The Rusty Barrel was one of the most misnamed places Amanda had been inside of. Well, as far as she could remember. On the outside, it looked like a broken-down club off the beaten-track; inside, it was a relaxed place with half-grungy, half-classy décor that seemed to blend nicely.
A small stage was located in the back of the club in front of a small dance floor. The bar ran down one side of it, and tables filled up the remaining space. Miyori and a freshened-up Amanda took a table on the side near the stage. Maggie was backstage preparing for a performance. Idly, Amanda wondered how that would feel, performing in front of a large crowd of people.
“Nice place, huh?” Miyori said. Amanda turned to him, broken from her musing.
“Yeah,” Amanda agreed. She glanced at the stage where two guys were setting up for Maggie’s set. “So how do you know Maggie? Have you been friends long?”
Miyori chuckled as if thinking of a private joke. “Only a couple of years. But it’s felt like decades.” After someone came and set down the drinks they’d ordered, Miyori continued. “We both work for the Willard Agency. Well, we used to. Maggie only works for the agency on a case-by-case basis.” He nodded toward the stage. “She started building a reputation for being difficult and hard to work with, so she took up music.”
Remembering the insolent young woman she’d answered the door to, she smirked and sipped her strawberry daiquiri. “Is she any good?”
Miyori grinned at her. “You’ll see.”
Amanda could only shrug and wait for the show to begin. She was appeased twenty minutes later.
Maggie came out to applause and appreciative shouts. She wore the same blue jeans from earlier when Amanda had first met her, but she had changed her top. She now wore a screen tee that informed the audience that indeed she was, if anyone was wondering, The Magnificent. She gave the crowd a throaty hello then an insolent grin, mouth to mike and guitar in hand. Amanda found that she liked her already for some reason that she’d be hard-pressed to explain.
The first song she was going to do, Maggie had told the audience, was an old favorite of hers. As she strummed the first notes of the song, Amanda looked to Miyori. He just gestured for her to watch. And listen.
Please baby can’t you see
My mind’s a burning hell
I’ve got razors a-ripping
And tearing and scraping my heart apart as well
Tonight you told me
That you ache for something new
And that some other woman
Is looking like something
That might be good for you
Amanda clapped and enjoyed Maggie’s gritty voice along with the rest of the audience. And felt impressed. Something in the back of her mind told her that Maggie was indeed magnificent. Aside from her own love of music, Amanda had no idea how she knew something like that, as if she had experience in the business or something. The possibility wrinkled her brow a bit as Maggie’s set ended, but then she shook it off. She was here to have fun, not think herself to a tension headache.
And then Will Channing strode in, making the world skip a bit.
This time, he wore a pewter-gray shirt with stonewashed jeans. He wore his black hair pulled back from his face. As his eyes searched the room, Amanda’s lowered hers to her drink, trying not to grin shamelessly. Miyori looked at her, frowning. He glanced up at the right time to find Will Channing crossing the room and coming toward them. The frown turned to a self-satisfied, Miyori Arashi-print ad smirk.
“Well, well, well.” Amanda was still conspicuously immersed in her drink, so she didn’t think that Miyori was talking to anyone else until he’d said Will’s name. “William Channing. Nice to see you outside of a hospital room.”
Will grinned at Miyori. “I got your message after work, so I came down here.” His eyes shifted to Amanda. Her gaze moved from her glass and met his. Miyori had to hold back his grin at the sparks he could see flying between them. “And I already like the company.”
“Good,” Miyori said. “Then take the seat beside Miss Grace.”
It took a great effort to stop the blush from creeping on Amanda’s cheeks as Will took the empty seat beside her. Their arms brushed, and they locked eyes again. The blush flared up on Amanda’s cheeks and she turned away first. Will ordered a drink as Amanda glanced at her watch.
“So how long has it been since you’ve been out, Dr. Channing?” Miyori asked, sitting back in his seat. “Three weeks? Four?”
“Probably longer,” Will replied. “That’s the thing about emergency medicine. It doesn’t stop for vacations, sick days, or Christmas.” He shook his head. “A damn shame, too.” He looked to Amanda. “So how’s Arashi over there been treating you? Has he offered to take you on the yacht yet?”
Amanda, bemused, peered at Miyori. “You’ve got a yacht? And why haven’t I heard about this? Am I not your type, Miyori?”
“Damn right you’re not,” Miyori answered pleasantly. “I only take certain women out on my yacht.”
“Oh right. I get it now. When the boat’s a-rocking, don’t come a-knocking.” Amanda shook her head, starting to relax some now that she was exasperated at Miyori. Will seemed to be doing the same, but why or how Amanda didn’t know. “You men are worse than dogs. I’ll bet Marshall is more of a gentleman than you are.”
