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She wasn't a one-night stand sort of girl.
Emma Rae Bloom was predictable, hardworking, ambitious and least of all, adventurous. Boring. She never did anything out of the ordinary. She was measured and sure and patient. Double boring. The one time she'd crushed that mold, breaking it to bits, was at her neighbor Eddie's blowout bash at Havens on Sunset Boulevard in celebration of his thirtieth birthday last month. She'd partied hard, lost her inhibitions as well as her mind during the now infamous Los Angeles blackout and wound up in bed with her best friend's brother, Hollywood heartthrob in the flesh, Dylan McKay.
She'd had secret dibs on Brooke's brother since the age of twelve. He was the older boy with sea-blue eyes and stubble on his face who'd treated her kindly and given her a measuring stick to compare all men against.
There was no going back to reclaim their night together, although her memory of her time with Dylan was almost nonexistent. Just her luck, she had her first ever one-night stand with the hottest guy on earth and her mind had gone as foggy as a London winter day. Too many mango mojitos could do that, she'd been told.
She stood at the port-side railing of Dylan's yacht now. As he approached her, his head wrapped with gauze bandages, a haunted look on his face spoke of sadness and grief. It was a somber day, but beaming rays of sunshine and stunning marshmallow fluff clouds didn't seem to know that. She pushed her sunglasses farther up her nose, grateful to hide her true emotions.
Roy Benjamin was gone, killed in the freakish stunt accident on the set of Dylan's Navy SEAL movie. The tragedy had rocked Hollywood insiders and made a big splash on the news, even eclipsing the story of how the lights went out in the city just the day before. It wasn't just Roy's death that had rocked the entertainment world and hit the headlines with a bang, but Dylan's amnesia resulting from the same blast that had killed his friend.
"Here, have a soda." Brooke walked up beside her brother and offered Emma a glass. "You look like you could use one."
"Thanks." She accepted the benign drink. No more alcohol for her, thank you very much. "It's a hard day for everyone." She sipped her cola.
Standing between her and Brooke, Dylan wrapped his arms around them. "I'm glad you both are here with me today."
Emma's nerves squeezed tight. She hadn't seen Dylan since the night of the blackout. The supportive arm around her shoulders shouldn't elicit any of the sensations she was having. It shouldn't. She sighed. His hand caressed her upper arm lightly, sending shock waves through her system. As the yacht backed out of its slip, his body lurched, two hundred pounds of solid granite shoulder to shoulder with her. She stopped breathing for a second and gripped the railing.
"Of course we'd be here," Brooke said. "Roy was a friend of ours, too. Right, Emma?"
She gave Dylan a quick smile. It was such a tragedy that a man so vital and strong as Roy had died at such a young age. He was a Dylan lookalike, his stunt double and a close friend to the McKays. Emma only knew Roy through them and he'd always been nice to her.
Dylan's lips curled up a little, the subdued smile of a man in mourning. "I miss him already."
He tightened his hold, bringing their bodies close. He was the consummate movie star, sunglasses shading his face, blond hair blowing in the breeze and a body carved from hard gym workouts and daily runs. He was Hollywood royalty, a man who'd managed to steer clear of lasting relationships his entire adult life. Darkly tanned, as talented and smart as he was good-looking, he had it all.
Emma should be concentrating on Roy's death instead of her dilemma. Yet as she'd dressed this morning readying for Roy's memorial, she'd rehearsed what she would say if Dylan remembered anything that happened between them during the blackout.
I wasn't myself that night. The blackout freaked me out. I've been afraid of the dark since I was a kid and I begged you to stay with me. Can we just go on being friends?
Now it looked as if she could dodge that confession. Soul-melting blue eyes, dimmed now from grief, settled upon her as they always had. He saw her as his sister Brooke's friend, nothing more. He had no memory of their night together. The doctors termed it dissociative amnesia. He was blocked and might never remember the hours or days leading up to the blast that took his friend's life and sent a hunk of shrapnel tunneling into his head. He'd been knocked unconscious and had woken up hours later, in the hospital.
