Read an Excerpt
Act Like You Love Me
An Accidentally in Love Novel
By Cindi Madsen, Stacy Abrams, Alycia Tornetta
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Cindi Madsen
All rights reserved.
Working in a place where the clientele was 90 percent male should mean, statistically speaking, that Brynn would meet at least one guy who'd give her a hint of tummy butterflies. It'd been so long since she'd felt anything resembling attraction that she was afraid she might not recognize it anymore. Maybe those butterflies had died lonely deaths.
Maybe I'll die a lonely death.
"Got any of those bucktail jig kind?" the gentleman asked, never taking his eyes off the multicolored lures spread before him on the counter. Brynn had been so busy studying the way his white caterpillar eyebrows twitched, and how he had more hair coming from his ears and nose than he did on the top of his head, that it took her a couple of seconds to process the question.
She twisted the rotating stand and pointed to them. "These Conch Saltiga Jigs have been really successful lately from what I hear, so you might want to give them a try, too."
The man eyed them like he'd never seen anything so beautiful in his life. In fact, Brynn seriously considered asking if he needed a moment alone with them.
So, yes, a lot of men came into the Bigfish Bait and Tackle in Cornelius, North Carolina. But they were usually older and interested in things like chug bugs and live bait and the fishing pole that might make their trophy-fish-catching dreams come true.
Brynn rang up the man's purchases and then he took his bag and exited, the chime on the door sounding through the quiet. She glanced out the far window at Lake Norman, where the last rays of the day were dancing across the surface of the water. It was a pretty view, though she rarely got time to enjoy it from the outside these days. The TV to her left droned on, set to the World Fishing Network, playing a program she'd seen at least a million times already, give or take a few.
Her stomach growled and she put a hand over it. Paul had better get back with the food soon. Her brother had been gone for more than thirty minutes, and she was starting to consider the live bait in the fridge behind her as a viable dinner option.
What was taking him so long? He knew she had rehearsal soon, and with rush hour traffic it'd take longer to get to the theater in Charlotte. Knowing her brother, he'd probably gotten sidetracked — especially if his friend Wes had called and they'd started talking about adventure tour ideas or the band. Or sports. Paul swore he'd close up tonight, since she'd done it when the band played a last-minute show a couple of nights ago. If he didn't get here soon, she was never going to another one of his gigs. Actually, now that Wes was engaged to a cool girl and Brynn had someone to talk to during shows, that was a bluff. But next time, she was definitely doing the food run.
Brynn leaned across the display case and tapped her fingers on the glass. After a minute or so of that exhilarating activity, she grabbed two of the colorful rubbery fish still in their packages. She moved the bigger blue fish over to the bright yellow one, the plastic crinkling as she did. "Hey, swimming my way, hot stuff?" she asked in her best male fish voice.
Brynn circled the yellow fish away from the blue one, then folded it to do the mock-bashful glance back. "Of all the fish in the ocean, I only want you."
The blue fish zipped across to the yellow, their fishy faces met through the plastic, and —
The chime sounded, making Brynn jump enough that the fish flew up in the air before landing on the floor.
"What were you doing?" Paul asked, setting the brown sacks of heavenly, grease-scented food on the counter. "You look guilty."
Her family often teased her about her tendency to daydream, so no way was she going to admit to making two rubber fishing lures fall in love. "You took forever. Remember how I'm supposed to leave early?"
Paul was already unwrapping his burger and lifting it to his mouth. "Sorry. I ran into Rob and his family. And once I finally got to the diner, there was some new girl there, and she's super slow. I started to wonder if she had to head out back to kill the cow before she made our burgers."
Brynn tried to push away that image as she took a bite of her food — at this point it was cow or worms, so she was choosing the less-slimy option. "Okay, I'm eating on the run, then." She grabbed the bag, not willing to leave the French fries behind. "Catch you later."
"Break a leg," he called on her way out.
By the time she made the drive to the theater, she'd managed to get as much of her food on herself as in her mouth. "I swear, I'm such a mess," she muttered. Luckily, she was a prepared mess. She glanced around, then grabbed her spare shirt from the bag she kept behind the passenger seat. Her heart quickened a bit as she got ready to make the switch.
Maybe I'll just wait and change inside. But she was already late, and then she'd have to take in her huge bag, and no one else parked behind the auditorium anyway. She yanked her shirt over her head. Of course the button got caught in her hair, because it was one of those kinds of days.
"Ouch, ouch, ouch." Pricks of pain dashed across her scalp as she pulled.
Finally she got it free, though there was a nice chunk of black hair around the yellow button.
