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07 November 2004 @ 13:16
How Stormer Got Her Groove Back 3/3 PG-13  
How Stormer Got Her Groove Back
by LJC

Part III

"You're in a good mood," Rapture observed as Riot came waltzing into the studio at Stinger Sound Monday morning whistling a jaunty tune. She was leaning against the arm of a couch, absently picking out a tune on her guitar while Minx worked on her synthesiser, the sickly-sweet smell of solder hanging in the air around her.

"I am in a marvellous mood."

"Where were you Friday night?" Minx asked, stepped out from behind her synthesiser, setting the soldering iron on the lip of her toolbox to cool. "I called you, and got your service. There was a fabulous band playing at Le Club Kool. They had a snake."

Riot flung himself down on the sofa, putting his feet up on a glass coffee table. "I was out—being led on a merry chase."

"Jem again?" Rapture asked, sounding bored.

"No, actually." Riot glanced down at the table and picked up the latest issue of Cool Trash magazine, which featured a colour photo of the Misfits in one corner. "I am content to leave her to the tender ministrations of Rio Pacheco for the time being. She'll come to her senses eventually."

"Sounds like you've picked a new target," Minx observed, a wicked gleam in her eye.

He flipped to the article, and frowned when it appeared to be nothing more than a tabulation of the damage Roxy and Pizzazz had done to a hotel suite on their last Vegas tour. No mention of Stormer at all. "Something like that."

"Anyone we know?" Rapture asked, peering over his shoulder, and he quickly flipped past the article to the celebrity horoscopes.

"Is she rich?"

"Is she famous?"

"Is she rich and famous?" Rapture quirked a brow. "Or a beautiful but penniless urchin?"

"You haven't had one of them in a while," Minx pointed out shrewdly.

"The last one was in Munich."

"I miss Munich," Minx said wistfully, and Rapture frowned.

"I don't miss Munich. You couldn't get a decent vegetarian anything in Munich."

Minx pulled the magazine from his fingers, irked that he wasn't paying attention to them. "Tell us, Riot. We're dying to know."

"Yes—tell us," Rapture purred.

"All in due time, my dears. All in due time." Riot patted each of them on their blonde heads fondly. "Go ahead and start without me. I won't be long."

Rapture shrugged, and picked up her guitar again.

Riot smiled to himself. It was true—he hadn't had a single dalliance since he'd moved back to Los Angeles. He'd been so devoted to winning Jem from her road manager that no one else had appealed to him enough to pursue. And while women constantly threw themselves at his feet, he wasn't much interested in anything that came so easily.

He hadn't lied when he'd told Stormer that he relished a challenge. And she was turning out to be an intriguing one.

He strode down the hallway to the studio the Misfits had booked for the week. As he turned the corner, he saw Eric Raymond in his ubiquitous grey suit stride angrily into the practice space.




Jetta and Roxy lounged on the circular sofa which dominated one corner of the room. Roxy was tossing a drumstick high into the air and catching it one-handed, while Jetta paged through the latest issue of Cool Trash. Meanwhile, Pizzazz was picking over the craft services table, popping grapes into her mouth.

Eric took in the scene with disgust. "What's the hold up, Pizzazz? We need this album finished by next Tuesday!"

"Hey—don't look at me." Pizzazz shrugged. "I was here on time."

"Yeah, Eric," Roxy tossed the drumstick up again. "Stormer's the one holding up practice."

"St-Stormer?" Eric stammered. "Where the hell is she?"

Jetta didn't even look up from her magazine. "Haven't seen her since Friday, ducks. Maybe she's playing hooky."

"Stormer? Hooky?" Eric snorted derisively. "She's the only one of you girls who actually shows up for practice, half the time."

"Maybe she got a boyfriend," Roxy offered, which sent Pizzazz and Jetta into gales of laughter.

"Yeah, right. Except for that unwashed hippie freak, Stormer hasn't had a date in years."

"I don't care if she's dating all of the Fifth Avenue Boys, if she's not here in ten minutes, she'll be out on her ear!" Eric spat, and stormed out of the practice room, almost running into Riot, who was leaning casually against the wall outside the door.

