gave her a long-suffering glance raising his glass yet winking back at her teasing. ?Next tour, me and the boy?s are going back to take Europe. I?ll gladly take anyone here who wants to travel with us.?
Fleur gave Joanna a sharp glance. When had that been discussed? She certainly hadn?t broached another European tour with Jack, what was Joanna up to?
?Does that include us?? John-Henry remarked with a wicked grin.
?Anytime you want to join one of my tours, John-Henry, you got it, but wouldn?t that bar of yours go to rack and ruin without you polishing the spots off the counter?? Grinning at the man who gave her a comical grimace at the reference to his pristine bar counter tops.
?That was uncalled for, young lady. I see they haven?t drummed any manners into you since you left my place.?
?My dad would love to meet you, John-Henry, he says the same,? her happiness bubbling up as she teased the group around her.
As the first course arrived, they tucked into the food. Fleur was startled when Jojo softly spoke to her, the tone so low only the blonde could hear the question.
?Where did you get that bruise on your face?? Fleur self-consciously dragged her hand to the painful bruise. It was smarting and a couple of painkillers would be preferable to the red wine she was drinking, but eventually that would have the same effect and she hadn?t wanted to spoil the evening.
Jojo noticed the reluctance to answer her query so she tried again, ?maybe if you tell me where you went this afternoon and why you were late, that might shed light on the issue??
?Joanna, we?re having supper, let?s enjoy it with our friends and tomorrow I?ll tell you all about it.? Fleur wanted to break down and tell Joanna everything. To feel the strength of her friend?s comforting arms around her telling her it was all over and nothing like that could ever happen again. But, she couldn?t, not now, this was too special an evening to spoil it anymore than that bastard George Andrews had tried to do earlier.
?Do you promise?? Jojo knew that if Fleur promised it was a sure thing.
Reaching across to reassure her friend that everything was okay she gave her hand a quick squeeze. ?I promise. Now how is that fiery salsa??
Smiling at the change in mood, Jojo picked up her spoon and filled it, placing it close to her friend?s lips, ?Try it and see.?
?Damn that?s hot, Joanna!? She exclaimed as her mouth felt the searing heat of the salsa. She gulped down several mouthfuls of water as a burst of laughter from those who had seen what had happened emanated from the table.
Grinning devilishly, Jojo turned to the others asking, ?Anyone else want to try?? then placing a spoonful of the fiery mixture in her mouth along with a piece of garlic bread.
The meal progressed at a rapid rate. The drinks flowed along with jokes and anecdotes making for a pleasantly rowdy atmosphere within the room, even the restaurant owners had joined them.
?Are you going to settle down anytime you two or are you going to drift indefinitely?? Daisy asked as she tried to stifle the yawn that almost broke her jaw.
?We have settled down, Daisy. We share a house by the beach and we both have a family home to go to when we travel to New York.? As she said that Jojo noticed the hackles rise at the mention of family.
Sniffing at the answer, the old woman looked towards Fleur who was engrossed in conversation with Lucy and John-Henry. ?Fleur?s a good woman, she needs to settle before it?s too late.?
Quirking her eyebrows at the older woman she waited for her to continue. When she didn?t she asked quietly, ?as in settle, being married and having a family??
?Yes. She can?t find anyone if she?s constantly moving from place to place with you.?
?Maybe she doesn?t mind travelling with me. Her priorities may have changed since she left Danvers. Not everyone wants the shackle of marriage and babies.?
?Fleur deserves a family life, Joanna, and I heard you went close to the line on that issue a year or so ago??
The mention of her failed engagement to Lee Weston brought things starkly into focus. She and Fleur had never actually discussed what they both wanted in the romantic area of their lives. Somehow when they were together other people faded into the background and became important only on a secondary level.
?I did for a short time, but it didn?t work out. I guess I?m one of those people who are not destined to have the so-called happy family routine. Fleur has had her moments, Daisy, I don?t think I?m the stumbling block to her finding a man, if that?s what she wants.? The last said in a whisper. Jojo had the distinct impression that men didn?t figure in what Fleur classed as being romantically happy. Okay, it was an impression, but a strong one. The really strange thing was she?d felt happier knowing that and had even given her friend excuses for not going on dates...was she wrong to do so?
?Maybe what you always thought of as a normal family life can be different if you met the right person.? The old woman spoke softly and Jojo was sure...tenderly. An aspect of Daisy only Fleur had experienced. The woman was usually quite caustic in her everyday dealings with most people. As she glanced up from her vigil over her warming half empty glass of beer, she saw Daisy wasn?t looking in her direction but towards her friend. That would be right on the button, she didn?t expect Daisy to be tender with her!
