Struggling artist Freya Coleman is barely getting by. Rock legend Liam Henderson is living in the fast lane. After a series of unforeseen events lands the two in a fake relationship for the sake of publicity, Freya is swept up into Liam’s world. But is it all only for show, or is there a real spark between the unlikely pair?
Age Rating: 17+
We SO love your enthusiasm, but I’m afraid we don’t have a spot for your pieces at the moment.
The snooty curator’s words rang in my ears, mocking me, as I stepped out of the trendy gallery—the fifth this month to reject my pieces.
I tried not to think about the dwindling sum in my bank account, which could easily fit inside a small ceramic piggy.
I huffed out a frustrated sigh and took another sip of the complimentary cup of coffee I’d snagged from the gallery—the last I would probably have for a long time.
It was a luxury that I couldn’t justify anymore.
Clinging tightly to the canvases that held my latest self-expression—or lack thereof, apparently—I emerged into the streets of New York City.
I had been living there for over three years, but my lack of funds had largely confined me to my shoebox-sized apartment.
Just walking down the street was a constant reminder of all the artisan foods and trendy clothes that I would never be able to afford.
I checked my phone to distract myself from the enticing window displays that were calling my name.
It was already 4:40 p.m., and I was supposed to meet my friend Darla at five in Tribeca.
“KISS HER!” the nameless faces shouted, as if I was an animatron built for their own enjoyment.
I’ll kiss her if you go fuck yourself! I longed to shout.
But I couldn’t.
Not with my formidable publicist, Lucinda, standing five feet away from me.
She’d never let me forget it.
My face was frozen in a fake smile.
My eyes blinded by the flashes of the cameras.
And my hand was firmly locked on to the hip of America’s Sweetheart, and my own personal nightmare, Jazelle Ericson.
Jazelle’s elbow dug into my side.
“Kiss me!” she snarled through her teeth, somehow maintaining her expression of romantic bliss. “Now!”
And then she leaned in close to me so I could smell the mint flavor of her sticky lip gloss.
She grabbed the back of my head with her manicured talons and pulled my face into hers.
“AWWWW,” the photographers shrieked.
Just when I thought I couldn’t stand on the red carpet for another second, I saw Lucinda frantically waving her hands, telling me that my duty was done.
I grabbed Jazelle’s hand and dragged her into the movie theater lobby, away from the ravenous press.
“We should have left five minutes ago so you could make it to the lawyer’s house on time,” Luce said trailing behind. “The car’s waiting out back.”
“Leave?” Jazelle’s voice pierced my eardrum. “You’re not going to stay and hear our song?”
Staying for our song would mean sitting through a three-hour-long movie about a robot learning to love, only to hear thirty seconds of our cash-grab duet thrown in over the credits.
“No,” I said matter-of-factly. “I really am not going to stay for that.”
“But it’s date night!” Jazelle said.
“Fake date night,” I spat back. “How many times do I have to remind you that we’re not really together, Jaz.”
“Shh…” she whispered, bringing a finger to her lips.
The middle one.
With that, she turned on her heel and disappeared into the theater.
And I was fucking thrilled to be rid of her.
“Liam,” Luce called out to me in the same voice I often heard her use with her own children.
I wasn’t thrilled about our next destination—but it would be a vast improvement over the circus I was currently at the center of, so I followed Luce to the car.
I needed to make sure that I started off on a good foot with my new lawyer.
The last one had called it quits shortly after my second DUI.
“This one had better work out,” Luce continued as we slid into the car. “I don’t have time to find a new lawyer every month. Or a new maid. Leanne just quit and I’m not gonna be the one cleaning up your messes.”
“You should be used to cleaning up messes,” I retorted. “Those devil spawn you call ‘children’ make enough of them.”
She rolled her eyes, which were the same vivid blue as her brother’s—the only physical trait they had in common.
Luce and I went way back.
Her brother, Anthony, had been one of my only friends when we were kids. I spent more time at their house than my own when we were in junior high.
“Honestly, Liam,” she sighed, “I’m not sure how many attorneys are left in New York that would be willing to represent you.”
“Maybe I don’t need an attorney,” I said, tasting the petulance on my tongue.
“Ha,” she scoffed. “You’re basically on a first-name basis with all the judges in the city.”
“You’re always telling me I need to be friendlier.” I slouched farther down in my seat.
“I’d prefer if you tried being friendlier to your fans and, God forbid, some members of the press, but I know that’s too much to ask.”
Shockingly, the J train was on time, so I arrived at Belle Reve Bar first.
One look at the menu was all I needed to know that “I’ll just be having a water tonight, thank you very much.”
Cue the customary death stare from the waiter…
“Freya!” My friend’s voice rang out from across the café.
I looked up and spotted her.
Darla’s brown hair was pinned back perfectly, and her gray suit looked like it was tailor-made for her body.
I plastered a fake smile across my face as Darla approached, but groaned internally when I noticed that she had brought her dull boyfriend, Marcus, with her.
Or fiancé, rather.
The two had gotten engaged a few months back and seemed to think it was the most important event since the moon landing.
I was happy for her, of course, but how she could have fallen in love with this sentient piece of white toast was beyond me.
“Hey, Darla,” I greeted flatly, my mood too sour to achieve the level of perk she always seemed to have these days.
“Hi, Wonder Bread.” I nodded at Marcus as the two took the seats across from me.
His grim face didn’t even twitch, his bushy eyebrows never moving from where they sat atop his murky brown eyes.
I knew my little nickname for Marcus was unwelcome, but I couldn’t help myself. I was never good at hiding my true feelings about people.
