At the time, she’d been blown away by Jake’s willingness to cede control to another man. To do anything and everything Decker suggested. Or demanded. Watching Jake’s beautiful face lost in pleasure as Decker fucked him. Seeing how expertly Jake sucked Decker off. Finding their stamina as arousing as their unexpected tenderness in the aftermath of such aggressiveness. In retrospect, she should’ve known Jake and Decker were too well attuned to each other.
The fact the paparazzi had caught Jake and Decker together in a full-body clinch at a gay club late one night in LA should’ve warranted a warning phone call from Jake. But no.
Before either of their publicity teams were informed, Jake held a press conference, admitting he could no longer lie about his true sexual orientation. Then he’d claimed both the movie studio and Ava had known their relationship was a sham to build buzz for the movie—which was a total lie.
She’d been completely blindsided. The movie studio scrapped the entire publicity campaign for the movie a mere month from release. The movie tanked. Her phone rang off the hook with requests for interviews. Paparazzi camped out around her house, forcing her to hire security guards to keep the press off her private stretch of beach.
How did she bounce back from this? Did she even want to? The brutal truth was she’d been frustrated in recent years with her acting career. Every role was supposed to be the vehicle for landing her a “big” breakout role. Hadn’t happened. Now her years of hard work were overshadowed by events beyond her control. With the scandal simmering in the backs of directors’ and producers’ minds, she’d have to work twice as hard to prove herself.
Her parents had never gauged her worth by her public success; they believed pursuing an acting career was a waste. As an heiress to the Cooper fortune, which included a string of hotels, a tire manufacturing business and a line of power tools, her mother had hoped Ava would join the family business. But Ava knew being a bottom-line businesswoman would stifle her creativity, regardless of the avenue she followed after this latest debacle blew over.
Maybe she should run away and join the circus.
As she waited in traffic, she happened to catch a glimpse of herself in the rearview mirror. Ugh. She looked like dog shit. She dialed her go-to guy for hair and makeup, cajoling him into squeezing her in immediately.
Hours later, when Ava exited the salon, she had an extra spring in her step because no one had recognized her.
Keeping up with her fab idea to run away, she needed to find someplace outside her normal haunts. Someplace nobody would ever think to look for her. Someplace remote. Unpopulated.
Ava waited while the secretary patched her through to her long-time friend, the one person she’d always been able to count on to help her out of a jam.
“This is Ginger Paulson.”
“I thought you were going by Ginger McKay?”
“Ava! I was just thinking about you. I’m Ginger Paulson while I’m at Paulson Law Office. But when it’s me, Kane and the kids at home, I’m…ah, hell, I’m just mama. A frazzled mama.”
“How are the McKay kiddos?”
“Hayden has developed a love of ranch work and has forgotten about his X-Box. Paul crawls as fast as a cockroach. Maddie is an angel, if you can overlook the death metal scream she’s debuted in the last week.”
Ava laughed. “You love it. And how is that smokin’ hot hubby of yours?”
Ginger sighed. “Amazing. He can do physical labor all day, come home, diaper and care for two babies, help Hayden with school projects, play cards with my dad and still keep me purring like a contented kitten. So, amazing doesn’t begin to cover how fabulous my Kane is. Anyway, what’s up with you? ’Cause, sweetie, you rarely call me out of the blue anymore.”
“Sorry.” She slipped out the patio door and gazed across the turbulent ocean. “I’m… I need to clear my head, Ginger. I thought this mess would blow over. It mostly has, but there’s enough of it lingering I can’t even have lunch in this town without being tracked down by the press. Which is why I need a break.”
Ginger was quiet for just a beat too long.
“Just thinking back to when your punkish seventeen-year-old self swaggered into my office. You had your career path all laid out. You couldn’t wait to be the focus of the paparazzi.”
Ava tilted her head to better catch the salty ocean breeze. “I was so cocky.” She grimaced with bitter remembrance. “And I had no reason to be. No experience. Nothing but a solid belief in myself. If I’d known then what I know now…”
“You might’ve listened to your parents and gone into one of the family businesses?” Ginger supplied with syrupy sarcasm.
“Come on, Ava. It hasn’t turned out so badly for you. You’ve been in a critically acclaimed TV show and in a few movies. You’ve done it mostly on your own. You should be proud.”
