Hollywood Blackmail: A Seacliff Novel by Jackie Ashenden
Lizzie Kent needs to forget the past. She lives in total anonymity, immersing herself in nursing to help her forget. But when a man from her previous life turns up in her clinic, the life she's tried to create for herself may come toppling down.
Ash knows what he wants and he wants Lizzie, the girl who left him all those years ago. As Hollywood's greatest action superstar no one says no to him, but when Lizzie refuses to acknowledge their shared past, he has to resort to a little old fashioned blackmail.
Will Lizzie revisit her past to enable her future with the man she loves, or do old wounds run too deep?
About the Author
At the age of twelve Jackie decided she wanted to be a writer. Twenty years, two university degrees, one husband, and two kids later, she finally managed to achieve her dream. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with her wonderful family. After giving up her library career, she now writes romance full time and thinks it's just about the best job in the world.
Jackie Ashenden lives in Auckland, New Zealand with her husband, the inimitable Dr. Jax, and their two kids and two cats. When she’s not torturing alpha males and their stroppy heroines, she can be found drinking chocolate martinis, reading anything she can lay her hands on, posting random crap on her blog, or being forced to go mountain biking with her husband.
Jackie writes dark, sexy contemporary romance for St Martin’s Press, the titles Mine To Take, Make You Mine, and You Are Mine.
Read an Excerpt
By Jackie Ashenden, Libby Murphy
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Jackie Ashenden
All rights reserved.
The whale music really needed to die.
Lizzie Kent took a sip from the latte she'd gotten on the way into the clinic and tried to focus on what her boss was trying to tell her, not on the sound of humpbacks mating or whatever it was they were doing. Funny, she'd always thought "Sounds of the Sea" was restful and calming. What with the waterfall sculpture behind the reception desk, the travertine marble of the floor, and the quietly luxurious pale linen of the waiting area couches, it added an extra relaxing touch to the atmosphere for clients of Seacliffe Cosmetic Surgery, one of LA's best plastic surgery clinics.
Then again, that was during the day. Somehow, at 2:00 a.m., the music sounded less restful whales and more like cows giving birth.
Lizzie tried to shake off the sleep still clouding her brain. She was scheduled as the clinic's on-call nurse for the week so getting woken up and called into the clinic in the middle of the night was pretty much par for the course. Didn't mean she liked it, though. It hadn't helped that Helen's phone call had been less than informative, either. God, it had better not be another "patient emergency" of the insane, Hollywood star diva kind. Like who the hell had put a blue candy in their "red M&M's only" bowl.
But apparently not. Helen Ridgeway, Seacliffe's owner, was saying something about a surgical emergency. Big client. Need for absolute discretion.
Lizzie pinched the bridge of her nose. Deep breaths. Focus. "Okay, so who did you say was coming in again?"
An expression of impatience crossed the other woman's strong face. "I didn't."
In black Chanel and pearls, Helen Ridgeway looked as though she'd just stepped out for a light lunch, not dragged from her bed in the depths of the night.
Or risen from her coffin.
The snide thought crept into her head before Lizzie had a chance to stop it. God, she must be more sleep-deprived than she thought if she was thinking mean things about the woman who'd given her so many amazing opportunities. Helen might be cool, formal, and rigidly hierarchical, but her heart was in the right place. And she certainly wasn't a vampire for a start.
Lizzie tried to get herself back on track. "A big name, though?"
"Yes. But the client has requested the utmost discretion, which means I'm not giving out any sort of information until they get here."
A number of different scenarios went through Lizzie's head. Star versus Lamborghini and/or any other expensive sports car was a common one. As was starlet needing Botox for the A-list party she'd only just gotten an invite for.
"Hospital can't handle it?" she asked.
Helen shook her head, her iron-gray hair not moving an inch. Sometimes Lizzie wondered if she lacquered it in place every morning with superglue. "No. Too public. The agent specifically wanted privacy. And of course, Jeremiah."
