Read an Excerpt
LovingBailey Flanigan Series
By Karen Kingsbury
ZondervanCopyright © 2012 Karen Kingsbury
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBrandon Paul Could Almost Smell The Montana Air. In a month or so he would fly to Butte to film his next movie, two hours out of the city, and lately that was all he could think about. Leaving Los Angeles and clearing his head. Especially since Bailey planned to join him for some of it. But for now thoughts of his April movie shoot outside Butte would have to wait. He stepped into the glass elevator at West Mark Studios and rode it to the twenty-sixth floor — the top of the Century City Plaza building, just outside of Hollywood, California.
Where every day saw the biggest deals in Hollywood go down.
He tugged on his canvas messenger bag, aware of its contents — two copies of the red-lined copy of the West Mark contract and a letter from his attorney. As he did, he caught his reflection on the elevator wall and noticed the slump in his posture. If Brandon had seen a mountain growing on his shoulders he wouldn't have been surprised. The contract carried that much weight. And today's meeting would only make the burden greater.
A deep sigh rattled from his lungs as he stepped off the elevator and faced the double glass doors at the end of the gold-carpeted hallway. The team at West Mark was expecting that this week or next they would ink their biggest contract ever. A seven-picture deal with Brandon Paul. The announcement, the red carpet event, the after-party — all of it was in the works.
The only detail they'd overlooked was this: Brandon's personal attorney — Luke Baxter.
Brandon opened the heavy door and approached the front desk. The woman taking calls and messages blushed the sort of red usually reserved for apples. She had been midsip into a cup of coffee, and now she coughed a few times and wiped her mouth. Brandon smiled, hoping to put her at ease. "Hi. Jack Randall is expecting me."
The woman was maybe in her midthirties, blonde with a spray tan. The sort of hopeful actress-still-waiting-for-her-break look that came a dime a dozen in Hollywood. "Yes, Mr. Paul, right away. I'll let him know you're here."
Whether it was the influence of Bailey Flanigan or his growing faith, Brandon wasn't sure, but more often lately he was struck by the reaction people had around him. Sure he had filmed a lot of movies. But he'd been born into an average family in a suburban neighborhood. If he'd wound up driving a bus at the airport, no one would clamor for his attention or want his autograph. There would be no blushing at his arrival. So why were movies different?
Brandon leaned against the nearest wall. "What's your name?"
"Mary." The blonde coughed again. "Sorry. Swallowed wrong." She uttered a nervous laugh. "Didn't expect ..." She shook her head, clearly trying to get a grip. "Sorry. You're on the calendar. It's just ... yeah. Never mind."
"Hey." He held his hand out and shook hers. "I'm Brandon. Now we're friends, okay?"
The woman visibly exhaled and settled back into her chair. "Okay." She laughed again. "Thanks. I'm new. Everyone says you're like this. So normal."
"Good." He grinned at her. "I like that. 'Normal' is a compliment."
Wasn't that what Bailey wanted most? Plain old normal. It was what she'd told him the last time they walked along the beach. That when she looked ahead she wasn't always sure what she wanted to do or where she wanted to live, but she knew this much: she wanted a normal life. The ability to come and go without wondering whether a posse of paparazzi was lurking in the bushes.
That kind of normal. Behind her desk, Mary made a few quick calls to alert Jack Randall and his team that Brandon had arrived. As she did, Brandon felt his phone vibrate and he pulled it discreetly from his jeans pocket. A text from Bailey.
Hey, I'm at NTM Studios ... Can't believe how much I want this part now — thanks to you! Hope all the weird meetings before this amount to nothing. Getting ready to head inside. Pray for me! ILY
Brandon smiled and read the text again and shot a quick answer back. You'll be amazing. Everything will work out. ILY2
NTM was where he'd gotten his start starring in half a dozen movies for teens. In the last few years, NTM had produced movies with more drama, more conflict. Unlocked — the movie he and Bailey had starred in together — had been one of those. Now Bailey had been cast as the lead in a film about a young teacher who convinces her gang-member students to care for each other. Her production meeting was set to take place at the same time as his.
She'd had a few strange meetings with the producer of the film, but even so her time today figured to be a whole lot more positive than his.
One of Jack's assistants strode down the back hallway and into sight.
"Mr. Paul," Mary smiled at him. The quietly knowing look in her eyes said she didn't need to feel star struck around him any longer. "Mr. Randall is ready for you."
