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Read The First 3 Chapters Of Before Us

CHAPTER 1

She looked out the window of the car as tears streamed down her face. She couldn’t believe this was happening. A month ago, they were living in their cozy two-bedroom home and now they were living in their car. The medical bills had piled up.

Her job couldn’t pay the bills or necessities. Soon the call came from their landlord that they were going to be evicted.

Her mom left her high-paying cosmetics job because they diagnosed her with cancer and Haven had to step up and handle it all.

Haven hung her head in shame. “I’m so sorry this happened, Mom.”

Sherri looked over at her from the passenger’s seat. “Oh Haven, it’s not your fault. We will be back on our feet soon enough.

I’m thinking about falling back on my cosmetology degree. I can watch some videos online and catch up on the latest and greatest trends. I can still make people look good.”

Haven ran a hand through her hair. “Now what?”

“Well, you know a lot about clothes and fashion. Maybe we could market ourselves as a package deal. You can dress people and I can bring out their natural beauty or handsomeness.”

Haven looked over, doubtful. “Who’s going to hire us for hair and makeup?” Haven asked.

“Do you remember I told you I toured with a country singer named Granger Steele?” Sherri asked.

Haven shook her head. “Yeah,”

“I was his hair and makeup gal. Maybe you and I could get a job together working in hair, makeup, and fashion.”

“Did you enjoy that?”

“I had a blast,” Sherri said.

Sherri had just graduated from cosmetology school and had applied to several jobs. She saw an ad in the paper for a local singer who needed a hair and makeup lady.

She applied and a few days later got the call from Granger Steele.

They met at a local cafe and ironed out the details and the rest was history. They traveled all over the Midwest that first summer and became fast friends.

Granger was a funny, kind-hearted, talented singer that the crowds loved. He had been to Nashville several times, but no one had called yet.

Then the magic call came. A label in Nashville was interested. He went and did his showcase and they signed him up the next day.

Granger came home, and they went out to celebrate. Granger, his girlfriend, and Sherri. That’s when he asked her if she would accompany him on the national tour.

She agreed and signed the papers and by fall they were on the road. Sherri was living the dream, traveling all over the world. She was making more money than she ever had in her life.

Sherri and Granger went on five tours together. She watched her friend as he proposed to his girlfriend, was there when they got married, and went to visit when they had their only son, Gunner. Then everything crashed.

The summer after their fifth tour together, Granger died in a motorcycle accident. He was going through an intersection when a semi ran a red light. Sherri caught her breath at this memory. It still tore her apart after all these years.

Gunner was only two. Sherri’s eyes watered as she remembered the funeral. There was media everywhere. Gunner sat in his mom’s arms, crying, while she did her best to hold it together.

Sherri went through and paid her respects, and that was it. She never spoke or saw them again. Life went on.

Haven heaved a frustrated sigh. “I need to look at other jobs. Something to help pay the bills again.

And maybe at least rent us a motel room each week to live in. No matter what, I’m determined to find another job.

I can’t live like this forever and neither can you.” She logged onto the job site and applied for several jobs over the next few hours.

A few days later, she got a call from the local animal shelter. Two days later, she went for an interview.

She felt herself relax when she walked into the lobby. She had always loved animals and thought working at a shelter would be fun.

The manager asked the usual questions and then she asked the kicker. If Haven will work in all areas. She froze at this and mumbled something. As she walked out, she knew she didn’t get the job.

The next day, Sherri got a call about a receptionist job she applied for. Haven dropped her off at the doctor’s office and waited. She returned half an hour later with a dismal look on her face.

She let Haven know they told her she wasn’t a good fit because she didn’t know all the latest computer software.

Then the lady asked her how much she enjoyed working in cosmetology. Sherri said she loved it very much and then the lady mentioned her brother owned a local funeral home in town and was looking for someone to do cosmetics.

Then she gave her his card and sent her on her way. Haven and Sherri both chuckled about this.

The next day, Sherri got into the funeral home site and applied. Haven had an interview later that afternoon at a local diner for a server position. The interview went as usual.

