Read an Excerpt
'For pity's sake, Travis, why do you never listen? You've been warned a dozen times. Stay out of sleazy nightclubs.'
Denzil Raines, boss of the Sandora Studio in Los Angeles, snapped out the command and tried to control his temper. It was hard because Travis would try anyone's patience.
The studio produced several money-making television series, but none of them raked in the wealth as fast and gloriously as The Man From Heaven, starring Travis Falcon, and protecting that investment was a major operation.
The young man enduring the lecture seemed to sum up the whole of the investment in himself. Travis's body was lean and vigorous, his face was handsome, his air charming, his smile devastating. It spoke of eagerness to enjoy life to the full. Late nights, curiosity for new experiences, untiring energy for a vast range of pleasurable activities. They were all there in the quirk of his mouth, the gleam in his eye, and they caused much hair tearing among those who needed to keep him in check.
Denzil reflected that he'd picked the right word. Sleazy. That was it. Sleazy nightclubs, sleazy pleasures, sleazy Travis. But he knew it was precisely the hint of a 'bad boy' lurking in the shadows that hit the magic spot with the public. And it would go on doing so as long as it stayed in the safety of the shadows. If it was allowed to escape Denzil groaned.
Travis was standing by the window, looking out over the view of Los Angeles. Clearly visible in the distance was the huge gleaming sign, HOLLYWOOD, that for ninety years had symbolised the city where glamour, entertainment and money united in brilliant supremacy. His gaze was fixed on the sign, as though to remind himself of the achievements he was fighting to keep. He stood, bathed in sunlight, apparently nonchalant, but actually alive to every threatening nuance.
'I didn't know it was sleazy,' he said with a shrug. 'My friend chose it for his stag night.'
'Stag night?' Denzil echoed in outrage. 'Then you might have guessed there'd be half-naked dolly birds prancing around. What else are stag nights for? You should have got out of the place instead of this!'
He held out a newspaper, jamming his finger down on a picture of a man and a girl clinging to each other. He was sitting down, shirt ripped open, the half-naked girl on his lap, her arms about his neck, kissing him madly, which he showed every sign of enjoying.
'You had to lay yourself out for those girls,' Denzil groaned.
'I didn't lay myself out,' Travis protested. 'I was having a quiet drink when this lady well '
'Quiet? Hah! When did you last do anything quietly? And she was no lady. She'd been hired for the night to "entertain" the male guests. She entertained you all right.'
'I didn't ask her to sit on my lap.'
'You didn't push her off, either.'
'No, that would have been rude. I was just trying to be polite.'
'Oh, it was politeness that made you put your arms about her waist, draw her close, nuzzle her'
'I'm only human,' Travis protested. 'When a half-naked girl drapes herself over a guy he's expected to show some appreciation.'
'You did that all right,' Denzil snapped. 'She's not the only one who's half-naked. Look at your shirt, open to the waist, so that she can dance her fingers over your bare chest. Did she pull it open? Did you? Or did you arrive like that, hoping something would happen?'
Travis groaned. 'Can we just leave this? I didn't know the press was there, OK?'
'The press is always there where you're concerned,' Denzil growled. 'You should know that by now. Ever since the show became a hit they've been watching you, trying to find out something that makes people's hair stand on end. And, let's face it, there are plenty of those!'
'I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate me,' Travis said with a touch of wry humour.
'Very wise. They just want to catch you out with something really damaging. It wouldn't be such a problem if you were playing a different character, but this one is full of danger.'
The TV series, The Man From Heaven, was the talk of the entertainment world. Superficially, it seemed a conventional hospital drama, centred around the young, handsome Dr Brad Harrison, played by Travis Falcon. But beneath it was another tale. The doctor lived a life of strict virtue that was wildly at odds with his flamboyant sexual presence, and there was just a hint that he wasn't a mortal man at all, but a spirit from another dimension.
It was the intriguing contrast between Dr Harrison's austere life and the sexual indulgence open to a man of his attractions that had sent the show to the top of all the popularity charts. The producers were determined to keep it there, if only they could rein in Travis's more lurid off-screen activities.
