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Authors: Leisa Rayven

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BOOK: Wicked Heart
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FOURTEEN
CALL FOR HELP

It’s the Sunday night before our third week of rehearsal, and I’ve just settled in for a quiet night stuffing my face with cheese when my phone goes off. A quick
look at the screen shows a pretty brunette with the caption—Cassie Taylor, Brother Wrangler and Ethan Tamer. As I answer it, an excited voice squeals, “You’re on TV!”

I pull the phone away from my ear. No wonder my brother’s fiancée is a great actress. Her vocal projection could shatter glass.

“Hi to you, too, Miss Taylor.”

“No, but seriously,” Cassie says, and lowers her decibels a little. “Look at you on my TV. You look amazing.”

“I’m in the background.”

“Yes, but looking
gorgeous
in the background. They’ve had a couple of shots of you.”

The first episode of
Angeliam: A Fairy Tale Romance
airs tonight. Josh is watching it in the living room with a six-pack and a pizza, certain this show will be the beginning of his
fifteen minutes of fame.

“There I am!” he yells at the same time Cassie squeals, “Josh! There’s Josh!”

“Damn, I look good,” Josh calls, and Cassie echoes, “Tell Josh he looks good. Hot geek at his finest.”

Who knew a stupid reality show could get people so excited?

I hear my brother’s voice mumble something, followed by a cry of pain. Cassie comes back on and says, “Ethan said to tell you that you looked like less of a short-ass on TV, and
wanted to know what sort of cutting-edge special effect they’re using to make that happen. Don’t worry, I’ve already hit him for you.”

I laugh. “I have so much more free time now that you’re around to kick his ass twenty-four/seven. Thanks for that.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I enjoy punishing your brother. A lot.”

I hear Ethan call out, “Please don’t talk to my sister about our sex life. That shit is private.”

Cassie tells him to shush. “Ooh, another shot of you! And there’s Marco behind Angel! Aw, we miss you guys.”

I’m avoiding watching. I’m glad Liam got my X-rated rant about him cut, but I still don’t need to watch an hour of television about his undying love for Angel. Not when I see
their intimate exchanges every day, up close and personal.

“Okay, so,” Cassie says, reminding me I’m supposed to be talking to her and not contemplating my nonexistent love life. “Dinner, next Sunday. Since you left our show,
Ethan and I have hardly seen you, and I need my Elissa snuggles, dammit.”

“Fine. Sunday,” I say, “but only if Ethan’s cooking. Not you.”

Cassie is quite possibly the worst cook on the face of the planet. Actually, no, she and her college roommate Ruby would tie. They once invited me over for dinner when we were all studying at
The Grove, and I swear to God, my intestines have never been the same.

“Elissa Holt. Are you dissing my culinary expertise?”

“Not at all. Your food does that all by itself.”

Cassie gasps dramatically. “Hey! Your mother has been giving me lessons. My cooking is improving, thank you very much.”

I doubt it. My mom may run her own catering company, but she’s no miracle worker.

“Yeah, Mom told me the fire department was called the other day when she was teaching you how to make toffee.”

“That’s true, but in my defense, that melted sugar turned to fiery lava in a fraction of a second. I only took my eyes off it long enough to kiss your brother.”

“Oh, gross. I can just imagine the grope-fest that was going on while that poor toffee was going up in flames.”

Cassie laughs. “I blame Ethan. If he didn’t keep distracting me with his hotness, I’d be a gourmet chef by now. Your mom has now banned him from being in the kitchen with me.
Man, Maggie can be a killjoy sometimes.”

I smile as I imagine how much Cassie’s pouting right now. “So to clarify,
Ethan
is cooking on Sunday, right?”

“If you insist. Seven o’clock at our place?”

“Done.”

“How are rehearsals going? Is Liam Quinn as gorgeous in person as he is on-screen?”

“Cassie, you’re going to marry my brother. You shouldn’t be noticing other men.”

“Oh, please,” she says with a laugh. “As if any man is ever going to compete with Ethan. But a girl can appreciate a fine male specimen, even if she’s off the market. So
spill. As hot as he seems in
Rageheart
? Or just looks good in demon makeup?”

I close my eyes. Liam did look amazing in his demon makeup. Gray skin, black hair, and bright blue eyes. Rippling muscles that were hardly ever covered by a shirt. Sexy in a fantasy-comic-book
kind of way.

But Liam in the flesh is even more stunning.

