Kylie may be a makeup artist to the stars, but she knows what it feels like to be overshadowed. Especially by her famous boss, the pop star Daphne. That’s why she’s stunned—and delighted—when one night at a party, she attracts the attention of a gorgeous stranger. But when Daphne decides she wants the handsome billionaire for herself, Cade Archer is suddenly off-limits for Kylie…
Cade has known Daphne for years, and always wondered if she might be the right woman for him—even though she never gave him the time of day. But one sizzling night with Kylie has changed everything. So why is she suddenly avoiding him? Fortunately Cade is determined to get what he wants, and he’ll do anything to show Kylie she can get everything she wants too…
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About the Author
She lives in a teeny tiny town in North Texas that has no Starbucks, which is a cruel and unusual punishment. She spends her time with her husband, pets, and Keurig. Because, coffee.
Read an Excerpt
If there was a gift Kylie Daniels wished she could gift to the world, it would be the ability to pencil in a great pair of brows. The woman sitting across from her? Her brow game was terrible. She looked as if she’d Sharpied her thin black brows on in the dark while intoxicated and it overwhelmed her narrow face. And what were those little comma things she’d drawn at the end? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.
Not that Kylie was an expert on makeup, but . . . well, okay, she was. An expert on makeup, that is. She was a licensed cosmetologist, had worked with several singers and stage productions, and could make even the most heinous pores disappear with the right brushes.
And that was why she was sitting in the office of Dirty Dollar Records this lovely July afternoon, sweltering her large ass off as she waited to be called in for an audition. A friend who styled hair for several celebrities had mentioned a record manager who was looking for a makeup artist who was discreet, inventive, and ready to tour with his client. Through a friend of a friend, Kylie had gotten the job interview and now sat, waiting, and hoped that her own makeup didn’t sweat off by the time she got in there.
No one wanted to hire a fat makeup artist in L.A., but they really, really didn’t want to hire one if she looked like hell. Makeup was Kylie’s calling card, after all. She had to look damn good at all times or people questioned her ability. So instead of going for low-key and demure as one normally would for a job interview, she went all out. Kylie wore a tight navy dress with a square sailor top and clinging black mermaid skirt, along with bright red heels. The entire look was retro, and she’d curled half of her dyed blond hair into two fat sausage rolls that perched atop her head like a forties movie star, letting the rest dance on her shoulders. Her makeup was bold, too. Her brows had been penciled into a sweeping line above eyes that were lined with a deep black eyeliner extended to a dramatic point, and the rest of her eyes highlighted with a bright white to make her cat’s eyes pop. Her lashes had been stacked with fake ones to create a thick fan. She’d gone light on the blush to highlight the porcelain look of her skin and picked a dark, cherry red for her lips. Two cherry earrings and a cherry-decorated necklace completed the ensemble.
It was a little kitschy, but she was interviewing to be the makeup artist for Daphne Petty, and Daphne Petty wasn’t exactly demure herself. Known in music circles for her wild lyrics, her nutty stage costumes, and her party-girl attitude, she looked like she’d be a lot of fun to go on tour with.
Kylie hoped so, anyhow. Anything had to be better than the diva she’d recently toured Asia with. Chanteuse had insisted that her crew wear all white and not speak unless spoken to. Kylie couldn’t wait to get away from that job. She’d gotten the boot when she’d returned to the States because, as it had been explained, Chanteuse didn’t like that Kylie “didn’t take care with her appearance” and she felt it reflected poorly on her to have someone like that in her staff.
AKA, your fat butt embarrasses me. It still stung, but Kylie was doing her best to get over it. After all, she questioned the sanity of someone who had a diamond-encrusted toilet seat that she took with her on tour.
So here Kylie was, unemployed once more and hoping for the best.
“Miss Daniels?” a voice called, and Kylie got to her feet, her old-fashioned circular hatbox suitcase in hand.
She sucked up her nervousness and straightened her clothing as she strode forward, then offered her hand to the frowning man waiting for her. “Kylie Daniels,” she told him, keeping her voice cool and confident despite the look he was giving her. This man was clearly conservative, but hopefully his client wouldn’t be.
“Thank you for coming,” he said, and led her back into the office. “I’m Mr. Powers. Please follow me.”
She hefted her case of cosmetics and trailed after him, biting back her annoyance when he passed by the elevator and headed for the stairs instead. Oh sure, take the fat chick in high heels carrying thirty pounds of makeup up the stairs. She hoped he wouldn’t mind her being a little sweaty when they got to the top, then.
Mr. Powers’s office was on the fourth floor, so by the time they arrived, Kylie was breathless and perspiring. Not the look she wanted for her interview, but too late to do anything about it now. Mr. Powers hadn’t said a thing as he led her upstairs, but pointed her into a conference room and smiled politely.
She entered it, set her case down on the table, and sat down on a chair, waiting. Powers left and returned a minute later with a stack of papers and a pen. “We ask that you please sign these non-disclosure agreements, Miss Daniels, as the label is extremely concerned about public image.”
“Of course,” Kylie murmured, taking the pen. She’d had to sign something similar when she’d worked for the diva Chanteuse. She quickly signed and handed the papers back with a smile. See how accommodating I am?
