It’s Friday. It didn’t rain…much. Almost a week has passed since The Monster of Fame went live. I’m in a great mood! I want to share some of my good cheer with you and so today I’m posting the first chapter of Anna and Miles’ story! Hope you all have a great weekend!
Annabelle MacIntosh’s heart thundered in her chest and nerves turned her brain to mush.
“Anna, stop worrying. You’ll do great,” Jessica Hartley reassured her.
Anna looked back at her friend. Sweat beaded Jess’s ivory skin at her forehead and her dark eyes were wild with worry.
Just then, the door to the judging room was thrown open. A dark-haired girl burst from the room, stumbling in her haste, tears streaming down her cheeks. She ran into an older woman’s arms sobbing, “It isn’t fair! Miles Oliver is so mean.”
Anna had watched Do You Have What It Takes? for years. Miles Oliver, owner of Oliver Records and manager of some of the biggest names in show business, was the show’s most straight talking judge. He didn’t mince words, nor did he hold back his opinion. If a contestant couldn’t sing, he’d tell them—each time in a creatively insulting way. It was his opinion Anna dreaded the most.
“What if they don’t want anyone from Scotland?” Anna murmured to Jess. “What if they’re only looking for English singers?” Everyone she’d seen leaving the room today had faces contorted with various degrees of despair.
The show made people famous and more often than not, the finalists all received record deals. The winner of the show not only got a multi-million pound deal, but would have training and support from the biggest names in the industry along the way.
“That’s the most rubbish I’ve heard all day. If they weren’t looking for singers from Scotland, why hold auditions here at all?” Jess asked.
Anna reluctantly nodded her agreement.
The sobbing girl made her way out of the SECC where thousands had lined up at silly o’clock this morning to be heard. All with the hopes they would be noticed for their talent and put through to the next round. Anna was one of those people, although she wasn’t here for the same reason the others were.
“Number two thousand and eight to the audition room,” a base voice rumbled over the loud speaker. Anna’s heart raced faster and her palms were now so damp that they would leave wet handprints on her skinny jeans if she were to touch them.
She was number two thousand and ten. It wouldn’t be long before she too stood in front of the judges, singing her heart out and hoping they put her through to the next round. Only for the panic and frantic rehearsing to begin all over again.
“What if I’ve not got what they’re looking for? What will I do then?” Anna whispered so none of the other hundreds of waiting hopefuls could hear.
Jess was staring at a group of girls practicing in the far corner beside the soda machine. As she turned her attention back to Anna with wide eyes, she said, “It’ll be fine, Anna. Your mum said she can take on more shifts. Plus, Mrs. Donald said you could have extra shifts at the shop—”
Anna groaned, cutting Jess off.
It wasn’t like they both didn’t work hard enough already. Her mum worked two jobs while looking after Anna’s gran from her sorry excuse of a dad’s side.
Damn her dad for leaving them with so much debt.
“If I win this record deal, Mum wouldn’t have to work and I’d be able to get someone to help care for Granny Menzies,” she explained for the billionth time. If only wanting something got it. Anna learned a long time ago that wasn’t always the case.
“I know, Anna. Don’t worry, you’re working yourself into a tizzy over nothing. You can sing, girl, like an angel. Everyone says so.”
Everyone did. What if they were just being nice though? Before she decided to audition she’d done the math and figured out the odds—a skill she’d inherited from her gambling dad. Her odds on getting through were so much better than winning the lottery, but not so great that it was a sure thing. She knew it would take hard work and determination. If only she had the confidence that half the people in the room seemed to, she wouldn’t be such a nervous wreck.
“Check her out,” Jess whispered, nodding over to the far right hand corner of the room. A blonde-haired girl stood amongst a thrall of men, towering above most of them. A tiny skirt barely concealed the willowy figure beneath, showcasing drainpipe legs. Her top was cut so low it might be more appropriate for an audition at the Seventh Heaven Lap Dancing Club than a reality television show.
