A singer in a successful band, she’s learned a hard lesson over the years: people don’t love her for who she really is. They love what she is and what she can do for them. The only person who ever truly loved her ended their relationship years ago, and it nearly destroyed her. But Lauren doesn’t have time to pine over lost love. If she doesn’t get her songwriting mojo back-and fast-The Kingmakers’ new album is going to be a colossal failure.
When Lauren returns home to New York for a recording session, a publicity stunt gone awry brings her face-to-face with her past and her biggest regret: Danny Padovano, the ex-boyfriend who broke her heart. The spark between them is still there but getting involved with Danny again is one step short of insanity. Lauren knows she’s playing with fire-things are a lot more complicated now than they were when Lauren and Danny were younger, and the stakes are much, much higher. Soon, everything Lauren’s worked so hard to achieve starts to unravel.
Lauren Stone owned a big-ass, beachfront Spanish Colonial Revival in Santa Monica, California. With six bedrooms, five baths, and a pool that overlooked the sand, it was far too big for her, and when she bought it, people had clucked at her excess. Lauren, however, didn’t give a rat’s backside what they thought. She knew the adage was true: money couldn’t buy happiness. It could, however, buy some very awesome toys.
Years ago, she’d promised herself that if her band, The Kingmakers, ever made it big, she was buying herself a big house with a view of the ocean. And Lauren Stone kept her promises.
She was sitting in the spacious, airy sunroom, where an over‐stuffed sofa and several chairs formed a rough semi-circle around a long coffee table and faced the bank of windows—and the arched glass doors—that led out to the pool. Exposed, dark mahogany beams ran the length of the stucco ceiling. Two ceiling fans provided a soothing breeze. Aside from the ocean view, this room was one of the things that had sold her on this house.
She got out of the plush chair and leaned in the arched doorway that opened to her patio and pool. Taking a deep drink of beer, she contemplated the expanse of sand beyond the fence, stretching from the edge of her backyard to the cerulean water. She liked how the color changed depending on the day and the weather.
At the sound of footsteps, she looked back into the room. “Hey, Augie!”
“Hey!” Her cousin’s dimples deepened when he smiled. Lauren grew up with three sisters, and Augustus “Augie” Stone was the brother she never had. A year younger than her, he was The Kingmakers’ drummer.
“Connie let you in?” She’d let her housekeeper know she was expecting company.
“Yeah. Said you’d be out here.” Augie leaned his athletic, six-foot frame on the other side of the curved doorway.
Putting her beer bottle down, Lauren pulled her hair back and tugged the scrunchie off her wrist to capture it all in a messy ponytail. It would have been the same dark brown as Augie’s if she didn’t get it highlighted regularly, but they both shared a soft natural wave that ran in the Stone family. For Lauren that meant minimal time trying to curl it—for Augie it just meant some unruly cowlicks.
“C’mon. Too nice to be inside,” she said. “Let’s sit by the pool. There’s more beer in the cooler. I’ve got that new Elk Stone Amber I was telling you about.”
“Lead on, my captain!”
Sheltered by a large red umbrella, the teak table was surrounded by four chairs. A few feet away, two padded lounge chairs waited. Augie flopped down on one, Lauren in the other.
As soon as she got comfortable, her phone buzzed. She glanced at it and started to laugh.
“Just DJ being DJ.” Lauren snickered again.
“What is it, fifty-two poop emojis in a row?”
“Close. He threw in a few eggplants for good measure.” She tucked the phone into a shady spot under her chair, and they fell into an amiable silence. Lauren took a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to let her anxiety exit with it.
“DJ’s worried about you, you know.”
“I’ve been through breakups before.” Lauren forced her voice to be light. She had been through breakups over the years, more than she cared to admit. And there were times she wondered if she was capable of a long-term relationship with anyone. Rob had been fun, but the charm hadn’t lasted. Her ex, however, hadn’t taken the breakup well.
