Hidden Hearts

Chapter Five:
The Dean Stacey Show

 "For once, we're pretty much ready to roll."
Julie Kazar, production assistant to the ever more popular Dean Stacey show cast her presenter a grin, waving her clipboard triumphantly. "Not one act is late, everything's set up on stage and I actually have a breather before we go on air. Today must be a charmed show!"
"Well, it's about time you had one." Dean told her with a grin. "I guess that means that Jewel are here, then?"
"Yes - in their dressing room." Julie nodded. "I've pitched them for after the advert break."
She frowned, fixing her companion with a searching look. "Nancy looked a bit out of it this morning - tired and quieter than she normally is. Did you two have a fight?"
"If we did, I wasn't there." Dean said ruefully. "No, Jules, I think she's just been working herself silly over some new song. When she gets an idea it's hard to get her to let it go."
"The striking muse, huh?" Julie looked thoughtful. "A lot of people talk about her in terms of the next Mary Martescu or Kimber Harrison - guess that kind of pressure's gotta be tough."
"Nancy's something else where music is concerned." Dean admitted. He rubbed his chin ruefully. "That's one of the benchmarks of our relationship, actually. Music first, everything else second."
He winked.
"I'll go say good morning, though. I haven't seen her in a few days, and if we've a little time to kill..."
"Be my guest." Julie nodded. "I'm going to double check the lighting people and then I'm going to have a rare sit down. Just be aware of the time, huh? We don't want transmission going out later than seven."
"I promise." Dean agreed. "I'll see you in a few."
With a backwards grin, he made his way through the back corridors of the studios to the dressing room which was often used by Los Angeles' biggest music acts when in town. This morning it was Jewel in situe, and as he knocked on the door, he could hear merry banter coming from inside.
"Am I interrupting?" he asked, swinging the door open. "Julie said you were back here and everything's ready on set so I have a few moments spare. Thought I'd come say hi."
"Hey, Dean." Sylva dimpled. "We were just discussing your recent appearance in the Music Bizz magazine."
"We were not!" Nancy's cheeks flushed scarlet, and Dean grinned. "We were talking about where you lost the stupid necklace Logan bought you, so don't start making stuff up!"
"Well, I wanted to see what Dean's reaction was." Sylva seemed unperturbed. "And besides, I probably left the necklace at work. I know I had it in the studio yesterday and I'll pop back there and check before I meet Logan for lunch."
An impish smile touched her lips.
"Rumours about you and Dean are way more interesting."
"They so are not." Nancy glared at her bandmate. "Dean, back me up here?"
Dean shrugged his shoulders.
"The LA media will report anything to get a story." He said evenly. "I'm sure Nancy's already told you that there's no truth in that particular rumour."
"She did." Topaz agreed. "Though it would be romantic, Dean."
"Stop it!" Nancy could not go any redder. "I told you already, Dean and I are not getting married and it's none of your business!"
Dean eyed his girlfriend in amusement for a moment, then he shrugged.
"That being said, Nance, do you have a moment to take a walk?" He asked. "Nothing sinister - or to do with marriage proposals - I promise." As Sylva raised a eyebrow. "But I feel like I haven't seen you in a week or more and I'd like to rectify that."
"With much pleasure." Nancy slipped down off the unit, nodding her head. "Anything to take my mind off playing live."
Dean did not reply, merely leading the way out into the corridor and away from the dressing room. Once he was sure they were alone, he ran his gaze over her, pursing his lips.
"Julie was right." He said at length. "You do look tired."
"Huh?" Nancy frowned. "What are you talking about?"
"Julie said that you looked tired and preoccupied when you got here. I wanted to be sure that everything was all right with you." Dean said gently. "You don't have to answer - but I was concerned."
"Oh." Nancy looked rueful. "I'm sorry. Last night I had a bit of a shake-up, that's all, and didn't get much sleep. With this song buzzing around my head, too...it's not been a good few days in terms of shut-eye."
