When you’re acting the role of a lifetime, how can you know if love is real—or all just a part of the show?
Twenty-three year old rising theatre star Jill McCormick has built a life out of pretending. Pretending she’s happy, pretending her long-distance crushes add up to something real, pretending she’s not haunted by the dark secret that shattered her world six years ago. Cast in her first Broadway show, she desperately needs to keep her façade intact, but that’s before she comes face to face with her devastating new boss…
Hot-shot director Davis Milo knows the first rule of directing: never fall for your leading lady. Captivated by Jill’s raw talent, he fights his feelings, but watching Jill on-stage with another man is more than his jealous streak can take. Keeping things professional isn’t an option. He wants all of her.
Soon the ingénue and her director are staying late in the empty theatre, their private rehearsals spiraling into new, forbidden territory. Caught up between fiction and reality, Jill struggles to find the truth in all their staged kisses. But how can she be sure that what she feels is real, and not a part of the play? And when two people spend their lives pretending, what happens after the final curtain falls?
She holds up a hand as if to say she’s retreating. “Then I’ll go to Sardi’s by my lonesome. Because my roommate is out tonight, my best guy friend is with his woman, and I always vowed that if I ever landed a Broadway show I’d go to Sardi’s to celebrate.”
She tips her forehead to the restaurant that’s a Broadway institution itself. The neon green sign flashes, beckoning tourists and industry people alike, as it has for decades. The place is old-school, but it’s venerable for a reason – it’s the heart of the theater district, and a watering hole teeming with history, having hosted theater royalty for dinner and drinks for nearly one hundred years.
She raises her eyebrows playfully, as if she’s waiting for me to acquiesce. A cab squeals by, sending a quick, cold breeze past us that blows a few strands of blond hair across her face. She brushes the hair away and arches an eyebrow. “The breeze is blowing me to Sardi’s.”
She turns on her heels, heads to the door, and saunters inside. It feels like a challenge. Maybe even a dare. I shake my head, knowing better, but following her anyway.
She’s not easy to resist.
I find her at the hostess stand, telling a black jacketed maitre’d that it’ll be just one for the bar. I march up to her, place a hand on her back so she knows I’m here. Her eyes meet mine as I touch her, but her gaze is steady and she doesn’t seem to mind the contact. “Actually,” I say, cutting in. “That’ll be two.”
“Right this way then,” the maitre’d says and guides us past tables full of suited-up theatergoers, men in jackets and women in evening dresses, chattering about the shows they’re about to see. Then a table with two guys who look like Wall Street types dining with their wives. Jill walks past them, and one of the guys lingers on her much longer than he should. The woman with him doesn’t notice, but I do and I give him a hard stare. He turns back to his plate of shrimp instantly.
At the bar, I pull out a stool for her. She thanks me, then shucks off her coat, and crosses her legs. Her legs look as good in jeans as they probably do out of them. She has that kind of a figure – athletic and trim. Probably flexible too. Damn, this woman might be all my weaknesses.
I’m grateful for the caricature of James Gandolfini hanging above the mirror behind the bar. I glance at him instead, then give his drawn likeness a salute.
“One of the finest,” I say as I sit down.
“He was indeed,” she says with a nod.
The bartender comes over. “Can I interest you in anything tonight?”
I look to Jill, letting her go first. “Vodka and soda. Belvedere, please.”
He nods. “And you sir?”
“Glenlivet on the rocks.”
“Coming right up.”
Then she looks at me, her blue eyes sparkling and full of so much happiness. “I can’t believe it! I scored a Broadway show. Do you have any idea how happy I am?”
“Yeah,” I say playfully. “It’s kind of written all over your face.”
“Well, I’m not going to hide it. I think I might light up Times Square tonight with my happiness. And now I’m having drinks at Sardi’s with my director!”
“Don’t tell anyone. I don’t want word to get out that I’m consorting with the talent,” I joke.
She leans in closer, makes her lips pouty, and kind of shimmies her shoulders. “Ooh, I get to keep your secrets already.”
My breath hitches with her near me like that. Rationally, I know it’s the moment. I know it’s the excitement of landing her first show that’s making her so flirty, so playful, but still, she’s got such a sexy way about her that she could be trouble for my heart. I don’t know that I should even try to keep up with the banter right now. She could reel me in, and I’ve vowed to stay away from actresses outside of work. They are wonderful, and talented, and often too gorgeous to be real, like this one. But some of them also have a way of using you because of what you can do for them.
There’s the rub for ya.
“I assure you, I have very little interesting secrets,” I say, trying my best to bow out of the flirting right now, even though I want to take it to many other levels already.
Thankfully, the bartender arrives with the drinks.
“One Glenlivet and one Belvedere.”
“Thank you,” I say. He nods and heads off to to take an order at the end of the bar.
I reach for my drink and am about to offer a toast when I see he’s given me hers and vice versa. “I believe this is yours.” I hand her the drink. She takes the glass from my hand, and for the briefest of moments her fingers touch mine. I don’t even have the time to think about something else. It’s so fast, but it ignites something dark in me, the side of myself that she should never know about, the way I like it. But that side is there, and my eyes immediately stray down her body, to the curve of her hips, to the shape of her breasts under her sweater. Then she bends down to reach for her purse hanging on a hook under the bar, and I’m watching her, memorizing the way she moves, and it’s as if I can’t stop imagining her bent over, back bowed, ready. The things I would say to her if we were alone like that. The things I would whisper harshly in her ear. The things she’d let me do to her.
I run my hand across my jaw. I need to get it together if I’m going to work with her.
PLAYING WITH HER HEART Trailer:
Lauren Blakely Bio:
Lauren Blakely is an unabashed fan of clever jokes, toast, and good guys in novels. Like the heroine in CAUGHT UP IN US, she thinks life should be filled with movie kisses and coffee drinks. Lauren lives in California with her husband and children, and spends her days writing both true stories and make-believe ones.
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Lauren Blakely Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6860216.Lauren_Blakely