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Meant to Be (Whisper Creek #5)

By´╝ÜMaggie McGinnis

Meant to Be (Whisper Creek #5)
        Author: Maggie McGinnis

       
         
       
        
Chapter 1


Shelby eyed the funeral buffet, wondering what the tabloids would say if she took the tablecloth and gave it a big yank right now … wondering what all of that fine bone china would sound like as it shattered on the marble floor.

She thought it might make a very satisfying noise, actually.

"My father despised caviar," she said.

"The guests expect it." Nicola patted her carefully on the arm, like she was crystal with a fatal crack.

Shelby turned around, taking in the sea of black suits, black dresses, sparkling jewelry, and red-oh, so red-lipsticks. It all hurt her eyes, and not just because she'd been crying for days.

Conversation was muted, and servers darted skillfully between little groups of people, doling out champagne and crudités while they gathered empty glasses. Half the crowd had left from the church. Another quarter had fled straight from the cemetery. This remaining group of two hundred people apparently considered themselves family.

"Daddy would hate this," she whispered, her chin quivering like she was five years old. "Please tell them to leave."

"I wish I could. I really do. But we need to let people pay their respects."

"Why? They didn't lose him. I did." Shelby knew the words sounded childish and illogical, but that didn't help her rein them in.

"They're just trying to show their support for you."

"Bullshit. They're just trying to be seen. How many press passes did you issue to this family-only reception, Nic? Because I see at least ten photographers trying to pretend they're not taking pictures."

"Shelby." Nicola's sculpted eyebrows shot upward, sending a dart of guilt straight to Shelby's stomach.

But as she saw a flash, the guilt got quickly buried by anger.

She turned to face Nic. "Did you invite them? Or did LolliPop?"

Just saying the name of her record company made her tongue feel swollen and prickly, and she lifted her water glass to her lips, just to be sure she could still swallow.

"Shelby." Nic defied gravity with her damn eyebrows as she took Shelby's elbow and headed for a quiet corner. Of all the spots in their Nashville mansion, Daddy had hated this cavernous room-with its sky-high ceilings and gleaming floor-most. He'd preferred his music room, with the big, cushy couches, coffee stains on the tables, and windows that looked out toward nothing but grass and trees. "You need to hold it together. Just another hour, and we'll be finished."

"I don't know these people, Nicola." Shelby eyed the crowd as they stood in their funeral best. Had most of them even known his music? Had they known him? They were in his house. They were looking at personal family portraits on the walls. They were eating, talking, smiling … laughing. 

Laughing.

The center of her world was gone, and they were laughing.

Prickles crept up her spine, and she braced herself for the cold wash of panic that inevitably followed. For a full week now, when she hadn't been sobbing, she'd been shivering. She was a twenty-eight-year-old woman swimming through a fog of managers and publicists and fans, but she'd never felt more like an abandoned child.

Her father's real inner circle had stood close by at the funeral home last night. They'd called and texted and visited his house when she'd arrived from Vegas. They'd closed ranks and held tissues and rubbed her back as she'd cried and thrown her shoes at the television, which just wouldn't stop showing photos of the wreckage of his plane … wouldn't stop circling the Country Music Legend Dead banner along the bottom.

They'd left after the graveside service because they knew how to show respect. And it wasn't by standing around in a house he'd never wanted, in a room decorated by an expensive designer, while eating fish eggs and drinking bubbly wine he never would have touched.

She just wanted to go. She didn't even know where she would go, but her whole body tingled with the need to flee this damn room.

But Nicola was in charge here. Nicola was in charge every-freaking-where. Always had been, since Shelby's sixteenth birthday. The day Shelby'd signed with LolliPop, Nic had been at the table, all tight smile and icy hands. And when the record company head had led Shelby around the small welcome reception afterward, Nic had actually looked pained when he'd introduced her as Shelby's new assistant-slash-publicist.

In the beginning, Shelby had fought her on things like wardrobe choices and publicity photo choices and interview choices and song choices. But it hadn't taken long to figure out that choice was an empty word. Nicola was just another puppet of LolliPop, dressed up in a fake-friendly package, and it was easier for both of them if Shelby just stopped fighting. And twelve pop-and-glitter years later, their roles were firmly established. If Nicola said, "Jump," the only acceptable response was, "How high?"

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