Hollywood Flirt (Hollywood Name Game Book 2)
“Sparkling prose, invigorating dialogue, and expert characterization bring this tale to life in a big way. The author’s talent of injecting the “what’s gonna happen next?” factor into this romantic suspense is mindblowing. The Hollywood-worthy plot is fast-paced and multi-layered, with each character’s personal connections and issues thoroughly explored. Emphasis on family ties girls the story with a strong frame. Add to that all the sizzling hot love scenes with an achingly handsome actor, what’s not to love? This is truly a bookInD'Tale Magazine
She's Hollywood royalty whose trail vanished a dozen years ago.
He doesn't do relationships and thinks commitment is a four-letter word.
They Google each other . . . and sparks fly . . .
Sydney Revere, the daughter of a famous movie couple, left Hollywood behind over a decade ago. Christened The Wild Child by the media, she reinvents herself as a serious student who becomes an attorney and marries a safe, predictable man. When her husband cheats on her and the law loses its glitter, Sydney returns to Hollywood. Her father hires her to storyboard his upcoming movie, No Regrets—and then stuns Sydney when he offers her the job as his assistant director.
Dash DeLauria is a rising actor who hasn't trusted a woman since his mother left. He's now the guardian of his mentally-challenged brother. Dash is looking to grow professionally and after he wins the lead in No Regrets, he finds he's lost his heart and soul to Sydney. With both their careers on the upswing, life is sweet.
But Sydney's ex-husband isn't finished with her yet. Discovering who she really is—and that she's wealthy—he tracks her to California, ready to start over with her again.
No matter what it takes . . .
Release date: February 10, 2021
Publisher: Oliver Heber Books
Print pages: 281
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Hollywood Flirt (Hollywood Name Game Book 2)
Five years ago . . .
Sydney Brown gazed at herself in the mirror. The high neck ivory Victorian bridal gown was the complete opposite of the white satin slip dress she’d been married in when she was seventeen. That slinky gown with a low plunging neckline had fit her spur-of-the-moment Vegas wedding to Craig Thompson in a 24/7 wedding chapel a block off the strip. Craig was all about spontaneity and living in the moment.
He’d also been twenty-five years older than Sydney—and an actor friend of her director father.
A part of her still missed Craig. He’d been the fun guy hanging around the house when she was growing up. The one who’d tried to help her cope with the death of her mother from breast cancer. The one she called to get her out of scrapes when she hit her rebellious teenage years. Sydney wondered if their marriage would have lasted—or for how long—if Craig had lived. A drunk driver crashing into their sports car four months after their quickie wedding kept the answer from her. She’d put Craig in the ground and never looked back.
She studied her reflection, wondering if her first husband would have recognized her if he caught a glimpse of her now. Craig had insisted on no prenup so Sydney was set for life. That’s what marrying a Hollywood legend who invested wisely did. The paparazzi proved relentless, though, and her reputation as The Wild Child only added fuel to the fire.
So, she’d disappeared.
Sydney chopped off her long, signature auburn locks and dyed her hair a mousy brown. She started wearing brown-colored contacts to hide her luminous green eyes and donned ginormous glasses that covered most of her face. Her only makeup was a light lip gloss, worn because her lips had a tendency to crack if not protected. Baggy jeans and oversized sweaters hid her figure. She even petitioned to have her name legally changed, though she couldn’t part with Sydney. Her mother had chosen her daughter’s name and it was the only link to the beautiful woman who’d died far too soon. Sydney willingly gave up her famous last name of Revere and escaped Hollywood, choosing Brown as her new surname. A name as bland and drab as her new hair.
She didn’t regret her choices. They enabled her to attend college anonymously in the Midwest and live a fairly mundane life. She didn’t date or make friends. Instead, she soaked up everything her professors offered, especially in her writing and literature courses.
Still, she wanted to get as far away from Sydney Revere as she could. Today was another step toward becoming a normal, obscure person. Marrying Wakefield Warren Marshall IV, from an old east coast family, would take her a world away from her Hollywood roots. They’d met the first day of Yale Law School. Both had jobs waiting for them at prestigious New York firms once they said their I dos. Sydney would settle into life as a tax attorney, while Wake would work in the real estate arm of his new law firm. She and Wake planned to have two children and she’d make sure they were christened with traditional names. Their kids would attend good schools. They would never give their parents a moment of trouble—as she had.
Wake was perfect in every way, from his stodgy name and background to his boyish good looks and intelligence.
The only thing lacking was love. For the second time, Sydney was marrying a man she didn’t love. Despite formerly being known as The Wild Child, Wake was only the second man she’d ever slept with. So much for Hollywood’s gossip rags.
