PROLOGUE and FIRST THREE CHAPTERS..."I'm with the Band"
Life at the top isn’t all glitz and glamour.
Talented Brooke Kincaid’s life takes a turn for the better when she’s asked to join the country band Broken Bronco with the gorgeous Bradshaw brothers. In a single moment, her struggle to care for her younger siblings after the death of their parents is a thing of the past.
She soon realizes fame and fortune have a price like anything else. Finding the love of her life in the last place she would have thought to look, Brooke embraces the realization of all her dreams only to have happiness ripped away in one act of brutal violence. Starting again and healing her heart take courage she isn’t sure she has but love has a way of finding its way home.
The two founders of Broken Bronco had no idea why they’d been called to a meeting at the satellite studio for their record label. Sales were climbing and they were due to finish the new tracks in the next month. The new tour would kick off in the summer. Life was good. The money was rolling in, the women were willing, and they were still young enough to enjoy it.
Their first couple of years on the road had been tough as hell, barely eating and praying to make enough for a motel room each night and gas for the panel truck. Then they’d played a gig with a bunch of other up-and-coming acts, playing as hard as they ever did. Theirs was a blend of rocking country and blues the fans seemed to love. None of the acts had known Toby Keith was watching from the DJ booth. Life had sure been sweeter since then. Opening for him on his next tour, they’d developed a following and a reputation for working hard and fucking harder.
Logan Bradshaw was older than his twin brother Decklan by three minutes. After high school, they’d worked the paper mill until they’d saved enough to strike out on their own. They’d loaded up Logan’s Chevy and hit the road for Nashville. Good looking identical twins, they were a lean six-three, unruly dark brown hair, tanned, Logan with slightly darker green eyes than Decklan. No one ever noticed their eyes. The world was rarely able to tell them apart until they were onstage, even then it was guesswork. Comfortable in their southern charm and good looks, they both played guitar beautifully. Decklan preferred electric, Logan acoustic.
Sitting in the conference room, kicked back and relaxed as they usually were now that they no longer lived hand-to-mouth, they waited. Their manager, Travis Cash – no relation to Johnny - ducked his head in after twenty minutes, a big grin on his weathered face. “Boys, y’all come on down to the booth. I need you to hear somethin’.”
Glancing at one another, they stood and ambled down the hall. They heard her voice before they saw her as Travis opened the door to the control room. Stepping up behind the techs, they listened to a young woman cover Strawberry Wine while playing an acoustic guitar. Her voice was full and husky, sensual. She had her eyes closed.
She was fucking beautiful. Long blond hair with a slight curl to it, plump pink lips, golden skin, and a nice figure that was curved in all the right places. She wore jeans and a t-shirt with worn cowboy boots that weren’t for show. Her nails were short and she wore no makeup. Her hair was pulled back from her face with a cheap clip.
“Damn…” Logan whispered.
“I agree,” Decklan said beside him.
Travis smiled, “You like?” Both of them nodded with glazed looks on their faces and Logan licked his lips. “Not like that you damn reprobates! Jesus, do y’all ever think of anythin’ besides gettin’ laid?”
Both of them shrugged, unashamed. “Well, look at her. Hot as hell and that voice. I mean, damn,” Logan said again. He hadn’t taken his eyes off her.
Decklan realized he was hard as a rock. “How old is she?”
“She’ll be eighteen in a month or two. Glad you like her voice. I’d like you to take her on tour with you.” Both men stared at Travis like he’d lost his mind. “Don’t look at me like that, boys. Toby did it for you and you’re hittin’ number ones with every song now. She needs it. She’s good. She’ll work her ass off and you’re in a position to make it happen for her.”
“Do you know her personally?” Decklan was suspicious of their manager’s motives. Travis never pushed stuff on them. He usually made suggestions and let them stew over things for a while. “You seem set. What’s the story?”
Travis stared at the woman behind the glass for a long moment, running his hand through his coarse red hair. Then cleared his throat. “I don’t know her personally, no. Ain’t my story to say, to tell you the truth. That young woman has a lot on her plate and she needs a good break, a big break. I’d like you to sit with her. See if you’ll be able to do some combined stuff on the road. And no, I’m not forcin’ her on you. You don’t like her, you don’t click, I’ll find another group to take her. But she’s goin’ on tour with somebody, I can tell you that right damn now. She’s gonna make a fortune and I’ll be happy to take my fee.”
The young woman finished the song and gave a little half smile to the technicians. She seemed shy for someone carrying her looks and talent. How could she be shy? The brothers wanted to know more about her. They also wanted to fuck her but they rarely thought about anything else when it came to women these days.
Leaning forward, Travis told the man on the sound board, “Have her do Sin Wagon again.” Looking at the Bradshaws, he said, “I already heard her do this one. I think you’ll like it.”
The techs spoke into the intercom that fed into the booth. She nodded and stood up, Logan and Decklan both took a step forward. Decklan whispered, “Jesus H. Christ. Not even eighteen? I’m going to die. Right fucking now. Oh lord.” The woman had a body made for long, slow fucking. The kind of body you didn’t rush learning. Full breasts and flared hips, long damn legs leading to a high and tight ass. She had to hit six-feet in the boots which put her at about five-ten barefoot.
She turned around and crouched on the floor, removing a fiddle from a case and plugging it into the amp. Dropping her hair out of the way, she launched into the fast-paced Dixie Chicks number, playing fiddle like she’d been born with it in her hand. She kept time with her boot heel and tore up the strong vocals Natalie Maines was known for.
“Decklan, she plays fiddle. Dear lord.” She replaced the guitar and mandolin in the song with fiddle and left it all in ashes. “And she might be the best damn fiddle player I’ve ever fucking heard.”
A loud snort sounded from beside them. “I know she is. Why’d you think I brought your bratty asses down here?” Travis said in an annoyed tone with his arms crossed over his chest.
When she finished the song, the techs told her to take a little break. She seemed relieved and took a seat with her fiddle beside her. Travis told them she also played piano and mandolin. For a couple of minutes the brothers just stared at her. “Let’s try this out. Come on, Deck.” They went around to the booth entrance and opened the door. She stood from the piano and lifted stunning blue-green eyes to face them. Her mouth dropped open in surprise.
Giving herself a little kick in the ass, Brooke approached the best looking men in the music industry as far as she was concerned and held out her hand with a confidence she wasn’t feeling, “Brooke Kincaid. A pleasure to meet you both.” So what if they could tell she was shaking like a leaf? “I have no idea which of you is which, I know you probably hear that all the time.”
Logan grinned, “I’m Logan. My eyes are darker but I also prefer my hair a little longer than Decklan’s. That’s a quick ‘tell’ for you.” They shook her hand, pretending not to notice the tremor of her fingers. Logan sat on a stool, picking up a guitar, “You’re very talented. Did you take lessons for everything?” She shook her head. “You haven’t had any professional lessons at all?” Shaking her head again, she watched as Decklan picked up an electric guitar and plugged in. “Do you know Boondocks?”
With a big smile, she said, “I do.” Then she added, “Want me to take an instrument?”
Decklan just stared at her for a long moment, “You sing and we’ll play.”
“Okay.” He played the opening chords and Logan started singing the first male verse. When Brooke joined them during the chorus, both men got chills at how well the three of them blended. Hotness aside, she made them sound better than they ever did alone. She sang the female lyrics, Decklan barely able to concentrate with her so close. She sat on a stool between them, her boot heels hooked in the outside rungs, her hands on her thighs keeping time with the music. Inexplicably, she smelled like hay and vanilla. Up close it was clear she wore no makeup or jewelry and that her body was even more delicious than they’d thought it was standing on the other side of the studio glass. During the last staggered verses, she held her own against them.
They went through a few songs together, her singing backup on a couple, the brothers singing backup on a couple, and another with all of them together. Any combination they tried sounded good. She moved around on instruments, from the guitar to the fiddle to the piano to the mandolin. They watched her play, listened to every note she sang and were thoroughly impressed.
As the last song faded into silence, Logan and Decklan looked at one another. Logan asked, “Do you have songs of your own? Stuff you’ve written?”
“I do.” He asked her to play one, prepared to smirk. She picked up the guitar and sang a hauntingly beautiful song about loss and redemption surprising for one so young. Taylor Swift country pop was becoming so popular now, happy little songs written by a teenager for teenage country fans. This was not the same kind of music at all.
While she sang, Brooke stared off into the distance as if remembering every moment of her inspiration for the lyrics. At one point, Decklan swore she had tears in her pretty eyes. When it wound down, she cleared her throat and sat quietly looking at them, her posture strong and confident.
Decklan asked her, “Do you like being on stage?”
“God, no but I can do it without making a complete ass of myself.” With a self-deprecating smile, she added, “I fight stage fright. Submerge myself in it and do what I need to do.”
“Play more of your own stuff for just a minute. We’ll be right back.” She nodded and sat at the piano. As they closed the door, they heard a slightly lighter song about harvest and hard work being worth it at the end of the day when you went home to what you were working for.
Travis was smiling from ear to ear when they came to stand beside him. Sticking his hands partially in his cowboy-cut Wranglers, he struck a lazy pose. Deceptively lazy as the Bradshaw brothers were well aware. “I knew you’d like her. You’ll let her open on tour?”
“Nope, not as her own act. We’re going to pull her into our band.” Logan’s voice was solid and he saw Decklan was in complete agreement. “It will give her two or three years to season to the stage and give us time to pump up more of our male demographic. If she wants to go solo after that, we’ll help her with whatever she needs.” Looking at their business manager, Logan asked, “You think she’ll go for that?”
The slow smile on Travis’s face was telling. Decklan laughed with a shake of his head that they’d been taken in so easily, “That’s what you planned all along, isn’t it? Did she know that?”
Travis shook his head, his smile all teeth, “She thinks she’s here to help lay down some fiddle riffs for a couple of tracks and maybe sell a couple of her songs.”
“She didn’t think she’d be performing?” Travis just looked at them smugly and Logan was in shock. Brooke was in the booth doing freestyle piano, jotting down lyrics or notes with her other hand. “I mean, look at her, listen to her. Goddamn. Who wouldn’t put her on a stage?”
“Sweetest girl you ever met, too. I got a call from the radio station in her hometown, guy I used to work with years ago. The man has never called in a favor on our friendship but said I had to hear her. She does rodeos and talent shows for extra cash. He sent me a DVD of her last performance and I called her in. I said we were hopin’ she could do some backup for a couple of tracks, help fill out some instruments. That was yesterday mornin’, boys. She drove three hours south to get here today when I told her she’d leave with a check in her hand. And I’d give her one out of my own pocket, that’s how important I thought gettin’ her here was. I asked her what she charged for fiddle and she said the local church pays her a hundred bucks to backup their choir for specials shows.”
“A hundred, hell,” he paused, “She’s three hours from here? Where’s she from?” Decklan asked curiously.
“Little town called Idabel, Oklahoma, just over the border of Texas.” Both men got huge grins on their faces. “You know the place? I never heard of it.”
Logan clapped Travis on the back, “It’s twelve miles from our hometown of Broken Bow. I tell you what, Travis, you damn sure have a knack for right place, right time. This is going to work out just fine.”
Putting his hand over Logan’s forearm, the older man said quietly and with all sincerity, “Y’all know you can’t bed that girl. You know that, don’t you?”
Sighing, both men nodded. Decklan added, “She’s so perfect. But we’re twenty-six. Way too old for her in more ways than one, I bet. And I’d like this to work. I think she’s going to be just what we didn’t know we needed.”
Travis poked his head in and asked her to join them and leave her instruments. Brooke looked confused but nodded and came out to the control room. “Are you hungry, Brooke?” She shook her head and her chin came up. Logan remembered that look, could almost hear her say, “Of course I’m hungry but I’m not asking for a damn thing.” “Travis ordered food for our sessions today.” Decklan handed Travis his credit card behind Brooke’s back. “We want to talk to you for a bit in the conference room down the hall.”
Putting them between her, they asked her questions about her life and she was vague. Decklan wondered how she’d handle school with the schedule they were going to throw on her. “When do you graduate, Brooke?”
“I had to get my GED. I haven’t been in school for a while now.”
“Okay, are your parents going to be cool with you coming down here? We might need them to sign some things on your behalf.” Logan looked down as she was looking up and met her eyes, seeing a severe pain cross her face.
Taking a deep breath, she whispered, “I…I lost my parents almost two years ago. Daddy had a heart attack behind the wheel leaving Tulsa with my mama.” They watched as she clenched her fists and bit her lower lip to keep from crying. By the time they stepped aside for her to enter the conference room, she seemed to have herself under tight control. She saw a bathroom and pointed at it without speaking before ducking inside.
Logan said, “Poor kid.” Decklan nodded and they took seats around the smaller of the two conference tables with seating for four people. Travis came in and told them he’d ordered enough food for an army.
Brooked stepped out of the bathroom. She’d washed her face and none of the men could help but watch her graceful, long-legged walk across the room toward them. “Okay. So what do y’all need me to play?” She stood with her hands on the back of the chair and a cheerful smile on her face.
Logan met her eyes, “Actually, we’d like you to join Broken Bronco, Brooke.”
Her smile dropped off her face, replaced by a blank look of shock. Decklan and Logan leaned forward when she swayed, worried she was going down. She gripped the chair harder, her knuckles white. “Wh…what did you say?” Brooke’s eyes were huge in her delicate face. “I…I’m supposed to play fiddle. I’m just here to play fiddle.”
They grinned and Decklan told her, “I’m sure you’ll have many opportunities to play fiddle when you join our band, Brooke. As a matter of fact, I can guarantee it.”
A slightly hysterical laugh bubbled up from Brooke’s chest before she clapped a hand over her mouth. Her eyes drifted closed and she took several deep breaths. When she opened them, she held up one finger and took out an antiquated cell phone that looked like it had been through a vacuum cleaner. Flipping it open, she dialed a number and paced the huge windows overlooking Dallas. One hand propped on her hip, they watched her long legs go back and forth, hips swaying, accidentally seductive. None of the males could manage to look away.
“Molly. Yeah, I made it. No, I’m alright, sugar, no, oh honey, I should have called to let you know I made it safe. I’m sorry, baby. Listen, is Jackson around? Can you get him for me? Okay, yes, I’ll talk to Becca in the meantime. I love you too, Molly.” A bright smile lit her face as she said, “Hi, Becca, baby. Yes, I’m still in Dallas.”
She did a back stretch, touching her hand to the back of her thighs and all three men tilted their heads to follow the movement that pulled her shirt snugly over her breasts. “Honey, I’ll try to find you a postcard with Dallas on it. I told you I would. How was school? Uh huh, he put gum in your hair again, peanut? Nope, I can get it out. Boys have always been stupid like that. I won’t have to cut it, no don’t cry. Okay, yup, I love you, too.”
