Malibu Betrayals, page 1part #1 of Malibu Sights Series
Her chance to write a whole new ending…
Hollywood screenwriter Samantha Dekker spent the last year picking up the pieces after her husband’s suicide. Along with grief, guilt, and tabloid hell, she’s had to watch helplessly as the film industry slammed its doors in her face. Now Sam has the rarest of Hollywood opportunities—a second chance…working with the one man she swore never to see again.
Hunktastic A-lister Gage Cutler knows that Sam blamed him for his part in her husband’s death. Still, Sam is the one woman he can never forget. All he wants is a second chance of his own—to prove he’s not the player she remembers. And Malibu is the perfect backdrop to make a girl swoon.
Except they’re not alone. Someone is watching Sam and Gage’s steamy off-screen romance with the most dangerous of intentions…
Table of Contents
About the Author
Discover more Entangled Select Contemporary titles… Tucked Away
Know When to Hold Him
Her Stand-In Boyfriend
Some Like it Sizzling
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Mary Karen Meredith. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
2614 South Timberline Road
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Visit our website at www.entangledpublishing.com.
Select Contemporary is an imprint of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
Edited by Kate Brauning
Cover design by Kelley York
Cover art by iStock
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition July 2015
To my husband, Brian Meredith,
who, when I came home from work one day and said, “I want to write romance,” replied,
“Great. You’ve done everything else you’ve set your mind to.”
His unwavering faith in me, his love, and his own relentless work ethic inspire every story I write.
He tells me, “I could never love you anymore than I do today, until tomorrow…when I do.”
And the butterflies never stop fluttering.
It was hard as hell to walk in heels with her toes crossed, but Samantha Dekker wasn’t taking any chances. She’d keep them that way too, just like her fingers, until she sealed the deal. When Martin Gallagher called, she’d agreed to a meeting right away. Thank God for nepotism. Good luck hadn’t been known to stick around her for very long, and she hoped that was about to change. After about a year out of the industry, not to mention the circus the tabloids had created with her face as the headliner, no one else would touch her with a ten foot pole.
Sam pushed open the door of the Chocolate Box Café, the cool air breaking the California heat. She adored this place for their decadent chocolate creations and to-die-for espressos. She narrowed her eyes at Martin’s warm grin. What could he be up to?
“Sam, it’s good to see you.” He hugged her tight and for a brief second she sighed into the comfort of his fatherly embrace. He released her to pull a bar stool out from the small bistro table, but she reached it before he did.
“I’ve got it, thanks.”
“You just can’t let anyone help you, can you?” He moved a third stool around and sat to her left.
He was right; she was the worst when it came to asking for help and impossible when it came to accepting it, but this time she needed it.
She shrugged, then glanced at the empty stool across the table and then back to Martin with a raised brow. He cleared his throat and ran a finger under the collar of his Ralph Lauren dress shirt.
“Martin?” Curiosity edged her words.
“We’ll get to that.” He grinned in that wickedly sexy way of his that neither age nor marriage could diminish. Seconds later, he returned with her usual espresso and some frothy concoction of his own, and sat down. “You look good, kid, but still a mite too thin.”
Sam forced a smile. Wasn’t that ironic? It took losing her husband to achieve the thinness he’d demanded when he was alive, his voice still a mocking echo in her head. Seconds, Sam? I thought you had more self-control than that. “My appetite hasn’t been the best, but I’m fine.”
He nodded. “Good, good. Now, here’s the script.” He pulled out bound pages with a red cover. “Dive in and read this over. You’ll see what’s missing on your first pass. Don’t second-guess yourself, just let your magic flow.”
She took the manuscript from his hand and flipped through the pages, trying not to let him see her shake. How many times had her husband told her there were way more talented screenwriters out there than her? The old heavy weight of uncertainty returned to her gut, but she braced against it. She was running out of options. Her parents had floated her financially since his death, but more important than needing the money, she needed her career. She needed to find her way back—to herself. If she didn’t, and soon, there’d be nothing of her left.
Pushing hair from her eyes, she glanced at Martin. The financial risk alone for a producer-director was daunting, but the risk to an artist’s reputation—and their ego—was even greater. She’d fallen so far out of Hollywood that no one was willing to sign her name to a guest list, much less a contract, no one but him. He was as much a father figure as mentor to her, and she owed him. She wouldn’t have made it through the year and a half since Ethan’s death if not for the support of him and his wife.
“I don’t want to color your perception, so I’m not going to share what I think this script is lacking. We’ll begin shooting in a week, so you have some time.” Martin pointed at the script. “One more thing.” He took the script from her, put it on the table, then took her hand between his. He squared his shoulders and his glacier blue gaze pinned hers. Martin had the look of a Nordic Sean Connery—the kind of man women at any age still swooned over. Right now those striking good looks were shadowed by guilt. “There’s something else I have to tell you.”
