As a holiday gift, here’s a sneak preview of my July 2015 book, JESSE’S GIRL! This scene takes place a couple chapters into the book. For those of you who have not read the opening chapter, here’s a link.
Practice Makes Perfect.
Everyone at Hundred Oaks High knows that career mentoring day is a joke. So when Maya Henry said she wanted to be a rock star, she never imagined she’d get to shadow *the* Jesse Scott, Nashville’s teen idol.
But spending the day with Jesse is far from a dream come true. He’s as gorgeous as his music, but seeing all that he’s accomplished is just a reminder of everything Maya’s lost: her trust, her boyfriend, their band, and any chance to play the music she craves. Not to mention that Jesse’s pushy and opinionated. He made it on his own, and he thinks Maya’s playing back up to other people’s dreams. Does she have what it takes to follow her heart—and go solo?
Welcome to the Jungle
On Friday morning, Dr. Salter drives us up to a whale of a brick home surrounded by iron gates and lush green hedges in Brentwood, the Bel Air of Nashville. A sedan idles by the curb. I peer through my window at the unshaven man hunkered down in the front seat. Another guy leans against the passenger side door and snaps pictures of us.
“Always,” Dr. Salter says as he steers the car to a security booth.
A beefy guard—he must weigh three hundred pounds—pokes his head out and tips his hat. “Dr. Salter,” his deep voice rumbles. “He expecting you?”
“Yes.” Dr. Salter sighs, drumming his thumbs on the steering wheel. “I guess he didn’t tell you we were coming?”
The guard shrugs. “You know Jesse. Let me call and get clearance.” He shuts the sliding-glass window and picks up a phone.
“Clearance?” I don’t think I’ve ever heard that word used that way.
“Jesse’s not—” Dr. Salter starts. “He doesn’t have visitors often.”
“Oh.” I wipe sweaty palms on my dress. The corset top is black leather and red lace, the short skirt poufy black tulle. It looks awesome with my ankle booties. I wore my favorite outfit, because spending time with Jesse will probably be uncomfortable. Might as well feel good in my own skin.
Ten seconds later, the steel gates slide open. A paparazzi guy rushes to follow us in on foot, but the guard steps out to stop him from entering the property.
We park the car in the semicircular driveway, and I climb out, staring up at the ivy-laced brick façade. The brick is just like my house, but his is about ten times larger. We only moved out of a trailer two years ago, after my parents finally saved up for a down payment on a small house. By comparison, this place looks like Buckingham Palace.
I unfold today’s schedule—I’ve read it so many times the paper is soft as a piece of cloth—and scan it one last time:
9:30 a.m. Arrival
10:00 a.m. Tour of Grand Ole Opry
11:00 a.m. Tour of Studio B
12:00 p.m. Lunch with Jesse and Mark Logan
1:30 p.m. Tour of Ryman Auditorium
2:30 p.m. Tour of Country Music Hall of Fame
3:30 p.m. Depart
“Come on,” Dr. Salter says, clapping a hand on my shoulder and steering me toward the door. “Jesse won’t bite.” My principal pushes the doorbell.
Seconds later, Jesse Scott opens the door wearing nothing but a pair of sky blue boxers.
“Jesse,” Dr. Salter scolds him. “Put some pants on for God’s sake.”
Jesse stifles a yawn. “Hi, Uncle Bob.” He turns and goes back into the house, leaving the front door wide open. A woman with a tight bun, plain black dress, and fingers clamped over her mouth is left standing in the hallway in the wake of Jesse’s greet and run.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Salter,” the woman rushes to say. “I tried to get here first.”
My principal pats the lady’s elbow. “It’s okay, Grace.” He gives me a reassuring smile as we enter the sunlit foyer filled with leafy green plants. “Don’t mind him. Jesse’s not a morning person.”
“Based on how he treated me last week, he’s not an evening guy either,” I mutter.
The woman, Grace, disappears down a hallway, and Dr. Salter and I follow Jesse and his Gaelic tattoo into the living room, where he flops down in a cushy brown armchair made of cowhide. I set my purse on the floor and take a seat on a leather sofa across from him. This room could be featured in the Pottery Barn catalog that Mom gets in the mail. I want to slip my boots off and dig my toes into the plush beige rug. Guitars of all makes and colors—including a double-neck Fender Stratocaster!—hang on the walls. Over by a huge picture window sits a gorgeous, walnut-colored Steinway grand piano covered by sheet music.
His Grammys are on the mantle, but I don’t see any pictures of family or friends like at my house. Instead there are tasteful black-and-white portraits of the countryside: horses, cows, trucks, and tractors.
The only evidence that a person actually lives here is a drained coffee mug sitting on a glass table and sections of today’s newspaper, the Tennessean, strewn across the couch.
“You didn’t forget about Maya, right?” Dr. Salter asks Jesse.
“Nope.” He leans back and closes his eyes. “How could I forget I’m giving up my day off to hang out with a groupie?”
“In your dreams I’m a groupie,” I snap, shocking my principal.
“Why aren’t you dressed?” Dr. Salter asks his nephew.
Jesse shrugs. “Maya wanted to shadow me, right? Well, this is what I do on Friday mornings. And Thursday. And Wednes—”
“Stop being rude.” Dr. Salter shakes his head at his nephew. His cell phone dings. “Don’t let him fool you, Maya. He works harder than anybody I’ve ever met and has a good heart too.”
Jesse keeps his eyes shut.
My principal looks at his phone. “I need to get back to the school. Mark Logan just texted to say he’s two minutes out. Mr. Logan will stay with you two the entire day, and Grace, Jesse’s housekeeper, will be here until Mark arrives. Call my office if something comes up. Otherwise, Jesse and Mr. Logan’ll make sure you get home. Okay, Maya?”
