Love on the Byline: A Plays and Players Novel
by Xio Axelrod

Published: 2023-08-29T00:0
Paperback : 292 pages
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Blake Dillon isn’t exactly living the dream. She longs to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and make a difference in the world as a journalist. Unfortunately, her current job has her paying-off hotel staff for celebrity gossip. Tasked with shadowing a film star for an in-depth ...
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Blake Dillon isn’t exactly living the dream. She longs to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and make a difference in the world as a journalist. Unfortunately, her current job has her paying-off hotel staff for celebrity gossip. Tasked with shadowing a film star for an in-depth profile, Blake sees it as a chance to finally prove her worth. She never expected the interview to reconnect her with her old college crush.

Oliver Benjamin agrees to move to Los Angeles to work as the executive assistant to his best friend, a rising star. He hopes it will give him some direction. However, he soon discovers the only difference between being a frat boy and a Hollywood heartthrob is the amount of free stuff and the level of media attention. Ollie spends most of his time putting out fires, leaving little time for anything else. When Blake is sent to chronicle their lives, he finds himself face-to-face with the one that got away.

Blake and Ollie are smart enough to recognize the signs—there are enough sparks between them to melt glass—but they agree to put a lid on it until the article is finished. Much easier said than done when they’re forced to spend more time together than apart. There’s more going on than a simple interview, but they’re both professionals. They must resist temptation or risk unraveling both their lives.

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“It’s impossible.” Blake Dillon sat back in her chair, dark eyes flashing with irritation as she stared down Professor Crosby. “And, to me, it seems to be rooted in privilege.”

Ollie’s heart beat hard with unnamed emotion, as it always did when he was near her, especially when she was fired up about something she believed in.

At the front of the room, Professor Crosby leaned against his desk, his arms folded, and regarded Blake with his steely gaze. “Ms. Dillon, a true journalist will remain impartial because it is impossible to convey a story fairly and accurately when operating under bias.”

“I see,” Blake said, sounding not at all convinced. “You’re saying reporters need to dehumanize themselves.”

Crosby’s laugh conveyed his disbelief and his dismissal. He ran a hand through his graying hair. “Of course, not.”

“Desensitize, then.”

This brought their professor up short, and Ollie found he was deeply invested in the answer. Journalism wasn’t his major, but he was glad to have chosen the elective. And not only because it had brought Blake into his life.

“I’m not trying to be challenging for the sake of nuisance,” she said. “I only want to understand your position. You assert that journalists cannot and should not become emotionally involved in the story. Yes?”

“Absolutely correct.”

Blake let out a sound that wasn’t quite a laugh. “I’m sorry Professor but, unless the reporter is a chatbot, their emotions are going to be involved. If I’m doing a story on, let’s say, systemic injustice or reproductive health, it’s impossible for me to remain detached from those subjects.”

“Then you recuse yourself from those stories.”

“I’m sorry?” She squared her shoulders, the movement drawing Ollie’s attention to the curve of her neck and the way her hair curled against the shell of her ear.

Then Crosby’s words filtered through his distracted brain. Ollie raised his hand.

“Mr. Benjamin, you have thoughts on this?”

“I wanted to clarify,” Ollie said. “You believe a journalist shouldn’t cover a story that will emotionally compromise them?”

“That’s an excellent way of putting it.” Crosby smiled as if he’d found an ally.

Ollie could feel Blake’s eyes on him. He turned to look at her, hating the frown that creased her brow, and turned back to the professor.

“Forgive me, but I’m not sure that’s wise or even possible. Everything affects everyone, even if it’s indirectly,” Ollie said. “Whether it’s the weather, a stray cat in a tree, or war in a foreign country, it’s all connected to all of us. I agree with Blake. It’s impossible to be completely unbiased, especially if the bias is subconscious.”

“Exactly,” Blake agreed. Her soft, full lips, which had been pressed into a hard line, pursed. “I would argue that it is a journalist’s duty to become emotionally involved in certain stories. How else would you get to the heart of a thing? The connection is needed.”

“What you are describing, Ms. Blake, is activist journalism,” Crosby said. “I believe Professor Johnson’s Black issues class covers that. You should enroll.”

