Winning an all-expenses-paid weekend in New York with Hollywood's sexiest heartthrob makes Faith Logan the envy of women everywhere. This small-town nurse has too many responsibilities, including caring for her aging parents, to be interested in fame or status. But as the sensual celebrity escorts her to exclusive Manhattan nightclubs and glitzy movie premieres, Faith is falling fast for the genuine, charismatic man behind the slick media image.
More used to fanatics and groupies, Irvin Freeman is surprised and intrigued by Faith's down-to-earth personality. One impulsive kiss turns their private flirtation into public news. But paparazzi and crazed admirers are making her doubt their potential as a couple. Will the pressures of fame cause their love to fade before he can convince her they've found their own real-life happy ending?
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"Congratulations, Faith Logan. You're the lucky winner of a weekend in New York with Irvin Freeman!"
Faith jerked her cell phone away from her face, frowning at the unfamiliar number on the screen. This had to be a joke. Her eyes darted to the two other nurses sitting around the nurses' station. Neither appeared to be concealing a smile. There were no covert glances her way to see if they'd duped her with some elaborate prank. She looked up and down the hall, but as usual for a Wednesday in Laurel County, South Carolina, the labor-and-delivery ward of the hospital wasn't very busy. Only one mother who'd had a baby earlier that day was walking down the hall. Dorothy, the older nurse, even stood and left the station to check on the mother, instead of sticking around to hear if Faith fell for the joke.
She put the phone back to her ear. "Excuse me?"
"You heard correctly," said the overly bright voice on the other end. "You won the grand prize in the contest held by Starting Over, Irvin Freeman's foundation to raise alcohol awareness. Out of the thousands of entries accompanying donations to the foundation, your name was drawn. You are the lucky woman chosen to spend a fabulous, all-expenses-paid weekend in New York City with Irvin Freeman. Your prize includes a makeover, and you will be Irvin's date for the premiere of his new movie, Running from Murder!"
The woman's voice rose with each word until she sounded like a speaker on the stage at a "gee, life is great" high school prom.
"Is this a joke? I'm at work, and I really don't have time for jokes."
There was a pause before the voice continued in its prom-queen tone. "This is no joke, Ms. Logan. Don't you remember entering online?"
Faith frowned and tried to remember entering a contest. All her money went to her parents' medical bills and household expenses. She didn't have extra money to donate to the foundation or extra time to enter a contest.
Except for that one time
She spun around to glare at the nurse closest to her. Marie, her best friend since she'd moved home two years ago and the person who'd helped her land the job at Laurel County Hospital, flipped through a magazine. Faith nudged Marie with her foot. When Marie looked up, she nailed her with a "this is your fault" look. She'd known it was a bad idea when Marie urged her to enter. At the time it had seemed like a good idea to contribute a few dollars to a worthy cause. Never in a gazillion years had she expected her name to be chosen.
Marie held out her hands. "What's wrong?"
Instead of answering Marie, Faith responded to the woman on the phone. "Yeah, I remember entering that contest. I just didn't expect to win. What weekend is that? I don't even know if I can go to New York."
Marie's dark eyes widened, and she jumped from the chair to bounce on the balls of her feet next to Faith. Even without her Tweety Bird scrubs, Marie would look like a woman far younger than her thirty-three years. Her pixie cut and always-smiling features in a dark brown heart-shaped face made her instantly likable.
"Can't go?" The voice lost some of its peppiness. "Ms. Logan, this is the opportunity of a lifetime. You will be the envy of all women. A five-star hotel near Times Square "
Faith tuned out as the caller went through all of the reasonssome of them validwhy she should go. Excitement tickled her insides, and she felt the urge to bounce around like Marie. But the cold, hard reality of her life tamped it down. Reality had smacked her in the face when she'd given up her fantastic job, lost what she'd thought was the guy she'd one day marry and moved from Houston back home to take care of her parents.
She wasn't bitterthat particular emotion was a drain on energy she couldn't afford to waste. She'd give it all up again if she had to. But going out of town right now was out of the question. Her mind raced with all the reasons this wouldn't work: Who would watch her parents while she was gone? What if it was a weekend she was scheduled to work? All of her leave was used up from taking her mama to doctors' appointments. What would she wear? Her "new" clothes were two years old and were the complete opposite of stylish or trendy. Unless scrub chic suddenly became the fashion rage.
