by Mina V. Esguerra
Genre: New Adult, Contemporary
Haley Reese is going back home to Houston and she's dreading this trip. She volunteers as a mentor to young musicians at an annual festival, and the longer she's been doing it, the more she feels like a fraud. It's been years since the web videos that made her sort-of famous first came out, and she hasn't done anything else to pursue the career in music she's always wanted. Things start looking up when she shares a plane ride with Oliver Cabrera, music prodigy, rock star, and the reason why she picked up an instrument in the first place.
Oliver Cabrera hasn't called any place "home" since he started touring professionally in his teens, but Houston is as close to it as any. He's also nearly broke, his career just about over. When he gets the invitation to mentor at the Breathe Music Festival again, he decides, what the hell, he should finally show up. He meets Haley, Hot Piano Girl herself, and finds her own fear of failure might be easier to fix than his own.
Playing Autumn was first released in 2013 in the Rock Gods of Romance ebook anthology. This is a revised, expanded, and steamier edition.
Two people in an airport on a Thursday.
That was all Haley Reese expected this to be.
She recognized Oliver Cabrera right
away (duh), and immediately her brain and other vital systems threatened to
shut down. Why—how—what—when—huh—
It took her about twenty seconds, a
personal record, to reassemble herself, and remember that she wasn't thirteen
years old anymore. She was twenty-two, an adult, an accomplished musician
herself, and was absolutely not going
to squee at the sight of the guy who used to star in most of her teenage dreams
and daytime fantasies.
job, Haley. This was bound to happen, one day. Which fantasy was this?
Ah yes. She had one daydream, conjured
up during a torturous three-hour wait at the dentist's office when she was in
junior high, involving Oliver Cabrera showing up—and being told by the mean
dentist's assistant that he had to wait too, like everyone else, never mind if
his tooth hurt like he had a jackhammer to his gums. No problem, Oliver would
say, smiling through the pain, because he was cool like that. And then he would
sit next to her.
She would be cool, too. Really cool. He
wouldn’t even be able to tell that she was probably in the top ten of his
biggest fans. Her calm exterior wouldn’t betray the posters she had up in her
room, the recordings of all his performances (in multiple copies), the
subscriptions to all the major newsletters, fan groups, and forums. She was
just another girl with a toothache, like him. No big.
When Haley first came up with that, she
had no idea that she was going to be leaving home to take a job in Tampa,
didn't know that she would be spending any amount of time at TPA, didn't
realize that this very airport was where her path and his would finally cross.
She thought that magical moment would happen in New York City, where he lived
and where she would make a musical pilgrimage to, one day. The next most likely
location would have been Houston, his hometown and hers, maybe at a wedding of
a friend they apparently had in common.
She did not expect Tampa. She was not
prepared for this.
Their eyes met. She didn’t expect that
shade of brown, lighter than every photo of him had ever let on. He paused for
a moment, cocked his head to one side, and smiled. She gave him a tiny nod and lifted
her magazine up, focusing on it, pretending to be really interested in the
headlines. Something about a food security breakthrough. How we shouldn’t
forget about malaria, or was it mining.
He took a seat on the same row as hers,
keeping a vacant one between them. The way normal people traveling alone did,
when they were hanging out by the boarding gate. (When she was thirteen, she
didn't know this either.)
Hmm, Haley thought, absorbing her
peripheral view of him. He's a regular
guy. He doesn't look like the kid on my computer wallpaper anymore.
No, he actually looked hotter.
Because Oliver grew up in the public
eye, Haley was witness to several phases of his looks. The first one was the
scrawny, twelve-year-old Oliver, with the stringy dark hair, the intense look
in his eye, the violin in his hand. She first set her eyes on that guy when she
was ten years old, watching him on that talent show week after week, like
“This is headed to Bush International,
right?” Oliver asked her, and it wasn't happening in her head. It was happening
right then and there. Haley opened
her mouth but no sound came out.
“Yes,” she squeaked. “I mean, yes.
Houston. This is it.”
“It says Fort Lauderdale.”
“I know, but that's a glitch. They
assured me that we're going to Houston.”
He looked toward the screen that
clearly did not say that, and shrugged. “So we're just going to have to trust
all these people right?”
“I don't think they're trying to play a
trick on us.”
“I don't know. But suddenly I want to
check out Fort Lauderdale.”
Small talk. By Oliver Cabrera. If there
was anything that was going to get her to stop worrying about her possible
unemployment, this was it. “You should,
maybe. It's not bad.” Stay cool. That’s
it. Good job, Reese. You can be witty another time. Don’t embarrass yourself.
“Is this a thing? Load people in a
vehicle and take them somewhere else? Surprise tourism? Is that how they do it
still talking to me.
Seriously, Haley was running out of non-idiotic things to say. Her daydreams
ended before this point, and were never this detailed. “What you're suggesting,” Haley said, “is like
kidnapping. Or really bad service.”
Oliver's laugh was short and
melodramatic, and she blushed a little because she interpreted it as flirty. It
was probably not flirty at all, if an objective party were to judge it.
“They tell me I have a problem with my
imagination,” he told her.
She was all out of prepped lines. The
real Haley would actually have to talk to him now. She cleared her throat and
went on with it. “Because you use it? Don't believe them. How else do you
survive a flight delay?”
“With conversation,” Oliver answered.
Mina V. Esguerra writes contemporary romance and young adult novellas. She has a bachelor's degree in Communication and a master's degree in Development Communication, put to good use in her work as trainer and content management consultant. Mina lives in Metro Manila, Philippines, with her husband and daughter.
She finds inspiration in the lives and experiences of other people, so the answer to "Is this story based on you?" is always, always "No."
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