Xander had been on set for over a week now, and I had been cooped up in his apartment for most of it. When he woke me up the second day to go on set with him, I threw the closest thing I could find at his head. It was my phone. He didn’t ask me again the next day.
Now, I was waiting for him to return from the set so we could go to the premiere of Thomas’s latest action movie. Thomas had returned this morning, and I had been staring at my cracked phone all day, waiting for him to invite me over so I could start tutoring his daughter. I was tired of wasting my life away in Xander’s apartment.
The one time I attempted to get out and do something with my day, I noticed several men and a woman following me around the streets. I got one flash of their camera lenses, and I turned around and headed straight back to Xander’s apartment. Xander was even less impressed when I told him about the ordeal. He scolded me for not taking Harrod or Greg with me. When I explained to him that they were with him, protecting their actual client he stormed off and slammed his bedroom door.
I was currently sitting on Xander’s couch, looking at my phone every two minutes because he was already half an hour late. He said he would arrive at half past six, but it was already seven. I was pretty sure a premiere wasn’t like a regular theatre. I was betting they weren’t going to let us sneak in during the previews.
I hadn’t bothered buying a new dress for the event. I figured no one would be looking at me anyway. I was just wearing an old pale pink dress I had tossed in my suitcase for an emergency. It hugged close to all my curves and flared out at the waist until mid-thigh. I wasn’t sure what people usually wore to these things, but this was going to have to do.
Finally, I heard the front door open, followed by hurried footsteps and a very ragged looking Xander. His hair was all over the place, and his shirt buttons were done up wrong. I couldn’t be certain, but it looked like there was lipstick on his left cheek, and before my mind went to dark places I quickly averted my gaze and got to my feet.
“Why aren’t you ready?” He asked, rushing towards his bedroom, undoing his shirt buttons as he went.
“I thought I was,” I frowned, looking down at my dress and brushing out the imaginary wrinkles. “This is my best dress.”
“That?” I didn’t like the tone of his voice or the way his eyebrows shot up into his hairline. “What about the dress I gave you?”
“I’m not wearing that.”
“Why? It was a nice dress. It would be perfect for tonight.”
“You don’t dictate what I wear. I am a grown woman, and I have been successfully choosing my own outfits since the age of five.”
“Fine,” he huffed, ducking into his room but not before I caught a glimpse of his impressive chest and abs. The boy must spend half his time at the gym to have a body like that.
Not even ten minutes later, he emerged in a deep blue suit that had my heart dropping through the floor and my breath catching in my throat. He was gorgeous.
“Let’s go,” he instructed, tugging at his cuffs as he made his way back to the apartment door. Unfortunately, my mind was still trying to process the magnificence of the man and had forgotten how to get messages to my feet. “Annie?”
“Right, sorry,” I muttered, stumbling in my heels as I hurried to his side. His hand instinctually found mine, and I felt a warm pulse pass through my body before he was tugging me out of the apartment and into the elevator.
There were hundreds of people just outside the car window, and I was suddenly feeling like an animal at the zoo, not to mention the noise. It was like a wall, pressing down on us even from inside the car.
“Time to face the mob, sweetheart,” he sighed, taking my hand in his again and sending the now familiar jolt of liquid excitement coursing through my veins. I already felt safer just by having his hand in mine.
“Do you really think I’m underdressed?” I quickly asked, panicking as Harrod came around to open the door. He glanced back at me with a frown marring his striking features, and before I knew what was happening, he had lent across the space between us and graced me with another of his nose kisses.
“You’re beautiful, no matter what you’re wearing,” he murmured, slipping his hand behind my neck to keep our foreheads pressed together. “Just stay close to my side out there, okay? Don’t want you getting lost, sweetheart.”
“It’s a straight line Xander, not a hedge maze.” I scoffed. I was struck numb when the door suddenly opened and the noise I thought was overpowering before, hit me at full force.
“Let’s get a move on,” Xander murmured against my ear before he ducked out of the car and took me with him.
I stumbled slightly as my heels hit the red carpet, but Xander was quick to steady me as Harrod and Greg came to stand behind us. The crowd seemed to intensify as they began to realise who had just stepped out of the car.
Young girls in tiny tops and minuscule shorts shouted their devotion to the man now holding my hand with a little more strength than before, and subconsciously I stepped a little closer. The girls closest to us pressed themselves against the metal fences, stretching their hands out in an attempt to get Xander closer to them. Camera flashes broke through the space, filling my eyes with splintered light until it felt like all my senses were overwhelmed. I almost forgot to breathe.
