Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Showcase of The Corpse Who Walked In The Door by Jackie King Partners In Crime Blog Tours

Please enjoy my Showcase stop on The Corpse Who Walked In The Door by Jackie King blog tour! And don't forget to enter for your very own copy!


The Corpse Who Walked in the Door

by Jackie King

on Tour September 2014





Book Details:


Genre: Cozy Mystery
Published by: Deadly Niche Press
Publication Date: June 2014
Number of Pages: 206
ISBN: 978-162016-112-8
Purchase Links:


Synopsis:

Former society wife Grace Cassidy is learning to live on the minimum wage she earns as a bed & breakfast inn-sitter. Grace finds her cat’s bloody paw prints leading away from a bathtub and wants to run for her life. But she can’t. Her 19-year-old son is accused of pushing his pregnant girlfriend down a flight of concrete steps and she won’t abandon him.


Read an excerpt:

Blood colored paw prints trailed from the white tile bathroom onto the faux Oriental rug in the bedroom where Grace stood. The cat-feet marks immobilized Grace. She closed her eyes and prayed that she had been claimed by stress-induced insanity, that there were no dark-red blots before her eyes, but a hallucination. A nice long rest in a mental hospital didn’t sound too bad. Anything except another dead body in this inn where she worked.

Author Bio:

Jackie King loves books, writing tall tales, and murdering the people she dislikes on paper. Her latest mystery The Corpse Who Walked in the Door is available in ebook format. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, Romance Writers of America, Oklahoma Writers Federation, and Tulsa NightWriters.

Catch Up With Jackie:



Tour Participants:



Giveaway:

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Giveaway - Interview with Lisa Patton - Southern as a Second Language

Today please welcome Lisa Patton to the blog she's talking today about her third novel about her Southern Belle protagonist Leelee Satterfield, Southern as a Second Language. 



  • ISBN-13: 9781250020673
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 8/26/2014
  • Series: Dixie Series , #3
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 304
 



Overview


Leelee Satterfield is back in a riotously funny and charmingly romantic adventure from Lisa Patton, author of the widely acclaimed Dixie series
Not only do Southerners talk slowly, sometimes the whole language is hard to understand. No one realizes that more than Memphis belle Leelee Satterfield. Now that she’s back home, and starting a new relationship with Peter, the Yankee chef from her New England inn, you’d think she’d sit back and enjoy 

Lisa's Publisher St. Martin's Press has
graciously offered one paperback print copy
US ONLY
please use Raffleopter form below to enter
Thanks St. Martin's Press
Good Luck!


Read an Excerpt:

