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Amelia Grace Book 3: On the Road with Royal Flush

It's been a hectic couple of weeks as I deal with some personal stuff while also gearing up for Monday's release of Death Perception, the first book in my paranormal Darcy Harbinger Mystery series. I'm also bogged down on the rough draft of my Hollywood Headlines co-authored book with Gemma Halliday, and next in the pipeline is my Kaley Kalua book for the Aloha Lagoon mystery series through GHP. Because of all the spinning plates, I haven't been able to give the third Amelia Grace book the attention it deserves lately.

HOWEVER, in light of all the awesome Facebook live performances I've been watching lately from some of my favorite bands (namely Local Natives and Young the Giant), I decided to go ahead and share the *very* rough draft for the first chapter.

The book doesn't have a title or release date yet, but I hope you enjoy this little taste of Ame's life on the road with Royal Flush.

*This chapter has not yet been edited and is subject to change in the published book.

Copyright Anne Marie Stoddard © 2016. This work may not be duplicated or reproduced.

Chapter 1

There’s nothing worse than being stranded on the side of the road in the summer. Actually, I take that back—there is something worse, and that’s being stranded somewhere between Tulsa and Oklahoma City on a broken down tour bus full of hung over rock stars who are about to be very late to their own show. And since ‘bad luck’ is apparently my middle name (though on my birth certificate, it’s spelled ‘L-O-U-I-S-E’), that’s where I found myself on a scorching Saturday evening in late July.

“It’s so freakin’ hot,” Zane Calloway groaned, mopping the sweat from his brow as he stood beside me on the scalding pavement.

I wrinkled my nose at the smell of booze that seeped through his perspiration. You probably could’ve bottled the stuff and sold it at the local package store. He has got to lay off the day-drinking, I thought. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy a nice margarita or sangria with lunch myself, but the amount of beer and liquor the guys could consume on the bus between gigs was astonishing. It was like a mobile frat house.

I glanced from Zane to Chad Egan, the guitarist for Royal Flush. He was seated on the ground with his back up against the bus’s front tire, his head hung low. His now mostly bald head was covered in pink splotches from the onset of what would probably be pretty nasty sunburn. Serves him right, I thought, noting the little tufts of red hair that the guys had missed during a recent late-night, drunken decision to shave his head. I’d called his girlfriend—and my BFF—Kat a few days before to give her a heads up that she might mistake her honey for Mr. Clean’s scrawny cousin when she visited us next week. As I’d expected, Kat had not been happy.

“I’m never drinking again!” Chad’s wail was somewhat muffled with his head hanging between his knees. He reached up a hand to rub his mostly bald scalp. Raising his head slightly, he fixed me with a pitiful expression. “Amelia, please don’t ever let me drink again.”

“I’m going to hold you to that,” I warned him. Ugh. I’d known that going on the road with my old college buddies as their new tour manager would be a challenge, but I hadn’t expected this. I felt as if I’d adopted a litter of man-children. I blew out a frustrated sigh and stalked toward the bus’s entrance. “I’ll get you some sunscreen.”

“And water!” Both Zane and Chad called after me.

“Fine,” I muttered.

Royal Flush’s lead singer, Jack Pearson, and the band’s recently re-hired bass player, Dillon Green, were huddled together in the back of the bus. A conspicuous cloud of smoke wafted above their heads. The pair had recently reconciled their friendship—and Dillon’s relationship with the band—after a tragedy resulted in an open spot in Royal Flush’s roster. Jack had also recently suffered a deep personal loss, and, with Dillon’s influence, he’d been self-medicating with booze and pot. It wasn’t the healthiest way to cope, but I couldn’t convince Jack to sober up.

“Excuse me, boys.” I pushed between Dillon and Jack, making my way toward the mini fridge. I loaded seven bottles of water into my arms and then side-stepped my way around the pair as they bowed their heads low, having some sort of philosophical conversation.

“If you’re clean when you get out of the shower, then how does your towel get dirty?” Dillon shook Jack’s shoulders and then tapped his own temple. “Think about it, man.”