She took a deep breath and bent forward, touching her nose to her knees, her hair brushing over the tops of her boots. “Jackson. I need to talk to you, bro. I know your cast won’t come off for another week, I can bring in the hay but can you help me with the girls when summer starts? Yeah, I can get a couple of the girls to come by and drive y’all places.” Taking another fortifying breath, she whispered, “I could be joining Broken Bronco…”
Interrupted by joyful screams of the young man, obviously her brother, on the other end of the phone made the three men chuckle from across the room.
“Jackson. Jackson! Settle down. I can’t leave y’all alone so I’ll have to figure that out. No. You’re not quite sixteen. Because the law doesn’t consider you technically a man if you can’t legally drive a car. Yes, I know how mature you are. You’re totally distracted again. Yes, I said Broken Bronco. Jackson. Please focus, oh god, please focus. I need you to help me figure out if I can say yes.” There was a long pause and rapid speech on the other side of the conversation. “It is not a given, Jackson.”
She walked to the other end of the room and dropped down. The men stood in sync and saw her on her knees on the other side of the large conference table. She was sitting back on her heels and the position pulled her jeans taut over her great ass.
“Oh sweet baby Jesus…” Logan moaned.
“Have mercy…” Decklan added.
Even Travis whistled low between his teeth, “Be strong, boys.”
She was whispering fiercely, “Jack, you’re looking at it for me. There’s you and the girls to consider. You have another few months before you can help me with driving and stuff. The hay has to come in. I’ll see what kind of a time frame I’ve got to work with.” Another long pause. “Thanks, Jackson. We’ll talk more when I get back. It can’t be about me, honey. You can’t think like that, Jackson. What they’d want is to know I did what I promised, that I took care of y’all.” The afternoon sun had her hair lit up like spun gold with darker honey shot through it. “I’ll try to make it work. I haven’t thought about performing, haven’t thought further than that ranch. Yeah, I know, I love you too, buddy. Don’t get your cast wet, Jack. ‘Kay. See you soon.”
Slipping the phone in her back pocket, Brooke put one foot on the floor and leaned on her knee, staring out the windows for a couple of minutes. She was obviously deep in thought when she whispered, “Sure do miss y’all.” Then she stood and turned to rejoin the men at the other end of the room. “I’d love to be able to have my dreams back, I would. The fact is I have responsibilities, a tight schedule that doesn’t leave room for much else. I don’t see how I’d be able to give you studio time, much less touring. But I sure do appreciate the offer.”
She gave Logan and Decklan a pretty smile, “I’m a big fan. Really cool that y’all are from my neck of the woods. The kids at Jackson’s school had a ‘Logan-n-Decklan’ talent show, your mama was there. I think there are streets named after you now in Broken Bow.” She smiled sadly, “I should head back.”
Travis stepped forward, “Honey, you need to come sit down with us.” He put his hand on her shoulder and guided her to the table, Logan held out her chair. “It doesn’t have to be either/or. I think I can speak for the boys when I say you bring big guns to the table. Multiple instruments, a damn phenomenal voice, and you’re smokin’ hot, sweetheart. Men are gonna pay huge money and drive for hundreds of miles to see you on stage. Logan and Deck have the female demographic tied up. The men will come for you, Brooke.” She was blushing hot, her lips slightly parted. All three men couldn’t believe there were still women who had the grace to blush. “And you obviously don’t have enough people tellin’ you how pretty you are. That’s gonna change real fast.”
That made her redder and she stammered nervously, “Wow, um, I’m not sure if I should be happy about that. I’m pretty, uh, grounded. Anyway, Mr. Cash…”
“You need to call me Travis, sweetheart.” He might be thirty years older than her but she sure made him miss his youth. He’d have to watch the Bradshaw boys like a hawk with this tempting young woman in the mix.
“Okay, Travis. I have to bring in the hay. I have cattle to get to auction next week. My sisters, Molly and Rebecca, they’re still little, only six and nine. They have to go to school, they have homework. Jackson broke his wrist when we were fixing the tractor. He’s almost sixteen and he’s struggling in school trying to help me. I’m all they’ve got. I’m it. My…my mama and daddy trusted me to take care of them. I can’t be selfish, sir.”
Logan put his hand on her arm and squeezed gently, “Brooke, don’t you have any other family? No one older than you?” She shook her head. “Damn, honey. You have an awful lot on your plate for someone so young. Three kids and a working ranch.”
Her chin came up, “I’ll be eighteen next month. Then I’ll legally be able to become my siblings’ guardian. I’m on probation with the state right now. When Jack broke his wrist, I thought they were going to take them from me.” Brooke swallowed hard, remembering the terror she’d felt when the social worker had shown up at the ranch with a notebook and sour look on her face. “Even when it’s legal, I have to be careful or they can snatch them away.”
Decklan watched her intently, knowing they had to do whatever necessary to get her in the band. “What if we could come up with a workable solution for you? Would you consider it if we could make it possible?”
Brooke tilted her head with a little chuckle, “Y’all realize there are probably hundreds of women who’d love this chance, right? Hell, you could have a contest. Your popularity would double overnight.”
Logan snorted, “Yeah, but we never even considered it until we heard you sing and play. It has to be you, Brooke. If not you, we’ll go on like we have.” An assistant came in with their food and they let her think while they ate. Brooke picked at her food, her brain on overdrive. Both brothers could almost hear the gears racing. “I bet we could come up with a hundred solutions for you, to help you.”
“The tour doesn’t start until summer. Why don’t you let us work up some ideas and we’ll meet you up at your place with Travis in a couple days.” Decklan leaned in close. “Brooke, you’re looking at this all wrong, girl. You’re thinking you’re being selfish but it will change all your lives for the better. You’re too talented to spend your life bringing in the hay.”
With a shrug, she said, “I don’t mind working hard. I really don’t. Even when my folks were alive, we all worked hard. There was time for other stuff though. Like cheer, barrel racing, music. I…I’d like to know I could take care of them better. I don’t want them going into the system.” Staring off into space for a long moment, she turned back with a determined expression and nodded, “If you can think of something that will work for my brother and sisters, too, I’ll do whatever y’all need me to.”
They finished eating and she asked them one question after another. How often they toured, how long they generally stayed on the road. When they were recording, what the schedule was like. Logan and Decklan answered her without reservation, being honest with her about the grueling tour schedule and twenty hour days when they were in the studio.
After they finished eating, Brooke insisted on cleaning up. When the chairs were pushed back under the table, the two singers led her back to the sound booth and handed her a song to play with them. They’d planned on asking Carrie Underwood or Miranda Lambert to cover it with them, it was one of the last tracks to finish for the album. “We’ll go through it once by ourselves so you can get a feel for it. Sound good?” Travis was on the other side of the glass talking to the technicians.
She nodded and sat down at the piano, spreading out the sheets of music. They picked up their guitars and sat on stools to either side of her. Decklan led the first verse, Logan singing backup before they started the chorus together. By the time they started the second verse, she had the idea and added piano. Glancing at one another over her head, they were grinning ear to ear. She sang the chorus with them on the third verse then did the woman’s verse of regret before the last chorus. The song drifted away.
“Damn, it comes so naturally to you. That was great, Brooke. Let’s take it from the top.” Logan looked at the control booth and their manager nodded smugly. After playing through it twice more, they nodded to Travis. They played it all the way through, both guitars and piano adding to the richness of the lyrics. When it wrapped, she smiled gently and they asked Travis to play it back.
Her head was tilted and at the end, she said, “You need some mandolin, maybe some fiddle. Want me to lay them down for you?” They raised their brows and nodded. Giving her headphones so she could hear their first version, then handed her a mandolin and played it again. Brooke kept her eyes closed and plucked it, adding the distinctive sounds where she felt they were needed. She did the same with the fiddle and once Travis had what he wanted, the techs laid the instruments over their original and played it through the studio. She smiled at the result.
They came to sit at her sides, facing out from the piano bench. Logan said, “You are very good, Brooke.” She blushed and shrugged. “We’ll work it all out, don’t worry. We’re going to let you get headed back so you aren’t home too late.”
Decklan said, “I’ll help you get your instruments to your car, Logan and Travis will meet us downstairs.” He packed up her guitar while she put away her fiddle. She grabbed a brown backpack off the floor and slung it over her shoulder. “You sure travel light.”
“I used to travel a lot before. For cheer competitions and rodeos, talent shows. My mama was really good about driving me all over creation. I didn’t like her having to wait for me to primp like a damn girl.” Clearing her throat, she added, “They were real good to us while we had them.”
“You’re evidence of that, Brooke. They’d sure be proud of how you’re doing.” He held the door and she slipped past him to the elevator bank. They rode down talking music and celebrities they liked most. He told her he’d been most star-struck by George Strait.
Her breath sucked in suddenly, “I met him at a rodeo in Longview one year after I won the trophy for barrel-racing then competed in the talent show after. I was twelve and he told me I had the voice of a grown woman. Kissed my cheek. I didn’t wash it for a week.” They were laughing as they stepped into the lobby, Travis and Logan waiting.
Walking her to the parking lot, the three men stared in shock at her 1942 Dodge bread delivery pickup in black. She put her stuff inside and smiled at them. “It was my sixteenth birthday present from my dad. He worked on it for over a year. I thought he was doing it for himself.” Swallowing hard, she managed a watery smile, “When he handed me the keys, I about died. This baby is as smooth as the day she rolled off the showroom floor.” Leaning into the cab, she started the engine and the males groaned in happiness. She shook each of their hands. “I have to get back. Let me know when you need me to meet you.” She pulled a straw cowboy hat off the seat and pulled it on as she climbed into her truck.
“Uh, Brooke. You forgot something, honey.” Travis handed her an envelope and she took it with a curious look.
“You’re still paying me? But I didn’t do anything…”
Logan simply stared at her, sure he’d never met a woman like her before. “Brooke, you recorded an entire song and played three of the instruments. Not to mention hours of auditioning. Yeah, you did plenty.” Decklan was nodding with a smile.
“Thanks. Thanks so much. I’ll see you guys in a few days if you can figure everything out. If not, no hard feelings. It was worth it to meet y’all and getting to jam together.” They watched her hop into her truck and put on sunglasses. Modern seatbelts had been added by her father and she buckled up as she pulled away.
Decklan said, “I’m going to fall for that girl. I’m serious.”
Logan nodded, “I’m right there with you, man.”
“Don’t y’all play with her. She ain’t one of your toys. There are plenty of women willin’ to give you what you need. She’s gonna be part of your band, the way you make your livin’. Keep it in your fuckin’ pants.” Travis was smiling but serious. They headed back inside when she was out of sight and went through the audio and video of Brooke’s time with them. “Damn, the camera loves her. We have a ton of work to do today. I’ll run the contracts up to her before the weekend.”
“We’re going, too.” Decklan was staring at Brooke’s image on the screen. “I’d like to see Mama and everybody anyway. I can’t remember the last time we went home for a visit.”
They sat in the conference room and hashed out the details they were going to present to Brooke. “I need to get her a lawyer, make sure she knows we’re not takin’ advantage of her.” The brothers agreed.
Three hours later, Travis’s phone rang and he smiled at Brooke’s number on caller ID. “Hey there, Brooke…wow, okay, you’re welcome, honey. You just now opened the envelope? Girl, you’re an original, that’s for damn sure. No, it isn’t too much. The single y’all cut today is gonna make shitloads of cash, baby girl. You’ll get a piece of that. Hey, don’t cry, honey. Oh wow. You’re welcome, Brooke. Girl, you earned it. It isn’t a loan or a gift. That’s a paycheck. Alright, honey, we’ll see you in a couple days. Uh huh. Bye now.” He turned to the young men across from him, “I like that girl an awful lot. Don’t screw this up.”
In Idabel, Brooke stared at the check for five thousand dollars made out to her for doing something she loved. And it didn’t give her blisters. Jackson was leaning up against the kitchen island. “Sis, you have to do this. You know you want to. It’s going to be so good for you, for all of us. We’ll figure it all out.”
Staring at her little brother, she whispered, “I can use this to hire a couple of guys to help with the hay, with moving the cows. For the first time in forever, we have options, Jackson. I can’t believe it.”
Unable to help himself, Jackson laughed loudly, “Figures you’d be the one girl on the planet to think about hay. Lord. Come on, I’ll help get the kitchen cleaned up. Be a glamour kitten and wash while I dry.” They worked together, laughing the entire time.
Afterward, she ran upstairs to check on her sleeping sisters and took a quick shower before collapsing over her bed, staring at the check again. Whispering out loud, “Five thousand dollars for one day, oh my god. Maybe I can figure out a way to do this. Maybe it could happen.”
She eventually calmed down enough to sleep, thinking about everything, remembering how she’d felt singing with the brothers. How it felt to smile into two pairs of laughing green eyes.
Logan drove his SUV over the rough road leading out to the Kincaid ranch. They’d been in town a couple of days, visiting with their family and generally raising hell. Both brothers loved being home because people honestly didn’t give a shit who they were now. Logan was still the kid who got arrested painting the water tower with his initials, Decklan still the one who started a brawl at the homecoming game when a rival player groped his girlfriend. To these people, they’d always be small town boys, no matter where they went.
The night before they’d gone to a barbeque and asked some of their old friends about Brooke. One of their cousins had gone to school with her and Samuel sent Mindy to get her yearbook. After flipping through several pages, Mindy said, “Here she is at State, that toe-touch right off her flip won it for them. I remember that day. We were in the same grade but she was already on the Varsity squad. Things come real easy to her, just real smart and stuff.”
The men adjusted uncomfortably at the image of Brooke in her cheer uniform doing a mid-air split. She flipped a few more pages. “That was her with her ex-boyfriend Brad at his prom. A real dick, that guy. He was a senior, she was a sophomore. She gave him, you know, and he told the whole football team about how great it was, had pics of her sleeping after that he showed everybody.”
Samuel had been their friend through years of boy scouts and hunting trips. He stepped up behind them, “I still have a copy I got. At first, I kept it because, well, I really liked it. Then my mama found out and asked me how I’d feel if that were Mindy or my sister. Now I keep it in archive to remind me about that. Changed the way I treat women, let me tell you.” He added carefully, “I’ll show you because it will likely come out at some point if y’all get her to join your band. Can’t imagine how many people have a copy of it.” Taking out his phone, they noted he had it buried pretty deep in his phone’s memory. “There it is. Such a pretty girl. A real sweetheart, too.”
Logan and Decklan stood on either side of his phone and took in the sight of Brooke obviously naked with a hotel bed sheet curled around her tanned lithe body. Her breasts and mound were concealed but her long legs and curve of her hip, one bare shoulder and sculpted arms, her lean torso were clear. Her blond hair laid around her in a tangle framing her beautiful face.
Leaning back, they took a deep breath and asked, “What happened when she found out?”
