Read an Excerpt
Carmen Akins made her way around the huge white tent, smiling at those she recognized as neighbors, knowing most had heard about the demise of her marriage. And to make matters worse, she figured the article in last week's tabloid had probably fueled their curiosity about the man rumored to be her current lover.
They would definitely be disappointed to know her alleged affair with Bruno Casey was nothing more than a publicity stunt cooked up by their agents. Her divorce from renowned Hollywood producer and director Matthew Birmingham had made headlines, especially since they had been thought of as one of Hollywood's happiest couples. Many had followed their storybook courtship, wedding and subsequent marriage, and all had been convinced it was the perfect romance. It had come as a shock when it had all ended after three years.
Carmen had hoped she and Matthew could separate both peacefully and quietly, but thanks to the media that had not been the case. Rumors began flying, many put into bold print in various tabloids: Oscar-winning Actress Leaves Husband for Another Man, which was followed by Renowned Producer Dumps Oscar-winning Wife for His Mistress.
Those had been two of the most widespread, although neither was true. Yes, she had been the one who'd filed for a divorce but there was no "other man" involved. And the only mistress her ex-husband had ever had while they'd been married was his work.
The first year of their marriage was everything she'd ever dreamed about. They were madly in love and couldn't stand to spend a single minute away from each other. But that second year, things began to change. Matthew's career took precedence over their relationship. She had tried talking to him but had no luck. And to keep their marriage solid, she had even turned down a couple of major movies to spend time with him. But it was no use.
The breaking point had come after she'd shot the movie Honor. Although Matthew had flown to France a few times to see her while she was filming, she'd wanted more private time with him without being interrupted by others on the set.
After filming had ended, she had arranged their schedules so they could spend time together in Barcelona at a secluded villa. It was there that she had planned to share with him the news that he was to become a father. She had been so happy about it—she couldn't wait for him to arrive.
But he never did.
Instead he'd called to let her know something had come up, something of vital importance, and suggested that she arrange another excursion for them at a later date. That same night, she began having severe stomach pains and heavy bleeding, and she lost their baby, a baby who, to this day, Matthew knew nothing about. Nor did he know about the time she had spent at the villa under the care of a private doctor and nurse. It was a blessing none of it had gotten to the media. The only thing Matthew knew about was the divorce papers he'd gotten a few weeks later.
She glanced around as she kept moving, not bothering to stop and strike up a conversation with anyone. There was a crowd but luckily the media was being kept off the grounds so as not to harass any celebrities in attendance. She appreciated that. It was certainly comforting since a slew of cameras had been following her around lately, especially after the rumor about Bruno had been leaked.
Her plans were to spend the entire summer in the Hamptons, watching the Bridgehampton Club polo matches at the Seven Oaks Farm. She needed some unwind time. However, she had to be careful—there were gossips everywhere and the Hamptons were no exception, especially since Ardella Rowe had purchased a home in the area. The woman was considered Joan Rivers's twin when it came to having loose lips. The secrets of more than a few celebrities who owned summer homes here had made it to the media thanks to Ardella.
Carmen inwardly cringed. It was as if her thoughts had conjured up the woman. She considered not answering, but several had heard Ardella call out to her and it would be rude not to respond. And while Ardella was someone you wouldn't want as a friend, you definitely wouldn't want her as an enemy, either.
Taking a deep breath, she pasted a smile on her face and turned around. The woman was right there, as if she had no intention of letting Carmen get away. Evidently she figured Carmen had some juicy news to share.
"Ardella, you're looking well," Carmen said.
"Carmen, darling, forget about me. How are you?" Ardella asked with fake concern, leaning over and giving her a quick kiss on her cheek. "I heard about all those horrid things Matthew Birmingham is doing to you."
Carmen lifted a brow. She could only imagine the lies being spread now. The truth of the matter was that her ex-husband wasn't doing anything to her. In fact, as far as Matthew was concerned, it was as if she had never existed. She hadn't heard from him since the day their divorce had become final a year ago. However, she had seen him in March at the Academy Awards. Like her, he'd come alone, but that had just fueled the media frenzy as they walked down the red carpet separately.
When she'd accepted her best-supporting-actress Oscar for the blockbuster hit Honor, it had been natural to thank him for the support and encouragement he'd given her during shooting. The media had had a field day with her speech, sparking rumors of a reconciliation between them. He had refused to comment and so had she—there was no point when both of them knew there would not be a reconciliation of any kind. Their marriage was over and they were trying to move on, namely in different directions.
Moving on had taken her a little longer than Matthew. He hadn't wasted time after their divorce was final. Seeing those photos with him and his flavor of the month had hurt, but she hadn't gotten involved with anyone to get back at him. Instead, she'd concentrated on keeping her career on top.
With a practiced smile, she said, "Why, Ardella, sweetie, you must be mistaken. Matthew isn't doing anything to me.
In fact, regardless of what you've heard, we've decided to remain friends," she proclaimed, lying through her teeth.
Matthew couldn't stand the ground she walked on. She'd heard from mutual friends that he'd said he would never forgive her for leaving him. Well, she had news for him. She would never forgive him for not being there when she'd needed him most.
"So you can't believe everything you read in those tabloids," Carmen added.
The woman gave her a shrewd look while sipping her wine. "What is this I'm hearing about you and Bruno? And I understand Matthew is seeing that lingerie model, Candy Sumlar."
Blood rushed to Carmen's head at the mention of the woman's name, but she managed to keep her cool. "Like I said, you can't believe everything you hear or read."
