Chased by love love in b.., p.7
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       Chased by Love (Love in Bloom: The Ryders): Trish Ryder, p.7

           Melissa Foster
 

  He cut the engine and turned to Trish. Even in the darkness of the car he could see the mix of emotions welling in her eyes. “Look, Trish. I don’t know what you want to hear, but I told you I don’t pretend well and I’m not a liar, so all I can do is tell it like it is.”

  He weighed his next thought, because the need to explain himself was another thing reserved for the few people he considered family. But one look in Trish’s beautiful eyes and he had to say it.

  “I’m just going to throw this out there because I need you to hear it. I’m not sorry we kissed. It was a hell of a kiss, and we both know there’s something between us. But I’ve got enough people picking apart my life, and I have no interest in going through that with you. So, are we cool? Can we move on?”

  She looked at him for an interminable, silent moment. His gut twisted as she pushed open her door.

  With one foot on the gravel, she said, “Fine. Let’s try to move on.”

  He had a feeling no matter how hard he tried, moving on from that kiss was going to be impossible.

  Chapter Seven

  TRISH STRUGGLED TO open the wood-framed bedroom window. The paint cracked and flaked beneath her fingers, falling like fairy dust into the sill. If only there were magical fairies that could help her wade through her whirling thoughts. The cool evening breeze carried the scent of arid earth vying for rain. A soulful melody sailed in with the breeze. Boone must have gone directly to the back porch to play his guitar. The smell of meat grilling hit her, and her stomach growled. She realized he’d never eaten the wings they’d ordered, which was her fault. Their conversation had been tumbling through her mind like the clouds that had rolled in, dark and stormy. She’d assured him that they could move on, which she knew meant he didn’t want to talk about the kiss anymore, but it was all she could think about.

  Her image reflected back at her in the thick glass, and she didn’t like what she saw. She’d wanted that kiss as badly as he’d seemed to, and she’d made him feel like he’d done something wrong. That wasn’t who she was. In fact, most of the way she’d acted tonight wasn’t her typical behavior. She grabbed a zip-up sweatshirt from the closet and pushed her arms into the sleeves as she descended the steps and headed for the back porch.

  Boone sat on the porch steps with his back to Trish. Spirals of gray smoke danced from the grill up toward the sky a few feet from the porch. He was singing softly, and she closed her eyes and leaned against the doorframe, soaking in the husky roughness of every word. She’d been drawn to the deep emotions in his voice from the very first time she’d heard his song “Under Me” on the radio. With the night air washing over her skin through the screen door and his voice tugging the knot in her stomach free, she had the urge to sink down to the floor unnoticed and revel in the moment like a thief in the night. But she’d been selfish enough.

  Boone didn’t miss a beat as she sank down to the step beside him. He turned and smiled, still singing. Her chest and stomach fluttered. She didn’t think she deserved that smile, but she sure liked seeing it. Beside him, the top of the guitar case was propped up against the railing, blocking the wind from the sleeping kitten curled up in Boone’s bed of shirts.

  “This is where you shine,” she said quietly. He stopped singing. “You have the most incredible voice, and when you sing, you really do become one with the music. It’s fascinating, and impressive, and it made it easy for me to get lost in you when we were singing at the bar. You’re so good.”

  He opened his mouth, and she pressed her finger over his lips, as he’d done to her. “I wanted to kiss you, regardless of whether I was lost in the moment or not.”

  He sighed, nodded.

  “I’m sorry for being such a bitch. I’m really not a bitchy person, although I know I haven’t done anything but proven to be one since we met.”

  “I never said, or felt, that you were acting bitchy.” He set his guitar on the porch beside him.

  “You didn’t have to.” She drew in a deep breath and pulled her sweatshirt across her chest against the chilly air—a barrier against the harsh reality she was exposing. “The truth is, you do scare me, but not in the way you probably think. I don’t know what to make of you, and yes, there’s something between us that is so strong it scares me, too.”

