Sue Douglas has no time for men. At least not any more men. She scored her dream job as a publicist for an up-and-coming rock band, but they’re putting her through her paces:
The bass player despises her
The lead singer lusts for her
The band manager dumped a career-ending secret on her
The band’s record company is determined to see her fail
And if she even stumbles, she could lose everything.
In the middle of it all, she meets *the* man. The one she wants in her schedule. He sees the mayhem of her life but refuses to let her go. He says he’ll only take her spare time, but there’s no time on a tour that will make or break her as a publicist.
“Hey! Naughty girl!”
Sue Douglas stooped forward as a pair of hands landed – with the full weight of the person behind them – on her shoulders. Righting her posture, she automatically held up a black sticker emblazoned with “#naughty” in bold, white text, along with a small postcard advertising the radio station’s next free show.
“Thanks, love.” The interloper took the items and pushed off her shoulders to launch himself back into the swarm of concert-goers.
“Can I have one, too, please?” A petite girl with an apologetic expression stood before Sue.
“Of course.” Sue smiled and held out a different sticker in each hand. “Naughty or nice?”
“Naughty.” The girl giggled and blushed.
Sue gave her the sticker and matching postcard. For every hyped-up fan who jumped on her, there were at least two shy people who mumbled their requests. She wanted them all. Even more, she wanted them to bring all of their friends to the next concert her radio station hosted. The only thing that kept management from flipping the switch and turning the small rock station into another pre-packaged “lite music” destination were advertisers. Big attendance numbers at these events kept advertisers happy. That gave Sue the leverage she needed to get more budget from management to do better events. It boosted her reputation in the industry, and kept at least fifty people employed.
The drum beat from the stage guided her as she zig-zagged through the crowd, giving out stickers and making her way to the afternoon drive time D.J. On her cue he would transition the free show in the nightclub’s back parking lot to the ticketed concert inside. Sue managed to give away her last sticker and put an intern in charge of the postcards before she pushed through the final crush of music lovers.
“Axel!” She waved. “Hey, Axel!”
The scruffy, blond D.J. turned and beckoned her. “Sue! You got anymore T-shirts? The black ones. I wanna hook these girls up.”
“Yeah, I’ve got some in the van. Gimme a minute.” She nodded toward the women. “Listen, Ax, when these guys are done –”
“I know.” Axel flashed his palm with naughty scrawled across it in pink ink. “Text ‘naughty’ for Pink Slip and ‘nice’ for Derelicts.”
“Exactly. Perfect.” She blew out a breath and pushed her hair off her face. “Don’t mix it up.”
“You already pounded it into my head, woman!” Axel grinned and threw an arm around her neck, giving Sue a half hug. “This is a really cool thing you dreamed up. It’s only May and we’re already selling tickets for the Halloween show and the Christmas concert.”
“It’s what I do.” Sue turned her attention to the people waiting on her and almost laughed out loud. The “girls” were the wives of two prominent baseball players from the Washington Nationals. She smiled at them. “Come with me. I’ll get you shirts.”
The women followed her through the groups of people piled around the temporary stage she and her interns had set up that afternoon. While Sue climbed into the van to find the special stash of black T-shirts, Axel addressed the concert goers.
“Let’s hear it for Derelicts!”
The crowd let out a roar that prompted Sue get back out and survey the area again. It had multiplied since the first band took the stage about an hour ago. Hyper-focused on getting to Axel, she hadn’t been paying attention to the attendees. Now, a sea of bodies filled the parking lot. She took a beat to appreciate how many people she had drawn out, then ducked back into the van.
“If you like these guys,” Axel shouted “—make sure you text in your vote! Tonight’s winner plays against two other bands at our Bag of Bones Halloween party. That winner opens up our big Naughty or Nice Christmas show with The Presidents of the United States of America!” When the fans settled into a steady hum of energy he spoke again. “If you wanna see Pink Slip, what’re you gonna text?”
“Naughty!” The crowd thundered.
“If you want to see Derelicts?”
“You got it! Text us now! Voting closes as soon as the main event starts inside.”
Axel reminded the crowd where to line up for the indoor show before getting everyone into one more chant of “naughty” and “nice,” then he left the stage.
No sooner had Sue given the women T-shirts, when two interns appeared for more stickers, pins and other radio station freebies. She loaded them down, reminded them to make sure every person received one, and sent them on their way. Axel showed up with a crowd of guys behind him as she refilled her own supply.
“Hey, Sue.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “These guys say they’re the opening act, but security won’t let them in the front door without tickets. Too many people lined up already!”
