Metal and Mistletoe

Brooklyn Ann

Hearts of Metal, Book 4

An interracial death metal Christmas Romance

Curtis Scrimm, who dropped out of the band Viciӧus to check into rehab is finally clean. All he wants is to spend Christmas alone. Thanks to a brochure he found back at the rehab clinic, he has a cabin booked at Yellowstone. But when he arrives at the gorgeous winter wonderland, his mission of solitude is thwarted when he encounters death metal vocalist, Dezra Hopkins in the cabin next door. They’d met in rehab and it was her brochure he’d found.

Dezra is at first irritated at Curt’s intruding on her perfect Christmas getaway. But since she’s looking to form a new band after leaving her old one in disgrace, she sees Curt as an opportunity. That is, if she can lure him to the dark side of death metal, and if she can fight her growing attraction to him.

When Curt rescues Dezra from a blizzard and heals her hypothermia, their chemistry sparks to a flaming inferno. But when the festive and sensual holiday interlude comes to an end, real life challenges threaten to destroy the beautiful connection they’ve only begun to forge.


Chapter Three

Curt sucked in another breath of clear winter air and looked down the hill at the bison milling around the valley. He wished he could get closer but knew better than to ignore the signs that warned people to keep their distance. Such cautions abounded in this place, where wolves had been reintroduced, where countless other beautiful, dangerous animals naturally roamed, and where the land itself could be as formidable as it was picturesque. But the outdoors sure beat the hell out of the lodge, with its overpriced shops, tourist attraction hawkers, and the constant milling of rich ski junkies.


Instead of moving forward, Curt zoomed in the lens of his new camera until it looked like he was standing right next to the bison and snapped a few photos. Maybe next time, he would get a wolf or bobcat. He was getting to be a pretty decent photographer, and he had even set up a little darkroom in his cabin since getting here four days ago. He liked doing the manual development of film more than just playing with digital images. And who knew, maybe he could fall back on that as a career if he couldn’t get his groove back with his guitar-playing. Maybe it was fate that had led him to buy the camera, tripod, and all the various accouterments.

No. He shook his head. Music was still his passion. The sheer bliss of playing the perfect riff still beckoned him like a drug—a healthy drug. The problem was, he just couldn’t get there anymore. He couldn’t get excited about the usual riffs and melodies that he’d made a major part of Viciöus. He couldn’t even muster a thrill when he tried playing songs by the classic bands who’d originally inspired him. Not even a hint of a thrill. Which was yet another reason he remained hesitant to rejoin Viciöus: If he couldn’t get his groove back, his performances would be joyless and lackluster. He didn’t want that, and neither would listeners. And the band didn’t deserve it. Not when they now had Kinley’s vibrant contributions.

There had to be something he could do to recover his enthusiasm. He’d been brainstorming since arriving here. Maybe there was something different—some style, some technique—he could learn that would transform his playing into something fresh. Something fun. The usual serious Viciöus stuff seemed as barren as an arctic landscape.

Or, maybe it was just his cravings for coke. They might be killing his hunger for music like they’d killed his desire for women.

He hadn’t been with a woman since Lefty died. The lack of intimacy wasn’t that big of a deal, Curt supposed, since he’d never really had any. His relationships had never lasted longer than a tour stop, and he wasn’t looking for anyone to yammer at him about his feelings now. Still, it was unnerving: this loss of desire, this sense of emptiness. Eventually, that had to fade away, right?

His nose itched as if in refutation.

The sky was darkening, so Curt packed up his camera, put his helmet on, and climbed back on his rental snowmobile. It was time to get back to his cabin. No way in hell was he experienced enough with these things to drive one at night. But damn, they were fun. Maybe after he got his shit together, he’d take a cue from Quinn and move out of Seattle to somewhere that actually snowed enough for him to have an excuse to drive one semi-regularly.

He tore off down the hill at breakneck speed, exhilaration flooding his being, banishing his coke cravings and worries about what he was going to do about the future. Pulling right up to the front of his cabin, he leaped off and chained the vehicle to one of the rails on the wooden deck, then paused as he heard a rumbling.

Had he left the engine running…? No. It was a different timbre, and it was coming from the cabin next door to the one he’d rented. More of a growling sound.

Was it an animal? There were wolves, cougars, bobcats, lynx, and bears around here, but would any of them come so close? Would they actually find a way into one of these locked cabins?

Grabbing his bag at an angle where he could swing it, Curt slowly walked toward the noise. As he approached the cabin, he realized that there was something familiar about the sound, which continued, something that, despite its sinister depth, evoked a sense of cheer.

Another step and Curt realized the growling was human. It was “Deck the Halls” sung in a death metal style.

