Excerpt for Rock Sexy by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Rock Candy Book 1


Virna DePaul


Hollywood’s hottest bad boy, Garrick Maze, hangs with rock stars and parties harder than most. Now he’s just landed the lead in a new television series and he’s determined to prove himself. Love’s the last thing on his mind, especially when it comes to his ice queen female lead.

Gwendolyn Vickers intends to be America’s next celebrity sweetheart and that means keeping her public image pristine. The last thing she needs is to be linked to her trouble-making co-star Garrick. But Garrick is shamelessly flirty and sexy as sin, and her body craves him. Soon, so does her so-called ice-cold heart.

Eventually, however, secrets from the past clash with their new-found fame,.Garrick will prove that when it comes to mixing mind-blowing pleasure with true love, he’s not about to let Gwen down.

***If you are a new-to-me reader, I hope you’ll check out my other books. You can start with these (2) FREE Series Starters!

Please visit my website and join my mailing list to be the first to hear about new releases and giveaways! You can also follow me on Facebook. Thank you! Virna

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More From Virna DePaul



KISS TALENT AGENCY (A spin-off to Kiss Talent Agents)








Thank you to Marie Louise A., Casey B., Victoria C., Danielle G.,

Miranda G., Susan H., Wendy H., Tina L., and Misty Davis S.

Vixens, you rock!!


For Susan Hatler, a great friend, writer, and critique partner. Wishing you much joy and happiness as you embark on your new adventure. So glad for your friendship. Love you lots, V

Chapter One


Hitting the top of Hollywood’s It List has its perks.

Money. Fame. Girls.

Lots and lots of girls.

I’ve definitely earned my reputation as a player.

But one thing I’m not is a cheater.

I don’t like cheaters. I don’t date them. I don’t stick my dick in them. I don’t do things to justify jealous boyfriends or husbands punching me in the face.

Tonight, I’d done all three.

Granted, I hadn’t known Missy Ives had a boyfriend at the time, but that didn’t mean shit when I could still picture the guy, looking confused, then hurt, then dangerously pissed right before he came after me two hours ago. I’d been bare ass naked, dealing with my own confusion, and suffering flashbacks to two years ago when I’d caught my girlfriend in bed with my brother. All that had slowed down my reflexes when Missy’s boyfriend swung at me, which is why I now sported the beginnings of a black eye.

Truth is, I’d probably have let the guy punch me anyway, that’s how bad I’d felt.

Unfortunately, in a few days I was starting my role as the male lead in a new network television series. I prayed the black eye faded before we began filming.

Pulling my car into the crowded circular drive of rocker Wesley Shaw’s Beverly Hills’ mansion, I killed the engine, and checked my reflection in the rearview mirror, gingerly touching my eye. The entire lid was purple and swollen. It also hurt like hell. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me from turning my Saturday night around. The bitter memory of Rachel’s betrayal, which I’d mostly put behind me, was suddenly a raw open wound that wouldn’t go away. I needed a drink. Several drinks. And I needed a girl. Maybe several girls. Anything to make me forget what a fool I’d once been to believe in love. And to have enjoyed Missy’s company for a mind-boggling three dates (including one on New Year’s Eve two weeks ago) while starting to think maybe we could actually be more than a casual hook up.

What an idiot.

Getting out of my car, I took in the scene of my buddy Liam Collier’s 22nd birthday party. Liam was the lead singer of Point Break, the same band for which Wes played the guitar, and Wes had used Liam’s big day as an excuse to throw his first party since moving in to the seven-bedroom villa. I’d only heard about the place until now, and damn it was sweet, with floating levels, glass walls held in place by a striking black frame, and even a circular tower adjoining the entrance. Wes had especially raved about the outdoor terraces that had amazing views of the Los Angeles city skyline.

Valets scurried to keep up with the procession of cars as guests arrived. Heavy bass and electronic beats pounded my ears and shook my car windows. A multitude of girls in low-cut blouses and four-inch heels wandered in and out of the house. I didn’t recognize most of them, but that didn’t surprise me. Anyone who was anyone in this town knew about Wesley’s new place, but only anyone who was someone would get inside.

Unless she had a great rack to go along with her anonymity.

Seeing one of the valets approaching me, I tossed him the keys to my black Bentley Continental GT. “Thanks, man,” I said as I started jogging up the white stone steps of the house. Two hulking men in dark suits worked security. I’d almost reached them when the front door burst wide open, letting out the muffled chatter and bursts of laughter of the hundred people inside. From my peripheral vision, a shirtless figure stepped—or stumbled, more accurately—into my view. It was Point Break’s drummer, Tucker Benning, all lean lines, scruff, and inked flesh.

“You made it.” Tucker toted a half empty bottle of Patron Silver, cigarette drooping at the crook of his lips. Long, disheveled brown hair hung in front of his bright green eyes, some sections slicked with sweat. He pushed them back clumsily.

A smudged lipstick mark stained his cheek. Swaying precariously, he threw open his arms, tequila sloshing out of the bottle. “We were wondering where the fuck you—Whoa. Man, what happened to your eye?”

“I fell into a wall.” I sighed, knowing I’d probably be saying it a lot tonight.

Tuck blinked at me as if trying to process my answer.

“But I’d never miss Liam’s birthday, Tuck.”

Liam Collier and I were friends from high school when we were both drama geeks. Liam had bounced from band to band back then, meeting Tuck our junior year. I hadn’t met his newest bandmates, Wes and Corbin Ross, who ripped the bass guitar, until last year, just before they’d gone platinum. Now they played to sold out crowds and were preparing for their first world tour.

Tucker slung his arm around my shoulders, using me as support. “Don’t tell him or Wes I said this,” he mock-whispered, his breath reeking of alcohol. “But I’d miss Liam’s birthday for a chance to hook up with Missy Ives. Jesus, that SI swimsuit spread she did…”

“Dude, come on.” Instead of Missy’s swimsuit shots, I pictured the whole tawdry scene with Missy and her boyfriend again. A sudden clenching in my chest had me rubbing the spot and wincing as we crossed the tile floor, splashed with confetti, streamers, popped balloons, and loose glitter raining down from flashy cocktail dresses.

