Man of the Month 11
I don’t do relationships.
I’ve lived my life hiding my scars, revealing myself only the in the scripts I write and the characters I voice.
Few people know the real me. I’m too careful. Too afraid of getting burned all over again.
Enter Beverly Martin. A movie star. A woman so beautiful and caring she makes my heart ache. She says she wants me—and her touch almost makes me believe that a girl like her could love a man like me.
But being with her would mean letting the spotlight of fame shine on me, too. And I’m not sure I can do that—even if walking away means losing the woman I love.
Light My Fire is Story # 11 in the Man of the Month series.
Light My Fire - Buy Now
About this StoryPublication Date 06/12/2018 Story Type Book Series Man of the Month Place in Series Story #11 Genre Contemporary Romance
More About This Story
When a group of fiercely determined friends realize their beloved hang-out is in danger of closing, they take matters into their own hands to bring back customers lost to a competing bar. Fighting fire with a heat of their own, they double down with the broad shoulders, six-pack abs, and bare chests of dozens of hot, local guys who they cajole, prod, and coerce into auditioning for a Man of the Month calendar.
But it’s not just the fate of the bar that’s at stake. Because as things heat up, each of the men meets his match in this sexy, flirty, and compelling binge-read romance series of twelve novels releasing every other week from New York Times bestselling author J. Kenner.
“With each novel featuring a favorite romance trope—beauty and the beast, billionaire bad boys, friends to lovers, second chance romance, secret baby, and more—this series hits the heart and soul of romance.” —New York Times bestselling author Carly Phillips
“Could you repeat that?” Griffin Draper drew a deep breath, not quite able to process film producer Matthew Holt’s incredible announcement.
Had he really said, “Sold?”
Was Griffin’s script actually going to become a movie?
Too stunned to think straight, Griff dropped down onto the overstuffed couch in the twentieth-floor conference room of Bender, Twain & McGuire’s Austin office, where Griffin and Beverly Martin had been asked to come meet Holt and Griffin’s entertainment attorney, Evie Morrison.
The moment Griffin sat, Beverly did the same, settling in right next to him, only a few inches of air separating him from the dark-haired actress’s hypnotic beauty.
He forced himself not to scoot away from her even as he told himself that the tightness in his gut was the result of nerves about Holt’s news—not about her. He might be attracted to her—what man wouldn’t be?—but since there was nothing between them, and there never would be, why the hell would he be nervous?
Sure, they’d become friends, but even that had developed slowly. Mostly because he’d kept his distance since, dammit, he’d been attracted to her from the first moment she’d settled down on a barstool next to him about five months ago in May. But that attraction was tainted with the knowledge that he couldn’t have her. Ever.
Story of his life, right?
But at least his personal torment had inspired a good screenplay.
The thought brought him back to the present and to Matthew—the Hollywood wunderkind known for his serious expression and no-nonsense manner—who now stood in front of Griffin, sporting an uncommon hint of a grin.
“Lost in dreams of the red carpet premiere already?”
“Would you blame me?” Griff quipped. “But, seriously. I need you to say that again.”
Beside him, Beverly shifted but remained silent. In front of him, Matthew’s smile widened. “You heard me, cowboy. Apex Studios is a go. They’re putting everything behind Hidden Justice, and unless we go seriously off the rails, filming will begin in Vancouver in the spring. For a release the following summer.”
“I can’t—” The words caught in his throat. It was all too much.
“Congratulations, Griff.” Evie Morrison, his attorney, hadn’t said much during the meeting, even though the conference was taking place in the Austin office of the LA-based law firm where she worked. Now, she looked like she was about to explode with delight for him. “I’ll be back in LA tomorrow, and I’m getting together with Van to go over the deal points,” she added, referring to Griff’s manager. “It’s really happening.”
Beside him, Beverly flashed the bright, sweet smile that had become famous all across America. “Congrats, Griff. Not that I’m at all surprised. I told you it was a winner.”
An Austin native, Beverly Martin had recently starred in a quirky independent drama that had hit the current American zeitgeist perfectly. Suburban Love Song had racked up all sorts of awards, and Beverly had suddenly found herself sheathed in a cloak of fame.
