Chapter One

Aaron Collins had been the vice-president of Rocky Top’s A&R department for over ten years and was credited with saving the label from bankruptcy as the record industry floundered in the face of the digital revolution. Collins pioneered the music streaming business model, and shares in Rocky Top have continued to rise exponentially since.

Rocky Top president Donny Taylor refused to comment, but inside sources say Collins was fired because of his sexuality. Nashville hasn’t had a scandal like this since Caren Wright came out as a—”

Louie Francis hit the mute button. She didn’t want to hear about the homophobia on the Nashville music scene, especially since she’d finally scraped enough money together to pursue her own country dream. She pulled out her phone and checked her savings account. A little under five thousand dollars. It wasn’t much to show for a year at the WoodBack Bar, doing unsavory things for even more unsavory people. But it was more than she’d ever have been able to save by working at the GrindStar coffee shop alone, like she had been doing when she and Mia were saving for their future together. Damn you, Mia.An image of the perfectly poised beauty Louie used to call her sweetheart forced its way, unannounced and unwanted, into her mind. It was closely followed by the memory of Louie finding their apartment and shared account cleaned out.

Louie looked at her watch: eleven a.m. She poured herself a quick shot of cheap bourbon anyway. After the solid burn made its way along her throat, the warm sensation snaked through her veins and tranquilized her thumping heart. It was time to stop making excuses and just go for it, time to get out of this place and get her life back on track.

Mia made another unsolicited showing in her mind, and Louie rubbed her forehead, trying to erase it. Had Mia made it to Music City? She was a talented woman. Louie had no doubt that if she hadmade it to Nashville, Mia would be doing just fine. But now it was Louie’s time.

 

v

 

Louie smiled at her GrindStar manager and slipped past him to retrieve a small selection of her belongings from a temporary locker. His name was Deighton, or Dean, or something beginning with a D, but Louie couldn’t bring it to mind. And it didn’t help that he wouldn’t wear a badge. She supposed he thought it was some sort of power play to remind the baristas who was in charge, but Louie believed it was to prevent the customers from complaining directly to him because they had no idea he worked there. GrindStar baristas across the nation had to present in a sharp pink polo shirt and navy chinos. His uniform was ill-fitting trousers that were way too long for his short stature and way too tight for his keg-sized beer belly, and he wore a button-down shirt that threatened to pop open and blind someone with projectile buttons.

“What are you doing, Francis? You’re already ten minutes late for your shift.”

Her smile broadened as she realized this was the last time she’d have to put up with his droning voice. “I’m not working my shift, this one or any other. It’s time for me to leave this wonderful establishment.”

Keg-belly’s face reddened, and the vein in the middle of his forehead seemed to double in size.

“Get your coat off and get on the shop floor. Now.”

Louie dropped her wallet and other possessions into the same beat-up leather satchel she’d had since high school and shook her head. “Sorry, boss. I’m out of here.” She unpinned her name badge from her shirt and tossed it to him. She hated name badges; there was never a good place to position them that didn’t give permission to pervy guys to stare at women’s breasts. Not that that had ever been a problem for her. Unless it counted when guys were rude enough to ask where the hell her breasts were.

He fumbled the catch and yelled after her, “If you step out of that door, you’ll never work in another GrindStar in this country.”

“Let’s hope not.” Louie offered a wave as she opened the door and headed to the bank to withdraw enough money to buy a truck. It would be her transport andher home if necessary. But she couldn’t spend a minute longer being tainted by this city. Failure be damned, she was taking one step closer to her dream.

 

Chapter Two

Heather King raked her fingers through her hair in an attempt to finger-comb it into some semblance of acceptability. It needed a wash, but she’d been so desperate for the extra hour in bed after watching new talent at the Bluebird until two a.m. that she’d sprayed on some dry shampoo and hoped for the best. Mistake. Her boss, Donny, was meeting with the current Queen of Country, and he’d sprung it on her that Savana wanted Heather present. How Savana Hayes even knew Heather existed was beyond her comprehension, but the looming meeting had made her so paranoid about the state of her long hair that cutting it all off had crossed her mind. At least then it wouldn’t take two hours to wash, dry, and straighten.

