The laptop screen cast a pale blue-white light across the keyboard, enough to navigate the web. Billie Prescott clicked through the pages. “How perfect.”
From the bedroom sounded a creak, then footsteps padded up. Strong arms encircled her waist, and a deep voice rumbled in her ear. “Porn surfing? Without me?”
Giggling, she leaned into him. “This is porn to me.”
“Tree houses?” He rested his chin on her shoulder and then nudged his shirt away from her neck to nuzzle.
“For adults. Aren’t they amazing?” Since reading Robinson Crusoe as a little girl, she’d harbored a dream to live in a life-sized house in the trees.
“Come back to bed. You’re wrinkling my shirt.”
His sexy growl trembled along her skin, made her yearn for what it promised. “But these are--”
He cupped her breast and squeezed.
Instinctively, she slid her hand up into his hair. “You’re right. I can look at them some other time.” Two years she’d waited for him. Two long years of flirting and innuendo, and a date here and there in various states of undress before finally landing him in her bed. As much as it had delighted her to awaken and see Everett sleeping beside her, she had difficulty imagining him in her dream house.
Still, she took his hand and let him lead her to the bedroom. He may or may not be her soul mate, but only a thorough investigation would reveal the truth. A long, deep, intensive investigation.
Everett excelled at intensive. For short intervals, at least.
* * * *
Billie bumped open the conference room door, dribbling coffee down her pant leg. “Ach.” One reason her wardrobe consisted of black and chocolate: stains didn’t show as well. Besides, her long dark hair and fair complexion never fit the summery light tones.
Around the small circular table, the staff of Strung Out, Philly’s struggling music magazine, halted conversations to send haughty glares in her direction. Billie liked to joke Strung Out wanted to be Rolling Stone when it grew up. In her five years there, they’d lost a few staffers to the better-known and respected national competitor. More would follow if they could, if only to escape these cramped quarters and this grimy city to trendier New York, Chicago or LA. Not Billie. She liked staying closer to home. And Everett. Especially now that things had begun to get interesting.
Sliding onto a seat, she dabbed at the coffee spot. When her gaze landed on Zinta, Billie smiled and said hello. “Hey, I want to hear about that Incubus concert later. Next time they play in town, they’re mine.”
“Yeah. Later.” Zinta’s shoulder-length blond hair glinted in the morning sun, and she arched a brow. Not a good sign. Others found her a hard read, probably because of her striking features--rosebud mouth in ever-present rose-red lipstick, dark brows framing green eyes rimmed with thick lashes. But Billie picked up her friend’s subtle cues: a lifted brow-flicked glance combo could spell real trouble.
Everett’s glare hardened. “As I was saying…”
Billie would have to be on her best behavior. “Sorry. What’d I miss?”
He pursed his lips. “The assignments.” His exaggerated diction left no doubt of his disapproval.
A knot formed in her stomach. Her editor had warned her about arriving late. Zinta had warned her about sleeping with her editor. She hadn’t paid attention to either. Zin claimed his pointed dark eyebrows, onyx eyes and black hair set off by an impeccably trimmed goatee gave him a devilish appearance deserving of his reputation. Billie thought he could pass for Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell in trendy business casual dress.
Rocking back in his chair, steepling his fingers to his lips, no one here would be able to guess those lips had explored every inch of her all weekend. She’d tell him later how brilliant he’d acted. Better yet, she’d demonstrate her awe. Lack of sleep may have diminished her looks, but not Everett’s.
“All of the assignments?” she ventured.
“All but one.” Sipping his coffee, he concentrated on his cup.
“Please tell me it’s half-decent. My fact-checking call kept me, or I swear I’d have been on time.” She grinned. “This time.” Hopefully she could sweet-talk her way out of trouble and back into his good graces.
He drummed his fingers against the entertainment magazines strewn near his portfolio.
The top cover caught her eye. “Oh, geez. Look at him. How pathetic.” She lifted it to study it.
Jet Trently, muscled arms crossed over his smooth, chiseled chest. A red bandanna wrapped across his unruly layers of sandy blond hair, the only clothing in view with the photo cropped at his hips. Scantily clad girls draped across his arms and shoulders, glistening pink lips parted as if panting.
