Despite her leading lady looks, Tamara Pierce has always been happiest out of the spotlight, especially since a painful breakup drove her away from her society friends. Now she's happily managing a magnificent, historic old movie house that's in danger of being torn down. It's good news when a billionaire buyer shows interest. If only the billionaire in question weren't Gregory Blanchard, who once fueled her fantasies of happily after ever.
Known for his reckless endeavors in romance and business, Gregory's determined to prove his worth with this new project. And he knows how to do it: making Tamara the public face of the Ellen Theater. She's poised, passionate-the perfect partner on his arm at fundraising events. Once he lures her into the limelight, the shy beauty gets under his skin in a way no woman has before. But will a heartbreaker like him be the one to lead her back to love?
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.41(d)|
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Tamara had never been a fan of parties, particularly ones thrown for the rich and powerful, which was why she found herself hiding behind a conveniently placed column in the old movie theater's lobby. The costume party was to raise money for The Ellen, the theater she ran — it was for a good cause, and if the event was successful, it would be worth the multiple panic attacks she'd suffered getting ready tonight.
Still, even that fact didn't help to keep the memories at bay.
And oh Lord, did she have memories.
She took another lengthy gulp from her champagne glass and let the bubbles work their magic. Mmmm. The champagne was dry and crisp, the tiny bubbles making her tongue tingle. The catering company had broken out the good stuff. Her mother or father would have been able to name the brand with just a sip. A smile tugged at her lips at the memory of her parents with their wine tastings, which inevitably had been followed by crate-loads of champagne or pinot noir arriving on their doorstep.
If there was one thing her parents had loved, it was a good party. Tamara looked around at the decadent costumes. Her parents would have loved this party. A familiar pang of guilt nagged at her. It had been six years since she'd seen her parents. Six years since she'd run away. The last time she'd sipped bubbly at a charity function, she'd been a ballerina, engaged, and miserable. Funny how much could change in six years.
She shook her head to clear away the guilt that memories of her parents always stirred up — it was ancient history, and those memories had no part in her new life. She focused on the champagne instead. It had also been six years since she'd had the good stuff, so she might as well enjoy it.
It might have been years, but the effects of high-end champagne hadn't changed, thank God. She eyed her glass, which was already half empty. These days she and her friends drank the cheap stuff, which amounted to a killer headache the next day, but even with a pounding head, she was happy — happier than she'd been back then, at least.
She risked another peek around the column. Yep, the party was still in full swing. She hadn't recognized anyone from her parents' circle of friends — not yet at least — but the crowd looked eerily similar to the ones who'd shown up at her parents' functions. Her family's estate was often packed with these stuffy, hoity-toity types.
She supposed she'd been just like them, once upon a time. Spoiled, entitled — though she hadn't known it then. Time and distance had given her that perspective, and for that she was grateful. Back then, she'd been too caught up in that world to see it clearly. She'd attended every one of her parents' parties and kept quiet in the corner, like the good little girl she was — always seen but never heard. Her brother, on the other hand ... Older and far more rebellious, he and his friends would get drunk right under their parents' noses before sneaking out to a party of their own.
"What are you doing back here?" The sound of her roommate's voice behind her cut into her memory and had her jumping back with a squeak. A splash of champagne sloshed over the side of her glass as she spun around to face Marc.
Thanks to tonight's theme of classic movie stars, her roommate and best friend was clad in a black tuxedo, his normally curly brown hair slicked down beneath a top hat. Taking the glass from her hands, he downed it in one gulp, ignoring her gasp of outrage. "You're hiding," he said, as he shoved the now-empty glass back into her hand.
She eyed the glass mournfully. "My champagne," she moaned.
He took her free hand and tugged her toward the center of the lobby where a bar had been set up by the caterers her friend Alice had hired. "My dear, there is an open bar a mere fifteen feet from where you're standing. Now be a brave little girl and come out from your hiding spot."
Tamara dug in her heels and scowled up at her friend, who clearly thought he was hysterical, judging by the smirk. But then, he had no idea how hard this party was. He'd never met Tammy Vanguard ... He only knew Tamara Pierce.
"I'm not hiding," she snapped, as she struggled out of his grip to return to her hiding place.
"Mmm-hmm." Marc raised one brow as he studied her. The plan had been that Tamara would dress as Ginger Rogers to Marc's Fred Astaire, but Marc's boyfriend, Alex, had other ideas. The head costume designer at the dance academy where Marc worked, Alex had taken one look at her long blond hair and delicate features and shook his head. Before she or Marc could protest, he had called out to one of the interns in the costume department for a change of dresses and gotten down to business on her hair and makeup,
Tamara, he'd decided, was going to be Veronica Lake. As he'd put it, "with hair like yours, denying your inner Veronica would be a crime."
She'd been too stunned to tell him that she had no inner Veronica, and then it was too late. He and his intern had gotten to work.
Marc was thrilled with the results and Tamara had been too polite to argue. But now, out in public, she was keenly aware of how tightly the gown fit her curves and how the makeup made her look like a film noir femme fatale rather than the good girl next door as planned.