She closed her eyes, trying to draw from the inner reserve of strength that she always depended upon. “I can do this,” she told herself. “In a few minutes, I’ll be Mrs. Wakefield Warren Marshall IV. I will be a typical, average, married woman with an everyday job. I will come out of my hermit’s cave and make friends. I will never be the subject of a tabloid TV story. I’ll never set foot in Hollywood ever again.” She prayed her little pep talk would see her through the candlelight ceremony.
Sydney exhaled a long breath and opened her eyes. The stranger she’d become eight years ago stared back at her. She hated to admit it but she looked unsure. Frightened. And unhappy. Sydney practiced her smile until she thought she could pass for happy. She would defy anyone who didn’t believe that she was ecstatic as she married Wake.
A soft rap at the door startled her. Sydney sucked in a quick breath. She steeled herself as Patricia Marshall breezed into the room. Sydney shivered and told herself she only imagined the room’s temperature dropped ten degrees with the Ice Queen’s entrance.
Sydney had done everything imaginable to win over Wake’s mother but nothing had worked. She finally realized a year into their relationship that any woman Wake brought home would never be good enough for Patricia’s little boy. The pair was almost joined at the hip. Sydney thought it was a little creepy. Wakefield Number III had died in a boating accident ten years ago, soon after the government had brought fraud charges against him regarding an investment scam. Her curiosity led her to search online regarding the allegations. From everything she’d read, her gut told her the so-called accident had been an actual suicide, hushed up by authorities. Ever since then, mother and son were tighter than sardines crammed into a can. She supposed that’s what bluebloods did—rally the troops and then close ranks upon the death of a loved one. Not like her father, who’d made a hobby of remarrying every few years after her mother’s death.
“Hello, Patricia,” Sydney said easily, though every time she spent time around this woman her insides felt jumbled and off-balance.
“Must you wear those glasses?”
Sydney was used to hiding behind the oversized frames, even though they contained no prescription. They’d become a part of her. Though she would love to walk down the aisle without them, a small part of her feared someone would figure out who she was—and then Wake would reject her in front of everyone. He was even more traditional than his mother. To find out he stood at the altar with someone with Sydney’s past reputation would cause him to turn a cold shoulder and slip from the chapel without a further word. No running and screaming for a Marshall. That would be undignified. He’d simply slither away and leave her exposed to the world.
She was Hollywood royalty, whether she wanted to admit it or not. Her father was one of the most famous directors on the planet. Her mother had been a talented Oscar winner and named People’s Most Beautiful Woman. It didn’t matter. Sydney cut ties with Monty Revere years ago and her mother was long dead. In her heart, she should believe she was good enough for Wake but insecurity nagged at her, chipping away whatever self-confidence she had.
Though she might not equal Wake in good looks, she had brains. No one became Yale’s Law Review Editor and graduated at the top of the class unless they flexed serious intellectual muscle. She knew that was the biggest turn-on for Wake, who’d come in two-hundredths of a grade point behind her. They’d duked it out until the very last paper was due in their final class. Already engaged, Sydney had wondered if Wake would still marry her if she outshone him but he’d told her he was proud of her. He also seemed to appreciate her height, which intimidated most men, but Wake was six inches taller than her at six-four, another plus for him.
If only she could love him.
Turning to the Ice Queen, she said, “Yes, Patricia. I’m blind as a bat. I wouldn’t be able to see the aisle—much less walk down it—without my glasses.”
The woman frowned. “At least take them off for the pictures afterward. Glasses can reflect and make for incredibly bad photographs. We wouldn’t want to mar Wake’s day.” She sighed. “It’s almost time.” Patricia leaned over and gently touched her cheek to Sydney’s.
The gesture moved her because Patricia had never shown Sydney any kind of affection during the last three years. She remained distant through all the wedding planning, though she’d insisted that the couple do premarital counseling and sign a prenuptial agreement.
Before Sydney could express her gratitude and hope that today would mark a new beginning in their relationship, Patricia warned, “You better make my son happy, Sydney. He deserves your undivided attention. That means catering to his every whim. See that you place his career above your own. If you don’t, I’ll make sure he gets rid of you.”
So much for thinking she might have found a new mother. At least Patricia never changed. She put Wake first and foremost. Always. Sydney understood it. She accepted it.
“Wake has made me very happy, Patricia. You know there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him.”
Actually, Wake was often selfish and didn’t do much for Sydney. Still, he would never think about doing anything scandalous and that’s what she told herself she needed. Today would forever close the door on her past. She would step through a new one that led to her future.
Even if Sydney wasn’t remotely attracted to her groom.
Now . . .
Sydney brushed her teeth with one hand as she scrolled through her phone with the other. A deposition at eleven. Lunch with a new client at one. Two meetings this afternoon, one with her boss. Her day stacked up as it usually did.
Then it hit her.
The sameness of every day made her want to scream. One blended into the next and blurred until she didn’t know what day it was. Or month. Or season. She didn’t take vacations. She didn’t have friends.
She worked. Period. That was her life.