"Shake up?" Dean repeated. "How do you mean?"
"Some guys tried to jump me, when I was leaving my studio." Nancy grimaced. "One of them had a knife and they were after money."
"Oh God." Dean frowned. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." Nancy nodded. "One of Mom and Aunt Phyl's new projects was about and he intervened, thankfully. I still have my car keys and my purse - but it was a bit scary."
"I bet it was." Dean took her hand gently. "Did you speak to the police?"
"No. Since they didn't get anything, I didn't think it worth it." Nancy shook her head. "You know the kind of drama that the press would make if they knew I'd been attacked and I really don't want to dwell on it. Like I said, Robin was there and he got rid of them."
"Robin? Robin Sheppard, I presume?" Dean looked interested. "I've heard a little about him."
"What kind of stuff?" Nancy was curious.
"Well, the rumour goes that Starlight Music and Misfits Music are both interested in getting his signature." Dean said with a shrug. "Apparently he's something different - and they think he's a talent. But aside from the fact he's from Arkansas - noone really knows much about him. Almost as if he doesn't have a past. Julie was doing some background on him in case he's the next thing to hit shelves and I think he will be, but she couldn't find out much more than his name and place of birth."
He eyed her keenly. "One source did say, though, that he wasn't someone to be messed with lightly."
"You mean, violent?" Nancy looked thoughtful. Dean spread his hands.
"I don't know. I don't put much stock in rumour." He admitted. "But one of the people Julie spoke to said something to the effect that death and disaster follow him wherever he goes."
"Melodramatic much." Nancy snorted. Dean nodded.
"I tend to agree." He agreed. "But, if he does sign with one of the big companies in the city, I'll want to find these things out for myself." He laughed. "It strikes a certain curiosity in me."
He kissed his girlfriend on the forehead.
"I'm glad he was around to help you out." he added. "If that's not proving the stories wrong, I don't know what is."
"Maybe not." Nancy looked rueful. "I was showing him back to his hotel when they jumped me. We'd just parted ways. He'd got himself lost and he was annoying the hell out of me at my studio, so I agreed to take him back to get him to shut up."
She shrugged.
"Who knows? Maybe he is cursed. It'd be something for the papers to talk about, anyhow."
"Speaking of the press..."
Dean cupped Nancy's face in his hands, meeting her brown eyes with his own. "There was one other thing I wanted to talk to you about."
"Since you and your bandmates were discussing it, I gather you saw Music Bizz's spread on couples."
"Oh. That." Nancy pulled a graphic face. "Yes. But don't worry - I soon set them straight."
"So I understood." Dean paused, then, "But it did make me stop and think. I mean, this isn't something we've ever really discussed."
"Discussed?" Nancy's expression became one of consternation. "You want to discuss us getting married?"
"No, not that necessarily." Dean shook his head, and Nancy let out her breath in a rush.
"For a moment there you had me worried." She admitted sheepishly. "Then what?"
"The future in general." Dean responded. He shrugged. "We can't avoid talking about it forever, after all."
"Why not? We seem to be doing just fine without bringing it up." Nancy frowned. "Why should Music Bizz's article change that?"
"It hasn't." Dean admitted. "I've been thinking about these things for a while. And that we need to talk about where our relationship is going to end up, you know? It was fine when we started out - we were both younger then. But, well, maybe it's time we reassessed things properly. Don't you think?"
Nancy stared at him for a moment, then she shrugged.
"I don't see why we need to tamper with something that isn't a problem." She said at length. "But if it means so much to you."
"I think it does." Dean acknowledged. "The closer I get to thirty, the more I start thinking about things in the long term - relationships, family, you know. So the sooner we get ourselves straight on that, the better."
Nancy bit her lip.
"I see."
Dean eyed her keenly.
