Fiancée for Rent by Elizabeth Grey
My father liked to say, life is short, so never take a minute for granted. I lectured myself in the tone of his voice within my head as I gazed around the glitz and glamour of famous faces, lavish clothing, and obnoxious perfumes—a stark juxtaposition to the mundane interview I'd been forced to endure. Despite the lack of enthusiasm, the red carpet reporter had held her microphone in my direction as if she couldn't be bothered. Equally unenthused, I'd held my signature smile in check, my sexy pose, my precariously bewildered attitude.
With my feet pulled tightly together and back arched to give the best glimpse of my leg peeking out from the thigh-high slit of my dress, I'd answered each predictable question with the same insincere, yet fierce bravado as the reporter could muster. It all just felt like a waste of time. Chalk another up for the best thing about being an actress, the ability to lie with ease. I tried to channel my inner Grace Kelly, Hitchcock’s perfect woman with whom I shared the same icy blonde locks. I'd worked hard to convince whoever watched awards shows like this one that I'd loved every minute of pretending to be a bisexual werewolf in love with a hot vampire, even if that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
My character had fallen short of any growth in the movie. Hell, she had barely any lines in a story devoid of any substantial plot. All that was required of her was to look pretty and poised, sophisticated with an air of mystery along with not-so-indirect sex appeal. Unlike the classic Grace, I couldn't have carried the film if I'd wanted to. A sad state of affairs, compliments of my agent, Cynthia, who'd convinced me the role would be good for my career and propel me to stardom so I could eventually follow my dreams.
"So, tell me, what does the future look like for Kylie Davis?" the reporter had belted out before glancing back down at her phone.
Holding my smile until my cheeks ached, I forced an answer.
"I'm looking forward to directing my own film someday. I studied film in school; acting was never really part of the plan..."
The mic swung away from me in a move so swift that my train of thought had followed. Like flowing water, a sea of heads turned in the same direction.
If my sigh spoke actual words, it would have shouted out Liam Hendrix as all the air rushed from my lungs. His personal history swam through my frantic brain. Billionaire rock star. Named the sexiest man alive. Mother—Billie Dean-Hendrix, from whom he'd gotten his talent. Father—the legendary movie director Rodger Hendrix, from whom he'd gotten his looks and a large chunk of his money.
Rodger Hendrix stood out as one of my if-only-I-could-obtain-such-fame idols. The man had been a writing genius who deserved nothing but praise for his obscene amount of talent. In my opinion, he'd created the most extraordinary, epic fictional universe of this century. There were no words to describe what he had accomplished before a heart attack claimed him at fifty-four years old. To date, his films had franchised themselves into video games, amusement park rides, and everything else you could imagine. The billions they generated went to Liam and his siblings after his mother had died.
Time had stopped for every single person in the room. My lungs screamed for air, the only thing holding me to reality. Forced to give in, I stared, frozen, mouth open as he dazzled the crowd with his confident stride. He'd worn a lavish suit, one of a kind I suspected, a blend of cashmere and silk with small diamond edging along the pocket. He could have worn a sack and still been handsome and formidable.
Then the most impossible, improbable, unimaginable moment of my life happened, striking me with a bolt of lightning so swift and powerful that shock waves of electricity sizzled from my head to my shiny red heels. Our eyes met.
As his gaze settled over me, drinking me in, currents continued to shoot through me. I swallowed hard, then tried my best to hold my pose as I drew in short, constrained gasps of air. My skin broke out in a sweat. I prayed he couldn't see from our distance as I continued to tremble as if he touched each part of me; he looked over.
His lips curved up into a smile as he made a study of my body. Glued in place, fascinated, frozen by his attention, my wide eyes couldn't look away.
A disembodied voice came from the crowd, snapping me back to reality. "Liam, can we get a photo."
Blinking over dry eyes, a flush of heat took to my chest and face. Turning away with haste when his attention diverted, I shouldered my way through the crowd like a fish swimming upstream. Despite the dulling commotion, I could still hear my rapid heartbeat.
I slammed my hands against the bathroom door, berating myself over the fact that a mere stranger had evoked such a response in my body. Hinging on an explanation of star-studded infatuation, I pleaded insanity, set new goals for myself for the evening, touched up my hair and make-up, and then hit the after-party.
For a woman who never drank, after two martinis, I found myself resembling anything but Grace Kelly. Instead, a sneaky jealousy surged up, front and center. Alcohol intolerance aside, I'd decided to drink my feelings into oblivion. At that point, something else far more sinister churned within me to the tune of top-shelf gins being rejected by my stomach.
I'd have preferred to be on the top of my game, stone-cold sober, but when a friend's film won an award, one deserved a moment to wallow in gin and vermouth and whatever the hell else they put in the drink. Happy for him for achieving my dream—well, his dream, too—I had talked myself into celebrating his success as a ruse for drowning my sorrows. I convinced myself that the only way to make sure the drink wouldn’t do me in was to have another. Hail drunken logic!
My eyes found Missy, my co-star from the werewolf movie, across the room. She stood draped in a dress like the night sky, the sequins on black sparkling, tossed the light of the chandeliers overhead around the room. She looked happy. A carefree giggle turned into a belly laugh, though she held it together, a slight bend forward for a brief second the only indication. Still, from where I'd stood, true joy crinkled her eyes.
Seeing her enjoying the limelight, thoughts of giving up, giving in to my plight entered my mind. If I stopped dreaming of writing and directing my film, stopped trying for bigger and better roles, and accepted my fate, then maybe I could experience the same joy. My shoulders slumped, my voice of reason toneless in my head, I ventured thoughts to where I'd gone wrong, to the film that had doomed my unavoidable circumstances.
Stripshow. A financial failure of a film, where I played a young college virgin by day, a psychopathic murderer by night. Despite the film being terrible, I’d been lucky to be still offered roles in movies, no matter how small or how equally horrible. Unfortunately, the same was not true for my co-star, whose career ended the day Stripshow premiered.
I walked towards the bar to get a glass of water, each step requiring added concentration, the last sip of my drink still burning my throat. I landed my body against the bar, throwing my hand into the air to flag down the bartender. The younger woman next to me, decked out in seafoam green, shot me a dirty look. I rolled my eyes and tossed my hair. Haters are going to hate.
The water appeared in front of me out of nowhere, a testament to the quality of service in Hollywood after-parties—or to the fact that I was drunk. With water in hand, I turned to leave, only to find myself sliding off a stool I hadn't realized I'd sat down upon. My face would’ve landed on the floor if it wasn’t for the strong grip that wrapped around my arms, an immovable wall of muscles that supported my back. As I turned to look up into my savior's face, heat prickled my cheeks at the realization of who he was.
Liam. Freaking. Hendrix.
Involuntarily, my lips gifted him the smile that had landed me my first commercial, my first movie role, even my first kiss. Biological instinct, three sheets to the wind arousal, a physical betrayal of a body I had denied a date for the past five years. Whatever the cause, things proved heated where warmth shouldn't be.
When I'd managed to stand again, he chuckled and released his grip on my arms. Another surge of butterflies fluttered my clenched stomach.
I opened my mouth for a simple thank you, only to have to shut it again, fighting the heave threatening within my chest. Unsuccessful, the contents of my stomach spilled out onto the thousands of dollars worth of fabric that Liam was wearing.