Read Star Crossed (Stargazer) Online

Authors: Jennifer Echols

Star Crossed (Stargazer)

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Contents

Acknowledgments

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

About Jennifer Echols

Acknowledgments

Heartfelt thanks to my brilliant editors, Lauren McKenna and Emilia Pisani; my wise literary agent, Laura Bradford; my high school BFF and constant inspiration, Catherine Burns; and as always, my critique partners, Victoria Dahl and Catherine Chant.

1

W
endy Mann cleared her throat to get the attention of the mega movie star strolling in from the theater’s back entrance. “You’re good,” she said, “but you’re not that good.” Then she relaxed against the wall of the musty stairwell, scrolled through her phone messages, and waited for the door onto the street to slam shut behind Zane Taylor.

BANG
. Now Wendy looked up. Zane was gaping at her, a combination of outrage and disbelief showing on his chiseled face.

Just as she’d suspected when she’d first met with him and the producer of this Broadway play two weeks ago. Nobody had ever told Zane no: not his handlers, not his bodyguards, not his former public relations people. He’d paid them to say yes.

But he didn’t pay Wendy. The producer did. So she was going to tell Zane the truth.

That was her job.

“You’re fired,” he sneered, mounting the stairs.

“You can’t fire me as your PR specialist,” Wendy countered. “You didn’t hire me. And the play will fire
you
before they fire me.”

“They won’t
fire me
.” Reaching the top of the stairs, he looked down on her with his legendary green eyes. Wendy bet women wouldn’t have gone so wild over his movies in the past decade if he’d glared at them like this, as if they weren’t fit to polish his Golden Globes. “I’m
Zane Taylor
.”

“You
were
,” Wendy acknowledged. “You were a brand name that sold out movie theaters. You ruined all that with your divorce. Now you need to stop acting like a diva and get yourself to rehearsal on time every day, or your boss will find a replacement who will.”

“A diva!” Zane exclaimed, looming closer over her, murder in his eyes.

Right. He was an old-school ass for whom the supreme insult was calling him a name usually reserved for a woman. Her ex from West Virginia, Rick, had the same attitude. The closer Zane came to her, the more her body tensed with the memory of Rick’s hands on her, even as her brain registered that Zane was not Rick.

But she wouldn’t back down. She couldn’t show weakness by panicking and taking back her words. If Zane felt more offended than she’d expected, so be it.

She met his gaze. “Your agent went to a lot of trouble to arrange this gig for you. Now that the movie roles have dried up, you wanted to retool your career by going after the serious acting cred that’s eluded you. This play was your first role in high school, the one that got you hooked on acting. You have the chance to do a play you love on Broadway and prove your critics wrong. And you’re going to throw all that away for a few weeks of partying hard and forgetting to set your alarm?”

He took a deep breath, let his shoulders sag as he exhaled, and tilted his head to one side. “Look, I may not be your boss, but you’re not mine, either. You’re PR. You’re not supposed to change what I’m doing. You just make me look good doing it.”

Wendy still held his gaze, but she could feel his fingers stroking her hand.

He said silkily, with only a hint of menace underneath, “Maybe we could compromise.”

“Do
not
proposition me,” she said.

His fingers stopped moving on her hand.

She wasn’t going to jerk away from him. She would let
him
jerk away from
her
after what she said next. “If you want a relationship, ask women out on dates. Don’t come on to the women you work with just to manipulate them. That’s how you ended up with a lawsuit from your hairdresser, a divorce from your wife, and your current downward spiral.”

His hands were off her now. If he’d had any history of violence, though, she would have suspected he was about to throw her down the stairs. Her heart raced again as he pointed his finger in her face and started, “You—”

She interrupted him before he could say
bitch
. “Remember Brad McCain?”

“Yeah.” Zane put his hand down and stood up straighter with the shock of that unexpected memory.

“You started in the movie business at the same time, right?” she prompted him. “You were in that teen blockbuster together, surviving the apocalypse.”

Zane nodded, his handsome face twisted in pain. “I wanted to go to his funeral last month, but I was stuck here in court.”

“I was Brad’s PR consultant. And he called me too late. Part of my job
is
to change what you’re doing. I can’t dress up a pig and make it look like Marilyn Monroe. If you’re headed for a fall, sending you in a different direction is better PR than covering your tracks leading off the cliff. The producer of your play called me in time. Here’s what I can do to help you change your life.”

Wendy handed him the business card for one of her assistants. She explained that Stargazer Public Relations could get him whatever help he needed—post-divorce therapy, legal counsel to fight for increased visitation with his children, intervention if his substance abuse had escalated to that point—all without detection, so he could rest assured he wouldn’t read a
sensationalized version of his private life in the tabloids the next day.

As she spoke, the worry lines in his forehead smoothed. He wouldn’t need to drown his troubles in a drink if he had assistance solving his problems discreetly. By the time she finished her lecture, he watched her with something like respect. “Thank you,” he whispered, squeezing her card between his fingers until it bowed.

“That’s what I’m here for,” she said. “But Zane, getting your life back in order will take time. Your number one priority right now is to make sure you come to rehearsal every day on time, sober, with a positive attitude.”

“I promise,” he said.

After a supportive hug good-bye and an attaboy pat on the back, she jogged down the stairs in her high heels and pushed open the door onto the street. She hopped into her waiting taxi and immediately texted the producer of the play. Zane had been late again today, but he wouldn’t be late tomorrow.

That was the plan, anyway. Wendy wasn’t convinced of Zane’s sincerity. She would be here at the same time tomorrow to make sure. If he still refused to cooperate, she had other ways of exerting pressure. She might pop in on one of the nightly after-hours parties that were making it so difficult for him to show up to work at one in the afternoon.

She looked up at the skyscrapers and bus-sized advertisements in Times Square spinning by outside the
cab—the first time all day she’d had a chance to realize how much she’d missed New York, her adopted home. After a month in Seattle repairing PR for metal supergroup Darkness Fallz, which had been like herding cats, she’d arrived back in the city on the red-eye that morning, only to be thrust into meeting after meeting on a breakneck schedule. Usually her bosses didn’t meddle in her day-to-day business. They only wanted results. For some reason, today they’d required her to touch base with many of her important clients in the city. Zane hadn’t been on the list. She’d scheduled that ambush herself.

And she would pay for it now, because she was going to be late for her one thirty meeting with her bosses. She texted Sarah, her colleague and best friend since college.

R u in office? Could you tell bosses I’m in taxi & will be there in 10? They won’t mind too much if they have called meeting to promote me ha ha

Wendy tried to relax against the seat, scrolling through the thirty e-mail messages that had appeared on her phone in the ten minutes she’d spent on Zane’s dressing-down. But she willed the taxi to sprout wings and fly above the traffic to the Stargazer offices in Midtown. She would even pay extra. She hated being late. It was unprofessional, even though the time she’d stolen might have saved
Zane’s career. And then she received an answering text from Sarah:

Done. Warning: bosses don’t seem happy.

As Wendy stared at the screen, her mind whirled with the possibilities. She’d been joking when she told Sarah she might get promoted, but she hadn’t thought it was out of the question. Could she be in
trouble
instead? Her methods might be unconventional sometimes, but she had a high success rate—despite Brad’s demise. In college she’d been second in her class among public relations majors, and the runner-up for the prestigious Clarkson Prize, awarded to the program’s most promising student. She did not get in
trouble
.

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