The bottom line was, she wasn’t a serial dater, but she was also away from her family and Grace, which meant she didn’t have anyone giving her daily reality checks…and Lord knows, you won’t find any kind of reality in L.A. During her hospitalization Don had sat vigil by her bedside and then spent a week fawning over her. He’d become the brother she’d never had and the confidante she really needed at the time.
“Hey, Donnie.” She chuckled at his dark wig. “Your hair’s crooked.”
“Dang it,” he said, and faced the mirror, shifting Prince Eric’s wig. “Good?”
Charlotte nodded. “Much better.”
“Ready to look like you’d sell your soul for me?”
“Oh, you’re hilarious.”
“Thank you, m’lady. I’m here all week.” He gave a princely bow and smiled. “So. What’s new in the land of Charlotte? We haven’t talked in over a week.”
“I know,” she said. “So very unlike us. Let’s see. Um, Grace just called to tell me that half of Fallen Crown showed up at church.”
“Fallen Crown the band?” Don asked. “Didn’t she meet them in Scotland?”
“Yep, she sure did…which is why we hate her, right?”
Don laughed. “Right. I hate your best friend…whom I’ve never met.”
“Good answer. Anyway, the lead singer and his dreamy brother made a special trip, apparently to visit her.”
“Wow. She must have made an impression.” Don cocked his head. “Of course, from the many pictures I’ve seen, she is super hot, so I can see why she would.”
Charlotte punched him on the arm.
“Ow, what was that for?” he asked.
“It was because I had to hit something. I should be there meeting Niall MacMillan.” She lowered her voice. “Not here, portraying an idiot. Grace doesn’t even like them!”
“At all?” Don asked. “But they’re really great.”
“Preaching to the choir, buddy…but, no, she’s not a fan.” Charlotte shook her head.
“What’s her jam? Does she love country?” he retorted.
“There’s no such thing as real country music anymore,” Charlotte complained. “She loves pop, whether it falls into what the industry calls “country” or not. Granted, she loves good pop, not the auto-tuned crap radio tries to feed us, but still, Fallen Crown’s a bit out of her comfort zone.”
“So, is she dating the lead singer or the dreamy drummer?”
“Neither yet, but Maximilian seems pretty determined to get to know her.”
Don rubbed his bicep with a grimace. “Damn, girl, you hit like a man.”
“Oh, please. That was merely a love tap.”
Don laughed. “Would now be a good time to say how sorry I am that you didn’t get to meet the object of your obsess—I mean, affection?”
“Yes. Thank you. You just made everything better.” Charlotte smiled. “You’re not really hurt, are you?”
“That depends. Can I milk the injury? Get you to do my laundry for a week due to my broken arm?”
“Hells, no.” She laughed. “And don’t ask me to cook you anything either.”
“I would never! That could be dangerous for me,” he murmured. “So, no, you didn’t really hurt me.”
Charlotte laughed. “You really should go into acting.”
“That’s good advice. Thanks. I’ll think about it.”
The couple’s handler, Ryan Smith, arrived to lead them to their meet-and-greet, effectively cutting off their banter. “Ready?” he asked.
“As I’ll ever be,” she grumbled, and glanced in the mirror with a sigh. The signs on every mirror read, “Check your smile,” so she forced her best princess grin and took Don’s elbow. The day was in the nineties, unusual for winter, and it drove home how much she hated the southern California weather.
* * *
Two weeks later, Charlotte let herself into her apartment just as her phone rang. She checked the caller ID and saw it was her best friend. “Hi Grace.” Charlotte heard sniffling in the background. “Gracie, what’s wrong?”
“Um, hi…ah…something’s happened,” Grace rasped.
Grace sniffled again.
“You sound miserable. Everything okay with your new man?” Charlotte dropped her keys in the dish on the counter and poured herself a glass of wine. “Is he your new man? I’m still not getting a read on that.”
“I guess,” Grace whispered. “Yes. He is.”
“What’s up, Gary? Really. Tell me.”
“It’s Maggie.” More sniffling. “She has cancer.”
That was all Charlotte could make out, because Grace turned into a blubbering mess after that. Nothing coherent came out for several minutes, and Charlotte used the time to process. At twenty-three, Margaret Marie, “Maggie” as everyone called her, was Grace’s youngest sister, and as far as Charlotte was concerned, as close to her as her own sister was. Closer, probably. Even Spencer, Grace and Maggie’s brother between them, was a great friend to Charlotte. She lowered herself onto her bed and squeezed her eyes shut.
“Are you still there?” Grace asked.
