Read the first two chapters of LOVED before release day!
“Here are the proofs, I already met with the owners, and I’m off duty until Friday after noon. Bye!”
Celeste darted around to block her from the doorway. “Whoa, whoa! What happened with Mr. Rich and Handsome?” They weren’t using Jacob’s name in public.
“Um, we had dinner last night and we’re spending time together until he leaves Friday morning.”
She grinned. “Should I break out the champagne?”
“We’re only dating. Don’t make a big deal.”
“Okay, okay… I’ll see you in a few days.”
“Thank you! I gotta go. I’m supposed to call him.”
Celeste shooed her out. “Get out of here, then. And I want details this weekend.”
Beth hurried out of the building, placing her ear-piece in her ear and dialing his number.
“Ringing me before noon. I’m impressed,” Jacob said.
She rolled her eyes, which he couldn’t see. “I told you it wouldn't take long. Where do you want to meet?”
“Depends. How public do you want to be today?”
Crap, I forgot all about the paparazzi. “Not very. Um... I'll give you directions to a place outside
They’d have to be sneaky to avoid the press.
He arrived in casual clothes and a baseball cap. She asked for a quiet table in the back after accepting his short kiss hello, and told him about the building she'd seen that day. Over lunch, they got into a discussion about artistic values in architecture. He surprised her with how much scenery he took in around him.
“Well, I'm glad you weren't just tuning me out when you stared out the window,” she teased.
He shrugged. “I like looking at interesting stuff. Have they ever sent you overseas?”
She shook her head. “Strictly US locations. Farthest I've been from home was
though I only got to stay overnight.”
They strolled a beach after lunch, carrying their shoes to feel the cool sand on their feet. A day off could be any day of the week for them and this beach was mostly deserted, so they savored the peace and quiet of anonymity.
He glanced down at her feet as they walked. “You know, I don't think I've seen your legs in years,” indicating her calf-length skirt.
“Not much to see,” she said. “They're skinny like the rest of me.”
“I prefer to think of you as statuesque. Does your leg bother you at all?”
“Not anymore. Physical therapy was a bitch and I was glad for the prescription pain pills. Don't ever have your muscles cut through to expose your bone. They don't like it.”
He grinned. “I'll remember that. What happened to the driver that hit you?”
“Whole lotta trouble, since he willfully ran through the red light. Plus, the insurance company sued him to get their money back. He wasn't covered, big surprise. I was lucky...the only reminder left from the collision is the scar on my leg from surgery.”
He winced sympathetically. “How bad is it?”
“Not presentable. Could be worse. I have this gel to rub on it.” She watched the waves wash back and forth over the sand. “But no miniskirts for a while. Why so curious?”
“Lots of reasons. I want you to be alright and we haven't had the chance to talk about it.” He stopped walking and faced her. “I drove off my best friend. Something needed to change, right? As for the rest, I'm in love with you and that doesn't switch off. You were a bitch sometimes, but you were mine. I missed you too damn much to let you go.”
“Gee, thanks.” She started walking again.
“You know what I mean.”
“Do I? We were having a nice conversation and then you insult me.”
“Why are you here, Beth?”
“What?” She blinked, unsettled.
“I know why I'm with you, but why are you here? Lonely? Horny? Tell me.” His eyes bored into her to find the truth.
“I-I...it's...we just got together last night. Why are you pushing me?”
“Maybe I want to know if I can trust you, hm?”
“Jacob... I'd never intentionally hurt you. I wasn't thinking about hurting you when I left.” She sighed, casting her eyes downward as she dragged her toe in the sand. “I was protecting myself.”
He stepped forward and cupped her cheeks in his hands. “From what?”
“When my mother died, a part of me shut down. It wasn't even conscious, I just...chose very safely. I buried myself in school, didn't date, then buried myself in my job. I didn't talk to my dad, danced around topics with my brother... I...hardened. And when you asked me to work for you, it was perfect. I didn't have to look at my life if I was running yours. I was never that open about my feelings, but I haven't let anyone in, in years, until recently.” She smiled a little. “Celeste kinda pushed her way in against my will. Well, you met her. She's very...dynamic.”
“Hmm. Seemed like good people, though.”
