The Hollywood Assistant

The Hollywood Assistant

by May Cobb
The Hollywood Assistant

The Hollywood Assistant

by May Cobb

Hardcover

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Overview

Named a Most Anticipated Read of 2024 by Zibby Media ∙ Jordy’s Book Club ∙ Novel Suspects ∙ The Nerd Daily ∙ Pure Wow ∙ She Reads ∙ and more!

Offered a dream job in Hollywood with a famous director and his actress wife, an insecure woman becomes their personal assistant where their secrets and lies place her in the crosshairs of a murder investigation.


Cassidy Foster is heartbroken, stuck in life, and getting a little too obsessed with plants. Then when a well-connected friend becomes sick of Cassidy’s moping and gets her a gig with famous Hollywood couple, Marisol and Nate Sterling, Cassidy jumps at the chance to move to sunny LA.

The Sterlings are warm and welcoming. A perfect couple. All Cassidy has to do is be available a few hours a week for errands. In return, she has access to luxury: Designer clothes. A sparkling pool. Great pay.

When Nate takes interest in her, asking her to read scripts he’s written, Cassidy thinks this could be the key to kickstarting her writing dreams. As their business relationship grows, so does their attraction. Nate is sexy and talented, and Cassidy can’t believe her luck. Clearly, Marisol doesn’t know what she has. Maybe that’s why the two are always fighting when they think Cassidy isn’t around.

But Cassidy learns she was hired for a different purpose. The Sterlings aren’t the perfect couple. Marisol isn’t the perfect wife. And when one of them is found dead, Cassidy becomes the perfect suspect.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593546826
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/09/2024
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 30,770
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

May Cobb is an award-winning author of The Hunting Wives, My Summer Darlings, A Likeable Woman, and Big Woods. Her books have received attention from Book-of-the-Month Club, the Today show, and Oprah Daily and have been optioned for film and TV. She has an MA from San Francisco State University and her essays and interviews have appeared in the Washington Post and Good Housekeeping. She currently lives in Austin with her family. Her novel The Hunting Wives is soon to be a series on STARZ.

Read an Excerpt

1

The tip of the X-Acto knife punctures the packing tape with a satisfying pop, the air inside the box hissing as if sighing, as if it knows it's the last one, the final cardboard square containing the remnants of my life in Austin.

I pry the sides open, remove the top layer of Bubble Wrap. My grandmother's set of Fiestaware dishes-glazed a candy-apple red-glistens in the afternoon sun, a stream of cloudy light that filters through the kitchen window. Even though the plates were clean before I packed them, I'm a bit of a neat freak, so I give them a quick rinse before stacking them on the shelf.

The kitchen is my favorite part of my new apartment. Which used to be a garage, converted years ago into a living space. All two hundred square feet to call my own, at least for the time being.

The kitchen window is an actual picture box, the molding carved from maple with a ledge that now holds my potted herbs in tiny clay cups. Thyme, rosemary, and basil. My life shrunk down in miniature.

But the view is spectacular, expansive.

Ropes of flaming bougainvillea with magenta petals twist down the crumbling outdoor steps that descend from the upper level-the main house-stopping right outside the back door, which leads out to a small patio.

The house is perched on the side of a jagged slope; beyond the patio, the hill is ribbed with terraced gardens, rows of bone-colored stone stained with mud-green splatters from the gurgling grotto above.

When I take my latte out there in the morning, the ticktock sound of the dripping water mixed with early morning birdsong makes me feel like I'm living in the French countryside, even with the faint buzz of helicopters constantly hovering over the canyons.

From the window, I can glimpse the starburst of bougainvillea, the sloping gardens, and a triangle of blue California sky. Beneath it, the gray road threads through the hills, a thin, meandering creek.

Because of the scant space inside the apartment, I didn't bring much with me out here, only what I could jam into the Nissan Leaf.

My closet. Kitchen stuff. My record collection (mostly made up of my grandmother's vintage jazz vinyl). My box of Moleskine journals, a cliché, I know. And my plants, or, at least, a fraction of them.

Lexie teased me a few months back just after the breakup. "I'm worried you're turning into the crazy plant lady," she said over FaceTime while I padded through my tiny apartment, the camera on my cell capturing the plants dangling from the ceiling, hugging the windowsills, lining the shelves. Her voice had that stretched sound to it, a thin timbre that it takes on when she's had a decent amount of wine.

On the other end of the line, I rolled my eyes, sighed.

Her words stung, but only because they were true. My heart was shattered, and I had tried mending it by filling my space with greens and more greens.

"Okay, I'm sorry I said that, but . . . you could take this chance to move out here finally, shake things up."

I wasn't ready just yet.

Not until several weeks later when she presented me with the new gig. Only then did I begin to warm to the idea.