Mr. Powers didn’t sit down at one of the eight empty chairs next to her. Instead, he hesitated, then tucked the paperwork under his arm. “Before you meet Miss Petty, you should know a few things.”
“All right.” Kylie clasped her hands in her lap and kept the smile on her face. She was ready for anything they could throw at her after working in Hollywood for a while. The client doesn’t like for her right side to show up in photographs. This client feels the color green offends her chi so doesn’t wear it. Don’t look this client straight in the eye. Always ask this client open-ended questions as she feels that her staff should challenge her. This client is in character at all times, so please play along.
“Miss Petty fired her last makeup artist due to personality conflicts.” He double-checked the signatures on the paperwork and then gazed down at her, though she got the impression he was fidgety. Uncomfortable. Weird. “The label is quite concerned that Miss Petty is happy. You understand this, yes?”
“Of course.” Where was he going with this?
“However, the label also likes to maintain Miss Petty’s image. In fact, we are concerned with that above all things. Miss Petty’s image must be maintained. That is where you come in.”
“O-okay?” What was the answer he was looking for?
“In short, people pay lots of money to see a vibrant, beautiful Daphne Petty on tour. I expect you to do your part, of course.”
“Of course,” she repeated. This entire conversation was bewildering.
“Which is not to say that Miss Petty has the liberty of firing you. That will be at the label’s discretion.”
Ooookay . . . Daphne wasn’t going to be allowed to fire her if they didn’t get along, but the last person was fired because they didn’t get along? It was all very confusing. She kept smiling, though she was starting to feel a little worried. “I think I can handle that?”
“Good. I see you brought your tools with you?”
She patted her bag. “Of course.”
“We would like for you to do Miss Petty’s makeup for her. Think of it as a screen test.”
It wasn’t the strangest request she’d gotten. “That’s fine. Any particular look you’re going for with Miss Petty on this new tour?”
A strange look crossed Mr. Powers’s face. “Healthy. Just healthy will be fine.”
Healthy? “I’m sure I can give her a natural glow.”
“Great.” He gave her a tight little smile. “I’ll let Miss Petty know that you’re here.”
“Thank you,” Kylie murmured, and Mr. Powers left her alone in the conference room. The air was on upstairs—thank goodness—and so it wasn’t quite so hot. Her sticky forehead dried, and as she waited for Daphne Petty, she eyed the posters on the walls of prior tours, the platinum and gold records. This was a big break and a good job, and she crossed her fingers under the table that Daphne wouldn’t have a problem with Kylie’s non-Hollywood-sized butt.
Eventually, though, she got bored. Time ticked away and the clock showed she’d been sitting in the conference room for a full forty-five minutes without someone stopping in. She freshened her own makeup, and then dug through her kit, mentally trying to put together a look for Daphne Petty. From what she remembered, Daphne had bright eyes, so she could highlight those. Eye makeup and lip color would depend on the shade of Daphne’s hair, and from what she’d seen in tabloids, Daphne tended to dye it all kinds of strange colors. Unless she went for a totally nude palette? She dug through her tubes of glosses and shadows, thinking. Of course, if Daphne’s hair was pink again, the colors would have to be really subtle—
Someone crashed into the door behind her, and Kylie jumped in her chair. She spun around, startled. A moment later, the door opened, and someone stumbled in. It was a woman with big round sunglasses that covered most of her face. Her platinum blond hair was cut into a short, messy bob that looked as if it hadn’t been washed in at least a week. She wore an old Ramones T-shirt over a pair of faded capri jeans and wobbled as she stood in the doorway. “You the makeup girl?”
It was Daphne Petty.
Her voice was slurred. Drunk. Lovely. “That’s me.” Kylie stood up and extended her hand. “My name is Kylie Daniels. It’s very nice to meet you, Miss Petty.”
Daphne looked her up and down. “You look like a fat Marilyn Monroe. Or Bettie Page. You know they don’t like big butts here in L.A.,” she mock-whispered. “Careful that my trainer doesn’t see you. He won’t let me eat anything but lettuce.” She dropped into a seat next to Kylie and pulled her sunglasses off, rubbing her face. “All right. I’m here.” She waved a hand in the air. “Make me beautiful.”
Kylie just stared. The once-lovely Daphne Petty was skeletally thin. Track marks lined up one arm and down the other, along with scars at her wrists from cutting. Her skin was blotchy and broken in a few spots, a bright red patch on the corner of her mouth. Her eyes were sunken and her color was extremely unhealthy.
She looked like hell.
And now, Kylie understood all the corporate-speak that Mr. Powers had given her. Daphne couldn’t fire her because she was a mess. And the label didn’t want a “look” for Daphne for her tour. They wanted Kylie to hide Daphne’s ill health. They wanted her to paint her up and make her look normal.
They didn’t need a cosmetologist—they needed a goddamn magician. Kylie gave Daphne a pitying look. Daphne, whose dilated eyes were glancing around the room but focusing on nothing. A magician, Kylie amended, or a miracle worker. She was neither, but she’d do what she could. She pulled out her airbrushing kit and plugged it in, then handed Daphne a face-cleansing wipe. “Once your face is clean, we’ll begin. Let’s start with a primer, shall we?”
