"Well, that's as much as we can do
on that for today."
Sadie set down her guitar, casting her companions a grin. "I vote we take a break for lunch, before it gets stale. It's all very well competiting with the new guy, but there's no sense in running it into the ground."
"I'm with Sadie." Topaz nodded her head. "I reckon we should grab lunch and take the afternoon off. Phyllis was muttering something about Connie's Corner tonight as I left the creche, so I think we'll probably be busy this evening."
"Connie's?" Nancy looked startled. "That's short notice!"
"Someone dropped out, and Phyllis is an opportunist." Topaz shrugged. "She caught me in the hall as Sadie and I came up here, so I think it's pretty final."
"Jetta mentioned it to me this morning, too, when Aaron and I got here." Copper agreed. "So we're taking five for lunch and then what? Do you want me to come to the Starlight or meet you at the studio for tonight? I mean, they'll send the car to you guys."
"You might as well come on over, if you want to." Sylva dimpled. "We miss having you as a housemate anyhow, Copper. Come hang with us at the Starlight for a while, huh?"
"Okay. I don't need to be asked twice." Copper returned the grin. "My house is lovely, but lonely when my husband's at work! The Starlight it is. Are we kicking back there for lunch?"
"We might as well." Topaz nodded. "There's some chicken salad in the fridge and I'm pretty sure some of Sadie's lemonade is left."
"Did you make the salad?" Copper asked. Topaz laughed.
"No, Syl did." She responded. "Don't wory, Copper. I'm not going to poison you."
"I didn't mean that." Copper pinkened. "I just..."
"It's all right." Topaz dismissed it with a careless wave of her hand. "I can't cook and there's no point pretending otherwise. But Syl can - so, are we on for the Starlight?"
"I'm going to head by the precinct, I think, and see if Alex can take five to lunch with me." Sadie shook her head. "But I'll see the rest of you back there before the car comes for Connie's."
"All right, we'll catch you then, then." Nancy nodded. "I have to admit, even I'd like a break from this. I just want to make sure we're not getting complacent."
"Ronin Sheppard is a nobody." Sylva said succinctly. "Noone ever heard of him and even with Misfits Music's backing, he's not going to lap us. We're Jewel. We've been around forever."
"That's exactly what I mean by complacent." Nancy waved her plectrum in her bandmate's direction. "He might be a noone, but he's an unknown quantity. And the fact he could listen to me play and tell me which chord I was missing tells me he can write. He can probably write good, or Mom and Aunt Phyl would not be interested in him. And that being the case, it won't be long before people do know who he is. That all being said, I want to make sure that, wherever he is on the ladder, we're a few rungs up."
"Diablo can write and play, though, and they took their time to catch up with us." Copper pointed out.
"Yes, but they did catch us up, and now they're possibly our biggest rivals out here." Nancy responded. "Daisy's still in the shadows working her way up. The Teenangels are launching a bid to be a huge sensation. Sirena's still on the rise. It doesn't do us any harm to keep ahead of the music game."
"Spoken like a true Misfit." Topaz giggled. "Okay, we get the point. But I'm getting hungry and I'm sure junior is, too...so let me grab Hollie and we'll head off?"
"I'll see you girls later." Sadie carefully replaced her guitar in it's holder, scooping up her purse. "I haven't seen much of Alex since Sandra came to LA."
She pushed open the studio door, hurrying down the hallway towards the stairwell. Long experience had told her that, at this time of day it was quicker to take the stairs than join the crowd of hungry executives waiting for the lift, and she took the steps two at a time, humming a melody under her breath as she went.
As she reached the middle level, she almost collided head on with Robin, and she let out an exclamation, jumping back.
"I'm sorry!" She said sheepishly. "I never seem to look where I'm going."
"No harm done." Robin eyed her for a moment, then, "You're a Jewel. I saw you this morning."
"Yes." Sadie grinned, holding out her hand. "Sadie Monahue. Garnet."
"Robin Sheppard." Robin hesitated at her friendliness, then took her hand in his, shaking it. "I've heard a lot about Jewel. Y'all are supposed to be something pretty big round these parts."
