Evie Parker has never been one to swoon after celebrities – give her a neuroscientist over an actor any day! So when she develops her first movie-star crush, she’s determined to date her way out of it, starting with the next good-looking doctor she sees.
Yet hovering on the fringes of her life is her gay best friend's determined brother, Jackson J Stevens, a famous actor who comes with trailing paparazzi. The one thing worse than a celebrity in Evie's eyes is a media circus, so Jack isn't an option no matter how hard he flirts with her.
Evie knows what she doesn't want; Jack knows what he does. And somewhere in the middle, pheromones are making things go haywire every time they're together.
This is one of those feel good fun stories that has so many emotions running through the story you will be laughing out loud smiling
‘Wanting Mr Wrong’ is a well written, galloping and often hilarious romp through a month or so of the lives of a group of mid-twenty somethings
Anna Clifton, Goodreads
Excerpt - Chapter 1...
I typed in the web address for the official Guy McKinsey fan site,and bang – up popped his face. Gorgeous. Hot. British. Hunk.
I didn’t swoon – but I came close. And that was mortifying.
An alien had taken over my body – it was the only explanation.
I was not – never had been – interested in actors, rock stars, models, or anyone else you’d find stuck on an adolescent’s bedroom wall.
Nope. I was the daughter of renowned medical researchers, the sisterof a doctor-without-a-border-or-a-freaking-flaw, and my heroes hadalways been the Nelson Mandelas, the Mahatma Gandhis, the BillGateses. Men of peace, activists, philanthropists, scientific discoverers. Entertainers of any kind need not apply.
So what the hell was I doing, at an advanced twenty-two years of age,
crushing on an actor?
I’m telling you: Alien. In. Body. It was the only explanation.
The ringing doorbell was a relief under the circumstances – even though I knew it was going to be Drew out there, and for sure he wasgoing to grumble that I was still slopping around in my ratty track pants and one of his cast-off sweatshirts instead of being slinked into the little black dress he’d ordered me to wear tonight.
Drew, in his self-appointed role of wingman, was whisking me off to a hot new bar, hoping to get me laid – something he’d been trying to do for three months without a glimmer of success. Drew’s view of celibacy is that it should not exist over the age of eighteen unless you have a valid physical or religious reason for it. He’d generously given me nine whole months to get over my perfidious ex-boyfriend Sam Worth and back in the sex saddle before stepping in to guide me. But now I was at the one-year mark and still stubbornly unlaid, Drew was growing desperate – and hence I was being shunted around bars and clubs all over Sydney, like a meat tray in a raffle.
The doorbell rang again.
‘All right already, I’m coming,’ I called out, opting not to bother turning off the computer, because I didn’t have to hide my Guy McKinsey obsession from Drew. He not only knew about it – being right beside me on the couch a week ago, mid-DVD, when it hit me – but approved of it as a sign that my dormant spark was ready to be reignited. Dormant spark – who spoke like that, really?
At least I had the satisfaction of knowing Drew was partial to a bit of cyber-stalking himself. His latest target was Channing Tatum. Thinking of Drew’s unrequited lust for Channing Tatum made me feel marginally less pathetic, enough to have me grinning as I opened the door. I was mid-lurch, my arms reaching towards a hug, when it suddenly registered that the man on the other side of the threshold was not, in fact, my best friend Andrew.
They looked alike, with their tall, muscled frames, inky-black hair and vivid green eyes, but Jackson J Stevens was in a whole different league to his brother. More muscles, blacker hair, greener eyes.
I struggled against the momentum carrying me forward but lurched into Jack anyway, banging my nose on his chest. ‘Ouch.’
Reflexively, Jack’s arms closed around me. Tightened. Loosened. Released.
I looked up. Blinked.
‘Hello, Evangeline,’ Jack said, looking suspiciously like he was biting the inside of his cheek. And up went my hackles. ‘Evangeline’. In that trying-not-to-laugh voice. After I’d just thrown myself at him like an overeager groupie.
Jack called me Evangeline out of sheer perversity. Nobody else called me by my real name – not even my parents, who’d had the brilliant idea of naming me after Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem about some ancient Acadian girl’s search for her lost love. The first and only time my parents had descended into the realm of the romantic. Hormones, according to my mother. Obviously hormones hadn’t interfered when she’d named my older sister after nuclear physicist Lise Meitner! I ask you, was that fair? Nuclear physicist versus lovesick mooncalf? No wonder I was the dud of the family.