Sue shoved stickers in her back pocket then looked over Axel’s shoulder. A familiar mop of hair – so black it was almost blue – ruffled in the breeze.
“Oh my God, Tom!” She jumped into the lanky man’s arms, giddy with laughter. “I figured I wouldn’t see you until this was over!”
“Wow!” Axel pulled his chin back. “I don’t get that kind of treatment and I approve your expense reports.”
Sue laughed again, an arm still around Tom. “This is my cousin. We grew up on the same street.”
Tom tousled Sue’s hair. “And it’s been awhile since we’ve seen each other.”
Sue hugged him again. “What’s going on?”
“I should be asking you that! Axel says this melee is your fault.”
Sue surveyed the crowd again. “With anyone else I would be humble, but hell yeah this is my fault!”
Tom gave her a high five. “We left to eat and came back to all this. Now we can’t get in.”
“I’ll get you in.” Sue glanced at the men behind her cousin. “Is this everyone?”
Tom did a quick head count and nodded.
“Okay, we’re gonna go under the stage.” Sue grabbed a flashlight from the van and pulled the door shut. “Follow me!”
She directed the guys to follow her along the perimeter of the lot. When they reached the rear corner of the stage, she slid aside a piece of plywood her interns had spray-painted black and flicked on the torch. She dipped her head under the framework of the stage and shone the light toward a door just past the opposite side. “We’re going this way.” Partly crouched to avoid bumping her head, she led the group through the maze of stage supports.
“What are we doing?” A voice called from somewhere behind her.
“I don’t know,” someone else answered. “Just follow the broad in the tight pants.”
“Sweet,” said a third voice.
“Hey!” Even though Tom only spoke one word, Sue recognized the tone in his voice from when he gave shit to the guys who pursued her in high school.
Sue interrupted before her cousin could threaten his friends. “That’s not how you vote! It’s either naughty—”
“Or nice!” A few of the guys chimed in.
Sue chuckled and opened the stage door, where she greeted security. “Hey, Jabba, I’ve got Words Fail Me. They won’t let them in the front door.”
The security guard let out a throaty chortle. “Don’t blame ‘em. Rockers are the worst kind of riff raff. Come on, guys.”
They filed in, two tall guys with long hair — one dark blond and the other with silky black hair, a stocky Asian guy with punk rock spikes and finally one with a ruddy complexion and the wardrobe and gait of a skater, each flashing their passes as they went.
Skater guy talked to her chest as he crossed the threshold. “Tits and ass really do open doors.”
“Keep moving, bud.” Sue put a concert flyer in his face, giving him a stony glare.
Tom pushed the guy into the club. “Shut the fuck up, ass.”
Sue smirked at Tom. “Thanks, but I can handle myself.”
“You shut up, too.”
Sue lifted her eyebrows and he blushed.
“Okay.” Tom held up a flyer. “This contest is cool, Sue.”
“Thanks!” She beamed. “This is the first year we’re doing a Christmas concert. It’s the same weekend as the big Baltimore station’s so we had to come up with a hook to sell tickets.”
“Your hook is a contest that involves six bands and four shows?”
Sue took a moment to calculate it in her head. “Yeah.”
“And this is the first show.”
“There’s a couple hundred people crammed into that parking lot.”
“The venue holds a thousand,” Sue said. “I was shooting for at least half that.”
Tom squinted at her. “You should work for us. We need a good promotions manager.”
“Sure, Tom.” Sue shook her head. “I’ve gotta count the votes. We have to announce the winner before the show inside is over.”
“What are you doing after?”
“I have to clean up all of this.” She gestured to the outdoor stage. After all of the bargaining and cajoling she had to do to get management to approve this contest, the last thing she needed was the venue complaining. The parking lot would be spotless before she left. “Then after the main show I have to stand outside and make sure the people who didn’t come out early get flyers and stuff.”
“Yeah, yeah, after that.”
“Catching up with you and then passing out for about fourteen hours.”
“Meet me at the station after-party. You should already have a pass.”
“I never go to that stuff. I have to clean up and pack the van.”
Tom held up a hand. “You have interns for that. After-party.”
“This is my event. I’m responsible for –”
“Sue. I know you’ve got every intern, even the new ones, trained within an inch of their lives. Put aside your control freak tendencies for one night and come to the damn party.”
“You’re calling me a control freak? Really?”
Tom crossed his arms. “I’m the tour manager. It’s part of the job description.”
“That’s an easy excuse.”
