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Feigning her usual confidence, Wendy strode out of the conference room and stopped to talk with one of her assistants. “I’m on the Lorelei Vogel case, so I need access to all those files on the server, please. And tell the travel office I’m flying to Vegas this afternoon. Have them text me the deets.”
“Vegas!” the young woman exclaimed. “You are so lucky!”
“I feel lucky.” Wendy walked through the wide room of cubicles, toward her own office. She consciously quieted her high-heeled footsteps as she approached the open door of Tom’s office. She loved Tom like a younger brother, but if he wrapped his arms around her and hugged her close in the hallway to comfort her, she would lose what little composure she had left. She hoped he wouldn’t call out to her as she sneaked past.
“Hey, Wendy.” He had senses like a Navy SEAL.
Reluctantly she peeked into his office. He sat with his elbows on his desk and his chin in his hands. As she appeared, he turned his head slightly to shift his mischievous blue eyes from his computer screen to her. Tom had been hired a couple of summers before, fresh out of college and four years younger than Wendy and Sarah. At the time, her overall opinion of him had been twofold: that his still-in-college girlfriend was very, very fortunate, and that he was a complete mess.
Fearing for his job safety, Wendy had tried to impress on him the importance of looking professional at work. He’d responded to her suggestion with as much alacrity as Sarah had, which was none. Today he wore a wrinkled blazer over a rock band T-shirt, and he hadn’t shaved. In fact, he never seemed to shave, which was impossible. He must have shaved sometime or he would have looked like a member of ZZ Top. Wendy called him Scruffy. Sarah argued that Scruffy sounded like a border collie, but Tom was more of a German shepherd. He looked friendly, he acted playful, but he had a dangerous air about him. When Wendy talked about him like he was a little brother, Sarah pointed out that he was like a little brother who had been to prison.
“What happened at your meeting with the bosses?” he asked Wendy. His eyes widened as he saw her expression. “Wendy, I—”
She shook her head. She shouldn’t need to be comforted by him, when she was supposed to be his mentor. She just needed to get to Vegas and perform a miracle. She fled past Sarah’s office to her own and quietly closed her door.
She stood in the small space beside her desk with her hands pressed to her eyes, trying to remember whether there was anything hidden in her office that would incriminate her or any of her clients if the bosses fired her while she was in Vegas. Looking around the office would do no good because on the surface it was clean and pristine, with her huge bulletin board sectioned into the clients she was responsible for and their current whereabouts—though she hadn’t yet updated Brad’s column to read six feet under. Disentangling the nightmarishly junky drawers of her desk and filing cabinet would take years. Even she didn’t know what was in there. But she didn’t think she was in possession of anything that would get anyone in trouble, now that Brad McCain was dead.
A knock sounded in the hall—on Sarah’s door, not Wendy’s. “Come in,” Sarah called. Then, through the thin wall, Wendy could make out only the murmur of Sarah’s and Tom’s hushed voices. But she knew Tom was telling Sarah that Wendy had had a bad meeting. Sarah would knock on Wendy’s door any second.
Wendy didn’t want to recount the meeting to Sarah. Then she really would cry. She sat down at her desk, hoping she could give Sarah the impression that she was busy with work. She opened the top drawer and quickly closed it again. The mess was depressing. She truly was a neat person, but the appearance of neatness was more important than neatness itself. And maintaining that appearance sometimes meant she raked everything on the desk into the drawer. Repeatedly. And then she got sent to Nashville or Paris and never got a day for spring cleaning. Usually the disorder didn’t bother her, but at the moment it seemed overwhelming.
The inevitable knock sounded at her door.
She covered her face with both hands, willing that despair away, that feeling of being forever lost down a mine shaft. “I didn’t cry until now,” she called softly.
“Of course you didn’t cry,” Sarah whispered, closing the door behind her. Wendy heard the swish of Sarah’s too-casual-for-work, thinly disguised gym pants against the guest chair as she sat down.
Wendy suppressed a sob. “Don’t hug me or I’ll lose it. I have to get out of here and go home and pack and catch a flight.”