We’ll be in touch. Three days later, Sherri had her interview at the funeral home. Although both women were hopeful, neither heard anything by the end of the week.

It was back to the drawing board. Haven let out a big, frustrated sigh Friday night as they sat in the car after eating deli sandwiches, chips, and soda for dinner.

She looked over at Sherri, desperation in her eyes. “What are we going to do, mom? All these interviews have led to squat.”

“I know, honey. We will have to be patient. Instead of looking here, we should look at jobs in bigger towns.” Haven sighed, frustrated by everything.

She glanced over to see her mom perusing jobs and saw a smile flash across her face.

She glanced back at the screen, typing away. “Done,”

Haven looked over at her, puzzled. “What do you mean done?”

Sherri grinned at her, excitement building in her heart. “I looked at jobs in the bigger cities around here. I saw an ad from someone needing a makeup and wardrobe artist, so I applied.

I’m sure with my background I’ll get it and when I do, I can pitch you to work with me as my wardrobe assistant.”

Two days later, Sherri was scrolling through her emails and couldn’t believe her eyes. It was a response from the person who needed the artist.

They wanted to meet her the following day to talk about the job. She made a noise, and Haven looked over at her.

Haven looked over at her. “ What’s up?

Sherri dipped a fry in ranch dressing. “I got a response from the hair and makeup ad I applied to and they want to meet with me tomorrow.”

Haven’s eyes popped. “Cool. Where is it?

“Over in Pierceville.”

They got a hotel room. After putting the clothes on hangers and loading what personal items they needed in a duffel bag, they headed into the hotel and found their room.

Haven had a calm, peaceful feeling that night when she went to bed. Maybe something would work out this time.

CHAPTER 2

Sterling Steele was finishing his breakfast in the lobby before starting another day. His dad, country superstar Gunner Steele, had just had another sold-out show the night before.

They had a week’s break before moving on to the next tour stop.

He knew his dad was in a panic because his hair, makeup, and wardrobe gal, Melanie, had gone into labor last night. She was now off the tour.

She was now resting and healthy with the baby at the local hospital. Gunner promised to fly her and her husband home to Nashville later that week.

Needing to find someone fast, they put an ad out on all the major job sites. Sterling wondered what kind of response he would get.

An agency handled this kind of thing, but his dad was desperate. With the last swig of his coffee, Sterling got up and headed outside.

He stretched and rolled his shoulders as he looked at the arena across the street. His long night was getting even longer.

He and his crew needed to tear down the set and move it from the arena today. Soon the rest of the crew arrived, and they got started.

Sherri and Haven pulled into the farthest back parking lot of the arena. No one needed to find out they were homeless.

Sherri’s determination to help Haven and herself move on with their lives, she convinced Haven to go with her. They headed to the back door of the arena, slipping inside and heading towards the front lobby.

They moved fast as not to be too conspicuous.

Haven was scrolling through her phone as she followed her mom, looking up every few seconds.

She loved the new clothes her favorite designers were coming up with. Suddenly, someone grabbed her by the waist and pulled her to the side.

She barely missed being run over by two amps stacked on top of one another. Haven let out a shriek.

In a flail of arms and legs, she and the person tumbled to the floor, her landing on top of him. She came nose to nose with the most handsome guy she had ever seen.

Short brown hair, brown eyes, and an adorable dimple in his right cheek. They stared at each other, stunned.

She scrambled off of him and landed on the floor. He stood up and reached out to help her up. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.

Long, dark hair and brown eyes, and a creamy complexion. Sterling shook his head for a minute, trying to come back to his senses.

“I’m sorry. I thought you were going to get run over,” he said.

“Well sheesh, you don’t have to tackle someone. A ‘watch out’ would suffice.”

“Yeah. I’m Sterling by the way.” He said, reaching out his hand.

“Haven,” she said, shaking it. “Wow, that’s some operation you got here.”

“My dad had a show last night. I and my crew are tearing down the stage and set. What are you doing here?”

