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Ruby Bell estimated her phone rang approximately half a second before her brisk walk was rudely interrupted by an unfortunately located tuft of grass.
More fortunately, she'd had the presence of mind to hold on to said phone during her less than graceful swan-dive onto the dusty paddock floor. A paddock that had once housed a significant number of sheep, but more recently had become the temporary home of a ninety-strong film crew. Thankfully this particular patch of paddock showed no evidence of sheep occupation.
But, at such close range, Ruby had also learnt that the paddock floor was: a) lumpy and b) hard.
'Paul,' Ruby said, wincing slightly as she lifted the phone to her ear. Still lying flat on her belly in the dirt, she shifted her weight in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid the patches of grass that prickled through the thin fabric of her T-shirt and the seeping warmth that had once been her half-drunk cardboard cup of coffee. Just slightly winded, Ruby's voice was a little breathy, but otherwise she sounded about as efficient as always. Good. She'd built a successful career as a production coordinator that took her across the globeregularlyby being sensible, unflappable, no-nonsense Ruby. Tripping over her own feet couldn't even begin to rattle her.
'I need you back at the office,' Paul said, even more flustered than usual. 'There's been a development.'
And that was ithe'd already hung up. Ruby knew it was impossible to interpret her producer's urgent toneit was quite possible the sky was falling, but about the same odds that one of the runners had simply screwed up his espresso again. Either way, Ruby needed to get her butt into gear.
'You okay, Rubes?'
Ruby glanced up at the worried voice, squinting a little against the early afternoon sun. But, even mostly in shadowor maybe because of itthe very broad and very solid frame of Bruno, the key grip, was unmistakeable. Beside him stood a couple of the younger grips, looking about as awkward as they always did when they weren't busily carting heavy objects aroundplus about half the hair and make-up department. Which made sense, given she'd managed to come crashing to the ground right outside their trailers.
'Of course,' she said, pressing her outflung hands into the soil and levering herself up onto her knees. She waved away Bruno's helpful hand as she plucked at her T-shirt, pulling the coffee-soaked fabric away from her chest. The parts of her not damp and clinging were decorated with a mix of grass stains and a remarkable number of dirt smudges.
But she didn't have time to worry about the state of her outfit just now. Or her hairrunning her fingers through her short blonde pixie-cut confirmed only that it was somehow dusty, too.
A moment later she was back on her feet and her day carried on exactly as beforegrass stains and the uncomfortable sensation she was covered in a head-to-toe sticky coating of dirt notwithstanding.
'Ruby!' A yell from somewhere to her left. 'Weather tomorrow?'
'Fine. No chance of rain,' she called out, not even slowing her pace. Paul, as always, would've preferred if she'd gained the power of teleportation. In its absence, she just needed to walk even faster than normal.
The cottage that temporarily housed the film's production office was only a few minutes awaytucked to the left beyond the final cluster of shiny black or white trailers and the slightly askew tent city that was catering.
She kept her focus on her pathalready well worn into the grass in the two days since they'd set up campmentally crossing her fingers for nothing more serious than a coffee-related emergency. So far she'd already dealt with an unexpected script change, a sudden decision to relocate a scene, and an entitled young actress who'd gone temporarily AWOL. And it was only day one of filming.
'Got a minute?' asked Sarah, a slight redhead in charge of the extensive list of extras required for The Landan 'epic historical romance played out in the heart of the out-back'from the top stair of a shiny black trailer.
'No,' Ruby said, but slowed anyway. 'Paul,' she said, as way of explanation.
'Ah,' Sarah replied, then skipped down from the trailer to fall into step with Ruby as she passed. 'Just a quick one. I've got a call from a concerned parent. They're worried about how we're going to get Samuel to cry in tomorrow's scene.'
By the time she'd reached the last of the row of trailers a minute later, Sarah was on her way with a solution, and Ruby had fielded another phone call on her mobile. Arizona Smith's assistant wanted to know if there were Ashtanga Yoga classes in Lucyville, the small north-west New South Wales country town in which they were filming.
Given the remote town's population was just under two thousand people, Ruby considered this unlikelybut still, with a silent sigh, promised to get back to their female lead's assistant asap.
Ruby broke into a jog as she turned the corner, her gaze trained downwardshe wasn't about to hit the dirt again todayand her brain chockfull of potential 'developments' and their hypothetical impact on her already tight schedule.
Consequently, the first she knew of the very large man walking around the corner in the opposite direction was when she slammed straight into him.
'Ooomph!' The slightly strangled sound burst from her throat at the impact of her body hitting solid muscle. She barely registered her hands sliding up sun-warmed arms to grip T-shirt clad shoulders for balance, or the way her legs tangled with his.
