His eyes were rimmed red when they met mine. "I die inside every time he touches you, and there's nothing I can do about it. You've made it clear that you're going to go on with this sham of a marriage, no matter who it hurts in the process. You lie to everyone, Jordi, including the people you're supposed to love the most. And I just can't take it anymore. This is not the way I want to live my life." "I thought I was worth it," I mumbled. "You have no idea what you're worth," he said softly. "That's the problem." In book #2 of the Fierce saga, Jordi Hemphill has joined her true love Jace Riga on cross-country tour with Giovanni Carnevale and Dreaming in Blue. The star-crossed lovers anticipate the freedom to explore their burgeoning relationship, despite the continued complications of her ties to her tormentor Eddie Nix and Jace's new standing as a rock icon. Nothing is as it seems, which make the pair fodder for the rumor mill. Forces from all directions threaten to tear them apart, but it is Jordi's own insecurities that drive a wedge between the aspiring diva and her hero. Author Ginger Voight further delves into the key issues that keep Jordi from defeating her demons once and for all. This sweeping saga unearths revelations that will rock Jordi's world forever... and set her on the path to the path to her story's epic conclusion.
The next ten days followed the same annoying pattern. Eddie decided he liked being a part of the tour and joined us at the next stop in Chicago, so I ended up traveling with him, staying with him and even sightseeing with him, to ensure that PING wouldn’t have any more ammunition against his character. He insisted that Jace, Shelby, he and I all hang out together, which Shelby thought was a fine idea. So we ended up a fearsome foursome, which felt most days like juggling wet dynamite.
Jace and I ended up sublime actors in a macabre play, which meant we could be together but not. It was torture, though Eddie and Shelby were blissfully unaware.
Most of all, Eddie enjoyed the party life that came with touring. He managed to get whatever he wanted, even discarded groupies who wanted one night with someone – anyone – famous. This helped me keep him at arm’s length, but he was getting even more and more brazen with me as well. Of course, most of it was to piss off Jace, rubbing it in his face that he couldn’t be with me. But it also played into Eddie’s plan to get Shelby. He wanted to show her how romantic, loving and passionate he could be with me, to plant it in her head that he was a romantic, loving and passionate guy. When the day came, he would cry on her shoulder over my betrayal with Jace, and she would realize what a great catch he was, giving herself over to him before his tears dried on her shirt.
That was his plan anyway, and he wasn’t shy about telling me about it.
After that night I stayed with her in Tennessee, he started making lewd comments about how he could have the best of both worlds if I decided to play on both teams.
“We’re celebrities now,” he’d leer. “We’re expected to do freaky shit.” He’d then go into explicit detail how we’d make that Eddie sandwich, pushing the envelope farther and farther each time he broached the topic. I wasn’t sure what got him off more, the fact that it was a top male fantasy of sex with two girls, or that it disturbed me so greatly to hear him talk about it.
It was humiliating and infuriating, but it was a burden I ultimately carried alone. I didn’t tell Jace half of what Eddie said, there was no point. He’d argue we should call his bluff, but I would balk and it would frustrate Jace even more.
So I did what I always did. I protected everyone else at great personal cost.
After staying with Shelby in Tennessee, and watching how her father treated her and how she reacted to it, I knew that Shelby’s troubles ran deep. I pieced it together that she was a binge eater when she was upset, just like I was. Only whenever she would binge, she would either go into exercise overdrive or – since the tour at least – purge. With her emotional history of cutting and being hospitalized, it became my first priority to be a buffer between her and anyone who could hurt her. Given that Eddie became one of Coy Goddard’s favorite people during our stay, that meant I had to do whatever I could to keep her away from Eddie. I found myself pushing her toward Jace on more than one occasion, while throwing myself on an Eddie grenade so she wouldn’t step any closer into his trap.
This meant she and Jace were thrust together as the “sweethearts” of the tour. It became the focus of every interview as the gossip propelled us from city to city. Their photos were scattered all over the Internet and every single grocery store checkout. They were on billboards from coast to coast, thanks to T&L, so they were now being asked to do mall appearances.
