Dreaming About Forever - Audiobook
Dreaming About Forever - Audiobook
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Her handsome bodyguard is doing a great job protecting her from reporters, but she may need to protect her heart.
Book 5 in the Christmas in Redemption Ridge series.
Narrated by James Woodrich and Kim Churchill.
- Return to Hometown
Former child sitcom star Alicia Carver loves the spotlight, but since launching her pop music career, the dirtier side of the business has been out to tear her apart. When her parents are charged with embezzlement, and her A-list fiancé dumps her on the red carpet, her perfect life crumbles faster than her rise to fame. Retreating to a small town seems like the best choice she has to avoid the press.
Jordan Taylor’s plan to retire from the Marines when he was old and gray crashed and burned in Kandahar along with his best friend. Protecting entitled celebrities from paparazzi was the last thing he wanted, but no one else would hire an amputee with an attitude problem. If babysitting a pop princess wasn’t bad enough, his next job is sending him home to Redemption Ridge to spend Christmas with the family he hasn’t seen in years.
Alicia’s heartbreak is soothed by the picturesque Christmas town, but her stoic bodyguard will barely loosen up enough to show her around. His past and his body are covered in scars, and she can’t help but wonder if he needs healing in Redemption Ridge just as much as she does.
Between Jordan, his family, and the townspeople who have welcomed her with open arms, Alicia is torn between rekindling her love of music and finding a forever home in Redemption Ridge. When the rumors start flying and wrecking her new happiness, will Alicia be able to set things right before the real world tears her new dream apart?
Visit Redemption Ridge, Colorado and enjoy the faith, friendships, and forever-afters of the Christmas in Redemption Ridge series of Christian romance.
This series is a spin-off continuation of the best-selling Heroes of Freedom Ridge Series with all new characters and traditions, but the same magic of community and romance readers love.
Read Chapter One
Read Chapter One
Alicia stared at her reflection in the mirror, trying to rationalize the stranger looking back at her. She’d attended countless red-carpet events, galas, and ceremonies. She’d worn layers of spandex, mounds of makeup, and heavy dresses since she was a child.
Why did she go through the same identity crisis every time she saw her made-up self in the mirror? Photos always brought on a moment of confusion too. Between the designer gowns, thick makeup, and fake hair pieces, she never recognized herself.
But that was the woman the world knew. The pop princess who sold out stadiums and had a fandom consisting of hundreds of thousands of “Crazies” as they called themselves. The celebrity idol who put on the most extravagant performances that needed special permits and permissions her team had to pull all the strings to get.
It didn’t take much, really. People would do anything to be associated with her name. It was…odd. After twenty years, Alicia still didn’t understand the hype. She wasn’t special or exceptional. She smiled for the camera, did what she was told, and everything went smoothly.
“What do you think?” Lillian asked.
Alicia tore her gaze from the artistic rendering of herself and gave her attention to her manager. Lillian was more than an employee. She was the closest thing to a friend Alicia had. “It looks great.”
It. Whatever it was in the mirror was truly beautiful, but it wasn’t familiar.
Lillian turned her attention back to the phone in her hand. She spent so much time looking down at it that Alicia worried her friend would develop neck issues before she turned forty.
“The car is here,” Lillian said. “We’re meeting Ashton at The Plaza for photos before the event.” She tapped out a message on her phone with speedy thumbs. “Your sister is calling.”
“Tell her I’ll call her back from the car, please.” The Star Awardss waited for no one, and despite the saying, being late usually meant arriving overserved in the entertainment industry.
Lillian finished typing before looking up. “Done. Let’s get you out of here.” She looked over her shoulder. “Max? Will?”
The two men flanked Alicia’s sides, bending to carefully gather the enormous folds of her dress into their arms.
Yes, the train was that big. She’d counted about five layers in the one-of-a-kind Lorenzo Bellini gown. The blush of the tight corset bodice faded into a beige about midway down the skirt. Gemstones covered every centimeter of the heavy fabric.
They were real gemstones. The designer had been sure to point that out with the understanding that she would mention the detail in connection with his name on the carpet.
“Step carefully,” Lillian reminded her as they made their way toward the elevators.
Her penthouse in LA was as outrageous as the dress she wore, and she despised the whole place. Lillian had arranged to have it completely renovated for the filming of an episode of Celebrity Homes: Open House a few months ago, and Alicia hadn’t gathered up the courage to ask to have it reverted back to the way it was before. It seemed like an enormous waste of time and money.
Most things did.
Dag and Raul met them at the elevators and fell into step beside Max and Will as they carefully spread her train behind her in the small space.
It wasn’t small, but it seemed small when filled with six adults and a gown that had its own zip code.
Lillian ran through the itinerary on the way down, talking more to herself than Alicia, since someone was always standing by to either usher her in the right direction or give her a signal to migrate to the next photography checkpoint.
