Tags: #Fantasy, #Fiction, #General, #Anthologies (Multiple Authors)
By nine-twenty she had all six t-shirts in place. Tight and low cut, black on white and stretched over the redhead, the two blondes from the parking lot, and three brunettes with a similar advertising under-structure, the name Bedford Entertainment would be impossible for the brothers to miss. At fifty dollars a shirt, it would be three hundred dollars well spent.
By nine-thirty the press of bodies had raised the temperature in the bar just a little higher than comfortable. As far as Ali knew, anticipation had no actual scent but there was definitely something in the air besides sweat and scotch. Something that kept her shifting on her high stool at the bar, every movement bringing her into contact with the men and women packed around her, every contact making her nerves sing that much more.
Shadows moved across the stage, then one long note dropped the room into silence. As the stage lights came up, NoMan started to play.
The hats and boots hadn’t changed, but above torn and battered jeans, Brandon wore a gray t-shirt with the sleeves ripped off that was so tight it looked painted onto his torso. Bare, muscular arms already glistened with sweat. Travis’s jeans were in better shape, but his untucked white-and-pink-striped shirt was half unbuttoned and gold hair glinted between the wings of the shirt every time he pulled back the bow. Ali wasn’t surprised to see he still wore his sunglasses.
The first two songs were the same as the last time but, just like the last time, by the third song Ali’d lost any hope of keeping coherent notes. All she could do was ride the sensation, intensified by the close quarters. Off her stool now, she moved with the music, with the crowd, touching, rubbing as the notes from Travis’s fiddle burned through her blood and Brandon’s voice licked at her skin.
Hands gripped her hips and dragged her back against a hard body, hot breath lapped at her ear, and a familiar voice just barely audible over the music growled, “You drive me crazy, Ali. I look at you like this and I can’t keep my hands off you.”
She bit back the moan that possibility evoked and struggled to turn but Tom held her in place, his erection a line of hard heat against her thigh.
“I could have you right now,” he said, slipping one arm around her waist and pulling her closer still as fingers stroked up her bare leg under the edge of her skirt, blunt nails digging lightly at her skin. “I could lift your skirt, drag your panties aside, slip into you.” Two fingers pushed under the elastic. “I could fuck you in time to the music.” The fingers slid down the wet line of her sex, teasing. Up on her toes, Ali’s head fell back against Tom’s shoulder. “I bet they’d notice—no one else would but Brandon and Travis, they’d watch from the stage.” Then the fingers were gone and his grip was gone and there was only his voice at her ear. “I want to, but I won’t. Because I’ve moved on.”
She managed to turn in time to see him push the fall of thick dark hair back off his face and, eyes tracking the motion, she noticed there was something in his ear. By the time she got all the way around, he was moving away, slipping easily through the crowd, the only person in the room who hadn’t given control of his body over to the music.
Wax plugs in his ears to keep himself from being swept away.
As heated bodies brushed rhythmically against her, and the hands on her skin and the breath raising goosebumps on her neck belonged to strangers, Ali looked to the stage where Brandon held the microphone like a lover and sang of learning to touch and Travis danced the bow across the strings of his violin spilling out notes in point and counterpoint…
…and she knew.
After, when the music ended, she slid back up onto the stool, ordered a scotch, and waited. The crowd had thinned and those who remained were moving around the room like cats after a kill—slow, deliberate, sensual. The box of CDs on the end of the bar had emptied as people paid for the chance to take the sensation evoked by the music home.
Brandon stood just off the stage, brushing damp tendrils of the redhead’s hair back off her face while Travis stood beside him, one hand gently kneading her boyfriend’s broad shoulder. All four of them glanced down at her chest, and she half turned, pointing toward the bar.
As Brandon’s eyes met hers, Ali raised her glass and smiled.
Travis laughed, the sound falling into the room like pebbles into a pond, the ripple of reaction spreading. Someone dropped a glass. Someone else moaned. Brandon leaned toward his brother, asked a question, and when Travis nodded, led the way up onto the stage and toward the door at the back.
