The scent of the hydrangeas carried across the wide lawn, pushed along by the ocean breeze. The combined smell of flowers and salt water, along with the remainder of uneaten dinner littering the table and the musk of wine on everyone’s breath, was enough to turn David’s stomach. He sat back and watched the sky grow steadily darker, idly wondering how long he was expected to stay.
No one tried to talk to him. Everyone here knew him too well for that, thank God. They’d been filming for a week and staying in the house—well, the principals had been staying in the house; the rest were in trailers or local hotels—but soon they would finish with this bit and move on to another location. In the meantime, nearly everyone was looking at this as a sort of paid holiday. Everyone but David, who took the work too seriously to relax. He’d been an actor for eight years, but most people wouldn’t know it since he’d only begun to be noticed over the past two or three. His working philosophy was to keep his head down and barrel forward, ever building what looked to become a fair-sized empire if his luck continued.
“David Styles,” said Alfred from across the table, drawing the words out so the name was long and somehow heavy. There were more wine stains in front of Alfred’s seat than anywhere else on the white linen cloth. “What are you thinking about over there?”
Well, almost everyone knew him too well to try striking up a conversation. Or more likely, Alfred knew perfectly well and simply didn’t care.
“Tomorrow’s scenes,” David said.
“Rehearsing your lines?”
David made a noncommittal noise and pushed back his chair. “Early call.”
“Beauty sleep,” sniffed Alfred. “Who needs it? Let the makeup artists earn their keep, I say.”
On Alfred’s other side, Liz turned. “They earn their keep on you even when you’ve had enough sleep,” she told Alfred, and he laughed, too long and too loudly.
David stood and heads swung his way. A chorus of “good night” rained around him. No one tried to stop him, to talk him out of leaving. He exited the patio, now reliant on the lanterns that lined its margins, and went inside to be enfolded by the warm, dim glow of chandeliers and the chill of too much air-con.
It was a lovely house, an old and grand estate that was as much a movie star as David had ever wanted to be. In fact, the damn house probably had more credits than David did. But not for long, he told himself. No, he was on the rise now; after this project there were three others in the wings, and his agent had new scripts for him to look at almost daily. He should be pleased. He was pleased. His life was turning out to be everything he’d aspired to.
But as he trudged up the richly carpeted stairs, David felt tired. Overextended. He needed a real holiday, he supposed, and reasoned that maybe he’d finally reached a point in his career when he could afford to take one without missing any opportunities.
Did he have any down time between this project and the next? He’d ask Walter in the morning.
He reached his room, a nice room with big windows but no balcony. He wasn’t the lead, after all. It was an ensemble cast but, unlike Alfred or Liz, his name wouldn’t even be above the title. Not yet. Not this movie, and maybe not the next, but that was coming. That, and the room with the balcony, and creative input on the scripts, a producer credit . . . All of it was on the horizon.
But for now, this would do. Even though he’d showered before dinner, David hopped in again. He couldn’t sleep without having showered first. Quirk. Kind of thing that would turn up in a magazine one day. He made it quick, pulled on clean boxers and went to lie down. Alone.
Not that it had to be that way; David had come far enough that he had good chances of company in bed when he wanted it. But besides his desire to remain focused when on a shoot, David found sex to be like rich foods; too much indulgence gave him a sour stomach. That, and almost a decade with Marjorie had made him the relationship equivalent of lactose intolerant. He’d only shaken her loose a year ago (had it been a year already?)—his broadening prospects necessitated keeping his options open—and if there was a tiny amount of guilt preventing him from moving forward on that front, David supposed that was normal. He’d get over it and so would she. Better to have done it now than when his career really started snowballing. Then it would have been so much tabloid fodder. He’d done them both a favor, really, breaking it off when he did.
These are the things David told himself as he drifted off to sleep, alone in the oversized bedroom of an old English estate house that was serving as the shooting location for a movie in which he was, if not starring, at least majorly featured.
Name on the poster. Second to last, but they were alphabetical. Not much he could do about that aside from possibly change his name.
No, that was good. Easy to say, and no one was likely to misprint it.
And Margie had been proud of him, she’d said as much, and a little bit jealous of David’s growing popularity, though she’d never said that of course.
David wasn’t aware of having fallen asleep until he woke up. His last coherent thought had been along the lines of how stupid it was Margie had spelled her full name with a “j” but her nickname with a “g,” something that had always bothered him. And as he opened his eyes (the handful of existing fan sites having reliably informed him that his clear blue eyes were his best feature), he imagined for a moment that Margie was there, in the bed. But no. She wasn’t.
Margie was blond, you see. The head sharing David’s pillow was auburn.
Startled, David jerked backward and came perilously close to falling off the mattress altogether. The girl—well, woman—lying next to him didn’t move. She just stared, and for a terrible second David thought she might be dead. But the eyes tracked him. Strange eyes, a sort of acid green in color shot through with gold. Had to be contact lenses, David thought; no one had eyes like that in life.
He might have asked her who she was, that would probably have been more polite, but as he clambered the rest of the way off the bed the first words out of his mouth were, “What are you doing here?”
She blinked. “Someone called me.”
“Well, it wasn’t me.”
She just kept staring.
“You’ve got the wrong room,” David insisted, enunciating each word to make sure he was understood. He was beginning to wonder if she were mental, if this were his first encounter with a rabid fan. The idea was both terrifying and exhilarating.
She sat up, and David noticed she was dressed, at least, in a purple tie-dye singlet and denim skirt. More dressed than he was. Suddenly he felt exposed. But climbing back under the bedclothes wasn’t an option, so despite his being reluctant to turn his back on her, he went to the big wooden wardrobe and fetched the robe. “Oh, I know what this is!” he said as he belted the terrycloth around him. All at once it made perfect sense. “Alfred sent you, is that right? His idea of a joke.”
“I only go where I’m called,” she said.
So she was mental. David glanced around for his mobile phone. The house had security, didn’t it? While his eyes darted over what suddenly seemed to be an inordinate number of surfaces in the room—little tables, the mantel over the fireplace, an old-fashioned vanity—he tried to keep her talking. That’s what they did in movies, kept them talking. Because as long as they were talking they weren’t, oh, tying you up and molesting you.
“What’s your name?” he asked, turning a circle. A black phone in a mostly white room shouldn’t have been so difficult to find.
“Cassandra,” she said then gave her head a tiny shake as if to clear it. “Andra, though, really.” She was watching him with a little frown on her face, and that irritated him. As if he were the one who was somehow untrustworthy, unstable.
“And what do you, uh, do?” David asked.
“I’m a K-Pro. It’s over here, by the way.” She gestured to the marble-topped table on the far side of the bed. There sat his mobile. He would have to get past her to get to it.
“What’s that?” David edged toward the foot of the bed with the thought of getting around it. “Like a grip or something?”
Andra’s frown deepened. “A what?”
“You’re on the set crew?” David persisted. He was at the corner of the bed.
“Work for the house then?” Center of the foot of the bed now.
She was watching him like a cat would watch a bird hopping across the lawn. Any moment she might pounce at him, he was sure of it.
“You want me to hand it to you?” Andra asked.
David stopped. It could have been a trick, a reason for her to get closer. She’d act as if she were handing him the phone and then grab him.
But he was much taller than she was. He thought, anyway. Difficult to tell how tall she might actually be when she was sitting on his bed. But she was slender. Fit, from what he could see, but could she be stronger than him? Seemed unlikely.
Andra sighed and David flinched when she moved to reach over for the phone. “Here,” she said, “catch.”
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