'Folk out there like nothing better than to discover "the heavenly being" acting on his lowest human instincts,' Denzil pointed out now.
'But I'm not a heavenly being,' Travis said firmly.
'You don't have to tell me that,' Denzil snapped. 'Look, the public's crazy about you, the money's pouring in. The next series is being planned. But that could all change if you step too much out of character in private. Look, I'm not unreasonable. Of course you want female company. Just not that sort.'
Travis studied the picture again and sighed. 'I know. I was careless. I'll be more careful.'
'It would help if you were in a relationship with a respectable girl. Don't pull that face. I know "respectable" is like the kiss of death to you, but we need the public to believe in you as one of the good guys, not a philanderer.'
'But I am a philanderer,' Travis pointed out.
'Then try to pretend you're not,' Denzil roared. 'You're an actor aren't you? So act!'
'Act what? Do I lie to the girl and pretend it's real? No way. That would be dishonest. Or do I tell her upfront that she's being made use of, then see her go straight to the press?'
Denzil groaned. 'Just get your life in order. There's a lot at stake, Travis. Think career. Think money.'
'All right. I'll think money.'
'And while we're on the subjectabout tonight'
'I'm not going to be at the dinner tonight,' Travis said firmly. 'There's been too much bad blood between Brenton and me.'
He escaped, breathing out hard in his exasperation and relief. As he headed down the corridor his cellphone shrilled. It was Pete, his agent.
'I suppose they've been onto you too?' Travis demanded.
'Denzil called me as soon as you'd gone,' Pete said. 'Apart from anything else, he's cross because you won't come to the dinner tonight.'
'And I told him the answer's still no,' Travis groaned.
There was to be a celebration dinner for Frank Brenton's sixtieth birthday. He was a studio big shot who'd invested a lot of money in the past and it was hoped he would put in more. Hence the big party.
'He can't stand me and I can't stand him,' Travis said. 'He pulled every string he could find to stop me being cast in the show, and he hates my guts because he failed. Best if we don't meet.'
'OK, OK. I told Denzil I'd raise it. But about the other thing, he just wants to be sure you understood the message.'
'But why have I got to be the only virtuous guy in Los Angeles?' Travis growled.
'Because it makes you different, and that difference puts a couple of extra noughts on the cheque. You haven't suddenly stopped caring for money and success, have you?'
'Then get a grip.'
'Am I supposed to live a totally moral life?' Travis demanded, aghast.
'No, I know you too well for that. But keep the fun stuff behind closed doors. In public, be seen only with ladies of impeccable morality. If they decided to replace youwell, there are several other actors just slavering to grab that part from you.'
He hung up, leaving Travis scowling at the dead phone. 'Grr!' he said.
He knew that both Pete and Denzil were right. Carelessly indulgent behaviour could imperil his career, and that was the last thing he wanted. He enjoyed the benefits of stardom too much. But what to do about it was a problem. The 'respectable' road definitely did not attract him.
But he couldn't say that openly without risking everything that mattered to him: his career, his reputation, his pride, the money that was pouring in. That money told the tale of a successful man; not just to himself, but to others whose respect he cared for more than he wanted to admit.
'They think it's so easy,' he mused. 'If I play a guy who can soar above human temptations then I can be like that in real life. As if! All right, I was a bit careless with that girl in the nightclub, and I very nearly But I didn't! It took a lot of self-control, but I didn't.
'If I was really a heavenly being, I could solve the problem in an instant. I'd turn the next corner and find the perfect solution just waiting for me. But in real life that kind of miracle doesn't happen. Ah well! Time to get to work. With luck, I might even get in touch with my virtuous side.'
He gave a wry laugh.
'Whatever that means.'
Charlene took a deep breath as she neared the studio entrance. It was now or never. In another moment she would get through that door as a member of a party privileged to tour the studio. Or perhaps someone would spot that she was a fraud; that she was here to see Lee Anton, the man with whom she was secretly in love, who had once seemed to love her, and whose feelings she desperately hoped to revive.
A pause in the queue gave her the chance to regard herself in a wall mirror. She'd taken trouble over her appearance and knew she looked as good as possible. Which wasn't very good, she thought sadly. Nature hadn't made her a beauty. Not exactly plain, but not exactly pretty either. Lee had called her 'Nice-looking' and praised her eyes.
