Authors: Michelle Mankin
Tags: #The Brutal Strength Shakespeare Inspired Series
Avery was just putting up her guitar when she sensed Marcus behind her. Her nostrils filled with the piney scent of his cologne, and his body was so close, she could feel the heat radiating off it. She wanted to lean back and melt into him…and that was just for starters.
“Hey, wanna go get something to eat, before that monster living in your stomach wakes up and gets hungry again?” his melodic voice rumbled.
“Sure.” Avery swallowed then grinned. “Sounds like a plan.” She called over to Dwight, who was talking with Stephen, “Hey man, wanna go get something to eat with us?”
“No, thanks. My wife, Lisa and I have plans to eat and see a movie this afternoon. Another time though.”
“They’re practically newlyweds,” Marcus confided. “Joined at the hip.”
“My turn to pick a place,” Avery told him on the way out. “I’m buying this time.”
“Sure, kid, but it can’t take too long. Stephen’s got me in a meeting with a promoter at two.”
“I know the perfect spot. It’s real close by… you ok to walk, Mr. Rock Star?”
In answer Marcus pulled his cap and glasses out of his jacket pocket and put them on. “Lead the way.” He followed Avery out of Black Cat’s building onto West Fourth Avenue.
A cold breeze hit them as they walked down the street filled with funky shops and a scattering of occasional restaurants.
Avery buttoned up her black wool jacket and pulled on her gloves. Passing under the awning of a trendy retail shop, she noticed Marcus’ shoulders were hunched and that he kept his head down while they were walking. He was definitely avoiding making eye contact with the people they passed. “Have you thought of what you’d like to do for our next song?” Avery asked, trying to get his mind off whatever was stressing him out.
“No, not really,” he mumbled.
“Well, I have actually.”
Marcus looked over at her, chuckling. “I wish Dwight were around to hear you say that.”
“He’s always haranguing me for being too single minded. He says I am too obsessed with work.”
“Yeah, I’ve noticed that.” Avery paused. “But are there really other things in life besides music?”
Marcus smiled at her, his blue eyes sparkling with humor.
Avery felt warmth spread throughout her body. It pleased her that she’d been able to break through his sudden funk. “I wondered if you’d be interested in hearing a song I wrote about my mom.” Avery found herself holding her breath, waiting for his response.
Marcus took her totally by surprise when he crooked one arm around her shoulder and scrubbed the top of her head with the knuckle of the other. The contact was brief but caused her pulse to quicken. “Absolutely! I wish I didn’t have this stupid meeting so I could listen to it now.”
Avery tried regulating her breathing without being too obvious. She needed to slow down the crazy hammering her heart did whenever he touched her.
“You ok?” Marcus gave her a perplexed look. “You sound like you’re out of breath.”
. Avery bit her lip to keep from laughing. If he only knew. “I’m fine,” she assured him.
“If you say so. Why don’t I send Ray to come get you after my meeting?”
“Sure. Sure. Hey, here we are. Japa Dog, cuisine of the common man,” she gestured with a flourish to a street cart belonging to one of Vancouver most famous vendors.
As they waited to get their order, Marcus admitted that he’d always been a little reluctant to try one. “You mean to tell me, you grew up in Vancouver, you’re adventurous enough to eat raw fish, yet you’ve been afraid to eat a hot dog from a street vendor? There’s a technical term for that. It’s called…” she paused dramatically, making a circular motion with her fingers near her temple, “crazy.”
Chuckling, Marcus reached for her arm, gripping the exact spot where Campanella had burned her. She winced and let out a gasp of pain.
When she tugged her arm loose from his grasp, her eyes were filled with tears and her sleeve rolled back exposing the healing wound.
“What the hell?” Marcus exclaimed, his voice mirroring his expression of concern. “Crap, Avery. What the hell happened to your arm? It looks like someone burned you with a cigarette or something.” He raised his eyes to hers.
