Chapter 2, Part 2

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Chapter 2

Bring It On

"Yip-yip. Rrrrrrr-uff."

"Hold still, Mopette." Wendy clutched the wet, wriggling Maltese under one arm while toweling off her sandy paws. They'd just been for a run along the beach in front of Halden's Malibu beach house, rebuilt after it was burned to the concrete foundation in a terrible California fire.

Halden had magnanimously agreed to dog-sit the white Maltese while his ex-wife Candy closed the deal on the purchase of a home in New York City. In practice, it fell to Wendy to take care of the little terror along with her other duties as his personal assistant. Not that she minded. She loved Candy's dog and was going to miss her.

She tossed the soiled towel aside, scooped the little dog into her arms and snuggled a cheek against soft, damp fur. "Poor Mopette. No more beach runs in your future. You'll go for walks in Central Park." She hoped.

She released Mopette onto the wood balcony. "There you go." Mopette trotted over to her bowl of water in the shade beside the sliding glass doors to the house. Wendy sank onto a lounge chair and took a long pull from her water bottle.

Halden had been so ecstatic about Candy's relocation to a city far, far away that he'd agreed to pay for an Upper West Side apartment as part of the divorce settlement.

Newly single, new homes, new start for both.

With Candy out of the picture at last, Wendy intended to make the most of the opportunity. She flipped long, blond, straightened hair over her shoulders and wiggled to get comfortable. She felt pretty. Ariana Grande pretty. Well, maybe not that pretty. Wendy had at least twenty extra pounds on her. But maybe pretty enough to be noticed by Halden as a potential date. She closed her eyes and angled her face to catch the setting sun.

Lost in the fantasy of accompanying Halden down a red carpet, she barely registered the swoosh of the sliding glass door behind her.

"Hey, this is private property!"

At the harsh growl she shot to her feet, swiveled. "Halden?"

"Ack!" Indiana Jones' face when he discovered he was standing in a pit of snakes had nothing on Halden's aghast expression. The big man flattened himself against the clapboard exterior, arms splayed wide like a massive bug smashed against a windshield. "Wendy? What the hell have you done!"

"Hello, Halden," she croaked.

Halden advanced a cautious step. "I thought you were a dog-napper." He surveyed her electric blue shorts, sweaty T-shirt, pink running shoes. Then his gaze landed on her hair, faltered, swung away, swung back like a compass needle drawn to magnetic north. "What the-" He swallowed a swear word.

Tears stung her eyes. "Don't you...don't you like it?" She pulled on a strand of dyed blond hair, that, straightened, fell halfway down her back.

"Like it? Like it? I-" Halden's innate politeness kicked in and he shut up. He dropped heavily into a deck chair and stared across at her, wild-eyed. "Take a minute," he ordered himself under his breath. He absently patted Mopette's head. Then a happy thought brightened his face. "It's a wig, right?" He grinned sheepishly, glad to be fooled.

She winced. "No."

His shoulders sagged. "Oh."

The single, disappointed syllable said it all. He thought she looked hideous. Only one thing left to do: escape to her airless studio apartment and cry her eyes out.

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