Coming June 7!
Famous singer Matthew Mackenzie has his life turned upside down when he reunites with his former co-star from Castle Clubhouse and childhood sweetheart Jennifer Van Dyke. Hope you enjoy Chapter One.
The music was electric and the drinks potent at the Manhattan dance club. The coldness of the January night seemed to be banned from the club, as everyone was intent on enjoying the evening. Jennifer Van Dyke would try to do the same.
“Here’s your drink,” her good friend said, coming alongside her.
“Thanks, Carmen.” Jennifer sipped her cosmopolitan and scoped out the nightclub. Since opening in a Broadway musical six months ago, she hadn’t taken the opportunity to just go out and have fun. She really wasn’t sure she should be there now, but Carmen had insisted and Carmen had a knack for getting what she wanted.
“Wow. Check out the hottie at three o’clock. Yum, yum!” Carmen licked her lips as she stared at a man across the room.
Jennifer laughed. “I thought you were stuck on Jimmy,” Jennifer said referring to her friend’s current love interest.
“I am. But it doesn’t hurt for a girl to keep her options open.”
“Knowing how jealous Jimmy can get, I’d suggest you let that be all that you keep open,” Jennifer said with a grin.
A commotion rose from the other side of the club. Both girls turned to see what was going on. Squeals from women drown out the music as apparently some celebrity had joined the clubbers. Not able to see who the person was, Jennifer looked at Carmen and shrugged.
Things calmed down a little as the night progressed. Jennifer danced with a stockbroker, glad Carmen had talked her into an evening out. With Darrell, her casual boyfriend, out of town, she hadn’t done much of anything except work and sleep. It felt good to relax.
The music ended and she thanked her dance partner. The lead vocal for the performing band took the microphone. “Ladies and gentlemen. We have a real treat for you tonight. We have a special guest that has agreed to come and sing a song for you, so please welcome, Grammy award-winning singer . . . Matthew Mackenzie!”
Jennifer’s head jerked up. As the applause roared in her head, she saw a familiar man walk on stage, grab a guitar, and take the microphone.
“Good evening. It’s great to be back in New York.” Cheers erupted along with shrieks from the females in the club. “I’d like to dedicate this song to all of you lovely women who make my job so . . . enjoyable. This one’s for you.” Then he launched into the classic hit “Pretty Woman.”
Jennifer froze. It was really him. She hadn’t seen Matthew Mackenzie in several years. Her heart sighed a little as she remembered the sweet romance they had enjoyed as teenagers. Of course, they had been so young. They had loved each other with all the heart and passion of innocent kids. Then the real world had called them—the music industry for him and the Broadway stage for her. With promises of “we’ll get together” they had parted.
Well, until they’d meet again at some event—a fundraiser, a concert, a wedding. And that fire between them would blaze once more. Her body heated remembering those encounters. Their intensity broke all charts, their passion consuming everything.
Until that event was over and they’d part. Again.
Just as well, Jennifer thought. Matt had no real interest in her, other than the physical. Nothing to build a real relationship on.
She turned back to the bar and sipped her drink, listening. His voice, as always, made her think of warm nights on the beach or cold nights in mountain hot tubs. Oh, yeah, she remembered one in particular in Aspen. She smiled then shook away the feeling, concentrating on the music.
He really did have a gift. Matthew was into the music, obviously enjoying it so much, it was impossible not to be caught up in the emotion. She turned, knowing that she’d see a boyish grin on his face.
As if she had conjured up his attention, Matt turned his head her way. His eyes flickered and then a smile broke across his face. Jennifer swallowed hard and turned quickly, drinking the rest of her cocktail. Her heart hammered in her chest. Had he recognized her? Surely not. He’d only seen her for a second and then through a darkened club. He probably saw a woman he considered flirting with. That was all.
The song ended to thunderous applause. Jennifer looked at her watch. She had a ballet class scheduled for early the next morning. The last thing she needed was to wake up bleary-eyed from not enough sleep and too much—
“Jen? That you?”
Jennifer turned to see Matt standing behind her. With her heart doing flips inside her chest, she tried to look cool, nonchalant. “Hey.”
