Authors: Michelle Mankin
Tags: #The Brutal Strength Shakespeare Inspired Series
Outside the bus, Avery let go of his him, covering her mouth with her hand, eyes wide.
“I’m sorry, Red,” Bryan apologized with a grimace. “The guys, well…they’re not used to having a woman on the bus.”
She raised both brows.
“You know what I mean.”
“Yeah I do.” She rubbed her fingers against her pounding temples.
“There’s a convenience store across the street.” Bryan gestured. “Why don’t we go over there and get you some Tylenol?”
She was washing two caplets down with an Evian when War entered the store. She glanced down at her feet, wondering if she’d ever be able to look him in the eye again without that particular mental picture.
“Hey, Avery, did you drop something?” War asked, giving her a wicked grin when she looked up. Apparently he wasn’t embarrassed at all. “James brought the bus around front. I’m on a mission to restock the liquor.” He glanced over her shoulder. “You need anything, Bullet?”
“No. I’m all set.” Bryan held up a carton of Marlboros.
As soon as they re-boarded the bus, Avery sat and leaned her head back against the couch cushion. “How far is it to the hotel?” she asked, closing her eyes.
“Ninety minutes probably,” Bryan answered. “Our driver says there’s nighttime construction that’s gonna hold us up.”
“Who’s ready for shots?” Someone flopped down on the coach next to her. She opened her eyes to see War uncapping a bottle of tequila.
“I’m in,” Dizzy answered, pulling some shot glasses out of the cabinet above the sink.
“Sure,” Bryan said, turning to her. “What about you, Red? It might help with your headache.”
Avery looked at Bryan for a moment, blinking a couple of times before replying. “Sure.” She took a deep breath. “Why the hell not?”
MARCUS’ HEART SLAMMED against his ribs. Grimacing when he noted the time, he grabbed his ringing cell off the hotel nightstand.
Two fucking a.m.
His muscles tensed. Nothing good ever happens after two a.m.
“Yeah,” he answered, sitting up in bed.
“You better get down here quick, Boss,” Ray said ominously.
“Where? Why? What’s going on?”
“The hotel bar. It’s Avery.”
“I’ll be right there.”
He pulled on a pair of jeans over his boxers and swiped his room key off the dresser. Once in the elevator, he ran his fingers impatiently through his tangled hair and tapped his cell and the plastic room key together. The ride down from the twentieth floor seemed to take forever. The lobby was quiet, except for the piped in piano music. He skirted through it without seeing another soul.
Alongside Ray, two hotel security guards manned the entrance of the hotel bar. Both men were about Ray’s height, not near as intimidating though, but they more than made up for that in bulk.
“Is that Avery I hear singing?” Marcus asked, cringing at the off key rendition of ‘Maneater’ emanating from inside.
Ray paused before answering. “Unfortunately.”
“What the hell’s going on in there?” Marcus raised a quizzical brow.
“You’ll see.” Ray patted one of the men on the shoulder. “It’s ok Charlie. He’s with me.” He moved into the small dark red and gold themed club, gesturing over his shoulder for Marcus to follow. As soon as they turned the corner, Marcus immediately came to a halt.
Avery was totally hammered. From the way she swayed, it appeared that the microphone stand she was leaning on was the only thing keeping her upright.
Not only that, she was practically naked from the waist up, her black shirt open to the waist revealing a lacy black bra and an enticing amount of cleavage. The lights were low, the chairs turned over on top of all the tables. The bar was completely empty except for Sam, his brother, and the Tempest guitarist, who was slumped down in a club chair, his long legs splayed out within inches of where Avery was
on the club’s small stage.
“Red,” the Tempest guitarist coaxed as she paused to throw back a shot of clear liquid. “No more tequila. You’ve had enough. You need to let me take you to bed.”
“No,” she said with her full lips forming a cute little pout. “I don’t want to. I can’t sleep anyway. I told you that.” Turning her attention away from Jackson, her unblinking green gaze roamed Marcus’ body as if she was taking inventory.
“Ray, I told you not to call him,” Sam admonished turning to Marcus and tightening the sash on her teal robe. “We’ve got the situation under control.”
“Doesn’t look that way to me,” Marcus commented dryly.
“Ok, Mr. Judgmental. We’ve been trying to rein her in for the past hour. Sober, you know she has a stubborn streak. Wasted, well…” She motioned to Avery. “Go on ahead. You give it a try.”
“Whatcha doing Avery?” Marcus asked her voice deceptively even. Inside he was seething, furious to find her in this condition. He lobbed a glower at Jackson as he approached his chair.
“Now wait a minute.” Bryan stood and held up his hands. He listed to the right, not looking much better off than she did.
“No, you wait a minute, Junior Mint,” Marcus snapped, gesturing at Avery. “She been with you all night?”
“Yeah,” he replied, eyes narrowing.
“You mean to tell me she got fucked up like this on your watch?”
“You don’t know anything about it,” Bryan bit out.
“Looks to me like you both need a keeper.”
“Oh that’s priceless.” Jaw rigid, Bryan hiked a thumb over his shoulder. “See the scar on her forehead, asshole? Wasn’t me that put it there.”
In a surge of anger Marcus threw out his hands and shoved. Jackson staggered back and then rounded on him, giving him back equal measure. Nostrils flared and fists clenched as they squared off against each other.
“Whoa. Why don’t we all just calm down?” Dwight wedged himself into the space between them. “Marcus, come on, he’s as drunk as she is.”
Everyone turned back to her.
