When Abby finds out from Garrett how narrowly Keatyn escaped Vincent in Miami, she decides to accelerate her plan. Thanks to on-set gossip, the tabloids are already speculating that her and Tommy’s marriage is in trouble. What she needs now is for people to believe one of them is having an affair. She considers going out to dinner with their hot costar, but is afraid that rumors of her having an affair would somehow anger Vincent further—and she can’t risk that.
But after a few days without coming up with an alternative plan, she asks the man to join her for dinner under the guise of getting to know him better before their upcoming love scenes. Fortunately, that same day, Tommy mentions that he’s flying back home for the night to meet with her best friend, Millie, and the producer of her prime time soap opera. They have a cameo role they’d love for him to do and want to discuss. Since Millie and her husband, Deron, are their close friends, Tommy feels obliged to go.
After giving him her blessing, Abby sits in her dressing room thinking. People will feel sorry for her if she’s the one being cheated on. They will pity her. Would that soften Vincent’s anger toward her? If he truly was obsessed with her, it might. She hates throwing her husband and best friend under the bus. She hates the thought of anyone thinking Millie and Deron’s marriage is in jeopardy.
But she’s a mother first.
And her children are in danger.
She has no choice. So she makes a call, tipping off the paparazzi about Tommy and Millie’s date.
I’m putting my mascara on, getting ready for class, when my phone buzzes with a text.
I glance down at it.
Garrett: Meet me at that little diner in town in 20 minutes. We need to talk about Miami.
Me: You’re here? In town? What’s wrong?
Garrett: I need to talk to you.
Me: You have bad news? What’s wrong??!!! Is my family okay??
Garrett: They’re fine. We just have a lot to talk about.
I sign myself out of school, pretending to have a dentist appointment, and drive to the diner.
Garrett meets me outside my car. The first thing he does is pull me into a hug.
“I swear, you’re going to give me gray hair. I’m glad you’re okay.”
I pull away, pleasantly surprised by his hug.
“Are we going to talk about Tiny? Did you find some clues to connect him with Vincent? Is he going to jail for a very long time? Can I go back home?”
He sighs and shakes his head. “Afraid not. The guy’s like teflon. I can’t get anything to stick.”
“What if we set him up?”
He narrows his eyes at me. “Set him up?”
“Yeah, planted some evidence. Made it look like he killed Tiny. Tip off the cops.”
“I believe in justice, Keatyn. But I won’t discard my morals.”
“So, I guess that means hiring a hit man to take him out isn’t an option?”
Garrett laughs and shakes his head at me. “Very funny,” he says, but then his face gets serious. “There are a few things going on that I want you to know about.”
“I’m about to get the bad news now, right?”
He hands me a tabloid magazine. Sprawled across the front page is a large headline. Tommy’s Affair With Abby’s Best Friend. Below is a photo of Tommy hugging Millie. The photo looks damaging. Millie is getting into a car and it does look like he’s saying goodbye to his lover. He’s hugging her tighter than usual.
“This can’t be true.”
“It’s not. Tommy, Millie, and a producer had dinner together in L.A. a few nights ago. They’re trying to convince Tommy to guest star in a few episodes of Millie’s prime time soap opera. She was tired, so she asked Tommy to walk her out to the car. The reason he’s hugging her so tightly is she just told him the reason for her being tired.”
My eyes get big. “She’s pregnant, isn’t she? Oh, my gosh! I’m so excited for her and Deron!”
“She is pregnant. But the press is going crazy. Pulling out any old photos of them together without Abby. Or cropping Abby out of the picture. Their publicists expect this to get worse before it gets better. I just wanted to make sure you don’t worry about it.”
“Thanks, Garrett, I appreciate it.”
“Now, for something a little more disturbing.” He hands me another paper. This one has the words Press Release across the top of it.
Vincent Sharpe of A Breath Behind You Films is pleased to announce casting has commenced for the green-lit film, Another Day at the Lake, a remake of the Abby Johnston cult classic. Mr. Sharpe says, “While some roles have been cast, we’re looking for an unknown to play the role Abby Johnston originated. We’ll be doing nationwide open casting calls in many major cities. If you know someone who looks like the main character in the early version of the film, please message us. And be sure to check our website for details, but get ready Miami and New York, we’re coming to you first.”
The paper slips out of my hand and my knees start to give out. “This is brilliant.”
