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"Violet, over here!"
"Have you talked to Barry? Have he and his latest conquest emerged from their love nest?"
"How does it feel to have him cheat on you barely six months into your marriage?"
Cameras flashed, television cameras rolled, the gleaming shark teeth of entertainment reporters menaced as the crowd closed around her.
Oh, God, she couldn't do this. What had she been thinking, trying to show up on the set as though her world hadn't been shattered into a thousand pieces?
She hadn't slept at all the night before, not after she'd seen the photos splashed all over the internet and the tabloids, photos of the man she'd trusted with her heart and her dreams caught with a woman he'd apparently been involved with even before he'd met Violet.
She knew she looked like death warmed over, her eyes too scratchy for makeup, her unwashed hair scraped back in a ponytail. But she was two days away from wrapping her role in this film, and she was determined to be the professional she'd always been.
Though she had no idea how she was going to play a romantic role with the slightest trace of sincerity when she no longer believed in love. All she wanted was to be alone, to climb under the covers and hide, to never speak to another soul.
Before she'd been caught in the storm of scandal, she'd accepted that lack of privacy was the price of success, and had done her best to get along with those she told herself were only trying to make a living.
But now, witnessing the undisguised glee on their faces, the avid curiosity to see how soon she'd break the people she'd cooperated with once now showed her no mercy, not even when her heart was breaking and she wanted to crawl into the nearest hole.
"Violet! His lover's not even that pretty! How does that make you feel?"
She whipped around. "How do you think it makes me feel?" she yelled. "Why are you doing this?"
For a second, the only sound came from the cameras. Even hardened reporters were shocked.
What am I turning into? The depth of her bitterness stunned her.
I can't breathe. Frantically, she scanned for an opening as the crowd surged closer and the shouting resumed. Her heart pounded. Her vision blurred. Blindly she pushed to get away.
Just then, two beefy men shoved through the crowd, and she recognized them as part of the security crew for the production. The yelling only mounted as security whisked her away. The cameras never stopped whirring.
Once out of sight, she half collapsed against one of them.
"It's okay, Ms. James. We've got your back now. Sorry we weren't here. No one expected you today."
I shouldn't have come.
Desperately she tried to get a grip on herself, though she was trembling. "I don't know how to thank you.
"Miss James, those bloodsuckers will never leave you alone, not after" The second one halted in mid-sentence. "Um, sorry."
He might as well have said it: after you and the rest of the world found out that your husband had been cheating on you from the first. When your marriageyour second marriageturned out to be a lie. But none of that was anyone's fault but hers.
"It's okay." But it wasn't. Barry had made their marriage a freak show. Had made a fool of her.
She wanted to carve out his heart with a rusty spoon.
Her shoulders sagged. She didn't understand why this had happened. What had she done? What hadn't she done? How had she failed? Was she only lovable from a distance, only as an image, not a real person?
Then she realized the security guys were staring at her. "I'm sorry. I'm just " Sick at heart. And so very sad.
"Can't trust anyone in this town," the second guard muttered. "Folks will sell their own grandmas to get ahead."
She knew he meant well, but she couldn't handle sympathy right now. She would break.
She shouldn't have come to the set, but the madness was worse at her house. Her housekeeper had helped spirit her out the back of the property in disguise, but it hadn't been enough.
She didn't know what to do. Where to go. How to live with this. "Excuse me. I have to " Vaguely she waved toward her trailer.
"Sure thing. You need anything, Ms. James, anything at all.. "
"Thank you." She dug deep for strength. Tried hard to remember who she'd been only yesterday. She cleared her throat, composed her features. "Would you please tell Mr. Forbes that I'll be ready for makeup in fifteen minutes?"
"You're going to stay?" The guard looked incredulous.
"I am. It's my job." She pulled herself up very straight, composed her features. Somehow she would gather herself, shake off the miasma of grief and shame and humiliation blanketing her like a filthy fog. She made her way to her trailer.
Just as she got inside, her phone rang. She nearly hit the button to reject, but when she glanced at the display, she seized upon the lifeline.
Avery. Her dearest friend. He would understand.
"Hello?" she answered.
"What the hell happened? I was out of pocket, so I just heard. Where are you? Are you all right?" For a second, she couldn't speak. "Violet? Talk to me."
"No," she whispered brokenly. "I'm not all right."
"I'm going to kick that bastard's ass."
They'd never been lovers, but in some ways they'd been closer than she'd ever been to her romantic partners. Avery Lofton had saved her life. She'd dropped out of college and made her way to L.A. from Tennessee against her parents' wishes, a naive, headstrong Southern beauty who'd grown up in the bosom of a protective, loving family. She'd had no grasp of the world's darker realities, and she'd believed all those people who'd sworn she was the next Julia Roberts. one week in California had taught her some hard lessons.
After one week she'd been dead broke after falling for a bogus agent scam. She'd been too proud to ask her parents for help. Avery hadn't been much better off financially, but from the moment they first met at an audition, something had clicked for them, and she'd spent months sleeping on his sofa as he became a combination older brother and best friend. She'd learned the Hollywood ropes from Avery, and as her star began to rise much more swiftly than his, she'd done what she could to repay him. Once she'd wielded enough box-office power, she'd insisted that he have roles in every one of her productions.
His pride wouldn't stand receiving charity forever, though, and eventually he'd given up his acting dream and left L.A. for Austin. Four years later, he was now a successful restaurateur and owner of Danger Zone, the hottest club in town, but they'd never lost touch. Avery, she realized to her chagrin, knew her better than either of her husbands had.
