HOLLYWOOD REDEMPTION CHAPTER 1

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 “I’m so glad you finally made it back out here.” Anna smiled genuinely from the seatbeside me at the restaurant’s table. 

Anna and I had become good friends over the last several months. First, by talking on the phone and texting, and then one day she informed me that she and Colt were coming to visit Colt’s family in Fairlane for the weekend and wanted us to meet up for lunch or dinner. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. We had only met once at Becca Matthews party and after hearing about my wreck from Becca, Anna called to ask if there was anything she could do.

I had a feeling that her husband, Colt, felt somewhat responsible since he’d brought Matt to Fairlane and chose our table to sit at that fateful night. I didn’t blame him for any of it. It had been my decision to continue seeing Matt after that night. 

A couple of months ago, Mason and I had gone for the weekend to hang out with Anna in Chicago where she was shooting a movie. We’d never been and, being the great host that she was, Anna showed us around like the tourists we were and as if she’d lived there her entire life. It was a fun weekend visitingthe Shedd Aquarium, the Art Institute of Chicago, Adler Planetarium, and of course, we took in a baseball game too. Mason had a blast and wore himself out every day. He could barely finish his dinner every night before he’d pass out, leaving Anna and I in our hotel room giggling and gossiping like a bunch of schoolgirls. 

Almost a year ago, I went out with a friend for a girl’s night out to celebrate the one-year anniversary of my divorce. That may sound strange to most, but I needed it after dealing with my ex-husband’s verbal abuse for over a decade and then all the bullshit he’d put me through after I left him. During my night out, I met theColton Patrick, a big movie star from my hometown, and his friend Matt Ryan. Matt and I ended up dating for a hot minute, until he freaked out on me in the car on the way to the airport and we got in a wreck. That’s when Anna, Hollywood’s sweetheart, became my friend.

“You know not wanting to come to LA had nothing to do with you and more to do with what happened the last time I was here, right?” I exhaled as I twirled a piece of food with my fork. 

“I know, and I don’t blame you. You got a shit deal when you were here.” Shaking her head, Anna looked down at her lap as she twisted her napkin. “I still can’t believe Matt freaked out and, caused you to wreck, and then for him to cheat on you! Colton still won’t answer his messages, he’s so mad. I think he feels responsible in a way.”

Shaking my head, I gave her a sad smile. I didn’t like to think about that weekend often, and what could’ve happened. This was the first time since her initial phone call after the accident that Anna had said Matt’s name. In fact, no one mentioned it around me, as if I’d break down or have steam come out of my ears. From what I knew, none of them talked to him after I got out of the hospital. Jenner had stopped talking to Matt and had blocked his number after sending him a message saying that he didn’t want to have anything to do with a man who would cheat on a woman and then blame her because of his guilty conscience. 

Reeves Jenner was another personthat I’d met through Matt, and we’d become good friends after he drove me back to Fairlane from LA. I’d had a concussion and a broken arm and was advised against flying immediately after getting out of the hospital. All I had cared about was getting back to my son, Mason, and Jenner had made that a reality.

Jenner and I bonded on our trip and the subsequent week that he spent with us. After he got back home to LA, we talked a lot about his wife Poppy and what she was up to all the times she disappeared. I’d yet to meet her since she had been MIA the night I met Jenner, but I wasn’t a fan of hers since she was always distressing Jenner in some way or another.

Over the months, Jenner and I had stopped trying to figure out where and what Poppy was up to. Lately, she did seem to be around more. Luckily for me, she wasn’t around last night when we were hanging out. I wasn’t sure I could hold my tongue knowing how much Jenner worried and loved her. I had no evidence that Poppy had been, or was, cheating on Jenner, but from everything he’d told me and the look that passed between Becca and Matt the night I’d met them, I had a pretty good suspicion she was. 

Anna was having a little Fourth of July party and invited me out to LA once she found out I would be alone for the holiday, since Mason had gone on vacation for two weeks with Decker, my ex-husband, and his parents. At first I didn’t want to, as the memories of the wreck came back, and how upset Mason had been and how long it affected him. I didn’t want to risk a repeat, but I also knew I wouldn’t be putting myself in that type of situation again. 

