Harlequin FREE Online Read: One Night in the Spotlight by Katherine Garbera
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They’re the picture-perfect couple, but actor Seraphina Samson and race-car driver Lorenzo Romano have a secret. The engagement is over. They’re just playing a couple for the cameras until the right moment comes to announce their split. The problem: Sera likes the spotlight, and Ren wants something more real. But when a staged kiss on the red carpet turns into a night of pure passion, is a reunion in the works? Or is Sera still too busy chasing likes on social media to get a second chance at true love?
May 4, New York
It wasn’t as if Seraphina Samson hadn’t known what life with a Formula One driver would be like. The typical racer was used to the spotlight, had his speed groupies and dealt with the press in his own aloof manner. But from the moment she’d seen Lorenzo Romano, she’d known she wanted him.
At first, it had been purely physical. There was no need to lie about that. Any man who had posed practically nude on the cover of GQ, showing off his washboard abs and his muscled body, wasn’t one to shy away from being labeled hot. He wasn’t as tall as the men she’d dated before, but it wasn’t really an issue for her, even though at five foot nine he was barely an inch taller than she was.
She’d made sacrifices for Ren. She’d worn flats, for God’s sake. She’d taken film roles that would bring her closer to his training facility in Milan, even if they weren’t her first choice. On the plus side, his driving team, Moretti Motors Racing, was building a facility on Long Island that would be much closer to home and superconvenient, if Sera and Ren were still happily engaged, as the world thought they were.
But they weren’t happily engaged. Not anymore.
She glanced at her watch and the empty seat next to her in the limousine she’d hired to take them to the Met Gala. She was wearing something understated since she knew she wouldn’t be able to compete with the over-the-top outfits that many other celebrities would be wearing tonight. Her career had taken off in the last year after she’d done a small, independent film with two of Hollywood’s most respected older actors. This night should be the cherry on top of her meteoric ride to the top and would be if Ren were truly at her side as the love of her life and not along just because of publicity.
They’d been idling in front of Ren’s Central Park West apartment building for ten minutes now. Of course, he would keep her waiting. He had wanted to take their breakup public. It was only when she’d gotten angry and pointed out that she had a book launching in seven days about finding love in the fast lane that he had relented and agreed to keep it a secret for an additional month.
She was pissed as hell at him for this breakup. She didn’t think there was anything that they couldn’t work through, but Ren hadn’t been willing to try to work at it. In fact, he’d been pretty f-ing vague about why he was ending things.
The door to the limo opened and she caught her breath as he climbed into the car. He wore a white dinner jacket that made his jet-black curly hair and deep olive skin seem even warmer. His brown eyes were framed by impossibly long lashes that she’d paid several makeup artists to try to recreate for herself. They’d never come close. And, of course, she loved his cologne.
She gave him a tight-lipped smile. “Thanks for making me wait.”
“I told you I didn’t want to go,” he said tersely as the door closed behind him.
Anger was the only thing that kept her from trying to convince him to get back with her. Pride was driving her to not beg. When he’d first broached the topic of breaking up, she’d asked him to reconsider, tried to get him to open up. But he wouldn’t talk—he was in the middle of the racing season and didn’t really have time to deal with, as he’d put it, “relationship nonsense.”
“Sorry you have to go to a nice dinner for a good cause,” she said.
“Me, too,” he replied, not acknowledging her sarcasm. “Remember, I’m leaving this weekend for Spain.”
“And remember, we have the morning show appearance the day after tomorrow for Organized Girls Run The World.” Sera was a brand ambassador for the charity. “Do you need a wake-up call?”
“Nope. I’ll be there,” he said. “Are you still coming to the race?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m going to do a pretaped interview about my book for the Spanish market. I can promote it while I’m there. Then I’m off to Cannes. I expect you to be there.”
During their tense back-and-forth about schedules, they’d arrived in front of the drop-off point for the red carpet. She took a deep breath as the car stopped.
“Is there any other way to be with you?” he asked.
Sera had an ethereal quality about her that always made it hard for him not to stare at her. Tonight, as they exited the car and stepped onto the red carpet, he was even more tempted by her. She wore a slim-fitting evening dress with a halter neckline. And when she turned toward the waiting cameras a jolt of pure lust went through him as he saw that her entire back was naked.
This was why he should have just said screw it and walked away. He never had any control when he was with her. Anger and hurt wasn’t really much of a defense against Sera’s potent sexuality. He’d tried to use it to give himself some distance, but it had worked about as well as driving a soapbox derby car at a grand prix.
But he couldn’t take it anymore. He was ending things because, as much as he enjoyed the woman Sera was when they were alone, he hated that she had to share everything with her public. That she was always trying to get the perfect photo or frame everything they did so that it would make the rest of the world envious. He’d tried to show her that he wanted a life away from the spotlight but Sera wasn’t truly alive without an audience and he’d never felt like an audience of one—namely, him—was enough for her.
She turned that elegant head of hers and glanced back at him. The twinkle in her eye and her slight grin told him she was fully aware of the effect her dress was having on him. The lust that ran between them worked both ways. She was just as susceptible to him as he was to her.
He put his hand on the small of her back, feeling her naked skin and the delicate shiver that went through her. He heard her intake of breath as he dipped one finger below the fabric of her dress and touched the top of her butt. The gooseflesh spread up her back as a volley of paparazzi cameras captured their arrival. He could say that he was blinded by the flashes, but he knew the truth.
It was Seraphina who made it hard for him to see anything but her. Their eyes met as the press clamored for them to pose together. He could make excuses and say that he’d pulled her into his arms because he knew that there was a barely a month left before they ended things. Or that his image demanded he show the world that he was hot on and off the track. But he knew that he did it because it had been two weeks, three days, seven hours and twenty-one minutes since he’d last held her.
And quitting Sera was like trying to go cold turkey by driving 300 miles around a track. He couldn’t do it. He’d missed everything about her, he thought. Not enough to put aside the fear that he felt when he was with her, but he still craved her.
He pulled her against him, felt the brush of her breasts against his chest. Her fingers were cold when she brushed them against his jaw. As he dipped her slightly and brought his mouth down toward hers, she put her free hand on his shoulder, digging her nails into him through the layers of his jacket and shirt. Her breath was minty and warm, and her eyes drifted closed one moment before their lips met.
The world slipped away as he held her in his arms and kissed her. He often thought that this was when she was the most real. When she forgot about the flashbulbs and her followers. Forgot about the film she was promoting or her latest book release. Forgot to be the woman the world saw and was just his woman.
But even that was a lie because as real as this kiss felt, Sera had never been his woman. She’d been the woman the world wanted her to be. Even this kiss was a performance for the cameras, no matter how much he was enjoying it.
She wanted the world to love her, but where did that leave him? He wasn’t willing to compete with her fans for her attention. And he hadn’t been born to be anyone’s sidekick.
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