I arrived early and damp. The blue cotton blouse that had looked professional and flattering in my apartment mirror was now stuck to my armpits in dark, wet half-moons. Lifting my arms, I blasted the AC in my car, hoping both to dry my shirt and shock the nervousness out of my system.
I’d interviewed celebrities before.
I’d even interviewed supernaturally beautiful celebrities before.
This was different.
Gabe Parker wasn’t just any celebrity. He was my number one, heart-fluttering, palm-sweating, thigh-clenching celebrity crush. I’d entertained multiple extensive, detailed fantasies about him. I’d done numerous searches for paparazzi pictures of him. Until this morning, a shirtless photo of him had been the lock screen of my phone.
I had zero chill when it came to Gabe Parker.
If Jeremy and I were still dating, there’d be a major possibility he would have tried to veto this interview. He knew how I felt about Gabe. When he’d insisted on us declaring our “free pass” celebrities, I’d chosen Gabe. Jeremy had pouted.
It was ridiculous, of course.
Gabe would probably be charming and kind and amiable. It wouldn’t be because he liked me, or thought I was interesting, or because we had any sort of deep emotional connection. It would be because it was his job to charm me. And it was my job to be charmed.
His management had been very, very clear about the kind of profile they were expecting me to turn in. What they wanted in exchange for the access Broad Sheets was getting to Gabe before he started shooting.
They wanted a story that would counter the bad press his casting had caused. They wanted a story that would convince the naysayers that he was the best choice for Bond. They wanted me to sell him to America. To the world.
I wanted a story that would keep getting me work.
I blogged and sent short stories to literary magazines like I was tossing rocks into the ocean.
I’d only gotten one published, and then, just when I was considering that maybe I should give up trying to be a writer, I’d gotten the gig at Broad Sheets.
I’d been recommended by a former professor who had once called my writing “mainstream”—as much of an insult as one could get in an esteemed MFA program but apparently exactly what Broad Sheets was looking for.
Jeremy called the stuff I was doing “puff pieces,” but we’d still celebrated when I got the job—
spending a good chunk of my first paycheck on bottomless fries and happy hour beers.
The editors at Broad Sheets seemed to like my writing—at least, they kept giving me work—and every month I could pay my bills with the money I made off my writing felt like an accomplishment.
I knew that this interview was an opportunity to show that I could take on more high-profile, better-paying articles. It needed to go well.
Even though I’d just checked it five minutes ago, I scanned my bag again to make sure that I had a pen, my notebook with the questions I’d written out last night, and my tape recorder, which had a new set of batteries. I was as prepared as I was going to be.
My armpits were now cold and wet. I realized, with horror, that I wasn’t one hundred percent sure I’d put deodorant on. I gave myself a sniff, but couldn’t tell.
It was too late now.
I glanced in the rearview mirror one last time, grateful that at least my bangs had chosen to be obedient.
Gabe was staying in a rental house in Laurel Canyon. I’d expected something grand, with a massive gate and intense security system, but I’d been sent to a modest bungalow set back from the street with nothing more than an unlocked, waist-high gate to keep people out.
But even though it was small, I knew the place had to cost at least four times more than the apartment I shared with one stranger and one half-friend.
I could feel my heart ricocheting up and down my throat as I walked through the gate and down the pathway. A heart attack or a panic attack or some other sort of attack seemed extremely likely.
“He’s just a person. He’s just a person,” I said to myself.
I lifted my hand, but before I could even knock, the door swung open and there he was.
I’d done enough interviews like this to know firsthand the difference a camera and a crew could make in someone’s appearance. Actors were usually shorter than they appeared, their heads often bigger. Round cheeks could make someone look chubbier than they were, just as chiseled features could come off as gaunt in real life.
A part of me had been praying that Gabe Parker’s good looks were mostly manufactured.
I was swiftly and immediately proven wrong.
He. Was. Glorious.
Tall, knee-bucklingly handsome, and backlit by the best sunlight California could muster on a brisk winter day. His dark brown hair was mussed, a wavy lock flopped onto his forehead in a way that looked both boyish and rugged. He had a dimple in his left cheek—which I already knew about, but it was on full display as he greeted me with a smile that made my heart stop so abruptly that I put a hand to my chest.
He was so beautiful.
I was so f***ed.
“It’s you!” he said.
As if he had been waiting for me. The truth was that I had been waiting for him. Literally. This interview had been scheduled and rescheduled several times already.
But none of that mattered now.
I felt fluttery. All over.
I didn’t like it.
It was deeply unprofessional and a complete cliché. The world already assumed that all female reporters slept with—or were trying to sleep with—their subjects. I was here to do my job, not get all hot and bothered over a sexy celebrity.
It was enough to keep those tingly feelings at bay.
Gabe was still blasting me with that full-force grin. It was so powerful that it took me at least ten seconds to realize he was holding a puppy in his arms. And I loved dogs.
“Can you take her for a moment?” he asked.
I was apparently incapable of speech so I just nodded and held out my arms. His fingers brushed mine as the wiggling, furry bundle was passed over. My heart stopped again, and the tingly feelings returned.
At this rate, if he shook my hand, I was likely to pass out at his feet.
After giving me the dog, he turned and headed back into the house. The puppy shifted in my arms, craning her head so she could take a swipe at my chin with her soft, pink puppy tongue. I inhaled deeply, breathing in her puppy breath. Pure. Unfiltered. Good.
It stabilized me.
“Come on in!” Gabe said from inside the house.
I followed his voice, taking in the beautiful rental with its wood-paneled walls and warm, cabin-like feel. The back of the house was open—glass sliding doors pushed to the side—and I could see a big, grassy lawn with a pool and hot tub. The rental itself had maybe two bedrooms, but the property was spacious. It was exactly the kind of Laurel Canyon home where you could easily imagine the Mamas and the Papas or Fleetwood Mac doing drugs, having sex, and making music during the seventies.
I walked into the kitchen and found Gabe on his hands and knees. Without a shirt on.
“Sorry,” he apologized, using his cotton T-shirt to wipe the floor. “I still have no idea where any of the rags are, and we’ve been having a hard time with house-training.”
He looked up at me, and I realized I was holding the puppy in front of me like a shield.
Standing, Gabe looked down at the pee-stained shirt in his hand and winced before tossing it in the trash. Then he came toward me.
“It’s okay,” he said to the dog. “I still love you.”
“Unngh,” I said.
He took her from me, cuddling her against his bare chest. It was smooth and sleek—all those muscles perfectly defined—exactly how it looked on the big screen. Well. Not exactly. He was actually a little thinner than I had expected.
Not that I minded.
He still looked good. Beyond good.
I laced my fingers behind my back to keep from reaching out and touching, but my imagination did not hesitate in envisioning how his skin might feel beneath my palms. Because if I was going to touch—even if it was just a fantasy—I was going to be putting my whole hands on him. Maybe my mouth too.
If I had the time, there was a long list of my body parts interested in touching his body parts.
It was completely inappropriate, but it was just in my head. What harm could there be in that?
“Sorry about that,” Gabe apologized again.
We both stood there for a moment. He made no motion to indicate he was going to put a shirt on, and I wasn’t going to prompt him to do so.
As far as I was concerned, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ogle one of the hottest up-and-coming stars of our time and I was going to ogle my brains out. Silently. Covertly.
I knew I was justifying my unprofessional thoughts, but the truth was, I wasn’t sure I could help it. He was just so handsome and my pulse was racing like I was being chased.