Thursday, February 6, 2014

It's Short and Sweet...

   This is a reminder that The Kiss is now on Amazon... and it's free! This anthology contains stories of varying length (but they're all short) from thirty authors. Colleen Hoover has a delightful short story included.
   Given the theme "The Kiss", it's surprising to read what each author has created. Many different genres are represented, which is fun. I've decided to share my story here, and I hope you'll pop on over to Amazon to get your copy.

Here's the link: 

Mona Ingram

Chapter One

“Yes, Miss Malone?”
“Pull over here, would you?” Mandy edged forward on her seat as the limo approached her old high school. The schoolyard was empty now, in the middle of the summer. The grass was already making its annual comeback; it would be lush and green by the time September rolled around, and the cycle would start all over again.
Her gaze drifted to the trees at the far end of the yard. Noticeably taller now, they’d spread until their branches interlocked. She and her friends had spent many an hour under those trees, discussing whatever they’d decided was the vitally important topic of the day. She smiled at the memory.
“A bit farther along, Pete.”
The limousine inched along and Mandy lowered the tinted windows.
“Now what are you doing?” Simon had been silent thus far, which was surprising. But his need for control won out. “We have to get out to the Sage Bowl and do a sound check.”
Mandy ignored him. They had plenty of time and he knew it. “I’ll get out up here, Pete.”
“Christ, Mandy. If anyone recognizes you, we’ll be mobbed.”
It was all she could do to keep silent. Her manager loved any type of mob scene. As a matter of fact, she was fairly sure that he instigated them from time to time to drum up interest in her performances. Foolish, really, as her concerts consistently sold out within a day of the tickets going on sale. She still pinched herself every time one of her songs raced to the top of the charts, and more than once she’d wondered if she really deserved the adoration of her fans, or the accolades for her work. But having the best songwriter in the business didn’t hurt...
A low stone fence rimmed this end of the playground. Every fifty feet or so there was a break to walk through and she did that now, admiring the craftsmanship of the stonemason. The School Board had wisely decided to preserve the fence, which had been built in the first half of the twentieth century by a family of Italian craftsmen who had settled in this part of the Okanagan Valley. She wandered along toward the swing set and then sat down on the fence, lost in memories of those days spent here in Gold Creek.
Stirred by a gentle breeze, the trees whispered in welcome, and for a moment she drifted back in time. She was sitting on a swing, pushing listlessly against the ground with the toe of her sneaker, listening as the other side presented the final argument on the topic du jour. The memory was so real, she could feel the sturdy chain links of the swing support under her palms, hot from the sun.
It had been her turn to lead the team arguing the ‘pro’ side. She couldn’t even remember what the discussion had been about, but she’d lost the argument, and her friends applauded the winning side, then turned to her.
“Matthew wins!” chirped her best friend Sunny. “You have to forfeit.”
“Thanks a lot.” Mandy pretended to be angry, but she’d known from the outset that she was arguing a lost cause. She turned to Matthew. “So, what’s it to be?”
“I think a kiss would be appropriate.” He shoved up his glasses, but not before she saw something bloom in the depths of his eyes.
“A kiss?” It was all she could do to get the words out. Matt Williamson had come to Gold Creek in mid-year, and she hardly knew him. Tall and lanky, he seemed uncoordinated, and yet there was something about him that made her think a kiss from him might not be such a hardship.
“Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” The crowd supported Matt’s choice.
Her hands tightened around the chain of the swing as he approached. She imagined herself to be a bug trapped in amber, and yet she was a willing bug.
“Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” Her schoolmates weren’t letting up.
Matt grasped the chains of the swing, covering her hands with his. This close, she saw the flecks of gold floating in the chocolate of his eyes, and her breath caught in her throat as he leaned closer.
“We don’t have to do this, you know.” His gaze held hers, then moved slowly down to her lips. “Although I can’t think of a forfeit I’d rather have.”
“Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” The words echoed across the schoolyard.
“Okay, what’s going on here?”
Mandy was vaguely aware of the Vice-Principal’s voice as he strode toward the group. How could she be expected to hear when her heart was pounding so hard? She and Matt looked at each other for several long seconds and then he pulled away to face ‘Adolph.’
Steve Manley was the Vice Principal from hell. Pumped up by his imagined self-importance, he marched as he patrolled the halls of the small school, and had adopted a silly-looking moustache that resembled the one worn by Hitler. The nickname was inevitable.
Mandy stood, surprised that her legs would hold her. “Nothing, Mr. Manley.”
He glared at Mandy, then Matt, as though trying to make up his mind. Waving a hand in the air, he dismissed them. “That’s enough for today. You kids go home now.”
Matt opened his mouth to argue. After all, school was over for the day. But Mandy had given him a subtle shake of her head, which he acknowledged with an imperceptible nod.
She hadn’t thought about that day for years.