An hour later, Daphne Petty’s thin face had been contoured to make her appear more robust. Her sharp cheekbones were disguised, her too-thin nose widened with a bit of shadowing, and then she’d pretty much airbrushed every possible inch of Daphne she could reach. The track marks on her arms were covered. The red spots on her face—dear lord, Kylie hoped they weren’t from meth—were concealed. Her eyes were artfully highlighted and emphasized to bring out their color, and Kylie picked out cheery, warm colors for her eyes and her mouth. When she was finished, she showed Daphne—who’d sat in a dazed high the entire time—the mirror.
At the sight of her face, Daphne had smiled and seemed to notice Kylie again. “Wow. I really like this. You do good work, Fat Marilyn.”
Wow. Was that nickname supposed to be a compliment? Kylie wasn’t sure. She snorted. “Thanks. I try.”
She gave Kylie a shrewd look. “So can I ask why you want this job? Touring is hard and brutal, and I’m going to be a raging bitch pretty much ninety percent of the time.”
“I like traveling,” Kylie lied. “I like seeing new places.”
“Bullshit,” Daphne said. “This is my fourth national tour, and I know the only thing you’re going to see is the back of the tour bus and my greenroom. So why not spit a little truth for me?”
Fair enough. “You’re high profile, and this’ll look good on my résumé.” Not entirely the truth again, but a little more mercenary.
That seemed to make Daphne happy. She touched the side of her nose in an aha moment and then pointed at Kylie. “Now I get you. All right, then,” Daphne said, getting to her feet. She seemed to be coming down off of whatever high she’d been on, and was almost normal. “I suppose I should get that fussy dick Powers and see what he thinks.” She winked at Kylie and gave a toss of her limp platinum hair.
And Kylie found herself smiling. When Daphne was playful like this, it was easy to see why she was so popular.
Daphne opened the door to the conference room and stuck her head out. “Powers, get your ass over here,” she bellowed down the hall, and Kylie winced. But Daphne’s method was effective. A moment later, Mr. Powers appeared in his stuffy little suit and took a look at Daphne. He eyed her critically, and then grabbed her chin and turned her face, checking it from the right and the left.
To Kylie’s surprise, Daphne was docile and stood for the humiliating treatment. When Powers grabbed one of Daphne’s arms and examined it, then peered into Daphne’s eyes, it reminded Kylie of someone purchasing a horse. Kylie couldn’t help but murmur, “Do you want to check her teeth, too?”
Powers looked over at Kylie, his brows drawing together. “Did you do something to her teeth?”
“Inside joke,” Daphne said, and then held her skinny arms wide. “So what do you think?”
Powers looked over at Kylie, then back at Daphne, then back at Kylie again. “You’re hired. Send your salary demands to the personnel office.”
“You and me are gonna be great friends, Fat Marilyn,” Daphne announced, and then pulled out a flask.
Somehow, Fat Marilyn doubts that, Kylie thought to herself, but she couldn’t help but feel sorry for Daphne, just a little. She had to be miserable as hell on the inside to be such a mess on the outside.
Once Kylie had accepted the offer, she was steered toward the Human Resources offices. There, she’d signed contracts and talked salary and all the nitty-gritty details of her job details that both Mr. Powers and Daphne were too important to go over. To Kylie’s surprise, no one batted an eye at her salary demands, just agreed and set a start date. The money was a sum that made her happy, even if it meant touring for the next four months. The fact that they paid her demand without haggling told her she’d have to earn every last penny, though.
Still pleased with her new employment, she packed up her gear and headed back out to the street. Instead of returning to her friend’s apartment, though, she took a cab to the outskirts of L.A., deep into the quiet suburbs. “Wait here,” she told the cab-driver. “I promise I won’t be more than twenty minutes.”
“The meter keeps running,” he told her.
Kylie didn’t have a car, so it wasn’t like she could argue over the price. “Fine. Just stay, okay?”
He turned up the radio and gave her a thumbs-up.
Sucking in a breath, Kylie headed into the nursing home.
As soon as she stepped through the doors, the cool waft of air-conditioning touched her sweating brow. The sterile white tile floors were a blinding white, the walls a comforting pink. It almost distracted from the big locked automated glass doors that were only accessible via a keycard.
Kylie went to the visiting window and signed in. She handed the clipboard to the attendant. “I’m here to see Sloane Etherton.”
“Just a moment,” the girl at the window said. She turned in her chair and pulled a folder that was tagged with a yellow slip. “I’m supposed to remind you that your last payment didn’t go through.” She gave Kylie an apologetic look. “Do you need to talk to the billing department to make arrangements?”
She shook her head. “No, I can make a catch-up payment now. I . . . had some financial difficulty for the last few months.” Kylie pulled out her checkbook and began to write. “Everything should be fine now. I just signed a contract for a new job and I get my first advance payment on Monday.” Or as soon as she could finagle something from Mr. Powers. “Can I postdate the check?”
“We’re not supposed to accept postdated checks.”
“Well, I’m leaving the state in a few days to go on tour, so I won’t be here to pay in person,” Kylie snapped, annoyed. “So either you take a postdated check or you take no check.”