She pulled on her spare shirt and flung open the door of her car — and noticed the guy standing nearby. He looked away, but he'd clearly gotten a show. Heat climbed up her neck and settled into her cheeks.
She'd like to say it was the first time she'd accidentally flashed someone. Hopefully between her car and tinted windows, she'd been partially hidden, but she still said a silent thank-you that she'd been wearing her cute pink bra. And at least it wasn't like back in high school when it'd been in front of an auditorium of people and her bottom half on display. Which was much, much worse, cute underwear or not.
Thinking of that moment must be making her see things.
Because ... No ... It couldn't be. The guy looked exactly like Sawyer Raines, the same guy she used to have the hugest, most embarrassing crush on. Back then, her list went something like: smokin' hot, completely oblivious she was alive, and so far out of her league it was more like another sport completely. Sawyer Raines had been all those things and then some, the guy all the girls wanted as their boyfriend, so of course she'd chosen him to obsess over.
And now she was staring at the Sawyer look-alike, and those butterflies she'd thought had died in her stomach long ago were flapping their sad, unused wings, attempting to fly. Oh no. Bad idea, butterflies. That's a good way to get shot down.
"Sorry," the Sawyer look-alike said, running a hand through his thick brown hair. "I was just passing by and ... "
And saw me half naked. She tugged on the bottom of her shirt, like covering every inch now would make up for not having it covered a moment ago. That's when she noticed his eyes. Oh jeez. She'd once described them in her journal as two glowing emeralds, because she'd wanted to sound poetic, and who wouldn't want an emerald-eyed boyfriend, right?
It's him. Her pulse started climbing, and the flush was spreading faster and hotter. And he just saw me in my underwear for the second time.
All the awkwardness from high school came rushing back to her, twisting her stomach into a tight knot. She remembered being looked through like she wasn't there. Then being whispered about and laughed at, which had made her wish people would just go back to ignoring her. That awful nickname ...
The crushing rejection from the very guy standing across from her. For a moment, she thought she might throw up, right there on the asphalt.
Sawyer extended his hand toward her. "Anyway, I'm — "
"I'm late." She charged toward the theater, head down. At least she was about to go pretend to be someone else for a while. Right now she thought it'd be nice to never be herself again.
* * *
So much for small-town charm, Sawyer thought, as he watched the woman walk away from him. But he supposed he was technically in Charlotte now. It was funny that driving thirty minutes from the lake made such a difference, but he swore people were more relaxed next to the water. He'd only been back in North Carolina for a week, but he'd been almost paranoid at first over how nice people were. Maybe five years in the Big Apple had changed him.
He missed the buzz of the city and his usual coffee cart. Missed walking down the street, lost in his thoughts. People here waved whether they knew you or not, and he felt so obligated to smile and engage in conversations he didn't have time for.
But Mom was right about finally doing something about the lake house. It was time to sell it and move on. Before they could list it, though, it needed serious renovations. Dad had taught him home repairs when he was younger, and even hired him to work summers at his construction company.
Until Dad couldn't work anymore.
The thought of someone else doing a project Sawyer had originally planned on doing with his dad turned his insides to lead, so he'd told Mom he'd come down and do the work.
He just didn't realize there'd be other strings attached. He sighed and headed toward the theater. He still couldn't believe he'd agreed to this. Actually, agreed wasn't really the right word. His aunt had guilt-tripped him to take over directing the play. He kept telling Aunt Wendy that he was a screenwriter, but she said he'd had theater classes and had dated an actress, and that made him more qualified than the person he was replacing.
If his aunt hadn't done so much for Mom the past few years, Sawyer would've refused. But he felt like he owed her. Enough to help put on this dinky play. According to Aunt Wendy, it was already cast, and rehearsals were well on their way. All he had to do was suffer through a month of practices and the actual putting on of the play. It should be wrapping up about the same time renovations would be completed, and then he'd be headed back to New York where he belonged.
He looked around the lobby — a tiny ticket booth and an empty concession stand — and hiked up his laptop bag on his shoulder. This was supposed to be his writing time, so he was hoping everyone would direct themselves and he could sneak in an hour or so of work. Hell, maybe it'd even provide him with inspiration, something he'd been lacking lately. Everything he tried to write was total crap, and he was starting to rethink plots and even characters. Having one successful screenplay was making him overthink every detail of this one, and he was determined not to be a one-hit wonder.
As he walked into the auditorium, he took in the threadbare foldout seats, lights clamped onto the railing, and the large circular hanging stars and moons overhead.
Looks like I'll have to really stretch for inspiration here.
