Moving Forward (Moving Neutral, Book Three) (10 page)

BOOK: Moving Forward (Moving Neutral, Book Three)
10.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Chapter Twenty-Three


“Are you ok?” Tanner whispered as he pulled me through the string of photographers, bypassing the girl in a black headset checking names at the VIP door without a second glance and pulling me inside.

“I’m fine,” I said,
mustering my fake smile yet again.

He looked at me for a moment, and then leaned down.  “I mean,
I get it.  It’s practically criminal to make us do those interviews before we’ve even had a drink.”

was relieved — I didn’t want to talk about what I’d just seen.  I didn’t even want to
about it.  So the smile on my face was more genuine when I looked back up at Tanner. 

“Exactly,” I murmured.  “
Champagne please.”

Forty-five minutes later, Tanner and I were sitting
on one of the couches in the VIP section of the party, my third glass of champagne sitting half-drunk on a low, black table in front of us. 

The shock of seeing Blake had started to wear off — in fact,
by this point in the night, I didn’t feel much of anything.  All the anger and pain had finally gone numb, like I was about to have a tooth pulled and the anesthesia had just started to kick in.

Tanner was chatting with a television star I recognized on the couch next to us, his hand resting possessively on my knee.  Normally
I would have firmly removed it after a half second, but in a room full of strangers, with Blake Parker and some mystery girl outside, I found that I didn’t really mind all that much.

“So when are you headed back to L.A.?”  The actor asked Tanner, as I finally started to pay attention to their conversation.

“Tomorrow,” Tanner said, lazily rubbing his thumb on my knee.  I shivered.  “It’s crunch time on our new album — we’re in the studio nonstop for the next week.  So much for the holidays.”

Same,” the guy said, shaking his head.  “I’m headed back tomorrow morning, we’re shooting until Christmas Eve,” he shook his head.  “My parents are flying in from Toronto, and I keep telling them we can go surfing on Christmas morning.  They’re a little weirded out.  You know, West Coast problems,” he grinned, thinking he was pretty hilarious.  I tried to smile back.

“What about you, Casey?”

I tilted my head for a second —
he knew my name

“Oh, um, I grew up around here,”
I said, taking another sip of champagne.  “So, you know, just heading home for a little bit.  And then I’m going to L.A. for a few days before school starts.”

looked over at me, grinning.  “I’d forgotten about that,” he said, looking genuinely happy. 

“So had I,” I bit my lip.  “Lauren called me to schedule my flight and I literally had no idea what she was talking about.  But the shoot is before classes begin, so
it works pretty well.”

“You should come
early for New Year’s,” Tanner said, moving his hand off my knee long enough to slip an arm around me.  I looked at him, half amused and half exasperated, and his eyes twinkled.  “What else are you going to do?”

I thought about last year, when I’d been a senior in high school.  Our group of friends had met up in someone’s basement, and two of the guys with fake I.D.s had brought a handle of rum.  Except my curfew had been 12:30, so the second Times Square lit up with lights, I was digging my Volvo out of the fresh snow.

Maybe surfing didn’t sound so bad.

“I’ll check,” I said, moving a little
closer to Tanner. 

“Hey, I’m going to get a drink, ok?  You guys need anything?” The actor said, getting out of his chair. 

“I’m good,” Tanner said, gesturing with the beer in his other hand.  “You want anything, Snow?”

“Um,” I smiled
.  “Maybe another glass?”  I knew I shouldn’t — I’d probably already had enough.  And then I thought about the very likely possibility that Blake was going to walk into this room with his mystery girl any second.  I took a deep breath.  “Definitely another glass.”

Tanner grinned at me as the actor walked away.  “You’re fun tonight, Snow.”

I rested my head on his shoulder, mock pouting.  “I’m always fun.”

Tanner snorted.  “You’re definitely
always fun.  Please—you take things more seriously than anyone I’ve ever met.”

I tilted my head up to look at him.  “No, I don’t,” I said, feeling a little tipsy.  “I’m…
totally fun.”

Tanner shook his head indulgently, and squeezed my shoulder.  “So
, are you going to tell me what brought this on?”

“Brought what on?” I looked at him blankly.

“This.  You wouldn’t even be seen in public with me for the last month, and suddenly tonight, you’re…”  Tanner trailed off, looking at me with a hint of seriousness in his eyes.

“I’m what?”

