"All right, everyone. Take a break." Jax closed his script and ran a hand through his hair. "Have some water. Grab a bite to eat. But be back here in thirty."
The cast dispersed, their excited chatter bouncing off the walls of the little theater. Georgi stowed her script in her oversized bag, hitched it over her shoulder and followed the crowd toward the exit at the front of the house, anxious to join them for a sip and a snack.
"Except Georgi and Sebastian." Jax's voice froze her mid-step. "You two stay here. I want to work on the kiss scene."
"But I'm starving," Sebastian wined.
"Harvey," Jax called.
The stage manager poked his head out from the wings stage left. "Yea, boss?"
"Can you get Sebastian something from the Kettle?" The Country Kettle, or the Kettle as the locals called it, was just down the street and a favorite with the cast and crew.
"Chicken Caesar salad, dressing on the side." Sebastian barked his order like a drill sergeant. "I'm watching my figure. Nothing worse than an overweight leading man."
He eyed Georgi up and down, his gaze lingering on her full breasts, wide hips and what her mother not-so-lovingly referred to as thunder thighs. His unspoken message was clear.
Except maybe an overweight leading lady.
"Chicken Caesar. Got it." Harvey took a pen from behind his ear and scrawled something – presumably Sebastian's order – on his palm. Ignoring the actor's obvious jab at Georgi, he shifted his attention to Jax. "You want anything?"
"I'm good. Thanks, Harvey." He turned to Georgi. "How about you? Hungry?"
"I brought my own lunch." She pulled an insulated bag out of her tote.
"Not vegan," she huffed, stuffing the insulated bag back into her tote. "Vegetarian. There's a difference."
Was she imaging it, or did he just smirk at her?
"Back in a flash, boss. Just text if you need anything else." Harvey disappeared backstage.
Jesus, Mary and Joseph on a bicycle. It was bad enough Jax had the entire cast and crew – with the exception of her and Sebastian – eating of the palm of his hand. Even the normally taciturn Harvey was bowing and scraping at his feet.
"Now that that's settled, shall we get to work?" Jax leapt up from his chair and vaulted onto the stage, bypassing the stairs. "This scene's not jelling, and we need to figure out why."
"I can tell you why." Sebastian joined Jax on stage, taking the more civilized – but way less manly – staircase. "It's her."
He jerked his head in Georgi's direction. "She hates me."
"I do not hate you." She saved that word for things like Hitler and terrorism and lima beans. Strongly dislike, maybe. "And even if I did, I'm an actress. I can pretend to like you just fine."
"Then why do you stiffen up every time I touch you?" Sebastian asked, pouting like a toddler who didn't want to eat his vegetables.
"I think I see the problem." Jax motioned to her. "Georgie, come on up here."
She dropped her bag and proceeded up the steps stage left. "Now what?"
"Sebastian, put your arms around her."
Georgi flinched instinctively at the contact. "Is this really necessary?"
"See what I mean?" Sebastian protested. "It's the same thing every damn time. She's like a corpse."
"Insults won't get us anywhere." Jax walked around them, scowling. "But he has a point. Relax, Georgi. Put your hands on his shoulders."
Damn. Sebastian did have a point. She was acting like a spoiled child instead of a seasoned actress. Okay, so unlike Jax she hadn't been brave enough to go for the big time. But she'd performed in more amateur productions than she could count and had acted opposite plenty of prima donnas, a couple of them even worse than Sebastian. She ought to know better. She did know better.
"Sorry." She willed her muscles to slacken and reached up to loop her arms around Sebastian's neck.
"Better." Jax nodded approvingly as he continued to study them with the intensity of Michelangelo surveying the Sistine Chapel. "But still not good enough.
"What's wrong now?" Georgi asked.
"You look like polite strangers," Jax explained. "Which is a step above mortal enemies. But not quite star-crossed lovers."
"How's this?" Sebastian swayed back and forth, pulling Georgi with him.
She tipped her head up to look him in the eye and frowned. "What are you doing?"
"You call this dancing?"
"It would be better with music."
"You don't need music," Jax interrupted. "What you need is chemistry."
Sebastian stopped swaying, jerking them to a halt. "We're doomed. We've got as much chemistry as a dead battery and a day-old fish. Emil must have been smoking something funny when he cast us together."
Finally. Something Georgi could agree with him on.
"You know what they say." Jax shrugged and smiled. "Fake it until you make it."
"How do you propose we do that?" Sebastian asked.
"It's easier to show you than tell you."
Jax waved Sebastian aside and took his place. Before Georgi knew what was happening, she found herself with his strong arms wrapped around her waist, his chest pressed against her softer one, his scent – a heady mix of soap and sandalwood and sweat – invading her nostrils.
"Wh . . . what are you doing?" Her voice was husky, her breathing ragged.
"Showing Sebastian here how to create chemistry. First, take her head in your hands, like this."
He put a warm palm on each cheek, cupping her chin. His touch was gentle but firm, like an erotic massage.
"Then look deep into her eyes, like this."
His steely eyes shone with something that looked suspiciously like desire through the lenses of his glasses and his mouth inched closer to hers. Was he really going to . . . ?
"And last but certainly not least, kiss her, like this."
He'd been building up to it, but that didn't mean Georgi was anywhere near prepared for the inferno that raged through her body when his lips met hers. No sweet, soft kiss, this. Jax had gone straight past smoldering to volcanic, tilting her head and taking her mouth hostage with his lips, teeth and tongue.
Oh, his tongue.
She closed her eyes against his sensual assault and let herself drown in the feel of him, his five-o-clock shadow scraping against her cheek, his broad chest, hot and hard under her palms. Holy hell, he was built. The promise she'd seen in the lean, lanky boy had come to fruition in the strong, solid, sexy man.
Everything else disappeared. No stage. No Sebastian. No show.
Just him. Just her. Just them.
Just like high school, when her whole world, her entire existence, had been wrapped up in Jax Donovan. Until he chose the limelight over love.
If it had ever been love.
No, no, no, no, no. This was not happening. Again.
She pushed against his hard, hot chest.
"Uh, boss?" Harvey cleared his throat. "Food's here."
Jax lifted his head as calmly as if they'd been discussing the weather and not making out like sex-starved nymphomaniacs. "Voila. Chemistry."