Excerpt from . . .
by Margaret Watson
Sweat dripped into her eyes, making them sting.
She let them burn as she finished the complicated
drum solo of 'In the Air'.
As the cymbals crashed and faded, Paul strummed a
chord on his guitar, the rest of the band began singing
again, and the pub exploded into applause.
The microphone stands jiggled as people stomped
on the floor.
Evenly spaced, the silver poles were bright bars
in front of her.
Caging her and the drums, protecting her.
Keeping her safe.
The applause steadied her, made it easier to lose
herself in the music.
Tonight, she needed that release.
It had been three years, but she'd never played
publicly on the anniversary of Diesel's death.
It was harder to handle than she'd thought it
The lights blazing down on her turned the faces
of the audience into dark shadows, but they didn't hide
the figure waving an open cell phone in the air.
That moving streak of color, the twenty-first
century version of a lighter at a concert, jerked her
back to reality.
She'd let her need to forget go too far.
People were paying attention to her.
She shouldn't have let herself get carried away
with that solo.
She should have reined in her passion for
performing, her craving to drum.
She should have played a bland, unmemorable riff.
wouldn't have wanted her to be bland.
Diesel would have insisted on her best.
An ache of misery swelled in her throat.
She should have told Paul she couldn't make it
She should have stayed at home and mourned
But she'd convinced herself that this would help.
That the heat of the lights on her face, the
sweat running down her chest and pooling between her
breasts, the ache in her arms would soothe her.
That the power of the music, pouring through her
body and into her fingers, her voice, would allow her to
forget everything else.
Instead, it brought all the memories flooding
flashing a grin as they played, completely in sync,
Leading the cheers as she finished a drum solo.
Lying dead on the bed in their hotel room.
They finished 'In the Air' and segued right into
'Can't You See.'
No drum solo in this one.
No vocal solo.
She wasn't sure she'd have been able to sing right now.
She took a deep breath, wiped away the sweat with
her sleeve, and tried to bury her grief.
Two songs later, Paul stood his guitar on its
rack and nodded to the other band members.
Fifteen minute break.
Hank set his guitar down and headed outside to
on keyboards, fiddled with his controls and amplifier
for a moment.
When she'd been with the Redheads, she'd
coordinated her drinks with the sets.
First break, first drink.
The music always heightened that emptiness inside
one only vodka could fill.
Delaney leaned against the cold window at her
back and let the craving wash over her.
If she closed her eyes, she could taste the
ice-cold Grey Goose.
Feel the heat as it slid down her throat.
Tonight, more than most, she would welcome the
oblivion it could provide.
The thirst was always worse on March twentieth.
Fingering the AA medallion in the pocket of her
jeans, she slid off the stool, set her drumsticks on the
embroidered seat, and wove through the cords and mics
and guitar stands toward the bar.
"Great set, Delaney".
"Loved your drum solo."
"Can you guys play 'Landslide' in the next set?"
Someone always asked for that song.
She forced a smile at Ian, the professor who
showed up almost every Friday night.
"I'll talk to Paul.
He does the set lists."
As she headed for the bar, Quinn saw her coming
and poured her coffee into a mug.
He set it on the marble surface, and she picked
it up and inhaled the rich scent.
She wished it was vodka.
"Made it fresh," Quinn said as she closed her
eyes and sipped. He'd
ground it fresh, too.
“Nothing but the best for our star.”
He nodded at the crowds sitting at the booths and
tables and standing three deep at the bar.
“People are getting here early on Fridays to make
sure they have a table, and that means we're selling
more food and drinks.
Everyone wants to hear you.”
“I’m not the star,” she said sharply.
“They want to hear the
There was a wet ring on the marble of the bar.
As she held her coffee, she concentrated on
soaking up every drop with a napkin.
"Don't fool yourself, Delaney.
We never had crowds like this until you started
playing with Paul and the guys.
So would our
something to eat?"
“Maybe later," she managed to say.
One of the pub's chicken pot pies would be good,
but her stomach had clenched so tightly when she heard
star that she
could barely get the coffee down.
"Okay if I use your office?
I need to change my shirt."
"Sure, go ahead."
Delaney closed the door behind her.
The air was cooler than in the pub, and she
shivered in the damp tee shirt that clung to her skin.
She shucked it off and slipped into a dry one
from her bag – a ritual between sets.
Just like the sweaty one, the dry shirt billowed
around her body and hung to the middle of her thighs.
Paul had asked why she was camouflaging herself,
but what did he know?
She needed room to move when she drummed.
More comfortable now, she sank into Quinn's
office chair to drink her coffee and try to manage the
Once they'd escaped, it was hard to shove them back into
Three minutes before the band was supposed to
start playing again, she left the sanctuary of the
the way to the front of the pub, she veered toward the
had the coffee pot ready before she reached him.
“You’re good,” she said as she held out her mug.
“Some people think so.”
He glanced toward the corner of the pub, where
his wife Maddie was talking to one of the patrons.
Delaney rolled her eyes.
“God save me from people in love.”
