Friday, July 31, 2009

Chapter 4

Monday morning Veronica watched the sunrise from the balcony of her apartment. She’d watched the sun set from there too, as well as the progression of the stars across the dark sky for most of the long hours of the night. Raising the mug in her hand, she sipped coffee and pulled the blanket more closely around her shoulders to ward off the early morning chill. She hoped the few hours of sleep she’d managed would get her through the day. She closed her eyes. It was going to be a very long couple of weeks. Damn him! It had taken her years and thousands of dollars in therapy – once she’d accepted that she needed help - to learn to cope with her pain and grief and regain her sense of self worth. She’d thought she had put the past firmly behind her, but one look, one word, and it had all come crashing down on her again. She didn’t know if she was strong enough to go through it again. You can’t stop the memories Veronica, so just focus on the happy ones. And there were a lot of those along with the bad. She couldn’t deny that. They had been very happy once – or at least she had thought that they were. She’d loved him with all of her heart. Then the machine got in the way – not to mention Dorothea – then, finally, that fateful event that changed her life forever, made him run, and was the final nail in the coffin of their relationship. Happy memories Veronica! A glance at her watch had her sighing and forcing herself to get up and get ready for a day in the studio.


John Netti, the assistant engineer, looked up when she walked in. “Veronica, hi! You’re here early. Good. What’s the scoop on these guys? Give us some idea what we can expect.”

Veronica smiled at him and the techs setting up around the room. They all turned to hear what she had to say. “Where do you want me to start?”

“Drums.” Keith, the percussion tech spoke up.

“Tico is great. He has this gravely, gruff voice, but he’s really a big teddy bear. You’ll have to watch though. He won’t tell you if something’s wrong, like, say, the kick pedal’s stuck. You’ll have to figure it out yourself.”

“What about keys?” Tony, the keyboard tech asked.

“David was accepted to Julliard, so that will give you some idea of his talent. He can play anything you throw at him. His nickname is Joker and with good reason. He’s a notorious jokester, but he’ll be serious when it comes to the music.”

“And guitar?” This from Jack, the guitar tech.

“Think....Stevie Ray, Clapton, with a bit of Hendrix thrown in and you have Richie. He’s a bluesman to his soul. He can play anything with strings, and by that I mean that he can literally pick up anything with strings and play it. By ear. He’s amazing. He’s the second biggest joker of the bunch, and he and David will play off of each other. So if they seem to be mortal enemies, just ignore it. Oh, and he’s not really a morning person. If he had his way they wouldn’t start until noon.”

“And Jon?” John watched her carefully.

She debated how best to describe him. “Jon’s very professional, but he’s a perfectionist. And he’s extremely stubborn. You can’t tell him anything. You can suggest, but don’t be surprised if he ignores you. He’ll tell you what he wants.”

John’s brows rose. “You knew him, what, twenty years ago?” She nodded. “And he was like that even then?”

She smiled. “You’re surprised that he would be that....confident...back when he was just starting out?” He nodded. “He was a little unsure about the business side of things back then, but when it came to the music, he always knew what he wanted. He wasn’t always right about what would sell, but he knew what he wanted.”

“What about bass?” Jack asked.

She frowned. “I’m not sure who’s playing for them these days. We’ll have to wait and see.”


“It’s not my fault you didn’t get up in time to have breakfast, asshole. This isn’t home where you can sleep until noon. It’s work time.” David’s voice came through the door before he did about half an hour later.

“But you’re the asshole who cancelled my wakeup call! Keep it up Goldilocks and you’re going to meet the big bad wolf up close and personal!” Richie growled as he followed him in, Jon and Tico behind him.

“I think you’re mixing up your fairy tales.” Tico frowned. “I think it was Little Red Riding hood who met the wolf. Goldilocks met bears.”

“Bears, wolf, whatever, he’s going to hurt if he doesn’t quit with the fucking juvenile stunts. Oh, but I forgot – he’s got the maturity of a ten year old, so I guess he can’t help it.”