Fifteen years ago, she’d have given anything to have been one of them. Then twenty, Jet had been one of the hottest guys on the planet. His rock ballads ruled the airwaves--and her CD player. The songs wound their way into her mind, her soul. She’d awakened singing them and fallen asleep humming them. But now, after hearing the same songs repeated ad nauseum on the radio, they grated her nerves. Though he continued to generate titillated energy among females wherever he went, Jet’s attempt at a musical comeback fell flat until he’d agreed to star in a reality show tracking his revived attempt--and his love life, of all things.
Tilting the magazine to get a better view, she gave a tsk. “Rock Bottom--such an appropriate title. He needs a catapult to help him back from the depths. So is this the latest round of fawning women?” How could such an obviously popular guy have trouble finding love? He must get offers everywhere he traveled, but something about his cocky stance suggested little interest in the women pawing him. Her reporter’s instincts went into overdrive as she wondered what sort of female might appeal to him, if not the contestants.
Zinta clicked her bloodred nails. A sign of nervousness. Possibly a warning sign. “They’re last season’s bevy of beauties.”
Something about Zin’s steadfast gaze unnerved Billie. She’d have to confer with her after the meeting to find out what was up. And to catch her up on the weekend. An entire weekend this time. A first for Everett. Things definitely had heated up between them. Well, until this morning.
Jet’s clear blue eyes captured her attention again. “Panting over him? Or the spotlight?” Sure he looked great, but had they no self-respect? Over the years, stories of his bad boy behavior had overshadowed his music. Trashing hotel rooms, showing up late for concerts, bitter arguments with his band.
Everett leaned back, his signature cool in deep play. Very convincing how he avoided her gaze and affected a stern boss persona. “They’re after both, probably.”
“Ugh. When will he give up? Or at least ditch the nineties persona.” The hair style, at minimum.
“When he finds true love, apparently.” Wide-eyed, Zinta glanced at Everett.
Something definitely must be up. “Yeah, right.” Her confidence waned.
Ryan Watts yawned. “Or another record deal. He’s already gone through two wives, hasn’t he?”
Francisco Perez sat forward. “One, actually, and two fiancées. And God knows how many supermodels.” A tabloid addict, Frank updated the gossip blog daily, though he tended to post on trendier people than Jet.
Billie could care less about gossip, or a musician’s celebrity. She lived for the music alone. “And he hasn’t found true love? Shock. But no hit record for what, five years?” She let the magazine fall to the tabletop. “So all the covers--market research?”
Standing, Everett touched his fingertips to the tabletop. “And your new assignment.”
“No.” Fresh bands. Exciting concerts. She lived to share those with readers. Not recycled rock.
Stacking the magazines, he set them atop her blank notepad. “Yes.” His emphasis lent sibilance to his response. A hiss of warning he’d stand firm in his decision.
A softer tactic seemed required. If only the others would leave, she could sway him. In more ways than one. “Please no. The guy’s music sounded passable at best then, but now it’s intolerable.” Listening to it nonstop would be akin to music hell.
The rest of the staff made excuses about the time, their workload, anything apparently, to vacate the room. Zinta’s look of pity as she exited did little to ease Billie’s impending sense of doom.
Everett held the portfolio to his charcoal cotton shirt. “Anyone can write compelling stories about great music. Only you can infuse some life into this story.”
Standing, she flipped the magazine over so she wouldn’t have to see Jet Trently’s smug smile. “I don’t think--”
“Look, Billie, I can’t give you every good assignment. Besides--” He turned, his voice softening. “--if you truly despise his songs that much, this will provide just the challenge you’ve needed.”
Challenge? “What do you mean?” She spoke slowly to convey the depth of her dismay. To dismiss her offhand posed one insult. Attacking her writing stretched the truth beyond believable.
Pausing, he tilted his head. “I didn’t want to say anything in front of the others, but your writing’s been a little stale lately.”
