A week later, they had their suitcases packed and were ready to go. A friend let them leave their car at her residence. However, when they arrived, things were a little chaotic. Ten minutes before, Haven had texted Sterling, and he met them outside the hotel. He dressed in a green button-down shirt, jeans, and cowboy boots and looked gorgeous as always.
“Hey ladies, are you ready for your new adventure?” Sterling asked.
“Sure are.” He eyed the rideshare and glanced over at Haven.
“We left our car at the house because we knew we couldn’t just park it anywhere,” Haven said.
“That makes sense. I’m sorry, I haven’t driven a car in a while, being on tour. Speaking of driving, we have a dilemma right now. One of the road crew buses broke down and we’re waiting for the mechanics to get here. If they don’t come within the hour, I and my boy Justin will ride with you guys. My dad wants two of us at the venue asap to set up. Ya’ll eat yet? There’s a great breakfast buffet set up in the hotel restaurant.”
“No. I insist. You might as well grab a bite to eat.” Haven felt her stomach rumble. She only had a piece of toast this morning.
“Alright, if you insist,” she said, glancing at her mom and following Sterling. They paused at their bus and he let them take a quick tour while he stowed their luggage in the back bedroom closets.
“I’ll carry your tray for you since you’re clumsy.” He said to her as he passed by. She scowled at him and then plastered a smile on her face. The buffet had lots of options. Eggs, hash browns, waffles, eggs Benedict, steak, chicken fried steak, French toast, fruit, and the options went on and on. Haven piled her plate and handed it to Sterling, and then went to find a table. They ate in silence and then headed back to the bus.
Ten minutes later, Sterling returned and informed them that the mechanic still had not shown up. However, their bus would be on the road in minutes. He stepped down and let their bus driver, Dale, climb up and take the wheel. Then he and his crewmate, Justin, came up. Haven sat on the couch and Sherri perched at the chair at the kitchen table, doing a crossword puzzle. Sterling and Justin sat across from Haven on the opposite side. They introduced themselves as the bus roared to life. Haven watched in awe as the bus pulled out and headed toward the freeway. She couldn’t believe she was starting this adventure. She snapped out of her reverie when she heard her name.
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. Have you been on tour before?”
“No, I haven’t... She’s traveled before though.” Haven nodded towards Sherri.
“I traveled with Sterling’s grandpa back in the day. Before the… accident.”
“Did you like it?” Justin said.
“I loved it. Never believed I’d be working with the Steele family again, let alone Granger’s son and grandson. I’m honored.” Sherri said.
“Well cool, we’re glad to have you,” Justin said.
Just then, Sterling’s phone rang.
“Hey, Dad, what’s up? Yeah, we’re on the bus headed for St. Louis. Yes, Justin is with me.”Sterling said, rolling his eyes. “We will set up as soon as we get there. Tank said the mechanic should be there within the hour. We’ve got this. Chill out… okay… love you too. Bye.”
“He gettin’ stressed out?” Justin said.
“Yeah, you know how he gets when there’s a fluke. Drives me nuts but this is part of being head of road crew.”
“Wow, you think you’re something, don’t you? All cool and under control.” Sterling looked over at her in surprise.
“Why do you say that?”
“I can tell by the way you talk to your dad that you think he’s an idiot. The sarcastic tone, the eye-rolling. You think you are all that because you are Gunner Steele’s son.”
“Says the girl who can’t carry a tray of dessert down the hall and read room numbers.” Justin and Sherri looked between them in confusion. “You don’t get it. He tries to run my life and has high expectations. It just makes me mad sometimes. You try living in the spotlight all the time.”
“No thank you. I’ll take my place in the background any time.” She pulled out her sketchbook to work on some more designs. Sherri was busy watching videos about new makeup techniques and making notes about what kinds of makeup she would need to pick up in St. Louis. Sterling gazed out the window, and Justin started reading a book.
“What are you working on?” Sterling asked after a few minutes.
“I’m working on some new fashion designs.”
“Can I look?”
“Wow, Haven, these are great. You have a genuine talent there. You have some designs that I would wear.”
“My dad is going to be really glad he hired you once he sees how you can put clothes together to make an outfit.” He moved over to the recliner to take a nap.