Chapter Two

“Are you all right, Miss Malone?”
Startled, Mandy looked up and acknowledged the limo driver. “Yes, Pete. I was remembering when I went to high school here.” She rose. “Doesn’t seem like seven years ago.”
His glance took in the entire area in one sweep. “I’ll bet it was nice, going to a small school like this.”
“It was.” She stretched, and they started walking side by side back to the limo. “We used to hang out right here, by the swings, and discuss the problems of the world.”
She didn’t know why she was being so forthcoming. She’d found over the years that it was better not to share personal stories. There were too many tabloids willing to pay for snippets of conversation, which by the time they were printed, rarely resembled any conversation she recalled.
Simon was fuming by the time she crawled back into the limo.
“What was that? A walk down memory lane?”
His caustic tone, coming on the heels of such a gentle memory, was too much for her. She rolled up the glass partition between the back and the driver and turned to Simon.
“Simon, let me remind you. You are my manager. You work for me, and if you weren’t damned good at what you do, I would have fired you long ago.”
He tried to look offended, but he was wise enough to remain silent.
“I made the mistake of getting personally involved with you, only to discover that you can’t keep your pants zipped. That part of our relationship is over, thank goodness, so all that’s left is a business arrangement. And that does not include me putting up with snide remarks.” She reached for a bottle of water and took a long drink. “If you can’t handle that, then I can and will get another manager.”
“You need me,” he blustered.
“No, Simon, I do not.” She held his gaze until he backed down. “And in case you’ve forgotten, my friend Sunny is stopping by the sound check this afternoon, and I don’t want any theatrics from you while she’s there.”
He mumbled something unintelligible.
“What’s that?”
He stared out the window for a few moments. “I was going to tell you later, but since you’re in such a pissy mood, I’d better fill you in.”
She opened her mouth to object to his comment, but he’d piqued her curiosity. “Tell me what?”
“Well.” His shoulders went back and he gave her a triumphant look. “You’re finally going to get to meet the songwriter.”
Was this one of Simon’s distractions, or the truth? If what he said was true, it was something she’d wanted for several years now, ever since that first song that had skyrocketed her to stardom.
Back then, when she and Simon still liked each other, she’d tried to explain how Close Enough To Care had affected her. That, and every song which followed spoke to something deep inside her. It was as if the songwriter had written those first songs specifically for her, that he understood what moved her in a way no other songwriter could hope to equal.
When she’d asked to meet the elusive songwriter, Simon had acted strange, informing her that he desired to remain anonymous.
“But that’s ridiculous,” she’d argued. “What if one of his songs gets nominated for a Grammy?”
He frowned, and from what she could tell, he was genuinely puzzled. “He’s let it be known that he doesn’t want to be nominated.”
“You’re making this up, right?” She gave a nervous laugh. “Nobody would do that.”
“I agree, and I can’t explain it.” He spread his hands in defeat. “But that’s the way it is.”
No wonder Simon was uncomfortable discussing the songwriter. He’d finally come up against someone he couldn’t manipulate.
As Mandy’s star grew brighter, she became less comfortable with the situation. Finally, at the beginning of the year, she’d managed to get a few minutes alone with her producer in his studio. Simon might be a jerk in his personal life, but he’d surrounded her with the best professionals in the business.
The legendary producer shook his head. “I swear, Mandy. I don’t know who he is.” His fingers drifted over the soundboard as he spoke. “His agent acts as go-between, and as you know, we rarely if ever need to ask for re-writes.” He shook his head. “I don’t understand it, either.”
“But how can he keep his name a secret? I mean, what about getting paid?”
“That’s easily enough arranged. He uses his company name.” He tapped a score. “You must have noticed his company name. SwingTime Sound.”
Mandy made a sound of disgust. “Sounds like a name from the forties. Glenn Miller or something.” She gave the producer a look of mock horror. “What if he’s some old geezer? Maybe I don’t want to meet him after all.”
“Hey, don’t knock Glenn Miller. He was one of the best.”
Mandy’s gaze lingered on the music. “I know, I’m just frustrated.”
The producer raised an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t be complaining if I were you. This guy is probably the best songwriter I’ve come across in the past twenty years. And if I’m not mistaken, he writes exclusively for you.”
“That doesn’t make sense.”
“I agree, but he must be content. Besides, with your sales, he’s doing just fine.”
“I suppose so...” Her voice drifted off.
A group of musicians arrived and pushed through into the studio. Mandy knew her time was up. “Thanks, Benny,” she’d said, giving him a quick kiss on the cheek. “I’ll let you know if we have any luck tracking him down.”

