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Authors: Audra Cole,Bella Love-Wins

Mesmerized

BOOK: Mesmerized
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Mesmerized

~~*****~~

The Hollywood Tales Series: Brandon, Book 1
A Billionaire Celebrity Romance

 

Audra Cole &

Bella Love-Wins

 

This is a work of fiction. Similarities to real people, places, or events are entirely coincidental.

Mesmerized

First edition. April 26, 2015.

Copyright © 2015

Audra Cole, Bella Love-Wins.

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Sincerely,

Audra Cole

Website:
www.audracole.com

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/AudraColeBooks 

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Prologue

“He what?” My best friend, Ashley, says. She looks at me wide-eyed.

“He’s not coming,” I repeat. My voice is barely a whisper.

“You mean now, he’s not coming right now? Is he running late?”

“No, Ash, he’s not coming ever. The wedding is off.” I can’t meet her gaze. I look past her shoulder and see the reflection of my wedding dress in the mirror above my dresser. My head is spinning and it’s hard to breathe. I feel like I should say something else, but nothing comes out.

“What? Charity, when did this happen? What happened? Everything was fine at the rehearsal, wasn’t it?”

I nod slowly. “It was after that, after the rehearsal. We argued and he called it off. He said he can’t do it. He can’t marry me.”

I feel tears well up as I replay that line in my head. I can still picture his face and the heartbroken look in his eyes as he said it.

Ashley is silent for a moment and then takes my hand.

“Have you talked to him today? Maybe he just needed time to cool down. You guys have had arguments before. You always work it out.”

“Not this time, Ash. It’s different.”

I start to explain, but there is a knock at the door. Ashley rises from her perch on the edge of my bed and goes to answer it. My heart stops at the hope that it might be Brandon at the door.

It’s not.

It’s my mom with a tray full of cookies and tea. Since learning the news this morning, she hasn’t quite known what to do with herself. She already called all the important people—the florist, caterer, minister, musicians—to cancel everything.

Ashley takes the tray from her. They exchange a few whispered words and then close the door again.

“What did she say?” I ask.

“She’s just worried, wants to know how you’re holding up.”

I nod, trying not to cry again. I wish I could go back in time and figure out what went wrong. Then maybe I would be wearing my wedding dress instead of just staring at it hanging on the wall.

 

Chapter One

Three years later…

 

Even with the TV on in the living room, the house seems too quiet. I can hear my slippers scuffing on the floor as I pace back and forth across the kitchen. I stop to take a deep sip from my wine glass and, for once, I wish I was at work. At least when I am at work my brain is busy, and it’s never this quiet.

I am about to go bump up the volume on the TV when there is a knock at the front door.

“Finally.” I breathe a sigh of relief.

“I know, I know, I know. I’m late,” Ashley declares, bursting into the room waving a bunch of shopping bags in the air. “But it’s all for good reason! I brought everything!”

“It looks like you brought a whole department store!” I laugh as I follow her into the living room, where she dumps the bags on my couch.

“I also got this!” She holds up a bottle of wine. “Thought you might need it.”

“Way ahead of ya sister.” I hoist my glass up.

“Oh, you started without me?” Ashley says with a pout.

“Ash, you’re two hours late!” I try to keep the irritation out of my voice. “I took the whole afternoon off because you said you’d be here at two.”

“Okay, okay, I know. I just got caught up on a design, and then this new adhesive I’m trying got all over my work table and it wouldn’t come off with nail polish remover and then I dropped a jar of beads and Maci was trying to eat all the ones not sucked into the glue pool…” Her voice trails off as I start laughing, picturing her giant golden retriever running around eating glue covered beads.

She sighs. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s all right. You’re here now. I’ll probably need a refill soon anyways,” I grin.

“Well then, let me pop this in the fridge. We can crack it open here in a bit. In the meantime…let’s get you ready!”