"Misplaced one of your girls, have you?" Riot asked as Eric brushed past him. Eric glared at his partner, and then continued to the elevators.




"Rochelle!" Eric barked as the elevator doors opened on the top floor. His secretary almost dropped the magazine she was reading.

"Yes, Mr Raymond?"

"Find Stormer's home number, and get her on the line."

"Yes, Mr Raymond." Rochelle flinched as Eric slammed the door to his office so hard, the framed Stingers and Misfits posters on either side rattled against the wall.

She had her head buried in her Rolodex when a shadow fell over her, and she looked up into the dimpled smiling face of Rory Llewellyn, who was leaning casually against the reception desk.

"Rochelle, my dear, would you like to make me happy?" His smile was dazzling, and she found herself completely falling into his dark eyes.

"Anything for you, Mr Llewellyn..." Rochelle cooed.




Stormer was dressed for war. It was a different kind of war than she was used to fighting, so she'd chosen her battle attire appropriately.

Foregoing the flower she usually tucked behind her ear, she had her hair pulled back in a no-nonsense chignon. And rather than hiding behind her Misfits "war paint", she'd gone with nothing more than dark red lipstick, to try and appear as grown-up and serious as she could.

"Serious" being the word of the day, she wore a dove grey silk suit jacket over a cream-coloured blouse, black slacks, and plain black heels. While part of her worried she looked like a secretary, the rest of her knew she looked every inch as serious a businesswoman as someone like Jerrica Benton. And hopefully it would put Eric off-guard as well.

As the elevator doors opened, she took a deep breath before stepping out into the reception area.

There was no turning back now.

"Mary Phillips, to see Eric Raymond," she said to Rochelle, who stared at her with her mouth hanging open.

"I believe he's expecting me," Stormer said loftily, and stepped past the shell-shocked secretary to throw open the doors of Eric's office.




Riot was in his office when the intercom buzzed.

"Mr Llewellyn? You asked me to call you, if Stormer came to see Mr Raymond alone. She's just arrived."

"Thank you, Rochelle."

"You're welcome, Mr Llewellyn. If there's anything else you need—"

"That will be all, Rochelle," Riot said quickly, and then hit two different buttons on his intercom.

"On strike?" Eric's voice shrieked over the tinny speaker, and Riot couldn't hold back a laugh which, thanks to his speaker's "mute" button, no one but he could hear.




"What do you mean, on strike?"

Normally, the full force of Eric Raymond's anger directed straight at her would make Stormer back down. But she only squared her shoulders and looked him straight in the eye.

"You heard me. You want a new Misfits album? Then you'd better write it yourself."

"You'll write that album," Eric sneered, "and you'll write whatever I tell you. You're under contract."

Stormer took the thick wad of legal papers out of her purse and held them up in Eric's face.

"This contract?"

She grasped the stack and tore them in half. He opened and closed his mouth, looking like nothing so much as a landed fish as the scraps of paper rained down on his blotter.

"Without me, there's no Misfits," Stormer said icily as she snapped her purse closed again. "You know it, and I know it."

Eric recovered quickly, and merely rushed the torn contract aside, leaning back in his chair to regard her with undisguised contempt.

"You think you're so special? Keyboardists are a dime a dozen in this town—I could replace you like that." He snapped his fingers, and Stormer had to work hard to keep from flinching.

"Go ahead! I'd like to see you try and find somebody who'll let you take advantage of her the way you took advantage of me. I may have been a dumb kid when you signed me, but I'm not that kid anymore."

"What are you going to do, Mary? Go solo? Or go back to playing with the Benton brat?" Eric got up and stepped around his desk, getting right up in her face.

"You think it'll be that easy to walk away from me? I'll make sure you're blackballed in this industry—you'll never record in this town again. Do you understand me?"

"Oh—I understand you. I got your number, mister. But there's one person in this town you can't buy off or scare off. Jerrica Benton would record me, and you know it."

She advanced on Eric until he was backed against his desk, hands on her hips.

"How would you like that, Eric? How'd you like losing me to Starlight music, huh?"