“Hey, you were the one who said she seemed different than most girls. I’m not letting you clam up now.”

That was before I knew she wasn’t single.

Of course, I didn’t say that. Wanting to change the subject, I eyed him oddly. “Tuck, where the hell is your shirt?”

He looked down at his naked chest. “I don’t know, man. Earlier, I was shotgunning some beers in the bathtub. And all of a sudden, it was gone.”

“Wow.” I leveled him with a condescending smirk, glad I’d gotten him away from the Missy talk. “That’s an impressive memory you’ve got there.”

Tucker slowly shoved a finger into my arm. “Dude, I don’t need your judgery. And quit changing the subject. Dish, man. Did you actually hit that? How was it?”

“You’re relentless,” I murmured, reaching across his body to snatch the Patron bottle by the neck. I knew if I didn’t say something, Tuck would just keep asking. “We were interrupted.”

“Bam!” Tucker boomed theatrically, squeezing me all rough, his eyes growing comically wide. “Cock-blocked by a jealous ex?”

“Something like that,” I muttered, taking a swig of the tequila, happy Tuck was obviously too inebriated to connect the cock-blocking with my black eye. “Anyway, too much trouble for me. That’s over.”

“Still, three dates is a record, man.”

True, which was why I was done talking about it.

Tucker and I continued across the foyer and into the kitchen, done in dark granite and stainless steel. Recognizing a few Hollywood types, I tossed them nods of acknowledgement and fended off the flurry of queries about my black eye by reminding people I still did my own stunts. There was a set of twins I liked, for the most part, a brother and sister often cast in the same films together. Their eyes flashed with respect when they saw me.

“Hey, Garrick,” the girl twin called. “Congrats on the new series. You’re going to kill it.” She lifted a shot glass in my honor.

“Thanks. Should be interesting.”

I was an action star, not a romantic lead, but I was hoping my stint as Payton Baber would result in more dramatic roles. As Baber, I’d be playing a college student at the University of New Mexico and frontman for a garage band who becomes romantically involved with a good girl book nerd named Lacey. Point Break would be contributing to the show’s soundtrack, and Liam would be dubbing my musical parts, since I couldn’t sing worth a shit. It was pretty awesome when I recommended him. The network had been set on hiring another band for cost reasons, but when I’d hinted I was reconsidering taking the job, the network had caved and ponied up an insane amount of cash to hire Point Break. Really showed my newfound pull in the industry.

Liam was the perfect dude for the gig anyway, with his rich, tenor voice that soared into falsetto at just the right moment. Man, it’d always irked me the way he could do the one thing I couldn’t so well.

Not that I hadn’t tried. Believe me, I had. But, as it turned out, even the best voice coaches in the world couldn’t make a frog sound like a canary.

I used to sing a lot, even being as bad as I was. Of course, I’d limited it to when I was alone in the shower. No way did I ever sing in public. I’d even refused to sing along to the car radio with Rachel, something that had—

Fuck! I hadn’t thought about Rachel in months. Now thanks to Missy, I’d thought of her multiple times this evening. I scanned the room for something—anything—that would drive her from my mind.

Cheers broke out in an area of the house. “Where’s Wes?” I asked.

“That idiot’s been upstairs asleep since six p.m. I’m pretty sure he’s in the middle of something raunchy, and he doesn’t even know it.”

We took a detour into what looked like a den with a huge movie screen. Seeing who was already there, I immediately grinned. I’d asked for something to take my mind off my troubles and this was a pretty good start.

“Speaking of raunchy…” I nudged my chin in the direction of the couch where two buxom girls knelt, one a blonde, one a redhead, bracketing a pair of dark denim clad knees. The girls were passionately swapping spit, wearing nothing but their bras and panties. I have to say, they presented quite the erotic sight with their feet tied up in red, strappy heels. The lucky dude in the middle had his head thrown back against a couch cushion. I didn’t have to see him to know he was one lucky son-of-a-bitch. I doubted he was thinking of past betrayals or irate exes at that moment, and that’s what I desperately wanted—to wash away what happened earlier. Going back several years would be nice, since it would mean washing away Rachel completely. I wondered if he’d let me take his place.

“Shit,” I commented. “That is not unfortunate looking at all.”

The guy’s head came up, and a pair of hands planted themselves between the girls, on their “girls,” nudging them apart. Liam’s chiseled face appeared, short dark brown hair spiked and collared shirt stained with booze, the buttons one hole off.

“Gar!” Liam shouted, nodding with a shit-eating grin on his face.

I laughed. “Happy Birthday, Liam.” Somehow, seeing my friend eased the pressure inside my chest a little.

Liam looked wasted, but good. He’d taken to his recent rock god status like a fish to water without remotely becoming a dick. He had this infectious carefree attitude. He rolled with the punches. He didn’t stress. Everybody loved him from the moment they met him. Friendly, outgoing, laid back, confident, and courageous, Liam could charm the pants off of any girl, and the snarl out of any guy. He remained close to his parents and brothers. And while he was now definitely playing the field, he still believed that one day, he’d find the right girl and settle down.

In other words, he was damn naïve.

His parents were abnormal. Most people didn’t find love like that. Most people were assholes, cheaters, quitters. Missy had just reminded me what I already knew. I didn’t want to be the one who popped his bubble, but he’d figure it out at some point.

“Tucker,” some girl called from the kitchen, poking her head around the corner and brandishing a green bottle before him the way a trainer might dangle a treat in front of a dog. “We’re doing Jågerbombs. Get your ass in here.”

“On my way. Later, man.” Tucker smacked my shoulder. “We need to get a few shots in ASAP.” With that, he ducked out and strutted into the kitchen. “Let’s do this,” he announced, followed by a swell of cheers.

