Deleted Chapter #1

In the original version of Under the Lights, there were 3 POVs – Liam had a storyline as well. But Josh and Vanessa’s kept intertwining, and his kept going off in another direction, so I pulled it out. However, I promised I’d reveal some of the deleted scenes at some point, so, voila! The original chapter 3, the second half of which was repurposed into Josh’s POV, as you’ll probably recognize if you’ve read it!

Chapter Three

Liam

I hate parties. Ally hates parties. Why the hell am I sitting here making stupid phone calls for a stupid party?

At least I’m making some actual progress. Josh’s brilliant idea of making a New York City-themed send-off has of course involved flying in tons of shit from across the country for no reason, but it turns out it’s pretty easy to get stuff done when you open up conversations with, “Hey, this is Liam Holloway.”

There’s only one thing left on my to-do list for the night, and it’s one I’m actually happy to do: get my goodbye gift for Ally. Just thinking about giving it to her makes my heart pound a little faster, but I think she’ll like it. At least I hope she will. I already have part of it here—the most important part—but it’s not quite complete.

I can’t trust Van to keep her mouth shut when it comes to all things Ally, but our costar Carly was happy to help me track down what I’m looking for and get the store to sneak me in after hours. But I can’t pick it up until nine tonight—two more hours—and I’m feeling antsy.

Doing a couple hundred crunches works out some nervous energy, and after a quick shower, I prep for my table-read tomorrow as much as my distracted brain will allow. Finally, it’s time, and I throw on dark jeans and a black hoodie and head out.

As Carly said there would be, a tall brunette is waiting when I arrive, and I swear it feels more like I’m buying drugs than buying jewelry—not that I would know anything about either one. “Mr. Slade?” she asks.

“Please, call me Frank.”

She smiles and leads me into the store through the back. This sort of shit used to be unnecessary, but ever since a bunch of papers grudgingly acknowledged that I’m more than a walking six-pack (well, eight-pack now, thank you very much) after seeing me in James Gallagher’s The Future of History this past spring…my hoodie collection’s basically quadrupled in size.

“I’m Jillian, by the way,” she says, and the tinge of flirtiness in her voice makes my jaw tighten. I take a deep breath and keep following. There’s no way she’s missed that I’m here to pick up a gift for my girlfriend, even if the fact that Ally and I are together is not something I ever discuss with the press.

Finally, she retrieves the small box and holds it out to me, but when I try to take it from her, she holds fast. “You should look at it here. Make sure the engraving came out right.”

Fair enough, and it’s not like she hasn’t already seen what’s in there. I pull off the lid and smile at the small gift nestled inside. It looks exactly as I imagined it, twinkling and pristine. I nudge one charm to the side to read the engraving on the other. It’s perfect.

“It’s beautiful,” says Jillian. “She’s gonna love it. Especially if it comes with what I think it does. I know I would.”

There’s no mistaking the flirtatiousness now, and suddenly I can’t wait to get out of dark store. “Thanks,” I grunt, grabbing my wallet and pulling out my credit card. “Here.”

“Did you want me to wrap that?” she asks. “Wrapping is complimentary.”

I have to stop myself from snorting at the suggestion that the price of wrapping matters after how much I spent on the gift itself. “Just the box is fine,” I say, because she’s looked me up and down at least twice now and I’m starting to sweat under my hoodie. I put on the lid and all but wrench it out of her hands, and she goes ahead and swipes the card.

After what’s probably only a minute but feels like forever, she has me sign the receipt. Then she hands me my copy complete with her card, which I politely stick in my wallet as if I won’t rip it up the second I’m outside, and encourages me to call if I need “anything else, anything at all.”

But the only thing I need is to have her stop eyeing me like I’m some sort of sex doll, so I thank her tersely and fumble back out the way we came.

Right into flashing lights and shouts of my name.

Shit.

This is the part I still suck at, the part I never get used to no matter how often it happens. It’s different when I’m at a restaurant or club I know is paparazzi-bait; sometimes I’m there on purpose, and more often than not, I just don’t give a shit. But when I’m just trying to run a private errand, when all I want is to get my pricey gift for Ally home safe and sound, and I’m not expecting it….

“Liam! Liam! What are you doing coming out of a jewelry store?”

“Liam! Liam! Are you buying an engagement ring?”

Times like this, thinking about Ally is what calms me down. I imagine her face on the teary black-haired girl begging me to sign her arm, and I ask for a pen. I imagine she’s the one hollering my name in the crowd, and I blow a kiss back and grin. I let her calm voice talk me through the crazies trying to yank up my shirt, and all the hands sticking their phones up in my face for pictures.

