Fucking weird, holding another man’s wife. Colton Nix rested his hand awkwardly on Kate’s waist as a wave splashed against them, knocking them into each other. Even worse, holding a man’s pregnant wife while her husband watched from the beach and an army of people shouted instructions, orchestrating their every movement, right down to the placement of his hand to conceal her baby bump from the cameras.
“Sorry.” Kate gave him a sweet smile as she regained her balance. Kate being Katherine Hayes, hottest pop star in America, whose wholesome popularity was supposed to rub off on him as a result of their new duet. If they ever made it through the filming of this damn music video.
“Tell the truth, is your husband going to rip my head off later?” Cole glanced toward the shore where the production crew—and her husband—watched.
“Josh?” She followed his gaze, still smiling. “No. He’s definitely not enjoying this, but he gets it.”
Cole shifted his feet, lifting first one, then the other out of the sand that had settled over them from the constant push and pull of the waves. It was hot, and they’d been out here filming most of the damn day. He was ready to go for a dip and then enjoy a few drinks down at the Tiki Bar.
“Kate, can you turn a little bit to the left?” the director, a big Swedish guy named Diesl, called. “That’s it. Now Cole, I need you to angle yourself in front of her.”
Cole held in a grimace as he and Kate followed the director’s orders, stumbling as yet another wave slapped into them. The ridiculous shit they went through to get a shot that looked sexy and romantic was about as unsexy as possible. They had at least a hundred people watching—including a big dude standing to their left holding up a sun screen to keep the glare off their faces as the cameras zoomed in for their close-up.
Kate was gorgeous with her blonde hair, blue eyes, and a rockin’ body in that pink bikini despite the slight swell of her stomach. But she was married, and he couldn’t fuckin’ wait to get his hands off her. They danced around each other for another eternity, while bits of the song blasted from speakers on the beach so that they could lip synch along for the video.
“That’s a wrap for Kate. Cole, I want to try bringing in a double to film a few more shots with you in the water,” Diesl called. “I need close-ups where we can see your hands on her but without the belly.”
Kate pressed a palm against her stomach, laughing. “A body double without a baby bump?”
Diesl nodded, wading toward them as his white-blond hair whipped in the breeze. “Perhaps one of our onlookers would like the opportunity.”
He tipped his head toward the crowd that had gathered to watch the filming. Cole saw plenty of hot chicks rocking bikinis that he would not mind putting his hands on. In fact, he found his mood significantly improved at the prospect.
“What about my assistant, Jenn?” Kate suggested. “We’re about the same size, and she’s already familiar with the shoot.”
Cole looked in the direction Kate was pointing, his gaze settling on a pretty redhead behind the cameras. She wore short white shorts and a blue tank top, typing furiously on an iPad, and hell yes, he would like to see her in a bikini, and he wouldn’t mind pretending to make out with her in the ocean either.
“If she’s agreeable to the idea, let’s put her in a swimsuit and see if it works,” Diesl said with a brisk nod.
Kate waded out of the water and walked over to her assistant. Cole headed for the mess tent for a bottle of water and a few minutes of shade. The Caribbean sun had gone from comfortably warm when they first started shooting to miserably hot now that they’d reached midday, and Diesl had flat-out forbid him from getting wet above the waist. Wouldn’t want to ruin the hair and makeup they’d painted on him that morning.
His assistant, Jorja, met him in the mess tent with a cold bottle of water, while the hair and makeup people moved in to do their thing. He clenched his jaw as they wiped sweat from his face and patted more of that powder stuff onto his skin.
“I hear you’re going to shoot a few takes with a stand-in for Kate?” Jorja said.
He grunted in affirmation as a woman applied something to his lips. It felt like sticky paste. How did women wear this stuff—and more—on a daily basis? Once they’d finished with him, he walked toward the back of the tent, wondering if it was worth the trouble to snag a slice of pizza after he’d just had his makeup fixed.
He heard the fans calling for him. Production had set up barriers about twenty feet away to keep them back during filming. He guzzled the bottle of water Jorja had given him, chucked it in the trash, and strolled toward them. What the hell? He liked the attention.
The air shattered with the high-pitched screams of young women as he walked toward them. How—and why?—they hit those notes, he’d never understood. In a few long strides, he was up against the barriers, signing magazines, clothes, a bare breast—why not?—and posing for selfies as the fans screamed and clamored for his attention.
“Colton.” The woman in front of him batted her eyes in an exaggerated fashion that made him draw back. Her gaze dropped to his crotch. “Let’s put those rumors to rest once and for all. I’d be happy to do it for you, baby.”