Liam popped up from the couch, bounded across the room, and attempted to football tackle me. Luckily, I was ready and braced myself in time to avoid being bowled over, giving him a few slaps on the back instead. “What’s up, bro?”

“You sneaky little shit,” he chided. “You came.” He smiled lopsided, pleasantly drunk, eyes dilated.

“Wouldn’t miss it,” I assured him, clamping my hands around his shoulders, giving him a good shake. I was lying. I probably would have missed it, if I had something in my life worth missing it for. Professionally, that was the case. Personally? Not so much.

For half a second, I wanted to be away from the party, the noise, the liquor, even the girls. I thought it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to be able to go someplace quiet and just talk to someone who cared about me.

I shook my head to clear it. Fuck, I sounded like a pussy. This was Liam’s birthday party. The guy didn’t need me getting all morose and sensitive on him.

I scrambled for something to say. “So. Where’s Helen?”

“She’s out in the infinity pool, I think.”

Helen had been in our drama class too, and she and Liam remained close friends. As far as I knew, they’d never dated, only drifted in and out of each other’s lives like smoke—like phantoms. Recently she’d taken a job with the band, helping with their merchandising, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that was a little too close for the comfort of their friendship.

Liam pressed a gallant hand on his chest. “And on that note, I’m going to check on Helen. Hey, buddy, can you hold down the fort for a while?” he asked, thumbing toward the girls in lacy lingerie, lounging on the white leather sofa, passing a bottle back and forth while they giggled.

Good ol’ Liam. What a pal for offering me up the very distraction I’d been admiring moments earlier.

As if they had supersonic hearing, the two girls zeroed in on me, their bedroom eyes laced with big, flirty false lashes. They batted them, freshly manicured index fingers beckoning. Yes! There’s no way the shadow of the night’s earlier events, or those of two years ago, could survive me getting it on with these two gorgeous girls. I took a deep breath. “I don’t know, Li. It’ll sure be taking one for the team,” I joked. “And you’ll owe me. Like, huge.”

Suddenly, he planted his hands on my face, locking eyes with me. “You can do this,” he said, shaking my face. “I believe in you. HOOAH!”

“Hooah!” I bantered, grinning ear to ear.

Five minutes later, could I help it if I sat nestled between the two girls on the Italian sofa, my arms around them to keep me warm? The blonde introduced herself as Britney, the redhead as Angela. Britney tsked and lightly touched my bruised eye, while Angela said it made me look even hotter. They both claimed they were big fans of my work. They liked to giggle and give each other kisses. I was more than okay with that.

After the first round of kisses, though, their hands instantly gravitated toward my body, as though I was pure steel, and their fingers were magnets. They plucked off the buttons of my shirt, one by one, kissing each other every two buttons. I wondered what they would do by the sixth set. By then, I was half undressed, and Britney pulled my shirt open while Angela rubbed her hand over my crotch, inching closer to what had already begun to tent my jeans.

My hands searched for their hips, thighs, and breasts. I took turns kissing one, then the other. I mean, it was only fair. They were both doing such a great job. Britney reached behind the couch to the glass display table and seized the neck of a half empty bottle of whipped vodka. Taking a swig, she leaned close to me and let the shot drop through her strawberry-glossed lips into my mouth. I swallowed the sweet liquid, the burn gone from it, and squeezed her tighter, tasting the flavor between our tongues.

Angela sucked lightly at my neck, her mouth trailing over the curve of my jaw to my ear. “Let’s go upstairs,” she purred in her syrupy voice.

I groaned, my body more willing than normal since it hadn’t found release with Missy earlier—we’d been going at it pretty hot and heavy when her boyfriend showed up.

Unease and bad memories threatened to swamp me again, and for an awful second, my mind actually superimposed Rachel and Missy’s faces over Britney and Angela’s. Talk about fucked up. But then Angela’s hand slid over my groin and pressed.

Rachel and Missy’s faces faded away. I was firmly focused on a goal now—getting the three of us off as hard and as many times as possible.

“Upstairs?” Angela’s fluffy eyes waited hopefully.

Breathless, blood boiling, I nodded.

Both girls managed to shed their bras before we reached the top landing, giggling madly and tossing them over the banister onto the guests below. Whistles, hoots, and hollers echoed from downstairs.

From somewhere, Tucker whooped triumphantly. “Get ‘em, Gar! Who wants body shots, ladies?”

The three of us stumbled into one of the upstairs bedrooms, Angela wielding the vodka bottle by the neck, holding my hand in her free one. A couple was already in the room, but they took one look at me and excused themselves, leaving me in the room with Angela and Britney.

Kicking the door closed, Britney hooked her finger into my belt loop and tugged me toward the bed, working those eyes and pouty lips like a fucking pro. She made quick work of my belt buckle while we walked, unbuckling it, then sliding the belt out of the loops.

Angela clambered onto the bed, taking a pull from the bottle and purposely letting some drizzle out of her mouth, dripping over her chin, throat, and pert, plump breasts. I reached out to squeeze them even as I turned my head to crash my lips against Britney’s. Still standing next to me, her hands felt around in all four of my pockets until she found a condom. Finally, my jeans came off, pushed down around my thighs, followed by my Calvin Klein boxers.

“Baby, you’re so big.” Her eyes danced with delight.

Actress. It took one to know one, but at least she knew what to say, right?

She ripped the package, removed the condom, and rolled it on me. Dropping to her knees so our profiles were to Angela, Britney enveloped my rock hard cock with the sweet, wet warmth of her mouth. My hand shot into her hair. The glorious pressure, the friction she provided, as her head bobbed back and forth, coiled around me.

“Yeah,” I breathed hotly. “Take it all.”

She moaned and took my cock down further, as if to demonstrate how well she could do what she was told.

Meanwhile, Angela made a show of peeling off her panties. When she was completely naked, she crawled toward me, big bedroom blues ablaze with lust, her knees mussing up the sheets. She licked her lips, rose on her knees, and kissed me deeply. I twisted my torso toward her and slid my hands down her chest, smearing the vodka across her naked body, until my fingers found the liquid heat between her thighs.

