his particular occasion, Jacob was definitely being a dick.
Her life was over.
Madison couldn’t believe this was happening. Not to her. She was good at her job. Maybe she’d misunderstood her boss’s words.
“What do you mean, I’m being let go?” Madison said in a raw voice.
Joanna stared at her hands for a moment and then lifted her gaze. “I have to fire you, Miss Fairbanks.”
Fire her? Somehow that sounded much worse than being let go.
“Why?” she asked. She was so utterly shocked that her face tingled. Her heart raced out of control. She doubted her knees would support her if she stood up from the scratchy, wool-upholstered chair beneath her. “I’m good at my job. I’m a good employee. Why would you fi—let me go?”
Joanna’s dark eyes shifted to her desk calendar, and she rubbed a finger along its smudged edge. “It’s been brought to my attention that you’ve been sleeping with a client.”
Madison’s breath came out in a whoosh. She couldn’t deny it—it happened to be true. But how did Joanna know about her relationship with Sole Regret’s lead guitarist? She’d been careful to keep their involvement hidden from everyone at work. Hell, her parents didn’t even know she was seeing him.
“In your office,” Joanna added.
Madison couldn’t deny that either. Who had found out? Who had tattled on her? Had they been overheard? She’d been really careful about that too, keeping her cries of pleasure locked inside.
“Do you deny it?” Joanna pressed.
Madison was a bad liar, but if lying meant keeping her job . . . She loved her job.
But she loved Adam more.
“Do you have proof?” Madison asked, her stomach twisted in a knot.
Madison lowered her eyes to stare at the photograph on Joanna’s desk. The woman’s pet collies seemed to be smiling at her. She fixed her gaze on the dogs as she struggled to find her rational mind.
“This is my first offense,” she said calmly. “And Adam no longer comes here for therapy. Perhaps an unpaid leave of absence would be more reasonable.”
“I’d rather dismiss you now. Before your habit causes irreparable damage to our reputation.”
Her habit? She didn’t have sexual relationships with clients—Adam being the exception.
“I made the mistake of falling in love with a client,” she said. “I admit it.”
“And what should you have done about it?”
Madison closed her eyes. She knew what she should have done. She’d even started the process, before deciding it wasn’t right for Adam the addict, even if it would have protected Adam her lover.
“I should have referred him to a different counselor,” she said. “But he was finally making real progress in his treatment, and I knew that dropping him on someone else would have sent him back to square one. He isn’t someone who opens up easily. It took me months to get him to even talk to me.”
“Yes, you should have referred him to another counselor.” Joanna reached for a pen and tapped the end of it repeatedly on her desk. Madison fought the urge to yank it out of her hand and toss it across the room. “Your other option would have been keeping your legs closed.”
Madison stiffened and her jaw hardened. What? She could not believe Joanna would say something so insulting to an employee. Ex-employee, Madison reminded herself.
“Unless you’re willing to give up seeing this man—”
“I’m not,” she blurted out.
“Then I really have no other alternative. You’re a nice girl, Miss Fairbanks. It’s just too bad that you fell prey to the wrong sort of man.”
Madison scowled. Why did everyone always assume that she was a victim and Adam was some bad guy? “He’s a good person. Just—”
“Misunderstood?” Joanna raised an eyebrow at her.
“Well, everyone makes mistakes,” Joanna said. “Too bad this one had such disastrous consequences for your career. I wish you well, Miss Fairbanks. Dionne will help you clear out your office.”
Madison sprang from the chair, unable to listen to another word this woman had to say about her or about Adam. Her knees no longer wobbly, she stormed out of Joanna’s office and burst into her own much smaller workspace. She was too angry to beg to keep her job now. How dare anyone make assumptions about Adam? He was not a mistake. He was the best thing in her life. She would never choose a job over him.
Dionne entered her office carrying several empty boxes and wearing an unreadable expression. Had she been the one who’d told Joanna? As the common receptionist, Dionne knew the comings and goings of the counselors and clients more than anyone in the office. Maybe she knew far more about Madison’s comings than she’d let on.
“I’m completely baffled by this one,” Dionne said.
“I’m not going to ask why you were fired, because it’s none of my business, but if I had to rank everyone in this office on the likelihood of being fired, you would have been at the bottom of that list, baby girl. Everybody loves you.”
Madison’s bottom lip trembled. She was not going to fall apart right now. She was going to pack up her office, store her belongings in her car, and head directly to the airport. More than anything, she wanted to get lost in Adam’s arms. To be reminded why she was willing to risk everything just to be with him.
Dionne yanked a tissue from the box on the desk and pressed it into Madison’s hand. “Don’t do that. If you start crying, then I’ll start crying, and that’s a downright ugly sight to behold.”
