Stay the Night | Summerhill

STN_Final

One bad decision…

Photographer Titania Summerhill knew better than to let her mentor talk her into being his “friend with benefits.” Now that she refuses to date him, he has her blacklisted from selling her pictures to any magazine bigger than Cat Fancy.

One magazine editor is willing to give her another shot—but only if she does a photo essay on the most reclusive football star in Britain: Ian MacNiven.

Since a near-fatal accident that may end his career, Ian’s refused to do any media appearances, but Titania’s determined to get her man. She wrangles an invitation to stay with him, never expecting that the wounded sports star would distract her from what she wants.

Except what she wants is out of focus, and Ian’s the only thing in her viewfinder. Will she complete the assignment despite him, or respect his wish for privacy and lose her hard-won career?

{Scroll down for a sneak peek!}

 

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SNEAK PEEK
Stay the Night — Chapter One

Evicted.

Titania gaped at the note on her door, the words making no sense. Maybe she was just exhausted from her flight home from Italy. She ripped the notice off and scanned over it. Evicted for back rent?

She fished in her pocket for her key and stuck it in the lock, but it wouldn’t turn. She jimmied it in, wiggling it. Nothing.

“Bloody hell.” She kicked the door. Turning around, she left her carry-on in the hallway and stomped down to her landlord’s apartment and pounded on his door.

It swung open. Ralph glared at her from the doorway, hands on his hips, in ratty boxer shorts. His paunch was covered with a white undershirt that had a stain at the collar. “You scared me, Titania.”

Her fingers itched to take a picture of him in his natural habitat, but she forced herself to focus on the matter at hand. She waved the eviction notice in his face. “I’ve paid my rent the past three months. This notice can’t be meant for me.”

“Your checks bounced.” He held his hands up. “And before you rant at me, I suggest you call your bank, because they’ll tell you they were returned for insufficient funds.”

“What?” She put a hand to her forehead. “That makes no sense.”

Ralph arched his brow. “Doesn’t it?”

Well, she’d been doing a lot of traveling, so she’d incurred a lot of expenses. And there was the upcoming gallery showing—she’d spent a fortune printing and framing all her photos.

She tried to remember her bank balance and how much she’d spent, but money wasn’t her forte. She never paid close attention to it. She took it for granted that she had enough. “There has to be some sort of mistake. I’ll go to the bank and straighten this out.”

“Don’t bother, Titania. You’re out.” Her landlord crossed his arms. “I left three notices in the past couple months.”

With a sinking feeling in her stomach, she remembered the big pile of mail on her kitchen counter that she hadn’t sorted through yet. Likely the notices were in there.

“And then there’s the matter of you threatening Mrs. Munson,” Ralph continued.

She rolled her eyes. “That was a misunderstanding. She was making a racket, and I just asked her to stop. That’s not unreasonable.”

“She was making a breakfast smoothie, and you told her if she didn’t stop the noise you were going to shove the blender down her throat.”

So she wasn’t a morning person. “I didn’t put it quite like that.”

“Half the hall heard you. Mrs. Munson is eighty years old, Titania.”

“Mrs. Munson likes to stir up trouble.” The woman had it out for her ever since the time Titania had accidentally let the woman’s little dog out of the building.

Well, mostly it was accidental. It wasn’t her fault the little yipping beast was running loose in the hallway, or that it ran outside when she held the front entrance open.

“Sorry, Titania. You’re out.” Ralph stepped back and closed the door.

She stared at it hopelessly, the click on the deadbolt sounding final.

The bank. She pulled out her mobile and opened the bank app to check her balance, groaning when she saw her account was overdrawn. She scanned her expenses, the sinking feeling in her stomach growing when she saw the gallery expenses had been much more than she’d expected and that she’d spent more than she’d realized in Italy.

Not to worry. She put away her phone and went to pick up her carry-on. Unfortunately the gallery showing wasn’t for several months, but she did have the pictures from the time she’d spent in Vatican City with the pope. She’d just stop at the Time Atlantic offices and have them pay her. Once she had money again, she could book a hotel room and start looking for a new apartment. After she ate—getting evicted roused her appetite.

Armed with the plan, she took the tube to the Time Atlantic headquarters in London.