Curt blinked in surprise. The last thing he’d expected was to find another metalhead up here. He focused on the chaotic singing with a frown, trying to place it as he made his way up the cabin steps. He knew that voice, and…had heard it back in the rehab clinic!

But that was impossible. What would she be doing here?

Without thinking further, Curt reached out and rapped his knuckles on the door. The growling stopped, and the sound of footsteps padded close before the door opened to reveal a decadently beautiful woman with sinfully black hair and creamy, light brown skin.

“Dezra,” Curt whispered.

It was her.

Their encounters at Willowbridge had been brief but memorable. Of all the people he’d met at the clinic, this little death metal singer had been the one he’d connected to most. There was just something about her. Maybe it was that, if he’d been thinking of sex at all since Lefty’s death, she would have made him think of it. A lot. Or maybe it was just that she was cool as fuck.

Her large dark eyes widened in recognition. “Curt!” For a moment, she smiled, but then her lush lips curved downward. “Did you follow me here?”

The suspicion in her voice, tinged with a touch of fear, made him step backward and hold up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “No! I found the brochure for this place in the rec room back at Willowbridge and thought it looked like a nice place to spend Christmas. I just wanted some peace and quiet, I swear!”

Dezra regarded him with narrowed eyes, freezing him in place as she seemed to dissect his soul. At last, her shoulders relaxed, and a dry chuckle tumbled from her throat. “I was wondering what happened to that brochure. I had to go online to finish checking the place out before I made my reservations.”

Curt couldn’t hide his incredulity. “That brochure was yours?”

She nodded.

Curt shook his head, both pleased and a little off-balance, as her presence made him think of Willowbridge. It hadn’t been a super high-class place like the Betty Ford Clinic, all Lifestyles of the Rich and Detoxing, but it wasn’t an institutional prison either. The staff was compassionate, the food not bad, and the counselors were focused more on actually helping people fight their addictions than converting them to an AA-style religion.

The group sessions were still tedious, of course. Curt had already been in and out of Willowbridge for over a year, recovering from his third relapse, and newcomers had ceased to interest him. Then Dezra appeared.

Her folding chair had been scooted slightly back from the circle as if she wanted nothing to do with anyone. But Curt’s least favorite counselor ignored that. He’d called on her to answer the question they’d all taken turns answering that morning.

“Dezra, before alcohol took control of your life, what was your favorite thing to do?”

She’d stood, offering a straight and balanced stance that conveyed power, and Curt hadn’t been able to stop his eyes from devouring her smooth skin, liquid onyx eyes, and hair done up in countless ebony braids. And her lace corset top, black pants with multitudes of buckles and zippers, and leather combat boots screamed heavy metal. He wasn’t sure what kind.

Strange. People of color were even rarer in metal than women—a fact that mystified Curt, since, as far as he understood, Black people had invented rock and roll.

“I like to sing.”

The woman’s voice had refocused his attention. There was a smoky undertone to it and a reluctance that stirred Curt’s belly with a poignant tug. If he’d encountered her back in his days with Viciöus he’d be doing everything in his power to get into those snug-fitting pants. Or, then again, maybe not. Something about her radiated a quiet dignity, something that warned him to keep his hands off unless his attentions were noble.

He’d shaken his head, trying to clear away the strange thoughts. Since when had he thought about women and nobility in the same breath?

“That’s very nice,” the counselor gushed. Curt had hated that guy and his annoying saccharine voice that always spoke like to a kindergartener. “Would you sing for us?”

Dezra looked down at the toes of her combat boots. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Don’t be shy. We’d love to hear a song, wouldn’t we?” The counselor’s gaze had prodded the circle, the members of which nodded in reluctant agreement because everyone was impatient to be done with the session. It wouldn’t matter to them if the woman brayed like a donkey.

“All right,” Dezra said. “If you insist.”

She had stepped forward then, an impish glint in her brown eyes that made Curt lean forward with interest….

Her lush lips parted, and a deep, guttural roar poured forth, raising the hairs on the back of his neck. Blistering lyrics of death and destruction echoed through the room as the counselor’s face turned white as Swiss cheese.

“Ripping flesh, blood geyser, atrophy of the soul…”

Everyone else in the circle drew back in horror, except for Curt, and silence filled the room as Dezra finished. The other patients stared slack-jawed as if she’d slapped them. Curt had felt a giddy grin spread across his face, and he’d stood and applauded. Dezra met his gaze, and a spark arced between them.

Of course, it hadn’t gone anywhere. Even if Curt hadn’t been numb to desire, there was no way he would embark on what those in rehab called “the thirteenth step,” which was getting involved with a fellow addict. He’d heard enough horror stories to know better. Besides, he’d never been in a real relationship before, and now was no time to start. He’d even briefly imagined what his father would say at seeing him in an interracial relationship. Though nothing overtly racist had ever been said, Curt’s dad was so whitebread that Curt figured he had to lean that way.