Chapter One


Sometimes a little white lie is just the kindest thing. I mean, what in the world was I supposed to tell Riley, my agitating next-door neighbor, when he rang my doorbell one October morning and asked if he could work at my brand-new restaurant as Peter’s sous chef? My mind raced in a thousand directions and my initial thought was to say, “That is so nice, Riley. I tell you what, though, I’ll need to talk to Peter about this and get back with you.” At the very least, it would have taken the onus off me. But just as I was about to open my mouth, my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of Kissie standing in the doorway leading from the dining room to the kitchen with hands firmly planted on her hips, mouth drawn tightly, and her head shaking from side to side. That was her not-so-subtle way of telling me that what I was about to do was a big fat no-no. She knew me all too well.
I knew she was right, but it’s hard for me to be brutally honest with people, especially guys like Riley. I feel sorry for him, bless his heart. He’s … well, he’s pitiful really, and he can’t help it. He speaks with a soft r, so when you first meet him you think his name is Wiley. Wiley Bwadshaw. Kissie, on the other hand, doesn’t feel in the least bit sorry for him. She says he’s just plain annoying and that his speech impediment has nothing to do with it. She says there’s no reason to feel bad for him. “He gotta plenty money, a full head a hair, nice stature, and two strong legs to find honest work. There ain’t no reason in the world to feel sorry for that man.”
As he stood on my front stoop wearing a white apron and a chef’s hat with RILEY embroidered in black, he tried selling himself. “Working as a Pampa’ed Chef Consultant qualifies me as a pewfect candidate for the sous chef position.”
“I thought you gave up Pampered Chef for Amway,” I told him, still not having invited him in. Kissie would rather spend an entire afternoon behind a shopping cart with a bad wheel than five minutes face-to-face with Riley.
“Actually, I did, but I’ve weconsidered my decision and I’m back in business. Anyway, these days,” he went on, “PCCs have to do cooking shows as part of the job.” Riley adjusted the tie around his waist and it was then that I noticed the lettering on the front of his apron: THE PAMPERED CHEF® DISCOVER THE CHEF IN YOU. “I’ve alweady hosted close to seven cooking demonstwations featuring the Pampa’ed Chef’s best thirty-minute wecipes.”
I stood silently in my doorway trying my best to be polite, bobbing my head with a kind note of approval. Quite honestly, at this point, my neck was beginning to hurt.
He went on. “That alone is another benefit, as I could make a huge diffewence in the efficiency of your westauwant opewation.” An ear-to-ear smile spread across his face as he popped his index finger in my direction. “And here’s the best part, you could stock your kitchen exclusively with all Pampa’ed Chef pwoducts, declaring the Peach Blossom Inn the first all-PC westauwant in Tennessee. Hey, you could even put a PC logo on the fwont door, as well as on all your menus, boasting that you are the first!” He further added that that one detail alone was sure to increase our foot traffic by at least 75 percent—given the Pampered Chef reputation and all. “It’s a win–win!” Riley exclaimed as he snapped his fingers in the air and poked his head inside the entryway of my rental home, scanning his eyes from side to side. Riley’s thirst for information could never be considered his strong suit.
Not only is Riley a Pampered Chef salesman (“consultant” is his word) but he “reps” Tupperware, Cutco, and of course, Amway, too. Kissie says that line of work is meant for women only and that he’s flat-out embarrassing himself, but as he puts it, “It’s a gweat way to meet the ladies.” I can’t help but feel sorry for him there, too, because he’s in his late thirties, still a bachelor, and sports a military hairdo to boot. His cropped brown hair ripples in the back when he bends his head down, but he keeps a two-inch flattop growth on the top. When you go into his home, he’ll show you around the house but you can’t sit on the furniture. It’s covered in plastic. So are the rugs. In fact, there’s a see-through runner that extends all over the house. The one time I had to go over there to borrow an egg and made mention of the vast amount of Tupperware products in his kitchen, he swept his hand over the coated furniture in the den and said, “Well, how do you think I got all this? Nevah, my dear lady, unda’estimate the powa’ of plastic.”
So instead of putting off the inevitable and saying that I’d ask Peter about the sous chef position and get back with him, I took Kissie’s body language into account, mustered all my courage, and said, “That’s so nice of you to ask about that, Riley, but Peter already has a sous chef.” It was technically a lie, I realize that, but I like to think of it as a harmless little fib meant to spare his feelings.
The news seemed to take him by surprise. “Oh. Well, hmmm. I didn’t wealize you had alweady hired someone.” The creases in Riley’s forehead deepened as he considered his options.
I didn’t say a word. “The less said the better,” as Mama used to say, a quote she often borrowed from Jane Austen. Emma, I think it was.
“Never mind, then,” he said, disappointment in his voice. “Well, good luck with your new hire.”
“Thanks, Riley. Talk to you soon.” I backed behind the door and waved as I slowly pushed it to.
With relief oozing from my pores, I bolted the lock and turned around in a rush, bumping noses with Kissie. “What’d you go and tell him that for?” she asked in her indignant tone of voice, the one she’s become famous for—at least in my mind. Her right hand alternated between pointing her finger in the air and resting on her large hip. “He gone find out the truth as soon as you put an ad in the newspaper, hm hm hm, hm hm hm. Lawd knows that man reads every word in it. Even the circulars.” Kissie chants little hms when she’s disgusted at something or someone. She also does a variation of it when she’s happy. This was not one of those.