A hushed murmur filtered its way through the rest of the students.

Beside him, Blake took a deep breath that seemed to lower the temperature of the room.

“Professor Johnson’s African American Studies course is quite popular, sir,” she said calmly, though her hand was curled into a fist under the desk. “I tried to enroll—twice—but there’s a waiting list. I had to settle for your class.”

Several emotions passed over Professor Crosby’s face in quick succession before it settled into a mask of indignance. He pushed off the edge of his desk and went to the board, a stretch of green slate that probably dated back fifty years. It might still be considered new in the centuries-old classroom.

“Of the five tenets of journalism, impartiality requires that you maintain a sense of neutrality when reporting a story,” he said, scribbling the tenets on the board in hard, quick strokes of the chalk. When he finished, he tossed the chalk down and turned to face them. “And if you can’t be impartial, then walk away from the story. Or perhaps consider a different career,” he added, glancing at Blake before returning to his desk.

Ollie grit his teeth, biting back the things he wanted to say. Like fuck off and you’re the one who needs to rethink his career, you pompous asshole.

“It isn’t on the syllabus, but I’d recommend that you pick up The Elements of Journalism. I...think some of you might find it enlightening. See you next Friday.”

With that, the class was dismissed.

“Enlightening my ass,” Blake muttered as she closed her laptop and shoved it into her bag. “It’s easy to be detached when you don’t have a soul.”

Ollie hadn’t meant to laugh, and he shut it down fast when Blake stared daggers at him.

“What’s so funny?”

“Nothing.” He held up his hands. “Nothing at all, I wasn’t laughing at you. I promise.”

She’d paused, eyeing him with suspicion before she blew out a breath. Her shoulders sagged. “I know, sorry. That dude is a dick.”

“That he is,” Ollie agreed.

They stood and made their way to the door.

“Are you still up to working on our final project? I know it’s not due for weeks, but I’d love to finish early.” Please say yes, Ollie prayed silently.

Blake gave him a soft smile. “Of course. I’m all yours.”

He wished.

“For the next two hours, anyway,” she added with a sigh. “After that, I have to go to work. I have the late shift at the café.”

“We’ll have to make these two hours count, then.”

The quick walk across the University of Philadelphia campus was uneventful. The spring semester had just begun, but everyone already seemed to have their heads down and their routines set. The quad was full of activity. Groups sat gathered under the budding leaves of the oak trees, their books spread out on the sprouting grass. Others tossed Frisbees or simply socialized, enjoying the warming weather.

The library was cool and quiet when they entered, and they walked silently up the stairs to the third floor. The nook in the back corner of the Music and Art section had become their spot.

Ollie loved that he and Blake had a spot. He smiled when she set down her bag, sat in the heavy oak chair, and breathed a sigh of relief.

No one ever visited this part of the library, at least not when they had been there, so they could talk without being shushed every ten seconds.

“Don’t let Crosby get to you.”

“That’s great advice.” She pulled the tie out of her hair and her curls sprang out in every direction.

He watched her wrestle the coils back into the silk and elastic band, like she was taming a living being, and found her utterly charming.

When she looked up at him, he couldn’t hide his grin.

She rolled her eyes. “Sorry. You’re right. It’s just that he’s such a...a...”

“A sanctimonious prick?”

Her smile was blinding. “Come sit and let’s crack this assignment wide open.”

Helpless, Ollie did as he was told. He sat as close to her as he dared, surprised when she scooted closer and opened her laptop. The warmth of her thigh pressed against his was life-altering.

He scrambled to retrieve his own laptop. Work.


They had work to do.

“So, I was thinking,” she said as she leaned even closer. Her arm brushed his and Ollie felt the contact travel through his body like a current. “What if we approached it by...”

Blake’s warm, brown skin was as soft as a petal. He couldn’t concentrate on what she was saying.

“...exploration of gender fluidity...”

She smelled like candy.

“...how conventional gender norms...”

He wanted to set her in the middle of his tongue and simply...let her dissolve there.

“... that women were often excluded from literature or portrayed in stereotypical ways...” She trailed off. Blake lifted a hand and wiggled her fingers in front of his face. “Earth to Oliver.”

