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When did I know? Was there really a moment when I knew? Or did I always love you and forgotten when? I felt it when my eyes first touched yours, and you looked back.
* * *
If the waitress had not known better, she would have believed the two men at one of her tables were twins. They appeared to be exactly the same height, the same in coloring and build, except one of them just happened to be the famous actor, Daniel Hunter.
As the waitress approached the table, she noted the differences between the men that had escaped her eye on the other side of the restaurant. Daniel was literally breathtaking for a man, dark wavy hair and the bluest eyes she had ever seen, like sapphires. His smile was brilliant, his teeth perfect and gleaming white. He had a beautiful, well-defined jaw line which only added to the perfection of his face despite the shadow of a heavy beard. She figured him to be over six feet by four or five inches, which seemed identical to the man across the table from him.
There were other differences as well. Where Daniel dressed casually; the other was more formal in his daily attire wearing a sports jacket and tie. The waitress observed the hair escaping from the open collar of Daniel's shirt, but knew what he looked like out of his clothes. The movie scenes were practically burned into her memory. Daniel Hunter had the best pecks in the industry and certainly the most famous behind. She could think of three or four films where he had bared them for the camera. How she longed to run her fingers through the hair on his chest, and with him coming in the restaurant almost for every meal, she had plenty of opportunity to fantasize.
The word handsome justdidn't seem to go far enough to express just how good-looking he truly was. She glanced at the other man at the table only briefly as she stepped up to serve them.
Now close enough to really make the comparison between men, the man on the opposite side of the table had the same strong jaw line, but his eyes were brown. He lacked the sheer perfection of Daniel's handsome features, but he was by no means unattractive. What he lacked in beauty he made up for in strength of character, it was a nice face.
"Thanks." Daniel smiled up at the waitress as she refilled his cup of coffee. Then his eyes caught movement on the other side of the lace curtains and he watched the news vans pulling away from the curb outside. "How do you feel?" He asked, sarcasm dripping from his words, as he mimicked the question he heard out of the mouths of every reporter lately.
"It is a fair question," his companion replied.
"I guess it is," Daniel complained with some frustration. "But you'd think they would be able to figure it out on their own. How would anyone feel if a friend of theirs almost died?" he pointed out. "Sometimes I think the news people have no feelings of their own, they just feed off others." Daniel continued to watch the vans pulling out of town with a subdued sense of bitterness. He was glad to see them go.
"They're just doing their job," the man replied casually, as he calmly observed Daniel. The last twenty-four hours had been difficult, and Peter looked for any signs of stress, but Daniel remained contained.
Daniel and Roger Scott weren't close friends, but they had known each other for years. This would have been their third film and Daniel had looked forward to it. He wasn't wild about the script when he first read it, but Roger wanted him for the role and made a personal plea.
Then, even before the first camera rolled, Roger was struck down right in front of him, collapsed on the set and nearly died of a heart attack. Yet, when the reporters got wind of it, they descended in mass. They seemed more concerned with how the famous Daniel Hunter felt about the event, rather than the condition of Scott. It seemed a sad commentary on the overly inflated view of celebrity in society these days, he thought. Daniel's views on any subject made news.
Daniel said all the right things, expressed his concern publicly as one should under the circumstances, but in private, he said nothing. Now, cast and crew waited for news, but as star of the film he had access to far more information. The head of production had called him personally early that morning, but Peter hadn't been privy to the result of it.
Right now he was more concerned with the man across from him than whether or not filming was going to resume, but Daniel was unreadable. However, this was nothing new. He had never been a man to suffer openly. It was better to change the subject. "How about a game of cards?"
"Sure." He moved his cup of coffee out of the way and prepared for another round of their ongoing battle of Gin.
Peter opened his briefcase and took out a pen and a pad of paper used expressly for keeping score. To this he added the date and time to the very top of the page, along with their names and a line drawn straight down the middle to keep the scores separated. He handed the deck to Daniel to shuffle and deal, since he always knew whose turn it was to begin the game, and which of the two would keep score.
"Let's play to a thousand," Daniel suggested. There was nothing like a game of cards to pass the time, but also to distract him from gloomier thoughts. "Another director is flying in today to take over filming," Daniel relayed with a little irritation; part of the selling point of doing this film was working with Roger again. Some stars might have packed up and gone home and refused to work in less than ideal conditions, but not Daniel.
"That was fast, who'd they get?" Peter asked, as he waited for the cards to be dealt. Sorting through Daniel's mail in his briefcase took his attention while he waited, including a large envelope left at the front desk. He opened it, smiling as the hand was dealt. The contents didn't surprise him.