“Never.” Squaring her shoulders, her earlier sentimental feelings for him fell away. “I put my heart and soul into every article. Every paragraph and sentence.”
His mouth turned down, the warmth faded from his eyes. His expression read: bullshit. Okay, so occasionally she rushed through an article to finish. Only because the magazine wouldn’t hire any more staff, and Everett overloaded each reporter, trying to keep up with Rolling Stone.
Her mind raced. “But this is a TV series.”
“Correct.” He navigated past the chairs and made for the door.
Close on his heels, she followed. “Which means I can cover an episode and--”
Turning, he held open the door, all business now. “A few episodes. I want daily blog posts and a weekly article.”
“Don’t do this.” She clutched his shirt. “You’re sending me away. Why?” She spoke through rigid lips in case others watched. “Is it because of this weekend? We both had too much to drink. We can cool it for a while.” The hell she would. She’d hung on for two years waiting for him. Things had finally gotten to a good point. Almost.
“Billie. C’mon. We’re both professionals. This is about the magazine, not our personal lives.” His overly casual tone harkened to the same one he used while escorting unwanted salespeople to the door.
Sure. Okay. Facts dropped into her brain from obscurity. She’d never actually watched the show, but… “Isn’t this set on the West Coast?”
“Mmm hmm.” His mouth appeared a grim line. Nothing like the soft, sensual, full lips that had kissed her and had unleashed his oh-so-talented tongue. No tongue, whatever its level of skill, had a chance in hell of escaping those tight lips.
“In California?” The smog. The traffic. The general lack of cultural amenities, sequined shows aside.
“Yep.” He popped the p. It sounded so final.
Her throat thickened with dread. “You probably already bought my ticket, didn’t you?” Bastard.
“No. You can do that. But make it quick. They start shooting season two the day after tomorrow. I want you there the day before.”
Tomorrow, then. Mere hours to pack.
Damn. Damn damn damn. He intended to railroad her out of town. Or fly her. Inwardly cringing at the humiliation, she balled her fists and debated whether to pummel him.
Sidling closer, she played the siren card, walking her fingers up his button placket. “Are you sure--”
“Book the flight, Billie. And no five-star hotel. You’ll be staying on site. Oh, and stop in to see me before you leave today.” With a wink, he strode toward his office.
“Wonderful.” Her life was ruined. And he couldn’t be happier.
Life went from blissful to bleak in a blink.
* * * *
At her desk, she stared past the computer screen where the receipt was displayed for her flight. The one-way ticket to a hell occupied by Beautiful People. Tanned with absurdly white teeth and plastic smiles to go with their surgically enhanced bodies. Tomorrow, she’d arrive--and stand out like a crow among peacocks and cockatiels. That reminded her: she needed to check on The Black Crowes tour schedule. She seemed to recall them having an upcoming concert on the West Coast.
Zinta approached and perched on her desk. “What’s up with you and Everett?”
Despite her objection, she’d act professional. Cool. Calm. “Nothing. Things are…fine.” She’d reserve her bitter venom for later.
Zinta sucked air through her teeth. “Sorry.”
“No, we actually reached a milestone this weekend. And I mean all weekend.” She widened her eyes to punctuate.
“Really. But now he’s sending you away?”
Ignoring her friend’s incredulous look, she set her messenger bag atop her desk, wondering how much it would hold. How much her heart could hold. The situation called for positivity. “It’s been casual up to this point, but I really thought we broke new barriers this weekend. So in this new relationship zone, it’ll take a while to sort out the signals.” If one weekend in bed counted as new. Or counted for anything. Damn. She’d been so sure it had.
“That mixed?” Zinta cocked her head in a way suggesting she’d nailed the problem. “He failed the litmus test?”
After unplugging the laptop, she coiled the wires. “I don’t have a litmus test. Exactly.”
“You showed him the tree houses, didn’t you?”
Her flat tone suggested Billie didn’t need to answer. Zinta already knew.
Billie stuffed the mouse into a carrier pocket. “Too much junk to pack.” Evasive tactics might stall her friend.
Zinta craned down to peer her in the eye. “It’s way too soon.”