“And scary,” Garrett says quietly, grabbing my elbow so I don’t buckle to the ground. “Basically, he’s doing tryouts all over the country, but what he wants is someone to turn in your picture and tell him where to find you. On the website, it mentions they will do some surprise casting calls. As in, you can nominate someone without their knowing and he will show up, surprise them, and let them audition.”
“The good news is, I don’t really look that much like my mom.”
Garrett shakes his head and holds out a picture of my mom from the movie. She’s in a swimsuit. Her hair is in soft waves. She has a sweetness to her face that I never used to have. But coming here has changed me. Softened me, somehow.
“You do, Keatyn. Has anyone at school mentioned that?”
“My friends went to see one of Mom’s movies. When they came back, they said I remind them of her. Mostly that my voice and gestures are identical.” I start to panic. “What would I do if someone from school sent in my picture without me knowing and he showed up?”
“It’s my job to prepare for that possibility. Let’s go inside and order some breakfast. I have someone I want you to meet.”
I follow Garrett into the diner, my mind still spinning at the lengths Vincent’s going to in order to find me.
Garrett stops at a table, moves out of my line of sight, and says, “Meet your new babysitter, Cooper Steele.”
Cooper Steele stands up to shake my hand.
Please tell me that babysitting involves him spending every single night in my room.
In my bed.
This guy is the definition of rugged hotness. Muscles on top of muscles, short buzzed hair, tattoos. He’s not quite six feet, but a woman could learn to love flats if her reward was that body.
He’s wearing tailored black cargo pants and a tight white thermal shirt that allows me to see the outline of a buff chest and muscular shoulders.
Women in the diner are staring.
I look around. No, they’re drooling. Imagining what’s bulging where we can’t see.
I lean around Garrett, shake his hand, and smile. “Hey, I’m Keatyn.”
He gestures to the seats across from him in the booth, so Garrett and I slide in.
A waitress comes over, filling our cups with steamy coffee and flirting with both Cooper and Garrett.
But the coffee is lukewarm compared to the man staring at me with intensity.
She takes our orders and then Garrett says, “Cooper is your new interim soccer coach and will be teaching Health class.”
Clearly, I’m going to be needing private lessons on drilling the ball into the net.
“We already have a soccer coach.”
“She just got an amazing offer. Seems it’s always been her dream to teach soccer to underprivileged children. A charitable foundation, conveniently, just offered her that dream. Six months of handing out soccer balls in third world countries. The catch was that she has to leave tomorrow. When she hesitated about leaving her girls with no coach, Cooper was recommended. His soccer experience, combined with the urgency of the offer and outstanding references, allowed for a quick hire.”
“You don’t really look like a soccer player,” I say to Cooper Steele.
Cooper gives me a barely perceptible squint of his eyes, but doesn’t respond.
Garrett continues. “He played on the United States Under-20 Men’s National Team, which qualified for the World Cup. Graduated with honors from Brown University, and is an accomplished MMA fighter.”
I look at Cooper. He gives me a teeny smirk. One that is supposed to irritate me, but I’m not sure how it could. The smirk brings out the beginnings of a sexy set of dimples.
“So, I don’t get it.”
“You told me she was smart,” Cooper scoffs.
Garrett turns to me. “With the letter I just showed you, the possibility of Vincent showing up randomly at Eastbrooke has increased exponentially. I want someone on site to help protect you.”
The waitress interrupts us by delivering our food. After she leaves, I say, “So you’re basically my bodyguard? Just how old are you, anyway?”
“He’s twenty-three,” Garrett says. “He’s also the son of a decorated military man and is an expert marksman.”
“So he’ll have a gun with him at all times?”
“Obviously, he can’t.”
“Garrett, if you hired him to protect me, that means I’m paying him to protect me. I’d love to know what I’m getting for my money. A soccer player who knows how to throw a punch and kick the shit out of guy in a ring, and would be a good shot if he had a gun, doesn’t really make me feel all that safe.”
“Fine. I pulled him out of the Farm.”
“Yes, he was currently at the top of his class, training to be a CIA agent.”
“That makes me feel better.”
“Obviously, what I just shared with you is confidential.”
I nod at Garrett and look at Cooper. “Is this something you want to do? Do you feel this is beneath you?”
He shakes his head. “I’m honored that I was recruited for something of this nature. I hadn’t really considered the commercial side of things.”
