Star Struck by Laurelin Paige


  To all the loves of a former life—the Thespians, theater geeks, drama queens that surrounded me in my days of plays and musicals. The dreams we dreamt together were grand and inspiring. You taught me so much that translated into my new life, making my new dream possible. In every way, you are my foundation. Thank you.

  Chapter One

  Heather Wainwright rolled the straw of her drink between her plump raspberry coated lips, her iced skinny mocha now mostly just watered down espresso.

  “Do you want me to stop for another?” Lexie asked, eying her sideways from behind the wheel of the BMW Active Hybrid, her short black hair bobbing with the subtle movement.

  “No. Just next time get me a bigger size to begin with.” Heather dropped her empty cup into the holder in front of her and stuck the nail of her thumb between her teeth. She was anxious but unable to identify the source of the emotion. With as often as she’d felt that way lately, she should have been getting used to it.

  Should have been were the key words. More and more, her anxiety interfered with her daily activities. She’d even started to get a reputation on some of her sets as a diva. Maybe she should take Lexie’s advice and give herself a vacation. She’d certainly earned enough clout in Hollywood to take a break without losing any career footing.

  She sighed. Even if she wanted to take a break, she couldn’t. Not now. She was booked almost solidly for the next year and a half with various film projects. Even if she could get out of some of her obligations, she wouldn’t. It was too much like quitting, and Heather would never be called a quitter.

  “At least you had a few days off.” Lexie seemed to sense the source of Heather’s sigh. “Maybe I shouldn’t have signed you up for this. You could have used the three solid weeks.”

  “No, it’s fine.” Her tone came out whinier than she’d intended. Yes, she could have used the rest, but she’d never pass up an opportunity to help the Urban Arts Partnership, and Lexie knew that. That was why Lexie had proven herself as the best assistant Heather had ever had—she understood the actress in a way few people did. In fact, after working together for two years, Lexie was more of a friend than an employee. “I’m sorry I’m being a bitch about it. I want to do this.”

  Heather had only gotten back to L.A. five days before having just finished a six-week shoot in Colorado. She hadn’t even finished buckling her seatbelt in the car outside LAX before Lexie’d delivered good news and bad news. The good news was her next film had encountered a significant delay in production, giving her an extra three weeks before she’d have to start filming. This meant she’d have time to rest, but more importantly, it meant she was available for the annual 24-Hour Plays, a charity event that benefited the Urban Arts Partnership. Heather had been disappointed when she’d thought she wouldn’t be available for the event—she tried to never miss it.

  The bad news was that the 24-Hour Plays’ usual spokeswoman, Rosie Barrett, had fallen on the set of her own movie and broken her leg in three places severe enough to require surgery. At the last minute, Montblanc, the sponsors of the event, were scrambling for a replacement. Without any consultation, Lexie had volunteered Heather for the job.

  Heather rested her elbow on the window ledge and glared at her driver. “But tell me again why you thought I’d be up for taking Rosie’s place?”

  It was Lexie’s turn to sigh. “Because you’re an avid supporter of Urban Arts and you are a born schmoozer. It’s a perfect gig for you.” She glanced in her side mirror, avoiding Heather’s piercing stare. “At least I didn’t sign you up for that interview that Jenna Markham’s people have been bugging you about.”

  “If you’d done that, I would have fired you.”

  Jenna Markham was a cross between an investigative reporter and Barbara Walters. She dug up the deepest darkest secrets of her subject’s past and then made him or her get all weepy about it in a televised interview. Heather had managed to keep most of her roots buried. She was not about to blow that with a bare all interview.

  “See? I know that. Which is why I told her no and I told Urban Arts yes. Because you want to help Urban Arts.” Lexie bit her lower lip. “Besides, though I still think you need to take some time to chill, now is not necessarily the best time to do so. You need something to keep your mind off of Collin moving out.”

  Heather flung her hands in the air in frustration. “I don’t need anything to keep my mind off of Collin! This isn’t a devastating breakup. I’m fine. How many times do I have to say it?”