"I found you in a dingy dive bar in Peoria, playing covers and fending off drunks. You could be back there in an instant."

"I don't think so, Eric. Not this time." She spun on her heel and stalked out of his office.

"I'll sue you for breach of contract!" Eric shouted after her. "I'll sue you for everything you've got, and then some. You won't have a pot to piss in, little girl."

Stormer let the elevator doors closed behind her before she sagged against the wall, shaking.




Riot switched off the intercom as he heard the door to Raymond's office slam.

"Well," he said softly to himself. "This is certainly an interesting development."




"Where's Stormer?" Pizzazz asked as Eric came into the studio.

"Stormer's on strike."

"Since when do we have a union?" Roxy rolled her eyes.

"Eric, what did you do?" Pizzazz asked sweetly, buffing her nails on her sleeve.

"Yeah, Yank." Jetta was suddenly at his side, her grey eyes narrowing dangerously as she yanked him closer by his red silk tie. "Our little family was right as rain for once, so what did you do to upset the apple cart?"

Eric swallowed, and stepped backwards, straightening his tie. "All I did was remind her that she's under contract. A contract that ungrateful little brat ripped up right in front of me."

"Is this about that stupid thing with that Finnish band?" Pizzazz asked, sliding off the counter to fetch a soda from the mini fridge. "Jeez, Eric, just pay her off and tell her to get her butt back here. We've got a tour coming up—and a new album we need to get out!"

"Pay her off?" Eric's voice rose on the last syllable. "With what, Pizzazz? You think I'm rolling in money?"

"Last time I checked, between us, the Stingers, and the new acts you've signed, you were making enough to buy back your house in Beverly Hills," Pizzazz pointed out, and Eric swallowed. He wasn't aware that his financial status was out in the open. But Pizzazz didn't press the issue—for once.

"So what do we do?" she asked, surprisingly pragmatic.

"We'll push back the tour dates—"

"And the album?"

"You three can write it."

"Yeah, Eric. 'Cause that worked so well the last time." Roxy tossed her hair, frowning.

"Please. This is Stormer we're talking about here," Eric said dismissively. "Once she cools down, she'll be at my door begging for her old job back."

He blinked as Pizzazz was in his face in an instant. She crumpled the soda can in her fist before tossing it aside.

"She'd better be, Eric." Pizzazz emphasised each word with a poke in Eric's chest, backing him up against the door. "Because this is the mess you made, and you had better clean it up."

"Yeah," Roxy chorused. "You screwed it up—you fix it."

"You heard the lady—get on it, or we'll fix you." Jetta shook her fist in his face, and he stepped backwards, fleeing the studio before his own band could rip him limb from limb.




Eric was concocting elaborate revenge scenarios as the elevator doors slid open. Many of them involved public humiliation for his wayward little Misfit. All of them involved him retaining financial rights to every note she'd ever set to paper.

He was going to enjoy seeing her living in a cardboard box and panhandling on the streets of Los Angeles for spare change. Maybe she'd even run back to the Midwest with her tail tucked between her legs. Even better. He could market a Misfits Greatest Hits album that would rake in the cash, maybe even more than a new album would.

"Rochelle!" he shouted as he strode past his secretary's desk. "Get me my lawyer on the phone! Now!"

"Yes," came a voice from his own chair, freezing him in his tracks. "Do that."

"Riot?" Eric was completely taken aback to find his supposedly "in name only" partner leaning back in his custom leather chair, feet resting atop his desk.

"By all means," Riot continued. "Let's bring in the entire legal department."




Stormer let her stocking feet dangle off the end of the couch as she shook her hair free. The second she'd gotten home, she'd ditched the fancy duds and tugged on a pair of jeans and her favourite red sweater. She knew she ought to hang the suit up, instead of leaving it in a puddle of silk in the middle of her bedroom floor. But all she wanted to do was feel like herself again.

"I'm so proud of you, Mary."

She pressed the cordless phone closer to her ear, straining to hear her brother over the background noise of the Unicorn Club. She was eternally grateful the time difference allowed her to place a transatlantic call and catch him between sets while it was still daylight in Los Angeles.

