I don’t know how someone else could have claimed my name, but it happened and I kicked myself for not taking the time to authenticate my account. Not only had they fooled the Chatter administrators, they had copied my entire profile. Every post, every picture, and somehow comments Seyer and other MWC stars had written to me had disappeared from my true page.
The number of fans that followed my Chatter page decreased rapidly. By morning, I’d be lucky if a handful of fans remained and it had only taken one comment. But I didn’t care about losing the world. Only her.
I spent the night hugging my phone, waiting for that high pitched beep. I begged for it to sound. This online beauty had stolen heart and she even didn’t care that she held it in the palm of her hand. That I laid there, begging for her answer. I felt sick. It felt worse than a woman I’d actually dated dumping me.
Since I had found Rose, I couldn’t smile until I received a message from her. This was my existence. I know that lust fueled my interest in the beginning, but it became so much more through our messages. This thing with her wasn’t some insta-love bullshit destined to fade. I fell in love with the conversations, with her personality, with her wit, and with her caring heart and I felt deeper with each message she sent.
I stared at the photo on my phone with a hunger I couldn’t quench and the feelings I had for her would not subside. I knew she was going through a lot, even if she wouldn’t talk to me about it. I knew that she had lost confidence in herself and I knew she was losing her faith in love. I could see it between the lines of her posts and I just couldn’t stand to watch it melt away.
I just wanted to hold her. I wanted to show her what love could truly be. I was honestly a romantic guy. Why couldn’t she see I had a lot to offer? Why couldn’t she see that I was everything she had dreamed about her entire life?
I guess I craved the couple’s life. Always going overboard to make a girl fall in love with me and realizing I had succeeded was a thrill rivaled by nothing else. But she had to be special to turn on the gift I possessed. Rose was that special. I felt it right down to the core of my bones.
I tossed and turned. Unable to succumb to slumber. Unable to get lost in my favorite fantasies. It was nearly four a.m. the last time I glanced at the clock before closing my eyes.
I parked Seyer’s Hummer on the curb in front of a small, but nice home with white siding, a cozy front porch, and a white picket fence. I glanced at the flower beds lining the walk. The place was cute. Just like her.
I walked up to the door, rang the doorbell and waited with a bouquet of Dandelions in my hand. It hadn’t taken the private investigator long to find her name and address.
“Ethan?” The words fell out the second those blue-green eyes landed on me.
“Hi, Rose.” I grinned at her surprised, almost thankful gawk. I honestly believed we had both been through more than our fair share of heartbreak. She didn’t have to say it, I could feel it. Her man didn’t treat her the way she deserved and I believed she wanted to get away, but he somehow held her hostage. I’d seen it hidden between the words she had sent to me, I saw it in her eyes, and I was there to save her, to whisk her away from the unhappiness. If she’d let me.
“Who is it?” Some guy appeared behind her, towering over her like a vicious guard dog.
“I can’t believe it.” She took a step forward, happy tears cascading down her cheeks. Her arms embraced me and she stared up. Disbelief etched in her expression.
I tilted her chin, touched my lips softly to hers, unable to live another second without knowing how her kiss felt.
“You son-of-a-bitch!” That bulldog of a man snatched her from my arms and shoved her inside.
“Stay down!” he bellowed, then delivered a hard blow to my jaw.
I launched my entire body, caught his mid-section at full speed, and slammed him to the wooden porch. I straddled and struck his face with a closed fist and I didn’t plan to stop, but he caught my second punch, reversed the position and overpowered.
“You … come to …. My house! And flirt with … my woman!”
Blow after blow. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t block, and I couldn’t regain control …
Two short beeps woke me from the nightmare. I bolted to my side, snatched the phone, wiped a hand over my face to wake my eyes, and peered at the notification.
2Ethan Hart: I can’t wait for our date.
Damn it! It wasn’t Rose. It was Cady. The woman was in a rush to promote our on-screen pairing. And such bad timing. That spoiled brat of a woman was obviously going to be a thorn constantly digging into my side.
Or maybe she thought it would help. All my co-workers knew someone had hijacked my identity and feared it would happen to them, but it wasn’t my biggest problem, though it probably should have been.
And I wasn’t going to reply to Cady. Not until I heard from Rose. The suits running the show behind the scenes wouldn’t like it. But screw what they thought. It was late enough. I’d just tell them I was asleep if they complained because at that moment I wasn’t in the mood to play the game.
I went back to sleep. For what seemed like only a few minutes.
My phone rang and again I jumped to a sitting position and answered. Hoping it was Rose.
“Hart?” Stanley DeBosa’s voice echoed. “Hart!”
“Yeah … Yes, sir?”
“There seems to be some confusion.”
“You’re breaking the rules … all storylines are to be treated as reality in the presence of the fans … Chatter is the public eye and you’re little chats with this Rose woman is contradicting the script!”
“Maybe you shouldn’t treat the fans like idiots, sir! Or maybe you should have read my profile before you signed off on this silly storyline. Rose was part of my life before …”
“I don’t give a damn about your opinion. As long as you work for me, you will do as I say.”
“I work for Muxlin.”
“I own half of Muxlin, therefore I own you. I own you as long as your contract states.”
“There’s nothing in my contract that says you can pimp me out to your daughter.”
“End it, Hart!”
I nearly slung the phone in anger, catching myself just before releasing. I brought it to my lips and closed my eyes. Heartache, pain, and frustration overwhelmed me.
