Time to do a mental switch, he decided, and deliberately changed the direction of his thoughts. What was Leroy’s problem tonight? He’d agreed, in principle, to back the film and now he needed more assurances? Why? God, he was tired of the games the very rich boys played; his biggest dream was to find an investor who’d just hand over a boatload of money, no questions asked.
And that would be the day that gorgeous aliens abducted him to be a sex slave.
Still, he was relieved that Leroy had left; having his difficult investor and his DNA donor in the room at the same time was enough to make his head explode. He hadn’t seen Chad yet but knew that all he needed to do was find the prettiest woman in the room and he could guarantee that his father—or Leroy, if he were here—would be chatting her up. Neither could keep his, as Neil used to say, pecker in his pants despite having a wife at home.
What was the point of being married if you were a serial cheater? Ryan wondered for the millionth time.
Ryan felt an elbow in his ribs and turned to look into his best friend’s open face. “Hey.”
“Hey, you are looking grim. What’s up?” Thom asked.
“Tired. Done with this day and this party,” Ryan told him.
“And you’re avoiding your father.”
Well, yeah. “Where is the old man?”
Thom lifted his champagne glass to his right. “He’s at your nine o’clock, talking to the sexy redhead. He cornered me and asked me to talk to you, to intercede on his behalf. He wants to reconnect. His word, not mine.”
“So his incessant calls and emails over the past years have suggested,” Ryan said, his expression turning cynical. “Except that I am not naive to believe that it’s because he suddenly wants to play happy families. It’s only because we have something he wants.” As in a meaty part in their new movie.
“He would be great as Tompkins.”
Ryan didn’t give a rat’s ass. “We don’t always get what we want.”
“He’s your father,” Thom said, evenly.
That was stretching the truth. Chad had been his guardian, his landlord and an absent presence in his life. Ryan knew that he still resented the fact that he’d had to take responsibility for the child he created with his second or third or fifteenth mistress. To Chad, his mother’s death when he was fourteen had been wildly inconvenient. He was already raising one son and didn’t need the burden of another.
Not that Chad had ever been actively involved in his, or Ben’s, life. Chad was always away on a shoot and he and Ben, with the help of a housekeeper, raised themselves. Ben, just sixteen months older than him, had seen him through those dark and dismal teenage years. He’d idolized Ben and Ben had welcomed him into his home and life with open arms. So close in age, they’d become best buds within weeks and he’d thought that there was nothing that could destroy their friendship, that they had each other’s backs, that Ben was the one person who would never let him down.
Yeah, funny how wrong he could be.
Ben. God, he still got a lump in his throat just thinking about him. He probably always would. When it came to Ben he was a cocktail of emotions. Betrayal always accompanied the grief. Hurt, loss and anger also hung around whenever he thought of his best friend and brother. God, would it ever end?
The crowds in front of him parted and Ryan caught his breath. There she was... He’d kissed that wide mouth earlier, but between the kiss and dealing with Leroy he hadn’t really had time to study the compact blonde. Short, layered hair, a peaches-and-cream complexion and eyes that fell somewhere between deep brown and black.
Those eyes... He knew those eyes, he thought, as a memory tugged. He frowned, immediately thinking of his time in London and the Brookes-Lyon family. Neil had mentioned in a quick email last week that his baby sister was moving to New York... What was her name again? Josie? Jackie... Close but still wrong... Jay-cee! Was that her? He narrowed his eyes, thinking it through. God, it had been nearly twelve years since he’d last seen her, and he struggled to remember the details of Neil’s shy sibling. Her hair was the same white-blond color, but back then it hung in a long fall to her waist. Her body, now lean, had still been caught in that puppy-fat stage, but those eyes... He couldn’t forget those eyes. Rich, deep brown, almost black Audrey Hepburn eyes, he thought. Then and now.
Jesus. He’d kissed his oldest friend’s baby sister.
Ryan rubbed his forehead with his thumb and index finger. With everything else going on in his life, he’d completely forgotten that she was moving here and that Neil had asked him to make contact with her. He’d intended to once his schedule lightened but he never expected her to be at this post-awards function. And he certainly hadn’t expected the shy teenager to have morphed into this stunningly beautiful, incredibly sexy woman; a woman who had his nerve endings buzzing. On the big screen in his head he could see them in their own private movie. She’d be naked and up against a wall, her legs around his waist and her head tipped back as he feasted on that soft spot where her neck and shoulders met...
Ryan blew out a breath. He was a movie producer, had dabbled in directing and he often envisioned scenes in his head, but never had one been so sexual, so sensual. And one starring his best and oldest friend’s kid sister? That was just plain weird.
But still weird.
As if she could feel his eyes on her, Jaci turned her head and looked directly at him. The challenging lift of her eyebrow suggested that she’d realized that he’d connected the dots and that she was wondering what he intended to do about it.
Nothing, he decided, breaking their long, sexually charged stare. He was going to do jack about it because his sudden and very unwelcome attraction to Jaci was something he didn’t have time to deal with, something he didn’t want to deal with. His life was complicated enough without adding another level of crazy to it.
Frankly, he’d had enough crazy to last a lifetime.
* * *
Jaci stumbled through the doors to Starfish Films at five past nine the next morning, juggling her tote bag, her mobile, two scripts and a mega-latte, and decided that she couldn’t function on less than three hours of sleep anymore. If someone looked up the definition of cranky in the dictionary, her picture next to the word would explain it all.
It hadn’t helped that she’d spent most of the night reluctantly reliving that most excellent kiss, recalling the strength of that masculine, muscular body, the fresh, sexy smell of Ryan’s skin. It had been a long time since she’d lost any sleep over a man—even during the worst of their troubles she’d never sacrificed any REMs for Clive—and she didn’t like it. Ryan was sex on a side plate but she wasn’t going to see him again. Ever. Besides, she hadn’t relocated cities to dally with hot men, or any men. This job was what was important, the only thing that was important.
This was her opportunity to carve out a space for herself in the film industry, to find her little light to shine in. It might not be as bold or as bright as her mother’s but it would be hers.
Frowning at the empty offices, she stepped up to her desk and dropped the scripts to the seat of her chair. This was the right choice to make, she told herself. She could’ve stayed in London; it was familiar and she knew how to tread water. Except that she felt the deep urge to swim...to do more and be more. She had been given an opportunity to change her life and, although she was soul-deep scared, she was going to run with it. She was going to prove, to herself and to her family, that she wasn’t as rudderless, as directionless—as useless—as they thought she was.
This time, this