I glared at both of them. “Excuse me. I’m sitting right here. And in case you’ve both forgotten, I’m a legal adult, and I’m perfectly capable of conducting my own affairs… such as they are.” My face warmed, matched by Dad’s. Now probably wasn’t the time to bring up my new relationship with Graham. I cleared my throat. “I’m, uh, going to finish my salad in my room.”

Graham devoted time to me late each evening, but he was otherwise engaged in being a dad to Cara and studying for finals. He warned me that he’d be busy reviewing for exams and finishing up final edits on research papers over the coming week, and then his mouth quirked adorably. “But as of Friday, I’m all yours.”

I’m content to have something to distract me, even if it means hotel rooms, getting up before dawn, and spending time with Reid, driving around LA and the surrounding areas. There are a lot of hours to fill outside of the hour or so I’ll spend each night, swapping life stories with Graham and asking him in whispers to compose his alternate stories of us—fairytale lives we would have had if we’d met under different circumstances, or if we’d never been actors at all.

The story he devises tonight, my first night back in LA, supposes that we’d met as regular high school students—something neither of us had ever been.

“I’d have been a senior at seventeen, instead of a college sophomore. And you’d have been fourteen—so, a freshman—wide-eyed and innocent. Though I guess that sort of describes you now, too.” His smile is teasing, but warm. “So maybe it isn’t so difficult to imagine.”

I lean my head in my hand, my eyes drinking in his face on my laptop screen. “You would have been popular, though. Why would you be interested in a freshman when you could have had your pick of any girl in the school?”

He shakes his head. “I would have seen you the first day, trying to get your locker open.” He’s referring to the first time he saw me, in the hallway of the hotel in Austin. “Immediately intrigued, I’d have walked over, acting all cool but shaking inside, thinking who is this beautiful girl? ‘Need some help?’ I’d say, and you’d look at me, all suspicious. I’d brush your fingers aside, gently, and say, ‘What’s your combination?’ but you’d be too smart for that.”

“I would?” I laugh. “I think maybe I’d just forget it on the spot, if you talked to me.”

He laughs, too. “Nah, you’d say, ‘But I’m not supposed to tell anyone my locker combination.’ And then I’d say, ‘Don’t worry, I’m safe.’” His smile is positively wicked. I’d have melted to a puddle on the floor if he’d said any such thing to fourteen-year-old me.

“After more assurances and against all better judgment, you’d give me the combination and I’d open the locker for you. Then I’d lean on the adjacent locker and say, ‘I require a small fee for damsels in locker-opening distress, you know.’ Your suspicion would come back full-force, your eyes narrowing, waiting for me to tell you this supposed fee. I’d tell you that you had to go out with me Friday, because there’s a mandatory orientation party. And since you have to go, so you might as well go with me.”

“Oh, smooth.”


“You’d get that little pensive frown you get sometimes, and you’d say, ‘Huh. No one said anything about a mandatory orientation…’” He taps his finger against his chin and I laugh at his reference to my favorite habitual word.

“So then I’d say, ‘Oh, it’s only for special freshmen—you have to be invited by a senior.’ Now you’re completely convinced that I’m full of crap. ‘Sounds like a hazing charge waiting to happen,’ you’d say. ‘No, no—would I lie to you?’ I’d say, oozing seventeen-year-old boy charm.”

“Were you this cheesy when you were seventeen?” I ask.

He grins. “Emma. I’m trying to tell a story here. And I plead the fifth.”


“So then you’d floor me. You’d say, ‘I don’t know. Would you lie to me?’ And I would look into your eyes and see everything I could ever want. I’d say, ‘Let’s skip the party. I’ll take you to dinner. And then I’ll take you somewhere private and kiss you until you tell me to quit.’ What would your answer be, Emma?”

I could barely breathe. “Oh… I think, for the sake of the story, I’d probably be okay with that.”

“You think?” His mouth turns up on one side and I can tell he’s watching me on his screen as closely as I’m watching him.

“I don’t know. I need more information about the kissing.”

He chuckles softly. “Let’s say you tell me yes, and we go to dinner. We talk, and we’re both surprised at how comfortable we feel. And then we get into my car and drive to a secluded spot overlooking our sleepy little suburban town. Totally private, dark but for a sky full of stars… and tomorrow, I’ll tell you what happens next.”

The noise that comes from my throat is half-growl and half-whimper, and he hmms. “I need to study a bit more tonight—if I even can, now—and you have to get up before five a.m. and be animated and personable on camera.”

I couldn’t care less about being animated or personable. “Mmm. More tomorrow? You won’t forget?”

“Hell no, I won’t forget,” he says, grinning. “At this point, I’ll be lucky if it doesn’t work its way into my essay on the Lost Colony of Roanoke during my final for Early Settlements of Colonial America. I can see it now: No evidence of what happened to the 114 colonists was ever found… but in my dream last night I took Emma parking and got to third base.”

