An excerpt from the Prologue and Chapter One:
I had a bad habit of roller skating down the Sunset Strip at midnight. I loved the neon signs, the orange glow of the tail lights as I sped by, the rock and roll music of Los Angeles playing against the beat of my heart.
It was dangerous on a regular day, but that day my world was collapsing in on me and I raced down the streets like I was running for my life. Pedestrians leapt out of the way, calling out expletives behind them as if I could hear anything beyond the sound of my heaving breath. If I could just get enough air, if I could just keep moving, then I wouldn’t fall apart. But I was lying to myself. I knew if I stopped then that is exactly what I’d do. I’d collapse in a million hot jagged pieces that neither I nor anyone else would ever be able to put back together.
I wanted to blame him but, how could I? He gave me fair warning and I chose not to heed it. I could only blame myself. And, that made it so much worse.
I wanted to turn off my mind, the part of it that re-tread every word of our last conversation and all the conversations that preceded it. In the forefront of my mind, a mirage of him lingered, like a ghost I could never get behind me. The first time we looked at each other, when he kissed me, when he left me. I couldn’t go fast enough. My long-tired skates beneath me rattled, likewise threatening to break apart.
“Wait,” a voice said. A loose limb reached out and gentle fingertips grazed the back of my arm.
I turned half an inch to look back and was thrown four metres.
“Call an ambulance!” A voice to my right said. To my left, those same gentle fingers touched my arm, turning me over. “Don’t move her,” the same commanding voice spoke quickly.
“I had the light,” another voice said. The man who hit me. I didn’t know if he was right, I hadn’t been paying much attention.
My hip felt like it had been hammered with a log. I’d cracked my head on the asphalt, but I’d hit it harder on the ice. I’d had way worse falls than this. I was okay. I wanted to tell them but all I could do was cry, finally letting out the heaving sobs that had been begging to be released. The physical pain felt like the perfect excuse. I opened my eyes enough to see an older woman, greying and kind eyed whose hands felt gentle to the touch. I couldn’t stop myself from turning to her, crying loudly, brutally. She took me in, holding me softly. “It’s okay,” she said, “You’re going to be okay.”
I didn’t believe her. But I let myself sink into her. I let myself float away for a little while.
CHAPTER ONE: The Night We Met (6 weeks earlier)
I hated being home. I hated that the cold and empty Hollywood Hills house that was now my home. I spent most of my free days riding my motorbike, letting the roar of the engine drown out my thoughts. I missed my family. I even missed Cat. Though, if I were being honest with myself, not nearly as much as I thought I would.
I rode all across Los Angeles. I rode out to the desert. Joshua Tree. Death Valley. I didn't have any work to keep me busy like I had during the six months after the separation. Now I was free as a bird. For a few weeks at least. Most of my friends were off working. Gregory was busy with his new wife, Malia, and their twin daughters. Laura was doing a play, David was directing his latest film, Ed was midway through acting in a war epic. Everyone was busy. They knew about the breakup, though the public didn't yet. They'd offered me their sympathy. I needed something more than that. I needed a distraction. I needed to get laid.
My phone vibrated in my pocket. I slowed down to a stop and took a look. My manager, Cynthia, wanted to know if I was going tonight. I'd forgotten. Raina, another actress friend of mine, had invited me a few weeks ago to the opening party of this new restaurant and bar that she and her husband had invested in. She said there’d be friends there from the industry, so I'd told her I'd go. I was sure I'd be fine by then. I hadn't been out much since my wife of twelve years had kicked me out of the house we'd shared with our three kids. Maybe this was just the time. Maybe I'd meet someone who would scratch that itch. Or maybe I'd feel worse than I already did. It didn't seem likely.
I texted her back that I'd be there and rode home to get ready. I took a lengthy shower letting the scalding water soothe the aches I’d been nursing since my early morning gym session. After hopping out and towelling myself dry, I looked at myself in the mirror. This was 45, I thought. My dirty blonde hair was slightly thinner. I had new wrinkles around my pale blue eyes, a few lines on my forehead. At least I'd kept fit. I was lean and strong. I thought I might’ve been in the best shape of my life. Spending half your time in the gym to stay away from your raging wife would do that to you. I still had my six pack and the v line that I was so famous for.
Should I shave? I touched my chin. My hair was short, a little messy from my loose curls, with a few greys. It'd do. I showered, changed into a pair of grey trousers and a grey button down. I put on some black dress shoes and organised a car to take me to the event.
"I don't want to go!" I whined. I'd already agreed. I'd already drank the required amount of pre-drinking alcohol that my best friend and roommate Odessa had laid out for me. I was tipsy. But it wasn't the good kind. It was the kind that reminded me how sad I was that my boyfriend of the last four months had dumped me for gaining a few extra pounds. Even if it was for work. I'd always been a little too curvy for the industry as a model. But a few more pounds, my agent assured me, would put me on top of the plus size modelling industry. If it meant I got to eat dessert now and then, I was all for it. Theo, however, was not. In his words, "I can't be seen dating a fat chick."
