Megan O’Day has always tried to limit her personal attachments. Her mother died when she was fifteen and she has no memories of her father. She has learned to survive through self-reliance alone.
When a friend from high school opens a nightclub in Seattle called The Stage and offers her a job, Megan stumbles into a new world full of dangerous complications. She finds herself mesmerized by the lead singer of the house band, whose songs inexplicably dredge up hidden memories. As her forgotten past slowly trickles back, the missing pieces of an ancient puzzle start to fall into place. She soon realizes that Geoffrey Drake is no ordinary musician—he is a vampire, and he has always been her unseen protector.
While past and present collide, Megan slowly allows herself to feel the emotion she has always beaten back. Can she discover why Geoffrey is protecting her—and from whom—while there’s still time?
“Acknowledging the stories that came before, The Stage offers a fun twist on vampire lore. Russell creates a perfect elixir for the modern vampire fan: pop culture, the music scene, and forbidden attraction that becomes more potent as the story progresses. I enjoyed watching Megan blossom while her relationship with Geoffrey grew in intensity and complexity as secrets were revealed and mysteries explored.” —Val Muller, author, The Scarred Letter and The Girl Who Flew Away
Author Catherine Russell has assembled a playlist for The Stage, which she says was a very creative venture: “I tried different types of music — alternative rock, classic rock, country, even rock symphonies. The music made it so easy to write; I would get lost on the notes and let the words come naturally. I hope you enjoy the list and try out some new type of music — a new band or singer. The first song on the list, Ryan Adams Desire, was a catalylist for writing the chapter with Geoffrey and Megan’s very first date.” Just click on each song title to hear the song at YouTube.
|Take a Bow||Muse||Black Holes & Revelations|
|Bring Me to Life||Evancescence||Fallen|
|The Revenants||Midnight Syndicate||The Dead Matter|
|Never Think||Robert Pattinson||Twilight Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|Temptation Waits||Garbage||Version 2.0|
|Pax Doerum||Enya||The Memory of Trees|
|Map of the Problematique||Muse||Black Holes & Revelations|
|Supermassive Black Hole||Muse||Black Holes & Revelations|
My entire life had been unconventional. Words like different, strange, weird, and odd have been used to describe me. Personally I preferred odd, or better yet, quirky. Being sensitive to others was a curse that followed me. At times I could handle it, though most of the time it just plain sucked.
My mom, Connie, passed away from cancer three years ago. She had been my closest friend. My social life now consisted of the occasional group movie, staying up late bar-hopping, and then finding the perfect after-hours breakfast diner—which wasn’t hard to do in Seattle. I tended to critique every place we went, being a waitress myself. It was the perfect job for someone who appreciated the fine art of small talk. I didn’t have to divulge too much about myself to my co-workers, let alone the customers.Tonight’s rainy shift started like any other night, getting a report from the staff getting off.
“Anne, what’s going on in your section?”
“You’re going to have a ton of fun with this bunch,” she said, her voice thick with sarcasm.
I glanced at the table she was pointing to and grinned. “You know what? Bring it! I’m in a mood.”
“Girl, you keep it up and one of these days it’s going to bite you in the ass.” She handed me the register keys and put her coat on.
“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, won’t be the last. At least I’m consistent.”
“How do you do that?”
“What?” I asked absently, picking up signs from other customers, who were clearly uncomfortable with the rising level of noise.
“Make a negative into a positive.”
“God-given talent, what can I say? Get home safe. The streets are getting slick out there.”
“You be safe in here.” With that she walked out into the nighttime streets, dashing into a late summer rain squall.
Without looking I knew the regulars were already perched on their bar stools. There was Grumpy, the good ol’ boy who wore a scowl and had a chip on his shoulder. Then Betty, the sweet-natured old hag who obviously liked him yet never seemed able to work up the courage to tell him. She was always trying to impress him with her stories of her famous days. There were others spread across the bar but I knew who had the lone booth at the end, near the bathrooms and away from the general chit-chat, with his books scattered across the table and his pencil scribbling away on yet another term paper. It was actually cute seeing someone do it old-school style, no computer, notepad, just a spiral notebook and Number 2 pencil.
“Hey, Chase, another pounder?” I cleared away his glass. He looked up confused and then pulled out his ear buds.
“What? Uh… sure.” He snagged a cold garlic fry out of the greasy basket.
“God, how can you eat that cold?”
“They’re good.” His goofy grin was so him. His sandy blonde hair a mess, he looked like he’d just crawled out of bed.
“I’ll take your word for it.” He started to ask his usual next question, but I beat him to the punch.
“And the answer is still no. You know I don’t date customers.” I handed him a full beer and smiled. His sad little puppy-dog eyes made me feel guilty for a nanosecond; he’d been dogging me for months. Yeah, he was cute… but he just wasn’t my type. Not that I knew what my type was—but I knew it wasn’t him.
“Can’t blame me for tryin’.”
“True.” I walked away, shaking my head.
I knew this restaurant, The Q, inside and out since I’d been working here for two years now. Mind you, The Q wasn’t a big restaurant, but that didn’t matter. I knew where the blind spots were, the doors that locked, the ones that were one-way, and all of this I used to my advantage. I used the dark reflections off the windows to see around corners, which right now came in handy.