From what Griffin had seen, she wore her fame well. Serious about her career and smart about her choices, Beverly continued to live primarily in Texas, and she’d done only one other project since her debut—a smart and edgy thriller that was set to release in about a week. She’d let Griffin read the script—which was brilliant—and had promised to get him an early DVD of the film.
Now, she leaned forward. “Who’s directing?” she asked Holt.
“Christopher Deaver. He all but begged.”
“Really?” Griffin turned to Beverly, whose smile had widened. “He directed the one coming out next week, right? Crypto Games?
“He did.” She looked positively radiant at the news, and Griff’s gut tightened. Not with jealousy, of course. How could he be jealous? It was only that he was the odd man out, having never met Deaver.
“That’s the best news,” Beverly said to Holt and Evie before turning her attention back to Griff. “He’s got a real talent for edginess and suspense. We couldn’t ask for a better director for a project like this.”
As she spoke, she casually reached out, then closed her left hand over Griffin’s right. Griff fought the urge to flinch as he reminded himself that she couldn’t feel anything. As usual, his hand was mostly concealed by the sleeve of the overlarge hoodie-style sweat jacket he habitually wore. So there was no way she could feel the rough, horrible scars. No way she could tell that he only had a nub for a pinkie finger.
He told himself that … and at the same time, he casually shifted on the couch, pulling his hand away as he did so, then stretching in what he hoped was a nonchalant manner.
Looking sideways, he saw Beverly press her lips together as she moved her hand to her lap. Yeah, she was one hell of an actor, because if she was embarrassed or annoyed, it didn’t show at all. And the truth was, he actually wanted to hold her hand. Wanted a physical connection between them during this incredible moment—a moment that belonged to both of them. After all, none of this would be happening if she weren’t attached to star in the movie.
Except that he didn’t go for physical. He never shook hands in greeting—people habitually extended their right hand, and that sure as hell wasn’t going to happen. Plus, he didn’t hug or do air-kisses, because why the hell would he get close enough for someone to get a good look at his face?
The only exception was Kelsey, and that wasn’t even because she was his sister. Instead, it was because she carried much the same scars as he did—hers just didn’t show. She’d been babysitting him the night it happened, making him promise to be good and to keep her secret while she snuck out for a date. He’d been almost thirteen, old enough to stay home alone and stupid enough to believe he knew everything. He’d wanted to toast marshmallows on the outside grill and make s’mores.
Now he couldn’t look at the things without throwing up.
The last thing he remembered was that he’d used gasoline from the toolshed when he’d had trouble lighting the grill.
He’d awakened in a hospital days later, his right side raw with fourth-degree burns that blanketed him in a pain so red and vile that all the narcotics in the world couldn’t dull it. It had been his fault. All his fault. But Kelsey blamed herself, and now she was just as scarred as he was.
He’d done that to her. Wounded her heart. And now he carried that guilt, along with his scars.
Beside him, Beverly sat stiffly, her fingers twined together in her lap, and her attention on Holt instead of Griffin.
“I knew you’d be pleased about Deaver,” Holt told Beverly. “He was thrilled when he heard you were already attached.” His brow furrowed as he squinted at her. “You are still attached, right?”
“Don’t even joke around,” she said. “You know I am. I practically hogtied Griff and refused to leave him alone until he let me stake my claim as Angelique.”
“You hardly had to twist my arm,” Griff reminded her when she turned to face him once again, her bright, earnest expression reminding him of their first meeting.
“What happened?” Evie asked.
“Only me making a complete ass of myself,” Beverly said. “It was a few months ago in spring, and my agent called to tell me about this incredible script that she wasn’t supposed to have. Sorry about that,” she added as an aside to Griff.
“All things considered, I’m gonna say it wasn’t a problem. Van’s friends with Evelyn Dodge,” he explained to Evie. “And Evelyn is Beverly’s agent.”
“Van was so excited about the script when he read the first draft,” Beverly said, picking up the story, “that he slipped it to Evelyn without asking Griffin.”