Brandon winked at her as he walked past. Then he followed the assistant to the back boardroom — where he'd met with the West Mark team a number of times before. Always to discuss the same thing: the pending contract. As they reached the boardroom, Brandon saw he was the last one to the party. His agent, Sid Chandler, and Stephen Chase, his manager, sat together at one end of the table. There had been a time when the two of them were a little at odds, even though they both headed up his team. Power struggle maybe. But since getting word of the big West Mark contract, the two seemed like old college roommates.
Across from them sat Jack Randall; his assistant, Chin Li Hong — a forty-something expert with a doctorate in contracts; two guys from the studio's legal department; and at least four interns, including the suit who'd escorted Brandon to the meeting. A meeting Brandon had requested.
He filled his lungs. Thirty minutes from now they'd all be furious with him. "Gentlemen." He nodded at the men and then at Jack's assistant. "Miss Hong." He gave a more familiar smile to Chandler and Chase. "Thanks for meeting."
"Yes." Jack allowed an uncomfortable chuckle. "We've invested quite a bit in this contract, and of course, in the announcement of the details." He shrugged and looked at the others around the table. "Anytime our top star calls a meeting, we'll find time."
A round of mumbled agreements followed. All eyes were on him.
Brandon cleared his throat. "Thanks. I appreciate that." He pulled his bag up onto his lap and removed a file from inside. No matter how he started, there was no easy way around what he was going to say. "I hired a private attorney ... Luke Baxter." He worked to keep his tone light. "He's worked with Dayne Matthews and several other actors."
"Dayne's brother, isn't that right?" Jack laced his fingers together and leaned on his forearms. His eyes pierced Brandon's and he didn't wait for an answer. "Was that on counsel from your agent? Your manager?" Jack cast a shadowy look at both men.
"No, Randall." Chandler was the first to cut in. "Neither of us asked Brandon to get another opinion." He smiled with dizzy abandon, like someone about to make fifteen percent of an eight-figure deal. "The contract ... well, it's perfect."
"Thank you." Jack seemed content to settle in on that for a few beats. After a long moment he looked back at Brandon. "Go on."
Brandon resisted the urge to wipe his brow. He might be sweating, but he couldn't show it. The meeting was bound to be tough, but the tension in the room now was palpable. Not the usual showering of compliments and grandiose statements from the studio brass. This time they were irritated and in a hurry. As if whatever his reason for the meeting, he better hurry and get on with it.
Brandon found another level of resolve. He stared at the file, opened it, then handed a copy of the red-lined contract to Jack. The other one he set on the desk in front of him. "Luke found some items of concern."
Attorneys handled red-lining differently. Luke Baxter was old school. The thirty-page document was literally marked with red on at least half the pages. Randall took it slowly, the way he might take the report card from a failing son or daughter. He thumbed through a few pages and then allowed a quiet laugh — one without even the slightest hint of humor. He held the contract up and looked at the others again. When his eyes met Brandon's his laughter faded. "Are you kidding me?" He flipped the document to Chin Li. "Look at this."
"Excuse me." It was Brandon's manager. His face seemed to have lost most of its blood supply. He reached out to Brandon. "May I see a copy?"
"Uh ... we'd like copies also," one of the West Mark attorneys spoke for both of them. At almost the same time Chin Li handed her copy to an assistant. "Make a stack of them."
The assistant took the document and hurried out of the room. Brandon imagined Chandler and Chase were probably quietly trying to grasp this new reality: the fact that Brandon had called a meeting to discuss findings by his private attorney and the reality that the hired gun had used a red pen to shred the studio's best offer ever. Either way, Brandon was up for the fight. He was protecting himself, and in the process he was protecting someone that mattered more than he did.
"Brandon." Chin Li's tone suggested she might've made a wonderful kindergarten teacher. "Maybe you don't understand the scope of the contract." She shot a disdaining glance at his agent and manager. "This is the best deal West Mark has ever offered any actor."
"I realize that." Brandon sat back in his chair and kept his voice pleasant. "But I've said the same thing since the idea of the contract first came up." He looked at Jack Randall again. "I want creative control, or I can't do it."
"Creative control." Jack matched Brandon's posture, easing back and even linking his hands behind his head. The picture of cool confidence. "Explain 'creative control.' I mean, I thought we were very careful to include that."
His attorney, Luke, had told him what to say, and now Brandon didn't hesitate. "The wording in the contract allows for my input, Jack. But not for my final say. If a project compromises my faith or my reputation or my relationships, I can't kill it. I can only comment." He felt his voice rising, and he worked to keep control. "I appreciate the chance to have an opinion. But that's not enough."
"Seems like a lot of red ink for that simple change." Brandon's agent gave a nervous, high-pitched chuckle. He drummed his fingers on the walnut table. "Probably something we can fix this afternoon. I mean, if we all take a look at it."
