Sweet Revenge

Book One of the Friends and Lovers series

Nadia Aidan

 

Chapter One

Teresa hated this feeling of dread. She knew it was excessive, silly even, but she just couldn't seem to shake it. Her heart pounded wildly in her chest and her hands shook with nervousness.

She was supposed to meet the director of Nemesis for lunch in less than half an hour, and as if she weren't already a nervous wreck, the L.A. traffic was even more of a mess than usual! Damn traffic, she grumbled to herself. As much as she loved L.A., the traffic she could live without.

She had never been to The Zanzibar, the chic, upscale restaurant in the heart of Hollywood where she was supposed to have lunch with this mysterious director, and to make matters worse, she had somehow gotten lost. She gritted her teeth together. Even more than traffic, she hated getting lost!

"I'm going to kill Marty for this," she said aloud. It was Marty, her agent and manager, who had talked her into this. Everything she knew about the film came solely from the script Marty had sent her, which was admittedly impressive. A romantic comedy about a ballsy businesswoman, the story followed two childhood rivals who later become rivals in business and, by movie's end, fall in love; and though it was essentially a comedy, and a hilarious one at that, the movie had plenty of high drama, too.

What Teresa had found most intriguing about Nemesis, however, was that the romantic comedy was liberally laced with scenes that were provocative and sensual, too. Reading it, Teresa couldn’t help being drawn into the erotic and deceitful world of Ms. Casey Lane and Mr. Ashton Williams. The screenplay was mesmerizing and the characters burned a hole through the pages with their sexual intensity. She had found the entire concept irresistible.

What bothered her about the project, though, was that the script told her nothing about the enigmatic man who wrote it, who also happened to be the director.

“For God’s sake, Marty, he could be a murderer.” Teresa had reasoned when Marty insisted that she meet Mr. Mysterious later that afternoon.

“Oh, stop being so dramatic, Teresa. This could be the role of a lifetime,” Marty had said dismissively, and then she had practically gushed over the phone line, "I smell Oscar here!"

Teresa wanted to say all she smelled were big, fat dollar signs, but she kept that thought to herself. Since Teresa had moved to L.A. three years ago, the fussy and overprotective Marty had become more like a mother to her than merely an agent, and she was grateful for Marty’s guidance with her acting career. Which meant that, despite her apprehension, Teresa had finally given in to Marty’s request and agreed to the lunch date. Which was why she was now fighting the damned Los Angeles traffic and trying to find a restaurant that seemingly had decided to hide itself from her.

She let out a sigh of relief when at last she spotted the modest letters emblazoned on the building. “Finally!” she exclaimed. She pulled alongside the curb and chanced a quick glance at her disheveled reflection.

A valet appeared as if by magic to open the car door for her. She handed him her keys, pretending not to notice the Mercedes and the Jaguars looking down their hood ornaments at her Honda, and took a moment to drink in the red carpet that led to the trendy looking entrance to The Zanzibar.

Once again, her stomach tightened with apprehension. Invariably described in the trades as the “restaurant for the stars,” The Zanzibar was known for its exclusivity and the fact that celebrities like Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington dined there religiously. Teresa blew out a breath and placed one high-heeled foot on the red carpet, smiling at the impassive valet as if she honestly thought she belonged there.

I will not be intimidated, she told herself, I will not be intimidated, I will not… If she kept telling herself that over and over, at some point she would be able to believe it, right?

"‘Mr. Mysterious’ must be something," she muttered under her breath. You had to be a major power player in Los Angeles to even dine at The Zanzibar. Never mind that Wednesday afternoons were the worst time to even attempt to make lunch reservations anywhere within a five mile radius of downtown L.A. Yet Mr. Mysterious had somehow managed it. Despite her nervousness, Teresa was definitely intrigued and a little impressed.

She stuck her chin forward, tucked her shoulders back like an Army general's, and strode purposefully through the doors of The Zanzibar.

* * * *

He noticed her the moment she stepped through the doorway, the sun peeking in behind her to illuminate her voluptuous figure. Five foot four of the most gorgeous woman he had ever seen, the sunlight radiating off of her caramel complexion and sparking little nuggets of gold in her shoulder length, brown hair.