Mindy laughed, “She beat the hell out of him right before a game. One of her friends told her when they were waitin’ for the guys to come out of the tunnel. She threw down her pom-poms and stormed inside, beat him down in front of all his friends before kickin’ him in the balls and spittin’ on him.” The little brunette was holding her stomach, “Then she got pissed because she had blood from his broken nose on her uniform. It was fuckin’ priceless. I don’t think she’s dated since, actually. Least not anybody I know.”
Samuel added, “A few months later, she lost her parents and she quit school to take care of her brother and sisters. Works that place pretty much alone during the school year.” He looked over Mindy’s shoulder, “You found the one of the talent show. Brooke won it the minute she opened her mouth. Her last rodeo, Jackson played the drums, Molly played guitar, while Brooke had her fiddle. Little Becca played tambourine. Fucking adorable, all those pretty kids on stage together.”
“She threw up right before she was so nervous then went out there like friggin’ Faith Hill.” Mindy glanced in the back of the yearbook. “Here’s the dedication the school did for her folks. It was so sad. She had to carry Becca at the funeral, poor baby was only four. Not a dry eye watching the four of them. They been strugglin’ ever since.”
Everyone they asked knew the Brooke Kincaid story and most of the guys knew about the picture. No one thought less of her and they hadn’t heard a nasty word against her if they didn’t count Brad’s new girlfriend who wasn’t anything close to Brooke in beauty or personality. Travis arrived and was currently following them in his truck. When Logan glanced off to the right and saw Brooke on horseback, he nearly drove into the ditch.
He came to a stop and said sincerely, “Decklan. Man, I don’t know if I’m strong enough. Look at her go.”
She was riding hard across her pasture, bent low over her horse in jeans and a tank top, cowboy hat on her head and her hair streaming out behind her. Top speed and she held to the saddle like she was tied to the horse. They watched her leap a fence and keep going, cutting around hay bales and water troughs. Leaping another fence into the main yard of her house, her siblings stood there clapping. Reaching down, she grabbed the littlest one’s hand and pulled her up behind her then was off again with the little girl laughing, holding Brooke around the waist.
Logan was in the middle of the road right before the turn to her house and Travis finally honked behind him. Coming out of his daze, he looked at Decklan who appeared just as miserable as his brother. “Logan, we gotta be so careful.” Nodding, Logan pulled onto the dirt drive and they got out as Brooke jumped back inside the yard and carefully lowered her sister before sliding off the horse to the ground.
There was amusement in her voice as she greeted them, “Hey, guys. I didn’t know y’all were coming today.” She glanced at her appearance with a grimace. “I’m gross and we all smell like hay and horses.” Taking off her hat, she ran her hands through her hair and used her hands to dust her clothes.
Decklan grinned, “I think you forget we grew up just like you, Brooke. Hauling hay and working cattle, raising Tyson chickens. Don’t you worry, honey.” Turning to her younger brother, he held out his hand, “You must be Jackson. Decklan Bradshaw.” All three of her younger siblings had their mouths open and robotically shook the twin’s hands. “We hear y’all play, too?” They nodded their heads in a fog and the brothers had to laugh.
“Jackson, Molly, Becca. Please close your mouths and conduct yourselves. Goodness. Y’all wash up and I’ll put Buttercup away. Lunch in thirty. Hustle.” Brooke led her horse to the barn with the three men following. “So, I hear y’all been asking questions about me around town.” Logan and Decklan looked at her guiltily and she smiled. “No worries, I’m real used to small town life. Believe me.”
As she unbuckled her saddle and pulled it over the horse’s back, she met their eyes, “So how many times have y’all seen the motel picture and heard the beat-down story?” At the horrified expressions on the Bradshaw’s faces, she smiled, “I’m not surprised. Promise. I’m glad you know because it will likely make the rounds if I tour with you. One of those sons o’ bitches will make sure the media gets it. Better you know now. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll tell you Brad was my only boyfriend so though my skeleton is a whopper, there aren’t any others.” Logan and Decklan were blown away that she’d only had one boyfriend. One?
Travis said, “I tell you what, Brooke, you are one pleasant surprise after another.” Looking at the other two males, he asked, “What picture?” Brooke took her phone out and flipped through it before tossing it to him. He glanced down and his eyes got wide as he did a double-take. “Dear lord, Brooke.”
Her shrug let them know she’d probably heard all kinds of comments about the photo, “I keep it on my phone. Better to take away the forbidden aspect of it. Trust me, it makes it much less fucking embarrassing.”
“There is nothin’ about this picture you should be embarrassed about. Not one thing, honey,” Travis told her firmly.
“Amen,” Logan and Decklan said at the same time.
Brooke laughed with a blush and racked her saddle, stripping the blanket off before starting to brush the filly down. She seemed to enjoy the soothing rhythm of brushing down her horse, taking her time and doing a thorough job. Walking her to the stable, she filled her feed and gave her sugar cubes and carrots while talking soothingly. “You are such a good girl, always so reliable. Yes, I just love you, pretty baby. I’ll let you wander the pasture later, Buttercup but I have stuff to do right now. You ran good, rest for a little while, honey.”
She washed up to her elbows before turning to the men, “Y’all hungry? I made tons of food last night and didn’t realize how overboard I’d gone until I put the leftovers away. I insist. Come on up to the house.” Passing them, she led the way and entered the kitchen through a side door.
Making them sit at a huge farmer table, she brought them heated plates of steak fingers with gravy, steak fries, potato salad, turnip greens, and peach cobbler. Hands on her hips, she said with a smile, “I’m not old enough to buy alcohol yet so I can’t offer you a beer but I have sweet tea, Koolaid, and bottled water.” Bringing them each what they wanted, she excused herself with a warning to her siblings to behave or else.
Becca said shyly, “Y’all are so pretty. Prettier than on TV even.” Her voice was filled with breathless awe.
Logan and Decklan smiled, “Thank you very much. So are you, sweetheart.”
“Taller, too,” Molly added with a dreamy expression. “You’re way taller than Brooke and she was taller than Mama.”
Jackson couldn’t care less about their looks and asked them seriously, “Are you really going to bring Brooke into the band?” They nodded. “She needs it. Not the money, she busts her ass, sorry girls, to make sure we have enough. But she’d always thought she’d be a songwriter, doing what she loved. She does real good, made a lot of sacrifices for us. But nobody loves bringing in the hay, I don’t care who you are. You’d a thought she won the lottery when she came back from Dallas. She hired help which is why she was able to relax a bit today.”
Becca said happily while bouncing in her chair, “She’s gonna play band with us today. I play the tamb’rine. But Molly and Jackson are teachin’ me guitar. Brooke used to but she don’t have time no more. Wanna play with us?”
When Jackson started to explain big country stars don’t play band with a bunch of kids, he was shocked when Decklan interrupted. “I’d love to hear y’all. Why don’t we clean this up for your sister and jam until she comes back?” The three kids raced to put food away and clear surfaces, Becca running adorably ahead into the den down the hall with her pigtails flying. Following with big grins, they were amazed at the contents of the room. “Good lord, your family is really focused on music.” The room was filled with instruments of all kinds. There was even a tuba.
The young man said softly, “Our parents both played several instruments. Daddy got this land from his folks but he always wanted to be a musician. All these instruments were either theirs or stuff they picked up at yard sales and stuff.” Jackson sat down at the drums and the men watched as Molly picked up the mandolin and Becca held her tambourine happily to her chest. “Y’all know The World by Brad Paisley?” The brothers nodded as they strapped on electric guitars leaning against the wall. Jackson’s smile was brilliant, “Cool, that’s the girls’ favorite.”
Decklan led out and Logan came in on bass. As they watched, Jackson came in on drums and the little girls chimed in with perfect rhythm. Decklan sang and Logan backed him up on the chorus. They made a point of singing to the girls who blushed madly. About halfway through, the fiddle came in and they looked up to see Brooke coming down the stairs in jeans and bare feet, her wet hair braided loosely down her back and her fiddle in her hands. She came all the way in the room and sat on one of her legs on a stool while she played. They started singing to her and she saw how women fell so easily under their spell.
As it finished, Jackson said, “Hell yes. No one is ever going to believe this.” Travis was thinking the same thing, watching the prettiest and most talented roomful of people he’d seen in a long while.
Becca whispered, “It was like having Mama and Daddy back, Brooke. I liked that a whole lot.” Brooke smoothed her hair back and nodded. “Do the Devil song, Brooke.”
Counting, she waited for the first three drum beats from Jackson and launched into The Devil Went Down to Georgia while everyone else sang it. She focused on her fiddle and tore it up. The band of demons sounded great with Logan and Decklan playing. They were focused on Brooke, her hair working free of the braid as she played.
At the end, everyone was clapping like fools. She bowed and gave them a wink. “I’ve won shows with that one. Y’all sounded amazing even on our old guitars.” Looking at the kids, she said, “I need y’all to give me a little bit of quiet so I can talk, alright?”
Becca and Molly asked, “Can we do Disney songs later?” She told them yes and they scattered, Jackson high-fiving then low-fiving her as he passed.
“Those kids are amazing, Brooke. So damn talented.” Travis had dollar signs in his eyes and didn’t apologize for it, “I think you’re going to love what we have to show you.” She led the way back to the kitchen in her bare feet and put on coffee while they sat watching her. When it was brewing, she joined them at the table.
To Logan and Decklan she said, “Thanks for playing with them. That probably made their year.”
“Totally selfish of us, I promise. To play with kids so talented they can hold their own doing Charlie Daniels or Brad Paisley? Hell that made my year. Don’t kid yourself, we’re not too old to enjoy something like that.” Logan looked happy and Decklan grinned.
“Thanks, we used to have more time to practice. Becca fell behind, poor baby. She should have guitar and piano by now but I just run out of hours in the day.” Folding her hands in front of her, her blue-green eyes were wide, “Hit me with ideas. Having time to play with them again is worth whatever I have to do.”
Travis internally cheered and saw Logan and Decklan rake their green eyes over her as subtly as possible. “We ordered you a tour bus. We’ll have it in a few weeks.” Brooke gasped. “Cool, right? The label outfitted it with everythin’ you could possibly need and it has extra beds for the kids. The tour doesn’t start until they’re out of school so you can bring them with you, Brooke. We checked with the school and you’ll be back the week before their first day.” He watched as Brooke released a breath she’d been holding and gave her an encouraging smile.
“You now have an assistant who used to be a nanny so she’s gonna keep ‘em on track for you. You’ll be meetin’ Jeanette soon, too. The boys hired one of the hands from their parents’ place, Randy Harrods, to keep your horses stabled while you’re gone. He’ll also come by and keep an eye on the house for you. Sell all the cattle, honey. Sell the hay and stop plantin’ it. Before you think you’re puttin’ all your eggs in one basket, you’re gonna make more over the tour to cover ten years of expenses on this place, Brooke.” Her lips parted slightly and she tilted her head. “Boggles the mind, doesn’t it?”
Logan took up the conversation, “Until the tour, you can record with us on the weekends so the kids don’t miss school, Brooke. Come down on Fridays and stay until Sunday night. Jeanette will entertain the kids for you. We’ve met her and she’s great.”
“You’re fast, Brooke,” Decklan said, “We won’t have to do fifteen retakes for each song. Which means it’ll be done quick. We’re going to go back over the six tracks we’ve already done and have your voice added to them. We have to get the new album finished in the next month so it can drop a few weeks before the tour.”
Travis said, “We’re bringin’ a photographer out to get shots of the three of you together. You’re good with everythin’ we’ve laid out and he’ll be here in a day or two. We need some country shots, some formals, a few casuals, and so on to use for tour promotion and the website. I’d like a copy of that motel pic you showed me. I think we can get that photo-shopped and release it before it has a negative feelin’ attached to it in the media. Nip it in the bud.”
With a flourish, he spun the contract around to her and she felt her heart slamming into her ribs, “Your attorney’s name is on the top of this page. Lawrence Bagley works on your behalf and reviewed everythin’ but wants you to call his cell phone before you sign a damn thing.”
In a daze, she took out her phone and dialed the attorney’s number. “Hi, this is Brooke Kincaid. Hi, yes, thank you. Nice to meet you too, sir. Yes. Uh huh, Mr. Cash just went over everything. No, sir. Not at all, in fact I think it’s too much for, you know singing and playing a fiddle, sir.” She listened for a moment before smiling at Travis who couldn’t help but smile back. “No sir, I won’t say that out loud in front of Mr. Cash. Right. Game face, sir. Understood. May I ask you a question? Yes, I need to put a will and guardianship stuff in place for my brother and sisters. Get some life insurance. Can you help me do that? Yes, sir. If anything happens to me I need to be sure they’re taken care of. Thank you, sir. It looks like there are several copies here. Yes, I’m sure Mr. Cash will give me one.” Flipping through the pages to the back, she saw her own attorney had signed off that he’d reviewed it. “Excellent, thank you. I will. Have a real nice weekend, Mr. Bagley. Lawrence, then. Goodbye.”
Hanging up, she held her hand out for a pen and tried not to let her hands shake. Travis gave it to her with a sense of pending history, watching her sign each page on each copy and realizing the Bradshaw boys were practically holding their breath until she finished. Turning the original back to her new manager, she said, “Seems too easy somehow. Good things should be harder to come by, I think.”
Travis chuckled, “Tell me that after eight hundred miles and two shows in one weekend.” He reached into his pocket and removed a check. When Brooke took it and glanced down, she went utterly still.
“I…I…that is, what in the world? This is too much. I haven’t earned this money.” Her mind was working like a pinball game, bouncing between discomfort at holding a check for six figures and sheer joy at the life she was about to provide her family. “I have no idea what to say. Oh my God.” There was true danger of hyperventilation.
Travis held out his hand and she put hers in it. “Listen to me, honey. You’re already earnin’ that check and you’ll bust your butt in the studio and while on tour. I already know that. This is an advance to help you until your regular pay and royalties start comin’ in. The label wants you taken care of. Things are gonna be easier now, I give you my guarantee, Brooke. Anything you need, day or night, you call my phone. You can’t get me, you call the boys. Almost forgot…” he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a Blackberry, “here’s your new phone. Our three numbers, Jeanette’s, and Bagley’s are already in there. Use it for whatever you need.”
Turning it over in her hand, she whispered, “Um, how do you, you know, make a call? I think you could launch missiles from this thing. Dear lord.”
The brothers watched her lean in as Travis showed her the basics, thinking she was so down to earth it was like a first snowfall or a pasture after a spring rain. Pure and good, incredible. She sat on her knees on the chair, cute ass in the air, her arms crossed under her breasts which pressed them even higher. More tendrils had come loose from her braid and curled around her face. Decklan turned to Logan as his brother was turning to him. Sharing a long look, they both sighed.
Travis said, “Okay, I’m goin’. I’m gonna get the photographer up here quick as I can. Pretty girl, I’ll see you at the studio this weekend. You’ll get to meet Jeanette and start interviewin’ for a makeup artist who will tour with you.” Travis stood and leaned over to kiss the top of Brooke’s head. “My daughters are your age and not one of them look or act like you. How does that happen?” She blushed and he smoothed her hair, pointing a finger at the brothers, “I’ll get a call in a bit from y’all?” They nodded. “This is gonna be a great thing for everybody. Send me that pic when you get a chance, Brooke, I’ll have this all fixed for you in no time.”
