Authors: Michelle Mankin
Tags: #The Brutal Strength Shakespeare Inspired Series
A woman answered, “Studio LA, can I help you?”
“Yes, I need to speak with Benito.”
“I’m sorry, sir. He’s with a client.”
“Tell him it’s Trevor. It’s an emergency.”
“One moment, sir. Please stay on the line.”
While Trevor held, he informed Avery, “Benito is very discrete. He’s been keeping his celebrity clients’ secrets for years. That’s the reason he’s so popular. The other is that he’s brilliant.”
THE FOLLOWING NIGHT, after another transcontinental flight, a taxi dropped off Trevor and Avery in an alleyway behind Benito’s salon in Beverly Hills. Trevor, trying way too hard to remain incognito in her opinion, wore a ball cap dipped forward and sunglasses.
At night? Really?
He’d also insisted that she wear a hoodie to hide her face. “I look like I'm getting ready to rob the place, Trevor. And you look ridiculous. Is all this cloak and dagger stuff really necessary?”
“You bet. You never know when someone from TMZ might show up. Studio LA is a hot spot for celebrities. The fact that you’re going in tonight as a woman and coming out as a man just might draw some unwanted attention.”
Before Avery could respond one way or another, the back door flew opened. Momentarily blinded by the sudden light, she stumbled. A warm hand clasped her arm gently and drew her inside. Trevor followed.
Avery blinked and as her eyes adjusted, an attractive, middle-aged Hispanic man fashionably dressed all in black came into focus.
He pulled back her hood. “B
, you must be Avery. I’m Ricardo Benito. My friends call me Ricky.” He took her proffered hand, but instead of shaking it, he kissed it the way they did in old fashioned movies.
Ricky turned around to face Trevor and abruptly cuffed him on the side of his head.
“Ow!” Trevor exclaimed. “What the heck was that for?”
. Don’t be such a baby.” Glancing back at Avery, he went on, “When you called me, I’ve gotta say, I was intrigued. Not many things I haven’t seen or been asked to do in this line of work, but this is a first. And
, you way undersold the magnitude of what you’re asking me to do here.”
Ricky cupped Avery’s chin with one hand, while the other dropped downward, about an inch away from her body, outlining her curves. He raised disbelieving brows to Trevor. “You’ve got to be kidding me, right? It’s going to take way more than a simple haircut for anyone to believe this
Trevor nodded. Knowing Benito loved drama almost as much as flattery, he told him, “I figured it would require a miracle, which is why I brought her to you.”
Benito preened, soaking up the compliment. He studied Avery again. “Alright then, we better get started. We’ve got our work cut out for us
.” Grabbing Avery’s hand, he led her further into the warehouse-like building.
Avery admired the art deco furnishings and black and white photographs of celebrities that lined the walls. At the reception desk, Benito stopped momentarily, releasing her hand to pick up a piece of paper. He glanced at it, looked at Avery again, and then scribbled something down.
He passed the paper over to Trevor. “Here. I’m sure you didn’t think to get clothing, did you? I put together a list of things she will need. Size four, right, Avery?”
She nodded, impressed by his guess.
“That should translate closely enough into a small in the men’s department.” Benito smiled wryly at Trevor and winked at Avery. “She’s also going to need something to flatten down that chest. Guys will notice those, and then it won’t make a bit of difference what I do to the rest of you.”
Avery blushed, suddenly finding her feet very interesting.
Trevor told Benito, “That’s something we already figured out in Vancouver, but I’ll pick up another ace bandage just to be safe.”
“Avery,” Benito called to get her attention. “You also need to decide about undergarments. Will it be boxers for you or briefs?”
“What?” she blurted out.
“If you’re gonna play the part, you gotta go in all the way.”
“No way briefs! That’s too weird for me. Boxers, I guess. I’ve worn those to sleep in before.”
“Well, don’t just stand there, Trevor, wasting my time,” Benito chided. “Make yourself useful. Head to the Beverly Center with that list. We need it all.” He turned back to Avery. “You and I are going to be real busy for at least a couple of hours. My dear, I’m gonna have to give you a crash course, the 411, on how to look, talk, think, and act like a
WHEN TREVOR RETURNED several hours later, Benito grabbed the large shopping bags from him and disappeared into the back. Before Trevor had time to finish scrolling through the emails on his phone, Benito came bustling back in and announced dramatically, “Brutal Strength’s newest member
es muy, muy gaupo.”
The transformation was remarkable. Avery looked every inch the stylish young teen heartthrob wearing a structured jacket with an attached hood over a button down white shirt. A thin black tie was wrapped around her neck. She wore low rise straight fit jeans and stylish black boots to complete the ensemble.
Trevor nodded his approval. “Amazing,” he whispered. “I can barely believe my eyes.” He clapped Benito on the back. “Ricky, you are a freaking genius. Avery, you look fantastic! Clothes really do make the man. And the haircut is perfect. Chicks are going to dig you!”