“Me?” she said, blushing a light shade of pink. “My mom has an interview over at the hotel across the street. Someone needed a hair, makeup, and wardrobe person. I came with her so we could present ourselves as a package deal. She does hair and makeup and I handle wardrobe.”

“Nice. I play in my dad’s band sometimes as well, fill in when someone’s sick or needs time off.”

“Awesome. Well, I better go. I don’t want to be late.” Haven said, waving and walking away. Then she turned around.

“Hey Sterling,” she called.

“Yeah?” he popped up from rolling some cables that were on the floor.

“What is your dad’s name?”

“Gunner. Gunner Steele.” He replied. She bolted through the door and out onto the sidewalk.

Sterling watched her dash out and knew he had to convince his dad to hire her and her mom.

He reached into his pocket and dialed his dad. No answer. Then he dialed his dad’s assistant, Wendy.

“Hey, Sterling, what’s up? Everything okay?” she said.

“Hey, Wendy. Uh, yeah. There is a gal coming for an interview with her mom. Her name is Haven and we have to convince dad to hire them.”

“This is your dad we’re talking about. He does what he wants. If he’s not interested, he won’t listen to us.” she said.

“Well, we have to give it our best shot. I have to get to know her. Text me when the interview is over.”

“Will do, Sterling,” Wendy said, hanging up and shaking her head.

Haven dashed across the street and took a breath. Opening the lobby door to the hotel, she strolled in. She went and sat beside Sherri.

“Where have you been?” She said. “It’s almost time for the interview.”

“Relax. It’s not like I’m going in with you. However, there is something you should know.”

“What?”

“The person hiring for the job is Gunner Steele,” Haven said.

“What?!” Sherri let out a gasp. “Are you sure? Where did you go, anyway? I thought you were right behind me.”

“I was until someone tackled me,” Haven said.

“Tackled?”

“Yeah, by Gunner’s son, Sterling.”

A lady with blonde hair stepped out of a conference room. She scanned the room of people, trying to pick out the travelers from the interviewees.

This was taking longer than she or her boss wanted it to. She wished he would have been a little more organized in his approach.

But that was Gunner Steele for you. It was his way or no way and you didn’t question him.

Gunner helped her many times over the years so she couldn’t complain. She snapped herself out of her thoughts.

“Sherri Campbell?” she called. Sherri squeezed Haven’s hand, stood up, and headed back to the conference room.

“Hello Sherri, I’m Wendy Hayes, Gunner’s assistant, and hiring manager.”

“Wait, Gunner? As in Gunner Steele?” Sherri said in disbelief.

“Yes. Is that a problem?”

“No, not at all. I’m sorry, it’s just that I worked for his dad back in the day. I did his hair and makeup.”

“Oh wow. You may be what he needs, but if you only do hair and makeup…”

“My daughter could do wardrobe. She’s got an excellent eye for fashion. We could work together.”

“Go on in and talk to him,” Wendy said, cracking open the door.

Sherri stepped in and paused, looking at Gunner. He looked just like his dad, but his face was a little thinner.

Her memories with Granger came back, and she had to reign them in. He looked up from his laptop.

“Sherri Campbell?”

“Yes,”

“Gunner Steele, nice to meet you..”

“Thank you.” she sat and took a minute to compose herself.

“Your resume struck me. It says you worked for my father?”

“Yes. When he was just starting out playing local gigs and around the Midwest, he hired me to travel with him and do his hair and makeup. I charged little back then.” She said.

“We spent three summers on the road and then when he signed his recording contract and went out on his first national tour, he kept me. I spent five national tours on the road with him. I remember when you were born.”

“Very good. How long has it been since you got your cosmetology degree? Do you know all the latest trends? I always want to look my best.”

“It’s been several years, I’m afraid.”

“How many is several?”

“Fifteen, but I can research online and take classes to learn all the latest techniques. “

“What did you do before this?”

“I was head of the creative department at Rogan and Rogan cosmetics. Makeup and hair have been my passion forever.”

“Why did you quit?”

“I miss working with people.” She lied.

“Okay. What about wardrobe and fashion? What do you know about that?”

