Chapter 2 of “Silver Screen”

Well, you showed your love for chapter 1, so here’s chapter 2! Tell me what you think!

By the way, I’ve completed my editing for this novel, but as I said before, I may never publish it. But, I am waiting approval for the proof copy from CreateSpace, so I’ll have a copy for myself to put on my shelf at least. Who knows, later down the road, I may get it professionally edited and see how it goes.

Until then, I’ll be posting pieces on my blog. Also as a note, I may disappear off the radar for a while because college classes start tomorrow and I have no idea how much work I’ll be doing and how busy I will be. With luck, I’ll be able to start back on “Beast Within” and get that going for publication in the later part of this year.

 

Chapter 2

Everything was quiet on the observatory scene set as Rodney took his place by the telescope with Sean Stanton, who played his father – Sir John Talbot – in the movie. Josie and Natalie stood off to the side behind the cameras, watching the actors prepare themselves as the rest of the crew moved in for the lighting and sound. The room wasn’t more than thirty foot by thirty foot, with more than half of that reserved for Rodney and Sean while nearly twenty other crew members crowded the space near the door and spilled out into the room beyond.

Landon was not too far off, his stance wide and arms crossed with an intense look on his tanned, middle-aged face. His hazel eyes, shadowed beneath the rim of his Cubs ballcap, jumped around the set and examined everything from a distance to make sure everything would be perfect for the shot.

Kirk was beside him, nervously biting on his thumbnail and eyes downcast to the floor as if the entire success of this movie depended on this scene, which was entirely untrue. Josie believed it was the movie as a whole that made it a hit, but she could understand how uneasy the creator of anything would be when it was brought to life in this way. His curly brown hair looked like it had been run through with a set of anxious fingers more than a few times.

Most of the castle scenes took place at Niddry Castle a little farther out of town. Although the time in which this story took place was the early nineteen hundreds, the castle was far more ancient, making Niddry Castle perfect for most of the shots. But for some of the scenes, the crew modified an old mansion in the village, making the interior look like a medieval nobleman’s castle.

Looking around at the modernly dressed crew working with the vintage-clad actors and actresses in such a historic setting was like witnessing a strange clash of ages. The set designers took painstaking steps to make sure that all the tapestries, Persian rugs, antique furniture, and crests hanging on the walls were as detailed as possible and accurate to the history of this fictional family.

All this preparation for a mere three-minute shot and Josie’s part in the standby team was to correct any slight smear in the actors’ makeup, while Natalie was prepared with needle and thread if a button should pop off.

Landon ordered silence and the cameras began to roll.

Rodney and Stanton exchanged their lines perfectly as their characters talked about the new telescope and arrangements for Larry – played by Rodney – to take up residence in Talbot Castle after a long absence. The funeral of his older brother was what drove him back to his home town. Not only that, Larry would become the lord of Talbot Castle when his father passed on, assuming the birth rights of the eldest who had recently passed.

Josie had listened to Rodney go on and on about his immersion into the mind of Larry Talbot, putting himself in the character’s shoes to deliver the best performance. And as she watched the scene unfold, she was sure that his emotionally and mentally taxing study was paying off. It was as if Rodney had shucked his usual personality and donned an entirely new person. That was the mark of a true and seasoned actor and Josie still felt a thrill in her gut when she saw a scene carried out so flawlessly.

Then came the moment that Rodney had been fretting over all morning. Sean walked off set and Rodney – Larry – was left to wander about the room and ogle at the relics on the walls. He went to the telescope and pretended to look at different views of the village below the castle. The camera steadily panned closer and Rodney feigned astonishment at everything he saw. Then, in a moment of cinematic gold, Rodney made a repeat performance of what Josie had the privilege to witness in his trailer.

He pulled off the look of first-love perfectly and when Landon gave the order to stop the cameras, he applauded the cast. “Very good, Rodney!” he praised, his once stern eyes lighting with satisfaction that every director wished to experience. Then, Landon gave the order to print the scene. They only needed one take. The fewer the takes, the less money and time was wasted.