“What? Oh no,” she lied, rolling back down her sleeve. “I was just taking something hot out of the oven and burned myself.”
Marcus’ eyes narrowed. He didn’t look like he was buying it. She knew the mark looked way too symmetrical to be an oven burn. Returning his gaze, she stiffened, preparing for an interrogation, but after watching her for a moment for some unknown reason, he let it go.
Relieved, Avery sighed. The incident was an unwelcome reminder that she would have to deal with Campanella soon enough. Forcing that unpleasant thought away, she took a few bites of the Japa Dog she’d smothered with chili, mustard and onions. Pointing to Marcus’ Japa Dog selection, she made a face. “How’s yours?”
“It’s ok,” he said, noncommittally.
“You don’t like it, do you?”
“No. You’re right. It’s gross.” He barked out a laugh.
“Well, duh. I could have told you that. Toasted fish flakes on a hot dog. That is so disgusting.”
“Hey, the guy said that’s the way locals eat it.”
“Whatever. Next time you order a dog, ask a New Yorker. By the way, no one eats a hot dog with a fork, either,” she pointed out with her lip twitching and a teasing shove.
Marcus pushed Avery back, grinning. “At least I won’t have onion breath from hell. How do you ever expect to get a girlfriend eating crap like that?”
Like I would want that to happen
, she thought.
Maybe I should change my order and ask for extra onions
While they were eating, Avery noticed a young teenage girl wearing a Brutal Strength t-shirt coming towards them.
The girl tapped Marcus on the shoulder. “Hey, aren’t you Marcus Anthony from Brutal Strength?” she asked, shyly.
Marcus noticeably tensed but when he turned around his smile was warm and genuine. “Yes, can I help you?”
“I really love your music. Could I have your autograph?”
“Sure.” He nodded and signed her notebook with the pen she provided. Thanking him profusely, the girl turned and walked away. Marcus let out a shaky sounding sigh.
“Why do you look so freaked out, Marcus?” Avery asked, puzzled by his response. “She seemed harmless.”
“One fan, I don’t mind,” he explained. “But sometimes,” he looked around as if he was uneasy, “it can snowball and all of a sudden there are tons more. It can get out of hand real fast.”
“Sounds like you say that from personal experience.”
“Yeah, unfortunately, I got this,” he showed Avery the scar on the back of his hand, “in a mall last year in Dallas. I had to have stitches afterward.”
“No way,” she said, shaking her head in disbelief.
“That’s why my dad’s been pressuring me to get a full time security guard, a more formal permanent thing than what I have Ray doing now. But if I do that, I can just kiss away having any type of normal life, yeah?”
Before she could respond, his Mercedes pulled up. “Oh, here’s Ray. I texted him earlier to let him know where we were.” Suddenly, he leaned in close, his face an inch away from hers, and sniffed.
What the heck? Avery’s gaze dropped to his lips, her heart thumping wildly.
“Whew! Dragon breath,” he pronounced with an exaggerated cough, waving his hand in front of his face. As if anticipating retaliation, Marcus jogged backward toward his ride. “Later, Stinkenstein!”
By the time Avery snapped out of her Marcus induced stupor, he was already in the car and it was pulling away from the curb.
EXITING MARCUS’ ELEVATOR that evening, Avery went straight to where he stood in all his handsome glory in the foyer and punched him in the shoulder.
He staggered back, making a big production of pretending to be hurt. “Is that the best you’ve got?” He straightened up, smiling. “Don’t tell me you’re still sore about my joke earlier?”
She shook her head, smirking. “No, I'm good now.” Twisting the hem of her shirt, she followed him into the living room. “I put some overdubs on ‘Brothers’ this afternoon. Did you get a chance to hear them?”
“I did. I think they sound fantastic.”
Avery scrunched her face up. “It’s so tedious to play the exact same part over and over again, but I really like the fuller sound it brings out.”
Marcus nodded. “Come into the kitchen and I’ll make some tea. I really want to hear about your song.”
