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Excerpt for A Little Luck by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

A Silver Cove Christmas



BEST OF LUCKa little luck

The Lucky Series

Jill Sanders

























This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Text copyright © 2018 Jill Sanders

Printed in the United States of America

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

Published by Grayton Press

ISBN-13: 978-1-942896-94-4

ISBN-10:







To the Haven Hotties and Hunks.
The best neighbors a person could ask for.

summary




There’s little Ashley wouldn’t do for a friend, but she hit her limit with Cole a long time ago. He’s always been “that” friend and couldn’t remember what life was like without him around. Until one day, two years ago, he’d left without telling anyone where or why. Now, he’s waltzed back into her life, and so much has changed. Including her feelings for him.

Cole has been deep undercover in one of the most dangerous remote locations that he’d forgotten what it was like to be around a beautiful woman. However, after being around Ashely again, he realizes just how much has changed between them. Going home was needed to keep his sanity since he’d had enough of always checking over his shoulder. The only problem, the danger may have followed him home.


Amber has only ever wanted one thing in life.

Other books by Jill Sanders


The Pride Series

Finding Pride

Discovering Pride

Returning Pride

Lasting Pride

Serving Pride

Red Hot Christmas

My Sweet Valentine

Return To Me

Rescue Me


The Secret Series

Secret Seduction

Secret Pleasure

Secret Guardian

Secret Passions

Secret Identity

Secret Sauce


The West Series

Loving Lauren

Taming Alex

Holding Haley

Missy’s Moment

Breaking Travis

Roping Ryan

Wild Bride

Corey’s Catch

Tessa’s Turn



The Grayton Series

Last Resort

Someday Beach

Rip Current

In Too Deep

Swept Away
High Tide


Lucky Series

Unlucky In Love

Sweet Resolve

Best of Luck

A Little Luck


Silver Cove Series

Silver Lining

French Kiss

Happy Accident
Hidden Charm
A Silver Cove Christmas


Entangled Series Paranormal Romance

The Awakening

The Beckoning

The Ascension


Haven Montana Series

Closer to You
Never Let Go


Follow Jill

Web: http://JillSanders.com

Twitter: @JillMSanders

FB: JillSandersBooks

To be a star. When that dream finally comes true, an old friend ends up getting in the way, and friendships may end up jeopardizing everything. Now in a time when privacy is a thing of her past, where paparazzi follow her every move, she’ll need to decide what’s more important to her, because it’s more than just her career on the line.

Tom has struggled for years with his feelings towards Amber, his best friend’s little sister. The woman has been driving him crazy since ... well, forever. Now that she’s on every TV set, every movie poster in the country, it’s even harder to avoid looking into those sexy blue eyes and not remembering her passion. Especially when she’ll be spending the next few months back in Denver filming her latest movie. This time, Tom may not be able to hold back the sparks that fly between them.




Prologue



Two years earlier ...


Why couldn’t she hold it together? Her eyes moved over to her sister and brother, who were standing a foot away from her. Aiden, her big brother, had one arm wrapped around his wife, Kristen. The other arm hung around Amber’s younger sister, Ashley. Ashley was going on her own journey in a few weeks to Paris, where she would spend a few months training under some of the best artists abroad. Now, however, her sister’s blue eyes, which matched Amber’s almost perfectly, were sad and full of tears.

“Are you sure you can’t postpone the trip until I leave?” her sister begged once again.

“No, sorry. The screen tests are in two days.” She walked over and wrapped her arms around her sister’s shoulders. Ashley was a few inches shorter than Amber. Their matching eyes were as far as their similarities went.

Amber was tall, thin, and curvy where it counted with long flowing blonde hair that curled just right. Ashley had more of an athletic build, with shorter straight flyaway hair. Amber and Ashley were as close as any two sisters could ever be. But they each had their own separate dreams. Ashley’s dream was to be a world-famous artist. So, she was heading out in a few weeks to attend school and live in a small flat along the Seine River and study under some of the best of the bests.

Amber’s dream had always been to be a famous actor. She’d always imagined seeing her name in bright Hollywood lights. Having her picture on the cover of magazines. Dating the rich and famous. Living in a mansion in the hills of Hollywood. So when she found out about the casting screen test for a new show that was sure to quickly become a hit, she’d pulled some money from her savings and bought a one-way ticket.

After all, if Ashley was going to follow her dreams, wasn’t it about time she did the same?

“Make sure to call us the moment you land,” Aiden said, running a hand up Kristen’s shoulder. Amber nodded, not trusting her voice to say anything else, then quickly hugged everyone and started walking towards the security gate. She looked back as her family melted into the growing crowd at Denver International Airport. The long lines at DIA were something she’d planned for, as was the lengthy good-bye from her family. Her parents had driven her there, quickly saying their good-byes in the drop-off lane outside as the snow fell softly over them. She’d known her brother and sister wouldn’t let her leave town without seeing her off, so their appearance just outside the security line had come as little surprise.

She was only a few feet away from her first security check when she heard her name being called. Glancing back, she held her breath as she watched Tom walk slowly towards her.

Thomas Albert Jr. had been her one and, to this day, only love of her life. He was everything Amber had ever dreamed of in a man. A true Adonis. But what had made the man top of everyone else in all her books was the very long history they had together.

Tom was, and had been, her brother Aiden’s best friend since ... well, before Amber had been born. Seeing as they were a good nine years’ age difference, she’d always dreamed that she’d been born for him. For him, and for becoming a star.

“What are you doing here?” She frowned at the bundle of small white daisies in his hands.

“I wanted to say I was sorry.” His blue eyes wouldn’t focus on hers. “About ...” He took a deep breath.

“Tom,” she interrupted. “I’m not sorry.” She bit her bottom lip. “I meant what I said.”

