“What the hell?” Ryan’s head flew off his pillow, roused from his deep sleep when I screamed.
I sat up and kicked the blankets away with my feet, panicking to untangle myself as I rubbed the phantom pain stabbing fire into my chest. Holy shit. Holy shit. Damn, that felt so real. Okay, calm down. It was just a dream. Just a dream.
Ryan leaned up on the mound of hotel pillows. I could see him scanning the room, looking for some sort of danger. “Tar, are you all right?” His hand grasped my thigh as he shifted his body closer. “Taryn, what happened?”
I wanted to answer him but I was momentarily stunned and completely incapable of coherent speech, still caught in a freaked-out haze between nightmare and reality. I tried to say something, I really did, but all that came from my mouth were raspy, stuttered breaths.
Fortunately it didn’t take me long to realize where I was, for it had been less than twenty-four hours ago when I boarded a plane and departed Providence, Rhode Island. Now I was shaken and panting for air in a luxurious hotel suite in Los Angeles, ripped from sleep by my own ridiculous thoughts.
Ryan tugged my chin; his voice was frantically curt. “Look at me.” His hand brushed my long hair out of my eyes. “Taryn, are you okay? Tar? Answer me.”
I grasped his arm and managed a weak nod. “Yeah, I’m okay. I’m . . . I’m so sorry I woke you.”
“Don’t worry about me,” he insisted, curling up closer.
If his throbbing pulse in my hand was any indication, I’d say I had scared the shit out of him, too.
He smoothed my hair back, wrapping a few strands behind my ear. “What happened? You have a nightmare?”
I nodded, trying to save myself from having to explain.
“Jeez, baby.” Ryan sighed. “Come here. Try to relax.” He coaxed me back down to his chest and tugged the sheet and blankets over us again.
His skin was warm and the hand rubbing my back was so comforting that I felt my erratic breathing starting to calm.
“It’s okay. I’ve got you.” He kissed the top of my head, resting his lips there as he hugged me.
There, in his arms, I felt completely safe. But out there in the public eye, things were out of his control. I had learned early on in this relationship that the terror factor grew exponentially when you’re a celebrity. And dating a famous celebrity was no different—actually it was worse when delusional fans became obsessively jealous, insanely possessive, and wanted you out of the way. Even normal, sane people lost their minds when it came to celebrities. Combine that with a world full of crazy people and the threats became very real.
I was thankful that Ryan was insistent about sending Mike into LAX yesterday to escort us safely out of the airport, or else the paparazzi would have eaten me alive. Ryan’s public proposal painted a new, fat target on my back. It was one thing to be the local “fling” he had while on location; it was completely another once rumors started circulating that he actually put a ring on my finger.
How the hell they recognized me among all the other people hurrying through the airport was mind-boggling. Trying to get through the gauntlet of paparazzi in LAX was akin to sidestepping land mines. While I was very grateful for Mike’s protection, I still think the photographers only noticed me because they recognized Ryan’s bodyguard first.
Heck, every public picture taken of Ryan lately had Mike in it somewhere—holding back fans, watching the invisible perimeter around Ryan with the expertise of a trained hunter. Between his gorgeous body and killer smile, Mike Murphy was becoming as famous as Ryan Christensen.
“You want to tell me what the hell scared you awake like that?”
Aw shit. I shrugged, not willing to ruin my first morning finally back in his arms by getting into some stupid nonsense. “It was just . . . I don’t even remember it anymore. I’ll be all right.”
Ryan huffed softly as I waited for him to call me out on my little lie. “Did you dream about her again?”
I tensed, not exactly sure which “her” he was referring to.
When I didn’t respond, he tightened his arms. “She’s in jail, Taryn. She can’t hurt us anymore.”
Well, at least he had the psycho-bitch part right. Shame he picked the wrong one. Angelica, our incarcerated stalker, wasn’t the one who had haunted my thoughts but I wasn’t about to set him straight.
“I know. It was just a stupid dream.”
“Why don’t you tell me about it? You’ll feel better if you get it out.”
Part of me wanted to share, but what the heck would I tell him? I dreamt about your über-famous, crazy-bitch ex-girlfriend trying to kill me? Oh, and if that isn’t bad enough, sometimes when I dream about my dead father, he’s bloody and choking the life out of some teenager with pitch-black hair? Some things are better left unsaid.