“And now? Do I get a hint on what's going on up here?” he asked, tapping her temple with his finger.
“I'm still trying to figure it out, myself. See, this is why you're insane for picking me out of all the women in the world that want you.”
“Sweetheart, I already knew you were neurotic.” He pulled her in close.
She buried her face in his shirt. “Ha, ha,” was her muffled reply. Being encircled in his arms felt safe, the warmth of his chest in contrast to the chilly breeze picking up off the ocean. She shivered.
“Let's head back to the cars, then. I'm getting hungry.”
“After that big lunch! I swear you have a tapeworm.”
“Hey, it takes fuel to maintain this physique. Can't help it if I need to eat six times a day. But you're one to talk, missy. I seem to remember you devouring an entire pizza all by your lonesome during the Super Bowl game.”
“I was bored!”
They went to a movie, sharing a tub of popcorn, then picked up dinner so they could eat with Dad at home.
Jacob hesitated on the front walk.
“Come on, Dad's already home.”
“He's not going to be cleaning a gun in the den, or anything, is he?”
“Are you scared of my father?” she asked, laughing.
He glared at her. “He's a big, intimidating, ex-military guy, and you're his baby girl. I think I'm smart to be a little worried.”
Looping her arm with his, she dragged him to the door. “Come on, you big baby. You already scored points back at the hospital. The most he's going to do is give you The Talk.”
“That's even worse...” he muttered.
Dad came to the door just as she opened it. “Thought I heard you kids out there. Jake...nice to see you again.” He put his hand out.
Jacob shook it firmly. “Nice to see you, too, sir.”
“I picked up Chinese, Dad. I hope that's okay?” She carried the bag into the kitchen.
“As long as you remembered the Egg Foo Yung.”
“Of course. You've ordered the same thing for twenty-five years, Daddy. Jacob, can you get the plates, please? Second cabinet on the right.”
While her boyfriend followed her instructions, she mouthed, “be nice” to her father.
He blinked innocently. “So... Jake. How long are you in town?”
“Until Friday, sir. I have two concerts this weekend.” He placed three plates on the table next to the containers she set out.
“Mm-hmm and how many more of these concerts will take you out of town?”
“Dad...” she hissed.
“I'm merely taking an interest in his vocation,
I understand what it's like to travel all the time, away from the people you
Jacob stood next to her, unsure whether it was appropriate to take his seat, yet, or not. “Another five cities. The tour is almost done,” he said. “Beth is welcome to come to any concert she likes, of course.”
“You guys want beers?” She hoped to break through the staring contest.
“And where would she be expected to stay?” Dad asked, ignoring her question.
“Wherever she is most comfortable. With security, if necessary.”
Her father nodded, considering. “You have a need for that often? A lot of crazy people fixate on celebrities.”
“They do, though I've been lucky so far. My fan mail is screened through my management, and security is all over every venue we play. There hasn't been an incident on either tour. Beth knows all the ins and outs, obviously, since she was a part of it for three years.”
“Can we save the interrogation for after we eat? The food is starting to get cold,” she said, glaring at her father.
“As you wish, sweetheart. Pass the chow mein?”
She breathed a sigh of relief when Dad focused on the food, and sat down once she retrieved beverages. Jacob ate quietly, his leg bouncing under the table. She asked her father how his day was, then talked about her client meeting. Anything to fill the time.
Dad excused himself after dinner to deal with some paperwork.
Jacob finally slumped in his seat. “God, I could use a smoke,” he muttered, picking at the remains of his food.
“So, go have one in the backyard.”
He shook his head. “Can't. I quit a few months ago.”
He gave her a look that said the answer was obvious. “Something about ‘how could anyone kiss an ashtray’?”
She had said that. He did it for me? “Oh. Well, it's better for your health and your voice. How did you quit?”
“Cold turkey,” he said with a grimace. “The guys were saying I didn't have the willpower to quit, so I didn't use the gum, or patches, or anything. The first two weeks were hell. I wasn't exactly pleasant.”
“I can imagine. I'm proud of you, though.” She kissed him gently on the mouth. “Want some ice cream before Dad comes out to grill you again?”
“Couldn't I escape now while he's not looking? I don't even know how I did, he was so stoic.”
