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"Every single person in this hotel is getting it on right now except me." Shannon Leigh cradled her cell phone against one shoulder as she packed her suitcase in the exclusive Mexican seaside resort, her emotions in more disarray than her stale career. "It's like the Cupid wedding theme ran wild and infected every employee and guest in the place. I just went to hunt down more towels, and even the maid is getting busy in the supply closet."
"Eeeww." Shannon's agent, Ceily, was back home in L.A. She started her day at 6:00 a.m. so Shannon hadn't felt terribly guilty about waking her at five to share the trauma of this Valentine weekend wedding from hell.
Shannon's best friend had gotten married in a romantic private ceremony in La Paz on the Baja Peninsula and Shannon had been the maid of honor. Too bad she'd agreed to the Cupid fest before the best manher rock-star boyfriend of almost a yearhad broken up with her. She'd been stuck watching him charm his way through the wedding, with adoring female guests throwing themselves at his feet wherever he went. She'd been due to finally escape the night beforeuntil her charter flight had been canceled because of engine trouble. A situation Romero had heard about during the reception, promptly and publicly offering to drive her back to L.A. the following morning.
Now technically today.
How could she have refused gracefully without drawing more attention to a breakup that still had the tabloids buzzing three months after the fact?
Shannon had no idea how she would survive the long trip ensconced in a small sports car with one of the sexiest men in the known universe. And that wasn't just her opinion. Look up anypoll on hot rockers and Romero Jinks topped the charts. She just wanted to get the hell out of the sex-drenched hotel and back to real life. Back to salvaging her imperiled career.
"Tell me about it. I was trying diligently to avoid any more romance references after the overexposure to pink roses, pink champagne and pink bridesmaid dresses. Then I have to stumble into a storage-room orgy." She yanked the lemon-yellow dress she'd worn to the rehearsal dinner from the closet and tossed it onto the bed, trying not to think about how long it had been since she'd had sex. Three months without Romero had beenlonely. But even before that there'd been the fights and the nights alone in his king-size bed while he made love to his damn guitar instead of her.
Their relationship had been deteriorating for months from lack of communication andoftenlack of presence on the same continent. She'd needed to talk and connect with him, while he preferred long stretches of brooding alone time that fueled his music and left her frustrated. The whole precarious situation had imploded over the stupidest fight ever when he'd bought new hiking boots for his entire entourage but hadn't bothered to toss a pair in her direction.
She'd been petty to erupt about something so superficial, but it wasn't about the damn boots. She'd been tired of being a nonentity to him, while he'd meant so much to her.
"You should totally report her, and I don't want you using those towels." Ceily's voice cracked, no doubt because she hadn't had her morning coffee or her first cigarette of the day, which, bizarrely, seemed to clear her throat.
Shannon's high-heeled slipper caught in the strap of her sequined bag and she tripped, twisting her ankle. And shouldn't she know better than to march around the room in a snit? How many times had she cringed as a kid when her mother threw tantrums?
"Damn it!" She cursed the satin-and-rhinestone slippers and kicked them both off, sending them sliding along the terrazzo floor covered with Navajo rugs. "I can't report her because I didn't actually catch her boinking the night manager. I just saw her blouse all wrinkled and her hair undone while he pretended to look around a ten-by-ten storage room for his clipboard."
She threw the sequined bag into her vintage canvas luggage and rubbed her leg, not giving Ceily time to comment before another thought occurred to her.
"Come to think of it, their act to cover up what they'd been doing was so good, you should be sending them on casting calls instead of me." Her ankle throbbed, but not nearly as much as her heart aching at the thought of her career in a downward spiral along with her romantic life.
She'd received no serious offers for roles after her last part in a "B" thriller, a sure sign she was closing in on the end of her marginal profession as an actress. She had a backup plan to move to New York and try theater, but that hadn't been her dream when she'd watched her movie-star mother throw away her own career to drug addiction and bad choices.
