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"Wait, are you saying you want me to break up with you?"
Not sure she'd correctly heard the drop-dead gorgeous man sitting across from her, Madison waited for a response from Tommy Shane. Aka her fiance, aka the handsomest man alive, aka Superstud, aka Academy Award nominee.
Aka the man who wanted her to dump him right after they'd intentionally leaked details about their hush-hush wedding.
"Yeah, Mad. I do."
She didn't get angry, the way most fiancées probably would. She wasn't the typical fiancée and theirs wasn't a typical relationship. Not by a long shot. If they knew the truth, most people would say she and Tommy put the "dys" in dysfunctional.
So, no, she wasn't angry. She was just confused, not sure what was going on. "You're the one who wanted this engagement."
"You're the one who leaked the wedding date to the press."
"I know that, too."
"You're the one who played up the childhood-sweethearts-going-home-to-Florida-to-get-married angle."
"You convinced me to leave New York and move out here."
He shook his head. "But you're glad about that, aren't you? Look how well you're doing. Any day now, you're going to get a call that one of the big studios is going to produce your screenplay."
She wished she could be as sure. Madison had confidence in the story she'd crafted and pitched to the studios, with Tommy's help. But that didn't make it a done deal, even with his name attached to it as the star. Although, that sure didn't hurt.
She hadn't written it with him in mind. She'd seen her possibly murderous hero being someone much more dark and twisted. But he'd read the script, loved it and asked for the role. Who was she to turn down Hollywood's number one box office draw?
"This isn't simply cold feet, is it?" she asked, glancing down at the feet in question. "Make that cold gi-normous feet."
"They're warm and toasty," he said with a flirtatious grin that would melt the underwear off any woman. Well, any woman who didn't know him well. "And you know what they say, big feet."
"Big, fat ego," she said with a definite eye roll. Tommy Shane had long ago lost the ability to flirt his way around her common sense. She liked himloved him, in factbut she was wise to his antics and not susceptible to his looks or his charm.
"So, what do you say? Will you dump me, ASAP, preferably in as public a manner as possible?"
"Dude, seriously? I'd be happy to dump you on your ass so hard your butt cheeks will look like pancakes," she said, feeling far more relieved than a supposedly blushing bride should. "But I have two questions. First, will anybody buy it?"
"I mean, why would any woman ever break up with you?"
"Well, I'm gay."
There was that.
Tommy's legion of worldwide fans wouldn't believe it, but his sexuality hadn't been a secret to her, not for a long time. He might play the part of sex symbol to every woman on the planet, but in his private life, Tommy Shane was strictly attracted to menlately one particular manand was very happy about it.
"Yeah, but nobody knows about that. Wasn't your in-the-closetness the reason we got engaged in the first place?"
"And haven't we been playing lovebirds to the press to cement your cover story so you can keep those sexy-leading-man roles coming your way?"
He smirked. "Well, it wasn't for your smoking-hot bod."
Chuckling, she placed a hand against her smoking-hot hip, knowing she held as much sex appeal for him as a beach ball. The one time she'd tried to kiss him romanticallywhen they were in middle schoolshe'd known they lacked any chemistry. It hadn't taken her long to figure out why. Hell, she should have figured it out in elementary school when the two of them would always fight over who got to be Buttercup when they played Powerpuff Girls.
Although the story they'd fed to the press had been fairy-tale nonsense, there had been some truth in it. They had known each other from childhood. She, Tommy and her twin sister Candacewho'd always played Bubbles to their Buttercup during The Power-puff Girls dayshad been inseparable growing up. He'd climbed into their window for secret sleepovers, had spent long summer days with them at the beach. He had taught Candace how to dance, and Madison how to give a blow job using a banana, of course. He'd always loved to perform, but had also been stronghe even punched a guy once who'd groped Madison at a concert. Heck, he'd been the one who'd bought a pregnancy test kit for her when she'd had a late-period scare in high school. He'd even offered to marry her if the stick turned blue!
He was a wonderful, loyal, devoted friend. Which was why she had stepped in and agreed to get engaged to him in his time of need after her sister, who was
supposed to be the false fiancée, had gone and fallen in love with her dream man.
No, the engagement wasn't supposed to culminate in a real marriage, but their planned breakup was a long way off. They'd scheduled everything, figuring in shooting schedules and premieres, knowing how long they needed to keep up the pretense. They'd discussed how to pull off a gradual, friendly breakup once both of them were in good enough career positions to come out of it unscathed. And now he wanted to ditch all that in favor of an impromptu dumping, before they'd even had a chance to stage a public disagreement?
"Nobody'll buy it. You're the biggest fish in the ocean. What woman in her right mind would let you slip off her hook?"
"They'll believe it once the world knows what a cheating mackerel I am," he said with a simple shrug.
She gaped. "Tell me you're joking. You did not cheat!"
She didn't add on me. How could he cheat on her when they weren't involved? Even if the big rock on her finger said otherwise.
But there was someone else he could have cheated on, which would break Madison's heart. Tommy's new guy was wonderful.
"You didn't betray Simon, did you?"
"No, of course not," he insisted, looking horrified.
That made her feel a little better. Tommy wasn't the most reliable sort when it came to his romantic life. If he was stupid enough to screw up this new relationship, she'd personally whack him upside the head with his own SAG Award.
"So you two are still okay?"
"Fine." Tommy smiled wistfully. "He's great, isn't he?"
