Read an Excerpt
By Jackie Collins
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2008 Chances, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Cameron Paradise hit Bounce, the private "members only" fitness club, running—literally.
"'Morning," she said breathlessly, waving at Lynda, the pretty Latina girl perched behind the white wicker reception desk. "Am I late? Is my eight o'clock here yet?"
"Of course he is," Lynda said, rolling her expressive brown eyes in an exaggerated fashion. "Mr. Old Fart himself is ready and waiting with the same filthy mouth as ever. Nothing changes."
"Great." Cameron sighed, brushing back a lock of natural blond hair from her eyes. "Can someone please tell me why he always manages to get here early?"
"'Cause it gives him more time to sharpen his twisted old tongue," Lynda answered knowingly. "Besides, you know he loooves you."
"Thanks a lot," Cameron murmured, making a face.
"That man talks nothing but sex, sex, sex," Lynda complained. "I dunno how you take it."
"I take it," Cameron replied patiently, "'cause he pays over the top, and very soon I'll have enough money stashed away to open my own place, and when I do, you'll come work for me, and any client who talks dirty to either of us is history. How's that?"
"You'd better make it soon, before I slap his disgusting mouth shut once an' for all," Lynda said, reaching for her nail file.
"Now, now," Cameron chided, "we all know that violence is not an option."
"Hmm ..." Lynda mused, playing with one of her gold hoop earrings. "If my boyfriend, Carlos, ever heard the things that perv says to me, he'd break both his spindly little legs."
"Tune him out. That's what I do," Cameron said, stretching her arms above her head.
"I try," Lynda wailed, "but c'mon, sister, y'know it's impossible!"
"Nothing's impossible," Cameron shot back, heading for the staff changing room.
"Maybe for you," Lynda yelled after her.
Cameron was a stunningly beautiful woman in a sporty, casual way. Five feet eight inches tall, with a well-toned body, flawless skin, high cheekbones, and dirty blond hair worn short and spiky, with long bangs that drifted sexily above her pale green eyes.
She'd worked at Bounce for almost three years, ever since she'd fled Hawaii and an abusive relationship with her Australian husband, Gregg. Bounce was the perfect place for her; she paid the owner rent to use the facilities, plus a commission on each of the clients she brought in. Everything else went straight into her pocket, which meant that she could charge what she liked, and she did.
She was twenty-one when she'd first landed in L.A., and because of her exceptional looks, she could easily have followed the actress or modeling route. But that kind of career was not for her. She was after something more substantial. So what better plan than working toward eventually opening her own fitness studio? Since everyone in L.A. seemed to be obsessed with the way they looked, it was a business she could definitely tap into. She knew plenty about health and how to be in optimum shape—at least Gregg had taught her something. Best of all, she was smart enough to realize that she could achieve her goal if she worked hard and didn't allow herself to get caught up in the whole L.A. scene of recreational drugs, too many late-night clubs, and endless parties.
"Hey, beauty," Dorian, a buff trainer with a Fabio-style mane of flaxen hair and several flamboyant tattoos, called out as she pulled on a fresh tank top. "That old dude of yours is gettin' impatient. He's mutterin' obscenities under his breath."
"Oh God!" Cameron exclaimed. "That man is such a dud!"
"Somebody needs to put him down," Dorian warned. "And I do not mean that in a good way."
"I'd love to," Cameron quipped, hurrying toward the main workout area. "But I suspect he'd get off on it."
"She's so right," Dorian agreed, tossing back his precious mane.
Her un-favorite client, Mr. Lord, was indeed waiting. A bizarre figure in red-and-black bicycle shorts, stuffed with what could only be described as a fake penis; a Rat Pack T-shirt circa tour 1965; and a crooked slime-brown toupee, perched jauntily on top of his head. He was the author of crap biographies, filled with information gleaned from newspaper files, all out-of-date and totally inaccurate. The celebrities he'd written about regarded him as a pathetic joke who couldn't write his way out of a corner, but he kept trying.
He threw her a disapproving look while tapping the dial of his fake gold Rolex. "You're late," he grumbled. "If I wasn't so hot t' fuck you, I'd find myself another trainer."
What an asshole, she thought, smiling brightly. She had a mind to dump him as a client, but right now she needed all the money she could get. She charged him double her hourly rate and gritted her teeth while trying to ignore his obscene ramblings.
"My bad, Mr. L.," she said, averting her eyes from the fake bulge in his bicycle shorts. "Let's get you started. As you're always telling me, no time to waste, right?"
"You need a boyfriend," Mr. Lord said, leering at her breasts. "And I'm talkin' about a man, not some boy. A real man who knows how to lick your pussy an' finger your—"
Cameron tuned him out as he began pontificating about the joys of oral sex, at which he was, according to him, the absolute master. The very idea of Mr. Lord giving head to anyone was repugnant.
