Authors: Michelle Mankin
Tags: #The Brutal Strength Shakespeare Inspired Series
Dalton Humphrey, the production manager, was the last introduction. Avery thought he was nice enough looking, but the guy had way over-gelled and spiked his grey hair to the point that it looked like it could poke an eye out. The laugh lines around his eyes gave testament to a happy disposition though, and he smiled warmly at Avery confirming it. “I hear you and Marcus are getting started today writing some songs for me.”
She nodded. Seemed like news traveled fast around here.
“Great, we need someone to light a fire under him.” He patted her on the back. “I look forward to working with you, Avery.”
Once they left Dalton, Trevor touted his industry wide reputation for being a veritable genius at mixing songs. “He’s been on a real roll lately. You’re really lucky to be working with him. The last couple of albums he helped produce were huge successes.”
Avery left Trevor at Black Cat and caught a taxi back to her hotel. The uniformed doorman held the door open for her when she arrived. Entering the opulent lobby with its marble floors and fresh cut flowers, she spotted Marcus’ chauffeur Ray waiting in a tufted club chair. “Give me just a second. I’ll go grab my gear,” she told him, breaking for the elevator.
“No problem, Mr. Jones,” Ray called after her.
“None of that stuff. My friends call me Avery.” She winked as the elevator doors closed.
When she came back down with two guitar cases, he shook his head. “You know, Marcus has plenty of instruments you can use.”
Avery smiled. “I know, but I like the feel of my own.” He helped her load them in the trunk of a Mercedes.
On the drive over, Ray seemed reserved. “How’s your day going?” she asked, hoping to break the awkward silence.
Ray glanced at her in the rearview mirror. “I’m ok.”
“You don’t sound ok.” Avery met his gaze, noting the stressed look in his eyes.
“You don’t want to hear about my troubles.”
“Ray, if I didn’t want to know, I wouldn’t have asked.”
Ray raised a brow skeptically.
Avery met his eyes in the mirror. “I’m serious.”
Ray was quiet a moment, dark eyes narrowing as if sizing her up. Avery imagined that he was used to being treated like a servant instead of a person by most people, especially the sycophants that usually attached themselves to celebrities.
“I’m a little concerned about my mom,” he eventually revealed. “She’s sixty years old and has been in the hospital for a week with pneumonia. It looks like the second round of antibiotics might be doing the trick though.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, Ray. I’m sure you’ve been worried sick. Have you been able to see her today?”
“No, but I’m going to swing by as soon as I see you up.”
“Good. That’s good. Never take your mother for granted, Ray. Tell her you love her every single day.”
Ray’s face softened as he nodded. “Yeah, I’ll make sure to do that.”
Within minutes they were out of downtown proper, and soon pulled into the underground parking garage at Marcus’ waterfront high rise building west of downtown. Ray keyed in the code to Marcus’ private elevator. When they reached the thirtieth floor, Marcus was there to greet them in the foyer.
“Sure, boss.” He set down the guitar case he’d been holding. Avery had insisted on carrying the other one up. “Just call me when you are ready for me to take him back.”
Marcus nodded and turned to Avery. “How’d it go this morning?”
“Great,” she answered, filling him in on the details.
Avery was one of only a handful of people who had been up to Marcus’ apartment in the few months since he’d moved back to Vancouver. For the past ten years, he’d made LA his home, at least nominally. In reality, it had only been a base of operations for when he wasn’t on the road, which hadn’t been very often. Sober, he’d no longer fit in with the fast lane group of so-called friends he’d had in the land of the pretenders. He told himself none of that mattered. Native Canadians didn’t belong in desert climates like LA, and he was glad to be back in his old stomping grounds.
Marcus noticed that Avery seemed nervous, standing in the foyer, doing that fidgety stuff just like at the audition. The guy’s right leg was shaking so much it seemed like he needed to go to the bathroom, and he hadn’t put down his guitar case yet, either. They’d never work effectively together if the dude didn’t loosen up around him. Wanting to break the ice, Marcus asked politely, “Would you like something to eat or drink?”
“You wouldn’t have any hot tea, would you?” Avery blew on her cold hands. “Vancouver feels colder than New York.”
“Yes actually, I do. Do you like Roibos?