But it seemed she’d said a magical word. The receptionist’s head lifted, her eyes wide. “Tour?”
“With Daphne Petty,” Kylie said, writing out the dollar amount for two months of fees. It’d wipe her account, but she was low on choices. “And I’m sure I could get you tickets.” She ripped the check free and held it out to the girl. “If you can take a postdated check.”
“I’m sure I can misplace it for a few days,” she said with a grin, plucking the check from Kylie’s hands.
Five minutes later, she was admitted to the back and down a quiet hall. The attendant at her side held her Nana’s records. “Miss Sloane has been a little difficult lately, Miss Daniels.”
“You know my nana,” Kylie said tightly. “She’s never been an easy woman.” Heck, difficult was probably one of her good days.
The attendant didn’t crack a smile. “She keeps trying to leave. You know that sort of thing is frowned upon.”
“She can barely walk and she’s senile,” Kylie said, unhappy. This wasn’t the first time she’d been told this about Nana Sloane. “I don’t see how she is attempting an escape.”
“Unfortunately we get that a lot with the elderly dementia patients,” the attendant told her. “They get confused as to where they are and try to leave. It’s why we have to keep the place locked down. Sometimes they get creative, though, like your nana, and that’s when things become a problem.”
“I’ll talk to her,” Kylie said, a tension headache threatening to crush her. “But—”
“I know. She has dementia. We know it’s a losing battle,” the attendant said gently. “But we still like to try and drive the concept home if possible.”
She understood, even if she knew it was impossible. No one came out a winner where Nana Sloane was concerned. Kylie nodded. “I’ll see what I can do. Is she okay otherwise?”
“Other than the usual ailments that an elderly demented woman has? Sure. She’s unhappy when she’s lucid, she’s confused when she’s not, and she frightens the other patients.”
“Sounds great.” She grimaced, picturing her bitter grandma railing at the other residents. “What about today?”
“Today was a bad day,” the attendant said. “She’s heavily sedated at the moment, but if you stick around for a few hours—”
“I can’t,” Kylie said, relieved to hear that there wouldn’t be a messy confrontation. Not today. “I’ll just pop in to see her and go.”
The man nodded and opened the door. “Let me know when you’re ready to leave and I’ll take you back out.”
Kylie stepped into her grandmother’s room, feeling the weight of responsibility on her shoulders. The room was utterly silent and clean. A picture of Kylie’s mother, long deceased, was next to the bed. There was no picture of Kylie’s father, or of Kylie. But that didn’t surprise her—she’d never been Nana Sloane’s favorite person.
You’re a burden, Kylie Daniels. I have to work two jobs just to put enough food on the table to feed your fat ass. The least you can do is be grateful. If only your mother were here.
She squelched the hateful memories and pulled up a chair next to her grandmother’s bed and took the woman’s hand in her own. Nana’s hand was fragile and so utterly small in her own, her skin dry like paper.
“Hi, Nana,” Kylie whispered. “I hope you’re doing well. I just got a job going on tour, so I’m not going to be able to visit much for a few months.” Not that her nana noticed if Kylie was there or not. Most days she was lost in her own mind, or looking for her long-dead daughter. Kylie rubbed her fingers against her nana’s palm. “But the good news is that you’re all paid up and my new job should allow you to stay here for a long time. I know you don’t like it at this place, but they have the best care. They really do. I’m going to make sure that you’re taken care of. It’s my responsibility, and I’m not going to shirk it.” She pressed her mouth to the old woman’s limp hand. “Be good while I’m gone, okay?”
She held her grandmother’s hand for another minute, lost in thought and worried about burdens and family, and the weight of responsibility. Nana Sloane didn’t wake up. It wasn’t a bad thing. When Nana was asleep, she was peaceful. Almost sweet. She wasn’t spitting nasty words at Kylie, screaming that she didn’t belong here, or sobbing uncontrollably. Kylie could deal with the snide comments about her weight. She could deal with the jabs about her hair, or her slutty clothing. But when Nana wept as if her heart was broken, her dreams shattered? It nearly broke Kylie, too.
Thankfully, her nana’s lined face remained slack, a bit of drool pooling at the corners of her mouth.
So Kylie left.
Seeing Nana Sloane was good for her, though. It helped Kylie focus. Made her determined. It was a reminder of what she was working for. She might hate touring and never having a place to call her own, but as long as her nana was safe and looked after, well, that was all Kylie could ask for. She’d been a burden to the woman in her younger years, and now it was Kylie’s time to return the favor.
No matter how much it sucked the life out of her.
If Cade Archer could have predicted how he’d spend his thirtieth birthday, he’d have only been part right. Surrounded by the Brotherhood, the secret society he’d been in since college? Check. Playing a hand of poker in a smoky cellar beneath a club he owned? Check. The men chewing on cigars and discussing business strategies as usual?
Not so much.
“Check this shit out,” Reese Durham said, pushing a sonogram picture toward the center of the table. “He’s got a dick like a baby’s arm.”
Griffin Verdi picked up the photo and squinted at it. “You sure that’s not, in fact, the baby’s arm?”
“Nope.” Reese chewed on the end of his cigar, looking quite pleased with himself. “Reese Junior’s packing some major heat.”