Then there was the biggest reason not to go. Irvin Freeman: dark eyes, mahogany skin and a swagger that would put Shaft to shame, topped off with a British accent. The man oozed sex with every breath he took, and he probably expected the winner of this thing to fall into a gooey puddle of estrogen at his feet.
"I appreciate the offer." Faith cut in on the prom queen's stream of reasons why she should be falling over herself to get to New York. "But I'm not sure"
Marie snatched the phone out of Faith's hand. "Hello, this is Marie, Faith's, um, personal assistant. We'll do some maneuvering with her schedule and make sure she's there."
Faith tried to grab the phone back, but Marie skipped away to the other side of the nurses' station. "What weekend is it, again?" Marie nodded at whatever the caller said and flipped to the calendar with the work schedule. "Perfect! She's available for that weekend. You have her email address from the entry form, correct? Just send the details and copy me, and I'll get her to the airport on time."
Marie rattled off her email address and said a few more words. When she hung up the phone, she squealed as if she'd won the prize herself. The screech got the attention of the other nurse and the mother walking down the hall.
"You are the luckiest woman alive!" Marie rushed over and gave Faith a hug, surrounding her with exuberance and the smell of her strawberry body spray.
"That depends on your definition of lucky. Marie, I can't go."
Marie leaned back and gave her a hand wave that said "Whatever."
"Oh, yes, you can. And you will. Even if I have to knock you out and drive you to New York myself. Girl, you just won a date with Irvin Freeman. How are you not excited about this?"
Dorothy and the mother walking in the hall quickly caught on and chanted their agreement. Faith visualized a weekend listening to Irvin brag about how great it was to be him. Sure, he always appeared down-to-earth and approachable in television interviews, but a man who had half the women in the world drooling over him couldn't be that centered. All his apparent humbleness probably hid a mountain of arrogance.
"My parents," Faith said, not wanting to get into what would surely be a debate with Marie if she dissed her friend's favorite actor. "Who's going to help them?"
"They'll be okay for one weekend. I'll look in on them personally every day you're gone."
"Do I work that weekend?" Faith crossed the station and picked up the schedule book.
"No, you're off."
Faith dropped the book and crossed her arms. "If I'm off, you're working. You won't be able to check on them."
Dorothy came over to stand before Faith, looking just like the surrogate grandmother she was to every baby born on the floor. "Your mom is doing so much better than she was when you first came home. If you prepare meals before you leave, she can heat them up for herself and your dad. Don't forget, you're not in a large city anymore. Your friends and neighbors are happy to help out."
Dorothy was right, but Faith had done everything for her parents on her own. It was her way of making up for not being there when the bottom fell out of their lives. She wasn't used to accepting help from neighbors. Besides, doing so would only increase her regret. The thought tightened the knot of guilt that had made its home in her gut since she got the call that her mama was unconscious in the hospital after suffering a stroke.
"I don't want to be a burden," she said.
"Burden, shmurden," Marie said. "You won't be. You going on this trip will be the highlight of the year for half of Laurel County. The newspaper will probably do a write-up about you before and after. Do you know how many people will be happy to say they helped out while you went away for an all-expenses-paid weekend with a Hollywood movie star?"
Faith did chuckle at that, because it was true. Nothing this exciting had happened since Tamara Blake from Laurel High School won Ms. Laurel County and was first runner-up in the Ms. Patriot pageant back in 2001. People still bragged about their part in her win, from selling her a pair of earrings to bringing over fried chicken the night the family had a watch party.
"I get that," Faith said, "but I just don't feel right asking other people to look after my parents. And this thing is just a few weekends away. I don't have anything to wear to something like that."
"You get a thousand dollars of spending money. Buy what you need while you're there."
"A thousand dollars in New York is probably like five dollars here. It won't go far," Faith said.
"If it'll buy you a sexy dress that'll make it impossible for Irvin Freeman to keep his eyes off you, that's far enough."
Faith couldn't help but visualize the eyes referred to on a recent list as "most likely to send a woman into cardiac arrest." The guy did have a way of looking at his leading ladies with such heat you could practically hear the sizzle on-screen. To think he would turn them on her was laughable. Yet her heart did do a disloyal skip against her ribs.
"The man dates models and Oscar winners," Faith said. "Even if I were naked, he wouldn't be interested."
"Every man is interested in a naked woman," Dorothy said, laughing. Marie nodded. The idea of being naked in front of Irvin only increased Faith's body heat.
