Lights, Camera, Cupid! (A Bluewater Bay Valentine's Day Anthology)
This title is part of the Bluewater Bay universe.
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Cupid is visiting Bluewater Bay, and he’s leaving chaos in his wake.
Nothing’s been the same in this sleepy little logging town since Hollywood came to shoot the hit TV show Wolf’s Landing—especially Valentine’s Day.
In L.A. Witt’s Just Another Day, beloved actors Levi Pritchard and Carter Samuels have an announcement for their fans, while in Z.A. Maxfield’s I’ll Be There, actor Spencer Kepler and his boyfriend Nash Holly brave a blizzard and a fan convention to spend their first February the 14th together.
Of course, it’s not just TV stars celebrating the day. In Anne Tenino’s Helping Hand, an aspiring artist eager to escape Bluewater Bay decides he just might have a reason to stay: lust-inspiring logger Gabriel Savage. In SE Jakes’s No Easy Way, a local teacher reconnects with an old lover working security on the film set. And in Amy Lane’s Nascha, a Bluewater Bay elder recalls how his own unconventional family used to celebrate the holiday.
Real life may be nothing like TV, but when Cupid comes to town, there’s plenty of romance and drama to go around.
This title comes with no special warnings.
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish.
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Just Another Day
by L.A. Witt
As Levi turned off Highway 112 onto the road that would take him home, he breathed a sigh of relief. The day was finally over.
It hadn’t really been a bad day. The morning had started in front of a camera for an upcoming magazine spread before he’d hurried to the set to reshoot a brief scene with Carter. Now that clusterfuck of an episode was on its way to postproduction. Thank God.
His last task had been an interview for a Wolf’s Landing podcast, which had wrapped up half an hour ago. Alfonse, the bodyguard who’d recently been assigned to lurk menacingly behind him and Carter whenever they were away from the house, had also gone home. Thank God for that. Levi resented the need for a protective presence. He hated the constant reminder of how much their celebrity status put them at risk—especially Carter, who’d had the run-in with an asshole fan that’d prompted the studio to hire Alfonse.
More than anything, though, Levi was ready to escape the fucking Valentine’s Day bullshit. Since fucking sunrise, he’d been reminded incessantly that Valentine’s Day—today—had invaded the town in full force. Every window of every shop was festooned with seventy-eight shades of red and pink. On the Wolf’s Landing set, everyone had been chattering between takes about their plans for romantic dinners, their reservations at B&Bs from Victoria to Astoria, and which flower-delivery services could be counted on to drop the ball on their most important day of the year.
Every mile down the long, winding road loosened up the tension that had been building in Levi’s shoulders. He loathed this damned holiday like Ebenezer Scrooge loathed Christmas, and being bombarded with it all fucking day had driven him insane. Bah fucking humbug. Especially now that he was actually around people all the time—he’d been a happy recluse until relatively recently—and now that he was in a relationship. Seriously, if he’d heard “Do you and Carter have big plans tonight?” one more time, he would’ve screamed. That, or given a detailed description of everything he planned to do to Carter in bed tonight, regardless of what the calendar said.
That thought made him chuckle as his Jeep continued down the leaf-littered road.
Eventually, he made it to his driveway, and followed it up to the house. Carter’s beat-up Ford Taurus was parked outside, and as the garage door opened, it revealed the red Porsche in the middle bay. Funny how quickly they’d become normal fixtures here. Usually, Levi got twitchy if someone’s car was in his driveway for more than a couple of days, but it was hard to believe there’d been a time when the Porsche hadn’t been there beside his remaining Corvette or the Taurus hadn’t been sitting outside on top of an ever-spreading oil slick on the concrete.
Levi pulled into the garage next to the Porsche. As the door closed behind his Jeep, he released a breath and whispered a prayer of thanks that he was finally home. With any luck, by the time he returned to the real world, every scrap of Valentine’s Day would be torn down and shoved into the clearance section. The St. Patrick’s Day stuff would be front and center—Levi welcomed the annual arrival of all that tacky green horror. It meant the pink and red were gone for another year.
