by Riley Scott
Everyone’s favorite rock ‘n’ roll bad girl has gone too far this time. Raven—loved by her millions of fans—suffers many sleepless nights and haunted memories, and years of hard living are beginning to take their toll. When scandal finally breaks, Raven is forced to hire a public relations guru to refine her image.
Christina Villanova is looking for a new challenge at work, and with Raven she’s certainly found one. She decides to take on what many others have failed: cleaning up Raven’s brand. Christina is undeniably drawn to Raven once she sees that Raven’s bravado masks her underlying passion. For her part, Raven seems hell-bent on maintaining her rough-around-the-edges facade, severely testing Christina’s cool professionalism.
As Raven’s behavior escalates dangerously, Christina realizes she’s not just fighting for Raven’s popularity, she’s fighting for Raven’s heart—and her future.
The Lesbian Review
Backstage Passis a celebrity romance with an out-of-control rock goddess and her new PR rep. It's a little grittier than I'm used to seeing in celebrity romances, and it works well. Reading a new-to-me author is always an adventure because I never know if I'm going to like them, love them, or walk away and never look back. I had never read anything by Riley Scott before, and I was more than pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It's very well plotted and perfectly paced, and I found myself wanting to shut out the world so I could just focus on Backstage Pass.
Lesbian Reading Room
This is a great read. Strong personalities, a solid and well-drawn setting and a plausible and well-constructed plot. Riley Scott fills in detail on a wide range of characters as well as Raven and Chris, creating a good grounding for the plausibility of their interactions. Their behaviours are believable, and even when Chris breaks her own rules we can see how she has been swept up in the rush of life on the road.
Melissa Etheridge crooned out of the speakers in Christina’s room as she set to work packing the last of her essential items. As the remainder of the evening sun streaked through her curtains, she let out a sigh and sat on the edge of her bed, a mix of nervousness and excitement swirling in her head.
She belted out the lyrics, singing along to Melissa’s tune and trying to drown out her muddled thoughts. Though “Nowhere to Go” was the opposite of her current problem, the words were soothing and sang about finding home and a place in the arms of a kindred spirit.
She took a deep breath and glanced into her closet. It was difficult to decide what to take and what to leave behind when entering a world so different from her own. Forcing herself to pay attention, she sorted through clothing. She didn’t want to appear as if she was trying too hard to be edgy—or too professional. There had to be some mix.
“Brit,” she called out to her roommate down the hall. “Can you come help me for a minute?”
She waited until she heard footsteps, trying her best to don a game face, one that said she was ready for whatever she was about to conquer.
“What can I do for you,” her peppy, blond roommate asked, poking her head into Chris’s room, “aside from returning this little guy?” She held out Paco, Chris’s tiny dog, as if he were a peace offering. His tan fur stood up in tufts from his recent bath, his ears drooped, and his big brown eyes made the perfect “sad puppy dog” look complete.
“Hey buddy,” Chris said, taking him into her arms. “I’m sorry. He must have sought refuge in your room. He hates it when I pack. Typical Chihuahua.”
“I know,” Brittany said with a shrug. “Don’t worry about a thing. We are going to be just fine while you’re out on the road, living it up.”
Brittany reached out and patted her on the shoulder, looking closely at Chris. Her touch was tender, her smile soft. Her gentle approach told Chris her game face was failing miserably. Chris looked into Brittany’s sky-blue eyes, smiling at how they sparkled in the light, exuding warmth and a touch of mischief. She also remembered those blue eyes shining with desire and longing—and brushed the thought aside.
“I don’t know if I should have accepted this opportunity,” Chris admitted quietly, again taking a seat on the bed.
“Come on,” Brittany encouraged, sitting next to her. “You were so excited when you found out they chose you. In fact, you didn’t stop talking about it for a week. It’s a once in a lifetime chance, remember?”
“You’re right,” Chris said, nodding and trying to resume her initial confidence. “There were several firms up for the job and they chose mine. And beyond that, my boss put me on the task.” Even to her ears, her voice sounded more like she was making a grocery list than recounting her greatest professional accomplishment.
“You are a PR superhero,” Brittany said, her bright smile spreading across her face with ease. “You’re the same woman who single-handedly saved the mayor’s transportation project from public doom. You made the kid who smashed the windows of his school into a model citizen when his rich parents hired you. You turned around the reputation of that tech company whose products blew up in consumers’ hands. And most importantly, you represented…” Brittany paused for dramatic effect and used her fingers to create a drum roll on the bed. “Superstar baseball player, Tom Stella, in his doping case.”
