Cates Brothers — Book 1
All she needed was her picture in the paper. So how did she end up fake-engaged to the Sexiest Man Alive?
Sijan Cates, Hollywood’s biggest star and favorite bad boy, is ordered by his movie studio to stay out of the tabloids. No problem. He heads back to his small, sleepy hometown of Climax, NC, to spend time with his brothers and lie low.
It’s a great plan.
Avery Danford, desperate to track down her estranged family to help her sister, squeezes into a dress two sizes too small and photobombs the biggest movie star in the world. All to catch her tabloid-loving mother’s attention.
It’s a crazy-pants plan.
One of their plans might work if…
*Sijan’s #1 fan doesn’t plant a hot kiss on him in front of the paparazzi.
*The movie star doesn’t announce that Avery is his fiancé to the rabid pack of paparazzi.
*If one of them doesn’t have a secret past they need to keep secret.
*If someone isn’t lying their ass off. Okay, a couple someone’s.
*If Sijan doesn’t feel a burning need to give Avery a starring role in his personal life. For real.
*If Avery doesn’t fall hard and fast and into bed with last year’s Sexiest Man Alive.
But you know what they say… The best-laid plans of Hollywood stars and fake fans oft go astray.
Which is to say explode in their faces.
Could This Be Love is a full-length fun small-town enemies-to-lovers romantic comedy featuring a hot celebrity, a desperate woman, a fake fiance, a town grapevine working overtime, secrets, the sorriest-looking pair of bald dogs, and sweet sexy times. No cheating. No cliffhanger. A HEA.
Copyright © Lee Kilraine
The familiar barrage of flashbulbs and clicking cameras hit Avery like a rogue wave. She pulled her lips away and stared up at Sijan’s handsome face. The touch of his lips had almost made her forget everything. That shouldn’t have happened. Her past should have been a shield against this man and his sexual charisma, darn it.
Focus, Avery. You’ve been around good-looking Hollywood types before. With disastrous consequences. Ignore the fact that your insides feel like honey on a warm summer day and pull it together. Think about Tansy and stick to the plan.
The knowledge that help for Tansy was one flash away wasn’t enough to overcome the old familiar reaction to the paparazzi. Her stomach wrenched like she was on the top of the highest peak of a roller coaster that had dropped out from under her. One photo. That’s all she needed—then she could disappear back into her carefully constructed private life.
Avery faced the paparazzi, leaned into Sijan’s shoulder, and flashed a brilliant smile toward the wall of clicking cameras, each one trying to get the photo of movie star Sijan Cates that would pay their salary for the month. Next to her, Sijan’s body turned into a stone fortress. Keep smiling. Count to five. Let the paparazzi get some good shots, then make a clean, fast exit.
One. Two. Three—whoa! What? Sijan wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her back around and into his chest. Her breath caught and she jerked her face up to find Sijan gazing down at her. His lips formed the sexiest, hottest “I’m going to lick you all over” smile, but his eyes were snapping with heat, and it wasn’t desire, unless desire to wring her neck counted.
“You set me up,” Sijan said.
Tynan leaned into their space, shaking his head. “Jerry’s not going to like this.”
“Neither will the studio.” Sijan’s nostrils flared and his eyes hardened as he continued to gaze down at her. “I don’t suppose it bothers you that this is going to get me in big trouble?”
“I’m sorry, but sometimes you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.”
“Avery.” Sijan’s forehead smoothed out and he ran his hands up and down her arms slowly, sensuously, as if he knew every inch of her skin like a lover. “When you’re right, you’re right.”
And before she knew what was happening, Sijan pulled her up against his hard body, locked her within the circle of his arms, and kissed her. A steal-your-breath, tongue-tangling, scorching kiss. The clicks and whirs of the cameras faded beneath the blood pounding in her head, but the frenzy of exploding camera flashes penetrated her closed eye lids. When he finally ended the kiss and released her lips, she would have oozed into a melted puddle on the sidewalk if he wasn’t holding her tight against his body. He’d scrambled her brains and left her legs way beyond al dente.
She pulled herself together and attempted to make her quick exit, but Sijan’s arm held her tight to his side. Trying to wiggle free, she whispered, “What are you doing?”
He leaned in and kissed her ear with his warm, too-sexy lips as he said, “Honey, you just earned a starring role in my life.”
Then Sijan turned toward the waiting paparazzi, nodding and greeting more than a few. “Hey there, Burt, Miranda, Scott. Everyone. Nice of y’all to track me down. I was supposed to keep this a secret, but I can’t help wanting everyone to know.”
The hum of cameras and clamoring questions quieted on a dime. The crowd lowered their cameras just enough to let their excited, expectant faces peek out.
“I’d like to introduce you to Avery. My fiancée.”
* * *
Avery’s face whipped up to his, and she stared at him like he was crazy or on fire. Well, hell, he knew he was both. It was crazy stupid to let sexual attraction make him an easy victim for this mugging by the paparazzi. So much for staying out of the headlines. He’d just got burned. Bad. And surprise, surprise, it looked like his “number-one fan” was just another starlet out to get famous. He’d made a tactical error, and now it was time to regroup.
“You’re crazy. What did you do?”
“Took your advice.”
The paparazzi exploded. They called his name frantically, firing questions about who she was and how they’d met while clicking madly away on their cameras. And all the while, Avery clung to him, her arms around his chest, her face tucked against him, her warm breath soft against his neck. Huh.
“Get me out of here,” she whispered into his neck without lifting her face. “Now.”
