Read an Excerpt
"Parking, code blue." Tori Randall heard the request for assistance from the valet station through her headset. They usually had three valets for an event of this size but one of their regulars had called in sick at the last minute, leaving them shorthanded. They were one short in the kitchen, as well. The darn flu was killing them.
"En route," she responded and caught her twin sister's gaze across the open expanse of the living room from where she stood just outside on the top level of the terraced patio. Lauren nodded subtly, indicating she'd heard.
"Hey, do you see the spark between those two?" Tori gestured to a stunt coordinator and a production assistant seated on the patio, chairs pulled close so their heads nearly touched. "Love is blossoming."
Lauren's gaze touched the couple and Tori knew her twin felt it, too, the sense of knowing when two people were meant to be. It was a talent they shared.
"No meddling," Lauren cautioned, though her eyes softened. She was a sucker for true love. For everyone but herself. "We agreed to focus on the business."
"We don't meddle," Tori protested. "We introduce. I don't think we're needed in any case."
"No," Lauren agreed. "They've found each other all on their own."
"The buffet has been refreshed and new appetizers are circulating." Tori gave Lauren an update on the food. This was their first event for one of Hollywood's top directors, Ray Donovan. Everything needed to be perfect. "We're past the witching hour, so desserts are coming out in a half hour. I can use a bit of fresh air."
"Keep an eye out for Garrett Black," Lauren said.
"Are you still expecting him to show? Give it up, Lauren, he's not coming. As usual." The new head of Obsidian Studios was the newest "it" guy everyone wanted at their event. But the man was refusing to play. No surprise. He had a rep for being antisocial as a director and producer. Why should running the show make any difference?
Their company, By Arrangement, had landed a coveted contract with Obsidian Studios to organize their events at the Hollywood Hills Film Festival starting in six weeks. Lauren hoped for an opportunity for them to introduce themselves to the top dog.
"Midnight is young by Hollywood standards. My source said he was planning to attend. He and Donovan go back."
"Right." Tori rolled her eyes. But the truth was Lauren's infamous sources were uncannily correct. "I'll keep a lookout."
She still doubted they'd see the elusive Black tonight. Injured in the car accident that killed his father eleven months ago and left him as head of the fifth biggest studio in Hollywood, Garrett had been conducting business from his Santa Barbara home. Until a month ago. Gossip now had him appearing at the studio daily.
She stepped outside and breathed in the salt-tinged air. Malibu was one of her favorite places in the world. She scanned the driveway filled with world-class vehicles. All was quiet. She continued down the front steps to the valet station.
"Hey, Matt, what's the problem?" She rubbed her bare arms. The fresh ocean air was heavenly but a bit crisp in early November and the black dress she'd chosen for tonight had a halter neck, leaving her arms bare to the elements.
"Sorry, Boss, I need a quick restroom break and John is taking a car down to the church." The driveway and garage held a good number of vehicles, but for the overflow they'd made arrangements to use a church parking lot down the hill.
Matt had been out with the flu last week and looked a little pale. "Are you feeling okay?"
"Yeah, just not pushing my luck right now."
Shivering, she nodded. "No problem. I'll cover. Go ahead."
"Thanks. It's slowed down a lot so maybe no one will come along." He shrugged out of his jacket and handed it to her. "Here. I'll try to be quick." And he ran up the drive and around back to the service entrance.
She shrugged into the jacket, which was oversize but not too bad, Matt being on the smaller side. Crossing her arms, she rocked on her three-inch heels, deciding in that moment to allow the valets to use stools. What she wouldn't give to sit for a minute.
With no one around she slipped out of her black pumps. What Lauren didn't know wouldn't hurt her. Against Tori's protests, Lauren demanded they wear the punishing shoes for evening events. Of course Lauren wore the spiked torture devices for hours without flinching.
Tori flexed her sore toes. She preferred no shoes at all. The cold of the stone step felt good.
The rumble of a powerful engine filled the night and a Maserati Spider turned into the drive. Tori forgot all about shoes as the beautiful machine pulled to a stop in front of her. She clasped her hands behind her back to keep from rubbing them together at the prospect of driving the Italian muscle car.
"Thank you, sir." Focused on the car, she paid little attention to the driver until he refused to release the keys, and then she looked up into pale gray eyes ripe with irritation.
