There is always a point in the writing process where there’s a tug-of-war going on between my excitement to share my new project with readers and the desire to stay tucked away with my characters in the writer’s cave. Today the excitement to share is winning.
Below is the cover, blurb and FIRST THREE CHAPTERS of my next book, HELLO DARLING. It’s a pretty long sneak peek! The pre-order is set to go live in Kindle Unlimited on November 15th.
Millions of women all over the world would drop their knickers for British movie star Evan Hunter. Now he’s falling for the one American woman who won’t…Yet.
Everyone on Main Street has been talking about Evan Hunter, the British movie star who’ll be filming on location in our small Pacific Northwest town for a couple of months, and all I have to say about that is: “Who?”
When he shows up two weeks early to escape the London paparazzi after breaking up with some starlet, all I want to know is: “So?”
When he walks into the gym that I manage for my dad and brothers, to start training for the action scenes in his movie, I’ll admit I do say to myself: “Hmmm…”
But he’s not my type. I’ll take a fireman or a lumberjack over a pretty actor any day—I don’t care how blue his eyes are, how chiseled his features or how crackling our chemistry has been from the first “hello.”
Okay, so it turns out Mr. Charming and Sophisticated isn’t quite the polite English gentleman when we’re alone together in private. He may, in fact, be a filthy-mouthed sex god. He may, impossibly, have his sights set on me.
Obviously, there’s only one way for me to prove to him that I’m immune to this British actor nonsense. I’m going to prove it to him so hard.
But I have rules for flings with out-of-towners and I will continue to enforce them, even with ridiculously beautiful international film stars. Even though he gets along so well with my family. Even though we somehow seem to understand each other in ways that no one else ever could. Even if he makes me wonder what it’s like out there in the world outside of this coastal paradise I’ve always called home.
I’m staying right where I am, no matter where he claims to want to take me with him when he leaves.
Every time he says “Hello Darling,” all I hear is: “goodbye heart.”
HELLO DARLING is a standalone funny-sexy-sweet small town romantic comedy with a British actor hero and a sassy American heroine. No cliffhanger, no cheating, yes HEA!
**Update**If you are on Book + Main Bites Romance, I have just posted an exclusive sneak peek on there: https://bookandmainbites.com/kayleyloring
***IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE SNEAK PEEK OF HELLO DARLING, READ ON!***
Chapter One – Evan
Oh Christ, the paparazzi.
I was in such a hurry to get out of London, it didn’t leave enough time for my assistant to book the Heathrow VIP service, and apparently my dark sunglasses and baseball cap aren’t cutting it as a disguise today. I should have just worn a bloody mask since it’s the day after Halloween.
“Evan! Morning, mate! Where you off to today?”
Just smile and keep walking, smile and keep walking. At least there’s only two here today. This one’s the nice photographer. Stay calm. Don’t look miserable. Because you’re not.
“Taking a trip by yourself, then?” says the wanker photog who always tries to rile celebrities up. “You still in touch with Georgia, now that Evangia is no more? How you feel about Braden—you a fan?”
God, I want to punch this one in the face. My publicist would love it if I did. Anything to tarnish my squeaky-clean polite English gentleman image. She’s literally begged me to go on an angry drunken rampage and snog Kylie Jenner in front of as many cameras as possible.
“International flight, then? You off for work? Where you off to, then?”
“Flying off to Hawaii to try to win Georgia back? Heard she’s there with Braden. How’s it feel to be dumped for a bloke who’s nine years younger than you, eh?”
What a delightful question—so glad he asked! Maybe I should buy him a coffee and we can have a good long chat. And then I can punch him in the face.
Truth is, it doesn’t feel good, but not for the reason people think. Thirty-one is starting to feel a bit old to be a bachelor. I honestly don’t know how Hugh Grant managed it well into his fifties.
You know perfectly well how I managed it, you fool, says the voice of Hugh Grant in my head. By not being a giant pussy. If you ever write your autobiography it would be called The Subtle Art of Giving Too Many Fucks.
You’re right, Hugh. This time, you’re right.
Smile and keep walking, smile and walk, almost there.
“Evan! Evan Hunter! Can I have your autograph, please?!”
Shit. A fan. A young one. I can’t ignore her. I’ll just stop to sign autographs for this sweet girl and the…crowd of twenty people who are following her…fuck me…but at least they’ll be between me and the paparazzi and then I’ll be at security in no time.
I do wish I weren’t so well known for being a relentlessly happy and friendly fellow. It must be so liberating to be regarded far and wide as a moody bastard who gives fuck-all about what other people think. What I wouldn’t give to be early-career Colin Farrell, just for three days. I’d even take 1995 Hugh Grant.
