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Here Comes the Bride by Theresa Ragan

Copyright 2013 by Theresa Ragan These stories are works of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the authors imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from Theresa Ragan. Editor: Cathy Katz Formatting by LK E-Book Formatting Service http://design.lkcampbell.com/ Proofreaders: Karen Lawson and Janet Hitchcock http://theproofisinthereading.wordpress.com/ Proofreader: Faith Williams http://www.theatwatergroup.com Cover art by LFD Designs for Authors http://www.mycoverart.wordpress.com/

About the Author

After reading her first romance novel in 1991, Theresa knew she wanted to be an author. She spent the next five years researching medieval times and writing Return of the Rose. She was also working full time and raising four children, but she knew she was a writer when nothing could stop her from getting the words to the page. She has garnered six Golden Heart nominations in Romance Writers of America's prestigious Golden Heart Competition for her work. After writing for twenty years, Theresa self-published in 2011 and went on to sell over 600,000 e-books in two years. She recently signed with Thomas & Mercer. Theresa lives with her husband and the youngest of four children in Sacramento. When shes not writing, she likes to play the piano, travel, and hang out with her family.

Other works by Theresa Ragan


Taming Mad Max Having My Baby An Offer He Cant Refuse Finding Kate Huntley A Knight in Central Park Return of the Rose Thrillers by T.R. Ragan Abducted Dead Weight A Dark Mind

If you would like to know when Theresas next book will be released, please sign up for her mailing list at http://www.theresaragan.com/ Theresa can also be found on Twitter and Facebook

Thank you to my husband and best friend, Joe, for always having my back. I love you

Here Comes the Bride


by Theresa Ragan Samantha Johnston, a reporter for the LA Beat, is determined to attend the wedding of one of Americas hottest actors in hopes of learning the identity of his mystery bride. Not only does Samantha manage to sneak into the church, she ends up saying, I do.

Contents
Title page About the Author

Other works by Theresa Ragan Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty-One Chapter Twenty-Two Chapter Twenty-Three Chapter Twenty-Four Chapter Twenty-Five Chapter Twenty-Six Chapter Twenty-Seven Chapter Twenty-Eight Epilogue

Chapter One

Samantha Johnston, reporter for the LA Beat, stood inside a cramped hallway with a dozen other perspiring, frustrated reporters all waiting for security to escort them to a special viewing room inside the church. A couple of exhausted reporters sat on the floor. One man, built like a linebacker, had positioned himself in the corner, his arms crossed and his eyes closed. An older woman with short tufts of black hair leaned against the door, steely eyes daring anyone to get in her way, determined to be the first inside. As Samantha glanced at her watch, an elbow stabbed into her side, making her wince. It was ten minutes to twelvealmost time for the ceremony to start. She certainly hadnt traveled all the way from Los Angeles to New York to get locked out of the wedding of the century. Dominic DeMarco, the hottest actor in the country, was getting married, and she was determined to be the first to learn the identity of his mystery bride. It was time to show her boss, her family, and even the world that she could make something of herself. After all, she had majored in journalism and minored in communications and was more than prepared for the job. Her goal was to be one of the best investigative journalists in Los Angeles, but after graduation, the only place she could get a job was the LA Beat. Everyone had to start somewhere. Sam had worked for the paper for five years and this was her first shot at getting a story of her own. Nothing and nobody was going to get in her way. Tired of waiting, she pushed her way through the crowded area and headed back to the lobby. Once there, she stayed close to the wall, hidden in the shadows. Two security guards passed close by and then entered the main entrance to the church. After the main doors clicked shut, she took off across the lobby as fast as her heels and tight skirt would allow. Ducking behind a potted ficus, she waited a moment to make sure the coast was clear. If security spotted her, theyd throw her outside to wait with all the other thousands of people hoping to catch a glimpse of Dominic DeMarco and the luckiest woman in the world. She peeked around crisp green leaves. One long passageway circled the entire church. And like the area shed just left, there was a door at the end of the passageway on this side of the church, too. Thank God. She rushed that way and turned the knob. Locked. Damn. Voices caught her attention. Frustration edged their masculine tones. She tiptoed back the way shed come and made her way through an open door to her right. The room was dimly lit. An exquisite oil painting of a stormy sea decorated the wall above a rich, walnut desk. Past the desk area and through connecting double doors, she saw two impeccably dressed men in tuxedos. She poked her head inside and said, Excuse me. I was accidentally locked out of the church. Would either of you happen to have a key to the back door? Both men turned her way.

Frowns of annoyance covered their faces. There was a third man, but it was impossible to see him clearly since he stood in a shadowy alcove, one shoulder leaning against the wall. She would guess the men to be in their early thirties. One was stylish and handsome, while the other had a cleanly shaven head and a couple of tattoos to go with an eyebrow ring. They did not look happy to see her. How did you get in here? I was locked out of the church. If you could just point me in the right direction, Ill We cant point you in the right direction, miss, because there isnt going to be any Ben, the bald man said, interrupting, dont be rash. Julia could still be coming. Theres still time. Shes not coming, the man in the shadows informed them. A shiver shot up Sams spine. Obviously shed interrupted a very serious discussion. Fortunately for her, the two angry men quickly turned their focus on the man half hidden in the dark. What do you mean Julias not coming? the man named Ben asked. What havent you told us, Dominic? Sams heart raced. Dominic? Dominic DeMarco? It couldnt be. This was too good to be true. Her go-get-em approach might have actually worked this time. She stepped quietly inside the room and stood on her tiptoes as she tried to get a better look at the man in the shadows, but the two men hovered around him now, making it impossible for her to get a good look. Julia decided she couldnt go through with it, Dominic told the two men. Sam couldnt tell if DeMarco sounded sad or just disappointed. Julia had to be the mystery bridebut who was she really? An actor? A new lover? Sam and her co-workers, along with everyone else in the country, had been speculating on the identity of the mystery bride for weeks but the name Julia had never come up. Why did Julia change her mind? Ben asked, his voice lined with frustration. She wouldnt say. She was upset. I think she was crying. What the hell was she crying for? Were the ones who should be crying. Knock it off, Ben, the other man cut in. When she arrives at the church, well talk to her. Shes probably experiencing a bit of cold feet. DeMarco spoke as he maneuvered his way around the two men. Read my lips. Shes not coming. In fact, shes on her way to Europe. Since she wanted to make sure the paparazzi couldnt get to her in case her identity was leaked. The tiny hairs on the back of Sams neck stood on end. No wonder they hadnt let the reporters inside the church yet. There was no bride. Reaching inside her purse, she clicked on the tape recorder hidden within her bag.

Now that DeMarco was no longer hidden in the shadows, she took note of how much taller he appeared in person. Dominic DeMarcos incredibly handsome face and legendary dimples kept him on the cover of every magazine in every town across America. Millions of women swooned over his tall, athletic build and twinkling blue eyes. Truth be told, she too had once joined the ranks of millions and fallen in love with DeMarco, but that was years ago. Who wouldnt fall for a handsome little boy playing the role of a poor orphan? She had bought his poster and every day before heading off to school, she would kiss his sweet paper lips. But then the boy turned into a man, and it wasnt long before he was just like all the other celebrities who made it bigan egotistical womanizer. No thank-you. Julia, whoever she was, should be thankful to have come to her senses in time. What sort of life would it be for a woman to be chained to a man like DeMarco? Ben placed a hand on DeMarcos shoulder. I guess this is it. I dont know what else to do. As Ben headed across the room toward the bar in the corner of the room, Sam stood still, praying theyd all forgotten she was still there. Her gaze locked on DeMarcos perfect chin with the Kirk Douglas divot. He was looking downward and his frown made her wonder if he might have actually had feelings for the bride-to-be, or in this case, bride-to-have-been. Ben looked at the bald man. Tom, you better go out there and tell everyone the wedding is off. Tom frowned. We cant give up yet. The public is mesmerized by DeMarco. Since the announcement of his impending marriage, his approval ratings have soared and movie deals are pouring in. And lets not forget that World Studios is sponsoring the wedding today. But no wedding means no millions. Weve got to think. Sam hid her surprise beneath a clenched jaw. A million questions begged to spew forth, but she knew she had to refrain from speaking or risk being thrown out. Weeks ago, when DeMarco had made an official statement to the press about his intention to marry, Sam had speculated with the rest of the world why he would suddenly do such a thing. DeMarco wasnt the marrying type and everybody knew it. Some guessed hed knocked up one of his girlfriends, but she couldnt imagine a guy like DeMarco marrying out of honor. Marrying for money made more sense. Greed fit right in with the rest of DeMarcos less than complimentary characteristics. She patted her purse. Wait until the world hears about this. Tom jangled the change in his pocket. Theres got to be a way out of this mess. Ben shook his head. I dont think so. Not unless you can find a bride in the next two minutes

Not likely, Sam thought as she gazed downward into the depths of her purse and prayed her recorder was getting it all. When she looked up, she saw three men staring at her as if shed just waved a big red flag in their direction. Until that moment, she was pretty sure Dominic DeMarco hadnt realized she was in the room. But he knew it now, and as he stepped closer, his gaze roamed up and down her body, his eyes sucking her in like one of those new Oreck XL Deluxe vacuum cleaners. The cad. Is there something we can do for you? Dominic asked in what sounded to her like a ridiculous, albeit well-practiced, drawl. Ummnono, thank you. I was here for the wedding She took a step back toward the door. Since there isnt going to be one, Ill be on my way. She turned to leave. Stop right there, one of the men called out. She turned around, pointed to her chest. Yes, you, Ben said. Come here. He knew about her tape recorder. Crap. She stood frozen in place, praying he wouldnt ask to look inside her purse. Ben looked at Dominic and said, She sort of looks like Julia, doesnt she? Dominic stepped closerclose enough for her to get a whiff of his expensive cologne. She refused to let him intimidate her. Looking into vast blue eyes, she stared him down. Shes shorter than Julia, Dominic said. And then his gaze fell to her breasts, prompting him to shake his head and shrug. No, she doesnt look anything like Julia. Sam held in a growl. I dont think I like where this conversation is headed. Ben smiled. I think this might work.

Chapter Two
Were they all deaf? Sam wondered. The solution to our problem could very well be standing right in front of us, Tom agreed, his cheery voice grating on her nerves.

Whatever it is you men are talking about, she said as she headed for the door, I dont want to know. Im outta here. Ben took a shortcut around the sofa and rushed toward the exit, blocking her way. He glanced at the press pass hanging around her neck. Samantha Johnston, he read. Youre a reporter, right? What about it? He lifted her left hand and examined her ring finger. Youre not married. She pulled her hand from his grasp. No. And I really dont think thats any of your business. All you have to do is marry Dominic, Ben said, something most women would give their left arm to do. I happen to be attached to my left arm, Sam said with a snort, and besides, youre all nuts. Theres no way Im going to marry this man. No offense, DeMarco, but Im not into the whole celebrity scene. No offense taken. I feel the same way about reporters. She chose to ignore that statement. Well pay you one hundred thousand dollars, the other man blurted, as if money solved all problems. She laughed and leaned her chin into her chest, talking loud enough so the recorder would get it all. Let me get this straight. Youre making millions of dollars off a billion-dollar company and youre offering me a measly hundred thousand dollars to marry a womanizing, reporter-loathing George Clooney wannabe? Ben seemed to ponder her words before he said, Youre right. Make it two hundred fifty thousand. No more. No less. Hey, I take exception to that, Dominic said. And for the record, he added, looking at Sam, I dont loathe reporters, I just dont trust them. Obviously Im not making myself clear, she said. Im not in the mood to get married today, so forget it. The only way to make a reporter do what you want, Dominic muttered, is to give them a story. Tom nodded in agreement. Bens eyes lit up. Thats it! Well give her an exclusive. After the marriage is over, she can write her own life story about what its like being married to a celebrity, he said, pointing at Dominic. Imagine, Samantha. A hugespread in every popular magazinebut nothing goes into print until the marriage has been dissolved. Sam straightened. Youre all insane. I actually agree with her, Dominic said, sounding less like a surly, spoiled man who had everything and more like a normal guy in a desperate situation. Get out of her way, Ben. Let her go. Just hear me out, will you? Ben asked Sam. Nobody knows who DeMarco is going to marry. Thats part of the big ruckus and one of the reasons

why World Studios is willing to shell out big bucks to be a part of the big day. This wedding is not just a wedding anymorethis thing is bigger than all of us. And since nobody knows who hes going to marry, Tom added, nobody will care who he walks down the aisle with today. What about the reception? Dominic asked. Sam feigned disinterest although she, too, was curious to know how they planned to pull off such a ridiculous stunt. What about it? Ben asked. All the two of you need to do is live it up and party. The congregation is made up of a few big names, but mostly fansone of the reasons we brought the wedding to New York. Nobody will blink an eye when they see an unfamiliar face at your side. Dominic loosened his bow tie. You pretend to be someone youre not for a living, Ben said. And she makes up stories for a living. Youre perfect for each other. I dont make up stories, Sam said. I write what I see. I tell the truth. All three men laughed at the same time. She rolled her eyes. What about after the reception? she found herself asking out of what she considered morbid curiosity. Ben stepped between her and Dominic and slapped a hand against Dominics back. Youll do what all newlyweds doyoull go on a honeymoon. Sam opened her mouth to protest, but Ben stopped her with a raised hand. Hear me out, he said. We made a deal with World Studios, the leader in the entertainment industry. Youll go to Hawaii for your honeymoon. Its a huge suiteplenty of room. You dont have to share a bed unless you want to, he added with a wink. Sam gritted her teeth at the prospect. Dominic merely shrugged. My bags are back at my hotel, she said as if she might actually go through with this madness. Would she? Could she? Exclusive story of a lifetime? Not to mention two hundred fifty thousand dollars. She could see the headlines now: Small-Time Journalist Marries UltraHandsome, Ultra-Rich Celebrity Actor. Just tell me your name and the hotel where youre staying, Tom said, and Ill send someone to retrieve your bags and settle the bill at your hotel. You wont have to worry about a thing. I dont know Youve got two seconds to make up your mind, Ben said. Samantha Sue Johnston, she blurted. Just call me Sam. Samantha Sue, Dominic repeated under his breath. Is that a problem? she asked her husband-to-be. Nope.

Great, Ben said as his arm curled around her shoulder. Ill draw up a quick agreement and all you have to do is sign on the dotted line. Youll be set for life. Sam removed his arm as if it were a poisonous snake and looked Ben in the eyes, searching for the courage to just say no. But she couldnt do it. He was right. This was her big chance, the sort of opportunity that only came around once every million years. Ben reminded her of one of those flashy, fast-talking car salesmen but, despite her reluctance, she nodded. Ben gave her a suffocating hug. See, he said to Dominic, shes spunky and beautiful. Now she knew Ben was full of it. With her dirty-blonde hair plastered against her face after being stuck in the corridor for hours and her clothes wrinkled and clinging to her skin, she looked far from beautiful. After the honeymoon, you two will fly back to Los Angeles, where I will have everything you need ready and waiting at your Malibu estate, Ben said. What do you mean when we get back to Los Angeles? Sam asked. After the honeymoon, we can call it quits, right? Ben shook his head. You two must be married for a minimum of three months, which means youre going to have to live together, you know, do all the normal things newlyweds do. Otherwise the contract between Dominic and World Studios is void." Sam frowned. So, you really are doing this for money? Dominic loosened his tie a little more. Yeah, Ben said, but that's neither here nor there. As you can see, this wedding has grown into a nationwide story. Its not just about money anymore. Its bigger than all of us. You already said that, and what does that mean, anyhow? Bigger than all of us, she muttered. What else does he have to do? Consummate the marriage? Have two point five kids and name one after the son of the World Studios CEO? Dominic chuckled. This isnt funny, she said. No, its not, Dominic agreed. But if were going to go through with this, sweetheart, youve got to lighten up. She turned to Tom. She didnt trust Ben and she didnt like Dominic. Tom appeared to be the only normal guy in the room. Is that all of it? she asked. Anything else I should know? Thats it, Tom said. Three months of marriage, a few miscellaneous engagements, and the money will be yours to keep. And the exclusive? she asked. And the exclusive.

Her stomach gurgled. Im not dressed for a wedding, she pointed out, and since I dont make it a habit of packing an emergency wedding gown Itll be fine, Ben assured her. Youre not as tall, but youre about the same size as Julia. Close enough. Her dress is in the other room, ready to go. Weve got hair and makeup people waiting. Ill be close by the entire time. Ill take care of everything. Like I said before, all you need to do is sign a few documents agreeing to keep everything weve talked about in this room today confidential. How am I going to write an exclusive if I cant be truthful about what went on today? Ben sighed. In three months, when this is all over, everyone is going to want to know what it was like to be married to the sexiest actor in America. Theyre going to wantyour story, Samantha. They dont need to know why you walked down the aisle today. He had a point. She didnt have to lie. She just wouldnt tell everything right from the beginning. She could write a book, beginning with their first day as husband and wife:Ninety Days as Mrs. Dominic DeMarco or My Life as an Arrogant Actors Wife. There wasnt a woman in the world who wouldnt want to know what Dominic DeMarco looked like in the morning, what he wore to bed, whether or not he had any distinguishing birthmarks Her cheeks heated at the thought. It could be worse, she told herself. When it came to looks, DeMarco had it all: thick dark hair, blue eyes, strong firm jaw, dimples, and a great body. Dominic fidgeted with his collar for the umpteenth time. His face had grown pinched, his jaw tight. He was nervous. Ben must have noticed DeMarcos reaction because Ben pulled Dominic aside and said in an undertone, Take a deep breath. Youll walk down the aisle, say a couple of words, and thats all there is to it. Ben looked over his shoulder at Sam, obviously worried he might lose them both. Dont forget, Samantha, youll have the story of a lifetime. Newspapers and television shows around the country will be vying for your attention before and after the marriage ends. She hated to admit it, but the whole idea had a certain crazy, disgusting appeal to it. Both her brothers were successful. She was the black sheep of the family. She had been working long hours with little sleep for yearsalways hoping to catch a break. She couldnt walk away from the deal of a lifetime. She always said she needed a little adventure in her life. What harm could it do? For a few short months, she would be Mrs. Dominic DeMarco. Not only would she prove to her family she was a success in her own right, she would walk away with enough money to put a down payment on a house. Hell, she could buy a house for that amount. And the cherry on top would be telling the world the truth about the manevery sordid detail.

A tall man with a shaved head and a face red from lack of oxygen poked his head into the room, and said with a flustered voice, There are hundreds of fidgety people waiting for the ceremony to begin, not to mention thousands of fans waiting outside in the heat, hoping to get a glimpse of the bride and groom. Whats going on? Tell the guests theyll be there soon, Tom said as he ushered the man out of the room. When they could no longer hear departing footsteps, Ben looked at Sam. So, whats it going to be? Are you in? Her stomach knotted. Under one condition. After the three months are over, I might want to write a book, too. As long as you leave out the reasons why Dominic married you in the first place, Ben said. World Studios would not be happy to discover they were duped. Theyll never know. Ill market it as fiction. Maybe even a romance. Depends on how I decide to end the story. Definitely not a romance then, Dominic added. Because all romances have a happy ending and theres no way this is going to end on a happy note. She smiled. Sounds like someone reads romance. Ben looked at Dominic and raised a curious brow. DeMarco didnt bother denying or confirming the accusation; he just looked at Sam with those arctic blue eyes of his and said, Could you go put on the wedding dress? Id like to get this over with.

Chapter Three
Thirty minutes later, Sam stood with her hand tucked into the crook of Bens arm, staring at the closed mahogany doors of the church. She could hear the swell of the music, Pachelbels Canon in D, and smell the fragrant white roses in the two massive arrangements flanking the double doors. Im going to be sick. One minute she was sneaking through the church looking for a story and in the next minute she was the story.

To make matters worse, Ben had just reminded her that the wedding would be televised. She could only pray her mother wasnt watching. Mom would faint dead away. And what about Dad? Although she hadnt felt close to her dad in years, she wished him no ill will, and he had a weak heart. How selfish could she be? I cant do this, she told Ben. An attendant opened the church doors. Sure you can, Ben said, pulling her hand through the crook of his arm. He stepped forward, urging her onward. A congregation of about five hundred turned their gazes in her direction. Her left eye twitched. With a rustle of movement, the congregation stood. A trickle of sweat made its way down the left side of her Spanx. Brides didnt sweat, she was sure of it. But she wasnt like most brides, was she? She was a fake bride. The music changed to Mendelssohns Wedding March. Every eye riveted on her. DeMarco stood at the other side of the church, looking tall, dark, and temporary, which was a good thing. She certainly didnt want anything permanent with a guy like him. As reality sank in, she started to feel faint. Fake wedding or not, her father should be here at her side, not Ben. And what about her niece, Emma? Emma would be devastated to find out she wasnt even invited to the wedding. Her heart plummeted. She hardly ever cried, but that didnt stop her eyes from misting up with hot, prickly tears. Damn. Smile, Ben said through the corner of his mouth as he guided her across the aisle. This is supposed to be the happiest day of your life. She forced a tight smile as she glanced at the camera to her left. Despite Bens warning about cameras, she hadnt expected so many. Every third pew had a little roving eye that followed her every step. She even caught a movement in the flower arrangement near the altar. She wouldnt be surprised if somebody had stuck a camera in her bouquet. She looked down at the beautiful cascade of white roses and tulips mixed with stephanotis and jasmine. If there was a tiny camera stuffed in there, that would mean thousands, maybe even millions, of people could see up her nose. Her stomach twisted. Remember the story, she reminded herself. Take notes. Dont panic. This is your big chance. Think of the look on Moms face when you take her on vacation, just the two of you. Ben deposited her at DeMarcos side. She looked at Dominic, surprised to see his hands jammed into his pockets, his face ashen. The man was nervous. What had first looked like an unwavering gaze was really a blank stare. So blank she had to resist the urge to wave her

hand in front of his face to see if shed get a reactiona blink of his eyes, something, anything. The man looked as if he might faint or maybe even run. Oddly enough, the notion that he might be absolutely terrified comforted her in some small shallow way. *** As he waited before the altar for his new bride to come through the closed doors, Dominic tugged at his bow tie. This was absolutely, certifiably, the most insane thing hed ever agreed to do. And it was his uncles faultthe man who had wiped his business accounts clean. But once again, Dominic was the one being sacrificed at the altar. He stared down the red carpet toward the doors. Maybe the reporter had changed her mind. The thought helped him relax as he willed the doors to remain closed. Glancing over his shoulder toward the altar, he noticed the magnificent, stained-glass windows with images of the apostles. Nice churchonly the best for a guy who had everythingeverything and nothing all at once. Turning back to the crowd, he let out a cumbersome sigh. The church was filled to capacity. White satin ribbons and flowers adorned the pews. Hundreds of people murmured and shifted in their seats, watching and waiting. He was used to being stared at, but this was different in the sense that he felt unmercifully trapped. Here he stood at the altar of doom, waiting to marry a scrawny reporter who ate celebrities for dinner. Absurd. But his managers were right. Not only did he need the money now that his accounts had been cleaned out, his career needed a jumpstart. Telling the world he was getting married seemed to be doing the trick and yet it turned his stomach to think he was duping his fans. His gaze moved to the media huddled together in the far section of the church. For weeks now, they had been falling over one another to get to him, wanting to know anything he would tell them about his new bride. They would have a field day today. The media would want to know everything about Samantha Johnstons life, asking her for details about her family, her childhood, about every guy shed ever dated. The notion caused him to stand a little taller, feel a little better. Samantha Johnston would be so busy answering reporters questions over the next few months she wouldnt have time to bother him. Ha! The thought of the nosy little reporter getting a taste of her own medicine cheered him immeasurably. People came to their feet and looked toward the double doors. The beat of Dominics heart drummed against his chest.

The organist began to play. His stand-in bride hadnt run off after all. He inhaled as Ben ushered her through the doors. The makeup people had worked their magic. Her dirty-blonde hair looked shiny and soft, flowing over pale shoulders. She no longer had smudges of makeup under her eyes. She looked beautiful. As she moved closer, he noticed a red, blotchy nose through the thin veil. Had she been crying? Nah. Reporters dont cry, especially this one. Maybe she had allergies. He couldnt begin to guess what might be going through that head of hers, although her frown spoke volumes. Would she be frowning like that for the next three months? That worried him. He liked his privacy. He liked having a nice quiet house to go home to, a place where he could sit back and relax, an empty house devoid of frowning reporters. This scenario could have been yanked right out of a lousy B movie. His life had spiraled out of control. Hed finally hit bottom. And yet it was his own fault. He never should have agreed to this nonsense. After his uncle had wiped out his accounts, hed panicked. His second mistake was listening to Ben and Tom when they came up with this absurd idea. A tremendous urge to march down the aisle and out the door struck him. He should run for his liferun right out of the church and never look back. Before he could make his move, though, Ben deposited Samantha at his side, placing her hand in his.

Chapter Four
Her fingers felt ridiculously soft. Through the gauzy veil, Dominic saw big brown eyes, a small red nose, and full lips. She looked nothing like the determined gutsy reporter hed met twenty minutes ago. Her hands trembled, and from the looks of it, she had definitely shed a tear or two. Are you all right? She swallowed. Ill be fine. Hell. Her sad face made him feel like a heel, as if he were forcing himself on the woman. Listen. If you cant go through with this, I understand.

She shook her head. Im okay. I was thinking about my family and how theyre missing my wedding day. Sweetheart, he muttered, this isnt real. I know that, but my family wont. Other than his mother, whod left him at a young age, his drunk of a father, and thieving Uncle Frank who was probably soaking up the Caribbean sun about now, and a half-sister nobody knew about, he didnt have any family. Despite all that, he said, Im sorry. She sniffled. He grabbed his silk handkerchief from his pocket, slipped it under her veil and over her nose. Blow. She blew. More murmurs from the crowd; they probably thought his bride was shedding tears of happiness. She looked at him with eyes that hinted at kindness. Big brown eyes the color of melted chocolate. The minister cleared his throat, letting them know they needed to get on with the show. Dominic tucked the handkerchief back into his pocket and led her up two wide steps, his left hand cupping her right elbow as he escorted her to the altar. The minister nodded. He was the real deal, Dominic thought, setting his heart to race in earnest. The minister was not a paid actor. This wasnt a movie set and the people sitting in the pews were not being paid to be here. They were real people who had taken the day off to see him marry the woman they thought he loved. Suddenly, he found it difficult to take another step forward. Out of the blue, Sam said, Dont think about it. Think happy thoughts. Happy thoughts? Who the hell was he marryingMary Poppins? By tomorrow afternoon well be in Hawaii, surrounded by white sand and drinking pia coladas. A shot of whisky would do him wonders about now. He glanced at Sam, then at the minister, and then over his shoulder once again, his gaze following the path of red carpet down the stairs and across the length of the long narrow aisle that led to the church doors. Thirty seconds flat and he could be out those doors. But Sam touched his arm again, a gentle caress that caused him to look into big doe eyes that appeared to be looking right into the depths of his soul. Damn. If he ran, shed be humiliated in front of millions of people; her coworkers would harass her for the rest of her life. What would her family think? And after all this, she wouldnt even have a story for all her troubles. Shed have nothing but angst and ridicule.

He scowled. Hed go through with the ceremony. And then everybody would be happyeveryone except him. They were standing before the minister now, if you could call it standing. His legs felt rubbery. Miraculously, less than twenty minutes later, he was still standing when the minister said, You may now kiss the bride. Dominic didnt move. I think youre supposed to lift the veil, Sam coached, and kiss me. If he had a dollar for every time a woman told him to kiss her, hed be a rich man. Only this kiss was supposed to be different, better than all the others. Everybody was waiting for the kiss. The pressure was almost too much to bear. There were cameras everywhere, hidden in darkened alcoves and places he couldnt see. Kissing was his specialty. No problemo. He was a pro. Women had been known to faint after one of his kisses. And he was good at faking it. The directors were the ones who made it look real, though, telling him how to angle his head just so, what sort of expression to wear, where to put his hands. But right now his mind was a big blank. He had to act as if he wanted to kiss heras if it truly were his big day and hed been waiting for this kiss all his life. Hed kissed dozens of starlets. Hot, warm, sexy kisses. But usually there was some chemistry working between themsomething tangible that showed on the big screen. He liked kissing. In fact, he couldnt think of another activity that combined the senses in such a pleasurable way: The look in her eyes, her smell, her sighs, the feel of her lips, and tongue, and her gentle touch all wrapped in one delicious kiss. But his bride didnt want to be here. She wasnt an actor. All she wanted was a story. Simple as that. For the next three months, she was going to be his shadow, following him around, asking a lot of stupid questions, taking notes every time he moved. Shit. He needed something to draw onsome small tidbit of commonality to help him make the kiss look real. Tell me about yourself, he said. Are you serious? Right now? Yes, hurry. Do you like your parents? I have tremendous respect and admiration for them both. Whats your favorite food? Tacos. Tacos? Really? This wasnt working. He sighed impatiently. Favorite color? Green? Oh, never mind. He lifted the veil. A sigh floated through the church.

Sams eyes closed and her rosy lips parted slightly, just enough to encourage him to lean forward and brush his lips over hers. She tasted like mint and smelled like roses. Kissing Samantha Johnston wasnt half bad. Kissing her soft, full lips was nice. Yeahmaybe even better than nice. Angling his head just so, he deepened the kiss. Their audience responded with a cacophony of happy sounds that literally bounced off the walls of the sanctuary. Reluctantly, Dominic pulled away. Her eyes were still shut, her lips pink and plump. He grabbed her hand, watched her eyes flutter open, even smiled. It was over. Hed done it. In the balcony, the organist began to play a cheery tune Dominic didnt recognize, prompting him to guide Sam down the aisle toward the tall double doors. As they swept past the congregation, people reached out to touch them while others smiled and gave their congratulations. The doors had been propped open. Traffic had come to a stop. The streets were jam-packed. Police held onlookers back as best they could. Whoops of joy sounded, cameras flashed, and as they exited the church, Dominic felt a tug on his hand. Samanthas dress was too long for her and was caught on something. Panicked, she dropped her bouquet and used her free hand to tug at the back of her dress. People moved in like packs of hungry wolves. Security was nowhere to be seen. Flashbulbs blinded him as the crowd pushed forward, causing him to lose hold of Sams hand. He was pushed away from his bride and backward into a sea of people. He hadnt minded the idea of Sam getting a taste of her own medicine, but this was ridiculous. She could get seriously hurt. Being six foot three gave him the advantage of seeing over the mob of people. He caught a glimpse of white silk; she looked like a fragile white rose being trampled by a throng of people gone wild. Sam! he shouted. Over here! An arm shot up ahead. He pushed his way back through the crowd, even picked up one small woman and deposited her into the arms of a man to his left, clearing a path to his bride. By the time he got to Sams side, shed been stripped of her veil. An overly zealous lady had taken the lacey headpiece and even now, as he looked over all the people, he saw the crazy woman break through the crowd and run. My dress is stuck on the doorstop, Sam told him. Here, let me see. He wrapped his arms around her so he could get a look at the source of the problem, and then he grabbed the back of her dress. Where did you two meet? a reporter shouted. In church, Sam answered truthfully before turning back to Dominic. Here, she said, maybe if we both pull. Security shouted for everyone to move back toward the street, but nobody listened.

