Chased by love love in b.., p.16
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       Chased by Love (Love in Bloom: The Ryders): Trish Ryder, p.16

           Melissa Foster
 
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  Trish usually thrived off of the excitement of filming, but now everything felt different and wrong, and she wished she could join the kitten and hide away.

  “How’d it go with the grumpy sex god slash rocker?” Zoe, one of the set assistants, asked as she walked by. “Did you guys make any progress, or was it mostly gnarly grunts and a lot of eye rolling?”

  “He was great,” Trish answered absently, wondering where Boone had gone. It was midafternoon and she hadn’t seen him since earlier that morning, when he’d called Harvey to check on Jude and his mother to check on Lucky. They’d been pulled in a hundred different directions ever since, discussing scenes, reviewing minor script changes, and finally they’d met with Chuck and assured him they were ready to film.

  “Great, as in you’re going to kill Chuck for exiling you to ten days with a partying womanizer?” Zoe asked. “Or great as in you think Boone can pull his weight?”

  She’d forgotten how far from prying eyes they’d been for the past week. Not only did no one beyond Boone’s family and Fiona—she’d finally clued her in two days ago—know about their relationship, but no one here knew his reputation was a finely tuned concerto of lies and distractions constructed by Boone and his public relations team to enhance his rocker image and protect his family’s privacy.

  “Oh no.” Zoe sighed, clearly making the wrong assumption based on Trish’s silence. “Was he a total jerk?”

  “He’s not a jerk.” Irritation crept up her spine. She wanted to hammer that point home, to let the crew know his rep was a farce. But she couldn’t. It wasn’t her place to shatter his carefully crafted reputation.

  “I have to tell you,” Zoe whispered conspiratorially, “some of us had bets he’d try to hook up with you and you’d set him straight.”

  Who makes bets on other people’s love lives, anyway? Okay, so she and Fiona would. And Shea. Shea! She needed to clue in her public relations rep to her new relationship status, although she was pretty sure Fiona would have already taken care of that. They were sisters, after all. Not that Trish had any plans of formally announcing that she and Boone were dating, but now that she was thinking like an actress and not a love-struck girl, she knew she had to cover all her bases. With Boone’s less-than-stellar reputation and her good-girl rep, who knew what kind of backlash the media would throw at them.

  “I had your back, though,” Zoe assured her. “Don’t worry. I know you have high standards.”

  High standards? She wanted to tell her that Boone more than lived up to any standards she might have and that he was more loyal and caring than any man she’d ever met. But then she’d have to answer questions about his past—gossipers always wanted more, and she had no desire to spend the next week defending her relationship with Boone. Better to take the high road and say nothing at all. But her response burned just beneath her skin, clawing for release. She curled her fingers into her palm, focusing all of her frustrations there, instead of opening her mouth, because if she did, there would be no turning back. Every celebrity knew how the press could twist and misconstrue just about anything, which could lead to months of speculation and marring of reputations. Boone needed his rocker-image rep in place, and she’d respect that even if it killed her.

  “Well,” Zoe said, pausing as if she were waiting for Trish to fill the silence. “I better get out there before someone bellows.”

  Trish was too lost in her own thoughts to respond. She didn’t have much time to stew before she was called into the makeup trailer to get ready for their first scene of the day.

  The front yard had become a sea of trailers and canopies. It was amazing how quickly a peaceful setting could morph into a world all its own. Set designers stood before large easels with fat, colorful markers, talking through transitions. Director chairs and tables full of snacks and drinks were set up in a screened-in tent, where women and men talked into headsets between bites. She spotted Boone walking across the field with his phone pressed to his ear. Her pulse quickened and somehow her heartbeat slowed. Seeing him brought a thread of calm to the chaotic storm going on around them. His eyes were downcast. His face was a mask of tension and focus. He reached an arm up and rubbed the back of his neck, flashing his colorful tattoos. She took a long look at the man who had challenged her at every turn and had taken her by surprise with his kindness and dedication to his family and friends. The man who had completely captivated her heart. She remembered the night she’d seen him with Honor and realized how quickly and easily she’d misjudged him. How easy it was for others to take his reputation as the truth.

  How was she going to navigate this new landscape of their lives? She’d always been so sure of herself. Confident that she could handle anything. But after what Zoe had said, she was no longer so sure. She wasn’t used to having to bite her tongue, but when she gazed out at the man who had rooted himself into her very soul, she couldn’t imagine doing anything that would jeopardize the safe bubble he’d created for himself and his family.

  Boone Stryker might be her private calm within a storm, but to everyone besides his family and closest friends, he was the storm.

  Chapter Seventeen

  THE SUN SLID toward the horizon, bringing the temperature down with it. They’d been filming since late afternoon, and Chuck had them working at breakneck speed, trying to make up for the time they’d taken off so Boone could get his head out of his ass and learn to act. Boone accepted responsibility for the delays, but it did nothing to ease the frustration over feeling like vultures had swooped into his and Trish’s cozy nest and torn it to shreds.

