Gabe Page 1

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Chapter one

SASHA

Two months earlier…

"Five minutes, Sasha."

The words from the set director race through me, leaving a string of nerves that feel like live wires. I roll my head and turn back to the mirror, scrutinizing every aspect of my appearance. A costume would have felt over the top, so instead I chose to wear a black cocktail dress with a flirty hem and delicate cap sleeves. My makeup is minimal and I've pulled my ultra-curly black hair up into an elegant knot on the top of my head. My skin glows despite the harsh lighting backstage.

Everything I've done the past year has led me to this moment. Networking, auditioning and finally being chosen to appear on the show SuperNova, a televised competition to win a recording contract, has been the culmination of a lifelong dream. I have worked so hard and sacrificed so much.

My hand shakes as I reapply my lip gloss. Chaz's earlier words run through my mind.

All you care about is this stupid competition.

Do you seriously think you have a chance?

You're not good enough.

You're nobody.

I shake my head to dispel the negative thoughts and rub my thumb below my lip to catch a stray bit of color. Then I leave the dressing area and walk to the left-side stage entrance. It's true that I've sacrificed a lot for this, including time with family and friends, but I'm ashamed to realize how little my boyfriend actually thought of my dreams. How little he believed in me. All the time I'd spent with him trying to make up for the long hours rehearsing and the Saturday nights when I couldn't go out because I was performing, would have been better spent with my parents or my sisters.

I take a deep breath and place a shaky hand against my lower belly. The muscles clench beneath my fingers and I suck in another breath as I listen to the roar of the crowd. Despite the sudden attack of nerves, competing on a major show like SuperNova is everything I’ve ever dreamed of. I’ve been performing in clubs and coffeehouses for years all with the same goal: to end up having a chance like the one I have right now. I won’t let personal issues derail the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me.

“Miss Whitman, you’re up next.”

A harried backstage attendant hands me a microphone and then hustles away before I can respond. Another contestant smiles at me before peeking around the curtain. The man with her strokes her cheek and she buries her face against his shoulder. My eyes burn watching the loving embrace. Chaz was supposed to be here with me, supporting me, but now I’m alone with his last words to me ringing in my head.

You're nobody.

I shake off the negative thoughts when I hear my name being called. Head held high, I step out from behind the curtain.

*   *   *   *   *

Present Day

“Being a godmother is awesome.”

I hold out my arms and my best friend's one-year-old daughter, Hope, crawls obligingly into my lap. She’s the mirror image of Kaylee, especially her big, dark eyes. Holding her always gives me a sharp stab of envy. I’ve always loved kids and wanted a big family.

Unfortunately I’d need to be able to pick out a half-decent guy in order to make that happen.

Kay's future in-laws brought their kids and they're all running around the backyard of her new house. By the sound of their happy shrieks and squeals, they’re having a ball. Hope looks over my shoulder at a particularly loud scream right near the window of the living room where we're sitting.

“You’ll be running around with the big kids before long too, sweetie.” I snuggle my face into her soft, dark curls and inhale that perfect baby smell. Until I can get my own personal life sorted, I’ll indulge my need for snuggles with Hope.

Kay bites the top of a package of cookies, trying to pull it open with her teeth. “Thank you for bringing me cookies. You are the best godmother ever. And the best friend ever.”

At her words, I reach over and squeeze her hand. I’ve been right there by Kay’s side ever since she got pregnant by the douchebag ex-boyfriend who promptly ditched her, so I know how hard things were for her in the beginning. Her parents are just as conservative as mine so she was hit with a double whammy of parental guilt and the shame of being an unwed mother who suddenly couldn’t show her face in church.

I wanted nothing more than to track that guy down and rearrange a few body parts but Kay is such a softie. She doesn’t like violence or harsh words. What she needed most from me was support. So I had to put my homicidal urges on hold so I could be there while she dealt with being pregnant and suddenly having a child to support. Luckily it wasn’t too long before she met her fiancé. Kay is a singer just like I am, except she’s got the kind of voice that sends chills up and down your spine. A local producer took her under his wing and she ended up falling in love with his older brother.

As if on cue, Elliott Alexander sticks his head into the room. He's a gruff, no-nonsense kind of guy with big muscular arms and a permanently brooding expression. In other words, the last person I would have expected my sweet friend to end up with. But there's no denying the way he feels about her. His dark eyes immediately laser in on Kay.

“Are you okay, baby?”

Kay grins up at him. “I'm fine. And you’re supposed to be meeting Nick today, aren’t you?”

He walks into the room, his eyes running over her. The heated looks between these two make me want to open another window. If we weren’t such good friends, I would be completely sick with envy every time I looked at Kay. She has everything I’ve ever wanted. A recording contract, a man who looks at her like she’s his oxygen and a sweet little girl.

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