Dominic and Sam both pulled on the fabric, trying not to rip the dress, but nothing happened. Hell. Dominic grabbed two fistfuls this time and yanked, ripping the dress and pulling her free. With her dress in hand, he flew backward, knocking people on his way down and clearing a new path through the masses until he was flat on his back. Before he could see straight, Sam was hovering over him, clearly amused as she offered him a hand. You think thats funny? I do. That was the second time hed heard her say I do in the past ten minutes. It was too much. He had to get out of here before he lost all sense of normalcy. Somehow he managed to get to his feet again, and then bend over and grab Sam around the waist, lifting her into his arms and ignoring her protests as he carried her through the crowd. She was as light as a bouquet of rosesroses with lots of sharp, pointy thorns. By the time he reached the limo and deposited her inside, Ben appeared. Is she okay? He looked at Sam. I think so, she said, wiggling one shoeless foot. We better get out of here, Ben said, but before they could stop him, Dominic turned around and disappeared back into the growing mob.

Chapter Five
What was DeMarco doing? Sam wondered. Was he crazy? Without a doubt. And she wasnt any better. Shed married the playboy and she was now officially Mrs. Dominic DeMarco. Dominic reappeared five minutes later, climbed in next to her, and shut the door. The limo merged into traffic and headed down Fifth Street.

Dominic DeMarco, actor, voted Sexiest Man Alive three years in a row, and now her husband, had returned. And dangling from his left hand was one white satin pump. The man had gone back for her shoe. She tilted her head so she could get a closer look at him as she tried to figure him out. Ben sat in the front passenger seat; a tinted window separated them. The world has gone mad, Dominic said as he casually leaned over and scooped up her silk covered foot in his hand. His long lean fingers felt warm on her foot, making her flesh tingle. DeMarco had no business making her shiver in places shed never shivered beforelike between her toes, for instance. She didnt want to react to his touch. Conceited celebrities did not turn her on. He smelled good though, woodsy and manly. He looked good, too. Not only had he saved her from being crushed by a mob, hed carried her to the limo without breathing heavily or breaking a sweat. The tingling she was experiencing made sense. Any woman in her right mind would be tingling about now, especially a woman who couldnt remember the last time shed had sex. Well, that wasnt exactly true. It had been three hundred fifty days, give or take a couple of hours. Not that she was keeping track or anything. She tried not to breathe in his earthy scent. Nothing to worry about, she told herself. She was in control of the situation as she watched him attempt to put her shoe on her foot like a regular Prince Charming. She inhaled again and knew she had to put a stop to this madness. She pulled her foot away. I can do that, she said politely as she slipped it on her foot. There. Youre frowning, he said. What happened to happy thoughts, go with the flow, pia coladas and white sandy beaches? She pushed strands of hair out of her face. That was before you kissed me like that in the church. Like what? You knowdeep and long, and with all that passion. Deep and long, huh? She nodded. I figured we were just going to brush our lips together and pretend. I meanI really didnt see any reason for you to use your tongue. How could I resist? Give me a break. Shed seen the kind of women he datedtall, thin, dropdead-gorgeous. Fine. Whatever, she said with a huff. Why dont you just say whats on your mind and get it off your chest. She straightened her spine. Okay, I will. Youre a charmer, she said, pointing an incriminating finger at him. I already knew you were a womanizer, but I never considered the charming part.

You shouldnt believe everything you read, or should I say, everything you write. I write what I see. You write what you think you see. Thats not true, but Ill go so far as to admit there are some unscrupulous paparazzi and journalists. But I am always fair. I have integrity. And will you also admit that for every immoral paparazzo there is one famous person whose character has been ripped to shreds by a reporters exaggerated words? I see the relationship as a mutually beneficial alliance. Sort of like this marriage of ours. Not exactly. He let out a caustic laugh. Let me guess. You believe youre getting the short end of the stick? No doubt about it. And you think Im some sort of playboy? Duh. And what have you seen with your own two eyes to make you come to that conclusion? Hmmm, lets see. Isabel Wheaton, Pamela Scott, Jennifer Visel, Tori Pinton, Carrie, Christieshall I go on? Although I dont usually go out of my way to defend myself, he said, seeming to choose his words carefully, especially to a tabloid reporter, what would you say if I told you I never met Pamela Scott or Tori Pinton? I would say hogwash. Hogwash, huh? Thats right. A picture is worth a thousand words. And in the next three months, if I prove that a picture isnt worth the paper its printed on, what will you give me? What is it you want, DeMarco? she asked, although she had a pretty good idea. The exclusive Ben promised you. She raised an eyebrow. And here I thought you might be trying to get me into bed. First things first. She snorted. She knew she wasnt a beauty like the women he kept company with. Her face was plain. She had okay lips, but she was flat-chested, did not have long legs, and was often referred to as cute, never sexy. Youre wound awfully tight, sweetheart. I dont make you nervous, do I? Im completely unaffected by your charisma, DeMarco. Thats too bad. For you maybe, she said. Definitely for me. He sat back. So does this mean we cant be friends?

We can be friends. Because youre immune to my charm? he asked. Exactly. Why is it I feel Ive been cut to the quick? Because its probably very disconcerting for a man like you to find yourself trapped with a woman who already knows everything there is to know about youa woman who wouldnt sleep with you even if you were the last man on earth. His laughter bounced off the tinted windows. Youre very funny, he said. Did anyone ever tell you that? Go ahead and laugh, but Ill be the one who gets the last laugh because I know exactly how guys like you work. I dont know what youre talking about, he said with a devilish twinkle in his eye. But for some bizarre reason, I sort of like you. She shook her head, ignoring the tingles that continued to wash over her every time he looked at her with his dazzling eyes. For a moment, maybe two, she understood perfectly why so many women had fallen into his bed. She shook off the thought. Thats exactly what Im talking about, she went on. Im supposed to get all excited because you sort of like me. You think you know exactly what to say to make a girl like me fall for a guy like you. He looked genuinely confused. What do you mean by a girl like you? She snorted. As if Id give you the satisfaction of hearing me read off a list of my flaws. Oh, I see. A girl like you. Its called insecurity, because I certainly dont see any flaws. Good one, Casanova. The limousine stopped at the light. To her left was the beautiful Waldorf Astoria, a landmark located in Manhattan where the reception was being held. She looked toward DeMarco, who appeared sullen. Did I hurt your feelings? Im an actor, a playboy, he said. I dont have feelings, remember? I didnt say that He chucked her under the chin. You worry too much, sweetheart. Somebody must have really done a number on you. She shrugged off the remark, but he found a need to elaborate. Why would you be so worried about shielding yourself from me if that heart of yours hadnt already been broken into a million pieces? Who said anything about protecting my heart? Its my pride, my morals, my dignity I mean to protect. Please dont get any ideas about me being another notch on your headboard. Maybe I am a little insecure at times, but I have enough respect for myself to prevent you-know-what from ever happening.

Youre definitely a little zany, he said with a chuckle, but I think you should be commended for your honesty. Youre a very interesting womanfor a reporter, that is. This time she chose to ignore him completely. He was doing what he does best: piling on the charm by telling her that he liked her and she was interesting. But DeMarco could lasso the moon for her, and she still wouldnt allow herself to feel anything for the man, not one damn tingle.

Chapter Six
Three hours and too many martinis later, Sam was tingling like shed never tingled before. The reception came to an end and once again security surrounded Dominic and Sam, quickly escorting them out of the ballroom of the Waldorf

Astoria and into the lobby where they could make a hasty retreat to their honeymoon suite. A tall blonde in a black, sequined, skin-tight dress screamed when she spotted Dominic across the lobby. Something red and shiny flew through the air and landed on his chest. A silky red thong dangled precariously from his bow tie. Dominic removed the panties and tossed them back into the crowd. Women were popping out of every nook and cranny in the hotel, hoping to get a glimpse of Dominic DeMarco. The hem of Sams wedding dress ripped some more as the crowd pushed forward. The chaos Dominic managed to cause was beyond anything shed ever seen. Ben, along with two beefy security guards, helped them inch their way toward the elevators. Females of every shape and size shouted Dominics name as if Elvis himself were walking through the lobby. The whole scene was surreal. Sam was used to being shoved and pushed by other reporters trying to get the scoop, but shed never been on the other side of the fence, so to speak. The elevator door came open. A third security guard held the door until everybody was safely inside. With six people squished into such a small space, five of them large men, Dominic had no choice but to press close against her. Dominic loosened his bow tie and undid the top buttons of his shirt. I can hardly breathe in here. How about you? he asked Sam, his chin brushing against the top of her head. Are you all right? Swaying slightly, she nodded, breathed in and found herself wanting to snuggle closer to his chest. He reached upward and positioned his splayed hands against the rich paneling on both sides of her head. She knew he was trying hard not to suffocate her, but she wouldnt have minded if he pressed closer as she breathed in his heady male scent. Hed been a gentleman tonight, making her feel safe and protected among a roomful of strangers. I would call tonight a success, he whispered, his mouth brushing against her ear. I felt like a princess, she answered, her head just foggy enough to make her wonder if shed really just said that. Youre a great dancer, he added. Youre not so bad yourself. He smiled, making her wonder why she wasnt wrapping her arms around his neck. Suddenly she wanted nothing more than to let him do what he did best. The idea of being merely another notch on his headboard no longer sounded so horrible.

She closed her eyes and relived the night, one of the most adventurous, entertaining nights of her life. She hadnt danced beneath the stars, but with the stars. So many famous people had attended she could hardly keep the names straight. Brad and Angelina had been there, along with Ashton, George, Tom, and Morgan. The reception had lasted three hours, and she hadnt wanted it to end, especially when Dominic had sung to her. Right there in the middle of the dance floor with everybody looking on. If she hadnt known it was all an act, she might have fallen in love with him right then and there. She released a long sigh as she opened her eyes again and found her gaze zeroed in on his neck. Two more inches skyward and her mouth could very easily graze his warm skin. She swallowed the knot in her throat and tried once again to remember why she felt the need to resist one hundred ninety pounds of temptation. A fine-corded neck it was, toowell-muscled and deeply bronzed. With the top buttons of his shirt undone, she saw a sprinkling of dark hair and just enough of his chest to see that he was all lean, hard muscle. And, temporary or not, he was her husband. A sound erupted: a giggle. Everybody looked her way as if the ridiculous noise had come out of her. The elevator kept stopping and starting, but nobody was getting off. Dominic leaned his head low again and said, Are you sure youre okay? Shed definitely consumed too many martinis. And a really nice lady, the one who played a big part on General Hospital, had bought her a Kamikaze. Shed never had one of those before. Her stomach gurgled. Im fine. He smiled at her. She dropped her gaze and closed her eyes again, figuring it was safer that way. The elevator stopped. One of the men stepped out, but Dominic didnt move. The door closed. She counted to ten and hoped the tiny space in the elevator would stop spinning. Suddenly his lips were hovering close to her ear again as he said, You looked beautiful tonight. She looked at him and made quick note of the devilish glint in his eye. Once again she wondered why she was fighting the attraction sizzling between them. Screw it all. She wanted him to kiss her. She wanted Dominic DeMarco to kiss her like hed never kissed another woman before.

Chapter Seven

The sun crept through the thin space between the pleated silk drapes, across the plush carpet, and up and over the luxurious satin sheets, attempting to wake Sam from a deep contented sleep. She nuzzled closer to DeMarcos strong firm body and slid her hand over his rock-hard chest and then down across his chiseled abdomen. Her fingers lingered there for a moment, circling his abs before moving lowerholy cow! Her eyes shot open and she sat up. It wasnt a crazy, wild dream after all. Dominic DeMarco was in bed with her and he was naked. She lifted the satin sheet, took a peek, and felt the blood rush from her face. Dropping the sheet, she looked about the room. Her wedding dress, bra, nylons, garter belt, and lacey underwear were littered across the floor, making a perfect path from the door to the bed. This did not happen. She did not sleep with Dominic DeMarco. She looked at the massive diamond on her fingerit was all a distant memorya blura dreama nightmare. Marrying him temporarily was one thing, but this She was a good girl. Not exactly a virgin, but she had rules. Sleeping with a man on the first date, even if she was married to him, was a definite no-no. A deeply bronzed masculine arm slid across the sheets toward her, his fingers settling on her thigh. She pushed his hand away and jumped out of bed, pulling the sheet with her so she could cover her own nakedness. The room began to spin. She braced herself to keep from toppling over. Now that the sheet had been removed, there was nothing left to cover DeMarco, leaving her no choice but to take in every inch of him: tanned and hard and fully erect, ready for action. His arm slid upward over his head and came to rest on his pillow. One of his eyes opened, immediately followed by the other eye. He lifted his head and followed the direction of her gaze. Without a word spoken, his head fell back onto the mounds of pillows. Making no attempt to cover himself, he asked, Is something wrong, sweetheart? Dont call me that! Of course something is wrong. Were in bed together and were naked. Im a notch, for Gods sake. A notch? On your headboard. He smiled. The old morning-after regrets, huh? What did you say? Right now youre thinking, what have I done? How can I possibly look myself in the mirror again? What will my mother think? He rubbed the sleep from his eyes. Ive heard it all before. Her brows drew together. Youyou egotistical bastard. I had a feeling last night might have been a mistake. Her eyes narrowed. And you slept with me anyhow? You were irresistible.

Really, she snapped. She looked at the ring on her finger, her mouth a grim line as she tried to remove it from her finger. She twisted and pulled but the beautiful two-carat emerald cut diamond wouldnt come off. Careful, sweetheart, youre going to break your finger. She looked at him and growled. Look at you, flaunting yourself likelike a stallion. Stop, he said, youre making me blush. She glared at him. What is your problem? Lazily he rolled off the bed and took his sweet time locating his dress pants. I was going to ask you the same thing, he said, his voice tinged with annoyance as he zipped his pants, not an easy task, considering his rigid state. He moved around the bed and came to where she stood. Go ahead and have your little tantrum but dont act as if I took advantage of you, as if you didnt want me last night as much as I wanted you. She clearly remembered being pressed close to him in the elevator. She had wanted him all right, but only a kissa simple kiss. She exhaled. It was that last Kamikaze. Those things are dangerous. I didnt mean for this to happen. Well, that makes two of us. He combed his fingers through his hair and headed for the bathroom. We cant change whats already been done, he said before he looked back at her wistfully, a hint of disappointment in his eyes. If itll make you happy, well just pretend it never happened. His chest was like a magnet. She had to use all of her inner strength not to look at him as if shed never seen a man before. Okay, she said, trying to keep her composure. As he headed for the bathroom, she plopped down on the edge of the bed and said, It never happened. Fine. Dominic, she said before he disappeared inside the bathroom. He turned, looked at her, waited. Did we use protection last night? Of course. Good. Yeah. The door clicked shut behind him. When she heard the shower, she fell back on the mattress. Bits of last night flashed in her mind. They had definitely made love. At the time, shed thought it was a crazy, romantic dream. Everything had been so perfect. His lips on hers, their bodies melded, Dominic telling her over and over again how beautiful she was. Shed never had a man tell her she was beautiful before, cute and spunky maybe, but never beautiful. No matter how wonderful last night was, sleeping with DeMarco had been a huge mistake, with an emphasis on huge. Unless she thought of last night as researchgood old-fashioned hands-on research.

That was it. She had slept with DeMarco in the name of research. She forced a smile. How the heck could any decent reporter write a mostly true investigative story about a man unless she knew every intimate detail? Last night may have been a never-to-be-repeated hazy blur of blissful lovemaking, but she would forgive herself this one lapse of judgment and chalk it up to research. She let out a long, deep sigh of relief. Dominic had good instincts, she recalled. Hed been right when hed guessed that her heart had been broken before. She wasnt willing to put herself out there again. Not yet, and certainly not with a man like him. She wasnt a nave little girl any longer. She straightened. She and DeMarco had signed a contract. Three months and this whole marriage business would be over. End of story. And yet, the thought of what shed done last night still didnt sit well with her. Get over it, Sam. You slept with him. Within twenty-four hours, you gave it all up. She hit her fist on the mattress. Damn. It was those sneaky martinis, because Dominic DeMarco really wasnt all that great. Take away the amazing body, mesmerizing eyes, dimples, great singing voice, and the whole gentleman act at the reception, and what was left? A jerk. She was not going to fall for him. Doing so would merely be asking for another big dose of heartbreak. From here on out, she would think of the story at all times. She needed to stay focused. For the next three months, his every word and his every action needed to be stored in her memory banks until she could legally put words to paper. She glanced at the nightstand. A light on the hotel phone was flashing: messages. She picked up the receiver, pushed the message button, and listened. The first message was from the hotel concierge. They had her luggage and she was to call when she wanted her things brought to the room. The second message was from Ben, telling them to be in the lobby by noon. It was already ten-thirty. That didnt give her much time. She hung up the phone, rang the concierge and asked for her luggage. Then she ran to the closet, slipped on a hotel robe, grabbed her wedding satchel that contained a tube of lipstick, and waited until she heard the water shut off before she knocked on the bathroom door. Who is it? Its me, she said, rolling her eyes. Youre still here? Thats not funny. Im feeling better, she said through the door. Im sorry I got so upset. I can handle thisI just need to focus on the story. She waited a moment. Nothing but silence followed. I have to be upfront with you, though. Im feeling awkward about you seeing me naked. You dont

remember everything you saw, do you? I mean you had a few too many drinks, too, right? No answer, just a few sounds on the other side of the door as he moved about. I mean, you dont remember details, do you? It was dark last night, right? All the lights were on, he said. I was one hundred percent sober. You have a tiny butterfly tattoo on your ass. Generally I dont like tattoos, but yours I like. Its on my hip, not my ass, she said. If I shut my eyes, he went on, I can see everything. For instance, you have a small mole on your back, right on the curve of your Okay, you can stop right there, she said with a sigh. I get the picture. The door came open. His hair was damp and untamed, a towel wrapped around his waist, his muscles wet and glistening. I can handle this. Are you almost done? she asked. We have to be dressed, packed, and in the lobby by noon and I need to take a shower. He gestured for her to step inside. Its all yours. Before she made a move, he added, A few words of advice. She looked at him questioningly, which wasnt easy considering he was still half naked. You seem like a smart woman. Dont waste time worrying about your body. Youre perfect just the way you are. Sam didnt know what to say to that. Shed always been hard on herself about the way she looked. She was short and flat-chested, but she wasnt going to complain to him about her shortcomings. Hed seen it all last night. He knew, and yet hed just told her she was She wrinkled her nose. Did you just say I was perfect? A corner of his mouth turned upright. She lifted a brow, tried to forget about her tangled hair and the mascara smeared around her eyes. Yesterday you said I was not well-endowed. He shook his head. I said you didnt look like Julia. Not the same thing. Oh, he was good. She lifted her chin. Okay, I can live with that. Good. So you dont think Im short or flat-chested? He laughed, and she liked the way his eyes sparkled when he did. No, he said. Youre perfect. And Im not going to say it again. Well, okay then. Okay. She waited for his mouth to quirk, somethinganything that might indicate he was pulling her leg, trying to charm her like he did all the hundreds of women he dated. Not that she and Dominic were dating or anything. But he

looked perfectly serious and that worried her. A girl like her could easily fall for a guy like himfall so hard she might never get up. She couldnt allow that to happen. The man had dated zillions of women. No matter how innocent he pretended to be, he knew exactly what he was doing. He was hypnotizing her like a snake charmer, so that soon she, too, would be falling at his heels, begging for his attention. Her teeth clenched. What did I do now? Nothing. She tried to scoot past him. You didnt do anything. Oh, but he had. Hed ruined her, called her things he had no business calling her. Beautiful. Perfect. What did that leave her to shoot for? You dont believe me? Of course I dont believe you. Dont be ridiculous. Why should I? Youve dated dozens of women, each more beautiful than the last. Im five three and a half and a little bit. Simply putIm short, practically non-existent, not exactly model material, but hey, Im fine with that. I like who I am. But when a man, a rich and famous celebrity, comes along and tells me Im perfect, its logical that Im going to be a little skeptical. You know what, Johnston? Youre tough on the outside, but on the inside youre all mushy and as soft as freshly baked bread, arent you? Great, she was the Pillsbury Doughboy. I should get ready. He didnt bother moving, forcing her to squeeze past him, her body brushing against his. She closed the door, careful not to hit his toes. Then she pushed the lock button and exhaled. She turned on the water in the shower and let her robe drop to the floor. Gazing at her reflection in the mirror, she tried to see herself through his eyesin a whole new light. Despite her current animosity toward the man, she was glowing. She could see it, but mostly she could feel itthat thing a woman felt deep inside when they met a special guy. She thumped herself on the head with the palm of her hand. It was just sex, Sam. Everybody glows after a night of great sex. Dont even think about falling for the guy or youre just like all those other hopeless romantics. It was a night of sex, nothing more. Sheesh. She hadnt slept with a man, let alone gone on a date, in a very long time. Not since Ken. And now she was married to one of the sexiest men in America. She inhaled a shuddering breath. How in the world was she going to get through the next few months? Who was she kidding? All he had to do was tell her she was beautiful and perfect and she was his. Pathetic. Turning away from the mirror, she climbed into the shower. Warm water dripped over her head and into her eyes. Two months and twenty-nine days to go. Then everything would be back to normal. Shed go back to living in her quiet one-bedroom apartment in Burbank.

Or maybe she would buy a bigger place and write her book. Shed have her freedom and the story of the century, too. Everything would be grand.

Chapter Eight

Sam came out of the bathroom, wearing a robe. Dominic was nowhere to be seen and neither was her luggage. A red light on the phone blinked. She hit the button and listened to Bens voice telling Dominic to meet him in the lobby, pronto. The phone rang. She picked up the receiver and said hello. A timid voice said, Sam, is that you? Mom? Do you have something to tell me and your father? Sam exhaled. Mom, she said, wondering how the heck shed tracked her down so quickly. I wanted to tell you, but I couldnt. I cant go into any detail right now, but well talk as soon as II mean as soon as we return home. And where exactly is home? Or is that a secret, too? Her mom was whispering, probably afraid Dad would overhear. It broke Sams heart to hear the hurt in her mothers voice, but there was nothing she could do about it. What was done, was done. Ill call you later, Mom, when I have more time to talk. Why didnt you at least give us a warning? Im sorry. Your father is not happy about this. Dads never happy. Silence. Im sorry, Mom. I dont mean to make things worse. I never should have agreed to keep the wedding quiet. Your niece wants to talk to you. Sam swallowed the lump in her throat. Did you really marry Dominic DeMarco? her fourteen-year-old niece, Emma, asked excitedly. Yeah, I really did. I thought you said he was a conceited pig. Sam frowned. When did I say that? Remember when we were looking at that picture of him on the cover of People Magazine while we were in line at the grocery store and you pointed right at his picture and said, Hes a conceited pig? Oh, well, I must have been in a bad mood. Hes a great guy. I married him, didnt I? Has that Jason boy asked you out to a movie yet? Sam asked, hoping to change the subject. Nice try. I didnt run off and marry Jason Marsal. If I had, you would have been invited. Touch. Her plan backfired. Your husband is on television all the time, Emma said, her voice more animated than usual. I think NBC is trying to get him to do one of those reality shows. Maybe theyll do one about the two of you. They could call

it Newlyweds. And maybe you can talk him into getting me an audition on Survival of the Fittest or that new show, Wacky Teenagers. Sam looked heavenward, although she was relieved to know that at least one family member was taking the news pretty well. Well talk about this later, okay? Sure. Tell the conceited pig Hi for me. Sam heard Emma laughing as she handed the phone back to Mom. Shes heartbroken, her mother sobbed. I can tell. I cant imagine what your brothers are going to say about this. Is Dad there? Sam asked, hoping to put an end to the deserved guilt trip her mother was laying on her. He took the dog for a walk. I just hope his heart doesnt give out before he gets back. Sam said nothing. Your brothers are convinced that you are pregnant. Is that why you rushed into this so unexpectedly? No, of course not. Its complicated, Mom. I really cant say much right now, but I swear Ill tell you more when I see you in person. Where is your husband? Right now? Sam looked around the room. She didnt want to keep lying, but what choice did she have? Hes in the shower. A knock sounded on the hotel door. Mom, Ive got to go. I love you. Everything is going to be fine, I promise. Sam hung up before her mother could go on. She went to the door and opened it. A woman dressed in a suit embroidered with the hotels insignia nudged her way inside and placed Sams luggage on a luggage rack and two shopping bags on the floor. The woman looked around as if she hoped to catch a glimpse of Dominic. She eyed the unmade bed and rumpled sheets. Sam looked inside the shopping bags filled with thousands of dollars worth of clothes. These arent my clothes, Sam told the woman. The woman smiled. A gift from your husband. Sam grabbed her satchel from across the room and handed the woman a tip. Youre a very lucky woman, the lady said. Thats me, Sam said as she ushered the woman out the door. Luckiest girl in the world.

Chapter Nine

Dominic stood in the lobby of the Waldorf with its glorious mosaic floor and crystal chandeliers and signed another autograph. He motioned toward Ben and pointed at his watcha reminder it was getting late. Ill call the room, Ben said before disappearing. Security had done a decent job of keeping the fans to a manageable number. While Dominic listened to an elderly woman lecture him about too much sex in movies these days, he glanced toward the elevator doors in time to see Sam make an appearance. A swarm of reporters followed close at her heels, prompting passerby to gawk and point. Narrowing his eyes, he recognized two of the men closing in on herthe same pain-in-the-ass reporters who had been following him around for years, making his life miserable. Sams hair was a tumble of loose curls about her shoulders. She wore a red T-shirt that said uncensored on the front, pre-washed jeans, and a pair of flat ballerina shoes that made her look eighteen instead ofhow old was she anyhow? As if she sensed him watching her, she looked between the two reporters and caught his gaze. He acknowledged her with a nod. Ben squeezed his way back to Dominics side and gestured toward Sam. I thought you bought her some decent clothes. I did. I sent up three new outfits for her to choose from, but she obviously has her own idea of what sort of impression shed like to make as my wife. Ben frowned. I think youre going to have your hands full. I think you might be right. I never should have let you and Tom talk me into going along with this crazy idea. Ben remained silent. How old is she, anyhow? Dominic asked low enough so only Ben could hear him before he blindly signed a glossy eight-by-ten picture of himself and handed it back to the young woman staring at him. Hell, I dont know, Ben said after the woman walked off. I guess you two didnt do much talking last night, did you? Dominic kept a straight face, refusing to give anything away. Besides, what he and Sam shared last night was a make-out sessiona heated make-out sessionnothing more. Once they were in the room, their first kiss had been like a cool breeze, light, almost imperceptible. The cool breeze erupted into a frenzied storm and within minutes they had ripped each others clothes off. But Dominic knew shed had too much to drink, and contrary to popular belief, he wasnt the horny beast the tabloids made him out to be. Yes, hed wanted Sam last night, more than hed wanted any woman in a very long time. But he had principles, and he knew, despite the passion in her kisses, Sam Johnston was drunk. Shed made it clear in the limo ride that she had no desire to be a notch on his imaginary headboard. But after shed flipped

out this morning, hed decided to let her imagination get the best of her. Clearly, she thought he was a good-for-nothing loser who would take advantage of an inebriated woman hed only just met. So what was the point in trying to prove otherwise? Besides, maybe she was right about him, because after shed asked him to kiss her and hed obliged, shed driven him crazy with her deep kisses and passionate hands and hed needed every bit of willpower he possessed not to take advantage of the situation. Truthfully, he now regretted his restraint. She was his wife and she obviously needed a good toss in the sheets to get some of the kinks out of her armor. The woman next in line for his autograph lifted her shirt, revealing a leopard push-up bra. Apparently, she wanted him to autograph her breasts. Ben, he said, take care of this one, will you? Excusing himself from the line of people waiting to meet him, Dominic headed toward Sam and her entourage. More than a few businessmen staying at the hotel had joined her little party by the time he reached her, leaving him no choice but to squeeze his way through the pack. At closer view, he noticed that Sam Johnston, the uptight reporter, had suddenly transformed into the life of the party, laughing and chattering up a storm, telling complete strangers things they had no business knowing. One of the reporters had the audacity to put his arm around her waist and give her a squeeze, his hand lingering. It was downright disrespectful. Get your hands off my wife, Dominic snarled. Everybody looked his way. The reporter took his time removing his hand. The guy then had the nerve to retrieve a microphone from his pocket and hold it toward Dominic as if he hadnt just been groping his wife. Tell us, DeMarco. How was the wedding night? The reporters eyes lit up. Out of all those babes you have to pick from and you pick this one. She must be a scorcher in bed, if you know what I mean. Dominic grabbed a fistful of the mans shirt, eliciting a round of gasps as he pushed the guy against a wall of polished wood paneling. Dominic, Sam said. Its okay. Lets go. Taking his hand in hers, she pulled him through the lobby. The doorman held the door open. Cameras flashed as they exited the Waldorf and climbed into the limousine waiting outside. Ben hopped in front with the driver and within moments they were headed for JFK. Dominic turned to Sam. Mind telling me what that was all about? Her eyes widened before she burst out laughing. A small indentation set in his jaw. You really do have a sick sense of humor, Johnston, you know that? Im sorry, she said, but what were you thinking? The guy was harmless. I was perfectly capable of taking care of the situation myself.

She was right. What was he thinking? She wasnt his wife in the true sense of the word. What the hell was wrong with him? Even now, angry and confused, he couldnt get last night out of his mind: the feel of her smooth skin beneath his fingers, her heavenly scent, the way she fit perfectly into his arms. She had driven him wild with a few kisses. He could only imagine what would happen if they ever took it one step further. Although I shouldnt admit it, she said, cutting into the silence, I sort of like the idea of having a protector. Ive never had a man fight over me before. Well, now you have, he said, annoyed with himself. She rested her hand on his forearm. Is something wrong? I thought this was what you wanted. He leaned forward and shut the panels to hide the glass partition between them and the two men upfront. Ill tell you whats wrong, he said, looking at her slender fingers still on his arm. Every time you so much as touch me, you make me a little harder until I cant think straight. Her chin came up a notch, her lips parted just so, prompting him to lean closer. You said you wanted to pretend last night never happened. Is that what you really want? She didnt answer. He kissed her ear before dragging his mouth downward over her neck. Her breaths came out in uneven puffs. Ive never wanted anyone like I want you, he whispered, wishing it werent the truth. Her eyes were closed, her chest rising and falling with each breath, but she pushed him away. He wanted her. And if shed given him the slightest hint that she wanted him, too, he would have taken her right here, right now. Im sorry, she said. II cant. Its okay, sweetheart. Im just not used to having a woman play games with me. Play games with you? He let out a caustic laugh. Youve done this before, havent you? The whole innocent act, you know, dangling a carrot in front of the silly rabbit? Flirting with other men to make the guy youre with jealous. Ridiculous, she said. If youre saying Im a tease, youve got me all wrong. That reporter back there wanted a reaction from you and you gave him exactly what he wanted. He wasnt interested in flirting with me. He watched her closely, saw nothing but stubborn pride in her expression and in the way she held herself. It was difficult not to believe her. She hadnt dressed to impress. She wasnt telling him what she thought she wanted him to hear. Another man might find her stubbornness annoying, but not him. He was tired of women who bent over backward to do his bidding, women who only laughed when he laughed, talked only when talked to. Sam Johnston was like thunder on a clear day and she aroused him like no other.