He felt his skin flush, and knew he was red-faced. “Sorry,” he stammered, removing his glasses and cleaning them to give his eyes somewhere else to look. His brain needed something else to focus on other than fuck, she’s beautiful.

She knew. The twinkle in her eyes told him she knew, and that she didn’t mind. Maybe even felt a similar pull.

“You with me?”

Ollie nodded because that’s the only place he wanted to be. With her.

Replacing his glasses, he swallowed hard and told himself to stop acting like a lovesick idiot. Even if he was a lovesick idiot.

“I am with you.” He focused on typing up their notes and realized he had no idea what she’d been saying. “The, uh, gender norms.”

Blake was staring at him, her dark eyes full of concern. “You okay, bud?”

Bud. Buddy. Friend.

Because that’s what they were. He really was an idiot.

“Yep, I’m fine.” Ollie shook out his shoulders. “I was just...uh...thinking about the party this weekend. Bran asked me to pick up some stuff and I don’t know which store carries it.”

Blake exhaled harshly, turning her attention back to her screen. “Bran.” She made the name sound like a swear word.

It wasn’t the first time she’d shown animosity towards Ollie’s best friend. He didn’t understand why. Everyone loved Bran. Well, everyone except a few of the girls he’d hooked up with.

The thought brought him up short. Had he missed something? No. Nope. He would have known. Right?

Still. “Did you and Bran ever...?”

Blake’s head snapped up so fast, Ollie thought she might have hurt herself.

“Me? And Brandon legacy-golden-boy Peters? God, no.”

The relief that swept over him was swift and definitive. He definitely had it bad for this girl, and he had no clue what to do about it. They were friends and he didn’t want to jeopardize that, even if the idea of being more than that made his heart tap dance inside his chest.

“I’m actually working on a story about him.”

“You are?”

Blake nodded and then seemed to hedge. “Well, not about him, per se, but students like him. Legacies, especially those on athletic scholarships.”

He frowned. “Bran’s not—”

She held up her hand. “Before you say Bran’s not like that, I know you guys are tight. Though, honestly Ollie, I can’t for the life of me understand why.”

“Are we really that different? I’m here on an athletic scholarship. Bran and I are on the same soccer team.”

She was shaking her head before he even finished. “Yeah, but you two couldn’t be more different. You... You’re...”

Ollie found himself holding his breath, eager to hear what she had to say about him, while also terrified to know her thoughts.


She gave a soft laugh, her eyes warm as she looked at him. “You’re you.”

Ollie didn’t know exactly what she meant by that, but he basked in the glow from her tone and her expression which told him all he needed to know for now.

“Thanks,” he said. “I think.”

Blake nudged his knee with hers. “One hour and forty-five minutes. Let’s get some work done.”

He nodded and set his hands back on his keyboard. Before she could say anything else, he asked, “Are you coming to the party? It’s Saturday.”

She looked up, clearly surprised by the invitation, and seemed to think it over before shrugging one shoulder.

“You know, I might. It depends on whether I can get some work done on my story for the Ledger.” She gave him a pointed look and he knew he was pouting. “I’ll try.”

Ollie tempered his joy. “Cool.”

Saturday brought warm weather and sunshine, perfect for Alpha Q’s first spring bash.

He wasn’t a member of the fraternity but he rented a room in the enormous house, and Bran always included him in their plans as if he were one of them. The brothers didn’t seem to mind. There were a number of their teammates in the frat, not to mention other athletes. It had earned them the nickname the Grocks or Greek Jocks.

Ollie was a planner, an organizer, so handling the details of the frat’s soirees—procuring the kegs, managing the invites, ensuring there was enough food and non-alcoholic beverages to keep anyone from getting alcohol poisoning—those things came naturally. He did it all, happily, as he did many things for Bran. He owed him so much.

“There’s my boy,” Bran said as he bounded down the curved stairs of the frat’s three-story house. “Everything looks great, man. Thanks.”

“Not a problem.”

“Make sure you actually enjoy yourself, this time. Your work is done. Have a little fun.” Bran winked.

“I will, promise.” Especially if Blake actually shows up.

