Seth Archer walked out of his flat – no, apartment, that's what they were called in America – grabbed an issue of Variety, and then waved to his driver. His life in England had been good to him. As much as he had enjoyed Scotland, there was something about London that made him feel at home. Or in other words, safe. He'd had it with his life in Washington and the memories that awaited him there. He'd had it with the states not being able to cover certain parts of medical procedures – one of which had left him in Germany with only his "soul-sister" Holly with him to act as a translator – for six months. Perhaps quite a lot to do to run away from a memory.
But if you'd ask him, he'd tell you everything that happened from the time he moved into his two bedroom flat in London to his posh new apartment in New York had been nothing more than a stroke of luck.
He'd met a man while working in a small bookstore and the two had become close friends. Walter Erikson showed enormous talent when it came to being a lyricist and stage writer. Walter had managed to catch the attention of an up and coming theater producer, who'd been invited to Andrew Lloyd Webber's private party that the man threw every year and had managed to wrangle up another one for Walter. Seth had spent many late nights acting out dialogue and singing songs, only giving his opinion when it was asked for. But one the words "plus one" had shown up on the invitation, Walter hadn't had a chance in hell to pick someone for Seth had already claimed the spot for himself.
With the still amazing success of everything having to do with The Phantom of the Opera occurring, a new and younger cast was being called upon to play the roles of each character for the production that still ran at Her Majesty's Theatre. With a shove from Walter and his producer friend, Seth had found himself thrown into an audition for that of the Phantom, a role that more well known names had lined up for. Despite the odds, it had been a dream for as long as he could remember to play the role, so with head held high he walked into one of his idol's living room and auditioned. The announcement of him being cast as the leading role was given out the next day.
He spent two years at Her Majesty's Theatre (until he was 26) playing the Phantom before he was moved over to Broadway. At the age of almost 30, Seth couldn't find too much to complain about. His income had been steady and allowed for a luxurious lifestyle, something he only indulged in when need be. Most of his income was divided amongst his close family members and the rest put into savings.
As the black limousine pulled up to the curb, Seth had just gotten to the article that had been written about the opening night performance with the new cast in Variety. After a quick reminder from his driver that he did have a gala to go to that night, Seth got into the car.
"So, what'd they say?" his driver asked.
He smiled widely. "She wrote: 'Despite having very little professional training when first given the role of the Phantom at the ripe of 24 by Andrew Lloyd Webber, it seems that the Mr. Archer has no intention of anyone else taking the spotlight from him. It is rumored that he has already been considered for the Tony Awards. Michael Crawford was there that night in the front row and said, "The young man gave me chills and seemed to take an understanding to the character that I did not. He is a rising star and will no doubt go far." I must agree with Mr. Crawford – Broadway get ready for the reign of Seth Archer.' Wonderful news isn't it Bobby?"
"Definitely, Mr. Archer."
"Please, call me Seth." His voice had become tainted with a light British accent. "So when is this art gala again?"
"Tonight at 8 pm. You don't perform on these nights, remember."
Seth nodded. "Yes, yes. But I swear Bobby if I could I'd sleep, eat, and live on that stage."
Bobby chuckled. "I have no doubt about that, sir. So where to?"
"The bookstore on Madison and then to Virgin Megastore. I've got a CD collection that could use a few more things added to it. And my nephew wants a new stereo for his birthday."
"Birthday? Why not just give it to him on Christmas?"
"He won't have it. Besides, it's just three days after – December 28th," he said and smiled, but he could feel the weight on his heart. How many years would it be now if they hadn't had that stupid fight? The one that he couldn't remember why it had started in the first place let alone what it was about after all these years. Another year gone without her. You think you'd be use to it by now. He was silent, pretending to read his magazine as he was driven to his destination.
Seth looked himself over in the full-length mirror that was in his bedroom. After doing his fun activities that day he'd been sent off by his agent to get spruced up for the gala that night. His short black hair had been neatly trimmed and styled in an appropriate manner, he was only allowed the faintest indication of facial hair – he hadn't been allowed to have the goatee he'd spent a few years growing once given the part as the Phantom due to the make-up process – and a tuxedo adorned his now athletically toned body. Quite a change from when I was younger, he thought. But that had been his whole point in going away to Scotland – a fresh start, a chance to become the man he wanted to become. He'd definitely succeeded in his quest to do so.
