Released November 30th, 2019
MMA/ insta-love/ accidental pregnancy romance
In the live music industry, Eddie Valenzuela’s seen enough bands to know what good really sounds like. During one wild night out, he collides headfirst with an up-and-coming singer who puts ‘good’ to shame. She’s got the voice, the look, and holy hell, the body too. But after a sizzling week together, the singer who seemed like Mrs. Right turns out to be Mrs. Not Quite Right when she disappears without so much as an Instagram handle.
Fiona Frank’s only goal in life was to make it big doing what she loved: playing music. And her hard work paid off, in the form a big-time record deal that has her doing TV shows, radio spots, and even her first international tour. Her career is built on spurning love and staying single, though she’s never been opposed to the occasional lover. As long as they don’t last. And she’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that the world falls in love with The Sin Girl.
But she wasn’t ready for the positive pregnancy test on her first international tour. There’s only one man that could be the father: Eddie. While Fiona grapples with the next steps, Eddie goes gung ho being the family man she never asked for, and the pressure from the label is mounting. If they discover her secret, she can kiss her contract goodbye.
Which means she has to figure out how to break her fall.
Stale beer. The undertones of a drummer checking the reverb. The occasional broken glass while cheers swelled like a symphonic crescendo.
Amara and Travis had convinced Eddie to come to this bar tonight, though it hadn’t taken much work. He was no stranger to nights out; it was just that usually he was out at the clubs his boss owned.
As the talent booker for a once popular but recently stagnating family of clubs, tonight felt like reconnaissance. Not only the layout and the atmosphere, but the singer on deck.
She was someone Levi’s girlfriend Riley knew. An up-and-coming singer. Everyone in this town thought they were up-and-coming, though usually they were destined for nothing. This girl, though…Riley assured him this girl was really going places. She’d even been signed by a major label, but Eddie also knew that didn’t always signal popularity. But if she had even half as much talent as Riley promised? Eddie needed to book her yesterday at the clubs he ran shows for.
He knew better than to trust the friends of musicians. Everybody always thought their friend was the best out there.
“You want a drink?” Travis looked over his shoulder at him, tipping his head toward the U-shaped bar in the middle of the lounge.
“Obviously.” Eddie rapped his knuckles against the bar top as they waited for a bartender. His sister Amara had her head nuzzled into Travis’s shoulder, the two of them communicating in a language only they understood. After two years together, Eddie should be used to them. And really, he was. But he wanted what they had for himself—the way Travis always had his hand on hers; the tender slips they let the world see, getting lost in each other’s gaze. They were stronger, and better, together.
Hell if he could find his other half, though.
When the bartender arrived, Eddie flagged her down. “First round’s on me,” he informed Travis, his sister, and all the rest. “This is a work expense, you know?”
Lex, Cobra, and Levi cheered behind him, while Travis gave him one of his friendly squeezes that felt more like a death grip. Having a bunch of professional fighters as best friends led to casual black eyes and inexplicably sore ribs more often than not, but after so many years rolling in the MMA squad, he was used to it.
“All the rounds are gonna need to be a work expense,” Cobra added, sidling up to the bar beside him. While he listened to the rum and cokes and tequila shots being ordered, his gaze drifted back over the bar, anxiety tightening his chest.
Amara hassled him constantly about his default mode: stress. He worried constantly about job security, wondering if he’d find the right acts to fill the spots at his boss’s flagging clubs. Everything depended on him working magic, so he was always looking for ways to create a magic act. In Los Angeles, he could go from David Blaine to the headliner of a kid’s birthday party in one day, so he couldn’t afford to become complacent.
And if he didn’t make magic soon, then he wasn’t sure where he’d end up. He was tired of eking by. Not getting paid what he was worth. Struggling to make a splash in the live music world.
As the plucked string of a bass guitar reverberated through the lounge, the group of friends claimed a big table looking toward the stage. Familiar anticipation cinched his chest—it was one aspect of many that he loved about live music. Waiting to be swept away with the current of chords and emotions buried in melody.
Heavy purple curtains closed off the stage area, and people filled the tables in the lounge. Eddie looked around, drawing a head count on tonight’s show. This girl—Felonia? Fiona?—was the only act tonight. She pulled decent numbers. People formed tight clusters near the stage even though the music hadn’t started. As of right now, he might book her, but only if she could get at least half the lounge dancing. Musicians who could move a crowd always equaled repeat visitors in his world.
“I can’t wait until you all hear Fiona sing,” Riley said from the end of the table before sipping her drink. The more she said it, the worse Eddie expected Fiona’s act to be. “I’m seriously expecting her to blow up overnight.”
“I’ve got her signature on some napkins already,” Levi said. “I might sell them on eBay once she hits it big.”
Travis snorted. “Selling signed napkins on eBay? You act like you don’t get paid for all these fights you win.”
“Hey, it’s good to save up money where you can,” Lex added, slinging his arm around Lila’s shoulders. Her six-months-pregnant belly swelled under her tank top, and she was the only one in the crew not drinking alcohol. Eddie was surprised she even wanted to join in on this music excursion.
Another guitar string was plucked behind the curtain, and the lights dimmed. The music was right around the corner.
His friends and their significant others got lost in conversation around him while he tuned into the unseen movements behind the curtain. When the first notes of a throaty intro filled the room, Eddie’s forearms lit up with goosepimples. There it is.
Riley gasped. “It’s Fiona!”
The crowd quieted as a husky croon filled the lounge. Slow, almost melancholy snare taps accompanied the notes, until they drifted off. The entire lounge was silent, waiting for something to follow.
