Chased by love love in b.., p.22
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       Chased by Love (Love in Bloom: The Ryders): Trish Ryder, p.22

           Melissa Foster
 
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  Siena glared at Cash, and his gaze softened.

  Gage laughed.

  Trish rolled her eyes at Cash and stood in front of Gage with her hands on her hips. “And you’re here to keep the peace, right? All the way from Colorado?”

  He shrugged. “Someone’s got to pull the reins.” He leaned forward and lightly kissed her cheek. “You’re my sister. Of course I’m here.”

  “Thanks, Gage.” She glared at Duke again and sidled up to Boone, whose face was a mix of amusement and seriousness. How did he do that?

  “Fill me in. What kind of ridiculous things have already been said?” she asked Boone, but before he could answer, she turned her gaze to her brothers. “This is the absolute worst time for you to come in here all Neanderthal and protective. We’re about to film Boone’s toughest scene.”

  “I’m sorry about the timing,” Duke said calmly. “We’ve been trying to reach you since this morning, when we finally got our schedules together.”

  “That’s true,” Gabriella added. “We’ve been blowing up your phone.”

  “Boone! Trish! Two minutes!” Zoe yelled from the top of the hill.

  Boone gave Zoe a thumbs-up, then set a supportive hand on Trish’s back.

  “We’ve been filming since seven.” Trish pointed to her greasy hair. “I’m sorry, but I don’t check my phone until after we’re done for the day.”

  “Right,” Duke said, and rubbed his chin. “Sorry. We didn’t think that part through. All we really wanted to do was take you two out to dinner, get to know Boone.”

  Uh-huh. If by get to know him you mean grill him until you know everything from his birth weight to his blood type. She glanced at Boone, both apologetically and curiously. She’d leave the dinner invitation up to him.

  “Sounds good to me.” Boone smiled at her brothers, which impressed Trish, because she might not have been so casual if she were on the other side of the fence.

  “Look,” Boone said. “We all know you came here to check me out. And from what I know about you, Duke, you’ve probably already done so.”

  Gage covered a chuckle with a cough.

  “I have nothing to hide. You can ask me anything after we do this scene.” Boone turned a confident, warm gaze on Trish. “But right now your sister’s Oscar is at stake.” He shifted his gaze to Duke again, then slowly to the others. “And nothing is worth screwing that up.”

  Lacing his fingers with Trish’s, he kissed the back of her hand, despite the makeup. “She deserves more than an Oscar. She deserves the world at her feet.”

  “Boone,” she whispered, touched by his sweet words.

  Duke’s brows knitted, as if he were picking apart every word and deciding whether he wanted to believe them. Gage nodded and smiled at Trish. She knew Gage felt Boone’s love and already had his answer. Cash’s expression was somewhere in between Duke’s skepticism and Gage’s acceptance. Gabriella and Siena awwed and sighed the sighs dreams are made of. Just like Trish was doing inside.

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  TRISH AND BOONE headed up the hill. The set had been built on the edge of the woods at the far end of the property. They’d brought in old crates, broken bottles, and other paraphernalia, transforming the edge of the field into a dump, which they’d cut into other scenes to appear as if it was located next to the abandoned warehouse as originally planned. April and Ronnie were waiting for them by two director chairs for last-minute primps. Cameramen and crew members were moving about the set, getting ready for Boone’s toughest scene. Trish heard her brothers talking as they followed them across the field. Gabriella and Siena were laughing about something. She imagined her brothers looked like an entourage of security guards and was glad the girls had come. For all their brawn, her brothers were softies when it came to the women they loved, and she knew that would help ease the tension later when they all had dinner together.

  She knew her brothers meant well, but she was nervous for Boone about his performance, not about the familial nonsense. That just added pressure to an already stressful situation.

  “Are you okay?” She searched his serious expression, and her stomach twisted and burned. “I’m so sorry about all of this.”

  “Your brothers are doing the right thing,” he said without looking at her. “They love you.”