They arrived in St. Louis around five and pulled into the arena parking lot. Sterling let out a groan and stretched. A few minutes later, they departed the bus. It was getting close to sunset, and the sky was turning shades of pinks, purples, and golden yellows. It relieved Sterling to see the crew bus pull in about fifteen minutes later. Everyone went into the hotel across the street and checked into their rooms. They started getting settled in and enjoying the view from another luxurious room. A knock sounded at the door. Haven opened it to find Sterling standing there.
“What’s up, Sterling?” He glanced inside the room.
“Look, I’m sorry for what I said earlier. My dad trusts you to do your job or he wouldn’t have hired you. I’m looking forward to seeing what ya’ll come up with tonight to make us look our best. It’s hard living life in the public eye. As for your designs, they are amazing.”
“I can imagine. Apology accepted. Thank you.”
“Which leads me to something else.”
“Um, there will be lots of media around, and since my actual girlfriend can’t be around all the time, I need someone to play my fake girlfriend. Would you do it?”
“Me? Oh no. I hate crowds.”
“Even for one hundred thousand dollars?”
“You want to buy me off now?”
“No, it’s not like that. It’s just-” he trailed off.
Haven stared at him for a moment, her thoughts racing.
“What’s involved?” she asked.
“Walking with me at media events, going to dinner with me, attending all public events. Acting like my girlfriend. Lots of public displays of affection, no talking to the press, the usual.”
“For how long?”.
“Until the week before my wedding.”
“You’re getting married?!”
“Shhhhhh. No one knows.” He closed the door behind him. “I’m not engaged yet. My dad set me up with Rachel Rhodes, she’s the daughter of music mogul Randy Rhodes and we’ve been dating a few months. I’m expected to propose to her and marry her.”
“Wow. Now I know what you mean by him running your life.”
“Yeah. He only wants the best for me.” Sterling said, rolling his eyes.
“Okay, I’ll do it.”
“Yes, Sterling, I’ll be your fake girlfriend, but I have a few stipulations.”
“I’m not used to crowds and people in my face. Get us to our destination as soon as possible and keep hold of my hand. That way I know I won’t get separated from you.”
“I can do that. We’ll have security around us at all times,” he said.
“Don’t worry, Haven. They are going to love you. Our first outing will be dinner tomorrow night at the next tour stop.” Sherri stepped out of the bathroom.
“Hey Sterling, everything okay?”
“Yes, Ma'am. Just making sure you were settling in okay.”
“I need to buy some makeup to use tonight. Did I see a Pallettes Plus store?” Sherri said.
“Yes, there is, over on first avenue. Melanie shopped there all the time. She loved they have stores all over the country. Let me call my driver Luke to take you over there. We’re all going to eat in one of the conference rooms at six-thirty. Haven, I’m going to take you over to wardrobe so you can decide what we’re all going to wear tonight.” he said. “Sherri, you get everything you need and don’t worry about the cost. This is my dad’s card, just give it back to me when you return.”
“Okay,” Sherri said, tucking it into her wallet. A few minutes later, Luke arrived, and they all parted ways. Haven spent the next hour picking out outfits for Gunner and the band and taking them to each dressing room. Wendy was a Godsend, helping her move racks around and returning them to the wardrobe room in the arena. She told Haven it would be her job, but she would help her the first few nights.
Meanwhile, Sherri was having a blast picking out makeup to use. She forgot how much she loved pouring over pallets of color and various shades of foundation to pick just the right ones. She also picked up some brushes and other tools as well. Sterling was busy setting up the stage and getting ready for the show. Still, he couldn’t stop thinking about Haven. You cannot fall for her, Steele. Your dad will go ballistic. You are going to marry Rachel Rhodes and that is final. He thought to himself as he walked the entire stage and set, making himself focus on the task at hand. His phone rang.
“Do we have our fake girlfriend?” Gunner asked.
“Yes, she agreed to it for the hundred thousand. I can’t believe you’re doing this. Do you think they’ll buy it?”
“Relax, Sterling. Yes, there have been rumors swirling about you and Rachel. The tabloids always have to spin a lie, even if it’s true. It’s amazing what they will speculate after seeing you two greet each other on the red carpet, isn’t it?” Gunner said.
