Taking a large bite of egg whites, I observed X through the kitchen window. He was staring at the water, his big body seemingly crackling with heat, as always. I almost wanted to go out there and apologize. Almost.
I was embarrassed about what I’d said at the signing, but he really needed to learn how to compromise. What he did to Gale yesterday couldn’t happen again. Now that some time had passed, I could see his side, but there had to be a better solution.
“Ah, there you are.”
I turned at the sound of Rob’s voice. My watch told me it was 8:00 a.m. Rob looked like he had been up for hours.
“Here I am,” I said with forced cheer, bringing my plate to the sink. “Let’s have the rundown.”
Every morning Rob came to me with a list of things that needed to be accomplished. My days kept getting busier and busier.
“You have two phone interviews in the morning, followed by a photo shoot for Le Dame. After that, the set list, Eloisa.”
I sighed. The set list for the tour was 90 percent complete. There was just something—missing. There were eighteen songs right now, all of them representations of my life and the things I’d gone through. Each a piece of my soul. But something about it didn’t feel right. Rob had been courteous and given me time to figure it out, but time was running out.
“I’m working on it.”
He didn’t look convinced. “I’ve got the band down my back, Ellie. By the end of the week, please.”
I nodded, running a hand through my hair. I needed a shower. “I’m going to get ready. First interview is at nine, right?”
He nodded absently, texting on his phone. “Sharp.”
I wasn’t looking forward to the interviews. The thought of how selfish that was made me adjust my perspective, but I just really missed anonymity. Back in the day, it was so much easier. Playing music for small crowds and then walking home to my apartment. Those nights were perfect. Just me and the music. But how does one say no when given the opportunity to share with even more people? That feeling was priceless.
I took a quick shower and hopped in bed, just as my work phone rang. Settling against my pillows, I pulled Bellatrix into my lap as I listened to the woman on the other end introduce herself. After a few pleasantries, she cut right to the chase.
“Do you have any leads about your attack last week?”
“I don’t. But I’ve taken measures, both for myself and the upcoming tour, to make sure that everyone who attends will be safe.”
“What, exactly, were the contents of the note attached to the rock?”
“I have no idea, and I don’t want to know.”
“You haven’t read it?”
She made a sound of disappointment. “Well, how are you feeling?”
A question that should have probably been asked first, but I didn’t comment on that. “I feel better than ever. We’ve got some really fun surprises planned for the tour’s opening, so I’ve been concentrating on that.”
“Are you still unwilling to work with Martha Mathers?”
I nearly growled. She was one of the ones out for blood. “I already addressed that last week.”
“Do you think upsetting her ruins any chance you have of winning a Grammy?”
“Winning a Grammy would be an incredible honor. I don’t expect it, but I would hope that if I ever did win, it would be because of my music, and not who I rubbed elbows with.”
“You’re already notorious for snubbing quite a few offers from industry leaders. Why is that?”
“Music often becomes…diluted in this industry. I wanted this album to one hundred percent reflect me and my vision. I guess you could say…I’m a one-woman show.”
I knew she wanted something a bit juicier, but she wasn’t going to get it. There were celebrities out there—socialites like Joel—who knew how to create drama for drama’s sake, eager for press, but that wasn’t me. Keeping myself separate, as anonymous as possible, kept me safe.
I answered several more of her questions before Sandy came in and held up a hand. My other interview was starting in five minutes. I ended the call and took the water bottle she handed me.
She shifted from foot to foot, seeming nervous about something.
“What is it?” I asked.
She shrugged, smoothing her skirt. It was clear she didn’t want to tell me the news. “Your father called again.”
I felt my cheeks go hot. “What did he want?”
Sad eyes met mine. “He said he got tickets to your second show.”
“Of course he did.”
She blew out a breath. “We can try to find out where he’s sitting…try to see if we can buy them off him?”
She didn’t sound confident. But when it came to my father and how I felt, I wasn’t, either. On one hand, I wanted to show him how successful I’d become, but on the other hand, I didn’t want him anywhere near me. “Thanks for the suggestion, but let’s hold off for now. See how I feel as it gets closer.”
She nodded, scribbling something down in a pad she pulled out of her back pocket. She had on glasses with circular frames today. “Don’t take this the wrong way—because they’re awesome,” I told her, “but those glasses make you look a bit like Harry Potter.”
She laughed. “Joe told me the same thing this morning.”
“Man, he really likes you.”
“I know. He tells me all the time.”
“And what?” she asked, pretending not to understand what I was getting at.
“Are you interested in him?”
She sighed. “No. He’s out of my league. I need to date someone more my speed.”
“Out of your league? Don’t be silly. You’re smart, beautiful, and incredibly ambitious. I have no idea what I’d do without you.”
Which was true. After a few days of working with Sandy, I’d known I’d made the right choice in hiring her. She had become more than my assistant. She was a friend. It had taken a while, but she was slowly coming out of her shell. I couldn’t blame her, as I’m sure she could say the same about me.
“You have to say that,” she said, blushing.