He looked familiar but she couldn't quite place him. When he'd stepped out of the car, he'd turned so his features were shadowed. He wore an ill-fitting black suit over a black sweater. And from the little she saw, he didn't look in the mood to party. His square jaw was clenched, his fine features drawn into harsh lines.
One thing for certain, this guy was no wannabe, not with this car, and it bothered her that she couldn't bring a name to mind.
He towered over her, a belated reminder she'd forgotten to put her shoes back on. When she wore the thee-inch heels, it made her five-seven, but even at that height, he'd top her by several inches.
She smiled all the brighter, hoping he wouldn't notice. She tugged on the keys. "I'll take good care of your vehicle, sir."
The brooding gaze he ran over her disabused her of that notion. She had the feeling he missed little. "What do you drive?" he demanded in a gruff voice.
Now that was just rude. "A Mustang 500GT."
"Huh," he grunted but still held possession of the keys. "Is there a male attendant?"
"In the restroom." She took delight in informing him.
"Be polite," Lauren warned in her ear.
His thin lips took a downward turn. "Park it close by," he ordered as if he knew of her longing to put the car through its paces on the downhill trip to the church. "I won't be long."
The keys dropped into her palm and she nearly danced on her pink-tipped toes. She half expected him to inspect the car so he'd know if she added any dings to his beauty. But then he probably didn't have to.
She moved into the V of the open door.
"Miss." She glanced up at him. He'd stopped halfway up the steps to pick up her shoes. "I prefer you to use these."
"Of course." Skipping up the wide steps, she reached his side and accepted the black pumps shoved at her. She bent and placed them on the ground, putting her headset on Mute as she did so. "Thank you. Let's just keep this part between the two of us."
"Worried for your job?" he mocked, his lack of sympathy obvious. Up close he took her breath away. Well-defined features and shadowed eyes were framed by a square jaw and broad brow. Too masculine to be pretty, he was a beautiful man.
"Worse, a lecture." She teetered a bit and a suit-clad elbow was thrust at her. She shot him an appreciative glance that did nothing to soften his stern demeanor and used his arm to steady her as she slipped into the heels.
Hard muscles flexed under her fingers, triggering a feminine response, which flat-out annoyed her. She refused to be attracted to a jerk. Ignoring her protesting toes, she released him as soon as she had her feet encased in leather. Flipping her blond ponytail over her shoulder, she reengaged her headset.
"Enjoy your party, sir." She gave him another bright smile and turned back to the car, tugging Matt's jacket down around her hips as she went.
In the car she adjusted the seat. The interior smelled delicious, of rich leather, linseed oil and a hint of spicy cologne that must belong to Mr. Rude. She turned over the motor and it purred like a lion. She bit her lip, half tempted to take the beast down the hill after all. But she reigned in her impulsive side and pulled the lovely car into an open slot in the garage. Penance for being seen without her shoes.
Not that Lauren would see it that way.
When Tori reached the front of the house, both Matt and John were there. She gave Matt his jacket and the keys to the Maserati, told him where it was parked and made her way inside.
Lauren was waiting for her. "You went offline. What was the problem?"
"Really?" Tori tapped her headset. "It must be a short." She gave a quick look around but her brooding combatant was nowhere to be seen. "Did you see a big guy in an oversize suit come in?" She'd hoped for a better view of him in the light to help her place him.
At least that was her story and she was sticking to it.
"No. You shouldn't lie, Tori. You're not good at it. What did he want you to use?" Lauren's honey-brown eyes, identical to her own, narrowed. "Tell me you didn't take off your shoes."
"I didn't take off my shoes."
Her sister's hands went to her hips. "We talked about this."
"And as long as you require me to wear these stilts, we'll be talking about it again."
"No one was around," she protested.
"Except for the big guy in the oversize suit."
"Who drives a Maserati." She couldn't hide her awe. "OMG, Lauren, it's the sweetest thing I've ever driven. I lost my head for a few minutes." She confessed.
Lauren drew her down the hall toward the kitchen and away from the crowded front room. "I suppose you already tagged Dad."
"I may have texted him a picture."
"Tori, this is an important event. We can't afford for anything to go wrong."
"Relax, Lauren. The event is already a success." Two waitresses passed them carrying trays of delectable sweets. "There go the desserts. After I put out the candy table, it's all smooth sailing." Hoping to avoid further lecturing, she swung toward the kitchen.
"Black drives a Maserati."
