PERFECT LOVE IN A PUBLIC PLACE
Forced to return to his rock star roots, Julian MacAvoy, his beloved Mags and their new baby find themselves back in a tour bus and on the road.
At the record company's insistence, Julian is forced to perform and tour with his estranged brother, Sam. Will the pressures of touring life and the haunting, dark secret of Julian and Sam's past be too much for the brothers?
Add to the mix a sexy new female lead guitarist who wants to play more than her guitar and the stage is set for fireworks.
With the familiar temptations of the road and more than music offering to be his mistress, will Julian and Mags make it through the tour and back to their northern New Zealand paradise?
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"You'll always be by my side no matter what happens, won't you?" Julian asked.
Mags sighed; she couldn't believe the words coming out of his mouth. She'd followed him to the other side of the world to live in hiding.
Given birth to his daughter.
Dealt with the fallout of the world finding out he was, in fact, alive.
Now they were going back to what remained of their old touring life, and he wanted to know she'd stay with him.
She couldn't keep the sarcasm out of her voice. "I've been through the drama of the last twelve months and you think now that you're going back to being a rock star I'm going to make a run for it?"
"No need to put it like that," he said.
"You're stuck with me pal, and you're stuck with your daughter. Neither of us are going anywhere, other than to Auckland with you to make an album and then on tour."
Jules handed their wriggling daughter to her and then wrapped his muscular arms around them both.
"Good. I needed to hear you say the words." He ran his hand through the hair she'd watched go from peroxide pea-straw yellow back to its glorious luster of black. An indicator of the stress she knew he carried at the thought of dealing with his baby brother on tour.
"I guess I better get back in there and ‘face the music’ so to speak." He grinned at his own little joke and Annabelle babbled along as if she understood the nuance of the words.
"See," he ticked his daughter under the chin, "my audience appreciates me already."
"They've always appreciated you, Jules, and I don't think for a minute that's going to change just because Sam's a part of the tour."
She watched as a cloud of emotion crossed his face at the mention of his brother's name. What could possibly have happened between them to cause such a rift, and why didn't he want to talk about it?
Julian walked back into the room with a renewed sense of calm. He'd stormed out twenty minutes earlier, and now, with Mags at his side, where she'd always been when things were tough, he was ready to face his ever patient manager.
Dan looked up from his laptop. "You over your tantrum then?"
The big guy had managed him from a nobody to a mega-star and didn't cut him much slack, and apparently he wasn't going to start now either.
"Suppose," he said.
"I know how you feel about Sam, but he's been holding the reigns for you while you've been having your little ‘holiday.’"
"I don't need him." His gut clenched at the sound of his brother's name.
"You do, my son," Dan said in his usual blunt tone. "He's built quite the following and kept your royalties pouring in nicely since you've been away."
"So why the push for another album."
"I'll say one word." Dan looked up, years of stress from the business etched on his face. "Contract."
"Who do I blame for talking me into signing that bloody contract?"
"Only you. You've never done anything you didn’t want to do."
"Well, this must be the first time then." Jules shuffled his feet. "Has Sam been in contact with you?" He felt a sudden surge of protectiveness toward his manager. They'd been in this a long time together, and he didn't want his brother getting in the middle and causing trouble.
"He was on the phone wanting to get in touch with you as soon as the news broke you weren't dead. Yes." Dan chewed on the end of his glasses.
"Typical." Jules didn't want to warm to his brother, and as far as he was concerned, the further the man stayed from him the better.
"Record company wants a duet," Dan added.
"No way!" Jules exploded, causing the immediate same reaction from Annabelle. The sound of a wailing baby filled the room. "That's not in the contract, and it won't be happening." He couldn't bear the thought of being locked away in a recording studio with his brother.
"They've leaked to the press that it will." Dan put his glasses back on and peered at Jules. "The press is already painting your death as a gimmick to sell more albums, best you don't get on the wrong side of your adoring public by not giving them what they want."
"They want me. They've always wanted me." His protests made his argument sound weak, even to him.