“He approves. You'll get used to it. He has little tells if you watch him long enough.” She stood to put the plates in the sink. “There's Fudge Ripple in the freezer.”
“Chocolate for what ails you?”
“Something like that.”
Her father stayed in his study longer than expected, so she sent Jacob home while he still had the chance to escape.
Before she turned in for the night, she stopped in for Dad's official opinion. “Well? Did my boyfriend pass his first test?” she asked, arms crossed over her chest.
“I like him well enough.”
“Good. He's a little afraid of you, you know, so in the future, be nice.”
“As long as he's nice to you.”
She eye-rolled. “G'night, Daddy.”
Jacob wanted her to come over in the morning. Not knowing what he had planned today, she was a bit ill-at-ease. He pulled her inside when she knocked on the door.
“Hey, what about breakfast?” she asked when he led her down the hall.
“I wanted to show you the rest of the house when you don’t have an excuse to run away.”
“But I’m hungry!”
“Good, but you can wait five minutes.” They entered his hub of creativity. “I love this room for that window. The garden is really the house's crowning glory. Sorry about the white walls...all I've done is hung up stuff.”
“Well, I can see where Maria's influence ends,” she teased, patting the desk littered with bits of paper, notepads, and pens.
He shrugged. “Doesn’t matter what it looks like. I know where everything is. Let me show you all the exciting empty rooms.” He took her hand again. They fit well, their hands, and laced together like they remembered how it was done.
Every room was placed like her dream showed them, but she let him play tour guide. The library looked so large and empty without the bookshelves and comfy furniture. Upstairs, she felt…odd…venturing down that last hallway. Allison’s room was as plain and empty as the rest.
“The carpet is very nice,” she finally said.
“They certainly thought of everything. The master bath is quite gorgeous, in my opinion.”
“At the moment, I’m more interested in breakfast.”
“Fair enough. Let’s see what Maria made too much of today.”
After filling up on waffles, fruit, and fresh cream, Jacob drew her out to the garden. A field of grass started at the house and spread out several feet, with a black-bottom lap pool off to the side. Where the grass ended, an intricate design of flowers, shrubs, and trees wove a maze to encompass the rest of the grounds.
“This way,” he said, mischief in the twinkle of his eyes, leading her around twists and turns until she felt sure she’d never find the house again. He finally stopped at the center, a cleared circle containing a fountain and some antiqued benches. “It’s amazing how quiet it is,” he began in a hushed voice. “You’d never guess you were in
Isn’t it pretty?”
A marble statue stood at the fountain’s center holding a single rose. Her eyes were closed while she sniffed the blossom. She wore a simple draped tunic, her hair pulled over one shoulder.
“Very classic. I don’t know how you found your way here through that maze. I doubt I could find the house right now.”
“That’s the point,” he said, pulling her onto his lap after he sat on a bench. “No cell phones, no nosy onlookers, no distractions…” He nuzzled into the crook of her neck and inhaled. “I have a private flight tomorrow. Will you see me off?”
“Of course.” She wrapped her arms around his shoulders so she wouldn't tip. “How long will you be gone?”
“Too bloody long, now,” he grumbled. “I know you said you want to go slow, but you're welcome to come join me at any of the venues, Beth.” His arms tightened around her waist. “I hate leaving you right now.”
“You can still call me. I don’t know what my schedule will be like, but I’ll answer my phone.” Even if they had a three-hour time difference, it still wouldn’t be a big deal. “Jacob…”
“When we do go public, or the press finds out about us, what then? They’re going to get really…nosy.” The media pressure had split up more than one couple over the years. How would their lives change once the news got out?
He softly stroked her cheek and she leaned into his touch. “We’ll figure it out. I’ll protect you as much as possible, sweetheart. We both know how to play the game, yeah? So it’s just a matter of making them play on our terms.”
“You make it sound so simple.”
“It will be if we focus on us, not what some tabloid says, alright? The people that really know us know the truth. If the gossip rags step over the line, I'll sue.”
She wished she shared his confidence. “Still… I’d rather they find out later than sooner.”
They stayed in the garden enjoying each other's company until it started to get dark. Jacob suggested watching a movie on the big TV, so they curled up on the couch with a big bowl of popcorn.