Ashley gathers up the discarded shopping bags and tromps up the stairs, leading the way to my bedroom, where she tosses everything down in one big heap on my bed. I lower to the bench at the edge of my bed, and watch as she begins to unpack everything. She stacks dresses in one pile and then starts another for skirts, tops, and jackets. While she works, I pull out a bag of jewelry and start picking through the pieces, easily spotting the ones Ashley has designed. I set aside a necklace and the matching earrings, knowing it will make her happy if I wear something from her collection.

“Sooo…how are you feeling about your big date?” Her voice is casual but cautious. She knows it’s a loaded question.

I pause and feel heat rising in my cheeks. I’ve been dating my boyfriend, James for close to a year now. Things are getting pretty serious, yet I still feel a little flushed when he is brought up in conversation. It’s been a long time since my last serious relationship, and sometimes I still feel like the whole dating thing is brand new.

Ashley has her own ideas though. She is fairly convinced that tonight, James is going to propose to me. I have told her repeatedly that it’s not going to happen, and even though I’m pretty sure I am right—and that she is completely out of her mind—the idea is a little disconcerting.

“Ash, for the last time, he’s not going to propose.”

“Then why did you take the whole afternoon off so you could get a manicure and pick out the perfect outfit?” She grins.

“My nails were a wreck! Hence the manicure. As for the extra time, we’re going to a fancy place. My normal jeans and T-shirt approach probably won’t go over so well.” 

“Charity, get real. You’ve been dating for a year, you’ve met each other’s parents, and he said that tonight he wants to take you to a big fancy restaurant and talk about something important. What else could it possibly be? A proposal is the next logical step.” 

She’s practically bouncing.

“I don’t know what he wants to talk about, but all this speculation is making me itch!” I look down at my arms, half expecting to see an outbreak of hives. At least then I wouldn’t have to go through with the date, and everything could just go back to normal.

“You don’t want him to propose,” she says, suddenly still.

It isn’t a question. More of a realization.

I sigh. “I just think it would be too fast. That’s all.”

“This is about Brandon, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s not. Now which of these do you want me to try on first?” I ask, desperately hoping to change the topic. Ashley can be like a dog with a bone, but if there’s one thing that can get her off track, it’s clothes. About a week ago, when James asked me to go to dinner with him in the city, Ashley and I raided my closet to find the perfect outfit. She decided that nothing I own was suitable for such an upscale restaurant, proposal or no proposal. So I agreed to let her bring some of her things over, to style me properly.

“Nice try, McAdams,” Ashley says. “Well if it’s not about Brandon, then please explain to me why it would be the end of the world to be proposed to by a good-looking, successful man who wants kids and knows how to cook. Oh, and did I mention that he also happens to adore you? I’m so not seeing a downside here. Call me crazy.”

I roll my eyes at her theatrics. “I’m not saying it would be the end of the world. In fact, I never said I don’t
want
to marry James. All I said was that I think it would be too soon to get engaged.”

“So, if he asks you tonight, you’ll say no?” Ashley asks. She stares at me, incredulous.

I sigh. To be honest, this entire line of questioning seems pointless, as I’m pretty sure that James has no such plans. But I suppose it’s a good question. On the off chance that he does ask me, what would I say?

“I guess I would just tell him what I told you. That I think it’s too soon.”

“So, let me get this straight: he’s in a suit, down on one knee in the middle of this perfect restaurant, with a giant ring and the promise that he will love you forever, and you would say ‘try again later’? That’s cold.”

I cringe at the visual.

“Ashley, enough! He is not going to propose to me. Can we please just drop it already?” I snap.

She stares at me for a few moments, her mouth twitching. I brace myself for her next attempt; however, she eventually breaks eye contact and turns her attention back to the clothes before her. She shuffles things around and hands me a short, merlot colored dress and a pair of strappy shoes.

“Start with this,” she says, not looking back up at me.

