Authors: Michelle Mankin
Tags: #The Brutal Strength Shakespeare Inspired Series
“Sure.” She smiled back, starting to realize that his dimpled smile usually preceded a painfully corny attempt at humor, like that one. “What did you have in mind?” Her stomach growled again.
“I don’t know. I can barely hear myself think over that racket.” He pushed Avery’s shoulder with his own. “We better feed that thing. How about sushi?”
“Raw fish? Gross!”
“Have you ever tried it?”
She shook her head. “Hey, don’t look so shocked, Mr. Rock Star. That stuff’s a little expensive for starving artists to afford. Most of us think we’re lucky to get a gourmet fast food meal every once in a while.”
Marcus’ gaze traveled slowly over Avery’s body. “You seem kind of thin. I’m guessing those ‘gourmet’ meals were few and far between, huh?”
Aware of his perusal, she blushed as if he’d touched her. “Yeah, we saved a lot of money by eating free club food after our shows. When we first moved to New York, I took a job working for a baker. The Kenyan friend I told you about. When I worked I ate a lot of my meals at her restaurant. Sangeeta’s a wonderful cook.”
“Well kid, you’re in the big leagues, now. It’s time you broadened your culinary horizons. No more club food, unless you just want it. Anyway, tonight’s my treat,” he said as Avery pulled back on the boots she’d shed earlier in the evening. “If you’re game, we’ll try my favorite sushi restaurant.”
Marcus took out his cell and called Ray, “Hey, man. Could you take us to Tojo’s? Sure, we’ll be down in ten minutes.” Standing up, he groaned. “My muscles are stiff from sitting for so long. Hey, I’m going to hit the john before we go,” he informed Avery as he exited the studio.
Avery took the opportunity to use the guest bathroom, thinking she’d better be more careful about her fluid intake in the future. This bathroom stuff could be tricky business. She definitely wanted to avoid urinals and men’s public restrooms for obvious reasons.
Avery couldn’t believe they had been working for the past eight hours. She was tired, but in a good way, and felt really psyched after coming up with such a great song. Everything just seemed to click. Musically, they were such a natural fit.
Waiting for Marcus to return, she stretched and stared out the windows, seeing the lights of West Vancouver twinkling in the distance.
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
Hearing his footsteps, she turned around. He had on a ball cap, pulled down low over his forehead, and round wire rimmed glasses like Trevor wore. His street disguise, apparently. “Oh, no way anyone will recognize you now. Very incognito, dude.” She rolled her eyes.
“Don’t be an ass, Avery. Come on, let’s go.”
WHEN THEY ARRIVED at Tojo’s, Ray escorted them to a private table up a staircase in the back of the restaurant. After he left, they took off their coats, and a waitress arrived greeting Marcus warmly. She gave Avery a funny look, but took their drink order and hurried off.
Marcus grabbed a pencil and began filling out their sushi order. “Do you like spicy?” he asked Avery.
“Sure, but listen, I’m going out on a limb here with this kind of food already, so I’m going to trust you. Go ahead and order whatever you think I’ll like.”
As Marcus concentrated on ordering, Avery tried to wrap her mind around her present circumstances. Just a few days ago she had been barely scraping by, and her life had been in danger. Now here she was gainfully employed and soon would have enough money to pay Campanella and then some. To top it all off, she was eating sushi with a celebrity so handsome and famous that he had to wear a disguise just to go to dinner. But after spending the whole day with him, she didn’t feel uncomfortable around him. Not really. Not anymore.
Vancouver was beginning to grow on her as well. It was like New York only less hectic and more scenic.
The waitress returned with their green tea. Marcus asked Avery a couple of questions and made some changes to their order based on her answers. He handed the completed menu to the waitress and she went back downstairs leaving them alone.
“Do you come here often?” Avery asked.
“At least once a week. When you try it, you’ll understand.”
“Does Dwight like sushi, too?”
“Hell, no. He’s a very picky eater. Meat and potatoes kind of guy. I usually come alone.”
No wonder the waitress seemed surprised to see me
, Avery thought. “You can’t find any other takers?”
Marcus looked uncomfortable. His brow furrowed, and he raked a hand through his hair. His habit when he was nervous apparently. “I don’t have all that many friends left besides my brother, really. The fame is bullshit, but it seems to keep normal folks away and attracts lots of the wrong type of people. Most of the guys I used to hang out with were just drinking buddies. Not a single one stuck around after I finished rehab.”
“I’m sorry, Marcus. I didn’t mean to pry.”
“It’s ok. It is what it is.” He leaned forward. “How about you? Do you have a lot of friends back in New York?”
“Not all that many. The weird hours we kept when we performed weren’t conducive to it. My brother is, well, he was my best friend.” She absently twisted Justin’s black wristband missing him acutely. Closing her eyes for a moment, she willed the tears back. When she reopened them, she found Marcus'
gaze on her. “Guess it’s the same with you and Dwight, huh?”
He nodded, expression soft. “Sounds like we have that in common.”