What she did notice, however, were his hands, strong and firm at her waist, the fingers of one hand hot against bare skin where her T-shirt had ridden an inch or two upwards.
And the scent of his skin, even through the thin layer of cotton, where her face was pressed hard against his chest.
Fresh, clean. Delicious. Oh, my.
'Hey,' he said, his voice deep and a little rough beside her ear. 'You okay?'
Slowly, slowly, embarrassment began to trickle through her body.
No, not embarrassmentthe realisation that she should be embarrassed, that she should be extricating herself from this clinch as soon as possible.
'Mmm-hmm', she said indistinctly, and didn't move at all.
His fingers flexed slightly, and she registered that now she was moving. Then her back pressed against the cool metal of the shaded wall of a trailer, and she was sliding downwards. He'd been holding herher feet dangling. Somehow she'd had no idea of this fact until her ballet flats were again responsible for holding her upright.
Had anyone ever held her so effortlessly?
She was medium height, far from tinyand yet this man had been holding her in his arms as if she weighed as much as the average lollypop-thin Hollywood lead actress.
Again his hands squeezed at her waist.
'Hey,' he repeated. 'You're worrying me here. Are you hurt?'
She blinked and finally lifted her head from his chest. She tried to look at him, to figure out who he wasbut his face was mostly in shadow, the sunlight a white glare behind him.
But something about the angle of his jaw was familiar. Who was he? He was fit, but he wasn't one of the grips. Some of the guys in Props were pretty tall, but Ruby honestly couldn't imagine enjoying being held in the arms of any of them. Which she was, undeniably, doing right now. Enjoying this.
She shook her head, trying to focus. 'Just a bit dazed, I think,' she managed. Belatedly, she acknowledged that was true. With every second, the fog was dissipating. But it was a gradual transition.
Right now, she found herself perfectly happy where she was. Standing right where she was.
'Are you okay?' she asked.
She could barely make out the slightest curve to his lips, but it was there. 'I'll survive.'
His grip on her softened a little as he seemed to realise she wasn't in any imminent danger. But he didn't let her go. Her hands still rested on his shoulders, but removing them wasn't even a consideration.
A cloud shifted or something, and the shadows lightened. Now she could make out the square line of his jaw, covered liberally in stubble; the sculpted straightness of his nose, and the almost horizontal slashes of his eyebrows. But even this closeclose enough that the action of breathing almost brought her chest up against hisshe couldn't quite make out the colour of his gaze.
A gaze that she knew was trained on her, exploring her faceher eyes, her lips.
Ruby closed her eyes tight shut, trying to assemble her thoughts. Trying to assemble herself, actually.
The fog had cleared. Reality was reenteringher reality. Straightforward, straight-talking Ruby Bell. Who was not taken to romantic notions or embracing total strangers.
He wasn't crew. He must be an extra, some random guy minding his own business before she'd literally thrown herself into his arms.
Inwardly, she cringed. Too late, mortification hit.
Rational, no-nonsense words were right on the tip of her tongue as she opened her eyes.
But instead of speaking, she sucked in a sharp breath. He'd moved closer. So, so close.
The man didn't look worried now. He looked almost predatory. In a very, very good way. She swallowed. Once, twice. He smiled.
Beneath traitorous fingers that had crept along his shoulders to his nape, his overlong hair was coarse beneath her fingertips.
'You,' he said, his breath fanning against her cheek, 'are quite the welcoming party.'
Ruby felt overwhelmed by him. His size, his devastating looks, his nearness. She barely made out what he'd said. 'Pardon?'
He didn't repeat himself, he just watched her, his gaze locked onto hers.
Whatever she'd been going to saythe words had evaporated.
All she seemed capable of was staring at him. Into those eyes, those amazing, piercing. familiar blue eyes. Finally it clicked into place.
'Has anyone ever told you, you look just like Devlin Cooper?' she said. Babbled, maybe. God. She didn't know what was going on.
One of his hands had released her waist, and he ran a finger down her cheek and along her jaw. She shivered.
'A couple of times,' he said, the words as dry as the grass they stood upon.
No, not quite like the famous Devlin Cooper. This man had dark circles beneath his eyes, and his darkest blond hair was far too long. He was too tall, surely, as wellshe'd met enough leading men to know the average Hollywood star was far shorter than they looked on screen. And, she acknowledged, there was a sparseness to his widthhe was muscled, but he didn't have the bulk of the movie star. He looked like Devlin Cooper might look if turned into one of those method actors who lost bucket-loads of weight for a role. Not that Ruby could imagine that ever happeningDevlin Cooper was more generic-action-blockbuster-star than the Oscar-worthy-art-house type.
