Today my blog is an extended excerpt of my upcoming book, Kurt. It’s Book Four of the Texas Rascals series and is a fun, fairy tale romp. I hope you enjoy this amnesia/mistaken identity story.
“Oh, look, your ‘twin’ is breaking her engagement.”
“What?” Bonnie Bradford rolled back from her desk in the downtown San Antonio office she shared with her coworker, Paige Dutton, and peered over at Paige’s computer. “Let me see that.”
Paige scooted aside so Bonnie could see the TMZ website.
Quickly Bonnie’s gaze scanned the salacious headlines: Oscar-Winning Actress Gives Hunky Hubby-To-Be The Heave-Ho. There on the screen was Bonnie’s doppelganger, young starlet Elizabeth Destiny.
The actress had obviously been ambushed by paparazzi. Her expressive eyes were wide and sad. Her normally luxuriant blond hair, the exact same shade as Bonnie’s own, hung in limp strands down her back. Worry lines creased Elizabeth Destiny’s forehead, and her chic clothes were rumpled.
Sighing sadly, Bonnie settled back in her chair to read the article.
The impending marriage between Hollywood’s hottest leading lady Elizabeth Destiny and one of America’s most eligible billionaire bachelors, Kurt McNally, has ended quite unlike it began, with a whimper, not a bang. The much touted “match made in heaven” has ground to a halt before it ever started. Irreconcilable differences were cited as the cause for the split, though there have been plenty of rumors about the couple’s real reason for separating. At a press conference held earlier this week, Ms. Destiny announced her intention to seek seclusion during this troubled period in her life. Mr. McNally could not be reached for comment.
The article continued, but feeling slightly sick to her stomach, Bonnie pushed back from Paige’s computer.
“I don’t believe it,” Bonnie said. “Elizabeth and Kurt were so happy together. Anybody could look at their engagement photos and tell that. And I certainly don’t believe the two had irreconcilable differences. Doesn’t anybody believe in commitment anymore?”
Paige shook her head. “Sometimes I worry about you, Bonnie. You act as if you really know these people. I like movies, too, but jeez, I don’t get carried away.”
“In a sense, I do know them,” Bonnie argued. “I’ve seen every Elizabeth Destiny movie ever made. I look so much like her; I’m often mistaken for her. I even keep a Pinterest board on her.”
“See what I mean?” Paige circled a finger in the air near her temple. “Cuckoo obsession.”
“I don’t think making a Pinterest board means I’m obsessed, especially since I resemble Elizabeth so much. I’m just an ardent fan.”
“You are a dead ringer for the woman,” Paige mused, studying the photo of Elizabeth Destiny on her computer, and then casting a sidelong glance at Bonnie. “Maybe she is your long lost twin, and you were separated at birth. It really is uncanny how much you look alike.”
Bonnie laughed. “Don’t think that hasn’t crossed my mind. My mother assures me I was not a twin, but I do feel a certain affinity for Elizabeth. I think she’s an incredible actress.”
True enough, Bonnie could not deny her lifelong fascination with film. From the time she was a small child, she liked nothing better than escaping from her mundane life at the Cineplex near her house.
She’d grown up living with her mother and her two spinster aunts, and the most exciting moments of her childhood had unfolded at the movies.
She loved the cozy, safe feeling a darkened theater evoked. The taste of buttery popcorn, cold sodas, and chocolate-covered peanuts. The feel of the cushioned seats, the rise and fall of movie soundtracks whisking her away to magical worlds where anything was possible.
There was nothing wrong with Netflix, but it couldn’t compare to seeing a movie at the theater. Yes, she was most definitely a movie aficionado, and no amount of razzing from her friend could change that.
“I remember when Elizabeth and Kurt got engaged,” Bonnie said. “I watched the engagement party on Entertainment Tonight. Kurt McNally is so handsome, and he’s got a body made for sin.” She sighed. “A completely masculine male. Every woman’s fantasy. And I hear he’s a nice guy to boot.”