Anna frowned down at her boring skinny jeans and cotton stretch pullover, feeling a little deflated. Tall wasn’t something she’d describe herself as, neither was thin in any definition of the word. She was just a Plain Jane from Limekilns with drab mousey curls and pale skin. Although others often commented on her intensely blue eyes, there was absolutely nothing extraordinary about her.
“How can women think it’s okay to dress like that?” Jess went on, irritation evident in her harsh tone.
“Each to their own I suppose. If I had a figure like hers, I’d want to show it off too,” Anna replied wistfully.
“You have a lovely figure. Nice and curvy, like Beyonce’s or J-Lo’s. Size zero has been banned from almost every catwalk. No one wants skinny girls anymore.” Jess always said the right thing to make her feel good. Anna relaxed back into her chair, feeling a teensy bit better about herself.
“Thanks, Jess. There’s no way I could have done this without you here.”
“Of course you couldn’t. Who else would kick your nervous butt into that room when the time comes?” Jess’s grin spread wide across her face and Anna felt hers do the same.
“Not too hard now, I have to work the check-out later. Can’t sit at a till with a sore bum.”
Jess laughed and Anna joined in, forgetting for a moment where they were.
The doors flew open again and a boy, probably around sixteen years old, came out of the room punching the air. “Woohoo. Guess who’s through to eliminations?” A group of girls swarmed him like bees around honey, all of similar age and all keen to pass on their congratulations.
“See, I told you they’d put people through from Scotland. We’re an adorable nation, why wouldn’t they?” Jess smiled angelically while fluttering her lashes. She flicked her thick auburn curls over her shoulder and chuckled, as did Anna.
“You’re right.” Her pulse returned to normal. Not long now and this would be over. All she needed to do was win over two of the judges and get the majority vote. She just hoped like crazy Miles didn’t think she was terrible, she didn’t think she could stand his unedited opinion.
“And think, soon you’ll get to see Sander Chase in all his muscled-up glory,” Jess swooned, her dark brown eyes going all distant and dazed.
Anna wrinkled her nose. The older man seemed to draw every woman’s eye except hers.
Even seeing him on the television, she felt he was too huge and bulky, like an angel-faced grizzly bear. So not her type. Although, not having dated much—ever—in her twenty-four years, Anna supposed she didn’t have a ‘type’. Her dad made darn sure of that before he left.
“Do you think you could get me an autograph?” Jess asked hopefully.
“Maybe if I get through. I don’t want to ask if they tell me I’m awful and demand I never darken their doors again. They’d probably end up having security cart me out.”
Anna and Jess giggled.
“Then there’s Miles. He’s hot too, in an indie, bad boy kind of way.”
Blood boiled in Anna’s cheeks and she turned away to hide her blush from Jess. If Anna was honest, Miles had been her secret crush since he started the show three years earlier. He wasn’t gorgeous in an obvious kind of way, but his tall, lean physique and messy dark hair that always seemed to need a good brush was quite alluring—on him anyway.
The only problem was the man had ‘control freak’ written all over him. It was clear from the shows his decision on who got through and who didn’t was most listened to. He was obviously used to getting his own way.
Not that she’d ever have a chance with him romantically, but even if she did there was no way she’d fall into the arms of a man even remotely like her dad. Gorgeous or not.
Another girl burst from the room, tears streamed down her face and she ran straight into an older woman’s arms, sobbing, “It’s not fair.”
Anna swallowed. Would that be her? Would she fall to pieces like the girl in front of all these people? Her heart raced.
“Number two thousand and ten to the audition room,” the voice broke out of the speaker. Anna could barely hear it through the sound of the blood pounding in her ears.
“You’re up, Anna. Knock ’em dead, girl,” Jess said and hauled her up from the chair.
Anna allowed herself to be dragged across the carpet to the doors, not really feeling her body anymore. She was sure her palms must be sweating buckets by now and her face felt unusually cold, like all the blood had drained out of it.
“C’mon, Anna,” Jess said as they reached the door. Anna turned to Jess whose eyes were frantic with worry. “You can do this, for yourself, for your mum.”
