Meet Ariel, the fearless and talented leader of a rock band in trouble. On the brink of dissolution, she devises a plan, secretly recruit a new member. She invites Adam, a brooding and enigmatic guitar player with a troubled past and an aversion to the spotlight to the upcoming Seaside Music Festival. He believes he’s there to help her write one song.
The plan is simple. Summer days filled with music. Rehearsals, collaboration, and performances. Summer nights filled with boardwalk games, laughter, and chipping away at Adam’s resistance.
She didn’t count on the Summer Nights.
Adam's guarded demeanor and raw talent captivate Ariel, sparking a connection neither can ignore. Ariel finds herself caught in a whirlwind of emotions, torn between her ambitions and the unexpected feelings growing for Adam.
With the start of the festival approaching and her secret about to be exposed Ariel must navigate the treacherous waters of fame, trust, and attraction. Will Ariel's determination and Adam's guarded heart find harmony amidst the summer heat?
Get ready for a sun-soaked, heart-pounding journey that will make you laugh, swoon, and believe in the power of love when opposites collide. In this breathtaking contemporary romance, love, music, and the irresistible allure of a summer by the sea will have you hooked until the final note fades away.
Release date: August 4, 2023
Print pages: 192
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"Her, that one, with the purple top." I point my finger from behind the curtain offstage at a tiny, teenaged white girl who's being bounced around the mosh pit like a pinball between guys twice her size. Her purple top is a near match to my nail polish, the T-shirt a classic throwback. A picture of me and the rest of my Devil May Care bandmates from our first concert tour so many years ago.
"Ariel's made her pick, stage left, purple top, female, dark hair." The stage manager relays my selection into his headset, alerting the security team.
I take a last sip of my room-temperature water and wipe the sweat from my forehead. We've been performing for the last ninety minutes, priming the crowd to the point of exploding. I've stepped offstage to gather myself for one last song.
Our final song.
I'm never nervous about performing, yet I fight to catch my breath. The moment is too big to ignore, even for me.
A stagehand lifts the strap of my purple and yellow guitar over my head, and I mouth thank you. She disappears, and I take a deep inhale. This concert isn't even over yet I already miss it. All of this.
My hand squeezes the neck of the guitar. I brush my dark hair from my eyes and step from behind the curtain back onto the stage.
An enormous eruption of screams greets me, forcing a smile a mile wide onto my face. This is why. This right here is why the stage is my home. Surrounded by my best friends and the people who love what we do. A community of acceptance I never thought I'd find.
I wave to the crowd, still in disbelief. This is my life.
"We love you, Ariel," a young African American girl in a mini-skirt, fishnet stockings, and a black tank top screams over the music.
I step to the microphone center stage and shout out to the crowd, "I love you!" My voice catches as I twist to face my band. My six best friends. "All of you." I sweep my hand at them. Who would have thought me and the six guys I hung out with in high school would travel the path we have? Fifteen years together. Eighteen tours, and our last three albums all breaking into the Billboard top fifty.
The guys return head nods, blow kisses, and form hearts with their hands.
"Well," my fingers find the strings on my guitar, and I join the instrumental melody the band has been entertaining the crowd with. "We've come to that part of the show, the final song." It's not just our final song; it's the last song on the last date of our tour.
A wave of bittersweet nostalgia tugs at my soul, and I fight to remain present. There will be time later for me to sit with the wistful ache of changing times.
My eyes seek a distraction, and it's easy to spot one. The two security guards in their bright gold T-shirts stand behind the tiny girl, who's oblivious to their presence—her attention locked on the stage. I give them a head nod, and they tap her on the shoulder and point to the stage.
"You know what that means." I force a giggle out with words, half the crowd pointing at the security team and the other half at the girl. She finally realizes what's happening. Her screech reaches the stage. I wave her forward, and she presses her palms against her chest. This close, I realize she's younger than I had pegged from backstage. Seventeen at the most, the same age I was when we formed the band. "Welcome to the stage. What's your name?"
She leans toward my microphone with a goofy grin. "Oh, my God. I can't believe this is happening. I'm Nicole."
"Well, Nicole, have you been to a Devil May Care concert before?"
She bounces on her toes and tugs at the bottom of her T-shirt. "This is my third one." She spins and waves to the band. "Dax freaking Jones just waved to me. How is any of this happening?"
Dax is our drummer. African American with the body of a gym rat and the smile of an angel. "Yeah, I've had that same reaction for twenty years now." The girls in the sold-out audience whistle and cheer. Dax is a fan favorite; I've lost count of the number of all-female Facebook groups dedicated to him.
