Giggling and batting her eyelashes, the slightly tipsy blonde in the low-cut dress leaned closer and ran her hand up Tyler Gaylord’s jean-clad thigh while at the same time showing off her assets under the flashing colored lights of the nightclub. Tyler doubted this was the first time she’d made a move like this. She was too smooth and practiced, confident even, of his reaction. In fact, he didn’t even recall exactly how he’d ended up here on this sofa in the corner with her hand on his leg. He’d been talking to a cute little redhead and then suddenly she was gone and this one was sitting next to him.
It didn’t matter though, not really. For the most part the fans were all the same. There were a few exceptions but they were too far and few between to worry about, their numbers statistically insignificant. The females wanted to brag that they’d slept with a movie star. He wanted a respite from the unholy demands of his career. As long as they didn’t expect more than one night he was happy to give them the fantasy. It was when they had bigger expectations that things went awry.
“Let’s go to your place,” she said in a husky, come hither tone he could barely hear over the loud techno music. The floor vibrated under his feet and his ears were going to ring later. “I know just what you need to help you relax.”
Taking a sip from his whiskey, he grinned lazily. “I’ll just bet you do, darlin’. You’re probably an expert.”
“He’s already relaxed. He doesn’t need any help.”
Sighing, Tyler turned toward the voice. A voice he’d heard pretty much every day for the last five years – either in person or over the phone. “Awww, baby. You never let me have any fun.”
His best friend and nagging conscience Wilhemina “Billie” Oliver put her hands on her hips and shook her head. “You have more fun than any one man should be allowed. Which brings me to why I’m standing here. You have a photo shoot tomorrow and you need to get some sleep. The real kind where you don’t wake up with bags under your eyes. Let’s get a move on.”
Knocking back the last of his drink, he shrugged at the blonde. “What can I say? She’s the boss.”
Billie wasn’t his actual boss, but she thought she was and he went along with it. Most of the time. The fact was she was usually right about things so he was smart to listen to her.
But apparently the blonde wasn’t going to give up easily. Clinging to him like a vine, she shot a nasty look over her shoulder toward Billie before looking up at him with sheer adoration.
“Come on, baby. A little while longer isn’t going to make any difference. This party is just getting started.”
Rolling her eyes and sighing loudly, Billie checked her watch. “He’s been partying for a week straight. Now I’m leaving, Ty, and you can come with me or stay here. It’s not my job to drag your half-drunk ass out of nightclubs but I’m taking the limo, so good luck getting home.”
She wasn’t fucking kidding either. The last time Billie had threatened to leave him she’d done it and he’d had to call an Uber to get him home, which had cost him sixty bucks, an autograph, and a selfie that ended up on Instagram with the caption Tyler Gaylord drunk as a skunk. His publicist had bitched about that for weeks. That is until the next time Tyler had given him something else to have a stroke about.
“I’m coming so don’t leave without me. Keep your panties on.”
Another heavy sigh from Billie. Funny how she did that a whole bunch around him. It was kind of a habit. Staggering to his feet, the blonde kept a hold of his arm. Persistent.
“Baby, don’t leave. Forget about her,” she said with a sneer. “She doesn’t look like she’s enough woman to handle a man like you.”
Not that he wouldn’t enjoy a cat fight between the blonde and Billie…because he would…but it wasn’t a good idea. Billie would kick this girl’s ass from here to Barstow and back. She could be meaner than a snake and damn if she didn’t play dirty. The last time he’d wrestled with her on the floor of his television room she’d kicked him in the balls because she didn’t want to watch Star Wars for the two-hundredth time.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Billie ground out, tucking her phone back in her tiny purse. She’d explained to him long ago that women had different handbags for different occasions. “I’m out of here. See you tomorrow.”
Just like that, she’d turned on her high heels and strode out of the VIP section of the very loud and incredibly dark Hollywood nightclub. If the limo was already at the entrance, she’d be on the road in less than five minutes.
