She didn’t warn me about what we were getting ourselves into. Hell, even if she had I don’t think I could have expected the scale of it.
I knew that Harper had made a lot of money writing manuscripts, so I knew that her movie was going to be big.
But I hadn’t known that it was the movie of the whole damn year.
When we went to the cinema earlier in December she hadn’t told me that the huge boards and cardboard cut-outs that they had in there were for the movie that she had written. She’d walked past them all with complete indifference, as if she’d never seen them before. But as the limo that had been arranged to bring her to the premier pulls up to a stop at the silver barricades, blockading the swarming crowd from the wide red carpet, I can see the posters clear as day.
I stare out of the window in horror, thanking God that these windows are tinted as thousands of cameras flash violently at Harper’s unopened door.
“Harper,” I say. My brow is furrowed. My eyes are wide with disbelief.
She lets out a little cough and then says, “Yeah?”
I look between her and the window, out of my comfort zone but determined to stay level, knowing that this is the moment that she’s been feeling nervous about.
“You didn’t tell me how big your movie was, Harper. You didn’t tell me that you’re…” I have to choke the next words out of my throat. “That you’re famous.”
Harper looks up at me innocently, her hands smoothing down the pale gold satin of her dress over her thighs.
Head to toe she looks like champagne. Her blonde hair is in a soft sexy pouf, her skin is glowing with the remnants of her summer tan, and her dress is wrapped around her body as tight as cling-film, the neckline draped low across her pushed-up breasts and the hem going all the way down to her ankles, her glittery little toes peeking shyly out.
A particularly bright flash explodes behind Harper’s window and the diamonds around her neck glint dangerously. That sedates me a little. It’s a reminder that she’s mine, and that this kind of big city chaos is only temporary. I can stay calm, secure in the knowledge of that. But that doesn’t mean that I have to like the way that thousands of people are screaming for her out there, clambering to get a look at her, to touch her.
Like hell are they going to touch her. I readjust my suit jacket, the fabric tighter around my shoulders than I’d like it to be, and I arch my neck, undoing a second button on my shirt, just to get a little air flow.
I look like I’m her bodyguard. I have every intention of acting like one too.
Harper’s eyes drop to the small section of tan skin exposed between the white cotton of my shirt and she squirms on the seat, uncrossing and re-crossing her legs like she wants me to do something about that ache I know she’s got between her thighs.
I lean down to kiss her and she melts against me, my hands roaming up to squeeze gently at her warm breasts. She falls back against the seat and pulls me down with her, arching against me like she doesn’t want me to stop.
And I definitely don’t want to stop. But we have a driver not ten feet away from us, plus a thousand cameras out there that, for all I know, have fucking x-ray lenses, so I pull myself up, panting as I lean over her.
“After,” I rasp. “Do your red carpet, and then I’ll do you.”
She drops her arms to her sides and howls.
I stoop down to kiss her again and she clasps her hands around the back of my neck, digging her nails in hard.
“You’re kinda spoiled, aren’t you?” I murmur, hunching over so that I don’t hit my head on the roof as I get to my feet, and then I grip at Harper’s elbows and pull her up with me.
She scowls up at me but I can see the fear behind her eyes. She doesn’t want to be here. I stroke softly at her cheek.
“Yes,” she snaps, getting defensive to hide her nerves. “I’m a spoiled princess. Take it or leave it.”
I smirk down at her, kiss her hard, and then give her a couple deep strokes of my tongue.
“I’ll take it,” I murmur, pulling away so that I can look at her. “You’re my spoiled princess.”
She ducks down to hide her smile at the same moment that her driver opens his door.
I lean down the aisle to try and catch his eye and I jerk my chin at him when he looks at me questioningly.
“It’s okay, man,” I say to him, cocking my head over to the door beside Harper. “I’ve got it from here. But thank you.”
He pauses briefly and then gives me a nod, getting back into his seat and closing his door, dulling the bright flashes.
I turn back to Harper, her teeth biting hard into her bottom lip, and I duck down to kiss between the centre of her breasts. She gasps and shoves her fingers into my hair, rubbing herself against me so that my stubble scrapes her sensitive skin.
“Mitch,” she moans as I kiss and suck. “Mitch, please, don’t make me go.”
I grunt between her breasts, unable to stop my fingers from rubbing her nipples.
“Mitchell,” she begs. My cock instantly grows heavier.
“Goddamn,” I growl as I stand upright again. Her eyes have blacked out and her chest is heaving, making it look as though she has been getting pounded in the back of her limo. I pull her against my chest and give her a reassuring squeeze.
