Authors: Laurelin Paige
To Joe LaRue who tirelessly advised and supported and taught me the in’s and out’s of Hollywood. And is also just really cool.
To my early readers: Bethany who let me be her first. Tristina who loved Micah even when he was an idiot, and told me in all the nicest ways. Robyn and Jackie who followed me from MG to sexy times—what a ride. Lisa, Becky and Sue whose praise and support made me feel like a real author.
To Bob DiForio, my agent, for taking the chance on this little story I loved so much, and to Holly Atkinson, my editor, for making it ten times what it was.
To Gen and the WrAHMs and especially the NAturals—my touchstones, my partners in kink, my best friends.
To Tom, my husband, friend, and lover, who finds his way in every book whether I planned it or not. To my kids, who should be reading but aren’t allowed to read this book. To my mom, who supports and loves me more than she should (and also isn’t allowed to read this).
To my Readers who’ve made my amazing life possible.
To my Creator, who gives me the words and looks out for me even when I’m walking the line.
A nightclub would have been bad enough, but when Maddie Bauers heard the stereo pulsing loudly outside the Woodland Hills house, she froze, and prepared to march full stomp back to her car.
“Oh, come on.” Bree flashed her puppy-dog eyes, the ones that usually got her anything and anyone.
Maddie pursed her full lips. “You said one drink, Bree. This is not one drink. This is a noise violation and disorderly conduct ticket waiting to happen.”
“This is fun waiting to happen.” Bree tossed her long blonde hair behind her shoulder. “I know you’re frigid and anti-good times, but one fucking party isn’t going to kill you. As your best friend, it’s my duty to tell you that you need to chillax. Have a good time.” Bree leaned closer to Maddie. “And I heard from someone who heard from someone else that the cast and crew of the latest Davenport indie might show up. That means hot celebrities.” She raised her hands triumphantly above her head. “Woo hoo!”
“First of all, I couldn’t care less about celebrities. Secondly, how do you know they’re hot?”
Bree waggled her eyebrows. “Let’s just say I heard some rumors.”
Maddie groaned. “I’m so leaving.”
“Come on. Don’t you want to celebrate your graduation even a little bit?”
“I am perfectly happy to celebrate on our couch with a glass of red wine.”
“Maddie, I hate to tell you this, but for twenty-two, you are old.”
Bree had a point. Maddie had always been serious, probably too serious for her own good. But it paid off. While the rest of the students in her film class partied and fumbled their way through college, she’d graduated with several completed independent films under her belt and landed a summer internship with the Oscar-winning filmmaker Joss Beaumont. Maddie was headed for a lifelong career in the film biz and she rarely let parties or men distract her.
Bree was another story. Maddie believed the petite buxom blonde would try to sleep her way into a starring film role—a goal bound to get her into trouble sooner or later. Parties like this one could bring that trouble sooner rather than later, and leaving Bree there alone was probably not such a good idea.
Maddie sighed. “Okay, okay, I’ll stay.” Before Bree could squeal with happiness, Maddie gave conditions. “But you have to promise not to abandon me in some corner like you usually do. And whoever you decide to randomly hook up with, promise me you’ll use a condom.”
“You act like I’m such a slut.” Bree pulled Maddie toward the front door. “But yes, I do have a condom. In fact, I brought two.”
“Are you planning to get lucky twice?”
“No, I was planning for you.”
Bree didn’t abandon Maddie in the first five minutes as she usually did at parties. She waited nearly ten. Then she excused herself to find a drink. Bree being Bree, Maddie knew it’d be awhile before they met up again.
Maddie snagged a seat on the living room sofa and busied herself with picking at her nails. She assumed a don’t-bother-me posture, more out of habit than on purpose. After an hour that felt like three, she wondered if it was too soon to hunt down her roommate and declare the night over. Was she really so much of a fuddy-duddy that she wanted to leave a graduation party before midnight? Yes, she was. But it was Bree’s graduation night too and she deserved to celebrate so Maddie determined to hold out a little longer.
Taking a deep breath, she stood up, tugged the straps of her pink tank top into place and smoothed down her knee-length black cotton skirt.
Might as well try to enjoy myself.
She pushed through the crowd and found an open cooler with beer near the patio doors. She grabbed a Corona, leaned against the open sliding door and peered into the backyard. Though the party extended there as well, there seemed to be more breathing room.
Once she got around the crowd surrounding the doors, Maddie saw that most of the partygoers congregated in and around the pool and hot tub, many sans swimsuit. Definitely a scene she wanted to avoid. She stuck to the side of the house, steering clear of the pool area all together.
On the other side of the backyard, she spied a couple making out on a porch swing. She watched as the man’s deft fingers traveled up and under the woman’s thin chemise. Even in the darkness, Maddie could see her shiver. She let out a moan of longing and Maddie’s belly ached with unexpected jealousy. It had been awhile since she’d been kissed that way. Too long.
It didn’t have to be too long, she reminded herself. That had been her choice. She could choose differently. What if she were audacious and uninhibited like Bree?
Then she wouldn’t be on her way to a promising film career,
She shook off her arousal and fancies of unbridled passion and searched for a place to hole up unbothered. She spotted a concrete sitting area with an unlit fire pit against the yard’s back wall. It was dark and in shadows, and looked deserted. She moved to claim it for herself.