Nobody’s stopping you from going cruising for a sex worker, you airy-fairy prat. I dare you to get arrested for lewd conduct—anything.
Shut up, Hugh. Nobody even remembers that little PR glitch, you lucky bastard. That all went down before everyone had camera phones and Twitter and YouTube accounts. Everything’s so heavily documented now. Not that that’s why I’m always on my best behavior. I’m going to spend so much time here signing autographs and posing for selfies with fans that the paparazzi get bored and piss off to look for someone more famous to blind with their camera flashes, and because my fans are lovely and they mean the world to me.
And also because I give too many fucks.
I’ll arrive Seattle in about ten hours, and it will be late in the morning of the same day. Couple of hours later I’ll be in Port Gladstone. It will be fantastic to start this day over again on the other side of the world, alone, where no one gives a toss how I feel about the demise of Evangia. I can start this new month in a new town, where people won’t care that I’m a movie star, and I won’t have to act like one. I’ll have two weeks there before I officially begin work on the movie, so I’ll have time to be me again, away from all the rubbish that comes with being Evan bloody Hunter.
There are many different reasons for taking a role in a film, limited TV series or stage play. Occasionally it’s because you really want the part. Sometimes it’s purely financial. Sometimes there is so much pressure from your agents to be part of a package with other talents that it’s difficult to refuse, and sometimes it’s just a matter of timing. I took the part in this next film because of timing and location. I wanted to get as far away from London, New York and L.A. as possible, as soon as possible. The small town aspect of Port Gladstone, Washington seems perfect. No paparazzi to deal with, and it reminded me a bit of the coast of Cornwall when I looked it up online. The script is more than fine, I like that when my character comes to this town, he takes on a new identity and finds it very freeing, in the way that you can when you’re in a new place, with new people. And the fact that I’ll have to get back in shape for the part seems an ideal way to keep busy before production begins—not to mention it’s a good way to keep my randy arse busy while I get my head sorted out.
The other great thing about this project is that it’s unlikely I’ll get involved with the female lead for a change, because the love interest role is quite small, so whoever the actress is, she won’t be around for very long. She hasn’t been cast yet, but I’ll only sign off on her if I’m definitely not attracted her. Problem solved.
Now that I’m in the lounge, I can decompress and put all of that behind me. Wendy has sent me links to a few gyms in Port Gladstone, so I can start getting back in shape soon as I get there. The first gym is open twenty-four hours, but it’s one of those big chains with bright lights and loud music and too many machines packed in too close together. The second one just looks a bit too hippie-dippy for my tastes. Complimentary kombucha drinks and too much use of the words “energy” and “healing” on their website. The third gym looks promising.
Starkey Fitness. Not too large, not too small. Family-run.
On the “About Us” page there’s a picture of one Stella Starkey, the gym’s manager and yoga instructor and she has—quite simply—one of the best faces I’ve ever seen. Fair skin, no sign of make-up, framed by dark hair, her full lips curled into a tiny smirk and a twinkle in her intelligent tea brown eyes that lets everyone know she can’t quite take everything they’re saying too seriously. Of all the stunning celebrated faces I’ve had the pleasure of gazing at in my life—how is it possible that this one is so enchanting to me?
Probably just the rebound-effect I’ve been so thoroughly warned about lately.
Ever since word got out that last year’s Golden Globe winner for supporting actress Georgia March had “dumped her former co-star for someone her own age,” concerned friends have been advising me that I will most likely have some sort of uncharacteristic emotional reaction in the wake of this, my first experience of being broken-up with at the ripe old age of thirty-one. My agent has sent me a list of female clients he’d “like to discuss” with me before I find myself in another relationship, but the last thing I need is another relationship with another actress. Meanwhile, I’ve promised myself a monk-like existence for a while.
I need to take this opportunity to slow down and start to think about getting involved with the kind of woman I could actually get serious about for a change. It’s time to look into buying that little house in Cornwall with a view and finding someone special to hide away with there when I’m not on set. I might be coming down with a case of whatever you call the opposite of wanderlust. Homehunger. I’m sure there’s an untranslatable German term for it.
It’s called being a giant pussy.
Sod off, Hugh.
Wish I could. You’re the knob who’s always wondering what I’d think about things.
It’s just a picture.
A picture that I can’t stop staring at.
