Stars Awry Ch. 06
Brandon could not stop thinking about Isabel.
Following their little adventure inside the elevator, he had hoped to devour her after they returned to their hotel room. To his dismay, Isabel had dozed off on their drive to the hotel, which he had half-expected after her four hard cocktails. But having her soft, warm body next to him and yet being unable to make love to her had left him restless for most of the night, until she had rolled over in her sleep in the wee hours and started grinding into him. Kisses turned into passion and passion into urgent, breathless sex on a moment’s notice, their tired, sleepy bodies perfectly melding together as one.
That morning, he awoke feeling more refreshed than usual. Isabel was still fast asleep when he headed downstairs for breakfast, and later, the soundcheck at Aviva Stadium.
He heard Nathan talking to Ginny on the phone. She was going to be at the show, but had chosen to remain backstage with the twins. Kevin would be there, and so would Rose. It made him miss his wife even more. She was not working that night and he could not deny her some quiet time away from the action.
They had received news that Ben was walking again and could be brought home to Sligo soon, and he knew it would put Isabel in a good mood.
It almost made him want to thank whoever was up there for bringing happiness back into their lives. He could not wait to have Ben in the band again. Then everything would be just as it was meant to be.
Brandon walked onto the stage, microphone in hand, watching as Nathan and Kyle pulled a ridiculous dance move in an empty stadium. They had spent the morning signing albums at three different places. Fans had turned up in gigantic numbers, waiting for hours in line to have their autograph and maybe a photograph. They had the highest regard for their followers, they really did. It had made them what they were. But sometimes, they wanted to experience the luxury of sleeping in or having a late breakfast. Brandon had not had either in a long time.
“Rehearsals start tomorrow, lads,” Nathan announced as they took a break from the soundcheck. “We meet our choreographer and discuss the tracklist.”
“Right.” Mark heaved a deep sigh as he grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler, looking almost annoyed at the reminder. “We should keep it simple this time, for Ben.”
Brandon laughed. “Ben loves to dance,” he said. “You, on the other hand…”
“Yeah. I don’t.” He rolled his eyes. “I’m a singer, right? I shouldn’t have to dance.”
“Tours don’t sell out because of the music, Markie,” Kyle pointed out. “They do because people want to see us up close, moving and shaking. It’s about the experience.”
“Preach, mate.” Mark walked back to the stage, leaving the others to laugh behind him. It was a big show tonight, nearly fifty-thousand people. They had performed in front of massive crowds over the years, but every time he thought of the 85,000 people that were going to turn up at Croke Park stadium, Brandon could not help the little flutter of nervousness. He prayed Ben would be back before that show. They could not do it without him.
In the afternoon, they returned to the hotel for an interview over lunch. Brandon could not find Isabel in their suite or anywhere in the hotel. He later learned she had gone out with G.
It had always relieved him beyond measure that Isabel found a friend in Nathan’s wife. Despite shuttling between two countries, having two jobs, and interacting with several people every day, she had never grown close to anyone outside of the five of them, never showing interest in making friends or meeting new people and regularly turning down invites to parties and social gatherings. Brandon could not blame people for trying to be friendly with her. She was attractive and talented, and easily roused curiosity. Photographers could not have enough of her when she went out with him, the media never stopped praising her beauty or her gift for music or the work she did with blind children. A year ago, when she had performed Disney’s Let it Go with her students at London’s Cadogan Hall, he and the rest of the audience had listened with bated breath as she blazed note after note of the popular song. Afterward, the press had chased her for interviews in vain.
Regardless of the attention she garnered or the accolades she won, Isabel still felt most comfortable in her own cocoon. Being a celebrity wife was never her forté.
“Are you still worried about the band breaking up?” Louis asked them while they lounged on the private patio of the hotel. It had not snowed in a few weeks, and the sun had warmed up the day. They had taken off their jackets, letting some of the warmth soak into their skin.
When the lads said nothing in reply, Louis laughed. “I would never want you to end what you have,” he said. “So the decision to stay or leave is in your hands, not mine.”
“No one’s leaving,” Nathan clarified.
“Exactly.” Louis rose from the chair, sliding his hands into his trousers pockets. In the years they had known that man, he had never worn anything other than dress shirts and trousers. It was always his idea to make them wear suits for all of their public appearances. If they ever turned up in casual clothing for a TV interview or performance, he did not hesitate to rebuke them.
“Accidents happen,” he added. “Life doesn’t always go as planned. But it never stops, does it?” He turned to look at them. “Ben started his physical therapy today. He’s walking again and his head injury has healed well. I’ve been speaking to his doctors. With physical therapy and rest, there’s no reason why he cannot be back before the Croke Park show.”
“You’re interested in his well-being only because you want to keep the band together?” Brandon frowned. He was glad that Isabel was not there. She would not be happy about Louis turning her brother’s accident into business.
