Summer Serenade, page 10part #19 of Quinn Valley Ranch Series
“Your phone is blowing up,” she joked.
A ringtone she hadn’t heard before sounded.
“That’s R.J.” Nash pulled out his phone. “I need to take this.”
“Hey…” Nash stiffened. “When… No, I had no idea. I’m sure she doesn’t know. What’s on it… Okay… No, there’s nothing more I need to tell you. I just wanted to know what they taped…”
The way Nash stared at her turned Ivy’s blood to ice water.
“I’ll tell her. Yes, I’ll do that, too.” Nash rubbed his forehead. The muscles in the arm he held the phone with strained. “Are you kidding… This affects me more than it does you… I’m not trying to aggravate and disappoint you on purpose… At least not like this…”
Uh-oh. This didn’t sound good.
“Tell the PR people they can call anytime. I doubt I’ll be sleeping tonight.” Nash closed his eyes and then opened them. “Okay. I won’t leave the hotel… Promise… No, I’ve got it. Bye.”
Nash flipped his phone so the screen was against the table.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I…” He held her hand, lacing his fingers with hers. “Someone uploaded a video of our duet on Friday night. People know it’s me singing with you. Fortunately, the crowd was on their feet at the end of the song and blocked the camera from showing me kissing you.”
“I’m so sorry. Are you in trouble?”
He half laughed. “I’m always in trouble for something with R.J., but there’s more.”
The more had an ominous tone. Though she couldn’t imagine what else could be wrong.
Nash scrubbed his hand over his face. “Someone identified you and linked your audition clip to the video. People are talking about you being on that reality TV show again.”
The word echoed until she thought her brain might explode. Her stomach plummeted. Or maybe that was her heart. The room tilted—blurred—Ivy nearly fell out of her chair. She would have except for Nash grabbing her.
Her body shook. Cold seeped through her.
This can’t be happening.
Nash squeezed her shoulder. “Ivy. I’m so, so sorry. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt you, but I have. Please believe me.”
Emotion clogged her throat, but hearing his anguished tone hurt, too. She had to answer him. “I believe you.”
He leaned his head against hers. “Thanks.”
She crossed her arms, rubbing them to try to bring some warmth back. Not even him being so close to her helped.
“I deleted my social media accounts ten years ago. Never went back online. Thought if I didn’t have a presence nothing could happen again.” Her words came out rough. The result of her ragged breathing. “But that didn’t stop this.”
“Oh, babe.” He pulled her onto his lap and held her tightly. “I’m sorry. I never meant for my singing with you to lead to this. I assumed there might be consequences for me, but not for you with the past coming back to life.”
Tears stung, but she blinked them back. “You didn’t know.”
“No, but this is still my fault. I’ll take care of it. Protect you, do whatever is necessary.” Nash rubbed her back. “My PR team is on this. They’re well paid and the best in the business. I know it’s hard, but please, don’t worry. They’ll have a plan in place soon. Tomorrow for sure. Maybe tonight. Trust me.”
“I’ll try not to worry.” She couldn’t promise if she’d succeed. “And I trust you.”
He brushed his mouth over her hair. “If it’s any consolation, people love the song. Your song.”
She half laughed. “I guess that’s good.”
“It will be okay.”
“You don’t know that.” Her voice trembled the way her insides did. She rubbed her eyes.
“No, you’re right. I don’t. But I want it to be. Because I feel really guilty right now.” Nash kissed her forehead. “I want to make it better.”
His words went a long way. “Thank you.”
“We’ll get through this together.” He stood with her in his arms as if holding her was nothing.
“Is about healed thanks to your cousin Travis and the hot springs.” Nash carried her to the couch. “Let’s watch a movie and forget all of this.”
“I’m not sure I can.” Ivy eyed her phone in her purse. Not that she had any social media apps or accounts to check, but her family did. Had they seen anything yet? She didn’t want to know. “But if you keep holding me, I’ll give it my best shot.”
* * *
Nash spent Wednesday morning on the phone with R.J. and his publicist. Ivy had agreed to allow the PR firm to handle the situation however they felt best. That made things easier, but…
She’d only texted him because she hadn’t wanted to leave her apartment. But he needed to hear her voice, so he hit the call button.
“Is everything okay?” she asked.
“I’m fine. How about you?”
“I suppose it could be worse.” Her voice was so soft, almost weak, he had to turn up the volume on his phone. “But I haven’t figured out how yet.”
He wished he could go to her, but he’d promised R.J. he would stick around the hotel today, and Nash would keep his word. He owed that to his manager who had been with him from the beginning. “A statement will be released saying how we reconnected after I heard you sing at your family’s pub and decided I was wrong about your talent and wanted to help you with your music career.”
“But that’s what happened.” She sounded surprised.
“Not all PR statements are complete fabrications. Though some are, but—”
“Uh-oh, do I want to know?”
“The reaction to the song has been great, but questions have been raised about whether we’re together…as in dating. My team decided it was in both of our best interests, especially yours given what happened ten years ago, to say we aren’t romantically involved at the moment.”
Silence greeted him.
