Authors: Lynne Connolly
Book five in the Nightstar
With a wild appearance as untamed
as his personality, Zazz is the perfect front man for Murder City Ravens. When
the tour takes him home to Manchester, England, he finds his father in trouble
and a social worker desperately trying to help.
Laura is nothing like the proper,
older social worker Zazz assumed he’d been communicating with via email for
months. She’s young and sexy. One look at her and he’s lost. One night in her
arms and he knows this is more than a road romance. But Laura has a successful
life and won’t give it up for a rock star.
Zazz’s father needs Laura’s care,
so how could Zazz even consider taking her away?
Except they can’t keep their hands
off each other and when they’re not heating up the sheets they’re connecting on
a deeper level. But their way of life must change if they are to have a shot at
contemporary erotic romance
Kelsie nudged Laura, a sharp dig in her ribs that made her
wince. “I can’t believe we’ll get to meet them.” She said it too loud for
Laura’s liking. People turned their heads to stare and she lowered her chin so
her hair swung forward to hide her hot cheeks.
“Not them, one of the crew. We’ll probably not even be in
the same room as them.” Shit, now she sounded like a groupie. Why should she
care what people thought? Kelsie didn’t. Laura grinned wryly. She’d never make
a rock star, that was for sure. Their swaggering insouciance fascinated her,
but she could never act that way. She’d look completely stupid.
The smell of beer and weed surrounded them, pungent and
sharp. Laura glanced at her bottle of water. It practically took a mortgage to
buy a beer here and she wasn’t that desperate for a plastic cup of weak
alcoholic brew. She was, however, increasingly desperate to see her favorite
band. Not a vacant seat remained in the house, and the management had sent them
great seats, three rows back from the front to one side of the mosh pit.
Complimentary band seats. So cool. She wondered if anyone else around them had
complimentary seats, and cringed anew at Kelsie’s comment. It wasn’t as if they
were members of the band, or their entourage.
The lights went out, snapping them into pitch black without
warning. Laura caught her breath, excitement throbbing, as hot as sex. The huge
arena melted into one black nothingness, except for the twinkle of mobile
phones and cameras. That moment freed her, sent a shot of adrenaline through
her, making her as one with everyone else here tonight.
Without warning, lights flared on the stage, going from
darkness to blazing brightness, giving her eyes no chance to recover. The sight
seared into the back of her eyeballs, painful, as if it would leave a scar that
would remain with her forever. Exhilaration surged through her, and her efforts
to keep her anticipation within bearable levels melted away.
Hunter Ostrander set a strong
drums, mirroring her heartbeat, seducing her into letting the people onstage
take control of her existence. That meant they were starting with
With that solid beat Murder City Ravens set an aura of trust between the six
people onstage and the ten thousand spectators who’d come here tonight to
commune with them and share their experience.
As far as Laura was concerned, the link existed only between
her and the band. Nobody else. She’d always been a fan, but she hadn’t
understood how fucking intense they got onstage. For her, stage performances
enhanced the albums, reflected them. They didn’t develop them and make them
into something else. Not like this, never like this.
The electronics kicked in, the outlandishly dressed Riku
putting them in gently at first. He created an underswell of sound, like blood
rushing through veins, responding to the heartbeat still sounding solidly from
Hunter. Then V’s saxophone, the woman herself swaying gently in the gold dress
she always wore onstage, her hair swirling around her body, sticking to her
gleaming instrument with static electricity.
Donovan next, his bass sitting behind the drums to add
complexity and strength. Then, as the electronics swelled and grew, heading for
a climax that never came, the sharp rattle of Jace’s guitar clashed through the
piece. The first note of discord, but without discord there couldn’t be harmony.
People wouldn’t notice it if there was nothing to oppose it. They’d take it for
Then Zazz, holding the mic close to him like a lover, his
navy-blue hair gleaming in the bright spotlight focused on him. He crooned the
lyrics for her, communing with every single person in the arena, every one of
them in a one-to-one confrontation.
When people cry
They don’t have to die
But I do.
He injected his truth into their bloodstream.
Oh God, when he turned like that, Laura could see something
in him, an echo of a movement she’d seen in someone else. Who? She couldn’t
remember. Fuck, she couldn’t remember.