Matt stood next to her and ordered a beer. He quickly signed autographs for the ardent fans who had followed him over. Then for a few moments he did nothing but look at her, as if measuring and examining her as a scientist might.
Uncomfortable, Jennifer finally said, “Found it yet?”
“Whatever it is you’re looking for,” she said, lifting an eyebrow.
He grinned. “I’m just amazed. I didn’t know you could become more beautiful than the last time I saw you.”
“Great line. Does that one get you results?” Jennifer teased.
“Actually, I’ve never used it.” Taking a big swig of his drink he added, “It was pretty good, at that.”
“When’s the last time I saw you, Jen? Awards show? Charity event?”
Jennifer knew exactly when it was, but she made a pretense of looking at the ceiling, thinking. “I believe it was at your brother’s wedding.”
“Oh, yeah. As I recall, we had a memorable encounter in the coat closet.”
Jennifer felt her face heat. She did not want to reminisce. After clearing her throat she said, “It . . . was a beautiful wedding.” After the closet incident, they’d danced. She still had dreams of being held in his arms, feeling his breath in her ear as he sang along with the dreamy ballad. Then the music had stopped, others demanded time with him, and Matthew had said he’d call later.
But he hadn’t.
No big deal, she had constantly told herself. There wasn’t anything between them other than a little heat. Nice, but that heat could end up burning her.
“So, how are Mitchell and Kelly?” Jennifer asked, referring to Matt’s brother and his wife.
“Great. They have two kids now, real cuties.” Matt glanced around and then leaned closer to her, his breath caressing her ear. “Hey, you know it’s really loud in here. Why don’t we go somewhere quiet, catch up?”
The hair on the back of Jennifer’s neck stood up. Matt was speaking in code and she knew it. What he really was saying was, “Let’s go somewhere so we can be alone and get . . . reacquainted.” She shook her head. “I don’t think so, Matt. I’ve got to be up really early in the morning.” She grabbed her purse and added, “In fact, I was just leaving.”
“Let me walk you out,” Matt said as he followed her.
“Really, that’s not—”
“Jennifer. I just want to talk to you. You know, find out how you’re doing, what’s going on in your life.”
She knew it was pointless to resist. If anything, Matthew Mackenzie was relentless. And she could admit she was curious about what he was doing. Sighing, she said, “Okay.” Was she an idiot? They’d not only been sweethearts but best friends when they appeared together on the children’s show Castle Clubhouse. She missed that friendship.
Jennifer nervously walked toward the front door and slid quickly away from the waiting group wanting to go in. Matt followed her, keeping his head down so that no one would recognize him. When they were several blocks away, in a quieter part of town, Matt began the conversation.
“So, I hear you’re tearing it up on Broadway.”
Not able to hide her pleasure that Matt actually knew what she was doing, she said, “Well, I’m working steadily. That’s good.”
“Come on, Jen. You’ve always been too modest. You were Belle in Beauty and the Beast for several years. Now that you’re Millie in the revival of Thoroughly Modern Millie, you have Broadway eating out of your hand.”
They continued walking slowly. “Well, I don’t know about that. I do know that I’m enjoying myself.” After a moment, Jennifer asked, “Are you? Enjoying yourself?”
Matt walked with his hands in his pockets, thinking. “Yes. I am. The success of ‘Mackenzie’ and being a part of that with my brothers prepared me for being on my own today. I love it.” She watched his eyes sparkled as he added, “Yes sir, Jen, I’m going to the top, the very top.”
“The top of what?”
“The top of everything!”
She chuckled. It was so like Matt. He wanted to do everything, to be the best at everything. He wouldn’t quit until he’d made it to that summit, she was sure of that.
They walked in silence and then he said, “We’ve come a long way since Castle Clubhouse. Although sometimes, I have to admit, I love to put on my Sir Matt crown and go through one of the old routines.”
Giggling, Jennifer said, “I’d love to see that.”
With a sly look in his eyes, Matt began to quietly sing one of the songs from the old show. She continued to giggle as he began a soft-shoe dance and pulled her hand, taking her along in the routine. They quietly sang and danced, continuing to look around to make sure no one was noticing them.
When the song and dance came to an end, they both laughed, as Matt pulled Jennifer in for a hug.
And held a little longer than necessary for a friendly embrace.
