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Authors: Suzanne Brockmann

Heartthrob

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“Y
ou can’t kiss me like that and then deny that there’s something intense between us. You know if we
did
have sex, it would be the best either of us have had.
Ever.
” Wrong approach. Jericho knew the instant the words were out of his mouth. He’d put her on the defensive. He should’ve apologized. Whispered that he couldn’t resist her. Begged her to help him stay in control …

Kate started backing away. “Jericho, we work together. Starting something between us would be
insane
—”

“So let’s not start something. Let’s just take tonight and get this out of our systems. We’re hundreds of miles from the set. No one would ever have to know.”

“Do you really think we could just … get it out of our systems?” she asked softly.

Jackpot. She was admitting there
was
something between them.

“Do you?” she asked again.

He was playing to win, but he had to answer honestly. “No.”

She nodded. “I don’t think so either.”

A Fawcett Book
Published by The Random House Publishing Group
Copyright © 1999 by Suzanne Brockmann

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Fawcett Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Fawcett is a registered trademark and the Fawcett colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

www.ballantinebooks.com

eISBN: 978-0-307-53072-1

v3.1_r1

Contents
One

J
ericho Beaumont used the pay phone outside the Aardvark Club to call Chaslyn. He automatically hunched his shoulders and turned his face away as a car pulled into the lot and parked, its headlights illuminating him like a follow-spot before being shut off.

As the phone rang, he turned up the collar of his jacket—added protection against being recognized by the college-age kids getting out of the car. But he needn’t have bothered.

“Isn’t that …?”

“Doesn’t he look like …?”

The flurry of whispers were drowned out by a louder voice. “Nah, it’s only Jericho Beaumont. Hey, Beaumont, where you been? I keep expecting you to do a guest spot on the new
Loveboat.
Haven’t they called you yet?”

Anger flared, but Jed crushed it, stuffing it deep inside, locking it tightly down, ignoring it as completely as the laughter that echoed in the night. And when Chaslyn’s roommate Lisa picked up the phone on the fifth ring, his voice was even and perfectly in control.

“Hey, Lisa. It’s Jericho. Has Chas left for the wrap party yet?”

Silence. Then Lisa laughed nervously. “Um, Jericho … Chaslyn left for London five days ago. She got cast in that Linda McCartney bio-pic, remember?” Her voice became tinged with pity. “Didn’t she tell you she was leaving?”

“Yeah,” Jed lied. “Yeah, she told me, and I, um … I must’ve forgotten.”

“You didn’t know she was gone, did you?” Lisa saw right through him. “You know, she told me you wouldn’t notice if she suddenly disappeared. And it took you five days just to wonder where she was, didn’t it?”

What could he say? It was the truth. “Yeah.”

“God,” Lisa continued, “and I was about to be mad at
her
for dumping you that way. You’re such a loser, Beaumont.”

She cut the connection without even saying good-bye, and Jed slowly hung up the phone.

His girlfriend had been gone for five days.

And he hadn’t even noticed.

It would’ve been funny—if it weren’t so damn pathetic.

The music inside the club was blaring, and Jed worked his way through the sea of humanity to the bar at the back, where the cast and crew of
Mean Time
were having their farewell bash.

Rhino and T.S. were sitting at the bar, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s positioned strategically between them.

“Where’s Chaslyn?” Melanie, the makeup head asked as he moved past her table.

Jed didn’t stop. “She’s not coming. She’s already flown to London for her next project.”

“Poor Jericho—you’re all alone. You must be so sad.”

He took the stool next to Rhino, trying to feel sad, trying to care Chaslyn was gone. But the only emotion he could muster up was a vague sense of frustration. And maybe a little envy. Chas had a next project to go to. So far Jed had nothing lined up yet, and the truth was that that hurt worse than her leaving.

He dug deeper, staring into the shot glass filled with golden brown whiskey that Rhino had pushed in front of him, but he still felt nothing more profound than a sense of relief.

Chaslyn had left, which meant he no longer had to worry about hurting her. She had truly cared for him. And he … He’d liked the sex.

Bernie O’Hara, the character he’d played in
Mean Time
, had loved Chaslyn’s character, Lulu Jerome, with an obsessive passion. It hadn’t taken long for the line between reality and make-believe to blur, and five days into the six-week shoot, Jed had wound up in Chaslyn’s bed. It should’ve been no big deal. They were both adults, both unattached.

But Chas didn’t realize the heat they generated belonged only to Bernie and Lulu. She didn’t realize that underneath Bernie’s volatile character, Jed felt damn close to nothing.