I laugh. “In other words, I’m paying him very well?”
“Basically,” Garrett says. “And I’m always on the lookout for people that fit into my organization. The fact that he is young and just a soccer coach means no one will think twice about him.”
“How involved is he going be? How much are we supposed to interact?”
“I know you don’t want a traditional bodyguard and I don’t think one is necessary at this point. Remember when the school office got broken into and you thought Vincent was there?”
“He’s the cavalry, Keatyn. I want someone on site if something goes down.”
I scrutinize Cooper some more. “Smile for me.”
He looks at me kinda funny, but then the corners of his mouth pull up into a smile, popping out those adorable dimples. I shake my head. “Vincent is going to be the least of your worries. You should be more worried about fending off underage schoolgirls that are used to getting anything they want.”
Garrett looks at his watch. “Okay, you need to get back to school. When Cooper is announced as your new coach, use your acting skills and pretend to be surprised. And be on guard. Always. And pay attention. If you hear anyone talking about Vincent’s announcement, go straight to Cooper. He’ll get you out of there safely.”
Vincent’s company is inundated with photos of girls who someone thinks could be the next Abby Johnston. Vincent personally sorts through them all every night after work, lest one of his incompetent employees miss her.
Still she’s nowhere to be found.
It’s been over three weeks since they were together in Miami. Three long weeks of looking at pictures of imposters.
Remembering she mentioned being at a school, he decides to take things a step further.
Right after drama class is finished, my teacher pulls me aside.
“Keatyn, I don’t know if you’ve heard about this yet, but there’s a nationwide search going on for an Abby Johnston look-alike to star in a remake of one of her movies. I just got this letter about it today. Looks like this producer, Vincent Sharpe, is sending them to drama departments all over the country.”
He continues. “I was thinking of nominating you. You have the look and you’re quite talented. A natural, really.”
Maintain your breathing, Keatyn.
Don’t show him that you are internally freaking the fuck out.
“Um, I’d prefer that you didn’t. I’m not ready yet.”
“Actually, I think you are ready. You’re one of my most talented students.”
This temporarily stops me from freaking out.
“Really?” He thinks I’m talented? Ohmigawd, that’s so awesome.
“Yes. Have you ever thought of making a career out of acting?”
Don’t say yes. Have a worthy profession in mind. A doctor. Like you told Dawson’s mom.
“No, sir, I want to be a doctor. Like, a pediatric doctor. Um, probably specializing in children’s cancer. I want to save lives.”
“Oh, well, that’s a noble profession.”
“Yes, sir, and it’s my dream. I had a, um, cousin who died from it. His passing affected me deeply. I want to devote my life to the cause. But acting is a fun creative outlet. I also love ceramics and painting.”
Ohmigawd, I am such a liar!
“Okay, well, then we probably won’t be needing this, huh?”
“No, sir. Definitely not.”
He wads it into a ball and tosses it into the trash then goes over to deal with something on stage.
I wait until he’s not looking then pretend to put my gum in the trash but, instead, I grab the letter and stuff it into my bag.
I run out of the auditorium. Straight to Cooper’s office.
I barge through his door, flushed from running. Whitney’s leaning over his shoulder, pointing to a paper on his desk.
I must have a wild-eyed expression because Cooper says to her, “Miss Clarke, I’m afraid I’m going to have to cut our meeting short. I think we covered most everything anyway.” He quickly escorts her to the door.
After he shuts the door, he holds a finger up to his lips, telling me to keep quiet.
He opens his door back up and totally busts Whitney for still standing there.
“Come with me, Keatyn,” he says, holding his hand out to me. “Let’s get you to the nurse.”
Cooper and I walk up the hill to the nurse’s office, but don’t go in the door. Instead, he pulls me behind the building.
I fish the paper out of my bag and show him.
“It’s addressed to the drama department.”
“Yes, they were sent to high school drama departments nationwide.”
“This guy is really smart.”
“I know. He’s brilliant. The director pulled me aside and said he was going to nominate me.”
Cooper’s body quickly goes from relaxed to rigid and ready to strike. “Did he?”
“No. He asked me if I was interested.”
“What did you say?!”
“Lied. Told him some bullshit story about a cousin dying and how I wanted to be a pediatrician not an actor. That I’m not interested.”
“Did he buy it?”
