Under the buzzing neon sign of the Cat’s Paw Saloon, AnnieLee Keyes smooths down her hair, yanks the door open and steps inside. She stands there a moment to soak it all in.
But it’s more than atmosphere she’s absorbing. It’s the music of the place. AnnieLee has always heard music in the things of life around her. It’s a kind of second nature for her: The cadence of a dripping faucet or the thump of tires on the highway keeps her mind and her toes ever tapping. On her guitar a G leads to E minor and then D just as naturally as her thoughts spill out in lyrical lines in her head.
And it’s a good thing that her brain has always worked that way. ‘Cause, frankly, it’s the only thing that’s kept her going.
Each sour disappointment, each misery, every thumb-out ride has led her to this place and this day. She’s penniless and hungry—even her beloved guitar was pawned along the way—but she’s finally standing in Nashville. She’s finally following her dream.
The air of the Cat’s Paw around her smells of beer and French fries. The bar is softly lit by Christmas lights draped in multicolored strands. A man stands on a dimly lit stage singing Willie Nelson in a low, mournful voice.
It’s all so typical. All part and parcel of a dive bar. All pretty perfect. Because this is where AnnieLee will start.
She’ll talk to the bartender with the handlebar mustache. She’ll bat her blue eyes and smile her doll-like, pretty smile. She’ll do whatever it takes to borrow a guitar and sing on that grimy stage for the half-dozen, half-drunk people at the nearby tables.
And she’ll shine.
That’s what this version of her does. AnnieLee—who she calls herself nowadays is a wannabe country star. The Rose part of her still quivers inside. That former her still wants to keep running, keep ducking. But AnnieLee wants all that beautiful music inside her to come spilling out. AnnieLee will let it loose and see what happens.
What AnnieLee doesn’t know, however, is that there’s someone else standing in the shadowed back of the bar waiting his turn to pluck out a set. She can’t possibly fathom that this handsome guy—a veteran–turned–Nashville session player named Ethan—will soon fall in love with her music. He’ll gush about it, and her, to Ruthanna Ryder, the now-retired queen of country. And things will happen.
AnnieLee doesn’t know any of that, though. All she knows, while standing in that beer and French fries-perfumed entryway, is the butterflies colliding in her empty stomach and the music swirling in her heart. Past, present and future are all connected and frozen in this very moment and this very place.
And then AnnieLee Keyes takes a step.