If I thought Anna and Colt’s house in Fairlane was the most beautiful I’d ever seen, their homein Beverly Hills was breathtaking. It was a three-story Spanish-style house with a courtyard in the front and a large backyard with an infinity pool that looked out over LA. During the day it was beautiful, and at night the sight was miraculous. It was even equipped with an outdoor kitchen/barbecue area. There were small colorful lanterns hung from the trees, and seating areas that were almost like little cabanas. In keeping with the Spanish design, the interior of the home was gorgeous, filled with vibrant colors and very welcoming. I’d immediately felt at home.

After the party the night before, we were a littleslow to get around that morning and decided to have a girl’s lunch out with a few of Anna’s friends. At first, when I found out that she was inviting Ruby Price, Grace Anderson, and Cyndi Hanson to lunch with us, I almost had a mild heart attack. They were all big-name actresses that I had grown up watching. It was one thing to see them at the party last night, but a whole other to be sitting around a table with them. The girls were Anna’s Hollywood best friends, and I was highly intimidated by them the night before as they eyed methroughout the night. I hoped they didn’t think I’d befriended Anna only to use her. The public had either been on my side or the glaring opposite with Matt comma from what Taylor had told me. I stayed away from the gossip, but Taylor ate it up. From what she’d read there were many who thought it was my fault that Matt cheated and wrecked the car. They also thought that I’d used him to try to become famous. Hearing what they’d said was what made me stay away from the gossip.

 “Luke,” Cyndi waved excitedly to an extremely tall and attractive man who was walking by our table. “Hey, what are you doing here?” She asked as she stood and kissed him on the cheek.

“I’m justhere for an interview before I head back out of town in a couple of days.” His deep accented voice was smooth like velvet.

       I couldn’t help but ogle him as I took in the man that stood before me. Not only was he remarkably tall at well above six feet, but his shoulders and chest were broad, and his well-defined biceps flexed as he gave her a small hug. This Luke guy was the epitome of sexy with his tight black t-shirt clinging to his upper body in the best possible way. It took all my self-control not to drool as I continued my appraisal that only got better and better with each inch I took in. His waist tapered down, and I knew that if he took off his shirt he’d have one of those delicious V’s that I’d only seen in magazines and movies. You know, the ones where you want to get up close and personal with each line leading down to the pleasure zone, while following them with your tongue. He was wearing dark jeans that I was sure would hug his ass because that’s what I would do if I were those jeans on that body. My gaze made its way back up his body to his face. I was sure that if I hadn’t been sitting in that moment I would have made a complete ass of myself as my legs gave out. Even seated, I could feel they were weak. Luke was perfection. His hair was a light blondish-brown from what I could see peeking out from underneath his black baseball hat, but it was his eyes that captivated me. They were unlike any color I’d ever seen before on a person. In one instance they looked blue and in the next green. They reminded me of Caribbean waters, that beautiful island color I was a sucker forLowering my gaze, I took in his full pink lips and the dimple in his chin. I wanted to nibble on that lip and then bite and kiss that dimple until the end of my days. 

Dear God, what was this man doing to me? 

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d ever had such a reaction to a man, but then again, I’d never meet anyone as gorgeous as Luke. 

“Please, join us. We have too much estrogen at this table. We need your hotness to balance us out,” Cyndi joked, laughing with a twinkle in her eye before extending her arm out to the table. There were a couple of seats available and I thought for sure that he’d pick the one closest to Cyndi, but instead he started for the seat directly in front of me.

This wouldn’t be good. I wasn’t sure if I could keep my cool while he was across from me. I didn’t want to stare, but how could I not, and I sure as hell didn’t want to ignore him. This was my one and only chance to be in the presence of perfection. 

“Are you sure?” he asked, eying us as if we all might attack him the second he sat down. 

Ding, ding, ding. 

He was right to feel a little wary because I wanted to pounce. 

Again, what was wrong with me? 

