MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Faith Harper stared down at the bright green and red Lansing Island ferry edging up alongside Cloud Bay’s long dock and tried not to fidget. The atmosphere in the streets below was starting to buzz with pre-festival crazy, like it did every year, and, like every year, that buzz made her … itchy.
Itchy like her skin was too small and her clothes were too tight. Itchy like she needed something she’d never quite been able to describe to anyone.
Just a few more days.
A few more days. Then CloudFest would start and she could, as always, hand over the zillion and one details of running one of the country’s most popular—and hardest to get tickets to—music festivals to her crew and just show up to do her intros and meet and greets and enjoy herself. And after that, she could leave Lansing for a few days.
Go to L.A. or New York, maybe. Relax.
But a few more days were still a few more days, and she had at least a million of those zillion details to nail down before Thursday.
“Spotted any talent yet?” Ivy Morito asked from behind her.
Faith shot a grin over her shoulder. Ivy sat behind her desk, typing at warp speed while watching Faith over the top of the bank of four slim black monitors that formed a wall of IT along the edge of her desk. Knowing Ivy, she was probably simultaneously working on a client’s security problem, messaging at least three of her friends, and designing a website in her head. This week her hair sported blue and purple streaks flaring through a jet black bob. The colors clashed with her acid green glasses, and the overall combination gave a sort of angry mermaid impression but one that didn’t distract from the curiosity in Ivy’s brown eyes.
“I’m waiting for Lou.” That and trying to remember whatever it was that was giving her the nagging feeling she’d forgotten to do something. But no, all the major pieces were in place. All their permits had signatures and dotted i’s and crossed t’s, even if Lansing’s new mayor had made that process more complicated than usual. “Good daughters pick up their mothers when they come home from vacation.” Seeing Lou safely home would be one more detail ticked off the list.
“You’re a good daughter. Lou’s a good mom. Neither of those things precludes you checking out the tourists to see if anyone cute is coming to town.” Ivy mimed something that Faith assumed was meant to be a hunter stalking its prey. Which was pretty funny when you considered she was doing so while wearing an Elmer Fudd T-shirt that proclaimed that she was “hunting wabbits.”
“I don’t have time for cute,” Faith reminded Ivy.
Ivy looked appalled. “That’s just plain sad.” She chewed her lip, made a gesture on the touchpad by her left hand. “How’s Ricky?”
“Still getting married,” Faith said drily.
“Le sigh,” Ivy said. “He sounded nice.”
“He is nice.” Ricky was the guy Faith had been hooking up with occasionally for a few years when she went to L.A. He was nice. And good in bed. And worked for a record label, which meant they could talk shop. But neither of them had been looking for love, so other than being cut off from the good sex part, Faith had been more than happy for him when he’d told her he’d met someone—wait, had that been before Christmas? More than six months ago?
God. She needed to get off the island.
“‘Nice’ isn’t helping you if he’s marrying someone else. Thousands of people are about to invade the island. There must be a few nice ones. Who are also hot.”
“The majority of them are about nineteen.”
“Not all of them,” Ivy objected.
True. CloudFest attracted a mixed audience. It skewed young like any music festival, but Blacklight had been huge for decades. Their fans spanned those decades as well. And those fans came to CloudFest whether any of the surviving members of the band were playing or not.
“I don’t do island, you know that,” Faith said. “I’ll take some time off after the festival.” Every year she rewarded herself for all the hard work that went into keeping the family legacy running and CloudFest happening by taking a vacation. In the past—pre-Ricky—occasionally there had been a vacation fling. A guilty pleasure.
Or really, totally nonguilty pleasure. She liked sex. She wasn’t married. She didn’t intend to ever be married. So she had a few flings. Flings she’d kept off-island because she learned young that privacy was hard to come by when you were (a) the daughter of a rock star and (b) lived in a community of only a few thousand people. But somehow, she’d settled into a habit with Ricky. Ricky was simple. And since Ricky, well apparently she’d forgotten about sex altogether.
Of course, she’d been neck-deep in the festival for most of that time. So what if she hadn’t had time to have sex lately? That wasn’t a crime.
“Tourists aren’t island. They leave. Thereby fulfilling the criteria for the perfect Faith Harper man,” Ivy said.