Tyler managed to peel the blonde’s hands off of him, all the while wearing the smile he was so famous for. “Sorry, but I’ll have to take a raincheck. Duty and all that. I’ll call you, okay?”
Nodding eagerly, she stopped trying to pull him back. “You will? That’s coo—” She wasn’t as dumb as some of the others because she immediately jumped up from the sofa they’d been reclining on. “Wait, you don’t have my number. How are you going to call me?”
Tyler didn’t answer, instead slipping into the crowd and disappearing in the mass of bodies, all his attention trained in front of him. He needed to catch up to Billie before she left without him. Dammit, he wasn’t letting her get away with this again. He caught a glimpse of the white and silver dress he’d helped her pick out and the long sable-colored hair she’d pulled back into a ponytail. Reaching out his arm, he captured her wrist with his fingertips.
“Baby, slow down. I’m coming with you. Don’t have a cow. You’re impatient as hell tonight. I should have left you at home.”
Stopping in the middle of a crowd, she gave him an incredulous look. “I wish you had but you begged me to come to this stupid nightclub opening. I would have happily stayed in tonight but you said you needed the company.”
Tyler grinned at her feisty nature. It was one of the reasons he adored her. She didn’t give a rat’s ass who or what he was. Movie star or ditch digger. Billie Oliver treated him exactly the same, never letting him get away with anything. It was the number one reason they were such close friends. She was truly his best friend and he didn’t use that term lightly.
He rubbed his chin, playing dumb. “I don’t remember begging.”
She flicked him on the side of the head, not hard enough to cause any pain but enough to get his attention. “Then you ought to see a doctor because you might have had a series of small strokes. You begged me to go. On your knees, no less. Do you know your name and what year it is?”
He leaned down so he was speaking softly into her ear. “I’m Batman and it’s the Year of the Rooster.”
Billie never stayed mad at him for long and tonight was no exception. Her scowl had turned to a smile and she was openly laughing at him. “Close enough. Can the Dark Knight help me wade through this crowd? The limo should be out front waiting for us.”
“My pleasure, baby girl. Hold tight and I’ll get us out of here.”
Good to his word, he had them standing on the sidewalk in less than ninety seconds. He tucked them both into the limo before leaning back against the leather seats and closing his eyes. Billie was right. He had been partying hard this week, but he’d been celebrating finishing a movie. When he was working, he worked. He didn’t drink much or stay up until all hours. He focused on the job at hand and buckled down. He loved being an actor and he never took the privilege for granted. He was one lucky son of a bitch. But in between he liked to cut loose a little.
“You look like hell,” Billie said bluntly, grabbing a bottle of water from the bar in the back. “Drink this. You don’t want to be dehydrated tomorrow for the photoshoot. It will show in your skin.”
He chugged down half of it in one gulp. “I have been burning the candle at both ends. Thanks for coming with me tonight.”
Billie nudged him with her knee. “Not mad at me for dragging you out of there? She was pretty.”
Tyler only had vague recollections of the woman’s face.
“They all are. And I’m not mad. You’re right. I have to be up early in the morning.”
Snorting, Billie kicked off her shoes and wriggled her toes. “Blondie looked like the man-eating type. I think you got out just in time. You might have made the newspapers in the morning but not the gossip columns.”
It was a running joke between them that he met so many people a certain percentage of them just had to be serial killers. Clearly they’d watched too much television.
“How do you think she would have done it?” he teased, finishing off the water bottle.
“I know how I would,” Billie drawled with a grin. “Say goodbye to the family jewels.”
Covering his package with his hands, he pretended to cower and grimace. “Say it ain’t so, darlin’. Have I pissed you off that much? I thought I’ve been quite charming these last few weeks.”
Tyler had always been a pain in her ass but she didn’t complain all that often. Most of the time she’d been very patient. More so than he deserved.
“No one could ever accuse you of not being charming.”
