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Coming into Focus by Eagan Daniels Book

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Coming into Focus by Eagan Daniels Book Read Online And Epub File Download

Overview: Forced to choose between worlds, Willa risks losing the found family who needs her, the drummer who loves her, and the career she was born for.

Given the options of being an overpaid assistant to a famous British rock band on the verge of making it huge in America or staying home to work three menial jobs to take care of a brother who has outgrown the need for her, Willa Reynolds's decision is obvious: her brother might need her again eventually, and she'll stick around until that happens.

When you love someone, you don't leave. She learned that the hard way from her mom. Granted, Willa's dream of being hired as a photographer for music magazine Offstage is a long shot when the only people she mingles with are the customers that come into the coffee shop, but she'll think of something.

But when her brother announces he's going to college and practically shoves her out the door, and the rock star in question sweetens the deal by offering to pay her even more and giving her the opportunity to build her photography portfolio in the process . . . Willa has to admit that it seems like the universe is sending her a message. 

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Coming into Focus by Eagan Daniels Book Read Online Chapter One

My favorite thing about working in a coffee shop was the free coffee. Obviously. My second favorite thing was that once I learned how to make the drinks, my brain was free to do other things, like make mental portraits of customers. The guy who’d just ordered an extra hot, half-caf, nonfat milk, sugar-free almond syrup extra large, for example.

I made his coffee with a fraction of my mindshare while I used the rest of my mental energy to imagine how I’d photograph him. I landed on black and white, in profile. His eyelashes alone would warrant the side view, but his nose would also be fantastic outlined against a stark background. Noses don’t get enough attention in portrait photography. I’ve always thought so.

I kept the ideas to myself. Nobody wants an artistic treatise from their barista. It was true I had an insightful, sparkling, unique portfolio… but it was made entirely of imaginary photographs. It wasn’t satisfying, and it wasn’t enough, but it I told myself I was keeping my creative muscles limber—so it was better than nothing.

More importantly, I had a brother to take care of. Maybe this wasn’t a dream job, but it was a job that kept me close to home and helped me stay on top of our bills.

My phone vibrated in my pocket—the alarm announcing it was time to leave my second job of the day and head to the third.

My jobs were scheduled in order of preference, least to most. First job: computer lab at the community college. Boring. My only responsibility was to make sure the kids surfing porn didn’t hog the computers.

Second job: coffee shop.

The third job was the best one—working in the photo lab at my Uncle Ken’s music magazine, Offstage. It was the closest I was going to get to doing my own photography any time soon.

I pulled out my phone to silence the alarm but instead found an urgent text from Hope Harper: Willa! I have the world’s most flamboyant rock star crashed on my couch. We’re HOURS behind schedule, I can’t reach any of our photographers, and I can’t let him leave town without pictures. Help meeeeeee.

I slid off the stool and called Hope, holding my phone to my ear with one hand and wiping the counters with the other. She started talking as soon as she answered. “I’m off schedule, and all our photographers are booked. Your uncle-slash-my-editor is breathing down my neck. I need a break today, kid. If I don’t get pictures, I’ll have to use his press kit material, and it’s boring.”

I hesitated. I didn’t want to disappoint her, but there was a ton of work I needed to get to in the photo lab, and—

“If you nail this, it could be the feature story, Willa,” she said in a sing-song voice. “Those pay well.”

I was sold. Paying bills before they were past due would be a joy I was unaccustomed to. Maybe I could even pay extra on Toby’s medical bills to chip away at those faster.

I couldn’t deny it would be a good “career” move, such as my career was. Uncle Ken said I could leave the lab and begin work with the magazine as a junior staff photographer. If I was going to take a job with the magazine, though, I wanted it to be because I earned it. I wanted to be sure Uncle Ken would have hired me off the street if I walked into his office. Not because I was his niece, not because he pitied Toby and me. It was stupid to be proud when I couldn’t afford it, but I was proud. I’d work in the coffee shop and the lab before I’d take a handout—even if that handout was my dream job.

This was an opportunity I couldn’t afford to pass up.