Not that we were ever seen. In our short courtship, we dined privately, we travelled privately, were never ever caught by the paparazzi who often tailed him. It didn’t bother me that he wanted to keep his private life private. It did bother me that he wanted to control how I looked for the day it would be less private.
"We're going," Odessa said, pulling me up off the lounge. "You look so good. It's gonna be so much fun. You can meet someone to take your mind off Theo."
"I don't want to meet anybody," I argued. "I want to stay home and watch Netflix."
"And waste this good buzz?" she asked. "My agent got both of us on the list for this thing. It's too late to change it. I am not going alone. Get your ass up!" Odessa was a budding actress with gorgeous black skin and a beautifully shaped shaved head. She had talent and she worked hard but she needed the luck-meets-opportunity part of the equation. She was a friend from back home in Alaska and we just so happened to be moving to LA at the same time a year or so ago when I was moving there from New York. Rooming together seemed the reasonable thing to do. She quickly became the best friend I'd ever had.
I groaned. She was right. I was being selfish. I needed to snap out of it. Theo didn't deserve my sadness. He was an asshole. I knew I shouldn't date a guy who’s last hundred girlfriends were skinny blondes. But he'd asked. I was beyond flattered. He starred in so many of my favourite movies when I was growing up. I had his posters on my wall. He was the teen heartthrob of my generation. Or at least one of them. How could I say no? Well I regretted it now, didn't I?
"Okay," I said, rising, shaking off the melancholy and making sure I hadn't messed up my black beaded mini dress with spillage or creasing. I was good. "Let's go."
"Are you sure?" Odessa asked. As annoyed as she'd be if I bailed, she didn't want to be a bad friend and force me out when I wasn't ready. I didn't want to be a bad friend either and bail at the last minute. She needed to network. I needed to leave the house. I nodded. "Let's go."
In a quiet corner of the bar, I stood drinking a glass of scotch on the rocks. I decided it was the only thing in that room worth my time. I’d spoken to the few people I could stand, a couple of fellow actors and a director I’d worked with before. I’d scanned the room for someone who could help take my mind off my impending divorce and lasting misery and found nothing that held my interest. Another sweep of the room brought my eyes to the huge metal clock on the wall across from me. I realised it had been an hour and a half; a perfectly acceptable amount of time to spend there. I looked for Raina to say goodbye. Then I lost my breath.
Who the hell is that? I thought as I ran my eyes over her. She was tall, only a couple of inches shorter than me. Curves for fucking days. Long luscious dark brown hair pinned back away from her seriously pretty face. She had big pouty lips, the lower of which was currently trapped between her teeth.
She's young, I thought. But sexy as hell. My cock throbbed within seconds of looking at those eyes. I couldn't see what colour they were. She was too far away. But they were piercing. She caught me looking. I looked away.
Not smart. Really not fucking smart. You came to this party to find someone to fuck and she was not the one, I thought. She can't have been more than 22. I was probably double her age. But that body. In Hollywood, a girl with some flesh on her bones was harder to find than a cocaine-free surface. Who was she, I wondered? An actress? A model? She had to be something like that. She was too pretty to be a nobody.
Brady Witter. Brady fucking Witter. He was looking right at me. Why the hell was he looking at me? We were in a room filled with Los Angeles' most beautiful women and the movie star of our generation, Brady fucking Witter, was looking at me. And, looking embarrassed to have been caught in the act. And yet, he looked at me again.
"Odessa?" I asked. She was chatting with another actress from her agency. "Odessa!" I pressed.
She turned to me, annoyed. "What?" she hissed.
"Is he looking at me?"
Odessa looked around, confused. I watched the confusion turn to shock as her eyes widened and mouth dropped. "Is that Brady Witter?"
"Yes, is he looking?" I asked.
"He was," she answered. "He just looked again," she said excitedly.
I turned back and he was still looking. He smiled a little. I smiled back. I turned back to Odessa. "Oh my god."
"You have all the fucking luck!” she said, referring to the lothario who’d just brutally dumped me, I begged to differ. “Go over there," she said.
"Are you insane? I can't just go approach Brady Witter."
"Why the hell not?" she asked. "I'll do it." I shook my head.
She was always much braver than me. That must've been the actress in her. She could do anything if she was pretending to be someone else. She probably would’ve approached Theo if he hadn’t sent his security over to bring me into the VIP section of the club the night we met.
"No," I said, shaking my head. I glanced back at him. He was chatting to Raina Robertson. America’s Sweetheart. Of course, he was. No way could I go over there and interrupt the two of him.
