Authors: Lisa Desrochers
for making this into the book I thought I wrote.
S ALWAYS, MY
most heartfelt gratitude goes to you, my fabulous readers, for investing yourselves in my poor, tormented characters. I can truly say that I love my job, and it’s only because of you that I can do what I do. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I dedicated this book to my brilliant editor, Amanda Bergeron, who pulled the story out of the pit of darkness it started in and made it into something you might enjoy reading. I am so honored that she decided Hilary and I were worth the effort. The day my agent sent my manuscript to Amanda was the luckiest day of my life.
And speaking of my omnipotent uber-agent, Suzie Townsend, as always, I owe everything to her tireless efforts on my behalf. She’s blown away every hope and expectation I could have had for an agent, and has become someone I consider a friend. There aren’t words to thank her adequately for everything she’s done for me.
There’s also a village that needs thanking. Everyone behind the scenes at New Leaf Literary and HarperCollins—including, but not limited to, Jo Volpe, Kathleen Ortiz, Pouya Shahbazian, Jaida Temperly, Danielle Barthel, Abigail Tyson, and Dana Trombley—has put in countless hours to get Hilary’s story out into the world, and I owe them my deepest gratitude. And the William Morrow Art Department are some of my favorite people! Thanks for the awesome covers!
To my crit partner, Kody Keplinger, smooches! Love you, girl! Thanks also to Ingrid Paulson for steering me toward some amazing NA books, and for helping to smooth over some lumps in this one.
My family is my greatest source of inspiration. Without their support, I never would be able to do what I do. If I could have hand chosen who I’m related to, I would have picked each and every one of you. Love you. And a special thanks to my nephews for their Minecraft expertise.
And, as always, because my muse is a wannabe rock star, I need to send a shout-out to the musical inspiration for this book. Hilary and Alessandro are very complex characters, and there are several songs that shaped them, but the one that most embodies Hilary is Pink’s “Just Give Me a Reason.” Alessandro evolves over the course of the first two books in this series, but his song throughout is Creed’s “My Sacrifice,” which Hilary chooses as his ringtone.
E FAKE BLONDE
with the fake lips and the fake double Ds is glaring at me. Hell, I’d be glaring at me too if I could. I can’t believe I screwed that up.
But I did.
I always do.
The only auditions I can get without an agent are for off-off-Broadway musicals. That’s because the only thing on my resume is
, where I made it all the way to Hollywood Week three years ago. Unfortunately for me, I can’t dance . . . which is a problem unless you’re playing a paraplegic or something, so I’m basically screwed.
was worse than usual. Christ, I actually knocked that girl over.
In my defense, she was screwing up almost as much as I was. If she were where she belonged, I wouldn’t have run her down. But . . .
I pull my gaze away from the deathbeam of Blondie’s glare and glance at the casting director, flitting around up front like she’s all that. She’s never acted a single part on Broadway, and yet here she is, my judge and jury.
Brett’s worked with her before. Says she’s pretty cool. He told me he’d talk to her—put in a good word. But he came in halfway through the audition, plunked down in the back row, and hasn’t budged since. I really only noticed his arrival because of the burst of pheromones up front and the estrogen shuffle that followed. All of a sudden, all the girls onstage were adjusting their cleavages and fluffing their hair. But I never saw him even look our direction. And he never went up front.
I look up at him now and force myself to breathe. He’s texting, looks like, and clearly has no intention of saying anything to anybody.
A flicker of annoyance starts in my gut, but it’s snuffed out cold by nerves when Casting Director Chick approaches the stage. She looks up at us and claps her hands twice to get our attention.
“Okay . . .” she says loudly, then pulls her iPad out from under her arm and glances at it. “Numbers one, two . . . seven, ten, twelve . . . fifteen, sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, twenty, and twenty-one: I need you to sit tight. We’ll do the number again in five. The rest of you, thank you for auditioning. You’re free to go.”
rejects record indies, or try for record contracts, but since I was six and my grandpa took me to see
on Broadway right before he died, my dream has always been to act onstage. But everything is so political, and the competition is tough, so this is pretty much how the last three years have gone. Thanks, but no thanks.
My muscles are bunched so tight that when I look down to double check the number pinned to my sleeve, I feel something in my neck pull.
That should have been my first clue that things weren’t going to go well. Lucky number seven made it. Unlucky thirteen, not so much.
“That blows, Hilary.”
Jessica’s sympathetic voice snaps me out of my one person pity party and I try to smile at her. She’s miles of legs topped by big brown doe eyes, which are looking at me like my puppy just became roadkill. Her long honey-brown hair is pulled off her face in a high ponytail, and her fair skin is perfectly flushed without a stitch of makeup, making her look very I-have-no-clue-how-hot-I-am.