The memory of the night before flashed quickly in her mind.

She’d driven across town and shown up on Tom’s doorstep. It was a quarter past ten, and his lights had been off. She’d only prayed that he was alone before knocking on his door.

He’d answered in nothing but boxer briefs and a scowl on his lips.

“Amb ...” He’d blinked a few times, then shook his head. “What are you—?”

She didn’t let him finish. Instead, she’d thrown herself at him. “I love you,” she’d blurted out and kissed him like there was no tomorrow. Because in her mind, there wasn’t.

His hands wrapped around her hips, pulling her closer for just a moment. She’d enjoyed feeling what she did to him, pressed up against her hip. Enough so that she’d groaned with delight. The sound must have shaken him out of his stupor since he’d jerked her back a step, gripping her shoulders tightly.

“What?” He’d shaken his head once more. “What are you doing here?”

“Saying good-bye.” She’d held in her tears, but now they seemed to be just a blink away.

“Good-bye?” He’d frowned even more, and then pulled her into his dark condo. “Where are you going?”

“Hollywood. In the morning,” she said as he pushed her lightly into a chair and then turned on a lamp. She waited a moment to let her eyes adjust to the light. She’d always loved his condo. Just because his family had owned Albert’s fine furniture store for three generations hadn’t stopped Tom from filling his space with well-worn, comfortable items that fit his personality to a tee.

“Hollywood?” He sat beside her. “Does Aiden know?”

She laughed. “Of course.”

“What for?” he asked, running his hands over his face. “And for how long?”

“For a casting call for Timed, the new show on CBS.” She held her breath and then released it before blurting out, “For good.”

She watched as his eyebrows shot up. “You may not get the part.” He tilted his head and she could tell he was gearing up for the, ‘you could always come home’ lecture her brother and parents had given her.

“I signed a year lease.” She leaned back slightly. “I’m staying no matter what.”

He was silent. “This is sudden.”

She nodded, not trusting her voice.

“Does it have to do with—?”

“It has nothing to do with you. Or the fact that you’re getting married.” She didn’t let him finish.

He sighed. “I’m not—” Again, she jumped in.

“Terra is a very nice woman.” She blinked and avoided his stare. “I’m sure you two will be happy—” Before she could finish, he was pulling her onto the sofa, his mouth covering hers in a heated kiss.

“I don’t want Terra.” He growled next to her ear. “Damn it, Amber.” Her fingers dug into his hair until he yanked away. “Go,” he growled. “Before we cross a line and have your brother hunting me down.” He stood and walked to the windows.

“I don’t care what Aiden thinks. Or anyone for that matter,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest, feeling the cold of the night seep into her bones. The night chill was a sure sign there would be fresh snow on the ground when her plane took off tomorrow.

“I do.” He’d remained where he was. “Go,” he yelled it this time. She’d run from his place and had spent a sleepless night thinking about all the missed opportunities.

“I know,” Tom said now, shoving his empty hand into his jean pockets. “I didn’t want you to leave ... with things being weird between us.” He held out the flowers. “They’re your favorite.”

She smiled. They were. She just loved the simple white petals. “Thank you.” She buried her face in them and inhaled. Then her eyes met his.

“I’d hoped things would have been”—she sighed— “different between us.”

He nodded, his eyes still not focusing on hers. “As long as you are you ... and I am ...” He rolled his shoulders. “It can’t work.”

“Why? Because you’re my brother’s best friend?” The person behind her, a very tired-looking businessman, nudged her to move forward. She waved him ahead instead.

“That, and there’s too many years between us.” He ran his hand through his hair. “Hell, I remember the day you were born.”

“So?” she said, pushing her chin up.

“So”—he sighed— “so, it’s just not ... right.”

She rolled her eyes and let a young couple with two small kids pass her in line.

Tom’s eyes moved to the left. “You’d better go.” He nodded towards a security guard who was scowling in her direction.

“I have time.” She glanced down at her watch and gauged that if she ran to the underground train that would take her to her concourse, and then sprinted to her gate, she’d just make it.

“No”—he shook his head, then leaned in and placed a chaste kiss on her cheek— “you don’t.”

“Come on, buddy, you can do better than that,” someone said from behind them, causing her to laugh nervously.

“Well?” She tilted her head. “How about giving these people a show?” she whispered.

He closed his eyes for a moment. She could have sworn she’d seen desire flash behind his blue eyes a moment before. Then he opened them and it was gone. His hand came around her waist, pulling her closer. The nylon barrier trapped between them. When his mouth touched hers, she knew she’d never enjoy another man’s kiss the way she enjoyed his.

When his tongue parted her lips, she sighed and melted against his hard body. Her free hand pulled him closer as people cheered around them. The white flowers crushed between their bodies all but forgotten. When he stepped back, he leaned his forehead against hers for just a moment.

“Best of luck,” he whispered to her, just before turning and leaving her breathless, grasping the crushed daisies to her chest.

Chapter One



There was little Amber could do to fix the last five minutes. She rolled her shoulders and asked for a break. She’d come a long way since arriving in California. She’d been thrown into the big scary world of acting quickly after she’d stepped foot off the plane.

Sure, she’d tried out for the sitcom, but instead of landing that job, the director, Marcus Burgess, had quickly snatched her up for a role he was casting in a new movie, Unique Designs. She’d played best friend and supporting role to a top star in a comedy about friends who had started their own design company for cat and dog houses.

The role had been such a hit that she had been instantly flooded with more casting calls with which she’d known what to do. So, she’d hired one of the best agents in Hollywood and had taken the top role sent to her as lead in a science fiction movie, Anomalous. She’d moved out of her small studio apartment on Hollywood and Vine, and moved into an older, quaint home at the base of the hills.