Rodney smiled, but not in the same way he had when Josie complimented his acting.

Forgetting herself and her previous resolve that Rodney didn’t belong to her, Josie sighed happily and watched him discuss the next scenes with Landon and Kirk. As if in a daydream, the bustling noise of people and equipment moving faded into the background.

Natalie snapped her fingers in front of Josie’s nose, startling her out of her daze.

“What?” she asked when she saw the seamstress’s dubious look.

“You’ll catch flies with your mouth hanging open like that.”

“My mouth wasn’t hanging open.”

“But you were sure fixated on something… Or someone.” Natalie’s eyes slid to Rodney and back to Josie with a furtive look.

Josie stuck her nose up and turned to walk out of the room that was too crowded for a private conversation. “So what if I was looking at him?”

Natalie followed her, leaning close so no one else could hear. “You don’t have a crush on him, do you?”

Josie wanted to laugh. “Are we in grade school? A crush? Come on, Natalie. We’re grown women. I don’t have a crush on Rodney.” They reached a relatively quiet place in another room and stood by a decadently ornate, tall window that over looked a rich green field, untouched by the crew or movie project. “We just spend a lot of time together in his trailer and sometimes we have these meaningful conversations. He’s actually a very fascinating man, past the handsome face and ripped abs…”

Josie nibbled on her bottom lip and let her graze drift a bit as she remembered earlier that morning when they walked in on Rodney getting dressed.

“If you don’t like him, then why the staring and getting tea for him in the morning? The assistance can take care of that.”

Josie made a face and wagged her head a bit. “They technically could, but none of them can make it the way he likes it.”

Natalie raised a dark eyebrow and Josie crumbled under her friend’s accusing look. “Ok, maybe I really do like him. I always fall for the guys that are out of my league, you know that. It’s always the popular guys, the quarterbacks, the talented stage actors. And I’m just the drama geek or makeup girl. They don’t go for girls like me and I know it. It’s not going anywhere.”

“It better not. Do you know the kind of publicity a scandal like that would cause?” Natalie made a great sweeping motion with her hand as if she were painting the space between them. “I can see it now. ‘Makeup Maiden Makes Love to Sexiest Man Alive’.”

Josie rolled her eyes. “It wouldn’t go that far at all. When the movie’s over, I will go back to the states and he’ll go on to some new project or to his fancy mansion in California and we will never meet again…” A sly smile passed over her lips. “Unless we happen to meet on another movie set and he sweeps me into his arms, saying ‘Oh, Josie, I couldn’t stop thinking about you all these years. Will you marry me?’. And I’ll say ‘My darling, of course I will!’.”

“Will what?” came a familiar deep voice from behind Josie.

Both girls spun around to face Rodney, standing before them and looking curious in his dapper suit and tie. He was alone, unattended by the micromanaging director or fidgety writer.

Josie’s eyes went wide as she scrambled for the words, trying not to get lost in the way the late morning sunlight bathed his features in a warm glow that seemed otherworldly.

Natalie quickly jammed her elbow into Josie’s ribs, nearly knocking her off her feet.

Josie quickly recovered and reached around to pull something from her bag. “I will fix that one smudge in your makeup there,” she said as she dusted at one fictitious spot on his cheek with a clean brush.

“Do you think it was there during the shot?”

“No, it wasn’t. Must have shown up in the last few minutes.”

She didn’t even hear him come up, which wouldn’t have been so surprising if they were still in the crowded room. But it was nearly impossible to take a step on these stone and tile floors without the echo reverberating off the high ceilings.

They hadn’t been talking in too low of a whisper, either. Which, was why Josie was almost positive that Rodney would have heard what she said too. But, since he seemed to accept her hastily-formed excuse, then perhaps Rodney hadn’t heard her after all.

Josie finished fixing the “smudge” and tucked her brush away. “Is there something you needed?” she asked, trying desperately to not fantasize that Rodney might have come over purely to socialize.

