Words from the author:
by Lynne Connolly
Murder City Ravens is a band on the cusp – of something. When the Nightstar series begins, the band is in near-meltdown after the drugs overdose of two of its members. Charismatic frontman Scott, aka Maxxx Syccorraxxx is burned out, and starts a new career when he gets out of rehab. His story features in the first Nightstar book, In the Mood. But he’s never coming back. The band recruit two new members, spiky, difficult Englishman Zazz and Japanese-American experimental musician Riku and restart their career in a different direction.
Through all the crises, drummer Hunter Ostrander carries on, but he has problems that he has to face when he goes home to Stockholm on the Swedish leg of the band’s world tour. Notably old flame, beautiful Sabina. Like Hunter’s mother, Sabina is deaf, and works for Hunter’s mother as one of her assistants in her political campaign for deaf separatism.
I don’t write “issue” books. Neither do I write books where the handicap is the most important part of the person. But “handicap” is a derogatory word that many people who have a “difference” object to. In Hunter’s youth, he was the one with the “difference.” Desperate for attention when his mother is busy elsewhere he learns the drums and other percussion instruments, but she still isn’t interested.
He gives up and learns to live his life. But he’s never forgotten Sabina and she’s never forgotten him. When the inevitable happens, they put an “end by” date on their affair, but they are too involved with each other.
Sabina’s deafness doesn’t define her. She is a beautiful, intelligent woman who happens to be deaf. When she gets the opportunity to restore her hearing, via a pioneering operation at Uppsala University, which is currently being tested in real life, by the way, she has some heartbreaking decisions to make.
Does she have the operation and hear Murder City Ravens in concert, including the man she loves? But if she does she loses her lifestyle, her job, her career. And maybe part of what she is.
In each Nightstar book the protagonists have to work through changes in their lives and learn to live with them. Each one has a different decision to make. The overall arc of the series is of a band in transition, in the process of going from “well known” to “stellar” and coping with the problems that extreme fame brings with it.
Hunter and Sabina both have choices to make, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what they decide!
She stood on the pavement and stared up at the huge front of the Lydmar hotel. It was one of the tall, white buildings, coolly classical, that gave Stockholm so much of its character, situated in the center of the city overlooking the broad expanse of the Norrström River. She’d never been inside. As was true of most local residents, hotels meant little to her.
Sabina didn’t belong here. As she walked through the glass doors and into the main body of the hotel, she wished she did. Someone had designed this place with an eye to style. The foyer didn’t feel soulless, and when Hunter touched her elbow to guide her to the restaurant, she felt almost comfortable, which she rarely did in the presence of luxury and expense. Strange. Perhaps it was because she was with him. No. That wasn’t possible. Just that she was exploring a part of Stockholm that she’d not visited before. On her days off, she sometimes came to this district to visit the museum, so it wasn’t as if she didn’t know it at all.
She hadn’t expected a hotel restaurant to contain a wall of bookshelves, neither had she expected sofas and comfortable chairs framing the tables. The maître d’ took them to their table without delay, a place set to one side of the restaurant, not in the full light. Then she understood. Hunter had become a local celebrity.
She waited until the maître d’ left them with their menus before she ventured to speak. She was sitting with her back to the restaurant and most of the sources of light. Frowning, she concentrated on his lips so as not to miss a word. “Did you know I was in Stockholm?” A faint hope, but not one she had any faith in, that he’d come back to see her as well as to visit his mother.
“I didn’t know. Emmelie never mentioned it.” He met her gaze, his own dark from the shadows, and maybe something else? No, she couldn’t think like that. Then his face lightened and he smiled. It was like the sun coming out. “But I’m glad.” He glanced around. “It’s too dark here, isn’t it?”
He beckoned the waiter and had a quiet word with him. Hunter switched from English to Swedish with the ease of someone supremely comfortable in both languages. She wondered if he had an accent of any kind. She’d love to hear it. They always spoke English together, even used ASL or SEE when they signed, dating right back to the days they’d first met.
The waiter took them to another table near a window where the light still filtered in from outside. It was only seven thirty; it wouldn’t get dark for another couple of hours. She could see him much better here. How thoughtful of him to notice and have the table changed. “Thank you,” she said.
He smiled. “I want you to enjoy the meal. Have you decided what you want to eat?”
“Scallops and steak,” she said. She’d barely glanced at the menu. “They’re famous for it here.”