“Of course I am.”
“Oh, good. Thank you.”
“I won’t hang up until you do,” Charlotte promised.
Charlotte sighed. “What do the doctors say?”
“She has to have chemo and Spence and I are going to be tested…um, to see if we can donate bone marrow.”
“Oh, Gracie, I’m so sorry.”
“I just had this amazing and slightly confusing time with Max in Scotland, but none of that matters, knowing Maggie might die.”
Charlotte forced back tears. “Oh, honey, let’s not go there, huh? Maggie’s going to be fine.”
“What if she’s not? I can’t lose my sister, Chuck.”
“Do you promise?”
Charlotte grimaced. “I promise.”
“Well, you can’t make that promise,” Grace snapped. “You’re not God.”
“You got me there.” Charlotte rubbed her forehead, ignoring her best friend’s bark. Grace had every right to feel like crap, and if she needed Charlotte to be her punching bag, she’d happily take the beating. “What does Max say?”
“Basically the same thing you did.”
“Well, he sounds like a smart man.”
Grace snorted. “Says the woman who’s their number one fan.”
Charlotte let out a lackluster giggle. “Sadly true.”
“Because even if meeting them was an option, I’d never be able to be in the same room with Niall MacMillan without saying something incredibly stupid.”
Grace snorted. “Well, that’s entirely untrue…and you’re going to have to meet him eventually, if this thing with me and Max works out.”
“I’ll cross that bridge then.”
“Fair enough. Thanks, Charlie.” Grace sighed. “She’s gonna be okay.”
“Yes, she is. Absolutely.”
“I should go,” Grace said.
“I love you, sister from another mister.”
“Love you too.”
Charlotte hung up and sat staring at the floor for she didn’t know how long. It was only the buzz of her cell phone that jarred her out of her trance. “Hello?”
“Charlotte Whitmore, please.”
“Miss Whitmore, this is Martha Reynolds. I’m Allison’s new assistant.”
Allison Rodriguez was Charlotte’s agent…the not-so-hard-working agent to the “wannabes.” Martha was Allison’s eighth assistant in less than a year, and Charlotte thought she might have had double that since she signed with her three years go. That fact probably should have been a red flag, but Allison was the only person who’d even looked at her, let alone signed her, so Charlotte stuck around.
“Oh, yes?” Charlotte said.
“I’m calling to let you know that you didn’t get the callback for the NBC pilot.”
Charlotte sighed. “Oh, okay.”
“Sorry. We’ll be sure to keep your name on the list for anything that comes up.”
“Okay,” Charlotte said, as evenly as she could. “Thanks anyway.”
“No problem. ’Bye.”
Charlotte hung up, and without a second thought, she fired off an e-mail to her poor excuse for an agent, severing all current and future ties, e-mailed her landlord, and typed up her two-week notice for Disneyland. Then she called Don.
“Hey, Charlie,” he said after the first ring. “You okay?”
“No, not really.”
“I’ll be right there.”
“You don’t have to do that,” she said.
“Try and stop me.” He chuckled. “Open some wine.”
She smiled. “Okay. See you in a bit.”
Less than two minutes later, Don let himself into Charlotte’s apartment after an obligatory knock and wrapped his arms around her. He’d obviously used the spare key she’d given him for emergencies. “Okay, tell me.”
She burst into tears, but managed to force out everything Grace had told her plus the news about her failed attempt at getting the part.
“Oh, buddy, I’m sorry,” he said, as he rubbed her back.
“Wine. We need wine.” Charlotte pulled herself together and headed into the kitchen, returning with two glasses of her favorite red.
“Thanks,” Don said, and took the glass she offered. “So, what now?”
Don raised an eyebrow. “What did you do?”
“I kind of quit.”
“Quit?” he asked. “Quit what?”
“Disneyland, my agent, my apartment,” she said, and lowered herself onto one of her overstuffed chairs.
Don frowned, sitting down on the sofa beside her. “Thinking about quitting, you mean?”
She bit her lip. “No. I quit, quit. Sent the e-mails about twenty minutes ago.”
“Oh, Charlie, seriously? This isn’t you. You’re not impulsive or reckless. What are you going to do for money?”
He laughed. “Okay, show me what you got.”
She kicked his leg. “You wish.”
“A man can dream.” He grinned. “Where are you going?”
He frowned. “What? Seriously?”
“When do you go?”
“You’re supposed to give thirty days notice here,” he pointed out.
Charlotte shrugged. “Mrs. Morrison let me out of this month early. You know they need units, and they can rent it for a lot more than I’m paying.”
