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Straight to the Heart
By Michelle Monkou
KimaniCopyright © 2007 Michelle Monkou
All right reserved.
Omar Masterson sat back in the chair to mask his unease. The older, stern-faced woman at the end of the conference table held his undivided attention. Not in a good way. What more was there to discuss?
Urban Television Production had taken care of the logistics so that he could proceed smoothly with the documentary here in Montreal, along with getting the appropriate permission from the various third parties. Unless plans had changed, this impromptu meeting face-to-face with barely concealed hostility struck an odd, disquieting note. "Welcome, Mr. Masterson, I'm Brenda Young, Miss Watts's manager. In a few minutes, you'll meet Josh Briggs and Fred Long, my assistants."
Omar looked over his shoulder for any advance sightings of these men. Their names were delivered like a veiled threat. For now, only Brenda and he sat in the conference room.
"You can call me Ms. Young."
Omar nodded. "And you may call me Omar." He couldn't help adding, "I'm not into formality."
"I called this meeting before you started working to communicate a few rules," Brenda stated.
"I'm sure that UTP has taken care of the necessary details," Omar replied with gentle reassurance. Maybe a touch of his charm could thaw the ice chips hanging off her personality. He certainly wasn't in theposition to change or make any deals. "This smells a bit like scripted manipulation."
Brenda shrugged. "Call it protecting assets. I'm a cautious woman who needs extra insurance for peace of mind. This is my final condition for an interview. The studio thought that this would be a good idea." She looked down at her manicured nails, leaving the obvious unsaid, that she hadn't chosen him.
Omar felt skewered by Brenda's gaze. "That's fantastic and all. However, I expect you to respect her privacy. Also, you have to run any new ideas outside the preapproved topics past me. Only what I approve will be featured." Brenda adjusted her suit jacket before casting a disdainful look in his direction.
Omar didn't hide his irritation, now that her mind-set was clear. "Brenda, is it?" He emphasized his disregard for her wish for formality. "I don't like having my creative license stifled. I don't take kindly to being addressed like a child."
Brenda punched a button on the telephone. "Josh! Fred! Come in, please." She folded her arms across her ample chest. "I think that we're at the point of our discussion where the nonverbal cues are as important as the verbal."
So the situation had escalated to the gathering of the troops.
"Meet Josh Briggs." Brenda motioned toward a lean, unsmiling, bald man who had an expansive girth that looked rock-solid. "And this is Fred Long." The man stood on her other side. He had a thick neck and beefy hands that matched his entire physique.
Omar figured that though he was new to his job as TV host, his best work occurred when he improvised. Listening to his impulses had never yet proved him wrong. Brenda's mandate had negative consequences for his first major break.
Brenda looked him over.
Omar drew himself up, to quell the nerves. This experience felt like a nerve-racking swim with sharks. Most women came on to him, or at least, depending on their age, thought that he was an adorable young man. This woman was certainly an exception. He'd tag her at being late thirties, early forties. She wore her hair natural, in a closecropped Afro that topped off her sleek, tailored appearance in a navy-blue pantsuit.
He turned his gaze toward the so-called assis as though they could snap him like a breadstick. Obviously they were amenable to their boss's heavy-handed approach. He guessed he should feel glad that he wasn't meeting them in a dark alley.
Brenda cleared her throat, shifting Omar's attention back to her. "I especially want you to rein in any thought of getting friendly with Stacy while you're on assignment."
"Brenda, gentlemen, I'm a professional. I will treat you and your staff, including Miss Watts, with respect and professionalism. There is no need to come at me as if I'm a hypersexed teen." Omar gritted his teeth, fighting his rising anger.
"Say what you want. You wouldn't be the first to protest with staunch indignation and claim innocence, then try to worm your way into her heart and pocketbook. Just because she helped you land the job with your company, don't read anything into her generosity. Think of it this way. We are her first line of defense. Remember that."
Omar shot out of his seat, pushing back the chair. "You may think I'm a young punk" Who did these people think they were? He raised his finger, jabbing at the space in front of their faces. "I'm not the one pretending to be wise guys from a bad gangster movie. Don't get it twisted. You all need to check yourselves"
"Omar!" Stacy burst into the room with a welcoming smile. She crossed the room with light, quick steps and launched herself into his arms. "I couldn't believe it when I heard that you would be doing the interview." She hugged him again.
