Beast’s First Red Carpet Event

Two years after Ransom

 

“You’re very sexy in a tux.” Belinda Garcia, who was better known professionally by her maiden name of Collins, adjusted her husband’s bow tie while trying to hide a smile at the look of disgust on his face.

“I’d be happy to wear it in private for you, Hollywood. Anytime. Just ask.”

His eyes darkened with promise, making her shiver with anticipation. Then he scowled. Which, honestly, was kinda sexy too. There was no denying it, she was gone for this man. All he had to do was walk into the room and she was panting after him like a dog in heat. If she had any self-respect at all, she’d have been embarrassed. Mainly, she was thrilled she’d had the sense to marry him.

“You still have to wear it tonight.” She smoothed his lapels. “You remind me of Daniel Craig’s James Bond. A rugged, scarred package of dense, lethal muscle. Why is that crooked nose of yours so sexy? And your scars? Especially that little scar through your eyebrow. I just want to trace it with the tip of my tongue. Why does it turn me on? Maybe I have a scar fetish. I hear that’s a thing.”

Strong arms wrapped around her, holding her tight against a wall of glorious muscle. “You don’t have a scar fetish. You just can’t resist me.”

With a sigh, Belinda snuggled closer, uncaring that it might wrinkle her designer dress. “That’s so true.”

“Seriously, babe,” he drawled in that broad American accent of his. “I shouldn’t be going to this thing as a guest. I should be in the background, watching the crowd, keeping you safe. There are a lot of crazies out there, and they can be dangerous.”

As they both knew all too well, seeing as one of those dangerous people had arranged for them to be kidnapped and held in the South American jungle. Although, Belinda wouldn’t have missed even a second of that terrifying ordeal, because it gave her John.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake.” Belinda’s mother, Libby Collins, bustled into the room. “You’re going to mess up your makeup and ruin that dress. Where’s your stylist?” She looked around the vast hotel suite, as though the woman might be lurking in a corner. “We’ll probably have to steam out the creases you’ve made.”

“The dress is fine. Belinda is beautiful. Nobody needs to steam anyone.” John’s voice rumbled through Belinda’s body, making her want to take him back to bed.

“Get your hands off her, right now,” Libby ordered. “You’re the one creasing her.”

“Libby, you can’t tell me not to hold my wife.”

“Beast,” she said in a tone that was both haughty and threatening, “I’m warning you.”

Even though it’d been two years since John told her family to call him Beast, it still amused Belinda to hear his street name coming out of her mother’s mouth. Somehow, she managed to make it sound like a child’s nickname. It had to be her regal English accent. Or, possibly, her formidable acting skills. After all, Libby Collins did have three Oscars to her name.

John reluctantly released her as he spoke to her mother. “One of these days, I’m going to call you on these threats you keep making, just to see what you do.”

“I wouldn’t recommend that,” Libby said, her nose in the air as she feigned disinterest in her favorite son-in-law. “You will undoubtedly regret it.”

“Belinda?” her personal assistant called as she entered the room. “Twenty minutes until we leave. The cars are waiting downstairs.” The petite brunette consulted her clipboard, reminding Belinda of her ever-so-organized sister, Julia. If they’d let her, Julia would have organized not only the premiere but the whole movie production. But tonight, all of the Collins family were guests instead of staff—no matter how much some of them might prefer it otherwise. “Mr. Favreau’s assistant called to confirm the interview you’re both doing with Graham Norton after the premiere. He asked if Mr. Garcia had changed his mind about taking part.” She looked at John hopefully.

John, in turn, looked like he’d rather have his head boiled in oil.

“I believe that’s a firm no,” Belinda said to her assistant. “Red carpet and nothing else. It’s all Beasty Boy can cope with. Isn’t that right, honey?”

The gleam in his eyes promised retribution for the Beasty Boy reference. She couldn’t wait.

Her assistant left the room, passing Belinda’s brother and father as they hurried in. Both looked perfectly at home in their tuxedos, but considering how much time they spent in them, that was hardly surprising.

Her father, Stephen, kissed her cheek before nodding at John. “Couldn’t get out of it then?” he said with a grin.