“Sorry to disappoint, but my bed’s already taken tonight,” he told her, his voice colder than he’d intended. Groupies like her were the reason he’d become known as the King of Tiny Dix in the first place. They’d fuck him and then cash it in by selling ridiculous rumors to the tabloids. Unfortunately for him, he’d always been a slow learner when it came to women.
But after that woman last summer—the one who’d given him his new nickname—he’d finally come to his senses. No more sleeping with groupies. The problem was, he had no interest in dating or relationships, which meant it had been a long fucking time since he’d gotten laid. At this point, he was so horny, he could barely see straight, but women like the ones in front of him had lost their appeal.
He walked away, ignoring them as they called after him. It was a feeding frenzy. He’d chummed the water, and the sharks had shown up. And that was a piss-poor analogy to even think about right before he went back into the ocean.
“We’re ready,” Diesl called in his slightly nasal voice.
“Great,” Cole muttered.
“This is Jennifer MacDonald,” Diesl said. “She’s going to stand in for a few close-ups.”
Cole’s eyes tracked to the redhead standing at the back of the tent, and he almost swallowed his tongue. Fuck. Me. Kate’s assistant was a knockout. Her fiery red hair was tied up in a knot on top of her head, her green eyes locked on his. She wore a pink bikini identical to the one Kate had worn earlier, filling it out in much the same way, but he wanted to touch every gorgeous inch of Jenn’s smooth, pale skin. He walked over and stuck out his hand. “Cole. Nice to meet you.”
“Jenn.” Her hand was warm and soft in his—and no wedding band on her finger. Hallelujah.“Not quite sure how I let Kate talk me into this.”
He laughed. “I’ve been asking myself that same question all day. Romantic video shoots aren’t exactly my thing.”
Jenn gave him a look that said he wasn’t getting any sympathy where she was concerned. “But you’re the star. I am strictly a behind-the-scenes girl.”
“Not today, you’re not.” He took her hand, leading her toward the ocean. “And, if you ask me, you’re too pretty to stand behind the cameras all the time anyway.”
They waded into the ocean, hand in hand. The water was pleasantly warm, the sun overhead still unpleasantly hot, but he’d gladly endure it now that he got to hold Jenn in his arms instead of Kate.
“A little farther, please,” Diesl called. “Okay, perfect. Cole, you need to put your left hand on Jennifer’s waist. Jennifer, I need you to lean in toward him.”
Cole gripped Jenn’s waist, loving the contrast between the softness of her skin with the firm jut of her hipbone. She angled herself toward him, recreating the position he and Kate had taken earlier, but this time, he was a much happier man.
“A little closer, please,” Diesl called.
Jenn’s eyes went wide, and with a screech that rivaled the groupies’ behind the barrier, she leaped into his arms. “Something touched my leg!”
“What?” He grabbed her reflexively, his hands beneath her ass as she wrapped her legs around him, clinging to him like a barnacle.
She glanced down at the waves lapping at his thighs, her fingers gripping his bare shoulders, her body pressed against his in all the right places. “Something bumped into my leg,” she whispered.
That might be true, but if she didn’t get out of his arms in the next few seconds, Kate’s baby bump wasn’t the only bulge he was going to have to shield from the cameras.
Jenn MacDonald had never felt as idiotic as she did at that moment. As a rule, she prided herself on always being calm, professional, and organized while she was working. And yet, here she was, clinging to Colton Nix like some kind of crazy person in front of a huge crowd of industry people, not to mention all the cameras. Swallowing over the terror still gripping her by the throat, she forced herself to climb down his body, slipping her legs back into the cool turquoise water where, just moments before, something with a slimy tail had slapped her leg.
“A fish touched you?” Cole asked, sounding amused.
“Or a shark.” Her toes curled against the desire to bolt for dry land.
He narrowed his eyes at her. “So you sacrificed me to save yourself?”
“Um.” Shit. That was exactly what she’d done. “I’m sorry. I panicked.”
“Your legs are much prettier than mine. I’m happy to make that sacrifice.” He winked, his gaze dropping to her body, and she felt an annoying ping of awareness pass through her. Colton Nix was hot. Okay, he was really hot with that thick, wavy brown hair just a shade too long to be considered reputable. His eyes were a deep espresso brown that sizzled with intensity whenever he looked at her. A dusting of stubble covered his strong jaw. Every inch of him not covered by his low-slung blue board shorts was toned and tanned and absolutely delicious.
