Looking back on it, I think that Vic expected me to make a fool of myself. He had no qualms about putting me down in public, especially before his friends, and when the band asked for a volunteer to be a guest singer, he almost threw me onto the stage.

The band called themselves the Ropers, and likely Vic knew beforehand that their singer had just quit; their guitarist, Robby, was a co-worker of Vic's, and a friend outside the office.

Or, to be fair, maybe Vic was just calling my bluff; after all, I was the one who always claimed that country singers were talentless slobs who brayed their cheat'n good-ol'-boy lyrics to an audience who wouldn't recognize good music if you blew their eardrums out with it. Being a school- and church-trained soloist with a pretty good voice, I figured I was in a position to make that judgement.

Whatever the reason, Robby, who had a good voice even by my harsh standards, called for a volunteer, and I stood. It wasn't until I got to the stage that I realized I didn't know any country songs...

Fortunately, Robby had cheat sheets for several standards, and I recognized "Luckenbach, Texas."

And I was good. I knew it even while I was singing. I started a little weak, but recovered before the end of the first stanza, after that it was such a natural thing to do. Like breathing. Or, really, more like making love. Something that your body knows instinctively, but that isn't easy to do well. Something which rewards tenfold the effort that you put into it.

And seeing the pleasure on Robby's face as I became one with the band, well, if Vic and I had reached those emotions in bed, our marriage might not have been floundering.

The small bar crowd's applause was louder than it had been for any of Robby's songs. They knew I was a novice, of course, and they'd made allowances.

Robby asked me to look through the list for another song. I recognized the John Anderson song, "Stranger in my House", which I'd always thought was more rock and roll than country, and which I'd heard as a crossover on rock stations. I figured I could change "her" to "him" on the fly, and the band agreed to try..

This time the audience gave us a standing ovation, and the band applauded me as I left the stage, flushed, to return to my husband.

When the set was over, Robby and the bass player, an overweight guy who introduced himself as "Slim", made their way to our table.

"Jane, you were great," he said. "You want a job? Vic, would you mind?"

"Not up to me," said Vic.

"Shit, Robby," I said. "I hate country."

"Didn't sound like it," said Slim. "Sounded to me like you were havin' yourself a fine time."

"Yeah," I admitted. "I was. But I don't know if I could keep doing it."

"Sure, you could," said Robby. "Come sing again next set. You'll see."

I shrugged. "Okay."

 

So I became a Roper. In a fairly short time, I was "the" Roper, whom the audience identified as the group's front person, to be joked with, and occasionally heckled.

I called myself Janie, of course. Janie Merry, going back to my maiden name.

The guys didn't seem to mind that I got all the attention. They were happy to be able to concentrate on playing, letting me be the focus, and anyway, I'd always direct business questions to Robby, the manager.

I found that I grew to like country music. Some of it. Certainly everything we played. And if I felt I didn't belong in the country world, well, Robby was a systems analyst by day.

But who'd ever have imagined me in a Stetson and silver belt buckle?

Vic was indifferent. Story of our lives, really. We hadn't gotten to hating one another, but we'd long passed the point of feigning interest in the other's activities. We still made time for sex once or twice each week, and we could make each other feel pretty good when we did.

"Bob told me you're playing tomorrow," Vic might say, with no indication of what he thought to the idea. He saw it as my hobby, I guess, which was fair, from his perspective. It wasn't a moneymaking venture. At that time, I was spending what little income the band created on outfits for performing, though later I started a savings account for my small income.

As we became better known, we could take more risks, switching from mainly standards to our own music. You wouldn't think it to look at him, but Slim had a flair for writing tender ballads, and Howard and Wayne, drums and keyboards respectively, wrote rock and roll thinly disguised as country that suited my voice perfectly. I certainly didn't mind working on new material. After all, most everything was new to me. But my personal favorite was Roseanne Cash's "Seven Year Ache", and that was always popular with the audience, whatever kind of venue we were playing.

Weddings, bars, private parties, we were doing them all, and having to turn gigs down. Company conventions were good; they'd book well in advance and pay well. Visitors to town always wanted to hear real cowboys.

Little did they know...

We cut a two track CD single which did well in the local market; doubly so, since where the country stations would play the song by Slim, a couple of rock stations picked up on the Howard / Wayne number. It didn't make us overnight celebrities, but it paid its own production costs, and kept our name fresh with local booking agents.

