Excerpt—The Family Business

“Stop smiling!” the makeup artist ordered, as she painted something onto Joaquin’s lips. Chapstick, he told himself, but the reassurance was half-hearted, and he didn’t really believe it.

“You should stop being so happy,” a familiar voice said, low in his ear. The hairs on his neck stood at immediate attention, and he grinned.

“Dana!” The stylists simultaneously scolded his PA for making him smile again, but he could tell they didn’t mean it. Dana, with her natural warmth and good-natured teasing, had charmed them all in a matter of minutes. She seemed so genuinely pleased to know you that she was impossible to resist.

“He forgot to put on his tie!” Dana’s voice said, as her minty breath wafted over his cheek. Then he felt cool fingers brushing against the back of his collar, which did nothing to discourage the goosebumps that erupted on his flesh.

“This is not a normal tie,” he deduced, as a small weight settled at his throat. Then he realized no one was poking his eyes with makeup brushes anymore, and opened them. Both makeup artists had stepped back to give Dana room, and were now a few feet away, discussing some celebrity’s recent Instagram post.

“Point to you, Sherlock.” Dana was focused on making sure the silver and black bolo tie lay straight on his shirt, and her dark brown lashes were lowered so he couldn’t see her eyes. Still, her face of concentration was adorable. Up close, he could see a faint smattering of freckles across her cheekbones and nose. Unaccountably pleased at the discovery, he hummed, just a little.

Very pale blue eyes flew up to meet his gaze, and a slight blush stained her cheeks. “Did you just—purr?”

He laughed, then turned it into a cough and shrugged. “That doesn’t sound like something I would do.”

“Watch it,” she murmured, darting a look around. “Men who are engaged to the most beautiful woman in the country don’t—do whatever that was.”

She was right. He had forgotten, which was unforgivably careless.

He breathed, “Sorry.” Then, to reestablish their professional boundaries, he said, louder, “Dana, go get me a sandwich.” 

She quirked an eyebrow and walked away to do his bidding. That was when he noticed the stylists looking at him with disapproval. Perhaps their client’s PR team wouldn’t mind the inevitable rumors that America’s sweetheart’s fiancé was a chauvinistic pig. He avoided his reflection in the large mirror, and in just a few moments, he and his fake fiancée were back in front of the cameras. Ellie’s stylists had transformed her from sweet country bride to sultry crooner queen, and he had to wonder if his eye makeup was as dramatic as hers. On the other hand, he’d already decided that ignorance was bliss when it came to what the magazine people had done to his face.

“No, no, no,” Zach said, after a few shots. He was the top in-house photographer for Haute Magazine, and just as fussy as one might expect. “Spiderman, lose the shirt.”

“Uh.” Joaquin tried to gauge whether he was serious. 

“Let’s try the jacket without the shirt,” the photographer reiterated.

Joaquin internally sighed and passed the ridiculous, fringed jacket to a helpful assistant, then began to loosen his tie. The photographer snapped a shot.

“Zach,” he said, and allowed just a hint of warning to color his tone.

“Yes?” The photographer lowered his camera. The poor man looked nervous.


Joaquin started on the buttons. “You don’t need to document this, right?”

Ellie sighed. “He’s not a stripper, Zach.”

“Yeah!” a voice from the audience called in solidarity, and Joaquin’s lips twitched. His PA could be a real smart-aleck. 

“I don’t want to undress on film,” he confirmed, passing the shirt to the wardrobe assistant.

“Right, fine. Just hurry up.” Then the photographer saw Ellie’s frown and added, “We’re almost done, guys!”

Joaquin shrugged back into the velvet jacket and looked for Zach’s approval as he did up the buttons.

“Great. Much better, right Casey?”

“Hot,” the shooting assistant confirmed. “Haute.”

“Sorry,” Ellie said to him, under her breath. “I know this is weird.”

He studied her regretful expression. “You don’t need to keep apologizing. But you do need better hobbies, babe.”

“I happen to like photo shoots,” she returned with a smile.

“Stop smiling, soldier boy!” Zach screeched. “Tough guy, remember? Now, Ellie, sweetie. I want to get some action shots of you stealing his hat. Laugh, have fun with it. But Future Mr. Glass, you keep smoldering until I tell you to stop. Got it?”

Joaquin didn’t really get it, but he figured he was more of a prop than anything. He tried not to get in his fake fiancée’s way, and hoped he looked a little less stupid than he felt. By this time, fairly bored—even though he had one arm around the “princess of pop” while the other held onto the hat she was intent on stealing—he noticed his PA in the crowd.

She was eating his sandwich.

The Family Business, coming this August! Pre-order now.