Then he was gone and Brooke listened as his truck started and drove away. Turning her head, she stared at the brothers for a long moment before saying, “So, how did you get roped into this anyway?” They raised their brows in the same way at the same time and it caused a flutter in her blood. “Y’all are so successful on your own, you do not need me. I don’t get it. Why would you agree to adding some unknown teenager with baggage into your band?”
Logan leaned forward on his arms, “Oh believe me, Brooke, this is gonna be just as good for us as you. We’ve been on the scene for a few years now. Things get stale. We get good-time songs, bachelor songs, drinking songs from writers all over the world. No one sees us as singers who can handle love songs, forever type songs. Your presence is gonna change a lot of perceptions about us.”
“I notice you didn’t say misconceptions which is real honest of you.” There was a mischievous sparkle in her eyes.
Decklan grinned, “You’re not the only one with skeletons, Brooke.” Her laugh was low and sent a bolt of sensation into their cocks. They kept their expressions controlled, amused.
The dimples in her cheeks showed themselves as her full lips curved into a knowing smile. “Oh I’m aware. If half of what y’all pulled in this little piece of the world is to be believed, I can just imagine what you get up to out on your own. Glad you didn’t get caught up in Cindy Gentry’s mess. You know she caught the owner of the bank’s boy a year after all that? Poor thing is stuck right and tight.”
Logan jerked back a bit as she stood and moved to the counter, “You know about Cindy Gentry? How?”
“You’re kidding, right? Nothing goes on in McCurtain County without everybody knowing. You lived here all your lives. You have to know that.” She got them all coffee and sat back down.
He said nothing and Decklan looked uncomfortable. “How much do you know about that whole…situation?”
Needing a moment, Brooke sipped her coffee with a small smile, marveling again at how gorgeous they were. That they were sitting in her kitchen just didn’t seem real. Faded jeans, soft t-shirts, and worn boots had never looked so good. Their hair was dark and silky, a little unkempt. She wondered if it was as soft as it looked.
“Are you asking if I know you have a habit of taking your girlfriends together or if I know she tried to use that to say one or the other of you could have been her baby’s daddy? The little tramp wasn’t even knocked up but the poor church ladies ‘round here were fanning their faces for months.” Brooke took another sip and smiled over the rim. “I’m not certain whether they were scandalized or intrigued but I found it highly amusing. Plus, it took the focus off my drama and gave my parents some peace before they died.”
The brothers didn’t know what to say. Respond to the fact that she was already aware of their preference for ménage or her parents knowing about the picture taken by her ex-boyfriend not long after he’d taken her virginity?
“Yes, I know about your penchant for…sharing, I guess you’d call it? And yes, Dad received a copy of the picture from someone at an auction. I was dating a boy two years older who was bound to push and he did. They didn’t judge me but my dad went and beat the shit out of Brad for the picture. Told him he was lucky I’d admitted being willing or he’d have had him in handcuffs. Good times.”
Decklan and Logan were staring at her intently. Clearing his throat, Decklan said quietly, “You seem very relaxed about the information you know about us, Brooke.”
“Is there a reason I should be scolding you like children? You’re grown men and the women are obviously willing, who am I to judge?” Brooke shrugged her shoulders, “The reason I brought it up is I’m sure you’d feel the need to hide it from me on tour and I’d hate for y’all to change your habits on my account. That would make me feel bad. It wouldn’t be right since I’m getting the most out of this deal.”
Jackson came in the kitchen and said, “Mr. Cash waved goodbye when he was heading to his truck and the girls are begging for ice cream. You want to make homemade?”
“Hell no, Jackson, it’s too late to start it now, it takes hours to do it in the manual machine. We can do that next time. I’ll take y’all into town if you’ll pull Mama’s car around. You might have to try it a few times since we haven’t started it in a couple weeks. Let it sit for a while to cool off and we’ll pile in.”
Jackson pumped his fist, “Yes! Can I drive it around the property?” Brooke nodded with a smile. “Damn, you’re the best sister.” He swooped down and gave her a smacking kiss on the cheek.
He grabbed the keys and slammed out the back door. She called after him, “Not on the main road, Jack!” Turning back to the men in front of her, she smiled. “Anyway, I don’t want y’all to feel like you have to babysit me or anything. Having a chick around all the time shouldn’t impact either of you at all. Okay?” They nodded carefully. “Good, then that’s settled. I’m going to go grab my boots.” With that, she was up and they watched her ass as she left the kitchen and headed down the hall.
Logan whispered, “She’s going to kill us. I’m sure of it.”
“Bro, I’m barely hanging on already. Can you imagine long days in the studio. Traveling with her on tour? Holy hell.” Decklan ran his hands over his face.
“She’s so nonchalant about our sexual tastes. It makes my dick twitch, I swear to god.”
A few minutes later, Brooke came down in a cowboy hat and her boots. “Huddle up, troops! Ice cream!” Molly and Becca came running, charging right past the brothers before skidding to a stop in their flip flops.
“It was sure nice to meet y’all. You sing real pretty,” Becca told them shyly and they thanked her.
The older sibling sighed, “You sure are good lookin’. Gracious, Brooke, better than when we watched them on the CMA’s.” Molly glanced at her sister, “We were about fainting then.”
“Yup, they’re gorgeous and talented. And ready to escape our little zoo, I’m sure. Out to the car.” The little girls waved and took off running, slamming out the door and across the porch.
The brothers stood and followed Brooke to the kitchen door, passing her inside the opening. As one they stopped and turned to look at her. Logan said, “You’re an enigma, Brooke.” She shook her head with an amused smile. “Yeah, you are. You think we’re gorgeous?”
She laughed fully and both men hid their physical response to the sound, “Doesn’t everyone? This can’t be news to you. Come on now, you’re fishing for compliments.” One hand was on the door, one on her hip. It had the most amazing effect on her breasts, pushing them out more. A millisecond glance down, no more, but she caught it.
Her eyes were laughing at them and she clucked her tongue. Decklan said, “Yup. You being in the band is going to be just the shake-up we’ve been needing. Because all the men are going to be talking about is how gorgeous and talented you are, Brooke.” They leaned forward as one and kissed her cheeks. When they lifted their heads to look at her, she was smiling and didn’t say anything for a long moment.
“Oh, that’s what it is, huh? The draw to both of you together? Yeah, I can see it now. Y’all sure are overwhelming up close, aren’t you?” She could have sworn they groaned. “Come on, I have kids to sugar up and you have some of that to do yourselves, I’m sure.” They flinched. “Puh-lease, that’s what I mean. I speak honestly. You act on your honest desires. We have to be able to coexist without you being all self-conscious. Just don’t be disrespectful about it. I don’t think any of us want my siblings catching on to your lifestyle.”
Message received and understood.
Then she winked and pulled the kitchen door closed, waving goodbye as she got in her mama’s late-model Cadillac with her siblings to take them into town. As the brothers climbed up in their truck, pulling out on the main road, they were both off-kilter. They had a feeling it wasn’t the last time Brooke was going to make them feel that way.
As it turned out, the brothers were right. She hadn’t even gotten started.
The photographer and his crew showed up two days later but Brooke didn’t notice them for the first hour they sat across the road from her place. Vaughn Deflora’s assistant spotted her from the back and they parked on the other side of the main road running along her property. Five minutes later, the Bradshaw brothers pulled up behind them as Vaughn uploaded from his digital camera fitted with a telephoto lens. “We’re early. The camera loves her. Fucking adores her. Look at this.”
The twins and the photography crew watched her handle the big tractor around the hay fields. Everyone suspected the photos of her on the massive John Deere would become some of the most downloaded on their website. She wore a tank top with a built-in bra that prominently highlighted her nipples. Her skin was tanned golden and covered in a light sheen of sweat. Jackson drove behind her in an old truck, their sisters in the cab.
It was nearing a hundred degrees, heat rising off the hot pavement. Brooke took off her cowboy hat and upended a bottle of water on her head, smoothing it through her hair and putting the hat back on, every man watching had to adjust themselves. The water ran over her shoulders and chest, her nipples tightening further under her shirt. She blew a belt on the tractor ten minutes later and hopped down from the cab with a tool bag.
“Who is this woman?” Vaughn asked. “And is she available? Sweet lord.” He never stopped shooting as Jackson brought the replacement belt over and she climbed up on the massive engine with a tool bag to change it out. He put music on and she shook her ass while she worked.
The little girls climbed out and she took a break to chase them through the hay. At one point the three of them tackled her and they rolled around hysterical. Molly started doing round-offs and cartwheels, Becca following suit. The twins were ten different kinds of impressed when Jackson did two handless cartwheels, tucking his recently healed wrist to his body. They ran little races, letting the littlest ones win every time.
Brooke yanked Becca up on her back and Jackson fireman-carried Molly and both of the younger girls were dumped in the bed of the truck. He got up in the tractor cab and listened to her instructions. She adjusted a few things in the engine and gave him a thumbs-up. Checking her watch, she climbed up and finished the row she was on, letting the hay drop so it could dry, then they headed back to the house.
Preparing to pack up, the photographer said, “Hell no, we’re going to sneak up on her. I like the candid shots.” They watched as she pulled the tractor into the big barn and Jackson turned on the well spigot. Water was spraying everywhere. The girls ran through it screaming in happiness long before Jack whooped like an Indian and stripped off his shirt. They were calling Brooke, begging her to play and she finally stripped off her boots and socks.
“Oh Jesus help us,” Decklan whispered.
“This is our punishment. We’re being punished by God,” Logan told him fiercely.
“God loves me then, boys, oh hell yes, God loves me,” Vaughn murmured happily. Decklan grabbed Logan’s arm and they watched the scene unfold in the soaked yard of the Kincaid ranch. She was rolling in the grass with them now, all of them laughing so hard it looked almost painful. Finally, they simply laid on the ground with their arms up to catch the water as it poured over them.
Brooke stood first and pulled Molly up, taking her to the spigot and rinsing her blond hair. Wringing it out, she talked to her and Molly nodded, hugging Brooke tight and running inside.
Next Becca was pulled up and rinsed off. When she was clean, Brook lifted the little girl in her arms and danced with her in the manufactured rain. Then the little girl took Brooke’s face in hers and kissed her eyes and nose. They did Eskimo kisses and she was put on her feet to follow her sister.
Putting her hand out, she helped Jackson up and they leaned on the wall talking. It looked like he was crying and she hugged him. She waited a bit, then took his chin between her finger and thumb, talking until he smiled and nodded his head. He spun her out and they two-stepped while they sang. They stopped, talked a moment, Jackson giving her a fist-bump and kissing her forehead before going inside.
The twins wondered why Vaughn was waiting but he said nothing, the camera still aimed at Brooke under the water. Suddenly, she did her signature toe-touch and every man groaned. She stepped up and rinsed the grass off her body, then out of her hair. Turning off the water, she headed toward the porch, unbuttoning her jeans. As she made the top step, she was shimmying them down, the top edge of her plain white cotton panties visible.
Standing up and turning to them, Vaughn said, “There was a vibration about her. She was going to do something else with no one watching. I can always tell.” He started barking instructions to his crew, “Change of plans. We’re dialing up the sex appeal on this shoot. She wants to find the woman she’s meant to be, she’s a girl on the cusp. Let’s show her who’s in there, people.” Glancing at the Bradshaw brothers, he added with a sly smile, “Good luck. Travis said to remind you that you’re not to touch inappropriately.” He walked away laughing.
They headed up to the house and both brothers wondered how they’d handle the rest of their day. Seeing Brooke’s interaction with her brother and sisters had started a tugging inside them. God knew they were both fighting it hard. When they pulled in, Molly and Becca were sitting on the steps, apples in their hands.
Jackson came out with a t-shirt in his hand and the makeup artist said, “That boy is going to be fine as hell when he’s full-grown. God, I hope I’m around to corrupt him.”
Nodding at the brothers, the young man said, “Y’all don’t ever call. She’s going to be pissed she wasn’t ready for you. Again.” Garth Brooks started playing from inside the house and Brooke came out behind her brother, barefoot and wearing an eyelet sundress with tiny straps. Her damp hair fell around her and she wasn’t wearing a bra. She was holding a small laundry basket in her hands filled with stuff to make homemade ice cream.
Frozen like a deer, she whispered, “Shit. Do y’all do this on purpose?” Glancing up at all the people in her yard, she groaned. “Really? I have the new phone. I’m keeping it charged and everything.”
“We called it. I think you have it on vibrate or something, honey,” Logan said quietly. He was having trouble breathing with the vision of her perky breasts and erect nipples pressing against the fine cotton of her dress.
She rolled her eyes, annoyed with herself. “Of course. I’ll need another lesson from the two of you.” Decklan begged her silently to never say those words again. “Decklan, will you please fix my phone? It’s on the kitchen counter.” Taking a deep breath, she said to everyone gathered, “If y’all will bear with me for just a little bit, I promised the girls homemade ice cream. I’ll get it started then, you know, get dressed. Give me ten minutes.”
Vaughn stepped up and took the basket from her. “Miss Kincaid, it is a great pleasure to meet you. I’m Vaughn Deflora, the photographer Travis hired to capture you on film. I’ve heard so much about you already and I’m going to have to ask your forgiveness. We’ve been here some time but didn’t want to interrupt your family time. As a photographer, I shoot what inspires me. I’d like you to go through the pictures I’ve already taken and tell me which ones you’d like copies of and which you wouldn’t mind if we used to promote you. Would you do that for me? I would be so grateful.”
Not saying anything for a long moment, her sarcasm was obvious, “Wow, does that work on lots of women? That whole, ‘I’ve totally invaded your privacy but I was inspired and I’m exotically good looking so you’ll forgive me, I’m sure’?” She laughed at his shock. “No worries, Mr. Deflora, I’m sure you’re used to getting your way with your accent, long lashes, and dimples.” She gave a delicate shrug. “I’m just not susceptible. Remember that in future if you don’t mind. I’ll try to be a good subject for you.” He nodded with a stunned smile.
She took the basket back and gave the brothers a wink as she turned. “Molly, Becca, come on girls, I can’t do all the work by myself.” They scrambled to sit beside her as she sat on the porch steps, the ice cream maker between her legs. The dress rode up her tanned, sleek thighs and Vaughn picked up his camera. Glancing up, she said clearly, “You get a single one exposing a portion of my body not intended for public consumption and it better get destroyed. Do we understand one another, Mr. Deflora?” He nodded. The three blond heads bent together as they added ingredients for the ice cream.
