by Brandilyn Collins and Amberly Collins
With his last breath a dying man whispered four stunning words into Shaley O’Connor’s ear. Should she believe them? After two murders on the Rayne concert tour, Shaley is reeling. But she has no time to rest. If the dying man’s claim is right, the danger is far from over.
Your father sent me.
The last words of a dying man, whispered in my ear.
Were they true? What did they mean?
Your father sent me. The stunning claim drilled through my head, louder than the crowd’s screams.
Guitars blasted the last chord of Rayne’s hit song, Ever Alone, as Mom’s voice echoed through the Pepsi Center in Denver. The heavy drum beat thumped in my chest. With a final smash of cymbals the rock song ended. Multicolored laser lights swept the stadium, signaling the thirty-minute intermission.
Wild shrieks from thousands of fans rang in my ears.
I rose from my chair backstage. Tiredly, I smiled at the famous Rayne O’Connor as she strode toward me on high red heels. In the lights her sequined top shimmered and her blonde hair shone. She walked with confidence and grace, the picture of a rock star—until she stepped from her fans’ sight. Then her posture slumped, weariness creasing her beautiful face. Mom’s intense blue eyes usually glimmered with the excitement of performing, but now I saw only the wash of grief and exhaustion. How she’d managed to perform tonight, I’d never know. Except that she’s strong. A real fighter.
Me? I had to keep fighting too, even if my legs still trembled and I’d probably have nightmares for weeks.
Your father sent me.
I had to find out what those words meant.
“You’re a very brave young lady,” a Denver detective had told me just a few hours ago. I didn’t feel brave then or now.
“You okay, Shaley?” Mom had to shout over the screams as she hugged me.
I nodded against her shoulder, hanging on tightly until she pulled back.
The crowd’s applause died down. A heavy hum of voices and footsteps filtered from the stadium as thousands of people headed for concessions and bathrooms during the break.
Kim, the band’s keyboard player and alto to my mom’s lead vocals, stopped to lay a darkly tanned hand on my head. A strand of her bleached white-blonde hair was stuck to the gloss on her pink lips. She brushed it away. “You’re an amazing sixteen-year-old.”
I shrugged, embarrassed. “Thanks.”
Mick and Wendell, Mom’s two remaining bodyguards, approached without a word. I gave a self-conscious smile to Wendell, and he nodded back, sadness flicking across his face. His deep-set eyes were clouded, and the long scar across his chin seemed harder, more shiny. At five-eleven, Wendell is short for a bodyguard but every bit as muscled. Tonight his two-inch black hair, usually gelled straight up, stuck out in various directions. He hadn’t bothered to fix it since the life and death chase he was involved in just a few hours ago. Seeing that messed-up hair sent a stab through me. Wendell was usually so finicky about it.
Mick, Mom’s main personal bodyguard, folded his huge arms and stood back, waiting. Mick is in his forties, ex-military and tall, with a thick neck and block-shaped head. I’ve rarely seen emotion on his face, but I saw glimpses of it now. He and Wendell had been good friends with Bruce, Mom’s third bodyguard.
Bruce had been killed hours ago. Shot.
And he’d been trying to guard me.
My vision blurred. I blinked hard and looked at the floor.
“Come on.” Mom nudged my arm. “We’re all meeting in my dressing room.”
Mick and Bruce flanked her as she walked away.
Usually we don’t have to be so careful backstage. It’s a heavily guarded area anyway. But tonight nothing was the same.
Kim and I followed Mom down a long hall to her dressing room. Morrey, Kim’s boyfriend and Rayne’s drummer, caught up with us. He put a tattoo-covered arm around Kim, her head only reaching his shoulders. Morrey looked at me and winked, but I saw no happiness in it.
Ross Blanke, the band’s tour production manager, hustled up alongside us, trailed by Stan, lead guitarist, and Rich, Rayne’s bass player. “Hey.” Ross put a pudgy hand on Mom’s shoulder. “You’re doing great.” He waved an arm, indicating everyone. “All of you, you’re just doing great.”
“You do what you have to,” Stan said grimly. His black face shone with sweat.