‘Where’s Drew?’ I asked, self-consciously edging up the front zipper of my too-large sweatshirt, and wishing I’d donned my LBD before the cyberstalk after all – because despite wearing nothing more impressive than a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, Jack looked like he’d stepped out of GQ magazine, and the contrast between us was depressing.
‘Running late,’ Jack said. ‘And I had some time to kill before rehearsal, so I offered to drop off your DVDs on my way to the theatre.’
I glanced at the DVDs he was carrying. Okay – the situation officially sucked.
Jack handed them over, giving me the quicksilver version of his usual smile. Eye-crinkling, glinting, gone in a second. ‘Changing your taste in men, Evangeline? Or aren’t there any lust-worthy Nobel Peace Prize winners on the market at the moment?’
‘Drew told you,’ I said, just all round disgusted.
Jack laughed. ‘Evangeline Parker with a crush on an actor. Wonderful. Poetic, almost.’
‘Your brother has a mouth like the Grand Canyon.’
‘Ask me in and we can trash him together.’
‘You want to come in?’ Well, duh! He’d just asked to, hadn’t he? No big deal, was it? Even if it wasn’t exactly a routine occurrence?
‘You don’t want me to come in?’
A short, uncomfortable pause followed while I debated that in my head. Because Jack put me on edge even in a whole roomful of people, let alone one-on-one.
‘Evangeline, you do know I’m not really a serial killer, right?’ he asked, all amused. ‘I only played one. And just the once. It’s safe to let me in, I promise.’
I blanked. What serial killer? When?
‘Played one?’ he prompted. ‘As in, movie? As in, box-office smash hit movie? As in, I am not the character Michael Marsann and I will not tie you up the moment I’m in your house?’ Quicksilver smile. ‘Well, unless you want me to tie you up.’
Okay – that unblanked me. ‘Oh just come in, Jack,’ I said and threw in an eye roll. ‘And get a grip while you’re at it.’
‘God, you are such a hard-arse. And you really have no idea, do you? The movie was called Sextant.’
‘Oh, that one.’
‘Hard-arse,’ he said again, and stepped over the threshold. ‘And don’t ask me if Guy McKinsey was in it or I will tie you up. And force you to watch every single episode of Spy Time until you’re so sick of him, you’ll beg me to burn every DVD I just handed over.’
‘Perfect. That’s the aim. I’m calling it gorge therapy. And if the show’s really, really bad, even better,’ I said as I moved over to close my laptop. (Which was a bit like closing the stable door after the horse had bolted, but there was no need to have Guy McKinsey staring at us both.)
‘Um . . . why?’
‘Guy’s got to make a lame MI6 agent, right?’
‘How do you figure that?’
‘Oh. I just thought, you know . . . spies. They’re supposed to be nondescript and blend into the background. Guy doesn’t blend. So I’m hoping a few hours of watching him be hopeless will knock the crush on the head.’
‘Oooookay. Good luck with that, because he’s actually brilliant. You know, I pretended to be a spy once.’
‘Pick up line?’
‘Well she must have been as thick as a plank to believe it. I’m telling you, spies blend. You’re too good-looking to blend.’
‘Why, Evangeline. That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.’
‘I’d say lots of nice things if you stopped calling me Evangeline.’
‘Would you? Like what?’
‘Endless possibilities! Let’s both think about what they might include while I go and make us something to drink.’
He grimaced. Actually grimaced. The nerve!
‘Don’t worry, I’m not offering coffee,’ I said, exasperated. ‘Honestly, you and Drew are such caffeine snobs!’
‘It’s not snobbery to prefer not to drink bilge water.’
‘I’m making tea,’ I said, bristling. ‘Apple tea. Actually, it’s tisane – which you can’t ruin because it’s like instant coffee. You know, put a spoonful in a cup and add boiling water.’
Jack didn’t look comforted.
‘It’s just not possible to ruin it,’ I added.
How could a person look brave and scared at the same time? Bastard.
‘Jack, you’re drinking it,’ I said. ‘Now will you please just go and sit down? I won’t be long.’