She’d just wrapped up a few days of filming in Canada, when she’d been called back to Hollywood to try out for a new role. Another Marcus Burgess comedy due to start filming in Denver in the next month.

She jumped at the chance of returning home, and working with Marcus again. Marcus was easily one of her favorite people in Hollywood. Not only was the man one of the best-looking directors, he was also kind and very likable.

While filming Unique Designs, they had quickly grown close to one another. They often spent their lunch breaks together, laughing and joking about everything and anything.

So when she learned she’d gotten the lead in this new comedy, Roommates, she’d spent the next couple of weeks preparing for the role and more importantly, preparing to return home.

Her sister, Ashley, had enjoyed her time in Paris for the most part. Still, she could tell in their video chats that something was missing in her sister’s life. Something she had every intention of talking to her about. In person. Once she was settled back in town for the duration of filming.

She’d rented a condo downtown for the next six months. Since most of the filming would be on the streets of Denver, she figured it would be easier to be in the heart of Denver rather than shuttling back and forth each day from her parent’s place in Golden.

It had taken a while for her to become accustomed to having her picture taken, but she still got excited when she saw her face on the cover of magazines or in newspapers. Her time had been too busy for her to clip each article out, so she had instead piled the magazines into a spare room. With the hopes of one day having enough time to go through everything.

Still, when she stepped off the plane in Denver and made her way through the security area, she made sure to smile and wave for the cameras, then quickly ditched the paparazzi and met her family in the baggage area. Her sister’s hair had grown longer, and she could have sworn Ashley had lost five pounds, something she wasn’t happy to see.

Aiden looked the same—only, his smile had grown bigger since Kristen was now huge. Due to deliver Amber’s first nephew or niece in only two months. Since they had wanted to be surprised about the sex of their firstborn, everyone else was left in the dark about it as well. Which was killing Amber.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” Ashley kept saying as they drove away from DIA. “I mean”—she shook her head— “we thought it would take an act of God to get you back home.”

“That or the right role,” Aiden said under his breath.

“What?” she said, glancing at him from the backseat.

He just winked back at her and reached for his wife’s hand. “We’re happy to have you back home,” he added.

“I’m happy to be back.” She glanced around at the fall colors and took a deep breath. Fall was her favorite season in Colorado. It wasn’t the same in California, or even in Canada for that matter. Nothing was the same as home.

“So, tell me what’s new.” She turned slightly to her sister.

“Well, you know about ‘Thing One’ coming in a few months.” She nodded to Kristen, who just chuckled back at her as she rubbed her belly.

“Yes, and still”—she nudged her brother— “no word on the gender?”

“Nope, if they know, they’re keeping it a big secret.” Ashley frowned.

“What else?” She rolled her shoulders and relaxed back into the backseat as her brother drove them towards the mountains and the city.

“Well, Amy and Logan bought a place, a bigger place in Golden. Just down the street from mom and dad.”

“Cool,” she said absently. Kristen’s best friend, Amy, and her husband, Logan, had become honorary members of their family a few years back, when Kristen had literally become part of their family. Her mind was focused on one person in particular, but she didn’t want to seem too anxious to ask.

“I still haven’t heard from Cole.” Her sister frowned, and Amber reached over to take her hand. Cole had been Ashley’s best friend since grade school. Shortly before Amber went to California, Cole had disappeared. Which, in Amber’s mind, had been the only reason Ashley had hightailed it to Paris in the first place.

“I’m sorry. I’m sure he’ll surface soon. He’s probably finding himself.” She’d known plenty of guys like Cole. He’d been a self-centered jerk who couldn’t see that his best friend had loved him from the moment they met. But she supported her sister and knew that someday, somehow, things would work out okay for them both. “Anything else?”

“Oh, yeah, Tommy bought another building on sixth and has opened two more stores.”

She felt her heart kick in her chest. “How’s Terra?”

Ashley’s shoulders raised and fell. “How should I know? I haven’t seen the woman since before I went to Paris.”

Amber’s eyes met Aiden’s in the rearview mirror.

“Terra left Tom shortly after you left. Ran off with her boss. There was a big scandal, since the guy was married to the mayor’s niece at the time.”

Amber’s heartbeat tripled in speed. Tom wasn’t married. For the past two years, she’d lived her life as if part of her would never breathe again. She’d been too busy to spend too much time chatting with her family, and had gotten little information from her brother on the subject of his best friend. In all honesty, she’d been too afraid to ask. Ashley had gossiped about so many things, Amber tuned her out, especially since none of them had been about Tom.

“That’s ... too bad,” she said, causing Ashley to nudge her.

“Do you still have a thing for him?” her sister leaned close and whispered.

“Shut up,” she said back between clinched teeth.

“Later.” Her sister narrowed her eyes.

Instead of driving her to her new condo, her brother took them into Golden with the excuse of having dinner with her family. But when she walked into her parent’s place, she was greeted with a loud “surprise” as a large group of old friends and family members jumped out at her.

Her eyes scanned the crowd and landed on Tom.

***

Tom didn’t know how he’d let Aiden talk him into coming to Amber’s welcome home party. Maybe, if he wanted to be truthful with himself, his friend didn’t have to try all that hard. After all, Tom had always had a soft spot for Amber. And if he was being totally honest with himself, he’d admit to the infatuation, but ... he wasn’t being truthful at the moment.

That was, until he saw her walk in. Suddenly all of the air left the room, leaving only staleness and heat. He could have sworn even his hearing had left him as his vision narrowed, until all he could see, was her. Her smile, her eyes, just her. What in the hell was he supposed to do with that?

