Sometimes bad isn’t good enough…
On the outside, Lyle Tarpin is a clean-cut Hollywood actor whose star is on the rise. Inside, he’s battling his own demons, shunning relationships and finding solace in the arms of a string of anonymous women paid very well for their discretion.
But when he’s photographed in a compromising position by an over-eager reporter, the only way to save his career is to say that the woman he was with is his fiancée. And now Lyle has to play a very public game with the only woman who’s ever managed to get under his skin.
Struggling waitress Sugar Laine agrees to spend one night with Lyle—but only because she’s desperate to save her family home. She never expects that a night of passion will turn into a pretend engagement … or that the heat between them will blossom into love.
But sometimes love has a price.
And now the only question is—can Lyle and Sugar afford to pay it?
All Wicked novels stand alone.
Wicked Dirty is part of the Wicked Nights - Standalone Novels series.
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About this StoryPublication Date 09/19/2017 Story Type Book Series Wicked Nights - Standalone Novels Genre Contemporary Romance
It seemed like the perfect plan. Let a guy into my bed. Let him touch me. Let him fuck me.
I was desperate, after all. And you know what they say about desperate times.
Besides, it’s not as if I was going to fall for one of my clients. I’m not one of those prissy girls who loses her heart at a kind word or a soft touch.
I’m not a woman who falls at all. Not for a man. Not for anybody.
I’ve been screwed far too many times. And if I’m going to get screwed anyway, I might as well get something out of it.
That’s what I thought, anyway.
Then he opened the door, with his beautiful face and his haunted eyes. Eyes that hinted at secrets at least as painful as my own.
He touched me—and despite all my defenses, I fell.
Well, now I can only hope that when I hit the ground, I won’t shatter into a million pieces. And that maybe—just maybe—he’ll be there to catch me.
The setting sun cast a warm glow over the Hollywood Hills as nearly naked waitresses glided through the crowd with a rainbow-like array of test tube shots. Or, for the more traditional guests, highball glasses of premium vodka and bourbon.
The liquor flowed, the guests laughed and gossiped, the hottest new band in Los Angeles shook the roof, and entertainment reporters took photographs and videos, all of which they shared on social media.
In other words, the lavish party at Reach, the hip, new rooftop hotspot, was a dead-on perfect publicity event.
The purpose, of course, was to officially announce that Lyle Tarpin, one of Hollywood’s fastest rising stars, had joined the cast of M. Sterious, next year’s installment in the wildly popular Blue Zenith movie franchise.
The script was solid, the action pulse-pounding, and Lyle still couldn’t believe that he’d been cast, much less that he was set to play the eponymous M, an emotionally wounded antihero.
It was a role that could catapult him from the A-list to over-the-moon, transforming him into a Hollywood megastar with his choice of meaty roles and the kind of multimillion dollar paydays that had only been a glimmer of a dream when he’d started this Hollywood journey.
In other words, this was an opportunity he didn’t intend to fuck up.
Which was why he forced himself not to wince and turn away when Frannie caught his eye and smiled. She tossed her head, making her auburn locks bounce as she walked toward him, her sequined cocktail dress revealing a mile of toned legs ending in a pair of strappy sandals that showed off a perfect pedicure.
One of Hollywood’s most bankable stars, Francesca Muratti was set to play Lyle’s love interest—the Blue Zenith agent who turns M from his dark ways and recruits him to the side of justice—both saving him and, hopefully, adding another long-running hero to the franchise.
“Hello, lover,” she said, sliding her arms around his neck and pressing her body against his. Frannie had a reputation for being a wild child who made it a point to sleep with almost every one of her male co-stars, and she’d made no secret that she wanted Lyle to join that little fraternity.
Honestly, Lyle didn’t know if she was insecure, overly horny, or simply into method acting. All he knew was that he wasn’t interested. Which, considering the damage a pissed-off Francesca could do to his career, was ten kinds of inconvenient.
“Kiss me like you mean it,” she murmured, then leaned in, preparing to make the demand a reality, but he angled back, taking her chin in his hand and holding her steady as her eyes flashed with irritation.