He let her go to sip his soda and she began breathing normally again. Cautiously she took a step away from him. Having his hand on her played too much havoc with her brain. She had escaped telling him the truth today, and the devil on her shoulder whispered in her ear, Why rock the boat? Clever little fiend. This can be your little secret.
Could she really get away with not having to tell him?
She battled with the notion as the yacht made its way out of Marina del Rey, traveling past the docks at a snail's pace. Pungent sea scents filled her nostrils, seagulls squawked overhead and one white-winged bird landed on a buoy and quietly watched the yacht head into open seas.
"I guess it's time," Dylan said, minutes later, once they were far enough out to sea. Dylan wanted to do this alone, with just his family. Later today, a memorial would be held at his Moonlight Beach home open to Roy's friends and fellow crew and cast members, the only family he'd ever known. That's when Emma and Brooke would go to work, hosting an informal buffet dinner in Roy's honor. It definitely wasn't a Parties-To-Go kind of event, but Dylan had turned to them for help. "Roy always joked, if he missed the net from a ten-story fall, to make sure I tossed his ashes from the Classy Lady. He loved this boat, but I never thought I'd ever have to do this."
Brooke's doe eyes softened on her brother and Emma hurt inside for both of them. Brooke and Dylan were miles apart in most things, but when push came to shove, they were always there for each other. Emma envied that. She had no siblings. She had no real family, except for foster parents, two people who'd taken her in and then neglected her as a child. She hadn't hit the jackpot in the parent department, that was for sure. Not like Brooke. Brooke was Dylan's younger foster sister whom his parents had eventually adopted. They were totally amazing. They'd been better parents to Emma than the two who'd collected monthly checks on her behalf.
Dylan made swift work of saying heartfelt words about his friend, his voice tightening up to get it all out, right before he opened the urn, lifted it up and let the wind carry Roy's ashes out to sea. When he turned around, tears filled his eyes and his mouth quivered in heartbreak. She'd never seen this vulnerable side of Dylan and she gripped the railing tight to keep from going to him. It wasn't her place.
Brooke went to him and cradled him in her arms the way a mother would a child, whispering soft words of sympathy in his ear. Dylan nodded his head as he listened to his baby sister. After a few minutes he wiped the tears from his eyes and the solemn expression from his face. He gave Brooke a sweet smile.
Dylan McKay was back.
It was the first time Emma had ever seen him let his guard down.
It touched her soul.
Dylan's kitchen could swallow up her little apartment in one large gulp. Every kind of new age appliance ever conceived was set on the shiny onyx granite counter and in the textured white cabinets. It was a culinary dream kitchen and his housekeeper, Maisey, made great use of it. She'd cooked up a storm for the fifty-plus people who'd come to pay their respects to Roy Benjamin. Aside from Maisey's home cooking, the caterers Emma had commissioned delivered trays of finger foods, specialty breads and appetizers. Everyone from grips to the president of Stage One Studios was here. Emma and Brooke, dressed in appropriate black dresses with little ornamentation, set out the food and offered drinks to the guests. They weren't acting as Parties-To-Go planners today as much as they were Dylan's hostesses for this sad event.
"Did you see what Callista is wearing?" Brooke muttered under her breath.
Emma set out a plate of sweet-cream-and-berry tarts on the dessert table, shooting a quick glance to the living room, where many of the guests were gathered. Callista Lee Allen, daughter to the Stage One Studio mogul, was on Dylan's arm, hanging on his every word. She wore Versace, and the only reason Emma knew that was because she'd overheard the blonde gloating about it. It was a silver glimmer dress with detailed layering and jewels dripping off her throat and arms. "I see."
"It's not as if the Fashion Police are trolling. Roy deserves better. This day isn't about her."
Emma grinned. "Tell me how you really feel, Brooke. At least she talks to you. I'm invisible to her." Being a friend of Dylan's sister didn't rank high enough on Cal-lista's status scale to award Emma an iota of her attention.
"Be grateful. Be very grateful."
Emma stood back from the arrangement, giving the presentation scrutiny. They'd draped the dessert table with tablecloths in varying colors and edged each platter with flowering vines. This is what they did. And they did it well.
"It's none of my business, but Dylan's on-again, off-again relationship with her isn't good for him," Brooke said.
