Authors: Nikki Wilson
by Nikki Wilson
Book design and layout copyright © 2016 by Trifecta Books
Cover design copyright © 2016 by Jenni James
This is a work of fiction, and the views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author. Likewise, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are represented fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, or actual events or locales, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means whatsoever without written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Copyright© 2016 by Nikki Wilson
Table of contents
who taught me what it means to truly fight for the important things in life.
There are so many people to thank for helping to bring this story to life. I’m so grateful to Trifecta Books for believing in it as much I do. Tristi Pinkston is such an amazing editor and really polished the manuscript until it reached the potential I knew it had in there somewhere. Jenni James helped to bring the cover of my dreams to life. It is even better than I envisioned it could be.
My critique group is the best group of friends a girl could have—you know who you are! Special shout-out to Heather Romito, Elizabeth Gilliland, and DeAnn Huff for trudging through my early drafts and helping make the manuscript presentable. Some more thanks needs to go to my book club, who agreed to read an early version of my book as one of our monthly selections, even though it wasn’t very pretty at the time.
To my good friend, Leann Williams—thank you for taking my poor excuses for poems and turning them into beautiful song lyr
My brother Jeremy answered question after question about being in the Army, and what it's like to come home from war and try to live life again. My brother is truly my hero!
Without the support of my family, I would not have had the courage to see this story to fruition. A special thank you goes to my grandfather, Wayne, for letting me ask all kinds of questions about his prosthetic leg and for reading the book, not once, but five times! My children have been so encouraging and supportive of my writing and understanding of the time spent staring at my computer screen. I truly would be lost without the love and support of my wonderful husband. He’s literally picked me up and placed me into my writing chair and commanded me to pursue my dream of writing and publishing a book. I thank God every day for him and the rest of the amazing people in my life. I also thank God for the gift of writing and the inspiration He gives me to use words to bring the stories in my head to life.
!” The chanting washed over her like a warm wave. The adulation of the audience enthralled her in a way nothing else ever could.
After taking a swig of water, she patted her perspiring brow with a towel, careful not to scrub off her makeup or disturb the wig. The tall, white-powdered monstrosity sat atop her head like soft-serve ice cream balancing precariously on a cone. To say it was awkward was an understatement of epic proportions. The platform shoes and big, bulky dress were no picnic either, but Duchess knew what the people wanted, and she would go to any lengths to give it to them.
She had to—a life depended on it.
Plastering on a smile, Duchess waited for the fog machines to send out misty fingers and then swept onto the stage for her encore.
“Dahlings, dahlings, dahlings! Your Duchess is back!” The lights of the stage, the smell of the fog, and the screaming of the fans lit something inside her every time. Duchess basked in the glow. “Are you ready to dance?”
The response was deafening, and she fed off the energy. She waited for the fog to mask the wires attached to the hidden belt inside her dress. As the first few notes of her new single floated from the back of the stage out to the screaming audience, a real smile lifted the corner of her mouth. This was her audience, and they were under her spell.
As she danced to the beat, the rhythmic lyrics came out slightly distorted, thanks to the small synthesizer in her mic.
“You wrote a note to King George back in 1776,
Claimed you needed to be free from us Brits.
But you’ve been worshipping us ever since.
If it weren’t for a war and dumping tea from a ship,
You’d all be enjoying wonderful fish ’n chips!”
The best part was coming up. Duchess braced herself as she felt the wires tug her off the floor. A cool breeze swished past her as she was lifted four feet up. Trying hard not to squint into the spotlight, she began her air choreography, floating above the stage like a medieval ghost. Fitting, since she would forever be haunted by that fateful day when she signed with the record label and became their puppet, complete with strings.
“Fish ’n chips, fish ’n chips,
Read my lips—you want fish ’n chips!”
The crowd always went crazy for this part. She wasn’t sure if they were cheering for the dancing or if they were waiting for her to fall and break her neck. Her feet glided through the air, and not for the first time, she wondered what inspired the record label to come up with this circus act.
