They lay twined together on the bed, her head resting on his shoulder, his arms draped around her waist. The sheet they'd haphazardly pulled over themselves had pooled around their hips. In the ornate mirror that hung above the bed, Caleb studied the striking image they made. Her dark hair was spread out in stark contrast against the white of the pillows that the hotel had provided them. Her skin, shades darker than his, melded against his, and he stroked his hand up the length of her back, feeling the smooth skin and subtle muscles of her back.
He loved her back.
Under his roving hands, Kyra stretched languidly, nearly purring. "Don't stop," she murmured sleepily, shifting until her forehead rested against his chin, and she breathed in his scent.
"I'll have to at some point," he replied quietly, pressing a soft kiss to her forehead. "We both have planes to catch in a couple of hours."
She sighed a little before propping herself up on his chest and smiling at the satisfied look on his face. "You always look like the cat that ate the canary and is perfectly content."
Caleb brushed his lips over hers as his hand slid up to frame her face. "That's because I love you."
The simple words still sent a rush of feelings through her, though he'd been saying them for the past seven months. "Oh, Caleb," she whispered, snuggling into his arms. "I love you, too."
There they lay, the princess of the pop music scene and the reigning prince of the big screen, in each other's arms, content to ignore the rest of the world outside of their hotel room.
Unfortunately, five minutes later, an alarm began beeping, causing both of them to groan.
"I don't want to go," she moaned as he playfully dragged her out of bed. "Don't make me do it! I can't stand that tour bus anymore."
Caleb drew her close to kiss her again, savoring and saving it until the next time they could be alone—though he had no idea when that might be. "Baby, I hate to say it, but you thrive off of touring."
Kyra shrugged and followed him into the bathroom, dragging the bed sheet with her. "Well, yeah. I wouldn't have made it to my third platinum-selling album, would I, if I didn't love what I do? But still." Not quite ready to give in to the fact that she had to let go of him and face the outside world again, she walked slowly towards the shower that he was already turning on. "I hate leaving you, Caleb."
Caleb turned away from the knobs in the shower and wrapped his arms around her, cradling her closer. "I know, I hate it, too."
"Wouldn't it be easier if we just announced that we were together?" she wondered aloud, knowing his answer would be no. "If we did, we wouldn't have to sneak around, and we'd definitely be able to see each other more often."
"Kyra, you know we can't," he began, reciting practically from memory what he'd told her countless times before. "There would be more media frenzy than either of us really needs right now, and, then, I'd have to share you with everyone else. I really am too selfish to do that."
Not wanting to let the mood plummet too far, she slid out of his arms and stepped into the shower. "Fine, fine. I know that seeing us together would make everyone go insane, and we don't have time for that. I get it." She shook her head, even as she suppressed a little voice inside her that screamed for him to just let them proclaim that they were together to everyone. "Let's just forget I even brought it up." Glancing down at her wrist, she pretended to check a watch. "Oh, my. Look at that. We don't have much time left together. Whatever could we possibly do with our time?" She smiled slyly at Caleb. "Any ideas, handsome?"
Caleb grinned appreciatively at her, letting his eyes roam over her. "A few." When she shot a hand out of the shower stall, grabbed his shoulder, and dragged him in, he chuckled and went more than willingly.
Forty-five minutes later, they grabbed their respective tote bags before donning sunglasses, coats, and baseball caps. Caleb tipped Kyra's chin up and kissed her softly.
"For the road," he murmured against her lips.
Her arms came around him as she deepened it, shivering at the sensations shooting up her spine. In twenty-five years, only Caleb had ever brought her this pleasure. "I love you, Caleb Montgomery."
"I love you, too, Kyra Lincoln," he whispered, dark grey eyes storming with emotion. "God, I hate this part."
She sighed, feeling her heart grow heavier at the knowledge that they'd be apart for an indefinite amount of time. "I know. I'll try to figure out my schedule."
"Me, too. I'll text you as soon as I find space in my schedule." He lifted his bag and twined his fingers with hers to tug her close for one more kiss. Whenever it was time for them to separate, he found himself growing greedy for her. Not that he minded the way she melted in his arms, dark eyes fluttering closed. "How do you feel about Italy in late July?"