Billie slumped her shoulders. “I know. That should come much later. I rushed it. But he might come around.” Sure, he was sending her away, but that didn’t necessarily mean he didn’t want a relationship. Maybe just not right now.
Standing, Zinta sighed. “Honestly, you need to revise your list of Lust Haves. Cross Everett off.”
Lust Haves. Zin liked to quantify and qualify everything into lists, descriptions, categories, goals. Billie, on the other hand, accepted what came her way with gratitude. And much less organization.
“I have a feeling Everett just revised it for me.” He’d topped her Lust Have list. But such incredible sex couldn’t all come from lust, could it? He had to have thought about her, given her more consideration than his usual dates. Maybe even pined for her, a little.
“Aw, honey. Play it cool. Let him make the next move.”
He’d forced her to, temporarily. From Philadelphia to Malibu. Talk about culture shock.
“I have no choice. He’s actively avoiding me. Of course, now he won’t have to.” She sat and opened her desk drawer, removed her digital recorder and a few notepads and pens. Whatever she forgot, she’d buy on site and charge back to the magazine.
Zinta tapped her nails against her mug. “I can’t believe he gave you that assignment. He mentioned it earlier, but I didn’t think he was serious.”
Zipping her laptop case, Billie tried to keep anxiety from her voice. “Yes, on an extended story. He must really want me gone.” Maybe things hadn’t gone as well as she’d thought.
“No.” Zinta’s whine matched her pout. “I need you here.”
“You’re the only one, apparently.” Biting her lip, Billie realized the truth of the statement. Going away might provide a better perspective on her life. And what she needed to change.
* * * *
The desk appeared too neat. Freakishly so. As if she’d never again sit at it to dash off a review or interview an up-and-coming band. To remedy that, she crumpled a sheet of paper and tossed it onto the desktop. Too staged. When she removed it, her stomach clenched. Would she never occupy this place again?
After stopping by Zinta’s desk for a hug, she went to Everett’s office and stood in the doorway. “Guess I’m off.”
“Come in. Shut the door.”
Oh no. Here it came. The final kiss-off. She did as he said, and turned to face the music.
He pinned her against the door, his body all hard warmth, his tongue already probing hers. “God, you taste good.” His lips curled against hers in a smile.
Ignoring the alarm bells screaming in her head, her body melded to his. “Why--”
“It’ll be good for us. Both of us.”
She let her fingers wander south of his belt buckle, and made her voice breathy and low. “Are you sure?”
Releasing a pent-up sigh, he groaned. “Yes.”
Damn. So much for sexual persuasion. She could only imagine how ineffectual she’d be in California.
* * * *
Through the wispy clouds, Los Angeles sprawled below and the plane tilted into its descent. If lucky, she’d spend less than an hour in the airport, and another hour trekking south to Malibu, if the traffic gods smiled upon her. Then she could collapse on whatever cot in a closet they provided.
Now she could unequivocally state she knew how Jet Trently felt when his life began its downward trajectory. “Luck, be a lady and plummet my jet from the sky to save me from this torture.”
The plane touched down with not even a bump, and Frank Sinatra crooned endlessly in her head.
No such lady. Not in California.
All for the best. Everett wouldn’t have grieved at her memorial. More likely he’d have angled for solace in the arms of someone else. Someone younger. Less available. Despite his lust-filled goodbye, his eagerness for her departure shone through, leaving her more confused than ever.
After collecting her suitcase from the carousel, she wheeled it toward the exit. At least the promised heat had allowed her to pack light. A few basic black essentials she could dress up with accessories. Hope sprung eternal Everett would cut her stay short.
Outside, the sun sizzled up from the sidewalk. Even sunglasses couldn’t cut the glare. The dark suit jacket had to come off. Everywhere she looked, sun, sun and more sun. Could people go mad from too much sunlight? Might be a good angle. Would account for a lot, actually.
