Not all desires are shiny and sweet—and the dark ones might change you forever… It’s not the kind of obsession a tough Army guy can admit to—a jones for Ava, the pretty-princess pop star. Not just her body, the perfect product that sells all those magazines. Her music. The critics call her human lip gloss, all style and no substance. To Joe Ivanchan, Ava is the exact blend of reality and fantasy that he can tolerate, the closest he’s willing to get to giving his heart after the injury and breakdown that got him out of the service. But Ava is real. She’s a flesh and blood woman with a publicity machine and an album deadline, along with a whole team of handlers paid to shellac a pristine sheen over a damaged, desperate soul. A woman with fears, with secrets, with desires. When Joe finds himself in an interview to join her security team as her driver, his instinct is to get away. But the woman behind Ava’s carefully focus-grouped image is even harder to walk away from. The angry needs tormenting her speak to something within Joe. Something empathetic, protective—and primal… Besides, even a falling star can light up the darkest night.
I don’t have to tell you she’s beautiful. All the world knows that.
I knew that much long before I met her, from those skyscraper-high videos flashing her face in Times Square to the cover of that men’s magazine published obscenely soon after her eighteenth birthday. The magazine hit the stands so fast that the shoot had to have happened when she was still a minor. I and all the other twisted perverts of the world had been counting down for that moment, for the little-girl princess to grow up just enough to be legal fodder for our prurient fantasies.
As opposed to the ones I’d had before that. The clock clicked past midnight and she went from forbidden to fair game.
I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t one of those guys. I was. I am. And I’ll cop to feeling like a dirty old man for being one of the ones waiting for her to be legal, even though I’m not a hell of a lot older than she is. War will do that to you, make you old before your time.
I got my buddy to bring me a copy in the hospital. I even kept it in a plastic sleeve, to protect those precious images of her. Not that I was obsessed, exactly. Back then I didn’t even know much about her music. I’d heard my little sister talk about her, but that was it. Not something the guys listened to.
The guys—we liked her for different reasons.
I don’t claim to be some special snowflake, but I always thought something else drew me to her, besides the star-struck, lust-filled awe I shared with so many. I was stupid with the pain management back then, so that contributed. Still, on the glossy pages of that magazine she gazed out with her trademark tawny-gold eyes, as if she saw right through me.
I won’t say I didn’t scrutinize the fine freckles on those high cheekbones that looked like they belonged on a sculpture of an Egyptian goddess, or where they scattered across the snowy skin of her breasts, a hint of her nipples behind the cloth she held in place. Or that I didn’t, like every other het guy out there, study that one pic—the one that showed her back—and the dark mole high on her adorable ass, which was barely covered by the gold-sequined drape of her gown.
Yeah, I fantasized about kissing that little mole. And more.
A hell of a lot more.
But it was never only that. Her eyes grabbed me in that photo, too. Something riveting in that gaze. Calling to me. The way she looked over her shoulder, with her hair in gleaming waves like one of those forties Hollywood movie stars, lips painted with gold glitter, pouting in what was probably supposed to be sexy. I guess it was, for all that, though it didn’t work for me. With the expression in her eyes, she looked sad. I had plenty of my own problems, but it still bothered me.
I went over and over that photo spread—and then every one I could find after that—studying her eyes, how they never matched the rest of her expression, the renowned color unfailingly brighter than all the glitter and jewelry they decorated her with. As if, if I looked long enough, I could decipher the thoughts behind them. Not what she was saying to me, some random guy among millions, but what she might say, given the opportunity.
What can I say? I had a lot of time on my hands.
I started downloading her music. People wanted to know what they could do for me, how to help? An iTunes gift card, man. All through the physical therapy, the hellish weaning from the morphine and all that other shit, I listened to her songs, her sweet voice a constant murmur in my ears. I even went back all the way to the kiddie albums and the inane and infectious bopping of those princess years, the goofy saccharine family movies and that kids’ show she started on.
A bubblegum counterpoint to my grim reality. I wasn’t going to show anyone my playlist, but I wouldn’t give it up, either.
Not long after that magazine spread, she came out with a new album—I told my home health aide to back off and stayed up to midnight to get it when it released. It had some of her own songs on it. With each album over the next few years, she had more of her own stuff. I made a game of it, when each dropped, listening and deciding which were hers before I checked the credits. Every once in a while I’d be wrong—and then those would be written by a particular few, the songwriters she must love. Her actual friends, maybe.
Once I was able to work again, I made mixes of her own songs and the special ones, listening while I drove, as long as I had no clients. People seemed to find it funny that a guy like me listened to a pop star known for the rabid fandom of teen—and tween—girls and I didn’t have much bandwidth for smart remarks.
Okay—zero bandwidth for static of any kind.
Buy links: http://www.jeffekennedy.com/shooting-star/
Jeffe Kennedy is an award-winning author whose works include novels, non-fiction, poetry, and short fiction. She has been a Ucross Foundation Fellow, received the Wyoming Arts Council Fellowship for Poetry, and was awarded a Frank Nelson Doubleday Memorial Award.
Her award-winning fantasy romance trilogy The Twelve Kingdoms hit the shelves starting in May 2014. Book 1, The Mark of the Tala, received a starred Library Journal review and was nominated for the RT Book of the Year while the sequel, The Tears of the Rose received a Top Pick Gold and was nominated for the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2014. The third book, The Talon of the Hawk, won the RT Reviewers’ Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2015. Two more books followed in this world, beginning the spin-off series The Uncharted Realms. Book one in that series, The Pages of the Mind, has also been nominated for the RT Reviewer’s Choice Best Fantasy Romance of 2016 and won RWA’s 2017 RITA® Award. The second book, The Edge of the Blade, released December 27, 2016, and is a PRISM finalist, along with The Pages of the Mind. The next in the series, The Shift of the Tide, will be out in August, 2017. A high fantasy trilogy taking place in The Twelve Kingdoms world is forthcoming from Rebel Base books in 2018.
She also introduced a new fantasy romance series, Sorcerous Moons, which includes Lonen’s War, Oria’s Gambit, The Tides of Bàra, and The Forests of Dru. She’s begun releasing a new contemporary erotic romance series, Missed Connections, which started with Last Dance and continues in With a Prince.
In 2019, St. Martins Press will release the first book, The Orchid Throne, in a new fantasy romance series, The Forgotten Empires.
Her other works include a number of fiction series: the fantasy romance novels of A Covenant of Thorns; the contemporary BDSM novellas of the Facets of Passion; an erotic contemporary serial novel, Master of the Opera; and the erotic romance trilogy, Falling Under, which includes Going Under, Under His Touch and Under Contract.
She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with two Maine coon cats, plentiful free-range lizards and a very handsome Doctor of Oriental Medicine.
Jeffe can be found online at her website: JeffeKennedy.com, every Sunday at the popular SFF Seven blog, on Facebook, on Goodreads and pretty much constantly on Twitter @jeffekennedy. She is represented by Sarah Younger of Nancy Yost Literary Agency.