The great actor glanced out the window, his pupils shrinking to adjust to the bright light, making his eyes even more luminous. “Yes, I was wondering if – “

“Rodney!” Landon shouted from the doorway. His deep, booming voice resonated off the stone ceiling above them and the girls jumped. “I need you in here. Kirk’s talking about altering a scene and we need your opinion.”

Rodney peeked over his shoulder and for a moment, Josie saw a flash of irritation in his eyes. He wasn’t the type to get impatient with anyone that quickly. But as quickly as it came, the emotion was gone. He inclined his head to the girls and excused himself like the gentleman he was dressed as.

Josie grinned at the courteous gesture and watched him leave the room, the heels of his boots tapping all the way. There was no way he could have snuck up so easily. Perhaps she wasn’t as alert as she thought she was.

“That was a close one. He didn’t seem to hear what we were talking about,” Natalie whispered, being careful this time.

Rodney glimpsed back at the girls just before he left the room and one corner of his mouth curled up in a sly smile, as if he were incredibly amused by something.

“I’m not so sure he didn’t,” Josie muttered as a pleasant shiver ran down her back. “I wonder what he was about to say.”

 

It had been a long day of filming and Rodney knew the coming night would be even longer. After spending most of his time wrestling with Landon and Kirk about the way he thought scenes should be played out, all Rodney wanted to do was go back to his private home just outside Edinburgh, get his things ready and find a place away from all the people.

Well, perhaps there was one thing he would have wanted to do. But, Rodney suspected that Josie would have left with the rest of the crew on the shuttle bus back into town. Apart from this morning, he hadn’t been able to catch some alone time with her. He found encouragement in the fact that she would be back the next day and perhaps they could talk then.

Landon had cleared the shooting schedule this evening because of Rodney’s mandatory “meeting” that he couldn’t skip for anything. The director didn’t seem too bothered by the change of plans. Perhaps what made him such a great director was how flexible he was on things that were out of his control. If only Rodney had a similar quality.

Once he stripped out of his costume, being careful not to manhandle the intricately made garments. He didn’t want to see what a gentle woman like Natalie would do to someone who tore up her masterpieces.

Rodney was in the middle of packing up his things when he heard the soft crunch of footfalls upon crisp grass coming towards his trailer. He hadn’t heard any activity near the set for half an hour now and the last shuttle left ten minutes prior. Unless this was a curious villager, there should have been no one around. He was often the first one on set and the last to leave.

He sniffed the air and detected the faint whiffs of a peach fragrant deodorant that only Josie wore.

He straightened up where he stood just outside the bedroom threshold and watched the door as she quietly entered. There was hesitance at first, probably because she didn’t expect the lights to be on. She shut the door behind her and her eyes fell directly on him. Eyes the color of sunlight shining through a full tumbler of Scotch that reminded him of better times and made him hope for a future.

As tired as she must have felt, she was still able to express her shock.

“I thought you went back to town already,” she said, a tremble of some repressed emotion coloring her words.

“I was just about to leave,” he replied. Normally, he would have been able to focus and not let his thoughts and feelings wander rampantly. Tonight, however, was different and his biological urges made it difficult for him to behave the way he normally would have in her presence.

“Still have that meeting you need to go to?” Josie seemed to have recovered. She moved towards the vanity where he sat every morning and let her touch his face, secretly driving him mad with her nearness.

Any sensible man would have requested another makeup artist and discharged Josie after the first day when he realized what he might begin to care for her as something more than a co-worker. He should have scrambled off that plane as soon as he saw her pass and he first breathed in her wonderful scene of womanhood and peaches and realized that she would cause trouble for him. But, Rodney was no ordinary man, let alone a sensible one.

“Yes, I do.” He checked out the window and saw that the sun was just an hour away from setting. He didn’t have much time and the tension in his soul was mounting with every passing moment. He cleared his throat. “Did you need something?”

Josie looked away and began searching through the vanity drawers and counter top. “I think I left a compact in here. It’s red with gold lettering.”

Something in her posture and tone told Rodney that she was a little more than nervous about this compact and its whereabouts. “What’s in it?” he asked.

