Although Let Me Count the Ways is technically the third book in the LA Love Lessons trilogy, It might actually take place before the other two books. Not that it matters all that much since all the books can be read as stand-alone stories. Claire—the heroine of Let Me Count the Ways—is the former girlfriend of Derek, the hero of Waiting for the Big One and Going To The Chapel.
Gabby and Derek are really the glue that holds the series together. As I said earlier, they just kept popping up in the other stories.
She’s thinking fling, he’s thinking forever.
Sexy former film star Claire Calhoun is used to having her pick of studly young men. Now that she and Derek have called it quits, however, the actress-turned-entrepreneur is feeling vulnerable.
After one mojito too many at a party one night, she decides it would be fun to try something new-in this case, Mike Sherman, her staid accountant and long-time fan.
Claire has been Mike’s fantasy since the first time he saw her bare it all for the camera. Now that she’s in his bed he’ll do whatever’s necessary to keep her there. But he’s not a stalker, right? He’s just a devoted fan.
* * * * *
The gallery was crowded. The music was loud and not to my liking. And although some of the art on display was interesting enough, let’s face it; I wasn’t in the market for any more investments. I’d sunk almost everything I had into The Body Electric, which was still in its ‘hot new thing’ phase. Sure, business was good—for now. But who knew how long that would last?
Still, the evening wasn’t a total loss. The drinks were complimentary and the bartender was to die for. I sipped my mojito and looked him over once again.
He caught my look and smiled. “How is everything?” he asked, meaning my drink.
“Just delicious,” I replied, making sure he knew I didn’t.
Could I just say right here that I love men? For, oh, so many reasons. Just the sheer maleness of them. Even the sight of a five o’clock shadow on a rugged, square chin can turn me on. Can make my skin burn. Can make my fingers itch with the urge to touch and make me quiver as I imagine soft, sandpapery warmth in all my most sensitive places. Then there’s the strength in their hands, their fingers. The softness of their lips. The musk of their sweat. I swear those veins that stand out on their arms when they flex their muscles are enough, sometimes, to make me crazy. Not to mention the muscles themselves.
The bartender had it all going on—including a killer smile and a soulful, sweet expression beneath a pair of jet black brows. He was an actor, of course. Just like everyone in this town. At least, everyone under twenty-five. That seems to be the cut-off. By twenty-six you know if you stand the ghost of a chance or are just marking time. If you’re still in the business at twenty-eight it’s because you’ve either tasted success or figured out that there’s nothing else you’re suited for.
When I was twenty-five, I thought I was Money. I had it made. It didn’t last. I wonder, sometimes, if it wouldn’t have been better—for me—if it hadn’t ever happened at all. Sure, I wouldn’t have been famous, but maybe I’d have been happy instead.
Some days it feels like I gave up a lot to get here. Others, it feels like I gave up too much. Still, even on those other days, fame does have its perks. Maybe especially on those days. I’m a name. I’m a face. And I could still recall how the game was played.
“What’s your name, sweetie?” I asked, getting into the role.
The bartender’s eyes lit up. “Javier,” he replied, with another deadly smile.
I pushed my glass across the bar and returned his smile with one of my own; every bit as lethal. “Well, Javier, the ice in my drink has begun to melt. Why don’t you be a darling and see if you can’t find a way to freshen it up for me, okay?”
His smile disappeared. “Right away, Miss Calhoun,” he said as he hustled away.
“Claire,” I murmured watching him run. Have I mentioned he had a nice butt, too? “Call me Claire.”
Would Javier sweetie really be quite so attentive if I was just a washed-up, not quite middle-aged, no-one-in-particular? Not bloody likely. But even tarnished stars still have some shine. No doubt he thought I could open doors for him. That I knew people who knew people who would give him a break. And maybe I did. Maybe I would. For a price.
Cold? Possibly. But don’t expect me to shed any tears over yet another aspiring Adonis. This town is full of them. And, male or female, we all have to pay our dues. There’s only one real difference between Javier and me and it’s this: when I was in his shoes I was wearing heels.
In less than a minute, he was back with a fresh new mojito. I smiled my thanks.
