Protecting My Forever Sneak Peek
The roar of the crowd pushes me through the second curtain call. This show started over three hours ago. Sharing music is the only thing about this career I love. The schedule, the shady people, the overzealous fans, and the need to be on all the time are definitely downsides. We play two of my biggest hits during the encore before I walk off stage. There will be no third curtain call. I’m sweaty, starving, and tired. So tired. I step off stage, accept a water from the stage crew, and walk directly to the car waiting to take me to my hotel.
For the shortest of moments, I’m actually alone. My personal security detail wasn’t waiting just off stage right as required by their contract. I’m waiting in the car for him to join me. Unacceptable. Thankfully, the venue security is very tight.
The car door flies open. “There you are,” Mickey says, piling into the town car. “You shouldn’t run off like that.”
“Excuse me. You should’ve been waiting stage right for me to finish my set! Not God knows where with your tongue down the throat of one of my backup dancers or whatever other body parts.”
“You can’t talk to me like that!” Mickey raises his voice to me for the first and last time.
“Yes, I absolutely can. In fact, you’re fired!”
“You can’t fire me. You didn’t hire me.”
“True, I didn’t hire you, but you’re fired for failing to do your job. When we return to the hotel, please see Bruce.” Bruce Weston is my manager. He handles the venues and security. Frankly, he has failed at the security part, for this tour at least. Mickey is from the third different company since the tour started, if I recall correctly.
When the driver stops in the parking garage beneath my hotel, I compose myself and step out of the car. I dutifully wave to the die-hard fans who have been camped out here since I arrived for this set of shows. These fans likely had tickets for last night’s show. This stop has three shows on consecutive days with two days of preparation on site. The fans are smart. It doesn’t matter that I register under an alias. Somehow they always learn where I’m staying at each tour stop. I ride up to my floor with Mickey. Yes, floor. Despite my requests otherwise, my team rents an entire floor for me even though I need only one room. Not even my security, backup dancers, backup singers, or band stay on the same floor as me. It makes me look spoiled and entitled. I have attempted to stand up for myself more than once, but Bruce and my security claim it’s necessary.
Once the doors open, I hurry down the hall and key open my door. It snicks closed, and I slide to the floor on the other side. It doesn’t take long before Mickey is pounding on the door. It vibrates behind me. I scoot forward but remain on the floor.
“Go away! I need some peace and quiet.”
A few minutes later, I rise from the floor and trudge into the bedroom. Yeah, that too. Bruce requires that I have a suite in case I need to host a meeting in my hotel room. I throw my wig onto the bed and ignore the incessant pounding on my hotel room door. Instead, I focus on what went well tonight.
My show was amazing! I shouldn’t say that. Instead, Carys, my stage persona, had a great show. Everything went right for each set, each note met by the band, backup singers, and even me. The choreography and execution were also on point.
As much as possible, I try to separate the two. Carys isn’t real; she’s a figment of the imagination of my publicist, agent, and manager. The voice belongs to me, Calliope Sutton, but the sugary, colorful hair and bubbly personality is all fake. The list of people who know the real me is virtually nonexistent.
I have been on tour for the last five months with two more to go. The schedule is grueling. Tonight was the last show of this leg of the tour. The pounding on my door continues.
In my opinion, my security detail is useless. The death threats and crazed fan mail keep coming despite the variance in my schedule and protecting my true identity. Carys is a tall girl with pink or purple hair. The shoes I wear on stage are at least three inches tall, sometimes more. I never leave my hotel room or attend any event where I don’t look like Carys while on tour. It’s exhausting.
You would think that would make taking time for myself much easier. That isn’t the case.
I notice the pounding ceased. Either my security gave up or they went for reinforcements. The latter is more likely. I chug a bottle of water and wash off my stage makeup in a scalding hot shower. When I exit the bathroom, I hear Bruce talking to someone in my hotel room. It sounds like Madeleine. Even here, I’m not alone. Bruce has a key, as does my agent, Madeleine Wilton. She doesn’t come to the tour venues often. When she does, it’s usually when I do something they deem inappropriate, like fire my security detail or we have a meeting set up. Only those two are allowed in my suite, per Bruce and my previous security firms.