Her thoughts drifted to Gregg, as they often did, and the memories that came up were still painful and difficult to think about.
She and Gregg had met in his native Australia when she was nineteen and backpacking across the country. She'd left her Chicago home at eighteen shortly after burying her mother, who'd died of cancer. Her dad was long gone, and since she couldn't stand her stepfather, she'd decided to take off. For the year before hooking up with Gregg, she'd indulged her wanderlust, exploring Asia with Katie, a friend from school. They'd stayed in youth hostels and beach communes, working as part-time waitresses and babysitters, until they'd decided to be even more adventurous and headed for Australia. Pooling their money, they'd purchased a couple of cheap plane tickets to Sydney, and from there they'd made their way to the Great Barrier Reef.
Within days, she'd run into Gregg at a beach party. It was lust at first sight. He was six foot three, a muscled twenty-five-year-old, and quite a big deal in the surfer world.
She was just nineteen and, surprisingly, still a virgin.
Gregg went after her with a vengeance, soon dropping the several girlfriends he was seeing at the time. It wasn't long before he'd invited her to move into his ramshackle house on the beach. She'd agreed, provided that Katie could move in with her and that moving in certainly didn't mean she was going to sleep with him.
Hmm ... wishful thinking. Gregg was not a man to take no for an answer.
The first time they made love was not so brilliant; she was shy and intimidated and trying too hard to please him. But the second time it was explosions all around.
After a few months, Gregg received an offer of a highly paid job at one of the big luxury hotels in Maui, and since the money was too tempting to turn down, they'd taken off for Hawaii, full of plans for their future. Six weeks later, they were married on the beach at sunset, and Cameron had felt truly happy for the first time in her life.
Everyone regarded them as the golden couple, both so bronzed and tall and blond and beautiful, both so crazy about each other.
For two years it was all more or less perfect, until one day, after a surfing accident that put Gregg out of commission for several months, he began to change, turning from a sunny-dispositioned champion surfer into a mean and miserable shut-in who seemed to get his kicks from barraging her with endless tirades of verbal abuse.
At first she was too shocked to do anything. But after a series of vicious verbal assaults, she'd decided to fight back.
Gregg hadn't liked that. Soon he'd resorted to physical violence, which was enough to let her know for sure that things were veering totally out of control. Her mom had been trapped in an abusive relationship with her stepdad, and over the years she'd watched her mom change from a vibrant, outgoing woman into a cowering, frightened wreck. She'd vowed she would never allow it to happen to her, so even though she still had feelings for Gregg, it was time to get out.
In her mind she worked out an escape plan, but before she could put it into action, she discovered she was pregnant. It was a surprise. After the initial shock, she'd thought that maybe she could turn it into a blessing. Naively she'd convinced herself that having a baby would change everything, so feeling pretty sure about things, she'd decided to give Gregg one more chance.
It was a fatal mistake. Seven weeks later, in the middle of another of his rants, he'd shoved her to the floor, kicked her viciously in the stomach, and several agonizing hours later she'd lost their baby.
After that there was no more doubt: She knew that she had to escape.
A few days later, still battered and bruised, she'd attempted to flee in the middle of the night while he was sleeping. She took only one small bag, her passport, and the money she'd saved teaching kids to surf.
Unfortunately, Gregg awoke and went berserk with fury when he realized she was trying to leave. With a massive show of brute strength, he'd knocked her down and pinned her to the floor, screaming expletives in her face and blaming her for the loss of their baby and for everything else he considered wrong in his life. He'd beaten her so badly that both her eyes were blackened, her arm broken, and blood flowed from a deep cut on her forehead. It was almost as if he was trying to kill her.
Somehow or other, she'd managed to grab a table lamp and smash it over his head, knocking him unconscious. Then she'd fled from the house and never looked back.
At the airport she'd booked herself on the first plane to San Francisco, where her backpacking friend Katie was now living with Jinx, a struggling rock musician. Once she arrived in San Francisco, Katie and Jinx had taken her in, made sure she got medical attention, and generally looked after her.
She'd stayed with them for several weeks while recovering from her ordeal, but as soon as the cast came off her arm, she'd decided to take the train to L.A., where she was determined to make a better life for herself and forget about the past.
It was possible. Anything was possible. Although she realized that one of these days she had to do something about Gregg. There was no way she could stay married to him, and yet she wasn't ready to return to Hawaii and divorce him, not until she was established and felt confident that she could face him and tell him exactly what a cowardly piece of shit he was.
Mr. Lord didn't like it when he felt he wasn't receiving her full attention. "What're you thinking about?" he demanded, sweating his way through a series of arm reps.
"Nothing that would interest you," she answered, keeping it vague.