"I think I'm in the Midwest then," she said with a resigned sigh. "Even I couldn't explain away a weekend trip to Italy."
Caleb raked his fingers distractedly through his unruly brown hair. "I know, but we'll figure something out. I promise."
She wished she could convince him to just let them be official to the whole world. She didn't care about the media frenzy; she cared that she'd had to sneak around for the past year and a half to meet up with him. It made their love seem so illicit…so dirty. Kyra hated it, but she knew that Caleb was adamant about keeping his private life private. Because she loved him, she had no choice but to do what made him happy. After all, it was a small price to pay for being in love and being loved in return.
"You're first," he said now, gesturing towards the door, a sad expression overcoming his rugged features.
Kyra nodded before brushing her lips over his again. "I love you, Caleb. Miss me?"
"Always," he said with a grin and watched as she opened the door to the suite and slipped out incognito.
Five minutes later, his phone vibrated in his hand. Coast is clear. Love you, sexy.
Grinning to himself and determined not to feel too upset about leaving her again, Caleb tugged his hat over his eyes and left the safety of the hotel suite.
A month and a half later, Kyra lounged idly on her tour bus as it traveled south from Chicago to St. Louis. Her tour was nearing its end, and she was dying for it to be over. It wasn't that she hated her fans; far from it, in fact. She loved her adoring and adorable fans all over the world. After all, they'd helped get her to where she was. The press touted her as the Princess of Pop, and she was perpetually followed by the paparazzi everywhere she went. Her singles almost always hit number one with their catchy beats and fun lyrics, and all three of her albums had hit platinum status.
If it wasn't for her incredible career, Kyra thought, she wouldn't have met Caleb. She'd always admired him, growing up. He was incredibly attractive and an amazing actor. By the time he'd turned twenty-one, he'd been nominated for an Oscar, and, now that he was thirty, he'd managed to win two Oscars and a few handfuls of Golden Globe and SAG awards. So, understandably enough, she'd been nervous when she'd met him backstage at the MTV Video Music Awards nearly two years earlier.
They were to present the award for Best Breakout Actress together, and she'd practically been shaking in her shoes when she'd met him. All he'd said to her after one look was, "Relax," and she had. By the time they were to go onstage, she was laughing with him at his corny jokes. They'd presented their award, gone to one of the afterparties together, and then gone their separate ways.
One day, a month or so later, she'd received a call from him, asking her to meet him at his home in Los Angeles whenever she was back in town. As luck would have it, she'd been on her way to the City of Angels, so she'd gone directly to meet him, curious. They'd had a low-key dinner at his kitchen table, talked about everything under the sun, and, at the end of the night, he'd gathered her close and kissed her.
Since then, they'd been spending as much time as they could between photo shoots, recording time, filming, video shoots, and all sorts of other responsibilities, finding ways to be together. They were in love, and Kyra knew she really shouldn't ask for more, but, still, she found herself wishing she could just announce to the entire world that the man who'd won last year's Oscar for best actor was hers.
Shifting on the couch, annoyed with herself for thinking depressing thoughts, she reached for the remote control and flicked on the widescreen television her loaded tour bus boasted. Though the television was hooked up to a satellite receiver with over five hundred channels, it took her a while to find anything of interest to her.
She would have probably missed it, but she heard Caleb's name announced, so she eagerly flipped back a channel or two, excited to see his face.
Almost immediately, the smile dropped off her face as the anchor for the popular entertainment news channel was heard doing the voice-over for pictures of Caleb and a bombshell brunette actress. Apparently, Caleb had taken advantage of his time off and decided to relax in Italy with Carina DiGiovanni, the acclaimed actress he'd been working with most recently.
What made Kyra's heart go numb before shattering into thousands of shards was the way Carina and Caleb were wrapped around each other, obviously romantically involved. According to the anchor, the two had been dating for several months, and an inside source claimed that Caleb had even gone shopping for an engagement ring in the famous jewelry exchanges in Milan.
When the tears began sliding down her cheeks, Kyra never noticed.
