Authors: Crystal Hubbard
Genesis Press, Inc.
Indigo Love Spectrum
An imprint of Genesis Press, Inc.
Genesis Press, Inc.
P.O. Box 101
Columbus, MS 39703
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, not known or hereafter invented, including xerography, photocopying, and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, is forbidden without written permission of the publisher, Genesis Press, Inc. For information write Genesis Press, Inc., P.O. Box 101, Columbus, MS 39703.
All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same name or names. They are not even distantly inspired by any individual known or unknown to the author and all incidents are pure invention.
Copyright© 2009 Crystal Hubbard
Manufactured in the United States of America.
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To The League of Ladies Who Love Extraordinary Gentlemen, especially Flaming Star, Viper, Serenity, Eve of Construction, Voracious, Dr. D, and Cyborg—super smart, super caring, and super talented supervixens all.
Thanks to my California crew of Chele and Troy, Lauren, Douglas, John and Trinity, who shared their experiences and knowledge of how the cogs and wheels of Hollywood fit together. I offer special thanks to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel and the guest with the twin ocelots, who gave me the idea for Candy.
I’d also like to thank the National Mining Association and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, as well as the kind residents of Dorothy and Whitesville, West Virginia.
A shrill voice climbed above those of the reporters assembled in rows of folding chairs before him. The voice turned out to be rather melodious and pleasant once the clamoring of the other reporters stopped to allow the first question.
“Mr. Baron,” the owner of the voice said, now standing. “What high school did you attend?”
The rustle of clothing, the scritch-scratch of pens on note pads, the clicking of camera equipment—the music of the press conference played on as the media awaited his response.
More experienced reporters cast envious glances at
magazine correspondent Faith Wheeler, whose innocuous question had incredible implications regarding Zander Baron, the actor they had come to the Renaissance Hollywood hotel to interview.
Faith’s gaze flitted to Zander’s publicist and agent, the beautiful platinum blonde mother and son duo of Olivia and Brent Baxter. Faith’s question had not ruffled Olivia’s frosty exterior, but Brent coughed nervously into his loosely curled fist.
“I went to Lincoln High,” Zander said, his voice every bit as deep, smooth and commanding as it sounded onscreen.
Not bothering to record his answer, Faith pushed on with a second question.
“Did you have any hobbies growing up, Mr. Baron? Sports? Tinkering with cars?”
Sitting comfortably in a padded folding chair at a long, cloth-covered table centered on a low dais, Zander had been idly drumming the fingers of one hand; Faith’s second inquiry stopped the drumming. Zander leaned forward, his right thumb and forefinger going to his right earlobe.
Faith smiled tightly, suppressing the urge to weep.
Brent Baxter hastened to Zander’s side, but the actor’s upraised hand stopped him from running interference.
“Girls,” Zander answered with a smirk. “That was my hobby in high school.”
Faith’s mouth tightened into a little fist, earning a smug grin from Zander.
“Who gave you your first real kiss?” Faith boldly pressed on, raising her voice over that of the
reporter poised to ask the next question.
“I think you’re a little confused, miss,” he told her, a sharp glint in his Atlantic-blue eyes. “When my studio invited you here to discuss
, they meant my latest film, not junior high.”
Amid laughter, Faith sat, still stubbornly refusing to write or record Zander Baron’s responses. Arms crossed over her chest and her left leg hanging stiffly over her right, everything about her posture suggested hostility, even contempt.
Zander studiously avoided looking directly at the dark-eyed beauty in the middle of the third row, the reporter who had aggressively asked the very questions he and his handlers usually avoided. Such questions, harmless in and of themselves, could easily lead a resourceful reporter to secrets Zander wanted to keep.
Most of the reporters, photographers and cameramen sat spellbound in Zander’s presence, their only movement that which was required to record his short, vague responses to their questions. The female reporters—all but Faith—gaped at him with an expression he’d become all too familiar with over the past few years.
The rookie scribbler from the
blushed fiercely every time he glanced at her, and her pink-painted fingertips would flirt with the plunging neckline of her sheer blouse. Margo Bruckner, the veteran entertainment columnist from the
San Francisco Tribune
, unconsciously licked her lips as she listened to his answer to her question about working with his pretty co-star, former
star Kyla Randall.
The reporter in the third row had a predatory stare of a different nature. She looked as though she wanted to devour him, but not in a carnal way. Her eyes, a peculiar shade of dark golden brown that reminded him of polished topaz, were wide, bright, and perfectly complemented the toasted warmth of her complexion.