“Evelyn liked what she read,” Griffin continued, “and she thought that Beverly would be perfect for the role of Angelique. So she shot a copy of the first draft to Bev.” He sighed and shook his head. “It’s probably a good thing she didn’t tell me, because I would’ve completely freaked and told her not to do it. The idea of landing Beverly Martin would have intimidated the hell out of me, and I would have held back the script until it was polished to within an inch of its life.”
“Are you kidding?” Bev leaned sideways to casually shoulder bump him. “It was brilliant, and I went nuts over it. I actually read it in my car in Evelyn’s driveway. I didn’t intend to, but I decided to peek and see if it really was as special as she said. I read it twice, then marched back to her door, pounded until she let me in, and told her I’d do whatever it took to get the role.”
Evie laughed. “Did she know you were out there in her driveway?”
“Not a clue. She’d pulled me aside at a small cocktail party she was throwing. By the time I went back to the door, everyone had gone home, and I caught her in sweatpants and no makeup. She wasn’t going to let me in—I called her cell phone from her front porch—but when I told her I had to have the role, she ushered me in and we connived.”
Griffin’s brows rose. “Connived?”
“Well, you know I came back to Austin and made a point of meeting you at The Fix. But have I ever mentioned that I’d planned on staying in LA through the summer?”
He leaned toward her. “What? No. Why?”
“No particular reason. A friend was heading to London and offered me his place, and Chris said he’d teach me to sail.” She shrugged. “But then I realized that coming home to Austin made a whole lot more sense.”
“Chris,” Griffin repeated. “You mean Deaver. Your director.”
She nodded. “Yeah, we became pretty close during the shoot. Like I said, he’s a great guy. You’ll like him.”
Not jealous, Griff reminded himself. Really not jealous.
He sucked in a breath. “So instead of staying in LA with him, you came to Austin for me.”
Crap. Had he truly said that out loud?
Thankfully, the words seemed to roll right off Bev, although when Griff caught Holt’s eye, he thought the other man’s expression seemed a little too knowing.
“I did,” she said, then focused her attention on Evie again. “Turns out that the studio that produced Suburban Love Story is also producing Griff’s web series. And it’s based in Austin.”
Griffin had moved to Austin about two years ago, partly to get away from the LA grind and that city’s obsession with appearance. He’d been making a name as a voice actor, but any type of acting in Los Angeles required meetings, public appearances, and just generally being seen. While he loved the work, he much preferred to stay in his cave writing his popular podcast and recording the episodes.
So when the Austin company had optioned the podcast for a web series, it made sense to make the move to Texas.
Now, his web series was up and running and hugely successful. He hadn’t been convinced that something on the Internet could really be monetized, but he’d been proven wrong when he’d seen the first check. The process of converting the podcast to a web series had also made him realize how much he enjoyed the writing process, and that was when he’d started to focus on Hidden Justice, a script he’d outlined almost entirely at The Fix.
“I wondered how you knew to find me at The Fix,” he told Beverly.
She winked at Evie. “I stalked him. Ended up basically accosting him at the bar. And he’s such a gentleman he even bought me a drink.”
“Yeah, but I do that for every beautiful woman who tells me she loves my script.” That was a lie. He never bought women drinks. That was a ritual that led down a path he never traveled. He still had no idea what prompted him to signal Cam to bring her a glass of wine. Had he simply been flattered that she liked his script? Or had he been hoping for something more?
“I was shameless,” Beverly continued, unaware of the direction of his thoughts. “Told him it was brilliant. After a few drinks, I told him he was brilliant. And I said that I wanted to be attached, and if he told me I wasn’t what he had in mind, I’d have to go lay down in front of one of the horse-drawn carriages they pull tourists around in.”
“I didn’t believe her,” he said. “But I didn’t want to risk it. So I said yes. Seemed like the best choice at the time.”
“I love that story,” Evie said. “So you two decided to start working together on the script?”
“Oh, no!” Beverly said. “Griffin doesn’t need my help. I’m just giving him a little bit of an actress’s perspective, and urging him along.”
“She’s being modest, Griffin said. “She’s been a huge help. I wasn’t expecting it, but we make a good team.”
