Heart Throb

Hearts of Metal, book 7

ISBN: 978-1729566817

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Irascible, grumpy, rude, tetchy, remote - scared. Viciöus's bassist, Brand Kife is hiding a secret, and it takes everything he has to ignore Lexi, until he can't.

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Bassist for heavy metal band, Viciöus, Brand Kife is known for his scowl and inability to form meaningful attachments. When he meets Lexi Adams, the director of the documentary being filmed about Viciöus, Brand wants the smart, sexy woman, but knows he's not worth having. Staying away from the alluring beauty becomes impossible, but he has secrets he'll never share, not even with Lexi.

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Lexi Adams isn’t ready to settle down and may never be. Every time she’d tried to date, the man wanted to put his needs first. Her first boyfriend had forced her to choose between him and film school. Her second had wanted her to support his film career. And now that Lexi’s career has finally taken off, she doesn't have time to look for a third. Until Brand Kife, who seems more than happy to keep his distance, until he can't, and evermore becomes a reality she embraces with her whole heart and soul.
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Chapter One

 

Brand glared at Viciöus’s lead singer in furious disbelief. Quinn had done it again. The arrogant, autocratic son of a bitch had made a decision without consulting the rest of the band. Like so many others, this pre-tour band meeting was nothing but an empty formality where Quinn told them, rather than asking them, what would be going down. And this particular detail was a big fucking deal.

“No.” Brand leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms over his chest.

One of Quinn’s black eyebrows shot up. “Excuse me?”

Brand fixed the singer with a glare. “You can’t drop a huge disruption like this and expect us to be fine with it.”

“Disruption?” Quinn laughed and shook his head at Brand like he was a child. “I thought you’d all be happy to learn that an established filmmaker is going to do a documentary about Viciöus.”

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Tony, the drummer, nodded with his usual cheerful grin. “I’m happy about it. That means more money and more exposure. What’s your deal this time, Brand?”

Brand’s frown deepened at the patronizing undertone in the drummer’s voice. “My deal is that first off, we weren’t consulted, and second off, having some jackoffs follow us around with cameras, asking stupid questions, is going to be disruptive as hell.”

Quinn held up his hands in mock surrender. “Okay, you’re right. I should have told you and Tony about it, and yes, having the director and camera guys along will cause some distraction and crowding. But Brand, can you think about the long-term? Our reputation took a hit with our rift with Bleeding Vengeance—”

Your rift,” Brand reminded him. Quinn’s wife and lead guitarist, Kinley, nodded in agreement and nudged Quinn with a stern frown.

Quinn had the decency to look ashamed. “You’re right. My rift.”

When Cliff Tracey, lead singer of Bleeding Vengeance, had begun dating Quinn’s little sister, Quinn went nuclear and declared Bleeding Vengeance, a band that had been their best friends in the industry, to be enemies for life. Quinn eventually pulled his head out of his ass and now treated Cliff like a long-lost brother, but the damage was already done. The media had had a field day amplifying the hostilities, and some fans turned against Viciöus because of Quinn’s behavior. Even worse, a planned collaboration album and joint tour was put on hold, costing both bands God knew how much money.

Quinn ran a hand through his hair and sighed. “Look, I fucked up, I know that. But this documentary will go a long way in humanizing us, making us look friendlier to our fans.” At Brand’s scowl, Quinn smirked. “Okay, maybe not all of us, but hey, your ‘man who never smiles’ thing can be a good gimmick too.”

“Gimmick?” Brand growled. “Fuck you, Quinn.”

“I don’t think Kinley would approve,” Quinn retorted. “Anyway, your grump ass doesn’t change the fact that this documentary will be awesome good for us. Thing Productions won best documentary at the Emerald City Film Festival for Headbangers Abound, and the Audience Choice Award at the Seattle International Film Festival for their film on the history of the metal scene. That one’s on some streaming services and they told me the film they want to do on us is practically guaranteed to get the same. That means some good subsidiary income on top of a cut of the royalties from physical copies, which we can also sell with the rest of our merch.”

Okay. Quinn had a point. Brand’s shoulders slumped. Quinn usually did. That was why he was in charge of the band, for the most part. But the rest of them still should have a say in matters. Brand narrowed his eyes at Kinley. Why wasn’t she speaking up?