  He leaned his forearms on his thighs, clasped his hands together, and gazed out at the darkness.

  “I am not a saint by any stretch of the imagination,” she admitted. “And I don’t claim to be better, or more important, than anyone, but I am careful with my heart.”

  He cocked his head to the side with a serious look in his eyes.

  “Not that I think we…or you…” Oh God, where am I going with this? “I’m not a prude. I’ve had my share of flings, or whatever you call them, but I’m in this strange place right now. I’m almost thirty, and I’ve got this crush on you that makes me feel twenty. It’s silly and childish, and honestly, it’s hard to ignore.”

  He laughed softly and pushed to his feet. “A crush.”

  “Don’t judge me, okay? This isn’t easy to admit.” She watched him flip something on the grill. Then he sat back down beside her and held up his hands.

  “Hey, I’m not judging. But you know you don’t really come across as a crush type of girl. You’re ornery and abrasive, and—”

  “I guess I deserve that.” Her stomach sank.

  “You didn’t let me finish. Those are the things that make you strong and successful. We both know that being a celebrity changes a person.”

  “Maybe, but the truth is I was ornery and abrasive before I started acting.” She shrugged, glad that he smiled again. “When you grow up in a house where testosterone practically flows through the faucets, you learn to keep up so you’re not left behind. Not that my brothers would ever dream about leaving me anywhere. They practically have a leash on me at all times.”

  “That’s what family does. I’ve got younger siblings, and I’m sure they feel the same way about me. I’m an overprotective pain in the ass. I think you should consider yourself lucky. It sounds like your brothers care about you.”

  The tone of his voice warmed when he talked about his family, and his understanding caught her by surprise. “I am lucky. I adore them, but growing up as a tomboy has never helped me in the dating world. I am pushy and stubborn. And I don’t take crap from people very well. Not to mention that I’m hardly a delicate female, which doesn’t help.”

  “Maybe you’re dating the wrong guys.” He turned on the step, giving her his full attention. “You might be all of those things, but you’re sweet and sexy and beautiful, and I don’t buy that you’re not delicate. Not for a second.”

  She rolled her eyes. “You’re not going to get lucky by lying.”

  “I already got lucky with that kiss.”

  He said it so seriously, her thoughts stuttered.

  “The way I see it,” he said, “you work pretty hard to keep up a strong front. You say you’re not delicate, but what does delicate mean? Maybe you think it means weak? I think it means a lot of things, and where you’re concerned, I think it means sensitive and feminine. At the bar, I obviously said or did something that sent you storming off to the dance floor with that guy. And when I said the world didn’t revolve around you or the film, I saw the hurt in your eyes. I’m sorry for both of those things, but those moments were proof that you’re sensitive and fragile, like most people are.”

  “Or maybe jealous is a better word.”

  His eyes lit up at that. “Jealous? Huh. I hadn’t gone there.”

  She covered her face with her hands and shook her head, feeling like an idiot. When she lowered them, she groaned at his smirk. “It’s the crush thing again. I thought you were arranging something with the waitress and…” She shrugged.

  He reached for her hand, his thumb moving in slow circles over her wrist. “See? Delicate.”

  “Try stupid and childish,” she argued, and although she loved the feel of his hand, she withdrew from
his grasp. “Whatever it was, I’m seriously not interested in becoming one of the women to pass through your bedroom door. Maybe a few years ago, but I’m looking for more. So I’m going to take my ridiculous crush and put it away.” She made a motion with her hands like she was tossing it into the wind.

  “Just like that, huh?”

  She nodded. “I have to. I’m serious about my career, and I’m serious about protecting my heart. Before I read the script for No Strings I was ready to take a hiatus and try to have a normal life. Maybe meet a guy who had nothing to do with the industry and see what happens. But this role spoke to me. It’s my chance to really prove myself, and I know you get that.”

