Read an Excerpt
Scene one. Take one.
She was alone. Jazelle Richardson stopped at the foyer mirror and spared one last glance at her reflection before going downstairs to the party. She had to admit, she looked like her old self again, almost. With her signature diamond-stud earring in the shape of a star, she sparkled like the precious gem she was. She turned to the side, examining the black cocktail dress she'd finally decided to wear. It was perfect, not too bold, not too daring. It made a statement: she was back.
Six months of reclusiveness had been enough. In those months she'd traveled and spent a lot of time thinking about her life, something she seldom had time to do before. As a successful actress and entertainer, she'd moved from character to character without much time to be herself. Her brother's death forced her to do just that. After he died, she walked away from her charmed life with a definite purpose in mind: to find herself again. Somewhere along the way she had become a parody of herself, playing a role, being someone she no longer recognized.
Turning her body, she took a deep breath then tilted her head from side to side, examining her face closely. She looked completely different now. Few people would even recognize her. She'd trimmed her long honey-blond hair and dyed it back to her natural color, her face was thinner and her eyes were far less brilliant. But she still had the deep rosy blush that seemed to always tint her cinnamon-toned complexion. The glint in her eye never reached her heart. But always the consummate actress, she knew she could pull it off for one evening. After all, they were all waiting to see her. And who could blame them.
She knew rumors had been flying about her for months. The tabloids loved her because the tragedy that was her life sold papers. Every time she stepped out of the front door another story had been concocted in the media. One had her in a suicide pact with her brother. Another had her locked away in a psychiatric hospital and yet another had her moving to Tibet and joining a monastic sect.
The absurdity of the reports made her chuckle as it always had. Her brother, Brian, taught her that. They always made fun of the tabloid stories. It was their private joke on the rest of the world. Brian… The thought of him brought it all back like a movie trailer caught in an endless loop. She chuckled again, remembering Brian mimicking a booming baritone voice-over detailing her life.
VO: The melodrama that is Jazelle Richardson's life is scripted daily. The star of this tortured existence lives a never-ending drama, performing for the entertainment and amusement of the media and anyone else who feels the need to partake of her tragedy. Tonight we find our heroine attending a lavish soirée, the first in years. Will she succeed in rejoining society or turn and run away again?
Her life, she mused, was the perfect juggling act of melodrama, comedy and tragedy. The precarious balance, she sometimes found, was now a little wobbly. It had been that way since birth. Dialogue, locations, cast, crew and extras changed all the time. But she remained the tragic heroine; that part never changed.
Jazz turned, hearing the sound of laughter coming from the party downstairs. She sighed, thinking that she was not looking forward to the next few hours. But a promise, was a promise especially to Melanie Harte. She owed her. Not just for herself, but for her mother. Melanie had come to the rescue when she needed her. She was also a godsend in helping her mother, and if going to her party would even begin to repay that debt, it was the least she could do.
Everyone knew that when Melanie Harte threw a cocktail party, you best believe it was going to be the talk of Sag Harbor for the next week. Mel's lavish party tonight marked the opening of the Hampton's summer season. Soon the small resort town would be inundated with celebrities from New York, Boston and as far away as L.A. and London.
Despite its size, the party was strictly for friends, a few locals and, of course, a nice smattering of her most successful clients. After all, what would a Melanie Harte Platinum Society cocktail party be without a little matchmaking? But matchmaking and the thought of falling in love was the last thing Jazz needed or wanted.
Love was not in the cards for her. In her twenty-nine years, she'd climbed higher than she ever imagined. She pushed herself constantly to be the best, knowing that it was more to prove to the naysayers and critics she could do it than for the money and celebrity. Now she had proved she could make it. She expected to be happy, but she wasn't. She was lonely, and now, with Brian gone, the realization was even more obvious.
She sighed, refocused on the image in the mirror and stiffened her chin. The sadness in her heart echoed the sadness she felt earlier that day, but she refused to give in to it. "I can do this," she assured herself, forcing a smile to her lips. She wore very little makeup, with her hair styled flat-iron straight with subtle highlights that gave her hair a sun-kissed look. Hers was the face of numerous cosmetic ads that touted radiant beauty, lustrous skin and flawless makeup. Funny, she didn't feel particularly radiant or lustrous right now. She didn't particularly feel much of anything.