Ryan let out a lengthy yawn and stretched his legs, poking me in the rear end with the one part of his anatomy that was already wide awake. His two-day-old beard felt wonderful, scratching my back when he rubbed up on me. With a kiss on my shoulder, he said, “All right. I won’t ask anymore. You talk about it only if you want to. What time is it?”
I glanced at the clock on the bedside table. “It’s almost seven.”
Cool air brushed my naked body as he rolled out from underneath the warm covers.
I tried to banish the last remnants of my nightmare from my memory, but certain parts were playing over and over again like a bad video stuck on repeat. It wasn’t the first time I dreamed about the boy with black hair and bloody red teeth. He had made repeat appearances in my dreams for as long as I could remember, always rehashing the same scene where my father is trying to kill him.
The part where Lauren Delaney factored in was a new and very unwelcome addition to the nightmare.
How pleased she must have been with herself when she nearly succeeded in breaking up my relationship with Ryan. Thankfully, she failed. My disgust for her intensified. I couldn’t let her get to me like this, not even in my dreams.
I shook my head as if it would help clear away the horrible visions. I had to own up to the fact that it was only my tormented thoughts haunting me; it’s not like Lauren ever physically assaulted me in real life. No, her assault was much stealthier, leaving a trail of false evidence to lead me to believe she and Ryan had rekindled their previous relationship. My heart still ached thinking that just five short days ago I truly believed Ryan’s parents had shown up to move him out of my apartment.
I glanced at my new diamond engagement ring—Ryan’s promise of a future and total commitment to me. His intention of “Forever” was etched inside the band.
I vowed to myself that I’d do everything within my power to prove her and everyone else wrong. Ryan Christensen was the best thing that had ever happened to me. His love was like an invisible blanket that I had the privilege of wearing every day. But if our relationship was going to survive the test of time, I had to start handling things differently.
My eyes followed Ryan in the dim light as he shuffled across the carpeting. His muscular arm flexed, accentuating his bicep, when he used his hand to comb his tawny, disheveled hair back. My eyes drifted from his yawning mouth, down the contours of his hard, naked body, to his other part that was still semi-erect.
All of the pictures ever taken of this man and all the posters with his likeness on them could never do the real thing justice. All six feet, two inches of his cut, buff, and tight movie star body was one hell of a mental and visual distraction.
I never knew I could love a man so much and have it returned to me in spades. Even when things were at their worst, he didn’t give up on me. That alone said it all. A small smile formed on my lips as I thought about eating him for breakfast.
“What?” he asked with a sleepy smirk. Ryan crawled back into bed, snuggling around me.
I secretly hoped that after my rude awakening he’d be able to fall back asleep, considering that it was well after midnight when his family and our friends finally left our suite last night. Ryan had arranged for Marie and Gary and Pete and Tammy to come to L.A. with me, another secret surprise that I didn’t know about. I gave Marie a long lecture on the plane about how much I hate secrets, no matter how much he wanted me to be surprised. Over these last few weeks, she and Ryan had become thicker than thieves.
I spotted the opened bottle of champagne left out on the nightstand. My mind instantly recalled how he had tortured my breasts with the edge of the ice-cold bottle, making them painfully alert. How I got even with him, hiding a piece of ice from the bucket in my mouth and then torturing his nipples with the same attention.
“I’m all sticky,” Ryan muttered softly.
“I was just thinking about that. Sticky, but oh so worth it.”
He growled in my ear. “I do believe we’ll have to do that again. Maybe try extra-sticky honey next time?”
“Or melted chocolate.”
He swept my hair to the side and started kissing and biting my neck. “Definitely. Oh, there are so many things I can drizzle and lick off your body. The possibilities are endless.”
His teasing tickle caused a bone-jolting shiver to blast through my body.
His eyes quickly leveled on mine, then he grimaced at me. “You know I’d never let anything happen to you. You know that, right?”
He must have misread my reaction. I knew he meant well but some things were out of his power—that is, unless some guy was trying to talk to me. Then the protective, jealous boyfriend reared its head and jumped right into action. “I know.”
Ryan squeezed my arm. “Okay. Maybe we should get in the shower. I want to have breakfast with everyone before I have to leave.” He buried his face in my neck. “Fuck, this is going to be a long day.”
