Former model, Midori Miller, left the fashion world in disgrace and now lives quietly as a small town dressmaker and single mom. When her talented daughter catches the ear of a New York record producer, the last thing Midori wants is to return to the harsh glare of the spotlight. Caught between the producer’s charms, her daughter’s dreams, and her own new chance at success, Midori isn’t sure she can design the right path for herself or her family, especially when the producer makes a play for her heart.
After a string of flops, producer Guy Rumpel believes he’s lost his golden touch. He needs to turn his career around with a hit record, and the young songbird from his hometown just may be the key. But when his family’s gift for finding their one true love shines its light on Midori, he’ll have to convince her to make the deal of a lifetime.
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“It’s not you, it’s me.”
Guy Rumpel had said those words to countless women throughout the course of his life, as he crawled out of their bed, left them behind a backstage curtain, or walked out of a bathroom stall while they were still straightening their skirts.
The difference today was that he hadn’t fucked the woman sitting before him. This woman wanted to get down and dirty out in public, with thousands cheering her every dip, drop, and twerk. Frankie Benjamins sat across from Guy in his spacious office, looking for an angle to get into the music industry.
“I want it to be you.” Frankie uncrossed and then re-crossed her shapely legs, giving Guy a complete Sharon Stone view of her wares.
Worse than the porn industry, the music industry was a cesspool of debauchery, depravity, dissipation, and degeneracy, and Guy was its charmed prince. He stood over six feet tall, with the dark, thick locks of a Mediterranean prince, dressed in a tailored suit. Outside the window, the platinum towers of Manhattan rose into the sky like staff notes.
“Everybody knows you’re the best talent scout in the business.”
“A and R,” Guy corrected her. And he had been the best talent scout in the business. Past tense. But he didn’t correct her on that.
Frankie raised her painted-on eyebrows in incomprehension.
“It stands for Artist and Repertoire. It means I not only find talent, I produce and manage my finds, including their image, their sound, and their careers.”
Frankie had an image. Guy was getting an eyeful of it as her lush silicone breasts spilled over her top. Her fat-injected ass barely fit in the chair. She tapped her acrylic nails on his desk and tossed her purple tresses over her shoulder. She had an image, but she had no sound. Her voice came out like a crooning crow’s.
“Are you telling me you don’t want to manage my assets?” Frankie Benjamins had a third of male American television viewers fawning over her assets. She was one of the top reality stars on the Music Now Network’s hit show, Sex and R&B: Miami. Her ass-twerking escapades as the side chick of legendary rapper, Sammie Q, had pulled her out of the strip clubs and into the spotlight.
The problem was that it wasn’t enough light for Guy to bring her onto his roster at Badd Finger Records. He was looking for a new sound, not a phat ass. So, while Frankie held a good portion of the male population by the balls, Guy didn’t feel a twinge in his pants.
“You came to me,” she reminded him.
Guy narrowed his dark, gray eyes, as he looked Frankie over one more time to be sure. He squinted at her, well not exactly at her, more like just in front of her. Past the garish color of her hair were the pale, flaxen specks of light surrounding her person. When he’d first spotted Frankie twerking on the pole of a gentleman’s club, he’d thought he’d seen the vibrant yellow of a canary coming off her sweaty, bouncing size D’s. But looking at her today, her aura touched nowhere near the brightness of a lemon. Guy couldn’t afford to make another mistake.
“We’re just not right for each other,” Guy said. More words he’d used to end dalliances with women he’d slept with. But in this case, the words were true.
In days long past, Guy could spot a would-be starlet buried under the dark rags of a street urchin, the thin strips exposing a stripper, or the expensive cloth that swaddled a socialite. It was his gift. It ran in his family. His mother’s people were descendants of Gypsies who had the Sight. Many of them saw auras and used their visions to predict the future. Others only saw the golden aura of their true love.
Guy was able to spot talent. More than that, he had the unique ability to hone that talent, spinning the dim shades of yellow of a person’s aura until it was solid gold. But these days, his vision was failing him.
Frankie wasn’t the canary in the coal mines he’d thought he’d seen all those months ago. She was more like a speck of dust that had burned itself out with a short life of hard living. She stood now and rounded Guy’s massive oak desk. Guy tried to hold in his sigh. He knew where her six-inch stilettos were heading.
“Are you sure we can’t work together?” she purred. “I’m a lot of fun to work with, especially with all the late nights that I would dedicate to my… music.”
She ran one of her taloned fingers down his chest. It didn’t have the desired effect she was hoping for. “Unfortunately for you,” he said, “I think with the head on my shoulders.”
Frankie’s eyes went from seductive to sinister in a quarter note. “Let me be clear; if you give me a record deal, I will fuck you better than any bitch has ever fucked you. I will let you put it anywhere and at any time you want, so long as you make me a star.”
They stared each other off. Guy encountered countless hopefuls on a daily basis who offered him the same trade—a fuck for fame. They thought that was all it took; a few thrusts and then they were stars. But it wasn’t that simple. Guy was the one who’d have to work his ass off for the pale talent who offered their bodies for his brand of polishing. More and more, over the years, it had left him drained and depleted.