Seeming oblivious to the growing tension in the room, she pointed at Marcus. “You don’t have a shirt on,” she said slurring the words together. “We almost match.” She tugged her shirt off one shoulder but after she managed to pull it down her arm, the cuff got stuck on her wrist. She giggled again, holding up one finger. “Just give me one second.”
Dwight snickered, and Sam covered up a smile with her hand.
Avery’s eyes swerved to her. “You could help me, girlfriend.” She puffed, bangs lifting off her forehead.
“I don’t think getting you more undressed will help the situation, Avery,” Sam scolded. “But if you’d let me take you…”
“No,” Avery interrupted, plopping down on the floor emphatically. “I told you. I’m not tired.”
Marcus crossed his arms over his chest, angling his head to one side. She was so disinhibited, it was almost cute. The shock value lured him in, making him want to stay and watch things unfold like a bad reality show. But he realized they needed to get her out of there before things got any more out of control.
Maneuvering around Dwight and Bryan, he extended his hand down to her.
She stared at it, before craning her neck back and peering up at him through her long lashes. “Marcus?” she inquired softly, licking her lips and looking into his eyes.
“Yes.” His body jolted with heat. He wanted her so bad.
“Yes I am,” he replied voice low.
“You look yummy.”
“I always liked you with your shirt off.”
“Uh-huh.” She covered her eyes. “You make me hot.” She paused. He thought she was through. No such luck. “You have such lickable labs.”
Marcus heard Dwight sniggering. “I think you mean abs.”
“That’s what I said.” She moved her hands to her lap, twisted them together, and frowned. “But you don’t want me anymore. What did that woman have that I don’t?” she asked sadly, tears glistening in her eyes.
Dwight let out an expletive and flopped down in the nearest chair, scrubbing his face with his hands. “Someone please make it stop before I’m scarred for life.”
“Enough!” Marcus bellowed. He bent over and curled his fingers around her upper arms, hauling her up to her feet. The feel of her intoxicated him. He fought against the temptation to throw her over his shoulder and take her back to his room. Maybe she did still have feelings for him but taking advantage of her while she was drunk was not going to help him get her back. “You’re going to your room, Ace.”
She leaned heavily into him. He heard her draw in a deep breath. “You don’t get to call me that anymore,” she whispered, lips grazing his bare chest, making his body harden even more than it already had.
Suddenly, he felt moisture between her face and his chest. Her body shook.
Now she was really crying. His heart twisted in his ribcage.
She pulled away from him, her lips twitching into a sad facsimile of a smile. She took another step back, staggered for a moment, and then turned away. “Sam?” she called.
“Here, Avery,” Sam answered scurrying to her side.
“Can you help me to my room?”
“Sure, absolutely.” Sam quickly straightened Avery’s shirt, refastening the buttons before ducking under her arm. “I may need some more help. I’m too small.”
Avery’s jaw tightened. Her eyes passed over both Marcus and Bryan. “Dwight would you…”
“Sure, I’d be happy to help,” he said.
“I love you, Dwight,” she slurred. “You’re such a great guy, so I forgive you for thinking Marcus and I shouldn’t have gotten engaged.” She sagged as he walked toward her. “Because obviously you were right.”
“I love you too, kid,” he said, kissing the top of her head. He shot Marcus an accusatory stare.
Marcus passed a glare of his own to Bryan before he followed after them.
AVERY WOKE WITH a throbbing headache that dwarfed her pre-binge drinking one. It was like a construction crew doing major remodeling work inside her skull. Her mouth was as dry as parchment and her stomach muscles felt as if they’d been clamped in a vice. Bits and pieces of the previous night’s events slowly found their way back into her addled mind.
“She’s waking up,” Sam whispered in the darkened hotel room, the only illumination streaming in from the open bathroom door. “How are you feeling?” The bed dipped down as she took a seat beside her.
“Like I got stuffed into a dryer and put on a long, high heat cycle,” she croaked. Her voice sounded raspy.
Oh, no! Not good. Not good at all!
“Who were you talking to?”
“Me,” a familiar voice intoned and the bedside lamp suddenly blinded her like an interrogator’s spotlight.
As her eyes adjusted, he came into focus, arms crossed over his wide chest, biceps flexing, frowning down at her.
“Turn it off, please.” She threw an arm over her eyes. “It hurts my eyes,” she protested.
“It’s not the light that’s the problem,” he lectured. “It’s all the tequila you drank. Damn it, Avery. What were you thinking?”
She’d been thinking that she wanted to forget the pain if only for a little while, but she wasn’t about to admit that to him.
“It’s nearly noon,” he continued. “We have sound check in a couple of hours.”
“Crap. Crap.” Knuckles to the mattress, she gingerly moved to the edge of the bed.
“Take it real slow,” Sam warned.
Avery rested her feet on the carpet for a moment getting her bearings. Setting her jaw, she glanced up at Marcus. “I’ll be there. It’s all good.”
“The hell it is. You went totally AWOL yesterday with a bunch of delinquents and got wasted off your ass.” His lips turned down. “How well do you even know those guys, huh? Anything could have happened.” He let out a long breath.
“Bryan was there.”
“Yeah, right.” He snorted. “Some chaperone he turned out to be. I found you last night down in the bar, strutting around half naked. Why the hell didn’t he put a stop to that?”
“Ughh.” Avery’s hands went to her ears. “Please lower your voice, Marcus. My head is killing me.”
His eyes softened on her face for a moment, but she could still see a muscle twitching in his clenched jaw. “Get your shit together, Avery. And stay off that damn bus. You hear me?”