A Slow Burning Fire - By J.F. Jenkins

Chapter One

Arial Oakley gazed up into the dreamy, olive-green eyes of super Hollywood hunk, Bryce Valentine. Those eyes sparkled with a unique light as he gazed back into her bright baby blues. His strong arms were holding her shoulders tenderly, and his sandy blond hair was gelled playfully at the bangs, giving him a small touch of bad boy flair. The way he filled out the tight black T-shirt he wore was absolutely divine. He looked back at her with the softness of a man in love.

Unfortunately for her, it was all an act for the part he played. On their television show, Three Wishes, his character, the dark and troubled Kevin, thought she was the love of his life. Well, not her, but her character Veronica.

The drama of the show couldn't be any further from the truth. Not only was Bryce the nicest guy on the planet, but he was practically married to their co-star Katie Daniels. Hollywood's perfect couple — sort of. When it came to all of the glamorous red carpet events, the two were inseparable in an almost sickening kind of way. Behind the scenes, however, was another story. As far as Arial knew, everything was fine between them, but things were far from being perfect. The couple fought more openly on set, and Katie no longer gave him small bits of affection between set time. In fact, they hardly spent any time together outside of the scenes where they had to interact.

The tabloids loved to try and paint all kinds of crazy love triangles involving the cast of the show. In the end, it all amounted to a bunch of ungrounded rumors. Arial may have admired Bryce in secret for the past nine years, but it was clear he only had eyes for Katie, despite whatever bumps were in their relationship.

“I mean it this time, Veronica. I'm staying, forever,” he said. His face leaned in toward hers, and they shared a kiss. Arial caught the slight taste of his minty breath, and the smile she wore when she pulled away from him was genuine.

Once more her gaze met his. “You told me you didn't believe in happily ever after.”

“Someone changed my mind,” he said into her ear.

“And cut!” the director called out.

Bryce lingered against her for a moment, his nose in her hair. For those brief few seconds, she savored the feeling of his warm embrace around her. She didn't know the next time she would get the chance to be in it.

The director climbed off of his chair and joined them on the set floor. He shook each of their hands. “Thank you for the past nine years. It's been a pleasure to work with you. I wish you the best in all of your future endeavors.”

“Thank you,” Arial said softly, trying to fight the tears that were pooling in her eyes. She sucked in a deep breath. “I'm going to go back to my trailer and pack up the rest of my stuff. They still want us gone by the end of the day, right?”

Bryce let out a heavy sigh. “Security wants us off the lot in three hours. Come on, I'll walk you back.”

“Always the gentleman,” she teased. “Yes, you can escort me back to my trailer. But don't think this is going to be the last time you see me. You can't get away from me that easily. In fact, I think you're stuck with me for the rest of your life. I hope you don't mind.”

He always walked her back, insisting he had to make sure she stayed safe despite the plethora of security guards around the lot. She wouldn't trade those walks for the world, though. It saddened her to think this would be the last one.

Together, the two left the set and stepped out into the warm California sunshine. The weather was perfect, as usual. Only a few small tufts of clouds were in the otherwise blue sky. It was a little on the hot side, given that it was the middle of the afternoon. They'd started shooting their last handful of scenes for the show early in the morning. There were about five more left to do, but none of them involved her or Bryce.

“I wouldn't dream of having a life without you,” he said and gave her a half smile. How was it that he always knew the perfect thing to say even without a script? And that half-smile of his was just as sexy and swoon-worthy