Leaning to her, I tell her softly, “You’re so beautiful.”

Her lashes lift as she glances into my eyes before closing hers. “No, you are.”

My mouth pulls up on one side. We’re a little off the beaten path, but not so far that we can’t hear people walking by, talking. “God,” one of them says, stopping just out of sight where there’s a perfect view of the sunrise. “So beautiful!”

Emma and I suppress our laughter, attempting to avoid detection. I kiss her softly. “See, he agrees with me,” I whisper.

She leans up, her hand on my jaw. “Maybe he agrees with me.” When she starts to giggle, I cover her mouth with mine, partly to silence her but mostly because I can’t escape the need to kiss her again.


It hadn’t occurred to me what a huge advantage this photo shoot is for getting Emma used to me touching her again. Not that she’s particularly responding to it. I mourn the loss of that wistful, spellbound look she had back when we first began filming School Pride last August, but then again the fact that she’s less affected by me makes up for it.

Yes, I’m one of those guys—more turned on by what I can’t have than anything else. When you think about it, though, how surprising is that? When getting girls is as simple as deciding that you want one—no different, really, from deciding what to have for lunch—of course the ones who stand out will be the ones who don’t come when called. Emma is like that pizza I can only get in one hole-in-the-wall place in the middle of Brooklyn, and nowhere else. If I lived in Brooklyn, maybe it’d be no big deal. But I live in LA, and goddamn do I hate it when I think about that pizza I can’t have.

We’re on some estate in the LA hills, but the backdrop is very middle of nowhere. The grounds are rustic and native, but carefully cultivated to look that way rather than just left wild. My parents would probably hate it. Our lawn looks more like it belongs in the English countryside—bordering hedgerows and shaped shrubberies and roses, etcetera. It’s impressive but sort of laughable and out of sync at the same time.

Emma is perched on the wooden-slat seat of a swing attached to a high limb of a stories-tall tree. Staring straight up through the branches, I wonder how they got the ropes attached that high—if someone climbed this tree like they might have done a hundred years ago, or if they brought in a truck with a ladder or one of those bucket things like the guys who work on telephone lines use. While the photographer reframes the shot for what feels like the hundredth time and we wait for instructions, I grip the ropes just over Emma’s hands, my pinkies grazing her index fingers.

“If we don’t get a lunch break soon, I’m going to start nibbling on you,” I murmur, careful not to lean too close. “I’m freaking starving.” Emma’s stomach growls just then, which makes both of us laugh. The photographer’s head snaps up and he starts taking shots. Damn if I’m not thinking about that pizza now. And then Emma telling me yes in my room that afternoon last fall, hours before everything went to hell.


“Reid, go ahead and give her a gentle push.” I pull the swing back and let her go, and she swings out and right back to me.

I’ve never tried to win a girl over by feigning friendship-only intentions, mostly because it seems counter-intuitive. Brooke’s plan isn’t infallible, but if she succeeds in getting Graham in her bed, Emma will be distraught. And I’ll be right there to assure her she’s desirable and provide emotional support—the sort of support everyone needs after discovering infidelity. She was attracted to me before. There’s no reason those feelings can’t be revived, with Graham out of the way. All I have to do is be patient.

Not exactly my forte.

Chapter 14


“Okay people!” Elevating my voice above the music and general bar noise, I clank a spoon against my daiquiri glass until everyone looks my way. “We’re here to celebrate—or mourn, depending on your interpretation of the event—the fact that our friend MiShaun has decided to take this smokin’ hot body—” I pull her up from her chair and pirouette her in a circle “—and give it to one guy for the rest of eternity.”

“Booooo,” Tadd says, hands cupped around his mouth, and everyone laughs.

“Tadd Wyler, what the hell do you care what I do with my body?” MiShaun asks him.

“I’m objecting on general principle,” he answers. Standing, he takes her hands and holds them out to her sides, scanning her curves in the tight little black dress she’s wearing. “Plus, it seems a shame to deprive the straight end of the male population of this sort of perfection.”

MiShaun shoves him back into his seat with a laugh. “The male population has mostly been deprived of it on personal principle.” Smoothing her hands down her hips and cocking one eyebrow at him, she adds, “This body is more discriminating than some others seated around this table.”

“Hey now,” Tadd says. “There’s no need to talk about Quinton that way.”

Details of Quinton’s on-again, off-again relationship with his childhood sweetheart, along with allegations of a few casual hookups around LA, have been plaguing him for the past month. Apparently, Mr. Hottest Up-and-Coming Star played the field too close to a designated “on” period, and his girlfriend—who’s close friends with his sister—caught wind of it and went on a tell-all rampage. Boys. They never learn.

“Dude!” Quinton says, shaking his head. “Low.”

“Anyway,” I say, rolling my eyes and raising my glass. “To MiShaun. May she be happy with her computer guy, and may he be freaky in hot and stimulating ways.”