Caleb cracked open the door of his trailer and peeked out. Satisfied to see that no one was around, he snuck out the door and dashed across the lot where he was currently filming his latest flick. He was desperate for a little privacy to call Kyra. He'd been calling her for the past three days, ever since he'd returned to the States from Italy, but his calls always went straight through to voicemail.
He hadn't heard her voice in far too long, and he was desperate to hear her on the other end of the line. Addicted, he thought, slightly amused. He was addicted to the woman, and, now, he was dying to talk to her.
When he'd found a hiding spot three lots away and behind a giant, faux brick wall that was standing behind a building, unused, he flipped open his cell and hit dial for her number. As there was a ringing sound on the other end, he sighed in relief, knowing his call wouldn't go to voicemail for the billionth time.
Caleb frowned at the unfamiliar voice. "Hi, I'm looking for Kyra?"
There was a brief pause. Then, "Well, well, well. Look who finally decided to crawl out of the hole he belongs in. Caleb Montgomery."
"Who is this?" His brows knit in confusion. "Where's Kyra?"
The lazy female voice grew sharp now. "Give me one good reason why I should tell you where my best friend is, you son of a bitch. Wasn't it enough that you broke her heart? Do you have to call her and rub it in her face, too?"
Dread settled heavily in his belly. "What the hell are you talking about? Where's Kyra? I need to talk to her. Please."
"Anything that you have to say to Kyra, you can say to me. She won't be taking your calls. Ever."
"No." He shook his head. "No, please. I have to talk to her. I need to know what happened. I need to know what I did wrong."
There was a bitter laugh on the other end. "What you did wrong? What you did wrong was stringing Kyra along for the last year and a half, making her dozens of promises, while you were hooking up with the Italian princess and planning on marrying her. That's what the hell you did wrong."
The line went dead, and Caleb let his head drop back against the brick wall as everything inside him swirled messily. He'd hurt Kyra, and he had no idea how. He wasn't sure who her friend had been talking about, but he knew that the only woman he'd been with in the past eighteen months had been Kyra. He couldn't even think about another woman when he was with her.
He wasn't sure how he'd done it, but Caleb knew he had to fix things. Kyra was hurt, and he couldn't bear to think that it was because of him. He had to see her, he thought desperately. He had to see her, and then, maybe, things would make more sense.
Three hours later, Caleb was back in his hotel room, packing some of his stuff and searching for a flight that would get him to Nashville, where Kyra's tour was currently taking a short break. He wasn't sure what hotel she was at or whether he'd even be allowed up to see her, but he knew he had to try. And, while he was trying, he would figure out what had upset her in the first place.
Kyra Lincoln wasn't easily thrown off balance, and he knew it must have been something supremely horrible to cause her such pain.
He was studying the small box in the palm of his hand when there was a knock on his door. Irritated that the studio had sent someone over to berate him about skipping out on the filming for the day, he slid the box into his pocket and went to open the door.
"Carina?" Caleb frowned at the pretty actress standing on the other side. "What are you doing here?"
"I thought I'd go directly to the source instead of trying to reach you the way my managers and PR reps are trying to do," she told him as she stepped into the room. Glancing at the bag on his bed, she lifted a brow. "Going somewhere?"
"Yeah." Caleb moved to the bed and zipped up the duffel bag. "Actually, I am, and I'm kind of in a hurry, so whatever it is, make it fast."
Carina sat on the edge of the bed and sighed. "So, I guess this means you haven't been watching the entertainment news or answering calls from your PR reps, huh?"
He frowned at her. "What? Of course, not. I never watch the entertainment stuff because it's all crap and meaningless gossip. And my PR people? I've given them strict orders that, when I'm doing a filming, they'd better not disturb me." His frown deepened as a sick feeling dropped into his gut. "What's going on?"
"Italy," she said simply.
When she didn't elaborate, his brows lifted. "I don't get it. We went, it was beautiful, we did the ad, and now we're back." Caleb lifted his hands, frustrated. "What about Italy?"