I gave the counters a last swipe before I tossed the washrag in the sink behind me. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” I told Hope. How lucky for both of us my camera was with me—because it always was. It was locked, lonely and impotent, in the trunk of my car. It was finally going to see some action.

I’d call Toby on the way to Hope’s to tell him I’d be late, and I’d make up the darkroom time later. I poured three coffees to go, shoved them in a carrier, and shouldered my way out the door.

I was halfway to Hope’s before I realized I hadn’t even asked her who it was.

The sun was setting by the time I let myself into Hope’s house to find her darting around with an open purse hanging off her arm and a scarf trailing out of it, chanting, “Keys, keys, keys.”

She patted her pockets and checked under the stacks of unopened mail on the glossy black mantle above her fireplace, sighing with relief when she noticed me.

“Oh, thank God, Willa. We are…” She glanced at her watch, and then side-eyed the man on her couch. “Very behind schedule.”

“I can’t help being interesting, love,” said the man of the hour. “You should have allowed more time to get to know me.”

His English accent wasn’t a surprise. Even the brief glance I’d given him was enough to know he wasn’t from here. The soil in Nashville doesn’t grow men who look like him. He was reclining on his elbows on Hope’s zebra-print couch, watching her with a half-smile. A mass of curly hair, dark eyes, ridiculous eyelashes… He was familiar, but I couldn’t quite place him.

This assignment would be a piece of cake. I didn’t want to jinx myself, but short of cataclysmic equipment failure, there was no way to blow it. He was probably the most photogenic person I’d ever seen.

Hope ignored him and focused on me. “This is what we’re going to do. Oh!” She interrupted herself. “Did you bring me coffee? You’re the best.” She took a cup from the carrier and drained it. “Ah, God. I needed that.” She gave her head a shake. “Take the pictures, do whatever editing you need to do, then send them to me ASAP. I need them to be great to help me pitch it for the feature story. I’m sure you can do it.” She gave him an appreciative glance. “The raw material is definitely there.”

The couch man gestured at his body with one hand.

I ignored him for now and concentrated on her. “What do you mean, send them to you? Where will you be?”

“I have to run to the office. I have two articles due by morning, including a stupid review of stupid Benny Walker’s stupid band’s stupid new album. Something more elaborate than ‘tired Dad-rock from a so-called legend who has worn out his welcome.’”

Oh, hell no. Some things were sacred. Or should be. Things like Benny Walker. I glared at Hope.

“I forgot you’re a fan,” she said, with an exaggerated eye roll. “Believe me, that guy doesn’t need you to defend him. Here’s the thing, Willa. I’ve reviewed a million albums by his band. I don’t have anything else to say at this point.”

She hopped on one foot, trying to get her other one into a high-heeled leather boot. Her hair was a long, wavy mess, currently red. No matter what color it was or what she did with it, it was perpetually perfect. She was tall and leggy, and I felt like an awkward kid next to her.

What she’d said was starting to sink in. “Wait. You’re going to leave me here with—”

She focused her attention on the man. “It was great to meet you. Be good for Willa. Behave yourself. Oh, keys!” She dumped them out of a fancy vase on the coffee table.

“Don’t worry about a thing,” he said. “I’m good to my photographers.”

I wanted to make the distinction that I wasn’t his photographer, I was a photographer, but I held my tongue. “Hope, who is he?”

She choked on a laugh. “You don’t know?”

I frowned. “His name isn’t coming to me.”

“You’re so funny, Willa! You need to work less, enjoy yourself more.” She patted me on the cheek.

“What are you girls talking about?” he called from the couch.

“Women,” I corrected automatically.

He swung his feet to the floor. “You’re talking about women? I want to talk about women,” he said. “Let me in on that.”

Hope laughed, but I ignored him. I prompted her again. “Hope?”

“He’s Jimmy Standish.”

“Ohhhh. Right, right, right. From the band…” She wasn’t going to help me out. No problem. I knew it. Sort of. “Starts with a ‘c,’ right? Corkscrew? Cocksure?”

She laughed again. “Cocksure would probably have been a better name, but it’s Corporate. They’re exploding, Willa. How do you not know?”

