Authors: Merry Farmer
“Plenty,” he defended his profession. “This is New York. It’s known for its theater. People come from all over the country, all over the world, to see shows. Every good New Yorker knows that.”
“Ah, but I’m not a New Yorker.”
The tightness in his chest clenched to something almost like loss. “You’re not?”
“No.” She smiled and lifted to look directly at him again. “I’m from Maine, remember? I was just in the city for the day, to meet with my agent. But her assistant put me on the calendar wrong—or so she tells me, though it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been shoved to the back burner—so the meeting had to be postponed until tomorrow.”
“Lucky me.” He grinned. Extremely lucky.
“No,” she went on. “I live in the woods, about forty-five minutes from Portland.”
“Portland?” A rush of excitement pulsed through him. He tried to push it away, but couldn’t stop himself from blurting, “I direct for the television show
now and then.”
“I know.” She laughed, sending distracting bursts of pleasure through him, threatening to make him hard. “You told me in the coffee shop, remember? And I said you film about twenty minutes from my house, at Twin Pines Senior Living Center.”
Had he really paid so little attention to her as a person? The dismal implication of that warred with a warmer longing. Ben’s heart pumped harder.
So maybe we could see each other again when I’m up there.
No. No, she was a diversion, a walk-on. The last thing he needed right now was a leading lady.
“Where do you live?” he asked the most innocuous question he could think of.
She took a breath, adjusting to a more comfortable position on top of him and sending his senses reeling in the process. “I live in a twelve bedroom estate in the woods, built in 1891 by my great-grandfather.”
A shiver of something not unlike intimidation sizzled through him. “So you’re the wealthy one, then.”
“No.” She laughed, too much regret in her lowered eyes. “Great-grandfather may have been loaded, but three generations later, the family fortune is diluted to say the least. It’s all my brother, Nick, and I can do to pay the mortgage and keep the place from falling down around us.”
That deep sadness of hers was back. She wore her troubles on her sleeve, and this was a big one. The overwhelming urge to ride to her rescue stirred deep in Ben’s soul. The rational part of him knew there was nothing he could do, but that barely made a dent in his need for…for what?
He twisted to his side, taking her in his arms and kissing her again. That he could do. She responded by closing her arms around him and smiling. It was perfect.
“So twelve bedrooms, eh?” He cupped a hand around her breast as if he owned it. The size and texture was perfect, not a hint of silicone.
“In theory, yes, although only a couple of them are furnished.” She smiled as she spoke, nipping at his lips as she did.
“And your brother lives with you?” Instinct primed him for a fight if there was any other man in her life.
“When he’s not on assignment. Which he is a lot. He’s a photojournalist.”
He paused his flirtation to lean back and stare at her. “You live in a twelve bedroom mansion in the woods of Maine virtually by yourself?”
“Yes I do.” She arched an eyebrow in mischievous challenge. It quickly dropped as she went on to say, “Well, I have cousins who come stay with me once school is out. I may own the place now, but I still like to think of it as the family house.”
Again her expression went tense and worried. He might not have been a writer, but he could read subtlety and subtext when he saw it.
“Well, you’re in New York right now,” he said to distract her.
“Ah, New York. Home of the theater,” she answered with a twinkle in her eyes. She had the most stunning brown eyes he’d ever seen. They were so expressive he could have set her on an empty stage in a spotlight and been able to see those eyes glow from the back of the house.
“Home of a lot of things,” he said. “Coffee shops, for example, and rainy afternoons with nothing to do.” He rolled her to her back and covered her, stealing a long kiss. A few more minutes, and he would be fully ready to carry on where they’d left off. Her arms drifted lazily over his shoulders, her fingers threading through his hair.
“Well, I wouldn’t say
to do.” Her smile was wicked. There were no two ways about it, he liked her. Too much.
He was finally getting into kissing her again with mad abandon, when a buzz sounded from his jeans on the floor. It could have been a foghorn the way it snapped him back to reality.
“Shit.” He propped himself on his arms above her. Worry clouded her eyes. “I was supposed to make a phone call.”
“Do you think that’s it?”