The sleeves of her white shirt were rolled up to her elbows. The stubborn tilt of her head matched the scornful sneer she aimed at him beneath the heavy black frames of the glasses perched near the tip of her nose.
Every reporter had received a media kit, which contained everything they needed to know about his latest movie,
, and the three-picture deal it trumpeted. The press conference, one of the few he’d ever sat for, was intended to promote his films by providing quotable tidbits to enliven the stories that would be written about him and the film.
The reporter shooting visual daggers at him showed a definite lack of interest in his words. This was troubling, because it meant that she probably already had the answers she wanted. More troubling still was Zander’s unshakable sense that she seemed familiar.
Pretty girls came with the territory he inhabited, but he was certain that he would have remembered the reporter if she’d been one of his many—probably too many—conquests. Zander had the urge to get closer to her, to breathe the air around her and discover if he knew her scent or the texture of her flawless skin.
He couldn’t keep his gaze from swinging back to her, not even when Brent coughed loudly to redirect his attention to the latest question.
“I’m sorry,” Zander said, shaking his head slightly. He scanned the room to figure out who had last spoken. “Could you repeat the question?”
“You’ve been linked with the female co-stars of each of your films, Mr. Baron,” said a male reporter in the back row. “Are you currently seeing anyone?”
Zander zoomed in on the middle of the third row. His cool, disinterested demeanor vanished, replaced by pop-eyed, slack-jawed comprehension. He was seeing someone all right, but not in the way the male reporter meant.
“I’m sorry,” Zander said, rising. Unable to look away from Faith, he clumsily backed into his chair, knocking it off the dais. He exited the room through one of its many side doors. With the carriage of a queen, Olivia followed, effectively barring the way of pursuing photographers.
Straightening his maroon silk tie, Brent went to Zander’s abandoned microphone and said, “Mr. Baron is finished answering questions for the day. Thank you all for coming out, and we look forward to your articles.”
“That was weird,” a freelance photographer remarked as he packed up his equipment. “I’ve never seen Baron freak like that. He’s always so cool. He walked out of the Viper Room one night and right into a brawl on the sidewalk. Some guy threw a punch at him, and he blocked it and kept going. It was the coolest thing I ever shot.
won the bidding war for that pic.”
A few rows away, Margo Bruckner weighed in on Zander’s uncharacteristic display of nerves. “He’s seeing someone really ugly or really underage,” she speculated. “Or both.”
Or he’s seeing a ghost,
Faith thought, pulling her hemp satchel from beneath her chair. She slung it over her shoulder and worked her way over to her photographer.
“Are you working on a different approach or something?” asked Daiyu Lin, Faith’s tattooed, bespectacled photographer. The pair had started at
at the same time, almost two years ago. Managing editor Magda Pierson had teamed them, and the result had been so successful that neither Faith nor Daiyu could imagine working with anyone else. Better than anyone, Daiyu recognized that Faith’s behavior had been totally out of character.
“Are you from a different planet or something?” Faith asked. She had arrived at the press conference thirty minutes early to pick her seat and was just now getting her first look at her photographer. Daiyu was barely more than five feet tall, but with her straight hair dyed yellow with white tips and styled in a spiky swoop straight out of the pages of a manga comic book, and five-inch platform combat boots, she had added eight inches to her height.
Smiling behind big, black wraparound glasses, Daiyu passed a hand over her spikes. Each sprang right back into place. “You don’t like my
“It makes you look like a kid,” Faith said. With her black leather wristbands, chains dangling from her black cargo pants, and her black bra showing through her white wife-beater, Daiyu looked like the rebellious oddball at an alternative high school, not an award-winning photographer for a national magazine.
“Good,” Daiyu said. “That’s what I’m going for. I get better access when people think I’m pipsqueak paparazzi. I can’t keep losing good shots at premieres to eighth-graders whose moms drive them to the events.”
“If you can’t beat em, scare em. I get that,” Faith said.
They left the conference room and entered the luxurious lobby of the hotel. Passing the front desk, they saw a woman wrapped head and shoulders in a gauzy yellow scarf. Black Juicy Couture sunglasses covered half her face and gave her the look of a generic space alien. Her right hand cupped her left elbow; her left hand worried a white bandage covering her nose.
“Who do you think that is?” Daiyu whispered to Faith, both slowing to study the woman trying so hard to go unnoticed.
“Could be anybody,” Faith said.