 

What did ensue from the CD was something none of us had expected.

Robby called me at home, while I was straightening the bedroom. "You've heard of Danny Charles?"

"Well, yeah," I said. Even before getting into the country scene I'd heard of Danny Charles. The Danny Charles Band was an institution.

"He's at Jimmy Joe's in November."

Why would Robby be calling me? Did he think I should go see what country was all about, perhaps? Was he asking me on a date?

That thought hit me out of the blue, and I realized as it did that I wouldn't automatically say no. I had no idea what I would say.

"I didn't know that. And?" I waited for the question I was almost sure he would ask.

He didn't.

"You know how he likes to pick a local supporting act?" he asked.

"No, I didn't." Then it hit me. "Oh, Jesus." I sat sharply on the bed.

"You got it," he said. "His manager heard our CD. He wants us on the bill."

"Oh, Jesus." I said again.

It wasn't just Danny Charles. Jimmy Joe's was every bit as much a part of Western tradition as the Charles band. It claimed the biggest dance floor in the world. No-one but the biggest name country talent would ever play Jimmy Joe's.

And now us. From local bars to the closest thing to a Mecca in the business, outside of Nashville, Tennessee.

"You're not... this isn't April the first, is it?" I asked.

"No, Janie, I'm serious."

"How much is it gonna cost us?" I asked.

Robby chuckled. "It ain't gonna pay what we'd get if we were headlining, but we should come out a little ahead."

"Well, Robby, I sure as hell hope you're not calling to ask for my approval, 'cause if you haven't already signed us up, you're gonna be in as much pain as any of the cheat'n guys you sing about..."

"All done," he said. I could hear the laughter in his voice. "I said yes before I even engaged my brain."

 

Even our supporting Danny Charles didn't interest Vic. He couldn't understand why it was a big deal to me or to his friend Bob. But for the Ropers, it became the focus of everything we did for the next two months.

We turned down gigs that would expect only standards. No weddings unless they were already booked. Practiced new material whenever and wherever we could. Concentrated especially on getting the audience to dance... if we couldn't get a few couples two-stepping on a Friday evening, we'd never make an impression on the world's biggest dance floor...

The day arrived, and we got to Jimmy Joe's as early as we could. As the supporting act, we would be using the Charles band's equipment, and we gave the amps and drum kit a workout while the Danny's roadies did their sound checks. Danny himself sat at the back of the hall most of the time, occasionally watching us.

I've never been so nervous as waiting for our set to start. Never, period. I knew we could do well, but knowing it and believing it were different things.

Robby was wrong about one thing. I wouldn't come out ahead on this night. I'd blown at least five hundred over what I'd make on clothes. But what the hell, this was something special. Something for me. And when I followed the guys out onto the stage, I figured it was worth every penny I'd spent.

We launched right into a rocker, and kept up the pace with the next three songs before easing up for a song Robby and I had written. There were couples on the dance floor from the word go, and they didn't abandon us during the slower tempo.

Then a teary ballad of Slim's, followed by something more experimental, a song of Slim's which Robby sang, and I backed up. We wanted to show that it wasn't just me, that the whole band was a unit, and it worked beautifully. Robby had a great baritone voice, mellow, almost too sweet for country, but Slim had taken that into account with his plaintive lyrics.

Back to rock, before the dancers drifted away, and finishing with another of Slim's ballads.

The sound of the applause when we were through was louder than the music had been, and the Charles band's equipment was plenty powerful. We had to go back for an encore.

Slim had written a duet, tailored for Robby and me, and we gave them that. Robby's eyes held mine as we were absorbed into the lyrics and the feeling of the song. There was a hunger in them, as though he wanted this song to complete him. The emotional intensity between us was so strong it seemed like we must be sending it out telepathically, involving the audience in our private passions.

And certainly it felt that way when we were through, and I took his hand as we bowed. Then he laid down his guitar, and I hugged him, then Slim, Howard and Wayne, and we bowed again before leaving the stage.

 

Danny was backstage, and he shook our hands and congratulated us. "Y'all are gonna go far," he said, with a wide grin. Then he collared a roadie to go get us beer, and told us a few insider jokes before his set.

Of course, I had no clue who or what he was talking about, but his personality was so infectious and his humor so outrageous that I found myself laughing along anyway.

"Y'all gonna stay around for our set?" he asked me.