She'd long since relinquished all hope of being happy. The best she hoped for was pleasingly attractive. After all, it was appearances that mattered in her world. Her mother's words suddenly came to mind. "If you look the part, then you are the part. Always appear above it all, so even if your heart is breaking, they should never know." But they did know, and now the words that had always shadowed her had suddenly become meaningless. The media saw her heartbreak and used it against her.
Hiding out was the only thing left to do, so she traveled. Fiji, Tahiti, Madagascar, anywhere they'd never heard of her, but she knew she couldn't hide forever. So for the last three weeks she'd kept a low profile at her friend's in Sag Harbor.
Tonight would be her first public appearance in months. "I can do this," she repeated, puckering her gloss-covered lips. "Okay, Jazelle, you're on." Then childishly she stuck her tongue out at her reflection. Hearing laughter, she looked quickly.
Jessica Harte stood smiling. "Now that's the Jazz we all know, love and adore."
"Hi, Jess," Jazz said, seeing her friend's reflection behind her in the mirror. "I'm glad that was you and not someone less understanding."
"Why, everybody knows you have a wry sense of humor."
"Not everybody," she said, finally turning around and nervously smoothing the perfectly fitted evening dress.
"Girl, check you out, you look fantastic," Jessica said, walking up behind her. Jazz smiled then touched her hair, which was already perfectly in place. "See, I knew there was some spark of the old Jazelle Richardson in there somewhere."
"Thanks, but I don't feel particularly sparky."
"Are you okay?" Jessica asked.
"Yeah, I guess. I'm just not up for one of these mega parties."
"Don't worry. You'll have a fantastic time, trust me."
"Are Ronnie and Vincent here yet?"
"They're already downstairs. Now come on—most of Mel's guests are already here. You're late. And I'm your designated handler, so let's go."
"You think I'm gonna need one?"
"No, but just in case, I'm here," Jessica said as she linked her arm with Jazz's and proceeded down the hall to the staircase.
Jazz nodded, grateful for Jessica's presence. The two got to the top of the stairs and stopped. "You ready for this?" Jessica asked. Jazz nodded, then shook her head no, then nodded and shrugged. "You can do this." They started down the steps. Then, midway down, the lilt of laughter and sound of music hit her. Jazz stopped. Jessica stopped.
"I'm suddenly not so sure I'm up for all this."
"Yes, you are," Jessica said, continuing down the steps with her arm still linked with Jazz. "You're a Tony-nominated, Emmy and Golden Globe Award-winning actress. You've been in front of the cameras and audiences since the day you were born. You had your own TV show at eight years old, and you starred in movies at twelve. You practically grew up with a camera in front your face. I bet you even had a sound crew, a few grips and full makeup trailer on standby when you were in diapers. So don't tell me you're not up for this. I know better."
Jazz laughed. That was her entrance, and as soon as they walked into the room, heads turned. Her joyous laughter radiated, and those in the immediate vicinity smiled with delight. It looked as if Jazelle Richardson, movie star and entertainer, was back. "Thanks, Jess," Jazz whispered.
"For what?" she asked.
"Only you could make me laugh just as I walk into the lion's den."
"Don't mention it. Now relax and have some fun— the food is delicious, and the guests are interesting and entertaining. Remember it's just friends, locals and clients here tonight. I'll get you something to drink."
"Wait, which ones are the clients?" Jazz asked quickly.
"They don't have a special nametag on—they're mingling around. Most of them are businessmen, entrepreneurs and athletes. Why?"
"Athletes, millionaire athletes," Jazz said woefully as she looked around intently. "Crap, that's all I need."
Jessica knew exactly what Jazz meant. It had been widely publicized that Jazz had a huge public breakup with both of her last two boyfriends, both of whom were professional athletes. "Don't worry. There are no professional soccer players or tennis players here tonight. Just enjoy yourself and have fun."
"Easy for you to say. I don't want to be mistaken for one of Melanie's clients. The last thing I need is to be matched up with a millionaire looking for love."