Exactly how Ryan Dumont remembered Teresa Montague from high school. At thirty-four, he had spent the last sixteen years waiting for this moment, the moment when he would finally bring the Ms. Haughty Teresa Montague to her knees…literally. He couldn’t wait to have her right there with her face in his crotch and her full lips wrapped around his cock, sucking him dry as he spurted his seed down her lovely and elegant throat. The mere thought of it made him painfully hard, so hard he had to adjust himself under the table. The Zanzibar wasn't the sort of place where gentlemen were expected to sport boners, no matter how beautiful the woman they were meeting for lunch.

In high school Teresa had been “Miss Perfect.” A brilliant student, she had skipped two grades by the time she was fourteen. Teresa was not just an honor student, either, nor just an exotic beauty, although she certainly was that. She seemed to excel at everything she did. She was an accomplished varsity volleyball star. She starred in practically every school play, and by her senior year, she had been accepted into the top colleges in the country. On top of it all, she was a sweet and genuine girl. Although she had definitely been no one's pushover, she was adored by everyone who had the pleasure of knowing her.

Ryan would readily admit to himself that he had always been one of her many adoring fans—probably her most adoring one—but that was something he had never admitted to her. For some reason she had never been able to get along with him—except that one time. That time was emblazoned on his memory, and had been for sixteen years.

Things were about to change now, though, and very soon, because he had something that she badly wanted, something every struggling actress searches for…the part of a lifetime. And he was going to make sure she gave him everything he wanted in order to get it.

* * * *

While the stylish hostess escorted her to the table, Teresa discretely took in her surroundings, trying to look blasé about them at the same time. She was still wondering who this “Mr. Mysterious” was.

The hostess was leading her to a corner table, slightly hidden behind a large potted palm, so that the man seated there could see much of the room without being much seen himself. A power table, clearly.

Finally, Teresa saw him for the first time and came to such an abrupt halt that a waiter passing behind her nearly clipped her with a tray full of drinks. He shot a dirty look at the back of her head as he ducked around her. Oh, my God she thought, it can’t be! Her mind began to race and her stomach twisted into tighter knots. The one man she had tried to forget for the last sixteen years was sitting about ten feet from where she was standing, and it seemed as if that was exactly where the hostess was headed.

Dear God, please don’t do this to me, Teresa silently prayed, but to no avail. The moment he stood to acknowledge her presence, grinning broadly at her, she knew this was “Mr. Mysterious.”

Ryan “fucking” Dumont! What the hell is he doing here? He’d made high school hell for her!

Okay. So that wasn’t entirely true. Her secret love—oh, hell, Teresa, she told herself, tell it like it was—her secret lust for him had made high school hell. She could remember many mornings waking up hot and wet from a steamy dream about Ryan Dumont. She hated herself and her traitorous body for the sticky wetness that always seemed to materialize whenever she even thought of him. Even now, all these years later, she still sometimes masturbated to the sexual fantasies of him fucking her.

He was a six foot five inch yummy example of masculine perfection, that much she would admit. Ryan had the fullest, most kissable lips she had ever seen on a man. Any woman could appreciate his smooth sun-kissed skin, the high cheekbones and chiseled jaw line that gave him the look of a Persian prince from some adolescent fairy tale. In striking contrast to his light olive complexion, his eyes were black as midnight, framed by lashes so long and sexy that on another man they might have looked less than masculine, but on Ryan only enhanced his sex appeal. His best feature, though, was undoubtedly his hair. Ryan's jet black hair was fastened now at the nape of his neck. In high school, he'd always worn it long. Teresa knew his parents had hated it but she had always thought it was incredibly sexy. She also knew that it was silky to the touch. Even now, she recalled running her fingers through it.

No doubt about it, the man was physical perfection, a god. An Arabian god! That is how Teresa always thought of him. He reminded her of the desert sheiks that she read about in her romance novels. It should be a sin for a man to be that damn perfect.

Get a hold of yourself, girl, Teresa warned herself. You are not good enough for him. You never were, she added bitterly. Remembering why she hated him so much brought back a flood of pain, but it also strengthened her resolve. Compared to Ryan, she was nothing—a nobody. She knew this wasn’t literally true, but what she thought didn't matter to people like Fatima Dumont.

The day she and Ryan were both inducted into the National Honor Society had also been their first meeting and it had left a lasting impression on her. She would never forget the words said by the hateful woman, with that cultured, exotic accent possessed by many wealthy Kuwaitis who grew up among the British.