He got out of the Jeep and headed inside. He opened the door leading from the garage to the main part of the house . . .
. . . and his heart sank.
The smell of pasta carbonara wafted from the kitchen. It was faint in the garage, but as soon as he stepped into the house, the air was thick and warm with garlic and bacon.
Levi loved the way Carter cooked the carbonara dish. Had since Carter first made it for Levi’s birthday. And then he’d made it a second time to celebrate moving in together.
Please tell me you’re just making it for the hell of it tonight.
He put on a smile and went into the kitchen. “Hey.”
“Hey.” Carter looked up from stirring the sauce, smiling back. “Right on time.”
“Am I?” Levi craned his neck to see into the pot. “For what?”
“I was making some pasta carbonara.”
“So I can smell. What’s the occasion?”
Carter hesitated, holding his gaze, and then shrugged. “Does there have to be an occasion?” He gestured at the thin, creamy sauce. “You like it, don’t you?”
“I do, yes.”
“There you— Link, buddy, you need to move before you get stepped on again.” He wagged a finger at something beneath the kitchen island, and Levi didn’t have to check to know what was there. Link and Zelda, his Maine coons, were helping as usual. Zelda usually rode on Levi’s shoulder while he cooked, but Carter had never quite managed to maneuver around the kitchen with a twenty-five-pound cat riding shotgun. Eventually, she’d decided she could supervise from one of the barstools on the other side of the island, which was where she was now, peering across the countertop with an expression of pure feline disdain.
Link was probably weaving in between Carter’s feet. The first few times Carter had tried to cook in here, Link had nearly tripped him, and twice, he actually had tripped him. Carter had since learned the art of always looking before he stepped, and the two of them had perfected the dance of cat and cook. Most of the time, anyway.
“Fucking speed bump,” Carter muttered. After he’d apparently managed to work around Link, he met Levi’s gaze again. “So how was the interview?”
“Not too bad.” Levi idly scratched behind Zelda’s ears, which got her purring like a tommy gun. “They kept the personal questions to a minimum for once.”
“They mentioned possibly doing an interview with the two of us together, though.” Levi switched to petting Zelda. “It might be worth considering since they’ve been all right so far.”
Carter pursed his lips. Then he shrugged. “Maybe. I guess I’m worried they’re trying to get our guard down so they can get us into the same interview and then start in on all the personal shit.”
“We could agree to do it under the condition that it’s kept strictly about Wolf’s Landing and our careers.”
“Worth a shot.”
“Cool.” Levi smirked. “Push comes to shove, we can have Alfonse play bouncer.”
Carter laughed. “Well, at least we wouldn’t be boring him anymore.” He paused. “Oh, before I forget . . .” He nodded toward an envelope on the kitchen island. “I got some new DVDs in the mail.”
“Did you?” Levi eyed it warily. “Which ones?”
“Take a look.”
Levi picked up the envelope, which had already been opened. The address label caught his eye—it was still weird to have this address beneath Carter’s name, but there it was. One more piece of mail to make this whole arrangement seem perfectly permanent.
He slid the discs free and thumbed through them. He paused on the third one. “Holy shit. Paskiainen?” Levi turned to Carter, eyes wide. “Where in the world did you find that?”
Carter grinned. “You’re talking to someone who managed to amass a collection of your early work. If a DVD is out there, I will find it.”
“Wow.” Levi wondered how long it had been since he’d seen the obscure Finnish film. “I’m surprised it ever made it onto DVD. My last copy was VHS.”
“Oh hush.” Levi rolled his eyes. “You’re not that young.”
“No, but you’re that—”
“Oh, ha, ha, ha.” Levi skirted the island, cat and all, and put an arm around Carter’s waist. “You kids and your newfangled Betamax and eight tracks.”
Carter laughed and lifted his chin for a kiss. As often happened, the kiss turned into a longer one. Whoever said the spark started fading after the first six months or so together had obviously never seen Carter and Levi in action.
Carter drew back and glanced at the stove. “Damn, I should’ve gone with something I could leave in the oven while we—”
“We will. Later.”
“Do I ever lie to you when it comes to that?”