I snapped my fingers. “No, right, of course. It was on the tip of my tongue.” It hadn’t been.

I needed more. Right now, all I had to work with was that he was a pretty pop singer. Photographs showing an attractive man being attractive would not be the breakthrough I needed.

Hope wasn’t going to help, though. She was shrugging into a jacket on her way to the door. “Jimmy Standish, meet Willa Reynolds. Be nice to her because she’s saving our asses.” To me, she said, “Love to Toby. Remember to send these to me when they’re ready.”

She took another coffee from the carrier, did a “cheers” lift to me, and she was gone.

Leaving me with Jimmy Standish.

I squared my shoulders and stood taller, projecting the air of someone who’d done this a million times—or at least more times than never. “Right. Let’s get started. Will anyone else be joining us?”

He frowned, then his face cleared. “Oh, you mean the lads?”

“Mmhm. Exactly. The lads.”

“From the band…?” He prompted with a wicked smile.

“Corporate! I knew as soon as I walked in, obviously. I was just, uh, flustered. Because I’m such a huge fan, Mr. Standish.”

His full-on smile lit up the room. My fingers itched to get to my camera, and he wasn’t even trying. “Ooh, you are the most adorable girl!” He swung his feet to the ground. “Never call me Mr. Standish again. It’s Jimmy. You are a terrible liar, but I appreciate the effort to protect my ego.”

“I’m older than eighteen,” I pointed out. “You must have meant to say ‘woman.’”

He approached me, beaming and holding my hand for a long moment as he loomed over me. It should have been intimidating, but it wasn’t.

“The other two aren’t here yet. I’m here doing a press tour before the real tour. It’s our manager’s idea, not mine. Hawk’s an asshole, but since he’s an asshole with great business sense, we usually listen to him anyway. I want us to sell out this entire tour, and we’re close, Willa. You can help me get there.”

Even close-up, he was beautiful. His skin was perfect. Like he was lit from the inside.

I was studying him, but he didn’t care since he was studying me at the same time. “Adorable,” he said again.

“Professional,” I said, countering him. “I’m not here to be cute; I’m here to do a job.”

“All right,” he agreed. “Professional. In a little, endearing way. We’re going to be a great pair, Willa.”

Maybe, if I could decide what to do with him. I didn’t know a lot about his career or his persona. There was nothing to do but ask. He didn’t seem like the kind of guy who’d be reluctant to talk about himself. “Tell me about your music.”

“Would you rather listen to it?” he suggested, finally dropping my hands. He crossed the room and sank gracefully into a chair. “I’m sure you’ll like us because we are very good.” He gestured to my phone. “Search for ‘Corporate.’ Or ‘best band in Britain at least since The Beatles but possibly including the Beatles.’ Or maybe ‘English rock stars who could be models because they’re so attractive.’ That would bring me up. And probably the other two, to be honest. They get overlooked sometimes because of the glare coming off me, but they’re both lovely.” He shifted in the chair he was in and frowned down at it. “This is a wretched chair. I thought it would be comfortable because it looks cool, but it’s awful.”

“Don’t tell Hope.” I carried my camera bag to her dining room table and arranged my lenses. “Elvis Costello sent it to her. It’s her prized possession.”

“Prized for what? Not for sitting in, surely.”

“Prized for giving her a chance to say, ‘Elvis Costello himself sent me this chair,’ I guess. Check out the photo behind you of the two of them in sitting in it together.”

He craned around in the chair then turned back to me with wide eyes. “Um, you don’t seem to know a lot about music, darling. That’s Hope with Madonna.”

“Other shoulder.”

He turned the other way and came face-to-face with an even bigger framed photograph of Hope and Elvis, both in fedoras. She was sitting on the arm of the chair; his glasses were perched on her nose, and she was resting her chin on his head. A high-heeled shoe dangled off the toes of one of her crossed legs. They were cuddled up like they’d been besties their whole lives. The real story was they’d met about fifteen minutes before the image was taken.