“Put some clothes on, Jess.” Dr. Salter pats his nephew’s cheek before leaving. As soon as the door clicks shut, Jesse checks me out.
“Wanna have sex?”
I gasp and glance at his boxers. And that line of hair on his stomach that leads down to places I shouldn’t be thinking about.
“No, thanks. You’re not my type.”
Jesse looks surprised. “That’s a first.”
What the hell have I gotten myself into? I mean, someone who writes such sweet lyrics can’t actually be such an ass in real life. Right?
“Everything okay?” Jesse asks. I look up to find him raising an eyebrow at me.
“Sorry—I shouldn’t be talking about sex. We just met. Wanna get drunk?”
Why is he asking such weird questions? “Didn’t you learn your lesson after you fell off that yacht?” I ask snarkily.
“You don’t know anything about that,” he snaps.
Ugh, I knew shadow day would be a stupid waste of time. Jordan probably learned more about being an NFL player from the Athletic Superstore manager than I’ll learn about music from Jesse. I swipe my phone on and look up the Hundred Oaks phone number. Maybe Dr. Salter hasn’t left the neighborhood yet. I push dial, and the school receptionist answers. “This is Maya Henry. Can you please connect me to Dr. Salter?”
Jesse jumps to his feet, snatches my phone from my hand, and says, “Wrong number.”
I reach to get my phone back, but he holds it way above my head.
“Give me that!” I leap up at my phone. “I want to leave.”
“I didn’t know it was your day off. I don’t want to waste your time. Or mine.”
He gives me a withering look. “Your time?”
I glare at him. “You know, before we met last week, I was really excited about this.”
“A punk rocker chick was excited to spend the day with me? Yeah, I believe that.”
“First of all, buddy, I wouldn’t call myself a punk rocker. I’m into the eighties—I was going for Madonna. And second, I got my hopes up about meeting you. I thought it would be cool to watch you practice. Hell, I thought I might even get some pointers, learn something from you.”
That’s when I realize I’ve been shaking my finger at him.
After he looks into my eyes for several beats, he hands me my phone. “Last Friday, you said you play a Martin.”
“Let’s hear you play.” He sits down and rests his elbows on his thighs. My eyes have a mind of their own and glance at his boxers again. He totally catches me.
“I didn’t bring my guitar.”
He purses his lips. “Why would you show up unprepared?”
“Well, why didn’t you prepare by putting on pants?”
“You’re not wearing any either.” His eyes trail up and down my legs.
Some girls would’ve jumped him already, but not me. Even if he has a nice set of biceps and the cutest freckles I’ve ever seen, he doesn’t deserve me after acting like a man slut.
“Where are your parents, anyway?” I ask.
“I dunno. Work? They don’t live here.”
“This is your house?”
“Yup. I bought it with my allowance.”
That makes me laugh. But how is he ready to live on his own? I mean, Mom still has to remind me to set my alarm so I wake up in time for school, and I can’t cook anything without burning it.
He carefully lifts an acoustic guitar off the wall and hands it over. “Play a song for me.”
I sit down and get it situated in my lap, studying it. My fingers tremble and itch to strum the strings. It’s a Martin, just like mine, only a lot older and more valuable. “Is this from, like, the 1930s?”
“Yeah…it was Pa’s—my great-grandfather’s—before he died.”
“You had a cool Pa.”
His mouth twitches. “I know. Now play a song for me.”
I run my fingers over the wood and bite my lip. Despite my different musical tastes, I thought my guitar skills were top notch and that I would be a huge asset to any band. But they wanted that guy Bryan instead of me. Maybe I’m not as good on guitar as I thought I was. If my own band ditched me, do I have any business playing for a Grammy winner?
He must sense my hesitation. “I’m gonna give you a bad grade if you don’t play.”
“You’re not in charge of my grade.”
“My uncle is, and if I tell him you didn’t do what I asked, you’ll probably fail.”
I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’m not willing to risk it. If I don’t complete shadow day, I won’t be allowed to graduate in the spring.
I pull my lucky pick (it’s made of quartz and shaped like a teardrop) out of my purse. Taking a deep breath, I start plucking the first song that Jesse put out after he won Wannabe Rocker. He wrote “Mi Familia” when he was eleven. I played this song over and over in fifth grade.
After the first chord transition, I get nervous, my fingers tremble, and I accidentally mute the D string, then miss the next transition. Jesse and I cringe at the same time.
“Crap—I never screw up,” I say.
“Maybe you haven’t been practicing enough.”
That’s true. I haven’t played much this week. Without a band to jam with, my heart hasn’t been in it.
“Go on,” Jesse urges, settling back into his armchair.
I start playing “Mi Familia” again, but after a measure, he waves a hand at me to stop. “Play something else. Know any James Taylor?”
“Obviously.” I’m more of an eighties girl, but any serious guitarist should know the classics. I start strumming “Carolina in my Mind.”
After I play two verses, Jesse holds up a hand again. “Are you gonna sing or not?”
I drum my fingers on the Martin’s tuners. “I don’t do solos.”
He shakes his head at the ceiling. “I don’t have time for this.”
“I thought you have all the time in the world. You’re quitting, right?”
The expression on his face could kill. “If you won’t sing for me, you should leave right now.”
“Fine, I’ll sing,” I shoot back.
“I promise I won’t laugh at you,” he replies.
“I’m not that bad a singer.”
“Then prove it.”
Game on, pretty boy, country jerk.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt! The book will be out on July 1, 2015, and I can’t wait to share it with you all. Add JESSE’S GIRL to Goodreads!