The ramshackle two-storey terrace house I rented on the outskirts of inner-city Sydney was a series of tiny, interconnected rooms. The combined entrance/living room led through an archway into a dining room, which in turn led into a minuscule closed off kitchen. Upstairs consisted of a small bedroom and teensy-tiny bathroom. It was all very close, compact and intimate, like an overstuffed doll’s house. Which was fine if you were doll-sized, like me – because I had the kewpie doll thing happening, in size and appearance (just with Barbie’s boobs and God knew whose hair). But not so fine when the simple act of turning around in the kitchen smacked you into Jackson J Stevens for the second time in one evening.
‘Jack!’ I wailed, rubbing my nose. ‘I told you to go and sit down.’
‘The thought of leaving you alone in here with a kettle is too scary, Evangeline. Who knows what I’ll be forced to drink?’
‘This kitchen’s too small for the two of us.’
‘I’ll scrunch up,’ he said, leaning a hip casually against the kitchen counter.
I snorted – as I tend to do when someone says something ridiculous. As if six feet of muscle could scrunch! But experience had taught me not to bother arguing with Jack – he had a way of winning – so I simply started filling the kettle.
‘So . . . Guy McKinsey,’ he mused. ‘Yeeeaaaah, I don’t get it.’
‘That’s because you’ve got a Y chromosome – hell, for all I know you’ve got two Y chromosomes, you’re so out-there macho.’
‘Which would make me a freak – thank you.’ He tugged one of my crazy blonde ringlets, which he did so often it had become a signature move. ‘I meant the actor bit. How did Guy McKinsey crack it? What’s so special about him?’
I pursed my lips. ‘Oh, I don’t know.’ All innocence. ‘He’s drop-dead gorgeous, maybe that’s it. And he played a wonderful Horatio Nelson, you know, and I’ve always had a thing for Horatio –’
‘Nelson, yes, who’s conveniently been dead for more than two hundred years.’
‘– plus he has that smoky voice. The lovely British accent on top of it. Arctic blue eyes. Perfect mouth. And when –’
‘Okay,’ Jack interrupted, holding up ‘surrender’ hands. ‘Spare me the rest.’
I lifted an eyebrow – even though my eyebrows were short and straight so I could never get the supercilious look I wanted.
‘Jealous?’ I asked, and giggled when Jack arched an answering eyebrow – kind of like, I see your eyebrow and raise you one. Except his, of course, did look supercilious – his eyebrow raise could make Thor feel like an insect.
‘Should I be?’ he asked.
‘Depends. How full is your fan club? Give me the stats.’
‘There’s always room for one more, if you want to join.’
Another giggle. ‘Jack, you know I try not to think of you as one of those actor people,’ I said as I turned on the kettle.
‘Not that I’m casting aspersions on your talent – which I know is prodigious –’
‘You might know that if you actually saw something I was in.’
‘What I meant was that I think of you as a brother, which is much better, you know.’
Jack looked appalled.
I reached into the cupboard, removed the tin of tea and placed it on the counter.
He still looked appalled.
‘What?’ I asked, enjoying his rare state of speechlessness. ‘You don’t think I make a good sister?’
‘No, I do not,’ he said emphatically. ‘Not any kind of sister – good, bad or indifferent.’
‘Well that’s gratitude, and after I said I’d come to see your play, too! I even remember the name of it – Stormy Sunday.’
‘Very impressive,’ Jack said dryly. ‘But that doesn’t even make you a step-cousin twice removed, let alone a sister.’
‘What about sister points for being there on opening night? You know I wouldn’t go to an opening night for just anybody.’
‘Yeah, I know – too many actors, not enough Nobel Peace Prize winners.’
‘Oooh! Does that mean actors are no longer the scourge of the earth?’
‘I meant not . . . that. Not exactly that.’
‘So we are still the scourge of the earth?’
‘I never said you were the scourge of the earth,’ I said, exasperated again. ‘Actors are just not . . . for me. That way, I mean. Not that you would ever – I mean, I’m hardly in a position to –’ Yep, I’d dug myself into a nice big hole. And that was a perfect example of a typical conversation between me and Jack.
I huffed out a breath. ‘Rewind. It’s not about how many celebrities will be there, okay?’
He watched me for a long moment and I got all edgy because he had his intent look on. So I started wiping the spotless kitchen counter while I tried to think of a conversational segue to a less awkward subject.
And then I heard him sigh. ‘So it’s the media thing again.’
I kept wiping.
‘You know it’s time, don’t you?’ he asked. ‘To get over what he did?’