He sighed, dread killing his growing hard-on. “Probably. Can you give me a second?”
The buzzing stopped, but it would be back. It would always be back. He sat up. She came with him, straddling his hips. His lips twitched to a grin. He would definitely have to try having her ride him in this position at some point.
But no, that implied a next time, a future. With him, there was no future. He was where relationships went to die.
“Take all the time you need.” Genuine kindness filled Jo’s face. “Mind if I use your bathroom while you do?”
“Sure, it’s right through there.” He maneuvered her to the side of the bed and pointed her to the bathroom door across from his bed.
She made a show of walking sexily across the room, completely naked. It was the worst acting he had ever seen. She couldn’t keep it up and burst into giggles as she neared the door, her posture slipping. Christ almighty, it turned him on.
When the bathroom door clicked shut, Ben pushed out a breath, rubbing his face. Goddammit. One-off afternoon adventures were not supposed to hit this hard or cut this deep. He was no fool, and he was a hell of a lot more self-aware than people accused him of being. In a little over an hour, Jo Burkhart had him by the balls.
Worse still, he had a phone call to return. With a heavy sigh, he rolled out of bed.
Ben got up to search for his jeans and to fish his cell phone from the pocket. Sure enough, there was a missed call.
Speaking of people who have me by the balls
…. He tapped the phone to call the Pollard twins back.
“Ben, where are you?” Jett Pollard answered. He was irritated, pissy, but not pissed yet. It was as good a start as Ben was going to get.
“Sorry, Jett. Something came up.” It certainly had. It had been coming up again until this particular slice of reality reared its ugly head.
“Can you make it to Café Lunch by four?” Ashton Pollard’s voice asked through speakerphone. Ben wasn’t surprised. Where there was Jett, there was always Ashton, over-styled hair, loud suits, fake-gay lilt, and all.
Ben glanced to the bathroom door, to the strip of light shining at the bottom. “Actually no. I’m going to have to cancel on you. Can we reschedule for tomorrow?”
Jett sighed. Now he was pissed. “Seriously, Ben?
comes out with a salacious tell-all about how you slept your way to that award, and you’re too busy to talk to the only people who can stop your career from going into a tailspin?”
Ben’s gut clenched. He rubbed the sudden kink in his neck. He would not admit to fear. He would not panic. To convince himself as much as the Pollard twins, he heaved a stern sigh. “Jett, Ashton, it’s time to get real.
is a two-bit gossip rag that would call Little Orphan Annie a twenty-dollar a night whore if they spotted her with a button undone. They’re a tabloid.”
“Do you know how many people read tabloids, Ben?” Ashton chirped.
I’m probably talking to two right now
. “It’s meaningless,” he said aloud. “Let them titillate a few people. The award is mine, it’s a done deal. I’m more interested in looking ahead. Tomorrow I’ll explain to you all the reasons why this new musical,
Last Closing Time
, will be the next big smash hit, and why we’ll all make an obscene amount of money if—”
not going to make or do or pay for anything,” Jett cut him off. “
are going to sit patiently and wait for what had better be the best explanation of a rumor that we’ve heard in our lives. Otherwise
are going to be short one production team and an ass-load of cash.”
Ben ground his teeth. He stared out the tinted windows at the dreary Manhattan skyline, the gloomy view of Central Park. It wasn’t the first time he’d stood staring at the view while stark naked, but it was the first time he felt so goddamn exposed.
“It’s nothing.” He feigned nonchalance. “People always go after the top dog once he’s got the bone. That’s all this is.” Nothing to panic about, nothing to lose his head over.
Keep telling yourself that, Benjamin
Both Pollard twins clucked and hummed with doubt.
Ben pushed a hand through his hair, wondering where all that lovely, sexy confidence he’d felt minutes before with Jo had gone.
“Café Lunch, noon sharp tomorrow,” he said, taking charge. “I’ll answer all your questions, put all the rumors to bed, and we can go back to doing what we do best.”
“Making cheap, fluffy TV shows?” Ashton drawled, then burst into hissing laughter at his cheap shot.
