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"Come on in, Lucas, the water's fine."
Lucas Grant took another slug of whiskey and squinted at the blonde bobbing in the hot tub at the end of his balcony. Until she'd spoken up, he hadn't realized anyone had stayed behind when the last guests had stumbled out the door of his Sydney harborside mansion a few minutes earlier.
He'd forgotten this one's name. Candy? Cindy? Something with a C, he was pretty sure. She was lying back in the water, arms spread wide on the rim behind her, her hair tousled, her eyes heavy-lidded.
A slow grin tugged at the corners of his mouth as he registered the trail of clothing she'd left on the way to the tuba slinky little dress and the few scraps of Lycra and lace she'd obviously been wearing underneath.
Lucas moved toward her, tumbler held loosely in one hand.
"This is a surprise," he said, even though it wasn't.
Ever since he'd scored a role in a break-out movie back in his early twenties, his life had been full of moments like these. Blondes in hot tubs, brunettes waiting in his hotel room, redheads lingering outside the sound stage. Fame was the most powerful aphrodisiac known to mankind.
Or should that be womankind?
Whatever. The important thing was that despite the impressive quantity of alcohol he'd managed to guzzle this evening, his body was more than willing to take advantage of what was being so freely and generously offered.
As he stepped up onto the wood deck surrounding the tub, Candy-Cindy rose up out of the water, revealing her toned, tanned, cosmetically enhanced body to him in all its glory. He squelched the minor disappointment he felt at the realization that her generous twin endowments wereman-madedid it really matter, at the end of the day?and admired the way the water slicked down her slim, long-legged body.
"I hope you don't mind ?" she asked, eyes wide. Tough to pull off the whole innocent Bambi routine when she was standing there naked and perky, but she gave it a shot anyway and he awarded her full points for trying.
His grin widened. "Baby, you are just what the doctor ordered," he said.
Setting his glass on the tub surround, he pulled her close, one hand sliding down to cup a perfectly sculpted ass cheek, the other honing in on one of her twin assets. She closed her eyes as he moved in for a kiss, her lips opening beneath his with practiced ease. She tasted of wine, and her body was hot and firm against his. Moaning a little in the back of her throat, she slid a hand between their bodies and grabbed his hard-on through the denim of his jeans. "You are not going to freakin' believe this," a male voice said behind them.
Candy-Cindy gave a little gasp of surprise and broke away from Lucas, covering herself with her hands. Lucas closed his eyes in frustration and swore loudly. Not for the first time, he regretted the necessity for his agent-cum-manager, Derek Lambert, to have a key to his house.
"Derek, mate, I'm a little busy, in case you hadn't noticed," he said brusquely, turning to frown at Derek.
True to character, Derek was completely unfazed. It didn't matter to him that it was late on a Saturday night. Deal making was a twenty-four-hour job where he was concerned.
"Check it out. Completely unauthorized. We're lucky we've had any forewarning at all before it hit the shelves."
For the first time Lucas registered the paperback book his manager was brandishingand, more importantly, his own image staring at him from the front cover. Big red letters scrawled across the bottom of the photographThe Man Behind the Golden Eyes: An Unauthorized Biography of Lucas Grant.
Lucas swore again and reached for the book. "What the hell ? How did we not know about this?" he asked.
"Small publishing house and a sneaky little rat of a muckraking journalist. The only reason we know about it now is because someone owed me a favor."
Derek's gaze shifted to Candy-Cindy, who had sunk back into the water, her ears almost visibly flapping as she took in their conversation.
"Hey. I'm Derek. Pleased to meet you," Derek said, smoothing a hand down the front of his custom-made navy pinstriped suit as he sat on the tub surround. "I'm Lucas's manager."
"I'm Camilla. Pleased to meet you." Lucas didn't need to look at her to know she was pouting and throwing her shoulders back. Derek might be short, tubby and barely hanging on to the last of his dark hair, but he oozed power and connections. No doubt Camilla wanted to be an actress or a model or maybe just plain old famous, and Derek was never averse to playing the you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours game.
Returning his attention to the book, Lucas noted the crappy paper, the close-set print, the shoddy binding.
"This is a piece of shit," he said dismissively, ready to toss it to one side. "No one's going to read it."
"I don't care. We're both going over the damn thing with a fine-tooth comb. If there's a single factual inaccuracy in there, we can get a court order and kill this thing right off the bat. If there's anything that burns me up, it's people squeezing a buck out of you without going through me. We're going to make these assholes pay."
"Fine. I'll take a look at it in the morning," Lucas said, his thoughts reverting to Camilla as she stretched a long leg out of the water.
"We need to move quickly if we're going to stop this thing. I'll hang around while you take a look at it tonight," Derek said, his own gaze also glued to Camilla's limbs.
"I have other plans," Lucas pointed out.
"She'll wait. Won't you, sweetheart?" Derek asked.
Camilla nodded eagerly. "Sure. I'll just amuse myself out here."
Derek grinned at the suggestive note in her voice. "I'm sure you will. I'm sure you're a very resourceful woman."
Lucas shot his manager a look. "Easy, tiger." Sometimes Derek got off on the whole showbiz lifestyle thing a little too much for Lucas's personal comfort.
"I don't mind," Camilla said, arching her back so that her breasts broke the surface of the water.
Predictably, Derek's eyes honed in on them like heat-seeking missiles.