Jimmy wasn’t impressed. He’d also sat in Elvis Costello’s lap for all I knew. “He probably sent her this chair so he wouldn’t ever make the mistake of accidentally sitting it in again himself.” He brought the conversation back to research suggestions for me. “Did you Google me yet?”

“I don’t want to learn about you from someone else,” I said. “That will be their point of view, not mine. How about…what if we walked through a day in your life? We’ll pretend you’re going through a normal day, starting with first thing in the morning.”

It couldn’t fail. Hope could use it as a photo essay if she wanted, or she could cherry-pick any images she liked. Since he’d be driving the action, it would be authentic.

He nodded. “I like where you’re going with this.”

“We can call it ‘A Day in the Life of an Emerging Legend.’”

He countered with ‘A Day in the Life of a Legend as He Becomes More Legendary Even.’ I agreed it could be our working title.

He headed down the hallway toward Hope’s bedroom.

“What are you doing?” I called.

“A day starts in bed, darling! Let’s check out Hope’s…oh, perfect. It’s lovely. Look at this.”

I followed him. Hope’s bed was covered by a huge fluffy white comforter with pristine, white pillows. Jimmy yanked his shirt over his head, kicked off his shoes, and nestled into the blankets.

He slipped one heavily tattooed arm out of the covers to display it on the snowy white bedding. “How’s this?”

It was perfect.

“Um, yes. Let me get a couple shots to check the light.”

For the next several minutes, the only sound was my camera clicking. I reviewed the images on my camera display and frowned. They were beautiful, but…predictable.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“Nothing. It’s just you’re…so aware of getting your picture taken.”

“Of course I’m aware you’re taking my picture,” he said. “I’m in the bed of a woman I just met—well, that’s hardly a first. Being photographed in the bed of a—no, not a first, either, come to think of it. My point is it’s hard to ignore the camera at a photo shoot.”

I arranged his hair on the pillow to make sure I was doing justice to his haphazard curls.

His brown eyes studied me. “How long have you been doing this? You can’t be old enough to have much experience.”

I couldn’t tell him this was my first official assignment. “I always wanted to be a photographer,” I told him instead.

“Not an answer.”

I stood on Hope’s bed, straddling him, and pointing my camera down. “I’m not actually a staff photographer for the magazine yet. I’m helping Hope because she was in a bind. If you would stop talking, we’d get done a lot faster.”

He posed for the camera, and I took a couple pictures. They were beautiful but stilted. “Hope said the magazine editor is your uncle,” he said. “Don’t you work for him?”

Answering personal questions from a stranger wasn’t something I was comfortable with. I rearranged the blankets to show more of his arm.

When I straightened, his attention went right back to the camera. Unless I wanted obvious rock-star posing, I needed to keep him distracted. “I do work for him, but not as a photographer in the field. Working in his lab is one of my jobs,” I said.

“One of? How many do you have?”

I wanted to keep him talking, so I answered, “I’m working three jobs at the moment. I attempted four, but scheduling was a nightmare.”

“Three jobs! Why doesn’t your uncle pay you more? Or help you out some other way if he’s such a big-shot editor?” His eyes were warmer. Liquid-looking. Beautiful.

“It’s fine. We’re doing great.” Click. Click. Click.

“Who’s ‘we’?”

“Me and my brother. Relax your hand.”

He did. “I can’t believe your uncle won’t help. That’s rubbish. I’ll hire you just because I like you and because I’ve never had a cowgirl in my—posse! Get it, Willa? You could be my literal posse. You want to come work for me?”

I laughed. “Nah, I’m good. This isn’t forever.” I didn’t want him to have a bad opinion of my uncle, so I kept handing out personal details. “Uncle Ken wants to help, but I don’t want handouts. He also wants to hire me to be a photographer for the magazine, which would definitely pay more than I make now. He keeps asking, and I keep putting him off. It’s harder to say no to Hope.”

“Why do you keep saying no? It must be better than working in the lab.”

“I like working in the lab. If I’m going to do more, I have to earn a spot. Once I do, I’ll work one job and make more than enough for Toby and me.”

“Can’t your brother work?”

