Authors: Jo Summers
Tags: #viking hero, #movie star hero, #scotland, #international romance, #sexy contemporary romance, #wealthy hero, #Contemporary Romance
Table of Contents
(Scandals in Scotland Book #1)
Copyright © 2015 Jo Summers
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
To you, dear reader: Thank you so much for trying out a new story by a new author. I hope you enjoy!
To my husband: for everything.
Don’t screw up. Don’t screw up.
Andi McKenna repeated the mantra over and over under her breath until the words erased everything else from her mind. Well, everything but the incredible, knee-knocking fear that turned her insides to jelly and had her wishing for a trip to the dentist for a root canal, or possibly to the gyno for a pap smear—anything except what she was about to do.
If only she could go back in time and take back her answer when her agent called with the exciting—make that terrifying—news that the producer of the movie based on her bestselling novel wanted to fly her out to Scotland to meet the cast and sight-see around the set. Who in her right mind would turn down the opportunity to see her imagination come to life? Andi was living her dream, yet it was all she could do not to lie down on the gorgeous Scottish hotel bathroom floor and have a good old-fashioned fit over the state of her nerves.
As she tried unsuccessfully to slow her rapid breathing, the mantra slipped from her thoughts, followed in quick succession by the image of what would be discovered should she go ahead and give in to the panic attack building under her skin. She could see it now—her body sprawled out, legs splayed, red dress with black polka-dots flung over her head exposing her very un-cute control top underwear, not to mention the less than stellar writer’s bottom the garment covered, to any unfortunate onlookers.
All right, that’s enough.
The image made her cringe and shake her head. It was plenty to motivate Andi to draw up her shoulders and set to the task at hand. She could do this. She was a bestselling author with three very successful novels under her belt, and one on the way, with a good run on the
New York Times
list—it would certainly do for a girl of twenty-six. And of course, the most recent book was responsible for her standing there alone, on the verge of hyperventilating in a ladies’ room thousands of miles from home. But she could manage this, or at least she would damn well try.
Andi faced the mirror one last time and drew up her chin. Not much could be done about the condition of her pixie cut at that point; strands of her black hair stuck out at all angles like ruffled bird feathers, but taming them was an uphill battle and she was on in five.
A quick poke into her bra confirmed that her lucky flash drive was in place; she kept copies of all of her completed books on it, and even though she wasn’t particularly superstitious, had carried it with her since she sold the first novel that launched her beloved career. So what if she didn’t entirely trust the cloud?
But the damn underwear had to go.
Andi glanced over her shoulder at the door before reaching up under her skirt with both hands and tugging down the stretchy fabric from hell. It was far easier to get out of the skintight underwear than it had been to get in, but both projects left her slightly winded. She tossed the garment into the trash and pulled in more air than she’d been able to for the last hour.
One more deep breath, a swipe of the fire engine lipstick she’d dared herself to wear, and it was time.
A knock at the door had Andi jumping out of her skin, as her agent’s head poked around.
“Andi, what on earth are you up to in here?” Lily Greene entered the bathroom, a warning look on her perfectly made-up face, and grabbed Andi’s arm with the hand not holding her ever-present tablet.
“You’re supposed to be onstage. Get your ass out there now!” Lily pulled her out of the bathroom and down the hallway toward the ballroom as Andi tucked her lipstick and flash drive back into her bra and ran a finger through her hair. Lucky for Andi, her agent had also become her best friend over the past few years, otherwise Andi would have run from the hotel and not looked back. But refusing to do the reading the enthusiastic producer requested as part of the wrap-up cast party would not only be unprofessional, she’d also let down Lily, to whom she owed so much. Friendship trumped fear, so Andi allowed Lily to envelop her in a hug before the woman shoved her toward the stairs by the ballroom stage.
There were no curtains to hide behind, only the stage itself, a massive looming platform with a narrow podium and a lone mic to keep her company, and the steps leading up to it. Andi regretted letting Lily talk her into the four-inch peep-toe platforms she tottered in, praying they wouldn’t send her crashing down the short but nonetheless intimidating staircase. It seemed the universe wanted Andi sprawled out, butt exposed, at the end of the dreaded evening, one way or another. She supposed she’d been given a choice of whether to pass out on the cold bathroom floor or be hurtled down a staircase in front of an entire film cast and crew of what looked to be hundreds, she made the mistake of noting.
Okay, eyes straight ahead. You’ve got this.
She walked carefully up the stairs toward the stage, heartbeat pounding as the producer introduced her. Next, Lily joined her and spoke a few words about Andi’s rave book reviews and her excitement over the movie and then, beaming at Andi, Lily stepped aside and off the stage. Andi neared the microphone and, blinking against the stage lights that burned brighter than a thousand suns, gave the applauding audience her best smile, hoping she looked less like a clueless moron than she felt. Unlikely.
As she greeted the crowd, her palms miraculously began to dry out a bit and a few moments into talking about her work, she actually found she was almost enjoying herself. She was immensely grateful to the director and producer for their interest in her story. It wasn’t every day a historical romance novel was made into a movie, and as she addressed the crew and cast, the fatigue from her overseas flight, the jetlag, and her nervousness dissolved, replaced by excitement at the reality of the adventure she was about to take over the next few weeks. Her heart rate even slowed to a pace resembling a normal person’s.
