A FALLEN STAR…
A hot-mess of controversy and scandal, Dakota Breeze–tarnished pop star of fading fame and fortune–accepts a friend’s offer, taking refuge in a small Midwestern town in order to rehearse her comeback concert in secret. Starstruck is the perfect venue however rehearsals are marred by Dakota’s reluctance to resurrect her former bad-girl persona and complicated by an anonymous death threat.
A HAUNTED BODYGUARD…
Enlisted by a mutual friend, Wyatt MacDermott–a seasoned protection specialist–agrees to act as Dakota’s temporary bodyguard. Forced to set aside a personal grudge in order to fulfill his duties, Mac’s stunned by his fierce and instant attraction to the reckless celebrity he’s long associated with his greatest regret.
Obsessed with conflicting needs and united passion, Dakota and Wyatt spin out of control, indulging in a whirlwind affair and tempting an avenger’s wrath.
starstruck / novella
bc ink, april 13, 2015
Starstruck–a contemporary continuity series by Beth Ciotta, Cynthia Valero, and Elle J Rossi. Three authors. One world. The series heats up with Ciotta’s sexy novella–Obsessed.
what people are saying
Brigantine Beach, NJ
Saturday, June 13, the dawn of trouble
“I need you, Mac.”
He’d waited seven years to hear those words.
Wyatt MacDermott eased away from the woman sleeping in his bed to focus on the woman who’d been his first and last celebrity client. Rusty Ann Baker. An award-winning, chart-busting singing sensation who’d since retired from the business. A woman who’d won and refused his affections. Their friendship, however, was solid and Wyatt was forever in her debt.
Pulling on his shorts, he moved onto the balcony of his fifth-story condo, greeting the sunrise with a dull headache and accelerated pulse. “When and where?”
“Soonest and Starstruck.”
The Midwestern night club she owned and ran along with her new husband. Although they’d been married, hell, two years now. Not so new. “I’ll take the first flight out.”
Straight run from the Jersey Shore to Philly, direct flight to O’Hare, hour drive to Kramer—a landlocked town on the fringes of Chicago. He’d be there before nightfall.
“I’m not interrupting an assignment, am I?”
“In between gigs then.”
“Something like that.” His director, Ian Briggs of Briggs Operations and Security Specialists, aka B.O.S.S., had ordered Wyatt to take some downtime. “Get a life,” he’d said. What he meant was: Get some therapy.
She blew out a breath. “Great. Because I’m not sure how long I’ll need you.”
“I’m in for the haul.”
“Before you commit, you should know the specifics. I know you said, anytime, anywhere, any reason, but—”
“No buts. I’m there.”
“Fine. If it’ll make you feel better, spill.” Wyatt glanced over his shoulder, through the partially opened sliding glass door. He wasn’t hiding this conversation from Suzanne, just affording her a chance to sleep in.
Chance blown she told him with a smile and a cocky wave as she rolled out of bed and into his bathroom.
Friends more than lovers, Wyatt welcomed her casual acceptance of his barely-dawn desertion.
“Dakota Breeze,” Rusty said.
Any warmth Wyatt had felt at the sound of Rusty’s voice froze over at the mention of the tarnished celebrity’s name. A hot-mess of controversy and scandal, Dakota Breeze pushed a lot of people’s buttons. Including Wyatt’s.
“I know you have issues, but she’s a good kid, Mac.”
A matter of opinion and not one Wyatt shared. “She’s not a kid anymore,” he said, skirting deeper thoughts. “She’s what? Thirty? Thirty-one?”
“And still finding her way. Like a lot of other people her age,” Rusty pressed on.
“Anyway, we have a history. Sort of like you and me. May-December. Younger-older—”
“Got it.” The fact that Rusty was sixteen years Wyatt’s senior had never been an issue for him, but damn she’d been conventional on that front. “You’re fond of Dakota which—given the age difference—puts you in mother mode.”
“Don’t be a prick.”
“What do you need, Rusty?” Wyatt focused on the serene waves of the Atlantic as the woman he’d once protected with his life waged her defense for a spoiled pop singer who’d tripped into fame and fortune at age fourteen and, five years later—after a headline grabbing scandal—plunged head first into tabloid torture. A laughing stock before age twenty. A has-been at twenty-one. Dakota Breeze had fumbled through the past ten years with a string of failed projects and broken engagements. Not that Wyatt followed that gossip, but his little sister did. Plus, Dakota’s escapades had been on display at most checkout counters up until she’d faded into relative obscurity.
“Dakota’s people are pushing for a comeback.”
“She says she wants it, too, but I think that’s lip service. She’s spent her entire life trying to please and impress everyone in her circle, not to mention her fans. This isn’t about resurrecting her passion. It’s about feeding a habit. I sensed it when we spoke on the phone. Now that she’s here…”
Rusty trailed off and Wyatt breathed deep. The tang of salt and sea teased his nostrils, but all he smelled was trouble.
“I offered Starstruck as a safe place for Dakota to rehearse her new show. I thought I was doing her a favor, sheltering her from the paparazzi. Who would look for her in Kramer, Illinois? As long as she kept her head in her work and out of the spotlight.”
“I’m guessing that didn’t last long.”
“I blame her entourage. And since Dakota’s bodyguard is a wannabe action star, he tends to attract attention instead of keeping it at bay. I’ve spent the past two days shadowing my friend, fending off curious fans and trying to talk sense into her crafty manager. The man flaunts Dakota’s name everywhere they go. How long before the paparazzi shows up? I don’t have the time or patience to deal with the drama and I’m not keen on burdening my small security crew with keeping Dakota shielded and safe. They’ve got their hands full with monitoring the nightly crowds at Starstruck.”
