Fifteen years and many heart-wrenching experiences after their disastrous first meeting, a reformed rock star and the woman who idolized him as a teenager get a second chance to prove songs of the heart are the sweetest music of all.
EXCERPTS: Rock'n' Romance
The Rock Star
Spotlights flashed in rainbows across the stage. Red. Green. Blue. Crisscrossing until they merged into one white-hot light on Geoff Chastain’s face, evoking memories of other times. The screams of thousands of teenaged girls washed through his memory as he pulled the microphone from its stand.
The first notes of his daughter's favorite song filled the auditorium and his breath caught, jagged, in his chest. Pain pulsed through Geoff's heart with each beat of the drum. He nearly dropped to his knees, longing to crawl back into the self-imposed exile where he had existed since his daughter died.
The faces of the kids in wheelchairs looked up at him with bright expectation. The whispers of the singers waiting in the stage wings curled around him in concern.
Daddy, promise you won’t let the music die. His daughter’s last request haunted Geoff. He never suspected life would become so desolate he would forget to eat and sleep, let alone lose touch with the music that had always flowed so easily from his soul.
A singer moved from the wings to stand beside him. Her presence drifted around him in silent encouragement. Her sweet contralto coaxed him to sing with her.
Focus, he ordered his brain, staring at the woman. Waves of auburn hair framed her face, then tumbled halfway down a lush body barely covered in spandex and sequins. A woman designed to stir a man to action.
Geoff's voice rasped with disuse on the first verse; the woman's harmony covered it. As he started the second verse, an image of his daughter swam before his eyes and Geoff's throat closed. The woman picked up the melody without missing a beat, as if they had planned this duet.
He grasped at her hand and drew a deep breath. Her soft scent filled his nostrils, drawing his attention away from the pain. Giving him the strength to dig deep inside where the music had lain in silent mourning.
Geoff's voice mingled with hers on the chorus, then soared as he soloed the third verse. Their voices chased each other through the final refrain, then their eyes met and held on the last triumphant note. Awed silence hung for a moment before applause erupted and the crowd was in motion.
A sea of well-wishers swarmed onto the stage. Not the frenzied near-riots of years ago, but the exuberant cheer of celebration. Smiles and congratulations wrapped warmly around Geoff as men pumped his hand and women kissed his cheek.
But the mysterious auburn-haired woman who saved his musical butt had disappeared.
The Body Guard:
Two weeks before Christmas, Mitch decided he had waited long enough.
"Come on, mutt." Mitch grabbed his coat and a pair of work gloves. "Let’s go find the twins."
Gabe bounded to his feet and bumped the doorknob with his nose. He sniffed and marked around the yard while Mitch pulled the Ferrari out of the garage. As soon as the dog jumped into the car, Mitch drove to a lot selling Christmas trees. He selected one that would fit nicely in Julia’s small apartment and strapped it to the top of the car.
The mutt hung his head out the window, riding in silent watchfulness until the apartment building was in sight. "Woof!"
"You have to be quiet or we’ll get caught smuggling you in." Under cover of the falling twilight and a bushy evergreen tree, Mitch and the dog walked quickly toward Julia’s apartment.
As soon as Julia opened the door, the dog pushed inside and sniffed out the twins, quickly falling back into their game of hide and seek. Within seconds, the twins’ giggles let Julia know the dog had found the children.
"I brought a tree." Mitch stood the evergreen upright.
"I see that." Julia bit her lip as she walked around the tree. "Nice choice. Bushy all around."
"I had three picky sisters who trained me in the fine art of Christmas tree selection."
Julia smiled. "They trained you well."
"I thought we could decorate it tonight and maybe have cookies and hot chocolate."
The wistful look on Mitch’s face tugged at Julia’s heart. She didn’t want to disappoint him--or miss the chance to spend time with him. "That would be great. Except..."
The Leader of the Band:
Staring at the woman in the mirror, Lauren slowly pushed the gray wig off her head. Her naturally blonde hair lay matted forlornly against one side of her head. As she turned her head, a white bandage became obvious, framed by a semi-circle of close-cropped stubble around her ear where waves of golden hair used to flow.
I could have lost my life instead of my hair, she reassured herself. Still, a spiral of panic threaded through Lauren’s belly.
Sometimes Lauren disparaged her beauty, especially when lechers with insulting hands expected free access to her body. However, she also knew her physical appearance garnered many opportunities a plain woman never enjoyed.
Now, hidden out in a retirement center and disguised as an old woman, no one had spared a second glance at her. Hadn't she wanted to be respected for something that didn't depend on good looks?
A commotion at the door startled Lauren away from her own musings. Zach slipped inside and slammed the door shut behind him. Then he leaned against it, gulping deep breaths of air. His silver-streaked wig hung precariously over one ear; his satin smoking jacket was missing the belt that knotted it jauntily around his middle when she left him less than fifteen minutes ago.
He slid the lock into place and limped toward Lauren. “Whoever said women lose their libido in old age never visited this place.”
He flung the wig on the bed for the cat to play with and sat beside Lauren on the vanity bench. “How are you doing?”
Lauren shrugged. “Have the police found any sign of Matt [my son]?”
Zach’s fingers tiptoed across the bare skin at the back of Lauren’s neck. “Nothing yet. Johnny is spending most of his off-duty time shaking up the homeless hangouts. But they’re a tight-lipped bunch. Don’t talk to cops much.”
Zach’s lips touched the cool skin of Lauren’s nape. “He'll be alright.”
Her shiver this time wasn’t from fear for Matt but the trail of Zach's kisses across the base of her neck. Funny how being in a place with older people had eased Zach’s mind about aging. These men and women hadn’t given up on life when their youth faded. They still indulged their passions and their dreams. They spoke their minds and pursued what they wanted without regard to what others thought.
They were free in so many ways from the restraints and criticisms of the world. Free from their own unrealistic expectations, yet at peace with taking risks and trying new experiences.
Why had Zach feared growing old? "Will you make love with me?”
Lauren turned and stared at Zach. Disbelief, humor, interest, and eagerness flickered in her eyes before she placed her hand in Zach’s.