“Still working on it.” John cast a hopeful look Belinda’s way.

“Not on your life.” She checked her hair in the mirror over the mantel of their central London hotel suite. “You can’t miss the red-carpet premiere of a movie that’s not only about you but was written by your wife. No matter how much you’d like to.”

“But the security—” he started for the millionth time.

“Will be handled by Benson Security,” everyone in the room said in unison before grinning at each other.

“It’s not the same,” John said, even though the team protecting them would mostly be made up of his lifelong friends.

“Has anyone ever told you that you’re a control freak?” Libby asked him sweetly.

Belinda’s brother, Daniel, laughed so hard she thought he might pass out.

“It wasn’t that funny,” their father said. “Plus, cut the man some slack. This whole premiere thing is new to him.”

As one, the Collins family regarded Beast with a mixture of affection and understanding. For a man who’d never had a family and professed he wouldn’t know what to do with one, he’d wormed his way into the very center of Belinda’s.

“Don’t look directly into the crowd of photographers,” Daniel advised. As the latest hot action movie star, he’d attended his fair share of premieres lately. “Focus on a point above them. Otherwise, you’ll go blind from all the flashes going off.”

“Keep a smile on your face, no matter what.” Libby sighed. “Or at least, don’t frown. Just look blank. You can do that. I know you can.”

“When they ask what you think of the movie, don’t tell them the truth,” Stephen added.

Beast folded his arms and considered their family with a mixture of irritation and long suffering. “I haven’t seen the movie.”

“That’s what I mean. Don’t tell them that,” Stephen said. “Talk about how proud you are of your wife for writing her first screenplay, that you’re thankful Jon Favreau stepped in to direct, and that you know it will be a hit.” He glared at Belinda. “Although I’m sure it would have been even more successful if you’d let me direct. I still don’t see why you had to involve Jon. He isn’t exactly known for his serious work. I mean, have you ever watched Elf? It’s an offense to Christmas, never mind movie making.”

“We’ve been over this, dear.” Libby linked her arm through her husband’s. “Because Jon’s name was used during the kidnapping, he’s a huge publicity draw for the movie.”

“My movies get good publicity too,” her father grumbled.

Libby patted his chest. “Yes, they do. But, honestly, would you have been able to direct scenes about the horrible experience your own daughter went through? No, you’d have shied away from delving into the raw emotion of the story, purely because you have your own emotional reaction to the things Belinda went through, which is perfectly understandable. We both know you couldn’t have made that movie without blowing a gasket. Now let it go and move on. I’m sure Jon has done a lovely job.” She looked at Belinda for confirmation.

Belinda nodded. “I’m thrilled with the job he’s done. He’s really brought out the best in the actors who play John and myself. Although it’s nowhere near the artistic level Dad would have achieved, I’m sure it will still be a crowd-pleaser.”

“Suck-up,” her brother coughed behind his hand.

“Oh good, we’re all here.” Belinda’s grandmother, Patricia, sailed into the room, followed by her best friend, Alice, Belinda’s sister, Julia, and Julia’s husband, Joe—who was one of John’s childhood friends. She beamed at everyone before gesturing to herself. “Don’t I look fabulous?”

Dressed in a hot-pink pantsuit with matching cape, she sure did. She was also luminous enough to spot from the space station.

“We definitely won’t lose you in the crowd.” Daniel grinned at her.

“Cheeky boy,” their grandmother reprimanded. “I’ll have you know this is Versace.”

“What about you, Alice? Who dressed you?” Daniel had a wicked glint in his eye, a sure sign he couldn’t resist the urge to tease the woman who was basically an aunt to them.

Alice glanced down at her black lace dress. “I did.” She appeared bemused. “Wait a minute, is this one of those questions where you’re supposed to know the designer?” She turned to Patricia. “Who made this?”

“Some sweatshop in China.” Patricia’s lip curled.

“Probably shouldn’t say that if you’re asked,” Libby said diplomatically. “Just tell them it’s vintage.”

Alice looked nonplussed. “But I bought it yesterday.” Her eyes strayed to a table set up with snacks and drinks. “Good. Food. I haven’t had any dinner. Will they provide refreshments at this shindig, or should I stuff something in my handbag for later? I’ll need something to nibble while we watch the movie.”