"How lucky am I?"
Omar put on a small smile for her sake. The matter at hand, however, was far from over.
Stacy's exuberance managed to evaporate the bad vibes. Her upbeat entry hit the atmosphere like sunlight burning through a dense fog. He'd always thought that she could be Angela Bassett's daughter: the color of golden-brown sugar, high cheekbones and eyes with a slant that revealed Native American heritage somewhere along the family tree. What he liked most was her sculpted lips, full and wide, that had a distinct shape, lifting at the ends as if she perpetually smiled.
While Stacy repeatedly hugged him between bursts of chatter, he looked over at Brenda and her two sitting bulls. Their collective disapproval hadn't waned a bit. He was sure that there would be cause for another meeting. The next time, he'd be the one calling the shots.
"Are we all set? I want to steal Omar away so we can catch up before we have to get down to business." Stacy looked at Omar and then her management team.
Omar nodded. "We can get started with the interview tomorrow."
"Great. Then let's go have some fun," Stacy urged, with a wide grin that could rival a teethwhitening advertisement.
"I'd love to," Omar stated, arching his eyebrows at Brenda. He already classified the threesome as an odd partnership. Hopefully Stacy would share specific information that could reveal why he had become enemy number one.
Omar followed Stacy out of the room, glad to be free of present company. They moved through the building, dodging the crew busy with set changes. For a few minutes, Omar studied the goings-on. Life on a movie set seemed far busier than he'd imagined. A few of the principles he recognized from entertainment news. He had to admit that his nerves were on edge as he thought about his job and the close proximity he'd been in with major and minor celebrities. Did he have what it would take to be an interviewer of the stars? Women dominated the industry, but he wanted his fighting chance.
"Hey, don't get quiet on me." Stacy nudged him.
"Taking it all in." Omar playfully returned her nudge.
She hooked her arm in his, and together they strolled out into the crisp Canadian air. A series of trailers and RVs sat parked on the perimeter of the set. Stacy led him to an impressive, sleek RV that shouted big money, with the latest hightech gadgetry.
"Let's get out of this cold." Stacy pulled the door closed behind him. She blew on her hands, vigorously rubbing them together. "Want some coffee?"
"Sounds great." Omar waited a few minutes before removing his jacket.
Montreal's weather surprised him; September seemed a bit early for temperatures in the low sixties. The sticky warmth of Atlanta's latesummer temperature had skewed his clothing choice. He wore a thin windbreaker, short-sleeved shirt and lightweight slacks. He'd been clenching his teeth to keep from shivering. His face still stung from the stiff breeze. Maybe after a cup of could return to normal.
Stacy's conversation hadn't let up, which was fine with him. Her upbeat voice and sincere intent offered the welcome that he'd anticipated. Meeting her again was everything that he'd hoped it would be.
He nodded and appropriately grunted as Stacy's conversation ranged from the weather to her busy schedule during and after the movie. He was glad that, although briefly, he'd have Stacy all to himself. Maybe they could have a casual friendship, nothing more.
His sister, Sheena, scolded him for running through his women like the bulls running in Pamplona. Though there was more than a grain of truth in the ridiculous analogy, he had no intention of making Stacy a conquest. After all, she was a woman living the uptown life. What could he offer?
Stacy poured the coffee and prepared it to his instructions. "Let's catch up. I've been babbling for the past fifteen minutes. What's going on with you? Is the job still fun?"
Omar took his mug. "The job is everything I thought it would be. Each day is a new experience. I'm still learning and when I think that I've finally got it, there's something new to learn. And the people I've met. Wow! Their names read like a who's who on today's artists. Some are nice and live up to their image. Others need a quick course on professional etiquette."
"Sounds like this job has stretched you beyond your wildest dreams." Stacy raised her mug in a salute. Her gaze openly admired him, which only slightly embarrassed him.
Everything about this woman tempted him. In these close quarters, even her perfume had the power to give Brenda's prediction some credence. Restraint was key. Otherwise, one week could feel like one year.
Stacy sat opposite him, blowing at her coffee. Darn, it would be tough to stick with his action plan. The way she formed her lips to blow offered a natural pucker.
Omar waited for her to say more. Their conversation had dwindled into contemplative silence.
Excerpted from Straight to the Heart by Michelle Monkou Copyright © 2007 by Michelle Monkou. Excerpted by permission.
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