GallagherWitt

EXCERPT:


Chapter 1

As Levi Pritchard sipped coffee in a window booth at the Sunrise Café, he tried not to notice how many of the cars parked along Main Street had California plates. Or think about the fact that he was here to have breakfast with a producer.

God. A producer. It was bad enough Hollywood had invaded Bluewater Bay after he’d moved here to escape all that shit. Now Hollywood was calling him. Fuck.

He put his coffee cup down and kneaded his temples, trying to massage away the headache that was starting to take hold. Why the fuck was he doing this to himself?

Oh. Right. Because he’d never been able to say no to Finn Larson.

Finn was one of those producers who had to be the progeny of a used-car salesman and a litigation attorney. No one could sell bullshit like that man. When he’d called last night, Levi’s brain had screamed, “Oh my God, no, I don’t want to see you,” but his mouth had said, “I’ll see you at eleven.” He still wasn’t sure how that had happened, only that he was here now.

Well, okay, that wasn’t entirely true. Levi knew damn well if he’d said no, Finn would’ve kept after him. Humoring the asshole with lunch was less of a headache than getting a restraining order. Finn probably wanted to resurrect the action hero who’d put Levi on the map. Levi would just politely decline and hope that was enough to get the man to leave him alone, at least until the next two-bit action flick came along.

A couple of women walked by on the sidewalk, raincoat hoods up and heads down, but he still instinctively turned away. Even though not many people recognized him out here, it was a habit to avoid the occasional stare or, worse, a nervous fan.

“Are you really Levi Pritchard?” The same question every time.

“Yeah.” It was getting harder by the year to fake that smile. “That’s me.”

And then came the inevitable:

“I loved your movies! Why aren’t you acting anymore?”

“Will there ever be another Chad Eastwick movie?”

“Guess ‘actors’ like you have a shelf life, eh?”

He’d loved acting. Loved it. It was the Hollywood bullshit he’d hated. So he’d walked away from Tinseltown and never looked back.

And now Bluewater Bay was crawling with everything he’d moved a thousand miles to escape.

That was why he didn’t come into town much anymore unless he had to. If he’d wanted to be surrounded by directors, producers, key grips, gophers, electricians, set designers, makeup artists, union representatives, cinematographers, and consultants, he’d have stayed in California. His opinionated pair of Maine coon cats were much better company than those fuckers.

The women in raincoats had to be out of sight by now, so he lifted his gaze to the drizzly scenery. A lot of the businesses on Main Street had come and gone, though plenty had been here forever. He was pretty sure the bakery had occupied the building across the street from the café since this part of town was built in the 1920s. Even the Walgreens they’d opened on the corner had tried to retain some of the small-town charm, keeping the building’s exterior more or less the same pre-Depression façade it had always had and only adding their distinctive red, cursive lettering. The sign stuck out as badly as the McDonald’s a few blocks down, but even they were more welcome additions than the invasion that had begun two years ago.

Hollywood didn’t belong here. Bluewater Bay was one of those sleepy logging and fishing towns on the northern tip of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, a long-ass drive and a ferry ride away from anything interesting apart from the rain forest, which was exactly why Levi had moved here.

Oh, if only Hunter Easton had signed that book deal one year earlier . . .

Right then, a sleek black Mercedes pulled up—California plates, of course—and despite the glare on the windshield that obscured the driver’s face, he knew. By the time the door opened, his stomach was acidic with self-loathing over letting the bastard talk him into meeting him here. In public. In his town. Hell, meeting him at all.

But it was too late to change his mind or get the hell out of here because Finn Larson had spotted him and was on his way in, briefcase in hand.

Stomach roiling, Levi waited for him. With anyone else from that era of his life, he’d have called upon every iota of theater training he could remember to make his smile as genuine as possible. With Finn? His guard was up, and he wanted him to know it.

As Finn approached the table, he extended his hand. “Levi Pritchard. My God. It’s been—”

“Do you mind?” Levi snapped, accepting the offered hand, if grudgingly. “I really don’t like announcing my presence in these places.”

