University of Connecticut, Winter 2009

The auditorium was huge.

From the back of the venue she could see the two sophomore students on the stage, one messing around behind his drum kit while the other, a tall, long haired youth of the same age struggled to tune his guitar, his plectrum between his teeth as he tried to get the right note on the nearby keyboard. Despite herself, her heart skipped a beat.

This was why she had come, after all. They had goaded her and teased her and pushed her until she had determined that this would be the day...the one when, instead of hovering at the back of the theatre watching she would actually find the courage to walk down the gangway and speak to him, face to face.

Hadn't Assanti said that he was looking for vocal talent?

Well, gospel singing in a church choir might not be quite what they were looking for, she knew that. But in the two months she had been Assanti's room-mate, she had discovered her new friend's unerring nose for gossip. What Assanti didn't know about what went on on campus was, quite simply, not worth knowing and, when her room-mate had burst into the bedroom a week or so before with her news, she had been unable to think of much else.

"Hey, looks like we have company."

As she made her way slowly between the rows of seats, the young man behind the drum kit got to his feet, tossing down his sticks and tucking a thick lock of dark hair behind his ear. He spoke with a gentle accent - obviously  British, but not like that of her English professor, Professor Leaboy, and she stopped, raising her gaze slowly to meet his amused eyes.

This time she wasn't going to chicken out, she told herself furiously. Clayton Blake was notorious already for his sharp tongue and his mocking wits, and she had heard the wild tales of his abilities with his fists if someone upset him too badly. She was not here to speak to him, after all. She was here to speak to Luca, and by all accounts, Luca Ranieri was a completely different kettle of fish.

She set her jaw, defiance flickering in the depths of her dark brown eyes. When she has been a little girl, her Nana had told her that her eyes were potentially a weapon in their own right, so deep in colour they were almost black at times. Now she found confidence in meeting his gaze, swallowing her fear and clenching her fists behind her back until she felt she was calm.

She took a deep breath.

"I'm looking for Luca Ranieri." She said in cool, disinterested tones, as if she had no idea that the young man who had now set aside his guitar was Luca, the man about whom she'd been dreaming since almost the first day she had arrived on campus.

"I'm Luca." He said now, stating the obvious but with a smile that near knocked her off her purpose. "What can I do for you?"

She took another moment to compose herself.

"My name is Madeleine Dacourt." She said clearly. "And my room-mate told me you were looking for a singer."

"So you thought you'd just trot along down and see us, did you?" The drummer's mouth twitched at the corner. "Madeleine, huh? You a freshman? Don't think I've seen you about here before...we usually scare most of the groupies away when we book the theatre to practice."

This riled Madeleine's temper and she sent him a quelling look.

"I'm glad, then, that I'm not a groupie." She said quietly, her tones edged with a warning. "And if your music is so bad you're scaring people, then maybe you need me more than I thought."

Clay raised his eyebrow.

"Touche." He said, but there was almost approval in his tone.

"Don't mind Clay." Luca came to the edge of the stage, dropping down to her level and swinging his legs casually over the side of the dais. "He gets a kick out of scaring freshmen."

"He doesn't scare me." Madeleine said simply, though her heart pounded inside her chest as she met his gaze.

"But you do." She added silently to herself. "And it seemed like such a good idea, when Assanti suggested it...what have I done, now? How will I ever be able to sing in front of this guy, when he looks at me like that?"

Luca seemed completely unaware of the effect he was having on his companion, because he laughed, holding out a hand to her.

"Then come on up." He said playfully, and she clasped her hand in his, allowing him to pull her awkwardly up onto the stage itself. "You say you're a singer, huh? Well, lord knows we need one of those. We've been trying to put this band together for over a year now...tragic, I know. But we're music majors ourselves and, well, we have exacting standards. Plus, of course, Clay's scared a number of potential singers off. You realise we're just a couple of long haired bums who want to put an act together? We're not the next U2. But who knows? Maybe one day we could be."

"What's your major, Madeleine?" Clay asked off-handedly.

"Lit." Madeleine turned to glance at the drummer, who frowned.

"Lit? And you're here...why?"

"Just because I'm interested in great works of literature doesn't mean I'm a one trick pony." Somehow it was easier to keep her focus when dealing with Clay's scepticism and she took strength in it, building up her determination inside of her. "I've done a lot of singing, back home. Gospel, mostly."