So, he did what any man would have done. He spent the next hour trying to hide in a corner and brood about anything and everything. Several of his friends tried to strike up conversations with him, but he’d only sipped on his beer and shrugged his shoulders every time someone asked him something. Naturally, after several times, he’d been left alone. Even Ashley tried to talk to him, but then she faked a phone call and left him alone.

“Are you going to just stand in the corner and glare at everyone all night?” He hadn’t seen or heard her approach, but suddenly he’d been surrounded by her soft voice and sexy scent.

He turned and noticed her leaning against the doorframe less than a foot away. He shrugged once more and started to turn away.

“Is that how you greet an old friend?” She crossed her arms over her chest and he had to tear his eyes away from what the slight motion had done to her shirt and her perfect breasts. When he didn’t respond, she moved closer to him. “I’m sorry to hear about Terra.”

He blinked a few times, then turned to her. He’d put all of that mess behind him. Honestly, he was better off after she’d left. They had fought a lot more often as their wedding date approached. He couldn’t even remember anymore why he’d proposed to her in the first place. She’d kept the diamond ring he’d given her, and he was thankful he’d kept his grandmother’s bracelet in the safe, where it belonged.

“It’s okay,” he said, taking another sip of his warm beer. Then he turned back to her. “I saw a picture of you and—”

She rolled her eyes. “Yeah, I saw it too, and before you ask, no, we are not dating. It was for a promo shoot.”

He nodded. “Cool.” He couldn’t imagine her having a thing for the sexy dancer whose name and face had been in all the tabloids recently after he’d been caught cheating on his wife of five years.

“I suppose that happens to you all the time.” He turned slightly towards her again.

She nodded, then took his beer from his hands and swallowed the rest of it down. “Your beer is warm.”

“And gone,” he added with a smile.

“So, there’s more on the back deck.” She nodded towards the opened door a few feet away. He shrugged and followed her out the doorway.

When they stepped out into the cool night, he realized they were the only ones on the deck and thought about making a run for it. He didn’t think he could trust himself not to make a fool of himself in front of her. So, he did the next best thing and tried to remain quiet. After he grabbed a cold beer, he popped the top and handed it to her, then opened another and started downing it himself.

“Ashley told me you’ve opened a couple more stores,” she said, walking over and sitting down in her parent’s deck swing. Since he didn’t want to be rude when she patted the spot next to her, he walked over and sat down.

“Yeah, one in Aurora and another in Arvada.” He took another drink of the cold beer. The evenings were still warm enough that he felt a bead of sweat drip down between his shoulder blades. Or maybe it was being so close to her that had his body sweating?

She leaned slightly against his shoulder and sighed. “I’ve missed this.”

He glanced down at her with a slight frown. “What?”

“The smell of fall in the mountains.” She pushed the swing until they were swaying slightly. “The quiet.” She sighed and laid her head on his shoulder.

He didn’t remember putting his arm around her shoulders, or pulling her closer as they sat and looked up at the dark sky filled with stars. But when the back door opened and the light from inside washed over them, he jumped slightly at the sound of Aiden’s voice.

Dropping his arm, he scooted away from Amber as his friend approached.

“There you are. A group of your friends from the Buell Theatre are leaving.” He rolled his eyes. “They say that call time is early and they have to get their beauty rest.”

Amber smiled. “God, I remember those days.” She sighed and he got the impression that she actually missed those days as well. How many early morning call times had she shown up for? Too many to remember.

After she walked inside, Aiden took her spot and opened a beer. “Nice night,” his friend said, leaning back and glancing up at the sky.

“Yup.” He took another sip of his beer and waited for his friend to threaten him with castration if he ever got near his sister again. But, instead, they sat in silence for a while until Ann—Aiden, Amber, and Ashley’s mother—walked out.

“Oh, Tommy, there you are. I was hoping to introduce you to—”

Aiden interrupted his mother. “Mom, don’t.”

Ann put her hands on her hips and glared at her son. “Mind your own business, I’m just—”

“Not minding yours,” Aiden added, under his breath. Earning him another glare from his mother.

“Trying to help a friend out,” she finished. “Marcie works with Amy and doesn’t know anyone here. I was hoping you might introduce her to a few people.”

“Yeah, and give her a wedding ring in a few months,” Aiden joked as he took another swig of his beer.

“Well really, Aiden, just because you’re still floating in marital bliss, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help a friend out.” Ann walked over and took Tom’s hands, pulling him up.

He could remember the first time he’d met Ann. He’d been five and a half. His mother had brought him over to Aiden’s house for a playdate. Tom hadn’t minded what his mother called it, as long as Aiden had those cool trucks he’d brought to school the day before. He did, and naturally, Tom and Aiden became best friends. Their friendship outlasted Aiden’s parents’ marriage, his parents’ marriage, and their mother’s friendship.

However, when Aiden, several years back, had caught him ogling his sister, he’d warned Tom, who instantly backed off. Well, he’d tried to back off. It wasn’t really his fault; Amber was the one that had made all the moves. Okay, to be honest, all but one.

Prologue



Two years earlier ...


Why couldn’t she hold it together? Her eyes moved over to her sister and brother, who were











Chapter One


Almost twenty-two years later

Crystal laughed as her granddaughter, Aurora, tried to scoot her chubby body towards her.

“You can do it,” she encouraged the almost seven-month-old. Chapter Two





When she finally had a chance to talk to Tom again, it was only to say a brief good-bye as her brother pulled her towards the doorway several hours later.

“Morning comes really early and some of us have real jobs.” He took her arm and waved to the almost empty room.

To be honest, she was thankful Aiden had suggested they leave. Her head felt dull and she wished she were one of those people on a plane that could nap peacefully, gently rocked to sleep by the sound of the engines. Even in her first-class seat, she’d had a hard time trying to relax.