“I understand,” Ivy said with no emotion. Weird, given she wore her heart on her sleeve most of the time. “You’re leaving in another week or so, anyway. And it’s not like we—”
“We’re dating, Ivy.” Nash wasn’t about to let her think otherwise. “We haven’t put a label on us, but that’s how I feel and why the ‘at the moment’ is in there. To give us leeway for the future.”
A beat passed. And another. “Okay. What did R.J. think?”
R.J. had fought Nash about the wording. When Nash admitted there could be a video or photo of a brief kiss after the song, his manager had cursed him for an hour before relenting, saying he’d have the usual background checks run on Ivy. “He went along with it.”
“Yes.” Nash was under no illusion that would be the end of it with R.J., but Ivy didn’t need to know that. “So what’s the plan for tomorrow?”
Silence filled the line once again.
“Ivy?” Nash asked.
“You still want to go?”
The disbelief in her voice hurt his heart. No way would he let the past derail whatever was happening with Ivy. “I do. I even shaved for the occasion since my cover has been blown.”
“You’ll have to leave the hotel.”
“R.J. knows I’m going. He only said to stay here today. And trust me.” Nash kept his voice lighthearted. He wanted to cheer her up. “Beard or not, I’m an expert at sneaking out of hotels with no one seeing me. If there are any paparazzi in Quinn Valley, they won’t know where I am. But we should drive separately.”
He hoped so. “Text me their address and what time I should be there.”
“I will.” Her voice was stronger. “And please don’t worry about bringing anything. If you explain the situation to Mama Aimee, she won’t get on you.”
Man, Ivy had nailed that situation well. “Mama Aimee called earlier to see how I was doing. I told her about the picnic.”
Nash wanted to reach across the distance separating them and hold Ivy tightly, until the stress evaporated from her body and she smiled.
“She said your family sounds like a hoot, and I should have a blast whether or not I bring something.”
Though he had asked Bob to help him with a special surprise for Ivy. One that Nash thought the entire Quinn clan might enjoy.
“You will,” Ivy said, sounding a little more like herself.
That wasn’t good enough for Nash, especially since his wanting to sing a duet had brought the nightmare incident from her past back into her life.
“As long as I’m with you, Ivy.” He spoke from the heart. “I know that’s true.”
Nash only hoped she believed him.
When Ivy mentioned having a lot of relatives, Nash thought he knew what she meant given the number of fosters who had lived at the Bennett house over the years. He hadn’t had a clue.
No wonder the town was named Quinn Valley. The Quinn family made up most of the population. Everywhere he turned at the Fourth of July picnic, he ran into one. Sometimes literally with the kids running around playing tag but with squirt guns.
Gertrude and Harley Quinn were gracious hosts. Both were glowing after Betsy, one of their granddaughters, was proposed to by her boyfriend, Knox, a short time ago.
Nash, however, couldn’t keep everyone straight or who was who because of all the spouses and significant others. But he remembered some of what Ivy had told him as she introduced him to everyone.
The oldest son, Harvey, and his wife, Charity, lived on the ranch with his parents. They had five kids. Rhodes, who would take over the ranch, Betsy, Georgia, Jessie, and Cami. Next was Libby, a Quinn, and Randall McIver, who had five children: Andrew, Heather, Katie, Alyssa, and Dusty, though Nash couldn’t remember which of them were actually at the picnic today. That was the same for all the Quinn branches.
Ivy’s branch followed. He’d met her mom, Marcia, and her friend, Harry, who were pleasant but not overtly so. None of Ivy’s siblings appeared happy to see Nash, so he’d kept his distance. That hadn’t stopped Carter from telling Nash that he better not hurt Ivy or be using her for her songs. He wasn’t offended, not much anyway, but he liked knowing Ivy had a loving and protective family.
After them came Bob, his wife, April Lynn, and their five kids: Bobling, a Marine and away probably to hide from that nickname, Roxane, Renae, Raina, and Riley. Finally, there was Harold and Irene, both accountants. All five of their kids were in the medical profession: Brooke, Joel, Robyn, Travis—who didn’t seem that surprised Nash was with Ivy—and Vicki.
As night fell, everyone watched the guys set off fireworks.
Nash had his arm around Ivy and held a soda in his other hand. “This is nice.”
A fountain of golden sparks appeared much to the delight of the kids, who watched with wide eyes.
“You can join the pyromaniacs if you’d like,” Ivy whispered.
“I’d rather stay here with you.”
She inhaled deeply. He took that as a good sign.
“Having fun?” she asked.
“I’ll answer the same way I have the last four times you’ve asked.” He kissed her quick on the lips. “Yes, I’m having a great time.”
Some purple and pink sparks flew. Someone gasped.
“I’m sorry to keep asking. It’s just…” She bit her lip.
“I’ve never brought anyone to a family event.”
His chest swelled with pride. “I’m honored.”
She grinned. “You should be.”
Good. Ivy was more like herself. “How about you? Having a good time?”
“I’m so happy you’re here.” She stared up at him. Even though it was dark, her eyes lit up. “Thanks for coming.”