I bucked my hips forward, pushing my ache into Britney’s throat. She responded with a greedy moan, her nimble fingers trailing up my thighs to cup my balls and fondle to her heart’s content. I groaned my approval and gave her hair a tug.

Angela and I went into full kissing mode as I pushed my tongue into her mouth, tasting the sweet sugary vodka with just a hint of cigarettes. She moaned while I stroked her, teased her, fingered her… She broke away from me, laid back, and opened her legs, giving me a front row view while she pleasured herself, middle finger caressing her slippery center. I watched, more aroused by the second, until Britney pulled my cock out of her mouth with a wet pop. She stood, turned around, and climbed onto the bed, positioning herself between Angela’s perfectly smooth thighs then burying her tongue inside her.

Angela gasped and writhed.

My cock at full mast, I hooked my fingers into Britney’s baby blue thong and dragged it over her perfectly round ass cheeks. Taking a moment to squeeze and admire what she so happily displayed for me, I licked my top teeth like a lion eyeing its next meal. With my shins touching the bed, I gripped her hips and plunged into her. Daaamn, that felt good.

Apparently, she liked it too, since she moaned desperately. I was hoping she’d be a little tighter, considering how in shape her body was on the outside, but then again, she probably did this pretty often. No judgment on her. I mean, after all, I did too. Britney licked and sucked and fingered Angela while I fucked Britney, my release inching up my spine. She squeezed her pussy around me, opening her knees wider as if to take as much of me as she could, then she wiggled away all together.

What was she going to do now? I could only imagine.

Crawling over Angela’s body, she turned around and planted her knees on either side of the Angela’s face, sinking herself down. Instantly, Angela’s tongue sprang into action, and I used the backs of Angela’s knees to lift her legs so I could plunge into her.

They both moaned in that theatrical, porn way. Britney mapped out her body with her hands, massaging her own breasts, as she gyrated her hips, gleefully surrendering to the pleasure. I have to say, it was pretty freaking hot. I took Angela’s legs and hooked them over my shoulders, the sight of her strappy heels as her only clothing even more of a turn on. Britney leaned forward, so we could kiss. We swapped positions like that, fucking for the next hour, until we all lay there in a heap of sweaty, sated flesh.


It took a while for my body to cool down and to stop shaking. I felt drained. Empty. For a short time, I’d been granted relief from the sting of Missy’s betrayal and the bitterness of bad memories, but now they returned full force.

My inner demons taunted me with my worthlessness, making me feel like shit in general. I’d been working my ass off and partying for two years in an attempt to rid myself of this feeling, and now this episode with Missy had broken through the wall and all I felt was pain.

I stared at the textured ceiling, any remnant of physical pleasure swiftly subsiding. Next to me, the girls lay motionless, spent. Not long ago, I would have playfully slapped Britney’s ass then tickled Angela until they got up and dressed, but now, I just lay there. If they wanted to go, they could. If they wanted to stay, I didn’t care.

I didn’t know them. I didn’t care about them. I didn’t know them enough to like them.

Right then, I didn’t even like myself. But that wasn’t going to work.

I was all I had. Me. My career. The partying. The booze and women. I had a life most guys would kill for. I had to remember that.

Forcing myself to move, I turned to the girls. “Ladies, that was amazing. Thank you.”

Angela propped herself on her elbows. “There’s more where that came from,” she purred.

Suddenly, Tucker banged on the door. “Garrick,” he slurred. “Come take birthday shots with us. Before Liam passes out. Come on, bro…dry your dick and get out here.”

I scrambled up to get dressed, ready to forget all that haunted me with the help of my friends and a lot of shots. The niggling feeling that I was pathetic pestered me, and I fought to push it out of my head. I don’t know what more I wanted, but I was inexplicably flooded with a desperate certainty that it wasn’t this.

Chapter Two


When I woke, I knew immediately by the feel of my luxurious bedding that I was in my old bedroom. Even the air was the perfect temperature, as if the universe somehow knew being too hot or too cold was unacceptable for those who were rich enough. Another clue was the smell of fresh flowers, which Matilda, my parents’ housekeeper, always replenished in the crystal vase on my nightstand. My childhood home was a lot like Cinderella’s glass slipper: It was magical and I was lucky to have it and the privileged life it represented, yet it was also an illusion. Most people couldn’t look beyond its outward beauty to see the imperfections.

I don’t mind imperfections. They make us interesting. Stronger. They make life—and love—real because they test our mettle.

It’s glass slippers and Prince Charming rescuing Cinderella that’s the stuff of fairytales. Cinderella would have been better off telling her evil stepmother to go fuck herself and striking out on her own.

With a shake of my head, I giggled.

God, it was a good thing I was an actress considering I had such a flair for the dramatic. Luckily, I didn’t have to deal with an evil stepmother. My parents loved me, and they loved each other. Yes, my dad could be majorly controlling, and sometimes exhibited a temper, but he was always there for me when I needed him.

I stretched before getting out of bed, then brushed my teeth and, still in my pajamas, headed downstairs. Gray morning sun spilled in from the skylight, illuminating my way down the gleaming wood staircase. Yawning, my lungs made a lazy grab for clear-headedness. When I reached the bottom landing, my feet found warm wood, courtesy of the heated floors.

“Good morning, Gwendolyn,” Mom said as I rounded the corner into the gourmet kitchen. In her ruffled apron, pearls, and tidy chignon, she stood near the stove, dicing fresh strawberries and bananas. Eggs over-easy sizzled in the frying pan, which was incredibly strange. My mom didn’t cook. We had a personal chef for that.

“Would you mind starting the espresso maker?” She pouted. “We’re out of tea packets.”

“Sure.” Blinking through my fugue of confusion, I turned toward the counter by the sink and stared at the contraption next to it. Hadn’t there been a juicer there last night? I crossed to the machine, plucked a brewing canister from the display rack, inserted it and switched the machine on. “Dad gets back from his conference on Friday, doesn’t he?”