The counselor had recovered first, clapping with shaky hands. “That was…ah, very unique.”

Dezra and Curt had grinned at each other from across the therapy circle, and another spark had arced between them.

Another spark that went nowhere.

They hadn’t run into each other very often after that, actually. Curt was too out of it with withdrawals, or shut away in his room, not wanting to do anything with anyone. But there had been a couple occasions when Curt played his guitar in the rec room and Dezra plopped down beside him with her bass, playing along to whatever melody his fingers conjured, a beautiful yet voiceless shadow harmonizing with his songs.

At first, he’d been nervous. He’d wondered if she was joining him to flirt, which was more than he could handle, but her silence had negated that suspicion quickly. They’d never talked during those mini jam sessions, so Curt decided that she just wasn’t interested in him in that way. Maybe she only went for guys of her heritage, or maybe she… Against his better wisdom, he had found himself wondering who she was and how she’d come to be there. Eventually, during their extremely brief conversations after jamming, he’d learned that she was in rehab for a drinking problem, that she was the ex-lead singer and bassist for Scalpel, a renowned death metal band, and that she was as much if not a bigger deal than he was, at least in death metal circles.

That was another reason to keep their interaction limited to occasional guitar practice. Because, not only were they fellow addicts in a rehab clinic, they were also colleagues in the real world. The opportunities for disaster and awkwardness were multiplied.

But that was then. This was now. He was standing in the snowy wilderness on the porch of a rustic cabin, and once again life had thrown them together. He was here because of a pamphlet she’d left in the rec room.

A hot, heavy feeling bloomed in his chest. This was such a crazy coincidence, like in those silly rom-coms that his sister adored. The thought invoked mingled tendrils of hope and trepidation that crept around his belly like vines, but Curt shook off the feeling with bitter regret. He was still unready to begin anything serious. So this was just his past insisting upon haunting him.

“Um…” Dezra frowned and shifted her door slightly. “Do you wanna come in so I don’t let the heat out?”

Heat flooded Curt’s face. How long had he been standing there, staring at her like a dope while all of the warm air rushed out of her cabin?

“Yeah. Sorry.”

He followed her inside and froze in surprise. The interior of her cabin was almost a carbon copy of his, with its rustic pine walls, cozy living room set with a checkered sofa, fur rugs, and roaring fireplace However, unlike Curt’s cabin, Dezra’s looked like Santa’s workshop had exploded. Wreaths, nutcrackers, garland, and other Christmas decorations covered nearly every surface. A lifetime of his mom’s kitschy efforts couldn’t compete. Even the guitar amp in the corner of the living room was decked out with a big red bow.

“Whoa,” he breathed.

Dezra crossed her arms over her chest, looking endearingly shy and defensive in her Krampus sweater. At least he approved of that. A Christmas-themed horror monster was more up his alley than the rest of this stuff.

“I like Christmas, okay?” she said.

“No, it’s fine.” He held up his hands in surrender, hoping none of his reflexive disdain for the holiday showed, knowing his personal baggage wasn’t her fault. “It looks…great in here. Really festive. I just have lights in my windows, and that’s it because I’m more of a Halloween guy. And because they came with the cabin.”

She grinned. “Oh, I love Halloween too. Which did you like best when you were a kid? Dressing up or trick-or-treating?”

“Dressing up,” Curt answered. “I mean, candy’s great, but I always loved being someone or something else for a night.”

“That’s how I always felt about it,” Dezra said. She paused. “Well, I would have felt that way. My parents never let me go trick-or-treating.”

“Really?” Curt couldn’t hide his shock. Her parents had stopped her from going out on Halloween? That sounded like they were even bigger dicks than his own. But he didn’t want to vocalize that sentiment, so he turned and let his gaze rove the winter wonderland she’d arranged.

“Are they joining you?” he asked after a moment, then clarified. “For the holiday.” Christmas was eight days away.

Dezra blushed, her skin tinting like cinnamon. “No. It’s just me.”

She gave him an arch look as if daring him to laugh at her for going through all this trouble just for herself, but Curt nodded. Solitude had been his goal, so he had no right to judge anyone for taking the same route. Hell, maybe she was estranged from her fun-hating family like he was avoiding his own. He pictured her parents in his mind, dour Baptists or something, fully outraged that their daughter was playing metal instead of singing gospel. Was that better or worse than his own folks, who’d been disapproving of him going into any kind of music? A sense of bitter alienation washed over him again.

“I’m spending Christmas solo too,” he finally said.

Yet, why did it seem so wrong to him that Dezra was? With her decorations, snug sweater, and gleeful singing, it was kinda sad to see her alone.

Still, it was none of his business.
Brooklyn Ann

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