Finish What You Started

Finish What You Started

by Kathryn Lively

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781786510501
Publisher: Totally Entwined Group Ltd
Publication date: 07/19/2016
Series: ExStream Love , #1
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 140
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Kathryn Lively is an award-winning writer and editor, avid Whovian, and Rush (the band) fan. She loves chocolate and British crisps and is still searching for a good US dealer of Japanese Kit Kat bars.

Kathryn is a regular contributor to the Sexy To Go authors group and enjoys the outdoors, when she’s able to get out.

Read an Excerpt

Copyright © Kathryn Lively 2016. All Rights Reserved, Totally Entwined Group Limited, T/A Totally Bound Publishing.

April, 2006, Las Vegas

Gabby Randall stood at the window of their fifteenth-floor suite at the Fitzgerald Hotel and Casino, looking out at the blinding lights of Fremont Street. Thousands of them, maybe a million, blinked in rapid succession, simulating waves and fireworks and starbursts in colors she hadn’t realized existed. Down and to her right, a two-story tall neon cowboy winked and waved to passersby from his perch at the Pioneer Club. Bright yellow piping outlined his checkered shirt and knowing leer, and if Gabby moved one inch to one side or the other she could swear his eyes took on a sinister glow.

He stared at her, accusing her, as though to say Shame on you, girlie. Eloping without telling nobody. She wanted to turn away, but his eyes proved too hypnotic to resist.

“Shut up. I’m an adult,” she muttered, and blinked to break the spell. The cowboy had a name. The clerk at registration had said as much, but it’d gone right out of her head, replaced by choruses of nearby jingling slot machines as Dash had given him two fake names and paid cash for the room.

She looked past the neon smirk and studied the vibrant patterns of one hotel’s marquee. A thought occurred to her about the lights—how would anyone know to check for burnouts and replace the bulbs if the signs ran twenty-four-seven? Did the hotels each hire a specific person to stand on bulb duty? Were they like Christmas light strands, in that if one was faulty then the whole thing didn’t light up?

Why she pondered this, of all things one wondered about Vegas, she didn’t know. She took a deep breath and decided that her mind chose to focus on inane observations to calm her nerves.

It had less to do with coming to a strange city than it did with this being her first night alone with Dash. Her first night alone with any man, for that matter.

She’d never visited Las Vegas before, though she’d entertained a number of invitations from event planners. Her parents and managers, as devout in their Catholicism as their business savvy, had refused on her behalf time and again. No conventions or junkets unsanctioned by the network, or them, for her. Definitely, they didn’t want her involved in a cheesy celebrity magic show or publicity stunt. Vegas might as well have been situated on the outer rim of Hell.

Now, their say mattered little. She’d turned twenty-one the previous week, on the same day her contract with Randall Talent had expired. Marie and Walter might remain family, but they no longer made decisions for her, business or otherwise. This included her most important one to date—her wedding to Dash Gregory.

Gregory. She was Gabby Gregory now. Or perhaps she should hyphenate to Randall-Gregory, and use her given name, Gabrielle. Maybe that would make her appear mature, and more professional when she met with prospective agents to help her transition from TV ingénue to a place behind the camera.

In her left hand she held the current issue of People Magazine, the cover of which featured her with the other five principals of Wondermancer High, the television show that had served as her work and home for the past six years. In her right, a marriage certificate affirming her union with Dash Gregory bent in her tightening grip. It had happened only an hour ago, and if she brought the paper closer she could smell the printer ink. Her thumb brushed the black-marker signature of the minister, a middle-aged Johnny Cash impersonator with authentic sideburns and a paunch. Dash had insisted using a fake Elvis seemed too cliché, and that his late father—a Cash fan—would have gotten a kick out of it.

Gabby had conceded easily. She’d have stood before a showgirl in all her ostrich plumage and glitter if it meant a legitimate marriage. The Cash impersonator hadn’t recognized either of them, which was good. He didn’t fit their show’s demographic, and apparently he didn’t have a teenager who forced him to sit in front of the set every Thursday evening at eight.