Parties made her uncomfortable to begin with, but add a revealing costume that screamed sex symbol, and it was all Tamara could do not to turn tail and flee back to their East Village apartment. What she wouldn't give for her comfy pajamas and a black-and-white movie.
Unfortunately, even if she wasn't duty bound to stick around as the movie theater's general manager, there was no way in hell Marc would let her leave.
As if to prove her point, Marc grasped her arm, which was covered in an elbow-length black satin glove. He nudged her forward again. "Alex would kill me if he learned you hid his masterpiece all night long. Now go, scoot!" He tried to push her again, but she clung to the column with all of her strength.
"Don't make me," she whimpered. Was her fear pathetic? Yes. But pride be damned. It would be a hell of a lot more pathetic if she had a breakdown and started hyperventilating in front of this crowd of potential donors.
Marc's expression remained firm as he peeled her fingers off the pillar one by one. When he was done and she was pouting at him, properly shamed by her juvenile attempt to stay hidden, he nodded toward the bar. There was no denying the challenge in his tone as he said, "Champagne is that way."
Dammit, he knew how badly she needed a drink, tonight of all nights. He didn't know all the sordid details of her past — his respect for her privacy was one of the many reasons she loved him so dearly. But he knew enough to know that this party was excruciating for her. The only way she would survive was with the help of some liquid courage.
She cast a quick glance toward the bar where the champagne beckoned. She needed a drink. Maybe two drinks. Double fisting it might not be classy, but it was efficient.
With a sigh she headed toward the bar, Marc at her side. "Cheer up, Buttercup," Marc said. "This is a party, not a funeral."
Tamara ignored him. She kept her gaze focused on the bar and tried to scope out the best way to get to the bartender while avoiding small talk with the other patrons waiting for drinks. She hadn't recognized anyone from her former life yet, but it was only a matter of time.
Alice, a public relations manager as well as volunteer at The Ellen, had invited the crème de la crème. They were targeting deep pockets, which meant that for the first time in six years her worlds were in danger of colliding. Her old life seemed so far away from her current minimum wage job. But tonight, thanks to Alice's guest list, her blissfully anonymous new life was in imminent danger of unraveling. All it would take was one person who recognized her.
But it had been years since she'd been a member of high society. She'd changed in appearance just as she'd changed everything else about herself when she'd started this new life. She'd let the white-blond highlights grow out, leaving her hair a darker shade. Gone was the perfect little bob, and in its place was an unruly mane that she let hang in front of her face like a barricade. She'd replaced the wire-rimmed glasses with contacts, stopped wearing makeup altogether, and adopted a clothing style that Marc lovingly referred to as hobo-chic. Her former friends would be horrified at the lack of style in her everyday wear. But this wasn't a normal day. Her well-meaning friends had unwittingly transformed her back into a princess. All it would take was one person from her past to recognize her.
She tugged at her black skin-tight gown where it clung to her hips as she sashayed up to the bartender. In a dress like this one, the only way to walk was to sashay. It wasn't intentional, and she sure as hell didn't mean to look sexy or attract stares.
"That's it, girl. Own it," Marc said, leaning down so no one but her would hear. Despite herself, Tamara bit her lip to keep from laughing. That was another reason she loved Marc — he could make her laugh even when she was terrified out of her mind.
Success. They reached the bar and Marc placed their orders while Tamara kept watch for ghosts from charity balls past.
"Who are you looking for?" Marc handed her a full glass of champagne, and she didn't hesitate before taking a gulp.
Marc pursed his lips in disbelief, but he didn't push it. Instead, he brought up his favorite topic — Tamara's love life. Or lack thereof.
"You need to get out there and mingle," he said as he linked his arm through hers, a chummy gesture that also kept her from retreating to her hiding place.
"I don't want to mingle," she said. "You know I hate parties."
"Mmm, one of the many mysteries that is Tamara," he teased. "But tonight it's necessary, my dear. Whether you like it or not, you're the only representative for The Ellen and the only one who knows the full history."
Her sigh sounded tragic even to her own ears. It was the truth and they both knew it. The Ellen was more than a movie theater; it was her home. She'd taken the managing job six years ago when she'd moved to the city, alone and desperate. Here at The Ellen she'd found a safe space to start fresh. Soon enough, she'd met friends here as well, and they'd formed a bond over their shared love of the theater and the old movies she played.
Much as she hated this party, Marc was right. She had to be here. The owner had no interest in restoring the theater or even in ensuring it stayed a theater — he was actively looking for buyers and would be just as happy to see it torn down as restored to its former glory. Which was why it was up to her — she had to do everything in her power to help save it.
The imminent threat was over — they'd had a scare when her friend Caitlyn's boyfriend nearly bought the place and tore it down to make way for overpriced condos. Luckily Ben had come to his senses and withdrew the offer before the owner could sell.