Ardella sharpened her gaze. "And what about what I've seen with my own eyes, Carmen? I was in L.A. a few weeks ago and I saw Matthew at a party with Candy. How do you explain that?"
Carmen gave a dignified laugh. "I don't have to explain it. Matthew and I have been divorced now for a year. He has his life and I have mine."
"But the two of you have remained friends?"
If they weren't friends this woman would be the last to know, Carmen thought, remembering the column that had appeared about her a few years back, claiming the only reason Matthew had cast her in one of his movies when she'd first started out was because they'd slept together. Sources had revealed Ardella as the person who'd spread that lie.
Thinking that one lie deserved another, Carmen acknowledged, "Yes, Matthew and I are friends. It will take more than a divorce to make us enemies." She hoped the woman never got the chance to question Matthew regarding his feelings on the matter.
Ardella gazed over Carmen's shoulder and smiled. Carmen could only hope the woman had spotted her next victim. "Well, look who's here," Ardella said, glancing back at her with a full grin on her face.
The hair on the back of Carmen's neck stood up as the tent went silent. Everyone was staring at her. Her body had begun tingling. That could only mean…
She pulled in a deep breath, hoping she was wrong but knowing from the smirk on Ardella's face that she wasn't. Matthew had entered the tent. Ardella confirmed her guess when she commented, "Looks like your ex just showed up. Imagine that. Both of you here in the Hamptons. But then, you did say the two of you are friends."
Carmen could tell from Ardella's tone that she was mocking Carmen's earlier claim. And from the way the tent had gotten quiet, it was clear that the spectators who'd come to see the polo game were finding the drama unfolding under the tent more interesting than what was on the field.
"He's spotted you and is headed this way. I think this is where I say farewell and skedaddle," Ardella said with a wide grin on her face.
The woman's words had Carmen wanting to run, but she stood her ground and made a quick decision. She had to believe that the man she once loved and whom she believed had once loved her would not do anything to embarrass her. She and Matthew would be civil to each other, even if it killed them. And then she would find out just why he was here. He owned the Hampton compound, but the divorce settlement gave her the right to stay there whenever she liked, as long as he remained in L.A. So why wasn't he in California? He seldom found time to come to New York.
She felt his heat at the same moment she heard her name issue from his lips. Both affected her greatly. He was standing directly behind her and as much as Carmen didn't want to, she slowly turned around and feasted her gaze on her ex-husband.
Feasting was definitely the right word to use. No matter when or where she saw him, he looked as enticing as any man could. Dressed casually in a pair of tan slacks and a designer navy blue polo shirt, he was the epitome of success. And with a clean shaven head, skin the color of rich cocoa, a strong jaw line, dark piercing eyes and full lips, he had stopped more than one woman in her tracks.
Before branching out to become a director and producer, he had starred in a few movies. And when he'd been an actor, Matthew Birmingham had been considered a heartthrob. To many he still was.
Knowing they were the center of attention, she knew what she had to do, and so she did. "Matthew," she said, rising on tiptoe to plant a kiss on his cheek. "It's good seeing you."
"Same here, sweetheart."
From the tone of his voice she knew her kiss had caught him off guard, and now he was only playing along for her benefit. She felt anger beginning to boil within her at seeing him here, on her turf. This was a place he knew she enjoyed coming during the summer months, a place he conveniently stayed away from since work usually kept him on the west coast.
"I'm sure we can do better than that," he whispered.
He reached out and pulled her into his arms, claiming her mouth. His tongue slid between her parted lips and immediately began a thorough exploration. She heard the click of a cell-phone camera and figured Ardella was at work. Carmen was tempted to pull her mouth away and break off the kiss but she didn't have the willpower to do so.
It was Matthew who finally retreated, leaving her in a daze, unable to think clearly. When she saw they'd caused a scene and people were staring, she figured she had to do something before things got out of hand.
"We need to talk privately," she stated, hearing the tremble in her voice and trying to ignore the sensations in her stomach. She moved to leave the tent. As expected, he fell in step beside her.
As soon as they were away from prying eyes and extended ears, she turned to him. The smile she'd fabricated earlier was wiped clean from her face. "Why did you kiss me like that?"
He smiled and a dimple appeared in his cheek, causing a swell of longing to flow through her entire body. "Because I wanted to. And need I remind you that you kissed me first," he said in an arrogant tone.
"That was my way of saying hello."
He chuckled. "And the way I kissed you was mine."
She pulled in an irritated breath. He was being difficult and she had no time for it—or for him. "What are you doing here, Matthew? You heard the judge. I get to come here and stay—"
"As long as I remain in California," he interrupted. "Well, I'm embarking on a new business venture in New York. It was finalized today. That means I'll be relocating here for a while." His smile widened as he added, "Which means you and I are going to be housemates."
Matthew was tempted to kiss that shocked frown right off his ex-wife's face. Just knowing his words had agitated the hell out of her was the satisfaction he needed. If looks could kill, he would be a dead man.
Trying to ignore the tumultuous emotions that always overtook him whenever he saw her, he added, "Of course, you can always pack up and leave. I would certainly understand."
He knew for certain that that suggestion would rattle her even more. He was well aware of just how much she enjoyed coming here every summer to hit the beach and hang out at the polo matches. That was one of the reasons he'd purchased the compound in the first place. And if she assumed for one minute that he would allow her to sleep with her lover under the roof of a house he'd paid for, then she had another thing coming.
"How dare you, Matthew."
He couldn't help but smile at that. There was a time she had loved his outrageous dares—especially the ones he'd carried out in the bedroom. "Careful, Carmen, people are still watching. You might want to continue to play the role you created for Ardella Rowe moments ago. I rather liked it."