I turned, wanting to say something, but nothing popped conveniently into my head. Jack was right. Drew was right. My other best friend, Chloe, was right. My family. Everyone was in agreement on this one point, even me: it was time to get over it! But I seemed to have a Pavlov’s dogs kind of thing happening – see a photographer, freak out and bolt. I hated how much it still got to me. Hated the way the memory of what Sam had done still made my insides churn.
Jack was waiting for me to say something.
‘It’s a phobia,’ I managed eventually.
‘Phobias can be treated. You can . . . I don’t know, desensitise yourself.’ Shrug. ‘Or something.’
Eye roll. ‘There speaks a man who has never been a public laughingstock. All those columns about me – can you believe I didn’t even recognise myself, despite devouring them week after week along with the rest of the country? Because I can’t believe it.’ I shuddered. ‘So freaking stupid.’
‘Yeah – he’s an arsehole. You’ll do better next time.’
That intent look was back on his face, and it made me shiver. ‘Anyway, opening night,’ I said, flustered. ‘That’s got to offer a desensitisation opportunity, given how [A1] the media will be crawling all over the place. Moving right along, right?’
‘Moving right along,’ Jack repeated slowly. ‘That’s a good motto. Because Sam’s ancient history.’
‘A year is not ancient history in my world, Jack. Only in yours.’
He stepped closer, and it seemed as though half the air in the room was suddenly sucked out – either that or I was developing a claustrophobia-related, asthmatic lung condition, because it was suddenly hard to breathe in that tiny kitchen.
‘There aren’t two worlds, Evangeline,’ he said. ‘Only one. And we’re both in it.’
I edged away. ‘Except your part of the world comes with paparazzi oozing out of the woodwork and an array of worthless hangers-on.’ I held up my hand as he opened his mouth to argue. ‘And, hey, I’m now officially a hanger-on, too. I mean, come on, Guy McKinsey and an opening night? I’ll be president of someone’s fan club any moment now.’
‘Are you hanging-on on your own for the opening night?’
‘Am I what?’
‘Do you need an extra ticket?’
‘You mean for the play? Why would I?’
‘As in, do you want to bring someone?’ he asked, a little impatiently. ‘As in, are you dating someone?’
My turn to stare. ‘You know I’m not dating anyone, Jack. Why do you think Drew’s taking me out tonight to try and get me laid?’
Jack started as though he’d been cattle-prodded. ‘What the fuck?’ he asked. Except it wasn’t really a question.
I burst out laughing at the look on his face, and had to take a moment to catch my breath. ‘Oh my God! I g-guess that means
Drew d-doesn’t tell you everything after all.’
‘It’s not funny, Evangeline. It’s . . . it’s . . . yuck.’
Yuck? That set me off again. Jackson J Stevens, who’d had more lovers than you could poke a stick at, getting all ‘yuck’ and moral about little old me going on a sex hunt?
‘Seriously, not funny,’ Jack said testily.
But I was still laughing, so hard I had to lean against the fridge.
Jack’s expression grew steadily darker as I tried – and failed – to control myself enough to choke out some words.
‘It’s not funny,’ he said again.
‘Sorry,’ I said – well, gasped. And then I blew out a couple of quick breaths and managed an unsteady, ‘But it is.’ Another quick blow out. ‘Because you are so late to the party.’
‘What the hell does that mean?’
Whew. Under control. Just. ‘You seriously don’t know about the get-Evie-laid project? Because it’s been going on since that night I first met you – the charity dinner. It’s why I was there.’
‘You were there to meet me.’
‘Um – sorry to break it to you, but no. That was a fringe benefit. I was there because Drew was sure we’d find me a lusty philanthropist amongst all those do-gooders. You know, because it was for charity and there might be someone I wouldn’t turn my nose up at. How bloody unfair that it was Drew who ended up snagging the only hot guy in the place.’
‘What the fuck!’
‘Yeah – you said that already,’ I said, and started laughing again.
‘You’ve been doing this for three months?’ Both of Jack’s hands dived into his hair, which had got to a very bohemian length over the past three months. ‘And you – And – Is it – What – Have –?’
Not joking – he was that incoherent.
‘Cat got your tongue?’ I asked, and had to bite hard on the inside of my bottom lip to stifle another laugh as Jack glared at me.
He took a deep breath and it seemed to steady him. ‘Three months,’ he said. ‘Right.’ Back under control. ‘So what’s the score, Evangeline?’
‘The score? Oh, the score. How many times I’ve been laid!’ Spluttering laugh. And then I threw in a nice, exaggerated sigh. ‘Sadly, zero.’
