“No, I’d be happy to still go with you, if you want me to…”

His eyes flashed up to mine. “So he’ll allow you to go with me?”

I frowned. “What do you mean, allow me to go—this is my decision, and I told you I’d go with you, so I’m willing to go—”

“Hey, don’t do me any favors, okay?” He stood, fists clenched at his sides. “I’ll call you tomorrow. I don’t know if I want to see you again, Emma, prom or not. This is so out of left field. I didn’t think you had it in you to lead someone on like that. I guess you’re more Hollywood girl than I thought.”

My eyes filled with tears as he stomped from the room, down the stairs and out the front door.


The studio valet takes the keys to my Lotus. It’s over a year old now, and I’m utterly bored with it. I’ve been thinking about getting a Porsche. Something sleek and black. Sexy. I have no idea what the hell I was thinking buying a yellow car. Dad’s “douche taxi” comments aside, it’s way too happy-smiley-sunny for me now. I’m nineteen as of last month. Yellow is something a kid chooses, not a man.

I’m psyched to see Emma, though I’m going to have to play that way down. Brooke warned me to do nothing beyond being civil and warm. Absolutely no flirting. “The last time you saw her you tried to pull her back into a relationship. She’s going to expect you to either be resentful or flirtatious. Be neither. Just be… sweet. You can fake that, right?”

I gave her a look that clearly said, You are a grade-A bitch, and she laughed. Brooke is a calculating genius, and I’m glad that for once I’m on her side. Sort of.

“Oh and by the way, no screwing around. At all. You nail-gunned your own coffin with that shit last fall. If you’re going to convince Emma that you’re a changed man, you’ve gotta start by keeping your dick in your pants.”

“Classy, Brooke.”


“Bite me, Reid—and tell me this: was Blossom, or whatever the hell her name was, worth losing Emma for? Because that’s what did it. Emma’s too forgiving for her own good, and I’m positive she’d have given you another shot if you hadn’t screwed it up for yourself—literally.”

Ouch. Bullseye.

As the valet steers the Lotus away from the curb (carefully, because he knows I’m watching), a taxi pulls up. Wearing a floral sundress, her hair piled adorably at her crown and looking as though it will all tumble down any moment, Emma steps from the back seat, watching me warily. “Hey, beautiful,” I smile. Oops. So much for not flirting.

“Hi, Reid.” She looks equal parts reserved and relieved, so I haven’t blown it yet.

Focus on sweet and friendly. No flirting. So I guess pulling her forward and seeing if she’ll let me kiss her is out. As is telling her she looks good enough to eat. “So. Um. Ready to meet Ryan?” I assume Seacrest hasn’t been on her list of interviewers before now.

She takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. Nervous. “I guess so.”

“No worries. He’s as cool as they come—he won’t do anything to make you feel uncomfortable.” I hook my thumbs into my front jeans pockets and offer her an elbow. “So… I suppose you got the word from the powers that be on how we’re supposed to play up the Darcy-and-Lizbeth-in-love angle, huh?”

She slides her hand into the crook of my arm and we walk up to the studio doors. I glance down at her and she looks up, a small crease between her brows. “Yeah, my agent told me. I’m not really—”

“Don’t worry.” I lean closer and lower my voice. “This will be a piece of cake. I’ve had to do it once before, and I couldn’t stand my costar. It took everything in me not to stuff a sock into her mouth any time she started talking. We managed to keep up the pretense until the initial release was over. You and I won’t have the same problem… unless you find yourself wanting to stuff a sock in my mouth.”

One corner of her mouth turns up and she smirks, and I know we’re good. “I don’t feel the need so far,” she retorts. “But I’ll let you know.”

The interview goes well. When questioned, we issue polite denials of any romantic ties between us, stating that the whole cast was cozy last fall, what with the close quarters and our similar respective ages. Ryan quirks an eyebrow when I bump Emma softly with my shoulder and smile down at her like we have a secret. We’ve definitely fulfilled what the studio wants from us—ambiguity in our answers about a possible relationship, coupled with seemingly minor physical displays of affection.

What the public believes or doesn’t about Emma and me is irrelevant to me personally, and I know she won’t be swayed into (or out of) a relationship because of fan reaction, especially considering her upcoming exit from Hollywood this fall. Whatever’s going on between her and Graham Douglas can’t possibly be all that significant yet. They live too far apart and have hardly seen each other in months. He’s a wild card, though. I never did figure him out. Brooke seems to think she can manipulate this with my help, and both of us will end up with what we want.

I’m less sure of that, but perfectly willing to play my part. Losing Emma was a massive disappointment. One I’d like to reverse.

Chapter 6


It’s been four days since I’ve seen her. In person, anyway. I’m currently staring at a jerky graphic of her on my laptop screen—the best Emma-substitute technology has to offer. It’s not enough. Not even close.