“I see the way my son looks at you," Fatima Dumont had said, with a smile that was anything but warming. "One might think you had bewitched him, the way his eyes never leave you. I can’t blame him, of course, you are a beautiful girl, I'm sure there are many men who look at you that way. And I am sure you could make many of them very happy. Unfortunately, however, you are not the kind of girl Ryan needs in his life.”

Teresa’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped, “But, Mrs. Dumont, you don’t understand, Ryan and I are just…”

The woman’s beautiful face twisted into an ugly sneer. “Just friends? Is that what you were going to say? Well, let’s just make sure that it stays that way, why don't we? No matter what you think, Ryan is from a different world than you and he deserves better.”

Mrs. Dumont’s dark eyes turned cold. “You must think I am blind, or stupid, and I assure you, I am neither. I see the way my son stares at you, and I see the way you stare at him as well. I tell you once again, you are not for him. Stay away from him before you get your little heart broken. Or worse.” With that, Mrs. Fatima Dumont had spun on her heel, her back rigid with disdain, and strode imperiously away.

Teresa had never forgotten that moment. She had been left standing there feeling foolish and hurt, knowing that while Fatima was wrong for saying it, what she had said was definitely right.

She would never be good enough for Ryan. Ryan was the product of two royal dynasties merging together, literally. Ryan’s father, Allen Dumont, was a descendent of the gens de couleur libre. He hailed from one of the oldest and wealthiest Creole political families from Louisiana, while Fatima Dumont’s harpy ass had come down from a wealthy Kuwaiti sultan who owned and operated over ten percent of the oil fields in Kuwait.

What had she been thinking, even dreaming about him? Ryan was so far out of her league. She had a better chance with the man on the moon than Ryan Dumont!

From that day on, Teresa made sure that she kept Ryan at arm’s length. It had been fairly easy, too, until the night of their senior prom…

* * * *

Teresa had fumed for weeks when she learned that Ryan was taking Tracy Li, the pretty brunette captain of the cheerleading squad, to their senior prom. She had been jealous, although she knew she had no logical right to be. It wasn’t like she was his girlfriend.

Still, goaded by her jealousy, she had stubbornly ignored Ryan when he had taken her aside one day in the hall at school and warned her against going to the prom with his football teammate, Bruno Gates. Not only had Ryan warned her, he had practically forbidden her to go with Bruno.

Well, Ryan was an idiot, she told herself, if he thought he had the right to tell her who she could and couldn’t attend her prom with. Against Ryan's ridiculous advice, she took Bruno, the big, blond star linebacker of the football team, as her date.

As things turned out, however, Ryan’s advice hadn’t been so ridiculous after all. She learned that painful lesson when she foolishly found herself in the back seat of Bruno's red Ford Mustang.

Teresa was athletic herself but she was only so strong and certainly no match for the two hundred and eighty pound linebacker. Tears streamed down her face as she pushed and clawed ineffectually at Bruno’s massive chest. His hands were everywhere, pawing at her bra, grasping for her panties through her gown.

"No, Bruno, don't," she sobbed, but he might not have heard her at all.

Finally he tired of trying to get at her through her gown and, grabbing it at the slit that ran down her thigh, ripped it open as if it were tissue paper.

“Stop it! Please, Bruno!” She struggled to no avail to push him off of her and winced with pain as his huge body crushed hers into the car seat. Worse, she knew that she was growing weaker by the minute, each breath a struggle now.

“Shut up, bitch! Stop being a tease!” Bruno grunted and clasped both of her wrists in one of his meaty hands.

His breath stunk of alcohol and he was dripping with sweat from the exertion of trying to restrain her. Teresa wasn’t going to give in without a fight but she didn’t know how much longer she could hold him back. Unless some miracle intervened, he was going to rape her in the back seat of his car and she was powerless to stop him. He was just too strong, and too heavy, so heavy she could hardly catch her breath. She was growing lightheaded from the lack of oxygen, her eyes beginning to lose focus, her body growing limp with exhaustion. She was vaguely aware of her panties being torn from her hips, and felt Bruno's hands pawing at her down there.

All of a sudden a thunderous crash penetrated the hazy fog of her semi-consciousness and a shower of tiny chips of glass fell across her face. Bruno's weight was somehow miraculously gone and she hungrily gulped in deep breaths of oxygen.

She heard grunts and shouts and realized that there was a struggle going on just outside the car—more grunts, and the sounds of fists pummeling flesh. It sounded very much as if someone was getting his ass beat and she hoped like hell it was that ape, Bruno!