"Up until now, I’d say yes to that, but since you've been dead, they want you and Sam together. I can send you a link of fan sites begging for the combination. It'll be a real money-spinner."
"I don't care about the money." He began to pace up and down the length of the room.
"You've got a child to think about now, Jules." Dan had a specific way of bringing him back to what was important. That was why they'd been a formidable team and why he'd been so successful. Talent only took him so far. Dan's acute business sense and his levelheadedness had been what had turned Julian MacAvoy from a kid busking on the street to a mega-million-dollar corporate entity.
How could he ignore the man's advice now? As much as he wanted to deny the fact that Sam had kept the wheels in motion, continued to feed the corporate beast, and keep his name at the top of the list, he didn't want to have to acknowledge that his brother had done something good for the both of them.
The hurt ran too deep.
"This is the one thing I hate about this business," Jules said. "It makes me sell my soul to the devil."
"Good, you'll do it then." Dan's words had the sound of smug satisfaction running through them. "That means my job here's done. I'll print the contracts off and we're in business."
"Hey, hang on." Jules saw a tiny crack of hope in the dark door. "I thought we had a contract. I'm not signing another one."
"This one's between you and Sam." Dan looked at him in a fatherly way. "I don't want there to be any more animosity between you two than there already is. This will make the terms clear. Fifty-fifty on the royalties, and then there's no come back for either of you. I don't want to make a toxic relationship nuclear, now do I?"
"Good point," Mags chimed in. While he'd paced the room like a caged animal, she'd settled Annabelle at her breast. He ceased pacing and sat beside his girls. Now he had a chance to think about what they were getting themselves into, instead of reacting.
"I just get corralled into doing whatever you two want, don't I?" Jules was smarting. There was nowhere to go on this, and he knew he'd have to sign the damn contract if he wanted to preserve the status quo. "And don't think I can't see that smug smile on both your faces." He turned his attention to Otis, his trusty bodyguard who'd taken on cooking and kitchen duties while they were in hiding. "And don't think you can avoid some of the fallout by hanging around in the shadows. You're on a good wicket here."
"Back touring boss." He held his hands up in the air, yellow rubber gloves dripping soap suds down his arms. "It's preferable to the dishpan hands I'm getting at the moment."
Jules sat down heavily, all the fight gone out of him, the pressure of his life creeping back in. He hadn't felt it for so long, and yet somehow, he'd missed this. Missed the banter. Missed the excitement. Missed the fans even.
He shook his head. The thought of seeing Sam didn't bring him any joy, but he had a daughter now, so maybe it was time to try and patch things up with his family.
"Julian," Dan interrupted his selfish thoughts, "I'm knackered. I'm going to go to sleep at this table if you don't find me somewhere to lie down."
"Yeah, mate. Sorry. You've thrown me a couple of curveballs, that's all."
Dan removed his glasses and looked Jules in the eye. "Curveballs are my specialty, pal. I know you can handle this, and I wouldn't have brought it to you if I didn't think you could."
It was true. Dan had always had his back, right from the beginning. He helped him grow, helped him out of the god-awful lifestyle he'd been living. Kept him off the drugs and the booze, and now he just wanted this little thing.
Why the hell did it look as if he were about to climb Everest then?
True to his word, Dan had organized extra studio space, and less than a week later, they found themselves down in Auckland, contemplating recording a new album.
Since the birth of their daughter, one day bled into the next for Mags, but before she knew what was happening, she'd been bundled onto the road. Their small entourage arrived in Auckland ready to begin the process of turning the tunes Jules had written, while in their safe basement, into polished offerings for global consumption.
An uneventful road trip found Mags sitting in a furnished, rented home overlooking Takapuna Beach. The wide sweep of Rangitoto's volcanic cone dominated the aquatic landscape with the rest of the Hauraki Gulf sweeping off into the distance. The view wasn't unlike the one they enjoyed in their Far North haven. She understood why the City was nick-named The City of Sails as she watched a flotilla of white boats drift across the ocean, harnessing the March sea breeze. The fetid humid heat of February had given way to the cool mornings and nights of autumn. Mags sucked in a deep breath, enjoying the hint of salt in the fresh, evening air.