Carina tucked a dark lock of hair behind her ear and sighed. "Caleb, for the past day and a half, there have been countless stations airing the news that we're 'together' because some tourist snapped a couple pictures of us doing the commercial shoot and sold it to the highest bidder." She shook her head. "They were pretty convincing pictures, so now everyone thinks we're dating. Not to mention, there were reports of you looking for engagement rings in Milan, so…"
"Oh." Caleb shut his eyes. "Oh. Fuck." No wonder Kyra was upset, he thought sadly. She must have seen them and thought he was cheating on her. And, all those times he'd told her that he didn't want to make their relationship public and all the sneaking around they'd done… "Oh, God. Shit, shit, shit."
"Caleb?" Carina placed a hand over his. "Hey, I know how it looks and how it's being played out, but it's not that bad. It's nothing that you haven't dealt with before in your career."
He shook his head, tapping the heel of his hand against his forehead. "No, you don't get it. I am in love with this woman, and she's heartbroken because of that news."
"Wait, back up." Carina held up a hand. "You're seeing someone? Who? Why doesn't anyone know?"
"Because I didn't want to go public with it. We've been hiding it for the last year and a half, and, after seeing those pictures…God, no wonder." Caleb dropped down on the bed and sighed heavily. "How am I ever going to make this right?"
Carina lifted his bag. "Were you on your way to see her?"
He nodded. "Yeah, but now…I don't even know what to say to her."
"It doesn't matter what you say, Caleb." Carina stood and held out the bag to him. "Just go see her. If you really love her, I'm sure you'll figure it out."
He hesitated for a moment before nodding and taking his bag. "You're right. She's too important to me, and I can't let the stupid paparazzi ruin the rest of my life." He dropped a kiss on Carina's cheek. "Thanks."
"No problem." She smiled at him as they left the room. "Was the ring for her?"
He glanced over at her as they hurried to the elevators. "What ring?"
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, please. Caleb. I know you bought a ring. We're friends, and I know you well enough to know that you were very pleased with yourself on the way back from Milan. It wasn't the commercial that put that gleam in your eye."
For the first time since that morning, a smile flickered faintly around his mouth. "Yeah, it's for her." The smile faded. "I need her, Carina. I don't know what I'd do without her."
"I have faith in you, Caleb Montgomery." She patted his shoulder reassuringly. "I think you'll find a way."
He tried to tell himself that he would, but, even as he boarded the plane heading east, he wasn't entirely certain.
Kyra carefully applied her eye makeup, steadying her hand as it threatened to tremble again. Her emotions had been so haywire in the past two days that she'd barely slept or eaten. It seemed that all she could do was cry. She wasn't even sure how she'd managed to get onstage and perform.
Most of the day, she'd walk around, smiling and talking to everyone as though nothing was wrong, but, at night, only her best friend, Annie, would see the mess that she really was underneath it all. It was like she was running on autopilot when she was in the public eye, but it was taking its toll.
"Are my eyes still red?" she asked Annie as Annie continued to pace the dressing room, muttering threateningly about what she would do to Caleb if she ever got her hands on him. "Annie?"
Annie stopped running her hands through her blonde hair in agitation and came to stand next to Kyra. "You look pretty put together for someone who's going through a meltdown, K. You know, you don't have to get up on stage and do this if you're not feeling up to it."
Kyra shook her head and picked up a container of green eye shadow. "I have to do this. I'm tired of crying over the stupid bastard, and I'm tired of kicking myself for falling for that charm and believing every word that came out of his mouth." She began streaking the green powder over her eyelids. "I'm not going to waste anymore of my time crying over him. I'm done. I need to be done," she added in a sad whisper as her voice threatened to quake.
"Okay." Annie hugged her lightly. "You're going to be fine. You're going to be better than fine. You're Kyra Lincoln, Pop Princess, and you do not need any stupid man. Good for you." She glanced at her watch. "I'm going to go out and see what the arena looks like, how many people are here. I'll be back in a few." When Kyra nodded, Annie smiled reassuringly and slipped out the door, leaving Kyra to finish applying her makeup.
