PLEASE NOTE THE EXCERPT BELOW IS UNEDITED.
Hollywood heartthrob, Jaxon Moncrieff, in Australia to promote his latest movie, attends the opening night of artist, Liam Lassiter. One look turns Jaxon’s world on its ear, making him question everything about himself. Driven by a need he doesn’t understand, but can’t fight, he pursues the guarded Liam. Can he convince Liam to give him a chance?
BOOK 1 – SAME PAGE
I strode into the gallery the way I’d been taught—as if I owned the joint—having not quite thrown off my bad mood at having my agent, Sonya DaSilva, organize for me to appear at some local artist’s opening night when I’d only arrived in the country a few short hours earlier. Even flying first class, it was an excruciatingly long flight. The fourteen-hour time difference had thrown my body-clock out of whack, and my eyes felt dry and gritty; the Advil I’d taken before leaving the hotel, only just beginning to make inroads into my headache.
Absently, I rubbed my chin, feeling the scrape of my designer stubble which, at that moment, was more genuine than designer. All I really wanted to do was dive under the bed covers and sleep; instead, I had to put on my public face, smile, and be charming. Those were her words to me: “Jaxon, go to this opening. It will be good for your image. You know you like art, and I’ve heard on excellent authority the artist is talented. Go mingle with the locals; smile, be charming.”
I glanced down at my tiny, inky-haired assistant, Alison, who was also my best friend, and who I knew was already making a quick assessment of the room and its occupants. I smiled, knowing she would save me from any overly persistent fan. Out of habit, I scanned the room myself but saw no one intriguing enough to hold my gaze. I tried, instead, to look at the artworks but my view of them was blocked as the gallery was overflowing with a mixture of the designer clad, and the more individually clad. The predominant color of choice for both the men and the women was black. Perhaps wearing black makes them feel artier?
I felt the hum go through the crowd; the wave of awareness that a celebrity had entered the room. God, how I hated that; I hated the adulation of celebrity. None of my thoughts or feelings, however, showed on my face, and to all except the most perceptive, my smile seemed relaxed and genuine.
The advantage of being an actor, I thought ruefully trying to shake off my bad mood—a bad mood that seemed to haunt me more with each passing day. I suppressed the sigh that threatened to escape me at the thought that 99% of my life was me acting the part of Jaxon Moncrieff, successful actor.
A tall, lean man in a well-cut tuxedo, who looked to be in his forties, approached us with a broad smile on his face and slender, elegant hand outstretched.
“Mr. Moncrieff, I’m so glad you could join us.” He spoke with an upper-crust English accent. “My name is Garrett Flemington, and I’m the owner of this gallery. I’m so glad Sonya convinced you to join us this evening. Please allow me to give you a guided tour of the show and introduce you to Liam, the artist.”
“Pleasure is all mine, Mr. Flemington….”
“Please, call me Garrett,” he replied, smiling warmly.
“Jaxon, and this is my assistant, Alison,” I said, returning his smile.
The crowd parted as Garrett led us to the right, and I was able, at last, to see one of the works on display. My breath left me in an embarrassingly loud gasp. It was so beautiful. No, beautiful wasn’t the right word. Sensitive? Lyrical? I couldn’t think of the right adjective as my eyes drank in a nine foot long sculpture suspended from the ceiling. It was of a larger than life-sized branch from a Chinese cherry blossom tree that had been cast in bronze. Integrated with the metal were cherry blossoms formed from a papery substance I couldn’t put a name to. Within selected petals, the lines of a haiku poem were cut out. The piece was lit in such a way as to throw a shadow onto the gallery wall that silhouetted the branch and revealed the words.
“Wow,” breathed Ally beside me, echoing my sentiments, and I heard Garrett’s chuckle at her reaction.
“Wow, indeed. Liam’s works are poignant, don’t you think? Masculine yet gentle, without being weak or trite.”
“What’s the papery stuff he’s used for the petals?” I blurted, and immediately felt foolish for asking such a mundane, practical question.