So far, none had gone as badly as the one in Dallas, but the “scandal” that T&L didn’t sell clothes for plus-size customers dogged the campaign. How could they come from a show that said everyone was welcome, everyone fit in, and endorse a product that was purposely exclusive?
Jace was ready to bail on the campaign but I begged him to hang in there, for Shelby’s sake. She had been shortchanged in her career by her domineering father – this was one of the few perks she was able to enjoy. I reminded him that it was a manufactured controversy that would have followed them no matter which designer line they opted to endorse, so they might as well ride the wave and get their names out there.
It wasn’t until we landed in Philadelphia that February 29th that I realized the extent of the controversy. PING cameras were thrust into my face the minute I disembarked, as the gossip peddlers that disguised themselves as legitimate press pounced Eddie and me.
“What do you have to say in response to the T&L CEO saying he doesn’t want to sell his clothes to fat people?”
“Jordi! Feeling betrayed by your cast mates that they endorse a clothing line that hates anyone who isn’t thin?”
I held up my hand to push through the horde, and Eddie barked at them to get a real job as he propelled me through the crowded airport to the hired limo out front.
By that time, I turned on my cell phone and found a text from Jace. “I’m quitting. That’s it. Don’t even try to talk me out of it.”
I used my phone to find the quote by T&L’s CEO, Phillip Larabee, that was causing such a brouhaha. Someone had unearthed a memo he had written to the shareholders in response to a 2002 campaign to expand their sizing selections.
“I am aware that the average size of the American female has grown into the double digits,” he wrote. “But I have never been interested in attracting the average American shopper. There is no shame in attracting a more elite clientele; this is, in fact, a defining characteristic of the T&L branding. Our exclusivity is what attracts today’s youth to T&L. They want to be successful in all areas, demonstrated in the pride they have in their own image. That’s the example we set with our hiring standards, and that is the standard we’ve created with the public. If we let just anyone come to the party, we’re going to undermine our own value. We are a brand that doesn’t have to change to attract the buyer – it attracts the buyer that knows she needs to change. People aspire to wear T&L. Period.”
I sighed. Why did he have to be such an asshole about it? I had no problem with his marketing to smaller shoppers, but does he have to make such a point about how the larger customers are big fat losers who would sully his brand?
I didn’t care that Eddie was sitting right next to me. I called Jace anyway. He didn’t even give me a chance to say hello. “I’m quitting, Jordi. That’s final.”
“Think of Shelby,” I tried to reason, but he was ready for me.
“She supports me in this. It’s not worth it to us to do this if it’s going to hurt you in the process.”
“But it doesn’t hurt me,” I insisted. “If I cared about wearing T&L clothes, I’d lose weight and fit into them. Honestly it’s overpriced for a bunch of T-shirts and jeans anyway. Besides, Andy found me a clothing boutique that is practically begging me to model. It’s all good. I promise.”
He hesitated for so long I thought he had hung up on me to call T&L, but finally he said, “Okay. But one more scandal with this thing, Jordi, and I’m quitting. Period. Got it?”
“You won’t hear a peep from me,” I agreed with a grin, but I’m pretty sure we both knew that wasn’t true. “I love you,” I said.
“Ditto,” he responded, and I knew then he was with Shelby. It was what I wanted, yet it scared me at the same time. I was quiet as I ended the call and pocketed my phone.
“Modeling, Jordi? Really?”
I glared at Eddie. “Yes. Believe it or not, there are plenty of people who find me attractive.”
“You honestly think I would have slept with you for years if I didn’t find you attractive?” he asked as he reached into the tiny refrigerator for a drink. It was such an unexpected compliment that it struck me mute as I stared at him. After a few minutes, his eyes met mine. “What?”
I shrugged. “That was the nicest thing I think you’ve ever said to me.”
He laughed. “You honestly think that you were the only girl I could have slept with? There were plenty of girls I could have fucked if I wanted to. So if I fucked you, it was because I wanted to.”
“Why?” I asked at last.
He was quiet as he considered me for a moment. Finally he shrugged. “There’s something about you, Jordi. Something that makes a guy want to figure you out.”
This was all news to me. “If you think I’m attractive, why are you so mean to me?”