“You’re—” Tanner traced a circle on my shoulder, just barely touching the edge of my dress.  “Fun,” he breathed.

I looked into his eyes
, dark and piercing, and felt a shiver run down my back.  Maybe I wasn’t as immune to Tanner’s charms as I thought I was.

“Maybe I’m turning over a new leaf,” I whispered, trying not to think about the
mystery girl, trying not to think about Blake, trying not to think about anything but Tanner’s face in front of me.  I felt myself lean closer.

—” a female voice rang out above us.

I squinted up, into a halo of blonde hair.
   A familiar face was grinning down at me.

Lauren!” I exclaimed, jumping up and giving her a hug.  The side of my body that had been pressed against Tanner felt cold in the empty air.  “I thought you weren’t coming?”

“I have a last minute meeting tomorrow morning, so I flew in today” she grinned, looking at me with sparkling eyes.  “I thought I’d come check in on you
— I got worried when you cancelled the handler.  Hey Tanner,” she smiled down at him.

I watched a smile spread across Tanner’s face.

“Yeah, um,” I looked at Lauren, trying to convey my meaning.  “I’m sorry your intern got sick.” 
Wink wink.

Lauren looked like she was trying to conceal a grin.  “Right,” she said, looking down at Tanner conspiratorially.  I resisted the urge to kick her in the shins.  “And, you know.  We only have the one, so…”

Lauren’s office had about twenty interns.  Any one of them could have filled in with me tonight.  I felt myself start to blush. 
Change the subject,
I thought to myself.

“What do you think of the dress?” I asked, taking a step back so she could see it.  The back of my knee brushed against Tanner’s leg, which was somehow even more mortifying. 

“Oh my gosh, it’s gorgeous,” she said, motioning for me to twirl around.  I did.  “Are you dying?  You must feel like a princess.”

I grinned.  “It’s the most beautiful thin
g I’ve ever worn.”

“Tanner, could you go grab us a drink?” Lauren smiled at him, and Tanner rose from the couch obligingly. 

“Sure,” he said, giving me a half-concealed smile.  “Be right back.”

The second he was out of earshot, Lauren’s face turned serious.

“Are you ok?”

I felt my stomach clench.  “You heard?”

“Not till I got here.  Everyone’s talking about it.  You show up with Tanner, he shows up with… what happened?”

It was like everything I’d been feeling for the last forty minutes was gone, like someone had just turned on the light switch at the end of a party.  The anesthesia was gone, and I was a gaping, open wound.

“I don’t know,” I said honestly.  “Nothing.  Everything.  I have no idea.  What always happens — it seems to work for a while, until it doesn’t anymore.”  I sighed.  “But I wasn’t expecting him to show up with a—” I felt my mouth falter on the words.  “A date.”

Lauren blinked.  “So why did you come with Tanner?”

I gave her an apologetic smile.  “Sheer luck?”

“Well, whatever it was,
you’re a smart girl.   No one’s going to run a story about Blake dumping you when they’d rather talk about you and Tanner finally coming out as a couple.”


“I’m just saying

“Blake didn’t dump me

“Whatever you want to call it, Casey,” she held up her hands in mock surrender.  “I’m  just saying, you did good tonight.  Showing up with Tanner was a smart move.”

“It wasn’t a move.”

“Sure,” she winked.  “Guess I should probably go check on that
sick intern of mine?”

I rolled my eyes.  “Whatever.”

“Casey, chill.  You might think that caring about your public image is something to be ashamed of, but it’s my job, remember?”

I hesitated.  She had a point. 

“Anyway,” Lauren continued, “everyone seems to really like you and Tanner together, and that’s good for you both.  I’m just letting you know.”

“We’re not together,” I
murmured, almost reflexively. 

“Well,” she smiled pointedly.  “If you
to be.”

I opened my mouth to tell her that wasn’t a possibility, when Tanner re-emerged behind us. 

“Were to be what?” he said, holding out champagne flutes for me and Lauren.  He picked up his beer from the table next to us.  “Is this safe to drink?” He asked Lauren, grinning.  “You’d tell me if Snow had slipped me something, right?”

I felt a smile creep onto my face.  “Like I’d have to,” I said to him, biting my lip. 

Tanner grinned.  “Fighting words, Snow.”

“I should go,” Lauren cut in, looking back and forth from Tanner to me like she was in on a joke.  “Case, we’ll be in touch about your travel for L.A., ok?”

