Sandra Moyer’s preschool is struggling, so when her sister suggests allowing a super-famous actor to research his latest role there, she reluctantly agrees. Except the actor turns out to be Ben Capshaw—a playboy who’s never serious, always joking around, and who knows zero about kids or being a parent. Case in point: his involvement in the untimely death of the preschool’s class pet…
Ben is enjoying teaching more than he thought he would, but that doesn’t mean he’s looking for a permanent position. Sure, he’s ready for more serious movie roles and less goofing off, but the buttoned-up, beautiful Sandra and her young daughter are more than he bargained for. Plus, Sandra still won’t trust him—what if it’s all an act, research for the role? As the lines between make-believe and reality blur, Ben will have to decide if love is worth casting aside the role of his life for a new role…that could last a lifetime.
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From Fake to Forever
By Jennifer Shirk, Stacy Abrams, Laurie Rauch
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Jennifer Shirk
All rights reserved.
From the corner of her eye, Sandra Moyer noticed a tall, bearded man leaning against the playground fence and automatically tensed. Because she was a single mom and alone, her paranoid nature already labeled him a felon, although technically he was doing nothing wrong. In fact, come to think of it, he had a pretty nice body with those real-life Hulk arms and broad chest. She didn't know what that made her for noticing something like that about a man she assumed was on some Family Watchdog list, but the phrase "cheap and desperate" came to mind.
Since when did I start ogling the physiques of strange men?
Her shoulders wilted as she brooded over that question. She obviously needed to get out more. She needed to just get out. The problem was she didn't see herself doing that any time soon. Her self-esteem had hit rock bottom and hadn't been able to locate its way back up since the day she'd found Steve cheating on her with one of his costars.
An unpleasant picture of her ex-husband lip-locked with a Julianne Moore–type redhead popped into her mind, and she shuddered.
Actors. Did their profession ever mesh with reality?
The answer to that was a resounding no. Unfortunately, she'd learned that one the hard way. Steve had even thought she'd understand the main reason he had the affair was for the publicity and what it could do for his career and income. Like that was supposed to make her feel so much better about it.
"Mommy, I want to play in the sandbox."
Her daughter's voice pulled her from those depressing thoughts, and she gratefully looked down. "Okay, honey. Just five more minutes, though."
Hannah squealed and dashed through the playground as fast as her little legs could run. Sandra couldn't help but smile. Life was so simple when you were four. The little things kept you happy. And why not? Four-year-olds didn't think about paying the rent or overdue bills. Things that were constantly on her mind ever since she'd opened the preschool with her sister. No, the only thing you worried about at that age was whether Mommy would give you ice cream if you didn't eat your string beans.
She'd kill for that kind of stress again.
Unfortunately, the thought of homicide had her eyes traveling back to the well-built man she'd been ogling earlier. He was tossing around a football with a young boy now. Nothing illegal, but something was off. She had a sixth sense when it came to protecting her daughter, and right now it was telling her something big. Like he'd just gotten out of prison. It must have been a whopper of a sentence, too, judging from the long, scraggly hair and the kind of beard and mustache Santa Claus would envy. She never made a habit of associating with men who looked liked convicts, but there was something familiar about him ...
She doubted he had a child enrolled in her preschool. Story time at the public library? She highly doubted that, too. He didn't exactly look like the loving Father Knows Best type, considering that fire-breathing skull on his calf wasn't designed to instill tenderness. At least he was out spending time with his son, which was a lot more than what her daughter was getting from her own father.
As if her thoughts had been telepathically sent out, the man in question cast a lingering gaze over in her direction. And he smiled.
Oh. My. Goodness.
Oh, no, don't even think about it. Don't you dare come over here. She fumbled to put her sunglasses back on and almost punched out a lens. Please stay where you are. He'd better be a jolly person being his usual overly friendly self and not just leering at her. But she laid odds on the latter.
What was it with her? She could attract a creep from the next state over without even trying. A talent she'd gladly relinquish.
She flopped down on a bench. Opening her purse, she yanked out a book and hid her face behind it. If she pretended to be engrossed in reading, maybe the man would reconsider trying to strike up a conversation. Yeah, that's all she needed — some ex-con cozying up to her.
Confident her glasses hid her eyes, she lowered the book a half inch and sneaked another peek. Tall, Dark, and Scraggly had his back to her now. Relief enveloped her. Thank goodness, she thought, slowly letting out a breath.
One deadbeat per lifetime was enough.
* * *
"C'mon, Uncle Bens. I'm wide-open."
Ben Capshaw lowered his throwing arm and glared at his agent's son, Todd. "Will you stop calling me that?"
"But you are my uncle Bens," Todd said with a frown.
"Yeah, I guess. But when you say it like that I feel like a side dish at a Chinese restaurant."
The boy snickered. "I know."
Ben quickly raised the football again and pretended to whip it at him. When Todd flailed his arms and ducked, Ben had his revenge. "Nice move," he called out with a laugh.