Good for me, Kyra repeated to herself and struggled to believe it. She changed into the first costume she'd be wearing for the first five songs of her show before turning to check the other outfits. Though her wardrobe assistant had already gone through the clothing, she liked to double check and be involved in every aspect of the process.
Satisfied that everything was in place, she turned and found herself face to face with Caleb, who was standing just inside the now closed door. Her heart bounded into her throat before it dropped to her knees.
Caleb winced at the expression on her face. Didn't she know that he'd rather cut off his hand before putting that look in her eyes? "Kyra," he began, but she held up a hand.
She took a deep breath to steady herself before she looked back up at him. "You can't be here," she stated firmly. "How the hell did you get in here?"
"I have some strings," he replied cautiously. When she didn't say anything, Caleb swallowed hard before speaking. "Kyra." He stepped towards her and, unable to stop herself, she stepped back, freezing him in his tracks. "Okay. Okay, I won't come any closer. I just…Kyra, you have to know that I would never, never hurt you."
She wrapped her arms around herself, her fingers digging into her skin. "You've done a bang-up job of not hurting me," she murmured. It hurt to look at him, so she focused on a spot beyond him.
Caleb sighed, knowing he couldn't have expected anything more. "You know I love you," he started and was cut off when her head whipped around and her eyes seared into his.
"Really, Caleb? Really? Do I really know that you love me? Because you've done a terrific job of making it so obvious that you didn't want anyone to know that you do. 'Let's not tell anyone, baby. It's just too complicated.' Isn't that what you said?" She glared at him and was furious when she felt tears prick the back of her eyes. "I couldn't figure out why it was that you didn't want to share the most wonderful news with the entire world when I could barely keep it to myself." She laughed bitterly. "Well, now I know why. I feel like such an idiot, Caleb. I hope you had a good laugh with Carina about how you yanked the wool completely over my eyes."
He was more shaken than he could admit and wanted nothing more than to cradle her close and explain everything away. "Kyra, please-"
"Get out, Caleb." Her voice was quiet, but he could hear the tears in it. "Get out, and leave me alone. You've done more than enough."
After several long, silent moments, she heard the door click shut quietly. Only then did she let herself cry, not caring that she'd sworn not to do so again, not caring that she'd have to do her makeup again, and not caring that draining the well of sorrow that was her heart meant that she was still completely and irrevocably in love with Caleb.
Determined to forget about him, Kyra went out on stage and was determined to give the best performance of her life. She channeled every last inch of hurt into sheer focus and energy when she was in front of thousands of people. She vowed never to let Caleb see just how much he'd broken her heart.
She hadn't bothered to tell Annie that Caleb had shown up because she knew that Annie would only become overheated about it, and she just needed her best friend to cheer her on from the front row, not stew over some bastard actor.
Just as she ended the song before intermission, the lights cut out as did her microphone. There were screams from the audience, and Kyra paused in the middle of the stage, unable to see a thing. She could hear her band asking each other what was going on, and she tried to cautiously walk around on her prop-filled stage.
Then, just as she stumbled up a couple steps, a spotlight flashed on her, stopping her where she was. What on earth…? she wondered.
There was a tapping sound for a moment that she recognized as a microphone. The voice froze her in place. "Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for the technical difficulties, but, as I needed to hijack the equipment, this was the only way to do so."
Another spotlight flashed on, downstage and to the left of where Kyra was. Caleb stood in the middle of it, waving a hand at the excited crowd, when they recognized him. When he looked over at her, his smile faltered at her facial expression.
"I know a lot of you may be wondering what on earth I'm doing here when I could probably be spending time with my alleged fiancée, Carina." There were several shouts from the audience, and he paused until they quieted again. "Well, the truth is that Carina and I are and have only ever been friends. In fact, she asked me to help her film a commercial for her new fragrance line, Cara. I'm sure everyone's seen the photos of us together in Italy that were taken, in fact, when we were filming."
Kyra felt the first knots loosen in her belly but was too afraid to hope. Caleb turned to face her and began to walk towards her, his eyes holding hers. "Caleb," she began in a shaky whisper, but he shook his head.
"Carina DiGiovanni and I are just friends," he repeated for emphasis, grey eyes intense. "We haven't been dating for several months because, for the past year and a half, I have been dating and falling in love with someone else."
