Finian Alexander is one scandalous tabloid photo away from catapulting his acting career onto the A-list. All his bad boy persona needs is an agreeable member of the paparazzi to give him a friendly boost. But vacationing out in the middle of nowhere, the only photographer he knows is way too scrupulous for her own good.
Or is she?
Hailey Summer is desperate for cash—so desperate that she’s willing to do just about anything with her photography skills to save her family’s cottage and keep her secrets hidden from her sisters. So when sexy, arrogant movie star Finian makes her an offer, Hailey can’t resist. But does his proposition take things too far? And when their plans begin to unravel, will Finian and Hailey find the limelight too blinding?
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“Finian Alexander, do something bad,” Hailey Summer whispered. The alley was quiet as she kept herself squeezed against a white catering van, waiting for the actor to make a move outside the town’s black tie gala.
She pressed her eye against the camera’s viewfinder as a streak of sun broke through the clouds, making her LCD impossible to read. The light was incredible and she was the only one there to see Hollywood’s bad boy break the rules and mess up once again, but she needed him to move faster. Much faster. The light was going to fail when the clouds opened up, or someone was going to interrupt him and send her home with nothing. Again.
Come on, Finian. Do this for me.
As a sunbeam shone down on his shoulders, he looked more like an angel in the shadowed alley than someone about to go joyriding in a stolen sports car and make her rich in the process. Well, at least tug her out of her life-swallowing hole of debt.
Patiently, she waited, lining up shots. Brick and clapboard. Parked cars. Faded jeans resting low on his hips. She couldn’t have asked for a better setting. Better light. She just needed Finian to do something. To flub up in that distinctive way of his so she could cover her past mistakes. Then her three younger sisters would never have to know how close she’d cut things and how their legacy, their birthright, was teetering on the brink of being lost.
“Come on, hunky-hunk, open it. That’s right.” She smiled as the movie star carefully tried another car door, casting his eyes sideways to see if he was being watched. Door locked. On to the next. One of them had to be unlocked. This was Bala, Ontario, a small town known for cranberries, quaint cottages, tourism and bridges, not crime. He’d find an unlocked vehicle and go for a joyride; she’d capture the image of him breaking the law, sell it for big bucks, and kaboom. Her problems would be solved, without impacting his life other than adding another celebrity-life-gone-wrong story to his bulging portfolio.
She fidgeted, her anticipation building.
“Come on, come on…”
She glanced over her shoulder, half expecting Austin Smith, a local photographer who did occasional paparazzi work in L.A., to appear and ruthlessly scoop her. Hailey had wrestled long and hard with her conscience to get to this point, and now that she was here, ready and waiting, Finian was taking his sweet time, giving the angel on her shoulder plenty of time to make arguments on why she should back out.
Hailey wriggled and refocused her camera. Finian hunched over as specks of rain started to fall as he tried another door. His hair was disheveled. He looked tired. Rough. As if he’d been up all night–like her.
Apparently, it was hard work being a party-man celebrity raking in millions.
The Mercedes he tried was locked, and he moved on to an Audi, his strong hands lifting handles with a care she hadn’t expected. Maybe he was worried about setting off alarms. She could see that being a problem. A problem for both of them. She shifted slightly. Was there a law against watching someone break and enter?
She could report him later. Right now she needed images. She snapped a few photos of the light bouncing off Finian, then sighed as she lowered her camera. Officer Cranks would seize her photos as evidence. Her late father’s poker buddy would give her that unblinking stare that undid her every time. Teary-eyed, she’d be handing over these shots before he felt the urge to blink. Years after getting busted egging houses with Austin, she still felt guilty buying eggs near Halloween. That night had been the beginning of the end for her and Austin, both as friends and as boyfriend-girlfriend. She’d gone back to being safe and reliable as he’d dived into his newfound persona, a hellion who’d laughed at her for crying in the cops’ office. Not long after that her father had passed away and Hailey had begun to wear safe and reliable as if it was her own personal shield against the pain.
She cursed Austin under her breath for giving her a taste of fun and freedom before the burden had come. He was still waltzing around, living the life, raking in the dough, and she was barely surviving.