Chapter Three

She turned disbelieving eyes on Simon. “You’re serious? I’m actually going to meet him? How did you finally get ahold of him?”
Simon held up his hands. “Whoa, there. I didn’t actually talk to him. I talked to his agent, but he assured me that he’d meet with you this weekend.”
Mandy slid back on the leather seat and tried to calm the butterflies that had taken up residence in her stomach. Now that she was finally going to meet him, she was nervous. What if she didn’t like him, or worse yet, what if he didn’t like her? She supposed there was only one way to find out.
As they drew closer to the Sage Bowl, the irony struck her. That she would finally meet him here. Here, where her career started.
Her friends had urged her to enter the amateur night of the music festival. Terrified and elated at the same time, she’d sung her heart out with a medley of Patsy Cline songs. Simon Preston, an aggressive up-and-coming manager, had spotted her and the rest, as they say, was history.
The limo crested a hill and she caught sight of the venue. It took her breath away every time she saw the transformation that took place in the valley below. High sandy cliffs provided the perfect backdrop for the gently sloping ‘bowl’ of the valley floor. The stage was large, but it was dominated by the cliffs. Over the years, the festival organizers had experimented with various lighting schemes to illuminate the cliffs, and it hadn’t taken long for the performers to realize that nature’s backdrop couldn’t be improved upon. As an informal site, where people brought their own seating, it was unparalleled.
As they approached the gate, Mandy rolled down her window.
“What are you doing?” Simon had reverted to his old self.
“I want to talk to the guard.” She smiled at the young man. “Hi!”
He bent to look inside the limo and his eyes widened. “Oh, hello Miss Malone. What can I do for you?”
“I wanted to be sure you have my friend’s name on your list. Sonja Larsen, but she’ll probably identify herself as Sunny.”
The guard checked his list. “Sorry, I don’t see her.” His pen trailed down the sheet of paper. “Oh, wait. Here she is. Last minute addition.”
“Great. And she might bring one more friend. Can you make a note of that?” Sunny’s boyfriend was trying to make it to Gold Creek for her performance, but he wasn’t sure if he could get away.
“Sure thing. Have a good one, Miss Malone.”
“Thanks, Cory.”
The guard glanced self-consciously at his nametag, then offered a brief salute as they pulled through the gate.
“Okay,” she said, scanning the stage with a practised eye. “Let’s get this done.”
* * *
The sound check went flawlessly. This was Mandy’s fourth year performing at the Sage Bowl Music Festival, and it always amazed her that such a large venue could be set up in the middle of nowhere.
British Columbia was becoming known for its successful festivals, and this one had grown over the twelve years it had been running. The promoters had turned it into a three-day weekend of performances. This was her second year as headliner, and she didn’t think she’d ever get used to the excitement of performance day.
“Sounds great, everyone.” Yankee Bob, her drummer, had expressed an interest in taking on the secondary job of Stage Manager, and she was glad she’d agreed. He was respected by the other musicians, as well as the back-up singers, and he knew his way around a stage. “What do you think, Mandy?”
“Sounded good to me.”
“All right, everyone,” her drummer turned to the band and the back-up singers. “Be back here at seven thirty for eight.”
As he spoke, Mandy noticed Sunny sitting off to the side in a rare patch of shade thrown by a Ponderosa Pine. She was with a man, and they were deep in conversation.