Madison dabbed at her eyes with the tissue. It was only slightly soggy when she tossed it in the wastebasket. “I’m not crying,” she said. “Just a little shaken.”
“You aren’t going to tell me why you were fired, are you?” Dionne asked.
Madison released a shaky breath. Why shouldn’t she tell Dionne? She wasn’t ashamed. “I fell in love with the right man at the wrong time.”
Dionne lifted a questioning eyebrow at her.
Madison shook her head. “I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s get this over with,” she said and began placing pictures in one of the empty boxes. Pictures of her and her twin sister, Kennedy, on their first day of kindergarten and at their high school graduation. Pictures of her parents. Her favorite pets. Her horses. There was even one of her beloved grandmother who’d passed away years ago. But not a single picture of Adam was on display. So there was at least one good thing about getting caught and losing her job: she didn’t have to hide her relationship with Adam Taylor from anyone. Not from her boss. Nor her co-workers. Not from her parents or even the general public. There was something freeing about finally being able to let the world know that he was her man.
She was already coming to terms with being unemployed, and in a few hours she’d be back in Adam’s arms. So maybe her life wasn’t over. Maybe it was just beginning.
Or maybe she was too optimistic for her own good.
Adam’s jaw hardened, and he jerked the sketch pad from Jacob’s hands. He couldn’t have anything to himself on this fucking tour bus.
“Is that your lyrics notebook?” Jacob asked.
Adam shoved the sketch pad under his bunk mattress, not sure why he was hiding it. It wasn’t as if anyone respected his privacy. “Yeah. So?”
“It’s almost empty.” Jacob lifted his eyebrows. “Except for sketches of boobs and eagles.”
Adam shook his head and tried to stifle a grin. Jacob never coddled him—which was good—but he also never cut him a break, which frequently pissed Adam off.
“Yeah, well, there’s nothing inspiring about being on a tour bus with a bunch of dicks.” He didn’t really think his bandmates were dicks. But on t
Jacob tilted his head, his brow knitted with confusion. “So what have you been doing when you lock yourself in the back of the bus? Jacking off? I thought you were writing. You usually find all your inspiration while on tour.”
But not this tour. Adam didn’t know what the problem was. He wanted to write songs. He tried to write songs. He did lock himself in the back bedroom with his guitar and his sketch pad. But he ended up staring at the blank page for hours, nothing coming to him. His mind was as blank as the page that mocked him. When they were on tour he usually wrote page after page of lyrics, so many that when the band sat down after a tour to write songs for a new album, they had to reel in his superfluous output. He’d never had a creative dry spell while on tour. Of course, he’d spent their last three tours high out of his mind. He couldn’t help but wonder if that was the problem. Maybe his drug abuse had fueled his creativity, and the outpouring of lyrics had nothing to do with the excitement of the tour.
“We still have months on the road,” Adam said. “I’m sure I’ll have plenty of material by the end of the tour.”
But he wasn’t sure. Not even a little sure. In fact, he was starting to panic that he wouldn’t be able to come up with anything usable and that Sole Regret would be over. Or worse, that they’d replace him with someone who wouldn’t let them down.
“Maybe we should collaborate on this album,” Jacob said. “I know you like to see your name as head composer of all our music—”
“He just likes to collect all the royalties!” Owen called from the front of the bus.
Adam gave him the finger. Jacob ignored him.
“Maybe if we put our heads together we can come up with something.”
“Something on par with my usual stuff?” Adam challenged.
Jacob shrugged. “We won’t know until we try.”
“Just give me the rest of the tour. If something doesn’t click by the end, we’ll try something different.”
“Maybe Kellen’s chick has some ideas on getting past your writer’s block. The woman is a composer, you know.”
Yeah, he knew. Of course he knew. Kellen had shared that tidbit of information several times over the past few hours. He was currently listening to her various compositions and making the attractive redhead blush as he pronounced her brilliant over and over again. But Dawn composed classical music, so Adam wasn’t sure how she was supposed to help him write the dark and disturbing lyrics he usually wrote.
Adam pulled his sketch pad from beneath the mattress and headed toward the bedroom at the back of the bus. “Actually, I think I have an idea.”
Jacob smiled. “Good. You know we all depend on you for our livelihood.” He winked at Adam to let him know he was only joking, but the pressure that weighed on Adam was beginning to crush him into the dirt.
“So keep it down out here,” he said, glancing around the bus at his bandmates who were all rather subdued this morning.
He closed the door, settled himself comfortably on the bed in a nest of pillows and stared at a blank page in his notebook, wishing he was high, but glad that he wasn’t.
“I’m fucked,” he said hours later when the bus pulled to a halt behind the venue in New Orleans. Besides the doodle of a spider on one corner, the page was still completely blank. “Completely fucked.”
