39. Nora

"This is a really fucking big deal, Dove. Maddox's dad has been a total asshat forever, and he's never wanted anything to do with Mad. Except for when he needed money. As far as I know, he only asked for money once, when his company was having some financial problems a few years ago, but he was such a dick about it. I think if he'd been civil about it at all, Mad would have given him anything. He acts like he doesn't care, but I think deep down we all want to have a dad in our lives."

Josh's dad was no prize either, and hearing him talk about wanting a relationship with a dad that he couldn't have, was hard for me. I hugged him over the back of the couch and he leaned his head back into me. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be a downer." And I didn't. I just didn't know what to do about it.

Savannah had called me from the hotel, after apparently the dinner surprise from hell. She'd said Maddox had acted like he'd been hit in the face, but he hadn't reacted violently. She said he'd barely reacted at all, except for when his dad made some crude comment about her, and even then he hadn't gotten physical. I was impressed, actually.

But my concern for Savannah as a person, and for Maddox as my husband's best friend, couldn't negate my concern for Maddox as my charge. I had to keep him in line, protect the band from terrible publicity or worse. And I didn't know quite how to do that, from a cabin in Big Bear.

"I need to call Nate. Todd's got enough to deal with right now, but Nate will want to know about this. Ya know, when he asked for money that time, he didn't just come out with the truth. No, Maddox found out the real reason later, after he'd given his dad a boat load of money."

"Why'd he give it to him then?"

"He threatened to go to the media about his mom's problems. We all know it would have been an embarrassment to him and it was a last resort thing, but he used Mad's love for Aunt Chelle. Mad would have given him everything, anything, to protect Chelle from the media. It would have destroyed her completely."

"His own dad blackmailed him?" I suddenly felt a strange motherly need to hug Maddox.

"Pretty much. Fuck! I don't wanna call Nate."

But he did, and then he called Maddox. They were heading to a party, and Josh said he sounded like he was doing okay. Which seemed to worry him even more.

The phone call to Maddox had been short, too short. I knew better than to press the issue, but I wanted to know exactly what was said. It wouldn't have been much. The entire conversation had lasted less than four minutes.

Fucking Maddox Simone.

Before my ire could grow too large, my phone rang in my back pocket. I frowned when I saw the caller ID, but answered anyway, shrugging at Josh's questioning look.

"Nora? It's Nate." In case I didn't have modern technologies associated with caller identification.

"Nate, what's wrong?" No need to try to be too nice about it. He'd never call me unless something was wrong.

"What the fuck are you going to do about this shit with Maddox?"

"Excuse me?" I get it, I'm the PR miracle worker. But for crying out loud, I just found out about it. What did he expect from me?

"This is all because of Savannah Fitzgerald and you fucking know it!"

"Umm, wait, did something happen that no one bothered to tell me about?" That was sort of how they all worked. There would be some minor, or not so minor, catastrophe, and they'd call or text or email me with demands to make it magically fixed, but they didn't bother to tell me any important details. Like what they were talking about.

"What? No, I mean, I assumed you know Maddox ran into his dickhead dad in Vegas with Savannah. You didn't know?"

"Of course I knew. You know because I know. What I don't know is how you decided this was Savannah's fault." Then I rolled my eyes. Of course. "Never mind, I'm sure I can guess how you came to that conclusion." Suddenly I felt extremely angry, and my voice hardened instantly. "You listen to me, Nate Sexton, and you listen well. Despite what you may think, I have worked very hard for 35 Rockets since I started at Kadence. I have had to work harder than should have been necessary because of little childish dramas, almost always associated with your wife. And I haven't complained too much about it because it's my job. And this is my job too: keeping the fucking band from imploding! Your fucking wife is hormonal and pregnancy-crazy, and I fucking get that completely, BUT she's dangerously close to causing the end of everything!"

"What the fuck, Nora?! How the fuck is Callen responsible for this? And better yet, how the fuck can you say you're just doing your goddamn job when we all know you've always hated Cal and you've never made any effort at all to hide that fact. How the fuck do you justify your bitchiness to yourself? Seriously, how?"

A deadly calm came over me, and I took a deep breath before responding. I glanced at Josh, who was sitting up and watching me with a look of alarm. "I've worked with enough 'stars' to know to expect a certain degree of self-importance. Since meeting you, I've learned to expect a higher-than-normal degree of self-importance from you, and from Maddox. And it doesn't take a genius to see that you love Callen to the point of near blindness. But your love for her is not going to hold this band together. In fact, your love for her is going to crush it. Completely. I don't even really like Maddox that much, but fuck! How long did you expect him to be content to be on the outside?"

He was quiet for a moment, and I wondered if he'd gotten disconnected. When he spoke again, he was calmer, quieter. "I called you because I want to know what you, our public relations representative, is going to do about Maddox. If anyone is damaging this band, our business, it's certainly not me or my wife. It's Maddox. And your feeling for Savannah are blinding you to how much damage she's causing. I don't care if they fuck on top of a roulette table surrounded by photographers! That would probably be good for the band actually. But this stuff… " He deflated a bit and I heard him take a deep breath. "He's in Vegas, doing the party thing, whatever. But he's with Savannah and then magically Daddy Dickhead shows up, and you don't think there's anything weird about that?"

I actually laughed out loud. "Conspiracy theories from Nate Sexton. Okay, cool. Let me see if I can clarify things. 35 Rockets is dangerously close to going their separate ways. And believe me when I tell you, if that happens professionally it will happen personally. In fact, if it happens professionally, it will be because it happened personally. God, you're all so blind! Maddox just wants to have something for himself! I don't like that he's chosen Savannah Fitzgerald. You're right, I do like her, and I think she deserves better than Maddox. But that isn't part of my job or part of my friendship with Savannah."

"God, you're such a bitch! Stop talking in circles!"

"I don't think he's good enough for her, and neither does he."

"What?" Clearly he hadn't expected that.

"He thinks she deserves better than him, better than a party guy that's never had a serious relationship and doesn't mind that at all. And because he thinks she deserves better, and he wants her anyway, he's willing to actually be better. For her. And you and Callen and Josh and Kara , and hell maybe Todd too, you're all so happy with your lives that you don't want anything to change at all. And you've all been blind to Maddox's unhappiness. Callen's the worst though, from his point of view. And mark my words, if she isn't careful, she's going to push Maddox one time too many and he will leave you all. He would absolutely walk away from 35 Rockets without a second thought, if it meant he could have Savannah. She'd never make him choose that, but the rest of you would. Who do you think he'd choose if forced? Who would you have chosen?"

He didn't respond, and I knew it was because he was finally thinking about the bigger picture. I pressed my advantage before he could find something to mutter.

"As for this situation in Vegas, I can't do something about it until it's something bigger. Just seeing his dad? It may be personally devastating, but he didn't react negatively to him, so there's nothing for me to try to put a spin on. And whether you all like her or not, Savannah Fitzgerald is the new It girl, and his being associated with her can be very good for his career. And on top of that, she's sweet. And she cares about him. And he cares about her. She's giving him a reason to be who and what he wants. I'm not saying it's permanent. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if it was over before they even left Vegas, but for now, for just right now, I can't do anything but wait for one of you to screw up big time."