Happy Sunday! If you're kicking back on the couch today to avoid the heat (seriously, it's already almost 90 degrees at my house and it's barely past noon!), then I've got a little treat for you courtesy of my fabulous publisher and soon-to-be co-author, New York Times bestselling author, Gemma Halliday! (Oh, and it's from me too, of course!) You might remember that Gemma and I have been working together to write the next installment of her Hollywood Headlines series. Our book follows former model turned papparazzi Cameron Dakota, who gets caught up in a murder investigation when a body pops up on the scene of the reality relationship show that her movie star boyfriend, Trace, has talked her into appearing on with him.
We're still working on revisions but since Gemma shared this scene that we co-wrote a few months back in her email newsletter, I decided to give y'all a little taste of what to expect, too! Check out this excerpt from Chapter One and let me know what you think!
Later that evening, I’d traded my jeans and green halter top for a sexy little black number that looked tre chic with my blonde hair worn long and loose. I almost felt like a celebrity myself as I emerged from the backseat of the car Trace had hired for us outside one of the hottest dinner spots in town. I lifted a hand to shied my eyes against the bright flashes of the camera bulbs that were waiting to catch tonight’s celebs de jour. Trace took my hand and pulled me closer to him as I exited so that I was sharing his spot in the limelight.
Being with Trace Brody was like living a double life; I spent my days taking picturels of Hollywood heartthrobs and starlets on their morning coffee runs, walking out of doctor’s appointments, or just lounging poolside. At night, I was the one being photographed.
I turned my face away from the parade of cameras as Trace guided me toward the burgundy carpet at the restaurant’s entrance. Tonight, he was treating me to dinner at Urasawa, Beverly Hill’s most exclusive Japanese eatery. The upscale restaurant was known to be primarily frequented by billionaires and celebrities. Because of this, the parking lot was a feeding frenzy of paparazzi, camping out all evening and jockeying for a position near the entrance, where they could snap the best photos of the evening’s patrons. (I knew because I was frequently one of them—the campers, not the patrons.)
Once inside the restaurant, Trace and I were seated in plush velour seats on opposite sides of a marble-topped table. A server took our drink orders and then hurried away. I perused the menu, trying to decide between the California roll and tofu ginger soup. “Everything sounds delicious,” I remarked.
“Order whatever you like.” Trace reached across the table to take my hand in his. “Tonight is about making you happy.” His eyes sparkled as he lightly stroked my fingers, sending shivers all the way to my toes.
“In that case,” I said, smirking, “I’ll have one of everything on the menu.”
Trace didn’t flinch. “Sounds great.” He pushed his menu aside without even looking at it. “I’ll have the same.”
I arched a brow. “I was kidding.”
He shrugged. “Like I said—as long as you’re happy, I’m happy.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. While Trace had been known to send me a surprise bunch of flowers now and then, he was more of the strong silent type. This foray into verbal Affectionland felt out of character. “What’s going on?” I asked. “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were buttering me up for something.”
His expression turned to mock innocence. “I don’t know what you mean.”
He wasn’t that good of an actor. I didn’t believe him for a second. But before I could interrogate him the server returned and set down our bottle of sake. After we’d ordered not quite everything on the menu (though between us, we’d come pretty darn close), Trace met my gaze. He sucked in a breath and forced it slowly back out. “I’ve got something I need to talk to you about.”
Oh boy. My stomach clenched. Though my previous experience with men didn’t extend too far past an imaginary relationship with Uncle Jesse from Full Housewhen I was younger, I knew that when a guy said he wanted to have a “talk,” it was never good. Suddenly I wasn’t hungry anymore. “What about?” I asked, trying to keep an even tone.
Trace must have seen the apprehension on my face as he quickly assured me, “It’s nothing bad. There’s just a career opportunity that’s come up, and, well, I think I’m going to take it. But I wanted to talk to you about it first.”
Relief washed over me. “Trace, that’s great,” I told him, meaning it. Any opportunity to cleanse the public’s palate of Piranha Man, Trace's last role which had bombed royally at the box office through not fault of his, was a good one. “Is it an action flick? Comedy?” I paused. “Romance?”
I silently prayed not the last. Trace had been engaged to his last romantic co-star, an A-list Hollywood starlet. It was when their relationship had suddenly ended that he’d confessed his attraction to me. I’d hardly been able to believe it then. I still sometimes pinched myself, sure I’d wake up any minute to find our whole romance was just a dream produced by falling asleep on my couch after drinking too much chardonnay while watching his film You’ve Got E-mail. But the idea of him being with another hot leading lady in intimate scenes didn’t fill me with a lot of happy thoughts.
Luckily, Trace shook his head. “No, it’s…it’s not a feature.”
“So, what’s the role?” I asked, swirling sake in my tiny glass.
Trace cleared his throat. He looked down at his napkin. He sucked in a deep breath. All of which made a small red flag start to raise in the back of my mind.
“The role is a man whose relationship is in trouble.”
“That sounds like ninety-nine percent of all relationship movies.” I thought for a moment. “So I’m guessing more of a drama?”