Chris listened as Brittany regaled her accomplishments, savoring the way Brittany viewed her. It was incredible to be so loved, so entirely accepted and applauded all the time. It meant even more because she knew Brittany had seen her at her worst and still saw her in that light.
“Seriously, I’ve seen you take on some of the toughest cases—the most intense crisis situations—and leave everyone smiling when you walk off the scene,” Brittany continued. “Whether you’re working your magic with words and penning crafty statements or staging publicity events, you are the best at what you do. You’ve got this. It’ll be cake for you and not only that, you also get to party with a rock star.”
“That’s the part I’m worried about,” Chris said, giving voice to her fears. “I know I can turn things around for this girl. She’s clearly smart, she’s talented beyond all belief, she puts on great shows and she’s beautiful. She’s a household name who sells out the biggest venues, but she’s just done a good job of running her name into the ground. I can work with her and I have little doubt about that. I’m just worried that I don’t really know how to behave in that world.”
Brittany laughed and the sound helped calm Chris’s nerves. “You know exactly what to do,” she said with a wink. The move was subtle but served as another reminder that Brittany’s friendship was more. “You’re going to have wild sex parties and snort some blow.”
“That was one time,” Chris said, her joke easing the tension completely. As they both broke into a fit of giggles, Brittany stood and looked at Chris’s closet.
“Is this what you wanted help with?” she asked, pointing. “Trying to find the balance between the stripper and the businesswoman?”
“You know me too well,” Chris said with a shrug. “I just don’t want to look like I’m trying too hard, in either direction.”
“Just go and be you,” Brittany offered. “You’re the coolest person I know and you’re my favorite party buddy, as well as my favorite PR professional. Just go and rock it.” As she spoke, she flipped through the closet, selecting a few items that seemed to fit the bill perfectly.
“These,” she said, holding up a pair of faded, ripped jeans and a tight black shirt, “are for the evenings, the night shows. And these,” she added, holding up a pair of darker jeans and a red, silky, scooped-neck blouse that showed too much cleavage to wear on a normal workday, “for when you need to dress up. Also be sure to take a pair of slacks and a jacket, just in case you have to go on camera. You never know if the girl is going to go off the deep end and need you to comment on her behalf.”
“I knew you’d save the day,” Chris said appreciatively, standing to give her a hug.
“No,” Brittany said, pulling back from the hug. “I’m just the style guru. You’re going to be the one to save the day. Now, stop doubting yourself, put this stuff in a bag and go kick some ass. But most importantly, go have a blast.”
Reassured, she knew Brittany was right. There was no need for her to go into this with anything other than her usual confidence and optimism. There was a reason that they had chosen her and she was going to prove them right, whatever it took. Until then, she was going to snuggle Paco for another night and try her best to get a good night’s rest.
“Have I showed you the schedule?” she asked, prolonging the interaction for a while longer. She was going to miss her best friend—the constant in her life who made her feel at home in the world. She thought again about Melissa Etheridge’s song and how she sang of asking someone to dance with her forever. Confusion lingered in her mind as she eyed Brittany, wondering if that was why she would miss her.
She noted Brittany’s smile and felt her heart flutter. She couldn’t tell if it was out of familiarity and warmth or something deeper and unsettling. Regardless, she would miss this—the ease with which they spoke, the tender hugs. She would even miss the longing glances and tension-filled moments as they felt out exactly what their relationship or lack thereof looked like.
“I think you’ve showed me six times, but run it by me again.” Brittany’s laughter filled the room as she sat down on the bed again. She reached over and patted Chris’s shoulder, and the touch sent shivers through Chris’s body. Things would never be the same between them again. But she couldn’t figure out what they should be. She glanced at the schedule, hoping that her time on the road would provide some clarity for their current situation. Either she would miss Brittany and know she was the one, or she would find freedom and new connections in new places.
“We start out in Austin, and we hit most major cities in the southwest over the course of a month.” She harnessed her attention to the matter at hand. “And that’s just if Susan thinks I’ve done what I need to do after a month. She could make me stay two, three or even more months. If I stay for the full two months they’ve got scheduled, that will be twenty-four shows, eight weeks and seven states. She’s playing three shows a week and covering a lot of territory. For some unknown reason, we go from Texas to Arizona, back to New Mexico, back to Arizona for a concert she is doing with the kid who won American Idol last year, then California, Nevada, Utah and finally Colorado and Oklahoma. At this point, it’s impossible to even guess where I could end up, let alone what weather or timing will be beyond those two months. It’s exhausting to even put it into my planner.”