“The truth is, Frankie, you need someone who can give you the attention a bright star like you needs.”
Her eyes perked from sinister to solicitous.
“You know that my top artist is Agave, and her sophomore—that means second—album is coming out in a matter of weeks. I just won’t be able to spare you any attention, and I doubt you’d want to wait for months before my schedule opens up again…” He let the sentence trail off, hoping she would pick up the beat.
“You’re right,” Frankie straightened and stepped away from him. “I’m hot right now. I can’t wait around for you.”
“It’s your loss.”
“It definitely is.”
Guy watched her ass cheeks trade space in her tight skirt; one went up while the other sank down. As Frankie sashayed her bitter lemon body out of his office door, Guy sat back in his leather chair. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. Another headache was coming on.
His throat was suddenly parched. He reached for his soda, only to find two empty bottles on his desk. He pushed the button to call his personal assistant.
“Maya, can you bring me a cold soda?”
“Of course, Mr. Rumpel.”
A moment later, Maya walked into his office with a bottle, condensation running down the sides. Maya had a cute face, but she wore a formless dress that made her shape look like a box. When she’d first come on board, Guy had assumed she’d dressed that way to keep men away from her. But soon, he realized she was one of those women who had no clue that she was attractive, and spent more time on her work than on her looks.
“Mr. Calloway called while you were in your… meeting.” Maya said meeting with a slight air of distaste. She had had her fair share of run-ins with wannabes trying to curry favor with her boss. “He’d like for you to stop by his office when you have a chance.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that when he called?”
“You were in with Ms. Benjamin. I didn’t want to disturb you.”
Guy had dumped a pile of work on Maya’s desk earlier this morning, a stack of one-hit-wonders and non-starting artists he would be breaking up with. He’d given Maya the honors of delivering the news to the castoffs. He knew payback when he saw it. He growled at her, which she ignored, and then shot out of his chair and headed out of his office, bypassing Maya’s outstretched hand with the soda.
He stepped out into the hall and then paused. The way to his boss’ office was littered with a string of hopefuls looking to audition for an upcoming showcase. He knew the people standing in the halls were desperate for a shot, and would take any angle they could get.
Guy looked at them and blinked rapidly, his vision going blurry. They were all a haze of pale yellows. He saw a pasty, butter-hued girl in a mini-skirt, shorter than the span of her hands. She wore heels as high as her feet were long. She shimmied her curve-less hips in the approximation of a twerk she could’ve only learned watching Disney stars gone wild. There was also a lively, saffron group of boys, but Guy loathed boy bands, and kept going.
He made his way to the end of the hall without incident and paused outside of JJ’s office. The door was open, as it always was. Inside, he saw JJ Calloway, CEO of Badd Finger Records. The large bear of a man stood over six feet tall and half as broad. His brown skin matched the mahogany of the furniture in the room. Gray speckled his dark hair, but above that, Guy saw the bright sparks of amber that remained from JJ’s time as a 60’s R&B singer turned record mogul.
JJ had his hand outstretched toward a man who was his opposite in every way. The man was short and thin. Blonde hair topped the thin man’s head, with an aura that barely reached the pale shade of the inside of a vanilla bean.
The pale man looked up at Guy as he made his way towards the door. “There’s the man! What up, bruh?”
Guy plastered on a fake smile. “What’s good, T-Dawg?”
Guy didn’t miss the irony of two white guys appropriating African-American slang. Guy’s father was white, but his mother’s ancestry could be traced back to Moorish Spain, which was how he accounted for his golden-brown skin and thick locks of hair. T-Dawg, on the other hand, was paler than porcelain.
T-Dawg was on Badd Finger’s rap label. The ‘T’ stood for Theodore, which was given to him by his socialite mother. The ‘Dawg’ was appropriated by Theodore when he met Andy Jepson of the television show, U.S. Icon. Andy, who called everyone “dawg”, had the misfortune of calling Theodore T-Dawg and Theodore ran away with the name.
Guy had spotted T-Dawg while on stage at a socialite charity event. To this day, Guy swore it was the expensive alcohol and the enthused applause of the upper-crust crowd—none of whom knew the first thing about urban music—that had convinced Guy to sign the milquetoast talent. The boy had been a one-hit wonder who’d never risen back into the top fifty charts.
Guy shook his head as he watched T-Dawg walk out of the room. “You renewed his contract?” he turned to JJ.
“His mother bought herself a seat on my board of directors after we signed her baby boy. I don’t really have much of a choice anymore.”
Guy grimaced, guilt rolling across his handsome features. There had been a series of duds that Guy had sworn would be the next big thing, only to have the artist hit once and then be done. Or worse, not chart at all. With the music industry undergoing so many changes in this new, digital, streaming world, the traditional brick and mortar record companies were feeling the heat.
“Guy, we need to talk.”
Those were never good words. Guy turned his back and closed the door to JJ’s office.
“You’ve been on this road with me for a while, son.”