Griffin rolled his eyes and tossed the picture back down. Undeterred, Reese snatched it up and offered it to Hunter. “So when are you and Gretchen thinking about children?”
“Maybe next year,” Hunter said, studying the photo. “After the wedding.”
“No children for us yet,” Logan said. “Brontë wants to finish her degree first. I’m certainly in no rush.”
“Amen,” Griffin said. After a moment, he added, “Though I wouldn’t mind if Maylee and I had a happy accident.”
At his side, Jonathan Lyons dropped a handful of chips onto the pile. “Violet and I are hoping for a happy accident. Maybe sooner than later.”
“Ha,” Reese said, and punched Jonathan in the arm affably. “Go for it. Raw-dog her, man. Our kids can nanny swap.”
“That is a horrid term,” Griffin said. “Raw . . . dog?”
“I know! Good grief, I know.”
Cade just shook his head and picked through his cards. Definitely not what he’d have expected for his thirtieth birthday. He’d pictured spending it with his friends, of course, but talking about babies and marriages? Not exactly. Hardened bachelor Reese had turned from ladies’ man to future daddy and expert on everything husband-related.
In fact, everyone in their small circle had more or less settled down in the last year.
Everyone except Cade.
It wasn’t that he didn’t date. Okay, maybe he didn’t. It wasn’t that he wasn’t interested in women. He was. Actually, there was one in particular he’d been messed up over for the last, oh, fifteen years or so. He was just waiting for the right one to come around to the idea of being with him.
He thought of Daphne, her wicked smile and devilish attitude, the way she’d draped her arms around him so sweetly . . . and then he thought of the time she’d OD’d in his arms, limp and cold, her lips tinged with blue.
Maybe marriage and a happy-ever-after just wasn’t in the cards for someone like him. He pushed a handful of chips into the center of the table. “Raising you, Jon.”
“Bastard,” Jon said with a grin, and the topic returned to cards once more.
Cade checked his phone discreetly as the others put in their bids. Daphne was supposed to text him when she was out of her practice session. The last time they’d talked—via hastily typed texts—she’d told him she had long dance-routine numbers she had to endure for her upcoming concert and this weekend were dress rehearsals. But she wanted to do something for his birthday, she’d said. She’d buzz him and let him know her schedule.
But that was days ago, and Daphne had never called.
And here he was, thirty and alone. That should have told him something right there. That when it was convenient for Daphne, she liked Cade around. And when it wasn’t . . . he wasn’t even on her radar.
Maybe someday he’d learn. With a small sigh of disgust, Cade tossed another set of chips into the pot. “In.”
When poker wrapped up for the evening, Cade found himself walking out with Reese, who’d won the majority of hands that night and had also been celebrating the success of his celebrity cruise line and his plans to partner with a movie studio for character cruise lines based off of popular TV shows and movies. He was in a great mood as they walked out, while Cade was quiet, lost in thought.
“Hey, man,” Reese said, catching Cade’s attention. “Everything all right with you?”
“Always,” Cade said, smiling. Really, he didn’t have much to complain about. Business was great, his charities were having a record year, and he was healthy. There was nothing that should make him discontent or unhappy.
And yet, he felt unsettled. Moody. Envious of his friends and their happiness, perhaps.
“You’re just kinda quiet lately.”
He shoved his hands in his pockets. “Just thinking. Nothing important.”
“You busy this weekend? Me and Audrey are heading up to the cabin. Hope that’s okay with you.”
Cade’s getaway cabin? Where they’d met? He grinned. “You know I gave you carte blanche when it comes to that place.”
“Yeah, Audrey’s been having a bad week. Hormones.” Reese grimaced. “Thought I’d bring her back to the love nest and let her relax this weekend. You’re welcome to come.”
And be a third wheel? Watching as they cuddle? He was happy as hell for Reese, but he had a hard time looking at healthy, joyful Audrey, because every time he looked at her, he saw Daphne. Or rather, who he wanted Daphne to be.
Because once upon a time, Daphne had been plump and beautiful and lighthearted. And he’d loved her. Now? Now he didn’t know how he felt. Obsessed, maybe. Desperate? Maybe that, too.
He checked his phone again. Still no text from Daphne. No missed calls. Nothing. Damn it. He knew she was busy, but he was, too. Didn’t she give a shit? At all?
“Hey? Hello?” A hand waved in front of his face.
“Sorry.” Cade gave Reese a sheepish look. “Just distracted lately.”
“Cabin? This weekend?”
Cade shook his head. “Pass. You and Audrey have fun. I have plans.” Hopefully.
“You’re spending time with Daphne, aren’t you?” Reese’s tone was disgusted.
For a moment, he thought about denying it. He knew Reese didn’t understand Cade’s fixation with the pop star. Maybe he thought it was a fling that Cade was hoping would resurge again. But the truth was, Cade had been in love with Daphne since he was fifteen, when they were both trailer rats without a nickel to rub together. And now that she was in trouble, it was hard to just cut her off and wish her the best. Not when they’d slept together eight months ago . . . and then she’d tried to kill herself. Hell, he was still messed up over that himself. So he said, “She needs me.”
“She needs a reality check,” Reese said.