She glanced once more in Tom’s direction, but instead of catching his eye, she watched a pretty brunette walk over and wrap her arm around his. Tom, for his part, glanced down at the woman and gave her one of his, hey, there you are—I was just looking for you, sexy smiles. Amber’s heart dropped in her chest. Her eyes fixated on the floor as her brother pulled her around the room saying good-byes.

She hadn’t realized Aiden had pulled her in front of Tom and the brunette until she heard Tom’s voice. Her eyes moved up and caught his, briefly.

She believed that she was a good actress. After all, she worked very hard to become so. But, it didn’t matter how many hours she’d spent in front of mirrors practicing her “looks” or countless nights on stage in front of audiences, she couldn’t have forced the hurt from her eyes as she watched the woman cling to Tom in front of her.

“Good night, Amber.” Tom smiled at her like it was perfectly normal to have the woman cling to him.

“Night.” She glanced quickly over at the woman, whose smile only grew even more.

She didn’t get a chance to say anything else because her brother pulled her across the room towards the door.

“Thank god that’s over.” Aiden sighed as they settled in the car.

“Is Kristen coming?” She glanced back as Aiden pulled out.

“No, Ashley took her home about an hour ago.” He smiled over at her. “She gets tired really easy now.” She could see the pride and love in her brother’s eyes, and felt a twinge of jealousy surface. Turning her eyes away from her brother’s happiness, she glanced out the window into the darkness.

“Who was the brunette in the green?” she asked before she lost her nerve.

“Who?” Her brother turned onto the highway and she settled back in the seat a little more.

“The woman who was with Tom.” She held her breath.

Her brother’s silence caused her to glance over at him.

“Marcie. She works with Amy.” Aiden was now frowning as he drove. She knew instantly what was bothering her brother.

“It was just a question.” She shifted slightly to get a better look at him. Then crossed her arms over her chest when he remained quiet. “Why do you have such an aversion to—?”

“What?” He glanced over at her. “To my best friend messing with my little sister?”

She chuckled. “Really, Aiden. I’m twenty-three years old.”

“And Tom is thirty.” He glared at her.

“Just ...” She shrugged, then turned away. “There’s an age difference between you and Kristen.”

“Two years.” His voice rose slightly.

“Lots of people have years between—”

“He’s my best friend.” He almost growled it. “There’s a code.”

She laughed even harder. “Men and their testosterone.” She rolled her eyes. “It’s not like I have to ask your permission—”

“No, but Tom knows better ...” He pulled off the highway and she enjoyed the lights of the city as they drove down the wide streets.

She’d missed Denver. She’d spent most of her life here, downtown. She’d gotten her first acting part at the tender age of thirteen at the Buell Theater downtown. From there, things had moved quickly. She’d filled her time with everything from dance classes to acting classes to speech classes—even to kickboxing classes to fill one role. She’d lived, eaten, breathed, in the theater. When she’d finally graduated school, she’d moved into a small flat with a few other actresses. She didn’t mind that the four ladies had to share a bathroom, or that the microwave had burned out before she’d moved in.

What had mattered most to her was being on stage. She’d forgone the life of a normal teen girl. She’d missed all her school dances, football games, and sometimes, even classes themselves. Her grades had suffered, slightly. But a few things had remained steady. Her love for acting, her family, and her feelings for Tom.

“You made your choice.” Aiden broke into her thoughts. “Hollywood,” he answered when she glanced at him with question. “Tom has made his. He didn’t take, taking over his father’s business after he died, lightly. It was a struggle for him for the first few years.”

“I remember.” She thought back to the months after Tom’s father had died on the floor of his upscale furniture store. She remembered seeing how it had affected Tom. She’d never lost a parent, but had felt her own heart break for him.

“He’s landlocked here.” Aiden pulled into the parking garage of her new building and pulled to a stop by the doors. “You’re a butterfly now.”

She smiled at her brother’s old joke. He’d always called her a caterpillar when she was younger. She didn’t want to ask him when he thought she’d gone through her cocoon stage.

“You’re meant to flutter in the wind and shine. I’m glad you’re home, but I would be fooling myself to think that you plan on staying for too long,” he said and reached over to brush a tear from her face. She hadn’t known she’d been crying. “And don’t let anyone ask it of you. It would break you.” His smile faded slightly.

“I love you.” She smiled over at her brother. She leaned in and sighed when his arms wrapped around her. “Now, go home and take care of your wife.” She pulled back. “I bet she’d appreciate a stop at the store for a pint of her favorite ice cream.”

He laughed and nodded. “The freezer is already stocked.” He sighed and tugged on her hair. “I’ll see you later this week.”

She nodded. Then got out.

“Do you need help?” He started to get out, but she stopped him.

“No, most of my things were delivered yesterday. I just have this suitcase.” She patted the small carry-on and the other bag on rollers. “I hate traveling heavy.”

He nodded. “Night, sis.”

“Night.” She turned and knew he would wait until she was safe in the building before driving away.

As she took the elevator up to the top floor, she closed her eyes and wondered why California was short on men like her brother.

Stepping into the place she would call home for the next six months was an eye-opener. The last time she’d been in Denver, she’d been crammed into a room with three other roommates. Not only had the microwave not been working, but when they flushed the toilet, the shower made noises and shook. And there were more cockroaches than cracked tiles on the floor. But, she’d loved every minute of it. Now, she stepped into the massive condo and sighed. The place was gorgeous.

A wall of ceiling-to-floor windows looked out to the city. She knew that in the daylight the mountains would be visible as well. The furniture was a little more modern than her liking, but of the best quality.

Walking over, she flipped a switch and had the gas fireplace turning on. Leaving her bags by the sofa, she walked over to the windows and sighed as she looked out. The place felt empty. She missed her small apartment and noisy roommates.

