The Ex Factor - Erin McCarthy


When Jolene Hart broke off her affair with Chance Rivers, he left willingly enough, but he threw his guitar in her pool and stole their Song of the Year Grammy off the wall on his way out the door.

She retaliated by putting sugar in the gas tank of his favorite truck and turning his dog against him.

He took up with a blonde named Dixie and Jolene fell into bed with her bus driver. She heard Chance drank too much, and she ate cheesy grits like there was no tomorrow where she had to wear skintight jeans on stage. Together they had been country’s hottest new duo. Separate they were capable of selling almost no records.

Which was why their manager now had them locked in an office together to sort out their upcoming album. Jolene wasn’t having any of it. To say that Chance felt the same was a serious understatement.

“Unlock the damn door,” he told Ginny, his voice deceptively calm.

But having spent six months dating him, Jolene recognized the signs of his frustration. His strong jaw was set. His nostrils were flaring. His dark brown disheveled hair was in his eyes and he hadn’t bothered to toss it out of the way. The only part of his body that moved was his thumb, tapping up and down rapidly on the denim covering his knee. He was refusing to look at her, and that served to make her temper flare right along with his. The least the bastard could do was look at her. She hadn’t expected flowers or even a smile, but a damn hello would be appreciated considering the man’s penis was no stranger to her mouth.

“No,” Ginny said firmly. In her sixties, she’d been in Nashville since before it was trendy. She turned nobodies into stars and stars into nobodies and took no bullshit from any man. “We’re sorting this out today Chance Rivers, because I’ve about had it with you two. The label wants the album in two months and if y’all don’t produce something you’ll be yesterday’s news.”

Jolene shifted uncomfortably in the wooden chair in front of Ginny’s desk. Ginny was her manager and mentor, and she was right. Things changed in the business as frequently as Jolene changed her underwear. You either kept up or got left behind--and this was only their second album. Their first had been an unexpected runaway success and she’d shot from modestly famous local solo artist to duet superstardom. Since she had no desire to go home to Starkey, Kentucky, home of nothing, or wind up singing in bars around town for a few sets a night, she was going to have to swallow her rancor for Chance and get the job done. Though the idea of writing and recording with him made her want to throw up in her mouth. Or better yet, on Chance.

The man was insufferable.

He scowled. He brooded. He sighed.

And yet, he was so very, very sexy.

She suddenly felt melancholy, marveling at how they’d gone from introduction to songwriting team to stars to lovers to enemies all in the course of eighteen months. It had been a whirlwind and given she’d spent damn near every day in his presence, her personal and professional relationship with him had literally taken over her life. There was a hole there now that he was gone, though she wouldn’t go so far as to call it missing him. He was arrogant, a know-it-all, a lying son of a bitch. But he was also tender, romantic, loyal. With fingers that strummed her with as much confident skill as he did his guitar. Not that there had been any strumming at the end of their relationship. More like picking.

It felt weird to be so close to him yet have no right to touch him. This was the first time she had been in the same room with him since the fight to end all fights in her back yard last April. Now it was sweaty, hot July and she would swear to God she could smell Chance, that earthy, musky cologne he always wore, that never failed to turn her on.

“Ginny, in case you haven’t noticed Jolene and I can’t stand each other. How do you expect us to cut a record together?” He spoke in irritation.

Okay, that hurt. Right in that sack of stupid she called her heart. He didn’t have to be so blunt about it. Sure, they’d been slinging arrows at each other for months. But she was the one