Ollie wandered through the party, stopping here or there to chat with the brothers and their guests. Two hours in, the rager was in full swing. Music pumped through Bluetooth speakers situated throughout the first and second floors, the pool table at the center of the dining room already had a crowd gathered around it, and the center of the living room had been transformed into a makeshift dance floor.

He made his way into the kitchen, winding around the bodies playing beer pong to get to the fridge where he grabbed his second Corona.


He turned to find one of the brothers, Ren, behind him. “Hook me up, man.”

He handed Ren the Corona in his hand.

“Sweet! You’re, like, the best little helper ever. Don’t know where Brando found you, but we owe that dude some premium bud.”

Ollie didn’t smoke, so he didn’t know how to respond to that. He nodded and smiled, turning back to the fridge to get another beer.

They were out of Corona, so he grabbed the next cold bottle and popped the cap.

Another hour went by, and Ollie’s anticipation at seeing Blake turned into resignation that she wasn’t going to come. He’d parked himself in a group of people debating whether there was a difference between pro wrestling and the Real Housewives of somewhere or other when he heard a commotion in the living room.

His group barely acknowledged the yelling, too engrossed in their own debate, but Ollie excused himself and went to investigate.

He heard a girl’s voice, loud and angry over the thumping music. And then Bran’s booming baritone cut through the noise.

Pushing past the looky-loos that encircled the altercation, Ollie stopped in his tracks.

Blake and Bran were locked in a face-off, her with her hands on her hips and him with his hands in the air.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Princess.”

“Don’t call me that. I am not your princess. Or anyone’s. Nor am I buying this Mr. Innocent act. You know perfectly well what you did.”

Bran’s half smile was for the crowd gathered around them. He shrugged, putting on a show while Ollie tried to assess the situation. “Baby, I wish I did,” Bran said, taking a long, languid look at her. “Cause then I could make it right.”

There were snickers from the onlookers, but Ollie’s focus was on Blake, on the set of her jaw and the vein ticking at her temple. Her expression was murderous, and he stepped between them just as she began to lunge forward.

“What’s going on?”

She blinked up at him as if fighting through a red haze. “Oliver. Your friend here sabotaged my story.”


“They killed it,” she replied, her jaw tight.” The Ledger. The editor killed my story on legacies, thanks to your buddy over there.”

“I didn’t do shit,” Bran said over his shoulder.

“Like hell, you didn’t.” If Blake’s eyes could shoot lasers, Bran would have been in pieces on the hardwood floor.

Again, Ollie found himself putting his body between Blake and her target. “Hang on,” he said as calmly as he could. “Can we go somewhere else and talk about this?”

“I don’t know what’s got her panties in a twist, but I’m not gonna take her shit.” Bran pushed through the ring of spectators, some of whom followed in his wake.

With the spectacle over, Ollie and Blake stood essentially alone in the center of the room. She was breathing hard and blinking fast.

“Come with me.” He led her out to the back porch, where only a few people stood, smoking. They went to the other side.

“Asshole!” She huffed out a frustrated breath. “How are you friends with someone like that?”

“Bran’s a good guy.”

“He really isn’t,” Blake spat. “He used his name and h-h-his weight to pressure the editor. I know it.”

“You have proof?” He didn’t want to believe Bran would do something like this.

“No, but—”

Relief and frustration flooded him in equal measure. “Then why did you storm in here accusing him?”

Her eyes flashed dangerously, this time with disbelief. “You think I’m lying? I’m making it up?”

“No, but—”

“Maybe you think I’m too close to the story? Since I have every loan and grant I can possibly get, and I still have to work two part-time jobs to afford this school, I can’t be impartial?”

“Can you?” It was the wrong thing to say.

“You sound like Crosby right now.”

“Blake,” he said, hoping to sound calm. “Be reasonable. I’m only asking if you have some proof that Bran screwed with your story.”

“I have my intuition. Of course, there isn’t proof. He’s dumb but he’s still too smart for that, it was something my editor said that makes me sure it’s him.”

Ollie clenched his jaw. Bran was a goof, and occasionally stuck his foot in his mouth, but he was a little tired of Blake always badmouthing him when she didn’t know him at all.

Her eyes narrowed. “You’re always so quick to defend him. Why?”

“He’s my best friend.”