“I won’t hug you,” Sarah said in the soothing Alabama drawl she hadn’t quite shaken after ten years in New York. “So you’re not fired? Tom thought you got fired.”
Wendy explained the clause in the Darkness Fallz contract. Then she burst out, “You and I should break off and form our own PR firm. Take Tom with us.” Even as she said this, her stomach knotted in dread. Going out on her own might mean failure, and she couldn’t fail. If she failed, she would lose her savings, her apartment . . . that was all she had.
“I’m not cut out for it,” Sarah said, waving the idea away with one hand. “I love my job, but I want to do it only so many hours a week, you know? I want to be off when I’m off. I want to train for marathons. I want to hang out with Harold on the weekends.”
Wendy tried not to grimace at the mention of Sarah’s husband, Harold. Wendy hated that guy. Sarah was beautiful—or she could be, with a little makeup and any hair care at all and a proper brassiere to replace her sports bra—but Harold treated her like he was in college and she was the high school girl back home that he’d grown tired of but didn’t have the guts to break up with.
“You still have a job, though?” Sarah asked. “How’d you pull that off?”
“Lorelei Vogel asked for me,” Wendy grumbled.
“But that’s great!” Sarah said. “I mean, that’s a deep hole to dig out of, but if you were going to have to represent Lorelei anyway, you’re not significantly worse off than you were earlier this morning. Yet.”
“If I hadn’t been fired,” Wendy said, “I would have done anything to avoid this case. Lorelei’s ex, Colton Farr, reminds me of Rick.” Wendy had thought she would feel better getting this off her chest. Instead the memories of Rick threatening her loomed over her.
No wonder she’d had a visceral reaction to Zane standing so close to her an hour ago. She’d heard around the office that Lorelei wanted representation. Wendy had subconsciously made the connection to Colton, then to Rick, and then she’d started seeing Rick in everybody. The way her day was going, it had been inevitable that she would land in the one assignment that would scare the hell out of her.
“Rick?” Sarah exclaimed. “No. I see the physical resemblance to Colton, but no. You can’t let yourself go there.”
Sarah had met Rick only once, when he’d appeared in their dorm before classes started freshman year and demanded that Wendy come with him to talk alone. Sarah had rushed to call campus security, but not before Rick had backed Wendy against the wall with his thick arm across her throat.
“They both say their girlfriends are beautiful angels until they misbehave,” Wendy grumbled, “at which point their girlfriends become stupid bitches.”
“Hey!” Sarah exclaimed. “Snap out of it.”
That’s when Wendy realized she’d huddled into a ball in her desk chair, hugging herself, just as she had whenever Rick called her names.
“Colton isn’t Rick,” Sarah pointed out.
“Right.” Wendy straightened in her chair and lifted her chin.
“And if they do have anything in common,” Sarah said, “you’ll be doing Lorelei a service by helping her distance herself from Colton.”
“I would have preferred running away.”
“Yeah,” Sarah agreed. “Do you want the rundown of what Lorelei and Colton have been up to?”
“I need to get home and pack. I don’t have time for the rundown. But . . . ” Wendy cringed. “I can tell from your face it’s bad.”
Sarah nodded. “And as of today, Colton is repped by—”
“The Blackstone Firm?” Wendy exclaimed. “I have to rep Lorelei Vogel, I have to make her like me while I do it, and I have to extricate her from an Internet brouhaha with my ex-boyfriend’s doppelganger, who’s now a Blackstone Firm client? The only way that could get any worse is if Daniel Blackstone is the rep.”
Sarah opened her hands. “I heard his dad is retiring and Daniel is taking over the firm soon. I doubt that’s happened yet or we would have heard. It’s feasible that Daniel is in Vegas right now, notching his belt with one last triumph.”
“Notching his belt,” Wendy muttered. “Better than his bedpost, I guess.” She dabbed her fingertips under her eyes, checking for smeared mascara, feeling completely dead.
“I know this sounds unlikely,” Sarah said, scooting to the edge of her chair, “but I actually came in here to make you feel better.”
“It’s okay,” Wendy croaked. “I’m glad you warned me.”
“Don’t sit here thinking about it,” Sarah said. “Thinking helps most people, but you tend to do better with no thought whatsoever.”
Sarah rose. Wendy did too, and they embraced after all, just as they had when Sarah got married, and when Wendy got Sarah the job at Stargazer, and when all Wendy’s college boyfriends broke up with her with final salvos of bitch!—every single one of them—and when Daniel Blackstone beat out Wendy for the Clarkson Prize.
Rubbing Wendy’s back, Sarah pulled away and looked her in the eye. “If you get in trouble, Tom and I will come help you on Stargazer’s tab. Now go. You can do it.” She turned and disappeared into the hallway.
Wendy went after her. “Sarah,” she called.
Sarah paused at her own door.
“If I do get fired while I’m gone,” Wendy said, “and you’re sent to clean out my office and you happen to come across some crack, just flush it down the toilet.”
Sarah arched one eyebrow. Tom must have been standing near the door of his office, listening, because he slowly leaned into the hall to peek at Wendy, and slowly disappeared again.
* * *
Half an hour later, as the doors of the elevator in Wendy’s apartment building slid shut in front of her, she grinned at her reflection in the polished brass. She couldn’t afford to dwell on the very real possibility that she was about to lose her job. She had to capitalize on her small chance to save the job she’d worked her ass off to snag in the first place. A positive attitude could do just that if she managed to couple it with whipping Lorelei Vogel into shape.
When she smiled like this, with her long blond hair cascading around her shoulders, a stranger might mistake her for a model, or even a starlet like the ones she shoveled out of trouble. She’d been told her features came from the mother she’d hardly known—though Wendy gave those natural looks a generous helping of maintenance and grooming and product. She took very good care of herself. She’d overheard boys in high school saying she was the most beautiful girl at the party until she opened her mouth. Ever since, she’d worked hard at staying the most beautiful girl, because her mouth was going to open sooner or later, and she couldn’t seem to control what came out of it. Facials were so much easier than staying silent.
That had to change. For the entirety of this trip to Vegas, she would need to pretend she was a benevolent, motherly person. As the second floor, the third floor, the fourth floor slid past, signaled by dark spaces through the crack between the doors, she winked at her reflection good-naturedly. Now she looked like a stranger. Which might be a good thing at this point.
At her own floor, she opened her apartment door carefully in case her turtle was behind it. He wasn’t there, but an unopened package was, piled with a scarf and a coat she hadn’t worn since March. When she wasn’t on a difficult case, she was very neat. When she was on a difficult case, which was most of the time, she lived at the office or on location with her client and used her apartment as a dump. Sarah said Wendy’s apartment looked like the inside of Wendy’s mind, which was probably true. She tried to straighten up between jobs, but this time she’d missed her chance. She had a plane to catch.
She could clean for the turtle, though. She scrubbed his terrarium and filled his reservoir with fresh water. Then she scanned her apartment for him. He wasn’t in the potted tree by the window, where he usually hung out. She looked around the ramp she’d propped there so he could get out of the pot if he wanted. After a cursory search of her living room, she realized she was going to need to conduct more than a cursory search, because there were too many sweaters, sheaves of paper, files, and packages of books on the floor. He could be behind or inside any of them.
Oh God, she was going to miss her flight because her turtle was lost. She’d nearly been fired today, and now her turtle was going to starve to death in her absence. She resisted the urge to call to him. She didn’t know whether he would come or not. She’d never had the patience to test this. Even if he did come when called, it would take him five years.
On a hunch, she opened the closet door wider and peered into the dark corner behind mounds of her shoes. There he was, exactly where she’d found him six years before when she moved in—the last owner’s cast-off pet and a kindred spirit for Wendy, who’d felt like her father’s afterthought.
She inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly, relieved her turtle was safe.
She picked him up, a small but solid mass, and gave him her usual stern warning: “Don’t pee on me.” She carefully placed him in the terrarium, secured the jar of turtle food under her arm, and picked up the tank with both hands. She negotiated the door of her apartment with some difficulty and gently kicked the next door, hoping she wasn’t waking Bob.
She heard him move toward her from across his apartment. The footsteps paused as he looked through the peephole at her. Opening the door, he was already holding out his arms for the tank. She tried not to stare, but it was always shocking to see him without his wig and makeup and corset.
“Thanks a million,” she said. “Sorry to do this to you again so soon. It’s almost like he’s your turtle instead of mine.”
“Hi, Wendy,” a voice called from the depths of the apartment.
She leaned around the doorframe and called back, “Hi, Marvin.” Bob’s boyfriend probably didn’t want to greet her in person because of what he was wearing. Or not.
“It’s no problem,” Bob told her. “Turtles don’t bark.” He slid the terrarium onto a table near the door and took the jar of food from her. “Plus banana?”
“Just a tiny bit of whatever fruit you’re eating, yeah.”
“How long this time?”
“Maybe a week. I’ll be in Vegas.” Wendy gave him her optimistic grin. The effort in front of a friend made her so tired that she sagged against his doorjamb. “Longer, I hope, because I’m probably going to get fired at the end of it.”
“Oh, honey!” He stuck out his bottom lip sympathetically. “I can get you a job if you need one.”
“Thanks.” Wendy kept grinning. The threat of working at a strip club was one of the many reasons she’d been so eager to escape Morgantown.
“Kidding!” Bob exclaimed. “You would never pass for a man dressed up as a woman, unless we strategically placed your hair, Lady Godiva.” The turtle food rattled as he switched the jar to his other hand so he could tug her blond locks. “Vegas, huh? Who are you bailing out of trouble? Colton Farr?”
“No, the Blackstone Firm handles him.” She thought again of her nemesis from college, Daniel Blackstone. He was gorgeous in an ultraconservative way, his dark hair cropped close and perfectly styled, his dark eyes haughty, a hint of his father’s British accent breaking through when he gave a formal presentation in class. She felt a wash of pleasure at the thought that if he was indeed the rep whom the Blackstone Firm had sent, he had worse problems than she did today.
“What’s the latest you’ve heard on Colton?” she asked Bob.
“He got arrested last night for pissing in the fountain at the Bellagio,” Bob said.
“You’re kidding!” Wendy squealed in delight. “There’s a wall around the fountain. How did he balance up there long enough to whip it out?”
“In addition to his storied acting career, he has his own line of exercise equipment, remember?” Bob wagged his eyebrows. “He’s in good shape.”
“That is revolting and fantastic. Maybe I can engineer other inappropriate places for him to pee, and that will draw people’s attention away from my client. I feel so much better.” Wendy leaned in and kissed Bob on one baby-smooth cheek.
“Who’s your client?” Bob asked.
Bob’s eyes widened. “Girl, she’s much worse than Colton Farr. Best of luck straightening out that little hellcat. You’re as good as fired.”
Wendy stuck her fingers in her ears. “La la la, I am not listening to you.” She backed through the door into her own apartment.
Glancing at the texts from the travel office on her phone, she saw her plane was leaving in two hours. She would have barely enough time to negotiate a taxi to the airport and the line through security, and she could not screw this up. She sprinted for her bedroom, snagged the suitcase she hadn’t yet unpacked from her trip to Seattle, slung it onto her bed, and dumped it out to start over for a new city. She’d spent enough time with debauched stars in Vegas that she had a good idea what she needed to pack.
No, string bikini.
Teddy with matching thong.
Headband with bunny ears and cottontail to clip onto the back of her thong. Some celebrity parties got a little weird.
She didn’t really want to take the ears and tail. She lifted them from her suitcase and put them back into her dresser drawer. But if she didn’t take them, she would certainly need them. She would waste money and, more importantly when she was working, waste an hour buying another set. Shaking her head, she set them in her suitcase again.
Scissors. Wendy’s hair was long, and Vegas was sticky.
As she packed, butterflies fluttered in her stomach. In the past, she’d loved going on salvage missions. She’d thought she was helping people. And she felt high whenever she grabbed the point of someone else’s rising star and held on for the ride. People all over America bought the tabloids and followed actresses’ every move online, fascinated with the lifestyle and the glamour. Wendy had grown up one of those starstruck girls. She still was one, even now that she’d seen divas at their worst.
But as she folded the complicated bra she wore with her lowest-cut shirt and tucked both garments into her suitcase, she realized this time would be different. She was desperate to save her job. And Daniel Blackstone might be there, stepping on her toes, getting in her way, looking down on her for making a ninety-seven on Dr. Abbott’s speech-writing midterm when he’d gotten a ninety-eight. If he actively tried to screw her up—which wasn’t out of the question, considering how strongly his father and her bosses hated each other—she would prove no match for him. Though she was in a terrible hurry now, the recurring thought of him drove her to her bathroom to touch up her makeup and brush her hair.
No, not just because of him, she assured herself. She never knew whom she’d run into on the flight from New York to Vegas. It was a common route for people in PR. Many of the biggest stars lived in New York and chose Vegas as the location for their nervous breakdowns.
As she wheeled her suitcase through her apartment, she slowed at the bulletin board beside the door. It was always the last thing she saw when she left her apartment, and she’d tacked things there that made her happy: A few photos of herself with Sarah. A few shots of herself with stars she’d saved and who hadn’t thrown her to the wolves afterward. Printouts of e-mail messages from those stars and from Katelyn, Jonathan, and Archie, praising her for jobs well done.
Squeezing her eyes shut against the tears, she kept rolling right out of the apartment. Her meeting with the bosses today was just a blip on the map of her career that nobody would remember this time next year, when she was enjoying her promotion and her raise. She would save Lorelei Vogel from herself. Lorelei would enjoy it and beg to retain Wendy’s services forever. Vegas would be welcoming. Wendy would not have occasion to use the rubbing alcohol after all. And maybe Daniel Blackstone wouldn’t even be there.
* * *
Daniel wanted to sag against the elevator wall and gingerly touch his mauled eye to assess the damage. But he wasn’t alone—Colton was with him—so he was still on display. He stood up straight in the elevator with his hands down by his sides. Breathing evenly through his nose, he tried not to think about thirty more years of keeping his cool in this job.
“I’m sorry I hit you, man,” Colton said quietly.
Bullshit. Daniel glared at Colton. But searching Colton’s face, he saw no malice. On a pained sigh he said, “It’s okay. All in a day’s work.”
Colton’s bleached blond brows shot up. “Really?”
“No,” Daniel said, losing his battle with showing his annoyance.
The doors parted. He stepped through them and led the way down the hall. As he slid his key card through the door lock and pushed open the door for Colton, he was glad he’d taken a few extra minutes to make sure he left the room neat. Shoulders sagging, Colton looked like a kid in the principal’s office in these professional quarters. Colton had been in his own suite only a few hours, but Daniel suspected it was already littered with beer cans.
Gesturing to the sofas overlooking the blinding day-lit Strip, Daniel muttered, “Have a seat. Excuse me just a moment.” He took a deep breath, then peeked through the bathroom door at the mirror.
His eye looked exactly as bad as it felt. At least his whole socket wasn’t bruised, but the knuckle mark underneath was turning from red to purple. For the life of him he couldn’t remember a single piece of advice that GQ had ever dispensed about this.
He hated this job.
He drew his phone from his pocket and checked his messages. He’d silenced it because it had been chiming all morning with new negative publicity for Colton. Now, among the many e-mail updates of how strongly the public hated Colton, Daniel’s office had flagged the message containing the worst news of all. Colton’s unhinged ex-girlfriend had hired Stargazer, a public relations firm second only to the Blackstone Firm for averting Hollywood career disasters. They were scrappy, resourceful, irreverent—the opposite of the Blackstone Firm in every way. And Wendy Mann was one of their top agents. She was a likely candidate to take on Lorelei, since some of her time would be freed up now that she’d lost representation of Darkness Fallz to the Blackstone Firm.
Daniel had thought of her only occasionally in the six years since graduation, whenever she came up in work-related conversation. But he’d thought about her a lot in college. Battled with her over an academic prize that he had to win or risk embarrassing his father. Wished that they weren’t enemies, because the very sight of her turned him on, not to mention the knowing tone in her husky laugh. She’d been the star of all his hormone-fueled college fantasies. He was sure if he saw her in person now, he would turn beet-red with embarrassment at what was going on in his head, as if she could see it herself.
He crossed the hotel room to the bar and dropped a few ice cubes into two glasses. Then he sloshed in a generous helping of Kentucky bourbon, in honor of Wendy, who was originally from down south somewhere. As he poured the amber liquid, he wasn’t sure whether he meant the drink as a bane to keep her away or a charm to bring her closer. One thing was certain: if she really was representing Lorelei, Wendy was about to make his job a whole lot harder.
He sipped his drink. The bourbon had a sharper kick than he’d expected from its refined look—like Wendy, he thought briefly, before snapping back to reality. He rounded the sofa to hand the other drink to Colton.
“Thanks.” Colton took a big gulp. “You might want to put yours on that eye.” He held his own cold glass near his eye to show Daniel what he meant.
Daniel sank onto the opposite sofa, careful to give the impression he was sitting rather than collapsing. He gave Colton a tight smile, though smiling was the last thing he felt like doing. “Tell me why your agent brought me out here.”
Colton let his head loll back against the sofa, suddenly weary, though he’d seemed chipper enough when blackjack and a call girl were available. “I’m supposed to emcee this stupid televised awards show Friday night, but they have a stupid morality clause. They’re threatening to replace me. They say nobody’s going to tune in because of what I’m saying online?”
Daniel cleared his throat. “It may have more to do with your peculiar choice of where to relieve yourself. What was that about last night?”
“I was so wasted, and my driver dared me. I never back out of a dare. Usually my bodyguard stops me from doing stupid shit. My driver and I snuck out. I’m ashamed.” Colton gave Daniel a lopsided grin that might have been charming if they hadn’t been talking about a grown man pissing in a fountain, and if Daniel hadn’t wanted to kill him.
“I don’t care about the awards show so much,” Colton admitted, “but my agent’s got me on the short list for some big flicks, okay? Action movies that would make my career. My agent thinks if the awards show replaces me, the movies won’t want me, either, because I’ll look like a liability.”
“Your agent is a smart man,” Daniel said.
Colton grimaced and gulped his bourbon. “I’m working with you to make my agent happy, but he’s overreacting. No way is the awards show going to replace me this late in the game.”
“Really?” Daniel asked. “How much rehearsal have you done so far?”
“None. Rehearsal starts tomorrow, but—”
“So,” Daniel broke in, “if you’re pissing in a fountain that’s somehow become one of America’s most beloved landmarks in the past decade and a half, and you’re posting tasteless insults online about your beautiful ex-girlfriend, why would anybody tune in to watch this unpleasant guy? Why can’t the show replace you at the last minute with another actor, one who’s on TV now, one who’s not struggling to make the transition from teen shows to the adult market and failing miserably?”
Colton swallowed. “I guess it could happen.”
“Which is why you promptly went down to an open section of the casino and nearly got photographed losing a hundred thousand dollars while sitting next to a prostitute.”
Colton frowned. “I didn’t know she was a prostitute.”
Daniel watched Colton levelly over the rim of his glass while taking a sip. “I might believe you if I were my father, or if I were twelve. What’s with the girl, Colton?”
Colton shrank several more inches. “Okay. I let her pull up a chair. I also noticed the photographer pretty quickly. I was hoping a picture of me with the prostitute might get picked up by the tabloids and make Lorelei go nuts. I wasn’t trying to lose the hundred grand, though.”
At that admission, Daniel took another, bigger sip of bourbon. He might not be much of a drinker, but for once he wanted to chug the contents of the glass and pour himself another. He couldn’t, though. He had too much work to do today. He asked Colton, “What’s the deal with Lorelei?”
Colton’s jaw tightened. “We were great for the past three years. Then, as soon as we left the TV show and she started her own band, the whore cheated on me with her drummer.”
Daniel winced internally at Colton’s brutal language for his ex-lover. “Maybe we’re having trouble with definitions here,” he said. “A whore is what was sitting next to you downstairs at the blackjack table, where everybody in America could take pictures of you together. Lorelei is your costar from a children’s TV show—”
“It wasn’t a children’s show,” Colton said testily. “It was for teenagers, and a lot of adults watched it, too.”
Daniel waited for Colton to hear how immature that statement sounded. After a few seconds of silence, he realized that was not going to happen. He cleared his throat and went on, “—and Lorelei is also your ex-girlfriend. You shared your life with her for three years. The public expects you to have sore feelings about your breakup. Anybody would. But they don’t expect you to call her names on the web. You can’t say things like that about a young lady. She’s twenty-one years old, Colton.”
“She’s plenty old enough to know exactly what she’s doing.”
“She’s not much older than my sister.” Daniel said this with more vehemence than he’d intended. He could tell, because Colton raised his eyebrows in surprise.
Daniel was surprised, too. He wasn’t sure where that outburst had come from. Since when was he human? He cleared his throat. “When you insult a young lady, you’re trying to make her look bad, but you’re the one who ends up looking bad. And things are about to get worse for you. I heard that Lorelei has hired Stargazer, which is one of the best PR firms she could have brought on board, besides my own.”
Colton frowned. “What does that mean?”
“Stargazer’s very good. If they send certain people, I won’t know quite what to expect. But if they send Sarah Seville, I’ll know we’re in trouble. Sarah is a smooth talker, very friendly, and she’ll become Lorelei’s new best friend and persuade her to use a soft touch with the press. If they send Wendy Mann, we’re in more trouble. Wendy is a drill sergeant. She has a reputation for whipping people into shape and getting them to do things they never dreamed they could do themselves. Before you know it, she’ll have Lorelei dressing in lace and pearls and hosting tea parties for charity.”
“If she’s so good, why don’t I fire you and hire her?” Colton asked in the tone of a petulant child. “Maybe she wouldn’t have dragged me away from the tables when my luck was turning.”
“Your luck wasn’t turning,” Daniel said. “There’s no such thing as luck. The probability that you’ll get a good hand is exactly the same every time you play.” He could tell by Colton’s wandering gaze that Colton was losing interest, so Daniel stepped back from the lecture on applied math and returned to the subject that Colton seemed most interested in: Wendy Mann. “And if you hired Wendy, you wouldn’t like her. I guarantee you wouldn’t lay eyes on a blackjack table the rest of the time you spent in Vegas.”
“But with you, I can? I don’t think it would be good for publicity if I stayed in my room until Friday. That would make it look like my handlers had shut me down because there was something seriously wrong with me. It would be an admission of guilt.”
“That’s very insightful, Colton. If you’d been that smart for the past month, you wouldn’t need me.”
“It’s Lorelei. I wouldn’t have gotten so plastered last night if my driver hadn’t gotten me talking about her. She makes me crazy, man.” Colton took off his trucker hat, rubbed his hair, and put his hat back on, a gesture Daniel had seen many times before. Other actors got this agitated about women. So did rock stars, celebrity chefs, and professional football players. Daniel himself did not, so he couldn’t empathize.
“You’ve got to help me get her back,” Colton pleaded.
“After she cheated on you and you called her names all over the Internet?”
People in love were foreign and strange. “I’m not a high-priced relationship counselor,” Daniel pointed out. “I can’t help you get her back. I’m a public relations specialist. The best I could do is make it look like you’ve gotten her back.”
“Then do that,” Colton said, “and maybe the rest will follow.”
He had a point, actually. Daniel didn’t care whether Colton fixed his relationship with Lorelei, or whether that was even a good idea. But the two of them getting back together right before the awards ceremony that they both were starring in would be terrific PR. He surveyed Colton coldly, like he was a penguin behind the glass in the Central Park Zoo, and began to plot how he could use the star’s heartbreak to repair his reputation.
“Let me think about it,” Daniel said vaguely, as if dismissing the idea. “In the meantime, we need a short-term game plan. I don’t want to institute martial law”—actually, he did, but instituting martial law only made stars more likely to go on a bender and land in jail—“but I do want to be notified of where you’re going and why.”
“Giuliana Jacobsen reserved the back room of the Big O club here in the hotel for tonight. I was planning to go to her party.”
Daniel kept himself from wincing or laughing out loud at the name of the club, so provocative it was ridiculous. He said only, “Giuliana Jacobsen, the reality star?”
“Yeah, I know. That’s kind of slumming. But it’s Monday night, so there aren’t a lot of parties to choose from.”
“You mean, Lorelei will be there.”
Colton grinned sheepishly. “I don’t know that for sure, but Lorelei’s staying here in the hotel. It would be easy for her to go. Lorelei likes stuff to be easy. And she doesn’t miss a party.” He gazed out on the Strip. His voice turned dreamy as he said, “I love that about her.”
The trucker hat cast a shadow across Colton’s eyes. Daniel studied him. He knew Colton was twenty-one, but in his hat and sweatshirt and mauled jeans, sitting on the tailored sofa, he looked like a fourteen-year-old after a growth spurt. “What are you planning to wear?” Daniel asked.
Colton looked at him in confusion and gestured to the attire he had on.
Daniel frowned at him.
“What?” Colton demanded. “I’m Colton Farr. I wear what I want.”
“You’re a young actor with public relations problems,” Daniel corrected him, “and you look it. If you want to keep your emcee job for the Hot Choice Awards and land an A-list movie role, you need to look like that. Never dress for the job you already have. Dress for the job you’re trying to get. At this point, it wouldn’t hurt for you to act like you’re trying.”
Colton nodded shortly. “I get it.”
Daniel picked up his glass, drained it, and set it back down with a bang carefully calculated to startle Colton while not quite denting the table or shattering the heavy tumbler. “If you’re going to this party, we need to agree on three things.” He counted them on his fingers. “You will not get too drunk.”
“You will not piss anywhere except a urinal.”
Colton laughed until he saw the serious expression on Daniel’s face. Colton’s smile fell away as he repeated, “Agreed.”
“You will not call Lorelei names.”
“Of course not,” Colton said. “I told you I wanted her back, didn’t I?”
Daniel almost felt relieved at Colton’s genuine reaction, and sorry he’d brought it up again or ever mistrusted the actor. But that was just it—Colton was an actor.
Daniel stopped himself just before he reached for his empty glass on the table. The bar was here in the room with him. It was tempting to drown this job in alcohol. But he’d always been able to resist. He wouldn’t make an exception for Colton, Lorelei, and Stargazer PR.
Unless they truly sent Wendy Mann. That woman might drive him to drink after all.
Posted July 12, 2013
This quick read has everything I was looking for: chemistry, humor, a good plot and some hot scenes. The plot was over-the-top, but just enough to be exciting rather than unrealistic. The writing and pacing were excellent and kept me riveted to the novel, unable to put it down. Recommended for road trips, beach and poolsides, and any other time you need a quick dose of escapism.
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Posted April 19, 2013
I bought this book because I am a big fan of Jennifer Echols' writing, and I was excited to see that she'd ventured out of the YA category with something for adults. That being said, I was very, VERY disappointed.
One thing I've always liked about her pervious books was that they seemed so mature. They dealt with a variety of topics - teenage crushes, summer jobs, leukemia, attempted suicide, sex - in a very sophisticated, tasteful way. Her books may have been YA, but as an adult myself, I never felt like I was reading something meant for a much younger audience.
Star Crossed was just awful. The characters spend half of the book laughing at perverted jokes that aren't even funny, and the other half is them having unrealistic reactions to some very serious issues.
On top of that, the characters themselves are very annoying and boring, and of course, they're both the best looking people in the world.
This does not feel like a Jennifer Echols book. This feels like something a 16 year old wrote and posted online without any understanding of the "real world."
I'm sorry, Jennifer. This was just awful.
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Posted March 30, 2013
Posted February 3, 2014
I really enjoyed this book. I am also a big fan of Jennifer Echol and always look forward to reading her books. It started out a little slow and I thought her description of Wendy initially made her sound like a big frumpy lump, but once the book got going, I really enjoyed it. It is nice that Jennifer is writing books geared towards adult women, too, instead of only teenager girls.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 26, 2014
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Posted March 2, 2013
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Posted August 13, 2013
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Posted September 16, 2013
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Posted April 1, 2013
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Posted March 10, 2013
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