The producer gestured dismissively. “It’s not exactly a big secret that you’re here, my friend.” He set his briefcase on the bench, shrugged out of his jacket, hung it on the coat rack beside the booth, and slid in across from Levi. “So how have you been?”

“I’m fine. How are things in LA?”

“Great, great. We’ve got the green light for some amazing films right— Honey, can I get a coffee, please?”

The waitress paused beside their table, threw Levi an “is he for real?” glance, and then gave an obviously forced smile. “Cream?”

“Yes, please. Thank you, sweetheart.”

From the way her eyes narrowed, Levi wouldn’t have been surprised if the cream she sent with Finn’s coffee was comprised of Drano and rat poison. The loggers and truckers called the waitresses “honey” and “sweetheart” too, but from them, it was a more affectionate variation of “ma’am.”

From someone like Finn, it was like verbally copping a feel.

“So anyway,” Finn went on, oblivious to Levi’s inner thoughts, “we’ve got some fantastic stuff on the table.” He flashed him that used-car salesman grin. “Couple of roles that would be perfect for you, by the way.”

“No.” Levi shook his head. “Not interested. Let’s just get that clear right now.”

Finn gave his trademark exasperated sigh. “I don’t get you, kid. One minute you’re riding the Hollywood wave and loving every minute. The next you’re, well, here.” He looked out the window and wrinkled his nose. “What do you see in this town anyway? It’s got no . . . character.”

“It’s got more than LA.”

Finn snorted and plucked a sugar packet from the ceramic box between the salt and pepper shakers beneath the window. Flipping it idly between his fingers, he said, “I don’t get you. I don’t think I ever will.”

“Well, I like it here. And I like my life, thank you.” Levi shrugged. “I’m starting to think I was an idiot for passing up that place in Forks, though.”

Finn’s eyebrows rose. “Forks?”

Levi nodded. “Found a great house down there, but I wasn’t moving there right in the middle of the Twilight fad.”

Finn cocked his head.

Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Levi said, “Twilight was set there. And filmed there. Remember?”

“Oh, right. Right.” Finn laughed, glancing out at the two-lane main drag. “Not sure why places like this are so attractive to people who write about vampires and werewolves and whatnot, but”—he shrugged—“as long as I keep getting paid to make the shows, I couldn’t give a fuck why.”

Levi sipped his coffee, hoping it would wash some of the bitterness from his mouth. He really should’ve bought the place he’d looked at in Forks. Then again, even though they’d long ago finished filming the movies, that town wasn’t much better than this one. He’d been there recently—it was only a short drive down the coast—and the stink of Hollywood still hung over the place like LA smog.

Maybe sleepy little industrial towns were no more immune to Hollywood than any other place. On the other hand, they’d filmed a shitload of movies in Astoria, which was just a few hours from here, and the place still had the small-town charm Bluewater Bay was desperately trying to hold on to.

Levi liked to think this fad wouldn’t last forever, but he wasn’t holding his breath.

“Well, maybe all the hype will die down eventually,” he grumbled.

Finn chuckled. “I doubt it. Have you seen the ratings for the show?”

Levi bit back a curse. “Great. At least Forks only had to put up with Twilight for a few years. Sounds like the Wolf’s Landing plague won’t be leaving this town anytime soon.”

“Actually, that’s what I came here to talk to you about.” Finn folded his hands and leaned forward. “I want you on Wolf’s Landing.”

“You what?” He’d expected an offer of some sort, but . . . Wolf’s Landing?

Finn sighed dramatically. “Come on, Levi. It’s just a guest spot, and you’d be perfect for it.”

“I’m retired. Absolutely not.”

“Levi.” Finn shook his head. “Levi, Levi, Levi. I know how you acting types are. Once you’re bitten by that bug? You’re in.”

“Yeah?” Levi raised an eyebrow. “That why I haven’t been in front of a camera in years?”

Finn smirked. “Well, it might explain why you’re spinning your tires and wasting your time at that decrepit community theater.”

Levi ground his teeth. Leave that group out of this. “Just because I enjoy acting doesn’t mean I want to deal with Hollywood anymore.”

“This entire production isn’t anything like what you’ve ever worked on.”