“I never left,” boomed a voice from behind me.

I spun around, confronted by the regal, hulking image of my father dressed in a tailored suit. He towered over both my mom and me. Even at fifty, he was muscular and strong, and if it weren’t for his shock of silver hair, he’d probably pass for ten years younger.

“What are you wearing, Gwendolyn?” he demanded.

Puzzled, since my parents had bought my floral flannel pajamas for me last Christmas, I took a gander at my attire. Shock swept through me as I realized that, instead of the pajamas I’d just been wearing, I now wore the equivalent of Cinderella’s rags before they had been transformed into a ballgown: a lilac dress, the skirt smudged with grass stains where I had knelt to help Sean to his feet. He had picked me up for prom hours ago. We had been thirty minutes late getting home and Dad had been waiting on the porch with his hands in well-prepared fists.

“I asked what you’re wearing?” Dad repeated, his voice diving into the heavily graveled growl it took on before one of his bouts of hollering. I rounded on my mother for help. She stood unfazed and, thanks to a glossy red ribbon threaded through her lips, absolutely silent. A beeping noise swam into my ears. The espresso must be done.

A strange tingling sensation seized my right hand.

When I looked back at the espresso maker, it transformed into the juicer, and my hand, now a bloody crooked stump, was jammed inside.

I screamed, pulled my hand out, and turned to flee, but I couldn’t. I was surrounded on all sides by the pulpy, noxious walls of a rotting pumpkin. Vicious nasty rats, not cute little Disney mice, crawled over my bare feet and up my limbs. Panicked, I swatted at them, but couldn’t stop them from scurrying under my dress. Ripping through my chest, the rats tore into my heart and—

With a stifled scream, I sat up, frantically searching my surroundings. Fine linens, check. Crystal vase, check. I fumbled to turn off the beeping alarm next to my bed, but my heart continued to pound frantically as I realized I’d been dreaming but I was in my old room in my parents’ house. Why? I’d gotten my own place over two months ago.

For several seconds I feared it had all been a dream, not just me getting my hand pulverized in a juicer and attacked by rats, but me having actually moved out on my own. Chest heaving, I tried to catch my breath.

The more time that passed, the more my senses came back to me. Finally, I remembered that yes, I now rented my own place. I’d merely spent the night because I was leaving town in a few days to begin filming in New Mexico, and my parents had wanted to spend some extra time with me. Last night we’d had dinner at the Club then afterward Dad and I had run lines.

But I didn’t live here anymore. Hopefully, as much as I loved my parents, I never would again. I was just beginning to get used to being free of my dad’s constant scrutiny and well-meaning lectures. To not feeling like I was going to disappoint him every time I picked out an outfit myself or talked to a boy.

Instinctively, I glanced at my nightstand where I’d placed the five-year-old prom picture of Sean and me. I don’t know why I kept it. It was a memento of a night no one would want to remember. Not because I hadn’t had a good time at prom, but because of what had come after.

Police had set up a DUI checkpoint along the highway, funneling traffic into two lanes, and Sean had been thirty minutes late getting me home. My father had been waiting up for us. He didn’t give us time to explain. The second Sean had stepped out of his Corvette, Dad knocked him on his ass. Sean fought back for the first few punches while I shrieked for them to stop, but I knew, even as captain of the wrestling team, he didn’t stand a chance against a man who’d once been crowned Mr. Universe.

While Mom stayed inside, watching from the frosted foyer window with her robe clutched closed, Dad accused Sean and me of having sex and promised to sue him for every penny he possessed if a child came from our "irresponsible union." I had never been so mortified. Sean and I had dated for two years, but after that night, he broke things off. Outside of the handful of days we had left in high school, I never saw Sean again.

That was the day I learned that I wasn’t worth fighting for, that no boy or man would ever be strong enough to stand by me—not against my father, who stood as the contemporary version of a giant and a dragon in one exceptionally intimidating human-shaped body. And not against other hardships that life was bound to throw my way.

At least I thought I’d learned that lesson.

Until I’d been weak and Randall Stone had taught me the lesson all over again.

* * *

After attending Sunday morning church service with my parents, surviving one of Dad’s well-meaning pep-talks slash lectures during brunch, and promising (again) to stay out of trouble in New Mexico, I was comfortably seated in the back of one of his Lexuses and being driven home. As ridiculous as it was that he still insisted his driver transport me to and from his house or work, I didn’t fight him. In my mind, I’d already won the most important battle, which had been convincing my father to let me move out in the first place. My winning strategy had been telling him I wanted to immerse myself in the role of Lacey on Straightlaced, the new television show that Fluidity Films was producing with Sun Studio.

My dad was a co-owner and executive producer at Fluidity. Unfortunately, the production company had become a bit of a joke in the film industry due to some seriously unsuccessful films. My dad was counting on Straightlaced—and thus, me—to turn Fluidity’s reputation around. When I’d told him moving out on my own was vital to getting into the head of my character—who had also just moved out on her own—Dad had hesitated, but had eventually given in.

I’d been enjoying the heck out of my newfound freedom ever since. Not that I was partying every night or anything. I was serious about my career and saving the reputation of my dad’s production company. But it was nice to finally be out on my own.

Thomas, an older gentleman who’d worked for my family since I was ten, pulled into Ventura Breezes with its towering palms and bright hibiscus landscaping. He slowed the car just enough to wave at the gate security and be let through.

“It’s the next right,” I told him, taking in the pretty neighborhood I’d moved into just two months ago. It was a huge matter of pride for me that I was paying for my rent with my own money. I’d been a working actress long enough that I didn’t need my father to support me any longer, at least financially.

“I know where you live, Miss Gwen,” Thomas chuckled under his breath, his dark eyes smiling at me in the rearview mirror.

“Sorry, I know you do. Can you tell my father you walked me in but just leave me at the door, please? This is a highly secure neighborhood, and besides, my roommate will be waiting, so it’s okay. Really.”