And yet, if there was one thing hed learned from his mother, it was that females were never what they seemed. Sam might seem genuine and real, but that wouldnt last long. Her true colors would shine through soon enough. It was true, he lusted after her, but after his hunger was sated, hed be ready to move on. A three-month relationship was practically a lifetime in his book. She exhaled, breaking into his thoughts. Last night was special, she said, obviously mistaking his silence as hurt feelings again, another amusing trait of hers. He remained quiet, his desire for her still palpable. But what happened between us, she added, can never happen again. We may be married in the eyes of the church, but were not married in here, she said, laying a hand over her heart, where it counts. Im all for honesty, sweetheart, but the truth is I want you. And you want me. I can see it in your eyes. His gaze didnt waver. For some reason, Johnston, you do crazy things to my insides. You fascinate me. He raised his hand to her face and swept the pad of his thumb over her cheek. I wont kiss you again unless you ask me to. But if you so much as lay a finger on me, one little finger, Im not telling you, Im warning you, youre playing with fire.

Chapter Ten
Their honeymoon had been pre-arranged. They were staying at the Princeville Resort set on twenty-three acres along Puu Poa Ridge, terraced on

the bluff facing Hanalei Bay. Nothing but the best for Dominic DeMarco and his new wife. To anyone on the outside looking in, everything probably looked darn near perfect. But as far as Sam was concerned, nothing could be further from the truth. They had arrived on the island of Kauai three days ago. According to Ben, she and Dominic were to spend most of their time inside the suite, since he wanted the world to think they were too hot and bothered to come out for air. She stood on the balcony of their ridiculously large suite, watching the afternoon sun melt into the Pacific as the crystal blue water rolled gently onto the shore. Dominic had made his escape about an hour ago, telling her he needed to talk to the concierge. Since arriving, she and Dominic had hardly said two words to each other. Ever since shed pushed him away in the limousine, hed been distant, avoiding her like the plague. Their suite was large, but not large enough to stop her from hearing every move he made. In fact, hed been spending much of his time reading scripts. Apparently movie deals were pouring in and he needed to make some important decisions. She should be happy she didnt have to resist his charms all day, but she wasnt. Dominic had stirred something deep within her, making her feel restless. Ever since her ex-boyfriend Ken had dumped her, shed been focused on staying strong and independentrelying on no one but herselfbecause she never wanted to feel that same painful loss again. After five years together, shed trusted Ken more than shed ever trusted anyone in her life. Shed been so sure he was the one. And yet one day shed come home to an empty apartment and a note that read: Ive fallen in love with someone else. All my best, Ken. Now here she was, married to one of the hottest actors in America. But just because her husband was gorgeous and had threatened to beat up other guys for touching her, that didnt mean she had to fall in love with him. Sam grabbed her notebook and pen from the table behind her, flipped the pages until she came to a blank page and wrote, Third day married to DD. The man has made himself scarce. When hes around, hes a gentleman, but I still dont know anything about him. Its as if hes put an invisible steel barrier between him and the world. Although weve been cooped up in the same room for three days, Ive never been lonelier. The ring of the telephone interrupted her thoughts. She set the notebook on the outside table, and then went back inside the suite and picked up the phone, surprised to hear her moms tenuous voice. Mom? Hi, honey. How do you keep finding me? The front desk isnt supposed to forward calls.

Oh, really? I tell whoever answers Im your mother and its an emergency and if they dont want their name dragged through the mud they might want to put me through. It works every time. Great. I wanted to tell you that Uncle Joe and Aunt Pat taped the wedding for us, Mom went on. I just finished watching the entire ceremony. I still cant believe youre married to Dominic DeMarco. My little girl is famous. Sam was glad to know her mom was warming to the idea of her being married. For the first time in a very long time, her mom sounded animated and happy. Im not famous, Mom. My husband is famous. Of course you are. Pat told me she was at the grocery store the other day and your face lit up more magazine covers than your husbands. I love what youve done to your hair, but Im not sure about that outfit you wore the day after your wedding. Jeans and a T-shirt? What were you thinking? I wanted to be comfortable on the plane ride. Although she could feel a headache coming on, she was relieved to know her mother had gotten over her initial disappointment at not being invited to the wedding. Have you turned on the television lately? Im on my honeymoon, remember? Her mother laughed. Thats what your aunt and uncle said but I just had to call. Clips of your wedding have been appearing on every news channel. During the ceremony, Dominic doesnt look quite right. Was he nervous? Sam grabbed the remote and turned on the television. Pictures of her and Dominic seemed to be on every channel. It only took a few clicks of the remote before she found a station airing a close-up of Dominic at the altar. His expression was one of doom as his gaze followed the red carpet all the way to the exit. He looked miserable, trapped, and ready to make a run for it. *** Dominic slid his hotel key into the slot and opened the door a few inches, stopping when he heard Sam talking to someone in the other room. Mom, its okay, really, she said. Its the camera angles. Yes, we were both a little nervous, but thats to be expected. There were thousands of people watching us. There was a slight pause before he heard Sam say, Yes, I agree, Dominic looks a little panicky. Yes, I was crying. They were happy tears, Mom. Thats rightI was just happy to be marrying the man I love. Another moment of silence followed and Dominic assumed her mother was talking. The tension he heard in Sams voice caused his chest to tighten. Pretending to be in love with a complete stranger wasnt as easy as they had both imagined or hoped it might be. Dominic wanted nothing more than to

wring both Tom and Bens necks for getting him into this mess. After being betrayed by his uncle, he should have told the world the truth. Instead, hed listened to his agent and manager and made a mess out of an already complicated life. I know, Mom. Please tell Aunt Pat she doesnt need to worry. Dominic is very attentive and romantic. Ive never been happier. Ill fill you all in with more details when we get back. Dominic suddenly felt bad about avoiding her these past few days. Sam Johnston seemed like a nice enough kid. Shed wanted a story and shed gotten more than shed bargained for. He liked her gumption, but he sure as hell didnt like feeling crappy about her situation. Shed had a choice in this whole thing. No reason for him to take all the blame. I need to go, Mom. No, hes in the shower again; otherwise, Im sure he would have loved to talk to you. Shit. Dominic opened the door, giving it a good shove and letting it thud closed. Sam looked up, her eyes wide as he headed her way. He took the receiver from her, held it to his ear, and said, Is this Mom? He tilted his head close to Sams ear so she could hear her mom shouting to the rest of the family that she actually had Dominic on the phone. Sam hardly moved. In fact, it was hard to tell if she was breathing. Dominic inhaled the fresh tangy scent of her hair. His lips unintentionally brushed over the silky strands. Mrs. Johnston was saying something and her voice brought him out of his trance. Yes, he said, were having a wonderful time. Your daughter is everything I could have hoped for in a wifeand more. Sam glanced up at him. The innocent look, the brightness of her expressive eyes caught him off guard, making his heart skip a beat. What was it about her that made his insides do funny things, made him feel airborne like a kite being let loose on a windy day? Gliding and soaring across a blue sky one moment and then spiraling downward toward the ground in the next. Sams face flushed as she looked away from him and straight ahead toward the wall. But her ear was still close to the phone, her hair still close to his lips. In fact, his chin nearly rested on the top of her head as her mother rambled on with a long list of her daughters talents. Embarrassed, Sam tried to pry the phone out of his hand. He frowned, letting her know he wasnt going anywhere until Mom said goodbye. No, he said into the receiver, leaning low, his jaw brushing against Sams cheek, his lips once again within centimeters of her ear. I didnt know that Sam won the hula competition in seventh grade. Shes full of surprises. Sam rolled her eyes. Yes, I think youre right, Dominic told Sams mom. Shes being shy.

Sam jabbed him with her elbow. Dont worry, he said, Ill get her to do the hula for me if its the last thing I do. He could hear someone talking to Mrs. Johnston in the background, a male voice telling her to warn Dominic about Sams inability to cook a decent meal, how she always broke things, earning her the nickname Grace. The voice continued on about how she was a tomboy and wanted to be like her brothers but could never measure up. He also heard Sams mom defending her, saying she had other talents. Suddenly Dominic had a glimpse of where Sams insecurities might have begun. He felt Sam stiffen, and he found himself wanting to know what she was thinking. A definite first. Yes, Im still here, he told Mrs. Johnston when she thought shed lost the connection. Sam shook her head adamantly when her mother began to talk about having another wedding ceremony for the family. Thats a great idea, he said. If itll make you happy, we could have another ceremony at the house in Malibu. As Sams mother made plans, he inhaled again, unable to get enough of her fresh, citrusy smell. It was nice to finally get a chance to talk to you, too, he said, his attention focused on the softness of Sams hair against his lips. I look forward to meeting all of you. Goodbye. He laid the receiver in the cradle, but made no attempt to move away from Sam. And neither did she attempt to move away from him. The only sound was the gentle whoosh of the ocean through the open doors leading to the balcony. Hed hardly talked to Sam in three days, and at the moment he remembered why. Every time he was near her, he found himself wanting to take her into his arms and ravish her. Heat swept through his body, every muscle constricting from sheer desire. But he refused to make that mistake again. If she wanted something more between them, she was going to have to make the first move. The notion that he wanted her so much made him angry. She was a reporter. She was here because of a story, for Gods sake. You have no idea what you just did, Sam told him. What did I do? My mother will never let you forget what you said about having another wedding. Youre right. I got carried away. Dominic raked all ten fingers through his hair. If she thought this was bad, she wasnt going to be happy to discover they would be sharing a bedroomand a bedonce they were back home. Unlike the honeymoon suite, where he could toss the blanket and the pillow he used

each night back onto the bed, back home there was the cleaning staff and landscapers to worry about. If they were going to pull this stunt off, they needed to play the happily married couple every day and every night until this whole marriage thing was over. Before either of them could say another word, a knock sounded. Dominic looked through the peephole and cursing under his breath, opened the door. Julia sashayed past him, her head held high, her spine stiff. Her white blonde hair was pulled back in a thick ponytail that swayed with each movement of her hips. Dominic peered down the hall, making sure reporters and photographers hadnt followed her and then shut the door behind her. What are you doing here? Julias gaze swept over Sam before she continued her search through the rest of the suite. Where is she? Who? Your new wife? Shes standing right here. Julia twirled about, her gaze locking on Sam once again. This is the woman you married? Thanks to you, I was sort of left in a bind, Dominic argued. My selection of wives was limited after you deserted me. Hey, Sam said, I thought you said I was beautiful. You are, sweetheart, he assured her. Sweetheart? Julias eyes turned red. You told her she was beautiful? Shes my wife, isnt she? Sam crossed her arms tightly over her chest. I should be your wife, Julia stated firmly. He raked his fingers through his hair. Julia, whats this about? Why are you here? Julias eyes narrowed. I cant believe you would stoop this low. For the life of me I cant understand why you would be upset. The moment the plane took off, I knew I had made a mistake. She stepped close to him, her breasts snug against his chest. I truly thought you would come for me. I thought we had something special. I thought you loved me. Julia rested her cheek against his shoulder. Ive changed my mind. Annul your marriage and marry me. Im ready. He sighed. Maybe I should leave the two of you alone and give you some time to sort this out, Sam said. Dominic detached Julia from his chest. No. Julias leaving. Julias hands fisted at her sides. I am not leaving. We can straighten this out. Just give me another chance. Her hands landed on his chest. She left a trail

of kisses over his neck. Let me make it up to you, she purred. Our relationship will be better than ever. Julia, I dont know where this is coming from. Im not in love with you, and I never pretended to be. Julia slapped him hard, and then whipped around to face Sam. Sam ducked, but there was no need because Julia merely growled and pointed a finger at her. Have you already slept with him? Well, ummI Thats enough, Dominic ground out. Hes going to do everything in his power to get you into his bed and keep you there. All lies, Julia told Sam. Hell promise you the world and then when it comes time to toss you aside for somebody else, he wont bother to spare you a glance. I never promised you anything, Julia. I thought we were friends. I never meant to hurt you. He opened the door. I think you should leave now. Julia turned to face Dominic. I cant believe you chose her over me. Youre the one who ditched me. And you replaced me with that. Julia lifted her chin. Dont talk that way about her. There is the press to consider, Julia said with a sneer. I know why you married Plain Jane. There is nothing plain about her. Julia huffed. Ill give you some time to think about it, but if you dont divorce her, Im going to go public. She left, slamming the door behind her. Dominic locked the door. Wow, Sam said. That woman is pissed off at you. Dominic didnt respond. I thought you said Julia was a friend doing you a favor. That was my take on the situation. I never said or did anything to make her think there was anything more than friendship between us. Women, he added with distaste. Men, Sam said with an equal amount of revulsion. You slept with her, didnt you? Maybe I did, but listen carefully, Dominic said, his jaw hardening, because Im only going to tell you this once. Contrary to popular belief, I do not sleep with every woman I meet. In fact, the two of us, he added, waggling a finger between them, did not make love on our wedding night. Of course we did. I was naked. You were naked. I was glowing. True, he said with a smirk, wishing he could pick her up and carry her to the king-sized bed, despite his foul mood. Every part of him wanted her, tension shimmering between them. You were definitely glowing and we were both naked, he said, but we hardly did much more than kiss. And so you have nothing to regret.

Why did you lie? Lets just say you jumped to conclusions and I didnt stop you. You said we used protection. Okay, I lied. But never again. Nothing but the truth. Deal? Sure, she said without enthusiasm. Nothing but the truth.

Chapter Eleven
Dominic watched the sun make its final descent as the limousine drove through Malibu.

He looked away from the window and rested his eyes on Sam. The corners of his mouth curved upward at seeing her sprawled over the seat across from him, one arm twisted awkwardly on top of her head as the other dangled off the edge of the leather seat. Her mouth hung open and every so often, a soft snorting sound came out of her mouth. The woman snored. Hed somehow missed that during their past week together. Their honeymoon suite had been extraordinarily large and hed spent every night sleeping on the couch. But not one night had gone by where he hadnt wanted to crawl into bed with his temporary wife and make love to her. Hell, shed wanted him, too; hed seen it in her eyes and he felt it in every pretend kiss they shared whenever the paparazzi came around. But hed told Sam he wouldnt touch her and shed have to make the first move, which meant hed have to be patient. He ran his fingers through his hair and tried to get a grip. And yet all he could think about was how the hell was he going to live with Sam Johnston for three months without touching her? It was a dilemmaone hed never experienced before. He was used to women offering their bodies and though he didnt always take what was offered, he liked having a choice. Sex was fun and fleeting and it was also the one thing he could offer the women he dated since he wasnt capable of giving them anything else. Love was a farce; his mom taught him that years ago when shed left him with his dad. He was ten. How could she have left him with a drunk? Hed learned the hard way that women were temporary, and somewhere along the way, hed grown to prefer life that way. Exhaling, he continued to stare at Sam Johnston. The poor girl wore her emotions on her sleeves. What you saw was what you got. Most of the women hed dated were reserved and weeks went by before he discovered any intimate details about them. But he thought when the next three months were over, hed know Sam inside and out. Or would he? So many people had betrayed him in his lifetime, he couldnt help but wonder if she was merely good at playing games. His gaze traveled the length of her. She managed to pack a lot of shape into a very small package. She might not be voluptuous and curvy, but she was all woman. Today she wore jeans and a white cotton tee that had hiked up a bit, revealing a sliver of flawless ivory skin. The limousine took a sharp left before pulling up the long flagstone driveway leading to his home. When the vehicle came to a stop, Dominic noticed Sams notebook tucked under her hip. Hed seen her writing in the thing a lot over the past few days and then again on the airplane. He reached for it. Touch it and you die. Shes alive, he said with a chuckle.

Sleepily, she pushed herself to an upright position, then tucked the notebook into her purse and peered out the window. Her jaw dropped. Wow, is that your house? How could you own such a large house? I thought you lost all of your money to your uncle. His jaw tightened. I owned this house years before my uncle decided to swindle me. His gaze followed hers and he looked upon his house. Hed bought the Old World Spanish hacienda from Dustin Hoffman five years ago. The house sat amid lush tropical landscaping, which gave it more privacy than many in the area. The truth was he should have sold the house the minute hed heard what his uncle had done, but the idea of selling because of his uncles actions didnt sit well with him. Enjoy it while you can, he said before he climbed out of the limo. The sun had set, but the moon was full and round, which made for a nice backdrop. Sam followed him through an old-world gate made of thick lumber and twisted iron. The Spanish tiled entry led them past a stone fountain lit with small underwater lights. Water trickled off the stone and into the fountain. Dominic opened the door. It was unlocked, which meant Maria was home. He still hadnt told Sam they would be forced to share a bed for the next three months. The notion made him smile. When he turned back to face Sam, he wondered what had happened to the girl in the wedding dress, the one who had fallen on top of him and laughed after he saved her from being crushed in a human stampede, the woman in the elevator whose eyes had said kiss me, damn it, and make it good. That particular woman had disappeared. Sam had metamorphosed back into a stiff, unbending reporter. She no longer resembled the cute little snoring nymph hed seen five short minutes ago. When he wasnt looking, she had used a clip to fasten her hair in a knot at the top of her head. She stood rigid before him, wearing a frown and a pair of thickrimmed glasses. This Sam Johnston looked nothing like the woman who had wrapped her arms around his neck and asked him to carry her over the threshold on their wedding night. Is something wrong? she asked, obviously detecting his worry. Where did those glasses come from? Why, do they bother you? No, its just that they make you look much too serious. I dont recall you wearing those before. Ive been wearing contacts. Maybe you shouldnt have been so quick to marry a complete stranger. I could be hiding a whole suitcase full of deadly secrets. Any hint of a smile completely vanished.

Truthfully, I wasnt planning on being away from home this long, she told him. The contacts I wear are disposable and they only last a few days. Ill need to go to my apartment tomorrow and get mywhat are you doing? He reached behind her head and undid the clip that bound her hair. Then he slipped her glasses from her face. There. Thats the girl I married. Just checking to make sure its really you. She reached out a hand. Give me my glasses, please. He leaned close, his lips inches from hers. Theres a guy in the tree behind me. He has a camera. I thought wed give him a run for his money. You cant be serious. Sam pushed him away. Nice try, she said before she grabbed her glasses from him, slipped them on and headed across the sloped green grass surrounding the property. Stopping at the grassy edge, she peered up into the regiment of trees and tried to make out a shape in the shadows. A bright light flashed. Somebody was definitely out there. Whoever you are, Sam shouted, you better get out of here. Youre on private property and Im calling the police. A few minutes later, Sam joined him in the kitchen. Did you call the police? He shook his head and instead filled a glass with water from the filtered tap, enjoying himself as she frantically searched for the phone sitting on the built-in desk in the corner. After she located the phone, Dominic took the receiver from her and laid it back in its cradle. What are you doing? Calling the police wont do any good. The guy in the tree will be gone before they get here and youll be stuck filling out paperwork for an hour. Youre kidding? Im not. This happens all the time? More often than not. She exhaled, seemingly deep in thought as if she were truly bothered, which didnt make sense. Why so surprised? he asked her. Youre a tabloid reporter. Youre actually a part of the slimy side of glitzy media. Listen to you, Mr. Celebrity/Media Whore. He laughed. Twice in five minutesunprecedented. Truthfully, my dream career is investigative reporting, but I have to start somewhere. Otherwise, Id have no choice but to live with my parents. He looked at her for a moment, wondering if she were telling the truth. What about you? she asked. Have you always wanted to be an actor? He leaned a hip against the granite countertop. I got the acting bug when I was very young. I was a shy kid with little confidence, but the moment I stepped onto the stage, I became another person altogether. Ive never looked back. Their gazes locked, each sizing the other up, neither trusting the other.

Sam looked toward the French doors leading to the backyard. You didnt tell me you lived on the beach. You didnt ask. She stepped outside onto a stone patio. There was a pool surrounded by beautiful sculptures. Steep wooden stairs led to the beach below. Dominic followed her outside. Her hair remained unclipped and the ocean breeze caused flyaway strands to cling to her cheeks and chin. Sam was a natural beauty with an abundance of sex appeal and yet it was plain to see she truly had no idea. The sound of the tide lapping against the shore calmed him as he inhaled the tangy scent of ocean air. Stunning, Sam said. After a moment, she looked over her shoulder at him and sighed. What am I doing here? What do you mean? She held her arms toward the ocean. Look at this place. Its paradise. Next she looked at the ring on her finger. One day Im sneaking around a church in New York looking for a story and the next thing I know Im married to you, one of the sexiest men in America. She shook her head. Mind boggling. Sexiest man in America, huh? She nodded. I promise not to get a big head. Too late for that, she teased. And Im married to the sexiest woman in the world, he said. Youre right. It does sort of boggle the mind. She laughed. Dont even go there. Im too tired to deal with you tonight. Please show me to my room. About thattheres something Ive been meaning to tell you.

Chapter Twelve
Mr. Dominic, a female voice called from inside the house. Youre back!

A tiny dark-haired woman rushed outside to greet him. Dominic opened his arms wide and after a quick embrace, said, Maria, Id like you to meet my wife, Samantha. The womans warm brown eyes brightened as she came forward, taking both of Sams hands in hers. So nice to meet you, Mrs. Dominic. I am in charge of keeping this house nice for you and your husband. Let me know if you need anything at all. She squeezed Sams hand and added, I sleep upstairs so there is no need for you to worry about privacy. Then she stepped back and took a good long look at Sam before she looked back at Dominic. You did well, Mr. Dominic. You did very well, indeed. Dominic smiled, but this smile was different from all the others Sam had witnessed over the past week. This smile rose all the way to his eyes. The respect and admiration he had for the woman was written all over his face. Its late, Maria said. I am off to bed. There is lasagna and chicken and Mr. Dominics favorite homemade tamales in the refrigerator. Very nice meeting you, Sam said. After Maria disappeared, Sam narrowed her eyes and plunked a hand on her hip. What? You didnt tell me you had a live-in housekeeper. You didnt ask. Come on, he said, ushering her into the house. Let me show you where youll be spending the next three months. They walked side by side down one hall and then another. The house was enormous, with ridiculously high ceilings and wide, never-ending passageways. A person could easily get lost in a house this large. Mossy green drapes and plush carpet contrasted nicely with cream-colored walls. Rich, colorful oil paintings adorned those same walls, lending the house some warmth, although a pervasive stillness made her question how one man and his housekeeper could live in such a massive space. The house was big, she decided, but not nearly as big as DeMarcos swelled head. Every time she felt her resolve melting away, she thought about all of the stories shed read about him. Hed been engaged more than once, only to back out at the last moment. Hed impregnated so many women shed lost count years ago. One story was that his mother had tried on many occasions to get to know him, but he refused to have anything to do with her. The stories were numerous. Somehow she was going to have to find a way to live with the man without being seduced by his charms. It wasnt going to be easy. Every time she looked into his eyes, she could feel the sexual energy radiating between them. They passed the wide circular stairway with custom iron railings that made a grand entrance and then continued along another long passageway until they finally reached their destination. His bedroom was larger than her entire apartment, with enough room for a king-sized bed, a fireplace, and a walk-in closet the size of a two-car garage.

And where will you sleep? she asked. Right here with you. I am not sleeping in the same room with you for the next three months. I need my own space. Youre forgetting our agreement. If Maria or Nester Whos Nester? The landscaper. Hes here a few times a week. Then theres the pool guy and sometimes Maria brings in help. If they see you sleeping in another room, there will be lots of talk and speculation. You slept on the couch in Hawaii. Why would you share the same bed with me now? His eyes sharpened. There isnt a couch in here, and besides, I wanted to give you time to get to know me. Im tired of playing games. We made a deal. Were married and were sharing this bedroom and this bed. It would have been nice if you had bothered to warn me of the situation prior to this moment. And ruin the surprise? Dont worry, he went on, theres plenty of room in the bed for both of us, although I do believe it would be to both our benefit if we consummated the marriage right now. We could be done with all this foolishness once and for all. She laughed. Fine, he said. Play hard to get, but Im not going to make this easy on you, Johnston. Meaning? For starters, he said, his lips much too close to hers, I sometimes walk around in the nude. Consider that a warning. She took a step back and shook her head at him. And Im sure you pound your chest when the urge arises and make Tarzan jungle calls. By all means, dont let my being here stop you from being yourself. Amusement swirled inside her and for some reason she felt oh, so tempted to take matters into her own hands. Im here for one reason and one reason only, she went on. To get a storyyour story. For some Godforsaken reason, America wants to know everything there is to know about Dominic DeMarco, including the fact he walks around his enormous house in his birthday suit. Just dont think for a moment your nakedness is going to make me want you, because if thats what youre implying, you have a lot to learn about me. She went to the mattress, sat down and tested it out. Dominic stood before her, a Greek god in the flesh. What was stopping her from learning everything about him? Everything. For the sake of the story, she should make love to him to see what all the hype was about. She glanced at him again. Saw the Cheshire cat grin on his face. You think I want you, dont you?

Absolutely. Until our wedding night, I had never seen such a love-starved woman. Go ahead, she said. Strip. Right now. Show me what youve got. Lets see if you can make me lust for you like all those other women. He rubbed his chin in a thoughtful manner. Nice try, but I dont think so. I think Ill wait until you come to me begging in earnest for me to take it all off. Im not love starved, she said as she came to her feet. She swayed her hips seductively as she walked toward him; at least, thats what she was going for. Stepping close enough to smell his musky cologne, she took a fistful of his shirt and pulled him close. His chest was hard, his shoulders broad. He was beyond gorgeous and he wasnt the only one who could use a good romp in the hay. Feeling bold, her heart racing, she ran her palm over his rough jaw. I say lets do this right here, right now. His dimples appeared when he smiled. I thought youd never ask. I havent been with a man in a very long time, she told him. Im sober and Im ripe for the taking, so make it good, DeMarco, because there might not be a next time. He didnt look convinced. Something potent and powerful rippled through her as she stripped his shirt from his body, admiring his well-worked biceps and bronzed chest. You were right from the start. If were going to be sharing this room for a while, we might as well make the best of it. She slid the palm of her hand over his chest. Im glad youve finally seen the light. No more playing games, she purred into his ear. He released a long, drawn-out groan, which told her the swaying hips and bold talk was working. Im just hitting my sexual prime, she said in the best husky voice she could muster. I can see that. Growing more comfortable with her brazen act, she said, Ive been deprived of a mans touch for too damn long. Hear, hear. On her tippy toes, with her breasts pressed against his rock-hard abs, she put her lips on his, angling her head just so, tasting him, enjoying the way his mouth felt on hers. Her insides fluttered out of control, leaving her breathless and wobbly. She stepped away. Dizzy from one simple kiss. Shit. She hadnt meant to take it so far. He was half naked now and about to take off his pants. Stop right there, she said, sounding more like a cop and less like the seductress shed been going for. One brow shot up. Oh, no, you dont. I was kidding.

Kidding? He raked his hands through his hair. What the hell was that all about? I wanted to teach you a lesson. What sort of crazy lesson could I learn from having you suck on my tongue and rub your body against mine? He pointed a finger at her. Youre a tease exactly what Ive been saying all along. She scrunched her nose. He was right. She was a tease. Shed gotten carried away. Shed thought she could give him a taste of his own medicine, but shed gone too far. If they ever had sex, she wanted it to mean something.

*** Every muscle tense, Dominic stared her down. He wasnt angry or frustrated as much as he was thoroughly disappointed. He truly couldnt remember the last time hed wanted a woman like he wanted Sam. And that made no sense. She was a tiny thing with no hips or breasts to speak of. She was an innocent, a tease, a goddamned reporter who was willing to do almost anything to get the scoop. Shed been warned, but damn it, he hadnt been. In the blink of an eye, the little minx had taken full control. The sway of her hips had entranced, having her tongue dancing with his was beyond exhilarating, but having her pressed up against him, the pursuer, the huntress, the vixen, had awakened all of his senses and had been his ultimate undoing. Hed wanted nothing more than to strip both their clothes off and then pick her up and carry her to his bed. Damn it all. She was a teasea beautiful tease. Shaking his head, he turned and headed for the bathroom, where he spent the next five minutes taking a cold shower, brushing his teeth, and getting ready for bed. He came out wearing only his boxers, and didnt spare her a glance before climbing under the sheets and turning off the lamp next to his side of the bed. I am sorry, she told him, her voice barely audible. Her smell still clung to him, teasing and tantalizing even now. Lying on his back, his hands under his head, eyes shut, he merely grunted. The truth is, she continued, I dont want to be just another woman on your long list of sexual partners. Im sleeping, Sam. Look at my eyes. Theyre closed. If we ever do make love, I want it to mean something. He released a long ponderous breath. How long was she going to beat herself up over it and prevent them both from sleeping?

Although I dont know you very well, she said, her voice cracking, I think youre a great guy. Enough. He propped himself on his elbow. Sam, dont worry about your childish prank. I get it, okay? You dont want to be a notch in my black book On your headboard, she amended. You have a black book? He rolled his eyes. You want me. I want you. But I cant make you any promises. Not now, not ever. Somehow, someway were going to get through this. We have no choice. He rested his head back against the pillows and then patted her side of the mattress. Like I said earlier, this is a big bed. Im not going to take advantage, so no need to worry. I promise. Eyes closed again, he heard her release a sigh before the bathroom door clicked shut. The truth was shed gotten him hot and bothered. Big time. That notion did not compute since he didnt get hot and bothered. It didnt make sense. Big deal shed come on to him and then backed off. Get over it, he told himself, and then he turned over and went to sleep. *** Hours later, Sam lay on the bed next to Dominic and watched the slight rise and fall of his chest as he slept. Hed been tossing and turning all night. What the hell am I trying to prove? Shed wanted to teach him a lesson for setting her up. Hed known all along that the two of them would be forced to share his bedroomand his bed, but he hadnt told her until the very last moment. She figured shed teach him a lesson, but the whole sex-kitten act had backfired. Dominic often came across as secretive and aloof, but in that moment shed had his full attention, shed seen a hint of another man altogether. He was undoubtedly the sexiest man shed ever laid eyes on. He was also flirtatious, funny, and sort of sweet. She wanted all of him. And that was something she was never going to get. Time to pull herself together and figure out how she was going to get through the next few months in one piece. Unable to sleep, she slid quietly off the bed. She grabbed his shirt from the floor and put it on. She rolled up the big sleeves and buttoned it before leaving the room. Curious, she headed upstairs and made her way through another wide sweeping hallway. She passed by a room with a closed door, which she assumed was Marias room. The next door on the right was open. Another king-sized bed like the one in Dominics room filled half of the space. A large double-paned window covered one wall and an antique dresser and mirror sat against the opposite wall. Out the window, she saw a large expanse of lush green grass and wellmanicured shrubs lit up by dozens of outside lights. She narrowed her eyes, trying to see if anyone was still high in the trees, taking pictures, but all she

could see were dark shadows. Turning away from the window, she wandered into a connecting bath that had all the amenities, including a telephone and an intercom. Her reflection in the mirror over the sink stared back at her. The eyes said it all. She was already falling for Dominic DeMarco. How could that be? Was I confusing lust with love? She brought her hands to her face and moaned. In a few months, she would walk out of this house with a broken heart. How many times could a heart be broken and then put back together again? She was doomed. Or was she? Looking back at the woman in the mirror, she summoned all of the resolve and determination shed built up inside before flying to New York. Shed attended the wedding because shed wanted to make something of herself, hadnt she? Shed married the man for a reason. She had purpose and drive and the only way she was going to get through this sham of a marriage was to stay focused and stick to the story. The story. The story was all that mattered. Dominic DeMarco could never fall in love with a girl like her. This marriage was temporary. If she could stay strong, her life could literally be turned around. She could gain the respect shed always craved, not only from her parents and siblings, but also from her friends and her workplace. She exited the bathroom. Her feet sank into the plush carpet as she headed back downstairs to the kitchen to search for her journal in her purse. After finding everything she needed, she made her way to the family room, took a seat on the couch, and began to write. Dominic had spent most of the plane ride with Ben and Tom, talking about possible movie deals and all the different functions they had scheduled over the next few months. Shed learned that Tom was not only Dominics agent, but a good friend, while Ben seemed to be a fast-talking manager with big ideas. Sam kept a close eye on her husband during the ride home. He tended to rub his chin when he mulled things over. And when he didnt agree with something Ben or Tom said, he rubbed his left temple. Walks around in the nude, she added to the bottom of her list. Extremely arrogantthink Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. Tends to close up and stay guarded much of the time, as if hes hiding a million secrets. Despite his enigmatic personality, hes by far the sexiest man Ive ever laid eyes on. How was she going to sleep next to him night after night? She tapped her pen to her chin and found herself lost in thought at the idea of making love to him. What would it be like to make love to him? Pressed up close in the shower,

or better yet, outside on the beach while the water crashed over their naked bodies

Chapter Thirteen

Dominic awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of people talking in the other room. He reached an arm to Sams side of the bed, disappointed to find the space was no longer occupied. The woman was a tease, plain and simple, but shed come around eventually. It was just a matter of time. The clock on his nightstand read three in the morning. Judging by the sounds coming from the family room, Sam was having a party. He climbed out of bed. Despite the naked warning hed given Sam earlier, he walked across the room to the high dresser and pulled on a T-shirt before trudging out the door. He stopped at the archway leading to the family room, where he spotted Sam on the couch. On the television, a late-night host had the audience in tears. Sam must have been having a difficult time falling asleep. If he hadnt seen her sleeping in the limo yesterday, he might have thought she was dead the way her arm fell limp over the edge of the couch. He shook his head at the way her mouth hung open. One arm rested across her forehead as if shed fainted. His shirt clung to her body, revealing creamy thighs. His throat suddenly felt like sand. He crossed the room, grabbed a blanket from a basket next to his favorite recliner, and placed it over her. She didnt move. With the television screen shedding light over the length of her, his gaze took it all in, including, but not limited to, her delicate hands and short, unpainted fingernails. He leaned over and brushed strands of silky hair out of her face. Her lips, rosy and full, were very kissable. He thought about carrying her back to bed, showing her what she was missing because of her sheer stubbornness. Instead, he turned off the TV and gave her one last fleeting look before heading back to his bedroom. Temporary or not, he had a wife. He should probably try harder to open up to her, tell her how all of those stories written about him were mostly lies. Hell, he was a decent guy with values and morals and dignity and pride, but a celebrity with morals didnt sell magazines or movie tickets, for that matter. A no-good, womanizing celebrity is what the public wanted to read about and as long as tabloid reporters, like Sam Johnston, sold garbage to the public, nothing was going to change. *** Sam awoke with a start. She sat up and noticed the blanket keeping her warm. The television had been turned off, too. She combed her fingers through tangled hair as she made her way through the house. Dominic?