“How so? Aside from the lack of pyrotechnicians?”

Finn laughed. “Well, there is that. But Anna Maxwell is an executive producer and one of the directors, and I mean, you and she go way back, right?”

“We do.”

“So I don’t have to tell you that the rest of the cast raves about her, do I? They say she gives them a lot of leeway to interpret their characters.”

Levi fought the urge to squirm. He didn’t doubt for a second that Anna gave the cast a shitload of freedom, especially on the episodes she directed. And how long had he wanted to work with a director like that, especially her? The last few had had his character development in a choke hold from the get-go—everything from his mannerisms to his voice inflections had been dictated until he’d had absolutely no room to move. Small wonder critics said his acting had “all the range of an emotionally catatonic Keanu Reeves wannabe” and that he “wasn’t cut out for a role requiring more creativity than the tree in the background of an elementary school play.” He’d been itching for the freedom to show that there was more to him than “at least he does his own stunts, so we know he’s a real boy.”

Across from him, Finn grinned. “I’m telling you, kid. This would be a good role for you. And Anna agrees. That’s why she’s specifically asked to direct your episodes.” He pulled back his sleeve and glanced at his gold Rolex. “In fact, she should be here any minute.”

“She—” Levi blinked. “Anna’s coming?”

“Of course.” Finn shrugged. “She’s been pushing harder than anyone to bring you on board.”

Levi gritted his teeth. “Has she now?”

“Absolutely. She— Ah! Speak of the devil.”

A figure swept past the window. A second later, the diner’s front door opened, and in walked Anna Maxwell.

Levi stood. “Anna. Long time no see.”

“Way too long!” She threw her arms around him. “How are you, sweetheart?”

“Doing all right. You?”

She released him and quirked an eyebrow. “I’ll be much better when my old buddy explains why he hasn’t once tried to meet up with me for coffee or something.”

“I . . .” Heat rushed into his cheeks. “Well . . .”

Anna’s eyebrow climbed.

“You’re right.” He put up his hands. “I should have gotten in touch sooner. I’ve been meaning to, but—”

“Yeah, yeah. Excuses.” She playfully smacked his arm. They both laughed, and he let her slide onto the bench before he joined her.

Finn folded his hands on the table. “So, I’ve already given him the rundown. About joining the cast.”

“Good.” She faced Levi. “And?”

Levi opened his mouth to speak, but right then, the waitress stopped beside the table. She deposited Finn’s coffee in front of him and asked, “What can I get you all to eat?”

“I’ll just have the special,” Anna said. “And keep the coffee coming.”

Levi glanced down at the menu. “The special is fine for me too. With a Coke, please.”

The waitress flashed him a brief smile and jotted down his order. The smile vanished as she turned to Finn. “And you?”

Finn pursed his lips as he skimmed over the menu. “The hash browns, are those grown organically?”

Bless her, the waitress managed to maintain a poker face. “No, sweetheart. They’re not.”

And there was that exasperated, entitled sigh.

Levi kept his head down, not to hide from her—she knew him—but to keep the producer from seeing him roll his eyes again. Thing #4,781 he didn’t miss about Hollywood—you couldn’t order a meal without someone at the table being an obnoxious activist or adhering to the latest health craze. Or both.

After she’d patiently explained that no, they had no gluten-free toast, and no, there was nothing organic on the menu, and no, the orange juice was not fresh-squeezed, Finn decided to stick with coffee. Probably a wise move on his part. As it was, Levi still wondered what other substances might be lurking in the man’s cup.

Finn sneered at the sugar packet he’d been playing with, and put it aside. Probably because it wasn’t certified and notarized as pure organic raw cane sugar harvested from sustainable fair trade fields and presented in a thrice-recycled packet after a virgin sacrifice. He stirred the cream into his coffee, took a sip—no immediate bad reactions, so maybe it wasn’t poisoned—and set it back on the saucer.

“So,” Anna said to Levi. “Are you in?”

Levi sighed. “I’m out of this business.”

Finn waved a hand. “Listen, we know you’re ‘retired’ and whatnot, but humor us here.” He looked Levi in the eye. “Come down to the set. See how things are run.” He tapped his briefcase. “Give the script a read and see what you think.”