“Yes, Miss Gwen. But if anything happens…”

“I’ll tell him it was my fault,” I interjected. Anything to keep Dad calm, relaxed, and believing that everything was okay, something that had become harder since he had found out about my relationship with Randall Stone six months ago, just after the fourth of July.

Randall had been my romantic lead on the set of Diamond Eyes, and he’d been the first man I’d risked getting involved with since Sean all those years ago. It wasn’t difficult to see why I’d fallen for him—he was older, smart, sophisticated, and handsome—he’d also been a married man and had snowed me into believing he was legally separated and soon to be signing divorce papers when the truth was his wife had just gotten pregnant with baby number three. I hadn’t slept with Randall, but I’d gotten damn close, and it had almost killed me when I realized what a cliché I’d been.

When my father found out, he’d almost had a heart attack—literally. My mom had called an ambulance and everything. Thankfully, he’d been okay, and afterward he’d spent an insane amount of money paying people off to stay quiet—including Randall himself—in order to protect my reputation and thus my career. After I accepted the role in Straightlaced, my stint on Diamond Eyes had ended with my character being killed off two weeks before Christmas. Now, almost a month later, my dad followed every move I made with an even closer eye than he had before. Not ideal, but still… My father had stuck by me. He always had. It made me feel like the worst daughter ever to think my foolishness had landed him in the hospital. From now on, I was going to make things easier on him, not harder.

As Thomas reached 108 Malibu Way, a cute yellow home with white shutters, window flower boxes, and my pure white VW EOS Convertible sitting in the driveway, I had to stop myself from clapping my hands. It may not have been a ten-bedroom estate with maid and guest quarters like the house I grew up in, but it was mine.

I got out the back and closed the door, leaning into Thomas’s open window. “Thank you, Thomas.”

“Anything to see that pretty smile, Miss Gwen.”

I pulled out the keys from my purse. “Bye.”

Entering the house through the side door, I heard the din of dishes in the sink coming from the kitchen. “In here!” Violet called, her voice like pure sunshine to match the house.

My father had made it very clear that the only way I could live on my own was if I had a roommate, and even she had to be pre-approved. Luckily, I was still best friends with my high school buddy, Violet, who had mentioned needing a roommate before I even told her I might be looking for one.

All in all, it was the perfect match, and I couldn’t be happier.

Violet stood at the kitchen sink, washing her NutriBullet free of kale and cucumber residue. I didn’t have to see it closely to know that’s what was in it. It was all she’d been having for lunch and dinner for a week now. “Lost eight pounds,” she sang, pumping a fist in the air.

“That’s awesome. Go, you. So what’s this week gonna be, moving up to carrots and fruit?” I laughed, plopping my purse onto the counter stool.

She set the dishes to dry and wiped her hands. “Actually, yes. Though carrots have way too much sugar, but my friend’s mom insists it’s packed with every nutrient a person ever needs to live, so I’m gonna give it a shot.”

“Vi, it’s a carrot. You need more than that.”

“I need to lose fifteen pounds is what I need.”

“Why? You’re studying to be a nurse, not an actress. Be glad you don’t have the pressure of keeping fit if you want to keep a job.”

“What if I want to be a hot nurse?”

“You don’t need to lose weight. You need protein.”

Violet rolled her eyes. “You and your protein. Your dad and his protein. God, I swear if he hadn’t been Mr. Universe when he was younger, you’d have probably lived a normal existence.”

“Um, I hate to point out the obvious, but the reason I didn’t have a normal existence growing up wasn’t because of Mr. Universe.” I gave her a knowing look and took off the jacket I’d put on for breakfast with my parents.

“Oh, that’s right. It’s because he’s been a high-up executive producer in Hollywood for thirty years, and he makes you dress like you’re going to a high-stakes business meeting just to visit his house. My bad.” She laughed to herself.

“Don’t forget because I’m also an only child.” I grabbed a carrot, pointed it at her, and took a big, crunchy bite.

“Three strikes.” Violet came around the corner, flipped up my tight ponytail, and plopped onto the sofa to flip through Netflix. “It’s a miracle you know how to have any fun at all.”

“Who says I have fun?”

“You know what I mean. You like gardening, fixing up the yard, cooking…”

“I’d hardly call that having fun.”

“Okay, but you’re not a party type like half the kids of your parents’ friends. You’ve stayed true to yourself, on the right path, with a good head on your shoulders.”

“You mean I’m straightlaced?” I laughed, shaking my head at the irony. It was no wonder I’d been cast for the show.

It was another thing I took pride in. The fact that despite my father being part owner and an executive producer at Fluidity, his position hadn’t influenced the director’s decision to hire me. In fact, if anything, the director, Lyle Steinberg, had said he’d hired me in spite of who my father was, not because of it. Normally a production company brought in a director of its choosing and called the shots, but in this case, it was Lyle who’d come to Fluidity, giving it first dibs on the production of a show for which Lyle had been handpicked as the director. He’d been afraid that by hiring me, my father would try to stifle his creativity, but after he’d seen my audition, he’d said he’d never find an actress more perfect for the role of Lacey.

I slipped into my bedroom for a quick change into a tank top and worn yoga pants my father would never catch me in. Then, I returned to the living room to sit next to Vi. “Man, that was stressful.”

“What was? Changing your clothes?”

“Going home—well, my parents’ house. We start Straightlaced meetings and readings tomorrow, and my dad is going crazy.”

“Because he wants it to go well?”

“Because it has to go well. This series has to knock it out of the park, or else everything my father has invested in Fluidity over the past thirty years will be for nothing.”

“And you’re the show’s leading lady. No pressure.”

“Exactly.” At least it was a testament to how much my father believed in me, if he felt I could bring Fluidity back by leading the show. I couldn’t let him down.

“Well at least you’ll be far away from him for a while for filming. You deserve a break. Your dad, he’s just so—so…”

“Vi, don’t,” I said quietly, looking out the window at the tomato and basil plants just starting to hold up on their own. “My dad’s given me an amazing life for twenty-two years. I know everyone thinks he’s a huge asshole, but he’s not. He just doesn’t want life handed to me. He wants me to work hard for it, same as he did. So he comes across as a little…overbearing.”