Craig had been incredibly patient as she'd laid out labyrinthine story of her battle with Eric, and she was a bit taken aback with the glee with which he had met the news that her days at Stinger Sound might be numbered.

"You might not be so proud of me, the next time you come to visit and have to stay at the Y," she pointed out wryly.

"Hey, a tent on the beach will do me, you know that. And you know you're better off without them, Mary."

"Am I?" Her brother had never made any secret of how he felt about her band-mates, and he'd been horrified when he'd found out how they had been treating her. So there was not much love lost between them. But Stormer wished he could understand that with him off in Europe, as rocky as her relationship with Pizzazz could be, the Misfits were her family. And she hated walking out on her family. "Craig, Eric was right about one thing—I was nothing before the Misfits. Anything I have, I owe to the band."

"Mary, that's not—"

"Don't, Big Brother," she warned him, her eyes smarting with sudden tears. "C'mon, you know it's true. I was stuck in the middle of nowhere, playing with bar band after bar band, before Eric and Pizzazz found me. My talent may have gotten me this far, but no one would ever have heard me at all, if Eric hadn't signed me."

"That doesn't mean they're not taking advantage of you."

"I know. I do. It just..." she wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand ineffectually. "It hurt so much, what Pizzazz did. And Roxy and Jetta haven't even called or come by to see me..."

"You can't back down, pipsqueak. You know that. You give that Raymond guy an inch, and he'll just bulldoze you."

"I know. I know that. It's just... I guess I just expected my own band to back me up, you know?"

"Don't worry—when the Blue Bloods play La-la-land when we finally get our U.S. tour together, Mason will put us all up at the Ritz."

She laughed, glad as always for her brother's ability to cheer her up no matter what kind of funk she was in.

"How's Mason doing?" she asked, glad to change the subject at last and discuss something other than her immanent unemployment.

Stormer tried to picture Mason—even though she'd only met him the once, very briefly. She'd spent more time with Alan and James than the band's leader, who had been preoccupied with his upcoming birthday and what that meant for his family's estate. She had a fuzzy memory of a guy about her age, dark auburn hair pulled back in a pony-tail and a warm smile.

"Fine. Better than fine, now that the mess with his inheritance is cleaned up. He asked about you, actually," Craig added coyly.

"What did you tell him?" she squeaked.

"That he's not good enough for you."

"Craig!"

"What would you do with yet another itinerant musician anyway? Isn't one in the family enough?"

"He's not just an itinerant musician, for cripe's sake, he's an Earl!"

"Don't remind him—he'll get a swelled head. It's hard enough, touring with him as is. And anyway, since when do you think anything less than royalty is good enough for my baby sister?"

She rolled her eyes. "How'd the tour go?"

Craig sent her postcards from all over Europe, as the Blue Bloods had launched their first major tour that summer. Kimber had told her Aja had gotten her share as well, the guitarist had walked on air every day a new one arrived in the post. This was the first time she'd managed to get Craig on the phone since they'd wrapped up their whirlwind tour, and his postcards had been short on details.

"Same old, same old. Ate too much chocolate in Geneva, and drank too much wine in Nice." She could picture his shrug. Having done her share of touring, she still thought it was terribly exciting, visiting new places and meeting new people. Even if Roxy was always complaining she couldn't get a decent hamburger and fries from the hotels Eric booked them into.

"Alan and James fancied the same bird in Venice," Craig continued, "and had a few too many and bloodied each other's noses in a public fountain."

"'Fancied the same bird?' You've been in London too long. You're starting to pick up the lingo. When is this U.S. tour happening, huh? I miss you."

"I miss you too, Sis. We're aiming for September, but I'll see if I can't swing a trip home before that. August is dead here anyway."

"August would be great—" Stormer began, and was interrupted by the doorbell. "Hang on, there's someone at the door."

Cradling the phone against her chest, Stormer pulled the drapes of the bay window which overlooked the street aside to see who had come calling this time.

"Craig? I'm going to have to call you back."

"Everything okay?" She could hear the concern in his voice, though an ocean separated them.

"I think so."