The brothers sat on the railing of the porch and watched her. Jackson sat on the porch swing, his guitar in hand, playing along with the music on the stereo. As they started turning the crank Break Down Here started to play and the three girls started singing along. Their long blond hair lifted and dried in the warm breeze. If she’d been older, she definitely could have been mistaken as their mother. Becca leaned against her and Molly added salt and ice as Brooke turned the crank. They sang and made ice cream as if there weren’t seven people waiting.
Not that any of those people looked impatient. Most of the crew were city dwellers and the simple scene was both lovely and heart-warming. Brooke’s beauty was stamped on her siblings and the love between them was obvious.
Vaughn never stopped shooting, backing up to get the brothers on the rail and Jackson on the other side. He zoomed in on the brothers’ faces, noting how they watched her. He figured they were the most photogenic people he’d shot in a long time. When the song ended, she accepted kisses from the girls and Jackson came to take her place. “Let me change.”
“Actually, Brooke, if I promise to be discreet, can you stay in what you’re wearing?” She sighed and nodded with an air of resignation. He headed toward the hay field and gestured for the three of them to follow. The brothers hopped the railing when Brooke did and Vaughn’s crew followed with a small scaffold they’d assembled. Finding a uniform section of clean, golden hay, Vaughn held out his hand to Brooke and she took it. “Please, lie on your back.” Snorting, she did and watched as makeup and hair people came to fuss over her for about thirty seconds before stepping away. “Yeah, I didn’t think you’d have much to do,” he told them smugly.
They set up the scaffold and Vaughn climbed to stand above her. “Look at me, there you go. Put your hands over your head…perfect. Now drop one to your stomach. Lovely.” This went on for about ten minutes before he turned to the Bradshaw brothers and said, “Shirts unbuttoned, lie on each side. Oh please, now you’re shy? You know I know better than that. We have a lot of ground to cover and currently have excellent light.”
Logan and Decklan unbuttoned their shirts and walked to either side of Brooke, dropping to their backs beside her. The makeup people came in and positioned their clothing. When the wardrobe girl yanked their jeans lower to show more of their defined abs to their lean hip bones, Brooke couldn’t control her nervous giggles, taking her lower lip between her teeth as they turned their heads to look at her. Vaughn got a perfect shot of it.
“Outside arms up, men. Like that, yes, now take one of Brooke’s hands, Logan. Keep it on your chest, let’s keep them guessing. Yes, perfect. Okay, Decklan, same thing only hold her hand on your stomach. Exactly. Move in closer. Very nice…damn it! Don’t move. A bird shit on my lens. Give me two minutes. Stay.”
As he moved away, Brooke barked. The brothers burst out laughing. “So are y’all having fun? I’m sure you’re used to lying around in fields and whatnot. This is fairly new for me. Mama is probably laughing her ass off. This man I’ve never met before has me laid out in hay with two other men and no bra. Jesus H. Christ. What I manage to get myself into.” Decklan was grinning and Logan was trying real hard not to laugh.
“Brooke, you are something else, darlin’.” Decklan lifted her hand and kissed it. She looked at him and was amazed at how pretty he was. Logan squeezed her hand, stroking his thumb over it and she turned to the same gorgeous image on the other side.
“Wait ‘til you see the pictures Vaughn took, honey,” Logan said with a whistle.
Decklan groaned, “So hot. There wasn’t a man who wasn’t affected.”
“Good grief. Y’all stop talking. You’re killing me. Behave.” Even she could hear the huskiness in her voice.
They gave a small chuckle and the sound shot straight into her womb. Vaughn appeared above them, “A couple more then I found some good spots for the others. Were you talking while I was gone? You look all relaxed now, Brooke. That is a very nice look for you. Good lord, I can’t wait to put you through wardrobe changes.” He said a few things in Italian and gave a low whistle.
Quirking her lips, she asked cheekily, “Did you just say something about my boobs, Vaughn?”
Coming out from behind the camera, he stared down at her with dark eyes and gave her a wicked grin, his voice low and sensual, “Are you guessing, love?” She grinned and nodded, “Then because you are honest with me, yes, I was saying you are so firm and perfectly shaped. I am also enthralled with your legs, Brooke. Very long and leanly toned, covered in sleek golden skin. I could continue but I see the Bradshaw brothers are becoming annoyed with me.” He leaned back and said, “Everyone up. Michelle! Get them changed into the first outfits. Quickly, I lose this light and no one will be happy. Night shots are done at night, not sunlight filled shots.”
The brothers stood and each grabbed one of her hands, pulling her to her feet. They picked hay out of her hair and led her over to Michelle. Ten minutes later, they all emerged in leather outfits. Logan and Decklan walked around her, stopping shoulder to shoulder and staring at her.
Clearing her throat, she gave a small smile before mumbling shyly, “Snug.”
They winked and heard Vaughn calling them impatiently. Her hair had been flat-ironed and hung a few inches above her waist. The style brought out the light browns and deep honey shades streaked naturally through it. There were steps along the outside of the barn, leading to the second floor loft. Vaughn wanted Decklan’s feet on the ground, Brooke behind him with her knees tucked along his sides, Logan behind her.
“My god, leather was made to hug your curves, Brooke. Circle your arm around her knee, Decklan. Curl your hand, exactly. Logan, lean her back on you please. Yes, good, good. Brooke, elbow on his thigh. Logan, forearm across her collarbone. Yes, so good. Each of you look at her. That is it!” They stayed touching one another for almost half an hour, Vaughn barking direction.
Decklan stood first when they had to go change, helping Brooke up and Logan standing behind her. “My butt is numb from the wooden step. Anyone else?” They nodded with big grins as they walked back to wardrobe. Jeans and a bustier with very high heels and she met the twins on her porch, they were back in button-down shirts with the top few buttons undone and cowboy boots. “You got boots? Bastards…” They smirked and seemed to be happy with the heels she’d been dressed in.
Glancing at her sisters churning ice cream, she realized they’d been moved up on the porch so they didn’t get trampled. They were watching their big sister so she rolled her eyes and made a funny face. “They’re putting you in really neat clothes, Brooke. You’re so pretty. Gosh.” She smiled and thanked them, waiting for direction.
He was happy to give it. “On the porch swing, Logan and Decklan. Slightly separated. Yes. Brooke, you are looking very hot in that, by the way. I need you to straddle their center legs, lean back with your arms over their shoulders.” She did, her hair slipping forward as she lowered herself. “Pull her down, boys. Yes, Brooke, they won’t let you fall, honey.” Brooke felt their arms cross her back, each of them with a hand on her waist. She slid her hands over their shoulders and they snugged in closer. “Gorgeous, just gorgeous. Play with their hair, Brooke.”
“Crap, Vaughn, I’m only human.” Both brothers sucked air through their teeth. Sighing, she put her hand in Logan’s first and he leaned into her. “Way to wind people up, Vaughn.” Two hands tightened on her waist.
“I like the way that looks very much. Okay, other side. I’m liking it, hands on both of them now. All of you on the steps.” They stood and were positioned with Brooke on the top, a brother on either side. “Logan, pull her leg over your lap. Brooke, drape yourself over Decklan’s back. Yes, lovely, oh I do like that. Shoes off, Brooke.”
Logan removed them for her and took her bare feet in his hands as Decklan lifted her to his lap. Vaughn started to speak and Decklan put his hand up. “Just shoot and tell us when you’re ready for us to move, Vaughn.” They started moving her back and forth between them, sitting and laying her down, running their hands through her hair. Then she was swung up in Decklan’s arms and carried around the back of the house to the girls’ huge wooden swing. He sat and put her on his lap, her legs outside of his, her bare feet on his calves. Logan stood beside them, his hand stroking through Brooke’s hair. They stood her on the swing, each of them with a hand wrapped around one of her legs, her palms on their skin at the bend of their neck and shoulders.
Vaughn had one of her sofas pulled out in the field and sent them back to wardrobe. She came out in a laced up layered gown and tiny braids scattered over her hair, barefooted and looking like a fairy. Decklan carried her so her feet didn’t get dirty. The brothers wore brown suede breeches and boots, unbuttoned linen shirts and cowboy hats.
A pale green swatch of velvet was laid over the couch and they started posing her again. Sitting her on the back of the couch, they sat on the cushions, their heads on her thighs and her hands in their hair. They moved to sit on either end of the couch and laid her out between them, her head and shoulders in one’s lap, the back of her thighs touching the other. Their hands over her stomach and legs. They sat her up, Logan behind her with his hand around her stomach. Decklan lifted one leg and put it behind him on the couch, her other stretched over his thighs.
Last, they stood with her between them, facing one with the other’s back turned, swapping places. Then both turned into her, pressing close, whoever was in the back had his face on the other side of her head away from the camera. The one facing her had his mouth beside her ear. Their hands were on her torso, on her hips, at her back, the side of her legs. Then they both faced front and lifted one of her arms up and around their necks. Exhausted, she laid her head back on their shoulders, turned slightly toward center, while their hands were on her hips and they stared down at her.
“Oh my god, gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.”
Oh yeah, she could see the draw of both men together. Strangely breathless, her mind a complete blank with the feeling of them on her body, Brooke managed, “All my witty repertoire has evaporated, Vaughn. So thanks. Are we done?” The hands on her body out of sight of the camera flexed on her skin and her breath left her in a rush.
Smiling benignly, the photographer shook his head, “Oh honey, not just yet. One more outfit change and I’ll even let you pick what you’re most comfortable in from the stuff we pulled together for you in the dressing room.”
She put all her weight on her feet and almost dropped. The brothers caught her and Logan carried her to the wardrobe girl. Placing her carefully on her feet, he said, “Put her in her own clothes, Michelle. Give us just a minute, will you?” The young woman nodded and ducked out. Decklan stepped up behind Brooke, his hands on her hips, while Logan stared at her, his hands cupping her face. “Look at me, Brooke. Hey sweetie, you alright?” She nodded then shook her head, her hands going to his wrists. “What’s wrong?”
“Y’all are killing me. I…I feel flustered and overheated. Not right in my own skin.” He stared at her for a long moment before dropping his mouth over hers. He and Decklan pressed into her and she moaned, letting him swallow the sound, feeling her tentatively open for him. Licking into her mouth, his cock came to aching attention. Logan toyed with her tongue for a moment before moving his lips along her jaw. Decklan brought her mouth to the side and claimed it with just as much skill as Logan had. Again, she moaned, one hand moving to Logan’s shoulder, the other to cup the back of Decklan’s head.
The sound of footsteps had the brothers moving to either side of her, turning her body and setting her behind the changing screen. It was almost a dance move, how smoothly they protected her from being seen. Michelle was back, smiling at them. “Hey guys, y’all go ahead and throw on a couple button downs, your own worn boots. Stay in the brown tones so you match Brooke.” Reaching around the screen, she handed Brooke clothing. “These are your jeans, honey. Use this top and jacket. Your boots. I’ll bring the girls in to work on your makeup in a minute. Once the pretty boys out here are done.”
Brooke asked quietly, “Uh, Michelle, where is the rest of this shirt? Are you serious? This is it? And girl, these are the tightest jeans I have. I possess an ass and it falls out of these.”
“You’ll be gorgeous. Come on so I can play with your hair before Vaughn starts squawking.” Five minutes later, she stepped from behind the screen and the Bradshaw men had to sit down. Michelle smiled smugly, “See, I told you. That’s the reaction Vaughn wants.”
Brooke was allowed to wear her own boots, a pair of low-hung jeans that fell below her hip bones and exposed the dimples just above her ass when Michelle turned her. She wore a top that was really the size of a sport bra in worn brown leather which exposed every ripple of her six-pack abs and just how perfect her rack was. Her shoulders and arms were sculpted and lean, like the rest of her.
Michelle pulled her hair back from her face with two clips and picked sections of the straightened length to crimp. Brooke glanced up to see the brothers watching her in the makeup mirror and suddenly had trouble breathing. Their eyes clearly showed their hunger and she felt the answering ache in her own body, unfamiliar with the tension and what it meant.
When she was done, Michelle handed her a leather bolero jacket to pull on that matched her top. Crankily, Brooke sneered at the offered clothing, “What is the point of the jacket? Honestly…”
Michelle blinked, “The appearance of more clothes but less.” She grabbed her and pulled her to the door, “Come on, guys.” The brothers followed in a daze. “Alright, Vaughn, what do you think?” The photographer glanced over his shoulder as he checked light and almost fell off his scaffold. The assistant chuckled brightly, “Excellent. You’re welcome. She’s all yours.”
They’d saddled Buttercup and guided her to the fencing along the pasture. Brooke laughed loudly, “Y’all know I can’t ride in these pants. Hell, I can barely walk in them.” Vaughn wanted her to walk her horse back and forth along the fence while the brothers sat on the fence watching. They were ready to take the horse back to the stable and Brooke played with her for a minute. They bowed to one another and nuzzled noses before Jackson took her. “Give her extra treats, Jack. I didn’t ride her, you know she hates that.” He nodded and quirked his brow at her outfit. “Bro, don’t ask. I know exactly what you’re thinking.”
They posed around her vintage truck, her in the cab with them standing inside the door, hands inside her knees. Leaned up against them while they faced the other way. When Vaughn told her to slip her palms flat into their back pockets she actually shuddered. The brothers groaned, making her accidentally curl her fingers into the tight muscles of their asses with a gasp. Then she was in the middle facing forward as they stood to the side with their elbows on the truck, staring at her, their outside hands splayed over her hip bone and stomach. Vaughn brought their instruments and they played while he clicked away.
By the time they finished, Brooke was dead on her feet but Vaughn wanted her to go through the candid shots of her with her siblings. “Um, Vaughn, I absolutely hate this one. Don’t you dare. I look like a frigging porn star.” Several men behind her sighed but didn’t disagree.
She pointed to the one where she’d poured water on herself. “God, did you manage to get every embarrassing moment?” She was blushing at the image showing her shaking her ass inside the engine of the tractor. “None of these where my brother is upset. That’s private, goddamn it. And no to the white trash wet t-shirt contest shot. Good lord.” There was laughter around her. Turning to the photographer, she whispered, “I want copies of all the ones with Jackson and the girls. Okay?” He nodded happily.
They went through hundreds of shots he’d taken of the twins and Brooke. The overall feel was sensual and it made her warm seeing what they’d looked like while being photographed. “You do manage to capture specific, uh, emotions, don’t you, Vaughn?”
“It is why I am the best, Brooke. You are a beautiful subject, easy to photograph. The twins have always been so as well. The three of you together, well, I have to say this is some of my most provocative work and all of you are still dressed. Ah! I almost forgot. Travis asked me to work with the, er, photo of you that caused you much embarrassment, yes? We’re going to add it to the portfolio of the three of you. I had the Bradshaws take specific positions for me. Tell me what you think.”
He searched the hard drive of the computer in his trailer and found what he was looking for. He clicked it and the image of herself she’d been dealing with for two years filled the screen. There were gasps and whispers behind her about how gorgeous she was. He’d cleaned it up and enhanced the sharpness. “Good lord, it’s so clear now.” She didn’t sound happy about that.
