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Tempting Her Fake Fiancé
A Gone Hollywood Novel
By Julie Particka, Karen Grove
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2014 Julie Particka
All rights reserved.
Stasia stepped into the pressroom and groaned. She'd known Paul would be here — she'd gotten him the gig — but she hadn't thought he'd bring Lissa with him.
Biting her lip, she tried to turn away but couldn't. She needed to face her demons if she wanted to get past them — more specifically, her. The woman on Paul's arm had been born Melissa Sue Jensen, but now she only had the one — stupid — name. Former model turned reporter, the woman was on track to be the next Diane Sawyer. The model jab wasn't entirely fair. Lissa was a solid reporter; she just wasn't all that wonderful a person as far as Stasia was concerned. How could she be when she willingly swooped in on another woman's husband?
The urge to bolt took hold and wrapped around the heart Stasia had been sure was healed. Her divorce had been final for more than three months, but seeing Paul with the woman he'd very publicly left her for still had the power to hurt — a lot. Twenty-four years old and a divorcee with a wonderful but unimpressive job at a small newspaper. Thanks to Paul and Lissa, she was living some sick and twisted Tim Burton-style dream. Call it The Nightmare After Marriage. She was starting to wish she'd stayed safely ensconced in Michigan, far away from the two of them.
But she'd worked her ass off to get a spot on the weeklong press junket leading to the premiere of The Game Maker here in Las Vegas. And she wasn't about to throw away her shot at an interview with its smoking-hot star, Evan Stone. Paul wasn't taking that from her, too, especially since she knew he would shit a brick to see her here. With her newspaper's limited circulation, he thought she was too small-time to cut it in the big leagues. She was going to show him just how well she could do on her own. Squaring her shoulders, she hummed a couple lines of Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger." She was better off. She'd just stay as far away from the happy couple as possible.
Too bad Lissa's giggle snagged her attention at the very moment Paul's hand found her perfectly round ex-model ass and gave it a squeeze. His eyes met Stasia's, and he smirked. The smart part of her screamed to look away — too bad it was a couple seconds late. She got a front-row seat to watch him sweep Lissa's hair back, showing off the antique diamond earrings that had belonged to his mother. The earrings her mother-in-law had insisted Stasia wear for her wedding and every family event after.
But they'd never been hers, not really, and Paul had no problem at all reminding her of just how replaceable she was. Apparently, even his mother thought so. Hell, Lissa was copying Stasia's old wardrobe from the looks of things, too.
Coffee. Definitely time for coffee. And maybe a doughnut hole or twenty. Because adding carbs to her life was the perfect solution when everything else was going so peachy.
It wasn't that she disliked her body, but compared to Lissa's perfect blonde hair, golden skin, and deadly curves, Stasia felt plain. Beyond plain, all the way to downright frumpy — she was too young for that. Old women with half a dozen kids got to be frumpy, not young, single women. But for some reason, she was having a hell of a time getting her style mojo back after the years spent trying to keep Paul happy. She tugged at the blazer she'd thrown over her tank top and wished for a mirror. And a stylist, since she was fairly certain she'd sweated off half her makeup in the desert heat.
When she'd gotten the slot on the junket, she'd been informed it was in Vegas rather than LA — apparently at the request of Evan Stone himself. Something about links to the film. She didn't care. Dry heat or not, 105 was still 105 whether it was an oven or a sauna. And she'd made the mistake of walking from her hotel so she could take in the Strip instead of splurging for a cab. Now, she was paying for it.
Damn it, she was a reporter, not a beauty queen. She couldn't have pulled off anything fancier if she'd spent hours trying, regardless of the desert heat. The high ponytail was the only thing keeping her hair from ending up a sweaty mess, sticking to her neck and face.
Dragging her fingers through it to make sure it wasn't snarled, Stasia cast a glance back at Lissa and Paul. How did they both manage to look so stinking perfect? Maybe they were staying here at the Bellagio. At least she could pretend they hadn't been outside if she let herself believe it.
Paul traced a finger down Lissa's cheek, and Stasia realized she'd been staring. She whipped around, remembering all too well the times he'd done that to her. It had been like a summons, and she'd always tipped her face up toward his, waiting for a kiss.
No more. She didn't want that. And she certainly didn't need Paul or all his attempts to turn her into some sort of weirdly bland Barbie doll. No more of his just-a-few-more-pounds diets. She was a human being, and she had the right to eat whatever she fucking pleased.
