Finally he pulls up the Skype screen, and my first instinct is to hide my face. “Emma, you know none of this is true, right?”

This is what I want him to say. Exactly what I want him to say. The last thing I want to be is a clingy girl who’s so insecure that she can’t handle her boyfriend talking to another girl, but I can’t brush aside the uneasiness. “But the pictures—the way she’s touching you…” A knock sounds on my door, and I’m glad for the escape. “Just a minute.”

When I pull it open, Reid stands there with the room service menu in his hand. “Hey, did you want some—what’s the matter, Emma?”

I shake my head, feeling like an idiot and trying not to cry. “I’m fine.”

He tosses the menu in a chair and his hands go to my shoulders. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m fine,” I repeat, stepping back and grabbing the menu. I hand it back to him. “I’m not hungry, but thanks.”

He spots the open laptop on my bed and arches a brow. His voice lowers to a whisper. “Talking to Graham?”

I nod.

He takes my chin in his hand, looks into my eyes, and in the same low tone tells me, “Come talk to me when you’re done, if you need to.” Fantastic—he’s definitely seen the photos.

I nod again, so he’ll leave, and I shut the door behind him once he does.

Graham’s expression is shuttered when I return. “Was that Reid?”



“Why is he coming to your room?”

My answer slips out before I consider the implications of it. “We’re in a suite.”

He gazes at me silently, sitting back slowly from the webcam, becoming blurry. His hand lays curved across his mouth as though he’s literally preventing himself from speaking. His fingers shift and two words escape. “A suite?”

“There are two bedrooms.” My tone is defensive. He’s questioning Reid sharing a living room with me for one night, while the whole world is viewing photos of him with Brooke pressed to his chest as she gazes up at him, her fingertips grazing his forehead in an intimate caress.


“What are you implying, Graham?”

He takes a deep breath. “I’m not implying anything. I just don’t trust him.” He stares away from the screen, silent after this pronouncement, and my screen’s image of him is still too distant for me to guesstimate his theories. His physical withdrawal is easy enough to read, though, even from thousands of miles away.

The constricted sensation that keeps me from swallowing prevents me from replying as well. Not trusting Reid shouldn’t affect Graham’s confidence in me.

Finally, he looks at the screen and leans closer, and I gulp at the lump in my throat, sliding down like a grapefruit in my windpipe.

“I have a research paper to finish and turn in tonight, so we’ll talk tomorrow, all right?” he says, and I nod and whisper goodnight.


What did I tell Emma before—that I’m not possessive? Screw that.

During the past three weeks, we’ve spent an hour or more on Skype every night that we weren’t together. She’s relayed stories about her stepmother, childhood acting gigs and Emily, and I’ve strummed my guitar and sung her lines of songs that I might or might not have written, which might or might not be about her.

Tonight we were off in fifteen minutes. Her naiveté about Reid Alexander was pissing me off and I was about to unleash a whole string of assertions that can’t be unsaid.

I’ve watched my parents when they argue. Their disagreements seldom become elevated enough to include raised voices, but whenever my father’s jaw is so clenched that he could grind diamonds between his teeth, he goes for a walk around the block. It doesn’t matter what kind of weather it is, either—I’ve seen him take off in tempest conditions and come back soaked to the bone with an inside-out umbrella. The point is to never say words you can’t take back.

“I thought you were supposed to communicate with each other?” Cassie asked Mom once, years ago, after Dad stomped rigidly out the front door. “Isn’t that what your whole, like, career is based on telling people to do?”

Brynn and I eavesdropped from around the corner. We stared at each other in mute acknowledgement of Cassie’s direct hit. Cassie was often Dad’s advocate, though Mom usually told her to stay out of it. This time she merely sighed. “Yes, but there are exceptions. When you find yourself about to say something that crosses a line, something that could cause irreparable harm, sometimes the best you can do is just not say that thing.”

“Dad would never say something like that,” Cassie huffed.

Mom laughed once, no amusement in the sound. “Exactly.”

I do have a paper due tomorrow, but the body of the paper is done; only the citations page remains. Inadvertently, I’ve instituted my own version of walking around the block, because there are a load of words threading through my skull right now and none of them are easygoing or objective.

I don’t fault Reid for his multitude of casual hookups. I’m a guy—I’ve had plenty of my own and I’m not that big of a hypocrite. What I fault him for are the two times I know of that he actively encouraged a girl to fall ass over elbows for him—as Brooke would say—when he had no intention of sticking around. I could excuse what he did to Brooke as immaturity, if he hadn’t done the same thing to Emma recently. As soon as he doesn’t get what he wants, he’s out screwing as many girls as he can run through.

Emma seems to think that because he’s playing nice at the moment, he’s above suspicion. Like he took no for an answer where she was concerned. But I watched him that night everyone went out—the calculating gaze he leveled on her. If this was two hundred years ago, I’d have contemplated taking him outside and beating the shit out of him for looking at her like that—and that pinky swear thing he did with her would have guaranteed it.

