Levi Combs never planned to rocket to stardom.
Eva Florez knew he would the moment she saw him.
Gabe Adams didn’t want anything to do with celebrities.
But after Gabe’s sister sells his photos of Levi with a young starlet to a tabloid website, their lives become intertwined forever, bound by rage and retribution.
Blending the nuance and insight of literary fiction with the big-screen magic of a Hollywood thriller, Focus Lost whisks readers into a world of temptation, indulgence, and revenge, daring them to take a bite of the forbidden fruit.
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|Publisher:||Rare Bird Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)|
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The road twists and turns away from Los Angeles. A man and girl ride inside an open Jeep. The vehicle slows and bends onto a grassy lane. Trees line both sides, connecting above, cloistering the path. Branches smack against the grill and windshield, raining leaves on the passengers, actor Levi Combs and young starlet Emily James.
A blonde ponytail sprouts from Emily's head. She rubs the debris from her bare, milky shoulders and legs and swats at the swarm of gnats swirling through the cab. "How did you ever find this place?"
"Driving late at night." Levi downshifts into first gear to navigate the uneven terrain. Strands of his black curly hair bounce against the red bandana wrapped around his head. He nudges up the black Ferragamo sunglasses resting on the tip of his nose. "You'll see, you need places like this to escape the cameras."
Even at only seventeen, Emily already knows that. She had been a working actor since she was three. Levi didn't get his break until he was twenty. "But what do you do out here?" Emily says, leaning toward the middle to avoid more of the invasive underbrush. She latches onto Levi's forearm as he continues to work the gearshift.
"Just roam," Levi says, powering the Jeep through the brush. A dilapidated farmhouse and barn appear ahead. He drives past the buildings into an overgrown orchard. Wild plants and grass extend up through the decaying branches spotted with leaves but bearing no fruit. "Solitude is your only friend in our business. Everyone either wants a share of what you have or to keep you from getting theirs." He increases speed, swerving between the dying trees. The thick weeds and fallen branches scrape against the undercarriage.
Emily clutches the safety bar. "Shouldn't you slow down?"
Levi accelerates, passing the last row of trees. "Hang on."
The weeded field drops off into a canyon fifty yards ahead. Panic seizes Emily. "Come on. What are you doing? Just stop." The space between the Jeep and the canyon decreases. Shrieking, Emily closes her eyes and curls up into a ball on the seat.
Levi stomps the breaks. The Jeep skids to a halt. Levi and Emily thrust forward. The seatbelts tighten and yank them back into the seats. The edge of the canyon appears just beyond the hood. A cloud of dust passes over them. Levi kills the Jeep. The sound of the engine fades into the fog blanketing the bottom of the canyon. Nearby rocky peaks poke through the mist like islands in a white sea. Unbuckling his seatbelt, Levi stands and looks out above the windshield. "Great view, huh?"
Emily uncoils and opens her eyes to the tranquil, majestic setting. She rips off the seatbelt and launches from the Jeep. "You're an asshole." She stomps to the edge of the canyon and stares into the emptiness.
Levi trails after her. "Relax. You weren't in danger. I told you, I come here all the time."
"But what if we had rolled over?" Emily asks, the fear revealing the young girl she never allows herself to be.
Stepping up next to her, Levi bumps his hip playfully into hers. "But we didn't."
"Still," Emily says, accentuating her pouting with a little girl's voice. "Why do you have to push everything?"
"That's funny, coming from the queen of the fast lane. You know I wouldn't let anything happen to myself. The world would be such a far drearier place without me." Levi wraps his arm around her, wiggling it to loosen her up. "There's a waterfall a short hike from here." He spins her toward him. "What do you say we go for a swim?"
"I suppose." A restrained smile creeps out through her dissipating anger. "But I'm still mad at you."
