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Just To Be With You (Page 26)

But she’d asked him to pay attention to Serena’s acting, so he forced himself to bring the model into view as well. She was tall, slim yet curvy, with a staggeringly pretty face. One that would probably bring every other man on the planet to his knees, but did nothing whatsoever for Ian. Especially not when she was standing so close to the one woman who had brought him to his knees from the moment he’d spoken to her in the Napa Valley vineyard.

As the two women played out the much longer scene, Ian could see why Smith was producing the film. And no question about it, there was something about the way the model played the daughter. Maybe because it wasn’t too much of a stretch from the relationship Serena seemed to have with her own mother.

Or maybe it was simply that Tatiana was so good she made everyone she worked with look good, too.

He’d seen most of her movies before he’d ever met her, and he’d always been impressed by the way she disappeared into each role, especially when she rarely played the same one from film to film. But, Lord, to watch her from fifteen feet away like this…to say his mind was blown would be a major understatement.

She was, in a word, brilliant. But more than that, she made the transformation from herself into someone else entirely look so effortless. He could feel her joy at doing what she was meant to do, at being exactly what she was meant to be, just as she’d told him in the back of his town two days earlier on the way to lunch with his professor.

When they came to the end of the scene, Tatiana stretched, then shook out both arms. “Phew, that’s a rough role to jump in and out of.”

Serena looked nervous as she stood with her hands twisted in front of her stomach, but Tatiana quickly reached out to her. “You were great. Really great. I’m so glad we got to do this.”

Serena smiled, but now that she was done, it was obvious that her nerves were getting the better of her. Tatiana saw it right away, of course, and said, “Chocolate. That’s exactly what we need now.”

Tatiana hadn’t even made it halfway to her kitchen when Genevieve shot up off the couch and intercepted her. “Oh no, we don’t eat or drink empty calories like that—do we, sweetie?”

Serena gave Tatiana a regretful smile. “It was nice of you to offer, though.”

“Are you going to talk to Smith today?” Serena’s mother asked Tatiana.

Ian was impressed by the way Tatiana, for Serena’s benefit, held in the irritation she had to feel about the incredibly pushy woman. “I’ll need to talk privately with Ian first, but then, yes, I’m planning to give Smith a call.”

Genevieve turned her sharp gaze on him. “Wasn’t my daughter great, Ian?”

“She was.”

“It’s amazing how beautiful and talented she is, isn’t it?”

“Mom,” Serena said, finally speaking up, “we should go.” She didn’t even look at him, obviously too embarrassed to do anything but say a soft thank-you to Tatiana for doing the read-through with her.

Tatiana threw her arms around the model and said something to her that neither Ian nor Serena’s mother could hear, and when Serena pulled back, she was smiling again.

Genevieve held out her hand to Ian. “It was positively lovely to meet you, Ian. I do hope we’ll be seeing you again, and soon.”

Ian had learned early on from his own mother that if he didn’t have anything nice to say, it was better to keep his mouth shut. “Take care, Genevieve, of both yourself and your daughter.” He would have walked over to say a personal good-bye to Serena, but it was far too likely that her mother would see it as a sign of interest, rather than politeness. He remained in the living room while Tatiana walked the two women out.

* * *

Closing the door behind her a few minutes later, Tatiana slumped against it. “Poor thing, I don’t know how she deals as well as she does with everything. Tell me, what did you think?”

“You’re amazing at what you do.”

She smiled, a big smile that told him how much his compliment meant to her. “Thank you. But Serena’s the one up for the role, not me. What did you think of her?”

“She was good. Not polished. Not particularly confident, either. But there was something about what she did that was compelling. Very compelling.”

“Raw emotion. She’s brimming over with it. It’s less that she’s trying to act the part, more that she is the part. Which is precisely what I’m hoping will happen for me with my new role, that I’ll understand it well enough to become the freakin’ character soon. Unfortunately, thus far it’s—”

She cut herself off with a frustrated little growl as she walked into the living room to pick up the coffee mugs. “I never offered you anything to drink. Want a cup?” When he shook his head, she put them in the sink, then turned back to say, “Thank God neither my mom nor Valentina were stage-mother types. To be fair, though, I can see that it would be hard for Genevieve to have a daughter that beautiful without worrying about people taking advantage of her. I suppose you’d want to do anything you could to protect her.”

“Protecting her?” He thought about the way Serena’s mother had practically offered her daughter up to him, simply because he was rich and came from a powerful family. “I’m not sure that’s what she was doing.”

“No,” Tatiana said with a sigh. “I’m afraid you might be right. She looked at you like you were a particularly delicious piece of candy that she would have been happy for either her or her daughter to enjoy. When I asked you to stay to give your opinion, I didn’t think about how uncomfortable that would be for you.”

“It wasn’t a problem.”

“You should have heard her before you got here, going on and on about how gorgeous all you Sullivans are. I’m thinking I should check the picture she was looking at and make sure there isn’t any drool I need to wipe off.” Tatiana picked up a framed photo from her mantel and studied it carefully before putting it back. “Looks clean and dry, thankfully.”

He didn’t recall seeing this picture from Marcus and Nicola’s wedding, one where everyone was relaxed rather than posing wedding-style for the shot. “Did you get this from the photographer?”

“No, I took it.” She smiled at it, then at him. “I really shouldn’t be so hard on Genevieve. All of you Sullivans really are quite pretty.”

As he looked at the beautiful woman standing before him, Ian finally accepted that she didn’t have a clue just how alluring, how tempting she was herself. On the day they’d met in the vineyard, he’d been so certain it was all an act on her part, that there must be something she was trying to gain by acting so, well, normal…despite all the evidence to the contrary.

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