“I know nothing about it, but my assistant does. Haven is a fashion genius and her friends are always asking her for advice on what to wear. She doesn’t have a degree in fashion, but she has an eye for knowing what goes together.”

“She worked on her school fashion show last year and designed all the clothes. The models loved it and every outfit fit them. She has a talent for knowing what works on people.”

“I see. And your assistant is?”

“My daughter, Haven. “

“Uh, huh?” He said, scrolling his computer screen. “I think that’s all for now. Thank you for coming in and we’ll be in touch.”

“Okay. Thank you for your time, Gunner.” Sherri said, turning and walking out to the lobby.

Wendy and Sterling stepped into the conference room and shut the door.

“So, what gives with Sherri?” Wendy said.

“Her experience is too outdated and her daughter knows about fashion but doesn’t have a degree in it. I need someone with more experience. More up-to-date experience. Who else ya got?”

“That’s it,” Wendy replied after perusing her list.

“Dad. Sherri traveled with grandpa years ago, doesn’t that count for something? She spent five tours with him and so what if her experience is a little rusty? She can take online courses and watch tutorials to learn about the latest trends and techniques.”

“And her daughter knows fashion and has an eye for it. I say give them a shot. In fact, right now I’d say they are your only shot.” Sterling replied.

“I agree,” Wendy replied. “You need someone out on tour with you in a week. This is no time to be picky. I think you need to hire them.” Gunner let out a heavy, agitated sigh.

“Fine. Sterling, go get them.” Sterling got up and sprinted out the door and through the lobby.

Sherri and Haven were ready to cross the street when he jogged up to them and got their attention.

“Sherri? My dad changed his mind. You’re hired. Tour starts in a week. Are you able to join us?”

“What about Haven?”

“She comes too. You must always make us look our best.”

“Yes, sir,” they both replied in unison.

“Okay. Can you come back tomorrow to fill out paperwork and stuff?”

“Sure can. What time?”

“Let’s call it nine again. Sherri, I’m sorry he gave you the runaround. My dad should have known better and knows you will both do great since you worked with my grandpa. He wants to get you a room here tonight for your trouble.”

“That’s very generous. Thank you.”

“Yes, thank you,” Haven said, ducking her head.

“We’re going to go grab a bite and we’ll be back.”

“Sounds good. I’ll meet you in the lobby when you get back, and we will book your room. Here’s my number.” He replied, handing it to Haven.

With that, they parted ways. Sterling watched as they crossed the street and headed around the corner to the back parking lot.

He was glad that he would see more of miss Haven Campbell. He found her to be very fascinating.

“I can’t believe it worked!” Sherri said as they got in the car.

“Me neither. Boy, is Sterling handsome.” Haven remarked as they pulled out of the parking lot. Sherri made a block. She headed towards the fast-food Italian restaurant they passed on the way in. No burgers for them tonight, this caused a celebration.

After dinner, they returned to the arena parking lot and once again parked in the deep shadows.

Haven texted Sterling and a few moments later he met them in the lobby.

He booked them a deluxe suite and headed upstairs with them to show them their room.

Sterling told them if they needed anything to let him know. Gunner also called their room to let them know he would cover their room service.

Once upstairs, Haven and Sherri couldn’t believe their eyes. The living room was bigger than their kitchen and living room combined.

It had a beautiful view, fireplace, and big screen tv with plush furniture to sit in.

There were two bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, including a jacuzzi tub. The beds had silk sheets and big, fluffy comforters on them.

Sherri and Haven were watching television and enjoying the fire and the beautiful view of the night sky and city lights.

Haven grabbed the menu beside her and started perusing the desserts. There was a huge ice cream menu and a cake and pie menu.

“Hey mom, I could go for something sweet. Want some dessert?”

“Sure. What’s on the menu?”

“Cake, pie, ice cream… I want a peanut butter sundae with hot fudge sauce.” Haven said, passing the menu over.

“Oh, I want a piece of dark chocolate forest cake.”

“Okay, I’m going to order them and head downstairs to get them.”

“Gunner said we could use room service.”