“It’s just a cheek color. I already looked in Bianca’s trailer to see if it was there, but I didn’t find it.” Her search became a little more frantic, her nimble fingers combing through the contents of the drawers.

Without being asked, Rodney joined her search and roamed around the trailer, checking everywhere she might have been that day, including by the arm chair. He remembered how badly he wanted her to speak that morning when she leaned against the back of the chair to watch the movie with him. Not because he felt the silence to be uncomfortable, but because he had been eager to hear her lovely, smoky voice since the moment he woke up.

His keen eyes picked up the tiny reflection of light against smooth plastic. Beneath his arm chair was the compact she was looking for.

“Is this it?” he asked, offering it to her, his hand a little shaky.

Josie released her held breath and took it from him, their fingers touching for a brief second in the exchange. “Thank you. It’s very special to me,” she said as she tucked it away in a reserved compartment of her backpack and zipped it shut.

He took the chance to look her up and down again for what seemed the dozenth time that day. Rodney couldn’t get enough of Josie with her simple sense of style and quiet loveliness. Without even trying, she made khaki capris, tank tops, and cotton shirts look fashionable. She wore them well and in his opinion, no model on earth could hold a candle to her. Especially today, since she wore no makeup and disclosed her true beauty. Seeing her quieted the beast for a little longer. He hoped that she would be running late more often so she wouldn’t have to bother gussying herself up each morning.

Rodney snapped out of his daydream when Josie looked back to him. “I’ve never seen you use it before.”

“It’s my personal compact.”

“But the initials on the front were not yours. Unless you go by a different name that starts with an A.”

Josie paused, her eyes unblinking. “It’s my sister’s compact.”

Rodney’s lips parted. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry.”

Despite the obvious unease he sensed in her, Josie smiled it away and shook her head. “No, it’s ok. She… She gave it to me on my birthday, just before we left the house on the day of the accident.”

Rodney nodded, understanding that such a gift could easily become something of a relic for her. Losing it would be like losing part of herself. It had been several years since Josie’s sister passed away, but the grief was still real and fresh to her. He wasn’t sure how many people Josie had confided in about her family tragedy.

She had told him about the accident in brief and almost reporter-like details only a few weeks ago, after Rodney asked about her family back in the states. There was none of this emotion misting in her eyes back then and he wondered how close she had been to completely breaking down over this compact.

“I thought the shuttle left a little while ago,” he said. “Why didn’t you take it? Have you been looking for the compact this whole time?”

“Kind of, but I wasn’t worried about missing it. I can just call a cab.”

Rodney couldn’t help but laugh. “I don’t think you’ll find a cab driving around this part of the country.”

“I had one drop me off this morning,” she replied defensively.

“Yes, that was to drop you off. Not to pick you up. I’m not so sure they will make the trip up here again.” Rodney thought for a moment and then risked it all by asking, “Can I give you a lift into town? I know where the hotel is.”

Josie bowed her head, but he could still see the bit of color rise in her cheeks. Without her usual light layer of foundation, every flush and blush had shined through clear as day. “I wouldn’t want to inconvenience you.”

Rodney ventured a step closer. “It’s no trouble. How else would you get back? Walk?”

She gave a soft giggle and shrugged. “Maybe I could use the exercise.”

“That was a joke,” he teased with a grin. “I wouldn’t let you walk all the way. It might take you all night.”

“What about your meeting?”

Rodney’s face wrinkled a bit as he was reminded again of how little previous time he had before nightfall. He calculated the route from the hotel to his home and figured that it wouldn’t take him that long to pack his other bag for the night. If he broke the speed limit, it was possible that he would make it out of town in time.

“The time is a little flexible. It won’t be a problem.”

Throwing caution to the wind, Josie threw up her hands. “I’m ready to go when you are.”

This was just the private time he needed. If he could hold himself together and nothing unexpected happened, he would get around to asking Josie exactly what he intended to ask her earlier that day.

Rodney gathered up his things, locked the trailer and led Josie to his black Dodge Charger that he had specially imported for this project. Despite his seemingly boundless riches, Rodney owned only one vehicle and tried to take it everywhere he traveled. He hated the hassle of renting an unfamiliar vehicle or having to garage several across the world just for convenience.