She set the license on the nightstand to prevent further creases, then focused on the magazine. Good Luck, Graduates! read the headline, in reference to the series finale due to air next month. Sadness barely touched her as she recalled the emotion and angst which had pervaded the set when they’d filmed their final scenes. Relief was more like it. She’d played the part of Tula Truebend for six seasons, and as far as the country knew, her real life mirrored that of the prim, straight-A student aspiring to the upper echelons of the magical world. Hardly. Her grades, passable enough to let her continue acting, wouldn’t get her into Harvard. She hadn’t planned on college, anyway.

With the series behind her now, she couldn’t wait to pursue a career as a screenwriter and producer—to create rather than regurgitate. First order of business—develop a project for Dash.

Of the six main actors on the paranormal-set show—created to capitalize on the success of the Harry Potter franchise—her new husband stood to suffer the most typecasting. While she’d played the brain, a pretty one to boot, he’d been the token geek. Glasses, perpetually bent wand, goofy laugh, and no fashion sense. The showrunners had neglected all requests to mature Freddie Grodin toward the end of the run, leaving ‘Grody’ to remain a beloved yet awkward and inept nerd in the eyes of Wondermancer High fans.

She promised herself Dash would have a long acting career, and not in variations of the same role. What the hell was taking so long with him, anyway? He’d gone for water…had he tried the Hoover Dam first?

The handle of their room’s door jerked and rattled, startling her. On instinct, she clutched the full-length robe she wore tighter around her chest. When they’d stood exposed on Fremont Street, walking from the chapel to the hotel, she’d fretted over possible discovery from fans and paparazzi. Instead people had brushed past them, oblivious. Only in a city like this could that happen, she realized.

“Finally,” Dash muttered and entered the room. “I hate these damn keycards. They only work half the time.” A plastic bag, heavy with bottles and snacks, hung from his forearm, and he wore his favorite Dodgers cap pulled low over his face. Gabby smiled upon seeing it, especially since Dash really didn’t need to wear it to conceal his identity. Without the taped-up glasses and slicked-back hair the world saw on Grody each week, Dash as himself resembled nothing of the character he played. She envied his ability to roam free.

No, Dash was gorgeous with his clear blue eyes and a hint of stubble shadowing his firm jaw. He removed the cap and ruffled his short hair, adding to his adorably scruffy look.

“I’m glad you’re back,” she told him, and approached him for a hug. “I don’t like being here by myself.”

“Hey.” He took the magazine from her and set it next to the license, then enveloped her in his arms. He felt safe, warm. “It’s okay. Didn’t I tell you we’d be all right? It’s official, we’re married, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.”

“I keep thinking somebody saw us downstairs.” Visions bloomed in her mind of photographers stalking each floor of the hotel, disguising themselves as room service. Fans pulling out their cell phones or running for the nearest pay phone to tell their friends, or worse, announce it to the world via their MySpace pages and that new site, Twitter. Guess what…we saw Tula and Grody in Vegas! Why would they be here, checking into the same hotel room? Ooooh!

Friends tell other friends. Somebody knows a guy at the Enquirer. He calls his contact in Vegas. Somebody calls her parents…in three seconds the SWAT team will kick down their door…

“Gabby, you’re shaking.”

“I just want to be a married person for one night without the world knowing about it.”

Dash chuckled. It vibrated throughout her body, making her very aware of him. The robe slipped open and her breasts, hidden by a sheer layer of satin and lace, pressed against his body when he drew her against him. Her nipples hardened, anticipating his touch.

They hadn’t seen this much of each other during the year they’d secretly dated. They’d kissed, a lot, and enjoyed a quick grope over clothes in between scenes. She’d saved it all for tonight.

“We’re fine, Gabby,” he assured her. “We could walk the whole Strip tonight and nobody is going to notice us. There’s enough in Vegas to distract people. In fact,” he pulled away and she whimpered, “I thought we might stay an extra night.”

