Strummin' Up Love
Musicians of Long Valley Romance Novel – Book 1
Zane had made it big in the country music scene; he was on top of the world. Nothing could touch him…until a car wreck took his wife’s life and left his son crippled. Suddenly, the success he’d worked so hard to gain tastes bitter on his tongue, and all he wants to do is hide from the world and lick his wounds.
Late one night, idly browsing the internet, he finds Dr. Whitaker’s horse therapy camp, and makes the split-second decision that if he’s going to hide out somewhere, hell, it might as well be the wilds of Idaho. Packing up his son and leaving everything else behind, he moves to Sawyer, wanting nothing more than the peace and quiet that comes with anonymity.
Then Nurse Louisa comes strolling into his life, there to help his son recuperate. Zane quickly realizes, though, that his son isn’t the only one who needs her healing touch…
Strummin’ Up Love is the first novel in the Musicians of Long Valley Romance series, although all books in the Long Valley world can be read as standalones. It has some strong language, and oh my, sexy times. Enjoy!
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PROLOGUE – Zane
Zane Risley rapped irritably on the door of his wife’s bathroom. If Tamara made him late for the CMAs, he would kill her with his bare hands. The most important night of his life and there she was, holed up inside of the bathroom for hours—
“I’m almost done!” Tamara shouted through the closed door. “Stop banging on the damn door. This is all your fault. If you’d pay for a hairdresser and make-up assistant like Faith Hill has, I wouldn’t have to do this all by myself. I swear you wantyour wife to look like a hag in front of everyone—”
But Zane had already walked away, the blood pounding in his head as he clenched his hands in rage. If he had to hear one more time about how he wasn’t helping Tamara live up to the standards of Tim-God-Almighty-McGraw, he might be tempted to plant his fist through a door, or a wall, or Tamara’s snide face, and God knew how the gossip rags would love to go crazy over that.
“I’m ready,” Skyler hollered as he clattered down the stairs to the front drawing room.
At least one Risley can get ready on time.
“Be there in a minute, Skyler,” Zane called out casually over the railing to the main floor, trying to keep his voice as even-keeled as possible. Just because Zane and Tamara could hardly be in the same room for more than 32 seconds without a shouting match ensuing didn’t mean that Skyler had to bear the brunt of it.
He was just a kid – a kid with a bitch for a mother, that was, who’d done her best to poison him against Zane.
The things she said within earshot of Zane about Zane, taunting him, trying to get a rise out of him…he could only imagine what she said when Zane wasn't there.
He quietly slammed his fist down on the elaborately carved railing, as much anger as he allowed himself to show in front of Skyler. After his current tour was over, Zane’d take Skyler out on the town for some father-son bonding time, doing…
Zane stared blankly at the hideous painting on the wall that no doubt Tamara had spent tens of thousands of dollars on, trying to think of what he could do with Skyler. Something fun. Something…male. And bonding. And shit.
Hmmm…Didn’t Skyler like soccer? Yeah, now that he thought about it, that seemed right.
Well then, Zane would play soccer in the backyard with him when he got back off tour. Hell, he could call the landscaper and ask him to put in a soccer field. They weren’t using the running track much anymore anyway. In fact, he could invite a bunch of boys over and they could play a huge soccer game – have a big tournament. He could offer cash prizes and maybe slip a little cash into the right hands to make sure that Skyler made a goal – or seven – and Zane could cheer him on from the sidelines.
That seemed like a very father-like thing to do.
At least, that’s what happened in all of the Disney movies, and that was about as good of a role model as Zane was going to get.
But first, he had to drag Tamara away from her mirror and her makeup and her hairspray, and get going to the CMAs. He’d make plans with Skyler for a soccer tournament later. He strode back down the hallway, his long legs eating up the distance easily, and through his wife’s bedroom to stand in front of her bathroom.
