Authors: Lauren Gallagher
Tags: #canada, #Torfino, #movie stars, #actress, #contemporary erotic romance, #erotic romance, #Hollywood
His heart raced. "What
She sighed. He imagined her rubbing her forehead with her fingertips like she often did. "I'm not sure. I'm just, I don't know. To be honest, I've never felt this way before." She paused. "Just, be patient with me."
"Take as long as you need." He couldn't help the smile that curled the corner of his mouth. "I'll be here when you're ready to come up, and we'll figure out what the hell it is we're doing."
"Thank you," she said quietly.
"I'm glad you called."
A few minutes later, they said their goodbyes, and he hung up the phone. He leaned back in his chair, chewing his thumbnail. Relief swept over him, just having heard her voice and reconnected with her, but that apprehensive knot was still there. He stared at the picture on his screen, the one he'd been cropping and touching up—what little it needed—when she called.
Allyson's face smiled back at him over her bare shoulder.
He didn't know if this was love, but it was something.
Simone finally managed to wrestle a few free days in her calendar to go to Tofino. In spite of her nerves, she was giddy with excitement as she packed for her trip. She was uneasy about facing him, about discussing where this was all really going, but just the thought of seeing him gave her butterflies.
She glanced at the clock. Ten thirty. Less than twenty-four hours, and she'd be in his arms again. Whatever came of their conversations, she'd be with him again, and that was more than enough. She shivered with excitement.
Her cell phone startled her. Gregory's number popped up on the caller ID. She gritted her teeth and flipped it open.
"Simone." The unsteadiness in his voice sent a chill up her spine. "I need you to take Cecily."
"Yes. The sooner the better. Now if you can."
Worry gripped Simone's heart. "What happened? Is she all right?"
"She's fine," Gregory's voice wavered. "It's Jessica; I'm taking her to the hospital."
"Oh my God, what's wrong?"
"I'm, I'm not sure." He exhaled sharply. "Rita's at the house with Cecily right now, but I think she'd be better off with you."
Simone's eyes flicked to the bag she'd almost finished packing. Disappointment filled her, but she couldn't let Cecily down. She took a breath. "I'll be there as soon as I can."
"Thank you, Simone."
You owe me
, she thought bitterly as she hung up the phone. Instantly she regretted even thinking it. He owed her? Hardly. If anything, she owed him, and this was the
least she could do for him.
On the way to Gregory's house, she called Jason.
"Jason, it's Allyson."
"Look, I have to cancel the trip," she said, trying not to break into tears.
"It's a family emergency. I'll—"
"Shit, what happened?" he asked. "Is everything okay? Is there anything I can—?"
"No, no, don't worry about it. It's just—" She hesitated. He didn't know about Gregory, Cecily, or anything else in her world. This wasn't the conversation for dropping all those bombs on him, but what to tell him now? She cleared her throat.
"Just some things I have to take care of."
Right. That isn't going to rouse any suspicions
. She quickly added," I want to get back up there as soon as possible though." Jason was quiet for a moment. When he spoke again, his tone was flat. "Okay, well, just let me know if there's anything I can do. Or when you want to come back up."
"I'm so sorry, Jason."
"Don't worry about it. Things happen. I understand."
Her heart ached at the disappointment in his voice. "I want to see you again, though, soon. As soon as all of this blows over."
"Just let me know. I'll be here."
She flinched; his voice was taut with skepticism and suspicion. "I'm not sure when yet. A few days. But as soon as I know, I'll let you know. I'm really sorry, I—"
"It's okay, I understand."
She wasn't sure he did.
He must suspect the worst about me
. He already thought she was married, now she was blowing him off with an ambiguous, "family emergency" excuse? "I'll call you."
"I'll be here."
His words hung in her ear long after she'd hung up the phone.
I'll be here.
For the first time, she wondered if he would be.
* * * * *
Jason leaned back in his chair. This wasn't good.