“It’s difficult,” Cade told him. Difficult to talk about, and difficult to understand. Sometimes he got it. He understood why she’d succumbed to the fast-paced lifestyle. Like Daphne, he’d grown up as trash. The poorest kid on a dirt-poor block, he’d run barefoot with the neighborhood kids and had always kept a close eye on the Petty twins, pretty redheads a few years younger than him. Daphne Petty had been his first kiss, his first love, his first, well, everything. She’d been so special—talented, funny, smart, and with a way of drawing people in and making them notice her. When Cade left for college on a scholarship, he’d asked Daphne to wait for him. He’d make his way in the world and he’d come back and rescue her from their small town. Except Daphne hadn’t waited. She’d met a music producer, and the next thing Cade knew, the girl he’d been in love with was on the radio. She’d slimmed down to nothing, dyed her hair an outrageous shade, pranced around on TV in bikinis, and sold millions of albums.
He’d been so proud of her at first—Daphne had a fun sense of humor, and it came through in her quirky songs. But as time passed and he became busier with his own business, they drifted apart. Daphne grew more and more ensconced in the music business, and even though she’d been a healthy redhead at one point, now she had wild hair, a stick-thin figure, and fake breasts. And a coke habit.
He still loved her. Always would. But when her “quirkiness” started showing up in tabloids with pictures of her doing lines and trips to rehab? He worried about her. Tried to help her stay on the straight and narrow as much as he could, from afar.
But it was never enough. Eight months ago, things had come to a head. She’d promised him that if he’d give her one more chance, she’d clean up. Not in rehab. She’d be in every tabloid imaginable if she went to rehab. Couldn’t he go away with her someplace private and get her a personal doctor? She didn’t need a life coach, she just needed Cade and Audrey at her side, encouraging her.
He’d fallen for that—hook, line, and sinker. He’d done his part, all right. He’d hired the best doctors and ensconced them nearby. He’d ensured she had the easiest drugs to wean herself off, and doled out her new prescriptions carefully. He’d supported her every step of the way . . . and then she had a fight with Audrey over him. She’d seduced Cade, stolen his meds, and overdosed while lying in bed next to him.
That had required a lot of therapy to get over.
Things between them were complicated all right. And tangled. Because how was he supposed to feel about his childhood sweetheart that slept with him one day and then reached for pills the next?
“You know Daphne’s my sister-in-law,” Reese said, clapping him on the shoulder as they walked out of the club. “And Audrey would be hurt to hear me say it, but Daphne’s a train wreck. She was clean for what, three whole weeks last time?”
“She says she’s clean now.”
“She says a lot of things,” Reese retorted. “I’ve seen how she hurts Audrey with her promises. If you can disentangle yourself, man, do it.”
Sound advice. He knew it, and yet it was harder to practice. “I need to talk to her, regardless.” To see where “they” were, or if they were anywhere. If her label was sending Daphne out on tour, she had to be clean. If she was clean, maybe they could start again.
If not . . . maybe it was time for Cade to move on. Either way, he needed to know.
On opening night of Daphne Petty’s North American tour, the star was a raging bitch, and the staff was running in fear. Kylie herself was hiding out with the costumers until she was needed. The next room over, she could hear Daphne screaming at her assistant. “Didn’t I say I wanted boneless buffalo wings? What, you expect me to eat these things with bones in them? For fucking real? Didn’t anyone read my goddamn tour rider?”
Kylie winced in sympathy. She’d been working for Daphne for a week now, and as the Teacher’s Petty tour got underway, she learned that Daphne could either be the sweetest, most fun person in the world . . . or a complete nut job. She’d been warned by everyone in the crew to not take anything Daphne did or said personally, and to just ride out any sort of confrontation. Give Daphne the right of way and the arguments would disappear.
So far, to Kylie, Daphne was decent enough. Some mornings she was snippy, but she liked the job that Kylie did on her makeup, and she liked the skin-care regimen that Kylie had put her on, so she was happy. She still referred to Kylie as “Fat Marilyn,” but Kylie was getting used to that. Apparently Daphne was bad with names and so everyone had a Daphne-anointed nickname. The costume lady was “Ginger Tramp” or just “Ginger” for short, because she was redheaded, freckled all over, and tended to wear tight clothing. One of the lighting crew was called “Hodor,” the sound guy was “Hairy Dave,” and Daphne called her assistant “Snoopy” because she “ran her like a dog.” All in all, “Fat Marilyn” wasn’t so bad of a nickname, really. She’d heard Daphne calling the dancers all kinds of insulting things, depending on if they were getting in her way or not.
“She was nicer before the drugs,” Ginger told her, sewing sequins onto a dance costume for Daphne’s third number. “Used to be the sweetest girl. Funny, too. Now she’s just a cunt.”
Kylie blinked at the harsh language. “She seems okay to me.”
Ginger shrugged. “She’s actually not that bad this week because her new dancer boy toy has the good drugs. Or so I’ve heard.” She mimed snorting a line of blow, then went back to her sewing. “Until he runs out of his stash, he’s her new favorite person.”
Wow. Kylie licked her lips, uncomfortable. “Does, um, the label know?” Should she tell someone that Daphne was getting high before her first performance?
