Malibu Colony Beach
I scrolled through my social media as Pongo chased the tide. The Dalmatian loved to pounce on the foamy white water, waiting for anything alive to skitter away. I shuddered, remembering the time he’d caught a tiny crab thing. He’d looked proud, then horrified when it started moving in his mouth. I’d squealed like a little girl, and Pongo had promptly spat it out.
This was the easiest job I’d ever had, but I really didn’t want to deal with wiggly crustaceans.
“Pongo! Come back, boy!” I called as he got a little too far out into the waves.
Pongo bounded back to me, tackling me onto the soft, sandy beach. His tongue bathed my face and neck as his paws smeared muddy sand all over my t-shirt and shorts. I giggled at first then pushed him and stood so I could brush the mud off.
“We’ve gotta teach you some manners, Pongo,” I muttered as I saved my phone from the lapping tide. It was dirty but dry, thank god. No way could I afford to replace it right now. The only thing saving me from moving back home was this job and the crazy low rent my roommate had gotten us since we were subletting from her uncle.
My phone dinged with a news alert.
Breaking news from KALI 14 News
Ariel Knight, wife of actor Kingston Grier, Dies
Actress Ariel Knight has died from her injuries sustained in yesterday’s car accident near Monte-Carlo, Monaco at the age of 32. Knight, famous for portraying Amber Riley in the film The Heart of Texas, was more widely known as the wife of actor Kingston Grier.
Knight had been hospitalized after her vehicle collided with another car on the Basse Corniche at a high rate of speed and overturned. The unnamed male driver of her vehicle remains hospitalized. Kingston Grier is currently in Los Angeles with their six-month-old daughter.
This is a developing story.
Oh wow. How horrible. That poor little baby, motherless before her first birthday. And poor Kingston.
I’d followed the Grier brothers since they took Hollywood by storm ten years ago—first Kingston, with his comic book hero roles, and then Roman with his equally good looks and roles in romantic comedies. Truth be told, Roman might’ve been the inspiration for a few of my screenplays. Not that I’ve ever sold one. Or landed an agent.
Nope, to my mother’s everlasting shame, I was an unpublished dreamer. A barista who walked dogs to make ends meet when I wasn’t typing away every free moment I had. Thank god for my father. Unlike my mom, he was supportive of my dreams. I swore my mom would only be happy if I was married and popping out kids like my brother Eric and his wife were.
Ha. Joke was on her. I didn’t have time for a man in my life.
“Pongo!” I called to the prancing Dalmatian. “Come on, boy. Time to go home.”
Because I had about forty minutes to get to my other job and traffic was insane this time of day.
I’d taken about five steps with Pongo at my side when he gave a bark and dashed off.
“Pongo!” I yelled, but he didn’t even look over his shoulder at me. He’d always obeyed me before. “Pongo! Come!”
Instead, he crashed into a guy walking toward us. I watched in horror as they both went down in a tangle of flailing legs and fur. But over the sound of the ocean, I heard laughter.
I raced over to them. “I am so, so sorry. This big lug needs to learn some manners. Are you okay?”
The man pushed Pongo away from licking his face, and I gasped.
Pongo had tackled Roman Grier, Hollywood’s golden boy and my personal celebrity crush, Roman freaking Grier.
I felt distinctly light-headed. Taking a few swaying steps toward them, I grabbed Pongo’s collar and hauled him off the movie star. “I am so, so sorry. He usually listens to me. I’ve never had him tackle anyone but me.”
Pongo strained against my hold, whining as he stretched to lick Roman Grier.
Who was still flat on his back.
“Oh my god. I’m so sorry. Here.” Still holding Pongo’s collar with one hand, I reached down to help Roman Grier up, but Pongo took the opportunity to bolt back onto him again. Pongo’s momentum ripped me off balance, and I crashed down on top of my movie star crush.
Where I’d always dreamed of being.
But not like this!
I scrambled away from his hard, tight body. God, he really did have the firmest chest. Averting my eyes, I brushed the sand off my shorts and scolded the damn dog. “Pongo. No.”