Unsurprising. Seacliffe was renowned for two things: a reputation for patient confidentiality more secure than a Swiss bank, and its hotshot doctors, Colt Travers and Jeremiah Lazarus—Laz to everyone except Helen. Particularly Laz when it came to big stars needing work done.
"Naturally, Jeremiah." Lizzie put her latte down on the reception desk. "So what kind of emergency are we dealing with?"
"Knife wound to the face. It's not serious but very noticeable."
"Yes. The client was involved in some sort of skirmish."
Lizzie bit down on her curiosity. It wasn't often that patients came in with actual, honest-to-God injuries. At least, not patients of the big-star Hollywood kind.
"Okay," she said briskly, skirting around the reception desk, putting her purse down and firing up the computer. "I'll get started on the paperwork. Anything else in particular you'd like me to do?"
Helen glanced down at her diamond Cartier tank watch. "I want you to prepare one of the cottages—make it number twelve. That's the biggest and most secluded. The client will need to stay the night and needs total privacy."
Seacliffe provided a whole raft of different surgical treatments, as well as a spa with all the facilities. There was also a series of very private luxury guest cottages in the clinic grounds, a complete home away from home for clients recovering from a procedure. Though the word "cottage" was a misnomer since they were as similar to cottages as a run-down tenement was similar to Buckingham Palace.
Lizzie had just pulled up a new patient file on the computer when the clinic's double doors opened and Laz strode into the reception area. He was tall, and immaculate in an expensive-looking tux, obviously having come straight from some fancy party.
"Jeremiah," Helen greeted him coolly, giving him a brief look up and down. "Hope we didn't interrupt something important?"
Laz flashed his famous whiter-than-white smile. "Nothing major. God, what is that noise?"
"By noise I'm guessing you mean the music." Lizzie left the patient file open—she'd have to fill it in once she knew the details—and began hunting around for the hideously expensive aromatherapy vegan candles that were preferred by Seacliffe's clientele.
Laz lifted a brow. "That's music?"
"It's whale song." Lizzie got out the candles and lit them. "It's to promote a restful atmosphere."
"Uh-huh." He leaned against the black marble of the reception desk. "Not sure whoever we've got coming in is going to be too concerned about atmosphere."
"First impressions count, Laz," Lizzie said calmly. "And you of all people should know that."
Okay, so whale song and vegan candles weren't really her thing, either—it was far too much like her mother's obsession with crystals for her liking—but according to client feedback, patients ate it up with a spoon. And since looking after patients was her job and one she was passionate about, who was she to argue?
Laz lifted an elegant shoulder, clearly uninterested in the rest of the conversation. "So, is Pearl coming in?" He directed this to Helen, who had gone over to the doors to check the large circular driveway outside, empty except for Laz's Porsche parked ostentatiously in the middle of it.
But the other woman was frowning as a nondescript dark car roared up the clinic's driveway and screeched to a halt beside the Porsche. The passenger door opened and the dark, massive figure of a man unfolded himself from the car. Another, smaller man got out of the driver's side, the pair of them coming up the steps. The tall man was holding something to the side of his face, all but obscuring his features.
"Here they come," Helen said quietly. "Discretion, people, remember."
Lizzie straightened. Checked her uniform to make sure everything was in order. Dark blue and classy, her name badge front and center. She ironed it every night to make sure there were no creases, that it looked perfect. Pity she hadn't been able to straighten her hair but the process always took at least half an hour and after Helen's urgent call, she simply hadn't had time.
For a brief moment peace reigned. The whale music played softly, the waterfall sculpture behind the reception desk providing a gentle counterpoint, the smell of the aromatherapy candles filling the elegant space.
Then everything went to hell in a handbasket.
Helen stepped forward as the clinic's doors opened. And Lizzie's heart dropped all the way down into her sensible black shoes.
The smaller man in an expensive suit began talking loud and fast to Helen and Laz, waving around a cell phone as he did so. But he may as well have been part of the furniture for all the attention Lizzie paid to him. Mainly because every single atom of her consciousness was directed to the dark presence standing behind him. A presence that drew attention the way a black hole sucked in light.
