Acclaimed literary biographer Elizabeth Winston writes about long-dead heroes. So bad-boy rock icon Zander Freedman couldn’t possibly tempt her to write his memoir. Except the man is a mass of fascinating contradictions – manipulative, honest, gifted, charismatic and morally ambiguous. In short, everything she seeks in a biography subject. When in her life will she get another chance to work with a living legend?
But saying yes to one temptation soon leads to another. Suddenly she’s having heated fantasies about her subject, fantasies this blue-eyed devil is only too willing to stoke. She thought self-control was in her DNA; after all, she grew up a minister’s daughter.
She thought wrong.
Rock star Zander Freedman has been an outlier–many would say an outcast–for most of his life. But there’s no disaster he can’t overcome, from the breakup of his band to the inevitable damage to his reputation. His Resurrection Tour is shaping up to be his greatest triumph – if his golden voice holds out.
Contracting a respected biographer is simply about creating more buzz. Elizabeth’s integrity is the key to consolidating his legacy as one of rock’s greats. All the damn woman has to do is write down what he tells her. Not force him to think. Or encourage the good guy struggling to get out. And certainly not make him fall in love for the first time in his life.
Turns out he is scared of something: being known. *scroll down for excerpt
I wrote Zander Freedman, the older brother of What The Librarian Did hero, Devin, as selfish, talented, vain, charismatic, brutally frank and a master of self-deception. And yet some readers actually like this guy which forced me to ask myself the fatal question. ‘Can he be redeemed?’
‘Absolutely not,’ was my immediate reply.
‘Great!’ said my muse. ‘Let’s do it!’
‘Wait, just a sec,’ I said, because my Muse likes to make me suffer. ‘Let’s bring Zander into A Prior Engagement and see if I can actually spend nine months with this alphahole.’ And Zander came in, blustering and arrogant, with a smidgeon of humility and made me laugh. Now he’s my favourite bad boy hero, though frankly Elizabeth is the only woman who can handle him. Personally I’d rather live with Devin.
Team Zander or Team Devin? Check out What The Librarian Did by reading an excerpt here.
The business end of the stadium was a rabbit warren of long echoing corridors, punctuated by big men leaning against doors. Security, Elizabeth guessed. Everyone else they passed scurried, intent on some backstage task.
Dimity opened a door. “In here.”
Half-expecting a throne room, Elizabeth was disappointed. Though large, the changing room she stepped into was like any sports locker room. Concrete block walls of a scuff-marked white. A red couch and two matching director’s chairs filled one corner, a glass coffee table held water bottles and a bowl of bananas.
The air was as warm and damp as a wet washcloth, and redolent of herbal tea. Her nose picked up ginger and honey accents with an overbite of hair-spray. On the other side of the room, large bulbs blazed around a mirror silhouetting the half-naked man sitting in front of it with his knees splayed and his hands resting on black jean-clad thighs.
A brunette with delicate features in a purple muscle tee and denim cut-offs wielded a blow dryer over dancing strands that shone like polished silk. “I wonder what shampoo he uses,” was Elizabeth’s first thought.
Her gaze dropped to the tattooed chest reflected in the mirror.
Outstretched angel wings followed the sweep of his collar bone, the tips disappearing over his shoulder, while the lower feathers curved over taut pecs.
“She got caught in traffic,” Dimity hollered over the hum of the hairdryer. “Have you time for this now or would you prefer to wait until after the show?”
“Oh, I can’t stay,” Elizabeth called apologetically. “It’s my sister’s birthday dinner.”
“Then let’s talk now.” A nipple ring glinted as Zander swung in his chair and stood. Now the mirror lights were a halo around his bare shoulders. He smiled.
Elizabeth considered herself an intelligent person. When she’d started kindergarten she’d already been reading six months. She had a BA, MA and PhD in history. Her house was full of books and even the washroom had pithy sayings framed on its walls for the edification of anyone sitting on the toilet.
And yet she hadn’t factored charisma into Zander Freedman.
Theoretically, she understood the guy had to have something to explain why people didn’t simply tell him to take a running jump when he behaved like a douche.
Intellectually she appreciated he was ‘hot’ having been listed – twice – in People magazine’s Fifty Most Beautiful People On The Planet, and three times as the World’s Sexiest rock star. To her mind, it was superficial and meaningless drivel even when conscientiously allowing for her self-protective bias as a lanky ‘Ginga.’
But his smile of welcome was so dazzling she nearly flung up a hand to deflect it.
Yes, there was arrogance and ego and a whole lot of entitlement in that smile but his charisma was a sonic boom breaking the sound barrier. Sex appeal emanated like a force field that practically bounced off her ovaries.
“Dr Elizabeth Winston, welcome.”