He wanted to trust her. God, how he wanted to believe her when she said she was genuine, that she wasn't keeping some major secret from him. Like a husband. The thought made him flinch.
Allyson wasn't Paula. She
Paula. He had to remember,
she wasn't Paula
. But on the other hand, the Paula he thought he knew wasn't—
. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. He'd have faith in her. He'd wait. He'd see if—
—she called again, and see where things went from there. He sighed. He was setting himself up for another heartbreak. Any man with half a brain would end it now, just call the whole thing off and be done with it. Nip it in the bud. End it before the truth came out. The truth that he would, as always, be the last to know.
He picked up the phone and pulled up her number. For a long, long time he stared at her name on the glowing LCD screen, his thumb on the
button. He ground his teeth.
Do it, Jason, she's not worth it
"Fuck," he muttered under his breath. He slammed the phone down. Any man with half a brain would end it now, but damn . . . she had a hold on him. And maybe she
telling the truth. Guilt burned in his throat. Emergencies happened.
Like the "family emergencies" that kept Paula running out of town every other
damned weekend, right
? He winced at the memory. She's not Paula, he told himself again. He stared at the phone. No, he would have faith in her.
God, please don't let me be making a huge mistake
. . . .
* * * * *
Simone and Cecily rode in silence for a long time on the way back to her place. The girl's eyes were red with tears and her mouth turned down with worry. At a stoplight, Simone chewed her lip and watched her daughter in the rearview. Her heart raced. This is where I'm supposed to be a mother, damn it, she thought.
I'm supposed to
give her comfort, tell her it's going to be okay, do something. But I don't even know where to
She tried to push Jason out of her mind. Guilt gnawed at her—not to mention that maddening ache that
he could satisfy—but she had to put him second right now.
"Are you okay, sweetie?" she said finally.
Cecily looked up, as if startled to hear her mother speak. "I guess so." She bit her lower lip. "Is Jessie's baby going to be okay?"
Oh shit. What am I supposed to say? My God, what am I supposed to do
? "I hope so, baby," she said finally. What else could she say? Her palms were sweaty against the steering wheel. She didn't know what else to say. They drove in silence for a while. Out of nowhere, Cecily said, "Why have you been gone so much?"
Simone blinked. She glanced in the rearview and found herself staring her daughter right in the eye. The steely, accusing tone in Cecily's voice startled her. "I've, I've just been trying to—"
Oh hell, how do you explain something like that to an eight-year-old
child? Mommy's been trying to stop drinking and is spending all her time fucking some stranger
up in Canada?
"Do you have a boyfriend?"
. Even Cecily had caught on. It wasn't like she hadn't seen Simone in a rash of messy relationships; she must have known the signs, even if this one was different from all the rest. Then again, her latest was
different from all the rest, so—
"I'm just trying to sort some things out, baby," she said finally. She took a breath.
"You know how I always tell you to treat everyone else like you want to be treated?"
"Never to lie to people, or hurt people?"
Simone swallowed a lump in her throat. "Mommy hasn't been very good about that. I've been bad to a lot of people, and I'm trying to fix that. I don't want to be like that anymore."
"You've been in jail?"
Simone laughed aloud. "Oh God no, not in jail. Just—just spending time alone, sorting some things out."
Right. Because an eight-year-old understands this sort of thing
"Did I do something wrong?"
"What? Oh my God, baby, no, not at all." She looked in the rearview again and met Cecily's eyes. She took a breath. "It has nothing to do with you. I promise."
"So you don't have a boyfriend?"
Shit. What am I supposed to do? Keep lying to her? Lie to her like I've been lying to
everyone else? What's one more lie in this tangled web of bullshit I've been feeding everyone?
. "No, baby, no boyfriend."
Cecily accepted that, but the knot of guilt grew in Simone's gut. She felt like shit now. It was one thing to lie to Anne-Marie, and Gregory, and Carolyn. It was even one thing to lie to Jason, as much as it killed her to do it. But lying to Cecily about it, that was just too much for her to take. She'd done more than enough of that over the years, but she had promised herself she would change. Lying to her daughter was nothing if not counterproductive.
