Conor Quinn and Gavin McManus are mired deep in the wreckage of a betrayal that has damaged their friendship, ended Gavin’s marriage, and threatens to break up their band.
Conor’s shaken by the mess he’s made and no longer trusts his heart. Book smart but love dumb, he decides acting with more calculation in matters of the heart is the key to moving forward. He starts by wooing back his ex, Colette, and quickly ends up engaged—and in over his head.
When Conor’s old schoolmate, Felicity, unexpectedly returns to his world, he gravitates with increasing frequency toward their renewed friendship. Harmless flirting soon turns into real temptation and suddenly Conor’s questioning whether his impetuous reunion with Colette means he’s missed his chance with the right woman.
Felicity is still stinging from a brutal divorce and wary of her old friend’s rock star ways. She wants stability, not the boy who ran off to join the rock circus and never had a proper job or responsibilities. But that doesn’t mean she’s immune to his charms.
At the same time, wounded, passionate singer Gavin has a song-writing epiphany that convinces him he can’t stay stuck in the past. And he knows what matters most is his wife, since he refuses to believe their love story is over.
As Conor’s wedding rapidly approaches and Gavin attempts to reunite with his wife, both men must also find a way to keep their band together as they strive and stumble toward something resembling redemption—with each other and with the women they’re meant to be with.
Targeted Age Group:: 20 – 50
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
How did Playing At Love come to be?
I’m a huge music fan, and so got to thinking about the dynamics involved in long-standing bands and how they change and grow over the years based on the significant others that enter the picture. I wondered what would happen if one band member ended up with the wrong person. How would that change the relationship he had with his friends/bandmates? As I began writing, the characters took things to new and unexpected directions.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
In thinking of the type of band Rogue would be, I knew that the guitarist (in this case, Conor Quinn) would be both very good looking and very talented – two keys to a band that draws die-hard fans. But he, of course, has his flaws, the biggest is in matters of love. He’s book smart but not love smart and over the course of many years that leads to trouble. The other big character in the book is the singer, Gavin McManus. I believe in the theory that good art is inspired by tortured emotions. He has a childhood tragedy that has never been healed and draws from it to create great music.
Conor looked out the window and scowled at the fierce rain pelting the courtyard. When he had suggested to Felicity they meet at this out of the way café known for their sweet as well as savory offerings, he had rather optimistically hoped they could sit outside and enjoy a bit of late winter sunshine with their chat. But the Dublin weather had other plans for them.
The café was cozy, with black and white checkered flooring, clean white walls, and mismatched kitschy floral patterned vinyl tablecloths. As the day was getting late, there weren’t very many other patrons.
It was well past four o’clock now and Conor looked at his phone to see if Felicity had left him a message about being late. Or calling the reunion off. When he had phoned her, she was reluctant to get together, refusing his suggestion of a drink. Then he scaled it back to an offer of a late afternoon tea or coffee and she agreed with the caveat that it had to be quick.
He found no message but as he looked up again and through the window, he saw a rain-soaked Felicity leaping over puddles on her way to the front door of the café. Standing up, he watched as she shook herself of excess water under the awning before opening the royal blue door. Her blue eyes were bright and her cheeks flushed from the brief jaunt. The frilly pink umbrella she held closed in her hand had apparently not served its purpose as her dark brown hair was mostly wet.
“You poor thing. Here you are,” one of the waitresses said as she greeted Felicity with a tea towel.
“Ah, thanks so much,” Felicity said with a warm smile. “Could you rubbish this for me? It’s quite useless as you can see.”
The waitress accepted the umbrella from her with a sympathetic smile. Felicity then took a moment to run the towel over her hair and pat her face as Conor watched from his table, still standing in anticipation.
She had dressed casually in jeans and a v-neck sweater with a light jacket she was now taking off. She folded it over her arm and looked around, meeting his eyes quickly in the small café. There were only ten tables hugging the walls and he had chosen one directly in front of the large windows.
“Hi Fee,” he said, leaning down to give her a hug. She raised herself on tiptoe to meet him. In the brief moment their bodies touched, he could feel her shaking from the wet and cold. He wondered at that. It wasn’t that cold out and she was barely dampened by the rain.
“How are you, CQ?” she asked as they sat across from each other.
“Better than you, aren’t I?” he said with a smile. “I managed to avoid the worst of the rain out there. Because I was on time.”
She slapped at his arm playfully. “If you hadn’t chosen a place that is so ridiculously hard to find, I would have been early, thank you very much!”
His smile lingered as he watched her. Her hair, a bit drier now, fell almost to her shoulders in beachy waves with long side swept bangs. She had a wide, expressive mouth and had always been quick to laugh. She wore little makeup over the light dusting of freckles on the bridge of her nose and cheeks. He recognized something Irish in her face and he liked it.
Everything about the grown-up version of her was a contrast to the schoolgirl he had known. Back then she had tried so hard to project toughness, from her severe bob haircut, heavy charcoal eyeliner, and the combat boots she wore with everything, to the barriers she put up with him to keep her heart protected. She had always planned on leaving Ireland in search of freedom from the mother who had depended too heavily on her, so it hadn’t been a surprise that she went to Toronto for university. That was over a dozen years ago, just as Rogue was making their way onto the music scene.