She went to his bedroom. The bed was made, everything neat and orderly, no sign that hed slept in the room. She entered the walk-in closet. His clothes were all color-coordinated and in perfect order. Back in the bedroom, she noticed a picture on his nightstanda black-andwhite photo of a little boy and his parents. Shed read that Dominics father had a drinking problem and his mother ran off, abandoning them both. Although the boy in the picture was sandwiched between his parents, he looked sad. Seeing Dominic as a lonely child tugged at her heartstrings. The clock sitting next to the framed picture read ten oclock. It was Monday. Shoot! She was late for work. An hour later, after dressing and eating scrambled eggs Maria had prepared for her, Sam paid the taxi driver and stepped onto the curb. She could see Washington Mutual and the headquarters for the Los Angeles Times. Also the Northridge Mall, a couple of theatres, and a cafe. Since she still needed to get her things from her apartment, shed had no choice but to wear the same skirt shed worn to New York a little over a week ago. Smoothing out the wrinkles, she walked toward the drab gray building where shed spent the last five years filing and answering phones. Head held high, she walked through the lobby and the main office, past a maze of cubicles. All eyes were on her. She waved at John Benton, a senior editor, but he turned away, busying himself with invisible paperwork. She got the same response from the rest of the staff, including Kristin Jenkins, Kate Garrison, and Andriana Simpson. They wanted nothing to do with her. In their minds, she had betrayed them all. Her boss, Mitzy Hart, a woman descended from a long line of hardcore newspaper legends, waved her inside her office. Mitzy had taken a lot of flak over the years for running what many considered to be a tabloid instead of a newspaper, but she didnt care. Good or bad, Mitzy liked the attention. The LA Beat was hitting record sales and thats all that mattered. Mitzy crumpled a piece of paper in her hand and tossed it into the garbage. Then she gestured toward one of the leather chairs in front of her desk. Have a seat. Sam didnt like the look in Mitzys gray eyes. Her mouth, a tight red line, slashed across her face in a frown. Her elbows were propped on her desk and her fingers formed a steeple. Too busy to return my call, I see. Im sorry, Sam said. I left you a message. Ive hardly had time to talk to my own moth Mitzy raised her finger, stopping Sam mid-sentence. Ill be the one doing all of the talking today. Sam nodded. Jog my memory for me, will you?

Sam nodded again. Very few reporters were allowed at DeMarcos wedding, am I right? Thats correct. Did I send you to New York to do a story on Dominic DeMarcos mystery bride, or did I not? You did. Are you aware that the LA Beat was the only paper across the country without a story on the DeMarco wedding? Sam swallowed. I didnt realize, but I can see how Ah, ah, ah, Mitzy said, hushing her once again. The reporter I sent to New York to get the scoop on the mystery bride ends up being the bride. Do you have any idea how this reflected on my paperand especially on me? Sam winced. I can only imagine Another raised finger. No, Samantha, you cant even begin to imagine. Because of you, I am the laughingstock of the industry. Mitzy shuffled through mounds of paperwork, her frustration palpable. There is one more thing, she said as she looked up from the pile of papers, seemingly surprised to see Sam still sitting there. Under the circumstances, I have no choice but to let you go. You cant be serious. Perfectly. I was sworn to secrecy. I had no choice in the matter. Then you should have made certain you had a back-up reporter. Sam couldnt believe what she was hearing. Being fired today was the last thing shed expected, but plainly Mitzy had been humiliated and it was more than she could take. Sam had wanted to be an investigative reporter since she was little. For five long years, shed been filing and doing everyones dirty work, hoping to get her foot in the door and now after landing her first shot at getting a story, she was being fired. She could not allow this to happen. Youre right, Sam said. I should have handed the story over to someone else. Im sorry that you were the only tabloid left in the cold, but I will do anythingshe leaned over the deskanything to keep my job. And sadly, Sam realized, it was the honest-to-God truth. For years, shed been doing everything she could to get a story and prove to her family she could be someone and make something of herself. If she walked out of here today without a job, where would she be when her fake marriage was over? Youre married to one of the richest men in the country and yet you want to continue working for the LA Beat? Until Sam was actually paid the money owed, she had enough money in savings to last her six months at the most. Yes. Why? I want to be a reporter. For five years, I have busted my butt to get a story. I dont want to lose

Mitzy raised her pencil and pointed it at her, once again cutting her off midsentence. Ive got an idea. Sam wasnt sure she liked the half-crazed look in her bosss eyes, but she was desperate. One thousand words a week. Thats what I want. Sam tried to stay calm, tried not to appear as excited as she felt. What do you want me to write about? A thousand-word story every week about the real Dominic DeMarco and what its like to be married to a superstar. Sam didnt say a word. Our readers will go crazy. Do that for me, Mitzy said, and Ill let you keep your job. Sam felt horrible about Mitzy being the laughingstock of the industry due to her actions, and yet this was asking too much. Dominic didnt trust reporters as it was. She already knew how he felt about having his personal life made public. This wasnt good. Writing about their time together when the marriage was over was one thing, but writing about him while she was actually living with him as his wife and without his permission was quite another. Dominic wouldnt like it. Mitzys eyes narrowed. Ive seen DeMarco on many talk shows over the years telling the world he doesnt read the papers. Hell never know, especially since you could write under a pen name. His managers see everything written about their client. Im his wife; of course hed know who was writing the stories. Mitzy didnt look convinced. Sam rubbed the back of her neck. Shed worked too long and too hard for this position and for this opportunity. Hell, she married Dominic because of her career. Mitzy had a lot of clout in the business. Bottom line: she couldnt walk out of this office without a job. Her marriage to Dominic was temporary. Her job was not. In three months, hed be single again. Shed be quickly forgotten and hed go back to having a different woman on his arm every week. Sam straightened. She had integrity. I cant do it. Then youll need to pack your things. Desperation clawed at Sams insides. In three short months, she would have the exclusive rights to Dominics story. It would all be on the up-and-up. She wouldnt be writing behind Dominics back because he knew it was coming. She just needed more time. In three months, Ill give you what you want. Mitzy angled her head. Why three months? I need time to organize my thoughts. This is my one shot. I want to get it right. Okay, but I want an outline showing me what you have in mind. Ill give you a few weeks and then well talk. Mitzy grabbed a notebook, scribbled a

few sentences about what she expected and then signed and dated the bottom of the page and slid the paper across the desk. You want me to sign that? Mitzy nodded. I certainly do. Sam signed her name and then dated the piece of paper, figuring she had nothing to lose. Mitzy put the paper in a manila folder, and then waved her hand toward the door, making it clear it was time for Sam to get out of her office. What should I work on in the meantime? Mitzy drummed her pencil against the edge of her desk. What do you mean? Do you have any other stories youd like me to get started on? Organize your desk, catch up on the filing, then go home and follow your husband around, Mitzy said with a chuckle. I want to know what he does every day, twenty-four-seven. I want details. Sam exhaled. Wheres the fire and the spunk? Mitzy asked. You should be excited at the prospect of spending more time with your husband. Mitzys gaze became intense as she looked at Sam, peering right through her as if she could read Sams mind. The look was downright scary. Is there something youre not telling me? No, of course not. Sams insides churned. I guess Ill get caught up on the filing and then Ill see you in a few weeks. Glad to have you back, Mitzy said with a caustic laugh as Sam left the office. On her way back through the maze of cubicles, Sam stopped at Kates desk. She considered Kate to be a good friend, but Kate wouldnt even look her way. Come on, Kate, talk to me. If I had known I was getting married, I would have told you, I swear. Kate closed the file on her desk. Youre telling me you didnt know you were going to marry one of the most sought-after celebrities in the US? I know it sounds crazy, but its the truth. I swear on my mothers grave. Your mother is still alive. Thats not the point, Sam said with a roll of her eyes. You know what I mean. I thought we had a solid friendship, Kate said. Ive always had respect for you because I know youre a hard worker and youre determined to succeed. I thought we were friends. Sam didnt know what to say. It felt as if a vise were squeezing her head tighter and tighter. Kate sighed. You looked me square in the eyes before you left and told me you were going to fly to New York and get that story even if you had to kick down the backdoor and sneak inside the church. Next thing I know youre the

mystery bride, the person the entire country has been dying to see. Dont you know how foolish we looked? Not just Mitzy, but the mystery brides friend? Guess who they all came running to on your wedding day? Kate pointed at her own chest. Me! Within hours of your wedding, Mitzy and her entourage were camped inside my tiny apartment for the weekend, figuring you would call eventually. Sams stomach churned. Im so sorry. And she was. Shed disappointed a lot of people. How long have you been seeing him? Dominic? No, Bozo the Clown. Yes, Dominic. Not long. Are you in love with him? Yes. I dont believe you. Youre lying. Sam sighed and then headed for her workstation. Youre not leaving? No. Ill be in and out over the next few months. Right now Im going to look through my mail and get caught up on the filing. In case you forgot, youre married to Dominic DeMarco. I realize that. Kate lifted herself from her chair and walked over to Sam. And yet youre still going to work here? Didnt I always tell you I would never give up my job for a man? Hes not just any man, Kate said, taking a seat on the edge of Sams desk. No, youre right. Hes not just any man, is he? *** The cab driver yanked the wheel and stopped in a dark alley. Sam looked out the back window and smiled when she saw the paparazzi race by. Great work, she told the driver. He smiled as if hed done it a million times before, and then started off again. It was growing dark by the time Sam climbed out of the yellow taxicab on E. Palm Avenue. After thanking the driver and giving him an extra big tip, she headed for her apartment. She glanced at her cell phone. No missed calls. She wondered if Maria had told Dominic where she would be. She found herself missing him, which was ridiculous considering their relationship was a complete sham. As she approached her residence, she spotted a man sitting on her front stoop, leaning against the door. Ken?

He smiled, his eyes sparkling with mischief. His hair was bleached from the sun, making him look as if hed just been surfing. He was still as handsome as she remembered. What are you doing here? Is that any way to greet your fianc? Ex-fianc who left me for a girl within a week of meeting her. I would say I was being kind. Well, when you put it that way. She dug through her purse for the keys to her front door. So, what are you doing here? she asked again as he came to his feet. He didnt look half bad, which irked her. His caramel-colored hair looked windblown and mussed. His mossy green button-up shirt showed off his wellmuscled arms. His eyes locked on hers. Did you really marry that guy? Holding his gaze, she realized she didnt feel anything. No tingles. No fluttering inside her belly. The notion she might truly be over him made her smile. Yes, she said. I really did marry Dominic DeMarco. She flashed her two-carat diamond wedding ring. Does that surprise you? It does. To think she used to appreciate his brutal honesty. She shrugged, relieved to finally locate her keys at the bottom of her purse. Sam opened the door. Ken walked in ahead of her without permission. Stepping inside, she dropped her purse on the coffee table. This is the last time Im going to ask you this, Ken, and then I want you to leave. What are you doing here? I just wanted to make sure you were okay. She spread her arms wide. Couldnt be better. You look tired. As she looked closer at him, her eyes narrowed. Whats with the stubbled jaw? I thought you hated facial hair? Pamela liked it, so I figured Id keep it. How is Pamela? I dont know. I havent seen her in weeks. What happened? Lets just say she gave me a taste of my own medicine. Sam could hardly believe what she was hearing. Pamela dumped you? I guess you could call it that if you really wanted to. Sam laughed. She couldnt help it. Then she shut the door. Have a seat and tell me all about it.

Chapter Fourteen

You wanted to see me? Kate Garrison asked. Mitzy motioned for Kate to shut the door and take a seat. You and Samantha are close friends, isnt that right? Kate sighed. We used to be. I think theres more to this marriage between Samantha and DeMarco than shes letting on. Kate wrung her hands in her lap. What do you think? I dont think Sams in love with her husband, Kate blurted. I think something fishy is going on, but I dont have a clue what it is. Do you feel betrayed by your friend? I do. How long have you worked for the LA Beat? Itll be seven years next week. Im going to give you a chance to show me what youre made of. Kate leaned forward. How? I want you to find it inside your heart to forgive Samantha and befriend her, earn her trust. Assuming youll be invited into the house Samantha shares with her new husband, I want you to take note of anything and everything you see, and then report back to me. I want one thousand words about their living arrangementseverything and anything you can find out about the newlyweds. Shell know it was me. Mitzy shrugged. What do you care after what she did to you? Besides, youll be writing under the pen name Liliana Parker. She cant prove a thing. What do you think? I dont know. You would have to make it worth my while. Five thousand dollars every time you hand over one thousand words. Make them good, though. Dont waste your time or mine. Kate seemed to be thinking it over. Mitzy refused to let Samantha Johnston, a filing clerk, get away with humiliating her in front of the world. Something was going on between Samantha Johnston and Dominic DeMarco and she wasnt going to be the last to find out what it was. If you cant handle this project, then Ill be passing the opportunity on to Carrie Hucksley. Kate snapped to attention. Ill do it. *** It was eleven oclock by the time Sam slipped the key Maria had given her into the door at Dominics house. She didnt want to wake him, so she told Ken to wait in the car while she brought her things inside, starting with her cat.

Ken had offered to drive her, which had saved her time and taxi money. She placed the carrier inside the front entry, then turned back toward the door and nearly knocked into Ken, who had ignored her request and followed her inside the house. Where have you been? Sam whipped around, surprised to see Dominic standing in the darker shadows of the entryway. His expression was surly, but he looked amazingly handsome in a pair of loose-fitting gray sweats and a snug black T-shirt. She straightened her spine, refusing to back down just because he was in one of his moods. After work, I stopped by my apartment to get my things. Dominic gestured with his chin toward Ken. And whos your friend? Ken handed her the fishbowl. Water sloshed over the sides, but he was intent on meeting her celebrity husband, despite the angry look on Dominics face. Ken had talked nonstop while she gathered the things she would need. Then, while shed gone to her neighbors place to get Shakespeare and her fish, Hamlet, Ken had gone through her kitchen cupboards and started dinner. Shed been too tired and too busy packing her things to bother protesting, but now it was eleven oclock and Dominic was not pleased. Dominic, she said, this is Ken. Then she placed the fishbowl on the entry table. Ken held out a hand for Dominic to shake. Dominic ignored the offered hand and stepped right past him, approaching Sam instead. Without speaking another word, he took her into his arms and kissed her good and long. His mouth was warm, the kiss intoxicating. When he finally pulled away, Sam felt blood rush to her cheeks before she rambled on nervously. Ken was at my apartment when I went to get my things. He was kind enough to help me pack, she explained, her tongue tripping over every word. Then he insisted on driving me home so I wouldnt have to take a taxi. Dominics eyes narrowed just the slightest bit. Is this the same Ken youve mentioned before? Sam nodded. She talked about me on your honeymoon? Ken asked. Nice. They ignored him. I guess you didnt want to take one of the cars in the garage? Dominic asked next. The idea never crossed my mind. Surely you have a car of your own? My car is in the shop. I left it there before I flew to New York, figuring Id take care of it next week. I see. Obviously he didnt see at all because he crossed his arms tightly over his chest. If she didnt know better, shed guess he was jealous. She tried not to smile. Ken looked around. Nice place youve got here.

Thanks, Sam said with a sigh. Let me see you to your car so I can get the rest of my things. Ill get your things, Dominic offered, and before she could stop him, he was ushering Ken out the door, staying close on his heels. She watched the two men. Dominic was at least an inch taller. Kens shoulders were maybe that much broader. She didnt know what to think about seeing them together.Twilight Zone came to mind. It was Dominic who held her full attention, though: the fire in his eyes, his determined stance, his easy confidence. Dominic reached inside the trunk of Kens Camry and grabbed all of her things. The two men exchanged a few words. She couldnt tell by their expressions what they were talking about or whether there was a problem, but before she could step closer for a better look, Dominic was coming up the stairs toward the house. She followed him inside, watching him take her things to their bedroom. Shakespeare meowed. Too tired to worry about Dominic, she opened the carrier. Her white Persian cat wanted nothing to do with living in a new house and had to be coaxed out of the cage. Dominic reappeared with a smirk on his face and a dog at his side, which prompted her cat to dart off in a flash of white fluff. The dog barked and gave chase. Sam ran after the animals, following them into Dominics bedroom. Shakespeare was on top of the bed, clawing at the pillows and blankets. Is this your dog? she asked loud enough to be heard over the barking. Rex, Dominic commanded as he came rushing into the room behind her. I keep him in a kennel when Im gone. He pointed to the cat. That thing is getting cat hair all over my pillows. He reached for the animal. Shakespeare hissed at him and he pulled his hand back. Thats not a cat. Its a tiger. She snorted as she watched his dog bark and paw at the edge of the blankets, pulling the covers halfway off the bed. Call off your dog! Too late. Rex pounced onto the bed. Shakespeare leapt into Sams arms, scratching her before jumping to the cushioned chair nearby. The dog took chase, almost knocking her over in the process. The animals ran in circles around their legs as Dominic examined his pillows. Im going to be sneezing all night. Ignoring the chaos around them, Sam plunked her hand on her hip. Youre allergic to cats, but not to dogs? Thats right. Romeo needs to go. His name is Shakespeare and hes not going anywhere. Ill definitely have a rash by morning. Well, thats too bad. Shakespeare stays, she said as the dog chased the cat under the bed this time.

Dominic finally caught Rex and held the dog by his collar while Sam scooted under the bed so she could grab the trembling cat. Isnt there somewhere you can put Rex for a few minutes while I get Shakespeare situated? A phone call would have been nice, he said. Shakespeare didnt want anything to do with her. He wrestled from her grasp and darted from the bedroom, running for his life. Dominic kept a good hold on Rex, a small black lab who seemed friendly enough despite his eagerness to run after her poor cat. She looked out the door. The cat was gone. I should have called. Im sorry. Okay? Ive had a long day and Im really not in the mood to be lectured. How was work? The entire office is upset with me. I let everyone down. My boss has given me some time off to be with my new husband. She crossed her arms and presented him with a tight smile. I almost lost my job. Happy? You knew this wouldnt be easy. Sam exhaled. I dont think Ken is the right guy for you. Im not going there, she huffed. If you didnt want to discuss Ken, you shouldnt have brought him to my house. She snorted. Why did you ask him for help? I could have helped you if you had only asked. I didnt want his help. Then why did you take it? He was very insistent. What was he doing at your apartment in the first place? I dont know. You should have asked him. I did. Heat crept up her face. He looked her square in the eyes. He wants you back. Thats the most ridiculous thing Ive ever heard. I cant believe were having this conversation. Why? Because this whole crazy arrangement between the two of us is nothing but a big fat lie. She was tiredexhausted, really. The last week or so had taken a lot out of her. Im not your wife, she went on. Youre not my husband. Were from two different worlds. I dont even think you really like me much. Thats where youre wrong. He let the dog go. Rex took off. What about Shakespeare? Rex wouldnt hurt a flea. Hes partially deaf and blind in one eye.

Oh, the poor thing. Come on, he said, dragging her through the house toward the kitchen. Knock it off, Rex, he said loud enough for the dog to hear him as they passed by the family room. Rex immediately stopped barking and sat on his hind legs next to the couch in the family room where Shakespeare was hiding. Once they were in the kitchen, Dominic told Sam to take a seat on the stool at the kitchen counter. Then he found some pain-relieving cleansing spray and a bandage and got to work. Sam tried not to look at him while he tended to the scratches on her arm. When he blew on the injured area, drying the medication so the bandage would stick, she did her best to ignore the wildfire of tingles he managed to ignite. Its late, she said. Youre tired. I can do this myself. Be a good patient and stay still. Im almost done. He placed the bandage over her scratch. There. Arent you forgetting something? He looked confused. My mom used to kiss my owies to make me feel better. He slowly brought her arm to his lips and kissed the soft flesh next to the bandage. Not such a good idea. His lips made her tingle in places not even close to her owie. Thanks. She pulled her arm away. Thats good. All done. Happy to oblige. Perhaps we should move this medical procedure into the bedroom. No, thats okay. Im fine now. She wriggled her arm in the air. See? All better. His frown was back. So your boss is giving you a hard time? Nothing I cant handle. Just say the word and Ill have someone pay your boss a visit. Sam laughed. What? Youre going to send Ben and Tom to my office to threaten my boss? Whatever it takes. I appreciate the offer, but theres no need. Come on, lets get you to bed. What about Shakespeare? Leave him. I guarantee those two will be friends by morning. Dominic tucked her into bed, propping her arm on an extra pillow, treating her as if shed been hit by a car instead of scratched by a cat.

Chapter Fifteen

It was Saturday morning, Sams second week as Dominics wife, when she trudged sleepily into the kitchen. The past few days had flown by. Between learning her way around Dominics big house, getting Shakespeare acclimated, and getting to know Maria, shed hardly had time to worry about Dominic. And that was a lie, a big fat lie. She was aware of his every move, every smile, every twitch, every frown. She also noticed every time he hopped into his car and disappeared, returning in time for dinner. Twice hed come home late. She had no idea where he went. Shed asked him more than once, but he always found a way to change the subject or take a call before she could get any concrete answers. As the days passed, she tried to convince herself she didnt care and it wasnt her concern. Most nights she would be lying in bed hours before he came to bed. She would feign sleep as she felt the mattress dip from the weight of him as he climbed in beside her. More than once shed woken with her leg swung over his leg, her arm resting across his chest, her lips squashed against his shoulder. But he had yet to complain or say anything about her tendency to end up on his side of the bed. As she waited for the coffee to brew, the phone rang. She grabbed it before it could ring again and wake Dominic. Hello. Who is this? the caller asked. This is Sam JohnI mean Samantha DeMarco, who is this? Nobody important. The smooth as silk voice gave Sam pause. I was only calling to check in on Dominicmake sure hes doing well. Should I wake him? Oh, no. Dont do that. Ill call again. Before Sam could get a name and a phone number, there was a click and the phone line went dead. Sam couldnt help but wonder which starlet shed been talking to, though it sounded like an older woman. Sam pushed *67, hoping the callers number wasnt blocked. She was in luck. The number popped up. Repeating the number in her mind, she hung up the phone, scurried around the kitchen until she located paper and pen, and then quickly jotted down the number. She slid the paper into the pocket of her pink sweatpants just as Dominic sauntered into the kitchen. He wore gray sweats and a half-buttoned shirt. His hair was a tousled, sexy mess. Who was on the phone? It was a woman with a strikingly husky voice. Hmm, is all he said with a shrug. You have no idea who might be calling this early? No idea. He headed for the cupboard. She watched him fill his mug to the brim and then take more than a few gulps of dark-roasted coffee. Leaning a hip against the granite counter, he glanced at the clock. We have to leave in exactly one hour and forty-five minutes. Leave for where?

According to Ben, were going to attend a carnival to help raise funds for children with disabilities. Didnt I mention it? No, you didnt. Tomorrow night were scheduled to have dinner at my parents house, she reminded him. He lifted his coffee cup in a sign of remembrance. Im looking forward to it. She scrunched her face. I wouldnt do that if I were you. Do what? Look forward to meeting my family. Dont get me wrong. I love them all, but my brothers and my father in particular can be opinionated and overbearing at times. Two brothers? She nodded. Both older, Taylor and Kevin. Taylor has a fourteen-year-old daughter named Emma. His wife died from cancer when Emma was only six months old. Both of my brothers are twinkles in Dads eyes. Resentful much? I try not to be, but over the years their teasing turned to lectures and it has taken its toll. I dont bother trying to defend myself any more. At least they dont wrestle me to the ground any longer. What about you? What was it like growing up as an only child? There were some good moments, he said. Few and far between, but I like to think there was a time when my parents actually loved each other. Sam couldnt believe he was opening up. It was a rare moment when he talked about his childhood. How did you get into acting? After my mother left us, there was a neighbor, Mr. Krisko, who took me to a local youth club where I was exposed to dancing, singing, and acting. Dominic set his cup on the counter and walked toward her, his gaze intense. Hold still. The way he was looking at her, she thought he might kiss her, something he hadnt done since Ken had brought her home. Something shed thought about much too often. Lifting her chin just so, she closed her eyes, anticipation making her insides flutter. Instead of feeling his lips on hers, she felt the flick of his fingertips on the top of her head. Ouch! Her eyes shot open. What are you doing? He pointed to the spider skittering across the floor. Oh, my God! She jumped into his arms. That thing is huge. Yes, it is, he said, holding her close. It took a moment for her to realize he wasnt talking about the spider at all. She could feel him hard against her hip. Instead of attempting to take advantage of the situation, though, he set her down and went back to his coffee as if he were hardly aware of her. I have a question for you, she said. He grabbed the paper Maria had left on the table before going to the grocery store and took a seat at the table. Go ahead. Im all ears.

When you disappear during the day and sometimes at night, where do you go? I thought we were both going to do our own thing while we were together, no questions asked. You thought wrong. While were married, temporarily or not, I think its only fair that I know where you run off. If someone were ever to approach me with an eight-by-ten glossy of you with some bimbo, Id prefer not to be caught off guard. He rubbed his stubbled jaw. Ahh, so thats why you want to know where I spend my free time. If I didnt know better, Id say you were keeping tabs on me like any jealous wife might do. Like I said, were married now and Youre a reporter, Sam. Youre married to me because at the end of the three months you plan to tell the world everything there is to know about me. My plan is to write about what its like being married to you, not tell the world your every secret. I really dont see how you can write one without the other. I guess Im telling you right here, right now, that Im not going to give away your personal life story. Why should I believe you? Because I would never lie to you. I dont trust too many people, Sam. Not just reporters, but Im going to go out on a limb and tell you this: My mother left me when I was ten. Explain to me how a mother leaves her ten-year-old boy with a drunk? He sighed. I was in love once, he went on, his voice void of emotion. She sold pictures of our time together to a tabloid. Im sorry. People do crazy things for money, the two of us included. Trusting people does not come easily to me. Ive been burned too many times, my parents and uncle included. So, even if I promise never to sell you out, you still wont believe me? Even if I only say things like the two of us lived in a ridiculously big house that we hardly saw each other? He remained silent. None of this was my idea, she reminded him. And besides, youll get first approval before anything can be published. Their gazes held and that was that. He was done talking.

Chapter Sixteen

The day was filled with clowns, bean bag races, and bumper cars. Security was tight and photographers and reporters were not allowed through the gates. Sam had never seen so many celebrities at one event, many of them enjoying the day with their families. Hundreds of thousands of dollars would be raised today. The temperature was in the high seventies, low eighties. The sun felt good on her back. She breathed in the smell of grilled burgers and cotton candy. Hey, you two, a woman wearing the red and white shirt of the event committee shouted, gesturing them over with both hands. What do you need? Dominic asked. I need one more couple for the dance marathon. Oh, gosh, Sam said, Im a horrible dancer. Please? the woman begged. We need ten couples right now. Every fifteen minutes, one couple will be pulled off the dance floor. People have paid a lot of money to get special tickets for the front row seats. Dominic grabbed Sams hand. Well do it. Where do we go? The woman turned around and divided a curtain, showing them the way to the dance floor where people had already gathered to watch the show. This is embarrassing, Sam told Dominic. Just do whatever I do. If were lucky, well be the first couple kicked off the stage. This is crazy, she said as the crowd of people began clapping when they saw Dominic DeMarco would be part of the show. Okay, weve got our ten couples, the woman said into the microphone. Were going to start with the Twist, a popular dance craze of the sixties. Everybody knows how to do the Twist. Lets do it! Before Sam could protest further, a recorded version of Chubby Checkers began. Today was her lucky day. The Twist was one of the few dances Sam could do without looking like a complete idiot. She gave it all she had, trying not to laugh at all the dancers around them, each with their own version of the dance. Holding her arms bent at the elbows, she used the balls of her feet to rotate her hips and torso. Dominic was a pro and every once in a while he would lift his leg off the floor, going for style and wowing the crowd in the process as he varied his speed, leaving Sam to concentrate on keeping up with him. When the fifteen minutes were over, Sam couldnt stop laughing. Shed never had so much fun. The crowd went wild as the judges held a number over each couples heads. After Dominics performance, it was clear they would remain on the dance floor for another round. The next dance was a slow dance. Sam hesitated since she wasnt sure she could handle being held in his arms for fifteen minutes. He reached over and anchored a few strands of her hair behind her ear, and then held out his hands. She hesitated. Are you too scared to dance with me?