"We do our best." Sadie nodded her head. "But if Phyllis and Jetta head-hunted you, you'll soon know all about the big time. They only sign people they have faith in."
Robin's brow creased in confusion.
"Why are you being friendly to me?" He demanded. Sadie looked startled.
"Is there any reason why I shouldn't be?" She asked.
"I've been in this city a week and far as I see it, there's a motive behind everyone." Robin said with a shrug. "Hype, competition, publicity, image. Which is your poison?"
"I'm not sure I quite follow you." Sadie looked confused. "I'm here because I love music and because I have the best friends in the world who helped me make something of myself. Something I never thought possible. I love Los Angeles and really, not everyone has an angle. If you take that attitude, you'll never settle here."
"Maybe that's not what I'm looking to do." Robin seemed unconcerned. "I'm here because it's about time I did more with my music than just scrape by, that's all. We all need to live and we all have to pay the bills. I didn't come to LA to make friends with the music industry - and the more I see of it, the less attractive that kind of friendship sounds."
"Well, you must just not have met the right people." Sadie said philosophically. Robin raised a ghost of a smile.
"I've met Sylva and Nancy." He said quietly. "One thinks I'm a redneck freak, the other's working for her mother and determined to eclipse me at her first opportunity."
"I'm sorry that you feel that way." Sadie responded. "Maybe when you've been working here a bit longer you'll change your mind."
She offered a smile.
"And I have to rush, because I have to go meet someone. But it was interesting to meet you, Robin. I hope you find what you're looking for."
"I doubt it." Robin's eyes seemed almost to look through her for a second, and Sadie suppressed a shiver at the pain she saw in their depths. Then he smiled, a strange, half-sad smile of his own.
"But thank you for the thought, anyway." He added. "I'll try and keep what you said in mind."
Sadie managed another quick smile, then she ducked away down the stairs to the next level before the strange newcomer could say anything else. She stepped out into the parking lot and across the street to hail a taxi, her mind in a whirl.
"So if everyone in LA has an angle, what's his?" She wondered, clambering into the back of the cab and telling the driver to take her to the FBI department. "I don't know what to make of him at all. Maybe Nancy has good reason to want to stay a step ahead. If it's hard to gauge the competition, it's better to keep yourself prepared."
At that moment, the taxi drew up in front of the Federal offices, and, after paying the driver, Sadie headed inside, greeting the officer on duty with a grin and a wave as she made her way through the corridors to her boyfriend's office. Once she would have been scared to visit him at work, but now she was such a frequent visitor to the precinct, noone even batted an eyelid as she knocked lightly on the office door, waiting for someone to call her in.
She swung open the door, stopping dead as she surveyed the room. Alex was behind his desk, and his partner, Raymond Nicholson was busy rifling through the big filing cabinet beneath the window, but it was someone else who has caught her attention. Sandra Bray sat in one of the chairs, obviously quite at home in the small bureau.
"Hi Sade." Alex cast her a warm grin. "What brings you here?"
"I was coming to ask whether you could take five for lunch, but obviously you have company." Sadie gathered her composure, casting Sandra a fleeting smile.
"Actually, I came to ask my son the same thing." Sandra returned the smile with a warm one of her own. "Would you join us, Sadie? It'd be my treat. I'm flying back to Oregon tomorrow morning, and so I'd like to take you both for a meal before I go."
"You're going back so soon?" Sadie looked startled. "I thought you were staying longer."
"Well, it's never good to outstay any welcome, honey." Sandra cast Alex an amused look, and Alex looked discomfitted for no reason that Sadie could see. "I know you lovebirds have an anniversary, and I don't want to be gatecrashing that for you. Besides, there's only so many days I can leave Alex's father to manage the house on his own. He's a clever man, my Jordan, but he has no idea how to operate the tumble drier, and that's a fact."
Despite herself, Sadie giggled.
"Well, I'm sorry we haven't got to spend more time together." She said, surprising herself by how sincere her words were. "But I'd love to come to lunch, if Alex has no objection."
