Lone Star Lovers, Book 1
Hollywood’s hottest heartthrob Liam Sullivan has escaped the paparazzi and celebrity gossips after a sensational tragedy, reexamining his high-flying lifestyle and his priorities. In disguise, traveling through the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, he encounters a rail-thin, starving woman who has lost everything but the dilapidated cabin where she once lived with her grandmother in happier days. Raina Donovan is determined to make her stand there, but winter is coming, and Liam cannot desert her until he can make her safe, however much she tries to make him leave.
Day by day, they draw closer, but Raina has secrets and so does Liam. Before they can trust enough to confide in each other, the world catches up with them. Can they overcome the stunning shock of their deceptions to find a way to be together, or will the price of their lies ruin any chance they might have for a future?
Read an Excerpt from Texas Heartthrob
“Liam, is it true that you and Gisella had a secret wedding last weekend in Cancún?” the blond reporter from the Star shouted. The noise level rocketed as camera crews and microphones crowded the hotel ballroom at the press conference for Liam Sullivan’s latest film.
Liam resisted a groan. He’d known that the snapshot of him with the supermodel would be fresh meat for the tabloids. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Heather, but I just met the woman a week ago when we attended the same preview party.” He winked. “I’m sure a famous beauty like her can do better than some ole small-town Texas boy.”
The assembled reporters hooted. The blonde named Heather batted her eyelashes at him. Fresh off an Oscar nomination and just named “Sexiest Man Alive” by People magazine, Liam Sullivan was the hottest star in Hollywood at the moment. Life was sweet. He was enjoying the heck out of it, but the man who’d been a skinny, brainy runt of the litter was only too aware of what life could be like on the flip side of good looks and fame. And if he forgot, his older brothers, Rafael, Alejandro and Dane, would gladly bring him back to earth.
He missed them, missed his mother and father, his pesky younger sister, Jilly. Two more stops on this publicity tour for his new release, then he had six weeks off before his next film. He couldn’t wait to head home to Texas and hibernate for a while.
As the director fielded questions, Liam listened with half an ear, scanning the crowd without really seeing. He was so tired. His ex-girlfriend Kelly’s middle-of-the-night call had kept him tossing in his bed. They hadn’t been an item in months, not since he’d finally realized that she didn’t want to kick her cocaine habit, that no matter what help he offered, she wasn’t ready to accept. It frustrated the hell out of him. The waste of it sickened him. He’d seen too many people in his business dragged down by the fast life. Kelly was well on her way to being another casualty, no matter how hard Liam had fought to save her.
“Liam has no comment on that.”
The tension in his publicist Annie Schaefer’s voice alerted Liam that he’d missed a question.
That the room had fallen unnaturally silent.
“So she’s just another disposable girlfriend?” jeered a voice from the back.
“What?” Liam turned to Annie. “What’s he talking about?”
“Get up and leave—now,” she whispered, hand over Liam’s microphone. “I’ll handle this.”
Liam almost obeyed—he’d had plenty of experience with the landmines the press could plant—but something in the gathering buzz of the audience, something about the shock in Annie’s eyes, kept him in place. “Tell me what’s going on,” he demanded.
A reporter spoke up first. “Her brother says it’s your fault, Liam. That Kelly Mason killed herself because you abandoned her when she told you she was pregnant. Not exactly what we’ve come to expect from All-American Liam Sullivan, is it?”
Dead? Liam couldn’t speak. Kelly…pregnant? His mind went white. How could— Last night she’d cried on the phone but refused to tell him why. She’d begged him to come back, but she’d been high and hysterical and—
He jerked the mike toward him. “When she called, she never mentioned—”
The buzz leaped to a roar.
“You mean she called you before she did it?”
“What did you say to make her kill herself?”
“You didn’t want the baby?”
How could it be his? They hadn’t made love in—
Annie grabbed the mike back. “This news comes as a terrible shock to all of us. Mr. Sullivan will have a statement later.” She flipped off the microphone, nudging him none too gently to his feet. “You know better than to hand them something like that. Let’s get out of here.”
“But—” Liam looked out at the crowd as though somewhere in it lay the answers.
“Forget them—” she snapped. “They’re piranhas, ready to feed.” Her tone gentled. “You’re rattled. I don’t blame you. I’ll phone some sources from the suite, see what I can find out.”