"You say that like it's a bad thing."
"Not at all. For most people, finding love is the greatest thing in the world. It's just not for me."
"Sure it is. Do you know how many women would love to be standing in a room surrounded by handsome millionaires looking for love? You just have to have a little trust," Jessica said.
"I trust that as soon as I get my heart broken it will be splashed across the tabloids and on the Internet for the next few weeks. No, thanks. I've been there and done that. Believe me, I have no intention of falling in love ever again."
"Jazz, love can come at any time and in the most unexpected places. And yes, it could even come packaged in the body of a handsome millionaire athlete. Don't let a couple of bad experiences wound your heart and spirit. Just be open to it—the rest is our job. Now, we're going to have company in a few seconds so turn around and smile. Action."
Jazz turned. She instantly smiled as several guests walked over to her. She greeted them warmly as Jessica introduced them. A few more joined them. Some she knew, others she didn't. Pretty soon she was surrounded by an adoring crowd, fans and well-wishers. Jessica eased away, smiling. She'd planted the seed, so her work was done for now.
Although everyone seemed genuinely concerned about Jazz the next few minutes were a high-wire act of nerves and determination. It was taking every bit of acting ability she had. She smiled and greeted people all the while wishing she hadn't let Melanie talk her into coming.
Of course Jazz's instinct was to turn around, run back upstairs, wash her face and crawl back in bed. But she promised she'd attend, so she couldn't back out now. Still, the last thing she wanted was to be at a matchmaker-organized cocktail party. But being the houseguest of a prominent yearlong Sag Harbor resident, she didn't have much choice. Besides, saying no to Melanie Harte was clearly not an option.
So she smiled and laughed, and smiled some more and did all the things a good house guest was supposed to do. She listened to lame jokes and did her best to be as pleasant as possible. After a particularly awkward conversation with an L.A. plastic surgeon who suggested she have several very elaborate facial procedures, she excused herself and headed toward the buffet table. Midway, she was stopped by her hostess.
"See, I told you you'd enjoy yourself once you joined the party," Melanie said, smiling happily as she walked over to stand beside Jazz. "And FYI, I have three clients here tonight who would love to meet you."
"Meet me, fine. Anything more, no thanks. You know I'm not exactly in the 'looking for love' mood."
"Not a problem, just thought I'd mention it," Melanie said, glancing across the room nonchalantly toward the man who'd just walked in to the party.
Jazz followed her line of sight. He, whoever he was, was impossible to miss, and not just to her. A crowd of women immediately gathered around him. Heads turned and guests stared, smiling. Who could blame them? He was incredibly handsome. He was tall, amazingly built and dressed stylishly in a dark blue suit with matching shirt and tie. He had a casual ease that was both relaxed and sexy. Melanie smiled and waved. He waved and nodded just as Jessica walked over to welcome him. He instantly turned his attention to Jessica, while still glancing across the room.
"Who is he?" Jazz asked of the man staring across the room at them. "He looks familiar," she added.
"I'm sure he does. That's Devon Hayes, or 'Bolt' to most of his fans. He's the star quarterback for the Los Angeles Stallions football team. His face is on just about every sports-related merchandise there is. He's single, thirty-two years old, rich, handsome and currently negotiating to sign another multi-million dollar NFL contract." Melanie watched Jazz's expression closely. It didn't change, but Melanie nodded happily, seeing that neither Jazz nor Devon took their eyes off each other. "He is magnificent, isn't he?" Melanie whispered.
Jazz didn't realize she'd been holding her breath since she first saw him. She didn't know about the rest of Melanie's description, but when it came to the handsome and magnificent parts, she was right on the money. He was definitely magnificent. Jazz nodded without responding.
"He's also one of my newer clients, but I don't know for how long," Melanie said, then added, "I've been having a difficult time finding his match. I'm headed to the city tomorrow to do a more intense search."
"A client, really?" Jazz said with interest, seeing Jessica walk away from Devon as a very young woman in a red micro-mini dress immediately move in to take her place beside him. "So, why would a professional football player who looks like that need your services?"
"He wants to find love and companionship, same as all my other clients."