“Then ditch the planner and just enjoy the ride.”
“Easier said than done,” Chris said, shaking her head.
“I know. Pack for the long haul but be optimistic. Maybe you will be back in just a few weeks.” Brittany patted her on the knee and stood. “One more thing,” she added, standing in the doorway. “You might want to start listening to something a little more hardcore. Something tells me your girl is going to like it more if you can sing along to her songs.”
“I can growl, yell angrily, shoot whiskey and tell the world to fuck off with the best of them,” Chris said, brushing it off. “Besides, we both know that I’m a fan.”
“Yeah, I know,” Brittany responded, winking as she walked out the door. “Don’t show her just how often you fantasize about her while you’re out there on the road with her. It’ll add to that big ego of hers and make you seem like a bit of a lovesick pup.”
Chris laughed, shaking her head and shutting her door. One thing she was sure of was that she was definitely not going to let Raven know just how big a fan she was, or how much she had crushed on the singer throughout her late teens and early twenties—for the last decade of her twenty-eight years. The rest she could figure out along the way.
“Go get ’em, champ,” she whispered the words to herself, smiling sadly and wishing that her dad was still around to give her his usual pep talk before every big life event until he had passed away two years ago. She cued on his strength that still lived in her. She lay down on her bed and closed her eyes, letting her excitement about tomorrow come back and her anxiety subside.
* * *
Thankful for the dark light in her bus bathroom, Raven looked into the mirror, taking special note of how her eyeliner was smeared down the side of her face, making her brown eyes look even darker. Her long, dark hair was a tousled mess, its natural waves refusing to cooperate. She tried unsuccessfully to pick through the strands with her fingers. With a sigh, she moved on to the next task. As deftly as her hangover would allow, she cleared the black goop from her face with a makeup remover wipe, her clean face showing off angular features that were often termed ‘exotic’ in the press.
She wanted to laugh about it and would have done so if she had an audience. However she could barely manage to keep her eyes open. She removed the rest of last night’s makeup and expertly reapplied another coat.
“Never let them see you weak or unprepared,” she whispered to her reflection. “Even if it’s just for rehearsal,” she added to no one in particular.
The beating on the bus door came again and she wanted to tell Frank Karnes—her manager—to go to hell. She took a deep breath instead and glanced in the mirror, thankful that her bitchy face needed no extra coaching today.
“What?” she asked angrily, throwing the door open to Frank’s hand hanging in midair.
“You’re late,” he said, his bald head gleaming in the afternoon sun, the lines of frustration showing out of the side of his sunglasses, and his wide forehead wrinkling even more than usual. “That’s what.” His gruff tone indicated that he was in no mood for nonsense today.
The corners of her lips turned up slightly at the thought. Aside from the roar of a crowd, the powerful riff of a quality song or the way that she knew that no matter what she did, he would stand by her side, there was little that brought her as much delight as his little panic attacks over nothing.
“It’s not a big deal,” she said with a shrug. “We all know that we’re going to play the same set as last night and we killed it last night. I’ve got this. Besides, tell Pete that he should practice without the rest of us. He’s the one struggling.”
The mention of her bass player’s flub only made Frank scowl more. “That’s enough,” he said. “You can’t do a show without them. Keep that in mind before you start hurling insults.”
“I know, I know,” she said, holding her hands up as if she was being assaulted. “We’re a team and all that jazz. I’m just saying, we’re going to be fine tonight. We’ll rock the hell out of Austin. They’ll never know what hit them.”
“You’re playing to a huge crowd,” he said, raising an eyebrow at her and pointing around, emphasizing that she was the headliner for Austin’s biggest music festival of the year. “I just want to make sure you’re as amped and prepared as you need to be. This is a music-loving city, and you’ll be on stage for thousands who paid high-dollar prices for those tickets.”
“I am pumped,” she said, not allowing her facial expression to show just how excited she was. She was as happy to be living her dream as anyone could have been, but that didn’t mean she was going to give them all the satisfaction of knowing it. “Let’s go have some fun. Isn’t that what this whole thing is about anyway?”
