A SEXY MOVIE STAR, A DESPERATE PHOTOGRAPHER, AND THE SECRETS THAT COULD DESTROY THEM BOTH…
Henry Jackson (Jax) Butler is Hollywood’s hottest bad boy. Ever since the release of STEEL KNIGHT, his first movie in the world-famous Defender superhero film franchise, he’s been able to land any girl he wants, even his co-star’s sexy model girlfriend. But this dream job comes with downsides—like feeling completely typecast and unable to move on artistically. That and the paparazzi. The evil, privacy-invading scum who tail his every step, smearing his name and reputation just for having some innocent fun. And one pap in particular has become his worst enemy…
Vanessa Reyes would give anything to be a real photographer, shooting for investigative journalism pieces that could make a difference in the world. But with her sister’s medical bills to pay, she’s stuck tailing Hollywood’s latest bad boy Jax Butler through New York, cashing in on every one of his plentiful hookups. She might not love her job, but she feels no remorse about exposing Jax for the heartless heartbreaker he is. Why shouldn’t she cash in on his dirty dealing?
But when Jax is ordered to clean up his public image, he can think of no better media contact to approach for help than his rival. Keep your friends close and your enemies… Well, you know the rest. As for Vanessa, her boss has ordered her to find him newer, dirtier dirt on Jax. What better way to worm her way into his good graces than by accepting his offer to write some fluff pieces about him?
Yet the more time the two enemies spend in one another’s company, the more they begin to see different sides to one another. Is Jax really the ruthless hookup artist he seems? Is Vanessa just another shady pap out for his blood? Or do they both have another, deeper self? One that only shines when they’re together…
Jax stayed where he was at the foot of the bed. There was still time, but maybe not as much as he’d counted on. Wardrobe tended to show up early. He brushed his fingertips together lightly.
“They are going to be here soon,” he enunciated clearly. “And I am afraid, my dear,” he leaned over to grasp her foot and playfully pull her toward him to soften the blow, “That you have to make yourself scarce.”
“You said we’d spend an afternoon together!” She pulled herself up to run her hands over his biceps. “You promised me, Jax.”
“Yes, but you were naked at the time, and it doesn’t really seem fair to hold me to a promise in circumstances like that,” he pointed out. She swatted him lightly across the arm, then caressed him. “Besides, I have interviews, and there’s that dual press junket next week. Maybe I’ll see you there.”
Georgina was looking at him more acutely now. When she dropped the sex kitten act, there was a resilience to her that he found encouraging, like hearing about someone small and strong winning against all odds. He leaned in and pressed his lips against her forehead.
“It’s not the same in public,” she said with a sigh, and went to get fully dressed. Jax wandered over to the windows to notice that his view had changed yet again. New York was in real flux these days—going up next door were either luxury condos or an office complex. The sun glinted off glass on the street below. When he’d left for Los Angeles, there had been the rubble of a warehouse that had probably once made pickle jar lids; now there were sidewalk sheds and signs with fantasy graphics of completed structures. Light flickered at him again, and Jax squinted carefully down to the street.
Someone with a very large camera was photographing him from the sidewalk.
“Oh shitting fuck Christ,” he whispered, and looked around to see if Georgina had heard him. She was smiling down into her phone, one index finger playing across her lips in an aesthetically-pleasing pose. “You need to leave,” he said, and gathered up her purse.
“Now, preferably. We need to get moving.”
“What the hell, Jax?!”
“Listen to me,” he said. Georgina curled her lip and looked down her nose at where he’d set his palms on her shoulders. “There’s paparazzi downstairs.”
Her face twitched into eager surprise, disgust forgotten. “How many?”
“Just one. But they give off a pheromone, and soon it’ll attract others,” he said. She made to move over to the windows, but he held her wrist. “They’ve already seen me.” He felt his hand tug. “Georgina.” That seemed to bring her around to slightly-disappointed sanity.
“Ugh, fine. I can call a car if you tell me where the back door to this place is.”
“There isn’t one. And don’t call a car,” he said, pushing her phone out of her face to look at her. “That’s like a pap magnet.”
“Which is why you take a back way. There’s always a celebrity exit—loading dock, alley entrance, anything?”
“I’d bet good money on the alley door being blocked because of the construction.” The landlords on places like these were more concerned about getting the right color light from Edison bulbs than basic safety regulations. He shook his head in disbelief. “But you need to go now, before there’s a crowd. Walk just a block, or take a taxi.”
“God, you’re no fun when you’re jetlagged, you know that? I know how papping works.” She rolled her eyes.
“I’d like to go light with the tabloids this week.” Jax looked at her significantly.
“You know, there’s no such thing as bad press,” Georgina told him on the service elevator, once they were dressed and had managed to get down the hallway to the service elevator without meeting anyone. “You’re lucky you get this kind of attention, people wanting to know what you’re doing every minute. As if you couldn’t just take a picture of yourself. It’s gotta be this huge production—someone has to actually get in a car or ride the subway to go to your location and report back on what you’re doing. It’s almost vintage, isn’t it?”
He pushed open the metal doors onto the stretch of asphalt between buildings. No one was passing on the distant sidewalk except the usual dog walkers and flocks of tourists in screen-printed t-shirt uniforms, and for a moment Jax felt foolish for an abundance of paranoia. They came up nearly to the street and stood in the shade of a sidewalk shed.