Excited voices near the pool caught her attention when she’d nearly made it to the sanctuary. She peered over, seeking the cause of the excitement. A drunken woman, clothed only in a shirt and panties, stepped out from the center of the spectators and onto the diving board, twirling her discarded skirt in the air.
Maddie stopped short as she made out the face of the woman. Her stomach tightened. She knew that stripper. It was Bree.
Bree sang some current popular hit at the top of her lungs, basking in the attention her display earned. Soon she began inching her shirt up, teasing her audience, until the clothing was abandoned in the pool below and Bree stood simply in a black demi-cup bra and matching panties. The crowd cheered as she bent over provocatively, shimmying her petite behind.
“What the hell are you doing?” Maddie softly asked herself, willing the question to penetrate the distance between them and stop the antics of her wild friend.
“I’d say she’s having a good time,” a male voice said behind her. “Giving one as well.”
Maddie jolted and put her hand over her heart. She turned to find her sitting area wasn’t deserted as she’d hoped. In the shadows on the stone bench behind her sat a male figure. She couldn’t make out his face, but moonlight fell on his lower body and taut, lean muscles pressed against his tight jeans.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to startle you.” He leaned forward, appearing out of the shadows.
She took a quick breath as her gaze met his. His dark hair, thick and tousled, framed his smooth chiseled face. Deep-set eyes peered under intense eyebrows. She couldn’t be sure in the darkness, but she guessed his eyes were blue. Whatever color, they were piercing and her knees weakened under his stare.
“No problem,” she managed. “I didn’t realize there was anyone out here.”
“Clearly.” He grinned. “I mean, the whole allure of this area is the seclusion, right?” His smooth words combined with the slightest hint of a drawl sent an unexpected ripple of desire south of her belly.
“Right.” Maddie turned back to Bree, hoping to hide the heat that was rising in her cheeks. What was wrong with her? She never reacted this way to guys, let alone ones she’d just met. Perhaps the couple she’d witnessed making out had aroused her more than she’d realized.
“She’ll be fine.” The man mistook Maddie’s withdrawal as concern about her stripping friend. “She has plenty of people looking out for her.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” But this stranger had the right idea. It was no good worrying about Bree when she got herself in these situations. Maddie knew from experience the best course of action was to just wait it out. Bree would summon when she could no longer handle herself.
Maddie took a swig of her Corona and turned back to the piercing eyes. Despite the nearby striptease, his gaze was fixed directly on her. “She doesn’t seem to have captured your attention.”
The man shrugged. “I prefer private shows.”
An image of the kind of show Maddie could give him flashed through her mind. She quickly took another swallow of her beer, clearing her head of the inappropriate thoughts. Seriously, what had come over her?
The stranger tilted his head, as if trying to interpret her silence. “You’re welcome to sit.”
Her insides twisted at the thought of being close to him, wanting an accidental brush against his strong body. She dismissed her usual tendency to over-think and walked toward the stone seating. “You were looking to be alone—I wouldn’t want to intrude.”
“I was looking for seclusion, not necessarily to be alone.”
His words possessed a teasing tone that made her shiver. She tensed as he looked her over, fully aware that he was checking her out. She’d been gifted with pretty brown eyes and nice features, and she took care of her figure, but she didn’t pay attention to whether or not she was attractive to men. This man seemed pleased, though, giving her a look that would usually turn her on her heels. She didn’t flirt with strangers—didn’t flirt much period—which was one of the reasons she avoided social gatherings such as this one.
But this man compelled her, his body drawing her like a magnet. He was so incredibly attractive, and hell, didn’t she deserve a little fun on her graduation night?
“I’ll take you up on the offer. To sit, I mean.”
“Ah, I hadn’t offered anything else.” He let out a slow breath. “Yet.”
Her heart raced at the implications as she sat beside him on the bench, closer than she imagined she’d ever dare. Her skirt rose as she crossed one long leg over the other and she fought the impulse to adjust it, feeling the intensity of his eyes on her thigh.
She flushed again under his gaze and she needed to calm the fire kindling between her legs. Seeing he held a Coors Light, she lifted her bottle in a toast. “To privacy.”
He smiled, his face lighting up as he did, causing another stir in Maddie’s nether parts. “To privacy.” He clinked her bottle then took a sip of his own. She watched as his mouth parted around the tip of the bottle and found herself imagining the feel of his full, firm lips, wondering what he’d taste like. Her tongue darted across her teeth at the thought.
“Tell me,” he said, setting his bottle down on the ground next to him. “What’s a hot, I mean, attractive woman like you doing at a party like this if you’re looking to be alone?”
Her heart raced at his shameless remark. “One could ask the same of you.”
“Yes, they could. It’s the question on everyone’s mind. But I asked first.”
“You aren’t full of yourself at all.”
He feigned seriousness. “No, not at all. If I was full of myself, we would be talking about me, but I’m trying to find out about you, so you should answer the question.”
Hot and charming. Delish.
“Well…” She wished she had some witty comeback. She settled on simply answering his question. “I was dragged here with Miss Bare-It-All over there.” She nodded toward Bree, who now only wore panties. “It’s supposed to be our graduation party.”
The man stiffened. “Graduation?”
She laughed. “From film school. Were you worried you were coming on to a teenager?”
He leaned back, distancing himself from Maddie. “Oh, you thought I was coming on to you?”
Had the teasing only been in her mind? She opened her mouth to speak, but she stuttered. “Uh…”