Levi swallowed, regarding the briefcase like it was a venomous snake. “Why me?”

Anna touched his arm. “Because we—and by that I mean I—think this is the perfect comeback for you.”

“I’m retired, Anna. I don’t want a comeback. I just want to—”

“Sweetie, think about it. This is the perfect series for you. It’s set right in your backyard. You’d have a fairly small role at first. It’s—”

“At first?” Levi blinked. “Whoa. I thought you were talking about a guest spot.”

“Well, sort of.” Finn shrugged. “You’d be credited as ‘guest starring’ at first, but the character you’d be playing eventually comes back for a recurring role.”

Levi quickly ran through the series in his head—much as he hated the presence of Hollywood here, he did enjoy both the books and the show—and tried to narrow down which character they were talking about. Someone who’d surfaced early on, then came back—

The penny dropped. “You want me to play Max Fuhrman?”

A huge grin spread across Anna’s lips, and she nodded.

Oh, damn her. Damn her straight to hell. Anna knew one of Levi’s biggest frustrations with the studios was that they kept typecasting him. He’d wanted to try his chops at someone with more emotional range—hell, any emotional range—instead of spending ninety percent of his screen time jumping off or out of exploding vehicles.

Someone like Max Fuhrman.

Fuhrman went back and forth between an angsty alcoholic with a hefty case of PTSD and—thanks to a shaman’s spell—a sociopath. A lazy actor could make him into a generic villain with the occasional moment of humanity, but Levi saw so much potential to portray him as a complex, tortured character.

He swallowed. “Why me?”

Anna shrugged. “Well, you’re—”

“Because the man who played Chad Eastwick has just the kind of machismo we need for someone like Max.”

Anna exhaled so hard it was almost a growl. “Finn, really?”

“What?” He waved a hand. “Look, it’s no secret there’s been a lot of speculation about the show having a homoerotic vibe.”

Levi’s heart dropped. He glanced at Anna, eyes wide, and she gave a little “don’t worry, I’ve got this” nod.

“That’s not why I picked him for the role.” She glared at the other producer. “Levi has the chops and the versatility to play Max. Yeah, we want someone masculine and powerful, but it has nothing to do with the—”

“Your choice doesn’t,” he said. “But the studio’s only considering him because of that. Between a gay lead, the story’s homoerotic undertones, and—no offense—a lesbian executive producer and director, there’s concern about the show’s image.”

Anna rolled her eyes. She met Levi’s and shook her head slightly, a silent “don’t listen to him.”

“Anyway. Bottom line, we want you for this role.” Finn pulled the script out of his briefcase and set it on the table between them. “Give it a look. Come down to the set and see what you think.”

Levi glared at the script, its three brass brads gleaming in the fluorescent light.

Anna chuckled. “This is the role you’ve been waiting for, sweetie.”

It was. It so was.

“And you’re not the only one waiting for it,” Finn said. “The studio’s got two other actors in mind, and they are looking for a reason to sign them over you.”

Levi resisted the urge to make a grab for the scripts. Damn it. These two really knew how to corner him—offer the role of his dreams, and make sure he knew it was being offered to someone else too.

Fuck. This really was the single role in God’s creation that could coax him back in front of a camera. If Hollywood’s bullshit hadn’t turned him into such a cynical asshole, he’d have signed the contract in a heartbeat. Especially with Anna as one of the people at the show’s helm.

A shrill beep startled him out of his thoughts, and Finn pulled his cell from his pocket. “Damn. Would you two excuse me for a moment?”

They both nodded, and he got up and headed for the door. Well, at least he had the common courtesy to take his call outside. Maybe there was hope for the bastard yet.

As soon as Finn was out of earshot, Levi released a breath and rolled his shoulders.

“Ugh, I can’t stand him,” Anna muttered.

“I doubt anyone can.”

“You ain’t wrong.” She smirked. “I don’t think anyone likes him as well as he adores himself.”

Levi laughed.

Anna managed a soft laugh too, but it didn’t last. She held his gaze. “It’s good to see you again, Levi. It’s been way too long.”