"Are you kidding?" I retorted. "That's what we came for, wasn't it? Being on stage was just our way of passing the time."

He smiled and shook his head, then led his band up the steps to the stage. We heard the sound level go crazy as the audience cheered him onto the stage.

I took Robby's hand. "C'mon, let's get out there."

"I thought you didn't like country," he said with a grin.

"So, who's to know?" I answered, as we wended our way past the sound system and out onto the dance floor.

Danny's signature style was rockabilly, fiddle music with a beat. Still fired up from our set, Robby and I twirled each other round the dance floor.

If he had asked me out, I realized, I may not be here now. This wasn't a date. This was... better.

Several folks in the audience recognized us and gave us high signs, which helped fuel my mood, and I kept Robby enticingly close, when I wasn't spinning him around.

Someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned to find the roadie who had brought our beer. "Danny wants you up front," he said, and led us towards the stage.

Finishing the number he was playing, Danny looked down and saw me, then motioned me to join him. Before climbing the stairs, I kissed Robby, which surprised me as much as it did him.

"Please welcome Miss Janie Merry of the Ropers," said Danny. "I was concerned the way y'all acted that yew'd want them instead of us, so I figured I'd let y'all have Janie back for another song. She's kindly agreed to sing a duet with me."

I was close to the mike by then. "I did?" I asked innocently.

He pretended to draw a paper from his pocket, squinting at his empty hand. "Yeah, right there. Paragraph 6b. The party of the... ummm... agrees to sing a duet with the party of the..."

"Lemme see that," I said, miming taking the paper from him. "Why, yes... Hey! Where's my business manager? Hey, Robby," I yelled, "What's this about a motel room after the show?"

"I was hopin' yew wouldn't see that part, said Danny. "Yet."

He waited for a moment to let the laughter subside, then said, "Listen folks, I got something to tell y'all. Jes' remember, you heard it here first. This young lady, she may not know it yet, but she's on her way to Nashville. "

While the audience applauded in approval, Danny asked if I'd sing "Stand by me." I nodded, and his well-trained band picked up his hand signals and started to play. Danny alternated between fiddle and vocals.

At the song's conclusion, he waved his bow, and the band launched into what I instantly recognized with amazement as a Ropers' song, the rocking track from the CD.

Of course, I gave it everything I had. The crowd loved it; the dance floor was packed. The addition of fiddle and steel guitar made it a different song, but I hoped Howard and Wayne could hear just how good their work was.

Danny held my hand high when we were through. "Janie Merry, ladies and gentlemen." As I left the stage, he added, "Remember, folks. Nashville." And as the cheers grew, the band started into its next song.

 

I endured happily the backslaps and handshakes as I sought out Robby. When I found him, we spun each other around, then joined back into the dancing. As Danny wound down the show, he played some slow numbers. I clutched Robby to me, and we slow-danced, his cheek against mine.

When Danny closed, with an upbeat song, one of his best-known, I took Robby by the hand and led him backstage, and I didn't let go when we sat on a wooden crate to wait for the others.

Danny played a couple of encores, then the show was finally over. The rest of the Ropers joined us, and we hugged each other and congratulated each other on the best gig we'd ever played.

The Charles band's guitarist invited us to join them for a party, to which we readily agreed, and we all headed to their hotel. As wound up as I was, I decided I'd rather drink than drive, and I booked a room, then called Vic to tell him I wouldn't be home. I woke him when I called, and he wasn't very happy. To hell with him, I thought, and headed on to the party.

After about an hour, the party showed no sign of slowing down, but the events of the day were catching up with me, and I wanted off my feet. I opened a bottle of wine, took a paper bag to hide it in, and turned to Robby, pressing my lips against his ear. "Wanna get out of here?"

"Sure."

I took his hand and led him to the elevators.

 

After pouring the wine into two hotel glasses in my room, I held one out to Robby, and offered a toast. "To the Ropers, and the best damn night I've ever had."

He took a long drink. "Ain't gonna be the same without you," he said.

"Without me?" I was bewildered.

"You're gonna go to Nashville, be a big star."

"Awww, bullcrap, Robby. I'm right where I want to be."

His eyes bored into mine. "Are you? Don't give me that 'I hate country' speech, you know it's what you want. You're going to Nashville, lady, you know you are."