  “But you look stressed. Do you want me to ask them to leave and we can meet them later? I’m sure they won’t mind. Believe it or not, they do understand how difficult this will be.”

  He stopped walking far enough away from the crew that they wouldn’t hear what he had to say, but her family was on their heels, and they stopped a few feet behind them. She gave Boone a questioning look, hoping he knew she was asking if he wanted privacy for whatever he had to say. He glanced at Duke, who smiled and looked away, offering them a modicum of privacy. Gage nodded knowingly in their direction and took Cash by the arm, turning him away. Gabriella and Siena immediately sought Duke and Cash’s attention the way only the best girlfriends would know to.

  “Baby,” Boone said softly. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this nervous, and it has nothing to do with your family. I’m glad they’re here. They care so much about you I can feel it from here. I’m nervous because you’ve worked so hard to help me bring my acting up to par, and I don’t want to let you down.”

  She slid her fingers into a belt loop on each of his hips. “You could never let me down. Even if we have to do a million takes.”

  “But this is your shot, and you’ve worked hard to get here.” The sincerity in his voice slid into her chest and cradled her heart.

  “So have you,” she reminded him. “If there’s one thing in life I’ve learned from my parents”—she looked at Duke, standing with his arms around Gabriella, and Cash, whispering in Siena’s ears, and at Gage, who was texting—probably Sally, because she was always on his mind—“and my family, it’s that things like awards are for egos. My ego doesn’t need filling up, but my heart is a different story. Knowing you’re giving your all to this film, that you care about me, that’s everything.” She went up on her toes and kissed him. “The best things in life aren’t things at all, Boone. They’re this moment right now and when we were down the hill and you said I deserved the world at my feet—which I don’t, but the sentiment meant so much to me. Even if I never get an Oscar, this film brought us together. Those are the things that matter.”

  “Guys!” Zoe interrupted, strutting toward them with a clipboard in one hand and a stern expression on her face. “Chuck is stressed, and when Chuck is stressed, we’re all stressed. Can we please get moving?”

  “Sorry!” Trish smiled up at Boone. “You’ll do great.”

  Fifteen minutes later, Trish was lying on the ground among the rubbish, staring blankly up at the clear blue sky. Cameras moved overhead, but her stare remained vacant and distant. Her brothers and the girls had seen her act before, but it didn’t lessen the sense of pride she felt knowing they were there. It didn’t matter that this scene only required her to be drugged out and wouldn’t show her range of emotions. It took immense skill to zone out the way she needed to and to go lifeless when Boone would eventually lift her into his arms and carry her away.

  She thought about Boone and all the other stuff going on in his life—Jude going to rehab, his worries about Lucky, outing their relationship to the press, his confrontation with Jared, her brothers showing up, his upcoming performance. Even with all of that, he was focused on Trish and how his performance might affect her chance at notoriety. If that didn’t tell her brothers everything, she wondered if anything could.

  **

  BEFORE EACH PERFORMANCE with his band, Boone centered his mind by mentally ticking through all the steps it had taken him to achieve the level of success he had. Doing so made him even more appreciative of the opportunities he had been given and drove him to give his fans the best damn show he could. Now, as he stood on set preparing to give his most critical performance, he tried using the same tactic to calm
his racing nerves. But his nerves were more fried than ever. To make matters worse, he wasn’t sure exactly why he’d gone from feeling more confident with each scene they’d filmed to suddenly feeling as though he were standing in quicksand.

  In seconds they would begin filming and all eyes would be on him. He could do this. He’d been acting all week without issue. Soon he’d face Trish lying lifeless before him. His chest constricted, but not in the same way it had before he and Trish had worked through his past. This feeling of suffocation had nothing to do with detaching from his feelings and everything to do with how deeply he cared for her.

  Her brothers and their significant others looked on from the fringes, wearing expressions of rapt anticipation. This movie had the power to launch Trish’s career to a higher level, and despite what she’d said, he knew damn well how important it was to her. That had to be what had him feeling as though his lines were sinking into the muck, and he had to use that knowledge as motivation to pull his shit together. Fast.

