Cece Cassidy was used to writing the story, not being it. Yet somehow the tabloids had figured out her passionate history with Jack Hudson and his connection to the dark-haired little boy she'd "adopted." Too bad her baby's father was the last to know. Now Jack was going all caveman on her, forcing her into a lavish Tinseltown wedding with none of the marital benefits. The movie mogul had stomped on her heart yet again, but she couldn't help craving his touchand wishing she could give their tempestuous romance a Hollywood ending .
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So, Lillian Hudson wanted Hudson Pictures to make a biopic about the legendary World War II romance between her and her husband, Charles.
From the moment Jack Hudson heard her announcement during the annual Valentine's Day bash at Hudson Manor, he knew trouble was brewing. The week before, he'd stopped by for a visit and found his grandmother watching The Wave, which Cece had written. At the time, the image of the Statue of Liberty disappearing beneath a hundred-and-fifty-foot tsunami seemed particularly foreboding. Now he knew why.
Undoubtedly, Lillian was going to hit him up to convince Cece to write the script for Honor, which would be hard for him to do, since Cece wasn't speaking to him.
He was clutching a crystal champagne flute when Lillian made the announcement. He'd downed the nearly two-hundred-dollar-a-bottle Dom Pérignon, ditched the glass and had been making his way toward the bar ever since. He skirted the bustling dance floor, dodging waiters bearing trays of more champagne, fervently gesticulating directors and dewy-eyed starlets.
Any minute now, Lillian would corner him, and he wanted to have a glass of Patr n in his hand when she did. Unfortunately, he was too slow. He'd almost reached the open bar when he heard his grandmother's voice behind him.
"You don't seem pleased about my announcement."
He turned to face her. Despite her age, Lillian held herself with the same graceful elegance that had made her a legend on the silver screen. She wore a long, sparkling gown, no doubt designed to show off the diamond necklace shimmering around her neck. Her crystalline blue eyes held a spark of humor, as if she knew why he'd been avoiding her.
"Naturally, I'm thrilled, Grandmother." She held out her arms, so he leaned forward and gave her a buss on the cheek. "I think your love story will make a brilliant movie."
"Charles always thought so. One person or another has been batting around the idea for years. But when Charles died, I didn't have the heart to do it without him."
For a moment his normally vibrant grandmother sounded so sad and frail, he almost didn't voice his concerns. "I'm glad we're doing it now. But you said you want the movie released on the studio's sixtieth anniversary. What's the rush? There's no hurry, we should take our time. Do it right."
The illusion of Lillian's fragility vanished. "When should we do it, my boy? For the seventy-fifth anniversary? For the hundredth?" She didn't wait for him to answer her rhetorical question. "No, I've made up my mind. If we don't do it now, it may never get done."
Since he could see there was no point in arguing with her, he shrugged. "Then I assume you'll be wanting me to hire a screenwriter."
She smiled gamely. Still an attractive woman at eighty-nine, age had done little to dim her charms. "Ah, my boy, you know me too well."
He continued before she could say more. "First thing Monday morning, I'll talk to Robert Rodat." He paused to gesture for a drink from the bartender, who must have worked at past parties because he automatically handed Jack a Patr n. "He worked with Spielberg on Saving Private Ryan."
Lillian waved her hand regally. "No, no. That won't do at all. The last thing I want is someone who's done another World War II drama. The story of how your grandfather and I met and fell in love is special. We need someone who will bring a unique approach to the project. Someone with a personal touch."
Her eyes glittered with the same cunning he remembered all too well from his childhood. After his mother's death, Lillian and Charles had raised him. As a result, she could see right through him.
She raised a hand to toy with the diamonds at her neck. "No, I have the perfect screenwriter already in mind."
Just what he was afraid of.
"You remember my goddaughter, Cheryl Cassidy?"
Cece? How could he forget her? With her quick wit and lightning-fast sense of humor. With her lush full lips and warm brown eyes. With her sable hair that spread over his pillow like a curtain of silk.
"Naturally, I remember her."
He couldn't possibly forget Cece. As Lillian and Charles's goddaughter, she'd been a near-constant feature at Hudson Manor during his youth. When they'd met again three years ago, he'd found she'd blossomed from the pesky kid who used to follow him around into an irresistible woman.