Joy radiated from her. It made the sideward glances and glares he’d endured from her brothers and a few male cousins worth it. “There’s no place I’d rather be. I like your family.”
He took a sip of soda.
“They’re the best even if my brothers are overprotective.”
“They love you.”
She nodded. “I told everyone to be nice to you. No photos or autographs. I also said what’s happening on social media is off-limits for discussion. I’m being an ostrich. I haven’t seen any of it and don’t want to know what’s out there.”
“Thank you for telling them that.” Nash had misjudged her. She was much stronger than she appeared. “You’re smart. Being an ostrich is good. Especially in the music business.”
Ivy beamed. “I’ll remember that.”
“Do.” She would need to remember. Sooner than she might expect, but that was another one of his surprises for her.
“Looks like the fireworks show is winding down. Though nothing can top the marriage proposal.”
Wanna bet? Nash grinned. He pulled his arm from around her and then handed her his drink.
“Hold my root beer.” He took out his cell phone and sent a text. “Just watch.”
A drumroll sounded from hidden speakers and then…
Theme-park-worthy fireworks lit up the sky over Quinn Valley Ranch. Exploding in time to the music playing. The oohs and ahs from her family pleased him, but the only reaction Nash cared about was Ivy’s.
“Oh, that one was so pretty.” She stared up with parted lips that curved upward. “This is unbelievable.”
He leaned closer to her, inhaling the citrus scent of her shampoo. “Surprise.”
She gasped. Her gaze flicked to him before returning to the sky as if she didn’t want to miss a single firework. “You did this?”
“Your uncle helped me set things up with your grandparents’ permission, of course.”
“I wanted to do something special for you after what happened. Since you’re so close to your family, I thought they might enjoy it, too.”
“I love them. I…” She pressed her lips against his but drew away before he could deepen the kiss. “There will be more later. I want to watch my fireworks first. They are mine, right?”
She was one hundred percent adorable. He tapped the tip of her nose. “They are yours.”
Watching her awed expression was better than the firework show bursting overhead. Bob had warned Nash of the expense, but he had more money than he could spend in a lifetime. R.J. might be a pain, but he’d set up Nash with a financial planner as soon as he signed with the label. This was money well spent.
He would give Ivy the world if she would let him.
The realization was unexpected, but Nash found himself at peace and happy. He’d never been interested in a woman like he was with Ivy, and he didn’t want to mess things up. Which was why he’d told R.J. yesterday he was staying in Quinn Valley longer.
Nashville wasn’t going anywhere. But when he returned, he wanted Ivy with him.
* * *
The picnic was over. Ivy and Nash had stayed to help clean up. It had been his idea because that was what Mama Aimee expected them to do at home or away. Ivy hoped she got to meet the woman and her husband someday.
Ivy folded the last chair. “This didn’t take long.”
Nash stared up at the sky. “So many stars. It’s beautiful out here.”
“It is.” He’d been handsome with his beard, but he was stunning now that she could see his entire face. “Almost as gorgeous as the spectacular fireworks. Thanks again for my surprise.”
Ivy had been so overwhelmed by his gesture she’d almost said I love you. She hadn’t ever been in love before so she wasn’t sure if what she felt was that or extreme like, but Nash filled a place inside her she hadn’t known was empty. She wanted to do all she could to make him happy. The way he did with her.
Ivy wasn’t the naïve teenager from the small town she’d been ten years ago. She had a feeling—a strong one—she might end up having her heart br
It wasn’t only because of the music.
It was him.
He’d sung his way into her heart, wiping away the past hurt and giving her strength to ignore what could hurt her now.
Nash came toward her. “That’s not the only one I have for you tonight.”
“From my kisses, darlin’,” he joked.
“I’ll take ’em.” And she would. Gladly.
He glanced around as if to see if they were alone. They were because everyone else was in the house.
Nash wrapped his arms around her and lowered his mouth to hers. The tenderness of his kiss made her heart sigh. She soaked up his warmth. He must have snuck another brownie because he tasted like chocolate. He deepened the kiss, setting off those fireworks he’d mentioned. Best Fourth of July ever.
Ivy lost herself in the sensations pulsing through her. Eager for more, she arched against him, sliding her fingers through his hair. This was a different duet for them. One she never wanted to end. But slowly he drew away.
She smiled up at him. “I like this surprise, too. And there were fireworks.”
He laughed, the rich sound as addictive as his kisses. “I was only kidding about a kiss being your surprise.”
“So what is it then?”
“You’re so cute when you pout.” He nibbled on her lower lip before straightening. “But here goes. I mentioned wanting to cut ‘Broken Dreams.’”
“I haven’t forgotten.” She thought about that at least once a day.
“My producer thinks two of your other songs will also work well.”
Her hand flew to her mouth. “You want three of my songs?”
“I do.” The words hung on the night air. “We’re also sharing writing credit on that new song of mine.”
This was incredible. So was he. “You don’t have to do that.”
“Yes, I do. We co-wrote that, and you deserve credit.”
Ivy jumped up and down. Tingles spread through her. “I can’t believe it.”
“I’ve told you before you’re talented.”
Heat rushed up her neck. “I know, but…”