“You’re the new A&R VP. I guess that’s why she wants you there. You make damn sure you say all the right things, girl. And if it’s just so she can look at your pretty face while we negotiate her contract, keep that sparkling smile plastered on it.”

Donny’s barked instruction knotted her insides tighter than they already were. His utter oafishness and lack of interpersonal skills were a particularly unfavorable concoction. She’d hoped that her new promotion might mean that he’d show her more respect, but it seemed his sexism was only suspended in the presence of the owner of Rocky Top, Lexi Turner. Thishadn’t been her dream when the hiss of the Greyhound bus doors opening announced her arrival in Nashville. She was supposed to bethe next Savana Hayes, not sit around being her eye candy. Though that was a stupid thing for Donny to say. Savana wasn’t interested in women. And even if she was, Heather was sure he wouldn’t know it. After the way the country community abandoned Caren White when she came out a few years before, no one seemed in a big hurry to follow in her rhinestone-adorned footsteps. 

Her thoughts drifted inevitably to her mentor, Aaron, and his recent dismissal from the company. He’d brought her into Rocky Top. He’d been her mentor for over five years, and he was the reason she was the new A&R veep. Heather didn’t want to believe that Donny had only promoted her to Aaron’s position to bolster his heterosexuality because he felt threatened by Aaron’s sexuality, but she couldn’t help it. And Aaron had always challenged Donny’s lascivious comments to female staff. With Aaron out of the picture, he could be as much of a bigoted boar as he wanted to be, and what better way to prove his masculinity than lord his power over a new female vice-president?

Heather took a deep breath and followed Donny to the glass-walled boardroom to wait for Savana’s arrival. The thirty-foot-long table was covered with a vast array of fresh fruit and around fifty chilled individual small bottles of water. Savana’s management team had been very specific about her requirements for the meeting, including the condition that it could be no longer than seventy-five minutes in duration. If negotiations were to go on longer than that, the meeting would have to be adjourned for two and a half hours before Savana would return. Heather wondered what kind of country superstar she would’ve made if she hadn’t given up on her dream. She was sure she wouldn’t be that kind of diva.

Donny positioned himself at the head of the table, and Heather waited until he indicated where he wanted her. She sat to his left and smoothed her skirt over her knees. Though she preferred skirts generally, when she started at Rocky Top, the lecherous looks from male colleagues forced her to opt for trouser suits. And Aaron was fine with that. But after firing Aaron and promoting Heather, Donny had sent her home to change so she looked “like a woman,” which he underlined by telling her that meant she should always wear a skirt to work. It wasn’t like her suits were masculine in any way, and neither was Heather. Irony was she loved wearing skirts, but his demands were like reverse psychology and made her hate wearing skirts to work.

“Would you like your usual?”

The soft voice of Donny’s assistant, Mandie, was a pleasant contrast to the sound of Donny on his phone. “Sure, that’d be great.” Heather smiled and Mandie turned to make her a milky white drink that barely passed as coffee.

“Anything good at the gig last night?” Donny asked after tossing his cell phone onto the table with a muttered curse.

Heather shook her head. “Maybe. I made a recording of one guy I’d like you to listen to.” She closed her eyes briefly and the deep, smooth sound of the artist filled her ears. He was an amazing singer and played the guitar beautifully, but he didn’t exactly personify the archetypal country singer. He was black, and his buzz cut and tattoos gave him a look that would have been less incongruous at a stereotypical rap battle. But he definitely had the talent, and if Heather had her own label, she’d sign him in a heartbeat.

But she didn’t. Not yet. Donny called the shots at Rocky Top Country Music, and beyond him, Nashville didn’t have a penchant for embracing any kind of otherness. It’d been over a decade since Darius Rucker had entered country music, and despite his success, he had yet to be inducted to the Grand Ole Opry. It was still a heterosexual, white male bastion.

