Let It Be Me (Men of the Misfit Inn #1) - Kait Nolan

Chapter 1

“I am not drunk enough for this.”

As truly horrific honky-tonk music slammed into her like a freight train, Emerson wished for a shot of something stout and the silence of the recording booth. Emerson almost turned around to go home to Hamilton as the blonde on stage reached the ear-splitting chorus of “Stand By Your Man.” But her boyfriend had blown their plans tonight because of work, and she’d promised Paisley she’d meet her new man. It seemed a shame to waste all the effort she’d put into her appearance for the cancelled date, so she’d dragged herself all the way into Nashville to Lower Broadway.

Weaving her way through the crowd that didn’t seem in the least deterred by the steady drizzle of spring rain, Emerson scanned the bar for familiar brunette curls. As she edged past too many bodies, her phone vibrated. Fishing it out, she saw Fiona Gaffney flash across the screen. Her goddaughter. One of the lights of her life. It was too damned loud to answer now. She’d get this meet and greet over with and call her back on the way home.

“Emmy!” Paisley’s excited squeal reached her, even over the catcalling toward the stage. She materialized out of the throng and looped an arm through Emerson’s. “You came!”

“You did not tell me it was karaoke night. You know how I feel about karaoke.” She had to lean close to be heard over the noise. Bad music aside, Paisley knew she avoided places like this because she had to protect her voice for work.

But her long-time friend didn’t wilt under the accusatory stare. “Oh, don’t be a fuddy duddy.” She began to drag Emerson through the bar. “You need to hear Dustin sing.”

“Please tell me you haven’t latched on to another country music hopeful.” Her excessively romantic best friend had definitely had a type back in college. They’d attended more than their fair share of open mic nights and karaoke competitions in the name of being supportive.

“God no. He’s just got a gorgeous voice.” Paisley winked. “And a really great ass.”

Stopping at a high-top table with a sandy-haired guy in jeans and an untucked black button down, she waved an enthusiastic hand. “Dustin, baby, this is my dearest, darling bestie, Emerson Aldridge. Emerson, my boyfriend, Dustin Phelps.”

Emerson shook his proffered hand and slid onto one of the chairs, sending up a prayer of sincere gratitude as the caterwauling from the stage finally stopped. Why? Why couldn’t they have picked one of the other venues that had actual good music? There were so many to choose from.

Once the waitress had taken her order, Dustin leaned across the table. “So Emerson, what is it you do?”

Yet again she had to lean too close to be heard without shouting. “I’m a voice actor.”

“Yeah? Like, what? Cartoons? Video games?”

“Sometimes. But mostly I do audiobooks.”

He blinked. “So you read for a living.”

She performed entire casts of characters, giving unique voices to each, such that listeners had a well-rounded experience and felt immersed in the story. But sure. They could just reduce her life’s work down to reading. He clearly wasn’t an audiobook listener. A lot of people didn’t understand, and she was not in the proper mood to educate him, particularly as she suspected he wouldn’t last the month once Paisley had her fill.

“I suppose.”

Did he even know that Paisley wrote romance? If he didn’t, how serious could this relationship be?

One drink. She’d have one drink and visit for a bit, then the social niceties would be discharged and she could go back home to the quiet. As the next pair of singers took the stage for an extremely drunk rendition of “Beer Run,” she knew that would be sooner rather than later. She was absolutely not in the mood for this. But she did her best to engage in conversation during the lulls between singers, listening to Dustin talk about his job as assistant baseball coach for one of the area universities. That explained the nice ass. Nearly a dozen more tone-deaf performers took the stage, each progressively worse than the last. Emerson wondered if blood was leaking from her ears. Where the hell was her drink?

Paisley studied her face. “You are not in a fun-loving-Emerson frame of mind.”

She definitely was not. But that wasn’t Paisley’s fault, and it wasn’t fair of her to spoil the night. Reeling in her lousy mood, she offered an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry. I’m disappointed that Blaine’s work schedule ruined what was supposed to