  “It doesn’t bother you at all that he’s been sleeping with someone else for the past who knows how long? That he’s moving in with her?”

  Heather dropped her hands to her lap and shrugged. “Eh.” She couldn’t explain her feelings about her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Collin Satchel. While his decision to move out left Heather alone in her twenty thousand square foot Bel Air house, she didn’t feel any lonelier than she had when he was living there. Their entire relationship had been based on sex and playing a mega Hollywood couple for the media. Truthfully, the sex hadn’t been all that fulfilling.

  “I slept with other guys too,” Heather admitted now. “Don’t look at me like that. Collin and I had an understanding. The only rules were use protection and keep it on the down-low.” Not that any of her trysts had gotten her off the way she’d needed. What was she missing?

  “Well, even if you really are fine, which I doubt, the press is going to say otherwise. Unless you’re out in the world, being seen, showing how fine you are without him. Hosting the plays is a perfect opportunity for that.”

  “You’re right, you’re right.” Heather could improvise anything, schmooze anyone. So what was her hesitation about hosting the 24-Hour Plays?

  It was the importance of the event—that was what. Of all the causes and funds Heather championed, this one truly mattered to her. Acting had been the only thing that had pulled her through her childhood, and the Urban Arts Partnership was all about keeping the arts in underprivileged schools. She was afraid she couldn’t do it justice, that she’d do more harm than good.

  But the event needed a spokesperson. They’d thought of her and Lexie had accepted for her. Backing out now would definitely hurt the success of the plays. “You’re right,” she said again. “But you have to write every one of my spokespersonish speeches, Lex. And if there’s any other extra work to do, I’m throwing it to you.”

  “Of course. That’s my job. Anyway, the only thing really extra is tonight. It’s casual, so no biggie.”

  The tonight Lexie referred to was where they were currently headed—the Meet and Greet for all the behind-the-scenes people. There would be reps from Montblanc and Urban Arts, as well as the backstage crew managers. Heather just had to share a few drinks, laugh at a few mediocre jokes and smile for a few pictures. Then she’d be out of there—free and clear until the official start the next evening at nine.

  “What time did this start?” Heather asked, noting the dashboard clock read 7:27.

  “Seven. So you are sufficiently late.”

  Heather never arrived anywhere on time—another attribute that gave her diva status in the eyes of the press. It wasn’t that she always wanted to make an entrance as many gossip columns surmised. She’d simply discovered that arriving late guaranteed she wouldn’t be waiting alone. Fans were less intimidated to approach her when she was by herself. There was safety in numbers.

  “Do you want me to come in with you?” Lexie asked as they neared Drebs, the location of the get-together.

  “No.” Heather leaned forward, trying to estimate how much trouble she’d have getting into the swank bar without being mauled by fans and press. Drebs should have been a low-key spot, but word must have gotten out that this meeting was tak
ing place there. She could already spot a few cameras in the small group gathered outside the doors. Maybe it would be easier to get through if Lexie was with her. “Yes.” But would she look even more like a diva if she paraded her assistant along with her? “No,” she said finally.

  Lexie chuckled, seeming to understand her thought process. “I’ll be in the lot outside. I won’t use valet so you can make a quick getaway if you need to. Sound good?”

  “Yes, thanks.” Heather flipped down the shade above her to give herself a quick look in the mirror. She looked good, even with her casual makeup and her long dark blonde hair free of product. She was made-down enough that with her sunglasses on, she might be able to slip in unnoticed. Though wearing sunglasses in the evening was a red flag of a celebrity in itself.

  “They’re going to spot you,” Lexie said pulling into the valet station. “But it will be fine. Just let the valet open the door for you and rush in. Don’t stop for autographs. Get inside, skip the host and head straight for the private room. You know where it is.”

  Heather appreciated the pep talk. She let out a deep breath and took another in as the valet opened her door.

