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Kelly Castelle was in hell. At least, this was exactly what
she imagined hell to be, minus all the traffic and the sidewalks and the buildings. She brushed a wayward strand of hair out of her eyes and dabbed at her damp forehead with her wrist. She'd had her share of awful jobs in the past, but this time, she truly believed she'd find Beelzebub behind the camera.
"Is it always so hot here?"
The driver glanced at her in the rearview mirror. "It's the middle of August, miss," he said. "And it's Atlanta. What did you expect?"
"Something a bit more like L.A.," she muttered. Back home it was warm, but she'd never experienced humidity like this. Her clothes clung to her skin and her hair had gone limp the moment she'd stepped off the plane. Wilted would barely do justice to the way she felt. And if she looked even half as bad as she felt, they'd fire her on the spot and hire another actress—one who knew how to look crisp and composed in ninety-five-degree heat.
Maybe this was all just a sign, Kelly mused. Just a week ago, she'd decided that it might be time to get out of Hollywood and show business and find a new life for herself. She'd worked on her acting career, first in New York and then in L.A., for nearly fifteen years and had nothing to show for it. Sure, she'd made a few guest appearances on TV series that had long been cancelled. She'd done some commercials and had a bit part in a cheesy horror movie. She'd even worked on a soap opera for two years before her character got killed off when a meteor fell on her trailer home. But she'd never been able to land a decent agent and she was fast approaching the age when no one would even bother calling her to read.
Thirty-five. There were plenty of actresses who would kill to be her age again. But over the past couple of years, Kelly had heard her career clock ticking down. Women in Hollywood had a short shelf life and she was beginning to mold around the edges.
Just last month, her agent had called to ask if she'd ever considered doing soft-core porn. Kelly would have fired Louise DiMarco on the spot had she not offered a national hemorrhoid commercial in the same breath. She'd turned them both down before Louise made casual mention of a small job in Atlanta, performing in a skit for the talk show Just Between Us.
Though it didn't pay much, Kelly didn't care. It was a free trip to Atlanta and a night in a nice hotel and enough money to pay the grocery bill for a few more months. Desperate to get out of L.A., if only for a day or two, she'd jumped at the chance. Though this could hardly be called her big break, at least it wasn't soft-core porn.
But was she fooling herself? A bit part in a six-minute skit on a talk show could hardly even be compared to a walk-on in a feature film with a third-rate director. She'd have to make some firm decisions about her future once she got back to L.A. For now, she'd just have to focus on doing the best job she could.
"Here we are," the driver said as he pulled up to the curb. "CATL studios. Need help inside with your bag?"
Kelly shook her head and handed him a twenty from her purse. "No, I'm fine. Thanks."
He waved his hand. "The fare is taken care of by the show. The tip, too."
The driver popped the trunk and jumped out of the Town Car, then helped her out of the backseat. Kelly drew a deep breath and stepped out into the heat. She stared at the exterior of the studio, a modern mix of glass and redbrick. Silver letters, spelling out the call sign, gleamed in the noonday sun. She glanced down to see her bag sitting on the curb as the car roared away.
"The show must go on," she muttered.
Dragging her suitcase behind her, Kelly crossed a small courtyard and stepped through the wide glass doors into a cool, quiet lobby. A pretty receptionist sat at a sleek modern desk in front of a glass wall. Sofas and chairs were scattered about in small conversation groups and a bank of television monitors hung from the ceiling behind the receptionist's desk.
Kelly pasted a smile on her face and stepped up to the desk. "Hello, I'm—"
"Miss Castelle," the receptionist completed. She quickly punched a button on her switchboard. "Hi, Jane. It's Mindy. Miss Castelle is here." The receptionist looked up. "She'll be right out."
"Is there somewhere I could freshen up?"
"Oh, they'll be taking you right back to wardrobe and makeup."
Kelly blinked in surprise. "Makeup?" "You're scheduled to start shooting at…" Mindy peered at her computer screen. "In a half hour."
"I—I thought we'd have a meeting or a read-through. I didn't think we'd—"
"They work on a really tight schedule back there," Mindy said, a hint of an apology in her tone.
Kelly bent down and frantically searched through her carry-on for her script. She'd glanced at it on the plane, but if she was expected to start taping in thirty minutes, then there was still work to do. She hadn't even thought about her character's goals and motivations. She'd assumed they'd cover that at the read-through.
Oh, hell, what was she worried about? It was skit. A six-minute skit for a local talk show. It would air once and then fade into television obscurity.
Kelly struggled to her feet, the script clutched to her chest.
"Yes?" The woman standing in front of her was dressed in a funky vintage shirt and black jeans that hugged her slender legs. Her bleached hair was cut in an asymmetrical bob that only makeup artists and wardrobe stylists could pull off.
"I'm Jane Kurtz," she said. "Welcome to Atlanta. I'm just going to take you back to wardrobe and then we'll get you into makeup." She glanced at her watch. "How was your flight? Hartsfield can be a nightmare but you seemed to have survived it all right."
