Authors: Elle Kennedy
Tags: #Romance, #Adult, #General, #Contemporary, #Fiction
They cannot be sold, shared or given away as it is an infringement on the copyright of this
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locale or organizations is entirely coincidental.
Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
577 Mulberry Street, Suite 1520
Macon GA 31201
Copyright © 2008 by Elle Kennedy
Edited by Laurie Rauch
Cover by Tuesday Dube
All Rights Are Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
FirstSamhain Publishing, Ltd. electronic publication: July 2008
To my brilliant editor for having faith in this story…
“Wipe that look off your face, Mags. You’ll scare the customers.” Maggie Reilly shoved a wayward strand of wavy red hair off her forehead and glanced at her friend with narrowed eyes. “What look?”
look.” With a cheerful smile, Trisha opened the icebox under the counter and dumped a scoopful of ice cubes into the glass pitcher she was holding.
“Damn and I thought my poker face was solid,” Maggie replied with a grin.
Trisha poured ice water into three tall glasses and set them on her black plastic tray. “You’ll see your Tony soon enough.”
“Who’s Tony?” Matthew, the blond bartender, came up behind the two waitresses, curiosity written all over his handsome face.
Maggie shot Trisha a look that said
one word and I’ll kill you.
Aloud, she replied, “No one. Trisha’s just screwing around.”
Matthew shrugged and headed for the other end of the bar.
“What part of
don’t tell anyone
didn’t you understand, Trish?” she asked irritably.
The brunette merely gave a shrug of her own. “I don’t see what the big deal is. I mean, who doesn’t have a Tony in their life? Casual, twice-a-year sex is practically a trend these days.” She ignored her co-worker’s remark. Trisha loved teasing her about the arrangement she had with Tony, but Maggie suspected her friend didn’t fully understand just how difficult it was for her to maintain a normal love life.
How could she? She spent her afternoons volunteering at the community center, her nights serving drinks here at the Olive Martini. And her nights off? Well, those were reserved for her college classes. So it was really no surprise she’d never found a man willing to accept her hectic schedule. Her boyfriends usually got sick of seeing her only once a month and she’d gotten dumped more times than Elizabeth Taylor’s husbands combined.
Not that she was devastated.
Was it her fault men couldn’t handle her dedication and work ethic? Growing up dirt poor had made her determined to be successful. She’d struggled to make ends meet all her life, scrimped and saved until she’d been able to pay for her college tuition. In a few short months she’d finally earn her degree in social work, leave the Olive, and hopefully get a permanent—
—position at the community center.
So, really, she didn’t need a boyfriend. Of course, that didn’t mean she wanted to live like a nun, either, which was precisely why she needed someone like Tony Burke in her life.
Tony was a travel writer who spent eleven and a half months out of the year roaming exotic places and writing about them. He came back to New York usually no more than two or three times a year, and, during one of his visits, Maggie had instantly hit it off with the sexy nomad. They’d wound up in bed the same night they’d met, and their trysts had become somewhat of a routine.
Tony arrived in town, he called her, they had sex. Then they both returned to their bustling lives, sated and content and with no plans to see each other again—until the next time Tony popped up in the city.
She’d last seen him over Christmas, and since it was already May, she’d been expecting him to call any day now. Like clockwork, he had. Just three hours ago, with his hotel room number and the promise of some hot, stress-busting sex.
“Make fun of me all you want, Trish, but we both know you’re jealous,” she said good-naturedly.
“It’s true. I’d give my right arm for a Tony.” Trisha made a face. “Instead I have a Lou.”
“Aw, be nice. Lou kisses the ground you walk on.”
“Yeah, when he’s not watching football. Do yourself a favor, Mags. Never date a man who’d rather watch big sweaty goons chase a ball around a field than talk to his girlfriend.” She laughed. Personally, she thought the leggy brunette could do a lot better than Lou Gertz, the high school football coach slash couch potato. But whether Trisha just had bad taste in men, or Lou was a reflection of the kind of guys swimming around in the singles pool, her friend’s love life only reaffirmed Maggie’s notion that relationships were too much of a hassle. That’s why she’d decided to secure her career before she tossed her line into the dating pond and hoped to land a keeper.
“Looks like Tony has some competition,” Trisha quipped.
She shifted her gaze and noticed her pot-bellied customer waving at her from across the room. “My biggest fan awaits,” she said dryly. “And by the way, he heard you snickering when he commented on my waitressing skills.”
Trisha snorted. “He called you a ballerina of the bar. He was asking for a snicker.”
“You should have continued eavesdropping. I told him waitress training is extensive and that I had to go through four years of schooling.”
As her friend burst into a fit of giggles, Maggie swiped the guy’s credit card through the outdated register and waited for the printer to spit out the receipt. She tucked the bill, a pen and some mints inside a sleeve of plastic and then glanced at her watch.
Ten-thirty. God, when was this night going to end? Normally she didn’t mind her shifts at the Olive Martini. The job paid her bills, the tips were great, and she couldn’t say she didn’t have fun. The staff at the Olive was like a big happy family, the customers their interesting—and often completely insane—surrogate children.
But sometimes, no matter how entertaining the crowd was, Maggie just wanted to finish her shift and get the hell out of there.
Tonight was one of those times.
“Again with that look,” Trisha chided, wagging her French-manicured finger. “Don’t worry, you’ll be playing mattress hockey soon enough. I, on the other hand, will be fetching beers for Lou while he makes love to the television.”