  Because of the shorter timeline, people didn’t walk or linger; they hurried, scurried, and ran, creating a buzz of tension and excitement in the air. It was as nerve-racking as it was stimulating, and Boone fed off of it like he fed off of the crowds at concerts. Every second seemed more intense than the last, every scene more critical. It was that rush, and the time and attention Trish had poured into helping him deal with his ghosts and open his heart, that allowed him to finally connect with his character. He could feel Rick Champion breathing inside him. The anger and excitement, the irritation and adrenaline rush was Rick’s, and when he acted with Trish, Rick was right there with them. Boone no longer saw Trish; he saw Delia. It was all coming together, just as they’d hoped it would, and according to Chuck, his performance resonated beautifully on camera.

  Trish had fallen right back into professional actress mode, and when she was acting in solo scenes, she was amazing. He watched in complete and utter awe of her transformation from the fun-loving woman who’d feigned a pregnancy at the creek to the broken and vulnerable Delia. Her intensity, and her love of her craft, were just a few of the things that had drawn Boone’s attention when they’d first begun working together. He hadn’t expected anything less than stellar performances from Trish. But something had changed. When they were acting in scenes together, their deep connection seemed to get lost—on her side. He felt locked out, like she was afraid to let the emotions she’d once portrayed as fluidly as a river be seen. It was almost as if their coming together had created a line she was afraid to cross in her acting, the complete opposite of what their coming together had done for him. It was as though the real world collided with how far they’d evolved as a couple and had stolen a piece of her. And that worried him to no end. Not just because of what it could mean for their relationship but for the way it was hindering her acting.

  After the week they’d had, their chemistry should have been off the charts, especially when they hadn’t had a minute alone since the crew arrived. He was sure everyone could see the way he was watching her, waiting for his chance to be alone with her. She was edgy, and he was desperate to talk to her and figure out what he could do to help her move past whatever was holding her back. It didn’t help that some of the crew were speculating about whether he and Trish had hooked up. He was adept at ignoring bullshit, but he wondered if Trish had heard the gossiping whispers and if that was part of the issue.
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  He drew in a deep breath, tired of biding his time until he could steal a moment alone with her. She was standing by the front porch talking with crew members Jared and Kate. Never before had he craved a single moment with anyone so fiercely. Except maybe his father, he realized unexpectedly. He’d give anything to have another moment with his father. To tell him how much he missed him and loved him. To hear his deep laugh and see his smiling eyes as he doled out life lessons or taught Boone to check the filter on the water heater or change the oil on his car. Damn, he missed him.

  Glancing at Trish, he felt the same gut-wrenching longing. He was expected five minutes ago, but all he wanted was one minute with Trish. Just enough time to touch base, so she knew she wasn’t alone in whatever she was going through. He headed back up the hill. He’d sworn he’d do everything right this time, show up on time, where he was expected, and give every scene his all, so he wouldn’t undermine all of Trish’s hard work. But she needed him now, his support, his love, his attention. Makeup could wait.

  Trish looked gorgeous in a wispy blue dress and a pair of cowgirl boots. He wanted to wrap her in his arms, to taste her sweet lips, feel her body melt against him with the strength and safety of their coupledom, knowing that no matter what was going on, they’d get through it together.

  Jared’s eyes narrowed curiously as Boone approached. Boone paid him no attention and placed a hand on the small of Trish’s back.

  She managed a troubled smile that slayed him and said, “Hey.”

  “Hi. Sorry to interrupt. Can we talk? I’m supposed to be in makeup. I’ll be quick.”

  “Can you guys give us a sec?” Trish asked the others.

  Jared and Kate exchanged a slightly disapproving look. Boone wasn’t about to waste his time with whatever that meant. He guided Trish a few feet away so they could speak privately.

  “What’s up?” she asked, glancing back at Jared and Kate. “They’re gearing up for my freak-out scene.”

  “That’s one of your best scenes. You’ll do great. I just wanted to touch base and make sure you’re okay.”

  “You know how it is, getting back into the swing of things.” She looked at the others again. “It’s weird, working together now that we’re close. Don’t you think?”

  And there it was, the elephant on the set. Her trouble was his fault.

  “For me it’s a million times better,” he said honestly. “But I saw Chuck talking with you after the last scene. Is our being together causing you to have trouble connecting? Is it me?”

  “It’s not you. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s all in my head. Have you gotten any weird looks from the crew? I think they’re gossiping about us, and I can’t figure out why. We’re not exactly holding hands on set.”

  “I don’t give a shit about the crew. I just don’t want to let you down. This is your movie, beautiful, and if I’m messing you up, tell me what I can do to make it better.”

  She sighed loudly, then smiled up at him. It was a troubled smile, but a smile nonetheless. Jared cleared his throat and checked his watch, clearly annoyed at the interruption.

  “Nothing. It’s not you. You’re nailing all of your scenes.” Trish took a nervous step away and hiked a thumb over her shoulder. “I’d better…”

  “Okay. We’ll catch up later.” He leaned in for a quick kiss and headed toward the makeup trailer.

  “What was that?” Jared’s voice landed in Boone’s ears like nails dragging down a chalkboard.