Shannon had always thought she'd be able to mold a stronger, healthier path through Tinseltown than her mom, but after almost fifteen years of effort, she hadn't even come close to Bridget Leigh's fame. Still, she wouldn't be so blue about any of it if the career news hadn't come so hot on the heels of her breakup.
This weekend sure had rubbed Shannon's nose in all of her failures. Her best friend had made her trip down the aisle the day before, even though Shannon had spent twice as long in a committed relationship as Amy. While she was happy for her bud, Shannon's eleven-and-a-half-month stint with Romero had gone up in flames and it still hurt to be reminded of what she'd lost. She'd even had to close the French doors overlooking the ocean to drown out the chorus of orgasmic sighs drifting on the breeze.
Unfortunately, shutting the door didn't shut down the conviction that one of the orgasmic sighs came from the woman her guitar-playing ex-boyfriend had danced with three times at the reception.
"Shannon, I will find you a great part," Ceily assured her. "You're good at what you do and you're a professional. You know as well as I do how rare that is in this business."
"Rare like women over thirty?" Rising from the bed, she stuffed her pink bridesmaid dress into her suitcase, remembering how fantastic Romero had looked in his tuxedo on the beach the day before.
"Honey, tell that to Goldie Hawn."
"A glittering exception to the rule," Shannon grumbled, in no mood to be placated when her life in Hollywood was very possibly over. Why did Romero have to prod their limping relationship into gasping heart failure right when the rest of her world was coming apart? Especially since she'd been so careful to shield his artistically sensitive self from her problems so as not to disrupt his all-important songwriting. "Although I have no business dragging all my problems to your doorstep. I just wanted to tell you not to worry about the dogs today. I'll be home in time to feed Abbott and Costello tonight."
Assuming, of course, she made it back to L.A. and her two Pekingese-Chihuahua mixes without succumbing to the temptation to drag Romero off to a Mexican hideaway and remind him exactly how good they'd been together. A juvenile move that would feel great in the short run and only hurt more tomorrow. She'd made it three months without him, hadn't she?
She moved back to the closet and promptly stumbled on the slippers she'd tossed moments before. One pedicured toenail banged against a satin buckle on the discarded shoes and broke, tearing halfway across the nail bed. Pitching both slippers into the suitcase, where she should have put them in the first place, she hopped on one foot toward her purse to find a bandage for her injured ankle.
"Shanny, you don't need to apologize." Ceily's voice went maternal and soft, reminding Shannon of how many ways this woman had filled the void in her life after her superstar mother had overdosed. Shannon had been celebrating her fourteenth birthday with friends when her mom had taken too many sleeping pills. She'd never figured out if it had been intentional or not, but even after all the fights with her mother, Shannon missed her moments of clarity. When Bridget Leigh wasn't drugged up or foisting her own insecurities onto Shannon, she had been one of those bright light personalities that outshone anyone else in the room.
Shannon was clearing an unexpected lump from her throat when Ceily spoke again.
"Honey, since you've got that long ride home with your ex today, I wondered if you would ask him to call me? I met a producer who knows that I rep you, and he asked me about the possibility of getting Romero to play himself in a docudrama about his old band, Jinxed."
Shannon dropped the bandage she'd found, the white wrapper slipping back into the uncharted depths of a purse filled with everything from her BlackBerry to a twelve-piece makeup brush set. Shannon's current career choices consisted of a sleazy independent film about her actress mother's life or a role on the smalltime theater circuit off Broadway, yet Romero didn't even need to pursue acting to find film roles.
"You want me to ask him?" Shannon couldn't help a quick mental image of herself pouring a pound of salt in the gaping wound of her chest. And, yeah, a bit of her ego smarted here, too. "Our careers became a bit of a sore subject for us, Ceily."
Part of it was because they couldn't find the right balance of work and romance. Part of it was because she struggled to get ahead in her job while everything Romero touched turned to gold.
Or maybe that's just how she felt every time he touched her. Fortunate. Fantastic. Priceless.