“Yeah. I think so. He said I guess we won’t be needing this and threw it in the trash. I got it out.”
“You get to soccer. I’m going to call Garrett then I’ll see if I can take the director out for a beer.”
“We have dress rehearsal tonight.”
“All the more reason the man will need a beer later.”
I bite my lip to keep from crying.
He pats my back. “It’ll be okay. I’ll make sure.”
I walk like I’m going toward the field house, but I can’t. I’m close to a breakdown.
I’m not a good enough actress to pretend anymore.
Because, all of a sudden, it doesn’t feel as safe here anymore.
And I really don’t want to have to leave.
I make a beeline for the chapel, knowing no one will be there.
I sit in a pew, crying and praying out loud. “Please don’t let it happen. Please don’t let anyone do it. Please don’t let him find . . .”
Aiden sits down next to me. “Don’t let him find who?”
My eyes get huge. What did I just say? What was I praying? What did he hear?
“Um, what did you just hear?”
“I heard what you just said. Please don’t let him find . . .”
“My friend. The friend I told you about before.”
“Did something happen to her?”
I close my eyes, fighting back more tears, but I can’t. I cover my face and start sobbing.
Aiden immediately pulls me into his chest and runs his hand down the back of my hair.
I get all my crying out of my system.
Then I look up at him and say, “You should be at football.”
“And you should be at soccer. Tell me what happened.”
I shake my head. “Nothing. She’s fine. It was just another scare. It shook me up, I guess. And I’m upset about something else.”
“My little sister is turning three, and I’m going to miss her party.”
“Um, well, because her party is Monday. We have school.”
“Are they in France?”
“Not right now. My stepdad has business in Vancouver, so they’re celebrating there.”
He nods at me. “So, you should go. You can miss a couple of days of school. And the play will be over. It’s perfect timing. Heck, I’ll go with you if you want.”
“Oh, um, that’s really nice of you, Aiden, but it’s not necessary.”
“Does that mean you’ll go by yourself?”
I smile at him. “Yeah. You’re right. I should go.”
“I’m serious. If you change your mind and want company, I’ll go with you.”
As we stand up, he hands me a crumpled piece of paper. “I think you dropped this.”
“Thanks,” I say, automatically. But then I see that it’s Vincent’s letter.
I can’t speak.
“Are you thinking about doing this? You do kinda resemble her. And you want to act. This could be your big break.”
“No!” I yell at him. “I don’t want a break! I don’t look anything like her. I changed my mind. I don’t like being in the play. In fact, I hate it! I’m never acting again.”
He watches my outburst.
“Um, okay. Are you sure you’re okay?”
He grabs my hands and puts his forehead against mine. “You can trust me, Boots. You can tell me anything.”
I stare into his emerald eyes and know deep within my soul that what he says is true. I know I can trust him. I want to trust him.
But I can’t.
I wipe my eyes and say, “I have to get to soccer. Cooper will have my ass. Probably make me run stairs or something.”
“Yeah, I should get going too. You sure you’re okay?”
I take a deep breath.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine.”
Abby sees the news about Vincent’s nationwide search, and it throws her into a panic. She immediately calls Garrett. “How in the world are you going to keep her safe with this going on?”
“You’re going to have to trust me, Abby. I’m doing everything I can to keep both of you safe.”
“We’re being watched all the time.”
“Because they expect her to show up. And she won’t. However, Keatyn mentioned that he called her Abby when she saw him in New York.”
“Can he not tell the difference between us anymore? Has he really gone off the deep end?” Abby asks.
“I could make up a lot of excuses for why he did. None of them are logical. I thought his obsession would ease, that he’d move on.”
“But instead he’s becoming more obsessed.”
“This is going to be hard to hear, Abby, but Keatyn is a danger to you, as you are to her.”
“What do you mean?”
“I think he might want you both, when the time comes. He could use one of you to lure the other out.”
“So maybe I should just go walk into his office and let him have me.” Garrett chuckles. “Why are you laughing?”
“Because your daughter said the exact same thing. You’re safe in Vancouver, Abby.”
“I had a dream—a premonition,” she lies. “That Tommy got shot by Vincent. Then he came for me. I can’t have my babies live without at least one parent. I refuse to travel with Tommy to and from work—starting now.”
This happens at the same time Keatyn tells Cooper she’s making a surprise trip to Vancouver for Gracie’s birthday.