Once Avery had the warm mug in her hands, they moved back into the living room and sat down across from each other. Avery’s knee started bouncing up and down. Marcus looked pointedly at her. “Hey, stop that,” he ordered. “Don’t be nervous. I’m sure it’s good, so don’t worry. If it’s not something I think is right for the album, trust me, I’ll tell you. Let’s always be honest with each other. I’ve got more than enough people around who blow smoke up my ass.”
Inwardly Avery cringed. More and more her deception was tangling her up in knots, but she just gave him a nod. She was in too deep to turn back now. She unpacked her guitar and pulled out her journal, flipping through the worn pages.
“Can I see that?” Marcus asked.
She nodded and passed it to him for closer inspection.
He was quiet for a while examining the pages. “Pretty impressive. You draw too?”
“Just a little,” she shrugged, taking the journal back when he offered. Her emerald eyes connected with his. “I’m nervous about whether or not you’ll like the song. Justin told me it was too sappy to use.”
“Let me be the judge of that, Avery. Maybe it was just too emotional of a thing for him to deal with.”
“Maybe you’re right,” she conceded, laying her notebook on the glass coffee table and pulling her guitar onto her lap. “He also said the chord progression is too simple and sounds too much like Aerosmith’s ‘Dream On’…” She trailed off as she started playing the sweet melody, singing the words with her voice lowered to a whisper…
Ages since I saw your face
My tears fill the empty space
Details that I can’t recall
Afraid I’m gonna lose them all
Mom, while memories fade, your songs reveal
Our love remains, my heart will heal
A box of music I keep close
For when I need your presence most
Mystery it holds for me
What’s inside brings clarity
Mom, while memories fade, your songs reveal
Our love remains, my heart will heal
Though I sing each out of my despair
Deep inside I know you’re there
Words unlock each memory
Your warmth, your smile returns to me
Silence filled the apartment when she finished. Avery shifted around self-consciously on the sectional, anxious to find out what Marcus thought.
Marcus exhaled slowly and said in an awed whisper, “Whoa… I could really feel the longing and sadness in the lyrics. Avery, I have to tell you songs like that are the reason I do what I do.”
She nodded, knowing exactly what he meant.
“And you have to be the one to sing it on the album.”
“Oh, no, no, no.” She shook her head reluctantly, always uncomfortable being the center of attention on stage. Justin had never pushed her to do anything more than backup vocals, and that’s the way she liked it.
“Listen,” he said, putting his hands firmly on her shoulders for emphasis. “I can’t even sing in that key. Besides, you’ve got to know you have a great voice, Ace.”
She grinned, pleased by the compliment, and the fact that their relationship had apparently progressed to the nickname stage.
“I am more than happy, being the prima donna I am,” he continued, dimple peeking out, “to sing lead most of the time, but this is your song, for your mom, ok?” He sat back, seeming to be waiting for her to agree.
She closed her eyes for a moment, hesitant. But she wanted to do this to honor her mother’s memory, and Marcus believed she was capable of doing it. Reopening her eyes, Avery nodded in agreement.
“The song’s great as it is, but …” He stood up and motioned for her to follow. “Bring your stuff. I want to show you something.”
Avery followed him down the hall to the studio, her lids lowering appreciatively as her gaze slid down from his broad shoulders to his longs legs. She found herself utterly captivated by the view of his back side.
Her cheeks warmed. The man sure looked great in his jeans. The denim was a perfect showcase for his assets.
Lost in her reverie, Avery almost ran into him when he unexpectedly stopped inside the studio doorway. Fortunately, she avoided a collision by stutter-stepping to the side. She ducked her head to hide her flaming cheeks from view, and brushed quickly past him to enter the studio.
Crossing to the back wall, she gently set down her guitar on one of the stands. When she turned back around, Marcus had already taken a seat at the piano.
Whew, crisis averted
. She shook her head, wondering if there were any instrument he didn’t know how to play.