Whatever happens with Amazon/Hachette and the rest of the terrified and terrifying world of publishing as we know it, I’m still writing books and still being lucky enough to get’em published. My brilliant and beguiling editor/publisher, Traci Markou of Purple Sword Publications, emailed me this morning to say my next book, a non-paranormal contemporary romance called Alpha Romeo, is being formatted today. So I thought I’d share a nibble.
Just to set the scene, my heroine, Scarlett Cross, is the daughter of a big-time Hollywood movie star who’s just starting her own career as an actress. She is the second girl lead in a teen slasher flick that’s about to come out. Romeo Kidd is the guy she loves, her co-star in the movie. Sebastian, the male lead in the movie, is her half-brother, and Loki, the female lead, is her nemesis, a big star in her own right who was Romeo’s girlfriend first.
* * * * * *
The studio held the wrap party for The Funhouse at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. But it wasn’t so much a party for the people who’d finished filming as a publicity stunt to let the crowds and the paparazzi on Sunset Boulevard get their first gawp at the fresh meat in the cast. Sebastian and I arrived together in the back of a chauffeured limousine, and even though there was no official red carpet, the sidewalk was lined with photographers. Sebastian jumped out like an old pro, but I hung back. I had walked carpets with my father dozens of times, but I had always been in the background. Nobody had ever cared if they got my picture before.
“Come on, Sissy.” Sebastian gave me his hand and helped me out of the car. A pair of studio handlers came hurrying over to flank us like something between bodyguards and ladies in waiting. They didn’t even speak to us, just started herding us down the aisle.
I had just caught sight of Romeo ahead of us when for the first time in my life a photographer shouted, “Scarlett!” Romeo turned around, and our eyes met at the exact same second the flash went off. Two seconds later, I was surrounded by flashing lights and the shouts of strangers calling my name and giving me directions. “Look this way! Turn around! Come on, honey, smile!”
I tried to get a tighter hold on my brother, but he was moving back, giving me room to pose. I felt panicked, turning in a jerky circle like a doll on a broken music box, trying to hear what they were saying. I turned and saw Romeo again, and he smiled.
I smiled back. I consciously relaxed my shoulders and turned back toward the cameras. “That’s it!” one of the photographers shouted, and I turned my smile on him. I was still terrified, but I wasn’t paralyzed any more. I did a silly little twirl to make the frilly skirt of my party dress swirl out, then stopped and laughed. The flashes went off even faster. Photographers from further down the line were moving in to focus on me, jostling for position. I reached for Sebastian again, drawing him close to me and cuddling up to his side, laying my head on his shoulder.
“Scarlett!” I heard Loki’s voice right behind me. I barely had time to turn around before she had caught me up in a hug like I was her long lost sister. “Look at you!” She drew back and framed my face in her hands. The photographers went wild. “You look beautiful.” She touched her forehead to mine, a lipstick-safe kiss.
“So do you.” She took my hand and turned to the photographers with a dazzling smile of her own. She did look beautiful; her black Alexander McQueen made my blue off the rack look like a little girl’s birthday party frock. “You always do.”
“Romeo!” she called, letting go of me to run to him. She hugged him the same way she had hugged me, and Sebastian nudged me from behind, urging me forward. Romeo caught my eye over Loki’s shoulder and winked, making me laugh.
“Hey Scarlett!” I heard my name again over the general roar, this time coming from the crowd of photographers. “Scarlett!” A tall, skinny man in a white dress shirt buttoned all the way up had pushed his way to the front of the pack. He had a press badge sticking out of his pocket and a camera hanging around his neck. He saw me see him and raised the camera. “Do you remember your mom?”
“Yes.” His flash went off. “Of course I do.”
One of the studio handlers moved in front of me, blocking his shot. The other one touched me on the elbow. “Come on, Miss Cross,” she said into my ear. “It’s time to go inside.”
“What?” I felt a little faint. “Who was that guy?”
“Never mind,” the handler said. She was trying to nudge me along, but my feet were planted.
“Why did he ask about Stella?” I wanted to see his face again–something about him was familiar.
“Hey sweetheart.” Romeo took my hand, gracefully brushing the handler aside. “You okay?”
“Yeah . . . no . . . I’m not sure.” Clinging to his hand, I pushed the other handler out of the way to look for the weird photographer, but he was gone. I looked up at Romeo. “I guess I’m okay.”
He squeezed my hand. “Let’s go inside.”
As we walked through the lobby, I saw Sebastian talking to a smiling older couple dressed in casual dinner clothes–tourists staying at the Roosevelt, no doubt. I waved as we walked by, and he waved back. Loki was doing an interview just outside the doors to the pool bar where they were holding the party. The whole patio was crawling with reporters. “I see more press than actors,” Romeo said. “And there are barely any crew guys here at all.”
“I know, right?” I was glad I still had a grip on his arm. I had never been interviewed before and wasn’t keen on it now. “Sebastian said in the car it would probably be like this. They’re really pushing to sell the movie.”
“Yeah.” He didn’t sound any more enthused than I felt, and he was keeping a pretty firm grip on my arm, too. “I reckon we’re the product.”
“Just the commercial.” I had been hearing about the reality of being a movie star since I was four years old; I had just never thought about it as something that applied to me. “But all we have to do is be beautiful.” I smiled up at him. “Trust me, you’ve got it covered.”
“Hey, you.” He turned and wrapped his arms around me, and I giggled, sliding my arms around his neck. He pushed me behind a potted palm and kissed me. I could hear cameras hissing and see lights flashing even with my eyes closed, but I couldn’t have cared less.
“Hey kids!” Sebastian appeared out of nowhere, reaching past Romeo to pull me back out into the open. Loki was right behind him. “No fair lurking in the shadows. We have to circulate and be charming.” Cole’s voice suddenly rose over the noise of the crowd–he was ranting at someone on the other side of the patio. “Or we could just go watch the train wreck,” Sebastian snickered.
“Oh god,” Loki moaned.
“Relax,” Romeo said. He and Sebastian were both grinning; they both thought Cole was a stitch. “He’s just giving them a show.”
One of the producers, a friend of Calvin’s Sebastian and I had known since we were babies, came hurrying up to us, looking frazzled. “Wanna help me save an idiot’s life?” she said, her cheeks flushed pink in spite of the chilly breeze coming off the pool.
Sebastian kissed her cheek. “Relax, honey.” In that moment, he looked and sounded exactly like our father. “Cole’s just being himself.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” She took my hand and squeezed it, and her palm was sweaty. “Come distract him, kids, won’t you?”
“Yeah, of course,” I said. I reached for Romeo, but Loki blocked me.
“You and Sebastian go ahead,” she said. “I’ve got some people I want Romeo to meet.”
I didn’t like it, but there wasn’t much I could do without causing a scene. “I’ll see you later,” I told Romeo. He had just enough time to smile and wink at me before the producer whisked me away.