Apprehension tightened her stomach, and she braced herself for the news. As long as she got her foot in somewhere, she’d be okay. “Are you naming someone else as the writer?”
He looked at her as if she’d gone mad. “Why the hell would I call you here and dangle the script in front of your nose just to tease you with it?”
She swallowed, her heartbeat easing in her chest. “Then what did you do?”
Martin huffed. “Why do women always accuse men of wrongdoing ri
“Got me there.” He hesitated, then sighed. “Gage Cutler is playing the starring role, and he’s the assistant director.”
Embarrassment washed over her, stealing her breath.
“Gage?” Needing to bolt, she slapped her feet to the ground and shoved back from the table with such force her barstool crashed to the ground.
“She seems to be taking the news well.”
Blood rushed to her head. She knew that voice, even if she shouldn’t. She spun around.
Gage Cutler’s broad shoulders flexed as he set the stool upright, his movements slow and careful, as if not to spook a wild animal. He watched her with guarded eyes—eyes that ever since the first night they’d met, she never could quite decide if they were blue or green.
Ignoring the tumble of her stomach, she focused on the increasing ache between her eyes. Him, of all people? Why was he here? She wanted to run, but the best she could do was wrench her gaze back to Martin’s and pretend her guilt wasn’t drowning her.
Martin got to his feet. “Sam, the past is behind us.”
Pressing her lips together, she tried to swallow. Pulling Martin to the side, she whispered, “I blamed him, Martin. The things I said…oh my God. Why didn’t you tell me he’d be here?”
Remembering that night always made her throat close up—how her husband had been so badly injured in the accident, how she thought it had been Gage’s fault. That night she’d been robbed of her chance to leave. She’d finally come to her senses, finally found her strength. But how could she leave an injured man, even if he she hadn’t made him happy in years? She was many things, but cruel was not one of them. In her anger, she’d blamed Gage. The things she’d said flooded her, burning her cheeks. She’d wanted to apologize no less than a million times, but in the end he was a celebrity. One for whom she didn’t trust her feelings. If she’d learned anything, it was to stay as far away from them as possible.
“Sam,” Martin began.
She thrust out a shaking hand to stop him, not once meeting Gage’s eyes. “He’s been dead for a year, and the paparazzi have just now finally left me alone.”
Sam forced herself to take a deep breath. She should stay, apologize, and make amends, but her thoughts twisted in her head until she couldn’t make sense of any of them. She grabbed her purse and backed toward the door, finally looking at both men.
Stumbling, she grabbed the door handle. Gage stood inches taller than Martin’s six feet, with shoulders that appeared twice as broad. He took a step toward her, his brows furrowed, his blue-green eyes intense. She knew that face, that look, and she wanted nothing more than to step up and study it. But she couldn’t. Not now and not ever.
For the second time in their history, she turned and walked away.
Sam yanked on the large cardboard box, but it didn’t budge. Losing her footing, she fell back against the end table and smacked her elbow against the edge. Pain shot down her arm, and she held it, sucking air through her clenched teeth. The vase on top wobbled and then crashed to the floor, a resounding echo of her day.
She closed her eyes against the mess. Could her embarrassment be any greater? Wasn’t her meeting with Martin enough? She pushed up away from the end table. So far, the day had been nothing but a horrible series of catastrophes. Her meeting with Martin had only been the beginning. Why hadn’t he warned her? Playing out the events in her mind made her cheeks burn, so she shoved them away with ruthless determination.
She needed to feel productive, do something positive. It was time she took back the condo. She’d have moved out last year if it had been up to her, but after Ethan’s death the condo had been paid in full by his life insurance. Selling in the current housing economy was impossible—at least for right now. She’d already lost so much, and she refused to lose more. Getting Ethan’s belongings out of her home once and for all would do the trick.
It might have taken her a year—courage was a fickle mistress—but she’d finally thrown away Ethan’s favorite painting. She hadn’t sold it. She hadn’t given it away. She’d thrown it in the trash—and damn it had felt good.
A photographer, no, the photographer, to the stars, Ethan had specialized in headshots for portfolios, PR, and any other media marketing where celebrities wanted to look their most beautiful. He’d considered himself a walking billboard for what he could promise. Blessed with the symmetry and coloring of a golden Greek god, he was his own brand, his own celebrity. And he’d made sure she knew it.
But after the car crash, the symmetry—the promise—disappeared, and he couldn’t handle it. So he took his frustration out on her even more than before.