And she was tired of it. Tired of trying to be dull Sydney Brown. She’d done it for the last dozen years. Attempted to be perfect. Stuck to a routine. Was an average, tax-paying American who kept her head down and flew under the radar and would never be caught dead on the news—or the front page of The National Enquirer.
Sydney set her phone down. She spit the toothpaste into the sink.
“I want to be me again. Sydney Revere.”
Saying it felt right.
She carefully applied her favorite shade of lip gloss and took a deep breath. She’d pretended for years but the time for pretending was over. She wanted to go home. To California.
She missed her dad. She missed the terrific weather. She missed driving a car. She missed writing.
Sydney had always scribbled in notebooks. Her mother had told her she would be a novelist or screenwriter someday. They would go to the park, her mother wearing dark glasses, a wig, and a scarf to hide her identity. They’d sit on a bench and make up stories about the people that passed by. Sydney still did it. Waiting to give the barista her order, she’d pick out people standing in line and give them names and back stories. She’d even let her mind wander in meetings, creating stories for the people that passed in the hallway.
Why had she denied for so long who she was?
“I’m done,” she declared to the image in the mirror.
She went to her closet and pulled out a suitcase and placed it on her bed. She packed her favorite pair of jeans. Her Yale hoodie. A few shirts. Some clean underwear and bras. Black pants. Two pairs of shoes. An extra purse. She’d leave the rest behind. What she didn’t have, she could buy. The last thing she slipped in was a three-ring binder with all her legal documents. She’d be needing those in order to become Sydney Revere again.
Sydney brought the suitcase into her living room and stared at where she’d lived for the last eighteen months. Though she could have afforded to buy anything she wanted, she’d rented this apartment and the furnishings that came with it. She only bought e-books so she wouldn’t be leaving any treasured hardbacks behind. She hadn’t taken any pictures with her when she left home as a teenager. She had no pictures from her drive-through Vegas wedding to Craig.
She’d burned the pictures from her second wedding.
Sydney pushed thoughts of her second husband aside. She no longer dignified him with a name. The lying, cheating creep didn’t deserve one.
She had on her good navy suit and Manolos that she wouldn’t dare leave behind. She always wore the same watch and the diamond stud earrings that were her mother’s. No other jewelry to scoop up. In a way, it was sad she had so little to take with her but it made it easier to leave the physical and emotional baggage behind. She’d wasted her entire twenties. No, not wasted. She’d gotten her degrees. Been gainfully employed. Now that thirty loomed on the horizon, she wouldn’t lie to herself any longer.
She was Sydney Revere. And she liked her.
Her keys sat next to her purse. She’d leave them on the table. She wouldn’t need them anymore. She slung her purse over her shoulder and slipped her phone in the side pocket, then rolled her suitcase out the door and down the hall to the elevator. She had it to herself. Sydney swore she was going to give up living a solitary life. Alone could be good. It was good for her after her divorce. She was young, though, and had plenty of living to do. With others. Sydney 2.0 was done. She was going back to Original Sydney. That Sydney liked being around people.
She made straight for the super’s apartment and rang the bell. When Stu answered, she said, “I’m leaving Boston. My keys are on the table. You can have anything in the apartment that I’ve left—clothes, bedding, kitchen stuff. What you don’t want, give away. I’ll send you a check for two months’ rent since I didn’t give you any notice. Thanks, Stu. You always took good care of me.”
Before the dumbfounded super uttered a word, Sydney turned and wheeled her suitcase out of the building. Right on time, her car service pulled up. One of the perks of her job. Her usual driver got out.
“Going on a trip, Miss Brown?”
“Yes, Rick. Something came up unexpectedly. Out of the blue.”
He loaded the suitcase into the trunk and helped her into the car before climbing back into the driver’s seat.
“Straight to the airport?”
“No. I need to stop by work first. Can you wait and take me to the airport?”
“Sure. I was free this morning until your lunch appointment. Guess that’s canceled now.”
Sydney grinned. “It will be.”
As Rick pulled away from the curb, she took out her phone and booked a flight to LA. She’d wait to cancel her meetings until she got to the office. She didn’t want the cat getting out of the bag too early.
Seven minutes later, they pulled up at her office on Summer Street.
“Give me about half an hour, and then we’ll head straight to Logan.”
“You’re the boss.”
Sydney walked through the doors to her office building for the last time. Strangely, she felt nothing. That told her that she was doing the right thing. She took the elevator up to the fourteenth floor and swiped her security badge to gain admittance to the law firm. She waved at the receptionist who was on the phone and headed back to her office. Her assistant, Brenda, met her, handing over a cup of coffee.
“Come into my office, Brenda.” Sydney went inside and looked around. It could’ve been anyone’s office. A few pictures from fundraisers adorned the walls, along with plaques of awards she’d won. Her briefcase sat atop her desk. She’d worked so late last night that it hadn’t been worth toting it home. She set down her coffee and opened the briefcase, clearing out all the files. She left her favorite fountain pen and a yellow legal tablet inside, along with her laptop. She’d use those on the plane. To start her first . . . whatever.
