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Zinger by Nikki Lynn Barrett (1)

Chapter One

“You're shitting me, right?” Zeke Sketcher stared at his former band mate, unsure he heard him correctly. This was not the lunch conversation he anticipated. Guess that's what happened when Zeke hoped for a few hours to catch up on what went on in each others' lives. Nope, go figure it was a favor.

Jared Reel stared back at him with his typical dark, steely eyed look. One brow raised slightly. “Do I look like I'm in a position to be shitting?”

“Well, you are sitting down,” Zeke pointed out, flinging one of his typical zingers his way.

“I do not crap my pants, thanks. Now damn it, will you get serious for a minute, Zinger?” Jared held up his hands. “I'm desperate. I need one more last minute fill in for Sing It!. I've already lined up Tucker McGinnis to fill in the last few weeks for one of our other exiting judges. I swear this year is cursed. One is on vocal rest and the other was in a pretty bad wreck.”

“Am I supposed to know who that is?” The name didn't even ring a bell.

“Okay, I know you're a rock god and all, but he's only the biggest breakout star in country music within the last five years.”

“So?” Zeke shook his head, still unsure.

“He won Sing It! the first year it debuted. Anyway, whether you know Tucker or not doesn't tell me whether you'll fill in. It's just for a few weeks- about seven. Losing two judges mid-season is gonna kill us if we don't find the perfect line up.”

“I want nothing to do with a reality show,” Zeke stated. “These damn shows are overrated and half the time, the singers don't even stay on the charts.” As he said it, he made a mental note to look up this Tucker guy. He very well may be sticking his foot in his mouth right now. Aside from his past experiences, there were occasionally a few break out stars which came from reality shows. Carrie Underwood, for one. Sure, she was country, but who didn't know that hot little number?

“Somehow, I knew you were going to say that.” Jared rested his hands on the table. “But I've got one thing you can't say no to.”

“Oh yeah? Lay it on me,” Zeke challenged.

“Second place runner up gets a series of mentoring sessions from Johnny Cortez.”

“Yeah...” Zeke said slowly, “but I'm not competing.”

“You. Are. Dense! Been snortin' stuff lately?” Jared groaned.

“You know I gave that crap up years ago.” Or maybe just a few months. Jared didn't need to know of those few slip ups.

“It means Cowboy will appear on the show a few times. Might be your chance to talk to him like you've been wanting!” Jared threw his hands up in the air before taking a swig of his beer.

Damn. Damn! Jared got him at his weakness. He'd idolized Cowboy for years, but never did get a chance to meet him in person.

This could be his chance.

But seriously? A reality show? A singer's easy way into the music business? Hell to the fucking no.

He hadn't been able to get to Cowboy any other way, though. This was his ticket. “I can't believe I'm saying this, but I'm in. I'll do the damn reality show.”

“You won't regret it. Thank you! This is going to be a great line up. Not that losing my two judges in the middle of the season is a good thing, but having you and Tucker filling in is going to save my ass! I'm buying anything you want to feast on and drink today.” Jared heaved a sigh of relief.

*****

Damn good thing Zeke looked up Tucker, because he would have made a fool of himself otherwise. That whole spiel about singers not staying on the charts? Tucker blew that out of the water. Zeke wasn't a country fan, but he went out and bought the man's debut CD and was genuinely blown away by the music. After that, he bought Remorse, Tucker's sophomore effort, and even though he learned the industry labeled the record as a flop, he enjoyed the songs. So at least he had something for when he met the guy. And then he learned his story, finding out why he auditioned for a reality show when he had damn good genuine talent, and found out a whole lot more about the 'Next King of Country Music'.

“Tucker, Danielle, I'd like you to meet Zeke Sketcher. He's our last fill in.” Jared made the introductions twenty-four hours after he agreed to do this. “And Danielle, I don't have another fill in idea, so please don't let anything happen to you.”

“Can't promise you, but I'm not anticipating anything happening to me,” she drawled with a thick Southern accent. “Nice to meet you, Zeke. I hear your zingers are gonna keep us on our toes.” Full, pink lips kept his attention longer than it should have. Her eyes caught his attention next. An interesting shade of dark blue.

“I hope Jared didn't make you any promises he can't keep.” Zeke shook her hand. Danielle was a pretty one. He hadn't even gazed lower than her face as her features were striking. Long platinum blonde hair framed her face. His body was caught in a state of desire. “Are you a singer?”

“Not me. I'm in the background as a songwriter. How I managed to land on Sing It! as a judge is beyond me, but they've brought me back for a second season.” That smile. One hell of a gorgeous view.

“Yeah? What's your preferred genre?”

“I pen anything from rock to country to pop. Depends on my mood.” Danielle was friendly, but gave no other indication she'd be interested in anything else.

“Hmm. I'm always interested in a good songwriter. We might have to discuss things.” Zeke nodded, keeping his cool. If they expected a quick comeback from him, right now they weren't gonna get it. He faced Tucker. “I gotta tell you, I don't listen to country, but Jared mentioned your name so I had to learn who the hell you were. You might be the reason I start listening to the genre. Your songs are deep, man. Really deep.” Sliding a side glance at Jared, Zeke noted his 'told you so' smirk. Yep, the ass would make him eat his words later.

“I'll admit somethin' to ya. I've been covering your song Nobody Wants a Broken Man at my shows lately.” Tucker shook his hand. “Great to meet you. Lookin' forward to workin' with you for the next few months.”

“With a voice like yours, I'm curious to hear your rendition of the song.” Zeke's brows arched. Tucker had a country drawl which amplified his songs, so for the guy to admit he'd been singing a rock tune at his shows intrigued the hell out of Zeke.

“All right, now that the introductions are made, it's time to get down to business. We've got a lot of information to get through. Get comfortable, Zeke. You're about to get bored off your ass,” Jared warned.

“He's not kiddin',” Tucker leaned over and whispered. “This is weird for me to know, considering I was once being judged. Interesting to see this side of things now.”

“That's all right. Jared won't let me get bored. He knows what happens when he has a bored Zeke on his hands. You two stick with me. We'll make this a breeze.” Zeke shot his old friend a smirk before chuckling.

He'd make the best of the next few months. If he was stuck on a reality singing show, may as well make the best of it.