She scrambled to a sitting position and looked around. Someone had busted the rear driver side window. Whoever it was had apparently dragged Bruno out of the car as well. It seemed her rescuer had beaten the living shit out of Bruno by this time, too, because there he was, about ten feet away, laid out flat on the ground. His tuxedo collar was ripped and he sported a busted lip and signs of what was almost certainly going to become a nasty black eye.

Teresa sensed movement to the left of Bruno. That was when she saw him—Ryan Dumont. His jet black hair was strewn about his face in a wild tangle and his rage had turned his dark eyes coal black. Incongruously, Teresa found herself thinking he had never looked sexier in his life.

He stalked towards her and Teresa was sure he was going to unleash his savage fury on her next, but when he got to her, he was suddenly incredibly gentle. Dragging her into his arms, he cradled her against him and stroked her hair.

"Teresa," he whispered her name tenderly, and in that moment something inside Teresa shattered and her tears began to fall in earnest. For several minutes, she simply let Ryan hold her as she sobbed. Gradually, her pain and fear faded in the warmth of his embrace.

When she was spent, Ryan gently pulled back from her, steadily holding her gaze with anxious eyes.

“Are you okay?” he asked. His face was still contorted in a mask of fury but his eyes were gentle with concern. There was something else there, too, but Teresa couldn’t put her finger on it. Not trusting herself to speak, she simply nodded. Helping her to her feet, Ryan walked her to his black Mercedes that he had haphazardly parked in his mad rush to get to Teresa, and gently helped her into the passenger seat.

For several minutes, Teresa simply stared out of the passenger window as Ryan drove them out of the park. Her body shook slightly and her hands trembled. She was still dazed. Sneaking a quick glance at Ryan, Teresa’s breath caught in her throat. Ryan’s face was contorted with anger and his hands gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white.

Teresa frowned, puzzled. She could clearly understand the violence of his emotions, but the rage that had gripped Ryan hinted at something deeper.

* * * *

Ryan silently fumed as he maneuvered out of the rocky park. He wanted to speak but he didn’t trust the words that would surely slip out of his mouth. He was still seething, too, and he was afraid if he did speak he might unleash his anger on her. He had told her not to go to prom with that thug! She had almost been raped and Ryan had wanted to kill Bruno for hurting her, but he was angry with her, too, for stubbornly refusing to heed the advice he had given her.

When Ryan had walked into the bathroom earlier at the prom to take a “dance” break, he’d simply been trying to get away from Tracy's bold, clawing hands. She had proven to be a voracious date, who seemed convinced that it was Ryan's duty to calm her surging hormones. Ryan had the feeling that if he didn't stay on guard, Tracy could strip him naked in a matter of minutes, right there at the dance.

He was in the restroom when he overheard two of his football team mates joking about how Bruno had bragged that he was going to "bang" Teresa later that night out at Rock Creek Point whether she was willing or not.

"I'm getting a piece of that tonight," he'd promised his buddies, "one way or the other."

Ryan had nearly gone insane. In a matter of minutes, he was peeling out of the Eastern Ridge High School parking lot and racing to the popular make-out point where he knew he would find Teresa and Bruno. His own date, Tracy, was forgotten entirely. He'd had this feeling all day, a sense of foreboding that had nagged him and had gotten worse as the evening progressed. Now it drove him nearly insane as he raced to Rock Creek Point.

When Ryan saw Bruno’s red Mustang in the parking area there, he feared the worst. What if he was too late? What if it had already happened? Bruno was a bastard, one of those guys who think of nothing but themselves, and he was massive. If he decided to force himself on Teresa, she wouldn't have a chance.

He parked his car haphazardly and jumped out, snatching up a tire iron without a thought of what he meant to do with it, but he approached Bruno's car more cautiously, his empty hand clenching and unclenching into a tight fist. Despite his anger, he didn't want to make a fool of himself. It was entirely possible that nothing was going on—or, if it was, that Teresa was a willing partner to it. He'd look like a fool if he showed up in the midst of a serious romantic session between the two of them.

When he got close enough, however, to see through the windows into the back seat of Bruno's car, rage roared through him like a wildfire.

He could clearly see Teresa lying beneath Bruno and crying and struggling against the big brute. That scene alone would be forever imprinted in his brain. In that moment, his rage had bubbled over and Ryan had lost it. He swung the tire iron, breaking the back window with a single punch, and threw the iron aside. He didn't need it for what he intended to do. Ryan dragged the hulking Goliath out by his tuxedo jacket and proceeded to beat the shit out of him.

