For those that want more about The Summer Ultimatum, here’s more. I’m excited to say you’ll get some updates from Laine and Ryan from the Summer Dare and you’ll get to know more about the Lancaster Sisters.
Who wants a peek at The Summer Ultimatum?
(Copyright © 2023 by Amanda Shelley – Please note this is unedited and subject to change)
CHAPTER ONE – Sloane
“Quick, grab that high-top table over there,” my sister Lanie urges as we enter the crowded club.
Pointing to the table in question, the bright neon X marked on my hand illuminates like a beacon, signaling the fact I’m still a minor in these black lights. It doesn’t bother me though; I’ve got better things to do than drink. “This one?”
Nodding, she shouts above the music, “It’s got the best view of the stage.”
Like the older sister she is, Lanie’s always looking out for me. She knows how much I have riding on this internship. If I crush it, I’ll be hired on permanently for my dream job. If I crash and burn, I’ll never get a job in the entertainment industry. Yeah, I’m likely exaggerating, but it feels this way. The pressure is on.
Once we’re seated, I lean in and ask, “When will Ryan get here?”
Ryan is Lanie’s boyfriend. They met unexpectedly when she came to open Nana’s house for the summer last year. Despite the plan Nana put into place before she passed, I firmly believe Ryan is perfect for Lanie.
Looking at her phone, she grins like a fool. “He just texted to say he’s running by his place to change, then he’ll be here.”
“Girl, you’ve got it bad,” I tease, like any younger sister should. If my hunch is right, I have a feeling we’ll finally be getting that boy in our family Dad has always hoped for. That guy is head over heels in love with my sister, and now that they’ve both graduated, I’m certain it will be only a matter of time before he pops the question.
Wistfully, Lanie sighs. “I can only hope one day, you’ll find someone like Ryan.”
“Uh, no thanks. I’ve got plans—and they don’t include a man in my future.”
I’ve worked my ass off to be the top of my class and even manage to surprise everyone by graduating early this spring. I have the internship of a lifetime lined up, and I’m focusing my energy on that.
I swear, Lanie’s just as bad as Mom with her pointed looks. “You just wait, Sloane. You’re gonna meet some guy who will completely knock you on your ass, and you’ll be so stupid in love, you won’t know what hit ya…” With a shit-eating grin, she smirks proudly. “And I’m here for it.”
“Yeah. I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong, I love that you’ve found the love of your life, but it’s not in the cards for me for at least another few years.”
“Oh, Sloaney…” She shakes head as a knowing smirk slides into place. “You and your five-year plan.”
“Hush.” I swat at her, as the first band for open mic night steps up to the stage. “I need to pay attention.” Pulling out the notebook I keep in my purse, I quickly jot down the band’s name and my first impressions.
The lead singer steps up to the mic, introduces themselves, then starts into a song I don’t recognize. It’s great they’re playing their own songs, but they don’t quite have the sound I’m looking for. They aren’t bad, but nothing makes them stand out either. After a few songs, a new artist takes their place. Unfortunately, it’s more of the same. They sound great for tonight’s crowd, but there’s nothing worth writing home about.
From the corner of my eye, I see my sister light up like a tree on Christmas as she spots something across the room. Obviously, Ryan’s arrived. Nothing makes my sister look this happy, like him.
She’s on her feet, embracing him the moment he arrives at our table. I know for a fact she saw him only this morning, as he left for work from our place. However, the two of them act like they’ve been apart for ten years, rather than ten hours.
I’ll admit, I’m jealous—but not in the way most would think. I’m envious of her ability to open up and actually let him in. Someday, I want a man to look at me the way Ryan looks at Lanie. One who gets her so completely and pushes her to follow her dreams. But I’m not in any hurry. I’ve got plenty to focus on at the moment.
When they break apart, Ryan leans in to give me a side hug. “Hey, Sloane. You look great tonight. Thanks for suggesting we join you.”
“No problem. I’m hoping to catch some local talent worthy of pitching to my boss.”
Just as the words leave my mouth, a new musician comes to center stage with only a guitar and sits on the stool that’s been provided for him. He’s about my age and reminds me a bit like the comedian Matt Rife, with his predominant cheekbones, tousled hair, and gorgeous smile. Though he has a bit more scruff around his chiseled jaw, and it looks good on him. He’s wearing worn jeans and a well-fitted black t-shirt and looks the part of a musician as he runs a hand through his hair before reaching for the mic.
