Finish What You Started
It gets hot under the spotlight…
Once a teen idol, Gabby Randall now spends her time behind the cameras. With her show Danse Macabre scripted and greenlighted for a popular streaming site, she has everything she wants…except her star. Deadlines are looming and she’s desperate to cast the role of a modern-day, motorcycle-riding Grim Reaper. She never thought she’d end up hiring her former co-star, TV’s most beloved geek…and her ex-husband.
Until the day he dies, people will remember Dash Gregory as Freddie “Grody” Grodin, the token geek friend of the cool kids at Wondermancer High. After years of casting agents overlooking him for plum roles, Dash wants to show Hollywood he’s more than a one-note player. He’s ready to break the vicious typecasting cycle, and he’s set his sights on the lead role in a sexy new series too hot for network TV.
When the director yells “Cut!” the star wants to keep up the action behind the scenes. Are Dash and Gabby willing to make ratings history again?
April, 2006, Las Vegas
Gabby Randall stood at the window of their fifteenth-floor suite at the Fitzgerald Hotel and Casino, looking out at the blinding lights of Fremont Street. Thousands of them, maybe a million, blinked in rapid succession, simulating waves and fireworks and starbursts in colors she hadn’t realized existed. Down and to her right, a two-story tall neon cowboy winked and waved to passersby from his perch at the Pioneer Club. Bright yellow piping outlined his checkered shirt and knowing leer, and if Gabby moved one inch to one side or the other she could swear his eyes took on a sinister glow.
He stared at her, accusing her, as though to say Shame on you, girlie. Eloping without telling nobody. She wanted to turn away, but his eyes proved too hypnotic to resist.
“Shut up. I’m an adult,” she muttered, and blinked to break the spell. The cowboy had a name. The clerk at registration had said as much, but it’d gone right out of her head, replaced by choruses of nearby jingling slot machines as Dash had given him two fake names and paid cash for the room.
She looked past the neon smirk and studied the vibrant patterns of one hotel’s marquee. A thought occurred to her about the lights—how would anyone know to check for burnouts and replace the bulbs if the signs ran twenty-four-seven? Did the hotels each hire a specific person to stand on bulb duty? Were they like Christmas light strands, in that if one was faulty then the whole thing didn’t light up?
Why she pondered this, of all things one wondered about Vegas, she didn’t know. She took a deep breath and decided that her mind chose to focus on inane observations to calm her nerves.
It had less to do with coming to a strange city than it did with this being her first night alone with Dash. Her first night alone with any man, for that matter.
She’d never visited Las Vegas before, though she’d entertained a number of invitations from event planners. Her parents and managers, as devout in their Catholicism as their business savvy, had refused on her behalf time and again. No conventions or junkets unsanctioned by the network, or them, for her. Definitely, they didn’t want her involved in a cheesy celebrity magic show or publicity stunt. Vegas might as well have been situated on the outer rim of Hell.
Now, their say mattered little. She’d turned twenty-one the previous week, on the same day her contract with Randall Talent had expired. Marie and Walter might remain family, but they no longer made decisions for her, business or otherwise. This included her most important one to date—her wedding to Dash Gregory.
Gregory. She was Gabby Gregory now. Or perhaps she should hyphenate to Randall-Gregory, and use her given name, Gabrielle. Maybe that would make her appear mature, and more professional when she met with prospective agents to help her transition from TV ingénue to a place behind the camera.
In her left hand she held the current issue of People Magazine, the cover of which featured her with the other five principals of Wondermancer High, the television show that had served as her work and home for the past six years. In her right, a marriage certificate affirming her union with Dash Gregory bent in her tightening grip. It had happened only an hour ago, and if she brought the paper closer she could smell the printer ink. Her thumb brushed the black-marker signature of the minister, a middle-aged Johnny Cash impersonator with authentic sideburns and a paunch. Dash had insisted using a fake Elvis seemed too cliché, and that his late father—a Cash fan—would have gotten a kick out of it.
Gabby had conceded easily. She’d have stood before a showgirl in all her ostrich plumage and glitter if it meant a legitimate marriage. The Cash impersonator hadn’t recognized either of them, which was good. He didn’t fit their show’s demographic, and apparently he didn’t have a teenager who forced him to sit in front of the set every Thursday evening at eight.
