Jerrica Benton glanced down at her watch as her roadster sped through Sunset Boulevard. It was just after sunrise on a typical Southern California morning in late May. Rush hour was just about to hit its peak.
"I won't be able to get back to the mansion without anyone noticing," she said to herself. "Might as well head to the office and say I had an early day."
At almost 25 years old, Jerrica was the President and CEO of Starlight Music, the company her parents, Emmett and Jacqui, had started over 10 years ago. After her mother's tragic death in a plane crash, her father made Starlight a successful small music label to carry on his wife's legacy. But tragedy struck again just a few years later when he suddenly became ill and passed away, leaving the company to his two daughters. With her sister Kimber just barely out of her teen years, Jerrica had only two options. She could run Starlight herself, or allow it to crumble in the hands of Eric Raymond, the man her father had hired to help him manage the company. While Eric seemed like the perfect heir apparent to run Starlight with his fancy college degree, charisma and business savvy, his true colors began to show soon after Emmett's death. Jerrica had no choice but to take control of the company herself.
Although she was only 22 at the time, she had spent the last several years helping at Starlight. More importantly, the existence of the Starlight Foundation, a home for foster girls that her parents had begun when Jerrica was 10, rested on the success of Starlight Music. Without the music company, there was no foundation. Without the foundation, a dozen foster girls would be without a home and family. The Starlight girls were her family. Her family made her determined to succeed. Three years after taking control of her father's company, Starlight was a powerhouse in the music industry. Its success was all thanks to its biggest band, Jem and the Holograms.
"Good morning, Miss Benton," the security guard greeted her as she arrived at the lobby of her company.
"Good morning, Stan," Jerrica replied. "How are you this morning?" she gleefully asked.
"Just wonderful!" he responded back. "And you? You're earlier than usual."
"Uh, yes," she said hesitantly. "Busy day ahead," she smiled heading into the elevator." While Jerrica was a notorious workaholic who often stayed late at the office, she was hardly ever the first to arrive as she rarely left home before any of the Starlight girls headed off to school.
"Good day, ma'am!" Stan nodded to her as the elevator doors closed.
Jerrica's office was at the top. While the view from her corner office was one of the best of downtown Los Angeles, the elevator ride was definitely not quick and Jerrica found herself sinking into her thoughts on the way up to the 20th floor.
"What am I doing?" She thought to herself. "Oh, Jerrica, what are you doing?" Before she could get lost further in her thoughts, the elevator door opened to her floor.
"Jerrica!" a middle-aged woman with a slight Scottish accent greeted her. "I wasn't expecting to see you here so early today."
"Good morning, Joanie!" she replied. Joanie was in charge of Starlight's every day operations and Jerrica's right hand. She was her father's loyal secretary for years. Therefore, when Jerrica needed a knowledgeable assistant and business manager to help her around Starlight, Joanie was the obvious choice. "I have some meetings today, so I thought I'd get an early start."
"Wonderful then!" Joanie exclaimed. "I dropped today's reports off on your desk."
"Perfect. Thank you, Joanie." Jerrica replied with delight as she entered her office.
"You're welcome, Jerrica. I'll be in my office if you need me," she said as she disappeared down the hallway.
"Another day at Starlight," she sighed. However, before she could even settle into her desk, the phone rang. "Hello?" she answered, wondering who would be calling her at 7am. The Starlight offices did not open until 8am.
"Hi, Jerrica!" a friendly, familiar male voice replied on the other end.
"Rio! Good morning! I wasn't expecting to hear from you," she answered back. Rio Pachecco had been Jerrica's boyfriend for nearly 10 years. He and his family moved into the house next door when Jerrica was just 10 years old and became a household fixture as he shared Emmett Benton's interest in technology. Although her father had passed away long before Jerrica had even thought about getting married one day, she knew she had her father's blessing if Rio were to pop the question. Unfortunately, she and Rio were not on the best of terms.
"I didn't think you'd be in the office so early," he replied. "I figured I'd get your answering machine, but since I have you on the phone, I guess I'll ask you," he gleefully said. "Are you free for dinner tonight?"
"What?" Jerrica sounded confused. "But I thought you're coming home tomorrow."