She was fidgeting in the waiting area when the editorial director’s assistant came to escort her back to his office. The woman eyed Titania’s luggage but didn’t say anything.

Norman Hopper did though. “You planning on moving in, Summerhill?”

Titania looked around his office as she propped her carry-on by the door and set her two camera bags next to it. “How comfy is the couch?”

“Sit and find out.”

She sat down, bouncing a little. “I could sleep here,” she decided.

Hopper smiled, shaking his head as though she were funny. She wanted to tell him she wasn’t joking, but she needed to focus on the matter at hand. “I’ve got proofs from the pope.”

She took out the SD card she had tucked safely into her pocket and passed it to Hopper. Leaning back, legs crossed, she watched him insert the card into his laptop and scroll through the images.

Her stomach rumbled, and she looked around to see if Hopper had a refrigerator. “Do you have any food?”

He reached into his desk and tossed her a dusty bag of nuts without lifting his head.

“I meant food from this decade.” She set them aside.

“These photos of the pope are amazing,” he said, his head still bowed over his computer.

Of course they were. She was exceptional at what she did. She looked up at the wall behind Hopper, where a print of her picture that had won the World Press Photo of the Year Award was hung. She still felt proud when she saw it.

Hopper looked up from the laptop and took his glasses off. “I wasn’t kidding when I said these pictures are outstanding.”

“I know.” Hopefully the platitudes wouldn’t take long. She really needed a shower and chips.

“But I can’t take them.”

She sat up at attention. “That’s not funny.”

“I’m not trying to be funny, Summerhill. I’m serious. I can’t take your pictures, even though they’re damn incredible.” He tapped the screen. “There’s a story behind every shot, and it’s captivating. The more you look at one of your photos, the more you discover. Amazing,” he said with a frown.

“Then why aren’t you taking them?”

Hopper cleared his throat, his gaze darting away. “Weber seems to have it out for you.”

She stilled, her heart beating hard with dread. She glanced at the photo by Cole Weber hanging next to hers. That picture was why she’d asked Cole to mentor her eight years ago. Cole and his big ego had been flattered that a young thing like her wanted to trail him and learn the business, so of course he’d taken her on.

The funny thing about Cole was that he was both proud and jealous of her success. He took credit for it, telling people that she was where she was because of him. It was partly true, she was willing to admit in her more generous moments. But she liked to think that she’d have gotten to where she was on her own eventually. “What do you mean, he has it out for me? What does Cole have anything to do with this assignment?”

“Weber has been making calls.” The editor flushed, squirming in his seat. “He’s pulled in favors to get your photos banned. At all the major media publications, from what I hear.”

What?” The world started to spin, so she put her feet firmly on the ground. Not that it helped.

Hopper didn’t look happy about it, either. “You must have done something to make him angry. Really angry if he wants you blacklisted.”

“What sort of favors could he have possibly racked up to accomplish that?”

Hopper looked sheepish. “He contacted the publisher to get me promoted to editorial director. I know half a dozen other people in editorial who owe their jobs in some way to Weber, and he’s bailed us all out of some sort of editorial jam with his pictures.”

“That prick.” She pointed at Hopper. “This is blackmail, you know.”

The editor winced. “But I can’t do anything about it. You know how everyone fawns over him. He’s a god in journalism. You’re as good as he is, but he’s been doing it longer. He demands adulation.”

She nodded, hating that she understood—hating that this was her fault, too. Cole had never liked that she hadn’t fallen for him, or even developed a severe case of hero worship.

It was her fault. She’d bollocksed the boundaries she’d set with him.

She blamed Paris. The ambiance. The food. The romance. They’d been there simultaneously a month ago, on different shoots, and had met for dinner. Wine and candlelight could make even a levelheaded girl lose her good sense.

In the harsh morning light, she’d realized it’d been a mistake. The last thing she needed was a “relationship” with a playboy photojournalist who was constantly on the road. She’d seen him in action—some nights he’d even left with two women.

He’d been trying to get into her knickers since they met. She knew it wasn’t love—he wanted her because she’d always resisted him. She was a challenge and, therefore, irresistible.

So she’d done the logical thing. Before she’d left for Italy, she told him they shouldn’t see each other again. She’d have expected him to be relieved. Apparently he hadn’t been.