"These people must think they're perpetually on holiday," she said to Annabelle. Her young daughter wriggled in the pack that hung from her front, legs kicking against her thighs. She'd picked up the valuable device from the high street and was grateful it gave her the opportunity to carry her daughter and the ability to use both hands once again.
Jules appeared out of nowhere behind them. She caught the scent of his cologne, all musk and pine, before she felt the touch of his protective arms around the two of them.
"How are my girls?"
"We're good," she said. It had been a greeting he'd adopted since Annabelle's birth, and it was one that Mags enjoyed every time she heard it. A sweeping sense of safety enveloped her as his hand slipped between the confines of the front pack and her slowly hardening stomach.
He squeezed the muscles of her tummy. "It's hard to believe she was ever in there."
"Nothing two hundred sit-ups a day can't fix."
"Yeah, well, we can work out together. I've gone a little on the soft side since I stopped touring. Need to get the fitness levels back up there again."
Two hours on stage took it out of him, and he'd not been doing a lot, she thought. "Don't want you dropping dead from a heart attack, and you gotta get that six-pack-ab deal going again. Can't have the fans saying you've gone to fat in middle age."
"Enough of the middle age crap." He bit her on the back of the neck. "I can still run rings around you in the sack."
"As long as it's only my sack you're visiting."
He spun them both around to face him. "You know you don't have to worry about that, don't you?" The serious tone of his voice shocked her.
"You're the only woman I want. The only woman I've ever wanted for a very long time."
"I know that. But the fans are going to take some convincing. You're selling them the dream, remember?" She enjoyed teasing him. He looked so earnest, the creases on either side of his eyes becoming more pronounced.
He laughed. "You're having me on, aren't you?"
She nodded, enjoying the game. "Wait till those dancers get a hold of you."
He poked himself in the stomach. "I'm going to have to lose some of this before I can keep up with them. I've become sedentary and I need to lose this—" he grabbed a good handful of his girth "—if there's any chance of me keeping up with the likes of Shez."
She hadn't thought about his lead dancer or her feeble excuse for a husband for a long time.
"How do you think she's doing?" Mags asked.
"Don't know and don't care," he said in a dismissive tone.
"That's not true," she said. "You love Shez."
"But I don't love the asshole she married." He added as an afterthought, "And have you forgotten the way they treated you?"
"It wasn't her; it was him."
"Well, she sided with him, and as far as I'm concerned, that's almost the same as her doing it to you."
"She wouldn't be much of a wife if she didn't side with her husband, now would she?"
"She's still the best dancer you've ever worked with." And Mags knew, no matter what, it was all about the show for Jules. "I think we should get Dan to try and find her." She saw his entire body stiffen.
"I'll not have that bastard husband of hers around. Have you forgotten what he did to us?"
How could she ever forget the part Jeremy played in the taking down of Julian and the band and the consequences of that dreadful night. She shuddered. He came close to destroying everything for all of them.
"No,” she said, "but that would have to be laid out for Shez, if she wanted to come back on the road."
He shrugged again. "This one's your call."
He knew how much she'd been hurt over the whole Shez fiasco.
"Dan's been tracking down the band to see if they're available," Mags said. "I could get him to make some enquiries about Shez as well. I don't think she's made the shortlist."
He grinned, a single flat line across his beautiful features.
Mags decided she'd get in touch with Dan this afternoon and start enquiries.
How the hell he'd talked her into bringing a baby to a recording studio, she had no idea. But here they both were—his girls. No matter its location, there was something about a recording studio. Whether it had been the little cave in their home by the beach or this sprawling bungalow at the fringe of the city that had been converted into rooms for musicians. It was as if the collective spirit and sweat of every creative person who had been through the doors somehow remained in the dim room.
Muso's seemed to like it dark.
Mags thought they must have a dash of vampire in them—as if they feared sunlight would rob them of their creative soul, much like the removal of Samson's hair had robbed him of his strength. No matter how many times she'd tried to bring light into the spaces he'd worked in, Jules insisted on laboring in these subliminal surroundings. The dark walls and black equipment, which depressed her, brought out the creative best in those who spent hours working in their sweaty confines.