Jennifer pulled away quickly and looking up at him said, “Well, it’s been great seeing you, Matt. I’ve got to get going.” She walked to the corner and began looking for a cab, her breathing shallow.
“But it’s still early. Why don’t we go somewhere for coffee?”
Where were the cabs? You’d think New York wouldn’t have a shortage. Desperate, Jennifer thought of raising her skirt. Surely one would appear if she did that. “Some other time. Maybe the next time you’re in the city.” Thank God! A cab at last.
Matt helped her in. “I’ll be in town for a couple more days. Maybe we can get together tomorrow night.”
“I’ve got a show to do. Well, all the best. Goodbye, Matt.” Then she closed the door and the taxi took off. She leaned back in the seat and took a deep breath. That man was dangerous. Not only dangerous, but also dominant, overwhelming.
She knew all about that kind of man.
And the last thing she wanted in her life was another dominant, overwhelming male.
It was dark when Jennifer made it to the theatre the next night. The lights of Broadway were already lit, evoking that magic it was famous for. There had been rain earlier in the day and the damp roads only added to the sparkle of all the lights on Times Square.
Jennifer loved coming to the theatre. There was always an air of excitement, of play. She felt a little guilty for taking money for doing something she loved so much.
Approaching her small dressing room, she passed Carmen’s and saw her busy with her makeup, her curly red hair piled high on her head. Carmen looked up and called to her.
“What happened to you last night? The last I saw of you, you were dancing with some guy. You didn’t . . .”
Leaning against the doorjamb, Jennifer said, “No. I just wanted to make it an early night. Ballet class this morning, which incidentally, you missed.”
Carmen laughed. “Jimmy showed up and . . . Yes, I did miss ballet this morning.” A smile curved her lips. “But it was so worth it.”
Chuckling, Jennifer said, “I bet. See you on stage.”
“Hey, wait! Did you see Matthew Mackenzie last night? You two were on that kids’ show together, weren’t you?”
Jennifer drew taut. “Yeah. We said ‘hi,’ talked for a few minutes. I’d better go and get ready.” Then before Carmen could ask any more questions, she hurried to her dressing room.
And there on the table was the biggest, most beautiful bouquet of red roses Jennifer had ever seen. The arrangement was so big it covered the entire top of her makeup table. Jennifer just stood there, gaping.
Carmen, clothed in her silk robe, came up behind her. Looking over Jennifer’s shoulders, she said, “They’re really something, aren’t they? I thought you said all you guys did was talk last night.”
Jennifer looked at her. “What?” Then walking to the flowers, she saw that the note had been opened. “Did you read the note?”
“Of course. How else could I find out who they were from?” Jennifer rolled her eyes. “Now tell me why this guy would send you red roses after only talking for a few minutes. He said, and I quote, ‘I’ll see you soon.’ What’s that all about?”
Jennifer opened the note and read, “To my favorite Broadway star. I’ll see you soon. Matt.” Jennifer held the note to her mouth, thinking.
“Well?” Carmen asked, her brows high, bouncing on her toes.
“Well, is this guy interested in you?
“What? No! No, no, no. This is just Matt’s way. He likes to impress with big gifts, that’s all.”
“What’s that about seeing you soon?”
“It’s just his closing, his signoff. You know, ‘I’ll see you’ or ‘catch you later.’ Something like that. Now enough about Matt,” Jennifer said as she pushed Carmen out of her room. “I’ve got to get ready.” Alone in the room, Jennifer took a moment to touch the bright red blossoms. She took a whiff of their sweet fragrance. For one precious moment she remembered what it was like to be in love with Matt.
Then with a deep breath and a secret smile, she placed the arrangement on a little coffee table and turned to get ready for the show.
The packed house applauded loudly at the cast’s final curtain call. As always, Jennifer reveled in the adoration of the crowd. Walking back to her dressing room, she heard several cast members talking about someone famous being in the crowd. The women were sighing and positively drooling. Jennifer continued to her dressing room, not really interested in who had been in the audience.
Carefully, Jennifer took off her costume and wig. Then, wearing only her robe and a hair net, she sat to take off her heavy stage makeup. First, she rubbed cold cream all over her face and then reached for tissues to wipe it off. A knock on her door stopped her and had her looking up. “Yes?”