“You’ve got this,” I tell her firmly. “I’m gonna be right behind you the whole time.”
“Okay,” she whispers nervously, her eyes darting to the door.
“I’m gonna get out, open the door for you, and then you’re gonna walk down that red carpet like it’s your fucking property. Because it is, Harper. None of this would be happening without you right now, and I want you to act like it. We show face and then we haul ass, okay?”
She tries to pull me down to kiss her again but I’m not having it. We’ll save that for once this is over and done with.
“Okay?” I repeat, harder this time.
She narrows her eyes on me, then rolls them. “Fine,” she mumbles.
I give her ass a rough squeeze and she presses her lips against my neck, moaning.
“Good,” I say simply. Then I reluctantly release her from my arms and hunch over to the door, take a steeling breath, and shove it open.
I’m instantly blinded. The flashes are going off at a million-a-minute so I quickly turn back to the car and hold the door wide for Harper, my jaw clenching hard at the thought of all these people trying to get a look at her.
It’s just one night, I remind myself, and my shoulders ease up a little. Just one night and then you’re taking her back to Phoenix Falls. Taking her and keeping her.
One golden foot appears at the step and I instantly move forward, holding my hand out to help her down.
She takes it and dismounts, and then the flashes get even crazier.
Because she’s perfect. She’s smiling her perfect white smile and sashaying her perfect little ass, the lights flashing all over her making her glow in a thousand shades of gold. What I told her in the car is something that everyone here already knows – without Harper, none of this would exist, and they are beyond grateful for the escapism that she’s given to them.
She walks confidently down the main stretch, her nerves from the limo seamlessly hidden, and I walk one millimetre behind her, my muscles tight and my eyes hard.
When we reach the next cordon saved solely for the press she turns and smiles up at me, her soft hair spilling over her shoulder. Her diamonds sparkle like crazy around her neck.
“You can put your hands on me,” she whispers, stopping her walking so that I bump right against her ass.
My eyes flare and I glance quickly over to the paparazzi, their voices a high-pitched mass, asking her to look at them, to smile for them, to turn this way and that. And that would probably be unusual for a member of the behind the scenes crew, except for the fact that Harper looks like a fucking goddess. Of course they want to take five billion photos of her.
I resist the urge to scoop her up and steal her away.
I look back down at her and whisper, “Where?”
Her smile gets even wider. “My hips,” she whispers back.
I swallow hard and tentatively wrap my hands around her hips. Then she’s grinning at the cameras, swishing her hair over her shoulders and posing confidently against my chest. And it makes me feel better about this whole thing. Knowing that my being here for her is making her have a better time. And that makes me have a better time. I mean, I’m not about to smile for anyone, but I ease up on the scowl and just wait the flashes out.
Only problem is that they don’t freaking end. We’re walking at nought-point-one miles per hour down the tiny press corridor and I’m slowly getting irreparable retina damage. I look down at Harper and she’s still smiling, then looking serious, then smiling again but at a different camera. I breathe out a laugh, suddenly loving watching her enjoy all of this attention, and she looks quickly up at me, giving me her widest smile yet.
“Okay, I’m done,” she whispers and I almost groan with relief. In less than three seconds I’ve marched her to the end of the carpet and bundled her into the adjoining enclosed room, leading to a further corridor and the movie theatre beyond.
She waves excitedly at a few of her colleagues before turning back to me, unaware that even when she isn’t looking at them no-one else can look away.
“That wasn’t so bad,” she admits, wrapping her arms up around my neck.
I smile down at her and caress the small of her back.
“But I think as soon as I’ve said ‘hey’ to the crew over there we should go.” She bites at her lip, checking that I understand what she’s referring to. I do, but she adds on anyway, “I just don’t want to bump into–”
A voice comes from behind us and I feel my back muscles lock and tighten. It’s a guy’s voice, and from the sudden loss of colour in Harper’s cheeks I’m pretty certain that I know who it is.
It’s her ex fiancé. Our eyes remain locked in on each other, Harper’s hands suddenly trembling at the back of my neck and my body rigid and unmoving.
It doesn’t matter. He takes a step closer and coughs to get Harper’s attention.
That gets my attention. I grimace and glance down at him, wondering in what universe he thinks that he has the right to cough anywhere near my future fucking wife.
Harper takes a deep breath, lowers her arms from my neck, and turns to face him.
I don’t move an inch, keeping my hands nice and secure around her hips.