“Come on, Sue. After-party.”
She mentally reviewed the long list of things that needed to get taken down and put away before she could party, and wrinkled her nose. She considered her interns and who she could trust to make sure her checklist got completed. It might be dicey. Still, she hadn’t seen Tom in ages and she could ask Axel to help her do a final check before they left. “Okay.”
“Good.” Tom offered a fist bump but Sue held up a finger.
Rather than the usual single shake, her phone seemed to vibrate non-stop. She pulled it from her back pocket, read the screen and laughed. “I have to go. Axel’s trying to count the votes without me, but he thinks he broke the program.”
Tom winced. “That’s not good.”
“He can’t break the program. The votes come to my phone. And my email. And the texting company. I got back-ups for my back-ups. We’re in good shape, Tommy.”
Sue ducked to go back under the stage when Tom leaned out of the doorway. “Station after-party. Be there!”
“Don’t spend too much time talking to girls,” Tom said. “Get to the party so I can make introductions.”
“Sure thing.” Brad beat his thumbs against his thighs. He was still riding the adrenaline high from playing in front of an amped crowd. The set they had played was straight fire and the show Skein put on after them had dumped a shit ton of fuel on it. He could feel the people hanging outside the venue pulsing with the same energy. Brad wanted to meet this girl with all the ideas and make some decisions, capitalize on all the momentum.
“Hold on.” Brad’s bass player threaded a pad lock through the hooks on their instrument trailer.
“I got this, man.” Brad jutted his chin at the venue. “Go get her.”
Tom gave a thumbs up and jogged toward the club.
Chris finally finished locking the trailer and turned, rubbing his head. “You guys wanna hire the chick in the tight pants? You can’t be that hard up, man.”
Brad took a beat to make sure he didn’t visibly bristle. Chris’s mind always went to the gutter first. “We should consider it. Did you see the crowd outside? The stickers? Those bands playing in the back lot? That was all that chick!”
“How do you know?” Chris spared Brad an occasional glance as he checked out the young women loitering near the club.
“Tom and I were talking to the D.J. who emceed the outside show. He said she came up with the whole thing to promo their Christmas concert.”
“The radio station in Bum Fuck, Maryland is big enough to have a Christmas concert?”
“Whatever. I don’t think a chick should be following us from gig to gig. Unless you need a piece of ass on standby.”
Chris rubbed his chin. “It could come in handy. And she doesn’t look used up yet.”
Brad grabbed Chris’s shoulders and gave him a light shake. “A little respect, man. She’s Tom’s cousin.”
Chris knocked Brad’s hands away. “She had one good idea. That’s no reason to bring her on tour.”
“You wrote one good bass line and we let you in the band.”
“Fuck you. That is not how it went down.” Chris glared, but Brad held his ground. “What the fuck ever, Brad. Do what you want.” He smirked. “Might be fun to use up a girl together.”
Brad snarled and pushed past him, taking long strides toward the club.
Post-concert, the building had a very different look. It still smelled like beer and smoke, but the illuminated house lights revealed its length. Most of the space resembled a long, wide hallway leading directly to the stage. Alcoves on either side contained bars and a few love seats. The party gravitated around the bar at stage right. A worker pulled over couches from the other side, containing the party in a more intimate space while a few women danced to the house music.
Brad recognized the tight jeans that had led them into the club earlier at the other end of the bar with Tom. Her jeans looked like they had been made specifically for her firm ass and hips, and he’d never seen a T-shirt fit so well. It hugged her curves and stopped right at the edge of her pants. He wished she would raise her arms and give him a peek at her bare waist. Her sexy auburn hair hung loose around her shoulders and tantalized him even more. In a room full of blondes and brunettes, that hair qualified as exotic.
She turned her head and spoke to a passerby. She smiled, and instantly upgraded from Brad’s “hot girl” list to knock-out. When she faced Tom again, Brad took one more, long look at her ass. He’d be a goner if she had a good sense of humor, too. He muttered to himself “come onnnn personality like sandpaper!—” then ordered three longnecks, and joined Tom and the woman, offering them each an icy beer bottle.
“Thanks, Brad. I want you to meet Sue. Sue Douglas, Brad Gowan.”
Brad had a smile ready when she faced him and gave her a beer instead of shaking her hand.
“Nice to meet you Sue, Axel couldn’t stop bragging on you before.”
“Bragging, or promising you free stuff?” She reached past Tom to put her empty on the bar and gently swirled the new bottle.
“Definitely bragging. It was right after the votes were tallied.”