A tense silence settles between us for the next twenty minutes, as I try on different outfits. As much as I don’t want to continue this conversation, I want to deal with a cranky best friend even less.

“I’m sorry, Ash. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I guess I don’t have a good answer to your question. If James does propose, I really don’t know how I will react. I’ve been engaged before, and we both know how well that turned out…”

Brandon was my first love. We were high school sweethearts, and we stayed together in college, and got engaged after receiving our two year degrees. I spent six months planning our dream wedding and everything seemed perfect through the rehearsal dinner. But things took a turn; by the end of the night the wedding was off, and my dreams of happy-ever-after were smashed to pieces.

Not long after our breakup, Brandon moved to Hollywood to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming an actor. I stayed behind, in our small town, and started building some serious walls around my heart.

Fast forward three years, and Brandon is busy making a splash as the new “it” guy, starring in two major movies and soon to begin production on a third. He’s on the cover of every tabloid magazine and website, photographed with his rumored girlfriend, actress Vanessa Blair. And even though we live in the day of Facebook, Twitter, email, and text messaging, I’ve never heard from him since the night he called off the wedding.

Replaying it all in my head, I can feel tears starting to build. I blink quickly, and give my head a small shake in an effort to wipe the memories away.

“I know you’d be scared Charity, I get that. I just don’t want to see you sabotage a really good relationship because of what happened before. You shouldn’t make James pay for Brandon’s mistake.”

“I know,” I reply. It’s the same pep talk I’ve given to myself a million times over the past year since I started to date James. However, the logic is having a hard time making it from my head to my heart. I really care about James. I trust him and how he feels about me. I can admit that I’m probably falling for him, but there is still a piece of my heart that I am not ready to let go of completely.

Ashley reaches over and gives my hand a quick squeeze.

 

***

 

“I give up,” I declare, stepping out of the last dress Ashley has given me to try on. “Nothing is fitting right. If I was a size two, like you, I’m sure all of these options would look great, but I’m not, and this is so not helping my confidence for tonight.”

Ashley considers me and purses her lips in thought. “It’s those boobs. That’s the problem here.”

I burst out laughing at her serious expression and tone. “Well not a lot I can do about that in the next two hours!”

“Don’t get me wrong! I’m totally jealous! Why do you think I eat so much? I’m just hoping some of it will eventually make its way to my chest! Let’s face it Charity, I’d have to pay twenty grand to get a rack like yours!”

I know how Ashley eats, and long ago came to the conclusion that her body turns a blind eye to all the junk she feeds it. Her hips and thighs don’t seem to rebel against the constant sugar intake like mine do.

“I hate to say it, but, I think it’s time to go shopping,” I say, with a slight eye roll.

 

***

 

Its two hours later, and I am the proud owner of a proper cocktail dress that hugs my curves in all the right places. I splurged on a pair of kick-ass stilettos and a new silver clutch to complete the look. I know I won’t be happy when the credit card statement comes in the mail, but that’s a problem for another day. I have enough on my mind as it is; at least now I won’t be worried about being underdressed.

Ashley and I had kept the conversation light as we worked our way through the shops. We stopped for a smoothie halfway through, and she showed me pictures of the new jewelry pieces she was working on. Despite the day’s earlier drama, things seemed to be back to normal again between us.

By the time I got back to my townhouse, I only had an hour left to shower, dress, and attempt to tame my naturally curly hair into a sleek chignon, which required contortionist-like arm positions, an entire travel can of hairspray, and at least a hundred bobby pins.

When I hear the doorbell ring, I quickly put on one final coat of hairspray and rush—as much as my four inch heels will allow—to the door. I smooth my hands down the front of my body-hugging dress and pull the door open.

James is standing there in a suit, with a bouquet of a dozen red and white roses.

My heart flutters and my stomach drops. My previous assurance that a proposal is the last thing on his mind flies right out the window.

Here we go…

 

BOOK: Mesmerized
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