Dax takes a curt bow to the appreciative audience, and with a smirk on his face hands Nicole a tambourine with our band's logo. I lift the microphone and tease, "I think he wants you to play with him."
Shrieks and suggestive whistles fill the auditorium. The scream of one woman, pierces through the noise, "he can play with me anytime.” I giggle and shake my head. Each show we pick one lucky fan to join us on stage for our encore song.
We've argued in the band as to the origin of the routine. We can never settle on whether it was a slow, rainy night in Evansville, or the time we needed a distraction after a fight broke out in the mosh pit in Akron. It doesn't really matter; for the last five years, it's become a concert tradition.
Nicole takes the tambourine in one hand and wraps her other hand around Dax. He's nearly twice her age and gently leads her to the raised spot next to the drum set. From her perch, she'll be able to see every member of the band and the audience.
The song has yet to start yet she's already bouncing and rocking her head from side to side in anticipation. I feel it too. The stage is my happy place. My home.
I raise my hand to pull the focus back to me. "There's no place I'd rather be tonight. I'd like to thank every one of you." Tears of joy mix with the sweat dripping from my forehead. I'm stalling, not wanting to let this moment slip away. I have no idea the next time I'll be here like this, with everyone.
"Nicole, will you do the honors and count us off?" I give her a wink and twist to face my bandmates. Dax raises the drumsticks and whispers something to Nicole I can't hear.
"We are Devil May Care, and this song goes out to you. Here is 'Never Too Late’." I hear the quiver in my voice and don't hide it, not tonight.
My nod gives the bright-eyed Nicole the cue to start. Her shout is over-the-top loud and elicits a huge laugh from Dax. "One… two… One, two, three, four!"
I strum the singular chord, which elicits a raucous shout from the loud, sold-out crowd. It's the greatest sound in the world, and I'm totally addicted. I take another scan and take it all it. Two thousand people packed tight. Limbs hanging off the balcony, stuffed in doorways, and packed along the stairway. It's as if everyone knows how special tonight might be.
A goofy grin pulls on my face, and I let the moment carry me. Devil May Care was never supposed to work, according to everyone not in the band. A seven-piece band, six guys and me, the tiniest, thinnest but loudest of the group. Each of us specializes in a different musical genre. But we mesh. We always have.
We take the song to the bridge, and Bryon on the trumpet works his way next to me. He gives me a shoulder bump and juts his chin toward the crowd. All night, they've been singing along to every lyric, so it's no wonder they have their phones held high for the finale, lights on, swaying and producing a scene worthy of a music video. I hold my microphone out toward the crowd and let them become part of the act.
Bryon gives me a side hug. Manuel, one of best lead guitarists in the business, steps to the other side of me. I've known the two of them half my life and don't need to say a word. Everything I need to know is written on their faces.
Even after all these years and the relative success of our band, we're humbled, grateful, and astonished by the love we receive from our fans. They come to every show, know the words to every song, and shout us out on social media as if they're on retainer.
Manuel pulls me into a hug and shouts into my ear, "I'm going to miss all of this!"
His words release the dam of tears I had been attempting to hold back. After the performance tonight, he and his cousin Santiago, the bass guitarist in the band, will head to Texas. Manuel is moving permanently to the Lone Star State. He's expecting his first child and wants to be closer to the rest of his family. Santiago is helping him with the drive, and I fear he, too, may not return to our little slice of paradise in Ohio.
Manuel spins away with the beat, and I lift the microphone and return to the melody. Music helps me escape from reality. It allows me to soar and exist in a world that's beautiful, safe, and warm. A world I never want to leave.
Nicole spins and pounds the tambourine against her hip as if she's been on tour with us for a decade. I wish I could stay in this bubble forever, but I can't.
Bryon approaches me from one side, Santiago, and Manuel on the other, and I realize this is it. The end. I raise a fist to the sky, and the seven of us join as one to sing the final words together. "It's Never Too Late!"
Dax tosses his drumsticks out to the crowd, wraps an arm around Nicole's shoulders, and the two of them join the rest of us at the front of the stage. There are hugs, laughs, hoots, and tears. The cheers are deafening, and we don't rush off the stage. Instead, we absorb it, bowing and blowing kisses to the audience. We milk it for as long as we can.
I'm long limbs, hugs, and kisses to anyone with a heartbeat that dares to enter two feet of me. I'm an emotional, dripping mess, slowly unraveling in front of the world, and I don't care.
