Red carpet events and I have a love hate relationship. On one hand I love checking out the latest fashion and my favorite actors and actresses. Even though I’m an actress myself I enjoy fan girling.
On the other hand, I secretly worry my dress will malfunction. No one wants a nip slip.
I toss up a hand and wave to the fans lining the silver gate where paparazzi hovers over them like needy photographers trying to get their next shot worth thousands of dollars.
They are so rude. I loathe them.
Tonight, I’m walking the red carpet at my movie premier.
The gold dress clings to my body like it was sown on. Actually, parts of my dress is sown onto my body.
My best friend Javier Morrison is a style genius and icon. He’s thoroughly sought after in the industry, but he enjoys working for me.
I know one day he’ll move on to greater things, but I’ll enjoy this one-of-a-kind experience while I can.
My other best friend Willa Thompson is also an artist. She’s a set designer, seamstress, and film editor. Because of her connection with me she’s gotten to work on some pretty big projects.
We were the three musketeers in high school. My little crew had big dreams.
We each wanted to make a name for ourselves in the film and television industry. And here we are.
I got a small role on a T.V. show when I was seventeen. I shot to stardom from there. Now I’m offered so many roles I have to turn some down.
As my agent Danielle says one good part can help set your career on the right path.
A familiar face comes into view in the crowd as I stop and pose for pictures.
“Max, what is my stalker Leonard doing here?” I asks through barred teeth.
My bodyguard straights his tie before leaning closer to me. That is a tell, tell sign he didn’t know he’d be here.
“Arabella, the police couldn’t keep him in lock up that long. They didn’t have enough evidence to hold him.”
My stalker sends breakfast to my home every morning. The security guards who patrol the gates at my home have caught him jacking off in the bushes.
A chill shoots up my spine. He repulses me. Why do people get obsessed with other people. It’s weird.
Let my friends tell it I’m obsessed with someone too. My big brother’s best friend Royal Dumarian.
I’ve been in love with him since I was five years old. I no longer stare at him for hours. I’ve grown out of that stage. Royal is thirty. I’m twenty-five. He was always light years away from where I was. When I was in high school, he was in the Marines.
He saw me as his best friend’s little sister. Well except for those two times. I’ll come back to that.
Royal loved living life on the edge. That’s why he enlisted. And because he wanted to rebel against his father. He dreaded running his family multi-billion dollar empire one day.
Me on the other hand I moved on with my life. My friends say I’m pining for Royal. Not true. I date all the time. The relationships just never materialize into anything serious.
“Max, just make sure Leonard stays where he is,” I stated.
“Of course, Ms. Cole.”
The cameras flicked to someone else who stepped onto the red carpet. I peeked to my right. The woman stood poised with her hands on her nonexistent hips.
The red strapless dress adorned the floor around her. She flicked her blonde ocean waves over one shoulder, smiling at the camera. Max’s gaze was steady on Natalie Porshèa my costar.
Max got distracted whenever she was around. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he was fucking her.
Before I could fix the smile on my face, hands wrap around my body, and wet lips press against mine.
I push at his chest. “Get off of me,” I mutter.
“Arabella, I’m in love with you,” Leonard bellows.
If he doesn’t get the fuck off me now, I’ll knee him in the balls in front of the sea of cameras.
Max grips the collar of Leonard’s shirt and yanks him off me.
“I’m your number one fan,” Leonard yells.
A strong arm curls around my waist whisking me further down the carpet.
“Breathe,” Javier orders as he places a yellow handkerchief in my palm.
I wipe Leonard’s slobber off my lips.
Still in shock my chest rises and falls. “How could that happen, Javi?”
He halts and places his hands on either side of my face. “Again breathe, Bella. I’m here now.”
Paparazzi often says if Javier was straight, he’d be all over me. Hell, Javi, even said that. But my best friend is happy living his best life as a gay man. He’s a really good friend. Every woman needs a friend like Javi. Don’t let the flick of the wrist fool you. He has a mean right hook.
I exhale. “Javi, I’m so angry?”
“Bella, honey, you have to let Max go. He fucks up too much.”
I squeeze my eyes shut briefly. You’re right. I do.”