“Yeah, it really has.” He paused. “So, uh, all shop talk aside, how have you been?”

Anna shrugged. “Up and down.”

“Yeah?” Levi cocked his head. “Seems like things are pretty damned good on the professional front.”

“Oh, yeah. Absolutely. But you know the kind of toll that takes at home.”

He grimaced. “You’re probably working insane hours right now, too.”

She groaned, letting her calm, professional mask slip for a second. “I am. And Leigh understands, but I’m not gonna lie: it’s making things tough.”

“Sorry to hear it.”

She shrugged again. “It is what it is. So what about you?” She glared playfully at him. “And why do I never see you around here when we used to run into each other all the time in LA?”

He laughed dryly. “We ran in the same circles there. Here? Not so much.”

“Fair enough.” Her expression turned to genuine hurt. “I figured I’d see you eventually, though.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I’ve . . .” He shook his head. “I guess I’ve taken the recluse thing a little too seriously. And, you know, once the paparazzi started lurking around town . . .”

Anna wrinkled her nose. “Can’t blame you for that. But, well, all the bullshit and paparazzi notwithstanding, it’d be good to see you near a film set again.”

Levi ground his teeth, biting back a snide “Don’t hold your breath.” He forced the hostility out of his voice. “Good to see you in the director’s chair. And executive producer too. Congrats.”

She smiled, and in spite of his mood, he couldn’t help returning it.

“So, am I going to get a shot at directing you?”

And so much for his smile. “I don’t know. It’s temping, but I . . .”

“You don’t want to come out of retirement and deal with all the crap again?”

“Basically, yeah.” He sighed. “I’ve kind of gotten used to not getting calls from my friends and family to ask if this or that tabloid story is true.”

“But have you ever gotten used to not being in front of a movie camera?”

Levi flinched.

“That’s what I thought.” Anna leaned closer. “Look, hon. This business chews people up and spits them out all the time. I get that. You know I do.”

He dropped his gaze. “Yeah, you do.”

“But look at me, hon. I made it. I had to fight my way through all kinds of bullshit because everyone thought the only thing I could possibly direct were man-hating lesbian movies. And now . . .” She gestured at the scripts. “I’m directing more episodes than anyone else.”

Levi exhaled, and then he gave another small smile. “You never have been one to take no for an answer.”

“You’re right.” She arched an eyebrow. “Which is why it shouldn’t surprise you that I’m not going to let you say no to this role.”

“Oh yeah? And why is that?”

She folded her arms across her chest. “Because this is the opportunity you were dying for before you gave up on Hollywood. I know it’s not a film, but this is big, sweetheart.”

He let himself grin. “Ever the humble one, eh?”

Anna laughed, rolling her eyes. “It’s not big because of me. Hunter Easton’s a damn genius and his characters are amazing. You deserve a shot at bringing one of them to life.”

“And we both deserve better than what people like him”—he gestured at the place Finn had been standing a moment ago—“put us through. I want to act, but I don’t want to sell my soul.”

“I know you don’t.” Her eyebrows pulled together. “But it’s a damn shame for someone with your talent to give up acting because of that shit. I’m the last person who’s going to tell you anything in that town is easy, and I almost walked away from it myself, but . . .” She touched his arm. “I also know it’s in your blood just like directing is in mine. Filmmaking gets in there, and . . .”

“Yeah, it does.”

Their eyes met, and he knew she had him right where she wanted him.

“Anna, I—”

“Are you really happy, sweetie? Directing little plays in between hiding in the hills?”

“It’s better than what I had before.”

“I’m sure it is, but can you really look me in the eye and tell me you don’t want to do this again?”

“If it was as simple as choosing between acting and not acting . . .”

Anna nodded. “I know, baby.” She paused, gnawing her lower lip. “Okay, let me throw this out there. Max Fuhrman’s got a small role for the first couple of episodes. Eight minutes of screen time in one, twelve in the other.”

“And then he’s there for the whole ride starting at the end of the season.”

She nodded. “He is. But if it’ll convince you to at least give this a shot, we can just film the first episode and see how it goes. We can have the contract written so you have an out.”