The thought of Rusty going toe-to-toe with trouble of any sort chafed Wyatt’s ass.
“Where’s Frank?” He’d never met Rusty’s second husband, but he knew from things she’d said that Frank Janus, a top-notch sound tech, was a loving and protective husband—unlike the first asshole she’d said “yes” to.
“Frank’s on tour, filling in for an old friend. He wanted to come home, but I talked him out of it. Abandoning the audio crew and band on little to no notice isn’t his style. And it’s not like my situation is dire. Still, he said he’d feel better if I had additional backup. Since you’re a professional and someone I already trust, he suggested you.”
Wyatt raised a brow. “How does he even know about me?”
“You saved my life, Mac. Of course, I told him about you.”
“Does he know I had a thing for you?” Actually, Wyatt still had a thing for Rusty, but that was his problem, not hers.
“Back in the day, a lot of men had a thing for me.”
He could mention timeless beauty, but that would only make her uncomfortable. Even without seeing Rusty, Wyatt knew, at fifty-two, she still turned heads.
“Frank’s not the jealous sort.”
“Okay. Let’s say I don’t give him any reason to be jealous.”
“That I believe.” Wyatt moved back into his bedroom, nabbing Suzanne’s hand and giving it a squeeze before she made her exit. Alone now he moved to his laptop, anxious to book a flight. Anxious to race to Rusty’s rescue. “So you want me to keep the paparazzi and fans in line so you and your team can focus on business as usual.”
“I want you to afford Dakota the privacy she needs to get her shit together.”
Wyatt punched “book” even as his own reservations rose. As far as he was concerned, Dakota was a self-absorbed train wreck. Her obsession with fame consistently warped her judgment. As a result, she was a proven danger to herself as well as others.
“I want you to protect her from anyone who stresses her out and that includes her entourage. She buckles under pressure. You don’t.”
A woman Wyatt respected, a woman he’d loved, was asking him to coddle someone he resented. “You’re asking me to hold her hand.”
“You held mine.”
“On the rare occasion you let me. Not to mention you were in physical danger at the time.”
“Yeah, well, that’s another thing, Mac. Dakota may be at risk.”
“You know she got some death threats after that concert catastrophe that sparked her famous breakdown, right?”
He shifted, uncomfortable with this discussion, but determined to see it through. “That was twelve years ago.”
“Yeah, but I’m worried news leaked about this comeback and irritated an old wound. I found a letter yesterday. Mixed in with my business mail but addressed to Dakota. I was with her when she opened it. That’s the only reason I’m privy to the content.”
“It was ugly, Mac. A vile worded note basically telling her to retire for good…or else. I wanted to call the police, but Dakota swore me to silence. She said it’s not the first time she’s gotten hate mail, and yes, it’s upsetting, but she’s learned to shrug it off like a bad review. She’s convinced acknowledgment of any sort only fans the flames. I agree to a certain extent, but what if she’s wrong in this instance? What if ignoring the threat is the exact wrong thing to do? At the very least she should alert her team to potential trouble so they can be on the lookout for any suspicious activity, right?”
“That would be a sensible precaution, yes.”
“Except Dakota’s convinced the threat is benign. As such, she doesn’t want to needlessly worry or distract anyone from this brutal preliminary rehearsal. End result, no one in her entourage, including that preening excuse for a bodyguard, knows about the letter.”
“But you’re breaking your promise and telling me.”
“I told Dakota the only way I’d keep the news to myself was if she allowed me to bring in a specialist of my own choice. I told her as long as she’s under my roof she has to abide by my rules.”
Spoken like a confident, caring, and doting mother.
Wyatt kept that thought to himself. He was too busy packing to get into an argument with Rusty. She’d never admit it, but she looked after everyone in her circle with the rabid devotion of a she-wolf, utilizing the same kindness she’d showered on her only son, often setting aside her own needs in deference to others. She gave everyone the benefit of the doubt, even when the rest of the world pegged someone as a bitch or a bastard. It’s what had landed her in a fix with her asshole first husband. Now she was potentially in harm’s way because of Dakota Breeze.
“Since we’re having this discussion,” Wyatt said as he moved into the bathroom to shower, “I assume Ms. Breeze agreed to my protection.”
“But she isn’t happy about it.”
“No, she is not. So, if she’s not very nice to you—”
As much as Wyatt dreaded this job, he didn’t want Rusty to regret reaching out. Although she knew he had a problem with irresponsible celebrities, she wasn’t aware he had a personal beef with Dakota. This, he told himself, was merely a twisted quirk of fate and nothing he couldn’t handle. He’d take a bullet for Rusty. Granting this favor wouldn’t be nearly as painful. At worst, Dakota was salt in an ancient wound and, truth told, Wyatt had a sudden and morbid compulsion to put a crimp in her reckless lifestyle.
“Out of curiosity,” he said, “considering Dakota already has a bodyguard, how are you explaining my presence to her manager?”
“I told Van Mitchell that I didn’t trust his chosen muscle any farther then I could throw him. Starstruck is my club and Dakota is my friend. I don’t want any trouble for either. And as long as they’re rehearsing on my stage—”
“Your house, your rules.” Wyatt smiled a little, remembering what Rusty was like when riled. “So this Mitchell character knows I answer to you, not him.”
“He knows.” She blew out a breath. “You’re a doll to this, Mac. And Dakota… She really is a good kid.”
An unspoken just like you hung in the air as Rusty unintentionally kicked Wyatt’s heart with her undying gratitude.