Jack’s jaw went slack. “Whoa,” he said. His eyes widened, and he snapped his fingers. “Have you ever thought about this? Why does your nose run, but your feet smell? It doesn’t make sense!”

“Okay. That’s enough trippy talk for one day,” I interrupted. I gave each man a bottle of water and then balanced the remaining five in one arm while retrieving a bottle of aspirin from the medicine counter above Jack’s head. “You guys drink those and start sobering up. We’ll hopefully be back on the road soon, and you need to be ready to perform. You’ve still got a show tonight.”

Jack blinked at me, his piercing blue eyes rimmed with red. “There’s no way we’ll make it, Ame,” he said, using my nickname—like Amy without the ‘y’. Jack brushed his straw-colored locks out of his face and checked his watch. “It’s nearly seven o’clock. We’re supposed to take the stage in OK City in an hour.”

“We’ll figure something out,” I told him, though I had know clue how we would get to the venue on time. As their manager, it was my job to figure out travel logistics and back-up plans—and back-up back-up plans. I was really starting to miss my job at home as booking manager for Atlanta’s Castle Rock concert venue, which I co-owned with my best friend, Kat Taylor. Worrying about everything that could go wrong in one setting was hard enough. Adding travel and my five unpredictable rocker friends to the mix—let’s just say this tour was really testing my limits.

I carried the other five water bottles back outside, dispersing two to Chad and Zane before making my way toward the front of the bus. The hood was popped, and steam was hissing as it wafted out from somewhere inside. Mickey Ward, Royal Flush’s drummer, stepped back, wiping away the sweat that streamed down his brow. His long dark hair was pulled away from his face and piled atop his head, secured with a rubber band. I winced. Whenever I was desperate enough to use a rubber band to hold my hair back, it took a least a few dozen strands with it when I took it out.

Mickey’s honey-brown eyes lit up at the sight of me—or maybe it was the bottle of chilled water in my hands that had him excited. “Just what I needed,” he said, grabbing the drink from my outstretched hand. He popped off the top and put the bottle to his lips, tilting his head back as he downed half in just two gulps. He closed it again and then slung his arm around me, pulling me close for a deep kiss. His tongue was cold from the water, making it hard at first to determine whether my shivers were from pleasure or the chilly temperature. Maybe a little of both.

“And that was just what I needed,” I said breathlessly when we parted. I reached up and wiped a dirt smudge off his soft jaw line, my finger lingering on the little white scar on his chin. He’d gotten it in a shaving accident when he was a teenager, a story he’d told me years ago when we’d first dated in college. Things hadn’t worked out between us then, but here we were, five years later, giving our romance another shot. Sort of.

The trouble was, I’d just gotten out of a serious relationship a few weeks ago. Not quite as serious as Mickey and I had been (he did propose to me in college, after all. Spoiler alert: I said no), but the relationship lacked the closure I needed to fully move on. Going on the road with Mickey and the band was a step in the right direction, but for the most part, Mickey and I were taking things slow. That meant lots of flirting and more than a few of those steamy kisses, but not much else. We’d get there, though. Mickey was ready to try again, and someday soon, I would be too. I hoped.

“So, what’s the verdict?” I asked, peeking my head around Mickey just as Ronnie Dominguez, the band’s new bus driver, stepped back from the bus’s hood.

He wiped his beefy hands on his jeans and gratefully accepted one of the bottles of water. “It’s hard to tell,” he said, panting from the heat. He took a swig of the water and drizzled a bit onto his curly mop of black hair. “I’m no mechanic, but somethin’ is definitely busted. Maybe a coolant fan. If I try to pull her back on the road, she’s gonna overheat.” He squinted at me in the sunlight. “You call a tow truck yet?”