“I love it. I have a Kenyan friend, Sangeeta back in New York. She introduced me to it. What about you? Are you a big tea drinker?”
“Yeah, I guess I’ve always liked it. They say it’s good for the vocal cords. Roibos is supposed to be a really healthy one, antioxidants and all that crap.” He headed back to the modern galley style kitchen just off the living room. “Make yourself at home. I’ll be right back.”
Avery stepped into the living area while she waited, feeling completely out of place. The layout was vast, probably taking up half the square footage on this floor. The interior was masculine, ultramodern, and expensively furnished. Not a second hand thing in sight. A huge black leather sectional took up most of the main living area. The matching upholstered pieces were gray with complementary accent pillows in various shades of beige. All together it looked like something out of a Cantoni furniture showroom.
“Wow!” she exclaimed, noticing for the first time that the entire wall in front of her was made of glass. She moved closer to check out the panoramic ocean view. Looking slightly to the left, she could see Stanley Park and to the far right the iconic sail sculptures of Canada Place.
“Yeah,” Marcus said sheepishly as he came back into the room with the tea. “That’s how most people react when they see the view from up here. It’s what made me buy the apartment.” He offered her one of the steaming mugs. “Wanna see the studio?”
His excitement reminded Avery of a kid showing off his newest toy. “Of course,” she smiled. “I still can’t believe you have an actual studio in your apartment. That is
She followed Marcus down a long hallway, passing a guest bathroom. The second door led into a huge soundproofed studio, as big as the ones at Black Cat, filled with state of the art technology. Of all the gadgets, Marcus seemed to be most fond of his Korg Kronos 88 keyboard synthesizer.
Demonstrating some of the sounds it could produce, Marcus explained, “I really like how it can integrate multiple tracks and effects.”
As he pulled a custom Martin acoustic off its stand and slung the guitar strap over his broad shoulders, Avery found herself admiring both the guitar and the handsome man wearing the form fitting grey t-shirt and worn jeans. She had to shake her head to clear her mind of wanton thoughts before looking around for an amp to plug in her electric.
Marcus pointed to an outlet and then asked, “How do you like to warm up?”
Avery’s face heated. She could actually think of several ways involving the two of them that had nothing to do with music. “How about some Zeppelin?” she suggested eventually, rather than voicing her thoughts out loud.
Marcus’ face registered his surprise. “You’re kind of young to be into Zeppelin, aren’t you?”
“Zeppelin is classic,” she said in a serious tone raising an eyebrow. “Marcus, how old are you, anyway?”
ancient,” she teased. “I’m nearly twenty, so don’t be giving me all that, ‘I’m so much older than you crap.’”
His blue eyes sparkled, “Bro, it’s not the age. It’s the mileage. And I’m a high mileage model, ok?”
“Yeah, right.” Avery laughed. “I grew up listening to my mom’s music: Van Halen, Aerosmith, Heart, AC/DC, Fleetwood Mac, The Who. In my humble opinion, there hasn’t been any great music since the seventies.” Marcus seemed about to object, so she lifted a hand to stop him, snickering, “Except for Brutal Strength of course!”
He gave her a cute little half smile, top lip curving up ever so slightly and his eyes crinkling pleasantly at the corners. “Ok, Ok, I agree with you in part, but I think you can’t discount the impact of later bands like Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Guns and Roses, and U2… Hey wait a minute! Van Halen is more of an eighties band, right?”
“Whatever. Van Halen gets a pass with me, though.”
“Three words. Eddie Van Halen.”
“Ha! Agreed. That guy’s in a league all his own.”
“He's one of the reasons I picked up the guitar.”
“Oh, what are the others?”
“My mom, mainly. She used to play professionally. My Martin acoustic was hers.” Feeling her emotions welling up, she turned her back to him, not thinking it would be very manly to let the lead singer see how much she missed her mother.
Marcus paused, looking uncomfortable. “Why doesn’t your mom play anymore, Avery?”
“She died when Justin and I were eight.” Avery sighed. In all the ways that mattered, she’d lost both parents that day.
“I’m sorry. Damn, kid. That must have been rough.”
Avery’s throat constricted with the familiar deep-rooted sorrow that always seemed to bubble up whenever she talked about her mom. She took a sip of tea. Hoping to change the subject, she joked, “Justin always teased me that I had a crush on Eddie.”