“You’d think this was the first time I’d taken her to a premiere.” Patricia sighed. “Her husband was the one responsible for feeding and dressing her. That man had taste. It’s all gone downhill since he died. All Alice cares about is finishing her memoir. She’d wear overalls every day if she could.” She followed her friend to the table and attempted to stop her from filling her bag with sandwiches.

“Are we actually watching the movie?” John asked. “I thought we were gonna slip out the back and have a burger until it’s time to get you to Graham Norton.”

“We could do that,” Belinda said soothingly. “But you need to see the movie at some point, and tonight is as good a time as any.”

“I don’t need to watch it to know the story. I lived it.”

He had on his stubborn face, and Belinda didn’t have time for another round of discussions about why he had to attend the premiere. Thankfully, her brother-in-law, Joe, came to the rescue.

“Didn’t know you were a big chicken,” he drawled through a lazy grin. “Thought you MMA guys were tough. Guess I was wrong.”

“Joe,” Julia chided. “Don’t be insensitive. If my family made a movie about our relationship, I wouldn’t want to watch it either.” Blushing, she lowered her voice to a whisper and said, “I think there’s a sex scene. Even you have to admit that would be uncomfortable.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Joe said with a wicked grin. “Maybe we should get the camera out and film some stuff. Won’t know how I feel about that until we try.”

“Joe!” Libby snapped.

Belinda winced as she looked at John out of the corner of her eye, hoping he hadn’t heard what Julia said. Of course, she wasn’t that lucky.

A muscle ticked in the corner of his jaw. “Excuse us for a second,” he said before gently taking her arm and leading her into the bedroom, where the door slammed behind them. “Sex scene?” he forced through gritted teeth.

Belinda, who wasn’t an Oscar-nominated actress for nothing, instantly went into Betty White mode—as wide-eyed, innocent, and slightly confused Rose from The Golden Girls. “I had to be true to the story, John. We fell in love during our time in the jungle, and we made love for the first time while we were there. It’s an integral part of the story.”

He folded his arms, making the seams of his tailored tux strain. “It’d better be a fade-to-black scene, Belinda. I’m seriously gonna be pissed if our sex life is reenacted for the world to see.”

“I can assure you that it’s a very tasteful, sensual, and emotional scene.” She paused. “The actor playing you had tears in his eyes by the end of it.”

His fingers dug into his biceps. “I don’t remember crying after we had sex.”

“It’s artistic license, honey. I wanted to convey the emotional depth of the scene through my screenplay, to help the viewers understand what was at stake. And the director had to bring that out of the actors. Trust me, it will be fine.”

“Time to go,” her father called from the living area.

Belinda closed the distance between them. She placed her palms on his chest and batted her lashes at him. “Don’t be angry with me. I swear it’s tasteful. I’d never deliberately embarrass or hurt you. You do know that, don’t you?”

John sighed, and his gaze softened. “Your idea of what’s embarrassing is very different from mine. I don’t like people knowing our personal details.”

“Our personal details were in every newspaper on the planet after that mess in Peru. I’m just telling our story in a way that I see as the truth—not all the made-up rubbish that still circulates about us.”

“But did the world have to watch us make love?” He sounded so despondent that she almost caved and let him go to the premiere as her bodyguard instead of her husband and inspiration.

Almost.

“They aren’t watching us make love. They’re watching two totally different people pretend to make love.”

He didn’t look convinced.

The bedroom door swung open, and Joe stuck his head inside. “Time to go.”

Beast was a man on his way to the gallows as he passed by his grinning friend.

“Don’t worry.” Joe slapped him on the back. “I’m going to record the important parts of the movie so the guys can see what they missed. Wouldn’t want them to feel left out.”

John growled.

“No matter what,” Belinda told him as they left the hotel suite, “remember that the actors aren’t us, and the screenplay isn’t a documentary. Okay?”

“And don’t hit anybody,” her mother added.

“No matter how stupid their question,” Daniel said.

“Or how personal,” her father said.

John just growled again while Joe threw back his head and laughed.

***
You can find out more about Ransom here.

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