“What’s the matter old man? Can’t take it?” David retorted.

John and the techs looked at Veronica, their eyes wide. Her lips twisted. “Ignore it. It doesn’t mean anything.” She turned to the guys. “Morning gentlemen.” She eyed David. “And I use the term loosely for some of you. There’s water by each of your stations. Hitman, you may have to adjust your stool. I think I’ve got it right, but it’s been a long time.”

“No problem Ronnie.” He kissed her cheek as he passed her.

“Richie we’ve got three guitar stands set up. Do you need more?”

“Naw, that should be good. Thanks Ronnie.” He too kissed her cheek.

“Anyone want something other than water?” She looked at Richie. “Something to eat?” Glancing around, she frowned. “Maybe a bass player?”

“You called?” A voice spoke from the doorway.

Veronica spun around and grinned. “The Groovemeister! Oh my God! How are you Hugh?” She moved to hug him.

“Hey Ronnie! I’m good. How are you? You look great!”

“Thanks, so do you. Are you working with these guys again?” When Hugh nodded she turned to look at Jon. “Nice to see you finally got smart.”

Jon grimaced. “Yes dear, I know. You were right. I was wrong.” Veronica had never liked Alec John Such, and had made her opinion very clear to Jon. She’d warned him Alec would only cause problems.

Veronica flinched at the endearment, but otherwise ignored it. Her brows rose. “What was that? I was what? You were what? Can I have that in writing?”

“Ha, ha.”

“Hey gang. Ready to get to work?” John Shanks entered the room.

“Yeah.” Came from all corners of the room.

Veronica glanced at Jon. “Do you want tea or something?”

He shook his head. “No. Water’s fine for now. Thanks.”

“Ronnie?” Richie stopped her as she headed for the door. “Could I get a bagel or something?”

“Sure.” She winked at him.

If the songs they worked on that day were any indication, the next couple of weeks were going to be even longer than Veronica had feared. The songs dealt with the past, loss, looking back on your life, remembering......all the things she wanted to avoid – especially where Jon was concerned. By the end of the day, she was more than ready to have a drink or two. Besides, maybe it would help her sleep.

“Come on Ronnie, let’s go get some dinner.” Jon invited.

“No thanks, I’ve already got plans.” It wasn’t entirely a lie. She was planning on having a quick dinner, a long soak in a hot tub, a couple glasses of wine, and going to bed early.

Jon wasn’t buying it. “Come on Ronnie. We can talk about the album. You did a great job today by the way.”

Veronica snorted. “Nice try. Look Jon, I know that you’re not used to having someone tell you ‘no’, but the work day’s over. It’s my time now, and I’m choosing not to spend it with you. Have a nice evening boys. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Jon frowned in frustration as they watched her walk out the door. She was right. He wasn’t used to people telling him ‘no’ – not women anyway. What did you expect asshole? That you could just walk in and she’d welcome you back with open arms? After what happened you knew this wasn’t going to be easy. If you want a second chance, you’re going to have to work for it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chapter 3

“Are you going to tell me what’s really going on bro, or are you going to let me keep stumbling around and sticking my feet in it?” Richie asked quietly. The two men were sitting at a table in the hotel’s dining room waiting for David and Tico to join them.

“With the size of your feet that’s inevitable.” Jon quipped. Richie’s expression didn’t change. “But in this particular case, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Bullshit! Don’t try to snow me Kidd. Not me. Things like this don’t happen by coincidence – not with you anyway. So, somehow you found out that Ronnie was working out of this studio and decided we should record there. My question is why? She already thinks I’m involved in this – whatever this is – and is blaming me, so I think that I deserve to know.”

Jon sighed and ran his fingers up and down the stem of his wine glass. He shrugged. “I wanted to see her again.”

“Why? Don’t you think you’ve caused her enough pain?”

Jon grimaced and was silent for a long minute. “She’s the one that got away Rich.”