As if she knew she was being spoken about, Fleur turned towards them and gave them a gentle warm smile. ?How would it be if we called it a night, Joanna, and meet up for brunch tomorrow before we all leave the city??
Her conversation with John-Henry and Lucy had been interspersed with yawns from all of them; in the end they had all admitted the day?s excitement had finally taken its toll on them. ?I?m beat too, good idea, Fleur.? Daisy replied thankfully. She was going to sleep in for a week after this weekend.
Jojo stared closely at the four of them. They did look beat and tomorrow she would find out exactly what had happened. For now, they needed sleep. Not that she was going to go just yet, it was only one am and Pete had promised her a trip to one of the underground nightclubs he knew in the city. Anyway, the adrenaline rush over the performance hadn?t yet completed its journey around in her body and going to bed now was not an option. ?Pete, want to get Fleur and our friends a taxi to take them to the hotel.?
?Sure, Jojo,? Pete grinned knowing that was easy. The police had arranged for a cop to be with them until Andrews had been captured, it was in Fleur?s best interests. Fortunately, the police had agreed for the cop to be in plain clothes and he now sat outside in an unmarked vehicle.
As they left the restaurant, Jojo took Fleur aside for a few moments as the others climbed into the car. Placing a gentle finger to the bruise on her friend?s pale face, ?are you okay, Fleur? If you want me to come back to the hotel now, I will??
The concern she felt for her friend vied with her need to rid herself of the energy racing through her body. ?Joanna, I?m fine. I just need a decent night?s sleep that?s all. Please don?t stay up partying all morning or you won?t make brunch. Which is eleven in the hotel restaurant, if you?re not there, I?ll be hammering on the door??
Fleur?s gentle smile surrounded Jojo with a calming feeling as she placed her hands in her jeans? pockets moving away from the woman to allow her to get in the back of the car with the other two women. ?Okay, sleep well, Fleur.? She watched as the car glided away from the sidewalk until it was totally out of view.
A large hand settled on her shoulder, ?She?s in good hands, Jojo, trust me.?
Pete gave the woman who glanced sharply up at him a serious stare. He meant it too. She was safe, had always been. He not only looked after Jojo, but Fleur too. If the singer looked past her own personal hang-ups, she?d see that Fleur not only made a marvellous friend and manager, but also was actually quite a catch in the romantic stakes. One step at a time and Fleur still had to tell the singer about her precarious adventure earlier in the day. Fortunately they?d managed to keep a lid on the event, but not for long he suspected. Those kinds of things tended to get into the press with the slightest whisper.
?Yeah, did she look okay to you? I was wondering if she was coming down with something and that bruise,? Jojo absently commented as she walked quietly towards the minivan that was going to take them to the nightclub, along with a few other of the roadies.
?Sure she did! Now come on, Jojo, time is a-wasting and have I a new band for you to listen to this evening.? Pete spoke quickly extolling the virtues of the new band he?d discovered. Perhaps not to everyone?s taste, but Jojo enjoyed all types of music. She had even mentioned a couple of the bands to a few people at Trigon. Her take on it had been that she was lucky to have found someone who had done that for her so why not spread some of the good luck she?d had along the way.
~ ~ ~
Fleur sank down on her bed. The crisp clean linen complimented the shower she?d quickly indulged in before sleep dragged her to bed. Her head was aching and she now really had wished she hadn?t drunk three glasses of wine because the medication wouldn?t work properly now. Fortunately she was too exhausted to do anything but try and sleep. The police officer was outside her room and had promised that he would be as discreet as possible and who knew, before she woke in the morning her assailant could have been apprehended. With that thought floating in her mind, she laid her head on the pillow and closed her eyes. Someone surely must be looking out for her because it had been a close call today, way too close. What on Earth was she going to tell Joanna...the truth was the only thing, if she couldn?t be honest with her best friend, they could hardly call themselves that to each other, could they.
Truth...isn?t that what her conscience demanded of her! She hadn?t been honest with her friend for a long time now. The longer she remained silent about her growing feelings for the singer, the worse it could get when she eventually had to admit her love for the singer. She was reluctant to speak out because this was a love that knew no bounds. Maybe Joanna wouldn?t want that kind of love from her and they had to go separate ways. Wasn?t it better to remain silent and stay together than be parted? It would serve no useful purpose for either of them to live without the other; it was something they had little control over.
Her thoughts pulled and pushed her into a sleep heavily laden with confusing dreams bordering on nightmares.