I sighed. “He’s disabled. Can you stop talking for a minute?”

He could not. “Disabled how?”

I hopped on the bed to get his attention. “I’m not telling you another thing until you pretend you’re asleep.”

His face went blank and smooth in a second. Gorgeous. When I stopped to check the pictures, he said, “I’m an artist. I can’t tolerate being bored. Anyway, this is research about actual Americans, and I like your accent because it’s ridiculous. Tell me what’s wrong with your brother.”

“Nothing is wrong with him. We’re all set here. These are great.”

Jimmy sat up and extended a hand for me to hold as I jumped off the bed.

I summarized for him while he pulled his shirt on and checked his hair in Hope’s vanity mirror. I was five when Toby was born. He had retinoblastoma, a cancer in his eyes, when he was a baby. It wasn’t diagnosed soon enough to save his left eye, which was removed when he was two years old. Kids with retinoblastoma have a higher incidence of other childhood cancers, and Toby didn’t dodge that bullet, either. When he was a teenager, he needed surgery for osteogenic sarcoma; his right leg was amputated.

“Oh dear.” Jimmy’s voice was mournful. “He’s blind, and he can’t walk?”

“His other eye works fine, and he gets around great on his prosthetic.” Everything happened when Toby was young. He was mostly as independent as any other eighteen-year-old boy.

“Except he can’t work?” Jimmy asked.

“He does some IT freelance stuff from home, but he can’t drive, which limits him.”

“Does he have an accent like yours? A matching set of adorable American southerners. I should hire you both. Can’t your parents take care of him?”

At the same time I was trying to keep up with his conversation, I was guessing what would come next in the day of a legend. Since it wasn’t “go to work,” I didn’t have a clue. “What would you do now?”

“I’d eat breakfast, Willa. Is it not what you do? Do Americans not—”

“Oh, right. Good idea. Come on.” I headed for the kitchen. “Let’s go have your pretend breakfast.”

Hope’s house was great for a photo shoot. Her breakfast bar was spotless like it was waiting for a magazine spread. It was this breakfast bar’s lucky day.

Jimmy opened the fridge and stared inside.

“Grab anything,” I said. “You’re not going to eat it anyway.”

He held out a can of whipped cream.

“Not that. Something breakfast-y.”

“It’s the only thing in her refrigerator. Who only has whipped cream in her fridge? Weird, right?”

“It’s odd.” I checked her pantry. Nothing there but a jar of spaghetti sauce. “Okay, get a coffee mug. We can make it work.”

He gasped in horror when he opened a cupboard, then stepped aside so I could see.

It was just mugs. “What’s the matter?” I asked

“As I thought,” he said after he’d looked in more of her cupboards. “She has only matching mugs, Willa. It’s so sad!”

“I’m not following you, but okay. Hop up onto the stool, and…” I spotted the coffee I’d brought. Hope already drank two of them, and I was going to have to sacrifice the third.

I positioned the take-out cup so the logo faced the camera. Some free advertising for Broadway Bean. Maybe my boss, Jenny, would give me a bonus. “Try to look a bit rougher. These are first-thing-in-the-morning pictures, and I know you didn’t wake up like this.”

“I did wake up like this, as a matter of fact.” He obliged me anyway by slumping over and nailing an impression of a man who’d been out all night making bad choices. He tasted the coffee. “Mm. This is delicious.” He held it out to me to share. It was getting cold, but it was still good. I make a great coffee.

I gave it back to him and put my camera back to my eye to study him through the lens. The light was perfect, but he was conscious of the camera again.

“You never answered my question from before,” he said. “Why don’t your parents take care of your brother?”

Of course I hadn’t answered; I didn’t want to. On the other hand, when he was listening, he wasn’t thinking about the camera, and when he wasn’t thinking about the camera, we were getting some perfect shots.

“My dad died a couple years ago.” I took several steps closer to him and tightened the focus.

“Oh, poor Willa. What about your mom?”

“No mom,” I said shortly, making use of the moments when he was distracted. It wasn’t as difficult as I’d thought it would be, anyway. The camera was a buffer, and I was safe behind it. I kneeled on a barstool for a higher perspective.