"I still can't believe you're going to this thing dateless. It's not good for your image," his agents voice called from the living room.
Seth chuckled as he slipped on his Omega watch that had once belonged to his father, but had been a gift for his 21st birthday. "Oh but it is good. I'm young, single, and according to many magazines incredibly good looking."
"Are you trying to get a play boy image?"
"Hardly," he said as he walked into the living room. "It just shows that I'm available, Ari. Nothing more, nothing less. Besides, there's no one who has caught my eye."
His agent sighed. "They put 'plus one' on there for a reason, Seth."
"I have no plus one. It's just me. Now, if you'll excuse me, Bobby is waiting downstairs for me. Got to beat the traffic you know. Feel free to let yourself out," Seth said as he pulled on his coat and then walked out the door.
He arrived at the gala fashionably late – meaning ten minutes after 8 o'clock – and by the time he'd walked into the gallery he wasn't sure if he was going to be able to see any of the art due to all the camera flashes that had gone off. However brown eyes quickly spotted one of his co-stars and he made his way over to her.
"Lucy, thank God, someone I actually know is here," he said then laughed.
She smiled. "Seth. Well look at you, all spruced up and looking nice. And here I thought that only occurred for a performance."
"Very cute," he replied then accompanied her over to the bar. "So, you've lived in New York much longer than I have. Tell me who have you seen so far."
"The usual people, save for one. A brunette over there..." She motioned with her drink to a woman in a deep blue dress with her arm looped with that of another man. For some reason a sense of familiarity hit him. "I've never seen her before."
"Who's the man?" he asked then took a sip of his drink.
"An author, which I think the woman is too, but I believe his name is Markus Shepherd."
"Well, if you'll excuse me Lucy, I'm going to go introduce myself to one of my favorite authors." With that, he made his way through the crowd and over to the two. "Amazing work of art, isn't it?" He said once he stood near them.
"Indeed," Markus said, looking to Seth. "Although I do feel sorry for the artist."
"And why is that?"
"These galas, they're more like a dating pool for the rich and famous. No one truly notices the art work because they're really here trying to get laid."
Seth laughed then extended his hand to the man. "Seth Archer."
The man took it, shaking it firmly. "Markus..."
"Shepherd," Seth finished. "You are quite the author, sir. I'm afraid you've got me quite addicted to your series of books." His gaze moved to the young woman who was on his arm. "And who is this stunning young woman you have with you?"
Markus smiled. "A friend and fellow author, Natasha..."
She interjected before he could finish, "Natasha Ravens." It was then that their gazes truly met and Seth was met with all too familiar blue eyes. He felt a lump for in his throat and struggled to keep the smile on his face. By the look in her eyes, she knew who he was too.
"A pleasure," Seth finally said.
"Markus, would you excuse me?" she asked, unlatching her arm from his.
"Of course." And with that she weaved her way through the crowd and Seth paid close attention to the path she took. "Seth Archer. You're that Broadway performer."
"Indeed I am. I'm sorry Markus, I've just remembered that I've left something important in my coat. We'll continue this chat later."
Seth really didn't wait for his answer, already taking the same route she had through the crowd and soon found himself outside. Despite the cold winter night, he found himself unable to feel the chill in the air. When he'd arrived, she'd turned and looked at him and he'd met her gaze. They stood in silence, for how long Seth did not know.
"So it's really you," she said, breaking the silence.
He nodded. "And you. Well, seems we've both done well for ourselves."
"Life long dreams accomplished."
"Save for one," he replied. "On my list at least."
She gave a weak smile. "I was going to say awkward."
"That is something we should be use to." He watched her intently. "Perhaps we can leave the past where it should be and start anew."
"Another chance." Blue eyes met his gaze and he nodded. "Why?"
"There's no doubt that through the years things have been difficult or awkward but the fun we had with each other, how close we were in our friendship. Those things outweigh anything else." He cleared his throat, "And I've missed you."