~ ~ ~
Jojo watched the band Pete had recommended, mixing blues and soul with an underground beat that was hard at first to follow, but gradually, as she listened, the music made more sense to her. Not mainstream and hardly likely to become hits out there in today?s world, tomorrow maybe.
?What do you think?? Pete dragged across a chair and sat opposite her flanking the minute stage from her view.
Drinking heavily from the bottle of beer that she?d nursed for over an hour her mind on other pressing matters than living it up this evening. ?Okay, I guess.?
Pete eyed her carefully. She was usually full of beans after a performance and normally they had to cajole her back to the hotel for sleep, not today. ?Want someone to talk to, you look pre-occupied??
Jojo shook her head. His idea of someone to talk to ended up being the spare free male in any of the places they frequented and his choice didn?t match hers in any shape or form. ?Nope,? passing a hand over her face wearily. ?I think I?ll call it a day, Pete, things to do in the morning and if I don?t turn up on time, Fleur will go psycho on me.?
A loud rumble of laughter echoed around them as Pete threw back his head obviously at something she said. ?I said something funny??
?No! Well, sure maybe. Jojo, Fleur wouldn?t know how to be a psycho. You on the other hand...?
?Oh, I?m the type, huh? Never knew there was one.? Standing up at her table, she waved the waitress over and paid her meagre bill. The tip more than the drink she?d still not finished.
?Jojo, tomorrow...? turning back to the man whose tone had changed and refocusing her attention on him and what he had to say.
?Yeah...what time are you planning on leaving?? Jojo gave the man a shrewd glance sure he had been going to say something else.
?Not sure, maybe around three. All depends on the flight back to the coast. Fleur will know, check with her in the morning.? Pete smiled slowly and nodded his head.
?Want me to get you a cab??
?No, I?ll take my chances out there. Anyway, I noticed a taxi stand a couple hundred yards up the road.? Wishing him goodnight she left the small club and out into the early morning street.
As she walked towards the area of the taxis, she looked up at the sky. It was the midnight blue hue sprinkled with tiny stars twinkling high above welcoming her under its night blanket. Lyrics buzzed in her head as she stood gazing up at the heavens. A small breeze pushed her hair over her forehead attempting to brush it away several times before finally leaving it to the elements. Her eyes then looked down the virtually deserted road. Except for the odd taxi, there was little or no activity. Few lights shone from the apartment blocks that lined the street she travelled down. As she walked closer to the waiting taxi, her mind wandered even further. Maybe if she were lucky, Fleur would have waited up for her...yeah right! Talk about selfish.
Striding up to the taxi, she opened the door and climbed inside quickly advising the driver of her hotel. As it sped off into the night she wondered if that wasn?t her problem full stop, her selfishness. Maybe Daisy was right. Fleur needed a family life and she?d done nothing but take her away from it all, how could she be so inconsiderate. Tomorrow when they got home to the beach house, they?d have a good old-fashioned one on one girl talk and who knew what might happen after that. All she knew for sure was Fleur had never lied to her, therefore everything would be okay, it always would be with her friend by her side.
~ ~ ~
Lucy sat patiently in the hotel restaurant alone. Daisy had muttered that she needed a little more time and would be along shortly, John-Henry sounded half asleep when she called his room and he would be along shortly too! Her many years working the early shift in the café allowed her precious little time to indulge that luxury called sleeping in.
?Hi there, Luc, where?s everyone else?? Jojo, a warm smile on her face, sat down next to her friend.
?Daisy and John-Henry sounded as if they have slept in. I can?t blame them it was a long day yesterday. I expected Fleur to be with you.? Lucy Evans smiled at her young friend. She?d come a long way since their morning chats in the café when the singer had eaten her brunch there every morning.
?Fleur?s not here?? Jojo?s heartbeat rose fractionally, that wasn?t like her friend. Standing, she excused herself to call Fleur?s room.
As she stepped out of the restaurant, she virtually collided with the blonde who was obviously in a rush and didn?t look where she was going. ?Where?s the fire??
Fleur heard the sexy low timbre of her friend?s voice and flushed as she glanced up into the singer?s features. ?You?ll never believe this...I slept late!?
A chuckle escaped Jojo as she grinned at her friend, ?Oh well, you did have a long exciting day yesterday, didn?t you?? She said turning back towards the restaurant and Lucy.
?What do you mean?? Fleur immediately went on the defensive, her body language nervous.
?Our friends remember.? Jojo placed a comforting arm around her shoulders, ?let?s eat, I know you?re never up to a decent conversation until you?ve blessed the hollow pit with its sacrifice of the day.?
