Publisher: Cardinal Press, LLC
Formats: eBook, print
She wanted to be a star—until he crushed her dreams in front of millions.
She wanted to be a star—until he crushed her dreams in front of millions.
When Ivy Quinn’s father dies, her dream of moving to Nashville gets put on hold, but she isn’t giving up on a music career. At least not until country superstar Nash Bennett delivers a devastating critique of her audition…on national television. Returning home to her supportive family and a stable job makes the most sense. Who needs a life in the spotlight, anyway?
Lately, stardom hasn’t been easy for Nash. Being labeled a “bad boy” by the press and getting hurt on tour has earned him a one-way ticket to Idaho where he can heal while a PR team repairs his damaged reputation. But when he hears Ivy sing, Nash forgets about lying low. He asks her out only to be rejected—hard—when Ivy tells him to leave her alone.
One impromptu duet, however, is all it takes to forge a connection between them. Nash wants to win her over. But Ivy won’t give in to her feelings, fearing her rekindled dreams of a music career—and Nash—could destroy her. She has no idea what he’s willing to risk for love…and for her.
Read an Excerpt
Guitar case in hand, Ivy Quinn hurried through the kitchen of her family’s restaurant, Quinn’s Pub, to the small room containing employee lockers. She set the case against the wall, as she did whenever she filled in for the talent who cancelled. Tonight was for a band whose lead singer was sick. At least they weren’t booked for two nights.
Though, she’d never turn down the chance to sing.
Ivy grabbed her apron from a hook, put the top strap over her head, and went into the kitchen where the scents of spices and herbs filled the air. The temperature, however, was only slightly lower than outside. Typical for June in Quinn Valley, Idaho, but Ivy preferred the cooler air in the dining room.
She tied the apron strings around her waist.
Washing her hands, she glanced at her brother Ryder, who co-owned the restaurant with their sister, Maggie. He stood at the stove, looking more like one of their chefs. He was happy to step in as necessary.
She dried her hands. “I’ll close out a few tabs and clear tables before I go on.”
“No rush.” Ryder stirred whatever was inside a large pot. Most likely the creamy roasted red pepper soup his wife and the pub’s chef, Bethany, had made before she headed home for the evening. The soup du jour was a customer favorite tonight. “Just happy to have you as our backup entertainer. People expect live music on the weekends. With you on the staff, we never disappoint.”
“I’m happy to help.” Especially when doing so enabled her to perform.
Ryder removed the spoon from the pan. “Maggie and I appreciate it, but if you want to perform elsewhere—”
“All I have to do is ask,” Ivy finished for him before pulling a tray of glasses out of the dishwasher. Her brother and sister would give her time off, but Friday and Saturday nights brought in the biggest tips. She only accepted a gig when she would earn the same amount or more than she would make at Quinn’s. She was saving for a new guitar. “I’ll let you know if anything comes up.”
“Do.” He studied her the way only the oldest brother in the family could. “I can ask around to see if there are any dates open locally. Lewiston might have some, too.”
She held back a sigh. They’d had this conversation. She’d had a similar one with Maggie recently. With David and Carter, too.
Ivy filled pitchers with ice and water. “Thanks, but I’ve got the connections I need to find gigs in the area.”
Concern flashed in Ryder’s gaze. His eyes were the same green as Maggie’s and David’s. Ivy had hazel eyes like Carter, but the resemblance to her siblings ended there. Her hair with natural auburn and caramel highlights was lighter than everyone else’s dark brown. She often felt like the odd sibling out given her sister and three brothers owned businesses while she worked as a server and occasional performer.
“I have it covered,” she added, feeling self-conscious, even though people telling her to perform more often wasn’t new.
“You should pursue those connections and your music. Maggie agrees with me. You could be so much more than a server.”
Ivy raised her chin. “Hey, I enjoy being a server. What else would I do?”
A shiver raced along Ivy’s spine. She nearly dropped the water pitcher. Carefully, she returned it to the counter before she made a mess.
She’d taken her shot at stardom. Crashed and burned in a fiery explosion. Her dreams hadn’t been dashed, but they’d imploded in front of millions. Almost ten years had passed, so most didn’t remember what had happened. But Ivy hadn’t forgotten. She never would.
“You could make your living as a singer,” Ryder added in that oldest-brother-knows-best tone.
She forced a laugh, hoping she sounded lighthearted and amused. The silverware supply was low, so Ivy wrapped a knife and fork in a napkin. “Thanks for the suggestion, but I’m considering enrolling part time at the community college in the fall. I picked up a course catalog.”
Not a lie. Ivy had picked up one, more out of curiosity than interest, but she hadn’t opened it yet. As she worked on the silverware, she glanced at her brother.