The thought of having to move from this entangled position made me groan. I nuzzled in deeper, holding his head to my shoulder. “I’m too comfortable. Can’t we just stay stuck to each other instead?”
Ryan growled, palming my ass. “Oh, that is so tempting.”
I let out a small sigh, knowing that the incredibly famous Ryan Christensen had an insane schedule ahead of him, jam-packed with one appearance and interview after another promoting the premiere of his latest movie, Reparation. He’d only been in L.A. one day more than me and he’d already been on several magazine shoots and a photo call.
My pulse skipped, thinking that in a few short days we’d be on numerous planes destined for places like London and Paris—cities I’d never been to before. But as enticing as touring Europe sounded, I was perfectly content wrapped in his arms and going nowhere.
“Call in sick,” I whispered. “You lie and I’ll swear to it.”
His chest shook with laughter. “David, cancel everything. My gorgeous fiancée is glued to my body and I have absolutely no desire to put on pants—ever.”
I couldn’t help but laugh with him.
Ryan coiled a long strand of my hair around his finger. “Believe me, if my schedule wasn’t so tight, we’d be naked for days, weeks even.”
I dug my fingertips into his tight rear end, lost in the sensations of his warmth, his strength. “Then maybe we’ll have to block off a month or two of downtime? I think after all of the stress we deserve it.”
Ryan pressed me back into my pillow. “Let’s make that a priority.” His glorious smile suddenly faded, turning from light and playful to serious. “You are the most important thing to me, Taryn. I hope you know that.” His thumb stroked my cheek repeatedly. His eyes grew tender, then repentant. “I know the last few weeks have been rough.”
Rough? That was putting it mildly. Testing my will to survive massive heartache would be more accurate. I moved my left arm out from between us, rotating my wrist. It was starting to ache from being bent awkwardly underneath him. Sometimes it still felt like I was wearing a cast, even though it had been off for almost two weeks.
Ryan grimaced. “Does it still hurt?”
I shrugged. “It gets sore. Stiff, sometimes.”
His eyes narrowed as he worked on some other thought. His hand softly stroked down my stomach. “Have you . . . have you seen the OB doctor since . . . ?”
I nodded. “Last week. Marie went with me.”
Ryan’s jaw tightened and flexed. He appeared upset about it.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
I couldn’t believe he was asking me this—with a clipped tone to boot. Last week he was wrapping filming on Thousand Miles and apparently still contemplating his feelings for me because we sure as hell weren’t having heartfelt conversations.
He nudged me for a response.
I met his eyes. “What kind of answer are you looking for?” I asked softly. “We were barely speaking to each other last week, Ryan. I didn’t think you cared anymore. I was waiting for you to tell me we were over.”
He grasped my left hand, kissing my fingers around my sparkly new engagement ring. “Oh, sweetheart . . . I’m sorry. I know I really fucked up. Things were just . . . and I was mad. Shit.”
I brushed my hand on his cheek. “We both did.”
Ryan frowned, leaning his face into my hand. “Please tell me now. What did the doctor have to say?”
“She said everything is back to normal. She renewed my birth control. I go back in a year unless I have issues.”
Apparently he was holding his breath because it all came out of him at once. “Okay. Good.” He scrubbed his forehead with his hand, pushing his bangs up. “Man, I don’t even know how to go about making this up to you. I know I hurt you. Believe me, I know. But I’m going to spend the rest of my life making it up to you. I promise.”
I swallowed hard, knowing my actions and knee-jerk reactions were what caused us to almost break up. “It’s my fault. I’m sorry for losing faith in you.”
His shoulder rose and fell as he gazed at me. “I think we both learned a hard lesson—one that we can hopefully move on from and be stronger from.”
I nodded, done with the heaviness. “I like the idea of going away somewhere. Just the two of us.”
That perked him up and with that, his tense face softened. “Let’s take a look at my calendar and schedule some vacations. We can go anywhere you want, baby. Anywhere.”
With a tilt of his head, his lips found mine. So tender, so loving. We lay there for a long time, naked bodies entwined, eyes gazing into one another, sharing whispered “I love yous.”
God he was beautiful, all naked with his broad shoulders and muscular arms wrapped around me. His hair messed from peaceful sleep.