'I like dark eyes,' he'd said, 'especially when they sparkle like yours.'
She'd clung to such remarks, and the fact that he sought her company rather than the beauties in the amateur dramatic society where they'd met. He was a professional actor, but back then his engagements were scarce and he'd been on the verge of chucking it in.
To pass the time he'd joined the amateur society, which was where they had met and quickly become attracted to each other. With her, attraction had soon become love, and she reached out to him with nothing held back. He'd responded eagerly, and the nights spent in his arms were the most joyful experiences of her life.
The play had been a triumph. She'd looked forward to the moment when he would ask her to marry him, and thought it had come when he said excitedly, 'Guess what! The most incredible thing'
'Yes?' she asked breathlessly. Out of sight, she crossed her fingers. Here it came. The proposal.
Lee was almost dancing with joy.
'It's so wonderful!' he squeaked. 'It just shows that if you wait for the right moment'
'And? And? And?'
'There was an American agent in the audience.'
'He wants to take me on. He reckons he could get me a part in The Man From Heaven. They're looking for an English actor. Isn't that great? Isn't that the best thing you ever heard?'
'Yes,' she mumbled. 'Oh, yes, great.'
Two days later he'd left for Los Angeles.
'I'll stay in touch,' he'd promised.
And he hadafter a fashion. There were emails, texts, the odd phone call, but no invitation for her to follow him. He was slipping away from her, and she couldn't let that happen. She had something urgent to tell him, something that couldn't be told on the phone.
Charlene had arrived three days ago, called him, leaving a message but receiving no response. Texts and emails went unanswered, and now she realised that he'd never given her an address. In the end she'd booked a place on the tour as the only way of seeing him.
She'd looked up the show online and learned the background story, and the role Lee was playing.
Up-and-coming English actor Lee Anton will be making his debut as Dr Franklin Baker, newly seconded to work at the Mercyland Hospital, where he rapidly becomes the friend and confidant of Brad Harrison, (played by Travis Falcon) and the only one who suspects his mysterious secret.
That morning she'd bought a newspaper, attracted by the headlineHEAVENLY ANTICS, the latest startling story from the show everyone's talking about.
But to her disappointment there was only the briefest mention of Lee. Most of the page was taken up by a photograph of a man sitting with a girl on his lap, his shirt open to the waist, her hand seductively caressing his bare chest. His face was only half visible and for a fearful moment she checked in case it was Lee. But it wasn't and she breathed again. It was only Travis Falcon.
Whoever he was, she thought, uninterested.
She knew she must be careful. Exposed to the glamorous temptations of Los Angeles, Lee was bound to have indulged himself, and she wouldn't spoil things between them by harsh judgements. That was in the past. When he'd heard her news everything would be all right, and only the future would matter.
But she was glad it wasn't Lee in the picture.
The queue was moving. Then she was inside, following the others in the guided tour that would end in the special privilege of being allowed to watch a scene being rehearsed. She paid only the slightest attention, while all the time her eyes wandered, seeking Lee.
Inside her head two voices were raging at each other.
He's dumped you. Why don't you face it?
And the other voice.
But he doesn't know about When you tell him the news it'll make all the difference.
And then she saw him.
He was down the far end of a corridor, reading something on the wall. She tried to call him but her emotion caused her to choke. Suddenly he turned away and vanished around a corner. She began to run, not looking where she was going until she collided with an obstacle, felt two arms tighten around her and heard a man's voice say, 'Hey, steady there.'
'Let me go. I must catch him.'
Charlene wrenched herself free and ran along the rest of the corridor, turning the corner, then stopping abruptly, backing off, hand to mouth to silence the joyful cry that had been about to burst from her.
Now she could see him again: Lee, half turned away from her, hailing someone just out of sight.
'Where have you been?' he called. 'I've been looking for you. Come here and kiss me.'
The next moment a girl appeared from nowhere, throwing herself into his wide open arms, kissing him again and again between squeals of laughter, crying, 'Oh, darling, it's such wonderful news!'