He eyed her sideways. “Not too much fun,” he added, pulling off his sunglasses for a moment. “We can’t have another night like Chicago. I’m all about you kids having a blast out there. That is, indeed, what this is all about, but you also have to remember that news spreads like wildfire and I can’t have your face plastered about with bad publicity like it has been lately.”
The mention of her latest scandal caused her to stiffen. As she had told him before, it wasn’t her fault that kids had a fascination for putting their every encounter on the Internet. But she wasn’t going to get into that argument again.
“It’ll be fine,” she said, reaching up to pat him casually on the shoulder. “After all, that’s what people expect from us—sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. I wouldn’t want to let my fans down.” She winked at him before turning back into her room for a moment, grateful she had opted to spend the extra money on a large bus with private rooms.
“I thought you were ready,” he called out, his voice rising in frustration.
“I am,” she said. “Just give me a minute to use the restroom. I’ll be right there and we can have a little fun with the rock ’n’ roll part of that bit.”
She heard his sigh as she shut the door in his face, leaving him back outside her world for a moment. Taking one last minute to herself, she eyed the Red Bull on the table and gave it a second of consideration. Knowing it wouldn’t be nearly adequate, she slipped into her bathroom and reached into her cabinet for the small locket engraved with her initials, the one thing that had survived through all the moves and all of the chapters of her life. She looked at it, remembering the day it had been given to her by her father on her fourth birthday. She shook her head, wondering how some memories held such clarity even twenty-three years later.
Running her fingers across the hard metal of the heart-shaped necklace charm, she slipped a nail in the crevice and carefully opened it up, before pouring out a line. One quick snort and she leaned back.
Finally awake for the day, she smiled into the mirror and headed out the door.
“Let’s go make some magic, Frank,” she said, putting her arm around him as they walked toward the building.
Looking up, she had to smile. This was what she lived for. A blue-sky day with white puffy clouds and right now, they seemed to come to life. And she knew she’d feel even more alive when she belted out the opening lines of her latest hit.
“We have a guest today,” Frank said, looking down in her direction, clearly oblivious to the magic she was experiencing.
“What kind of guest?” she asked, not letting his news blur her good mood. She glanced up at him briefly, noting the way worry seemed to cloud his eyes. She wanted it to fade and wished he felt as good as she did. She glanced away, not wanting to either see his anxiety or absorb it.
“You remember our conversation about hiring a public relations firm, right?” His voice was steeped in caution, as he quietly, but pointedly, enunciated each word.
Her heart raced, as she recalled the conversation, a combination of anxiety and frustration seething within her. Just because she had slipped up once didn’t mean she needed a nanny. Her latest mistake had been splashed about social media and plastered on the cover of every gossip rag, making her look like some kind of fool. To think that some outsider could come in and fix it was ludicrous. Her fans had moved on and so had anyone with a brain. It was the game to be a little wild. She was no exception to the rules of rock ’n’ roll. Anyone who looked back on the history of rocker scandals would see that she was the norm. She was what she was expected and trained to be. No one with any talent slipped through this fast-paced world of fame and entertainment without a few bumps along the way. She was just fine and she didn’t want someone with a pretty résumé joining the so-called “team” just to snoop around in her personal life. That would only make matters worse and interrupt how she was running her life and her career. This was no one else’s business.
“You know I don’t want to do that,” she said. “I don’t need it. I’m fine. I’m who my fans expect me to be and I don’t want to be some Barbie doll version of a rock star. We have too many of those. I’m not a bubble gum pop singer or one of the Golden Girls.”
“Don’t start in on that again,” he said, pulling away from her side and turning to face her. “I know that’s not who you are and we’re not going to change your image. We’re just going to clean it up a bit. We can’t have incidents anymore. We can’t afford them.”
“Sales didn’t drop a bit,” she said, sticking to her guns and shaking her head. “Not even a dip. I have checked every day since then.”
He raised an eyebrow at her and cocked his head to the side, seemingly questioning her intensity. “You have?” he asked after a moment.
“Of course I have,” she said, shrugging it off. “This is my career. It’s my art. I wanted to be sure I was making the right decision to forgo the agency and I am. I’m fine.”
When his eyes again showed signs of worry and his brow furrowed, she glanced at the ground. It was too painful to see legitimate concern in his eyes. “Look at me,” he said gently, giving her no choice but to comply. When she lifted her eyes to his, she saw the softness of a father figure and the pang in her heart was palpable. “We both know you’re not fine, honey. Talented as hell? Without a doubt. But fine? No. And I want to help you with that. We all do. This is for your own good.”