As much as I try to never think about it, I couldn’t help but feel a bit smug, knowing most of his fans would willingly give up a limb, a family member, and a kidney to see him this exposed. Sorry, ladies. Hate to break it to ya, but he’s all mine.
Hungry for him, I trailed open-mouth kisses down his hard body, barraging him with a mixture of sensations; scoring fingernails over his pecs, soft bites over the muscular swells of his stomach, the soothing wetness of my roaming tongue.
Ryan’s eyes scrunched together and he melted back into the pillows when I slipped my wet lips and tongue around the length of him. Our time together was limited so I was going to make every second count.
“Oh, Tar,” he whispered out, tensing from the onslaught. His fingers coiled in my hair, tugging, pressing, guiding me up and down as I pleasured him. Damn, that was such a turn-on for me. I raked my hand up his chest and swallowed him deeper, drawing out surrendering moans from his throat, watching him watch me.
I had just begun to get creative with my hand and mouth when the shrill of his cell phone rudely interrupted our moment.
“Grrr . . . what?” he growled, refocusing his attention to the nightstand. “Who the hell is bothering me now?”
I laughed to myself, immediately thinking of the one person who has a knack for calling at the worst possible times. She must have a sixth sense for knowing the exact moment when her son is about to get laid.
“Ignore it,” I murmured, taking him as deep as I could go without choking. I wanted him to relax and forget about his constantly ringing cell phone, his hellacious schedule, and gauging by his purrs and the fact that he just moaned “oh God” again, hopefully in a few more minutes he’d forget how to spell his own name. I hoped that the caller would give up soon; the continuous ringing was annoying.
Two minutes later, his phone chimed again. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ryan groaned. He twisted to grab his phone but it was several inches out of his reach.
“Mmm-mmm.” I held him firm, pinning his hips back down.
“Just let me turn it off.”
“No. You’ll check messages. Leave it.”
“No, I woh—oh, fuh . . . ,” he hissed, sucking in a breath between his teeth. “Damn that feels good. Mmm . . .”
Yeah, I knew you’d like that.
His hands immediately returned to touching me, finger-combing my long hair out of the way while I tried not to mentally count the number of times his phone rang.
Ryan tugged my chin, huskily growling, “Stop, baby. Stop. I don’t want to come yet.” The moment I looked up at him, his hand swept my neck and he pulled me up to his mouth. “Come here.”
I wanted to drink him into every cell in my body. Take him to new places where pleasure and love were as necessary as oxygen. I sucked his top lip into my mouth, wanting, needing.
He moaned in my mouth and wrapped an arm around me. With one fast swoop, he effortlessly flipped me over, hovering on top of me.
Long fingers brushed fire up my thigh and slipped deep into me while he feasted like a starving babe on my breast. Desire to feel more than his slick fingers inside me had me tingling, but all those wonderful, erotic thoughts flew from my mind the moment his freaking cell phone rang again.
“Son of a . . .” He rolled away from me and slapped his hand down on the intrusion. In all honesty, at this point I was curious to know who the hell was being so damn persistent.
He looked at the display and scoffed, answering my questioning stare. “It was Marla. All four times. I’m turning it off now.”
No sooner did he say those words than the landline telephone on the table in our suite shrilled loudly. That got one very angry, rock-hard, and unsated man out of his bed. Someone was about to get holy hell unleashed on them.
“What?” he said with a venomous bite, letting whoever was calling know his exact feelings about being disturbed. “I was trying to sleep. Now? Why?” His jaw clenched. “This can’t wait an hour? No. I just woke up. Fine. Give me ten minutes,” he muttered. “I said ten minutes.”
Ryan grabbed his clothing off the floor and cursed. I hadn’t seen him this pissed in a long time. “Tar, you need to get up and get dressed.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
Ryan looked at me warily as he pulled his jeans up over his naked body.
I started to worry. “Hey. What’s going on?”
His lips puckered with disgust. “Marla and David are on their way up.”
I groaned to myself. Wouldn’t be the first time his publicist and manager disrupted his life at an inopportune time. To say they were overbearing was an understatement. He jostled the clothing around in his open suitcase with frustration, sparking my next question.
He rubbed his forehead. “Photos were leaked,” he mumbled.
A wave of fright pricked at my nerves. “What photos?”
