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Emma's World Shatters
Twenty-eight-year-old Emma McDaniel winced as she
recognized the headline blazing across the tabloid a collegeaged girl was devouring in the airport baggage claim. Unfortunately, neither huddling deeper into the enveloping folds of her raincoat nor tugging the brim of her Witness Protection ball cap lower to shadow her face could shield Emma from the pain. She knew the fine print on the glossy cover by heart.
Jade Star actress faces studio insiders' doubts to attempt role of a lifetime! Her beaming ex-husband brings home the baby she refused to give him.
Images in living color flashed into Emma's head: The picture of Drew Lawson, the only man she'd ever loved, leaving the hospital in Whitewater, Illinois, his face aglow as he cradled his new daughter in his arms while Emma's onetime best friend, Jessie, leaned against him, her shy face luminous. The joyous new parents stood out in sharp counterpoint to the paparazzi shots of Emma back in L.A., thronged by reporters clamoring for her reaction to the news about Drew's child. She could still hear them shouting!
"Emma, your fans are dying to know how you feel." How the hell do you think I feel? She'd wanted to fling back at them. Read your own damned press clippings and you should be able to figure it out.
Instead, she'd given an Oscar-worthy performance, forcing a brilliant smile. "I know Drew will be a wonderful father!"
She'd always known he would be. But if she had to pretend one more time it didn't hurt that he'd fathered a child with a different woman!
She shoved her sunglasses farther up her nose, praying no onewould recognize her before she retrieved her luggage, found her ride and dropped off the face of the earth. But then, there were times Emma barely recognized herself anymore.
A tight, panicky feeling cinched Emma's lungs as she surreptitiously scanned the crowd of passengers just arrived at Glasgow's airport. And she felt suddenly, horribly exposed.
Emma, traveling alone is a really bad idea, her mother's voice warned in her head. It could even be dangerous. If someone recognizes you before you meet up with this historical consultant, anything could happen.
Emma could get mobbed for autographs, pounced on by photographers, stalked by an obsessed fan! God, how had life gotten so insane? And why hadn't she noticed until Drew walked out the door?
I need to get out of here, Emma thought, searching for the man who was supposed to meet her. Dr. Jared Butler, experimental archaeologistwhatever that was. The brilliant scholar who had made Castle Craigmorrigan and its heroic fourteenth-century lady his life's work.
Ever since she'd gotten the call telling her to hop on the next flight to Scotland, Emma had pictured Butler as a cross between Albert Einstein and her high school history teacher a single eyebrow crawling across his forehead like a runaway caterpillar, pop-bottle-thick glasses, frizzy white hair and rumpled tweed suits bought sometime in the 1930s. But there wasn't a genius in sight.
A surly dark-haired man in a cream sweater slouched in a plastic molded chair and scowled at a book that looked heavy enough to be used as a murder weapon. A cluster of exuberant American kids on tour crowded around a teacher who was taking a head count. Businessmen with briefcases eyed their wristwatches as the luggage started spilling onto the conveyor belt.
But no one held the sign Emma's director had promised would be waiting for her when she stepped off the plane. Notto be searching the crowd with that somewhat awed expression she'd come to know after six years of being swept from movie set to movie set.
"Where the hell is he?" she muttered, peering past families hugging each other and vacationing trekkers ready to wallow in Scotland's wild beauty.
For an instant Emma wished she'd taken her mother up on her offer to accompany her, help her settle in. But Emma had spent enough time grieving for all the things that would never be. It was time she learned how to be alone.
She had to focus on the one thing that mattered now. The sign from God that her luck had changed. The part of a lifetime she'd thought beyond her reach was hers now.
By accident, a voice reminded her. If Angelica Robards hadn't fallen off a horse and landed in traction, you'd still be trapped in L.A., being hammered by the studio to stick to what you do best. A fifth sequel of Jade Star.
Okay, so it was true what insiders saidthat the screenplay for Lady Valiant had been written specifically for Angelica Robards. The Meryl Streep of Emma's generation had told the world and Jay Leno the tale of how she had first heard of Lady Aislinn from locals during her honeymoon in Scotland. A pub owner had pointed her to an obscure book this genius Butler had written, and Angelica had fallen headover-heels in love with the story. The actress had given her new husband, one of Hollywood's most gifted directors, no peace until Barry presented the script to her as an anniversary gift the following year. But no matter what the Robards' intentions had been, the part of Lady Aislinn was Emma's now.
Emma's opportunity to show the world that she was more than futuristic gizmos and special effects. Emma's chance to break out of the role that had left her typecast and her career dead in the water.
Well, not her career, Emma had to admit to herself. The character of Jade Star was still box office gold. It was Emma's creativity that was drowning, her love of her craft, her dreams of playing roles that tested not only her physical strength, but the depth of her heart.
And portraying the Scotswoman who'd defied Scotland's most ruthless villain in 1305 would demand every shred of courage Emma could find within herself. She would have to dig deeper, reach further, strip her emotions so raw that the audience would be as devastated as Emma had been at the end of the script, when the brave lady of Castle Craigmorrigan plunged to her death off the rugged, sea-swept cliff.
And at the end of the ordeal, maybe, just maybe Emma would find herself.
She dove for her suitcase as it whizzed past, wrestling it off the conveyor, the simple black bag so heavy it almost dislocated her shoulder. The ball cap fell off, dislodging her sunglasses, her trademark black curls tumbling down from the elastic band she'd bundled them into an ocean ago. Cover blown, she thought miserably as a screech sounded from across the room.