The years and the distance had served her well, though. Her edges were softer, the pretenses dropped. He had glimpsed this in her when he visited her in Toronto after she separated from her husband. He had wanted to be there for her but as was her habit she kept her own counsel. The visit had been too short and with frequent interruptions from Colette calling, but he came away feeling that though Felicity was having a rough time she was going to survive just fine. She always had, in large part due to the years of coping with the disappointment of the original man in her life, her father. Or really, the lack of that man in her life.
As kids, he had been privy to episodes of Felicity left waiting for her absentee father to pick her up for visitation. She claimed she couldn’t be bothered by the fact that her father had left her and her mother and started another family. But the hurt of her father’s random presence in her life was made clear in the way she built up walls around her heart when other girls her age were only too happy to declare they were hopelessly in love with their first crush.
When years later she said she found all she ever wanted in her husband, Conor was happy for her. It seemed, from his distance, that she had finally let down her defenses and gotten the stability she had hoped for. Their worlds were truly opposite as she focused on married life and career while he and the band recorded and supported albums on the road.
Now everything had come full circle with her back home in order to care for her mother once again.
“Well, you look gorgeous, wet or no,” he told her.
The waitress who had greeted Felicity came to their table to take their order. Her attitude was less friendly now that she saw who Felicity was with. She looked and spoke only to Conor, even as he apparently made her a bit short of breath.
When Felicity couldn’t decide whether she wanted something savory or sweet, Conor asked for two of café’s most popular items each along with tea.
“I see you still like to take control,” she said when the waitress left.
“Is that how you think of me? When you think of me, that is.”
“Conor Quinn, don’t you dare bring that up!” She laughed despite herself.
“It’s nice to see your smile, honey.” Being in her company felt good, easy. It made him happy to realize they were able to pick back up as if they had never had years and a lifetime apart.
“I have to say, it’s nice to smile. It’s been pretty bleak since I’ve been back.”
“What is it that your Ma is dealing with, then?” he asked, leaning forward as he rested his forearms on the table.
“She’s got lung cancer. She doesn’t have long.”
“Shite, I’m sorry,” he said. “And it’s just you taking care of her?”
“Yeah, but it’s fine.”
“Does she have everything she needs? Is there anything I can do to help?”
Felicity gave him a grateful smile. “Thanks, Conor. We’re fine.”
“The circumstances are no good, but I’m glad you’re back.”
She held his gaze for a moment before looking away as a battered metal pot of tea was set on the table. The waitress leaned across Conor’s side of the table to point out the bowl of sugar and mini pitcher of milk, clearly anxious to turn his eye to her ample bosom as she did so. But he quit his involuntary glance almost immediately and gave her a quick thanks, dismissing her.
“Fair play, that,” Felicity told him with a wink.
“You did well not to stare too long at the show she was trying to give you.”
“I’m not a complete cad, thank you very much.”
“Just a bit of a rogue, then?”
“Aren’t you clever?” he said with a laugh. “Want to guess how many times I’ve heard that over the years?”
“You did bring that one on yourselves, though,” she said playfully.
“Sure, we did.”
He found himself enjoying watching her. She was comfortable in her own skin, no doubt something that had been earned after many trials. He imagined breaking away from her mother all those years ago and finding security with her husband, only for it to have been torn away hadn’t been easy. But she seemed to have come away in decent shape. More than decent shape, if he let his eyes wander. Her clothes weren’t sexy but they were form fitting, suggesting a nice figure.
“So, tell me all about your fiancée. You didn’t say much when we saw each other before.”
“She’s . . . well, Colette is something else. Keeps me on my toes, you could say.” He shook his head with a rueful smile.
“That must suit you, CQ.”
He struggled for a moment to agree.
“What makes you say that?” he asked.
“I guess the fact that you’re getting married to her,” she replied with a laugh.
“About that. What advice would you have for me as you’ve been down this road.”
“My road led to divorce, didn’t it? I’m the wrong person to ask.”
He watched as she turned her gaze to the rain still coming down hard outside. When he had visited with her in Toronto she hadn’t gone into the details of why her marriage had ended and he hadn’t pushed. The best sense he could get was that it wasn’t her choice, that she was, in fact, blindsided by it.
“I think you’re being watched,” she said before he could try for some way to fix his blunder.
There were three teenage fangirls huddled outside under the awning of a building opposite the café and when Conor looked their way they let out screams of delight. Then he waved and they clutched each other and jumped up and down in uncontained excitement.
“Look at the power you have,” Felicity said with a playful tsk. “I hope you use it for good and not evil.”
Conor laughed. “I do my best.”
Felicity examined him for a moment, envisioning the rock star life he must have led all these years while she had been living a normal life of marriage and career ambitions. She wondered if he was immune by now to the screams and advances of the girls who swarmed Rogue’s shows. There had to be a point when the excitement of the fans failed to rouse the same feeling in the band members. Wouldn’t the routine of playing show after show in cities all over the world and living out of a suitcase in impersonal hotel rooms become tiresome?
