A rock star on break from his comeback demo walks into a Long Island bar and sparks the heart of a beautiful piano virtuoso in exile from the music business. Black Phoenix #1: After Midnight by national bestselling author Sarah Grimm is edgy rock star romance done right.
What 40-something front man Noah Clark needs right now is to focus on knocking out his band’s demo on deadline to win a record company contract. What he especially doesn’t need is distractions, particularly not in the form of an exotic young bar owner who’s friendlier to his bandmate than him – and literally untouchable, even by her own father. But Noah keeps going back, even though he doesn’t drink anymore. When an intoxicated customer goes rogue, Noah is at last allowed into Isabeau’s world, for better or worse – and there’s plenty of both.
This is the first of Sarah Grimm’s books that I’ve read. It’s also the first in her Black Phoenix romance series, based on the eponymous rock band. The twenty chapters took me about 24 hours to complete, mostly spent on the edge of my seat. The plot is a fast-flowing river of steamy romance with thrilling murder mystery undercurrents. International, interracial and May-December brushes paint the character descriptions, as well as their professional talents, wisdom and conflicts. Settings flow from Long Island and New York City to London and California and back again. I very much enjoyed this story of true love and adventure and look forward to the next book in the Black Phoenix series.
Isabeau Montgomery sat in the dimly lit bar and shook like an amateur before her first recital. Her gaze, blurred by the sudden threat of tears, settled on the keys before her. Her stomach cramped painfully, yet the need was too great to ignore.
With ability as natural to her as the color of her skin, she began to play. The waterfall of music filled the air, washed over her, completed her in a way nothing or no one else ever had. Against the razor sharp sting of memories, she fought…
She was young, vibrant, and born with a raw talent rarely seen. Classical, jazz, or rock and roll, she played it all. Loved all the genres—loved to create. All that mattered was her joy, her love for the instrument beneath her fingers and the music she was so skilled at creating.
For a good ninety seconds, joy returned, the rush of adrenaline and, conversely, the sense of belonging. In those seconds, time slowed, the lines between the past and the present blurred, and she was a child again. There was no longer pressure to be something she couldn’t be, no fear of what her future would hold.
And with the innocence of youth, no idea that everything she held dear could be lost in the blink of an eye.
The song built to a crescendo then quickly faded as pain, her old friend, returned with enough force to quash her joy. Her stomach roiled. Her breath caught.
Tears gathered in her eyes, and she dashed them away. Isabeau ran her hands up and over her face, pushing her long mass of ebony hair away from her forehead. She struggled to pull herself back together. Her fingers were chilled, cooler than normal, yet perspiration pooled at the small of her back. She closed her eyes, took a deep, slow breath.
“I didn’t expect that old thing to be in tune.”
She jumped at the deep baritone voice, slamming her knees into the piano. The key cover abruptly closed, and she startled again. Heart racing, she rose and faced the double doors she’d obviously forgotten to lock.
She swept her gaze around the bar’s dim interior until she spotted a dark, male frame. “The bar is closed.”
Her tone was sharp, curt, and left no room for argument. Under different circumstances, she wouldn’t inflict such rudeness on a customer, but he intruded on her privacy, her pain. Her emotions were too close to the surface for niceties.
His voice rang with a clipped British accent and the tone of someone unaccustomed to being questioned. “I was here earlier.”
She remembered the voice and didn’t need him to step out of the shadows to recognize him, which he did anyway. She’d served him a few hours ago—dark lager, no glass—and shared with him a smile as powerful as it was sexy. “We were open earlier. Now, we’re closed.”
His eyebrow shot up. His mouth shaped itself into an ironic curve. “So you have said.”
“Then perhaps you should leave.” Hands unsteady, she bussed the table closest to her and carried the glasses to the bar. His words stopped her cold.
“You’re very talented. How long have you played the piano?”
No, no, no. This wasn’t happening. She closed her eyes on a wave of emotion, doing her best to will him away. But even then she knew. The man at her back was not going away.
She focused her gaze on his reflection in the mirror that ran the length of the bar. He was tall and lean, with eyes that shone with intelligence, even in the dim light. His hair was a mix of medium and dark blonde, worn long enough it fell across his forehead, nearly into his eyes, and brushed the collar of his shirt. Dark stubble shadowed his jaw.
The fine hairs on her arm stood on end as he crossed to her. She edged to the side and turned to face him. “I don’t play.”
“Of course you do. You were playing when I entered.”
