“You were always my good girl,” Dad said, sounding wistful.
I didn’t know what to say.
He patted me on the arm. “Call me.”
“Yeah,” I said, my throat tight. “Say bye to Mom for me. I’ll talk to you soon.”
Sam stepped forward. “Your daughter is in safe hands, sir.”
I didn’t wait to hear Dad’s reply. For the first time in hours I stepped outside. Pandemonium erupted. The instinct to turn tail, run and hide, was huge. But with Sam’s big body beside me it wasn’t quite so crazy frightening as before. He put an arm loosely around my shoulder and hustled me out of there, down the garden path, and toward the waiting crowd. Another man in a sharp black suit came toward us, making a way through the mob from the other side. The noise level skyrocketed. A woman yelled that she hated me and called me a cunt. Someone else wanted me to tell David that he loved him. Mostly, though, it was more of the questions. Cameras were shoved in my face, the flashlights glaring. Before I could stumble, Sam was there. My feet barely touched the ground as he and his friend hurried me into the waiting car. Not a limousine. Lauren would be disappointed. It was a fancy new sedan with an all-leather interior. The door slammed shut behind me and Sam and his friend climbed in. The driver nodded to me in the rearview mirror, then carefully accelerated. People banged on the windows and ran alongside. I huddled down in the middle of the seat. Soon we left them behind.
I was on my way back to David.
I slept on the short flight to LA, curled up in a super comfortable chair in a corner of the private jet. It was a level of luxury above anything I’d ever imagined. If you had to turn your life upside down you might as well enjoy the opulence while you were at it. Sam had offered me champagne and I’d politely declined. The idea of alcohol still turned me inside out. It was entirely possible I’d never drink again.
My career path had been temporarily shot to hell, but never mind, I had a new plan. Get divorced. It was breathtakingly simple. I loved it. I was back in control of my own destiny. One day, when I got married, if I got married, it would not be to a stranger in Vegas. It would not be a terrible mistake.
When I woke up we were landing. Another sleek sedan stood waiting. I’d never been to LA. It looked every bit as wide awake as Vegas, though less glam. Plenty of people were still out and about despite the hour of night.
I had to brave turning on my phone sometime. Lauren would be worried. I pushed the little black button and the screen flashed bright lights at me, coming to life. A hundred and fifty-eight text messages and ninety-seven missed calls. I blinked stupidly at the screen but the number didn’t change. Holy hell. Apparently everyone I knew had heard the news along with quite a few people I did not.
My phone pinged.
Lauren: You okay? Where r u???
Me: LA. Going to him ’til things calm down. You alright?
Lauren: I’m fine. LA? Living the dream.
Me: Private jet was amazing. Though his fans are crazy.
Lauren: Your brother is crazy.
Me: Sorry about that.
Lauren: I can handle him. Whatever happens, do not break up the band!!!
Me: Got it.
Lauren: But break his heart. He wrote San Pedro after what’s-her-face cheated on him. That album was BRILLIANT!
Me: Promise to leave him a broken quivering mess.
Lauren: That’s the spirit.
It was after three in the morning by the time we reached the massive 1920s-era Spanish-style mansion in Laurel Canyon. It was lovely. Though Dad would not have been impressed—he preferred clean, contemporary lines with minimal fuss. Four-bedroom, two-bathroom houses for Portland’s well-to-do. But I don’t know, there was something beautiful and romantic about such extravagance. The decorative black wrought iron against the bare white walls.
A gaggle of girls and the obligatory pack of press milled about outside. News of our marriage had apparently stirred things up. Or maybe they always camped here. Ornate iron gates swung slowly open at our approach. Palm trees lined the long, winding driveway, large fronds waving in the wind as we drove by. The place looked like something out of a movie. Stage Dive were big business, I knew that much. Their last two albums had spawned numerous hit songs. Lauren had driven all over the countryside last summer, attending three of their shows in the space of a week. All of them had been in stadiums.
Still, that was a damn big house.
Nerves wound me tight. I wore the same jeans and blue top I’d had on all day. Dressing for the occasion wasn’t an option. The best I could do was finger-brush my hair and spray on some perfume I had in my handbag. I might be lacking in glamour but at least I’d smell alright.
Every light in the house blazed bright and rock music boomed out into the warm night air. The big double doors stood open and people spilled out of the house and onto the steps. It seemed the party to end all others was taking place.
Sam opened the car door for me and I hesitantly climbed out.
“I’ll walk you in, Ms Thomas.”
“Thank you,” I said.
I didn’t move. After a moment Sam got the message. He forged ahead and I followed. A couple of girls were making out just inside the door, mouths all over each other. They were both slender and beyond gorgeous, dressed in tiny, sparkly dresses that barely hit their thighs. More people milled about drinking and dancing. A chandelier hung overhead and a grand staircase wound around an interior wall. The place was a Hollywood palace.
Thankfully, no one seemed to notice me. I could gawk to my heart’s content.
Sam stopped to talk to a young man slouched against a wall, a bottle of beer to his lips. Long, blond hair stuck out every which way and his nose was pierced with a silver ring. Lots of tattoos. In ripped black jeans and a faded T-shirt he had the same uber-cool air as David. Maybe rock stars brought their clothes artfully aged. People with money were a pack apart.
The man gave me an obvious looking-over. I steadfastly resisted the urge to shrink back. Not happening. When he met my eyes his gaze seemed curious but not unfriendly. The tension inside me eased.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hi.” I braved a smile.
“It’s all good,” he said to Sam. Then he tipped his chin at me. “Come on. He’s out this way. I’m Mal.”
“Hi,” I said again stupidly. “I’m Ev.”
“Are you alright, Ms Thomas?” asked Sam in a low voice.
“Yes, Sam. Thank you very much.”
He gave me a polite nod and headed back the way we’d come. His broad shoulders and bald head soon disappeared among the crowd. Running after him and asking to be taken home wouldn’t help, but my feet itched to do so. No, enough with the pity party. Time to pull up my big girl panties and get on with things.