"I'm heading back today!" he happily replied. "What kind of boyfriend would I be if I missed your birthday?" he laughed.
"But my birthday's not until tomorrow," she countered.
"I thought we could start the celebration early!" Rio said enthusiastically. "I'll be at the mansion to pick you up at 7!"
"Okay then," she said trying to sound enthusiastic about his early return. "I'll see you tonight."
"See you tonight!" he said before hanging up.
As she hung up the phone, Jerrica sighed. "Well, instead of having another day to figure this out, you have 12 hours," she murmured to herself.
"Do, do, do, do-," Jerrica quietly sang to herself as she sat at her desk with Last Christmas softly playing in the background, looking through that day's reports and schedule. It had been almost four hours since she got off the phone with Rio. While she tried to occupy her mind with work, all she could think about was her predicament.
"This song is outrageous!" exclaimed a bubbly red head as she suddenly burst through the door. "I love Wham!" It was Kimber Benton, Jerrica's younger sister. While Kimber legally owned 50% of the company, she was happy to let her older sister take the reins. After all, she had a busy gig of her own as keyboardist and songwriter for the Holograms. "But, Sis, why on earth are you listening to Christmas music when it's almost summer?"
"Well good morning, Kimber," Jerrica replied. "I've got something cooking for the Holograms for next Christmas." The Holograms led by their mysterious lead singer, Jem, was Starlight's biggest act and one of the most popular rock groups in the world.
"You mean we're finally going to do a Christmas album?" asked Kimber as she took a seat in one of Jerrica's cushy, leather chairs.
"Not quite," Jerrica began to clarify. "We will be doing –." Before Jerrica could finish her sentence there was a knock at the door. "Come in," she instructed.
"Good morning, Jerrica," said a sultry, male voice as the door began to open. Without even looking, both Bentons knew whom that sexy voice belonged to.
"Riot!" a surprised Kimber greeted him.
"Good morning, Kimber," Riot replied with a smile. "I realize I'm a bit early for our 11 o'clock meeting," he said turning to Jerrica, "but I can wait if I'm interrupting."
"No, not at all!" Jerrica smiled as she stood up from her chair to greet the Stingers' front man. "In fact, I was just about to tell Kimber about our meeting," she said as Riot planted a soft, delicate kiss on her hand, his signature greeting. Jerrica blushed.
"Oh?" Kimber wondered.
"Jem and Riot," Jerrica began as Riot took a seat on the couch, "had this wonderful idea to collaborate on a Christmas album," she beamed. "But it won't just be the Stingers and Holograms –."
"Please don't tell me you want to include the Misfits," the younger Benton interrupted.
"Actually," Riot replied, "we were hoping you could perform a duet with Stormer. You two have performed together before, have you not?"
"Well, yes," Kimber responded. "She is a friend of mine. But what will the rest of the Misfits say if Stormer has a gig and they don't?"
"No need to worry," Riot reassured her. "They work for me," he said bluntly with a subtle arrogance. In addition to being the lead singer of the hottest new band in town, Riot was also co-owner of Stingers Sound, the Misfits' record label. "Plus, I'll give them a song to do just to keep them from causing mischief," he added. "Perhaps we'll use it, perhaps we won't," he impishly smiled at Jerrica. She amusingly smiled back, trying not to blush.
"As long as you know what you're doing," replied Kimber.
"Have I ever been wrong?" asked the Stinger with a smile.
"We want to do some classic Christmas songs and some ones of our own," Jerrica interjected. "That means we'll need you to write some songs."
"That would be outrageous!" exclaimed her younger sister. "I love Christmas! How long do I have?"
"We want to finish recording by the end of summer for a late November release date," Jerrica informed her.
"I guess I better get started!" she said as she got up from her chair. "I'll leave you two to your meeting." She raised her brow to Jerrica.
"Thank you, Kimber," Riot said as he stood to shake her hand.
Once the Hologram left, Jerrica proceeded to grab a stack of papers from her desk. "Here's a list of the musicians I've contacted who are interested in doing the album with us," she said, handing Riot some papers. "Here are some bands we still need to contact. Unfortunately, there's one band I'd love to get on board, but I haven't been able to get a hold of anyone."
