Authors: Lauren Gallagher
Tags: #canada, #Torfino, #movie stars, #actress, #contemporary erotic romance, #erotic romance, #Hollywood
He was absolutely dynamite in bed. Just thinking about him sent delicious chills through her entire body. He could be rough, gentle, wild, tender, whatever she wanted. The man must have sold his soul for a tongue like that, she thought with a shiver. But when they got out of bed—or wherever they happened to land when the need for each other overtook them—he was anything but disappointing. He was sweet. He was funny. He was flirty. He cooked, he danced, he was an
for crying out loud.
And is he ever an artist
. Her thoughts drifted to the pictures on the wall in his hallway. The woman shadowed by venetian blinds was seared into her memory. It was a striking, sexy, masterfully executed image, the kind that
a double take. Simone sipped her coffee and looked out the window as night fell over the Cascade Mountains. She wondered what went through the model's mind while she
posed for Jason like that. Was she tense? Nervous? Vulnerable? If she was, nothing about the image betrayed her feelings. Her body looked perfectly relaxed. For all Simone knew, the model was sound asleep, letting Jason pose her as he pleased until he had the right composition.
That thought made her chuckle to herself. Then her smile fell as she wondered what it would be like to be that relaxed and comfortable with him, that trusting of him, to pose in front of him that way. She'd very nearly asked Jason, when she first saw the prints, if he would shoot her like that. Very nearly. And she had only just met him then. The more time she spent with him, the more tempted she was to ask. This is crazy, she thought. She'd never even considered posing nude before. Several magazines had approached her in the past about nude shoots, but she'd always declined. Semi-nudes, she could handle. Fully nude, she just couldn't do it. For as willing as she was to strip for this or that lover or one night stand, she'd never been able to do it for the camera.
But with Jason, with this man who was little more than a stranger, she was very seriously considering doing just that.
Simone hung up the phone and exhaled heavily, but the knot that twisted in her chest refused to release.
It was the fifth time she'd picked up the phone, started to dial Jason's number, and hung up. This time, she made it all the way to the second to last digit before she'd chickened out. She desperately wanted to tell him the truth, tell him everything, but she just couldn't do it.
Resting her elbows on the table, she dropped her head and ran her hands through her hair. He deserved to know her real name, the real reason she came to Tofino in the first place. Whatever happened between them after that would happen, but he had been too good to her for her to keep lying to him like this.
She rubbed her forehead. This was one of those moments that would have had her diving into a bottle of Smirnoff in the past, just to ease the tension in her gut, but she didn't crave alcohol. She didn't want a drink. She didn't need a drink. She needed Jason.
* * * * *
Jason stared at the phone for a while, chewing his thumbnail.
All evening, he'd tried to work up the nerve to call her in between moments of hoping she'd be the one to call him. They hadn't made plans for a future visit; she'd left with an open-ended "soon" in place of a firm date. Maybe she had no intention of coming up again. Maybe she needed to get some more time off from whatever she did for a living. Given her resistance to the idea of him coming down to California, perhaps she had to work out an excuse for her boyfriend or husband.
Jason gritted his teeth. He hadn't asked, she hadn't said. They'd barely had time to talk in between all the time they spent in his bed anyway, but even when they did talk, she hadn't volunteered much about herself. Maybe when—
she came back, he'd try to dig a little deeper. Maybe he'd wait for her to open up to him. Or maybe he'd just enjoy the sex instead of asking for answers he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to hear. He sighed. The phone, sitting on the desk, silently taunted him. Finally, he got up and went into the bedroom to pack for his trip to Victoria. He'd deal with all of this eventually, but not tonight.
The unsettled feeling was relentless, but not nearly as relentless as his need to have her again. As he packed an overnight bag for his trip to Victoria, he wondered if he would see her again. And if he did, then what?