She snatched up three Krispy Kreme doughnut holes and stuffed them into her mouth, one after the other, chewing and trying to choke them down along with the stupid hurt that was building in her chest. She was over him, damn it. Better off. Much better off. It just sucked watching him play the exact same games with the woman who'd taken her place.
Thank God. Clutching her coffee like it was the last thing tethering her to her sanity, she marched into the other room, still trying to swallow the remains of the doughnuts. She stopped short as soon as the door shut behind her, the last bite lodging in her throat for a second until she remembered how to swallow.
Wow. He wasn't supposed to look this delicious in person. Tastier than the stupid doughnuts had been.
She'd known he was attractive, but he looked like he'd stepped out of a post-divorce, sex-starved dream rather than being her reality for the next thirty minutes.
Evan Stone sat in a black, leather club chair, scanning his phone, and she took a second to drink him in. He'd cut his hair shorter than it had been in the trailers for The Game Maker — just long enough to grab on to — and at the moment, all she could think about was jumping over the table between them, straddling his lap, and doing exactly that. Fortunately, she was sane enough to hold back, but she couldn't help running her tongue over her lips. Or trying to convince herself she only did it to make sure there wasn't any glaze clinging to her mouth.
Dressed in jeans, a T-shirt, and a blazer — that together probably cost more than her car payments for the year — Evan Stone was the height of Hollywood casual. Even his movements were laid back, languid, as if he hadn't a care in the world. He set his phone on the arm of the chair like he was sliding it onto a predetermined mark and smiled at her. It was the kind of carefree grin that brought women to their knees — likely offering oral favors once they got there, and she could understand why. Her mouth went as dry as the air outside, and she struggled to raise her mind from the gutter.
Clearly, he's been graced with the magical ability to not melt in the heat. Probably because of the thousand-watt, panty-melting smile.
He waved toward the chair across from him. "Anastasia, right?"
"Just Stasia." She stepped forward and stuck out her hand, praying it wasn't sweaty — that would totally ruin her professional reporter image, not to mention give away where her thoughts had gone less than a minute before. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Stone."
For what felt like forever, she stood there trying to remember if he had an aversion to touching people. Though some actors did, she was sure he wasn't one of them, and for some inexplicable reason she longed for him to touch her — even if it was just a handshake. Then he grasped her fingers, twisting them to press his lips to the delicate skin on the inside of her wrist, letting the heat of his mouth linger there long enough to set her pulse racing. A few seconds later, he drew back, his eyes alight with something headier than amusement. If she let her leaping-the-table fantasy take hold, she could almost believe the expression was one of desire equal to her own. "It's Evan, and the pleasure is all mine."
Oh boy. She hadn't expected tingles to race up her arm at the innocent kiss. Then again, a second ago, any sort of kiss was a pipe dream. She couldn't help but wonder what kind of effect his lips would have on more sensitive parts of her body.
Yep. Very professional. And excellent choice of fantasy guy — infinitely attainable.
She almost rolled her eyes at the ridiculous path her mind had chosen to travel. Yes, Evan Stone was sex personified, but she had a job to do and a cheating ex-husband to prove wrong. Time to get things back on track before she lost her mind.
Evan Stone was a flirt who knew how to make women melt. Nothing more, nothing less. Stasia could melt later ... when she was outside in the sweltering Vegas heat.
Extricating her fingers from Evan's, she sat down and cast a glance at the cameras, fighting the urge to fuss with her ponytail. "This is a print interview, so we don't really need —"
"Don't worry, the cameras roll so you have a record of everything. No need for your own recorders." He winked, and her knees turned to Jell-O. Maybe she'd melt here after all. Fortunately, a chair was right behind her, so the collapse into it wasn't quite as ungainly as it could have been. "They're also here to keep me in line. So, why don't we get started?"
The interview, right. Stasia flipped open her notepad, her lips twitching into a half smile. Paul had always called her insistence on handwritten notes old-fashioned — until the day his computer crashed. He never said another word against it after that.
Now, she just needed to get through the next few minutes without looking like a fool by throwing herself at the sexy, unobtainable man across from her. For crying out loud, it's not like this is my first rodeo. I've interviewed other A-listers. Stop thinking about him like a sex symbol and get down to business. "Okay, Mr. Stone. Why don't you tell me about your new movie and how you got ready for the role?"
"Boring stuff first? Somehow, that isn't what I expected of you." He smiled, but something about the way he said it threw her. She wasn't boring. Not anymore. Paul had been the one who'd insisted she was too loud and brassy. He was the reason she'd changed — she wasn't going to be the kind of person he wanted ever again.