Outside, parked just behind her orange Volvo, was a fairy-tale carriage drawn by four snow white horses, complete with coachman and footman in red and gold livery.




Stormer approached the coach as if she thought the gilded lions decorating the doors would leap down and bite her. Mr Matthews across the street was frozen in the act of watering his lawn, and could only stare open-mouthed as the horses pawed the asphalt and shook their manes. All around the neighbourhood, she could see curtains twitching, and hear the excited cries of kids as they pointed and dragged their parents towards the coach.

"Mary Phillips," the footman said in a thick Hungarian accent, "your carriage awaits."

"You've gotta be kidding me."

"Mr Rory Llewellyn cordially requests your presence, miss."

"Oh he does, does he?" Stormer folded her arms, lifting her chin a fraction. The last thing she wanted right now was to be in the middle of one of Riot's infamous games.

The footman opened the door to the coach, and bowed low from the waist. "We'll have to hurry, miss, if we'll make the curtain."

"The curtain?" Stormer asked, bewildered.




The coach pulled up to the stage door of the theatre just as the sun was going down. As she alighted, Stormer frowned as she could hear Ephemeral's opening act. They were playing "Nothing Matters"—a song she'd written the previous summer to be played on the acoustic guitar as a slow ballad, not jazzed up for a full band—and playing it badly. Their bassist was having trouble keeping up with the chord changes, and whoever had rearranged it had transposed it into a key that their lead singer could handle, her breathy voice grating on Stormer's last nerve as she pushed her way past the legion of security guards covering the stage door. A stage manager with a clipboard and headset approached her when she reached the wings.

"I'm sorry, the backstage area is for—" the woman began, and Stormer pushed past her, craning her neck as she scanned the crowd.

"Where is he? Where is that blow-dried piece of—"

"I see Cinderella has made it to the ball," Riot's voice cut off whatever insult she was about to hurl at him as he appeared at her elbow. He was wearing a gold satin top, the deep V showing off as much of his tanned chest as it covered, and skin-tight black snakeskin pants tucked into knee-high boots. Stormer whirled on him, her mouth compressed into a tight line by her anger.

"Is this your idea of a joke? Making me come here so I could hear first hand how Eric's new band is butchering my music?"

Riot ignored her, turning to the stage manager who looked mortified to be caught between two feuding rock stars. "Adele, my dear, please get Stormer an all-access pass?"

"Right away, Riot." The stage manager scurried off.

"So good of you to join us," Riot said smoothly, moving to kiss her hand. She snatched her fingers away.

"You wanted me to fight? Oh, I fought, all right. Eric threw me out on my ear, and is threatening to sue me for breach of contract. I hope you're happy—"

"Charming as always, Miss Phillips. I believe you know Ms Pierce and Ms Horn?"

Riot stepped aside, and Stormer blanched as she saw the VJ and gossip maven swoop in for the kill.

"Stormer, is there any truth to the rumour that you've left the Misfits?" Lindsey asked, shoving a microphone in her face while her cameraman clicked on the light on top his camera, blinding her. "Will you be recording with Kimber Benton again? Or have you set your sights on a solo career?"

"Riot, you dog you," Harriet batted Riot's arm playfully as she tossed her dyed blond hair. "Do I detect a budding romance? Spill, baby. Harriet Horn is all ears."

"You'll have your story, ladies. That I promise you. You need only be patient."

Riot took Stormer by the arm, leading her away from the pack of jackals as Adele pressed a white laminated backstage pass into his hand.

Stormer jerked her head towards Lindsey and Harriet, who seemed none too thrilled at being left behind. "What are they doing here?"

"Like you, they are my guests." Riot slipped the plastic cord of the all-access pass over Stormer's head as if it were a priceless diamond necklace. "There. Now no one can tell you you don't belong."

"What the hell are you doing?" Stormer hissed in frustration as he pulled her towards the shadows in the wings of the stage while sound techs and roadies cowered and rushed to get out of their way as they struck Ephemeral's equipment.

"Don't you trust me?" Riot purred, and Stormer tried to take a step back but her back met the wall.

"As far as I could throw you!"