“Yeah, but why? You’re so much better than a guy like that, or...I thought you were.”

Unease prickled at the back of his neck. “What do you mean?”

Blake took a step back. “Maybe I’m too close to you to really see you. Maybe you’re more like Brandon Peters than I realized. Why else would you two be so close?”

He couldn’t deny it. He and Bran had a lot in common, but none of it made either of them bad people.

“You’re jumping to a lot of conclusions,” he heard himself say.

“No,” she replied in a tone he hadn’t heard her use with him before. “Only one. My grandfather always said you could tell a lot about a person by the company they keep.”

She took another step backward, and another, until she was standing at the top of the steps.

“Blake, wait.” The further she moved away from him, the more it felt like the end of something that hadn’t had a chance to start.

The look she gave him was sad. Regretful. “I’m going to have to step away from our project,” she said, the words landing like a hammer blow. “It’s early in the semester. I’m sure you’ll find someone else.”

“Blake, I...” He scrambled for the words that would explain how wrong she was, but he couldn’t find them. Maybe they didn’t exist. Maybe she was right.

She went down the first few steps before turning back to him. “You should really think about what friendship means, Oliver. Because, from where I’m standing, you’re more of a friend than he deserves.”

Blake took the two remaining steps and walked off into the night.

The following Friday, she didn’t show up for class. She’d dropped it.

And him.



When her phone rang at you’ve-got-to-be-kidding o’clock in the morning, Blake fought hard against wakefulness. Sleep had been elusive of late, and she had been running on fumes. She sent up a silent wish for the caller to give up, sighing with relief when her phone went silent. Her lumpy mattress was far more appealing than dealing with a wrong number or a late-night butt dial from one of her roommates, so she remained blissfully starfished.

For about fifteen more seconds.

Whoever it was couldn’t seem to take a hint because they called back and kept calling. Awake and grumpy, with her cheek plastered to a sheaf of papers sprawled across her duvet, Blake rolled to her back. She’d surely have creases in her skin, and probably a few ink stains. She had worked late into the night and her laptop lay open beside her, its screen dark.

The house she shared with her two roommates was eerily quiet, which meant they were either still out or sleeping in. She tried rallying herself to grab the phone and see if whoever it was had left a voice mail.

She managed to wriggle towards her nightstand and pick it up before the ringer went off again. Pushing a stray twist of hair from her face, she sat up and looked at the screen.

“Gideon” she answered, frowning. “Why are you calling me at such an unholy hour?”

“There you are, thank fuck,” her boss said, sounding equal parts relieved and annoyed. His default. “I need you in the office ASAP. Last night, we got a tip Desiree Stanley was holed up with Brandon Cody.”

“Who is where with whom?”

“I sincerely hope you’re kidding right now.”

Blake yawned, her mind still foggy. “I hate to disappoint you, but I have no idea who those people are.”

“Get up, get dressed, and get over here. Right now, before the hounds come sniffing around our story.”

“Wait, you want me to come now?” She squinted at her phone and shuddered when she saw the time. She’d been out until three a.m. chasing down a lead on a story she’d been working on for months. One that had real consequences for kids from vulnerable communities in Los Angeles. “Can’t it wait a few hours?”

“Didn’t you hear what I said?” Gideon’s voice got even more nasal the more frustrated he became. “Be here before seven. Desk security will be expecting you.”

“But Gid—”

“Dillon, I don’t have time for handholding. Do you want the assignment or not?”

No, Blake did not want the assignment. She didn’t want anything to do with the whole celebrity beat. But then her stomach growled, reminding her why she couldn’t say no. Also, there was her journalistic integrity which she’d somehow managed not to lose entirely, despite spending the last few months digging up dirt on Hollywood puppets. Whenever and wherever the editor said they needed you, you went.

“Can I count on you?” Gideon asked her. For as much grief as she gave him over the assignments, he kept sending them her way. Kept her employed.

She honestly had no right to complain. “Yeah, boss. I’m on my way.”

“Good. Thanks.” He sounded relieved. “I’d like to scoop TMZ for a change instead of always biting off their content.”