The DVD had gone back to the menu screen.
Beth was asleep in front of him, breathing softly. His arm banded around her waist, drawing her closer while he nuzzled into her sweet-smelling hair. She sighed contentedly, her hand sliding over his to entwine their fingers. They fit together like two spoons in a drawer.
She shifted against him, revealing her face, and whispered his name.
She dreams about me? He brushed her hair off her face with his finger, tracing along her cheek, her slender nose, the pretty curve of her lips...rarely did he get to see her unguarded and soft. She had the cutest little ears. He kissed the skin beneath her ear, the muscles twitching against his lips. A twitch became a shiver when he grazed his teeth along her neck and she moaned. It wasn't exactly innocent of him to explore her responses while she slept, but he couldn't help it...and his hands were behaving themselves.
This was only her neck...
She was having a perfectly pleasant and slightly naughty dream that felt very real. In this space, there were no worries, no fears... She just enjoyed feeling. Dream-Jacob made her feel sure, uninhibited, free... She lived a part where she wasn't constantly thinking. If she wanted to speak, she did. If she wanted to touch him, she did.
Waking, she looked up at Jacob through half-open eyes. From the tingling of her skin, he’d been nibbling on her neck. His eyes widened when she pulled his head down for a kiss. She rolled her body so they were both on their sides facing each other, not looking to get naked right now, but she didn't want to run, either. So, that's how she kissed him, with measured desire.
He gave her full control, shifting underneath her without breaking the kiss to put her on top. She appreciated him letting her set the pace, especially since he initiated most of the contact in their past.
Her hair fell on both sides of his face, casting it in shadow from the light of the TV. “I...um...” she whispered.
“Do you want to move?”
She shook her head slightly and closed the gap to kiss him again, little brushes of her lips on his. He tilted his head to easier accept her advances, but kept his hands still on her back. She flicked her tongue along his mouth. He gave her access, his hands tightening their grip when she brushed the roof of his mouth.
“I like being here with you,” she whispered, kissing along his defined jaw. “I know it's seemed like I'm a reluctant participant in all this, but... I do want to be here.”
“Do you, now...”
“Mm-hmm...” She nipped his ear. “Did you just growl?”
“Playin' with fire, love,” he said, shifting his hips to get the point across.
She immediately abandoned his earlobe. “I forgot about… Sorry.” Hard-ons were more than she could deal with right now.
“You only have to be sorry if you don't intend to do somethin' about it.”
“Good. Kiss me.”
It was the first make-out session either of them had started that didn’t threaten to lead to sex—which was good, right? A mature thing. Though, aside from wanting to build their relationship on a stronger foundation, her scar kept her from losing control. Vanity, sure, but she didn’t want him to see it, yet. Maybe ever.
She reluctantly went home an hour later. It was going to be several days 'til she saw him again, but at least they had the airport tomorrow morning.
Celebrity News Zone has exclusive photos of Jake Lindsey and his new love interest. Looks like Jake is into brunettes this fall.
Their goodbye was discreet, even in the private hanger. They strung it out until the last minute, and then Jacob was gone, promising to call as soon as he landed.
With nothing else to do but get back to normal life, Beth did some errands, stopping by the office—Celeste was out—and going to the market.
Her stomach flipped when she got into the checkout line and glanced at the tabloids.
The front page asked “Who Is Jake Lindsey's Mystery Girl?” above a picture of them kissing in the park. You couldn't see her face, but his profile was clear as day. Another magazine had a smaller picture of them embracing by the cars, taken through the gate to his house. It was only a matter of time before they got a clear shot of what she looked like.
She kept her head down when she paid for the groceries and hurried out of the store. Don't panic, don't panic... I knew this would be an aspect of our relationship. Don't panic...
She went to work.
Engrossed in looking through her lens, she jumped when her phone rang. “H-hello?”
“You alright, sweetheart?” Jacob’s concerned voice came through the line.
“Yeah, um…yeah… The ringing startled me. I’m working.”
“You’ll have to show me later.” Airport sounds were in the background. “I miss you already.”
“Mm, that’s nice. Listen, Jacob…”
“I don’t like that tone, Bethie.”
