I became “Hilary Rose” the minute my friend Rhonda Friedman, the supervising producer of CBS’s Emmy Award-winning daytime drama, “The Bold and the Beautiful,” asked me if I wanted to contribute a book to their partnership series with Pan Macmillan Australia. (The show is hugely popular not only here in the U.S. but around the world, including Australia.) Rhonda explained that the publisher was releasing novellas inspired by the show’s characters but with all new stories created by the authors. She also told me that she and Brad Bell, the show’s executive producer and head writer, would give each author the two characters they wanted to see paired up in a romantic relationship and that each author could go from there. And that was it! It sounded like a fun challenge and so I said, “Sure. Where do I sign?” I’d been watching B&B ever since I met Rhonda. It airs here in California during my lunchtime, so I figured I’d check it out to see what my new friend was up to, and I got hooked on the soap and its sudsy dramas. I even wrote an episode of the show that ran about a year ago, and it was such a kick to watch the characters speaking my words!
Rhonda told me that the characters for my B&B novella were going to be Ridge Forrester, the dashing oldest son of Eric and Stephanie Forrester, who founded Forrester Creations, and Caroline Spencer, the lovely young designer who came to Forrester Creations from New York in order to further her design career. I was thrilled because I loved those two characters and immediately started cooking up ways to put them together in a relationship even though they were committed to other characters on the show.
I had three months to write Blindsided by Love – three months! – and worked around the clock to meet the deadline. But thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia’s wonderful publisher, Claire Craig, I didn’t feel the pressure. Why? Because when I asked her if she had any editorial advice for me before I plunged in – this was my first romance novel as well as my first book written in the third person – her advice was the following: “HAVE FUN.” And yes, she used capital letters. Best editorial advice I ever got. I did have fun. I was creating a story around characters that already existed on screen, which is very different than creating characters from scratch as I do with my own novels.
So I’d watch the show every day and study Ridge and Caroline, pay attention to their mannerisms and their personal styles and their interactions with others, as well as their dialogue. The experience was truly a satisfying one with none of the emotional turmoil I usually contend with when I’m writing my own books. As a writer, I think it’s always a good idea to step out of one’s comfort zone and try new things – scary but worth it – and that’s what I did with Blindsided by Love. I hope it’ll appeal to fans of the show, fans of romance novels and fans of mine.
As for the name “Hilary Rose,” Hilary is my middle name and Rose is in honor of my Grandma Rose, who sat me on the floor of her New York apartment while she watched her “stories” on TV. She loved all the old CBS shows like “Edge of Night,” “Search for Tomorrow” and “Guiding Light,” and whenever she’d get upset at one of the characters, she’d yell at the TV and give them a piece of her mind. I’m picturing her smiling down from heaven right now with the publication of this book!
This is so not working.
Caroline Spencer assessed her reflection in the full-length bedroom mirror and sighed with frustration, her vermilion-lacquered fingers splayed across her slim but shapely hips. At least the makeup was right—smoky shadow framing her brown eyes, iridescent highlighter emphasizing her cheekbones, peachy pink lipstick providing the needed color on her face. But her sun-kissed blond hair was swept up too tightly into the chignon her stylist had spent an hour constructing and her black V-neck dress plunged deeply enough to cause a wardrobe malfunction, and …
Bad dress plus bad hair equals hot mess.
She took off the offending garment and tossed it on the bed, which was already strewn with discarded outfits. So many clothes, so little time. She needed to be at the restaurant opening by seven thirty and she was running more than fashionably late. Since when had she become so indecisive, so unsure of herself? Where was the spontaneous, impulsive, always-ready-to-party Caroline Spencer? The one who embraced challenges, the one who charged ahead without a backward glance? The one who was fearless?
Who are you and what have you done with Caroline?