“Ah, you’ve got the hots for him,” Paige teased.
“Yes,” Bonnie confessed, chagrined. “I know it’s silly, but every time I see a picture of him, I can’t help imagining what it might feel like to have him wrap those big, strong arms around me.”
“He is one fine hunk of man,” Paige agreed, eyeing Kurt’s picture on her screen. “But aren’t you a little old for puppy dog crushes?”
“I don’t have a crush on him. I just appreciate his hotness. I can’t imagine what problems he and Elizabeth could have had. They seemed like a storybook couple.”
“Just goes to show happy endings aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.” Paige picked up a nail file and buffed her fingernails.
“I prefer to think of myself as a realist.”
“I still believe in love at first sight and happily ever after.”
“That’s because you’ve never been married.”
“True. But I’d love to try it someday.” Bonnie sighed again. “If only I could meet Mr. Right.”
“How do you expect to meet someone if you never go out? You’re way too shy. Instead of running off to the movies, you should be hitting the dating apps. You’re never going to have a romance of your own hiding out in a dark theater.”
“I know, but I have such a hard time talking to men. I wish I could be like Elizabeth, confident and self-assured.”
“Remember,” Paige admonished. “She’s an actress and probably just as terrified of social situations as you are. She merely acts the part. Next time you meet a guy, try pretending you are Elizabeth Destiny.”
“I don’t know,” Bonnie hedged. “Do you really think it would work?”
“You’re a beautiful woman, Bradford. I wish I had half your looks. Why do you insist on hiding your figure in frumpy clothes, keeping your hair in a bun, and wearing glasses instead of getting Lasik eye surgery? You need to live a little. Hell, why don’t you start dressing like Elizabeth Destiny? If you’d let your hair down once in a while, you’d have to beat the men off with a stick.”
Bonnie blushed. “I don’t want to beat men off with a stick. I just want to fall in love, get married, and raise a family.”
“Then come to the Fast Lane with me and Kelly tonight,” Paige said, referring to a nightclub she frequented.
“Not tonight.” Bonnie wrinkled her nose. She hated drinking and loud clubs and suave, insincere men delivering flattery in hopes of luring inebriated females into their beds.
“You’ll never change,” Paige predicted, closing the TMZ website. “Once an introvert, always an introvert, I suppose.”
Was it silly for her to feel so saddened over a movie star’s broken engagement? “It’s such a shame about Elizabeth and Kurt. I wish there were something I could do to save their relationship.”
“That’s your problem, Bonnie. You’re too kindhearted. Always worrying about saving the world when you should be taking care of business.” Paige glanced at her watch. “Hey, it’s five o’clock, and I’m outta here. You coming?”
“I’ve got some letters to finish for Mr. Briggs.” Bonnie waved a hand at her keyboard. “You go ahead.”
“See you Monday.”
“Remember, I’m taking two weeks off to do some work around the house,” Bonnie reminded her friend. “Gardening, painting, relining my shelves. And I hope to take in a movie or three. There’s a new romantic comedy I’m dying to see.”
“Oh, yeah. Sounds like a thrill a minute. Have fun living in fantasyland.” Paige locked her desk, flung her purse over her shoulder, and headed for the door. “Join us at the Fast Lane if you change your mind.”
Was she really so dull? Bonnie wondered as she watched Paige leave. Did she really dress frumpy? She glanced down at her baggy flower print dress and winced. Okay, so she wasn’t a glamour puss. But she loathed attracting attention to herself.
She was a background sort of person, taking satisfaction in doing her job well, a homebody who felt more comfortable as part of a group rather than a leader. She preferred pastels to vibrant colors, easy listening to rap, and home cooking over gourmet cuisine.
Unlike her flashy “twin,” Elizabeth Destiny, she did not crave the limelight. In fact, she shunned attention. No, Bonnie’s number one goal in life was to have a husband and children of her own. But would she ever achieve her heart’s desire?