  “Text me if and when you need me,” Lexie called as Heather stepped out of the BMW.

  “It’s her!” someone called as soon as the door shut behind her, followed by a scream of recognition. Another scream followed by shouts of her name.

  Then so many voices were screaming and shouting, she couldn’t distinguish what any of them said. The crowd pressed around her, pens and napkins and body parts thrust in her direction. She pushed her shoulder through the bodies, but was stuck.

  Shit. She should have brought a bodyguard.

  She turned back to tell Lexie to stay, but Lexie had already pulled through the valet station, too far to see Heather’s distress.

  Panic rushed through her.

  The doors of the bar swung open and a hand reached through the crowd toward her. She grabbed for it before looking up to see the owner, letting the strong arm pull her safely inside.

  “I’m so sorry, Heather,” said Patrick Atlas, the executive from Montblanc and the source of her rescue. “Someone tipped off the press.”

  She swallowed the anxiety that had nearly overtaken her and pasted on a smile. “No worries. I’m used to it.”

  Patrick kissed her cheek then led her farther into the bar toward the private room, holding her hand the whole time. She hated how comforting his hand felt around hers. She shouldn’t have let the crowd get to her like that.

  Heather watched the back of Patrick’s head as they walked. She’d known him for as long as she’d been involved with the 24-Hour Plays. He’d come on to her often, even though she always turned him down. Right now she was grateful for the familiar face—or familiar brown head, rather—though she normally would be more reserved around him, not wanting to lead him on. He was attractive and wealthy and powerful, but his charm was too smooth. Sweet nothings and soft caresses did nothing to fire up her libido. Truthfully, she couldn’t say what it was that fired her up, but she knew it wasn’t Patrick.

  Patrick opened the doors of the private dining room and gestured to the large rectangular table in the center of the room. “I’ve saved you a seat at the end by me,” he said. “I’m just going to let the hostess know that our party is complete and I’ll be right in. Oh, the waitress has already been by—can I put in a drink order for you?”

  What she wanted was a mug of beer, but her next movie featured her in a bikini so extra calories were out of the question. “A glass of White Zin, please.”

  “Got it.”

  She heard him shut the doors behind her as she surveyed the room that bustled with chatter and the clinking sounds of glasses and bottles. There were nearly thirty people there, many that she recognized. She spotted a few members of the Urban Arts Board of Directors at one long end of the table.

  For a long moment, she stood watching the group, unseen by anyone. Usually she was the center of attention. It was both odd and surreal to be in a room unnoticed. And also awfully nice. Like a slice of heaven.

  But in her experience, heaven never lasted long. Neil Phillips, the coordinator of the plays, saw her and waved her over, prompting a few of the people sitting next to him to look up. “Heather!” he exclaimed, standing to give her a hug as she approached. “I hear you’re taking Rosie’s place last minute.”

  “Like anyone could take Rosie’s place,” she said.

  “If anyone can, it’s you.”

  Heather gave him her first genuine smile of the evening. Of the many people who had worked with her on stage and film, Neil was one of the few who saw past her “difficult” status. He’d never done anything but bolster and uplift her and she had nothing but respect and admiration for him.

  After Neil sat back down, she greeted his assistants and a few of the other people she recognized as stage crew. Then the Urban Arts crowd had to say hello. Finally, after greeting nearly everyone, she moved to the empty chair.

  “Here, let me.” The man sitting next to her spot stood to pull out her chair for her.

  “Thank you.” She sat down then shifted to face the man as he retook his own seat. Her breath caught.

  God, he was gorgeous.

  Not pretty-boy-leading-actor gorgeous like the men she worked with, but rough-rugged-muscular-man gorgeous. His dark blond hair fell high on his forehead, giving a perfect view into his light blue eyes that twinkled in the low light of the room. She guessed he was her age—her real age of thirty-three, not the twenty-nine all her online bios stated. But then he smiled and the creases at the edges of his eyes suggested he might be older, or that he had spent a lot of time smiling. Either way, the laugh lines made him all the more handsome.