“She didn’t ‘get away’ Jon, you threw her away. You took what you wanted from her, and when things got heavy you tossed her aside. Like trash.”

“I loved her!” Jon protested.

“Mmmhmmm, and then, when she needed you the most, you ran away. You left her to deal with probably the most painful thing a woman can go through, alone, while you went chasing after Dot. So what? Now that Dot’s kicked you out you want to revisit the past? What’s next, a visit with Diane? And blackmailing her to work on the album? What the hell’s with that?”

“It’s like I told her. We’re going into unchartered waters here. I need people whose judgement I trust around us, and I want the best. You remember what a big help she was back at the beginning. I trust her instincts. I always have. And she knows both the country and the rock sides of the industry.”

Richie stared at his best friend. “Is that the story you expect us to swallow?”

“It’s the truth.” Jon insisted.

Richie wasn’t buying it. “Mmmm. Part of it maybe, but not the biggest part.” He paused. “What are you hoping to get out of this Jon? Absolution? A chance to tell her that now, maybe, you have some idea of how she felt?”

“All I’m hoping for is a good album.” Richie just stared at him. He sighed. “I don’t know what I’m hoping for. I just....had to see her. I had to see that she was doing okay.”

“Eighteen years later? It’s a little late don’t you think? Why are you so intent on dredging up the past? She’s obviously moved on, and she didn’t exactly seem thrilled to see you. Why can’t you just leave well enough alone?”

Jon frowned into his wine. “I...I...I just can’t. She haunts me Rich. She always has.”

“Is it her or your guilty conscience?”

Before Jon could answer, David and Tico joined them. The waitress followed them and took their orders.

Leaning back in his chair, David studied Jon for a moment. “What did you want to call this album again?”

Lost Highway, why?”

David shrugged. “After today, I thought you might want to change it. To Highway of Lost Loves or Lost Love Found, or something like that.” He sipped the drink the waitress set down in front of him. “It was great to see Ronnie again wasn’t it? She looks really good.”

“Yeah, she does.” Tico agreed. “She looks healthy and happy. I hope nothing happens to change that.” He didn’t say anymore. He didn’t have to. The look he gave Jon said it all.

Jon was ready to growl in frustration. “I’m not here to hurt her, dammit!”

Richie gave him an exasperated look. “You don’t seem to get it man. Just seeing you hurts her.”



The next night in a restaurant across town Veronica met up with Lori and a couple other friends and co-workers for their usual Saturday night out. She sank into a chair with a sigh.

“Sorry I’m late.”

“It looks like you should have been a little later yet....and taken a nap!” Lori looked her over critically. “What’s the matter? Didn’t you sleep last night?”

Veronica shrugged. “Not really.” She wasn’t about to tell them that she’d spent most of the night reliving bad memories, and that what little sleep she got was disturbed by nightmares – well, one nightmare really, the same one she’d had for years and that had only stopped about twelve years ago.

“I wouldn’t be able to sleep either if I was going to be working with Rock Gods next week.” Naomi sighed dreamily. While none of the girls would call themselves fans, they certainly knew who Bon Jovi was.

Veronica raised a brow at Lori, who smiled sheepishly. “The word’s all over the office. So is your little.....discussion... with Jon in the hallway.”

“Yeah, what’s up with that? Office scuttlebutt says that you know them, and that you had a relationship with Mr. Rockstar himself... and that judging by the sparks flying in the hallway it must have been a pretty heavy duty one.” Tricia added.

“And what else does this font of information have to say?” Veronica asked dryly.

“That when John asked you to help with their album you said no, and that you were blackmailed into agreeing.” Tricia admitted.

Veronica snorted. “Well at least the mill is accurate.”

“So it’s true then? You actually said no?” Naomi was shocked. “Why would you turn down an opportunity to work with them? I’d give my right arm to spend some time with them.”