She sighed, her breath showing in the air. "And what's your plan, Seth? Honestly, would you want me back for friendship or for the relationship we had?"
"Honestly? For both."
"How can you still be so determined to have me after all these years? Am I some prize to you or something?"
"I am determined because my feelings for you have not changed. For some reason we were pulled apart by the fates and now we have been brought back together. This is our chance, Tasha. Do you truly wish to pass it up?"
"Seth..." A noise of exasperation left her and a moment of silence fell as she thought. "Fine, I'll give you another chance but know that I'm truly reluctant to do so."
"I see no reason why you shouldn't be. Here..." He pulled out a note from his pocket and handed it to her. "Perhaps if you find this gala to become a bit boring you won't be against a late night visit with an old friend."
Taking the paper, she slipped it into her purse then looked him in the eye. "We'll just have to wait and see."
Turns out that Seth was indeed in store for a late night visit. Upon the note he pulled out from his pocket there was an address, not to his apartment, but to a building only a few blocks down from it. Seth's expenses were wise ones – his older half-brother, Christian, was quite the musician as was his older cousin, Jonathan. With the first check from Seth, they'd managed to rent a studio and make a demo tape. A rough one – extremely rough – but it had potential. Once they'd managed to find more members to make themselves into a complete band the next demo wasn't so rough.
For family Seth charted his private jet for them, as he'd done so that night. As much as he knew he had to keep up public appearances, Seth had already known he'd be cutting out of the gala early that night. At first it'd been simply because his family members were coming in...but as the gala wore on, he found that he couldn't stand the sight of Natasha standing beside Markus, arms hooked, and both looking like the perfect couple.
When he'd walked into the studio, he'd found his brothers – Christian and his younger one, Matthew – as well as Jonathan, tuning their instruments. He smiled. It'd become a tradition when the holidays were upon them. A semi-private jam session where they decided upon whatever tunes they wished to sing or play.
"You're late," Matthew said, looking to his second eldest brother.
Seth laughed as he pulled off his tailcoat and began to undo his tie along with the top button of his shirt. "I know you aren't complaining, Matty," he said, pressing down on the intercom button with a free hand. "You wouldn't be in this studio if I hadn't chartered the jet." The intercom clicked off and he grinned widely at his younger brother's sour expression. Once comfortable, he walked into the actual studio part and greeted his family with hugs and admissions of missing them; the sentiments were always returned.
"So, what are we starting off with?" Christian asked, plucking at the strings of his electric guitar anxiously.
"Group decision," Seth said, looking around. "Jonny, any ideas?"
His cousin shrugged – a signature move of his – and then said, "Anything that's good."
That was Jonathan – short, sweet, and to the point in answers.
"Anything with a good beat." His drumsticks went over the cymbals and a child like grin appeared on the young man's face.
Christian chuckled. "You pick, Seth seeing how the majority rule shows that anything will be ok."
He smiled and the smile only got bigger when he saw Holly walk in with his nephew in arm along with Christian's wife and little girl. Ari walked in too, then sat in one of the large leather chairs at the controls.
"Ok boys, your women are here. Think we can get this thing started already?" Seth rolled his eyes but then signaled to his agent that there was one left. "Well then just warm up and we'll notify Bruce to let her in." Seth gave a nod of approval.
"All right, let's warm up. I pick that one Josh Turner song we always do. Matty count us in," Seth said as he moved to pick up the last acoustic guitar that sat on a stand, which he then put on his knee once seated, fingers in position.
"You got it." His little brother turned serious. "All right, 1...2...3...4..."
At four they began to play:
So Not My Baby Lyrics by Josh Turner
There's so many things that I need to do
Seems like nothing gets done when I'm feeling so blue
And it's so hard to handle this absolute truth
That you're so not around and I'm so into you
You're so not my baby, it's making me crazy
It's breaking my heart and my world half in two
You're so not my baby, hey, I should be okay
But you know what, I'm so not over you
I keep ringing and ringing your old telephone
Seems like the more that it rings, the more that you're gone
I oughta hang up and just let you go
But a voice in my heart keeps saying hello
I've been searching and searching but it just gets me down
'Cause your love and affection is nowhere to be found
Know what, I'm so not over you
So not my baby.