Smiling, she slipped her hand into his as Eric Clapton began to sing Wonderful Tonight. Holding each other close, body-to-body, they swayed to the music. His eyes peered into hers and she couldnt have looked away if she had wanted to, lost in the moment, just the two of them. For a moment, she thought he might say something, but he didnt; he just held her closer and after a while, she rested her head against his shoulder. A medley of songs played over the next fifteen minutes and when it was over, they found themselves moving on to the next round. An hour later, it was hip-hop that ended up being Sams downfall. Third place isnt bad, Dominic said as he pinned her ribbon to the right side of her yellow blouse. Im sorry I couldnt keep up with you towards the end. You did great. They stared into each others eyes for what seemed like hours. You have beautiful eyes, he said. Have I told you that before? She smiled. How could she not? She couldnt remember ever enjoying herself as much as she was today. Are you going to kiss me? It never entered my mind, he said. Do you want me to kiss you? Not if it didnt even enter your mind. There would be no point and I His lips were on hers, leaving her no choice but to kiss him back. The kiss was tender and sweet and if she had one wish, it would be for this kiss, this moment, to last forever. *** Dominic pulled away. He didnt want to, but making out in the middle of a festival where children were running around wasnt the best timing on his part. However, Sam had pressed the matter, and he hadnt been able to stop himself. Sam Johnston was full of surprises. Watching her do the Twist and then holding her close had been too much. Hell, yes, hed wanted to kiss her. Hed wanted to do that for days now. More than anything else, he wanted to take her home and continue what they had just started, but she had other things in mind. I love riding the Ferris wheel. Come on, she said, taking his hand and pulling him that way. Its getting late, he said. We should probably head home. Just one time, she said, giving him no choice but to follow her lead. The first part of the ride wasnt too bad. The breeze cooled him off as they took a nice slow ride to the top, but then Sam squealed happily and raised her arms in the air, making their passenger car rock. I dont think you want to do that, he said, gripping onto the safety bar. Oh, come on, she said, its fun!

Youre rocking the boat, sweetheart. She noticed the perspiration on his forehead. Are you afraid? No, of course not. Whatever gave you that idea? Youre pale and youre sweating, and your knees are shaking. Okay, that cats out of the bag. Im not a big fan of heights. Sue me. She laughed, and despite his obvious horror, her hands shot up in the air again, higher this time. Please dont do that. Oh, stop it. Come on, Dominic, you really need to loosen up and live a little. Its just a harmless ride through the sky. Its like flying. His knuckles were white. Its not anything like flying. In fact, Im pretty sure I saw a few people hanging from one of these things on the news once. Youre going to be fine, she told him, and then she frowned and brought her arms into the safety of their capsule. Im sorry. You really are afraid of this thing, arent you? Not really, he lied. Ill be fine. Maybe you could ask the nice man whos fast approaching to stop this machine. They swept past the kid working the machine and were already making their way to the top again. Sorry, she said with a shrug. Youre not sorry at all. She smiled. I am, really. We just passed right by him. I didnt have time to say anything. Next time Ill ask him to stop, okay? I would appreciate it. As they reached the top, Sam threw her hands up again and screeched like a six-year-old. Before he could beg her to stop, the Ferris wheel did just thatit stopped in mid-air. Their seat rocked forward and back, the brackets squeaking loudly. Whats happening? He dared a peek over the side. Not a good idea. Theyre probably letting a frightened two-year-old off the ride. Thats not funny. She looked at him with those big brown eyes, cupped the palms of her hands around his jaw and kissed him. Her lips parted slightly, her body relaxed in his arms. He felt the tip of her tongue brush against his bottom lip. The kiss was passionate and so damn intoxicating he hadnt realized they were on the move again until their passenger car came to a jerky halt. Dominic didnt sleep that night. Instead, he watched Sam sleep. It was the first night since shed moved in that she didnt toss and turn and hit him in the face with flailing arms and legs. He couldnt remember the last time hed laughed as much as he had today. He liked Sam Johnston. He liked her too damn much. In that moment, he realized hed never met the right woman because hed never seen past the long legs and large breasts.

But Sam was so much more. Somehow she managed to bring out the best in him. The two of them had a lot in common, too. They were both driven and passionate about their careers. They had fun together. He rested his head on the pillows and wondered what he was going to do about Sam. Somehow when he wasnt looking, shed gotten under his skin. In such a short time hed come to care about her, but could he ever trust her? *** Sam opened one eye and then the other. Oh, God, shed done it again. There wasnt a part of her body that wasnt attached to Dominics flesh. Her lips were plastered to his arm. One of her hands was firmly planted on top of his rock-hard chest, while her leg was tangled with his. She started to pull away when suddenly he reached out and grabbed her, pulling her close. His eyes were closed. He couldnt possibly be asleep, could he? This time she tried to move her leg, but his calf held tight and she saw a smile tug at his mouth. Dominic, are you awake? Somebodys been sleeping on my side of the bed again. Im sorry. I cant seem to help myself. He rolled over so that she was snuggled beneath him, his body hovering over hers as he used his elbows to stop himself from crushing her. He kissed her neck. Are you ready to end this foolishness? he asked, moving his lips to her chin next. Are you asking me if Im ready to make love to you? He kissed her cheek and then her ear. Thats exactly what Im asking. His kisses left her breathless. Are you saying youre ready for a relationship? Define relationship. A meaningful attachment between two individuals, she said, trying to ignore the scorching heat caused by his sensuous lips. I can live with that. Yes, Im ready for a relationship. A meaningful and emotional relationship, she amended. That means we trust each other and tell each other where were going during the day and night. Trust takes time. True, but how can we ever expect to trust each other if we dont tell each other things? Hmm. This sounds like much more than a relationship. She laughed and pushed at his pecs. Get off me. Youre not ready to move on to the next level. Why are you playing so hard to get?

Because I dont want to have sex with you just for the sake of having sex. I want it to mean something more. Youre afraid Ill lose interest afterward? That might be part of it. We understand each other, he said, and you make me laugh. I think were ready. But Sam had already slid off the bed, ready to start her day.

Chapter Seventeen
Dominic spent the next day sneezing. The cat was going to have to go, especially after scratching Rex twice on the nose, letting the dog know who was boss. After Sam went for a run on the beach, he left to run some errands. He

knew she wanted to leave the house at five so they wouldnt be late for dinner at her parents house. It was five thirty by the time they managed to climb into the car and head to Pasadena. They were on the freeway for less than five minutes when Sam spotted a dog limping on the side of the road and pleaded with Dominic to pull over. After bringing his car to a stop on the side of the road, Sam jumped out before he could stop her. His heart beat double time when he saw her running too close to traffic. His adrenaline soared, but he was afraid if he got out of the car the dog would freak out and run into the middle of the road, bringing Sam along with it, so he stayed put. Sam was inches from the dog when the blast of a horn sounded. Before the dog could dart out into the road, Sam lunged for the frightened animal, pulling it into her arms, scraping her elbows and risking her life in the process. As she approached the vehicle, Dominic jumped out of the car, opened the back door, and helped her get in. Once everyone was safely inside, he looked back at her. You could have been killed. But I wasnt, she said cheerfully as if she hadnt nearly died out there. Im fine. You are not fine. Youre bleeding and Im serious. Dont ever do that again! Their gazes locked. The only one who almost got himself killed, she said calmly, was this poor half-starved mutt. Next time I pull over to save an animal, Ill be the one getting out of the car. Not you. Do you understand? Honest to God, I hope youre joking right now. Dominic sat behind the wheel while Sam sat in the backseat holding the shaking dog. He pointed a finger at her, his face stern. You scared the shit out of me. For a guy whos made it clear he doesnt care about me, you sure are making a big deal out of nothing. Who said I didnt care about you? You did. Youre not interested in having a real relationship. Every morning your expression turns grim and you close up. You disappear for hours on end. If it will make you feel better, Ill give you your damnable exclusive back because I dont know how much longer I can share a room with a man like you, let alone a bed. Im not the one crawling to your side every night and sucking on your earlobes. If you dont want me bothering you, then all you have to do is stay on your side of the bed. She growled. The dog squirmed.

Oh, no. The poor animal is bleeding. You have to find an animal hospital fast.

*** A jumble of emotions swirled through Sam as they once again headed for Pasadena and her parents. They had taken the dog to the closest veterinarian hospital. The poor mutt would be having surgery soon. According to the vet, the dog had been hit by a car, but somehow managed to keep on walking. The moment they had arrived at the animal hospital, Dominic had taken charge, rushing the dog inside. She and Dominic would return to get the dog in the morning. As they drove along, neither of them said a word. One moment he was concerned and caring and the next he was reserved, tucked away in his shell. If he wanted to remain aloof and distrustful of the world, then so be it. The other morning in the kitchen shed hoped for a breakthrough when hed opened up about his parents. Unfortunately, not even their wonderful day at the festival had changed anything. Dominic exited the freeway and continued on North Arroyo Parkway. Is something wrong? Im fine, she lied. How about you? Im good, too. He made a right onto El Molina. Its the brick house on the right, she told him. Sam didnt get home often these days, but when she did, the English Tudor house with its perfectly manicured landscape always seemed cold to her. Dominic pulled into the driveway and shut off the engine. And you give me a bad time about living in such a big house? She answered with a smirk. They climbed out of the car, both somber, as if they were walking to their deaths. He followed her to the main entrance. Instead of just entering the home where shed grown up, she knocked on the front door and waited as if she were a stranger in her parents home. A minute later, their longtime butler opened the door. Jeremy, Sam said, throwing her arms around the old mans waist, hugging him tight. Id like you to meet my husband, Dominic. They shook hands. Nice to meet you, sir. Ive read all about you. You starred in one of my favorite movies. He snapped his fingers. The one with Bob Ryan. Thats right, Dominic said. Into the Light.

Great movie. Jeremys gaze fell on Sam and he frowned. Are you bleeding? No, Im fine. We found an injured dog on the way here. Hes at the animal hospital, but the doctor said the dog will be fine. You always were a softie when it came to animals. Jeremy gestured for them to come inside. Everyones waiting. Your moms worried, afraid you two got in an accident on the way here. How about Dad? Hows his mood? Same as always, Jeremy said as he led them into the living room. You made it, Emma said, rushing over to give Sam a hug. What happened to your shirt? We found an injured dog on the side of the road. Wheres the dog? Hes at the animal hospital, but hes going to be okay. Thank God. Emma looked at Dominic next and blushed. Youre even better looking in real life. She pulled out her iPhone. Mind if I get a picture with you so I can brag to my friends? Not at all. Dominic and Emma spent the next few minutes taking pictures together while Sam crossed the room to talk to her father. What do you have on? he asked, stopping her from wrapping her arms around him. You look like a homeless person. Despite the warm day, Sams father wore a cashmere sweater vest over a long-sleeved shirt. Her dad had a barrel chest and his hair and moustache were peppered with gray. On our way here, I made Dominic stop so we could help an injured dog on the side of the freeway. Still a bleeding heart. That sort of work isnt going to get you anywhere in life. Sam didnt bother responding. Instead, she turned back to Dominic. Dominic, this is my father, Cameron. She then gestured toward a tall, slender man with blond hair. This is my oldest brother, Taylor, and thats my brother Kevin over there. So, Kevin said, you two are really married, huh? We are, Sam said with a sigh. Taylor looked Dominic over, not even trying to hide his disgust with their disheveled appearance. Truthfully, we always thought our sister would marry Ken. She dated him for five years. Isnt that right, sis? Ive met Ken, Dominic cut in. I wasnt impressed. It took me all of five minutes to see that he didnt deserve Sam. Taylors eyes narrowed. Thats so true, Emma said. Ken is a weasel and a half. Emma, Taylor said. What did I tell you?

No talking about inappropriate subjects, she mimicked. Dont talk out of turn. No cursing. Wash my hands. Did I miss something? Sam couldnt help but smile at her niece. The list sounded familiar. Everyone grew quiet. Her brothers and her father adored Ken and they didnt like what Dominic had to say about him. Heck, they didnt even care that Ken had left her for another woman. Dominic made his way around the room, shaking hands as he went along. Wheres Mom? Sam asked. Dad didnt think she was dressed appropriately, so she went to change. That was before we saw the two of you. So, out with it, little sister, whats really going on with you and this gigolo? Excuse me? Dominic said, his jaw hardening. What do you mean? Sam asked. We werent born yesterday, Kevin said, obviously clueless to the fact that he was about to get decked. Why would a famous celebrity such as Dominic DeMarco, a man who could have any woman in the world, marry a little mouse like you? Its true, Taylor chimed in. Weve all seen the types of women your husband is photographed with on the red carpet and at all the ritzy parties he attends. The two of you together makes no sense at all. Dad, Sam pleaded. Are you going to let them talk to me like this? Well, we all have been speculating. I cant believe this family, Emma said. Sam is the prettiest, funniest, smartest girl in the whole world. Whats not to like? Geez. Thanks, Emma. Sam looked at Dominic. Judging by the look on his face, he wanted nothing more than to put them all in their place. Thankfully, her mom joined them before Dominic could say a word or put a fist to one of her brothers faces. Clearly, judging by the look on his face, thats what he wanted to do. With open arms and a loving smile on her face, her mom crossed the room and pulled Sam into her arms. When she straightened, she looked at Dominic with warmth in her eyes that reminded Sam of better days. Dominic, Sam said, this is my mom, Rebecca. Its a pleasure to meet you, Rebecca told Dominic, ignoring his offered hand and wrapping her arms around him instead. I dont mean to rush things, but dinner is almost ready, she said after pulling away. If we could all have a seat at the main table, dinner will be served shortly. I hope you like roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy. My favorite, Dominic assured her.

You know, Mr. Johnston said, it would be nice if you put more thought into the meal next time we have guests. An awkward moment ensued before Mrs. Johnston managed to regain her composure. I thought you would enjoy having your favorite meal with your new son-in-law. Mr. Johnston grunted. Everyone found a place to sit, except Sams father, who poured himself another Scotch and then turned to Dominic, who was pulling out a chair for Sam. Just so were straight with each other, I think you should know that Im not happy about this marriage of yours. Dominic held his gaze. Youve made that clear. Perhaps if you had paid me a visit and asked for my daughters hand in marriage, I might have considered it. No, no, he quickly amended, I would have said no and sent you packing. Why is that? Dominic asked. The fact that the two of you didnt have enough respect to dress appropriately or arrive on time tonight is reason enough. Dominic was about to respond, but Sams father was much too fast. It boggles the mind, Mr. Johnston went on, to think Americans put so much importance on escapism and make-believe. I dont like actorsvacuous souls wasting our time with Dad, Sam cut in, thats enough. Its okay, Dominic told her. Nothing I havent heard before. Damn straight, one of her brothers muttered. The doorbell rang and Mrs. Johnston excused herself to see who was at the door. The other reason I would not have allowed you to marry my daughter, Sams father went on, is because she still has a lot to learn about life. Samantha should have carved out a life for herself years ago, but shes a female. Shes never been one to make good choices when it comes to her career. Unfortunately, she has my father-in-laws blood running through her veins. Why else would she want to be a reporter? He, too, had a creative side that took him nowhere in life. And marrying a man you hardly know? Kevin asked. I always knew you werent anything like the rest of us, Sammi, when it came to business, but as far as relationships go, I thought you were smarter than this. Ken has been waiting for you to return from New York. Hes sorry for what he did and he wants to make it up to you. Dominic slammed a fist against the table before he stood, his face red, his teeth clenched. Samantha is my wife now and you will talk to her with respect

or you will not talk to her at all. Not only is she beautiful, she is kind-hearted, unlike any of the men in this room. Emma smiled. Ken is a pinhead. If he ever goes near my wife, Ill break his nose and then his legs. God, I love you, Emma said. I warned you, Sam told Dominic. You did and Im sorry I didnt believe you. In less than fifteen minutes, your family has made me appreciate my own. Sams smile turned into a grin before a snort of laughter escaped her. Im sorry, she said, her fingers covering her mouth. Thats just so horrible horribly funny. Dominic chuckled along with her, both glad to see that they could find anything at all humorous within these cold brick walls. Well, would you look whos here, Kevin said when Sams mom returned with Ken at her heels. Sam looked at her father. How could you? I thought you still loved him. I cant believe any of you. Im embarrassed I brought Dominic here to meet any of you. Ready to go? Dominic asked, still standing. Yes, please get me out of here. We need to go, Mom, Im sorry. Dont be, dear. I cant wait to get out of this ridiculously tight cocktail dress and into something more comfortable. Wheres everyone going? Ken asked. You scared them away, Emma said with a laugh before she got up from her chair. Im going to go see if Jason has posted any new pictures on Facebook. Sam, Mr. Johnston said gruffly, Ken came all this way. Dominic can go, but I want you to stay for a while. Ill have our driver deliver you home later perhaps tomorrow, after you have enjoyed some time with your family. Sam is coming with me, Dominic told her father. Not because I have any say in what she does or how she spends her time, but because she has a mind of her own and she is more than anxious to escape. Red in the face, Kevin jumped from his chair and puffed out his chest. I believe you owe my father, and all of us, an apology. I beg to differ. Dominic stood tall. You all need to apologize to your sister and your mother for treating them both with so little respect. Kevin rolled his fingers into fists at his side. Go ahead and try it, Dominic said. Leave him be, Mr. Johnston told his son. Dominic turned to Mrs. Johnston once again. Im sorry to leave so soon, before having a chance to eat a meal Im sure you worked very hard to prepare.

Dont worry about it, she said with a sigh, her shoulders dipping. I understand completely. And it was clear that she did. Ken tried to pull Sam aside but Dominics withering stare caused the man to back off and they finally made it out the door and to the car.

*** The ride home was quiet. Dominic began to wonder if hed gone overboard and said too much. Although he knew he owed Sam an apology, he knew the dinner party couldnt have ended any other way, except maybe with fists flying. He would have liked it, toobashing in Kevins sanctimonious face. It had taken everything he had inside him not to take a few teeth out before he left. He couldnt stand to see Sam treated that way. Especially by her own family. No wonder she thought so little of herself. She was kind and generous. Passionate about her work. They never would have met, let alone married, if she hadnt been so damned determined to get the story and prove herself. She didnt deserve to be treated like a second-class citizen. He gritted his teeth at the thought. Temporary or not, she was his wife, and he protected what was his. The drive home seemed interminably long. The gate slid open and he drove up the long driveway and parked his Mercedes next to the stone fountain. Looking around, Dominic suddenly saw his big house in a whole new light. Ben was the one who had insisted he needed a mansion to go with his career. Celebrities needed to live large, Ben was fond of saying. The sheer audacity of Sams familythe cold and shallow minds of her brothers made Dominic realize what he already knewthere was so much more to life than massive homes and luxury cars. It was time to stop listening to Ben or anyone else. The house needed to go. Once inside, the quiet ate away at him. He locked the door and turned toward Sam, touching her shoulder before she could walk away. Hed never felt so badly for anyone in his life. Sam. I need to apologize for tonight. I should have stayed tight-lipped, especially after you warned me about your brothers. Turning around to face him, her purse dropped from her shoulder. She brought her hands to his face just as she had done at the festival, but this time she brought his mouth to hers and she kissed him long and deep. She was needy and breathless and she put her weight into the kiss, backing him into the wall as she unfastened his shirt, buttons popping in her eagerness. Are you sure you want to do this? Ive never been more sure of anything in my life.

He pulled off her sweater with just as much enthusiasm as she had shown when she removed his shirt. Their frenzied movements matched their moods as they stripped each other bare. There was no time to move to the bedroom. Her hands were all over him, heating his flesh as he lifted her into his arms. The feel of her moist tongue on his chest made it hard to breathe. They got as far as the carpet in the living room. A chair toppled, something broke nearby, nobody cared. Maria wouldnt return until Monday. Sams hair gleamed in the moonlight that spilled through the window, but there was no time to admire her beauty as her short, non-existent fingernails raked across his back and shoulders, her legs wrapping around his waist as she arched into him. She was hungry for love and who was he to argue?

Chapter Eighteen
Rebecca Johnston stood outside on the balcony overlooking myriad stars. Goosebumps covered her arms and a gentle but cool breeze pushed her hair back from her face. She chilled easily and under normal circumstances she would have shivered from the cold.

But not tonight. Before Samantha had left the house with Dominic, Rebecca had seen a look in her daughters eyesa look filled with hope and dreams and countless possibilities. Yes, she saw all of that and more in one look as Samanthas husband stood up for her. Nobody knew children better than a mother. In that one glance, Rebecca also saw herself many years ago. And, for the first time in her thirty-nine years of marriage, she knew what she had to do. Rebecca! her husband shouted, his voice grating. What are you doing out there? Peering at the stars, Rebecca sighed and headed back inside where her husband stared back at her, his eyes gleaming in the dark. Why must you always be so inconsiderate of others? he asked. The room is cold now. How am I going to get back to sleep? She headed across the room and into their immense walk-in closet. She grabbed the biggest suitcase she could find and promptly began filling it with enough clothes to last a good long while. The lights came on. Cameron stood in the doorway leading into the closet. Her once powerful barrel-chested husband now looked suddenly small and cowardly, hiding behind a gruff voice. He used to be kind and gentle, one of the sweetest men shed ever met, but a few years after he took over his fathers business, the money and power became too much for him. He began to thrive on criticism and cruel words. Even their lovemaking became more demanding and less loving. Rebecca had tried on numerous occasions to talk to him about his moodiness. She told him point-blank that it was affecting their marriage, but he was a man consumed with having it all. Money and power became all that mattered to him. She might have been able to go on like that, knowing his work had in a sense become his mistress, but it wasnt long before Cameron began to sleep on the sofa at work rather than deal with her requests for dinners out or a few days vacation. Craving attention and love, shed slept with Bill Harrington, a real estate broker with the hands of a creative artist and the voice of an angel. After being with Bill, Rebecca had come home expecting an empty house, but instead happened upon a husband she no longer recognized. She didnt even bother trying to pretend nothing had happened. She broke down in tears and told Cameron what shed done and why. And Cameron had been punishing her ever since. All these years, shed figured she deserved his spiteful words and cool stares. But seeing Samantha and Dominic stand up to her husband before walking out made Rebecca realize shed paid her dues. She deserved better. Im leaving, she finally said, the words bittersweet. Like hell you are.

Rebecca zipped her suitcase, and then turned toward her husband. She marched right up to him and used one finger to poke him hard in the chest. Im leaving. And you cant stop me. He moved aside, a smirk playing at his mouth. If you leave this house, Ill make sure you get nothing. She smiled at him. What do you think Ive been getting for the last forty years? She exited the bedroom, her bare feet sinking into the plush carpet as she walked across the hallway and down the stairs. She expected tears to come, but her eyes were as dry as the Mohave Desert. Barefoot and wearing her nightclothes, she opened the front door. Mom, where are you going? Shed forgotten that her eldest son had stayed the night. Go back to sleep, she told him. You cant go outside wearing your pajamas. What if the neighbors see you? The idea of it cheered her immensely. For the first time in years, maybe ever, she didnt give a shit what anyone thought. She stepped outside and shut the door softly behind her. Closing her eyes, she inhaled a lungful of crisp air. She was free. Free at last. *** The next day, after eating burgers and homemade potato chips, Sam and Toms wife, Gretchen, sat on cushioned lounge chairs on Dominics sprawling stone patio while they watched Dominic and his agent, Tom, make silly faces at Toms three-month-old son, Landon. Although she had recently given birth, Gretchen was a tiny thing with a big laugh and a sassy sparkle in her eyes. Within minutes of meeting her, Sam knew she was going to like her. Seeing Dominic hold a baby melted her heart. His hard exterior softened right before her eyes. He would be a good father someday. After hed made it clear over the past few days that he could never trust her, she hadnt planned to make love with him. But after watching him stand up to her brothers and her father, her resolve weakened and she had no regrets. Making love with Dominic had been everything shed imagined it could be. Their lovemaking started out frenzied, continuing on from the living room floor, to the couch in the family room, and finally to his bed. Their night of lovemaking had been blissful. Shed never experienced anything like it. Even now, her body tingled from head to toe. There wasnt a part of her he hadnt seen or touched and she was okay with that. For the first time ever, shed made love to a man and didnt feel regret or fear that hed run away. For the next two

months, for better or for worse, they were stuck with each other and she smiled at the thought. Dominic usually came across as secretive and aloof, as if he were holding back, afraid to say too much, but in bed hed let the walls come crashing down. He wasnt a selfish lover. Not even close. He was a giver, a doer, a pleaser. What she didnt possess in the way of experience, shed made up with sheer purpose and curiosity. Shed had so many orgasms, shed lost count. When shed awakened this morning, shed felt like a new woman, her body more content than ever. Strangely, she felt strongerwiser, as if shed grown more in the past few weeks than she had in her entire lifetime. For the first time in a very long while, she was certain that she could handle whatever came her way. As she watched Dominic with the baby, she couldnt stop thinking about those handsthose lips. Never before had she felt such a feverish desire for a man. All she had to do was see him to want him. Although he liked to pretend he was a man without feelings, he couldnt hide his emotions forever. He was charming, funny, and caring. Thinking of him as a two-timing jerk had made him much easier to resist. But now that they had spent time together, had a chance to get to know each other, she knew he wasnt anything like the man shed first thought. He went out of his way to be considerate to people around him and he protected those he cared about. Gretchen slathered some more suntan lotion on her legs and said, Nothing better than watching two shirtless men get all goo-goo-eyed over a baby. Sam nodded. I had no idea babies and shirtless men could be such a lethal combination. Gretchen laughed. Shirtless men and puppy dogs work, too. Sam smiled. It felt good to be relaxing in the sun, laughing with a new friend. Are you two planning to have children soon or are you going to enjoy your time alone for a while first? Sam looked at Gretchen quizzically. Until that moment, shed figured Gretchen knew about their situation. I know whats going on, Gretchen assured her as if shed just read her mind. Oh, thank goodness. But the way you two keep glancing at each other makes me think youre both enjoying married life. Ive known Dominic for years and Ive never seen him look this happy before. Really? Gretchen laughed. Really, she said. Youre in love with the man, arent you? Oh, gosh, I dont know. Ive only known Dominic for a few weeks. Even as she said the words, Sam knew she was falling for him; she was falling so fast

and hard, the world would hear a deafening splat when she finally hit ground. I admit hes not anything like the man I thought he was. What do you mean? What kind of man did you think he was? Well, he is a celebrity. Youre not stereotyping, are you? I know, I know, Sam said with a laugh, but in my line of work its difficult not to peg guys like Dominic as womanizing and arrogant. Dominic is one of the good guys, Gretchen said. He cares about people. Never puts himself before the welfare of others. Hes as loyal as they come. There are so many stories about Dominic that the public isnt even aware of, but hes been letting Ben run the show for so long he doesnt realize that charity and good-heartedness sell magazines, too. Before Sam could comment, Dominic and Tom joined them. I think Landons hungry, Tom told Gretchen. As Gretchen took the baby and arranged a blanket so she could breastfeed, Tom told them about an interview scheduled sometime in the next few weeks. Youll be on prime time, Tom went on. Barbara Fells will be the interviewer. That woman doesnt hold back. Which means you both need to be prepared, Gretchen said. Sam looked at Dominic. What do you think? He shrugged. We dont have much of a choice at this point. Shes going to want to know why you married Samantha Johnston, Gretchen said. Shes going to stare you down, Dominic, and bluntly ask if this whole thing was a farce, a scam, to get your career going and get people talking about you again. Dominic rubbed his chin, worry lining his brow. Sam knew he didnt like lying to the public, but now he was going to be forced to publicly deny the accusations that their marriage was all just a ploy. Isnt there a way to get out of this? Sam asked. Tom shook his head. Dominics contract is with World Studios. Theyre the ones who arranged for the interview. Dominic smiled at Sam. Dont worry. Ive got this. When she asks me why I married you, Ill look Barbara Fells square in the eyes and tell her that the first time I saw you, I thought you were a man-eating reporter with dragon claws, but in less than twenty-four hours, I knew you were the one, the woman who was going to be my wife. Ill explain that youre everything Ive ever wanted in a woman and in a wifebeautiful inside and outthe real deal. Sam swallowed the knot lodged in her throat. Does he really think that or is he just making it all up? Okay, she said. And Ill tell Barbara point-blank that you cant judge a man by a magazine cover. Ill say that within twenty-four hours of meeting Dominic DeMarco, I knew I was in trouble and that in a very short amount of time he became my hero, my lover, my confidant, and friend. Tom smiled and looked at his wife.

Gretchen chuckled. I think you can call Ben and tell him theyve got it under control.

Chapter Nineteen
From the top step, Dominic and Sam watched Tom and Gretchen drive away. After the gate at the bottom of the driveway slid shut, they looked at each other.

Breathing in his familiar scent, Sam noticed his half-open button-up shirt and she found herself enjoying the view: well-defined chest, muscled forearms, bronzed well-formed hands, sturdy fingers. Those hands could do strange and wonderful things to her body. The mere thought sent a shiver racing up her spine. What are you thinking? His eyes told her he already knew. Im thinking about how much fun I had today, she fibbed. I had a good time, too. Tom and Gretchen are fun to be around and yet I couldnt wait for them to leave. She raised a brow. Really? Why? Because I cant get last night out of my head, thats why. Using his forefinger, he lifted her chin so he could gaze deeper into her eyes. Youve put some sort of strange hex on me, havent you? Thats right. She laughed softly and didnt even try to move away. Im a witch. Ive cast my most potent love spell on you. He leaned forward and kissed her deeply. Ive been dying to do that all day. I enjoy kissing you, Dominic. I also like making love to you, but I need to know theres something more between the two of us before we can continue on in this way. He opened his mouth to speak, but she held two fingers to his lips. I dont have grand allusions that our marriage will become something more. I completely understand that this arrangement is temporary, so theres no need for you to worry, but it doesnt change how I feel. For the next twenty-four hours, Im not going to make love to you. Both of his eyebrows shot up. Not until you open up to me. I know you dont trust me, but thats your problem. Besides, we need to ask each other questions and get to know each other better before the interview. Finished with her speech, she walked off. Where are you going? I need to check on our new dog. He really does need a name, you know. He followed her through the house. They had picked up the dog from the vet early that morning before Tom and Gretchen arrived. For the next ten days, the animal would be on antibiotics and painkillers. The poor thing had nearly one hundred stitches and a broken leg, but the veterinarian said with tender loving care, he would fully recover. My weakness is freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, Dominic blurted. She smiled to herself, but kept quiet. I used to have a collie named Lady and when I was in third grade I had a mad crush on my math teacher, Mrs. Holland. Were you good at math? Not at all. Mrs. Holland distracted me. She chuckled. What else?

I can manage a mean waltz, but I cant draw to save my life. Are you really allergic to cats? He sneezed. Certifiably. Do you play any instruments? A little guitar. They were in the family room now. Oh, would you look at that, Sam said. The injured dog was asleep on the padded doggy bed they had given him and Shakespeare and Rex were on either side, as if protecting their new friend. His name is Caesar, Dominic announced. Now tell me something about you. I like to play chess. It was only fair if she revealed a few things about herself, too. I also love listening to any song by Adele. Im allergic to poison oak. Fascinating. He reached for her, but she swatted his hand away. She walked outside and began collecting dishes from their lunch. Have you ever had poison oak? He stood behind her, taking whatever dishes she handed him. Never had poison oak. But I did get stitches right here With dishes in hand, he showed her a jagged scar on his left elbow. What happened? I tried to untangle my kite from the tallest branches of a tree and ended up flat in the dirt. Sam crinkled her nose. Ouch. They were in the kitchen now. Any injuries I should know about? Dominic asked. She rinsed the dishes and handed him one at a time so he could fill the dishwasher. She gestured toward her right foot. A dance injury? No. I was taking care of a horse. He got spooked and came down hard on my foot. He leaned close. I think I should kiss it and make it feel better. Smiling, she nudged him away with her shoulder. Favorite color, ice cream, number? he asked, his voice a throaty whisper now as he hovered at her side, his lips on her ear, forgetting all about the dishes. Green, cookie dough, and sex. She gasped. I mean six. How about you? Blue, vanilla, and He wriggled his eyebrows. Six, also. She laughed. Youre making that up. I would never lie about something so serious. She smiled, mostly because she could feel him hard against her, and she was enjoying this playful side of him. She turned so that they were face to face and wrapped her arms around his neck. You didnt listen to a word I said, did you? Horse injury on your right foot. Green, cookie dough, six.

