Growing up in her twin sister's shadow, Claire O'Ryan has made a life for herself away from family and the Hollywood limelight. But when her sister's lies start spinning out of control and she finds herself in trouble, Claire and her former crush are forced to help out.
A-list actor Brady Simms enjoys playing a good part and pretending to be engaged to his childhood best friend, Claire, sounds like an interesting role. Planning a fake wedding happens all too easily. Acting like he's madly in love with the quiet, sweet librarian feels all too right. And her kisses...all too perfect. Will a game of make-believe turn into a real-life happily ever after?
Three long knocks sounded, followed by two short ones. It was the secret code they’d used at the tree house behind Brady’s house, where his parents still lived.
“Claire.” He sounded impatient.
Sunglasses covered Brady’s killer baby blues but did nothing to mask his classically handsome features. A multicolored striped beanie hid his wavy brown hair, which curled at the ends. A navy, oversized hoodie disguised his to-die-for body. With his six-foot-plus height and athletic build, he could easily be mistaken for a professional athlete.
She clutched the door handle.
It was a good thing she’d developed immunity to his good looks and charm. No more weak knees. Forget the drawn-out sighs. She’d left those behind with her crush. For her sake and her sister’s.
Brady stepped inside, closed the door behind him, and enveloped her in a bear hug. His trademark since he was fourteen and no longer embarrassed to touch girls. Although, she wasn’t sure if he’d ever actually seen her as a female, even back then. She’d been parked in the friend zone for so long her windshield was plastered with tickets. Yet, that hadn’t stopped her from trying to get him to notice her in high school. She’d been so hopeful back then.
Who was she kidding? She still was.
His scent—soap, shampoo, or aftershave?—surrounded Claire and made her want to inhale deeply to soak up the smell. She didn’t.
“It’s so good to see you.” Brady let go of her. Off came his sunglasses, hat, and jacket. He placed them on top of the small, wooden bookcase where she kept her purse and keys. “Sorry I didn’t call first. Nice PJs.”
Claire struck a silly tiger pose. “A birthday present to myself.”
“Not a book?”
“I gave myself one of those, too.”
Brady laughed. “Were you asleep?”
“Yes, and Thor’s not pleased. He doesn’t like to be disturbed.”
“Sorry, dude,” Brady said to the cat.
Thor turned and gave a perfect view of his backside.
“I thought you were filming,” she said.
“Finished.” Glancing around, Brady shifted his weight from foot to foot. “You alone?”
Claire wanted to groan. Of course she was alone. She wanted nothing more than to fall in love; to open her heart and her life to someone special. So far, no luck.
“Only Thor and me.”
“You mentioned something about a date the last time we talked.”
He’d wanted to know how she was doing after losing her job. “Yes. Turns out he’s allergic to cats. Sneezing, eyes watering, and hives broke out when he entered the condo. Shortest first date ever.”
“Try, try again.” She motioned Brady into the living room. “So…”
He plopped onto her couch, a slipcovered loveseat she’d assembled herself. “How’s the job search going?”
Heat rushed up her neck. So many libraries had turned her down that Claire felt as if she were a new college graduate with zero work experience, but she wasn’t giving up. So what if her savings account was almost empty and the benefits from her severance package would end soon? The perfect job was out there somewhere. She would find it.
“I have a second interview on Friday for a great position. I’ve also been volunteering at a public library. I may have found a new calling.”
A ball of warmth formed in her chest. “Working in the children’s section.”
His gaze narrowed. “I thought rare books were your thing.”
“They are, but I forgot how much I enjoy story time.” Picturing the children from Friday’s session filled her with joy. “Seeing young faces light up as I read—their eyes full of excitement and anticipation—is so much fun. I remember why I fell in love with books when I was younger.”
“This really makes you happy.”
“So very happy. I feel like I can make a difference with these kids.” She shimmied her shoulders. “I’ve got big plans, too. I’m going to see if the library will let me start themed book clubs for various ages, and then I want to propose a theater and dance reading group for kids who learn better kinesthetically.”
“Wow. Fantastic ideas,” he said. “You sound so excited. Much better than I thought you’d be doing.”
“I have an occasional off moment, but I’m not going to let being unemployed bring me down.”
“The university was stupid to let you go.”
“I didn’t have enough seniority. Nothing anyone could do.” If she’d stayed in Los Angeles, she would still be employed. But she’d made the right decision to head north three years ago. Her new job had been a dream while it lasted, and the distance had solved her problem. She’d gotten over her crush. Brady was nothing more than a friend now. However, she’d created another problem by moving. She felt like an outsider in her family. “You didn’t come here to talk about my being laid off.”
Humor flashed in his eyes, followed by a sheepish grin. One he’d used for as long as she could remember. Knowing she could still read him filled her with a sense of relief.
“You’ve always been the smart one,” he said.
The three of them joked about how Cate got the beauty and Claire the brains. Being smart was great, but more than once, she’d wished they’d been identical twins instead of fraternal ones. Looking exactly like her sexy, gorgeous actress sister wouldn’t suck.
“What’s up?” she asked.
Claire wasn’t surprised. Her sister was a magnet for trouble, always had been. Claire and Brady had grown up trying to get Cate out of one jam after another. He had a knack for minimizing the damage. A good thing since Claire was no longer there to help, but she did what she could from afar.
Thor jumped onto the couch, and the cat bumped his head against Brady’s hand.
He rubbed Thor’s neck. “I hope you’ve been taking care of Claire.”
She wasn’t going to let Brady distract her by talking to her cat. “I’m waiting.”