“So, Claire, what are you doing after the party tonight?” he leaned in to ask, ambition gleaming brightly in those sweet brown eyes. No doubt he’d checked out the room while he was re-filling my drink. He’d obviously concluded that I was either the biggest name here or the easiest to hit on. Maybe both. The next move was mine.
Before I had a chance to make it, however… “Red wine, please,” a man’s deep voice ordered sharply.
Startled, Javier scrambled back to work. I turned to find Mike looming menacingly behind me. He looked quite resplendent tonight, if a little grim, dressed in charcoal pin-stripes paired with an olive silk shirt.
“Nice suit,” I said, as I took it all in. “Fioravanti?”
Mike snorted in amusement. “Don’t I wish. No. Dolce and Gabbana.”
“Also nice.” I continued to study him, idly twirling the straw around in my glass. “You clean up good.”
“Thank you,” Mike said, shooting another stern glance in Javier’s direction. The slight clenching of his jaw drew my attention higher, to the small, brownish gold stone shining in his left ear lobe.
“Is this new?” I asked, reaching up to touch it, my fingers grazing his cheek as I did.
Mike’s eyes widened into an astonished expression. His gaze flew to my face.
“Oops.” I grinned. “Sorry. I guess my fingers are cold, huh?”
Mike shook his head. “No. Not at all.” Red stained his cheekbones. His skin felt very warm against my fingers.
“Liar.” Clucking my tongue, I withdrew my hand. My eyes, however, stayed locked with his and a familiar thrill ran through me. I love being desired. Who doesn’t? I love that flash of heat that flares in a man’s eyes when he wants you. I could see it in Mike’s eyes now and it made it hard to look away.
“Your wine, sir,” Javier murmured from somewhere far away. We both ignored him.
“You don’t wear that all the time, do you?” I asked.
“Not very often. Just special occasions.”
“Oh? So is this a special occasion?”
Mike nodded gravely. “Yes. Most definitely.”
I dropped my gaze then, and sipped my drink. “Well I think it’s a waste to save it for something like that. It looks good on you. You should wear it all the time.”
“Maybe I will.”
Behind me, I could hear Javier moving away to help someone else. “But what’s all this?” I asked, gesturing at Mike’s suit again. “You’ve been holding out on me. I had no idea you had such exquisite taste. Don’t tell me. I bet you keep an entire wardrobe locked up in your office in case of last minute invitations from thoughtless clients. Don’t you?”
He smiled. “No. And you’re certainly not thoughtless. I went home to change.”
“Oh? Where’s home?”
Now it was my turn to be surprised. “Wow. That’s quite a drive.”
“It can be,” he agreed. “But it’s worth it. It’s like living in another world out there. In a matter of minutes, you can be at the beach. And in another few minutes, you’re back in town. Or not—depending on the traffic, of course.”
Mostly not, I thought, nodding. “I haven’t been in years. But I remember thinking it was beautiful there. I shot a few pictures out that way.”
“I know. I’ve seen them.”
“Have you?” I sincerely hoped not! The films I shot in Topanga Canyon fell squarely in the dues-I’d-paid-when-I-was-too-young-to-know-any-better category. Definitely not the kind of thing I’d want associated with my name today. I shouldn’t even have mentioned them. “So, tell me about your home,” I said, just to change the subject. “Big place? New?”
Mike sipped his wine and shook his head. I snagged a lavender and goat cheese empanada from one of the trays that were being circulated.
“No, actually, it’s very small,” Mike said. “Just two bedrooms, not quite half an acre. But it’s just me, after all, so I don’t need much space. And I had a hand in designing it, so I’m partial to it.”
“You design houses?” I asked around a mouthful of pastry.
“Well, no. Just the one. Architecture has always been a passion of mine. And, besides, it was years ago.”
He was full of surprises tonight, but my mouth was full and before I could learn more, we were interrupted by some of my staff from work, including Derek along with his new friend, coming up to say hello. When I turned back to continue our conversation, Mike was gone.
“Can I freshen that drink for you, Claire?” Javier asked hopefully. But I was no longer in the mood.