“More like tyrannical. He’s a bully, Gwen. He’s controlling and—” Vi’s mouth snapped shut when I glared at her. “Okay, fine. I know you don’t like it when I criticize him. But I just want what’s best for you.”

“That’s because you’re a great friend. Thank you.”

“Speaking about what’s best for you, what about your leading man? Do you finally know who’s going to play your leading man? Did they get that Blake Murphy guy from all those romantic comedies? I love him.”

“I honestly don’t know. The director, Lyle, sort of mashed together a cast last month, and I haven’t heard from him, so I really don’t know who’s working with who. I’ll find out tomorrow.”

“So your dad doesn’t even know?”

I shook my head. “Lyle’s been holding things very close to the vest. It’s an unusual power dynamic for a director and production company, but since Lyle brought the project to Fluidity, and not the other way around…”

“Wow, so your dad really is out of the loop.”

“Yup. I’m doing this one all on my own.”

The truth was, I was ridiculously nervous about how it would all go down but terribly excited at the same time. Dad wanted me to star in the show and help save his company, so on one hand, I was proud of myself. But on the other hand, the future of Fluidity Films was up in the air. Up to me. With only a mystery cast to help me make it rock.

I, for one, was ready. To start a new leg of my career. To prove to my dad I could be independent and responsible and counted on. To let the memory of Randall go, once and for all. To get a full night’s sleep and a fresh start on life in the morning. I let out a deep breath and turned to Vi. “Can your diet allow for one celebratory mojito with me this evening? I’ll even use fresh mint from the garden and your NutriBullet.”

Violet cringed. “Can you make mine with Stevia?”

I smiled and bounced up from the couch. “Anything is possible.”

Chapter Three


Monday morning, when I arrived on the Sun Studios lot, operating on a few hours sleep and two five-hour energy drinks, I checked my appearance in my rearview mirror. Except for the black eye, I saw the exact image I wanted to present: disheveled, medium-length, black-brown hair, warm, olive skin, impeccable threads, and chocolate brown eyes lit with cocky assurance. In truth, Payton was supposed to be a bit of a bad boy, so my battle scar might not be such a big deal.

I hoped.

I chirped the alarm on my car and headed to the front entrance. Inside the building, I gave a string of “good mornings” to the security guard, front desk lady, and a bunch of other people who welcomed me with big smiles and yes, curious gazes and even a wince here and there or a smirk when they saw my eye. Having filmed at the studio before, I knew my way around and quickly found the breakfast buffet room. Before heading inside, I pulled out my phone to check for messages one last time, since I didn’t want to be caught thumbing through my phone at work.

I sighed at another text from Britney followed by a new, pleasantly risqué́ selfie of Angela. I still wasn’t sure how they’d coaxed my number out of me, but I suspected it was when I was browning out in tequila. Not replying would only invite more texts throughout the day—I’d been through this before—so I grabbed the first lie that came to mind.

Had fun 2. Headed into a meeting. Text u later.

Even though I wouldn’t.

Double-teaming had been fun for getting my kicks, but no way would I be hooking up while shooting this new show. Not because I didn’t want the paparazzi finding out, but because I didn’t want any random girls showing up on set. It had happened to me more than once, and it was embarrassing, not to mention awkward.

I copied the text and pasted it into Angela’s message as well.

On my own time, my whereabouts were always private, but sometimes during filming, it became public knowledge. Anyone could find me, and they had in the past, which still unnerved me. I had even changed my number two or three times since last summer. I hoped I didn’t have to do it again.

“Is that real cream cheese?” asked a light-toned, sweetly feminine voice that still managed to hint at confidence. It was an alluring combination.

“I believe it is,” another woman replied in a lower tone. “Least they could do for dragging us out here at the ass-crack of dawn.”

I let out an internal chuckle. Ass-crack. So true.

My attention snapped to the buffet table where two young women stood side by side, filling their plates with food. One towered above the other, tall and willowy, as though the lightest breeze could snap her in two. Her mousy blonde hair was pulled back into a disheveled bun. The sight of her struck a familiar chord, but I couldn’t remember where I’d seen her before.

Pretty, I thought, but too wispy. The second girl cut a slender yet curvier figure—the athletic and outdoorsy type—with long, dark brown hair. She wore fitted black slacks and a matching blazer. From where I stood, I caught a glimpse of the blonde’s face but couldn’t check out the brunette without making my presence known, something I wasn’t quite ready to do. I leaned against the doorframe and listened instead.

“Good,” the brunette said. “My bagel will be doused with it by the time I’m done.”

The blonde bit into a mini cinnamon roll, wiping the corner of her lip with her pinkie finger. “No kidding. Glycemic index be damned.”

I predicted this would devolve into a rant about shared hatred of calories and the task of staying fit. Women always discussed such boring subjects.

True to her word, the brunette began to smother her bagel with cream cheese—my kind of girl. “I normally wouldn’t eat this way,” she said, stabbing the cream cheese with the knife again. “My dad was a health nut when I was younger.”

The blonde cringed. “One of those granola types?”

“You could say that. If it was processed or pre-packaged, it didn’t set foot in our house. So whenever I see food like this, I get stars in my eyes for it.” She giggled.

The blonde laughed. “Trust me, I get it. My mom was the same, but I’ve been eating super healthy for so long now, I’m just used to it.” She ladled a heaping spoonful of fruit from a punch bowl onto her plate.

The brunette nodded. “My dad was pretty hardcore. Is hardcore.”

“About food?”

“About everything,” the brunette said, and the blonde just nodded and picked at a few pieces of fruit. “He was Mr. Universe, so yeah, you could say I have to watch what I eat.”

Wasn’t that contest presided over by a bunch of guys from Long Beach, selling workout equipment? Note to self, never meet her father without some serious prep time in the gym. Not that I would. Meeting parents was never part of the equation anymore when it came to my conquests.