"None whatsoever." Alex shook his head. "I'm just finishing up the loose ends of this report. The guy we've been tailing for the last three weeks seems to have come back to hide in the centre of one of the city's rough neighbourhoods, so we're trying to get the search warrant through before he flees the state again."
"He's not damn well getting away from us again." Raymond put in darkly at that juncture. "Trust me, we're nailing him good this time, even if we have to damn well surround the area and shoot him out of there."
He cast Sandra a rueful grin.
"I'm sorry, Sandy. I get a bit carried away when I know there's a murderer on the loose and he's slipped our net once already."
"I quite enjoy seeing you boys at work." Sandra seemed unperturbed. "And I have no doubt that you'll bring this felon to justice."
"But not before lunch." Alex snapped his folder shut, setting it to one side. "Because my stomach is starting to call to me, and I'm losing all concentration."
"They do say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach." Sadie giggled. Alex grinned.
"Well, there's no fact without hearsay." He said playfully.
"If you guys are going, Al, I'll finish up here." Raymond offered. He cast Sadie a look, then, "You should probably cut out of here anyhow, before one of the new recruits mistakes your girlfriend for a suspect and bangs her up in one of the cells."
"Ray..." Alex raised an eyebrow, and Raymond shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, it wouldn't be the first time." He said simply. He smiled at Sandra.
"Bye, Sandy. Have a safe flight out to Portland, won't you?"
"Thank you, Ray. Give my best to Heather." Sandra returned the smile. She got to her feet, holding out a hand to Sadie.
"Well, my girl, let's go feed this hungry male before he starts chewing on the desk." She suggested. "It's only a few blocks walk to a nice little restaurant on main street."
Sadie made no response. Casting Raymond a hurt look, she obediently followed her boyfriend's mother out of the office, with Alex bringing up the rear. He closed the door with a click, meeting Sadie's gaze with a troubled one of his own. Gently he took her hand, squeezing it.
"Come on." He murmured. "Mom's reserved a table at the Martinet."
Sandra watched this exchange with some interest. Then she linked arms with her son's girlfriend.
"Seems to me you and Ray aren't on the best terms." She observed.
"No. He hates me." Sadie could not keep the bitterness out of her tone. "He always has...from before we even met."
"I can't imagine why he'd make such a snap judgement." Sandra looked thoughtful. "I mean, well, he's a man of strong opinions, true enough..."
"Ray thinks Sadie distracts me from my work." Alex said quietly. "And she does, which both she and I are glad about."
"For that matter, so'm I glad that you have something else in your life than dealing with all these murderers and drug traffickers." Sandra agreed. "Just seemed awful harsh a thing to say, that's all."
"Don't worry about it, Sandra." Sadie said sadly. "I'm used to it. He can't ever resist taking a pot shot at me. He doesn't think I'm good enough for Alex, and sometimes I wonder if he's right."
"I vote we drop this topic and worry about lunch instead." Alex suggested, but Sandra shook her head.
"There wouldn't be something y'all weren't telling me, would there?" She asked softly, meeting Sadie's blue eyes with her own. The English girl blushed, dropping her gaze.
"Something?" She murmured. "Suddenly it seems like a whole lot."
"Sadie..." Alex shot his girlfriend an anxious look. "It's not important. Mom, we're going to lose the reservations if..."
"No, Alexander." Sandra shook her head, taking Sadie by the hand. "If Sadie has something to tell me, then let her. After all, how bad can it be?"
At this, Sadie's composure failed her and tears began to spill down her cheeks.
"Worse than you can imagine." She choked out. "I'm sorry, Sandra. I feel like I've lied to you and let you like someone who isn't even real. You've been so nice to me and so honest about Alex's brother and everything. I...I haven't been the same. I've kept something...something big away from you. And I'm frightened of how you'll take it because you might think I shouldn't be seeing Alex and I love him so much!"
Alex slipped a strong arm around his girlfriend's shoulders.
"I told you, Sadie, it's not important." He said gently. "I keep telling you, and I wish you'd believe me. You know I love you. What's past is past and it's not important now."
"Tell me, child." Sandra reached into her pocket for a tissue, holding it out to the unhappy girl. "What's on your mind?"