“Exactly.” Levi kissed his cheek. “For now, let me run upstairs and change clothes. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Take your time.” Carter gestured at the simmering pot. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Slave to the stove, eh?”
“I can’t make you do all the cooking around here, can I?”
They both chuckled. Then Levi headed out of the kitchen. There was a heavy thump, and Zelda followed him into the hallway. As he started up the stairs, she trotted past him, and at the top, she halted, tail straight up as she waited expectantly.
“Hey, kiddo.” He scratched under her chin and then behind her ear, prompting more purring. Levi couldn’t help smiling—she and Link hadn’t been thrilled when he’d started working again, but they’d both been a lot happier after Carter moved in. Even though Levi and Carter both worked long hours, there was someone home more often these days.
“You’re not going to start bringing them to cons, are you?” Anna had asked last time she and Leigh had been over for dinner.
“No, I’m not.”
Carter had snickered and muttered “bullshit” under his breath. As much as he teased Levi about it, though, he was the one who was having a harder and harder time leaving the cats behind whenever they had to travel, which was getting increasingly frequent.
“They always seem so sad,” he’d said on the way down the driveway a couple of months ago.
“They’ll be fine.” Levi had patted Carter’s leg and tried to be inconspicuous as he too glanced back at the faces in the window. “Give them twenty minutes, and they’ll be out cold on the couch.”
“Or the kitchen table.”
“And whose fault is that?”
Carter had given him a sheepish look.
“Uh-huh.” Levi had squeezed his leg and kept on driving. When they’d returned from that trip three days later, the cats were lounging on their favorite perches—Zelda across the back of the sofa, Link on the coffee table.
In the present, standing at the top of the stairs and scratching Zelda under her chin, Levi said, “And you were happier to see him than you were me, weren’t you?”
She purred louder.
“Come on, you.” He patted her side and continued down the hall. Over the years, he’d been afraid that if he ever found a partner, the guy wouldn’t be as friendly with the cats, or he’d think Levi was weird for having conversations with them. Carter, though, loved Link and Zelda as if he’d been the one who’d raised them from rescued kittens. Hell, how many times had Levi found Carter, dead asleep on the couch with one of the massive cats curled up on his chest? That was almost a given if Carter got home before Levi did.
Well, assuming Carter wasn’t making dinner.
Levi stopped in his tracks.
Dinner. Pasta carbonara.
And the DVD he’d been searching for all over God’s green earth, which happened to arrive today.
Levi cringed. This was for Valentine’s Day, wasn’t it?
He always dreaded that inevitable period when a fledgling relationship approached its first February. Boyfriends and girlfriends alike had misunderstood, resented, or flat out ignored his undying hatred of Valentine’s Day, and prior to Carter, he’d gritted his teeth and smiled through quite a few Februaries. He begged his partners—including Carter—for weeks ahead of time to take him at face value and understand that this wasn’t a game or a test. It wasn’t reverse psychology. It wasn’t a trap—“You weren’t supposed to actually ignore it!”
Zelda circled his legs, bumping his calves with her head and purring.
“You and Link didn’t talk him into any of this, did you?”
She stared at him, eyes wide, and made a soft chirping sound. He chuckled and scooped her up, then took her into the bedroom, but even the cat under his arm with her V-8 purring engine wasn’t enough to keep him smiling.
As he changed his clothes, he gnawed on his irritation, trying to decide whether to broach the subject or what. There were two ways he could play this: He could pretend it didn’t bother him, and then find a way to delicately reapproach the subject before next February. Or he could say something up front and hurt Carter’s feelings, which he’d feel guilty about for decades.
Obviously he only had one option. Awesome.
He stared at his reflection in the mirror above Carter’s dresser. It was one evening. No matter how much Valentine’s Day annoyed him, he could suck it up and ignore it. Next year, they’d do nothing. This year . . . fine. Even if the very thought of this fucking holiday made him want to gouge out his own eyes.
He took a breath, gave himself one last look in the mirror, and then picked up Zelda off the bed and headed back downstairs.