“Yeah but they leave and then they decide to sell their story to the newspapers.” Faith said. “No thanks.” She knew she sounded paranoid but she had no desire to become a tabloid sensation. She’d had enough of paparazzi and scandal growing up with Grey Harper as a father.
“Maybe you should try an island guy for once,” Ivy said.
“I’m pretty sure if any of the guys who live here lit my fire, I would have realized it by now,” she retorted. Ivy didn’t share her views on island guys. She was newly moved in with her boyfriend. She had a bad dose of love cooties.
“When’s Matt back?” Faith asked.
“Don’t change the subject,” Ivy said, shaking her head.
Busted. “I’m not,” Faith protested. “You get cranky when Matt’s off-island.” Matt Hanlon was one of Lansing’s two deputy sheriffs. He was attending some sort of police conference in L.A., taking advantage of the calm before the storm—as the locals tended to view the weeks before CloudFest.
“I’m not cranky, I just know you,” Ivy said but she was smiling again now, no doubt thinking of Matt. “And Matt’s catching the last ferry tonight, if everything goes to plan. How did Lou’s trip go?”
“I’ve hardly heard from her, so I’m assuming pretty well,” Faith said. Her mom also took the opportunity to flee the island for a few weeks before the festival and go soak up some peace and quiet and culture in San Francisco or Los Angeles or farther. Lou claimed it was her right as a teacher on vacation to escape for a proper holiday for at least some of the summer. Faith couldn’t argue with that though she had a sneaking suspicion that Lou was mostly avoiding helping out with tying up the endless last-minute issues that went with the festival.
Her right to avoid being sucked into the insanity was also hard to argue with. Lou and Grey had been divorced for a long time before he’d died. True, she’d never truly broken away from Grey. She’d decided to stay on the island so that Faith didn’t have to choose between her parents. But she had kept herself out of the circus that surrounded Grey and Blacklight as much as possible.
The only times Lou had voluntarily waded into Grey’s business once she’d divorced him, was when she thought something that affected any of the three Harper kids needed to be straightened out. Even though two of them weren’t technically hers.
But that was Lou. Easygoing until she turned into a ferocious mama bear. Five foot three of implacable will, not to be messed with when she wanted something for Faith or her siblings. She was one of the few people willing to tell Grey when he was being an asshole. Pity. Life might have been easier if there’d been a few more of those in her dad’s life.
Faith turned back to the window, humming under her breath. The second-floor office that Ivy ran her IT empire from was the perfect vantage point. The view to the long dock where the ferry came in was unimpeded. It meant Ivy had to put up with being blasted by the ferry horns signaling arrivals and departures eight times a day, but that never seemed to bother her. The ferries were ingrained into the noise of Cloud Bay, being the only means on or off the island unless you had a boat or could afford to charter a small plane or helicopter. Not many of the locals bothered with any of those options though the skies would be busier than usual over the next few days, bringing CloudFest attendees who had money to burn to Lansing. The marina’s spare moorings were already full.
The ferry was just starting to lower the car ramp, which meant the passengers would begin to disembark any moment. So she should really head down and find Lou.
Normally she wouldn’t have been shy about waiting down at the dock but for some reason this year she wasn’t quite ready to put on her public Faith Harper-famous-daughter-of-dead-rock-star face just yet.
Lansing Island and Cloud Bay—the island’s one real town—attracted a steady stream of Grey Harper and Blacklight fans making a pilgrimage to one of the pivotal places in the band’s history all through the year.
And Faith was the face of the Harper clan on Lansing, given her older brother Zach hadn’t been home for more than a day or two in years and her little sister Mina had made a career out of avoiding being recognizable as one of Grey’s kids. So Faith was used to dealing with fans, but the CloudFest crowd could sometimes take Blacklight hysteria to a whole other level. She needed to be ready for that level of hyperenthusiasm to deal with them. With her famous girl clothes and attitude firmly in place.
And today she just wasn’t feeling it.
She glanced back at Ivy, who was still typing away madly. “I should go.”
Ivy nodded, fingers pausing. “Estimated chance of us getting to hang out for more than ten minutes before the madness starts?”
Faith made an apologetic face. “Low maybes? Let me see how today goes.”
Ivy shrugged. “Figured. You know, one of these days you can let someone else take up a bit more of the work of this whole circus.” She looked back at her screen, frowned, and starting typing again with finger-blurring speed.