"I know that look." he reproached her. "And much as I'd like to hash it out with you now, I'm on air in less than four minutes. I promised Julie to be in good time upstairs, so I'll have to go. But we need to do dinner or something this week, okay? Somewhere private and relaxed where we can discuss everything properly."
"Private and local restaurants aren't always compatible terms with the press around." Nancy sighed. "All right. If that's how you feel. Give me a call, huh? We'll work something out. But I don't know that we need this as much as you think, Dean. Everything's settled as it is - why change it?"
"Maybe we won't." Dean shrugged. "But I'd like to know that we're both thinking in like-minded terms."
With that he was gone, and Nancy leant up against the wall, her mind whirling.
"I have this feeling that we're not." She said aloud, shaking her head slowly. "Damn that article!"


"Take a seat, Mr Sheppard."
Phyllis Gabor eyed her visitor from across the other side of her desk, a thoughtful glint in her predatorial green eyes. "I trust you've come to some kind of decision about our offer?"
"Yes, Miss Gabor, I have." Robin nodded his head. He paused, then, "I think you're aware that Starlight Music has also approached me since I've been in Los Angeles, so I've had a lot to think about."
Phyllis's lip curled in distaste.
"Starlight Music." She echoed derisively. "Are you telling me that you've seriously considered signing a contract there? Considering all of the ugly, scandal-sheet press that place has generated recently, I'm surprised you even think of it as a serious music company."
"Starlight Music has a good long term reputation." Robin said mildly.
"And you know that whatever offer Aja Phillips has made you, this company can top." Phyllis leant across the desk, resting her chin in her hands as she fixed him with a glare. "So where does that leave you?"
"Actually, the money isn't really that important to me." Robin admitted. "I was starting to think that I'd wasted a trip. Music is, well, more to me than just some commercial wrapping paper to sell someone to the public. It's deeper than that. I didn't want to get involved in any kind of hype war, and lose sight of what's real."
Phyllis raised an eyebrow.
"Starting to think?" She echoed, clearly fighting to keep her legendary temper in check. "And something's changed your mind?"
"Yes." Robin offered one of his strange smiles. "Last night I had a conversation with one of your company employees. She convinced me that there was more to music in this city than just the publicity train. And that this company had a deeper understanding of that than most."
He shrugged, then,
"So I came this morning to basically accept your offer, if you still want me." He concluded. "I realise that I haven't the most orthodox way of looking at things, but I'd like to give it a shot."
A haunted look crossed his face.
"God knows there's nothing to go back to Arkansas for anyhow." He added.
Phyllis's eyes narrowed, then she reached into the drawer of her desk, pulling out an official looking document.
"I knew you'd make the right decision." She said simply, setting it down on the desk. "I had my lawyers draw up a contract. If you want to check it over, I'm sure you'll find the terms what we discussed when you saw Jetta and I."
"May I take it away with me and read it?" Robin scooped it up, scanning it's contents. "Or do you want me to sign it here and now?"
"As soon as possible." Phyllis's green eyes glinted with indignation at the implication of his words, but once more she swallowed her rage. "So long as you find all to your liking."
Robin pursed his lips, then reached for one of the stray pens on the desk. Carefully he looped his signature across the bottom of the sheet.
"Well, there you go." He said finally. "It's a done deal, now. I'm all yours."
"Welcome to Misfits Music." Now Phyllis was all the professional, holding her hand out across the desk and, after a moment of hesitation, Robin took it, shaking it.
"Thank you." He responded.
"You'll have to get yourself settled here in the city, of course." Phyllis mused. "I trust you don't have a lease hanging over you in Arkansas?"
"No, I was staying with my sister." Robin shook his head. "I was waiting on making this kind of decision before I looked into a permanent move, but now it's all official, I'll not want to stop in the hotel much longer. I don't like the lack of privacy in places like that."
He frowned.
"Miss Gabor, there is one thing...we discussed it yesterday. Have you...I mean, did you get in contact with the relevant people down south?"