Suddenly it was overwhelming. The confusion, the excitement, the uncertainty... the glass in my hand shook. I drained it, set it on the cabinet, then turned to face him, feeling like a little girl. "I don't know'" I said. My eyes stung as I blinked away the tears that were forming.

Moving towards Robby, I put my hands on his waist, then rested my forehead on his shoulder. "I don't know," I said again, in 1 small voice. Then, "Hold me."

Robby hugged me, and I squeezed him tight. "I don't want things to change."

"Everything changes, Janie. You just have to choose which changes you want."

"It isn't like Danny was offering me a job. He doesn't know how I'd do."

"It isn't Danny, though, babe, he just recognized what we should all have seen a long time ago. You're ready."

He stroked my hair as he held me. After a time, he said, "But I sure will miss you, Janie."

Lifting my head, I gave him a weak smile and kissed his cheek. His face was so close, his eyes just inches from mine... and I stretched just a little to touch my lips to his. And again, just lightly. Again. Not wanting to back off, and neither, it seemed, was he... I brushed his lips with mine, parting them slightly, the contact becoming firmer.

My mouth locked gently to his, my jaw working gently as the pressure between us became less tentative. Robby's hand behind my head held my face to his.

Breaking the contact, I rested my head on his shoulder, as his fingers stroked my hair. I didn't trust myself to speak, adrenaline making my pulse race. Instead, I drew back, and held his eyes, seeing a reflection of my nervousness.

Closing the gap between us again, I sensed this was my last chance to retreat. My fear tried to hold me back, but my desire pushed me against him, and our lips met...

My heart pounded as his tongue met mine, and I groaned, feeling the rush of emotions. I slid my hands down his arms, pushing them down to his sides, then twining my fingers with his. I closed my eyes as he sucked my lip, then pressed his tongue into mine, moving his mouth against me.

"Mmm," I groaned, my fingers locked tight with his. "Ohh," as we tried a different angle, trying to get ever closer. I moved his hands to my waist, pulling my blouse out of the waistband of my jeans so I could feel them against my skin. Then I wrapped my hands around his neck, chewing down on his tongue as I held him against me.

My sequined vest was rough between us, and I broke from him long enough to take it off, laying it carefully on the dresser. Then we joined again, and I eased his black silk shirt from his jeans.

Robby moved his fingers higher on my waist, then unfastened the bottom button of my blouse. A little later he was working on the next button, and soon he was to the final one. When he opened it, I shucked off my blouse and opened his shirt, so when we next held each other, my bra pressed into his chest. His fingers ran along the bra strap, then over my back, finally coming to rest on my waist.

"Oh, Janie," he whispered. I knew what he was thinking, that what were approaching was something we'd never be able to undo. That I was a married woman. That he wanted me.

"Robby," I murmured into his ear, "I'm still wound up from the gig. I've got a lot of energy to lose." I reached back behind me to unfasten my bra. "And I don't want to waste it being vertical, you know?"

"Mmmh." He made a strangled cry as I slipped out of my bra, then he took my breasts in his hands as I kissed his neck and reached for his belt buckle.

Dropping his jeans to the floor, I stroked his shaft through his underwear, then removed my own jeans and panties. I pressed my body against his, my crotch enclosing his, then I felt down inside his underwear.

Freeing his cock, I held it, stroking it against my stomach. He was too tall, and his cock too hard by this point to get him close enough to where I wanted him, so I guided him sit on the edge of the bed.

Lifting myself onto Robby's lap, I guided him into me, wriggling down slowly to accommodate his long shaft. Already wet, I took him in easily, each movement pushing him deeper within. He held my back while my arms were around his neck, and we kissed again, fueling my excitement.

Easing my face from his, I leaned back, raising my breast to his mouth. He sucked hard on my nipple, and I held his face to me, bouncing on his lap.

He moaned, and started lapping my nipple quickly. I could tell from his movements and the sounds he was making that he was ready to come. "It's okay," I murmured. "Let it happen." After a moment, I added, "I'll be right behind you."

His breathing became heavier. I picked up the pace, my shaking against his lap becoming frenzied, bringing myself to that place that called to me... I felt him come, his cock quaking deep within me. He released my breast to breathe, but a moment later I pushed the other into his face, and when by body tightened to his attentions, it didn't relax, instead continuing to tense, contracting with my arousal, until my orgasm erupted within me.

"Push," I gasped, bearing down against his cock, and I groaned as he strained against me, strengthening the passion that was flooding into my body.