“I will if you will,” Faith said. Ivy looked up and grinned. Faith grinned back. People didn’t get why she and Ivy clicked sometimes. And they rarely understood when they heard the story of how the two had met. Ivy—who’d run away to CloudFest—had tried to pick Faith’s pocket in the festival crowd when they’d both been fifteen. Or why Faith had dragged Ivy off to her house to stay for the week instead of taking her down to see Sheriff Lee. Sometimes like just called to like.
The sound of a honking horn—there was always one idiot in the line of cars who couldn’t wait—blared through the open window, and Faith twisted around to see what was happening. Sure enough, the first car was easing down the ramp from the ferry. “That’s my cue,” she said. “I’ll drop your passes off tomorrow.”
She blew Ivy a kiss and left the office. Taking the old wooden stairs two at a time, she popped out the door beside the boutique below Ivy’s office before the second car had even reached the road. As she stepped onto the pavement she pulled her straw cowboy hat—snitched from one of the festival crew as camouflage—more firmly over her hair. Despite the hat, the heat made her head start to sweat almost immediately and she shoved her sunglasses into place and craned her neck looking for Lou. Who, being sensible, would probably wait for the hordes to disembark while she sat and chatted to Magda, who operated the tiny coffee concession on the ferry, before making her own way down onto dry land.
Sure enough, there was no sign of Lou’s close-cropped silver hair in the steady stream of people making their way, so Faith faded back against the building, out of the way of the new arrivals, and entertained herself by watching the cars easing their way off the ferry and trying to navigate through the crowd of pedestrians. So far none of the drivers of the mostly shiny and expensive vehicles had lost their cool. Though all it would take would be some tourist whacking an overpriced side mirror with a backpack for someone to crack.
Most of the cars had their tinted windows up, which, given how hot it was even in the shade where she stood, she kind of envied. Air-conditioning would be nice right about now. The old truck she was driving today, tucked neatly into the lone parking space behind Ivy’s building, was no doubt getting hotter by the second under the midday sun. Maybe she should text Lou. Tell her she was waiting for her. But that would spoil the surprise of coming to meet her.
The car now opposite her—a screaming red Porsche—blasted its horn, snapping her attention back to the traffic. The driver accelerated, and she shook her head at his impatience. Lansing Island was only a couple of miles long. Nowhere took very long to get to, so a few seconds of waiting for a pedestrian to cross his path was hardly going to ruin his day.
She was tempted to give his taillights the finger, but that wasn’t going to magically transform him into a non-moron. Life was too short and she had too many things to do to worry about jerks whose actions weren’t affecting any of those things. She started to turn her head back toward the ferry and as she did, she caught the gaze of the passenger in the black SUV behind the idiot’s Porsche. He was apparently the exception to the rule of not winding your window down.
Blue. That was all she could think for a moment. His eyes were stupidly blue.
Her heart gave a little bump at the sensation that he was looking right at her despite the sunglasses and the fact that she was half in shadow under an awning and there were people walking between them.
She blinked, feeling an involuntary smile spring into life.
He started to smile, which made her realize that the rest of the face was pretty good too. He had a cap on, which meant she couldn’t tell what color his hair was—the stubbled beard outlining his square jaw was lightish brown—but his skin was tanned and the teeth flashing in that smile were very white. An odd sense of déjà vu tugged at her, like she’d seen him somewhere before, but then the car was moving on and she turned to watch it go.
Apparently Ivy had been right. There were cute tourists. Beyond cute. The Jeep had a CloudFest permit sticker on its back windshield, so presumably he was going to the festival.
She shook her head. He might be going to the festival, but she didn’t have time for cute or beyond cute, even if she’d felt inclined to break her keep-it-off-island rule.
“Faith? What are you doing here?” Lou’s voice came from behind her and Faith whirled around to hug her mom, forgetting all about blue eyes and hot smiles. For now.
* * *
In retrospect, a small island crowded with thousands of people for a music festival probably wasn’t the best place to hide out.
Caleb White tugged his baseball cap further down his head as he looked at the throngs of people already crowding the streets. Cloud Bay was apparently the island’s only proper town or village or whatever the term was for somewhere where the population was only a few thousand people for most of the year, but right now it looked more like downtown San Francisco or Los Angeles. Too many people.
Despite the crowd, he had to fight to resist the urge to lean out the window to try and catch a better glimpse of the girl in the battered straw cowboy hat.