To Avery’s surprise and Marcus'
delight, she ended up loving the meal. In fact, she ate so much that Marcus used a chop stick to dub her a Sushi Pig.
“Yeah, right. Takes one to know one,” she teased, and he smiled.
After Marcus paid the check, they started down the stairs together side by side. Halfway down, Avery tripped and pitched forward. She would have tumbled down headfirst, but Marcus reached out and caught her yanking her back. Her back collided hard with his solid chest, and he held onto her for a moment, steadying them both.
Avery held her breath, her heart slamming around inside her chest. She wanted to remain like this, wrapped in his strong warm arms forever if she could, but instead she pulled away, squared her shoulders and mumbled thickly, “Thanks. I’m such a clumsy idiot.”
Lost in the privacy of their own thoughts, neither noticed the flash as a restaurant customer discreetly snapped a picture on a cell.
On the ride back downtown, Marcus received a text message. “It’s Dwight. I texted him earlier about the track that we laid down. He wants to meet up at Black Cat tomorrow at ten with JR and Dalton.”
After Marcus dropped her off at her hotel, Avery was way too keyed up to sleep. She went out onto her balcony and leaned against the railing, watching people rushing back and forth on Burrard Street down below. Craning her neck left, she could see a slice of the water front and the lights of West Vancouver. Not quite as swanky a view as the one from Marcus’ apartment but still beautiful nonetheless.
The scenery didn’t hold her attention for long tonight, though. Visions of Marcus danced around in her head. Her thoughts unwaveringly returned to the man who was way more handsome than any guy had a right to be and who definitely had that rock star charisma thing going for him.
Having had a front row seat to watch her father unravel after her mom died, she had always shied away from emotional involvement with men. She had never been slightly tempted to waver from that stance. Until now. When it was the least convenient.
With Marcus, she was already in way over her head. But no matter how much she wanted to lock back up her heart, she knew it wasn’t going to be possible.
Not anymore. Not after witnessing the private side behind his public persona.
Avery walked back inside and picked up her jump rope. Maybe she could burn off some energy and extinguish her impermissible desire for a certain gorgeous sapphire eyed heartthrob.
She shook her head. Who was she kidding? At least if she wore herself out, she might be able to sleep. If she dreamed of him, well then she really couldn’t be held responsible for her subconscious, now could she?
BACK AT HIS apartment, Marcus exited the elevator deep in thought. It had just felt so right when he and Avery worked together today, everything clicking into place without any effort. Musically, they seemed to know without speaking where the other wanted to go. Usually after he put down a track, he had doubts. Not tonight. He knew what they had done was perfect. The song had integrity, something he could take pride in, hit or not, the label be damned.
Marcus was a loner by nature. His mom would say antisocial, that he preferred the company of his guitars over people from an early age. That’s why he was so surprised by how much he enjoyed being around Avery. Sure, there was a part of him that felt sorry for the guitarist, what with all he had been through. But mostly he admired Avery’s resilience. Somehow, instead of becoming bitter, Avery remained a warm, enthusiastic, and encouraging individual.
In just an astonishingly brief period of time, the newest member of Brutal Strength had inexplicably managed to tunnel under the impregnable wall Marcus had erected around himself.
MARCUS ARRIVED AT the studio the next morning late and in a cranky mood. Awful traffic on the drive over had set him on edge. But somehow all that tension seemed to dissolve the minute he saw Avery, smiling at him as if he were the world’s most important person. His confusing reaction to Avery’s greeting was something he had just about managed to brush aside when instead of saying hello, Avery walked right past him and stopping in front of Ray instead.
“Hey Ray, how are you today?” Avery asked, tone revealing concern.
Ray set down the gear he had carried in. “Fine, and you?”
“Good, good. But how’s your mom? Have they let her out of the hospital yet?”
Marcus watched them both, completely perplexed.
Why hadn’t he known Ray’s mom was in the hospital?
“Not yet. But they think she might get to go home tomorrow if she keeps improving.”
“Great! I’m so glad. Pneumonia is serious business.”
smiled. “I followed your advice.”
“You’re a good guy, Ray.” Avery beamed. “Your mom’s lucky to have you.” Avery turned back to Marcus and motioned him over. “Dwight and I were working a little bit with ‘Brothers’ while we waited for you.”
“Dude, I love this song!” Dwight exclaimed, pulling him in for a hug and whispering in his ear, “I’ve missed seeing this side of you bro. Love you, man.”
Marcus cleared his throat, touched and a little choked up by his brother’s approval. “Where’s the Stepchild?”
JR walked in the door swaggering as if on cue. “Chill. I’m here.”
“Let’s get started then,” Marcus declared.
After they all got settled, they spent a couple of hours layering in some additional background vocals, drum and bass tracks.
Finally, Dalton announced over the mic, “That’s it guys. We’ve got it.” He gave them a thumbs up from the booth. “Mary’s going to freak. I think this one’s ready to release as a single already!” After a brief round of congratulations, the session broke up.