"Which band and where are they located?" asked Riot.
"Voyager. They're from London," Jerrica responded. "Perhaps one of us will need to head out there to track them down."
"Things have been a little crazy at Stingers Sound since Eric ran off to God knows where," he began. Eric Raymond, Jerrica's longtime adversary and manager of the Misfits, was the other co-owner of Stingers Sound. Although they were business partners, Riot detested Eric and trusted him even less than Jerrica. "But perhaps I could use the time away," he continued. "Will the Holograms have some time off soon?"
Jerrica knew what he was implying. "I believe so," she replied, trying not to smile.
"Good," Riot replied happily. "I will make the arrangements to head to London as soon as possible."
"Great!" Jerrica replied. "Now, here are the contracts I had our lawyers draw up for the Christmas album," she said handing him a manila envelope. "Please feel free to have your lawyers look through them."
"That won't be necessary," he quickly replied, taking out the contents of the envelope. "I know you're an honest business woman, Jerrica," he said as he began signing the contract. "Jem speaks very highly of you."
"Oh?" she smiled.
"I can tell you've been very influential in her life," he answered flipping through each page.
"How so?" she inquired with curiosity.
"Jem isn't like most musicians I've come across," he began as he stopped to look at Jerrica. "While she's beautiful and talented and very compassionate, she also has a firm grasp of the music business, which I presume is thanks to you," he smiled.
"I guess you can say she's a very intuitive person," Jerrica smiled.
"Who do you think gave me the idea to even suggest such a collaboration?" he asked, referring to the Christmas album.
"Well I guess I owe her a thank you," she answered back trying hard not to blush.
"There!" he said handing Jerrica the signed contract. "Is Jem by chance here today?"
"Uh, I believe she's working on something for the foundation this morning," she quickly responded. "But she's scheduled to be in the studio at noon. You're welcome to wait for her."
"No, that won't be necessary, but thank you," he replied. "I have a recording session myself at noon, but if you see her, please tell her to expect a call from me around then."
"Absolutely!" Jerrica beamed as she walked Riot to the door.
"Jerrica Benton, it has been a pleasure," he said as he grabbed her hand to plant his signature kiss.
Jerrica blushed. "See you later, Riot," she managed to say as he exited her office and closed the door behind him. Once alone, Jerrica came back down to reality. She sighed.
"And that's a cut!"
"Great job everyone!" the Holograms said to one another.
"Great sound, Jem!" exclaimed the recording studio engineer.
"Thank you!" Jem humbly replied.
"You're in a happy mood!" Kimber said to the pink haired rock star.
"Yeah, what gives?" Aja Leith, her long-time friend and guitarist for the Holograms, prompted her.
"Nothing! I feel pretty good today," Jem confidently replied to her friends.
"Hey! I forgot to ask earlier, why'd you head to the office so early?" Aja inquired. "We didn't see you leave this morning." All the Holograms lived at the Starlight Mansion with the foster girls and Mrs. Bailey, the woman Emmett hired to help raise his girls when Jacqui died. When Emmett passed away, Mrs. Bailey moved into the Starlight house to help Jerrica, Kimber, Aja and Shana Elmsford, who were both foster girls themselves, take care of the younger girls.
"She had a hot date!" Kimber teased.
"What do you mean?" Jem got defensive.
"Don't get your undies in a tussle, Sis!" Kimber responded. "I'm just teasing you about your meeting earlier with Riot." Unbeknownst to the world and only known to the Holograms, Jem was actually Jerrica Benton in disguise. Even Rio never knew the biggest secret in the music industry.
"What's going on with you and Riot?" Shana asked.
"Nothing!" Jem declared.
"But you're all flushed," her sister pointed out.
Just as Jem was about to burst her own little secret unbeknownst to her friends and sister, the phone rang. "Hello?" Jem answered trying to hide her agitation.
"Jem, are you alright?" asked the male voice on the other end.
Jem knew exactly who it was, but for her sake, she avoided saying his name in front of the other Holograms. "Yes, I'm fine!" she gleefully responded.
"I couldn't help but sense a bit agitation in your voice," Riot replied.
