The VIP Doubles Down
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“No, it’s an antique, and I don’t want to break it on a flinty object.” Gavin hung the tool back on its brass stand, growling as his shoulder twinged.
Irene made a fluid gesture acknowledging the insult without looking insulted, and he understood a little of why he’d fallen for her so hard and fast. She embodied all that was most fascinating about his character Samantha Dubois. Or maybe he had just projected those qualities onto her because Samantha was his creation, and, like Pygmalion, he was already halfway in love with her.
Allie felt that Julian deserved better than Samantha, but Gavin wasn’t sure he agreed with her.
“Darling, I came to help you.” Irene drifted down into a chair, tucking her endless legs to one side and crossing her slender ankles in a way that drew attention to them.
Gavin choked on a humorless laugh. “Well, that is unexpected.”
She curved her painted lips into a pleased smile. “I thought we could try some role-playing. I’ll take the part of Samantha, of course, and you’ll play Julian. We can do a little improv to get your creative juices flowing again.” She gave him the same smoldering look she used to tempt Julian on-screen.
“Too bad the cameras aren’t rolling. That would have been a great close-up.” Gavin shoved his hands in his pockets. “Was it your idea to come, or did someone send you?”
“I’m doing an interview with Good Morning America, so I thought I’d drop by.” She floated to her feet and glided up to him, her eyes clouded with concern. “I’m worried about you.”
“You’re worried about your part in the movie.” Gavin reached out and took a curl of her hair between his fingers, marveling at the near blackness. It was natural, as he knew from intimate experience. He wondered if Irene was born self-centered or if her extreme beauty had warped her character.
She mistook his aesthetic appreciation for something warmer and plastered her body against his from knee to chest. To his disgust, physical attraction flared inside him. However, his ardor was quickly doused by a bucket of cold memory. He gripped her shoulders and peeled her away from him. “I’m no longer interested.”
“But we can still be friends, and friends help each other,” she said, accepting his rejection without batting an eyelash. “So I’m here for you.”
“Was this Greg’s idea? Jane said he’d called last week.”
“Greg is also concerned about you,” Irene said. “It’s not surprising, given that he’s been the executive producer on every one of Julian’s movies.”
“I guess you didn’t tell him about our last encounter or he might have ordered you not to come.”
“Greg does not order me, ever.” Irene shot him a look that would have left him dead had it been a dagger.
“Just deliver your message and go,” Gavin said. He dropped into the armchair he’d been sitting in earlier and massaged his tense neck muscles. That brought forth the memory of Allie and how exhilarated he’d felt at the prospect of discussing Julian with her.
What a contrast to Irene, whose presence sent a shock of self-loathing spiraling through his soul. He was the idiot who’d proposed to her. And had gone to bed with her again after their breakup when she’d shown up for his father’s funeral weekend. He had felt utterly alone, and she had offered the illusion of solace. Until he’d overheard her chatting up his stepsister Ruth about the possibility that his unfinished Julian Best manuscript might be somewhere at his father’s house.
“Were you planning to steal the manuscript?” he asked. “Or persuade me to finish it?”
“Are we going to rehash that? I was just making conversation with Ruth.” Her eyes shimmered with tears that didn’t quite spill over. “I came to the funeral to support you, because I know how your stepmother is. I didn’t want you to face her without someone by your side.”
He reminded himself that she was a far better actress than she got credit for. “You left in a hurry.”
“You made it clear you didn’t want me there.”
“I suppose I did.” He had a hard time remembering the sequence of events, because he’d been gripped by a fury that had nearly blinded him. If he had been writing the scene, he would have unraveled the threads of pain, sorrow, regret, betrayal, and, yes, love that fed his anger, but he couldn’t step back and observe it when it had him in its suffocating clutches. “Maybe I overreacted.”
She started toward him, but he held up his hand, palm out. “That doesn’t mean I’ve changed my mind.”
“What can I do to change it?”
He looked at her, standing with her arms stretched toward him in a pose of entreaty, and felt the pull of her beauty even as he smelled the poison beneath it. He pushed himself out of the chair. “Nothing. Tell Greg his ploy didn’t work.”
She dropped her arms. “Just answer me one thing. Are you going to write another Julian Best book? Because I’ve been offered other spy film roles, and I’ve turned them down for you.”
“For me? That’s rich.” He laughed with a bitter edge. “I can’t answer your question.”
“You can’t write because you’re still angry with me.”
“Do you think I would screw up a multimillion-dollar movie deal because of you?”
She made a gesture of impatience. “What else could stop you from writing your book?”
“I ask myself that every day.”
Allie sat on the couch with Pie curled up beside her, googling Gavin Miller and Irene Bartram’s names together. After seeing the snarling antagonism between them, she was looking for clues as to what might have caused it. She found dozens of photos of the two of them walking various red carpets, with Gavin looking magnificent in a custom-tailored tuxedo. Irene was gorgeous, too, of course, but Allie’s eyes always went to the writer.
It made her sad to see the difference in how he looked at the actress in the photos and his expression today. In those happier times, Gavin had an arm curved possessively around Irene’s waist, and his ardent gaze fixed on the stunning woman by his side. Allie sighed. If Gavin ever looked at her with that kind of adoration, she’d melt into a puddle at his feet.