Prickles of anticipation crept down Mandy’s neck. The man looked vaguely familiar, but something told her this wasn’t Sunny’s boyfriend. She crossed the stage, ran down the side stairs and started walking toward her friend.
“Mandy!” Sunny opened her arms. “Get over here and give your best friend a hug.”
Engulfed in Sunny’s embrace, Mandy glanced over her friend’s shoulder toward the man. He was watching the reunion with a gentle smile.
“Look who I found!” Sunny pulled away and reached for the man’s arm. “Matthew!” She turned back to Mandy. “You remember Matthew Williamson from school.”
His gaze flickered to Sunny, then returned to Mandy’s upturned face. “Hello, Mandy. Great to see you again.” He extended his hand.
This was Matt Williamson? She couldn’t believe her eyes. Her hand disappeared into his, and heat bloomed in parts of her body that had seen little action in the past couple of years. The tall, un-coordinated youth had morphed into a well-muscled, well-dressed man. But the eyes were the same; dark brown with intriguing hints of gold.
“Matt.” She pulled her hand away, hoping he hadn’t noticed the way her pulse ratcheted up at his touch. “What are you doing here?” She regretted the words the moment she uttered them. “Not that I mind, but I was wondering...” She looked to Sunny for help.
“I found him sitting in the schoolyard.” Sunny made a disgusted face. “Just sitting there, on the old stone fence.”
Mandy laughed. “You’re kidding.”
“Noooo.” Sunny drew the word out.
Mandy waved a hand in front of her face. “I’m laughing because I did the same thing on the way out here.” She smiled up into Matt’s eyes. “I was remembering that day.” She could tell from his smile that she didn’t need to explain which day.
“Me, too.” His voice had turned husky. “You still owe me a kiss, you know.”
Sunny watched them, her gaze moving back and forth. “I told him I was coming out here, and we decided to drive out together.”
Mandy tore her gaze away from Matthew and acknowledged her friend. “So did you hear my new song? What did you think?”
Always?” Matt spoke before Sunny could respond. “It was amazing, but then I knew it would be.”
“What do you mean?”
He flushed. “I mean, I’ve never heard you sing a bad song.”
Now it was Mandy’s turn to blush. “You know my work?”
“Oh, yeah.” His gaze held hers. “I know every song you’ve ever done.”
His intensity unnerved her. “My songwriter gets credit for that.” She scanned the area. “I was supposed to meet him today, but now I don’t see Simon.”
“You’re finally going to get to meet him?” Sunny knew of her quest to find the elusive songwriter. “Where?”
Mandy threw up her hands. “I’m not sure. Simon can be frustrating, but this time I don’t think he’s jerking me around. I think he really doesn’t know.” She checked her cell phone. “He said he’ll contact me when he hears from the guy’s agent.”
Matthew was beginning to look uncomfortable. “Listen, if you’d like me to vamoose, I can.”
“No.” Mandy realized she didn’t want him to leave. “He’ll probably be here tonight.” She checked her watch. “What I’d like to do is get something to eat. If you guys aren’t busy, we could pick something up at the drive-thru and eat in the park.”
Matthew looked at Sunny and she nodded. “I’d like that too,” he said, “but won’t people bother you?”
Mandy shook her head. She’d willingly put up with a few autograph seekers to have a hamburger in the park. “Not really. People around here usually leave me alone. If you’ll give me a minute, I’ll tell my driver where I’m going.” She checked the line of cars parked up against the security fence and turned to Sunny. “Which one is yours?”
“We used mine.” Matthew pointed out a dark green Land Rover.
“Okay, I’ll be right there.”