“Tamara Raine Risley, if you don’t come out of that bathroom right now, I’m going to leave without you!” he hollered, banging on the door with his fist. Dammit all, shouldhe just leave without her? That’d show her. She’d be spitting nails if he left her behind; he’d just love to see the look on her face when she realized that he’d actually carried through with his threat.
Except…showing up to the Country Music Association awards ceremony without his wife would mean the gossip rags would go wild. They already liked to take every little spat and blow it out of proportion. If he wasn't holding her hand and smiling gently into her eyes and handing her a dozen roses every time they went out into public together, the media made it out like they were on the verge of divorce.
He let out a string of swear words under his breath that’d make a priest faint.
It was just like his self-centered, bitch-of-a-wife to pull this kind of stunt. Screw it. He needed to make an appointment with his lawyer on Monday. See how expensive it would be to just divorce her already. Hell, according to the gossip rags, he’d already divorced her ten times over, so why not make it actually happen?
It’d been a couple of years since Zane had looked at his wife with anything remotely akin to love, and this whole staying-together-for-the-child bullshit was getting real damn old.
“I’m done,” Tamara said haughtily as she yanked the door open and strode past him, her glittering high heels only rivaled by her glittering dress. There was a slit up the sheath of gold that ended at the top of her thigh but instead of making her look sophisticated and beautiful, Zane thought she looked like an aging has-been, desperately clinging to the little fame she used to have.
Which, funnily enough, was exactly what she was.
He stomped down the staircase behind her, the air frosty and bitter between them. Their butler, long on the talent of feigned deafness whenever a fight was brewing between Zane and Tamara – in other words, whenever Zane was home off tour – stepped forward and opened the front door for them with a slight bow. “The limo is outside, sir,” he said blandly. “Best of luck tonight.”
“Thank you, Frank,” Zane murmured distractedly as they headed out into the freezing November air, his breath puffing with every word. They’d hit an unexpected cold snap and the resulting skiff of snow on the ground was the talk of every party and meteorologist. It snowed each year in Nashville, of course, but not normally this early in the season. It was going to be a hellacious winter – Zane could feel it in his bones.
Good thing he was heading out for California in the morning for the next leg of his tour. At least San Diego would have the decency to still have fall weather.
He heard Skyler’s shouts of delight as he practically threw himself inside of the limo, intent on exploring every corner of it. Zane was stumped for a moment – why in the hell was Skyler acting like he’d never been inside of a limo before? – when he remembered that actually, his son probably hadn’t been inside of a limo before. Tamara had refused to let Skyler go on tour with Zane, saying that he should stay home and go to school and play with his friends – all of those things that every boring, normal child did. She didn’t seem to understand that her son could always go to school later, but that the chance to tour with his father was only happening right now.
Just one more topic that they argued about.
One of many.
Zane slid into the limo after Tamara and the driver hurried to shut the door behind them when Zane stopped him. “Step on it tonight, okay? My wife,” he sneered the word, “felt like making us 45 minutes late would be a superb plan.”
The driver nodded his understanding, closed the door, and then took off at a jog for the driver’s side, clearly taking Zane’s request to heart.
At least someonelistens to me.
“Did you have to tell the driverthat you think it was my fault that we’re late?” Tamara hissed. “Anyone else you want to tell? Want to rent a blimp and fly it over Nashville?”
“If I thought it would do any good, I’d do that andtake out an ad in The Tennessean,” Zane shot back. “Is that what it would take to actually have you get ready on time?”
Tamara opened up her mouth to fling something back at him but a tug on her arm made her look down instead. “Mom, Mom, check it out!” Skyler said, pulling at her arm and pointing. “A fridge! Inside of the car! Can I see what’s inside of it?”
“Sure, dear,” she said vaguely, patting his hand.
“Come look with me, Mom!” Skyler said, tugging at her hand. With a sigh, she unbuckled her seat belt and followed their son across the huge space. Zane almost barked at them to sit back down and get buckled in, but swallowed the words instead. Skyler hadn’t been in a limo before. He needed to let him have his fun. God only knew he didn’t have a lot of that with Tamara as a mother.