“No, nothing like that. Have you looked at a newsstand?”
“Not yet, why?”
“We’re in the papers,” she said. “Well, you are. I’m still ‘Mystery Girl’.”
“Oh, God, baby, I’m sorry you had to see that. You should have called me.”
“I was leaving the market and I had cold stuff to get home. Then I went to work. It’s… I always knew this would be a thing, you know, so, it’s okay.”
“You don’t sound okay.”
She sighed. “It was a surprise. They don’t have my identity, yet, and you’re in another town, so the cameras will follow you. I’m okay.”
“Are you sure, love?”
“Yeah.” She’d already said it twenty times that day, hoping it would make it true.
“I don’t think I believe you. Nothing has changed, alright? I’ve already talked to
Lynn about us, so the
second they get too invasive, it’ll be handled, okay? I want you to promise me
you’ll spend time out while I’m gone. Keep doing your normal things.”
“I’m at work now, aren’t I?”
“Beth…you know what I mean. Go out with your friends, or your dad. No hermitting.”
“Says the girl who already confessed to burying herself in paperwork to avoid life.”
“Yeah, yeah…break a leg tonight.”
“I’ll call you after the gig,” he promised. “I love you.”
“I know. Bye…” Hearing him get into a car, she hung up.
She cycled through the pictures on the memory card. Half of them were rubbish, but she only needed five good ones for the spread. Figuring she was too distracted to get any more work done, she packed up her equipment and went to the office to drop off the memory card.
Celeste greeted her with a smile. “Hey, stranger. How’s the glamorous life?”
“About to get a whole lot more public.”
“What? How so?”
She placed the card in the reader attached to Celeste’s computer. “The photogs are spying on us already. There are pictures in the tabloids.”
“No! Get your mind out of the gutter. Sneaky pictures. They didn’t show my face, but it’s only a matter of time.”
Celeste glanced at the screen. “Huh. These are a bit…plain, for you.”
“Sorry. I was a bit distracted today,” she snapped. “I know they’re crap.”
Celeste didn’t take offense. “Well, your crap is still better than a lot of what we’ve had in the past. I can use these.” She slid a file across the desk as she cycled through the shots. “Your assignments for next week.”
“There’s more than one?”
“It’s the rush season—last call to get the East Coast buildings in before it snows,” she said. She smirked as Beth read the file. “The scheduling is quite…convenient, if I say so, myself.”
Her eyes lifted to meet her boss’. “You are one sly fox.”
“Better believe it, honey.”
Celeste called it an early day and dragged Beth shopping.
“I don’t need anything new.”
“Of course, you don’t, but you’re surprising your new sweetie—you want something new.”
She narrowed her eyes at her. “Are you conspiring to get me laid?”
Celeste smiled sweetly. “Do I need to?”
Sulking, she sunk lower in the seat. “Not funny.”
“Look, he’ll be happy to see you no matter what, I know that, but it won’t hurt to appear like you’ve made a little effort, okay? It makes a man feel special. I promise not to tart you up too much.”
She sighed in defeat. “As long as we’re done by the time Jacob’s supposed to call.”
Jacob was exhausted when he finally managed to call, but Beth still found it very sweet he took the effort to remember. The next show was in
New Jersey on Sunday, so he was
midday tomorrow after a guest stint on a radio show. Monday through Saturday morning they were in New York City for press
events, more radio shows, and concerts.
The last concert of the US
tour was in Boston
She was looking forward to having him back home.
This Sunday morning, she was having breakfast with Daddy. Her phone chimed with an instant message.
Blueyedevil: I am so bloody bored.
She giggled, and typed back: What are you doing?
Blueyedevil: I’m stuck in the hotel waiting for the puppy to bring back lunch. They won’t let me leave the building until it’s time to go to the arena. There is not a single thing on TV on Sunday!
Bookworm01: Aww, poor baby. Dad says hi. We’re having pancakes. Why don’t you order a movie?
Blueyedevil: Naughty girl… I’d be thinking of you, though.
She blushed and shifted in her chair to hide her face from her father, though he seemed busy reading the comics.
Bookworm01: Not that kind!!!
Blueyedevil: I can use my imagination, then. I’m picturing a tall, hot brunette librarian just itching to reprimand some bloke for turning in a late book.