Sydney tapped the folders on the desk so they formed a neat stack and then handed them to her assistant. “You’re in charge of these and canceling whatever’s on my calendar.”
“For . . . today?”
Brenda’s jaw dropped. “You’re quitting?”
Sydney nodded. “I am. As of today. Actually, as soon as go in and tell Simon.”
Brenda’s eyes widened. “He’s going to shit bricks, Sydney.”
“Then line ‘em up and sell tickets.”
“I am. I’ve been unhappy for a while, and I’ve decided to do something about it.”
Brenda gave her a crooked smile. “Good for you, Sydney. Good for you.” Her eyes misted over. “I’m going to miss you.”
Sydney gave her a hug. “I’ll miss you, too.”
“If you ever need another assistant, I’d be happy to follow you wherever. Especially if you decide to practice a more exciting kind of law.”
Sydney kept a straight face. Brenda watched every crime drama on TV and was always talking about criminal cases that appeared in the Boston newspapers. If her assistant only knew just how different Sydney’s life was going to be. Still, Brenda was as sharp as anyone she’d known in law school and constantly thought out of the box. Maybe Sydney would reach a point where she might need an assistant.
“I’ll keep you in mind, Brenda. Thanks for the offer.”
The young woman gave her a smile. “Then I guess I’ll go start canceling appointments.”
Sydney took a deep breath. One minor roadblock down. One major hurdle still ahead. She stepped into the corridor and saw Simon’s executive assistant at the coffeemaker as she passed the staff kitchen. That would make it easier to slip in with no one manning the desk outside Simon’s door. His assistant could be a real dragon, guarding Simon’s time.
The managing partner’s door was open, which was unusual. Simon stood looking out his window, hands in his pockets, lost in thought.
Sydney rapped on the door. “Hi, Simon. I need to speak to you.”
He turned. “Sure, Sydney. Have a seat.”
“It won’t take that long.” She closed the door for privacy, not knowing how he’d react to her next words.
He cocked his head, waiting for her to speak.
“I’m resigning, Simon. Effective today.” She paused when she didn’t get a reaction. “Did you hear me?”
He crossed his arms. “I wondered why you didn’t want to sign a contract. I chalked it up to your recent divorce and moving to Boston. Not knowing if you’d want to stay or not. Are you getting back with your ex? Heading to Manhattan again?”
Sydney laughed. “That’s the last thing I’d do. Actually, I’m leaving for the west coast. I have family there. I need . . . I need to go home.”
Simon sighed. “You’ll be missed, Sydney. I’ve never seen anyone with your work ethic.”
“I appreciate hearing that. You’ve been terrific to work for.” She pulled her badge from where it was clipped to her skirt’s waistband. “I won’t be needing this anymore. I do want to thank you for the opportunity you gave me. I wish the circumstances were different but I’ve decided I need a bigger change than I first thought.”
He smiled. “If you ever choose to come back to Boston, this better be your first stop.” He offered her a hand. “Good luck to you, Sydney.”
“Thanks for being so understanding, Simon.”
She left his office and returned to her own, giving Brenda a thumbs up as she passed. Brenda repeated the gesture as she spoke into the phone.
Sydney closed her office door and decided to make one more call before she left for the airport. She scrolled through her contacts and paused at a number she hadn’t called in a long, long time.
She touched the name on the screen before she chickened out and brought the phone to her ear. Very few people had Monty Revere’s private number. Sydney hoped he hadn’t changed it.
After three rings, she heard, “I’m only answering this because I recognize the area code and I have a friend in Boston who owes me dinner and beers. How ya doin’ today, Terry? When’d you get a new number? And when the hell are you coming to LA?”
Sydney’s throat closed in emotion. It had been so long since she’d heard this voice.
“Terry? You there?”
“Dad?” she got out.
A long pause. She was afraid he might hand up. She tried to get words out, but none would come.
“Syd? Is that you, baby?”
“Yes,” she squeaked out as tears swam in her eyes.
“I’m . . . I’m glad you called, honey. How . . . how are you?”
“Dad. I’m coming home.”
In that one words, she heard wonder. Hope. Love.
“For real,” she said. “For good,” she added.
“I’ll meet you. Where? LAX? John Wayne? Burbank?” He threw out several airports.
“I’ll Uber over. Do you still live . . .” Her voice cracked.
“Same place, baby. Just hurry home, baby.”
“I’ll be there by six,” she got out.
“I’ll be waiting,” he said softly. “I love you, Syd.”
“I love you, too.”
She disconnected the call and fell back into her chair. Then she opened the bottom drawer of her desk and dug out a handful of tissues. Blew her nose. Rested her glasses on the desktop as she mopped her eyes.