When Josie slid into the patent leather passenger seat and he started up the engine, it dawned on Rodney that this might not have been a flawless plan. Her scent, both artificial and natural, swirled around in his senses and he was unable to escape it for the next half hour or so while he drove back into Edinburgh.

With the added pressure from his churning innards and sore muscles, Rodney wasn’t sure how he would handle carrying on a regular conversation.

Luckily, he didn’t have to worry about it. Josie received a call on her cellphone shortly after they pulled back onto the main road. Streaks of ochre and scarlet clouds filled the sky ahead of him as he listened to both sides of the conversation, even though Josie hadn’t put the call on speaker phone at all.

“Sorry, I have to take this.” Josie pressed the phone to her ear. “Hey,” she greeted. Through the road noise and gentle rumble of the engine, Rodney could hear her heart race.

“Hey! How was your day at work, honey?” an older woman asked on the other end of the line. Judging by the intimate nickname, she must have been Josie’s mother or some other woman in close relation.

“It was good. We got a few good shots in and we’ll be moving on to some pretty important scenes tomorrow so I’ll need to get a good night’s sleep for a change.”

“So where are you now?”

Rodney glanced over and saw Josie pull a face as if she were coming up with a quick lie. “I’m riding back on the shuttle, of course.”

Rodney tried to hold back a laugh. One thing he adored about Josie, among other things, was her unguarded expressions. She was an open book to anyone who could read the signs and paid attention. And Rodney always paid close attention.

“It’s a little more quiet than usual.”

“Yeah, there’s not a lot of us here. They sent two shuttles today.”

“Well, that’s good, I guess. Did you get to see Rodney Bator today? Did you get the autograph I asked for?”

Josie rolled her eyes and leaned against the headrest. “No, I haven’t yet. He’s a very busy man, mom.”

Rodney waited through the rest of the phone call, filtering out the details of inner family life that was none of his business. They were about five minutes from the hotel when Josie finally hung up and let out a long breath.

“She doesn’t know you work with me on a regular basis, does she?”

“Nope and I was hoping to keep it that way,” she confessed without a hint of shame or hesitance.

“I don’t mind signing something for you to send back to her in the states.”

Josie wiped a hand over his forehead. “I wasn’t going to ask until the last day of shooting. I didn’t want you to think I was some devoted fan or something.”

“I’m used to devoted fans. I used to answer all of my fan mail until my agent recommended that I hire someone to weed through them for me.”

“I’m sure you’ve probably come across a few letters or emails from my mother. She owns all your movies and dad had to talk her out of buying a poster of you one time. It’s pretty embarrassing.”

Rodney chuckled. After years of being a celebrity, he had never gotten used to people admitting fanatical obsessions over him. He wasn’t oblivious to the hordes of stalking females online or the countless fan websites and clubs formed in his honor.

“I’m sure your parents are pretty proud of what you’ve accomplished,” she said.

Rodney would have blanched if he hadn’t caught himself slipping into that deep well of emotion that he’d been avoiding for some time now. The entity within Rodney that strained for release lashed out against him at the mere mention of the people he never wanted to think of. His grip tightened on the steering wheel until his knuckles turned white, and then he released.

“I’m sure your parents must be very proud of you,” he deflected.

Josie snorted. “Honestly, I don’t know anymore.” She propped her head in her hand, leaning her elbow against the passenger side door. “Mom wants me to meet someone with all my traveling for movie jobs and settle down into marriage. Dad’s never quite been the same since my sister passed but he said that he’s proud of my going out and making a career for myself. I don’t know if that means he’s proud of what I’m actually doing or not.”

“Do they not approve of you doing makeup?” he asked as he pulled up to a red light at a mildly busy intersection.

“They approve of it a lot more than what I wanted to do first.”

“Which was?” Rodney settled back in his seat and watched how the headlights of the passing cars splashed across her face, both highlighting and casting shadows over her sharp but elegant features.