Another deep breath. ‘Nothing sad about that.’
‘Well, I’m sad,’ I said shakily. ‘Because according to your brother my spark is “dormant” and needs to be “reignited”.’
Jack just stared at me, speechless – twice in one night. Amazing.
‘Whew,’ I said, and bit my lip again, which was only slightly quivering now. ‘That was funny.’
‘I keep telling you, it’s not funny.’
I wiped my eyes. ‘I mean you! Like an uptight Victorian guardian protecting my virtue, when you’ve got starlets chasing you up the yin yang. Not to mention hordes of female fans throwing their panties at you.’
‘They don’t throw their panties.’
‘Liar, liar, panties on fire.’
‘Well, I don’t catch them,’ he said, sounding goaded.
I pinched my lips together, managing to stifle the next laugh before it erupted. ‘Oh, I’d say you’ve caught your fair share of panties, Jackson J Stevens.’
‘Throw yours, Evangeline, and we’ll see.’
Nope – there was no holding it in. The laugh erupted after all. ‘Was that supposed to be your sexy look, Jack? That lowered eyelids thing?’
‘It needs practice, obviously,’ he said dryly.
‘Not on my account – because you’d throw my underwear right back at me.’
His eyes lit up at that, slid over me. ‘So, what kind is it – your underwear? G-string? Sports bra? French knickers? Matching sets? White? Black? Nude? Pink? Cotton? Lace? Silk?’
‘It’s not the kind you’re going to see, Jackson J,’ I said, and laughed again. And then, for no apparent reason, an image of the plain, red, boy-leg briefs and sturdy black bra I was wearing popped into my head. Followed – yikes! – by a second image, of Jack in his underwear. My eyes dropped automatically to the front of his jeans. And I swear that although he didn’t move, Jack’s hips seemed to thrust forward and there was an actual bulge there. The image in my brain sharpened. And I stopped laughing and started blushing, in my mortifying I-am-a-kewpie-doll way – for sure there would be two round discs of red smack bang in the middle of my cheeks. I dragged my gaze back up to his face to find him watching me with his half-mast eyelid look that now didn’t seem so funny.
I took a step to the side, getting a little more space – and air – between us so I could take a proper, calming breath. I forced another laugh, trying to get my equilibrium back. ‘Anyway, the answer to your earlier question is no: I am not dating anyone. So it’s just me, Chloe and Drew for opening night. And strictly speaking, it should only be me and Drew, because Chloe’s supposed to be at Marcus’s charity football game that night. But she’s playing hooky.’
‘She’s picking me over her boyfriend? That’s more like it.’
‘Oh dear – breaking all sorts of news to you tonight, but sorry, Chloe isn’t picking you per se. She’s picking Hugh Jackman.
She’s heard he might be there.’
‘You really are determined to crush my ego. Ah well, if I’m going to lose out to someone, there are worse guys than Hugh. Who’s on your perv list for the night, Evangeline?’
‘I don’t suppose Guy McKinsey’s making a surprise appearance?’
‘Sorry, Guy opted not to make the flight from London.’
‘Well that sucks. Chloe gets to perve, Drew will be ogling a full dozen hot guys, and I get . . . who?’
That quicksilver smile. ‘You’ll have to make do with me. On the bright side, at least I’m in the same country, unlike Guy. And there’s no need to go bar-hopping to pick me up.’
Snort. I turned to get two mugs out of the cupboard. ‘I have other fish to fry, thank you.’
‘Right. What does your fish look like, Evangeline?’
‘Guy McKinsey, obviously,’ I said, and laughed. ‘But with Stephen Hawking’s brain. And I’m baiting my line at the Tiki Tonga bar tonight, so check with me tomorrow and maybe I will need that extra ticket.’
I opened the tin, smiling at him over my shoulder. ‘You do know that it’s only you movie stars who get to pick and choose their lovers; the rest of us take your leftovers, which is why it’s taking me so long to hook one.’
‘We can pick, but that doesn’t mean we’re chosen, you know,’ he said.
I opened a drawer, took out a spoon. ‘Yeah, right.’
‘Hey – I’m practically a monk,’ he said.
Eye roll, as I spooned the tea crystals into the mugs.
‘It’s true,’ he protested.
The kettle clocked off and I reached for it. ‘Not according to the gossip magazines.’