“They don’t care,” Ginger said. “Who do you think started her on the drugs? It’s cheaper to keep them happy when they’re well medicated. And as long as the tour sells out, no one gives a shit.” Ginger stabbed a needle through the shimmery fabric, then tugged at the thread. “I’ve been with her for five years. She goes through this cycle repeatedly. She’s clean, then someone gives her a new drug. She gets hooked, she gets nasty, she falls to pieces, then goes to rehab and she gets clean. Then someone gives her a new kind of nose candy and we start all over again.”
She was so blasé about it. Kylie thought about the track marks on Daphne’s arms. “She doesn’t look so good, though. Doesn’t anyone worry about her health?”
“Not as much as they care about making money.” Ginger bit the thread gently and then shook out the costume. “She’s probably going to need you soon. You might want to surface.”
Kylie grimaced and glanced at the door to Daphne’s greenroom, where the pop star relaxed prior to the concert. Vague crying could be heard from the other side. Her false lashes were going to be hell to stick if Daphne’s eyes were puffy from crying. So with a sigh, Kylie braced herself and headed in to the greenroom to see what was going on.
Sure enough, Daphne was sitting in front of the makeup mirror, crying. She wiped her eyes with one hand and dug through all of Kylie’s neatly sorted makeup with the other. Pinning a smile to her face, Kylie approached. “Hey, Daph, what are you looking for?”
Daphne continued to weep, sniffling loud. “Have you seen Marco?”
“Marco?” Kylie gave her a puzzled look.
At first, Kylie thought it was a joke. But Daphne kept crying and digging through Kylie’s stack of eye shadows and she realized this must be another nickname for someone. “I haven’t. Can I get you anything?”
This was the wrong thing to say. Daphne’s eyes lit up and she turned to Kylie, a crazed look on her face. “Do you have any stuff?”
“Rock? Blow? Pills? Something? I need a pick-me-up.” She rubbed a hand across her eyes again and for a moment she looked incredibly young. “I’m so tired all the time.”
“I don’t have drugs,” she told Daphne softly. Part of her wanted to hug the pop star, and part of her wanted to give her a good shake. She settled for picking a tube of lip gloss up off of the floor and putting it back in its place. “Can I get you a water or something?”
But Daphne began to cry again. “Marco has all the good stuff and I don’t know where he is and I’m so sleepy. I just want to take a nap and I go on stage in an hour and a half.”
“You can’t cry,” Kylie told her, taking a determined tone and offering Daphne a box of Kleenex. “Your face is going to be on all kinds of magazines tomorrow and you want to look your best, don’t you?”
“I don’t care about magazines. I just want a nap. Why is Marco hiding from me?”
Kylie gave her a helpless look. “I suppose I could go look for him—” She stopped that train of thought when Snoopy showed up in the corner of her eye and gave her a silent shake of her head and a throat-cutting motion. Okay. So Marco was “hiding” deliberately. They probably didn’t want Daphne on something when she went on stage. Poor thing. She stroked Daphne’s hair, feeling sorry for her. She should be excited to start a tour, not miserable. “You know what? I think there’s a coffee place up the street. I could go run and get you something to pep you up before it’s time for makeup?”
Daphne’s tearstained face lit up. “Really? You’d do that for me, Fat Marilyn?”
“Yup,” she said. Anything to make Daphne stop crying. “How about an espresso?”
Daphne clapped her hands. “I need an extra-large iced coffee with a quad-shot of espresso. Heavy on the sugar, heavy on the cream.”
“That sounds awful,” Kylie said with a small laugh. “But it does sound like it’ll wake you up.”
“Short of them grinding the beans into the ice cubes, yup.” Daphne actually looked happy. “Thank you so much. Coffee sounds awesome. I’m thinking about adding it to my goddamn rider, not that anyone reads the fucking thing.” She bellowed the last part and gave Snoopy a glare.
“I’ll just run and get that coffee,” Kylie said, grabbing her wallet and running for the door.
“Flee while you can,” Snoopy told her, and it sounded like good advice to Kylie.
Parked in front of the coffee shop was a hot pink Lyons roadster that made Kylie drool with want. She was so busy admiring it and staring that she automatically reached for the door to the cafe . . . and ended up grabbing at someone’s belt buckle and the fabric below.
And possibly some junk. Possibly.
“Oh!” She jerked backward, shocked. Of all the humiliating things to do. She looked up . . . and immediately felt flustered.
Kylie had to admit her instincts had great taste, though. If she had to grab anyone’s junk, at least it was this guy’s. Because good lord, he was gorgeous. Blond tousled hair, a gray business suit, and a pair of smiling blue eyes crinkled with amusement at her.
“Oh, my God, I am so, so sorry,” Kylie told him. “I thought you were the door.”
“I can safely say that’s probably the first time I’ve heard that from a beautiful woman.” He grinned at her and opened the door—the real one—for her. “After you?”
Humiliation burned her cheeks, and she ducked her head and stepped into the coffee shop, hoping that he wouldn’t follow her in.
No such luck—the handsome man was two steps behind her as she went inside. She bit her lip, wondering if she needed to apologize again. Say something clever, funny. Something. Anything. Steeling herself, she turned around to face him. “I don’t normally grab men when I head into a coffee shop,” she told him. “But since I did, I feel like I should buy you a drink.”