I watched the back of his head sway. “People in the bar took shots of me proposing to you on Saturday,” he muttered over his shoulder. “Pictures and videos are all over the Internet now.”
I drew in a deep breath as his sudden anger about this blindsided me. Ryan was so riled he had trouble picking two T-shirts apart. You proposed publicly. I figured a few bar patrons would capture pictures on their cells. What did you expect?
“So? How bad is it?”
Ryan signed heavily before looking back at me with apologetic eyes. “Tar, you know how it is. Pictures were on some fan sites and Twitter that night already.”
I stared at my feet, trying to understand. This was not bad news, or was it?
“Taryn.” Ryan interrupted my thoughts, tossing my jeans over to me.
I let out another sigh as I shoved my right foot into the pants leg. “Why didn’t you tell me about this being a problem sooner?”
“Tar—you know why,” Ryan muttered as he slipped a T-shirt over his head. “Let’s not go there, okay, babe? Please?”
“But . . .”
He appeared resigned but tense. “But what? This is not stuff I want you worrying about, that’s why.”
I shook my head. “That’s not . . . I’m just a bit confused. Yesterday when Mike collected us at the airport, he warned me that the paparazzi were going to swarm and I asked him if I should hide my ring. When he called you to ask, you said to tell me ‘never fucking ever take your ring off.’ So if it didn’t matter for me to be seen with this ring and to have people know we’re engaged, why does it matter today?”
Ryan narrowed his eyes. “And did you?”
I was momentarily stunned, knowing that that brusque tone wasn’t really meant for me. “Did I what? Keep your ring on or get photographed wearing it?”
He shrugged. “Either. Both.”
I supposed this was information he needed before being bombarded. “Yes, I kept your ring on, as it will never leave my finger, but no, I did not allow the repugnant thieves to make their living off of our happiness. I kept my hand tucked in my pocket.”
He nodded once. “Yeah, well, keep that in mind,” he said on his way to answer the door.
Marla Sullivan, Ryan’s icy publicist, greeted me with a half smile, half snarl as she charged into the living room of our suite. Even though it was early in the morning, she was already dressed in a crisp designer business suit. Her short black hair was equally as tailored. An oversized black bag dangled from her red, pointy fingernails.
“Sit,” she ordered.
Ryan glared at her for a moment and then pulled out a chair at the large dining table.
“Weekly Reporter, CV Magazine . . .” she announced in a scathing tone, dropping printed sheets of paper on the table in front of him. “You’re on all of them. I suppose this is why you’ve been avoiding my phone calls for the last four days.”
Ryan barely glanced at them. He slumped back in his chair and started to rub his forehead, pushing the paper away with his other hand. “I’ve seen them already. So what.”
I edged my body closer. That’s when I saw for the very first time the grainy, dark pictures of Ryan standing on top of a very familiar round oak table and another dark picture of him kneeling in front of me. Candid shots from Saturday night when he proposed to me publicly in my pub were now plastered all over the tabloids. My heart sank in my chest from their blatant exploitation.
“‘So what’? Ryan, you were standing on a table in the middle of a bar! What were you thinking?” She scolded him like he was a child.
Ryan rested his elbows on his knees while he bowed his head, refraining from giving her an answer.
“Well, this certainly counters the shots they got of her standing in the middle of the street in Miami two weeks ago,” she said callously, nodding her pointy chin in my direction.
Leave it to Marla to remind me of the huge idiot I made of myself when I stood in the downpour staring at what I thought was Ryan cheating on me with his co-star, Lauren Delaney, when in fact they were still on location filming.
Ryan straightened and scoffed harshly at her comment. “Don’t even go there,” he warned through his teeth, giving her an angry glare.
It didn’t matter that Kyle Trent, my former bodyguard, and Lauren Delaney, Ryan’s co-star and former girlfriend, conspired together, forming an awkward alliance to insidiously destroy our relationship. The only thing that the press was concerned about was the photographic evidence of my mental breakdown from Ryan’s supposed infidelity. CAUGHT CHEATING! all of the headlines announced.
And now, all of the headlines flashed ENGAGED!
Two weeks of ups and downs and aggravating media scrutiny—Ryan and Lauren are together, Taryn catches Ryan cheating, Ryan and Taryn call it quits, Ryan’s secret flight to Seaport, Rhode Island—were now topped off with new photographic evidence that he actually climbed on top of a table.