“I know, but I could use a walk.”

“Uh, huh? You just want to see if you can go run into Sterling somewhere.” Sherri winked.

“Mom, come on. He’s cute and all, but I’m not the person he would date. He would rather be with other rich and famous people.”

“Maybe,” Sherri said, as Haven called downstairs to the restaurant. Ten minutes later, she left.

The peanut butter sundae looked amazing, with gobs of peanut butter in the ice cream and peanut butter and hot fudge sauce pooling on the edge of the glass.

They piled the whipped cream high, and a cherry sat on top. The dark forest cake looked just as amazing, with layers of chocolate cake, whole cherries, and thick chocolate frosting.

She thanked the server, picked up the tray, and headed upstairs. In the elevator, she started thinking about their circumstances before turning around and stepping into the hall.

Sterling stepped out of the shower and pulled on a pair of comfy sweatpants. He had called room service before his shower and knew they would knock soon.

Sterling unlocked the door before returning to the bed and turning on the tv.

He was flipping through channels and thought he heard something in the hallway. Having stayed at this hotel lots of times, he knew there was security on every floor, so his safety wasn’t a concern.

He was about to open the door when it flew open and Haven crashed into him.

“I was trying to knock, but this tray is too awkward. Mom, why didn’t you-” she said with her back turned to him. She turned around, and her eyes bugged out in horror. The dessert tray flew up in the air and the contents went flying. In the end, the cake landed on his feet and the sundae landed on his shoulder.

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. All the doors look the same, and I thought I had our room number. When my mom didn’t let me in…”

“It’s okay.” Sterling smiled, chuckling at her. “I’m washable.” Haven ducked her head in utter embarrassment. Just then, another knock sounded. It was room service.

“Hey, Dave. Could you please send someone to clean this up and then send Miss Haven and her mom some more dessert to their room? Room 304. What was it you ordered?” Sterling said, glancing at her.

“Uh… a peanut butter sundae with hot fudge and a piece of dark chocolate forest cake.” She mumbled.

“Of course, mister Steele. I will send Maria up. Miss Haven, your dessert will be up in about fifteen minutes. Have a good evening.” he said and walked away.

Haven and Sterling stared at each other. She tried not to focus on his smooth skin or defined muscles. A quirk of a smile tugged at his lips, looking both amused and annoyed.

“I-uh-I’m sorry. I gotta go.” She stammered, dashing out and sprinting down the hallway. Sterling watched her run down the hall, smiling to himself. Haven let out a breath of air when she arrived at their room. It humiliated her. Even worse, she had to face him the next day.

The next morning, they met Gunner, Wendy, and Sterling in one of the conference rooms again and signed all the paperwork.

They discussed rules and expectations and the itinerary for the rest of the tour.

Next, Gunner took them on a tour of his bus and the bus that they would travel on and they also met all employees and crew. Gunner also introduced them to the road and tour managers.

Haven felt Sterling’s eyes on her during the entire tour and it gave her goosebumps. She didn’t screw up too bad.

Still, when she met his gaze, she couldn’t quite figure out what she was seeing. Interest? Embarrassment?

Still, amused? They were to arrive at the hotel with bags packed at 9:00 am sharp on Friday and they would pull out to hit the road an hour later. Friday morning couldn’t come fast enough.

CHAPTER 3

A week later, they had their suitcases packed and were ready to go. A friend let them leave their car at her residence. However, when they arrived, things were a little chaotic.

Ten minutes before, Haven had texted Sterling, and he met them outside the hotel. He dressed in a green button-down shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots and looked gorgeous as always.

“Hey ladies, are you ready for your new adventure?” Sterling asked.

“Sure are.” He eyed the rideshare and glanced over at Haven.

“We left our car at the house because we knew we couldn’t just park it anywhere,” Haven said.

“That makes sense. I’m sorry, I haven’t driven a car in a while, being on tour. Speaking of driving, we have a dilemma right now. One of the road crew buses broke down and we’re waiting for the mechanics to get here. If they don’t come within the hour, I and my boy Justin will ride with you guys. My dad wants two of us at the venue asap to set up. Ya’ll eat yet? There’s a great breakfast buffet set up in the hotel restaurant.”

