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Author's Note: For Deirdre.
It was a Saturday night tradition. Each week Jerrica, the Holograms, and the Starlight girls gathered in the TV room at Starlight Mansion to catch Lindsey Pierce's show before sitting down for dinner as a family.
Ashley vaulted the sofa, sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the set as Jerrica used the remote to flip to the right channel. Jerrica had been waiting all day for the broadcast. She and Kimber had filled the rest of the Holograms in on Kimber's plan and while Aja had expressed misgivings, Raya and Shana had been proud of Kimber for standing up for her friend.
Jerrica leaned forward slightly, to hear Lindsey over the excited chatter of the girls.
"The Stingers concert at the Forum last night was white-hot," Lindsey was saying with a smile for the camera, "and not just the performances onstage. In a surprise announcement by Riot, the lead singer of the Stingers and co-chairman of Stinger Sound, it was revealed that the hits climbing the charts by Scandinavian import band Ephemeral were penned by none-other than Mary Phillips, better known as Misfit keyboardist Stormer."
"Hey, look! It's Stormer!" Ashley said as the Misfit bowed before the crowd while Lindsey's voiceover continued. Jerrica started, and then remembered that alone among the Misfits, Stormer had tried to protect Ashley when the girl had run away from home years prior. When Kimber had first begun performing with Stormer, it was Ashley who had come to the youngest Misfit's defence to Jerrica, insisting that she wasn't all that bad. However, when Jerrica had pressed for her details, the girl had mysterious clamed up. Aja had always professed it had something to do with what happened in Las Vegas, but that was sheer conjecture more than anything else.
"No stranger to making headlines, Phillips last year surprised the music industry by teaming up with Kimber Benton of Jem and the Holograms for the double-platinum solo album 'Back to Back.' While Phillips has always written music for her band, the Misfits, her involvement with Ephemeral was kept hush-hush by manager Eric Raymond."
The footage cut to Eric, whose smile for the camera was like a wolf bearing its teeth. The girls immediately groaned, and Raya threw a throw pillow at the set.
"Hey, careful!" Jerrica said with a laugh. Terri scooted forward to grab the pillow from where it had fallen, and handed it back to her with a gap-toothed grin.
"We were testing the market," Eric said smoothly. "The two bands styles and public personas are so different, it was felt by management at Stinger Sound that the public should come to know this hot, new act without any... undue influence the Misfits name might attach to the project."
"Listen to him—spinning the truth so it sounds like this was his plan all along!" Kimber seethed from her place beside Jerrica on the sofa.
"Well, what do you expect?" Raya shrugged. "This is Eric Raymond we're talking about."
"Yeah—at least we managed to beat him at his own game, Sis." Jerrica reached over and gave Kimber a one-armed hug.
"Phillips also wrote both music and lyrics for 'Take', which the Stingers performed live in concert and, according to Riot, will record as their next single."
When Riot came onscreen, Jerrica turned the TV volume up a notch with the remote. Kimber elbowed her teasingly, and Jerrica elbowed her right back.
"To have such talent all under one roof at Stinger Sound, it would be foolish not to recognise and nurture it. Miss Phillips is a remarkable songwriter. And it has been a genuinely pleasurable working experience. One I hope continues in the foreseeable future."
"Stick with Lin-Z TV for more on this breaking story as it unfolds!"
"Good for Stormer!" Ashley said as Jerrica turned off the set with a click of the remote. "Who knew Riot would turn out to be such a good guy?"
"Yeah—for someone who used to be a real creep, he's been a regular pussy cat lately," Raya observed.
"I doubt that cat's been de-clawed," Aja said with a laugh. "Something's gotta be in it for him."
"Aja!" Jerrica's eyebrows rose at her best friend's suspicious nature.
"What?" Aja shrugged, unapologetic. "I'm just saying, the guy isn't exactly known for selfless gestures."
"He helped find Ba Nee's father."
"Only 'cause Jem asked him oh so nicely," Aja reminded her. "I just don't trust the guy."
"I'm with Aja on this one," Shana said, shaking her head. "After the way he treated poor Regine, I hope that girl is prepared for a world of hurt."
"Time for dinner, girls," Mrs Bailey called from the dining room. Ashley, Deirdre and Nancy raced from the TV room, lured away from the latest music news by the promise of Mrs Bailey's chicken and dumplings.
When Kimber had first come to her with the plan to force Riot to listen to the song Stormer had written for the Stingers, Jerrica's first instinct had been to flat out refuse. She'd allowed her sister to cajole her into tailing Riot all over town, using the Jemstar earrings for Synergy to transmit her signal. But as happy as she was that everything had turned out alright in the end, manipulating Riot still bothered her. Even though he had proven himself more than capable of cold, calculated manipulation in the past.