Emma shot them another glance. Callista's eyes flashed on Dylan's bandage, one hand possessively on his arm as she reached up with the other to touch the injury. Emma watched the scene play out. Dylan was deep in conversation with Callista's father and didn't seem to notice her unabashed attention.
Sucking oxygen in, Emma glanced away and tamped down pangs ofjealousy swimming through her body. She'd be ten times a fool to think she'd ever have a chance with Dylan. He was her friend. Period. "He's a big boy, Brooke."
"I never thought I'd say this, but thank God my brother doesn't commit. She's all wrong in so many ways." Brooke lifted her hands in a stopping motion that was her signature move. "But like I said, none of my beeswax."
Emma smiled at her friend and put the finishing touches on the dessert table. Maisey had made coffee and there was hot water and a sampler box of teas available.
Dylan approached, gorgeous in a tailored dark suit and tie. He'd changed his clothes from the jeans and black silk shirt he'd worn this morning on the yacht. "Do you two have a minute?" he asked quietly. His brows were gathered in question. Brooke and Emma nodded and he guided them to the far side of the kitchen, out of earshot of anyone. It was all so curious.
"You girls have done wonderful today. Thank you," he began and then shook his head. "I'm figuring you'd give it to me straight. Callista and I
are we a thing again?"
Emma held her breath. She wouldn't comment on her thoughts about the bottle blonde. Dylan didn't exactly confide in her about his love life, but his earnest question made her stomach ripple in guilt. She had a truth to tell him, too, and maybe it would help spark his memory, but it could also make things weird between them, which was the last thing she wanted.
Brooke seemed eager to answer, but shook her head as if formulating her thoughts. "You don't remember?"
"No. But she's acting like we're ready for the altar. From what I remember, that wasn't the case. Am I wrong?"
"No, you're certainly not wrong," Brooke shot back. "Not even close. Before
before your accident, you told me you were going to break it off with her for good."
"I did? I don't remember." Poor Dylan was struggling. His gaze lifted to the wide windows that opened out onto the sea, as if he were searching for answers there. He seemed lost right now, not his usual self-confident, always-one-step-ahead-of-everyone, charming self.
"If she says it's more, Dylan, I'd be careful," Brooke offered. "She's banking on your amnesia to worm her way back into your."
Dylan turned to his sister, his brows lifting and a crooked smile emerging. "My what?"
"Your good graces," Emma finished for her.
Dylan slid her a knowing look. "Always the diplomat, Em. But somehow, I don't think that's what Brooke was going to say." He began nodding. "Okay, I get the picture." He glanced at Callista, who was now surrounded by a few other actors in the film. She was deep in conversation yet constantly casting him furtive glances at every opportunity, sizing him up and staking her claim.
Brooke was rightCallista was all wrong for Dylan. How difficult it must be for him not to remember some things, not to have a grasp on his feelings. "You're the only ones I can trust," he said. He rubbed his brow, just under his bandage. "I can't tell you how bizarre this feels. I see some things clearly. Other things are fuzzy at best. And then there's a whole chunk that I don't remember."
Emma plunked three ice cubes into a glass and poured him a root beer, his favorite from childhood. "Here, drink up."
"Thanks," he said, "though I could use something stronger."
"The doctor says not yet. You're still on pain meds." Brooke's internal mother came out. It really was sweet seeing how close the two had become since the move from Ohio to Los Angeles years ago.
"One drink won't kill me."
"Let's not find out, okay? I was worried enough when you were sent to the hospital. And Mom just went home two days ago. If I have to call her again to tell her you're back in Saint Joseph's, she'll have a heart attack."
Dylan rolled his eyes. "You see how good she is, Emma? She knows exactly how to lay on the guilt."
A chuckle rumbled from Emma's throat. "I know all about Brooke's tactics. I work with her."
"Hey!" Brooke said. "You're supposed to be on my side."
"Like I said, Emma's a diplomat. Thanks for the drink." He lifted his glass in mock toast and then pivoted around and walked away.
"He'll be okay," Brooke said, watching him head back to his guests. "We just have to do whatever it takes to help him along."