Read Love Rock'ollection: The Brutal Strength Rock Star Trilogy, books 1-3 Online

Authors: Michelle Mankin

Tags: #The Brutal Strength Shakespeare Inspired Series

Love Rock'ollection: The Brutal Strength Rock Star Trilogy, books 1-3 (5 page)

“Agreed. And if it makes any difference, Trevor says he’s a decent lyricist, too. Based on what I heard on the guy’s demo, I’d concur. Why don’t you take it home tonight, listen to it, and then let me know in the morning what you decide?”




AFTER THE STRESS of the audition and the four hour plane ride from Vancouver back to New York, Avery just wanted to get to her bed, lie down, and sleep for a week. Stumbling toward the stairs to her apartment, she nearly collided with Jeff on his way down.

He skidded to a stop in front of her. Throwing a furtive glance back over his shoulder, he warned ominously, “Joe Campanella’s up there with some of his guys looking for you.”

“Oh, no!” She set down her guitar case, stomach roiling. Why was he here? She still had a couple of days left to get him his money. Her pulse started to pound in her ears like it did when she had too much caffeine.

“You have the money he’s looking for, don’t you Avery?”

She shook her head slowly. When Justin had started snorting up all their gig money, she’d begun socking away what she could into a private savings account. But after paying for Justin’s funeral, what she had left wasn’t nearly enough.

“Avery, I’m so sorry.” He wrapped his arms around her, squeezing her tight.

She leaned into him, gratefully absorbing his comfort. After a moment, she stepped back and straightened her shoulders. “I don’t want to get you involved in this mess, Jeff. Go. Take a walk. I’m going up to try to talk to him.” She bent at the waist, picked up her guitar case, and started for the stairs.

Jeff stopped her by placing a hand on her shoulder. She had a death grip on the handle of her guitar case, but he pried her fingers loose to take it from her. “You’re crazy if you think I’m going to let you go up there and face that asshole alone. I’m coming with you.” He spoke in a tone that brooked no argument, motioning for her to precede him up the stairs.

When they reached their floor, the door to their apartment stood ajar. Nervously Avery crossed the threshold, startled when someone grabbed her from behind. She let out a surprised squeak. The big bruiser frisked her brusquely before shoving her aside and patting Jeff down, too. “They’re clean, boss,” he reported.

Two other men moved directly in front of Avery, one positioned protectively in front of the other. The front guy was tall with a large nose, beady dark eyes, and hair long enough that he’d pulled it back into a short ponytail. With his dark suit, Rat Face would have blended in well at a funeral.
Hopefully, not mine
, she thought grimly, feeling in her gut the terror Justin must have experienced.

Avery’s heart started thundering in her chest when Rat Face took a step closer. Eyes narrowing, he unbuttoned and opened his jacket in one smooth motion revealing the handgun holstered there.
Ok, I get it. Warning received
. She closed her eyes, leaning her head back, and praying to get through this alive.

Rat Face stepped aside as she opened her eyes. Avery took a reflexive step back getting her first up close glimpse of the man who had murdered her brother. He appeared to be in his mid-thirties. His black hair was long and slicked back from his face. His tailored pin-striped suit screamed Mobster 101. He radiated a dangerous brand of authority you didn’t want to cross. Only tragically, Justin had.

Campanella cocked his head to the side. “Well holy shit.” His full lips turned down in displeasure while he rolled a cigar between his fingers. “I was curious to see you for myself. You’re a pretty thing, aren’t you? Just like your brother,” he added with a lewd sneer.

Avery knew he was goading her, but the sight of him made something inside of her snap. As far as she was concerned, Joe Campanella was evil incarnate. She lunged for him. The consequences didn’t matter in that moment. She just wanted to hurt the man who had taken her brother from her.

“What are you thinking, little girl?” Rat Face interposed himself between the two of them, his brows drawn down. She stumbled backward, trying to get away. “The boss doesn’t like people invading his personal space.” Grabbing the front of her t-shirt, Rat Face pulled her up until she tottered on the tips of her toes.

