by Dolores W. Maroney
Adult Contemporary Romance
Out of sight, out of mind. That’s what Melody Ravenswood was counting on when she invented a new life for herself as Mel Harper in the small farming community of Willowbrook, Texas. She could be herself, whoever that was. Having long since lost her identity to being the only child and sole beneficiary of a legendary rock and roller, she was finally going to live the normal life she craved – a job, a house, friends and no paparazzi.
Hank Travis is the last thing Mel needs in her new life. The local boy turned rock and roll star’s sexy, won’t take no for an answer pursuit makes her long for a life she has only dreamed of. Before Mel can have the future she wants with Hank, she must confront her past and find the Melody she lost along the way.
Somewhere around milepost twenty-nine, she had made up her mind to see this assignment through, but her first glimpse of him made her rethink her decision. He held the screen door for her, looking too damned good, too damned sexy, and too damned pleased with himself. He might as well have had a flashing neon sign on his head—Danger! Unreliable, narcissistic heartbreaker ahead!
She stepped into the kitchen, all too aware of his size as she brushed past him in the narrow doorway. He snared one of the insulated cups from her as she passed. “Is this for me?”
Ignoring him, she popped her hot chocolate into the microwave, her fingers punctuating her mood as she stabbed at the buttons. The dog ambled into the room from parts unknown and sniffed at the back of her leg.
“Leave her alone, Betty.” Hank steered his four-legged friend in the other direction.
She opened cabinets until she found a plate and dumped the contents of the bag onto it. The dish made a satisfying thunk when she dropped it in the middle of the table. An old-fashioned style doughnut bounced off and rolled to the floor. Betty Boop pounced on it, disappearing with the purloined treat.
“I brought doughnuts.” She removed her hot chocolate from the microwave, hyper aware of the man leaning against the refrigerator watching her every move. “Today is the one and only time I’ll do it for the duration of our project.”
She took a seat and rummaged through her purse for her voice recorder. She slammed it down with enough force to rouse the dog from under the table—probably hoping to catch more flying pastries. Hank took the seat next to hers. She scooted her chair back until her thigh bumped the table leg. “I don’t take notes. If you have a problem with being recorded, speak up now.”
“You can record anything you want, except my music. I have contractual obligations regarding my creative process. I’m sure you understand, Melody.”
She faltered. Coincidence. A lucky guess. That’s all it was. Her tongue felt like sandpaper, but she managed to force words out. “My name is Mel.”
“If you say so, Ms. Ravenswood.”
Oh God. Her heart raced. Her vision blurred, and her throat closed. A black fog swam through her mind, threatening to take her under. She couldn’t breathe. She’d had panic attacks before, but that didn’t make this one any less frightening. She had to get out, away. Why hadn’t she listened to her instincts earlier? She stumbled to her feet. Trembling legs miraculously carried her to the door.
He stood and moved in her direction. As she gripped the doorframe, she raised her hand to fend him off. She sucked in the fresh air wafting through the screen door. Oxygen flooded her system.
“Are you okay?” he asked. “Can I get you anything?”
“Leave. Me. Alone.” Beyond the screened door, wide-open spaces promised relief. “I have to go.” She flattened her palm against the cool wire mesh.
“Please,” he begged. “Don’t go. I won’t tell anyone. I promise.”
All she had to do was push and the screened door would open. Escape was that close. She gazed longingly at the quiet vista beyond. Her brain told her to run, to get as far away from Hank as she could, but her limbs betrayed her. Telling Cathy had been easy, maybe because it was her decision and she trusted her friend to keep her confidence. But being found out by a virtual stranger was different. It was what she lived in fear of every day—that someone, everyone, would discover her secret, and the peace she’d constructed with such care would shatter.
He knew and soon everyone in Willowbrook would know, too. She would have to leave, find another place to live, reinvent herself all over again.
“How did you find out?” she asked, envying the nondescript sparrow pecking at something in the grass outside, able to fly away at the slightest threat.
“I ran an Internet search on your name. If I can do it, anyone can.”
She slumped against the doorframe. He was right. Anyone could do it. The only person she’d been fooling was herself. A quiet life in a small town wouldn’t be possible because someone would always figure out her secret. She’d been impossibly stupid and naïve.
“How did you find out about me?” he asked.
“I researched you in the newspaper’s archives, and then I searched the Internet.”
“I guess that makes us even.” He held her chair out. “Come sit down, and we’ll talk.”
This time, her legs responded. She crossed the room and sank into the chair, her body numb with fear of the havoc his knowing would unleash on her life.
He pushed her hot chocolate closer to her. “Here, have something to drink. You’ll feel better.” His voice, velvet smooth and laced with concern helped to calm her and the warm liquid easing the tightness in her throat. Her life was out of control, and she was drinking hot chocolate with the man who held the key to her future. Unbelievable.
He resumed his seat and slid a chocolate frosted doughnut under her nose. “Eat.”
She stared at the confection.
“Can I get you anything else?”
She shook her head and reached for the doughnut. She ate mechanically, tasting nothing. She couldn’t look at him. With downcast eyes, she could see his hands, knew he drank his hot chocolate, and selected a sugared doughnut for himself.
