Here I am staring at your perfection
In my arms, so beautiful
The sky is getting bright, the stars are burning out
Somebody slow it down; this is way too hard
‘Cause I know when the sun comes up I will leave
This is my last glance that will soon be memory
And when the daylight comes, I’ll have to go
But tonight I’m gonna hold you so close
‘Cause in the daylight we’ll be on our own
But tonight I need to hold you so close…
It was just about dawn, the first beginning rays of daylight having yet to even seep through the window blinds. Neither had succumbed to sleep yet, having been further preoccupied with getting reacquainted, so to speak, with one another throughout the hours that had passed since Rayna had come to him in the middle of the night. In truth, neither was quite ready to let the magic and the moment fade just yet, and they knew it would once slumber took them and they were to awaken to the all-too real consciousness that came with the start of the day. It was easier in the night to reach and hold one another, without the past and present lingering between them, preventing them from doing what came natural to them…being together.
“…So um, do you think you and Megan might try to work things out?” Rayna asked Deacon quietly as she lay curled up against his side, in his arms, her fingers tracing lazy circles in the hair on his chest.
Deacon shifted uncomfortably in response to her question and cleared his throat gruffly. “Ray—I don’t know and honestly…I really don’t want to talk about another woman when I’m lying here with you,” he said a little roughly.
“Why not?” she asked, innocently.
He scoffed at her. “Um, well…for starters, it’s weird, Ray. It’d be like me asking you questions about your past relationships since we split,” he reasoned.
She propped herself up on her elbow, laying her arm across his chest as she stared directly into his eyes and shrugged. “Go ahead and ask. What would you like to know?” she asked.
His eyes widened at that and he laid there in a shock for a moment before sputtering. “Wh-uh—huh...Ray, stop,” he said, warning in his tone.
“What?” she asked. “We’re friends aren’t we?” At his nodding assent, she continued. “Well, friends talk about this stuff,” she said, matter-of-factly.
He gave her a disapproving look. “Wrong. Girlfriends talk about that kind of stuff. Not guys. And sure as hell not me. Friends or otherwise, I don’t want to even think about anyone else touching you or flirting with you right now…not when you’re lying naked here in my bed, in my arms. I don’t care about the past or what happens when we leave this room, Ray…right now we’re here and you’re mine. Got it? Mine,” he said with a gruff voice as he shifted and rolled them so that she was lying beneath him, his weight pressing her into the soft mattress.
She giggled even as heat spread through her; the fire starting in her bones…and spreading everywhere. “Oooh, I love it when you get all possessive. It’s hot,” she said, her eyes full of desire.
“Damn straight, woman,” he said as he stared down at her with desire and wanting in his eyes. He saw the same overwhelming need reflected in her eyes and not for the first time, he wondered how it could be that it was even possible to want or need another human being as much as they wanted and needed one another, not just then or during the night but throughout their entire relationship. It’d always been that way…as if they couldn’t get enough of one another. Every joining, every climax…was more devastating, more shattering than the last. It was a wonder they survived the cataclysm. Correction…the cataclysms. As in plural. And that was only encompassing of the past few hours, he realized with smug satisfaction.
She smiled up at him through heavy-lidded lashes. “What’s that look for?” she asked, her voice gritty with lust as she ran her fingers up the sides of his biceps, and over his shoulders to tangle in the curls at the nape of his neck.
“God, you’re gorgeous,” was his reply as he stared down at her, his gaze falling on her slightly parted mouth and lips that were just begging to be kissed.
She laughed. “Well…you’re not so bad yourself, Babe,” she complimented him back. “Now c’mere and kiss me,” she said softly, her expression beckoning as she pulled him down to her, lifting her mouth for his kiss.
“With pleasure…” he whispered, his voice deep as his heart started beating in a quick rhythm, just as his mouth touched hers…
Two Hours Later…
Deacon sighed and carefully sipped his steaming cup of coffee as he stared out the window at the swirling fog rising on the lake outside the cabin. The storm had dissipated for the most part, save for a light drizzle. Glancing at the bed where Rayna still lay, sound asleep, sprawled face-down in the middle of the king-size bed, he smiled. Her naked form was barely covered in the sheet that had tangled in her legs and slid down to the middle of her smooth, bare back. He smiled with primal, male satisfaction at the little red marks from whisker burn and the love bites on her shoulder that he’d given her during one of their bouts of lovemaking throughout the night and early morning.