“Guess it’s a good thing I don’t wear mascara,” she told herself, though she was ready to wear makeup again. Ready to see who Sydney Revere really was.
She threw the used tissues into her trashcan and then tossed her oversized glasses in, as well. They hit the can with a clang. Sydney started pulling the pins out of her hair. Those, too, went in the waste bin. She’d finally grown it out after law school, back to shoulder length, but she always wore it up. Never down. She ran her fingers through the long locks and felt liberated to have it falling around her again, like a comforting blanket. The first thing she’d do once she got home was make a hair appointment. She wanted to go back to her natural auburn hair.
Sydney pulled a mirror from the inside of her purse. She rarely looked into it except to check after a meal to see if she had any food in her teeth.
Puffy eyes and all, she still liked what she saw.
Sydney stood and reclaimed her briefcase and purse. She opened the door and stepped out. Brenda gawked at her.
“You look so different, Sydney,” her assistant said, her baby blue eyes round with wonder. “I’ve never seen you without your hair up. Or no glasses. You look really pretty.”
“Thanks, Brenda. I’m off.”
“You’ll keep my offer in mind?” Brenda had a hopeful look on her face.
“I will,” Sydney promised. She hugged Brenda once more and then waltzed down the corridor. She could tell heads were turning as she passed. She hadn’t sought out or received attention like this in a long time.
Wait until she sported her own hair color. And makeup. She couldn’t wait to brush on a few coats of mascara.
Stopping in the restroom, she splashed cold water on her face and patted it dry with a paper towel. Here was the starting-to-be-new Sydney facing her. So far, so good.
Sydney emerged from the office building a few minutes later and looked around. Rick leaned against the car, a folded newspaper in his hands. He glanced up as she began walking his way. He smiled and went back to reading—then looked up again in a double take.
His eyes crinkled. He beamed at her as he opened the back door.
“Well, hello, Miss Brown,” he said.
“You’re looking good, Miss Brown. I almost didn’t recognize you.”
“I almost didn’t know myself, Rick.”
The driver closed her door and opened his own. “Where to? Logan?”
“Let’s make one stop before. CVS. The first one you spot.”
Within five minutes, Sydney was grabbing a small shopping basket at the drug store. She headed straight for the wall housing all the makeup. She tossed in everything from concealer to eye shadow to five different shades of lipstick before she remembered to add makeup remover and a small makeup bag for her purse. She paid for the items and returned to the car.
As Rick drove her to the airport, Sydney applied makeup for the first time since she was seventeen. Her hands shook at first so she took a few calming breaths and tried again. By the time they reached Logan, her transformation was complete.
Rick opened the door to help her out and gave a long whistle. “Oh, Miss Brown.” He was speechless.
She laughed. “I’m Sydney now, Rick. My Miss Brown days are over.” At least they would be once she Googled how to legally go back to being Sydney Revere again.
“Sure you don’t want to hire me as a bodyguard? You’ll need one. Men are going to be coming on to you left and right.”
It felt nice to see a man eye her appreciatively. Not that she wanted to be involved with any man right now. After Number Two, she was done with men, but receiving a compliment about her appearance felt exhilarating.
“I know Tae Kwon Do, so I think I can protect myself.” She’d taken lessons since her law school days and loved the empowering feeling practicing the martial art gave her.
Rick held up his hands in surrender. “Then you should be set.” He paused. “I’m not going to be driving you anymore, am I, Miss Brown?”
“Sydney,” she said softly. “And, no. This is goodbye. Thanks for everything, Rick.”
He stuck out a hand and pumped hers enthusiastically. “If this is it, then you’re going out in a blaze of glory, Sydney.” He looked sheepish using her first name.
Rick retrieved her suitcase from the trunk and raised the handle for her. “It’s been a real pleasure, Sydney. Good luck with wherever you’re going and whatever you’ll do when you get there.”
She gave him a smile. “I hope someday you’ll be able to know what I’ve decided to do with myself. Bye.”
Sydney entered the airport and checked her bag, glad the long flight wouldn’t have any layovers and that she’d snagged the last seat in first class. She stopped to pick up a bottled water and bought a pack of gum. Not just for take-off and landing. When she’d written stories as a teenager, she’d always popped a piece of gum into her mouth and chewed furiously on it as she wrote.
As she boarded the plane, she hoped to get a lot of writing done. She reached to turn off her cell. It buzzed in her hand. Sydney had already taken two calls from Brenda on the ride to the airport and hoped this would be the last of them. She wanted to leave Boston behind.
“Hello?” she said as she slid her briefcase under the seat in front of her.
“You quit your job? That’s fucked up, Sydney.”
She quickly disconnected the call, her heart pounding. She wanted to scream in frustration and hurl the phone from the plane. Instead, she turned it off and methodically opened the back of the case and removed the battery. She couldn’t let him know where she was going.
Would she ever be able to get away from Wake?