“Callie, hurry up. I have a plane to catch,” Bruce calls from the other room. I would fire him too, except he’s been with me since day one. Loyalty is important to me.
I throw on some comfy clothes and the cushiony slippers I bring everywhere and join Bruce and Madeleine. “Look, I know you’re upset, but I had no choice.”
Bruce raises his hand. “Yes, I appreciate your discretion, Mr. Blackthorne. How quickly can a member of your team be here?... Thank you.” Bruce ends the call.
Another new security firm, great! I need to have personal security. It’s a necessity in this profession, especially with my past history of crazed fans and crazy exes. I truly hope this one has a clue. “Bruce, I had no choice.”
“I agree with you. For whatever reason, the last two firms were not as advertised. The recommendations were clearly flawed. However, Blackthorne Security has an impeccable reputation. They have handled security for Ellis Barnett, Lynn Smith, Demi Goldberg, and Cassius Morgan, to name a few.”
I’ve heard most of those names. I suppose that’s a good sign. “I’m tired, Bruce. I need to rely on my personal security.”
“I know, and I failed you in that respect. The good news is Blackthorne is available. The bad news is you won’t be able to leave this room until he gets here.”
“When will Mr. Blackthorne be here?” It doesn’t really matter. If I’m stuck in this suite, fine. I’ll catch up on some sleep and prepare for the next stop on my tour.
“It won’t be Mr. Blackthorne. He’s sending Connor Michelson, his partner and most experienced team member. It’ll probably be two days.”
It isn’t unreasonable. “Fine. I’ll stay here.” If Bruce or Madeleine are shocked by my acquiescence, they don’t show it.
“Do you need anything, Cal?” Bruce asks. “I have to arrive at your next stop in a timely manner.”
“No, I’m fine.” I hug Bruce, and he hurries out the door, leaving me with Madeleine.
“Go ahead, Madi. Lay it on me. Yell, scream, do what you need to.”
Madeleine is a high-powered music agent. Her focus is music, but she represents a few actors as well. We had a meeting already set up for early tomorrow. Firing my detail pushed it up a bit. Compared to me, she’s very tall, even more so with her luxury red-soled shoes. Her blonde hair is always perfectly blown out, and her flawless skin perfectly highlighted.
“Not going to do any of those things. I came up tonight because you fired your security but also because I have some proposals for you to peruse. Since you can’t leave this room, I figured you might want something to do. Here are a few proposals: a new studio album, a book deal, a streaming service movie, and a performance in New York for the September 11th Anniversary. Check them out and let me know. Truly, do you need anything?”
“No, I need some food and sleep. The food should be arriving anytime, and sleep will soon follow.”
She nods and leaves me alone in my suite. I glance at the stack of papers. Would it be so bad for me to take a long break after this tour is over? I can certainly afford it.
As my thoughts ping around in my head, I’m saved by room service. I uncover the food and smile. Someone heeded my request. Instead of the bland chicken and vegetables that I’m sure Bruce ordered at the behest of my stylist, a big, juicy cheeseburger, sweet potato fries, and a chocolate milkshake adorn my plate. Yes! I pluck a fry off the plate and savor it before curling up in front of the television. Less than an hour later, I climb into the huge, plush bed and fall into a deep sleep.
Sweat drips down my body as I round the last corner of my morning run. This run was relatively short, only five miles. Some people, like Jake, prefer to run inside. I’m the exact opposite. Jacob Blackthorne is my best friend, brother-in-law (sort of), my brother-in-arms, boss, and business partner. We have been friends basically since birth. Along with my twin sister, Mara, we were inseparable. In our junior year of high school, Jake asked permission to date my sister. I agreed, and a few years later, they got married. Tragically, my sister died when we were deployed in Afghanistan. Recently, Jake moved on and married his gorgeous wife, Norah.
The second I step into my condo, my phone buzzes in my pocket. “Hey, Jake. What’s up?”
“I have an assignment for you. Could you come to the house?”
“Why do I have the feeling I won’t like this one bit?”
Jake laughs. “You won’t, but you’re the best team member for the job.”
“I’ll be there within the hour.” I hurry into the shower and dress. Pulling onto the main road, I drive toward Jake’s.
