The last few days have been surreal. I can't concentrate on anything because my mind keeps going back to what Jack Henry said—he envisions his future with me and little people who look like us. It seems like I'm thinking about it constantly. Even now as we're riding this elevator up to Randy's room for the after-show meeting, my mind drifts as I think about what our lives would be like if he and I were married with a family.
He snaps his fingers in front of my face. "Baby, what's wrong? You've been somewhere else for days now."
"Nothing is wrong." Everything is right, dammit. Why couldn't it have been like this before I walked away?
He pulls me into his arms. "Something's up. You're not yourself."
"I have stuff on my mind. This is…," I pause to choose my words carefully but I'm saved when Jack Henry's phone rings.
"It's Harold. I should probably take this." He answers the call and I can tell by the expression on his face that something is wrong. The elevator doors open and we step off, but he stops in the corridor and I see that wrinkle form on his forehead—the one he gets when he's worried about something. "Hold on a minute." He takes the phone away from his ear. "There's a problem at Avalon and I really need to talk to Harold."
"Is everything okay?"
"No. It sounds like Audrey has struck again."
What is it going to take for that crazy bitch to leave him alone? "Okay. I'll go on ahead. You talk to Harold and I'll meet you in the room when I'm finished."
He kisses the top of my head. "Okay, love."
Love. He's never called me that before. I like it.
The guys are already in the room, beers in hand, when I walk in. Charlie takes one from the mini-fridge and twists the top before he holds it out for me. "Thanks."
"I have some great news. A fan at the Dallas show recorded your acoustical performance on her phone and uploaded it. It's gone viral and fans are going crazy over it, so we think it's a good idea to get you back into the studio at Nashville to record it."
By acoustical performance, I assume he's referring to the song I sang for Jack Henry.
He said we think it's a good idea. I guess that means he's been discussing my performance with the guys and they're talking about things behind my back. I'm still new to this group, but I won't put up with them making decisions without me, especially when it concerns my personal songs. I think I'd better let them know that right now. I'm a part of this band just like every one of them, even if I am the newest member.
"So, you've all decided this without consulting me?"
Charlie holds up his hands. "Whoa, Laurelyn. The guys and I haven't discussed anything. We're hearing this for the first time just like you."
"But Randy said we think it's a good idea."
"I'm the other part of we." I stiffen as I hear the familiar voice behind me.
"Guys, this is one of my producer buddies, Blake Phillips. It was his idea to bring you back to Nashville for the recording and I couldn't agree more. The song is hot, so now's the time to strike."
Fury. That's the only word that can describe what I'm feeling right now. "That song wasn't meant for the world. It was only meant for one person."
"But you didn't sing it for one person," Randy reminds me. "You sang it in front of a crowded concert and now your fans are going crazy over it."
That song is personal. The lyrics are me baring my heart and soul to Jack Henry. "I don't think I want to do that."
Charlie, the peacekeeper, attempts to intercede on my behalf. "Maybe you should give her a little time to think about it, Randy."
Blake smirks at me and I want to kick him in his nuts all over again. "This isn't a request, Laurelyn. Southern Ophelia is going to record that song. I've already set it up."
I know what Randy is thinking—I owe Blake for letting me out of my contract. I'm sure it's what they're all thinking. And that I'm an ungrateful bitch for not going along with what he's asking of me. Is this ever going to end? Am I always going to look like the villain while Blake walks on water? "I need to get out of here."
I don't look back as I leave Randy's room to walk the corridor toward my own at the opposite end of the hall. I'm flustered as I slide my keycard into the slot. It takes three attempts for the little light to turn green.
I push the door open and a hand comes over my mouth from behind. I'm pulled back against someone and shoved into the room. I hear the click of the door and I struggle against the arms wrapped around me. I feel warm breath against my ear and hear Blake whisper, "Stop fighting me, Laurie. I only want to talk to you."
Where is Jack Henry? We were supposed to meet in the room but he's not here.
Blake says he wants to talk? I don't think so. Talking doesn't involve being shoved into a room with a hand clamped over your mouth. My gift of fear is speaking loudly and it's warning me that he's here for much more.