But Jenn didn’t date rock stars—or anyone else in the business, for that matter. Nor did she flirt with her boss’s peers while she was working, and while she’d never actually stood in for Kate in front of the cameras before, she was definitely working right now.
“Everything okay out there?” Diesl yelled from the beach.
“We’re fine,” she called back.
“Okay, we’re going to be rolling in for some close-ups now.”
The cameramen on the beach took their positions, and she did the same, putting her hands on Cole’s shoulders. He gripped her waist, his hands warm and strong on her skin, and again, there was that annoying zing of attraction. She’d been awfully busy the last few months working with Kate as she promoted her new album. Actually, Jenn hadn’t had a serious boyfriend in over a year, but she was hoping to change that soon.
“A little closer please,” the director called.
Cole drew her up against him, those espresso eyes locked on hers. “Been in the business very long?”
“I’ve been Kate’s assistant for about six years.”
“That’s a long time,” he said, his voice deep and gravelly.
It was, actually. Jenn made it her business to know everything about everyone she could in the industry, and most pop stars went through assistants like designer dresses. Kate was different. “Kate’s a great boss. We work well together.”
“Lean toward each other,” Diesl said. “Don’t worry about your faces. We’re just getting close-ups of your bodies right now. I need you to touch each other like you’re madly in love.”
Jenn rolled her lips inward, glad she didn’t have to fake a smile. She leaned forward, skimming her hands over Cole’s chest, and wow…she needed to step up her dating game, because his abs were seriously ripped. Combined with the dusting of brown hair covering his chest, touching him wasn’t exactly a hardship.
Judging by the hungry glint in his eyes, he didn’t seem to mind touching her either. He slid his hands around her waist, tugging her up against him. “This is a hell of a lot more fun than I’ve had all day.”
She scowled at him. There was no reason he needed to know she was enjoying this too. It was just a job. In a half hour or so, they’d go their separate ways, and he’d never look at her again. But he’d awakened something inside her, the realization that it had been way too long since a man had given her butterflies from just a simple touch.
She wanted butterflies like she got from Cole with the kind of all-consuming love that she’d watched blossom between Kate and her husband, Josh. And, now that she’d turned twenty-eight, she wanted it soon. She’d been treading water for too long. It was time to jumpstart her career—and her life.
“Move your hand a little bit to the left, Cole,” Diesl called.
Jenn fought the urge to roll her eyes. She enjoyed this process so much more when she was behind the cameras. It went on like that for another forty-five minutes or so before Diesl finally decided he’d gotten all the shots he needed.
“That’s a wrap,” he announced to her great relief.
“Phew.” She pulled out of Cole’s grasp. “Well…goodbye.”
His eyes widened slightly as if maybe he’d expected her to throw herself at him for real now that the cameras were no longer rolling. That probably happened to him a lot. But not today. Without waiting for his response, she turned and waded toward the beach. Back under the production tent, she wrapped a towel around her waist and checked in with Diesl to make sure there was nothing else he needed before she headed back to her room to get changed.
On second thought, it was only four o’clock. She was on a gorgeous private island in the Bahamas, and by some miraculous stroke of luck, she appeared to be finished with work for the day. A quick call to Kate confirmed that she was spending the rest of the afternoon with her husband and wouldn’t be needing Jenn for anything.
“You’ll be at the bar later, right?” Kate asked. The crew was gathering for a post-wrap celebration, and of course Jenn would be there. She considered it part of her job to make sure everything went smoothly for Kate when she was at anything even remotely industry-related.
“See you then.”
Jenn spent the next two hours on the beach with her Kindle. It was true what they said about the sun and the sand. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt this relaxed. With a happy sigh, she leaned back in her chair, letting the warm rays of the sun kiss her face. Ahh. She could really get used to this.
“Feel like taking another dip together?”
Her eyes popped open at the unexpected—yet familiar—masculine voice. Cole stood before her, looking like, well…like a rock star in his low-slung board shorts and shades. She was awfully glad for her own sunglasses to hide any reaction she might have shown to his presence. Shaking her head, she held up her Kindle. “No, thanks.”
“Afraid another fish might touch your leg?” One corner of his mouth turned up in a smile.
Because she needed another reminder about that spectacular moment. “I’ve just had enough of the ocean for one day.” And yeah, she was a little bit afraid of another fish touching her leg. Or a shark. Or even Cole—although for completely different reasons. She’d been so jumpy lately, and it was so unlike her. She needed to snap out of it like yesterday.
“Well, you know where to find me if you change your mind.” With another lazy smile, he headed into the waves. He waded out until the water reached his waist and then dove into the surf.