The questions I ignore completely; bad enough that the surprise of Ally’s gift will be partially ruined if any of these pictures are captioned with the fact that I was coming out of a jewelry store. Instead, I make my way through the fans, touching hands and signing whatever’s shoved in my face as I go, until I finally manage to get into my car.

Which fans promptly block in as they try to get my attention through the windshield and by knocking on the tinted windows.

Now I’m just fucking pissed, but I know I can’t blow up. Fans paid for that gift. For this car. For the apartment you wish you were in right now. It’s insane how often I give these pep talks to myself—and how hearing them in Ally’s voice actually makes me listen. I rev the engine, smile, wave, and knock back, and eventually, the hangers-on peel off and get out of the way, and I get home as quickly as humanly possible without killing any pedestrians.

All I’ve done is one simple errand, but by the time I throw myself on my couch, it’s eleven o’clock and I’m exhausted. I pull the box out of my pocket and put it in the little safe that holds a few things my mom left me when she died, then pull out my phone to see if I’ve missed any calls or texts in all the insanity.

There’s a message from my agent, a text from Josh, and another one from Ally. I check hers first. Just saying hi ❤. The few simple words make me smile, and it takes a lot of restraint not to write back begging her to come over or invite myself there; she’s baby-sitting her little sister, Lucy, tonight and I know they need some time to hang out before Ally leaves. I write a Hi there back, complete with my own heart, and then check Josh’s text.

Hrd u got ambushed. WTF bro?

Great. Don’t ask. Where are you?

2 Pts. Cum get smashed. R’ll get u.

All I really want is to crawl into bed, but the prospect of doing that alone and stone-cold sober after my night doesn’t actually sound all that relaxing. Since I’ll be doing it alone either way… Yeah OK. I’ll be ready in 2.

I pull off my sweatshirt and the T-shirt underneath with one yank, and replace them with a clean undershirt and the first button-down my hand touches. I don’t give a shit what I look like; I just want to blend in and get hammered until I obliterate this night from memory.

And until I can fall asleep forgetting that the one person who makes it all better is leaving me behind.

 ***

Of course, the second I walk up to the VIP section in Two Points where Josh is currently sucking a cherry out of a redheaded waitress’s bellybutton, he announces my presence to the world. “Look who the fuck is finally good enough to come out with his boys!” he yells out, then nearly chokes on the cherry. “What’sa matter, Holloway? Duncan finally dump your ass?”

“Chester, I almost forgot how charming you are when you’re drunk.” I fist-bump him hello, then do the same with Royce Hudson (whose real name is Richard something-Polish), Jeremy Hill, and Tosh—no idea if that’s his first name or his last. The waitress sits up slowly, sizing me up and smiling as she does, then slides off the table like water and eases out of the section to make room for me.

“Hey, you chased away our entertainment,” says Royce, nodding toward the waitress.

“I didn’t tell her to go,” I say with a shrug, grabbing the nearest open bottle and taking a drink without bothering to check its contents.

“Yeah, you but fucking radiate ‘taken’. Bitches don’t wanna be around that.”

“Pretty sure what they don’t want is to be called ‘bitches,’ actually.” I take another drink. It’s vodka—Grey Goose—and it’s pretty smooth going down. “Plus, a whole bunch don’t give a shit if you’re taken. Trust.”

Jeremy snorts. “Poor Holloway. You getting too much ass? Boo fucking hoo.”

Whatever. I roll my eyes at him and continue nursing the bottle. It’s only another minute until the waitress returns, carrying flaming shots that are apparently on the house. She sticks around, draped over Tosh, as we toast to I don’t even know what and drink them down.

“Seriously, man,” Josh says when the others guys are distracted by the waitress. “You okay? I heard it was some crazy shit.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine.” I might be lying. I’m still not sure. I take another drink of vodka and then think Yes, I’m fine. “How was dinner with Holly? You got a new movie picked out yet?”

“Deciding between a few. Have to figure some shit out with my parents first.”

My eyebrows shoot up. Even though I’m starting to feel a nice buzz from the vodka and shot, there’s no missing the weirdness of that statement. “You’ve been talking to your parents? About what?”

“My mom got canned,” he mutters, taking a swig from the tequila bottle I hadn’t realized he was holding. “Now she wants to do some reality shit so she can pretend she was ever relevant.”