I sighed loudly. Shifting my weight from one foot to the other, I reached around and knotted my long, curly (ofttimes frizzy) red hair into a bun, something I do whenever I’m nervous. Or whenever Kissie is about to lecture me. I really and truly thought what I said was just the kindest thing. “But this way I won’t hurt his feelings.”
“That may be, but in the long run, your fib gone get you in trouble. And even if you get out of that tall tale, what you gone say about outfitting your new restaurant with all Pampered Chef products?” Now both hands were back on her hips. “He ain’t gone stop there neither. He’ll want you to use Cutco, Tupperware, and Amway, too. Wait and see if ol’ Kissie ain’t right. He’s over there thinking he’s hit the jackpot. You better nip this in the bud while you still can.” After enduring eight months of maddening encounters with my meddlesome next-door neighbor, my other mother was flat done.
From the very first day I rented the house, Riley had had “his nose in our business,” as Kissie put it. She’d do almost anything to avoid him, including drawing the curtains in the middle of the day to give the impression no one was home. Incidentally, Kissie had been giving me “the look” with her hands on her hips since the day I learned to walk. And she was continuing the tradition with my two little girls. Clearly a person’s age had nothing to do with it. I was just short of thirty-six, but to Kissie, age was irrelevant.
Twenty minutes later when two consecutive doorbell chimes interrupted our morning a second time, Roberta, my little two-year-old mutt my girls and I found at the pound, hurled himself into a barking frenzy. After sticking him in the kitchen so he wouldn’t run off down the street once I opened the door, two more chimes had followed in the space it took me to make it to the foyer. This not only got Roberta going again, but Kissie—who was taking what she called “a breather” to watch Saturday-morning cartoons with my Sarah and Isabella—sprang out of her seat (she’s nearly eighty-four) and beat me to the entrance hall. She knew exactly who was on the other side. “May I help you, Riley?” I heard her say while flinging the door open. Her voice could possibly pass for polite but there was not a bit of a happy-to-see-you lilt in it at all.
“Good morning, Kissie. May I talk to Leelee again?” Riley, on the other hand, was exuberant.
“All right. Leelee,” she hollered behind her, with no enthusiasm, “Riley’s back.”
I strolled up and shyly peered over her shoulder. Panic about my fib had started to take root.
This time Riley wore one of his black sweatshirts with TUPPERWARE ROCKS embroidered in large red letters clear across the front. Until meeting Riley, I had no earthly idea that Tupperware clothing even existed. “Hi again.” He waved at the two of us. “I just had a bwilliant idea.” Riley’s enthusiasm was made obvious by the way he rocked back and forth on his heels. “I was just looking awound my kitchen when the thought popped in my head that the Peach Blossom Inn will have all kinds of food-stowage needs. I could stock your kitchen with any kind of Tuppa’ware pwoduct you could possibly imagine. And Kissie, you could host the pawty!” He reached into his back pocket and handed her a rolled-up Tupperware catalog. “You won’t believe the kinds of wewards you can earn. Why I’ve nearly outfitted my entire house.”
Awkwardness hung heavy in the air. Hosting a Tupperware party would be the last thing eighty-three-and-a-half-year-old Kissie King would ever add to her bucket list. Just as I was pondering another little white lie to relieve us all of this misery, Riley piped up again. “And wait till you learn about the sharp world of Cutc—” The daggers in Kissie’s eyes could have cut that poor thing’s face in half. As for me, I just stood there expressionless, not knowing what to say. Riley backed down the steps and onto the walkway. “Uh, why don’t you take your time and think about it; I’ll get back with you later.”
Kissie put her hand on the back of the door and shoved. “Sure, Riley,” I said before it swung shut.
Even though I didn’t want to, I met Kissie’s glare straight on. I’d seen it a thousand times. Tight, pursed lips with eyebrows arched like upside-down crescent moons and coal black eyes staring right into mine. “Don’t say a word,” I told her. “I knew you were right the minute I heard the second doorbell chime.” As she turned and ambled back to the den to join the girls, a peeved “hm hm hm” was the only sound she made.
Kissie is one of the loveliest people who ever lived. It’s just that Riley crawls all over her. She puts it like this: “Sometimes that man sits on my last raw nerve.” As irritated as he makes her, though, she doesn’t stay that way long. In fact, she spends much more of her time laughing than glaring. If she finds something funny—anything at all—she’ll tee-hee herself into a full-blown laughing attack quicker than anyone I know. Tears will stream from her eyes and pretty soon her entire face looks like she just stepped out of the shower. The sound of her laughter is the most contagious thing you’ve ever heard and it’s virtually impossible not to join right in with her. When she’s finished—with the laughing attack, that is—she’ll end by saying, “oh me,” or, “oooh-wee,” however the mood strikes her.
Without question, she’s the most wonderful person I’ve ever known, and that’s been since the day I was born. My grandparents shared her with Mama and Daddy the minute I popped into the world. She was considered one of the best cateresses in Memphis when Granddaddy stumbled upon her at a cocktail party. He popped one of Kissie’s cheese dreams in his mouth and knew he had to hire her. She cooked for them for ten years before I was born and all of a sudden she was both a chef and a nanny. Times were different then. Many families had a black lady working in the home. Some had a cook, a maid, and an ironing lady. Not many, but a few. Mama and Daddy had a maid who doubled as an ironing lady and a superb cook. And I had a black mama.