"Tease." She hated the way his cheeks dimpled as he smiled. Hated how he refused to acknowledge her anger, instead pretending this was a social visit. Hated him he'd managed to back her into a corner physically and emotionally.

"Don't try and play me, Riot. I am not in the mood."

"Play you?" he put a hand to his chest, miming being wounded. "I resent the implication—"

"You're only helping me because you think it's a game," she cried in frustration. "But it's not a game. This is my life we're talking about here. I could lose everything—my career, every penny I've saved, my house, the clothes off my back. Everything. Don't you understand? Don't you care?"

The mocking smile vanished. "Do you think I'm so heartless?"

She froze at the apparent sincerity in his voice. "I—I don't—"

His expression was unreadable as he suddenly slipped his arm around her waist and pulled her to him. The kiss took her by surprise, and all she could do was grab a handful of his costume top to keep her balance. This sort of thing had never happened to her before. She had no frame of reference, outside of sappy movies and paperback romance novels. By the time it occurred to her that she should shove him away, he let her go.

She almost stumbled backwards as he stepped away from her. His dark eyes danced as he wiped away a smear of her lip-gloss from his chin with the ball of his thumb. While she gaped at him, at a complete loss for words, he stepped out onto the stage where Rapture and Minx waited for him to begin their first set. As always, the spotlight found him immediately, and the crowded erupted into a roar as the music started.

Stormer blinked as she recognised the opening guitar riff. They were playing her song. The one she had written for the group—and the one Riot had refused to even listen to. Despite herself, Stormer was transfixed as Riot lifted the mic to his lips and strutted across the stage.

I see your face in every place
And I hear your voice on every dial
I call your name, but you don't hear me
What about the promise you made me?

I gave you all I had and more
Tears and blood, but you kept the score
Nothing counts, no words that I say
What about the promise you made me?

And you take, and you take, and you take, and you take
And you take it all and I take the fall
In your voice and your eyes I look for the prize
But you smile and you lie and I don't know why...
Why
Why
Why...

Betrayal is easy, you don't bat an eye
You kiss me and kill me sweetly good-bye
I'm nothing more than a distraction
What about the promise you made me?

And you take, and you take, and you take, and you take
And you take it all and I take the fall
In your voice and your eyes I look for the prize
But you smile and you lie and I don't know why...
Why
Why
Why...

Give me what's mine and let me go
Give me what's mine and let me go...

And you take, and you take, and you take, and you take
And you take it all and I take the fall
In your voice and your eyes I look for the prize
But you smile and you lie and I don't know why...
Why
Why
Why...


As the Stinger's voices faded away, the world rushed back into sharp focus. Stormer glanced behind her, scanning the walls for the comforting glow of an exit sign, but there were stagehands and equipment cases blocking any attempt at escape she could have made.

"Have you enjoyed the music you've heard tonight?" Riot asked the crowd, and was met with a deafening roar of approval.

"Would you like to meet the woman who wrote all of the songs you've heard?" Riot shouted into the mic. Stormer clung to the deep shadows cast by the curtains, wishing she could remain invisible.

A wild cheer went up as he strode towards the wings, and Stormer shook her head, mouthing 'no' as he grasped her gently by the elbow, steering her towards the stage.

She was blinded as Riot pulled her into the spotlight and suddenly she was faced with five thousand screaming Stingers fans. She was acutely aware of the fact that she wasn't armoured with one of her Misfits stage costumes. She had no leather, chains or lace to make her feel like the Misfit she knew she was. In the glare of the stage lights, she was just a girl in jeans and a sweater, suddenly too warm beneath the lighting rig and the weight of thousands of eyes who hadn't paid their tickets to come and see her tonight.

"Then allow me to present to you Mary Phillips—who wrote the song we've just performed, as well as all the songs you heard from our opening act, Ephemeral. You may know her better as Stormer of the Misfits."

"Stor-mer! Stor-mer! STOR-MER!" the crowd began to chant as Riot reached for her hand, shocking her out of her stupor.

Gathering as much grace as she could, she bowed. The crowd went insane as Riot kissed her hand, and pulled her closer.

"Let Eric Raymond try and sell your work without your knowledge now," Riot purred in her ear, while Lindsey's camera crew rushed onto the stage.




