From USA Today bestselling author Kieran Kramer, comes Second Chance at Two Love Lane, a fast-paced tale about the intoxicating effects of fame and what happens when a past romance is rekindled behind the silver screen.
Sometimes love is waiting in the second act...
In her professional career, Ella Mancini plays matchmaker at Two Love Lane but, in her personal life, she takes the stage at the Dock Street Theatre. Now she has a chance at a new role in a Hollywood movie that happens to be filming in Charlestonone that features a big-name actress, Samantha Drake. Long ago, Ella passed up a major audition while awaiting a marriage proposal. Not only didn’t she get the role; she never got the ring, either. Instead, her boyfriend Hank went on to become a huge film star…leaving her, and all her dreams, behind.
But now Hank’s back in Charleston, cast as the male lead in the same movie Ella’s in. In spite of the dramatic tension off-screen, he and Ella try to stay cool onset. But when their old feelings start to heat upat the same time leading-lady Samantha tries to play cupidall bets are off. How can Hank convince Ella, after all this time, that she’s the one he really wants to be with in real lifeand that some happy, rom-com endings really can come true?
“Readers who enjoy works by Nora Roberts and Luanne Rice will want to give Kramer a try.”Library Journal
About the Author
USA Today bestselling author Kieran Kramer is a former journalist and English teacher who lives in the Lowcountry of South Carolina with her family. She's a game show veteran, karaoke enthusiast, and general adventurer.
Kieran is the author of the House of Brady novels, including Say Yes to the Duke and The Earl is Mine.
Read an Excerpt
Her show must go on. That was what Ella Mancini told herself when she saw the flowers in her dressing room at the historic Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, South Carolina. The vase of her favorite hothouse blooms was from her old boyfriend, Hank Rogers. The (Former) Love of Her Life is what she secretly called him.
Ella was the star of her own life, and no ancient love affair was going to weigh her down, especially ten years after the breakup.
It had been an especially good night, the final night of the play's run, and an especially good audience, she thought as she inhaled the heady scent from the flowers. Maybe Hank hadn't appreciated her as much as she'd wanted him to, but tonight's audience certainly had.
She opened the card that came with the delivery, her fingers trembling a little. Dear Ella, the note read. I hope you're well! I need a huge favor. Please call me. It's not an emergency or anything, but it would mean a lot if you could. Hank.
He'd left a number she didn't recognize. Of course, he'd have gotten a new one since the last time she'd seen him, when he'd been penniless and had a flip phone. Now he was a big movie star and probably had a flip phone again — this time to protect his privacy.
Was he still single? He was in the tabloids all the time with different women, and yet he'd never been committed enough to one that rumors about an impending elopement or marriage had been passed around. Nope, every story was just about Hank loving life, a beautiful woman always on his arm, a new movie script in his back pocket.
Ella was a muddle of emotion, as she always was at the conclusion of a play's run and after each night's performance. She was spent, her vocal cords exhausted. But tonight she felt removed from the whole scene in a way she never had before. She didn't know what to think. She couldn't latch onto a single, clear feeling.
And it was all Hank's fault.
Why had he done this? Why had he contacted her?
Ella pressed down the hurt, the confusion, the simmering anger. He didn't deserve her attention. At all. Ever again. She refused to go back there, to the most painful — and yet the most glorious — time of her adult life.
The door to her tiny dressing room opened.
"You know the drill," the props master said. "Leave everything hung up in your dressing room."
"No prob," said Ella. "Are you going to come see me at Two Love Lane? There will be cookies, mint juleps, and sweet tea. Not to mention Miss Thing. She's always a hoot."
Miss Thing dressed like the Queen of England and was the office manager at the matchmaking agency Ella owned with her other best friends, Macy and Greer. They'd both recently married after whirlwind courtships — Macy to native New Yorker Deacon Banks, and Greer to Englishman Ford Smith. Miss Thing, Macy, and Greer were as close to Ella as her own sisters.