Bookworm01: My father is sitting right here!!
Blueyedevil: Can he see the screen?
Blueyedevil: Then I’ll continue. She’s been watching this same punk turn in his books late every month and charm the other birds out of paying the fee, so she’s going to teach him a lesson…
She got up from the table and went into her room.
Blueyedevil: But he’s been waiting for it to be her, see…has seen her glare at him behind those sexy wire-frame glasses in her tweed skirts, silk blouses, and sensible shoes. There’s a fire hiding behind all that buttoned-up primness and he’s just the bloke to coax it out of her.
Bookworm01: I’m signing off now…
Blueyedevil: Okay! Okay, I’ll stop. Don’t go.
Bookworm01: I’m here. You panic too easy, lol.
Blueyedevil: What are you wearing?
Bookworm01: *sigh* Sweats and a t-shirt. It’s Sunday morning, duh.
Blueyedevil: Aww, you’re no fun.
Bookworm01: If I say something different, the puppy’s going to catch you in a compromising position.
Blueyedevil: Not gonna play, are you? L
Bookworm01: Nope! J
Bookworm01: Think you’ll sell out tonight?
Blueyedevil: I never know that stuff ‘til after. As long as it’s a good gig, doesn’t matter too much. Wed, Thurs, Fri. are going to be hardcore. Thank God we break for Saturday or I’d drop.
Bookworm01: You need a vacation.
Blueyedevil: Probably. Gotta go, baby, the puppy is back. Can’t wait to come home.
Bookworm01: Miss you, too.
Signing off, she closed the device and smiled thinking of her surprise for him this week.
When Beth boarded the plane, Celeste was in the seat next to hers.
“I don’t need a chaperone,” Beth said, putting her carry-on in the overhead compartment.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m on vacation.”
Shaking her head, she said, “I was wondering how I ended up in first class.”
“Frequent flyer upgrade. I can talk my way into anything.” Boy that was the truth.
Beth sat down and stowed her purse under the seat. “I’ve noticed. What’s the real reason you’re coming to
New York with me?”
“I’m your best friend. I’m going to keep you company while your better half is oh-so-busy.”
“Code for ‘you’re hoping to hook up with someone in the band’. I’m just not sure whom.”
Celeste sighed. “You know me too well, but I’m not telling who I’m meeting.”
“Have your secrets. I’ll find out on my own. Gum?” Beth held out the pack.
She took a stick. “Thanks. Just think—we could double-date to the Grammy’s.”
That made her laugh. “Another groupie is born.”
“Oh, shut up.”
It was late afternoon in
New York City
when they landed. Celeste pre-arranged
everything. It was amazing what that
girl could do on short notice. In
moments, they were in a shuttle on the way to their hotel.
Looking in their room, Beth was shocked. “Whoa! Now, I know the magazine didn’t pay for this.”
“You’d be surprised.” Off her look, Celeste elaborated. “Okay, they’re only paying part of it. But, since you actually are on a business trip, there are write-offs, Miss Freelancer. And I’m on vacation. Why shouldn’t I upgrade? Oh, god, look at this tub!”
Hopeless. She’s completely hopeless.
Beth shook her head and started hanging clothes in the closet. “I can’t believe you brought that enormous suitcase for only five days.”
New York City! Have to be
prepared for anything. Besides, cold weather stuff is bulkier. I even brought
“It’s supposed to be sunny all week.”
She wagged her finger. “You never know…” Her beauty stuff spilled over the bathroom counter. “So, what’s Jake’s schedule?”
“Very busy. His people are pushing heavy promotion while he’s here in addition to the concerts. Reggie said he’d call when Jacob is back at his hotel for the night.”
“Well, is there anything we can show up to?”
“If you want to stand in line for hours…”
“Yeah. I need to look up where my locations are, then we should grab some dinner.”
Her cell phone rang while they were trying to decide what to order in. “Hello?”
“Hey, Beth. Jake should be back to his room by eight.”
“Thanks, Reggie. Has he eaten?”
“Not that I’ve seen.”
She double-checked the hotel name and suite number, let Reggie go, then picked up the restaurant directory that came with their room and dialed out.
