Date Published: Dec 2014
Starlet’s gaze ran over the Marines. They were all dressed in camouflage pants and caps, green T-shirts, and lace-up desert boots. Most were standing and waving their hands to get her attention.
Except for one.
One arrogant Marine who didn’t seem to be that taken with Star Bentley. In fact, with the bill of his cap pulled low over his face and his booted feet stretched out and crossed at the ankles, he looked like Moses Tate napping on a park bench. Even ninety-year-old Moses had stayed awake during the concert she had done for the small town of Bramble, Texas.
Perturbed by the Marine’s audacity, Starlet had no problem pointing him out. “Now, when I said I was going to slow things down a bit, I didn’t mean that you could go to sleep on me.” She waved her hand. “Let’s get Rip van Winkle up here and see if I can’t wake him up.”
The man didn’t acknowledge her words, but the other Marines did. With a loud whoop, they picked him up and lifted him over their heads, passing him along until he ended up onstage. He didn’t fight them, but he didn’t seem too happy about it either. Once the stagehands had him seated in a chair, he crossed his arms and stared down at his boots.
Starlet unhooked the microphone from the stand. “What do you say, soldier boy? You think you can stay awake long enough to listen to little ol’ me?”
The audience laughed, but the Marine remained mute. Starlet might’ve continued her teasing if a wave of dizziness hadn’t hit her. Not a little wave, but the kind that made your head feel like it had been flipped in a blender and set on puree. The roar of the crowd sounded muffled and distorted, and the stage seemed to rock like the deck of a ship. Not wanting to fall on her butt in front of thousands of people, she improvised and sat down on the Marine’s lap.
Having dated her share of rodeo cowboys, Starlet wasn’t a stranger to athletic bodies. But no cowboy she’d ever dated had a body like this one. Instead of long, lean muscles, this body had bunched, thick ones. Thighs like hard granite. A stomach like rippled steel. And arms with tight, knotted biceps as big as grapefruit.
Starlet loved grapefruits. In fact, they were the only things on Kari’s starvation diet that she did love. Starlet had a half of one every morning—the juicy meat sectioned off and a sweet little cherry in the center.
“If you’re going to sing, sing.” The Marine’s hissed words cut into her grapefruit daydream.
She might’ve been ticked at his attitude if she hadn’t been distracted by his voice. It was familiar. Too familiar. She dipped her head to peek under the cap, but before she could get a good look, another wave of dizziness hit her. She blinked it away, along with the ridiculous notion that she knew this Marine. The only Marine she knew didn’t have biceps the size of grapefruits and thighs like sculptured granite. He was a skinny nerd who worked some desk job at the Russian embassy. And even if he were in the States, he would never be caught dead at one of her concerts.
Which was just fine and dandy with Starlet.
What wasn’t fine and dandy was this Marine’s arrogance and nonchalance. Starlet didn’t care if he liked her, but he wasn’t going to ignore her. Remaining on his lap just to spite him, she lifted the microphone to her mouth and started to sing.
It wasn’t easy.
“Good-bye Kiss” was the first song Starlet had ever written for the first and only love she’d ever had. It seemed wrong to sing it to someone else. So she did what Kari suggested: She imagined the love of her life and let the words of the song flow from the heart. When she finished, tears rolled down her cheeks, and you could’ve heard a pin drop in the coliseum. The Marine wasn’t so moved. With a grumbled curse, he picked her up and set her on her feet before walking offstage.
Completely humiliated by his brush-off, she quickly lifted the microphone and ended the show.
“Thank y’all for coming. God Bless!”
As always, the closing riled the crowd and had them charging the stage, yelling for autographs and tossing up pink roses. Normally, she caught one and waved a good-bye. But tonight it took all her concentration to walk. The dizziness was back and worse than ever. She stumbled over a cord and would’ve fallen if the security guy hadn’t appeared and taken her arm.
“This way, Miss Bentley.”
Struggling to put one foot in front of the other, she followed him. He released her to jump down from the stage and then reached up to lift her off. It was then that she noticed where he had taken her. They weren’t in the long corridor that led to her dressing room. They were at the back of the stage, behind the curtains and lights and amid all the technical cords and wires.
Now, why would he bring her back here?
“Wait—” It was the only thing she got out before a rag was stuffed in her mouth and her hands were jerked behind her back and tied. Still, it wasn’t until he hefted her over his shoulder and headed for a side door that she figured out what was happening.
Star Bentley, the sweetheart of country music, was being kidnapped.
And Starlet Brubaker had no choice but to go along for the ride.