"More than great." Simon, a neurosurgeon, made her friend happier than she'd seen him in years. "So who'd you cheat on?"
"You're saying you have another best-friend-turned-fake-fiancée besides Candace? I mean, I've always forgiven you for cheating on me with my sister, even when we were in third grade and you always picked her first for kick ball."
"Not Candace," he said. "I meant, you tell the world I cheated on you. Since I'm turning over an open-and-honest leaf, you don't even have to say it was with a woman. That'll just be what people will think. Who wouldn't dump me for cheating?"
Huh. He had a point. Technically, that was true.
"People will buy it. We'll be all Rob-and-Kristenlike."
She caught the reference. Madison wasn't a Hollywood insider, despite her engagement to a crown prince of Tinseltown, but who hadn't heard of the scandal surrounding one of Hollywood's "It" couples during the whole Twilight craze?
"Okay, so they probably would believe that. People have been wondering how on earth I caught you in the first place."
"Don't sell yourself short, gorgeous."
She shrugged. Attractive? Yeah, she'd cop to that. But gorgeous? No way. She had never felt more inept and lacking as a woman than when she'd attended some of these L.A. parties packed wall-to-wall with women who were pretzel-stick thin, cover-girl perfect and runway model clothed. Oh, and saber-toothed-tiger clawed. Sheesh, the competition out here was insane.
"But even if it works, why should we do it now rather than sticking to our long engagement, slow-breakup plan?"
He thrust a hand through his thick, sun-streaked hair, looking boyishly adorable. If there'd been an audience, all the women would just have sighed, every one of them dying to smooth that soft hair back into place. Madison just grunted.
Melodrama over, he said, "It's because of Simon."
"He asked you to do this?"
"No. We've been talking about how important it is to be honest. Me living a lie with youno matter how good the reason or the fact that you're fine with itwon't convince him I'm growing and becoming true to myself."
"Simon would never want you to sabotage your career."
"I know. But this is a step toward the kind of life I want, and the kind of man I want to be. One who isn't afraid, who doesn't go to crazy lengths to hide who he is."
She rarely heard Tommy talk this way. His blue eyes didn't sparkle with mischief. He didn't appear to be acting. He was just being the sweet boy next door she'd always known, telling her what he really wanted, all the pretense stripped away, all the trappings of his lifestyle shoved into the background. Just Tommy. Just her friend. Her friend who needed her.
She'd always been there when he needed her, and vice versa.
"Besides, you're not being true to yourself, either," he added. "You aren't like Candace. I knew it wouldn't be a hardship for her to go without sex for a while. You, though. I know you're horny enough to climb out of your own skin."
She couldn't deny that; Tommy knew her well. She'd been the first one of the three of them to lose her virginityat sixteenand had probably had more lovers than the other two combined. The six months of their engagement had been the longest she'd gone without sex in years, and her biggest, naughtiest toys just weren't filling the gap anymore. So to speak.
"You've been a great fiancée. Now you can be off the hook and go out there and get some."
"Sure, I'll just find a hot guy and say, 'Do me, baby.'"
"Not so easy."
"Not so hard, either. So, will you dump me? Free us both?"
Hell, she'd gotten engaged to him out of love, hadn't she? Of course she could dump the man for the same reason.
But, she suddenly realized, dumping him might not be in his best interest. Because here was the thing about movie star breakup scandals. It was always the cheater who got slammed, not the cheatee. Frankly, Madison didn't need public approval. They wouldn't pay one moment's attention to a wannabe screenwriter who'd had a fling.
But Tommy Shane? Every woman's fantasy man, every kid's comic book hero, every man's wanna-be-him guy? Well, hell. Tommy Shane couldn't be a cheater. It would be like like John Wayne turning out to be a secret communist or something.
"We can do this," she told him, slowly thinking it out. "But I have a condition of my own."
"I'll still pay you half of everything I made this year."
"Forget the money." She'd never take another dime from him. Tommy had supported her while she'd finished her screenplay. He'd helped her pay her student loans. And she'd let him, figuring if she was going to give up her life, her job, her home and any other man for the duration of their engagement, she would earn it. She was not coming out of this relationship grasping the short end of the stick.
But she was almost free now. That was worth more than money. She'd gone into this with her eyes open, and didn't regret it, but she couldn't deny a big part of her was ready to be just Madison Reid, writer, not Tommy Shane's fiancée.
And, though she wouldn't admit it, getting to have sex again was a pretty darned big perk, too.
"So what's your condition?" he asked.
"The condition is.I take the heat."
"I'm the cheater. I'm the bitch. And you break up with me."
He sputtered. "No, you can't do that."
She put a hand up, cutting off his arguments. "Tommy Shane can't be a cheating dog. I can. Nobody'll give a damn."
"You don't know that," he said. "The press can be nasty."
"Why would they? They'll say I'm an idiot for letting you get away and that'll be the end of it."
"What if it's not?"
"Well, then, I'll take a vacation. You send me somewhere tropical and I'll hide out until they forget all about me."
"You should do that anyway. Find a nice, hunky beach bum to shack up with for a little while," he said with an eyebrow wag.
"I'll think about it. So we're agreed?"
He frowned, clearly not liking the idea, but she wasn't going to change her mind. Tommy would never get through a scandal unscathed, but she would. Who cared about Madison Reid? She could take whatever heat anybody wanted to dish out because it wouldn't last for long.
And if it did? Well there was always the somewhere-tropical-with-a-hunky-beach-bum idea.