She didn’t make it sound like a positive attribute though so he changed the subject. He already knew how she was going to react.
“I want you with me at the shoot tomorrow.”
Billie was so predictable sometimes.
“You work for me.”
“You don’t get to do this, Tyler.” She wagged a finger in front of his nose. “I am helping you out because you are between assistants. I am doing you a favor, that’s all.”
“I’m paying you.”
At least he thought he was. Shit, maybe he needed to call his accountant. It would be just like Billie to work for free.
“You’re not even sure about that, are you?” She was openly laughing at him now. He was predictable too. At least to her. “You’re thinking that you need to call your accountant but tomorrow you’ll just tell me to do it.”
“So am I?”
“Paying me? Yes. But I’m still not going tomorrow.”
“I want you there. You know they’re going to put me into some stupid ass outfits and you’ll keep me from saying something I shouldn’t.”
“Your publicist will be there. It will be fine.” She paused for a moment. “I have an audition tomorrow.”
Immediately straightening, he smiled and pulled her in for a hug, burying his face in the sweet-scented crook of her neck. “Baby girl, that’s fantastic. Why didn’t you say so earlier? What’s the role?”
Turning away, Billie shrugged. She was in defensive mode tonight and he should have noticed it right away but he’d been too damn self-absorbed. She only acted like this when she was nervous. “It’s not a big deal so let’s not overdo it. It’s for a recurring role on a series. Just a small thing, you know, a few lines a week.”
“You’ll knock it out of the park. Do you want to run lines? We can rehearse a little bit.”
“No,” she said quickly, shaking her head even before he’d finished asking his question. “I want to get a good night’s sleep. I only have a couple of lines for the audition tomorrow. I think my sparkling personality is going to be much more important and I want to be at the top of my game. It’s been a long time since I worked.”
Tyler remembered her last role over six months ago. A small part in an indie movie. Billie had been great but the director had been a douchebag, trying to get into her pants. When she’d said no her scene hadn’t made the final cut of the film. Tyler still wanted to punch that smug bastard’s lights out. This business was cutthroat and for all Billie’s tough-girl act she had a soft heart.
“I shouldn’t have made you go out tonight. Damn, woman, why didn’t you tell me before?”
“Because it’s not a big deal,” she explained in her most patient tone. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out her phone and pressed a few buttons. The gates of his Hollywood Hills home swung open. “I’ll stop by later tomorrow to see how the photoshoot went.”
The limo pulled around to the back of the mansion where the guest cottage was located.
“Stay in the house with me tonight.”
The vehicle door swung open and the driver extended a hand to help her out. “If I come up to the house you know what will happen. We’ll stay up all night watching movies and eating junk food.”
Those were some of his fondest memories. Since Billie had moved into the guesthouse five years ago, they’d become as close as family. Tyler captured her hand before she was able to escape into the cottage. “Hey, break a leg, cutie.”
He wanted this part for her badly. She needed the ego boost and had been down in the dumps about her career the last few months. This was just what the doctor ordered.
“Thanks. Have fun tomorrow.”
He knew he’d hate every minute of playing dress-up but he smiled for her anyway.
“You and me. Dinner and a Lakers game tomorrow night. Are you in?”
“I’m in.” She tapped the top of the limo twice. Their special signal that everything was good. “Now get out of here and get some sleep or they’re going to have to slap an inch of makeup on you tomorrow.”
Tyler waited until she was inside the cottage and the lights were on. She waved from the front window and then and only then did he let the driver close the limo door and drive around to the kitchen entrance. Someone had to look out for Billie and since she appeared to have no one in her life, he’d decided not long after they’d met it was going to be him. She pretended she didn’t need anyone but that was just her way.
She was the little sister he’d never had, and he was closer to her than just about anyone else on this earth. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for her and vice versa. She wouldn’t ask him what he was doing with a dead body; she’d just grab a shovel and start digging.
He’d trust her with his life. Hell, he’d trust her with something far more important.