"Oh, Sawyer! There you are!" Aunt Wendy rushed up the maroon-carpeted aisle. She was short and squat and always running. And clapping. Like she was now. Very enthusiastic. He scolded himself for being such a jerk. Everything in his life was up in the air right now and it was making him grouchy.
I'll feel better once I start work on the house and get some scenes written. His mind was crowded with everything he needed to focus on. Just got to prioritize.
Above all, he wanted to sell the house for a good enough price for Mom to retire. So for now, he was a screenwriter slash renovations expert. Slash guy who was directing a local production of The Importance of Being Earnest, evidently. But he wasn't going to let the last one interfere with his two main goals.
Aunt Wendy led him front and center. The seats in the theater were so ancient that there was more spring than padding, and the one he sat in made a loud squeal as he settled into it. His aunt was listing everything that had been done, everything that still needed to be done, and talking so fast he wished he would've stopped for some kind of caffeinated beverage so he could keep up.
Aunt Wendy clapped. "Everyone! I've got an announcement! If you'll all gather round!"
People circled in from around the theater and several came out from behind the heavy maroon velvet curtains. Sawyer's attention was immediately drawn to the dark-haired girl in the middle of the stage. A few minutes ago he'd seen her changing in her car, struggling to pull off her shirt. She'd fought with it so long he thought he might have to go rescue her, but then she'd managed to get free. It wasn't like he'd seen much — okay, a sexy pink bra and lots of cleavage — but it had only taken her a few seconds to pull on her other shirt. He'd frozen in place, though, breath caught in his throat, his blood pumping double time. Then she was out of the car, and he'd stood there gawking at her like an idiot, no idea what to say. Especially when her cheeks colored and she blinked those beautiful hazel eyes at him.
Right now she was laughing with the guy next to her, the kind of joy-filled laugh that made him wish he were in on the joke.
"Quiet down now!" Aunt Wendy bellowed.
The girl slowly turned her head toward the front. Her gaze landed on him and her smile faded. He wanted to tell her he hadn't been spying on purpose, but wouldn't that just make things weirder? If he said it in front of all these people, it definitely would. Talk about a great first impression.
"Our director is going through some personal issues and has had to step down," his aunt said. She'd filled Sawyer in on the "personal issues" first thing that morning. Apparently her husband had been using the time she was spending in the theater to have sex with a coworker. Add that to the list of reasons why Sawyer wasn't interested in marriage.
The people onstage erupted in questions and comments all at once, so many it was hard to tell what anyone was saying.
Aunt Wendy swung her arms wide. "Calm down, everyone. I know how hard you've all worked these past two months, and we're not canceling. We've got a replacement director. He's from New York, and he's worked on a real movie and everything!"
That made him sound cooler than he was. He wrote a movie that got made into an indie film. The reviews were mostly good, though, and it had opened up opportunities he'd been dreaming about for years.
"So without further ado, I present your new director: Sawyer Raines." Aunt Wendy raised her eyebrows at him as though she expected a grand gesture. "You've got to say something," she whispered.
Sawyer looked at the actress in the middle of the stage again. She had her arms crossed and her jaw set. The girl was probably some kind of diva, the kind who thought the show should revolve around her. Well, he'd learned his lesson about actresses. Stay far away. For about the hundredth time, he wished he'd just said no. Drugs. Theater. Actresses. The slogan was the same — just say no.
He stepped forward and tried to force a smile. "I'm, uh, real happy to be here."
The dark-haired actress actually rolled her eyes. The rest were staring as if their lives depended on him. "So why don't you, uh, take it from where you left off last, I guess?"
Everyone except the actress with the attitude and the guy she'd been laughing with left the stage. The guy was at least two or three inches shorter than she was, though his puffy blond curls were trying to make up the difference.
Aunt Wendy slapped a playbook into Sawyer's hand.
"Why can't you direct again?" he asked.
"Because I do costumes and makeup. I can help you now, while you're getting the hang of things, but these next few weeks, I'll be far too busy." The two people onstage started up with their lines, their words echoing across the stage and through the empty auditorium. While the guy's voice was on the nasally side, the girl had a nice voice, though she needed to put some volume into it. She kept glancing at him and then whipping her head back to her acting partner.
"Miss Prism says that all good looks are a snare." She glanced at him again.
Is she aiming that line at me?
"They are a snare that every sensible man would like to be caught in," her acting partner replied. There was a time Sawyer would've agreed with that sentiment. But not anymore.
When she didn't say anything back, the guy nudged her. "Crap," she muttered.
"That's not even close to your line," the guy said with a laugh.
Excerpted from Act Like You Love Me by Cindi Madsen, Stacy Abrams, Alycia Tornetta. Copyright © 2013 Cindi Madsen. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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