I can’t frequent that gym knowing there’s a woman I’m this attracted to there—the whole point of taking this film was to throw myself into work…Oh who the fuck am I kidding? Of course I’m going to choose that gym. Throwing myself into work has never stopped me from throwing myself into a pretty fanny at the end of a long day. I mean—it’s a Hollywood thriller, not Shakespeare. I had all of my lines memorized after the second time I’d read the script.
Of course—she could be married. If not, she probably has a boyfriend. Even if she’s single, she might not be into guys like me.
She might be the only woman I’ve ever met who isn’t into handsome charming wealthy world famous British movie stars.
What do you think, Hugh?
Please refer to 1999 hit Notting Hill for completely realistic, not at all cheesy depiction of how easy it is for an impossibly likable mere mortal with floppy hair to date a glamorous movie star, and then please remind yourself that you are by no means a celebrity of Julia Roberts’ stature.
So chances are good that she just won’t be that into you.
But definitely try to shag that gym girl once or twice because she’s totally hot.
Chapter Two – Stella
I’m trying to remember the last time I didn’t have a hangover the day after Halloween. When I was fifteen? Unless you count candy hangovers, then I guess it was when I was four. When was the last time I had a Halloween hangover that wasn’t mixed with a hint of bewilderment, shame and regret?…I know the answer to that, and I don’t want to think about it. No need to feel hungover, bewildered, shameful, regretful and sad. It’s so unlike me to behave the way I do on Halloween.
I’m just never myself on October 31st. I suppose that’s the point of the holiday nowadays. I suppose that’s the thing about living in a small town your entire life—Halloween is the only time people are open to seeing you in a different way. Or maybe it’s the only time I feel comfortable being somebody other than who my family and community expects me to be. I guess that’s why so many people leave this beautiful place. But I won’t.
It’s the first day of November, and despite my own personal history, I still love this season here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s all flannel and boots and pumpkin spice and the smell of burning cedar and pine logs escaping the chimneys. Some people feel weighed-down by the overcast skies but I prefer to think of the clouds as hugging the earth. And the beaches? Quiet and soul-crushingly beautiful. I can walk a mile along the shore and not cross paths with another human.
It’s just me and the seagulls, the Lord Huron playlist that’s infusing my brain through my earbuds, and the cool breeze caressing the beard burn on my chin courtesy of Jason “The Kwas” Kwasnicki and three too many pints of Guinness at last night’s festivities. The one downside to this season is that there are fewer tourists to have dalliances with, so back to the local dating pool we go, and it’s sink or swim until Memorial Day. Good thing I don’t care about dating. It’s not usually an issue, since most of the local guys don’t want to mess with me. Having a dad and three brothers who can kick most dude’s asses without even trying will do that to your social life. I’m fine with it.
I had to get away from Main Street on my lunch break. The talk of the town usually shifts seamlessly from Halloween costumes to Thanksgiving plans and recipes, but this year I’ve been hearing less about pumpkin pie and more about crumpets (what the fuck are crumpets?). There’s going to be a major motion picture shooting on location here in a couple of weeks, and the star is from England. All the business owners of Port Gladstone have been Googling him to find out what he’s into, to try to lure him to their premises so they can take pictures. Mrs. Flauvich ordered a month’s worth of Yorkshire Gold tea, crumpets and marmalade for her deli. The window display of Clemmons Sporting Goods is now dressed to feature cricket and rugby. The Chef’s Special of the month at the Golden Panda just changed from Egg Boo Young to Posh Spiced Rice with Diced Bangers, and the Wangs also printed up new To Go menus. They are now called “Takeaway Dish Menus.” Fortunately, our finest tavern has always been well stocked with Guinness and Newcastle Brown Ale (unless we Starkeys have cleaned them out).
Who is this Evan Hunter guy, and why am I supposed to care? All I know is, he’s not Loki and he’s never been on “Game of Thrones.” Supposedly he’ll be in an upcoming JK Rowling series, so—three points for Gryffindor. But I’m not going to be waving the Union Jack until we know if it will be of Harry Potter or “Casual Vacancy” caliber. I haven’t Googled him, even though I keep hearing: “Oh he was so handsome in that one about the soldier who has amnesia.” Barf. “I keep reading that he’s going to be the next James Bond.” Oh really? If Sean Connery is still alive, then he should still be James Bond. End of discussion. “Forget about the movies—have you seen those shirtless pictures of him in Barbados?” Um. Have you seen those shirtless pictures of Jason Momoa in absolutely anywhere? Why do you ever need to look at anything else?