“I’m just frustrated, I guess. If you were thin, Jordi, you’d take over the world. My God. Can you imagine? You with that voice with a body like Shelby? There would be no limit to what you could do. But you stay fat like this big ol’ ‘fuck you’ to everyone and everything. How else is the world supposed to respond to you?”
“It’s better this way,” I mumbled as I stared out the window.
He shrugged and emptied the bottle of beer in one swig. “Your funeral,” he responded. “But let me tell you, Shelby has the same exact quality you do. Eventually, everyone is going to see that she at least wants to make the effort.”
I wanted to snap that she had an eating disorder. Just like the lyrics of the song I gave to her said, she wanted to be perfect no matter the cost. The only difference was that no one could tell at first glance what was wrong with her the way they could with me. In effect, we were exactly the same.
“You’re an idiot to shove her at Jace all the time,” Eddie continued. “He’s only a man. He won’t be able to deny her forever.”
“You shouldn’t judge all men by what you would do,” I smiled sweetly, which made him laugh.
“All men do what I would do, Jordi. How many times do I have to tell you that? Or is it going to take walking in on Jace and Shelby to prove it once and for all?”
Just the thought of them together made my blood run cold. “He would never do that. To her or to me.”
Eddie just shook his head and chuckled. “How can you still be so naïve?”
“I trust the man I love,” I corrected.
“That’s what I said,” he murmured as he watched our hotel come into view. “Naïve.”
As if to make his point, Eddie insisted we invite Shelby and Jace for a double date that night. He picked a popular restaurant that offered live music and dancing, and featured private booths for a more intimate dining experience. We all sat around a chairless table, sorting through a dozen tapas dishes that we could feed ourselves, or each other, with our fingers.
With the exotic instrumental music that pulsated like a heartbeat, it was a restaurant that appealed to all senses.
Eddie sat close to me, feeding me tiny bites in between increasingly insistent kisses. He would lick away any sauce around my lips, and my innards tightened every time I saw Jace clench his jaw and look away.
“Follow my lead, Chief,” Eddie encouraged, before he tried to feed Shelby a bite.
Jace couldn’t stop him from touching me, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to let Eddie make any advances to Shelby right in front of me. He grabbed the piece of food from Eddie’s hand. “I got it,” he snapped, then added, “Chief,” with a sneer.
Shelby’s eyes were wide as she watched Jace feed her. I couldn’t even watch as her lips closed around the tiny piece of toast covered in olives and cheese.
“That’a boy,” Eddie smiled as he hugged me closer. “One thing I learned on the football field. You gotta act fast when you really want something,” he advised as he regarded Jace with those lazily hooded eyes. “Otherwise someone else is going to be the one that scores.” He tugged my hair back in one hand. “Right, baby?”
I said nothing, even as he fed me another bite which he finished off with another kiss.
I hated every second he touched me, mostly because I knew what it was doing to Jace. I begged him with my eyes to grit through it, but by the end of the night – and a bottle of shared wine – he was over it. He pulled me to the dance floor, his fingers hard and unforgiving as they circled my elbow. “I swear to God I’m going to punch his arrogant face in,” Jace bit out as he crushed me to his body.
“He’s just doing it to get to you,” I said. “Don’t play into his game. You’re way too smart for that.”
“If I were so smart, I’d figure out a way to punt that sonofabitch to the moon. This is ridiculous, Jordi.”
“I know,” I said as I glanced back to the table, where Eddie was cozying up to Shelby and making her laugh. “But it’ll be over soon.”
“How soon?” he demanded softly. “Hopefully before I can fall asleep without seeing you in his arms, his hands on your body, his mouth on you.” He glared at me. “Oh wait. Too late.”
“I hate it, too,” I spat. “You think it’s easy to see you and Shelby together? You think I don’t see you touching her or kissing her?”
“I would never do that,” he asserted.
“I know,” I said softly, before hearing Eddie whisper “Naïve,” in my ear.
He gestured over to Eddie, who had persuaded Shelby to join him on the dance floor. “Not all of us are like that,” he assured.