In short, he'd never forget their brief but passionate affair. Or how badly it had ended.
"Well," Lillian continued, seemingly unaware of his train of thought, "we haven't seen nearly enough of dear Cece lately."
"No, we haven't." Probably because she'd been avoiding all of the Hudsons since he went and broke her heart. She'd even stopped coming to the Hudson parties. Undoubtedly one of the reasons he found this party so dull.
"I believe she'd be perfect for the job. She has a strong connection to the family. She'll do the project justice. Besides, I understand she's quite talented. I believe her previous projects have done well."
Little Cece had grown into a firecracker not only in bed, but in the industry as well. She was quickly becoming known for the kind of witty, fast-paced scripts that audiences loved. One of the industry rags had recently described her as the David Mamet of adventure movies.
"Her previous projects have grossed a combined two hundred million dollars," he stated drolly.
"Exactly. So why isn't she working for Hudson Pictures?" Lillian tapped a finger on his arm in a gentle reprimand. "Why isn't she making those millions for us? This project is the perfect opportunity to bring her back into the fold."
"Frankly, I'm not sure this is her kind of project."
"Nonsense. As a child she used to love listening to Charles talk about the war. She's practically family."
"Grandmother" He tried one last protest, but she quickly cut him off.
"I won't be swayed on this, Jonathan."
He smiled wryly. "You must be serious indeed if you're resorting to calling me by my given name."
"I am. First thing tomorrow I want you to visit Cece. If anyone can convince her to do the project, you can. I'm counting on you."
As she turned and strutted away, he gave a little half bow.
Something about his grandmother had always inspired that kind of formality.
So the edict had been issued. It was his job to bring Cece back into the fold. What Lillian didn't know was that it was Jack's affair with her that had driven her away in the first place.
Cece Cassidy stared at the blinking cursor on her computer screen, biting back an expletive of frustration. Her son, Theo, sat on her office floor babbling nonsense to himself as he flipped through the pages of one of his books. Though just shy of two, he was verbally precocious. If she cursed aloud, within minutes he'd be running through the house chanting her verbal mistake.
"Curses," she muttered aloud.
"Curses," he chimed.
She chuckled, despite the fact that the third act of her latest script had fallen flat. She picked up a cinnamon Altoid from the tin on her desk and popped it in her mouth, considering her dilemma. The bad guy had been vanquished, the bomb defused, the hero had saved the day. "What am I missing?"
Theo looked up from his book. "Brown bear, brown bear."
"Nope, that's not it."
Holding her fingers poised over the keyboard, she waited for inspiration to strike. Thank goodness the doorbell rang.
She hopped from her chair. "Ah! A reprieve."
Yes, she could have let the nanny get it, but that wouldn't offer the kind of diversion she was looking for. She caught up with Maria in the entrance hall. "I'll get it, Maria. You go watch Theo."
Maria looked relieved. Though she was Theo's full-time nanny, in truth she had little to do, since Cece worked from home and kept him with her much of the time.
A moment later, Cece yanked open her front door, ready to hug whoever had saved her from having to face her slimy bad guy and her limp third act. Then she saw Jack Hudson on her porch. With his shoulder wedged against the support column and his hands tucked into his jeans pockets, he looked completely relaxed. As if showing up on the doorstep of her tiny Santa Barbara cottage were an everyday occurrence. As if the last time he'd seen her, he hadn't broken her heart.
Squeezing tight to the doorknob, she braced herself against a wave of emotion and shock. The floor seemed to tilt under her feet, making her feel light-headed and woozy.
Except for the year she'd spent in France, she'd lived in California her whole life and weathered countless earthquakes. None of them shook her like the sight of Jack standing on her doorstep.
"Can I come in?"
Panic clawed its way through her gut as she considered his request. Surely, if he knew the truthif he'd discovered her secrethe wouldn't be here politely asking to come in.
Feigning a cavalier indifference she didn't come anywhere close to feeling, she bumped up her chin, quirked an eyebrow and blocked his entrance with her body.
"Well, well, well. If it isn't Jack Hudson. The villain of my life's story." It should be illegal for former lovers to show up unannounced on your doorstep. At the very least they deserved foreboding theme music, like the shark from Jaws.