He raised a brow. She remembered those eyebrows, browner than his hair, matching his lashes and the hair on his body. No, not going there. Her mind raced on, as if it had a will of its own, ignoring her commands. Six years ago, he’d had a beautiful body, only a light sprinkling of hair on his chest, his shoulders already strongly developed from playing his percussion instruments. Then, he’d considered a career as a classical percussionist but his mother had shown no interest when he’d told her. “What do I care?” she’d said. “I can’t hear any of it. Choose what you like best to do.”
Nobody except Sabina had seen his hurt, because he’d covered it with insouciance, shrugged and left the room. That was when Sabina had gone to him. Just before he left.
One thing she had to know, had wondered for all this time. “Why didn’t you write to me after you left?”
He blinked, eyes wide, and touched his finger to her lips in a gesture that left her utterly shaken. She sat back out of his reach and stared at him, unwilling to miss a single word.
He signed his answer. “This is a quiet place and you were a little loud there.” Flushing, she closed her eyes before opening them again when she thought she’d regained her composure. He was waiting for her. This time he used his vocal cords, but in English.
“Let’s talk about other things over dinner.”
Was he trying to avoid talking to her about the things that had caused her so much pain? Probably, especially if she’d shouted her question.
She thought her appetite had gone, but the scallops proved her wrong. Every bit as delicately flavored and tender as the reviews had promised. A tiny sliver of black truffle lay over the top and she saved it for last. She glanced up from time to time, her habit in case she was missing his words, but he knew how to communicate with the deaf. He’d touch her hand or tap the table where she could see it if he wanted to speak to her.
He smiled when she glanced up. “You have a lovely accent, you know that?”
She shook her head. “I thought I spoke English clearly.”
“It is clear, but slightly accented.” He stared at her, his eyes unreadable. She couldn’t tell what he was thinking and she’d studied body language closely enough that she could usually tell.
“Are they playing music?”
He smiled. “Quietly. A classical piece. Do you know Chopin’s nocturnes?”
Tears sprang to her eyes and because he was watching her so closely, he saw them. He touched her hand. No more, just that. She took care to keep her voice down, regulating the strength of the vibrations in her throat. “My mother used to play them when I was little. I remember a mood rather than the notes.”
“I’m sorry. I was trying to give you a sense of what’s going on. I should have known better.” He broke visual contact, turning his attention to his food.
He shouldn’t feel bad about saying that. “You were right. How were you to know? The memories are good.”
A smile flickered across his lips, gone as soon as it had arrived, and he looked up again. “Thank you. I didn’t deserve that. It’s just that music means, well, a lot to me. I always notice when it’s playing.”
“Did it always mean so much?”
A simple but devastating answer. To love music so much and grow up in a silent household—what torture he must have undergone. “When you were a child, you must have felt so alone.”
He shrugged. “I found friends. I went to a hearing school. It was okay.”
He’d clammed up. She’d find out no more from him now, but he’d opened his mind a crack and given her a glimpse of the inner man. The hint only made her hungry for more. She needed a reason for the way he’d hurt her when he’d walked away and she knew the answer couldn’t be simple. Turning his back on their affair after one night was one thing, but he’d also repudiated their friendship and that had been the hardest to bear.
They ate, chatted about inconsequential matters, both of them avoiding topics that might mean more to them. He told her about America, a place she’d always meant to visit, and she told him about Iceland, with its economic problems and its sheer beauty. They talked about London, somewhere they’d both visited but not together. And Malmö, where the band was due to play in a couple of days’ time. He told her about Murder City Ravens, the band that, it soon became obvious, meant more to him than anything else in life. She realized he did more than play the drums. He was playing with percussion, experimenting with different sounds, different instruments, and using electronics to vary it.
The waiter came to remove their plates and asked if they wanted dessert. Hunter touched her hand so she turned her attention to him. “I’d like to have dessert and coffee upstairs where we can talk, but it’s all right if you want to stay down here.”
She swallowed. He’d never open up to her in a public place. She doubted he’d do it upstairs, but at least she’d have a better chance. There existed another possibility. He might want to take her to bed and she sure as shit wanted to relive that one, incandescent experience. But he’d leave her again.
She might not break as badly this time if she braced herself for it, kept herself apart. She’d trained herself into stoicism. If she persuaded him to retain their friendship.
“Yes,” she said. If he asked, she might. She’d decide at the time. He might not ask. She’d caught glances and smiles, but she didn’t know this man well enough anymore to tell if he wanted her or if he was just being friendly. Frustration made her want to growl.
They gave their order and left the restaurant. As they crossed the foyer toward the elevators, he reached for her hand and threaded his fingers between hers. Warmth and a feeling of utter safety filled her instantly, something she shouldn’t experience, not here, not now. Not with this man.