Dash DeLauria opened his eyes and knew something was wrong as his curtains automatically opened on the set timer. Warmth hugged the side of his body.
Someone was in bed with him.
He glanced down at the woman snuggled close, her long, blond hair spilling across his bare chest and arm. Dammit. Why hadn’t Ashley left like he told her to?
He didn’t trust women. Any of them. Because they did all kinds of dumb things. Like this.
Dash sat up and pushed Ashley over. She groaned and shoved her face into the pillow. He shook her. Hard. Reined in his anger.
“You need to leave. Now,” he said, his voice flat.
She rolled over and stretched. “It’s the middle of the night. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Yes, you are.” He stood and glanced around, spotting her silky gray dress tossed across a chair. A black thong rested on top of it. Dash picked both up and threw them at her.
“Get dressed,” he ordered.
“I don’t get you, Dash.”
“You don’t have to.” Not anymore. He wouldn’t say that until she was heading out the door.
Ashley tossed back the covers and stood, arching her back as she stretched. She had a banging body. He’d admit that. But she was past the sell by date. She’d spoiled everything by sneaking back after he’d told her to leave. He’d trusted that she would and had jumped into the shower after their lengthy bout of sex. She must have waited until he climbed into bed and fell asleep before she came back and got in bed with him.
Gritting his teeth, he opened a drawer and pulled on gym shorts and a tank as she lifted the barely-there dress and shimmied into it. It fell past her hips and landed mid-thigh. She slipped into the thong and reached for her gladiator sandals. While she laced them up, he put on socks and cross training shoes. His trainer would be here in a few minutes, and Dash would never keep Leo waiting.
Ashley finished putting on her sandals and gave him the sexy pout that had graced fashion covers around the world.
“You never stay over at my place. You never let me stay here. I just wanted to be close to you, baby.” She ran a manicured fingernail down his arm.
Dash pulled away. “Time to go.”
He latched on to her upper arm and escorted her from his bedroom, down the hall and to the front door.
As he opened it, she purred, “Want to get together tonight?”
“Nope. Not tonight. Not any other night. We’re done.”
Confusion crossed her face. “What do you mean?”
“Exact what I said, Ashley. It’s over. I told you when this started that there wouldn’t be a future. We had some fun. Now it’s done.”
“I don’t think so, Dash.” Her eyes sparked in anger.
He sighed. “I don’t care what you think. I don’t want to be with you anymore. We had a nice ride. You got a lot of good press being seen with me. If you want something permanent, find someone else.”
She hurled a ton of expletives at him, shouting words he’d never heard a woman use before. He nodded, nudged her out the door, and then shut it and threw the deadbolt.
Not all his relationships ended this poorly—because most were one-night stands. Every now and then, he dipped his toe into the dating pool and stayed with the same woman for a few weeks. Or a couple of months, at most. But he had no intention of settling down.
Dash started toward the kitchen and saw his brother coming down the hallway. Herc rubbed his eyes.
“I heard shouting, Dash.”
“Yeah, I flipped on the TV and the volume was turned up way too loud. I muted it. Why don’t you go back to bed?”
Herc yawned sleepily. “Is Leo coming?”
“He’ll be here soon and then we’ll work out. Want me to wake you when we’re finished?”
Herc nodded. “Leo gives me protein shakes. Leo counts my jumping jacks.”
“Leo likes you, Herc.”
“I know. You like me, too.”
“I do, buddy. Go back to bed. I’ll get you up in a couple of hours.”
“Okay, Dash. I love you.”
“I love you, too, Herc.” He held his hands wide. “This much.”
His brother grinned and opened his wider. “No, this much.”
Dash laughed and stretched his arms as far as he could. “This much,” he countered. “Go to sleep.”
Herc stumbled back down the hall. Dash waited until Herc made it to his room and heard the door close.
It was quiet so he hoped Ashley had gotten into her car and driven away. He could only imagine having to explain to Herc what was going on if she had stayed in the driveway shouting at the top of her lungs.
His brother was why he didn’t have sleepovers with women. Herc had the mind of a five-year-old child. He wouldn’t understand why they stayed. Herc might get too attached to them. Dash didn’t want any woman coming between him and his brother.
His mother had been bad enough. He pushed aside thoughts of the woman who’d deserted her family. She hadn’t been able to handle having a son with an intellectual disability. At least, that’s what they called it now. His mother had used retard. Dash hated when she called Herc that. He was glad when she finally had enough and left.
He went into the kitchen and pulled out the peanut butter and peeled a banana. He smeared the peanut butter on the banana and downed a bottle of water with it. As he finished, Leo Parker walked into the kitchen, a backpack slung over his shoulder. Leo had a key to the house so he could enter without ringing the bell and waking Herc.
“Everything okay?” the trainer asked.
Leo shrugged. “I pulled up and saw Ashley standing in the driveway. She flipped me off and got in her car and burned rubber leaving.”