“Is that what you think?” Surprise spread across his face. “I first met all of you when you were teenagers, barely out of school. I nurtured you, raised you to be popstar material. Do you really think I have no affection for any of you?”
He sighed, walking back to his chair. “When Stephen died, it hit us hard,” he said. “You do remember how broken I was for weeks, don’t you? What makes you think Ben’s accident did not hit me as hard? Just because I was calm enough to make rational decisions?”
“We make you money, Louis,” Brandon scoffed.
“Yes, you do,” he nodded. “But you’re still human and so am I. Don’t treat me like Simon. I’m not him. I don’t just think about money. I genuinely care about all of you and your families, even when you think I’m doing it only for the band.”
He rose again, this time heading for the door. “You’re the best I ever had,” he said, looking over his shoulder. “Show is in three hours. Get ready.”
Kyle squeezed Brandon’s shoulder, a minute of silence descending on them. The emotions were still raw. They felt tired, as though the fun had suddenly gone out of what they did. It felt forced, incomplete with a fifth of the band missing. But big money was riding on them. Despite the hurt and the heartbreak, they needed to carry on.
“Come on,” Nathan motioned to them as he rose from his lounge chair. The others followed him, picking up their jackets and sunglasses. “It’s time to be a boyband.”
The atmosphere was incredible. As the lights came on, bathing the stage in a brilliant blue glow, they saw the screaming, leaping audience. It was unbelievable that people were willing to brave the cold or spend a month’s income to watch their favourite band perform.
The lights danced as the prelude to their first song started, images rapidly moving on the screen behind them. They fixed their suits, adjusted the in-ear monitors, and turned on their microphones. Ben would have loved it. He could dance the night away.
With each song, the applause was deafening. They engaged the crowd, asking them to sing along, clap and scream, and the people obliged, their roar enveloping the stadium. At some point, they found themselves enjoying the moment, the energy creeping back into them, encouraged by their devoted followers. That was so much more than their job; it was their dream come true. They were the biggest success story of all time, and Ben would not want them to be morose because of his accident. He was part of that success, part of the family. They had to keep the show going in his absence.
After a quick costume change and an interval, they returned to the stage, and Brandon’s breath caught in his throat to find Isabel in the front row. He stood still for a long minute, forgetting the lineup as he stared at her amid the crowd of people.
“Brandon,” Mark spoke into the microphone, startling him. He smiled awkwardly as he walked to his place, unable to take his eyes off his wife. She had said she wanted to stay at the hotel, and even if she did come to the show, he had expected her to be backstage with Ginny. But she was there, front and centre, glamorous in black high-waisted pants and a velvet jacket, hair twisted up in a chic updo.
He looked at the other lads for some confirmation that he was not dreaming. No, he was not. Isabel was looking up at them, and the lads were smiling at her, amused that she had decided to surprise them. With her beauty drowning out everything else, Brandon found it hard to focus on the music. The black of her clothes matched her hair, highlighting her pale, luminous skin. The boots gave her some height, allowing him to seek her out from the crowd. And her big, brown eyes… they sparkled with mischief. He swallowed hard, realising the evening had just begun.
“Uh… Brandy?” It was Kyle this time. He looked at the lads to find all of them staring, waiting for him to start singing. The prelude was playing and the crowd was cheering, but he had eyes for only one person.
“It starts off with a heartbeat…
Then it hits you like a drum…”
His voice faltered when Isabel proceeded to pull down the zipper of her fitted jacket. Brandon closed his eyes. If he continued to look at her, he would not get a single note right.
“You’re deep down in a feeling
But it’s only just begun…”
When he opened his eyes, they went wide. Isabel had pulled the zipper all the way down to reveal a black racerback crop top underneath the jacket. His jaw dropped. The deep cleavage, the creamy skin, the perfect hint of midriff…
He felt sweat forming underneath his shirt. Swallowing again to moisten his dry throat, he continued the song.
“You’re looking up at the ceiling
Wonder why you can’t get to sleep
‘Cause you’re deeper in that feeling
A feeling that nothing’s ever gonna be…”
Isabel was swaying her hips, every curve of her svelte body moving to the rhythm. She raised her arms above her head in a smooth motion, reaching for her hairpin, and he lost his voice again. Nathan saw his plight and decided to help him with the song.
“And I’ll never ever know
how I ever did without you…”
Her dark tresses were now flowing across her shoulders and down her back, almost blending with her clothes. It was too much for him to take. He grabbed the microphone hard until his knuckles hurt, to take his mind off what he wanted to do to her tonight.
“Some things in life you can’t forget, you know…
I can’t find the words I can’t begin to tell you where, when, or how
All I know now
Is that all my dreams came true,
When I met you…”
The audience raised their hands and clapped to the rhythm of the song, and Isabel joined them, singing along to the music, shaking her hips and putting her hands together to every bass and beat. Her ebullience was infectious, her beauty indelible, and he tried his best to push through the wall of lust building inside him and continue with the performance.