“She wants to come for New Year’s,” Tanner said, slipping his arm around my shoulder.  “Does that work?”

“Totally,” Lauren winked at him
.  “Good call, for sure.  Unless—do you guys want to go to Vegas?  We’ve got some killer stuff in the works.”

“Yeah,” Tanner grinned, looking down at me with an excited smile.  “I’m always down for Vegas.”

“Cool,” she grinned.  “I’ll touch base with Justin in the morning.  Have a good night, you guys.” 

She was out the door before I could remind her
— yet again — that I wasn’t twenty-one.  I glanced down at the glass of champagne in my hand — maybe it wasn’t the most convincing argument, actually.

“Who’s Justin?” 

“My agent,” Tanner said, sitting back down on the couch we’d jumped up from when Lauren arrived.  I followed him.  “He deals with all that stuff—they just tell me when to show up.  Hey, maybe we could get Sophie to come?”

My ears perked up.  “Yeah,” I grinned.  “That would be awesome.”

“You know, he’s asked me about you.”



“Oh,” I said, hesitating.  “Right, I meant to … call.”  Tanner had given me his agent’s phone number weeks ago, and I hadn’t managed to pick up the phone yet. 

“I mean, only if you want to,” Tanner said, focusing back on me.  “But it might make things a little easier on you.”

“What do you mean?” I looked up at him, curious.

“Snow, whatever you want to do next… you can’t do it on your own.  You get that, right?”


Whatever I was about to say, it probably would have been insightful.  Articulate, forward-thinking.

But we’ll never know. 

Because Blake Parker chose that minute to walk into the room.




It was like someone had suddenly hit a mute button on the party.  I stared at the door, unable to even speak.  I felt the room go quiet, or maybe just in my head — it was like I could feel the eyes darting from Blake to me and back again.

He was alone, thankfully.  But in the hour that had passed, I’d allowed myself to hope that he’d done just what Tanner said he would
— shown up, done some interviews on the red carpet, and then darted out the back door to go home.

No such luck.

Tanner’s eyes flickered up at the door for an instant, and something passed across his face that I couldn’t read. 

“Earth to Casey Snow,” he said, smiling in a way that suddenly looked a little forced. 

Blake was headed over to the bar, still alone for the moment.  The mystery girl was nowhere in sight.  With a herculean effort, I wrenched my gaze away from him.

I turned to Tanner, forcing myself to put Blake Parker out of my mind.  Blake had obviously already forgotten me
, I realized.  As far as I could tell, he hadn’t even looked around the room to see if I was there.

“I’m listening,” I said, trying to smile.  “I just
—” I realized I had no idea what Tanner had just said.  “Sorry, that was a total lie.  Whatever it was, say it again.”

“I think, actually,” Tanner’s grin turned flirtatious
, pressing his luck.  “I think you were saying something about a nightcap in my hotel room?”

I snorted, and then smiled, grateful for the distraction.  “Was I?”

“You were,” he said, his voice honeyed.  “And honestly, I thought it was kind of out of character, but who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?”

“Tanner Cole, you have no shame.”

“Nope,” he smiled, looking down at me hungrily.  “So, you want to get out of here?”

It took all my effort not to scan the room.   If Blake’s mystery girl had shown up, I didn’t want to see her.

“More than anything,” I said.  It was the complete and total truth.

Sneak out the back door or brave the front?”

I thought about what Lauren had said.  I hadn’t come here with Tanner for a photo op (
had I?
), but a couple more wouldn’t hurt.

door,” I said, standing up and taking his hand.  “Why not?”

I forced my face into a camera-ready smile as Tanner and I walked out of the room, still holding hands. 

I tried not to look at Blake, but just as we walked out the door, I let myself glance backwards, to look at his face for just a moment.

Maybe Blake hadn’t seen us when he’d come in, but he definitely saw us leave.  Our
gaze met, and just for an instant, I was looking into the blue eyes that I’d spent the last two years dreaming about. 

eyes drifted down to my hand, locked with Tanner’s. 

looked like I’d just slapped him in the face.  Part shock, part hurt, part anger.  He looked betrayed. 

I hardened my gaze, eyes blazing.  After last night, after showing up here tonight — Blake Parker didn’t have the
to look betrayed, not anymore.

I tore my eyes away
from his.  Without looking back, I followed Tanner out the door.

BOOK: Moving Forward (Moving Neutral, Book Three)
10.98Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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