"I am," said the props master. "I promise." She'd broken up with her long-time boyfriend a year ago and told Ella she was thinking about becoming a client at Two Love Lane. She pulled the door almost shut, then pushed it open again. "Who are the flowers from?"
Ella forced herself not to roll her eyes. "An old friend."
The props master shot her an amused look. "That's cryptic. Is it something complicated?"
They both grinned, then the props master finally shut the door behind her.
Ella sank down on her castered vanity chair, closed her eyes, and took a breath. She pulled her cell phone out of her purse and saw that she had ten texts from ten different people, all wishing her well, including her sister Jill and Jill's new husband Cosmo, a famous tech mogul. Miss Thing had also texted. She'd seen Ella in five performances of the play already (Greer and Macy had come three times with various friends and family), but Miss Thing hadn't been able to come tonight because Pete, their dear friend from Roastbusters, the coffee house up the cobblestoned alley from Two Love Lane, had asked her to fill in at the shop while he was recovering from minor surgery.
Reluctantly, Ella put Hank's number in her phone. It was the polite thing to do. "But I won't call him," she said out loud to her reflection in the mirror, and entered Ancient as his first name and History as his last name into her contacts list.
What was that like for him, being famous? Ella would never know. But she was okay with that. She had a good life, a great life.
Inside, though, she felt a twinge. It sometimes came out in dreams about the old days in New York, when she'd been working so hard to make it as a professional actor.
But it's okay, she reminded herself. It really is.
She closed her eyes and tried not to think of "Bring Him Home," the most moving, tear-jerker of a song she knew ... from Les Misérables. But it was there — in her head. Instantly, salty tears flooded her eyes, which she clamped shut to stave them off.
Why did that song come to her now, crashing into her brain like a runaway train? Of course, it was because before he'd left, Hank would lie with her on the couch, and wrapped in each other's arms, they would listen silently to "Bring Him Home." Their love of music, of theater, was what had drawn them to each other in the first place. They'd been two struggling artists in awe of the beauty of songs like "Bring Him Home." Those special moments felt more sacred to Ella than any spoken vows of love. Without a word, they'd known they were made for each other.
After Hank left, Ella used to hope beyond hope he'd come home. To her. She'd stand in the shower in their tiny apartment, tears pouring down her cheeks, "Bring Him Home" running through her head.
But that was ancient history.
"Ancient history," she stressed to her reflection. Now she put the phone down. Turned it all the way off. Really looked at herself in the vanity mirror rimmed with naked, round bulbs. Her entire body felt rigid with hurt, still. It shocked her that it did. She felt pain. And sadness.
After all these years.
And she'd thought she'd been so happy. She really had believed it. All the wonderful things she'd done in the ten years since she'd dated Hank, things she could be proud of ... they did matter, but so did her heart.
And it obviously hadn't healed yet.
She swallowed back the lump in her throat, glad she'd turned her phone off. In fact, she didn't know if she'd ever want to turn it on again.
She stood. Slid out of the sleek wedding gown. Briefly admired the old-fashioned corset in the mirror. She'd never get to wear it again. And her legs — they looked gorgeous in thigh-high stockings and garters, if she did say so herself. Her underthings were important parts of her costume. At one point in the story, a chorus dancer slid Ella's skirt up and exposed one sexy leg all the way up to her garter belt. And in the same scene, a chorus member buttoned her up in her wedding gown, Ella's back to the audience, her corset laces exposed.
Those scenes had happened before she'd known Hank would have flowers delivered to her dressing room. Did he remember all the times they'd made love and he'd run his hand up her leg and told her how beautiful she was? Would he think she was as beautiful now as he'd thought she'd been then?
"I don't care," she said out loud to her mirror.
But the truth was, she did. Very much.CHAPTER 2
The day after the play's last run was a Sunday, and Ella was in her mother's kitchen, where she often found herself on Sunday afternoons when she wasn't at rehearsal or performing in a matinee. Mama Mancini owned a 1930s bungalow on a residential street in Charleston's new tech corridor north of Calhoun Street. It was a neglected area of town that had been declining steadily for decades but was currently being revitalized. Older houses there could be picked up at decent prices but required lots of work.