“It’s just so the public has something they can digest,” she said, shaking her head and refusing to let her feelings get in the way. “I appreciate you, Frank. You know that. But I still don’t want to do this and I’m not going to. I’m not going to have some outsider come in here and tell me how I need to look, what I can and can’t say, and who I’m supposed to be. If you remember, our last public relations chump lasted three weeks. That bastard gave me a list of words I couldn’t use.”
“And you used plenty of the words in telling him where he could shove his list,” Frank said, trying to keep his amusement out of his tone.
“And I’ll do the same to this one if you insist on making me even meet with them. But I don’t want to do it.”
“At least meet her,” he said. “This time, we stuck to the guidelines you requested. I know that the last one fell through, but we didn’t listen to your criteria then. This time, we brought you in a young woman, about your age—she’s twenty-eight. And she’s someone who can understand you as a person. I interviewed her personally. Unlike the others, she’s actually a fan of rock music. She’s been instructed not to interfere with who you are or change you. She’s simply here to make your public image more appropriate and clean. She’s one of the best in the game with a long list of successful client cases in her portfolio.”
“I’ll meet her,” she said, “but rest assured, she won’t last.”
“We’ll see about that,” he said, placing his arm around her and directing her toward the stadium. The move clearly cut the discourse short, but she was sure he was just as tired as she was of having the conversation. Nonetheless, she wasn’t giving in.
Thankful that the plane ride had passed uneventfully, Chris looked around at her surroundings. After a quick stop at the hotel to drop off her things and freshen up, she went to the Frank Erwin Center. Luckily, the band was staying an extra night in Austin, so she was afforded something that would become a luxury—staying in an actual room instead of on the group’s bus.
She looked down at her dark skinny jeans, blue blouse and peep-toe heels. Taking a deep breath, she smoothed her hands on her jeans. She had made the right choice in wardrobe. Not too classy, but not slouchy either.
As the guitarists and drummer jammed out onstage, the hot, dry air enveloped her. The star of the show was yet to grace the practice area, even though the sound and light crew were hard at work setting up equipment with the band.
Wringing her hands together to keep her palms from getting too sweaty, Chris tried not to focus on her racing heart. This is business, she reminded herself. You’re a professional.
Listening to the music, she smiled. There was nothing like strong rock to set a mood. They sounded crisp and well-practiced. The men showed raw talent. Yet they were having fun as they played, their passion for their craft seeping through every chord, every note.
“You’ve got this,” she reminded herself as they played the final note of their warm-up number. No amount of pep talking could still her nerves or keep her from feeling a volatile mix of anxiety and excitement. On one hand she felt like the teenage girl waiting to meet her celebrity crush. On the other, she felt suddenly unsure about whether accepting this opportunity had been the right move. She had done her research. The poor guy who had previously taken the position had been dispensed with quickly.
Perhaps no one could tame the beast that was Raven. She took a deep breath and silently went down a mental list of all of the clients she had pulled from the wreckage of their own stupidity. She vowed this one would be the same.
She craned her neck toward the doorway where she had seen the infamous Frank Karnes exit minutes before, but couldn’t see anything. She wanted to introduce herself before he ducked out, having recognized him from his years in the industry. But he had been quick to leave and his expression signified he was on a mission. Just like a diva to keep them all waiting, she thought. Glancing around, she decided that standing in wait was ridiculous. Instead, she chose a chair close to the stage and let the guitar riffs carry her away to another less stressful place.
“Glad to see you at least have good taste,” the raspy voice jolted Chris back into the moment, causing her to open her eyes and refocus.
Raven stood in front of her, in the flesh. Chris managed a smile as she stared into deep chocolate-brown eyes. Raven’s dark hair was disheveled, slight waves all the way down the middle of her back. Her angular face still held its astounding beauty, but her mouth showed no signs of a smile and her eyes no sign of amusement. Nonetheless, she was easily the most beautiful woman Chris had ever seen.
Standing, she regained her composure. “Good morning,” she said, letting her smile deepen and hoping her cheeks didn’t betray her by blushing. “I’m Christina Villanova. I’m going to be handling some of your public relations efforts moving forward.”