“Gorgeous,” I begrudgingly admit.

“I knew it!” Cassie says. “He looks edible on this show. But please tell me Ethan and I never looked this nauseatingly in love. These two are like Ken and Barbie, if Barbie
were a perky redhead and Ken had a penis and sex appeal.”

I laugh. If only she knew how much of a penis and sex appeal Liam has. “Yeah, they’re pretty gross.”

“And what about Angel Bell? She seems like a total sweetheart, but . . . I don’t know. No one can be that perfect, can they?”

I sigh. “Apparently they can. She’s a doll. She and Liam have amazing chemistry, and that’s what people are coming to see.”

“Sounds like me and Ethan, then. But it’s no secret he carries our show and that I’m just there just to rub myself all over him in front of a theaterful of people. I still
don’t understand why I get paid for that.”

“Oh, shut it. You’re an incredible actress, and you know it.”

“Eh. I’m all right.”

I get another incoming call on my phone, and when I check the screen, my heart skips a beat.

“Uh, Cassie? I have to go. See you Sunday?”

“Yes, see you then! I’ll be the one banned from the kitchen. Love you!”

I sign off and answer the other call.

“Liam?”

“Hey.” He sounds terrible.

“Are you okay?”

“Not really,” he says. “Had a bad day.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t want to talk about it over the phone. Can you meet me?”

“Where are you?”

“At a bar. A really shitty bar.”

“How much have you had to drink?”

“Not enough. Come drink with me.”

I almost say “okay” before my common sense kicks in. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Please, Liss. I need a friend tonight.”

“What about Angel?”

“We had a fight. I started it, but still. I need a break. I need
you
. Please.”

I sigh and press my hand over my eyes. “Liam, I shouldn’t.”

“You should. I’m near the corner of Fifteenth and Ninth. It’s called the Badger’s Den. Just come for one drink, and I’ll leave you alone. I swear.”

Dammit, I should say no, but I can’t. “Fine. I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

After I hang up, I get out of my cheese-eating pants and pull on my jeans. Then I freshen up and head out to the living room.

Josh is frowning at his computer screen. “Unbelievable,” he mutters.

“What?”

“Just reading the Angeliam hashtag on Twitter. Seems like there are a whole bunch of women who are hating on Angel just because she’s with Quinn. Jesus, these comments are
harsh.” He picks up his phone.

“Who are you calling?”

“Angel. I hope she’s not reading any of this, and if she is, she needs to know it’s all bullshit.” Before he hits “call,” he looks up at me. “Where are
you going?”

“To meet Liam. He’s in a bar. I figure I’ll try to get him out of there before someone recognizes him.”

“Yeah, good luck with that. This show is going to make him even more of a target. Just make sure you stay out of the way if he starts throwing punches, okay?”

“Deal.” I grab my keys off the table and shove them in my bag. “See you later?”

“I’ll be here.”

As I close the door behind me, I hear him say, “Hey, Angel. It’s Josh. You okay?”

Twenty minutes later, I’m wandering down Fiftieth Street looking for the Badger’s Den. Turns out, I find it easily. If a lightbulb factory and the Ebola virus mated
and gave birth to a bar, it would look like this place.

“Ew.”

Against my better judgment, I pull open the door and head inside. It’s dark and dingy and smells like stale beer and loneliness. There’s a guy sitting near the door watching the TV
behind the bar, and the only other people in the place are a middle-aged couple canoodling at a table in the corner. The guy’s hand is under the table, and he’s either touching his lady
friend in special places, or that glass of red wine is
really
good.

Lovely.

I see a familiar figure near the far wall, sitting at a table by himself.

When I walk over to him, he looks up at me and smiles. “Liss.” The way he says it sounds like a sigh of relief. “So glad you’re here. What are you drinking? Come on,
I’m buying.”

He gets up and puts his arm around me to guide me to the bar.

The barkeep comes over and acknowledges us with a tilt of his chin. “What’ll it be?”

I shrug and gesture to the lady in the corner, who’s now making unmistakable moaning noises as she sips from her glass. “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Liam looks over at them and frowns. “That must be some good wine.”

“Right?”

Liam orders the most expensive whiskey available, which turns out to cost a grand total of six bucks. When our drinks arrive, we head back to our table.

I sip my wine and study Liam. He looks like he hates the world right now, and I don’t know why.

“What’s going on with you?” I ask. “You’re fighting with Angel?”