“Ryan, we’ve had these discussions. Do you want to destroy your career?” She waved her hand in my direction. It was apparent that she meant I was the one destroying his career.
“No! Of course not!” he bellowed.
Marla huffed and poked her finger on one of the papers. “Well, I told you to keep this inane decision of yours private. So much for that.”
I gasped in shock. Inane? Is she really standing there lecturing my fiancé and implying with the tact of a wrecking ball that his decision to propose to me was stupid and asinine?
“Do you think you could have at least warned me first that you actually went through with it?” She slapped one of the sheets down on the table in front of him. “I come back from Monterey to be completely blindsided by this, too?”
I rolled my eyes at her comment and her overdramatic little meltdown. Her shiny, black patent leather high heels captured my attention. I surmised that her shoes must match the color of her heart today.
“I got caught up in the moment. It’s my business,” Ryan grumbled, taking the submissive position to this domineering bitch. It was the first time I saw him bow down to anyone. This was not the “fuck you, no bullshit” posture he took with the rest of the world. This woman was making him fold like a house of cards in the wind. I pressed my lips into a hard line, holding my tongue.
“Caught up in the moment?” Marla questioned incredulously. “Is that your excuse?”
Ryan shot her a dirty look and sprang up from his chair when there was another knock at the door. “David,” he said flatly, his eyes refusing to look up when his manager came into our suite. David slowly shook his head at Ryan, showing his displeasure at being summoned.
My heart rate picked up as I processed David’s overall demeanor. Now both of Ryan’s “handlers” were here to gang up on him. The Witch and the little Slime Ball, here to tag-team him and beat him further into submission.
I’ll be damned before I let them make him feel like crap for proposing to me. I felt my hands curl into tight fists, bracing for what appeared to be a pending battle.
“David,” Marla greeted Ryan’s manager. “Well,” she huffed, annoyed, “let’s talk about damage control.” She uncrossed her bony arms and picked up a few of the printouts, tossing them in David’s direction. “There are two videos of him singing on YouTube as well.”
“I know,” David admitted. “You really know how to stir up a media shitstorm, my friend,” he chuckled out lightly as he feigned looking at the photos. I’m sure by this point he was intimately familiar with them.
Ryan was too busy stewing and staring at the floor to respond. It took a split second after that for David to redirect his glare at me. This was not the first time Ryan’s manager had issues with me and it was starting to become apparent that we all might never get along. This was so not good.
“I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal about this,” Ryan bit out before casting his glance my way.
“I don’t, either,” I added, giving him my support. If this was how they handled happy news, I’d hate to see how they handled a majorly bad shitstorm.
David sort of shrugged it off. “It’s not really, Taryn. What you have to understand is that Ryan’s career is potentially riding on how well Reparation premieres. This is his first major motion picture lead role outside of the Seaside franchise, and the critics, the major studios—everyone is waiting to see if he can carry a film on his own. This premiere is big, and it’s all about image control, that’s all. This is nothing new, Ryan.”
I glanced back at one of the printouts. “I’m sorry, but I still don’t understand. What does our engagement have to do with any of that?”
Marla’s head jerked in my direction. “Well I’m sure you’ll start to care when he’s offered subpar roles and the money isn’t there anymore.”
I could have done without her “isn’t it obvious or are you too stupid to realize it” glare.
Ryan’s fist hit the table. “Do not talk to her like that,” he warned, pointing his finger at her.
“Marla—” David said, attempting to quell her temper.
“I couldn’t care less how much money he has. Despite what you think, my feelings for him aren’t tied to his fame or his fortune. Are you trying to say he won’t get offers and people will stop coming to see his movies because we’re engaged?”
I noticed Ryan’s lips twitch with that.
“No, no.” David tried to dismiss my assumption, halting me with his hand. “Aaron and I have been—”
Marla interrupted. “Ryan’s career is only beginning to blossom. His future prospects all stem from the decisions he makes now. Do you want to see him fail?”
My spine stiffened further. “Of course not!”
“Jesus Christ,” Ryan groaned, but she ignored him.
Marla continued to address me. “Then you’ll both need to accept that the public’s perception of his status and behavior greatly affects his marketing viability. He needs to remain low-key and professional at all times—without scandal or opportunistic individuals taking advantage of his good fortune.”