"It makes a change for an employee to openly admit to a criminal record before they sign a contract." Phyllis pursed her lips. "But yes. I spoke with them and they faxed me a copy of your original charge sheet for my records. All checks out, so that's not a problem. It's not your behaviour I'm signing on here, it's your music. And what you do in your own time is your business - though I'm warning you, if you bring this company into disrepute..."
She left it hanging, and Robin nodded.
"It was a long time ago, now." He said softly. "And this is my clean slate. But I know the law as well as anyone. It'd have done me no good to conceal it from you, if you were to be my new employers."
"No, on that we agree." Phyllis nodded. She paused, then,
"One thing, Robin, before you take off."
"This employee who convinced you we were worth signing with - who was it?"
"Is it important?"
"No...but off the record, I'm curious." Phyllis admitted. "Especially how they were able to persuade you more easily than anything Jetta or I said to you. I like to harness my resources."
"Oh, I see." A wry smile touched Robin's lips, but it did not meet his eyes. "It was Nancy Pelligrini."
"Nancy?" Surprised flashed into Phyllis's eyes. "When did you meet Nancy?"
"I ran into her yesterday evening, at her studio." Robin admitted. "And when I heard her playing, I realised that there was more to this whole music deal than I was seeing. I almost made a snap judgement - but she changed my mind."
"Nancy's one of our best." Phyllis got to her feet, putting the contract in the top of the filing cabinet. "But you mind you watch your step around her. I know your past, remember that, and she's not just another employee around here."
"She's Jetta's daughter. I know." Robin nodded his head. "And you don't need to worry."
A bitter note touched his tones.
"I have no interest in making any moves on any Los Angeles women. Her music interested me - that's all."
"Well, I'm glad of that, at least." Phyllis relented. "Just mind you remember what I said, okay? Jewel are big business in this city and they don't need any scandals tossing them off course. Nancy's relationship with Dean Stacey has generated more than a little positive publicity for the group and I won't have that slurred. Understood?"
"Very much so." Robin bowed his head almost mockingly. Then, before the executive could say another word, he had left the office, swinging the door shut behind him. As he made his way slowly along the corridor towards the lift, he ran his finger idly along the plasterwork, going over the meeting in his head.
"I can probably trust her as far as PR and that side of it goes." He decided at length. "Misfits' Music have good credibility in that department and the fact they field Mary Martescu as one of their key songwriters is impressive. I don't like the woman, though. I have a feeling that liking and working don't go very well together in this business...that's something I'll have to get used to. But then again, if there are people here who care as much about their music as Nancy Pelligrini, it won't be a completely lost cause. And perhaps it's true that I ought to be doing something with all this stuff I keep writing. Playing bars in Arkansas isn't making a huge income and I long since lost my concentration for any other kind of work."
He paused outside another door, marked 'main studio' and, after a moment of hesitation, swung it open, stepping inside and casting a glance around. It was big and airy, with large panel windows and a laid back, unthreatening feel to it. Along the walls were many gold and platinum disks, and he paused to glance them over.
"Jewel have a lot." He murmured. "Nancy wasn't kidding when she said her group were big business. I can see I'll have to start paying attention to these things now. I hope I can remember all the things I'm supposed to. The last thing I want is for that Gabor woman to take me for a ride anywhere I don't want to go."
He moved away from the newer disks to a set of older ones and, with a jolt he realised these were Misfit records, from the group that gave the company it's name.
"Misfits Music." He murmured. "Gabor. Pelligrini. I've been slow. But at least it tells me a bit more about what I'm dealing with. I doubt I was far wrong about the ruthlessness of that woman."
"Who are you, and what are you doing in our studio?"
A voice came from the doorway and he turned, staring at the newcomer without recognition. The girl frowned at his expression, folding her arms across her chest.
"Are you deaf?" She pressed. "Who are you and why are you up here?"