The guy isn’t even in town yet, and I’m already sick of him—although perhaps there will be someone else on the visiting film crew that I can have a fling with. A gaffer or a key grip (whatever they are). I may love this town with its Victorian era houses and buildings, but fancy Englishmen have always made my eyes roll. So here I am, sitting on a log while eating a sandwich and staring out at the ocean, instead of shoveling a Cobb salad into my face at the deli while staring at a book like I usually do.
Also, I’m trying to avoid The Kwas.
I can still feel his tongue tickling my tonsils, and he sent me a text this morning that said: Yeah!
That’s it. That’s all it said. I don’t even know how to respond to that, so I won’t.
Twenty-six feels way too old to be drunk-kissing guys that I went to high school with at parties. Even on Halloween. Not wearing my sexy sailor costume again next year might help with that. Or not going to a Halloween party at all would probably be even more helpful. Why do I do this to myself? Why can’t I just be sad and stay home with my cat or hang out with my family like on every other holiday?
I pull my phone out from my pocket when I feel it vibrate. What a delight! It’s another text from Jason Kwasnicki.
It just says: Hey hey!
He is nothing if not succinct. I will have to pass on responding to this one as well.
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of a man in black who’s jogging along the path, heading back towards Main Street, his back to me. His tall frame is distinctly unfamiliar. He’s wearing a baseball cap and running pants. He is fast. Good stride. Great form. Fairly lean but broad-shouldered. Fantastic male butt specimen. Not my type. Just as well.
I’ve consumed my sandwich down to the last bit of crusts, which I’ve saved for the birds. You’re not supposed to feed seagulls bread, but the gulls have been hovering, and this bread has sprouted grains and seeds so at least I’m not giving them processed food. I have such fond memories of doing this with my mom when I was a little girl, so I always do it when there’s no one else around. I toss bits of crust into the air for the fastest and the bravest of the flock, making sure to chuck a big piece directly at the nervous wonky-looking bird that’s been waiting in the wings. Hang in there, little guy.
I take my time strolling back to work on the sand, because it’s wonderful out and I’ll be inside for the next six hours and I love this Lord Huron song that just started. I close my eyes for a moment, savoring the melody. When I open them again, I see the man in black, jogging in my direction. He’s on the path, which is about thirty feet from where I’m walking, his pace slower than when I first saw him. I run my fingers through my wind-blown hair and get my smile ready.
He’s wearing dark Ray-Ban wayfarers despite the mostly cloudy skies. Even from this distance I can tell he has the kind of jawline we don’t see much of in these parts, because—beer and beards. He is staring intensely at the ground ahead of himself. Again, it’s the kind of intensity one doesn’t see very often around here, where people come to enjoy the laid-back artsy/seaport lifestyle. It’s a kind of intensity that I can only describe as: HOT. I can’t see his eyes behind the shades, but judging by the way his shoulders and jaw are set, if he were looking at me the way he’s looking at the pavement, I’d have to call it “panty-liquefying intensity.” But he’s not looking at me like he’s looking at the pavement. He doesn’t look at me at all as he jogs past. Another thing I don’t see much of around here is a human being who doesn’t even glance my way—at the very least, we politely nod at each other, to acknowledge one another’s existence.
He must be from New York. Whatever. I’ve got other stuff to look at too, like the time. I should have been back at the gym five minutes ago. My younger brother hates being on phone-duty because talking to faceless strangers who have questions is more painful to him than doing fifty weighted deadlifts and squats.
Starkey Fitness is not the largest gym in Port Gladstone, and it’s not the one that’s open 24 hours a day, but it is the one with the best membership renewal rate, the most consistent membership growth, and it’s the only family-owned business in town where every member of the family can run a six-minute mile and hold a plank pose for a minimum of two minutes at a time. I’ve been managing the business full-time for five years. I started helping my dad out with administration and expansion right out of high school. It wasn’t the plan, but it became what I wanted. Living in this town, working with my guys and keeping them in line is a good life.
As soon as I step through the front door, Billy jumps up from the stool behind the front desk. I can tell by the way his wavy brown hair is standing up and out in front that he was pulling at it while he was on the phone with someone. His dark eyebrows are knitted as he stares at me, and I expect a reprimand or a “where’s my sandwich?” but instead, he says: “Is it true you made out with The Kwas last night?”
I wince. “We didn’t make out. He kissed me and I paused before pulling away. Who told you?”
“Who didn’t tell me? As soon as you left for lunch people kept coming in here to dish.”
“You want me to give him a message from the Starkey Brothers?”
“I think I can handle it.” I pull a wrapped sandwich out from my jacket pocket and hand it to him.
“Take your time eating it.”
“Don’t tell me how to eat a sandwich.”
I muss up his already mussed-up hair. “I can’t believe you never showed up last night.”
