Dancing with a Star

A Shore Thing Novel

Dancing With A Star - Grace Kilian Delaney
Editions:Kindle: $ 3.99 USD
ISBN: B084RRMS31
Pages: 262
Paperback: $ 10.99 USD
ISBN: 979-8614332693
Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
Pages: 262

"You had my heart as a boy, and whether you realized it or not, you’ve kept it all these years."

Androgynous fashion model Quinn Bouchard knew this day was coming. Hours before one of the most important photo shoots of his career, his wife asks for a divorce—a divorce they had agreed upon before exchanging vows—causing upheaval in his otherwise happy queerplatonic relationship. As if the day wasn’t hard enough, Quinn learns Xander Engstrom, his childhood best friend now a movie star, is part of the photo shoot, and their reunion awakens something Quinn hasn’t felt in years, leaving him sure of only one thing: he needs Xander back in his life.

Movie star Xander Engstrom has regrets, and the epic fight spread across the tabloids between him and his ex-boyfriend—an addict that won’t leave him alone—is the biggest. To control the damage, Xander agrees to an interview and photo shoot with a well-respected publication where he meets Quinn, the first boy he had a crush on. Xander’s pathetic, romantic heart falls all over again for his long-lost friend. The only problem is the type of relationship he’s thinking of isn’t possible with the stunning model.Living on opposite coasts and worlds apart, they navigate through months of coordinating schedules, the whims of a finicky film company, and nights in hotel rooms to spend time with each other until secrets force them to choose between a future together or letting their pasts tear them apart.

This friends-to-lovers, slow-burn romance contains implied sexual abuse, one photogenic gargoyle, and discussions about cannibalism.Can be read as a stand-alone book as Quinn’s story starts before Julien’s in Living on a Dare (Book One) and ends a year later.

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Pairings: M-M, M-NB, M-M-F
Heat Level: 3
Romantic Content: 5
Ending: Click here to reveal
Character Identities: Ace, Gay, Genderfluid
Protagonist 1 Age: 26-35
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Friends to Lovers, Slow Burning Love
Word Count: 77000
Setting: Massachusetts and Los Angeles, CA
Languages Available: English
Series Type: Same Universe / Various Characters
Excerpt:

Xander Engstrom bolted out of his seat and off the plane. The turbulent, five-hour, red-eye flight to his hometown had ratcheted up his nerves and prevented him from falling asleep. The surreptitious glances of his fellow travelers didn’t help. He wasn’t paranoid—people had stared at him from the moment he boarded. He felt them watching him now while he waited for his luggage, the carousel spitting out suitcase after suitcase and prolonging the grueling trip. His luggage came out toward the end because life continued fucking with him. The handle broke when he lifted it, and the bag toppled to the floor. A teenager and his friend snickered next to Xander, upping his annoyance. He should’ve stuck with a carry-on.

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Xander propped the suitcase on its wheels and headed outside to wait for his ride, internally scowling while keeping a neutral expression. His reputation as a down-to-earth celebrity came into question two months ago when the press portrayed him as an unsympathetic addict. A partially true fact, but there were two sides to every story, and Xander had recently told his side to a popular gay publication. The interview was his chance to revive his good-natured reputation, and the accompanying photo shoot, which was scheduled for tomorrow in one of Boston’s converted warehouses, would be released the following month. The photo shoot was one of the reasons he had returned to his hometown. The other was to pay a long-overdue visit to his family.

The driver of the town car gave him a suspicious once-over but said nothing the entire ride to the hotel, letting Xander stare out the window in peace and watch the city slowly wake up.

“For what it’s worth, I think that Todd guy was a real piece of garbage,” the driver broke his silence when they reached the hotel, a long, brick building by Boston Harbor, and Xander’s home away from home. The hotel was also close to his father’s restaurant, where the old man spent ninety percent of his day.

“For what it’s worth, I do too.” Some days Xander missed and defended his former boyfriend. Today isn’t one of those days. He dragged his suitcase behind him, breathing in the briny, cool air on the short walk to the hotel’s lobby.

“Mr. Broadway?” the attractive man at the front desk said. Clean-shaven, brown hair and eyes, probably in his late twenties, the clean-cut poster boy of hospitality sported a knowing smirk.

Xander gathered the dregs of his patience and pretended to be a well-adjusted and calm person. If he showed how tired he was or even said the wrong thing, someone might post their encounter on social media and proclaim all the rumors were true: Xander was an asshole at heart. He wasn’t. But someone always had a phone ready to record and hunger to make a buck or two off a movie star’s less than jovial public face.

“That’s me.” Xander slid him his ID and credit card. A pseudonym offered a smidge of protection from unwanted guests. He always chose a name from the ’90s cartoons his aunt had subjected him to when he was a kid. He used to watch them on a portable DVD player with a boy from dance class. The cute boy liked to cuddle and hold hands, all very innocent and a lifetime ago.

