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Authors: Shirley Jump

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BOOK: Really Something
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Allie laughed. “Same old Duncan.”

Vanessa cast a glance toward the tent. Inside the yellow-and-white striped canvas, human-shaped shadows danced. “I don't know about that, Allie. I mean, I really only see him on the news, but even when he's telling us how much rain to expect or whether that cold front will move in, he seems…different.”

Allie scoffed. The real Duncan Henry had showed his colors years ago. The chances of him having an epiphany in the years since high school were slim. Particularly given the outrageous way he still flirted, as if he was God's gift to female-kind—and a side of cake to go along with his personal entrée.

“I'm glad you're back, though. It'll be fun to catch up.” Vanessa gave her a smile. “Just like old times.”

“I don't think so. Old times are the one thing I
definitely
don't want to revisit.”

Vanessa laid a hand on her friend's arm. “Somehow, I doubt you're going to be able to leave town until you do.”

Chapter 6

Allie pulled the rental car onto the gravel shoulder of State Road 89 and shut off the engine. She'd spent the entire day driving around Tempest and its outlying areas, with Jerry calling her hourly, screaming for updates.

Finally, she'd found it.

The perfect location for
Sorority Slumber Party Slaughter.

She'd missed the house on her drive into town yesterday, too focused on her return really to look around. But here it was, a half mile past the welcome sign. Exactly what she'd been looking for.

Allie lingered in the driver's seat for a second, just looking at the land. On one side sat what had once been a cornfield. Probably pretty lush and thick in its day, but the field had decayed, the plants nothing more than dried stalks sticking out of the ground like skeletal fingers giving one futile last wave in the wind. One the other side, grass, six inches high, thick and green. Two hundred yards back sat a farmhouse, a big one by Tempest standards, two stories, Georgian-style, with a long, wraparound porch and wide white columns.

Or at least they had been white at one time. Now they were as gray as a cloudy day, and peeling, like the rest of the house. The brown paint had faded to a dark tan, and several clapboards had peeled away, as if trying to make a break for it before the house collapsed.

It was ugly and pitiful.

And perfect.

Allie flipped out her cell phone and punched in Jerry's number. “I found your location.”

“It better be scary as crap. And it better damned well be available. We need to start shooting in two weeks.”

“Two weeks?” Allie squeaked. “Why so soon?”

“Sugar-pie, I got bills to pay and nothing pays the bills like a hit. If we can get
Sorority Slumber Party Slaughter
wrapped up in the next forty-five, I'll get a Christmas release date. Put that in your stocking, Wes Craven.”

Panic put a stutter in Allie's pulse. Could she pull it off?

No. She
would
pull it off. This was her chance and by God, Allie was going to take it. “Jerry, I still need to check out a few things here.”

“Check 'em and get back to me. If that location's a bust, Scotty's got a great lead in Taiwan—”

“It'll be perfect,” she promised, though she had no idea if the place was available and wanted to kick herself for calling before she'd secured permission. She'd simply been too excited, and had overlooked the most important detail. But she'd fix that mistake, one way or another.

“I'll be the judge of that, Sugar-pie. Send me some photos,” Jerry barked, then hung up.

Allie cursed his name a few times, then took a couple of quick pictures of the house with the cell's camera feature, and zipped them off to Jerry's cell. A second later, she had a text message saying “Book it, Danno.”

Later, she'd send better quality images, so that the script and production people could get a good feel for the place as they did the rest of the preproduction work. For now, she slipped the cell back into her purse. Soon as she had some production experience under her belt, she would leave Jerry and find a job where “being treated like dirt” wasn't part of the job description.

“We meet again.”

She wheeled around. Her heart skipped a beat. Her muscles tightened. And a few other parts went loose and hot. “Duncan.”

“Miss Dean.” He gave her his trademark grin, then took a step forward. “What are you doing here? On my land?”

“This is yours?” Allie thought back and couldn't remember ever hearing that Duncan had lived on a farm, or heck, even come near one. The house where he'd lived—and maybe still did—had been on the end of Washington Street, an imposing edifice that sat as the crowning glory of Tempest.