“Hell of a thing to have on a résumé if he wanted to apply somewhere intergalactically.”

The brunette laughed. “Right?”

I suppressed a chuckle. Maybe these girls would make fun friends if nothing else. Not that I kept many close friends. Now that my brother was out of the picture, Liam was the next closest thing, and even before he hit it big, he rarely answered his phone. Sometimes it got a bit lonely inside my head. Then again, the solitary life was the safe life. Little to no risk.

I figured the blonde was around twenty-three, a couple years older than me and probably the brunette, who had a younger feel about her, though graceful and sophisticated too, as though she came from an upper class home and was accustomed to luxury. I hoped the enchanting sound of the brunette’s voice wasn’t a ruse. If her face held a fraction of the beauty, I’d be lucky to catch a glimpse of it.

I watched as the blonde gave the mystery girl a once over in her perfectly fitted clothing. “That can’t be comfortable,” she sympathized. “Aren’t we just reading today?”

The brunette shrugged. “My father discourages dressing for comfort almost as much as processed foods.”

The blonde raised an eyebrow. “Do you always do what your father tells you?”

“No,” the brunette replied quickly, almost self-consciously. “But let’s just say he plays a big part in my life.” She laughed quietly to herself. “I’m so sorry, I feel like you know way more about my father than you ever wanted to. I’m Gwen.” She held out her hand to the blonde.

Gwen. I raked my mind for all the Gwens I knew in Hollywood. Was it Guinevere, another variation of it, or just Gwen? I needed to see her damned face for a complete picture.

“Erica,” the blonde replied, shifting her plate to her left hand so she could offer Gwen her right one.

“Oh.” Gwen’s voice lit up. “You’re the author. Erica Ellis.”

“Guilty,” the tall blonde confessed with a lopsided grimace.

Of course. Erica Ellis, author of Straightlaced, the book our TV series would be based on. It sat on my bedside table with her face plastered across the back cover for months, collecting dust. I’d picked it up exactly once in all that time. I’d never been big on researching roles, preferring to jump into them with my own twists. Colleagues praised me for it. Evidently though, Gwen had done her homework.

“I can’t believe I didn’t recognize you,” Gwen cried.

Erica shook her head. “I’d be a little offended if you had. I know I look different without the blowout and heavy make up. I really need to get that author photo redone.”

“I fell in love with your book,” Gwen gushed. “I’m sure you get that all the time.”

Erica chuckled and shrugged a frail shoulder. “I do, but never before from a critically acclaimed celebrity.”

Critically acclaimed? My brow furrowed. Surely I knew this Gwen, or knew of her. But so far, I couldn’t place her. I straightened my jacket, getting ready to casually enter the room and take command, as though I hadn’t been eavesdropping this whole time. But then…

“Do you know who else we’ll be working with?” Gwen asked. “I never heard back from Lyle.”

I pulled back against the doorframe to keep listening. If my name came up, this was my chance to be the proverbial fly on a wall.

Erica rolled her eyes. “Oh wow, I have the same problem. He never replies. It’s been such a hassle communicating with him. For a director, he’s pretty disorganized. But yes, I helped with the casting process, so I know who you’re working with. Garrick Maze is playing your Payton.” She donned a sly, flirtatious smile.

My chest swelled with pride.

Wait… Your Payton? So Gwen was…my female lead? I craned my neck for a better look.

“Garrick Maze?” Gwen parroted with less enthusiasm. The disappointed tone in her beautiful voice instantly cut me down, and air leaked from my mouth like a deflating balloon. “The guy who starred in Blast Zone?”

“One and the same,” Erica said, scrutinizing Gwen for a long moment. “You seem a little uncertain.”

“No, it’s just...”

I bore the weighty silence of her pause like one waiting for the punch line of a bad joke. What was she getting at? What was so bad about working with Garrick Maze? I heard he was a pretty awesome guy.

“Isn’t he an action star?” Gwen asked. “I’ve seen several of his big films but never a romance. I’m not sold on him as Payton. Action actors have a pretty narrow range. Is it too late to cast someone else?”

My mouth fell open. Thanks for the vote of confidence, sweetheart!

Erica nodded pensively. “I had my reservations about him too, at first, but he was fantastic at auditions. Plus, the guy isn’t bad on the eyes and matches Payton’s description perfectly.”

Damn right, I did…do.

Gwen gave a noticeable sigh. “He’s talented, I suppose. I just don’t think he’s that attractive. Not for a romance anyway. I don’t know. I don’t believe the hype.”

Fuuuuuck. My female lead was a ball-buster of the highest order. Oh, I’ll show you hype... I had endured just about enough of this.

Cracking my neck and squaring my shoulders, I strolled into the room and headed straight for the bagels. “Ah, just what I needed this morning…a good glycemic index-loaded breakfast.”

Erica noticed me first, and I smirked when she had difficulty swallowing the next bite of her breakfast. Gwen whirled around and immediately swallowed her shock.

And I had to admit, so did I…

Had my jaw not been held together with flesh and pride, it would have hit the floor. Gwen was a knockout from head to toe with green eyes, full pouty lips, and a light dusting of freckles across the curves of her cheeks and bridge of her nose. She had a holier than thou air about her and a contrasting fresh-faced beauty that left me panting.

On the inside, of course. Right now, I was all aplomb and casual interest. The heat in my head rushed south, and I assumed a casual stance to conceal my conflicted feelings. It was hardly fair that I found her irresistible when she couldn’t care less for me.

“You’re—” she started before her hair had even settled into place on her shoulders from the whiplash. Her gaze immediately homed in on my black eye and her lips pressed together tightly.

“Hi.” I smiled what 99.99% of women considered to be my devastating smile. Gwen fell into the other 0.01%, of course. “Garrick Maze, in the flesh.”

“Um, yeah…G-Gwendolyn Vickers,” she stammered, scrambling to reassemble the pieces of her sophistication.

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