"He never deserved you. He was just" Avery didn't finish.
"Using me to boost his career? I know. At least now I do. I thought " She shook her head. "It doesn't matter." She'd seen what she wanted to see in Barry's devotion.
Until everyone on the planet had been shown the evidence that she was a stupid, lovesick fool. The fever pitch, the headlines, had quickly exploded.
America's Sweetheart Duped!
Did She Know?
Fool Me Twice
"It does matter," Avery insisted. "Look, you know your director would shoot around you today."
"This is all I have," she said. "I'm a failure at love, Avery. All that's left is my career."
"You're allowed to be human, Violet. You can take time to deal with this."
"I am dealing with it. There are people waiting for me to do my job."
"They can work around you for a few days."
"A few days? I don't know if I'll ever get over this," she whispered.
"You will," he said fiercely. "Damn, I wish I weren't halfway across the country."
"I'll be okay. I just " Want the pain to stop. She couldn't go anywhere without being followed, even on a normal day, but now To have been so wrong, so sick in love with a man who didn't love her was humiliating. Somehow she had to find her footing again, and work was the only thing she knew to do.
Before the misery could tighten its grip on her again, she changed the topic. "So what are you up to today?"
Avery all but growled. "Don't do that. Your Mary Sunshine bit won't work on me."
"Fake it 'til you make it, my mom always says."
"You know I love your mom, but" He snapped his fingers. "That's ityou should go home."
"My folks are on a month-long second honeymoon. I hope to heaven they haven't seen any of this."
"They adore you. They'd want to be there for you. And frankly, right now you could use some babying."
"They've waited years for this trip. I'm not screwing it up."
"What about your brothers?"
"Both of them have called."
"I didn't take the calls. I had my assistant reassure them. I know they love me, but I don't want to have to dwell on how I've failed."
"Failed? Get real." He snorted. "Marsden's the screwup."
"In my family's world, I'm the screwup. This is my second divorce. My parents have been married forever and are still madly in love. My brothers and their wives, too. Kids all over the place. Me, I keep believing in this fantasy that I can have what they have and my career, too."
"You can. Look at your co-star, Zane MacAllister."
"Zane's a freak of nature." When he chuckled, she smiled. "I mean that nicely, but the reality of our business is that what he hasthe mega-career and a solid family life, toois almost impossible to achieve. Particularly for me, as I'm clearly a lousy judge of men. I wanted the ivy-covered cottage, adoring spouse and two point five kids, but I didn't want to give up my career to do it. I need to stop dreaming and get practical. You can't have bothwell, Zane can, apparently, but the reason everyone revered Newman and Woodward was that they were the exception."
"So find someone who's not in the business."
She rolled her eyes. "When do I ever get to meet a real person? Anyway, you know how it isactors' egos are too big and too fragile so they're lousy partners , as I've just been so rudely reminded. And with a normal man, the gap in lifestyles is too huge, to say nothing of the disparity in incomemost men can't get past that. The life actors live is deadly to a relationship. Simply dealing with our schedules is horrific enough, and the issues are so much more complex than that."
"Babe, if anyone can make that happen, it's you."
His faith was lovely, of course, but seriously misplaced. "I'm exhausted, Avery." Weary to her marrow. "And I don't trust my judgment. I can't try again."
"Of course you're worn out. If you won't go home, then come to Austin. You have to get out of there."
"No. I know how busy you are. I'll be all right, I promise. It'll get better." Though she had no idea how.
"You need to be away from Hollywood to recover from this. Come see me. Take some time off and rest up while this dies down. Some other scandal will break soon, and you'll be old news. Austin's great, you know. It's actually a pretty terrific place to lay low, if that's what you want. People are cool about celebrities. They let you be. And Austin's got everythinglive music, the lakes, great food. And I know this hotel that totally rocks, Hotel Serenity."
She was surprised that he hadn't asked her to stay with him as he always had before. "I don't know ."
"I wish I could have you here, but I'm gone too much these days. I'd be a lousy host, but you're exactly the kind of person Hotel Serenity likes to pamper. And hey, there's a bonusthe owner is involved with Zane's brother."
"Yeah, Zane helped make the opening a big splash. Everything I hear about it is impressive. It's small and exclusive, tucked in among trees and very private. The owner restored an old mansion, and she's reputed to be a tigress about protecting the privacy of her guests."
"I don't know, Avery ." Running away went against the grain, but she was so weary. So sad. So confused, and the wellspring of optimism that had nurtured her through the long trek to the top had gone bone-dry.
"Even if I can't play host, I want to help, Vee. You're my best friend. Let me do something, please."
She was too worn out and heartsore to think straight, but she had to find some way to get over this. She didn't like feeling angry and bitter. It wasn't who she was. Who she wanted to be. "I have to finish filming."
"You're nearly done, though, right?"
"I was supposed to finish my scenes tomorrow."
"You know they could shoot them at the end of production."
"No. I won't do that to the cast and crew. I'll finish." Somehow.
"I'll call your director for you."
"No, Avery, don't. I have to do this one thing right."
"That damn work ethic of yours." He sighed. "Okay, listen, I'm going to make the arrangements. Leave everything to me. I'll call your housekeeper and tell her what to pack."
Tears threatened again. In truth, having someone take care of her for a while sounded wonderful. "You are so good to me."
"You have the best heart I know. Now go lose yourself in that role and let the hours go by. I'll take care of everything else."
"Thank you so much." She wanted to cling to the phone, to the island of sanity and safety Avery had always represented. Before she got weepy again, she disconnected, instead.