Oh, I've seen fire and I've seen rain
I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend
But I always thought that I'd see you, baby, one more time again, now
Their encore had been a blur of music and lights along with the crowd screaming for more but Cooper's attention was definitely focused elsewhere. Whoever the girl was, she was the spitting image of Julia. He didn't discount the possibility that she could be a manufactured replica meant to derail him, it wouldn't be the first time he had been deceived with smoke and mirrors, but he shoved the idea aside. Julia was dead but this girl was a living, breathing mirror image of his long dead ex-wife and he was going to find out who she was. He was quickly realizing the plans he had made with Beth were going to need to be postponed. There was no way he was going to walk out of here without finding out who the hell this woman was and what she wanted. Grabbing his cell, he placed a call. "Hey baby, it's me..."
"I'm going to be longer than I thought - something's come up….Baby, I’m sorry. I’ll be there as soon as I can."
Beth stared speechlessly at the phone, then glanced up at the clubhouse. She saw him through the windows, standing there, not looking in her direction, looking at a woman. Who was she? Her skin crawled. She looked like Julia. Julia was dead. It wasn’t Julia, just someone who looked like Julia, looked too much like Julia. Tightening her grip on the phone, she almost challenged her husband, but she took a deep breath and replied shortly, "All right, I’ll see you later."
Brooding and uneasy, she lingered in the warm night air and continued to watch Cooper and the mystery woman. He leaned over her, then turned away, then turned back, his body language agitated. Several other women were wandering around, trying to catch his attention, getting distracted smiles but not the usual flirtation. Coop could knock them dead and dismiss them at the same time when he was into it. He didn’t seem to be into it.
Women came up with all kinds of bizarre excuses to get close to Cooper. It was conceivable that some look alike had deliberately played up the resemblance to Julia, hoping to intrigue and excite him. He would definitely be intrigued and excited, but all that old guilt and love and sorrow and loss was still there, bottled up, waiting for something like this to release it.
A thread of memory, a sunny day in the city in an art gallery, Ryan there with her, Ryan's deep voice warning her about Julia, about women in Cooper's past, what had he said? She remembered almost everything Ryan had ever said, every moment, his touch, his voice. He had said something about women, about ghosts from Cooper’s past. He’d said, "It doesn't do any good to look back at them." That advice had proved to be seriously wrong.
Instead of heading north across the dark field toward the parking lot, Beth grabbed the rail and started rapidly up the stairs, running almost headlong into Rafe who was exiting the press room via the back door. “Hey,” he greeted her absently, trying to get past.
“Rafe, wait a minute,” she said, grabbing at his arm, which seemed to be the only way to slow him down. “Do you know that woman with Cooper?”
He glanced back, shrugged, “She’s an agent; she’s shopping a couple of clients.”
That made some sense; at least it explained her presence. Beth mused, “She looks exactly like Julia.”
He stopped trying to get around her, looked back at the woman and then said, “I never met Julia. Pretty good angle though, she’s sure got his attention, but I doubt he’s going to buy what she’s selling. The best of them is that guy Breaux who can’t stay sober long enough to find his way to the studio. I hear he’s in rehab.”
The name meant nothing to her. Beth started to thank him and move on past when Rafe stepped into her path. It was quiet on the catwalk, and he pitched his voice low. “Speaking of rehab, how’s Rayne?”
She stiffened, pulled away from him. “I suppose she’s all right. Thank you. I don’t want to keep you, Rafe.”
“Beth,” he continued firmly, “you need to forgive her. She’s a kid. You and Ryan did a lot worse, and you know it. Think about how she felt seeing your bare ass plastered all over the tabloids. Give her a break.”
She could hear Cooper’s voice through the glass door. He sounded confused and irritated. This was not the time to chat about Rayne. She didn’t want to talk about Rayne, or think about Rayne and Ryan together, it brought up such impossible and conflicting emotions including a couple best left ignored back in the darkest shadows in her mind. “Rayne will be fine. Thank you for your concern; I have to go.”
Cooper wove through the crowd mingling in the press room absently acknowledging fans, press, or the promoters that greeted him as his eyes scanned the room for the slender woman that threw him into a tailspin. Cooper spotted her at the buffet table idly chatting with a distributor. He watched her carefully, even her movements were like Julia's, but there was an edge to her that he never saw in J.