Her last words felt like a slap. “Are you insinuating that I’m one of them?”
Ryan sat up, arching into defense mode, but stopped when it looked like Marla was going to apologize. For a moment, I thought she would attempt to be civil.
“In this business, negative impressions can linger for years, in some cases having irreparable consequences on an actor’s career. Ryan is here to do press for his movie, not to be inundated with questions about his ridiculous display. His moment of indiscretion is now hugely overshadowing the premiere of Reparation. You forget that he is being paid by very influential people to promote the movie, not to explain why he climbed on a table,” Marla informed us harshly.
She turned her glare on Ryan. “How many times do I have to remind you that you do not want this kind of press?”
“I know what my responsibilities are!” Ryan snapped angrily.
“Then you should have controlled yourself and realized that standing up on a table in the middle of a crowded bar was a bad idea!” she zinged him back.
Ryan stretched his fingers as if he desired to choke her. “Do you really want to keep pushing me on this? I get the point.”
“Well, someone’s got to keep on top of your behav—”
“Enough! Just stop it!” I broke in. “I don’t care who you are. You will not take one of our most precious memories and turn it into something he should feel guilty for doing. I will not allow it.”
I stood behind Ryan and rested my hands on his shoulders, actually fearing that if I let go of him, table, chairs, and bodies would go flying. “So he stood on a table and asked me to marry him. So what? You’re making it sound like he was high on dope and clubbing baby seals when he did it. Surely this, this disclosure, can be turned into something positive.”
Marla stared blankly at me, apparently surprised that I had the guts to speak again.
She turned her attention back on him. “Ryan, perhaps it would be better if David and I continued this meeting with you privately to discuss our action plan. I’m sure your Taryn has other things she needs to attend to.”
“Excuse me?” I glared at her, completely astonished that she would even think to remove me from the discussion. This bitch had some nerve.
Ryan pulled out the chair next to him, startling me. “I don’t think so. Anything you have to say to me you can say in front of my fiancée, too. This affects her life just as much as it does mine. I’ll decide what doesn’t require her involvement, not you. Got it?”
Marla stared at him blankly.
“Got it?” he said with punctuated force.
Marla breathed out her unhappiness and righted herself in the chair. “Of course.”
Relieved, I took a seat and patted his thigh in private to thank him. He covered my diamond-clad hand with his own.
“Now then . . . we will inform all of the interviewers at the press junket today that questions about your personal life are off-limits. Someone will be present at all times to ensure that those questions are averted so as not to detract from the Reparation and future Seaside premieres. We’ll put the same stipulations on all of your appearances throughout the junket as well.”
Ryan looked like someone had strapped him in the electric chair and stood by with a heartless hand itching to flip the switch. I could tell his thoughts were mulling over the best ways to escape. I rubbed my fingertips over his back, trying to ease his tension.
“You will have to handle yourself appropriately during your appearance on Jimmy Collins tonight and with Nigel Allen on Night Life tomorrow. You should know by now how to avoid those types of questions,” Marla said. “But just in case I’m wrong . . .”
While she was on her soapbox, I picked up one of the tabloid magazine prints, eyeing the supposedly scandalous front cover.
“We’ll handle your discussion topics at the pre-interviews . . . ,” she continued to drone.
I tried to listen intently to her aggravating words, but my mind was suddenly very preoccupied, thinking of ways to choke the ever-loving shit out of her so she’d shut the hell up.
To me, the tabloid cover didn’t look bad at all, compared to some of the other reports that were previously printed about Ryan and me. Even the story byline wasn’t too hateful. Eyewitnesses had reported that “Ryan sang a beautiful song while playing his guitar before professing his love for local business owner Taryn Mitchell.” What’s so scandalous about that?
It was times like these I wished some of those inhuman special powers portrayed on film could actually happen, like being able to cut off the flow of oxygen to her lungs with my mind, or hurling her across the room just by imagining it. Evil thoughts, I know, but this woman brought them out in me. Especially when she was smacking her lips together, lecturing my future husband on the proper behaviors of A-list celebrities and dictating the cryptic responses he should give today to avoid talking about our relationship in public.
Ryan and I both jumped slightly when there was another knock on our hotel door. I was thankful for any diversion that veered my mind off strangling the shit out of her.