“But we’re going to New York tomorrow.” An outsider might have viewed their wedding as spontaneous, but they’d put a fair amount of planning into this week. Marry in Vegas, then off to Manhattan to shop for an apartment. Stage and TV auditions for Dash while she met with agents to discuss her ideas for projects.

“I know, but you deserve a proper honeymoon, however short. It’s not like we’re broke and have to go back to work immediately.”

“I know.” Assuming Wondermancer High enjoyed a long life in syndication, they wouldn’t have to work again with their combined income if they budgeted well. She wanted to work, though, and intended to distance herself from Tula Truebend.

He sat on the edge of the bed and kicked off his shoes. The white Polo he’d worn for the ceremony came next, discarded onto the carpet. Dash stretched his arms to the ceiling and Gabby marveled at the definition in his muscles. She couldn’t wait to trace every ridge and curve.

“I was thinking we’d go see Celine or Elton, or Cirque du Soleil,” he continued, shucking his pants and socks. Clad in his boxers, he scooted back to lie on the bed. “I’ll get tickets for whatever you want. I got the room for two nights either way, and New York isn’t going anywhere.”

He patted the vacant side of the mattress and eyed her standing form. The robe’s belt had come loose, exposing her legs and the red baby-doll barely covering her thighs.

“I’m not going anywhere, either,” he added.

“Good.” The robe slid to the floor, and Gabby crawled up the bed and moved flush against her new groom. Dash slanted his mouth over hers, and she melted into his embrace, sinking deeper into bed as he rolled closer. She explored the smooth planes of his back on down to his cotton shorts, where she longed to discover his better assets. Limbs twined, fingers plucked at straps and elastic bands, all the while she let her husband plunder her mouth with his tongue. She tasted the coffee they’d shared earlier and a hint of mint gum, clearly used to mask the strong drink.

She’d never felt happier, being with Dash. She was ready to put Tula Truebend behind her and act her age. She’d reveled in the simple act of buying this skimpy lingerie for her wedding night, enjoying shopping like a “grown up.”

Her parents had kept her under constant watch during the show’s run, having everything done for her. They’d paid her bills, chosen her outfits, and watched her diet. No more. She wouldn’t think about them tonight.

The straps of her baby-doll drooped down her shoulders, freeing her body. Dash broke from her lips and kissed a trail to one breast, circling the nipple with his tongue. She shivered at the sensation, as though he set her every nerve ablaze with his touch.

He looked up with glazed eyes and a swollen smile. “Did you…?”

She nodded, and her silent affirmation that she’d taken her pill sufficed. She’d gotten the prescription in secret last month, in anticipation of their marriage.

Dash returned to her breasts for a full-on assault, nipping one while kneading the other. He shifted over her, allowing her to feel the fullness of his arousal. Gabby relaxed and let him take over. His every thrust against her sex, while still in his boxers, sparked her desire, readying her to become his in every sense of the word.

No, she thought, we’ll belong to each other. When the shorts and her lacy thong came off and he entered her with one slow, guided stroke, she bit her lip to avoid crying out and focused on Dash above her, burying his face into the crook of her neck, cooing his reassurance that he would take care of her.

“You okay?” he whispered, his warm breath roaring in her ear.

“Fantastic. Are you?”

“Yeah.” He laughed, giddy like, and pushed into her again. The pain subsided the longer they lay joined, but when he reached down for her clit she cried out. She was no stranger to self-pleasure, but having Dash touch her in this way brought her to climax much quicker than she had ever accomplished alone.

“Wow.” He laughed.

“Sorry about that.” She’d wanted to last, but his kiss soothed her guilt.

“I love you, babe,” he said, and after a second his body shuddered. He bore down on top of her, and Gabby looked down his back to see his cute ass bob faster as he filled her. The increased motion dizzied her senses, and the heat enveloping her took her breath away. She wanted to return the sentiment, tell him she loved him as much, but the words caught in her throat.