And a few days after that, she called me, voice brimming with cheer, letting me know she'd found this apartment, fully furnished with a bed, dresser, and small dining table. That was the tipping point, the hinge upon which my decision hung to take the plunge and move to LA.

I saw it as a fresh start, a clean slate. On moving day, I dragged my larger furniture-including the bed Carter and I made love on, his breath ragged on my neck, my back arched in ecstasy-out to the curb and taped Free signs on everything, including most of my plants.

Now I flatten the final box, take it outside, wedge it into the bloated recycling bin.

I let out a pent-up sigh, releasing my tense shoulders.

That's enough housework for today. Locking the back door, I decide to go for a stroll. Though I've only been here less than a week, it's already my favorite part of living in the Hollywood Hills.

I head east, toward Griffith Park, zipping up my hoodie as a cool breeze rolls down the hill. Lexie has always groaned about "June Gloom"-the phenomenon that makes it sometimes chilly and overcast here in the summer-but I'll take it any day after the torch of Austin, the sun baking the back of my neck on walks, the temps already boiling into the low hundreds even in early June.

And I'll double take it after my scorched relationship, that last text from Carter, a dagger in my chest . . . don't ever contact me again, Cassidy.

2

The tops of my thighs singe as I push myself up a jagged hill. I'm in decent shape-thanks to my weekly yoga class in Austin and all the trails I used to hike-but half a mile into this walk I'm winded. It will take my body a sec to get used to these steep hills.

The road curves before it descends again, and as I round a knotted corner, I spy a hot guy (they are all hot in the Hollywood Hills) jogging toward me. Tall, sandy blond hair, hooded eyes, shirt wet with sweat, he's pushing a stroller (they're also all taken here), but I blush when he grins at me, jerks his chin skyward in greeting.

Is he being nice? Or does he find me attractive?

This is the pathetic state of my mind these days, my already slippery self-image deteriorating even further after Carter's abrupt departure.

I keep walking to push my ex from my thoughts, quickening my pace until the backs of my calves scream out, begging for a break.

Stopping in front of a wall of teeming jasmine, I suck in a deep breath. The pearl-white petals are so fragrant it makes me heady. Another chilly breeze coasts over me, bathing me in the sugar-coated aroma.

A smile creeps across my face.

This was a good move.

I zip up my hoodie, start heading for the park again.

It's Sunday; I've been here since Tuesday, unpacking and getting acclimated before starting the new gig tomorrow.

On my first morning here, I spent the day sifting my things out of moving boxes, spritzing cleaner on the windows, placing my plants strategically in light both direct and indirect so they'll thrive out here.

Just down the hill is the grocery store with produce so fresh it glistens, so the next morning, I stocked up, packing the cart as if I were about to throw a lavish dinner party. I grabbed a rotisserie chicken-its skin perfectly roasted and dotted with black pepper-a fresh bunch of arugula, and a fistful of radishes for a salad. Jars of creamy Icelandic yogurt, exotic cheeses. A few bottles of pinot noir and even a bouquet of flowers.

In my well-worn feng shui guidebook, I read that fresh flowers, especially red ones, when placed in the relationship corner of one's home, can help attract a mate. So I let myself loiter in the towering flower display, selecting California's spectacular cherry-red ranunculus, crimson-velvet roses, and a few dark pink tulips.

On Lexie's suggestion, I spent yesterday morning at the Melrose Flea Market, strolling the aisles, passing couples, with their fingers laced through one another's, plucking wares from stalls-vintage china sets, retro chandeliers, handmade candles-no doubt to feather their nests even more lushly.

It made me sad to hear the coos from strollers, the scent of his-and-hers Starbucks, the easy, bubbling laughter that comes from stable relationships.

My stomach tightened when I thought about all the things I left behind. But then I asked myself, What exactly was that?

Shitty pay at a stressful nonprofit for the arts, which amounted to zero exposure with the actual creative side of things? Tortured hours spent at the Xerox, agonizing over punishing spreadsheets, getting worked up over nerve-wracking fundraising?

Three novels in a drawer, each one close to scoring a literary agent but no cigar?

My heart in flames over Carter?

No, this was the next right thing to do, as a good friend once put it, and that's what I have to keep reminding myself of.

Tears bit my eyes, but I tugged my sunglasses down, continued zigzagging through the aisles. I thrifted an antique set of juice jars, flicked through stacks of vinyl.

Near the exit, I spied a powder-blue café table with folding chairs, ideal for the patio. I nabbed it along with a few terra-cotta pots for an outdoor herb garden, Lexie and her plant teasing be damned.

After stashing everything in the car, I typed the Sterlings' address into my cell. I was already halfway there and wanted to locate it so I wouldn't be frazzled tomorrow during rush-hour traffic. I can't help it, I'm an antsy Virgo and crave control and order where I can get it.

