Authors: Michelle Mankin
Tags: #The Brutal Strength Shakespeare Inspired Series
Trevor booked the flight as soon as he got off the phone.
MARCUS ANTHONY RAN a hand through his hair trying very hard to keep his cool.
Ok, ok. Remember. This is the new and improved me
, he reminded himself again, gritting his teeth. He’d done a lot of soul searching during his thirty days of inpatient drug rehab. His therapist had warned him he needed to use more constructive methods to handle his temper and obsessive compulsive tendencies. His lack of self-control had cost him his former lead guitarist.
He kept repeating the mantra,
I am in control of me
I am in control of me.
It wasn’t working. He hated all that psychobabble crap anyway.
Luckily, Stephen had his back and was running interference for him, or he would’ve already added a lot more substance to the rumors that he was difficult to work with. Black Cat Records’ CEO Mary Timmons had been breathing down his neck trying to pressure him into filling the lead guitarist position with a woman. Going toe to toe on the issue with that militant feminist had him near the boiling point.
, he thought.
You and I both know there really hasn’t been a serious female guitar player since Nancy Wilson of Heart.
Plus a girl just wouldn’t bring the right dynamic to his group. Brutal Strength was a
band for effing sake. Yeah, thinking like that might brand him as a bit of a chauvinist pig but to him female guitarists just weren’t as good as their male counterparts. In his experience, they flaunted their looks to compensate for an overall lack of talent. And he wanted nothing to do with women, as musicians or otherwise…since Veronica.
Throughout the whole excruciating day, Marcus had dutifully listened as chicks auditioned. If Brutal Strength had remained with Time Warner, he might’ve had to buckle under and do what management wanted. But after Keith left, the group had broken off from the big conglomerate that had represented them over the past ten years.
Marcus had been tired of the pressure they’d put on him and had finally built up enough professional clout to call his own shots, for the most part. That’s why these auditions pissed him off. With Black Cat, a much smaller independent label, he had final veto power over decisions directly affecting his group. It had been one of the terms he had insisted upon when he signed with them. He just hoped he wouldn’t be forced to play that card right from the start.
STEPHEN CALLED TREVOR early the next morning. “Hey man, you guys get in ok last night?”
“Yeah, thanks. I always love visiting Vancouver. How are you?”
“Not so great. Listen, I want to give you a heads up before you guys get over to Kitsilano this morning. Marcus had a full day of it yesterday. Mary, being who she is, sent him only women to audition. By the end of the day, he was livid, calling them and I quote, ‘no talent eye candy.’ He refuses to even consider a female replacement. Anyway, I’m hoping he will be in a better mood today. I’m sure he will be thrilled to have a talented guy like Avery try out. I’ll see you guys in a couple of hours.”
After Stephen hung up, Trevor dropped down onto his hotel bed and stared listlessly at the phone. He took off his glasses and started rubbing his forehead with both hands.
Crap, crap, crap.
He couldn’t believe his luck. In his mind he went back over the cell phone call with Stephen, remembering the spotty connection. No telling what Stephen had or hadn’t heard. It didn’t matter now anyway.
. He’d brought the kid all the way out here to Vancouver, and now she wouldn’t even get a chance to try out.
Trevor sat in his hotel room in a daze. What was he going to do? On a good day the job pool for a female guitarist was limited. Equal opportunity did not apply in the music business. He didn’t have anything else lined up for Avery and knew Justin’s death had left her in a financial bind.
It was so disappointing because he knew deep down this was a good match. Years in the industry had given Trevor confidence in his instincts. Stephen had a reputation of running a tight ship. That had been a factor in Marcus choosing him to be Brutal Strength’s general manager. The fact that he was Marcus’ cousin probably helped, too. It was a real family affair. Given the band’s bassist was Marcus’ older brother. It was a perfect environment in which Avery could thrive.
He closed his eyes and gave it some more thought. Giving up wasn’t an option. So Stephen thought Avery was a he instead of a she? Why should they feel obligated to correct him?
A crazy idea started to evolve inside his head. What if they disguised Avery as a guy? Hey, it worked for the women in movies like
. Well, sort of...
Trevor put his glasses back on, got up, and walked down the hall to Avery’s room, hoping he’d be able to convince her to go along with his plan. They didn’t have much time. The audition was less than two hours away.
“Sit down, Avery,” he told her after she let him in. “We’ve got a bit of a problem. There was a mix up when I spoke to Stephen on the cell last week. He got the impression that you are a guy.”
“Really? Ok.” She looked puzzled. “But what difference does that make?”
“A lot. Mainly because of Brutal Strength’s lead singer. Marcus has rejected every single woman who’s auditioned so far. Stephen said he’s really on the warpath refusing to even consider having a female replacement for his ex-guitarist.”
Avery closed her eyes and buried her face in her hands, her long hair forming a flame colored curtain around her shoulders. “What am I going to do now, Trevor? Things are really tight for me.”
“I know that. But listen, Avery. This is such a great opportunity for you. It would be a crime to waste it. Chances like this are a once in a lifetime deal, you know?”
