COUNTRY STAR JC HUGHES CAUGHT BETWEEN A COCK AND A HARD PLACE
How is he going to explain this one away to girlfriend Holly Wix and his fans?
“That two-timin’ son of a . . .”
I hiss under my breath as I stare at the headline—and the compromising picture accompanying it—splashed in vivid color across the front page of the gossip rag displayed prominently in the checkout line at my supermarket. For the second time in two months, it’s a picture of my “boyfriend” locked in an unmistakably passionate embrace with another woman, except this time she’s wearing a giant black strap-on.
The edges of the paper crumple in my sweaty grip, and I fight the urge to tear it to shreds, along with every copy sitting on the rack in front of me.
He’s going to destroy my career before it even has a chance to become a reality.
One year, they said. One year in this joke of a “relationship” and I’d earn my stripes, be all set in the world of country music. Judge me all you want for agreeing, but when your brand-new record label puts something like that in the contract that will jet you out of the backwoods town you’re dying to escape, you don’t ask questions. You sign on the dotted line.
But reality is a cold slap in the face, and some days it hits you when you’re standing in line at the grocery store. What happens when they finally catch JC with a guy? His habit of swinging both ways, but preferring men to women, is about to become the worst-kept secret in Nashville.
I’m Holly Wix, winner of a make-me-a-star TV show, and handpicked by the label to buoy JC’s once-impressive but now flagging career. It didn’t seem like a big deal when they slipped it into my contract in the beginning. What starry-eyed girl wouldn’t be thrilled to have her name linked to a country star?
Instead of the one-way ticket to stardom I naively expected, I’m becoming the butt of every industry joke faster than the guys back home can spend their paycheck on twelve-packs and scratch-offs. But I’ve got one shot at keeping this dream career alive, and honestly, there’s nothing I wouldn’t do to save it. So this situation with JC needs to get settled before things spiral further out of control.
Tugging the bill of my trucker hat lower, I glance around to see if anyone has noticed me flipping out in the checkout line. A woman behind me clucks her tongue as she pulls her sunglasses out of her baby’s mouth.
That cluck of her tongue was aimed at me, not the toothless, blue-eyed, smiling baby. Surprisingly, though, the expression on her face is sympathetic, not angry.
“Men are assholes, am I right? Being famous just makes them bigger ones.”
I smile weakly, and she continues. “Don’t believe everything you read in the papers, doll. They’re always ninety-five percent bullshit. Probably Photoshopped. He should have his head examined if he’s cheating on you.”
Snapping my gaze back to her, I read recognition all over her face, despite my hat, glasses, complete lack of makeup, and relatively low level of fame. I force a smile onto my face, but it feels awkward and fake.
“It’s called a gossip rag for a reason, I guess?” I reply, failing at my attempt to inject some humor into my tone.
She nods and gestures to the half dozen bottles of wine in her cart. “This probably sounds crazy forward, but you look like you could use a drink and someone to vent to.”
Vent to a perfect stranger I met in the grocery store? That would be insane, not to mention dangerous. If I did, the “she said” side of the story would be splashed all over tomorrow’s papers, and the label would kill me—the painful death of breach of contract and being blackballed in the industry.
I already used up strike one the first time a picture of JC hit the papers. I marched right into Homegrown Records’ offices and told them their devil’s deal wasn’t worth it, and that I wouldn’t help JC’s career at the expense of my own.
Their response? If I didn’t turn around, march my ass right back out of the office, and paste a smile on my face, they’d yank me off my tour, and I’d be a has-been before I ever got the chance to become a someone.
I’d go to bat for my career any day of the week, but faced with the threat of losing it, I’m ashamed to say I backed down and toed the company line. You only get one shot at your dream. It’s not something I’m willing to let go . . . regardless of how much of my pride I might have to swallow. Which brings me back to the gossip rag and the woman in front of me.
An awkward silence stretches between us in the checkout line as all the scenarios swirl through my brain of how I can reply to her. Finally, she smiles, and there’s something kind and knowing in her expression.
“I know what you’re thinking—you can’t spill your side of the story to anyone. Too risky.” She lifts her hand and flashes a giant rock on her left ring finger. “But I’m not just anyone. I’ve been on the front page of the tabloids too, and I know exactly how much it sucks. After being married for a decade to the biggest reformed horndog of them all, I’m no stranger to any of it. On top of that, I’d never break the vows of sisterhood.”
My gaze darts from the giant diamond to her face. Studying her makeup-free features, it finally hits me. “You’re Tana Vines.”
Tana Vines was the Female Country Artist of the Year about ten years back, and her husband was awarded Entertainer of the Year at least four or five times during that time. They’re country music legends. A true power couple.
She holds out her hand and I shake it, operating purely on instinct.
“Yes, I am,” she says. “It’s nice to meet you, Holly Wix.”
Two bottles of wine later, Tana and I lay sprawled on chaise lounges beside her indoor pool. Behind the gated walls, and in the presence of someone I listened to on the radio in junior high, I finally have a chance to unburden all the crap that has been filling my head for months.
“Six more months? That’s a hell of a long time to put up with JC’s bullshit. Not to mention keeping your own legs closed. Good Lord, girl. Aren’t you dying to get some dick?” Tana asked.
An embarrassed laugh escapes my lips. “Um, I’ve been pretty preoccupied with learning the ropes, I guess.”
“Well, shit. I’d be dying for dick.”
I shake my head. “I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize my position with the label. I have a feeling that if my picture ended up in the paper the way JC’s has, the double standards would have me out on my butt so fast, I couldn’t even yell ‘Bingo!’ first.”