“Oh, Freya,” Darla cooed with a fake laugh, while tapping Marcus reassuringly on the thigh. “Always a jokester.”
Then she quickly changed the subject. “How did it go at the gallery?” she asked me.
“Terrible,” I answered frankly. “They didn’t like my pieces.”
“That sucks!” she cried, and I flinched at her insincerity. “Don’t worry, I’m sure the next gallery you visit will love your pieces,” she promised, and I couldn’t stop the snort from escaping.
“Maybe if you were to finish your degree, a gallery would be more inclined to pick up your work,” Marcus suggested haughtily. “I can’t grasp why someone would quit with just one year left of school.”
If he knew the real reason why I didn’t finish my degree, he might watch his mouth…
After thirty awkward minutes watching Marcus and Darla pick at a plate of eighteen-dollar calamari, Marcus tapped annoyingly at his expensive watch.
“Darla, we need to go,” he said.
“Uncle is expecting us,” he answered with a pointed look.
His boss. Hers too.
“But—” I protested.
“I’m sorry, Freya,” she said resolutely. “We really do have to go.”
“Right, of course,” I muttered. “You have a real job.”
“You’ll get there one day.” She smiled condescendingly, as if she had completely forgotten that we had been in the same financial situation six months ago.
Back when she was still holding on to her dream of becoming an actress.
“Maybe.” I shrugged, gathering my tattered shoulder bag that had more patches than bag left. “Anyway…I’ll see you Sunday.”
“Actually,” she started hesitantly, and I reluctantly brought my eyes to hers again, feeling a sickly sensation wash over me. “I’m—we’re busy Sunday.”
“But we always go to Central Park on Sundays,” I said.
I don’t know why I still clung so desperately to this weekly tradition. It hadn’t been fun for months, but it forced me to get out of my sad apartment and into fresh air.
“I know but…” Darla eyed me warily. “Well, the wedding is in just a few weeks and we still haven’t picked a cake flavor!”
“Fine,” I conceded. “Don’t tell me what flavor you pick. I want to be surprised.”
“Oh no, Freya.” Her face fell even further. “I thought you knew…”
“Knew what?” I asked, my voice cracking.
“Well, we went over the budget, and it turns out we can only invite close friends and family…”
A deafening silence hung in the air, and I wasn’t going to do her the favor of breaking it.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I really thought I told you.”
One look at Marcus’ smug face and I knew that my lack of invitation had nothing to do with the budget.
I just wasn’t welcome in their “high society” crowd.
Darla and Marcus rose from their chairs and gave me a final, awkward wave as they disappeared through the bustling bar.
Darla had been my first friend in New York. She had served me coffee every day at the diner on my street until I’d finally asked her to sit down and have one with me.
But ever since she started dating Marcus, moved into his Upper West Side apartment, and got a job from his uncle, we had only grown further and further apart.
This snub was the final nail in the coffin of a friendship that should have died a long time before.
En route to my apartment in Alphabet City, still clutching my rejected paintings, I found myself weaving through streets lined with manicured trees and beautiful brownstone apartments.
As I walked, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to live in one of these buildings without the fear of not being able to make rent or pay for next month’s phone bill.
Were those homes filled with love?
Or were the tenants as alone as I was?
Was it true that no amount of money could buy company?
I couldn’t be sure.
But there was one thing money could definitely buy…
Something I could barely afford those days.
As I charged past every grocery store, my stomach growled in protest without a morsel to soothe its cries.
If I wanted to eat that day, I had only one option after I dropped my rejected art off at my apartment.
Luckily for me, Mason had forgotten to take back the key to his place after I’d moved out.
I had slept on my brother’s couch in the Financial District for eight months when I’d first moved to the city, but now I just came by every once in a while to borrow twenty dollars for groceries.
He never acted like he minded. I always paid him back when my next check came in, and as a successful lawyer, Mason was hardly strapped for cash.
Slipping inside the front door, I closed it gently behind me.
As I made my way down the hall, obnoxious drunken laughter rang out through the apartment.
I had been hoping to make this a quick visit; the last thing I wanted to do was get stuck in a conversation with Mason’s equally intoxicated friends.
I’d have preferred to get out of there unnoticed and send him a text about the missing money afterward.
Rather than go to the kitchen, I made my way to his bedroom undetected and beelined for his dresser, where he usually kept his wallet.
But my heart sank when I realized that it was missing from his drawer.
“Damn it,” I hissed, slamming it shut in frustration.
Again I heard laughter ring out through the apartment, and I knew my last option was a risky one.
But if I was going to eat tonight, it had to be done.
Slowly, I crept down the hall and peered around the corner of the archway that led into Mason’s living room.
My eyes immediately rested on the wallet, which was sitting beside him on the table.
I was about to resign and step back from the door when I heard my name yelled out from across the room.
“FREYA!” Mason yelled again, and I cringed at how much scotch it must have taken him to reach this stage of drunkenness.
“Mason,” I answered quietly, reluctantly coming out from my hiding place.
“Who’s this, Mason?” another voice rang out, cool and clear. “Have you been holding out on us?”
My eyes immediately jumped to the man sitting across from my brother and—
I almost fell over in shock.
It couldn’t be…
I dragged my feet across the floor, all too aware of the many eyes on me, none more piercing than those of the golden-eyed rock star.
I couldn’t even begin to imagine how he had ended up there, sitting in my brother’s living room, looking even more perfect than he did on all the billboards and magazine covers around the city.
But as I got a closer look, it was undoubtedly him…
The golden god himself.
The Liam Henderson.