“Yeah, he would’ve been happy then.” Sue smirked and sipped the fresh beer. “The votes were five times the amount of people that can fit in the club.”
“Nice!” Tom clinked his drink against hers. “How did you manage that?”
“I had four D.J.s talking about this show for two months.” Sue took another pull off her beer. “And people could vote more than once.”
As he and Tom laughed, Brad scrutinized Sue and her easy nature. Instinct said she could help him, but he didn’t know the questions to ask to prove it. Chris walked in, his arm around a woman, and inspiration struck.
“My bass player wants to know how a radio station in Nowhere, Maryland got a Christmas concert.”
“I asked for one.”
“What do you mean you asked for one?”
“I mean, I asked management for one,” Sue repeated. “I have some really talented D.J.s and a few local bands who want more attention. They feel like there isn’t room for them in Baltimore or Philly and they aren’t getting traction in Pittsburgh. So I surveyed the listeners. A lot of them said they can’t always get to Baltimore for music and they want more here. I took it to management. They gave me a Christmas concert.”
“They gave her a Christmas concert all right. Along with a big fuck you.” Axel interrupted as he joined the group, closing it to a few people who had been openly watching Brad.
Sue punched him in the arm. “Shut up.”
“They did!” Axel narrowed his eyes at Sue then turned to Tom and Brad. “Management didn’t want to break their dull but profitable format. They set our Christmas concert the same night as the big rock station in Baltimore, and our headliner is D List. Obviously, they wanted it D.O.A. so they wouldn’t have to consider making this an annual thing.”
“The Presidents are not D List.” Sue put a hand on her hip and gestured with her bottle. “Kitschy? Sure. But really fun! And great for our demo.”
Tom collected the empty bottles and put them on the bar behind him. “Didn’t you mention Baltimore has Green Day? Most people choosing a 90s nostalgia band for Christmas are making the drive.”
Axel nodded and signaled one of the bartenders for another round. “That’s what you would think. But Suzy here is already moving tickets for The Presidents.”
“It’s May.” Brad finished the second half of his beer to hide his surprise.
Sue pursed her lips. “Yeah. I only have a few more months to sell it out. Or no Christmas concert next year.”
“She got The Presidents excited about this contest.” Axel put a hand on the back of Sue’s neck and gave her a tug. “They’re hoping to swing a surprise visit to the Halloween party. Which is sold out.”
Sue shook off Axel and scanned the room. “Axel! You better hope no one overheard that. If it gets back to tonight’s bands and it doesn’t happen—”
“Relax, Sue! I know. I scoped out the area before I came over.”
Sue narrowed her eyes and finished her drink, then checked the room again before she spoke. “Technically it’s not sold out. Just the tickets we released are.” She traded her empty bottle with the bartender, still with one eye on the partygoers.
“Sue, if the station would’ve let us release all the tickets for the party, they would be gone by now. Or damn near it.”
Sue opened her mouth but Axel shot her a look. She gave him a sharp glare.
Tom squinted as he regarded Sue. “She’s putting you guys on the map.”
“Yep. Our little Podunk station is becoming more than just a training ground for first year D.J.s.”
Sue rolled her eyes. “Says the guy who’s been doing afternoon drive time for five years.”
Axel shrugged. “My wife likes it here.”
“You’re making D.J.s famous?” Brad asked.
“You wanna be famous?” Sue tilted her head, holding his gaze. “I’ll make you famous.”
She caught him off guard. It took Brad a few seconds to put together a reply. “Man! There was some heat in that!” He tore part of the label off the bottle and rolled it between thumb and forefinger. “I’m already famous.”
“You’re not famous. You’re the most popular barfly in Detroit. You have a decent following in Michigan, but get away from the Great Lakes and you’re just another guy with a guitar.”
“This woman is mean, Tom.”
“Sue is painfully honest,” Tom clarified.
“And she knows her shit,” Axel added. “She researched tonight’s bands weeks ago. She knew exactly how to promote you before your names were even on the marquee. It’s too bad this isn’t Baltimore or Philly. Sue’s twenty-five and she’s already sent three D.J.s to top tier markets. She could run radio if she wanted to.”
“You just want to be famous. I—” She pointed at herself with both hands “—can make you the disdain of parents the world over.”
He didn’t even try to stop the grin. Instead, Brad pushed Axel out of the way to put an arm around Sue. “Come work with us. I don’t want to be famous. I want to be super famous. I want to be the enemy of every father, and more than a few husbands. Tell me how you’ll do it.”
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