Standing there watching her, it took every bit of willpower he possessed not to slide back in beside her and continue where they’d left off when they’d finally taken a break a couple of short hours earlier. He hated to wake her, knowing she could use the sleep. Godknows, so he could he—and had it not been for the incessant sound of Rayna’s phone ringing floating from down the hall in the guest room—he’d probably still be wrapped up in her warm, sated body…fast asleep, just as she was.
Luckily for Rayna, she was more of a deeper sleeper than he, so she slept soundly while he slipped out of the bed, pulled on the shorts he’d discarded at the foot of the bed and made his way down the hallway to the guest room. Picking up the phone, he swiped the screen with the pad of his thumb, intending just to go into the settings and turn down the volume of the ringer on the bothersome thing. He stopped and sighed when he saw all the mixed text messages and calls she had from Bucky and the label and even from a couple of local news reporters from The Tennessean whose names he recognized from their various music articles written over the years. The flashing notifications were like a splash of ice cold water to the face…a sharp reminder of the reality he’d forgotten about until that moment. And just like that, his whole mood had shifted.
Rather than return to Rayna and the warm bed they’d shared during the night, he’d gone downstairs and fixed himself a cup of coffee, turning on the television set to watch the news…and the Good Morning America segment they’d taped the afternoon before. He stood there with his coffee, his jaw set and his mouth grim as he watched it air and listened to Robin Roberts’ byline with her co-anchors. Fortunately, while the segment had aired the truth in a softer light than it could have, it still stung to watch it unfold and to hear himself reveal to the world his own personal demons. When a picture of Maddie came up and filled the screen, he swallowed hard, remembering that he’d done it for her…not for himself or for Rayna, but for Maddie. His little girl. His daughter that, as he’d said and meant with every fiber of his being when he had said it, was the best part of his life. He might not have been there for her like he should have been—as a father should be with his daughter—but he was there now…and he’d be damned if he let his pride or qualms about his personal privacy get in the way of doing what was best for her. He didn’t particularly relish the fact that the whole world now knew that he was a screw-up of the worst kind…an alcoholic father, just as his own has been…but if it spared Maddie the glare of the harsh public spotlight even just a little, then it was worth it.
As the focus shifted to a developing news story in the Midwest, Deacon had shut off the television set and headed upstairs with his cup of coffee and one for Rayna…and her phone. Though he hated to wake her…and hated even more to bring the amazing night they’d had to a close by having to face the day’s reality…he knew there were things she had to take care of…like dealing with the press and her label and fielding questions from reporters. And Maddie. First and foremost, she was going to want to check on Maddie. As did he…which is why he’d already decided to leave the privacy of his secluded cabin and head back to town with Rayna once they’d both showered and gotten dressed. He and Rayna had a lot they needed to focus on and figure out…especially after the night they’d just spent together…but their main priority right then was the whole mess with the world finding out about Maddie. The rest would come later. He’d make sure of it.
Setting down his cup near the one he’d brought up for Rayna on the nightstand, he sighed and sat down on the bed, reaching out to run a finger through Rayna’s hair and smooth the wayward lock away from her turned face. “Rayna…Babe, wake up…” he spoke softly.
Rayna grimaced and cursed under her breath as she carefully made the turn onto the cul de sac in the gated community where she lived with the girls, and saw all the waiting reporters gathered outside her closed gate even from down the street. She glanced over at Deacon, who was sitting in the passenger seat, and saw that his expression wasn’t that much of a contrast to hers. He’d driven his vehicle home from the cabin and she hers, but after seeing the throng of reporters camped outside of his home in East Nashville, he’d parked his truck around the corner and joined her in hers to drive to her place to see Maddie in Belle Meade.
“Well,” Deacon said with a sigh, “I guess we gotta face them sooner or later,” he pointed out so matter-of-factly that, although she knew it was the truth, it still grated on her.
“I know,” she said with an echoing sigh. “I just hoped that GMA segment would give us a bit of a reprieve, I guess. I mean, come on…showing up at our homes, vying for some seedy bit or comment…it’s just wrong,” she said with clear distaste.
He shrugged. “That’s the press, Ray. It’s what they do.”
She nodded. “Yeah, well I don’t care…they’re vultures. The whole lot of ‘em,” she said as she drove slowly towards the pack of figurative wolves. As they neared her gated drive and they all scrambled towards the vehicle, microphones and cameras out and at the ready, she outwardly shuddered.