Sometimes I’m surprised she stayed with us. Mama had a tendency to be jealous of my affection for Kissie. As far as I’m concerned, the reason for that is as simple as two plus two. Kissie was the one taking care of me. Running my bath, cleaning my behind, and making sure my tummy was full; kissing my elbows and knees when I fell off my bike and bundling me up in the winter. Kissie worked in our home at least five days a week. Children bond to their caregivers whether they are blood or not, and that’s exactly what happened with me. I fell in love with Kissie King like she was my own mother.
There was never a birthday party where Kissie didn’t do most of the work or a dance recital when Kissie didn’t help me get ready. Of course, Mama helped. I would be remiss if I didn’t give her part of the credit. I know she tried. But something else in her life seemed to always claim the front seat.
*   *   *
My white eyelet dress with Juliet sleeves and an empire waist came from Goldsmith’s, Memphis’s hometown department store. The cutest thing I’d ever seen and just perfect for my first Junior Cotillion dance. Mama took me shopping and I couldn’t wait to get back home to try it on for Kissie. Since I attended an all-girls school and Junior Cotillion was an all-girls organization, I had to invite my own date. All year my eyes had been set on Danny Weaver, a boy from the boys’ school down the street. Sandy blond hair, a spray of freckles across his nose, big blue eyes—I had set my sights high. From the moment I spotted him at my first boy–girl party one year earlier, I pictured us a couple.
Calling him on the phone, God as my witness, took five years off my life. It was a Friday afternoon; I’ll never forget it. I’d never called a boy before and as an eighth-grader with no brothers, I was scared to death to dial the number. His mother answered the phone and with Mary Jule, one of my three best friends, sitting right next to me, I said, “May I please speak to Danny?” That was just before the days of caller ID and I could have hung up right then and there if I wanted to but Mary Jule held my hand and urged me to “just get it over with.” Once he said hello, Danny sat there on the other end of the line, barely saying anything until I finally blurted out the question. After an excruciating pause, he finally said yes but hurried off the phone. It’s a wonder I survived.
The night of the formal, Kissie helped to straighten my hair and made sure my dress was pressed. Of course, Mama took all the pictures once Danny picked me up at the door, and that was an even more uncomfortable moment, since it was seven o’clock by the time he got there and, well, that’s two hours past five. Without fail, no matter what day of the week it was, cocktail hour in our house commenced with the five o’clock whistle.
The evening could scarcely be described as romantic. Once we got to the dance, the girls clustered around the tables while the boys huddled around one another at the far end of the room, no doubt talking about basketball, football, or who knows what else. It could have been my curly-turned-straight red hair, for all I knew; it was and still is the bane of my existence. The parental chaperones urged us to dance but Danny and the rest of the boys just sat there like toads, never uttering a word. Four hours later Danny and I slithered into the backseat of his father’s Lincoln Continental for the long ride home. Thank God for Mr. Weaver. At least he made conversation.
Mama was three sheets to the wind and slurring her words the minute we stepped inside the front door. To say I was embarrassed would be a lie. I was mortified. Daddy stepped in to say good-bye to Danny after Mama attempted an inebriated farewell, nearly tripping over her feet when she went to hug him. Danny looked at me, then the floor, back at me, over to Mama, and finally shook Daddy’s hand before hurrying out to his father. I hid behind the front window and watched him bound into the front seat. The thought of their conversation sickened me as I ran up to my room. Hours passed before Kissie came into work the next morning and I could fall into her arms. She’d rock me back and forth while I cried but she never said a single unkind word about Mama—no matter what Mama did. All Kissie would say was: “She’s your mama, baby. You need to love and respect her no matter what.”
*   *   *
Scotch was Mama’s cocktail. I can still picture the green bottle with the red top—Glenlivet 12 with the ivory-colored label. A bottle always sat atop our bar, right next to the small sink. Most of the other liquor bottles—Jack Daniel’s, Tanqueray, Absolut, Bacardi, and several different liqueurs—were stacked on the shelves above the bar glasses, but the fifth of Glenlivet was always within reach, easy for Mama to grab. The sound of the silver tongs tinkering in the ice bucket (that Kissie had filled, incidentally) and the clinking of the ice cubes echoes in my mind even today. One, two, three, four, Mama dropped each one into her Waterford crystal highball glass as soon as the clock struck five. Mama would be finishing her second by the time Daddy got home, around six o’clock. She’d leave her chair in the living room and mix him a stiff one as soon as she heard his car engine enter the driveway. But only one. That’s all Daddy ever wanted.
He never took the first sip until he kissed me hello. When I was little he’d make it a point to find me, throw me in the air, blowing funny raspberry kisses into my face and down my neck. By the time I turned into a teenager I was usually on the phone when he got home. Still he’d knock on my bedroom door and kiss me before Kissie served our dinner. I always knew my daddy loved me. Maybe it was because of the way he covered me when Mama had had two too many or the tears I saw in his eyes the day I graduated from college or the ones he wept on my wedding day. I suppose that’s why I became a daddy’s girl. Who could blame me?