Her sister and friends teased her about the soft spot she had for Riot. Especially after she'd disappeared from the launch party the Stingers had thrown for their first album, staying out all night with him in his penthouse apartment. Aja had flatly refused to believe he hadn't tried to put the make on her, but Jerrica had seen a different side to him that night. All of his mocking arrogance was gone, leaving him strangely vulnerable. Her heart had gone out to him, and nothing had made her happier than when he'd reconciled with his father. Having lost her own parents, Jerrica was glad he'd been able to mend fences with his estranged father. Gladder still that his mother's illness hadn't robbed both of them of the most important person in their lives.
She always thought back on that night, sitting before the roaring fire until the sun came up as Riot had told her his entire life's story, as the first time she'd met the real Rory Llewelyn. Met the man beneath the haughty rock star persona he affected. She always wondered if, when she had tried to kiss him, he hadn't turned away things might have turned out differently. Where they might be now.
Jerrica flushed guilty. She should be thinking of Rio, not entertaining fantasies about what it would be like to be with Riot. After all, Rio was the man she loved—had loved since she was a teenager. And despite how rocky their relationship had become since she'd assumed the Jem identity, she still cared deeply for him and couldn't imagine her life without him.
"Jerrica? You coming?" Shana asked when Jerrica remained on the couch, lost in thought.
"Kimber had better save me some dumplings," she said with a smile as she left to join her family at the dinner table.
Stormer purposely timed it so that she arrived at the Gabor mansion after the Lindsey Pierce show had ended. She figured that if she was going to do this, she might as well do it with flair.
Stormer still remembered what it had been like to first walk through the front door, gaping at the crystal chandeliers and marble floors. Despite the fact that Eric had set Roxy and Stormer both up with apartments near the studio, when he'd first signed them, it had been six months before Pizzazz had actually brought them home to the mansion she'd grown up in.
Pizzazz lived, it had seemed to her and Roxy then, in a palace like some kind of fairytale princess. She still couldn't shake the feeling that she simply did not belong in Pizzazz's world, even though she'd spent more than her fair share of nights in one of the mansion's well-appointed guestrooms over the last four years. Roxy had even moved in, briefly, back in that first year when Eric's money had run out and the lease had been up on her apartment. Now, despite the fact that each of them had their own places—Jetta having only moved in a few months earlier—they still spent most of their time with Pizzazz. If, for no other reason, than the maid service meant they didn't have to actually clean up after themselves. All four of them in one place could get a bit too much to take, and Stormer wondered how Harvey Gabor managed to keep maids, considering how much of a handful his daughter could be even without encouragement from the rest of them.
It was one of the latest crop of maids—a tiny little blonde thing Stormer thought might be named Carole—who showed Stormer to the den where the other Misfits were still gathered before the TV set, the remains of dinner sitting on silver trays on the coffee table. Roxy and Jetta traded glances as she came through the door, but Stormer noted they stayed where they were, anxiously waiting to see what Pizzazz's reaction would be before they made a move. She understood, having been in much the same position herself many a time. But it didn't make her feel any better.
For her part, Pizzazz lounged on the couch, feet up on the arm, one high-heeled shoe dangling precariously.
"We heard about your little coup." Pizzazz tilted her head towards the TV, where the Misfits latest video was playing with the sound turned down low. "Decided to come back, have you?" Pizzazz asked, arms crossed and green eyes narrowed dangerously.
"I only left because of Eric." Stormer squared her shoulders. "You know that. What he did was wrong."
"Why didn't you talk to us about it, 'stead of going off in a huff anyway?" Roxy spoke up, and Jetta elbowed her in the side with a warning glance. But Roxy only glared at her, and moved out of range.
"I talked to Pizzazz." Stormer fixed the band's leader with a glare. "She didn't seem to think it was a big deal—but it was. It was to me. And that should have counted for something. If it would have been any one of you, I would have stood up for you."
The assembled Misfits turned as one to their leader, who was attempting to stare Stormer down with little success. There was a tense moment where Stormer was convinced Pizzazz was going to get up and bodily throw her out of the mansion. But it passed, and Pizzazz sighed and rolled her eyes.
"It's a big deal. Fine. I didn't know you were so sensitive about it," Pizzazz muttered.
"I need to know that if I come back—then we're a band for real." Stormer loomed over Pizzazz, punctuating her statement by pointing her finger straight at Pizzazz. "That we all are here for each other, no matter what."
"One big happy family?" Pizzazz made a gagging gesture. "I may hurl."
"Oh, shut it, Pizzazz," Jetta said, to Stormer's surprise, she and Roxy got up to stand on either side of Stormer.
"Hey!" Pizzazz looked from mutinous Misfit to mutinous Misfit, shocked.
"We need Stormer," Roxy said, her brown eyes trained on Pizzazz, "and I for one want her back."
"You know I'm in, luv," Jetta said, and Stormer gave her a grateful smile. "It's not the same without you."
"What about you, Pizzazz?" Stormer asked, her voice softening a bit, as she waited to see what her answer would be. "Do you... do you want me to come back? Because say the word..."
Pizzazz stood, facing Stormer with a dramatic sigh. "Oh, alright. I want you back, too. Are you happy now?"