“You mean him.” Trish corrected her friend with a nudge. Naomi always had an eye for good looking men and had been gushing about Jon ever since he’d walked into the studio.

Naomi didn’t disagree. “Well, what do you expect? The man is gorgeous!”

Lori hadn’t looked away from Veronica’s face. “And what about the relationship?” She couldn’t help but feel a little hurt. She’d thought that she and Veronica were close. They had a lot of interests in common and had shared a lot over the last ten years. She’d told Veronica everything about herself and her life. She’d thought that Veronica had shared as much with her as well. But she’d never so much as mentioned Bon Jovi, or, come to think about it, anything about her time on the rock and roll side, other than that she worked for Polygram. Knowing Veronica as well as she did, the only conclusion she could draw was that it was too painful to talk about.

Veronica shrugged. “Usual story. Girl meets boy. Boy becomes big star and decides that the high school sweetheart was more to his liking. End of story.” Her tone made it very clear that as far as she was concerned, it was indeed the end of the story, and the end of the discussion.

Lori knew there was more to the story – a whole lot more – but she would abide by her friend’s obvious desire to keep it to herself. For now.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Chapter 2

Have you? Richie words kept echoing in her head all through her sleepless night and now into the beginning of her work day. She thought she had, but seeing Richie had brought it all back and now she wasn’t so sure. Mentally shaking herself she focused on the notes she’d made of the band last night. She needed to get her report done and in so that she could leave for the weekend and try to come up with a reason to be away from the office for the next little while. Whether she had let the past go or not she knew she needed to be somewhere else – anywhere else - when Jon came into the studio on Monday. She was almost finished when her phone rang.

“Veronica Watson .”

“Veronica, could you come to my office for a few minutes? I need to talk to you.” John McBride, the owner of the studio, requested.

“Sure John, I’ll be right there.” Veronica felt her stomach start to clench. She had a feeling that she knew what John wanted to talk to her about, she just hoped she was wrong. Taking a deep breath, she headed down the hallway and knocked lightly on the open door. John glanced up and waved her in.

“Ah Veronica. Have a seat. I’m assuming that you’ve heard who’s coming into the studio next week.” She nodded. “I know I don’t have to tell you what a coup it is to get a rock band of their stature to record here. They’ve been coming down to Nashville for a few years now and could have their pick of studios. They’ve chosen us. Jeremy is arranging the production staff – John Netti will be the assistant engineer on this one, but these are rock artists and we don’t have a lot of experience in dealing with them. We need someone – a liaison of sorts to act as a go between. I understand that you are familiar with them – have even worked with them in the past. We really could use your help.”

She hadn’t been wrong. “John, that was almost twenty years ago! They were just getting going then. I don’t know them anymore. Besides, you make it sound like they speak a different language. They won’t be any different than, say, Keith Urban. Who’s producing?”

John picked up the sheet of paper in front of him. “John Shanks. Huff will be coming in to help, and...there was another name....Des...something.”

“Desmond Child?” John nodded. “Then you definitely don’t need my help. Desmond’s been there basically from the beginning. And I’m sure Jon will tell you exactly what he wants.” She added dryly.

“You’re the only one in the office that has any experience in the rock and roll side of the industry. Plus you have an uncanny instinct about songs. We know what will play well in Nashville, but not in Cleveland.”

Someone had been feeding him information. That someone had a lot to answer for. “It’s been a long time since I dealt with anything but country. I don’t think I’d be any help there. Besides, I’m going to be out of town next week.”

“So you’re saying you won’t help us?”

“I’m sorry John, but I can’t.” Not and maintain my sanity anyway.

“Now there’s two words I never thought I’d hear come out of your mouth.” A voice said from the doorway.