Rubbing his face with both hands, he wondered if Madison had ever heard of a junkie losing his talent when he got clean. He would have to ask her about it this evening. Maybe she had some advice for him. She was good at helping him fix his problems. Everyone knew he sucked at fixing them on his own.
Unable to stand being stuck on the bus with his blank sketch pad mocking him, Adam shoved his trademark hair under a ball cap and headed outside. He wandered the streets of New Orleans alone, his mind clouded with doubt. He had no idea where he was but when a display in a store window caught his eye, he stopped short.
Madison needs that, he thought.
Adam pulled his baseball cap low over his forehead, tugged the collar of his leather jacket close to the back of his neck, and took a steadying breath. He checked over his shoulder to make sure no one was looking before he pushed open the swinging door of the shop. A bell jangled a greeting, sending his heart racing and making his palms damp. Was he really going to do this? He must be out of his mind.
He took another deep breath and eyed the nearest display case full of precious metals, colorful gems, and glittering diamonds.
Before he could take a step toward the sparkly wares, a timid voice from behind a counter asked, “Can I help you, sir?”
Adam lifted his head and found a petite brunette smiling weakly at him. Her hand was wrapped around the edge of the counter. Adam didn’t doubt that her finger was perched over the panic button in case he was there to rob the place. He wondered if it was his everyday thug look or his obvious nervousness that had the clerk on edge. Likely a combination of the two.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I think I’ll just browse a bit.”
“Looking for anything in particular?”
“Nope,” he said. “Just looking.”
He gravitated toward a case of simple gold chains. Maybe he’d just buy another chain for his collection and pretend that was why he’d entered the jewelry store. He wasn’t sure if following through on his original impulse was a good idea or not. When he’d seen the engagement ring in the window, he’d thought immediately of Madison and had had a crazy notion to put it on her finger, but as the initial urge waned, he started to wonder if she’d even accept it. They’d been seeing each other for over a year, but the I love yous and the commitment were both brand new to their relationship. Perhaps he was rushing.
Perhaps he should rush. Only days ago, his father had insisted Madison would soon realize Adam wasn’t good enough for her. Nice girls didn’t end up with guys like him. Eventually they came to their senses and realized nothing would fix what was broken. And he was all sorts of broken. With Madison’s help, he’d only just begun to put himself back together.
Adam ran a hand over his face. Shit. Maybe the old man was right. Maybe Adam would never live up to Madison’s expectations. Maybe he’d never be her ideal man. But Adam wanted to be. Wanted to be good enough for her. An ideal man. Not the fuck-up he’d always been and would probably always be.
He covered his mouth with one hand and squeezed his face, his thumb pressing his inner cheek against the sharp edge of his teeth. Why the fuck was he letting his old man’s drug-withdrawal-induced ravings get to him anyway? It wasn’t as if the guy was a paradigm of sage fatherly advice. He’d never even met Madison. So how could he know that she was too good for his son?
Probably because he and his father were too much alike for comfort.
“Are you interested in gold chains?” the clerk asked.
Adam started and lifted his gaze to focus on her uneasy but still smiling face.
She had released her grip on the panic button and had come to stand on the opposite side of the case from him. She lifted a hand toward his chest and inclined her head. He glanced down at the collection of chains hanging around his neck and grinned.
“Actually, no,” he said. “I have a friend who thinks I’m hard to buy for, so he gets me a new chain every year for Christmas. I was . . .” He glanced at the display window. “ . . . thinking of . . .” He tore his gaze from the direction of the ring to meet the woman’s brown eyes. “You see, there’s this woman. And maybe I’m moving too fast, I don’t know, but I saw the ring in the window and . . .” He shrugged, mildly embarrassed by his flustered rambling.
“Oh!” the clerk said, suddenly coming alive with eagerness. “I thought—”
“That I was going to rob the place?”
“No! Of course not,” she said, much too quickly. “You just seemed more nervous than most guys who come in the store, and we aren’t supposed to open display cases unless another employee is watching. But I can tell you about the
ring. Which one are you interested in?”
“The one in the window.” He jabbed a thumb toward the window display that had caught his eye.
She headed in that direction, and Adam followed. He had to crane his neck to look into the display case from behind and figure out which of the pieces was the one he wanted.
“The gold one second from the right end. The one with the huge square rock.” He pointed at it as if she could tell what he was pointing at.
The clerk’s head jerked around, and she gaped at him with wide eyes. “Are you sure? That’s probably out of your price range. We have less expensive rings in the case over there.” She nodded to the far side of the room.
Adam bit his tongue so he didn’t unleash upon Little Miss Bigot. Had he arrived in an Armani suit, she wouldn’t have been fingering the alarm button or assuming that he couldn’t afford something outlandishly expensive for Madison.
“Can I speak to another person who works here?” he asked.