Deacon, sensing her discomfort, instinctively reached out and placed his palm on her thigh in a familiar, comforting act, squeezing reassuringly. “Ray…you want me to just get out and give them a statement or a comment or something? I mean, maybe they’ll just go away if I do,” he offered.
She looked around at the people clamoring around her vehicle and considered his suggestion for a moment, then shook her head. “No. We did the GMA thing. As far as I’m concerned, they’ve gotten all of the statement they’re getting from us. It’s one thing with the music and our careers, but these are our lives, Deacon. This is our family. They can either learn to respect that or not. Agreed?” she asked, looking at him.
He smiled, loving how protective she got when it came to personal matters such as these. She could be a real, fierce “mama bear” when it came to her girls. And the way she’d said “our family” had sparked something inside of him that he couldn’t quite discern just yet, but knew was a good thing. If nothing else, it felt good and right to hear her say the words. They might not be a family in the traditional sense of the word, but she and the girls had always been his family…the only one he’d ever truly wanted and deep down he knew, would only ever want. “Hey, you know where I stand with the press, Ray. If it were up to me, I’d tell ‘em all to officially go to hell and be damned the consequences. So yeah, whatever you think is best…we’re agreed,” he said, nodding.
She laughed, knowing he would do exactly that. That was Deacon. It was something she’d always envied about him—his ability to just tune it all out—the press, the media, all the expectations and demands and overall downsides of their business—all of it. To make it—to really make it—you had to play the game and work the players…but Deacon, for the most part, just refused to play. It was a trait and a strength she’d always admired, even if she couldn’t claim it as one of her own. Granted, she’d learned a lot over the years and she wasn’t nearly as weak-boned as she was when she first started out in the business…but there were still some aspects that had been ingrained in her from the start. Like playing nice with the press. She’d always done real well when it came to doing that, but there was a line that she’d be damned if she’d let the media cross…and that was her family…her girls. She’d protect them to the ends of the earth, if that’s what it took. Even if it cost her the music and the career she loved so much and had worked so hard for. She’d give it all up in a heartbeat…without a second or hesitating thought. She might be Rayna James, Nashville’s reigning Queen of Country Music, but she was a mother, first and foremost. With that in mind, she set her jaw and looked straight ahead as she drove slowly through the throng of reporters, feeling the rush of satisfaction when she glanced in the rearview and saw the gates close behind her, shutting them and the rest of the world out. Allowing her to focus on those closest to her...those that mattered more to her than anyone else.
Tandy was sitting at the kitchen island sipping a cup of hot tea when Rayna and Deacon walked in the house. “Hey, sis. Great, you’re back,” she greeted Rayna before flicking her gaze over to Deacon who walked in behind her. “Deacon, hey,” she said, exchanging a polite nod before flashing Rayna a smirk and knowing look—a sisterly one that pretty much read “I know what you did”—that had Rayna blushing against her will and responding with a “knock it off” look of her own that she flashed in Tandy’s direction. Tandy ignored her, as usual, turning towards Deacon. “So did you guys weather the storm alright?” she asked, innocently.
Deacon—all-too familiar with Tandy’s inquisitive nature, deflected her nosiness with a nod and a shrug. “Got a couple of inches of rain. That’s about it. No big deal,” he replied.
Tandy rolled her eyes and before she could say anything else, Rayna stepped forward, dropping her bag loudly on the counter-top of the island. “So, give me the damage report, Tand,” she said. “I’ve already heard from the label’s PR guy and Bucky, but that’s the least of my worries right now. Tell me, how are the girls? How’d it go dropping them off at school this morning?” she asked, heading for the stove as she spoke to fix herself and Deacon some coffee. She had enough sense to know that it was probably going to be a long, stressful day and considering the wonderful, but sleepless night they’d had, they were going to need all the caffeine they could get.
“Um,” Tandy started, the tone of the voice stopping Rayna in her tracks. “Not good. In fact, it didn’t go at all,” she said.
Rayna gave her a narrowed look. “What are you talking about? What happened?” she asked her sister.
Tandy sighed. “Well, since the GMA segment hadn’t aired yet, leaving the house wasn’t a problem. Most of the press that you saw outside showed up here afterwards. I guess they figured they had a better chance of catching either you or Teddy dropping the girls off at school, so they were already camped out there when we got there. All the cameras and everything—I think it was a little too much for Daphne and she started crying and well…I figured it’d be best if they stayed home…so we came back here. A few reporters had shown up here while we were gone, so when Daphne saw them, she got even more upset and she started blaming Maddie and saying things and well…it wasn’t good. They were both pretty upset by the time we got in the house…shaken, for the most part, I’d say. So yeah…not good,” she explained.