They paused at the door, standing close enough as they turned that Ali knew they had to be touching shoulder to hip. Still smiling, Travis beckoned.
Given the sunglasses it should have been impossible to tell who he was beckoning to.
His teeth were very white.
Backstage was nothing more than a long, narrow room between the rear wall of the stage and the brick, outside wall of the Atlas. The air was cooler and smelled more like dust than like sex and alcohol.
Following the two men past stacked chairs and empty boxes to where a small lounge had been set up in the far corner, Ali wondered a little at her willingness to throw caution to the winds. If the brothers could make anyone do anything…
The possibility smoldered in the cradle of her hips, the heat shifting and flaring as she walked.
“So, Alysha Bedford of Bedford Entertainment…” Travis dropped onto one corner of the disreputable-looking couch, Brandon perching on the arm beside him. “…you’ve got our attention.” His right hand rose to rest on his brother’s thigh, long fingers absently stroking the faded denim. “What is it you want?”
Ali drew her tongue over dry lips. She wanted them to touch her. To drag rough fingers over her skin.
To open her. To fill her. To feast off her. That was what she wanted but it wasn’t why she was there.
She was there because they had something she needed and she had to convince them that they in turn needed her. “I know what you are,” she said.
Travis laughed but Brandon tossed his hat down on the other end of the couch and drew both hands back through damp hair, pale eyes never leaving her face. “I think she does.”
“Do you?” Travis stretched out one long leg, the room narrow enough his boot ended up thrust between Ali’s ankles. She looked down, saw the black leather and barely stopped her hips from rocking forward. “All right then,” he murmured, “what are we?”
In the silence that followed, her heartbeat sounded unnaturally loud.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Brandon growled at last.
“Probably,” his brother agreed. He beckoned and Ali found herself moving forward, straddling first the outstretched leg, then both legs, then his lap. It wasn’t so much a compulsion as a mutual acknowledgement of the need to get closer that she knew had to be showing on her face. She was still standing but only because the couch was so low.
A little voice—a voice that sounded remarkably like Glen—reminded her this wasn’t the business meeting she’d planned but she was too turned on to care. Besides, she’d always prided herself on being adaptable and nothing in the rules said business couldn’t be discussed over friction.
“So…” Travis reached out and lightly stroked the inside of her leg with his thumb. “…you’re half right.”
His touch was distracting but then, she could see from his smile that his touch was supposed to be distracting.
“Momma was a siren,” Brandon continued, shifting enough to watch his brother trace patterns up and down her leg. “And we split the power between us.”
And then Brandon’s hand curved around the inside of her other leg and her knees buckled from the rush of sensation. Travis’s grip shifted up her leg, sliding up under the edge of her skirt to hold her hips, as she folded forward, knees going to the couch, her sex rubbing against the rough edge of denim over his erection.
“Takes both of us to make it work.” Brandon’s voice was a low, heated growl at her ear and she moaned as he dragged his tongue over her neck.
“Your name…it was the name Ulysses gave the Cyclops.”
“Same story,” Travis grinned. “Different chapter. Since Momma never said who our father was…”
“If it is no man, then it must be by the will of the gods.”
Brandon was behind her now, straddling his brother’s legs, pressed up against her back, arms around her, hands working the buttons on her shirt.
This was where she could stop it. Should stop it. Should pull the business plan she’d drawn up out of her bag and…
She knocked Travis’s hat off and bent to devour his mouth as he hiked her skirt higher with one hand and slid the other under the scrap of silk and lace. He tasted like honey and sunshine and she could feel him still smiling against her lips. When she pulled away, fingers buried in his hair, he murmured, “We never saw a lot of point in singing ships onto rocks.”
Then Brandon took hold of her head and turned it. “This is a lot more fun,” he breathed against her lips just before he claimed them. He was rougher than his brother, his tongue demanding entry. She opened for him and rocked down against Travis’s fingers as Brandon fucked her mouth. When he finally moved along her jaw and scraped his teeth against the sensitive skin where her neck met her shoulders, she fought to bring at least one or two brain cells back on line, reminding herself this wasn’t all she wanted.