The man was very tall with the kind of physique usually reserved for gods of the Greek kind. And she knew this because apart from a black leather jacket slung across his broad shoulders, and a pair of black jeans sitting low on his lean hips, that was all he wore. He held a wadded up pad of black fabric to the side of his face, which possibly explained the mystery of his bare chest since it looked like it might have once been his T-shirt. Probably not now, though, given the way blood was leaking through his long fingers and running down his arm. Behind the obscuring fabric and the mirrored aviator shades that covered his eyes, his features weren't immediately recognizable.
Nevertheless, Lizzie knew exactly who he was. Exactly.
Ash Kincaid. Hollywood's hottest action movie star.
And her first love.
Someone was talking to her but she wasn't really paying attention. She couldn't seem to tear her gaze away from the mirrored lenses of Ash Kincaid's sunglasses because even though she couldn't see his eyes, she knew without a doubt that he was looking straight at her.
Oh God, had he recognized her?
Deep breathing. Focus. Calm.
But from outside came the distant sound of more cars, tires screeching, doors slamming. People shouting. Then the steady drone of what sounded like a helicopter.
"Shit," Fast Talking guy said viciously. "The press are here already."
Helen glanced out the doors at the driveway again. It was still empty apart from the two cars already parked there. "The gate security should hold them off."
Her voice was calm and level, and yet that didn't stop Lizzie's deep breathing from turning into hyperventilating, even though it was ridiculous to be afraid.
Holy freaking crap, would you calm the hell down?
She was in her nurse's uniform, her red hair hidden under the dye she used to turn herself into a brunette, and she had her contacts in. No one would know who she was.
No one would recognize her as Coco Dawn, daughter of Misty Dawn, who used to be one of Hollywood's most notorious adult movie actresses and infamous star of the reality TV show American Porn Star. Her hard-won anonymity, her hard-won safety, would not be compromised. Not in the slightest.
Nope. All the deep breathing in the world wasn't going to make this one any better. Especially not with Ash Kincaid standing there in the maelstrom, tall, dark, and looming as a mountain in among a group of very excited foothills.
"Lizzie!" Helen said sharply, making her jump. "Call security at the gates. Ask them if they need police backup. There are going to be a lot more photographers down there than they're used to."
"I want discretion," Fast Talking guy was saying over and over. "Mr. Kincaid must have absolute privacy."
Lizzie was already moving toward the reception desk while Helen and Laz were leading Ash toward treatment room 1. Her heart was knocking around inside her chest, adrenaline firing.
No. It would be okay. They wouldn't find out who she was and neither would Ash. It had been years. Eleven of them. She'd only been seventeen when she'd left home and she was different now. Everything was different now.
Just as she reached the reception desk, Ash stopped. Took his sunglasses off. And a pair of night-black eyes looked straight at her. Into her very soul. Lighting a fire she'd thought long dead.
And when Lizzie's heart plummeted once more, it didn't just stop at her shoes. It went straight through the center of the earth and out the other side.
He'd remembered. He knew exactly who she was.
* * *
Ash sat on the padded bench the doctor had pushed him down on, not really paying attention to either the pain or the blood as his sodden T-shirt was pulled away.
"That's quite an impressive cut you've got there, Mr. Kincaid." The doctor, who'd by now exchanged the tux he'd been wearing for medical scrubs, handed the T-shirt to a woman whose square jaw made her look more like a politician than a nurse. "A knife, yes?"
Ash barely heard him. The club, the drunken dickhead who'd pulled a blade on him, the crowd of yelling people, were a distant memory. There was only her.
"Yeah," he answered without inflection, the shock of seeing the one woman he'd never, ever, not in a million years, forget still echoing through him.
And it was her. Of that he was completely certain. Coco Dawn. The girl with the sweet face and the smile that used to turn him inside out. The kind and generous teenager who used to patch him up after he'd taken one too many hits, back when he'd been Ashford Hernandez, illegal street fighter and part-time security guard at her mother's Beverly Hills mansion.