"Rachel West, she's got a good reputation, and her crews love her. I talked to some of the guys around here and they've got nothing but praise, but they say she's kind of strange. She's bit of recluse and keeps to herself between scenes. That's fine with me as long as we get the work done." He grimaced when Peter held up the contents of the envelope, a key to one of the rooms upstairs and a pair of red panties. "How original," he commented dryly.
"This is the fourth one this morning and it's only your second day on location. I'd say you're doing pretty well," Peter teased, and got the reaction he hoped for.
"Has this become the gauge of my career? How many keys and pairs of underwear I get per day on location?," he questioned, showing off the beautiful smile and handsome face that inspired the incessant invitations. "And they're always red." He laughed.
"Not always, black seems be a favorite too." He was glad to see Daniel smiling.
* * *
No, it wasn't possible. This girl had been hired to save his film? It couldn't be! He couldn't believe it, this rumpled, silly-looking teenager that had been rushed onto a private jet to take over his project? It was a joke! It had to be a joke!
In the early morning light, as she descended the steps of the Gulf Stream, she looked like some sixteen year old on her way to high school, with a back pack full of books. This skinny kid couldn't have been much over five feet in height or weighed more than a hundred pounds, in his opinion. The baggy jeans, the black sweatshirt and the over-sized gray flannel jacket didn't help to instill a sense of confidence in her abilities either. Her very reputation as a hard-working, inventive filmmaker was even in question in light of her appearance. The mop of red curls, blown wild on the breezy runway only made it worse.
Another sudden gust blew her striking red hair from her face, and he was met with a serious expression. Her eyes came up as he crossed the space between them without any sign of welcome. She just stood there waiting. As he came closer, he could see that she was far from being a child, late twenties, he estimated.
With a critical eye, he looked her up and down, and found her lacking in any of the female attributes he found desirable in a woman. If she had a figure, she did a good job of hiding it. Plus, she did nothing to accentuate what good points she did have. Her features were delicate and make-up would have helped, but her face was completely devoid of it.
"Thank heavens you're here," Sam blurted out and he started to reach for her, but she averted his touch, jerking her arm away and putting some distance between them as she followed him to his waiting car. His vehicle was parked a few feet beyond the tiny terminal with the engine left idling to save time.
Rachel climbed in next to Sam, clutching her bag and briefcase in front of her, and kept her possessions tight against her body. She barely had time to shut the door before he sped away and was just fastening her seat belt when they raced onto the nearby freeway.
"How far is Ferndale?" Rachel asked as they hurried along, keeping her face impassive, and her tone serious.
"About ten miles," he answered curtly, as he raced past the only two cars on the road ahead of him. "I hope that you got a chance to go over the script." He glanced at her quickly, but she didn't look at him, only nodded.
"I read it on the way up," she answered quietly. "I just finished doing a love story; I was hoping to do something different." She hugged her bag closer.
"I'll make sure that the next emergency I have will be an action-adventure," he said dryly, glancing at her quickly. She seemed even smaller to him now, folded tightly in her seat, as close to the door as possible.
No sense of humor, she thought, not that it made any difference to her, she was there to work. She looked at him now out of the corner of her eye. He didn't even look like he smiled very much; in fact, his expression was downright sour. She figured him to be about fifty, but he looked a little older than his years. Though he didn't have too much hair on the top of his head, what remained was grown out long and pulled back into a pony tail. They drove right through the city of Eureka on their way to Ferndale. It wasn't quite the small town that she thought it would be and she was looking forward to coming back to visit on her days off, but work came first. Work was freedom, the only freedom she knew.
As the city melted away behind them, the forest took center stage; it was so peaceful, broken only by long stretches of pasture land, small farms and towns, so open and beautiful.
Everything that Rachel enjoyed, Sam despised. All the trees and the dirt depressed him. He longed for his clean, climate-controlled office at the studio. He also didn't like leaving the nice smooth freeway for the two-lane road surrounded by all those smelly cows. He didn't care that this was dairy country; he didn't drink milk anyway. Sam wasn't happy at all when Rachel rolled down the window. Oh, how he hated the smell of livestock and fresh air.
Rachel was enthralled. It was so green and she loved the peaceful sight of grazing animals and little red barns. As the car veered left, Rachel turned her attention to the road ahead. Then right before her eyes, the little town seemed to rise out of nowhere. Ferndale. If it had not been for the cars, she would have never known the year. It seemed untouched by time, hidden from a world that buried its memories of simpler times under parking lots and shopping malls. Ferndale had survived intact, warding off time and change to stand proudly proclaiming its wonders. There were restaurants, ice cream parlors, book shops, and even art galleries. It was the perfect Victorian Village.