Ryder’s features now appeared relaxed. Catching her gaze, his lips curved into a more natural smile. “That would be great. Especially if you took music classes.”
She nodded, biting her tongue to keep from saying more. Agreeing was the best—the only—option that would satisfy him and her entire family. No matter how many times she’d told them she had no regrets giving up on a music career, they still pushed.
Over and over again.
Out of love, but it annoyed her.
Ivy might be the youngest of five, but she was twenty-eight years old. She could decide her own path in life. She’d never planned to be a server at Quinn’s for this long, but she was comfortable here. Why do something else? Her family was nearby. She would be an aunt soon. No doubt, more nieces and nephews would follow.
Thankfully, her mom was too busy with her “friend” Harry Peterson to hover the way she used to, but Ivy’s sister and three brothers felt they knew what was best for her. They still treated Ivy as if she were eighteen—the age she’d been when their father died of a massive heart attack.
Sure, she couldn’t complain how Maggie and Ryder provided enough hours at the pub so Ivy could support herself. Or how David, who owned a restaurant supply company, dropped off food samples, especially desserts, given to him by clients. And each week, come rain or snow, Carter delivered a box overflowing with produce, eggs, and honey fresh from Quinn Organics—his farm. He also kept her freezer filled with beef from his cattle.
Ivy was grateful for her siblings’ generosity and appreciated their concern, but she needed them to see she was living the life she wanted. She may not have replaced her dreams of moving to Nashville and taking her shot at stardom with another, but that was okay.
If only they could understand that…
She filled a container with the silverware.
The quiet in the kitchen made her glance around. Will, the assistant chef, must be on his break because he’d been here when she went to her car. “How is Bethany feeling?”
“A little tired, but she’s resting and binging on her new favorite show tonight.”
“Still having morning sickness?”
“Not as much.” Ryder plated an order. “Some smells still get to her, but she won’t let it hold her back.”
“Of course not.” Ivy liked her sister-in-law, who’d brought her amazing culinary talents to Quinn’s, much to the delight of customers, and love to Ryder’s life, much to the benefit of her brother. “You married a strong woman.”
He nodded. “Anyone who can put up with a Quinn has to have a backbone.”
“No kidding.” Avery, Carter’s wife, and Charlie, Maggie’s new husband, were the same as Bethany. “There are so many new significant others or spouses joining the family I wonder who’s next. Grams has been positively beside herself.”
“Wait until all twenty-five Quinn cousins get married.” Ryder laughed. “Grams will float off the ground, and her friends will throw a gigantic party.”
The friends—Betty, Maude, Nellie, and Ruby—were their grandmother’s besties who met every Wednesday to gossip and drink tea or coffee. On more than one occasion, those four same friends had helped Gertrude Quinn play matchmaker.
“Better find yourself a husband A–S–A–P so you don’t make our branch of the family look bad,” Ryder teased.
“David will have to be the next one. If I’m not working or performing, I’m trying to find some place that wants me to sing.” Or writing music. That was what Ivy did when she wasn’t at the pub. “I have no time to date. Forget about marrying anyone.”
Ryder raised his eyebrows. “Have you told Grams?”
“No way.” The words shot out sharp and staccato. “I don’t want her to go into matchmaker mode.”
That brought another laugh. “You can’t stop Grams. Matchmaking is in her DNA. She’s determined to see all of us married.”
Even though Grams might not give up so easily, Ivy shrugged. “Our grandmother will have to live with me being single.”
Ryder peeked inside the oven before glancing at Ivy. “Good luck with that.”
Ivy wasn’t worried. Well, not that much. She glanced around the kitchen. Nothing else needed to be done for now. That could change in five minutes.
Ryder set two plates under the warmer. “This is for table seven.”
She picked up the orders—meatloaf and macaroni and cheese.
“We’re running low on tonight’s dinner special,” Ryder said. “Do you want me to save you a serving?”
“No, thanks, but I’m impressed you’re handling this so well. You step in for your wife like it’s nothing.”
“Same as Carter does with Avery when need be.” Ryder sounded nonchalant. “It’s how marriage works.”
A longing built inside of Ivy. Even though she’d dated in high school, music had been her priority. A part of her wouldn’t mind having someone in her life to rely on like her three married siblings had. Granted, her family—immediate and extended—would do anything for her, but sometimes not even the gaggle of Quinn relatives was enough.
“I wouldn’t know.” A moment of weakness was all she could allow herself. She forced her spine to go ramrod straight. “But I’m not planning to find out soon.”
She carried the plates out of the kitchen.