“Yeah, yeah, we’re all a friendly bunch. Aren’t we ladies?” Cyndi smiled almost evilly as she took her seat. I hoped he knew that Cindy was mostly harmless.

We all smiled, and a few waved from the other end of the table as Luke took his seat, a hesitant smile on his face. Surely if Luke was in the restaurant to do an interview he must be in the entertainment business. I couldn’t besure because I didn’t recognize him. Although that wasn’t surprising, since I didn’t watch too much TV or have time to go to the movies. 

Looking at me from across the table, Luke smiled in a friendly way,lookingas if he was going to speak at any moment. I wasn’t sure if I was ready for talking to the hottie sitting directly across from me. Never in my life had I been so attracted to a man, and it scared the shit out of me. He stole my breath as his gaze locked with mine. 

My phone rang, saving me from staring and possibly hyperventilating like an idiot. Once I saw it was Mason calling, I jumped from the table to take it.

“Hey, honey. Is everything okay?” Mason had called me first thing in the morning and right before bed since he’d been gone and while he seemed to be having fun, I missed him more and more every day. 

“Yep.” Mason replied brightly into the phone. “I just saw the Grand Canyon. It’s so big! Have you seen it, mommy?”

I answered as I walked toward the bathroom, wishing it was me that Mason was with when he got to see all the amazing places on his vacation. “I have. My grandpa took me when I was a little older than you.”

“Was it big then?”

“It was.” I smiled, thinking back to my trip with my grandparents. “I remember standing right at the edge against the hand rails, looking over, and my grandma freaked out because she was afraid of heights, but my grandpa was right beside me, looking out over the vastness. It was amazing.”

“Awesome.”

“Itwasawesome. What are you doing now?”

“Waiting for dad to get back from the bathroom so I asked grandma and grandpa if I could call you.”

“I’m glad you did. I miss you.” My last word was a croak as I tried not to cry. I could hear his grandparents tell him that he was going to have to get off the phone soon, making matters worse. Instead on dwelling over how much I missed him, I finished washing my hands and made my way back to the table. I’d need the distraction once I got off the phone.

“Mama, I have to get off the phone now. Dad’s on his way back and he’ll be mad if I’m on the phone.” There was no hiding the sadness in his voice at having to get off the phone. At least his grandparents were with them and I knew they loved Mason.

“I know, baby. I’ll talk to you tonight. Okay?”

“Okay,” Mason sniffed.

“I love you and have lots of fun.” Pulling out my chair, I kept my eyes down and away from everyone.

“I love you, too. Bye.”

“Bye,” I said even though he had already disconnected.

Pasting on my best smile, I took my seat before grabbing my mimosa and draining the last half. Anna gave me a quick side hug before going back to whatever discussion everyone else was having. 

Looking around for a waiter to get another refill, I was startled to hear Luke’s deep and slightly accented voice ask, “Your husband?”

Instead of answering a laugh bubbled out of me. Luke probably thought I was crazy because he’d said nothing to cause my outburst. Looking over at him, I saw a ‘what the fuck is wrong with her look’ and quickly settled down.

“I’m sorry, I promise I’m not crazy or anything. At least I don’t think so.” God, I was a mess.

“Nothing wrong with a little crazy.” His eyes sparkled with mischief along with his smirk.

“I guess not, but for now I’m happy with boring and normal.”

One lone eyebrow rose on his handsome face. “Is your husband boring?”

“My ex-husband is nowhere near boring. More of an asshole than anything else, but that wasn’t him. That was my son who’s with his asshole father.”

“And you’re not happy he’s with his father?” Luke asked scratching his cheek.

“No, but I don’t really have any say on the matter so what can I do?”

Luke cocked his head to the side and gave me a sad smile making me feel guilty. I didn’t want his pity and it was obvious I wasn’t hiding how upset I was from my phone call. 

Letting out a deep sigh, I tried to smile back at him. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t bother you with my problems.”

He chuckled and gave me a crooked smile that for one moment made me forget all my troubles. “I don’t mind. Sometimes it’s nice to hear someone else’s problems and forget our own.”