“Raven,” she responded, offering her a hand but stubbornly remaining stiff and unapproachable. “We’ll see if you pass the test.” Chris marveled at just how tall Raven was in person and how quickly the words seemed to tumble out of her mouth, as if her world was moving faster than everyone else’s. Raven stood a solid half foot taller than she did, yet Chris held her ground, refusing to be intimidated by her stature or her coldness.
With that, Raven turned and took the stage.
“I’m sorry,” Frank started, but Chris held a hand up to stop his apology.
“No need,” she said. “It’s fine. I’m used to it. Most people don’t want help or think they need help. I didn’t expect any less. I’m Christina, by the way.”
“Frank Karnes,” he said, extending his right hand for a formal introduction, although the two of them had spoken on the phone and corresponded via email for weeks.
“Nice to finally meet you,” she said, accepting his handshake.
She smiled warmly at Frank, thankful that he clearly had her back, and took her seat again. Still jolted, she took a second to reflect on what had just transpired. She had expected something a little different—not from a professional perspective, but certainly as a young girl who had admired the rocker since she had come onto the music scene almost a decade ago. As an eighteen-year-old, Chris had marveled at the star who instantaneously took the world by storm.
On stage, Raven transformed before her eyes. Gone was the sullen and quietly combative woman she had just met and in her place stood someone confident and fun-loving—the woman she admired. Clad in nothing more than a pair of jeans, a pair of Converse and a plain red V-neck T-shirt, she looked stunning—even more so than she usually did, with her hair and makeup perfected for the stage.
“It’s about time you got out of bed,” her drummer teased.
“That’s enough out of you, stick boy,” she shot back, sticking her tongue out at him childlike, innocent and free from the pressures of the world. “I didn’t have to show up early, Paul. I know the new song.” Her voice held a tease that made the other members of the band smile as she cast her eyes to the bassist.
“That happened one time,” Pete the bassist said, offering nothing more in explanation than a shrug.
“Yeah, one time,” she said. “During your solo part of yesterday’s practice, thus why we didn’t unveil the song last night.”
“I’ve got it down,” he said good-naturedly. His sheepish grin showed hints of embarrassment. “You left me plenty of extra practice time today to get it down pat.”
“Good,” she said, giving him a wink. “Don’t let me down.” Chris watched as she turned to her guitarist. “What about you, Joe? Are we good to go?”
“You know it,” he said, nodding even though he seemed somewhat nervous.
Chris couldn’t help but wonder what their day-to-day lives must be like and if she was always as intimidating as she seemed this morning—or if this was just a show put on for Chris’s behalf, to let everyone know that she was, indeed, the boss.
“We’re ready to rock, bro,” she said, nudging her guitarist on her right. “Hit it.” Her voice came out as more of a growl than anything and her lips curled up into a villainous grin. As the beat swelled, Chris watched in awe. Almost as if she noticed Chris’s positive reaction, Raven turned her attention to the front row. “You’re in for a treat, PR lady,” she said, offering a seductive up-and-down look and winking. “You’re about to hear the song we finished on the road just a few weeks ago and it’s going to rock your world.”
Despite her better judgment Chris smiled back. She didn’t want to fuel the fire of Raven’s arrogance, but she felt helpless against it. Her charm dripped off her every word, even in condescension, and Chris knew that’s how she always got her way.
The drumbeat had her entranced already and when the guitar joined in, Chris knew she was in for a treat. The music came alive around her, reverberating off the walls and making the huge stadium feel more like a grunge garage—quaint, yet rebellious.
“Who are you,” Raven sang the opening lines, closing her eyes and moving to the beat. Gone was the chip on her shoulder. This was real. This was what people needed to see off stage. “Who are you to tell me how to live my life?”
As the beat intensified, Chris listened to the words, uncertain if they had been directed at the backlash of her latest scandal, or if they were about something deeper. As the chorus neared, Raven was half-screaming, half-growling the lyrics, her deep, throaty voice striking every chord within Chris’s body.
“Maybe if you looked inside,” she sang, making the deep notes seem effortless as she jumped up and down to the beat onstage. “Maybe if you looked inside yourself for once, maybe you’d see what I see, yeah maybe you’d see, that you’re the same as me.”
The words seemed to ignite something within Raven as she gave a full performance to an empty stadium. When she turned her eyes in Chris’s direction, Chris could have sworn they seemed to catch fire and burn into her soul. “Maybe you’d see there’s a demon in you, yeah I can see clearly, it’s the same one that’s eating at me.”
