Read an Excerpt
His cynical face had the wicked fascination of a fallen angel and he had the strange olive-green eyes of a sorcerer capable of conjuring both white and black magic.
As Kendra's gaze met his across the crowded room, she felt a queer breathless shock and her hand tightened involuntarily on the stem of her cocktail glass. There was a mesmerizing intensity about those deep-set eyes; she felt as though she was wrapped in a shimmering force field of power. And suddenly she felt weak and ineffectual. Then one of the men in the little coterie surrounding Damon spoke to him and he glanced away, releasing her.
Releasing? Good heavens, she was being fanciful tonight! She made a conscious effort to relax her death grip on her glass.
She must be more tired than she realized. Joel Damon might be known for being something of a miracle worker as a director, but there was nothing in the least supernatural about him personally. His reputation with women was scandalous, even in the permissive culture of Tinsel Town. That narrowed, searing glance he had directed at her had merely been the appraisal of a virile predator seeking new prey. She surely should be used to that by now.
Her hand absently rubbed at the nagging little pain in the small of her back. The moment she became aware of what she was doing, she quickly jerked her hand away. This must be her night for being stupid. There were too many people here who would recognize and correctly interpret that little sign of weakness for exactly what it was. That had to be avoided at all costs. All she had to do was hold on until the painkiller she'd taken fifteen minutes earlier had time to take effect; then she'd be fine.
The gag today had been rough and she was tired-that's why the ache seemed so unbearable at the moment.
"God, you look gorgeous, Ken," Dave Balding's voice was lazily admiring her as he appeared at her side.
He looked more like an ebullient genie than ever, she thought. Oh, dear, yet another mythical simile. Her lips turned up in a rueful smile. "So do you, Dave," she said lightly. "I don't think I've ever seen you in a tuxedo. You look quite dashing."
He made a face. "Come on, Ken, cut the bull. We've known each other too long for me to swallow that." His blue eyes were twinkling as he patted his slightly rotund stomach. "Even Sheila said I looked like a pregnant penguin in all this sartorial glory. She should know; she's due herself next month."
"Is Shelia here?" Kendra's gaze eagerly searched the room, but Dave was shaking his head.
"Nope." He lifted his glass to his lips. "She didn't feel up to this kind of bash tonight. You know how she is when she's pregnant. She gets positively claustrophobic in crowds." He frowned. "I didn't like leaving her alone, but I couldn't risk offending the great man." He gestured mockingly toward Joel Damon across the room. "I may be assistant producer, but that doesn't mean I don't jump when Damon whistles. I have instructions from Michael Donovan that he's to have everything he wants for Desert Venture."
Kendra's brows lifted in surprise. Michael Donovan of Donovan, Ltd. Productions didn't have the reputation of relinquishing one iota of his power as executive producer in the blockbuster hits his company produced. Though he gave his directors complete artistic license, his iron hand was always visible behind the scenes. "That's rather unusual, isn't it?"
Dave nodded. "I'll say it is." He took a sip of his drink. "But then, so is Joel Damon. He can write his own ticket with any film studio in Hollywood these days. He picked up his second Oscar last year, you know."
"How could I help it?" With an odd sense of reluctance her gaze followed his to the corner of the room. In the conventional tuxedo he wore with such careless elegance, Damon's tall slim body gave off an aura of power that dominated the little circle around him. There was a lazy smile on those cynical lips now as he looked down at the woman beside him. She was chattering with almost desperate vivacity in the attempt to hold his attention. His green sorcerer's eyes were nearly hidden by his heavy lids, so that only a jewel-bright gleam shone through the dark lashes. Then those lashes flicked up and his gaze met hers with the impact of an electric shock. Electricity. Yes, that was the word for the whorls of power that were radiating from him, and again she was conscious of the sensation of being caught in the paws of a predator.