He drooped onto the counter. “Poor, poor Willa. All alone with an ailing brother.”

I laughed and climbed down. “You’re not even close. Hold still. I’m going to move around you.”

“Did they take Toby to a workhouse and force him to work around the clock for minimal pay until he got consumption?”

“Um, no, since we’re not in a Charles Dickens novel. Haven’t you ever been to America?”

He sipped coffee and made an affirmative sound. “But as a rock star, darling. Nobody tells me anything unpleasant. From my visits here, I would assume America is full of gorgeous people who all want to sleep with me.”

I climbed on the counter next to him and continued to snap photos while I talked. “Nobody took Toby, but it was tricky for me to keep custody since he was a minor and I was barely an adult. It’s fine now. He’s eighteen, and nobody can take him from me.” I took a couple more frames and then rested my camera in my lap. “Okay. What happens after breakfast?”

“Depends on the day and who I’m with.”

“Pretend it’s today, and you’re not with anyone.”

His smile was clearly meant to humor me. “I’ll play along. If I wasn’t already with someone, I’d be getting ready to meet someone. I don’t,” he made air quotes with his fingers, “‘spend time alone.’”

“So you would…do your hair?”

He patted my knee. “Silly girl. My hair is already perfect.”

It was true.

“Makeup?” His face was bare, but he was a musician and obviously theatrical. It was worth a shot.

He spun on the stool to face me. “Yes. This is an extraordinary idea. I bet I’m going to be good at putting on makeup, Willa. Let’s go check what Hope has.”

I followed him down the hall and waited while he rummaged through Hope’s makeup drawers. It quickly became apparent that his confidence when it came to cosmetics was completely unearned. I let him go on longer than it should have before I set my camera carefully on the counter. “All of it off,” I said, gesturing to his face. “This is a disaster.”

When I found makeup remover and a washcloth, I handed them to Jimmy. He gave them back to me and closed his eyes, waiting.

It was less work than arguing, so I wiped the makeup off his face.

“Hope is lonely.”

I snorted.

His eyes were closed, but his lips curled up. “You even snort with an accent.”

“I don’t have an accent, you do, and you’re wrong. Hope meets the best people, and everyone loves her. She’s the opposite of lonely.”

“Clearly she meets a lot of people. It’s obvious from the prominently placed pictures.” He jerked his head to his right, where there was a framed photo of Hope with some woman with a guitar.

“How much eyeliner did you put on? I can’t get it off. Stop squirming.”

He ignored me. “I’m extraordinarily intuitive, and this feels off. Like a set design, not a home. Those mugs, Willa! Nobody normal has matching mugs.”

“That doesn’t make sense.”

“Like, not a single joke mug? People love to give joke mugs. Like, ‘Reporters Do it in the Newsroom?’ I’d get that one for her. Or, like ‘Death Before Decaf?’ or ‘World’s Best Aunt?’ Nothing? You know who has sets of matching mugs, Willa? Serial killers. Do you reckon—”

“No, I don’t reckon Hope is a serial killer, actually. Stop talking for a minute. I’m almost done here.”

“Mm. You smell like bubble gum, just like I’d have guessed.”

“It’s because I’m chewing bubble gum,” I said.

He hummed. “It’s the smell of American girls.”

“It can’t be that since I’m a woman. Stop talking.”

His mouth finally stopped moving long enough for me to finish. “Finally. There. Now let’s start over.”

He handed me a black eyeliner pencil. I reached up but couldn’t get the right leverage for a steady hand. It wasn’t going to work. “I thought all Americans were tall,” he said. “It’s like your schtick.”

“True, most of us are seven feet tall and smell like bubble gum, but not all of us. Here, let’s switch places.” I sat on the counter, and he stood between my knees.

“Your hair is so shiny, Willa. You look like a commercial for girl vitamins.”

“Close your eyes.”

“In a second.”

I frowned at him. “Stop staring at me.” It was one thing when I was taking his picture. It was something entirely different when I wasn’t.