“Yes, I have.” After the door clicked shut, Guy took a seat at JJ’s right hand. “Since the days when this company was nearly forgotten. I helped bring it back into the spotlight.”
“But you’ve been slipping this past year. There was a time when everything you touched turned to gold.”
That was over a year ago, before Guy’d been cursed. “In the time I’ve been here, I’ve brought in more than half of the talent that tops the charts. I’ve produced over a dozen gold records.”
“That’s the Guy that I want.” JJ snapped his fingers, the sound bounced off the gold records decorating the walls of the office. “The Guy with the golden touch. We can’t afford any more failures. We need chart toppers if this company doesn’t want to go back into the darkness and be forgotten again.”
“Agave’s second album is expected to go platinum.”
“That’s another thing I wanted to speak with you about.” JJ balled his big hand into a fist. “I hear there may be trouble in paradise?”
“No,” Guy avoided eye contact. “She and I are better than ever.”
“You know how I feel about producers dating artists.”
In his heyday, Guy had developed a bit of a reputation, often using the studio as a place to coax more than musical high notes from his artists. But that was long ago. The truth was Guy hadn’t had much of a sex life in a longer time than he was willing to admit, not ever since a certain woman stormed out of his life.
“It’s different between me and Agave.”
JJ nodded, never taking his eyes off Guy. His deep gaze reminded Guy of his clairvoyant aunt, Gale. “Make sure and keep her happy. We can’t afford to lose her. And you need to get out there and scout for some fresh meat.”
“I won’t let you down.” Guy reached out his hand to his mentor and they shook on it.
Heading back to his office, Guy was able to skirt any hopefuls. But crossing the threshold, he felt suddenly fatigued.
“I’m headed home for the day,” he said to Maya.
“You’re not going home tonight. The construction on your loft started this afternoon. I’ve reserved a room for you at the Waldorf Astoria.”
“Fine, and would you set up a meeting for me with Agave—”
“Agave is waiting in your office.”
Guy turned to face his current star. She came up and gave Guy a wet kiss on the mouth. Guy held her toned body to him, needing to hold on to something familiar and true for a moment. Agave was svelte. There wasn’t an ounce of fat or jiggle on her body. She looked as though she’d been cut from marble, but she felt warm and pliant in Guy’s arms.
“Hey, baby,” she said, as she ran one hand down his chest. “Rough day?”
Guy nodded as he led her into his office, away from onlookers in the hall, and closed the door. “I’m fine. What can I do for my number one girl?”
“Guy, we need to talk.”
Dread filled Guy’s stomach, his fingers and toes went numb. “You know those are my five least favorite words.”
Agave didn’t take a seat. She stood, her hands folding and twisting. It brought to Guy’s mind the first time he’d seen her singing during a slam poetry contest. She’d been nervous but her star had burned brightly before his eyes. It had shone somewhere between butterscotch and Dijon. He’d spent a year polishing her rough edges until the rare gem that she was shined through. Today she looked dim, like the sun on an overcast day.
Finally she looked up, at him. “It’s not you,” she began, “it’s me.”
“Correction, those are my five least favorite words.”
“I want to go somewhere.”
Guy felt warm under his collar. He reached for the soda Maya had left for him earlier and downed it in two gulps. The sugar rush went straight to the top and he felt light-headed.
“I know I have some appearances coming up, but Caroline’s feeling neglected. I want to take her on a trip somewhere special and romantic, just for a couple of weeks.
“Agave, you can’t disappear with your girlfriend for a couple of weeks. Not when your next album is dropping in another month.”
“Guy, I’ve done everything you’ve ever asked of me, including this ruse of being your fake girlfriend to hide my… private life. I need you to make this happen for me. Once the album drops and the tour starts, I’m not going to have any time to see her and we need this time. You know how I feel about her. Please?”
Guy sighed again. Agave was the hottest pop star on the charts. Women wanted to be her and men wanted to fuck her. To keep that going, Guy and Agave pretended to be in a hot and heavy relationship. He was her beard, but he got something out of it, too. They didn’t broadcast their romantic ties, but it was common knowledge in the industry. That way, no one asked either of them questions about what did or didn’t go on in their bedrooms. Everyone just assumed. And that was fine by them.
“Come on, Guy.”
“I’ll make a deal with you,” he said. “Let me see if I can move some things around for—”
She squeed. The clouds moved away from her person and her star burned brighter with the love she felt for Carolyn. Guy envied them that. Love made every one brighter.
“You should take some time off,” Agave said. “Go get yourself laid.”
“I can’t deal with a relationship right now.”
“I didn’t say a relationship, I said laid.”
Guy didn’t respond. Though Agave was his beard, she didn’t know all of his secrets. Watching her brighten because of the love she’d found shined a light on a fact that Guy had been avoiding for some time. He could no longer handle his problem alone. He needed the help of a loved one. So, after shifting around Agave’s schedule to accommodate her love life, he called Maya, hoping to cause a shift in his own.
“Maya, I need you to book me a flight home.”