Even after eighteen years that voice could still send shivers down her spine. Veronica closed her eyes and swallowed hard against the sudden nausea. Glancing down at her hands in her lap she clenched them to hide their trembling. Without turning around she replied. “Well, we all have to grow up and realize our limitations sometime.” She was pleased that she was able to keep her voice steady. Standing, she turned to face the man who still haunted her dreams – and her nightmares. As much as she wanted to, she couldn’t prevent her eyes from eating up the vision he presented. The years had been kind to him. Gone was the long hair, and he had a few lines around his eyes, but those eyes were still very sharp – and very blue. “Hello Jon.”

“Hello Ronnie. How’ve you been? You look good.” That was an understatement. Her black as midnight curls made his hands itch to touch them. He wondered if they still felt as soft. She had a few laugh lines and was curvier than he remembered, but in all the right places. Her mouth, with its slightly fuller bottom lip, was currently pressed into a tight line, but made him long to find out if she still tasted the same – sweet and heady. The biggest change was her eyes. While still the unusual colour of amethysts, the sparkle was gone. They were shadowed now, as if she had known great pain and loss, and still carried it with her. And he was afraid that he was the cause.

“Thanks. You’re looking pretty good yourself. I almost didn’t recognize you with your short hair.” She was determined to be polite and professional, no matter how strong the urge was to get as far away from him as she could. She refused to give him the satisfaction of knowing that he could still affect her.

He grinned rather sheepishly and ran his hand through his blonde – unnaturally so she knew – locks. “Yeah, I finally couldn’t stand it anymore.”

Figuring she had stayed long enough to establish her fa├žade, she made her escape. “Well, I’m sure you guys have a lot to talk about, and I have a lot of work to do, so I’ll be going. Good luck with the new album. I’m sure that John and his staff will take good care of you.” She headed for the door, steeling herself to brush by him – he didn’t look like he was going to move.

“You’re not going to be helping?”

“As you heard me tell John. I have to be out of town next week, so no, I won’t be able to help. I work A&R for Mercury, not the studio. I’m just using an office here at the moment.” Not a lie, but not the whole truth either. Normally she would have been quite happy to help John out – and had many times in the past – but this situation was not normal.

Jon frowned as she passed him, doing everything possible not to touch him. Her perfume was different. It was heavier, more....sultry.... than the light floral that she used to wear, and brought all his senses to attention. But underneath, that hint of lilac was still there. Apparently she was still using the same shampoo.

Reaching the hallway, she found the rest of the band.

“Ronnie!” Tico and David chorused.

“Hi guys!” She gave them both a big hug and a kiss. “It’s great to see you! Hitman, you haven’t changed a bit! And Joker! Still with the curls! I have to say they suit you though. How’ve you been?”

While they were giving each other the quick update on their lives, Jon turned to the head of the studio. “Can’t you make her work with us?”

“No. She was right. She works for the label, not me.” He had been surprised when Veronica had told him no and he had wondered why. She had always helped out in the past – often without being asked, just pitching in where she thought she could be of use. Watching the byplay between her and the man in front of him he had his answer. Obviously these two had a past and from the tension and sparks that still flew between them it was equally obvious that it must have been a tempestuous one. Veronica had all but run out the door.

Hugging Tico and David once more Veronica glanced at Richie. “I see it’s still the brotherhood first and to hell with everyone else. I guess some things never change.”

“You two have unfinished business.” Despite what she obviously thought, he hadn’t planned this, but now that the opportunity had presented itself, he couldn’t let it pass by without trying.

“No, you’re wrong. Everything between us was finished – quite permanently – eighteen years ago.” Even Richie flinched at that comment. “I told you last night – let it go!”

“Wow! What’d you do to piss her off?” Jon asked as they watched her walk away. He’d only caught her last comment.

“She thinks I brought you here today.”

“Ronnie!” He called out to her. She stopped but didn’t look back. “If you don’t help us, we’ll go to another studio.” He hadn’t told anyone – even Richie why he had chosen Blackbird in the first place.

That made her turn around. “Then you still won’t have me around.”

“No, but then your friends here won’t get the contract – or the cache of our name either.”