Instead, she focused on them and tried something she’d read about in a how-to manual. With him deep inside her she tightened around him and thrust. Oh, that’s nice.

Dash reared upward, his face pinched with pleasured pain, and cried out as he released. The warmth blossomed inside her, and they kissed away their afterglow, their hands sliding across dampened skin and fisting the sheets.

I love you. The words looped in her mind, and she hoped their connection strengthened enough for him to hear it.

Dash pulled away and they touched foreheads. His lashes brushed hers and he shook with quiet laughter. “I can’t wait until bedtime every night, if it’s like this.”

She almost made a Wondermancer High joke—It’s nothing like the dorms at Huntington Hall. Instead she nodded and kissed his nose. No references to the past, she decided. They weren’t Tula and Grody, who only spoke to each other when Tula needed him to get her boyfriend out of a scrape.

She was Mrs. Gregory. Now and forever.

She took the comforting realization to sleep, Dash spooning her as they turned on their sides toward the window looking out onto Fremont Street.

“What do you think?” he whispered in her ear. “Stay an extra day.”

“Sure.” She’d prefer to spend all their time here.

She snuggled against her husband and watched what lights were visible until she drifted away, thankful the neon cowboy couldn’t see them.

* * * *

He first heard the knocking sometime around six, as the clock by him read, and bolted upright in bed when he didn’t recognize anything in the room. After a few seconds his memory kicked back into gear, and he checked on Gabby. She had shifted little in sleep, remaining on her side and snoring quietly.

Still married, good. Wife here. Tired. Sleep more.

Dash waited, then settled back into bed with his arm around her, convinced one of their neighbors was being summoned from slumber. He’d arranged for room service to wheel up breakfast at eight, and he saw no reason to—

A second series of knocks, more forceful, jarred him. He cursed. Either the front desk had screwed up the delivery time or somebody had the wrong room. Damn it. He’d hoped for at least another hour of sleep, then waking leisurely and making love to Gabby to work up their appetite before taking on the day.

Instead he slid out of bed, found his boxers, and hopped into them as he headed for the door. “Go away,” he called out. “You’re two hours early.”

“Open this goddamn door.”

Fuck. He knew Walter Randall’s hot-gravel voice anywhere. How in the hell had he tracked them here? He and Gabby had told nobody about their elopement—no co-stars, no close relatives. Definitely no meddling parents. He’d trusted only Gabby with their plans.

That meant somebody along the way had pieced it together and ratted them out. No time, though, to consider the clerk at the car rental against the woman processing their license and ceremony fee at the chapel.

“Gabby!” called out a shrill female voice. Great. Marie had come, too. Of course she had, she’d probably driven. Everybody knew the woman yanked Walter around on a leash. “We know you’re in there! Open this door!”

“Huh?” The noise roused Gabby and she sat up, the sheets folded on her lap. She looked so adorable sitting there, bare-breasted with her hair sticking out in all directions. Too bad her parents had to show up and ruin what otherwise could have turned into passionate morning sex.

“Here,” he whispered and tossed her robe on the bed. “Did you tell your parents we were here?”

That woke her up. “No!” She dressed hurriedly. “You never told me which hotel we were staying at, so how could I say anything even if I wanted to?”

The pounding and shouting increased into frenzied panic, and boiled Dash’s blood. They were adults, for crying out loud. Never mind that they were his in-laws now, Marie and Walter Randall had no business horning in on them like this. They’d intended to break the news to family before alerting the media, yes, but they deserved at least one day to themselves.

He took a deep breath and unlatched the security chain, then opened the door. The two middle-aged talent managers—rail-thin and balding Walter in his trademark cords and elbow-patched jacket, full-figured Marie in one of her tropical explosion caftans—bustled into the space as though prepared to take down a drug cartel. Neither brandished a gun, but the umbrella Walter wielded like a ninja might have taken out an eye if Dash hadn’t backed away.