Levi didn’t want to be intrigued by the idea, but . . . “An out? Meaning?”

“Meaning if you decide after filming one or two of the episodes that you want to bail, you can bow out and we can replace you before anyone’s committed too much time and energy.”

He shifted uncomfortably. “And you think the studio will go for it?”

“They will if they want to keep Hunter Easton happy, and he wants you for this role as much as I do.”

He studied her. “You really want me to say yes to this, don’t you?”

Anna grinned. “I do. You were a successful actor before, and you can be again, even if I have to drag you into it kicking and screaming.”

He laughed. “I wouldn’t put that past you.”

“Smart man.” She squeezed his arm. “Just read the scripts and think about it. You don’t have to make a decision right away.” The upward flick of her eyebrow suggested he’d damn well better.

“I’ll think about it.”

“Okay. Will you come down to the set too? I’m headed back there after we’re done eating, and I’d be happy to show you around.”

He exhaled. “All right. I’ll come down and take a look.”

“Good. Good.”

Levi shifted a little. “By the way, I should’ve said this a long time ago, but I am so proud of you.”

“Thank you, Levi.” She put a hand over his. “You know I never would’ve gotten this far without all your help back then.”

He chuckled. “Somehow I doubt that. We all knew from day one you were going to be kicking Spielberg out of a director’s chair eventually.”

She snorted. “Let’s not go that far.” She tapped the scripts in the middle of the table. “Now, read those tonight and then just try to tell me you aren’t going to join me.”

He laughed again. “Challenge accepted.”

Her expression turned more serious, and she looked him in the eye. “And even if for some inexplicable reason you don’t accept the role, promise me you won’t be a stranger. I miss you.”

“I won’t. Promise.”

“Good.” Anna started to say something else, but Finn picked that moment to come back into the diner.

“Sorry about that.” He smiled thinly as he took his seat again. “Damn thing is always ringing.” He glanced at Levi, then Anna. “Did we come to any consensus while I was gone?”

Anna smiled. “He’s willing to come down and take a tour of the set.”

“Great. And you’re going to read the scripts?” Finn nodded toward the bound pages.

Levi hesitated, but finally reached for them. “Fine. After the set tour.” He eyed Finn. “But I’m not promising anything.”

Judging by the way both Anna and Finn grinned, Levi may as well have just signed his name in blood.

So much for retirement.

  • A great story about being true to yourself and being rewarded for living your life without boundaries. A must read for hopeless romantics! – MM Good Book Reviews, 5 Stars
  • Witt’s powerful story will have readers riveted. – Publishers Weekly
  • Watching Carter and Levi develop as a couple is great fun.... Watching them fall in love is, as their enthusiastic director Anna says, “HAWT.” – Booklist


Hollywood is full of dirty secrets, but Carter refuses to be Levi’s....

Retired action star Levi Pritchard has made a quiet life for himself in the sleepy logging town of Bluewater Bay, Washington. But then Hollywood comes to film the wildly popular television series Wolf’s Landing, and Bluewater Bay isn’t so sleepy anymore. His retirement doesn’t stick, either, because he’s offered a part on the show—exactly the kind of complex role he’d always wanted, one that would prove him more than a glorified stuntman. The only catch? He has to stay in the closet—no matter how attractive he finds his co-star.

Carter Samuels is the critically-acclaimed male lead on Wolf’s Landing. And now, the man who inspired him to take up acting—and made him realize he’s gay—is joining the cast, and sparks fly between them instantly. But Carter is out and proud and determined to stay true to himself.

Remaining just friends is the only thing to do, as both the studio and Levi’s disapproving, dysfunctional family keep reminding them. Except their friendship deepens by the day, tempting them with what they can’t have but both desperately need.

(Bluewater Bay stories can be read in any order—jump in wherever you'd like!)

TITLE: Starstruck
PUBLISHER: Riptide Publishing

SERIES: Bluewater Bay

COVER ARTIST: L.C. Chase

LENGTH: 73,000 words
PAIRING: Gay
GENRE(S): Contemporary, Coming out, Age GapMusicians/Actors

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