First Chapter: Laguna Lights by Kaira Rouda
Title: Laguna Lights
Author: Kaira Rouda
Publisher: Real You Publishing Group
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Laura Kinkaid’s glamorous Hollywood life is falling apart. After years of reality television stardom beginning in high school on Laguna Nights, her career and relationship with her long-term boyfriend Scott are fizzling out. Laura decides to go home to Laguna Beach for the weekend to attend a baby shower for her high school friend. That decision – and a car accident – will lead her to a new future, if she’s ready to take a chance at love.
Paul Dorn’s former life in New York City is far behind him and he’s working in a popular Laguna Beach surf shop when fate brings the most beautiful woman he’s ever met into his life. The attraction is instant and he has an overwhelming desire to protect her. While Paul’s retail sales career is a short-term job for market research purposes, his focus on Laura is long-term.
Will Laura allow a handsome stranger to help her create a future unlike her past, or will the bright lights of Hollywood pull her back to LA?
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Laura Kinkaid stared across the table at Scott, her on-again-off-again lover, wondering why she had wasted a decade of her life with him.
They’d met in high school, and Scott had been infatuated with her. He was the new kid on the reality TV show they’d appeared on together, Laguna Nights. Fame hadn’t changed him. Yet. And back then, he’d had a full head of thick brown hair.
Today, he was a cocky, bald television star who was ignoring her. How things changed, she realized with a sigh. Maybe she was jealous, or maybe – she decided with a feeling that she realized could almost pass for hate— she was angry.
She looked out the window to the lights of LA stretching out 35 stories below. If they hadn’t been seated at the most visible, most desired table at the hottest new restaurant in LA, she would have thrown something at him. She surveyed the table to see what she could throw. Her fork? Maybe. Her full glass of expensive red wine? No, that would be a waste of good wine. Maybe even one of the pieces of intricately designed sushi taunting her from the plate of appetizers on the table. This had to be it. The proverbial last straw, she told herself. She smiled at the image she conjured – his bald head glistening with sushi debris, the smirk wiped off of his handsome face.
Why am I so obsessed with someone who is so obsessed with himself?
“Why are you giving me that look?” Scott said, finally placing his phone on the table, its glowing contents face up and taunting her. She had to find out what was on that screen, she realized.
“We are at dinner. A romantic dinner that was your suggestion, I might add, and you’ve been on your phone for the past ten minutes,” Laura said. She knew her tone of voice, shrill and whispered at the same time, would repel him. She was right. He leaned back in his seat, a smug grin on his face, his arms crossed. Laura grabbed his phone. Her brain couldn’t register what she was viewing. She stared at the screen. She was shocked to see a young brunette woman with huge breasts barely contained within her skimpy bathing suit, and the words, “Congratulations, you and Jamie are a match!” As Laura realized what she was seeing, anger boiled deep inside her. She couldn’t decide whether to run out of the restaurant, throw his phone and smash it against one of the floor-to-ceiling windows, or simply cry.
“Hey, give me my phone,” Scott said, reaching across the table. But Laura was faster. She jumped back, cradling the phone in her hand and staring at him with disgust.
“Tinder? You’re searching for hook-ups for tonight while you’re here with me?” She’d seen the ‘so called’ dating app and its competitors and they repulsed her. Lonely people used apps like Tinder for random hook-ups. The younger women on the set of the show Laura had been producing, Reality TV Triple Play, had shown her how they worked. They’d scrolled through an array of selfies of desperate men and judged each guy’s merit by that one photo. One young make-up artist had admitted using the dating app to get free meals from men, something she insisted on before hooking up with a stranger. The woman had called the guys she’d met on the app “fuckboys,” men with no interest in having a relationship or even hanging around until morning. Now she knew another type of ‘fuckboy’: boyfriends who used apps like Tinder to cheat. Like the man sitting across the table from her at this moment. As the realization hit her, she felt her eyes filling with tears.
“We’ve been drifting ever since the show was cancelled,” Scott said. His voice was quiet, almost patronizing. He spoke the words slowly, like she was an idiot, not the woman he’d been dating for a decade. Like they hadn’t known each other since high school. Both Scott and Laura had become instant celebrities during their years on Laguna Nights. And both, unlike most of the cast members, had gone on to enjoy careers in Hollywood. In fact, when Laura was offered her own show, Hollywood Nights, chronicling her college years and first job in LA, Scott eagerly rode her coattails to fame and a sizable fortune. But eventually, like all reality television, the audience moved on and Laura and Scott had been left in a dimming spotlight.
Scott had transitioned successfully into another industry, opening his own branch office of his parents’ successful, high-end travel business in West Hollywood. He loved the travel and had even invited Laura along for some of his all-expenses-paid site inspections. But apparently the only thing that had held their relationship together was gone. She needed the camera’s focus. She needed the spotlight. It was something she craved, something that had become as necessary as breathing air. Her chest felt tight as she took a sip of water.
We never loved each other, we only used each other for television, her mind screamed. Had she ever had a true relationship, one based on love and respect, or had her entire life been as superficial as the industry she craved? Laura blinked, trying to focus on this moment but the reality of her life wouldn’t allow it.