She set the license on the nightstand to prevent further creases, then focused on the magazine. Good Luck, Graduates! read the headline, in reference to the series finale due to air next month. Sadness barely touched her as she recalled the emotion and angst which had pervaded the set when they’d filmed their final scenes. Relief was more like it. She’d played the part of Tula Truebend for six seasons, and as far as the country knew, her real life mirrored that of the prim, straight-A student aspiring to the upper echelons of the magical world. Hardly. Her grades, passable enough to let her continue acting, wouldn’t get her into Harvard. She hadn’t planned on college, anyway.
With the series behind her now, she couldn’t wait to pursue a career as a screenwriter and producer—to create rather than regurgitate. First order of business—develop a project for Dash.
Of the six main actors on the paranormal-set show—created to capitalize on the success of the Harry Potter franchise—her new husband stood to suffer the most typecasting. While she’d played the brain, a pretty one to boot, he’d been the token geek. Glasses, perpetually bent wand, goofy laugh, and no fashion sense. The showrunners had neglected all requests to mature Freddie Grodin toward the end of the run, leaving ‘Grody’ to remain a beloved yet awkward and inept nerd in the eyes of Wondermancer High fans.
She promised herself Dash would have a long acting career, and not in variations of the same role. What the hell was taking so long with him, anyway? He’d gone for water…had he tried the Hoover Dam first?
The handle of their room’s door jerked and rattled, startling her. On instinct, she clutched the full-length robe she wore tighter around her chest. When they’d stood exposed on Fremont Street, walking from the chapel to the hotel, she’d fretted over possible discovery from fans and paparazzi. Instead people had brushed past them, oblivious. Only in a city like this could that happen, she realized.
“Finally,” Dash muttered and entered the room. “I hate these damn keycards. They only work half the time.” A plastic bag, heavy with bottles and snacks, hung from his forearm, and he wore his favorite Dodgers cap pulled low over his face. Gabby smiled upon seeing it, especially since Dash really didn’t need to wear it to conceal his identity. Without the taped-up glasses and slicked-back hair the world saw on Grody each week, Dash as himself resembled nothing of the character he played. She envied his ability to roam free.
No, Dash was gorgeous with his clear blue eyes and a hint of stubble shadowing his firm jaw. He removed the cap and ruffled his short hair, adding to his adorably scruffy look.
“I’m glad you’re back,” she told him, and approached him for a hug. “I don’t like being here by myself.”
“Hey.” He took the magazine from her and set it next to the license, then enveloped her in his arms. He felt safe, warm. “It’s okay. Didn’t I tell you we’d be all right? It’s official, we’re married, and there’s nothing anybody can do about it.”
“I keep thinking somebody saw us downstairs.” Visions bloomed in her mind of photographers stalking each floor of the hotel, disguising themselves as room service. Fans pulling out their cell phones or running for the nearest pay phone to tell their friends, or worse, announce it to the world via their MySpace pages and that new site, Twitter. Guess what…we saw Tula and Grody in Vegas! Why would they be here, checking into the same hotel room? Ooooh!
Friends tell other friends. Somebody knows a guy at the Enquirer. He calls his contact in Vegas. Somebody calls her parents…in three seconds the SWAT team will kick down their door…
“Gabby, you’re shaking.”
“I just want to be a married person for one night without the world knowing about it.”
Dash chuckled. It vibrated throughout her body, making her very aware of him. The robe slipped open and her breasts, hidden by a sheer layer of satin and lace, pressed against his body when he drew her against him. Her nipples hardened, anticipating his touch.
They hadn’t seen this much of each other during the year they’d secretly dated. They’d kissed, a lot, and enjoyed a quick grope over clothes in between scenes. She’d saved it all for tonight.
“We’re fine, Gabby,” he assured her. “We could walk the whole Strip tonight and nobody is going to notice us. There’s enough in Vegas to distract people. In fact,” he pulled away and she whimpered, “I thought we might stay an extra night.”
“But we’re going to New York tomorrow.” An outsider might have viewed their wedding as spontaneous, but they’d put a fair amount of planning into this week. Marry in Vegas, then off to Manhattan to shop for an apartment. Stage and TV auditions for Dash while she met with agents to discuss her ideas for projects.
“I know, but you deserve a proper honeymoon, however short. It’s not like we’re broke and have to go back to work immediately.”
“I know.” Assuming Wondermancer High enjoyed a long life in syndication, they wouldn’t have to work again with their combined income if they budgeted well. She wanted to work, though, and intended to distance herself from Tula Truebend.