“Second thing, I’m going to Vancouver on Monday for my sister’s birthday party.”
“The hell you are.”
“No, I am.”
“With everything that’s going on, you want to go to the one place that he will expect you to turn up eventually?”
“Yeah, but here’s the thing. He’s going to be in Miami this Saturday, Sunday, and Monday doing auditions. He won’t be anywhere near Vancouver.”
Cooper closes his eyes and shakes his head. “I’m sure he’ll have someone at the airport. He can find out what airport you came from and pinpoint where you’ve been.”
“So we’ll take different flights. Different charters. Switch airports. That’s what we did when I came here.”
“No. No way.”
“Cooper, it’s my life. My decision.”
“I can’t let you do this.”
“You don’t have a choice. I’m going. With or without you.” Then I soften my voice because I want him to know. “But I’d feel safer if it was with you.”
“God, you’re stubborn. Fine. I’ll figure out a way. But it will be just you and me, no one else. You can’t tell anyone.”
“I’ll work out the details. We’ll have to leave very early Monday morning.”
I smile at him as I walk out the door. “Whatever you say, Cooper.”
Keatyn has a scare after her last drama performance.
After our performance, a stagehand brings me a beautiful bouquet of flowers. It’s a mass of pastel blooms held together by an aqua satin bow.
“Are these for me?”
“Yeah, some dude asked me to give them to you.”
“Yeah, he was talk and dark haired. He said there’s a card.”
Tall and dark?
My hands are shaking as I pull the little card out of the envelope. On the card is just one thing.
A replica of my chaos tattoo.
I drop the bouquet and look around wildly.
Because I know.
Vincent is here.
My director didn’t listen to me. He called Vincent. He came to the play. He knows where I am.
Aiden walks in and says, “Boots, what’s wrong? You’re shaking.”
“Um, I don’t feel very good.”
“What do you mean?” Aiden asks as I rush over to the trashcan and throw up in it.
Aiden chuckles. “Aren’t you supposed to get stage fright before the play?”
I hang onto the big trash barrel while tuning out Aiden’s voice.
I’ve got to get out of here. I’ve got to find Cooper.
“I’m sorry. I have to go.” I run out of the dressing room and leave Aiden standing there.
But I can’t go outside. I can’t risk him waiting for me.
I run back onto the now darkened stage and wrap myself in the folds of the velvet curtains.
I grab my phone out of my dress pocket and hold it tightly against my chest while I change the setting to dim.
Then I text Cooper.
Me: He’s here. He came to the play. The director told him about me even though I asked him not to. I don’t even know where to go. I can’t run because I know he’s going to catch me this time. Cooper, I’m scared.
Cooper: Where are you? I’ll be right there.
Me: Hiding on the stage.
He doesn’t reply.
I stand shaking in the curtain for what feels like an eternity.
I think about how it will go down.
Vincent watched the play. He’s going to be waiting for me outside. He’s going to hit me over the head, or jab a needle into me, or maybe he’ll just put his hand across my mouth and say don’t scream.
It’s then that I kick myself for hiding in this curtain. That was stupid of me. I should have stayed with Aiden. I should’ve grabbed his arm and left with the crowd.
But in Miami, Vincent threatened to shoot Damian. If he were cornered and close to having me, he would shoot his way out of here.
Killing Aiden and my friends.
No, it’s better this way.
Just me and him.
Maybe I should let him kidnap me.
Let him take me. Have Garrett track my locket, find me, and then arrest him.
I’d get my life back.
I’d go see my family. Hug my sisters. Go back to the beach. Smell the ocean.
I think about a recent thriller movie where a girl is on the phone hiding under a bed while men are in her house. Her dad tells her that she’s about to get taken.
I’m about to get taken.
I reach up to grab my locket, but my fingers don’t touch it. I pat my chest, frantically searching for the locket.
It’s not on me. It’s lying on my dresser because we weren’t allowed to wear any jewelry for the play.
I realize I’m screwed.
I hear the auditorium door open. Footsteps walk up the stairs.
Then onto the stage and closer to me.
I stop breathing and don’t move a muscle.
I can feel that he’s closer.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
I was right.
Please don’t let him find me.
But then my phone vibrates.
Even though it’s tight against my chest it makes a little noise.
The shoes start walking toward me.
Getting closer and closer.
