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Kasey Phillips thinks her biggest problem is deciding whether to photograph Cody Tuggle’s honky-tonkin’ tour, until an accident on Route 58 claims the life of her husband.
In a desperate race against time as a hurricane threatens the eastern seaboard, they search for her three-year-old son who is missing from the wreckage.
A community and friends rally to help, but someone knows more than they are telling.
Don't miss Pecan Pie and Deadly Lies, Cody Tuggle's story and the next in this series!
Kasey Phillips snapped off three more pictures of the country singer straddling seven hundred pounds of sleek American-made motorcycle. Cody Tuggle looked more rugged than the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains that swelled in the background.
At her command, Tuggle leaned forward across the wide chrome handlebars. Even with the bandanna tied around his head like a do-rag, a look she’d never found appealing, there was no denying this guy was sizzling hot and all man.
Kasey’s eyes narrowed as she leaned to get a unique angle. The estate was the perfect setting for this magazine shoot. It belonged to Cody’s agent, Arty Max. From the looks of the place, Tuggle’s fame had paid off big for everyone.
Band members and roadies lined the perimeter, but she stayed focused on her subject. Curious onlookers were one of the biggest obstacles at an outdoor shoot, but it was easy to tune them out when the subject was someone with such star quality.
Working with the light and shadows, she repositioned to find the right interplay to intensify the image. The camera clicked at a fast clip, and then not at all, as she considered the next best opportunity.
Click. Click. Click-click-click.
“I thought this was supposed to be hard work,” Cody said, pulling her out of her zone. “Those bikini models are always complaining about it on TV.” Laughter laced his voice. “Y’know, that fanny duster job, dusting the sand off those cuties’ hind ends. Now that looks like a right sweet gig. Got any connections?”
Kasey lowered her camera. “You mean, in case the singing thing doesn’t work out for you?” She gave him a scolding look. As the mom of a three-year old, she’d pretty much perfected it. “If you keep talking I’ll catch you with your mouth wide open, and you’ll look dopey. Shhhsh.”
“That must be why I always look drunk in those tabloids.” Cody flashed a devilish smile. “Anybody ever tell you, you’re kinda bossy?”
“I got both of those shots,” she warned. “Those weekly gossip rags pay big bucks for celeb uglies. The uglier they are, the more they pay. They’d pay top dollar for those last two pictures.”
“You’re right.” She raised her hand in front of her like a traffic cop. “Stay still. Yeah. Right there.” A perfect shot. The candy-apple red Harley was only feet away from the black fence that surrounded the estate. Light swept through a stand of birch trees in the distance, their thin white-barked trunks made the colors appear more vibrant and crisp. The forest displayed a myriad of green shades now. Those leaves would boast orange, yellow, reds and purples in the fall as the chlorophyll faded and autumn arrived—an awesome display to capture on film.
Cody spoke to someone just behind her.
She shot him the look.
“What? It’s hard to sit still this long and not say a word.” Cody rewarded her with a natural smile. She took advantage of it, snapping the image.
Kasey enjoyed the gentle sparring. “What’s the problem? You got ants in your pants? You said this modeling stuff was so easy, but all I’ve heard for the past thirty minutes is a bunch of girly complaining.”
“Hey now, be nice. Girly? Me? You’re gonna hurt my feelin’s.”
The roadies and band members nudged one another.
“Somehow I doubt that.” Kasey watched the star’s smile fade into an exaggerated pout. He might be used to women falling at his feet, but she wasn’t one of his groupies. “Did I bruise your frail ego?” What a ham. “Maybe it’s that silly rag on your head makin’ you all girly.”
She couldn’t help herself. The man in front of her was huge, at least six foot four, with shoulders so broad the wide-set handlebars on the motorcycle didn’t look nearly as impressive. This guy could wear a pink tutu and look masculine.
The band members and roadies seemed to enjoy the banter, but she wasn’t sure whom they were rooting for—Cody or her.
Cody sat up straight on the bike, his smile gone. He pulled the bandanna off and ran his fingers through his flattened mass of blonde hair.
She took in a quick breath. Maybe that last comment had crossed a line. She knew the do-rag was symbolic to the band, but then if her jab got him to quit mugging around, it would be worth it. She’d get the best shots of the day.
His hair bounced back into its usual tangle of waves, softening his chiseled look. He stuffed the slip of fabric into his back pocket with a half grin, maybe just short of a smirk.
Kasey clicked like mad. “Now we’re talking.”
Cody tugged open the snaps of his western shirt.
She switched cameras and gave him a nod of encouragement. Tuggle’s PR guys had left last night. She called the shots now. Just the way she liked it. This was all Cody.
His tan accentuated his chest. Flawless. He didn’t have a soft, white-collar body. This was the body of a guy who enjoyed getting physical.
“Looking right manly now, Mr. Tuggle.” Her heart and soul belonged to Nick, but staring at Cody Tuggle for hours at a time was no punishment.
“Mr. Tuggle? Why is it the less I’m wearin’ the more business you get?” He stepped off the motorcycle in one easy movement and took a step in her direction.
“Quit it, you big flirt.” She took another picture. “I’m married.” She wiggled her ring finger in his direction.
Kasey glanced at her watch. It was almost nine. “Let’s take five.” She walked to a table nearby, pulled her phone from her hip and dialed home. Every day on the road, at nine o’clock sharp each morning, there was nothing more important than checking in with Nick and Jake. She loved her work, but they were the light of each day, and three days in a row of not being with them was torture.
With her back to Cody and the others, she talked to Nick. He caught her up on their plan for the day. She checked her watch again, then forced herself to wrap up the call. “Love, love, love you boys.”
“I love you ten and five, Mom.” Jake’s tiny voice made her heart bubble. Ten and five was the biggest number in the world to him.
“Love you, babe. See you at the other end of the day,” Nick said and hung up.
A familiar surge of happiness consumed her. She couldn’t wait to be home with them. She and Nick had wed just a few months after they’d met. It was a marriage made in heaven, and Jake was the icing on the wedding cake. That little angel was the best thing she’d ever done in her life.
She snapped her phone shut and headed back to the shoot. “Let’s go, guys.”
Tuggle turned his attention back to her. “Call home to check in with Mr. Phillips?”
“Not exactly. Phillips is my maiden name.” She switched to her digital camera for the final run. “But yes. I was checking in at home.”
“That dude’s one lucky guy.”
Cody leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Two? I bet number one doesn’t think much of that.”
“Funny.” She wrinkled her nose. “Husband and son.”
“You had me worried there for a minute.”
She lowered the camera. “Nick and Jake. Jake’s three, and the most adorable child. Not that I’m biased.”
“Got his momma’s good looks, did he?” Cody smiled a perfect smile, the kind he wasn’t good at performing on demand. “You know I’m just playing around, right?”
Kasey captured one last shot, ignoring the remark. “You’re done.” She lifted the camera strap over her head and wiped her palms on her jeans. “I’ve got what I need.”
“I was just getting into it.” He struck an Egyptian pose. Everyone howled and cheered.