“Right.” That was why she was here. Giving herself a mental slap, she pushed open the door to the audition room and marched through, leaving Jess behind.
* * * *
Miles Oliver had to make a concerted effort to keep his face from showing his internal torture. This young girl—Lucy, he believed her name was—genuinely believed she could sing, but, alas, she was awful. His eardrums were almost bleeding with the battering they were taking from her piercing rendition of Beautiful.
Finally, Sander raised his hand to signal for the girl to stop. Usually it was his job to cut people off and make a rude comment, but this audition wasn’t being filmed. The cameraman shut off the equipment the moment the girl started singing. Viewers wanted entertainment, not shattered eardrums.
“I’m sorry, Lucy, it’s a no from me,” Miles said. Tears welled in her eyes and he felt like a jerk. It was worse when they filmed the auditions. His contract stated that he had to appear rude for entertainment purposes. It was a tiring job at times.
“It’s a no from me too, Lucy,” Sander chimed in. Miles sighed in relief as the girl turned to flee from the room, not even waiting for their fellow judge, Safri Cantrell’s vote. Not that it mattered. Majority ruled.
“Who’s next?” Safri asked in her thick Brazilian accent.
Miles raked through the papers in front of him and pulled out the sheet for number two thousand and ten. There was a photo attached of a woman, young with bright blue eyes. She looked completely average. They were looking for original individuals, not Plain Janes.
“Annabelle MacIntosh.” Safri read the sheet aloud. “Twenty-four years old, from Limekilns in Fife. There’s a note from Dave here saying that she has an interesting story we can work with.”
Dave Campbell was the show’s director and Miles’s sometimes friend. Not so much during the months of Do You Have What It Takes?, but the rest of the year he was. If Dave wanted the girl through, there would be no stopping him—unless she couldn’t sing, in which case it was madness.
“Let’s get on with this, there’s still hundreds to see today,” Sander complained, raking a beefy hand through his cropped blond hair. Safri signaled to the cameramen and a member of the crew called the girl’s number over the loud speaker.
“Be nice, you two,” Safri whispered. “You’ve both acted like bears with sore heads all day.” Miles rolled his eyes before fixing them on the doors leading to the waiting room. Safri was right. He was in a foul mood. They’d been there all day, and the auditions had gone from bad to worse. So far, they’d only put one young man through, and his voice wasn’t anything spectacular. Miles doubted the boy would make it past eliminations.
The doors opened and Annabelle walked through. His eyes widened as he took in her curvy frame covered by very stylish skinny jeans and a well-fitted, yet understated, floaty pullover. Her mousey hair was styled into elaborate curls and the barest traces of makeup made her bright blue eyes sparkle from her china-white skin. Miles could hardly believe it was the same girl in the photograph.
Annabelle walked right over to the star in the middle of the floor, her high heels clicking on the wood, and turned to face them. She held her hands clasped in front of her and he noted they were trembling profoundly. In fact, on second glance, she was trembling all over. Her shoulders were hunched defensively, eyes were fixed on a point on the floor. Stage fright, or something else?
Unease coiled in his stomach and his shoulders tensed. The show, the judges, the makeup artists, the personal trainer, the army of people hired to make sure Annabelle shone like a star would change her. More than physically.
And what happened to those cloned people? The pressure to look thin made anorexia a fashion statement. Mental breakdowns and cocaine habits were assumed as part and parcel of the industry. The transformation made those who’d undergone it obsessed with beauty and fame. Paranoia and a way to escape reality came shortly thereafter.
Miles had seen it reflected in his clients. Those young stars he’d mentored over the years. And, before that, his wife, Cassie. Never again would he give someone who wasn’t strong enough the chance to make it big.
The last time resulted in his wife’s death.
“Annabelle, is it?” Safri asked.
Annabelle merely nodded and flicked her wary gaze to Safri. The lights reflecting off Annabelle’s skin illuminated a fine sheen of sweat coating her temples. Again, Miles wondered if it was just stage fright. Is that really a chance you’re willing to take? He had enough guilt to contend with. There was no room for any more.