“Was that dig aimed at me after you asked me to do you a favor?” She swung her legs over the side of the bed, her snark booting back up along with her brain, apparently. Gid was a decent boss, and the closest thing to an ally she had at the Los Angeles Gazette—even if he didn’t take her career goals as seriously as she’d like.

“I didn’t know that asking you to do your job was considered a favor.”

Well, touché.

“Yeah, yeah.” Blake put the call on speaker, got to her feet, and stretched. Maybe she could sneak in a few minutes of yoga before heading out. “Since you owe me, will you take a look at what I sent you last night?”


“Gideon it’s only a few hundred words. Surely you can make time for that. It’s only an intro to the story I’m working on, but I think it could be big.” She shuffled into the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. She’d need to drink the entire thing if she had any hope of making it through this day.

“You know I love how driven you are, Blake, but Sonya isn’t going to let you run with that predatory talent agency or whatever the angle is that you’re going for. If there is something there, she’ll—”

“If?” She set the decanter in the sink and turned on the water to fill it. “What do you mean, if? I’m making enemies all across the city to confirm some of those details about Diamond Moon Enterprises. I’m doing my due diligence.”

“That’s not what I meant,” he said, sounding at least a little contrite. “I know you’re thorough. It’s just that… Let’s be real, that story is too big for a cub reporter.”

Well, that was a kick in the teeth.

It cut deep that he still viewed her as green. Blake felt she’d done enough to at least earn the respect of her editor, even if she did grouse a lot.

She thought about her grandfather and what he told her about standing up for the stories he believed in. Was she not allowed to do the same?

“I’m not a kid, Gideon.” She yanked open the door to the fridge and rolled her eyes when she was met with mostly empty shelves. Was she the only person in this house share who bought groceries? She poured half a glass of orange juice and grabbed a handful of baby carrots. At least she wouldn’t develop scurvy. “And you know I learned from the best.”

Gideon cleared his throat, his voice softening. “It has nothing to do with your age. And, yes, you learned a lot from your grandpa. Trent Dillon is a goddamned legend. There’s just no way Sonja James will give a story that big to anyone but a senior reporter, no matter what their pedigree. And if you go to her with it now…”

She knew what he was saying, and it stung. She paced around the tiny kitchen.

“You and I both know I’m not cut out for the gossip column. I don’t keep up with who’s dating who, and I could care less who Delia Stanley—”


“Whoever! I don’t care who some actor is banging in a hotel room in Studio City. If they’re consenting adults, I say let people live.”

“You better start caring, or at least start faking it. You think I walked out of U of LA, my degree clutched in my hand, and thought to myself, hell yeah, I’m gonna kill this gossip column game?” Gid asked, sounding almost as exasperated as she felt. “It’s not about what we want, it’s about what readers want. They eat these scandals like candy, and we like eating actual food and paying actual rent.”

“Yeah, but don’t you ever get tired of being the candy man?”

“Sure, I do.” She caught the first hint of resignation in his voice. “But stories like these are why we all have jobs. Look, none of us are going to win a Pulitzer.”

“Gee, thanks.” Deflating, she returned to the sink to find the carafe overflowing. Ugh, she hated wasting water. But, also, he was right.

Thanks to her grandfather, Blake’s goals were lofty. She’d grown up at the knee of a great journalist, stealing peeks at the green leather notebook he always had in his pocket that held hints of his process. But maybe that wasn’t what the future held for her.

As if reading her thoughts, he said, “Look, if anyone could rise from the muck, it would be you who ends up winning the big prizes. After all, it’s in your blood.”

She poured the excess water from the carafe into the watering can. “Thanks.”

It was a pipe dream, and she knew it. In her head, she did, but her heart grabbed onto Gideon’s optimism.

“I mean it,” Gideon said. “You’re the next Frances Fitzgerald. But for now, get your ass to my office.”

At seven on the dot, she knocked on his office door.

“You did good on the Karen K. story, kid,” Gideon said as he gestured for her to take the seat across from him. “Stewart said you made friends with the hotel staff.”

The bills he pressed into her hands weren’t as crisp and new as the ones she’d pulled from the ATM to pay her last source, but she didn’t care. It meant she could afford to replenish the pantry, or at least buy a few things to hide from her perpetually ravenous roommates.