Freeing my breast from his mouth, I met his lips with mine. He released his grip on my back, covering my breasts with his palms as my hold on his neck supported me. As we moved slowly, he squeezed my breasts, sending tingling pressure into my aroused sex.

I released his lips, and kissed his ear. We continued to rock, the gentle motion against my clit thrilling me. Rather than easing off, my stimulation began to recover.

"Oh, Robby," I breathed. "Robby. I'm gonna come again."

He didn't need any more prompting, increasing his movement within me. My breasts were shivering in his grip as he squeezed. "Nggg.." I groaned, as our efforts bore fruit. "OH!" I slid into orgasm, moaning and kissing Robby's ear.

His cock was still hard within me, keeping me aloft, and he brought me to climax yet again before I finally slid off him.

We lay face to face on the bed, our hands and lips exploring each other. Robby's fingers played with my boobs, then slid down to my pussy. Lubricating them inside me, he ran them slowly around my clit.

After a few moments of this, I closed my eyes and let the feeling take me away. The thrill grew gently within me. I could feel perspiration moistening my face as joy started to warm me. I opened my eyes, and looked into his as his fingers sustained my pleasure.

I wanted the sensation to last for ever, and it felt that it almost could, if I could just avoid coming, and could hold myself in the glow... but eventually the temptation became too strong. I tightened my thighs around his hand, and he grinned slightly as he pressed my clit.

Hooking my hand behind his neck I drew his lips to mine. His fingers squeezed my clit as we kissed, and I came.

Reaching for his cock, I found him already partially erect. I squeezed his shaft, sucking his tongue, and when my orgasm was fading, he was hard enough to be inside me. I lay down on top of him. He slipped inside me, and as we rocked together I felt him slowly growing to fill me.

I don't know how many times he brought me to climax. I do know that I hadn't imagined sex like this. And I learned from him not only that I could come, and keep coming, but that the times between were even better in their own way, when a tender partner shares himself. As Robby had smiled his appreciation for my voice on that long-ago night, now his eyes showed his delight, not only in what I was doing to him, but in being able to join me in my pleasure.

When we finally curled up to sleep together, I knew that my whole life had just changed.

 

In the morning, we showered and made love. We brewed coffee, making love while we waited for the coffee pot (well, the coffee pot was long finished when we finally got to it). Our appetites finally exceeded our ability after coffee, when we realized we needed a few more minutes to recover. So we just held each other.

"Robby," I said.

"Hmm?"

"The band isn't about me. People see it that way, I guess, but even Danny was wrong there. That duet we sang? They loved it. The song of ours that Danny sang, I didn't write it. Maybe you all need me now, but I need you, all of you, just as much."

"I hate to see you throwing away your big chance, Janie."

"I'm not throwing it away, 'cause it isn't my chance, it's our chance. We all stay together in this. If you want to play clubs, we play clubs. But if you wanna go find us an agent and a recording contract, we're all gonna be on that album."

"We are good together, I'll give you that," Robby said. "Pretty good at music, too," he said with a sly smile.

"It may take a little longer," I said. "I know if I get me an agent he's gonna want me to play with session musicians and sell me as a solo act. But it won't work. Y'all are as much a part of this as..." He was grinning at me. "What's funny?"

"For the longest time you were thinking you weren't really part of the band. Now you want for me to know that you don't want to grow beyond the band. I guess you finally came to believe you can sing country."

I released him and sat up. His eyes fell to my breasts, which swayed wildly as I waved my hand around the room, taking in the half-empty wine bottle, the clothes strewn all around, the blankets in untidy piles at the foot of the bed and on the floor.

"Jesus, Robby," I said. "Look at this. I'm not just singing country songs, I'm living country songs." I bent down and kissed his forehead, his fingers finding my nipples. "And I tell you right now, I ain't goin' back."

I pulled the sheet back and sat on his hips. As I lifted myself onto his cock, his lips were curved in a broad smile. "Well, Janie," he said, as I lowered myself onto him, "You've got me. I think you've got the rest of the band, too. Thought maybe not in quite the same way."

"No?" I asked, raising an eyebrow. Excitement crept into me as his cock penetrated deep within my body. I propped my head on my elbow and looked at him.

"What is it?" he asked.

"Well, it's just that... I call myself a Roper, but I've never roped anything in my life." I ran my fingers over his wrist, and gave it a meaningful look. "Maybe it's time to start."