Her stomach settled and she took a deep breath.
This was exactly what she needed – to talk and
joke with Quinn just like she always did.
To remind herself that this was just another
“Don't think much of yourself, do you?"
"Maddie thinks I hang the stars, and that's all I
He pulled a beer and slid it to another patron,
then added, "Lots of new faces in here tonight –
probably the ice fishing tournament. You should sing a
few more songs in the next set.
Maybe they'll come back tomorrow night."
"I don't need to sing more," she said, trying to
keep her voice light.
"Where else are they going to go?
The Harp is the best bar in Otter Tail."
pub," Quinn said automatically.
"That's what I meant."
She hid her smile in a swallow of coffee.
She'd spent enough time at the Harp to know how
to distract Quinn.
"There are guys here from all over the country,"
he said, passing a basket of pretzels to another
"They love you.
It's a huge potential audience."
all over the country?
A huge potential audience?
God help her.
She sank onto a bar stool.
"Our Otter Tail audience is plenty for us."
She didn't want an audience from all over the
thought about the custom furniture business she was
nurturing, the friends she'd made in town.
She felt safe in Otter Tail.
She'd managed to bury her past, but if someone
recognized her as Chantal, everything would come
She could forget about her placid, peaceful life.
She'd be lucky if she could stay in Otter Tail.
The chance of some anyone recognizing her was
slim to none.
She wiped her sweaty palms down the sides of her
think Paul is getting ready to start.”
Quinn nodded as she hurried away.
When she reached
her drum set, she set the coffee on the floor beside
her, then sat down behind her drums and made herself
think boring thoughts.
That's what she needed to be for the rest of the
adjusted her snare drum, the door of the pub opened and
a tall man walked in.
He sat on a stool and talked to Quinn for a few
moments, then leaned against the bar.
His gaze touched on the décor and the other
patrons before it reached the band.
As he studied them, something about his eyes
reminded her of Diesel.
She fumbled on the floor for her mug and took a
drink of coffee.
Everything reminded her of Diesel tonight.
It had been stupid to try to perform.
she could do this.
She wasn't going to let a stranger rattle her.
And despite that flash of familiarity, he
She would have remembered if she'd met him before.
His dark, wavy hair brushed the edge of his
collar, and his narrow face was all angles and planes.
He had to be a fishermen – the lines around his
eyes hinted at days squinting in the sun.
Most women would be intrigued by that face.
Challenged by the air of mystery and tension
swirling around him.
She didn't get involved with strangers, even ones
with compelling faces.
She wasn't Chantal anymore.
Whoever he was, he didn't live in Otter Tail.
His jacket was battered leather, and his jeans
were faded and white at the stress points.
She couldn’t tell what color his eyes were, but
they scanned the room, cataloging then dismissing one
person after another.
The people in this town were mostly open,
trusting, easy to read.
Not this guy.
No one from Otter Tail could slice through a room
with a glance like that.
When he focused on the band again, Delaney wanted
to duck behind the bass drum and hide.
She didn’t want those eyes on her.
It felt as though he could ferret out anyone’s
secrets with the intensity of his gaze.
“Okay, are we ready to go?
Any additions to the playlist?"
Paul's voice drew her attention from the stranger
at the bar, and Delaney, grateful for the interruption.
The four of them conferred quickly, agreeing on
teh next fifteen songs.
I got three requests for it," he added.
"Fine," she sighed.
She'd managed to steer them away from songs that
usually featured her.
It was too much to hope that she could get away
without singing at all during the set.
"Not the first one, though."
Everyone needs another jolt of energy.
We'll save ‘Landslide’ for later in the set,”
He strummed the first chord of ‘Rockin’ in the Free
World’, and Delaney closed her eyes as her hands banged
out the rhythm.
As she lost herself in the music, Diesel's
laughing face flashed in her memory.
She forgot about the man who'd just walked in.
She forgot about her vow to hold herself back, to
try to keep herself separate from the music and the
All she wanted to do was get through the evening.
So she could go home and mourn privately for her
The woman behind the drums couldn’t be Chantal.
Sam shifted on the bar stool and leaned forward,
trying to see her more clearly.
This woman was a petite blond with short hair, no
visible tattoos and a face of delicate beauty and
There was absolutely no resemblance to the notorious
rocker with black, spiky hair tipped with pink and the
tattoos covering her upper arms.
She didn't have Chantal's self-indulgent
expression and hard eyes, either.
His source must have been wrong.
But the PI hadn’t been wrong yet.
Every lead he’d gotten from the guy had panned
out, from the name of the town where she was born to the
name she was using now.
Sam had paid more money than he could afford for
the PI’s services, but if this woman was Chantal, it had
been worth every penny.
When it led to a little pub in this town with the
stupid name, he’d been confident he’d found her.
He’d been sure he would recognize her the moment
he saw her.
How could he not?
Chantal had ruined his brother’s life.
Was responsible for his death.
The blond sat behind the two guitar players, her
face almost hidden by the microphone.
The drum set concealed the rest of her body, but
when she moved, her shirt flowed around her and he saw a
hint of curves.