"You bet I am," Stormer said, grinning. She gave her a one-armed hug while Roxy cheered and thumped her hard on the back.
"Alright! The Misfits are back!" Jetta crowed, throwing her arms around both Stormer and Pizzazz.
Minx turned off Riot's wide-screen television set, and leaned back against the couch, eyeing Riot with amusement.
"So that's your latest game?" she asked, flipping her long straight pale hair back over her shoulder with one well-manicured hand. "Seducing the littlest Misfit?"
"Our arrangement is strictly a business one," Riot said smoothly.
"I can see why—where's the fun in such easy game?"
Rapture frowned from where she sat in a black leather chair, a book on Astral Projection open in her lap. "I always thought she was a little wet, actually."
"Provincial," Minx added.
"Doesn't seem like much of a challenge," Rapture finished with a shrug.
Riot wanted to tell them exactly how much of a challenge Stormer had been, and continued to be, but chose not to rise to the bait. A fact which unfortunately did not escape Rapture's attention, as she continued.
"Of course, if you had tried and been rejected..." Rapture's tone was light as she met his eyes over the pages of her book, but there was a challenge in her eyes.
"I assure you, if I wanted her, I could have her," Riot said, expecting that to put an end to that. But Rapture seemed anything but cowed, dark amusement continuing to dance in her eyes at his denial.
"Of course you could," Rapture cooed, reaching over to pat his hand in a placating gesture.
"After all, you're Riot." Minx backed up her bandmate's confidence without the guile or mockery, as if that was all the explanation anyone could ever need. "What woman can resist you?"
He gazed at the women who had been his family when his own at forsaken him with mixed feelings. Minx and Rapture had stood by him as they had played for pennies in the street, huddled together for warmth in the back of a tour van when the hostels were full and their busking hadn't got them enough for food and lodgings both. They had been loyal, steadfast companions, worked with him on every song, planned every concert, every tour as they'd clawed their way to the top of the charts in two hemispheres.
Yet right now, he wished he hadn't invited them over to catch the show. As if for once it wasn't the company of his peers he craved.
Their discussion turned to pouring over the previous night's performance, picking apart missed cues, quick recriminations followed with praise for a perfect solo or lyric. They'd been tight—he knew that. Their songs flowing with a kind of energy that had drawn the crowd in, entranced them. That was what he was known for, from the Mediterranean to the West Coast. Riot charmed the crowd. Riot held them all spellbound.
Except Stormer. She'd run away, after he'd kissed her, the timid little girl once again. There had been little or no trace of the hellcat who had, true to her stage name, stormed into Eric Raymond's office and taken him on, on his own territory. Angrily confronted Riot not once but twice—first throwing him out of her home, and then backstage, just before...
What on earth had possessed him to kiss her?
As Minx went on about the inferior quality of their sound technicians, and the levels in the speakers, and Rapture complained about the quality of the catering in the dressing room, Riot wondered at his uncharacteristic behaviour.
He'd enjoyed kissing her.
There had just been something captivating about her vulnerability, caught between despair and fury. Something he'd found unable to resist. She hadn't had time to reciprocate, or even react to the kiss. He remembered vividly the naked shock on her face when he's released her, before diving into the adulation of the crowd.
When he found her asleep in his dressing room, that vulnerability called to him again. Yet he'd let her slip away without complaint. He'd felt a certain charge, watching her come alive before the crowd backstage. Her smile had been so open, her joy at such a simple thing as recognition of her talent by nameless, faceless, insignificant strangers infectious.
He'd stayed, signing autographs, far longer than he usually did after a show. Stayed even after Minx and Rapture had finally made their escape to the dressing room to remove their stage make-up. Stayed until the last fan had been ushered away by the guards, the last groupie hoping to steal for a night the glamour of hanging on a rock star's arm had been hustled off behind the barricades, and he'd walked Stormer to the hired car Adele had called to take her home.
"I know you told me not to thank you," she'd said, eyes downcast as he'd opened the door for her. "But..."
She'd leaned toward him, and he'd felt a momentary thrill of triumph. Then, to his surprise, she'd merely placed a demure kiss on his cheek before she slipped inside the car. As he'd watched the taillights be swallowed by the warm, dry Los Angeles night, that chaste gesture piqued his interest more than her falling into his waiting arms ever could have.
He'd chided her for being soft, yet he had to admit, that softness was somewhat alluring. He'd goaded her, pushed her, manipulated her to see what it would take for the fire inside her to flare hot enough to scorch those around her. But it had never occurred to him that he might get burned by it, once the tinder was lit.
It had never even crossed his mind that he might crave the warmth and light.
What was it about Mary Phillips that made him wish she hadn't turned away from him on that couch? What was it about her, that he had let her go without a fight?
He frowned, tuning out Minx and Rapture completely as he gazed out the penthouse windows at the city lights, like sparkling jewels against black velvet.
He was Riot. If he wanted her, he could have her.
The question was, did he want her?