He felt his phone buzz and pulled it out of his tux pocket. He groaned. It was Heidi Marshall, the liason for the potential winners of the awards ceremony, and her text message was in all caps, leaving no doubt as to the state of her mood.
WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?
Yeah, not much doubt there. He was sure if Heidi could reach him in that moment, she’d wring his neck. They should’ve been there ten minutes ago, and, he took a quick peek out of the window, they still had a ways to go.
On our way. See you soon.
He felt the anxiety mixed with anticipation rush through him again at the thought of what just might happen that night. When he’d received the news that he'd been nominated for Male Vocalist of the Year, he’d literally stopped breathing for a moment. The rush of emotion at the knowledge that he’d finallymade it…
And now, the awards ceremony was happening. Tonight, he’d find out if he’d actually won. He could already hear Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood, the co-hosts for the event for years, reading his name together at the microphone. He would stand up, acting humble but knowing all along that of course they’d read his name, and then he’d stride confidently up to the front, every eye in the place on him, clapping and cheering for—
There was a screech of burning rubber as the tires went skidding and the limo was fishtailing and Skyler screamed and Zane’s seat belt went taut, holding him in place as the world spun upside down and right side up and upside down like he’d somehow been deposited into a dryer when he wasn’t looking. There was crunching metal and breaking glass and when it finally stopped, Zane just sat there, frozen, his seat belt tight against his chest, cutting off his air, and he didn’t know what just happened or where they were or—
“Mom. Mom. Moooommmm…”
His son was moaning; he was in pain. Zane had to get to his son. His hands were scrabbling at his seat belt but it was jammed and his fingers weren’t working right and—
His wife. He couldn’t hear Tamara. Why couldn't he hear her? Why wasn't she calling out for help?
All of the sudden, he wanted nothing more than to hear his wife bitch and moan at him that he wasn't home more often, or that her hair wasn't right, or that the maid wasn’t doing a good enough job cleaning the master bathroom toilet.
Anything was better than nothing at all.
Zane finally wrenched his seat belt free, gasping in the suddenly available air. He registered in a sort of detached way that at least the limo had ended right-side up so he hadn’t been hanging upside down by his seat belt, and then he was pushing his way through the wreckage towards the moans of his son.
It washed over him then.
He didn’t know how he knew that his wife was dead. It was a certain knowledge that would come back to haunt him later. Maybe if he’d tried harder in those first few minutes to search for her and stem the flow of blood from her head, maybe she would’ve lived. Maybe his certainty hadn’t been right at all, and he should’ve tried harder.
But in that moment, amongst the creaking and groaning of metal against metal, Zane was working his way towards his son because he could hear his pleas for help.
Pleas for his mother. His mother who was already gone.
“Mom, where are you?” His son’s ten-year-old voice was high and reedy with pain, not yet having begun the transition to becoming a man.
“I’m coming, Skyler,” Zane grunted, trying to remember why he’d thought a stretch limo would be just the thing for the CMA Awards. If he’d chosen a regular car, he would’ve made it to Skyler’s side already.
Stupid Zane. Always needing to show off. Only wanting the best—
Skyler’s thin, childish hand slipped into Zane’s and tears of relief began trickling down Zane’s cheeks. His son was here. He was alive. He was clinging to Zane’s hand and that was all that mattered.
“Dad,” Skyler choked out, and Zane knew that his son’s pain was almost swallowing him whole and Zane wanted to take it on himself, make it his own, protect his son from it. There was metal wrapped around Skyler, trapping him in place, and Zane’s gut told him that it would take a miracle to have his son come out in one piece. “Where’s Mom?”
But Zane never answered that question. The firefighters and first responders showed up just then, pulling at the doors, prying them open, the horrendous screech of metal against metal like the claws of a giant ripping at the car, making it hard to think.
But even if they hadn’t arrived, he still wouldn’t have answered that question, because he’d failed his son, and there was no answer to give.
He’d lived, while his wife had died.
And for that, Skyler would never forgive his father.