LOVE, MUSIC, MADNESS
by Tabitha Rhys
Genre: New Adult Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Songwriting partners Lawson Harper and Jessa Warlow’s musical ambitions are derailed when their so-called relationship ends disastrously. However, neither Lawson nor Jessa is willing to give up on the album’s worth of soul-searing songs they wrote together—songs they’re sure are good enough to change both their lives.
I had no idea why Jessa Warlow wanted to meet with me. For one thing, I hardly knew her. She was one of my brother’s friends back in high school, but I hadn’t seen her for years. Besides that, Jessa is what I can only call Gunther, Pennsylvania royalty. It’s not just that she’s pretty in an old movie star kind of way. She’s also an artist, and a singer. Everybody in town always swore she’d be on the radio someday. I couldn’t imagine she’d have time to meet up with an old friend’s kid brother for nostalgic purposes only.
I found Jessa’s choice of location just as perplexing. The windows of the bar were blacked out—porno-shop style—and the only patrons under fifty were some greasy rockabilly kids slinking around by the pool tables. In the back of the room, a massive jukebox threw off a radioactive glow, but even that saving grace had been ruined. The rockabilly bastards were playing Morrissey on loop.
I figured Jessa would clear up all my questions as soon as she arrived. The problem was, I’d been parked on a barstool for nearly twenty minutes and she still hadn’t shown. Chances were, she’d changed her mind. Of course, if she had, I wouldn’t know it. I’d never been able to convince myself to shell out for a cell phone, so any last-minute cancellation messages would only end up on the answering machine back at my mother’s house.
After another five minutes alone in a bar redolent of fresh vomit and ancient cigarettes, all I could do was pull my trusty corduroy jacket over my hoodie and prepare to make my exit. But I was too hasty. The second I touched one foot down onto the stained carpet, a hand locked on my wrist.
I looked up in surprise—and straight into Jessa Warlow’s unmistakable cat-like eyes.
She narrowed them and smiled. “Lawson Harper?”
“At, uh . . . at your service,” I said with only a slight stutter.
“I knew it!” Jessa released me and slid onto the barstool to my right. “Though I must say, you look quite different from the last time I saw you. You know, back when you and your little sister used to sit in the kitchen eating peanut butter sandwiches—while your brother’s friends filled your tiny lungs with second-hand smoke.”
I laughed, careful to keep my mouth closed so as not to reveal a set of teeth nobody would want to show off, and gave Jessa a once-over. She had changed too. Her sandy hair, which once fell in a tangle down her back, was now cut neatly at her shoulders. She was also dressed more smartly than I remembered—in a sweater dress and a military-style coat—but her face was still the same. Heart-shaped, with those feline eyes.
“Going to tell me what we’re doing here?” I asked as I cast my gaze around the bar.
She shrugged. “What can I say? I don’t want to run into any of my old friends tonight.”
I couldn’t imagine why Jessa Warlow would want to hide out. If her friends knew she was in town, I was pretty sure they would roll out the red carpet.
“Of course,” Jessa went on, “you’re probably wondering why I wanted to meet with you at all.”
I was. But I had to wait for my answer because, very suddenly, a bug-eyed bloke of a bartender planted his arms in front of us and raised his brows expectantly.
“Gin and tonic,” Jessa tossed out.
I asked for a rum and cola as smoothly as I could. I’d only been twenty-one for a few months, and I didn’t want to come off like a kid. Or an amateur.
If I did, Jessa—who would have been twenty-five, same as my brother—didn’t appear to notice. As soon as the barkeep moved off, she turned back my way. “The first thing I should tell you is that I’m not here in Gunther for a visit. I quit my job in Philadelphia and moved back home just last week.”
That was a surprise. If I ever found a way to get out of Gunther, I’d never come back. Not in a million years. “Why?”
“I had a good job in the design department of a big company, but it wasn’t creative—and I want to be creative again. Very badly. I also want to take another shot at a career as a musician. A serious one this time.”
When the bartender set down our cocktails, cold and sweating, I reached for my wallet.
Jessa knocked my hand away. “I invited you here. I pay.”
I let her. Mostly because I wanted to hear more. Especially the part that had to do with me. “What do you mean by ‘serious’?” I pressed.
“In high school and college, I was always in a rush, too eager to get out in front of a crowd. This time, I want to build out and polish my songs. I want to record them. Make a real record.” Jessa stirred her drink fiercely. “You still play the guitar?”
I watched her ice cubes chase each other around the glass. “I do.” Work and school kept me running, but most nights I fell asleep playing along to one of the old cassettes my father left behind when he skipped town. Sometimes it was the only way I could get my mind quiet.
“Then perhaps,” she said, “you’d like to help me out.”
It took me a few beats to fully comprehend that Jessa Warlow was asking me to write music with her, when I never expected she would remember I played music at all.
I suppressed a smile. “I want to help,” I told her. “The only problem is, I’m not much of a songwriter.”
Jessa considered. “Well, I’ve got lyrics, melodies, chords. All I really need is a guitarist who can add some interesting leads. Maybe a breakdown or two.” She pointed her plastic stirrer in my direction. “We could always meet up for a session at my place and see how it goes. I mean, if you’re interested.”
“I’m interested,” I said, careful not to sound too interested. You know, not creepy-interested. Or desperate-interested. “When did you want to get together?”
I felt Jessa’s eyes brush over me. “How about now?”
“Now? As in right this minute?”
“Unless you want to stay and finish that drink.” She peered into my tepid rum and cola. “How is it anyway?”
“I haven’t had any.”
“Oh good.” Jessa’s hand locked down on my wrist for the second time that night. “Then you can drive.”
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