Now as he sped through the city along Pennsylvania Avenue, Ryan still barely trusted himself to speak, but he didn't actually know where he was going. He needed directions from Teresa.

“Where do you live?” he asked quickly, glancing sideways at her. What he saw when he looked into her eyes startled him. He had never known Teresa to be afraid of anything. Yet as she stared at him, her eyes were wide with fear, pleading silently with him. The knowledge that he had nearly been too late to save her almost sent him into another rage. He summoned every shred of self-discipline he had within himself to manage his temper. The last thing he wanted was for her to fear him too.

“I—I don’t want to go home yet," Teresa said, stammering. "I mean, my mom has to work tonight and she won’t be home until nine in the morning.” She paused for a moment while she worriedly nibbled on her bottom lip. “Please, Ryan, I don’t want to be at the house by myself, after… after what happened," she whispered, her hands still slightly shaking as her eyes pleaded with him.

“Um, I don’t think…”

“Please, Ryan,” Teresa whispered again, her eyes silently begging him to say yes.

Groaning inwardly, Ryan sighed. He gripped the steering wheel even tighter and silently nodded.

Twice in one night he didn’t trust himself to speak. His cock had grown painfully hard when she whispered his name. God! What he wouldn’t do to have her beneath him with her legs wrapped around his waist as he slammed into her over and over again while she whispered his name in that husky voice that sent tingles down his spine.

Squeezing his eyes shut for just a second, Ryan struggled to clear his head. He couldn’t be alone with Teresa right now. He was feeling way too possessive and he knew Teresa was vulnerable from her ordeal. The last thing she needed was for him to stay with her. How could he possibly be alone with her without touching her? He couldn't, he was as certain of that as he had ever been of anything in his life. And he couldn't even explain it to her, either. He knew in her current state she would agree to anything he wanted. And afterward, she would think he was no better than that ape, Bruno. He couldn't bear to think of that.

* * * *

“Good afternoon, Teresa. It’s a pleasure to see you again after all these years.” Ryan nodded as he smiled slightly. At least, the corners of his mouth tilted upward slightly, but the smile did not quite reach his eyes.

“I wish I could say the same," Teresa replied in an icy voice.

Without waiting for an invitation, she plopped her curvy behind into the plush leather of the booth, and fixed him with her chilly gaze.

“Yes, well, have a seat,” Ryan said dryly, frowning slightly.

Teresa’s eyebrows lifted at the bite in his voice but before she could snap back at him, a waiter appeared at her elbow. "Would you like something to drink?" he asked.

"A glass of chardonnay, please," she said. Ignoring Ryan's hostile glare, she opened her menu.

“So what’s good to eat here?” she asked pointedly.

Ryan shifted slightly. “Don’t you even want to know why I invited you here?” he asked, glancing briefly at his own menu.

He had to struggle, though, to focus on the menu. He clenched his lips tightly to suppress a groan that threatened to come from him uninvited. The smell of her perfume combined with her own feminine scent wafted towards him, filling his nostrils and making his head spin. She was intoxicating, even more than she had been before. The printing on the menu swam before his eyes. His thoughts drifted to what it would feel like to spread her legs wide and have her feminine scent wash over him as he buried his face in her pussy, devouring her. He couldn’t wait to have her beneath him as he fucked her brains out. Just having her this close was sending his senses into overdrive. Under the table, his cock hardened until it threatened to rip the zipper right out of his fly.

Eyes still fixed on her menu, she shrugged. “I thought this had something to do with the script I just read, but I don’t see where you fit in.” She lifted her eyes to meet his.

“Did you like it?” he asked casually, before returning his gaze to his menu.

She nodded. “I did actually.” Cocking her head to the side she considered her next words. “It was amazing. The role of Casey Lane was so contextually rich and her character was mesmerizing.” The waiter appeared again to set a glass of wine on the table. She reached for it and took a sip before asking, "So, who wrote it?"

Ryan set aside his menu and pinned her with a steady gaze. "I did," he said evenly.

Teresa nearly choked on her Chardonnay and actually had to struggle not to spit it across the table. She set aside her glass and lifted her hand to her mouth to muffle the violent coughs that racked her body.