"Ah, but everything about you interests me," Mr. Lord said with a toothy leer. "Your magnificent tits, your hot little ass, your—"
"Let's not get carried away," she said, interrupting him before he could say any more. "Quite frankly, I'm not in the mood to listen to your chauvinistic crap today, so can it."
"Me? A chauvinist?" Mr. Lord objected, adjusting his padded crotch. "I love women. I honor them. I love their wet—"
Once more Cameron tuned him out. He talked a good game, but deep down she knew he was just another dirty old man who couldn't get it up. And how sad was that?CHAPTER 2
"I'm bored," Mandy Richards announced, sitting cross-legged on the oversized couch in her enormous living room, overlooking a shimmering blue swimming pool. "Nothing's exciting anymore. I'm totally bored."
Ryan Richards regarded his thirty-two-year-old Hollywood princess wife, with her compact body and glossy auburn hair pulled back into a girlish ponytail. Sometimes she managed to sound like a whiny teenager; today was one of those days, and he wasn't in the mood to indulge one of her childish fits.
Obviously she was expecting him to say something.
But he kept his silence; it was safer that way.
"I said I'm bored," Mandy repeated, twisting several expensive diamond tennis bracelets on her delicate wrist while throwing him an accusing look. "Didn't you hear me?"
"Well," he said at last, "if you're so bored, why don't you do something about it?"
His reply did not please her. "You're my husband," she said with a baleful look. "Why don't you do something about it?"
Ryan was not slow. Once again Mandy was on the warpath looking for a fight, and once again he was target number one—it didn't take a genius to figure that out. "Sorry," he said, edging to make a fast exit, "I got a shitload of stuff to take care of today."
Actually, he didn't have a shitload of anything, but getting out of the house seemed like a wise idea.
"What stuff?" Mandy demanded, her back stiffening. "It's Saturday. Aren't we supposed to be spending the day together?"
"No," Ryan said, a tad abruptly, "I thought I mentioned that I'm having brunch with that Argentinean director I've been waiting to meet. He's flown in specially to see me. And I promised my sis I'd drop by later to see the kids."
"Which sis is that?" Mandy sneered, as if sis was a dirty word she could barely get out. "The one with the jailbird husband?"
"Don't go there, Mandy," he warned, temper rising. Christ! It drove him nuts when she went after his family, and she knew it. "Marty got arrested for a DUI—it could've happened to anyone."
"His third DUI," Mandy said pointedly. "Even Daddy couldn't help with that one."
Yeah. Daddy. Mandy's father. Hamilton J. Heckerling. Movie mogul supreme. Über-producer. Star-maker. Egocentric pain in the ass. Not a conversation took place without her bringing Hamilton up one way or the other.
"Where is Big Daddy?" he asked, not really caring but determined to steer the conversation away from his sister Evie, whom he loved dearly and whom Mandy couldn't stand. He knew Mandy was jealous because he and Evie were so close.
"Hamilton is in New York," Mandy said, uncrossing her yoga-pant-clad legs. "I suspect he has a new girlfriend."
"He's divorced," Mandy said, immediately jumping to her father's defense. "He can have as many girlfriends as he wants."
"He sure can," Ryan answered, adding a dry "How many times has he been married?"
"You know how many times," Mandy sniffed.
"I'm no expert."
"Oh, for God's sake!"
"Perhaps that's where I should be," she said, hurriedly changing the subject because she did not appreciate discussing her father's love life, especially with Ryan.
"Where?" he asked, purposely needling her.
"In New York with him," she snapped.
"Well, if you—"
"No!" Mandy said, throwing her husband a sharp look. "You'd like that, wouldn't you? You'd enjoy having me out of the way so you could hook up with some little tootsie whore and play around."
Jesus Christ! Why did she say such things? Why did she go out of her way to piss him off?
Seven years they'd been married. Seven long years and not once had he cheated on her, although the opportunities that came his way were abundant. He was thirty-nine and not bad-looking—above average, in fact. He was over six feet tall, quite fit—thanks to daily jogging. He had longish sandy brown hair, extremely intense blue eyes—his best feature—and a slightly crooked nose, busted in a football game when he was twelve. The vibe he had going for him was a kind of younger Kevin Costner thing. It was a vibe women found most attractive. He got hit on all the time by actresses, models, young executives, other men's wives, but he always turned them down. Ryan Richards was one of that rare breed, a man who believed in the institution of marriage. He'd married Mandy for better or worse, and just because it had turned out to be a nightmare did not mean that he should cut and run—although sometimes he yearned to. Neither did it mean that he should cheat, the way most of his married friends did. He had principles, and staying faithful was one of them.
It had all started out so well. Mandy—pretty and sweet and caring. She'd presented herself as perfect wife material.
Excerpted from Married Lovers by Jackie Collins. Copyright © 2008 Chances, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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