Authors: Michelle Mankin
Tags: #The Brutal Strength Shakespeare Inspired Series
He motioned her over. “I think it might sound better if we switch over to the piano for the chorus.”
As he demonstrated, she couldn’t help but be impressed by how flawlessly he duplicated the music she had just played in the other room. Leaning against the ebony Grand, she nodded. “You’re right, the piano definitely lends a more melancholy feel to the song.” Exactly what she had wanted. “It’s perfect, Marcus.”
After a couple of hours, they were both pleased with the arrangement of the song. Marcus was one of those artists who instinctively knew where to add each additional element to a song, taking it from above average to extraordinary.
He called Dalton to let him know to expect another recording, and then arranged to meet with the rest of the band at Black Cat the following afternoon to finalize it.
Marcus looked at his watch, wincing at the time. “I’ve got an early morning workout with my trainer. I’m doomed. He’s going to kick my butt.”
Avery bit on her lip to keep from smiling.
Mind, do not go there
“I’ll call Ray to take you home.”
When he hung up, he grinned and clapped Avery on the back. “I can’t believe we have two songs for the album already. I am so stoked.” His expression turning serious, he admitted, “I feel privileged to have this song on the album, Ace. And I’ve got to say working with you these past few days, collaborating like we have,” he pointed back and forth between the two of them, “it’s been almost like a spiritual thing for me.”
“Me, too,” Avery managed to whisper, while thinking to herself how very quickly their relationship had become that and so much more meaningful to her.
COLEMAN WAS REALLY torturing Marcus, alternating cardio and weights with little rest between sets. Stephen had insisted Marcus get a personal trainer after he came back from the Betty Ford Center. Marcus, never having worked out a day in his life, had almost run the other way when he’d first been introduced to Larry Coleman. Built like an NFL linebacker, all six feet of him solid muscle, Coleman was an intimidating dude, the kind who made you feel like you had to go into training just to start working out with him.
Ok, ok, in reality Marcus was actually really grateful to Stephen for the directive. He had been right about exercise being a healthy stress reliever. It helped Marcus channel his frustration when people inevitably didn’t measure up to his high expectations and standards.
Marcus could barely catch his breath. His arms trembled with exhaustion. Coleman’s workouts were a challenge on a good day, next to impossible on a bad one. Today fell into the latter category.
Though physically worn out, his mind still raced. His thoughts kept coming back to the newest member of Brutal Strength. He wasn’t sure exactly what it was about Avery that intrigued him. He had meant it about the connection they shared. They both felt the same way about music, that creating it was a compulsion, a passion, and not just a job.
But he knew there was something more. Something he couldn’t quite identify. Something so totally different from any of his previous friendships that it puzzled him. Why did he want to be around Avery all the time? And why did he feel this overwhelming desire… to protect the emerald eyed flame haired guitarist?
“Hey Marcus, pay attention.”
Marcus swore Coleman had a maniacal gleam in his eye.
“You still have five more minutes. Plenty of time to do twenty more burpies!”
Marcus groaned, dropped to the ground, and began the set of squat- thrust- pushups.
LATER THAT AFTERNOON, Dalton caught Marcus just as Ray dropped him off at the studio. “Hey. I just heard ‘Brothers’. Wow! It is wicked good. Queen Mary is salivating all over her royal self. She already has plans in place to release it as a single.”
Marcus looked at him with chagrin. “I haven’t even heard the final version yet.”
“Well come on, dude. Come listen.” Dalton pulled him into the mixing booth, put the headphones on Marcus’ head, and started the tape.
Marcus listened, transfixed. Avery’s opening guitar riff was immensely appealing, the lyrics were catchy, and as usual, Dalton’s arrangement was nothing short of masterful. Marcus ripped off the headphones, a big grin covering his face. “Dalton you are a genius!”
“I know. I agree.” He smirked. “But you guys aren’t half bad yourselves. You know Avery is here with Dwight working on ‘Mother’s Gift’. Dude, you guys are scaring me with the stuff you’re doing.”
What the hell did he mean by that
? Marcus worried.
Were his crazy feelings for Avery that noticeable?
“What studio are they in?” he asked, thoughts an unsettled scramble.
Marcus walked quickly down the hall. Hearing Avery’s soft laughter through the open doorway, he stopped surprised by the way the sound of her happiness seemed to suddenly brighten his mood, which admittedly had been mostly dark this past year. He was starting to feel a lot of confusing things involving their new guitarist.
When he entered the room, Avery’s eyes lit up.
Dwight smiled at him. “What’s going on bro?”
Before Marcus could answer, JR stumbled in. “Hey, man. Where the hell have you been?’ Marcus asked him, wrinkling his nose. “You smell like an ashtray.”
“Looks like you slept in your clothes,” Dwight added.
“Killer party last night, Rhianna was in town,” JR said, looking directly at Marcus. “Sorry you missed it, dude.”
“I’m not. It’s not my thing anymore,” Marcus responded tersely. He walked over and stopped in front of JR, getting right up in his face. “Are you drunk? You know we’re recording today.”