After a few moments of going on about the process of spinning the initial spark of an idea into an actual book and sharing her experience developing the story, Andi was having fun. Visions of death by embarrassment no longer flashed through her mind. Maybe she could return to doing book signings and readings after all, despite her history of backing out of scheduled events. Maybe Jared, her ass of an ex, had been wrong—possibly she wasn’t destined to be a wallflower for eternity.
But then it happened.
Andi finished her little speech and opened the folder that Lily had set out on the podium in advance, the one with the printout of the chapter Andi was to read from, a chapter from her next book. The pages were there all right, in a beautiful, neat, white stack, the paper as bright as a halogen bulb, and just as blinding to someone with her condition. Andi knew instantly that she would not be able to read the words on that page.
She froze like an animal paralyzed by car headlights, and it seemed as though minutes passed rather than seconds as the audience waited for her next move. There was only one option, so she decided to give it a go. But as she stared at the top document, the letters of her printed words—words she’d so carefully arranged over endless hours of work—words it took twice as long as a person without her dyslexia to decipher and string together—became nothing more than a blurred mess right before her eyes. Letters jumped from the page and scattered in front of her as the impairment took control.
Suddenly, she wasn’t a successful author with three popular novels anymore. She was no longer a woman whose name had become, to her ceaseless dismay, a regular in book clubs across continents. No, instead, she was that girl back in grade school who stood up to do class presentations only to find the same thing happening every time—the very words she adored for their power to invoke escape and adventure turned against her. She tried desperately to read from the paper, but it was impossible. She stumbled with the effort as the bitter taste of failure crept into her mouth.
What happened to the folder she’d given Lily—the one with the blue paper and the font that she could read from with ease? There must have been some kind of mix-up. Lily knew Andi had difficulty with pure white paper and that she needed the color background in order to see the black print, and Lily was always an angel about that sort of thing. Something must have gone wrong; there must have been some sort of mix-up. Tears pricked at the back of Andi’s eyes, but she refused to fall apart where she stood.
The ballroom was silent except for her own breathing, which grew louder by the second in the mic until she stepped back a few paces. Andi stared out at the crowd and caught the looks on a few faces. The pity in their expressions was unmistakable, the same as that of so many classmates and teachers over the years. It was a look she’d seen too many times before, a look she loathed. She excused herself as best she could and a quiet murmur spread through the room as she dashed off the stage, her quick steps hastening into a sprint once she cleared the last step. Lily reached out an arm as Andi passed, but she waved her friend away and kept going as the threat of tears strengthened.
She ran across the length of the ballroom, a path clearing as she went, and all the way through the double doors at the back. She kept running, no destination in sight, and would have continued on, except she was stopped short when she slammed smack into the arms of a Viking.
Colin steadied his feet against the blow as a blurry bundle of woman crashed through the kitchen doors and straight into his chest. Even as he caught her before she sent both of them pummeling into the nearest wall, he couldn’t stop his drink from upending and spilling everywhere.
Well, that took care of the ridiculous getup he was wearing, and good riddance if you asked him. It was one thing to don a costume on set—that was just part of the job—but it was quite another to have to traipse through a posh hotel wearing the costume to settle a stupid bet he’d lost in an ill-advised game of poker with his cast mates.
The tunic itched and was much shorter than anything a man should wear; it was so bloody short that the female supporting actresses made a habit of whistling out catcalls when he put the damn thing on. And the blunt, but admittedly awesome, replica sword he carried around his belt was not the easiest thing to maneuver on a bike.
He’d instantly regretted it when he’d been honked at repeatedly while driving his motorcycle through the streets of Glasgow’s West End. At least there’d been the helmet to keep passersby from looking too closely, and he’d somehow managed to skirt the paparazzi who followed him relentlessly these days, seeming to know the places he’d be before he even made it there himself. Now, liquid running down the costume designer’s historical masterpiece, he’d have as good an excuse as any to duck out of the party. It was better than hiding out in a hotel kitchen drinking scotch alone like a coward.
Stretching out an arm while still holding the woman with his other, Colin set the glass on a nearby counter and turned his attention back to his costume destroyer, whose face was turning the color of beets. It wasn’t until he examined her closely that Colin noticed the tears and the great black smears of makeup that surrounded her large bloodshot eyes. She was so distraught that his heart lurched against his will, making him resort to humor to lighten the situation.
“I wasn’t going to drink that anyway,” he said, offering the woman a grin as he released her and attempted to shake the amber liquid from his clothing. She watched as he pulled a small, half-empty bottle of the scotch from the pouch around his waist, and refilled the glass.
To his surprise, she said nothing, instead reaching out to take the glass, which she drained in one gulp before slamming it back down. He watched mesmerized as she then slid down the counter and melted into a puddle at its base, head in hands. Pitch-black hair stuck out all over between her fingers. A kitchen staff member popped in to grab a tray of hors d’oeuvre from the refrigerator, giving the pair a passing glance before shrugging his shoulders and leaving. Colin cleared his throat and the woman held up a palm without lifting her head.