  The first assistant director yelled, “Roll sound.”

  The set fell silent.

  Deep breaths. One. Two. Three.

  The boom operator hollered, “Sound speed.”

  I can do this. For Trish, I can do anything.

  He listened as the next few directives were announced.

  “Roll camera.”

  “Camera speed, hit it.”

  An assistant stood before the cameras, called out the scene designation, and clapped the slate. Boone’s pulse skyrocketed, and he took in the rubbish-littered grass and finally allowed his eyes to drift to Trish lying on her back, staring absently up at the sky. Her arms were tracked with needle marks, her fingers angled limply upward. Dark moons shadowed each beautiful eye. Her wrinkled dress was bunched up over her bruised thighs. The makeup was so real he could feel the pain of every bruise, every scar, every bad decision. No longer was he experiencing flashes of his past or anger at Destiny’s parents. No, those emotions had been unearthed, laid bare, and he’d mentally done exactly as Trish had suggested. He’d forgiven the weaknesses and failures of Destiny’s parents. He’d moved on, and in doing so, he was weighed down by new, even more powerful emotions: earth-shattering, chest-constricting, overwhelming love for the woman lying on the ground.

  Someone yelled, “Set.”

  This was it.

  Chuck yelled, “Action,” and Boone’s breath caught in his throat.

  He knew the scene by heart. Crouch beside her and say, What do you expect me to do now? But those words were all wrong. He would never think of himself at a time like this.

  Fear and urgency sent him across the field. He fell to his knees beside Trish. “Delia! Delia. Delia.” Trish and Delia were intertwined like ghosts fading into each other, feeding his fear, rage, and confusion with every frantic beat of his heart. His knees dug into the earth as he hovered over her, trembling, his eyes burning with tears. His lines washed away with the scent of Trish, the woman he loved, hovering on the brink of death.

  “Baby! No, baby. No!” He took out the prop phone he wasn’t supposed to use until the end of the scene and instinctively punched 911 and balanced it between his shoulder and chin as he lifted Trish’s limp body, cradling her against his chest while he rattled off the fictional address to the nonexistent emergency services at the other end of the line. The phone dropped to the ground as he rose to his feet with Trish’s lifeless body.

  He brought his face to hers, speaking through gritted teeth. “Don’t die on me, baby. Don’t you die on me.” Tears streamed down his cheeks, dripping onto her skin. “I love you, baby. You’re the reason I’m here. The reason I breathe.”

  His eyes darted over the set, a rush of emotions swamping him. Everything blurred together. “Keep breathing. Breathe, baby, breathe.” He stared out at nothing and yelled, “Where’s the fucking ambulance?”

  With his heart in his throat, he turned his face up toward the sky. “Take me!” he screamed through his sobs. “Please! Take. Me.”

  Trish’s arm fell limply toward the ground. Her head lolled back over his arm, and he pressed her prone body to his chest. Sirens sounded in the distance.

  He took a step and his knees weakened. He stumbled, swaying as he tried to regain his footing from the bone-deep fear coursing through him. He fell to his knees again, cradling her safely against him as the sirens neared.

  “You’re good, baby. Good and smart and beautiful, and I love you. I love you so damn much. Don’t give up. Don’t you dare give up, baby.”

  Sirens blared, and as he fell back on his heels, paramedics rushed to claim her. He held too tightly, couldn’t let go. A paramedic grabbed his shoulder, but all Boone saw was Trish’s glassy eyes staring into a world of nothingness.

  “We’ve got her. Sir, let go. We’ve got her.”

  He felt her weight leave his arms, and a flurry of activity ensued, but Boone was in a fog, lost between reality and fiction. He was vaguely aware of movement and voices, but he was frozen in place. Silence fell over the fields, competing with the rush of adrenaline flooding Boone.