Soon after her arrival in Los Angeles, she had been struck by how small most female celebrities were in person. Daiyu was short, but her proportions were average. The woman at the front desk was Daiyu’s height and forty pounds lighter. Her loose silk pants looked as if they were wearing her instead of the other way around.
“Who needed a nose job?” Daiyu asked, stopping to fiddle with what looked like a cellphone. Standing close to her, Faith shielded what Daiyu actually was doing—adjusting the lens of her smallest camera to shoot the mystery woman.
“None of them
nose jobs,” Faith said.
“I’m going to shoot her over your right shoulder, so don’t move,” Daiyu told her.
“We don’t even know who she is,” Faith said. “Why waste time on the shot?”
“Better to have the shot and not need it, than to need it and not have it,” Daiyu said, clicking rapid-fire images of the woman, who had received her room key and was having her Louis Vuitton steamer and garment bags carried by a tall, handsome bellhop.
Daiyu slipped her camera into her wristband, and she and Faith started for the gilded revolving door. The bright, welcoming sunlight on the opposite side was suddenly blocked by a wave of photographers and reporters, many of whom had just been at the Zander Baron press conference, pouring through the front doors and rushing past the columns in the lobby.
Faith and Daiyu scurried out of their path to avoid being trampled.
“My source says that Whitney Carver checked in ten minutes ago,” a female reporter said, talking on a cellphone as she hurried past Faith and Daiyu. “She had her nose done, maybe boobs, too, but I’ve got no verification.”
The hotel manager appeared, and with his hands raised and arms outstretched, he tried to quiet the invasion. “I won’t allow the privacy and security of any of my guests to be compromised by your presence,” he announced. “If you are not a guest of the hotel, I must ask you to vacate the premises before I’m forced to call the authorities.”
Invited to the hotel to cover the Baron press conference, Faith considered herself and Daiyu guests of the hotel, so they ignored the manager’s request. Some of their best scoops had come from just waiting and listening.
“Is Whitney Carver here?” called a voice from the crush of reporters and photographers.
“Miss Carver maintains a residence suite at the hotel,” the manager said. “I do not know if she’s here at present.”
“Can you check your guest list?” someone asked.
“I can assure you I have no guest registered under the name Whitney Carver,” the manager said.
Daiyu leaned close to Faith and said, “You know what that means.”
“She’s registered under a fake name,” Faith said.
“Do you want to talk to her?” Daiyu asked. “We got the photo. We might as well get the story, too.”
Faith sighed. “I don’t have to file the Baron piece right away, so I guess we could ferret out Whitney Carver.”
Daiyu threw an arm around Faith’s shoulders. “The Dynamic Duo strikes again! Magda will be so proud of us. So how’re we gonna do this?”
Gazing at the reporters and photographers still harassing the hotel manager for information, Faith tapped her chin as she considered and then discarded one approach or another. Even though she had a good relationship with the hotel manager, a direct appeal would not work in this instance, not with so many other reporters around.
“We could pretend to be housekeeping and knock on all the doors of the residence suites,” Daiyu suggested.
“That’s too involved,” Faith said. “We have to go simpler.”
“Let’s hang around outside,” Daiyu said. “Her boyfriend will try to sneak in at some point.”
“Tons of paparazzi with the same idea will be waiting outside,” Faith said. Then she snapped her fingers. “I know. Room service.”
“Room service?” Daiyu echoed.
Faith grinned. “We are
* * *
Daiyu’s chains noisily rattled as she bounced around Magda’s cluttered office, regaling the managing editor with the tale of how she and Faith obtained an exclusive interview with Whitney Carver.
“We ran that story on celebrity weight loss secrets, and Faith remembered that Whitney Carver is on the Darwin mint tea diet,” Daiyu said. “So Faith and I go out back of the hotel, and we wait until one of the kitchen jockeys comes out for a smoke break. Faith tipped him a twenty and the guy sang like a canary. She only had to ask him one question: Which room ordered Darwin tea?” Daiyu clapped her hands as if she were a magician who had just made a coin disappear. “It was that simple. He gave us the room number, we went up and Whitney answered the door herself.”
Magda, her matronly figure clad in jeans and a simple white shirt, sat back in her leather office chair. “How did you get her to talk about her surgery?” she asked without removing the pen she was gnawing on.
“I told her that if I was able to find her, it was just a matter of time before one of the vultures in the lobby figured out which room she was in,” Faith said, taking a seat in one of the chrome and leather chairs facing Magda’s kidney-shaped desk. “I also told her that millions of little girls look up to her, and that if she’d give me thirty seconds—”