Then he clicked a button and the Bradshaw brothers appeared on either side of her, sleeping. “Holy shit…” Logan and Decklan groaned behind her. They were bare from the waist up, what looked like the same sheet pulled over their lower halves that strategically covered her. Their dark hair was deliberately tousled. One brother was on his back, the other on his front. Their physiques were stunning. “I’m assuming the…the thought behind this is I’m allowing this picture to be taken while the other was taken without my permission?” Vaughn nodded. “It certainly looks very real for two photos taken two years apart. Wow. You’re good.”
“Thank you, Brooke. I’ll make sure you receive copies of all the photos. Many are going into your tour book, website, and album insert. I’ll be meeting all of you at two or three shows to get live concert shots. It will be a pleasure to see you again, as it has been a pleasure to meet you.” He stood and took her hand, kissing her knuckles. “I need to get back, get these sorted and into production. I will create a separate CD of everything and include the family photos for you, yes?” She nodded. “Take care of yourself, beautiful Brooke.” Then he was sweeping from the trailer to his car, followed by his assistant.
The rest of his staff began breaking down stuff outside and packing items away but Brooke didn’t move. The twins came to stand beside her, all of them staring at the photo still on the big screen.
“It’s amazing how real that looks, isn’t it? Almost like a memory I’ve forgotten.” Neither man said anything, not sure what she wanted them to say. “There is no way we can sleep together. You’d be crucified in the press. Even this photo can’t be used for a couple of months. One day under eighteen and the parent groups will stage protests. Either way, you’ll be portrayed as my corruptors. That you used your fame and our age difference to seduce me, obviously young and oh-so-innocent, into bed with you. It will be twisted into something dark and ugly.” She turned and leaned against the counter, facing them. “You know I’m right.”
Logan and Decklan stared at the picture for another long moment before dropping their eyes to her face, their gazes almost a physical touch. She was so aware of them after hours of their hands on her body, she wanted to cry with need. They looked upset but nodded slowly. She stood up and pulled each one down for a kiss on the corner of their mouths. They touched her back and stomach. “Y’all go blow off some steam and I’ll see you tomorrow in Dallas. We’ve got lots of work to do so I’ll see ya later, boys.”
Brooke escaped into the house and peeled off the too-snug clothes. Slipping the sundress back on, with a bra this time, she took all the braids and clips out of her hair and pulled it all up into a disheveled bun as she walked back outside barefoot. The girls were sitting with Jack and it looked like the ice cream was almost done. Gradually, the photo crew had everything back in place, bringing the sofa back in the house, and loading their vehicle. She waved at them as they headed down the drive to the main road.
Brooke was surprised when Logan and Decklan stepped up on the porch. She stared at them over the kids’ heads for a moment, noting their resigned expressions. Quietly she asked, “Ice cream?” They nodded and she smiled.
Their relationship had to have boundaries if this was going to work. There was too much at risk, not the least of which were their reputations, to allow sexual need to ruin it. She was glad they were still willing to be her friends because she was going to need them to deal with everything coming once they started recording and touring. As grounded as she was, the life of a country star was unknown to her. She had people depending on her, who needed her to keep it together.
After she made huge BLT’s, she warmed up her fresh peach cobbler and scooped ice cream over it, smiling as the brothers took the bowls with a smile and groaned at their first taste. They took their time over the food, talking and laughing as if they’d all known one another for years. Almost like a family, Brooke would think more than once.
That was the day two of the most hell-raising bachelors in country music became surrogate uncles to two sweet little girls who missed their daddy and a growing young man in need of male companionship. The day Brooke glimpsed who they were behind the public persona. Witnessed the humor, the kindness, the shared upbringing they had in common. Saw the men they might be one day behind the mask of the good-time cowboys with too much charm and money, dark male beauty, and an overabundance of sex appeal.
Sexually innocent but wildly curious, with a loneliness no one knew she held, it was when Brooke realized she was going to fall in love with them, both of them, despite her best intentions. And it was going to hurt.
The members of Broken Bronco busted their ass in the studio and were able to finish the last tracks for the album over two exhausting weekends. As planned, Brooke picked up all the kids from school on Fridays and drove straight to Dallas, coming back late on Sunday night. Without Jeanette, her assistant-slash-nanny, the schedule wouldn’t have been possible. She kept the kids safe and entertained all weekend so Brooke could focus on her new career.
A career she loved beyond all reason.
The brothers added a couple of her original songs to the album which had shocked her silent until she’d burst into tears. At first uncomfortable, they eventually didn’t try to hide that they were laughing at her but handed her Kleenex so she guessed that was something. They were Broken Bronco, so she wouldn’t have even considered asking to add her own songs. It moved her that they’d thought of her.
Every weekend morning, before they got started, Brooke brought her three siblings to the studio with her after an early breakfast at their hotel. They’d get there before everyone else and she’d play with them, all of them jamming on the nicer, newer equipment. Logan caught them at it one morning and asked a tech to record them. He and Decklan went into the soundproof room and picked up their guitars. They’d done several covers of the kids’ favorite songs amid laughter and teasing.
When Jeanette took them out for the day so Brooke could get to work, she listened happily while the younger Kincaids told her all about the jam session. The girls were on cloud nine and Jackson was looking very proud. The quiet and unassuming woman was a lifesaver in every sense of the word for the Kincaid family. Brooke knew she owed her so much and her siblings adored her.
There was a wrap party the weekend after they finished the album and all of them took their time getting fancied up at the hotel. Jackson looked sharp in his dark brown suit and Brooke teared up a little at how grown up he was getting. The moment he was ready started going insane with a pair of drumsticks on every hard surface of their suite. Since Brooke was a bundle of raw nerves about the coming appearance, it was all she could do not to beat him to death with them.
The girls were beautiful in blue-green silk little girl dresses with fluffy layered skirts that made them look like wood sprites. While Brooke started their hair, they danced on the tile of the hotel bathroom floor, loving the sound of their shiny dress shoes on the marble. The moment they were released from the bathroom, they headed into the living room and passed the time dancing together. Jeanette got several photos of all of them and the Kincaids realized she was creating a photo journal of their summer and Brooke’s first tour. There wasn’t a more thoughtful person than the gentle woman they’d happily absorbed into their little family.
The oldest Kincaid wore a dress that had been picked by someone else and as she pulled it on, she realized it was gorgeous but not something she would have thought to get for herself. Also blue-green, it was a fitted bodice with spaghetti straps that flared into delicate layers of chiffon at her hips. The hemline was uneven and didn’t fall further than her knees. The shoes were four-inch matching stilettos. It was a dress made for a grown woman and it was the first time Brooke truly felt like a woman. It was enough to give her chills since it was her eighteenth birthday.
When Bria, the brash young redhead Brooke had chosen as her stylist, pulled her hair into a sophisticated up-do, she felt beautiful. Laughing at her look of awe, Bria asked, “Are you ever going to cut loose and let me get crazy with your style?” Brooke shook her head with a shy smile and the other woman laughed, “Then I’ll have to keep trying, honey, because you are too pretty to be good all the time.”
With a wink she finished the girls and Jackson before giving Jeanette a quick color lift around her eyes and cheeks against the shy woman’s protests. “Jeanette, you have a damn pretty figure. This sheath is perfect for you, classy and pretty. Accept your loveliness.”
Jeanette’s face was bright pink and she thanked Bria softly. Bria’s own dress was a sexy black number that highlighted her athletic figure and made her hair and eyes pop. More of a risk-taker, she went more dramatic with her hair and makeup, wearing tall black platform pumps that screamed ‘sex’. All of them were impressed when she emerged from the third bedroom with a grin. “I so love parties. We’re going to have a blast!” Hands on her hips, she told Becca and Molly, “No rowdy drinking games tonight, young ladies. No gambling. No flirting with cute men. Are we clear?” Both girls were in fits of giggles.
A limo took them to the hotel where an enormous ballroom had been reserved for the wrap party. Media people were waiting, VIP rope holding back spectators, and Brooke’s nerves jumped in reaction. Hesitating to get out, Logan and Decklan appeared outside the limo to help each of the kids, Jeanette, and Bria out before taking Brooke’s hands and tugging her gently onto the red carpet. Placing her hands in the bend of their arms, putting theirs over hers to keep her in place, they paused several times for photos as Jeanette maneuvered the kids inside.
Relieved to get past it, the brothers told her to take a deep breath as they entered the main ballroom and at least a thousand people began to clap and cheer. Brooke started to back up only to feel Logan and Decklan take a firmer grip on her. Leading her directly to the stage, they performed two of the album tracks without giving her time to get nervous. It was the first time she hadn’t had to throw up before performing live. There were so many ovations she began to blush furiously which the monitor behind her displayed beautifully.
They took turns dancing with her and leading her around to introduce her to all the people she’d never met before. Meeting Toby Keith in person had almost made her faint. He leaned down to kiss both her cheeks and told her the music industry needed a woman who still knew how to blush. Tilting her head up, he wished her luck and she stammered a thank you. He’d watched her with a toothy smile as the twins led her away.
Around and around she was spun and introduced and fawned over while being simultaneously awestruck. When she met Reba there were no words for how she felt. She literally went silent with her hands folded in front of her. With a gentle smile, Reba pulled her off to the side and they whispered quietly. After a several minutes, she brought Brooke back to the Bradshaw brothers. “I like this young lady so take good care of her, boys.” They nodded and she kissed Brooke’s cheek then left with a smile.
“I’m going to have a fit. I cannot believe…did that just happen? Did I just have a conversation with Reba? Am I dreaming right now because I think I’m in the hay field. I must have bumped my head.” Laughing, the twins took her over to the kids and she grabbed the three of them. “Reba…Reba talked to me and kissed my cheek.”
Becca asked in awe, “Which one?” Brooke pointed and Becca touched it. “I’d never wash it ever. I’d let it get dirty and would not care.” Then she whispered, “I saw Toby Keith, Brooke. I did. He is huge in person and so cute.”
Jackson pulled them out on the dance floor to Baby Girl and they all switched up dancing together. Becca held her hands up and Brooke lifted her, singing along and feeling when her littlest sister fell asleep on her shoulder. They forgot they were in a roomful of people as she twirled Molly out with one hand when Jackson took Becca off her. “She’s getting’ so much heavier,” and they laughed. He went to sit with her until Jeanette got back from the restroom. Logan bowed to Molly and danced with her as Decklan took Brooke in his arms. When another song came on, they switched partners and then took her back to the table. “You guys hungry?”
“Sis, we’ve been eating the entire time. We’re fine and having a great time people watching. I have Becca and Molly so go do your thing, Brooke. You’ve worked hard for it.” Jackson winked at her and Decklan sat beside him.
Logan took her out to dance again and held her close. “How you doing, Brooke?” She nodded with a faraway expression on her face. “Look at me, sweetheart, you okay?”
“I…I miss my parents. Tonight especially.” Her eyes filled with tears but she blinked hard and willed them not to fall. Breathing deeply, she succeeded in getting control and he wanted her more than ever. “Thank you for everything, Logan.”
“No, thank you, Brooke. You’ve already done so much for us, for the band. Our sales are skyrocketing with the news that you’re joining us. Travis said the website gets triple the hits since we uploaded the photo shoot and the fan club is four times what it was. But you’ve changed a lot for us personally, given us a little group of people to worry about. That means something. Your folks would be so proud of you.”
He kissed her forehead and led her to the edge of the dance floor where Decklan was waiting to take her back out. “You look beautiful, Brooke. The girls are damn adorable and Jackson looks very much like the man he’s going to be one day. You do good work. Are you having fun?” She nodded and tightened her arms slightly around him. “You’re a natural, you know. Already a hit and we couldn’t be prouder.”
Her mouth curved slightly, “Y’all are very good for my ego, I can tell you that much.”
“You’re easy to compliment, Brooke, we don’t have to fake it with you, honey.” He moved her around the floor and when a faster number came on, he two-stepped with her, loving how well she moved. She noted Bria was dancing with lots of different men and wasn’t in the least interested in any of them. The smile on her face was practiced and forced though not entirely unhappy. Jeanette preferred keeping a close eye on Becca and Molly. Brooke knew she was incredibly shy around men and wondered how to pull her out of her shell.
A couple of hours after they arrived, they played a bonus track from their CD Brooke had never heard. Jackson listened to several notes and woke Becca up. A huge screen at the front of the ballroom showed the Kincaid family during one of their jam sessions in the studio. All four of them plus Logan and Decklan were doing a cover of The World, the little ones’ favorite song.
Jackson pulled Brooke to him tight with his hand around her waist, each of them with an arm around a little sister. All of them were shaking with emotion. As it came to an end, the place erupted with applause and Becca whispered, “Are they…is everyone clapping for us?” Brooke nodded teary-eyed and turned to the Bradshaw brothers. She hugged them hard as she cried and they hugged her back, crushing her between them.
The emcee called them all to the stage and they made their way up slowly. The brothers strapped on guitars, Jackson went to the drums, Molly the piano, and Becca the tambourine. As Brooke took up her fiddle, the brothers nodded and winked at her. They did a rocking cover of We’re from the Country to the thrill of everyone in attendance. Begged to play another, Brooke had no choice but to follow Jackson’s drum intro to Devil Went Down to Georgia and had never played so hard in her life. On the last note there was a moment of stunned silence before howls and cheers exploded around the room. Knowing the celebrities attending, Brooke felt a moment of intense confidence in her musical talent.
As the clock struck midnight, they sang Happy Birthday to Brooke who’d just become a legal adult and the brothers welcomed her officially to the band and the label but more importantly to the family of country music. Then she did cry a little and her family huddled around her.
A few more rounds of mingling and she gathered her brother and sisters, Logan and Decklan walked her out to the limo and kissed her cheeks as she got in. Though they’d asked if she wanted them to follow her back to the hotel, she could tell they had other things on their mind and wanted to stay. She smiled and let them off the hook, trying not to pay attention to light pain in her chest at the guilty faces they wore as they turned to head back inside.
The siblings and their entourage headed back to the hotel, the three women chatting animatedly the entire time. The minute they entered the suite, every one of them stripped out of their party clothes, pulled on pajamas, and crashed hard. For the first time in a long time, they all slept late and it felt amazing.
The next morning, Brooke opened the laptop Travis had insisted on giving her. Her screensaver was the day of the photo shoot when they were all playing in the water together. Checking the news and weather, she saw a picture in the local celebrity section of Logan and Decklan leaving the party the night before with a lovely brunette with a caption that read, “Lucky Girl”. It hurt her but she pretended it didn’t and let it go. She didn’t have any claim on the Bradshaw brothers and she never would. That was reality. She copied the picture and put it in a file labeled ‘Logan & Decklan’ as a reminder that the Bradshaw brothers could never, would never, be hers.
Eventually everyone stumbled out of the bedrooms looking groggy but happy. They went for brunch close to noon and two people asked for Brooke’s autograph. Shyly, her surprise at being recognized evident, she gave it to them then posed for a picture. They looked about her age so she exchanged email addresses. She told them she’d welcome their emails on the road since she was bound to get bored.