For years, Laura had pursued her acting dream. Single-mindedly. Selfishly, she supposed. For a long time now, aside from booking a few local and regional commercials, she hadn’t had any luck. Almost two years ago, though, Laura came up with an idea. She had pitched this idea about a reality TV show featuring previous reality TV actors. She was thrilled when it finally had been picked up. Laura had enjoyed the year acting as producer, with a role as host in the series. But then the series began to air. Former reality stars across the country now knew what she was doing, what the show was about, and refused to participate. No matter the pay. They weren’t interested in being double- or triple-crossed. Most of them had been burned by their first reality TV experiences, so they weren’t ready to step into a situation where it might happen again. And it would, because that was the point.
She still felt a little guilty about using Josh and Holly in the first episode of Reality TV Triple Play. But not too guilty. She’d had a grudge to settle with Josh for breaking up with her on-air a year after she’d moved to Hollywood. He was probably justified, though. She’d already been dating Scott by that time, and all the viewers knew it. She’d been a self-centered mean girl on every reality show in which she’d appeared. But that’s not how she had seen herself. In her own mind she had been a hard-working, ambitious young woman. To the viewers, though, she was somebody who used everyone to get what she wanted. The realization shook her to the core. She hadn’t become her reality show persona, had she?
In the end, the network had no choice but to cancel Reality TV Triple Play. It probably was for the best. She’d probably come off as the mean girl again. There was an upside to the initial episode, though. Holly and Josh reunited through all of the double- and triple-crossing. They were now married and parents of a little one. They got their happily ever after. Laura wondered if she’d ever deserve one of her own.
The show had been cancelled six months ago, and she’d been trying to figure out her next step ever since. One day, she’d dream of marrying Scott and filling a house in Beverly Hills with babies. The next, she dreamed about dusting off her fashion design degree and starting a clothing or accessories line. She’d saved enough from her TV earnings that she wasn’t desperate, but she certainly didn’t have enough in the bank to do nothing for the rest of her life. She was only thirty-two, and the clock was ticking, in more ways than one.
Through it all, Scott had been by her side. Sometimes affectionate and loving, and sometimes barely there. But by her side, nonetheless, bound together by their shared experiences in Hollywood and their shared childhood in Laguna Beach. But he’d recently landed a starring role on a television soap opera, and things had shifted between them. His star was rising and the mood between them was off. Through all their years together it had been like this.
Tears filled her eyes and rolled down her cheeks, hot and wet. She should leave the table. There were plenty of celebrity wannabes at the restaurant today, and there might even be some hidden paparazzi. This was the newest hotspot, A-list restaurant in LA, and dining here came with its own costs. Scott’s new gig on the top daytime soap meant his heat index was rising. Hers, on the other hand, was not. Still, she was famous enough, and her image still mattered.
She’d had it. Laura slid Scott’s phone across the table and it slid directly into his water glass, eliciting a loud banging sound and sloshing some water onto the table.
“Calm down, Laura,” Scott said, his tone cold as his eyes scanned the room. “Don’t make a scene. For once, this isn’t all about you. My career is taking off. I need some space.”
“I can’t believe this! You! And your attitude,” she said, finally able to speak. Her tears slowed as anger rose inside her. “You live at my house, we produced a television show together. We adopted Tucker together.”
“Tucker? Really? He isn’t even a dog. He’s basically a rat,” Scott said, knowing the comment would hurt her. She loved the tiny, six-pound pooch the first minute she saw him. He’d been loyal to her ever since, perhaps the only one that was. Unconditional love, that’s what she got from Tucker. Maybe the only one she’d ever get that from.
“Look, Laura. I think it’s time for both of us to move on.”
Laura stared out the window, in shock at what Scott was saying. Somewhere, deep inside her though, she also knew this was the inevitable outcome. They hadn’t been good together for some time. Their relationship had stalled, it hadn’t grown any deeper. They’d grown apart. They were tearing each other down and holding each other back when they should have been supporting each other and lifting each other up. At various times during their ten years together they’d talked about marriage. Inevitably one of them had been ready when the other wasn’t. It was the story of their relationship. Of their life. Never being in the same place at the same time.
Just like now. She couldn’t look at him. Not without crying. So she kept staring out the window, the lights of Los Angeles twinkling and taunting her. As she looked down on the lights of LA, she thought about how peaceful it appeared from up here. She knew that peacefulness wasn’t the reality though. The reality? LA was a bustling, crazy, wild, fantastic, wonderful city. Much like herself, LA looked like one big sparkly city of dreams on the outside. The reality was much different.
“Laura, come on. This can’t be a surprise to you. It hasn’t been great between us for a while. You know it. I know it. I think we just got comfortable and ended up just hanging on to the past instead of looking towards the future,” Scott’s voice was softer and less angry. Perhaps even a little sad. “I’ll have all of my things out of the house by tomorrow afternoon. I’m sorry, Laura. I loved you for a long time. And I know that you loved me, too. There’s a sweet girl in there somewhere beneath this reality show persona you’ve taken on. I think you should take a little time and find her again. Maybe you could go home for a visit, go to Annie’s shower or something?”
Still shocked at how their romantic dinner had turned into this, she barely heard Scott as he said, “I’ll get the check. Take care, Laura.”
And with that, she felt her past and her present slip away. She sensed more than heard Scott push his chair into the table, and a breeze chilled her bare arms as he walked by her without another word.