Warning...spicier excerpt (yum)
“And here we are, all grown-up,” he said.
She could feel his words rumbling through his chest, the vibrations in time with his lip movements. “I don’t know if I’ll ever grow up.”
“You’re adult enough for this.” He leaned down to kiss her, his arms banding around her to hold her close. Her hand remained trapped between their bodies and she could do nothing but keep it there while he captured her lips. He touched his tongue to hers, traced the line between top and bottom lip until it tingled, like using lip-plumping lipstick, and she opened for him.
There the analogy with lipstick came to an incongruous halt. He plunged in as if ravenous for her, as hungry as she was for him.
Ice froze her spine. What the fuck was she doing? Hadn’t she learned anything?
She pushed him away and, taken by surprise, he staggered back, stopping just before he hit the cart. “What’s wrong? I thought you wanted this.”
Oh, how she wanted him! But she couldn’t. Tears threatened to fall, filling her lower lids, and a lump settled at the top of her throat.
“Will you promise not to disappear this time?”
He frowned. “What?”
“Last time, you remember? You didn’t write, didn’t call. Nothing. And I didn’t know where you were, so I couldn’t write to you.”
His chest rose and fell on a sigh. “I’m sorry. I know we—we connected the night before I left. But I couldn’t make any promises, so I thought it best to make a clean break.”
That was it? She’d half wondered if he’d ask her to go away with him, share his adventure. But of course he hadn’t. She’d just graduated and started her job with Emmelie.
A hunted look entered his eyes, brightened the blue as his pupils, previously darkened with desire, regained their normal hue. “I planned to come back to see you, but Emmelie told me you’d gone home.”
Not good enough. “You had my family’s address in Iceland.”
He swallowed. “I did. I still thought it right to give us both a break.” Spreading his hands in a gesture of surrender, he opened himself to her. “I missed you at first. Then my life changed. I thought yours had too.”
Did he think she wouldn’t welcome him? Her lips tightened. He was probably right. She’d resented his abandonment until she’d seen him today. No, that was wrong. She still resented it. “You should have written.”
“I know that now. I’m sorry.”
It didn’t stop her wanting him, and he’d proved before that fucking didn’t have to mean commitment. Perhaps this time she’d be the one to turn her back.
She took the initiative and walked forward until her breasts grazed his chest. “Do you still want me?”
He sucked in a breath. “Fuck, yes.”
Why deprive herself of the hottest man she’d seen in months? So what if it was Hunter?
When he held her this time she knew they wouldn’t stop. He tilted his head to seal them together more securely, his kiss unrestrained. He explored her mouth, took his time, but she did the same, felt the incredible softness of his inner lips and the smooth texture of his teeth. His tongue stroked hers in the most intimate of caresses, then he sucked gently, inviting her to explore. Ravenous, she tasted him, touched him, wanting more, wanting it now.
He broke the kiss, but only so he could lead her to the bed. It hadn’t looked that big when they came in. Or was it her nervousness coming to the fore? Yes, that was it. “It’s been a while,” she whispered, hoping she hadn’t spoken too loudly.
Sometimes she found it hard to tell.
She looked back at his face. “Me too. At least a month.”
He startled her into laughter, but at the back of her mind she also remembered what he was these days. Sex on tap, no doubt, for the sexy drummer in one of the world’s hottest bands.
For all she knew she was another girl in another port. Of course she was, he’d be moving on soon. So she’d better make the most of him, hadn’t she? She tugged at his T-shirt and he finished the job for her, impatiently pulling it off over his head before tackling her clothes. A zipper down the back and her dress peeled away like a bud casing, falling down her arms. She dropped her hands so she could finish the job and the dress fell to the floor.
Eager to feel her skin against his, she moved closer. As he put his arms around her, he popped her bra undone. The straps fell loose, but she lifted her head for another kiss, craving it like an addict.
From the way he took her lips, he felt the same.
All the time he kissed her like an angel—or a devil. When his lips left hers, he kissed down her throat, stopping to suck the hollow between her collarbones while he helped her off with her bra. Then he stopped moving.
She glanced down, wondering what was wrong. Were her breasts the wrong size or something?
He was staring down. “Damn. I’d forgotten.”
“How pretty they are.”
She laughed. “How can breasts be pretty? I thought they were soft or something.”
“Pretty,” he said firmly, cupping one. His big hand enveloped her left breast, encasing it in warmth. He massaged it before drawing his fingers gently along the slopes to the tip, and then again before he lingered to caress. “I love the way they move.”
“Don’t they all move like that?”
“Depends how good the surgery was.”