“Anticipation, Frannie.” He bent close so that she shivered from the feel of his breath on her ear. “If we give them what they want now, why would they come to the movie?”
“Fuck the fans,” she whispered back, her hand sliding down to grab his crotch. “This is what I want.”
And goddamn him all to hell, he felt himself start to grow hard. Not from desire for her, but in response to a familiar, baser need. A dark room. A willing woman. Just once—hard enough and hot enough that it wore him out. Soothed his guilt and his pain. Quieted the ghosts of his past, the horror of his mistakes.
Enough to tide him over until the next time. The next woman.
And to maybe, if he was lucky, chip away at the wall he’d built around his heart.
His thoughts churned wildly, and he imagined the feel of a woman’s soft skin under his fingers. A woman who wouldn’t look at him with Jennifer’s eyes. Who wouldn’t remind him of where he’d run from or what he’d done. A woman who’d give herself to him. Who wouldn’t care about his flaws as he let himself just go, hard and hot and desperate, into the wild, dark bliss of anonymity.
“Mmm, I don’t know, Lyle,” Frannie murmured, her hand pressed firmly against his now rock-hard erection. “Here’s evidence that suggests our onscreen chemistry is real. Give me a chance and I bet we can really raise that flag.”
“I like you fine, Frannie,” he said, taking a step back and cursing himself for giving into fantasy. “But I’m not fucking you.”
From the glint in her eye, he was certain her famous temper was about to flare, but an editor he recognized from Variety walked up, and Frannie downshifted to charming.
Lyle hung around long enough to greet the guy and answer a few questions about the role, then made his escape when the conversation shifted to Frannie’s new endorsement deal.
He grabbed a bourbon from a passing waiter and sipped it as he crossed to the edge of the roof. He didn’t like heights, which was why he sought them out. Hell, it was why his apartment was on the thirtieth floor of a Century City high rise, and the reason he’d spent countless hours getting his pilot’s license. When something bothered him, he conquered it; he didn’t succumb to it.
And that’s part of why this bullshit with Frannie irritated him so much.
“You never struck me as the stupid type.”
Lyle recognized the throaty, feminine voice and turned to face his agent, Evelyn Dodge. An attractive woman in her mid-fifties, Evelyn had been in the industry for ages, knew everyone worth knowing, and was as tough as nails. She also never took shit from anybody.
Lyle studied her face, trying to get a bead on what she was thinking. No luck. His agent was a blank slate. Good when negotiating deals. Not so good when he was trying to gauge a reaction.
“That girl’s got more power than you think,” she continued when he stayed silent. “You want the quick and dirty route to Career-in-the-Toilet Town? Because that path runs straight through your pretty co-star. You piss Frannie off and suddenly Garreth Todd will be playing M and you’ll be lucky if you can get a walk-on in a local commercial for a used car lot.”
“Thanks for giving it to me straight,” he said dryly.
“You think I’m exaggerating? I thought you knew your ass from a hole in the wall. Or have I been misreading you all this time?”
“Christ, Evelyn. I’m not naive. But I’m not sleeping with Frannie just to make things nice on the set. Are you honestly saying I should?”
“Hell no, Iowa,” she said, using his home state as a nickname. “I’m telling you that you need to be smart. As long as you’re single, she’s not going to let it drop.” She sighed. “You’ve worked damn hard to get where you are, and you’re flying high. But let me remind you in case you think that makes you invincible — the higher you are, the more painful it is when you crash back down to earth.”
“I’m not going to screw anything up, Evelyn.”
“You don’t know Frannie the way I do. She’s destroyed careers more established than yours—and that was before she had a hefty gold statue on her mantle.”
Fuck. He ran his fingers through his hair.
“How long have we worked together?” she asked, obviously not expecting an answer. “Two, three years? And never during all that time have I seen you date. A few women on your arm at a party, but you go stag more often than you go with a woman.”
“What the hell, Evelyn?” He knew he sounded defensive, but she was coming dangerously close to pushing buttons he didn’t want pushed, and to peering into dark corners that were better left in the shadows.
