Headline Little Black Dress, July 2008
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Dominick Steele, ex-alcholic ex-married ex-rock star, has joined dad-rock band Max DeMilo and the Venusians in a last-ditch attempt to salvage his life. Little does he know that a former acquaintance has also joined the tour…
“Looks like Max went and hired some sort of therapist to come along on the tour,” said Mad Dog, the drummer.
They weren’t going to go through band psychoanalysis, were they? The inside of his head was tricky enough without someone else poking around in it. “What type of therapist?” Dom asked warily.
Mad Dog shrugged. “She cures people with smells.”
“You mean, people who smell bad?”
“That’s what I asked, and they laughed at me,” Mad Dog said. “No, apparently she cures whatever ails you by rubbing oils that smell like flowers into your skin. I met her and she explained it to me. She’s in the bus parked out back in case Max hurts his shoulder again.”
“Oh, an aromatherapist.” Dominick knew what an aromatherapist was. He’d spent enough afternoons on his couch watching television in order to avoid going to the pub, and when you ran out of football sometimes you had to watch girl TV.
So, they were going to have some hippy woman on the tour, all flowing skirts and wispy hair and theories about crystals. No skin off Dominick’s back, as long as she kept her flower oils off his instrument.
He got up to inspect his bass. Well, more like to appreciate it: if not for this tour, Dominick would have spent this afternoon choosing whether to sell his ’62 Höfner or to lose his home. He wasn’t sure which one he would have kept.
Max and Pete, the lead guitarist, hadn’t shown up yet and Mad Dog was still eating peanut butter. Dom slung the strap of his bass over his head and began to play. Not a Venusians song, all of which he could play upside down while wearing handcuffs. Not a Dirtysweet song, either, because he had no desire to be reminded of those years. Something improvised, something for the sake of playing and losing himself for a few minutes in a way he’d nearly forgotten he could do.
Now that he had rediscovered it, he knew it was the most precious thing in existence.
The frets, the strings, the vibration of the instrument against his thighs and the split second of wonder before he knew which note he was going to play. Dom closed his eyes to enjoy it for a moment and when he opened them a woman had walked into the room and was standing quietly in the back.
She wore jeans and a white shirt and flat shoes. She was slender and had straight light brown hair, pulled back into a neat ponytail. The plain hairstyle made her eyes look large, her cheekbones high, and her mouth slightly wide. She wore no jewellery and no makeup and stood as if she did not intend to be noticed, and Dominick had never seen her looking like this but his hand slipped on the fret and his next note was dissonant, off-key and unexpected enough for the woman to glance in his direction.
She immediately recognised him, too.
“Oh shit,” Dominick said.
“Damn,” said Sophie Tennant, the woman who had broken up his marriage.
He was tall, even taller up on the stage, and he didn’t bother to take his guitar strap off his shoulder when he stormed down from the stage and across the club to where Sophie was standing, her heart pounding, her stomach sinking, barely able to breathe.
Dominick Steele was quick-moving, black-haired, and absolutely the last person in the world she wanted to see. Ever.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded and his voice was just as she remembered it, dark and rich, singing and speaking.
“I’m—” she began, and her own voice was breathy and thin. Sophie swallowed, hating this sign of weakness, and began again.
“I was going to watch the sound check, but now I’m not.” She turned to walk away, but Dominick’s hand grasped her wrist and stopped her.
A big hand. Sophie’s heart thumped painfully.
“I wouldn’t do that,” she said, drawing herself even straighter, looking him in his brown eyes and ignoring the fact that her knees were trembling. “You remember what happened the last time you touched me.”
That did it. He dropped her wrist and Sophie could breathe again. She still felt as if the room had been sucked of most of its oxygen, but at least her throat was unblocked, her lungs were working.
“Why are you here?” he asked her again. “Did Leonie hire you? Why would she do that?”
“I haven’t seen your wife since I gave her the evidence she needed to divorce you,” Sophie said. She was pleased to notice that her voice held a great deal of scorn.
“What is it then? The bank?”
Although he’d stopped touching her, he was still close to her, close enough so that his guitar nearly brushed against the front of her jeans. His hair was shorter and she could see the beginnings of lines around his eyes. He’d aged a little bit in the past five years. He’d also become much more paranoid, although she didn’t detect any scent of alcohol.
“Sounds like you’ve got a whole list of enemies,” she said. “Keep going, I’m enjoying hearing about them.”
“Hey, Dom, you’ve met my aromatherapist.”
Sophie, who normally knew whenever anyone entered a room, started at the unexpected sound of Max’s voice. He was standing on the stage next to his shaven-headed guitarist, Pete, and a short man with wild silver hair who called himself Mad Dog, and who played the drums.
Dominick Steele, the famously sexy, the hopping mad, looked slowly from Sophie to Max and back to Sophie. “The aromatherapist?”
“The smelly woman,” Mad Dog said helpfully. “That’s who I was talking about. You two know each other?”
“Don’t tell me I’ve hired one of your ex-girlfriends,” Max said. “What are the chances of that, huh?” He seemed to consider. “Well, actually, I guess they’re pretty good.”
“No,” Dominick said, and his voice was dripping with disgust. “This one is definitely not my type.”
“That’s not what it looked like last time we met.” Sophie smiled at him sweetly and saw anger leap in his eyes.