“If there’s anything we can do to make your stay more pleasurable, just give the front desk a call,” the guy said with emphasis on anything, a not-so-subtle innuendo. No longer interested in nameless, faceless fucks, Xander was in a committed, long-term relationship with his right hand.

“I appreciate that.” Xander mustered up a wink and a smile, appeasing the young man before heading to the elevator and taking it to the top floor. The spectacular view of the harbor soothed him, but exhaustion from the trip and from acting like Xander Engstrom the movie star instead of a real-life person had caught up. The bed called to him. He sat on the billowy comforter and removed his shoes, ready to pass out when his agent called.

“Hey, Sue. What’s up?”

“Did you get the information I sent about your photo shoot tomorrow?” she asked, getting right to the point. Time being money and all that. Sue had a good heart, and when not picking up his trail of trash, she was much more laid-back.

“Yes, I’m all set. Thanks.”

“Good job on the interview, by the way. You dodged all the shit questions about Dickhead, and you came off as repentant.” Dickhead, aka Todd, his former boyfriend, the brain trust who had brought an array of multicolored pills, copious weed, and booze to their detox vacation, and the root of Xander’s current career turmoil. Todd undermining Xander’s attempt at sobriety was just another way to stay in control. He decided the parties they went to, the clothes Xander should wear when they went out in public, the roles Xander should take, and even the food Xander should eat. Todd micromanaged his life, and Xander went along with him, trusting his seasoned industry professional boyfriend to help advance Xander’s acting career and use his influence to get auditions for the bigger budget movies, which Todd did. But the price was living under Todd’s thumb and succumbing to constant nitpicking and dictation of what Xander should and shouldn’t do. Self-medication followed.

Sobriety was the only solution, and naturally, Todd disagreed. They argued, yelling and screaming at each other on a placid tropical beach in public, a negligent consequence of that pink pill Xander had swallowed all too willingly, and of course, people whipped out their phones, filmed the entire fight, and posted it on the internet. Xander’s rage face meme, a hideous shot of him in mid-yell, went viral and provided the wake-up call he needed to end things with Todd for good and get his life together.

“I heard Todd is out of rehab. I hired a bodyguard for you,” Sue said.

“That’s not necessary. Todd’s three thousand miles away and knows we’re not together. I’m sure the last thing he’ll want to do is fly across the country to find me after our fight.” The “I never want to fucking see you again!” Xander had screamed at Todd while gentle winds blew palm fronds was loud and clear and also available to watch online.

“Just in case, you need someone to prevent situations from escalating. We can’t have another scene like the last one. I texted you the name of the agency and the number to call to confirm,” The hard edge to Sue’s tone meant there was no saying no. He had zero intentions of calling. “Last thing. You want the good news or the bad news first?”

Oh hell. This was never a good sign. Better get it over with. “Bad news.”

“Your June calendar cleared up.” Most people would be overjoyed. Maybe take a vacation. But an empty June meant Xander lost the leading role in Going Home, a role with a promise of award recognition and his chance to prove his diversity as an actor and the role he had fought hard to convince the producers and casting agents to pick him over more seasoned drama actors.

“What happened with Going Home? I was contracted, Sue.”

“I know, and your lawyers and I are handling it. For now, the project is shelved. The good news is, Terminal Risk is scheduled for the beginning of next year.” The third and final installment of the spy series that had made Xander Engstrom a household name also pigeonholed him as an action star. He went from being typecast as a dancer who could sort of act, to an action star who could fight. Not that he was complaining. He just wanted a challenge, a role with more substance, a role he earned on his own merits like the dance movies.

“Any other roles come in?”

“I’m sorting through some scripts. Some look promising.”

“I know that tone. They suck, don’t they?”

“You know as well as I do, it’s about finding one yes in a sea full of hell nos. If I see anything really juicy, I’ll send it to you. In the meantime, get some rest so you can look fresh for your photos.” The and not hungover like the last shoot was implied. Sue had nothing to worry about. Mind-altering substances lost their appeal once the fight in tropical paradise went viral.

Xander hung up and slept like the dead, his internal clock screaming to make up the lost hours of rest. A quick shower and a change of clothes and he was off to see his papa and get the ass-kicking that surely waited for him, a consequence of not visiting since Christmas of last year.

The neighborhood hadn’t changed much, right down to the potholes that sank year after year despite repairs. The same shops lined the street, minus a new one that looked like it catered to the new age folks, and the same restaurant his papa had owned for about twenty years had a fresh coat of paint. Mar Azul was Leo Madeira’s pride and joy and felt like Xander’s second home.

“There’s my boy,” Papa said when Xander entered. The chaos of the kitchen preparing for the lunchtime rush surrounded them. Middle age suited Papa. His short mahogany hair had silver strands by his temples, laugh lines and crow’s-feet graced his otherwise smooth face, and he managed his weight by hitting the gym almost every day. Papa was like a Hollywood star from the ’50s, all charm and class. Women loved him, but none ever stuck around. Xander wondered if his heart was caught up on his high school sweetheart, Xander’s birth mother, the one that had gotten away. Far away. No one knew where she was or what happened to her after she had left when Xander was an infant.