“True.” I agreed. “Do you want to tell me yours, so I can forget mine?”

Shrugging he started to run a hand through his hair but came into contact with his baseball hat instead. His cheeks flushed as he looked away. Somehow knowing that he was embarrassed made him even more attractive. I wanted to roll my eyes at myself and my hormones. The poor guy’s embarrassment shouldn’t make me want to jump him.

“I don’t have any exes causing me problems or anything like that, but I do miss my family. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen them and with my hours it’s hard to find a good time to talk to them on the phone.” He gave a grimace of a smile and glanced away again.

It was strange that I had only just met this man, but the sadness in his voice spoke to me and caused my heart to ache. I felt an instant connection to Luke and his pain. The backs of my eyes burned with tears that I fought away.

“Do you want to talk about it or will that just make it worse?”

“No, but thank you.” He shook his head, his eyes sad.

“I understand.” Turning back to the rest of the group I listened until a hand covered my own. My head whipped around so fast, I almost got whiplash only to see Luke’s retreating hand.

He flinched. “Sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for.” My brows drew together wondering what Luke thought he had to be sorry for.

“For touching you and for not wanting to talk,” he explained as if he could read my thoughts.

I shook by head hastily, hating myself for making this hot guy think I hated his touch. “The touching is all me. It may seem weird, but I’m not really used to being touched very much, and it took me by surprise. As for the other, I truly do understand about not wanting to talk about your problems. First, you don’t know me and not everyone wants to talk to a stranger. Second, no reason to dampen this,” my arm indicated the table and people around it. “Third, I assume you are some sort of celebrity if you know Cyndi and as such, you have to be careful about who you talk to so that whatever you say doesn’t get leaked to the press.”

Letting out a small laugh, Luke studied me for a minute. “I swear I’m not saying this to be conceited or because I have a huge ego because I don’t, but you really don’t recognize me?”

“No,” I replied, shaking my head and giving him another once over. How in the world would I ever forget that face if I’d seen it before? “I’m sorry. I don’t watch a lot of TV or movies.”

“To tell you the truth neither do I.”

Feeling bad for not knowing who he was I asked. “What should I know you from?”

Luke made a low hum in the back of his throat. “I’ve done two shows for the H@T network. One was a mini-series about drug addicts and the other is in its second season, about vampires that are taking over the world. I also did a movie last summer that was out in theaters a couple of months ago.”

“Wait, a minute. I watched a show on H@T about addicts. Were you on Fix?”

“Yeah,” Luke answered uneasily as if he was afraid I was going to go all fangirl on him. 

“And you’re on another show on H@T that has vampires in it?” His only answer was to nod his head. I was probably scaring him with the way I had perked up as I tried to figure this out. I didn’t watch much TV, but I did normally watch H@T’s Sunday night shows because they were always good and never disappointed. “Are you on Night Shadows?”

“Yeah.” He answered again only this time with a little chuckle. 

I watched and knew both those shows, but I couldn’t place the Luke who was sitting across from me on either one.

“I’m sorry for staring, but I’ve watched both those shows. I actually love them, but I can’t place you.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“It’s going to drive me crazy!” My eyes traced over his face one last time and slowly my synapsis started firing, connecting the dots on who Luke was on both shows. He didn’t look like either character as he sat across from me. On Fix, Luke’s character, John Connelly, had short, black hair, and he was so skinny he looked emaciated. “Wow,” I exclaimed a little too loudly for inside the restaurant and smiling what probably looked like a Joker smile. “You were John Connelly. I never would’ve guessed that was you.”

“Yeah, the dark hair and the weight I lost throws people.” His shoulder lifted in a half-shrug while his cheeks turned a light shade of pink. It seemed Luke was a little shy talking about his roles for some reason.

“I’m a few episodes behind on Night Shadows, but I can’t place you.” My head shook as I tried to figure out who he was on the show.

“Hmmm, I wasn’t on the first episode of thisseasonand inthe first season I wore a wig.”

Laughing, I couldn’t believe I still didn’t know who he was. “Are you going to make me beg for you to tell me your character’s name?”

