Authors: Michelle Mankin
Tags: #The Brutal Strength Shakespeare Inspired Series
Trevor exhaled with relief.
So far their plan appeared to be working.
“What did Marcus think of Avery’s demo?” he asked.
“He hasn’t heard it yet. He was swamped yesterday. It blew me away, though. Sounded like it might be all original material. Who wrote the lyrics? Avery?”
Trevor nodded. “He’s a solid songwriter. A big asset for any group as you know.” He took off his glasses and wiped them on the hem of his shirt before putting them back on. “Wait a minute. Are you telling me Marcus agreed to Avery’s audition without even listening to the demo? He must have a lot of trust in you, Stephen.”
“I guess he does.” He shrugged. “Mostly. As much as he trusts anyone. This business tends to make cynics of us all. We’re family, though, cousins on our mother’s side. We grew up practically next door to each other.”
“Yeah, I remember that…” Trevor suddenly stopped midsentence as Marcus came barreling through the door of the recording room like a runaway freight train, slamming the door shut behind him.
Startled, Avery stopped playing and backed off her stool. Her eyes widened as she stared at the tall, dark haired, agitated man in front of her.
I am so dead
, she thought becoming even more nervous than before.
She wanted to slide between the cracks of the wooden floorboards as he studied her with icy blue eyes that seemed only seconds away from discovering her secret. His dark brows forming a frown, he ran a hand through his already disheveled mop while she quaked in her Converse sneakers.
“Marcus Anthony.” He held out his hand.
Avery sucked in a tentative breath afraid to clasp it. Her smaller feminine hand would be a dead giveaway in his masculine grasp. She cast a nervous glance at Trevor, silently begging for his direction.
Marcus solved the problem for her. He withdrew his hand, his gaze dropping to her guitar. “You look nervous. Let’s just do this.”
Exhaling with relief, Avery nodded.
“Alright, then.” Looking more than a little skeptical, Marcus turned to the booth. “You guys ready?”
Stephen leaned into the mic that allowed for seamless communication between the glass booth and the recording room. “All set, Marcus. Go ahead and show us what you got, Avery.”
“Ok,” Avery replied, lowering her voice as she spoke for the first time, remembering that she was supposed to be a guy. Underneath the bandage and multiple clothing layers, Avery’s skin heated up. A bead of sweat trickled down between her shoulder blades.
“How about ‘Anthem?’” Avery proposed, taking a deep breath, balancing her pick over the strings, hoping she wouldn’t lose her grip on it because of her sweaty palms.
“That works for me.” Marcus nodded his approval. For the first time since he’d walked into the room, he felt a glimmer of interest. Anthem was a song off Brutal Strength’s first album. Maybe the kid had actually done some homework. Might make up for some of the deficits in other areas.
At least this one wasn’t a girl. But he was definitely young. Marcus had taken one look at him and figured the audition was going to be a big waste of time, just like all the rest. This guy had a baby face if he’d ever seen one. With those big green eyes, he must’ve gotten picked on all the time growing up. He was way too pretty.
At twenty-nine, Marcus realized that he was more burned out and cynical than some guys twice his age. Somewhere along the long road to success, he’d lost his passion. He’d reached the pinnacle of the music business. Fame and fortune were his. But inside he felt unfulfilled.
He’d been ready to walk away from it all when Mary Timmons had showed up. The carrot she dangled was complete control of the process, something he’d sacrificed to his old label after Brutal Strength’s debut album.
The chance to stoke his creativity had drawn him back to the studio for one last try. This time, he was determined to do things his way. He was going to regain his artistic integrity if it killed him. And if the album wasn’t a commercial success? Well, so be it.
Still feeling tentative, Avery held her guitar neck out, away from her body, and hesitated. When she and Justin played, she often started this song with a dramatic windmill motion a la Pete Townshend, but she didn’t think Marcus would be impressed with that. So without any fanfare, she launched directly into the dizzying rock intro for “Anthem.” She liked it a lot because it reminded her of Van Halen’s “I’m the One”. It started out with combinations of similar swirling riffs, then segued into a series of high pitched notes that she pinched off with lightning speed.
Head down, Avery effortlessly executed the demanding passages, her fingers flying over the fretboard.
Marcus let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding.
The guy has skill
, he thought. Not many people he knew could pull that off. Keith their ex-guitarist being one of only a few. It didn’t slip his notice that Avery had added in some improvised guitar slides. Very ballsy, very creative.
Avery lost herself in the moment. She and Justin had often covered “Anthem” as an encore to their act. At the spot where the lyrics came in, she automatically stepped up, putting her lips to the studio microphone to sing, but Marcus surprised her when he beat her there. For a moment, she let the smooth sound of his voice wash over her. His vocal range was as accessible and appealing as Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters.
Feeling compelled to join him, Avery followed his lead, harmonizing to blend perfectly with his, her bluesy breathy voice recalling Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac. Together their melded voices filled the sound room.
Marcus’ previous scowl disappeared, his entire demeanor radiating the pleasure he felt performing with someone with whom he was in total sync. He stared at Avery long after they both had faded out on vocals and the final notes on the guitar had ended.
was what he had been looking for.
was the reason he had wanted a male guitarist all along. He wondered where they had they found this guy and why they hadn’t brought him in the day before. It would have saved everyone a lot of grief.
Seeing Marcus’ smile, the flash of brilliant white against at least a days’ worth of dark stubble along the angular line of his jaw, Avery relaxed for the first time. She felt as exhilarated by their rare and instant musical connection as he apparently did. But however sweet the moment, however much she appreciated and knew she should savor it, overwhelming longing for Justin turned it bitter. Her loss was a gaping wound in the center of her chest that would never heal. Tears began to brim in her eyes.