It wouldn’t have been a surprise to me if Mama died of liver damage had she lived to a ripe old age but instead Mama died of breast cancer when she was only forty-two. And I was only eighteen. It was a terrible time for a girl to lose her mother, only six weeks before leaving for Ole Miss. We were in that awkward phase; the one where mothers and daughters have a hard time getting along. No doubt the hangover from her alcoholism had already nauseated the essence of my soul, but even so I was devastated—heartsick when she died. Seventeen years later I’m finally dealing with it all. Thanks to Alice, another of my BFFs, I started seeing a therapist a few months ago.
Maybe Mama’s beauty was her downfall. It was certainly her identity; that I know for sure. She was called beautiful from the day she was born and it became the main component of her self-worth. After graduating from Ole Miss she went back home to Greenville in the Mississippi Delta and spent the next year planning her wedding. She was born to be a wife and mother, all the while looking like a Miss Mississippi on the arm of my father, a dashing Southern gentleman from Memphis, Tennessee, named Henry Beckworth Williams, Jr.
Mama never worked. Not a single day. But she made up for it by volunteering at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, our church, and the Junior League. She was a Master Gardener, and her roses were, as Celia, one of her best friends, often said, “The most gorgeous specimens in Memphis.” Her Lucky Ladies and Velvets were often featured in her friends’ floral arrangements and at her garden club meetings, as their fragrance could sweeten any size room.
I was her only child. When I asked her why, she said, in her heavy, r-rolling, Mississippi drawl, “I didn’t want my fig’a marred any more than it already was. One day, when you’re lookin’ at your post-pregnancy body in the mirr’a, Leelee dear, you’ll unda’stand what I mean.” Despite all that, there is one thing I know for sure about Mama: I was her heart. She used to tell me so over and over again.
Once Mama died, Kissie became even more important. Someone had to step in. Daddy’s mother had already passed away, and Mama’s mother, my namesake, lived down in Mississippi, more than likely an alcoholic herself. Nobody ever admitted to being an alcoholic in those days. A “social drinker” was the term Mama used to describe herself, a phrase my grandmother used as well. “I only drink durin’ cocktail hour,” Mama liked to say, with a defensive tone. “I would nev’a take a drink durin’ the day.” I guess she had forgotten about her Budweisers on Saturdays during Ole Miss games or her “Bloodies” with Sunday brunch.
Thank goodness Daddy had the foresight to keep Kissie around. Looking back on it now, I can’t imagine how my life would have turned out without her. If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t have a clue how to cook, how to clean, or how to properly fold our laundry. But as wonderful and helpful as she is, that lady can put me in my place in half a second. I can always tell when I’m in trouble by that glare of hers.
*   *   *
The Memphis heat during August was hotter than “blowed coal,” according to Daddy. As Alice and I readied ourselves for Jay Stockley’s summer boy–girl party, Alice sat tailor-fashion on the floor in front of the full-length mirror in my bathroom and I sat on top of the counter with my feet in the sink. We painted enough baby blue eye shadow on our eyes to look more like cartoon characters than like fifteen-year-olds and wore enough Heaven Scent to warrant an arrest from the perfume patrol. When we were ready to leave for the party, we pranced out of my bedroom wearing short shorts and halter tops and headed down the long hall toward Kissie, who was waiting on us at the other end. She had the car keys in her hand—Mama and Daddy were out of town—and her eyes narrowed as we got closer. Her lips were pressed together, the glare on her face spreading from one side to the other. At first she didn’t say anything but her head turned with each step we made around the den. Finally she said, “Where’s your brassiere, Leelee?”
“Halters don’t need bras,” I told her.
“Hm,” was her only response. But when my back was toward her, she yanked the sash of my paisley halter top, springing it loose with ease. “Kissie,” I said, clutching my arms over my chest. (Incidentally, at that point, my tender breasts were A’s. It would be the end of my junior year before my D’s finally sprang to life.)
“Don’t Kissie me,” she retorted. “What you gone do when some junkyard dog gets you in a lip lock and starts runnin’ his hands all over your back? You think he ain’t gone do what I just did? You need to get back in your room and change outta that thing you’re callin’ a shirt, young lady. Put on a blouse. Somethin’ decent.” Kissie pointed her finger down the hall. “You, too, Alice. What would your mama say? Y’all’s shorts are bad enough. Might as well be wearin’ underpants. You girls ain’t gone go out under my watch looking like streetwalkers. Get on back there, you hear? Hm hm hm, hm hm hm, hm hm hm. I declare, you girls gone put me in Bolivar.”
*   *   *
Bolivar is a place people from Memphis talk about ending up when they finally have a nervous breakdown. I’ve never seen it before but I’ve heard about it my whole life. It’s actually the Western State Mental Health Institute in the town of Bolivar, Tennessee. People have just shortened it to “Bolivar.” Mama talked about it and so did Daddy. In fact, everyone’s parents did. When I was little I remember Mama calling mental hospitals insane asylums, and the very image of that scared the daylights out of me. I hear the town is as charming as any small Southern town could ever be, but I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the citizens. I bet they are sick to death of people asking them all about the mental hospital when asked the simple question: Where are you from?
Daddy passed away of complications from diabetes ten years after Mama died. That was unquestionably the worst time of my life. I think something else dies when a girl loses her father, something inside the deepest caverns of her heart. It’s her sense of security, that wellspring of protection and safety that only a daddy can provide. He’s the one person she can count on to be there for her no matter what.