“Have you uploaded the recording to my cloud?”

She bit her lip, knowing Donny liked to hear them while they were fresh in Heather’s head. With the late night and early morning meeting, she hadn’t had the chance to fine-tune the recording to show the artists at their best. “Not yet. I’ll do it first thing after this meeting.”

“Great.” Donny patted her on the shoulder. “You keep finding me the diamonds in this giant shit-pile of coal, and we’ll make Rocky Top the number one studio on Music Row.”

She smiled back at him and didn’t react to his use of “we.” Privately, Donny commended Heather for what he called her star whispering ability, but publicly, he enjoyed taking all the credit for her discoveries. Aaron had always given her the proper recognition for her work, and she had the Grammy-winning, platinum-selling artists on the wall of her office to prove it. “Sure thing, Donny.”

Mandie placed a cup to Heather’s side. “Warm milk with a hint of coffee bean.”

“Thanks, Mandie.” She picked up the drink and took a small sip. She was ready for the slight hit of caffeine that would take the edge off her lethargy. This meeting was a huge deal for Donny and Rocky Top, and though she couldn’t fathom why Savana would want her here, Heather wanted to present her best side.

The elevator pinged its arrival, and two stocky men in tightly fitted gray suits held both of the doors as Savana Hayes and her manager, Joe Johnson, stepped out. Savana looked stunning in an unpretentious outfit of faded blue jeans and a stars and stripes tank top, and it made Heather question the validity of the meeting requests. Stars were expected to be high maintenance, so maybe all of that was just part of a persona her manager had dreamed up.

She swept through the corridor toward the boardroom, obviously knowing exactly where she was heading. Heather found herself admiring Savana’s poise. She looked every inch the confident and composed country star. How does she get her hair to bounce like that?It was like Heather was watching a commercial, complete with a wind machine to make the most of Savana’s long locks. She swallowed and stood, ready to greet her as Mandie opened the boardroom door.

“Savana, I’m so glad you could make it.” Donny offered his hand.

Heather thought she saw a slight hesitation before Savana extended her own hand and shook Donny’s.

“Thank you for the invitation, Donny.” She let go of his hand and looked at Heather. “And it’s a pleasure to get the opportunity to meet you, Heather King.”

“The pleasure’s all mine. I’m a huge fan of your music.” Heather stopped herself from gushing further and telling her that Savana had been the reason she’d taken a chance and come to Nashville in the first place. Her confession would be even less flattering since her foray into the performance side of the music business had been an epic fail.

“And I’m a huge fan of your ear.”

Heather frowned and self-consciously pulled at her hair to make sure it was covering her ears. “Thank you?”

Savana laughed. “Sorry, that sounded wrong. You have an impressive knack for finding new talent. You’re responsible for over a quarter of this label’s Grammy wins. It’s one of the main reasons I’m taking this meeting.”

Heather grinned. “Wow. Thank you.” She deliberately didn’t look at Donny but expected he would be scowling beneath his smile. He wouldn’t be happy that anyone thought Heather was responsible for finding all of Rocky Top’s major talent during his tenure, let alone the undisputed Queen of Country.

“To business, then.” Savana directed her attention to Donny. “I’m looking for a new label to support the direction I want my music to take. You think you’re that label, yes?”

Heather leaned back in her chair and continued to sip her coffee. Savana was as impressive in a meeting as she was on stage, and she felt her hero-worship step up a couple of notches. This would probably be the one and only time she’d get to be in the same room as her, so she wanted to savor it. Times like this that reminded her she’d made a good decision giving up her dream of becoming a country singer. She had a decent voice, but it didn’t compare to Savana’s or any of the other top recording artists in this city. Heather had realized what she was good at, and it was finding the next big thing. She was happy at Rocky Top. For now.

