When Coral had talked about showing up at her movie premiere, I’d pictured us walking into a movie theatre crowded with fans and maybe a few celebrities. As the writer, Coral wouldn’t be that big a deal I’d figured.
I was wrong.
Yeah, I’d started to get a clue when her publicity person—someone I didn’t really like from the get-go, I’ll add—started talking about image and contracts and how we should act. But I still wasn’t ready for the total onslaught of flashing cameras and shouting journalists the minute Coral stepped out of the limo.
“Coral! Over here!”
“Coral! Give us a pose, love!”
We walked a few steps and then, like a total pro, Coral paused and turned to face one side of the mobbed red-carpet. Her fingers were still gripping mine, neither of us ready to let go yet, I thought.
“Coral! Who’s your date?”
She glanced up at me for the most fleeting of seconds before she answered the last question.
“This is Dax Turner. My boyfriend.”
I’d never heard those words before, not in reference to me, anyway. No woman had ever referred to me as her boyfriend. I waited for the inevitable sense of panic that I assumed would follow, even though I knew Coral was just playing a part, just doing what we’d agreed.
But the panic didn’t come, and instead of wanting to run, I found myself wanting to do something else. And being the impulsive, grab-life-by-the-balls bastard I was, I did what I wanted.
Using the hand I was holding, I tugged Coral against me. With my other hand, I tipped up her face to mine, lowered my head, and kissed the hell out of her.
It was for show, or at least, that was what I’d thought. But the minute her lips touched mine, everything else in the world disappeared. Sound stopped. Time ceased to exist.
She was so soft, so yielding. So warm against me. I groaned, and she arched toward me, setting my body on fire. I thrust my tongue into her mouth, needing to be closer to her any way at all. She jerked a little as if in surprise, and then she just . . . went with it.
I angled my head and slid one hand down to her neck, my thumb moving to caress her soft skin there. I wanted to touch every inch of that skin, to explore it with my lips—
Next to me, very close to us, someone cleared her throat in a meaningful way. And I remembered where I was and what we were doing and why we were here.
Apparently Coral realized it, too, because she flattened her hand against my chest and gently pushed me away. I blinked, still in a daze, and straightened up. Swallowing hard, I ventured a glance at her face.
She was flushed, and her lips were puffy, but otherwise, she appeared to be in control and okay. She smiled at me, and although on the surface she was still Coral Jennings, famous author, I could see the confusion and surprise just under the surface. She held onto my hand still as we both began to walk again.
“Coral! That was hot!” This time it was a tall woman holding a microphone, waving at us. “Tell us more about this guy! Where did you meet? How long have you been together?”
“Guys, guys!” Sherrell was there, smiling that shark-like grin as she herded us forward. “This is something personal, and Coral isn’t going to spill her life here on the red carpet. You’ve got your pictures. Now we’re going to join the rest of these gorgeous, talented people and enjoy this incredible film that came from the mind of this wildly talented woman!” She pointed to Coral. “Thanks for coming tonight! See you later!”
We walked the rest of the way into a huge, gorgeously decorated lobby, and once again, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. Everywhere I looked, there were familiar faces—not of people I’d met in person, but faces I’d seen in magazines, on television, in some of my favorite movies. It was so wild, so unbelievable.
“Is that—is that Deena MacMillan?” I hunched over and whispered into Coral’s ear. “Holy shit, that’s really her. I used to watch her when I was a kid.”
“Yeah, that’s her.” Coral smiled faintly. “She plays the grandmother in the movie. A real grand dame, a ball-buster. She blew me away. I even got to tell her that I’d written the character with her in mind.”
“That’s so crazy.” I shook my head.
“Want to meet her?” Coral tilted her head, and I looked down at her, really pulled my attention from the star-studded crowd around us and looked at her. She still had a fairly dazed expression in her eyes, her lipstick was gone, and her hair was a little messed-up from where my fingers had accidentally pulled it from the pins.
“Um, yeah, but first . . . Coral, about what happened outside. About the kiss.”
“No.” She shook her head. “Not here. Not now. It wasn’t—I know, Dax. I know it was just for them. For the reporters, the photographers, the . . . public.”
“Coral—” I tried to figure out how to say what I needed to tell her, but she held up a hand.
