That had to be a hormone-induced insanity because stuff like that didn’t happen and especially not to her. She was letting her writer’s imagination run away with her; this was real life, not a romantic comedy. Ryan was hot and sexy and tough, but that was what he looked like, wasn’t what he was. As you do, everybody wears masks to conceal who and what lies beneath, she reminded herself. Sometimes what was concealed was harmless—she didn’t think that her lack of confidence hurt anybody but herself—and occasionally people, including her ex-fiancé, concealed secrets that were devastating.
Clive and his secrets... Hadn’t those blown up in their faces? It was a small consolation that Clive had fooled her clever family, too. They’d been so thrilled that, instead of the impoverished artists and musicians she normally brought home to meet her family, she’d snagged an intellectual, a success. A politician. In hindsight, she’d been so enamored by the attention she’d received by being Clive’s girlfriend—not only from her family but from friends and acquaintances and the press—that she’d been prepared to put up with his controlling behavior, his lack of respect, his inattention. After years of being in the shadows, she’d loved the spotlight and the new sparky and sassy personality she’d developed to deal with the press attention she received. Sassy Jaci was the brave one; she was the one who’d moved to New York, who walked into crowded ballrooms, who planted her lips on the sexiest man in the room. Sassy Jaci was who she was going to be in New York, but this time she’d fly solo. No more men and definitely no more fading into the background...
Jaci turned as her name was called and she saw her friends standing next to a large ornamental tree. Relieved, she pushed past people to get to them. Her fellow scriptwriters greeted her warmly and Shona handed her a champagne glass. “Drink up, darling, you’re way behind.”
Jaci wrinkled her nose. “I don’t like champagne.” But she did like alcohol and it was exactly what she needed, so she took a healthy sip.
“Isn’t champagne what all posh UK It girls drink?” Shona asked cheerfully and with such geniality that Jaci immediately realized that there was no malice behind her words.
“I’m not an It girl,” Jaci protested.
“You were engaged to a rising star in politics, you attended the same social events with the Windsor boys, you are from a very prominent British family.”
Well, if you looked at it like that. Could she still be classified as an It girl if she’d hated every second of said socializing?
“You did an internet search on me,” Jaci stated, resigned.
“Of course we did,” Shona replied. “Your ex-fiancé looks a bit like a horse.”
Jaci giggled. Clive did look a bit equine.
“Did you know about his...ah...how do I put this? Outside interests?” Shona demanded.
“No,” Jaci answered, her tone clipped. She hadn’t even discussed Clive’s extramural activities with her family—they were determined to ignore the crotchless-panty-wearing elephant in the room—so there was no way she would dissect her ex–love life with strangers.
“How did you get the job?” Shona asked.
“My agent sold a script to Starfish over a year ago. Six weeks ago Thom called and said that they wanted to develop the story further and asked me to work on that, and to collaborate on other projects. So I’m here, on a six-month contract.”
“And you write under the pen name of JC Brookes? Is that because of the press attention you received?” Wes asked.
“Partly.” Jaci looked at the bubbles in her glass. It was easier to write under a pen name when your parent, writing under her own name, was regarded as one of the most detailed and compelling writers of historical fiction in the world.
Wes smiled at her. “When we heard that we were getting another scriptwriter, we all thought you were a guy. Shona and I were looking forward to someone new to flirt with.”
Jaci grinned at his teasing, relieved that the subject had moved on. “Sorry to disappoint.” She placed her glass on a tall table next to her elbow. “So, tell me about Starfish. I know that Thom is a producer but that’s about all I know. When is he due back? I’d actually like to meet the man who hired me.”
“He and Jax—the big boss and owner—are here tonight, but they socialize with the movers and shakers. We’re too far down the food chain for them,” Shona cheerfully answered, snagging a tiny spring roll off a passing tray and popping it into her mouth.
Jaci frowned, confused. “Thom’s not the owner?”
Wes shook his head. “Nah, he’s Jax’s second in command. Jax stays out of the spotlight but is very hands-on. Actors and directors like to work for him, but because they both have a low threshold for Hollywood drama, they are selective in whom they choose to work with.”
“Chad Bradshaw being one of the actors they won’t work with.” Shona used her glass to gesture to a handsome older man walking past them.
Chad Bradshaw, legendary Hollywood actor. So that was why Ryan was here, Jaci thought. Chad had received an award earlier and it made sense that Ryan would be here to support his father. Like Chad, Ryan was tall and their eyes were the same; they could be either a light blue or gray, depending on his mood. Ryan might not remember her but she recalled in Technicolor detail the young man Neil had met at the London School of Economics. In between fantasizing about Ryan and writing stories with him as her hero inspiration, she’d watched the interaction between Ryan and her family. It had amused her that her academic parents and siblings had been fascinated by the fact that Ryan lived in Hollywood and that he was the younger brother of Ben Bradshaw, the young darling of Hollywood who was on his way to becoming a screen legend himself. Like the rest of the world, they’d all been shocked at Ben’s death in a car accident, and his passing and funeral had garnered worldwide, and Brookes-Lyon, attention. But at the time they knew him, many years before Ben’s death, it seemed as if Ryan was from another world, one far removed from the one the Brookes-Lyon clan occupied, and he’d been a breath of fresh air.
Ryan and Neil had been good friends and Ryan hadn’t been intimidated by the cocky and cerebral Brookes-Lyon clan. He’d come to London to get a business degree, she remembered, and dimly recalled a dinner conversation with him saying something about wanting to get out of LA and doing something completely different from his father and brother. He visited Lyon House every couple of months for nearly a year but then he left the prestigious college. She hadn’t seen him since. Until he kissed the hell out of her ten minutes ago.
Jaci pursed her lips in irritation and wondered how he kissed women whose names he did know. If he kissed them with only a smidgeon more skill than he had her, then the man was capable of melting polar ice caps.
He was that good and what was really, really bad was that she kept thinking that he had lips and that she had lips and that hers should be under his...all the damn time.
Phew. Problematic, Jaci thought.
* * *
Ryan “Jax” Jackson nursed his glass of whiskey and wished that he was in his apartment stretched out on his eight-foot-long couch and watching his favorite sports channel on the huge flat-screen that dominated one wall of his living room. He glanced at his watch, grateful to see that the night was nearly over. He’d had a run-in with Leroy, kissed the hell out of a sexy woman and now he was stuck in a ballroom kissing ass. He’d much rather be kissing the blonde’s delectable ass... Dammit, who the hell was she? Ryan discarded the idea of flicking through his mental black book of past women. He knew that he hadn’t kissed that mouth before. He would’ve remembered that heat, that spice, the make-him-crazy need to have her. So who was she?