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There he was: the infamous Will Ryan.
Pathetically, her palms felt clammy. Though that could just have been the horrible cold she'd picked up on her way to California, she supposed
But, truthfully, Cassidy Malone couldn't remember the last time she'd felt so nervous or self-conscious. Or so completely incapable of fooling people into thinking she was more self-confident than she actually was. She really needed the latter if she was going to stand a chance of pulling off the deception of a lifetime. And if she couldn't do it in the land of make-believe, then where could she? If she just didn't have this stupid cold to add to everything else. Who flew halfway across the planet to a place twenty degrees warmer than home and ended up with a cold? She felt awful. So much for the theory that she would feel more confident away from home, where nobody knew her
But therein lay her immediate problem. Because the man making his way across the beautiful lobby of the Beverly Wilshire knew her all too well. A decade ago he'd known every inch of her body intimately, and had held her heart in the palm of his large handthe same heart that now jumped in joyous recognition and then twisted in regret at how comfortable he looked in their surroundings.
Cassidy was incredibly jealous of that.
Will didn't so much as bat an eyelid at the white marble, the large chandelier, the carved wooden elevator doors or the polished brass and black accents. I belong here, his confident stride said silently. But then Cassidy couldn't remember a time when there'd ever been a place he hadn't had that air of self-assurance. He'd always had a way of carrying himself thatpractically dared people to say he was somewhere he didn't belong.
That confidence, and the hint of potential danger if pushed, had added to his potent sexuality from the very beginning as far as Cassidy was concerned. Add boyish good-looks and a smile that could genuinely melt female knees He'd been the flame and she the moth. But to see him so at home in a place where she felt so very lost Well, it just widened the already cavernous gap between them, didn't it?
Ridiculously, it hurt. When it really shouldn't have. Not after so long
His bright green gaze sought her out and brushed nonchalantly from her head to her toes and back up again, forcing her to suck in her stomach and silently pray that he couldn't see any sign of the foundation underwear she'd struggled her way into. Like every woman Cassidy knew, every inch counted in times of crisiseven though she had absolutely no idea where those missing inches had been relocated to. With any luck Will would keep their meetings to places where there was air-conditioning, so she stood a better chance of not passing out in the California heat and the thin air of Los Angeles. Restricted circulation plus bunged-up nose didn't exactly give her a head start
Mentally she crossed her fingers.
He held out a ridiculously large hand when he got to her, and for a second Cassidy looked down at it with an arched brow, as if confused by what she was supposed to do with it. They were shaking hands? Like complete strangers? Really?
Surreptitiously swiping a clammy palm on her hip, she placed it in his; the heat of long fingers curled around her cooler ones, sending another jolt of recognition through her veins to her heart. Good to know her body hadn't forgotten him either. She tried to think professional thoughts. It wasn't easy. But she had to work with this man.
Will let go of her hand somewhat abruptly. 'Recovered from your flight?'
'Yes. Thank you. I think it's easier this way than going back.'
'Happy with the hotel?'
'How could I not be?' She glanced around, but couldn't stop her gaze from shifting back to study him. Still boyish. He hadn't aged a day. How was that fair?
Will nodded, and glanced around him the way she had. 'It has a history firmly tied up in Hollywood. Dashiell Hammet wrote The Thin Man here. Elvis lived here while making movies at Paramount, and they've had everyone from members of the British royal family to the Dalai Lama stay at one time or another.'
'That's nice.' Inwardly she rolled her eyes as the words slipped off the tip of her tongue. Eloquent, Cassidy. Way to go. But, however foolish she felt, it was nothing in comparison to how stunned she was by his coolness. It was like talking to a tour guide. An uninvolved, unattached and in fairness disgustingly good-looking tour guide. But nevertheless
'I thought you might appreciate it.'
Cassidy lifted a brow again. Meaning what? That she should be thanking her lucky stars she was here in the first place? True. But she didn't need to be made to feel as if she'd been invited to Tinsel Town by some miraculous accident. Some timely miraculous accident, she corrected. Because she couldn't have needed a break more if she'd tried.
He was right, though. She'd been as thrilled by the hotel as she had by her first glimpse of the Hollywood sign on the hill. Located only a few steps away from the glittering shops of Rodeo Drive, she knew the famous hotel's ornate European façade, with its distinctly rounded awnings and rows of sculpted trees, was straight out of the pages of Hollywood historynot to mention being the site of one of her favourite films of all time. It was just a shame she wasn't going to be there at Christmas, when they reportedly did an outstanding job of decorating, transforming its exterior into a dazzling display of twinkling lights.
By then she'd probably have been discovered as a fraud and sent home with her tail between her legsback to eating rice and pasta like she had in her student days, while she'd waited for her grant money to arrive. Only this time she'd be waiting for meager pay-cheques that couldn't support the debts she had after caring for her father before he died. Well, now, there was something to look forward to.
She nodded as Will swung a long arm in invitation and allowed her to step ahead of him. Squinting at the bright light outside, she took her sunglasses off the top of her head moments after Will donned his. A California necessity, she'd discovered since she'd landed. And as much of a status symbol as everything else, judging by the designer wear everyone but her had shading their eyes.
Silently, they turned rightWill matching his longer stride to hersthen right again at a major light, until they approached a strip of nice-looking semi-casual restaurants. Will's choice was an ivy-covered courtyard, where the maître d' greeted him by name and held out chairs for them before unfurling linen napkins onto their laps and handing them leather-bound menus with a flourish and a small bow.
Cassidy fought the need to giggle like a schoolgirl. At the grand old age of thirty, she should be more mature. 'Well, this beats cheese sandwiches in the park.'
Thick dark lashes flickered upwards from their study of the menu. They brushed his deeply tanned skin once, twice, and then he quirked his brows a minuscule amount and continued reading. 'That was a long time ago.'