She smiled. I mean the part about not making love to you for the next twenty-four hours. But you also said, not until I open up to you. What else do you want to know? I want to know how you feel about me. I adore youevery bit of you. He kissed her again, prompting Sam to slide her hands over every inch of his muscled shoulders. It was useless. She could say no until she was blue in the face, but her body kept saying yes. She was putty in his hands, couldnt resist his charms if she tried. Hed opened up to her enough for one day. *** Early the next morning, Sam walked sleepy-eyed and groggily into the kitchen. Maria stood at the stove while Dominic sat at the kitchen table with a script in front of him. Good morning, Mrs. Dominic. Would you like scrambled eggs or an omelet? Hello, Maria. Scrambled eggs sound great. Thank you. Taking a seat at the table across from Dominic, she watched him read. Find anything interesting yet? One script has caught my eye, but Ill need to talk to the director before I make any decisions. She held her mug between her palms. What sort of movie is it? A Western. Her eyes widened in surprise. I figure it would be a nice change of pace going from FBI agent to cowboy. And what a handsome cowboy you would make, Maria said over her shoulder, making them both smile. Shes got a point. Theres nothing sexier than a man in leather chaps and boots. Except a man holding a baby, Sam thought. The phone rang. Dominic picked up the receiver before it could ring a second time. He hit the button to open the gate at the end of the driveway and then hung up the phone. That was your dad. Hes on his way up. My father is here? Apparently, Dominic said as he headed for the front door. Sam set her mug on the table and followed behind, surprised to see her father at the door a few minutes later. Dad, what are you doing here? Sams father wasnt the type of person to call or show up at her apartment, which was why having him appear at

Dominics house, especially after all that had happened, was more than strange. Whats going on? she asked, still upset with him for acting like an ass. His clothes were rumpled. Puffs of thin, gray hair stuck up from his skull. He looked awful. Have you talked to your mother? Not since I was at the house the other night. Silence. At closer view, she noticed dark circles under his eyes. Hed definitely slept in the clothes he had on. Dad, whats going on? Did something happen to Emma or my brothers? Theyre all fine. He tried to peek over her shoulder. Your mothers not here? No. Why dont you come inside and see for yourself? He scooted past them, making his way from room to room. Sam looked at Dominic. He merely raised a brow and lifted his shoulders. Sit down, she said once they were all gathered in the kitchen. Maria filled another mug with coffee and handed it to him. Her father took a sip and even said thank you, which was unheard of, worrying Sam further. Dad, Sam tried once more, tell me whats going on. Your mother left me. Its Monday. Maybe shes having her hair done. I wish that were the case. He didnt sound anything like her father. His voice usually took on an air of authority that echoed off the walls. At the moment, though, he sounded almost childlike. Did you and Mom get into a fight? I guess you could call it that, he said glumly. She left me. She walked out of our house in the middle of the night, the same night the two of you were there. She left the house wearing her nightclothes. Mom left the house wearing her pajamas? Sam couldnt picture it. Mom was the sort of woman who dressed up just to go the grocery store. She would never walk out of the house in her pajamas unlessunless shed truly had had enough of her fathers crap. She finally did it, Sam whispered. What do you mean? her father asked worriedly. Finally did what? She finally left you. She finally got sick of your high-handed bullshit. Dominic put a hand on Sams forearm as if to stop her from saying more. No, he needs to hear it. Someone should have told him a long time ago. Sam turned and faced him. Youve been a tyrant. For years. Treating Mom without respect in front of her children and her friends. He listened stoically, and then with the palms of his big hands, he rubbed his puffy red eyes. Frustrated, Sam pushed her hair back from her face. I have a couple of places I need to be this morning, but Im going to call Mom and make sure shes all right.

Will you ask her to call me? her father asked, his eyes pleading. Tell her I need to talk to her. I need her to come home. Go on, Dominic told Sam. Ill take your dad for a long stroll on the beach. Eat your eggs before you go, Maria said. She waved her spatula at Sams father next and said, Omelet or scrambled eggs, Mr. Samantha?

Chapter Twenty
Sam pulled into a parking spot and took a moment to admire Dominics nice car, inhaling the new smell of leather and the sleek wood encircling the

multimedia screen. She was about to shut off the engine when a message popped up on the screen. She followed the wire and realized Dominic had left his cell phone in the car. The message on the screen read, Every hour apart is a dagger to my heart. Looking forward to seeing you again. Julia. A painful twinge settled inside the pit of her stomach as she read the message again. Its nothing, Sam told herself. But then she recalled the way Julia had clung to Dominic. She was a beautiful woman and they did make a striking couple. She bit down on her lower lip as she brushed her fingertips over his phone. Was that where he went to when he left the house? Was he meeting Julia? Dominic probably received messages just like that one every hour on the hour. He was a celebrity. This sort of thing was part of the deal. She pushed a few buttons and looked through the list of addresses logged into his navigation system. One particular address was at the top of the list. Was this Julias address? Was this the place he visited? Stop it. Youre being a jealous fool. Shuffling through her purse, she pulled out paper and pen and made note of the address for future reference, in case she ever needed to find him. Sam shut off the engine, climbed out of the car, and walked toward the gray concrete building. She knew she wouldnt be able to forget about the message shed seen until she asked Dominic about it, which she planned to do as soon as they were alone. Determined to forget about Dominic for now, she turned her thoughts to her parents. Seeing her father look so distraught this morning made him seem almost human. Hed been cold and distant for so long, shed forgotten how Dad used to treat her when she was a little girl. He was loving and caringa positive force in her life. But everything changed during high school. His moody outbursts scared her. Her brothers followed suit, treating her with disdain. Shed gone out of her way to avoid them all, but always felt sorry for Mom. It wasnt long before she came to the conclusion that shed done something wrong. Why else would Dad and her brothers put her down every chance they got and treat her as if she were a failure? Their conversations always turned to her career and how she needed to make something of herself. For the first time, Sam realized the changes in her father might have had nothing to do with her. For years, shed been trying so hard to succeed, prove herself. Hoping her success would be the key back into his heart. As she opened the front door to her workplace, a sinking feeling enveloped her, causing her to question her goals. Mitzy had left her a message asking her to come to the office to sign papers to replace the half-assed contract shed already had Sam sign. What was she doing here? The cold gray building seemed suddenly like a reflection of her entire life.

Her heels clicked against the floor as she headed straight for Mitzys office. Sam didnt bother looking around to see if her co-workers might acknowledge her presence with a nod or a wave. Sam! Kate waved her over. The last time shed spoken to Kate she had the feeling they wouldnt be talking again, but Kate looked excited to see her. Hi, Kate, whats going on? Im glad youre here. Ive had time to think about everything you said and I want to apologize for treating you badly. I should have been there for you when you returned from New York. In fact, I want to congratulate you on your marriage and let you know that if theres anything you need, anything at all, Im here for you. They were both teary-eyed as they embraced. Im sorry, too, Sam said. I never meant to hurt you. I know you didnt. I also know how busy you must be with your new life, but if you get time this week or next, Id love to come see you at your house in Malibumaybe meet your husband. Sam scribbled the address on a piece of paper. Come by anytime. Id love to catch up. Are you here to see Mitzy? Sam nodded. She has some papers she wants me to sign. You probably shouldnt keep her waiting. Ill see you soon then? Definitely. Sam walked toward Mitzys office. She looked around and once again thought about all the hard work shed done for these people. Shed never asked for anything in return, and thats exactly what shed received. Nothing. Every time one of her co-workers got a raise or a promotion, she baked a cake to celebrate their success. When had any of them given her a pat on the back or said good job? Frustrated with the way she was being treated, Sam didnt bother knocking on Mitzys office door. She just walked right in and shut the door behind her. Well, well, if it isnt Mrs. DeMarco. Hello, Mitzy. You said you have papers for me to sign? I do. Have a seat and well get started. Sam felt her resolve sinking as fast as the Titanic. There was something about Mitzy that always managed to intimidate her. The quiet was stifling as she read through the first page of the contract Mitzy slid in front of her. A lot of legal jargon giving the Beat one hundred percent exclusivity to Sams story. Sam skimmed through the rest of the document, and then looked at Mitzy. I cant sign this. Just highlight the areas youre having trouble with and Ill talk to Legal and see what we can do.

Im not going to give you the exclusive. Mitzys steely gaze snagged hers. You owe the LA Beat. You owe me. Do I need to remind you of the humiliation you caused me? I still have colleagues calling me asking how my own employee could end up married to DeMarco right under my nose. And what have you and the LA Beat done for me? Sam asked. Clearly this marriage of yours has gone to your head. I have no idea what youre talking about. Look at you. Mitzy made a stabbing motion with her pencil. You look different. Hair, makeup, nice suit. Ive worn this suit to the office a dozen times, but you never noticed. Ive worked my tail off for this paper, my co-workers and for you, and yet nobody has the decency to say hello or congratulations. So, maybe youre right. This marriage has changed me. Its allowed me to see everyones true colors. For the first time in years, Ive come to the realization that Ive been selling myself short. But not any longer. You have changed, Mitzy said. Youve finally developed a spine, havent you, Samantha? Sam didnt waver. The woman had always seemed so big, so important. But Mitzy was just one woman who happened to be very good at making others think she was of great consequence. Over the past few weeks, Sam had gained so much. Her confidence and self-worth were growing every day. If youre not going to sign this today, theres a ton of filing to be done, Mitzy said. Its probably a good thing you did come in today. We do need you. Im done filing. I quit. You cant quit. What are you going to do? Live off DeMarcos fame? Youll be forever known as DeMarcos wife. Is that what you want? There are plenty of well-respected newspapers in Los Angeles. They will never hire you. After the stunt you pulled in New York, your name is mud. Ill find a job where Im appreciated, Sam said. A job where teamwork is prized, a job that makes me happy. Happiness is overrated, Mitzy growled. Sam headed for the door. Before you go, Mitzy said. I have something for you. Sam turned around and waited patiently while Mitzy reached into her desk drawer and pulled out a manila envelope. She held it out for Sam to take. I wasnt going to show you these, but whether you know it or not, I am doing this as a friend.

Sam didnt like the dark look in Mitzys eyes, a very familiar expression of power and control. Sam didnt want to walk back to her desk and take the envelope, but she did. She unfastened the metal clasp, reached inside and pulled out five eight-by-ten glossies of Dominic with another woman. It wasnt Julia nor was it any of the women Sam had seen Dominic with over the years. The woman in the picture wore little makeup. She was a natural beauty with light brown hair, a wide smile, and sparkling blue eyes. And in the background were dogs, lots of dogs.

Chapter Twenty-One

Sam waited patiently for her mother at a popular bar and grill on Fifth Street. Shed arrived five minutes earlier, and sipped on a glass of sparkling water. An older woman entered the restaurant. When she turned Sams way, recognition lit up her face. Mom? Her mom wore a beautiful turquoise sheath dress. Her hair was swept to one side, her makeup perfectly done. Sam stood to greet her. You look amazing. Smiling, Rebecca Johnston slid into the booth across from her. Sam couldnt believe her eyes. The transformation was remarkable. A waitress came over, took their orders, then dashed away to help another customer. Dads worried about you. Well, he should be. I was worried, too. Im sorry about that. I guess I should have called you as soon as I arrived at my hotel. Hotel? I assumed you had talked to your father. I did talk to Dad. In fact, I left him at the house with Dominic hours ago, but he didnt say anything about you staying in a hotel. Your father came to your house? Sam nodded. He looks horrible. You didnt tell him we were meeting, did you? I did. Im sorry. I didnt want Dad or Dominic to worry about me, too. But I didnt tell them where we were meeting. Sam reached over and put a hand on top of her moms. Whats going on? I couldnt take it any longer. I saw the way you looked at Dominic the other night. How he stood up for you. How you both took on your father, and your brothers, for the sake of the other. After that, knowing how happy the two of you are, my old life came back to me in a blinding flash. It took hold of me, in the middle of the night, and wouldnt let go. Dad and I used to be happy, too. I know you did, Sam said. But suddenly Dad changed and all of these years I thought it was because I wasnt meeting his expectations. Oh, sweetheart, Im so sorry. It had nothing to do with you or your brothers. I should have talked to you, made it clear that whatever Dad and I were going through had nothing to do with any of you. I didnt want to burden you with our troubles. So what happened to you and Dad? After your dad took over his fathers business, he came home less and less. Im afraid I got lonely. Did you tell him?

Rebecca nodded, but she looked incredibly sad. I told him I needed him home. He thought I was nagging and the more I tried to talk to him, the longer he stayed at work each night. What did you do? I had an affair. Oh. Sam had no idea. Her body sort of melted into her chair. I wasnt trying to teach him a lesson, she went on. I was simply lonely. I was also riddled with guilt, so I told your father what I had done. Sam couldnt believe what she was hearing. She felt a strange sort of relief knowing she wasnt the reason for her fathers grief and yet she also felt horrible for her mother. Hes been punishing me ever since. It was all starting to make sense. A heavy burden literally lifted from her shoulders. Everyone makes mistakes, Sam said softly. Ive made some colossal ones myself. Youre young. You have your whole life ahead of you. You and Dominic have each other. Thats all that matters now. Our marriage is a sham, Sam blurted. Her mom gave her a curious look, but remained silent when the waitress brought iced tea and chicken salad. After the server left, she said, What do you mean? Whats going on? Remember when I called you a few days before the wedding? I was in New York, but we were cut off? Rebecca nodded. I was calling to tell you that a reporter at the LA Beat had come down with the flu. Mitzy was frantic and so she sent me in her place to get the story of a lifetime. I dont understand. I was excited to have a chance at this story. I wanted to be the first to find out who Dominics mystery bride was. I was also desperate to prove to Dad, you, and my brothers that I could make something of myself. On the day of the wedding, I felt gutsy and on top of the world. Nothing was going to stop me from succeeding. But, for reasons I didnt know at the time, the wedding was delayed. Determined to find out what was going on, I found a way to get to the back of the church, where I overheard Dominic talking with his agent and manager about his bride being a no-show. Her mom continued to stare at her, her expression one of bewilderment. Long story short, Sam said, they told me they needed a bride and they needed one fast. She gasped. His bride didnt show up, so you filled in? Exactly. Who was the intended bride? Is Dominic in love with her?

No, Sam said. Her name is Julia. Supposedly they were good friends, but Julia showed up in Hawaii On your honeymoon? Right again. She was not happy about our marriage, which spoke volumes. Julias in love with Dominic, but he doesnt feel the same way? Sam nodded. Why didnt he just cancel the wedding? There was too much at stake. Dominics accountant, who also happens to be his uncle, emptied his accounts and disappeared with millions of dollars. Dominic panicked. He didnt know what to do, but then Ben, his manager, came up with the harebrained idea to get World Studios to sponsor the wedding of the decade. It worked beautifully. Suddenly Dominics faltering career was on the rise again. His face was suddenly on the cover of every tabloid and magazine across the country. He still has scripts pouring in and because World Studios sponsored the wedding, he wont lose his house or his cars. And whats in it for you? I was promised two hundred fifty thousand dollars when the three months are over. Plus, the opportunity to write an exclusive about my experiences as Dominic DeMarcos wife. Oh, Sam. I dont know what to say. Acid burned in Sams stomach as she realized how bad it all sounded. It gets worse. Neither of them bothered eating. Her mom took a sip of her iced tea, her gaze never leaving Sams. A celebrity and a reporter, Sam said. Not a marriage made in heaven. The last thing I wanted to do was marry a celebrity and Dominic felt the same way about reporters. But Im in love with him, Mom. Not even a month with the man, and Ive fallen in love. After a long pause, Sam pulled the envelope from her purse and slid it across the table. I saw Mitzy this morning and I quit my job. Mitzy has been using me. She never intended to promote me. Ive been a fool. Rebecca looked through the photos. These pictures dont mean anything, honey. Look at the way hes gazing into her eyes. Theres definitely more than friendship between them. Her mom continued to examine the pictures. I bet you these photos are from years ago. Look at the dates. Dominic wore that same shirt the other day. He disappears during the day at odd times. There have been a couple of nights when he didnt return home until late. I ask him where hes going and what hes doing but he always finds a way to skirt the subject. It looks like some sort of ranch. There are a lot of dogs in the background.

Sam exhaled. What am I going to do? If youre in love with Dominic, you need to talk to him. Tell him about your meeting with Mitzy. Show him the pictures. Dont brush it all under the rug like your father and I did. But hes only my temporary husband. In the eyes of the law, the two of you are married. But forget about all of that, Sam. Even if you werent married, I would tell you to sit down and talk to Dominic. After you do, and if you still dont trust him, then this thing between the two of you, whatever it is, will never work anyhow. Sam took a moment to think about what her mom said. Youre absolutely right. I need to talk to him, tell him everything. What about you, Mom? What are you going to do about Dad? Are you still in love with him? Ive always loved your father. Thats why I let him punish me for so long. He wasnt the only angry person in the house. I swallowed my anger and let it grow into something much worse. I began to hate myself. Are you going to come home with me and talk to Dad? She shook her head. Sams heart dropped. Ive managed to make things worse for everyone. Look at you, her mother said. You thought you did something wrong. That it was your fault. And your brothersIm afraid Ive ruined them. Mom, thats not true. Taylor and Kevin have always been demanding and overbearing Theyve watched your dad treat me badly for so long, theyve lost all respect for me. I just didnt see it soon enough. Im not ready to talk to your father, though. I need more time. I understand. After a long pause, Sam added, I know this must be difficult for you, Mom, but if it helps at all, youre looking really good. A smile brightened Rebeccas face. I went shopping and then I spoiled myself with a day at the spa. Im glad. You deserve to be happy. So do you, dear. Now lets eat this delicious salad before it goes to waste. Sam took a bite, looking at her momthis woman she hardly recognized through her lashes. Would her mother and father be able to work things out? Would they reconcile? Her life was suddenly turned upside down. Everything was happening so fast: her parents, her job, Dominic. Dominic. The pictures. As soon as her father left, she would talk to Dominic

Chapter Twenty-Two

While Dominic gave Sam time with her father, he watched Maria wash the dishes. It dawned on him then that she was working too hard. In fact, he couldnt remember the last time hed given her time off. Maria, I want you to go home and enjoy your family. Take the rest of the week offpaid, of course. Maria turned slowly from the sink and stared at him. The week? Are you sure? Dominic almost laughed at the deer-in-the-headlights look on her face. Definitely. With everything going on, I dont know why I didnt think of it sooner. But, I need to finish these dishes, she said, and then, if youre sure, Ill take you up on your offer. My eldest son is visiting and Ill be able to spend more time with his little ones. Perfect. Dominic clapped his hands together in a loud smack. Forget the dishes. Ill take over from here. He took the plate and sponge from her hands. Now go. Maria took off her apron. Youre a good man, Mr. Dominic. You deserve to be happy. He didnt know how to respond to that, so he just smiled at her. Ive known you for ten years now and I think its past time for you to let go of your trust issues from the past. He arched a brow at Maria as he scrubbed a dish. You need to stop letting past disappointments and betrayals affect your life, Maria explained without any prompting from him. Its not healthy. It takes time to earn someones trust, but it should never take forever. Dominic stopped what he was doing. Maria, what are you trying to say? I dont know whats going on between you and Mrs. Dominic, but I wasnt born yesterday. I like her. I havent been able to say that about too many of the women youve brought home in the past. Being unable to trust can cause fear that destroys friendships, relationships, and even marriage. The only way to learn to trust again is to talk about your feelings. Is that all? Thats all for today, Mr. Dominic. Ill see you on Monday. I cant wait. Maria laughed as she walked off. Dominic shook his head and went back to work. With his accounts nearly depleted, he really couldnt afford Maria or any of the staff for that matter, but Maria had a family to care for and he wasnt about to let her go. He finished putting the dishes away, and then walked into the family room to see if Sam or her father needed anything. They were both asleep. Mr. Johnston was passed out on the couch, his mouth hanging open. Sam was asleep on the Lazy Boy nearby. Sam had returned home exhausted after

quitting her job and visiting with her mom. While she was gone, her father had consumed too much wine while pouring out his troubles to Dominic. Dominic felt a strange sense of satisfaction knowing Sam and her father were getting a chance to work out their past hurts. Hed listened to her father talk about all the mistakes hed made over the years. Once Mr. Johnston opened up, there had been no stopping him. The good news was her father realized hed let his family down and he was ready to make amends. He only hoped it wasnt too late. Of course, Sam had been more than willing to give her father a second chance. As father and daughter talked about life goals, dreams, and fears, Dominic contemplated how empty his life had been before hed met Sam. And yet the idea that he might need her in his life terrified him. Maria was right. His belief that most people were deceptive in some form or another was not a healthy one. It was time to think about changing. A smile pulled at the corners of his mouth as he watched Sam sleep. She looked so cute. Shed only been gone for a few hours today and yet, he found himself missing her, thinking about her, longing to have her all to himself. The high-pitched shrill of the phone prompted him to return to the kitchen, reminding him that hed left his cell phone in his car. *** The ringing phone awoke Sam. She rubbed her eyes. It took her a second to realize shed fallen asleep in the family room. Her father was asleep on the couch. She pushed herself from the recliner, but before she got to her feet she heard the click of the front door being closed. She went that way, surprised to see Dominics car disappear through the gates at the bottom of the driveway. It took her less than two seconds to decide what to do next. She needed to know, once and for all, where he went at odd times during the day and night. She rushed back to the kitchen, wrote her father a note, grabbed her purse and the keys to her fathers car and then made a mad dash out the front door. She trusted Dominic, didnt she? Of course she did. She reminded herself that she was an investigative reporter at heart and thats why she felt compelled to follow him. What woman wouldnt follow her husband after being handed pictures of him in compromising positions and after receiving strange phone calls from women with husky voices? Shed called the number belonging to the woman with the husky voice and left a message saying they needed to talk. So far no one had returned her call. She had also planned to talk to Dominic about the message shed seen in his car and the pictures Mitzy had given her, but having her father at the house had made talking to Dominic impossible.

She pulled her notepad from her purse and glanced at the address shed gotten from Dominics navigation system. Another pang of guilt stabbed her in the gut. As she waited for the gate to slide open, she glanced over her shoulder at the house. She could turn around and go back, wait for Dominic to return, and talk to him then. But the robotic voice in her fathers car told her to make a right, so she pressed her foot to the gas pedal and did as the lady said. Less than twenty minutes later, Sam pulled to the side of the road. It was dark, but thanks to a full moon, she could see a small ranch house lit up at the end of a gravely driveway. She got out and walked, her heels wobbling on the rocks and pebbles. The hoot of an owl caused her muscles to tense. She shouldnt be here. This had nothing to do with good investigative reporting, she thought as she approached a wooden gate, and everything to do with not trusting Dominic. She might have turned around and headed home at that very moment if she hadnt spotted Dominics car parked next to the house. She opened the gate, then tottered across clods of dirt and thick grass. It might have been helpful if shed thought to grab her sneakers, but she hadnt planned on trespassing or walking across gravel and dirt. Half hidden behind a row of overgrown rose bushes, she spotted Dominic and the same woman shed seen in the pictures on the front porch of the ranch house. The woman appeared to be crying. She fell into Dominics arms and he held her close, comforting her. Sam took a moment to let the scene tumble around in her brain. Her heart lurched. The truth was right there in front of her. A golden retriever lay on the porch. A pug walked close by, sniffing the ground. If she called out, they would hear her. And now what was she supposed to do? Dominic had obviously gone to great lengths to keep the love of his life hidden from the world. Obviously there werent a lot of options when it came to the two of them finding privacy. Hed done a hell of a job keeping his love interest secret, too. Sam wanted to be angry with him, but shed known exactly what she was getting into when she married Dominic DeMarco. She just hadnt expected to fall in love with him. And despite everything they had shared, she refused to be the one to ruin his only chance at happiness. Turning around, hoping to sneak back the same way shed come, she heard a low growl. She stopped, frozen in place. The pictures shed looked at today flashed in her minds eye. There had been at least a dozen different breeds of dogs, including pit bulls and Dobermans. Afraid to look, she dared to peek over her shoulder, relieved to see that the growl belonged to a smaller dog, a breed she didnt recognize. She lowered her

gaze in an attempt to let the dog know she wasnt a threat. The dog wasnt born yesterday, though, and the animal knew she didnt belong on the property. Sam took a step backward onto a fallen branch. CRACK! The noise set the dog into attack mode. The tiny thing came after her with a vengeance, going straight for her ankle. Ouch! No! Stop it, doggy. She shook her leg. The dog let go and she ran for it. Before she could get to the gate, the outside lights came on. Big blinding lights. She froze. Sam, is that you? Afraid so, she said, feeling like an idiot, afraid to move while the dog continued to bark and nip at her feet. Winston, the woman yelled. Stop it. Come here! The dog backed off. Sam tried to limp away, hoping they would let her go without further questioning, but that would be too good to be true. Shes bleeding, the woman told Dominic. You need to help her. I can see that, Dominic grumbled. Why dont you take Winston into the house and Ill take care of this situation myself. Absolutely not, the woman said. Bring her inside so I can take a look at her leg. You two will just have to have your little chat in front of me. Sam squinted into the lights, trying to see where exactly Dominic was, but it was no use. Im okay, Sam said. I can let myself out. Sam tried her damndest to limp away. Oh, no you dont. Youre not getting off that easily. Dominic swept her into his arms just as he had done after their wedding vows were spoken in New York and shed almost been trampled. She had no choice but to wrap her arms around his neck as he carried her across the front yard, up the porch stairs and into the womans house, a beautifully decorated farmhouse with cushiony chairs and lots of antiques. A picture of three old dogs with gray muzzles hung over the fireplace. None too gingerly, Dominic set her on the couch. What are you doing here, Sam? After the phone rang, I heard you leave the house, so I grabbed the keys to my fathers car. I needed to know. You needed to know where I was going? Sam nodded. You could have called my cell phone. Yes, she said. I suppose I could have, but you would have just made up a story. Ive asked you many times where you go, but you always expertly change the subject. Before Dominic could respond, the other woman came into the room with a clean cloth and a bowl of water.

Dominic has told me all about you, the woman said as she cleaned Sams wound. He has? She nodded, and then put down the damp towel and offered Sam her hand. My names Linda. Im Dominics sister. Sam looked at Dominic. I thought you didnt have any siblings. Linda is my half-sister. Before Mom and Dad married, Dad had another child with his first wifeCarol. God, I feel like an idiot. Understandable, Dominic agreed. He didnt look angry, but neither did he look happy about her being there. Linda squeezed her brothers arm. You should have told her about me before it came to this. I was going to tell her today, but we didnt have any time alone. The LA Beat has pictures of you two, Sam blurted, which means Dominic has been followed here before. That doesnt surprise me. We knew the media would find out about Linda eventually. They can think whatever they want. Linda found bandages and used them on Sams injury. Sorry about the leg. Winston can be overly aggressive, but youll be glad to know hes had his shots. Do all of these dogs belong to you? Linda nodded. With Dominics financial help, Ive been running a shelter for unwanted dogs for a few years now. Older dogs are not as adoptable and their health is at risk at shelters. I try to match them with people who can appreciate older animals and hopefully even benefit from their loyalty and gentle nature. Winston is the exception, but the poor thing has had a rough life and has trust issues. Dominic raised a brow at Sam. I guess Winston isnt the only one. Winston and I need some serious therapy. At least you havent bitten me yet, Dominic said. Linda laughed, but Sam could tell Dominic was hurt by what shed done, coming here without talking to him firstspying on him. Ill go to the backyard and start digging, Dominic told Linda. After he left, Linda explained that a German shepherd named Ginger had passed away. Shed called Dominic, hoping he could help her bury the old dog. I shouldnt have come, Sam said. Linda patted her arm in understanding. I would have done the same thing. Dominic cares about you. I would even say he has fallen for you. Hes never talked about anyone the way he talks about you. ***

Dominic arrived home just before midnight. Sam had been waiting for him. Hows your dad? Still asleep on the couch. I dont think hes moved an inch. Dirt clung to Dominics jeans, and sweat marks soiled his usually clean, pressed shirt. His eyes looked tired. Her heart went out to him. As it turned out, Ginger was the first dog he and Linda had taken in to the place they now called Old Dog House. Linda did the work and Dominic provided the money to keep the place running. Sam followed Dominic into the bedroom. Im sorry about tonight. Were both to blame. She sighed. It would have been nice if you left a note. If I had left a note, you wouldnt have followed me? She scrunched her nose. Actually, I found the address when I borrowed your car. Since you wouldnt answer any of my questions, I took matters into my own hands. Anything else I should know? I saw a text from Julia: Every hour apart is a dagger to my heart. Looking forward to seeing you again. Julia. You memorized the text? It just sort of took root inside my head. And here I thought I was the untrusting troll. She looked deep into his eyes. Are you seeing Julia? He shook his head. The last time I saw her was when you met her in Hawaii. Shes been texting me since then. I feel like a jealous fool. This isnt me, Sam said. If you dont want to tell me what you do or where you go from now on, thats fine. Im done asking. Were not really married. Were just sleeping with each other to make the most of our time together, isnt that right? He pulled off his dirty shoes and socks and put them aside. Thats right. I can handle this thing between you and me. Im glad. He pulled his T-shirt over his head and added it to the pile. How do you feel about everything, you know, about me? You mean other than going through my address book on my phone and spying on me? Yes, she said waving all of that away as if it never happened. Youve told me you liked me, but why do you like me? Are those old insecurities popping up again? Of course not. I know Im funny and smart and beautiful. Okay, he said with a smile, Ill play this game. Youre very silly and I like that about youfor instance, sneaking around Lindas property in the dark in high heels. I didnt think to bring my sneakers.

I also like the way you dance. You have no rhythm whatsoever, but you just keep moving. Its cute. Hey, we got third place thanks to my ability to do the Twist. True. Okay, great. Im silly and I have no rhythm. What else? He rubbed his chin. Your left eye twitches when you get nervous. I like that. Thats ridiculous. My eye doesnt twitch. It does, he assured her. The more nervous you become, the faster your eyelid moves. Oh, God. When you get excited, you talk really loud She crossed her arms. How loud? Ear piercingly loud. I see, she whispered. I really like the little throaty gasping noise you make right before I bring you to that special place when were making love. She moved her weight from one foot to the other. Did you know that your left eye crosses inward when you get tired? Okay, thats it, she said. I am sorry I asked. Lets just stick with my being funny, smart, and beautiful. I dont know. I think this whole opening up thing is growing on me. I think you just like me because Im here at the house, which is very convenient for you. I hadnt thought about that, but yes, youre right, its very convenient having you here. It also makes perfect sense that we should have some sort of relationship while were trapped here in this big house together. She plunked a hand on her hip. Trapped? What would you call it? I call it fate, destiny, chance. Sure, he said. All of the above. She poked him in the ribs. Okay, thats enough talking and opening up for one night. If I keep building you up, he said with a chuckle, you might get a big head and then what will I do with you? I dont know, she said, but it would be helpful if you build me up a little before you list all of my not so charming traits. Stepping forward, he pulled her into his arms. Theres something about you, Sam Johnston. Maybe your navet is part of your charm. I like being around you. I like holding you close and inhaling your sweet smelling hair. He smelled like dogs and dirt and sweat and she didnt mind at all. If her father wasnt in the other room, she would have dragged him to bed.