The stage manager waves his arms frantically off stage. I ignore him, but can't ignore the tug from Dax on my elbow. "We don't have to go home, but we have to get out of here." He punches both fists into the sky. "That was freaking insane."
A small mop of dark hair pushes past the security guards and pops up in the middle of our small group—Nicole. "That was awesomesauce. Thank you a million times."
She extends the tambourine toward Dax. He waves it away. "Keep it, but if I see it on eBay later, I'll come looking for you."
The mention of the word eBay is like a kick to the stomach, but I don't react. They don't know. Nobody knows.
"What type of fan would do that? Never." Nicole's defiant words fade into the air as the guards appear and whisk her away, but not before she steals another hug from Dax.
Santiago leads us from the chaos of the backstage area back to the green room. My head is in a haze as I zombie walk behind him. I barely feel the pats on my back, the cheers of the dozens of people lining the halls, or the screams of joy from my bandmates. If this was our last performance as a band, I wouldn't change a thing.
The staff pushes bottles of champagne into our hands the minute we enter the green room. I swap the ice-cold celebratory treat for a room temperature bottle of water. My routine to protect my voice kicking in even amid the chaos. Norris, our keyboardist, pulls me by my elbow to the corner of the room. "Ariel, you kicked ass out there tonight."
Norris is flying high. We all are. The post-concert euphoria is the best kind of high. It's not the flawless execution; it's not reaching the last note after weeks of rehearsal and months of touring. It's about spreading the joy of what we love and being accepted for who we are. It's a magical combination that had eluded me for half my life.
But it's all ending after tonight. Manuel is moving permanently to Texas. He and Dax are the glue in this ragtag group. I fear we'll fall apart without him.
Variations of this same story have been whispered to me in the back of the tour bus. We've been on the road for most of the past five years. The guys are no longer in their twenties. We're in our early thirties, and they've transitioned from stage door groupies to wives and serious girlfriends. They're looking forward to the next phases of their lives—homes, kids, and stability.
I'm the opposite. I can't picture a future not doing what I'm doing right now with the people I'm doing it with. I don't want anything to change.
When we started this baffling experiment of a band, we promised each other that we'd ride it as long as we were together. Together to the end.
Is this our end?
Not if I can help it.
They're my best friends, my family, my everything.
And I'll do anything for my family, which is why I've kept one whopper of a secret from them. I brush away the guilt by convincing myself that what I'm doing is for their own good, all the while knowing the true reason.
For a group of stupid teenagers, we were right about so many things. But not everything. I give Norris a tight hug. "Keep everyone here. I'll be right back. I have to check on something."
I push out the door before he responds. Before he gives me that questioning look with the penetrating eyes which will force me to reveal my hand. When you're in a band together as long as we have been, everyone can read everyone. That I've been able to keep this a secret for this long is a shock.
The post-concert buzz fades, replaced by growing anxiety. I'm doing it for the band. I deceive myself with the lie. The truth ricochets through my head. I'm doing it for me.
My guilty feet navigate the chaos of the backstage. Roadies and staff pull wires in every direction. Men on ladders removing colored light filters, equipment carts being pushed through the narrow halls toward the stage area.
I steal a glance out to the auditorium. Only a few souls remain, standing at the front of the mosh pit as if expecting us to return to perform an encore just for the two dozen of them. Security waves at them to keep it moving, and I duck down a narrow set of hidden steps to an unmarked door in the back balcony.
I don't bother to knock. I deliver no preamble. "Did you get it?"
Two heads spin in my direction. Two familiar faces with smiles that hint my secret plan may just work. "We got it!" Calvin pumps a fist as if he's cheering for his beloved hometown baseball team, the Boston Red Sox. Calvin is one of the top music producers in the business, and I'm still in disbelief. He dropped everything on his insane schedule and committed to doing this. If ever there was a time for me to call in a favor, it was for tonight.
Calvin slaps hands with his good friend and fellow music producer Marshall. When I told Calvin what I needed, he recruited Marshall as another set of hands, eyes, and ears. Two of the top twenty music producers in the country right now, hidden in a tiny room in Ohio, all because I asked.
The two of them could be brothers. Both African American in their late twenties with short, neat afros. I've known Calvin for years; he and I go back to my early touring days. The two of us bonded at a farmland barbeque dinner in Kansas after a charity concert.
Marshall and I met for the first time a year ago in Oregon, of all places. He reached out a few months ago and flew me and most of the band to Boston to appear on a track for one of his artists.
"Do they know yet?" Marshall's excited tone sounds like that of a parent hiding a Christmas gift under the tree. At least according to the Hallmark Channel, that's the behavior of a parent. It's not like I have a point of reference.