Nope. Stop. Don't go there.
Even if she were to travel to New Yorkwhich she really doubted she couldshe wouldn't be sleeping with Irvin Freeman. She loved the guy's movies and thought he was a great actor, but in his charming TV interviews, there were always questions about his love life. He was constantly linked with his frequent costar Selena Jones and photographed with a string of other actresses and models between his on-screen hookups with Selena. Faith would be setting herself up to look like America's biggest fool if she went to the city with even the slightest intention of landing in bed with him. He'd laugh at her attempts, or worse, take her up on it, and she'd be the latest groupie with her name attached to his. Something she'd never live down here in Laurel County. She couldn't afford that, not with all the work she'd done to keep the Logan name free of scandal over the past two years.
A more chilling thought crept across her mind. Going on this weekend trip would put her in the spotlight even if she wasn't attached to Irvin for more than a few days. People might want to know more about her. Which could lead to questions about her familyand her twin. She wanted to go on pretending her twin had magically disappeared into thin air.
"I won't be naked with Irvin Freeman. I won't be anything, because I'm not going. They can pick another name. I have too much to do here."
"Stop it," Marie said. "You don't have too much to do, and you aren't a horrible daughter if you take one weekend to enjoy yourself. It's been two years. Go and have a great time. Your parents would agree with me."
"I know they will, because I'm going to call them now and tell them the good news," Dorothy said, picking up the phone.
"Dorothy, no. Don't bother them," Faith said. Her mama had been urging her to do something fun for the past month. If she got wind of this, she'd knock Faith out and lend Marie her wheelchair to roll Faith to the airport.
"Too late. It's ringing. Get ready to pack your bags, girlie, because you're going," Dorothy said. "Hey, Virginia, guess what? Your daughter just won the trip of a lifetime."
Marie did a little dance. Dorothy grinned and gave her a thumbs-up. Faith's palms sweated. This was not a good thing. Fate had a way of hitting her in the gut when she least expected it. And once again, it was ready to give her a sucker punch.
* * *
"Well , she could have sounded a bit more enthusiastic."
Irvin looked up from the script he was reading. Kitty Brown, the head of his publicity team, stood staring at her cell phone. He'd barely heard her over the various conversations of the members of his entourage. A word that made him cringe inwardlyand at times outwardlywhenever he said it. The entourage was Kitty's idea; he would be perfectly fine without the lot of them. It was days like this he missed the anonymity that came with being a poor kid from the dodgy end of London. Now, thanks to Kitty, all his appearances were preplanned and scheduled for potential photo ops.
"What's wrong, Kitty? She didn't scream until her voice gave out before breaking down in tears?" He was only partly teasing. He still couldn't get over the dramatics some women went through when they met him.
"What screaming? The woman didn't scream, sigh, cry or show the least bit of gratitude that her name was selected."
Kitty crossed his crowded living room, the night sky and twinkling lights of the New York skyline visible behind her through the wall of windows in his flat. Her jet-black hair had one bright red streak in the front, which stood out against her sienna skin and the allblack suit she wore.
"Hopefully, she'll be more excited once it sinks in what she's won. I can't have the winner of your first charity contest frowning in every picture."
"How do you know she'll be frowning?" Irvin asked, glancing at his watch. It had been ten hours since the entourage had arrived to prepare for his appearance on The Tonight Show that afternoon and decided to stick around afterward. He was ready for all of them to leave and give him a moment of peace.
"I can hear frowns," Kitty said, waving her hand. "This woman was frowning."
"I don't care if she smiles or not," Irvin said. "I did this to raise money for the foundation. The money we raised will do a hell of a lot more than having the winner smile in your photographs."
"True, but I expected more. I didn't make you the country's most desired man only to get some lackluster response."
"I'd prefer a lackluster response every now and then."
"Don't tease," Kitty said. "You'd be bored without all this." She held out her arms to encompass the ten other people milling around the flat, each one either talking on the phone or making connections via social media. All in an effort to keep his name in front of people and build his image.
Some daysdays like today, actuallyhe wanted to tell the lot of them to sod off. But he couldn't deny that being Hollywood's biggest celebrity had its perks, the best one being the money. Money brought safety and security. Two things he'd gone without for most of his childhood. And the money kept rolling in with every action film or dramatic role he churned out. Telling Kitty to bugger off wasn't worth losing the security blanket his celebrity afforded.