‘I’ll happily tell you every detail of my unexciting love life, if you’re interested.’
‘Well, I’m not.’
‘You know, the gossip mags might just as easily report I’m having an affair with you.’
Okay – that definitely needed a snort! ‘Oh puh-lease! As if anyone would believe that.’
‘You’d be surprised what people will believe,’ he said. ‘Which is why I protect you from that.’
I turned. ‘Huh?’
‘I . . . fix . . . the situation. Make sure your name is kept out of the papers.’
The very idea startled me. ‘How?’
‘Positioning people between us when we’re in public. Making sure I don’t look at you or talk to you for too long. Stuff like that.’
I shifted again. Needing more space. More air. For my newly asthmatic lungs. I reached for the kettle again. ‘It never occurred to me that people would think that,’ I said. ‘And I’d hate it if they did – so, thank you.’
I found my fingers were trembling as I poured water into the first mug. First some mysterious lung condition, now a neurological disorder that made my appendages quiver. Great. Jackson J Stevens was not good for my health.
Jack sighed. ‘I suppose that means you’ll ban me from being anywhere near you from now on.’
I concentrated on pouring hot water into the second mug. ‘I’ll just be more careful, so I don’t make things harder for you.’
‘Oh for God’s –’ He broke off, dashing his hand through his hair again, looking irritated. ‘You don’t have to be careful.’
‘Hey, I’m offering to do you a favour.’ I put the kettle down. ‘There’s no need to get snarky about it!’
‘I’m not snarky.’
‘Not snarky?’ Snort.
‘Okay, a little snarky. Because I know you. Next time we’re in public together, you’ll take to your heels in some misguided attempt to spare me the effort of playing decoy with the paparazzi.’
'I would think you’d want me to stay away from you. Me and Chloe and whoever else you do that stuff for.’
‘Only me?’ My voice was a squeak.
‘You’re the one with the phobia, remember?’ He stepped closer to me. ‘But now that we’ve decided it’s moving right along time . . . ? Well, fair warning, Evangeline – if you do try to run away, I will chase after you and haul you up on your toes and kiss you so passionately and for so long, you’ll make the news on five continents.’
Another snort. But also that horrible breathlessness. ‘If you wear that expression, people will think you’re about to strangle me, not about to kiss me.’
‘I’m not joking, so skip the snort. And I won’t be about to kiss you – I’ll be kissing you.’
‘All right, I get it – no running away.’ I stepped back. Quick, relieved breath. Then I waved a hand – which was, of course, trembling – in the direction of the living room. ‘Okay, you’ve supervised the tea-making, now go and sit down while I load up – that brooding movie-star look of yours is making me nervous.’
‘I thought brooding movie-star looks were finally in fashion around here,’ Jack said, but – thank God – he exited the kitchen.
I gave the tea an unnecessary stir, then initiated a search of the cupboards for something edible, giving myself time to get over this latest attack of Jack-induced nerves.
Jack had been living and working in the United States when his brother Drew (the laid-back, sophisticated one), Chloe (the ambitious, redheaded goddess) and I (the socially conscious idealist) met in our first year at university four years earlier. We were all studying communication, but targeting different careers – events, journalism and public relations respectively – and we clicked like a three-piece puzzle.
During one of Jack’s infrequent visits home, he’d met Chloe, but he’d never met me. Which wasn’t surprising, because while Chloe had quickly inveigled an introduction like the good journalist she is, I would have rather died than ask to meet a celebrity, no matter whose brother he happened to be. But three months ago when Jack was in Sydney for what was supposed to be a short visit, Drew had dragged me to that infamous charity event where Jack was the guest of honour.
My main memory of the night was terror at the sheer number of photographers swarming around Jack. My attitude had been so stay-the-hell-away-buddy, our relationship got off to a very rocky start. And somehow it had never recovered. It must have really piqued Jack to meet the one woman on the planet he couldn’t charm into gaga-ness, because ever since that night he’d kept trying. And Drew said he would keep on keeping on, trying to win me over to Team Jack, because that was just what he did. Kept going until he won.
Frankly, the whole thing was unnerving. In particular, Jack’s intent look, like he was trying to read inside my head to figure out what tactic would work. Zeroing in. Watching. Waiting. It could give a girl the wrong idea if she didn’t have her head screwed on right. My head was properly bolted on, of course. And as a determined save-the-world-don’t-entertain-it type, I was largely immune. But it nevertheless made me want to fiddle with the buttons on my shirt when he looked at me like that, and I always had to make a concerted effort not to fiddle.