The wires pulled her up higher, and a gilded throne came down from the ceiling of the stage. Meeting it in the middle, she took a seat. She’d practiced this move hundreds of times before she could do it without knocking herself up against the edge. Bruises still dotted the right side of her body.
Pillars of fireworks went off in the dark sky above the Staples Center as the last note played. It was the Fourth of July, after all.
The lights went off abruptly, and the crowd erupted. Adrenaline still coursed through her as the throne was lowered. She exited with the security detail keeping her fans from climbing on stage.
The dressing room door came into sight much sooner than she would have liked. Once she reached it, she would stop being the mysterious pop diva, Duchess, and become Katie Murphy, Duchess’s manager. Not that there was anything wrong with that. That’s how she’d wanted it—no one knowing Duchess’s true identity. But the real world was full of problems that couldn’t be solved with the right boots.
Stepping into the room did provide a certain amount of relief. She would finally be able to take off the blasted wig.
“Another spectacular performance that people could barely see through the smoke and lights. But as always, you were a star, Katie Bug.” Katie’s mom, Shirley, sat on the simple couch in the center of the room. Katie tried not to look at her mother’s gaunt form. Instead, she looked around the room. Everything was white, like they thought celebrities didn’t get dirty and sweaty on stage.
“Thanks, Mom … I think.” Katie didn’t want to have an argument. She began pulling the pins out of the wig while her mother stood to undo the buttons on the back of Duchess’s intricate gown. They both worked in silence to put an end to Duchess for the night.
Katie thought back to two short years before. Images of a rundown apartment, unpaid bills, and too many rejections to count came to her mind. She’d been so naïve, believing she could drop out of Julliard and find a record label to sign her. Reality had other plans, like her mother’s cancer diagnosis. But Katie found a way around reality when she created Duchess.
She looked up as she finished pulling out the last pin and took off the wig. She couldn’t stop the sigh that came out as fresh air hit her scalp. Next came the platform shoes that were laced up to her knees. Then the dress came off, along with the wire belt and the leather mini skirt that had peeked through the parted fabric of the medieval gown.
The face always took the longest. Her mom had thought the fake nose and fluorescent purple contacts had been going too far, but Katie couldn’t take any chances. She needed to keep her own identity secret to protect her mother from the scrutiny of the world.
“How are you feeling, Mom?” Katie couldn’t stop herself from asking. She knew her mom didn’t like it.
“I’m fine.” Her mom gave a weak smile, and Katie knew she was lying.
“Sit down for a bit. I’ve got it from here.” Katie took out her contacts and began to work on taking off the nose.
“Did you really have to sing the ‘Fish ’n Chips’ song tonight? It’s the Fourth of July. That song isn’t very American.”
Katie sighed. She’d hoped they weren’t going to do this tonight. “That’s the idea, Mom. Everyone thinks Duchess is a Brit, not an American nobody like me. No one even suspects it’s me. They think I really am just the manager who has to work around the clock to keep Duchess’s identity secret.”
“You’re better than this, Katie.”
“Yes, Mom. But it’s paying the bills.” She continued pulling at the fake nose.
“The bills were paid until you bought that mansion in Malibu. We don’t need a place that big.”
“The house is a little extravagant, but not any more than people expect of Duchess. We have to keep up appearances.” Katie refused to look up and see her mother’s disappointed face. “Besides, we need more money to find you a new doctor.”
It was her mother’s turn to sigh. “Can’t you see that it’s not meant to be? The treatments aren’t working. None of them have worked.”
Katie shook her head. With her eyes closed, she could remember how her mother used to look and forget what cancer had done to her body.
“Katie, look at me.”
How did her mom always know what she was thinking?
“No.” A lump formed in her throat as she thought of the many doctors they had seen and the bleak prognosis given by each.
“Katie Bug.” Her mother stood behind her now and gently turned Katie to her. “Look at me.”