“I got to see two women make out at Andy’s. Five feet away from me. In person. I was in the right place at the right time, believe me.”
“I’m so happy for you. Go talk to Mr. Hannam, he’s looking at you like he wants to ask a question.”
“Lookin’ good, Mr. Hannam! What’s up?” Billy struts over to the cable crossover machine, where our newest sixty-seven year-old member is looking a little confused about how to work the thing. Billy is the only person I know who can get a person stoked about using what looks like an old school torture device. What Mr. Hannam doesn’t know is, he’s saving me from the real old school torture device: being grilled by my brother about kissing boys.
I immediately get back to work, responding to emails, wiping down surfaces, working on our annual holiday season “Get Fit-Stay Fit” challenge. We have a letter board set up on the front desk, with a phrase that changes daily, but I was barely conscious this morning when I assembled the letters to form: “Have a nice day. Get me a coffee.” Not one person got me a coffee. I switch it to: “Dear body: maybe don’t eat ALL the candy at once. Love, your pants”.” Cute and clever, but some of our regulars will note that last Thanksgiving it said the same thing but “pumpkin pie” instead of “candy.” Who am I kidding? Only about five people actually care what’s on the letter board. I’m one of them and I’m related to the other four. I take a picture of it and post it on the gym’s Instagram page anyway.
I text my dad to ask if he came down with a cold. I could hear it in his voice yesterday, and I don’t want him going for his usual morning hikes this time of year unless he’s in top form. He immediately texts back: NO. STRONG LIKE BULL.
I know this means he’s getting sick, and I know that I will be bringing him soup later, but I don’t push it because we are both stubborn like bulls and it’s no fun getting into a text argument with him because he just ignores my texts.
The business line rings. “Good afternoon, Starkey Fitness.”
“Yes, hello,” says a pert young female with an English accent. “I’m calling to ask if it’s possible to pay cash in advance for your three month membership?”
“Oh. Sure, I don’t see why not. Payment in full, in cash, would be fine.”
“Wonderful, thank you so much, and one more quick question.”
“Do you photocopy your new members’ identification cards when they sign up? For your records?”
“No. That isn’t usually necessary.”
“Fantastic, thank you!”
She hangs up. It’s not the weirdest question I’ve ever gotten about memberships. Someone once called to ask if he could pay for his annual membership with a year’s worth of fresh caught salmon. My dad said ‘yes.’ We served it at our annual member appreciation dinner. When Mrs. Flauvich said the only way she’d join the gym was if she could eat on the treadmill, we said ‘no’ but that she could pay for her membership with hugs. Her blood pressure has been lowered thanks to the exercise, and ours has been lowered thanks to her bountiful warm hugs. Win-win. That’s how we do business, and we still manage to make a tidy profit.
I don’t even check the Caller ID when I answer the next call.
“Hey hey,” says the voice on the line.
“So you made it to work?”
“Why are you calling me on the gym phone?”
“I’m a member.”
“Are you calling regarding your membership?”
“No, I’m calling regarding getting a drink with you later.”
“I won’t be drinking again for quite a while.”
My back is to the front door but I hear the bells jingle as someone enters or exits.
“I won’t be getting food with you. I don’t go out with our clients. Company policy.”
“I thought we had fun last night.”
“Well, I had fun, and you had fun, we both had fun under the same roof, and for a brief period of time our faces were connected, but you are under no obligation to get either food or drink with me, nor am I under any obligation to do so with you.”
“Why do you sound like a lawyer all of a sudden?”
“I’ve found it saves time. I’m sure there are plenty of girls who would love to have a drink with you, Kwas, I’m just not one of them. Have a good day, thanks for calling!” I hang up the phone, sigh, and turn to face the entrance.
I am startled to find a tall man standing in front of me on the other side of the desk, grinning, as he hangs his Ray-Bans from the V-neck of his grey T-shirt. His black hoodie jacket looks more expensive than my entire wardrobe. His blue eyes are so sparkly, even in the diffused natural light of our reception area, I think I might need to put on sunglasses to look at him. He’s smirking as he watches me, waiting for me to collect myself, so I know he heard the end of that conversation, and I know that he’s not only prettier but more polite than everyone who has ever walked through that door before him. Too bad I’m not into polite pretty men. But hey there, pecs that are barely hiding beneath that hoodie and T-shirt—you have clearly spent a lot of time inside of gyms. What brings you here to ours?
I have to clear my throat in order to speak. My mouth is suddenly dry for some reason. I straighten myself up and lick my lips. “Hi.”