She raised her head. “I realize that. So what? It’s not like I can magically change into a guy, Trevor.”
He fiddled with the nosepiece on his glasses. “Yeah, well, maybe you can. I know this might sound a little crazy, but what if we go ahead with the tryout… only with you dressed up like a guy?”
“What?” She looked at him incredulously. “That would never work. Are you nuts?”
“Possibly. There’s a rumor that insanity runs in my family.”
She rolled her eyes.
“No, please.” He held up his hand. “Just hear me out. I really believe in you, kid. Once they realize how talented you are, I don’t think they’ll really care if you’re a dude or a dudette. You’ll get the gig, and you can tell them the truth after…when the time is right.” When she didn’t stop him immediately, he seemed to take that as an encouraging sign and continued, “It could work Avery. It works in the movies.”
She shook her head. “This isn’t a movie, Trevor. This is real life.”
“Yeah, I know kid. But just say you’ll try, and then we’ll see. Ok? What do we have to lose?”
Avery sat down on the edge of the bed and put her hand over her mouth as thoughts ran through her head. What would be the worst that could happen? They might laugh at her and say, “Nice try, but no.” At least they would know how desperate she was for the chance. They might find some other work for her to do. It was unlikely she’d be forever blacklisted for the deception, and anyway, Trevor was right. She had no real alternative.
She pinched the bridge of her nose, sighed heavily, and eyed her manager. “Ok, Trevor. I don’t think it will work, but at this point I’m willing to give anything a try.”
“Good. It’s settled then,” he declared, relief evident in his tone.
Avery still felt uncertain, but she let him push her toward the bathroom. He instructed her to wash off all her makeup and pull back her hair. When she came back out, he held out his Yankee’s ball cap and one of Justin’s plaid shirts for her to wear.
“Try these on.”
Avery stuffed her hair up inside the cap and buttoned up the shirt over the one she had on. “How do I look?”
Making an undecided sound, Trevor crossed his arms and studied her.
Avery glanced down, saw that though the shirt was long enough to hide the curve of her hips, it didn’t disguise the shape of her breasts. She frowned.
Apparently reaching the same conclusion, Trevor motioned toward her chest. “We’ve got a slight problem up top.”
Avery felt her cheeks flush.
Trevor tapped his chin. “I’m trying to remember how they did it in the movies.” Suddenly, his eyes brightened. “I know. I’m going to run over to the Rexall drug store across the street. I’ll be right back.”
Doubts assailed Avery as she paced the room waiting for Trevor to return. When he came back he withdrew a wide ace bandage from a plastic sack, removed the outer packaging, and handed it to her. “Wrap this tightly around your chest,” he instructed. “To flatten out, you know…”
As embarrassed as her agent, Avery turned completely crimson and hurried into the bathroom to give it a try. It was itchy and uncomfortable, but seemed to do the trick. When she came back out again, Trevor stared at her and went completely still. He swallowed several times but didn’t speak.
Wondering why Trevor seemed so spooked, Avery moved to the dresser and looked in the mirror above it. She gasped. She couldn’t believe it. The resemblance was unsettling. She blinked back tears.
“Oh Avery, you look just like Justin,” Trevor whispered.
WHEN THEY ARRIVED at Black Cat Records, Trevor checked in with the receptionist. She stayed behind her elegant desk, but gave them a warm smile and directed them to the appropriate recording room.
Silent since the cab ride, Avery stuck close to Trevor, carrying her guitar case in one hand as they walked down the narrow hall lined with numbered doors. He stopped in front of one, pushed it open, and motioned her inside. She immediately unpacked her Ibanez electric guitar and started to warm up.
Stepping back out into the hall, Trevor studied the framed records on the wall and let out a nervous breath.
Surely it’ll be alright
, he told himself. What they were doing was probably only slightly illegal, and anyway wasn’t everything fair in love and rock ‘n roll?
“Hey man, how’s it going?” The familiar voice of his former associate sliced through his thoughts. Trevor turned to see Stephen striding down the hall toward him.
“Really great.” Tall and blond with a lumbering gait and an appealing manner, Stephen hadn’t changed much since the last time Trevor had seen him. But he frowned when he noticed Stephen was alone. “Where’s Marcus?”
“He’s getting a soda,” Stephen explained and glanced back over his shoulder as if fearing the temperamental lead singer might be right behind him. “I gotta tell you, he’s still in a lousy mood.”
“Oh well.” Trevor shrugged feigning nonchalance. “We were prepared for that, thanks to you. Appreciate your call this morning.”
“No problem.” The sound of Avery’s guitar blazed out of the recording room. Stephen peeked in and raised an inquiring brow. “That Avery?”
“Yeah.” Trevor answered, pausing to mentally edit to the right gender. "He wanted to warm up a little bit before we got started.”
“Great.” Stephen entered the control booth of the recording room, reaching back to hold the door open for Trevor to follow. “We can listen to them in here.” He gave Avery another cursory glance without commenting as they sat down.