Through the peephole, I instantly recognized the young, long-haired blonde standing outside our room, having seen her glowing face and friendly smile the last two days when we had numerous chats over our computers. She had a large messenger bag slung over her shoulder and a thick manila envelope pressed to her chest.
“Hey. Come on in,” I said warmly through the opened door. With all the reprimanding that was happening in our room, I had forgotten that Trish, Marla’s assistant, was coming to help me get dressed properly for the premiere.
The second Trish stepped into the room it seemed like the air changed and it was easier to breathe in here.
“It’s nice to finally meet you in person.”
“You, too.” Trish bounced excitedly and hugged me like we were reunited college friends. “Even though I sort of feel like I know you already.” I noticed Trish’s eyes glance past me into the room where her boss sat, still lecturing Ryan. “How’s it going so far?”
I shrugged. What could I tell her? That I thought her boss was a royal bitch whom I wanted to toss off the roof of this hotel?
“Did she say anything about doing a press release on your engagement?” she whispered.
“What is your problem? Why are you being like this?” Ryan asked Marla harshly, trying to keep his voice down.
I shook my head at Trish. “No. Not a word.”
Marla made her signature throaty scoff, the one that sounds like a cat starting to choke up a hairball. “You’re starting to fly on a whim while the rest of us are left to clean up the mess.”
“What mess?” Ryan asked. “I got engaged. Big deal. I’m not the first actor to do this. I just don’t understand why you hate her so much.”
Trish frowned as Marla made no attempt to hush her reply. “Ryan, I don’t hate her. And I certainly won’t hate the next girl, either. You’re young. You have the world at your disposal. It’s my job to guide the perception that the world has of you, so those doors continue to open for you.”
Ryan raised his voice. “I’m telling you right now, there won’t be another one. Get that straight.”
Trish and I walked back into the dining room. She carefully placed the stuffed package on the table next to Marla’s arm, almost bowing as she set it down.
“Are these the new press packets?”
“Yes. I just came from the printer,” Trish said mildly.
Marla opened the envelope, taking her good old time scrutinizing the contents. She was just starting to complain about a mistake she found when Ryan interrupted.
“Are we done?”
I blinked in Ryan’s direction. Gone was the normal, even-tempered man I loved. In his place was a seething time bomb ready to explode. My heart pinched with fright hearing the menace in his tone.
Marla pretended not to hear him. How could she not?
“David, we need to schedule a meeting with Len Bainbridge. We’ve already received offers for exclusives on this. Celeste Crawfield left me ten voice mails; Glam wants first dibs for a cover story. Huge offers are starting to pour in and we both know how messy engagement- and wedding-generated earnings can be. Len should start drafting a prenup immediately for Ryan before his fortune is compromised and—”
Ryan stood up; his chair crashed to the floor, jolting everyone’s attention. “That’s it. We’re done here. Get out. Everyone.” He grabbed the papers on the table and flung them at her. “And take this bullshit with you.”
She sighed like an unhappy, controlling mother. “You know things need to be formed legally, Ryan.”
“I don’t care!” Ryan yelled. “It’s none of your goddamned business!”
David was indifferent to Ryan’s order, taking the time to adjust his sleeves and peer at his watch. Apparently movie star temper tantrums were old hat. “I’ll call the lawyers and get things rolling. Your car will be here at nine and—”
“I said get out! Out!” Ryan shouted at him, the veins in his neck cording from the strain. He nodded his chin at the door. I had never seen him this angry. If he’d yelled like that at me, I’d be running for the elevator.
Five seconds later, our bedroom door slammed shut.
I found Ryan leaning with both palms flat on the glass window, his head hanging between his arms, panting as if he’d just been released from a caged death match. I feared that even whispering his name might cause him to detonate.
I sat on the edge of our crumpled bed in silence, giving him ample time and space to calm himself while I mulled over how the news of our happiness had just turned into a twenty-minute patronizing lecture.
What should have been hugs and champagne and congratulations with smiles and pats on the back was the exact opposite—anger and heartless animosity mixed with ugly accusations and assumptions from the team he had managing his life.
Pressed against the glass like that, I wondered if Ryan was regretting his actions now.
I feared sooner or later, one of us would.
Not willing to take such chances, I stepped to his side. Ryan looked at me warily before clutching me to his chest.