“Just the woman at reception.” She adjusted her glasses. “Gid, I know you think it’s impossible, but if Sonja just—”

He held his hand up, effectively cutting her off, and heaved a sigh. “Before you force me to rehash all the reasons why you will not get the go-ahead from Sonja, I have a proposition for you.”

Blake slumped back into the chair. The thing was damned uncomfortable, and she squirmed. “This is the worst chair I’ve ever sat in.”

“Maybe, but it looks cool. Vintage.” He steepled his hands on his desk. “How would you like to work on an in-depth exposé on one of Hollywood’s rising stars?”

“It sounds like you’re trying to dress up a shitpost.” She was aware of how whiny she sounded, but come on. “Is this why you dragged me out of bed at Hell o’clock in the morning?”

“This isn’t a shitpost, Dillon. I’m trying to give you what you want—a more important story.”

“Oh, right, a fluff piece on a talking head is a very important story.” Insulted, she was already making a mental grocery list of things that didn’t need refrigeration. Pita chips, peanut butter. Lately, she’d been craving Tastykakes. She wondered if she could cajole her mother into sending a case from Philly and dug into her bag for her phone.


“Huh?” When Gideon didn’t respond, she sighed and gave her boss her full attention.

Brows drawn together, he stood up and walked over to close the door before turning to lean against it. Arms crossed, he frowned down at her.

“What did you think would happen when you moved out here?”

“What do you mean?” she shifted in her seat.

“I just wonder how you thought this would go. You’d come to town with your expensive Ivy League degree, all your curls and dimples, and L.A. would roll out the red carpet for you?”

She wanted to argue that she’d barely been able to afford the University of Philadelphia, even with scholarships and grants, but she didn’t think that was his point.

“I thought I’d come here, pay my dues as a beat reporter, and see where things went from there.”

“A beat reporter?” Gideon said brightly. Too brightly. “A beat reporter. Well, damn. If I had known that I would have put you on the celeb beat— Oh, wait.” He held his hand to his chest in mock surprise. “I did!”

“Ha. Ha.”

Her editor walked over and collapsed into his chair. He tapped on the desk. “Are you familiar with the Captain Sky franchise?”

“The one our mark is gunning for, right? Brent?” Gid pursed his lips, and she scrambled to remember the name because she had read something about this. It was a big deal. Branford? Bruce. “Brody…Camden?”

“Brandon Cody,” Gideon said, giving Blake a look that wordlessly asked why am I keeping you employed?

She sat up straighter and tried to at least appear invested. Blake may have hated the assignments Gideon gave to her, but she was a professional and he was keeping food on her table. “Right. That’s who I meant. Brandon Cody. Big star. Huge.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Can you even name one of his films?”

She reached for one of the green notebooks in her bag, hoping against hope something in it would jog her memory.

“Without consulting your notes.” At her blank stare, he ran a hand over his face. “I swear, sometimes I think you live under a rock.”

He wasn’t too far off the mark. “I don’t have a lot of free time.” Or a TV, or any disposable income.

“I know blockbusters aren’t good enough for your literary mind, but surely you saw the big ass billboards all over town when the new Guardians of the Sky film released last summer?”

“Well, no. I’ve only been in L.A. for eight months, remember?”

Gideon sat back. “Oh. Right. But still, Cody stole the film. He only had a few scenes, and one memorable line, but it was enough. Rumor has it, they’re looking to build an entire franchise around his character. He’s got endorsement deals out the wazoo.”

“The wazoo?” She laughed.

“Mi abuelo used to say that all the time,” he replied, shrugging. “It’s what you get when you learn English from watching mid-century, American sitcoms.”

“So, Cody has a bad rep he needs to clean up?” At Gideon’s nod, Blake continued.

“The last woman he was linked to, a former co-star, is engaged to the actor who played Thor.” Gideon said, leaning forward. “And guess how she met her beloved?”

“The Velvet Rope Dating app?” At Gid’s headshake, Blake frowned. “I assume you’re going to tell me?”

“On set. And he was engaged to someone else at the time.”

Blake exhaled, unable to hide her disgust. “Hollywood is so toxic.”

“Indeed. So, if Cody is stepping out with a woman engaged to someone else...”