Seeing him again, it felt like yesterday to her. But she didn't say that. Instead she allowed herself a moment to surreptitiously examine him while he made a decision on what to eat. Had he got sexier as he'd got older? Yes, she decided, he had. Darn it. Men were known to do that. Wasn't the fact he was more successful than her, richer than her and plainly more confident than her enough? At least one of them had got it right. Small consolation, though.
It was tough not to be as mesmerised by the sight of him as she had been at twenty. And twenty-one. And twenty-two. From the thick dark hair that curled disobediently outwards at his nape, all the way down the lean six foot three of his body, he was one of those guys blessed with the ability to mesmerise woman. Who could have blamed her for the crush she'd had from a distance for over a year? Or for how shy she'd been when he'd first talked to her during a group project in their screenwriting class? Or how ?
'Do you know what you want?' Will asked, in a low rumble that sent a sudden shiver up her spine.
The spine she straightened a little in her chair. Because, yes, actuallyshe did know what she wanted. She had a list, as it happened. High up on it was the ability to make the most of an opportunity when it came e-mailing her way, without blowing it by drooling all over the man who had long since left her behind. So now he'd given her an opening, it seemed as good a time as any to ask:
'A better idea of what the studio expects from me would be nice.' She even managed to tack on a smile when he looked at her again. Seeshe could do confident if she tried.
Will took a breath and closed the menu, calmly setting it down on his side-plate as he glanced around at the lunch-time crowd. 'They expect what they paid us that hefty advance for back in the day. We both knew what we were doing when we signed on the dotted line.'
Did we? If she'd known the heartache signing that contract would bring her way she wasn't so sure she would go back in time and sign it again. But Cassidy let it slide. 'So, after all this time they suddenly want script three? Just like that? When movie number two pretty much fell flat on its face '
'At the box office. But thanks to a rabid internet fan base it made money on long-term residuals. You'd know that from the fact we still get royalty cheques. This time we have the opportunity to be one of those sleepers that might well prove an accidental tent pole, with a good script and the right budget.'
Cassidy blinked at him for a moment, and then confessed, 'I have no idea what you just said.'
He almost smiled. 'Hollywood speak.'
'Is there a dictionary?'
'Not that I'm aware of.'
'Pity.' She tried another smile to see if it had any effect. 'You'll have to translate for me, then.'
Oh, please, yes. 'That might help.'
Something resembling amusement glittered across his amazing eyes. 'They want a script yesterday, and as you and I own the rights jointly to the original copyright we've both got to do it. We're joined at the hip till it's done and they're happy '
'No pressure, then.'
The wide shoulders beneath his expensive dark jacket lifted and fell in a brief nonchalant shrug. 'We did it before, Cass. We can do it again.'
The tiny word 'we' seemed to tug on a ragged corner of her heart every time he said it in his deep rumble of a voice. Not that it meant anything any more. He probably didn't feel the pressure she did. Why would he? He'd been writing scripts ever since he lefthad success after success to his name: award nominations, contracts and his own production company. Whereas she, his former writing partner ?
Well, she had a knack for getting seven-year-olds to stay quiet, but that was about it. The closest she'd got to writing was putting her lessons on a blackboard
Automatically she reached for iced water the second a waiter poured it, swallowing a large gulp to dampen her dry mouth. A cold dew of perspiration broke out on her skin while she wondered when was a good time to confess how long it had been since she last written a single original word. Maybe just as well she hadn't unpacked properly yet.
The waiter smiled at her as if he felt her pain. So she smiled back.
Will's voice deepened. 'Have you done much writing?'
Oh, come on! How could he still read her mind when it had been so long since he'd seen her? It was the perfect opening for honesty; yes. But since she already had a shovel in her hand it seemed a shame not to use it.
'Not much scriptwriting. I've dabbled with other stuff.' In that she'd read instructional bookslots of themto no avail. 'You know how it is. Use it or'
'Lose it.' He nodded, the corners of his wide mouth tugging in a way that suggested he was fighting off one of the smiles that would addle her thoughts. 'This shouldn't take long, then. If you were rusty it might have taken a while to get you back up to speed.'
Cassidy swallowed more water to stop a confession from slipping free. Had it got warmer all of a sudden? She suddenly felt a little light-headed.
Out of nowhere he added, 'We made a good team once.'
She almost choked, her eyes watering a little as she looked at him and he finally let that smile loose. Oh, that was just unfair. She instantly hated him for it. With the white-hot intensity of a million burning suns she hated him for the fact that smile could still knock her on her ear. But even more than that she hated him because she'd been waiting for it to appear and knock her on her ear. She'd known! Had known from the second his name appeared in her In-box that he would have the capability to do damage to her self-control all over again.
But then being attracted to him had never been a problem. It had been his complete lack of availability to commit that had. She wasn't ending up the fool twice. She darn well wasn't!
Lifting her chin an inch, she set her glass safely on the white tablecloth and dampened her lips in preparation for saying the right words to make it plain to him it was strictly business between them this time round. After all, if she wanted to be made to look a fool she could do it all by herself. She didn't actually need any help.
But her resolve faltered in the sight of that smile. Light twinkled in his eyes, fine laughter lines fanned out from their edges, the grooves in his cheeks deepened, and his lips slid back over even teeth that looked even whiter than she remembered when contrasted with the golden hue of his Californian tan.
Put all those things together and it was infectious. Cassidy could even feel the reciprocal upward tug of her own mouth. No, no, noshe mustn't smile back. That was how it had started last time.
Will's deep voice added words husky with appreciation. 'You look beautifulas always '
The woman inside her so lacking in self-confidence blossomed under the simple, if unfounded praise. She could feel her skin warming, could feel her heart racing could feel her smile breaking loose