One car came a little too close and Rodney saw Josie seize just as it zoomed past. She closed her eyes for a moment and let out a slow breath.

“Are you ok?” he asked, nearly reaching out to touch her shoulder, but thought better of it and kept the gear shift and cup holders between their seats as his boundary line.

“Yeah, sorry.” She flashed him an apologetic look. “I still get a little jumpy driving at night.”

Rodney felt his chest squeeze with sympathy for her grief. He understood the power of ghosts in the mind and fears that just wouldn’t go away after years or decades. “So, you didn’t always want to do makeup?”

Josie eased a little and looked out the window at the pedestrians ambling down the sidewalks with their shopping bags. “Not always.”

A slight frown formed between his brows. “Why do makeup then? What happened to that first dream?”

Josie was quiet for a moment, like she had been in the trailer when they talked about the compact. “My sister taught me how to do makeup. She wanted to do the makeup for models down a runway, but could never land a big gig like that. Instead, she worked in salons or theater groups. When she died, I wanted to honor her somehow and since I was just as good at makeup as her, I figured I’d go into the same profession.”

The car behind them laid on his horn, snapping both back into the present. Rodney sped through the intersection and turned a few corners until they were close to the carpool area in front of the hotel.

Rodney parked half a block from the entrance, well aware that if he were spotted dropping Josie off, there would be some magazine reporting about it somewhere. He threw the car into park and unlocked the doors.

“Thank you for sharing that with me,” he said, glad to have asked but still burning with more questions.

Josie smiled. “Thank you for the lift.”

She grabbed her bag and opened the car door, but Rodney wasn’t finished just yet. “Wait.”

Josie froze and looked back at him, her dark eyes reflecting the blue and green dash lights from the interior of his car. There was too little daylight left and he saw a few evening stars begin to twinkle above, but even in the dim light, she was exquisite. Once more he realized what deep waters he had waded into.

Despite everything, his boldness to offer her a ride and the personal conversations, Rodney lost his nerve. “Thank you for all your hard work. Bianca’s makeup looked great today and I know it must have been a stretch for you to handle both of us in one day.”

Josie looked slightly disappointed. “Oh, it wasn’t any trouble. I had to do the makeup for an entire acting troupe once and the theater’s air conditioning unit was broken so makeup would be sweating off of them every act. That was a handful.”

Rodney nodded and gave her an approving smile. If her parents weren’t truly proud of her, they should have been. “Good night, Josie.”

She returned the warm wishes and slammed the door shut. Even though the urges within him were pulling even harder than they had all day, Rodney took a few moments to watch Josie saunter down the sidewalk and into the hotel. Only when she was safely inside, did he pull back into traffic and rush to his home. Down the long, winding forest road he sped, gunning the car much faster what was safe.

It was a modest house, nothing like his mansion in Beverly Hills. The outer stone edifice was strongly reminiscent of an English cottage or country home, while the interior was remodeled to modern standards of living. But it wasn’t the style of the home that made it ideal for Rodney to stay in during filming.

Beyond the cottage were acres upon acres of undeveloped woodlands that he knew he could use without risk of exposure. This project could easily take a year to complete and Rodney needed a safe place like this, away from the noise and crowds of city life. And as far as he knew, the paparazzi had no clue that he even lived here.

Rodney owned many homes like this one around Europe and in the states. And if he happened to be filming in an area that he didn’t have a place to stay, he found one quickly and snatched it up with help from his agent to conceal his identity during the transaction. While he wasn’t staying in the dozens of homes he owned, he rented them out to vacationers or let the local citizens use it for functions or events.

Rodney hurried inside, dropped his work bag and picked up his emergency duffle bag. He checked it to make sure it had a complete change of clothes. The animal’s assaults were coming in their usual pulsating frequency, pounding in Rodney’s head and threatening to split his body in two right there in his living room.

A sound threatened his hold on humanity. His superior heightened senses heard the approach of a car down the narrow road that led to his cottage. He turned off the lights and listened to the crunch of tires rolling across the pebble drive. Rodney hoped that whoever it was would assume he was asleep and not bother with the door.

But as the driver of the car climbed out of their vehicle, Rodney rolled his eyes in exasperation. Her pungent perfume was hard to miss, even if he couldn’t hear the way she nearly twisted her ankles on the soft earth as she trudged up the path in high heels.

He flipped on the lights and opened the door just as she was about to knock.

Bianca stood on the welcome mat, simpering like a whore straight out of a cathouse. She was dressed for the part too, standing there in her bright red, skin-tight dress that didn’t extend past her knees. “Hey there, stranger,” she said.

Rodney was not in the mood for company, but knew that if he didn’t handle this well, it would prove fatal to his image. Bianca was obsessed with publicity, good and bad. One wrong move and she was liable to blab to the presses how Rodney rudely shoved her off his property at night. More than likely, she would add a few embellishments in there to make the story even juicier for readers back in the states.

“Hey, Bianca. I wasn’t expecting you. I have a meeting to go to and I’m already late.”

As if she hadn’t heard a word he said, Bianca strutted forward and placed a thin and delicate hand against his chest. Rodney knew her to be too narcissistic to even suspect that his rapidly beating heart had nothing to do with her.

“I thought we were going to rehearse lines tonight.”

“I don’t recall every having said that.”

“Sure you did, don’t you remember? Today on the set, you mentioned that you needed to practice your lines for the scene tomorrow. I’m in that scene. So, you need me here to help.”

Rodney’s memory was too sharp to forget that. And yes, he needed to practice, but that was before he realized what would happen tonight.

“I think you assumed that I would need your help, but I don’t. Either way, I have a meeting and I can’t rehearse, even if I wanted to. Maybe some other time.”

The coquettish glimmer in her eye turned sour and she stuck her bottom lip out in a pout. “But I was looking forward to this.”

“I’m very sorry, but like I told you, I’m late for a meeting.”

“Who could possibly be meeting this late in the evening?”

No one had yet to ask him that. Everyone might have presumed that it was none of their business – which is wasn’t. Rodney hadn’t prepared a lie for this, but he wasn’t called a great actor just because of his looks. He could improvise.

“It’s an online meeting with some people in California. They’re talking about doing a short television series after I’m done here. And they’re probably waiting for me to get online right now.”

Bianca sighed. “Well, far be it for me to get in the way of your career. God knows I have my own troubles keeping the directors in Hollywood off of me. I’m in high demand, you know.”

Rodney held back the urge to remind Bianca that he knew exactly how much work she was being offered nowadays. None. This film was the first she had been offered in nearly a year. After her scandal with some director on her last project, Hollywood was hesitant to even approach her anymore. The only reason she had been casted as his co-star was because of her golden hair that fit so well with Gwen’s character.

“You’re very fortunate,” Rodney said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I really need to get to that meeting.”

Bianca nodded and leaned up to kiss him on the lips just before she left. Rodney restrained the urge to push her away, once more, knowing the consequences. It wasn’t the first time they kissed off set and knowing her, it wouldn’t be the last. He hated her kisses. Her lipstick was sticky and the chemical taste it left on his mouth was repulsive. Even the beast within him writhed at the touch of the woman it despised. Too unnatural, too fake and dishonest. Bianca was too unlike the beast to be appealing in any sense of the word.

Rodney had regretted letting it go this far and cursed his weak spine for caring about an image that he didn’t even want anymore. If he had enough guts, he would have told Bianca to take a hike long ago. But the film wasn’t finished, yet and Landon needed their cooperation as performers. To keep Bianca playing along, Rodney had to play the part she imposed on him.

He endured the kiss and watched her drive off before closing the door. He waited until her car was far away, out of range from his sharp ears.

By now, his forehead was damp with sweat from the effort it took to hold himself together. He had waited this long before, but not in years and he was a little rustier at taking command of himself for this long. He remembered a time when he could hardly contain himself before sundown.

But he had enough control by now to hold out for a few more minutes. He shouldered the bag, locked the door behind him and darted into the woods just as the crescent moon began to rise.

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