“We’re good.”

“No. I insist. You might as well grab a bite to eat.” Haven felt her stomach rumble. She only had a piece of toast this morning.

“Alright, if you insist,” she said, glancing at her mom and following Sterling. They paused at their bus and he let them take a quick tour while he stowed their luggage in the back bedroom closets.

“I’ll carry your tray for you since you’re clumsy.” He said to her as he passed by. She scowled at him and then plastered a smile on her face. The buffet had lots of options. Eggs, hash browns, waffles, eggs Benedict, steak, chicken fried steak, French toast, fruit, and the options went on and on. Haven piled her plate and handed it to Sterling, and then went to find a table. They ate in silence and then headed back to the bus.

Ten minutes later, Sterling returned and informed them that the mechanic still had not shown up. However, their bus would be on the road in minutes.

He stepped down and let their bus driver, Dale, climb up and take the wheel.

Then he and his crewmate, Justin, came up. Haven sat on the couch and Sherri perched at the chair at the kitchen table, doing a crossword puzzle.

Sterling and Justin sat across from Haven on the opposite side. They introduced themselves as the bus roared to life.

Haven watched in awe as the bus pulled out and headed toward the freeway. She couldn’t believe she was starting this adventure. She snapped out of her reverie when she heard her name.

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. Have you been on tour before?”

“No, I haven’t… She’s traveled before though.” Haven nodded towards Sherri.

“I traveled with Sterling’s grandpa back in the day. Before the… accident.”

“Did you like it?” Justin said.

“I loved it. Never believed I’d be working with the Steele family again, let alone Granger’s son and grandson. I’m honored.” Sherri said.

“Well cool, we’re glad to have you,” Justin said.

“Thank you.”

Just then, Sterling’s phone rang.

“Hey, Dad, what’s up? Yeah, we’re on the bus headed for St. Louis. Yes, Justin is with me.”Sterling said, rolling his eyes. “We will set up as soon as we get there. Tank said the mechanic should be there within the hour. We’ve got this. Chill out… okay… love you too. Bye.”

“He gettin’ stressed out?” Justin said.

“Yeah, you know how he gets when there’s a fluke. Drives me nuts but this is part of being head of road crew.”

“Wow, you think you’re something, don’t you? All cool and under control.” Sterling looked over at her in surprise.

“Why do you say that?”

“I can tell by the way you talk to your dad that you think he’s an idiot. The sarcastic tone, the eye-rolling. You think you are all that because you are Gunner Steele’s son.”

“Says the girl who can’t carry a tray of dessert down the hall and read room numbers.” Justin and Sherri looked between them in confusion. “You don’t get it. He tries to run my life and has high expectations. It just makes me mad sometimes. You try living in the spotlight all the time.”

“No thank you. I’ll take my place in the background any time.” She pulled out her sketchbook to work on some more designs.

Sherri was busy watching videos about new makeup techniques and making notes about what kinds of makeup she would need to pick up in St. Louis.

Sterling gazed out the window, and Justin started reading a book.

“What are you working on?” Sterling asked after a few minutes.

“I’m working on some new fashion designs.”

“Can I look?”

“Um… sure.”

“Wow, Haven, these are great. You have a genuine talent there. You have some designs that I would wear.”

“Thanks.”

“My dad is going to be really glad he hired you once he sees how you can put clothes together to make an outfit.” He moved over to the recliner to take a nap.

They arrived in St. Louis around five and pulled into the arena parking lot. Sterling let out a groan and stretched.

A few minutes later, they departed the bus. It was getting close to sunset, and the sky was turning shades of pinks, purples, and golden yellows.

It relieved Sterling to see the crew bus pull in about fifteen minutes later. Everyone went into the hotel across the street and checked into their rooms.

They started getting settled in and enjoying the view from another luxurious room. A knock sounded at the door. Haven opened it to find Sterling standing there.