Maggie’s mouth lifted in a grin. “Well, you know what they say—a good Tony is hard to find.” If Ben Barrett saw one more photographer lurking in the bushes, he’d go into cardiac arrest. Or worse, slam his fist into someone’s jaw. The latter was so appealing, his palms actually tingled, but he knew as well as anyone how pointless picking a fight would be. The paparazzi would jump all over the story:
Violent Movie Star Assaults Innocent Photographer!
And then his reputation would take yet another hit, his agent and publicist would freak out, and Ben would be forced to make dozens of morning-talk-show appearances to explain to his fans why he’d knocked someone’s lights out.
That’s how it always went. You decide to be an actor and you say goodbye to your privacy. Didn’t matter that half the stories the tabloids ran were bull. If you left the house with a runny nose, you snorted cocaine. If you had lunch with a male friend, you were gay. If you shoved a photographer out of your face, you had anger problems.
Ben had dealt with this shit for ten years, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. Growing up in small-town Iowa, he’d viewed acting as his ticket out of there. He’d never been happier than the day his drama teacher invited a talent agent to one of his performances. But, along with escape, acting had given him a sense of pride. He was good at pretending to be other people, and his first few years in Hollywood were some of the most rewarding of his thirty-two years.
Until, of course, the challenging roles had been replaced with mindless-hero personas, and the public suddenly decided he was nothing more than a toy to play with.
So he’d left. Said
to LA and moved to New York, though the Big Apple certainly hadn’t been his first choice to lay roots. A house in Colorado or Montana, that’s what he’d wanted. A place right up in the mountains, so that if the press wanted to harass him they’d have to work for it. Hiking up a cliff would certainly deter at least half of those nosy bastards.
Of course, his agent balked. With Ben’s reputation currently on shaky ground, the worst thing he could do was disappear into some out-of-the-way forest. “If you want to leave Hollywood, fine,” his agent had said. “But stay in sight.”
So New York it was.
“Hey, aren’t you—”
Ben pulled the rim of his Yankees cap lower so that it shielded his face, then bypassed the middle-aged woman who’d just stopped in her tracks and stood there gawking at him. He didn’t let her finish her sentence, just hurried along Broadway and tried to disappear in the lively Friday night theater crowd.
Absolutely fucking ridiculous the way he had to skulk around like this, but damn it, he needed some peace and quiet. He’d bought a house on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and moved in last week, but had the press left him alone to settle in? No way in hell. They stood on the curb in front of his brownstone day and night, night and day, until Ben wanted to tear every strand of hair from his head.
He hadn’t slept in seven days. Hadn’t been able to leave the house without being barraged with questions.
Were you with Gretchen the night she died? Did Alan Goodrich know about the affair?
So many damn questions. He didn’t want to deal with them anymore. Or ever. Not when he still hadn’t sifted through the emotions he felt over Gretchen’s death.
So he’d taken off. Left the house with a trail of media behind him, got in his car and managed to lose the vultures determined to circle over him. He’d ditched his car in the first parking lot he saw, and now he was on foot, in search of the first hotel he could find that had a big bed he could finally fall asleep on.
Now, satisfied that he was rid of every photographer in a ten-mile radius, Ben finally came to a stop in front of the Lester Hotel. He knew there was a Hilton half a dozen blocks away, but he had no intention of checking in there. The Lester, a ten-or-so-story building with a bland gray exterior, was the last place the press would think to look.
Stepping through the revolving door, Ben crossed the empty lobby toward the check-in area, where he found the skinniest guy he’d ever seen manning the counter.
“I need a room,” he muttered, pulling his wallet from the back pocket of his faded jeans.
“Single or double bed?”
“I couldn’t care less, kid.” He pulled a wad of bills from his wallet and dropped them on the splintered oak counter.
Ben scrawled a fake name and address on the clipboard handed to him then pushed it back at the clerk.
The guy barely gave him a second look before giving him a key and pointing to the elevator.
Two minutes later, Ben got off on the third floor and breathed in the scent of potpourri and lemon cleaner.
The hotel wasn’t the type of accommodation he was used to, but for once he didn’t care that the carpet beneath his black boots was frayed, or that the doors lining the narrow corridor were in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint. All he cared about was sleep. No telephones. No agents and managers and publicists. No reporters or photographers.
He let himself into room 312. Didn’t bother turning on the light, just let his gaze adjust to the darkness and zero in on the double bed in the center of the room. Within seconds, his boots were off, his leather jacket was tossed on the armchair, his jeans and boxers lay on the carpet, and his T-shirt somehow ended up caught in the ceiling fan.
Ben fell asleep before his head even hit the pillow.
Maggie found that her steps were unusually bouncy as she hurried down the street. Normally her feet killed after a shift at the Olive, especially on Friday nights, but the only part of her body that ached was the spot between her legs.
I’m going to have sex.
She didn’t care if anyone thought she was pathetic. So what if her only source of sexual gratification was her infrequent trysts with Tony? She didn’t have the time or energy for a relationship.
Relationships required effort—the only effort she had to make with Tony was unzipping his jeans.
Relationships drained you—with Tony, she was only drained after the first or second orgasm.
And Tony never made demands on her, never monopolized her time or made her feel that being a workaholic was something horrific. He worked as hard as she did, which officially made him the perfect man to get involved with.