"Fine. Then why don't you tell me what on earth made you jump from a cash cow like playing the Time Phantom to an edgy but risky venture like The Game Maker. The move has a lot of people scratching their heads and wondering what you were smoking." She bit her tongue as the last words tumbled out. Maybe diving into the snark-pool headfirst during her first big solo interview in years wasn't the smartest tactic ever.
Evan stared at her for a moment, eyebrow arched in a way that challenged her ability to not say anything else, and then burst out laughing. "Guess I should be careful what I wish for, huh?"
Damage control! Damage control ... Paul would have had her head if she'd ever pulled something like that back when they did interviews together. "I'm sorry, Mr. Stone. I know you probably can't talk about — "
"Pfft. Stop it. I asked for a more interesting question and you delivered. Never apologize for giving a man what he asks for. And I already told you — it's Evan." He stopped talking until Stasia remembered how to breathe. At her slow exhale, he dove into his answer. "Playing the Time Phantom made me a star, that's true, but it's also true that I don't want to be typecast for the rest of my life. Being a superhero is a young actor's job, and eventually, I'll have to move on, whether I want to or not. But the Time Phantom will be back. No worries there. The reality of it is I prefer to have some control over my future now, and I like to take an intriguing risk every now and then."
With the way his eyes rested heavily on her, Stasia could almost believe he was talking about more than the movie, but that was absurd. He had a long, rocky dating history in Hollywood. People like Evan Stone didn't need to hit on reporters. Too bad the spot on her wrist still tingled from his kiss. She clenched the hand into a fist, hoping the motion would distract her from the sensations spreading up her arm. "That's completely reasonable, but if you're trying to break out, why stick with an action film at all?"
He leaned forward, elbow on his knee, and rested his chin on his fist — a Hollywood version of The Thinker made of something far more interesting than marble. "Because my career is hanging out at the junction of go big or go home, and I'm not ready to go home yet. Are you?"
The words hit her like a fist to the gut. It was as if he'd read her mind when she'd stood outside the door, thinking about how she was trying to rebuild her life and how she had to finally step out of her little two-bedroom comfort zone. It was too quiet there, anyway. "No. I'm not ready for that, either."
Stasia pressed her lips together as she tried to put her mind back on the track of this roller-coaster interview. "Your role of Cain Sheppard is significantly darker than anything we've seen you do so far. What do you tap into as an actor to get into the mind of a guy who has gone sort of crazy while hunting down the interstellar slave traders who destroyed everyone and everything he'd ever known?"
"Two things. First, you face the darkness inside yourself. Everyone has some; most people just keep it shoved into the recesses of their psyches. I brought mine out to play." Evan took a long, slow drink of water that had Stasia watching the muscles of his throat rather than jotting down notes from his answer. When he set the glass down, he let out a small sigh. "Second, you acknowledge all the loss in your own life. All the times you screwed up and let people get hurt. That's Cain's real madness — he feels responsible for every single person who was taken or killed because he was supposed to be watching the jump-space monitors when the traders broke through. Had he been doing his job, it never would have happened.
"So, you just take that time you were slacking at McDonald's and the drive-thru was robbed. Then you crank it up about a million degrees." The last bit felt slapped on, like it was the canned answer he'd prepared while the rest was something deeper, truer. He jerked his head toward the notepad she hadn't set her pen to at all yet. "So, what else have you got for me?"
Far too many things I'd really love to give you but can't.
Stasia glanced at her questions ... and then promptly closed the notepad. They were all questions she'd have asked if she was interviewing side by side with Paul. The boring ones. No more. Her ex got to have his happy new life with Lissa and, damn it, she was going to figure out her own way from here. Evan had already shown he was willing to answer whatever she threw at him, and she wasn't going to stick to some old, staid interview just because. Maybe it would bite her in the ass, but she didn't want safe anymore. "Contrary to not wanting to go home, you were recently quoted as saying you wanted to stick to LA-based films for a while. Care to explain why?"
For the first time, he tensed up. "Family. I've been away a lot, and I'm starting to regret how much I haven't been around. It's also part of the 'go big' thing. My family's had some struggles this year, and I'm trying to make sure everyone is taken care of. Oldest son and all that."
He took a slow drink of water, eyeing her over the rim of the glass. "If you don't have any more questions about the movie, I think we've covered everything except my personal life. You still have about ten minutes. Want to ask about the trail of broken hearts I left behind? Or who I'm taking to the premiere at the end of the week?"
Excerpted from Tempting Her Fake Fiancé by Julie Particka, Karen Grove. Copyright © 2014 Julie Particka. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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