Hank tossed the last bite to Betty Boop. He dusted sugar from his hands and crumpled his napkin, throwing it across the room for a perfect two-pointer into the wastebasket. “I’m sorry I blew your cover, Melody.”
The chocolate helped, or maybe the numbness and fear were wearing off. She raised her eyes, fixing him with a laser-sharp glare. “Don’t call me that. No one calls me that.”
He held his hands up, palms out. “Okay, Mel it is.” He shifted in his seat. “Look, I’m sorry I sprung it on you like the way I did. I can’t tell you what a surprise it was…. Well, it blew my mind when I realized who you were.”
“I just bet it did.”
“Hey, I understand you want your privacy, and you’re entitled to it. If it’s any consolation, I didn’t find any recent photos of you.”
“That’s just swell, Hank. I feel so much better. You understand why I want to be left alone, yet you went to the trouble of researching me on the Internet.” She shook her head. “I came to Willowbrook to live a quiet life, to be my own person…not the daughter of a ghost. You don’t have any idea how much I wanted this new life to work. And it would have, too, if you hadn’t been here.”
“What have I got to do with it?”
“Think about it. The paparazzi know you’re here. They’ll come hunting for you, and guess who else they’ll find?” She shook her head. “This is just what I was trying to avoid. Ever since I inherited, everyone thinks they have a right to know where I am and what I’m doing. I just want to be left alone. I have to leave, move somewhere else. Some place far away from you.” She was on the verge of a breakdown, she could feel it coming, building like a summer storm. She swiped away tears before they could spill over and run down her cheeks.
“You can relax,” he said. “I’m not going to tell anyone who you are. You can go on being Mel Harper of the Willowbrook Gazette for the rest of your life if it’s what you want.”
“Easy for you to say. You aren’t the one the paparazzi are hunting.”
“What do you mean, hunting?”
“Ever since I turned twenty-five, I’ve been a wanted woman, so to speak. They almost caught up with me in San Diego. So I left.”
“It was awful.” Thinking perhaps he could understand, she told him how she had practically been forced from her home the previous year.
“I’m so sorry. Sometimes reporters don’t know when to quit.”
“You can say that again.” Enough about her. It was time to find out what was really going on. “So, what’s the deal with the interview? You don’t like reporters any more than I do, so why am I really here?”
He smirked. “You don’t see the irony in your situation? You’re a reporter who hates reporters.”
“I don’t hate all reporters, just the ones who don’t respect people’s privacy. I’m a journalist with a conscience. I only write about people who want to be written about, and since you aren’t one of those people, we’re back to the original question. Why am I here?”
“It was the only way I knew I could get you to come out here to see me. I’m serious about the interview though. Spend thirty days with me, record whatever you want, with the exception of my music. When the time is up, you’re free to do whatever you want with the material. You can write a book, a magazine article, a piece for the Gazette, or nothing at all. I don’t care.”
This, from a man who avoided reporters like they were plague-carrying vermin? There had to be more he wasn’t saying. “If you really want publicity, why not call someone from one of the fan magazines? If I write an article about you, it will bring all kinds of attention to me. Attention I don’t want.”
“You’re good at what you do.”
He hasn’t heard a work I’ve said. “Let me be clear. All I want is to live in a quiet little town and write about the everyday lives of the real people who live there. I don’t want notoriety. If I wanted recognition, don’t you think I could have bought myself a position at a big publication? I could buy my own magazine or newspaper if I wanted.” She sneered at him. “I could buy you.”
“I read some of your work. You don’t need to buy yourself anything. Your writing is clear, concise, and compassionate. People like you. You tell their stories in a way that makes them seem special. Everyone deserves to feel special at some point in their lives, even if they live in the middle of Nowhere, USA.”
Smart. Hitting her where it would do the most good—right in her pride. “Thank you,” she said, sure he was softening her up for something big.
“You’re welcome. Now, for the reason you’re here.”
Here it comes. She stiffened her spine.
He placed his hand on her arm, anchoring her to her seat.
Oh, this can’t be good if he thinks I’m going to run.
“I don’t need any publicity. I don’t want any publicity. I want to get to know you.”
She frowned. “Why?”
“I think we should get married.”
What? Oh no. No. Not going to happen.
She yanked on her arm, but he tightened his grip—not enough to hurt, but firm enough she wasn’t going anywhere until he let her. “You’re nuts. No one told me you were nuts.”
About the Author
Dolores has been married to the same wonderful guy for thirty-three years. They have two lovely daughters and a black lab. She makes her home in the wilds of New Jersey (yes, there are wilds in NJ). A Texan with familial roots that go all the way back to the Republic of Texas, Dolores says you can take the girl out of Texas, but…well, you know the rest.
She’s been a stay-at-home mom for most of her married life – a job she says is under-rated on the difficulty scale. Now that her girls are grown, she’s still available to them anytime, day or night, but she fills her days with writing romance novels and reading.
Dolores is a best-selling, multi-published author of erotic romance under the pseudonym, Roz Lee.