She jerked back, crossing her arms over her chest. “I haven’t had plastic surgery ever. Not ever. But what if I had?”
He held his hands up in apology. “I didn’t mean to upset you. There’s nothing wrong with plastic surgery, it’s just that they feel different.” He growled. “Shit, I’m sorry.” He flicked a switch and the bedside lights came on, although she could see his lips fine this close.
She’d overreacted. “I’m on edge.” She dropped her arms and stepped toward him and he folded her into his embrace.
“Fucking insensitive of me,” he said when she lifted her chin. “It sounds stupid, but I’m kind of nervous.”
“Not stupid. I am too.” She stroked her hands down his back as if soothing a fidgety cat. The act calmed her in a strange way until he lowered his head and kissed her again.
Then it all came back, her arousal, surging up inside her, loosening her body, readying her for his invasion.
He eased her back and when she felt the mattress against her thighs, she realized what he wanted and let herself go as he lowered her gently to the bed.
She watched him divest himself of the rest of his clothing, revealing powerful thighs, no doubt honed from years of thumping the bass drum and a taut stomach, ridged with muscle. He shed the last of his garments, his underwear. “You used to wear tight black briefs,” she said.
He glanced at her. “Shorts are cooler. I don’t stick to one style. Call me fickle.”
She lost the smile and he came down to lean over her, propping his arms on either side of her body. “Hey, it’s okay. I was making a joke. Is there something wrong? Do you want to stop?”
Vigorously, she shook her head. “No, never. It’s just been a while for me too.”
“About a year.”
He gave a low whistle. She had no way of knowing if he made a sound, but she saw the way he pursed his lips and felt the air against her cheek. “You had better things to do?”
She didn’t want to answer. “You could say that.” She’d tell him about her forthcoming change if she felt like it. But he was moving on. No reason for him to know unless he stayed in touch. And she wasn’t counting on anything this time. “You look good.”
“You look beautiful. You might have pretty breasts, but altogether you make a beautiful package.”
He cupped her cheek, stroking the fine skin there, making her want to purr like a cat and rub herself against him. “You’re different, Sabina, you always have been.”
She had no desire to laugh now. His gaze held no flattery, his lips no light banter. For a brief moment out of time they met and exchanged complete honesty. “You too.” Because she understood. Understood so much that it had taken her much longer to get over than she’d ever imagined it would.
Pushing away from her, he said, “I need to get some protection. Get into bed and I’ll be back in a minute.”
So practical. One of the things she hated about being deaf was not hearing the gradations of tone. She didn’t know if he was murmuring or speaking normally. She could tell a whisper from a yell from the way the chest and neck moved, as well as the usual facial expressions that went with yelling. Usually she didn’t regret, because she couldn’t see the point in it, but sometimes a pang hit her. She wanted to hear his voice; she wanted to know what he sounded like.
He returned, walking across the room, his erect cock bouncing with each stride. She watched, fascinated, and he didn’t take his gaze from her but stood over her and tossed a few packets on to the bedside table. A few?
“Fuck, how many did you get?”
“A handful. Let’s see how far we can take it, hmm?”
Swallowing, she nodded, trying to look as if she did this every day. Except she’d just told him that she didn’t. “I’m not very good at this, am I?”
“I’d say you were excellent.” He dropped a kiss on her neck. “Top of the class.” He took a nipple into his mouth and delivered a hard suck, then lifted his head so she could see what he was saying. “A1.”
Laughing, she curled her arms around his neck to draw him closer.
“You too. That feels good. Do it again.”
“With the greatest pleasure in the world.” He followed suit, lavishing attention on her other nipple while playing with the one he’d just sucked. He rolled it between finger and thumb, sending shots of sensation over her body. Tingles traveled along her shoulders and arms, sensitizing her to a new level before he kissed underneath. He licked under her breast and then moved down, touching his tongue to her navel and going farther. He said something against her belly and then lifted his head. “You taste great and you feel even better. Your skin is amazing, do you know that?”
She shook her head. “Thank you. You’re pretty good yourself.”
“I want you lying down properly, with your legs wide open. I want to know how you taste.”
Fascinating Rhythm: 4 (Nightstar) (Amazon buy link)
(delightful book, my review will be posted in a few days!)
Other books in the 'Nightstar' series:
In the Mood (Nightstar, Book One) (Amazon link)
Born on the Bayou: 2 (Nightstar) (Amazon link)
Nice 'n' Easy: 3 (Nightstar) (Amazon link)
In the Mood
Born on the Bayou
Nice n' Easy
My review for Fascinating Rhythm will be live on 10/20/13 at this link.