“You do have ten thousand dollars from Keats, as well as the money you’ve been earning from your job, right?”

“Yes,” I grumbled, because I wasn’t facing a zero balance. I wasn’t rolling in it, but I had a few bucks to start with.

“It’s something, Jess. It’s something,” she said, punching me lightly on the shoulder in an encouraging gesture.

I breathed out hard. “Yeah, but I need more to pay the first year’s tuition bill. What am I supposed to do?” I held my hands out wide, probably looking like I was making snow angels on the floor.

“You’ll just have to do what everyone else does. You keep working, you get some loans, and you deal.”

If she were anyone else, I’d say easy for you to say. Her college was all paid for and then some. But I’d never fault Anaka for coming from means, just as she’d never mock me for not. We understood each other. We understood where we were different, and where we were the same.

“Besides, if all else fails, you can just be a plastic surgeon. You’ll repay the loans like that,” she said, and snapped her fingers.

I rolled my eyes. “Because there’s no competition in LA at all for plastic surgeons.”

“Just look on the bright side. At least you have a date tonight with a hot guy.”

I propped myself up on my elbow. “Speaking of, do you think William was in on it? Do you think he knew about it and set me up?”

Her jaw dropped as she rolled her eyes. “Are you auditioning for the role of world’s leading conspiracy theorist?”

“No! But come on,” I asked, furrowing my brow. “Are you telling me the caterers, the party rental people, the security firm didn’t know it was a hoax?”

“Jess, my love, think about this like a screenplay. If you were trying to pull off a big super-secret con, would you tell as many people or as few people as possible?”

I shrugged. “He could have known. I mean, he hasn’t called. He was probably using me all along.”

“Pretty sure he hasn’t called because you don’t have your phone. Do you want to bet you have a dozen missed calls on your phone when you get home?”

“Sure. I’ll bet you a hundred thousand dollars,” I said, and managed a small laugh.

“Oh, I’m going to collect because I know he’s calling.”

We stayed like that for a few more minutes, chatting about everything and nothing, as we always did, and Anaka made me laugh once more when she tracked down her mom’s Siamese cat, Suede, and showed me how she’d taught him to fetch a ball of crumpled-up tinfoil, return it, then fetch it again. Soon, her phone rang. She reached for it, checked out the number, and said to me, “I have no idea who this is.” Then into the phone, “Hello?”

Silence filled the air, as a knowing smile spread across her face. As her eyes sparkled. As she adopted a look that said she was going to collect on our one hundred thousand dollar bet.

“Hi, William,” she said loudly. “She’s right here.”

She handed me the phone.

“Jess, are you okay?” he asked, and his voice was like a massage. Instantly, it relaxed me and somehow made me feel as if the world wasn’t upside down.

“Yeah,” I said heavily.

“I tried calling you but it just rang and rang and rang. And you didn’t have your regular phone, and you didn’t take your other phone when you left. I had literally no idea it was a fake wedding. You have to know that. James never told me until after the ceremony. Remember when I told you that we weren’t allowed to go near the room Veronica was getting ready in?”

I flashed back to our stakeout of Riley and Avery, when he’d shared the blueprints. “Yes.”

“That was why, evidently. They staged it all. And I’m so sorry you didn’t get the pictures you wanted. I feel terrible,” he said in a soft and sweet voice that very nearly melted me into a puddle on Anaka’s kitchen floor. That damn accent was still working its charms.

“Me, too. How did you get Anaka’s number?”

“After James had me running this way and that, I was finally able to get away, so I went to the security table at the gate, and I went through the whole box of phones and found the one you’d been using. There were only two numbers on it. Mine and Anaka’s. I called hers. Since I knew you weren’t at my number,” he said, and I could practically see the knowing grin curve up on his lips. He always knew how to make me laugh, and make me smile. “Where are you right now?”

“I’m at Anaka’s house.”

“Can I come see you?”

I turned to Anaka. “Can William come over?”

She swatted me. “Are we four years old? Of course.”

Tags: Lauren Blakely Stars In Their Eyes Romance
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