She laughed ruefully at her reflection. The truth was that her divorce from Rick Forrester had flattened her, crushing her trademark exuberance. She could still fake the persona when she needed to, and she would—tonight, and all the other nights that were booked with galas and fundraisers and the see-and-be-seen events that were a staple of her social life in Manhattan. But she’d lost a piece of herself after Rick had betrayed her and she’d had no choice but to resign from Forrester Creations, his family’s Los Angeles based fashion house best known for its elegant couture and youthful Hope for the Future lines. She couldn’t stay there, not after her heart had been ripped to shreds, her pride left in tatters, and she’d decamped to New York six months ago. She had moved back into the turn-of-the-century townhouse on the city’s posh Upper East Side where she’d spent most of her adult life, and though both her mothers traveled a lot, she had friends too, a genuine support system. She was still Caroline Spencer of Spencer Publications, the conglomerate her mom and Uncle Bill had turned into a publishing powerhouse. Her name carried significance, meant something around the world and allowed her to live very well, for which she was grateful. And yet she missed LA, missed designing for Forrester Creations, missed Rick. Maybe she didn’t even miss Rick himself, not after what he’d put her through. And she certainly didn’t miss the pain of his infidelity. What she yearned for was the kind of love they’d once shared. It had been so all consuming that she couldn’t imagine not feeling it anymore, couldn’t imagine feeling it again with someone new.
She flashed back to the brilliant sunny day when Rick had surprised her with a marriage proposal—on the curb outside Forrester Creations, the very spot where they’d first met. He’d gotten down on one knee, dazzling emerald-and-diamond engagement ring in hand, and said with a grin born of sheer joy, “From the very first moment I saw you, I knew I was going to be in trouble.” They’d both laughed at the twisting, turbulent path their romance had taken. “With you is where I want to be,” he’d continued with such certainty, so much adoration. “You never gave up on us. Spencer–Forrester is an unbeatable team to the end.”
And they were a team in every way that mattered: his position as president of Forrester Creations and her ability to carry out his vision for the company; his management skills and her creative designs; his ambition and drive and her “motor mouth,” as he’d affectionately termed her tendency to shoot from the lip. And, of course, there was never a question about their physical connection; when they made love, there was nobody else on the planet.
And yet for him, there had been somebody else: Maya. Always Maya, his fall back whenever his confidence needed bolstering, the woman he’d rescued from the streets by hiring her as a company spokesmodel, the damsel in distress he couldn’t resist saving. Maya was like a drug to him, a way to blur the cold realities of his life.
Caroline shuddered with the memory of coming home early from work that fateful afternoon and finding them together—in her house, her bed. It was ugly and traumatic and terribly sad. And possibly avoidable. If the almighty Ridge Forrester hadn’t anointed himself chairman as well as CEO of Forrester Creations, hadn’t stripped Rick of the president’s title and installed his son Thomas there instead, hadn’t debased and demeaned Rick at every opportunity, maybe he wouldn’t have sought refuge in Maya’s arms.
Enough, Caroline. That ship has sailed.
There was no point in rehashing the maybes. She’d get over Rick. She was well on her way. But she’d never go back to Forrester Creations and work for Ridge. Not a chance. He’d offered to make her head designer, reporting directly to him, but she was right to decline. Sure, he was talented—a “design genius,” they called him in the fashion industry—and she could have learned a lot from him, but pretentious? Arrogant? Entitled? Judgmental? Please. He gave new meaning to the words.
Caroline hurried over to her closet, reached for the body-hugging black cocktail dress with the sheer, lacy bodice and wriggled into it. The next fix was her hair. She enjoyed wearing it up, exposing the cancer survivor ribbon tattoo at the nape of her neck to honor her namesake, her aunt Caroline, who’d lost her battle with leukemia. But tonight called for a looser, less constrained style. She pulled out all the pins, gave her head a quick shake and let her golden curls cascade down her back.
Better. Much better.
She nodded approvingly, then stepped into her black stilettos and started toward the door before turning to her reflection one final time.
Hey, Caroline? You really need to stop talking to yourself like some crazy old cat lady.
“There you are, fabulous as ever,” said her friend Gigi, kissing her on both cheeks. It was opening night at Luc’s and both women were on the exclusive guest list for the cocktail party. The latest venture from renowned Parisian chef Luc Bergeron, Luc’s was shaping up to be the restaurant for the foodie set. If the venue itself was any indication, it was well on its way, from the spectacular Art Deco interior to the hundred-plus prominent New Yorkers mingling and sipping champagne. “Ready to do battle? I see lots of tasty morsels and I’m not talking about the food.”