 

Chapter Three

Louie slipped her credit card into the Divvy machine and it unlocked the bike closest to her in the rack. She pulled it out and felt a moment of melancholy as she pushed her card back into her wallet and realized this would be her last ride in Chicago. She headed down West Roosevelt toward the bike station on East 29th and South Michigan Avenue. On the corner of 28th and Michigan was Rich’s Autos, a place she’d visited plenty of times over the past two years, optimistically scanning the lot for the perfect Jeep Wrangler soft top that would take her to Nashville. She had dreams of entering the city in style instead of being one of fifty country wannabes hitting town daily on the clichéd Greyhound bus. That dream lost its color slightly when Mia skipped town with her hard-earned savings, and Louie hadn’t been this way for over a year. Hitting her savings target had come at the right time, but a Jeep Wrangler was still way outside her budget.

She guided the bike into an empty dock and strode the block quickly. It was already seven p.m. Louie wanted to be packed and out of the city before midnight in case she lost her nerve, and her truck turned into a pumpkin. Louie rounded the corner and nearly took out a mom and her midsize kid.

“Oh, I’m so sorry.” Louie scooped up the phone the kid had dropped and was pleased to see it was encased in a shock absorber box, unharmed. The kid snatched it from her grip and scowled before returning to the screen, fixated once more.

“Don’t worry. I sometimes wish it would break just so I could have a normal conversation with my son again.” Neglected mom smiled and walked on.

It reminded Louie she hadn’t spoken to her mom that week. She’d be stoked that Louie had finally made enough to get her started in Nashville. Louie could never tell her mom howshe’d made so much money so soon after Mia had cleared her out. But her mom would be proud that she’d done it by herself. They’d never had anything given to them without strings or a favor to call in. Hell, her mom’s own family had only taken them in because they were desperate and homeless after her father dumped them both and disappeared into the ether. She gritted her teeth and squashed the rising tension into a metaphorical ball. She opened her palm and blew the imaginary sphere into the air before opening the showroom door.

Louie scanned the shiny tiled floor for the Jeep she’d dreamed about driving off the lot and into Nashville. But she could only afford something far less flashy. A seven-hour road trip would be a baptism of burning rubber so she prayed for a genuine salesperson to trade her something reliable.

“Evening, sir. Are you looking for a particular ride?”

Louie was used to being mistaken for a dude but never let it bother her. Long held social constructs were hard to demolish. She turned in the direction of the female voice and smiled at the sexy woman in the skirt suit, plunging V-neck blouse, and heels that Louie estimated at an impressive four inches. How she managed to navigate the showroom floor without breaking anything was anybody’s guess. “Yeah. I need a good truck, four doors, no more than four thousand, and I need it to drive to Nashville tonight.”

Whether or not she registered Louie wasn’t a guy, Heel-lady didn’t miss a beat. “Four thousand miles or four thousand dollars?”

One day she might be able to afford a truck with no miles on the clock, let alone four thousand. “Dollars.” Louie pulled out her wallet and handed the sales woman her bankcard and driver’s license.

“Then you’ll need temporary registration and insurance.”

Heel-lady smiled and licked her lips. Louie assumed her mild flirtation was just a sales technique. It was wasted on Louie since she’d already made it clear she wouldn’t be leaving without wheels tonight. “And you can help me…” Louie finally took the time to read Heel-lady’s name tag and was once again reminded why she hated them when she saw it was positioned just to the right of her cleavage. “Joni?”

“Oh, I can help you…” Joni raised Louie’s license and traced her finger over it. “Louie Francis.”

Louie couldn’t decide if she appreciated Joni’s undertones or if she wanted to grab her by the shoulders, shake her, and tell her to stop using her sex to sell cars. She settled on neither, opted for willful ignorance and gestured to the cars. “Can you show me what I need?” Louie mentally reprimanded herself. Anything she could say in this situation could be misconstrued and made sexual. She looked beyond Joni to see that every other salesperson was male and wished one of them had approached her instead. She felt damn sure theywouldn’t try charming her into…ah, the penny dropped. Joni would want her to spend more than her budget. “I can’t go any higher than four thousand, so please don’t show me anything you can’t sell me for that price or less.”

