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Authors: Heather Graham

Tender Deception

BOOK: Tender Deception
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Tender Deception
Heather Graham
Open Road (2013)

A one-night stand with a famous actor leaves a young woman with a secret she can never revealIn a small, sunny Florida town, theater is thriving. At twenty-four, Miss Victoria Langley is an illustrious leading lady and the one who acts as den mother to the theater staff. She's also the mother of a charming toddler, who she is determined will never learn the identity of his father—actor Brant Wicker. Life has been good to her and her young son, but everything changes when Victoria learns that Brant is returning to town to star opposite her in Othello. She will stop at nothing to keep Brant in the dark about their son, but what will she do when he steals her heart yet again? This ebook features an illustrated biography of Heather Graham including rare photos from the author's personal collection.

Tender Deception
Heather Graham

For Gwen and Barney

Contents

PROLOGUE

CHAPTER ONE

CHAPTER TWO

CHAPTER THREE

CHAPTER FOUR

CHAPTER FIVE

CHAPTER SIX

CHAPTER SEVEN

CHAPTER EIGHT

CHAPTER NINE

EPILOGUE

A Biography of Heather Graham

PROLOGUE

S
HE WAS YOUNG IN
years and in experience when she stood at his doorstep that night. She was at that age when the tender blossom of youth had flowered delicately into womanhood; her skin was soft and smooth, radiating the purity of alabaster, her body lithesome, tall, perfect, willowy, slim, curvaceous, innocently provocative.

She hadn’t come to seduce; indeed, such an idea would have never entered her head. Yet she had come as a temptress, innately drawing upon her feminine wiles. Dressed in a stunning, sultry silk sheath, her blue-black hair cropped in a sophisticated swing, she appeared far older than her years. She moved with an effortless grace, a grace finely honed to perfection from the training that she had embraced in her search for her dream.

He
was another dream, not a fixed vision, but a vague dream. She didn’t see a pretty white house with a picket fence, nor imagine a rose-tinted wedding when she thought of him.

She had come because she loved him with a naive simplicity. He was upset; he was alone. She wanted to offer him whatever comfort her idolizing presence might bring.

She stood before his door for a long time, an exterior of poise concealing the nervousness that grew steadily within her. He had to be there, she thought with growing agitation. And he wouldn’t reject her because he was kind, even to strangers.

The door swung slowly open, shedding dim light from the tiny apartment. Fear gripped her in her abdomen as she looked at him. Tonight he was different. A potent whiff of bourbon explained why, but she didn’t care. He was hurt; he was like a majestic animal brought down by the single, unexpected bullet of a beguiling but devious hunter. If he chose to drown his sorrows, in the privacy of his own home, she understood.

He wore a terry bathrobe, and she stared at him for some minutes, convulsively swallowing, never having seen him before in such a state of near nakedness. She was acutely aware of and fascinated by the breadth of his golden-haired chest, displayed in muscled splendor by the loose V-neck of his robe. His legs beneath the ragged hem were as solid as shapely granite, thick with the same golden hair.

His eyes were bluer than cobalt, shocking with gem-studded brilliance, their intensity magnified because they were slightly red-rimmed. His face appeared more gaunt than usual, his cheekbones hollow. His thin nose with its exciting edge of arrogance was pinched. The firm line of his rugged jaw was blurred by a stubble of dark gold hair the same gold as those thick waves upon his head—a gold that she thought of as a halo surrounding him. A shining aura of invincibility. He was the epitome of all things good.

His bleary eyes blinked as he stared at her with equal evaluation, a mixture of emotions registering through the numbing fog of his mind.

He was surprised that she was there. He was stunned that he had never realized before how exotically lovely and exciting she was. He was curious, and also touched.

“What are you doing here?” he asked not unkindly, annoyed at the slur in his voice. He had been drinking, but hell, not that much.

“I—” She faltered only a second. “I came to see you. I knew you weren’t going to the cast party. I, uh, I heard a few rumors about what happened and I thought you could use some company.”

A slow, wry grin of rueful self-mockery broke across his face. “I’m not at the cast party to avoid company,” he said bluntly, relenting immediately as he saw the crestfallen look upon her face that all the sophistication of her dress could not hide. “I didn’t want to inflict my mood—or my rotten temper—upon anyone else.” His smile became twinged with a hint of tenderness. He knew she hero-worshipped him, which was soothing to his very bruised ego. And in his indolent way he cared for her. She was like a breath of fresh air. So honest, so innocently sweet…so different.

She smiled tentatively in return. “I don’t believe your temper is all that rotten! I don’t believe anything about you could be rotten!” she declared passionately.

Chuckling at her fervent surge of blind loyalty, he threw open the door. “Come in,” he offered with a half-hearted shrug. Then bowing gallantly he added, “If I am to have company, I can think of none more preferable to yours. Have a drink with me.”

She took a hesitant step into the small studio apartment. “Sorry about the mess,” he murmured behind her back.

The place wasn’t really a mess. Evidence of a customary fastidiousness could be seen in the cleanliness of the sparkling kitchen in the rear; only the bedroom/sitting room combination was in disorder. The Castro convertible was opened, and the sheets were crinkled as if he had just gotten up. A bottle of Wild Turkey sat open on an end table; an ashtray overflowed with cigarette butts. His clothing was strewn over the one fanback wicker chair, over the foot of the bed, and in a heap on the hardwood floor.

“What would you like?”

“Pardon?” She had been about to sit in the chair, but his voice, near to her ear as he silently padded behind her on bare feet, caused her to jump back up.

