The Redhead Plays Her Hand
Redhead - 3
This book is dedicated to Professor Jim Miller, who taught me that it can never be too big, it can never be too splashy, and that life is infinitely better with a tap-dancing chorus. Thank you for being the first adult to see my funny, and give me a home and a stage to let my funny fly.
The family that helped to bring the Redhead series is large, loyal, and amazing in their dedication. Not only to me and my craziness as I finished this book but in their dedication to you, the fantastic Redhead Reader. Everyone that helped put this book together always kept you in their mind, and in their hearts, while working to make sure that Grace and Jack got to tell their story, their way.
Thank you to Micki Nuding, the most amazing editor and superhero. This is the first book we got to work on together, and I’m blessed beyond measure to have someone like her at the beginning of my career. Thank you for believing in me and making this my new life.
Thank you to the entire team at Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books, the coolest group of ladies I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. To know that I have your support and your backing means the world.
Thank you to my agent Karen Solem for being as patient and as kind as you have been to a newbie like me. It means so much to have someone like you alongside for this journey.
Thank you to Lauren, Deb, and Sarah for reading patiently and persistently, letting me send you pages at 2 a.m. and then giving me notes, sometimes within twenty minutes. I literally could not have finished this book without you and I’m grateful beyond words to have you all as my sounding board.
Thank you to Jessica, for being my friend since 4th grade and taking this crazy trip with me, for never failing to support and challenge me, and making my new career a dream come true.
Thank you to Nina, one of the best friends and biggest cheerleaders a girl could ask for. When I say this would not have been possible without you, I ain’t just whistling “Dixie.” Even though I can’t whistle . . .
Thank you to my bestie since college and the voice of the Redhead series audiobooks, Keili Lefkovitz. When I found out there was going to be an audio version of these books, I knew immediately that I had to have my girl do the narration. For any of you who love the character of Holly, then you will love Keili’s.
Thank you to my family. To my mom, who knew this was going to happen way before it did, and to my dad, who still can’t believe this has happened but is pleased as punch that it did. To my sister, who bought as many copies of my books as she could and then pimped me to her friends like it was her job.
Thank you to the bloggers, the incredible women who do this because you love it and because you feel the way I do when I read a book I love, that we must tell everyone about it! Thank you for supporting me when no one knew who Jack and Grace were, and made it your business to tell the world.
Thank you to the Nuts Girls, to the readers who have been there since this was one chapter, one idea, one weird take on a giant phenomenon, and have let me be true to my own inner Nuts Girl.
And as always, thank you to Peter, who I’ve been in love with since I was sixteen years old. Thank you for always telling me how cute I am, and for being the only person on the planet who could possibly take me on and live to tell about it. I adore you.
No, I can’t do this.”
“You have to do this. You promised you’d try.”
“I know what I said, but now that it’s time, I’m too nervous.”
“A promise is a promise.”
“You can’t make me do something I don’t want to, you know . . .”
“Okay, we’re going to try this again . . . We can go as slow as you need. Ready, love?”
“Jesus, I guess . . . I still can’t believe I agreed to this . . . This hurts so much.”
“You’ll feel better once we get going, I promise.”
I closed my eyes, took a breath, opened them once more, and nodded. His eyes met mine in the mirror, and he grinned that grin he knew always won me over.
I dug my hands into his hair, running my fingers through the silky curls and scratching at his scalp. I blinked back tears. I lifted a chunk straight up, picked up the scissors . . . and cut.
And cut some more.
He kept encouraging me because he wanted it short.
When he’d first asked me to cut his hair, I’d refused. I told him no way. He reminded me that if he got this done at a salon, it would be on Twitter within minutes, and the paparazzi would surround the place.
“But I love your curls. I need your curls! Please don’t make me cut it. I-I-I’ll do anything!” I begged, kneeling at his feet dramatically. We may have been in the shower at the time.
“Would you not make such a big deal about this? But as long as you’re down there . . .” He grinned, and I stood up immediately.
“Hell no. You cut that hair, and you can wave good-bye to any kind of oral action. Your Mr. Hamilton will not be very happy about that,” I threatened, picking up the shower gel. The scent of coconuts filled the air.
“Bollocks, I can play that game too. You want to go without? I can remove certain things from the menu as well.”
You can’t let him take that off the menu . . .
Dammit. He had me. A day without oral is simply a day not worth living.
So here we were, in the guest bathroom, inches and inches of glorious shaggy blond hair on the floor around us, as his grin got bigger and bigger.
And my frown got, well, frownier and frownier.
By the time he felt I had butchered it successfully, I was almost in a full-on meltdown.
“Jesus, George, I ruined it!”
It was sticking up in places, flat in others, and just generally a disaster area. It looked like a five-year-old had cut it.
“Hmm, it does have a sort of whacked look to it, doesn’t it, love?” He laughed, running his hands through it, throwing an errant curl to the floor.
“I may vomit,” I whined, setting down the scissors.
“Come on, Crazy, finish it.” He pressed the clippers into my hand.
Clippers? “Finish it?”
“How many grunts do you know without a buzz cut?” he asked, trying on his new southern accent. Alabama by way of London, interesting combo.