“Not if I have to wear skimpy clothes and hang out in bars like Paige,” Bonnie mumbled to herself. Whoever fell in love with her would have to love her for who she was, not for some persona she’d perfected. She’d rather be alone than with the wrong person.
By five thirty, Bonnie had finished her work. Everyone else in the office had long since taken off. Extracting her carryall from her bottom desk drawer, she got to her feet.
Too bad about Elizabeth Destiny and her fiancé. If she were Elizabeth, she’d do everything in her power to hold on to her man. Especially a man as sexy and masculine as Kurt McNally. Not to mention good-hearted. McNally was involved in several charities including building houses for the homeless and organizing fundraisers for breast cancer research. From what she’d read about him, Kurt McNally seemed the long-haul type of guy who believed in family and commitment.
So what had gone wrong with their engagement?
Maybe Paige was right. Maybe she did care too much about the lives of celebrities.
Still fretting, Bonnie took the elevator to the first floor and left the downtown San Antonio office building where she worked as a legal secretary. Nibbling on her bottom lip, she joined the thinning crowd on the sidewalk.
The wind gusted, twirling dirt and litter into the air. Scaffolding erected to repair damage from recent hailstorms lined the sidewalk outside the Federal Building.
Traveling beneath the plywood-and-wrought-iron skeleton unnerved Bonnie. She hurried through the makeshift tunnel, head down, her high heels clacking an eerie echo against the wooden walkway.
A construction worker whistled at her, and Bonnie blushed. She wished she was bold enough to flip the guy off, but that just wasn’t her style.
Maybe Paige was right; maybe she should start acting more like Elizabeth Destiny. At that thought, Bonnie reached up and plucked the barrette from her hair. Shaking her head, she allowed her curls to tumble free around her shoulders.
“Yeah, baby!” the construction worker hooted. “If you got it, flaunt it.”
Bonnie scurried along. Okay, it might be degrading to be objectified, and usually, she would find it offensive, but with the mood she was in, she felt buoyed by the stranger’s approval.
She took off her glasses and slipped them into her purse. Maybe she should look into eye surgery, or at least contacts. After all, she was Elizabeth Destiny’s duplicate. What would it be like to live a movie star life?
The wind blew harder. Overhead, a board creaked ominously, but wrapped in her thoughts, Bonnie barely noticed.
She reached the cross street and started to step from beneath the scaffolding.
“Lady, watch out!” the construction worker yelled.
But it was too late.
Squinting, Bonnie looked up and saw a heavy two-by-four hanging precariously from a scaffolding beam by one lone nail.
Oh my gosh! The words formed in her mind but froze on her lips.
“Lady, move it!”
Before Bonnie could leap to safety, a single wind puff sent the board flying free from the chassis to hit her squarely on top of the head.
* * *
“How you feelin’, Boss?”
“I’ve been better.” Kurt McNally ran a hand through his hair and frowned. “Don’t those damned reporters have anything better to do than vulture around my ranch? Could you hire security to run them off?”
“I already texted Sheriff Forrester to see if any of his deputies are interested in moonlighting. Might as well keep the money local.”
“You’re on the ball as always, Hub.” He closed the curtains to the bay window overlooking the front yard. Numerous reporters milled near his porch, cameras and boom microphones hovering at the ready.
Hub Threadgill, the ranch manager and Kurt’s best friend since grade school, shook his head. At six foot six and weighing less than two hundred pounds, Hub was the archetypal “long tall Texan.” Because of his down-home witticisms and prolonged drawl, many people underestimated him, but few made that mistake twice.
“That’s what happens when you get mixed up with conniving actresses,” Hub said philosophically.
“Rubbing salt in my wounds, Hub?”
“I’m not one to say I told you so but”—his friend shrugged—“I warned you Elizabeth Destiny was a schemer.”
“She hurt me bad,” Kurt admitted, his voice cracking. Heartache formed a cold stone in his stomach. If it had been anyone but Hub standing in the room, only prolonged physical torture could have wrest those words from Kurt’s lips.
