Genre: Romantic Suspense/ Romantic Thriller
Publisher: Champagne Book Group
Date of Publication: July 29, 2019
Number of pages: 209
Word Count: 79,236
Cover Artist: OliviaProDesign
To save the life of the man she loves, she’ll have to risk her own.
Costume designer, Leslie Carroll has mastered the art of flying under the radar. She’s had to, or risk being found by the psychopath who almost killed her.
When she literally falls into Hollywood heartthrob Charlie Erickson’s dressing room on her first day of employment, their mutual attraction is instant and undeniable. Despite his star status, Charlie is a sweet southern boy at heart, and for the first time in a long time, Leslie begins to think she has a chance at happiness.
When her harrowing past catches up to her and targets Charlie, will she run to save herself, or face her monster to save the man who is her future?
When Leslie emerged, her anger remained, although most of it was aimed at herself. She’d let Christine’s words get under her skin. Truth was, she had become mousy. In high school, she’d been headstrong, bold, and daring. Then in college, thanks to unwise decisions, unspeakable things happened. Because of those things, she’d become paranoid and cautious. If she was being honest, more than a little mousy.
That was the next item on her bucket list to change.
As she walked back toward the line, the drone of machines had lessened.
Frank’s skinny arms flailed around. He looked like a chicken fighting a snake. He spoke to a man, but because of the crowd gathered, the back of his head was the only visible body part. Angela too, appeared wild-eyed and pointing in her direction. Coffee churned in Leslie’s stomach. The crowd turned to stare as she trotted up.
Mr. Miller stood like ice. His eyes narrowed. A hush came over the crowd of extras. Folding his arms, he glared.
Great. What now?
She swallowed hard. Mr. Miller cleared his throat and grinned like a cat. Slowly, as if he had nowhere to be, he sauntered toward his prey, ready to pounce. “Miss Carroll,” he said, steepling his fingers, “how pleasant of you to join us. Did you have a relaxing break?”
She opened her mouth to explain. He held one finger in the air to silence her, then circled like a shark claiming its lunch. “Did you get autographs from anyone famous? Is that why you’re here, dear—to attract an actor? I hired you to do a job, not to fraternize with the famed.”
The thirty or so extras gaped with delight as the torture unfolded. Frank’s face was lined with pretend sympathy yet smug, while Angela’s seemed more humbled. Blood drained slowly from Leslie’s face, and her fists balled. Damn. Her only crime was not finding the bathroom. It wasn’t as if she sought out the crazy.
Mr. Miller circled one last time. He strutted a few feet from her, head cocked sideways. A faint smile drifted across his lips. Enjoying his assault, he resumed, “Miss Carroll, please share with the group precisely where you went for an hour and what you were doing?”
She opened her mouth to speak, but everything she wanted to say, sounded crazy. Then it hit her. Leslie cleared her throat and forced a smile. “Mr. Miller, I’d love to tell you where I’ve been, but, you see, I signed a non-disclosure agreement. I’m sure you’ll understand, the actors I ran into would appreciate my discretion.”
He reeled. Anger rolled off his skin like fog. His nostrils flared as he stomped back toward her. His face was inches from hers. “I had such high hopes for you, Miss Carroll. You came with such recommendation. Now I know you are not a team player, but someone who enjoys the spotlight. I’m afraid, I am going to have to ask you—”
Gasps from the crowd rang out before he finished. She knew. Knew someone walked up and stood behind her. Normal range, but again, too close for her.
“Mr. Miller?” Charlie’s familiar voice boomed.
Her back straightened as if someone poked her. Perhaps it was her imagination, but the warmth from his body radiated through the back of her thin shirt. Or she was having a hot flash twenty years too early.
His signature cologne, designed by someone else but stamped with his name, filled the air. A body-awakening musk mixed with a fresh rain. She shuddered. Instinct caused her to whirl around and step to the side, gaining a foot of distance between them. As she did, their eyes locked. Another chill racked her body. If she was lucky, he didn’t notice.
