Author: Jodie Larson
Cover Design: Indie Solutions by Murphy Rae
Downbeat |n|: The first beat in a measure, often the strongest. Fame, fortune, traveling to different cities across the country…I’m living the dream. As the drummer for the Lightning Strikes, it’s my job to hook you in and keep you coming back for more. It’s my craft, my calling, what I’m a master at.
Even with all that, I’m still just a normal guy who wants to eat at food trucks and lounge on the couch, playing video games until I can’t see straight. Everything was perfect.
At least I thought it was, until a blonde bombshell walked into my life and made me question everything I thought I knew. I want her. I need her. Only, she’s afraid of the spotlight, afraid of what it’ll do to her and the ones she loves. The wall around her heart is keeping me out, but I know before long I will break down her barriers. She needs to know that there is more to us than what she sees, that this chemistry between us is our downbeat to forever. All the guys in the band have their happily ever after. Maybe it’s time for mine.
I blink a few times to process his strange question. “Uh, yeah? Who doesn’t?”
Paxton chuckles. “You’d be surprised. What do you listen to?”
“Country,” I say, without hesitation.
He scrunches his nose up, like he’d smelled something funny. “I said music.”
“That is music.” I laugh. “What do you listen to. Wait, let me guess.” I tap my lips. “Not ska since you’re obviously not a native Californian.”
“The accent give me away?” Again with the head tilt and smirk.
“Pretty much.” I’ll keep the fact that I love it to myself. “You don’t strike me as the rap-type either.”
“Are you trying to analyze me?”
Another wave of heat coats my cheeks. “No, just using deductive reasoning.”
“Uh huh. How about I save you the trouble. I’m a rock guy. Alternative, to be exact. Lots of old school mixed with new.”
I stare at him blankly. “Huh?”
“Alice in Chains?”
“Stone Temple Pilots?”
He rolls his eyes. “You have to know the Cranberries.”
I shrug. “Sounds familiar. I’d have to hear something by them.”
Paxton digs his phone out of his pocket. Tapping a few buttons, he places it on the table between us. Low piano notes fill the space; a sad beat following. Then, a gravely male voice spills out. You can feel the power of the lyrics as he sings with passion and conviction.
“This isn’t the Cranberries. It’s Bad Wolves doing a cover of “Zombie”, one of their songs, but it’s incredible,” he says, tapping the beat onto his thigh. “He had asked for the lead singer to perform on the cover, but she died before that could happen.”
I frown. “That’s so sad.”
He nods. “It is. But I can’t think of a better compliment to give a band than performing one of their songs.”
Make sense. Isn’t the old saying “imitation is the highest form of flattery”? Paxton even sings a few of the words; barely audible but loud enough that I can hear his voice. And man, he can sing.
As the song ends, and the words really sink in, I find myself in new territory. I’ve always enjoyed music, but not like this. Paxton, on the other hand, has a real passion. It’s obvious in his movements, the way he closes his eyes during the powerful parts of the song. I listen to fill the void. He listens to fill his soul.
Before I can dive into anything else, duty calls. The annoying bell chimes, bringing me back to reality.
I stand and flash Paxton a real smile. “Thanks for the talk. It was nice to formally meet you again.”
“Hey,” he says, jumping to his feet. “Any chance you don’t have a rule about going out with customers?”
Chewing on my bottom lip, I debate my answer. Technically, I don’t have any rules about dating except one. I just…don’t.
“Not a good idea,” I say.
As I walk toward the counter, he calls out behind me, “You know I’m persistent, right?”
With a laugh, I ignore him as best I can and help the gentleman at the counter. Dressed in a business suit with perfectly coiffed hair, I’m guessing executive. A far cry from the man still staring at me surreptitiously over his book.
And yet, the suit doesn’t do anything for me. If anything, it reminds me of Craig and his MBA friends. Perfectly polished and needing to impress everyone.
Paxton’s hazel eyes don’t seem like such an issue now. It was stupid to begin with, considering he’s the exact opposite of Craig.
“What? I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that,” I say, trying to focus on what I’m supposed to be doing.
Mr. Suit gives a cocky grin, as if I was already a sure thing.
“Well, I was hoping to get a caramel macchiato, but I guess I could get your number instead.”
Ugh. Creep. “Unfortunately, my number isn’t on the menu, but I can grab the macchiato for you. Small, medium, or large?”
He straightens his tie and runs a hand down it, drawing attention to his well-cut torso. “Are you sure it’s not on the menu?”
“Yep,” I say, letting the irritation come through my voice. “Positive.”
I turn and make his drink without another word. He needs to go. I’m so caught into my head that I don’t notice the turned-up corner of the mat. Time slows almost to a stop as I have an out-of-body experience. The cup tumbles through the air. The light brown liquid streams out as the black lid flies off. Then, in either a case of irony or karma, Mr. Suit gets covered in the sticky sweet liquid.
“Goddamn it!” he yells, frantically swiping his hands against his now soaked jacket. “I have a business meeting in a half hour.”
“I’m so sorry,” I say, desperate to hold back my laugh. I’m not trying to be glib, but I have a horrible habit of laughing in uncomfortable situations. Funerals, when people fall or injure themselves…all of it sends me into a fit of giggles. And I really do feel horrible about ruining this poor man’s suit, but after his actions, I can’t say I’m too sorry about it.
“Just forget it.” He storms toward the door, whipping it open and practically slamming it behind him.
One look from Paxton is all it takes to break the dam to release the giggles.
“Served him right,” he says with a nod.
“Yeah, but I do feel bad about it.”
He shuts his book again. “Don’t. He was a douche canoe and didn’t know how to take no for an answer.”
I quirk a brow. “Like you?”
“I’m different.” Without warning, he stands and closes the distance, leaving only the counter separating us. “You’ll see.”
Paxton gives me a wink and leaves me in a stupor as he heads out the door.
Somehow I get the feeling this won’t be the last time I see him. The thought thrills me more than it should.