“Who are you calling?” Celeste asked.
“Pizza place… Hi, do you take credit cards? Great. I want to have a pizza sent to…” She gave the information, had it repeated back, and hung up, grinning.
“That was the grossest pizza I’ve ever heard of.”
“I know, isn’t it? Jacob loves it, though. And, he’ll know who sent it.”
“You’ll make a very good wife,” Celeste teased.
“No, seriously…have you thought about it? You’d have these genius supermodel children.”
Beth rolled her eyes. “You spend way too much time thinking about my love life.”
“Decide where you want to eat, already!”
She zipped her lips shut and pointed to a page in the directory. They’d never spent extended time together before. It was possible Beth might kill her by Saturday.
She left her cell charging in the hotel room, so there was a voice mail message waiting when they got back. “Hey, babe, I don’t know how you arranged it, but THANK YOU. Today was just horrid until I opened the door to see the pizza boy. Miss you, especially on days like this.
She sighed happily and saved the message on her phone.
“So, what did he say?”
“He was very grateful. Sounds like it was a Monday.”
Celeste shuddered. “Ooo, I hate Mondays.”
“Uh-huh. I think we should go to the Today Show tomorrow.”
“I’m not standing in line over there by myself, you know. Just so we’re clear.” Celeste wrinkled up her nose in distaste.
“I promise I won’t make you go alone.”
Celeste started to think if it was up to Beth, Jacob would never know his girlfriend was in
New York. She hadn’t called him, yet, though she had
his suite number as well as his personal phone.
And when the band came out to sign autographs after taping their TV
appearance, where was Beth? At
Starbucks, getting tea.
Jacob didn’t come out that way, but it would’ve been easy enough to pass on a message through the band. Now, it was late afternoon, and Beth was with the client.
The whole purpose of coordinating this trip now had been to give the new lovebirds more time together. If Beth didn’t surprise the boy soon, Celeste was going to take matters into her own hands.
But that was tomorrow.
Tonight, she had a date.
Jacob smiled and shook hands with people like he was supposed to, but his mind wasn’t on the party. He wanted to be back at the hotel working on the new songs, or preparing for tomorrow’s concert, or talking to Beth on the phone. These industry parties were all flash, no substance. Before, he would have gotten a little buzzed and picked up the nearest single hottie for the night, but now…
“Skip out and call your girl,” Bob said, breaking Jacob’s reverie. “We’ll cover for you.”
“Yeah, you look bored stiff. No offense,” the girl on Bob’s arm added.
“None taken,” Jacob said. “Hey, I know you…”
The redhead stuck out her hand. “Celeste. We met after your concert last week.”
“Beth’s friend. What are you doing in
“I’m on vacation,” she said, and grinned. “You should call Beth. She’s probably sitting around. You know.”
He didn’t need to be told twice. He downed the last of his champagne and headed for the back exit, pulling out his cell phone. Hoping to avoid photographers by going out the back way, he was sorely disappointed. Flash bulbs blinded him as soon as he opened the door.
A security guard took him by the arm, guided him out of the throng of paparazzi, and hailed a cab. “Here you go, Mr. Lindsey.”
“Jake! Jake! Can we get a statement? Look this way, man!”
He got in the taxi, relieved when the car pulled away from the curb, and tried dialing Beth again.
Celeste turned back to her date and smiled. “I hope that did the trick. If she doesn’t tell him, I’m going to kill her.” She stepped closer and wrapped her arms around Bob’s neck.
“You’re really pulling for them, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Beth deserves to be happy, and if he’s who she wants, then I’m going to help. All she ever talked about, anyway, for the past few months.”
He laughed. “No kidding. Same thing on our end, except with an influx of love songs. I knew it had to be big when Jake is writing love songs. Songs about a hot girl, a hot night…yeah, but he’s never written love songs.” He rolled his eyes.
“Not in three years of playing together.”
“Huh. Enough about them. Let’s dance.”
Beth sat in a chic little bistro, candles on the tables and soft classical music playing in the background. “You’re right: it was the best gnocchi I’ve ever had.”
“I know my food. Dessert?” Nathan asked. What were the odds of him being the client she came to meet?
“Oh, no, I couldn’t eat another bite. I can’t believe I ran into you here.”
