Virtuous
Author:M.S. Force

“You’re sure?”

 

“Yes.” I force words past the odd sensation in my chest and throat. “Are you?”

 

“It’s a scratch. Nothing to worry about.”

 

“Well, um… It was nice to meet you. I’m a huge fan of your work. Perhaps your biggest fan. But I’m not a stalker or anything.” I’m doing it again. I’m babbling in front of the biggest movie star on the planet. “I’m going to stop talking now. I’m sorry again for interrupting your work. Tell him I’m sorry, too.” I nod in Hayden’s direction. He’s still ranting and railing, and suddenly I want out of there because the guy is kind of scary pissed.

 

I tighten my arm around Fluff and make a hasty retreat, nearly tripping over a power cord on my way out of the park. That’s when I see the gigantic signs posted on the gates. “Closed Today for Film Shoot.” Great.

 

Acutely aware of everyone in the park watching me go—including Flynn Godfrey, the biggest movie star in the universe—I walk as fast as I can on rubbery legs.

 

Behind me, I hear male voices arguing, loudly. Then I hear his voice.

 

“Hey, wait. Don’t go.”

 

Is he talking to me? I’m afraid to stop to find out, so I walk faster. Fluff is squirming in my arms, wanting down so she can walk, too. “No way, missy. Your wings are officially clipped.”

 

She whimpers and continues to fight my hold on her.

 

“Don’t even think about biting me, do you hear me?”

 

“Wait!”

 

It’s him, and he’s calling out to me. While everything in me is telling me to run, to flee, something makes me stop and turn. Much later, I will look back upon the decision to turn around as one of those life-changing moments that you don’t realize is changing your life as it happens, but with hindsight you can see how important it was.

 

Anyway…

 

He’s running after me. Flynn Godfrey is chasing me.

 

The few people on Bleecker pause in what they’re doing to watch him. Even in the frigid cold, the sight of the biggest movie star in the universe stops people in their tracks. His breath forms puffy clouds as he catches up to me. The intense look on his face disarms me.

 

“Don’t tell me you’ve decided to sue poor Fluff.” I go for witty over panicked. “Her net worth is a goose-down bed, a couple of chew toys and a very expensive—and apparently useless—leash.”

 

His lips quiver slightly, but his eyes… His eyes are deep and dark and determined. “You didn’t tell me your name.”

 

“Why do you want to know my name? You are going to sue me, aren’t you? Before you spend a ton of money on lawyers, you should know that Fluff’s net worth is quite a bit more than mine.”

 

“I’m not going to sue you,” he says, chuckling. “I wouldn’t mind some coffee, though. If you have time—and if you tell me your name.”

 

“You… you want to have coffee. With me.”

 

“If you have time, and if you tell me your name.”

 

I’m stunned speechless, and people who know me will tell you that happens well… never. They call me Chatty Cathy at school because I like to talk to my colleagues at lunch when most of them would prefer a few minutes of quiet.

 

“You do have a name, don’t you?”

 

“It’s, um, Natalie.”

 

“Natalie. That’s a good name. Does it come with a last name?”

 

“Bryant.” Sometimes my new name still feels funny coming off my lips, but the old name… The old name belongs to the old life, and neither has any place here in my perfect new life that’s just gotten a lot more perfect.

 

“Natalie Bryant. And Fluff.” He raises his hand as if to pet Fluff, but her growl makes him think better of it.

 

“Fluff-o-Nutter.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“That’s her full name. Fluff is her nickname.” I don’t know why I tell him that, but when he laughs—hard—my stomach feels all fluttery and strange. I made Flynn Godfrey laugh. As he wipes a laughter tear from the corner of his eye, I discover I quite like making Flynn Godfrey laugh.

 

Well, isn’t this turning out to be a rather interesting day?

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

 

 

 

 

She’s beautiful in the effortless, guileless manner of truly beautiful people who don’t know they’re beautiful. Her hair is a mass of dark curls, spilling from under a knit cap that looks homemade. The cold and the embarrassment of our encounter have heightened the color on her cheeks and make her full, lush mouth as red as a ripe strawberry.

 

I couldn’t let her leave without at least knowing her name.

 

Hayden was apoplectic when I told him I needed half an hour. “We’re all fucking freezing out here, Flynn. You’re going to make us wait half an hour while you chase after a skirt?”