Authors: Michelle Mankin
Tags: #The Brutal Strength Shakespeare Inspired Series
You have your whole life in front of you. My hope is that you realize early on that there is value in adversity. That our perspective paints the world around us for good or for ill. I pray that any pain you experience makes you stronger and causes you to hold on more tightly to those you love.
“Thank you,” she whispered, tears wetting her face as she closed the diary and hugged it to her chest.
“I was supposed to give it to you on your sixteenth birthday. The day she also wanted me to give Jus her engagement ring for his future bride. Instead…” His voice fractured and he looked down, gripping the edge of the table, the back of his hands so translucent the blue veins stood out. “Well, you know what happened. I got drunk. I hurt you…I hurt all of us.” His gaze lifted, eyes filled with regret. “Her passing broke my heart, Kat,” he admitted after a moment, voice deepened with emotion. “No that’s not exactly right. It was more like a part of me died when she did. When you have that kind of love for someone…when they know everything about you, the good and the bad…and still love you…You never get over it.”
Avery could certainly understand that. That’s how she felt about Marcus. Being without him was not an experience she ever wanted to repeat.
“You go on…eventually, but not as the same person you were before. The man I was with Trisha…I had to finally let him go. I couldn’t be him anymore.” Tears rolled down his lined cheeks. He blotted them with a napkin. “I’m sorry it took you and your brother leaving for me to sober up and figure that out.”
She leaned across the table and covered his frail cold hand with her own. “I’m sorry…Dad.”
As if afraid to hope, his expression guarded, his gaze shifted from their hands to her face.
Avery couldn’t excuse what he had done to her and Justin. She’d never forget, but she could forgive. That was the harder choice, but the one that was right for her. Rheta, Ray, and her mom were right. Life was too precious and too short to taint with bitterness. “No more regrets,” she said softly, expression imploring. “I want us to make a new start right now. I’m ready to move forward. I’m ready to give you that chance you wanted.”
Her dad let out a long shaky breath.
“Excuse me guys. I hate to interrupt.” Marcus smiled gently, placing his hands on her shoulders. “But it’s time to blow out the candles and cut the cake. It’s eleven fifty-five. It won’t be your birthday much longer.”
Avery squeezed her dad’s hand before standing. “Come join us.”
“I want you to,” she insisted, tucking the journal under her arm and helping him rise.
They moved to the head of the table where Justin waited, a white frosted guitar cake with red lettering flickering festively with twenty candles. Taking her place beside her brother, Avery laid her head on his shoulder. She sighed contentedly and her heart warmed as he dropped a soft kiss into her hair. She looked out at everyone gathered around.
Her gaze paused on Sam and JR. They were standing so close that there was no visible space between them. JR flashed her a white grin and then Sam’s beautiful, twinkling grey eyes met hers. Both women were back with the men they loved. A moment of shared happiness passed between the two friends.
To the right of the newly engaged couple, Don Anthony stood behind Rheta, arms wrapped around her shoulders. Beside his parents, Dwight held onto his wife’s hand, her other hand rested on the new life growing inside of her. The Anthony’s were such a blessing, a family for her when she’d thought she had none.
After the obligatory ‘Happy Birthday’ was sung by all, she and Justin blew out the candles. Rocking back on her heels, her brother on one side, her father on the other, the family she had lost was now regained. Joy bubbled out of her heart and into a wide smile. Marcus caught and returned it, his blue eyes sparkling back at her.
Beaming, Avery began to cut the cake, placing the slices on small glass dessert plates while Justin and Marcus helped pass them out.
When the last person had been served, she and Marcus slipped into a booth in the back, scooting together on the same side. Surrounded by the soft sounds of conversation and forks ringing against glass plates, she glanced at Marcus out of the corner of her eye. Though she didn’t always agree with his approach, she knew that he loved her and that he would go to any lengths to protect her. That was just the way he was wired. He had vowed never to let her go. Her fingers wrapped around his. She would never let him if he tried.
“You checking me out?” he joked, giving her his full dimpled grin.