“A drink,” he explained with patient amusement. “What would you like? I’m afraid the choice isn’t a big one—bourbon, beer, or wine.”

“Oh—ah—wine, please,” she murmured, suddenly chilled by his haphazard swagger and the depth of pain in his eyes that his careless chivalry didn’t quite hide.

“White wine,” he muttered dramatically, repeating the words in a different tone as he walked to the refrigerator. “White wine. Ah, yes, suitable. White wine for the lady, a bourbon for myself.” He laughed dryly. “Correction. Another bourbon for myself.” He made an elegant display of handing her a glass of the clear white wine, then picked up the bourbon bottle, drawing from it in a long swallow that caused him to wince. He wasn’t drunk—not stinking drunk at any rate, but the warm numbing effect of the liquor on his savagely tormented mind was an anesthetic he couldn’t resist.

And suddenly, so was she.

“Why aren’t
you
at the party?” he demanded, seating himself at the foot of the bed and patting the space beside him.

She watched him warily, chewing her lower lip.

“Come over here!” He laughed and growled at the same time. “I’m not the big bad wolf. I don’t bite. I nibble now and then.” He teased her with wriggling brows. “But bite—never! Come on over and tell an older man why you’re not at the party.”

This was why she had come, she reminded herself—to be near him, to talk to him, to shiver at his touch, to take whatever crumbs fell her way…But he wasn’t the man she had adored from afar tonight. The man who could discuss the world with intelligence and wit. The man who never patronized. The man who could combine pride and dignity with compassion and kindness.

No, he was more. He was vulnerable and he was allowing her to see his vulnerability. He became even more endearing by becoming human. But frightening still. Like a great wounded animal, he might strike out…There was a ruthlessness about him tonight, a carelessness.

Rising with a jerky motion, she moved over to him, smiling hesitantly. “I guess I just wasn’t in the ‘party’ mood!” she said lightly, moistening her dry lips with the tip of her tongue. He watched her and she had no idea how fascinating he found the small motion.

“No, huh?”

“No!” Meeting his gaze with a bold surge of passionate emotion rising in her voice, she declared, “I heard, and well, damn! She shouldn’t have gone to the party. You shouldn’t have had to stay away!”

He clinked the bottle to her glass. “Bravo! I’m a lucky man to have such a fervent fan!” His eyes gentled and he mused, “You are sweet. So sweet I wonder if you can be for real?” Chuckling in earnest, he touched the soft silky skin of her cheek. “I didn’t go, beautiful sweet thing, of my own choice. I didn’t want to be responsible for a murder. All females are not sugar and spice, and definitely not all things nice! Some are cunning witches of deceit.”

“Lenore,” she whispered, afraid to say the name, afraid to breathe lest he quit the touch of his callused yet gentle fingers upon her face.

He smiled bitterly, but continued his caress, his eyes on his thumb as its roughness grazed across her lips. He appeared to be deep in thought, but irresistibly intrigued by the movement.

“Yes, Lenore. You have heard the story. I was offered the big break. A call from Hollywood, a legit call. And lucky, lucky me. Lenore gets the call. And as fate would have it, dear, dear Lenore ‘forgot’ to give me the message. And now it’s too late.”

“Call them back!” she cried out, outraged.

“I did call back. But I was a very small fish being given a chance. I didn’t move fast enough, and they hired another guy.” He flung himself back on the bed, closing his eyes. “And what does the lovely Lenore have to say being caught in the act?” He shook his head vigorously in bewilderment with his eyes still closed. “She couldn’t bear to see me go! Nice, huh? Especially if you know Lenore. She’d sell her own mother for a Broadway audition! Dear, lovely Lenore! What she couldn’t bear was the thought of my having received an offer and not her!” Jerking back to a sitting position, he drained the remaining amber liquid in the bottle and hurtled it viciously across the room where it crashed with a deafening shatter against the white enamel refrigerator.

The girl gasped out a startled scream, shivering at the grim expression that held his jaw in a rigid line as well as from the shocking sound of the explosion. He looked at her as if suddenly remembering that she was there, a grimacing remorse unlocking his frozen face. “Sorry,” he murmured with a sincere regret that was as quick as his flare of temper. He felt as if he had shot a cannon over the head of a peacefully grazing doe. Smiling to ease the horror in her eyes, he laughed lightly and joked. “Anyway, you can see for yourself why I’m not at the party. I really hate acting like a bastard, I just guess that now and then none of us can help it. I prefer to be a bastard alone. Give myself a little time to get in control.”

“Should I leave?” she queried softly.

“No.” He really didn’t want her to leave. She was having a soothing effect on him, drugging his pain with far more potency than the liquor. “No, don’t leave.”

“I’m sorry about Hollywood,” she said compassionately.

“It’s okay, kid, forget it.” He smiled again with a more natural cheerfulness. “I will. By tomorrow I’ll have forgotten all about it. I’ll be able to chalk it all up to fate and keep on plugging.” He looked at her deeply, his cobalt gaze growing more intent. “How old are you anyway?”

“Twenty-four,” she lied mechanically, giving herself a few years because she knew he would consider her too young for him. “I’m going to head back to Florida State in the fall for my masters.”

“I guess you’re not such a kid,” he whispered as his gaze slipped from her expertly made-up face to the pleasing curves beneath the silky sheath. He stood abruptly. “I owe you something for facing the bear. How about a Chinese dinner? Hoy Toy’s delivers. I’d take you somewhere nice, but”—he gave her a devilish grin—“I’m really not up to getting dressed again.”

BOOK: Tender Deception
2.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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