And, oh, God, she couldn't stand the thought of him touching another woman when he'd been her man just three short months ago. From his killer dark eyes to the shoulder-length, silky black waves that would have done an eighties hair band proud, Romero was seriously hot. Even better, he wrote music that was soul deep and complex. His lyrics had seduced her long before the rest of him did.
"If you talk him into it, I'll slide you a finder's fee," Ceily offered while Shannon stared up at the tiled ceiling where a heavy mahogany ceiling fan spun on low speed.
Great. And Shannon could have a bit part in the "babes he'd banged" section of the docudrama. She yanked the headset off her ears to give it a shake.
"Given the way we broke up, I think I'm the last person he'll want to talk to about his career." There was a chance she'd been a smidge unreasonable about it in that final fight, telling him he always put his guitar before her. But she'd tried so hard to fit into his life for so long that all the frustrations she'd been stuffing down had bubbled up like red-hot, angry lava. "But for you, I'll at least mention it."
"Excellent. And from my memories of the two of you together, I'll bet he pays more attention to you than you realize." Ceily sighed with the dreaminess of someone who'd only seen the Shannon and Romero relationship from the outside. They'd fooled a lot of people into thinking they were wildly in love before the bottom fell out of a charade Shannon had nursed along out of pure wishful thinking.
She said goodbye to Ceily before hitting the disconnect button.
Ceily's false impression of Romero still caring tweaked Shannon's heart more than she would have liked after this long time apart from the man. And, coming on the heels of the sexual symphony in progress around her, the conversation hadn't exactly improved Shannon's mood. She'd really thought Romero could be the one, yet he'd looked as if the breakup was no big deal to him when he'd soaked up feminine admiration and the La Paz sunshine yesterday. He'd never given her reason to be jealous in the past, but she wasn't foolish enough to think he hadn't moved on. Women had alwayswould alwaysthrow themselves at him.
Flopping down onto the pillow-top mattress with her hair wrapped in a towel full of deep conditioner, Shannon squeezed her eyes shut tight and prayed for the next twenty-four hours to be over with as fast as possible. Romero had told her to meet him at ten that morning, but she would be ready to leave in five minutes.
She just wanted to get back home so she could officially end this chapter of her life. Once she moved to New York, she would put her movie career and her too-sexy ex behind her for good.
Can t you go any faster?
Romero Jinks tightened his grip on the steering wheel at his ex-girlfriend's latest request, in a litany that had started at nine o'clock that morning with a wake-up call asking him when he'd be ready to leave.
Who woke up at nine after a wedding reception that had lasted into the wee hours of the morning? But that was Shannon. An early bird, a night owl, and all around too much energy for him to keep up with. At thirty years old, she seemed impossibly young to him even though they were only eight years apart. Blond, blue-eyed and built like a fifties pinup girl, she was too sexy by half, but that was only a fraction of her appeal. He'd been drawn by her energy and enthusiasm when they'd first met. She'd been a spark to his creativity and his life, pulling him out of a long writing drought with her vibrancy. He'd been crazy about her until she'd blindsided him with a wealth of frustrations about their relationship, culminating in the stupidest argument he'd ever been a part of.
How many women picked a fight because their guy failed to purchase a pair of hiking boots for her? When he'd offered for them to spend some time apart until she cooled down, she'd promptly pulled his clothes out of the closet and boxed up everything he owned in an all-night packing craze. After almost a year together, she'd created a drama the whole neighborhood had witnessed as she'd methodically carried the crates out to the curb.
"I'm not going any faster." Romero checked the speedometer and slowed downnot to purposely piss her off, but because he was already doing eighty miles an hour up the Baja Peninsula to reach the California state line as soon as he could. The last thing he wanted was to extend their time in Mexico with a stint in a stink-hole prison cell.
They'd passed the last town, Insurgentes, long ago in the hunt for a shortcut home. He was seriously tearing up his new car driving this fast on pavement that hadn't seen a road crew in a decade.