Rumors on the Red Carpet

By: Carole Mortimer


                                      CHAPTER ONE

                ‘ENJOYING THE VIEW...?’

                Thia tensed, a shiver of awareness quivering down the length of her spine at the sound of that deep voice coming out of the darkness behind her, before turning quickly to search those shadows for the man who had just spoken to her.

                She was able to make out a tall figure in the moonlight just feet away from where she stood, alone on the balcony that surrounded the whole of this luxurious penthouse apartment on the fortieth floor of one of the impressive buildings lighting up the New York skyline. Only dim light spilled from the open French doors of the apartment further down the balcony—along with the sound of tinkling laughter and the chatter of the fifty or so party guests still inside—making it impossible for Thia to see any more than that the man was very tall, dark and broad-shouldered. Imposingly so.

                Dangerously so...?

                The wariness still humming through her body just at the sound of the deep and seductive timbre of his voice said a definite yes!

                Thia’s fingers tightened about the breast-high balustrade in front of her. ‘I was, yes...’ she answered pointedly.

                ‘You’re a Brit,’ he observed deeply.

                ‘From London,’ Thia confirmed shortly, really hoping that he would take note of that terseness and leave her to her solitude.

                The New York night skyline, amazing as it was, hadn’t been Thia’s main reason for coming outside into the balmy evening air fifteen minutes ago, when the other guests had all been preoccupied with their excitement at the late arrival of Lucien Steele, American zillionaire businessman, and the party’s guest of honour. That so many high-profile actors, actresses and politicians had turned out for the event was indicative of the amount of power the man wielded.

                After all Jonathan’s hype about him Thia had to admit that she hadn’t found him so prepossessing—a man of middle age and average height, slightly stocky and balding. But maybe all that money and power made him more attractive? In any event, Thia had just been grateful that he had arrived at last—if only because it had allowed her to slip outside and be alone—instead of just feeling alone.

                Thia certainly hadn’t intended to find herself alone on the balcony with a man who exuded such an intensity of power and sexual attraction she could almost taste it...

                ‘A Brit, from London, who’s avoiding the party inside...?’ that deep voice guessed with dry amusement.

                Having been to three other parties just like this one in the four days since her arrival in New York, Thia had to admit to having become slightly bored—jaded?—by them. The first one had been fun—exciting, even—meeting people she had only ever seen on the big or little screen before, world-famous actors and actresses and high-profile politicians. But the artificiality of it was all becoming a bit samey now. The conversations were repetitive and too loud, the laughter even more so, with everyone seemingly out to impress or better everyone else, their excessive wealth literally worn on their sleeves.

                This constant round of parties also meant that she’d had very little opportunity for any time or private conversation with Jonathan, the man she had come to New York to visit...

                Jonathan Miller, the English star of Network, a new American thriller television series set in New York, directed by this evening’s host, Felix Carew, and co-starring his young and sexy wife Simone as the love-interest.

                The show had been an instant hit, and Jonathan was currently the darling of New York’s beautiful people—and, as Thia had discovered these past four days, there were a lot of beautiful people in New York!

                And not a single one of them had felt any qualms about ignoring the woman who had been seen at Jonathan’s side on those evenings once they’d learnt that Thia was of no social or political value to them whatsoever.

                Not that Thia minded being ignored. She had very quickly discovered she had no more in common with New York’s elite than they had with her.

                She was pleased for Jonathan’s success, of course. The two of them had known each other for a couple of years now, after meeting at the London restaurant where Thia always worked the late shift, leaving her free to attend her university course in the day.

                She and Jonathan had met quite by chance, when he had been appearing in a play at the theatre across the street from the restaurant and had started calling in late in the evening a couple of times a week for something to eat, once the theatre had closed for the night.

                They had chatted on those evenings, then dated casually for a few weeks. But there had been no spark between them and the relationship had quickly fallen into the ‘just friends’ category. Then, four months ago, Jonathan had landed the lead role in the television series over here, and Thia had accepted that even that friendship would be over once Jonathan moved to New York.

                He had telephoned a couple of times in the months that followed, just light and friendly conversations, when they had caught up on each other’s lives, and then a month ago Jonathan had flown back to England for the weekend, insisting he had missed her and wanted to spend all his time back home with her. And it had been fun. Thia had arranged to have the weekend off so that they could have dinner together in the evening, visits to museums and walks in the parks during the day, before Jonathan had to fly back to New York to start filming again on the Monday.

                But no one had been more surprised than Thia when a first-class plane ticket for a week-long stay in New York had been delivered to her by messenger just two days later!

                She had telephoned Jonathan immediately, of course, to tell him she couldn’t possibly accept such generosity from him. But he had insisted, saying he could well afford it and, more to the point, he wanted to see her again. He wanted to show her New York, and for New York to see her.

                Thia’s pride had told her she should continue to refuse, but Jonathan had been very persuasive, and as she hadn’t been able to afford a holiday for years the temptation had just been too much. So she had accepted, with the proviso that he cancelled the first class ticket and changed it to a standard fare. Spending that amount of money on an airfare seemed obscene to her, in view of her own financial difficulties.

                Jonathan had assured her that she would have her own bedroom in his apartment, and that he just wanted her to come and enjoy New York with him. She had even gone out and spent some of her hard-earned savings on buying some new clothes for the trip!

                Except Jonathan’s idea of her enjoying New York with him was vastly different from Thia’s own. They had attended parties like this one every night, and Jonathan would sleep off the effects the following morning. Meanwhile his late afternoons and early evenings were usually spent secluded somewhere with Simone Carew, going over the script together.

                Seeing so little of Jonathan during the day, and attending parties in the evenings, Thia had started to wonder why he had bothered to invite her here at all.

                And she now found herself irritated that, once again, Jonathan had disappeared with Simone shortly after they had arrived at this party he had claimed was so important to him on account of the presence of Lucien Steele, the American billionaire owner of the television station responsible for Network. That desertion had left Thia being considered fair game by men like the one standing in the shadows behind her...

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