Copyright © 2013 by Lisa Patton



Friday, September 19, 2014

Interview with Regina Kyle - Triple Threat HQN Blaze

Today I welcome Harlequin Blaze author Regina Kyle who is here chatting about her debut novel Triple Threat.
Enjoy!




  • ISBN-13: 9780373798223
  • Publisher: Harlequin
  • Publication date: 9/16/2014
  • Series: Harlequin Blaze Series , #818
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
 


Overview

Sabotage…and Seduction!
The Playwright It's emerging playwright Holly Nelson's big break. Broadway. Having survived her traumatic marriage and divorce, Holly is now aiming for success, not love. And any naughty dreams about Nick Damone—the gorgeously dishy star who was her crush back in high school—must remain a fantasy.

Read an Excerpt:

"Are you out of your goddamn mind?" Nick Damone threw the script down on his agent's desk. To his credit, Garrett Chandler didn't flinch, most likely because he'd dealt with more than his fair share of temperamental clients. Not that Nick was temperamental. He had every right to be pissed. "Even if I wanted to play an adulterous, wife-beating scumbag—which I don't—there's absolutely no way the studio's going to go for it."
"Leave Eclipse to me. You've made them a midsize mint playing Trent Savage." Garrett sank into his butter-leather chair. "Besides, you said you wanted to get out of L.A. for a few months. So do it. Get back to your theater roots. Break free from your on-screen persona and try something edgy."
"Yeah." Nick was tired of the backstabbers and bootlickers who were the bedrock of Hollywood society. Spent from the acrobatics of embracing fame but avoiding scandal. And at thirty-three, his days as action hero Trent Savage were numbered, and with it his livelihood unless he expanded. Denzel starred in action, drama, comedy. Won an Oscar in his thirties, another in his forties, and kept getting nominated every year or two. Robert Downey Jr. was buried in awards and prime projects, with first refusal on scripts that would make Nick weep on cue. If he wanted his career to have legs like that, he needed to be more than Trent Savage.
But there was edgy and there was diving off cliffs. Onto jagged rocks, at low tide, in front of a live audience. Eight times a week.
"Trust me, Nick. I didn't get you this far by pulling advice out of my ass. This role is gold. I'm talking Tony-worthy." Garrett motioned for Nick to sit in one of the webbed chairs opposite the wide mahogany desk and pushed the script toward him. "Dig into this again. I think you'll see it's everything you're looking for."
Nick sat, stretching his long legs and crossing them at the ankles. The flight from Hong Kong, where his latest picture just wrapped, had been long and damn uncomfortable. Even first class was no place for a guy of six foot four. All he wanted now was a thick steak, a hot shower and a good night's sleep. All of which he'd get after he won this argument with his worthless agent, who, unfortunately, also happened to be the closest he had to a best friend. He tended to keep people at arm's length, where they couldn't mess with his head. Or his heart.
"What do we know about this playwright?" He traced the words on the script cover, his brain taking a moment to decipher the jumbled letters. The Lesser Vessel by H. N. Ryan.
"Not much," Garrett admitted. "She's new. Her bio's pretty sketchy—went to Wesleyan, a few plays off-off-Broadway that closed early. But Ted and Judith say her talent is once a generation. They optioned this play before it was even finished. Coming from two of the hottest producers on Broadway, that's a pretty big endorsement."
"She?" Nick leaned forward in his chair. Spousal abuse was a hot-button topic after a spate of recent celebrity arrests, but the writing hadn't felt like an "issue" play, which—shoot him for saying so—made him assume it was written by a man.
He wouldn't admit it to Garrett, but he'd read the whole gut-wrenching story on the plane—instead of sleeping. The author had gotten into his head, and to find out the guy who spoke to him was a woman was…disconcerting.
What Garrett didn't know—what almost no one knew—was that domestic violence had been a part of Nick's daily existence for years. It still reared its ugly head every time his mom visited him, or when he talked to her on the phone. Affected him most on those rare occasions when he contemplated going home to confront his father.
He'd kept his distance, though, because he didn't trust either of them to control their rage. His mother suffered enough already. She didn't need the two of them beating each other to a pulp.
"A woman," he said again.
"Down, boy. She's not your type."
Nick didn't bother correcting Garrett's perception of him as a skirt-chasing man whore. He'd given up fighting that image. In reality, he was more of a serial monogamist, but he'd learned the hard way that it wasn't worth bucking the Hollywood machine. The press, the studio—hell, even Garrett—were happy to exploit his image as a ladies' man, truth be damned. Nothing he could do or say was going to change that. "How do you know she's not my type?"
"According to Ted, she's short, smart and sweet. That's three strikes against her in your book."
"Hey," Nick protested with a wry smile. "The women I date are sweet." Tall, leggy and vapid, sure. But sweet. He wasn't looking for a lifetime commitment. If watching his parents hadn't been enough to sour him on marriage, then dealing with the liars and cheaters in Hollywood for the past ten years had put the nail in that coffin.