An involuntary shiver tickled down her spine. His tone had the same combination of gravel, sex and sweetness that characterized his singing voice. He could probably drawl a shopping list and make it seductive.
Her writer’s brain scrambled to find words to describe the impact even as she simpered, as giddy as any schoolgirl. Out of the corner of her eye she caught Dimity’s smirk. Closing her mouth, Elizabeth stepped forward. “Nice to meet you,” she croaked, holding out her hand.
Crystal blue eyes bathed her in charm as warm as a tropical lagoon. “We’re penpals, we can do better than that.”
Zander drew her into a hug. Her nose squished into a smooth muscled shoulder and her outstretched hand ended up pressed against a rock hard thigh – at least that’s what she hoped it was. She wasn’t a woman who flustered easily but as Zander released her she felt a blush scorch her cheeks.
Behind her, Dimity snickered.
The rocker’s gaze slid over her damp clothes and she half-expected them to steam in its wake. “You’re wet,” he said concerned.
Instinctively, she covered the ink stain on her pocket, resolving not to turn and flash her gingham underwear. “My umbrella blew out and parking was difficult and-” She stopped babbling. “I’m sorry if I’ve upset your schedule.”
“It makes things tight, but I can give you twenty minutes.” He gestured to the couch. “What would you like to drink…wine, beer, champagne?”
“Hot tea, please. Milk, no sugar.”
He looked at Dimity.
“I’m on it.” She left with the hairdresser who did a final tweak of Zander’s hair as she passed – possibly because she could. Elizabeth had an urge to touch all that shimmering softness herself.
I am more sensible than this.
Gingerly, she backed up and perched on the edge of the couch. Her trousers would leave a wet patch on the fabric but maybe Zander was used to that.
His stomach was so flat and hard there was nothing to stop her eye skating down to his low slung black jeans.
“Mind if I finish dressing while we talk?”
Guiltily, she raised her eyes and was scorched by another blue-orbed bolt of charisma. “Of course. I mean, sure go ahead. Great tattoo by the way.” I was looking at that, honest.
“Berlin, last year.” He turned to pick up his shirt and she took the opportunity to stuff her libido into the bottom drawer of her priorities.
“Let me clarify something straight away,” she began. “I’m not the right person to write your book.”
“That’s a damn shame.” He shrugged on a soft-collared shirt of red silk, so light it seemed to waft onto his body. “I’ve kinda got my heart set on you.”
One crooked smile opened that bottom drawer. Elizabeth slammed it shut again. “There are a number of reasons a collaboration won’t work.”
“Let’s hear ’em.”
“Firstly, I have a job.”
“New Zealand’s academic year runs February through November,” he said, “and is made up of two semesters. The first finishes June 30, a month away.” Zander fastened the bottom two buttons of his shirt and began rolling up the sleeves. The golden hair on his forearms glinted. “Given there are three weeks holiday before the second semester starts that gives your faculty seven weeks to find a replacement. You take a sabbatical and return for the next academic year.”
He – or Dimity – had done their homework. Elizabeth tried not to feel special. “Secondly,” she said. “Your publisher’s deadline is only six months away, that’s too short a time frame.”
“Not if you join me on tour and stay with me in LA in between tour legs. We’ll interview every day, hell you can shadow me if you need to. You’ll have nothing to do but devote yourself to the book. No cooking, no laundry…” he gestured to the ink stain, “…you’re still frowning.”
“I researched my last book for two years before I even began writing.”
“Your subject was dead.” He picked up a silver hoop from the mirror stand and threaded it through his left earlobe. “Think how much easier it will be to just ask.”
Zander threaded two more earrings above the first. “All you have to do is write down my reminiscences and shape them into a bestseller.”
“Because bestsellers are so easy to write?”
“With a star subject, sure. Why else would the publisher pay me a five hundred thousand dollar advance?”
Elizabeth stared. “You got five hundred thousand dollars to write your memoir?”
“No, I get a million, the other half is on delivery of the manuscript.”
“Wow,” she said weakly.
Zander studied her. “And your name could be on the cover.”
She started to laugh.
“Too obvious? But unlike the devil, I don’t require worship.” He grinned. “At least not from you, Dr. Winston. I read your backlist and thought, ‘Shit, this woman can write,’ then it hit me. An award-winning literary biographer working with a pop culture icon. It’s intriguing. Gives the book a point of difference. I still get a prickle on the back of my neck thinking about it.”
She experienced the same prickle. Crazy.
He dropped a chain over his head, solid silver links with a padlock, then casually added a couple more of varying thicknesses. “I see this book as an opportunity to talk directly to my fans. Remind them why they still love me. So they keep buying my music. Going to my concerts. Continue our dance of co-dependency…no, that’s too negative…what’s the word I’m looking for?”
“There you go.”