* * *
Standing on a rock abutment, Gabe Adams wipes the sweat from his tanned, bearded face and closely clipped blonde hair. A black Nikon D5 camera dangles from his neck. He lifts the camera and zooms across the gorge to a horsetail waterfall that fans out and falls into a circular plunge pool fifty-feet below. He had been there since sunrise scouting and shooting the area after receiving a tip about this place from a patron viewing the photos for sale at his stand in downtown LA. Adjusting the lens, he snaps several shots, followed by more fine-tuning and clicking of the shutter.
Along the creek below, Levi and Emily hike into Gabe's shot. Emily says, "This is gorgeous. You own all this?"
Levi stops by the edge of the pool, removing his shirt. His broad shoulders and angular back glisten in the gleaming afternoon sun. "Not this part. Just to the edge of the canyon." He kneels down and splashes water on his face, rubbing it over his hairless chest and arms.
From his elevated vantage point, Gabe lowers the camera in frustration. He whispers to himself. "Jesus. Get out of there. You're ruining the shot." He returns the camera to his eye and snaps more pictures, zooming in on Emily and Levi.
At the edge of the creek, Levi strips down to his black boxer briefs. Emily, all traces of the little girl gone, scans him up and down. "I'm surprised Mr. Paranoid isn't worried about paparazzi."
Levi plunges into the water and resurfaces. "No chance some fat piece of shit photog could've followed us. Why do you think I love it out here? It's one of the few places I feel safe and away from all the bullshit. That's why I wanted you to see it. You need to find a place like this."
Surveying the area, Emily removes her tanktop and drops her shorts. She thought he was bringing her out for another reason and doesn't want to waste any more time getting to it. Levi swims away toward the waterfall to avoid leering at her lean, developing frame. Furthering her intentions, Emily removes her bra and panties and jumps in. She buoys above the surface and blows water from her lips. "Whoa! Why didn't you tell me it was so cold?"
"Good for the circulation," he says, ducking his head under the falling water. "You'll get used to it. Don't be such a baby."
She swims to him and wraps her arms around his waist, pressing her body against his. "Come here and keep me warm."
Levi tenses. "What are you doing?" He steps back, but she doesn't let go and floats along with him. He reaches for her locked arms. "I don't think this is such a good idea."
"Who's being a baby now? I mean, why bring me all the way out to the middle of nowhere if you didn't want this to happen?" She keeps her body tight against his. "No one is going to know. You said yourself, we're completely alone."
He leans back. "Still —"
"I won't tell if you don't." Emily slides down along his body and disappears underwater. Levi's eyes widen. His lower half wiggles back and forth under the surface. Emily pops up and throws his wet briefs to shore. "That's more like it."
"Emily, we really need to —"
She clips his words with a kiss. Levi cups her shoulders, pushing her away. She presses tighter against him. He surrenders, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close.
Up above, Gabe watches through the zoom lens. Uncomfortable with the voyeuristic direction his shoot has taken, he lowers the camera, but raises it seconds later, snapping more pictures.
In the creek, the waterfall crashes behind Levi and Emily. She climbs up on him, clamping her legs around his waist. He says, "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely." She nods and bites her bottom lip. "This is perfect." She eases herself onto him and rocks back and forth. Levi crouches down and supports her slight weight with his thighs. She thrusts harder. The water splashes between them and shoots up their stomachs and chests. Levi matches the intensity and timing of her movement, but his legs tire and ache. He walks her to the shore.
Kissing his neck, she says, "What are you doing? Don't stop now."
"Don't worry. Stopping is the last thing on my mind." Still cradling her around the waist, he spreads his shirt and shorts with his foot and lowers her to the ground. "Isn't this better?" His body covers hers. Visible only are her arms and legs sticking out each side and wrapping around him.
"Mmm-hmm," she coos. "I love feeling you on top of me."
Gabe creeps backward off the abutment into the tree line, his lens remaining on them. He knows it's wrong, but he doesn't stop. The camera clicks in rapid succession as he retreats onto the trail. A rock tumbles down the canyon wall. It collides with others on the way down, jarring them loose. They hit with a staggered thump onto the canyon floor.
