I can tell she’s not convinced, but she knows me well enough not to argue. As soon as we’re back in the main ballroom, I split off from them and head to the bar for some wine. This time, I take a long sip, because as far as I’m concerned, forced sobriety has been no great benefit. Heat blooms through me as the wine hits my system, and I go slower with the rest of the glass, taking small sips as I circulate through the room.

The after-party is even more crowded than the pre-screening reception, which I suppose makes sense, as a lot of folks undoubtedly showed up right as the lights dimmed, planning to watch the film and then dive into party mode. Unfortunately for me, that’s making it more difficult to maneuver, and I’m feeling a little trapped and a lot claustrophobic.

I consider texting Cass just to find her in the crowd, but sternly talk myself out of it. Zee is obviously interested in Cass, and I’m not going to mess that up just because I need a balm for my nerves. Instead, I double my efforts to find Jackson. That’s why I’m here, after all. And I’m not leaving until he’s cooled down and I have the chance to really talk to him.

I ease over to one of the light-bathed pillars and stand with my back to it, using that as a central point from which to scan the faces around me. I don’t see Jackson, but I do see a familiar face and grin broadly when Evelyn Dodge notices me and makes a beeline in my direction.

“Look at you.” She spreads her arms wide and gathers me into a smothering hug. “Did my favorite benevolent dictator actually give you an evening off?”

“Just a short break,” I deadpan. “If I’m not back in the office by midnight, I’ll turn into a pumpkin.”

“Don’t risk it, sweetie. With your complexion, you’ll look terrible in orange. Now I, on the other hand …” She indicates the orange, eye-melting dress she has on which, despite the radioactive color, looks show-stoppingly perfect on her. “I knew there was a reason I liked you,” she says, when I tell her just how awesome she looks.

Evelyn was the first person I met when I went to work for Damien Stark. She’d burst into the reception area on day one and announced to Damien that she was taking me to lunch “because the way to an executive’s ear is through his assistant.”

Not that she needed me to have Damien’s ear. A former actress, Evelyn Dodge has held pretty much every job in Hollywood that it is possible to hold, and a few that I’m certain she invented herself. Recently, she’s returned from semi-retirement to agenting.

She’s known Damien since his tennis-star days, and represented him in endorsement deals and all the rest of the celebrity nonsense that comes with being a hot, good-looking athlete. And even more so when he became a hot, good-looking athlete surrounded by scandal.

Of course, I didn’t know either of them back then, but I do know that not only is Evelyn mama-bear loyal to Damien Stark, she’s also one of the funniest, brashest, most engaging women I’ve ever met. And I am limp with relief that she’s materialized right in front of me.

“I had no idea you were coming,” I say. “Do you rep someone here?”

“Not yet, but the night is young.” She takes my arm and leads me toward a waiter with a tray of tiny puff pastries topped with sour cream and caviar. “No, I’m here because of Michael.”

“The director?” I take the napkin and appetizer she passes me, then try to decide how I’m going to eat it since I’m still holding my wine in my other hand. “Do you know him well?”

“Not as well as I thought.” She takes my wineglass and downs the last of my cabernet, then hands the empty glass to a passing waiter. “We used to be married.”

“Oh.”

I think of Blaine, the flamboyant younger artist who now shares Evelyn’s bed. He’s about as opposite to Michael Prado as it’s possible to be. And despite their age difference, I have to say that I can’t imagine Evelyn on anyone’s arm but Blaine’s.

“So where’s Blaine?” I ask, then blush when she laughs because I am absolutely certain she has watched my train of thought play out across my face.

“Working in his studio.” She winks. “He thinks Michael’s a twit.”

I laugh. “Is he?”

“A bit, but a harmless one. And he’s a very good director, not to mention an excellent fund-raiser and board member. His failings are more concentrated in the domestic arena.” She shrugs matter-of-factly. “Then again, maybe the failings were mine.”

“Or maybe it’s nobody’s fault. Maybe you just didn’t click.”


Tags: J. Kenner Stark International Trilogy Romance
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