“These days I always seem to be fighting with Angel.”

“About?”

He shrugs. “The show. The wedding. The ever-present goddamn cameras. All of it.”

“You guys seem happy.”

He laughs bitterly. “Of course we do. It’s required.”

His phone buzzes on the table. When he picks it up and taps the screen, a synthesized female voice comes out of the small speaker:
“Liam, where the hell are you? Call me when you get
this.”

I frown. “What’s that?”

“Text to voice app. Saves me trying to read stuff. It works for e-mails, too.”

“That’s cool.”

“Yeah. It’s supposed to be for blind people, but it works for dumbass dyslexics as well.” He turns off the phone and places it back on the table.

“That was from Angel?”

“Yep. I’m supposed to be at a party the network is throwing for the premiere of the show. Just more photo opportunities. As if the world needs any more goddamn pictures of us. How
are people not sick to their stomachs by now? We’re like the Kardashians. Fucking everywhere.”

“People love you guys. You’re inspirational.”

He laughs. “People have no clue. If they knew the real us, they’d despise us.”

“Why?”

He takes another sip of whiskey. “Soooo many reasons.”

“Any you want to talk about?”

“Yep, but I kind of like you looking at me like I’m not a piece of shit, so let’s just drop it.”

Intriguing. I don’t want to push him to talk more about his problems with Angel, because it might make me seem insensitive, but dammit, I really want to know.

A few more people file into the bar. A thirty-something guy scans the room before sitting on the bar stool closest to us.

I sip my wine. It tastes freaking awful. The enthusiastic chick in the corner isn’t even pretending to drink hers anymore. She and Handy Andy are fully making out. It’s fascinating,
in a train-wreck kind of way.

“Affair,” Liam says, pointing at them.

“You think?”

“Yep. This bar? That table? Definitely trying to stay off the radar.” He gestures at the rest of the room. “Why do you think I’m in here? No one’s looked at me long
enough to recognize me. Not one person has asked for an autograph or picture. I’m just a no one here, like everyone else. It’s heaven.”

I study him for a second. “That’s what you want? To be a no one?”

He gives a one-shoulder shrug and swirls his drink. “Sometimes. Actually, most of the time. Things were so much simpler when I was a no one. Now, everything I do is put under the
microscope. Every decision. Every piece of personal information is picked over by media vultures desperate to find something to sell their damn magazines and Web sites, no matter the cost.”
He reaches into his bag beside the table, then puts an iPad in front of me. “This happened today, which is nice considering it’s the anniversary of my brother’s death.”

I pick up the tablet. A popular gossip site is emblazoned with the banner,
HOLLYWOOD HEARTTHROB

S PRIVATE HELL
.

There’s a picture of Liam sitting in front of a gravestone, crying. The caption reads,
“Macho action man Liam Quinn breaks down at brother’s grave. Exclusive
pics!”

Oh, God.

I glance over at Liam. His jaw is tight and his eyes are hard. “I went to visit Jamie’s grave a few days ago and I guess some piece of shit followed me. By tomorrow, this will be
everywhere.”

Over the years, there hasn’t been much information about Jamie’s death in the press. “Killed in a construction accident” is about all that’s ever said, but I have
no doubt that these pictures will unleash a fresh burst of interest into the death of Liam’s twin.

“Liam. I’m so sorry.” There are more pictures of him farther down, and I get a hot flash of anger that someone would think to profit off him in his private moment of grief.

“I go to his grave every year,” he says. “Sometimes Mom and Dad come with me, but most of the time I go by myself. I like having the time to talk to him. Tell him about
what’s going on in my life.” He looks down at the table, and I reach out and touch his hand. The contact makes him tense, and his breath hitches, but he doesn’t look up.

“You don’t have to talk about it,” I say, “but if you’d like to vent, I’m a decent listener.”

He takes a deep, shaky breath and lets it out slowly. “How much do you know?”

“Only that it was on the Mantra project. Five or six people died.”

He nods. “Six. Mantra was my dad’s construction company. Jamie and I were on his crew from the time we left school. One day, the crane operator forgot to double-check that the anchor
points were properly braced. When the crane started lifting two-ton slabs into place, it tipped over and crashed backward onto the apartment block across the street. Jamie and I saw it happen, so
we raced to the other building to see if we could help. It was freaking mayhem in there. Debris was falling. People were screaming.

BOOK: Wicked Heart
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