“I’m not the only one who knows what you are.” Her voice was husky, needy, desperate, and she was actually more than a little impressed she managed to complete the sentence.
So was Travis. He wrapped fingers wet with her own arousal around her wrist and stopped her from opening his fly. “Who else?”
“Michael Richter. He owns Vital Music Group…Oh God!”
Brandon snorted something unintelligible against the back of her neck and stopped rolling her nipples between his fingers.
“Go on, Alysha.”
Go on where? Right. Mike. “One of Richter’s people was here tonight, in the club, wearing ear plugs.”
“Ear plugs?” Brandon straightened, his hands going from her breasts to her shoulders, lightly stroking the skin exposed when he’d pushed back her shirt, the motion somehow holding all three of them at that moment.
Held suspended between them, Ali dredged up a bit more of the myth. “If you sing and no one reacts then you have to throw yourself into the sea…”
“Metaphor.” Travis’s teeth flashed white. “If we sing and no one reacts then we surrender to an outside power. Mythically, the sea. As things stand right now, not so much.”
“We give over control.”
Ali frowned down at her reflection in Travis’s glasses, the expression looking out of place sharing her face with swollen, spit-slicked lips and blown pupils. “That’s what Mike wants. To control you. To make you sing up what he desires.”
“Isn’t that what you want, Alysha Bedford of Bedford Entertainment?”
“No. Not control, manage. It’s not the same thing.”
“A difference of degree,” Brandon noted.
“I don’t want to control you. I don’t want to use you, Mike does. Some day, now he knows about you, I guarantee you’ll do a gig where he controls the audience and then he’ll control you.”
“Good thing you showed up to protect us then.” Travis’s lip curled mockingly.
“We don’t mind being courted,” Brandon noted, fingers tightening on her shoulders, breath stirring her hair. “But we don’t like being threatened.”
“Someone else knows what we are. Someone else wants to control us. You saw a man in ear plugs and yet, we see only you.” Travis’s hand rose to his glasses. “Your timing sucks, Alysha Bedford. Should have waited until we finished to make your pitch.”
That she wholeheartedly agreed with, but it didn’t change the fact she had to convince them they were in danger.
Travis slipped the glasses down and his eyes flared gold.
Ali came back to herself in a parking lot two blocks from the Atlas, standing beside her car, clothing more or less decently arranged over her body—the buttons on her shirt were off by one, but that was a minor point. She remembered everything up to the moment Travis lowered his glasses. Whatever mojo his eyes performed, its effect seemed limited. Twice now, he’d used it as a way to essentially say, we’re done here .
She had a feeling the Noman brothers weren’t cuddlers.
Teeth gritted, she pulled out her keys and unlocked the car. The bastards were mythical creatures and they didn’t believe her ? She had half a mind to let Mike have them. A few years under his beck and call, paranormal control issues added to his usual iron-clad contract, and they’d be sorry they hadn’t listened. Fortunately, the other half of her mind was well aware that the brothers weren’t the only ones who’d suffer.
Working together, Brandon and Travis could get whatever they wanted.
Working for Mike, they could get whatever Mike wanted. At the moment, Mike wanted to exercise his power in the music industry but he sure as hell wouldn’t stop there.
She’d have to save NoMan in spite of itself. If she could save Bedford Entertainment at the same time, so much the better.
Mike wouldn’t try his plugged-ear ploy at a concert, there’d be too many variables to control. It would have to be a private party. The brothers might not care much about money, according to Steve, but Mike could offer enough to tempt the significantly more saintly.
Tom had left the bar before the concert ended so he’d already accomplished what he’d had to do. Since he hadn’t spoken to either brother, he’d probably left an envelope with the bartender to be handed over when they were paid. Mike wouldn’t waste any time; his offer of a private venue where they could connect with the industry brass would be in the envelope. There’d be nothing about Vital Music Group, and, while he’d definitely be present at the concert, Mike Richter wouldn’t be hosting. The number on the offer would be large enough that the other three members of the band would insist on accepting and the Noman brothers wouldn’t see the harm. They’d been doing this for so long, they’d clearly gotten careless.