But the threat was still real. The owner couldn't care less about history or classic films. He was still looking to sell, and her attempts to get the theater passed as a city landmark had been mired in red tape for months. Until it passed — if it passed — it was up to her to keep the history alive and the integrity intact. And that meant getting the repairs it so badly needed so it stood a chance of wooing a buyer who could see its true potential. And it did have potential. The theater was a living, breathing work of art, as far as she was concerned. The classic architecture alone would have made it unique, but the fact that it was still functioning as a cinema and that the movies played were from the theater's heyday made it a rare gem.
Marc continued to give her a lecture as he steered her none-too-gently toward the center of the lobby where she couldn't avoid the guests. "Alice drew the deep pockets, my love. Now it's up to you to convince them to invest."
Tamara moaned softly under her breath before taking a swig. Right. She could do this. It was for a good cause.
She repeated that mantra as she followed Marc's lead, mingling with the potential donors and dutifully answering their questions about the theater's history as she surreptitiously kept downing her drink.
Marc may have strictly enforced her mingling, but he also made sure her glass was always full. After drink number three — or maybe it was four — Tamara began to loosen up. She continued to regale the patrons with the theater's history, but she was removed from the situation. A hazy tipsiness had her watching the night unfold as if she was watching a soap opera on her couch at home.
And there was more than enough drama going on around her to satisfy any soaps fan. First Caitlyn's love interest appeared to declare his love — about time, as far as Tamara was concerned. They all knew Ben was head over heels for Caitlyn, but he apparently had been the last to know. Then there was Alice, who'd disappeared from the party she'd organized after a run-in with her mystery man. Then Marc's boyfriend, who was supposed to be working tonight, had shown up to surprise him, making Marc light up like a Christmas tree with excitement. And then there was Alice's sister, Meg, and her husband, Jake. Actually, there was no drama there, really. Just the usual lovefest that would be sickening if Meg and her husband weren't such awesome people who deserved the happily ever after that the rest of them struggled to find. No, the only drama from those two would be if Meg went into labor during the party, but a quick glance at her short, frightfully round little friend showed she hadn't succumbed to labor yet. It was just a matter of time though.
Between all of her friends, it was starting to feel like something was in the air. Maybe it was a full moon. Whatever it was, Tamara watched it all unfold around her through the hazy filter of champagne.
As usual, Marc seemed to be on the same wavelength, and not just because he was tipsy too. Coming up behind her with a fresh glass of courage, he leaned down to whisper in her ear. "You've got to admit it, for a party you claimed to dread so much, tonight has been pretty epic."
Tamara nodded as she took the glass. "I'll admit it. It has been eventful."
"Eventful?" Marc repeated the word too loudly, drawing attention from the group of partygoers next to them. "That's an understatement. Love is in the air, ma Cherie."
She rolled her eyes, but he ignored her as he wrapped an arm around her bare shoulders. "Methinks you're the next target of Cupid's arrow."
Her snort of disgusted amusement was also ignored. This was an age-old topic for them. Her dear, lovable, romantic roommate could not get it through his thick head that she had no interest in finding love. But then, he still had no idea that she'd already had her so-called fairy tale romance — and she would never fall for that crap again.
Instead of delving into all that, she just muttered, "Unlikely."
Marc made a tsking sound. Her head was tucked beneath his chin, making his voice reverberate in her ears.
"You do realize that's how every good love story starts, don't you?"
When she didn't respond — there was no need to encourage him when he was like this — he continued anyway. "It always starts with someone who says they don't want love. You know what they say: love finds you when you're not looking for it."
She tilted her head to look up at him. "Is that what they say?"
He nodded once in confirmation, and she noted just how unfocused his eyes were. Oh man, they were going to pay for this champagne binge in the morning. In the meantime ... She searched her brain to remember what exactly they were talking about.
Nope. Her fuzzy mind drew a blank.
And then it didn't matter what they'd been talking about. She no longer knew where she was or why she was there, because for one brief, terrifying moment, her entire world came to a screeching halt.
He was there. Gregory Blanchard. The man, the myth, the legend. He was there, in person, in her theater.
Gregory had no idea what he was doing at this theater. It had been a dumb impulse, really. He'd known his best friend was going to come here and make a fool of himself over the woman he loved, and Gregory had felt compelled to witness.
If nothing else, he now had ammunition to embarrass his friend for the rest of his life.
Excerpted from "Her Leading Hero"
Copyright © 2017 Maggie Dallen.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Her Leading Hero by Maggie Dallen A Reel Romance #3 An old theater named Ellen A woman who wants to save Ellen A man who joins the effort A romance Past wrongs to right Pain to deal with Strength to be found Self-awareness and self-value that grows Tamara has secrets and doesn’t want her past to encroach on the life she has created. When Gregory Blanchard shows up at a fund raiser she is taken back to memories of a crush she had on him and also to the past she has put behind her and…her life begins to change. Gregory and Tamara are good together, except when they are not. There are ups and downs in their relationship but eventually there is a happy end for the two of them. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books-Lyrical Shine for the ARC – This is my honest review. 3-4 Stars