Roman Grier grasped Pongo around the neck and held him back. “It’s okay. He’s just glad I’m home.”
“Oh.” I blinked. “You’re a neighbor of Jeff’s?”
Roman Grier frowned up at me. Because he was still sprawled on the beach at the mercy of the licking Dalmatian.
I shook my head. “Right. It’s none of my business. Again, I’m sorry. I’ll just…” I reached down again; this time to clasp the leash onto Pongo’s collar. Heaving him back again and away from licking all over Roman Grier’s face—le sigh, lucky dog—I offered my hand again. “Can I help you up?”
“No. I don’t think so.” Roman scowled as he pushed himself up to his feet. “What you can do is give me my damn dog back.”
“My dog. Pongo.”
I looked from an irritated Roman Grier to a whining, wiggling Pongo and back again. “But this isn’t your dog.”
“Look, whoever you are.” He gave a frustrated head shake and ran a hand through his dark brown hair. “I’ve had a hellish twenty-four hours—sixteen of which I spent on a plane. Just give me my dog.”
“Right. I’m sorry for your loss, but Pongo’s not yours. I met his owner. Jeff Jones. Your neighbor, I take it? He’s the one who walked me through the security codes and what all Pongo needs. Jeff didn’t say anything about you, so maybe when Jeff gets home in three days, you should go talk to—”
“You mean my assistant, Jeff?”
“Um, what?” Was this what a concussion felt like? Maybe I cracked my head harder than I thought.
“Jeff Jones is my assistant. I hired him, and he hired you.”
“Oh.” So no concussion. Suddenly, everything was making sense.
And I felt like a fool.
“Right. Here’s your dog.” I handed over Pongo’s leash, and Roman Grier grunted in response.
I tried not to take offense. His sister-in-law had just died—if he even knew since he’d been flying and traveling. Not that I was going to tell him. He looked exhausted. The dark circles around his eyes and the lines bracketing his mouth weren’t something I was used to seeing on him. Not that I knew him. I’d just lusted after him for years and pretended like maybe one day he would star in one of my screenplays.
And oh my god, I was standing here staring at him like a rabid fangirl. Get it together, Soph!
“Alright then. Bye.” I gave him a half smile, an awkward wave, and then took off for the back gate to his compound.
Because that was the only way to describe his “house.” He had a large sprawling main house, a swimming pool, and a separate guest house—all backing onto a beach in Malibu. He could swim in his pool, walk ten feet, and swim in the ocean. Okay, more than ten feet, but you know what I mean. It was insane. And a wonderful place to daydream in while I watered his plants and fed his dog.
But all that was over. Three days early. Three days that I wouldn’t be paid for.
I was going to have to pick up another side gig. Maybe I could deliver food or something.
Pongo nudged my leg and licked the back of my knee like he always did. Apparently, he and Roman Grier had caught up to me.
I leaned down and gave the dog an affectionate head rub. I was really going to miss this goofball. Pausing next to the back gate, I waited for Roman to key in the code and smiled sheepishly when he let me and Pongo through first. He might’ve acted a bit like a jerk, but apparently, he had some manners. Not that I’d acted any better. I’d practically accused him of dognapping.
He and Pongo bounded for the main house, but I beelined for the side gate that would let me out at the driveway where my ten-year-old Honda CR-V was no doubt lowering his property value.
Safely inside my car, I pulled away and didn’t look back. Not that anyone noticed or cared I’d slipped away. I doubted Roman Grier would ever think about me again, even though I’d be playing this memory over and over in my mind, wishing I’d done anything other than tackle him and accuse him of dognapping.
I waited until I went through the security gates at the end of Malibu Colony Road before I pulled over to call my bestie.
“What’s going on, Soph?” Molly’s low gravely alto came from my speaker phone and immediately put me at ease.
I switched my phone to hands free and pulled onto the Pacific Coast Highway. “Oh my god. You would not believe what happened just now.”
“Did you wake me up to tell me another story about the goofball eating another crab?” Molly groaned.
I opened my mouth to answer when I remembered the paperwork I’d signed four weeks ago—all regular new hire stuff, but there had been a non-disclosure agreement. I hadn’t thought about it since, I mean, who cared about the antics of a dog owned by someone I’d never heard of? But suddenly that NDA made so much sense.
