When I don’t rush to embrace him, his smile falters.

“What, too good for a hug?” He says it jokingly, but my skin prickles.

He doesn’t recognize me?

No—he thinks I’m Jess.

I smile thinly. “Of course not.”

I’m just being paranoid. We hug. His hands slip low.

I push away from him so fast, it takes him by surprise and he stumbles backward.

“What the heck?” he yelps, and then breaks into another laugh. “What’s wrong, Jessica?”

Jessica. He has the nerve to call me by my first name—well, by Jessica’s first name—when he doesn’t even know her. When he just touched my butt like it was absolutely nothing?

I don’t remember Jasper ever doing that to me.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear that I only knew the Jasper in my head—the Jasper I wanted to know—not the one who ghosted me at the ExcelsiCon ball last year and broke up with me over text messages.

He outstretches his hand, the one that touched my butt. “The name’s Jasper Webster. I’m a pro gamer. Got about four million followers. Can we get a vid together for my fans?”

“Do you have a ticket?” I ask.

“I just”—he makes a slick slicing motion—“cut in line a little. Don’t worry, I’m sure you don’t mind.”

He’s talking to me like he didn’t just grab me. Like I overreacted for nothing. No, he knows what he did was wrong and he’s just acting as if it doesn’t matter.

He notices the button pinned to my lanyard. “Save Amara? That’s really cute.”

“What do you want?”

He flicks out his cell phone and starts recording. “I just want to congratulate the girl who ruined Starfield.”

The confusion must be written all over my face, because he laughs and asks, “Is it true you didn’t want to be in the sequel, so the director cut you at the last minute in the first movie?”

“Excuse me?” In my surprise, my voice slips out of Jessica’s drawl and into my nondescript crisp one. It’s a little lower than Jess’s, a little less sweet.

“Now Carmindor’s dying, and it’s your fault.”

That was about the most absurd thing I’d ever heard in my entire life—and I was raised in fandom. I look at the video camera, and then at Jasper, trying to gauge how he wants me to react, so I don’t give him the satisfaction—

Suddenly Ethan is there, yanking the phone out of his hand and deleting the video.

“What the hell, man?” Jasper snarls (but he definitely doesn’t say hell).

Ethan tosses back the phone, his eyes like onyx. “You’re done. Get out.” At his full height, he’s a head taller than Jasper. His expression is cold and impassive, the kind of look reserved for people about to snap someone else’s neck. The only clue that he is the least bit agitated is the quickened pulse beating at his throat.

Starflame, Jessica doesn’t need a bodyguard when she has that, I realize.

Jasper laughs off Ethan’s unspoken threat and raises his hands in a surrender-like motion. “Dude, look, step back. We’re busy.”

Then he tries to come at me again, but Ethan puts a hand on his shoulder.

Jasper whirls around, fists clenched, ready to swing. I don’t have time to shout to Ethan that a punch is coming before he raises a hand and deflects the blow with his lower arm, grabbing Jasper by the shirt and pull-throwing him out through the nearest curtain. The panels of black fabric fly apart just wide enough for me to watch Jasper trip and fall on his face onto the retro rug, right in front of a line of fans waiting for the next star, before fluttering closed.

I look at Ethan wide-eyed, and he seems just as surprised as me that his move actually worked. He opens his mouth to say something but the volunteer pops back into the booth, fixing her glasses that keep falling down the bridge of her nose.

“I am so sorry! That took way longer than I thought,” she says. Then she asks if I’m ready to finish my meet-and-greet.

There are only ten fans left, so I smile and pose and ask their names, just like before. But this time, their names stick with me—though not for the reasons they should. Because they don’t try to feel me up, because they are nice, because they are decent human beings.

And I hate that some of the dickwads in their midst are not.

After the last photo, I rub my arms, feeling dirty and miserable. Is this what Jessica has to put up with all the time? Harassment like that? Is that all she’s ever seen of the Starfield fandom in the month the movie’s been out? Nothing but provocation and disapproval and people shouting how she can never live up to Natalia Ford?

I leave the booth as quickly as I can. I don’t know where I’m going, but somewhere away from people.

Somewhere I can stop and peel off my skin.

“Hey,” Ethan calls after me.