“Evan,” she says, and she gives him a begrudging half-smile, a cute dimple popping in her cheek. And I must have lost my mind because I feel protective about it. I don’t want this guy looking at her damn dimple.
“How, uh, how’s things?” he asks her, his eyes flickering between Harper’s face and mine. I take a calm inhalation and stare blankly back at him.
“They’re great,” Harper says, her tone even. It’s the kind of tone that says I don’t want to talk to you, asshole.
I give her hip a gentle rub with my thumb. Good girl.
He stares back at her, his expression faltering and his eyebrows twitching with confusion as he reads Harper’s emotions. He’s probably never seen this side to her before.
It’s the only side to her that he’ll ever see again.
“Uh, aren’t you going to ask me how I am?” he asks, his arms folding defensively across his chest.
Harper doesn’t blink. “No.”
I look away to hide my smirk and Harper presses her body closer into mine.
“Didn’t your mom tell you?” Her ex shifts on his feet in discomfort, glancing around like he’s looking for back up. “Didn’t she tell you that, you know…?”
Harper allows him to sweat before she finishes his sentence for him.
“That you broke up with my sister? Yes, she told me. I’m not sure what kind of response you’re expecting for that one.”
He takes a step closer and I’m instantly on high alert. He meets my eyes and I give him a look that reads not one more step, buddy.
He pauses on the spot but I can see that he’s growing agitated. I glance down at his hand and a plain engagement band glints back at me.
“I think we should have this conversation in private,” he says sharply, and then he gives me what I assume he thinks to be a meaningful glare.
I watch him with vacant disinterest until he looks away.
“I don’t think we need to have a conversation,” Harper replies, shrugging a little. “You moved on, and now so have I.”
His eyes fly back to Harper’s, incredulousness blazing behind his irises. “You can’t be serious,” he says, his voice hysterical. “You blocked me on everything. We haven’t even had a chance to talk about this.”
Harper stares back at him in disbelief, her expression almost amused.
“Evan, you literally cheated on me. Whilst we were engaged. With my sister.”
“Everyone makes mistakes, Harper!” Then he slides his eyes up to me and adds on, “Evidently.”
I breathe out a laugh and give him a tight smile.
“You know what else would be a mistake?” I say quietly. “Continuing this conversation.”
“You think I wouldn’t be able to take you?” he sneers, the reality of the situation making his neck turn red. “I gym, like, every day.”
I almost smile. He’s leaner than a French fry and a short guy at around five-ten. It would be borderline unethical for me to fight him.
But if push came to shove I know that his skull would split like a walnut with one crunch of my bicep.
I say nothing, hoping that it’ll encourage him to handle this situation like a man, apologise to Harper, and then get the fuck away from us.
He eases up a little but then refocuses his attention on Harper.
“You really want some sort of small town nobody?” he asks her, and this time I actually do laugh out loud.
Harper looks up at me, worried that I’ll be angry, but I give her a reassuring smile.
I transmit her a message: it’s no biggie.
She smiles up at me and then turns back to her ex.
“I forgive you for what you did to me, but you can’t talk about my loved ones like that. He’s not a nobody.”
Evan narrows his eyes on Harper and smirks. “Without me, you’re a nobody.”
Suddenly I feel completely fine about breaking this guy’s neck, my fingers flexing and tightening around Harper’s hips. But she saves me the prison sentence with the best comeback that I’ve ever heard.
She flashes a smirk of her own and whispers back to him, “I’m the nobody who made you a somebody.”
When I hear the gasps around us I finally realise that we’ve gathered an audience. I’m pretty sure that the entire cast and crew is here, clutching champagne flutes in front of their dropped jaws.
Harper notices the crowd a second after I do and she looks up at me, silently telling me that she wants to go now.
I nod down at her, determined to wrap this up, but her ex is putting on the performance of his life, desperate to get the last word.
“Harper, don’t be stupid. What use to you is a fucking six-foot-two gorilla?”
Harper narrows her eyes on him and clutches at me tighter.
“He’s six-foot-three,” she snarls.
I decide not to tell them that I’m actually six-four.
“I know you aren’t going to throw away two whole years together, Harper. And he can’t be that special because your finger’s still bare.”
That’s the final straw.
“Listen up,” I say to him, done with this conversation.
He looks up at me expectantly and I try not to smirk down at him, Harper’s soft hair brushing beneath my chin as she turns slightly, placing her hands over mine.
“You may have put one diamond on her finger but I’ve already put ten around her neck. She’s had it better from me in two months than she had from you in two years. Ever heard the phrase ‘put your money where your mouth is’? Where I’m from you either put up or shut up. It’s time for you to do the latter.”
