“What time did this start?” Heather asked, noting the dashboard clock read 7:27.
“Seven. So you are sufficiently late.”
Heather never arrived anywhere on time—another attribute that gave her diva status in the eyes of the press. It wasn’t that she always wanted to make an entrance as many gossip columns surmised. She’d simply discovered that arriving late guaranteed she wouldn’t be waiting alone. Fans were less intimidated to approach her when she was by herself. There was safety in numbers.
“Do you want me to come in with you?” Lexie asked as they neared Drebs, the location of the get-together.
“No.” Heather leaned forward, trying to estimate how much trouble she’d have getting into the swank bar without being mauled by fans and press. Drebs should have been a low-key spot, but word must have gotten out that this meeting was taking place there. She could already spot a few cameras in the small group gathered outside the doors. Maybe it would be easier to get through if Lexie was with her. “Yes.” But would she look even more like a diva if she paraded her assistant along with her? “No,” she said finally.
Lexie chuckled, seeming to understand her thought process. “I’ll be in the lot outside. I won’t use valet so you can make a quick getaway if you need to. Sound good?”
“Yes, thanks.” Heather flipped down the shade above her to give herself a quick look in the mirror. She looked good, even with her casual makeup and her long dark blonde hair free of product. She was made-down enough that with her sunglasses on, she might be able to slip in unnoticed. Though wearing sunglasses in the evening was a red flag of a celebrity in itself.
“They’re going to spot you,” Lexie said pulling into the valet station. “But it will be fine. Just let the valet open the door for you and rush in. Don’t stop for autographs. Get inside, skip the host and head straight for the private room. You know where it is.”
Heather appreciated the pep talk. She let out a deep breath and took another in as the valet opened her door.
“Text me if and when you need me,” Lexie called as Heather stepped out of the BMW.
“It’s her!” someone called as soon as the door shut behind her, followed by a scream of recognition. Another scream followed by shouts of her name.
Then so many voices were screaming and shouting, she couldn’t distinguish what any of them said. The crowd pressed around her, pens and napkins and body parts thrust in her direction. She pushed her shoulder through the bodies, but was stuck.
Shit. She should have brought a bodyguard.
She turned back to tell Lexie to stay, but Lexie had already pulled through the valet station, too far to see Heather’s distress.
Panic rushed through her.
The doors of the bar swung open and a hand reached through the crowd toward her. She grabbed for it before looking up to see the owner, letting the strong arm pull her safely inside.
“I’m so sorry, Heather,” said Patrick Atlas, the executive from Montblanc and the source of her rescue. “Someone tipped off the press.”
She swallowed the anxiety that had nearly overtaken her and pasted on a smile. “No worries. I’m used to it.”
Patrick kissed her cheek then led her farther into the bar toward the private room, holding her hand the whole time. She hated how comforting his hand felt around hers. She shouldn’t have let the crowd get to her like that.
Heather watched the back of Patrick’s head as they walked. She’d known him for as long as she’d been involved with the 24-Hour Plays. He’d come on to her often, even though she always turned him down. Right now she was grateful for the familiar face—or familiar brown head, rather—though she normally would be more reserved around him, not wanting to lead him on. He was attractive and wealthy and powerful, but his charm was too smooth. Sweet nothings and soft caresses did nothing to fire up her libido. Truthfully, she couldn’t say what it was that fired her up, but she knew it wasn’t Patrick.
Patrick opened the doors of the private dining room and gestured to the large rectangular table in the center of the room. “I’ve saved you a seat at the end by me,” he said. “I’m just going to let the hostess know that our party is complete and I’ll be right in. Oh, the waitress has already been by—can I put in a drink order for you?”
What she wanted was a mug of beer, but her next movie featured her in a bikini so extra calories were out of the question. “A glass of White Zin, please.”
She heard him shut the doors behind her as she surveyed the room that bustled with chatter and the clinking sounds of glasses and bottles. There were nearly thirty people there, many that she recognized. She spotted a few members of the Urban Arts Board of Directors at one long end of the table.
For a long moment, she stood watching the group, unseen by anyone. Usually she was the center of attention. It was both odd and surreal to be in a room unnoticed. And also awfully nice. Like a slice of heaven.
But in her experience, heaven never lasted long. Neil Phillips, the coordinator of the plays, saw her and waved her over, prompting a few of the people sitting next to him to look up. “Heather!” he exclaimed, standing to give her a hug as she approached. “I hear you’re taking Rosie’s place last minute.”
“Like anyone could take Rosie’s place,” she said.
“If anyone can, it’s you.”
Heather gave him her first genuine smile of the evening. Of the many people who had worked with her on stage and film, Neil was one of the few who saw past her “difficult” status. He’d never done anything but bolster and uplift her and she had nothing but respect and admiration for him.
After Neil sat back down, she greeted his assistants and a few of the other people she recognized as stage crew. Then the Urban Arts crowd had to say hello. Finally, after greeting nearly everyone, she moved to the empty chair.
“Here, let me.” The man sitting next to her spot stood to pull out her chair for her.
“Thank you.” She sat down then shifted to face the man as he retook his own seat. Her breath caught.
God, he was gorgeous.
Not pretty-boy-leading-actor gorgeous like the men she worked with, but rough-rugged-muscular-man gorgeous. His dark blond hair fell high on his forehead, giving a perfect view into his light blue eyes that twinkled in the low light of the room. She guessed he was her age—her real age of thirty-three, not the twenty-nine all her online bios stated. But then he smiled and the creases at the edges of his eyes suggested he might be older, or that he had spent a lot of time smiling. Either way, the laugh lines made him all the more handsome.