Dash said nothing.
“I’m not used to seeing any women here this early.”
He shrugged. “You won’t be seeing Ashley here anymore. Period.”
“Gotcha.” Leo set the backpack down on the table. “I brought some more of the new protein shake for you and a new soccer ball for Herc to kick around.”
“Thanks, Leo. That’s really thoughtful of you.”
“I like Herc. It’s good for him to run around and get some exercise.”
Dash laughed. “Spoken like a true trainer. You ready to hit the gym?”
“That’s what you’re paying me the big bucks to do,” Leo teased.
Dash liked Leo. He had an easygoing personality but he could be a beast when he supervised workouts. He never asked Dash to do anything that he didn’t do right beside him. Leo had gotten Dash into the best shape of his life. More importantly, the trainer had a soft spot for Herc. The two men, so different from one another, had bonded. It was Leo who’d introduced them to Tim Dillon. Tim was what Dash liked to call Herc’s live-in handler. Tim was more than a babysitter. He guided Herc. Taught him. Took him on outings. Played with him. Hung out with him.
Dash couldn’t have managed Herc without Tim’s help. He was thankful that he made the kind of money he did so that Herc didn’t have to live in a group home. Dash liked having his brother around.
Ninety minutes later, his limbs were exhausted. They’d finished their circuit training so he hit the treadmill to get in a twenty-minute run to finish things off. Leo headed to the kitchen to prepare egg white omelets for them and the protein shake that Herc had gone nuts over.
As he settled into the zone, he let his thoughts wander to tonight’s meeting with Monty Revere. He wanted to work with the Hollywood legend more than he’d let on. Dash had broken into films doing raunchy college comedies. He’d worked his way up to starring in good quality action films. Monty Revere had directed some of the best action-adventure films over the last twenty-five years. He’d made the careers of several actors, including Dash’s favorite—Craig Thompson. Dash often wondered how long Craig would’ve stayed in action films or if the actor would’ve segued into another genre. A tragic car accident ended the star’s life. Still, Dash screened Craig’s films on a regular basis, always learning something new when he watched them.
That was why tonight was so important. If he could land in Monty Revere’s new film, it would take him to a new level. The director’s films weren’t all bang-bang, smash and crash films. They had complicated plots and heroes who could think their way out of bad situations—even if they had to flex some muscle to do it. Dash wanted more for his career. He was in it for the long haul. Besides, he needed to make sure that Herc would always be taken care of.
He slowly dialed the treadmill down until his heart rate fell. Then he stopped it and grabbed a towel to wipe the sweat that poured from him as he wandered back to the kitchen.
“Is there a party going on that I didn’t know about?”
Herc wore a wide smile as he helped Tim blend the protein shakes. Leo was scooping up omelets.
“I set the table, Dash,” Herc told him. “And I poured the OJ.”
“Good for you, buddy.” He ruffled Herc’s hair and slid into a seat.
Leo brought over their plates and Tim poured shakes for everyone.
As the four men sat around the table, Dash basked in the camaraderie that surrounded him.
He raised his OJ glass. “To men!” he proclaimed. “Lift your glass, Herc.”
His brother did as instructed and Leo and Tim joined in.
“To men!” they said and drank.
Dash didn’t give Ashley Franklin a second thought.
Sydney watched the familiar streets of Santa Monica pass by. Her mother had loved this neighborhood because she felt it was as normal as you could get in LA. The houses were large but not monstrosities. The city had a good mix of wealthy people that were famous and unknown so they hadn’t been stopped on the streets as much when they were out doing errands.
A wave of sadness rushed over Sydney. She deliberately hadn’t thought about her mom in a long time. Losing her had changed the trajectory of her life. Sydney wondered how different things would’ve been if cancer hadn’t taken away the person she loved most.
The car turned onto her street. She noticed how various trees had grown. Everything had an air of familiarity about it but somehow it looked different at the same time.
The Uber driver repeated the house number she’d given him for confirmation and, moments later, they swung into the driveway. Her driveway. She remembered riding her bike up and down it. Helping Birch wash his car. She loved the brush that she used to rub circles around the white part of his tires. She remembered her brother turning the water hose on her and squealing as the cold stream hit her.
The car stopped and Sydney got out. The driver popped the trunk and removed her suitcase. She thanked him and watched him get back into the car and drive away. She faced the front door, knowing she needed to go in. Sydney forced herself to put one foot in front of the other until she found herself on the porch.
Before she could ring the bell, the door swung open.
She drew a quick breath in. Her dad had gotten older. His salt and pepper hair now had way more salt in it. He’d be sixty next month, she remembered. His face was tanned as always but more wrinkled around his mouth and eyes. He looked thinner, too.
The megawatt smile he gave her was all Monty Revere.
Sydney found herself crushed against him in a bear hug so tight that she could hardly breathe. He released her and looked her up and down.
