“Are you sure this is okay?” Kendra whispered.
Jax sighed as he gestured for her to get in the car. “I’m sure.”
She slid into the back seat and he dropped in beside her. She watched the cameraman in the front turn and focus the lens in their direction. Something was off, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. Jax almost seemed disgruntled to be spending time with her even though this was his idea.
He suggested they get out of the house and clear their minds before settling on the next song she should sing. It was a complete break from their routine: she picked a song, he challenged her, and they bickered a bit before one of them finally gave in. She was torn on who had given in more often. It was probably pretty fairly split down the middle. He’d suggested they get out of the studio even before she had a chance to tell him she’d like to sing “I Love Rock N Roll” for the ‘80s show next week.
He’d probably seen it coming though. She couldn’t sing another Heart or Stevie Nicks song, and Joan Jett was perfect for her grungy, gravelly voice. She expected him to put up quite the fight about her staying in her comfort zone and all that. He’d probably suggest something by Cyndi Lauper or Madonna.
She looked out the car window as the driver pulled away from the house. Taking a breath, Kendra blurted out her idea and why he should go along.
He nodded. “Yeah. That works.”
“Okay,” she said on a half laugh. “That’s it? What is going on with you?”
“Something’s bothering you,” she said quietly. “Has been for days.”
He looked at the camera, as he had every single time she’d brought up his foul mood and distracted mind. She frowned. They would never be away from the prying eyes of the network and he was using that as an excuse not to tell her what was bothering him.
Digging in her bag, she pulled out the notebook she used to scratch down song lyrics and grocery lists. The producers had all their phones, or she would have just texted the man. Instead, she scribbled a note: What is going on with you?
She handed him the notebook and pen. He frowned at her, so she cocked a brow and shoved them toward him again.
With a dramatic sigh, Jax took the notebook and scribbled out a note.
I want to be alone with you so we can talk.
She bit her lip as her heart did a little flutter but then dove to the pit of her stomach. Good talk or bad talk?
He read her note and responded. Every day getting to know you talk. Without the cameras.
She looked at the cameraman and sank back. Shall we get “lost” in the crowd somewhere?
He chuckled as he wrote YES! and underlined it three times.
Getting lost in the crowd wasn’t nearly as easy for Jax as it used to be. As soon as they climbed out of the car at the beach, people stopped and stared and whispered. Instead of the usual “Look, it’s Jax Landry,” he heard “Look, it’s them! Jax and Kendra!”
Perfect. He’d been down this road before. Kendra, however, hadn’t and she looked like she wanted to run. He took her elbow and pulled her along. “Gotta get in the crowd to get lost in the crowd,” he reminded her under his breath.
He didn’t miss, nor did he mind, the way she stood close to him as the number of notebooks shoved in their faces grew. “Smile and sign,” he instructed as he dove into his role of superstar. He hated how that familiar feeling washed over him. How easy it was to slip into this façade. But this time was different—this time was better. Kendra was with him looking terrified behind her frozen smile. The only good part was the crowd was closing in and pushing the cameraman out of the way.
“So, ladies,” he said as he scribbled his name on a napkin for someone. “Remember that time we ran off from the cameraman.”
“That was so romantic,” a girl with braces said as she put her hand to her heart and rolled her eyes back.
Kendra started to speak, undoubtedly to put an end to the notion of it being romantic, but Jax spoke over her. “Would you mind helping us get away this time?”
Eyes lit with excitement and squeals of “OMG!” made his ears want to bleed. “You guys just stay here,” he said as he grabbed Kendra’s hand.
“Wait,” one girl pleaded. “Can I get a picture of you guys together?”
Jax slid his arm around Kendra’s shoulders and pulled her close. Putting his head to hers, he smiled in the charming way he’d been taught by all those photographers.
“Oh my gosh,” someone gushed. “They are so cute.”
Kendra again started to speak, but Jax gave her a gentle shove. “Okay. We’re sneaking out on that side. You guys stay here for about three minutes to give us a head start. Yeah?”
“Yeah,” the chorus of fans sang.
Taking Kendra’s hand again, Jax pulled her through the gushing young women toward the boardwalk. Though other people noticed them, he kept a steady pace, not stopping for any more autographs or selfies with fans. He had a purpose, a mission, and he wasn’t giving up until he put some distance between them and the show.
“Jax,” Kendra said with a breathless laugh. “Slow down.”
“Here.” He pulled her into one of his favorite little restaurants.
She stepped inside and inhaled. Grabbing his arm, she moaned and looked at him. “Do you smell that?”