Caroline had known Gigi Hollister since they’d gone to the same private school as kids. But while Caroline was trying to heal from the anguish of her divorce, Gigi, model thin with coal-black hair as short as a boy’s, had already shed three husbands by age 25 and was on the prowl for another.
As a DJ pulsed electronica throughout the cavernous space and white tuxedoed servers passed hors d’oeuvres and flutes of Dom Pérignon, Gigi took off in pursuit of a distinguished-looking man old enough to be her grandfather and Caroline moved through the crowd alone. It didn’t take long before she was encircled by a quartet of eligibles, who were attractive in an entirely forgettable way. She swung into party-girl mode, as though on autopilot. She threw her head back in laughter at their jokes and summoned up amusing anecdotes of her own then flashed her patented high-wattage smile, and the time passed pleasantly enough.
She was trying to look riveted by the Wall Street hedge fund manager who was droning on and on about accrual swaps, currency overlays and flow derivatives, when she distractedly reached for another glass of bubbly, lost control of the stem and watched in utter humiliation as the glass slipped just enough for the champagne to splatter onto the black silk shirt of—
“What are you doing?” she blurted out before she could process his presence. “Sorry, I meant what are you doing here? In New York?” She hadn’t expected to see him anywhere, much less in her town, on her turf. He was so out of context here, and she was thoroughly disoriented. He was California personified—even his appearance screamed West Coast. New Yorkers dressed up for lavish parties, but there he was, without a tie, without a shave, in blue jeans, of all things. He did have a certain appeal for those who liked the scruffy dark hair that curled to his shoulders, the equally dark stubble that was always threatening to become a goatee, the deep cleft in his chin that gave him the look of a chariot-driving, sandals-wearing hero of one of those Biblical movies. He definitely wasn’t her type—Rick was clean cut, polished, impeccable, much more traditionally handsome—and yet she couldn’t help noticing that every woman in the room was drooling at the sight of Ridge Forrester.
“A pleasure to see you too, Caroline,” he said with a bow at the waist. “How rude of me to allow my chest to run into your champagne.”
See that? Such an inflated idea of his own importance. She’d been clumsy with her glass, granted, and now he was mocking her. Fine. She would mock him back. “Did you and your chest fly all the way across the country to collide with my alcoholic beverage?”
He laughed. “Still feisty, I see.” He was unable to keep his eyes from roaming her body even as she could see him trying to maintain eye contact. “Actually, I came tonight to celebrate with a friend.”
“Why am I not surprised? Does this Playboy centerfold have a name?” Of course God’s gift to womankind had brought a date.
Ridge didn’t bother to squelch a smirk. “The centerfold is taking the night off, but Luc is an old friend from Paris. The opening is a big event for him and his wife.”
Okay, she thought. So I guessed wrong. Ridge Forrester without a woman on his arm was inconceivable, but so was the fact that she was standing there talking to him. “I’m sure Luc’s extremely honored that you came,” she said, matching his sarcasm. She reached for another glass of champagne as a waiter passed, careful to hold onto it this time.
“You don’t like me, I get that,” Ridge said, after a sip of his own drink. “But I’ve always liked you, Caroline. You’re a terrific designer and you’ve got this—I don’t know—this spark. What I can’t figure out is what you ever saw in Rick. The guy’s bad news.”
Old habits die hard, so Caroline leaped to her ex-husband’s defense in spite of how he’d hurt her. “You crushed his self-esteem, Ridge. He was doing just fine before you came back to the company.”
He placed a hand on her shoulder as if to focus her and she nearly flinched. Had he ever touched her before? Surely there’d been handshakes between them, maybe even a hug here and there, but this time the physical contact felt intimate for some reason and it threw her off balance.
“Caroline,” he said gently, leaning in closer so she’d hear him over the music. “I’m sorry about what happened between you and Rick, but I wasn’t responsible for it.”
“You were always putting him down.”
“You were always trying to bail him out.”
“You didn’t have to demote him and promote Thomas.”
“For the record, my decision was purely professional. I thought Rick’s ideas were ill-conceived. But contrary to popular belief, Forrester Creations is a democracy. If Rick wants back into the executive suite, he can earn his way. I’m open to that.” He smiled, taking his hand off her. “Now, can we talk about you? Are you designing these days?”