This time his oddly possessive glance didn't stop at her face, but wandered over her golden throat and shoulders to the full thrust of her breasts against the cinnamon chiffon gown. His gaze lingered there for a long moment and, incredibly, she felt her breasts respond to his hot glance as if he actually touched her. Then he looked at her slim waist, hips, and long legs. When his glance shifted from her to Dave, she let out her breath in a rush of relief.
Dave Balding's lips pursed in a soundless whistle. "When did you meet Joel Damon, Ken? I have an idea you didn't need my help to get you on the payroll."
"What?" She shook her head as if to clear it. What in heaven's name was wrong with her tonight? "I've never met the man," she said lightly. "I imagine the only reason I was invited to this party was that his secretary noticed my name on the production log." Her glance flitted around the room, dramatically decorated in black and white. "It's far from a select gathering anyway. Everyone from the wardrobe woman to the key grip is here tonight." Her gaze returned to the blonde standing beside Damon. "Not to mention half the starlets in Hollywood."
"Joel's leaving for Sedikhan tomorrow and he usually throws a party for the cast and crew the night before he goes on location," Dave said. "Not that I think he enjoys it. I get the distinct impression that the social scene bores him to tears." He moved his shoulders uneasily. "You're sure you haven't met him before? That look I'm getting from our lord and master is definitely menacing."
"It has to be your imagination," she said deliberately, shifting her position so that her back was turned to Damon. But even then she could feel the force of his gaze on her bare back and shoulders.
"From what I've heard, it's not unusual for Joel Damon to display an interest in a woman. Any woman." She took several sips of her champagne before speaking again. "Perhaps his boredom is extending to that lush little blonde who's hanging on to his every word."
"Maybe." Dave's smile brightened his plain face. "It's not the first time you've shut out the competition without even trying." His admiring glance skimmed over her long chestnut hair. It tumbled down her back in a silken curtain and shimmered with a thousand tiny flames in the softly lit room. "Most men take one look at you and immediately decide that you're just what they need as an erotic nightcap. I don't know how I escaped your luscious allure all these years."
"I do." Kendra's deep brown eyes were twinkling. "It probably had something to do with the fact that I tagged after you and Casey from the time I could toddle. What's that expression-'familiarity breeds contempt'?"
His face sobered. "Never contempt, Kendra," he said quietly, raising his hand and gently stroking the curve of her cheek. "I think I respect you more than anyone I've ever known." He hesitated. "How is Casey?"
"Better," she answered. "Much better." Her face clouded. "He was pretty bitter at first, but who could blame him? I don't think anyone could accept being partially paralyzed without going a little crazy. Particularly a man like Casey who knew it also meant the end of his career as a stuntman." She tried to smile. "He's studying law now, you know. Casey always was a great one for talking. He'll probably become a Supreme Court justice before he's satisfied."
"I wouldn't doubt it," Dave said softly. "Casey's the type of man who gets whatever he goes after. Is he still in that convalescent home in the Valley?"
She nodded. "Dr. Dystron says he'll be there at least for another six months for physical therapy. He's really chomping at the bit to get back to the real world." Her lips tightened with determination. "But I'll be damned if I'll let him get out before he can get around without that walker. It's going to be tough enough for him facing all of his old friends in the business. Besides, he'd start skipping the outpatient therapy, and he needs all those nurses right there to nag him about it."
Dave's eyes were thoughtful. "You know, when we were all kids together, you were the quiet gentle one who let Casey and me stampede all over you. It seemed impossible sometimes that you were really brother and sister." His hand moved from her cheek to squeeze her shoulder affectionately. "Somewhere along the way you've managed to develop into one hell of a woman, Ken."
"I've just grown up," she said simply. "After Casey's accident I didn't have much choice: I had to be strong enough for both of us. Casey needed an adult to depend on, not a child."
"You were only nineteen when Casey broke those vertebrae in his back." Dave's lips tightened. "There should have been someone there to help you. You've gone through hell with those three operations and Casey in one hospital after another." He frowned. "We all wanted to help, Ken. Why wouldn't you let us?"