I bite his hand and he immediately jerks it away from my mouth. I'm able to scream briefly before he backhands me so hard, my ears ring. He shoves me onto the bed and sits on top of me as he stretches my arms above my head. I'm mildly dazed but it passes quickly—or at least I think it does. "Ohh," I moan as I register the pain in the side of my face where he smacked me.
"Oh, hell. I'm sorry, Laurie. I didn't mean to hit you." He hovers above me as he examines my face. "I'm afraid that's going to leave a mark."
How hard did he hit me if he can already tell that there's going to be a bruise? "You're hurting me."
"Sorry," he apologizes as he releases my arms. I alternate massaging my wrists where he was grasping me tightly and I can tell they're going to be tender later.
He rolls off me to his back and puts his palms on his forehead, looking up at the ceiling. "God, I'm sorry. I didn't plan this. I just wanted to talk to you."
I lie motionless on the bed as I recall the way he pinned me to my car at the studio. Now he's slapped me around after forcing his way into my room. I hadn't considered him a threat, but I see now that I should. I have no idea where his head is or what he's capable of.
He sits up and stares straight ahead as he speaks. "You pretend like we meant nothing, like we never even happened. Do you have any idea how much that hurts me?"
It's all becoming clear now. "You coming here was never about us recording my song, was it? It was about you finding a way to get to me."
He can forget it. I wouldn't have anything to do with him, even if Jack Henry weren't in my life. "You need to leave."
"I'm not leaving until I tell you how I feel."
I reach up and touch my face. It hurts like hell. "There's no point."
"You're wrong." He turns to look at me. "I love you, Laurie, and I know we can make us work. I told Beth I want a divorce."
Why would he do that? We're not even in a relationship. "I hope you didn't do that for me because it changes nothing."
"Of course I did it for you," he yells at me. He closes his eyes and takes a breath before he opens them and slowly releases the air from his lungs. "We can get it back—everything we had."
He's under the wrong impression if he believes I would have anything to do with him again. "No, we can't. I love someone else."
He twists from where he's sitting on the bed to face me. "I can't fucking believe this! I told my wife I wanted a divorce so I could be with you, and now you're telling me you love someone else?"
He's not blaming me with this. It's his own fault. "I didn't tell you to ask your wife for a divorce. I think I recall kicking you in the nuts and telling you what a lousy lay you were."
He grabs my shoulders roughly. "I threw my marriage away for you."
I'm frightened but not enough to keep my mouth shut. "Don't act like I ruined your marriage. You threw it away without any help from me. Now, I think it's well past time for you to get the hell out of here."
He pushes me roughly against the bed. He grabs my wrists and pins them over my head again. "I came here for you and I'm not leaving until I have you."
Until he has me?
It doesn't register immediately what he means to do until he puts one of his knees between my legs and forces them apart. Oh, God, no. "No! Please, don't do this!"
He tries to kiss my mouth but I turn my head and feel his rough stubble scrape harshly down the side of my face and neck. "Please, stop, Blake!"
"Don't be so dramatic. It's not like we've never done this before." He grips both of my wrists in one of his large hands and his free one moves down my body until I feel it pull up my dress. I struggle to close my legs, to buck him off, to kick him in the balls—anything to make him stop—but nothing I do is any match for his strength.
I'm screaming as loud as my voice will let me, but by the time anyone hears me and gets in here, it'll be too late.
Oh my God. He's going to do this to me and I can't stop him.
My realization sends me well beyond full-blown panic mode. My fight-or-flight response kicks in as I jerk my head up from the mattress as hard as I can to head-butt him directly in the face. It hurts like hell, but it's enough of a blow to make him release me for my one chance at getting away.
I streak off the bed but he catches my ankle and forces me down to the floor onto my stomach. My arms are trapped beneath me by the weight of him lying on my back. My chest is pressed into the floor so hard, I can barely breathe.
I feel the warm ooze of what I know is blood running down my forehead and it gets into my eyes, blinding me. I blink to clear my vision so I can see to run when I get another opportunity, but then I feel his hand up the back of my dress and inside my underwear. I feel his fingers there and he gives my panties a quick jerk, forcefully pulling them down my legs.