Jules stood in front of the U87 condenser mic, a set of headphones perched on his head with one ear exposed so he could hear himself over and above the basic track being fed to him. Eyes closed, body moving in time to the music he'd created, he looked more at ease than she'd seen him for almost a year.
She could tell he was working hard. His pale blue shirt clung to his torso, outlining what she knew would soon become hard muscle as he trained for the upcoming tour.
This was his domain.
These walls defined him. God had given him a talent and this was how he repaid God—by creating and by giving of himself to his art.
Fans in their thousands would catapult these tunes to the top of the charts when the final versions were released. It never ceased to amaze her the power of the people who championed his music. She knew, as did the record company who distributed the end product, that Jules was only ever as good as his last album. She'd watched him for years now, trying for improvement every time he wrote a new song.
Why didn't he stop?
This time, because the record company demanded the album to complete his contract.
She couldn't be sure he'd ever stop.
To see him now—at peace, creating and doing what he was born to do—she knew in her soul he would never stop. They were consigned to a life of creativity in one way or another. Domesticity may come and it may go, but the music, now she knew for certain the music would always be with them. Like a mistress not straying far from her lover, this powerful force would always bring them back here.
Mags realized that to love a musician could be a terrible burden. To share him with his muse, his fans, and his overwhelming need to create stole him from her over and over again.
She'd taken him on under no false pretenses, and she could not—rather would not—change the man or the way he needed to live his life for them both to be happy.
The cost would be unbearable.
Jules didn't want to admit it, but he'd missed the buzz of a professional studio. As much as he desperately needed and wanted to settle down with Mags and Annabelle, the lure of the song, the power of creation, had him by the throat again.
"It's sounding great, Jules." Terry, their experienced sound engineer's voice echoed through the headphones. Through the glass partition that separated him from the rest of the studio and beyond the spiked, greying head of hair belonging to Terry, he could see Mags with Annabelle in her arms, giving him the thumbs up.
Heat from the confines of the booth began to rise and he could feel the light shirt he wore plastering itself to his body. No matter how much air conditioning they pumped into these places, his temperature soared when he sang.
He dropped the headphones over the mic stand and opened the glass door of the booth. The marginally cooler air from the rest of the artificially lit studio hit him.
He shook his head and ran a hand through his long, damp hair. "I'd almost forgotten how hot it gets in there."
"Wait till you're back on stage." Mags couldn't resist teasing him. She was the only person on Earth who really knew how stressed he'd be about getting back up there. He'd been tense during the drive to the studio this morning, but now he'd been back in the booth, he knew there was nowhere else on Earth he'd rather be.
"We just need to lay Sam's lines over the top and we're almost done with this one." Terry's comment to Dan made the hairs on the back of Jules' neck rise. "When's he coming in?" Terry asked.
"He's not." Jules realized he'd snapped the words out too quickly as they exploded from his mouth.
Terry looked bemused from behind the dark rims of his oversized glasses. He pushed them back up the bridge of his nose and looked toward Dan for some kind of reassurance.
"Sam's recording in a studio in the UK with a few of the other session guys," Dan said.
"Oh." Terry continued to look confused. "It's not the way we've always done things."
"Things have changed," Jules chipped in. He couldn't control Sam being on a couple of tracks on the album, but he could manage, to some degree, when and where he had to work with his brother.
The thought of seeing Sam in the flesh again after all these years tightened the knot in his stomach. If he'd had anything to do with it all, there would never have been a couple of songs for Sam to perform with him.
Jules took a deep breath. He couldn't allow himself to get this wound up with so many more tracks to be worked on. He needed to focus, but he couldn't resist one last dig. "Dan has a habit of changing the rules when you least expect it."
Dan, refusing to be drawn into any kind of pissing contest, moved on. "That one's in the bag. What's next, Jules?"
The wide smile on his manager's face didn't fool him. Dan knew this tour would be a tough one, and Jules wasn't about to give his little brother an inch.
Not after what he'd done.
Romance from Toni Kenyon - a fresh look at the world