His eyes briefly drop from mine to my lips, and back to my eyes again. That tiny subtle movement of his shiny eyeballs somehow sends a shiver through me and I feel surprisingly sexy and caffeinated all of a sudden. He hasn’t even spoken a word to me yet, but I already feel like he’s told me I’m beautiful and presented me with an elegant box of tastefully provocative lingerie. It seems like an eternity passes before he finally opens his mouth, and when he does, all he says is “hello,” and I swear it’s as if no one has ever meant it quite so much as he does right now.
Chapter Three – Stella
“That’s an excellent jack o’ lantern.” The tall blonde man nods towards the small jack o’ lantern that sits in front of the letter board on my desk. I carved our business logo into it—made a stencil first, but still. It is excellent and not enough people have appreciated that.
“Thank you.” Nice jawline—it’s so sharp you could carve a pumpkin with it.
“Did you carve it?”
“Yes. I did.” Is that an English accent I’m detecting?
“Once, when I was young, I spent Halloween in Cornwall with my grandparents. It’s traditional to use turnips for jack o’ lanterns there, instead of pumpkins. When they’re lit they smell just unbearably awful. From then on I stuck to Easter visits.” He shakes his head, like he’s not sure why he just told me that. “True story,” he says, smiling sheepishly.
Yup. English accent. Despite what he’s saying, when he speaks it’s like his voice is bringing me a cup of tea and drawing me a bath while composing a sonnet. Or is it calmly disrobing me while feeding me a butterscotch sundae and letting it melt onto my naked body? Something about that accent makes me stand a little straighter, raise my chin a little higher. And yet, something about it makes me want to chomp on chewing gum, blast Metallica from the speakers and make fun of him.
“Sorry—are you talking to me about turnips right now?”
“Well, I was, but I think I’m done. I’m Evan, how do you do.” He holds out his large, manicured hand.
“Hi. Stella Starkey.”
“Of Starkey’s Fitness.” Polite, firm handshake, and yet he holds on just a second too long, holds my gaze three seconds longer than my stomach butterflies can stay still.
I didn’t even realize those butterflies were still alive in there. “One of them. I mean—I’m one of the Starkeys. I’m the manager. Welcome.” My stomach butterflies and my brain don’t seem to share the same taste in men anymore.
“Thank you. Well, I’ve just arrived in town today, I’ll be here for a while for work. I think my associate called earlier to make sure you’ll take cash in advance for the three-month membership?”
“Yes. She did. We do.”
My brain is whirring. This is the jogger from the beach. Evan is the jogger from the beach. Evan is Evan Hunter. Evan Hunter is the British movie star. Up close, it appears Evan Hunter the British movie star has a bit of a supernatural glow to him. Not like a Twilight vampire, but that healthy glow that beautiful rich people have in pictures and on film and you assume it’s a filter.
I try to concentrate on what this strange vaguely glowing person is saying by focusing on his mouth, because it’s moving.
What follows is a flood of thoughts and feelings that are so new to me I immediately feel the need to catalog them so I can impose some semblance of control. The first thing I think is: That there is the most beautiful man I have ever seen. The second thing I think is: I don’t like beautiful men. The third thing I think is: Don’t I though? Fourth thing: Nope. Definitely not. Fifth thing: Wait, I have seen this guy in a movie. He was in the Romeo & Juliet video that Mrs. Greer showed us in English Lit. I was sulking the whole time because I had just had a fight with my boyfriend and thought the play was ridiculous. Sixth: That is a damn pretty mouth. He must exfoliate and moisturize those lips regularly. Thing number seven: Shit, I’ve seen him in something else too. He was in the action thriller that was a modern adaptation of Hamlet. I walked out halfway through. He was good in it, but it was a weird combination of pretentious film school baloney and big budget movie crap. I hated it. And I wasn’t even in a bad mood that time.
I start shaking my head. “I’m sorry, I’m just going to be honest and stop you right there and tell you that I haven’t been listening to a word you’ve said.”
He stops mid-sentence, sucks in his breath and smiles. I’m sure it’s quite common for people’s heads to explode when they first start interacting with him. He smiles with his pretty mouth and his beautiful eyes. He has a kind smile and it still makes me want to mock him.
“I was babbling for the most part anyway. Is there some sort of form I should fill out, and is it alright if I use an alias? For confidentiality and all that.” He shrugs modestly and searches my eyes to see if I actually realize who he is. There’s no arrogance there. At all.
“Um. Yes. That should be fine. Rest assured, we will keep your membership here confidential, to the degree that we can. I mean. People will see you coming in and out of here. Some of them will recognize you and some of them won’t. Some will care and some won’t. We have no control over that.”