Kinley’s gaze flicked to meet Brand’s then darted away evasively, uncharacteristic of the direct woman he knew her to be.

Oblivious to the odd exchange, Quinn resumed his spiel on why having a film crew on the road with them was such a wonderful idea.

Brand only half listened. Justified as his irritation with the situation was, the documentary would be good for them. Fans bought those videos like hotcakes and a streaming deal could bring them new fans. Hell, Quinn even had a point about the documentary possibly redeeming them to those who viewed them sourly after the thing with Bleeding Vengeance. Maybe the director would stick around long enough to catch them when they started writing songs with the other band, show the world on screen that they were friends again.

Even if they didn’t, the collaboration album was back on. The contract had been signed and they would be getting together as soon as Viciöus’s tour wrapped up. They’d even have a preliminary meet-up during the tour, when Viciöus would play at Bleeding Vengeance’s Denver gig.

Brand suddenly found himself looking forward more to writing songs with Bleeding Vengeance than touring. Even though he’d never been the best at making friends, he had to admit that he liked Bleeding Vengeance. The Quinn thing had bothered him more than Brand had expected. And then when it healed, he even found himself befriending Cliff when the guy had moved to Seattle to be closer to Christine, Quinn’s sister. The guy was a chatterbox, but not nearly as vapid as Brand had thought him to be. Reluctantly, Brand admired the guy for having the balls to pursue the forbidden princess. When Cliff and Christine moved to Denver with the rest of Bleeding Vengeance, Brand was surprised that he missed him.

That said, if it weren’t for this upcoming disruptive documentary, Brand would choose touring over song writing any other day.

Quinn could list all the financial benefits to the project that he wanted. That still didn’t make Brand comfortable with having a camera breathing down his neck day and night for the next several months. He was a bass guitarist. Not a fuckin’ movie star.

Also, something felt off about this whole thing. Brand glanced back at Kinley. It wasn’t like her to let Quinn do all the talking. He knew that now, but in the beginning of Kinley’s days with Viciöus, Brand had assumed that she would go along with whatever her husband said. She’d long since proven that she had her own opinions and often sided with Brand or Tony on decisions about what happened on the road and in the studio.

Brand’s eyes narrowed further. “Who did Thing Productions approach?”

Kinley finally spoke. “Me. The director and I have been friends online for a couple years.”

“Ah.” A mirthless laugh escaped his lips. Although Quinn was a bossy bastard, he’d submit to Kinley’s wishes almost every time. In fact, he’d eventually listened to her and made things right with Bleeding Vengeance, although it took Brand’s and Tony’s efforts, combined with Kinley’s, to talk sense into Quinn on that issue.

Brand turned back to Quinn, “So since the two of you were on board, you figured it was a done deal. This is why it’s bad to have a couple in a group. Totally destroys the democracy dynamic.”

Tony shook his head and laughed. “Oh, come on, Brand. We were never a democracy and you know it. In fact, we were more of a dictatorship before Kinley. She softened Quinn up.” He smiled at the singer. “Sorry, Quinn, but it’s true.”

Softened. Brand suppressed a sneer. Tony would know. Brand had to listen to the guy getting all sappy with his wife over the phone every night they were touring. And although Quinn hadn’t turned into a pile of mush with Kinley—that woman was too tough for that stuff—he had definitely changed since falling in love. And while the melting of Quinn’s brisk exterior was probably good in the long run, something about the change unnerved Brand in an unvoiced, yet primal way.

Turning his mind back to the situation at hand, he attempted another feeble protest to the documentary. “Is there even room for a film crew on the bus?”

Quinn sighed. “They’re bringing only four people. The director, who is also the producer, the co-producer, and two camera guys. The director and co-producer will be on the bus with us. The camera guys will be in the equipment truck with our merch crew. It’ll be a tight squeeze, but it’ll work.”

Finally, Tony had a complaint. “I knew we should have gotten around to getting a bigger bus.”

“With the money this documentary will bring us, we’ll be able to finally upgrade.” Quinn nuzzled Kinley’s neck. “We’ll get one with bigger bunks.”

Brand rolled his eyes at the happy couple. He hoped he never fell in love. He couldn’t go soft. Soft meant vulnerable.

And he’d long ago vowed never to be vulnerable again.