A hush fell over the audience as Caleb reached Kyra and managed to smile at her, though his eyes held a bevy of nerves. "You don't have to do this," she told him quietly.
"Of course I do," he murmured before lifting the mic again. "I could never date Carina, or anyone else for that matter, because I'm completely head over heels in love with Kyra Lincoln and have been for months. I didn't want anyone to know because I wanted to protect the joy and the love that I've found with her from the prying eyes of the hungry, greedy media vultures."
"But I realized that protecting it was only hurting Kyra, and it's the last thing on earth that I'd ever want to do," he said quietly now. Taking a risk, he reached up and let his fingers feather over her cheek. A tear slid down her face, and he brushed at it gently. "I love you, Kyra, and I'm so, so sorry for every second of pain and doubt, and I hate knowing that you shed even a single tear over me because I was unfair to you. I am so in love with you," he repeated and watched with a trembling heart as her eyes closed.
Then, they opened again, and what he saw erased some of the fear in his heart. She gave him a small, watery smile. "It's okay, Caleb. You don't have to do this."
"I'm not done," he told her and wiped away more tears. He looked over the crowd, several thousand deep, and grinned widely. "I love this woman, and I am going to do whatever it takes to make it up to her. I swear it to you," he whispered to Kyra, and she nodded, pressing her fingers to her lips.
"I know," she told him, the sadness dissipating from her eyes. "I know you will."
Caleb slipped the box out of his pocket and, taking a deep breath, he knelt on one knee, enjoying the way her jaw dropped. "I'm going to start by asking you a very important question," he told her as the cheering intensified around them. "I figure this is as public as it gets, so why not?" He smiled up at her, but she could see the nerves behind the smile and, though her heart was beating erratically in her chest, she nodded. Bolstered by the expression in her eyes, he popped open the lid of the box and turned it towards her. "Kyra Lincoln, I am crazy in love with you, and I know that nothing will ever make me stop loving you. I promise that I will be by your side for every obstacle, every accomplishment, and all the moments in between. With you, I can just be regular old me, and that's all I've ever needed. Will you make me the happiest man in the universe and marry me?"
She took a moment to wonder at how Caleb had managed to bounce her emotions up and down and through the wringer in the space of a few hours. It was incredible what he could do to her, and what they, clearly, could do to and for each other. So, as she looked into his hopeful face, the strain of nerves beginning to show in his smile, she realized that she'd already forgiven him for something that wasn't even really his fault.
"Yes," she whispered. Then, louder, "Yes. Yes, yes, yes!" Laughing, she threw her arms around him and let him spin her in circles.
"I love you, I love you, I love you," he murmured fervently into her ear before tipping her chin up to gaze into her eyes. "I'm sor-"
He never managed to finish the apology as she dragged his head down and pressed her lips to his amidst the cheering of the thousands watching.
When they separated, slightly, he cupped her face in his hands. "Say the words," he whispered. "Please, I need to hear them again."
Realizing that he was still unsure of her feelings, Kyra turned her head to press a kiss to his palm before gazing adoringly into his stormy eyes. "I love you, Caleb Montgomery. I am so in love with you."
Relief flooded his face, and he rested his forehead against hers. "You didn't let me ruin it."
"You didn't let me push you away," she pointed out. "Thank goodness, you're so pushy."
Caleb grinned and pulled the ring out of the box. "I got you a souvenir in Milan."
"What?" Kyra looked down as he slid the ring onto her finger. The simple platinum band sparkled with diamonds that shimmered in the stage lights. "Oh, Caleb. It's beautiful."
"Not as beautiful as you," he murmured and kissed her to seal the deal.
AN: Ta-da! This is me...procrastinating on writing my three other stories. Sorry about that, but I use these one-shots to get all the cheese out of my system and work on firing up inspiration. There's one more that's due out this week and then I'll start work on Finding Zanny, which I'm really excited about because so many of you are so excited about it as well. Besides, I just love the story. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this bit of fine cheddar cheese of a one-shot, and let me know what you thought! Thanks!