Crescent Bay, Maryland is quaint with small-town vibes. Main Street is exactly as you would picture it. There’s a hardware store owned by the same family for generations, a general store also family owned, a florist, and candy store. The newest addition is Norah’s bookstore. I’m not sure it’s a bookstore exactly. The Nook is a store where you can grab a cup of coffee, browse shelves of books, and actually read them. Norah has comfy reading areas scattered around the store. You can purchase books too, but she wanted everyone to be able to enjoy the space regardless of their ability to pay.
Here everyone knows each other’s business. It’s partially why I do my best to keep to myself. It isn’t that I don’t want to settle down. I simply haven’t found her yet. Honestly, I don’t think she lives in Crescent Bay or even nearby. I put Jake through the wringer while he was dancing around Norah for the last two years. He will torture me when the time comes. I’m sure of it. I’ll deserve it too.
I grew up nearby in rural Pennsylvania. My parents, Edward and Joyce, were friends beginning in grammar school. After spending high school and college in different towns, they crossed paths again. My mom is a social worker, and my dad teaches history at the local high school. On the outside, their life looks perfect, but they had their struggles along the way. Losing Mara was difficult for everyone. My injuries while deployed didn’t help matters either.
I input the code at the gate and follow the long driveway to the house. As I round my truck, Norah emerges from the front door with her dog, Sabre, on her heels.
“Morning, Norah.” I bend down and greet Sabre. He’s almost as well trained as Jake’s dog, Tank. Norah is Jake’s better half, and I’m not afraid to tell him to his face. She puts him in his place, and she makes him happy. He waited six years to find her. I’m glad he gave love a second chance.
“Go easy on him. You’re the best option.”
“Is the assignment that bad?”
“I wouldn’t think so, but Jacob seems to think you won’t be happy. He's in the office.”
I open her car door, and she settles into the driver’s seat.
I acknowledge her statement and enter the house. Before heading into the office, I snag two bottles of water from the fridge.
As I near the office, I hear Jake talking to someone. “As soon as possible. Thanks, Blaine.” Blaine is our private investigator and white hat hacker. He runs background checks and other searches for our clients.
“Hey, Jake. What’s the assignment?”
He sets a file folder on the desk. “Does the name Calliope Sutton mean anything to you?”
“What about Carys?”
“The singer?” Pop princess who has been termed difficult by other security firms. Carys has been nominated for at least thirty Grammys over the last decade or so. Guessing, I’d say she’s won at least fifteen, including Album of the Year more than once.
“Yes, the singer. I know you don’t want long-term assignments and would prefer to stay close to home. However, her team has requested someone with experience. I would send Callen after his work with Miss Goldberg, except he’s already on his way to New Zealand for her next movie. The last three security firms were fired for various reasons, mostly for failure to adequately protect her. That could only mean one of two things: she doesn’t heed her security team, or they were incompetent. At least one of the firms she fired is reputable.”
I pick up the file and review the data sheet. Generally, I prefer to have a direct conversation with my client. The information pertaining to threats or previous security issues are best described by the person who lived through it. Her schedule and her age catch my eye. She’s older than I thought. I suppose it could be her persona—colorful hair, sugary personality.
“Do you have a photo of her? Where am I meeting her?”
Jake leans back in his chair. “No argument?”
Everything he said is true. I would prefer not to be on long-term assignments, but this one needs either him or me. We’re partners in Blackthorne Security, but he’s the boss, and I wouldn’t expect him to take this assignment. Jake hasn’t been in the field for over four years, except for protecting Norah last year. He runs Blackthorne Security. I will admit though, I liked being in the office while he was in the field with Norah. Perhaps that’s something I need to discuss with him after this assignment.
“No. I know you don’t have another option. Plus, it’ll be a win for Blackthorne when this goes well.”
“Blaine is working on it. The only photos on social media are of Carys. She’s in Orlando where she completed that leg of her tour. Her itinerary of tour stops is in the file. I booked you a flight out of BWI in a few hours.”
“Thanks. Please have Blaine send me whatever information I need.”
Jake nods. “Let me know if you need backup or a few days to rest. I’ll meet you.”
“Thanks.” I leave his office, drive home, and pack for my trip. Based on her tour cities, I need clothes for a range of temperatures. I hustle out to the Uber and prepare for a few months away from home with a potentially difficult client.