I blow Javi a kiss, then step to the center of the red carpet and give the paparazzi all the sass I have to give. My brown eyes slant as I flash my white teeth. My high ponytail sways my mocha-color shoulders smiling like my stalker didn’t just plant a wet one on my lips.
Later, that night, Max rolls to a stop in front of my house.
He turns resting his hulking arm on the steering wheel. “Arabella, what happened tonight was a one off. It won’t happen again.”
My brows inch upward. “You can’t be serious. I know you’ve worked for me for a year, but you’re too laxed in our routine. You arrive to my house damn near late all they time. I barely have enough time to get from hair and make-up to the set. That’s not cool. And it is damn sure not cool that crazy ass Leonard can hop a barrier and kiss me,” I roar.
He shakes his head. Looking like he lost his puppy.
“You’re fired, Max.”
“Come on, Arabella. I apologize. I’ve been staying up late a lot recently.”
I cock my head to the side. “Your personal life should not bleed into our professional life. Just because I’m the star of the movie doesn’t mean it’s all right that I’m often late. To no fault of my own.”
I shake my head.
“Goodbye, Max.” I scoot out of rear passenger door, and slink to my massive double front door.
Slamming the door behind me, I kick off my gold Christian Louboutins.
“Hello,” I call out. My voice echoes through the mansion.
Mirtha scurries toward me from the living room. “Good evening, Ms. Arabella. Would you like for me to start your shower?”
“Yes, then leave a bowl of fruit, a glass, and a bottle of white wine on the nightstand.”
Her hands rest in front of her pristine black and white made uniform. She nods. “Right away.”
My phone vibrates in my clutch as Mirtha strolls up the winding staircase.
I ogle the name on the screen and smirk. Oliver Delaney.
Most sought after young actor. He has sandy brown hair and a beautiful muscular body.
He reminds me of Zac Efron from High School Musical. So handsome.
I tap the green button. “Hello, Oliver.” I grin like he can see me.
“How are you doing after your stalker attacked you?” he asks.
“I’m doing better. Now that he’s in jail. Again.”
He chuckles. “You know if we would’ve walked the red carpet together that wouldn’t have happened.”
“I know. But it’s better this way. Neither of us need to have our publicists clean up rumors.”
“Rumors I want to be true,” he replies.
Oliver sleeps around frequently. We tried becoming official a year ago. That backfired. He cheated with two groupies. So I put him in the friends with benefits category. If I’d truly given him my heart I would’ve been devastated.
How can you give another man your heart when it belongs to Royal?
Push that thought down, Arabella.
“Can I come over, Bella?”
“Not tonight, Oliver. I’m still a little traumatized from the Leonard thing. Right now, I just want to bleach my lips.”
He laughs. “All right, sweetheart. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Good night,” I state before disconnecting the call.
Twirling in the massive atrium, a smile sparked my lips. It’s time to turn my home into a Christmas wonderland. I believe Christmas decoration should be displayed November second. Not the day after Thanksgiving. Where’s the fun in that? I’ll call the decoration company. They need to get over here asap.
I saunter up the stairs into my master bedroom that’s fit for a black princess. The king-sized bed has the canopy on top. Sheer black curtains shield the inside of my bed. I wiggle my bare toes in the lush sliver carpet.
My maid is standing in the middle of my bedroom. “Are you ready to get out of that contraption?” Mirtha jokes in a thick Spanish accent.
I sigh. “Yes please.” I stroll into the oversized cream closet.
“The gown looks absolutely stunning on you. Too bad I have to destroy it.”
She grabs a pair of sewing shears and cuts through the air for emphasis.
“I know. Unfortunately. They don’t make beautiful gowns to cover all this ass.” I point at my rear in rectangular mirror.”
“Marianna would say you are gifted to have all that ass.”
Marianna is Mirtha’s cousin. They are more like sisters.
“Send Marianna my love. Let her know I’ll send tickets for you both to watch my upcoming film on opening day.”
Mirtha smiles. “You spoil us.”
“Your family is my family.”
She rubs my shoulder.
Ten minutes later, I’m free of the dress.