After Riot's carefully orchestrated publicity stunt, one of the security guards offered to show Stormer to the Stinger's dressing room where she could wait for him for the rest of the show. Stormer nodded absently, still feeling lost at sea after the events of the evening. She passed the lead singer of Ephemeral in the hall by the Green Room, and was surprised when the tiny slip of a thing with her dyed black hair rushed up to her, smiling.

"Your music—" she began.

"Save it, sister." Stormer tried to move past her, but the singer stepped in her path to block her way.

"No—your music, it is the wonderful! So the wonderful, we perform it and finally meet you." She pumped Stormer's hand vigorously, and with a start, she realised the girl in front of her was just a kid. Just another dumb kid Eric had signed so he could manipulate her. She suddenly felt sorry for her, a pawn in a game she didn't even know Eric was playing with her.

"Thank you, thank you so much," the girl continued, bobbing her head up and down like a bird's.

"You're... you're welcome..." Stormer stammered, feeling a blush rise in her cheeks at the unexpected praise from someone whom she'd written off.

She let the guard lead her back to the dressing room areas, and Stormer closed the door behind her, leaning against it and closing her eyes. She should go. She should go home now, before Lindsey and Harriet had a chance to corner her. She should go home and draw the curtains and hide before Lindsey's story hit the airwaves and word got back to Eric what had happened here tonight, and he demanded her head on a platter.

She opened her eyes, and took in her surroundings. She'd been here before—it was one of the first large venues the Misfits had played back when Harvey Gabor and Eric had launched Misfits Music. But she hardly recognised the dressing room, which Riot's people had transformed for the evening from a well-appointed but ultimately functional room lit by dangling bulbs to an opulent paradise. Fresh flowers sent up a heady perfume from vases scattered over every available surface, and the couches had been covered with red velvet and plump cushions in gold, purple, and cream.

A table in the corner had bottles of Evian in a giant bowl of ice, and round trays of sushi arranged like flower petals around stars of picked ginger and balls of wasabi. Another tray held slices of melon and balls of fresh mozzarella wrapped in slices of prosciutto so thin they were practically transparent, and fresh spears of asparagus next to delicate glass bowls of hollandaise sauce for dipping. There was also an enormous selection of fresh fruit; not just the usual grapes, pineapple and apples Stormer was used to, but golden slices of mango, vibrant green kiwis, and even a bowl of pomegranates cut in half, their glistening red seeds shimmering like drops of blood.

Stormer reached for one, and then paused, her 7th grade English class mythology unit reminding her that perhaps that was not the way to go. Instead, she chose a plump slice of mango, and cracked a bottle of water to wash it down. Roxy would have been SOL, Stormer thought with a smile as she filled a plate with more fruit and carried it to the cluster of deep couches in one corner. Not a hamburger in sight.

She lay back against the velvet cushions, closed her eyes, and listened to the Stingers music floating down the hallway, the bass making the floor beneath her feet vibrate.

She should go. She should run away. She should hide.

As if in a dream, she reached up and traced her bottom lip with a fingertip. If her overprotective big brother didn't even think royalty was good enough for her, she shuddered to think what he'd make of tonight's most bizarre development.

Slipping off her boots, she tucked her feet up under her, closing her eyes. The Stingers would be on stage for at least another hour, and as the rush of adrenaline began to wear off, all she could think about was how little sleep she'd gotten the last three nights. She would just close her eyes for a moment—getting in a quick cat-nap before she faced the lion in his den.




Stormer woke from her nap to find Riot standing over her, the corner of his mouth quirked in an indulgent smile.

"From Cinderella to Sleeping Beauty. You're hitting all the classics tonight." He'd stripped off his top, and a towel hung around his neck, drops of water glistening in his hair.

She sat up quickly, rubbing her eye with one knuckle. "I'm sorry—I must have... must have fallen asleep." She surreptitiously checked the corner of her mouth for drool and blessedly found none.

"Not the response I'm usually looking for, with my performances." He retrieved an unopened bottle of water from the table and she tried not to watch his throat as he tipped it back, draining it completely.

