According to a Source: A Novel

According to a Source: A Novel

by Abby Stern

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250181732
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 06/19/2018
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 544,211
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

ABBY STERN has been a Hollywood insider and freelance celebrity reporter for over nine years. She has covered red carpets and interviewed A-list celebrities for People Magazine, among other places. According to a Source is her first novel.

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According to a Source


By Abby Stern

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2017 Abby Stern
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-10680-3


CHAPTER 1

I want every major moment of my life to occur at the Chateau Marmont. I want to get married here. I want to conceive my first child here. I even want to die here — preferably not of a drug overdose, but when in Rome....

I can't pick my favorite thing about the Chateau Marmont. The smell on the dining patio — or the garden, as it's known among Hollywood's elite — is definitely in the top three: floral yet masculine. And it is decorated with the world's best eye candy. The tent that was erected over the patio during the chilly awards season recently came down, and the hedges are, as always, perfectly groomed.

I come here at least once a week.

I feel my phone vibrate, but I ignore the text, because my heart has nearly arrested. A mousy, brunette, makeup-free waitress just delivered our check with a Hercule Poirot–esque inquisition.

"Excuse me, Miss Warren," she says, and I notice some of her hair has loosened itself from her terribly unchic side braid, "why doesn't the first name on your credit card match the name on your reservations?"

Across the table, my friend Jessica looks up, amused.

My mind is racing faster than it ever has on Adderall. Breathe. Namaste. This waitress is clearly new, and probably having a hectic night. And in fact, I've held in my arsenal the answer to her question since my inaugural visit to the infamous hotel and restaurant, because when I first started dining at this notoriously exclusive landmark, I lived in fear of the day my secret would inevitably be uncovered.

My identity exposed.

In my early days dining at Chateau Marmont, I was only offered a reservation (yes, you're offered reservations here) at 6 P.M. After months of regular visits, my standing was raised and I was given a coveted 8 or 9 P.M. slot. Now I'm a regular. In fact, one of the veteran waiters — i.e., not this inquisitive fresh-off-the-boat Pollyanna — once mentioned that other than myself, only America's Sweetheart-slash-Most Beloved Victim of Infidelity's stylist and the West Coast Head of Burberry have their own regular tables in the garden.

I flash my most confident smile. "People ask me that all the time," I recite, lasering my eyes into hers. "My full name that you see on my credit card was already taken in the Screen Actors Guild, so I chose Bella. It was my childhood nickname. I don't want casting directors to get confused, so now I use my SAG name for everything."

Across the table, Jessica gives me a nod, impressed. In Los Angeles no one would question that answer, because everyone else here is an actor — even this waitress, I'm guessing.

I feel my phone vibrating again but I can't risk looking down. I maintain eye contact with the waitress, staring down any further inquisition. But the waitress doesn't bother to search for holes in my explanation. "Oh, okay," she says, and leaves the leather-bound bill in front of me. I smile widely until I can see she's cleared the lobby and is out of sight.

My real name is Ella Warren, or Isabella Warren, as it says on said credit card in question. I am an undercover reporter for the celebrity gossip magazine and Web site The Life. I'm aware "Bella" isn't exactly the most discreet alias, but when I started this job, I didn't think celebrity reporting needed a CIA-worthy nom de plume. Now I know better — the majority of the time, my job does indeed feel like a black-ops mission. This waitress was relatively easy; but what if another, smarter waiter caught on? The Chateau Marmont has a strict "no media" policy on the premises, and if I am discovered, I'll be banned. I get a byline, "Ella Warren," on my stories and sightings, so I created Bella the first time I made a reservation.

Sometimes, I wish I actually were Bella. She's the girl that has the confidence to own any room she enters. She's the one on the lists to the most exclusive parties and restaurants around town. She's the one that glides past the velvet ropes and receives the texts with addresses for after-parties before the lights in the club come on at the end of the night. In reality, Bella is a mere figment of everyone's imagination — and it needs to stay that way.

I grab the goblet holding the remainder of my rosé and chug it. After I annihilate mine, I reach across the table and grab Jessica's.

"Do you think she bought it?" I ask.

Jessica is my oldest friend in Los Angeles. She is a Venice Beach bon vivant — the soul of casual essence. Though you'd think she and I would clash, we've always clicked. We were English majors at college together and have known each other for eight years, which is the equivalent to twenty years in this town.