“A mutually beneficial relationship between two species.”
“You had me at symbiosis.”
He was trying to charm her and, oh boy, was it working. But some species shouldn’t intermingle.
“Since we spoke I’ve been reading rock biographies,” she said. “The style is very different to mine.” The majority had left Elizabeth queasy, anecdotes of gratuitous sex and willful self-destruction by men whose emotional development had stopped in adolescence. Some described deprived childhoods but fame had only given them the opportunity to wreck emotional havoc on an epic scale.
Zander turned from the mirror. “I’m sensing you’ve already made up your mind here.”
“I probably have,” she admitted.
“Then why come to see me?”
“I wanted to meet email@example.com.”
His impatience dissolved into a sly grin. “My library has first editions of both Jefferson and Franklin’s autobiographies.”
“Now that,” she conceded, “is tempting.”
“Are you concerned about your literary reputation? Jumping into the mosh pit of commercialism with a rock star?”
“If writing was my primary source of income I’d have to consider whether I’d be diluting my brand.” She smiled. “But as you pointed out during our phone call, my readers are relatively few.”
“But we’re quality,” Zander reminded her. He fastened a couple of chunky silver bracelets on his wrist and then slid a skull ring on his left hand. He now wore more jewelry than she owned.
“Besides,” she added, “if I made literary awards the goal I’d start writing for glory, instead of from passion. And if your work isn’t feeding your soul then what’s the point of it?”
His brow creased, he looked at her as though trying to make her out. If the rocker was taking botox, then he was between shots.
“Is one of your objections religious?”
Now that was unexpected. “How so?”
You’re a preacher’s daughter. Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll might fall outside your comfort zone.”
Preacher’s daughter. The American term sounded so much more fire and brimstone, bible-thumping fun than ‘minister’s daughter.’ “It’s a misconception that clergy kids grow up wide-eyed innocents,” she said. “All types of people came through the parsonage. I’m not easily shocked – though you might startle me.”
He grinned. “Now you make me want to try.”
I like him, she thought, surprised. His self-deprecating humor hadn’t come across in print but clearly Zander Freedman was in on his own joke which suggested his reprobate persona was partly a construct – for privacy or self-protection?
Dragging a director’s chair opposite, he sat and leaned forward, resting his forearms loosely on his knees. His shirt gaped open and the angel’s wings reappeared in all their dark-etched glory.
“What’s your dream, Elizabeth? Hell, that’s a mouthful. Liz.”
“Dream? And I prefer Elizabeth.”
“Money no object, Lizzy. I added a syllable because I’m a guy willing to compromise.”
The spark of annoyance that he wouldn’t use her name shielded her against his sex appeal. “I’d take six month’s sabbattical, go to the States and research my next project, Alex.”
Zander’s eyes narrowed and then he smiled, an angel’s smile to go with the wings. “And what’s your next project, Eliza. Three syllables, that’s more than meeting you halfway.”
She returned an angel smile of her own. “The four chaplains, Alexander.”
He was momentarily distracted. “A quartet of Chaplin impersonators?”
“Four US Army chaplains of different faiths. In World War Two they gave away their life jackets to save others when their troop ship was torpedoed. As the USAT Dorchester sank they linked arms and stood on the deck singing hymns.” She got a lump in her throat thinking about it.
“A heroic story that deserves to be told,” he agreed cheerfully. “I’ll pay you eighty grand American, and throw in two percent of royalties. Take a longer sabbatical and devote yourself to researching these paragons.”
Elizabeth swallowed. “That is a very good offer.”
“Because I don’t want another writer, Elizabeth. Notice I’m using all four syllables? I want you.”
“The most important quality of a biographer is empathy.” She tried to find a diplomatic way to put this. “I’m not sure I can find a way into your personality.”
“Because I’m a tantrum-throwing, self-indulgent ego-maniac?”
“At points in my life that’s been true,” he conceded. “But I’m also the CEO of an eighteen-year-old mega conglomerate called Rage and an award-winning songwriter. I’ve lived a big life and my mistakes are to scale. I can’t change the past and I’m proud of being a survivor in this business.” His expression mellowed to soulful. “You have the ability to make controversial characters sympathetic. Maybe I just want to be understood.”
The logical side of Elizabeth’s brain suggested he was playing the poor little rock boy card to appeal to her softer side. Unfortunately her softer side melted all over it.
Zander seemed to sense her weakening because he leaned in for the kill. “Stonewall Jackson might have been a brilliant military tactician and a devout Christian but he was also on the wrong side of the slavery debate. Yet you made me appreciate that within the confines of his faith and his society he tried to be honorable. He looked after whoever he was responsible for, be they his soldiers or his slaves.”
“Zee looks after his slaves too,” Dimity commented, returning with the tea.