Dominic pulled away. No more secrets between us? She nodded. No more secrets.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Another week passed before Kate visited Sam at the house. Sam was happy to see her, hoping the two of them could start where they had left off before Sam flew to New York over a month ago. Its so good to see you. Come inside. Sam introduced Kate to Dominic. They exchanged pleasantries before Caesar and Rex ran into the room, tails wagging as they competed for attention. Caesar had a limp and poor Rex had a tendency to bump into walls and chairs, but they made a happy pair, even when Shakespeare hissed and swatted, letting the dogs know who reigned supreme. Kate and Sam took a long walk on the beach and caught up on what was happening with family and co-workers. Twenty minutes later, they stood at the railing on Dominics patio overlooking the ocean. Mitzy told me you quit. Is it true? Sam nodded. Im going to send out my rsum. In the meantime, maybe write a novela romance. Im not sure yet. Kate chuckled. I never would have pegged you as a romance writer. How about you? Sam asked. Are you happy with where you are? Are you kidding? I love working for the LA Beat and thats one of the reasons why Im here. Im going to be perfectly honest with you. If I can get you and Dominic to give me an exclusive interview, Mitzy promised me a promotion. Sam scrunched her nose. Mitzy enjoys making promises she cant keep. I dont trust her, Kate. Youre a critical thinker and a good writer, two important ingredients to being a terrific reporter. You could get a job anywhere you wanted. Are you saying you wont do the interview? Sams shoulders dropped. I cant. My marriage is still too fragile and new. Ive seen the commercials for the Barbara Fells Show. Surely if youre going on national television, you can do one small local interview for his fans right here in Los Angeles. Sam shook her head. I need to disconnect myself from Mitzy and the paper right now. If I change my mind, Ill let you know. Can you at least give me a tour of the house before I go? Cant you stay? Sit and visit for a while longer? I have an appointment, but maybe we can meet for coffee another time. No interview, no friendship, Sam realized. She led Kate into the house. Dominic had taken the dogs for a walk, and they had the house to themselves. As she took Kate from room to room, she could sense Kates disappointment. Im sorry if youre upset with me, Kate. For the first time in my life, I feel the need to do whats right for me.

I wont lie, Kate said. I feel let down. Everyone else at the LA Beat feels the same way. They werent the only ones who were let down, Sam told her. I had no choice but to keep the wedding a secret, so how do you think I felt when I came back to the office and nobody would even look at me? I can only apologize so many times. I would never have set out to hurt anyone, especially you. Sam could hear her cell phone ringing downstairs. Go ahead and get that, Kate said. Ill show myself around until you get back. Sam picked up the phone, surprised to hear the same throaty voice shed heard on the main phone weeks ago. Hello, is this Samantha? Yes, it is. Whos this? Beverly DeMarco. I believe you wanted to talk to me. Are you related to Dominic? Yes, I am. Im his mother. *** The apartment building was an ugly shade of peach. Empty cans and cigarette butts littered the path. Sam could feel more than one pair of eyes watching her as she entered the gate leading to the pool, a shortcut given to her over the phone after shed called and talked to Beverly DeMarco, the same woman with the deep sultry voice who had called Dominics house before hanging up. As instructed, Sam exited the gate next to a dying palm tree and found herself directly in front of apartment 33B. She knocked, waited. The woman who answered the door stood about five foot six. Her hair was a nice shade of silver, cut straight above frail shoulders. Her eyes were the same deep blue as Dominics, her nose small and straight. Sam offered her hand. Hi, Im Samantha. Im Beverly. Come in, Beverly said, moving aside to make room for Sam to enter. The apartment was small, but neat and cozy looking with lots of floating shelves covered with decorative items. The kitchen was accented in bright yellows while the rest of the place was decorated in shades of green. Sams nerves were getting the best of her. She had a million questions for Beverly DeMarco. Beverly gestured for Sam to have a seat on the sofa. She set a tall glass of iced tea in front of Sam before taking a seat across from her. So, you said you were able to get my number when I called the house?

Sam nodded. I know it was sneaky, but You dont trust your husband? We havent known each other very long and And he has quite a reputation, Beverly finished for her. Sam nodded again, ignoring the heat creeping into her face. Do you and Dominic talk on a regular basis? Sam asked. No, she said. Ive reached out to my son before, but hes made it clear that he doesnt want anything to do with me. Why is that? Because he thinks I abandoned him. I left Dominic with his father when he was ten. I dont want to bore you with the details, but I invited you to come because I need to know if my son is happy. I think so, Sam told her, but I know hes carrying a lot of pain from his childhood. He feels betrayed by your leaving and then by his fathers drinking. Having his uncle embezzle millions before disappearing was probably the last straw. Frank, the woman whispered. I knew something had happened, but I never would have guessed Frank would do such a thing. Dominic must have been blindsided. You didnt know about his uncle emptying Dominics accounts? I had no idea. Beverlys eyes widened as if everything suddenly made sense. Thats why the two of you married, isnt it? You should talk to Dominic about all of that. I would if hed only let me. But you love him and care about him, dont you? Sam asked. Otherwise you wouldnt be calling the house. Ive always loved my son. More than you or anyone else could imagine. I never wanted to leave him with his father. Then why did you? Beverly went to the other room. When she returned, she placed three Polaroid pictures on the glass coffee table in front of Sam. The woman in the picture had a swollen face, colored many shades of purples and yellows. The eyes were tiny slits. Is this you? Beverly nodded. Did you go to the police? The police had come to our house before. My husband and I would get into a yelling match and the neighbors would make the call. The police knew the drill. They knew I wouldnt leave. But this last time, she said, gesturing toward the pictures, he knew hed gone too far. A good friend took me to the hospital and then brought me to her house to heal. By the time I was well enough to move around, my husband swore on the Bible that he would kill me if I tried to take Dominic away.

Sam looked at the other two pictures and winced at all the bruises. And you believed him. Beverly nodded. He always kept his word. Dominic must have known you were being abused He was young. He had no idea. My husband was a master manipulator and abuser. He would choke me and then make me wear a scarf to cover the marks. He would sit on me and smack me in places where the evidence wouldnt show. It got worse, of course, until the day he almost killed me. I knew if I stayed I wouldnt live past forty. Did he ever touch Dominic? She shook her head. Never. Keeping our son away from me was the best way to hurt me. Did you try to see Dominic again? Of course. I didnt care if my husband came after me. I went straight to Dominics school after my husband threatened me, but hed already set his plan into place by telling the principal he was worried I would come back to kidnap our son. He had everyone on full alertthe school, the neighbors. Nobody would listen to me when I showed them the pictures and told them what happened. Keeping me away from my son became my husbands sole purpose in life. I worried night and day. Thanks to one of the neighbors, Mr. Krisko, Dominic got involved in extracurricular activities and eventually discovered acting. He was just starting high school when he landed his first role, and as they say, the rest is history. Sam straightened. I think if you come to the house for dinner and explain everything, Dominic would at least be able to begin the process of healing. I have to believe he would understand why you left. I dont know. Ive tried to talk to my son before. His father brainwashed him into thinking I was evil. Two years ago, I went to a fundraiser because I knew Dominic would be attending. There were hundreds of people in the room and he saw me. The hatred I saw in his eyes told me what I needed to know. He wasnt ready to hear what I had to say. And yet you continue to call the house. Every once in a while I just need to hear his voice. Sam couldnt let this happen to either of them. Whether Dominic decided to forgive his mother for leaving or not, he needed to hear the truth. If you could do it all over, would you do things differently? A warm smile curved Beverlys lips. After the first time my husband struck me, I would bundle my baby tightly in my arms and disappear in the middle of the night. If I set a date and time, will you come to dinner? Dominic would never agree to this. He needs to hear the truth. He needs to know that you never wanted to leave him.

Chapter Twenty-Four

A smile pulled at Sams lips as she watched the two elderly dogs sunbathe. Winston, always energetic, chased after his own tail. If life could only be that simple. Today was Saturday. Dominic, his sister Linda, Sams mom, and her niece Emma were all cleaning and fixing up the ranch. Dominic painted the fence while Sam and her mom painted the doghouses. Linda and Emma made sure each and every dog got plenty of attention. Caesar and Rex were busy making new friends. Mom wasnt going to win any race. She daintily dipped her brush into the paint can, making sure to get just the right amount on the tip of the bristles before slowly swiping paint onto a board. At this rate, they would be here all week. Are you and Dominic ready for the interview next week? Mom asked. A feeling of trepidation settled within. We dont have much of a choice. We have to be ready. I really cant wait for it all to be over. Mom dipped the bristles into the can again. Your dad called the other day to ask me on a date. He did? Dont play coy with me. I know you put him up to it. Sam laughed. Ill admit Dad called me to ask if I thought it was a good idea. I told him it was a start. But it was his idea, not mine. Are you going to go? Im thinking about it. I love you, Mom, and I dont want you to feel pressured to make a decision. No matter what you decide to do, Ill respect your choice. They hugged and Sam accidentally got paint on her moms chin. Her mom laughed and then swiped her brush over Sams already dirty T-shirt, leaving a stroke of white paint across her chest. Oh, no you dont! Sam swiped her moms arm with her brush. It was full-out war after that as her mom chased her across the yard. The dogs joined in the fun, barking and following in circles around the bushes and to the back fence behind the house where Dominic was making much better progress than the two of them. Sam attempted to hide behind Dominic, but ended up making matters worse when she got paint on the back of his neck. Oops. Sorry. Dominic carefully set his brush on the top of the paint can, stood, took the brush from Sams hand and held her trapped in front of him. Go ahead, Mom, he said. Get her. You wouldnt dare, Sam said. This isnt fair. But he would dare and she could feel his strong solid body pressed against her as he held her prisoner. She closed her eyes as her mom came toward her, brush in hand. Sam felt the brush touch the very tip of her nose.

There, Rebecca said. Were even. Sam opened her eyes, relieved to see Mom walking the other way, especially since she could already feel Dominic hard against her. Somebodys happy to see me, she teased. He turned her around so they were facing each other. He used the clean corner of a rag to wipe the paint from her nose before he kissed her on the lips. Im always happy to see you, he said. She wrapped her arms around his waist and wondered if she would ever tire of holding him tight. I love you, he said. She pulled back slightly, enough so she could gaze into his eyes, stunned to hear him say the words. I love you, too, she said, her eyes welling. Get back to work, slackers, Linda shouted from across the yard. If you dont finish the fence, she told her brother with a wink, we wont have time to practice your lines. Sam grabbed her paintbrush and headed off with a smile on her face and love in her heart. She looked over her shoulder, glad to see that Dominic was watching her walk away, his smile working its way to his eyes. Sam returned to the doghouse where her mom was still laboring away on the same wood plank. It was hard to believe how much her life had changed in just a few months. Dominic was in love with her. The next few hours passed quickly. After painting for most of the day and then eating hot dogs and potato salad, Sam entered Lindas kitchen in search of a glass of cold water. Here, Linda said, slapping a script into the palm of Sams hand. She pointed to the line on the middle of the page. Start here and dont let Dominic take a break until he gets to the end of the scene. He needs helpbadly. Confused, Sam look at Dominic. Did you finally pick a movie? Not yet, he said, but acting is like anything else. You have to practice. Acting takes technical discipline of the voice and body. After Linda disappeared, Sam looked at Dominic. You dont really need help with this, do you? I mean, I couldnt act if my life depended on it. You heard my sister. Dominic leveled her with a no-nonsense stare. I need help. You can do it, Emma said from the kitchen, startling Sam since she hadnt seen her niece standing in the shadows. Shouldnt you be helping Grandma? Sam asked, feeling the pressure. Ill help you out by saying the first line. Dominic took the script, read silently for a moment. He lowered his chin and dropped his gaze to the floor. Weve been through this before. Sams mom entered the house and went to the kitchen to wash her hands. Sam had an audience now and she didnt like it one bit.

Umm Sam read half of the first line, and then pushed the hair out of her face and tried to look serious as she started over. Please, you cant mean it. I love you. You love me. I know youre not an actor but neither is Linda, Emma said, and she was doing a pretty good job before you showed up. You need to put some feeling into it, Sam. Make us believe you at least like him a little bit. You married him, didnt you? Sam frowned. Take two, Dominic said, easily stepping into character. Weve been through this before Please, you cant mean this. I love you. You love me. Determined to put an end to Emmas chattering, Sam stepped closer to Dominic, reached out and put a hand to his chin, forcing him to look at her. I can see it in your eyes. You still love me, she said with as much feeling as she could muster. I know you do. And I love you. And it was true, she loved him and had never loved anyone the way she loved Dominic. Ive loved you since the first day we met. If you leave me, I wont be able to go on. I wont. Id rather be dead. Kiss me and tell me you love me, too. Marry me, he said. She looked closer at her script, didnt see anything at all about anyone getting married. She looked back at Dominic, her expression questioning. I dont see that anywhere in the script. Thats because its not there. It took her a few seconds to understand that shed been set up. The script was only a ruse. Emma, her mom, Linda. They were all in on it. Are you asking me to marry you? He nodded. You want to marry me? I do, he said, his eyes sparkling. And then he kissed her, his lips warm against hers, tender and loving. Sam forgot all about the stupid script, letting it fall to the floor so she could wrap her arms around his neck, angling her head just so. Shed already told him she loved him, but the truth was she was madly in love with Dominic DeMarco. She loved the way he looked at her, the way he treated her family. She loved his lopsided grin and his easy laughter. She especially loved being held in his arms and if she could spend the rest of her life kissing this man, shed be the happiest woman in the world. Clapping pulled Sam out of the moment. Wow, Linda said, standing just inside the door. You made your mom cry. Mom reached for a tissue. That was the most beautiful thing Ive ever seen. She wiped the corner of her eye and then daintily blew her nose. Everyone gathered around, congratulating them both and for the next fifteen minutes, it was a great big love fest.

*** Sam smoothed out her crisp white summer dress, stood back and admired the table setting. She looked at Maria with tears in her eyes. It looks beautiful. Thank you for your help. Anything for you and Mr. Dominic, Maria said. Im going to pack a few things and disappear. You are an amazing person, Sam told Maria. Dominic is lucky to have you. I cant lie, Maria said. I am worried about this plan of yours. Mr. Dominic is a very loving and generous man, but hes been hurt badly and the wounds are deep. Dominic will never be whole unless he finds a way to forgive his mother. I hope you know what youre doing. After Maria left, Sam paced the room, and then straightened the tablecloth and wondered if it was too early to light the candles. There were four place settings. Shed invited her mom, too, hoping that might help Dominics mother feel more comfortable. The table was set in golds and creams, complete with crystal stemware and fresh flowers. Relief flowed through her when she heard the door open and close. Dominic was home. Both of their mothers would be arriving shortly. He called out her name, surprised to find her dressed up and waiting for him in the dining room. The dogs circled his legs, begging for attention. He scratched each of them on the head before handing Sam a bouquet of red roses. What are these for? For being you. For agreeing to be my wife. For making me happier than I ever imagined I could be. He sneezed. I guess you havent found a new home for the cat yet? She shook her head. Ill think of something, I promise. I guess you dont love me that much? She leaned into him and held him close, enjoying the feel of his jaw against her cheek. Dominics gaze fell on the four table settings. Are we expecting guests? Two very special guests. A look of concern crossed his handsome features. As if on cue, the doorbell rang. Wheres Maria? he asked. I gave her the night off, Sam said as she went to the front entry to greet their visitor. Shell be back tomorrow. Dominic followed her halfway across the front entry, stopping when Sam opened the door.

His mother stood there, her eyes bright, a nervous smile playing on her lips. She wore a pale green suit that set off her silver hair perfectly. She looked fragile and nervous and beautiful. Come inside, Sam said. Im so glad you could make it. The moment Beverly stepped inside, Sam felt the tension crackling between mother and son. Whats going on here? Dominic wanted to know. I invited your mother to dinner. Hello, Dominic. Dominic stared at Beverly DeMarco as if an alien had just walked into his house. Excuse us just for a moment, he said before taking hold of Sams arm and guiding her to the kitchen. Do you remember what we said about no more secrets? Sam smiled. Yes, I do. This isnt a secret. This is a surprise. A gift, actually. Youre kidding me, right? Who do you think you are? Im the woman you love, she said cheerfully. You owe it to your mom, but more importantly to yourself to hear what she has to say. There was another knock at the door. I need to get that. You can go ahead and have dinner without me. Sam stopped at the archway leading to the other part of the house and looked back at Dominic. One dinner with your mother. Thats all Im asking. Then she headed for the front entry. *** Dominic went the opposite way. He marched into his bedroom, and then proceeded to pace in front of the gas fireplace before finally going to the bathroom sink where he splashed cold water on his face. Glaring at his reflection, he didnt know what to say or do or think. He was angry. Angry with Sam. Angry with himself. As the moments passed, he calmed, but he also began to question his relationship with Sam. The fact that she would invite his mother to his house without talking to him about it told him she didnt know him at all. And he knew little about her. Was he truly in love with Samantha Johnston or had he made the age-old mistake and confused lust for love? It was truehe missed Sam when she wasnt around, but what they shared was still fresh and new. Most couples were eager to spend time together in the beginning. Maybe the great bond hed thought they shared was nothing special at all.

Feeling an empty hollowness within, he raked his fingers through his hair, smoothed out a few wrinkles in his shirt and headed for the dining room. He was surprised to find his mother alone in the family room. Hello, Beverly, he said. Startled, she turned away from the wall of photos of him on different movie sets over the years and put a hand to her chest. He could still remember the way those same hands had felt on his forehead when she checked his temperature for a fever. He inhaled, surprised by the sweet smell of her perfume. Thats the same perfume I remember you wearing every night when you tucked me into bed. Her eyes instantly watered and he wondered what the hell caused him to speak his thoughts aloud. Its the same. Roses and Gardenias, she said. She gestured toward the photos. Youve had quite the journey, havent you? He stepped forward, pointed to the third picture on the right and even found himself smiling. That was taken during Blue Skies, my second movie. I was sixteen or seventeen at the time. The director kept yelling cut but I was having too much fun playing with the chimpanzee. You always loved animals from the time you could crawl, she said as she peered closely at the picture. This, she said firmly, pointing a finger at the picture in the far left corner, was your best work. You should have taken home the Oscar for that performance. He nodded, slowly at first and then more noticeably. I wasnt nominated. The movie wasnt very popular and therefore I didnt get much recognition for that role. Its a shame, she said defiantly. I wrote the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. You wrote to the Board of Governors? Absolutely. I even got a response. I wasnt the only one upset about their choices that year. He let out a laugh, surprising even himself. Its no laughing matter. You have incredible talent. She looked at him then, shoulders straight, gaze bravely locked on his. Ive always been so proud of you. He swallowed a knot that had somehow lodged in his throat. I came to every event I could. I saw you. Her chin came up a notch, her eyes brightened. I wrote you. I tried to see you, Dominic. Theres so much we need to talk about. If we could just We should join the others, he said, cutting her off, not ready to hear her excuses. The next two hours were filled with talk of Dominics movies, Lindas dog ranch, and childhood stories told by both of their mothers, one of which

included Dominics entrepreneurial tendencies while in kindergarten and how he charged kids a quarter to pull their loose teeth so they could return home and collect even more money from their parents. Sam outdid herself with the meal shed prepared: a spring watercress salad, filet mignon with asparagus, and mushrooms with lobster hollandaise. Between spoonfuls of chocolate mousse, Sams mom complimented her daughter on her cooking. Although the evening could only be viewed as a success, old wounds refused to die, summoning up emotions hed been trying to bury for too many years. For the life of him, he couldnt explain what he was feeling inside. He wanted to hear what his mother had to say, but at the same time, he was afraid. As Dominic set his napkin on the table and excused himself for the night, his hands trembled. He couldnt get away fast enough.

Chapter Twenty-Five
Sam sat on the edge of a green microfiber contemporary couch in the World Studios green room. The Barbara Fells Show would start soon.

Dominic sat next to her, his expression unreadable. Ever since shed invited his mom to dinner two nights ago, hed been distant. Even their lovemaking had suffered the consequences, the passion replaced with unspoken resentment. Although Sam had felt certain she was doing the right thing in forcing the issue and bringing Dominic and his mother together, she could see that once again shed stepped over the line. Whether Dominic decided to befriend his mother or not was not her decision to make. Shed apologized more than once and hed told her all was fine and to let it go, but nothing had been the same between them since that night. Are you all right? Sam asked, squeezing his knee. He looked at her. Im fine. How about you? Im nervous, she said, hoping he would put his arm around her and just hold her for a few minutes. I wish you would talk to me, she said after a few moments of quiet threatened to strangle her. About what? I dont knowmaybe yell at me and get it out of your system, talk about whats been bugging you lately. Everythings going to be fine, Sam. Seeing my mom was a big surprise, but nothing I cant handle. He pressed his lips to her forehead just as a green light above the door flashed. The door came open. A man with earphones and a clipboard entered and told them it was time to move to the set. They followed him down the long corridor. Dominic gave Sams hand one last squeeze before he was led onto the stage where Barbara Fells awaited. Barbara stood and greeted Dominic with a hug and air kisses while the audience went wild. Women screamed wildly as if he were a rock star. Watching from the sidelines, Sams heart raced and her hands grew clammy. The two cushiony off-white sofas and colorful bouquet of flowers on the glass table did little to calm her nerves. She wished she could head back to the green room and watch the interview from there. She counted to ten and tried to calm herself, hoping Barbara would be swept away with Dominics charm and forget about her waiting in the wings. It certainly wouldnt break her heart to miss the interview altogether. The clapping finally died down. Barbara jumped right in and asked which movie Dominic was going to make next. Was he actually considering a Western? Sam looked at the monitor. A glimmer of confusion crossed Dominics features. He was quick, though, and he laughed it off, telling the audience he was no Clint Eastwood, but hed give the Duke a run for his money. The sexy drawl he used gave Sam a longing shiver.

Sams stomach lurched. Dominic prided himself on keeping his movie deals and all personal decisions private. Maria and Sam were the only ones who knew about the Western. How could Barbara have known? So tell me about your new bride, Barbara went on, rapidly moving from one subject to the next, intent on getting as much information from Dominic as possible. Youve always been such a private person and yet suddenly you announced to the world that youre about to marry, teasing the world with innuendos about who the new bride might be. Dominic let loose one of his wide grins, revealing his legendary dimples. The women shrieked. I never planned to marry. I thought I would spend my life alone, but then I met Samantha. Everything changed the instant I first laid eyes on her. She is full of surprises. Her essence and positive outlook never cease to surprise me. Shes one of a kind. Sam blushed, her insides fluttering out of control. So sweet. Barbara leaned close enough to place a friendly hand on top of Dominics knee. What everyone here wants to know is what the hell happened to you? Seemingly satisfied with herself, Barbara sat back in her chair and waited. For the first time since he set foot on the stage, the audience was quiet, everyone waiting to hear what he had to say. Its simple really, he said. Im in love. Come now, Barbara said. You dont expect us to believe that. Youve dated scores of beautiful women and suddenly your wife, not a model or an actor, a regular everyday woman born in the suburbs, somehow catches your attention. Thats right. Well, she must be very special. Let me introduce Mrs. Samantha DeMarco. The audience applauded. Sam gathered her courage and walked onto the stage. Counting to ten, she concentrated on each step. Dominic met her halfway. He took her hand, smiled, kissed her on the cheek. Just one glance and Sam could see he was not happy with the way things were going, probably wondering how Barbara had known he was considering doing a Western. Sam and Dominic took a seat on the couch opposite the chair where Barbara sat. After the audience quieted, Barbara leaned toward Sam. Whats it like to be married to one of the most sought-after bachelors of the decade? Hes the most caring and loving man Ive ever met. I feel lucky to be his wife. Sam squeezed Dominics hand. Weve talked to one of your brothers and he told us he was as surprised as the rest of the world when he heard of your marriage. Tell me how you two kept your relationship secret for so long?

If I told you, Sam said, it wouldnt be a secret any longer. But I can tell you thispeople are so focused on the gorgeous models with long lashes and even longer legs that it was easy for me to go unnoticed. The audience sort of laughed uncomfortably. Ah, youre a modest one. Im already beginning to see why Dominic has fallen for you. Sam smiled. A tabloid reporter married to a famous celebrity. Ironic, wouldnt you say? Dominic shrugged. I would call it fate, chance, lovetake your pick. A policeman married to a criminal, a vegetarian married to a butcher. It happens all the time. I dont know about that, Barbara said. This is different. You wouldnt mind if your wife wrote a personal story about you for the LA Beat? As long as we talked about it and came to an agreement, no, I wouldnt mind. How about you, Barbara? Dominic teased, turning the tables on her just for fun. Would it bother you if your husband went on a late-night talk show and gave away some of your talk-show secrets? The audience laughed. Barbara laughed, too. I would be ecstatic to know he could be so clever without my even realizing it. More laughter. Well, Barbara went on as she reached for the latest edition of the LA Beat. Are you aware that someone wrote detailed stories about you for the Beat under the name Liliana Parker? The audience murmured among themselves while Barbara put on her glasses and began to read from the paper. Sam couldnt believe what she was hearing. Her heart hammered against her chest and she felt suddenly dizzy. What was going on? Five minutes passed before Barbara finished reading a story about how Dominic slept in the nude and was fond of walking around the house naked, flaunting himself whenever he got the chance. Dominic laughed it off. If I worried about every story someone wrote about me, I wouldnt be able to get any work done, now would I? There are award-winning journalists with integrity and then there are those who spin their tales, robbing people of their dignity because it sells papers. He waved her comments away. I dont waste my time with that stuff. What about this, Barbara said. According to Ms. Parker, you have a halfsister, Linda, who has devoted her life to taking care of dogs too old to adopt. She does most of the work, but you keep the place running by giving her financial backing.

The audience let out a satisfied sigh. Is there a reason youve never talked about your sister? Frozen in place, a million thoughts raced through Sams mind. Everything Barbara had said so far had come straight from her journal. How could that be? Her journal was safely hidden away. And then it hit her, like a bolt of lightning to her brain, reminding her of the time shed left Kate upstairs while shed gone to answer the phone. Kate stole her journal. Sams stomach turned. She looked at Dominic. He was doing his best to keep a smile on his face, refusing to let on what a surprise all of this was. An Academy Award-winning performance for sure. His body stiffened and he released his hold on her hand. Hed worked so hard to keep his private life private and shed destroyed that by putting all of his most personal moments on paper. She wanted nothing more than to walk off the stage and purge herself of the horrible pain she knew she was causing him. But Barbara wasnt finished with either of them. In fact, she was just getting warmed up. She had the cameraman pan in close to the same picture Dominics mother had shown her: his moms face battered almost beyond recognition. It says here that your father abused your mother? And yet the two of you havent spoken in years. Why is that? I didnt come here to talk about my family, Barbara, you know that. I came here to talk about my marriage. Barbara smiled. Shed gotten the reaction she wanted. She was the first to break the news about Dominics mother and therefore was perfectly happy to move on. My sources tell me Liliana Parker is indeed your wife, one and the same. Thats a lie, Dominic said. Well, what do you have to say about people who are saying your marriage is a sham? It says here that the two of you met for the first time on the day of your wedding, in an office at the back of the church. Apparently, you both signed some sort of contract. Even as husband and wife, the two of you didnt share a bed while on your honeymoon. Sam was about to respond when she saw Julia standing on the sidelines. I have a surprise guest who says your marriage is nothing but a ploy to jumpstart Dominics career. Her name is Julia Harmon. Julia smirked at Dominic and Sam as she walked onto the stage. Dominic stood. His jaw was hard, his body stiff. Barbara asked him to take a seat. People began to talk among themselves as Dominic strode off the stage. Sam hurried after him. Dominic unlocked the car. Neither of them said a word as they climbed into his BMW.

By the time he merged onto the freeway, Sam thought she might be sick. The stop-and-go traffic added to the tension. The quiet quickly worked its way into every crevice of the car, choking her. Kate must have stolen my journal, she said, breaking the silence, her voice cracking. The LA Beat cant use aliases or make up names without permission. Who is Liliana Parker? Sam tried to breathe, tried to find a way to explain what must have happened. Dominic glanced her way before returning his attention to the car in front of him. Youre not Liliana Parker, are you? I dont know anyone by that name. Mitzy talked about using a pen name to write the articles about the two of us. Youre not making any sense. It was months ago, Sam said. The morning after we returned home from our honeymoon, I went into work The same night you returned to the house with Ken. Thats right, Sam said. My boss asked me to write a weekly article about our marriage using a pen name. I was confused at the time. My work was my life. I had a one-track mind and nothing could sway me off course. But in the end, I honored my promise to you, and I told her I wouldnt do it. I never wrote a story. I never gave her anything. But you did agree to write about me behind my back? I told Mitzy I would write about our marriage at the end of our three months together, staying within the boundaries of the documents Ben and Tom had me sign. I never would have turned in anything without your knowledge. I opened up to you, Sam. Ive done everything youve asked of me and this is how you repay me. Youre not being fair. How could I know that Kate would steal my journal? You could have told me what happened. A little warning might have been helpful. Sam exhaled. What about that picture of my mother? he asked next. Where did that come from? I dont know. So youre saying you never saw that picture of my mother before. I saw it when I visited your mom at her apartment. She showed me three pictures like the one Barbara revealed. Your mother told me that your father very nearly beat her to death. She went to a friends house to recuperate and by the time she returned, your father had warned the neighbors and the staff at your school that she might try to kidnap you. He did everything he could to keep her away. And yet you didnt think I should know this?

I invited your mother to dinner in hopes that you would listen to her, but you refused to meet her halfway. What are you, a goddamn therapist? Sam stiffened. I only meant to help. Dominics jaw hardened. You dont believe me, do you? You think I gave Mitzy the pictures of your mother? He said nothing. Sam had never seen Dominic look so upset. Weve spent a lot of time together these past few months, he said. Sam nodded. Ive shared more with you than anyone else I know. Why didnt you think to tell me about this Mitzy and Liliana Parker business? You had so many chances. There was no need to tell you about the Liliana Parker business because I had turned my boss down. For the next thirty minutes, they drove in silence. The gate at the bottom of the driveway opened and Dominic pulled his BMW to the front of the house and parked next to the fountain. After he shut off the engine, he looked at Sam. I think you should pack up your things and move out. Dominic, I didnt mean for any of this to happen. You know me well enough to know I would never have set you up like that. I understand why youre upset. I never should have trusted Mitzy. But I love you and you love me. Dominic sat there unmoving. I did nothing wrong. If you could just let go of those invisible steel walls of yours, you would see that everything I did, including inviting your mother to dinner, was for you. Dont let Mitzy and Kates dishonesty destroy us. This isnt about either of them, he said, his tone flat. This is about me and you, nobody else. I cant do this any longer. He exhaled. Im going to arrange for a press conference. I think thats a good idea. Your fans deserve the truth. He looked at her for a long moment. Should I come to the press conference? she asked. Id rather you didnt. He climbed out of the car and walked toward the house. Her skin felt clammy, her breathing shallow. She didnt know what to say, or do, or think. It was over. Just like that, in the snap of two fingers, they were finished.