Laura had been wrong about the song. She’d never heard this
before, not with these emphases. When Hunter sped up the rhythm,
infinitesimally at first, Jace fought him, driving against him, and Zazz’s
voice sounded slightly off-key, except it wasn’t. The disturbance reverberated
through Laura’s body. It set her ajar, pushed her awareness so that the hairs
on the back of her neck stood on end. The musicians toyed with her heartbeat,
played with the trust she’d given them, and threatened to turn everything she
was upside down and inside out. Until she wanted to scream.
Zazz dueled with Riku, fighting him for control of the song
until the whole number threatened to disintegrate under the stress. Then Riku
spun around to another instrument and came up with a guitar. At first, she
thought he was about to hit Zazz with it, such was the aggression in the
gesture, but he hit the strings instead. She couldn’t call it playing, more
like a concerted attack. Never had the phrase “axe man” been so apt.
From the confusion came the solid
of a drumbeat,
gaining supremacy, and under its influence, the song re-formed, and ended on a
Laura breathed hard, trying to regain control over herself.
Beside her, Kelsie screamed and applauded. Laura hadn’t realized she was
clapping until her palms stung.
Shit, how was she going to survive this? Her heart was
beating double time, and her legs shook with the strain of pressing against the
hard concrete under her feet.
The next number was the plaintive
Let Me In
stunningly beautiful melody, and Zazz showing his more tender side. Zazz wrote
most of the lyrics, while the band collaborated on the music, but every member
of the band had a writing credit. Laura understood why, now. Each member had
his or her part to play, and their contributions were individual ones,
reflecting the character of the musician. From the flamboyance of Riku, tonight
in red and gold, to the jeans and T-shirt of Jace, the band nevertheless
presented a coherent whole through their music.
From the mesmerizing front man to the vivid contributions
from every member of the band, they created a whole that was true synergy, the
2+2="5" effect. Laura watched, stunned. The band members blended and merged, then
spiked out in counterpoint, but worked together as if telepathic. Chord
changes, tempo variations, all were on point and done closely together,
although she saw no hidden signals apart from the initial counting-in, usually
from the drums. Partway through, Zazz stripped off his T-shirt and performed
topless for a few numbers. Jace lost his and never bothered to replace it,
instead using his dragon tattoo as decoration. The crowd clapped and whistled,
Laura joining in delightedly.
At one point the stagehands wheeled in a piano and Zazz
played it, with Jace on acoustic guitar. Zazz sang about never finding anyone
special and despairing of ever doing so, despite trying affairs all over the
world. Was there something wrong with him? He would continue to look, though he
doubted he’d find anyone now.
Laura was surprised when she found tears on her cheeks.
Hastily she wiped them away, but she saw others surreptitiously doing the same.
A shared experience that belonged to her alone. She couldn’t
explain it any better, but it felt like that.
Two hours sped by as the band showed off glittering number
after violent rocker after tender ballad. They did everything, from techno to
full-out rock to something that was almost jazzy. Almost. Laura wouldn’t have
been surprised to hear dubstep. She watched all the members of the band doing
their thing, and the way they blended together. At the center, binding every
sound together and making comments to the audience between each song, Zazz
worked his brilliance. Known only by that one name, Zazz was one of the two
British members of Murder City Ravens. He added the urgency and spikiness, took
the edge off the slickness, added touches of difference that thrilled Laura,
like light hitting shiny satin.
After two encores the band quit the stage for the evening,
leaving Laura wrung out. Even though her evening was just beginning. She sat
and watched the roadies methodically dismantle the equipment offstage. Three
guys climbed down a rope ladder from above, where they’d controlled some damn
thing, she had no idea what, and let the people in their row file out.
“Brilliant,” Kelsie said. “Loved it.” She flashed Laura a
wide-eyed, thrilled grin. “Now we get to be groupies!”
That jolted her out of her mood of stunned wonder. “No we
fucking don’t. I’m here for business.” She said it more to remind herself than
anyone else, although during the concert she hadn’t given her reason for being
here a moment’s thought.
“Yeah,” Kelsie said, not a bit put out. “I know. James Asano
Junior. Let’s find him then.”