In the kitchen, he set Zelda on the barstool where she’d parked herself earlier. Carter glanced up from cooking and offered a slight smile, which Levi returned halfheartedly.
Carter raised his eyebrows. “You okay? You seem kind of . . .” He tilted his head, as if he were trying to read Levi in spite of Levi’s best efforts to not be read.
“Yeah, I’m—” Levi held Carter’s gaze. Shit, who was he kidding? He’d never been able to lie to Carter. And he didn’t want to lie to him. He didn’t want to hurt his feelings either, though.
“Levi.” Carter stepped closer. “What is it?”
“I’m, uh . . .” Well, no sense pretending everything was peachy. Levi broke eye contact and looked at the kitchen table, eyeing the plates. There was nothing out of the ordinary on the table aside from the fact that they were actually eating at the table, rather than in the living room or the theater. Nothing red or pink. No envelopes. No little gifts. But still, something didn’t sit right. “Is, um . . .” He gestured at the benign setup. “This isn’t for, um . . .”
“Of course not.” Carter smiled thinly, and his eyes didn’t quite echo it. “We have dinner and watch movies all the time. Why should this be weird just because it happens to be February fourteenth?”
Besides the fact that for an incredible actor, you have a terrible poker face?
But Levi decided not to push it. “Fair enough. So, what do you want to do tonight?”
“I was thinking we could . . . have dinner and watch a movie.” Carter tensed, then showed his palms. “You know, same as we do all the time.”
“Okay.” Levi wrapped his arm around Carter’s waist and kissed his cheek. “Best way I can think of to spend any evening.”
“Me too,” Carter said, but he didn’t sound terribly enthusiastic. “The, um, pasta’s almost done. Might as well grab something to drink while I finish up.”
Levi let him go and turned to pull a two-liter of Coke from the fridge. “You want any?”
“I’m good.” Carter gestured at his own glass. Iced tea, knowing him. “Thanks, though.”
As Levi poured himself a drink, Carter said, “I’m curious about something.”
Carter didn’t speak for a moment, and the only sound was ice clinking quietly in his glass and the soft fizzing in Levi’s.
Finally, Carter asked, “What is your beef with Valentine’s Day?”
Levi scowled. “It’s nothing but a commercialized Hallmark holiday.” He capped the Coke bottle and turned to put it back in the fridge. “People are pressured to give each other overpriced shit, and hope to God they can outdo it next year with an even bigger and more expensive gift.” He rolled his eyes as he faced Carter again. “I mean, it’s nothing but an excuse to guilt people into spending money on their other halves, all out of obligation rather than anything sincere.”
Carter studied him. “But, what about the holiday itself? Without the commercial crap? I mean, can’t it be an evening to spend time together and maybe get a little bit romantic?”
“That should be every day.”
“Yeah, but sometimes it’s nice to have something to remind you.”
Levi laughed dryly. “I might buy into that if it wasn’t also such a tradition to buy everything else.”
Carter’s eyes narrowed slightly, and his lips pulled tight. “I don’t suppose it occurred to you that maybe Valentine’s Day means something to me?”
Levi froze. “What?”
“Oh, come on.” Carter rolled his eyes. “It’s a two-way street, Levi. This is the first time I’ve been in love with someone over Valentine’s Day. We live together now. We’ve got a good thing going.” He gave a tight half shrug. “So, you know, maybe I wanted Valentine’s Day to be special. Since I think this is something special.”
“I . . .”
“I get that you aren’t into the Hallmark bullshit. But for God’s sake, I’m not talking about buying each other shit or doing something big and extravagant.” He threw up his hands. “A movie, dinner, and hey, who knows, maybe even some romantic crap if that’s not too much to ask. Is any of that really such a fucking imposition?”
Carter slammed his glass down on the counter and stormed out of the kitchen.
The cats scattered. Alone, Levi scrubbed a hand over his face. Way to go, idiot.
He didn’t follow Carter, though. If he’d learned one thing from the few fights they’d had, it was that when Carter walked away, he needed to go blow off some steam. He didn’t sulk or fume, but sometimes he hit his limit and needed to be alone with his thoughts. It usually took a long, arduous fight before he hit that point, though.