Emma knew in her gut it was Tabloid Girl. She felt some of the other passengers glance her way, but fortunately most were still too engrossed in retrieving their own luggage to pay much attention.
Tabloid Girl clutched the magazine to her chest and rushed toward Emma, breathless. "It's you, isn't it? It really is you!" Her voice dropped to an awed whisper. "Emma McDaniel."
Emma retrieved her cap, but there was no point in trying to stuff the genie back in the bottle. She shoved the hat in her giant black purse. "You must be thinking of the other Emma McDaniel," she attempted to joke. The one who could have run through the middle of an airport half naked without anyone noticing. Well, maybe someone would.
"I adored your last movie," the girl enthused. "The special effects were amazing."
If the glossy tabloid cover hadn't been right in Emma's line of sight, she could have managed to be a lot more gracious. Instead, Emma cursed the man who was supposed to meet her. Where the hell was Butler? A few minutes more and this girl would be asking the pain-and-heartbreak questions everyone seemed to level at Emma these days.
"My name's Sandy," the girl supplied, thrusting out the hand that wasn't clutching the tabloid.
"Sandy," Emma repeated, briefly shaking the girl's hand.
"I'm glad you liked the movie, but I can hardly take credit for the special effects."
"Can I ask you a question?"
Emma stared pointedly at the tabloid. "As a matter of fact, I've decided never to answer a question again."
The girl flushed, glancing down at the lurid headline. "Oh, God. You must hate magazines like this. Articles about!well, your creep of an ex-husband. What pond scum!"
If only Emma could relegate Drew to slime level, her life would be so much easier. She gritted her teeth, determined to keep quiet. Sandy just rushed on.
"Running off with your best friendwhat a jerk."
"I knew Jessie a lifetime ago, in high school." Damn, Emma cursed herself. She'd promised herself she wouldn't rise to the bait. "Listen, Sandy, I appreciate your support, but I really don't want to talk about this."
"And why should you? I say good riddance to the asshole. I mean, who needs him when you get paid to kiss guys like Tom Cruise and Mel Gibson? And your last moviewow! What was it like? Having Brad Pitt look you in the eyes like that, loving you, knowing he could never have you because he was turning into a werewolf? Women all through the theater were having spontaneous orgasms."
"Actually, Brad wasn't even in the room when we shot that scene. I was talking to a white stick that gave me a focal point so I knew where the computer-generated wolf-guy would be once they put him in."
"Oh." The girl sighed in disappointment.
Emma could just imagine Sandy's reaction if she told the whole truth. That she'd barely noticed Brad, werewolf or otherwise, during the filming because she'd been sick to her stomach most of the time, knowing that with every Jade line she spoke she was digging herself deeper into the creative wasteland where typecast actors lived.
What an odd sensation, the whole world believing she was a roaring success when she could feel everything she treasured slipping through her fingers. If she'd known how much top billing Jade would cost her, would she have taken the part at all?
Emma's heart squeezed, remembering how hungry she'd been to get on stagefresh out of drama school, newly married, so full of dreams about how wonderful life would be.
Now here she was an ocean away from her life with Drew, her palms sweating with self-doubt as she prepared for her first new role in six years. Feeling so disillusioned that the Emma who'd spent her honeymoon gorging on the Broadway shows she was determined to star in seemed like a stranger.
Sandy grimaced. "I guess sometimes it's better not to know about all that movie magic stuff, you know? It kind of ruins things."
"Maybe you should try reading a book."
The low burr of the sexiest Scottish accent Emma had ever heard sent a shiver of attraction through her. She turned to see who the voice belonged to and found herself face-to-face with the surly dark-haired man she'd noticed earlier. The Scot stared at the tabloid's headline, every fiber of his being radiating scorn.
And there was a whole lot of being to radiate. From the time Emma had hit her growth spurt, she had been one of the tallest kids in class. Some of her leading men had to wear risers in their shoes. But this guy loomed over her by at least six inches, one of his big hands holding the "murder weapon" as negligently as if it were a postcard, his cable-knit sweater doing nothing to soften shoulders Brad Pitt would have envied. Wind-tousled mahogany hair curled in thick waves about a face hewn rugged as the Scottish crags she'd seen in books she'd used for research. Two days' worth of stubble darkened a belligerent jut of jaw.
Fierce green eyes burned into Emma's with such intensity she shifted her own a few inches down his face, instinctively trying to shield herself from a gaze designed to strip souls of their secrets.
She knew in a heartbeat she'd jumped straight into the fire. For an instant, she forgot to breathe as her gaze locked on one of God's nastier practical jokes.
This arrogant bundle of raw testosterone had the most amazing mouth Emma had ever seen. Soul-blisteringly sensual, just a whisper sensitive, the left side of his full upper lip curling a fraction higher than the right.
A woman could get herself into big trouble if she spent much time around a mouth like that.
"Ms. McDaniel. You'll have to excuse me," he drawled. "I didn't recognize you without your spandex suit."
Ouch. Too bad the man's personality wasn't as gorgeous as his looks.
"I never wear spandex when I fly," Emma countered breezily. "It seems to distract the pilots." For once she wished she really was armed with the freeze blaster she'd carried in the last Jade Starshe'd point it at this jerk's face and turn him into a giant snow cone.
He turned toward Sandy, then slid the tabloid out of the girl's hand. "I'll be doing you a favor by getting rid of this thing. Between movies like Jade Star and gossip rags like this, it's amazing you have a single functioning brain cell left."
Sandy looked as if the man had kicked her puppy. Okay, so the tabloid was trash, but Sandy was already embarrassed Emma had caught her with the thingutter humiliation wasn't necessary.