I nodded and took a sip from my own water. “Yep. They’re just over half an hour away right now.” I hiked a thumb over my shoulder at the bus and glanced at Mickey, frowning. “By the time we get this baby hooked up to be towed, it’ll be past time for you guys to be onstage in OK City.” Beads of perspiration tingled my scalp and collected on my forehead. Traffic from an accident on the interstate had put us way behind, and at this point the guys had long since missed their sound check. Doors to the venue were already open to concert-goers, and the band’s opening act, a local rock group called Worm Gravy (I know, right? So gross.) was just taking the stage for their half hour set.

“I just don’t see any way that we’re going to make it.” I hung my head.

Mickey gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze. “You’re not the kind to give up so easily, Ame. I know you’ll think of something.”

I stifled a sigh. That’s the problem. As Royal Flush’s manager, it was up to me to solve every smashed guitar, blacked out band member, and broken-down bus that came our way. It was a lot of pressure, and it was causing a strain on my friendship with the rest of the guys. Mickey had been wonderful—he was so supportive—but Chad, Jack, Zane, and Dillon expected me to make all their problems just go poof! and disappear like a deleted social media post.

Wait a minute. The thought struck a chord (yes, I know. Bad pun alert). I slipped my cell phone out of my pocket. “Will you guys excuse me for just a sec?” I stepped away from Mickey and Ronnie and paced down the side of the highway, hitting a number on my speed dial.

After two rings, my assistant from Castle Rock, Bronwyn Sinclair, answered. “Ame!” she squealed. “Long time, no talk. How’s life on the road? Has Chad’s hair grown back? Kat is still so pissed.”

“The road is hectic,” I said, jamming a finger in my other ear to block out the sounds of the cars rushing past. “And no, I’m afraid a full head of hair doesn’t grow back in three days. How’re things at the Rock?”

“Pretty great,” Bronwyn chirped. “The Christmas in July Music Fest was practically a disaster, of course. It’s kind of a long story. See, first there was this critic that—”

“Bron,” I said evenly, cutting her off. “I’m actually calling because I need your help.”

“So, what else is new?” I could hear a smirk in her words. “What’s up?”

I glanced back in time to see Mickey and Zane coaxing Chad to stand up and finish his bottle of water. “I, er, need your social media expertise.” Bronwyn had served her time as my booking intern before we’d promoted her to a full-time assistant position at Castle Rock, tackling whatever booking or promotions tasks that Kat and I needed help with. That meant she’d been given full reigns to the venue’s on line profiles and was our resident social media guru. When it came to hashtags, tweets, snaps, or photo filters, Bron was our gal.

“Listen,” I began, feeling my cheeks warm. “If, hypothetically, the band needed to perform a concert on-line and broadcast it to their fans… how would I go about setting that up?” My voice might have squeaked a bit at the end of the question.

“Oh, that’s nothin’.” The sound of fingers clacking on a keyboard sounded through the phone. Bron cleared her throat. “Do you have a webcam?”

I thought for a minute. “There’s gotta be one on either my laptop of Zane’s tablet.”

“No worries, if not,” Bron said. “You could always broadcast through a phone camera, too.”

“Great.” A seed of hope blossomed in my chest. There might be a way to save this night from certain disaster after all.

Forty minutes later, I’d gleaned all the information I needed from Bronwyn, worked out some logistics with the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, and managed to gather all of the band inside the tour bus (in case you’re wondering, trying to corral hungover rock stars is like trying to herd a group of cats. Not easy.).

“Is everyone ready?” I asked, placing my laptop at a table facing the back of the bus. Mickey and I had cleared out enough space to set up a performance area. We’d unpacked all the instruments except Mickey’s drum kit and cymbals—he’d use a set of drumming pads instead. The guys were in place, and the bus was hooked up to a tow truck and en route to OK City. Using a mobile hot spot on my cell phone, we’d secured Wi-Fi. As long as it held up until we reached the city, and as long as the guys could function well enough to play their instruments, my crazy plan might actually work.