Ben’s face tightened into a glare in spite of the fact that the twins couldn’t see it. “There’s nothing wrong with
.” His voice was too hard, too hurt. “It’s one of the top-rated programs on tv right now.”
“Oh, come on, Benny. Television is for plebeians with bad teeth and beer-breath. Any schmuck can make television,” Ashton said.
“Television is a 32 ounce soda from the convenience store,” Jett seconded. “Broadway is fifty-year-old scotch and a penthouse view of Central Park.”
“Unless you’d rather guzzle that soda with the unwashed masses,” Ashton finished.
Ben let a long, tense silence go by while he took a breath and bit back his instinctual reply. Okay,
wasn’t high art, but he enjoyed filming. He liked the talent involved. Spencer Ellis and Simon Mercer were among his closest friends. And there were far worse places than Maine to spend a few months out of the year shooting, even with all that wilderness.
He glanced over his shoulder at the bathroom. Maine. Jo lived in Maine. She would look dead sexy spread out naked on a bed of pine needles, her tits—
What was taking her so long? Had she decided to take a bath or something?
He cleared his throat and rubbed his forehead with one hand. There wasn’t time to be distracted.
“Jett, Ashton, you
I want to work with you.” He wrapped things up, facing out to the Manhattan skyline again. “You
where my heart really lies.”
More humming and effected chirruping from the twins.
“We’ll see,” Ashton said.
“Tomorrow, noon,” Jett confirmed.
Jett hung up. Ben pulled the phone away from his ear and let out a breath.
. There was no way one seedy little online publication was going to throw the career he’d worked his ass off for into jeopardy. It would all blow over. No one in the business who was reputable would pay attention. This would slide under the radar, like all the other whispers and smirks he’d gotten right after the awards were handed out.
Before putting his phone down, Ben glanced at his email. Ten new messages. A sickening itch crawled down his back. He checked on the bathroom door. Jo was still busy. He tapped on the email icon and scrolled through. One or two messages looked important. The rest were inquiries from obscure websites or low-circulation journals with titles like “Addressing the Rumors,” and “Is it True?” All had come in within the last few hours, when he’d been busy with Jo.
Ben frowned and closed email, tossing his phone on the bedside table. If he started thinking about it, if he let his mind wander down that particular trail, he would start looking for ways to bash through the window and jump, naked or not. Whatever Jo was doing in the bathroom was suddenly a thousand times more important than any email or phone call or rumor mill.
She was awfully quiet, whatever she was up to. He peeked down at himself, arching an eyebrow. The Pollards’ phone call had killed his mood in epic, shriveling style. He wasn’t about to take that lying down.
“Everything alright in there?” He crossed to the bathroom door, knocking with one knuckle.
“Yeah, I’m reading.”
He didn’t know whether to laugh or panic. Like a complete cad, he opened the door. Jo leaned against his sink, backside spread fetchingly against the marble, reading a magazine. A Broadway magazine. The post-awards issue. His smile fell.
“This is about you.” She grinned up at him, completely unaware of the shrinking in his soul and his genitals.
“I told you I was famous.” He tried to be smooth but only succeeded in sounding seedy.
She arched an eyebrow, and went back to reading. “Personally, I think it’s ridiculously unfair of them to say you didn’t deserve your award.”
His stomach turned. Of all the things for her to discover when the two of them were naked. He should have burned that article when he had a chance. Keeping it next to the toilet had seemed like punishment enough at the time.
He sauntered closer to her, desperate to appear untouched. “Yes, well, unfortunately for me, more people would disagree with you than not.” Too bitter. He sounded far too bitter.
She lowered the magazine. “So more than this idiot thinks that other director…” she checked the article, “that Wendy Ouziel, should have won?”
He answered with a noncommittal hum. There were too many idiots in the world.
Instead of prying, Jo said, “Reviewers can be so cruel, can’t they?”
Her comment took him by surprise. He blinked. Come to think of it, she would know. People reviewed books the same way they reviewed shows.
Hope, and a few other significant things, surged. He plucked the magazine out of Jo’s hands and tossed it on the floor. He would have stomped on it if it wouldn’t have made him look petty. “Let’s not talk about that right now.” In fact, he needed to do anything and everything
talk about it. He closed his hands around her sides and lifted her on top of the counter, wedging between her legs.