Thirty minutes later, Ivy sans apron stood in front of a microphone with her guitar and a light shining on her. She recognized a few faces—locals and relatives—sitting at the tables and bar, but most were strangers, which she preferred. Though she’d never admit that to her family, who always came to hear her perform. No matter who was sitting in the audience, they deserved her best so she sang her heart out, as she always did.
And for her dad, who’d always believed in her.
You’re going to be a star, baby girl.
Ivy hoped he wasn’t disappointed she’d never followed through with her—their—dream, but she enjoyed thinking about him as one of the stars in heaven, twinkling above them, their personal angel who watched over them day and night. She wanted to believe he would be happy with the decisions she’d made. She had a feeling he would enjoy the songs she wrote even if she rarely performed any.
Ivy ran through her set of covers, mainly country hits with a few crossover songs that pop radio stations also played. As her fingers strummed the guitar, she lost herself in the lyrics. It was as if everything had disappeared except this stage, the audience, and her.
She loved the feeling.
The connection with those listening to her.
Performing on stage was like going home. Not to her studio apartment, but to her parents’ house. When her dad was alive and her mom had eyes only for him. When Ivy was planning to move to Nashville to pursue a music career. When she dared to…dream.
Her set was ending. She had one final song on her list. But something else popped into her mind.
“I want to thank y’all for coming out to Quinn’s tonight,” Ivy said into the microphone. She might have been born and raised in Idaho, but whenever she performed, she let the country girl inside her come out. “I’m Ivy, and I hope you’re having a great time.”
The audience cheered.
“To close my set, I’d like to sing a song I wrote. This one is for Maggie and Ryder Quinn.” And for Dad. “Thanks for letting me perform tonight.”
With that, Ivy played the opening notes. The newly finished song didn’t have a title yet. But the gratitude she sang about was real, and she hoped meaningful to her sister and brother. And her two brothers who weren’t here.
Closing her eyes, she stopped playing but kept singing, repeating the chorus one last time. She held the final note for as long as she could before her lungs screamed for oxygen.
When she opened her eyes, everyone was on their feet, clapping, cheering, and whistling. A few shouted, “Encore!”
The crowd’s reaction overwhelmed Ivy. She bowed and headed toward the kitchen, needing space.
Halfway there, a bearded man stepped in her path.
He wore faded blue jeans, a blue T-shirt with the name of the hottest new video game on the front, a beanie pulled low on his forehead, and sunglasses.
Who wore a beanie in the summer and sunglasses inside at night? Must be a hipster. Probably from Portland or Seattle given his lumberjack-worthy beard, but she shouldn’t judge. Quinn’s was known for their friendly customer service. She wouldn’t disappoint. “May I help you?”
“Your set was great.” His lips curved into a charming smile. “You have a fantastic voice, and I won’t be forgetting that last song anytime soon.”
The compliment made her stand taller. “Thanks. I’m happy you enjoyed the show.”
“I did. I…” His voice trailed off. “Could I buy you a drink?”
She forced her shoulders not to sag and her smile not to falter. He was still a customer, but she hated that the guy couldn’t have just said his two cents before returning to his table. She hated being hit on at work.
“No, thanks.” She clutched her guitar like a lifeline. “I can’t. I’m busy.”
“Are you performing again?” he asked.
He must not be from around here, which meant he didn’t know she was on the staff. “No.”
The man opened his mouth as if to speak but then pressed his lips together. “Thanks for the music. I hope you enjoy the rest of your evening.”
She barely had the words out before he turned, wove his way around tables, and left the pub.
Whoever he was, Ivy appreciated he’d accepted her “no” and hadn’t pushed her.
The party at table five motioned to her before pointing to empty glasses.
“Let me get rid of my guitar, and I’ll be right there.”
In the small room, she placed her guitar in the case. Closing the lid and securing the clasps gave her the time to put the performer part of herself away. She put on her apron.
You have a fantastic voice, and I won’t be forgetting that last song anytime soon.
Most people applauded and cheered when she finished a set but few sought her out. Even if the guy had hit on her, she took his compliment at face value, not as a way to get on her good side.
Out in the kitchen, she washed her hands.
“Nice show.” Will, who was doing a stellar job filling in for Bethany when she couldn’t be here during dinner, pulled out the whipped cream from a commercial refrigerator. “The desserts for table three will be ready in three minutes.”
Performer Ivy’s time in the spotlight was over. Server Ivy was up. She didn’t mind. Not really.
This was her life. The one she’d chosen. Wanting more would only lead to heartbreak and disappointment because dreams didn’t come true.
At least not hers.
She dried her hands. “I’ll get drink refills and be right back.”