“Oh, I expect drama all right.” I noticed Trace still wasn’t making eye contact.
That tiny red flag began waving. “Who’s the lead actress?”
“That’s the part I want to talk to you about,” he said, eyes still on the napkin, voice low, perfectly white teeth nibbling his perfectly plump bottom lip.
I took a mental deep breath. “Okay. Who?” I asked, bracing myself for the worst.
Trace finally lifted his eyes to meet mine. “It’s you, Cam.”
“Me?” I blinked at him. “I-I don’t understand. I’m not an actress,” I said, pointing out the obvious.
Trace darted a look around the room. “As you may have noticed, I’m not exactly anyone’s first pick for all the top roles lately. Or any roles, for that matter.” He gave a self deprecating chuckle before clearing his throat again. “Anyway, my agent called this morning with an opportunity. You’ve seen that show Celebrity Relationship Rehab, right?”
Celebrity Relationship Rehab was pretty much every woman in America’s guilty pleasure—including mine. Tina and I cleared our schedules every Tuesday night at nine to sit on my couch, sharing Vietnamese takeout and a bottle of wine as we watched doomed celebrity couples endure group therapy sessions with the renowned marriage counselors and real life couple, Doctors William and Georgia Meriwether. Couples talked about their feelings and competed against other famous duos in ridiculous trust-building exercises. Each episode was chock full o’drama, cat fights, and those awkward confessionals where each star gossips about the other contestants behind their backs. I absolutely ate it up.
I nodded. “Of course. Who hasn’t?” I felt my mental hamster slowing turning on his wheel as it sunk in what Trace was getting at. “Wait a minute…don’t tell me…”
“It’s just for a couple of weeks.”
“No way!” I shook my head so hard that the restaurant wobbled in my vision.
“My agent says it’ll be a piece of cake. We’ll only be filming a couple hours a day.”
“The rest of the time it will be like we’re on vacation.”
I gave him a get real look. “You know how I feel about being on camera.”
He at least had the decency to look guilty. “Two weeks,” he repeated. “It’ll be over before you know it. We do a few silly drills, talk about our relationship, and—bam!—it’s over.”
Another thought occurred to me. “What will we be saying about our relationship?”
He gave me a blank look.
“It is relationship rehab,” I emphasized. Okay, so maybe things between Trace and I hadn’t been ideal lately, what with the stress of his career teetering on the edge and my odd hours at the Informer, but I hadn’t thought we needed a rehab.
Doubt crept into my belly. Did we? Admittedly we came from different sides of the tracks… or freeways as the case might be in L.A. He was VIP and I was behind the velvet rope. Let’s face it, I was paid to follow his peers around, snapping photos of them for a living. Our whole relationship had started when I’d been assigned to trail him to take photos for the Informer. Not the strongest foundation for a healthy relationship.
Trace studied me for a moment, his expression unreadable. Finally, a boyish grin pulled his lips up at the corners. “Don’t be silly,” he said, reaching out to cup my chin in the palm of his hand. “We’re fine. We’re more than fine.” He quirked an eyebrow. “You know those shows are completely staged, right? All the arguments between the couples—it’s fake. It’s just to raise the ratings. People tune in to see who’s going to try to rip whose hair out or which couple is going to finally call it quits.” He rolled his eyes. “For some reason, people seem to eat up that kind of crap.”
My cheeks colored. Trace didn’t know about my reality TV habit. “Right. So, what does that mean? We just stage a few fights?”
He shrugged. “All the couples do. It’s not that hard.”
“They’re just a bunch of washed up has-beens trying to revive their careers,” I argued.
“Yeah, well…” Trace trailed off, looking embarrassed.
“Oh. Oh, no. You’re not like them,” I said quickly. “Trace, you’re the real deal. It was one bad role. You don’t belong on that show.”
“My agent thinks it might be the only way to win back my audience after The Film That Must Not Be Named,” he said sourly.
I took a deep breath. I had a bad feeling I was going to live to regret this…“If you honestly think it will help, I’ll do it.”
“Really?” Hope lit up his eyes, and my heart melted a little.
“Really,” I sighed. Okay, so I doubted it would really be like a vacation, but two weeks alone with Trace didn’t sound all that bad. We’d finally have some time to reconnect. Felix was probably going to flip, but I could smooth things over by offering to sneak him a few photos of the other contestants. If the show was anything like last season, there was bound to be at least half a dozen alcoholic starlets, a few Botoxed beauty queens, and maybe even a member or two of a Hollywood royal family—like the Kardashians.
“But you owe me one,” I cautioned him.
Trace grinned. “I promise I’ll find a way to make it up to you.”
“Oh, yeah?” I raised a playful eyebrow at him. “Starting tonight?”
“Anything you want.”
"In that case,” I said, rising from the table. “Have the server box up our food and meet me at your place.” I winked before grabbing my purse and heading toward the door.
Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all…
Stay tuned for more details about Hollywood Homicide's release date, full description, and more! You can read more about Cameron Dakota and the other staff members of the LA Informer in the first four books of Gemma Halliday's Hollywood Headlines series!