?Oh, Joanna!? smiling and visibly relaxing at the teasing. She really needed to tell her friend about yesterday. Perhaps moral support with the others over brunch might be the right time.
As they closed in on Lucy, their friend grinned at them. ?Another late comer. My, Fleur, you?ve changed. Funnily enough, I was thinking the very same about Jojo.?
Both women turned curious eyes to their friend. ?How?? they replied in unison.
?Sit down first and let?s order at least coffee and yes tea for you, Fleur, I remember.? Smiling warmly she signalled for a waitress to collect their initial order.
Fifteen minutes and several gossipy stories later, Daisy and John-Henry arrived together having met up in the elevator area of the floor they all shared.
Having relaxed and enjoyed a wonderful get together over a decent meal, they sat back and Jojo looked at her watch. ?It?s now one p.m. and I hope no one minds, but I?ve taken the liberty of ordering a bottle of champagne to toast the future.? Motioning for the waitress to bring over the magnum.
?This is...well, it?s decadent!? Lucy exclaimed, but readily held up her champagne flute for the beverage.
?Of course it is and when you do this kind of thing once in a while, it?s wonderful, especially when you share it with good friends.? Jojo announced and settled back in her chair, her expression hooded as she sipped the drink. Fleur had seen the look before. She was waiting for the right moment then she would ask a delicate question or a volatile one, depending on the singer?s mood. Somehow she had a feeling that the question would be about yesterday.
Pre-empting the situation, Fleur decided this was as good a time as any to broach the subject of those events. ?Joanna, you asked me how I received the bruise on my face,? her hand gently touching the blue/black abrasion.
Jojo immediately sat upright in her chair. Did Fleur always know what she was thinking? ?I did, are you ready to tell me now??
Nodding her head slowly, Fleur drew in a deep breath her eyes anxious not wanting Joanna to cause a scene, which she might. ?Promise me that you won?t get angry??
?How can I promise that, Fleur! I don?t even know what the problem was, now I?m getting antsy waiting.?
?Steady there, Jojo girl, Fleur knows what a temper you have, we all do. Let her tell you what happened.? John-Henry intervened cautiously. Getting between these two was like interfering in a marital argument.
Grinding her teeth Jojo waited. Her arms crossed over her chest, not a good omen thought Fleur. She related the events about the altercation outside the restaurant and how it had finally ended to her friend.
A silence ensued that had all around the table anxiously waiting for the singer to say something.
Scraping back the chair Jojo stood up, stared at them all as if she didn?t know them and left the room.
Fleur watched helplessly as her friend left, what did she do now?
?Well, that went better than I thought.? Daisy replied as she gulped down the remaining contents of her champagne and coughed as the bubbles went down the wrong way.
?Fleur, what do you think??
Tears welled up in Fleur?s eyes she didn?t know what to think. Joanna always said something. She could be relied upon to do that even if you didn?t like what she said.
?I don?t know; she?s never done that.? Her softly spoken words barely a whisper.
John-Henry stood up, ?I?ll go talk with her.?
?No! No, John-Henry, thank you all the same. I?ll go talk with her, I should have told her sooner.? Her words spoken in a plaintive tone, closing her eyes briefly she smiled at the others. ?Drink the rest of the champagne and I?ll be back shortly. We can?t let this spoil the time we have together, it only allows George Andrews to win.? She told them walking away towards the exit of the restaurant in search of her friend.
~ ~ ~
Jojo didn?t want to go to her room it would be too claustrophobic. Her thoughts were tumbling around in her head unable to make sense of what she?d been told. Fleur had been involved in a kidnap attempt, a violent shooting, all in the public eye and she was the last to know about it! Where did that leave her in the importance of her friend?s life?
The pool area at the hotel was deserted, as it would be, the wind wiping around the building was considerably colder than the temperature indicated. Here, she was sitting in a recliner, looking at the water rippling from the wind floating across the surface, without a jacket and only a skimpy t-shirt as her protection. However, although she was aware of the temperature, it was taking a back seat to her emotional overload at having heard of her friend?s terrifying ordeal. To make matters worse, in her mind, all she?d done was think of herself and left Fleur alone with the terrible episode...to visit a damn nightclub!
What kind of friend was she who was so full of her own self importance that she didn?t give a shit about anyone, not even someone she professed to care deeply about and she did! Fleur was the most important person in her life. As her friend had relayed all the facts, all Jojo could do was listen and hold onto the churning in her stomach that threatened to heave up her brunch. What was more alarming, was that everyone else at the table had been through the ordeal with Fleur and they were all sitting there as if it happened everyday. Well it didn?t! No matter what people thought of the lives of showbiz folk!