The table of partiers was getting its second wind, growing louder and more obnoxious with every passing minute. I eyed the cook, letting him know I was heading into the frenzy. The voices from the five guys at the table were drowning out other conversations throughout the place. Their whistles and catcalls were quickly becoming vulgar.
I turned on the dumb charm, full coffee pot in hand—something these types usually fell for.
“Evening, gentlemen, is there anything else I can get you?” I asked in my super- sugary voice, purposely putting their bills down on the table.
“Well, well. What do we have here?” the ringleader of the group answered, using a pathetic Jersey Shore imitation. He stank of cigarettes and cheap liquor. “What’s with the shades at night, gorgeous? Like Cory Hart?”
I couldn’t show him that he was rattling my nerves—not tonight, not ever. If I did, I’d be giving him the upper hand. “Well,” I said, very sweetly, leaning in just enough for only them to hear. “That’s for me to know and you to… not know.”
They all stopped talking and silence took over the party.
“Gentlemen, I must ask you, ever so politely, to tone it down.”
“Really? What if we said no?” a slimy little jerk asked. I didn’t say a word, keeping my smart-aleck comeback in check.
“Jeremy, shut your mouth.” The leader smacked his cohort on the back of his head and the little guy literally drew back his fist. My instincts were ready to snap. No one was going to fight on my shift.
The leader eyed my name tag and raised his chin, taunting me. “Megan, is it?”
“That it is,” I said coldly.
He reached into his pocket and my reflexes were on a hair-trigger, although I had a gut feeling that he wasn’t pulling out a gun, since his goons didn’t react to his movement. Instead, he pulled out a huge money clip and quickly thumbed through the cash, selecting a few bills. “Let me make it up to you,” he said as he picked up the checks and held them out to me with the cash, just short enough that I was forced to lean over to take them—exposing what little cleavage I had.
The rest of the boys started up the catcalls again.
“I’m sorry, gentlemen. It’s time for you to leave,” I growled.
“Touchy, touchy, aren’t you? Either that—or you’ve never been touched.”
I bit my tongue so hard I tasted the blood. “Leave!”
“Make me, why don’t ya, cunt,” the slimy one croaked.
That did it. “I tell you what. Why don’t you have one last cup of coffee… on me.” And with that I over-poured the coffee, which quickly cascaded onto their laps, causing them to squeal like pigs. “Oh, I’m sorry about that. You might want to get those third-degree burns checked out after you leave here.”
Everyone in the immediate vicinity went deadly quiet. I could feel the stares of the other customers. When I was younger I’d learned to never lose eye contact during an argument or else your opponent would see your weakness. I did my best to hold mine on the main jerk, but the whispers and comments caused me to waver just a microsecond.
“Like I said, it’s time to leave—now,” I said through my clenched jaw. Then I knew it; his holier-than-thou look of contempt sent a shiver up my spine, but I wouldn’t back down. I couldn’t—then he’d win, and jerks like him didn’t deserve to win.
“Megan… let it go,” Chase said from behind me as the gang proceeded to strut out of The Q, tossing a few newspapers and dinner plates to the floor along the way. I exhaled, realizing that I had been holding my breath. I fidgeted with my glasses—a built-in nervous twitch that no matter how hard I tried, I could never get rid of. I tucked a lock of hair back behind my ear and walked over to the register to cash out a customer, totally on autopilot.
The rest of the night went by pretty much a blur; I took orders and worked like a robot, stiff and without emotion. At every chime of the entry door I used the reflection of the darkened windows to make sure the thugs hadn’t come back. By the time closing came, I felt a sense of relief. Right before I was about to close up, two groups came in. Well, it wasn’t technically closing yet, so I had to stay open. I seated them in the only open section, quickly took their very short orders, and locked the doors to keep others from coming in. Even though I didn’t have plans tonight, I didn’t want to stay any later. I had an uneasy feeling, almost like a premonition. After delivering their orders, I waited for them to finish while standing on the cook’s line, nervously chatting.
That’s when I smelled it.
“Matt, are you cooking something?” I asked.
“No, the grill’s shut off.”
The smell of gas was even stronger, coming from out front in the customer section. We looked at each other and then walked out front. Some of the customers were coughing and rubbing their eyes. One man’s face stood out, staring at me with an intensity that totally confused me, like he was scared for me. Who the…?
“Where is it coming from?”
“I don’t know. Let’s…”
And that’s as far as we got. The explosion overtook my senses, the shock wave ripping through me. The next second I was flying through the air, crashing into the thick plate-glass window and landing outside on the cold, wet pavement on top of some guy. The gas explosion had blown out the side of the restaurant, blasting bricks, metal, glass, and upholstery to smithereens.
Every bone in my body was screaming in agony, but I could still breathe. My ears rang like the bells of St. Mary’s on Christmas. I could smell the charred remains of The Q, feel the slight splatter of rain falling on my face, and see the fire engine lights flashing off the wet pavement and the ragged hole in the side of the building. Just before my eyes closed, I remember seeing a man’s face. He was cradling my head carefully in his hands, and his lips were moving, speaking to someone… I don’t know who. I couldn’t hear his words but I could clearly see his eyes. The deep sapphire-blue eyes held mine for a split second, and then I went under.