"Ray hates me because I have a criminal record." Sadie said softly, her tones wavering as she made her confession. "Back in England, I did time for theft and for drug offences. It was a long time ago, but it happened and when he and Alex investigated the fire at Misfits Music, they looked into everyone's background. That's how he got to know, and he's never let me forget it. He's convinced that I'm no good for Alex and I'm bound to get him wound up in something nasty, but I swear that it's all in the past. I don't use drugs now and I haven't for years. I just...it's so horrible. And I didn't know how you'd take it if you knew, well, who I really was."
She took the tissue, wiping away her tears as more fell.
"Alex means so much to me." She whispered. "I didn't want to be something that came between you and him. Not after all you've both been through."
"Mom, Sadie isn't that person now." Alex added. "I know her, and I know that the things she did in England are behind her. Ray had no right to say what he did."
Sandra did not say anything for a moment. Then she pursed her lips.
"Well, I have to say this." She said slowly. "I'm glad you found the courage to tell me the truth."
She paused, then, "I was beginning to wonder if you would find it at all."
"Mom?" Alex stared, and Sadie's eyes became big with shock.
"Did you know?" She demanded. "I mean, before you came here?"
"I mightn't be up on the music scene, honey, but when I know my son is dating a rock star, then I have a vested interest in the press surrounding it." Sandra said composedly, linking one arm in her son's and the other in Sadie's. "I knew something about it, yes...that you had a criminal past in England and had done time over there. But I didn't say anything to you or to Alex when I got here. Well, he's old enough to make up his mind about women on his own and honestly, I hoped that his years in the FBI would make him able to spot a reformed felon from a troublemaker."
"I did hope that you would tell me yourself." She added. "And I know how difficult it must've been to do it. But I'm glad that you did. I feel much better when there's clear air between family, as it were."
"Oh!" Sadie was speechless, and Sandra laughed.
"I hope you're not cross I didn't bring it up sooner." She added. "But well, I was determined I was going to Los Angeles to meet my son's girl and to make up my own mind on her, one way or another. Once I met you, I didn't think it mattered so much what had happened before you met him. It was obvious to me that you loved him and that you were the person he told me you were."
She squeezed Sadie's hand.
"So now we've all got that off our chests, shall we go see about some lunch?"
"Mom, you could've told me you knew." Alex shook his head slowly. Sandra shrugged.
"You said yourself it wasn't important." She said simply. "So why worry about it now? I was under the impression you were hungry."
"Thank you." Sadie's eyes sparkled, and impulsively she hugged her boyfriend's mother. "For not judging me. It means a lot to me, because with all you've been through, I'd have understood if you'd felt differently. I know the people who...who killed Randall were involved with drugs and crime and, well..."
"Randall was my son and I loved him more than my own life." Sandra said gently. "But his memory has taken up too much of our lives. He wouldn't have wanted Alex to be alone because of what happened, and nor would he want me to look at everyone who's had a bad time with hate just because one kid with a gun took a bad shot. I've had a long time to grieve for my son, Sadie. You're no more to blame for his death than I am. I'm not going to put it on you to be."
"It's enough you love Alex and have given him something outside of his work to focus on." She added. She cast Alex a wink, then, "You've made him happier than I've seen him in years - and that's all a mother really wants, truly. For her kids to be happy!"
Prologue: Flashback - Sadie's
Chapter One: Los Angeles, 2015
Chapter Two: Enter The Stray
Chapter Three: Flashback - Sadie's Song
Chapter Four: Nerves
Chapter Five: The Dean Stacey Show
Chapter Six: Flashback - School Concert
Chapter Seven: Sandra Bray
Chapter Eight: The Dean Problem
Chapter Nine: Cursed
Chapter Ten: Flashback - Stir
Chapter Eleven: Secrets
Chapter Twelve: Robin Vs Nancy
Chapter Thirteen: In The Line Of Duty
Chapter Fourteen: Flashback - Griefstruck
Chapter Fifteen: Aftermath
Chapter Sixteen: Jewel Consult
Chapter Seventeen: Forever Changed