“Don’t you have class tomorrow?” she asks, blinking into her webcam, staring at a correspondingly spasmodic image of me.

“I do.” The time difference between us doesn’t play into my favor. She’s the one who can afford to sleep in; I’m the one with eight o’clock classes. 10:03 p.m. in Sacramento is 1:03 a.m. in New York. “But if you were here, I wouldn’t be sleeping, either. So what’s the difference?” Aside from the fact that sitting in my bed, laptop tilted to watch your face as you speak, is so inferior to the feel of you in my hands, the taste of you on my tongue.

The fuzzy Emma image smiles, one hand nervously pushing her hair behind her ear. She glances away, towards her bedroom door, I imagine, and back to me. Leaning closer, her face fills my screen. “Oh?” Her voice lowers. “And what would we be doing, instead of sleeping, if I was there?”

I give her a somewhat tame version. Not exactly censored, but not enough to scare her, either. The light on her end is too dark to see if she blushes, but her lips part and her eyes widen slightly and she bites her lip adorably and listens like I’m telling her the best story ever.

I don’t know how far she went with Reid. Or with anyone before him, for that matter, though I surmised that there was no one before him, from how frustrated he often seemed. I know far too much about Reid Alexander and his seduction capabilities. Not wanting a full accounting of just how critically I screwed up by not taking her from him last fall, I have no plans to ask her about their involvement. It has no bearing on what I think of her. It has no bearing on us.

“I wish you were here,” she says finally, her lower lip jutting out so slightly I might be imagining it. I run my finger across it on the screen, which she can’t see me do.

“I will be, in a week.”

She groans. “Too long.”

I laugh softly. “I agree.”

A faint scratching comes from my closed bedroom door. “Go away, Noodles,” I call. Cara’s cat is usually asleep at the foot of her bed at 1:00 a.m., not wandering around the house scratching on random closed doors.

Then my doorknob turns, the door opening a sliver before a small face appears. “Daddy?”

“I have a visitor,” I say into the tiny camera at the top of my screen, pushing the laptop onto the bed and padding across the room. “Cara? What are you doing up?” I open the door and she latches onto me, impeded only by the stuffed rabbit clenched in one fist.

Grasping her under the arms, I lift her and settle her in my arms. She sniffles and buries her face in my neck. “Bad dream?” I ask, and she nods, sniffling a little harder.

“Can I sleep with you?” A hiccup follows this muffled request. Emma coughs lightly, the sound coming through the laptop speakers with a scratchy unevenness, and Cara’s head pops up. “Who’s that?”

“I’m talking to Emma,” I say. “Let’s get you back to bed.”

She turns her head back and forth mulishly, her dark eyes intent. “I want to talk to Emma, too.”

Great. Wrestling Cara back into her bed could take me half an hour. She’ll want to tell me her entire nightmare, and she’s quite the dramatic narrator. I fully suspect she adds details as she goes along, just to enhance the story. And then the request for water. The request for a kiss. The need to be accompanied to the bathroom. The checking for monsters in her closet, under her bed and behind her draperies. Another kiss.

I love my daughter, but crap, what timing.

I walk over and pick up the laptop with my free hand, turning it towards Cara and myself. “I might as well let you go,” I tell Emma. “This could take a little while.”

“Hi, Emma,” Cara says, posing for the camera, horrible nightmare forgotten. She’s used to conversing with me this way when I’m away from home and she’s with Brynn or Cassie. “This is Bunny.” She holds the rabbit in front of the webcam. I’m sure all Emma can see is a screen full of worn blue fur.

“Oh, well hello there, Bunny. Are you by any chance… a turtle?”

Cara giggles, snatching Bunny to her chest and replacing the stuffed toy with her own face. “Nooooo.”

“A giraffe, maybe?”


“A doggie?”

“No, no, no!”

“Well, I’m stumped. What kind of animal has a name like that?”

“A bunny!” Cara is dissolving into a fit of laughter, and I can’t help laughing along. She turns to me and points to my bed. “Sit, Daddy.”

I sit with a sigh, torn between shock and elation at Emma’s ability to switch gears. Five minutes ago I was whispering rather wicked details of what I wanted to do to her, and if the look on her face was any indication, she was having no problem following along. And now she’s charming my daughter.

Cara begins to get sleepy quickly, slumping into my lap a short time later, curled around Bunny. It’s inching closer to 2 a.m. “I’m going to go put her back down and hope she stays down. Same time tomorrow?”

“Earlier tomorrow,” she promises. “Goodnight, Graham.”

“Goodnight, Emma. See you soon.” She signs off and the screen goes black.

Ah, God. My life has become more complicated than I ever imagined it could be. I had no real idea what I was doing to myself when I decided to take on parenthood. To cope, I made adjustments I thought I could manage, like forgoing close romantic entanglements. At first, nothing could have been easier, because I was still in love with Zoe.

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