Guess she’d bitten off more attention than an inexperienced wannabe starlet could handle. Yep, stardom was a bitch wielding a double-edged sword. Welcome to my world, lady. She was right about one thing though. It was time to wrap this performance up.
“Thanks, guys. I hope you’ll respect our privacy and give us some space to celebrate and enjoy this special time in our lives.” He looked around at the still frantically clicking cameras. None of them wanted to go in case they missed something. “You know it’s only a scoop if you’re the first to sell it, right?”
That got them moving and had them scrambling en masse for their vehicles. Well, that and Tynan’s imposing glare. When the last paparazzo had peeled out of the parking lot, Sijan peeled Avery out of his arms and stepped back adding an extra cushion of space.
“Do you even know what you just did?” Avery ran a frantic hand through her hair before throwing her hands onto her hips. “Why did you say I was your fiancée? Why didn’t you say I was your long-lost cousin?”
Pia and Tynan coughed.
“No.” Pia’s brows scrunched low. “That wouldn’t have worked.”
“At all. Not with the way you two were looking at each other.” Tynan grinned. “Or the way you kissed. Cousin? Hoo, boy. Talk about a scandal.”
Sijan shook his head. “No, this was my only way out of this.”
“What about me?” Avery stared at him, hands still on her hips, only now she threw in an impatient toe tap.
“You?” What the hell was she mad about? “You wanted your picture in the paper with me, right? Darlin’, you’ve got the attention of every photographer in Hollywood and every other two bit reporter. You’re welcome.”
“I just wanted one photo. Just one. That’s it. Sue me, why don’t you?”
“I just might, because you know what I wanted? No photo. I wanted to stay out of the tabloids. Just this once. That’s it.” Sijan was pissed. He was used to being used. It happened all the time in Hollywood. But he had come home to Climax to stay out of the headlines. “I’ve got a movie ready to release in three months and the studio ordered me to stay out of the papers. No more scandals.”
“One photo is not a scandal.”
“Have you looked in the mirror? I wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t have ‘scandal’ tattooed on your ass.” He pointed his finger at Avery. “I’ve already got my lawyer busy with one greedy, manipulative woman. You owe me.”
“Three weeks. You are going to pretend to be my fiancée for three weeks. I guarantee another scandal will break out in Hollywood by then, in which case we’ll never have to see each other again.”
He saw the denial on her lips when her friend Pia stepped in and whispered frantically with her. He heard the words “lawyer” and “you can’t afford that” and something about a plan and . . . cupcakes? Then the confab wrapped up with Avery whipping around to him, her arms crossed over her chest, her chin tilted in defiance.
“Deal.” And they shook hands like wrestlers facing off on a mat. He wouldn’t bother to tell her he’d get what he needed no matter what they had just agreed on. With his new movie set to premiere in three months, he had a movie studio to satisfy and a possible Oscar nomination on the line.
Most important to him, though, was the deal he’d worked out with this film. The studio had agreed to experiment with profit sharing with the whole crew, from the most inexperienced gaffer to makeup and set design crews. He had agreed to a smaller salary to make it happen, so he sure as heck didn’t want bad press from him to screw with the film’s profits.
“Oh, I don’t think so.” Avery’s voice dripped disdain as if it had been swimming in it. “I don’t have to sleep with you to pretend to be your fiancée.”
The woman was nuts if she thought being used was an aphrodisiac. “I need the name of your hotel to pick you up tomorrow.”
“Oh. Right. The Honeybee Hotel over on—”
“I know where it is. Be ready at ten.”
“Whoa, wait. What exactly do you have in mind when you say ‘pretend’ to be your fiancée? A romantic dinner out? Ring shopping?”
“Yeah, sure. Something like that.” Nothing like that. More like a photo in front of Lonnie’s Bait and Tackle shop and a visit with sick kids over at Memorial, but Sijan figured he’d spring that on her tomorrow. He’d admit the beautiful scheming starlet had outsmarted him today, but tomorrow was his.
“She’ll need to know how to dress,” Pia said. “Princess Diana or Marian the staid librarian?”
Sijan’s gaze ran over Avery’s curves and barely there dress. “How about Fräulein Maria from Sound of Music? You know, when she’s a nun.”
“You got it. I can do covered up. But I’ll be ready at one and not a minute before.” Avery pulled Pia by the arm and they headed away. He was too angry to tell them they were walking in the wrong direction for the Honeybee.
“What were you thinking, Si?” Tynan shook his head as the brothers stood watching the women exit into the evening. “Your fiancée? Seriously?”
“Not one of my best moments, I’ll grant you, but it was the only positive spin I could think of.”
“Some hiatus. That was more like a hiccup.”
Sijan grimaced. “You should have poured my drink over my head.”
“I practically did.” Tynan pointed at him. “But no matter what crazy thing she said, you ate it up. I had your back, only she had you by the—”
“I know, I know. It’s like she lured me in just so she could feed off me.” He shoved his hands into his pant pockets when the urge to hit the nearest inanimate object continued to build. Un-frickin’-believable. He’d been seduced by a bloodsucking starlet.
“Here’s something that might help: she’s either an ambitious starlet or a psycho groupie.”
“That’ll do it. I’ll spend only enough time with her to fix the optics on that kiss, and then never see her again. A few weeks or so of being ‘engaged’ and posing as the happy couple, then when the paparazzi’s focus moves on, we’ll quietly call off the engagement. Scandal averted.”
“A sound plan in theory, but based on what I saw tonight . . .”
“I can resist her.” It should be easy after the way the woman had just played him. “But I’ll have a back-up plan.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
“A cold shower and a wooden stake.”