Hailing a cab, she gave the driver the address provided by Jet’s manager and spent the drive with closed eyes hidden by sunglasses. When he slowed, she cleared the haze from her brain to take in Malibu. Getting to the beachfront house required the driver to meander through a high-end neighborhood. They pulled up outside a mustard-colored plaster wall with a wrought-iron gate. The driver pressed the intercom button. A woman answered, asked them to wait while she checked for Billie’s name on the list. The gate swung open.
The immense house echoed the honey-colored wall, but its Spanish-Mediterranean architecture set it apart from the other homes. A mixture of funk and class, not at all the soulless sleek beach home she’d imagined.
The driver set her luggage from the taxi’s trunk on the sidewalk. “Will that be all?”
She caught the look as his gaze sidled up her thighs and rear. “Yes, definitely all.” A thought struck her. “Hold on. I do need something else.” Switching on the cell camera, she handed it to him. “Take a quick pic. Get as much of the house in there as possible.” She waved her middle finger.
He held it at eye level, clicked, surveyed his handiwork and gave it back. “Nice.”
“It’ll do.” All the proof she needed of her landing on the West Coast. Adding two words, I’m here, she forwarded it to Everett, though she still had trouble believing it herself.
Malibu. The Bu, to locals. Twenty-one miles of sand and surf and vacuous, self-absorbed celebrities like Jet Trently, looking for a Baywatch babe to even out the beauty quotient for photo ops.
On the upside, the stunning views would enhance her stay. The branches of the tall cypress trees behind the sprawling two-story house swayed in the breeze off the Pacific. The home’s architecture invited closer inspection, though its honey-mustard plaster she could live without. Still, it would be easy to spot coming back from long walks on the beach… Yes, she might get used to coastal life.
Maybe the L.A. Times needed a good reporter. Hey, she could do entertainment news as well as anyone. Isn’t that why you’re here? Silencing the snide voice in her head, she shouldered her carryon bag and wheeled the other. Everett would pay for this.
She hoped it wouldn’t take long to get situated. She needed to study her map and learn the lay of the land.
That brought a chuckle. She was about to meet him, wasn’t she?
Well, one of them, at least.
* * * *
The guitar strings vibrated, rich with the chord Jet Trently strummed. God, he loved playing. If George Harrison made his guitar gently weep, Jet could make it scream with pleasure, sigh or talk badass. Probably why his name frequently listed with Eric Clapton and Eddie Van Halen as the world’s best.
“Jet?” his manager called. “It’s time.”
Shit. Already? One of the dangers of playing. Music carried him to a beautiful place devoid of time where no stress existed. No reality.
And definitely no reality TV. Why the hell had he signed on for another season of torture? He was no actor. Yeah, so reality TV didn’t require him to be, but dealing with those crazy women they lined up definitely did. He didn’t know if he could muster the necessary enthusiasm for another few months. At the end of the last season, he’d been so relieved he could’ve gone on a real binge.
But no, he wasn’t going there again. Jeff had taught him that much. He owed his brother for saving him twice: once from the crappy New Jersey town they’d grown up in, and from becoming a total cliché, living the supposed rock star high life. At thirty-five, he wanted more than a quick lay. Was he expecting to find it in any of the season two beauties? Hell no. This gig gave him a steady paycheck and put his face out in front of the public. Reminded them who he was. How great his music had been.
Been. Yeah. Could be again. The few tunes he’d worked up this past year were crap. But workable crap. Each needed that elusive something. The indefinable quality that grabbed listeners and wouldn’t let go.
Every time he thought he almost had it, the melody eluded him again. He could practically hear his muse laughing. Like she’d taken off for Tijuana on a drunken binge and he couldn’t bribe her to come back.
“Coming.” Reluctantly, he propped his guitar against the sofa, stretched up to a standing position and closed his eyes. You can do this. A few more months, then you’re home free.
Man, how good did that sound?
Descending the steps, he steeled himself. There’s no such thing.
* * * *
Wheeling her luggage up the flagstone walkway, Billie halted at the glass-enclosed foyer and pressed the doorbell.
The grapevine wreath on the leaded glass front door didn’t exactly scream rock star’s house. Odd, since the long drive and walled property would discourage drive-bys and paparazzi. Anyone wanting to spy would first need to clear the spike-topped iron fence.