She stalked back to him. “Why Jon? Why me? Why now? After all these years.”

“Because you’re the best. Because we’re trying something new and it’s a big gamble and I trust your instincts.” Not a lie, but not the whole truth either.

She snorted. Then her eyes narrowed as she turned to Richie. “Is that what last night was about? To see if I ‘still had it’?”

He held up his hands in a defensive gesture. “Last night was strictly coincidence that we were in the same place at the same time. I really did just go there to hear the band.”

“If that’s true, then you’re full of shit Jon. You don’t know anything about my skills anymore. There are lots of people to help you – either here or in New York or L.A. You don’t need me. You never have.”

“That’s not true Ronnie and you know it!” Jon protested. She started to walk away again. “Are you going to help?”

“You aren’t giving me any choice! Once again the great Rockstar manipulates people to get his own way! I guess you learned more from Doc than just how to promote a band and an album.” Richie, David and Tico winced. “One of these days Jon, your dirty tactics are going to come back and bite you in the ass! I just hope I’m there to see it.”

“So I guess that means you’re sticking around then. See you Monday darlin’!”

She flipped him off without looking back as she continued on to her office.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Chapter 1

She turned away from the bar, drinks in hand and bumped into the man behind her in the crowded bar. “Sorry.” She murmured automatically.

“No problem darlin’.” The man responded just as automatically.

The drawling voice brought back a flood of memories for her – some good, some bad, and some she’d fought very hard to forget. It can’t be! Glancing up, violet eyes met brown and her fears were confirmed. Quickly looking away, she pushed by him and searched the room until she saw her friend Lori waving at her from the table she’d found them near the stage. She didn’t see the dark head turn sharply to follow her progress across the room.

She handed Lori her drink, set her own on the table and sat down. Pulling out her notebook and a pen, she jotted down her impressions of the crowd.

“Wow, this place is packed! These guys must be good.” Lori commented.

“That’s the word on the street.” She replied. And she prayed that the crowd would make it impossible for the man to find her – if he even recognized her…….or remembered her at all. She had thought that her past was deeply buried and forgotten, but one word, a glimpse of a once familiar face and it all came back as if it happened two days ago instead of almost twenty years.

“Veronica? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. I just hope that this band lives up to its hype. I’m tired of sitting in crowded bars listening to kids who believe their own marketing, but can’t live up to it.”

“Yeah, I hear ya. When they talk about the fun and glory of being an A&R rep for a record company, they don’t tell you about all the crap you have to listen to before you find...a...star…holy shit!.” Lori finished on a caught breath.

Veronica looked at her friend in alarm, then noticed that Lori was looking at a spot above her head – way above her head. She didn’t turn around. The sick feeling in her stomach told her who was standing there.

“Ronnie? Is it really you?”

Damn! “Hi Swingman, yes it’s really me.” She turned to face the tall guitarist. “How’s tricks?”

“May I sit down?”

She waved him to a chair.

“Swingman? Ronnie? Veronica, do you know him?” Lori asked in a low voice.

“Mmmm..a long time ago.” Veronica responded.

As Richie sat down she looked around surreptitiously. He noticed.

“No, he’s not here. I left him at the hotel.”

Relieved, she relaxed a little. “What are you doing here anyway?”

“You know me, I’m always looking for some good live music and rumour has it these guys are good.”

“But what are you doing in Nashville?”

“We’ve been coming down here for quite a few years now to absorb the atmosphere, enjoy some good music and do some writing. This time we’re here to record an album.”

At this point Lori jumped in. “Didn’t Jeremy tell you Veronica?” Jeremy was the studio operations manager at Blackbird Studios where Veronica was borrowing an office. Lori worked there too.

“Tell me what? Oh, sorry, Richie, this is my friend Lori. Lori…well you know who Richie is.”

“Hi Lori, nice to meet you.” Richie held out his hand.

“Hi Richie, nice to meet you too.” She shook his hand then turned to Veronica. “Bon Jovi is recording at the studio.”