“What’s up, Sterling?” He glanced inside the room.

“Look, I’m sorry for what I said earlier. My dad trusts you to do your job or he wouldn’t have hired you. I’m looking forward to seeing what ya’ll come up with tonight to make us look our best. It’s hard living life in the public eye. As for your designs, they are amazing.”

“I can imagine. Apology accepted. Thank you.”

“Which leads me to something else.”

“Yes?”

“Um, there will be lots of media around, and since my actual girlfriend can’t be around all the time, I need someone to play my fake girlfriend. Would you do it?”

“Me? Oh no. I hate crowds.”

“Even for one hundred thousand dollars?”

“You want to buy me off now?”

“No, it’s not like that. It’s just-” he trailed off.

Haven stared at him for a moment, her thoughts racing.

“What’s involved?” she asked.

“Walking with me at media events, going to dinner with me, attending all public events. Acting like my girlfriend. Lots of public displays of affection, no talking to the press, the usual.”

“For how long?”.

“Until the week before my wedding.”

“You’re getting married?!”

“Shhhhhh. No one knows.” He closed the door behind him. “I’m not engaged yet. My dad set me up with Rachel Rhodes, she’s the daughter of music mogul Randy Rhodes and we’ve been dating a few months. I’m expected to propose to her and marry her.”

“Wow. Now I know what you mean by him running your life.”

“Yeah. He only wants the best for me.” Sterling said, rolling his eyes.

“Okay, I’ll do it.”

“You will?”

“Yes, Sterling, I’ll be your fake girlfriend, but I have a few stipulations.”

“Okay.”

“I’m not used to crowds and people in my face. Get us to our destination as soon as possible and keep hold of my hand. That way I know I won’t get separated from you.”

“I can do that. We’ll have security around us at all times,” he said.

“Okay,”

“Don’t worry, Haven. They are going to love you. Our first outing will be dinner tomorrow night at the next tour stop.” Sherri stepped out of the bathroom.

“Hey Sterling, everything okay?”

“Yes, Ma’am. Just making sure you were settling in okay.”

“I need to buy some makeup to use tonight. Did I see a Pallettes Plus store?” Sherri said.

“Yes, there is, over on First Avenue. Melanie shopped there all the time. She loved they have stores all over the country. Let me call my driver Luke to take you over there. We’re all going to eat in one of the conference rooms at six-thirty.”

“Haven, I’m going to take you over to wardrobe so you can decide what we’re all going to wear tonight,” he said. “Sherri, you get everything you need, and don’t worry about the cost. This is my dad’s card, just give it back to me when you return.”

“Okay,” Sherri said, tucking it into her wallet. A few minutes later, Luke arrived, and they all parted ways. Haven spent the next hour picking out outfits for Gunner and the band and taking them to each dressing room.

Wendy was a Godsend, helping her move racks around and returning them to the wardrobe room in the arena.

She told Haven it would be her job, but she would help her the first few nights. Meanwhile, Sherri was having a blast picking out makeup to use.

She forgot how much she loved pouring over pallets of color and various shades of foundation to pick just the right ones.

She also picked up some brushes and other tools as well. Sterling was busy setting up the stage and getting ready for the show.

Still, he couldn’t stop thinking about Haven. You cannot fall for her, Steele. Your dad will go ballistic.

You are going to marry Rachel Rhodes and that is final. He thought to himself as he walked the entire stage and set, making himself focus on the task at hand. His phone rang.

“Yeah?”

“Do we have our fake girlfriend?” Gunner asked.

“Yes, she agreed to it for the hundred thousand. I can’t believe you’re doing this. Do you think they’ll buy it?”

“Relax, Sterling. Yes, there have been rumors swirling about you and Rachel. The tabloids always have to spin a lie, even if it’s true. It’s amazing what they will speculate after seeing you two greet each other on the red carpet, isn’t it?” Gunner said.

“Stunning,” Sterling said.

“Anyway, Haven will throw them off. It will excite them to speculate about something else. However, it will be your job to teach her how to be a proper ‘fake’ girlfriend. Lots of PDA, no talking to reporters, and to stay calm in any situation. And the most important thing, don’t fall for her. She’s not good enough for you.” Gunner said.