Unlike the others who’ve performed before him, he’s a bit raw. I can sense his nerves as he fumbles with the mic to adjust it before speaking. “Hi. I’m Jax Cartwright.” The crowd cheers like they have for the other performers and when they settle down, he continues, “Some of you might remember me, but performing like this is a first tonight. I’m gonna play a few covers, along with one of my own. I hope y’all will enjoy this.” He keeps it simple and to the point, but as he strums his guitar, checking if it’s in tune, there’s something about him that holds my attention.
Ryan leans in and says, “I went to school with this guy. He’s a year younger than me. I never knew he could play.”
The moment Jax strums the chords to Ed Sheeran’s song, Thinking Out Loud, Lanie squeals, jumping to her feet. “Ohmigod, I love this song! Dance with me, Ryan.”
Ryan must agree because the next thing I know, I’m sitting alone at the table, completely mesmerized by Jax. His acoustic version of this song is on point. Before he can get to the chorus, I pull out my phone to capture his brilliance. The hairs on my skin stand to full attention as goosebumps erupt along my spine and up my arms as I watch him sing about falling in love. His timing and pitch is perfection, as his voice fills the room. By the time this song ends, I’m dying to know what else he’s got in him.
Thankfully, Jax doesn’t disappoint.
As the song ends, his sexy voice announces, “I’m gonna switch things up and play a personal favorite. This is the first song I ever learned to play. Hope you enjoy my version of American Pie.”
I never would’ve picked this song, but the crowd goes wild as he hits the chorus, and they enthusiastically join him in his lyrics. Again, I’ve had my camera rolling from the beginning. It may originally be Don McLean’s, but Jax quickly makes it his own. His ability to draw in a crowd is infectious. His raw talent holds everyone’s interest.
By the time he launches into his own song, he’s got the crowd hook, line, and sinker. They clap along enthusiastically. When he reaches the chorus for a second time, the audience joins in. The moment he finishes, I’m frantically sending all three videos to my boss with the following email:
You HAVE to listen to Jax Cartwright. I think I’ve found our next local contestant for the showcase.
Let me know what you think,
The moment Jax ends his set and leaves the stage, he makes a bee-line for the exit. I know within every fiber of my being, if I don’t connect with him right this minute, I’ll miss my chance.
Without a word to my sister or Ryan, I hop up from the table and hightail it across the room. Just as he exits the building, I call out, “Hey, Jax, wait up.”
CHAPTER TWO – Jax
My nerves are buzzing as I walk out the door. I just performed for the first time in front of a live audience, in my hometown of all places, and I’m dying to get out of here before anyone I know can stop me. I’ve never played locally. Playing in public was something I picked up my freshman year of college. I mostly played in the dorms or in small crowds. Tonight was about my promise to Dad—and now that it’s done, I’m heading home.
I’ve just made it out the door when an unrecognizable female voice calls from behind me, “Hey, Jax, wait up.”
At first, I’m tempted to pretend I didn’t hear it and keep walking, but when she mentions, “I’m with Smashing Waves Records. Can I have a moment of your time?” it stops me in my tracks.
Why would someone from a studio want to talk with me?
When I turn around, I’m met with piercing hazel eyes. They belong to a girl about my age, with dark wavy hair and dressed far more professional than most in this coastal town. She’s wearing a black skirt, with a fuchsia-pink blouse. It fits her perfectly, but she looks like she just came from the office, rather than someone who hangs out in a club. Before I can further assess her, she quickly thrusts her hand in my direction, officially introducing herself.
“Hi, I’m Sloane Lancaster from Smashing Waves Records Studio. I know you’re busy, as you’re rushing out of here, but do you think we could set up a time to talk in the next day or so?”
So much is in that introduction, I’m not even sure where to begin. But curiosity gets the better of me, so I ask, “What exactly do you want to talk about?”
Without hesitation, she smiles and says, “Your music, of course. You played one hell of a set and if you’ve got some time, I’d love nothing more than to set up a meeting to see what else you can do.” Reaching out, she hands me a business card. “My number is on the back. I’d really like to talk with you.”
Her confidence is sexy, but I’m so caught off guard by her offer, I’m sure I come off like an ass when I ask, “Why?”