Marcus noticed the abrupt switch in the guitarist’s mood. He made a mental note to grill Stephen for answers later. The last thing the band needed, given his own recent history, was to bring someone else into the group who was emotionally unstable.
Up in the booth, Stephen and Trevor were oblivious to the awkward moment in the studio. They swiveled their chairs around to face each other and tapped knuckles together in celebration.
“Where have you been hiding this guy, Trevor? I can’t believe I’ve never heard of him.” Stephen shook his head in disbelief. “He’s a real talent.”
“I agree.” Trevor muttered softly. “Nothing personal against Keith. He’s a great guitarist and all, but he doesn’t play with half the passion my client does, and he has nowhere near the vocal capability, either.
Not that I’m biased
, Trevor thought drily.
“Hey.” Marcus approached Avery cautiously. He cleared his throat.
Avery swiped the tears away and glanced up at him.
“That kicked ass, kid.”
Avery smiled timidly, and was surprised when he smiled gently back. He was extremely good looking, and she felt incredibly drawn to him when he wasn’t angry.
“Can you hold on just a sec? Let me get my Gibson. I want you to show me that thing you did with the intro. I really liked it a lot.”
Trevor felt vindicated for instigating the deception as he watched Avery and Marcus huddled together going over chords. Musically they were a perfect fit, and it seemed like they were getting along even better than he had expected. “So what do you think?” he asked Stephen.
“Your guy’s off to a good start. I don’t have to tell you that Marcus is usually a hard ass. We have a couple more auditions we are obligated to do, but my money’s on Avery. Marcus has the final say, though. But I promise that I’ll get back to you as soon as I can and let you know what he decides.”
“That sounds great,” Trevor replied, then leaned over to speak into the mic, “Hey, Avery.” At the sound of his voice, Marcus and Avery both startled, apparently so absorbed in what they were doing that they had completely forgotten they had an audience. “We need to get going.”
Avery turned toward Trevor and blushed realizing how close she and Marcus had been standing together.
, she thought.
Are guys supposed to blush
? Oh man, this was more complicated than she ever could have imagined. She should never have gone along with this crazy charade.
“I really enjoyed jamming with you.” Marcus put his hand on her shoulder, his touch a catalyst that ignited her body. She couldn’t possibly feel his fingertips through all the layers of clothing she wore, but she knew from experience that the pads of his fingers had to be rough and calloused from years of playing. She wondered how they would feel if he tenderly skimmed them over her cheek. She stared up into his handsome face realizing that his hands weren’t the only intriguing thing about the lead singer of Brutal Strength.
Marcus Anthony would top the fantasy list for any woman. He was impressively tall, well over six feet, and he had a muscular build that was every bit as distracting as his face. His sculpted chest stretched the fabric of his unpretentious black t-shirt, and his narrow hips and long legs filled out his faded jeans really nicely. He had layers of long brown hair that normally wasn’t her thing, but on him the tumble of hair that just kissed his shoulders was a very appealing look. The pictures she had seen in magazines didn’t do the reality justice.
Avery mentally rolled her eyes. What a pathetic fan-girl dork, gawking at him.
, now those sky blue eyes framed by thick dark lashes were focused on her.
“Huh?” she managed without drooling.
“I said I’ll see you around.” He gave her an amused smile which crinkled up his eyes at the corners.
Ok, now he was freaking off the charts gorgeous. “Oh, sure. Yeah, me too. Thanks.”
He raised a brow and nodded once.
Wordlessly, Avery watched him go intrigue, bordering on fascination, registering on her face.
“Spellbound are you?” Trevor warned her, his voice low as he stepped into the room.
“Am I that transparent?” Avery wondered, gazing down at her favorite sneakers, trying to gain control.
Trevor bumped her shoulder. “I am so proud of you, Avery. You totally rocked that audition.”
“Thanks,” she mumbled her thoughts a jumble. Marcus’ touch had apparently interfered with her higher brain function. Her whole body was humming as if electricity skittered beneath the surface of her skin. She had never been attracted to a guy so immediately and so intensely. It was the last thing she had expected to happen. Just her luck. Not only was Marcus Anthony completely unattainable and off limits, chances were, after this audition she would never see him again.
“EARTH TO MARCUS, come in, Marcus," Stephen teased on the drive home that evening.
“What’d ya say?” Marcus asked from the passenger seat of his cousin’s car, as they crossed the Burrard Bridge back into downtown Vancouver. He’d been preoccupied thinking about Avery’s audition.
The rest of the tryouts had been forgettable, but that guy played the guitar like it was an extension of his body. Marcus had also felt a strong musical connection. But the guitarist was young, a teenager still, and maybe a bit unstable, remembering the tears. He shared his concerns with Stephen.
His cousin slash general manager frowned. “Yeah, well you’re right about his age. Trevor says he’s only nineteen. I didn’t notice the rest, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a little shaky. His twin brother just died. Had a drug problem. Apparently he killed himself right before they were both about to sign a deal memo with RDA Records.”
“No shit? That’s horrible.” He shuddered. The story was eerily similar to his own. He’d walked too near the ledge with substance abuse himself. That outcome could have been his if his family hadn’t insisting on him getting help. “I don’t know how Avery even managed to make it through the audition. If something ever happened to Dwight…”
“Yeah, I know. Obviously, the kid’s tougher than he looks. But with that background.” He shrugged. “I wouldn’t even have bothered hearing him out if Trevor hadn’t vouched for him. He insists Avery’s a good kid who just needs a break.” He glanced over at Marcus. “It’s your band though, Marcus. Your call. What do you want to do?”
“We really clicked on vocals…”
“Yeah,” Stephen interrupted him. “It freaking gave me goose bumps, man.”
Marcus grinned. “He’s a hell of a guitar player, too… maybe even better than Keith.”