Almost at the end of Main Street was a clock, standing on its iron pole at the edge of the sidewalk, forever guarding the unchanging present. All this, Rachel marveled at in contemplative silence. She glanced at Williams, never forgetting for a moment she was in a car with a man she didn't know, but all he seemed to see was the road ahead and his watch.
They turned left on Ocean Street and immediately pulled over in front of the Victorian Inn, a beautiful Italianate structure, standing proudly on the corner. The moment the car stopped, Sam was out, raced up the front steps, and was inside madly ringing the bell at the front desk.
From the table in the adjoining restaurant, Daniel watched in amusement, Sam was always in a hurry. Then from out of the passenger seat came the most beautiful red hair he'd ever seen and he pulled back the lace curtain just a little to get a better look.
* * *
Rachel slowly got out of the car as if to savor the moment. It was all so wonderful. She longed to explore every store front and search out everything of interest. She marveled at the house right across the street, all the small trees had been pruned into the shape of mushrooms. What whimsy, she thought. She turned back and looked up at the two-story hotel, with its beautiful bay windows above and a restaurant and old-time saloon below.
* * *
Daniel found himself drawing in his breath when he saw her face for the first time. She was fair and her features so lovely that he didn't realize he had been holding his breath until he was forced to let the air out of his lungs.
* * *
Rachel wished that she could walk down the street and take in its flavor when she was interrupted by an impatient voice.
"If you don't mind . . . " Williams began and didn't need to finish.
Rachel nodded, but glanced up to take one more look at the beautiful old hotel.
* * *
Daniel was transfixed. In the early morning light, she seemed to all but glow and he couldn't take his eyes off her. How beautiful, he thought. For a strange disconnected moment, he felt as if he knew her. It was an odd sensation, like he was no longer part of the world around him. Instead, he was caught in a place where time seemed to come to a complete stand still.
He no longer heard the noise of the surrounding diners, or the clatter of silverware and dishes. Even the cards in his hand were forgotten, and his companion in the game receded into the silence of the moment. The longer he looked at her beautiful face the more intense the feeling became until he felt as if he were the last who lived in an existence that only she shared. He closed his eyes as the feeling deepened.
When Daniel opened his eyes, she was gone. Then he heard Sam's voice and that of the manager just on the other side of the partition near his table. Knowing this fair and beautiful woman he'd just glimpsed was there and he had to fight the urge to get up right then and join her. The draw to do so was unbelievably strong that it took everything he had to resist it.
* * *
The front desk was opposite the saloon, with its long wooden bar and small tables up against the walls. Rachel leaned over a little and tried to look around the partition that isolated the saloon from the larger room on the other side, the restaurant. From what little she could see through the opening, the windows were covered with lace curtains and the tables were lined up next to them to take advantage of the view. Stepping back a little, she could see even more tables all around the room and ending near a huge old fireplace and oak mantle. Near the hearth was a Victorian sofa covered in red velvet.
The scene was so inviting. She longed to go in and be surrounded by the tables topped with their crisp damask cloths. Yet, the moment that she was signed in, Williams whisked her through the tiny lobby near the front door, then around the corner to an enormous flight of stairs.
* * *
Daniel stood slowly, the feeling still so strong that it forced him to his feet and he looked through the opening in the partition, just in time to see them heading away toward the stairs. Though he could only watch her retreating figure, he was none the less mesmerized and for a moment he almost followed.
"Daniel, what's wrong?" Peter asked, but when he didn't receive a reply for several moments, he called again. "Daniel?" He became even more concerned when he only received another round of silence. Why was he just standing there, staring into the saloon? "Daniel!" he called again, finally getting his attention.
"What?" Daniel turned suddenly as he spoke, startled by the sound of his own name.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing," he abruptly answered and returned to his chair, noticing the restaurant was starting to fill up with more members of the crew. It was then that he remembered the meeting Sam had called for that morning so everyone could meet the new director. He wanted to meet her too, but not in the middle of this crowd.
He looked across the table at Peter. "Forget the cards for now."
"How come when I'm in the lead, you always want to stop?" he kidded.
* * *
Sam was already hurrying up the hall and Rachel was glad that she had only one bag to carry. She was always one for traveling light and had become an expert over the years in packing just what she needed for the weeks that she would be on location.
Williams continued to take the lead as they turned a corner and headed down another short hallway that deposited them into a small alcove with the doors to two rooms, then he turned and handed Rachel the key to one of them. "When you get settled, come down to the dining room and we'll get started." With that, he was gone.