The move through the elaborate lobby was quiet, given the insane security detail for the building. Only the far-off sounds of cars honking could be heard in the distance as she stepped outside. The building’s private entrance was far enough from the bustling city that it almost seemed like another world.
Alicia stood still and waited to be given directions as Max and Will squeezed into the back seat of the limousine and coaxed her train in first.
Seriously, the dress was massive. It was beautiful, but it also left no room to breathe or even move around on her own.
After slowly folding herself into the back seat, Lillian slid in and closed the door on the outside world. “Are you ready to call Stacy back?”
“Sure.” So many calls had to be fielded for her, but Alicia always returned calls from her parents and sister. It was a tip her first producer, Milton King, had given her when she was a teenager. When you make it to the top, don’t forget the people who were there for you at the bottom.
Lillian held the phone face-up on her knee as the rings filled the car. Well, there was only a ring and a half before Stacy answered.
Oh no. Lillian usually had to go through Stacy’s assistant before the call was passed to her sister. It was standard procedure.
And that one word carried so much emotion–emotion Stacy so expertly disguised in front of the public eye.
“Not really. Am I on speaker?” Stacy asked.
“It’s just me and Lillian.” Alicia spoke carefully, trying and failing to push down the rising unease that threatened to choke her.
“It’s Mom. And Dad. Lillian needs to know about this too, but I needed you to hear it from me and not Danielle.”
Danielle was Stacy’s manager. She and Lillian always worked well together to ensure Alicia and her sister had open communication.
“What do I need to hear from you? Are Mom and Dad okay?” she asked with a small plea in her words. She’d talked to them last week. Or was it the week before?
Please don’t have bad news. Please don’t have bad news.
Stacy scoffed. “Well, I wouldn’t say they’re fine. I just got a call from our accounting team. Mom and Dad have been stealing money from me. Like, a lot of money.”
Stealing? It didn’t seem possible. Alicia and Stacy gave their parents everything they asked for and more.
Though, a nagging in the back of Alicia’s mind said their mother had always been money-hungry. She liked the finest things in life, and money didn’t seem to have value to her anymore.
But stealing? There wasn’t a reason for it.
“What do you mean?” Alicia asked.
“Millions.” Stacy’s voice broke on the word and was followed by a sniffle. “I asked them to check your finances too, but they said I don’t have authority to authorize that for your accounts.”
Alicia’s heart beat like the thump of bass at her concerts, vibrating her whole body. “I don’t–”
“Call Henry. Just tell him to check. He already knows, and he’s probably already checked your accounts.”
The shock wasn’t letting the truth set in. It was almost as if she was watching her life unfold, but she wasn’t a part of it.
It was a lot like watching the footage from her concerts. She didn’t know that person on the stage. The words were hers, but the choreography and clothes weren’t.
“Alicia. Now,” Stacy demanded.
“Okay. Okay. I…” Alicia looked at Lillian, still unsure how to move her body and make it do what she was supposed to.
“Call me back,” Stacy said. “I’m on standby. I’m not due at the carpet for another two hours.”
Alicia and Stacy’s careers had followed similar paths. They’d both starred in the hit sitcom, Family First, as kids. Then, Alicia had pursued a music career, while Stacy stuck to acting. Now, in their twenties, they were equally successful in their own artistic circles. Their net worth was probably hovering around the same million range.
“We’re meeting Ashton at The Plaza in twenty minutes. If we don’t get back to you before we arrive, I’ll make sure Alicia gets back in touch with you after the event,” Lillian said.
“Thank you.” Stacy’s words shook, and it seemed the numbness of the shock was wearing off. She’d been spouting off in a mix between fury and anguish that mirrored Alicia’s own confusion.
Lillian ended the call and immediately placed a call to Henry.
Alicia didn’t talk to Henry much. She’d always trusted him and his team. Now, she was heading straight into a situation where she’d have to either solidify that trust or watch it crumble.
The rough under fabric of the dress irritated the skin on her legs and ankles. The lace tickled her arms. Hot air filled her lungs as she inhaled, chasing a release from the tightening in her chest.
“Hey.” The word came out in her media voice–the peppy and lively voice she’d perfected over the years. “It’s Alicia Carver.”
“I know. I was about to call you. I’m afraid I have some bad news.”
“Stacy already called me. What happened?”
And there was her business voice. Right on schedule. Running a multi-million-dollar company required her to be perceived as level-headed and authoritative–something she struggled to maintain, no matter how intelligent she proved herself.
“We were notified of suspicious activity early this afternoon. We’ve been combing through things ever since, and we have sound evidence that Marcus and Julia Carver have authorized inappropriate withdrawals to both your account and your sister’s.”
Alicia swiped at her temple. She was about two seconds from sweating off her meticulously applied makeup, despite the cool air blowing from the vents. “How much were these withdrawals?”
Henry sighed. “The total is just over ten million.”