His gaze was shuttered and impenetrable. "Don't be overly dramatic, Cece."
"I once destroyed the entire Eastern Seaboard in a tsunami. Trust me, I know when drama is called for."
And at the moment, she felt how she'd imagined her characters feeling just moments before they'd been swept away by a tower of water: terrified and helpless. Jack had the ability to destroy her completely. He just didn't know it. She hoped.
"Are you going to let me in or not?"
"Not, I think. I have nothing to say to you."
The lie was so blatant she half expected an act of Godone of her tsunamis, perhaps?to wipe her out on the spot, taking all of Santa Barbara with her.
The truth was, she had a great deal she should say to him. Most of it involved her son, who was innocently playing in her office just a few thin walls away. Not just her son, their son.
She'd spent every day for the past two and a half years dreading the moment Jack Hudson showed up on her doorstep, demanding answers about the child she'd supposedly "adopted" while abroad just after breaking up with him.
Swallowing her growing fear, she considered her options: let him in and face the music? Lock the door and call her lawyer? Run like hell?
"This isn't personal," he said.
She studied his face. Not a flicker of interest. None of the heat with which he used to gaze at her. None of the smoldering passion that had lit his eyes back when she'd known his body as well as her own. But Jack had always been an expert at hiding his emotions.
However, what she didn't see was the spark of anger that would indicate he'd discovered her secret. It made her bold.
"Not personal, huh?" she scoffed. "I almost even believe you."
It was pure bravado, though. Inside her pulse was racing. If he hadn't guessed the truth, she wasn't going to let him linger around to see Theo with his own eyes.
She stepped back into the house, ready to shut the door in his face, but his words stopped her.
"Lillian sent me."
Cece's heart leaped into her throat. The drive from Jack's house in Malibu out to her little cottage was a long one. If Lillian were ill, it might warrant Jack making such a drive. "She's okay?"
"She's fine. But she misses you."
Relief and nostalgia washed over Cece. Lillian had always been one of her favorite people in the whole world. And it had been so long since she'd seen her.
It was the price she'd paid. When she'd decided not to tell Jack about Theo, she had to cut the Hudsons out of her life forever. Still she missed Lillian dearly.
Jack must have sensed her hesitation, because he edged forward, bracing a hand on the door frame. His nearness seemed to suck all the air out of her lungs. His eyes traced the lines of her face, making her wish she'd known he was coming. Then she could have prepared her defenses against him. Or at least put on makeup.
As it was, her face was scrubbed clean, her hair still damp from the shower she'd taken after her morning jog. She wore her oldest jeans and her lucky T-shirta ratty Led Zeppelin concert T she'd swiped fromher father's closet a good fifteen years ago.
Jack was dressed simply in jeans and a crisp, cream linen shirt, which accented his tan. He looked absurdly good. Frankly, it was ridiculous that anyone could look that fresh and appealing.
But Jackwell, all the Hudsons, reallyhad always had that quality to him. With his chiseled jaw, perfect cheekbones and firm lips, he could have just as easily worked in front of the camera as behind it.
"Let me come in so we can talk. After all we've been through together, shouldn't you at least hear what I have to say? Don't you owe me at least that much?"
She felt a pang of regret so strong it literally rocked her back on her feet. He had no idea just how much she owed him.
So she stepped back and let him enter. As she led Jack down the entrance hall toward the living room at the back of the house, she was painfully aware that Theo and Maria were just around the corner in her office. If Jack heard the faint murmur of their voices, he didn't comment. For her part, she was all too aware of them and could only hope Maria had enough sense to keep Theo occupied.
Jack didn't insult her intelligence with the pretense of small talk as they walked. She returned the favor by not offering him coffee or water. They were well past those sorts of pleasantries.
When they reached the living room, she plopped down onto her favorite leather club chair, tucking her feet up under her to keep from fidgeting and revealing just how nervous she was. Not that that kept her from toying with the single strand of hair that had come loose from her damp ponytail.
"So what is it Lillian wanted? I assume she didn't send you to invite me for Thanksgiving dinner."
He quirked a sardonic eyebrow. "It's a little early in the year for that."
"She does like to plan ahead."
"Saturday night, at the Valentine's Day bash, Lillian announced she wants us to make a movie about how she and Charles met during World War II."