MiShaun hides her face behind her hands as everyone clinks glasses.

One of the bodyguards walks up behind Reid and leans over to speak to him in a low voice, pointing to a couple of girls—women, actually—standing off to the side. They’re early twenties and hot. Not good, and no way for me to telepathically threaten him because he’s pointedly refusing to look in my direction. As he slides from his chair and strolls over to his drooling fans, I try not to watch too closely because I don’t want to call Emma’s attention to him.

Too late—dammit, she’s already watching him. He’s smiling that easy, sexy smile, and the women are all stupid-melty at the sight of him so close, in the flesh. One of them asks to squeeze his bicep—hello, creepy—and when he consents, flexing, they both coo over him. Ugh. Directing the bodyguard to take their phones, he poses with each of them separately and together, their arms wrapped around his torso like seaweed. And then, still grinning, he shakes hands with each of them before turning and walking back to the table.

I have to admit, I’m astonished. He didn’t pull out his phone, or jot a number on a napkin, or confer with the bodyguard to escort them back to the hotel to await his pleasure. Nothing.

Emma’s head leans at the slightest angle, observing him. Glancing her way as he pulls his chair out, Reid smiles at her. When Meredith asks her a question and she turns to answer, he turns those stormy blue eyes on me, one eyebrow rising in a quick non-verbal See?

I incline my head. Well done. Smug son of a bitch. I signal the waiter for another round of daiquiris for MiShaun and me, and scan everyone from my vantage point at the head of the table.

Reid sits at the opposite end, now chatting with Quinton and knocking back another Jack and Coke. Jenna sits next to Quinton, and then Graham, next to me. MiShaun is on my right, then Tadd, Emma and Meredith. My eyes shift back to Emma, who’s having a silent exchange with Graham as she sips her drink. I thought she’d ordered a Long Island iced tea, but from the looks of it, it appears she’s drinking an actual iced tea. And Graham is either drinking straight-up vodka on the rocks or water. What the hell?

“Some reason you’re going teetotaler tonight, Graham?” I smile, chin in hand. “Not planning on driving anywhere, I assume?”

His glance towards Emma and back is rapid, but not rapid enough for me to miss it. “Mmm, no, just not in the mood. I have an early flight tomorrow morning. Nothing worse than flying hungover.”

He says this as though he’s ever in his life flown hungover, which I doubt. I’ve seen Graham under the influence, but never smashed. This is just another of his always-in-control qualities—one that used to bother me, when I was in my phase of going hard and getting as trashed as humanly possible. I wanted him to join in. I didn’t see then that getting liquored up and trying to seduce him was never going to work. Graham doesn’t do drunken hookups.


Oh shit. Are he and Emma hooking up tonight? Is that what this is about? Is this the first time, or a repeat? This could affect my best laid plans—so to speak. I can’t imagine how to discover the answer to that question, though. Damn, damn, damn.

I fight to keep my voice even while my brain is going a hundred miles per hour. “So you’re going back home tomorrow, then. Did you miss class this week?”

He rests his chin in his hand, too. “Yeah, but two are independent study, and the other two gave me a pass because I completed research papers early. So it’s all good.”

We’re in this mirrored pose, a foot apart, over the corner of the table. I ask him about his final classes, as though I’m interested in the specifics of them—and perhaps I would be, if I knew enough about literature to know what the hell he’s talking about. I’m listening just closely enough to reply and form questions while I’m cataloguing details I haven’t had the chance to savor in a while.

I’ve said that Graham is the best-looking guy in the cast—a towering claim considering the fact that Reid, Quinton and Tadd are no fugly ducklings and are constantly publicized as Hollywood’s hottest young celebs. Quinton is solid, cut musculature while Tadd embodies the buff surfer look, and Reid is so beautiful that sometimes I’m jealous of the perfection of his face.

But Graham is all dark, smoldering male. In the hazy, subdued light of the bar and against his lighter-toned skin, his dark chocolate hair and smoky eyes are almost black. He’s wearing his usual expression—cool and easygoing, but shuttered. My God, he’s hot, and though he must have some idea of this, he rarely exhibits that cocky veneer that comes second nature to Reid.

He’s rattling off something about Dostoyevsky and existentialism when suddenly he stops mid-sentence and runs a hand through his hair. One lock of hair sticks straight up in front. “Sorry. That can’t possibly be as fascinating to you as your acting skills indicate.” His smile is self-deprecating, lashes sweeping down as he sighs. “You should stop me before I get that far.”

“Hey,” I say, “just because I can’t even say Dosty-Dosto—”


“Right, Dostoyevsky, doesn’t mean I don’t find something you’re that enthusiastic about interesting.” That adorable cowlick is begging me to reach out and blend it in with the rest of his hair, but I recall what Reid had to say about my casual touches in front of Emma and I keep my hands to myself with immense effort. Having raised the thought of her in my head, I have to fight the urge to check if she’s even watching.

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