Marcus head snapped up and his eyes widened.
“Oh, I mean a man-crush, of course.” Avery recovered quickly. “I wanted to be him and all.” She fumbled around, picking at her guitar nervously. “Wanna do ‘Ramble On’?”
“Sure.” Marcus nodded.
He played the acoustic intro perfectly and as they began the lyrics together, she couldn’t help but admire his singing. He wasn’t Robert Plant, but on the other hand he had no trouble hitting any of the high notes, either.
“I didn’t realize you had such a great voice,” Avery commented when they finished.
“Thanks, so do you. But I’m curious as to why that surprises you?”
“Well.” She hesitated for a moment, wanting to phrase the question in a way that didn’t sound critical. “Most of Brutal Strength’s songs don’t really require vocal acrobatics, do they?”
“No they don’t, Avery. You’re right. Our stuff is pretty simple. After our first album, I went the route that the label wanted, and sold my soul to the devil, artistically speaking. For far too long, I’ve let others define my music. I refuse to bend to that pressure anymore. Music to me is about personal expression. I hope you don’t fall into that same trap. Anyway, from now on, I plan to go back to writing music I would want to hear.”
They tinkered around a bit, each working with different melodies. Avery watched him surreptitiously. There was something so sexy about this man, especially with his guitar. Totally engrossed, his dark hair fell forward concealing his face, and his lean chest muscles flexed enticingly as he cradled the instrument and strummed.
He drove her to distraction.
Get your head in the game, girl. Don’t forget what a privilege it is to be hanging out with a world class musician like him
. Thoughts under control, at least for the moment, she asked him if he had any ideas for the album.
“I do actually. Don’t laugh. It’s a departure from the typical Brutal Strength blueprint, but I was thinking of doing a concept album with love being the theme. You know, simple but deep. How those we love and who love us shape who we become, the power love has to transform us. What do you think?”
She nodded, immediately. “I think that’s an incredible idea.”
“I already have a melody running around in my head that I was thinking of turning into a song about my brother.”
Avery stiffened, and Marcus noticed, immediately apologizing, “I’m sorry, Avery. I forgot. I didn’t think for a minute. I’m such an ass.” He placed a reassuring hand on the guitarist’s shoulder.
Avery received an instant electrical charge from his touch just like the last time he touched her in the studio. Her eyes flashed up to his, and he immediately pulled his hand away. “No, no. Don’t worry about it. It’s ok,” she stammered. “Really. And I like your idea a lot. A song would be a good way to honor my brother’s memory. Could we make it a tribute to both our brothers?”
“I think that would be perfect, Avery. I’m not really good with words. I’m hoping you can help with that. I can write melodies all day long, but writing lyrics is pure torture. I wanted the words to say something about how Dwight’s always looking out for me.”
“Yeah, Justin was the same way.” Only in a much more serious life or death way than Dwight, she was sure. “Let me hear what you have so far with the music.”
He started playing a tumbling rock riff on his acoustic.
She smiled. “You know, I think I hear the influence of Heart’s ‘Barracuda’ in there. Everything comes back to the seventies. Just saying.”
Marcus chuckled in response.
They spent a couple of hours working with the hook, the catchy guitar riff Marcus had already laid out for the song. They used the Korg to create some basic drums and bass tracks to round things out knowing Dwight and JR could add better ones later.
The lyrics Avery made into a back and forth banter between an older and younger brother and the chorus became…
Oh brother why’re you always bossing me?
Think you know what’s best for me
Brothers love, brothers fight
Brothers take years to get it right
They ran through the whole song one last time, recorded it, and sent it over to Dalton in digital format. Then Avery’s stomach growled, loudly. Feeling self-conscious, she glanced at Marcus to see if he had noticed.
“Holy cow! What was that scary sound?”
He had, obviously. “Very funny.” She smiled and looked around for a clock. “What time is it, anyway?” she asked, not able to remember eating anything since breakfast.
“Seven,” Marcus informed her after looking at his watch.
“Wow.” Her eyebrows rose.
“Yeah, I know.” He smiled, eyes crinkling, and a slight dimple appeared in his left cheek. “Time flies when you’re writing a gold record, huh?” He seemed to think for a minute. “I don’t really have anything in the house. Do you want to go out to get something?”