John Henry had loved lording his wealth over people. Parking new cars in the street, flashing thousand-dollar bills at the local grocery store, knowing full well they couldn't change it first thing in the morning, insisting on ordering his plants from other countries, his food from other states, just because he could.

Old Man Henry had died of a heart attack nearly five years ago, according to Allie's mother's long, rambling annual Christmas letter. The town hadn't seen a thousand-dollar bill since.

Duncan looked out over the property, his gaze shaded by his palm. “Yeah, this place is mine.”

“Well, serendipity brings us together twice.” She smiled. “I'd like to use this house for the movie.”

“No.”

She leaned back, surprised. “No, just like that? You haven't heard the offer or—”

“No,” he repeated, his eyes an unreadable storm, then he turned on his heel.

She hurried after Duncan.
Damn.
What had she been thinking? Telling Jerry she had the location before she'd gotten ink on the contract? That was Film 101. Lock the deal,
then
tell the boss.

And worse, she'd sent the pictures to Jerry. Undoubtedly, he was already counting his box-office chickens. If she blew it now, he'd fire her. “My employer will pay a fee for the use of the land and return it to its original state after—”

“I said no.” He kept on walking.

“Why?”

“I don't have to give you a reason, just like you didn't give me a reason for not having lunch with me, even though it was clear you were interested.” He paused halfway up the path to the house, then gestured behind them, to his Miata, parked behind her rental Taurus. “You'd better get back to town. A storm is coming.”

Clouds marched across the sun, standing like sentries in front of its rays. A dark wind had sprung up, whisking at her skirt, lifting it as easily as a balloon. Allie splayed a hand along the fabric, keeping it from giving Duncan an unobstructed view of London and definite parts of France.

“Rain, the joy of farmers, bane of sunbathers.” His gaze swept over her, lingering on the skirt, then her legs. A breath passed between them. The tension increased, doubled. The house was forgotten. “Do you sunbathe out there in L.A.?”

She lifted one shoulder, trying to act as though his perusal meant nothing. Didn't affect her a bit. “Sometimes.”

“How?”

She laughed. “I lay out in the sun like everyone else.”

“No, I meant, do you wear a swimsuit or do you sunbathe…” He paused for a breath, his gaze on hers. “In the nude?”

Heat pooled in Allie's gut, rushing along her veins, tightening her nipples, her stomach. She stood there for a second, Duncan's dark eyes watching her, amusement giving them a spark.

She wanted him, dammit.

Oh boy. Her plan had one serious flaw—and she was looking at him.

“Nude,” she lied, to see his reaction, to feel her own.

One brow arched upward, and the spark in his eyes became a flame. “Ever get burnt?”

“Oh yes, many times.” By more than the sun.

Duncan took another step forward, and ran a finger down the bare skin of her arm. His touch was chased by goose bumps, then desire, a desire she willed herself not to feel, but doing that only seemed to intensify the feeling. “Such pretty skin to have it hurt like that.”

She nodded, mute, her mission forgotten.

“Does it burn now?”

“A little.” But neither of them meant by the sun. That had long gone away, hidden by the clouds, the storm moving in, whipping the wind into a vortex. Her skirt, forgotten when Duncan had touched her, skated upward, over her hips, exposing her pink, lacy panties to a quick glance, then just as quickly dropped again. Duncan's eyes widened and he inhaled.

“I should—” But then, the clouds opened up, releasing the rain in a fast patter, soaking them in an instant.

Duncan grabbed her hand. “We need to get inside.” Before she could protest—or drown in the sudden downpour—they ran the rest of the way up to the house.

Duncan flung open the unlocked door, then paused, letting her cross the threshold first. Once inside, Allie shook off the worst of the water. She smoothed down her hair, gaining her bearings, taking a moment to remind herself she wasn't supposed to be attracted to Duncan.

That wasn't the plan. Resurrecting old feelings. Acting on them was a no-no. She had to remember not to touch the candy in the forbidden jar.