He turned blind eyes to her. “She never said—” He glanced away. “I didn’t let her finish. I thought it was just the same old—”
The crowd still clamored, shouting questions as he walked through the door in a daze.
He’d hung up on Kelly in disgust only hours ago. Given up on her, at last.
In so doing, had he driven her to give up on herself?
Two weeks later, a man who looked very little like Liam Sullivan drove down the deserted road he’d taken off the Blue Ridge Parkway on his way south to Asheville. Brushing an unfamiliar, newly-dark mustache with one finger, hair shaggy and no longer blond, he contemplated the dense thickets of rhododendron, the towering beeches and maples bearing hints of coming scarlet and gold. The Appalachians were ancient compared with the mountains he knew out West, and time had been a pumice stone, wearing steep peaks down to round, blue-shadowed waves extending as far as he could see. Near at hand, endless green slopes on either side of the road would break for a bald knob of charcoal rock.
Stunning, it was, but almost too rich for the eye. With a sudden ache, he longed for the starkness of the Davis Mountains of Texas, which were home.
His parents and siblings had called him every day since Kelly’s death. Abuelita, the wise old healer who was as much his grandmother as if they shared genes, had even made one of her rare forays on the telephone, performing a long-distance diagnosis.
“Cielito,” she’d said. Little sky, the pet name she’d given him as a child. She’d always said his sunny nature made her think of a cloudless sky, cielito sin nuves. “Come home. You should be with those who love you.” Ordering him, in no uncertain terms, to present himself with all haste for a limpia, or spiritual cleansing.
His sky was no longer cloudless; he had blood on his hands that would never wash out. Thank God Kelly’s brother had been lying about her being pregnant, but that relief didn’t lessen Liam’s responsibility for her death. He carried the weight of it on his chest until he couldn’t sleep at night for the smothering press of it.
He should have realized the last episode was different. He should have stopped her. Should have—
All the reassurances others offered dissolved to nothing in the face of knowing that he was the last person who had spoken to Kelly, the one to whom she’d reached out while her demons dug their claws into her throat and choked the life out of her. He could hardly remember the sunny, energetic starlet whose joy had attracted him so on the set of his first big hit.
Damn drugs. Try as he might, he could not understand how a person could know the damage they wreaked and still keep using them. He’d been there for Kelly, paid for rehab twice, would gladly have spent whatever necessary to fix her.
But he couldn’t understand what it was that needed fixing, not really. Life threw things at you. You dealt with them. Sure, a beer now and then was nice, but—
Too damn wholesome, Liam, a friend had leveled the charge once. You’ve never been tested in your entire charmed life.
It was true. His half-brother Rafael had almost died in a Special Forces ambush and still bore scars and a limp. His other half-brother, Alejandro, was a hostage negotiator, had seen the darker side of life in his years in law enforcement. Even his photographer brother, Dane, had faced dangerous animals and treacherous mountain peaks.
And here Liam was, with more money and women than any man should have, simply because of his looks. Dodging only reporters, not bullets. Disguising himself with dark-brown dye on hair long past its usual razor cut, he was reduced to driving down back roads, seeking some time to think without the constant questions, the screaming headlines.
His brothers were the heroes. He just played them.
Ladyville, the sign up ahead said. Gratefully, Liam turned from pondering the demise of the All-American Boy to wondering if this burg would have a café where he could take a leak and grab a bite to eat. His jeans were loose on his waist, the casualty of too many sleepless nights and no appetite.
He hadn’t even been able to attend the funeral to say goodbye to Kelly for fear of turning it into a circus. Her grieving family had deserved better.
Suddenly, Liam longed for his own family, wanted a taste of his mother’s biscuits badly enough to whip the car around and catch the nearest plane to Texas. Wanted to forget the time alone he’d thought he needed and instead sit in her sunny kitchen and let her fuss over him, listen to his kid sister Jilly’s early-morning grumbles. Walk out to the barn and hook a boot heel over a fence while comparing notes on the livestock with his dad.
But home was a good eighteen hundred miles away yet, and he had to buy gas and make a pit stop. This one-horse town was no bigger than tiny La Paloma, where Abuelita and Rafael lived, and there’d be nowhere to spend the night. Best to gas up and go, then get serious about heading straight to Texas in the morning.
That decided, he swerved into the parking lot of the only store in Ladyville and pulled up to the lone pump.