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SYNOPSIS:Movie star Smith Sullivan can’t afford any distractions. He’s staking his entire reputation on his new film…but he can’t stop thinking about Valentina Landon and the fire he sees smoldering just beneath the surface.
Valentina isn’t averse to sensual pleasure, or even to the idea of finding true love, but as a Hollywood business manager she’s watched too many smart women fall for actors…only to be torn apart when the fairytale comes to its inevitable end.
But when intense weeks together on set turn their heated attraction into red-hot flames of passion, Smith knows he has to find a way to convince Valentina to let him get a little bit closer. Close enough to completely steal her heart…the way she’s stolen his from the start.
EXCERPT:Gravity was the story Smith Sullivan had been waiting his entire career to tell. It wasn’t a big-budget, smash ’em up blockbuster. Nor was it a period film with impeccably researched costumes and accents. Instead, it was a pure, honest story about love and family and what really mattered.
And he was staking his entire reputation on the deceptively simple story.
If ever there was a time for focus, for pure and total concentration, it was now and through the next eight weeks of filming. He couldn’t afford to let anything—or anyone—distract him from making the best movie he had in him.
Only, as he followed Valentina to his trailer, her waist, hips, and legs gorgeous in her form-fitting pencil skirt, he already knew holding that intense focus wasn’t going to be easy.
Valentina Landon had attracted him from the start with her exotic looks which she downplayed into cool, businesslike reserve. He couldn’t miss the slightly seductive tone to her voice, or the fact that her scent was pure, rich sensuality. If she thought she was putting anyone off with her suits, soft golden hair pulled back into a simple ponytail, and the thick-framed glasses she slid on when she was poring over contracts, she was way off base.
Didn’t she know that all those carefully constructed conservative elements made a guy like him want to find out just how deep her passions ran? Especially when she was so intent on hiding them. Not, of course, that she’d even come close to letting him find out the answer to that question.
During rehearsals, she was always either with her sister or making her way out of a room the second he walked into it. He’d been impressed with her business acumen during the past weeks with regard to Tatiana’s career, as well as how well she took care of her sister on a personal level. Valentina didn’t hover, but at the same time, she was there whenever Tatiana needed her.
As the second-oldest brother in a family of eight siblings, Smith knew just how hard it was to watch over his brothers and sisters while also letting them spread their wings and live their lives without his constant interference. Family meant the world to him, but he craved his independence, and his work, too. It was a constant balancing act, but one he wouldn’t have given up for all the peace and quiet and spare time in the world.
From the beginning of his career just after college, he’d started with whatever scraps he could get and built on from there. He knew people thought he’d been handed his acting career, that his looks had paved the road with gold bricks and Hollywood stars. In truth, those looks had made being taken seriously so difficult that after the first couple of years of countless auditions, he’d almost taken one of the dozens of underwear commercials he’d been offered. Until, finally, an older actor had given him his chance to prove that he was more than just a pretty face. Smith had grabbed that chance with both hands, and when the movie was a box office hit, other doors finally started to open.
It was one of the reasons he’d been so interested in casting Tatiana Landon. Yes, Valentina’s younger sister was beautiful. No question, she was going to be a star, one way or another. But when she worked, he saw several qualities in her that he recognized and admired. Determination. Concentration. And joy.
Yes, he thought, as Valentina threw open his trailer door without waiting for him to let her inside, there was much to admire about the Landon women.Particularly the older sister he hadn’t been able to get out of his head since he’d met her in that initial casting meeting two months ago.
Talk about determination and concentration. Valentina had clearly taught her sister everything she knew. And when Valentina was with Tatiana, when they were laughing together the way sisters did when they were very close, her own joy rang out loud and clear.
Smith had just stepped inside and closed the door behind him when Valentina turned and faced him down.
“My sister is not going to become one of your little playthings.”
Momentarily taken aback, Smith simply echoed, “Playthings?”
Valentina didn’t have the obvious, more conventional beauty of her younger sister, but to Smith that made her face even more alluring. A man had to look under the surface with Valentina, but once he did, he was paid back richly with the contours of high cheekbones, incredibly long, unpainted lashes, eyes that tilted up slightly at the corners, and a cupid’s bow on full lips that couldn’t help but whisper of sex and heat no matter how tightly they were pursed.
Just the way they were right this second, in fact.
“Tatiana and I have been in this business for ten years,” she said in a frosty voice. “I know exactly how this world works, Mr. Sullivan.”
He had to cut her off, then, if only because he hated the way she used the Mr. as yet another way to keep distance between them. Not another damn person on his set called him Mr. Sullivan. He wouldn’t let her do it, either, whatever her reasons for wanting to keep her distance.
“Call me Smith. Please.”
Her mouth tightened even further, her eyes flashing yet again even as she nodded and said, in a very soft voice, “Smith.” Her long, slender fingers twisted in her grip as she stared back at him. “You’re older. You’re successful. You’re extremely good look—”
She stopped just short of the full word and it was all but impossible to keep himself from smirking just a little bit. And from saying, “Thank you, Valentina. I’m glad to know you think so.”
Her eyes widened at the way he spoke her name, with more than a little heat. Any woman looking for his attention would have noticed she had it weeks ago. Then again, she hadn’t been looking for his attention—had stopped just short of running from it, in fact.
Valentina was the opposite of every woman he knew in Hollywood. Instead of trying to draw attention to herself, she worked to keep it away. Smith had transformed himself into so many different characters over the course of his career that he knew all it would take were a few simple changes to her hair, clothes, makeup, and the way she held her body as she stood across from him, to shift her message from back off to come closer.