Startled, Levi pulls back from Emily. He looks up in Gabe's direction, scanning the area for movement.
Emily kisses him. "Come on, keep going. It's nothing." She tightens her thighs around him and grinds her pelvis in a circular motion.
Levi rotates with her, but he keeps scanning the canyon wall. Sunlight reflects off Gabe's camera lens, revealing his position. Levi separates from Emily. "Someone's here."
Emily pulls him back toward her. "Come on. It's just your imagination."
"No. I saw a reflection." He rocks back onto his knees and stands.
Through the lens, Gabe watches Levi looking directly at him. Gabe lowers the camera and charges off into the trees.
By the creek, Levi yanks his clothes out from underneath Emily and throws them on. Feeling deserted and vulnerable, Emily covers herself with her arms and hands. "Levi, come back down here. I'm cold. It's nothing."
Levi turns away from her and scours the rock face for the best way up. "Just get dressed and wait here."
"What?" Emily gasps. "You're leaving me?"
"I'm going to catch this loser and beat him with his camera." Levi jams one foot then the other into his shoes, not even bothering with the socks.
Emily sits up. "I can't believe you. You're being ridiculous."
"You, want to see ridiculous? Wait for the shitstorm that follows if those pictures get out." He turns and runs off along the creek.
In the woods, Gabe, cradling the camera in one arm and the case in the other, scrambles along a trail. He approaches a fork in the path. Unsure which way to go, he stops and scans side-to-side. Stuffing the camera in the bag, he opts to go right.
Levi angles away from the creek. Experienced with the terrain, he moves quickly and efficiently up a rooted trail to the woods. He weaves around, over, and under trees and branches, leaving the path, and cutting straight through the woods.
Lost in the woods, Gabe panics. His heart pounds, lungs heaving. He pauses to catch his breath and hears Levi yelling in the distance. "You better run. I'm coming for you." Gabe takes off again, still unsure exactly where he is or if he is going in the right direction.
Levi stops to get his bearings and listen. Through the trees, he spots Gabe. "I see you, asshole. You're mine." He angles to the right, calculating where to intercept.
At edge of the woods, Gabe views the canyon road through the trees and empties his lungs in relief. With the camera case cradled like a football, he pumps his arms to go faster, but his legs, heavy from use, don't cooperate. His brown Suburban sits on the side of the road fifty yards down. Darting in that direction, he lets go of the camera case and rummages through his pocket for the keys. The case swings behind him, dangling by the strap around his neck and banging into his backside as he bounds down the road. With the distance between him and the Suburban narrowing, he locates the keys in his pocket and presses the button to unlock the vehicle. The lights flash, the horn beeps.
Exhausted and out of breath, Gabe shuffles the remaining fifteen yards to the vehicle. He checks behind him again, still not seeing any sign of Levi. The camera case swings around to his left side. As he collects it in his arm, only steps from the Suburban, Levi bursts out of the woods and tackles him. They roll on the ground struggling for control. Levi maneuvers on top of him, pinning Gabe facedown on the ground. Levi drives his fists into Gabe's back and head. "How the fuck did you find us?"
Gabe fights to free himself, struggling to get out any words. "I — just — there — waterfall." Levi is too strong for him. Gabe stops fighting back.
Straddling Gabe with a firm grip around the back of his neck, Levi grabs Gabe's shoulder and flips him over. Levi studies Gabe for a moment to see if he recognizes him. "Who the fuck are you? Who do you work for?" His hesitation lowers his guard. Gabe rips his right arm free and grabs hold of the strap of the camera bag. Swinging with all his might, he hits Levi in the side of the head with the bag. Dazed, Levi falls over to the left.
Gabe kicks him off and scrambles to his feet. "I don't know who the fuck you are. I was just there for the waterfall."