“I got a codfish casserole for ya. You’re going to love it.” Xander’s papa dished up a plate, adding vegetables and rice, all of which smelled like heaven and made Xander’s stomach growl with anticipation. “Come, sit in the restaurant. We don’t open for another half hour, so no one is out there. Grab some rolls on the counter there. Careful, they’re hot.”

Food first. Ass-kicking after. Always the way with Papa.

Decorated with knickknacks and photos of the ocean and boats, the rectangular restaurant with an impressively stocked bar sat about fifty people. They picked a table near the bar, away from the windows.

Careful what you eat, Xan. No one will hire a fat, gay star. Miles and months away from Todd, the biting things he had said still popped up. Xander wanted to scrub his brain free of all Todd-related things. He wished he could.

Xander ate most of his lunch, sticking to superficial topics like how the flight went and the weather, always the weather, a mandatory subject in New England, and how the Patriots were doing this year. When Xander finished, he pushed the plate aside. Time to face the music.

“You ready to talk?” Papa rested his arms on the table, settling in for an explanation as to why Xander had kept phone calls brief and skipped his usual summer visit.

“We broke up.” Xander didn’t need to tell him. The tabloids had told everyone.

“So I heard. I knew when you brought that guy here for Christmas that he was no fucking good. Anyone who tells you what you can and can’t eat is a controlling SOB and doesn’t belong in this family.” The saying about sailors and cursing was true, though Papa, a navy veteran, cleaned up his vocabulary in the dining area of the restaurant. The kitchen was where a man could learn some truly colorful metaphors. “Was he keeping you away from us? Your family?”

“No, Papa.” Xander’s own bad behavior had kept him away. He functioned day-to-day. Showed up for jobs. Interviews. Photos. Whatever. But he had been acting as Xander Engstrom, Movie Star, and shutting everyone and everything out, doing his best to be numb when the camera wasn’t on. Todd—an agent with a far reach in Hollywood—had the ability to make or break Xander’s career, and Xander didn’t see a way out. He still didn’t, but the decline in roles and damage to his reputation was a product of his own temper and doing, not Todd’s. Todd was never Xander’s agent. Xander knew better than to put his career in Todd’s hands.

“I saw the way he treated you, the things he said. You don’t need to protect him or feel ashamed by what happened, Alex. I’ve seen these narcissistic types, and they get in a person’s head and turn them all around. Your aunt and I have been worried sick about you.” Xander’s Papa, aunt, and the bartender who was practically an uncle still called him by the nickname, Alex. Engstrom came from a World War II Evarts-class destroyer escort, the USS Engstrom. Xander had discovered the destroyer while writing a research paper in high school.

“I’m sorry.” The anticipated ass-kicking doled out, Xander regressed to a five-year-old, head hung low, eyes downcast.

“No, son. Don’t be sorry. I’ve missed ya is all. And when you didn’t call to wish your aunt a happy birthday last week, I thought the worst. You’ve never missed her birthday, or mine, or even James’s.” James, the bartender, co-owned the restaurant and was Papa’s best friend and an honorary member of the family. “Be honest with me. Are you using? I heard things, and I don’t want to believe the tabloids.”

“No, I’m not using.” Anymore.

Leo rapped his knuckles on the table twice. “That’s good. Good. Why don’t you stick around for a while, reconnect with your roots, get away from LA? It’d do you some good.” Home meant staying with his papa. Damn if Xander didn’t want to take him up on the offer.

“I can’t. I’ve got to go back to LA and start training for the Terminal Risk movie. While I’m here, I’ll make it up to Aunt Silvia for her birthday somehow.”

“Bet if you offered to talk to or teach one of her classes, she’d forgive you.”

“Right after she strangles me with one of her scarves.”

“Heh, you got that right.” Papa snapped his fingers, an idea shining in his eyes. “She’s in love with this new boutique store a few stores down. They sell fairies and medieval knickknack stuff she gets all excited about, you know, in case you want to get her a belated gift before you see her tomorrow night. You’re still coming by after your work thing, yeah?”

“Photo shoot. Yes.” A figurine was safer than his usual gift of a silky scarf. Less risk of her strangling him with it for missing her birthday.

“I’ll have a plate of paella with your name on it when you get here. What are your plans the rest of the day?”

“Is this your way of putting me to work in the kitchen?” Xander loved cooking, and if he hadn’t been a dancer like his aunt, he would’ve been a chef like his papa.

“You know it. I could use an extra set of hands and a guinea pig to try out some new recipes.”

“As long as I don’t have to wash the dishes, I’m game.”

“We’ll see about that.”

COLLAPSE

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