“Back off! My personal life is none of your business! Control freak,” JR muttered the last bit under his breath. Looking furious, he flopped down on the stool behind his drum kit.
“It is my business when it affects the band!” Marcus shouted, apparently not willing to let the matter drop.
“Dude, please. You are such a hypocrite! You were so messed up last year at the Garden you couldn’t even remember the lyrics to ‘Moon Rising’. Self-righteous prick.” He gave Marcus the middle finger salute.
Marcus came unglued. He barreled across the room toward JR, hands balled into fists. Dwight dropped his bass and moved to break up the pending altercation, but Avery got there before him.
Avery stopped in front of JR’s drum set, and planted herself between the two of them. She grabbed JR’s forearm with one hand and swiveled around toward Marcus with her other hand held out like a traffic cop Marcus’ solid chest coming right into contact with her open palm.
Avery released JR, stumbling back a bit from the force of Marcus’ momentum. Her brain shut down as her body went into sensory overload. He was so close, so very warm, and he smelled divine. She could feel the tension in the muscles flexing beneath her fingertips. Her cheeks flushed, and her eyes flashed up to Marcus’ handsome face.
Marcus stood completely motionless, body feeling as tightly strung as a bowstring, eyes flaring with…with…. He looked down at Avery’s hand on his chest as if expecting to see smoke erupting from the point of contact.
Why the hell did their guitarist smell so effing good?
Avery ripped her hand back, cradling it to her chest like it had been burned. Her widened green eyes met his dark dilated blue and her only coherent thoughts were,
But there was nowhere to go, as she soon found out when she tried to back up and almost sat down on JR’s bass drum.
“Whoa,” JR cautioned, holding Avery up from behind so she didn’t fall.
Marcus remained glued in place, his intense gaze locked with hers.
Avery wanted…she wanted…him, but she couldn’t have him. She shook her head finally coming to her senses, averting her eyes. She pivoted around to face JR. “Thanks, man. I am such a klutz.”
Dwight pulled Marcus over toward him and whispered, “Dude, what the hell was that?”
“What do you mean?” Marcus' voice was husky, and he felt dazed.
“The way you almost took JR’s head off just now. What did you think I meant?” He glanced back over his shoulder at JR and Avery.
“Nothing, I don’t know, man.” He raked fistfuls of hair through his hands.
“Well, figure it out then. I think you and JR need to talk. Seems like there’s some unfinished business there.” Dwight called to Avery, “Hey, Avery, wanna get a Coke while these two kiss and make up?”
“Sure.” She followed Dwight out of the studio, relieved to have a chance to regroup.
Marcus was the first to speak after they left. “Dude, you're right. I shouldn’t have jumped your case just now. I know I really eff’ed up last year, I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s on me. I’ve got a terrible hangover, and I took it out on you.” He extended his hand to Marcus, who grabbed it. “No hard feelings, man. Who am I to judge anyone?”
Down at the break room, Dwight and Avery were just sitting down with their sodas when Beth walked in. “Hey guys,” the PR rep said, grabbing a yogurt out of the fridge. “Mary wanted me to let you know she’s called a tech crew in to shoot a video of ‘Brothers’. The plan is to release a live performance of it straight to the internet as soon as possible. We think it’s going to be huge.”
Eyes wide, she leaned in and whispered, “Mary’s even trying to pull some strings to get Brutal Strength’s slot at the Grammy nomination concert moved up to be the grand finale.” She looked around the room. “Hey, where are Marcus and JR?”
“Working out some personal stuff,” Dwight answered. “We’ll relay the message.”
“Ok, sure. Tell Marcus to call me,” she said, sticking a spoon into the yogurt container as she left the room.
Avery’s thoughts were in a whirl as she took all that in.
Holy cow, a music video and a Grammy concert!
She wasn’t some nobody from New York anymore. It didn’t occur to her in that moment that it might’ve been better if she had been.
Striding into the room, Marcus announced, “Hey guys, JR and I are cool. You ready to get back to work on ‘Mother’s Gift’?”
Avery and Dwight nodded, and as they headed down the hall back to the studio, Dwight filled Marcus in on Beth’s news.
THE RINGING OF her cell jarred Avery awake. She fumbled around until she located it on the nightstand.
“Hey,” Marcus’ deep voice rumbled immediately.
“Hey, yourself,” Avery grumbled sleepily.
“Aren’t you up yet, bum?”
“Marcus, it’s eight in the morning. On a Saturday!” she bit out snippily. “All decent people are still asleep. I haven’t even had my coffee yet.”
“Oookay…You without coffee is kind of scaring me. Hurry up and get some. We’re going to Granville Island Market for breakfast and need to get an early start.”
He hung up, leaving Avery staring bleary eyed at her cell phone. She dragged herself out of bed and went into the kitchenette. Less than fifteen minutes later, Avery was caffeinated and dressed. A definite bonus to being a guy was the shortened amount of prep time.
Marcus called her when he got to the lobby. Avery grabbed her jacket and room key and headed down. He greeted her as soon as the elevator doors opened, handing her a cup of coffee from Café Artigiano. Smiling at Marcus gratefully, she opened the lid and inhaled the delicious aroma.