One quick look at Charlie’s head cocked to the side and the question in his eyes—he’d noticed.
Mr. Miller’s demeanor and voice changed, as if someone flipped a switch on his back. “Mr. Erickson, what a pleasure! To what do we owe this visit? Oh, I remember, you were to be measured today, weren’t you? Let me get my top assistant, Dana, and we will get that underway right now.”
He brushed past Leslie, shooting daggers, when Charlie stopped him.
“Mr. Miller, I’ve already been fitted by this young lady here.” He moved toward her, holding out an arm like an invitation for a side hug.
Great. He was a hugger. When she mirrored his movement, only backward, she crossed her arms and shot him an apologetic nod. Questions arose again in his eyes. But this time, a sign of understanding accompanied it.
Charlie shoved his hands into his pockets and examined her yet spoke to Mr. Miller. “She saved me time and embarrassment today.” Charlie’s gaze darted from the gawking crowd to Mr. Miller’s aggressive stance. Then he added, “I hope she was being commended for her efforts, rather than reprimanded.”
Charlie slid a long look at Mr. Miller.
Frank gaped, star struck, while Angela’s stare switched from the famous actor to Leslie and back.
Charlie turned toward her. “I didn’t realize—wait, did you say today is your first day?” He shook Mr. Miller’s hand. “Nice catch. She’s an excellent hire.”
Mr. Miller stammered, “Why…thank you, Mr. Erickson. That is generous of you. So Leslie measured you already?” Confusion laced his voice.
“Leslie,” Charlie repeated her name.
His slow, smooth voice rumbled with a touch of his southern drawl. Nothing could stop the flaming in her cheeks. Heat spread all the way to her ears. She wanted to disappear under the concrete floor. Her mind logged and registered all the exits. An old survival habit she couldn’t break.
Fidgeting, she moved a baby-step farther out of his reach. He’d already made her shudder and his mind-numbing scent mixed with his unwavering stare had her terrified he’d touch her, and yet wanting him to at the same time.
Yes, she was aware a costume professional by design must touch people. But it wasn’t her touching others that bothered her. It was not having control of someone else touching her. As long as other people stayed in their bubble, she was fine. But somehow, Charlie seemed unaware of the bubble rule.
“Yes, Leslie did an amazing job of putting up with my shenanigans.” He turned toward Mr. Miller. “Could I have a private word?”
Mr. Miller puffed up like a peacock. “Me? Well, of course, you can, Mr. Erickson.”
Chin raised a notch, he walked a few feet away from the crowd for their chat. When he returned, he waved his hand in dismissal of the crowd. Frank shrugged and turned. Angela actually smiled toward Leslie. She beamed back. They’d not be getting the better of her today.
Mr. Miller turned. His normal intimidating presence softened. “Miss Carroll, I owe you an apology. It was my understanding you’d gone missing.” He glared over at Frank and exhaled. “I should have considered the source. I had no idea you were recording measurements. Will you please accept my request for forgiveness?”
“Of course, sir.”
She offered her hand. Mr. Miller shook it as if it might bite him. Letting go, he raised one perfect eyebrow and added, “Interesting first day, wouldn’t you say?”
“Yes, sir.” She exhaled, deeply grateful to still have a job.
Straightening his suit jacket, he reverted to his more formal speech. “Mr. Erickson requested a private word with you as well. When you are finished, I would like for you to find Mrs. Godwin again and speak to her about your next assignment. That will be all, Miss Carroll.”
“Of course, sir.”
What does he want now? Leslie made her way from the crowd toward Charlie. He leaned against the edge of a drafting table. Strong arms were folded across his chest, his golden hair still messy, and his legs stretched out. He surveyed her as she came toward him, his eyes questioning, as if figuring out a puzzle. His I-told-you-so smile was enough to make anyone swoon, but she took a deep breath, squared her shoulders, and pressed her eyebrows together as she neared him.
He chuckled. Then in a low, sexy voice he said, “There she is. My elusive friend, Mousy—I mean Leslie.”
