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Just Between Us ...
By Tori Carrington
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHollywood Confidential - December 13, 2003
"... THE BIGGER THE BUDGET, the better the bang. Or so this reporter believed until I recently viewed a documentary by up-and-coming producer Mallory Woodruff on the U.S./Mexico border war. I, personally, look forward to more from this talented filmmaker. Just think what she could do with a real budget!"
Oh, I don't know, Mallory Woodruff thought caustically as she downed her second cup of coffee. Pay my rent, maybe?
She refolded the paper and sat back in the barstyle, high-backed chair in the freshly painted new home of her best friend's pastry shop, Sugar 'n' Spice. It might be eight o'clock, but she'd need either a whole lot more time, or at least three more cups of Reilly's coffee to wake up.
Mallory blinked Reilly's pretty face into focus. Or rather tried to. When Layla, another one of their circle of four friends, had woken her from the dead a half hour ago, she'd been afraid something had happened to one of them. In a town where the word "friend" was thrown around with careless abandon, she'd been relieved to find Reilly Chudowski, Layla Hollister and Jack Daniels were the real thing when their paths had crossed three years ago.
But she was veering off course, wasn't she? The reason she was sitting at a front corner table that overlooked Wilshire Boulevard, when she'd rather be sleeping off the previous night's pitcher of homemade margaritas, was that Layla had mentioned an emergency. Considering that Layla was marrying hottie ex-plastic surgeon Sam Lovejoy tomorrow, well, she figured just about anything could qualify.
Anything but what she'd just read in the Hollywood Confidential.
"So ... what?" Mallory grumbled. "This half a breath meets the criteria for an emergency meeting?"
Layla and Reilly stared at her, looking extraordinarily stunned, while Jack grimaced, unsurprised, and shook his head.
"Is nothing capable of impressing you?" Reilly asked, apparently more than a bit put out.
"Sure." Mallory reached across the table and took the rest of Layla's half-eaten sticky bun. "You guys impress me all the time." She slanted a glance at Jack as she stuck the sweet into her mouth to calm her roaring stomach. "With the exception of you, of course, Jack. You need to find yourself a goal."
Jack had to be the most attractive man she'd ever laid eyes on. He was Brad Pitt, Robert Redford and George Clooney all wrapped up into one scrumptious package.
Of course, she wished he had the ambition of a drive-thru server.
Jack snatched the paper from her hands. "Hey, I was using that to catch the crumbs," she protested with a smile.
"You stick so much into your mouth there aren't any crumbs," he grumbled back.
Reilly leaned her elbows on the table. "But doesn't that piece mean you might catch the attention of a major studio? Get that budget the reporter mentioned?"
Mallory made a face and stole Jack's napkin to clean syrup off her hands. "First off, it's not a piece, it's a mention. And in a word - no."
Layla sighed. "God, you can be so negative sometimes."
Mallory waved her away even though the comment stung, a little bit anyway. She was a realist, not a pessimist. And the reality was that documentary producers spent the majority of their time applying and interviewing for grants and scrounging for financing and had more sense than to bask in the glow of a few throwaway comments that would reap absolutely zero results.
Of course, it didn't help her attitude that she was having major problems raising the money she needed to work on her current documentary about the infamous murder twenty-five years ago of a young actress called The Red Gardenia. Forget her rent. Yesterday her cameraman had threatened to walk out on her if she didn't pay what she owed him for the past month.
She scratched the back of her neck. Then there was that little time limit she'd given herself when she'd first come to L.A. Five years. She'd given herself five years to make it in the city. And obviously she hadn't made it yet. And that five-year anniversary mark was coming up quickly. Too quickly.
But she wasn't going to tell Layla that. To do so would be to focus on the negative. Today presented a whole slew of fresh opportunities. And that's where she preferred to concentrate her energies: the future and all its possibilities.
Well, on that and taking an easy jab at her friend.
"Shouldn't you be off gaping down someone's throat or up someone's colon, Dr. Hollister?" she asked.
Reilly barked with laughter, then caught herself when Layla stared at her. "Hey, it was funny."
Layla took her purse from the back of her seat and hiked the strap over her shoulder. "I'm off from the clinic until the New Year. Remember?"
"Ah. Then I amend my previous comment. Both you and Jack need to find some ambition."
"I have ambition."
Mallory hiked a brow. "Getting married isn't an ambition, Lay. It's death."
Jack mumbled something under his breath and pushed from the table. "I need a refill."
"Get me one, too," Mallory called after him.
Reilly and Layla shared a stare then looked at her.
"Does Jack seem a bit grumpier than usual?" Layla asked.
Mallory scratched her nose. "Not that I've noticed."
"I think he is, too," Reilly said to Layla.
Mallory shrugged. "Maybe he has a column due or something."
Layla shook her head. "No ... no. It's something more than that. I can tell. Something's bothering him."
Excerpted from Just Between Us ... by Tori Carrington Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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