“It was just bad karma. Number thirteen,” she says with a poke to my shoulder. “I think everyone should take their cue from hotels and just skip it.”
She plants one slender white hand on her hip and flips the other one palm up in a presenting-the-obvious gesture. “You know, how there’s never a thirteenth floor in hotels?”
“I never noticed.” Mostly because I’ve never stayed in one with more than two floors and a broken ice maker.
“So, we’re still going out for my birthday next week?”
This brightens my mood a little. As adorable as she is, Jess knows how to have a good time, and that is
what I need right now. “Definitely. A week from Thursday, right?”
She nods. “We should try that new place on the Lower East Side . . . Club Sixty-nine, I think?”
She bounces on her toes a little and her ponytail swings behind her. “It’s going to be epic!”
“Break a leg, Jess,” I tell her with a punch to the shoulder—right at her lucky number seven. If I’d said this to anyone else, I’d have meant it literally. There’s nowhere on this planet more cutthroat than Broadway. But Jessica is a really sweet kid. At nineteen and pretty fresh off the bus from Biloxi, she hasn’t let this place ruin her yet. She’s a walking contradiction: an adorably gay Southern bell who believes in karma.
I try to remember what I was like three years ago, at that same age. I wasn’t as jaded as I am now, but I was never as innocent and naive as Jess is. This world doled me my first swift kick three days before my fourteenth birthday, when my dear mother got her drunken ass thrown in jail, leaving me to fend for myself.
And that was only the beginning.
“Thanks,” she says with an unsure smile, like she wants to jump up and down in her excitement, but she doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.
I give her a quick hug. “We’ll talk later, okay?”
She bobs a nod. “I’ll call you.”
As she makes her way to the callback group, I glance at Blondie—number three. Actual flames are shooting out of her eyeballs in my direction. I head for the stage stairs before she blowtorches me through sheer force of will.
Exit stage left: the story of my life.
I grab my backpack from the mound at the bottom of the stairs and hike it onto my shoulder, then head toward Brett, at the end of the back row of seats. He’s in black warm-up pants and an unzipped gray hoodie over a wifebeater, slouching down with his feet on the seatback in front of him. He’s still sweaty from rehearsal, which is his best look. When I reach him, he’s laughing a low chuckle at whatever’s on his iPhone screen. He grins, then his thumbs start moving furiously over the screen as he texts whoever back.
“Did you talk to her?”
My voice slices into his awareness and he looks up with those deep, ocean-blue eyes, surprised. He gives me a sympathetic squint. “Sorry, babe. But for what it’s worth, I don’t really think it would have made any difference.”
seriously just say that.
“Fuck you very much, Brett.” But as I spin and start hoofing it toward the side door, I see some of the other girls eye me, then Brett, and feel the sudden urge to go back and lay claim to my property.
Yes, he’s gorgeous, and yes, everybody wants him. He’s basically six feet of blond beach god in the middle of Manhattan, complete with perfect teeth and dimples. Sex on a stick. I always joked that if they ever cast any of those animated Barbie movies on Broadway, Brett would get the Ken role every time.
But he got something better.
The name Brett Collins might not mean anything to you, but to aspiring Broadway actresses, it does. He scored a major support role in the new show
Calculus, My Cock, and Other Hard Things
, which opens at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in two weeks, then goes on the road for a nationwide tour. It’s about five college guys and all that self-discovery crap. Brett has a killer bod, so his partial nude catches a lot of attention. Preview performances started this week and the reviews are unexpectedly good. And they all mention Brett specifically.
But even he admits he’s not nearly as good an actor as I am.
For about a year after
, I had an agent. With my look, which is unique, I guess she thought my fifteen minutes of
fame would score me a big role in no time. When it didn’t happen, she stopped calling me for auditions, then dropped me. I’ve got a couple of leads for new agents, but until I get one, I need someone on the inside to get me auditions. Brett’s my ticket onto Broadway, and if any of those cutthroat bitches lays a hand on him, I swear to God, I’ll take it off at the wrist.
I spin and glare at him. As he hauls himself out of the seat, he gives me that goddamn sexy half-smile that he knows makes me want to jump his bones. That’s pretty much how we end all our fights—in a sweaty, grunting, tangled mass of arms and legs.
But not this time.
He promised he’d say something to Casting Chick.
But then he catches up to me and I feel a tingle zing up my spine when he lays a hand on my hip. “I really am sorry,” he says low in my ear in that voice—just a little rough around the edges—and the tingle in my spine turns into a throb in my groin.
I spin and glare at him, so wanting to be pissed, but he glides his fingertips along the curve of my breast and melts me from the inside out.
He leans closer and his lips brush my ear as he says, “You’ll get the next one.”