“I don’t like your hair this color,” he complained. “Your mother wouldn’t either. That’s one of the things I loved the most about her—that mane of auburn hair.”
“I don’t like it much either,” she admitted. “I’m ready to hit the salon tomorrow and claim my natural color.”
He slung an arm around her and took her suitcase handle with the other. “Come on in, Kid.”
They stepped into the large entryway. Sydney’s eyes went to the stairs. How many times had she run up and down them? Too many to count.
Her father closed the door and set her suitcase aside. He beamed at her.
“I’m so glad to have you home. I’ve missed you, Syd.”
She nodded. “It’s been a long time.”
“Too long if you ask me but I’m not complaining. I’m just happy to see you here. Come on in.”
He led her into the spacious den. She looked around. Framed photographs were still scattered about the room. All of them were of her, Birch, and her mother. She sank into the brown leather sofa.
“So. How are you? Do you have a . . .”
“A wife?” he asked. “Not now. Not for a while, actually. Monica was the love of my life. I finally figured out I couldn’t replace her.”
Sydney remembered the rebound wife. Wanda, the makeup artist. He’d married her less than a year after her mother died. After their divorce, he married Kayla, the ex-wife of one of his director pals. They were still wed when Sydney left home.
“I guess Kayla was the last one you met. Then I lived with a couple of gals because alimony started getting expense. I did take on number four. Jan. She sold me my Porsche a few years ago. I still have the Porsche. It’s a great car.” He shrugged. “Jan? Well, she found somebody else. So, it’s just you and me, kid.”
“I’m glad.” She’d thought about what she wanted to say on the plane but nothing seemed right. Sydney opened her heart.
“I’ve always loved you, Dad, but you were driving me crazy with the parade of women.”
“I wanted to find you and your brother a new mom.”
“We didn’t need one,” she pointed out. “We only needed you.”
“I finally figured that out, too. I’m sorry I was too late. By then, you and your brother were gone.”
Sydney didn’t want to talk about Birch now. It still hurt too much.
“I guess I should tell you what I’ve been up to.”
“I know.” He gave her a sad smile. “I hired a PI after Craig died and you dropped off the face of the earth. I had to know where you were. If you were safe. He found you. Reported in every six months. I know about college. How you graduated magna cum laude. And first in your class at Yale Law. And . . . your marriage.”
“You kept track of me all these years?”
He shrugged. “I wanted to keep tabs on you. I knew you didn’t want to talk to me. But you’re my little girl, Syd. I needed to know you were okay, wherever you were and whatever you were doing.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t let you know where I was,” she apologized. “I would say I regret not inviting you to my wedding but the guy turned out to be a piece of crap. His mother was even worse. I’m better off without him.”
Her dad came and sat beside her. He took her hand and stared down at it as he said, “I lost Monica. Birch. You. Craig. We’ve lost a lot of time, Syd. That’s behind us. You’re here. That’s good enough for me. I don’t want to hear about your past. Let’s take it from here and look forward to whatever’s ahead between us, okay?”
She squeezed his hand. “I can do that.”
“What are you gonna do with yourself? Still want to practice law?”
She chuckled. “I think that’s the last thing I want to do. I’m good at it but it bores me to tears. Besides, I’m not licensed in California.” She paused. “I’d like to work with you. On whatever film you’re involved with now. I want to write. After all these years of keeping it inside me, I’ve got a thousand characters screaming to get out.”
He beamed. “That’s great. I’m starting a new film soon. I lost my story boarder, else I’d show you those.”
“I could do that,” she volunteered. “Remember how I used to sit in on meetings? I’d draw up my own storyboards for your films. You used to get a kick out of them.”
“I’d forgotten about that. You know, I could really use you. Tell you what. I’ll let you read the script before I say anything. You can give me your thoughts. Either we can break it down together or I’ll let you have a whirl at it.”
He patted her knee. “I always hoped we’d work together one day.”
Sydney put a hand on top of his. “I guess that day finally arrived,” she said softly.
The doorbell sounded.
“Oh, I ordered out. Gino’s. Hope you still like pepperoni and mushroom.”
She grinned. “My favorite. I’ve dreamed of Gino’s pizza for years.”
He peeled off a few bills. “Grab the door, baby, and pay the guy. I’ll get us something to drink.”
Sydney stood. “Let’s eat in the kitchen. That’s my favorite room in this house.”
“I’ll set the table now,” he told her.
She went to the front door and opened it, seeing a large box and getting a whiff of nirvana. Without really looking at the delivery guy, she said, “Thanks,” and tried to hand him the cash as she reached for the box.
Then she noticed a pizza delivery van backing out of the driveway. No other cars were there. Curious, she raised her gaze and found herself mesmerized by electrifying, ice blue eyes. The man had jet black hair and the sexiest smile she’d ever seen. Her insides instantly melted. She’d never had such a physical reaction to a man. Any man.
“Who are you?” she asked.
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