Avery flailed around attempting to free herself. Campanella cleared his throat, and her assailant abruptly released her. Falling to the floor in a heap, she watched as Campanella circled her, feeling like a mouse within the tightening coils of a boa constrictor. The way he studied her made her skin crawl.

“My boys told me you had a real nice funeral for your brother. Stuff like that costs money. So, I think to myself, ‘why don’t I have mine?’ I’m beginning to wonder whether you take your obligations seriously.”

Avery shuddered, throat constricting with fear.

Eyes glittering with malice, Campanella methodically pulled out a matchbox, struck a match, and lit the cigar. He snuffed out the match, all the while regarding Avery. As he drew on the cigar, the tip began to glow like a red hot coal. He cut his gaze to his bulked up bodyguard. “Tony.”

Tony came up behind Avery, his big hands completely enclosing her upper arms, restraining her. With a predatory grin, Campanella stepped forward, grabbed her wrist, and pressed the tip of his cigar into Avery’s exposed forearm. He held it there for several seconds until it was completely extinguished.

Avery screamed, knees buckling, and would have collapsed if Tony hadn’t been holding her. Tears spilling from her eyes, she swallowed convulsively to keep from throwing up.

From across the room Jeff shouted, “No! Leave her alone!” He rushed toward Avery. He didn’t get two steps before Rat Face intercepted him, delivering a vicious blow to his abdomen. Jeff sagged to the floor with a groan.

Avery shook her head, trying to clear it. The pain and the terror made it difficult to form a coherent thought.
Think, think, think. The only two things a man like Joe Campanella understands are money and money
. In a quavering voice she pleaded, “Give me till the end of the month, please, and I’ll pay you double what Justin owed.”

A calculating look came across Campanella’s face. “Let her go,” he ordered Tony. Avery swayed unsteadily on her feet. “No, my dear. You’ll pay
. Or Tony and Vito will be back.” He glanced pointedly at Jeff. “And I promise there will be collateral damage. Do I make myself clear?”

She nodded wanly, and Campanella turned dismissively from her. As the mobsters left, she watched helplessly as Vito Rat Face gave Jeff a parting kick in the ribs. The minute the door shut, Avery rushed over to Jeff, kneeling at his side. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m ok. Just had the wind knocked out of me. It’s you I’m worried about.” He turned over her hand to look at her arm. “Geez, Avery. That’s probably a third degree burn. It’s going to leave a scar.”

She pulled her hand away, avoiding eye contact. “It’s probably not that bad.”

“Yeah, right. Hey, help me to the couch, would ya?” With her help he stumbled to his feet. She got underneath his arm, and he leaned on her for support. They shuffled over to the faded second hand vinyl sofa and sat down. Putting one arm over his stomach, he laid the other over the back of the couch inviting her to lean in. She rested her head on his chest, and he wrapped his arm around her shoulder and squeezed. He stroked her hair as tears trickled down her face. “Avery, where in the world are you going to come up with that kind of cash?”

Her shoulders slumped even further, and her voice was muffled in his shirt, “I don’t know, Jeff. I just don’t know.”



“MARCUS JUST CALLED,” Trevor announced when Avery admitted him into the apartment early the next morning. “You look terrible. What’s wrong?” he asked, noting her rumpled appearance and bloodshot eyes.

“Nothing,” she lied, striving for a neutral tone while pulling down her sleeve to cover up Campanella’s burn. The last thing in the world she wanted to do was drag Trevor into that situation.

“I don’t believe you kid.” Trevor eyed her suspiciously. “I’m your manager. Managers need to know everything. It’s like a law or something.”

“She’s just trying to protect you, Trevor.” Walking out from his bedroom, Jeff spilled, “Joe Campanella came by yesterday.”

Joe Campanella? The mobster? Avery, how in the world did you get mixed up with him?”