“It’s bark from the Paperbark tree. They’re native to Australia, which is why you probably haven’t seen it before,” replied Garrett with no sign of condescension in his voice. “Clever how he seamlessly blends something so soft and delicate with something as strong and unyielding as bronze, don’t you think?” Garrett asked, obviously not expecting a reply.
Garrett guided us from piece to piece, each as moving as the last. The artist’s choice of words were very profound and thought provoking. On some, he used snippets of lyrics, or speeches, while others incorporated poetry. In each case, it was the combination of words, revealed so cleverly by the lighting, with something bold and physical, that elevated the piece form merely lovely, to lyrical and totally extraordinary. I was in awe—I’d never seen anything like it.
“I’d like to introduce you to Liam, but I can’t see him at the moment. I’ll leave you to mingle and to look around on your own while I find him,” Garrett murmured, craning his head first to the left and then to the right, scanning the crowd.
As soon as Garrett left us, we were joined by an attractive brunette wearing a revealing black cocktail dress. “Oh, Mr. Moncrieff, I’m your biggest fan. I’m so thrilled to meet you. I just love your accent! Are you here for the premiere of your latest movie?”
Inwardly, I sighed and prepared myself for the flirting and inevitable passing of a phone number that would follow. Only a few short years ago, I’d have been thrilled to have such an attractive woman make a pass at me, but I now knew it was more my fame than my personality, they were attracted to. God, when was the last time I actually felt genuinely attracted to someone?
Alison skillfully maneuvered me away before the brunette could put me on the spot, but she was soon replaced by a petite curvy blonde, also dressed in a black cocktail dress. And so it went on; each time Ally cleverly gave them a moment with me before guiding me away.
Perhaps rescuing me is a better description, I sneered at myself.
“JJ, I have to go to the bathroom. Think you can fend for yourself for a little while?” she asked in her lilting voice.
I could see the smirk she was unsuccessfully trying to smother and knew she was teasing me. Again? As always?
“Get away with you!” I growled at her in mock anger, doing my best Sean Connery impersonation. Smirking at me in earnest now, she turned and walked away.
Smiling affectionately at her retreating back, I followed her departure, and it was as she neared the back of the room that I saw him.
He was like the only splash of color in a black-and-white photograph.
Tall, with broad shoulders and slim hips, clad in faded blue jeans. His untucked shirt was peacock-blue with the sleeves rolled almost to his elbows showing strong, lean forearms. It hugged his torso just enough to show the light play of the muscles of his chest and abdomen as he raised his drink to his lips. It was not the casualness of his attire, nor the vivid blue of his shirt, however, that made him stand out so vibrantly in the room of black-clad patrons. It was his disheveled russet hair. I could not recall ever having seen hair that shade before in my entire life. It was like every imaginable shade of red, brown, and gold, all rolled into one; an autumn collage.
The man was beautiful.
There was no other word for it. He was truly beautiful and yet, not feminine.
His skin was the color of ivory, and the soft blush staining the apple of his cheeks brought to mind images of the magnolia blossoms in my mother’s garden. Defined eyebrows were partially hidden by the frame of the glasses he was wearing, and I could just see the faint shadow his long lashes were casting beneath his eyes. Eyes that were currently downcast, as he stared pensively at his feet. The strength of his chiseled jaw was in direct contrast to his mouth, which was soft and full, and I was sure many of the women attending the opening would gladly have swapped their lips for his. High cheekbones and a strong, narrow, slightly crooked nose completed the perfection of his face. On another man, the slight bend to his nose might have spoilt the overall finished appearance, but, somehow, this one slight imperfection enhanced rather than detracted from the whole.
The man sensed, I think, my scrutiny and raised his gaze to mine. It was impossible with the distance separating us to see the color of his eyes but there was no mistaking their intensity. As I continued to stare, unable to drag my eyes away, he coolly raised one eyebrow before turning his back to me…