The whole Mancini family had fixed up Mama's house together — painting, tiling, refinishing the hardwood floors. Uncle Leo and Uncle Sal had done all the rewiring. Cousin Vittorio had updated the plumbing. The older nephews and nieces painted the bedrooms and the living room. The aunts worked outside, sprucing up the front walk with some monkey grass and planting azaleas beneath the living room bay window. Out back, they made Mama a little herb garden and added a bird bath, a comfy garden bench, and a hammock for her to lie in and read the fabulous romance novels she loved so much. And the sisters, amateur painters ever since Jill had gotten them hooked on YouTube videos about mural painting, had dutifully followed Mama's orders to paint decorative scenes wherever she demanded them.
In her mother's kitchen, a nearly naked Jupiter, artfully robed and surrounded by clusters of purple grapes, stared down at Ella from the ceiling while she prepared antipasti, which she could do blindfolded. Olives to the left, mozzarella to the right, peppers in the middle. A drizzle of oil, some good cracked pepper, and there you had it — the nectar of the gods.
Miss Thing called while Ella was scooping olives out of a Harris Teeter supermarket container. "I got your text," she trilled. "Hank Rogers had flowers delivered to your dressing room last night."
Ella braced herself. "That's right." She'd been about to give them away before she'd left the theater, but instead she'd brought them home to her mother and made something up about them coming from the Footlight Players' board of directors.
Something in her had not been able to give those flowers away, although she'd tossed the card.
"Sugar, I knew something was up," said Miss Thing. "Yesterday afternoon, I looked outside and I saw a cardinal looking at me on the branch outside my bedroom window."
Whenever Miss Thing saw a cardinal on the branch outside her bedroom window, that was her late husband come down from Heaven to let her know something big was going on. At least that was what she said, and Ella believed her.
Except that a cardinal landed on that branch at least once a week, so Miss Thing was in a constant state of high drama. But if that meant she felt closer to the man who'd brought her such joy, then Ella was perfectly happy to go along with her friend's excitement.
"Well, he wants a favor, but it's not an emergency, so I'm going to take my time thinking about if and when I'll respond," said Ella.
But she didn't need any trouble. And those eyes of his were trouble. So was his mouth. And his voice. Every time she heard it on the big screen or on television, it still sent shivers down to her toes — the good kind. But she didn't tell Miss Thing any of that.
"Don't you think for a minute he doesn't still have designs on you!" Miss Thing said. "He never would have asked you a favor if he was completely over you. Aren't you dying to know what he wants?"
"Miss Thing." Ella strove to be gentle. "No. We were together ten years ago. I can't imagine I could help him in any way. The man's a celebrity. He's got assistants and agents and whatnot. Let them do him favors."
She tried to forget that this morning she'd woken up from a feverish dream in which he was making love to her on their old brass bed with plump feather ticking.
"But he left you when he was young and foolish and didn't know his own mind," said Miss Thing. "He's matured. As have you."
"We both made a very sensible vow to put our careers first," said Ella. "He wasn't being foolish. Look how it paid off."
"Yes, but when you had your shot, you didn't take it. Because of him!"
Ella sighed. "I was the foolish one then, wasn't I? Let's not talk about it anymore." It reminded her too much of her conversations with Papa.
She'd failed Papa. She couldn't stand thinking about it.
"All right." Miss Thing sighed. "Although I have to admit something. I'm glad you're here with us in Charleston."
"I'm glad too," said Ella. And she was.
But secretly, every time she thought about the choices she made in New York, she got furious. At herself. Which was why she didn't think about New York. She'd been happily free of any regrets for years now, except for one day a year — Papa's birthday.
And now, last night. Receiving those flowers had thrown her off her game.