Blinking a few times as if she can’t comprehend my question, she inhales a deep breath before straightening her shoulders and repeating herself. “Like I said, I’m interested in your music. I think you’ve got an amazing voice, and your vibe on stage is just what we’re looking for.”
“I’m pretty sure you’ve got the wrong guy,” I dismissively say. “This was a one-off—not my usual thing.”
The phone in her other hand buzzes with an incoming message. She briefly glances at it but returns her attention to me. “Look, I won’t take much of your time. But can you at least let me buy you dinner so we can discuss this further?”
Again, I’m both intrigued and confused by her persistence. “Uh, I work most nights this summer.”
“How about lunch?” She must read something on my face because she quickly adds, “You gotta eat sometime. We can meet for breakfast or just coffee. Just text me when you’re available, and we can set something up.”
Sloane certainly isn’t backing down. She’s got a way about her that’s assertive, but not at all bitchy or controlling. Her tenacity sparks my interest and makes me wonder what she’s really like. I’ve never considered pursuing a career in music, but I’d certainly be interested in more time with her.
What’s the worst that could happen? I spend time with a beautiful girl, and I turn her offer down? Seems like a no-brainer to me.
Not wanting to show my cards entirely, I suggest, “Meet me at Whitman’s tomorrow at eight-thirty. The local morning rush should be gone, and the tourists won’t be out of bed just yet. It should give us a chance to get a table where we can discuss things.”
Nodding once, she grins. “I’ll be there. I’d better get back in to watch the remaining sets tonight. My sister is probably wondering where I went. Thanks again for agreeing to meet with me.”
She’s here with her sister? That’s interesting. Does that mean she’s a local? Or is she only here on vacation? I think I remember seeing Smashing Waves Studio as one of the major companies sponsoring the music festival this summer, but they’re based somewhere in California or something. I’m certain I’ve never seen her before—but as I put my truck into drive and pull out of the parking lot, all thoughts swirling through my brain are on her.
* * *
Between playing on stage for the first time and my conversation with Sloane Lancaster, I was wound up most of the night. Even though I’d pulled a double, working the morning and lunch rush at the restaurant yesterday before my performance, and my body was exhausted, I couldn’t sleep for shit last night.
Wanting to guarantee a table at the café, I arrive thirty minutes early, only to find Sloane typing away at her laptop in the back corner of the restaurant. When the hostess asks if I want a table for one, I point to Sloane. “My party has already arrived.”
Sloane is so entranced in her work she doesn’t even notice my approach. Today, she’s wearing another flowy blue blouse, and her long hair is tied in a knot at the base of her neck. On her nose is a pair of dark-rimmed glasses, and serious Sloane is even sexier than last night.
When I reach her table, I stand for a few moments before clearing my throat to get her attention.
Startled, her body jerks slightly before turning her beautiful hazel eyes on mine. “Oh, I didn’t expect you to be this early.” Reaching for her coffee cup, she moves it aside and quickly puts her laptop on the seat beside her.
Sliding into the booth across from her, I ask, “Are you always this early to meetings?”
“Dad was Air Force, and I’ve been engrained since I could tell time that if you show up on time—you’re late. Besides, I was already up and didn’t want to wake my sisters.”
The waitress arrives and refills Sloane’s cup with coffee. When I push mine toward her, she fills it to the brim. With a cheery smile, she states, “I’ll give you some time to look at the menu. Be back in a few.”
As soon as she leaves, I ask, “Are you staying at a local hotel?”
“No, we’re staying at Nana’s—Uh, I guess it’s our house… now that she’s gone.”
“So…” I draw out, trying to piece the puzzle together. Before I can censor my thoughts, I blurt out, “You live around here?”
“Well, I have most summers since I was a kid. But like I said, my dad was in the Air Force, so we didn’t live near here. Seaside was Nana’s home and the one place we always return to. Even now that she’s gone, it’s still where we feel most at home.”
Before taking another sip of coffee, I ask, “Is your entire family here for the summer?”
“No, only my sisters and me. Mom’s a traveling nurse, and Dad’s stationed at Lewis-McChord. But enough about me. We’re supposed to be talking about you.”
I knew it would just be a matter of time before she turned the table, but I’d much rather talk about her. Sighing heavily, I admit, “Trust me, you’re way more interesting.”