I could barely follow along with what Raina was saying. She’d come up to me spouting something about drama with the head chef. I just nodded, looking intermittently over at the beautiful girl. She looked intermittently at me too. No way could I approach a girl that age. That would be too creepy. Raina excused herself as Rhys, an old acting school buddy of mine, came to say hello. "How are you?" he asked as he shook my hand. "What have you been up to?"
I rattled on about nothing particular. He'd heard about the projects I had coming up. He told me about his. I asked after his kids and he asked after mine. And, Cat. I reluctantly told him that we were over. "Sorry, man. That sucks."
I nodded. I looked back over to the girl. He followed my gaze. Shit.
"You looking at Haven Roser?" he asked.
"Who?" I asked.
"Haven Roser," he answered. "The model? Long dark hair. Massive tits." They weren't massive. They were proportional to her body. Cat didn’t have a lot of shape. She was elegantly long; long legs, long arms, straight. I'd loved her body, but I missed curves.
"Never heard of her," I answered, hoping he wouldn't go on.
"She's dating Theo," he said. "Ah. There he is."
I looked over to see Theo DiGiovanni, an actor whose career had run parallel to mine, in his usual newsboy cap, approaching her where she sat with a few other girls. He never did have a problem dating the young ones. Damn.
"Not his usual type but I'd fuck her," Rhys went on. Sure. As if she'd let him near her. He was as arrogant as they came. I struggled to remember why we'd been friends as he went on about his latest conquests. I looked around the room for other women. I still had an itch that needed scratching. But I couldn't tear my eyes away from her. Haven.
What the fuck? Why is he here? I swallowed as he walked right over to me. "Haven," he said, a question on his lips.
"Theo," I said back. I looked over him, trying to remember why I was so attracted to him. He barely resembled the heartthrob on my childhood bedroom walls. But his green eyes were beautiful. They were so much a part of the charm.
"What are you doing here?" I could barely hear him. I stood up. "What are you doing here?" he repeated.
"I'm having a drink..." I answered, showing him my half empty glass.
He smiled straight and unhappy. "This isn't really your scene."
I furrowed my brows. "What does that mean?"
"It's an industry party," he continued.
"It's a restaurant opening," I argued. Odessa and her friend were looking up at us then with Odessa shooting Theo a vicious glare. I looked over to Brady, he was watching as well.
"Come here for a sec?" he asked, pulling at my arm, leading us into the corridor leading to the exit.
I pulled my arm from his grip. He'd never handled me like that before. In the four months we'd spent together he could be a little inattentive, but he'd never manhandled me. Any part of him that was ever sweet to me seemed to have vanished from his personality.
"What?" I asked.
"These are my people. You should go."
I laughed a little. Was he serious? "I was here first," I argued. "You should go."
He scoffed. I saw Brady approaching from behind Theo. He clapped a hand on his shoulder. God, he was even better looking up close. I lost my breath a little. Brady was slightly older than Theo but seemed the younger of the two. Theo’s looks were nothing compared to Brady. Not now, not ever. "Theo," he said in greeting.
"Brady," Theo said, the charm switched on. This was the guy that asked me out. Oozing charisma. "How are you?"
"Good," he said, before turning to me. "Hi."
"I hoped I'd see you here. Gaillard told me you're in?" Theo asked. Gaillard Trentino? He was a world-famous director. His movies were fun and violent, and I’d seen them all. Theo and Brady must’ve been gearing up to work with him.
"I am," Brady answered. He looked like he was waiting to be introduced to me. Theo seemed to have no plans to do that. "I'm Brady," he said, taking the initiative.
I shook his hand. Woah. His hand was warm. His touch was electric. It shot straight through me. I took a breath. "Haven," I said, letting it out. I didn’t know if I was keeping myself composed but it didn’t feel like it.
"Don't bother," Theo said. "She's no one."
No one. Four months and I was no one. I'd met all his friends as his girlfriend. We'd slept together. We'd gone for a weekend to Mexico together. I was a model with a relative amount of fame in my own right. No one? And he said it in front of Brady fucking Witter. I mustered up the barest of smiles for Brady whose expression was unreadable and walked out the exit. Brady or no Brady, I wasn’t going to just stand there and take Theo’s shit.
I was so embarrassed. I couldn't go back in there. I took out my phone and sent a text to Odessa: I had to go. Don't be mad.
Hers came back quick. I get it. See you at home x
I put my phone away as a figure appeared beside me. I turned to find Brady Witter standing inches from me. What was that smell? Was that him? He smelled good. Like the barest amount of an oaky cologne and a touch of whiskey on his breath. "Hi."
"Hi," I said back. It was all I could manage.
"He's a dick," Brady continued, with half a shrug. I smiled. He swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing. Was he nervous too? "Do you want to go for a drink?" he asked.
Oh my god. Yes. Yes. Fuck yes. Brady Witter? "Yeah," I said, hoping my voice wouldn't betray the sheer joy I was experiencing.
He smiled a little, walked over to the street and hailed an approaching taxi. He held open the back door. "After you.”