To her, he may have been nothing more than a booty call, and in the beginning, he'd convinced himself she was just a booty call too, but now, he wasn't so sure. He ached for her like he'd never ached for another woman, and that feeling wasn't confined below the belt. He barely knew her, but his feelings for her were real and growing
stronger by the day. The longer they kept this going, the more it would hurt if—
Jason, not if
He rubbed the bridge of his nose and exhaled sharply. He had to get his head together. This was a casual relationship. Sex.
friendship. Friends with benefits. He sighed and zipped his overnight bag.
It's just sex, Jason. Just. Sex. Stop over thinking it.
* * * * *
Come on, Simone, just call him
Before she could talk herself out of it again, she dialed the last digit of his number and hit "send". Her heart jumped into her throat as soon as the phone rang on the other end, and she very nearly hung up, but he answered on the second ring.
"Hey, it's Allyson."
He exhaled. "Hey, good to hear from you."
She smiled. "I'm not calling too late, am I?"
"No, no, of course not. Besides, I'd rather talk to you than pack."
"Yeah, I'm heading down to Victoria tomorrow. Going over some gallery stuff with my brother."
"Oh." She paused. "How long will you be away?"
"Just a couple of days. Why?"
Simone swallowed. "I was, well, I was looking at my calendar, trying to figure out when I could get back up there. I mean, if it's not too much—"
"Are you kidding?" He laughed. "You're welcome up here
"You're not sick of me yet?"
"Hardly. Hell, like I said before, if you want me to come to you, I can do that, too."
Her heart flipped. "I'd rather go up there. Gets me away from this damned city." He was silent for a second. "You sure?"
"Absolutely. Really, it's no trouble at all. I love it up there." Another pause. "Okay, as long as you're sure."
"I am. In fact—" She hesitated. All evening, she'd searched for the words, but now the courage to give voice to them eluded her.
She cleared her throat. "Well, anyway, I have a few days coming up in a week or so."
A longer pause. "Hang on, let me get my planner."
* * * * *
After Allyson hung up, Jason set the phone on the nightstand. He stared at it just as he had earlier, searching this time for answers instead of the courage to call her. They'd arranged for her to come up again in a little over a week for a couple of days. Another short trip, but no matter. She'd be here. That question, whether or not he'd see her again, was answered.
Still, he was more unsettled than he'd been before she'd called. There was something unspoken, something that had hung between them, on the tip of her tongue, as if she'd needed to say it but couldn't bring herself to do so. He hadn't asked. She hadn't said.
He sighed and shook his head, turning his attention back to packing his overnight bag. She'd be here soon. Maybe then, they could talk a bit more. Get to know each other on more than just a physical level.
Assuming, of course, they stopped fucking long enough to have any kind of conversation. At that, he grinned to himself.
Next week couldn't get here fast enough.
Simone waited at a corner table at Bernelli's, an Italian restaurant a few miles from the studio. She drummed her fingernails on her water glass, waiting for Carolyn to arrive. An uncomfortable knot tightened in her stomach, but this wasn't the same knot that Jason caused. This was the prickly, cold nervousness that always started when she was meeting up with Carolyn.
She sighed. Why did she agree to this lunch? Why did she ever agree to lunch with Carolyn? She sipped her water and glanced at her watch. Eleven fifteen. Fifteen minutes late. That meant Carolyn would be along in about five minutes. Twenty minutes late, every time.
To her surprise, a moment later, Carolyn came in, cell phone pressed to her ear, cheeks flushed. She flopped down unceremoniously across from Simone and continued talking, loud enough to turn a few heads in the restaurant. "I have to go, baby, I'm at lunch with your aunt. I'll call you later. Yes, yes, I know. I'll be there. I promise. Goodbye. No,
Shannon." She snapped her phone closed and rolled her eyes in disgust.
"Trouble with Shannon again?" Simone asked.
Carolyn nodded and flipped open the menu. "She's got an audition on Monday and needs a lift, as usual."
"I thought she was driving now. What happened to her car?"
"Her latest idiot boyfriend needs the car
," Carolyn said into her menu. A half second later, she slapped the menu down and folded her hands across it. "So, this trip you just took—"
Simone sipped her water. "Carolyn, it was just a vacation."