The one whose smile had just sucker-punched him.
Damn. She gave good mouth. Her eyes had been hidden behind huge mirrored sunglasses, and the hat pulled low on her head made it hard to see much of her face through the crowd. But that mouth had been killer. Full lips curving into a delighted smile that was somehow sexy as hell. He’d thought she’d been looking at him but it was hard to tell with the glasses.
No way of knowing now that they were slowly making their way down the street, leaving her behind. Beside him, Liam was focused on the road ahead, his fingers drumming the steering wheel as he paused every so often to let a pedestrian cut across their path. Feeling vaguely disappointed, Caleb leaned back in his seat and hit the button to roll up the window. The tinted glass was a barrier between him and the rest of the world that he was happy to exploit for now.
He was under no illusions that he could make it through the whole festival incognito, but surely he could just hole up and relax at the place Liam had borrowed until CloudFest actually started.
Normally Caleb was fine with the fact that people knew who he was and having to deal with fans but apparently announcing your retirement from tennis just after reaching the semifinals at Wimbledon created a media shitstorm. And he didn’t feel like dealing with paparazzi or well-meaning members of the public trying to convince him he was still at the top of his game.
He wasn’t. He had the scars from last year’s shoulder surgery and the opinions of his world-class doctor to prove it.
He’d still fought back to the number-two ranking after his surgery but it had been freaking hard work, and lately he could feel the downhill slide starting. Didn’t matter how hard he worked, his shoulder was never going to be as good as new. Worse, he could feel it starting to go again. It had been agony after his last few matches. And screw being the guy desperately trying to hold onto former glory.
He’d seen too many guys do that in his time on the tour. It never worked.
So he’d decided to bow out.
He was fine with his choice.
The rest of the world didn’t seem to be.
Golden Boy of Tennis Loses His Shine
White Goes Dark
What’s Wrong with Caleb White?
The headlines had been endless and the media crush outside his house in Santa Monica relentless. Not even a minor scandal involving the actor who lived three doors down and the just-legal daughter of a U.S. senator had shaken them from his doorstep for more than a few hours.
Mostly because the actor in question had left town.
Caleb had dug in. Until Liam had rung with the news that he had tickets to CloudFest and a house on Lansing Island until early August.
His precise words had been, “Get your ass down here, White, we’re going to have fun. You remember fun, right?”
Caleb had remembered fun. He was no longer in training; no tournament start dates loomed in his calendar. For the first time since he had started taking his tennis seriously as a scrawny twelve-year-old, his time was his own. So he’d decided why the hell not?
Now, staring through the darkened car windows at all the tourists who would be joining them at the festival, he was starting to rethink that choice. He shifted on the seat, suddenly edgy. Maybe he’d go for a run once they’d settled into wherever they were staying. Or a swim. Blow off some steam.
“Lots of people,” he said to Liam, whose finger tapping had sped up as they waited for the car ahead to turn onto a cross street.
Cloud Bay was larger than he’d been picturing in his head. And more upmarket. Both sides of the street were lined with stores that looked expensive even while housed in the old-fashioned wood two-story buildings that seemed to be the town’s style. No sign of any chains, but there were sleek clothes and art in most of the store windows. Any place that wasn’t a store seemed to be a hipster café. And there were people everywhere.
“Yup,” Liam agreed. His head swiveled to Caleb. “Don’t worry, the house has good security. It belongs to one of the Blacklight guys. No one’s going to hassle us.”
“O-kay,” Caleb said. He hadn’t asked where they were staying, knowing that Liam would have found somewhere decent. But he hadn’t expected it to be a house belonging to one of the guys from the band that had made Lansing Island famous. Blacklight had started the whole CloudFest thing back in the nineties. “Doesn’t he need it for the festival?”
He wasn’t surprised that Liam knew someone from Blacklight. An entertainment lawyer whose dad had been a studio bigwig, Liam had grown up peak Hollywood. Rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of California. And Blacklight had been a very California band. Caleb had spent his teens focused on tennis but the Blacklight juggernaut had been too big for even him to miss. He owned most of their albums. “Cloudlines,” which had made them their fortunes and cemented them as superstars, was still one of his favorites.
“Dude, Blacklight haven’t played at CloudFest since Grey Harper died. I don’t even know if any of them have played together at all since then.” Liam eased the car forward.