Once, when Drew was asking why I didn’t just do what Chloe did and treat Jack like a big brother so we could all relax, I tried to explain the phenomenon of that through-the-eyeballs stare of Jack’s. Drew, of course, opted to try the look himself over the next week, and reported back that everyone he’d tried it on had laughed hysterically – the only person who’d been freaked out by it was Chloe’s boyfriend Marcus, in a WTF? kind of way – so he wasn’t convinced the look even existed.
But Drew, God love him, just didn’t have Jack’s edgy sense of stillness, which was essential to carrying the look off. The way I put it was that Drew was like a weekend in Las Vegas, whereas Jack was an African canoe safari. At night. In the heat of the jungle. Danger. Suspense. That description had caused Drew to convulse with laughter, but Drew had never been the recipient of the look, so what the hell did he know?
And at that moment, I wasn’t looking forward to another dose of jungle fever, undiluted by the presence of others. But since my quest for something edible to serve hadn’t unearthed anything that wasn’t a desiccated embarrassment, I took a deep breath and paddled my canoe into the living room.
I handed Jack his mug and took a seat on the couch an arm’s length away from him.
Jack took a sip and made a face. ‘God, that’s sweet.’
‘Here we go! What’s wrong with it?’
He put his mug on the coffee table. ‘Evangeline, that is basically a mug of tooth decay.’
‘You mean those perfect teeth of yours aren’t insured up the wazoo?’
‘Hard-arse,’ he said, but he was smiling. ‘And no, they are not insured.’
I nodded at the DVDs on the coffee table. ‘So, don’t tell me you’ve actually met him or I might throw myself on you and beg for details.’
‘Does seeing him on stage in London count?’
Whimper. ‘Was he good?’
Up went the supercilious eyebrow. ‘Aren’t you supposed to throw yourself on me when you ask that?’
‘I’m as serious as a Broadway opening night review, Evangeline. Come on – throw!’
I snorted – couldn’t help it! ‘Serious serious.’
‘He was very good,’ he said, relenting, and when I sighed gustily he had the audacity to snort too. ‘I’m so going to enjoy this crush of yours. When I remember that night we met –’
‘Oh, come on, we are not having that discussion again, are we?’
‘– with you going on all night about the cult of celebrity. No wonder you didn’t get laid that night! Everyone was running for cover. All those jabs about narcissism, and groupies, and how vacuous –’
‘Yes, well,’ I interrupted. ‘I guess it is poetic justice that I’ve ended up with a crush on one of your brethren. Too bad that’s not going to get me laid either.’ I giggled. ‘Because you know, Drew says getting laid is the failsafe cure for everything that ails everyone anywhere on the planet, and who’s to say my phobia won’t disappear with my first fling?’
Jack reached out to pull on one of my curls again. But this time, something weird happened. Instead of the usual quick, teasing tug, he held on, slowing the action, dragging the ringlet through his fingers and straightening it to its full length, halfway down to my elbow. The back of his fingers slid against my cheek, then the side of my neck, down my sleeve. Slowly, warmly.
Jack leaned forward. Close, so close. I swallowed, mesmerised by the intensity of his eyes, which were just so . . . well, so green. His lips parted, like he was going to . . . no, surely not. Surely he wasn’t going to . . . kiss me?
No. Crazy, crazy, crazy. Craaaaazy. All this talk about underwear and getting laid had scrambled my brain. But I still shot to my feet like a scalded cat. ‘So – Stormy Sunday. What’s it about?’
Two vertical lines appeared between Jack’s eyebrows. But then he seemed to shrug off the weird moment and got to his feet. ‘It’s about a man who gets rejected by the same hard-arse woman time after time.’ Then he grinned. ‘But he gets her in the end. Anyway, I’d better go.’
I hurried over to the door, opened it, willed him through it. ‘Thanks for the DVDs,’ I said.
He stopped, right on the threshold. ‘And the getting laid thing?’ he said. ‘Not tonight, Evangeline.’ He flashed the quicksilver smile. ‘Keep the score at zero until you’ve seen Stormy Sunday. It’s a very sexy play – bound to give you some ideas for igniting your dormant spark.’
A moment later, I was alone, wondering what the hell Stormy Sunday had to do with my spark, and dreading having to go and find out.