He laughs. “Understood.”
“Promise you won’t sue us if people find out you’re working out here, or God forbid if you sustain an injury on the premises.”
He grins. “I promise.”
I load up the three-month membership form on the iPad and hand it over to him, glad that I don’t have to use a pen to write anything, because for some stupid reason my hand appears to be trembling.
“Make yourself comfortable.” I wave towards the seating area to the side of the entrance. “Or—are you sure you don’t want a tour of the gym first? You can have a complimentary first day—”
“Not necessary. I’ve checked things out and everything here seems ideal.” He says this while looking directly into my eyes, instead of surveying the gym facilities.
My mouth goes dry again, so I nod and pretend to do some important typing on my laptop while he saunters over to the sofa and pats his jacket pockets, doesn’t find what he’s looking for, then uses his fingers to expand the form on the screen. He probably needs reading glasses and forgot them. I like the idea of him in glasses, but I refuse to Google “Evan Hunter glasses” because I’ve Googled “Jason Momoa glasses” and I am all good, thanks.
When he returns to my desk, he places the iPad in front of me and waits for me to look over the filled-out form. I keep hearing his phone vibrate but he hasn’t checked it the entire time he’s been here, which is yet another unusual thing for a human. He pulls out a wallet while he watches me read. “I put the number for the hotel where I’m staying and the name that I’m registered under. I’ll be moving to a house soon, but—”
“Richard Diver…Wait…Dick Diver? Interesting choice of alias. You a fan of early Twentieth Century American Literature?”
“Yes. Are you?”
“Why do you look so surprised?”
“I…I didn’t mean to…”
“What, you think I’m all brawn and no brain?”
“I certainly didn’t—”
“You think I just watch reality shows while I run on the treadmill?”
“Not at all.”
“Yeah, well I do. I read Tender is the Night back in high school. I re-read parts of it every now and then. For years I fantasized about going to a glamorous resort in the French Riviera because of that book. I read all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work after devouring The Great Gatsby for English. So why do you identify with that character? Are you married to a wealthy woman with mental health issues?”
“Not married, no.”
“Dating a wealthy woman with mental health issues?”
“Beginning a descent into alcoholism?”
“Well, I have felt the need of a stiff drink ever since you and I began talking, to be honest.”
“Ohhhh, I know. It’s the pretty young starlet thing.”
“Sorry, the what?”
“I bet you can relate to Dick Diver because of the pretty young starlet who adores him.”
He clears his throat and looks down at the large bills he’s pulling out of his wallet.
I do realize there’s a fine line between sassy and assy and that I have just charged across it.
“And did you ever make it to a glamorous resort in the French Riviera?” he asks, without making eye contact.
“What?…Oh. No. I did not. I resorted to a life of glamour in the Pacific Northwest instead. As you can see.”
“I can see.” The eye contact is back, the smirk is gone, but in its place is a serious contemplation of me that makes me even more uncomfortable. Finally, he takes a deep breath and says: “Well, I should do some strength training. I’m trying to get a good workout in before I crash. Jet lag, you know.”
“Right. The worst.” I don’t want to tell him how little I’ve experienced jet lag in my life, but I have a feeling he can tell. “My brother can give you a quick tour of the facilities.” I try to get Billy’s attention by waving. He’s facing the back mirror but he’s looking at his phone. “Let me just—wait here. I’ll get him. Oh, and we have Wi-Fi. If you want to check your emails. The guest password is ‘glutes123.’”
“Is it really?”
“It is this week. Be right back.”
“I’m in no rush.”
As I step out from behind the front desk, I try to walk like someone who isn’t at all self-conscious about the fact that a movie star is checking out her backside, and I really think I’m nailing it until Billy looks over at me and says: “What is wrong with you?”
“You’re walking like you have hemorrhoids.”
I lower my voice. “Shhh! Shut up. You need to give a new VIP client a quick tour. Be cool. That actor who’s going to be starring in the movie they’re shooting here just signed up for a three month membership.”
“No way!” He looks over my shoulder towards the reception area then slaps my arm with the back of his hand. “Holy shit I totally recognize him. What’s his name again—Sherlock Austen?”
“Sir Monty Churchill the Third.”
“Is it really?”
“No! It’s Evan Hunter but his alias is Richard Diver. We need to be discreet—don’t yell out his name and don’t tell everyone he’s here.”
“Sis.” He wipes his hands on the front of his T-shirt. “I got this. Watch and learn.”