Her arms were those of a drummer - toned and
firm, although he only caught a glimpse of them beneath
her baggy tee.
The shapeless shirt was the complete opposite of
the tight, provocative outfits she used to wear when she
The three men played a few chords, adjusted their
microphones and put their heads together for a moment.
But Chantal, if it was her, said a few words then
sat with her back against the window, sipping from a
She’d always drank from a mug during a show.
It had held Grey Goose, ice cold from the
Chantal had expensive taste.
Sam wondered if the bartender in this place kept
her vodka bottle frozen.
“You here for the tournament?" the bartender
asked him, and Sam swiveled around to face him.
“Sitting on my ass in a little shack on a frozen
The bartender’s mouth quivered.
Not an ice fisherman.
I’m Quinn Murphy.”
He held out his hand, and Sam shook it.
“Nice to meet you, Sam.
What can I get you?”
“How about a beer?”
He'd have to drink one beer, or the bartender
would wonder why he was here.
But he'd only have one – he didn't want the woman
watching Rennie and Leo to smell the alcohol on his
He'd told her he had to work tonight.
“Whatever you have.”
“How about a local beer?
We’ve got a pale ale from a Green Bay brewery called Hopasaurus Rex that’s
sure as hell wasn’t in Miami anymore.
I’ll give it a try.”
As Murphy pulled a glass of pale gold beer, he
said, “If you’re just passing through town, you picked a
He nodded toward the musicians.
“They’re our most popular band.”
“They have a name?”
“We just call them Paul’s band.”
“Are they local?”
The keyboard player comes in from Sturgeon Falls.”
He glanced at the band and saw Chantal take
How much was she drinking at a time now?
"How often do they play?”
The bartender studied him a little more
“Once a week, usually.
This weekend, they’re covering tomorrow night,
long are you going to be here?"
“A while," he said easily.
"I've got business in the area.
If they’re as good as you say, I’ll come to hear
“They’re that good.”
He studied Sam for a moment longer, then began
filling another glass for a customer several seats down.
“Maybe we’ll see you around, then.”
Sam settled against the bar.
He hadn't wanted to come after Chantal.
All he'd wanted to do was forget about her.
Forget what she'd done to his brother.
To his niece and nephew.
Sam had failed his brother, and Chantal was a
reminder of that.
Guilt swept over him again, and nothing could
make it go away.
When child protective services had called and
told him the kids were alone, he'd told the woman he'd
hire someone to take care of them.
Her voice had gone from friendly and sympathetic
to cold when she told him he was the emergency contact
their mother had listed.
He had custody of them now.
He didn't have the time, the energy or the
patience to take care of two kids.
But Heather's breakdown hadn't given him any
When the PI had called to say he'd found Chantal,
Sam had still been trying to hire someone to care for
Leo and Rennie.
One prospective nanny after another had fallen
through, and he'd been forced to take them himself.
That meant dragging them to Otter Tail.
What was supposed to be a quick visit, in and out
by himself, had turned into an ordeal.
Rennie got air sick on the plane.
She got car sick on the road.
Leo had been sullen and resentful and barely
spoke to him.
The tiny motel room left him no escape from the
couldn't even put them to bed and close a door.
He'd better be able to get those tapes from
He wasn't sure how much more up close and
personal time he could take with the kids.
Diesel's children needed the money those tapes
would bring in.
They needed to be out of the limelight and
The school he'd picked out for them would do all that
They'd have the best education money could buy.
And they would be shielded from the paparazzi,
the constant attention their mother received.
If he could do that for Diesel's kids, it would
give him at least a little redemption for the way he'd
failed their father.
But in order to get them in the school, he needed
Money he'd get from the tapes he was certain
Or Delaney Spencer, as she was calling herself
now. It was
the least she could do, after what she'd done to Diesel.
At the familiar burn in his gut, he leaned
against the bar.
He didn't give a damn about Chantal, if it really
was her sitting behind those drums.
All he wanted was enough money to get Leo and
Rennie off his hands and into a safe environment.
The guitar players slid onto stools, the
keyboardist ran off some chords, and the noise level in
the pub dropped.
Then they started playing.
The music was nothing like the Red Headed
It wasn’t hard rock, pounding rhythm, angry
They played covers from a wide variety of bands, and
they did it well, Sam admitted grudgingly.
The drummer was good.
She didn’t overpower the other instruments, she
didn’t draw attention to herself.
But it was clear she was talented.
She didn’t sing, though.
There was a microphone hanging in front of her,
but for the first several songs, she kept her mouth
Then the keyboard player hit a chord, the guitar
players let their hands fall away from their
instruments, and the drummer set her sticks on her lap
and pulled the microphone toward her.
The murmurs in the room quieted.
It felt as if the whole room held its breath.
He played with a cardboard Guinness coaster as he
The drummer's chest rose as she drew a breath.
She launched into a poignant Fleetwood Mac song,
and he snapped the cardboard coaster in two.
There was no mistaking that voice.
He’d found her.