Suddenly, Xander began to move us down the red carpet, waving at fans but never getting closer than that. Watching the others making their way down the carpet, I noticed their progress was much slower as they stopped to talk with eager reporters and sign whatever the fans were shoving in their faces.
“Don’t you need to do that too?”
“I usually do but tonight’s different. It’s not my movie.”
“What about the fans? Shouldn’t you sign something? They seem very...devoted.”
“Would it bother you if I stopped to greet a few fans?” He asked as we continued to make our way down the carpet.
“It would probably bother me if you didn’t.” I shrugged. “These people obviously spent a long time out here waiting for you. They’ve spent money on your merchandise and are currently screaming their lungs out to get your attention. It seems rude to ignore them.” He had stopped walking now and was watching me with a puzzled look, but there was a smile tugging at his lips, so I knew not everything I said had been wrong.
“You’re always surprising me, Annie,” he smiled, pressing his lips against my temple before dragging me to the barrier, with Harrod and Greg close behind.
By the time we made it down the carpet, Xander had smiled and taken photos with many of the fans pressed against the barriers. He signed autographs, hugged and even received a cheeky kiss or two from several eager girls. Like clockwork he would turn back to me as if he were asking permission to keep going, to keep doing his job. It warmed my heart to know he was thinking of me and considering my comfort despite me encouraging him to keep doing what he was doing.
Almost halfway down the red carpet, I noticed Dee sidle up to him and start whispering something in his ear before his hand stilled on the autograph he was signing. His eyes flashed towards the end of the carpet we had just come from before they fell on me. His eyes were wide, and the autograph he had been signing was all but forgotten. I didn’t realise I had taken a step towards him until he met it with one of his own. There was a look of worry on his features, and it had my heart racing in anticipation.
“We should probably get inside,” he muttered, wrapping his arm securely around my waist and hustling me down the carpet. If I hadn’t looked back to see I would have assumed an army of snakes were slithering down the carpet towards us. It was the only logical reason for Xander’s behaviour.
I tried to glance over my shoulder to see who might have spooked him, but he was already ushering me inside the building and into a whole different kind of panic. There were movie stars, everywhere. Movie stars by the large ornate, golden mirror on the far side of the foyer. Movie stars underneath the breathtaking chandelier in the centre of the room, the lights reflecting off the marble floors and movie stars just milling around as if they were just ordinary people. Waiters and waitresses weaved through the masses, offering drinks and champagne. I had to refuse when a red-haired waiter offered Xander and me salmon puffs because my stomach was too tied up in knots to handle food. I was quick to refuse a champagne flute unlike the movie star attached to my hip who downed his own so quickly he had three before the waitress moved on.
“Xander is there-”
“You were cutting it fine,” I was interrupted by the Scottish brogue of Xander’s friend Noah as Xander moved on to his fourth glass of bubbles.
“I’m starting to wish I didn’t make it here at all,” Xander mumbled, his arm growing tighter around my waist.
“You know Thomas would be disappointed in you. I think he would be anyway. Can never tell with that man,” Noah chuckled, and I found myself laughing along with him.
“How’ve ye been, lass? He been treating ye right?” He nodded in Xander’s direction as I wriggled from his grip and came closer. Noah had his arms crossed tightly over his chest. Tonight, his red tresses were tied in a loose knot at the based of his neck seeming to make his bright green eyes even larger and more vibrant.
“Why aren’t you working with Xander on his latest movie?” I found myself asking as I felt Xander slip his hand into mine and pull me just a fraction closer to him.
“I’ve got something of my own in the works. No tragic romances for me,” his laughter rumbled through the air around us, and I felt the eyes of those around us shift to our conversation, mostly those of the female persuasion.
“Is your set as boring as Xander’s? I thought it would be more entertaining.”
“I guarantee you, my dear, if you were on my set you wouldn’t be bored for a moment,” he smiled, his body leaning into mine as Xander tugged on my hand again.
“Seems your greatest challenge has always been keeping a woman interested,” a sudden voice broke into our little group. It was high pitched, whinny and felt like nails on a chalkboard.
“Allison,” Xander was tense beside me, and I felt his hand slip from mine only to have his arm around my waist seconds later. Suddenly, I knew why he was upset about what I was wearing tonight. He wanted to show me off to his ex. He wanted to prove to her that he could move on too.
“How’ve you been Alex?” Xander shifted me so we were both facing his ex and I couldn’t help but feel inferior in her presence. She was taller than me, her red hair more lively than mine and her striking features seemed to draw attention from all over the room. In the battle with his ex, I’d say Xander was down by several points.