***

Lexi clutched her camera on her lap as Ramon, her head camera operator at Thing Productions, and her co-producer, wove through the back streets of Seattle. Unlike her, he’d grown up here and knew how to avoid traffic better than Susan, the name Lexi had given the voice on her phone’s map.

The closer they got to the record studio, the more her excitement grew. Viciöus had agreed to meet with her. And although Kinley Black-Mayne, the lead guitarist, had acted like it was a done deal, Lexi still needed to get past this initial meeting with the whole band and make a good enough impression for them to agree to sign the contract.

“Tony should be cool,” Kinley had told her over the phone, “but Brand can be a grump-ass sometimes.”

Not only that, but after talking with Quinn Mayne, the lead singer, Lexi got the impression that if the contract wasn’t worded exactly to his liking, the deal would be off. Thankfully, she’d had a solid contract attorney draft it.

If everything went well at the studio, Lexi would be embarking on her first dream: creating a documentary on her favorite heavy metal band. And Kinley and Quinn both assured her that she would be able to start right away. First, they would give her a tour of the studio where they had recorded four of their five albums while Ramon filmed.

Then she’d spend the next week observing them hanging out, coaxing them into forgetting the camera and being themselves. That would need several takes. It was against human nature to ignore a camera, but Lexi had a talent for direction. That’s what her first teacher in film school said, anyway.

And Viciöus wouldn’t be the first band she’d filmed. Though they were the first major one. But at the end of the day, they were people who were living life and doing a job like all the others she’d filmed. Lexi needed to keep that in mind so she didn’t get star struck. It helped when she remembered that the lead guitarist, Kinley Black-Mayne, had gushed over her Thing Production’s documentary, Headbangers Abound, like Lexi was the big celebrity.

She allowed a brief sunburst of pride to swell in her chest. That had been the project that got her established. Her sixth film had won both local and national awards. The sight of the Emerald City and Seattle International Film Festival Audience Choice trophies still brought a lump to her throat every time she looked at them, even though the engraved pieces of glass had sat on her desk for six months. Even her mother, who’d done everything she could to discourage Lexi from pursuing filmmaking, had been bursting with praise.

Triumph poisoned with bitterness surged through Lexi’s being at the memory. After subjecting her to torture by forcing her to compete in child beauty pageants, and then engaged in teen torment with constant pressure to chase a modeling career, Marcia Adams had finally surrendered, allowing Lexi to pursue her dreams without further discouragement.

In cynical moments Lexi wondered if it really was the awards that made her mom stop telling her she’d chosen the wrong career, or if it was the fact that Lexi was pushing thirty.

Probably both.

And now Mom had latched on to a new mission to disrupt Lexi’s life. It had started subtly two years ago, with her throwing a dinner party every time Lexi came to visit. Dinner parties that happened to have a guest list that was disproportionately male. Then last year, Mom blatantly tried to set Lexi up on dates with the intention of her finding one to marry. Now she couldn’t have a single conversation with Mom without being asked when she’d be ready to settle down and give her some grandchildren.

Lexi wasn’t ready to settle down and might never be ready. Every time she’d tried to date, the man would want to put his needs first. Her first boyfriend had even forced her to choose between him and film school. Her second had wanted her to support his film career. And now that Lexi’s own career was finally taking off, she didn’t have time to look for a third.

That was for the best. Falling in love was the worst thing she could do at this stage. After having her mother try to hold her back her whole life, she wasn’t about to let a man do the same.

Ramon interrupted her reverie as he parked his Jeep. “We’re here.”

Lexi took a deep breath through her nose and nodded. “Here’s hoping for the start of another successful film.”

As they headed toward the studio entrance, Ramon turned to her with a sideways smile. “Here’s hoping we don’t make asses of ourselves. The guys in Viciöus are hot as hell.”

“They’re all straight and married,” Lexi reminded him.

Ramon wiggled his brows. “The bassist isn’t married.”

That’s right. Brand Kife was single. And he was indeed hot as hell. However, he wasn’t known as “the man who never smiles” for nothing. Lexi shrugged and smoothed her hair. “Brand’s the incarnation of Oscar the Grouch. I’ll be fine.”

But the moment she and Ramon entered the studio to greet the four heavy metal icons, Lexi met Brand’s hazel eyes and felt a jolt of potent heat.

Suddenly, she didn’t think things would go as smoothly as she’d hoped.

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