And because she really wanted to sit there and watch him swim, she packed up and headed back to her room. After a quick shower, she sat down with her iPad to go over Kate’s schedule. With filming for the video wrapped, Kate was officially on vacation now. She and Josh had decided to stay on at Luca Cay for a “babymoon,” but Jenn would be returning to New York tomorrow, so she took this opportunity to call the resort and confirm all of Kate’s and Josh’s spa treatments, meals, and other appointments for the rest of the week.
With that taken care of, she changed into a flowy turquoise dress she’d brought to the island hoping for a chance to wear. It would be perfect for their post-wrap celebration tonight at the Tiki Bar. She pulled the sides of her hair back with matching barrettes and touched up her makeup. The best thing about tonight? Because the Tiki Bar was on the beach, she could go barefoot.
Luca Cay was officially the most beautiful place she’d ever visited, and she’d gotten to visit a lot of amazing places as Kate’s assistant. Someday, she wanted to come back for a real vacation. Maybe her honeymoon. She smiled at the thought.
She was one of the first members of the crew to arrive at the Tiki Bar—occupational hazard. She couldn’t help being early to make sure everything was running smoothly. She checked in with the manager to make sure all the details had been handled. Kate’s record label was picking up the tab tonight, which meant things were bound to get rowdy.
She turned to see Jorja, Cole’s assistant, standing at the other end of the bar. Jorja was tall, blonde, and big-boobed, and Jenn couldn’t help wondering if those were her only job qualifications. And then she mentally slapped herself, because what a ridiculous, sexist thing for her to assume! “Hi, Jorja.”
“Gotta scope things out and make sure the place isn’t filled with groupies,” Jorja said with a sly smile as she scanned the bar.
“They’re crazy for him, aren’t they?” Jenn slid her toes through the warm sand, watching as the sun set over the beach, casting the sky in various shades of pink and purple. Kate had plenty of overzealous fans, but there was something about the intensity of women lusting over their favorite rock star that eclipsed anything she’d ever been through with Kate. Cole’s groupies were a whole different beast.
“That would be an understatement,” Jorja agreed. “I had them close the bar to anyone outside our party.”
“I requested the same thing,” Jenn said, deciding she liked Jorja after all. They fist-bumped.
“House drink tonight,” the bartender said, holding out two glasses filled with a purplish liquid and garnished with a tropical flower. “Moonlight martini. Want to be the taste testers?”
“I sure do,” Jorja said, extending her hand. She and Jenn each accepted one of the glasses he held toward them.
Jenn sipped. Fizzy, fruity, and with the warm burn of liquor. “Delicious.”
The bartender tipped an imaginary hat in her direction with a friendly smile. Things started to pick up then as members of the crew filtered into the bar, eager to relax and unwind after a successful shoot. Jenn mingled, working her way through the growing crowd to make sure everyone was having a good time and thank them for their work on the video. A murmur of excitement went through the crowd when Kate arrived.
She wore a loosely fitted knee-length black dress that concealed the slight swell of her stomach. Josh was at her side in a green polo shirt and khaki shorts. Her bodyguard, Mick, followed in their wake. They were immediately surrounded, and Jenn worked her way through to Kate’s side to help run interference for them. This being a private party, things shouldn’t get out of hand, but all the same, Jenn planned to stay close.
She pulled a Sharpie from her purse when the inevitable first autograph request happened and then held the magazine steady for Kate while she signed it. They circulated the bar area together, and just as Jenn was about to guide Kate over to the table she’d reserved for her, Josh beat her to it.
“You should get off your feet for a while,” he murmured, steering Kate toward their table.
“If you insist.” Kate hooked her arm through her husband’s, following him through the sand to the furthermost—and therefore most private—table, lit by surrounding tiki torches.
“I’ll get you a Perrier.” He bent to give her a quick kiss once she was seated. “Jenn, do you want anything?”
“I’ll get drinks,” Jenn said. “That’s my job, Josh. You sit with your wife.”
But Josh was already heading through the crowd toward the bar. Mick stood nearby, chatting with a man from the resort’s security staff.
“Let him,” Kate said. “Have a seat, Jenn. I want to hear all about your shoot with Cole this afternoon.”
Jenn sat in the chair opposite Kate, digging her toes into the rapidly cooling sand. “Let’s just say I’m glad my job usually keeps me behind the cameras.”
Kate laughed. “I saw some of the footage. You guys looked good together out there.”
Jenn huffed, blowing a strand of hair away from her face. “He’s kind of arrogant, though, I have to say.”