“Well, if you want to—”
“—Talk? I don’t.” She took another drink of beer. “Needy, manipulative little bastard.” She thought about the salvo of nasty tweets Rob had flung at her like a monkey throwing its own excrement. It wasn’t like she’d expected him to be happy about being shown the door, but the juvenile level of his response had been astonishing.
“I thought you didn’t want to talk about it.”
“I don’t want to talk about him. I do want to talk about the new album.”
“The last one was good, not great. This one needs to be a home run.” Worry painted her voice and she hated it. She drummed her fingers on the armrest. “I’m not ready to fade into the sunset.”
“We’re not fading into anything,” Augie said. “Seriously, dude. You need to stop listening to the critics’ podcasts.”
Lauren chewed her lip. Augie wasn’t entirely wrong. The band had taken a well-earned break after the last tour, but it was time to get back to work. Restless, she got up and walked to the fence surrounding the pool. Leaning on it, she stared out toward the Pacific. Wispy clouds streaked the sky, slashes of rose and gold in the setting sun.
A squeak told her Augie had gotten out of his chair. He leaned on the rail next to her and gave her a gentle hip bump.
She shrugged. “Nothing.”
“Liar, liar, pants on fire.” He flashed her a grin, dimples appearing in his cheeks again.
“You’re a child,” she said with an affectionate laugh.
“Like that surprises you? But seriously, c’mon. You’ve got that pensive look. What gives?”
She tried to equivocate. “Usual brooding creative-type personality issues.”
The noise—not quite a snort, but not a coughed “bullshit” either —that her cousin made told her he didn’t believe her. But he didn’t ask any more questions. They stood in silence, admiring the sun as it sank towards the horizon.
“I haven’t gotten as much writing done as I wanted,” Lauren said, tired of the quiet. She hoped that would satisfy Augie and he wouldn’t press for more. Truth be told, she was struggling with her songwriting, and the last thing she wanted to do was ‘fess up to that. “So? You’ll hit your stride. Don’t get hung up on it.”
“I guess.” She watched a bird soar and bank in the sky. It was too far away to tell what kind it was, but she admired its freewheeling flight.
“You know I’m right. And getting the chance to work with Fitz is going to be epic,” Augie said.
“I know! I’ve wanted him to produce one of our albums for a long time.” The mention of Fitz perked her up. Fitz McCallum was one of the most sought-after producers in the industry, and the band had jumped at the opportunity to work with him. He had a reputation for turning everything he worked on into gold—even better, platinum.
“I’m glad we’re going to New York for this,” Augie said. “Haven’t seen the seasons change in a long time.”
Lauren cocked an eyebrow. “Fifty bucks say the first chilly day, you’ll turn into a whiny little—”
“Don’t hate me because I’m sensitive.” Augie started to laugh. Lauren joined him, but the laugh faded to a sigh.
“You sure that’s all that’s bugging you?” he asked.
“Nothing’s bugging me.” Lauren shifted her weight away as if that would let her avoid the question. She put her hand up to shield her eyes from the sun—and so she didn’t have to make eye contact with Augie. Her thoughts churned. What if I’ve got no songs? What if the trades are right? What if I’ve lost my mojo? She felt the worry tighten around her chest, making it hard to take a breath.
She changed the subject; the last thing she wanted to do was keep talking about her writing.
“I’m not telling my mom I’m coming back to New York until I’m getting on the plane,” she said. She and Augie had grown up in the Bay Ridge area of Brooklyn.
Augie turned toward her, a sly smile on his face. “And you want me to not call my mom.”
“If you do, your mom will call my mom and all hell will break loose if she hears through the grapevine that I’m back.” Lauren watched her cousin weigh his options.
“What’s in it for me?”
“You blackmailing me?”
“That’s an ugly word, but call it what you want, sistah.” Augie leaned one elbow on the fence and watched her with a self-satisfied smile. Lauren considered giving him a kick in the shin, the same way she had when they were six.