Love would have to wait a very long time to catch Nick.
"I'm not kidding." Unlike Nick, Garrett wasn't smiling. "This one's off-limits. She's a serious author, not one of your blonde bimbos."
"Whatever." Garrett's threat was meaningless for one simple reason: Nick wasn't doing this play. Final answer. Game over.
Exhaustion invading like crystalline Ambien, he closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of the chair. He needed to come up with a new plan of attack or he'd find himself in a rehearsal room in Chelsea. "So the writer's legit and the play's the real deal. But why the bastard ex-husband? What about the cop?"
Garrett shook his head. "Pussy part. Besides, it's already been offered and accepted."
Nick snapped to attention. "Who?"
Garrett shuffled through some papers, doing a shit job of stalling. They both spoke fluent body language, and Nick could tell he wasn't going to like Garrett's answer. "Malcolm Justice."
"You can't be serious." It was Nick's turn to push the script back across the desk. "I wouldn't play opposite that goddamn lightweight to save my career. Even if he was the asshole ex-husband and I got to beat on his pretty-boy face every night."
"Get over it, Nick. You're Trent Savage. He's not, even if he claims he'd have been the better choice. His fans' bitching and moaning on those stupid message boards is just sour grapes."
"What about the fact that people will see me as a wife beater? Stop me in Starbucks to berate me…" The most important of those people being his mom. If she managed to sneak away from his father long enough to catch the show, she'd probably watch the whole thing from between her fingers, experiencing every blow. Stage an intervention to curb his violent tendencies. Definitely cry. A lot.
"That's the price of being an artist." Garrett poured another drink, handed it to Nick and stared out at his fortieth-floor glass-plated view.
"Some artist." Nick took a sip. He'd wondered when Garrett would get around to sharing the Maker's Mark. "I've spent the past six years playing a globe-trotting, womanizing fortune hunter. Not exactly Shakespeare."
Hell, he wasn't even sure if what he did could be considered acting anymore. And now his own agent wanted to serve him up as fodder for critics like that jerk at the Times, the one who made no secret of his disgust for what he called Broadway's "star worship."
As much as Nick hated to admit it, this whole thing scared him. It had been years since he'd been onstage. He figured he'd pick up where he left off before heading west, at some obscure way-off-Broadway theater where he could flop without risking career suicide.
Nick took another sip of bourbon. It scorched a warm trail down his throat, but not even that familiar, normally reassuring sensation could help him shake the feeling that he was in way over his head. Broadway? Who the fuck was he kidding?
"What's that motto you're always repeating?" Garrett's tone was mocking. "'Be beautiful, be brilliant'?"
"Be bold. Be brave." The words jolted him back almost fifteen years to a lakeside dock and the girl who'd first said them and changed his life.
Holly Nelson. He wondered if she remembered that night at the cast party as vividly as he did. The breeze ruffling her wavy brown hair. Her hand, warm and insistent on his arm, urging him to dream big. Her wide, bottle-green eyes seeing him completely, as weird as that sounded. Not just who he was but who he could become.
No, she probably didn't remember any of that. Probably didn't remember their kiss, either, although it was imprinted in his brain. He'd known she was inexperienced, and he'd meant it to be innocent, a thank-you for telling him what he needed to hear. But the second his lips met hers, all thoughts of innocence had disintegrated. She'd melted in his arms like butter, soft and pliant. He'd closed his eyes against the rush of pleasure as her mouth opened to him and her hands fluttered up to stroke his chest through his T-shirt. He'd been so far gone he hadn't seen Jessie Pagano sauntering across the lawn to interrupt them until it was too late. Lost camera, his ass.
While he'd thought about Holly over the years more than he cared to admit, Nick hadn't kept track of her. He owed her for kick-starting his acting career, but it would be presumptuous to track her down. He imagined her back home in suburban Stockton, married to a high school gym teacher, with kids she kissed and praised all day. What would she think of this whole Broadway thing?
"You okay, buddy?"
Garrett's voice brought Nick back to the present. He downed the rest of his bourbon and wiped his mouth, nodding. "Fine."
"So you'll meet with the production team?"
Shit. "Where and when?"
"New York." Garrett paused to finish off his drink, and once again Nick knew what followed was going to be bad news. "Tomorrow afternoon."
"No way. I just got off a goddamn plane. Can't it wait a few days?"
"No can do. Casting was supposed to be finished last week but they held off, waiting for you to return stateside. Seems someone over there's got a real hard-on for you in this part."
"Jesus Christ."
"You said it, brother. That's why I booked both of us on the red-eye."
"Pretty sure of yourself, aren't you?"
"Sure this part will catapult you to the next level, if that's what you mean. Rumor has it Spielberg's shopping a Joe DiMaggio biopic. You'd be a great fit for the title role, and this play is just the thing to put you on his radar."
Damn. Nick would give his left nut to work with Spielberg. And Joltin' Joe was a national hero.