I almost choke on the vodka. “Your family. In a reality show. Seriously? And your dad is cool with this?”

“My dad was paying attention for approximately five seconds of the conversation. Anyway, he’s not the one that network gives a shit about.” Josh rolls his eyes. “Lucky me.”

“I don’t get it. Just say no.”

“She’s blackmailing me with my house,” he says with a scowl. “Fuck this. It’s ruining my buzz.” He turns back to the waitress. “Got any more cherries hiding in there somewhere?”

I leave Josh to his waitress and the boys and take out my phone instead. What does it say about me that I’m out at a club with Josh and the guys and I’d rather be letting Lucy polish my nails again? I type out to Ally.

Nothing that I, as your girlfriend, particularly want to explore. Where are you guys?

I start to write back, then realize I can’t remember. Umm…someplace w/vodka.

Haha yikes, that good a night?

Would be better if you were here. I erase it, though. I know she feels guilty enough for leaving; I don’t need to make it worse. Well I prob won’t remember much of it at this point. I squint at the words, unsure if I’m actually typing coherently, then hit Send.

“Hey, is that Scott Lassiter?” I hear one of the guys whisper behind me as I wait for Ally’s reply text. I look up, far too quickly considering the vodka’s started settling in my system and I haven’t eaten since lunch, and almost puke my guts out when I realize it is, in fact, Scott Lassiter. My agent’s been trying to set up a meeting with him for months.

“Yeah, that’s definitely him,” Royce confirms. “Any of you guys auditioning for his Iraq movie?”

I’m not, but I sure as shit wanna be—every guy under forty does. Lassiter’s picky as hell about who gets an audition, and I’ve never been one of the lucky few. Then again, I’ve never been this close to him.

“There’s not a single hot chick in that movie,” says Josh. “No chance I’m going to sweat my balls off in the desert for that shit.”

Make that every guy but one.

“The asshole doesn’t even return my agent’s calls,” mutters Tosh. “Self-righteous prick.”

“Tosh, you’ve got like nine inches to grow in every fucking direction—including your dick—before you can play a soldier,” says Royce. “I’m perfect for that shit.”

“You’d look like an actual dick in a uniform,” Tosh shoots back. “But Holloway…fuck, man, you’d be perfect. You auditioning?”

My mouth grows dry as Lassiter nears our section. Next to me, my phone beeps with a text from Ally, but I can’t even look. Just thinking of her right now feels like added pressure.

And then, just like that, there he is.

“Mr. Lassiter.” Jeremy jumps up, sticking out his hand like an overeager tool. “Jeremy Hill. I’m a big fan.”

Lassiter looks at Jeremy’s hand, ignores it, looks around at all of us. His gaze settles on me. “You. You look familiar. Who are you?”

“Liam Holloway.” I have to shove down the urge to say “Sir.” Lassiter’s got a commanding presence. “I was in James Gallagher’s last movie.” Sir.

“Oh yeah. Fuckin’ Jim. That movie was all right. Who’s your agent?”

“Evan Cooper, Sir.” Fuck.

The guys all laugh, and so does Lassiter, but he’s not walking away. “Lift up your shirt.”

I’m so stunned, I don’t even respond. Fortunately, Chester has no such problem, and he yanks my shirts up as far as he can, revealing my torso to the entirety of Two Points.

Feeling pretty glad for today’s crunches right about now.

I swear, half the fucking club stops and whistles at me, but I can barely hear it over the sound of my heart pounding out of my chest. “Nice body!” some girl calls from the front.

“I’m inclined to agree,” Lassiter says wryly. “Here, Sir. Tell Evan Cooper to give me a call.” He hands over a card, gives my abs another quick glance, then walks off toward the bar.

I whirl around to the guys, who are all gaping at me. “Did that shit seriously just happen?” I ask Josh.

“That shit seriously just happened,” he confirms, giving me a bro-five that nearly breaks my palm in two. “Scott fucking Lassiter, man! That’s a fourth of July movie, man!”

Right. A fourth of July movie. Which means filming starts soon.

Which means it overlaps with Daylight Falls.

Which means there’s no chance in hell I’ll be able to do it.

I sigh and drop back down to my seat, taking another long chug of vodka. Just when this job almost seemed like fun again.

I should’ve known better.

The guys continue crowding around and alternately getting excited for me and talking shit, but I’m already checked out. I glance at my last text from Ally—I look forward to not hearing about it later!—shove my phone in my pocket, and settle back into my chair with the bottle.