Ah yes, the good old days.
"Can you do it, Doc?" Sam, his agent, was standing on the other side of him, peering at what the doctor was doing. "We don't want any scars, okay? He's got an audition in a month's time with freaking Tom Christiansen. And if that bastard finds out about the knife fight, it's all over—"
"Shut up, Sam," Ash growled. For the first time since his agent had floated the idea of an audition with one of Hollywood's premier indie directors, Ash wasn't interested in either Tom Christiansen or his reputation for hating star antics. All he was interested in was the woman still in reception and he couldn't think about anything else—hell, couldn't even breathe—until he knew if his suspicions were correct.
Christ, he'd spent the last eleven years trying to forget her. Trying to move on with his life, and now here she was, in this clinic. Within reach ...
He sat up suddenly, startling the doctor, who was peering at the wound. "I want Coco in here now," he ordered.
"Coco?" The doctor looked blank.
"The woman dealing with security. In the uniform. With the curls."
"The curls? Oh, that's one of our nurses. Elizabeth Kent. Once we get you stitched up, she'll be looking after you."
Elizabeth Kent? Okay, so that name didn't mean anything to him, but that face ... He'd never forget her face. "No," he said curtly. "I want her in here now."
The other woman, who had to be Helen Ridgeway, the head of Seacliffe, was frowning. "I don't think—"
"You heard Mr. Kincaid," Sam barked, in full pit-bull mode now. "What he wants, he gets. And if he wants the girl in here, he gets the girl in here."
At this point, the doc put his oar in. "The wound should be—"
"I don't give a shit about the wound," Ash cut him off. With all the adrenaline pumping through his system and the pain beginning to bite, he was in no mood to screw around. "What I want is to see Elizabeth Kent. Right now." The press, the cut on his face, the fight, even the doctors, they were all irrelevant. The only thing that mattered was that tonight, the girl he'd never thought he'd see again was here.
Eleven years ago she'd left her mother's mansion without telling anyone, leaving only a note behind for him explaining why she'd left and a warning to respect her privacy and not come after her. A warning he'd taken to heart—her privacy had been abused so often that no matter how badly he'd wanted to find her, he couldn't bring himself to betray her trust like that. Not after what had happened.
But now she was here and he had to see her. Had to.
"Very well," Helen said crisply, her gimlet gaze telling him that she was not happy with this plan. Too bad. He was the big star here, not to mention the client. And he always got what he wanted.
Helen turned to the doctor and murmured something Ash couldn't be bothered listening to. Then she went out. Sam had swung from pit bull to reassuring nurse, telling him it was all going to work out. But Ash couldn't be bothered listening to that, either.
He just sat there with his eyes fixed on the doorway, deaf to anything else.
Then she appeared, standing there hesitantly.
Coco Dawn. The only girl he'd ever loved.
She was different and yet the same, if that made any sense. Her hair and eye color were different but that wide-eyed look of shock was heartbreakingly familiar. She'd looked like that whenever she'd gotten an eyeful of his injuries after one of his fights. Always with the shock. As though she expected something different. She'd told him once it was because she expected him to be invulnerable.
Luckily, these days, he was.
"Everyone else get out," he ordered brusquely.
"Come on," Sam said, "you heard the man."
"Mr. Kincaid, I strongly suggest you let me deal with that wound right now," the doc said flatly, ignoring Sam. "Unless speaking to Lizzie is worth a scar the size of the Grand Canyon?" The other man's tone was perfectly polite but Ash could hear the subtext loud and clear. You need to calm down, dude.
Shit, the doc was right. He needed to get a handle on this anger and impatience, stop letting them overrule his common sense. Not exactly the best mood to be in talking to Coco or Elizabeth or whatever name she was going by these days.
Excerpted from Hollywood Blackmail by Jackie Ashenden, Libby Murphy. Copyright © 2014 Jackie Ashenden. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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.