Surprise spun Tori back around. "What?"
"Garrett Black. Drives. A. Maserati."
"Well, fudge sticks." With the name, the familiarity fell into place. Garrett Black. She'd been thrown off because he'd cut his hair and lost weight, which explained the oversized suit. Of course the shadows hadn't helped. "We may want to put off the introductions to another time."
"Garrett, my friend, you made it." Ray Donovan broke away from a small group near the terrace and met Garrett halfway across the room. They shook hands and Ray pulled Garrett into a full body hug.
"You threatened to pull your next movie if I didn't." Resigned, he squeezed back and then stepped away, creating the distance he preferred. "I'm no fool."
Ray laughed. "You're all kinds of a fool, but you're not stupid."
Garrett shrugged. There was no arguing with the truth.
"Let's get you some food." Ray led him to the dining room and the table spread with a diverse array of dishes, pretty, elegant dishes that probably appealed to the many starlets drifting about.
"I'm not really hungry."
"My friend, you've got to eat, you're wasting away. Get your nose out of the air. Just because food is beautiful doesn't mean it should be dismissed. This is the best food I've ever had at a party. Try the bacon-wrapped meatballs and the chipped beef poofs. I particularly like the spaghetti stuffed garlic bites." He tossed a bite-size nugget into his mouth.
"So I lost some weight. I had a broken jaw if you'll remember." Along with a crushed left leg and shattered collarbone. All compliments of an SUV crashing broadside into the car he was traveling in. He'd lived through it. His father hadn't.
Garrett felt a pinch at his lack of grief.
"Some? That suit is hanging on you, buddy."
Garrett glanced down. "So?"
"So, you're the head of the studio now. You need to dress the part. Here" Ray picked up the plate of spaghetti bites, tossed on a few mushroom caps and assorted other items "let's take this upstairs and you can tell me how you're doing. Oh, whoa." An attendant walked by with a plate of chocolate cupcakes. "Diane, be a doll and give that plate to my friend, would you."
"Yes, sir, Mr. Donovan" The attendant handed Garrett the plate with a smile.
Ray took his booty and walked around the corner to a spiral staircase that took them to a loft overlooking the living area below. A wall of windows offered a spectacular vista of the ocean during the day. Tonight the view consisted of the dancing on the patio below. A four-foot-high glass balcony wall ran the length of the loft.
Garrett sat down in a cream leather armchair and set the plate down on a black glass table. Ray set the food on the ottoman and Garrett took a chipped beef poof. Kudos to Ray. The food was the best he'd had since the accident. He reached for another.
"How's the leg?" Ray asked.
"Better. Therapist says it's at 90 percent."
"Wow, that's great." Ray went to the bar. "You were pretty messed up when I visited you in the hospital. So they put a pin in?"
"Several. Total reconstruction of my thigh and knee." Four surgeries kept him in and out of the hospital for eight months. It's only during the past two months he'd felt like he got his feet under him again. "Just call me Robo Director."
"Robo CEO. You're head of the studio now."
"There's something I never expected." He accepted a Scotch, took a small sip, and set the cup down. He was driving and on meds. He'd come too far in physical rehabilitation to risk a setback now. "I have to admit I'm still wrapping my mind around the fact."
"Really? You used to have a lot of ideas of what you'd do when you got the reins." Ray dropped into the ivory bucket chair next to him.
"Not since Dad and I had a falling-out. I told you about that."
"Sure, he insisted you take on director of creativity for the studio and then overturned most of your decisions."
"I warned him to stop, but he did it once too often and I quit. He retaliated by blackballing me from the studio."
"Ah. You didn't tell me that."
"Sorry. It wasn't something I wanted to get around." Just as he didn't tell his friend about the studio's damaged reputation. "Needless to say, I figured I was out of the will."
But he'd been wrong. Or more likely Dad hadn't gotten around to changing his will in the past six years. He still didn't know what prompted the invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. Either way Garrett had his work cut out for him if he wanted to bring the studio back to its former glory. Gossip traveled fast and far in the movie business, which accounted for the loss of contracts. He didn't want anyone knowing a continuing decline could put Obsidian Studios in financial distress.
"You're an only child," Ray pointed out. "The studio has been family owned for ninety years. Obviously in the end blood was stronger than-grudges."
"I suppose." Whatever the reason, the studio was now his, and Garrett refused to let it fail on his watch.