Todd laughed, too. "Okay, c'mon, throw it for real this time. I'm really ready."
Ben lobbed the football in the air and watched with budding disappointment as it sailed right through Todd's arms and bounced on the ground. Ben shook his head. The kid obviously needed more practice. "You almost had it," he lied.
Todd picked up the ball and ran it back to him. "You know, I'm so glad you're coming for dinner, Uncle Bens. Are you and my mom sure I can't tell anyone you're here?"
Ben looked up at the sky and sighed. A sigh that clearly said, if we go through this one more time I'm going to find your entire stash of Twinkies and eat them all without remorse. If the kid were a little older, he'd understand that threat and let the question lie. Instead, Todd continued to gaze up at him with big, hopeful brown eyes.
"No," Ben told him firmly. "Not your BFF, not even your dog. No one. Got it?"
Todd's young face looked crushed.
"Look, it's like I told you before, I don't want the paparazzi buzzing around here. I'm officially on vacation."
"In Wood Manor, New Jersey?"
"Hey, the beach here is just as good as Los Angeles, and after a few days I'll drive up to New York City." He loved New York in September. He'd get a haircut and a shave, a massage, meet a few women.
Speaking of meeting women ...
Ben's gaze lingered again on the tasty-looking blonde sitting on the bench. He'd been checking her out since he and Todd first arrived at the park. Couldn't help himself. He had a real thing for blondes, and most — thank you, God — had a real thing for him.
"Hey, Todd, why don't we go to the slide over there?" Closer to that blonde.
He turned to the boy in surprise. "Why not?"
"That slide's for babies."
"No, it's not. Look, there's an adult over there," he said, pointing the football toward the bench.
Todd looked over and made a face. "You want to go talk to that woman, don't you?"
"Wh-what?" Ben spluttered. "No, no. No way. Hey, stop listening to your mom about me." Besides, he didn't want to talk to her, anyway. "Flirt" was a better verb choice. He wanted to flirt with that woman. There was a difference. Anyone could spew out words and just talk. Flirting required talent, always used with the sole purpose of letting the other person know you're interested. And he was very interested in her.
However, as much as he was tempted to go over and introduce himself, he wouldn't. He didn't want to risk his anonymity. But he didn't see the harm in getting a better look at an attractive woman. After all, if he was in a museum, he'd certainly want to get closer to a work of art, wouldn't he? And from what he could tell, that woman was a bona fide masterpiece.
She had the kind of straight, shiny blond hair his fingers itched to feel and run through, and a body that was slender in an athletic kind of way — built more like a runner than a centerfold — and not at all fake like most of the women in L.A. He was positive there was nothing cosmetically enhanced on her. Not that she wore anything revealing to bring that kind of attention to herself. Yet, dressed in sweatpants and a Red Sox T-shirt, she'd managed to get his attention just the same.
"Um, Todd, are you sure you don't want to go over there?" he asked again, trying to rein in and saddle his raging testosterone.
Todd took off running. "You have to catch me first," he called out with a laugh.
That little bugger. Ben dropped the football and ran after him. Todd was fast, weaving his way around the wooden maze of forts and playground equipment and then disappearing from his sight. Ben climbed up the rope to the wooden platform and scanned the area. From the corner of his eye, he caught sight of Todd ducking into a tube slide. Ha! Gotcha now, kid. He ran over and climbed into a slide himself, hoping to catch him by surprise.
The only problem was he didn't slide down.
He began to twist, realizing his shoulders were wedged in tight. With one arm pinned down and the other arm up, he tried shifting his hips to wiggle back up. That didn't work, either. Okay, he wasn't sure how he'd managed this strange, bizarre feat, but he needed some help.
Crap. He could see the headline now: "Career Not Only Thing Going Down Tubes." Oh, man, his agent and publicist would have his head on a platter if that happened. He'd be lucky to get local theater work after that. Served him right for showing off and acting like a ten-year-old instead of the thirty-four-year-old he was.
Where the hell is Todd?
Ben heard movement above him. Thank goodness. He looked up, ready to ream Todd out for leaving him hanging so long. But he clamped his lips shut when he stared directly into the face of a cherubic little girl instead.
"Excuse me. Now it my turn," she said in a tiny voice.
"Uh ... well, you have to wait. See, I can't move right now."
She frowned. "But I said excuse me."
"Yeah, I know, but —"
Her little face puckered and those big blue eyes filled with tears, which set the alarm bells ringing. No, no, please. I beg you! Oh, man, the kid was going to cry on him.
Where the hell is Todd!
The little girl did begin to cry — not with the loud, obnoxious wailing he half expected, but with a quiet, trembling frown and dime-size tears that fell like an H5 hailstorm. It made him want to break down and cry, too. He didn't need this right now — stuck as he was — especially since he had no clue how to convey that he was telling the truth to such a young child. About to send out a verbal SOS to Todd, he saw the blonde from the bench spring out before him.