“Yes, like mad,” she lied. “I’m with a fashion house here—small but very cutting edge. I’ve never been busier or more engaged in my work.” She hadn’t gone on a single job interview since leaving Forrester Creations and it bothered her. She’d always worked, never wanted to live off her family’s good fortune, wasn’t one of those ladies who lunch, and yet the only designing she had done since she’d landed in New York was the occasional scribble on her sketchpad at home, in front of the television. Her work at Forrester Creations had been so fulfilling, so exciting—the tight deadlines, the collaborations with the models, seamstresses and promotion people, the adrenaline rush of the fashion shows. She’d embraced it all and the experience would be hard to replicate. But Ridge didn’t need to know any of that.
“We miss you at Forrester,” he said. “We all miss you around the office, Dad, Thomas, Hope—everybody.”
Rick was conspicuously absent from that list. He was much too busy with Maya to miss her. “Thank you. It’s nice of you to tell me.” Maybe Ridge wasn’t so bad after all.
A waiter came by carrying a plate dotted with elegant little puff pastries and announced, “With Luc’s regards, Mr. Forrester: his signature gruyere gougère amuse-bouche.”
Caroline arched an eyebrow at Ridge. “So you do know the chef personally.” She picked up one of the pastries, swallowed it quickly and washed it down with a gulp of champagne. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast and she was starving—or was she nervous? She ate fast when she was nervous.
“What’s so funny?” she said. Did she have cheese on her chin? Pastry between her teeth? Melted butter on the tip of her nose?
“You—your attitude toward this thing of beauty.” He scooped up a gougère and held it against the light of the chandelier, as if he were examining an object d’art. “You ate it with all the appreciation of someone forced to swallow a pill, Caroline.”
Oh, spare me your disapproval, she thought. So typical of the Ridge Forrester she knew and loathed. He still judged, still acted as if he were above it all. “And what, may I ask, is your attitude toward this cheese ball?”
He sampled his gougère, taking his time chewing it. “Simple but extraordinary. The mornay sauce adds to the richness of the cheese, the pastry is flaky and light, and the gruyere brings a slightly nutty note. Luc’s creations tap into almost all the senses: smell, sight, feel and, of course, taste. Here, try another, only this time make it a memory.”
Nutty is right. She’d heard that Ridge read poetry by famous English romanticists and often quoted from their sonnets, but apparently he was also an authority on the amuse-bouches of famous French chefs. “You’re quite the wordsmith, aren’t—”
Before Caroline could get another word in, Ridge picked up a gougère and popped it straight into her mouth, silencing her. He allowed his fingertips to trail across her lips; he couldn’t take his eyes off them, she noticed.
“Good food is like good sex,” he said, his voice husky and low, nearly a whisper, his face close to hers, “a sensual experience meant to be savored, not rushed.”
If you say so, Caroline thought as the melted gruyere oozed down her throat. Ridge Forrester was a piece of work, with his lofty ideals and opinions. “Do you rhapsodize about food like this when you’re eating a burger and fries?” she said. It was fun trying to take him down a peg even as she couldn’t stop staring at that valley in his chin.
“Actually, I do, if they’re top quality.” He smiled. “Using all our senses … it’s the key to enjoying life to the fullest.”
“Interesting,” she said. “I’ll try to remember that as I make a—what was it you said? Oh, right, a memory.” She scooped up another gougère, placed it on her tongue and let it roll around in her mouth before swallowing it. “I’m sensing just a hint of leeks. Or is it fennel? I get the two mixed up. Either way, I’m experiencing an infusion of both the savory and the sweet, a melding of the yin and yang, the masculine and the feminine, the balance of the universe. The aroma is like a cloud of French perfume that wafts and floats and—”
“All right, all right.” He laughed, his face relaxing into a wide grin. “I know when I’m being parodied.” He reached for her hand and held it. “I should go find Luc and congratulate him, since he’s the reason I’m here.”
“Yes, of course you should.”
“Seeing you again has been … entertaining,” he said. “If you ever change your mind and want a job at Forrester Creations, you know where I am. But the small, cutting-edge fashion house you mentioned has you under contract, yes? What was the name of it again?”
The name of it. Great, Caroline. Now what? Come up with something—fast.“Luna Designs,” she ventured, pulling a word out of the air, thinking she’d be more suited to a company called Lunatic Designs. “Small but growing.” It was nice of him to offer her a job and they’d had a fairly pleasant exchange just now, but it was quite another to actually work for him. Not happening.