That he rarely felt anything at all.

He picked up the glass of whiskey and brought it up to his nose, breathing in the familiar aroma. He closed his eyes, anticipating its smoothness against his tongue, the bite as it hit the back of his throat, the warmth that would rush through him, down to his stomach and outward, all the way to the tips of his fingers and toes.

“You actually gonna drink that this time?”

Jed opened his eyes to see Austin Franz sliding onto the stool on his other side. Franz was a brilliant cinematographer, and one of the meanest sons of bitches in the industry. He’d gotten it into his head that he’d have stood a chance with Chaslyn, had Jericho Beaumont not pushed him out of the running.

Rhino and T.S. shifted in their seats, exchanging a glance.

“Are you?” Franz asked again.

Jed couldn’t answer. He never knew for sure if he was
going to drink the whiskey or not—not until he got up and walked out of the bar. So far he’d always walked away.

He sidestepped the question, giving Franz his movie star smile, open, friendly. “I just like to smell it.”

“You’ve been sober … how long?” Franz asked.

“It’ll be five years next week.”

“Shit. That long? You must want to drink that pretty damn badly.”

Jed gazed into the shot glass.

“Go away, Austin,” Rhino said, his squeaky voice in direct contrast to his girth.

“So what’s your next movie gonna be, Jer?” Franz asked.

“Jericho doesn’t like nicknames,” T.S. supplied helpfully.

Jed’s smile was starting to feel decidedly tired. It was public knowledge that he didn’t have a next movie yet. He called his agent, Ron Stapleton, twice a day, but apparently, even after being clean and sober for five years, even after showing up every day on time for
Mean Time
, no one wanted to touch him. The best he had was a potential meeting with the producer of another independent feature. He’d have to fly to Boston, even pay for the airline tickets himself, with no guarantee he’d get the part. And until Ron sent him the script, he wasn’t even sure he wanted it. Frustration twisted inside of him. “Nothing’s lined up yet,” he said cheerfully—an Oscar-worthy performance.

“I’m taking a few months off myself,” Franz told him, “and then I’m going into preproduction with Stan for this really hot 1930s gangster story. Stan liked you for the lead, but since I’m producing this time around, I talked him out of it.”

He was lying. He was trying to piss Jed off—and it was working. Jed turned his smile up a few notches. “It’s just as well. I try not to work with the same director twice in a row.”

“Come on, Jericho,” T.S. said. “I’ll challenge you to a game of video downhill skiing.”

“I’ll challenge you to a different game. You ever play quarters?” Franz stopped Jed with a hand on his arm.

Franz was holding him so tightly, he would have had to really pull to get away. This was the way bar fights started. He knew—he’d been in enough of them in the past.

He briefly closed his eyes. “Austin, I’m sorry about Chaslyn. I honestly didn’t know that you were—”

“Screw Chaslyn.” Franz laughed harshly. “Well, shit, you already did that, didn’t you? Just forget about it, Jerry. She obviously has. This is just a nice, friendly wager.”

“I’m not into gambling.”

“One game of quarters. That’s all.”

Quarters was a drinking game where the players took turns bouncing coins off the bar in an attempt to sink one in their opponent’s drink. When a quarter was sunk, the opposing player had to drain the glass. Jed had played plenty in his late teens, but usually with beer, not whiskey.

Franz reached for the bottle of Jack, pouring himself a shot. “One game. If you win or tie, I’ll let Stan cast you in the gangster project.”

“And if I lose?”

“You win anyway, since you really want to drink that shot. I’d just be giving you a good excuse.” He pushed a quarter down the bar.

Jed stared into Franz’s eyes, feeling … what? Anger, yes. The son of a bitch was vindictive and mean-spirited. He wanted to hurt Jed simply for the sake of hurting him and that really pissed him off. But beneath his anger, he also felt … interest. A glimmer of excitement, a shadow of possibility.

He
could
win. He used to be good at this. He picked up the quarter.

Rhino clutched at his head. “Jericho—”

“Shut up, Rizinski.” Franz was holding another quarter,
and he tossed it onto the bar so that it bounced up. It missed the rim of Jed’s glass by a good two inches.

Jed hefted the other quarter in his hand. Last time he’d played, it had been with beer mugs—taller, but wider around. He took a deep breath, feeling the smoky air of the bar fill his lungs. The risk was high, but if he won …

He threw. The quarter bounced, clinking as it hit the side of Franz’s glass.

Franz threw and missed. Jed threw, the quarter hitting the glass again, but still not going in.

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