He threw back his head and laughed. “What sort of groping do I endure for a bagel?”
“Bagels are cheap,” she found herself teasing back. “No more than a quick squeeze for one of those.”
“Not even if I ask for lox?” His eyes were so blue, surrounded by thick lashes. He looked like an angel. A very naughty, flirty angel.
“Not even,” she told him, a smile tugging at her mouth. Then she offered him her hand. “Kylie.”
“Cade,” he told her, shaking her hand. As he held her fingers, he leaned in. “And I can buy my own bagels, truly. I just wanted to see what was on the menu.”
Was he flirting with her or just being polite? When he gestured that she should step in front of him at the counter, she decided that it was simply politeness. He was just a nice guy having a little fun at the coffee shop. She smiled awkwardly at the man behind the counter. “I need a small black coffee, regular blend, and an extra-large iced coffee with a quad-shot of espresso. Loads of sugar and cream.”
Cade chuckled. “Is all that sugar for you?”
She shook her head and held out a twenty to the cashier. “Mine’s the black. I can’t drink all that sugar.”
She stepped aside so he could order, and wondered briefly how blunt she should be with him. Then, she supposed, it didn’t matter. She wouldn’t see him again. “Too many calories. I’m already fat enough.”
“Small black coffee,” Cade told the man behind the counter. He paid and then turned back to Kylie, waiting at the counter while their drinks were prepared.
An uncomfortable silence fell. Kylie gave him a tight expression as he studied her. Then he said, “You know, I happen to think you’re gorgeous.”
A pleased smile curved her mouth. He was so nice. “Aw, thank you. I bet you say that to all the girls in coffee shops.”
“No, I mean it. You’re really lovely. I’m not just saying that to make conversation.” His grin was sincere. “If I was, I’d comment on how I had a friend that used to order a drink just like the one you did. All the espresso in the world, tons of creamer, tons of sugar. She loved it.”
“It’s for my friend, too.” Skinny, skinny Daphne could probably be considered a friend. Theoretically.
He still wore his smile as the barista set both black coffees on the counter, and then went to work on Daphne’s monstrous caffeine concoction. Cade reached for his drink and then offered Kylie hers. His smile no longer seemed friendly, though. It just seemed . . . sad, almost. And it made her wonder.
“So,” she asked, since he didn’t seem to be leaving, “do you live here? In Chicago?”
He shook his head. “No. I’m in town to see a friend. You?”
Kylie shook her head. “Work. We travel a lot.” She avoided mentioning who she worked for. She knew from past experience that even though Cade looked nice and normal—and okay, divinely handsome—the moment she mentioned what she did, people asked for tickets. It was best to just be vague. She gestured at the street. “I was coming here to do a coffee run, actually, and I noticed that car out front.”
“The Lyons roadster?” Cade’s smile quirked and reappeared.
“That’s it,” she said. “It’s really gorgeous.” And it was. A dainty little sports car, the Lyons out front had a hot pink exterior and purple interior that made Kylie adore it despite its impracticality. She had no need for a car due to her job, but if she got one, it’d be something like that flashy little beauty out front. “Makes me wonder about who drives such a thing.”
“Well, I do for the next few hours,” Cade told her, sipping his coffee. At her look of surprise, he added, “Then it’s going into the care of an old friend of mine.”
An old friend? Judging by the utter femininity of the car, she could guess what kind of friend it was. Figured. The good ones were always taken, weren’t they? Of course Cade had a romantic interest. He was gorgeous, funny, charming, dressed well, and judging from the looks of things, had a fair amount of money if he was buying a Lyons for a lady friend. “Well, your friend is quite lucky to have you in her life.”
The smile he gave her was sad and troubled. He looked back at the car thoughtfully, but was silent.
And that made Kylie’s heart ache. Because whoever this handsome man wanted, it was clear he was miserable over her. He didn’t look like a happy man in love. He looked . . . desperate. As if he were running out of options.
Poor guy. She hated to see that.
Kylie moved in and leaned closer to him, clutching her coffee close. “Whoever your friend is,” she murmured, “if she doesn’t take one look at that car and drag you off to bed for the next week, she’s crazy.”
At that, his smile broadened, and his attention fixed on Kylie once more. “I wish my friend were more like you, then.”
I wish your friend was me, she thought, but only gave him a friendly wink. Then her coffee order was up, and it was time to leave. She gave Cade a small wave as she left, and he returned her gesture with a nod.
As Kylie headed back down the streets toward the music hall, she was filled with longing. Why couldn’t she find a great guy like Cade? Someone that cared enough about her to surprise her with a ridiculous present . . . or heck, just enough to get sad-eyed when he missed her? Why couldn’t she find a guy like that to be with? Why were they always taken?
Excerpted from "One Night with a Billionaire"
Copyright © 2015 Jessica Clare.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the Billionaire Boys Club novels
“Really fun, entertaining, [and] engaging…I can’t wait to read (and reread) the other billionaires’ stories.”—Heroes and Heartbreakers
“Blazing hot.”—USA Today
“Ms. Clare had me at billionaire…A fast, sexy read.”—Fiction Vixen