“I know, Boss.” Hub shifted his weight and stared down at the hand-scraped hardwood floor beneath his worn cowboy boots. Hub seemed as uncomfortable hearing his confession as Kurt was announcing it, but dammit, sometimes a man just had to get things off his chest.
“I really loved her,” Kurt whispered, “or at least I thought I did.”
“She’s an actress.” Hub, apparently not knowing what else to do, affectionately punched Kurt on the upper arm. “She had everyone bamboozled.”
“Well, that’s only because I been through one exactly like her. You remember Lucinda, don’t ya?”
Kurt nodded. Lucinda was Hub’s first wife and infamous for her cheating ways.
“Yeah, pardner.” Hub tucked his thumbs through his belt loops. “Been there, done that. And it’s about as much fun as getting kicked in the teeth by a mule.”
“I think the mule would’ve been kinder.”
“Probably,” Hub conceded.
Kurt trusted Hub implicitly. They’d grown up together in an El Paso orphanage where Hub’s daddy and mama had been dorm parents and Kurt, an abandoned ten-year-old.
If it hadn’t been for Hub and the Threadgills, Kurt might have ended up a resident of the State Penitentiary at Huntsville instead of a financial wizard with a penchant for using his money to better the community.
He enjoyed sharing with those less fortunate. Kurt’s only self-indulgence was this ranch outside Rascal, Texas where he could escape the rat race and raise prize-winning PBR bulls.
The ranch was his refuge. Eventually, he wanted to settle down here, get married, and raise a family. Mistakenly, he’d thought when he met Elizabeth at that political fundraiser where he’d been lobbying for changes in the foster care system, that he’d been close to achieving his goals.
The memory of her betrayal ate at him like battery acid burning through sheet metal. One look in those blue eyes of hers and he’d been a goner, never guessing at the stony soul that lay beneath her warm facade.
Kurt heaved a heavy sigh then blew out his breath in one swift swoop. Yes, Elizabeth Destiny had taught him a powerful lesson about letting his heart rule his head.
“Why don’t those reporters follow her around,” Kurt growled, pacing the confines of his office located at the back of the ranch house. “She’s the star, not me.”
“Boss, you were featured in Texas Today magazine as one of the most eligible bachelors in these United States. You’re a billionaire for crying out loud. You’re a hot commodity,” Hub reminded him. “Know how many fickle, airheaded actresses it takes to equal one of you?”
Kurt snorted and shot his friend a scathing glance.
“Actually,” Hub continued, “I was thinking you might turn this fiasco into something of value. Use the press to your advantage. Let everybody know about your pet projects—the houses for the needy you’re building with Habitat for Humanity, the walkathon for breast cancer research that you’ve championed, the changes in foster care you’ve been lobbying for. Great PR stuff.”
“Okay, I get the point; you don’t have to sing my praises.” Kurt shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t do any of that stuff for a pat on the head. He’d been in foster care. He just wanted to help right the wrongs that had happened to him. He was no hero.
“And if you want to be vindictive, you could always tell the truth about your breakup with Elizabeth. I still say it was way too nice of you to let her claim the split was her decision.”
“Maybe so,” Kurt mused, “but what else was I supposed to do? I’m not the sort of guy who airs his dirty laundry.”
“It’s better this way. Let the engagement die a quick death.”
The words were easy to say but harder to live with. For the first time in his life, Kurt McNally had fallen deeply in love, but he’d found out too late he’d only loved an image. Elizabeth had played her part too well, and in the end, she had shattered Kurt’s faith in women and his own judgment.
Kurt walked to the window, lifted the curtain again, spied the growing throng of reporters, and groaned.
“Sooner or later, you’re gonna have to face ’em. You won’t be able to live a normal life till you do,” Hub said.
“I know.” Kurt sighed. “Might as well get this over with.” Putting on his toughest expression, he headed for the door and the bloodthirsty pack circling his house.