“No, I don’t,” I told her. “I’m the one paying you, after all.”
My phone rang again, interrupting our laughter, and I resigned myself to yet another interview.
The day passed by in a blur of activity. After my second interview—which went remarkably better—I was whisked off for another one of the tour’s photo shoots. Luckily, the set location was only about ten minutes from my house, so no large security measures were needed.
X and I barely spoke. He shadowed me during the photo shoot, standing off to the side of the green screen. It felt awkward, and I don’t think we made eye contact once. Not on the way home, either.
I changed into my bathing suit first thing, thinking about the events of the day. I really did want to get back on the right foot with him. Ha! That would imply we were ever on the right one. This was a very exciting time in my life, and I didn’t want to walk on eggshells with someone whom I’d be spending a lot of time with.
Determined, I threw a white cover-up on over my bathing suit and made my way downstairs. I would start by making a concession and including X in my plans for the night. I texted him when I was on the back deck.
E: Meet me out back?
He responded almost immediately.
X: On my way.
A few seconds later, he entered the kitchen. He was in his usual all-black outfit, but I could tell from his wet hair that he must have showered recently. A five o’clock shadow that looked like it never left covered his strong, square jawline. The man was incredibly attractive. A prime specimen if I’d ever seen one. Someone like him had to have a girlfriend or a wife—or a harem.
I pushed the thought out of my mind and stood tall and confident as he stepped outside and closed the patio door behind him. He towered above me by at least a foot, so I’m sure the effort was wasted.
He searched my face. “Is everything OK?”
“I want to start over.”
Looking baffled at my request, he raised a brow. “What does that mean, exactly?”
“Look, I’m sorry about what I said yesterday. I’m not used to this sort of thing. The past year has been a roller coaster, and I’m still getting used to all the changes. I know you’re just trying to protect me, and I’ll try to be more understanding of what that entails.”
My little speech must have taken him by surprise, but he hid it well. “I am glad to hear you’ve come to that conclusion.”
I waited for him to say something else, and when he didn’t, I gave him an exasperated look. “Don’t you have anything to say to me?”
“Like you are willing to compromise on certain things, or you’re sorry for assaulting one of my oldest friends.”
“I am not willing to compromise on your safety, and what happened yesterday was his fault. Not mine.”
I threw my head back to hide an eye roll that I knew he probably saw anyway. “Never mind. I’m going for a swim.” I took off toward the shore.
I looked at him over my shoulder. “Yes, now. The ocean is calmer at night.”
“It’s not safe.”
That stopped me in my tracks. I turned around and glared at him. “Do you think someone is going to crawl out from the depths and grab me like a sea monster? Besides, this place is now more secure than Fort Knox. Give me a break, X. Please.”
“You call me E. It’s only fitting.”
He was silent after that, and I took it as a good sign. Then finally he said, “I’ll stay out here with you.”
Hmm. I thought he would put up more of a fight. Perhaps everything wasn’t a lost cause after all. Maybe it would just take baby steps to get us on the same page.
The slight breeze felt wonderful on my skin when I took off my cover-up. Normally I would have felt self-conscious about being in a bikini around a stranger, but X made it a point to look at me only when he absolutely had to. That, and I knew he didn’t really like me that much. I took a curious peek, and just as I thought, he was scanning the dark water.
Feeling safe, I dived in. Growing up in New England, I had a soul-deep connection with the ocean. Which reminded me of something X had told me the day before. He had grown up here, too. I couldn’t help but wonder if he had spent his childhood at the beach, like me.
I turned toward shore, looking at the large figure unmoving at the water’s edge. “Want to come in? The water’s fine.”
I couldn’t see his expression, but his tone was condescending. “No, thank you.”
“Don’t you know how to swim?” I teased, splashing a bit of water in his direction.
“Of course I do.”
“Well, it’s sort of weird—you just standing there watching me in here.”
“I’m not watching you. I’m securing the perimeter.”
A chuckle escaped. “Securing the perimeter? It’s a beautiful night, and there is no threat to my safety.”
He didn’t reply to that, and I took a few moments to dunk myself and float. The stress of the day seemed to melt away, as it always did during my midnight swims. But the silence felt heavy. I looked toward X and noticed he was leaning against a large rock to my right.
The question was leaving my mouth before I thought twice. “Are you married?”
He barked out a laugh. “Married? No.”
I shrugged. “Girlfriend?”
“No. I’m not involved with anyone at the moment.”
“I don’t have time.” He sounded exasperated with the line of questioning. “Why are we talking about this?”
I didn’t want to admit my earlier thoughts about how good-looking he was, so I went with the obvious. “I was just thinking that if there was a woman in your life, she wouldn’t be happy about your new job position. You’d never have time to see her.”
Well, only the three hours he requested on Sundays. Surely that wouldn’t be enough time.
I could see his shoulders shrug, but he didn’t respond. I understood in a way. I knew what it was like to be married to your job. But for some reason, it made me wonder if X was lonely. I knew what that was like, too.
His next question took me by surprise. “What about you? Any boyfriends I should know about?”