I’m going to have to fight. Take him by surprise.
I launch myself at the dark form in front of me, knocking him and me quickly to the ground. Then I start wildly punching.
I connect with both his chest and his face.
I leap up to run away as he grabs me, rolls on top of me, and pins me on the floor.
I close my eyes tightly.
“You’re supposed to punch the bad guy, not the one that’s here to rescue you.”
I quickly open my eyes. “Cooper? Ohmigawd. I thought. I thought . . .”
We both freeze at the sound of a door opening. Cooper covers my mouth and gets both of us to our feet effortlessly and quietly.
We hear the sound of shoes heading back toward the dressing rooms.
Cooper runs his hand down my leg, slides my heels off, and then pulls me across the stage.
We sneak down the steps then crouch behind the auditorium seats.
When he thinks the coast is clear, we run toward the main entrance.
Cooper’s still holding my hand as we exit the building. He pulls me toward a car parked in the handicapped stall.
There’s a big puddle of water that I’m ready to run through, but Cooper scoops me up, carries me over it, and sets me in the car.
He slams the door shut, quickly runs to the driver’s side, and gets in.
I look out the window, scanning the area for Vincent. I remember Garrett telling me that he couldn’t disguise his height.
The only person I see, though, is Whitney. She watches us drive by, not even trying to hide the disgust on her face.
Now, she’s really going to think there’s something going on between us.
I shake my head. She’s the least of my worries.
“We need to leave campus,” I say, as I see Cooper driving toward his quarters.
“I think we’re safer here.”
“No. Garrett told me to run. Go to the train station. Run. Get away.”
“That was before you hired me.”
He pulls up in front of his quarters and we run into his town house.
I drop down on his couch as he pulls his curtains shut. He grabs my hand again and leads me upstairs to his bedroom.
Then he pulls me onto the bed and into an embrace.
“You’re shaking,” he says in a gentle voice. “Calm down. You’re safe.”
Then he rubs his eye, which I realize is starting to swell.
“I think I gave you a black eye.”
He grins at me. “You did a good job.”
“Not good enough. You pinned me in two seconds.”
Cobra Cooper strikes again, quickly pinning me on the bed.
“Now what am I supposed to do?” I say as I reach up and gently touch his quickly swelling face.
He grabs my hands and pins them above my head.
My breathing starts to speed up a little.
“If something happens today. To me. To you. If he gets you. You need to know how to get away. I suspect this is a position he will want you in.”
I look up at his hand strongly gripping mine. Run my eyes down his tightly straining muscles. His rock hard body.
But it’s Cooper and he’s not scary.
“You just relaxed. That’s exactly what I was getting ready to tell you to do. It makes you feel like less of a threat. Look at me like you want to kiss me.”
I lock eyes with him. Raise my chin toward him, slowly licking my bottom lip.
“That’s exactly right. Because you’re not fighting me, I’m not gripping your hands as tightly. Can you feel that?”
“What do you notice about my body?”
I open my eyes to look at him.
“No,” he says. “Leave your eyes closed. Use your body.”
I raise my hips up toward him, which causes him to push into me.
“What do you feel?”
“Yes, but if I were your assailant, I would be aroused. He’s been dreaming about having you in this position for months. He’s been planning and scheming and finally, you are his. And, even better, you’re submissive, so he thinks you want him. Which makes him feel powerful and in control. But he’s not anymore. Now that he’s aroused, he’ll loosen his grip. He’ll be vulnerable. What are you going to do?”
I press my lips firmly on his.
He responds by pushing his hip into me and kissing me back. I pull away from the kiss, pushing my head deeply into the pillow as I rock my hips into him and make a little moan.
“That’s it,” he tells me. “This is when you make your move.”
“I could head butt you.”
“Do it softly.”
I push my head into his. He reels back, but when he does, he sits on me. His full body weight trapping me.
“Shit. That didn’t work. All that would’ve done is pissed you off.”
“So what should I do?”
He gets back in his previous position.
“Push your hips back up. Feel how much space there is between us?”
I remember a wrestling move that Logan put on Jake.
I use the space to flip him over and sit on top of him.
“You’re supposed to run away now. Not sit on top of me.”
I grab his hands and push them above his head, putting him into the position he just had me in. “What are you gonna do now?”
Cooper smiles big enough to form deep dimples. “That was a good move. But this isn’t some movie, Keatyn. This is real life.”