“What the hell is going on here?” Marie demanded. She paced the room with a critical eye, no doubt searching for hidden cameras. Dash knew how Gabby’s parents hovered over her, shielding her from the media and men and saturated fats. It was no wonder she’d felt somewhat inhibited last night when they’d made love. She’d wanted to get married, but Dash wouldn’t have been surprised to find his wife holding back at certain moments.

Turning twenty-one, and freeing herself of her parents’ grasp, was supposed to change everything. Yeah, she’d legally become an adult at eighteen like anybody else, but damn, her parents and that iron-clad contract…

Marie laid eyes on her daughter and gasped in exaggerated horror. “Holy Mother…Gabby, did you have sex with him? In a cheap hotel?”

“This is not a cheap hotel,” Dash protested. Not for what he paid.

Gabby belted her robe and stood up to her mother. “That’s not your concern. I’m an adult and I’m not your client anymore. Even if I were still your client, my personal business is not your concern. What are you doing here?” She folded her arms.

“You’re still our daughter,” Walter said, also scanning the room. For what—contraband, porn, other people—Dash wasn’t sure. “And we care.”

“She’s twenty-one years old—” Dash began, but Marie silenced him with a barking reprimand. Then she cried out again, something crumpled in her hammy fist.

“What is this? Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel?” Her eyes bulged as she read. “Walter, they got married!”

Walter turned toward Dash, fury reddening his normally pasty complexion.

Dash smiled. “Hi, Dad.”

“Don’t you ‘Hi, Dad’, him. You put her up to this. You tricked her,” Marie accused. She stormed around the bed, wagging her finger in anger. “Gabby has a whole career ahead of her, and I’ll be damned if she ruins everything by marrying too young.”

Too young? They were legally adults, for crying out loud! “You mean the way you did?” Yeah, he aimed below the belt, but Dash knew Marie’s history, how she’d given up a promising acting career after getting pregnant with Gabby. How she and Walter had decided instead to give their children the opportunities denied them, all for the greater good of the family.

Dash knew this, because the Randalls reminded the cast of Wondermancer High constantly. Every time Gabby had shown signs of burnout or interest in something outside of acting, they’d played the sacrifice card and guilted her back to the set. He’d admit to himself or anyone else that he fell for her partly because he wanted to protect her from her parents. However, Gabby seemed to be doing well enough on her own at the moment.

“Yes, it’s my career and my life,” his wife said, “and only I have a say in how I manage both. Well”—she cast a loving glance at him—“Dash and I are a team now.”

Marie’s eyes narrowed to slits, stabbing invisible daggers at Dash. “You’re lucky we didn’t call the cops on you.”

“For what? We eloped. We’re married. I didn’t have to coerce Gabby, because she wants this as much as I do.”

“That’s right, Mother,” Gabby added. “You can’t tell me what to do. Either of you. You’re not my managers anymore. In fact, I’m actively looking for new representation.”

Walter snatched the marriage license, waving the fisted paper in his daughter’s face. “This is not a marriage. You marry in a church, with a priest, sanctioned by God. This”—the paper tore in his fingers—“is a farce.”

“Hey, don’t do that.” Dash reached for the license but Marie, somehow getting the umbrella without him seeing, waved the pointy end at his face.

“I should have kept a better eye on you on the set. All this time I thought Reed would make a play for her, but no…it’s always the one you least expect.”

His and Gabby’s co-star Reed was gay and in a relationship with a screenwriter, but he let it go unsaid. He wanted to laugh at this confrontation—it had turned from frightening to ridiculous. Perhaps Marie could salvage her acting career after all, and try out for batshit crazy mother-in-law roles.

“It’s a good thing we hired that private detective when we did, though we got here too late to stop the wedding,” Walter muttered.

“What!” Gabby stormed to Dash’s side, looking as furious as he felt. “You had us followed? What is wrong with you two?”

Her mother carried on, not listening. “It’s no big deal, Walter. We can spin this. We’ll call Wayne, and he’ll get her an annulment…”

“You will not. She’s my wife. I’m her husband. Which of these statements are you having trouble understanding?” He talked slowly now, his voice rising. Gabby had warned him that her parents wouldn’t take the news well, but he didn’t expect to see complete denial and scheming to undo everything while he stood there in front of them.