“You do have freckles. When you came in, I thought, ‘the only way this creature could be even more appealing is if she had freckles.’ Why are you covering them?”

“Close your eyes.” When he did, I said, “Freckles make people think I’m younger than I am. Believe it or not, some people already assume I’m a girl, not a woman.” I paused for a pointed beat.

“You shouldn’t hide them, they’re perfect. You should strive to look more like yourself, not less.”

“Stop talking. You’re moving your face too much.”

He whispered instead. “Next time I see you, leave your freckles out. Promise?”

“You’re not going to see me again.”

“Yes, I am.” He was still whispering. “So promise.”

“Promise.” I was sure it wouldn’t matter.

I mulled over what he’d said about Hope.

“Out loud,” Jimmy said. “What’s going on in your head?”

“You’re wrong. Hope has everything she wants. Her job is pretty much unheard of. Nobody gets to do what she does. I mean, like you said. These pictures of her with her idols, laughing with her, chumming it up. People love her, and she’s such a good writer. She can put anybody at ease and get any scoop she sets her mind on.”

“That much is true. I don’t even remember how I got here. We were supposed to be meeting at my hotel with my assistant there to keep me on track. Then my assistant opted for a nap instead, and I found myself on Hope’s couch, telling the story of how I lost my virginity, and she hadn’t even asked me about my virginity.” He paused for a breath. “It really is a good story. Do you want me to tell you?”

I laughed. “I’m good, thanks. But you see what I mean. Hope has an effect on people. Everyone loves her.”

“Of course everyone loves her. She’s amazing. I love her, and we just met.”


He wasn’t done. “But I was only with her for a few hours. Even if I show off by sending her a chair or something, I won’t interact with her again until my next album, if ever. An interview—even a good one—isn’t a relationship. It’s a job. It doesn’t mean she’s not lonely.”

A twinge of discomfort momentarily rattled me. “I’m sure you’re wrong. Hope loves her life.” I hopped off the counter and handed him the eyeliner. “Now pretend you’re doing this yourself.” I angled myself behind him.

When we finished in the bathroom, he suggested we do a “party-aftermath” scene, but we hit a snag. “We could have you passed out in a tub. I’ll get empty bottles from Hope’s recycling bin and scatter them around. It’s gonna be great. All we need is some beard scruff on you.”

“Yeah. Grand idea. Sadly, I can’t grow hair on demand. I would if I could.”

I didn’t have a ton of experience with men’s facial hair, but Toby usually had some scruff by the end of the day. “Maybe you’ll have some in a few hours?”

Jimmy nodded. “Probably. I’m going to try.”

“Should we sleep in the meantime?” I suggested hopefully.

He brightened. “I call pink velvet chaise!”

“Of course you do.”

He went back into the other room and nestled into the chaise, punching the pillows until he was comfortable. “This is going to be great. Tuck me in, Willa.”

I covered him with a blanket, dimmed the lights, and got settled on the couch. Then I sat straight up. “Shit!”

“What’s the matter?”

I was digging for my phone. “Toby’s probably worried sick. I should have been home already.”

“I should call my assistant, but I’m not going to. She doesn’t take my calls anymore anyway. She’s a rubbish assistant. I can’t even complain because Oliver and Eric told me she would be, but I didn’t listen.” He sighed forlornly. “I have to keep pretending she’s much better than she is. Saving face is important, Willa, even amongst your best mates.”

I called Toby five or six times before he answered. “Don’t worry,” I said hastily when he answered. “Everything is fine. I’m working on a project for Hope. I’ll be home later. Is everything okay?”

He muttered something sleepily into the phone and disconnected.

“All right, Willa?” Jimmy asked.

“Yeah. He worries.” I stuffed my phone back into my pocket and snuggled back into the couch.

“Hm. It sounded like you woke him.”

“Are you concentrating on growing your beard in? It seems like you aren’t.”

“Are we napping?” he countered. “Or haranguing? Because I’m feeling quite harangued right now. My beard will not grow in if it feels bullied, Willa.”

I smothered a smile. What an irritating, charming man.

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