It exhausted her just to think of not having a stable home base. That was all she had ever wanted, especially with her father being such a random part of her life. It made her grow up faster than most. It also made her realize that she needed consistency and maturity in a partner and was why she knew as a teenager that she could never be with Conor. His rock star ambitions had made any hope for a serious relationship impossible. But she had found what she was looking for with Richard, her husband—make that ex-husband. They were together for just over ten years before it all went south. She was left wondering if stability was an illusion she never should have dared for.
“I can’t tell what you’re thinking,” he said. He leaned back as the waitress set their food before them.
“I dunno,” she said. She watched the woman fuss with the positioning of their plates, and it bought her time to reclaim her thoughts.
Conor’s glance at the waitress’ cleavage was almost imperceptible this time. Without any more encouragement or way to catch his eye further, the waitress quickly took her leave once again.
“I guess I was wondering if that, those fans watching your every move, ever got old.”
“Old? No. Inconvenient at times? Yes. But honestly, I still get a thrill out of the fact that there are people out there that connect to what we do. We owe them everything. In fact . . . give me a minute?”
Though she was beginning to feel anxious about returning to her mother’s bedside, she urged him to go. She watched him as he ran out into the street to greet the girls, one of whom threw her arms around his neck rapturously. He carefully extricated himself from the embrace but smiled and said something to make each of the girls visibly swoon.
Ever since she could remember, Conor had been aware of his image and his looks. Today was no exception. He was cleanly shaven, with his short black hair precisely faded on the sides and back, and longer and carefully messy on top. In dark denim jeans and a thermal shirt under a soft chambray button up, his clothes fell on him as if he were doing them a favor.
Their group of school friends had always teased him about his model looks, especially as at six feet tall he had the height to complete the package. Gavin, in particular, had developed a habit of calling Conor “pretty.” But Felicity knew that came from some kind of jealousy, rather than truth. Conor was, even with thick eyelashes, not feminine in the least. His good looks, book smarts and quiet confidence paved an easier path for him in life, especially with girls. They had always pursued him, giving him his pick. So it had been a surprise to her when he had one lazy afternoon suggested a snog with her. She thought it would be good for a laugh, but found they had chemistry. Before either of them could get any ideas, she told him flat out that she didn’t want to be in a relationship. She had plans of getting away from Ireland, from her mother, and didn’t want to get tied down with a boy from school. He had agreed to her friends-with-benefits arrangement with amusement, and though she had said they should feel free to date others, neither did.
Conor had treated her with decency and care when it was just the two of them. With others around, he assumed the more distant, but still appreciated, role of a big brother, making sure no one gave her any hassle while reserving the honor of teasing her for himself.
Though they didn’t claim the label of boyfriend and girlfriend, he was who she gravitated toward, especially during those times when her mother lost herself in the highs and inevitable lows that came with her latest boyfriend. When her mother found a new man to shower her attentions upon, Felicity was left to do as she pleased. That meant she was often out late, doing things she shouldn’t. She would join Conor and the other band members as they searched out live music at pubs and clubs, sneaking drinks and neglecting homework until the morning. Once her mother’s boyfriend du jour left, Felicity was pulled back into a caretaker role, helping to mend her bruised, fragile ego and becoming her constant companion again. She loved her mother and enjoyed when they had time together but it invariably ended up being too much of the child taking care of the parent, and there was no stopping the resentment and desire for freedom that resulted.
Despite losing all but the occasional communication with Conor when she moved for university, Felicity had watched with a distracted eye the hype the band had garnered over the years. She had distanced herself from the music and the success of the band, at first because she was no longer part of their inner circle, and later because she had made her own life in Toronto. But at the same time, she couldn’t help but notice the attention Conor generated with the string of models and actresses he had been connected with. Now he had settled on being with just one, the stunning model Colette Devereaux. Felicity thought they made a gorgeous couple. And yet, the idea of him getting married made her a little wistful.
It only took a few minutes for Conor to take photos with each of the girls and sign his autograph, one on a girl’s arm that was likely to serve as the trace for a permanent tattoo. During this time, the rain abated and rays of sun fought their way through the dense clouds.
“Sorry about that,” Conor said as he returned.
“No problem. Nice of you to indulge them.”
He shrugged and watched her for a moment. “It really is good to see you back home.”
“Speaking of which, I should get going. I don’t want to leave my Ma too long.”
“Oh. Sure. I feel like we didn’t catch up much, though.”
“You know where to find me,” she said and stood up.
He stood with her. “Let me drive you home. That rain won’t stay away for long and I don’t want to be the reason for you getting drenched again.”
She looked up at him and had a flash of the tingling desire those fangirls felt when they laid eyes on the guitarist for Rogue. It had been a lot of years since attraction to someone other than her husband tripped her up like this. He returned her gaze with a small smile.
Damn it. He knew exactly what kind of effect he was having. She had no interest in giving him that kind of satisfaction.
“Let’s go then” she said.
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