I watched Eddie pull Shelby to his body, his hands along her back, then sliding down to light over her ass accidentally-on-purpose. That was all it took. Jace stomped over to where they swayed to the music, with me running to catch up.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Jace demanded.
Eddie merely grinned. “Hold up, Chief. No need to get territorial. I was just keeping Shelby company while you were dancing with my wife.”
“If you cared about your ‘wife,’ you wouldn’t be putting your hands on another woman’s body,” Jace corrected in a low voice.
“It’s OK,” Shelby tried to interject. “It was an accident, Jace. Really.”
Jace glared at Eddie, who would not back down from the steely gaze. Instead he got just close enough to take my hand from Jace’s and pull me to where he stood. “Where have you been putting your hands, Hero?” Eddie asked, almost defying him to come clean.
“Where they are wanted,” Jace answered.
Shelby stared between the two men, feeling the same urge to step in between and diffuse the situation as I did. “Jace,” she said as she took his hand. “Let’s get back to the hotel. We have an early day tomorrow.”
Jace continued to glare at Eddie. At the last second he turned to me, and I gave him an imperceptible nod. He finally turned on his heel to leave with Shelby.
Eddie was chuckling all the way out to our own rented car. After the door slammed shut between us and the outside world, I turned on him. “What?”
He wore a victorious smile. “You don’t even realize what just happened back there, do you?” I crossed my arms in front of my chest and waited. “You’ve been traded in. Jace wants Shelby now.”
“How could you possibly know that?”
He leaned closer. “I touch you, kiss you, stake my claim with you and he does absolutely nothing. I barely brush my hand on Shelby’s ass and he’s ready to tear my arms off. That is a dog who has found another bone.”
“You know why he can’t do anything when you touch me.”
He shrugged as he leaned back against the seat. “I don’t see him complaining. There could be several reasons for that. One, he’s not man enough to stake his claim. Two, he’s afraid of that sex tape leaking just as much as you are or three… he gets the best of both worlds. You’ll screw him behind closed doors and shove a beautiful, sexy girl at him in public.”
“Or he could just love me and be honoring my choices.”
“Yeah, right,” Eddie dismissed as he grabbed a drink from the refrigerator.
“Why are you here?” I demanded softly.
He grabbed my chin in his hand. “Because you’re here, my sweet.” He leaned forward and planted another kiss on my lips, but I thrust him away. He slid off the bench seat into the floorboard.
“I love this feisty streak you have going,” he said as he climbed back up beside me. “It’s going to make the next time we fuck much more fun.”
It had become a familiar refrain from Eddie, tormenting me with some unavoidable reality that I would succumb once again to his seduction, though I had never done anything to encourage a belief whatsoever.
“There won’t be a next time,” I informed him yet again.
“Oh yeah?” he said softly as his hand wound into my hair. “Even after you catch your big hero in bed fucking your best friend? Where are you going to go for comfort, then?”
I glared into those cold, blue eyes. “I’d rather walk off a bridge.”
He shrugged again. “We’ll see.” He handed me the beer bottle, but I turned away to stare out the window.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Ginger Voight is prolific author, freelance writer and optioned screenwriter. Her fiction is diverse, with novels like the edgy, coming-of-age drama DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS, and the fun family adventure for kids of all ages, COMIC SQUAD. Having grown up reading different authors like Danielle Steel and Stephen King, Ginger has always been drawn more to story than to genre. This shows up in her various stories. Titles such as MY IMMORTAL and TASTE OF BLOOD are a delicious, heady mix of horror, suspense, and romance. Genre romance, however, has held a special place in her heart, ever since she read her first Harlequin novel when she was only eleven. As a result, Ginger is making a name for herself writing romances of her own, starring women who look more like the average American woman rather than those traditionally represented in the size-biased American media. Her Rubenesque romances were created especially for those heroines with fuller figures, who can still get the man of their dreams if only they believe they can. Such titles include UNDER TEXAS SKIES, LOVE PLUS ONE, GROUPIE and PICTURE POSTCARDS. Ginger was included in the best-selling book by Smith Magazine NOT QUITE WHAT I WAS PLANNING, featuring her six-word memoir.