Which meant he’d likely been bottling this up for a while now. Levi cringed at the thought—how long had Carter been gritting his teeth and pretending it didn’t bother him? Shit . . .
And goddamn it, he should’ve told Carter in the beginning why he didn’t like Valentine’s Day. He’d been adamant that he hated the whole thing, but hadn’t gone very far beyond just wrinkling his nose at the consumerism. He hadn’t thought to go deeper into that—into the obligations, the lack of sincerity—because Carter hadn’t pushed for an explanation and seemed to just let it go. Until tonight, anyway.
Levi sighed and turned off the stove, then took the sauce off the burner. It was nearly done, so it could easily be reheated after Carter had cooled down. For the moment, Levi covered it to keep the cats from helping themselves.
With the food safe, he drummed his fingers on the counter. Now what? Though he didn’t want to approach Carter until he was ready to talk, he needed to do . . . something.
Maybe he needed some advice. He usually did when his fuckup caused an argument with Carter.
And there was one person who could be counted on to verbally smack him over the head—Anna.
He took out his phone, went upstairs to the bedroom, and speed-dialed her.
“Hey you,” she said.
“Hey. Happy Consumerist Bullshit Day.”
“Happy Flowers in Exchange for Fucking Day,” she grumbled back. “How is yours going?”
She sighed. “Sorry to hear it. I’d bet yours is going better than mine, though.”
Levi grimaced. “That bad, huh?”
“Yeah.” Anna’s voice was quieter now, which meant Leigh was probably home. “We’ll work through it. We always do.” She didn’t sound convinced. Why did she even do this to herself anymore when they were so miserable together? Before he could push the issue, though, she said, “So what’s going on? Something must’ve gone to shit if you’re calling me.”
“You could say that.” He explained everything from what he’d told Carter over the last few months to Carter suddenly storming out of the kitchen tonight. The more he talked, the worse he felt—he’d never meant to hurt Carter, and he realized now that he’d had a million opportunities to ask how Carter felt about this particular day. Finally, he sighed and said, “I know it’s not the end of the world, but I . . . I feel like I really fucked up with him.”
“You did,” she said bluntly. “But it isn’t like you can’t fix it.”
“I know I can. This isn’t one of those things we can’t bounce back from. But how do I make it up to him tonight? Even if I run into town and get a card and all that shit, it won’t mean the same, you know?”
“You don’t need any of that crap. And it doesn’t sound like he’d want all the bells and whistles even if you hadn’t pissed him off. He just wants you, sweetie. He wants to spend the evening with the man he loves in a special way that isn’t exactly like every other night you guys spend together.” She paused. “How do you do that? Well, you know you and Carter better than I do, so your guess is as good as mine. But there is still time to make him remember tonight as an amazing evening instead of the night you guys fought over Valentine’s Day.”
Levi swallowed, rubbing his eyes with his free hand. “I’m terrible at this stuff.”
“I know the feeling,” she said with a humorless laugh. “Look, honey, if you fucked up with Carter, then talk to him. Apologize, explain yourself, listen to him, and then fuck him into the ground until he forgets that you messed up.”
Levi laughed. “With advice like that, it’s a wonder you don’t have your own talk show.”
“Eh, people like Oprah and Dr. Phil’s approaches better than mine.”
“Can’t imagine why.” He sighed. “I don’t think makeup sex is the standard recommended approach to romance on Valentine’s Day.”
“Beats the shit out of awkward silence and seeing how far apart you can sleep.”
“That sounds like the voice of experience.”
“You want to talk about—”
“Absolutely not. Go talk to your man.”
“Are you sure—”
“Yes, ma’am.” He paused. “I hope your night gets better.”
“Me too. See you at work tomorrow.”
After he hung up, Levi took a moment to collect his thoughts. Then he headed downstairs in search of Carter.
He found him in the living room, iPad on his knee and a game of Candy Crush in progress. Zelda was perched on the armrest, and Link was sprawled out on the middle cushion. Carter glanced up. There was no anger in his eyes that Levi could see, but definitely some hurt feelings.