She tilted her head up to meet his mouth as he brought it crashing down over hers. Her arms slid up over his shoulder, fingers threading in his hair and banishing his fear. Kissing her made him feel so much better that he rolled his eyes shut. Her tongue teased away the bitter taste in his mouth. His fingertips traced the smooth line of her underarm around to her breasts.
“You have wonderful breasts,” he murmured, moving to flicker his tongue across her earlobe.
“Really?” Her answer was sweet and wry. “I’ve always thought they were too small. Definitely not romance heroine breasts.”
The things she said tickled him. He chuckled as he kissed her neck. “I have no complaints.”
“Well, as long as you have no complaints.”
“None at all.”
He lifted her off the counter. He could feel how hot and wet she was as he carried her back to bed, her legs and arms wrapped around him. She smiled as he lay her on the rumpled sheets. That smile could light up the sky on a stormy night. It could cut through the encroaching panic that had him poised on the edge of a cliff. Who said that sex wasn’t an adequate solution to the problems of the world?
He reached for the bedside table and another condom.
“How did your phone call go?” she asked.
He paused halfway through rolling the condom on, instantly worried he’d lose the rigidity he needed to keep it in place.
“Fine,” he answered and finished with the condom, giving himself an extra stroke to keep things looking up. “I was supposed to meet with my producers this afternoon.”
“Oh, am I keeping you from them?” She was so damn genuine. It made him hot.
Something had to after the cold water the Pollards had poured on him.
“Yes. Yes you are.” He grinned and stretched over her like a leopard on the prowl, claiming her mouth again.
“Do you want me to go?” she asked, breathless, when he let her up for air.
“No, I’d much rather you
She laughed at him, laughed at his ridiculous line. Her arms reached up to clasp around his back, pulling him down as if she wanted him. Badly. She even arched her body up to rub against his as he covered her. She wasn’t acting, God bless her.
She also wasn’t acting when she said, “Are you sure it’s not more important for you to meet with your producers?”
No. Not now.
Not when he was finally shoving that debacle out of his mind in favor of the anticipation of being sheathed balls-deep inside of her.
“You’re a famous director, after all. I don’t want to get between you and a show.”
All this honey, and she wasn’t even fishing for a part or networking or making demands.
“Darling,” he growled, kissing her for the pure joy of it, “you can get between me and
She giggled. “But are you—”
He thrust into her to cut her off. It was crass, he knew, but moving inside of her melted her protests into a gasping moan. He worked his hips against hers, slow and deep. She made no secret of how much she enjoyed him, none at all. And good God, was she enjoying him. He returned the favor with an appreciative groan.
“I love the way I feel inside of you,” he told her exactly what was on his mind. He may not have known what women thought while they were having sex, but he damn sure knew what he thought. “I love the way you squeeze me.”
“Mmm, like this?” She contracted her inner muscles around him. The friction was exquisite.
“God, yes.” She was dead honest with him so he would be dead honest with her. “Just like that.”
“How do you feel about this?” she gasped, dragging her nails down his back to press into his backside.
“Like I might come before you’re ready and spoil everything.”
The honesty of his statement was like a smack in the face, it was so out of character for him. It made his chest ache, his throat tighten. More so when she gently moved her hands to spread her palms across his back, pulling him back from the edge.
“We wouldn’t want that, now would we?”
Ben paused, holding himself above her and gazing down into her eyes. She smiled at him with humor and desire and such genuine caring that his heart squeezed in his chest. How long had he been alone without even realizing it?
With renewed thrusts aimed to give her as much pleasure as he was getting, he kicked the dismal thought so far out of his mind that it would take weeks to come crawling back. He had every intention of giving her as incredible an experience as she’d given him, but his mind and body has other plans. It felt far too good to rock and pulse inside of her as she sighed and writhed against him to pull out for more foreplay. She didn’t seem to mind. She caressed his back with eager hands and fingers, as if getting off on the experience in her imagination. He was willing to bet she had a devil of an imagination. He would have to read her books to see if he was right.