The theater’s neon lights blazed color over the wet pavement. Limos lined the street, inching along until each one paused to release yet another tuxedoed man accompanied by a gorgeous woman. They mingled on the sidewalk, a living rainbow under umbrellas, as they awaited the evening’s most important arrival.
Doll Valentine hunched on a damp step in the alley across the street. She should be in one of those long, expensive cars with her own escort and string of pearls. A tear slipped onto her cheek. She’d been a shoo-in for the leading lady in the newest Paramount talkie. Hours of study with a voice coach, years of dance classes and singing lessons, and several impressive roles on stage had prepared her to become the silver screen’s newest star. But more than that, Roland Fitzpatrick, the most romantic actor in all of Hollywood, would have played opposite her. After watching him from afar through his movies, at last her chance had to come to see if he remembered her. Doll sure remembered him. The summer before seventh grade, he’d moved to her town, and on the first day of school, he’d walked into her mathematics class—and her heart.
Another limo pulled to the curb. Two uniformed ushers opened the theater doors and rolled out a red carpet while the driver rushed to the passenger side and held a black umbrella over the door. As applause rang out, a slender, petite blonde, clad in red satin and draped with two long rows of pearls, set her dainty heels onto the pavement. Camera bulbs flashed. Reporters shouted questions, straining against the red ropes. The starlet just smiled and swayed her way into the theater.
Veronica Sue Fishman. Doll scowled and crossed her arms. Veronica Sue had won the role while Doll lay helpless in the street, the victim of her own foolishness. Excited to get a call-back, she’d been daydreaming about a future with Roland and hadn’t noticed the broken pavement near the curb. One step and she’d fallen spread-eagle onto the road, pain stabbing her ankle.
No dancing for at least three months.
Doll propped her arms on her knees and rested her chin in her hands. Lights dimmed inside the theater, and the crowd on the pavement petered out.
“Mind if I join you?” A dark, velvet voice made Doll blink. Above her, in the glare of the neon lights, stood Roland Fitzpatrick.
“But you’re supposed to be in there.” Doll’s skin tingled as she tried to believe what her eyes told her.
His lips curved around straight white teeth. “Do you always do what you should?” He lowered himself to the pavement and brushed his hands on his gray slacks.
Doll smiled in return. “Mostly.” She eyed his green button-up sweater and bow tie. He wasn’t even dressed for opening night. “But don’t you want to enjoy the premiere? The Dancing Cowboy is going to be a hit.”
He leaned against the brick wall. “I’ve been to premieres before. Mostly a lot of people talking about themselves. Veronica Sue and the producers can handle it without me.”
She straightened her blue skirt and crossed her ankles as she relaxed next to him, his shoulder warm against her arm. “I’d give almost anything to be there.”
“If you’d been there, I would have attended, for sure.”
Doll glanced at him, and his eyes caught hers.
“I watched your first audition. You’re amazing. So talented. I recognized you right away. Seventh grade mathematics class with Mr. Barton. The prettiest girl in school.”
Her lips parted. “But you didn’t even know my name!”
“I did, too, but back then I was so shy I could barely say my own name to a girl, let alone one I liked.” He chuckled. “I’ve regretted that for years.”
She leaned closer, drawn by his words. “Then I moved away in ninth grade, and the next time I saw you, you were a movie star. Guess you learned how to talk to girls.”
“I did. Figured if I ever saw you again, I wanted to be prepared to ask you out, so here goes.” His eyes crinkled as he smiled, stood, and executed a graceful bow. “Miss Valentine, would you go to supper with me?”
Her heart pounded as she rose and took his hand. “I’d be delighted, Mr. Fitzpatrick.”
Music swelled from the theater. Roland pulled Doll into his arms, leading her smoothly into a waltz step. Laughing, she spun and dipped as raindrops soaked through their hair and clothes.
Veronica Sue may have won The Dancing Cowboy, but tonight Doll Valentine had won the leading man.
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