Raven sang out, letting her voice reach its deepest octave. “Staring at us in the mirror, those bloodshot eyes, a cold ghost of what was, try my demons on for size.”
When the guitar solo took over, Raven cast her one final, unreadable glance before moving to work the other side of the stage. Even without a crowd, she was in the moment, focusing her entire being into perfecting her routine. Chris hoped that, at some point in the future, Raven would dedicate as much energy and investment into her persona, her people skills, as she did at perfecting her craft. Regardless, she had to admire everything about the performance—and the words that she knew had come directly from Raven.
Chris was a fan of singer-songwriters and that had been one of her major draws to Raven early on. Every lyric was penned by the rocker herself and every word of this song seemed to scream a cry to be understood, to be left alone and to express her inner turmoil.
Raven sang, her eyes closed as she moved to the beat.
As the song came to a close, Raven and her guitarist stood back to back, both pouring every bit of themselves into the last notes.
“So, what do you think?” Raven asked, raising an eyebrow in Chris’s direction.
Put on the spot, Chris wanted to say that she saw a rare vulnerability in Raven’s questioning smile as she waited for an answer. However she quickly decided to forgo that response, knowing it would only alienate her from Raven even further.
“It’s powerful,” she said. “It’s the ultimate, ‘fuck off, I do my own thing’ anthem, jazzed up a bit with a little bit of fun and made much deeper with the fact that you’re drawing a parallel with the struggles we each face.”
Raven eyed her quizzically for a moment, keeping her eyebrow raised. Finally, she nodded. “I like the analysis,” she said slowly. “Thanks.”
Raven seemed to work hard to keep her tone neutral and her expression cool, but Chris could tell the compliment had meant something. Raven’s eyes shone brighter, despite her tight-lipped nod. Chris shook her head, wishing the rocker didn’t feel such a need—for whatever reason—to shut herself away from showing any emotion. She seemed bitter. That much was crystal clear. What could leave someone with the world at her fingertips angry enough to push away gratitude for a compliment?
Raven had left Chris’s mind reeling. Throughout the rest of the rehearsal, Raven ignored Chris, going on with the show as if no one but the band was present. Chris hoped that would stick. She didn’t want to be the outsider, the one who disturbed the process. She wanted to blend, to become part of the team, at least for the time being until she could handle Raven’s affairs from afar. As it was now, she was on the road for an indeterminate time and was going to have to make the best of it.
“However long it takes to fix it, that’s how long you’ll be gone.” She replayed her boss’s words in her head. Judging by the awkwardness so far, she hoped she could pull out her Wonder Woman skills and right this wrong quickly, so she could go back home and return to admiring the singer from a distance. Currently, Raven was a little like a bear—cool from a distance, but more than a little unnerving up close.
“And that’s a wrap,” Raven said after the last song. “Raven out,” she said dramatically, dropping the microphone from her hands with a smile.
“You’ve got to stop doing that,” her guitar player said, swooping in behind her to grab it from the ground. “I get to listen to the sound guys bitch about it every time.”
“It’s fun,” she shot back as she exited the stage. “I’ve got to meet with Frank anyway and we all know I can’t keep him waiting.”
On stage, Paul the drummer moved close to Raven’s side for a hushed conversation. After a moment, Raven nodded and pulled him in for a hug. Curious, Chris watched the interaction, likening the pair’s interaction to siblings.
“I’m ready Frank,” Raven called out, nodding in his direction.
Chris watched as Frank let out a sigh beside her and she wondered what made him stick around. It couldn’t be the money. He was one of the most sought-after agents in the business and could be with anyone he wanted. But he stayed, taking what could only be described as the ribbing a daughter would give her doting but overprotective father.
He stood and went to meet Raven as she exited the stage.
“How was it?” she asked quietly, but not quietly enough to be out of Chris’s earshot.
“You did great,” he said, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I love the new stuff.”
As Chris observed the exchange she tried to piece it together. In order to do her job—and to settle her curiosity—she needed some answers. She needed to cut through the bullshit and find the source of problems, figure out what made Raven tick and determine how Frank and her band seemed to be able to get past Raven’s veil of bitterness. That was exactly what she needed to tap into to gain her trust and show the public a softer side.