He nudges me out of the way and marches over to Evan Hunter with his hand outstretched and I’m already embarrassed. The few other members who are working out on the machines don’t even seem to have noticed him. “I’m Billy Starkey, hi, it is such an honor to meet you. I’m a huge fan of your work.”
“Hi, thank you so much.”
Firm handshake. Billy pats him on the back. Evan seems amused.
“It’s so cool that you’re here—the whole town’s been talking about the movie and you—this is the most exciting thing to happen since the Bigfoot sighting.”
“The big foot?”
“Just a little local humor. Bigfoot actually sticks to the mountains. Hey, my boy Chet’s an actor too! Maybe you can give him some tips sometime.”
I just want to put a bag over my brother’s head, but the polite Englishman is nodding and smiling and going along with this.
“Oh, your son’s an actor?”
“Yeah, no, Chet’s my dog. He’s been in a local commercial for a hardware store and a regional commercial for a pet supply store that shot over in Seattle. He’s like the Tom Hanks of Labradoodles around here. He’s so fucking cute and loveable—here’s a picture.” Billy whips out his phone and opens up his photo library. He literally has hundreds of pics of Chet, as well as an Instagram account, of course. “Sorry, you probably don’t like swears.”
He feigns a bit of a drawl. “Fuck yeah I do. Let’s see that cute little fucker.”
“Hah! This guy’s cool. You’re cool, I like you.” I cover my face with my hands while my brother holds his phone up to this poor guy. Some pet parents are so annoying. I never show strangers pictures of my cat Muffin Top. Unless they ask.
“Oh, he’s beautiful.”
“Here, this is a better one.”
“So adorable. I can see why he’s a star.”
I peek through my fingers and catch Evan Hunter smiling and winking at me while Billy swipes through his library to find the picture of Chet with a little cowboy hat on.
“Billy, I think Mr. Diver probably needs to get to his workout.”
“Actually—is there a men’s room I can visit first?”
“Yes! The loo—right? In the men’s change room back there, or if you want to use the employee restroom…”
I furrow my brow at Billy. I don’t want this fellow sharing a bathroom with me. I don’t know why, but I feel very strongly about this.
“Change room will be fine, thanks.” Evan Hunter heads off towards the change rooms and I definitely don’t stare at his butt as he goes, because that would be lame and also he’s not my type.
“That’s a nice guy right there. I like him, he’s a real guy. Celebrities,” Billy says, thoughtfully. “They really are just like us.”
I shrug and lower my voice. “Are they, though? I bet when he farts it smells like roses, and tiny angels blow trumpets out of his arse.” Oh my God, I’m ten. I’m a ten year-old tomboy again and I just want to beat that guy in dodgeball. I want to hurl rubber balls and words at him to eliminate him but also kiss him on the mouth maybe a little first.
My brother looks up from his phone and observes me in a way that he’s only done a few times in my life. I immediately feel uncomfortable and defensive. “What?”
He smirks. “Nothin’. He’s good-looking, huh?”
“If you like that sort of thing.”
“Good thing you don’t.”
“Good thing I don’t. The whole package, with the blue eyes and pretty lips and the accent and being nice. It’s too much. He’s like those enormous chocolate chunk cookies they sell at the Costco bakery that are the size of your head. With the pecans? Remember I got a box of them once for all of us? We were so excited because they look amazing but they were so thick and chewy we could only stomach like half of one and anyway it made me feel sick and I never bought them again. Too much.”
“That is not a good analogy.”
“Yes it is. Your judgment is impaired by your man crush.”
“Maybe so. I can’t believe that girl dumped him.”
“Some young actress, starlet, whatever you wanna call her. I forget her name—Mrs. Flauvich was talking about it. Dumped him for one of those boyband guys. According to the internet, he’s heartbroken. That’s probably why he’s here early, I bet. To get away from the paparazzi. What, you didn’t hear about that? Everyone’s talking about it.”
My eyes sting. “I am such an asshole.”
“You just realizing this?”
“Shut up. Here.” I grab a bottle of water from the mini fridge under the reception desk. “Give him this.”
Billy holds the bottle up with one hand, and with the other he gestures towards me like a game show hostess. “Ladies and gentlemen. She’s not an asshole anymore.”
Evan Hunter must think I’m such a jerk! The whole starlet thing. I can’t even believe I was so sassy with a new client. He was friendly and kind to me from the get-go and I was a non-stop cheeky turd beast.
Honestly, this is not like me. I blame the Halloween hangover. Next time he speaks to me, I’ll be super nice to him. Probably. I hope.
***END OF SNEAK PEEK. Text is subject to minor changes upon publication. Available HERE