“Where’s your toy boy?” Xander spat back, and I glanced over at him to see a dark look on his face as he eyed the woman he had once been engaged to.
“So you’re my replacement?” Looking over at her, I noticed that her snide comment was directed at me.
“Umm...” My eyes darted to Xander, and his increasingly dark look before I turned back to the woman staring down her nose at me.
“You must really be scraping the bottom of the barrel with this one,” she cackled, and I was tempted to check if she had a broom hidden anywhere. “Was there no one else who would go out with you?”
“That’s enough, Allison. Not everything is about how someone looks.”
“So, I’m just going to find the ladies room,” I muttered, untangling myself from Xander’s hold and darting through the crowd in search of any place I could hide.
I was already halfway across the room when I felt a familiar hand on my wrist. The problem was, if I stopped and looked at him my eyes were going to flow over with the tears I was trying to convince myself didn’t exist.
“Annie, please,” he begged already leading me to a more secluded corner of the reception area.
“I don’t want to talk about it, Xander.”
“I didn’t mean it like it sounded. She was just trying to rile you up.” He tried to explain, but I waved him off. If I continued to speak with him, I wasn’t going to be able to convincingly hold back the tears. All I could do was take deep breaths and hope that he would let the whole thing pass. When was this movie starting anyway?
I tried to pull away from him and move in the direction of the theatre doors, but he caged me in. His arms on either side of my head, keeping me from going anywhere.
“Annie, we aren’t going anywhere until we’ve talked about this. I don’t want to see you upset.”
“I’m fine,” I breathed out, plastering a flimsy smile on my face and finally looking into his piercing hazel eyes.
“Annie,” he sighed, and one of his hands came up to caress my cheek, leaving a trail of warmth in its wake.
“I’m fine, really,” I repeated, but a tear had already fallen from my eye, and he caught it on his thumb.
“You’re more beautiful than-”
“I don’t need your false platitudes, Xander,” I frowned, pushing his hand aside as frustration started to pump fiercely through my veins. “I know that I’m not beautiful. Vanity is hardly the reason for my tears.” He seemed to stumble back from my attack, and I was already wiping away the rogue tears, hoping I didn’t look too tragic. The room had started to move towards the now open theatre doors, and I was eager to get inside and get this night over with. However, Xander had kindly informed me on the ride over of an afterparty that we were obligated to attend, so the night looked long.
“Annie, why would you think that?” His hand shot out, and his fingers quickly wove themselves in with mine until I was forced to stop and listen. “You are one of the most beautiful people I have ever met in my life,” and the derisive snort I replied with didn’t seem to sit well with him. He was looking at me like I had lost my mind. I knew that look well. It was the same look my parents had when I told them I wanted to study to be a teacher.
“I’m sorry about what I said; I wasn’t thinking. She drives me insane.”
“Xander, I don’t need your apology,” I frowned. “If anyone should be apologising it should be me.”
“What?” His eyebrows crashed down over his eyes, and he seemed to bob down until they were level with mine. “What are you talking about?”
“I embarrassed you. I should have worn that dress. I didn’t know that she was going to be here,” I shrugged.
“Annie, you could never embarrass me. I was an ass tonight. You look beautiful, I was just stressed from filming, and I know that isn’t an excuse, but I need you to know that I think you are the most beautiful woman in the room, always. There isn’t another woman I would want to be here with tonight than you.”
“Really?” He answered with a gentle kiss, which left my lips tingling. Then he pulled me close until I was cocooned against his chest.
“I’m sorry I made you doubt yourself, Annie. I never want you to think that you’ve disappointed me because honestly, I don’t think there is a way you could do that.” He murmured, running his hand along my spine. “Now, let’s go see this movie so we can get out of here.”
He pulled me along behind him, which was lucky because my body was too numb to move on its own. Within seconds we were in the darkened movie theatre, and Xander was pulling me over to the roped off area that must have been reserved for VIPs. He settled me in between himself and Noah, who proceeded to chatter away in my ear but I was too occupied stealing glances at the man beside me who was currently holding more than my hand in his grasp. There was a giddy girl inside of me that had awoken, and she was all too willing to hand over my heart, and if I wasn’t careful, there wouldn’t be anything of me left to salvage at the end of this fabricated relationship.
But then he smiled, his breathtaking smile, his eyes alight with the lights from the cinema screen and I knew it didn’t matter. My heart was no longer mine to give because he had already stolen it.