His mouth curved into a wicked smile and his eyes glinted in the light. “Maybe.”

Was he flirting with me? No. There was no way on this Earth that this fine specimen of a man was flirting with me. 

Instead of thinking about how Luke would never find me attractive, I mentally went through all the characters I remembered from Night Shadows. The one problem with H@T was that once the season was over you had to wait another year for it to be on and within that year and having only seen one episode of the new season, I had forgotten many of the characters and what they looked like.

“Oh my God! You’re Nikolai! I can’t believe I didn’t see it sooner. My mind can’t wrap around the fact that both John and Nikolai are the same person, and it’s you. The hair really threw me.” My words came out too quick with excitement.

Luke only smiled at me and I hoped that I hadn’t made him uncomfortable, but I had to figure out who he was on the shows that I loved.

“I’m sorry. It was really driving me crazy that I couldn’t figure it out. We don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

“I’m glad you figured it out. I know what it’s like when you know you’re supposed to know or remember something it can drive you crazy, but yeah if we could talk about something else that would be great. All I’ve been doing for the last two months in my spare time is talk about myself and my projects. I’d rather hear about you.”

“Is that how you met Cyndi, or did you know her before?”

He moved his head from side to side. “We met once before when I went on her show, but I was a secondary guest then and we didn’t really talk much. When my movie came out, I did her show again,” he shrugged his shoulders. “We seemed to hit it off, but I think she usually does with all her guests. So, when she asked me to join you ladies I said yes.”

I had a feeling there might be other reasons as to why Luke joined us, but either way I was happy. “Well, I’m glad you did.”

“Me, too. Now that you know what I do for a living, what do you do?”

I rolled my eyes at my boring profession. “I’m a web designer. It’s not exciting in the least.”

“I don’t know. I think it's pretty cool. I mean, I have no clue how to do anything like that.”

“It can be cool, but normally I get boring jobs.”

“I’m sorry. Here we’ve been talking, and I don’t even know your name,” Luke gave me a lop-sided smile.

“Oh my gosh, how rude of me. I’m sorry. I heard Cyndi call you Luke, so I already knew your name, and I don’t know where my head was. I’m Alexandra Sloane, but my friends call me Alex.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Alex. I’m Lukas Sandström, but everyone calls me Luke.”

Luke and I continued to talk as if we were the only two people in the restaurant. Once I got over his hotness, he was easy to talk to. It wasn’t until Anna put a hand on my arm that I realized that I’d been ignoring everyone else at the table. From the look on her face Anna didn’t mind, in fact she looked amused.

“Honey, we’re getting ready to leave.”

“Oh!” I looked around the table for my bill but found nothing but an empty plate and glass. “Has the waiter came by? I haven’t paid yet.”

Anna smiled, lighting up her whole face. “Don’t worry about it. I already took care of it.”

“I can’t let you do that.” I hadn’t come for her to pay my way. 

“Hey! It was my idea for you to come out here, and you wouldn’t let me pay for your plane ticket, so it’s the least I can do. The girls are all going their separate ways and I think I’m going to go home. What do you want to do?” Her eyes darted toward Luke as she smiled.

“Um, I guess I’ll go home with you. I don’t really have any plans except hang out with you and catch my plane tomorrow.”

“If it’s okay with both of you, I can bring her home later,” Luke piped in looking a little unsure.

Anna beamed as she looked back and forth between us. “Of course, I don’t mind. Go and have fun!”

I couldn’t help but laugh. It was like she was my mom giving me permission to go out on a date. The irony was that I’d never once been asked out on a date and my mother hadn’t been in the picture since I was around three. 

“Is that okay with you, Alex?” Luke asked, tugging on his shirt collar nervously. 

It was sort of like he was asking me out and there was no way in hell that I was going to say no. 

“I would love to.” I answered quietly before turning to Anna. “I guess I’ll see you later tonight.” 

When her only response was another beaming smile, I bit my bottom lip until I caught what I had done and realized how unattractive it probably made me. Releasing my lip,I licking them and watched as Luke’s eyes followed the movement of my tongue.