Beverly tilted her head as she turned to him, her eyes soft as they studied him. “Yes,” she said softly, “we do.”
Griffin felt that tightening in his gut again. That sparkle in his soul. He knew he needed to ignore it. Knew that there was only friendship between them. But even so, wisps of memory kept taunting him. The way they laughed when they worked together. The fire in her eyes when she was passionate about a line. The sweet bells of her laughter when she teased him.
And every one of those memories was bittersweet because each one brought on a craving that he couldn’t satisfy. A longing that would never be fulfilled.
But that didn’t change the wishing.
Thank goodness the script was polished and done, because each time she came over to review the script or discuss the characters was sweet torment. At least they were busy—no time to talk about their pasts or what they wanted, or life in general. No time to really get close.
As far as Griffin was concerned, that was a good thing. He needed to keep his distance. And lately, the ache of unfulfilled desire for this woman was becoming more and more painful. Which was why he was so damn relieved that the script was done, it was going to a studio, and he could get clear of Beverly at least long enough to draw a deep breath and push his own reset button.
“So now we wait, right?” he asked Holt. “They’ve got Bev attached, but they’ll start talking with other actors and—”
“All true. Except for the waiting part. They have notes.” Holt looked between him and Beverly. “Mostly about Angelique. They want her role beefed up, and they specifically want Bev in on the revisions. They love the script, don’t get me wrong, but they intend this movie to be a star vehicle.”
He flashed a broad smile at both of them. “In other words, this project has the potential to catapult you both to the next level.”
“Oh,” Beverly said, as Griffin’s stomach did a brand new series of somersaults.
“I’ll schedule a call for tomorrow and we can go over everything, but then they need the revisions back in a week. Ten days max if we’re going to do this thing.”
“Do this thing?” Griff repeated. “But I thought it was a done—”
“We’re on it,” Beverly said. “Hell, I’ll move into Griff’s place if I need to.”
Griff frowned. “I don’t think—”
“I’ll call Donovan at Apex after we’re done,” Holt said. “I’ll tell him how excited you are.”
“You won’t be lying,” Griff said as Beverly reached over to squeeze his right hand.
He stood up like a shot, in the process tugging his hand free. Excited? Yeah, that was a fair assessment of the situation.
She rose as well. “I’d like to prepare for tomorrow. Maybe go over the script together and break down Angelique’s scenes?”
“Um, yeah. Sure.” He glanced at his watch. “You have to be at The Fix in a few hours, though.” Tonight was a Man of the Month contest, and this time the crowd would be choosing Mr. October. The bar had started having the contest as a way to bring in more customers, and it had worked like a charm.
Griff knew the female customers came to see the parade of shirtless men, but as far as Griff was concerned, the biggest draw was the emcee—Beverly had been hosting the contest since the beginning. And knowing what he now did about how she came back to Austin to meet him, Griff couldn’t help but wonder if she’d accepted the job as a way to stay close.
If that was the case, he knew it was only about the script. Even so, the thought pleased him more than it should.
Tonight, Griffin had a reason other than Beverly to go. His personal trainer Matthew Herrington was entered. And on top of that, following the contest, The Fix intended to air the series premiere of The Business Plan on their big screen televisions. A real estate reality show, the program documented the bar’s remodel and included bits from the bi-weekly calendar guy contest.
Considering how close he’d become to the owners, staff, and regulars, Griff didn’t intend to miss any of that.
Beverly looked up from where she was tapping something out on her phone. “Megan’s going to bring her case to The Fix and do my makeup there. That means I don’t have to leave your place until six. So we have plenty of time. I’ll meet you there?”
Apparently, he was all out of excuses. “Sure. Give me an hour or so head start. I need to clean up.” Or, more accurately, he needed time to make sure he was in control before he sat at his computer with Beverly behind him, her breath on the back of his neck.
Maybe he should invest in a second monitor…
She leaned closer, her hand going to his shoulder as she leaned in. “We did it,” she whispered. “You did it.”
Maybe so. But there was still a long way to go.
He hoped he could focus. Because God knew being next to Beverly was really starting to mess with his head.