“Not her. Justin,” Jeff answered, ignoring her glare and zip it up gesture. “He owed Campanella money and they’re leaning on her for payment.” He put on his jacket and headed for the door. Glancing back at them over his shoulder, he said, “Avery, don’t give up hope. We’ll figure something out. I’m late for work, but we’ll talk when I get home.”

When the door shut behind him, Trevor looked back at Avery, his brown eyes full of sympathy. “I don’t need a guy like Campanella pressuring one of my clients.” He pulled out his checkbook. “Let me loan you the money. It’s not a big deal.”

She put her hand over his. “No. Absolutely not! No way, Trevor.” Her green eyes reflected her unbending will on the issue. “I appreciate the offer, but it’s bad enough that Jeff’s involved. I don’t want anyone else on Campanella’s radar. He’s a bad guy. A really,
bad guy. I’ll get the money on my own somehow.”

“You’re right.” Trevor slapped a palm to his forehead. “I’m sure you will, actually. You’ll soon have more money than you’ll know what to do with. That’s what I came over to tell you. Marcus called. He wants you to come back to Vancouver and run through some more songs with the rest of the group. But Stephen says it’s pretty much just a formality. Sounds like you’re in, kid!”

Stunned, Avery stared at him for a moment, letting the news sink in. “I can’t believe it!” She finally blinked. “I didn’t want to get my hopes up. But Brutal Strength! Woo-hoo!” After the initial moment of elation, her smile faded. “But what happens when they find out I’m not really a guy, Trevor?”

So far, she had gone along with the plan, not really believing anything would come of it. Frankly, she hadn’t been thinking straight since Justin died. Between this charade and the Campanella thing, her world seemed to be collapsing in on her from all sides.

“Look, Avery,” Trevor replied, his gaze serious and steady on hers. “Bottom line, it was your music they liked. Marcus and Stephen believe you have what it takes.” He pushed his glasses back up his nose. “Seriously, whether you’re a man or woman is irrelevant. Jobs should be merit based.”

“Uh, yeah in a perfect world, right?”

“There’s no doubt, Marcus is a Neanderthal. That’s why I don’t feel too bad about deceiving him. I say, we stick with the plan. Tell him the truth
you pay Campanella back. It’s really a win-win situation for Brutal Strength, anyway, because they get you.”

She rolled her eyes at him.

“All true, kid. You’re a helluva guitarist. And when everyone finds out you had to pretend to be a man to get in the band, the publicity will be huge. Bigger than when Lady Gaga dressed up like a guy for the Grammys. The public loves controversial stuff like that. They’ll eat it up.”

Avery knew Trevor was mostly right. And anyway, she was out of options now. Joe Campanella was not the Bank of America. He didn’t just threaten, he acted. She’d experienced that firsthand. Getting the extension had bought her a little time, but where else could she come up with that amount of money in time? Like it or not, she had to let things play out.

She nodded reluctantly to Trevor. Being a guy for one afternoon hadn’t been all that difficult. Extending it out a little longer shouldn’t be too hard. She knew how men acted, having been around them all her life. They were definitely lower maintenance than girls. “What’s next?” she asked. “I know you, Trevor. You always have a plan.”

Trevor smiled fondly. He reached out and fingered a long strand of her copper hair. “This will have to go. You can’t wear your hair up in a hat all the time, you know.”

Avery breathed a sigh of resignation.
It’s not a big deal
Hair grows back
, she told herself.

Trevor took a step back, fingers under his chin, studying Avery head to toe. “This is way outside my area of expertise. It’s going to take more than just a ball cap and an oversized shirt for your disguise to hold up to day to day scrutiny. We’re talking major transformation. I say if you’re going to be a guy, Avery, let’s make you the best looking one we possibly can. And I know just who to call.” Trevor pulled out his cell phone, scrolling through his contact list. “Here it is. Ricardo Benito. The best celebrity stylist in the business.” He tapped in the number.

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