A short, frumpish figure appeared through the thick glass, and the door opened. A woman, probably close to Billie’s age, peered through black-rimmed glasses perched on her nose, blond hair pulled back in a barrette. “Yes?” Her mouth puckered tight, the only indication of impatience on her otherwise blank face.
“Hi, I’m Billie Prescott from Strung Out. Here to see Stu Gilbert.” According to Everett, the manager’s goofball persona hid a shrewd businessman. Don’t anger Stu, he’d warned. He’ll cut you loose before you know what’s happened. She’d sworn she’d be on her best behavior. If Stu cut her loose, Everett might be tempted to do the same. If he hadn’t already.
“Right. He’s expecting you. Follow me.” Spinning on her heel, she glided noiselessly across the Spanish tile foyer. A feat, given the unevenness of the golden-red flooring, which continued into the hallway.
Hauling her case inside, she set it beside the golden wall, which had a mottled parchment-like finish. A faded gold chandelier hung regally over the wide space that opened to a spacious living room on the left and a large dining room to the right. In the center of the hall, a blond-wood staircase invited her gaze to the second floor landing, generously lit by the same floor-to-ceiling windows the first floor had. The embossed copper ceiling caught her eye as she walked. The house had character, if no one living in it did.
“I’ll have someone move your luggage when we know where they’re putting you. I’m Cindy, by the way. Stu’s assistant. Check with me if you need anything. Your timing’s good--Stu and Jet are meeting with the producer in the office. Go on in.” She nodded toward a closed door at the end of the hall opposite a narrow desk where she took a seat.
Maybe she’d needed to come west after all, if only to adjust her timing. “Thanks.”
The office--if it could be called one--continued the golden color scheme, highlighted by the same stunning copper ceiling. A white stone fireplace dominated the opposite wall, with a quilted English sofa to one side and a matching quilted daybed on the other, separated by twin coffee tables. Behind the daybed stood double French doors topped with arched windows to the ceiling and framed by billowing white floor-length curtains. The doors stood open to a view of the rocky bluff. Beyond, the endless Pacific Ocean glittered in the late-afternoon sun.
After slipping inside, she approached the cluster of men standing at its center.
Dressed in tight jeans and a snug black t-shirt, Jet Trently laughed as he spoke, his too-white teeth flashing. His presence injected an undeniable energy into the room. It sizzled along her nerve endings when he looked her way, electrified by his crystal blue eyes.
A man turned at her approach. “Miss, we’re having a meeting. Check in with my executive assistant.” Stu Gilbert. More like one of the Three Stooges with his wiry hair and bulbous nose. A disco version with two gold chains revealed by his half-unbuttoned shirt, heavy man-rings decorating his pudgy fingers.
Impatience had edged his tone. He thought her an intruder.
Billie affected a sharp business tone. “Already did. I’m Billie Prescott from Strung Out. My editor spoke with Mr. Gilbert about covering the show?”
Jet’s eyes widened. “You’re Billie Prescott?”
Billie had a feeling she’d just made Jet’s Lust Have list, though she had no doubt the list, if printed, would require reams of paper. If he licked his lips, she’d be out of there before he could retract his tongue. “You’re expecting me, aren’t you?”
“Billie Prescott, yes. You--no.” His appreciative gaze wandered the length of her.
The trio chuckled in unison.
Like she didn’t get that same response every freakin’ time. Biting back a snide reply, she forced out, “Do you have an information packet for me? Something that will help me catch up on where season one ended?”
Stu glanced at Jet. “Cindy can put something together.”
Jet tilted his head. “Not a fan, eh?”
If she didn’t know better, she’d think he appeared pleased.
Wrinkling her nose, she grinned. Let that be answer enough.
“Pity you weren’t a contestant.” He arched a brow and turned to the third man. “Now there’s an idea.”
Shaking his head, the man winced. “No.” He slid his hands in the back pockets of his khaki Dockers, wrinkled like his faded denim shirt. The producer, had to be.
“What?” She’d missed something.
