Authors: Lauren Gallagher
Tags: #canada, #Torfino, #movie stars, #actress, #contemporary erotic romance, #erotic romance, #Hollywood
We're going to take a canoe out and try to catch a crab in a net!"
"Is that right?" Simone looked at Jason, who showed his palms and gave her an innocent look. She laughed. "Maybe I'll have to follow you two around with a camera, then. Can't miss this."
"I can't wait!" Cecily said, practically squealing on the other end.
"Neither can I, baby." The limo lurched forward. Simone glanced outside. They were almost to the red carpet. "I have to go for now, but I'll call you tonight before you go to bed."
"Okay. I hope you win."
"Me too. I love you, baby."
"Love you too, Mom."
Simone hung up and slid the phone into her purse. "Hopefully the weather holds out next weekend. She'll be mighty disappointed if you guys can't go out." Jason laughed softly. "We can still go out if it rains."
"You would, wouldn't you?"
He said nothing. When she glanced at him, he idly fingered the cufflinks on his tuxedo shirt. Their eyes met and he smiled, but a hint of nervousness tugged at the corner of his mouth. She took his hand and squeezed. His palms were sweaty.
"Nervous?" she asked.
He raised his eyebrows and took in a hiss of breath through his teeth. "You could say that."
"Are you sure you want to do this? It's not too late to turn around." He shook his head. "I'll be fine. I can do it."
"Are you sure?"
"No." He squeezed her hand. "But you're not going to miss this because I've got a little bit of stage fright."
Simone smiled at him. They had spent the better part of the last year in the seclusion of his house in Tofino, but when the announcement came out that she was nominated for an Oscar for her most recent film, he had not only suggested they go together, he had insisted on it.
"We can't hide from the rest of the world forever," he'd said. "It's not like they don't know about me; we might as well face the music and go public." Now, though, she wondered if he was second-guessing that decision. He had never quite grown to like the fishbowl life she led, and they had never appeared publicly together after the incident in Tofino. They still dodged paparazzi in Tofino from time to time, but otherwise avoided the public eye.
But now, he insisted he was ready to face the cameras and the reporters. Ironic, she thought.
He's the one who ended up being camera shy
. She watched him. He looked out the window, drumming his fingers nervously. Several times, he slipped one hand into the pocket of his trousers, as if making sure he hadn't forgotten or dropped something. He'd done it a dozen or more times since they left the hotel room.
He tried his best to look comfortable in the tuxedo, but she was certain he felt completely out of his element. Even at his gallery events, he'd told her, he rarely wore anything more formal than a shirt and slacks. Just like the first night we had dinner at the house, she thought, an involuntary shiver running through her at the memory. In spite of his discomfort, he looked amazing.
Simone stifled a soft giggle when she noticed the smudge of makeup on the collar of his tux. They had tried to get all of it off, but a faint whisper of color still remained. She hoped no one noticed, but every time Simone looked at it, her breath caught.
Back in their hotel room, just before they hurried downstairs to catch their waiting limo, he had to have her just one more time. Up against the hotel room door, completely dressed, her legs wrapped around his waist—bringing to mind that night a lifetime ago when he had pushed her up against her rental car in the pouring rain—he'd had her just one more time. And somewhere amidst the passion and urgency, a little bit of her makeup ended up on his collar.
Smiling to herself, she looked out the window again. A moment later, they pulled up to the red carpet, and the door flew open, allowing the blinding camera flashes to invade the warm dimness of the car. Simone squinted against the harsh light. She turned to Jason and touched his hand. "Are you ready?" He tugged at the starched collar of his tuxedo shirt, checked his pocket again, and wetted his lips. "As ready as I'll ever be."
She smiled. "Let's go."
He took a deep breath, nodded, and stepped out of the car ahead of her before turning to hold his hand out for her. She took it, stepping out onto the red carpet into the sea of camera flashes.
Simone slid her hand around his elbow, and together they started up the long walk. He followed her lead, pausing here and there for the occasional photo or question. Occasionally she squeezed his arm to reassure him and he'd give a squeeze in return. Once or twice, they exchanged a brief smile. Each time, his smile both warmed her to the core and sent a shiver down her spine. Never in her life had she been so proud to be on the arm of a man. God, I love you, Jason, she thought. They stopped before a particularly aggressive clutch of reporters. Her stomach knotted as they probed for intimate details. This was a mistake. A huge mistake.
. She glanced up at Jason. His expression was blank. A ripple ran down the front of his throat as he swallowed hard and his body stiffened. She thought he had paled.
"Breathe," she whispered.
His gaze darted toward her and he released part of the breath he was holding, but he didn't relax.
Then, a reporter thrust a microphone into their faces and demanded, "What's next for the two of you, Simone?"
Simone opened her mouth to answer, but Jason said, "
is a damn good question." He turned to Simone, his face unreadable. "I'm actually wondering the same thing."
Simone's heart leaped.
Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit
. He gently freed his elbow from her hand. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end and she sucked in a breath.
Right there on the red carpet, Jason dropped to one knee.
A collective gasp rippled among the reporters. Simone's heart pounded as he reached into his pocket—the pocket he'd checked a hundred times earlier—and pulled out the ring. Dozens of cameras flashed around them.
"Simone." His hands—one holding the ring, one clasping her hand for dear life—
shook. Drawing a deep, unsteady breath, he said, "Simone, will you marry me?" She couldn't breathe. Couldn't think. Her knees turned to liquid. She couldn't even see the ring. All she could see was his eyes: a mixture of fear and pride, certainty and doubt, and pure, genuine, sincere love.
She realized he was holding his breath.
So was she.
Everything around them faded into nothing.
Finally, she willed her tongue to work. "Yes."
He exhaled in a laugh, one of joy and relief. He slid the ring onto her finger and stood, taking her into his arms and kissing her. They ignored the microphones and cameras in their faces.
why you were so nervous," she whispered against his lip.
"Nervous?" He kissed her again. "I was terrified." The laughter was gone from his expression when he looked at her again, replaced by pure, heartfelt love. His voice hoarse with emotion, he said, "I love you, Simone."
"I love you, Jason."
About the Author
Lauren Gallagher was born and raised in Seattle, spent five years in Norfolk, Virginia, then moved to Okinawa, Japan, at the end of 2008, where she currently lives with her husband and two cats.
She does not collaborate with any other authors (though she hasn't ruled it out for future projects), but she does have the privilege of a writing partnership (or unholy alliance, depending upon who you ask) with Scottish writer, Scarlett Parrish. If she had to pinpoint one secret to her success, it's Scarlett, hands down. There is nothing quite like having a skilled writer looking over one's shoulder, critiquing where it's needed and not pulling any punches. Scarlett has also given her the ideas for a few of her
Rules of Engagement
, and bestowed titles on several of them.
Lauren writes full-time now, but in other times and places, she has worked in everything from customer service to lower management, from jewelry to car rentals to compressed gas equipment.
She was a professional photographer at one point, but decided she enjoyed it more as a hobby than a career. She and her husband still enjoy photography and happen to live in a place that lends itself very well to a couple of shutterbugs.
Learn more about Lauren at