She glanced around the dressing room. It was deserted except for the two of them. "Where are Minx and Rapture?"

"Signing autographs for the unwashed masses." He patted his throat and chest with the towel before he sank onto the couch beside her, so close she could feel the heat of his thigh against hers. "I wanted to speak to you—alone."

Stormer swallowed self-consciously. "About... about what?"

"Business," he said with a dazzling smile.

"Oh."

He reached into the bag at his feet, and withdrew a thick manila envelope, which he handed her with a flourish. Her eyes widened as she pulled out a new contract, Eric's signature hastily scrawled on the last page.

"My contract."

"A decidedly new and improved version. Make sure you read it, this time, before you sign on the dotted line," he added with a wink.

She paged through it, noticing that not only did it cover her retaining the rights to any music she wrote for the Misfits, but allowed her ample room to write for other artists, even those not currently represented by Stinger Sound. And there was even a codicil requiring Eric pay her back royalties for all of the songs Ephemeral had recorded. When she returned to the Misfits—and she would return, she decided, after having a few choice words with Pizzazz about what she was and wasn't allowed to do with the songs Stormer shared with her—it would be her own choice—not because Eric forced her to.

She touched the contract, as if to assure herself that it was real. "Riot, I—I don't know what to say."

"Don't thank me," he said quickly. "This isn't entirely all out of the goodness of my heart."

She tried to cover her disappointment. "Then what is it?"

"I may only own half of Stinger Sound, but it's mine name up there in lights—my band. My creation. Eric Raymond's business practices shouldn’t be allowed to tarnish my perfect reputation."

She concentrated on slipping the pages back inside the envelope, turning the clasp securely. It gave her something to do with her hands. "I see."

"Do you?" he asked gently, reaching out to slip a finger beneath her chin. He stared into her eyes, and she felt her cheeks begin to burn with an unwanted blush as he ran his thumb lightly over her bottom lip.

"I—I should be going," she said quickly, moving away from his touch to tug on her low boots. "It's late. I didn't mean to stay this long."

"As you wish." If he was hurt at her rejection, there was no trace of it in his face as he stood and pulled on a crisp white dress shirt. "I'll have my driver take you home."

"The coach turned into a pumpkin?" Stormer asked, unable to suppress a smile.

Riot bowed, and kissed her hand like a gentleman. "The best ones always do."




The stage door was thronged by fans, clamouring for the Stinger's attention behind the line of security guards. Minx's mouth dropped open as Riot approached, Stormer's arm tucked in his, but Rapture gave her band-mate a none too subtle jab with her elbow, and she looked back down at the CD she was signing for a young man in a purple silk shirt.

The crowd surged forward when they caught sight of Riot, calling his name and waving programme booklets, CDs and tapes.

"My adoring public," Riot said simultaneously apologetic and brimming with pride. He gave her hand a squeeze before he dropped it and moved to the closest autograph hound with a captivating smile.

Stormer was looking for an opening through which she could slip by unnoticed when a hand reached out, plucking at her sleeve.

"Can I—can I have your autograph?" a breathless young girl with short-cropped purple hair wearing a yellow Stingers tee-shirt gasped.

"My autograph?" Stormer echoed, and looked down to see the Ephemeral single in her hand.

"You're Stormer, right?" the girl asked, green eyes shining beneath the glitter. "You wrote those songs, right?"

"Yeah. Sure, kid." She glanced around to find a guard she could ask for a pen. Suddenly Riot was at her side, pressing a silver Sharpie into her hand. His hand lingered on the small of her back for just a second, before he went back to signing his own autographs.

Her mouth twitching in an irrepressible smile, Stormer opened the CD insert to the liner notes and deliberately crossed out the name "Phillip Ericson."

With a flourish, she wrote "Mary Phillips" and handed it back to the fan, who squealed with delight.

Catching Riot's eye, she winked.

"Okay, who else wants one?" she shouted to the crowd, who began waving papers, programmes, tee-shirts, ticket-stubs and CDs in her face. She couldn't stop the laugh that welled up in her throat, and her face was split in a wide smile as she began signing.
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