Acceptance was now her burden. Acceptance that she hadn’t left when she should have. Acceptance that she was easy to leave. On a deep breath, Sam shook her head and grabbed a broom to clean up the broken vase. She needed to move ahead. One step at a time.
Sam grabbed an offending box and dove back in. Today, on what would have been their fourth anniversary, she was determined to finish this chapter and close the book.
She lost herself in separating film, equipment, and developed projects. Opening her third box, she leaned back on her heels and rubbed the back of her hand across her brow. With a sigh, she pulled out a shallow box and turned it over to look at the front. “The Teacher and the Student” was scrawled across the space in Ethan’s bold handwriting. She stood, box in hand, and walked over to the kitchen island.
Opening the top, she set it on the counter, revealing the glossy eight by ten photos beneath. Her head tilted to the side as she flipped through the stack. Black and white photos of women ticked by like an old movie clip. Naked women. Naked women draped all over her husband.
Shock and disgust filled her mouth, bitter and sour. Tears stung her eyes, but pain—no, anger—blotted them out. She dropped the stack back into the box and sent it flying across the counter. It slid over the edge and slapped the floor, photos scattering everywhere. To think she’d been embarrassed that morning; this was complete humiliation.
“Son of a bitch!”
So much for packing his things being something positive.
Numb and dry-eyed, she rounded the counter and dropped to her knees. She grabbed the photos and shoved them back into the box. She should just trash all of it immediately.
But she wouldn’t. She didn’t want to forget. She didn’t want to forget the pain caused by counting on someone else for her happiness or believing it was possible to find happy ever after in Hollywood. She’d known way back then not to date a celebrity or anyone even involved with Hollywood, but she’d broken her rule for Ethan, and look where that had gotten her.
Another reason to stay away from Gage Cutler.
An image of his face slid into her mind. Such a simple thing. A chance meeting, followed by a few hours of conversation. She should have never thought of him again, but that was the trick with simple—it seldom was. How often had she thought of him after the first night they’d met a couple years ago, especially during those lonely stretches of time when Ethan only showed up for breakfast and a change of clothes? Work, you know, but now she knew better. Disgusted, she slammed the lid onto the box and then slid it to the back of the cupboard over the refrigerator.
Resting her forehead against the cool stainless steel of the fridge, she wanted to laugh at how earnestly she’d maintained her distance from Gage. He had listened to her, and what’s more, when he’d looked at her, he had really seen her, in a way her husband never had. He’d made her feel as if she mattered, and it had stirred something in her she’d never thought she’d feel again. Something she’d wanted so much it had scared her.
But she’d been a married woman, and that had meant everything to her. Even if she hadn’t been married, she’d known better than to believe Gage had seen her as anything more than an evening of entertaining conversation. So she’d walked away from Gage to preserve her integrity, and had planned to
Then, the car accident happened. The paparazzi had been chasing Gage, and Ethan’s car had been crushed in the middle, leaving his face severely burned, disfigured.
A heavy weight settled in her chest, and she closed her eyes.
She’d blamed Gage for the wreck and made sure he and everyone else knew it. Grabbing onto his bad boy ways, she used the tabloids as judge and jury. Not one of her most shining moments. She grimaced. It hadn’t been his fault, but she’d been too blinded by her own pain to see that then. Facing him again was mortifying. How the hell could Martin expect her to work with Gage after what she’d done?
In the end there was no question. She was the one who needed help gaining access back into the industry, and Martin opened the door.
She either stepped through it or waved goodbye to screenwriting forever.
Gage sped down the highway, trying to clear his head. What the hell had he been thinking, agreeing to Martin’s announcement that Sam would be working the script? She’d told him clearly the night they’d met she couldn’t have anything to do with him, and apparently the only thing that had changed was how strongly she meant it.
He gripped the steering wheel tighter. He couldn’t blame her; she’d been through hell, but so had he. The industry still loved him, his fans adored him, but he wanted the respect of his colleagues, and that was a different monster all together.
Glancing down at the speedometer, he cursed and eased his foot off the gas. Now would be a good time to start earning it. He pulled through security and into his garage, and then made his way inside. The drive hadn’t cleared his head as he’d hoped, and tension held on tight between his shoulder blades. Throwing his bag on the couch, he kicked off his shoes and made his way into his bedroom.
A locked-tight gated community and tight-ass security for his private beach blessed him with a view he could actually enjoy. The ocean was one of the few things that calmed him. He turned to open the sliding glass doors and slammed his toe on an end table. “Fuck! Shit!”
He dropped into the chair and checked his toe to find a torn nail and a welling of dark blood. Disgusted, he lowered his foot to the floor. Great end to a fucked-up day.