“Maybe.” Her answering smile was distracted as her gaze drifted over to her father. He was so much thinner than he’d been before they left Vancouver.
“It’ll be alright,” Marcus whispered, following the direction of her gaze. His lips brushed her cheek before his piercing blue eyes looked deeply into hers. “Whatever happens. Any storm, Avery.”
He slid his hand behind her head and pulled it to his chest. She could hear his heart beating strong and steady beneath her ear. “I know now that it’s not weakness to rely on someone else.” His deep voice rumbled. “It’s a sign that you’ve got a good thing. A priceless thing. Something worth holding on tight to. Something you never ever let go.”
Her sentiments exactly. He stroked her hair and she relaxed into his warm comforting arms.
“Any storm,” he repeated. “I’ll always be there. You can lean on me.”
Some time later...
“AVERY, YOU HOME?” Marcus called out as soon as he stepped off the elevator into the apartment, the mouthwatering aroma of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies assailing him. Baking lessons with Ray’s mom had been going well.
“In the back,” she yelled in response.
He strode down the hall, stopping in the doorway to the master bath and stared at her.
She was bent over at the waist, wearing pajama short-shorts and a tank with no bra
. Some view,
he thought. Her wet auburn hair, much longer now, hung down like a crimson curtain.
His mouth went dry.
“How’d the interview go?” She flipped off the blow dryer and straightened, staring back at him with those expressive emerald eyes.
“Alright,” he replied, leaning back against the doorframe and giving her the smolder.
She gave him a skeptical look.
“It was the same sad song. They wanted to rehash old history. Asked how I can be contemplating going on a European tour with Tempest given your history with its lead guitarist.”
Marcus shrugged. He wasn’t at all worried this time. He and Avery were in a strong place now, and Jackson, well, he had a handful of his own issues. Served the guy right. Reaching back between his shoulder blades, he pulled off his shirt.
She was staring at him.
This never got old. He dropped his shirt on the floor and waited.
She sashayed over, bent down, and picked up the shirt. “The floor is not a laundry hamper, Marcus Anthony,” she scolded, hips swaying as she stepping around him.
His arms flashed out. He grabbed her around the waist and threw her over his shoulder, taking advantage of her position to slap her playfully on the ass.
“Stop your complaining, woman.” He carried her into the bedroom and tossed her down on the bed so hard she bounced.
“They ask you anything else?” She laughed and scuttled backward, gaze fixated on his hands as he unbuttoned his jeans.
“About your solo career.”
“Oh, yeah?” she asked helping him out by holding her arms up so he could yank the tank top over her head. “What’d you say to that?”
“I said what I always say…” He turned her hand over and kissed the inside of her wrist right on the spot where her mother’s name was tattooed across a scrolling musical staff. “That you can do anything you set your mind to do…you just can’t do it without me.”
MICHELLE MANKIN IS the author of the Black Cat Records series of novels.
Romance with subtext.
Reimagining classic stories with sexy rock stars and thought provoking issues.
For many years she worked in the insurance industry as an underwriter. Somehow, the boredom didn't kill her but the hours and hours of looking at facts and figures provided ample time for her mind to wander.
Black Cat Records in Vancouver provides the central backdrop for all of Michelle’s current novels. Love Evolution, Love Revolution, and Love Resolution are a Brutal Strength centered trilogy, combining the plot underpinnings of Shakespeare with the drama, excitement, and indisputable sexiness of the rock 'n roll industry.
Things take a bit of an edgier, once upon a time turn with the Tempest series. These pierced, tatted, and troubled Seattle rockers are young and on the cusp of making it big, but with serious obstacles to overcome that may prevent them from ever getting there.
When Michelle is not prowling the streets of her Texas town listening to her rock music much too loud, she is putting her daydreams down on paper or traveling the world with her family and friends, sometimes for real, and sometimes just for pretend as she takes the children to school and back.
BRUTAL STRENGTH SERIES:
THE TEMPEST SERIES:
: February 2015: a paranormal novel with a little rock cause that’s the way I roll.
: Tempest #5 coming soon
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