"You're fine," she says. "I wouldn't worry about it." She's the sane friend I can always count on to talk me down when I'm on the verge of checking into the hospital for "exhaustion."

This is why Jessica is one of my ride-or-die friends. She always has my back and I never have to question her motives. Because we met before I worked for The Life or she was a blogger extraordinaire, our friendship is genuine, and unless she's at work with me, we never talk about celebrities. Our conversations always have and still do revolve mostly around boys. Who we like. Who we used to like but now hate. Which ex's picture we bet we would see on the news. Who we secretly wish would send an out-of-the-blue text saying they missed us and beg to get back together. In college, we had a standing date every Sunday night so we could recap our weekends. We'd open a bottle of the best wine we could afford and sprawl across my living-room couches, clad in our velour tracksuits eating greasy pizza and watching as much reality TV as my DVR would hold. We'd talk until one or both of us passed out. Jess was a sport, and even though she didn't like pepperoncinis she let me order pepperoncinis on those pizzas. There are very few people I like enough to consume a food that isn't appetizing to me, but I'd do it for Jess and she did it for me.

Jess has parlayed her degree into the lifestyle blog Martini Olives Count as Dinner, which has gained her a fair share of local notoriety. She's one of the few people who's always liked me for Ella, and I trust her.

In Hollywood, the only thing more difficult than getting cast in a Netflix pilot is finding real friends. It's almost impossible to meet people that don't have an agenda. Sadly, many friendships here are like celebrity relationships. Despite promises and social-media proclamations to the contrary, more often than not they last for a finite period of time. As friends aren't required to sign confidentiality agreements, you can imagine that after an acrimonious split, gossip about both parties spreads faster than a fire in the Hollywood Hills. A few years ago an ex-friend of mine started blabbing about how I was escorted out of the Dior store on Rodeo Drive by security (through no fault of my own), and the story even made it all the way around town to my aesthetician.

My arm is still shaking from my encounter with the waitress when I pull out the bill. I have a generous expense account that's enough for dinner and two glasses of wine — well, three glasses, if my guest and I decide to skip dessert. I'm not supposed to surpass it, even for the tip. But since I was cross-examined only moments ago, I'm going to leave a bonus. I purposely ignore the line on the check that indicates that a 15 percent gratuity has already been included. This is really for the barrage of European diners they accommodate. Tonight I'm going above and beyond.

I show Jessica the final amount.

"How are you going to explain that one on your expense report?" She glances at her empty wineglass, begrudging my drinking her beverage.

"I'll tell Maggie the truth. I know she'll have my back," I reply, and I playfully shake my head at the fact that this millennial waitress almost deep-sixed my mission tonight.

While I sign the bill Jess kicks my foot under the table.

She knows the drill.

Former A-List Hot Mess Actress (the main reason I am here tonight) is walking my way. It takes a special skill to pretend like you aren't looking at someone while you're practically committing every detail about them to your memory.

"Well, she's in a mood," Jessica says after the actress passes.

"I would be too if I was in my twenties but looked forty-five. All of that money and access to free facials and fillers, such a shame."

Jessica is purposefully ignoring Former A-List Hot Mess Actress now, as is the rest of the garden around us. The mood has shifted; they all know she is walking toward the exit, but no one wants to look as though they noticed. Rubbernecking would be a huge faux pas. "I think they're only free because she refuses to pay," she says.

I chuckle. "How about the way she was stumbling?" I add. "I'm surprised she could even walk after all of those 'vodka sodas.' Wait, does keeping the bottle of vodka underneath the table instead of on top of it and sipping Diet Coke publicly constitute a vodka soda?" "Only in LA," Jessica says with a smile.

My phone buzzes ... again. "Will you excuse me?"

"Bathroom time?" Jessica looks at her watch. "Has it already been twenty minutes?"

I wink. I go to the bathroom every twenty minutes. Most of the waiters probably think I have a raging cocaine problem, but that's honestly better than if they knew the truth. It doesn't exactly take Alan Turing to crack my code, but it's secret enough for the Chateau Marmont. I saunter away from the table and into the lobby, acting so much like I belong here that sometimes I feel like I actually do. Luckily one of the two stalls is vacant and my heartbeat speeds up as I enter and pull my phone out of my purse. My fingers are sweaty and I fumble over the wrong keys while I type in my pass code. After three frustrating tries I wipe my right hand against my skirt and get a better grip. Finally. Open sesame.