Closing her eyes, she thought about what the next few months would hold for her. Shooting didn’t start until later next week. Which meant she had a few days to finish the script and memorize her lines. She had a hair appointment early Tuesday since the role called for her hair to be a few shades lighter. There were meetings with wardrobe fittings and meetings with the new makeup artist. All of this was followed up with dinner with Marcus on Friday.

Turning away from the lights of the city, she headed into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Everything she’d requested was there. Pulling out a water, she sipped on it as she familiarized herself with the place. There was a small balcony off the living room, but the real gem had been the rooftop private swimming pool. She stepped out the door off the kitchen and enjoyed the smell of chlorine and the crystal-clear blue water in the pool. She couldn’t wait to dive in first thing in the morning, a ritual she’d become accustomed to over the last two years.

Walking back inside, she found three smaller bedrooms, an office that she doubted she would use, and the master bedroom. Once again, ceiling-to-floor windows looked out to the city. Long thick drapes hung open and a massive television hung in one corner of the room. The massive bed was covered with the new sheets and comforter she’d picked out. Large plants sat in the corners of the room. Walking over, she ran a finger down the green leaves and smiled. Then turned towards the bathroom and smiled.

She loved the older French style. Everything in the condo was modern, except here. The classic marble tub sat in the middle of the room, with another gas fireplace next to it. There was a massive shower with glass walls and a whole wall covered in a low marble seat.

Instead of windows here in the bathroom, mirrors covered from the ceiling to the marble floors.

She had plenty of space to work with here. Walking into the massive closet, she ran her fingers over her clothing, which had been delivered and arranged by color.

She shook her head remembering she’d arrived in California with only two small bags of items. Now, she had three large trunks of just shoes themselves. She turned away, pulled off her clothes, and stepped into the glass shower to rinse off the travel smell.

She couldn’t have stopped her mind from wandering towards Tom if she’d wanted. He’d been the only constant thing in her dreams. So, what if her hands slowed as she ran them over her body. When her eyes closed, all she could remember was the one beautiful night they had been together. So many years ago. Too many. Her fingers moved as she replayed that night over in her mind. The only night she’d let a man touch her. The night Tom had taken her virginity and she’d fallen helplessly in love with him.

***

Tom woke from the dream feeling frustrated and hard as hell. Running his hand over his face, he tugged lightly on his hair before dropping his hand and reaching for the light. It had been years since the last time he’d had that dream. Years. Actually, it was when he’d seen Amber.

Lying back on the bed, he stared up at the ceiling and groaned as the image of her naked body flashed in his mind. Why the hell had he touched her in the first place? Hadn’t he known she’d wreak him? She’d been so damn ... irresistible.

It had been the one time he’d made the move. There had been nothing he could have done to stop himself.

Everyone he knew and everyone she had known, had been in downtown Denver, celebrating her lead role in a play. It was opening night and it had been a huge success. So huge that she’d been called back seven times for curtain call. She’d been the belle of the ball.

After, Aiden had invited him along with some friends to go out and celebrate. He should have said no. But his friend was having none of it. They ended up getting a limo and hopping from club to club. At one point, Amber and he had been separated from the group. They’d ended up in a back booth at a club, talking while everyone else drank and danced.

He remembered that Amber hadn’t drank much. She hadn’t been twenty-one yet, but her friends had bought her a drink— he’d actually only seen her milking the one drink the entire time. For his part, he’d downed two beers and had been sipping his third one slowly.

She’d worn this sexy red top that had no back to it. Like at all. There was almost a foot of snow outside, and her entire back was exposed to the chill. The small leather skirt she had on barely covered anything more. Her red, heeled boots looked sexy as hell, but he’d had to help her through the snow several times. She’d only laughed and clung to him, making him wonder if she’d dressed like that on purpose. Just for him.

They sat in the back booth, talking about her hopes and dreams; then she’d asked him about his. Maybe it had been the beer talking, but he’d opened up to her that night. He told her how he had wanted more than anything to settle down, raise a handful of kids, and enjoy growing old with someone. He’d been a complete dork.

But instead of laughing at him, she’d bitten her bottom lip and looked at him with those sexy blue eyes like she totally understood.

When everyone started heading out on their own, somehow he’d been talked into taking Amber home. Then, when they’d entered the cab, somehow she’d ended up in his lap, plastered to him as he barked out his own address instead of hers to the cab driver.

His hands had roamed over every inch of her sexy body, warming her cool skin with his until just the touch of her burned him. They hadn’t come up for air until he’d felt the car stop moving.

Then his mind had cleared. For only a moment. Until she’d pushed those perfect breasts in his face and purred to take her upstairs. His stupid body had complied, leaving his mind outside in the snow.

Still, it was he who led her inside his place. He who slowly peeled those sexy clothes from her body. He who had enjoyed running his hands over every part of her soft skin. Until she’d clawed him, pulling him closer as she wrapped her body around his.

He lay in his bed now and grew hard just remembering the smell of her in his bed. Her sweet scent had lasted for days, until he’d finally had to toss his sheets into the wash. He closed his eyes now and remembered how having her in his bed felt.

He’d guessed she’d been a virgin, so he was thankful his mind had cleared enough to slow down. To take the time to warm her up, until she’d screamed his name several times as his mouth had covered her sweet pussy, his fingers buried deep inside her warmth. When he’d finally taken her, she’d only moaned his name as he’d entered her.

He groaned remembering how that next morning he’d woken with her wrapped around him. Gloriously naked, lying half on him. Her soft legs had been draped over his. She’d woken him with kisses and they had ended up making love once again before reality snuck up on him.

He’d quickly apologized and rushed into a lecture of how it was a mistake. How it couldn’t go on. How they had to keep it a secret. Which was the easiest part of letting her go that morning.