  He shouldn’t have kissed her. She’d taken a step back. Was that a hint not to kiss her? Had he messed that up, too? The thought pissed him off even more. He wasn’t about to purposely hide their relationship, but surely Trish would never do that. All this tension must be messing with his head.

  After spending half an hour in makeup and filming two more intense solo scenes, he was back in the makeup trailer for what he hoped was the last time that evening. He needed a break from the odd looks and whispers he’d been trying to ignore since he’d given Trish that quick kiss. They hooked up. Trish would never do that. Don’t you read the rags? He sleeps with anyone. Who could turn him down? I saw them kiss. He felt like he’d spent the last few hours in a high school girls’ locker room.

  “Are we done?” Boone tried to push from the chair where two makeup artists were messing with him.

  “No,” they said in unison.

  He looked up at April, a petite blonde wielding a makeup brush with the intensity of Picasso. “So,” she said with a coy smile. “You and Trish, huh?”

  He wasn’t about to feed the gossip pool. He tried to push to his feet again, and Ronnie, a tall guy with skin so shiny he looked polished, pursed his lips and waved a beard trimmer as he pushed Boone into the chair.

  “Mr. Stryker,” Ronnie said sharply. “We all want to call it a night. Do you mind?”

  “Yeah, I do.”

  “Two minutes,” April assured him. “Your fans expect you to look a certain way. We don’t want to disappoint them.”

  “My fans love me without any makeup on my face or any manscaping.” Boone exhaled loudly. He was too worried about Trish to sit still.

  “You’ll learn to love this.” April tipped his head back, layering more makeup around his eyes as Ronnie brought the trimmer to his jaw.

  “No, I won’t.”

  Ronnie chuckled. “Mr. Stryker will never enjoy this. He’s too rough and tough for makeup.”

  Whatever.

  He was sick of being messed with and about to lose his cool when Trish and Jared came through the door. Her tired eyes moved over their faces, bristling against their curious glances, but she held her chin up and smiled at Boone.

  “Chuck changed the location and lighting of the next scene,” Jared said with a note of urgency in his voice. “He wants to talk to April and Ronnie right away.”

  “One sec.” April ran the makeup brush under Boone’s chin, then stepped back, hands up. “Okay. Don’t touch your face.” She turned to Trish. “Hey, girlfriend. Take a seat. We’ll be right back.”

  April and Ronnie followed Jared out of the trailer. Alone with Trish for the first time all day, Boone finally felt like he could breathe.

  “Are you as ready for the crew to disappear as I am?” He leaned toward Trish and pulled her into a kiss. She went rigid in his arms. “What’s wrong?”

  “Everyone’s talking about us.” She exhaled a long breath. A clear indication of how much she’d been stewing over this.

  Boone was equally tired of hearing comments and catching sideways stares, but he didn’t understand how what anyone else said should stop her from kissing him. “So what? Let them talk. What does it matter?”

  “I’ve never been in this position before.” She spoke fast, in a hushed whisper. “You’ve got a reputation as a partying womanizer, and every time I hear a stupid comment about how someone can’t believe I would be with you, I want to defend you—and myself. I know you’re not that way, but I can’t help it. I want to tell them they’re wrong and tell them what you’re really like. But I can’t because you worked hard to create and maintain that rep for your career.”

  “Baby, I don’t need defending, and I sure as hell don’t care what anyone around here thinks, except for you and Chuck. We’re only here for a few weeks. Less if Chuck keeps up this pace.”

  “But I don’t know how to react. I’ve never had to battle rumors about bad reputations and co-star hookups before.” She curled her fingers around the edge of the chair so tight her knuckles blanched.

  He placed his hand over hers and softened his tone. “You don’t need to battle them now. Let them roll off your back.”

  “I can’t pretend!” she said loudly, then glanced at the trailer door and lowered her voice. “I’ve never had to deal with anything like this. I don’t date co-stars, and I don’t know how to do this. It’s totally throwing me off.”

  His gut fisted at what he read between the lines. “What do you want to do? Not see each other? Have me m
ake some kind of blanket statement about my past? Tell me what you need and we’ll figure this out.”

  She rolled her eyes and groaned. “No. That’s not what I want. I’m just...I feel like I’m going to come apart at the seams. I’m so frustrated. Every time I turn around someone’s whispering or wondering out loud how we got together or what I’m doing with you. What about my reputation?”

  “Let’s take a deep breath and think this through. You’re stressed, baby. It’s understandable. We’ve gone through so much in the past week, and this movie is so important for your career. I think you’re overthinking this. They’re gossiping. No one here really cares what we do or who we sleep with. They care about the movie.”

  “This is my career, Boone. This is what I live for. I do not want to end up defending myself in some gossip magazine.”

  “Don’t you think that’s a little far-fetched? We’re out in Hurricane, West Virginia. We’ve gone out in town. You’ve seen how close to under the radar we’re flying.”

  “All I know is that I feel like I’m ready to explode. I worked hard to prove myself as a serious actress, and just like that, in one day, everyone out there—all those people who know me as a professional—are tossing around barbs like I’m Lindsay Lohan.”

 
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