"I don't know." Brandon angled his head. He could still hear Luke Baxter's advice. "A dozen pages have a line or clause giving the studio power to make final decisions regarding the seven movies." He flipped through the copy in front of him. "That explains all the ink."
Jack Randall's expression went suddenly flat and his eyes turned a sort of slate gray. "Look, Brandon ... if that's where you're at, we're going to have to rethink this whole deal."
"Now wait." Brandon's manager started to stand and then stopped himself. "Brandon doesn't want a delay in the contract process." His eyes shot lasers at Brandon. "Isn't that right?"
The assistant was back and copies were handed to everyone at the table. After a moment, Brandon spoke up, "Actually ..." He was undaunted by the intensity in the room, the pressure aimed at him. "Jack's right. Let's take four months and sort through it. Luke wants a final look, but he'll be busy for the next few months. I have a movie to shoot in Montana. Four months gives us time to reschedule the announcement." He shrugged, his calm otherworldly. "West Mark's legal guys can go through it more than once, make the changes." He looked at the lawyers. "Four months enough time, guys? We can announce this around the first of August?"
Their faces fell and they hesitated, the way attorneys often hesitate. As if any wrong word or nuance could result in a lawsuit. Jack didn't wait for them to rebound. "Four months sounds about right." This was personal for the studio executive now. Everyone in the room knew four months was far longer than they needed. But in light of the situation, Jack wasn't about to roll over. He wanted to give the impression that the studio wasn't desperate, that they could even walk away from the contract if Brandon wasn't careful.
"Actually," Jack waved his hand around in front of him, "maybe we take six months. We'll let you know." He checked his watch and pushed back from the table. "Chin Li, you'll cancel plans for the announcement, the red carpet, all of it. We'll give legal plenty of time to think over the contract. We'll need a team meeting before we consider rescheduling."
"Yes, sir." Chin Li cast a sad, disappointed look at Brandon. "I'm very sorry you feel this way, Brandon."
"It's fine." Jack stood and waved his hands at the rest of them. "Meeting's over, guys. We'll revisit this behind closed doors and aim for an announcement four months or so from now."
Across from him, Brandon's agent and manager looked furious with him, torn between releasing a verbal tirade and quitting on the spot. Jack Randall walked around the table and held his hand out to Brandon. "I will say this. West Mark still wants to be your studio. Let's see if we can figure it all out."
"I look forward to it. Thank you, sir." Brandon realized Jack was trying to make him feel like he had lost something here. But Brandon didn't see it that way. He was drawing from every bit of his self-restraint not to start a personal celebration right here in the boardroom. He had bought himself four months and the studio's agreement to deal with the red ink covering the current contract. It was the greatest victory in the negotiations so far.
As the West Mark executive team made their way out, Brandon's manager, Chase, asked if they could stay a little longer and use the meeting room. Chin Li caught a look of indifference from Jack Randall as he left the room, and she tossed them a cool smile. "That's fine. We don't need the room for another hour. A big client coming in." She shot critical eyes at Brandon. "Studios have movies to make. So if you could watch the time."
"We will." Again, Brandon got it. There were other actors, other deals to be made. If Brandon waited four months then just maybe the deal would disappear or be cut in half. Anything could happen. That was fine. No matter how great the deal, there would be others. Besides, West Mark Studios wasn't going away that easily. Despite his obvious frustration, Jack Randall had made that clear.
Chin Li shut the door behind her a little too hard. In the silence that followed, Brandon looked at his agent and manager and reached for a kindness he didn't feel. "Look ... I'm sorry you didn't know about this."
No immediate response came from his team. The three of them sat down and Chase was the first to speak. He was in his late fifties, a veteran in the business. His tone remained even despite the white knuckles on his clenched fists. "You could've told us before the meeting."
"I haven't had it long." Brandon put the file back in his bag and set the bag on the floor. "I'll forward you the email from Luke Baxter tomorrow morning."
"Yeah, well, I would've preferred to see it this morning." Chase gave a shake of his head. "You realize they could pull the offer."
"They won't." Brandon felt like they'd switched roles, like he was the one in charge, calm and cool. "Four months will be good. I'll be in Montana for half of it."
Both men were quiet, staring at their hands. What could they say? Brandon had already made up his mind. They'd have to live with the fallout.
Chandler spoke with a softer voice. "The contract would've been a nice sendoff to Butte."
Excerpted from Loving by Karen Kingsbury Copyright © 2012 by Karen Kingsbury . Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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