“Of course he is. It comes with the job description.” Kate leaned back in her chair, waving to someone across the bar.
Jenn glanced over her shoulder to make sure no one could hear their conversation. “That’s a bullshit excuse. You’re not arrogant, and you’ve sold millions more albums than he has.”
“I think this business demands that we all have a certain amount of arrogance.”
“There’s not an arrogant bone in your body.” Josh walked up to his wife, handing her a glass of Perrier. He handed Jenn a moonlight martini and sat beside Kate with his beer.
“Thank you,” Jenn said as she sipped from her drink.
“We were just talking about Jenn’s moment in the spotlight this afternoon,” Kate said with a smile as she took a sip of her water.
“Suited me just fine,” Josh said with a scowl. “That was the most painful shoot I’ve ever had to watch.”
“Oh please.” Kate nudged him playfully. “Do you know how unsexy it is to have a crowd of people watching and telling you where to put your hands? Believe me, Cole didn’t enjoy touching me any more than you enjoyed watching it.”
Josh mumbled something under his breath, still looking disgruntled. Kate’s lips twitched as if she were fighting a grin. And Jenn felt herself laughing for the first time all day.
Kate leaned forward conspiratorially. “Just between us, my belly really freaked him out.”
“Did you see his face the first time he touched you?” Jenn said with a giggle snort. “He looked like he was touching a live grenade.”
Several members of the film crew came over to talk to Kate then—or suck up was more like it. Jenn caught Josh’s eye, and they exchanged an amused smile. Beyond the Tiki Bar, against the darkening sky, an arbor was lit on the beach with twinkling white lights.
“Do you think someone’s getting married here tonight?” she said when the film crew had finally moved on. In researching the island, Jenn had learned that Luca Cay had a reputation as the “it” place for the rich and famous to elope.
Kate turned in her seat and gasped. “Oh wow. That’s gorgeous. I did hear about a wedding happening today, but I didn’t know it was going to be at night.”
“A nighttime beach wedding,” Jenn said, feeling all kinds of warm and mushy inside. She leaned over and snapped a picture with her phone. “That’s going on my Pinterest inspiration board.”
“Did you know she has her wedding all planned out already?” Kate asked Josh.
His brow wrinkled. “But…”
“Yes, I’m still single,” Jenn said.
“Actually, she has several different wedding scenarios planned,” Kate explained. “And I think she just added a moonlit beach wedding to the list.”
Jenn nodded. “It’s true. I’m a planner.”
“Well, that’s…” Josh looked flummoxed. “I don’t know what that is.”
“It’s a little weird, I know,” she told him. “But when the time comes, I’ll be ahead of the game. I already know a lot about my husband too.”
Josh’s eyebrows rose. “Do tell.”
“He’ll be a few years older than me and have a steady job that brings in enough income to support us, but not crazy rich or anything and definitely not anyone in the business. He’ll be considerate and romantic, probably come from a big, loving family, and he’ll love adventure and traveling.”
“See?” Kate said with a smile.
“Wow.” Josh took a drink from his beer. “And how did you decide on all this?”
“I filled out an online dating questionnaire, and it told me what to look for.”
“I keep reminding her that sometimes we have to be open to the unexpected when it comes to love,” Kate said.
“I’m absolutely certain that if I’d filled out a questionnaire, it would not have paired me with a pop star,” Josh said.
Kate laughed. “I don’t know, though, it might have recommended someone like you for me. I needed someone to ground me.”
“I’m willing to reconsider the specifics as long as he looks at me the way you two look at each other,” Jenn said. “I won’t settle for anything less.”
“Aww.” Kate gazed adoringly at her husband. “You’ll find him. And probably when you least expect him.”
Jenn wasn’t ready to break the news yet that her search for a husband—and her own career aspirations—would probably mean giving up her current job. But getting older sometimes meant settling, and in this case, she needed to put down roots somewhere. She’d thought it would be LA, but after Kate had moved to New York, Jenn had gotten an apartment there too, and the city was definitely growing on her. It was busy and exciting enough to keep her fulfilled even after she’d given up the jet-setting celebrity-assistant lifestyle.
“Well, look who’s here,” Kate said, tipping her head toward the Tiki Bar’s torch-lit entrance where Colton Nix stood, illuminated by the flames in a kind of golden glow. Already, a crowd of female admirers had gathered around him. “I guess we should say hello.”
“You go ahead,” Jenn said, annoyed at the rush of heat that had flooded her at the sight of him. “I’ll just wait here.”