Whatever this was she had going with Jason, she needed to figure it out. She needed to be honest with herself about him. Then she needed to be honest about him to Cecily. She owed her daughter that much.
And for heaven's sake, she needed to be honest with Jason before his patience ran out.
Jason was almost asleep when a shrill bleating pierced the stillness. He flinched at the sound, muttered a slurred expletive, and closed his eyes, but then he heard it again.
Swimming back into consciousness, he realized it was the phone beside the bed. He felt around on the nightstand for it, found it just as he woke up enough to wonder if he should be annoyed or worried that someone was calling this late. He rubbed his eyes with one hand as he said, "'Ello?"
"Jason, it's Allyson."
Her voice instantly brought him back to reality. "Allyson? What's—?" He looked at the clock. It was a little past eleven. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she said, her voice hushed. "Nothing's wrong, I just . . . I wanted to talk to you." She paused. "Did I wake you up?"
Jason sat up in bed, running a hand through his hair. He wanted to be annoyed that she'd called so late, but the only thing he felt was relief. "It's okay. Don't worry about it. Is everything okay?"
Simone ran her hand through her hair. Hugging her knees to her chest, she said,
"Maybe it's silly, calling this late. I just needed to talk to you again after . . . after earlier." He took a breath. "About?"
"I'm not, I don't know," she said. "Us, I guess."
"Anything in particular?"
Her heart thundered so badly she could barely hear him. "Not really. I—" She swallowed. "I didn't want you to think I was blowing you off." He was silent for a moment. "Babe, if you have an emergency—"
"I know, but, you know, I didn't want you to think it was just some lame excuse not to come see you."
God only knows I've used it before
. "I do want to come see you. The sooner the better, actually."
A breath of laughter. He still sounded tense, but that smile was there. "That feeling's mutual," he said. Pause. "When do you think, do you . . . ?" She rubbed her eyes. "Hopefully I'll know something in the next few days. Believe me, when I do, you'll be the first to know."
"I'll be waiting to hear from you."
She smiled. "I just, I wish I could be there right now."
"I wish you could be here, too." He paused. "I guess it's par for the course with long distance—" Beat. "When we're this far apart."
A long distance relationship. Of course. Except this isn't a relationship. This is a fling. A
damned fling. And the Nile isn't just a river in Egypt.
"I guess it is par for the course, isn't it?" she whispered.
"I suppose there's always the next best thing." There was just a hint of mischievous humor in his voice.
"Oh? And what's that?"
It sounded like he was moving. Lying back on the bed, perhaps. "What are you wearing?"
"I want to know what you're wearing."
"Jason, you—" She paused.
"Try it, you might like it." He laughed softly. That grin, Jesus, she could almost see it.
She hugged her knees tighter to her chest. "I've never . . . ."
"If I can't be there to make you come," he said, his voice dropping to that low, whispering growl that always made her weak in the knees. "I can still hear you come." Her spine stiffened. Though she'd tried this before with other lovers, it had always made her feel stupid. Nervous. But the desire in Jason's voice ignited an entirely different feeling in her. She thumbed the edge of the comforter. "I don't even know where to start."
"Start by telling me what you're wearing."
He laughed softly. "Same thing I always wear to bed." Her breath caught. Immediately she thought of his naked body up against hers when they slept, and a shiver ran through her so violently her teeth chattered.
"Your turn," he said.
She looking down almost self-consciously at the simple nightgown she wore.
"Just, just a nightgown."
"You look sexy in blue," he said. "But you look better without a damned thing on. Take it off."
"Take it—right now?"
That soft laugh again, but there was an edge to it, a tightness in his voice as if he was hiding how wound up he was already.
She grinned. "Jason, am I turning you on?"
He exhaled. "Just thinking about you turns me on, babe." Her insecurities dimmed. "Tell me more."