They headed to the studio and she was working with the techs for almost two hours before the brothers showed up. They sipped coffee and watched her work through bleary eyes. Brooke controlled her thoughts, refusing to let them race over the reason they were so exhausted. Logan tried to rub her shoulders and she subtly stepped away pretending to need water.
She knew she actually worked harder than they did but she didn’t mind. She had more time to make up, more people to support on the money she earned. There was more at stake for her and she had to make sure her inclusion in their band worked out. It was best to put a little bit of distance between them.
Three days after the album wrap party, the fan mail started coming to the studio. The label was forwarding it from Nashville to the satellite studio in Dallas. Brooke got Jackson to help her sort through it. There were envelopes with letters and cash, photos of potential suitors, jewelry, stuffed animals, and plane tickets to visit people she’d never met. It was surreal.
He helped catalogue everything and she created a thank you template on her computer. Returning the jewelry, donating the stuffed animals to a local Dallas shelter that helped families with small children, then dividing the cash between a charity for military veterans and an elderly woman back home in Idabel they knew struggled each month.
Going to her blog on the band website, she made a list of what kinds of things she’d received and what she’d done with them. She thanked her fans and explained it looked like her days of struggling financially were behind her. That they should keep the money for their own families but if they sent it to her, she’d give it to those in need.
“Instead, why don’t you look around in your city or town and find a family like mine? People who work real hard but are hurting anyway…those people could use your help. A few dollars buys eggs and bread or a couple of gallons of gas they might not be able to afford. There are families everywhere now, mothers and fathers who’ve fallen victim to the financial crisis who have children who could use a jacket or a stuffed animal. Thinking globally starts with acting locally. Look around, we’re a family of human beings and sometimes everyone can use a hand up, not always a hand out.
“In the meantime, I hope you’re not unhappy with my use of your gifts. I always wanted my parents to be proud of me. Maybe now I can make my extended family of fans proud of me? Maybe if I always remember that my actions reflect on your belief in me, I can always remember to use the opportunity I’ve received for the greater good. Until I see you in the stands or at autograph sessions, know I’m working hard to make you proud. Love, Brooke.”
Over the next two weeks, Jackson helped her twice more and the positive comments were pouring into her blog. People who’d been helped, people she’d inspired to help others. Every day she made an entry using her new phone explaining where she was and what was going on with her and the band. How hard they were working to get ready for the tour, what an honor it was to be part of Broken Bronco, and how talented her fellow band mates were. She wrote about meeting the roadies and supporting staff that kept everything running behind the scenes and how they’d welcomed her as if she’d been part of the band from the beginning. There were a dozen entries about Jeanette, Bria, and Travis, how much she thought of them as family. Talking about how good the label was taking care of her and how everyone helped her now with her siblings.
She told her fans she’d have more time to post on the road between performances. The main website hits tripled again and her blog in particular surpassed the bands hits each day. When the IT guys brought her popularity to Travis’s attention, he and the Bradshaw brothers logged on in his office and read through it themselves.
“Holy shit…” Decklan whispered when he read all the amazing things she was doing while they partied every night.
“Well, I feel selfish,” Logan added just as quietly. “She’s the sweetest person on the planet. Wow.”
There was a scowl on Travis’s face as he scrolled through page after page of Brooke’s communications to her fans. Moved by what she’d written about him made him even more protective of her than he already was. “She writes a lot about the two of you. Mainly about your talent and dedication to the band, to the fans. Answers questions women out there have about you. She’s kinder than I’d be, I can tell you that right damn now,” there was no denying he was just plain annoyed with Logan and Decklan.
They looked at him, confused. Logan asked, “What’s wrong with you, Travis?” They stood away from the computer and looked at their manager intently. He never really got pissed at them but it sounded like he was pissed now.
Sitting back in chair, the older man crossed his hands over his stomach and studied the brothers for a long moment before he told them, “You’re out whorin’ every night, not carin’ about anything but the next time you can get your rocks off and she’s literally makin’ the world a better place. It fuckin’ annoys me. Don’t look at me like that. Go get some work done. Fuck.” With that dismissal, he turned back to his computer and ignored them.
The twins left, more than a little confused. As they walked through the offices they passed the employee lounge and saw almost a dozen people surrounding a small table. Decklan asked cheerfully, “Hey, what’s going on?”
A technician turned with a grin, “That angel brought in homemade cookies and banana bread for all of us. Said we all work too hard and she never sees any of us eat.”
The main receptionist added, “Jackson said she cooked all day yesterday so she’d have it ready when she picked them up from school and headed down here.”
“This stuff is fucking delicious. Four different kinds of cookies, banana bread, and pecan bars. Unreal. I wonder if she can cook everything this good,” their drummer said with a look of pure rapture as he bit into a peanut butter cookie. “She’s so damn precious I can barely stand it.”
Without thinking, Logan said, “She is a great cook. And yeah, she’s damn precious.” The brothers each snagged a cookie and headed for the studio. They threw themselves into the day with renewed energy.
A couple of weeks later, the album was certified gold and CMT heralded the band’s renewed success to the addition of Brooke. They showcased the tracks she’d done with the Bradshaw brothers. They did a ten-minute character piece on her and Travis couldn’t budge her on giving an interview. She insisted she wasn’t ready to talk about herself and she was one of three people in the band. CMT interviewed everyone else they could, including Travis and the technicians who worked with her every day at the studio.
Without ever performing live, Brooke was already famous.
Suddenly the kids were out of school, Randy was established in an apartment over her stables to watch her place, and they were rolling across the United States. The first show of their tour was in Seattle. The road trip was an amazing experience for the Kincaid kids. Jeanette and Bria took tons of pictures and uploaded them to her blog asking fans to ‘wish her luck’. Their tour bus was filled with music and laughter while they played games.
Arriving the day before the concert, the roadies worked non-stop to set up while staying out of the way of the three members of Broken Bronco while they rehearsed. They brought up the audio for the stadium and the brothers watched Brooke acclimate to the different sound. The first run-through was to teach her. The stage was enormous, the audience closer than she’d thought they would be, the acoustics totally different, and they had a ton of room to use. In her boots and jeans, sporting a retro Farm Aid t-shirt, with a furled baseball cap keeping her long hair back, Logan and Decklan watched her learn her environment.
Brooke took off her boots and walked to one side of the stage, causing all their jaws to drop as she did traveling back flips across the front edge. Spiking her landing, she did a couple of spins and pirouettes. Getting a running start, she skated in her socks back to her boots and pulled them on with a smile. Picking up the microphone, she asked to run through it again.
This time, she seemed sure of herself. As the music came up, she danced alone and with each of them as they played. When she had her guitar in hand, she was usually back to back with one of the brothers. If she was playing piano, she liked one of them to be somewhat close. They positioned it center stage so they’d still be able to be seen by the entire audience. If she was on fiddle, she moved back and forth along the edge, singing and playing. By the fourth time they went through it, at her request, she was like an old pro. Everyone watching could see her nervousness but she was ready. There were bets on her blowing the crowd away.
Arriving at the venue the night of the concert, Brooke was a wreck. Jeanette assured her several times that she’d keep a close eye on the kids and Jackson told her he’d help and not to worry about them, they’d see her afterward and she was going to be incredible.
Getting out of the limo, there were hundreds of people pushing and shoving, trying to touch her. She was trying to be nice but they were so close. Jeanette was taking the kids to the next entry door so they wouldn’t get trampled. A couple of the roadies and a very pissed off Bria pushed her through the crowd. Someone’s camera caught her hard in the cheek and Bria looked ready to rip the guy’s head off as Brooke shook her head to clear it.
Bria wasn’t big but her sheer presence of will more than made up for it. Plowing through the bodies who’d overwhelmed the two security guards someone thought would be enough, she held Brooke behind her and slammed through an entrance. Pulling her further into the thankfully empty hallway, leaving the crowds behind them, Dave and Greg led her to her dressing room while Bria moved ahead furiously. Greg brought her a bag of ice for her cheek and Bria said she could cover it but she was not happy about it at all. She made Brooke get dressed and cover her clothes with a robe while she prepped to do her hair and makeup.
When the brothers breezed in to check on her an hour later, they were riding high from working the crowd. It took a moment for them to notice she was holding an ice pack to her face. “Hey, what happened, honey?” Bria told them, barely containing her temper, and the twins’ eyes went wide as they moved closer. “Brooke, are you alright?” She nodded brusquely but said nothing. “How long ago did you get here?”
Brooke sat up and turned to them, “I got here at six just like you told me to. Remember? You said you wanted one more rehearsal. I guess you got held up again.” She was pleased to see both of them flinch. “We couldn’t get through. If not for Bria and the guys…”
Decklan crouched in front of her, stroking his knuckles lightly over her bruised cheek. “I’m sorry, Brooke. We won’t be late anymore. From now on, you come in with us. That way we can help keep the fans off you. Alright?” She nodded and turned back to Bria, who patted a moist powder over the purplish mark.
She wasn’t speaking to them and they couldn’t blame her. Brooke looked sad and worse, she looked disappointed in them. “Forgive us, Brooke. We would have never leave you vulnerable on purpose. We’ll make it up to you, honey. Don’t be mad.”
Sighing, she nodded, “There were so many people. So many pushing and shoving. Greg and Dave watched my sides and my back, they’re huge so they just blocked me. Bria, so tiny and pretty, bulldozed her way through to the doors. I’ve never seen anything like it. Thank you so much. So much, Bria.”
The smaller woman leaned forward and gave her a light kiss on her forehead. “I’m sorry you were scared, Brooke. I’m scrappy and I’ve always got your back. You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. If I’d had to tell the kids…” Bria swallowed hard and they saw tears in her eyes, “I couldn’t face those kids if anything happened to you.” She blinked and shook her head. “Enough of this. I’m not starting over with your makeup. Get happy, chica.” A bottle of water and two Tylenol lessened the throbbing in her cheek and Bria had covered it completely.
When her hair and makeup was done, Brooke stood and took off her robe and the men inwardly groaned at how good she looked in heeled boots, low hung designer jeans that clung to her every curve, and a snug leather vest over a little tank top. There was a gap of bare skin between the denim and the leather that was smooth, tight, and tan. Looking at one another, there was no doubt both brothers’ mouths were watering.
Brooke got sick but felt better once she brushed her teeth and drank another bottle of water. Putting her cowboy hat over her flowing blond hair, they led her to the stage. Logan wore a button down dress shirt, Decklan wore a Toby Keith concert shirt, both of them in boots, jeans, and cowboy hats.
The equipment manager handed them their guitars and Brooke her fiddle and watched as all of them were plugged in. Attaching her headset and microphone, the battery pack was secured to the back of her jeans.
The crowd was warmed up with the new band Travis had found to open for them, One Man’s Dream. As they exited the stage, the lead singer, Kody, kissed Brooke and wished her luck. “You look seriously smokin’ hot, honey. You’re gonna be famous so you go out there and knock ‘em dead. Hang with us after the show, Brooke.” Her smile was careful then he was gone and the brothers were trying not to get pissed. Looking at one another over Brooke’s head, they realized they were hypocrites.
As their drummer set the beat, Brooke started strumming the opening notes to their song about being on the road. Decklan led out with Brooke then Logan behind him. The crowd went insane as they realized Brooke was playing and the brothers came in on guitar. They played and sang two songs before speaking to the crowd. Logan asked them to welcome Brooke and it felt like the stadium was going to collapse from the stomping and screaming.
She waved and spoke to the crowd at the twins’ urging, “Thank y’all for being so great. We’re gonna do what you came here for. Hope you like it.” Then she spun off on the fiddle with the Bradshaw brothers right there with her. By the fourth song, she was dancing across the stage. By the fifth song she was covered with a sheen of sweat and whipped off her hat between songs, yanking her hair up in a sloppy bun that looked professionally coifed and gorgeous on her. “It gets hot up here, y’all. Don’t know how girls keep lookin’ so put together. But I’m just a girl from the country, I sweat so this is what you’re gonna get.” They screamed and shouted for her and the brothers glanced at the screens showing the stage. She looked fucking amazing.
She insisted on the brothers doing most of the talking. Switching to mandolin for two songs, she kept her back against Decklan’s during his electric guitar solo and he bent for her to kiss his cheek when he was done. She gave him a wet smack and they sang in each other’s face during the chorus. Sitting at the piano, she led them through a pretty love song about an elderly couple wondering what they’d done with their lives. It was a dedication to her parents, had they lived to see their kids grow up and been able to grow old together. One of her songs included on the album. Logan sat on a stool beside her and Decklan played behind her, leaning down to kiss her temple.
She sang it beautifully, the men coming in on chorus as she did for a couple of their songs. When she hit and held the last long note, Logan watched a tear track down her cheek and she wiped it away as the crowd went crazy. They sang a fun song to close then came back out for an encore and did Devil Went Down to Georgia to the thrill of the audience. Logan sang, Brooke played the hell out of the fiddle, and Decklan rocked his guitar solo.
The techs ran out to get their instruments and the three of them linked their arms around one another, bowing to the crowd. They were leaving the stage when Brooke saw a little girl on her daddy’s shoulders who was waving at her madly. Shielding her eyes from the lights, she went back out and asked the security people to allow the family through. The girl reminded her of Becca.
“Hi there, honey…what’s your name?” Brooke asked as she sat down on the edge of the stage, her feet dangling off the side, and held her hands out to the father who handed a country star his child in a daze.
“I’m Stephanie. I’m five and I want to be a singer, too, Miss Brooke. I’m gonna be just like you when I grow up. You’re my favorite singer cuz you wrote that song about your sisters and I can sing it all the way through.”
It was impossible not to grin at her child-like enthusiasm. She didn’t even look nervous. “Well, Stephanie, I hope you learn an instrument like guitar or piano because it helps you feel the music. You seem like a very happy and outgoing little girl. Make sure you do very well in school once you start. You want to be really smart so you can do all the boring business stuff you have to do that no one tells you about.”
The little girl was nodding happily, her red pigtails bobbing. “I’m in preschool, I start Kindergarten this year! I’m so ‘cited! You sure are pretty up close. Mama says most people aren’t really pretty in person but you sure are.”
“Thank you, honey, you’re so pretty, too. It was sure nice to meet you, Stephanie.” Looking at the parents, she asked, “Do you have a marker? I’ll sign something for you, if you want.” Nodding, they handed her a small pink cowboy hat that had to belong to the little girl. Brooke signed the brim and took her card from her back pocket and put it under the band. “Stephanie, when you get done with school, you show me you made real good grades, stuck it out, then have your parents contact me. If you still want to be a singer, I bet I can help you.” Handing the hat to her shell-shocked parents, she smiled as the mom realized her email information and business manager phone was listed. “I have to go now, honey. Thank you so much for coming to my very first show ever. I was really nervous, did you notice?”