“Gabby, where’s your bag?” Marie paced the room. “You know what, forget luggage. Get dressed. We’re leaving.”

Enough of this shit. Dash palmed Walter’s shoulder and steered him toward the exit. “No, you know what? You’re leaving. Gabby and I are on our honeymoon and don’t want to be disturbed. We will call when you’re ready to talk like civilized people.”

“Dash, wait.”

The plea in her voice chilled his blood. He recognized the tone—one of acquiescence. He’d heard it on the set often, every time Gabby’d resisted a scene in the script or a promotional obligation. Her parents would talk to her privately, and seconds later Gabby would step back in line like an obedient—and chastened—little girl.

Walter shrugged free and glared him down. He stood a foot taller than Dash, but lacked upper body strength. If Dash had to get physical to defend himself, he would.

Gabby held out her hands, playing the peacemaker. “Let me talk with them, please?” She moved closer to talk lower. “Give me a few minutes with my parents, and I’ll make sure they understand they can’t push us around.”

Dash glanced at Walter and Marie, and walked her toward the window, out of their earshot. Vegas never shut off—the lights continued their round-the-clock sequence of blinding patterns and waves. They ought to be here alone, looking out at the spectacle, kissing and planning which casino they wanted to invade.

“I don’t want you alone with them,” he whispered back. “They aren’t speaking rationally. They think they still control you.”

Gabby looked affronted by this. “You don’t trust me to handle my parents?”

“Gabby, I love you. I know what they’re capable of…”

Her face turned sour, and he changed his tack, “But you’re strong. I just want to be with you.”

The doubt remained in his mind. He believed in his wife, but he knew Walter and Marie. Since day one of her career, they’d hovered over Gabby and counted every penny. They had other clients, but none as successful as their daughter. Her independence threatened their livelihood.

She grasped his hand and he saw her dark eyes glass over. “We will stay together, Dash. I’ll talk to them, we’ll straighten this out, and after they’re gone we can go on with our lives. Please.”

Dash sighed. He wanted to start married life off on the right foot, and keeping Gabby happy remained top priority. He kissed her cheek and stormed past Marie and Walter to where his clothes lay on the floor. He grabbed his jeans and shirt and quickly dressed, making sure he had his wallet, flip phone, and the room keycard. “I’ll wait outside,” he then said.

“You’ll wait downstairs,” Walter countered.

“No fucking way.” Before Dash could protest further the older man had him by the arm.

“What?” He pushed when Dash resisted. “You don’t trust us with your wife?”

A trick question. Either way he answered, Gabby might take something from it that he didn’t necessarily intend. “Fine. I’ll be in the lobby,” he said, looking right at Gabby. “I love you. Call my cell when you’re done.”

Gabby nodded, biting her lip and wiping back tears. With one last look at an agitated Marie and Walter, he closed the room door behind him but lingered only a few feet away before walking slowly toward the elevator. Quite slowly.

After a few seconds Walter’s face appeared as the door cracked open. “You can’t fool us. We can see you through the peephole, Einstein.”

“What difference does it make where I wait? I can’t hear anything out here, and besides, you two aren’t staying long.” He folded his arms.

“Hey, we’re in no hurry to go home. You want to hang out here, okay. We’ve got all day in this room with our daughter.” Walter sneered, his canines prominent and ready to bite. Whatever, dude. If the Randalls wanted a standoff, he’d play, never mind how his bladder ached for release.

During the quiet pause of their stare down, Dash swore he heard Gabby sob in the background and made to rush forward, but her earlier plea sounded in his head. No. As much as he yearned to act the white knight, he trusted his wife. Gabby wanted to bring closure to this stage of her life and he wanted to stand by her.

That meant giving her space.