At this rate they would be arriving at their destination in about five hours. His jaw tightened and he made himself relax it. Vacation. He didn’t have anywhere to be. He needed to chill.
Liam aimed a satisfied smile at Caleb. “So one prime island hideaway is all ours.”
Just them and—no doubt—a bunch of other people Liam had either invited or decided to party with. “So who runs the festival, if none of the band are here?” He’d never been to CloudFest though it, like the band who’d started it, was something everyone knew about. He’d just never given much thought to how music festivals happened.
“Harper’s oldest daughter. Faith. I don’t need to explain Faith Harper to you, do I?”
Caleb shook his head. He knew who Faith Harper was all right. She hadn’t followed in her father’s footsteps musically, but she’d been in a couple of the band’s videos when she’d been about eighteen. She was beautiful—or no, maybe “arresting” was a better word. All long legs and a mane of wavy sun-streaked hair and her father’s famous gray-green eyes, huge in an angled face, drifting through the moody landscape of the clips. He wondered what she looked like now. “The name sounds familiar.”
Liam snorted. “It really is a good thing you’ve retired,” he said. “You have about twenty years of pop culture to catch up on. Danny told me he has a sweet home theater. Maybe I’ll give you a crash course.”
Danny being Danny Ryan, Blacklight’s lead guitarist, presumably. “I was playing tennis, not living on the moon. I know about pop culture. How do you think I passed all that travel time?”
“If I know you, watching video of your competition playing so you could figure out how best to totally annihilate them.”
Liam apparently knew him a little too well. Because he couldn’t deny that he liked to win. And would do whatever he needed to do to make sure he did. But that didn’t mean he was a robot. “You can’t do that one hundred percent of the time. Sometimes you have to watch stuff blow up instead.” Or sleep. He’d gotten pretty good at sleeping on planes. It didn’t hurt that these days he generally got to travel first class. But he’d learned the trick in cattle class in his early years on the circuit.
“There’s more to pop culture than action movies.”
Caleb grinned. “Yeah. There’s Sci Fi as well.”
Liam rolled his eyes. “Well, at least we can bring you up to date on music this weekend.”
Caleb nodded, hoping his sudden lack of enthusiasm for the idea of being surrounded by so many people didn’t show. “Looking forward to a couple of quiet nights before then. Not sure I’ve caught up on what time zone I’m in since I got back from London.” Jet lag was a reasonable explanation for the fact he hadn’t been sleeping well. It just wasn’t the actual explanation.
“Don’t tell me you’re getting boring in your old age.”
“Boring is better than eventful right now.”
“You can’t hide forever. Besides, between that cap, your sunglasses, and that lame beard, no one’s going to easily recognize you.”
“My beard is not lame.” He’d been growing the beard for only two weeks—since his announcement in fact. Part of his fool-the-press attempts. So far it hadn’t actually fooled anyone. It just looked scruffy. And it itched. He was nearly ready to give up and shave.
Liam rolled his eyes. “Hipster is not your look. Stick to all-American.”
“You’re more hipster than me.” Liam had grown his dark hair out to nearly shoulder length. That had to be annoying as hell to deal with all day but apparently it worked for Liam. He never lacked female company. Girls apparently liked long hair. Of course, Liam was a pretty son of a bitch, so that helped.
“Maybe, but on me it looks good. Ginger whiskers aren’t cool.”
“My beard isn’t ginger.”
“It’s ginger in bits.” Liam rubbed a hand over his own smooth chin. “Gingers don’t get the girls.”
“Your beard isn’t.”
“I’m also not here to get the girls.” He thought again about the girl near the ferry and that smile. Well, maybe if she crossed his path again he might be interested. Perhaps an island fling would be just what the doctor ordered to distract him from life without tennis.
“Why the hell not? You’re retired. Time to live a little. Don’t tell me you’re getting cold feet. You can’t be missing getting up at dawn to train and eating rabbit food.”
“No.” He definitely didn’t want to go back to his old life. Though he still kept waking up before six a.m. Apparently the habits of a lifetime were hard to break.
“Good. So it’s time to get with the program. And the program while we’re here is good music, good booze, and pretty girls. You can figure out the meaning of life and Caleb 2.0 later.”
Liam had a point. And, more important, Caleb didn’t have a better plan right now. So maybe it was just time to let the fuck go and see what the hell happened.
Copyright © 2017 Emma Douglas