Even from an outsider’s point of view, it was clear that Frank and Raven fulfilled something within each other—something that presumably they didn’t get elsewhere. Everything she had seen and read on the band from their quirky social media posts to the behind-the-scenes videos they often shared seemed to suggest the entire band formed a dysfunctional family unit. It appeared to her that Frank also played a role in the family. When they turned to walk in her direction, she had more questions than answers, but figured those would come with time. For the time being, she had a job to do and she was going in blind.
“Let’s all go grab a drink,” Frank said as they approached Chris, still sitting. “We can talk and get to know each other a little bit.”
“Are you going to make me look good?” Raven asked, her mood somewhat softer now, but still holding an edge.
“I have every intention to do just that—but more than that, I’ll help you look good to yourself,” Chris said, smiling and hoping that Raven felt her sincerity. She wanted to do more than offer a publicity stunt. She always wanted more. She wanted to actually help people help themselves.
Raven nodded at her and turned to walk back toward the bus. “I like her more than the last guy,” Raven said to Frank, talking about Chris as though she wasn’t there. “At least she’s not a stammering idiot in a suit telling me to go to church.”
Frank laughed and shook his head. “You’ll have to excuse her,” he said. “She’s a little rough on newcomers, a little untrusting.”
“She says ‘fuck,’ and she’s not afraid of an afternoon drink,” Raven said, continuing her verbal assessment. “She’s not nearly as bad as the guy who said no drinking before a show.”
“Was he Puritan or something?” Chris asked, loudly enough for Raven to hear, several paces ahead of them already.
Without turning around, Raven let out a laugh. The sound rang through the air, making Chris smile. She felt she had made a connection with the woman.
“Something like that,” Raven said. “I’m going to stop by my room. I’ll meet you both outside on the side patio in a bit.”
“She sure knows her way around the place,” Chris commented to Frank as she scanned the area for a patio. Finally up ahead in the distance, she spotted a couple of umbrellas.
“She’s been around this circuit for a while. She knows pretty much every venue big and small and this is one of her favorites. It’s a large venue that brings a crowd of rock fanatics,” he said with a shrug. “In no form or fashion is she new to this. It’s just that lately she’s found herself in a bit of trouble.”
“Why is it all so recent?” Chris asked. “I mean, was she always this heavy into partying?”
“Partying, yes,” he said, his gray eyes darkening and his worry lines increasing. “They all are. Partying is one thing, but this, not so much.”
“Do you know why it’s been a recent thing?”
The question hung in the air as Frank shook his head. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but shut it quickly. One thing was clear. Whatever Frank knew, it was between him and Raven. His loyalty kept his lips tightly shut. And whatever he knew, she was going to have to either figure it out on her own—or just do her job the best she could while being kept in the dark.
Keeping pace with Frank, she let him take the lead when they reached the patio. He crossed the concrete and tapped gently on the concession stand window.
“We’re closed until six,” a woman’s voice called, before briefly opening the window and glancing out. “Oh, hey Frank,” she said, her smile stretching across her weathered but kind face. Her blue eyes lit up and Chris noted how she looked like someone’s good-natured grandma. “How have you been?”
“Pretty good,” he said, smiling at her in return. “Could we grab a few beers?”
“Anything for my favorites,” she said, “I’ll bring out a pitcher in a minute. Y’all go ahead and take a seat.”
“They must retain concession stand workers pretty well,” Chris noted as they took a seat.
“That’s not a concession stand worker,” Frank said, smiling at her. “That’s Connie. She’s the general manager of the grounds here. She just pitches in and helps with all set up. That’s kind of the Texas way. But I’m sure you’re used to that in Houston.”
“I get it,” Chris said, the statement about Texas warming her heart. “I’m from Texas—born and raised. My dad was also from Texas and that’s kind of how he approached life. Her kindness reminds me of him.”
Nostalgia washed over her, taking her back to when her dad was just a phone call away and when her favorite singer was a muse in her mind, instead of a mouthy pain in her ass. Shaking the thoughts aside, she followed Frank’s gaze to Raven walking up to meet them.
“She really is a good girl at heart,” he said quietly.
“I know she is,” Chris agreed. “I just want her to know it as well.”
“You and me both,” he said, before directing his attention to Connie as she brought them out a pitcher and glasses.
As he thanked her, Raven took a seat next to Frank and directly across from Chris. The intensity with which she stared was marred only slightly by the way her eyes glassed over after a second. She opened her mouth like she was going to speak, but suddenly burst into a fit of giggles, proving what Chris knew to be true. This was going to be unlike any job she had ever taken on.