A Little Bit Country

an excerpt

Chapter One

"Goddamn it!" Drawing his arm back, Ash snapped it forward, whipping the entertainment magazine across his dressing room. It hit the opposite wall, landing in a heap of crumpled pages on the floor.

"What critic pissed you off now?" Jeremy asked, not bothering to look up from tuning his Fender Telecaster guitar.

Ash turned on him. "It wasn't a critic! I can handle those assholes. It was freakin' Jackson Abrams again."

Laughter came from behind Ash. "After three years of bitching at each other in the media, you should be even more used to him than the critics."

Ash shot a glare over his shoulder at his drummer, Devin. "He gives me more shit than the damn critics!" He lifted a hand, ticking off his statements on his fingers as he continued. "How I dress, the things I do, my hair—"

"You kind of deserve it with your hair, sometimes." Devin's dark brown gaze lifted to Ash's yellow Mohawk with streaks of red racing through it. "Or, most of the time."

Ash rolled his eyes and pointed at the Mohawk. "I'll give you that this didn't turn out the way I wanted it to, but I rock a lot of cool hairstyles." He looked to his bass player. "You got my back on this one right, Chad?"

The bass player shook his head. "Dude, I don't think I can. Since you change your hair every time the wind blows, you're gonna have a good style or two by default, but I wouldn't call that a lot."

Ash disregarded both Chad and Devin with a flip of his hand. "Whatever. As if you guys know anything about style."

His voice teasing, Devin said, "Maybe we don't, but it sounds like Jackson does."

Ash's annoyance burst to life again. "I sure as fuck won't take fashion advice from a guy who wears shit-kicker cowboy boots and Wranglers. And who the hell is he to criticize my hair when he hides his under that big ass cowboy hat all the time?"

Jeremy rubbed a cloth over his guitar, polishing the body of it so the black finish, painted with gray ghost flames, had a liquid shine. "Is that what he was doing in the mag interview? Ripping on your hair again?"

Ash snatched a bottle of water off a table and dropped down on the couch beside Jeremy. "No. He was saying how I'm not a good role model for young people. Well no shit. What part of rock star doesn't he get? I'm a performer, not a babysitter."

Chad walked across the room and picked up the magazine. "That was probably his response to you saying last month that when his music career falls flat, he can always sell himself to the highest bidding mother to marry her daughter since everyone in Mayberry wants him for a son-in-law."

Twirling a drumstick between his fingers, Devin snorted out a laugh. "Now that was funny."

Ash tossed an arm across the back of the couch. "I don't know why the hell he has to keep coming at me. And through the goddamn media! If he's got things to say, he needs to do it to my face."

Jeremy plucked the guitar strings to double check the tuning. "It's not like he'd get many chances to do that. You're a rock star. He's a country music star. We kinda run in separate circles, you know."

"We've been to some of the same award shows," Ash said.

"So what, you want him to start a pissing match with you on the red carpet? The most bad boy he'll ever taint his image with is what he does now, taunting you from a distance, and even that isn't much since he always manages to spin it so he looks good and you look like the ass."

Devin jumped back into the conversation. "Not that he has to spin it real hard with how you let shit fly out of your mouth. But weren't you the one who started this whole thing to begin with?"

Ash let out a low grumble of agreement. It was true, he was the one who started the "feud" with Jackson Abrams. Not intentionally. Sort of. Three years ago, they both hit the scene in their respect music genres. He and his band, From Ashes, kicking ass in the rock world, and Jackson...well, Jackson doing whatever the hell country stars did. Jackson must've done it pretty well, though, since his music extended beyond the country charts to crossover into popular music.

When the Grammy Awards came around, From Ashes and Jackson were both up for Best New Artist. And the Grammy went to...Jackson.

Not that he was really pissed off at losing the award to him. Even he had to admit Jackson's music was damn good. He wasn't so stubborn he couldn't appreciate Jackson's talent, and there was something else about the country singer....

Ash stopped the last thought before it went too far and veered it back toward music. Still, even though he could admit Jackson was a hell of a musician, he couldn't say Jackson was better than him and his boys. When he was interviewed after the Grammys about his band's loss to Jackson and asked how he felt about it, he replied, "Well, it is what it is. And it could be the better man won, but not the better musician."

It seemed Mr. Good Boy Country Star didn't like that comment real well and fired back in an interview with, "Sounds like Ash Ivers...that's his name, right? Well, it sounds like he's a bit of a sore loser. And that's too bad. I hope someday he learns how a man accepts his losses is what can really make him a winner."

And it was that kind of down-home-wholesome bullshit that pissed him off. Jackson always came back at him with comments like that. When he heard Jackson's remark, he hit him back in his next interview with, "I don't know how to accept my losses, huh? Let's get something straight. Not getting an award for being America's sweetheart doesn't make me a loser. But what makes me a winner is my record sales kicking his in the ass all the way to the bank."

Jackson retorted with, "If I could ever have the honor to be America's sweetheart, nothing would make me prouder because I love this country. But it sounds like Ash Ivers loves money, and I feel sorry for him for that. I make my music for my fans, not for a bigger bank account."

Always! Every freakin' time Jackson twisted his words to make himself look like the good guy. The man even wore a white damn cowboy hat! Well, beige, but close enough.

The media ate up their animosity, doing their best to fuel their feud with interviewers making sure each of them knew the latest comment from the other and goading them to make more. He supposed it was good publicity, if nothing else. There were fans on Jackson's side who loved him for his always gentlemanly responses. There were fans on his side who loved his "shove it" attitude.

Ash grinned to himself. Actually, they made a pretty good team without even knowing it. They each had both sides covered of what people liked. Chad's voice called him back to the moment.

"Hey, Ash. Did you read the rest of this interview with him?"

"Why the hell would I?"

Chad walked slowly toward him, his gaze on the open magazine in his hands. "Because right after he says you're not a good role model, he says, ‘I'm not sure the behavior Ash is known for is the best kind of image for the Songs for a Cure Benefit, but I do give him a lot of credit doing this for charity. It gives me hope knowing that as different as me and him are, we can put all that aside for a greater good in helping to raise awareness and funds for HIV/AIDS research. Because of that, it'll be an honor for me to walk on the same stage as him.'"

Silence fell over the dressing room. Ash stared at his bass player, as if he disbelieved what Chad had said.

Jeremy looked toward Ash. "Wow. That was, like...nice."

Ash ignored Jeremy, his gaze still fixed on Chad. "Are you fucking with me?"

"No, dude. It looks like he's playing Songs for a Cure, too."

Devin pointed his drumstick at Ash. "You didn't know that? Didn't any of you guys read the list of performers Kent gave us a couple of weeks ago?"

Ash shook his head, still trying to come to terms with playing at the charity concert with Jackson. He vaguely remembered their manager, Kent, giving him the list of everyone who would be performing, but he'd only looked to see when From Ashes was taking the stage. Since they were right after the openers, he didn't bother checking to see who else would be there. He didn't even know where the list was now. Probably in some stadium, cities away since they were wrapping up their second tour and it was supposed to end at the Songs for a Cure event in two weeks.