He sat on the edge of the bed and kicked off his shoes. The white Polo he’d worn for the ceremony came next, discarded onto the carpet. Dash stretched his arms to the ceiling and Gabby marveled at the definition in his muscles. She couldn’t wait to trace every ridge and curve.
“I was thinking we’d go see Celine or Elton, or Cirque du Soleil,” he continued, shucking his pants and socks. Clad in his boxers, he scooted back to lie on the bed. “I’ll get tickets for whatever you want. I got the room for two nights either way, and New York isn’t going anywhere.”
He patted the vacant side of the mattress and eyed her standing form. The robe’s belt had come loose, exposing her legs and the red baby-doll barely covering her thighs.
“I’m not going anywhere, either,” he added.
“Good.” The robe slid to the floor, and Gabby crawled up the bed and moved flush against her new groom. Dash slanted his mouth over hers, and she melted into his embrace, sinking deeper into bed as he rolled closer. She explored the smooth planes of his back on down to his cotton shorts, where she longed to discover his better assets. Limbs twined, fingers plucked at straps and elastic bands, all the while she let her husband plunder her mouth with his tongue. She tasted the coffee they’d shared earlier and a hint of mint gum, clearly used to mask the strong drink.
She’d never felt happier, being with Dash. She was ready to put Tula Truebend behind her and act her age. She’d reveled in the simple act of buying this skimpy lingerie for her wedding night, enjoying shopping like a “grown up.”
Her parents had kept her under constant watch during the show’s run, having everything done for her. They’d paid her bills, chosen her outfits, and watched her diet. No more. She wouldn’t think about them tonight.
The straps of her baby-doll drooped down her shoulders, freeing her body. Dash broke from her lips and kissed a trail to one breast, circling the nipple with his tongue. She shivered at the sensation, as though he set her every nerve ablaze with his touch.
He looked up with glazed eyes and a swollen smile. “Did you…?”
She nodded, and her silent affirmation that she’d taken her pill sufficed. She’d gotten the prescription in secret last month, in anticipation of their marriage.
Dash returned to her breasts for a full-on assault, nipping one while kneading the other. He shifted over her, allowing her to feel the fullness of his arousal. Gabby relaxed and let him take over. His every thrust against her sex, while still in his boxers, sparked her desire, readying her to become his in every sense of the word.
No, she thought, we’ll belong to each other. When the shorts and her lacy thong came off and he entered her with one slow, guided stroke, she bit her lip to avoid crying out and focused on Dash above her, burying his face into the crook of her neck, cooing his reassurance that he would take care of her.
“You okay?” he whispered, his warm breath roaring in her ear.
“Fantastic. Are you?”
“Yeah.” He laughed, giddy like, and pushed into her again. The pain subsided the longer they lay joined, but when he reached down for her clit she cried out. She was no stranger to self-pleasure, but having Dash touch her in this way brought her to climax much quicker than she had ever accomplished alone.
“Wow.” He laughed.
“Sorry about that.” She’d wanted to last, but his kiss soothed her guilt.
“I love you, babe,” he said, and after a second his body shuddered. He bore down on top of her, and Gabby looked down his back to see his cute ass bob faster as he filled her. The increased motion dizzied her senses, and the heat enveloping her took her breath away. She wanted to return the sentiment, tell him she loved him as much, but the words caught in her throat.
Instead, she focused on them and tried something she’d read about in a how-to manual. With him deep inside her she tightened around him and thrust. Oh, that’s nice.
Dash reared upward, his face pinched with pleasured pain, and cried out as he released. The warmth blossomed inside her, and they kissed away their afterglow, their hands sliding across dampened skin and fisting the sheets.
I love you. The words looped in her mind, and she hoped their connection strengthened enough for him to hear it.
Dash pulled away and they touched foreheads. His lashes brushed hers and he shook with quiet laughter. “I can’t wait until bedtime every night, if it’s like this.”
She almost made a Wondermancer High joke—It’s nothing like the dorms at Huntington Hall. Instead she nodded and kissed his nose. No references to the past, she decided. They weren’t Tula and Grody, who only spoke to each other when Tula needed him to get her boyfriend out of a scrape.
She was Mrs. Gregory. Now and forever.
She took the comforting realization to sleep, Dash spooning her as they turned on their sides toward the window looking out onto Fremont Street.
“What do you think?” he whispered in her ear. “Stay an extra day.”
“Sure.” She’d prefer to spend all their time here.
She snuggled against her husband and watched what lights were visible until she drifted away, thankful the neon cowboy couldn’t see them.