It was not hard for him to switch off the rest of the world when they were on stage. But suddenly he seemed incapable of it. Using the microphone stand as a buffer, he tried to hide the growing pressure in his pants. When she flicked her hair back and gave him a sultry smile, the sheer blow made Brandon fumble with the microphone. It fell onto the stage with a loud thud and an ear-splitting shrill. A gasp went through the crowd, and everybody instinctively shrank on their spots. The lads cast him a sidelong stare while singing the last words of the song, half concerned, half annoyed. His goof-ups on stage were famous – from forgetting his lines to dropping the microphone – but it was never because of a woman.
That little minx!
Laughing, he picked up his microphone and muttered a quick apology. Kyle and Nathan joked that he must be getting old because his reflexes were not as quick. Isabel was laughing too, her cheeks flushed with colour. Brandon inhaled, knowing what he needed to do once the show was over.
Jerome Macintosh was striding toward the bar, where Isabel was sharing a laugh with Rose. The after-party had started not more than twenty minutes ago, but the senior producer from the record label was already unsteady.
Isabel stiffened when he swayed up to her, reeking of vodka.
“You look so sultry in black,” he slurred, ignoring Kyle’s fiancée to lean into Isabel. “I could barely recognise you.”
“It’s good to see you too,” she lied, forcing an uncomfortable smile as she tried to move away from the inebriated man. A hand brushed her midriff, and she flinched involuntarily, regretting leaving her jacket behind.
“Why aren’t you drinking?” he exclaimed, beckoning the bartender. “Let me buy you a drink. What’s your poison of choice?”
“I’m not in the mood tonight, thanks.” Isabel shifted on the barstool, but not enough to get away from his reach. Her heart sank when Rose left her stool and disappeared in the distance, allowing the stocky, bearded blighter to lean closer to her.
“That’s what drinking is for,” he laughed against her ear, his hot, alcoholic breath making her a little dizzy. “To get you in the mood.”
“I really don’t want it,” she repeated, but her firm tone did little to discourage him.
“Hey, Bobby!” He shouted to the bartender, the hand that was not holding the glass of vodka trailing down her bare arm. “Get this sexy lady here a—”
“She said she didn’t want it.”
The low, deep male voice behind her made her breathe a sigh of relief. Brandon draped her jacket across her shoulders, then drew her into his arms.
“My wife isn’t much of a drinker, Mr Macintosh,” he said quietly, the words measured and careful. “I hope you understand.”
The said man looked between them with eyes that were quickly turning bloodshot, almost as though learning for the first time that she was married.
Brandon smiled down at her face. “Come on, sweetheart, let’s call it a night.”
Taking her hand, he helped her down from the high barstool and then led her toward the exit. They made the short elevator ride upstairs in stony silence. Brandon unlocked the door of their hotel room and stepped in, turning to face her after flicking on a light.
“What were you doing without your jacket?” he demanded, crossing his arms. Isabel shut the door and lowered her head.
“I didn’t know–”
“The public never gets to see your skin, Izzi,” he announced, an irate gleam entering his hazel eyes. “Don’t you know what it does to those scumbags when you show your body?”
“I’m sorry,” she murmured, her eyes meeting the floor. “I don’t exactly think about the effect on scumbags when I dress for my husband.”
“I wasn’t the one sexually harassing you there.” He flung his jacket onto a chair and unlaced his shoes. “Thanks to Rose for letting me know.”
Brandon walked into the bathroom and turned on the light. “You threatened to smash my face when I tried to be possessive about you,” he groused, running the tap. “I wonder why you wouldn’t do the same with someone trying to molest you.”
“You think it’s alright for me to smash the face of one of the producers?”
“If it’s needed,” he answered between splashing water on his face. “At least I would know that my wife doesn’t hesitate to stand up for herself.”
He took in a steadying breath. “I wanted to smash his face when I saw him touching you. What does he think you are? One of those escorts that he throws money at?”
“Brandy, you’re crossing the line.”
“And he wasn’t? Remember when we caught him staring down your dress, like he was seeing breasts for the first time?
“That was a long time ago. Calm down.”
He turned off the water and came out of the bathroom. “It wouldn’t make me much of a man if I remained calm while a drunkard forced himself on my wife.”
“He wouldn’t have done anything,” she retorted.
“Oh, not much. Maybe just snogged you. Or felt your breasts. Or tried to lure you to his room.”
“Okay, you know what?” Isabel slipped out of her shoes and went up to the sofa, throwing her jacket and her earrings onto the seat. “It was my mistake. I shouldn’t have dressed up or planned to give you a sexy surprise. I’m so sorry. I should have considered all other men in this world before carefully putting together my outfit for the evening.”
She stepped past him to enter the bathroom and slammed the door.