She propped herself against the old building, leaning her supporting arm on the van so she could line up her shots as Finian moved farther down the alley. She’d hand over the evidence after she got paid by the tabloids. But first, she would take care of her family’s needs.
Come on, Finian. Do this for both of us. I’ll help you if you help me.
“You really think he’s going to get into one of those cars?” scoffed a male voice. Hailey jumped, nearly dropping her camera. “You should have set it up ahead of time and led him into it. You’re wasting your time.” Austin leaned over her shoulder, his cheap aftershave familiar in a way that made her distrust him.
She turned, pinned against the wall, his large build crowding her.
“Make your trap irresistible to a man like Finian.” Austin’s eyes roved over her and she wondered why on earth she’d pined for the annoying button-pusher after he’d broken up with her. He got under her skin faster than anyone she’d ever met. Although maybe she’d just pined for freedom and a life she could no longer have.
“I knew it wouldn’t be long before the worm crawled out from under his rock,” Hailey retorted, turning to face Finian again. “Did your mother run out of canned lasagna?”
“This is my arena and this guy hates the paparazzi,” Austin said, his mouth turning down. “Go back to your pretty art shots and leave this for the real photographers.”
Hailey gritted her teeth so she didn’t make an enemy out of Austin and took a few haphazard shots as though Finian was doing something intriguing. This was just like with the high school paper, when she’d wanted to take different pictures than he, the photo editor, had demanded. He’d wanted the publication to be a tabloid. She’d wanted it to be a liberal arts paper that covered anything and everything. An outlet and extension of her own artistic needs.
“I said–” he began.
She ducked as Finian looked their way. “Shut up! You’re scaring the subject.” She whacked Austin on the chest, just above where it softened into a small beer gut.
“He won’t stop because we’re here. Movie stars need the paparazzi. Free publicity–and he hasn’t had any in almost a week.” Austin glanced around the corner of the van. “They’re all locked.”
“I know,” Hailey said darkly.
“He’s not the joyriding type, you know.”
Austin hitched his camera bag higher on his shoulder. “I’m going for a beer. Call me when he gets desperate enough to do something interesting.”
“Only if you’re in them and naked.” He gave her a wink.
Hailey bit back a snort of laughter. “You’re the nightmare and he’s the dream, honey.”
“Mmm. I love it when you call me honey.” Austin lightly pecked her cheek, then backed away, his arm outstretched, pointing at her. “I know you still have my number.”
“Only because you live with your mother.”
He clutched his chest as if shot, and with another wink, disappeared around the corner.
Austin actually made a pretty decent enemy seeing as he helped motivate Hailey to work harder and follow the path she truly wanted. Well, except when he was a complete you-know-what and she wanted to shove him into the turbulent water near the falls in hopes that he’d drown.
Shaking her head, she turned to Finian once again. She’d had such a crush on him ever since his first movie–Desperate Cowboy, a low-budget film nobody remembered. But she did. Especially the way his tight little butt had featured in one of the scenes. Mmm. That scene had replayed in many of her fantasies. Add in his black cowboy hat, the swagger and the way his bright blue eyes had blazed out of his dark, tanned skin, and she’d been a goner for life.
She vaguely re-aimed her camera, trying to calm her body’s reactions and thoughts about Finian. For several days she’d been casually tracking him, but all she’d seen was a regular man hanging out on vacation. Which was so wrong. He was supposed to mess up, with only her around to capture it in digital, not be a man she could envision living happily ever after with.
She was only supposed to catch him screwing up once, then sell it. That was the deal she’d made with herself to justify violating his privacy. Because even though he was a movie star, he was also a human. And in Muskoka there was an unspoken code–a code Austin regularly broke–stating that celebrities in the area were to be left alone if they weren’t obviously seeking attention.
She almost turned away when something caught her eye. Finian had finally opened the door to a 1950s Jaguar Mark I. She barely dared to breathe. What had she missed while fuming to herself?
Finian rolled up the car’s window. Closed the door. Gave the roof a little pat, then walked away as the clouds submitted to the weight of their load.
What had she missed?
She popped her head above her camera for a ‘real world’ look. Why hadn’t he hot-wired the car? Had he found something to take instead?
Whatever had happened, she knew one thing for sure: she’d missed her chance to save herself as well as her sisters.
* * *
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