When you’re acting the role of a lifetime, how can you know if love is real—or all just a part of the show?
Twenty-three year old rising theatre star Jill McCormick has built a life out of pretending. Pretending she’s happy, pretending her long-distance crushes add up to something real, pretending she’s not haunted by the dark secret that shattered her world six years ago. Cast in her first Broadway show, she desperately needs to keep her façade intact, but that’s before she comes face to face with her devastating new boss…
Hot-shot director Davis Milo knows the first rule of directing: never fall for your leading lady. Captivated by Jill’s raw talent, he fights his feelings, but watching Jill on-stage with another man is more than his jealous streak can take. Keeping things professional isn’t an option. He wants all of her.
Soon the ingénue and her director are staying late in the empty theatre, their private rehearsals spiraling into new, forbidden territory. Caught up between fiction and reality, Jill struggles to find the truth in all their staged kisses. But how can she be sure that what she feels is real, and not a part of the play? And when two people spend their lives pretending, what happens after the final curtain falls?
I lean on the piano and watch his hands move over the keys. He has a scar across his right hand, a long jagged worm from the wrist all the way to his ring finger. Like someone cut him. Or he cut someone. I wonder if he even tells anyone how it happened. If he’d tell me if I asked. His fingers move quickly on the keys, and he’s turned Carmen’s aria into a rock tune, changing the speed, mixing it up, so it’s got this low, sexy beat that sounds like the song he was playing in his office a month ago.
The song I told him I loved. The song he turned off. Now he’s shifting from Carmen to Muse, and it’s as if he’s playing Madness just for me, telling me something, using music instead of words. My cheeks feel hot as he plays, his eyes on me the whole time.
He says nothing as the music fills the room, and it feels like it’s spreading through my body, and I have this strange sensation of being his instrument, as if the notes he’s hitting are being played in me. Neither one of us speaks, there is only music between us, but I know the lyrics behind every note, and when he reaches come on and rescue me, it all becomes too much. “You lied. You said you didn’t play well.”
He shakes his head. “I said I’m not a virtuoso. I didn’t say I didn’t play well. But I don’t want to talk about me anymore, Jill,” he says in a commanding voice. He’s turned from playful to powerful. I straighten my spine in response, standing taller, no longer leaning on the piano. He’s all-business and I need to let go of my overwhelming need to lighten every situation. “I want to talk about Ava. And I want to talk about you. I want to talk about how you can become her, find the truth of her, and hold onto it so tightly as you perform that no one doubts for even a second that you’re her. You won’t doubt it, I won’t doubt it, and the audience won’t doubt it. And so, I want you to think of Carmen and Habanera when you play Ava.”
He’s shifted, leaving Muse behind us. I follow his lead, serious in tone too. “Tell me why.”
“Ava is a rebellious bird. She resists Paolo. She resists his teaching, his way of making art. She resists his love too,” he continues in his clear, determined way of speaking. His eyes never stray from mine, and his gaze is so intense it could burn. Then he lowers his voice, softens to a lover’s whisper. “But then she transforms. Love changes her. Love without bounds. Love without reason. She becomes his, and that changes her.”
Those last few words make me feel light-headed and woozy, so I reach for the edge of the piano, holding on.
She becomes his, and that changes her.
“I love that sentiment,” I manage to say and I’m only vaguely aware that I sound a bit breathy. I quickly catalogue my reaction – there are goosebumps on my arms, and there’s a tingling in my belly, and my lips are parted.
It hits me what’s happening.
Because he’s doing it to me again.
He’s fucking me with his words, and I am turned on beyond belief.
My body is responding faster than my brain can apply the brakes – my skin is hot all over, and heat is flaring through my veins. I know this feeling. I usually only feel it when I’m reading a hot scene in a novel. But now I’m feeling it in real life, and not in my imagination, not from pretending or picturing a make-believe session in the sheets. This is real and it’s legitimate and it’s borne from the fact that I’m craving something I haven’t let myself have in years.
My vision blurs for a moment, and I dig my fingers into the side of the piano so I don’t fall.
“Which sentiment, Jill?”
He says my name like it’s dessert. Like it’s something he wants to eat. Even though it’s only a simple question he’s asked, I’m unhinged by my body’s reaction to the way he talks. By the way it feels as if my body is no longer my own, that it’s responding to someone else’s cues.
For no good reason.
Because there’s no good reason at all why my head should be so cloudy and my body so hazy, and my pulse racing like a getaway train. I can’t let myself get carried away. That would be unbearably foolish, so I remind myself that he’s good with words, he’s good with people, he’s good with ideas. He has to be. He does what Paolo does. He takes nascent, unformed clay and transforms it into something alive and wondrous. With a heartbeat, with a lifeforce. That’s the only reason there’s an aching between my legs. Not because my director is turning me on again. The only reason I am a tuning fork now is because he’s making me feel like Ava, and Ava is turned on by Paolo.
“All of them.”
“All of them?” he raises an eyebrow.
“The one where she becomes his,” I say quickly. My skin is feverish. The heat is cranked too high in this room. I look around. “Can we turn the heat down?”
He stands up, walks to the thermostat, adjusts the lever and turns back. He’s near to me on his return path, so near that even though I force myself to stare hard out the window, I can sense him as he passes me. As if he’s mere inches from me. For a brief moment, I expect him to trail a hand across my lower back. Make me shiver. I close my eyes as the image flicks by, then open them.
He hasn’t touched me though. Maybe he doesn’t have to for me to feel this way because I am a livewire already.
:Playing With Her Heart is available for:
Barnes and Noble
:Playing With Her Heart is available for:
Barnes and Noble
Lauren Blakely is an unabashed fan of clever jokes, toast, and good guys in novels. Like the heroine in CAUGHT UP IN US, she thinks life should be filled with movie kisses and coffee drinks. Lauren lives in California with her husband and children, and spends her days writing both true stories and make-believe ones.
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