Shaking her head sent her hair flying and she said seriously, “You were perfect and so, so pretty.” Stephanie leaned over and kissed her, Brooke hugged her before handing her back down to her father.
“I’ll follow everything you ever do, Brooke,” her mother said. “You’re an inspiration. Thank you so much.”
Nodding she jumped to her feet. She blew Stephanie a kiss and waved at the crowds watching her in wonder. When she got backstage, one of the techs handed her water and disconnected her mic. They were showering her with congratulations. Their opinion, as veterans, meant more to her than they probably realized.
Happy tears in her eyes, she was practically jumping up and down, “Thank y’all so much. I would have been an idiot without your help. I mean it. See y’all in the morning.” The roadies stared after her, all of them talking about how great she was, how real. How none of them had experienced that in years.
Back in her dressing room, Bria removed her makeup and brushed out her hair, talking a mile a minute about well it had gone and how proud she was. Suddenly the door crashed open. Jackson and the girls rushed in with Jeanette and all of them fell all over her squealing with happiness and talking over one another.
Travis came in a little while later and hugged her tight. “Brooke, you did better than even I dreamed you would. You get out there and soak up some adoration, honey. You earned it. My god, girl, you so earned it.”
“Thank you, Travis. Thank you for everything. I mean it, you can’t know how much I mean it.” Jackson had tears in his eyes so she let Travis go and sat on the couch, Jackson sitting next to her, the girls climbing on their laps. “I love you guys. Did you have fun? Are you going to get bored seeing the same show, listening to the same songs all the time?” They shook their heads, hugging her and crying. “Thank you for being so supportive, for helping me even when I’m not around as much as I should be. I’ll owe you forever.”
Travis pulled the girls to their feet and helped Brooke up. “Come on, kids. Let’s go cement your big sister’s place in music history. I’m so proud of her, but I’m proud of y’all too. She sure loves you and I can see how much you love her. Y’all are lucky to have each other and I bet your parents are beaming with pride.” That got a few tears then Bria pulled her aside.
She changed into fresh jeans and a t-shirt, pulling her boots back on and a cowboy hat that wasn’t sweaty. “Bria, I’m sorry to leave you such a mess.” Bria gave her a hug and told her to stop being silly and she’d see her either in the limo or back at the hotel. Brooke, Jeanette, and Bria did movie marathons together during down time when the kids were crashed.
As they stepped from her dressing room into the hall, she saw the Bradshaw brothers leaned against the wall further down, seemingly making their choices in female company for the evening. A dozen women of all types huddled around them, blatantly stroking over their bodies and giggling at whatever the twins were saying.
Brooke’s excited smile faded before she caught herself and fixed it firmly back on her face, moving forward with feigned confidence. Speaking in an angry whisper, she said, “Jeanette, please get the kids out of this hallway.” The other woman frowned at the display in front of them and moved immediately to hustle the kids around the mass of writhing, fawning women. She cringed at some of the sexual favors she could hear the women offering and prayed the kids couldn’t.
As she approached, Brooke hoped her smile looked real because it didn’t feel real at all. She was having a hard time drawing enough air into her lungs but she wasn’t going to humiliate herself. The brothers caught her up between them and she patted their shoulders carefully.
“Y’all are makin’ me an enemy with your fans. Let. Me. Go.” They did, watching her face closely since she wasn’t typically abrupt with them. She stepped back and smiled brightly at the group of women who were wondering if she was going to stand between them and their goal of getting laid by famous country stars. Their faces weren’t friendly at all. “Sorry to interrupt, ladies. I hope you enjoyed the show and thank you for coming out to see us.” She turned to keep going and paused to add in a confidential whisper, “By the way, a little insider, they prefer brunettes. Good luck.” Then she followed Jeanette and her siblings down the hall toward the meet-and-greet without looking back.
Travis stared after the little group, his eyes narrowed. Turning to the brothers who looked completely confused, he said sharply, “Let me talk to y’all just a minute.” Looking at the women, he added, “She’s right, you know, always brunettes these days. The rest of y’all shouldn’t waste your time.”
Following their manager into the dressing room and closing the door sharply, Decklan barked, “Travis, what the fuck?” Riding high from the show made them anxious to lock down their evening entertainment.
Their manager’s voice was deceptively calm. “Hmm, what the fuck? Let me tell you what the fuck, you two ingrates. She was happy and excited just seconds before walkin’ into that hallway. You had to find your nightly piece of ass right outside her fuckin’ dressin’ room? Really?” Logan stepped back, leaning against the wall. Decklan hung his head. “You’re plastered on every fuckin’ Internet celeb site there is. She already knows what whores you are, but for the sake of peace, to make sure this goes as smoothly as it needs to, if y’all could avoid rubbin’ her face in it, that would be fuckin’ awesome and grown-up of you. Her sisters sure don’t need to witness it.”
Storming past them to the door, he looked over his shoulder and added, “She knows she can’t have you but it doesn’t mean she’s not crushin’ on you two idiots. Treat her better because despite how strong she seems, she actually does have feelin’s. I’m hopin’ she hooks up with that young man from Dream. God knows, you two may see a lay on every corner but that boy don’t see nobody but her.”
Travis slammed the door on his way out and the brothers stood in silence for a few moments. “Fuck.” Logan whispered and Decklan was nodding. They headed out and told the women outside they’d have to take a rain check. They ignored the groans of disappointment and took the exit to the lower levels of the arena.
Brooke was signing autographs with Jeanette and her siblings behind her in the main entry of the arena. Bria and the roadies were running interference for her, keeping the fans from running her down. Their opening act band wasn’t far from her and Travis stood between them, linking Kody and Brooke in conversation. They approached and Becca saw them first, a huge smile breaking out over her face. She ran to them and Decklan scooped her up. Molly reached for Logan’s hand and Jackson was looking at them warily.
“Brooke,” Logan said behind her. They watched her stiffen but when she turned she was smiling cheerfully. Giving them a little salute she went back to what she was doing. He leaned down and whispered in her ear, “I’m sorry. We’re sorry, Brooke. It was wrong of us to have a bunch of women out in the hall like that. You and the kids so close. We didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”
She nodded but didn’t turn around. A young man approached and asked her to sign his chest, his shirt unbuttoned and showing a tanned sculpted torso. He was boy-next-door cute. Momentarily startled and admittedly impressed, she said with a laugh, “Um, o-kay. You know these markers are toxic, don’t you?” He smiled and gave her a shrug. She asked him to lean down a little and signed his chest with a flourish. Handing his camera to his buddy, he asked her to take a photo with him. Standing on the side without her signature, she smiled. The boy picked up her hand and kissed it.
“You’re even prettier in person. I never even liked country until I saw you, Brooke. It was your looks first that made me a fan. But it was your voice and blog that had me buying a ticket to every show this summer. I’m going to follow your tour. I just graduated high school and we’re taking the summer off. I’m Dean, this is my friend Abel. I’m going to ask you for a photo after every show. I hope you’ll remember me.”
Brooke laughed in surprise, “You have nothing better to do than follow a band all summer? Wow. Well, there are apparently tons of girls that follow the band so you shouldn’t be lonely. Good luck and I won’t forget you, Dean, Abel.” Then she signed Abel’s chest and took a photo with him, too.
Decklan had Becca at his side, needing both hands to sign autographs and growled at the interchange between the two young men and Brooke. They didn’t seem like crackpots but he didn’t like her touching their bare chests. It only made it worse when Kody stepped close to her laughing, “Looks like you have summer stalkers. Nice.” They fist-bumped and he added, “And they are totally trying to score with girls who could be your sisters.” They laughed together as they signed autographs side by side. “You want to go for coffee after all this? I’m hyped up.” Everyone around her, who knew her, watched the caution enter her expression. “Brooke, I don’t want anything from you but company. I swear. Come with me and I’ll have you back before midnight.” He nodded to Jackson, “I don’t mind if Jack comes along. I bet you’d feel better. What do you say?”
Glancing at her brother, she nodded. “I have to get the girls settled at the hotel first.”
“No problem, why don’t you guys meet me in the lobby?” Brooke told him she would and went back to what she was doing, taking a deep breath.
She seemed so young in that moment and the brothers realized they’d truly hurt her feelings. Half an hour later, she guided her exhausted sisters and her brother to the car and waved to the Bradshaw brothers watching from the exit. They asked to talk to her for a minute and she closed the door, coming back to them.
Decklan asked, “Brooke, you okay?”
Her nod was careful and uncertain, “Great. The show went well, don’t you think?”
Logan groaned, hating himself, “The show was amazing and you did so good, honey. I’m sorry we didn’t take a minute to tell you that. We should have told you that right off. I don’t know what’s wrong with us, Brooke.”
She shrugged and they could see by her expression that she’d come to a decision. Her voice was stronger when she said, “Nothing is wrong with you. You’re the same as you always were. I’m the new addition and I don’t have any right to expect you to be different than you’ve always been. I’m going to start kind of giving you more space. We’ll schedule time for rehearsals and stuff. Otherwise, you guys do your thing and don’t worry. I think it’s better.”
With a flinch, Decklan whispered, “You…you don’t want to hang out with us, Brooke?” He couldn’t believe the pain he felt at the thought.
Swallowing hard, she said, “It isn’t that, Deck. I just don’t think it’s fair to expect you to be people you aren’t. I know I kind of got dumped in your laps and my brother and sisters, too. You sure don’t owe us anything, not one thing. You’re young men, famous and good looking. Go enjoy it. I’m going to find a way to do that, too. We’re not your responsibility and we don’t have any right to expect anything from you.”
Logan said more sharply than he intended, “You didn’t get dumped on us, Brooke. We love hanging out with you and the kids. I know we’ve been selfish shits lately, hung over and tired, showing up late. We’ll be better. I promise.” He was obviously upset and she put her hand on his cheek for a moment, brushing her thumb over his jaw. He leaned into the touch and her heart stuttered in her chest like it did every time she touched them.
Closing her eyes and gathering her strength around her, she whispered, “You’re entitled to enjoy your lives. To have fun. You did earn it, you know. I’m fine, the kids are fine. We can hang out after the tour if you want. Until then, as much as I accept and understand your driving needs, I don’t exactly want to witness it and I don’t want my siblings to either.” She dropped her hand, “I have to go, the girls are so tired. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
She went up on tiptoe and kissed their cheeks, each of them clutching her to them before letting her go. She stood in the open door of the limo, her face sad as she gave them a little wave. She got in and the Bradshaws watched her drive away a moment later. No one inside the limo asked her about her conversation with the brothers and none of them let her know they saw her quiet tears as she stared out the window.
Brooke kept from missing the guys by staying busy at all times. The charities she was part of loved how devoted she was and there was no end to fan mail. The twins never let their female fans near her dressing room and were trying to be more professional.
Because they were trying, she didn’t mention seeing a woman follow them into a rest stop bathroom when they’d stopped to check a tire on her bus. She pretended not to count the minutes the three of them had stayed in that public restroom together. And no one would ever know that she noticed how sweaty and ruffled they all were when they finally came out, blinking in the bright sunlight as if they’d been clubbing all night. Brooke thought it was funny that Decklan had gone inside their bus to get a signed CD, poster, and t-shirt for the woman and waved her away.
You just got double-teamed in a filthy public restroom and you have the souvenirs to prove it!
It had taken her hours to be able to talk to them again and for the first time, she realized their sexual habits were darker than merely sharing. Was it normal to have so many partners? A high sex drive was one thing but it seemed they were playing Russian roulette with their health. There was a wildness about them she hadn’t seen before the tour. An almost feral quality. She wondered if they needed help but didn’t know how to give it.
After pre-show rehearsal in San Francisco, Brooke realized she had her backpack but not her camera as they headed out to sight-see. Sending the kids on with Jeanette, Bria walked with her through a labyrinth of a stadium and they got turned around trying to find her dressing room.
Taking a corner, they were greeted with the sight of Logan against a wall, a young woman sucking his cock while Decklan fucked her from behind. All of them were fully dressed with the exception of open jeans and a raised skirt. Logan’s hands were buried in the woman’s dark hair and Decklan gripped her hips as he thrust into her body. Though they were making moaning sounds of pleasure, Brooke thought they looked strangely miserable.
Closing her eyes for a moment to chase away the thought of her being the woman between them in that position, she took deep steadying breaths. She tried to back away quietly, not wanting them to know she’d seen them. A quick getaway wasn’t meant to be and she should have known that. No way would Bria let this go.
Bria said with disgust, “I guess this is a better location than that rest stop. At least it’s cleaner. Jesus, you two need a fucking life. And honey, you’re a slut. Have some self-respect. Damn.” The woman had released Logan’s dick with a pop and all three of them turned to stare at them. The twins were pulling themselves away from the woman and trying to get their clothes in place as Bria added, “Please. Don’t let us interrupt. Like I’d let you get within ten feet of her with that whore’s fluids all over you. Not. Enjoy rolling in the gutter, my girl has plans.”
Refusing to let Brooke hesitate or speak to them in any way - because really…what could she possibly say? - Bria pulled her fast back the way they’d come and asked a stadium employee how to get where they needed to be. The moment they entered her dressing room, Bria locked the door and sat with Brooke while she sobbed brokenly.
“I don’t care. I can’t care. I just, I don’t want to see it. To know.”
“I know, honey. Right now, I need you to shake it off. You have plans with the gang and Kody. You know we always make you laugh. Come on. Let’s get the hell out of here before they come looking for you.” Grabbing their bags, they practically ran for the limo and made their escape. All of them went to the movies and out for ice cream, laughing and joking as they entered their hotel suite around midnight.
And Brooke did feel better. Kody, the kids, and her two best friends were the best medicine for being down. She would put it out of her mind, like she always did. Meeting Kody for coffee with Jackson had become a habit after each show and they grew increasingly closer as she withdrew further and further from the Bradshaws. It wasn’t out of anger, it was to protect her heart.
After the Phoenix show, their tenth on the tour, she got off the elevator alone after coffee with Kody. She glanced up to meet Logan’s panicked eyes. A young woman with dark hair had her legs wrapped around Decklan’s waist, already thrusting herself on his exposed cock as he backed into their suite with his arms around her. Logan’s hand was still cupping her bared ass as Brooke got back in the elevator. He came running down the hall, the doors closing as he appeared in front of her, calling her name.
She found Kody in the lobby bar with the rest of his band and asked to talk to him. He followed her away from their table and she asked him what room he was in. His eyes widened and she smiled, “I think we’ve known one another long enough for us to be deemed appropriate, don’t you think, Kody?” He took her hand and they went upstairs.
When Logan entered the bar five minutes later, he was told Kody had left with Brooke. Going to the bar, he asked for a double whiskey neat and wanted to throw the fucking glass against the wall after he emptied it in one pull. Decklan joined him soon after and they drank themselves into oblivion.
It was Kody’s band that dragged them to their room in the middle of the night, shaking their heads.