“Graham!” I laugh, hands over my mouth.

“I’m kidding. I wouldn’t go for third on the first date—maybe second?” He laughs softly when I cover my face completely. “It’s probably just as well you didn’t meet me when I was seventeen. I was kind of a horn dog. But I think I’d have known enough to be careful and slow with you. At least, I will in this story, to be continued tomorrow…”

I’ll never get to sleep now.

Chapter 18


Rowena and I don’t make eye contact as she shuffles through first class on her way to coach, her bag of camera equipment weighing her skinny shoulder into a sharp downward slope. She looks like a lop-sided scarecrow. I can easily imagine her slipping into narrow, impossible spaces, getting shots the large, aggressive men of her kind—the ones who scare the crap out of celebs with their obnoxious belligerence—could never get. The only thing unnerving about Rowena is her eyes. They’re not empty like some psycho killer—they’re just flat-out ruthless.

Not that I can talk.

She generally doesn’t have to leave the LA area to make a living, but she understands the strategic part of doing personal favors for the right people, and I’m one of those people. Graham and I may not be A-listers, but we’re close enough to make news if the story is juicy, especially with the movie premiere a couple of weeks away. I’ve made it clear to Rowena that this favor is non-negotiable if she expects a continuance of tips like the Reid-n-Emma bonus that probably paid several months’ rent. I’m paying her airfare and hotel, plus she’ll be compensated for the photos themselves.

Now all I have to do is get Graham into the picture.

I hate long flights alone because there’s nothing to do. God knows I’m not going to chat up the middle-aged CEO or whatever he is sitting next to me. He reminds me of my dad—from the stereotypical Rolex and custom-made suit to the trainer-maintained body and bleached teeth.

Daddy dearest is on his fourth marriage to someone too young for him. As I get older, they’re getting closer and closer to my age. I just turned twenty—how can he be okay with the fact that his newest Mrs. Cameron is five or six years older than his youngest daughter? I think my oldest sister is actually her same age. You’d think he’d at least have the awareness to be embarrassed.

My mother was the idiot second wife—the younger woman who attracted a powerful married man away from his wife and two daughters and got knocked up with me, probably on purpose. By the time his divorce was settled and the pre-nup my unwitting mother agreed to was inked, I was a month old. Inexplicably, I was in their farcical wedding photos (which my mother filed through the shredder when my father left her for wife number three—hello, who didn’t see that coming?). Why didn’t either of them think I’d eventually grow old enough to look at those framed photos and figure out that I’m beyond illegitimate, or that my friends wouldn’t come to the same conclusion?

Mom is currently prowling for Husband Number Four. Number Two, Rick, was actually okay. I sort of miss him. Number Three was a huge douche and I was more than happy to get my own apartment in LA when Mom moved back to Texas with him—good riddance. She now says that her third marriage was the “fifteen minute” variety. In actuality it lasted around a year, but maybe fifteen minutes just refers to how long either of them remained faithful.

Mr. CEO keeps peering at me, and I’m not sure if it’s because of my hot little LA body or if he actually recognizes me. I don’t particularly care. Grabbing the satin sleep mask, I shove it on, lean my seat back and settle in to pretend sleep. I don’t want to contemplate forty-something lechers, or my parents and their meaningless relationship histories. I just want to think about Graham.

I don’t want to screw this up. I know I’m about to manipulate him in deplorable ways, but I’m a practical girl. The ends justify the means. This is something my parents have never, in either of their pathetic lives, done—plan for the future, rather than living in the moment. Graham is not a momentary whim, though I admit he was at first. But that was a very long time ago. I’ve known for a while now that he’s exactly the kind of stable guy I need. He’s one of only two people in the world I can comfortably talk to about what happened with Reid.

God, Reid. What a tortuous mess that was.

When we met, he was fourteen, and I was fifteen. Both of us were recurring extras on the set of a soon-to-be-canceled sitcom. I’d catch him staring at me sometimes and he’d blush, or vice versa. I thought he was the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen. We talked a few times, but in short, nervous sentences on meaningless subjects—not in any substantial way.

Then, a month later, we both managed to land minor parts in the same movie. It was like fate, in a way—though to what purpose, I have no idea.

The cast was on location in Idaho, living in trailers. With no one else our age around, Reid and I had our tutoring sessions together, and we grew close fast. Our parents were too uninvolved to be around much, and the notion that production babysits underage kids is ludicrous. Yes, we were somewhat separated from the older cast mates because that sort of slipup would spell legal disaster, but for Reid and me the situation was akin to being thrown into the same playpen. We could mess around with each other all we wanted to. And we did.

Most Popular