“But?” Ava prompted.
“But the smart, savvy girl I met had ambitions of being more than a mere actress. You were writing screenplays, studying directing and cinematography, planning to start a production company to showcase projects you loved.”
“True. So what happened to me?”
“Sweetie. You got lazy. Rather than letting the money from the acting gigs fund those aspirations, using it as a stepping stone for bigger things, the last few years you’ve allowed complacency to wedge you into a place you don’t want to be.”
Ginger’s ability to get to the heart of the matter was exactly what Ava needed. “Well, letting an in-the-closet actor come out and annihilate my career is a stepping stone I would’ve loved to skip.”
Ginger laughed. “Sometimes what seems like the worst turn of events can turn into the best. And yes, I’m speaking from experience, as you well know.”
“That’s what I’m saying. I need new experiences. I need a change. I need to live something real.” Ava breathed in the familiar scent of wet sand and exhaled slowly. “I want to come to Wyoming. I know your life is beyond busy, and I’d never presume to crash at your place. But a change of scenery will force me out of complacency. I need to stop being Ava Cooper for a while. Figure out who Ava Dumond is.”
“I agree with you, but no matter what name you use, you are a celebrity. You will be recognized even in the small burg of Sundance, Wyoming.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. Without makeup, designer clothes and my snazzy sports car, I doubt anyone would recognize me.” She turned, checking out her reflection in the picture window. “My stylist reverted my hair to its original brown today. If his assistant didn’t recognize me, and I’ve dealt with him for years, I’m pretty confident no one else will recognize me either. Besides, I’m not being snobby when I say I don’t want to mingle with the Sundance locals. Luckily, Kane’s old trailer is out in the middle of nowhere. Have you rented it yet?”
“No. Finding adult alone time in a house with three kids and my dad is impossible sometimes. And Kane and I need a place to connect.”
“Could you put your libido on hold for like a week and lend me your love lair?”
“Let me talk to Kane—”
“No! I mean, I don’t even want Kane to know I’m there.”
“Why not?” Ginger demanded.
“Because your gentleman hubby would fuss over me, stopping by every day to see if I needed anything. I’d rather not put him in that position of feeling obligated.”
“What am I supposed to tell him, Ava? I won’t lie to him.”
She’d forgotten cajoling didn’t work on Ginger. “Don’t tell him I’m coming, but once I’m there, I’ll swing by your place and let him know I’m hanging out in Wyoming for a bit.”
“I didn’t want to play this card, but you’re leaving me no choice. You and Kane spent your honeymoon at my house for one entire week. You owe me a week in Wyoming.”
“You shoulda gone to law school. Fine. I’ll put away the spanking bench and the ceiling restraints before you get here. Which is…when exactly?”
Ava wasn’t sure if Ginger was kidding about the marital aids. “I’m planning to fly into Denver and rent a car to drive the Wyoming leg. I’ll call you when I arrive.”
“All right. I’ll make sure the trailer is unlocked that morning. And if you really don’t want anyone to know you’re there, park in the barn.”
Ava sagged against the weathered siding. “This is exactly what I need. Thank you.”
“Glad I can help. I know you’ll figure it out, Ava. See you soon.”
Next she called her dad.
“And to what do I owe the pleasure of a phone call from my beautiful daughter?”
“Hey, Dad. Just calling to see how you’re doing.”
“I’m sure you don’t wanna hear about the modifications we’ve made to the latest test engine. So, as pleased as I am that charm school paid off, can the crap, Ava, and tell me what you want.” He paused and puffed out air, which indicated he was outside on the patio smoking a cigar, which also meant her mother wasn’t around.
Did she really only contact him when she needed something from him? Yes. But she’d deal with that guilt later. “I need to get out of LA for a while.”
“Any idea where? The resort in Mexico? Or the chateau in France? I hear the new Barcelona property is inspiring.”
“None of the above. I’m thinking about Colorado.”
“The skiing won’t be good this time of year in Aspen.”
“Funny, Dad. I know that.”
“I know you don’t need money, so why you calling me?”
“I need to borrow the Citation.”
Ava blurted, “Please? The paparazzi are everywhere. They don’t have access to the private air strip so I truly can just disappear.”