Authors: Adrianne Byrd
When You Were Mine
For the first time in her life Joseph Henry Adams looked forward to Valentine’s Day. This year, Hallmark, 1-800 FLOWERS and jewelry stores alike were not going to send her spiraling toward a vat of chocolate-chip cookie-dough ice cream. No, sir.
Not only were her prospects of receiving a large heart-shaped box of chocolate good, she was certain a sizable diamond was in the forecast, as well.
“Joey!” Peyton snapped. “Are you even listening to me?”
“What?” Joey blinked out of her reverie and glanced around Cosabellas boutique to her frowning younger sister. “What did you say?”
“I was asking whether you told the girls about your predictions for Valentine’s Day?”
The girls being the other three sisters: Michael, Frankie and Sheldon¾otherwise known as the Nosey Sister Network.
Joey broke eye contact and glanced guiltily away.
Peyton tsked and shook her head. “You’re making a big mistake.”
“Don’t freak on me, P.J. It’s gonna happen. Tuesday night, Laurence is going to drop on one knee and recite a beautiful proposal that’s going to make Cupid weep.”
“You’ve been reading too many romance novels.”
“And you don’t read enough of them. Besides, what’s wrong with being in love with love?”
“Nothing.” Peyton shrugged, returning a pair of lacy thongs to a display table. “I just don’t want you to get your hopes up.”
“C’mon. I found a credit card receipt for a ten thousand dollar purchase from Opulence jewelry store. It has to be an engagement ring,” she reasoned confidently. “A nice ring.”
Peyton drew a deep breath and offered no further argument.
Joey moved closer to her sister and swung an arm around her slender shoulders. “Trust me. Nothing is going to go wrong.”
Film director Ryan Donovan strolled down the red carpet of his latest premier in a shiny penguin suit and with a leggy model on his arm. He puffed heavily on his trademark cigars and fought the devil himself to keep his smile leveled at the appropriate angles and his heart pounding at a normal rhythm.
It was times like these when Ryan thought he should have been an actor. Sure, the fans loved him now, but after everyone viewed this latest piece of crap the studio forced him to direct,
, they would turn him into mincemeat by morning.
He could hardly wait.
“Mr. Donovan, Mr. Donovan. Who’s your lovely date this evening?” A reporter inquired.
“A close personal friend,” he lied with a wink, and then prayed the guy wouldn’t ask him the woman’s name. In Hollyweird, glossy pinup girls came off a conveyer belt and required very little assembly to stand prettily and pose for pictures.
He hated interviews and the whole industry knew it. His agent, manager, and even his accountant told him he needed an attitude adjustment, but the truth of the matter was he didn’t care whether people liked him--he just wanted them to like and respect his
Briefly he turned away from the reporters and glanced toward the movie theater. He groaned when he assessed he was at least a mile away from the entrance.
There was nothing like a slow death.
A woman’s delighted squeal came a nanosecond before a pair of soft lips was planted against his face. He turned to see his latest pain in the ass and star actress, Carlina Leoni, ham it up for the cameras. Just thinking about the film delays and fines he had to pay because of her melodramatic theatrics was enough to shave a few inches off his plastic smile.
It didn’t help matters that at the beginning of filming he and Carlina had gotten a little too close. Too much wine will do that. Add the stress of filming a piece of crap--at least, he was blaming it on stress--and he’d found that he was unable to perform.
Good thing he was beginning to suspect Carlina was a beautiful nut job. Without doubt, Carlina would be the iceberg that sank his once promising career.
Miraculously, Ryan made it down the red carpet and into the theater. His shoulders deflated the moment he was out of camera view, but he was well aware his nightmare was far from over.
Two hours later
ended pathetically, with a teary-eyed Carlina glaring into the face of her father’s killer and blowing him away Rambo-style. The credits crept onto the screen while an ear-piercing rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack helped people bolt from their seats.
Twenty-five years in the business and he was now reduced to a joke.
There were a few perfunctory handclaps but mostly people raced toward the door as if a stink bomb had been set off. In a way, one had.
Even his plastic date looked at him as if he’d crawled out from under a rock. Was it too late to go to law school?
During the limo ride home, Ryan was unaware of, and unconcerned with, where his driver dropped off his lady of the evening, though he did remember the look of disappointment on the woman’s face when she learned her services wouldn’t extend throughout the night.
It was not because he wasn’t attracted to the scarlet wannabe, it was just that he was still experiencing a little problem...performing in the last few weeks-all right, few months. But as soon as he got his career back on track, his little problem would disappear. He was certain of it.
Much later he arrived to his large neo-styled home and said nothing to the driver as he stepped out the vehicle and into the chilly night. Tired, he exhaled gloomily as he stared at his sprawling mansion and wondered for the umpteenth time why he needed such a large place.
The answer came in a rush. In his line of work it was more important to appear successful than to actually
As he’d requested, no employees greeted him as he strolled through the glass-and-wrought iron door. As usual the house’s silence was deafening and the cold...humbling.
In the foyer, two sets of arced staircases ascended to the second level of the house. Ryan bounded up the right side, taking two steps at a time. He peeled out of the suit that he would undoubtedly never wear again and headed straight for the shower.