“Relax. I’m not going to give you the hard sell. I can recognize a desperate woman when I see one.” She put her hand on Louie’s shoulder.

Louie resisted the temptation to make a smart-ass comment about her failing to recognize she was a woman at all, let alone a desperate one. She wanted this to run smooth and fast, and pissing Joni off wouldn’t make that happen. So she smiled and simply said, “Great.”

“Follow me.”

Predictably, Joni headed out of the showroom, onto the main lot, and halfway around the back of the building. Louie dutifully followed, trying not to drool over the brand-new Wrangler Rubicon Recon in Granite Crystal that she’d walked past to enter Rich’s. It was onlyten times what she wanted to spend, and it was so pretty. It’d be hers one day. Her passion for cars was something she got from her mom, but every car her mom had ever had was a junker. And vital pieces were often held together with duct tape and Gun Gum.

Joni stopped in front of a Ford Ranger. “This is a 1996 XL, four-wheel drive, and a hundred and twenty thousand miles. Dark brown, or as I like to call it, dirty black.” She paused, maybe waiting for Louie to laugh. “One drawback is the transmission—it’s a manual.”

“That’s no drawback. That detail just made the deal.” Louie opened the door, checked the interior, and grinned when she saw bucket seats front and rear. Mom will love this. It’d been detailed and looked more than presentable for its age. She popped the hood and took a cursory look. The engine had been steam cleaned so it was impossible to tell if it had any leaks. “How long has it been parked here?”

Joni looked to the sky as if to pull the details from her head. “Maybe six months. There’s not much call for the gas guzzlers these days, aside from…”

The way Joni trailed off made Louie think she might’ve been about to say something offensive, but she had no clue what. “And you’ll be able to sort the registration and insurance for me?” Louie knew she should at least test drive it, but it was likely that if there was anything wrong with it, the dealership’s mechanics would’ve done a good enough job of covering it up to last three months. And she was pretty handy under the hood thanks to a childhood friendship with a kid whose family owned the local garage. All she needed it to do was get her out of this place and to the city of her dreams. Then she could give it all the love and attention it needed to keep it going.

Joni seemed to hesitate. “Sure. You’re in a big hurry?”

Louie smiled. “Yeah, I am. My dream’s waited long enough.”

 

Chapter Four

As soon as the phone began to ring, Heather knew who it would be. She’d met Emma on the Greyhound ride into Nashville, and while Heather had diverted the path of her dream from singer to record label owner, Emma had persevered. Just like she was persevering tonight.

Heather accepted the video call with a sigh. “Hey, Em.”

“You’re standing me up again?”

Heather shook her head at Emma’s clearly indignant tone 
and the look on her face that Heather knew meant she was actually upset, rather than playing the martyr. “I’m sorry, babe, I just can’t face another night out.” Talent scouting all week meant Heather hadn’t seen her bed the right side of two a.m. for ten days straight. Coupled with regular six a.m. rises, she was whacked. “I’m
exhausted.”

“Why don’t I get takeout and come to you?”

Heather tilted her head and considered Emma’s offer. Honestly, she’d be glad of some company, and Emma was someone she could spend time with in easy silences. “What about Mia and Diane? You’ve been looking forward to seeing Easy A perform since Diane scored tickets for you.” Mia and Diane were the other reasons Heather wasn’t overly interested in going out this evening. They were a couple, a duet, and a general pain in her ass, always pushing for face time with Donny. They both had talent, but there was just something about Mia that didn’t sit well. She seemed like the kind of woman who’d sell her soul for fifteen minutes of fame. Maybe her granny’s soul, not her own. She was too self-serving for that. But Heather was sure Mia would do anything to make it in this town, and she didn’t want any part of making thatstar shine bright.

“I’ve seen them plenty before, and I’d always rather spend quality time with you.” She grinned, then frowned. “And they’ll be all over each other just to remind me that I’m alone.”