“Yeah, yeah…” Sterling said.

“Don’t get smart with me, boy. Your entire future hinges on how well this goes. There can be no mistakes.”

“I gotta go finish setting up for tonight. I’ll see you later.”Sterling replied, hanging up before Gunner could respond.

Gunner let out an agitated sigh and turned back to his personal laptop. He logged into the gambling site and placed a few wagers before heading to dinner.

They weren’t anything major. A few thousand here and there. He was on the top of his game.

Everyone loved Gunner Steele. The shows sold out every night, his albums shot to number one on release day.

People downloaded songs from his back catalog all the time. He knew his management and employees would have a stroke if they knew what he was doing, but he didn’t care.

Everyone had their vices, and this was one of his. No harm, no foul. With that, he shut his computer down and put it away. Next, he headed to the conference room for dinner.

They packed the large conference room at six-thirty. The whole tour crew, from bus drivers to soundcheck and everyone in between, was there.

They set a buffet table up with an array of entrees, salads, and desserts. Sterling was scanning the room for Haven. He felt a warm hand on his arm.

“Hey, do you want to eat with me?”

“Sure. My mom is around here somewhere.”She said, looking across the room and seeing her mom talking with Gunner. Sterling followed her gaze and raised his eyebrows. He wasn’t sure what to think.

“I wonder what they are talking about.”

“Hard to say. Maybe reminiscing about my grandfather. Let’s go eat.” Sterling said, leading the way. He could already tell that this could end in disaster. His dad was fantastic at wineing and dining and pulling out all the stops. Anything to make him look good. Still, when it came down to actual relationships, his true colors tainted them every time.

They sat down at a table, and a few minutes later, Justin and a girl with blond hair joined them.

“Hi, I’m Denise. I do backup vocals.” she introduced herself.

“Nice to meet you, Denise. Good to see you too, Justin.” Haven said, buttering a roll.

“I hear you’re our new wardrobe gal and your mom does makeup,” she said.

“That’s right. I love fashion. I designed the outfits for our school fashion show last year and had a blast. The models loved my creations.”

“Wow, that’s cool. Sewing is my passion.” Denise said.

“I would love to get the hang of sewing. Although, I have dabbled here and there.”

“My mom was a tailor and sewed all of our clothes growing up. She taught me everything I know.”

“Her designs are fantastic.” Sterling chimed in. “Hey, we should do something with these. Denise, how long does it take you to put together an outfit?”

“Depending on how intricate, maybe a week, week and a half?”

“That’s not bad. You two should put together some designs and my dad could wear them. See what kind of feedback they get.”

“Wouldn’t you want to run that by your dad first?” Justin said.

“Nah, I’d rather Haven just put him in it and see what he and everyone else thinks,” Sterling said.

“Well, he already thinks I’m incompetent because I don’t have a degree or much experience. Let’s do it and make him look fantastic. I might redeem myself. In the meantime, you and I need to go clothes shopping tomorrow.” She said, grinning at Sterling.

“That sounds scary,” he asked.

“No, not at all.” A round of chuckles broke out all-around at their table. “Break free of the nineties country look though.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” Sterling said.

A few minutes later, they all got up and went their separate ways. It would be showtime soon. Just as Haven was getting ready to walk out the door, she heard Gunner call her name. She turned around.

“Yes?”

“Haven, I want you to spend some extra time with Sterling on his wardrobe. I’m sure as you can tell from what you’ve seen, he needs some help. I want him looking his best on stage and in the public eye.” Gunner said.

“Take him out shopping and spend an absurd amount of money on him. I don’t care. You two should go shopping at each tour stop to buy clothes. And if it’s late or the stores are closed, let me know and I’ll pull some strings. He has a credit card at all times so go for it. You know, if you see something random that you can’t resist.”

“Yes sir,” Haven said. She walked out the door and headed to the arena. The pressure was on.

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Copyright 2021 by Carrie Lowrance