Rachel entered her corner room and was welcomed by a beautiful brass bed that dominated the suite. The wallpaper was shaded in delicate pink roses intertwined with ribbons and the comforter on the bed was the color of eggshells. In the far corner, the octagonal bay window was a small room in itself. Lace curtains marked the entrance and there a table for two sat.
The bay was lined with double hung windows and from there she could take in all of downtown Ferndale. A peek into the bathroom and she was pleased to see that it sported a real ball and claw bathtub as well as a pedestal sink. This was nice, now she didn't have to rush through her bath. Weeks of freedom, she thought as she let out a long sigh of relief.
Rachel jumped in the middle of the bed. She had it all to herself and it was wonderfully soft and she was looking forward to snuggling under the down comforter. A real bed again! she thought.
From where she sat, she looked around her room that would be hers for the next six weeks. There was a huge wardrobe against the far wall next to the bathroom door and a dainty vanity near the bay window. On the other side of the room, next to her bed was another door, locked with a single bolt. It must be an adjoining room, she thought, and hoped that her neighbor was quiet.
As much as she wanted to stay and enjoy the room and the view, she had work to do. She unpacked quickly and hung up her clothes, and then picked up her briefcase and held it tightly in front of her as she left her room. The long staircase wasn't quite so bad going down, but as she rounded the corner and started through the saloon to the restaurant, she was stopped by a familiar voice.
"Welcome to Ferndale."
Rachel turned and her briefcase dropped down, dangling in her hand. She had never seen eyes so beautiful in all her life. They were so blue, like the sky. Yet, it was more than the color, there was something behind the gaze that drew her instantly in and held her soul tight. For what seemed like a long moment, she saw nothing else, until he smiled and it took her breath away.
He was casually leaning against the bar with a cup of coffee in his hand. "How . . . how do you do?" She could barely get the words out.
Her hair sparkled in the soft light and he found he could do nothing but smile at her wide-eyed expression. How beautiful she was. "I'm very happy to meet you," he said softly.
Rachel took small hesitant steps toward the handsomest man that she had ever seen. She set her briefcase on the floor before she extended her hand to greet him, feeling her knees shaking the closer she came. "Rachel West," she announced almost in a whisper.
"Daniel Hunter," he said as he took her hand in his, the feeling was electric. He wanted so much to appear casual, but he couldn't stop smiling. "I was beginning to think that our first day of filming was going to be our last until I heard that you were coming."
Realizing that they were still holding hands, she released him suddenly and backed away to put space between them. However, his steady gaze brought her back a step before she could stop herself. "How is Roger?" Rachel asked with concern, looking for something to say. Then she realized that she had been staring and tried to look away, but his eyes drew her back.
Sliding her hands in the back pockets of her baggy jeans, she took a tiny step closer, then another without realizing it.
"He had a heart attack and was rushed into surgery for an emergency by-pass. He almost died right on the set." The memory was awful.
She could see the pain in his eyes at his statement, and she found she could not bear it. "I'm sure that he is getting the best of care," she answered gently. In amazement she found herself reaching out and patting him on the arm. "All we can do is pray for him." She was suddenly startled by her own action and forced her hand back into the pocket of her pants. What was she doing? she wondered in alarm.
Daniel felt her comforting touch, so simple a gesture, throughout his entire body. He found himself staring again and looked past the red hair that had first caught his attention to her gray eyes and golden lashes. Her skin was so fair that it defied description, so fair that he expected a thousand freckles, and yet she hadn't a single flaw or blemish.
She was slender and delicate in appearance, like a porcelain doll. Her hand was nearly swallowed up by his own, but it was strong beyond its appearance and her skin was incredibly soft.
She had an elfin, almost fairylike quality about her, especially in the way she looked at him through her golden lashes. She seemed nervous and shy and her eyes would dart away and then come back. She kept looking up at him with a gentle innocence he had never seen in any other human being. The unbelievable feelings at first seeing her still swept through him, and were only growing stronger as he looked into her eyes. He seemed perfectly insensible to the world around him, and it wasn't until she turned away, that a certain impatient producer intruded on his notice.
"I think we should get started." His voice was calm, but the beads of sweat on his forehead screamed otherwise.
Daniel just nodded, but his eyes returned to Rachel as she walked ahead of him into the restaurant. She seemed to make no sound at all on the old creaky wood floors of the saloon, and he actually looked to see if her feet even touched the floor.
A moment before she passed through the partition, she looked back, it was just a nervous glance, but he caught her eye, and again he swore he knew her from somewhere.