She’d known the writer and director were one and the same but she would never in her wildest dreams have suspected it was Ryan Dumont. Why the hell would she? When she discovered that Ryan was her lunch date, she had simply assumed he was the producer of the film. After all, with his family wealth, he could produce anything he wanted, and, since he knew her personally, she just supposed he had offered to meet with her instead of the writer/director. She had never imagined that Ryan might be the creative talent behind Nemesis.

“What, are you serious? Ryan, that script was incredible.” Teresa's enthusiasm for the film bubbled over and for the moment she forgot all about her antipathy for the man sitting across from her. “Actually, it was brilliant. It was erotic and… wow, how did you write something so, well, so creative?” she asked finally, awe in her voice.

Ryan arched an eyebrow. “You're saying you don’t think I am capable of writing good work?”

“No! I didn’t mean that. I just… Well, in high school I never knew you wrote,” she finished weakly. Ryan glared at her steadfastly, his eyes penetrating. Teresa looked away from them.

“There is a lot you don’t know about me Teresa,” Ryan said softly. He leaned forward, his dark eyes boring into hers. “I’ve always been a writer. I did write stuff in high school, but my parents always made me keep it a secret. They thought I was too obsessed with something they considered a hobby, but it was never just a hobby to me. I have spent the last ten years writing scripts for film and theater.

“Oh really?” Teresa’s eyes narrowed with suspicion. “Then why haven’t I heard of you?”

Ryan grinned. “You should have.” He folded his arms across his chest and sat back against the leather of the banquette. “Well actually you may have heard of my alias, Richard Drake.”

Her mouth fell open. “What? That's you?” Teresa nearly swooned from surprise. She needed another drink! She snatched up her glass from the table and gulped down the rest of her wine.

“My God, you were nominated for an Oscar and you won a Tony for your work,” she stammered. “You—but, the entire industry wonders who you are. You are never in public, and you always have your assistant accept your awards.” She paused to take a breath and shook her head in bewilderment. “I don’t understand. You are so talented. Why keep your identity a secret?”

He shrugged. “A little bargain I made with my parents. They always hated my writing career, even when I became successful at it. I think they were embarrassed that I chose a career in what they considered the frivolous arts. So I promised them I would never bring attention to myself, only my work.” Ryan laughed bitterly. “I know my father always hoped I would go into politics, like my brother.”

“Well, that’s just dumb,” she said testily. “They should be proud of what you do, because you do it so well. Your name is as famous as Spielberg's.”

She was thinking how amazing it was. All these years, Ryan had been right under her nose. “But I don’t get it," she said with a frown, "my agent told me the director wrote this film. If you wrote it, then who is going to direct it?”

“Me,” he said with a smile.

“You?" Her eyes narrowed with suspicion. “Have you ever directed a film before?”

“No…”

Oh great, she thought, another amateur director! They were the bane of the movie industry, in her opinion. Her enthusiasm began to fade. She couldn't help wondering if Ryan was truly capable of carrying a film as director. A script as good as Nemesis needed someone with Forrest Whittaker’s touch, or James Cameron’s, not some rank beginner. Another question suddenly popped into her mind. “But what about your promise to your parents, what about staying out of the limelight? If you start directing, there is no way that you will be able to avoid public scrutiny. If the film is a success, your name will be plastered all over town. All over the world, even."

He glanced down for just a second, and looked up again, his eyes meeting hers.

“They died last year,” he said quietly.

For just a moment, the carefully composed mask he wore slipped and she saw real grief in his expression. It was fleeting, however, and seconds later he had pushed that aside and composed himself once more, so quickly she might almost have thought she had imagined that quick look of pain.

She had to fight the urge to reach for him, to comfort him. She restrained herself, however, knowing he would not appreciate her expressions of sympathy. She felt sure Ryan wanted nothing from her, sympathy least of all.

“They died in a car accident, on the night of their fortieth wedding anniversary.” He paused as if his mind were far away. “I genuinely do not want to dishonor their memory, but I feel that the promise I made to them… well, I doubt they can be ashamed of me now.”

Teresa’s gaze softened. “I don’t think they were ever ashamed of you. They were probably very proud of you; they just didn’t understand what you did,” she whispered, her expression full of compassion.

Their eyes locked. The air around them suddenly crackled with emotional tension. Teresa averted her eyes and cleared her throat, abruptly breaking the spell that had fallen over them.