Without knowing it, he was touching himself now, thinking about how sweet she’d felt. How much he wanted her again. He’d been in several serious relationships. The last being Terra, and he’d been devastated when he’d found the text messages that she’d been cheating on him the week before their wedding date. But not as devastated as when he’d watched Amber get onto that plane two years ago.

There was no way in hell he was ever going to tell Aiden what they had done.

He rolled out of bed and decided a cold shower was just what he needed. When he stepped out of the shower, his cell phone rang and he almost slipped on the wet tile to grab it in time. Seeing the name, he groaned slightly.

“Hello, Gran.” He leaned back against the countertop and wondered what it would be today.

“There you are, son.” His grandmother’s voice almost echoed in his ear. The woman wasn’t deaf, but spoke loudly enough on the phone to wake the dead. Something he’d always noticed about her. Maybe after all these centuries, she still wasn’t used to talking over the phone. “I heard our girl is back in town.” His heart skipped at the mention of Amber. His gran had always had a soft spot for Amber. “So my question is to you—why wasn’t I invited to the party last night?”

His chin dropped. “How did you?” he started, only stopping when his gran’s laughter interrupted him.

“Haven’t seen the morning paper yet have you?”

He shook his head, then sighed. “Nope, not yet.” He walked—towel wrapped around his waist—and opened his front door, then pulled the paper inside, and shut the door to the morning chill.

“Well, I’ll let you enjoy reading the article. Next time, invite an old woman along. Oh, and Tommy, I’ll see you for lunch today.”

“Yes, Gran.” He hung up and flipped open the paper and gasped. There, on the cover of the paper were he and Amber, snuggling together on the back-porch swing. If he hadn’t known any better, he would have sworn they were moments away from kissing. The headline read, “Who is Amber Scott’s new beau?”

Chapter Three





Her scalp was burning and her eyes watering so much she was sure her mascara was rolling down her cheeks. Still, the heat from the dryer helped cool the burning somehow. She flipped another page of a magazine and saw yet another image of herself on its pages. Tossing it, she picked up her cell phone and decided a game of Angry Birds was just what she needed. Spending the next fifteen minutes flinging small birds into the air helped calm her.

It was normal having her picture in the paper, but she’d never had someone stalk her and snap a picture of her in a private moment. Especially one with Tom.

She closed her eyes just as she felt her phone vibrate in her hands. Glancing at the screen, she smiled at a message from Barbara. She’d met Barbara shortly after she’d started filming Unique Designs. She’d been invited to a Christmas dinner party thrown by Marcus and had run into the woman, who had quickly become one of her best friends in California.

Barbara was almost her complete opposite in not only looks, but in everything else. Barbara had a wonderful talent in the kitchen that rivaled that of the best chef. Amber usually burned toast. Barbara had shorter, thick red hair of which even Amber was jealous. The woman was warm and friendly to everyone she came across. Amber was, at the time, too shy and intimidated to be considered friendly to most.

Barbara helped her feel more welcome than even Marcus had. Actually, it was because of her friendship with Barbara that allowed for her and Marcus to get so close.

“Did you get my surprise?”

“Yes, OMG, I can’t believe you had them delivered! Thank you!”

Just that morning a basket with chocolate and salted caramel parfaits had been delivered. Her favorite Barbara-designed dessert. She’d been in pure heaven.

“How’s it going?”

“Getting my hair dyed.”

“Red?”

“Ha ha, nope, blonder.”

“Too bad—someday you’ll join us gingers.”

“Red would wash my skin tones out, or so George, my current hair designer tells me.”

“Everyone here says hi.”

“Hi back. Tell Ramon I bought him a new tie.”

“He’ll love it.”

“Gotta go—George is coming over and I think it’s time he took off the tinfoil so I don’t start picking up alien chatter.”

“Ha ha, okay, love ya, sweetie.”

“Bye.”

She set her phone down as a very sour-looking George walked over to her. For the next hour, her hair was washed, conditioned, and styled. She always felt content after having her hair done and decided to head back to the condo to finish off the last of the parfait she’d saved.

When she stepped out, however, she was bombarded with camera flashes and a million questions.

“Who’s your new mystery man?” someone yelled as she raced towards her rental. She hadn’t had time to decide if the media should know about Tom yet or not. Not until she talked to Tom himself.

So instead of heading home, she flipped around and headed towards Albert’s Furniture store, the flagship building. The store Tom’s grandfather had built and named after himself. She knew Tom had an office there and, unless things had changed in the past two years, she guessed he would be there at this time of day.

When she pulled into the parking lot, she had second thoughts about going inside. She sat in her car for so long, she wondered if she would have the nerve. Just as she was about to reach for the door handle, a knock on her window made her jump.

Tom smiled down at her, his eyebrows raised slightly. “Were you going to sit in the car all day?” he asked through the glass.

“No,” she said back, then sighed and pushed the door open. He reached a hand in and helped her out. She felt her hand shake when their skin touched. “I was”—she looked for any excuse, but came up with nothing, so shut her mouth instead.

“Debating to come in and face the music?” he suggested, tucking his hands into his slacks.

She nodded quickly. “I don’t know how ...” She raised her chin. “Obviously there was a leak ...”

He smiled. “Come on in.” He nodded towards the store. “We can talk in my office.”

She followed him inside. But instead of following him up to the office, she stopped at the beautiful sofa and ran her fingers over the material. “Wow, where did this come from?”

“Italy.” He watched her sit down on the soft leather.

“How much?” She glanced up at him.

“Ten grand,” he said after looking up the price. “There’s a chair and table that match.” Then his eyes narrowed at her. “Aren’t you renting?”

