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Lara Ivory stepped cacool and collected under the crushing weight of a heavy crinolined gown, her slender waist cinched in to an impossible seventeen inches, lush cleavage spilling forth above.
Lara's fellow actor in the shot, Harry Solitaire -- a young Englishman with tousled hair and droopy bedroom eyes -- walked beside her; delivering his lines with an enthusiasm that belied the fact that this was their seventh take.
It was eighty-four degrees in the south of France garden setting, and the entire crew stood silently on the sidelines, sweating, as they waited impatiently for Richard Barry, the veteran director; to call cut so they could break for lunch.
Lara Ivory was, at thirty-two, an incandescent beauty with catlike green eyes, a small, straight nose, full, luscious lips, cut glass cheekbones and honey-blond hair -- right now curled to within an inch of disaster. She had been a movie star at the top of her profession for nine years, and miraculously the fame and glory had never changed her. She was still as likeable and sweet as the devastatingly pretty girl who'd arrived in Hollywood at the age of twenty and been discovered by director Miles Kieffer. She'd come in to audition for a minor role in his new film. Miles took one look and decided she was the actress he had to have to play the lead. Gorgeous and fresh, she'd portrayed a naive hooker in a Pretty Woman-style movie -- beguiling everyone from the critics to the public.
From that first film, Lara's star had risen fast. It only took one special movie to grab the public's attention. The trick was holding on to it.
Lara Ivory had managed it admirably.
At last, Richard Barry called out the words everyone was waiting to hear. "Cut! Print it! That's the one." Lara sighed with relief.
Richard had been a successful director for nearly thirty years. He was a tall, well-built man in his late fifties; he had even features, a well-trimmed beard, longish brown hair; flecked with gray at the temples, and crinkly blue eyes. He also had dry humor and a sardonic smile. Women found him extremely attractive.
"Phew!" Lara repeated her sigh, her smooth cheeks flushed. "Someone get me out of this dress!"
"I'll do it!" Harry Solitaire volunteered with a lascivious leer, flirting as usual.
"That's okay," Lara retorted, smiling because she liked Harry and if he wasn't married he might have been a contender. She considered married men strictly off limits and refused to break her rule for anyone-even though she hadn't had a date in six months, ever since she'd broken up with Lee Randolph, a first-assistant director; who, after a year of togetherness, had been unable to take the pressure of being with so famous a woman. The sad truth was that for a star such as Lara, no relationships were easy. What man enjoyed being background material? Relegated to second place? Attacked by crazed stalkers and fans? Referred to as Mr. Ivory by waiters and limo drivers?
It took an exceptionally strong man to cope with that kind of life-a man like Richard Barry, who'd handled it admirably for the four years he and Lara had been married.
She and Richard had been divorced three years, but they were now good friends-all three of them, including Richard's new wife, Nikki, a costume designer he'd met while shooting a movie in Chicago.
Nikki was dark-haired, feisty and extremely pretty in a gaminelike way. She also knew how to bring out the best in Richard. Early on in their relationship, she discovered that, like most men, he was a lot of work. Before she entered his life, he'd been a smoker; a philanderer and a heavy drinker; plus he expected to get his own way at all times, and when he didn't, he sulked. Nikki had taken stock of his strengths and weaknesses and decided he was worth the effort. Somehow she'd calmed him down, fulfilled all his needs, and now his biggest vice appeared to be work. He was a bankable director; much in demand, whose movies always made money-and in Hollywood that's all that counts.
Lara considered Nikki her closest girlfriend. Right now they were all enjoying working together on French Summer , a beautifully scripted period film that Richard had been passionate about making. The three of them were sharing a rented villa on the six-week location. Lara hadn't wanted to intrude, but Nikki had insisted, which secretly relieved Lara, because she sometimes found it hard to cope with the loneliness of being by herself.
"That last take was magical," Richard said, coming to her side and squeezing her hand. "Definitely worth waiting for."
Lara frowned; she was her own sternest critic. "Do you think so?" she asked, worrying that she could have done better.
"Sweetheart," Richard assured her; anticipating her concerns because he knew her so well. "Seventh take perfect. Nothing to improve."
"You're just being kind," she said, her frown deepening.
"Not kind-truthful," he replied sincerely.
Her disarmingly honest green eyes met his. "Really?" she asked.
Richard regarded his exquisite ex-wife and found himself wondering if her painful insecurity had contributed to the demise of their marriage.
Maybe. Although catching the makeup girl giving him head in his trailer had been the final nail in the coffin of his infidelities -- that was one he hadn't been able to talk himself out of.
For a year after their public and somewhat acrimonious divorce, they hadn't spoken. Then Richard met Nikki, and she had insisted in her usual no-nonsense way that it was crazy they couldn't all be friends. As usual, she was right. The three of them had gotten together for dinner and never regretted it.
