Read an Excerpt
Moments Like This
By Donna Hill
Kimani PressCopyright © 2007 Donna Hill
All right reserved.
Image is everything. The full-length mirror reflected the gown, the jewels, the hair, the nails, all selected and done with precise deliberation. There was no room for flaws. No one must ever know that beneath the picture-perfect exterior, a war of uncertainty raged within.
"Dominique, hurry up, babe, we're going to be late," Clifton called out from the bottom of the spiral staircase.
"I'm coming, I'm coming. Just one last thing." She stole a final glance. Her reflection smiled at her with practiced confidence.
Clifton adjusted the cuffs of his stark white, handmade shirt. The diamond links sparkled beneath the light of the overhanging crystal chandelier.
He crossed the black-and-white swirling marble floor to the minibar on the far side of the sunken living room. The off-white walls were adorned with largerthan-life black-and-white photos of Dominique, some from her early days as a supermodel to more recent ones of her in various roles on the big screen.
Clifton poured a glass of brandy and went to stand in front of his favorite photographthe one of Dominique on the beach at Saint Tropez. She was emerging from the water, her mid-length hair plastered around her face and shoulders. Her hazel eyes flawless in every way.
She hadn't aged a bitin the years since he'd taken that photo. If anything, her natural beauty had become more alluring.
Clifton took a thoughtful swallow from his glass and tried to think of what excuse he'd offer his lovely wife later on in the evening for leaving her alone.
Clifton turned toward the sound of her voice. Dominique was at the top of stairs. The teal-colored Vera Wang Grecian gown looked fabulous against her cinnamon-colored skin. The deep V-cut gave the observer just enough stimulation without being obvious. He was pleased she'd followed his suggestion and wore the dress he'd chosen for her. He shouldn't be surprised, however, Dominique had always done as he suggested.
"You look incredible," he said sincerely as she gracefully came down the winding stairs, her years of modeling and strutting in front of all-seeing eyes paying off.
A childlike smile moved across her full mouth and woke up the dimple in the right corner of her chin. Diamonds dripped from her ears, caressed her long neck and embraced her left wrist.
"Thank you," she said in that sultry voice her fans had come to know. She walked up to him and kissed him lightly on the lips, enough not to disturb her makeup or leave her lipstick on him.
Clifton finished off his drink and set the empty glass down on the bar.
"Our car is out front."
"I'm so nervous," she confessed as Clifton helped her into the backseat of the limo.
He patted her smooth hand then held it tightly. "You have nothing to be nervous about. No matter what happens this is your night to shine. Just remember what I've always told you, the face you present to the crowd must never reflect your true feelings inside. Give them what they want to see at all times."
She pressed her polished lips together and bobbed her head.
That advice had served her well over the years, she mused, settling back against the plush leather. The car slowly pulled out of the circular driveway of their Beverly Hills mansion.
She'd come a long way from working as a dental assistant by day and a jazz club waitress by night. The life she lived now was so far removed from her life in Atlanta that often it felt like a dream to hersomeone else's life.
There were nights when she'd leap up from sleep, dampness, believing that she'd lost everything.
Thoughtfully, she reached for Clifton's hand and brought it to her lips. Her husband meant everything to her. As cliché as it sounded, Clifton literally discovered her on the streets of Atlanta. At the time, she'd just turned twenty and wished for some miracle to take the ordinariness out of her days.
"I don't mean to be rude, but have you ever thought of modeling?" he'd asked when he'd stopped her on the street.
"Very original," she replied and started to walk off.
"Wait, here, take this." He handed her a business card.
She barely glanced at it. "Thanks," she muttered, stuck it in the back pocket of her jeans and continued on her way.
"Call me," he shouted.
It was more than a week later when she was gathering her clothes for the laundry that she ran across the card. She stared at the card, contemplating. Clifton Burrell, Fashion Photographer. What harm would it do to call? She did and was surprised to get his assistant on the phone. She made an appointment to come in a week later. Her older sister, Annette, told her she was crazy for going. First, what made her think she was pretty enough to model and second she hoped Dominique didn't wind up on the six o'clock news as another statistic. Dominique went anyway.
She soon learned that Clifton Burrell was very legitimate. He was a photographer for Elle, Essence and Cosmopolitan, and had connections with several modeling agencies.
"I think you have a lot of potential," he said at that first meeting. "I'd like to take you in to meet the folks over at Ford."
They spent that first afternoon and the following week taking pictures. He wanted the right ones for her portfolio.
Clifton accompanied her to the meeting and within a week she was sent out on her first job.
From there her career blossomed. She did runway and print work, traveled the world to all of the major shows and became friends with some of the biggest names in the businessand Clifton was there every step of the way.
"Would you like some wine, sweetheart?" Clifton asked.
Dominique blinked back the past. Fifteen years had flown by as swiftly as the landscape outside of the passenger window.
"No." She scrunched up her nose. "I probably shouldn't. Just in case I have to go up on stage."
"One won't hurt. It'll keep you calm."