She shrugged, not answering him. “Doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy having something wonderful to sit on while I’m here.” She ran her hand over the leather again. Then nodded. “Can you have the old one hauled away?”

“We can put it in storage until you’re done.”

“Done?” She shook her head. “I have full rights to replace anything in the condo.”

He shrugged. “It’s up to you.”

She smiled and got up. Then motioned for him to lead the way up to his office. Even though she knew exactly where it was and had been in it more times than she could count.

Once inside his office, she moved over and sat in one of the high-back leather chairs directly across from his grandfather’s—then his father’s and now his—larger desk. He shut the door behind him, then instead of sitting behind the massive desk, stopped in front of her and leaned against the front of it.

“I bet that happens to you a lot.”

She sighed and leaned back, crossing her arms over her lap. “More than I care to count.”

“I like your hair,” he said, his eyes roaming over her. She felt her body heat everywhere his eyes focused.

“Thanks, it’s for the part.”

He nodded slightly. “So, what usually happens?”

She arched her eyebrows at his question.

“How long before it dies down?”

She shook her head slightly. She’d been so caught up in his blue eyes that she’d forgotten about what they had been talking.

He chuckled lightly. “The paper?” He reached behind him and held up the front page. The image of them on the cover. It had been a whole day since she’d seen the cover. Standing, she moved over and took the paper from him, and walked to the window as she scanned the image. It was a really great picture of him. Of them.

“That’s why I’m here.” She turned and held it up for him. “They won’t stop until they find out who you are. I’m surprised they haven’t already figured it out.”

He nodded quickly. “I’ve started receiving calls already.”

“From?”

“The magazines. Wanting an exclusive on ... our relationship.” He sighed and ran his hand through his hair, messing up the blond tresses.

“And?” She waited.

“I told them you were an old family friend,” he said.

She chuckled, then tapped his paper. “Does that look like we are just old family friends?”

She leaned against his desk, next to him. His eyes were on the image and she heard him sigh.

“No,” she thought he said softly.

“So, where do we go from here?” she asked as their shoulders brushed. At the light touch, he jerked away and started pacing.

“Nowhere.” He tossed the paper down into a chair. Then stopped and looked at her. “Have you talked to Aiden?”

Her eyebrows rose. “Why would I?”

He glanced over at the paper again.

“He wasn’t in the shot,” she reminded him, causing him to roll his eyes at her. “Nor does he have anything to do with my private life.” She moved closer to him until she was a breath away.

His hands moved up to her shoulders, holding her a few steps away from him. “I’m not up for playtime,” he warned.

“Who said I was?”

Once again, he looked towards the paper. She’d read the article. The man who’d written it was one of the worst. He’d done nothing but try to tear her career and her life down since she’d stepped foot in California. She’d never met the guy personally and had given up wondering why he had a grudge out for her shortly after the tenth article he’d published defaming her. After all, it was the man’s job to make stuff up about the rich and the famous. Shouldn’t she count herself lucky that she was now in that status?

“Don’t believe everything you read.” It came out as a whisper. “You’ve known me long enough. Do you believe everything that’s been printed about me?”

He sighed and once again, ran his fingers through his hair. Then shook his head. Their eyes met and she moved closer since he’d dropped his hands.

“Tom, I don’t play games,” she said, taking another step.

Her heartbeat almost drowned out his response— “Neither do I”—before his hands pulled her closer and his lips were on hers.

***

What the hell was he doing? He started to push back, but her fingers were tangled in his hair, holding him to her sweet mouth. Just the taste of her was driving him crazy. Then her body pushed against his and he lost the ability to think. His hands pulled her closer as they traveled over those sexy hips of hers. Her perfect breasts pushed up against his chest and could almost feel each beat of her heart against his own. All of his blood drained into his pants, causing him to jerk and push closer. Then he was pushing her against his desk. He heard a couple things hit the floor and roll around, but didn’t stop—until his hands moved and pushed fabric—until he felt soft skin.

She moaned into his mouth and rolled her head back, exposing her long neck for his taste. Just as he was pushing her shirt up, and getting ready to yank it over her head, he heard footsteps outside his door and pulled back just as a knock sounded.

Taking a few quick breaths, he called out to hang on a moment. His eyes met hers and he could tell she was trying to get herself back in control like he was.

“Sit,” he said softly, then walked around the desk and sat down himself, mostly to hide what she’d done to him from whoever was interrupting them.

“Come in,” he said, picking up a stack of papers. Then his chin dropped as Aiden walked in.

Amber’s brother took one look at his sister in the chair across from him and Tom watched his friends eyes narrow.

“Amber,” Aiden said, tilting his head. “I guess I should have expected you to be here.” He tossed another paper down onto Tom’s desk and Tom felt his heart kick up for another reason.

Before he had a chance to explain, Amber jumped up from her spot and leaned against his desk. “Tom and I were just discussing our next step.”

“Your”—his eyes went between them— “next step?” Aiden ran his hands through his hair, much like Tom had just done. It was a habit the friends had shared since childhood. Tom knew exactly what the motion meant. Jumping up himself, he moved around the desk and held out his hands.

“You were there—” he started to say, only to come up short when Aiden’s fist connected to his jaw. Amber screamed and flung herself at her brother. There was one thing he could say about Amber—she knew how to fight back.

She pushed Aiden until he was back against the wall. She knew, of course, that Aiden would never lift a finger to any woman, especially not his sister. “He had no right. Is the article true?”

Tom cringed. If Aiden believed everything in the paper, then he was doomed.

“No”—it was Amber who spoke— “that jerk Ryder Sterlington has had it out for me since I stepped foot in Hollywood. He’s been printing lies about me. He actually wrote one piece that said I had a child while I was in Canada shooting my last movie.” She laughed, and Tom could see Aiden relax slightly.