I push through a GUESTS ONLY door that leads into a hallway. It’s vacant, but not far enough away. A few moments later, the door opens again. Ethan’s gaining on me with those ridiculously long legs. I take another corner.

My mind is frazzled.

I’m shaking.

I thought Jasper wasn’t that kind of guy.

I’m so mad at myself. Why did I clam up? I saw what was happening. Why didn’t I yell at him to take his hands off me? I shouldn’t have let him hug me in the first place. Was it my fault? Did I—


Ethan grabs me gently by the forearm to stop me.

“I’m fine,” I say, and his impassive face twitches in agitation. He knows I’m lying. I grit my teeth. He hasn’t cared about me so far in this charade. Why should he start now? “I don’t need you to protect me—I mean, Jessica.”

His eyebrows furrow, and he drops his hand from my arm. “Of course.”

How often does that happen to Jess? I want to ask, but I’m also a little scared to know. I curl my fingers around the sides of my blue dress so Ethan can’t see them shaking. “I had it under control. I didn’t need you to come to my rescue. I was fine.”


“I’m Jessica right now,” I snap, “and I said I was fine.”

“You were not fine.”

I am vibrating with anger. “WHY DO YOU CARE NOW?” I scream. “I’m just some stupid peasant pretending to be a princess. A nobody who isn’t worth your time.”

I hurt him just then, I know I did, but hurting him feels like scratching a sunburn when it itches. It feels awful, but it’s a relief, too.

“Excuse me,” I mumble, and I don’t even wait for him to argue. I escape down the hallway and through another set of doors, and he doesn’t follow. I’m not sure where I’m going—I’m heading in the direction of the Green Room, but I don’t want to go there. I want to rake my fingers across my skin and peel myself back, or drown in a marathon of Starfield and forget about Jasper, or—


I blink and realize I’m outside the Green Room, my hand on the doorknob. I let go and turn toward the voice.

Vance Reigns smiles around a toothpick, and it’s disarming and sincere and he doesn’t know what I’ve just been through. He’s oblivious to it. In his perception of the world, it never happened.

“Is something the matter?” Vance asks gently.

I fix on a plastic smile, and I hope he doesn’t see it slipping. “I’m fine. What’re you doing here?”

He shrugs and hoists a black backpack higher on his shoulder. “I was going to watch your panel earlier but…”

“It didn’t quite go as planned.”

“Are you okay?” he asks.

“Of course—why wouldn’t I be?”

He pulls his hand through his gorgeous blond hair. “I tried to call your hotel room last night after I got in from a dinner I had to go to, but you never called me back. It was late, though. I’m sorry.”

Late. He must have called while I was in the pool, or at the diner with Milo and Bran. But he’d called. I hadn’t even thought to check the answering machine when I went to grab my bag, but then again I doubt Ethan would’ve approved. He’d said as much about Vance Reigns.

Which is funny, because Vance has been nicer to me than Ethan will ever be.

“It’s okay,” I reply softly. I begin to walk around him, but he grabs my arm to stop me.

“Whoa whoa whoa, Stone. Where’re you heading?”

“Hotel, probably.”

“How about not?” He smiles again, and the last few moments with Ethan wash away. Vance loops my arm into his like a new Doctor claiming his companion. “Wanna go grab a bite with me, Jessica Stone? I feel like you might need a break.”

I hesitate because that does sound nice. A bite to eat away from the convention. A quiet place to think and regroup.

With Vance Reigns.

I might be a ball of confliction, but I am not dead.

“Please,” I reply, trying not to sound too desperate.

AS I MAKE MY WAY BACK TO Harper’s booth, I can’t help but take stock of the damage that’s been done. The comments on my social are only getting worse.

Every time I delete one, two more take its place. Calling me names, critiquing my body, and my bones, and my career. This is just the thing I didn’t want. Just the thing I tried to stay out of. But really, I should’ve known it would come to this. Because I’m not just a woman in Hollywood, I’m a woman in fantasy/sci-fi Hollywood. Not only are the roles less prestigious, they’re subject to the criticisms of trolls who are dissatisfied with my accomplishments, my looks, my talent, my breast size—and who blame me for anything and everything they find wrong. What’s worse, I know this is just a small portion of them, because I am white and straight-passing. Actresses of color get mobbed for merely existing.