Suddenly, Lucas felt an overwhelming need to be done with this situation. Camilla's avid eagerness, Derek's willingness to exploit her, even Lucas's own recent urge to take what was offered and damn the consequencessuddenly it all seemed a little seedy and a lot desperate. The whiskey taste in his mouth soured and he felt bone-weary and more than ready to be alone.
"You know what? Maybe I should take care of this tonight and we can catch up another time," he said, turning to Camilla.
She started to pout, but the night was over for him. He wantedneededsome space.
"I can take Camilla home, if you like," Derek said before Lucas could speak again.
There was a moment where the blatant calculation behind Camilla's gaze was there for all to see as she weighed up her options. Then she smiled.
"Okay. That sounds fun," she said.
Five minutes later Camilla and Derek were gone and Lucas had parked his butt on a balcony lounger and opened the first chapter of the book. Admittedly he was half-cut, but he wasn't expecting to be mentally challenged by what was sure to be a bunch of cobbled-together press releases and gossip. He'd skim through the usual bullshit about his early training at the National Institute for the Dramatic Arts in Sydney, his seminal roles in iconic Australian movies, and his fast-track to international fame, then he'd leave a reassuring message on Derek's phone and call it a night.
Instead, he read the opening few paragraphs and went rigid with tension.
Famous throughout the world, Lucas Grant's million-dollar smile and golden eyes are the trademarks that have made him one of the highest-grossing movie stars in Hollywood today. Despite a high-profile social life that frequently titillates the mass media, Grant refuses to give personal interviews and is fiercely private about his past, leaving legions of fans to guess at what drives the world's most famous playboy.
With the publication of this book, the guessing games are over. This reporter has uncovered sensational information about Lucas Grant's back-groundhis childhood abandonment, the many state homes he lived in while the government tried to find a foster placement for this troubled young boy and the hurdles Grant has had to conquer in order to become the man he is today.
Lucas tore through the pages, scanning one after the other after the other. It was all there, everything he'd never spoken about, everything that belonged firmly in the past.
Throwing the book to one side, he shot to his feet on a surge of adrenaline. He wanted to hit someone, but there was no one handy. Certainly not the sneaky little bastard who'd unearthed all of his darkest secrets.
He reached for the phone to call Derek and demand he do everything in his power to stop publication. No way was Lucas going to be the object of pity at the hands of some bottom-feeding parasite attempting to cash in.
But common sense stilled Lucas's hand on the touch pad. The only way they could stop this thing from going public was to prove it was slanderous and inaccurate. And so far, it had proved to be highly, painfully accurate. Which meant there was no way they could stop it.
Pacing, he ran a hand through his dark hair, trying to think past the alcohol haze.
The rules of public relations were pretty clear in situations like this. He either tried to beat them to the punch by outing himself and owning his history by telling it his way. Or he ignored the book's existence and hoped it died a quiet, unread death.
Just the thought of following through with option one made every muscle in his body rigid.
It was never going to happen. Ever.
Which left him with option two: sit by and hope that the book sank without a trace into the sea of ink released worldwide every month.
He swore again, hating the sense of powerlessness rocketing through him. A long time ago he'd made a deal with the public in exchange for their adoration and movie-viewing dollarshe'd drop slightly naughty sound bites, he'd frequent the party scene, he'd exchange gorgeous women weekly, he'd live large and wild while allowing it all to be photographed for the masses' consumption, But that agreement did not include an all-areas access pass into his life. Not by a long shot. Some things nobody needed to know.
Needing to vent his rage, he kicked the lounger, sending it sliding along the tiles until it slammed into a potted palm. Still unsatisfied, he searched for something else to knock around and his gaze fell on the book.
Teeth bared in a snarl, he strode toward it, intent on booting it with all his might. Pulling his left leg back, he pushed off on his right, swinging forward in a hard, powerful kick full of fury and frustration. Then his right foot slipped and he realized too late that Camilla's thong was underneath.
Arms wheeling, he skidded, his left leg propelling him forward with unstoppable momentum. His foot missed the book and instead he collidedhardinto the tempered-glass railing.
It gave with a resounding smashas did what felt like every muscle and bone in his lower leg.
Lying on his back, a world of pain shooting up his leg, Lucas threw back his head and howled into the night sky.
SOPHIE GALLAGHER juggled shopping bags from one hand to the other as she searched for her house keys, finally finding them in the side pocket of her purse. "Here, let me take those," her best friend, Becky Kincaid, offered, holding out a hand for the bags.
"Thanks, but I'm all right," Sophie assured her as they entered the apartment she shared with her fiancé, Brandon.
"Brandon is going to lose it when he sees you in that bustier and stockings," Becky said as they dumped their parcels on the couch.
"Here's hoping," Sophie said, crossing both her fingers. That had been the whole purpose of their shopping expedition, after allfinding something to help remind Brandon that, once upon a time, they used to have sex, rather than roll into bed each night and fall asleep after a perfunctory hug and kiss.
She blamed their inactivity on the fact that, as well as living together, they both worked in his family's restaurant, Sorrentino'sher has head chef, him as host. Sexual mystery and surprise went out the window when two people spent most of every day in each other's company. Plus there was the fact that they'd been together for nearly fourteen years now. No wonder they needed a jump-start.
"He'd have to be blind not to react to that sexy little number," Becky said loyally. "Although I still think you should have tried on that hot-pink one with the embroidery and the little transparent bits."
Sophie shrugged. "I would have felt like such an impostor. As it is all this black satin is going to be hard enough to pull off." Although she had been seriously tempted by the more daring lingerie. The bright color and the peek-a-boo panels had practically screamed wild, wanton woman.