"Robin Sheppard." At last Robin found his voice. "I've recently signed papers here - I was taking a look around."
He ran his gaze over his companion, taking in the perfectly manicured nails, the designer outfit and the carefully styled hair. "And you might be?"
"Sylvina Martescu. Sylva." The girl seemed to bristle under his scrutiny. "I didn't know there were any new signings flitting around Misfits Music today."
"Well, like I said, it was just all finalised." Robin shrugged his shoulders. "Martescu? Mary Martescu's daughter?"
"Yes." Sylva looked confused. "Why? Do you know Mom?"
"I'd be surprised at any musician who didn't." Robin said gravely. "I've never met her, but she's one of those writers who sets the benchmark in this business. But then I guess you know that, huh?"
"Mom's the best songwriter in Los Angeles." Sylva came into the room, shutting the door behind her. "So that's hardly a newsflash."
She rummaged in her bag for her security pass key, running it through the lock of the back storeroom and pushing the door open. "Well? Did you want anything else? I'm kinda busy."
"Do you write, too?" Robin was interested. Sylva shook her head.
"Geez, what planet are you from?" She asked, amused. "No. I play, I don't write. It's totally not my thing."
She frowned, running her hands along the shelves carefully. "Oh, where is it? Logan is going to freak out if I lost the necklace he gave me already..."
Robin raised an eyebrow.
"And here I was, under the impression that Misfits Music was a serious music company with serious musical talent." He said drolly. "Guess that was my mistake."
"What exactly do you mean by that?" Indignant, Sylva wheeled on her new acquaintance, the necklace forgotten. "How dare you come in here and tell me I'm not a serious musician!"
"I'm not sure that that's what I said."
Robin turned his back on the keyboardist, wandering over to the window. "There's some view from up here."
"Stop changing the subject." Sylva shut the door with a bang, marching over towards him and grabbing him by the arm. "You basically implied that I'm not serious about my music and I'm not stupid, even if you think I am. You don't know a damn thing about me, and I don't care if you are Phyllis and Jetta's latest signing. Jewel have been playing for five years now."
She gestured to the disks on the wall.
"See those? Ours. That tells me who's serious about their music and who isn't."
Robin eyed her long and hard.
"I didn't mean to offend you." He said, his tone implying that he had had more than enough of the conversation. "It was just an observation. I find the contrast interesting, that's all."
"Contrast?" Sylva frowned. "What contrast?"
"Here you are, the picture of Los Angeles celebrity, fussing about a missing necklace instead of giving ten minutes to a song." Robin shrugged his shoulders. "And then there's Nancy - your bandmate, I'm guessing - who's giving her heart and soul to her melodies and doesn't care what the people see when they look at her."
He glanced her up and down again.
"I realise that, in LA, looking good is a survival instinct." He continued. "But you can overdo the effect."
"Where do you get off insulting me?" Sylva was angry now. "God knows what Phyllis and Jetta saw in you when they signed you up. You're an arrogant pig and that's all. How dare you compare me to Nancy? She's her and I'm me and we give our band different things. Which, if you bothered to pay attention to anything other than your own ego, you'd know already. Now, I'm sorry if you haven't anything to do in your sad little life other than obsess about music and criticise those around you, but some of us balance our work with a social life and I have more important things to do than exchange insults with you."
Robin cast her a strange smile.
"It was interesting to meet you, Sylva." He observed quietly. "I'm sure we'll meet again."
Before the furious musician could come up with a worthy riposte he was gone, and Sylva grimaced, stalking across the studio and banging the door shut behind him, as if to emphasise her displeasure.
"What a jerk." She muttered. "Phyllis and Jetta must be totally desperate for new blood if they sign someone like him. And what business is it of his what either Nancy or I do? I wonder if she even knows him, or if he's just some creepy obsessive. God knows he could use some tips in looking human, anyhow. I bet his hair hasn't been cut in years."
She reached into her jacket pocket for her compact mirror, and as she did so, something clattered to the floor.