What of that bastard banker Andrews, he was still at large and could try again! Her head dropped disconcertedly as she considered the foul possibility.
?Joanna?? Fleur?s voice gently beseeched her to look in her direction.
Glancing up, her blue eyes filled with revulsion, fear and helplessness because she felt that way on every level, it was all her fault too. ?Please, Joanna, I?m sorry.?
Anguished pale eyes pleaded with the singer to talk to her. The tears that had been welling up now dropped slowly from her eyelids and she didn?t care.
?How can you say that, Fleur!? Joanna?s voice held a note her friend hadn?t heard before.
?But, I am! I should have told you immediately, I want to apolo...? holding up her hand Joanna stood and faced the smaller woman.
?Fleur, if anyone needs to apologise it?s me! I?m a selfish bastard...no better than Andrews,? hearing the strangled cry from her friend she gave her a watery smile. ?All I thought about yesterday was me, me and more about me. I never once took the time to really find out why you had that bruise and I should have done that, Fleur, I should have!? Moving slowly closer until they were within an inch of each other, the blonde could smell the light perfume Joanna used during the day. In the evening she would use a heady mix that always drew out her sensual side.
A slow smile replaced the pensive expression on the blonde?s face as she reached out a hand to touch the trickle of tears that matched her own. ?I didn?t want you to think that I was keeping things from you, Joanna. I didn?t want everything to go even more pear-shaped than they had been. If I allowed him to spoil your performance and the rest of the trip for our friends, it wouldn?t have been right, would it? He?d have scored more points over us and I won?t allow that, Joanna, I can?t. He did enough damage to my life in Danvers.?
As Joanna stared at her friend, she knew that Fleur had come into her own and grown to be a wonderfully resourceful and strong woman in her own right. She no longer needed a protector, she was perfectly capable of looking after herself in this world, probably better than most. ?I?m proud of you, Fleur, I don?t think I?ve ever told you that before.?
A bright smile replaced the gentle one, ?Well, that?s good because then I?m in good company, I?m proud of you too. We make an invincible team, don?t we??
?A winning team, Fleur.? Jojo agreed wiping her hand across her eyes to rid herself of the tears she?d shed.
?Oh yeah, absolutely. Shall we go back and finish off that champagne and say good-bye to our friends? They were part of the appalling episode too.? Shivering as the cold wind went right through her.
?Are you cold?? She asked suddenly feeling the raw biting wind through her t-shirt as well.
?A little, let?s go.? Fleur placed her smaller hand in Joanna?s, dragging her towards the hotel building and the warmth inside. Although in different circumstance she wouldn?t have done that. Joanna?s nipples showed through the thin material of the shirt she wore, sending a warm wave through her body and right this minute wasn?t the time for her sex drive to go into fifth gear.
Laughing, they quickly made for the building and their waiting friends.
Entering the building, the police officer that had been her escort last evening came up to them.
?Yes, officer.? Ignoring the surprise on Joanna?s face.
?We?ve apprehended a man believed to be a Mr. George Andrews. Would you and the others involved allow me to escort you to the station to ID him and make a full statement??
Fleur turned to Joanna, ?No rest for the wicked.?
?Of course, Officer Stein, let me fetch my friends and we will leave in the next ten minutes.? The officer nodded his head and said he would wait in the lobby for them.
?I?m coming too, Fleur.?
?You?re not, Joanna, you don?t need to be involved, think of the publicity.?
?To hell with the publicity, you?re my friend, that?s more important to me!? Jojo crossed her arms indicating her refusal to agree to her friend?s sensible observation.
Fleur chuckled at her stance, ?I love you for that, but please, I?m your manager...remember? Which one of us would explain the situation to Jack when the press got it all out of proportion??
As the valid observation finally gained ground in Jojo?s brain she grinned. Yep, the press might get it all wrong. Then again, she?d have fun making them sweat if they did. ?Okay, want me to send a car for you at the station??
For a few moments the blonde contemplated the offer, ?I have a better idea, you collect our bags and come for me and the others. We can go straight to the airport from there, I think we will all be glad to go home.?
Smiling at the comment Jojo agreed, ?I?ll be having words with Pete too...as he knew all about this.?
Walking towards the restaurant they both laughed at the idea of the giant of a man being browbeaten by a tall, but much smaller stature woman in the nicest possible way, Fleur would see to that.
~ ~ ~
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