“It’s perfect--an insider’s perspective.” Again Jet’s gaze meandered across her. “I could make it worth the magazine’s while.”
Ugh. Now she understood. “No. I’m a journalist, not a reality show contestant.”
He hunched his shoulders, not quite a shrug. “It’s a fresh angle.”
“Not if I can’t stay objective. Journalists can never allow ourselves to become part of the story. I’ll get a much better, um, perspective from staying neutral.”
Jet’s grin widened. “Neutral’s no fun.”
Time to move this conversation along to a new topic. “It gives me the big picture, which is what I’m after.” All I’m after, she stopped herself from adding. No way would she ever join a pack of feral females to compete for one guy. Especially a shallow has-been like Jet Trently. She had zero respect for an artist who let his talents go to waste.
Though he did have amazing eyes. She’d give him that. And an incendiary presence. He’d toned up since she’d last seen him in concert six years ago when he’d sported the beginnings of a paunch. It had gone along with the DUI charge or two, plus busting up a few hotel rooms. Had he checked into rehab after? She’d have to research it.
“So? What’d I miss?” The phrase would be her epitaph if she weren’t careful. At least she’d caught them during their meeting.
Stu reached for a folder on the table and thrust it in her direction. “Here’s a schedule. We start shooting tomorrow at one.”
Jet groaned. “Couldn’t we make it three? Or four?”
Adopting the condescending tone of a parent, Stu asked, “You don’t have a concert tonight, do you?”
Hugging his arms to his chest, Jet widened his stance. The stubborn child. “No but--”
The third man heaved a sigh. “Your contract states--”
“My contract states the show’s about me. And I’m not at my best at one.” Though Jet smiled, the tone of authority in his voice warned against trifling with him.
Hmm. Maybe the show should’ve been named Jet Trently: Center of the Universe.
Narrowing his eyes, Stu smiled. “All right. Two thirty. I don’t suppose it will hurt the girls to wait a while. Might make for some interesting onscreen tension. But you’d better be on set, ready to go, no later than that.”
“Oh, I’ll be ready. And I live ‘on set,’ remember?” Jet glared.
Speaking of tension… Fishing out a pen, she jotted some notes, hoping to appear inconspicuous, but feeling the group tense. As the outsider, she had to be careful not to alarm them, put them on guard. Or she’d miss all the good stuff.
She slid the notepad behind her. “So nothing going on tonight? No pre-show parties?”
Jet sidled near. “There’s always a party. I’m looking forward to you joining us.”
Shoving his hand between her and Jet, Stu effectively blocked him. “We haven’t been formally introduced. Stu Gilbert, Jet’s manager. No parties tonight. Tomorrow’s the first shooting day. We want to be fresh, don’t we, Jet?”
“We certainly do. Fresh as can be.” His gaze crawled across her to punctuate the double entendre.
Billie’s skin crawled, though not uncomfortably. She could almost imagine his hands caressing her instead of his gaze. Perhaps steroids had become part of his daily regimen. If only she weren’t the sole female in the room, she’d escape his intense attention. It brought out some animal instinct against her will. As if his testosterone piqued her pheromones to life.
Shifting to relieve her discomfort, she focused on Stu. “Can I connect with any of the girls before tomorrow?”
“Not likely. Half haven’t checked in yet. They’ll arrive as a group tomorrow. Makes for a dramatic entrance.” Rubbing his hands together, Stu’s enthusiasm contrasted Jet’s disinterest.
Pointedly, Stu glanced at the folder. “All in the packet.” Turning, he slung his arm around Jet’s shoulder and steered him toward the door, murmuring.
Smiling, Jet glanced back and winked.
She’d almost forgotten. “Wait--where can I bunk?”
Jet broke away from Stu. “With me, if you like.”
His manager steered him to the hall. “Cindy’ll take care of you.”
Shuddering, alarm bells went off in Billie’s head in realization of her instinct to take Jet up on the offer. She had enough problems without Jet Trently adding to them. And no matter how re-energized, his libido wouldn’t impress her into sparkling reviews of praise.
Oh no. She’d developed an immunity to rock stars years ago.