“I love it when she gives me a compliment,” Miyori retorted smoothly, making Will laugh.
“I’m going to leave that alone and not risk the wrath of Miss Grace,” Will said, palms up in a gesture of surrender.
“Call me Amanda,” Amanda told him. “When you call me Miss Grace in that tone, you make me feel like someone’s mother.”
“Are you someone’s mother?” Will wanted to know.
Amanda’s mouth curved upward. “Yes. And my baby’s name is Marshall.”
As Will opened his mouth to speak, Miyori broke in with, “He’s also on four legs.” Amanda glared at him, then took a sip of her drink.
“Well,” Will began in a deadpan tone as Maggie strode up to the table, “I honestly think he looks like his father.”
“Well, the bugger has quite good looks, then,” Miyori quipped easily.
The mere thought of her dog resembling the Japanese print model made Amanda nearly spit out her drink. She choked a little in the effort to stop her laughter. Maggie stood over them as Will patted Amanda on the back and Miyori chuckled over the rim of his glass. She blinked for a moment, the spoke.
“Um, I suppose I came in on the wrong part of this conversation,” she remarked.
Miyori grinned up at her, years of diligence and good dental work displayed. “Yeah, you kind of missed the point of the exchange among us.” He patted the seat next to him. “Sit down, dear Magdalena. Your set was excellent tonight.”
“Thank you.” She gave a nod to Amanda. “Did you enjoy the show?”
“I did,” Amanda admitted. “You have a wonderful voice. It was like you were channeling Melissa Etheridge or something up there, but you also displayed yourself along with her. It was…truly amazing.”
Maggie seemed surprised, and in that, she was genuinely touched.
“I’m The Only One” written and originally performed by Melissa Etheridge.
He kissed her gently on the nose instead. She chuckled at her thumping heart as he moved away and smiled. She felt silly. He felt the same.
“Now you understand I’m not a plunderer,” Will murmured.
“I always knew.” Amanda looked up into his intense brown eyes. For a moment, she felt transfixed by their intensity. Then something odd happened.
It was like a brilliant flash of memory. She had seen these eyes before. She suddenly felt heat, searing, blistering heat. Not just in the air, but in the blood. She could feel it fueling her heart, making it beat faster and faster and faster. She experienced profound hate, and twisted evil. Those eyes that, a moment ago, were looking at her affectionately now were filled with loathing and glowing gold.
Pain filled her head, and she collapsed to the ground holding her head.
Terror and confusion filled Will as he watched Amanda collapse. He rushed forward and caught her before she slumped completely to the floor. He looked into her pale face as her eyes rolled back into her head and she went unconscious. Bonelessly slipping into the role of doctor, Will hefted Amanda up in his arms and marched out with the cell phone to his ear.
Moira-Selene yawned and glanced at her watch. Gracia Memorial Hospital sometimes had quiet nights, and this happened to be one of them. She was torn between being happy that things were quiet here and being bored. Thinking about livening up the tail end of her shift before rounds, Moira-Selene picked up the phone at the nurses’ station with a small smile for one of the nurses. She thought of her sleeping boyfriend at their apartment who was probably thinking about her. Her lips curved as she dialed the number.
Before she could complete the call, the door burst open.
Nurse Belle looked up as the receiver fell from Moira-Selene’s hand. She stood, and Moira-Selene could only watch in disbelief that uncharacteristic for a sharp doctor such as herself.
A tall man rushed in frantically. His long black hair was in disarray and his brown eyes were filled with worry and determination. As he came closer, Moira-Selene’s eyes slowly widened.
Orlando? she thought, extremely mystified. But no. It couldn’t be him. He’s with Gretchen…
Nurse Belle called out to him. “Will! Dr. Will—what’s the matter?”
Will? Moira-Selene, operating on training and not on any coherent thought, stopped him before he could speak. She looked up at him. His eyes had more green in them than Orlando’s and his skin was slightly more olive. But the features were remarkably and shockingly similar. Almost as if they had been cut from the same mold…
What is going on here?
Suddenly, Will’s hazel-brown eyes rested upon Moira-Selene as if he had never seen her before, which was entirely possible since they worked different shifts.
“I’m Dr. Thomas,” she told Will. “I can help you. Tell me what happened.”
Some industrious soul wheeled over a stretcher, and Will placed the person in his arms upon it. Recognizing the still face, Moira-Selene went pale.
“She just fainted,” Will was saying. “We were talking, then she looked up at me. And after that, she fainted.”
Moira-Selene looked up at him. Those eyes… She could see a strange fate in them. They also were very close to the shape of another man’s eyes. And she knew why Amanda fainted.
“Let’s examine her,” Moira-Selene simply said, and they wheeled her away together.