But as the man's fingers tipped her chin upwards any thought of Devlin Cooper was obliterated. Once again it was just her, and this man, and this amazing, crazy tension that crackled between them. She'd never felt anything like it.
She was sure she'd never wanted anything more than to discover what was going to happen next.
He leant forward, closing the gap between their lips until it was almost non-existent.
Somethinga voice nearby maybemade Ruby jump, and the sound of her shoulders bouncing against the trailer was loud in the silence. A silence she was suddenly terribly aware of.
That rapidly forgotten wave of mortification crashed back over her, this time impossible to ignore. With it, otherless pleasantsensations than his touch shoved their way to the fore. The fact she was covered in dirt and drying coffee. The fact her whole body suddenly appeared capable of a head to toe, hot, appalled blush.
She was still hanging off the man like a monkey, and she snatched her hands away from his neck.
'Hey. You're not going to catch anything,' he said, a lightness in his tone as he watched her unconsciously wipe her hands almost desperately against her thighs.
She stilled the movement and met his gaze. His eyes had an unreadable glint to them, and for the first time she noticed their thin spidery lines of bloodshot red.
"Who are you?' she asked in a sharp whisper.
His lips curled again, but he didn't say a word. He just watched her, steadily, calmly.
He was infuriating.
She ducked to her left, and the hand that had remained on her waist fell away. Ridiculously, she missed the warmth and weight of his touch immediately, and so she shook her head, desperate to refocus.
She put a few steps between them, taking deep, what-the-heck-just-happened breaths as she glanced to her left and right.
They were alone. No one else stood in this path amongst the trailer metropolis.
No one had seen them.
Relief swamped her. What on earth had she been thinking?
But then approaching footsteps made her freeze, as if whoever walked around the corner would immediately know what had just happened.
Of course, it was Paul.
'Ruby!' her producer exclaimed loudly. 'There you are.' 'Ruby,' the man repeated, slowly and softly, behind her. 'Nice name.'
She shot him a glare. Couldn't he just disappear? Her mind raced as she tried to determine exactly how long it had been since she'd barrelled into the man. Surely not more than a few minutes?
It wasn't like Paul to come looking for her. Fume alone in his office if she were late, yesbut come find her? Definitely not.
It must be a real emergency.
'I'm sorry,' Ruby managed, finally, and meant it. But how to explain? She ran a hand through her hair; the movement dislodged a few forgotten blades of grass. 'I fell over,' she said, more confidently, then nodded in the man's direction. 'He was just helping me up.'
She smoothed her hands down her shirt and its collection of dust, coffee and grass stains for further effect.
There. All sorted, the perfect explanation for why she wasn't in Paul's office five minutes ago.
Out of the corner of her eye, the man grinned. He'd propped himself up against the trailer, ankles crossedas casual as you like. A normal person would surely size up the situation, realise something was up andshe didn't knowdo anything but act as if all he were missing were a box of popcorn and a choc-top.
'Thanks for your help,' she said, vaguely in his direction. For the first time she noticed the matching coffee-coloured marks all over the man's grey T-shirt, but she couldn't make herself apologise. He was just too frustratingly calm and oblivious. He could keep his smug smile and newly stained T-shirt.
She walked up to Paul, assuming they'd now go back to his office. 'So, what do you need me to do?'
Paul blinked, his gaze flicking over her shoulder to the man that still stood so nonchalantly behind her.
'You left in a hurry,' he saidnot to Ruby, but to the man.
Ruby turned on her heel, looking from Paul to the man and back againcompletely confused.
The man shrugged. 'I had things to do.'
Paul's eyes narrowed and his lips thinned, as if he was on the verge of one of his explosions.
But theninsteadhe cleared his throat, and turned to Ruby. A horrible sense of foreboding settled in her stomach.
'So you've met our new leading man.'
She spoke without thinking. 'Who?'
There was a barely muffled laugh behind her.
The man. His knowing smile. The charisma that oozed from every pore.
Finally, finally, she connected the dots.
This was Paul's latest drama. This was why she'd been rushing back to the office.
They had a new leading man.
She'd just met him.
She'd just covered him in dirt and coffee.
Worst of allshe'd just nearly kissed him.
And he didn't just have a passing resemblance to Devlin Cooper. A passing resemblance to a man who commanded double-digit multimillion-dollar salaries and provided continuous tabloid fodder to the world's magazines and salacious television entertainment reports. A man who'd long ago left Australia and now was mentioned in the same breath as Brad, and George, and Leo
'You can call me Dev,' he said, his voice deep and oh-so intimate.