"Gospel, huh?" Clay bit his lip, twirling his drumsticks as he did so, and Madeleine frowned, snatching them out of his grip.

"Well, you're not much of a music student, if you're not open minded enough to take in more than one type of music." She snapped. "I didn't come here to be made fun of. If you want me to sing then fine, I will sing. If you want to play boys games then I'll go elsewhere and find someone who's adult enough to actually hear me out. But I'm a good singer. And it will be your loss if you don't at least hear me out."

"I vote we do just that." Luca had been watching the exchange with some interest. "Clay, stop teasing her. Madeleine, we'd like to hear what you can do. Really. Just give me a second - the amp was playing up a few minutes ago and I'd need to hook up the mic."

"I don't need a microphone. Not if it's only you and humour boy here listening." Madeleine shook her head. "I'm a gospel singer. We project."

"What are you going to sing for us, then?" Clay asked teasingly. "Something godly and spiritual?"

"And I guess you're good to play God Save The Queen!" Madeleine retorted. Clay laughed.

"You know, Luca, I like this one." He admitted, and Madeleine stared at him in confusion. "She's got some bite to her. Sure, Madeleine. Let's hear you sing."

Madeleine eyed him long and hard for a moment, then she tossed her head, moving across the stage and composing herself. Luca was, she knew, just out of her line of sight and she felt somehow that, if she could get through this without thinking about him and the way he had smiled at her, she would be home and dry. At first she thought to sing one of her church favourites but, as she remembered Clay's sarcasm she frowned, inwardly making another choice. Her quick memory flicked through the list of songs she'd sung at her sister's wedding reception, by request of the crowd, and she took a deep breath, opening her lips to sing the opening phrases of one of her favourite power ballads.

For a moment there was nothing else in the room with her, as she concentrated only on pitch and tone and on injecting real feeling into the lyrics. The song seemed to race by, and, as she sang the last few notes, there was utter silence in the auditorium. She closed her eyes, for a moment forgetting where exactly she was. Then, from somewhere around her there was the sound of clapping and she started, swinging around.

"You can sure sing." Luca's eyes were bright with enthusiasm and her heart skipped a beat as she realised he had liked it. "You're damn good, girl. Sure, we'd have to work on the kind of music...but you definitely have the voice. No doubts about that."

"I can sing whatever you tell me to." Madeleine, still flushed with adrenalin said simply, and Clay got to his feet.

"Then we'll have to see how you handle one of my tracks." He said, holding out his hand to her. There was no humour or teasing in his expression this time, however, and when she glanced at his face, she saw only approval. "I'm sorry I gave you a hard time, kid. You're the best we've heard in a while."

"Thank you." Madeleine smiled, taking his proffered hand in hers and shaking it firmly. "Maybe if you spent less time trying to scare off freshmen, you'd have a better pool of singers to choose from."

"Music isn't for the faint-hearted." Clay's eyes twinkled. "And you're obviously not that."

"What Clay's trying to say is that we'd like you on board." Luca grinned. "If you can put up with us, we'd like to make you a part of this band that, some day, is going to take over the world."

"Well, I'll believe that part of it when I see it." Madeleine's eyes sparkled with excitement. "But I reckon I can handle it. I'm tougher than most of the other freshmen, especially when I'm determined to do something."

"So we see." Luca laughed. "Well, it's settled then. Welcome to the band, Maddy...maybe you'll be the luck charm we need to get it off the ground!"

Prologue: Flashback: University of Connecticut, Winter 2009
Chapter One: Starcrossed
Chapter Two: Tante Regine
Chapter Three: Flashback: University of Connecticut: Winter 2011
Chapter Four: The Poem
Chapter Five: A Shock
Chapter Six: Nancy Confesses
Chapter Seven: Flashback: Break Up
Chapter Eight: Blackmail
Chapter Nine: Conflict
Chapter Ten: Flashback: Assanti Meddles
Chapter Eleven: Pay Off 
Chapter Twelve: Stefana Gambles
Chapter Thirteen: University of Connecticut: Finals Week
Chapter Fourteen: Cracks
Chapter Fifteen: A Tiny Piece Of Truth
Chapter Sixteen: Flashback: Forever Changed
Chapter Seventeen: Secrets Will Out

Chapter Eighteen: Fall Out

Chapter Nineteen: Flashback: A New Life

Chapter Twenty: Darren Admits

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