"Well," she hesitated. "Maybe a little bit."
"That's my girl." He reached for the bottle of white wine in the rack along the side of the car. He poured her a drink and handed her the fragilestemmed flute. Clifton tapped his glass against hers.
This was her second Golden Globe nomination. She won her first for her supporting role in Seven Seas. But this was her first nomination as a lead actress in a drama and there was already buzz about an Oscar nomination for her performance.
"We were invited to Jamie's after party," Dominique said following a tiny sip of her wine. If she pretended to drink it would at least please Clifton.
He waved his manicured hand in a dismissive fashion. "You know I don't attend those things and neither do you. That's how you wind up in those sleazy tabloids instead of the cover of Time."
His tone was so short and condescending that she felt a fool for bringing it up. They never went to any of the parties, rarely socialized except at their home and she did nothing without him. Clifton called it "protecting her image." She considered it snobbish.
He turned to her, softened his voice and his expression. "You're much better than that."
Dominique hid her disappointment behind the beautiful mask she'd perfected and repeated to herself the mantra she'd come to live by: never reveal on the outside what you feel on the inside. Image is everything.
The limo pulled up amidst a barrage of flashbulbs and general media frenzy.
The driver hurried around and opened the door. Clifton stepped out first, waved briefly to the throng of onlookers and photographers, then reached into the car for Dominique's hand. "Ready," he whispered, looking into her eyes. She gave a short nod, set one high-heeled foot out onto to the red carpet and gracefully alighted from the car.
Photographers and fans shouting her name were near deafening from behind the red-velvet ropes.
Dominique tucked her hand into the crook of Clifton's arm and smiled and waved to the crowd.
"Ms. Laws! Ms. Laws!"
She was stopped by an on-camera reporter from Variety.
A microphone was shoved at her. "How does it feel to be nominated for best actress?"
"It's incredibly exciting. I'm thrilled to be nominated and to be in the company of such talented actors."
"Ms. Laws, over here!"
"Look over your shoulder, Dominique!"
She turned, waved, smiled and waved some more. "What's your next project?"
"I have some things that I'm looking at, but nothing has been decided."
"Mr. Burrell, how are you handling your wife's nomination?"
Dominique saw the momentary flash in Clifton's eyes and inwardly cringed.
"My wife deserves all of the accolades she's receiving for her role in Misdemeanors. I'm happy with her performance on and off the set." He flashed a broad smile and squeezed Dominique around the waist before planting a kiss on her cheek for the benefit of the camera.
"Well, good luck tonight."
"Thank you so much."
"Oh, and you must tell us who designed that incredible dress."
She felt the almost imperceptible tug on her arm. She waved to the crowd, smiled and continued on into the rotunda of the hall.
"Assholes," Clifton muttered while keeping his face and eyes fully engaged with the crowd. "They all ask the most inane questions."
"They're only doing their jobs."
Just as they entered the rotunda, film director Alan Conners approached them.
"Hello," he greeted, first extending his hand to Clifton.
Clifton covered Alan's hand with both of his and shook it heartily. "Mr. Conners, an honor to meet you. I'm a great fan of your work."
"Thank you." He turned his focus to Dominique and something inside of her shifted out of place.
"Ms. Laws, I want to congratulate you on your nomination. You did an incredible job." He took her hand. Lightening struck. They both felt it by the sudden brightness that sparked in their eyes.
"Thank you." Her throat was suddenly dry and she knew that if she were a couple of shades lighter in complexion she would be red in the face.
Alan held her with a look, having released her hand. "Perhaps we'll have an opportunity to work together."
"That would be wonderful. Keep me in mind."
"I certainly will."
"If something does come up, you can always contact me. I handle everything for Dominique," Clifton said, keeping his expression open and inviting.
"I'll do that. Good to meet you." He handed Clifton his card. "And good luck tonight," he said to Dominique. He gave a short nod of his head to both and walked off.
"The nerve of the SOB," Clifton groused.
"He was coming on to youin front of my face!"
"Clif, don't be ridiculous. He was just being nice."
"Being nice, being nice!" He snorted in disgust. "Does he think that because he made a few films he can come on to another man's wife?"
"You didn't see his wife on his arm did you?"
"Clif, please," she said in an urgent whisper. Her hazel eyes darted around hoping that no one overheard his little tirade. She hated when he got like this and it was happening more and more lately.
"Let's get inside and find our seats," he grumbled. She let him lead her inside, but it took all of her willpower not to look over her shoulder to catch another glimpse of Alan Conners. Her fingers still tingled from his touch when he held her hand. She smiled and waved as they passed other famous faces in the corridor. Clifton was probably as nervous as she was, she thought, trying to erase the image of Alan's eyes boring into hers. He had just as much at stake. Clifton had single-handedly pulled the strings to get her this part and had worked tirelessly prepping her for the audition. The director didn't want her for the part, but Clifton had convinced him that Dominique could do itand she had.
Excerpted from Moments Like This by Donna Hill Copyright © 2007 by Donna Hill. Excerpted by permission.
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