"My necklace!" Sylva bent to scoop it up. "Thank God. I knew I hadn't lost it."
She glanced at her reflection briefly, then shut the compact with a snap, carefully fastening the chain around her neck and returning the compact to it's former position.
"God knows what his problem was. I look fine." She muttered. "He better not come near me again, else he'll find himself taking a fist in his face, I swear. And I probably ought to warn Nancy about him, too. This guy's creepy weird as well as rude and up himself. Last thing we need is another Blade encounter, or something like what happened to Copper."
She rolled her eyes.
"And I've wasted more than enough of my time on him today." She decided. "I'm going to be late for lunch and Logan'll think I stood him up. Who cares about Robin Sheppard, anyhow? He's just another wannabe and he has a long way to go before people think of him the way they think of us!"

Across the city, oblivious to the encounter going on at Misfits Music, the remaining Jewels were gathering around the big outdoor pool that the Starlight Mansion boasted, eager to take advantage of the warm July sunshine.
"It's so nice just to have a little time to ourselves now and then." Copper observed, stepping out onto the white slab patio and taking a sip of the cool lemonade that Sadie had brewed up the night before. "I wish that our pool back home was de-weeded and cleaned up, guys. They've been in and out of our yard over the last few weeks but so far the pool is still a big mess. In this weather, you just need to swim and the beach is a hot drive away."
"Your yard is a pretty big place, Copper." Sadie glanced up from her sunlounger, looking amused. "Besides, we're closer and we miss having you constantly on tap. You know you can come and swim with us anytime."
"I know, and I'm grateful." Copper settled herself on a nearby lounger, putting her drink down. "I miss hanging out so much with you guys too, sometimes. Though I love having my own place and knowing that Aaron and I are finally forever."
"Still thinking about the Jesta thing?" Sadie asked softly. Copper shrugged.
"Not so much." She admitted. "I'll face that and deal with it when we go to Detroit. Right now it's more comfortable not to think too much about it."
She fixed Sadie with a questioning look. "And you? What of Alex's mother's visit?"
"Oh, don't." Sadie grimaced. "She flies in tomorrow. We've been so busy lately that I've not had time to dwell quite so much, but I've serious butterflies. I promised to come over to his tomorrow evening, to meet her and have dinner and stuff. Honestly, if I don't pass out on the doorstep it'll be a miracle. I'm really freaking out over it."
"Freaking out over what?" At that moment, Topaz joined them, her small daughter hoisted up in her arms. "Not still over Alex's mother, surely?"
"The more I think about it, the worse I feel." Sadie acknowledged ruefully. "I'm sure she's a really nice person - that's not what bothers me. It's what she does or doesn't know about me and whether or not she'll take to me. I know Alex's family is important to him, and Alex is important to me. He said he wasn't going to mention my background to her, but it's been in the press spasmodically here and she might have already figured it out."
She sighed.
"I'm imagining worst case scenarios." She concluded. "And I know it's not healthy, but I can't help it."
"Well, stop thinking about it for a while and come help me with Hollie in the pool." Topaz suggested, sitting down on the edge of the lounger and carefully sliding the inflateable orange armbands onto her daughter's tiny arms. "I've smothered her in sun cream, so she won't burn. She's desperate to go splashing about in the water with Mommy again, and I'd just like there to be two of us watching her, if you don't mind. I don't want her to grow up with a fear of water and she has such a good time in there, but she's still little and it's deep - even with the water wings I have your average maternal freakout about letting her in there."
"Sure, I'm game." Sadie nodded, getting to her feet. "I'm scorching hot, anyhow, and I could use cooling off."
She cast Hollie a grin, patting her on the head.
"Coming swimming, Hol?" She asked playfully. Hollie giggled, batting her hands together.
"Swimmin'." She echoed. Topaz grinned.