The drums picked up then, an infectious pop beat emerging. Plucky guitar strums joined the beat as the curtains drew back, revealing the band.
Eddie searched for her, unable to forget how that opening note had pierced him. A stool sat in the middle of the stage, and it took him a moment to see that she perched on top of it, facing away from the crowd. The music played on, building higher, begging for her voice. Eddie’s throat tightened as he waited for her next move…her next gasp. Her next anything.
Suddenly, Fiona looked up toward the ceiling and ripped out a gruff, “Ohhhhhhh!” before she spun to face the crowd.
Long blonde tresses swirled around her, pinwheel style, the tips stained teal. Eddie’s hands turned to fists as he drank her in. Gauzy stage lighting illuminated her head, tilted to the side, kohl-edged eyes shut as the music throbbed around her. The band was tight, that was for damn sure. Eddie could feel it down to his bones—the precise placement of the snare, the intuitive bassline, the way Fiona’s voice weaved in and out of the music as though she was sewing the melody together.
And all he could see was her. Fiona was on stage, but she also wasn’t. She existed in a world known only to her, the musical expression between them the only conduit to whatever pulsed inside her. Her first song was short but brutal, like a cleansing slap to the face. When the music stopped, Fiona opened her eyes, a smile gracing her lips as applause erupted.
“Wow,” she said, her husky speaking voice hitting him like the first sip of a perfectly aged whiskey. She looked around as if just noticing she was on stage, entertaining these hundred or so people in front of her. “That felt great. I’m Fiona and this is my band, the Apples.” A ripple of laughter coursed through the space, and the dimpled grin that crossed her face made Eddie’s chest tighten. He wasn’t sure he’d blinked since the light had fallen on her.
“Fiona and the Apples.” She snorted, tucking some of that glossy blonde hair behind her ears. “I have to make that joke first, you see.” She slid off the stool and grabbed a guitar. “As a woman named Fiona in the music industry, it’s important that I acknowledge it before anyone else does.”
She plucked a few strings, eyes locked with her bassist, who nodded in return. This band wasn’t just tight, they were seasoned veterans. Travis nudged his side, but Eddie didn’t look his way.
“Dude, you’re drooling,” Travis said.
Eddie frowned, sending his friend a sidelong glance. “Shut up. I’m listening.”
Travis started to say something, but Fiona began speaking again, introducing her bandmates. He punched Travis’s arm and shushed him. Eddie was distantly aware that now Lex and Cobra were also laughing at him, but fuck ’em. Whatever came out of this woman’s mouth was way more important.
Fiona tapped her foot three times against the stage and then launched into the next song. Acoustic pop with an undercurrent of electronic sadness and something brightly hip-hop. She mixed genres in a way that was refreshing as opposed to taxing. Eddie listened to enough music to know what “good” sounded like, and he made his money by scouting what people craved—sometimes without them even knowing it—and bringing it to their doorstep. Or rather, his boss’s clubs.
Fiona sang the type of music that made souls hurt and bodies move. A top-ten voice and a body that… Eddie wet his bottom lip, his gaze bouncing down the black mesh shirt that covered a skimpy crop top, and on to the skintight miniskirt. Her curvy, taut body was the stuff of his fantasies. And half the room probably thought the same thing.
Eddie barely moved during her next song, while she strutted around the stage singing about infidelity and heartbreak. Each song was uniquely different, but her themes were static: loss of love, rejecting love altogether, sadness, saying “fuck it” and living life to the fullest.
Somewhere in the middle of her set, Travis offered to get refills for everyone, but Eddie had barely touched his drink. By the end of her show, he finally neared the bottom of drink one while everyone else rounded the corner into drink three.
Once the curtains drew shut and the spell broke, a whoosh of air escaped him. Applause filled the room. He knew what came next. He popped to his feet while his friends ribbed him, and he made a beeline for Riley at the other end of the table.
He plopped down in the seat next to her. “Okay, talk to me.”
She snickered. “About what?”
“Why didn’t you tell me forever ago about your friend?”
“This was the first show that didn’t conflict with Levi’s fight schedule.” Riley looked like she was fighting a grin. Levi leered off to her side, his arm slung along the back of Riley’s chair.
“I need her to play at my clubs.”
“You’ll have to talk to her,” Riley said.
“Eddie’s got it baaad,” Levi taunted.
“This is work related.” Eddie pointed a warning at the rest of the table before turning to Riley again. “So, is she single?”
Riley shook with silent laughter. “Yeah, she is. She’s the Sin Girl.”
“It’s like, her brand or whatever. Listen, you don’t wanna go after her.”
“I never said I was going after her.”
Riley cocked a smirk. “Sure.”
“I’m just asking,” Eddie said. “For business reasons.” Levi burst into laughter.
“You are the most transparent motherfucker,” Cobra said.
“If you like her,” Gen began, leaning forward to send him a meaningful look, “you can woo her at the library before you score a homerun.”
Eddie laughed as he contemplated the suggestion. “I take it that’s how Cobra did things with you.”
“You actually can’t take her to the library,” Riley clarified while Cobra nodded, grinning at Gen. “Listen, I know she’s hot. I know she’s got a voice like a dangerous mermaid. But Fiona doesn’t do relationships.”
Eddie leaned back in the chair, crossing his arms over his chest. “That’s fine. Who said anything about a relationship? Now tell me what her favorite drink is.”
Riley cocked her head, narrowing her eyes. “Man, you guys are all the same.”
A burst of laughter escaped him. Like he could help it.
Eddie wasn’t one for getting googly eyed on the spot, but something about Fiona had him seeing stars and hearing angels.
He knew what he wanted when he saw it.
And every inch of his damn body wanted Fiona.