“Stunning,” Sterling said.
“Anyway, Haven will throw them off. It will excite them to speculate about something else. However, it will be your job to teach her how to be a proper ‘fake’ girlfriend. Lots of PDA, no talking to reporters, and to stay calm in any situation. And the most important thing, don’t fall for her. She’s not good enough for you.” Gunner said.
“Yeah, yeah…” Sterling said.
“Don’t get smart with me, boy. Your entire future hinges on how well this goes. There can be no mistakes.”
“I gotta go finish setting up for tonight. I’ll see you later.”Sterling replied, hanging up before Gunner could respond.
Gunner let out an agitated sigh and turned back to his personal laptop . He logged into the gambling site and placed a few wagers before heading to dinner. They weren’t anything major. A few thousand here and there. He was on the top of his game. Everyone loved Gunner Steele. The shows sold out every night, his albums shot to number one on release day. People downloaded songs from his back catalog all the time. He knew his management and employees would have a stroke if they knew what he was doing, but he didn’t care. Everyone had their vices, and this was one of his. No harm, no foul. With that, he shut his computer down and put it away. Next, he headed to the conference room for dinner.
They packed the large conference room at six-thirty. The whole tour crew, from bus drivers to soundcheck and everyone in between, was there. They set a buffet table up with an array of entrees, salads, and desserts. Sterling was scanning the room for Haven. He felt a warm hand on his arm.
“Hey, do you want to eat with me?”
“Sure. My mom is around here somewhere.”She said, looking across the room and seeing her mom talking with Gunner. Sterling followed her gaze and raised his eyebrows. He wasn’t sure what to think.
“I wonder what they are talking about.”
“Hard to say. Maybe reminiscing about my grandfather. Let’s go eat.” Sterling said, leading the way. He could already tell that this could end in disaster. His dad was fantastic at wining and dining and pulling out all the stops. Anything to make him look good. Still, when it came down to actual relationships, his true colors tainted them every time.
They sat down at a table, and a few minutes later, Justin and a girl with blond hair joined them.
“Hi, I’m Denise. I do backup vocals.” she introduced herself.
“Nice to meet you, Denise. Good to see you too, Justin.” Haven said, buttering a roll.
“I hear you’re our new wardrobe gal and your mom does makeup,” she said.
“That’s right. I love fashion. I designed the outfits for our school fashion show last year and had a blast. The models loved my creations.”
“Wow, that’s cool. Sewing is my passion.” Denise said.
“I would love to get the hang of sewing. Although, I have dabbled here and there.”
“My mom was a tailor and sewed all of our clothes growing up. She taught me everything I know.”
“Her designs are fantastic.” Sterling chimed in. “Hey, we should do something with these. Denise, how long does it take you to put together an outfit?”
“Depending on how intricate, maybe a week, week and a half?”
“That’s not bad. You two should put together some designs and my dad could wear them. See what kind of feedback they get.”
“Wouldn’t you want to run that by your dad first?” Justin said.
“Nah, I’d rather Haven just put him in it and see what he and everyone else thinks,” Sterling said.
“Well, he already thinks I’m incompetent because I don’t have a degree or much experience. Let’s do it and make him look fantastic. I might redeem myself. In the meantime, you and I need to go clothes shopping tomorrow.” She said, grinning at Sterling.
“That sounds scary,” he asked.
“No, not at all.” A round of chuckles broke out all-around at their table. “Break free of the nineties country look though.”
“I’m looking forward to it,” Sterling said.
A few minutes later, they all got up and went their separate ways. It would be showtime soon. Just as Haven was getting ready to walk out the door, she heard Gunner call her name. She turned around.
“Haven, I want you to spend some extra time with Sterling on his wardrobe. I’m sure as you can tell from what you’ve seen, he needs some help. I want him looking his best on stage and in the public eye.” Gunner said. “Take him out shopping and spend an absurd amount of money on him. I don’t care. You two should go shopping at each tour stop to buy clothes. And if it’s late or the stores are closed, let me know and I’ll pull some strings. He has a credit card at all times so go for it. You know, if you see something random that you can’t resist.”
“Yes sir,” Haven said. She walked out the door and headed to the arena. The pressure was on.
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