My paper submitted, I’m unofficially finished with college. At one time, I considered pursuing graduate degrees and becoming a professor like my parents, but that was a year or so ago, before I began getting more steady work as an actor. Standing in front of a class droning on about analytical symbolism and rhetorical theory while striving for tenure and churning out research? Strangely, some of that is appealing. But I enjoy acting more, and I don’t need to reach Reid Alexander status to feel successful doing it.

It’s almost 11:00 p.m. in San Diego, but Emma has to be up early to get to the studio. As sure as I am of her, as sure as I want to be, I don’t want to think about the fact that I left her hurt and angry tonight, with no one to talk to but Reid Alexander. Not my brightest move.


I didn’t ask her about her interview in San Bernardino. I didn’t find out if the drive to San Diego in Reid’s bright yellow Matchbox car was as uneventful as he’d predicted. I didn’t tell her the end of the story where I’m the TA in her literature class, and she’s the student who forgot to turn in her paper on time…

I hadn’t batted an eye at the photo and story of Reid kissing her at the airport. She told me it was on the cheek (the photo angle made it impossible to tell), and over so quickly that she didn’t even feel it.

I know how the paparazzi play their games.

And I do trust her.

So she should trust me when I tell her there’s nothing between me and Brooke but a strong, committed friendship.

I pull up the photos again, and read the short blurb.

Is another undercover romance blooming inside the School Pride cast? Brooke Cameron (of Life’s a Beach fame) was spotted cozying up to costar Graham Douglas late Wednesday in the doorway of his Manhattan brownstone. They spent a long evening catching up, we presume, as Ms. Cameron left the home alone and none the worse for wear after a visit lasting a bit over three hours. Cameron and Douglas play Caroline Bingley and Bill Collins, respectively, in one of the most highly anticipated teen hits of the summer.

Me: I’m sorry for bailing on you so early. Skype tomorrow at 9?

Emma: Okay

Me: Miss you

Emma: Miss you too

Chapter 22


Reid: Bullseye. She was pretty much in tears.

Me: Goooooal!

Reid: You are completely deficient in empathy, aren’t you?

Me: When required, yes. So did you comfort her?

Reid: Offered. She stayed in her room.

Me: Losing your touch?

Reid: My touch is as intact as ever, thx.

Growing up in the suburbs of Austin meant playing soccer. I got stuck in the goal far too often during the first couple of seasons, and since my team sucked ass, I was repeatedly scored on. I often left the field crying and wiping snot onto my sleeve. My coach—another player’s father—took my tears as typical feminine weakness, patting my shoulder and telling me not to cry—all we’ll show ’em what-for next time.

Coach Will missed the point. I wasn’t dejected; I was pissed as hell that my team didn’t have a single player who deserved to call herself a defender, including his incompetent, stuck-up daughter. What my coach failed to understand was that as much of a girl as I appeared to be—fat blonde curls tumbling from my ponytail, the ribbons in my hair and threaded through my shoes perfectly matching my uniform—I was in actuality a carnivorous monster who wanted to chew up the field with my custom-ordered pink cleats.

I was six.

By age seven, my father had me enrolled in summer soccer camps run by actual adult soccer players, and my natural abilities began to shape into skilled aggression. When fall rolled around, Dad demanded that they put me on a better team with a coach who wasn’t “an inept dumbshit who couldn’t tell his ass from a hole in the ground.” The first game of the season was against my old team. I scored three goals and fouled my ex-coach’s daughter with a perfect ankle-hooking trip that left her face-planted in the middle of the recently muddy field.

I had to sit out the rest of the game, which we won because of my pre-halftime scores. I was the star forward from that point on, and the only time I played dirty was when it was called for. People would be surprised how frequently playing dirty is called for when you’re the prettiest, fastest player on a competitive first-place team, especially when that team is named the Butterflies.

Dad stopped coming to my games once he had a new wife, a new family, and new-and-improved soccer players to half-raise and discard. I don’t know why I gave a shit whether or not he came, but I did. Maybe because the soccer field was the only place I ever felt like he got me, so it was like I didn’t exist for him anymore. When I started high school I quit cold turkey, which was fine with Mom. She never understood Sporty Girl-Power Brooke anyway.

She submitted my picture to a modeling agency and I got a print ad, and then I got a commercial, to be shot in LA. Mom had always staunchly refused to be a soccer mom; stage mom was more her speed. The rest, as they say, is history.


“Déjà vu, eh?” I hand Emma the pull-handle to her carry-on, and she holds it, and her laptop bag, firmly between us. Her tense smile tells me she expects me to respect the not-so-subtle barrier she’s erected. Unless I’m willing to breach a wall of luggage, there won’t be a repeat of the kiss on her cheek that showed up all over the Internet a week ago, giving the impression of more than it was. Much more.

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