As everyone's parts played out on their instruments and Seth had sung out the song's lyrics, he'd opened his eyes briefly and had caught the gaze of some extraordinary blue hued ones that were new to the studio. He'd somehow managed the grin that wanted to explode across his face, especially when he saw something flicker within them...approval maybe? He laughed internally, even now he still sought it out.
"Good job guys," Ari's voice floated through the intercom. "Good track."
Despite how bad Seth wanted to go greet her, he stayed put. There was no point in acting like some puppy that was anxious to go get the stick his master held out it his hand. Then again...brown eyes swept over how dazzling she looked...maybe he was wrong. When the family jam session had ended, he'd gotten his chance. Family first though.
"And here after getting that all too familiar 'we'll see' remark I thought I wouldn't be seeing you," Seth said, coming to stand in front of her with a lopsided smile on his face. She'd taken a seat in one of the many chairs that littered the studio.
Blue eyes rolled heavenward. "Gala was boring."
"And this was much more entertaining?"
"At the risk of stroking your already overgrown ego, yes." She smiled lightly. "You guys are really good."
"Thanks. You remember the family of course," he said, suddenly feeling the weight of their gazes on his back. Funny how family managed to do that to someone.
"Of course. Matt, Christian, Jonathan..." She looked over to Holly with a smile. "Holly."
"And the new members..." Seth said, moving over to Holly and taking his nephew into his arms, who giggled and began to struggle when he wouldn't let him down on the ground. "My nephew – Holly and Jonny's son – Luke. They're planning on having another one and naming it Leia if it's a girl," he joked and received a swat on the arm from Holly. He laughed. "And Christian's wife, Anita."
"Who I only met due to my little bro here," Christian said and smiled.
A laugh escaped her. "And who's that?" she asked, pointing at Ari.
"No one important, just some guy," he said with a grin.
"Yea, a guy that makes sure you can do stuff like this by keeping you employed."
"Which, in turn, is only capable by him taking a good percentage of my earnings," Seth countered. "Natasha Ravens meet Ari, my agent."
With the pleasantries done, everyone began to file out of the studio.
"I had fun. Definitely a good night..." Natasha said then looked to Seth, who was walking at her side.
"Who says it's over?" he asked. "My place isn't far, a block or so away from here. And for New York I've been told this is a nice night. Want to join me in my walk home?"
"Why? Afraid of the people who might mug you?"
"Now that I've missed. That biting wit," he said then let out a single laugh. "C'mon, what do you say?"
"I say you haven't changed a bit when it comes to me wanting to stay later."
"Only because your presence is intoxicating and yada, yada, yada..." He received his second assault on his arm that night. "No, in all seriousness, come over so that we can catch up."
After a moment's consideration she gave a nod and they both said good-bye to the others.
"So..." he repeated and she laughed. "What?"
"The accent. I can't get use to it."
He tried not to smile at her comment but failed. "It's not a thick one, be glad for that."
"It'll take some getting use to, Seth."
"Hmmmph." Silence passed between them for a moment. "I do hope Markus wasn't too upset that you left him all by his lonesome tonight..."
"Is that your not so subtle way of asking me if we're seeing each other?"
"You know me far too well, but yes it is."
"No, he wasn't mad and no, we're not dating." He simply nodded but could feel her gaze upon him. "I can practically see those wheels turning..."
He looked to her. "And what's that supposed to mean, eh?"
"Right now you are trying to devise some sort of plan to find a way to sweep me off my feet and finally get the last thing you've been wanting, but guess what, mister? It is not going to be that easy and you are not as charming as you think you are."
Seth smirked. "Yes it will be and yes I am."
"I'll prove it to you," he said, moving to stand in front of her and halting her progress.
She let out a small sigh. "Is that all you ever try to do? Prove yourself to me?"
"No. The other half of the time is spent wondering if I've managed to screw up again...or about why after Vegas things suddenly changed so drastically."