  Boone turned toward heavy footfalls off to his left, and his mind slowly came back to the moment. Blurred faces came into focus. Trish stood, slack-jawed, beside Duke. Boone felt every eye on set boring into him with shock and worry. Panic surged through him, sending him to his feet. He stumbled again, trying to ground himself as the horror of the moment hit him like a gale-force wind. He’d royally fucked up. He’d unintentionally improvised.

  Chuck’s pounding, angry steps closed in on him like a death sentence, dark and powerful. Jaw clenched, eyes narrow, he said, “This is a Chuck Russell film. We do not improvise.”

  Silence nearly suffocated him as he choked out, “Yes, sir.”

  He looked around the set and seethed, “Do we improvise?”

  A series of no, sirs rang out, and Chuck returned his attention to Boone. “Do you know why we don’t improvise?”

  “Because you purchased the script for the way it was written. I’m sorry. I just...” Lost my fucking mind? He had. He’d lost touch with reality. “I apologize. I’ll get it right next time.”

  Chuck stepped closer, bringing a wave of tension with him. “There won’t be a next time.”

  There was a collective gasp around them.

  Boone’s eyes shot to Trish. Her hand covered her mouth, and fear shone in her wide eyes. He mouthed, I’m sorry, his heart shattering into a million little pieces.

  “Because that was damn perfect,” Chuck said, and slapped Boone on his back, throwing him off-balance. The interminable silence of the crew continued.

  “Wh…” Boone shook his head, sure he’d heard him incorrectly. “What?”

  Thunderous laughter burst from Chuck’s lungs. “We don’t improvise. We will never improvise ever again. But we’re keeping that scene. That was magnificent! You are one hell of a lucky man.”

  A rush of relieved expressions sounded around them at once, followed by applause and cheers as Boone tried to wrap his head around what Chuck had said. And then Trish was hugging him and the crew and her family were slapping him on the back, showering him with compliments, embracing him.

  Knowing he hadn’t screwed things up for her put all those shattered pieces of his heart back together. “It was all you, baby,” he said to Trish. When I said “I love you,” I meant it. “You drew me in, and I hope you never let go.”

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  TRISH AND BOONE were still buzzing with excitement over Boone’s incredible performance as they settled into a table at the Greenhouse of Teays Valley Bistro with Duke, Gabriella, Cash, Siena, and Gage. The distinctive restaurant was the perfect backdrop for what promised to be an intense dinner. Dark wooden bookshelves littered with gourmet sauces, jams, jellies, rubs, and salsas lined red walls. Tables displayed a plethora of decorative vases, books, T-shirts, and flip-flops for sale. In the back corner of the restaurant were a number of shiny black grills, all of which were also for sale. The
host had told them that the owners gave grilling lessons on the weekends and had begun selling grills a few years earlier at the customers’ requests.

  The initial tension Trish felt when her brothers had arrived had dissipated for the most part, but a thread of uncertainty lingered. She felt like that teenage girl again, worrying about her brothers driving Boone away. It was a silly thought, she knew. Everything Boone said, the way he looked at her and the way he touched her told her that no one, and nothing, could come between them.

  They sat at one of the round tables, of which there were several, though none were the same size, and the chairs were mismatched. Each table was covered with a shiny green tablecloth, the same shade as pool table felt. The restaurant had a low-key, homey feel, and smelled like spices and grilled meats. Boone stretched an arm across the back of Trish’s chair, and she instinctively leaned in to him.

  “It smells so good in here. It reminds me of home,” Gabriella said.

  Duke slid his hand beneath Gabriella’s dark hair and around her shoulder, drawing her closer. “Gabriella grew up off the East Coast on Elpitha Island, in a big family where everything is cooked with love. Right, babe?”

  “Cooked with love, served with love, eaten with love.” Gabriella turned to Boone. “My father is Greek and my mom is Southern, so…”

  “Sounds wonderful,” Boone said with an easy smile.

  “Trish said your family’s in New York,” Cash said to Boone. “Is that where you live, or are you out in LA?”

 
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