Levi lunges and grabs Gabe's right leg. "I need those pictures."
Gabe delivers another blow with the camera bag to free himself. Disoriented, Levi scrambles to get up but stumbles, sliding headfirst across the stones.
Gabe yanks open the Suburban door and leaps inside, immediately activating the locks and starting the vehicle.
Levi, on his hands and knees, shakes off the wooziness and lumbers toward the Suburban, which roars to life. He yanks each door handle as he passes along the driver's side. Banging on the window, face to face with Gabe, Levi says, "You're mine, motherfucker. There's no place to hide. Nowhere to go that I won't find you." Gabe shifts the vehicle into drive. Levi slides around to the front and backs into the middle of the road. "What are you going to do now? You're going to have to go through me."
Gabe pulls off the side of the road, spraying stones behind him. He drives directly toward Levi, who holds his position in the middle of the road. Gabe swerves at the last second into the other lane. Levi slaps the side of the Suburban with his hand as Gabe speeds by. "Fucking coward!"
Gabe angles the Suburban back to the right lane. In the rearview mirror, he watches Levi shrink in the distance. The camera case strap twists around his neck and heaving chest. He untangles it, his hands shaking, and tosses the case on the seat next to him.
Still standing in the middle of the road, Levi removes his phone from his pocket and dials his agent. "Eva, it's me. You still got that contact at the LAPD? Good. We have a bit of an issue. I need you to have him look up a license plate. Three-apple-prince-rainbow-one-four-four ... Yep, that's it ... I'll explain later. We're still on for six at the Polo Lounge, right? Of course, I'll be on time. Okay, I'll see you then." He returns the phone to his pocket and heads back into the wooded area.
Following the path on the way back, he winds through the forest to the waterfall and climbs down to the creek. Emily sunbathes in her bra and panties, using her shirt and shorts for a blanket since Levi took his.
Levi walks up and stands over her, casting a shadow. "Come on. Hurry up and get dressed. We got to get back to the city."
She cups her hands over her eyes, her stomach muscles tightening as she tilts her head up at him. "About fucking time you got back. Did you at least catch him?"
"I did but he got away." Levi turns, kicking a rock into the creek. "I got his license plate though. Eva's going to track down who the piece of shit is."
Emily remains reclined on the ground. "Let her deal with it. That's what we pay them for."
Levi glances over his shoulder, noticing Emily is not moving. "No, I need to meet her anyway. She said she has some good news to share."
Emily sits up, pressing her finger into her bicep to check how much sun she got. "So, you brought me all the way out here and now we're just going to turn around and rush back? Un-fucking-believable." Levi walks away from her. She slaps her hand on the stones next to her. "At least come and help me up."
Levi spins around and plods back to her. Looking up at the waterfall, he extends his hand to help her up. "Believe me. You don't want those pics getting out any more than me."
"I'm not ashamed of my body." She puts one hand in his and holds up the other for him to grab hold. "Everyone thinks we're doing it anyway."
"Come on, hurry up. Every minute is critical." He scoffs, reaching over with the other hand and pulling her up in one forceful motion.
Continuing her momentum, she falls into his chest. "You sure we can't just take a break and finish what we started?" She drags her finger down his nose and across his lips.
He steps back, looking past her up at the waterfall again. "Are you nuts? Let's deal with one problem before we create another."
"Ugh. You're such a buzzkill." She turns away and bends over to pick up her clothes, intentionally presenting her ass in his direction. "Just because you play my dad in the movie doesn't mean you have to act like him." She slips on the shorts and tanktop and slides into her sandals.
Levi shakes his head. "You're fucking twisted, you know that?" She shuffles over to him, cupping her hand on his crotch, leaning up, and kissing him on the cheek. "That's what you love about me, Daddy."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Focus Lost"
Copyright © 2019 Doug Cooper.
Excerpted by permission of Rare Bird Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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