“WHAT! No he didn’t tell me.” The colour drained from Veronica’s face. “When?”

Lori shrugged and both girls looked at Richie.

“We start on Monday.” He looked at Veronica. “You work for Blackbird?”

“Mercury Records actually, but I’m working out of Blackbird for the next few months.” She’d been in and out of Nashville many times over the last ten years, for varying lengths of time. So much so, that she’d rented an apartment here.

He shook his head. “Country music? You? I can’t believe it.”

“Why not?” Lori asked.

“Ronnie was the biggest rocker chic I ever met.”

Veronica shrugged. “Things change. People change.”

“Yes, they do.” Richie agreed, his tone thick with meaning. Veronica ignored it.

“How do you two know each other anyway?” Lori sensed a lot of emotional undercurrents flowing between the other two.

Veronica jumped in before Richie could answer. “You know that I worked at Polygram back in the 80s, right? Well, Bon Jovi was one of the bands I worked with.” She shot Richie a pleading look, and hoped he wouldn’t feel the need to add to her explanation.

“How’ve you been Ronnie? You’re looking good.”

“Thanks Rich. I’m doing well. You’re looking pretty good yourself – short hair and all.”

He chuckled. “Yeah, I held onto it as long as I could, but I finally had to grow up and cut it. I see you’ve toned yours down too.”

She laughed and ran a hand through her shoulder length curls. “Yeah, I’ve sold my shares in Aquanet. I can actually get within three feet of someone without poking their eye out…not to mention removing the fire risk!” She took a sip of her drink. “So how’s the family? You have a daughter don’t you?”

“Yeah, Ava. She’s nine and by far the best part of me. You may have heard that her mother and I split?” Both girls nodded. He frowned and shrugged. “Guess the whole world knows.”

“The female half anyway. From what I’ve heard they’re already lining up to audition to be her replacement.” Veronica tried to lighten the mood a little. “But you should be able to handle it. It’s not the first time you’ve dealt with those kinds of lines.”

“So the stories are true!” Lori exclaimed.

Richie laughed, his dark eyes twinkling at the memories. “Naw, they’re highly exaggerated.”

Veronica snorted. “You stick to that story Swingman.” She took another sip. “How’re your parents?”

Richie took a sip of his own drink before answering. “Ma’s good.” He paused. “Dad.....Dad’s not so good. He has terminal lung cancer.”

“Oh, Richie, I’m so sorry.” Eyes filling with tears, she reached out to place her hand on his. “He’s such a wonderful man.” He’d always been very kind to her.

Gripping it, he squeezed, nodded and blowing out a breath, changed the subject. “What about you? Husband?” He hesitated. “Kids?”

Her face tightened as she sat back and looked towards the stage. “No.”

His gaze narrowed on her face, but before he could pursue what he saw there, the emcee came out to introduce the band.

During a break, they discussed what they’d heard and the crowd’s reaction to it. Richie grinned at Veronica and shook his head in amazement.

“What?”

“You’ve still got it.”

“Got what?”

“That feel for what the audience wants. What will sell and what won’t.” He turned to Lori. “She was always good at that. She helped me convince Jon that Living on a Prayer was going to be a hit when he wanted to give it away.”

“Really? That was you?” Lori looked at the friend she thought she knew in amazement.

Veronica shrugged. “I just pointed out that I was his target audience and if I liked it, chances were the other kids would too.”

Richie snorted and gave her back her own words. “You stick to that story Ronnie.”

The band had finished and they were getting ready to leave when Richie caught Veronica’s hand. “Ronnie, will you see him?”

She shook her head. “No. It was great seeing you again Swingman. Take care of yourself.” Raising up on tiptoe, she kissed his cheek.

“Ronnie…”

“No! Richie, let it go!” She sighed. “The past is dead and buried.” Her lips twisted at her own words. “Let it go.”

“Have you?”

She turned and walked away without answering.