In an instant, I made up my mind. If the company’s storyline compromised my chance to win Rose’s heart … I would quit … on the spot. The hell with my contract! Screw the money I would owe! I would and could walk away.
Two weeks. Three. Nothing. Not one word. She’d completely blocked me, so I didn’t even know if she had been online. Just like that, Rose disappeared as quickly as she had come into my life.
“Hey,” Seyer’s sudden appearance in my hotel room surprised me.
“What’s up, Seyer?” MWC had launched a second show so we’d had gigs booked in different locations. I hadn’t seen him in a week, but I was too depressed to chat.
“I should ask you the same thing. Geeze. What happened? Did you witness a mass murder or something?”
“I’m okay.” Moving was vital. I had to do something. I glared at the clock, but I had nowhere to go. Maybe the gym. I grabbed my water bottle and turned at the door. “Do you ever feel like you made a mistake getting into all of this?”
“I think we’ve all had that thought at some point. It’s just the road talking.”
“I love the business. I do, but I wonder if I would have been happier just staying in one place. You know settling down … getting married.”
“You wouldn’t be happy doing anything else.”
“I would have found something, maybe … and this is an amazing life. Still, it would be nice to have something besides this.”
“Face it. If we wanted all of that, we should have found someone before we signed up. I meet tons of girls, man … but they don’t want to know me. They want the character I play in that damn squared circle.” So right. Seyer’s words. My friend had moments. Rare moments when uncharacteristic compassion shined. “Is this about that Chatter chick?”
“Chatter chick?” Seyer was the only one of my peers who had the nerve to talk about Rose to my face. “No story. I just thought she might be someone special. Someday. Guess she was nothing but another fan. She was excited that I responded to her reply. She enjoyed our back and forth for a while then disappeared once I showed the man behind my character.”
The thought of never talking to Rose again dropped a dark shadow over my heart, one I feared would never lift.
“You’re crushing.” He was still digging. “Geeze. I thought you were just filling in the boredom. That is insane, bro. How can you have a crush on someone you haven’t met?”
It wasn’t a crush. No. It was something much worse and it was embarrassing to admit. Especially to an expert heartbreaker like Seyer.
“I don’t know. I just … felt something. I can’t explain it.” Maybe it was just my desperate attempt to forget what Stacy had done.
“So, meet her.”
I cocked an eyebrow. Seyer’s words crashed upon me in waves.
“Ask her out. Take her for drinks. We have to stop close to where she lives eventually.”
“Ask her?” I twisted my mouth as if I had bitten into a sour apple. I felt like Seyer was mocking my misery, twisting the knife just a little deeper. “Didn’t you hear what I said? She hasn’t responded to me in weeks.”
“Where does she live anyway?”
“I don’t know. Coeur de’ Lile? Beau Reve? She’s changed it a few times … when I could see that stuff.” Annoyance dripped from my tongue. I was ready to drop the subject, but ideas to change the subject eluded me.
“Beau Reve? That island. Man, that place creeps me out.”
“I think it’s beautiful.”
“We’re scheduled to perform there in a couple of weeks. I dread it.”
“You just hate the trip in. You’re always fine once we get there.”
“It’s that damn fog. It does something to me.” The stubborn man’s hard jaw and stone-cold eyes went soft. That’s when I realized that the fearless man I’d known for years was scared. “Anyway.” Seyer shook his head as if he could chase away the dread with just a turn of his neck. “Leave her a couple of tickets at the door. She’ll show.”
“And how am I gonna tell her that? She blocked me, man.”
“Fake profile, dude.”
“I don’t have anything to lose either way I guess.” I was on an emotional roller-coaster and I wasn’t sure if I was enjoying the ride.
“You don’t have anything to lose. But I don’t think you should wait for her to have a drink. Let’s go do that now.”
“Why not?” Maybe I could drown my depression in an alcoholic binge.
I honestly tried to forget and have fun. I followed Seyer to a bar and planted myself on a barstool beside him. I drank a few drinks then I pulled out my phone, realizing immediately I wasn’t going to find what I was looking for in any bottle.
I’d even sunk low enough to follow Seyer’s advice. Posing as a woman, I sent her a friend’s request and she accepted it within a few minutes. I signed into that account and watched her page. Geez, why couldn’t she post something? An Update. Hello, good night … Kiss my ass, Ethan … anything. It was as if she just fell off the edge of the Earth. I guess she had grown bored with me. Yeah, that’s what had happened and I had to accept it. Rose hadn’t posted much before I’d found her either.
“She’s probably one of those celebrity chasers.” Nosey Seyer had to put in his two cents. “There are a lot of those on Chatter. They don’t even care if they watch your show or not. They are the worst kind of gold diggers.”
Perhaps. I pondered all my conversations with her. Nah, Rose wasn’t like that. I didn’t think. Wouldn’t a gold digger give me her phone number? Hell, she probably would have hopped on the Jenithiyain Ferry and took the first train to my side if I’d asked. No, Rose kept a big part of her life a mystery and completely refused to give me too much information including her real name. That wasn’t the behavior of a money-hungry con.
A person’s social status and bank account did not impress my Rose. Expensive dinners or bobbles would never win her heart. I knew it. She was honest. A true saint. I ran a hand over my face.
Damn, I had that woman on a pedestal. Meeting her was probably the only thing that could bring my perception of her down to a mortal level.