"I'm alright, I promise," she reassured him.
"Well, good then," he answered back. "Did Jerrica happen to mention that I would be calling?"
"Why yes, yes she did!" she answered.
"Would you do me the honor of having dinner with me tonight?" he asked.
"Unfortunately, I have plans with the Holograms," she quickly answered.
"Oh," he replied, sounding a bit disappointed. "Since tomorrow's the concert and it's on your birthday, I thought we could celebrate a day early. How about lunch tomorrow then?" he asked optimistically.
"That would be wonderful actually," she replied.
"Okay then. Shall I have my car pick you up at Starlight Music at noon?" he happily asked.
"That's perfect! I'll see you then," she quietly said into the phone.
"I shall look forward to tomorrow then," he said as he hung up.
"That was him, wasn't it?" Aja began to interrogate.
"Well thank you for eavesdropping," Jem sarcastically remarked. "But if you must know, yes, it was him," she confessed. "We have some business to talk about."
"The first time you said that, you disappeared with him for four hours," Aja pointed out, referring to the time they first met the Stingers at the Rock Hard Café, and a melee ensued when Pizzazz, lead singer of the Misfits, grew jealous of Riot's interest in Jem.
"If you don't believe me, ask Kimber," Jem responded. "Care to share the big news with them, Sis?"
"Yes it's true," Kimber confirmed. "The Holograms are collaborating on a Christmas album with the Stingers."
"The Stingers?" a befuddled Shana asked.
"Not just the Stingers," Jem responded. "We have a list going of ten other singers and bands to include on the album. We, I mean, Jerrica and Riot are working on getting those other bands on board."
"But why would we want to do a Christmas album with the Stingers?" Aja inquired with the feeling there was more to it.
"It was Riot's idea," Jem confessed. "After our performance with the Stingers at the magic show, he couldn't get over how popular the single became. He thought a Christmas album would be a huge hit."
"Of course he'd want to use us to give the Stingers more attention," Aja replied.
"No!" Jem protested. "That couldn't be further from the truth! Half the proceeds are going straight to the Starlight Foundation."
"You mean Riot agreed to give half the profits to the Starlight house?" a surprised Raya Alonso, drummer and newest member of the Holograms, asked. Unlike the rest of the Holograms, Raya was not part of the original group and only joined when Shana took a leave of absence to pursue her interest in fashion. When Shana returned to the band, the girls could not bear to part ways with Raya, so they kept her onboard as their drummer while Shana moved over to guitar.
"No, he didn't agree," Jem replied. "It was his idea!"
"I find that hard to believe with Riot," a skeptical Aja replied.
"I think you all must have forgotten who found BaNee's father," Jem reminded them. Up until recently, BaNee was one of their foster girls. She had grown desperate to find her father who had no idea she even existed. Her mother had found out she was pregnant after her father, a US Army officer, became a prisoner of war in Vietnam. It was through Riot's help and his father's connections in the US Military that helped them track down Mr. O'Carolyn.
"I'm sorry," Aja replied. "I know Riot really came through for us, but –."
"But what?" Jem interrupted. "He's not the same person you think he is. You just don't know him as well as I do."
"I guess we don't," Shana interjected.
"We're sorry, Jem," Raya chimed in trying to diffuse the situation.
"It's okay," Jem replied. "He's a really good guy and I wish we could all just be friends."
"He's okay in my book, if you say he is," Shana hugged her as her way of calling truce.
"Alright, I'll give him a chance," Aja hesitantly replied. It wasn't just her first impressions of Riot as an arrogant and self-centered rock star that rubbed Aja the wrong way. It was the fact that Rio was one of Aja's best friends and Riot was a thorn in Rio's relationship with Jem.
"Okay then," Jem anxiously smiled. "If we're done here, I'll see you ladies later. I've got some paperwork to finish before I head home."
As the Holograms piled out of the studio and headed to their respective destinations, Kimber followed her sister, now as Jerrica, back to her office. "Is that all he is, just a friend?" Kimber asked as she entered Jerrica's office.
"Kimber!" a startled Jerrica replied. "I thought you had some songwriting to do?"
"I've got time," Kimber answered. "Now, what's going on with you and Riot?"