Thank you, God. Maybe it wasn't exactly how he wanted to meet this woman, but at least she would understand the situation, and he could finally get some help. But when he gazed up into the woman's ready-to-kill eyes, he doubted very much that the cavalry had arrived.
"What did you do to my daughter?" she accused in that stern mother-cub-protecting-her-baby voice.
Oh, great. Her daughter. More bad PR. Now they were going to add child abuse to the headline. "Nothing," he insisted. "Honest. Look, she just wants to go down the slide."
The blonde folded her arms. "Well, let her, then."
The woman's demand gave him pause. Okay, she obviously didn't understand his predicament any better than her kid had. "I ... uh ... can't," he said with a sheepish grin. "I'm kind of stuck. Maybe a little help?" He waved his one free arm, but she looked at it as though it were covered with warts.
"Maybe I should call the police for help instead," she said, drawing her daughter to her side.
The woman flinched from his outburst. He didn't mean to freak out on her, but the police equaled the press in his book. Then bad headlines. Then unhappy agent. Then less work. The list went on.
He cleared his throat. "No police, please," he repeated more calmly. "In fact, don't call anyone."
An odd expression — somewhere between nausea and hysteria — crossed her pretty features, and she grabbed her daughter's hand. "Let's go."
Go? Go where? He watched in disbelief as the woman began to lead her daughter away. Did she think he was faking it? Didn't she recognize him? The woman was actually turning her back on him.
"Wait!" he shouted. "I'm not kidding! Come back! What about me?"
His complaints and shouts didn't even register on her radar. The woman had to have heard him — heck, upstate New York had to have heard him — but she didn't turn around. Didn't so much as pause. In fact, she picked up her little girl and ran.
* * *
"Then I went to the bottom of the slide and pushed Uncle Bens up and out of the tube," Todd proudly explained to his parents' fascinated faces.
Ben turned and shot the boy a cross look. "Yeah, but you sure took your sweet time getting to me, kid."
What a friggin' day. At least Ben could take comfort in the fact that Todd had the sensitivity to wait until everyone finished dinner before opening his mouth about Uncle Bens's embarrassing situation this afternoon.
His agent, Denise, sat back and shook her head with disgust. "How do things like that happen to you?"
Ben smiled crookedly. "Just lucky?"
"Just stupid. You're an infant walking around in a man's body, you know." She stood from the table and proceeded to clear away the dinner dishes. "You have an image to uphold if you want more choice roles coming your way and not slapstick comedies. And what happens to you also reflects on me, since I represent you. What made you think you could go down a tube slide designed for a ten-year-old?"
"Oh, no, Mom. Uncle Bens went down the baby slide," Todd supplied.
That comment earned a chuckle from Denise's husband, Frank. Ben shot him an evil scowl in return — a look he'd perfected for his last movie — which had Frank sobering fast.
Damn, he was a good actor.
"What if someone saw you and called the fire department or the police?" she asked. "This town is small. Can you imagine the publicity?"
"Yes," Ben hissed. He paused, remembering the attractive blonde and her little daughter. "Someone almost did call the police, but I convinced her not to." Sort of.
"Thank goodness for that, and that she was there to help you and Todd."
He snorted in disgust. "Help? Are you kidding? She ran off like I was Ted Bundy."
Denise turned away from the sink and gave him a stern look. "Well, I don't blame her one bit."
Ben gaped and turned to her husband for support. Frank, being the pacifist he was, stood, shrugged, and followed Todd out of the room. Eyes rolling toward the ceiling, Ben turned back to his agent. "You actually forgive her for not stopping to help a movie star, let alone a fellow citizen? Last time I checked, we live in a benevolent society."
"Come on, Ben, stop playing the movie-star card. She wouldn't have recognized you if her life depended on it. I wouldn't have stopped to throw a quarter in a cup for you. It's your own fault, parading around like you do. This look did nothing for Brad Pitt, either."
Ben's anger dissipated as he rubbed the palm of his hand over his long beard and hair. He'd never counted on his appearance going as far as scaring a mother and her small child. He'd grown the hair and mustache almost a year ago for a part in a biker movie — then decided to keep them for a while for kicks.
"What do I really look like?" he asked.
He wiggled his eyebrows up and down. "A handsome hermit?"
She laughed. "Honey, you could be tarred and feathered and still be voted one of the most beautiful people in Hollywood — and you can act. That's why you're one of my favorite clients."
"And you're one of my favorite agents," he said with a grin. "Thanks for pulling those magical strings of yours and landing me the lead in Heaven Sent."
Denise walked over and handed him a piece of paper. "You don't have the part yet. We'll know in a few more weeks." She gestured toward the paper. "That's to make sure you're ready for it when you do."
He looked down at the slip in his hand. Besides the name "Storybook Land," it had an address and directions. "What's this, an amusement park?" he asked.
"No, a preschool. Actually, it's more like research."
Excerpted from From Fake to Forever by Jennifer Shirk, Stacy Abrams, Laurie Rauch. Copyright © 2016 Jennifer Shirk. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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