Angry tears filled Rayna’s eyes and she swore under her breath. “Damn. I never should have asked you to take them in the first place. I should have known the damn press would be there,” she said, berating herself as she thought of her daughters’ pain and fear.
Tandy sighed and stood up, walking around the island to her sister, rubbing her arm. “Hey, it’s not your fault. You were trying to keep things as normal as possible for them. You couldn’t have known. Don’t beat yourself up over it, hon.”
Rayna swallowed hard, sniffled, and nodded. “Yeah. Yeah. Where are they now?” she asked, glancing towards the back stairs.
Tandy gestured towards the stairs as well. “In their rooms. I was going to talk to Daphne, but I figured you’d want to maybe talk to them together…try and explain what’s happening, you know?”
Rayna nodded. “That’s a good idea.” She glanced over Tandy’s shoulder towards Deacon, who’d remained stoically silent, but inwardly pulsating with anger as he’d listened to Tandy relay the morning’s events to Rayna. “Babe—Tandy and I will check on Daphne and see if we can get her to come down. You mind getting Maddie—tell her we all need to have a sit-down and talk, okay? I think she’ll be more receptive to you,” she said.
He nodded. “Sure thing,” he said as he followed her and Tandy up the back stairs, splitting off in separate directions towards the girls’ bedrooms on opposite ends of the hallway.
“Daphne…sweetheart?” Rayna called softly as she entered Daphne’s room with Tandy, finding her youngest sitting on her bed, hugging her favorite stuffed animal to her chest. She looked up with interest when she heard Rayna’s voice and Rayna’s heart wept at the sight of the tear stains on her baby girl’s stricken face.
“Mommy!” Daphne called, sitting up straight and holding out her arms.
Rayna went to her immediately, sitting down on the bed and gathering her little girl into her arms. “It’s okay baby, Mama’s here,” she comforted Daphne, who started crying anew.
“You weren’t here!” Daphne accused, pulling back. “Those awful news people were at school again and you weren’t there! I was scared, Mommy!” she cried.
Rayna sent Tandy a helpless look over Daphne’s head. Tandy sat down next to Daphne, rubbing her back. “Like I explained earlier, sweetheart, your Mama had some things she had to take care of, so she asked me to bring you and your sister to school. She didn’t know those people would be there.”
Daphne pursed her lips together and shook her head. “I don’t care. This is all Maddie’s fault anyways. She brought those people here. It’s all because of her. Because of that stupid video that she made,” she said angrily.
Rayna sighed and shook her head. “Oh honey, this isn’t your sister’s fault, either,” Rayna insisted.
“It is so! She posted that video saying she was Maddie Claybourne. I don’t get it! If she doesn’t want to be a part of our family, why is she here? Why doesn’t she just go live with Uncle Deacon then? I told her I hate her and I meant it! I hate her so much!” Daphne spat.
Rayna sat back with a gasp. “Hey! Now that’s quite enough, young lady. Maddie is your sister and she IS a part of this family. I don’t ever want to hear you say that again. Now, you’re going to apologize to your sister, right now missy,” she said, moving off the bed and waiting for Daphne to do the same.
Daphne made a face. “Ugh, do I have to?”
“Yes, you most certainly do. Because that was a horrible thing to say to your sister. She loves you and you love her. Now, she made a mistake and I know that things are really confusing and upsetting for you right now, but she’s going through a lot, too and I’m sure you saying those things really hurt her. So yes, you have to apologize. Now,” she said firmly as Daphne grumbled and went to move off the bed.
“Uh, hey ladies…sorry to interrupt…”
Rayna turned to see Deacon standing in the doorway, an odd expression on his face. “Hey Deacon, sorry. Miss Daphne here and I were just having a little conversation about being nice to your sister, weren’t we Daphne?” She looked behind him for Maddie. “Where’s Maddie?”
“Good question,” he said. “I was just about to ask your sister the same one,” he said.
“Wh-what do you mean?” Rayna asked as both she and Deacon turned to face Tandy.
“She’s in her room…Isn’t she?” Tandy asked, moving off the bed and starting forward.
Deacon shook his head and put his hands on his hips. “Uh no. No, she’s not…”