Chapter Four

They chose a picnic table under the trees. The sound of seniors playing horseshoes in the adjoining pitches provided the soundtrack to their meal.
“So, Matthew. Tell me what you’re up to these days.”
He wiped his mouth before answering. “I play guitar in a band in Vancouver.” He smiled easily. “Down in Gastown.”
“Really? Have I heard of it?”
He gave her an indulgent smile. “No, I don’t think so.” He shook the ice in his cup and drained the remaining soda. “At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, I’d like to hear about your work.”
She sensed that he was embarrassed by his band’s low profile. She shrugged. “Not much to tell, really.” In spite of her fame, she’d never been comfortable talking about herself. She looked directly at him and wondered if he knew how handsome he was. “Is there anything in particular you were wondering about?”
He ran his finger down the condensation on the sides of the cup. “When I heard you sing this afternoon, I was thinking that with your voice maturing the way it is, you might try some crossover stuff. Lots of country artists are doing that now.”
She tried to hide her surprise. “I’ve been thinking the same thing. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk to the songwriter.”
He nodded. “There are always other songwriters.”
“Easy for you to say.”
He gave her an odd look, and she gave her head a quick shake. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound snippy.” She glanced over at Sunny, who was watching them with interest.
She fell silent. “I don’t know how to say this,” she said after a few moments.
“Try.” He drew the straw out of his cup and sucked off the droplets of moisture. His lips were full and sensuous; she regretted not having kissed him all those years ago.
“It’s just...” She paused to collect her thoughts. “He seems to understand me. There are times when I’m singing his songs and it’s as though he’s invaded my body. As though he knows everything about me.” She gave a short, self-conscious laugh. “Does that sound crazy?”
“No, not at all.” There was something in his voice. “I get it.”
Neither of them noticed when Sunny got up and headed for the restroom.
Mandy exhaled slowly. “Thank goodness. When I’ve tried to explain it to Simon, he says I’m delusional.”
His eyes flashed angrily. “Why do you put up with that? He sounds like an ass.”
Tears pooled in her eyes; it felt good to have someone stand up for her. “Thank you.”
He gave his head an angry shake and reached for her hands. “I’m serious. You deserve better.” His thumb caressed the back of her hand.
She looked at their hands linked on the table, then raised her eyes. “Too bad you had to move away when we were young.” Her mouth curved in a lop-sided smile.
He released her hands and she wondered what she’d said to offend him. “Funny you should say that,” he said after a moment. “I had such a crush on you on high school.”
“You did?” Her words came out high-pitched and breathless. “Then I have a confession. I wish you’d kissed me that day. Something tells me we would have been good together.”
He leaned forward on his elbows and stared into her eyes. “We are good together.”
She glanced around, confused. “I didn’t mean like this...”
“I know, Mandy.” He took a deep breath. “It’s my turn to confess.”
There was something in his tone... something in the intensity of his gaze.
“Mandy, I’m your songwriter.”
Mandy blinked several times. Had she heard him correctly? The rustling of the trees and the soft ‘clink’ of horseshoes faded into the background as his words sank in.
“You?” Something bloomed deep in her chest. “You’re my songwriter?”
He raised both hands in a gesture of resignation. “Guilty.”
“But how...” She had a million questions. “You’re SwingTime? As in–”
“As in that day on the swing.” A slow grin transformed his face. “In a way, I’m glad my family moved away. I probably wouldn’t have tried writing if I hadn’t been mooning around about you.”
“Are you serious?” She wanted to believe him, but it was all so sudden. “You wouldn’t kid around about this, would you?”
“No, Mandy. That’s why I’m here this weekend.” He raised his eyebrows. “Well, two reasons, really. One, I wanted to hear you debut the new song, and secondly, I decided it was time to meet with you. I’m serious about trying some crossover tunes.”
“But why wouldn’t you meet with me before this?” She narrowed her eyes at him. “That’s never made sense to me.”
“Maybe not, but I was writing songs from the heart, trying to capture the way I felt all those years ago, when we were young. I was afraid that if I met you again, all of the fame would have changed you.”
“And has it?”
He grinned. “Not that I can tell.”
She exhaled slowly. “Thanks, I think.” She turned to see Sunny striding toward them, a big smile on her face.