Narrowing single file, we trudged into the dressing room. Mick and Wendell took up places on each side of the door.
Marshall, the makeup and hair stylist, started handing out water bottles. In his thirties, Marshall has buggy eyes and curly dark hair. His fingers are long and narrow, deft with his makeup tools. But until two days ago, he’d been second to Mom’s main stylist, Tom.
“Thanks.” I took a bottle from Marshall and tried to smile. Didn’t work. Just looking at him sent pangs of grief through me, because his presence reminded me of Tom’s absence.
Tom, my closest friend on tour, had been murdered two days ago.
Mom, Ross, Rich and I sank down on the blue couch—one of the furniture pieces Mom requested in every dressing room. Denver’s version was extra large, with a high back and overstuffed arms. To our left stood a table with plenty of catered food, but no one was hungry. I’d hardly eaten in the last day and a half and knew I should have something. But no way, not now.
Maybe after the concert.
Stan, Morrey and Kim drew up chairs to form a haphazard circle.
“All right.” Ross sat with his short, fat legs apart, hands on his jeaned thighs. The huge diamond ring on his right hand was skewed to one side. He straightened it with his pinky finger. “I’ve checked outside past the guarded area. The zoo’s double what it usually is. The news has already hit and every reporter and his brother are waiting for us. Some paparazzi are already there, and others have probably hopped planes and will show up by the time we leave.”
Is Cat here? I shuddered at the thought of the slinky, effeminate photographer who’d bothered us so much in the last two days. He’d even pulled a fire alarm in our San Jose hotel the night before just to force us out of our rooms. Now by police order he wasn’t supposed to get within five hundred feet of us. I doubted he’d care.
My eyes burned, and my muscles felt like water. Little food, no sleep, and plenty of shock. Bad combination. I slumped down in the couch and laid my head back.
Ross ran a hand through his scraggly brown hair. “Now at intermission folks out there”—he jabbed a thumb toward the arena—“are gonna start hearing things. Rayne, you might want to say a little something when you get back on stage.”
Mom sighed, as if wondering where she’d find the energy to do the second half of the concert. “Yeah.”
I squeezed her knee. If only the two of us could hide from the world for a week or two.
Make that a whole year.
Rich frowned as he moved his shaved head from one side to the other, stretching his neck muscles. His piercing gray eyes landed on me, and his face softened. I looked away.
Everyone was so caring and concerned about me. I was grateful for that. Really, I was. But it’s a little hard to know you’ve been the cause of three deaths. Under all their smiles, did the band members blame me?
Ross scratched his hanging jowl. “We got extra coverage from Denver police at the hotel tonight. Tomorrow we’re supposed to head out for Albuquerque. It’s close enough for Vance to drive the main bus without a switch-off driver, and the next two venues are close enough as well. But that’s just logistics. We’ve all been through a lot. Question is—can you all keep performing?” He looked around, eyebrows raised.
“Man.” Morrey shook back his shoulder-length black hair. “If three deaths in two days isn’t enough to make us quit …” His full lips pressed.
I glanced hopefully at Mom. Yeah, let’s go home! I could sleep in my own bed, hide from the paparazzi and reporters, hang out with Brittany, my best friend—who was supposed to be here with me right now.
But canceling concerts would mean losing a lot of money. The Rayne tour was supposed to continue another four weeks.
Mom hunched forward, elbows on her knees and one hand to her cheek. Her long red fingernails matched the color of her lips. “I almost lost my daughter tonight.” Her voice was tight. “I don’t care if I never tour again—Shaley’s got to be protected, that’s the number one thing.”
I want you protected too, Mom.
“I agree with that a hundred percent,” Morrey said, “but at least the threat to Shaley is gone now that Jerry’s dead.
Jerry, one of our bus drivers—and a man I’d thought was my friend—killed Tom and Bruce, and then came after me earlier that night. A cop ended up shooting him.