"I wish I knew if half the things she said were conscious words or just her copying us." She admitted, hoisting her daughter up more securely in her arms as they made their way to the water's edge. "Sometimes I think she really understands what she's talking about, and then at other times I'm not so sure. Dr Finnan keeps telling me she's developing ahead of pace in that department, so I can't help but wonder if a lot of it is just exposure to people and the things they say."
"I think she understands a lot of the time." Sadie decided. "Shall I jump in and then you pass her to me while you come in too?"
"That'd work." Topaz nodded. "Thanks, Sade."
She looked rueful.
"This is one duty I don't like to ask of Cynthia. I know her watch is fairly rain and bath-resistant, but I'm not sure swimming would be good for it."
"Speaking of Cyn, where is she?" Nancy, who up to that point had been silently curled up beneath a parasol going over manuscript glanced up.
"Working. She and Aaron are fixing something or other in the circuitboards at the back of the company." Copper responded. "Her hours are more set than ours are, remember."
"She's been called in to fix a lot of things recently." Topaz mused. "Maybe she and Aaron need someone else to help share the workload."
"Perhaps, but it comes in fits and starts and it's hard to predict when they'll need more or less help." Copper frowned. "On a hot day like today, though, it's a shame they're stuck inside. Especially since we're out here enjoying the sun."
"Reckon Syl found her necklace?" Nancy asked dryly. Topaz grinned.
"I just hope she hasn't taken the studio apart looking for it." She said ironically. "You know, you guys, even if she hasn't said exactly what the deal is with her and Logan, I think it's sort of sweet. I've never seen her so...weird about a guy. Not even with Jack. She's doing all the fussy first date type things at the moment and it's funny."
Sadie dived cleanly into the water, resurfacing and kicking out for the side.
"I think she's in love with him." She said, reaching out arms to take Hollie from her companion. "Here you go, honey. Time to get all wet and cool down."
"I'd had that thought too." Topaz owned, slipping into the water herself. "Particularly because she hasn't come out and said as much. Syl flaunts the little things and hides the big ones. She fell for Jack but he never reciprocated. I think Logan's something new and crazy for her because he feels the same about her."
She shrugged. "It's cute, either way. Syl's had no luck with guys. She deserves some now."
"Well, she could do worse, at least." Copper finished her lemonade, getting to her feet. "Logan's not a jerk and he seems pretty laid back. I hope it works out for them."
She grimaced.
"And now I'm starting to cook, so I might come and join the water party. Nance, you coming for a swim?"
"I was trying to finish this phrase." Nancy frowned.
"Well, it'll wait till after you cool off." Copper wheedled. "You can't concentrate in this weather, surely? Cali native or not!"
"I guess it wouldn't hurt." Reluctantly Nancy pushed her manuscript book aside, coming to the water's edge. "Though Topaz, keep Hol away from me, huh? Last time I got in the pool with her she landed a foot on my nose and it hurt like hell."
"I promise." Topaz giggled. "Sadie and I will keep her up this end, anyhow."
"You've been writing like crazy lately." Copper observed. "Either you've had major inspiration, or something's bothering you. Which is it?"
"Both, probably." Nancy sighed. "It's nothing, Copper. Really. Just your average life stress, that's all."
"Dean?" Copper raised an eyebrow. Nancy grimaced.
"Maybe." She acknowledged. "He thinks that we should sit down and talk about where our relationship is going. I think that article gave him thoughts and well, I'm not sure it's a chat I want to have. I'm not sure we're heading in the same direction and I'm half afraid of what the talk will mean."
"Do you think he might do as Music Bizz said, and propose?" Copper's eyes became big.
"Let's just hope not." Nancy shook her head. "Besides, I don't really want to talk about it yet. Not till I'm clearer myself on what the deal is."
She glanced at the water, then,
"I vote, if we're going to swim, we should swim." She added. "And enjoy having some time to ourselves for a change!"


Prologue: Flashback - Sadie's Fear
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