Just an incredible
vacation full of the most fantastic sex I've ever experienced
. Carolyn eyed her. "You never
take a vacation. Who is he?"
"There is no one. Look, there's been a lot of shit going on at the studio, and I needed to get away for a while. Clear my head, relax."
Carolyn's eyes narrowed. Here we go, Simone thought.
"Oh yes, the woes of the movie star." Bitterness laced Carolyn's voice. She took a sip of water and slammed the glass down. "What do you possibly have to be stressed about?"
Simone forced herself to stay calm. "I think you'd be stressed too if your personal life was slathered all over the headlines and you were on the brink of losing your career."
Carolyn blinked. "Right. Because you'd have to worry about starving if you never worked again."
"Look, I'm still me, okay? I have stress and worries just like you do." Carolyn snorted before taking another drink. "Somehow I doubt that." As she sucked on a piece of ice from her water, Simone fumed at her sister's contempt for her. It was nothing new. Ever since Carolyn got pregnant with Shannon and gave up any hope of pursuing the acting career she had wanted, things had been strained between the two sisters. Whenever Simone's career or personal life took any kind of downturn, Carolyn berated her for daring to be stressed. Yet it was always during these times that Carolyn wanted to get together. Simone wondered if her sister enjoyed watching her go through hell.
And yet I keep doing this to myself, she thought, biting through the ice cube and gritting her teeth. She desperately wanted a close relationship with her sister, and years of strain hadn't dented her resolve to get things right with Carolyn. Nor had Simone's efforts, apparently, dented Carolyn's bitterness toward her.
Mercifully, the waiter came up just then to take their order.
"Manicotti, without meat, please," Simone said, handing her menu to the waiter and smiling. He smiled and gave her a quick nod as he wrote down her order. Something in his smile, or maybe the way his eyes caught the light of the candle flickering on the table, reminded her of Jason. She shifted in her seat, chewing her lip as a tingle ran up her spine. Everything reminded her of him.
. Earlier, someone passed by with the same cologne he'd worn when they had dinner that first night. A
black and white print of a landscape—by God-only-knows what photographer—in the window of a shop reminded her of the photos on Jason's wall, and, by default, reminded her of Jason. She couldn't remember when any man had ever occupied her mind like this.
Her sister thrust her menu at the waiter, jarring Simone back into the present.
"Baked lasagna," Carolyn said, her tone flat. She raised a thin eyebrow and pointed an accusing finger at the waiter. "Make sure it's cooked all the way through this time. I damn near broke a tooth on an uncooked noodle last time."
"I will let the cooks know," the waiter replied through gritted teeth. Simone exchanged a brief glance with him and she shrugged sympathetically. He smiled again, and there it was again: the way one corner of his mouth lifted just slightly higher than the other, the dimples. The waiter looked nothing like Jason, couldn't hold a candle to him, but that little hint of Jason was enough to prickle Simone's arms with goosebumps.
The waiter brought their salads. True to form, Carolyn bitched about the skimpy toppings. As always, the waiter apologized profusely, though with the icy insincerity anyone developed after they'd become accustomed to apologizing to Carolyn, as any employee in this establishment long ago had.
After the irritated waiter left, Simone tried to lighten conversation.
"So how are the kids doing?" she asked, choosing the safest topic she could think of at the moment.
Carolyn shrugged and sipped her water. "Shannon's had a few small acting gigs. She wants to quit going to school so she can do it full time, but there is no way in hell I will let her. She's getting a degree if it kills her."
She glanced at Simone, as if waiting for her to comment that acting was the girl's dream and she should be able to pursue it, and she was an adult, and all of that, but Simone didn't take the bait. Not this time.
After a moment, Carolyn continued, gesturing sharply with her fork. "Brandon is looking at colleges too. He wants to join the military, but there's no way in hell. I'm not letting my son go into a damned war zone." She waited.
Again, Simone didn't take the bait. They'd had that argument a hundred times before, and she wasn't going there. Not today.
"And what about you? I haven't seen you in a while; are you still seeing David?" Carolyn wrinkled her nose and shook her head. "Fuck no." She took a bite of her salad.