He paid no heed to how hot the water turned or how much the large bathroom filled with thick clouds of steam. He wanted desperately to wash away the grime and the humiliation he’d endured that evening.
No such luck.
Shortly before being boiled alive, Ryan shut off the shower and toweled off. When he opened the door to the adjoining bedroom, a billow of steam preceded him.
Maybe the reviews won’t be so bad, he thought dully, but then laughed at how desperately he clung to hope.
Nude, he traipsed across the bedroom’s hardwood floor toward the fireplace and started up the gas logs. For a short time afterward he stared into the flickering flames and prayed that tonight hadn’t earmarked the end of his career.
Sullenly, he turned to cross his massive mahogany bed but stopped short at the sight of his reflection in the dresser mirror. At age forty-five he was now the mirror-image of his tyrannical father. A man who, in a drunken rage, had busted Ryan’s nose, broken a rib and then finally thrown him out of the house.
Ryan held his chin high, his focus zeroing on the slight crookedness of his nose. Strange, but he drew strength from that facial imperfection--almost like a badge of honor. He had survived that night, even lived through pain when his mother, as always, sided with his father by simply saying, “You should have known better than to disturb your father when he’s drinking.”
The problem was that his father was
drinking. Something had either happened at his factory job, or he had lost another chunk of change with the boys on poker night, or Ryan was never going to save the family by making it to the NFL on a bum knee. Hell, it could be something as simple as dinner not being ready on time.
He shook his head. That was nearly thirty years ago, and still the painful memories tortured him.
Ryan moved from the mirror and climbed into bed. To his surprise his spirits rose. If he could survive being Clarence Donovan’s son then he could survive one bad movie...he hoped.
“You’re dumping me...on Valentine’s Day?” Joey thundered wide-eyed.
Dr. Laurence Benson chiseled a thin apologetic smile onto his handsome features as he slid his large, manicured hand across the white-linen-covered table to grasp hers. “I know this may come as a shock, but if you think about it, this is the right decision...for both of us.”
Joey twisted her face unable to comprehend or understand the words flowing from Laurence’s mouth. Her only thought was of the receipt she’d found in his coat pocket and the extravagant and romantic evening he had arranged...all just to dump her?
“Jo-Jo, say something,” he encouraged with a gentle squeeze to her hand.
She cringed at the nickname he alone insisted on calling her; however, after a time she managed a brave smile. “I don’t know what to say,” she admitted. “Is there someone else?”
There had to be someone else.
Guilt flickered in the handsome doctor’s eyes but extinguished before a lie crested his lips. “No.”
Joey’s body jerked in reaction to the solitary word, and she battled with an instant flare of anger. Yet at his next sentence, the fire fizzled.
“I love you, Jo-Jo. Truth of the matter is I probably always will.”
Hope rose in her chest while her free hand sandwiched his. “And I love you, too. Isn’t that all that matters?”
“Not always,” he said grimly.
Her face scrunched. “You’re not making any sense. You love me, so you’re letting me go?”
“All right,” he huffed, drawing his hand back. “There
Joey’s left eye twitched. Calmly she pressed her fingertips against her temples and stilled the jittery muscle. “What?”
Laurence shifted in his chair and made a cautionary glance around the five-star restaurant. “Look, I know you might be upset, but--”
“Who is she?”
He hesitated and then his shoulders collapsed. “Does it matter?”
Hell yes, it matters.
The twitch returned.
“May I interest you in dessert?” a waft-thin waitress asked.
“Could you please give us a few more minutes?” Joey inquired, keeping her heated gaze leveled on Laurence.
“Certainly.” The waitress moved off.
Joey drew a deep breath and stilled her eye’s muscle spasm. This couldn’t be happening. She couldn’t lose Laurence-the love of her life, the catch of a lifetime.
Her heart fluttered as her gaze slid over him. His handsome face was a sculpture’s dream, his skin tone a harmonious blend of honey and caramel, and his body was cut like the finest granite.
Dr. Laurence Benson lived and breathed perfection because he was the very definition.
And he was dumping her?
“Look, Jo-Jo,” he said softly. “We never agreed to a monogamous relationship.”
Joey’s gaze fell to the long-stemmed roses and huge box of chocolates, but no diamond ring.
Her heart sank.
“You weren’t dating anyone else, were you?” he inquired as a slow realization dawned on his features.
“You know I wasn’t,” she quipped shortly, and then shook off her anger. “Just last week we were talking about houses...and children...about a future together.” Joey eased back in her chair and folded her hands.
“And what did we discover? You aspire to be a screenwriter among the A-listers in Hollywood.”
“And you’re a Beverly Hill’s cosmetic surgeon.”
He studied her with sad eyes. “You want a large family...six children--am I right?”
“You said you liked children.”
“I do. I like
people’s children. I like knowing that after I hold them for about ten seconds they go home.”
Stunned, Joey stared at him. Could she give up her dream of children in order to hold onto him? She grew up in family of five girls and a baby brother and she’d always wanted the same for herself. The problem: she was coasting toward her midthirties and was well behind schedule.