He stood beside the couch. “Hey. Can we talk?”
“Yeah.” Carter set his iPad aside.
Levi sat next to him, the cat providing a buffer between them, which he didn’t like but Carter usually preferred when he was upset.
“Look,” he said, “I’m sorry about earlier. I honestly had no idea it meant this much to you.”
Carter met his gaze. “You could’ve asked.”
“You’re right. I could’ve. But, the number of times we’ve brought this up, why didn’t you tell me it—”
“Don’t even try to put this one on me,” Carter snapped. “You’re the one who laid down the law without even stopping to think if maybe I had an opinion on the subject.”
Levi nodded. “I know.” He reached across Link and touched Carter’s arm. “Look, I’m sorry. You’re right. I didn’t think about whether it was important to you. And I should have.” He drew his hand back. “Carter, I love you. And I know you love me. This has nothing to do with that at all. I just . . . I fucking hate the commercialized shit.”
“So do I.” Carter met his eyes. “But I still like the sentiment. Is it too much to ask for one day out of the year to be kind of special?”
“No, it isn’t.” Levi swallowed. “The thing is, everyone I’ve ever dated has done it out of obligation. I’ve never . . . To be honest, I guess it didn’t occur to me that it mattered to you, because I’ve never been with someone who actually cared about the sentimental side of Valentine’s Day.”
Carter cocked his head. “Really?”
“Yeah. They felt obligated to get me a gift, and they’d get pissed off if I didn’t ‘care enough’ to get them one, or if it wasn’t big enough, or . . .” Levi waved a hand. “It was always about the cards and the obligations. I didn’t think you wanted the sentimental side because I didn’t think anyone ever did. So, I’m sorry for that.”
Carter relaxed a little. “I would’ve said something. But I thought . . . I mean, you hated it so much, and I didn’t want to bring it up. But the closer we got to today, I . . .” He sighed. “I guess it bothered me more than I thought it did.”
“So maybe we need to find a way to balance the day. Celebrate Valentine’s Day without . . . celebrating it.”
Carter shrugged. “I’m fine with anything as long as it’s us. How do we make it different?”
“I don’t know.” Levi thought for a moment. “I mean, it also bugs me because it kind of seems like people pull out all the stops, lay on the romance, and then . . . then they’re off the hook for the rest of the year. I guess I’d rather do small stuff all the time.”
Carter swallowed. “Me too. But I do like this part too. Not the cards and gifts and crap. Just . . .” He shrugged. “Us. You, me, the cats, dinner, and a movie. Like we do all the time, but different and maybe a little special, you know? I’m not completely sure how.”
Levi chewed his lip.
“There is still time to make him remember tonight as an amazing evening instead of the night you guys fought over Valentine’s Day.”
Maybe there was.
Levi’s heartbeat ratcheted up. There was something he’d been meaning to do, and he’d been losing sleep over it for weeks. A few times, he’d almost worked up the courage, but then . . . didn’t. Couldn’t. Chickened out at the last possible second.
But if ever there was an opportunity to make a sincere, heartfelt gesture on Valentine’s Day, this was it. This was his shot at showing that while the holiday didn’t mean much to him, Carter did.
Levi’s stomach twisted into a knot as his nerves threatened to get the best of him. This was even more terrifying and huge than the day he’d asked Carter to move in, but before he could talk himself out of it, he took Carter’s hand. “Let’s go upstairs. I might be able to make this up to you after all.”
Carter didn’t move. “Look, I’m glad we’re on the same page again, but I’m not quite in the mood to—”
“That’s not what I meant.” Levi squeezed his hand. “Come on.”
[No Easy Way] was amazing and if you buy this anthology and read this single story, you will have gotten your money's worth.
I loved this collection of Valentine’s Day themed stories and I am so glad that the anthology’s editors opted to begin and end it with stories about characters we’ve already met in the series.
I loved this story! I was so sad to see it end.
If you’re looking for a little variety, solid storytelling, and some romance to round it all out, Lights, Camera, Cupid! is instant gratification in five satisfying pieces.
Each [story] is a worthy read...I highly recommend Lights, Camera, Cupid.