She got up and went to stand over Hopper’s desk. “If I talk to Cole and have him call you, will you reconsider the photos?”

“Yes.” Hopper grimaced as he handed back her memory card. “But Weber’s stubborn.”

“I can get around him.” She tucked the card back in her pocket. “Can I get paid for my expenses in the meantime?”

Hopper shook his head. “I can’t pay you.”

“I don’t understand. I went on this assignment and delivered what you asked for.”

“But we’re not going to use them, so you don’t get paid.” The editor shrugged. “Check your contract. It’s standard.”

“I have to get paid.” If she didn’t get paid, there was no hotel room. She’d maxed her credit card in Italy. Where would she sleep tonight?

“Look, Summerhill, I really wish I could take these. They’re fabulous. But Weber has me bound. I owe him.”

“And there’s absolutely nothing I can do to make you decide that you don’t owe him that much?”

Hopper pursed his lips. “The only way would be if you brought me exclusive photos so big that I had to accept them.”

“Like?”

“Like some sort of scandal.”

Titania shook her head. Her sister was an actress who’d been embroiled in a scandal, and Titania would never inflict that on someone. “I’m not paparazzi.”

Hopper shrugged. “Or someone reclusive. Like Ian MacNiven.”

“The football player?”

“He hasn’t allowed media near him since his car accident. If you can get him to agree to a photo essay, everyone will be your best friend regardless of Weber.”

Titania tucked the SD card back in her pocket. “I won’t need to get MacNiven. I’ll have Cole call to clear this all up.”

Hopper looked skeptical. “Good luck.”

She didn’t need luck. Cole was just acting like a child who wasn’t getting what he wanted. She’d just point out to him that he wanted something better than her.

She waited until she was outside the building to call him. “What are you up to, Cole?”

“Titania, are you back in town?”

“You know I am.” She moved out of the way of the hordes entering and leaving the building. “Stop playing games, Cole. Having my photos banned isn’t funny.”

“I wasn’t trying to be funny. I was trying to get your attention. You aren’t returning my calls, Titania.”

“You aren’t seriously going to attempt to play the wounded lover here, are you? Because we both know that you’ve likely shagged five women since Paris.”

“But they weren’t you, darling.”

Titania rolled her eyes. “Just call Hopper and tell him he’s free to buy my photos.”

“I will, when you agree to go out with me again.”

She shook her head. “You can’t have me.”

“I already have.”

“And that one night was a colossal mistake, as evidenced by this situation.”

“It’s your choice, Titania.”

She heard the shrug in his voice, as if stalling her career was no big thing. She clenched her fist. He was lucky he wasn’t standing in front of her. “This is blackmail. I can’t believe what a prick you’re being. You’re going to hold my life hostage because I won’t date you? Have you lost your mind? This is psycho behavior.”

“You wouldn’t have this life if it weren’t for me.”

Really.” Her vision went red. “My hard work counts for nothing, does it?”

“That’s not what I meant, darling, and you know it. If you calm down and look at this reasonably, you’ll see it’s win-win, for both of us.”

“Go bugger yourself, darling.” She hung up, tempted to throw her phone into the street.

But she needed her phone to call the other editors just in case Cole hadn’t actually gotten to them.

Except he had. Several editorial directors who’d loved her in the past wouldn’t even take her calls.

Hopper was right—Cole wasn’t going to budge. If she contacted MacNiven and got him to agree, she’d have a place to stay while she took photos of him. Then she could convert the pictures into money. A lot of money. If Hopper was willing to buck whatever hold Cole had on him, it meant that another editor might even pay more.

She’d show Cole who he was dealing with and end up on top. When she left home and her father’s influence, she’d vowed she’d never have a man push her around. She wouldn’t be blackmailed, blackballed, or blacklisted ever again.

She found a small park nearby, unloaded her bags on the bench next to her, and started going through her contacts. Someone had to know how to get ahold of Ian MacNiven.

An hour later, she had nothing but severe hunger pangs. So she did what she always did when she wasn’t sure how to proceed. She called Gigi.

Imogen Summerhill was one of Hollywood’s hottest box office stars, but her greatest role was as Titania’s sister. At least, that was what Titania thought. Gigi was perfect. In looks definitely—she was one of the most beautiful women in the world—but in spirit and temperament as well. Gigi had been her cheering section and best friend all her life.