“Mr. Erickson.” She nodded.
“Charlie,” he stated, looking her dead in the eyes.
This was a strong-willed chess match she was determined to win. “Mr. Erickson—was there something you needed from me?”
“Not a fan, I take it?”
“Fan of what?”
She shrugged. “I guess so, why?”
He mimicked her shrug. “Just wondering. I know you’re not a fan of being touched.”
He’d nailed her in five seconds flat. Her hackles rose. “Did you need something?”
“You’re a mystery, that’s all. Most people in this town fight to stand next to an actor, name drop, snap pictures, you know the whole not-real fame thing.” He slid her a curious look. “But not you. It’s refreshing.”
She nodded, then raised her eyebrows as if to say, your point?
His smile faded, then rebounded as he mouthed the word “lunch.”
Her eyes narrowed. She cocked her head to the side as she placed both hands on her hips. “You expect me to fetch your lunch?”
He pushed off the table and took a cautious step toward her. Both hands raised in surrender, he looked hurt. “No, I want to take you to lunch. You know, for being discreet and not telling the world about the arrogant, pompous, windbag actor and his lunatic ex-girlfriend.”
She bit her lip. She wanted to full-out cackle. An unstoppable grin fought its way through. It radiated across her lips, erupting into giggles she had zero hope of controlling. He lowered his arms. His warm eyes danced with laughter along with her.
“I guess I should apologize for the pompous-windbag comment, eh?”
“No way,” he said. “Besides, it was cute.”
He examined her—too closely. The heat in his eyes caused warning bells to clang in her mind. Her laughter faded fast.
Clearing his throat, he continued, “Please let me take you to lunch. Come on, Slim, you gotta be hungry.” His boyish grin made her smile. “What do you say? They make a mean salad at the Canteen downstairs.”
Frank watched them with a mixture of respect and jealousy in his eyes. Perfect. Obviously, he was a fan of Charlie’s. Charlie didn’t notice. In fact, he didn’t seem to notice anything in the room but her. A few short years ago, she would’ve jumped at the chance to go to lunch with a famous actor.
Shaking her head, she backed up. “Sorry. I just can’t. We’re slammed. Thanks anyway.” She turned on her heels toward the sea of human mannequins.
She turned back as he stepped close.
“I’m sorry you had to listen to all that—you know, before with Christine. She’s such a…” The struggle between being honest and being kind washed over his face. Charlie tilted his head up as if his answer hung in the rafters. He gave the impression he was searching for the vaguest, yet most correct word in the English language.
“Bitch?” Leslie offered, her lips curved upward.
“Yeah. That’s probably the best one.”
His wholesome laugh softened his jawline and lit up his eyes. She didn’t want to look away. He didn’t seem so intimidating or so famous anymore.
Charlie bent toward her. “Listen, can I buy you coffee and a salad to make it up to you? Please?”
She allowed no one except Nate and her father to touch her or be in her space. Charlie had weaseled his body closer to hers. Back inside her bubble. Breathe. Tiny beads of sweat trickled around her temple. He was only being polite, she reminded her brain.
“No thanks, I’m more of a peanut butter and jelly type of girl anyway.” Leslie backed away, winning and grinning. She spotted Dana waving from the other side of the room. “Mr. Erickson, I gotta go.” Walking away, she sensed a gaze on her rear. Something about him staring both excited and terrified her.
“Leslie?” he yelled.
She stopped in her tracks and turned, hating how it thrilled her when he called to her. Turning on his Hollywood charm, he declared, “It’s Charlie—and I will see you around.”
Kelley Griffin is an author, mom to five sons, wife to a marine and a teacher. Her romantic suspense debut, Binding Circumstance, is the story of a young Hollywood costume designer on the run from her college captor who literally falls into an A-list actor's dressing room and into his heart. That is, until her harrowing past catches up to her and targets him.
Look for Kelley's Kirin Lane series in the fall of 2019. You can check out her webpage at www.kelleygriffinauthor.com