Suddenly everyone’s looking at Harper’s neck, the noise from the red carpet behind us mixing in with the loud whispers in the small room until it’s just a whir of sound. Harper glances around us and tries to hold back a laugh.
I don’t look at the crowd. I only have eyes for Harper.
“We done now?” I ask her quietly, and she looks up at me with her big playful eyes.
“So done,” she whispers back.
Then I’m grinning down at her and hauling her up, my forearms tight around her ass as I start walking us out of the circle. The audience parts like the Red Sea and I glance over her to try and find an exit.
“You didn’t want to stay for the movie did you?” I ask, my mind already back on that limo and all of the things that we could do in there before we arrive back at Harper’s house.
“And watch my ex for another two hours? I’d rather take another bout of food poisoning.”
I smirk and kick open the first exit door that I see, hitching her further up my torso as we enter the back alley and moving one hand to rub her ass. She makes an innocent humming sound and when I look over at her I get an eyeful of her tits, squeezed together right in front of me.
I swallow hard, determined to get us back to the car before I start ravaging them.
“Hot damn,” I grunt, looking at them spilling out of her dress. “You’re so beautiful, baby.”
She strokes a hand up my stubble, making warmth spread painfully through my chest.
“Just a few more seconds, baby. Just let me get you back to the limo–”
I half-jog around the corner, desperate to get her back in that car, and then I instantly halt, stopping dead in my tracks. Harper glances over her shoulder and bursts out into a fit of laughter.
We’re staring at twenty identical parked-up limousines.
I run a hand through my hair and then wrap it back around Harper’s thighs. She snuggles her face into my neck and smiles against my skin.
“Which, uh, which one is it?” I ask her, trying to recall the licence plate as if I paid that a single second of attention.
“I don’t know,” she whispers back to me, her fingers slipping beneath the collar of my shirt. “Maybe we should forget about the limo. Don’t you have a monster truck rental dude on hand or something?”
I snicker and start walking down the middle of the road, Harper securely in my arms and white limousines glistening on either side of us. All of the windows are tinted but I’m guessing that if the drivers are still inside our guy is going to make an appearance when he sees us.
Sure enough I haven’t walked ten paces when a driver’s door clicks open and Harper’s chauffeur from earlier steps out, his expression stoically professional but a confused curiosity playing behind his eyes.
“Did you forget something?” he asks, already opening the door to the main stretch just in case.
“Yeah,” I say, giving him a nod as I settle Harper on her feet and guide her by her hips into the back of the car. Whilst Harper climbs back inside I mouth the word airport to the driver.
Forget going back to Harper’s place. We’re getting a flight straight back to mine.
“No problem,” he says, and then he ducks back behind the wheel.
I hunch down, following Harper inside, and when I close the door I see that she’s sitting in the space where I was holding her just before she hit the red carpet, giving me a smile that’s so innocent it’s naughty.
I lower myself next to her and drag her up onto my lap, her arms wrapping around my neck as I rub a thumb over her diamonds.
“What did we forget?” she asks me curiously as the driver kicks the engine to life and pulls the car off the curb.
“That we have somewhere better to be,” I murmur, one hand tucked in her hair and the other helping her pull off her heels. When her feet are bare I start gently rubbing them.
She sighs dreamily, her fingers suddenly exploring the buttons of my shirt. I smirk as she starts toying with them, unfastening and then refastening them, unsure about whether or not we should get naked whilst there’s a driver present.
There’s not a chance in hell that she’s getting naked whilst there’s a driver present, but I let her play around with my shirt because I can tell that she’s turning herself on. I lean down and press a kiss to her cheek, and I feel her shiver as my stubble grazes her skin.
“Somewhere better to be,” she whispers back to me, locking her eyes in with mine and dazzling me so hard that my brain goes blank.
On instinct I reach down to kiss her, the hand that was in her hair moving to grip at the side of her neck. She instantly grows slack and falls against my chest, her head lifted upwards and her fingers pawing at my pecs.
She’s perfect. The whole moment is perfect. And it’s so perfect that I can’t help but smile against her lips, the hand that was around her ankles climbing up her dress so that I can caress her thighs.
She smiles back against me and murmurs, “So where are we going now?”
I pull the thick set of keys from my pocket and select the one for my house in Phoenix Falls.
The second that she sees it she beams up at me, her cheeks dimpled and glowing, and I lean down to give her another deep kiss.
“Home, baby,” I tell her. “We’re going home.”