James Asano Junior was part of the vast industry surrounding
Murder City Ravens on this tour, and she was here to see him about his father’s
welfare. They’d chatted by email for the last two years, and while she liked Junior,
she was nervous about meeting him in person. He seemed reluctant to speak any
other way, except for the occasional online chat. Their shared concerns about
his father had developed into friendship, and at last, he’d agreed to meet her
when the band was in town. Receiving complimentary tickets for the gig had
surprised and thrilled Laura, who had tried and failed to buy tickets. She’d
been at work when they went on sale, in a meeting she couldn’t avoid. By the
time she’d logged on to the ticket website the concert was a sellout. James
explained that he could get tickets, and he’d proved good for them. And the
Laura and Kelsie already had the extra bands around their
wrists that would let them in. The envious box office staff had put them there
earlier when they picked up their tickets earlier. They’d included the gold
Access All Areas band, something that had surprised Laura, as her business only
needed limited access. Now they had to find out where to go.
After the majority of the audience had left the massive
Manchester Arena, instead of climbing the steep stairwell to the exits, Laura
and Kelsie went down to the barrier that separated the seating area from the
mosh pit. It stank worse, the beer, weed and sweat smell enhanced by a soupcon
of piss. Wrappers and plastic cups littered the hard floor. A security guard
stood there and she showed him her collection of bracelets. The man examined
them, taking nothing for granted, but checking the wording and the color. “Can
you climb over?” he asked. She nodded, glad she’d worn jeans. While she
clambered over, the man gave Kelsie’s bands the same scrutiny. “If you’re
press, better get a move on. They’re starting the conference in a minute.”
Laura didn’t disabuse them. Her business had nothing to do
with the band, but the thought of seeing a press conference for real enthralled
her. She could go with that. She’d find James Asano when the band had left. James
had told her to find the band’s manager, Chick Fontaine, who would locate Mr.
Asano for her, but other than that she knew little, except that Chick Fontaine
was a bear of a man, difficult to miss.
One thing Laura had learned tonight was how big this tour
was, what a huge number of people it took to put on this gig. The number of
staff involved amounted to a company on an industrial scale. Everyone had a
particular job. James Asano could be one of the guys who spent the duration of
the concert in the rigging. Or maybe he was one of the roadies who looked after
the instruments, handed them to whoever needed them, or a sound man, or one of
the lighting guys. He’d never told her precisely what he did.
Laura and Kelsie followed the security man to a small door
by the stage and went through it.
Not like entering another world, going from Kansas to Oz or
a grassy bank to Wonderland. The corridors were the same drab-painted concrete
as the ones in the bathrooms in the main area, the floors hard and unadorned,
painted black. People moved around with purpose, most of them headed in the
same direction. The guy who’d shown them the door handed them over to a man who
introduced himself as “Rudi, assistant to Beverley Christmas”. Beverley was the
partner of Jace Beauchenne, guitarist and effects man to Murder City Ravens,
and she worked for Chick Fontaine.
Rudi took them to the back of a room crammed with members of
the media. At the front, behind a large cloth-covered table that could easily
be a paste table sat the members of Murder City Ravens. Hair damp with sweat,
wearing the same clothes they’d worn onstage, the band sat answering the
questions thrown at them. Every member had an attitude, an air of confidence
and charisma that filled the crammed space. She spotted the unmistakable figure
of Chick Fontaine standing to one side, an electronic tablet in his large
hands. “Stay here,” Rudi said. “I’ll take you to Chick when the conference is
done. It’ll be less frantic then. And you can get something to eat and drink if
you want.” He nodded to a table containing bottles of beer and water, and
plates of sandwiches. “Help yourself.”
“We’re fine,” Laura said.
“Good.” Rudi moved them to one side, out of the way of the
door. “Stay here then. Are you on Chick’s list?”
Laura nodded, although she guessed Rudi thought they were
press, not here for any other reason. But she wanted to hear the questions.
Most were disappointingly predictable. Where did the band
get its ideas from? How had reforming the band after the first two albums
affected them? When was the next album coming out? She listened closely to the
answer to that, eager as any fan to hear new material. They’d played two
tonight. Nobody in the band answered with any kind of firm commitment, other
than they were going into the studio after the tour finished and would see how
it went. Only a band on top of its game could afford to answer so vaguely.