“Best burgers I’ve found in LA.”
“I’m going to eat them all.”
He laughed as he gestured toward the end of the line. “Let’s start with one and go from there.”
He watched her as she eyed the menu, looking over the various offerings. She was so damned amazing. Not just her looks, but everything. He couldn’t deceive her. He couldn’t.
She looked at him before he could tell her the secret he’d been carrying for days. “What do you get?”
He stuttered for a moment. “The double bacon with everything and large fries.”
She sighed, a big contented sound, before looking at him. Then her smile fell a bit. “What?”
“I need to tell you something. Something that happened after last week’s show.”
Her smile was completely gone by the time he finished. “What?”
He took a breath, but before he could tell her about the position he’d been put into—flirt with Kendra or she’d be kicked off the show—the cameraman reappeared at the door of the restaurant. “Damn it,” he whispered.
She put her hand to his arm, but then turned and noticed. “I knew something happened. You’ve been so out of sorts.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he whispered.
He nodded her forward when the person in front of them moved along. “You order onion rings and I’ll get fries so we can split.”
She grinned. “Brilliant.” She stepped forward to order and he looked back. The cameraman shrugged and tried to look sympathetic but Jax suspected he wasn’t the least bit sorry for stopping him from confessing the plot to use his connection to Kendra as a ratings ploy.
Kendra simply smirked as Randi went on and on about her “date” with Jax. He took her for sushi. That amused Kendra endlessly considering Jax had told her that he didn’t like sushi. He said that right before shoving his burger in his mouth and dripping ketchup down his chin. Ketchup that Kendra had reached out and wiped away without thinking twice about it.
She still wanted to crawl under a rock over that one.
But the way he’d looked at her had made the embarrassment worthwhile. Damn it. She wanted to deny it, but she couldn’t. There was something there. Something she couldn’t explain. Something she couldn’t understand.
Something that was going to break her heart and get her into a world of trouble on this show.
“We decided I’m going to sing ‘Let’s Get Physical.’” Randi’s tone clearly intended to insinuate something.
“Because he thinks you need the exercise?” Shera asked without missing a beat, causing Kendra to chuckle.
Randi smirked her own condescending smile. “Go ahead and tell yourself that,” she said before sauntering off.
“She is such a ho.”
“She’s certainly trying,” Kendra said as she scribbled in her notebook.
“What are you working on?”
Kendra glanced up and felt heat settle over her cheeks. She flipped the book over. “Nothing.”
Shera immediately grinned mischievously. “Kendra. Show me.”
“No. It’s just…”
Shera nabbed the notebook and darted off before Kendra could stop her. “Shera! Does privacy mean anything to you?”
She ran after her, catching up to her by the pool outside. Shera had stopped running and no longer looked amused. Shoving the notebook into Kendra’s chest, she stormed back into the house. Ken didn’t have to look at the page she’d been doodling on. She’d memorized the notes she and Jax had passed in the car. She didn’t know why she was reading them now, or drawing flowers in the margin of the page. But she knew she should have torn that page out and ripped it to shreds before anyone else saw it.
“What happened?” Jax asked coming up to her.
She closed the notebook before he could see that she’d obsessively drawn on the page with his handwriting. “I think she read more into something than she should have. I’ll talk to her.”
She smiled and nodded, leaving him to watch after her as she left. She didn’t have to glance back to know that he hadn’t turned around. She could see his reflection in the glass door. He stood there watching her leave and the cameraman behind him was recording every moment of it. Upstairs, she found Shera on her bed, digging through her candy stash.
“Seriously? You’re pissed over a couple of notes.”
“I was teasing before, you know. About how Jax likes you. But it’s true isn’t it?” She stopped shuffling lollipops and licorice and looked up. “Do you like him or are you just manipulating him like everyone is saying?”
“What?” she dropped on Shera’s bed.
Tossing her bag aside, Shera narrowed her eyes. “You don’t seem like the type to sleep your way to the top, Ken, but that’s how it looks.”
“I’m not sleeping with Jax!”
“Yet.” She reached into her bag and blindly pulled out a piece of butterscotch. She unwrapped the candy and popped it into her mouth. “None of us stand a chance if you’re involved with him. Not even me. You know that, right?”
Kendra looked down. “I’m not involved with him, Sher.”
“Do you want to be?”
“No,” she said. “I mean, I like him and all but…not like that.” She was lying. She knew she was lying. But Shera smiled and hugged her, whispering her thanks Kendra’s ear as the camera zoomed in on the moment.