  “And getting involved with a guy like me could screw that up.” His tone was cold, and his eyes narrowed with the accusation.

  Trish held her breath for a beat, knowing what she had to say might send them reeling back into the uncomfortable place they’d been in earlier, but she’d come this far. She might as well lay it all out on the line.

  “When I heard you took the role, I jumped at the chance to work with you. And I know you can pull this role off, but you didn’t even show up for the preproduction meeting. And you showed up late for filming without a care for anyone else’s time. I think we’re just two very different people.”

  **

  BOONE PUSHED TO his feet again, grinding his teeth against the urge to tell her the truth, but anger and something more burned like acid in his gut. He took the chicken off the grill, set it on the plate he’d brought out earlier, and placed it beside Trish.

  “Nothing but protein.” He pulled a fork and knife from his back pocket and set it on the plate.

  “You made this for me?”

  He shrugged. So he worried about her, that didn’t mean anything. Did it? She was his co-star. If she got sick, the movie would be put on hold and that would only piss off the director even more. At least that’s what he told himself.

  “Thank you. That was really nice.” She picked up the fork and knife. “Aren’t you going to eat?”

  He shook his head, and she set down the silverware.

  “Christ, Trish. Really?”

  She crossed her arms. “I hate eating alone.”

  “Fine, I’ll eat. You are one stubborn woman.”

  She grinned with a triumphant look in her eyes. He pointed at the plate and she cut the chicken in half and pushed half to his side of the plate.

  He’d kept his personal life locked far away from prying eyes for his entire career, but it pissed him off to hear her lumping him in with people who had no regard for anyone else. But the urge to confess the truth was driven by something stronger than being pissed off. He was a lousy liar, even to himself. The smoke and mirrors he put up to the public was one thing. He wasn’t actually speaking to the press. His people did that for him. But being here with Trish, gazing into her eyes, knowing she’d just revealed something that couldn’t have been easy for her? This was different.

  “Maybe the reason you aren’t finding the right kind of guys has more to do with your assumptions than anything else.”

  “I’m sorry I made you mad, but that’s not an assumption. I was at the meeting. I know you didn’t show up.” She stuffed a piece of chicken in her mouth, her eyes locked on him as she chewed.

  Why did she have to look so cute when she was angry?

  “You know I missed a meeting, but do you know why? Have you bothered to ask me?” He stopped pacing and crossed his arms, holding her steady stare.

  “I don’t have to. It was in all the papers. You were at a party in Beverly Hills with a harem of models.”

  He pointed to the plate again, and she rolled her eyes, then ate a sliver of chicken.

  “And rag magazines are reliable sources.”

  Her eyes narrowed. “What are you getting at?”

  He paced again, feeling like his skin was too tight. “It shouldn’t matter to me what you think. Hell, I spend my life not giving a shit about what anyone but those closest to me think, and half the time, if they don’t like something, they can kiss my ass. But for whatever reason, you’ve gotten under my skin with your pushiness and smirky attitude.”

  “I’m pretty sure we’ve just figured out why you don’t have a girlfriend.” She grinned and shoved another piece of chicken in her mouth, which he was glad to see.

  “The last thing I need is a woman telling me I’m doing everything in my life wrong.”

  She waved her fork like she was leading an orchestra. “Deflect, deflect, deflect.”

  He couldn’t help but laugh.

  She patted the seat beside her. “You’re making me nervous moving like you’re going to either blow up or take off.”

  He sat beside her. “Pushy.”

  “Arrogant,” she retorted. Her eyes rolled over his face. “You look like you’re ready to burst.”

  “A certain waifish actress has that effect on me.”

  She leaned closer and whispered, “I had a very different effect on you earlier.”

  He flashed back to their dance, and their kiss, stoking the fire that had been simmering ever since. She sat up straighter, her cheeks flushed with heat.

  Guess you feel it, too.

  She shifted her eyes over his shoulder and breathed deeply. “Why did you miss the preproduction meeting?”