“You told me once you weren’t gay, and that’s fine. Thousands of teenage girls across the country sleep easier knowing you’re on the market.”
“Is there a point to this?” He tried—and failed—to keep the irritation out of his voice.
She cast a sharp glance at his face. “I’m just saying that if you have a girlfriend tucked away in an attic somewhere, now’s the time to pull her out and dust her off. Because our girl Frannie is like a dog with a bone. A very pampered, well-groomed dog, who has one hell of a bite when she doesn’t get her own way. But she doesn’t mess with married men.”
“So, what? I’m supposed to trot off to Vegas and make a showgirl my bride?”
“Just be smart. And if you do have a girlfriend hidden away, then bring her to a party or two. And if you don’t, then get one.”
“It’s bullshit,” he said mildly. “But I’ll take it under advisement.”
“Good. Now let’s go mingle.”
With a sigh, he glanced around the set-up. At the free-flowing alcohol and never-ending stream of finger foods offered by waitresses in outfits that were just a little too skimpy to be decent, but which covered a little too much to be obscene. At the napkins and stemware that displayed the series’ logo, and at the band in the corner that was playing a never-ending stream of music from the franchise, while on the opposite side of the roof, clips from the previous movies played in a continuous loop on a giant screen.
It was opulent, ridiculous, and completely over the top.
Jennifer would have loved it.
She would have swept into Hollywood and conquered it, making Francesca Muratti look like an amateur in the process.
Go big or go home. Wasn’t that what she’d always told him? Jennifer? With her innocent eyes and her not-so-innocent mouth?
But she’d never gotten the chance.
And now here he was, thirteen years to the day since that goddamned hellish night. And Jenny was dead, and he was standing in a spotlight wearing Armani and living her dream.
How fucked up was that?
“I lost you somewhere,” Evelyn said. “Let’s head to the bar. I think you could use another drink.”
Damn right he could, but he shook his head. “I was just thinking.” He gestured with his hand, indicating the whole area, including the city beyond the rooftop. “This really is where dreams come true.”
But only an unlucky few—like Lyle—knew how many nightmares hid inside those bright, shiny dreams.
He forced a smile for Evelyn’s sake. “It’s past seven. I’ve been here for almost two hours. I’ve been effusive and charming and a team player. I’ve done everything they’ve asked. Officially, anyway,” he added, thinking of Frannie’s overtures. “That should at least earn me a cookie, don’t you think?”
She crossed her arms, shifting her weight as she looked at him. “Depends on what kind of cookie you’re looking for.”
“Do I ever cause you problems? Do you have to run interference for me? Do I not live up to my damned golden boy reputation?”
She said nothing.
“Make an excuse for me. Anything. I don’t care.” For just a moment, he let his mask down. The innocent Iowa boy who’d been discovered at seventeen, plucked out of obscurity to ride to fame on his Midwestern good looks and piercing blue eyes. He’d thrown himself into the work, scrambling up through television and indie films to where he was today. A genuinely nice guy, untarnished by Hollywood’s bullshit.
Except that was all just a part, too. And for a flicker of a moment, he let Evelyn see the pain underneath. The loss. The darkness. And all the goddamn guilt.
Then he was the movie star again, and she was looking at him, her brows knit with an almost maternal concern.
“Please,” he added, his voice low and a little hoarse. “It’s not a good day. I need—”
What? A drink? A fuck? Magic powers so he could change the past?
“—to go. I just need to go.”
“Do you want company?”
He shook his head. “No. I’m fine. But thanks.”
But he did want company. Just not the kind that Evelyn was offering. He wanted the kind of company that was raw. That was dirty and fast and anonymous. With complete discretion. And absolutely no fucking strings.
Wanted? No, he didn’t want it. Not really.
But he damn sure needed it.
Needed to open the valve and release the pressure. To erase the guilt, even if only for a few glorious minutes. To escape the ghosts and the memories and all the shit that he tried so hard to keep buried. That he never let anyone see.
That’s what he needed, because without that release, his mask really would start to crack, and the whole world would learn that the clean-cut Lyle Tarpin was nothing more than a goddamn fraud.