Kim spread her hands. “I don’t know what to say. I’m still reeling. We’ve barely had time to talk about any of this tonight before getting on stage. I feel like my mind’s gonna explode. And Tom …”
She teared up, and that made me cry. Kim had been like a mother to Tom. Crazy, funny Tom. It was just so hard to believe he was gone.
I wiped my eyes and looked at my lap.
“Anyway.” Kim steadied her voice. “It’s so much to deal with. I don’t know how we’re going to keep up this pace for another month.”
Mom looked at Ross. “We can’t keep going very long with only Vance to drive the main bus.”
Ross nodded. “Until Thursday. I’d have to replace him by then.”
“With who?” Mom’s voice edged.
“I don’t know. I’ll have to jump on it.”
“You can’t just ‘jump on it.’ We need time to thoroughly check the new driver out.”
“Rayne.” Ross threw her a look. “I did check Jerry out. Completely. He had a false ID, remember? That’s what the police said. I couldn’t have known that.”
“You might have known if you’d checked harder.”
Ross’s face flushed. “I did—”
“No you didn’t! Or if you did it wasn’t good enough!” Mom pushed to her feet and paced a few steps. “Something’s mighty wrong if we can’t even find out a guy’s a convicted felon!”
What? I stiffened. “How do you know that?”
Mom waved a hand in the air. “The police told me just before we left the hotel.”
We’d huddled in the manager’s office after the policeman killed Jerry.
I stared at Mom. “When was he in jail?”
Mom threw a hard look at Ross. “He’d barely gotten out when we hired him.”
Heat flushed through my veins. I snapped my gaze toward the floor, Jerry’s last words ringing in my head.
Your father sent me.
How could my father have sent Jerry if he was in jail?
“Rayne,” Ross snapped, “I’ve told you I’m sorry a dozen times—”
“Sorry isn’t enough!” Mom whirled on him. “My daughter was taken hostage. She could have been killed!”
Rich jumped up and put his arms around her. “Come on, Rayne, it’s okay now.”
She leaned against him, eyes closed. The anger on her face melted into exhaustion. “It’s not okay.” Mom shook her head. “Tom’s dead, Bruce is dead. And Shaley—”
Her words broke off. Mom pulled away from Rich and hurried back to the couch. She sank down next to me, a hand on my knee. “Shaley, you’re the one who’s been through the most. What do you want to do?”
My throat nearly swelled shut. Go home! I wanted to yell. But I couldn’t. It wouldn’t be fair. This wasn’t my tour. I didn’t have to pay the bills.
I glanced around at all the band members. Morrey was holding Kim’s hand. Stan and Rich watched me, waiting. A canceled tour wouldn’t just affect them. Rayne had three back-up singers, one of them Carly, who’d been such a help to me. Plus all the techs and roadies. They’d all lose money.
Wait—maybe Mom would let me go home and stay with Brittany. Now that Tom’s and Bruce’s killer was dead …
“Shaley?” Mom tapped my leg.
“I don’t … I can’t stop the tour.”
Ross exhaled. “Rayne?”
Mom looked at the wall clock and pushed to her feet. “We can’t decide this now. It’s only fifteen minutes before we have to be back on stage. I still need to change.”
Stan stood. “I say we figure on doing Albuquerque, and then we can decide about the rest.”
“Yeah, me too.” Rich got up, along with everyone else. I could see the business-like attitude settle on all their faces, including Mom’s. Soon they had to perform again. Every other concern must be pushed aside. In the entertainment world the saying was true: the show must go on.
Within a minute everyone had left except Mom, Marshall and me. Mom threw herself into a chair by the bright mirrors so Marshall could adjust her makeup. When he left she changed into a steel blue top and skinny-legged black pants.
I sat numbly on the couch, four words running through my mind. Words, I sensed, that would change my life.
Your father sent me.
Mom didn’t know what Jerry had whispered to me as he died. I needed to tell her.
But how? Like me, she was running on empty. It would be one more shock, another scare. I wasn’t sure she could take anymore and still perform.
Had Jerry told me the truth? Had the father I’d never known—the man my mother refused to talk about—purposely sent a killer to join our tour?
I needed to know. I needed to find out. Because if it was true—the danger was far from over.