Sarah pressed her hand to her chest, but it did little to calm the frantic beat of her heart. No good ever came from eavesdropping, and now she knew why. She was just waiting for Gideon to repeat his drunken confession from Halloween. But by some blessed twist of fate, he was smart enough to end the conversation there, despite the reporter’s pleas for a name.
She’d walked away from Sage Holtz and all the baggage that came with that name years ago. The father who’d been arrested in the company of an underage prostitute. The drunk mother who was on her sixth husband and who’d had so much plastic surgery, she could blink her belly button. The downward spiral of drugs and alcohol that had destroyed her career. As far as she was concerned, that person died the night she’d gotten hit by a car outside a club over three years ago.
In her place stood a person she liked. Sarah Holtz may not have been a glamorous movie star, but she had accepted herself for who she was and finally felt comfortable in her skin. She hid from the spotlight and the flash of the camera, but she was still entwined with the industry she’d once sacrificed everything for. She’d found her balance.
Which was why entering into a romantic relationship with Gideon was not an option.
And if he let her name slip to that reporter, she feared the balance she’d spent the last three years trying to achieve would come crashing down around her.
Her breath hitched when the reporter mentioned wedding bells. Please, anything but that. It didn’t help that all of Gideon’s brothers were either married, engaged, or in a long-term relationship. The settling-down bug had hit the Kelly boys, much to their mother’s delight, and Gideon wasn’t immune to it. Especially after that Halloween party.
“A man can only hope,” he’d replied.
The five words hit her like a punch in the gut. She’d expected him to move on once she explained why being more than friends was out of the question, but his response to the reporter told her he hadn’t let go of the idea. Not yet. And she wasn’t sure if she should be flattered or upset.
Perhaps she should’ve turned in her notice on Halloween.
But somewhere in the center of her chest, she knew why she hadn’t. Gideon was right. She did care about him. Far more than she should. Which was why Operation Independence needed to be a success. She needed to prove to herself that her feelings for him weren’t tied to the fact he’d taken her in and helped her get back on her feet. She needed to know that she was capable of taking care of herself first. And then, if her insides still turned to mush when he wrapped his arms around her and whispered sentimental nonsense, maybe she’d find the courage to see where things went.
She managed to pull herself together just as Gideon emerged from the room. “I thought I saw you waiting for me.”
“Like I have anything better to do. Besides, I just asked the valet to bring my car around.”
He paused and seemed to search her face for any sign that she’d overheard him, but her years on camera had taught her how to turn her face into an emotionless mask. She was the queen of resting bitch face.
After a moment, he gave up and leaned in to whisper, “Get me out of here before she propositions me again.”
“I don’t know. Getting laid might do you some good,” she teased.
Unfortunately, it backfired. Desire flared in his dark blue eyes, but they were focused on her.
Her body rebelled against her with a quiver of anticipation that rolled through her veins and settled in the deepest pit of her stomach. Her breath quickened as she imagined what it would feel like to have his lips on her neck, her collarbone, her breasts. A flush stole over her skin from the thought, and she licked her lips. Would it be worth all the chaos just to spend one night in his bed?
He responded with a slow, easy grin that let her know he’d witnessed her moment of weakness. “You said it, not me.”
He took off for the elevator, leaving her exposed to the full force of the reporter’s jealous glare.
A stream of curses rampaged through Sarah’s mind, but she managed to catch up with him before the elevator doors closed. “It was the chick from the Oscar party, right?”
“Bingo.” He raked his fingers through his hair. “I get the distinct impression she’s trying to create some sensational exposé on me as payback.”
“And why did you give her something to work with?”
“Because she started hinting that I’d be stupid enough to sleep with Mackinzie, and then tried to twist my answer into an attempt to hide my sexuality.” The elevator opened to the lobby, and he bolted. “Let’s get going before we miss our flight.”
She jogged after him, thankful the valet had her car ready to go. “It’s a chartered plane, Kid.”
“I don’t care.”
The silence on the ride to the airport only added to the tension between them, and she cursed the day he decided to mess up their friendship by declaring he wanted something more. Up until then, he’d been her best friend, someone with whom she could share every little detail of her soul. Now, she found herself keeping secrets from him, and the strain was tearing them apart.
An hour later, they were on board the Gulfstream jet and preparing for takeoff. It held twelve, but she sat across from Gideon in the front while Jason and Raul sat at the table in the back. It wasn’t until they were in the air that he spoke.
“Sorry, Red, but that interview left me…unsettled.”
“I can only imagine.” She took a sip of tea and pulled out her agenda. “Ready to go over the next few days?”
“Sure.” He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes, and laced his fingers behind his head.
“I called and confirmed that we have the Titus Villa.”
He cracked open one eye. “Why not the Nobu Villa?”
“It was already booked.”
“The limo will meet us at the airport and take us to Caesar’s. You’ll have a little downtime before dinner at Old Homestead at seven.”
“Just me?” His bottom lip jutted out in a not-so-subtle pout.
“I made the reservation for two.”
“Perfect.” The pout disappeared into a satisfied grin. “Then we can discuss the rest of this over dinner.”
“Don’t argue with me, Red. Just think about that lovely steak dinner you’ll be enjoying tonight.”
“Why do you think I made the reservation for two?”
“Especially when I’m footing the bill.”
The levity in his words meant they weren’t intended to be a jab, but Sarah still felt the blow. Once again, the sting of how much she was beholden to him flared to life. Gideon was paying for everything. The flight. The villa, where she’d have her own room. Her meals. She was little more than a leech.
She looked up to find him watching with a worried line furrowed between his brows.
“I’m fine, Kid. Just…thinking.”
The line between his brows deepened, but he let it go. “By the way, the stylists loved the blazer.”
“Glad I didn’t embarrass you.”
“You could never do that.”
Flashbacks of the days leading up to her accident played through her mind and sobered what could’ve been a sincere moment. “Don’t speak too soon. You know what I’m capable of doing.”
“You’ve moved past that. Besides, I know all the good things you’re capable of doing, too.” He ran his hands over the rust-colored blazer. “Take this, for example. Think I could model a few more Red Sage creations in the future?”
“Awesome.” He reached into his backpack and pulled out a binder. “Care to run lines with me?”
A hint of joy fluttered in her chest. She’d always loved the acting part of show business, the challenge of bringing a complex character to life. It was the only thing she missed from her old life. She was glad to give up the paparazzi and the never-ending demands to be “perfect.” Hair, figure, makeup, partners, social events—if she’d dared to stray from what was expected of her, the media had a field day. But once she slipped into character, she could escape it all.
She smiled and flipped to the scene they would be shooting tomorrow. “You’re the boss.”