I flashed a smile. “Sorry, sweetie. Not tonight.” Then I stuffed some bills into the tip glass and slipped into the crowd.
I planned on making one more circle around the room before I left. There was only one thing I wanted this evening, and I was damned unlikely to get it. I knew now what was making me feel so out of sorts, and could only wonder why I hadn’t figured it out sooner. It’d had been months since I had anyone to warm my bed. Months! I was horny. Worse yet, I was lonely. Auto-eroticism might be the safest sex there is, but it can also be the most boring. The best vibrator in the world is still nothing you’re gonna be thrilled to wake up beside in the morning. My mood was only going to be improved by one thing. A fling. An affair. A good, old fashioned shag-fest with a real live human being.
But, who? Ah, now, that was the question.
My lovers, over the years, have pretty much fallen into two basic categories—powerful, influential older men or those who were young, hot and hungry. Lately there hadn’t been many of the older ones and, frankly, I didn’t miss them. I’d long since tired of being used as a prop. Something to bolster their sagging egos, their flagging careers, their diminished mental acuity. Or anything else that had gone soft on them.
But, to be honest, I wasn’t in the mood for someone like Javier tonight, either.
Young men… well, sometimes they’re just too damn young. It’s tiring. Trying to impress them, trying to keep up with them, trying not to mother them—who needs it?
The plain truth was, both young and old, most men would want something from me tonight that I didn’t want to give: A performance. I didn’t want to act young or adoring or impressed tonight. I didn’t want to act innocent or worldly. I didn’t want to act at all. All I wanted was sex—hot, sweaty and satisfying—with a man who wanted the same exact thing. And who wanted me just for myself.
But where would I find someone like that? Nowhere in this room, that was certain. Probably nowhere in this town.
I swept the crowd with a glance, taking in all the players—and they were all players, weren’t they? But no, scratch that. Not all. My eyes settled on Mike, studying one of the paintings on display with every appearance of interest. My heart began to beat a little faster and I smiled.
He’d made no excuses for his presence here. No pretense of a last minute cancellation, a coincidental meeting in the neighborhood, prior plans to be here anyway. He’d made it clear he’d gone out of his way to come here tonight and for no other reason than because I’d invited him.
He was interesting, honest, refreshingly direct in a town where high concept was the official language; where every story had a spin and every conversation was a pitch.
My decision made, I cut short my circuit of the room and headed in his direction.
* * * *
The touch on my arm was soft but insistent. I turned reluctantly from the painting I’d been examining to find Claire smiling at me. Her eyes were wide and luminous and, as often seemed to happen, the sight of her left me tongue-tied.
“I’d like you to take me home tonight,” she said. There was a flush on her cheeks and a strange catch in her voice.
It took a moment for the words to register. When they did, they brought a slight sense of alarm. Obviously, she must have decided she was too drunk to drive herself home. But, surely there were others closer to her that she could have asked for a ride: friends, former lovers, hangers-on, employees. Why me?
Maybe it was more than just drink? Has someone been bothering her? Upsetting her? Hurting her? Someone like Derek, perhaps, flaunting his latest conquest in her face. Or that bartender…
Thinking about it brought a rush of anger that rendered me even more speechless than usual. The urge to protect her was not so much unexpected as it was illogical because, again, there were plenty of others here who’d be better suited for that, as well.
I shook myself out of my stupor. She’d chosen me—why really didn’t matter—and there could be no question as to how I’d respond. “Yes, of course. Certainly. Did you mean now?”
Looking vaguely surprised, Claire nodded. “Well, yes, sure. Unless you’d rather stay?”
“No, not at all,” I assured her. “I’m ready when you are.”
“Good to know.” Her smile peeked out once again. “So then what are we waiting for?”
* * * * *
Let Me Count The Ways can be found at all the usual vendors:
* * * * *
LA Love Lessons: The Complete Trilogy
An aspiring actress searches for her leading man; an amnesiac heiress seeks clues to her true identity; and a tarnished movie star finds love and acceptance in the last place she ever expected. Love like this could only happen in LA.
Includes: Waiting for the Big One, Love, From A to Z, and Let Me count the Ways
Available in print and ebook: