Read an Excerpt
"Come home with me, baby. Tonight."
"You know that's impossible."
"Nothing's impossible, Caprice. Not if you want it badly enough, and if you loved me half as much as you say you do, you'd leave this island tonight and come home."
"But, Darin we can't return to Elm Valley together. Think of the scandal. It'll be better if you go ahead, and then I show up. I've got too much "
"Cut!" A voice burst from the dark edges of the brightly lit patch of beach. Although the sun had set more than two hours ago, dissolving into Galveston Bay like a ball of liquid gold, huge overhead lights flooded the shoreline and created an island of activity in the otherwise-deserted cove.
Immediately, a fussy wardrobe attendant rushed onto the set and wrapped a thick white robe around Jewel Blaine, who smiled her thanks and closed it over her tiny gold bikini. The actress who played Caprice Desmond on The Proud and the Passionate (P & P) was petite, dark haired and flamboyantly attractive. At thirty-two, she had starred in the groundbreaking African-American soap opera since it debuted on TV five years ago.
Now, Jewel tilted her head, lowered her chin, widened her luminous brown eyes and spun around to face Brad Fortune, the man who called the shots on the set of P & P.
If we have to stay here all night to get it right, we will, she vowed.
As lead actress, Jewel felt personally responsible for the success of each episode and during her tenure on the daytime drama had won two Daytime Emmys, a BET Achievement Award, NAACP Image Award and many critical reviews.
Brad Fortune stopped less than a foot from where Jewel was standing, placed a slender hand on his right hip and narrowed his aquamarine eyes at his star, giving her one of his trademark extended moments. A confirmed bachelor who enjoyed the companionship of a male live-in friend, Brad possessed an instinctive awareness of his actors' needs and used this insight to gain their respect and trust. With twenty years in daytime television, he was a talented man who knew what audiences wanted and made sure his cast delivered.
Now, the sound of waves lapping at the sandy shore and the rustle of palm fronds filled the night air as everyone waited in respectful silence for Brad to speak. "Not quite enough con-fliction, Jewel," he said, his high-pitched voice lower than usual, his tone resolute. He swept a stray clump of reddish-brown hair back into his ponytail, cocked his head to one side and moved nearer to his star. "Infuse more worry into that line. Give me regret, some guilt. But hold firm! Remember, Caprice led Darin to believe that she'd do anything for him. Anything. And now she's reneging on her promise to go home with him. She's gotta sound conflicted. Understand?"
Jewel nodded. Brad was a pro, knew what he was after and she trusted him completely. No way would he put film in the can unless he believed the scene was the best that both he and his actors could deliver.
"Right, Brad," Sonny Burton interjected. "I agree completely." Nineteen years older than Jewel, Sonny Burton was well cast as Darin Saintclare, her mature on-screen lover. When CBC, the network that owned P & P, first lured handsome, charismatic Sonny Burton away from his popular daytime talk show to become a major black soap star, his national audience had cheered the decision. He was sexy and suave, with a fan of gray at his temples, a generous, welcoming smile and an easygoing style that contrasted sharply with Jewel's methodically organized approach to her work. However, despite their differences, the two stars created magical on-screen chemistry that drove their fans wild and, so far, pleased the executives at CBC.
Sonny cleared his throat, eyes shining with resolve, clearly wanting to please his director. "I know exactly what you're after. You want a real sense of Caprice pulling back from Darin, but at the same time "
"Not overly dramatic. Right?" Jewel finished her costar's remark. "Caprice wants Darin, but she's afraid of how she'll be viewed by the nosy busybodies of Elm Valley if she gives in and returns home too soon."
"Exactly! Keep the relationship on target but slightly off balance. Jewel, you sure know your girl Caprice," Brad concurred, blessing Jewel with an appreciative smile. "Caprice might love Darin, but she's got to look out for herself, too."
Jewel winked at Sonny, giving him a conspiratorial nod of approval. During the past five years, the on-screen couple had fine-tuned their relationship until it rolled along like raindrops slipping down a windowpane. And even when sticky issues arose on the set, Sonny always had her back and she protected his.
"Caprice can't come off as too regretful," Jewel went on, clarifying her character's motivation. "She's got her pride, you know?"