She held the door open as she let Kelly pass, then led her through a maze of hallways. They came to an open door and Jane stepped inside a large room filled with floor-to-ceiling racks of clothing. "This is Karen Carmichael, my new assistant," Jane said.
Kelly smiled at a dark-haired woman in her late twenties, dressed in a wildly patterned smock. A purple streak colored her ragged bangs and a tiny diamond glittered from one of her nostrils.
"Size two," Karen said. "And five-six?"
Kelly nodded. "Good guess."
Jane grinned. "See, Karen, I knew there was a reason I hired you. Although your ability to guess my weight to the pound is not a talent that I want you to cultivate."
"One hundred and sixteen," Karen said, with another glance at Kelly.
Kelly gasped. "Wow. That's incredible."
Karen looked at Jane. "Couldn't you just kill her? The last time I weighed one-sixteen I was in seventh grade."
Jane chuckled. "I'll kill her after we're done taping." Kelly glanced between the two of them and saw the humor in their eyes. "You can take some solace in the fact that I'm probably at least five or ten years older than each of you." She paused, then held up three fingers, followed quickly by all five. "Nicole is going to flip out," Karen said. "You don't look thirty-five. And you're supposed to be the older woman in this skit."
"Don't worry," Jane said. "The guy she's working with looks really young. It'll work. And the lights always add five years."
They continued down the hallway to the makeup room. Jane placed Kelly's bag beneath the counter, then sat her down in a chair in front of a wall of mirrors. A television monitor hung from the ceiling, the sound barely audible.
Kelly stared at her reflection. "My hair looks horrible." "I've got some miracle hairspray. We'll just tip you upside down and give it a shot and then touch up with a curling iron." Jane ran her fingers through Kelly's hair. "Lovely color," she said. "Who does your color?"
"No one," Kelly replied.
"You do it yourself?"
"No, I don't color my hair. Why, do you think I should color it?"
"No. Don't touch it. I'm just surprised you haven't found any gray yet with your hair as dark as it is."
In truth, Kelly had found more than a few gray hairs at her temples. And she'd been methodically plucking them out, rather than admit that it might be time to visit a good colorist. But now that she wasn't going to be an actress anymore, she wouldn't have to worry. Women had gray hair in the real world. "Not yet," she lied.
As Jane worked, Kelly reviewed the script. Just Between Us was an interesting hybrid of all the best elements of talk shows. The host, Eve Best, presented sexy topics, laced with humor and spontaneity, ranging from celebrity gossip to the latest trends in fashion to personal relationships. Lately, the producers had been using skits that resembled reality television, with small scenes interspersed through the show to highlight an upcoming segment. The title on Kelly's script was "In Praise ofYounger Men." The smaller segments pointed out the pitfalls and pleasures of an affair with a younger man.
"Hello. You must be the older woman."
Kelly glanced over to find her "younger man" standing in the door. She wasn't sure what she'd expected, but seeing the typical Hollywood "himbo" as her acting partner brought a twinge of disappointment. The guy was gorgeous in that obnoxiously pretty way that was sure to make him look ten times better on screen than she did.
"Hi," she said, forcing a smile. "Kelly Castelle."
"Bryan Lockwood," he countered with a nod and dazzling white smile. "Say, can we move this along? I've got an 8:00 p.m. flight back to the coast and I can't miss it. I'm meeting with Hanks's people tomorrow morning about a part in his new film."
"Tom Hanks?" Kelly asked.
"It's a big part. My agent says I'm perfect for it. And later this week I've got a meeting with Cruise's new production company. The last thing I want is to screw that all up because of this silly job."
"We're almost ready," Jane muttered. "Cool. I'll see you on set," he said, giving Kelly another dazzling smile.
"What an ass," Jane muttered a few moments after he'd left the room. "That guy was a nightmare in the chair. I had to redo his foundation three times until I got that sun-kissed, west-coast, Laguna Beach shade that he wanted." She placed her hands on Kelly's shoulders and met her gaze in the mirror. "I'll let you in on a little secret. He's got a receding hairline. I give him two more years before he's going to need plugs."
"Thanks," Kelly said. "This whole job is really taking a toll on my ego."
"You're gorgeous," Jane assured her. "Look. That classic profile, that perfect nose. Those cheekbones couldn't get any higher." She grabbed a pot of lip liner. "And look at this mouth. All those women who get their lips plumped up have got to be green with envy when they see yours."
"All right, my ego is soothed," Kelly said with a laugh.
"No need to overdo."
Jane carefully filled in with lipstick then handed Kelly a tissue to blot. "You're set. Come on, I'll take you out and introduce you to Nicole. She's the segment producer."
Kelly looked at herself in the mirror. She still looked good. There were plenty of actresses her age that looked older. Drawing a deep breath, she cleared her mind of all the insecurities and self-doubts. This was just another acting job. And though it might be the last of her career, she'd be the consummate professional.
And later, when she got back to her hotel, she could give in to all the emotions that raged inside of her and have a really good cry.