"What could anyone do?" she asked wearily, her hand rubbing unconsciously at the tendons in the small of her back. "His friends all stood by him. His hospital room looked like a De Mille crowd scene most of the time. You were all wonderful to support him like that. The rest was my responsibility." She smiled up at him. "But you all helped there, too. You got me the stunts to help pay all those medical bills." She made a face. "Well, almost all the bills. The operations have been paid for now; that leaves only the convalescent home to worry about."
"I don't know if we did you any favors doing that." His concerned gaze was on the hand rubbing her back. "You've been overdoing it, Ken. All the stunt boys say so. You've been taking any job that comes along and not insisting on proper safety measures. I heard you tore up some tendons in your back a few months ago, yet you were back on the set six weeks later. Is your back still bothering you?"
She dropped her hand away quickly. "No, not at all," she lied. "I'm just a little stiff because of a fall I took from a horse this afternoon. The stunt coordinator misjudged the spot where I'd fall and dug up the earth three feet from the place the lariat actually toppled me off my trusty steed."
"You're lucky you didn't break any bones," he said grimly. "Like I said, you're not being careful enough in choosing your jobs. The wrong stunt coordinator can get a person killed. I bet you didn't even insist on a run-through before the scene was shot."
"The director was in a hurry to finish the day's shooting. He didn't want to take the time." She smiled bitterly. "Time is money, you know. Casey didn't have a run-through either or he might not have skidded that car into a stone wall."
"You should have learned from his mistake," Dave said. "If you're not careful, you'll end up in the hospital yourself and then how will you help Casey?"
"If you want work in this business, you don't argue with the director," she said softly. "You know that as well as I do, Dave. All a stuntwoman needs to get blacklisted is a reputation for not being 'cooperative.' There are too many amateurs out there ready to step in and take the risks just to get the chance to break into the business."
"It's not worth your life, Kendra," Dave said bluntly. "Hell, it's not even that the job really appeals to you. You never did get the kick out of it Casey did."
"But I'm good at it." Kendra smiled gently. "And that's what's important right now. Even as a favor you wouldn't have hired me for Venture if I wasn't a competent professional. And you don't have to worry about the stunt coordinator on this picture. Skip Lowden is the best in the business. I've worked for him before."
"He's going to have to be," Dave said. "Venture is going to have more stunts than a James Bond thriller. Joel insisted I get the top people in the field." He glanced down at her glass. "You need a refill; shall I get you one?"
"Please." She watched as Dave dodged his way, through the crowd to the bar at the end of the room. She seldom had more than one drink, but she had an idea she might need all the help she could get to see her through the evening. Why weren't those damn pills taking effect? Cold fear surged through her. Oh Lord, had the fall damaged the scar tissue on the tendons again? Oh, please, God, not now! She needed this job. She hadn't been entirely truthful with Dave. There had been no need to worry him any more than he was already. Why burden him with the knowledge that she still owed another ten thousand for Casey's last operation and that the convalescent home bills were astronomical?
"Dave told me you were on the team, but I wasn't sure you'd be here tonight." The southwestern drawl was unmistakable, so was the lean hard-bitten face of the man who appeared at her side. Skip Lowden was in his early forties, but the only thing that testified to his age was a sprinkling of gray at his temples. The rest of him was all tough whipcord muscle and cool coordinated power. A power that was echoed in the keen razor-sharp gray eyes gazing into her own. "I heard you took a little tumble this afternoon."
She should have known he would have heard, she thought in resignation. The professional stuntworld was a very tight network and Skip was prominent in the hierarchy. "It wasn't much," she said defensively. "We got it on the second take."
"The second take should have been the first!" His voice resonated with authority. "You should have insisted on a run-through. Particularly with an amateurish ass like Bodine running the show. You know better than that, Ken."
She was getting very tired of hearing that. It was all very well for Skip to talk. He had the experience and reputation to be able to demand . . . and get anything he wanted.