I let out a deep breath. Who the hell keeps texting me?

It's my sister, Robin. I open the first message: a photo of her and my niece making funny faces.

Robin: Marianna wants to remind you about her birthday party this weekend. She's so excited to see her favorite Aunt and that Grandma is flying in to celebrate!

Robin: Aunt Ella, let us know if you're still coming and send us a funny face back!

Robin: Is Aunt Ella busy tracking celebrities? Where in Hollywood is she?

I can't help smiling — Marianna is mugging shamelessly for the camera, just like I taught her! But I'll respond later. Right now, I need to rush and record my ...

NOTES:

• Former A-List Hot Mess Actress

• Vodka bottle hidden under table

• Wasn't able to walk straight

• Entourage left with her

• Reeked of cigarette smoke

• Designer clothes appeared to be in shambles with unintentional visible holes and rips

• Left around 12:30am


I put my phone back in my purse, relieved that the stressful part of the night is over, and return to our table. "Let's get out of here?" I ask, ready to bolt, as if I were running toward higher ground after a tsunami warning.

"Yes, ma'am." Jessica grabs her purse. "You get what you needed?"

I do a furtive 360-degree survey of the patrons on the patio. "Yep. Let's go." But then the small of my back receives a jolt of electricity.

"Hi, Bella."

I'd recognize that inimitable masculine pitch anywhere. It's Sexy Indie Film Actor — where did he come from? And he's talking to me!

I take note of what he's wearing, not even for work purposes, but because his perfection appears effortless: Navy-blue T-shirt, distressed jeans, and combat boots have never complemented each other quite like they do as components of his ensemble. It's not even so much the outfit as his charm and aura.

I regain my normal stance and clear my throat in an attempt to keep my voice from trembling.

"Hi! How are you?"

He kisses me on the cheek, and even Jessica's jaw is agape. "Pretty good," he says. "Just meeting some friends." He turns to Jessica, extending his hand. Even people who don't really care about celebrities, like Jessica, have one person that gets them starstruck, and I'm secretly delighted to have found hers. Sexy Indie Film Actor has her reaching to collect a response.

"This is Jessica," I interject.

"Nice to meet you," he says. Jessica fervently nods back. Then he smiles at me. "I'll see you around, babe." He continues to a discreet table in the back corner of the patio and joins two male friends.

Jessica's grin has inexplicably multiplied in length. I am loving her mutation into a total fangirl. "He just called you babe! How do you know him?" she whispers.

"From the clubs. He's friends with a promoter I know, so we end up at the same table sometimes."

"I can't believe he knows who you are!"

I sigh. "He doesn't know me. He knows Bella," I correct. "You know Ella. Everyone else here knows Bella."

Not that I'm complaining, of course.


* * *

I finally walk through the front door of my West Hollywood apartment a little before 1 A.M. and kick off my Brian Atwood stilettos before my second foot even crosses the threshold. I'm like Cinderella and the ball is over. As soon as the shoes come off and both big toes touch the carpet, Bella is Ella again. The fibers comfort my soles, and even though it's not exactly reflexology, it helps alleviate the tension Bella endured earlier that evening.

All of the lights are off as I tiptoe to the bedroom to grab my laptop. Ethan is asleep with his back facing me. I love staring at his back. For some reason it's a comforting sight. When I'm there with him, the outside world melts away. I'm struck by how much I miss him. Even though we live together, I barely see him outside of this bed anymore, which is sadly not as kinky as it sounds.

I lean down to give him a soft kiss in our spot, the crevice where the neck and shoulder meet. We discovered it the first time we spent an entire weekend in bed having a movie marathon. He'd been spooning me and when he lost interest in his hundredth viewing of Back to the Future, began kissing my neck. He continued down and when he got to what would become "our spot" I let out a giggle.

"Ticklish?" he asked. I knew he was grinning even though the back of my head was facing him.

"No," I told him emphatically.

"No? So you won't mind if I do it again?" he teased.

"Not at all." He returned his lips to the spot and I didn't laugh. I shifted my body to face his. "It just feels good. Like, really comforting and like you're supposed to be there." Ethan pulled me closer and kissed me on the lips. When he finished he stared into my eyes, which was sweet at first but started to make me self-conscious. I laughed again. "Here, I'll demonstrate," I said, placing my hands underneath him and rolling him to the side. I stared at his back and was so in the midst of the honeymoon stage of our relationship I even thought his moles were cute. I proceeded to softly kiss him exactly where he kissed me.