He slumped over and ran a hand through his hair. It was a foregone conclusion Garrett would win this battle, but he felt compelled to take one last stand. "I'm starving, exhausted and in serious need of a shower."
"No problem." Garrett crossed the room and grabbed his jacket off a coatrack. "We've got just enough time to get to your place for you to clean up and pack. You can sleep and eat on the plane."
"What about you?"
Garrett picked up an overnight bag from behind the coatrack. "All set."
"Cocky son of a bitch." Nick grinned in spite of himself.
"That's why I make the big bucks." Garrett swung open his office door and strode out.
Nick grabbed the script and followed him. There was no way he'd be sleeping on the plane. If he was auditioning for the powers that be, he intended to be prepared. He needed to reread the play at least twice, break down specific scenes, write a character bio… Not easy tasks given his dyslexia.
"This better be worth it." He slipped on a pair of Oakley sunglasses. "Or I'll be in the market for a new agent. And a new best friend."
2
Holly Ryan turned her head, trying to catch a glimpse of her backside in the black linen dress pants, and scowled. "They're too tight. I don't know what was wrong with what I had on."
"These old things?" Her sister Noelle nudged the pale pink button-down and khakis lying in a heap on the floor with her foot. "Please. They made you look like a hausfrau. Now you've got a waist. And an ass. And how about those boobs? I feel like I've just unearthed Atlantis."
"Which brings us to our next problem." Holly toyed with the plunging neckline of the silk blouse, another loaner from her baby sister, who, at twenty-six, was a fullblown fashionista. "Isn't this a little."
"Flattering? Attractive? Eye-catching?"
"I was thinking more like revealing. Inappropriate.
Slutty."
Noelle put a hand to her heart and staggered as if she'd been shot. "You wound me, sis. That's my lucky Marc Jacobs chemise. I wore it to my first opening night party.
Giselle."
Holly trudged to her bed and collapsed. All this primping was exhausting. First, Noelle had insisted on styling Holly's notoriously stick-straight hair. Then she'd spent an hour applying just the right amount of makeup. And now she was forcing Holly to play dress-up. It was like senior prom all over again, when twelve-year-old Noelle had schooled Holly on all the "girlie girl" things that were still so foreign to her.
"It's not that I'm not grateful for all your effort, Noe." Holly flopped onto her back, bouncing a bit on the too-firm mattress. "I just don't understand why it's necessary."
"First of all," Noelle began, sitting on the bed next to her and holding up one finger in a gesture that said a list of reasons was forthcoming, "you deserve a little pampering after the past couple of years you've had. Consider it your reward for dumping that bottom-feeder, Clark."
"Can't argue with that." Holly pushed up onto her elbows. Her sister didn't know the half of it. No one did except the police and a handful of medical professionals.
"And second—" Noelle held up another finger "—you're a big-time playwright now. You've got to look the part."
Holly rolled her eyes. "I'm nowhere near big-time."
Noelle gave her a playful smack upside the head. "Wake up and smell the success, girl! Your play's headed for Broadway. With at least one, maybe even two major movie stars. I'd call that big-time."
She had a point. But Holly had a hard time thinking of herself as anything other than the perennial screw-up in a family of overachievers. Her three younger siblings had each climbed their career mountains and planted their flags on top, wisely ignoring the example of their hopeless older sister. Holly had had more jobs than hairstyles, from substitute teaching to bartending to dog walking. It had become something of a family joke, guessing what she'd "explore" next. "Holly's follies," they called them.
The "follies" stopped a couple of years into her five-year marriage, when Clark had decided he wanted her at home, happy to greet him at the door each evening with a gin and tonic in her hand and dinner on the table. Always game, Holly had tried the new role. Massive mistake.
Domestic goddesshood evaded her, at least in Clark's estimation. Dinner was always overdone or underdone, the toilets never sufficiently shiny, his shirts never starched enough. Her saving grace—what made the debacle bearable—was an article in a women's magazine about the benefits of journaling.
And thus H. N. Ryan, author, was born.
"I'll believe it when I see the marquee go up." A healthy chunk of her still doubted that would ever happen. There were too many ways things could crash and burn in high def. "Until then…"
"Honestly, Holls." Noelle pushed a strand of long blond hair, so different from Holly's, behind one ear. "You worry too much. You said the producers signed Malcolm Justice to play the cop, right?"
Holly nodded and sat up fully.
"And this new guy? The one who's reading for you today?" Noelle turned away from Holly to the selection of shoes she had lined up at the foot of the bed. Holly groaned inwardly. Not one of them had a heel less than four inches.
"No clue. All Ethan would say is that he's a grade-A film star and major heartthrob."
Which was strange, Holly thought. They never kept secrets. Ethan Phelps had been her best friend since their freshman year at Wesleyan when she'd helped him conquer Chaucer and Dickens. He'd rewarded her with the irritating nickname "Hollypop," a name he unfortunately still insisted on using.