"I'm a terrible person being glad you didn't hit the big-time like Hank," said Miss Thing. "But living in Manhattan or L.A. in a fancy penthouse, riding around in limos, wearing amazing designer clothes all the time, and making movies in exotic locations — that ain't nothin' compared to living in the Lowcountry."
Sometimes Miss Thing lapsed back into her super Southern voice, especially when she was bragging on the place she'd been born and never left.
"You got that right," said Ella, who was ripping open a bag of pita chips. They scattered across the counter, and she started scooping them up. What the heck, she thought, and ate a few right out of her cupped palm.
"What's that noise?" asked Miss Thing. "Static?"
"No," said Ella, "it's me chomping on pita chips."
"Oh, honey. You only do that when you're stressed."
"I know. Mama just told me today we're having eight cousins over seventy years old coming over from Sicily for the next couple of weeks. She's farming them out and wants to know if I can put up two at my apartment for the first week. They'll go to one of my sisters the following week."
"Well, can you?"
"Sure. But they barely speak English. And they're very loud. The neighbors won't be pleased."
"A week with you and then a week with your sister? That's a long time."
"Not in Mancini time. They only come over every five years or so. They try to get the most from their airline ticket."
"Poor you. Want to leave them the apartment and come stay with me?"
"I'd love to."
"But you'd have to share your room with my new guinea pigs. I have no other place to put their cage. They love to squeal. Do you like guinea pig squeals? They're adorable."
"I guess. Do they squeal at night?"
"Sure. Any time of day or night."
"And do you care that I'm having painters come? They're painting the whole house. But they're hot, honey. College boys. Which is disgraceful of me to mention. I don't think of them like that, but you might. They told me they've just graduated, actually, and don't want cubicle jobs."
"Miss Thing. I'm too old for college boys who've just graduated."
"I don't think so."
"I am too old for them!"
"I understand." But she could tell Miss Thing still thought she wasn't. "They're only seven or eight years younger, though —"
"Enough of that. And I don't want to sound like a diva, but if I hear a guinea pig squeal at night, I might have a heart attack in my sleep. But thanks anyway for the offer to stay."
"No problem, sugar," said Miss Thing. "Back to that celebrity scene you're missing out on. Who needs caviar and endless pairs of designer shoes? Look at where you are. How many places can you put out a crab trap in the morning and have a feast that evening? Or ten months of the year, be able to jump off a dock for a good float down the creek? And then get gussied up and go to a white-tie ball? They're a dime a dozen around here, all year 'round. I have fourteen ball gowns. And I use 'em. Thank God for Goodwill during prom dress season. They've saved me many a dollar."
"I know." Ella started chopping olives. And then realized she wasn't supposed to chop the olives. She wasn't making pizza. So she ate the ones she'd chopped and spread the other ones on the antipasti plate. She rolled them around a little too much. Three fell off the side and landed on the floor.
"How many ball gowns do you have?" Miss Thing asked.
"Ten." It was true. Charlestonians loved blackand white-tie events. You needed long evening gowns here all year 'round. Most of Ella's came from TJ Maxx or a good Macy's online sale. She bent down and went looking for the missing olives.
"Did you hear about the new movie they're making here? You should audition." Miss Thing slurped something up a straw. Probably an iced coffee from Roastbusters.
"Yes, I heard. But I'm not interested." Ella had a Screen Actors Guild card, so every time a movie came to Charleston, she was alerted via email. And they were coming way more often than they used to. Just about once a year now.
"Why don't you want to audition?" Miss Thing asked.
"Being a film extra is more trouble than it's worth," Ella said right away. Maybe she sounded like a diva, but it was. She had no desire to sit around eight hours a day and occasionally stand up and play a bystander in a scene and then get paid a pittance, all because you wanted to appear on-screen for a second or two or, more likely, have your scene cut.
"But what if you got a speaking role?" Miss Thing was always persistent. Like Papa had been.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Second Chance at Two Love Lane"
Copyright © 2018 Kieran Kramer.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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