“Ready as we’re gonna be,” Jack muttered. His eyes were still a little bloodshot, but my doubt in his ability to perform vanished as soon as he placed his fingers on his guitar strings, playing a few quick warm-up riffs. Chad followed suit on his own guitar, and Dillon plunked out a few funky notes on his bass. Zane tapped out a quick round of “Chopsticks” on his electronic keyboard.

Yep. I smiled. They’re ready. I counted down from five and then mashed the camera button, signaling to Jack that we were good to go.

Jack leaned toward the camera, blowing his hair out of his face and flashing his signature rock star grin. At that moment, nearly a million girls around the country collectively swooned. I know because I read the social media comments.

“Good evening Oklahoma City,” Jack said. “And to all the rest of you tuning in, too.” He gestured around the tour bus. “As you can see, we unfortunately weren’t able to make it into town in time for our show tonight. Our bus broke down.” He shook his head. “I know. Bummer, right? Well, just because we can’t be there with you all on time doesn’t mean that we can’t put on a show for you tonight.” He grinned.

“So here’s how this is gonna go down. We’re going to play a very special, once-in-a-lifetime concert on-the-go. We’re streaming live right now on our Facebook page, and we’re ready to play a no holds barred, unplugged performance. Our manager and another member of the Royal Flush family are standing by to take your requests. Just leave us a comment telling us what you want to hear—old stuff, new stuff, B-sides, cover songs. The sky’s the limit. We promise to keep playing until we reach Oklahoma City. Right, guys?” Jack turned around to acknowledge the rest of the band, who were all emphatically nodding their heads.

“All right, then,” Jack said. “Let’s get this party started.”

Amazingly, my plan went off without a hitch. Bronwyn and I chatted on line, monitoring comments on the band’s Facebook and Twitter accounts and creating a play list for the band’s performance based on the comments from fans. By the time the big rig-sized tow truck hauled the tour bus into the arena’s back parking lot, Royal Flush had played nearly a full set’s worth of rare tracks, cover songs, and old classics—and even a few unreleased tracks. A crew of stage hands was waiting for us, and they made short work of transferring the band’s gear into the venue and up to the stage.

“See you guys very soon,” Jack said, winking to the camera before I paused the live video feed.

“All right, you guys. Let’s go!” I said, clapping my hands. I made shooing motions to urge them off the bus. I thanked Bronwyn for the help and promised her yet another raise when I got back to Castle Rock after the tour. If she didn’t stop bailing Kat and me out of dire work situations, she’d have a higher salary than either of us.

The inside of the arena was teeming with life. Every seat in the place was packed, and the crowd on the floor in front of the stage were jammed together like sardines. Little while lights shone like beacons from all over the the massive room. I quickly realized they were phone screens. Not only had the crowd been jamming along to the streamed performance via a large, theater-size projector screen and a massive tower of speakers, but they’d been following along and requesting songs on their phones. We’d managed to keep the venue packed despite arriving over an hour late. Technology is an incredible thing.

The lights around the arena dimmed as the ones that illuminated the stage were turned on. A roar rose up from the crowd as Jack, Mickey, Chad, Zane, and Dillon walked out onto the stage and picked up their instruments. From beside the stage, I held up my phone, using the camera to resume the live broadcast for the band’s social media followers.

“Thanks for your patience, Oklahoma City,” Jack said into the mic. His words were met with a chorus of screams and whistles. “Now that we’re all plugged in, are you all ready to really rock?” The response from the crowd was deafening.

The band launched into a high-energy six song encore that brought the entire arena to their feet. I stood just off-stage, shifting my smart phone from one hand to the other when my arms grew tired. Holding the camera steady, I leaned against the railing and breathed a sigh of relief. I can’t believe we pulled that off. With Bronwyn’s help, I somehow managed to save what should have been a monumental disaster for the band. I was lucky to have such great friends back in Atlanta. I felt another pang of homesickness.

Just one more week, I thought. The band’s performance at next weekend’s Jamisphere Music Festival in Tennessee was the last of their summer tour. Then I could go home to Castle Rock and my friends in Atlanta. I can survive one more week of this, right?

I had no idea just how much of a challenge that would be.

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