“Err, I can’t tell you. Sorry. I forgot.”
“You forgot what happened? The whole reason you called me at eight o’clock in the morning?”
I winced. Molly worked at a bar most nights and probably hadn’t gotten in until two in the morning. “No, sorry. I forgot you worked last night. I’ll let you get back to sleep.”
“Ha. No, you woke me up. Tell me whatever’s got you all worked up. What’s going on?”
“I’m so sorry, Molls. I can’t. I forgot I signed an NDA.”
“You had to sign an NDA to walk a dog?”
“You never told me that.”
“I forgot. Then I figured it didn’t matter. I mean, it’s a dog. Who cares what he does?”
“Your employer apparently.”
“Right. Only I didn’t meet my employer then. I met him today.”
“I’m too tired to follow this conversation. I need some coffee.”
“No! Go back to sleep, Molly. I can’t tell you anything else. I’m sorry I woke you up. Go back to sleep, please.”
“Fine.” Molly gave a huge yawn followed by a sigh. “But you owe me. There better be a mocha latte in my hand next time I see you.”
“I’ll bring you one home from work. I’m headed there now. Love you.”
“Yeah. Uh huh. See you soon.” There was the distinct sound of snoring before I ended the call.
Ugh. I felt so bad. I’d gotten all caught up in my drama and completely forgot Molly’s schedule.
And now I had this huge secret that I literally couldn’t tell a soul.
Maybe it was for the best. I didn’t exactly come out as an awesome character in the story. What I really needed to do was brainstorm my next screenplay and not obsess over every little thing I’d said or did.
But that was easier said than done. Anxiety brain wouldn’t let it go. I’d literally had my entire body pressed against Roman Grier, and I’d acted like such a fool. It was so embarrassing.
Fortunately, time, distance, and activity helped me get over my angst. The rush at Morning Jolt was always intense, and this morning was no different.
Or at least it wasn’t any different until Molly barged in an hour and a half into my shift.
“Soph! Sophia!” She yelled from the back of the line, waving her arms over her head. “When’s your break?”
I looked at my coworker and tipped my head to Molly. “Do you mind if I take five?”
“Fine.” Eva muttered as she eyed the three people in line in front of Molly.
“Thanks, Eva. You’re the best.” I gave Molly the high sign, and she headed for a table.
“Five minutes. Then I’m taking my break.”
I nodded as I hurriedly made a mocha latte for Molly. Whipping my apron off, I ducked under the counter and headed for Molly’s table.
“You did not tell me that you met Roman Grier!” Molly squealed when I was still ten feet away.
Every head in the coffee shop swiveled in my direction.
My shoulders hunched, I hustled to Molly’s corner and then hissed, “How do you know that?”
“Girl, you’re all over The Babbler’s home page. Apparently some photographer caught you and Roman Grier on a beach.” She held her phone out to me.
All the blood left my head. I looked at picture after picture of me and Roman Grier. But instead of the weird, embarrassing encounter I remembered, the website framed the pictures like it was a romantic frolic on the beach. Us laughing over Pongo. Each of us holding his leash.
And ended with a picture with me on top of Roman Grier.
My knees locked, and I had to sit down.
I didn’t look frazzled or crazy in the photo. I looked soft.
And in love.
“Molly. Oh my god.”
“I know! Is this why you called me this morning?”
I could only stare at the last picture. I might’ve looked like I was in love, but Roman Grier looked sexy and a little pissed, in that smoldering, sex-god kinda way.
If only what was in the pictures was reality.
“I-I-I…” I sighed. “I don’t think I can say. I need to read that NDA again.”
“Sophia! You cannot leave me hanging like this. What happened?”
The sudden quietness of the coffee shop got my attention. At least three tables near us were shamelessly eavesdropping. I shook my head. “I definitely can’t talk about this here. Are you working tonight?”
“I’ll call in. But you have to tell me everything.”
“Fine.” Which really meant, maybe—we’d see. “I gotta get back to work.”Return to Falling for Rome