The thought that his father had access to the money he needed jumped into his brain.

Except that he’d rather drill a screwdriver into his skull than ask Chad for anything. In one of his many recent emails he’d skimmed over, his father had told him that he, and some cronies, had up to two hundred million to invest in any of his films if there was a part in one of his movies for him. It seemed that Chad had conveniently forgotten that their final fight, the one that had decimated their fragile relationship, had been about the industry, about money, about a part in a film.

After Ben’s death, his legions of friends and his fans, wanting to honor his memory, had taken to social media and the press to “encourage” him—as a then-indie filmmaker and Ben’s adoring younger brother—to produce a documentary on Ben’s life. Profits from the film could be donated to a charity in Ben’s name. It would be a fitting memorial. The idea snowballed and soon he was inundated with requests to do the film, complete with suggestions that his father narrate the nonexistent script.

He’d lost the two people he’d loved best in that accident, the same two people who’d betrayed him in the worst way possible. While he tried to deal with his grief—and anger and shock—the idea of a documentary gained traction and he found himself being swept into the project, unenthusiastic but unable to say no without explaining why he’d rather swim with great whites in chum-speckled water. So he’d agreed. One of Ben’s friends produced a script he could live with and his father agreed to narrate the film, but at the last minute Chad told him that he wanted a fee for lending his voice to the documentary.

And it hadn’t been a small fee. Chad had wanted ten million dollars and, at the time, Ryan, as the producer, hadn’t had the money. Chad—Hollywood’s worst father of the year—refused to do it without a financial reward, and in doing so he’d scuttled the project. He was relieved at being off the hook, felt betrayed by Ben, heartbroken over Kelly, but he was rabidly angry that Chad, their father, had tried to capitalize on his son’s death. Their argument was vicious and ferocious and he’d torn into Chad as he’d wanted to do for years.

Too much had been said, and after that blowout he realized how truly alone he really was. After a while he started to like the freedom his solitary state afforded him and really, it was just easier and safer to be alone. He liked his busy, busy life. He had the occasional affair and never dated a woman for more than six weeks at a time. He had friends, good friends he enjoyed, but he kept his own counsel. He worked and he made excellent films. He had a good, busy, productive life. And if he sometimes yearned for more—a partner, a family—he ruthlessly stomped on those rogue thoughts. He was perfectly content.

Or he would be if he didn’t suddenly have a fake girlfriend who made him rock-hard by just breathing, a manipulative investor and a father who wouldn’t give up.

Four

Jaci, sitting cross-legged on her couch, cursed when she heard the insistent chime telling her that she had a visitor. She glanced at her watch. At twenty past nine it was a bit late for social visits. She was subletting this swanky, furnished apartment and few people had the address, so whoever was downstairs probably had the wrong apartment number.

She frowned and padded over to her front door and pressed the button. “Yes?”

“It’s Ryan.”

Ryan? Of all the people she expected to be at her door at twenty past nine—she squinted at her watch, no, that was twenty past ten!—Ryan Jackson was not on the list. Since leaving his office four days before, she hadn’t exchanged a word with him and she’d hoped that his ridiculous idea of her acting as his girlfriend had evaporated.

“Can I come up?” Ryan’s terse question interrupted her musings.

Jaci looked down at her fuzzy kangaroo slippers—a gag Christmas gift from her best friend, Bella—and winced. Her yoga pants had a rip in the knee and her sweatshirt was two sizes too big, as it was one of Clive’s that she’d forgotten to return. Her hair was probably spiky from pushing her fingers into it and she’d washed off her makeup when she’d showered after her run through Central Park after work.

“Can this wait until the morning? It’s late and I’m dressed for bed.”

She knew it was ridiculous but she couldn’t help hoping that Ryan would assume that she was wearing a sexy negligee and not clothes a bag lady would think twice about.

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