When his lips press into mine, I forget to breathe. That’s what he does to me. That’s what just looking at him does to most women. Since the first time he touched me at an off-Broadway audition a year ago, there’s been no denying the attraction.
But I have no illusion this is love. He doesn’t love me and I don’t love him. We never do anything together outside the bedroom, and we don’t really even have any friends in common. We’re all about the physical, which works for me. I don’t do love.
He finally lets me go, and when I look up, a group of my fellow rejectees, including Blondie, are standing near the door, staring at us with gaping jaws.
I tug my jacket on and smile sweetly at them while glaring daggers, but despite my “back off” vibe, Blondie takes a step closer.
“Hey, Brett,” she says, brushing her fingers over his arm and thrusting her silicone in his face. “Long time no see. Congrats on your part.”
He gives her that same sexy smile he just gave me. “Thanks. You looked great up there,” he adds with a nod at the stage.
I grab his hand, towing him toward the door.
“See ya around,” he calls back to her as we hit the sidewalk.
I pull my jacket tight around me. A cold October drizzle is falling, but at least it’s not snowing yet, so that’s something. “You know her?”
He shrugs. “We hooked up a few times.”
I glare at him.
He smiles and loops an elbow around my neck, pulling me closer. “Way before you, babe. Don’t worry,” he says into my hair as we weave our way through the pedestrian horde jockeying for sidewalk space.
“I’m not worried. I’m disgusted. She’s skanky.” Truth is, I’m used to girls falling all over Brett, but he’s been good in the year we’ve been together and kept his hands off, so I can’t really give him too much crap.
New Yorkers have seen it all, so not much warrants the turn of a native’s head, but Brett and I always get a few head turns, and the occasional tourist will openly gawk. Brett is gorgeous and I’m . . . interesting.
Where my sister Mallory got all Mom’s Irish—the wavy red hair, fair skin, and freckles, I’ve got funny hazelly-green eyes and a shoulder-length black lion’s mane in loose kinks, with red highlights that really come out in the summer. My skin is coffee-with-too-much-cream, and if I spend any time in the sun, it turns almost as black as my dad’s, totally obliterating the faint smattering of freckles across my nose and cheeks.
Mom was only ever married to Mallory’s dad, and I guess that only lasted a few years, until Mallory was, like, three. After that was just a string of live-in boyfriends, one of whom was my dad. He was out of the picture before I was old enough to remember him, though. When I was little and I asked Mom why Mallory’s dad came and took her places and mine didn’t, she said that my dad went back to Jamaica when I was a baby. I used to wonder if it was because of me, but I’ve figured out since that he wasn’t what you’d call an upstanding citizen. I think he got deported after he got arrested for dealing drugs. I’ve only seen photos of him—enough to know I’m a funny combination of him and Mom.
By the time we get off the subway and walk to our apartment, I’m late for Mallory’s. Our apartment is on the fourth floor in a decent Upper West Side neighborhood. It’s small, one bedroom, a bathroom, and a great room—just a white box, basically.
When I moved in here almost a year ago, it was a total bachelor pad. I’m no neatnik, so it’s only slightly less messy now than it was before, but unlike Brett, I have a breaking point. When I can’t stand it anymore I’ll do the dishes or scrub the bathroom. I’ve added a few touches of my own, too. I’m not into frilly knickknacks or anything, but I put up some prints and tossed some red throw pillows on Brett’s brown leather couch. And I bought some stuff for the kitchen even though I don’t get much of a chance to cook. It’s not much, but it anchors me to this place. I own something. I exist in this space. I belong here.
I head to the bathroom and crank on the shower. I strip off my yoga pants and thong and pull the clip out of my hair, running a hand through it so it falls around my shoulders.
My eyes trace over the first orange and black butterfly tattooed at the front of my right hip. I turn and follow in the mirror up the twisting, brightly-colored line of tiny fluttering wings that arches over my right butt cheek, across my low back, and underneath my left shoulder blade, then skims the back of my shoulder on its way to looping over the top and ending at my left collarbone. No single butterfly has a wingspan larger than half an inch, and most are smaller, but there are two hundred and nine of them, one for each day I spent in the group home. They took two years to finish, and the money I spent on them really should have gone to dance lessons, but they remind me of my freedom . . . and never to let myself get trapped again.
I step into the warm water, feeling its fingers tickling over my skin. I’m just rinsing my conditioner a few minutes later when the shower curtain slides open and Brett steps in. He cups my backside in his hands. “Hilary McIntyre, this is one fine ass.”
I turn and glance at his growing erection. “Sorry, baby, but I’m late for my sister’s.”
He lays a hand on himself and strokes, a wicked grin curving his mouth. “I’ve got a few ideas on how to make you even later.”