Anytime I have an event of this magnitude Mirtha works late. She unhooks and snips stiches so we can peel me out of the dress.
When it comes to the holidays, I always give Mirtha Thanksgiving and Christmas off. I can fend for myself. Growing up I had to turn on my own shower. My parents were hardworking people. They taught my brother Dash and I to pursue our dreams.
After removing my weave ponytail from my hair, I kiss Mirtha goodnight, before climbing into the shower.
When I’m alone and the hot water is pulverizing my mocha skin, I think about Royal.
How he stared into my eyes with longing that day before he left for another mission. I often wonder what I could’ve said to make him stay.
Royal is a Marine. Sometimes I receive postcards from places he’s passing through after a mission. I’ve written to him a few times over the last few years.
I squeeze my eyelids shut. “Bella, stop pining for that man. He’ll never come around. You need to move on. He’s kissed you twice in seven years. Once when you were eighteen. And another time. Anytime I think about either of those kisses my heart is ripped from my chest again and I instantly want to pig out on a gallon of Snickers ice cream.
“He left, Bella. Don’t ever forget that,” I mutter under my breath.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are around the corner. Time to throw all my energy into falling in love with all things to do with the holidays.
There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about Arabella Cole. The woman I secretly love. It’s a secret because I can’t destroy my friendship with my best friend. I love Dash, Arabella, and their parents. They’re a second family to me. If Arabella and I crossed a line and it didn’t work out, I’d lose my second family.
So for the most part I stay away on missions. I am the hardest working Special Operative. That’s the Majors words not mine.
Major Woods pats my shoulder. “As much as I’d love to have you join us on the next mission, I’m ordering you to go home for the holidays. My best operative needs a break.”
My brows lift as I stare at him from the seat beside him on the C-17 aircraft carrier. I lean into my skydiving gear as I buckle my seat belt.
“Sir, a break isn’t necessary.”
“It is, Dumarian.”
I sigh. “Yes, sir.”
Arabella isn’t the only person I’m running from. My father is the other. Dad wasn’t happy I joined the Marines at twenty years old. After only obtaining an associate degree in business. Dad couldn’t understand why I enlisted. Guess you could say I rebelled the moment I entered adulthood. It’s my life. I convinced myself that joining the Marines was temporary. Once I turned twenty-five, I’d take over the company like Dad wanted. Instead, here I am at thirty still concurring missions. Saving lives. I love being a Marine. If I take over the multibillion-dollar family business tomorrow, I’ll be a Marine first. If duty calls, I’ll serve my country.
Of course, Dad isn’t getting younger so I can only imagine how he’ll try to persuade me to take over Dumarian Automotives. Just as our newest line of cars and motorized bikes roll off the assembly line. Major doesn’t know he’s feeding me to the alpha wolf. My father.
He’ll insist I take over the company after the Christmas holiday.
My younger brother Christen at twenty isn’t old enough to take over. And my younger sister Flora who’s twenty-three is living life to the fullest. She says she’ll be ready to help run the family business next year. Unbelievable.
After a two-hour nap in the firm bed in my luxury condo, I stand in the shower for what feels like thirty minutes. I love the custom shower that has twelve jets spraying water at my body from the ceiling and walls. I realize it’s good to be home. Suddenly, there’s a pang in my chest at the need to see her. I thought being away from Arabella would make me stronger. Truth is after that last kiss I haven’t been the same. I’ll stalk her from a distance like I do every time I come home.
While brushing my teeth, I scan social media. Arabella’s to be exact. There’s a picture of her with one of her costars Oliver Delaney. He has that I can do no wrong smirk on his face.
I remember, Dash telling me how he asked Bella to be in a relationship. Soon after he threw a party at his house. Bella caught him in the bed with two women. I just knew I didn’t have to worry about him anymore. You see I’d run every man away from Bella after our first kiss when she was eighteen.
Whenever I’d return home, I’d threaten the guys. Tell them she’s off limits.
It was a dick move. It’s like saying if I can’t have her no one can. I’m aware I need to get my shit together. Because the way the asshole is staring at Bella in this picture tells me he won’t go away as easily as the others.