“They’re pretty full-on. New love, I guess.” It’d been a while since Heather had felt thatway. She was too busy with her career to worry about love, and there was no rush since she was still shy of thirty by a year.

Emma rolled her eyes. “Whatever. I don’t want to see it after the date I had last night. Thai, Chinese, or Italian?”

“Italian. I have wine, and you can tell me all about last night’s date.”

Emma had such little luck with guys, she often joked she should try the dark side, and that Heather would have to be the one to induct her.

“Excellent. See you in an hour.”

“Sure thing.” Heather ended the call and looked around. Her living room looked exactly as it should since she’d neglected to clean or tidy it for the best part of a month. Luckily, Emma wasn’t the judgmental type. Shift a few items of clothes and dump the far-too-numerable takeout cartons, and she’d be good to go.

 

v

 

Heather uncorked the second bottle of wine, filled their glasses, and washed down the last of her cannelloni al forno. “And what was his response to you calling the president a conceited cock?”

Emma scoffed and took a quick sip of her wine. “He said I had no idea what I was talking about because I hadn’t been to a proper school.”

Heather narrowed her eyes. “Meaning?”

“Ivy League jerk-off.” Emma gestured the universal sign with a shake of her half-closed hand. “I wasn’t about to tell him I hadn’t been to college at all. He was already up on his social elitist white horse.”

“What did you say to that?” Emma’s tale made Heather thankful she’d never had a political argument on a first date in the middle of a restaurant. She had to admit that most lesbians she’d come across were liberal and the possibility of such an argument was low.

“I called him a douche and asked for the check.” Emma picked up the small bowls of tiramisu and handed one to Heather. “That’s not even the worst of it.”

“It gets worse?”

Emma spooned a mouthful of the dessert into her mouth, building the tension. Heather loved her penchant for drama.

“He went to the restroom and didn’t come back.”

“No! Surely not?”

Emma waved her spoon at Heather. “He did too. Cheapskate ass.”

“Dare I ask what the bill came to?” Heather had heard Tanker was the most expensive restaurant in Midtown. She braced for a ridiculous price.

“Three hundred and fifty dollars…plus tip. Jesus.”

Heather laughed. “I thought he was in the sandal business not restaurants.”

“I know, right?” Emma shrugged. “Anyway, enough about me. Didn’t you have that big meeting with the Queen of Country today?”

Heather put her glass down and scooted her legs under her butt. “I did, and she was as amazing as I thought she’d be.”

Emma leaned in, her interest in the gossip obvious. “You’ve had a helluva week. A massive promotion anda meeting with a country legend. Did you find out why she wanted you there?”

“My track record. She knew that I was responsible for a good chunk of Rocky Top’s Grammy wins.”

“I bet Donny didn’t like that one bit.”

Heather giggled. The third glass of wine was kicking in, and she felt a little lightheaded. She was glad they hadn’t gone out with Mia and Diane. There was no way she could’ve had this conversation with Emma in front of them because they didn’t have the faintest idea what discretion meant. Donny was a powerful man; Aaron may have helped her get on the map, but Donny could easily send her tumbling off the Nashville radar. But for now, he’d given her a dream assignment she was about to share with her best friend. “He didn’t say anything about it…but he didassign me to take care of her career with us.”

“WHAT? You let me prattle on about my ridiculous date while you were holding this news?” Emma put her glass down and pulled Heather into a tight hug. “I’m so happy for you. This is huge.”

It was huge. Heather sank gratefully into the embrace, glad of Emma’s positive reaction. Some of her colleagues had been less than enthusiastic when Donny announced it via the company’s e-bulletin. It’d been less than a week since her promotion to Aaron’s recently vacated position, but she’d already felt the animosity from people who believed her loyalty to Aaron should’ve prevented her from taking the job at all. She’d even heard a foul rumor she’d slept with Donny to advance her career. They had no idea he had entirely the wrong equipment to interest her. This gig would make her even less popular. But Savana had insisted, and superstars always get what they want. “Thanks, Em.”