Chapter Five

“David’s coming after all.” Sunny waved her cell phone. “He finally got away.” She stopped at the table. “What? You guys look guilty.”
“Sunny,” said Mandy, speaking slowly. “Matt just told me he’s my songwriter.”
“Get out!” Sunny made a face, then looked from Mandy to Matthew, then back to her friend. “You’re serious!”
They both nodded.
“Uh, oh.” She slid onto the bench beside Mandy.
“What do you mean, ‘uh-oh’?” Mandy nudged her friend.
Sunny rolled her eyes. “What I mean is, how does this affect whatever is going on between you guys? I mean, sheesh, I’ve never seen so many sparks fly.” She paused to consider. “Well, maybe between David and I, but that’s different.”
Mandy couldn’t meet Matt’s gaze. She’d been wondering the same thing.
Matt answered smoothly. “It doesn’t change a thing.” He waited for Mandy to look at him and gave her a look that curled her toes. “It looks like we’re going to be working together, so we’ll have lots of time to get reacquainted.” He checked his watch. “I should take you back out to the bowl to get ready, and I have some apologizing to do. My agent is going to be disappointed that he didn’t get to introduce us.” He rose, walked round the table and offered Mandy his hand. “Speaking of which, let’s exchange cell phone numbers.” She rose and he gave her a meaningful look. “Call me after the concert if you need a ride.”
* * *
Mandy arrived to pandemonium. Clustered around Clete, the band members didn’t realize she was standing behind them.
“What’s going on?” If the guitar player’s expression was any indication, he was in a lot of pain. He was clutching his left arm.
Yankee Bob straightened up and turned to Mandy. “I think his arm is broken.” He raked his fingers through his long hair. “The guys were playing touch football. Clete lost his footing and fell.”
Mandy remained calm. “Let’s get him taken into the hospital then.” She gave Clete what she hoped was an encouraging smile. “Don’t worry, we’ll figure something out.”
“I’m sorry, Mandy.” The drummer looked miserable.
Mandy held up a hand. “Don’t go there. We agreed, remember?” They normally carried two guitar players on tour, but RJ’s wife was due to give birth any day, and they’d given him time off. She lowered her voice. “What are we going to do?”
“I don’t know.” He gave a short, desperate laugh. “Can you pull a spare guitar player out of your bag of tricks?” Mandy carried a kit containing everything from buttons and thread to crazy glue and aspirins. The crew loved to tease her about it.
She grinned. “As a matter of fact, I do.” She pulled out her cell phone.
“Come on, Mandy. I was kidding. We can’t let just anybody up there on the stage.”
“This isn’t just anybody.” She held up a finger.
“Mandy?” His voice sounded like liquid velvet.
“Matt. Do you have your guitar with you?”
He chuckled. “I’m never without it. Why?”
“Well, we need you. Our guitar player broke his arm. How would you like to play tonight?”
“Bad luck. Is he going to be okay?”
“Yes, he’s already on his way to the hospital.”
“I’m all yours. Tell the security guys to let me in, okay?”
“Will do.”
She turned to Yankee Bob. “There. All taken care of.”
“Jeez, Mandy. What are you doing?”
“Trust me, Bob. You’re going to love this guy.” She decided she’d better put him out of his misery. “His name is Matt Williamson, and he’s a guitar player in a band in Vancouver.”
“Well, that’s something, anyway.”
“And he’s the one who wrote every hit song I’ve ever had.”
The drummer’s mouth fell open. “Are you shittin’ me?”
“No.” She tipped up his chin to close his mouth. “Good enough for you?”
“How did you – oh, never mind.” He gave her a quick, fierce hug. “I’ll go over the playlist with him while you change.” He grinned. “Simon’s going to freak.”
