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 façade, 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.