"Fine, fine," Brad stated with a flip of his wrist as he turned around. "We all love Caprice as much as you do. Showing a little hesitant spunk in this scene is totally within character." A beat. "Okay, let's take it from the top, people," Brad called over his shoulder as he walked out of camera range. However, before clearing the illuminated set, he stopped abruptly and spun around, his blue-green eyes wide with shock. His mouth opened, shut and then opened again. "Damn!" he shouted, reeling backward and stumbling to a half fall. Braced on his knees, he groped for words. "I I feel Oh my God!" He slammed both hands, palms flat, against his chest and emitted a startling howl.
Shana Dane, the makeup artist whose job it was to keep the cast glossy-photo perfect, tossed her tray of brushes, sponges and cosmetics to the ground and rushed toward Brad, followed closely by Karen Adams, the second-tier segment producer.
"Brad! What's wrong?" Shana shouted, watching in horror as he collapsed on the sand.
Fred Warner, the executive producer of P & P, who had flown in from Los Angeles that morning to check on progress at the location shoot, jostled Shana and Karen aside to kneel over the fallen man.
"Call an ambulance! Somebody call 911!" Fred shouted frantically, cradling Brad's head on his lap.
"Doing it now," Sonny yelled, fumbling with a cell phone that he'd snatched from his pants pocket. He gave the emergency responder directions to their isolated location, unable to tell them more than someone had collapsed in pain and to get there as quickly as possible.
"Brad, Brad. What is it?" Fred urged, slipping an arm beneath Brad's shoulders to tilt the director closer. He pressed his ear to Brad's lips.
"I dunno," Brad managed to whisper. "Got hit with a terrible pain. Here, in my " Brad's voice faded as his fingers groped the front of his shirt.
"Hold on, Brad! Hold on," Jewel urged, dropping to her knees next to Fred.
Sonny jammed his phone back into his pocket and crouched beside Jewel, his shoulder wedged tightly against hers. Jewel grabbed one of Brad's hands and squeezed it hard, scrunching even closer to urgently whisper, "Brad! Look at me! Open your eyes. Hold on! Hold on! Help is coming."
Brad's eyes fluttered open and then closed very quickly, as if trying to focus on Jewel took too much of his energy. His pale face was slick with perspiration, his lips blue and unmoving, his slim body as rigidly immobile as a mannequin's.
When he shuddered jerkily beneath Jewel's touch, she felt a jolt of hope.
"Brad! Brad! Don't you dare give up," she shouted over the shocked murmurs of the horrified cast and crew. Brad jerked wildly again. His legs shot upward, his arms flew out to the side and his head lolled from side to side before he went still.
"Where's the doctor? The ambulance? Dammit! We need some help!" Jewel shouted, her words threaded with terror. She gripped Brad's hand and pressed it hard against her lips, kissing the edge of his palm as she tamped the fingertips of her right hand down against his temple. Looking over at Sonny, a frown etched shadows on her face. "This is bad, Sonny." Her voice trembled. "I can't find a pulse. I think Brad is dead."
The lobby of Tinsel Town Theater in Fox Hills Mall was crammed with die-hard devotees of action/slasher movies who had come out for the premier of Terror Train 4. After viewing the latest installment in the cultlike series, they were milling around, clutching rolled-up posters, stacks of DVDs and commemorative T-shirts to be signed by the stars.
"Terror Train 4 kicked some serious butt," a short Hispanic boy with long black hair said as he shoved a DVD at Taye Elliott.
Taye eyed the square plastic case with interest, but did not take it from the guy. Instead, he rotated one shoulder in a noncommittal manner. "Sorry to disappoint, but I'm not one of the actors," he said. "I'm the director." He cocked his head toward the outer edge of the lobby where two men and two women sat high on a riser, behind a table draped with gold velvet. "The autographs you want are over there."
The long-haired boy mugged disinterest and gave Taye a flickering roll of his eyes. "Yeah? But you say you're the director, huh?"
"Yep. That's right."
"Hey, that's still cool, man. Gimme your autograph, too."
Taye felt a brief ripple of pleasure flare as he took out the black Sharpie pen he always carried and signed his name on the boy's DVD.
"You directed all of 'em?" the young man asked.
"All four films," Taye conceded with a touch of pride.
"That means you directed that wild chase scene on that bomb-rigged bridge in Terror Train 2?"
"Yep. I sure did."
"Loved it. The bomb! Hey, but I loved number four, too! The best so far, I think."
"Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it," Taye replied, appreciating the comment and impressed that the boy concurred with Taye: Terror Train 4 was his best directorial work so far. After having worked as stunt man for fifteen years, he ought to know what made a memorable action film. The Terror Train series had given him the opportunity to prove what he could do and even though the series went straight to DVD and would never hit theaters nationwide, it created a solid base of followers and pulled in substantial international sales.
"Is it true? Is this the last Terror Train movie?" the fan asked, sounding genuinely distressed.
"Yeah. This is it for the series."
"Damn, man. That sucks," the boy grumbled. "Why some-thin' this great gotta end?"
Taye offered a noncommittal lift of his eyebrows as the same question hung in his mind, feeling as agitated and frustrated as the boy. However, he understood how the industry worked: Taye was only a director. The money people held all the power. And without funding, there couldn't be a deal. "Even good things gotta end sometime, you know?" he finally stated.
"I guess," the boy grudgingly remarked, adding, "Stay cool."
"Sure will," Taye agreed, reaching up to slap palms with the guy, who slipped off into the crush of people clumped around the table where the real stars of the movie busily greeted fans.
Moving to a quieter spot in the lobby, Taye leaned against a wall and watched the animated audience move past, liking what he saw: young males in sports-branded clothing, slouch jeans, T-shirts and baseball caps. Girls in tight T-shirts, lots of jewelry, low-rise jeans and flip-flops on their feet. They were white, African American, Asian, Hispanic. Mostly young, but there was also a substantial number of graying baby boomers visible in the crowd.
A fair-skinned woman with dyed blond hair, accompanied by a bearded guy who looked stoned, stopped in front of Taye, breaking into his assessment of the audience. "You look better in person," she bluntly assessed, blue eyes boring into Taye.
Taye snapped alert and stared at her. "What?"
She repeated her comment, even more emphatically the second time.
"Oh? Well, sorry," he said. " I wasn't in the movie."
"I know you weren't, but you're a movie star, right?"
He chuckled low in his throat. "Nope. Got the wrong man. Sorry, I'm not an actor."
"But I've seen you somewhere. I know I have," she insisted, cracking gum that bounced from one side of her mouth to the other while intently studying Taye. "I got it! Read about you on Hollywood WebWatch. You're the stunt man who doubles for all those big stars."
"Used to," Taye conceded with an edge of defiance, not particularly interested in talking about those days.
A pause. "Mario Van Peebles in Downtown Killer, right?" the woman blurted with glee.
Surprised to have this bit of trivia thrown at him, Taye simply nodded.
"And that was the movie where an extra got killed in a car chase and you got hurt real bad, wasn't it?"
A stream of air slipped from between Taye's lips as he inclined his head in surrender. "You got it right," he admitted, realizing that he should never underestimate how closely the public followed movies, movie stars and all the peripherals connected to the industry. With all the blogs and Web sites and Internet chats going on 24/7, it was easy to find obscure details about actors, doubles, scene sequences, writers and obviously former stunt people like himself.
The woman bobbed her head up and down, sending her halo of blond hair into a frizzy dance. "I knew I was right. Tore up your back and now you direct Terror Train films."
"A lot safer line of work," Taye offered, giving her a playful thumbs-up.
"Yeah well, you still got that stuntman body." She raked Taye with an appreciative glance that lingered at his horseshoe-shaped belt buckle and then swept down to his black ostrich-skin boots. She ran her tongue over cherry-red lips and sighed.
Suppressing a laugh, Taye raised both hands, palms up, as if to deflect the uninvited compliment. "Even a director's gotta keep in shape, you know?"
"Hey, that's cool. The ladies love a man who's tight on and off the screen." She shot an appraising look at her bearded companion, gave up an easy snicker and then headed out into the mall.
Taye laughed aloud, not completely surprised that he'd been mistaken for an actor. He'd stunt doubled for Mario, Will, Wesley and even Denzel in dozens of movies before injuring his back in that rollover crash nearly four years ago. With his career in stunt work compromised, he'd decided to try his hand at directing and had taken on the Terror Train series as soon as it was offered. Shifting from in front of the camera to behind it had been a risky move, but Taye had never been one to shy away from risks. And while accumulating his directing credentials, he'd also formed valuable alliances with important industry people who were proving to be very helpful. He already had a new project lined up that presented quite a challenge.