“When you said you needed to get ready for this movie, I had no idea I was going to have to bear the brunt of it.” I sighed and picked up the clippers after he adjusted the setting. He’d dialed it way down. This was gonna be short.
“How exactly are you bearing the brunt of this?” he asked, pulling me between his legs as I stood before him.
“I’m the one who has to look at you, Sweet Nuts.” I winked.
“Buzz me,” he commanded, eyes twinkling.
I buzzed away. As the hair continued to fall, we talked about our schedules, all the changes that were to come.
Jack’s name was on every woman’s lips across the world, in every woman’s dreams, and on every casting director’s hot list. Holly, my best friend and Jack’s agent as well as mine, had been flooded with offers. Directors, producers, talk-show hosts—everyone wanted a piece of him.
And I had a piece of him. Frequently.
Before the success of Time, a movie based on a series of popular erotic short stories that had been released this past fall, Jack Hamilton had been your average, ordinary British-guy-about-Hollywood. At only twenty-four, he had been in a few small, independent films and acted a bit in repertory theater, but once he was cast as Joshua, the Super Sexy Scientist Guy who traveled through time, seducing women across the centuries, his life changed. He was now one of the hottest young actors in Hollywood, and Holly was determined that he would not just be another flash in the pan.
Holly Newman was a great friend and a great agent. She had a killer instinct and was known for finding new talent. She had carefully crafted the careers of several of the most respected actors currently working, and she was poised to do the same for Jack. Declining several big-budget action films, she now guided Jack to a smaller film: a gritty, documentary-style picture about soldiers in Afghanistan. Jack could easily have headlined a huge summer blockbuster, but instead he chose to work in an ensemble cast, where the story was important.
And what was really important right now was shaving his head. He was a young soldier from Alabama, and he needed to look the part. Sigh.
“Did you just sigh, Grace?”
“I did.” I took one last pass with the clippers and smoothed my hand over his shorn scalp.
“Is it really that bad?” he asked, nerves flitting over his face.
I smiled and scratched at his head. He leaned into it, just as he always had, and I looked carefully at him. The green eyes were the same, beginning to darken just the tiniest bit as my hand stroked the back of his neck. His hands tightened on my hips, drawing me close again. His hair was gone, but the heat was still there. In fact, his features seemed even stronger now. Cheekbones, jaw, everything even more chiseled, and his two days’ worth of scruff even sexier than usual. His tongue dipped out of his mouth just so, teeth then nibbling on that lower lip in the way he knew would evoke a response.
“I have to admit, now that I can truly appreciate it, it’s kind of . . . hmmm,” I ventured.
“Kind of . . .”
“Sexy. Really?” His thumbs traced a tiny pattern along the skin just above my drawstring. Which he was now tugging on.
“Yes, yes, it’s true. Even with my butchering your hair, you’re still the sexiest man in America.” I sighed again, this time in a different way, as his thumbs fumbled apart the buttons on my shirt.
“Only America?” He laughed, his newly cropped fuzzy head tickling at the skin below my jaw as he nuzzled into my neck.
“You’re pushing it, George,” I warned, my stern voice giving way to giggles that broke free as he pushed me up against the bathroom door.
“Only America?” he insisted, raising my hands and holding them over my head.
“Okay, the Americas. North and South combined.” I bumped my hips into his as he pressed into me.
“Speaking of south,” he breathed into my ear, one hand slipping slowly beneath my . . .
“Who the hell is that?” he muttered, keeping me pushed against the door, hand continuing its path toward my . . .
Ding dong. Ding dong.
“It might be Michael. He said he might stop by tonight.” I slid out from in between Jack’s body and the door and looked at myself in the mirror. Rumpled, flushed, happy.
“Bloody Michael,” he grumbled, grabbing for me as I made for the door.
“Bloody nothing. You two are friends now. Behave yourself.” I laughed, dancing away from his grab as I headed out into the hallway and toward the front door.
“Finishing this later!” he called after me, and my heart skipped a little.
“I’ll hold you to that,” I called back, thinking of all the ways he could and would finish this. And how I would most certainly let him. Since Jack and I had started seeing each other last year, the chemistry between us had been and remained off the charts. He’d finish it. He’d finish me right off a cliff.
I laughed as I heard him groan, knowing he was adjusting himself not so discreetly now. I straightened myself up a bit, then opened the door to see my friend Michael smiling back at me.
“Sure took you long enough,” he chided.
“I was detained.” I gestured for him to come in as he looked at my feet and laughed.
“You look like the missing link. Something you want to tell me?” He pointed down.
I looked and noticed I had clumps of Jack’s hair between my polished toes.
“Ah, well, haircut gone bad,” I explained, waving him inside as I went to the kitchen to get a broom. I had left a trail.
“Haircut gone great, you mean,” Jack corrected, coming into the kitchen and running his hand over his head.
“Wow, what happened to you?” Michael chuckled, brown eyes full of mischief.
Michael and I had gone to college with Holly and had been friends for years. Well, we had been friends, until a one-night stand clouded everything that had been good and made it ugly. We didn’t speak for years, and then through a series of coincidences, he ended up casting me in his new musical a few months ago. This time another near miss of a one-night stand had almost ruined everything, but we came to our senses and remained great friends.