“What are you going to sing for us today?” Sander asked curtly. It irritated Miles that he was using that tone with her. Couldn’t he see the girl was terrified?
“Somewhere by Streisand,” Annabelle answered.
Shock jolted him causing his eyes to widen again. The song was a hard one to get right, but it was easy to murder. One thing was certain, he was definitely intrigued. Why would a young girl in her twenties sing an old song such as this?
“Please, go on,” Miles urged.
Her eyes darted to his for the first time and he curved his lips reassuringly. Rose tinted her cheekbones as she dragged her gaze away from him. A flare of heat reverberated through his body. He frowned at the reaction and decided to ignore it. Six years had passed since he’d felt any kind of attraction to another woman. Six years since Cassie died.
Before the grief of his memories could assail him, Annabelle started singing. At first, her voice stuttered. After missing several notes, she squeezed her eyes shut. Annabelle took a deep breath, then began again, her eyes still firmly closed.
This time, the first spellbinding note that left her lips snared his full attention like nothing else ever had. Her voice was a musical symphony in itself and she hit every advanced note to perfection.
At the chorus, her passion made her voice stronger, more powerful. He was vaguely aware Safri had leaned closer to him and was whispering in his ear, but he couldn’t hear her and didn’t particularly care what she was saying. Annabelle and her angelic, yet powerful voice were all that mattered at that moment.
No one interrupted her, not even Sander. They let her sing the song all the way through to the end where her voice hit all the high notes with a steadily increasing power, knocking the breath right out of him. She pulled off every one with intense emotion.
But could she survive the pressure of fame? Her terrified reaction to them when she first entered had to be more than just nerves. He’d seen the same reactions from Cassie before her first concert and every time thereafter.
Between the media and the pressure to ‘look’ the part, fame had destroyed his wife, making her turn to drugs and alcohol for weight loss and confidence. Both had killed her in the end. Miles couldn’t cope with the guilt if Annabelle fell into the same murky pit of despair. He was barely struggling with the blame for Cassie.
Panic clawed its way up his throat as the song neared its end. There was no doubt in his mind Safri and Sander would put her through to the next round. He would have to get in first and persuade them not to vote her through. After all, they usually listened to him.
The song finished and Annabelle’s gaze went straight to the floor as she stood there trembling, waiting on their verdict. A quick glance at his colleagues confirmed his suspicions; both sat there—wide-eyed and open-mouthed. Safri even had tears in her eyes, which was surprising in itself. Safri never, ever cried.
“Thank you, Annabelle,” Miles said, aware that this audition was being filmed. “I have to say you have a beautiful voice. It flows smoothly and you are able to hold a tune spectacularly well.”
The smile which spread across her pale face lit up her shiny eyes. She was dazzling. For a moment he forgot what he was trying to do.
Clearing his throat, he got to the hard part. “However, this contest is not just about singing. It’s also about finding stars and selling albums. Do I think you can sing? Yes. Very well. Do I think you can make it as a star?” He paused as her smile faltered and her eyes filled with moisture.
Just looking into those eyes made him want to promise her the world. An image flashed in his mind of his wife’s pale, lifeless face the evening he returned from work and found her dead. The guilt lay so thick in his stomach he thought he might throw up.
There was no way he would do that to Annabelle. “I’m sorry, but I don’t. Where your voice is amazing, you don’t have star quality nor confidence. You were only able to sing once you’d closed your eyes, which is unprofessional. It’s a no from me.”
His voice came out harsher than he intended with the painful memories of guilt and heart-wrenching anguish resurrected. He was aware of his fellow judges’ gazes on him, although he couldn’t drag his attention from Annabelle. Her face crumpled in an expression which he could only describe as agony. The pain in her eyes mirrored that and a single tear rolled down her cheek.
He felt like the biggest arse in the history of the world. If only he could take the words back and see her smile her bright, breath-taking smile again.
But if he did, how long would that smile last?
And if you want to see what happens next, you can find the book at these retailers:-Amazon UK Amazon US Barnes & Noble Beachwalk Press All Romance Ebooks Bookstrand Kobo