“No, Dax. Not here. Right now, we’re the actors, okay? Just play the role. Pretty soon, we’ll be sitting in the theatre, and the lights will go down, and we can relax. A little.” She slid her hand into the crook of my arm. “C’mon. Let me introduce you to some stars.”
Coral was wrong. She was dead wrong. Because sitting next to her in the dark theatre wasn’t relaxing or easier. If anything, it was agony.
I felt the heat of her body against my side. Her scent—some magical mix of perfume and pheromones—filled my nostrils. And all I could remember was how her lips had felt against mine, how she had tasted . . .
I wanted to feel her again and couldn’t stop myself from running my finger tips down the inside of her arm until I reached her hand. Her palm twitched beneath my touch, and then after a moment, she curled her fingers around mine.
We sat through the entirety of the movie that way, our hands linked. I managed to pay attention to the film, to lose myself in the slowly unwinding story that was painted on that big screen, the tale that had come from the imagination of the woman whose hand I was holding. It was incredible. I couldn’t even fathom what it must be like to see people she had invented walk and talk and interact.
When the lights came up again, Coral was wiping tears from her cheeks. “Sorry,” she sniffed. “It always happens when I see my movies.”
“Don’t apologize. I’d be crying, too. Holy fuck, Coral—you did that. You made that happen. I know we don’t know each other that way, but I’m, like—I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks.” She took a deep breath, her chest rising. “Okay. We’re heading out that back exit over there—so we don’t have to see the press again. That’s standard.” She carefully disentangled our hands. “You don’t have to worry. No one will see us. We don’t have to keep up the act.”
Her voice was even, as though nothing was at all unusual. As though that kiss hadn’t happened. I followed her from a distance, trailing her out the door and into the car.
“What about your friends?” I inquired as the limo pulled away into the night.
“They’re going to the after party. I want them to have a good time, enjoy themselves . . . but it’s just not my thing. So I’m heading back to the hotel.” She offered me a smile of contrition. “You know, I’m a writer, not an actor. I can pull off a show now and then, like what we did walking in tonight. But I can’t manage hours at a party where people can come up and talked to us, ask questions—I can’t keep up the pretense that long and to that extent.”
“But Coral . . .” I trailed off. “I don’t mind. I don’t want you to miss something like this. If you want to go, I won’t. Or I’ll go if it would help you.”
“No. Seriously.” She shook her head. “I never go to the parties. They’re like torture for me. I just want to go back to the hotel and crash.”
I digested this, letting it roll around in my mind. “Want some company?”
Coral jerked her head around to stare at me. “I’m sorry?”
“Coral.” I sucked in a deep breath. “That kiss. On the carpet. That kiss was—”
“Dax, please.” She sounded pained. “I might be a babbling, awkward mess, but I’m not an idiot. I know that you did this as a favor to me. I know you felt bad about knocking me over at the hotel. I know I was pathetic when I sat at your bar. And you were such an amazing sport today. That kiss will get enough buzz that my agent will be able to negotiate me a really sweet contract for my next series.”
“Oh.” I nodded slowly. “Okay. That’s great. But what if it wasn’t all an act? What if I wasn’t pretending?”
“But you were. I mean, we both were.” She patted my arm. “And here we are.” She pointed out the window, and I realized we were pulling up in front of the Gwynn. “I figured you probably left your car here, right? So this is easiest.”
“Yeah, I did.” I fiddled with my cufflinks. “Coral, I really want—I mean, I want to talk about—”
“Good night, Dax.” Coral shifted to the far corner of the back seat. “It was a wonderful evening, and I don’t know how I can ever thank you for doing this for me.”
“I don’t want to go in,” I managed to say, trying to get nearer to her. “I want to go back with you.”
“But you can’t.” She crossed her arms and closed her eyes. “Please just go, Dax. Tonight was amazing, but whether or not we like it, it was only make-believe.”
Want to know what comes next?
Episode Fourteen is coming next Friday, November 26th!
Are Dax and Coral over? Was it only pretend for both of them?
Tawdra Kandle writes romance, in just about all its forms. She loves unlikely pairings, strong women, sexy guys, hot love scenes and just enough conflict to make it interesting. Her books include young adult and new adult paranormal romance, new adult and adult contemporary romance and adult paramystery romance. She lives in central Florida with a husband, kids, sweet pup and too many cats. And yeah, she rocks purple hair.
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