I pump my hands, palms down, in front of me. "No. I wanted to check with you guys first. Remember, this is all on the down-low." My idea is either brilliant, or it will become an expensive side project I'll toss into the heap and joke about years from now. Since I'm bankrolling it, I strongly believe in the former.
Two weeks ago, I had this epiphany. Tonight, might be our last show together as a band. I needed some way to memorialize it. Something better produced than shakily held phone footage uploaded on TikTok and YouTube.
I convinced myself I'd be doing it for posterity. As a keepsake for the band to listen to years from now and reminiscence. I reached out to Calvin to brainstorm how I could get a local crew in Ohio to record the concert, and he immediately came up with a dozen reasons why I was thinking too small. To capture the sound I was seeking, it would involve a host of equipment upgrades, professional sound boards, and a host of things I didn't understand, but he did. He volunteered to do it. All of it.
"You guys sounded incredible." Calvin's tender voice reminds me of the importance of this evening. "Never better."
Warm tears build behind my eyes, and I blink it away.
"And I know you said it's just a side project, just for you and the band," Marshall steals a glance at Calvin as if seeking permission. When Calvin nods, I lean toward him. "We've recorded across sixteen tracks. Microphones on every member of the band and a half-dozen others in the audience, so we have the option of formats such as FLAC, AIFF, ALAC…"
I nod, not because I understand him, but because it's the polite thing to do.
Calvin smirks and gives Marshall a playful shove at this shoulder. "What my too technical brethren is attempting to say is that it's studio quality."
My breath hitches, and I connect the dots. "Are you thinking?"
"Your call." Calvin doesn't miss a beat.
"Wow." The guilt I felt when I entered the room dissipates. I didn't have the concert recorded to share with the band years from now as a reminder of what we once were. I was going to use it in a few months once they settled into the routines of their new lives and weigh their life's decisions. Visions of a not so impromptu listening party where I would use the recording to tip that scale and remind them of the magic we have together. To get them back out on the road with me.
This might be even better.
"Every great band releases a Live Album." Marshall adds to the pile, and I realize this might have been Calvin's intent all along. The reason behind his expensive equipment upgrade and access to the venue four hours early.
The two of them have some of the sharpest ears in the industry. If they both believe in this, why shouldn't I?
"I'm going to need a minute," I mumble. My head swirls with the possibilities. "I'm still fighting the reality that this might be the last performance for Devil May Care."
"Manuel's moving to Texas. He's out. Santiago's helping him move—who knows, he might decide to pitch a tent and stay too. The only time we'll play together now is when we all visit him or when he brings the family to Ohio." I hear the longing in my voice. "I'm not ready for our band to break up." The emotions of the night let my truth slip out. I press my lips together and fear I've said too much.
"And you want to continue on?" Marshall surprises me with the question, but not as much as I do with my response.
"Yes. I don't want this incredible ride to end. I have so much more to give, to say."
"It doesn't have to end." Calvin steps into my personal space, and I hang on to his every word. "You can go solo. It's been done before, lots of times."
My head shakes before he finishes the sentence. I can't imagine doing this alone. I can't imagine doing this without my band. "We formed the band because we didn't want to be alone." I whisper a piece of our origin story. Seven strange kids with different musical tastes, from different parts of town, different backgrounds and skills not understood by anyone but each other. Scattered souls that somehow found one another.
"How about…" Marshall starts and halts. It's obvious the boys have been discussing our band.
"Out with it," I press. If there's a way to keep the band together, I'm all ears.
Calvin raises a hand in Marshall's direction and gives him the let me start look. "You guys are at the top of the game right now, right?"
He starts in a place he knows I won't disagree. I give him the head nod he's seeking.
"You are out two guitarists. A lead and a bass player, right?"
Once again, he states the obvious. He lifts his hand to Marshall, prompting him to take the handoff.
"Well, I represent a new solo artist who just so happens to have two guitar-playing brothers without a band and plenty of time on their hands."
I lean forward, not believing what I'm hearing. My pulse kicks up as I sense where he's going. A similar thought crossed my mind the minute Calvin mentioned Marshall was joining him.
At the end of last year, Calvin brought me and the band to Boston to play on a track for one of Marshall's artists, Hailey. Because of the short notice, we were short two members, and we had Hailey's two brothers sit in for the track.
"And they have played with your band before," Marshall pushes.
He’s right. It was only one song, and we were together for only half a day. Adam, on bass, fit in seamlessly with the band. He’s quiet, mellow, observant, respectful, and talented.