“Right.” She wasn’t a fan of delving into people’s personal lives. After all, who knew what was going on behind closed doors? From what she’d seen since moving to L.A., relationships—real ones, anyway—were as rare as unicorns. Honestly, it was like being back in college. People were either looking to hook up or gossiping about who was hooking up, with the added bonus of everyone chasing fame at any cost.

“This seems pretty shady to me,” she said.

Gideon rubbed his hands together. “Oh, it gets better. Cody’s people claim the guy in the more…illicit photos we got ahold of isn’t him.”

“And you think they’re telling the truth?”

“I spoke to his publicist directly,” he informed her. “Noelia Mokeyane doesn’t fuck around. We’ve agreed to sit on Codygate in exchange for an exclusive, in-depth exposé on the man himself.”


He grinned. “Awesome name, right?”

“Sometimes, I think you’re twelve.”

Gideon’s grin widened as he picked up his phone. “Only sometimes? Okay, I’m texting you the address. Shadow Cody while he goes about his business. Home, work, whatever access they allow for as long as they allow it.”

“You mean shadow him, like, on set?” This time, she didn’t need to fake her interest. She hadn’t had the opportunity to visit a studio lot yet, and it was on her bucket list.

“Wherever he goes, you’ll go. Within reason,” Gideon added. “His agent is desperate to clean up Cody’s rep. The Sky franchise is skittish when it comes to image, and something like this might make them drop him all together.”

“If it’s true.”

“What is truth? You’ll write what you see. Get to know the man behind the rumors. Are you in?”

“Okay, yeah.” Blake made some mental calculations. It was a lot of fuel, not to mention meals out. She supposed she could pack some PB&J sandwiches and stock up on trail mix.

“What’s that face? I thought this would be good for you.”

“No, no. I’m grateful, really,” she rushed to assure him. “It all sounds…intriguing, but also expensive.”

“Ah, right.” Gideon opened a drawer and took out his wallet, pulling out a credit card and sliding it over, along with a wad of bills.

“Here’s five hundred cash. Don’t go crazy with the card, but get what you need,” he instructed.

“What if I need something snazzy to wear to one of his events?”

“Just keep track of your expenses.”

“Thanks. I will, of course.” Blake slipped both the card and the cash into her bag and rose to leave.

“Dillon, you know I think you’re a hell of a writer.” He folded his hands on the desk and met her surprised gaze. “What? I tell you that all the time.”

Not once had he said those words, but she wasn’t going to argue. “Thanks, boss.”

“I realize this isn’t what you signed up for.” He paused. “Well, technically, you did sign up for it, but it isn’t where your heart is. You want to make a name for yourself. I get that.”

“I just want to write stories that matter.”

“It’s all about perspective. In this case, an actor with a reputation for bad behavior is looking to revamp his image.” Gideon smoothed his hands across the desk and sat back. “Either way, look at this as an opportunity. You can write an exclusive portrait of one of Hollywood’s brightest stars under thirty. It’s not a bad thing to have your name linked to it.

She really hoped that was true. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

From the author:

1. Blake looks up to her grandfather and hopes to follow in his footsteps. How difficult do you think it is for a young woman of color to advance in investigative journalism?

2. What do you think Blake and Oliver saw in each other during college that formed so strong a bond that it withstood the test of time and distance?

3. Ollie and Bran also have a special connection, with Bran often acting as a protector for young Ollie. How do you think that has manifested itself in their working relationship? Do you think their friendship would be as strong without the shared trauma of Ollie’s history?

4. Blake investigates a shady entertainment company that preys on the underprivileged. Why might someone sign a contract with such an infamous organization? Is it the promise of fame or simply a chance to better their situation?

5. Ollie’s love language is caring for people. He handles practically everything for Bran to make his life run smoothly and constantly feeds Blake and makes sure she’s taking care of herself. What is your love language?

6. Blake doesn’t hide that she loathes her current assignment on the celebrity beat. So why do you think she stayed at the Gazette rather than take a position at her grandfather’s old paper?

7. Ollie is, in turn, both insecure and confident about his writing talent. What do you think feeds his insecurities?

8. Do you think Blake and Bran will come to be friends?

9. Do you think Ollie will ever finish his novel?

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