“I wish we were in a movie,” I say, suddenly exhausted. “Then I could control the script. And no offense, but if I controlled the script, you wouldn’t be here. There would be no Vincent.”
There’s a knock at his door.
My eyes get big.
Cooper effortlessly flips me off him and then pushes me into the bathroom. “The window opens to the fire escape. If I don’t come back, you go out that window and run.”
I start to shake again and get tears in my eyes.
I grab Cooper and hug him tightly.
“I’m coming back,” he says, grabbing a black handgun off his dresser and creeping downstairs.
There’s another knock.
I hear Cooper answer the door.
Part of me is praying it’s Vincent. That Cooper will shoot him and this will be over.
Instead, I hear Whitney yell, “Keatyn, are you here?”
Cooper says in a calm voice. “You can’t come in here. And, no, she isn’t.”
“I saw her get in the car with you. Where is she?”
“I dropped her off at her dorm.”
“I was just at her dorm. No one has seen her.”
“I’m not sure what she did after I dropped her off.”
“You have a black eye.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Clarke, but you need to leave. If you are concerned about Miss Monroe, I’ll be glad to call the dean for you.”
“No, um, that’s okay.”
Cooper shuts the door and turns the deadbolt. I shut the window, thankful not to have to crawl out of it.
Then I duck when I see Whitney peering back at the house.
“She’s a pain in the ass. I’m going to call Garrett to have some reinforcements sent in. I want a couple people just outside the school’s gates. Tell me what happened. How do you know that he’s here? Did you see him in the audience?”
“No. A stagehand gave me a ridiculously huge bouquet of flowers. The card was only signed with the chaos tattoo that Vincent got. And I was freaking out because I don’t have my locket on. I had to take it off for the play.”
While he’s on the phone with Garrett, I check my phone. I have a bunch of missed calls from B.
I decide to call him back.
“You were amazing and I haven’t even seen it all yet. I wanted to come, but I figured that would be too dangerous. So I called a local videographer and paid him to record the play today. I’m watching it now. Keats, you did so good. I’m so proud of you. Did you get the flowers?”
Relief crashes over me like an ocean wave.
I drop my phone and start crying.
Cooper walks back in the room, picks up my phone, and says, “She’ll call you back.”
“The flowers were from my ex, Brooklyn. They weren’t from Vincent. I’m sorry. I panicked when I saw the chaos tattoo. He and I both have them. I hate this!” I scream. “I hate that I can’t even get surprise flowers from a boy without freaking out!”
“Calm down. You did the right thing. Sit down for a minute. I need to call Garrett back.”
Vincent is in Miami however, meeting lots of girls—many of whom look nothing like Lacy. Hint for all the aspiring actresses out there, if you’re auditioning for a role, maybe make sure you look the part. For God’s sake, at least have the requisite blonde hair. When Vincent takes a bathroom break, he sees a girl out of the corner of his eye. She’s leaving the auditions. All he sees is a swirl of flowing blonde hair that bounces when she walks. It’s her!
He races toward the exit, then loses her. He steps up onto the edge of a fountain so he can see the area more clearly. There she is! Parking lot. Ten o’clock. He runs across the street, barely avoiding getting hit by a cab—the loud horn letting him know just what the driver thought about it.
The girl has long legs and a sway in her step. It’s Lacy. God, it’s finally her. And she’s here alone. No one is around. He rushes up behind her, wraps his hand around her mouth, and whispers in her ear. “I knew you’d come.”
The girl tries to scream, but he grips her tighter, then pulls her around to face him.
Frightened green eyes under too dark eyebrows stare back at him. He lets go of her in shock.
“Stop!” he yells, grabbing her again. “I thought you were my friend. I’m very sorry I scared you.”
“I sure as hell wouldn’t want you to be my friend,” she says.
“I’m Vincent Sharpe. Were you here for the audition?”
Her eyes flicker in recognition. “Ohmigawd! It is you.” She looks down. “There was a long wait, during which time I chickened out.”
“You’re a beautiful girl. I think you should come back inside.” Vincent gives her his most charming smile. “I think you have a very good chance.”
Vincent takes her back inside, makes sure she is next in line, then goes back into the room where the auditions are being held. He steps behind a curtain where snacks and beverages are set out, grabbing a water and sucking it down. It’s official. He’s losing control.