A breath halted in Alicia’s throat. Over ten million.
She listened as Henry and his team gave her the rundown with numbers and transactions. Her teeth throbbed as she ground them together. How could they do this?
It was happening, unfolding in real life like a slow-motion train wreck.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t give Stacy information about your accounts. I would never disclose your personal and financial information to anyone, but I feel like your sister’s intentions were good.”
“I understand.” She appreciated that standard. It was invaluable given her career, and Henry was known to represent many celebrity figures. Too bad his career would probably tank after this. “I have to go. We’ll talk about this tomorrow morning. I’ll be at your office at six a.m.”
“Yes, Miss Carver.”
She quickly ended the call and stretched and fisted her hands to dispel the tingling in her fingers. Her parents could have just asked. Alicia and Stacy would have given them anything.
Well, anything within reason. Their mom had asked for a “small villa” in the Greek Isles last year that was listed for thirty million. Alicia and Stacy had agreed to turn down that request together. Her parents already had multiple estates, and enough was enough.
Lillian placed her hand on Alicia’s shoulder. “We have to go. I’ll let Ashton’s team know this will have to be a quick appearance.”
Alicia looked up. They were approaching The Plaza. “Shoot. I’m not ready!”
“I’ll have Henry’s team send you a synopsis, and I’ll have everything ready for our early meeting. The Stars need your attention tonight.”
Alicia took a deep breath and blinked away the moisture in her eyes. It had been years since she shed a tear, and she wasn’t going to start today.
She needed to talk to Mom and Dad. Had Stacy already called them? What did they have to say about this? Did they have anything to say for themselves? The heat in her middle was rising, and it was the worst possible time to let her emotions get out of hand. She had to look like she’d just been poured out of a plastic mold of the perfect woman in less than an hour.
Lillian leveled Alicia with a stern look, furrowing her auburn brows that matched her long, straight hair. “You can do this. I’ll do my best to manage the fallout for the rest of the night, then you can give this your attention tomorrow.”
With a small nod, Alicia turned to the door as it opened. Dag and Raul waited as Max and Will pulled the fluffy fabric of her dress out of the car.
Finally, Max reached for her hand. “Miss.”
Her hand shook as her assistant grasped it in his. Piling out of the car, she tried to push the problem with her parents out of her mind, but forgetting about ten million missing dollars was nearly impossible.
Lillian was right. Tonight was the biggest music award ceremony of the year. All eyes would be on her as she stepped onto the red carpet beside her fiancé.
Ashton. Suddenly, she wanted a quiet room alone with him so she could let the frustration out. There would be no crying. The makeup took too long to apply, and only perfection was allowed on the red carpet.
Finally free of the car, her knees threatened to buckle, and her face tingled as the adrenaline rushed through her body.
Control it. Control it.
She’d been controlling her emotions her whole life. She’d gotten really good at stuffing everything into a box and closing the lid, never to open it again.
Lillian placed her hands on Alicia’s shoulders, forcing her to make eye contact. “You can get through this. I’ll handle things until the night is over.”
Alicia wanted to sag into her friend’s embrace, but that would have to wait until later. “Thank you for taking care of this.”
Lillian turned Alicia around by her shoulders. “Let’s face the music.”
As soon as she turned toward The Plaza, Ashton walked out the front door flanked by his security team.
Finally. He would tell her that there had to be a reasonable explanation why her parents would steal from her and her sister. He would calm her fears and even offer to be there while she called her parents to find out what was really going on.
If things were really as bad as they seemed, he’d help her get past the betrayal.
Ashton strode toward her, and her shoulders relaxed. His dark hair was perfectly styled, his strong jaw was hard and slightly lifted, and his light eyes that earned him all the close-up screen time in the movies made for the hottest A-list actor, were shadowed by the luxury hotel behind him.
Ashton Warner was arguably the most popular actor in the world, and they’d been together since they met on the set of her sister’s breakout movie, Tuscan Dreams.
Alicia checked to make sure Max and Will were ready to move before walking to meet him. “I need to talk to–”
Ashton raised his hand. “We’ll talk after the event.”
He didn’t slow his stride. He didn’t look back. He walked right past her and got into the back seat of a waiting car.
Lillian huffed and pulled out her phone. “Oh no. He’s not getting away with that. Your time is important, and he waits till we get all the way here to cancel. I don’t think so.”
Alicia watched as Ashton’s car drove away. The pressure in her chest rose was as if it were climbing stairs. How dare he walk past her like that!
They always rode to events together. They never left each other’s side during public appearances. Those were unspoken rules in the spotlight. It didn’t matter if your relationship was on the rocks or not, if the media reported it, it might as well be true.
The media would know immediately that something was wrong if they didn’t arrive together, and Alicia didn’t need to see the forthcoming headlines to know that a storm bigger than her parents’ deception was waiting for her at the red carpet.