Chapter Twenty-Six

Sam dipped her sponge into the soapy water, squeezed out the excess, and then returned to scrubbing the kitchen cabinets while keeping one eye on the television screen as Dominic looked into the lens and told his fans the whole sordid story about how his accountant betrayed him, and he in turn, betrayed his fans. He went on to say how deeply sorry he was and that he had nobody to blame but himself. The next clip showcased a man standing in front of World Studios. Surrounded by media, the CEO, a tall gentleman dressed in a suit and tie, stated that World Studios was dismayed by the news. They would be seeking retribution, but they would need more time before any important decisions were made with regard to Dominic DeMarcos film career. The sponge dropped from her hand. She gasped when the next clip showed Dominics house being stripped of furniture, paintings, vases, and dishes. According to the anchorman, his cars were taken, too. Nobody knew where Dominic had been living, but their best guess was that he had moved into the Old Dog House with his sister. The next video showed the media circling like sharks at the end of Lindas driveway while dogs barked in the distance. It had been exactly one week since shed moved out of Dominics Malibu mansion. She didnt have much to pack so it hadnt taken long. With a suitcase in one hand, Shakespeares carrier in the other, and a return trip to the house for Hamlet the fish, shed taken a taxicab back to her apartment within hours of the Barbara Fells interview. For the first twenty-four hours, Sam cried like a baby. The next morning, shed caught a glimpse of her red puffy eyes in the mirror and saw someone she no longer recognized. The woman looking into the mirror was taller and stronger, she reminded herself. She was beautiful inside and out and she had never, not once, set out to purposely hurt Dominic DeMarco. If he truly loved her, he never would have let her go. His loss. Straightening her spine, Sam felt confident that everything she did, including visiting Beverly DeMarco, had been done out of love. She had tried many times to talk to Dominic but he refused to listen. When Beverly had finally returned Sams phone call, Sam had thought if she could get mother and son together again, Dominic could begin to heal. Shed never expected Beverly to be so forthcoming. Shed been so excited at the prospect of Dominic hearing his mother out, hoping they could both start fresh. But for whatever reasons, Dominic had once again refused to hear what his mother had to say. He was a stubborn man.

Mistrustful. If he couldnt learn to forgive and forget, he would surely grow old alone. Dominic had stood up to Sams entire family, and in doing so, Sams mother and father might have a chance at happiness. Sam had wished the same for Dominic. Thats all she wanted. Nothing more and nothing less. If Dominic couldnt see that, then he wasnt the man she thought he was. A knock prompted Sam to pick up the sponge and toss it into the bucket. She slid off her rubber gloves. She opened the door. Nothing could have surprised her more than seeing Kate Garrison standing on the other side. They looked at each other for a long moment before Kate asked if she could come inside. Sam blocked her way. Just for a moment, Kate said. Sam headed back inside to finish cleaning the kitchen. Closing the door behind her, Kate set a thick envelope on the tile counter. I wanted to return your journal. Having nothing to say about that, Sam slid on her rubber gloves and began scrubbing. Im sorry, Kate said. You were right. After taking your journal and writing the articles for Mitzy, she didnt promote me. She even threatened to fire me if I told you the truth. Sam scrubbed a little harder, putting her muscle into the job. Im truly sorry about your marriage. Kates soft voice shook with emotion. I know you loved him. Not only did you say that over and over in your journal, I could see it in your eyes and all over your face when you introduced me to Dominic. After everything you went through with Ken, you finally had a chance at happiness and I ruined it for you. Sams wrist was getting sore. I know theres nothing I can say to you that will make it better, but I had to let you know that I will never forgive myself. Kate started to walk off before Sam turned and cleared her throat, stopping her. Walking down the aisle with Dominic was a mistake on so many levels, but I would do it again if given the chance. I love him. But as someone pointed out to me, our not being together has nothing to do with you. Are you saying youre not angry with me? Of course Im angry with you. Im not even sure if Ill ever be able to forgive you for what you did. There was a long pause before Kate said, I quit the LA Beat. Sam nodded. Mitzys not going to know what to do without you. You might be right. I called a few competitors and I have two interviews next week.

Sam was beyond feeling. If Kate thought her world would be put to right by her apologizing, she was wrong. Life without Dominic was cold and lonely. Her heart ached. Im going to go now. If you decide you need someone to talk to, you have my number. Kate opened the door. Looks like you have another visitor. Sam peeled off her gloves again. By the time she made it to the door, Kate was climbing into her car across the street and a man was headed her way. Seeing Dominics friend brought a rush of emotion. Tom, what are you doing here? Its nice to see you, too. Smiling, she gestured for him to come inside, which he did. He stopped to give Shakespeare a good scratch on the back. Nice place youve got here, he said when he was standing tall again. Thanks. She turned off the television. Can I get you something to drink? No, I wont be long. I just wanted to stop by and see how you were holding up. Im fine. Hows Dominic doing? Have you seen him? Hes okay. He misses you. If he missed me, he would call me. He loves you, Sam. You know all about his crazy childhood. Hes been betrayed one too many times. Tom waggled his finger at her. Everything that happened between you and Dominicit was the perfect storm. He doesnt like surprises and he got a lot of them all in a row: Barbara Fells reading off a long list of private moments, including the fact that he has a half-sister; discovering his mom was abused; the list goes on. Thats a lot for one man to take in. Dominic panicked. Tom walked around her apartment, looking at framed pictures, readjusting the pillows on her couch, obviously waiting for Sam to say something, but she had nothing to say. She leaned her hip against the counter and watched him. Dominic bought a house on ten acres, he told her. A real dump, but hes keeping busy fixing the place up. Thats nice. Maybe we should drive by there right now and see how hes doing? Sam pointed a finger at him. If I didnt know better, I would guess you were trying to play matchmaker. Gretchen thinks the two of you are made for each other. Sam didnt say a word. Okay Tom released a long, ponderous sigh. The truth is, hes driving us all crazy. He hasnt been the same since you left. Hes falling apart.

Hes got dark ugly bags under his eyes and he never combs his hair anymore. He looks like something a cat dragged into the house when no one was looking. Sam laughed. Something tells me youre exaggerating. Well, maybe about the combing the hair part, but the rest is all true. Listen, Ive been getting calls every day from producers who are interested in having him do a read-through, but he keeps turning them down. If the right part comes along, Dominic will take it. You know that better than anyone. Tom stopped talking for a moment. His eyes narrowed. You dont look so good yourself. Are you sleeping okay? She narrowed her eyes. Oh, no you dont. Im not falling for it, Tom. You are not allowed to go back to Dominic and retell the same sad story. Its not going to work. If Dominic really loved me and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me, he would be the one standing here talking to me, not you. Sam smiled at him as she gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. I appreciate you coming here to talk to me, I really do. You made me laugh and I dont know of anyone in the world who doesnt need a good laugh every once in a while. You are a stubborn one, Tom said. Then he pulled a standard-sized envelope from his back pocket and handed it to her. Whats this? If you want to know, youll have to open it yourself. She opened a drawer, grabbed a butter knife and used it to open the letter. There was a check inside written out to Samantha Johnston in the amount of one hundred thousand dollars. She looked at Tom. After all Dominics possessions were sold, he had enough left to buy the property hes living on and he wanted you to have the rest. He thought it was only fair you got something for all of your troubles since he was the one who pulled out of the deal. She stuffed the check into the envelope and handed it back to him. I dont want Dominics money. You should take it. What are you going to do? he asked as he gave her apartment another long look. I have enough in savings to last me for a while. Im going to spend the next few months sending out rsums, and then while I wait by the phone, Im going to write a novel. His brow quirked. Dont worry. My story wont have anything to do with celebrities or reporters. He chuckled, and then waved the check in front of her face. Last chance. She swatted the money away. It felt good to turn down that much money, mostly because she knew she would be okay.

No matter what happened, she would be just fine. The last thing she was going to do was sink into a deep, dark depression like she had done after Ken left her for another woman. Nope. Life wasnt easy. Life liked to throw crazy obstacles in peoples way just to trip them up and see what they were made of. Like many people, Sam tended to learn lessons the hard way. But for the first time in her life, she knew she could handle whatever life tossed her way.

Chapter Twenty-Seven
Dominic rushed up the stairs and charged into his sisters house, letting the screen door slam shut behind him. He stopped when he saw Linda standing in the middle of the family room. Whats wrong? Is it Winston? Settle down, Linda said. The dogs are all fine. Sensing trouble, he strode through the room and walked into the kitchen. Beverly, he said. What are you doing here? She looked different today. She wore a plaid shirt and jeans. Her white, spanking new sneakers blinded him. He looked at his mom, but spoke to his sister. Whats she doing here? he asked for the second time. I invited her. His sisters defiant tone reminded him painfully of Sam. He ached from missing her. Why? Because Ive always wondered about my dadour dad, and when I saw your mother in the paper, and all over the news, I figured the best way to find out about Dad would be through your mom. You should have talked to me first. Youre not the boss of me. What are you going to do, make a big stink, run off, and never talk to me again? Boo-hoo. I should do just that. Linda sighed. Sit down and let Beverly say what she needs to say. Its time you let her talk. Ill stand. Other than Winston running in circles chasing his tail, the house was quiet. Im sorry things didnt work out between you and Sam, his mother began, her voice sounding a little too fragile for his liking. The blue in her plaid shirt made her eyes look bluer than the last time hed seen her. For an older woman, she took good care of herself. I really liked Sam, his mother said after a long pause. Shes a good person. Linda nodded in agreement. Dominic frowned. Is that why you called me here, Linda? To tell me I messed up? Do you two nosy women think I dont know that I blew it? I miss her. Every bone in my body aches from missing Sam Johnston, but it could never work. Why not? Linda wanted to know. Because were too much alike. Sam and I dont trust each other. Maybe we never will. That woman would follow me every time I took the garbage out, and Id be calling you, Linda, every time she was five minutes late from work. Thats not a healthy way to live. She didnt tell you about the abuse I endured, did she? his mother asked.

No, she didnt. She decided to hand over the picture of you to the LA Beat and let them do the rest. I never gave her the picture. Then how did the paper get it? A woman named Kate Garrison came to my apartment. She said she was Sam Johnstons assistant. I had no reason not to believe her. She said the LA Beat was doing a very important story about your life and that the movie deals would be pouring in after they published the story. She also assured me they would get your permission before anything was published. So it wasnt Sam who gave them your picture? His mom shook her head. He stared at her for a very long time. Was that really Dad who did that to you? She nodded. He hit you all of the time? Her body stiffened. Almost every day. How come I dont remember ever seeing your face bloodied or swollen? He hit me in places other people couldnt see. I wore a lot of scarves and sunglasses back then. I do remember scarves and sunglasses. You were always covered up. I never should have left you with your father. He shrugged. Cant change the past. If I could do things over, I would have bundled you up and taken you away after the first time he struck me. Dominic didnt like thinking about his father hitting his mother. He sucked in a breath. You didnt have any money. Hell, Dad hardly had enough change to keep food on the table. Im sure you did the best you could at the time. I could have done a hell of a lot better, she said. I should have done better. Im sorry for all the pain Ive caused you. Im so sorry. Linda left the room, but not before releasing a few guttural sobs. Linda rarely cried. Her childhood hadnt been rainbows and gumdrops either. He wondered if Lindas mother, Dads first wife, had been beaten to a pulp too. He felt numb. He didnt remember taking a seat across from his mom. Nor did he remember reaching out and taking her frail, cold-as-ice hands in his, but when he pulled himself back into the moment, he realized thats exactly what hed done. He suddenly realized how badly hed messed up by letting his past ruin any chance of happiness in his future. He should have gone to his mom and let her explain herself. Just because. Yep, hed blown it big time. Hed been keeping himself too busy to give Sam much thought, hoping time would make him forget about her. It had been a little over a week now and he missed Sam more today than he had the first night he told her to leave.

I really fucked everything up, he announced. Stop it, his mother said, squeezing his hands, unwilling to let go. Theres still a chance if you go after her. You think so? I do. The room was quiet for a moment. Sitting here with his Mom felt surreal. What about Dad? he asked. Do you think hell ever stop drinking? I hope so. Me, too, he said with a nod before his gaze settled on watching her thumb rub against the top of his hand. He felt something bubble within. Whatever it was inside of him, it made a low rumble as it moved up through his body to his chest. I should have talked to you when I saw you in the crowd, he blurted. It wasnt the right time. It could have been the right time. I should have made it the right time. You did the best you could, she said, throwing his words right back at him. Youre a good man. I think everything might be okay, he told her. She nodded. I need to find Sam. I need to talk to her. I think thats a wonderful idea. She must have been telling the truth because she released his hand. Dominic stood, still looking at his mom, glad she was here, hoping they would have more moments like this one. And thats when he realized Sam was right. Having his mother back in his life could very well end up being a gift. Everything has happened so fast, he told her. My mind is spinning and Ive been questioning these unfamiliar emotions Im feeling inside. He whiteknuckled the back of the chair. As a mom, he said thoughtfully, you know, as my mom, do you think Sams the right woman for me? His mother tilted her head just so, smiling all the while. You know the answer to that, Dominic, but they do say that mothers know best so Im going to tell you with one hundred percent certainty that not only is Sam the right woman for you, shes the only woman for you.

Chapter Twenty-Eight
How do I look? Sam asked Shakespeare. Meow. Sam had showered, curled her hair, and dabbed on some mascara and lipstick. Her entire family was on their way to her apartment. Shed never had her family for dinner. Two months ago, she never would have allowed them into her apartment all at once, if at all. But today she was excited to see them. The table was set. There wasnt enough room for everyone. Her brothers would have to sit on the couch and use the coffee table. Taylor and Kevin didnt think she could cook. Shed show them. After her day making everything from lobster bisque to chicken tacos, she had no doubt she would surprise the pants right off them. After tonight, if any one of her family members ever said she couldnt cook, she would have this night, this dinner to rub their noses in. Her parents were the first to arrive. As beautiful as ever, her mother beamed with happiness, but her father looked stiff. Taylor, Kevin, and Emma arrived next and thats when she pulled her father aside. Is something wrong, Dad? You dont look right. He rubbed the bald spot at the back of his head. Im nervous, okay? It was true. He was perspiring. Is this your first date since we talked? He nodded. This is it. She said no to all the other plans I came up with musicals and even a damn opera. But when I asked her to join me for dinner at our daughters apartment, she said yes. And now I dont know what to do, dont know how to act. Look at her, would you? Shes gorgeous. Could have any man she wanted. She doesnt have a nervous bone in her body. Whats happened to her? Shes finally grown up, Dad. For the first time in her life, she doesnt need you. You know it and she knows it. Yeah, well, Im really glad we had this talk, Samantha. Sam laughed. Me too, Dad. You might not realize it, but if you do this right, if you treat Mom like the wonderful, beautiful woman that she is, youll be the one who reaps the benefits. What are you, a therapist now? There was a rap tap tap on the door, but since everyone had already arrived, Sam had no idea who she would find on the other side. Her last guess stood there, looking overdressed in a fitted suit and tie. For just a moment, shed let herself hope she would find Dominic standing there. Hello, Ken. She hadnt asked Dominic to the party, but still, it was just a fleeting thought.

Sam looked over her shoulder at her family, wondering who told Ken about her private dinner party. They all gave her innocent looks, letting Sam know they had nothing to do with Kens sudden appearance. He cleared his throat. Can I come in? My family is here, Sam told him, and I cant remember the last time, if ever, theyve all gathered at my place. I wont be long, he promised. Mom, Dad, Ken said as he stepped through the door like a Las Vegas entertainer. Kevin, Taylor, and Emma. I have something Id like to say and it involves all of you. Emma pushed past her dad and uncle so she could get a front row look at whatever was going down. Samantha, Ken said, turning back around so he and Sam were face to face, his eyes peering into hers as he reached out and took her hand in his. Weve known each other for years now. She wondered if he had any idea how many years, but she remained silent. Weve both made mistakes and were stronger because of them. Youve changed and I like what I see. For the life of her, she had no idea what shed ever seen in the man. She tried to pull her hand out of his grasp but he held tight. Im ready to take a chance again, Ken told her, excitement making his eyes twinkle. Im ready to put my heart on the line. Im only fourteen, but Im pretty sure thats from a Barry Manilow song, Emma said. Taylor nodded proudly at his daughters perceptiveness. Ken fell to one knee. Sam gasped. Oh, for goodness sakes, Ken, get up. He let go of her hand, reached into his coat pocket, and pulled out a diamond ring. Marry me, Sam. Make me the happiest man in the world. Sam finally succeeded in yanking Ken to his feet. He was such a childish, clueless little boy; she could only wrap her arms around him and pat him on the back. Emma held out her arms. Is this a joke? Is that a yes? Ken asked Sam. No, Sam answered with a pitiful look on her face. Its a definite no, but thanks for askingagain. Taylor walked over and slapped Ken on the back. Sorry, bro. *** After sitting way too long in his truck, one of the few things that hadnt been taken from him, Dominic forced himself to climb out and shut the door.

Despite everything that had happened over the past ten days, movie deals were still pouring in. According to Ben and Tom, hundreds of emails were coming in daily. His fans understood hardship and they were ready to stand one hundred percent by his side. Ben tried to talk Dominic into taking out a loan and keeping the house and the fancy cars, but Dominic was finished pretending to be someone he wasnt. Acting was his passion, but all the rest, the fancy parties and media blitz, was not a game he was willing to play any longer. For the first time in his life, he was close to having it all. He had ten acres and a house he was working hard to make into a home. He liked the simplicity of living in a smaller house without all the bells and whistles, a place where the dogs could run free. But he was still missing the main ingredient to his ultimate happiness: Sam Johnston. He finally knew what it felt like to love someone and he didnt want to live without her. He knew that now. Sure, she could be insecure at times, even a little nosy, but shed had good reason. When it came to talking to his mother without telling him, he knew Sams heart had been in the right place. He never should have asked Sam to leave and yet hed needed the time apart to figure things out. At least thats what he kept telling himself. Hed never been to Sams apartment before. He followed the pathway. The building was blue and green, sort of artsy looking. The grounds were well kept: healthy palm trees and lots of manicured greenery with tiny white flowers. He inhaled jasmine and honeysuckle, liked the way the sun felt on his shoulders. Through the front window screen of Sams apartment, Dominic saw Ken bend down on one knee and offer Sam a ring. His breath caught in his throat. He had every intention of taking Ken by the collar and roughing him up a bit until he saw Sam smile and wrap her arms around the guy. What the hell was going on? Stuck between wanting to confront her and wanting to let her have a moment of happiness after all hed put her through, he stood frozen in indecision and then turned back toward the parking lot. Look! Dominics here! Sams apartment door came open. Emma rushed toward him with the rest of Sams family following close behind. Ken broke through the crowd, his big shoulders knocking Kevin out of his way. For a long moment, some sort of weird staring war ensued between the two men until Ken said, Good luck with that one. Youre going to need it. And then he walked off. More confused than ever, Dominic watched Sam exit her apartment. She stopped short. Their gazes met and held.

Are you coming or going? she asked. What do you mean? When I looked out the window, you were walking away from my apartment, not toward it. Thats because I saw Ken propose to you and the next thing I know you were all over him. I gave him a hug, Sam said. She hugs the mailman, too, Emma informed him. Its true, one of her brothers said. I saw you in the LA Times today, Sam said. The paparazzi caught you dancing with another beautiful woman I didnt recognize. Photoshop, Dominic said. Its amazing what they can do with that program, Sams dad said. Sams mom nodded in agreement. They can literally take someones head and stick it on someone elses body. Mom, Dad, everyone, Sam said. Could Dominic and I please have a private moment here? Sure, sure. You definitely know how to ruin a party, Emma told Sam. After they were all back in the apartment, Sam plunked her hands on her hips. What are you doing here? What do you think? I really have no idea. I havent seen you in ten days. Thats a long time. Yeah, said Emma, thats almost as long as the gestational period of a Virginian opossum. Sam pointed at Emma and told her to shut the door all the way this time. Dominic paled, figuring Emma was trying to say something. Are you pregnant? No, of course not. I might have actually tried to find out where you were staying if I was. But since youre not, you didnt? Sam crossed her arms. Why would I? Because you said you loved me. You asked me to leave. I wish I hadnt. You could have called. I should have. What took you so long to come see me? Im stubborn and truthfully, I never thought the day would come when I would meet a woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. You were set on spending the rest of your life alone?

He nodded. She was too far away for him to reach out and draw her close. In the past, if he just pulled her into his arms and held her, she sort of melted against him and forgot about whatever it was they were arguing about. I dont want to live without you, he added for good measure. She cocked her head as if she were waiting for him to say something more. Damn. He wasnt prepared for a long speech. If we come to some sort of conclusion here, he said, struggling for every word, and we decide to get married, I want it to be forever. For instance, lets say that ten years from now, if I tell you to pack up and move out, dont listen to me. Sam wrinkled her nose. Im just supposed to ignore you? He nodded. Exactly. Okay, she said. If I agree to be your wife again and five years from now or maybe even five hours, you see me hugging the clerk at the local market and I tell you youre being a jealous fool, you just need to know that it doesnt mean anything and that I only love you. No need to make a big deal about a hug. I dont know, he said. Ill have to think about that one. But if you locate any long-lost relatives of mine or you run into my thieving uncle, I would appreciate it if you didnt invite any of them to dinner without talking to me first. Agreed. Are they serious? Emma asked. Sam had forgotten the front window was open. Will you marry me? Dominic asked. What do you have in mind? Family only. A small wedding at our new house. I like the sound of that. Can I be a bridesmaid? Emma shouted excitedly. They both ignored her, each taking a few steps toward the other and finally closing the gap. Dominic held her close, breathed her in. I love the way your hair smells. Have I ever told you that? I think you have. Thank you. Its not always going to be smooth sailing, Dominic said, loving the way she felt snuggled up close to him. Sam pulled away just enough so she could peer into his eyes. Some days will be like riding a rickety rollercoaster or a scary Ferris wheel. Were both going to have to work on insecurities and trust issues. I want children, she said, making him wonder if she were testing him. As many as you want, he said with a smile. Do you mean that or are you just trying to make me happy? I think three children is a good number, dont you? She laughed. Three is good. Maybe four. Maybe. We dont have to have them all next month, do we?

I guess if I were a Virginian opossum, it might be possible. Where does that kid come up with those things? Dominic asked. Is she really related to you? She really is. You might end up with four daughters just like Emma. Got a problem with that, Uncle Dom? Emma shouted. They both laughed. She has really good hearing, Dominic said. We might as well go inside. Im glad you finally came, Sam whispered. I love you, Sam Johnston, he whispered back, and I promise to spend the rest of my life showing you.

Epilogue
One year later Through the screen door of the master bedroom, Sam saw family and friends take their seats. At the sight of the minister, her heart did a double beat, and she placed her hand on her chest. This is really happening. Dominic, Tom, Taylor, and Kevin had spent the past few days setting up potted plants and chairs, doing their best to make sure there would be enough shade for everyone. They did a wonderful job. Everything looked lovely. Although a white picket fence framed the ten acres of land surrounding the small one-story house, Caesar, Rex, and their newest addition, Cleopatra, a three-legged beagle, liked to stay close to the house, and she could see them greeting the guests. Shakespeare preferred the indoors where she could circle Sams legs as she tried to get ready. Rebecca laced the back of her summer dress, talking all the while, because thats what she did when she was nervous. Dont worry, dear. Itll all be over in a blink of an eye. Sam suppressed a laugh. Im getting married, Mom. Im not having my tooth pulled. Of course you are, dear. Hes a good man. Youre both young, but its not as if either of you just graduated from high school. Sam inhaled. Its not easy standing in front of friends and family, declaring your good intentions to be with each other for the rest of your lives. Never mind that so many marriages end up in divorce. She paused, checked her lipstick in the mirror. Itll be fine, just you wait and see. Mom, whats going on? Is there something youre not telling me? Did you see Dominic in another one of those tabloids? Thats it, isnt it? Her mother wiped her eyes with a tissue. Something was seriously wrong. Sam slipped her arm around her mother and held her close. Whats bothering you? Another sob. Your father proposed last night. Sam kept her cool. Through the screen door, she could see Dominic at his assigned place before the minister. A classic summer suit that fit him to a tee hugged his body, making her insides flip-flop. God, he looked hot. Literally. He wiped his brow. Indecision pulled at her. Shed like to comfort her mother, but her timing, as always, was disastrous. Mom, I think theyre ready for us. Her mother waved her hand toward the door. Sure, go ahead. Dont worry about me. Ill be fine.

Setting her small bouquet of pink periwinkles on the bed, Sam gently held her moms shoulders. Look at me, Mom. You and Dad have been married for thirty-eight years. Thirty-nine, but whos counting? Sam squelched the desire to roll her eyes. Obviously you are. So, what are you so upset about? Look at me, she said, running her hands over the expensive fabric covering her hips. I have a lot of life left. There are things I want to do. Faraway places I want to see. This past year away from Cameron has made me see how much Ive missed out on. Im scared. Your father changed once. Whos to say he wont change again. Sam felt a magnetic pull toward Dominic. She wanted to go to him. Needed to be by his side, but she couldnt abandon her mother at a time like this. She took a steadying breath and said, Mom, I know you. You wont let him. Sam wanted to shake some sense into her. You and I have grown a lot in these past months. We know what we want. We know whats acceptable and whats not. Hell, I wont ever let Dad treat you badly, so you have nothing to worry about. So you think I should accept his proposal? It took everything she had to stay calm. Her wedding day and here she was giving a daughter-mother talkgo figure. Yes, Mom, I think you should. Okay, she said, eyes suddenly dry. Im ready. Im glad we had this talk. Me, too, Mom. Lets do this before Dominic melts and the Damn. She heard the unmistakable roar of the helicopters rotors in the distance. The paparazzi had found them. *** Sweat dripped off his forehead, which Dominic figured was a godsend because now at least nobody would notice how red his eyes were. Not that hed been crying or anything. He wasnt a crier. He was a mans man. Hell, hed just wrapped up filming a movie where he shot men just for looking at him wrong. He had enough testosterone to take care of the World Wrestling Federation. And yet, five minutes ago, hed been thinking about his wife and all the memories they had already made in such a short time. Hed also been going over his vows. Every time he thought about what Sam meant to him, it opened up a floodgate of emotions. It was pissing him off. He could do this. Sam was his moon, his sun, the oxygen he breathed.

There. Easy enough. Fate, that fickle yet powerful force with the ability to predetermine a persons life, had found him and presented him with Sam. His eyes stung. Damn. Forget it. Hed just have to think about other things. He glanced at the guests patiently waiting. Toms wife was pregnant again. Their three-legged beagle went from chair to chair, making sure everyone scratched her back at least once. Rex tried to follow, but he kept getting turned around, bumping into Caesar and then heading off in the wrong direction. On another note, Dominic had gone to see his father. Figured hed check up on him. Lo and behold, Uncle Frank showed up two minutes before Dominic was getting ready to leave. Anger simmered within as he recalled the look of surprise on his uncles face. As it turned out, his father and uncle had been working together to steal his money. They figured Dominic could just make another movie and another million and everybody would be fine. Dominic took a deep breath and sadness replaced the bitterness that threatened to ruin his special day. No. He was done. He had Sam, and he had his mother. Needless to say, they were both in jail. The money they had embezzled was gonespent on booze and gambling. A little time spent behind bars would force his father to stop drinking. At least for a while. Glad to have his emotions in check, Dominic put a hand to his chest the moment he spotted Sam. Wonderful Tonight played as she strolled up the grassy aisle. With her hair down and wearing a beautiful but simple dress, she took his breath away. The pink of her bouquet matched the soft color of her lips. Striking. Mesmerizing. Simply beautiful. And when she smiled at him, he felt a rumble deep down at the bottom of his chest. Her soft hand slid into his, reminding him of their first wedding at the church when shed startled him with her beauty. Life had not been the same since. Are you crying again? she asked softly. No. What gave you that idea? This is sweat. For a moment there I thought youd gotten cold feet and run off. She squeezed his hand. Ill never run off. Youre stuck with me, DeMarco. I love you. The helicopters arrived. Dust and bits of grass flew around them, which he figured was a good thing because now he had another excuse as to why his eyes were watering. I love you, too, he said loud enough to be heard over the deafening noise. *** Emma patted Winstons head as she watched Grandpa walk Sam halfway up the grassy aisle before he took a seat next to Grandma.

Dominic was crying again. Her friends all thought Dominic was ultra-cool because he played a tough guy on the big screen, but Uncle Dom was a big softie at heart. Tom was the best man and Emma was the maid of honora great decision on the brides part, if she did say so herself. So cool that filming had ended for Dominics first Western and reviews were looking good. Twice shed gotten to visit him on set. His fans had forgiven him and World Studios was still trying to get Dominic to sign on the dotted line. And even better than that, Sam, after a year of writing and re-writing, had finished her first romance novel. Pretty darn exciting. Her aunt planned to query a few dozen agents, but Emma had researched self-publishing and was convinced that was the way to go. Emma wouldnt mind going to a few book signings with her. That would be fun. Emma had been warned that the wedding ceremony would be short and sweet, and they werent kidding. Sam had barely taken her place before the minister said, Will you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife? He had to shout loud enough to be heard over the helicopters hovering above, which made the whole thing seem sort of comical, a good scene for Sams next romance novel, Emma decided. I do, Dominic said. Do you, Samantha Sue Johnston, take Dominic Damarion DeMarco to be your lawfully wedded husband? Sams eyes widened. Did he say Damarion? A ripple of laughter came from the guests. Emma had promised to keep her mouth shut, so she didnt say a word. It was difficult not to laugh. Youll have to take it up with my mom, Dominic told Sam. Wow, its been over a year and we still dont know much about each other, do we? We have our whole lives ahead of us, he reminded his wife or wife-to-be, whatever. We really are going to grow old together, Sam said with a shake of her head, which Emma didnt get because they were both already pretty old. Shall I repeat the question? the minister shouted. Yes! Emma shouted back, hoping to get things back on track, move this wedding along so they could get to the good part: eating the strawberry cream cake and watching everyone make fools of themselves on the dance floor. After the minister said it all again, Sam finally said, I do. Emma gave a great sigh of relief. Samantha and Dominic made a pretty cute couple. In a way, Emma realized, they had managed to bring the entire family back together. Grandma and Grandpa were talking about getting remarried, but Grandma had moved in with Beverly DeMarco and was playing hard to get.

Emma, fifteen and a half now, would be driving soon. Thats all she thought about these days. She wanted to be a racecar driver like Danica Patrick. She was pretty sure she would never get married. Mostly because she didnt see the point. Boys were silly creatures. They got all tongue-tied and weird when she talked to them. Emma and Tom followed Dominic and Sam down the aisle. And thats when Emma spotted Jason Marsal. Whats wrong? Sam asked when they got to the spot where they were supposed to greet the guests. Why didnt anyone tell me that Jason Marsal was coming today? Emma felt her chest tighten and her mouth turn to sandpaper. Somebody should have warned me. Oh, I see. He is cute, isnt he? Emma fanned herself in an exaggerated manner. Cute doesnt even begin to describe Jason. Looks like somebody has a dance partner, Sam said. Just do what I do out there on the dance floor and youll be okay. Are you serious? You dance like a wild turkey looking for a mate. Isnt that right, Dominic? If Sams a turkey, Im a turkey, Dominic said. Emma rolled her eyes. It was all over after that. Sam and Dominic couldnt keep their hands off each other. It was going to be a very long day. She felt a tap on her shoulder. It was Jason. I heard you like NASCAR, he said, his expression all cool and laidback as if he didnt have a care in the world. Emma ignored the sudden racing of her heart. She even followed Jason inside the house, where they found a nice quiet spot to sit and talk about everything. It was amazing how much they had in common. They both liked vanilla cake with chocolate frosting, hated doing homework, thought their families were sort of lame; the list of commonalities went on and on. Today was going to be the best day ever.

The End