Drawing a deep breath he easily worked his way through the crowd and grasped her arm. "We need to talk. In the other room.” Leading the way, Cooper steered her away from the crowd.
“I don't believe you answered my earlier question. Who the hell are you?" She faced him, slowly dragging clear blue eyes up along his body until they met his gaze. Cooper was struck once more with the familiarity of those eyes, Julia's eyes, Wyatt's eyes, but there was a difference in the challenging glint apparent in this woman's.
"I didn't expect you to be this tall," she began. "I can certainly see why Julia would have been so smitten. I'm Gemma Wilson, Julia's cousin."
Cooper rocked back, stunned, and eyed her suspiciously. So she was related to J, but he didn’t remember a cousin, and he couldn’t wrap his mind around why she would be here, distracted by her looks, so much, too much like Jules. "Julia never mentioned you."
She laughed; it was almost musical, "Well no she wouldn't. We were never really close; our fathers didn't exactly see eye to eye on much of anything and neither did we. We were rather competitive, Julia in her mild-mannered way and me...well, not so mild-mannered. But I'm not here to discuss Julia."
He stepped close and in a hard voice, demanded, "Then why are you here? Why now? If you're looking for something from me, I can't help you."
Gemma slid back and settled on top of one of the crates, stretching out one long leg. "I think you can. I represent Brew. I'm shopping labels. Yours seemed like a good fit. Jimmy's going to be a big star so I'm giving you the first shot."
The last thing Coop wanted was to give Breaux a chance to get any closer to him or to Rayne. It was bad enough that he and Rayne ended up in the same rehab facility. Opening the door to further contact was not going to happen even if the guy was talented. And apart from Rayne, Breaux had a lousy rep; he'd fucked up every opportunity he'd had. He couldn't come up with any reason to associate his label with that idiot, not until he cleaned up, if and when that ever happened. "Jimmy Breaux? Why in hell would we sign him?"
"Give me a break Cooper. I saw the opening act. They stunk up the place, you know it and I know it. Jimmy's getting his shit together, but I think you know that already, and when he does he is going to be a force in this business." She hesitated for a moment as if weighing her next words carefully, "You and Julia had a son...Wyatt was it? Is he signed? I've heard he's pretty good. Maybe I'll stop by and see him while I'm in town. I wouldn't mind shopping him around; in fact I know a few labels that would jump through hoops to sign him."
Cooper's anger flared. The last thing he needed was for Wyatt to be thrown back into painful memories by this doppelganger. He was suspicious and wary of this girl and wasn't about to let her insinuate herself into his life or that of his family. "What makes you think he would be the slightest bit interested in what you have to offer? Wyatt knows where his best interests lie. That's one trip you can cancel."
"He's my cousin, even if he is once or twice removed; it's the least I can do to stop by and meet him while I'm here." Gemma started for the stairs but hesitated and, looking over her shoulder at Cooper, she smiled, "I have a small house in Millwood near my aunt and uncle. Stop by if you're in the area and we can talk more about Jimmy." Almost an afterthought, she added, "I wouldn't mind hearing about Julia if you don't have a problem talking about her. It was nice meeting you, Cooper."
She turned to leave without waiting for a response leaving him stunned. Cooper watched her descend the stairs, more suspicious than before, deeply disturbed and confused. He had no idea what to think of this woman and her motives. Access, definitely she was after that. He hadn't missed the subtle moves, something he'd normally ignore, but he couldn't with this woman, so much too much like Jules, the way she walked, the way she looked at him. Contemplating stopping by to run down some memory lane she'd never even walked with Jules, hell no, he couldn't do that.
"Damn it!" he growled realizing how much time had passed, and he knew he had already blown apart the new beginning that he wanted with Beth. Once again, he’d put her second, and he’d done it after pressing her to come with him, after insisting that since Ryan was out of the picture, he’d have no problem making things right on his end. And once again, something had gone wrong.
Before his cell was out of his pocket, Beth had come through the door and headed for him. The expression she wore was hard to read and he knew that any apology would seem hollow but when she reached for him, put her arms securely around him and murmured against his chest, a quiet reassurance, he relaxed and leaned back into her. She’d known, somehow she’d known he needed her. Instead of leaving, she’d come back for him. They were going to get through this. He didn't need to tell her about Gemma. "Let's go home baby."
NEXT CHAPTER: Passages 18