  As if her eyes had a mind of their own, they travelled lower, past the well-groomed scruff that covered his face to the T-shirt that hugged his bulky chest and thick biceps. Even through his clothes, she could see how muscular he was. This guy was strong. The kind of guy who could pick her up and swing her over his shoulder with one easy movement. The kind of guy who either worked out religiously or had a job that kept him in the best of shape.

  The kind of guy who’d probably be a little rough in the bedroom. Not too rough. Just rough enough.

  Her core clenched at the thought.

  A blush crawled up her face. Why was she thinking like that? Sure, she hadn’t had any in…she quickly did the math. Though she’d tried to hook up with Micah Preston, a costar in her last film, he’d turned her down, leaving her sexless on that six-week shoot. Before that, Collin had been on location in Italy. And before that, she’d been in Australia filming…

  Damn. It had been over eight months. No wonder she felt horny.

  “You’re trying to figure out what role I have in all this.” The man’s deep voice poured over her like a glass of Merlot, warming her head to toe.

  “What? Oh, sorry. Yeah.” She fell into his statement, using it as an excuse for her staring. “Hmm…” She pretended to try to figure it out, still too stunned by his beauty to actually put together real thoughts.

  “I’m not going to tell until you guess. If that’s what you’re waiting for.”

  “No. Though it’s not fair that you know who I am and I have no idea who you are.”

  Jesus, she was flirting. With a stranger.

  Not a problem. She flirted with everyone. He didn’t know she actually felt what she promised in her seductive tone.

  “Who says I know who you are?”

  Her mouth opened but no words came out. She’d assumed he’d known who she was because, well, everyone knew who she was. And now she’d made an ass of herself.

  He laughed. “I’m kidding. Even if I didn’t know who Heather Wainwright was, I’d guess you were the actress spokeswoman. You ooze celebrity.”

  Was he making fun of her? She couldn’t tell. Except the way his mouth twisted up in a small smile suggested he was playing with her. No one ever played with her. They ko
wtowed and charmed and kissed her ass. His obvious indifference to the Hollywood rules made her tummy flutter. Were those butterflies in her stomach? How long had it been since she’d had butterflies for a guy?

  Trying to ignore her squirmy insides, she played back. “And you ooze…” She scanned him again. What he oozed was sex. Pure, hard, all-male sex. But she was trying to guess his role in the 24-Hour Plays, not define what he did to her physically. Besides, she was sure he already knew.

  “I ooze….what?”

  “I’m not sure.”

  “Nothing bad, I hope.”

  “No. Good things.” Definitely good things. And she’d just said that out loud.

  Though they’d maintained eye contact for most of the conversation, he caught her eye now with such intensity she had to look down, her face warm. “Let’s see…” She skimmed the faces around them, attempting recovery. “You’re sitting with Neil. So I might assume crew.”

  Please, God, don’t let him be stage crew. She couldn’t keep flirting with him if he was crew. Could. Not.

  It wasn’t that she was stuck-up—no, that was exactly what it was. She was totally stuck-up. Not a quality she was necessarily proud of, but it had gotten her where she was today. For that reason alone, she embraced it.

  But this man exuded something more superior than crew. She already had identified all the crew heads, so what on earth would he be in charge of? He certainly didn’t read as one of the Urban Arts reps. They all huddled together at one side of the table, a bunch of modern day hippies.

  Maybe he represented the venue—the Broad Stage. He could be in charge of the coordinating volunteers.

  But his well-sculpted body, his confident demeanor said differently. He didn’t sit at a desk. He had strength and power. He had to be with Patrick. There was no other answer. “You’re also sitting near Patrick’s team. And your jeans and T-shirt are designer. I’m going to have to say you’re a Montblanc Exec.”

  “You peg me as an exec? Okay.” He chuckled. “But my ex-girlfriend picked the clothes out. So maybe that shouldn’t be a factor in your concluding thoughts.”

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