“You’re not helping,” he said.
Glancing at her dazed expression, Dimity smiled with a ‘told-you-so’ waspishness that stung Elizabeth out of her stupor.
“My God, he’s good,” she marveled. “How long before immunity kicks in?”
The blond passed her the mug of tea. “When you realize his heart’s not in it.”
“Hey, Doc,” Zander snapped his fingers under her nose. “We’re the ones supposed to be bonding here.”
“May I be blunt?”
“Knock yourself out.”
“I have a mortgage, a job and a professional reputation to safeguard. And you’ve already fired two writers.”
“The first was more interested in trying to sleep with groupies, the second in sleeping with me.”
About to say, ‘but weren’t they both men?’ Elizabeth stopped herself. “Okay.” The tea was weak and almost cold. Even Dimity wasn’t perfect. She put the mug down. “I’d require a ‘no fire’ clause in our contract.”
Zander’s full mouth tightened briefly. “Okay, as long as it goes both ways. We both commit. I won’t lie, I am demanding.”
“I’ve been living with two pre-schoolers for three months. I expect I can handle a rock star for five.”
Dimity stared at her, so did Zander.
Elizabeth waited a beat. “Joke.”
“Dimity,” he said, still staring at Elizabeth. “Am I doing the right thing here?”
“I don’t know,” said his PA thoughtfully. “But it’ll be fun finding out.”
“A tip, Dr Winston,” he suggested gently. “The secret to handling me is not comparing me to toddlers. Even as a joke.”
“If I take the job, I’ll bear that in mind.”
Zander leaned forward to fasten a loose buckle on his boot and Elizabeth glimpsed a nicotine patch on his hip. The hint of vulnerability fascinated her. For all his fame, he was only human, subject to the same hurdles as everyone else.
“While we’re talking conditions,” he said briskly as he straightened. “I have veto over everything in the final manuscript.”
“If it’s written in first person, it will be in your own words.”
“Do I strike you as a guy who censors himself? I have the casting vote. Always.”
“But you’d listen to my advice?”
“I’m not paying you eighty grand to ignore you. So have we got a deal?”
He was manipulative, honest, gifted, charismatic, a leader, a strategist – everything, in fact she sought in a biography subject. When in her life would she have another opportunity to work with living history?
“I’m interested – in principle.”
He received a signal from Dimity. “Walk with me.”
He strode out, seemingly unconscious of the stillness that resulted as the crew caught sight of him and paused in their labors.
He acknowledged every greeting like a King greeting his courtiers.
“This way.” A security guy ushered him into another room, larger, occupied by three stunning men. One paced, one sat on a couch plucking a guitar and being talked at by a third. The other band members of Rage.
“MossJaredSeth,” Zander said too fast for Elizabeth to make IDs. “Guys, this is Elizabeth Winston. She’s taking over my memoir.”
She received a polite acknowledgment, similar to that given to the new girlfriend of a recidivist womanizer. Let’s see if you’re here tomorrow.
Definitely a no-fire clause.
“I haven’t said yes except in principle,” she reminded Zander. “I can’t give you a definite answer until I’ve secured leave.”
“Ever heard the saying it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than seek permission?”
“Is that how you operate?”
He laughed. “If I asked forgiveness of everyone I’ve wronged I’d need to wear knee pads.”
She glanced at her watch. “I’m really sorry I can’t stay for your concert.”
“Your sister’s birthday takes precedence,” he said.
The guy on the couch stopped playing his guitar, the one pacing faltered. Even the talker stopped, his mouth falling open.
Puzzled, Elizabeth glanced at Zander who said smoothly, “I’ll walk you to the door.”
They paused there and she thrust out her hand. Another hug would finish her. “So, I’ll let you-”
“No. Make your decision now, Elizabeth.” Lifting her hand, Zander kissed it. The kiss burned. “Will you lie down with a sinner – metaphorically speaking – to get to your saints?”
“Two words: Zander Freedman. Cue screaming fangirls, flailing fangirls, fangirls who deserves to be restraint. And then cue me who will crush them all because I don’t care about the age difference but I call dibs on Zander Freedman.” ~ Her Book Thoughts
“The perfect redemption of a rock star.” ~ Heroes & Heartbreakers
“Magnificently told story, you can’t help but be touched by Rise.” ~ Tome Tender
“Romantic, intelligent, redeeming and lovely. A fantastic story from beginning to end.” ~ Craves the Angst reviews
“Books like Rise are the reason I read romance.” ~ Love Affair with an E Reader
“If you like your romance fiction intelligent, intense, and unforgettable, add this one to your must-read list immediately.” ~ Janga, The Romance Dish
“I was dying to get to their HEA, but at the same time didn’t want the book to end.” ~ Becky On Books