“Let’s get back to business,” she said in a no-nonsense voice. “So you have never directed… Do you really think you can do this?” The look she gave him was openly skeptical. Directing was a tough job and she had no desire to be a part of a well-written but poorly directed film.

“I won’t know until I try, but I am up for the challenge.”

She frowned. That wasn’t the response she was hoping for exactly, but she would have to live with it for now. She had fallen in love with the part of Casey Lane and couldn’t envision anyone playing the role but her. If this was the only way she could do it…

“So what do you want from me?" she asked. "Why did you call Marty?” She was secretly hoping, of course, that Ryan was about to offer her the female lead in the film. Yet, she knew there was a catch, she and Ryan had been civil since she’d arrived, but they had a past, a bitter unresolved past—and she knew it wasn’t lost on either of them. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that their past was the reason why she was here today. He might be considering her for a role in his film, but she felt sure he would never give her anything without an asking price.

“I wanted to offer you the lead role as Casey Lane. I think you would be perfect for the part,” Ryan said. He smiled at her as he said it, but once again the smile didn't reach his eyes. Teresa didn't trust it for one minute. She knew there was more.

“I am flattered and honored, and I accept," she said. "You can work out the contract with my…”

He interrupted her. “You haven’t heard my terms.”

“As I was saying, you know my agent. Marty and your agent can work on the contract negotiations…”

“I assure you, I will have my agent talk to Marty, but there is one part of the negotiations, as you put it, which is just between you and me, no contract involved.” Ryan spoke softly, his eyes focusing intently on her.

Teresa’s back tensed. Oh shit! Here it comes, she thought, the bombshell. She knew there had to be a catch. There always was with Ryan.

Her eyes narrowed. “I’m listening.”

“The part is yours, on one condition."

Teresa’s breath lodged in her chest as she waited.

“From the first day of shooting, until the last, you will not only play the lead role in my film, but you will also play the lead role in my bedroom, as my mistress,” Ryan said quietly, his voice so eerily calm that he could have been describing the weather.

"What?" she demanded, surprised at his boldness. Her palms itched to slap his smug face.

“I thought I was clear enough. I want you to be my mistress, Teresa.” Ryan whispered again.

Sweat gathered between her breasts as she felt the tension rising in her body. Her temper had been close to erupting since he'd first named the condition for giving her the part. Now it erupted. Her whole body began to shake with anger. “I know you don’t think I am going to be your whore just to get this role,” she said in a hiss of controlled fury.

“I didn’t say that…”

“You might as well have. You sick, depraved pervert! What happened to you, Ryan? I can’t remember you being such a bastard in the past.”

Ryan eyes hardened at her insult. “This is Hollywood, Teresa. You, of all people, should be intimately familiar with what goes on around here…”

Whack!

She hauled off and slapped him as hard as she could. She couldn't believe he had just dared to insinuate that she had accepted similar propositions before! She didn’t want to hear another word from his vile mouth.

The restaurant suddenly grew silent as everyone looked in their direction.

Teresa took a deep breath to calm herself and leaned back in the booth as if nothing had happened, smiling at him like an angel. More like a she-devil, Ryan thought.

Several tense moments passed in silence between them. Eventually the other patrons of The Zanzibar decided that the show was over, and resumed their busy chatter. The couple in the corner was far from finished with their conversation, however.

“Someone needs to teach you some manners," Ryan said through clenched teeth, “or you just need a course in anger management.”

“I could say the same for you," Teresa shot back, her eyes flashing with anger. "Besides you had that coming. Ryan, I will not prostitute myself for this role or any role. I am a good actress and I do good work. I may not be a superstar, but I am known in this industry for my professionalism. I have consistently received parts since I moved out here, and I don’t need to sell my body to get them.”

Ryan shrugged. “Suit yourself," he said, handing a business card across the table. “But if you change your mind, call me. My cell number is on the back.”

Teresa started not to take the card but people were still glancing in their direction from time to time and she didn’t want to draw any more attention to them by causing another scene. She took it from him, stuffing it into her purse, and stood up gracefully. With as much dignity as she could muster, she looked down her nose at Ryan and leaned in towards him, her lips within inches of his. The people watching them might have thought she was going to kiss him.

“Go to hell!” was the last thing she whispered to him before she stormed out of the restaurant.

Ryan remained where he was, staring after her. God, she still had the most beautiful ass in the entire world. He sighed and adjusted himself in his trousers. It would be a few minutes before he could risk standing up and walking through the crowded dining room.

 

 

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