"You're right, that does feel good. From now on, this will be our spot," he announced. I did it again and rested my head against his back and drifted to sleep.

Tonight, Ethan smells like he's just come from the woods and built his own spice rack — although he's probably been at Starbucks working on his screenplay all day — and I inhale him as if he were a congratulatory flower arrangement. I wish I could fall into bed right now but I have to write my file for The Life.

"What, no hug or squeeze?" he mutters, rolling over to face me, still more than half asleep. Kiss, Hug, Squeeze is something my dad did with my sister and me every night before bedtime when we were little. He'd say each aloud and then proceed with the action. On extra special nights, he threw in Eskimo and Butterfly for good measure. Throughout the years it became our way of showing our love for each other. Now, I do it with everyone I love, which is why Ethan is bemoaning the exclusion of his hug and squeeze tonight.

I wish he could see me smiling in the dark. "I was trying not to wake you but I had to kiss you."

"I want you to wake me so badly," he says, but then he lets out a yawn and can barely pull his eyelids apart.

When I first started this job, Ethan used to wait up for me every night to make sure I got home safe. But now he's used to me coming home well after midnight and his REM cycle usually remains uninterrupted even as I open and close the front door.

"Go back to sleep. I love you."

"'Night, babe," he says, trailing back off into his slumber.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from According to a Source by Abby Stern. Copyright © 2017 Abby Stern. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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According to a Source: A Novel 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"According to a Source" is a fun, entertaining book - with a lot of heart. I couldn't put it down! Following celebrity reporter Ella Warren's adventures in the craziness of LA was addicting (as was trying to put a real-life face to characters given clever names like Southern Girl-Next-Door Movie Star). The story made me feel like I was part of an exclusive club. And I have to say I will never read gossip magazines in the same way ever again! "According to a Source" also had great messages about family, friendship, work/life balance, and love. I think it would make a great movie and I can't wait to see what Abby Stern comes up with next. Definitely worth your time!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fun, accurate read on how the sausage is made in celebrity journalism! Really enjoyed this read because of how witty and true to subject it is. Abby Stern nails the intricacies and social hierarchy of hotspots like the Chateau Marmont, as well as the isolation of having to fit in with the A-list rich kids when you're barely covering the rent. It's not always glamorous, but like Ella, in L.A. we wash away our sorrows with Rosé!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is an absolute blast! It's a very fun read and I got through it faster than I thought I would (I'm no speed reader). Ella is a great character with real conflict, both internal and external, and I loved going on this journey with her. All of the glitz and glam that you'd want from a book like this was on full display, and the blind-item approach to the celebrities added a little game to the novel. I know who my Sexy-Indie-Film-Actor is, but you might be thinking of someone else. If you're into Hollywood, gossip, fashion or just want something that is enjoyable and not super heavy, get a copy!
Nobodyreadsanymore More than 1 year ago
According to A Source by Abby Stern is a light, fluffy read that keeps you on your toes with each turning page. Ella Warren is an undercover celebrity reporter that goes through great lengths to collect exclusive information for her boss (think Devil Wears Prada). My favorite part of reading this book is how Ella evolves into a mature woman and takes responsibility for her selfish, careless actions. The entertaining part is that all of the mentioned celebrities have secret/blind names that the reader has full control in deciding who they can be. It's fun and the reader gets to use their imagination. It's a fast paced plot and the character development keeps you very interested. This is definitely a book you can read on the beach, on vacation, on an airplane or even on a Sunday while enjoying a fresh cup of coffee.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fun but with a satisfying finish - the perfect summer read! Ella Warren is the friend you wish you had, getting you into the chicest restaurants, the hottest clubs, and the best after parties in L.A. Through her, the reader gets the ultimate peak into the A-list lifestyle. Decoding the allusions will make even the pop culture amateur feel like an insider. With a fresh premise, delightfully flawed characters, and plot twists in all the right places, it's hard to put down. Sweet but never saccharine, unlike much in the genre, the ending does not disappoint. Except that you'll be sorry to leave the story behind. The material feels so ripe for the screen, though, that I'm sure it won't be long until the movie version is out. Or better yet- a TV series.