Avery scowled. “That is so…
what I want to happen.”
“Sorry, Avery, just saying.” Trevor gushed, “You are as pretty as Bieber himself. Black Cat will love your look. You’ll bring a whole new demographic to Brutal Strength’s fan base.”
Benito chimed in with additional instructions: “The urban metro look is really popular with the west coast bands. I suggest you google some pics of Bryce Soderberg from Lifehouse or TobyMac to get ideas to maintain the look. The layered style they favor really works to your advantage.
, look, it covers up your curves, top and bottom.” He smirked at Avery. “I would stick with leather jackets or loose military ones like you have on. Boots for casual, keep your feet covered. They are a dead giveaway that you’re a woman. You can dress your look up with button down shirts. With your coloring, dark green and black will be the most flattering. I’d get some newsboy caps, too. Do vests and go for thin loose ties, or a scarf, to cover up the fact that you don’t have an Adam’s apple. No shirtless rock concert performances for you, eh
? Also, shiny black jeans will work for dressy occasions. I’ll text Trevor some examples of more outfits I think will work for you.”
“Great,” Avery responded, overwhelmed by the plethora of details he’d given.
“Did you deepen your voice just now?” Trevor asked, eyes widening.
“Yeah. I did that earlier at the tryout, too. It kind of goes with the disguise, don’t you think?” She wiggled her brows.
“Good thinking.” Trevor nodded. “Well, we’d better get going. Our flight’s early in the morning.” He extended his hand to Benito. “Congratulations, Ricky. You are incredible.”
“Absolutely,” Avery agreed, wrapping her arms around the stylist and giving him a hug.
“Whoa, hold on.” Ricky took a step back. “Remember what I taught you. Guys give man hugs.” He demonstrated by putting the proper body width distance between the two of them and then double hand-slapping her on the back. “Also, don’t forget about the walk. Guys stride purposefully, shoulders back. No more girly hip swaying action.”
Avery followed his instructions, swinging her arms like he’d shown her earlier.
. I predict you are going to be a big hit, Avery. And the publicity,
, when you let the cat out of the bag, it’s gonna be stratospheric. They see you,” he pointed to her, “they’re gonna remember me,” he pointed to himself. “It’s gonna be great for my business!”
AVERY HAD DONE her best to cut all ties to her friends before she left New York. She’d told everyone that she would be busy doing studio work and not to expect her back anytime soon. No specifics. The less information they knew the better if this was going to work out. Maybe, just maybe, if she was lucky, she could fly under Campanella’s radar for a little while longer and pay him back before anyone else got hurt.
Wanting to master Brutal Strength’s entire catalog, Avery spent the first few days back in Vancouver practicing their songs. The Sutton Place in downtown became her new temporary home. It was ideally suited to the task with a full service hotel tower on one side and long-term apartments like the one she currently occupied on the other. Her one bedroom suite was twice as large as the two-bedroom apartment she’d lived in with Justin and Jeff back in New York. Avery loved the balcony. It overlooked one of the main thoroughfares, Burrard Street, which conveniently connected her to the shops and restaurants in the vicinity.
When the day for her to play with Brutal Strength finally arrived, Avery could hardly contain her excitement. On the short cab ride over to Black Cat’s home office in Kitsilano her knee bounced up and down the entire time. Trevor’s attempts at small talk were mostly wasted on her. She couldn’t focus. She just wanted to meet the rest of the group and jam with them.
They split up as soon as they entered the building. Trevor went into the control room to listen with Stephen again, and Avery slipped into the larger studio where the band was waiting.
Marcus spotted her as soon as she stuck her head in the door and strode right to her. He was grinning widely. Avery returned his smile, happy to see him again and relieved to see that his mood seemed vastly improved from the last time.
Marcus was inexplicably pleased to see Avery again. There was just something about the guy he found appealing. Charisma was part of it, and that would be good for the group. But also a naiveté that though refreshing was also problematic.
Avery would be exploited if someone didn’t look out for him. Marcus decided right then and there that someone would have to be him.
Years on the road as the lead singer in a rock band had made Marcus irrevocably jaded and cynical. He had long since drunk the Kool-Aid, figuratively speaking. There wasn’t much he hadn’t seen or done. He’d earned his bad reputation. He only hoped not to repeat the same stupid mistakes in the future. Been there, done that, have the bill from rehab to prove it. He definitely didn’t want any of that crap for a nice kid like their gifted guitarist.
“Avery, this is my older brother, Dwight. He’s our bassist and band anchor.” Avery studied the man who shook hands with her. He shared the same blue eyes and fair complexion as Marcus, but that was where the similarity ended. Rather than being tall and lean like Marcus, Dwight was shorter, by at least a couple of inches, and wider framed. He had thick blond hair with red highlights that were similar to hers.
“Nice to meet you, Avery,” Dwight said, pointing back and forth between them. “You and I are gonna look good on stage together. Give the fans something better to look at than this troll.” His blue eyes sparkled as he shoved Marcus playfully.