“I’ll owe you—big time. I love my family…” She left the rest of her thought unfinished.
“No quality time with Jackie?”
Lauren gave Augie another look. Jackie was her older sister, and they were about as different as two siblings could be—more fire and gasoline than oil and water. Her younger sisters, Carolyn and Stephanie, were a different story. They adored Lauren and Lauren adored them back.
“I love Jackie, but she makes me mental,” Lauren said. “I want our plans set, and I want to have a place to stay before they know I’m coming.”
“Deal,” Augie said. “When we’re home, I might look a few people up. Indulge in some good, old-fashioned reminiscing about our misspent youth.”
“You’re still in the middle of living your misspent youth. Couple of years it’s going to be your misspent middle age.”
“You first.” Augie never skipped an opportunity to remind Lauren that she was a year older than he was.
Out on the beach, people were wrapping up for the day, a stream of humanity leaving the white-gold sand for the asphalt and concrete of LA. A young man in bright red trunks, maybe twenty years old, walked toward the distant parking lot giving his girlfriend a piggyback ride. The wistful longing that bubbled up in Lauren’s heart caught her off-guard, bringing her back to a time when she was the one getting the piggyback.
Her heart stuttered.
She’d never been able to stop thinking about Danny Padovano, her ex from high school. She’d struggled with their breakup for years as she tried every conceivable trick to get over him, including a cocaine addiction that nearly ruined her. Finally, Lauren buried her broken heart so deep that it was easy for her to pretend those feelings didn’t exist. She’d had other lovers over the years, but none of them had ever made her forget Danny.
He was the one person who loved her for who she really was, not what she was.
Unlike Rob and all the other exes.
She could feel Augie staring at her.
“Maybe I’ll look Danny up while we’re home.”
“Pandora’s Box,” he said.
“It would be fine.” Lauren set her jaw, refusing to meet his eyes or acknowledge the warning in his voice. She didn’t want to argue, and she was well aware her cousin had never completely forgiven her ex for breaking her heart all those years ago.
They turned their attention to other topics related to the band’s temporary relocation to the East Coast to record. Augie said he’d spoken to Fitz briefly, and the producer would be waiting for Lauren to call him.
After about twenty minutes, Augie glanced at his watch. “I gotta bolt. You’ll call Fitz to confirm details?”
“I will,” she said. “Catch you later.”
He sauntered away, and Lauren went back to watching the final moments of the sun’s descent until it vanished, leaving the sky a blue-violet with the barest hint of maroon on the horizon. But the gorgeous color couldn’t keep her thoughts from straying to her writing difficulties and then to what Augie had said about looking up old friends. He’d stayed in touch with a few people over the years, but she hadn’t. Not really. She’d had plenty of friends growing up, but none of them shared her passion for music—her obsession, as they called it. And once The Kingmakers took off—well, Lauren didn’t have that much in common with them anymore.
After nearly twenty years, Danny was the only person she was interested in seeing. The tangled prick of anger and longing in her heart annoyed her. Their breakup had been devastating. And although it had been years since she’d seen him, she thought of him often. More often than she probably should. Her sisters occasionally shared news about what he was up to. When Carolyn told her several years ago that Danny had gotten married, Lauren pretended it didn’t bother her.
But it did.
She chewed her bottom lip and wondered if going back to New York might be a mistake.
Excerpt from Stone Heart by Susan K. Hamilton.
Copyright © 2022 by Susan K. Hamilton.
Published by arrangement. All rights reserved.
Horse-crazy since she was a little girl, she pretty much adores every furry creature on the planet (except spiders). She also loves comfy jeans, pizza, and great stand-up comedy, and wishes she had even an iota of musical talent because—deep down—she really wants to be a singer. Susan lives near Boston with her husband and spends her spare time with a lovely bay mare, affectionately known as “La Diosa.”