Chapter One

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The next sweet-talking musician who tried to buy Emily Watts a drink would find himself wearing a snare drum while getting smacked with a cymbal upside the head. If he called her darlin' or babe, there was no telling what she'd do with the drumsticks.

Not that Emily was a violent person, by any means. She just couldn't deal with that tonight or possibly for the rest of this lifetime.

She raised her nearly empty glass of vodka soda to her lips and took a sip, then pressed the cool glass against her cheek. The main room of the Troubadour felt sweaty and cramped to her tonight. Looking across the dimly-lit bar to the stage in front of her, she wondered how hot it felt up there, under the bright glow of the red and blue floodlights.

It's usually downright cold in here, she thought, brushing a long strand of her wavy blond hair out from in front of her eyes. More than a few shivering, fun-filled nights had been spent standing in front of this stage with her best friend, Shelby Marlowe, watching friends' bands perform for crowds of concert-goers and shrugging off pickup lines from more than one singer, guitarist, bass player, or drummer who'd declared their band the "next big thing" in the music world.

It was when she didn't shrug them off that the trouble usually began. Trouble, though, was an understatement for the train wreck she found herself surrounded by tonight.

On stage in front of her was her longtime friend and current migraine, Jesse Cinder, the guitarist for indie rock band Ashes of Brooklyn. Bailey Carson, Jesse's manager and possibly Satan's closest ally, was barely ten feet to her left. And Cory Sampson, the most recent boy to capture her heart, stood a little too close for her liking, just over to her right. She saw Cory glance over at where she stood, or at whatever he could see through the unruly tangle of sun-streaked hair covering most of his face.

As she brought her glass back to her lips and finished what was left of her drink, she questioned her choice of making an appearance at this show tonight. She'd dropped herself right back into the drama. For that decision, Emily knew she had only herself to blame.

And what did I get for this act of sheer brilliance? Nothing but ringing ears, prying eyes, and an empty drink in my hand.

She turned to Shelby, who stood beside her, and started to ask if she wanted to go outside for some air. The question died on her lips when she saw her best friend glaring at the screen of her phone.

"What's wrong?" she yelled, trying to be heard over the thrashing guitars and drums that blared from the speakers beside the stage.

Shelby looked up from the screen, her light brown curls bobbing around her shoulders. She lowered her phone to her side, but didn't answer.

Emily put out her hand. "Let me see. You know I will anyway."

Frowning, Shelby handed her the phone. Emily raised it closer to her face, not surprised to see that Shelby had been reading the front page of Wally Hood Goes Hollywood, a celebrity gossip blog.

"What now?" she muttered, scanning the page for her name. Her breath caught in her throat when she saw the headline she'd somehow known was there.

The Em-Girl is Still Jesse's Fan Girl

We hear Ms. Emily Watts is lurking around Santa Monica Boulevard tonight, making a guest appearance at the Troubadour for an Ashes of Brooklyn show. If the Em-Girl is showing up for her Flameboy's cute little headlining performances, we'll guess this means she and Mr. Cinder have kissed and made up since she was spotted storming out of his house and looking mighty angry two weekends ago. Not that either of them would admit to any kissing or making up, since both still claim to be "just friends." (We believe you. Really.)

Let's hope the two closet lovebirds don't run into Sampson, who was also spotted out in West Hollywood tonight, looking troubled and gloomy. While a brooding C-Samp usually means fantastic music from his band, Blistering Twilight, we think the guy has been through enough in the love department over the last while. We can only hope the Em-Girl will muster the decency from somewhere deep inside of her flirty little soul to feel the same way.

C-Samp, what can we say, except to avoid the Troubadour? That, and if we see you around Hollywood, the next beer is on us. Sorry, pal.

Emily handed the phone back to Shelby. "Another drink?" she asked. Without waiting for an answer, she turned away from the stage and headed toward the bar, ignoring the curious glance Cory tossed her way.

Just breathe. She tried to force air into her lungs. All she wanted was to forget about the article she'd just read and the many other ones Wally Hood had written about her in recent weeks.

Staring at the bar lights, she felt a familiar pang for how simple life had been just three months ago, before she'd met Cory. Back then she'd been Emily Watts, the sarcastic 26-year-old whose biggest problem had been managing Zeeked, the fashion commentary website she'd started as a journalism class assignment in college that had taken off and become her career. If she'd known then what life was about to bring, she would have been a lot more grateful for a personal life that had all but flatlined, back in the time when most of the world hadn't known her name.

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