Walter’s face remained lodged between the door and jamb, and Dash noticed they’d engaged the swing bar lock so he couldn’t use his keycard and barge back inside if he wanted. Typical. To Dash, his father-in-law resembled the crazed Jack Torrence from the ‘Here’s Johnny!’ scene in The Shining. He’d never unsee this.

“All right. I’m going, but I’ll be back.” Dash stormed to the end of the hall, checking back every few seconds. Walter surveyed his retreat all the way, saying nothing and not moving a muscle until Dash got into the elevator.

When the doors slid shut he let out a ragged sigh and reached for the button panel to get back out, but the car had started moving.

“This is a mistake.” He hated that he had caved. Gabby might not see it that way, but his in-laws had no right to interrupt their honeymoon. Hearing Gabby cry made him uncomfortable. He hadn’t known the Randalls to physically abuse any of their children or clients, but if they were desperate who knew what they might try, given the chance.

After an agonizingly slow descent to the ground floor, the elevator stopped moving and the doors opened to the lobby, not to the cacophony of slot machines and tourists wandering to and fro, but the collective flash of a dozen or more cameras. A head turned and a finger pointed in his direction. “There he is!” Then the scene turned into bodies, many running at him. ”Dash, Dash, Dash…” Voices shouted from all directions, hands jammed microphones at his face. “Where’s Gabby, and why did you take her from L.A.?”

“Did you get married, did any of your co-stars know?”

”How did you manage to keep this under wraps?”

The ambush disoriented him for a few seconds, and with the paparazzi so close, a few cameramen gathered behind him to prevent his escape back into the elevator. It worked—the doors closed before he could take a step back.

Normally, he tolerated the media, even the aggressive paps who recognized him out of his Grody guise and trailed him on his morning jogs, because what secrets can one expect to unearth while a TV actor runs through his neighborhood?

This time, though, he connected their presence with the arrival of Gabby’s parents. Yeah, some photographers slept in trees to get the right shot, but he didn’t doubt the Randalls had orchestrated this distraction.

He had to get back to the room, now.

“No comment,” he said to the crowd over, and over, and squeezed through the throng, turning around to call for another elevator. The reporters refused to accept his dismissal, however, and pelted him with more questions.

He tuned them out, elbowing away microphones and lenses, pressing the up button until he chipped a fingernail. Over and over again. Gabby, he pleaded silently, please be there. Don’t leave me.

“Dash, is there any truth to the rumor you’ve signed on to a Wondermancer High spinoff?” asked a slender woman in a gray pantsuit.

What was she talking about? He was done with the show and everything related to it, save for Gabby. He brushed away the mini tape recorder she held close to his face. “No comment.”

The doors of the second elevator opened and the crowd surged. Several people already occupied the car, but Dash pushed forward and shouted for his floor. The man nearest the buttons, his eyes bulging at the crowd, swiped at several numbers until the doors shut.

“Thank you,” he breathed out, and sagged in one corner. He was sharing the ride with a group of senior citizens, all of whom stared at him with varying degrees of curiosity and fear.

Damn it, the reporter got in, too.

“What the hell was all that out there? You in some kind of boy band?” asked a man wearing a trucker’s cap emblazoned with a chewing tobacco logo.

“What about Gabby, Dash?” asked the reporter. “Do you plan to work with her in the future? Are you two in a romantic relationship? How long have you been involved with her?”

“Shut up.” Dash turned away from the group, wishing he actually possessed some of the powers wielded by the fictional Wondermancer High students. Given the choice, he could turn himself invisible, or change this annoying young woman into a coat rack.

“Are you aware her parents have been trying to renew their management contract with her? How do they feel about you being romantically involved with their daughter?”

Well, duh. You should know the answer to that. Surely they tipped you off to us being here.

“Excuse me,” piped up one of the older women. “He never said he was the girl’s boyfriend. It’s not right for you to assume otherwise.”

Dash’s gaze panned the cluster of tourists. Everybody looked at him, expecting confirmation. “No comment,” he muttered.

“Did you marry Gabby Randall? Do you plan to marry her today? Do you—”

“Lady,” broke in

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