  “Look at me and maybe I’ll tell you.”

  She met his gaze, and an electric current hummed between them.

  “My mother was admitted into the hospital an hour before the meeting. I thought I’d have time to call, but I got caught up in making sure she was okay and that my sister and brothers weren’t going to fall apart.” He shrugged.

  Her lips parted and her eyes filled with empathy. “I’m sorry. Is she okay?”

  He nodded, swallowing hard with the memory. “They thought it was a heart attack, but it was just stress.”

  “So, she’s out of danger?”

  “She worries about my youngest brother, which stresses her out. I’m working on him. It’s been hard on her since we lost—” He turned away, his chest tight with the shock of his near confession. “For a long time.”

  “Oh, Boone. I’m so sorry. Not that I disbelieve you, but why did the press have pictures of you at the party?”

  “They used old pictures. If you look hard enough, you’ll see this was missing.” He held out his left arm and pointed to the tattoo around his wrist. “My agent’s got connections that owe him favors for years to come, and he has Tripp, my PR guy, feed them stories to keep them off my trail. You’re an actress. You should know there isn’t anything money can’t buy.”

  “I feel like an idiot.” She dropped her eyes.

  He lifted her chin and smiled. “You’re not an idiot. Everyone believed the press. That was the whole point.”

  “Yeah, but I should know about everything in the press not being true. My sister-in-law, Siena, is a model, and she was forced to date a football player when she first met my brother. She needed to scuff up her reputation and he needed to fix his. So I could have at least asked. But why didn’t you tell me when I first mentioned it?”

  He shrugged. “Because I don’t talk about my family.”

  “But I pissed you off enough to tell me.” She turned away. “See? Not exactly delicate.”

  “Or you could look at it like I care what you think and take that as a compliment. And I was wrong a moment ago. There’s one thing money can’t buy.”

  She gave him a curious look.

  “You.”

  She laughed and shook her head like he was joking, though he wasn’t. She stabbed a piece of chicken and held it up for him to eat. He narrowed his eyes, and she arched a brow, poking his lips with the fork.

  “Pushy,” he teased.

  She shoved the food into his mouth, and he grabbed her hand. He wanted to tug her in and devour her whole. He swallowed the meat and set the fork down on the plate with his other hand.

  “What is it about you, Trish Ryder?
Their faces were so close he could hear her breathing. “You said I scare you, but I think you’re scared of who you think I am. And honestly, you scare the hell out of me, because you make me feel things I’ve never felt.”

  She trapped her lower lip between her teeth. He couldn’t take his eyes off of that trapped lip. He had a burning desire to kiss it free, but it was trapped because of him, so he forced himself to lift his eyes to hers and work it free with the truth instead.

  “I haven’t slept with groupies in almost a decade.”

  Her eyes widened, then narrowed again. Her sexy mouth still held that luscious lip captive.

  “I don’t blame you for not believing me.” He searched her eyes, but this time it wasn’t her eyes giving away her desires. It was the way she leaned forward and wrapped her hand around his forearm. Her whole body seemed to be waiting for his next sentence.

  Her lip sprang free, and she slicked her tongue over it. “It’s not that I don’t believe you. It’s just so different from everything I’ve ever read about you.”

  He shrugged again. “It comes with the territory. You’ve heard my music. It’s not exactly pure or wholesome. An image has to match the brand.”

  “I guess, but what are you saying? That it’s all a farce?”

  “Depends on your definition of a farce. I party with my friends. I make appearances at the after-parties when I’m on tour, but that’s not my life. I’ve got too many other things on my plate to get tangled up in groupies and their games, or to waste brain cells on getting stoned or drunk.”

  “So you don’t drink? Like at all?”

  “Sure. I have a drink now and again if I’m at home with my buddies. But having a drink isn’t the same as drinking.”

  She traced his tattoos with her finger. “Is there a reason? I mean, do you, have you, had a problem?”

 
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