“Maybe it’ll be—”
Through the jolt of pneumatic screw guns and a low grinding hum of heavy equipment, Jax distinctly heard with a chill the horrifying sound of a shutter clicking on a digital SLR.
Henry Jackson “Jax” Butler closed his eyes for just a moment, hoping Georgina had dosed him with LSD. Or peyote. But not ayahuasca, he hoped. Worst Comic-Con ever. The cloying sing-song voice sounded like a delighted friend seeing him for the first time in a while, and Georgina turned to face it.
“Do you know her?”
Jax turned and raised both fists out in front of him, middle fingers jutting up nonchalantly. The woman with the camera bent her knee slightly to get a better shot of him flipping her off.
“Aww, it’s you!” he said in a mock-enthusiastic voice as he recognized her face—olive skin, dark eyes, hair pulled back into a ponytail. The one girl who could find him anywhere and always create a shitty way to get him into the tabloids. “My least favorite pap of them all! Having a good summer? How’s the life-ruining business going? You know, maybe it’s just me—I feel like our connection is so one-sided, we never talk, does that ever worry you?”
The paparazz—well, it was probably paparazza, now that he thought about it, not that anyone would ever use that word, but there were very few women paparazzi out there, it was one of those markets men seemed to dominate—she lowered the camera to her side and cocked her hip, scrunching up her mouth and looking wickedly thoughtful.
“Nah, my conscience is pretty clean. Mostly because I’m not an accomplice to… whatever this is.” The girl waggled her finger at them and cocked her head to one side, gazing at Georgina’s face intently to try to place her.
“Go,” said Jax, and gave Georgina a light push. The camera whipped back up to capture his hand on her shoulder blade.
“Isn’t that your co-star’s girlfriend?”
Only then did Georgina seem to remember that she was Jax’s co-star’s girlfriend, and disappeared along the building.
“Still the worst, Reyes, you know that?” he called out to her. She focused the camera again, and caught him looking overhead suddenly, squinting at something near the fire escapes. “Is that—?” He pointed to it, floating upward on a breeze like a lost balloon. “Is that your clean little conscience?” His hand reached out to grasp empty air. “Oh, it’s getting away, there it goes. Say goodbye, Reyes, better make it a full break. No regrets.”
She was ignoring him, briskly clicking through the images on her viewscreen, just casually scrolling through her power over the situation, over him, over the money to be made off other people’s lives. He started toward her, not entirely sure of what he was about to do, when a screeching thud turned end over end on itself, sounding like a semi jackknifing through traffic. Jax saw it before he heard construction workers hollering at each other.
One of the steel beams had come loose and was coming down.
He took a running start off of nothing and threw himself headlong, tackling Reyes in a dive. The girder slammed onto a flatbed trailer parked next to where she’d been standing, crumpling the cab.
Jax’s head rang. He’d rolled at the last second to avoid throwing his whole weight onto her, and now Reyes was twisting around underneath him to get loose. She had more muscles than her loose, nondescript clothing suggested, hard and compact, but still curving where she ought to. Jax wished she’d give him just a minute, for the dust to clear, and finally stood, breathing hard. Reyes came up to her feet, and he saw why she’d been squirming—she wanted to make sure her camera had survived being pressed between the two of them.
The Butler Did It—Jax Assaults Photographer After Alley Affair Shocker, the headline would read, and the Steel Knight toy marketing executives would haul him into their offices for another lecture.
“Jesus Christ,” he said to her. She was inspecting the lens and hadn’t even bothered to check herself for damage. Or him. “Really? Now?”
Reyes frowned down at her camera, but instead of lining up another shot, she gingerly twisted the focus to feel for damage.
“I can’t believe you managed to do that without breaking it,” she said. “Or me.” He could hear construction workers shouting to one another, footsteps in the distance.
They stared at each other for several moments, and she let the camera drop to the strap on her neck.
“Um,” said Reyes. “Should I—How can I—Thanks? You?”
“How can you thanks me?” said Jax. Reyes’ mouth opened and closed several times, and her eyes shut for a moment, only to open on Jax holding out his palm.
“By deleting those photos.” When she didn’t move, he flexed his hand. “Come on, lemme see it.”
Reyes drew the strap from around her neck carefully, as if it were heavy.
“I’m only interested in the ones of me,” he said, quiet, but her strange expression didn’t change. Jax went into the image review and removed every shot involving him, even the one of his apartment building rising up to loom over the street. He paused and moved his thumb off the delete button on the picture before that: a plump older woman striding through a zebra crossing with one arm flung out as if to welcome or guide, looking directly into the lens. Jax flicked the power off and handed the device back to Reyes.
She stood for a moment as distant sirens echoed off the buildings, and they looked at one another.
“Yeah.” Her dark eyes flicked back and forth across the pavement in front of him, and her throat moved when she swallowed. “You okay?”
“Uh… yeah. Sure.”
“Okay,” said Jax. “I have to go be on TV now.” He turned and went back into the apartment building through the metal doors.
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Jane Galaxy has the heart of a romantic and a brain full of pop culture knowledge. She loves to escape into the world of super-powered heroes and heroines with awesome abs who punch stuff, but putting them through their paces when it comes to the hard work of emotions and true love is even better. You can usually find her pining over gifs from ComicCon and coming up with the perfect song for a hot guy to play in the background of his latest angst-riddled workout session.