Emma sat back slightly and put her hands on Heather’s shoulders. “I sense some reservations…Spill.” She relaxed back into the couch and retrieved her wine.

“We were in the meeting talking about who Savana wanted running her, and she asked that I be the one to do it.”

Emma raised an eyebrow. “Sheasked for you.”

Heather shrugged as she recalled how it happened. “More or less insisted, to be honest.”

“So your hard work is paying off. For five years, you’ve said and done everything you’ve needed to do, and you’ve never said no to anything Aaron or Donny asked of you. Word must have gotten around. This is your big break, Feathers.”

Heather smiled at Emma’s nickname for her. “People are jealous. I feel like they’re waiting for me to fail. I need the support of my team if I’m going to pull this off.”

“Ooh, ‘my team,’ eh?”

Heather tapped Emma’s shoulder. “This is serious. Up to now, I’ve just had myself to worry about. I know what I’m capable of, but other people…”

Emma pulled a notepad and pen from her handbag. “How many do you need on your team?”

How was she supposed to do this? Maybe there was a book—A&R Vice-President for Dummies. So far, she’d just found the talent and had it taken away from her once she’d paired them with songwriters. This would be the first time she’d go beyond that, and it was going to be with the Queen of Country. Jesus. “I’ll work closely with maybe two people, and we’ll have to liaise with every other department in the company.”

Emma tapped the end of the pen on the first blank sheet she came to. “Is there anyone you trust who works with you?”

Heather chewed the inside of her cheek while she contemplated Emma’s question. “I like Vetti.”

“Like or trust?”

“Both.”

Emma wrote her name down and looked up expectantly. “Who else?”

Heather hesitated. The next name that came to mind was the guy Emma had recently dumped because he’d started talking about children. “Tim. He’s been scouting with me a few times.” The extra detail wasn’t necessary given that was how he and Emma had first met, but she said it anyway.

Heather watched the way Emma wrote more carefully, taking extra time as she almost caressed each stroke of his name. If Emma wanted to talk about it, she would. There’d never been a need for a crowbar to open each other’s feelings trunk. Emma and Tim seemed very happy and good for each other. But Emma was headstrong and knew her own mind. Her career came first. Far be it from Heather to advise or comment when her love life had been nonexistent since she’d moved here. Two serious relationships didn’t make her an expert.

The rest of the wine bottle disappeared as Heather talked and Emma made notes. Halfway through their third bottle, Emma yawned and Heather looked at the clock. It was past midnight, and she wanted an early start in the office. She’d never been one to stroll into the office at eleven regardless of how late a night she’d had, and she wasn’t about to start now that she was looking after Savana. “Jeez, where did that evening go?”

“Time is no one’s mistress, Feathers.” Emma closed her notebook, handed it to Heather, and stood. “You’re going to be the best A&R veep this town has ever known.”

Heather appreciated Emma’s belief. “Thanks, buddy.” She walked her to the door.

“This time next year, I’ll be the Queen of Country,” Emma said as she stepped outside.

Heather smiled and straightened her shoulders. “This time next year, I’ll have my own label.”

“No glass ceiling…”

“For women with a strong enough kick.” Heather completed her half of their now-traditional parting mantra. It was their grown-up version of a high five. She waited until Emma had driven away before she closed the door and leaned against it. Savana Hayes asked for me. This was the opportunity she’d been working toward, and it had come along sooner than she could’ve hoped. She’d expected to work beneath Aaron for another couple of years before being given the chance to prove herself with a top talent. And she’d anticipated running at least ten much smaller acts to earn her stripes and show her mettle. Sure, she had Grammy winners hanging on her wall, but she hadn’t been instrumental in their artistic development. She’d just discovered them. And how exactly was she supposed to develop the top female artist in country music?

Heather pushed away from the door and headed upstairs for a quick shower before bed. “I’m ready for this.” She said the words out loud in an effort to make them more believable. This waswhat she wanted, and she’d give it everything she had. Nothing, and no one, was going to stop her from fulfilling her dream.