Gigi answered her phone—thank goodness. She was on location in Greece, and her schedule was wonky. “Titania?”

“You know how I berated you for sleeping with Dirk?”

“Yes.”

“I take it all back.”

“Oh, Tawny, what have you done? Wait.” There was some rustling on the phone and then stillness. “Okay, I’m in my room. Tell me now.”

“You remember the last time I was in Paris?”

Gigi gasped. “Bloody hell. You slept with Cole Weber.”

“Yes.” She smacked a hand to her forehead, leaning her head back. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“Neither do I. Didn’t we often have conversations about how he is a user?”

“Yes, and then I succumbed to his questionable charm, and now he’s blackmailing me into going out with him.”

“How is he blackmailing you?” her sister asked, her voice low and dangerous.

“No publication will accept my work.”

“The bastard,” Gigi said with a hiss. “Have you told Bea? Bea knows people. She can have him taken care of, if you know what I mean. Please let her.”

She wasn’t very close to her other sisters, though Beatrice, the oldest, was the most tolerable. “I’m not sure what she could do.”

“I don’t know. Sue him. Harass him back. Cut off his balls.”

Tempting, especially the last suggestion. But suing him would take too long, and there’d be a stigma attached to her. She preferred taking care of this more expediently and directly. “I’ll think about it, but I need your help first.”

“Tell me.”

“I need to contact Ian MacNiven. My contacts have no idea where he’s moved to since his accident.”

“The captain of the London Assault? I don’t know anyone from that club. But you know who would know? Bea.”

She wrinkled her nose. “You’re going to make it necessary to call her, aren’t you?”

“You need to get over your aversion to the family. They’re not as bad as we thought when we were kids.”

That was a matter of opinion, and not something she wanted to get into. She had to figure out where she was sleeping, because right now it seemed like it was going to be this park bench. “How quickly do you think Beatrice will be able to track down MacNiven? I have some constraints.”

“Why do I feel like I don’t have the whole story?” Gigi asked.

“Well, I may be broke.” Titania made a face.

What? Tawny! How is that possible?”

She winced. “I may also be evicted.”

Gigi started to laugh.

Titania held the phone away and stared at it. Then she returned it to her ear. “I’m not joking about this, Gigi.”

“I know you’re not,” her sister said, breathless from laughing. “But you have to admit that your situation is fantastical.”

She crossed her arms tight around her stomach. She didn’t have to admit anything.

“You know what you have to do, don’t you?” Gigi asked.

“What?”

“Go to the South Street house and ask to stay.”

She bolted upright. “Bloody hell, no I don’t.”

“You just said you’re penniless and evicted. Where are you going to go? Do you have a credit card with enough for a hotel room? Do you know how expensive London hotels are?”

Titania sighed. “I’ll just sleep on this park bench.”

“There’s food at home.”

  1. She imagined Fran’s cooking and her stomach rumbled. “How did you know I’m hungry?” she grumbled.

“Darling, you’re always hungry.” Gigi’s tone softened. “It’s not like when Father was alive. You’ll be surprised. Mother will be happy to have you back.”

“I find that hard to believe.” Her lips pouted, her arms tight around her chest. Jacqueline Summerhill had never been an available mother. Neither of her parents had cared about her. She was the last one—the last chance for a male heir to pass on the title. She’d been born the wrong gender and a colossal disappointment.

“Mother isn’t who we thought,” Gigi said. “Neither are the sisters. Even Summer. Give them a chance. They’re your flesh and blood.”

Blood ran as thin as water as far as she was concerned.

“Go to the South Street house for me, Tawny,” her sister said sweetly. “So I know you have a roof over your head and food in your belly until we figure out how to fix your situation.”

She wanted to say no—she wanted to come up with another viable option. But she traveled too much to have any close friends she could stay with. South Street was the only choice.

“Damn it all,” she exclaimed.

Gigi chuckled. “I take it you’re agreeing to go.”

“Only for you.”

“Thank you, Tawny. You’re so generous. Make sure you eat a couple of Fran’s chocolate chip cookies for me.”

“Fran’s chocolate chip cookies,” she repeated reverently. Maybe there was a silver lining to this whole situation.

 

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