“Well, I do know the owner of your magazine. Meanwhile, look at you. I have to confess, I didn’t recognize you until you spoke.”
Her cheeks warmed. “People grow up, Nathan.”
“That they do. Still, you seem to be doing much better than a year ago.” He handed the waiter a credit card. “How long are you in the city?”
“A few more days. I have a couple more assignments to complete.”
“I hope you’ll take some time to see the city. I’d be happy to play tour guide.”
“That’d be nice, but my friend has me on a pretty full schedule.”
“You still have to eat, Liz,” he teased. “And we still have more meetings scheduled.”
“Nathan… I’m seeing someone. It’s part of why I’m in
“I didn’t ask. An exclusive someone?”
“That’s none of your business, but yes.”
“Does he appreciate you?”
She sighed. “Nathan…you don’t have to be protective.”
He waved it off. “Only curious. Call me if you change your mind.”
“Thank you for dinner. I should go.”
He stood with her and helped her with her coat. His fingertips tickled her neck as he lifted her hair to fall over her collar, but his touch didn’t hold the same electricity Jacob’s did. They locked eyes for a moment, then he smiled and gestured for her to precede him out of the restaurant.
He was one of those crazy people that owned a car in the city. They hugged at the curb and she kissed his cheek. “It was nice catching up. I hope you’ll like the photographs,” she said.
“Sure I will. You have my number.”
“I do. Goodnight, Nathan.”
She entered the hotel.
Celeste wasn’t in their room. Beth set her purse on the bed and shed her coat. Her purse started buzzing. Seeing Jacob’s name on the caller ID of her phone, she smiled and answered the call. “Hello.”
“Gotta love this Caller ID thing, unless you always answer the phone sounding so sweet.”
“Ha, ha. I try to be polite, but I did know it was you. How was your day?”
“I just escaped a premiere party,” he said.
“I couldn’t wait to get out of there, but, hey, I ran into a friend of yours.”
Her eyes widened. “Oh?”
“The redhead? Celeste. She was with Bob, surprisingly. Did you know they were dating?”
“She didn’t tell me who she was seeing. I don’t know that you’d call it dating…”
“They looked pretty cozy.”
“Celeste doesn’t get serious, is all I mean. If it lasts beyond her vacation, I’ll be amazed. You know how it goes.”
“Wha’d’ya’ mean, I know?”
“Jacob, I wasn’t inferring any—”
“I’m not denying I haven’t earned that reputation, but that’s in the past. You’re on my mind all the time, baby.”
“Did you call to fight with me, or what?” She so didn’t want to get into that.
“I missed you, of course.” He sighed. “I’m sorry… It’s been a long few days. What did you do today, love?”
“Work.” She kicked off her shoes. “Ran into an old friend. Nothing interesting.” The phone slipped out from under her chin to the floor. “Crap…sorry.”
“What were you doing?” he asked, amused.
“Taking off my shoes.”
“Ooo, what else are you going to remove?”
“Nothing. Geeze, you’re a horn dog.”
“I haven’t kissed you since Friday. Forgive me my fantasies.”
She could hear the smile in his voice. “I know all about your dirty mind.”
“Baby, you don’t know the half of it.”
“Jacob, besides our previous relationship, I practically lived with you for three years, including traveling on a tour bus for months. I’m more than acquainted.”
He chuckled, a throaty sound that did funny things to her insides. “You’re cute when you get snooty, though I did say you’d be the only girl.”
“Yes, but still… You could have censored yourselves a bit every so often.”
“What would be the fun in that? I would have missed seeing you blush.”
“Cad.” She could imagine the self-satisfied smirk on his face at that moment.
“Where are you?” he asked, curious.
“Where are you?”
“My suite, on my bed checking the sports scores.”
“Glad to know I’m so riveting you’re already watching TV. I do have to work in the morning, so…”
“Oh, quit. You know you have my full attention!”
“Until you find a soccer game.”
“Whatever.” Her phone beeped, indicating a low battery. “Crap, my battery is dying. Talk to you soon?”
“Just call me back on the landline.”
“I really should go through the photos I took today.”
She ended the call and flopped back on the bed with a groan. Why can’t I just talk to him?