“You’re mistaken.” She countered his step forward with one in retreat, ensuring that she remained out of arm’s reach.
With a frown, he stopped. “You have nothing to fear from me.”
It never occurred to her to fear for her safety, even though the bar was empty but for the two of them, the lights dimmed in deference to the late hour.
“Let me start again by introducing myself.”
“I know who you are.”
Of course she did. He was the person who brought back her desire to create, whose presence in the room made something inside her sing out. He was the reason she’d been driven to play tonight, after years of resistance. The reason the siren song continued to play in her head, louder than ever before. “Yes, I do.”
“And I frighten you?”
“Of course not.”
“Then why do you tremble? You’ve gone pale and look as if you’re ready to bolt.”
She dodged his hand when he reached out as if to touch her. Her breathing grew shallow. She waited for him to comment. Instead, he casually tucked his hands into the back pockets of his jeans and rocked back on his heels.
His gaze moved around the room before settling on the piano. “What is the name of the song you were playing?”
The walls were closing in on her. Her body trembled so violently she was surprised her teeth didn’t chatter. “I don’t play,” she reminded him acridly.
She desperately needed to put some space between them. However, so far he’d countered every move she made. He moved again, stepped close enough she could make out the intense green of his eyes. It was difficult to hold her ground and not flinch as he took his time studying her features, his gaze lingering on her eyes.
She was not a beautiful woman. Taken separately, her features held the potential for beauty, but together, with her mix of cultures, she had a face like a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces didn’t fit together. Her cheeks were too sharp, her lips too large, and her eyes, pale enough they all but disappeared beneath the dark tones of her father’s heritage. Neither blue nor gray, her eyes brought her the most displeasure. Most people spoke of her eyes as “peculiar” and “haunted.”
Isabeau couldn’t handle such a reference from him. “What do you want from me?” she inquired before he could comment.
“That’s a good question,” he replied, more to himself than in answer to her. “How about your name?”
The way he looked at her made it very, very hard for her to look away. “Isabeau.”
“Isabeau.” His voice brushed across her senses like a lover’s caress. His hand settled upon her arm. His very large, very warm hand.
She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Trapped by the contrast of his pale skin against her darker, golden tones, her mind blanked. He dwarfed her, which at five foot three wasn’t all that difficult to do. Her heart raced. His scent snaked into her lungs with each breath she took.
The scent of him broke her from the spell and filled in the gaps. She shifted away from his touch, understanding what brought him back after closing. She’d found it, tossed carelessly into the corner of a booth—his black leather jacket. Soft as butter, it held his scent. Subtle, masculine, and just enough to stir her blood as she’d carried the garment into the kitchen for safekeeping.
Where, with no one to witness the act, she’d pressed her nose to the lapel and inhaled him.
Her cheeks grew warm. She shot him a look from under her lashes. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.”
She felt his eyes on her as she returned from the kitchen, and crossed to stand before him, his coat in hand. Felt them still as, without asking how she’d figured out what he needed, he removed the garment from her grasp and slid his arms into it. Finally, she lifted her gaze to his.
“I like your place, Isabeau.” His tone hinted he liked more than her place. And even though everything inside her screamed to get him out of there, it was impossible not to get a little bit lost. He was so inherently sexual that any woman would have to be blind not to be affected by his virile good looks and confidence. “Maybe I’ll see you again sometime.”
She watched him go, pressing her fingers against her pounding temples. As the door shut behind him, the pain eased, the noise in her skull dropped to a more tolerable level. Five minutes passed before she dared draw a deep breath for fear his scent lingered. She didn’t need further reminders of his visit. The music that pulsed through her system was reminder enough.
He thought he would see her again, but she knew he wouldn’t. Not because the chances of him returning were too slender, or even because a man like him could never truly be interested in a woman like her.
Because she’d been waiting thirteen years for someone to truly see her.
So far, no one had.
BUY & FOLLOW LINKS
Buy After Midnight at Amazon (psst! It’s FREE on Kindle today, Thurs., 5.14.15)
DISCLAIMER: I am a member of Sarah Grimm’s street team. Opinions are my own.
Belinda Y. Hughes is the author of Confessions of a Red Hot Veggie Lover 2 and Living Proof. She recently submitted a paranormal scifi short story to HDWP Books for consideration in their New Myths Theme-Thology. Her current projects include LGBT erotica and poetry. Belinda enjoys beading, reading, writing, cooking and hiking in the woods with her old dog.