“Well, then … Best of luck with it and be well, Caroline.” Only then did he release her hand and turn to go.
As soon as he had disappeared into the sea of revelers, Gigi scurried over, breathless and a bit tipsy, judging by her flushed cheeks and ragged gait. “Tell me, tell me.”
“Tell you what?”
“How I can get Ridge Forrester to play handsies with me like that.” She licked her lips. “Now he’s my idea of hot.”
Caroline wrapped her arm around her friend’s shoulder and gave her a squeeze. “Gigi, you thought the geezer with the ascot and the turkey neck was hot.”
“Oh, stop. So Ridge is Rick’s older brother?”
“Half-brother, sort of. Complicated family history there.” Her mind did a quick replay of their interaction. “He was pretty chatty tonight, I’ll give him that,” she said. “He’s usually a man of few words—the silent, brooding, Heathcliff-on-the-moors type. He offered me a job again, by the way.”
“He’s a catch, Caroline. If he offered me a job, I’d be on it in six seconds.”
“I’m not going back to Forrester Creations,” Caroline said firmly. “Not in this lifetime anyway.”
Devastated by her divorce from Rick Forrester, Caroline Spencer left Forrester Creations, decamped for Manhattan and threw herself back into the social whirl. She hoped the forced merriment would help her forget that it was her designs that had ensured Rick’s success at Forrester. They were a team personally and professionally. But then the almighty Ridge Forrester claimed the chairman’s seat when his father retired, and a demeaned Rick sought comfort in another woman’s bed. Even as she blamed Rick for her heartbreak, she resented Ridge and his whiff of superiority and entitlement. Why everyone thought he was so charismatic was a mystery. Sure, she missed designing, missed LA, missed Rick, but there was no way she was going back to Forrester Creations – ever. Across the country in LA, a wildfire erupts in Malibu Canyon where Ridge’s son RJ is visiting a friend. Ridge rushes to Malibu to rescue his son. The fire crew orders Ridge to stay back, but he won’t listen, not when his boy is still inside the structure. He pushes past the barricade and the flames, finds RJ and carries him to safety, but he suffers a form of flash blindness from the intense light and fumes. The condition should be temporary, but it’s lasting longer than expected, perhaps because Ridge can’t design, can’t work, can’t emerge from behind his dark glasses. He feels useless, his vision limited to dim shadows and blurry images.
Caroline gets a frantic call from the Forresters, explaining that Ridge’s condition has severely compromised his long-planned fashion show to honor the anniversary of his mother’s death and raise money for cancer research. The event date is looming. They plead with Caroline to come back to Forrester Creations, if only until the show is over, to collaborate with Ridge and oversee the fundraiser. He’d never ask her himself – he’s much too proud.
Caroline agrees. She’s certainly not Ridge’s biggest fan, but she has compassion for his loss of sight, and raising money for cancer research has always been important to her. She can’t say no.
She returns to Forrester Creations and immediately has her hands full. While Rick tries to charm his way back into her heart, Ridge is more judgmental than ever, barking orders at her, never satisfied, and yet it’s him, not Rick, she’s attracted to. She hasn’t seen Ridge’s vulnerable side before. His sight loss has forced him to depend on her, like it or not, and she feels needed. She’s never shied away from a project and Ridge Forrester is a project. She refuses to indulge his dark moods and instead calls him out on his behavior, pokes fun at his pretentions, keeps the atmosphere upbeat. Since he must avoid actual sunlight, she becomes his sunlight. But Ridge is Rick’s nemesis, and she can’t let anyone know how she feels or there would be a battle between the two men – a battle the company can’t afford before the big event.
Does the fundraiser go on as scheduled? Will Rick find out that Ridge and Caroline have forged a bond that has moved well beyond a professional collaboration – a full-on romance that neither of them saw coming? Will Ridge, who refuses to be a burden to Caroline as long as his blindness persists, allow himself to declare his love for her? And will she choose him over Rick, the man she once adored? Filled with the same drama and passion for which “The Bold and the Beautiful” is famous and sure to delight B&B fans all over the world, Blindsided by Love is a compelling stand-alone story too.