“Damn it!” Don snapped, and rose to his feet, setting his wine on the coffee table.
“Why are you so mad?”
“Shit, Charlie!” Don walked out her door without another word.
Charlotte shook her head in confusion. The only time she’d ever seen Don mad was when he’d picked her up at the hospital. It was a night she’d managed to put behind her, although, it was never forgotten. After an argument with her boyfriend, she’d been sideswiped by a fist in the face, and suffered a couple of bruised ribs and a broken wrist. He was a popular actor at the time…not as big as he was now, but he had a sense of entitlement even back then, and when she wouldn’t sleep with him, he became enraged.
One of his goons intervened and pulled him off her, while another scooped her up and drove her to the hospital. He’d stopped something much worse from happening, and she’d always be grateful. He’d slapped down a wad of cash on the emergency room counter, walked Charlotte to a chair, and then left. She never saw him again.
The doctor had set her break, bound her ribs, and loaded her up with heavy-duty painkillers. They wouldn’t let her leave without someone to drive her, so she’d been forced to call Don.
Her door opened again, pulling her from her memories, and Don leaned against it. “Sorry,” he said.
“It’s okay,” she said. “I should have talked to you about everything before I made any decisions…I just…I don’t know…”
He raised his hands in surrender. “Don’t, Charlie. You don’t owe me an explanation. It’s your life. I guess I just don’t know what I’m going to do now.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Find a nice girl and settle down.”
“But I’ll always compare them to you.”
“I love you, Charlie. I have since the day we met.”
She blinked back tears. “No, don’t say that.”
“Why not? If you’re leaving anyway, I at least need to tell you how I feel while I have the chance.”
“But you’ve dated like, a gazillion women,” she argued.
“I have. All of them a poor substitute for you.”
“Now I feel like an idiot.”
She let out a deep breath. “Because I never knew. Never even got an inkling.”
“Well, that was the point,” he said, crossing his arms. “If you’d been ready to reciprocate, I’d have been there to take advantage. But after…well, everything…I knew that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. And I wasn’t going to be the bastard who tried to convince you otherwise.”
She dropped her face in her hands. “Donnie, I’m so sorry.”
“Hey.” He gently pulled her arms down. “There’s nothing to apologize for. Seriously. If all we are is really good friends, I’ll deal.”
“Oh, great, thanks for ‘dealing,’” she droned.
“Poor choice of words.”
“Ya think?” she challenged.
He smiled. “Okay, enough of this unrequited love talk.”
“Oh, that’s so much better.”
He chuckled. “Anyway, I’ve got you for two more weeks. You are mine. Got it?”
“Will you help me pack?”
“Of course I’ll help you pack. It’s what the pathetic guy does when he’s in love with the hot girl next door.”
She smacked his arm. “You’re the most horrible person on earth.”
He laughed. “Which is why you won’t date me.”
“Donnie,” she said in exasperation.
“I’m kidding.” He gave her a quick hug.
She sighed. “I really am sorry if I hurt your feelings. That wasn’t my intention.”
“I know it wasn’t. Don’t worry about it.” He checked his watch. “I have to run right now, but seriously, let’s spend some time together before you go, okay?”
“I’d like that.”
After closing and locking the door behind Don, Charlotte spent the next two hours packing up a few things in her tiny apartment, glad her Toyota was an SUV, because it meant she didn’t have to tow a trailer. Sadly, everything she owned would more than likely fit in her car. For the moment, she set her boxes in the corner of her living room in anticipation of her move out date.
Tell me where you are and I’ll find you.
Charlotte jumped at the sound of the voice in her head. The voices kept coming. No, not voices…one voice. It had started on her twenty-fifth birthday, and it would come at the most inconvenient times. Like in the middle of an audition…usually when she was feeling the most nervous or stressed. The voice was sexy, deep, and very Scottish, something she’d always been a sucker for. What girl wasn’t? No one she knew, that was for darn sure. She flipped off the bedroom light and climbed into bed, hoping sleep would come quickly.
The following morning, she handed printed versions of her e-mail notice in to both her landlord and boss. She made the most of her time left with Don and then, two weeks later, she pulled out of the Disneyland staff parking lot and headed north. It took her almost two days, with a stop at a dive motel when she was in danger of falling asleep at the wheel, but she arrived home just after eleven p.m., grateful her mother was a night owl and sentimental. She had kept Charlotte’s room exactly as she’d left it. Falling into the familiar warmth of her childhood bed, she slept until after lunch the next day and then went about trying to reestablish her life in the Pacific Northwest.