She was an incredibly intelligent woman. Only, despite that, he didn’t think she realized just how much the mystery of her was drawing him in, making him want to discover who she really was. And why she was so intent on deflecting the male attention she deserved. Especially his.
Nor did she realize just how refreshing it was to finally meet a woman who wasn’t beyond eager and ready to throw herself at Smith Sullivan’s feet. Especially just when he’d been worried there wasn’t a woman alive who could see beyond his fame and all the shiny things that came with it.
Now, as he watched her work to bank her anger, it occurred to him what an excellent actress she would have been. Emotion simmered just beneath the surface of her eyes, her mouth, her skin, all covered with an outward calm that could fool even the closest observer. A shared family trait, though one Valentina had perfected for real life, whereas her sister merely played it out for the camera.
One sister so contained, the other so open.
Smith couldn’t help but wonder—had Valentina sacrificed her own openness so that her sister could have such freedom?
She gestured to the pile of phone numbers that littered his desk, her upper lip curling slightly. “You have plenty of women falling for you. More than enough for any man to enjoy making his way through.”
If he hadn’t been in a hurry earlier that morning, he would have thrown the numbers away instead of just dumping them on his desk. With anyone else, he likely would have explained just that. But he found he didn’t like having to defend himself to Valentina, especially when he hadn’t done anything wrong.
“I meant it when I told you I wanted you to come to me if anything was wrong,” he said in an even voice. “I’m glad you felt comfortable enough to pull me aside this morning, but I’m afraid I don’t yet understand what’s bothering you.”
“I’ll tell you exactly what’s bothering me: You and I both know the power you hold. We also both know that my sister is perfect in this film.”
He nodded in agreement. “You just heard me tell her that.”
“And it meant the world to her.” But instead of looking happy about it, a flash of deep-seated worry crossed Valentina’s face. “Tatiana looks up to you. She has never been so committed to a production. All she wants is to do her best for you, and I know she’s going to give a thousand percent to do just that.” Her gaze was direct, unblinking, as she said, “And in return, I want you to give me your word that you will not cross any professional lines with her.”
Damn it, he hadn’t signed Tatiana to star in his film with nefarious plans of seduction. He’d signed her because she was a great actress who was going to get better and better.
Were it not for two unfounded accusations in the span of minutes, he would have taken the time to answer Valentina more carefully. But as it stood, she’d been questioning his honor since the first second he’d met her sister. Silently, perhaps, but it had been there nonetheless.
His honor was everything to him, and now he felt like a bear poked one too many times by a long stick, coming out of his lair grumpy and with teeth bared in warning. Which was why he gave her an answer he knew was bound to aggravate more than soothe.
“Your sister has already signed the contracts.”
Instead of backing off at what many people would have construed as a warning, Valentina came closer to him, so close that he could smell the lavender in her shampoo.
“I asked around about you before we signed on for this movie. Everyone told me you were different.” Her eyes slid again to the phone numbers on his desk, then back to him. “But you’re just the same as everybody else, aren’t you?” Fire leapt to new heights in her eyes as she told him, “I don’t give a damn what she’s signed. If you do one single thing to hurt my sister, if you dare toy with her emotions or her body, I’ll—”
“Damn it, Valentina,” he said in a voice loud enough to break through to her, “I’m not going to seduce your sister!” He had to work to gentle his voice as he said, “Tatiana is young and beautiful and I’m going to work like hell to make sure she wins an Oscar for her performance in my movie. But I don’t want her.”
And yet, even as he reassured her about his intentions toward her sister, there was no way for him to keep the silent words I want you from hanging in the air between them.
He was sure that was what had her taking a step away from him as she said, “I saw the way you grabbed her and kissed her after the scene. And I saw the way she looked at you—like you hold the key to the secrets of the universe.”
It was because he had two sisters and a mother he loved that he realized just how badly he’d misplayed this situation with Valentina. Instead of going on the defensive and throwing the signed contracts in her face like the big bad movie star who only had to snap his fingers for the world to fall at his feet, he should have done whatever he could to reassure her that Tatiana was in safe hands.
“Your sister did such a great job with the first scene that I got excited, and I wanted her to know how thrilled I am to be working with her. But I honestly don’t think she took my enthusiasm for her performance in the way you thought she did.”
He could see that Valentina was still wary, but she took a deep breath and finally backed down enough to say, “I sure hope not.”
He’d thought her eyes were a dimmer green than her sister’s, but now he could see that they were a beautiful hazel, a clear green on the inside, deep brown on the outside. Smith had never been much interested in perfect, even less so after so many years in Hollywood where people hired doctors to rip them open and put them back together until they looked like the dolls his sisters had played with as kids.
He was also finally close enough to see the slightly dark smudges beneath the delicate skin under her eyes.
“It’s got to be exhausting being your sister’s watchdog all the time.”
“I’m not her watchdog. I’m her sister and I love her. I—” She sighed, letting her exhaustion come through for a moment. “I just need to make sure she’s safe. Always.”
“Your sister is lucky to have you to protect her, Valentina. But who’s protecting you?”
Her eyes met his again, wide with surprise…and an answering desire that she could no longer effectively mask as her hazel eyes dilated until the green near her pupil pushed out all of the brown along the rim.
Hot damn if he didn’t want to kiss her beautiful mouth as she lifted her chin and her eyes flashed at him one more time.
“I don’t need anybody to protect me.”
She walked out of his trailer without a backward glance.
…Excerpt from COME A LITTLE BIT CLOSER by Bella Andre ©2012.
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About The Sullivans: In this sexy, emotional and funny contemporary romance series, each member of the Sullivan family will eventually find true love…usually where he or she least expects it.
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