Be tempted by it—and maybe tempt it back—sure, but never, ever let it pass her own lips.

Duncan flicked on a light switch. Allie bit back a hallelujah when she spied the house's interior. Creepy, dusty, drafty. And oh-so-horrific.

She couldn't have asked for a more perfect setting if she tried. The rooms were large, but dated, as if someone had stuck them in the Victorian era and left them there. The long hallway had the perfect mix of shadow and light for a good chase scene. The parlor on her right had high ceilings and an ornate fireplace, ideal for the first murder scene.

Long strips of wallpaper curled and dropped to the floor, revealing the original plaster and lathe below. The woodwork was dark, probably highly polished at one time. Cobwebs bridged the doorways, the windows. Sheets covered the furniture, giving the rooms an ethereal look. The script of
Sorority Slumber Party Slaughter
ran through Allie's mind, the scenes mentally filmed within these walls.

The house wasn't just perfect. It was a job promotion and a box-office hit, all wrapped up in a three-thousand square-foot bow. Allie resisted the urge to zip off a few more pics to Jerry. Secure the permission first, then get the pictures.

“Holy cow. This house is cool. It's going to be perfect.”

The words killed the mood as fast as the rain. Duncan stepped away from her, any hint of attraction gone with the last hints of the summer sun. “It's not going to be anything. I don't want strangers tramping all over this place just to plop it on two thousand screens nationwide.”

She decided to try a new conversation direction. “How is it that a weatherman owns a place like this?”

“By default. It belonged to my aunt. She died. I inherited.”

Harsh, sharp words—back to square one. Duncan had shut the door on the location discussion again. “It's chilly in here.” She rubbed at her arms. “Do you have some coffee?”

“Sure.”

She followed him down a narrow hall, her shoes making little noise on the thick, faded Oriental-style runner. The kitchen, like the rest of the house, was stuck in a time warp, a blending of linoleum and chrome that spoke of an update fifty years ago. Duncan searched through the cabinets, finally finding a box of Lipton tea bags in the back, behind a few Corelle bowls. “Tea okay?”

She nodded.

“No milk or honey, sorry.”

“That's okay. I'm a plain tea kind of gal.”

He grinned. “A woman after my own heart.”

A heart she knew too well. A heart she'd drawn a thousand times in high school, her name centered with his, hiding the words in the back of her notebook back then, so afraid that if he found out, he'd stop asking her for help with his math homework. Stop talking to her before class. Stop dispensing that easy smile, something he gave out like beads at Mardi Gras.

He let the water run a while, then filled a teakettle and set it on the stove. The gas, however, refused to spark. The stove clicked, but nothing happened with any of the burners. “I need to find some matches.” Duncan pulled out a few drawers, but they all came up empty.

Allie ran her hands up and down her arms. “How long has it been since anyone lived here?”

“Five years.” Duncan didn't elaborate. “I can't get this damned stove to work.”

“That's fine. I don't really need the tea.” What she could use was him—his arms around her, his body against hers, but she was not about to say that.

Or make that mistake again.

She moved to sit down, but he stopped her with a hand on her arm. “But you're soaked. You must be freezing.”

No, now she was hot.

Nothing about her felt cold, not anymore, not with Duncan's eyes on her. Damn the man for still having that power over her, for still being able, even after all these years, to ignite a flame with nothing more than a glance for kindling, a smile for tinder. “Yeah,” she said, breathed really.

Get a grip, Allie. You're over him.

“I'd hate to see you get sick,” he said, touching her nose, trailing along her cheek, her lips. “Having the sniffles in the summer is terrible.”

“Mmm…really terrible,” she echoed.

“I'm sorry I don't have anything to offer you. I wasn't expecting company.”

“What
were
you expecting, Duncan?” For that matter, what was she expecting? She'd come here to do a job, maybe flirt with him, ramp up his testosterone then roar out of town, leaving him wondering who that blonde had been and where things could have gone, had she stayed around longer. Never had she intended to lure the spider into her own complicated web.

BOOK: Really Something
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