The door opened and to her chagrin, she looked up to see Matthew Mackenzie walking into her small dressing room. Instinctively, she closed her robe tighter. Then looking in the mirror and seeing her face white with cream, she let out a whimper and began to furiously wipe the cream off. “Matt. I didn’t know it was you.”
Matt calmly put his hand on her arm to stop her. “It’s okay. Take your time. You didn’t know I was coming backstage. I’ll just sit here and wait for you.” He headed to a small love seat, smugly looking at the roses.
“Wha-what are you doing here?” Jennifer said as she intentionally slowed down her hand, her mind, and her breathing.
“You said some other time for the coffee.” He grinned at her. “It’s some other time.”
Why was he just so charming? She should shoo him out. Just say that she wasn’t interested in seeing him again. But that would be a lie and he’d know it. She was always a lost cause when it came to Matthew Mackenzie.
“Okay. Just one cup and then you’ll be on your way, right?”
“Gosh, Jen. It almost sounds like you want to get rid of me.” Then pausing to think he added, “I didn’t even ask. Are you involved with someone?”
Jennifer considered that as she removed her makeup. She made up her mind. She wasn’t going to lie to him. “No. I am seeing someone, but we’re not really, um, involved. We’re just, you know, still at the friends stage.”
“Could it go past that stage into something more?”
“I don’t know. I’m not in any hurry, neither is he.”
Matt smiled. “Good. Then he wouldn’t mind two old friends getting together for coffee. You’re not seeing him tonight?”
“No. Darrell’s out of town. He works in the Diamond District and had a big jewelry show in Chicago.”
“Nice.” Matt looked at the roses he had sent.
Jennifer saw this and quickly said, “Thank you for the roses. That was very thoughtful.”
“You’re very welcome.” While he watched her removing her heavy stage makeup, there was a rap on the door followed by a head popping in. “I’ve got that hairbrush you wanted to borrow, Jennifer.” Carmen looked around the small dressing room, her eyes landing on the man comfortably seated on the couch. As she came into the room and absently put the brush on the makeup table she said, “Oh, I didn’t know you had company.”
Sure you didn’t, Jennifer thought. “Carmen Degata, I’d like you to meet Matthew Mackenzie. Matt, Carmen.”
Matt stood and, smiling, accepted Carmen’s outstretched hand. “It’s a pleasure. I enjoyed your performance in the show tonight.”
Carmen actually giggled. Jennifer thought it amazing the power Matt wielded over women. “Thank you. I’m glad you liked it. You know I used to have your picture on my bedroom wall. I had to kiss it every night before I went to bed.”
Being used to the sentiment, Matt accepted it with a nod. “I’m flattered that a woman of such immense talent and beauty would give me the time of day.”
Carmen’s eyes widened and she actually sighed. Jennifer stifled a chuckle.
“Carmen? Where are you?” came a voice in the hall.
Snapped back to the present, Carmen turned and called, “I’m in here, baby.”
A large, dark man came into the dressing room, betraying his gruff appearance with a silly grin on his face. He pulled Carmen to him and briefly kissed her, then turned to Jennifer and said, “Hey, Jenny. Great show.”
“Thanks, Jimmy. Have you met Matt?”
The huge man turned and, keeping Carmen under his arm, reached out to shake Matt’s hand. “Hey, how’s it going?”
“Not too bad.”
Looking at the adoring woman he was holding, he said, “You ready, honey?”
“Sure,” Carmen said without hesitation. Turning she said, “It was nice to meet you, Matt.” As the couple swung out of the room, Carmen gave Matt one last look and then glanced at Jennifer and wiggled her eyebrows.
Jennifer chuckled and rose to close the door behind them. “Good night, you two.”
“Yeah. Jimmy’s a production assistant for the show. He’s really crazy about Carmen.”
“Not too hard to understand. She’s quite a looker.” A secret grin filled his face.
Ah, yes. There it was. The main reason nothing solid had ever developed between them. He was always on the prowl, always looking for a better time. Jennifer had felt she was only a stepping stone. Putting the thought behind her, Jennifer said, “Look, could you step into the hall and let me change clothes? Then we can go for that cup of coffee.”
And then I can send you away.
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