* * *
Mandy emerged from her dressing room to find Matt going over the playlist with Yankee Bob. They were chatting together like old friends.
The door opened and Simon strode into the room, his face flushed. He looked disappointed to see everyone calmly going about their pre-show routine.
“Who the hell is that?” He launched himself across the room and prodded Matt in the chest. “You. Out.”
Matt gave him a withering look. “I don’t think so.”
Simon looked from the playlist to Yankee Bob. “What gives?”
Matt stuck out his hand. “Matt Williamson. Mandy asked me to take Clete’s place tonight.”
“She had no right to do that.” Simon ignored Matt’s outstretched hand, and searched for Mandy. “What do you think you’re doing?”
She looked at him as though seeing him for the first time. “Saving the show, Simon.” She gestured toward Matt. “Matt is a professional guitar player. He also happens to be my songwriter.”
The expression on Simon’s face was priceless.
“Oh, and Simon?”
“You’re fired.”
Cheering erupted from the band and the backup singers. Mandy hadn’t realized the depth of their dislike for the manager. A stagehand knocked on the door, announcing that it was time for the band to take their places.
“Let’s do this,” said the drummer, and they filed out. Matt gave her a long, heated look, then followed.
* * *
Mandy shouldn’t have been surprised by Matt’s proficiency on the guitar, but she was. By the end of the first song, the band members were following his astonishing riffs with an amazing performance of their own. They played as if they’d been together all their lives.
After ninety minutes, she stepped to the edge of the stage and spoke to the crowd. “And now,” she said, eyes shining with pride in her crew. “We’d like to debut our new single, just for you.” She stepped back and took a breath while Matt played the intro. “It’s called Always,” she said, and started to sing.
The huge crowd was silent as the last notes floated out over the bowl. Then the entire audience was on their feet. These were her fans; she loved every one of them. She lowered her head and waited for the applause to die down.
“Thank you,” she said simply, then turned toward the band, and the back-up singers. “But I’m only one part of what you heard tonight.” She applauded each person individually. “I’m nothing without my back-up singers, and my band.” Her eyes sparkled as she walked toward Matt, microphone in hand. “I know some of you are wondering where Clete is. He had an accident, but I can assure you he’ll recover soon.” She took Matt’s hand. “In the meantime I’d like to introduce you to the man who made my career what it is today. This is Matt Williamson. He not only wrote the songs you’ve all come to love, he’s an old school friend of mine.” Her eyes sparkled. “And he reminded me today that I owe him something from back then.” She turned to the audience. “A kiss.”
Matt’s lips twitched. “What are you doing?” he murmured, as she led him across the stage.
“I’m making sure you don’t back out.” She raised her lips.
He brushed his lips against hers, slow and tantalizing, with the promise of more to come. “That’s not happening,” he said as he picked her up and twirled her around. The audience roared their approval.
Safe in his arms, she looked into his eyes and saw her future.

* * *
Mona Ingram is the author of 20 romance novels, including two novellas. Many of her stories take place in British Columbia, where she has lived since the age of twelve. In recent years she has lived in the Okanagan Valley and on Vancouver Island. In addition to reading and writing, traveling and bird watching are among Mona's favourite pastimes.

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