Nikki strode over; looking to Lara enviably cool in baggy linen pants and a yellow cotton shirt knotted under her breasts, exposing her well-toned midriff. She was in her early thirties, shorter than Lara, with a lithe, worked-out body, cropped dark hair worn with long bangs, direct hazel eyes and an overly ripe mouth. Nobody would guess that she had a fifteen-year-old daughter.
Richard enjoyed the fact that Nikki was smart and sassy, and most of all that she wasn't an actress. After losing Lara, he had considered never getting involved with a woman again, because there'd never be another woman who could live up to her. Nikki and her fresh upbeat ways had changed his mind.
"Get me out of this dress!" Lara implored. "It's cutting me in half. Worse torture than being married to Richard!"
"Nothing can be worse than that!" Nikki joked, rolling her expressive eyes.
"Wasn't Lara great in that last take?" Richard interrupted, putting an arm around his current wife, trailing his fingers up and down her bare skin.
"He's just being kind," Lara said with one of her trademark deep sighs.
"I know the feeling," Nikki responded crisply. "That's exactly the sort of thing he says when he praises my cooking."
Lara widened her eyes. "Don't tell me you cook for him?" she exclaimed. "I never did."
Nikki pulled a face. "He forces me; you know how persuasive he can be."
"Oh, yes," Lara agreed, as the two women laughed conspiratorially.
Richard frowned, pretending to be annoyed. "It's really irritating that you two are such good friends," he said. "I hate it!" Truth was he loved having both women in his life.
"No you don't," Nikki retorted, looking at him with the kind of expression a woman gets when she's totally sure of her man. "You get off on it."
With an amused shake of his head, he walked away.
Nikki signaled one of her wardrobe assistants to follow them to Lara's trailer. "For a grown man, Richard can be such a baby," she remarked.
"That's why our marriage didn't work," Lara said lightly. "Two giant egos fighting for the best camera angle!"
"And one of them screwing around like Charlie Sheen on a bad day."
"You've cured him of that."
"I hope so!" Nikki said forcefully. "The moment he points his dick in another direction, I'm gone."
"You'd leave him?"
"Immediately," Nikki said without hesitation.
"I bet you would," Laura said, wishing she had the inner strength her friend possessed.
"Hey, listen," Nikki said, wrinkling her freckled nose. "I'd expect him to dump me if l screwed around, so why shouldn't the same rule apply?"
Lara nodded. "You're absolutely right."
Why didn't l do it? she thought.
Why didn't I tell him to take a. hike the first time l suspected he was being unfaithful?
Because you're a pushover.
No. I simply believe in second chances.
And third ones and fourth ones... Richard hadn't known when to quit.
They'd met when he'd directed her in her third movie. Although by that time she was a star; she was still impressed at meeting the great Richard Barry -- a man with quite a reputation. He'd moved in on her immediately. She was twenty-four and by Hollywood standards a total innocent. He was forty-six and difficult. Their wedding at her agent's house in Malibu made headline news, with helicopters hovering overhead and paparazzi lurking in the trees. It was a media circus, which pleased neither of them. The divorce had been even worse.
"We're going to Tetou tonight," Nikki announced. "I hear the bouillabaisse is to die for."
Lara shook her head. "I can't. l have lines to learn and sleep to get, otherwise I'll resemble an old hag in the morning."
Nikki raised a disbelieving eyebrow. The irritating thing was that Lara acted as if she looked like any other mere mortal, even though she was certainly the most beautiful woman Nikki had ever seen. "You're coming," Nikki said determinedly. "I've already checked -- you have a late call tomorrow. It's about time you forgot about this damn movie and had some fun."
"Fun -- what's that?" Lara said innocently.
"Exactly how long is it since you've gotten laid?" Nikki asked, cocking her head to one side.
"Too long," Lara muttered.
"It doesn't have to be a big deal, y'know," Nikki offered. "How about a one-nighter? There's some hot-looking guys on the crew."
"Not my style," Lara said softly.
"You gotta have a man's mentality," Nikki said, with a knowing wink. "Fuck and run.
I used to -- before I married again."
Richard was Nikki's second husband. She'd wed her first -- Sheldon Weston -- when she was sixteen and he was thirty-eight. "I was searching for a father figure," she often joked. "And l got stuck with an uptight shrink." They had a fifteen-year-old daughter; Summer; who lived in Chicago with her dad.
"You're different," Lara said. "You can do that and get away with it. I can't. It has to be a committed relationship, or I'm not interested.
"Whatever;" Nikki replied vaguely, not understanding at all. "But you're definitely coming tonight."
Copyright © 1998 by Chances Inc.