"Laredo." The name slips out of my mouth as I forget to use my inside voice. Laredo is Adam's twin, yet is the opposite in every imaginable way. He's arrogant, loud, and thinks he's God's gift to women. I've dealt with his type before, but never as a bandmate. He has the capability of ruining the delicate chemistry we have. This is the reason I dismissed it.
"Laredo's solo album is stuck in purgatory." Calvin fills in the blanks before I can speak. Back in Boston, Laredo wiggled it into every conversation he had signed with a label and would record a chart-topping album any day now. He shared his news with one intent, looking to impress his way into my pants. I've been in this industry long enough, and it takes a lot more than dreamy eyes and false promises to make it over the walls I've built.
Calvin completes the non-surprising update. "Lots of creative differences going on, and Laredo is exercising the out clause in his contract."
I scoff as I can imagine the source of the creative differences. "And you think I should take on that baggage?" I ask more myself. Laredo's ego doesn't allow him to reach his full potential. He's probably one of the most talented guitarists I've come across, but you'd never know it by seeing him perform. He uses music to get what he wants in life. He'll never reach his potential until he realizes if you respect the music, it will deliver whatever you want.
"I've spent a lot of time around the brothers," Marshall chimes in, reminding me he's not only Hailey's producer but also her life partner. Their meet cute as the Seaside Music festival is the stuff of dreams.
Marshall has spent weeks with Hailey in her hometown in Indiana with her entire family. "I've never seen anyone shut Laredo down the way you did. You may be the Laredo whisperer. If anyone can get him to behave on stage, it's you."
I wave a dismissive hand at Marshall. I'm nobody's babysitter.
"Seaside." One word and Calvin has my complete attention. "The Seaside Music Festival in Oregon starts in two weeks. Why don't you take it out for a test drive?"
A quick smile pulls on my face as the memory of our band pulling a surprise appearance at the festival last year. Five thousand music fans showering us with love. The week-long music festival is one of the largest on the West Coast and hosts a massive lineup of up-and-coming and established artists. It wraps with a series of weekend headliner concerts with some of the biggest artists around.
My silence gives the boys confidence. "I can get you on the workshop schedule early in the week. Just you and the brothers. See if they behave, and it might work." Marshall lays the breadcrumb at my feet.
That's when Calvin offers the main course. "If you like what you see, we can have the rest of the band fly out, and I can make a call and get you some stage time." Calvin is a humble soul and doesn't pull strings for just anyone. He produces one of the most popular artists on the planet—his brother, the rapper Prince Ali—but you'd never know it by hanging out with him. He's a gentle soul with a kind heart and zero ego. "Friday, Saturday, or even Sunday."
I bite my lower lip at the mention of Sunday. That's the ultimate slot to perform at the festival, the largest of all the concerts. It always has a world-famous headliner, a special guest opener, and a short roster of the crème de la crème in the industry. It's been a dream of mine to perform on the Sunday stage for years.
I want to leap at the opportunity. It has all my favorite things. Music, fans, and my band. Wow, is my list that short? Logic tells me to slow down. To not leap in, even though my heart is pounding in my chest.
How do I explain it to Dax and the rest of the gang? They've not even packed their gear from this concert, and I'll be asking them to fly halfway across the country with zero notice after promising to give them time at home.
It's one day. One concert. The justifications flow through my head. One after another.
Don't mention it yet. The brothers may say no. Even if they say yes, after meeting with them, I may decide they're not a fit. No harm, no foul.
The list of reasons this may not work, and I'll never need to disturb the band, grows long enough to block the guilt. Unlike the boys, my calendar is completely clear. "You'll make the calls?" I say to the pair.
They share a conspiratorial laugh as if they've known all along this is where I'd land. "I could ask them, but something tells me if the invite came directly from you, there's not a chance in hell Laredo says no." Marshall teases me because he knows he's right. Outside of being a pain in the side, Laredo is one of the biggest flirts on the planet. Within minutes of meeting me, he declared I had no agency and would fall head over heels for him. His paper-thin statement couldn't hide his own attraction to me. The boys are right. If I asked, Laredo would come running. He's attractive, and he has a certain swagger, but I've been down that road before with the self-important, self-destructive rock star. It didn't end well. It's a dangerous element to introduce to a band.
Marshall swipes across his phone, and I feel the vibration of my phone. "I just sent you their contact info. Good luck." Marshall's grin tells me he knows I'm going to need all the luck I can find.
I nod, exit, and remind myself why I'm doing this. It's about the music, it's about my band, it's about my future. It's not about the man.
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