Driving through the flatter part of Los Angeles, strip malls and palm trees throbbed past my window until the traffic slowed, creeping along until I reached the Santa Monica Pier, where it shuddered to a halt.

I didn't mind. A fist in my chest unclenched when I glimpsed the ocean, saw the giant Ferris wheel spinning above the frothy water. I let out a ragged sigh and lowered my window, letting the briny air fill the cabin.

Just before the pier, the highway curved into a tunnel, the 10 turning into the fabled Pacific Coast Highway, Highway 1. Traffic was at a standstill then, a sea of orange brake lights blinking like a Christmas tree in the darkness of the tunnel, before the tunnel opened, revealing a dazzling open view of the glimmering ocean.

I continued along the 1 as a row of sheer cliffs rose to my right. After several miles, I turned up a steep road that headed into the easternmost edge of Malibu, banked to the west by Topanga Canyon.

A blend of Cape Cod-style homes mixed with sprawling Spanish villas lined the wide, leafy streets.

I crept through a quaint little village that contained a tiny strip mall with an outdoor café, supermarket, and salon.

After several more turns, I snaked up a long road that finally delivered me to the Sterlings' enclave known as Monte Nido. At last, I located their street, a twisting road that encircled a hilltop, the ocean swelling into view once more.

The Sterlings' home was the last one on the curvy street, the lane dissolving into a cul-de-sac overlooking the Pacific. Their own freaking cul-de-sac.

Metal barricades shunted the end of the street with a small gap in the center that led out to an unpaved hiking trail.

Like so many of the homes in the Hollywood Hills, the Sterling place is Mediterranean styled. A pastel-yellow stucco mansion topped with the same rust-red tiled roof as those in my neighborhood.

I nosed my Nissan to the edge of the cul-de-sac, the ocean winking beneath me to my right.

Twin verdant lots flanked the two-story home, whose windows twinkled in the direct sunlight. An open, inviting house I could gaze right into if I weren't trying to be discreet. But because of its placement-the lone house on this wide perch of land atop a hill-it was otherwise completely private.

The sea breeze howled against my car as I idled, checking things out.

Next to the Dead End sign, a gray No Loitering sign glared at me, so I nudged the gearshift into reverse, slinking my way out of there. No streetlights in front of their house, I noted, just the hiking trail that hugged the cliff and the roaring ocean below.

3

I'm at the entrance to Griffith Park now. Strolling up the path, I pass a quartet of elderly gentlemen playing dominoes, the clapping sound of the bones striking against the metal table, their stubby cigars dwindling in the ashtray, shirts crisp with starch. Unlike the handsome jogger, they don't notice me, and I coast past them up the hill.

I still want to drive to the far side of the park to Griffith Observatory, see the famed location where that iconic scene in Rebel Without a Cause was filmed. James Dean jumpy, all crackling energy and chiseled cheekbones.

I still can't believe I live here, with the Hollywood sign tucked somewhere over my left shoulder. I'm a film buff-partly due to my proximity to Lexie, who studied film at the University of Texas while I majored in English-and partly due to my mother.

Lexie would drag me out on summer nights to the Paramount Theatre-a jewel box of a venue-in downtown Austin for their summer classics series. We'd dress in vintage gowns, share a bucket of greasy popcorn, and sip gin and tonics while watching films like All About Eve, Gaslight, and Giant. Afterward, she'd tell me about each one, things she'd learned-a detail about an actress, an anecdote about the script-her flawless face animated by the dollar-store candles we lit on our back patio, flame pulsing in the glass.

The real seed of my movie love, though, came from my mother, Angie, a film noir fanatic, who gobbled up Hitchcock and binged Sunset Boulevard, The Third Man, and the creepier ones (and my personal favorites), The Bad Seed and The Night of the Hunter.

Watching old classics, the black-and-whites flickering through our living room-darkened even during summer days-was one of the few things we did together before she split, abandoning my father and me when I was seven.

I'd sit on one end of our saggy sofa while she sprawled out on the other, the silk of her robe tickling my leg, her slender form in repose, clasping a cigarette, the ash growing dangerously long before she'd tip it toward the metal tray, her personal dare to the universe.

In the cramped living room of our tiny bungalow, I'd gaze hungrily at the screen and the ornate set designs that swept me away from my rocky home life in Dallas. Mom and Dad arguing late into the evening about money, Mom swiping the keys from the counter, leaving in her nightgown after dark to god knows where. Me underneath my Strawberry Shortcake comforter, stomach twisting into knots.

For the hours that the films rolled in front of us, though, Mom was mine, home safe on the couch, the nearness of her a balm, even if we didn't really speak. When I tried saying something, her palms would flitter up.

"Shhh, honey, I'm gonna miss the dialogue."

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