(HarperCollins/Avon, ISBN 0060815884)
All over Hollywood, men are dialing O. Her steamy naughty talk fills them with lust and longing, and helps them perform like the studs they claim to be.
truth, the industry’s favorite phone sex operator is Nina Harte, a
struggling actress who has put her career on hold so that her husband,
Nathan, can pursue his own dreams of stardom. When Nathan's career
takes off, so does he, leaving Nina and their four-year-old son, Jake,
for his diva costar, Katerina McPherson. Then "Kat 'n' Nat" are crowned
the media's newest celebrity sweethearts, and Kat labels Nina an unfit
mother in order to win custody of Jake, just so that she can have that
highly-coveted celebrity accessory—an adorable child—sans any unsightly
stretch marks.The one person who does care about Nina is
Nathan’s agent, Sam Godwin. In fact, he’s in love with her. And because
he has both a heart and a conscience, Sam feels guilty for having put
Nat in Kat's path in the first place....
So how will he feel when he finds out that Nina and O are one and the same?
IMPOSSIBLY TONGUE-TIED CHAPTER EXCERPT
By the time Sam had arrived at the Chateau Marmont for the after-party celebrating Hugo’s latest film, Very Bad Boys, the booze was flowing as freely as the hyperbole coming from the mouths of all in attendance. From what Sam could hear, everyone was in development (as opposed to Development Hell); So-and-So was just a dream to work with (not, as had been previously reported in Page Six or Ted Casablanca’s Awful Truth column, or Defamer.com an unparalleled bitch/raving lunatic/burned out druggie); and everyone agreed that Hugo’s latest film was “another winner from a true artist with a unique idiosyncratic vision...”
“Who do these bastards think they’re kidding?” Hugo growled as he waved Sam over to the barstool beside him then downed another Dewar’s on the rocks. “They wouldn’t know a hit if it bit them on the ass. These clowns are all here for whatever nookie they can scrape up for later tonight, not for my movie. Besides, by Monday, when the box office numbers are in, they’ll all be back to calling me a has-been.”
Because the bar’s lounge was small, the crowd had naturally flowed into the restaurant and out by the pool on the terrace, which was why Hugo always chose the Marmont for his after-parties in the first place: it was a great place to hide in plain sight while he drank away his angst, ogled the glamorous women hovering about, and most importantly, avoided his constantly-hovering wife, Lucinda…
Particularly when he had a reason to avoid her.
That reason being his infatuation with a phantom.
“You know, Hugo, this bar is your Purgatory. You sit right there on that same stool after every premiere and whine that same tune.” Sam signaled the bartender that he’d have the same as his soused host. “Face it. You love what you do, and your public loves you.”
Taking the glass placed before him, Sam tipped it in honor of Hugo and gulped it down.
“What good is that, if—” Hugo’s voice trailed off.
“If what?” asked Sam.
“If you can’t share it with someone you really love?”
Oh, hell! thought Sam. This infatuation is worse than I thought.
Still, he wasn’t ready to turn over that Ben Franklin to Lucinda without first putting up a good fight.
Sam signaled the bartender for another. Grabbing the glass offered, he motioned for the director to follow him out into the Marmont’s less crowded terrace.
It was a smart maneuver. Out by the pool the crowd was thinner and definitely choicer: a coterie of starlets had set up camp by the outdoor bartender, who was making cosmopolitans by the pitcher full. Still, there was a less of a chance that anyone could overhear what Sam had to say to Hugo:
That he had to drop a certain husky-voiced siren, appropriately nicknamed “O” because apparently she was quite an operator. At least, she most certainly had Hugo’s number—to the tune of some three thousand dollars a month.
And, oh, by the way, Lucinda and her accountants weren’t very happy about that at all, either, Sam informed his friend.
Hugo frowned. “Jeez, Lucinda…knows? I spent…how much? I...I guess I lost count.”
Sam gave a low whistle. “Hell, Hugo, I think this O character is making almost as much off of you as I did last year. She must have quite some, um, technique.”
“Yeah, I’ll admit it she’s got quite a turn with a phrase…and that voice of hers…it’s...so…Jeez, Sam, I’ve never heard anyone like her!” He turned to face Sam, head held high. “But I don’t care, Sam. It was worth every penny.”
Sam put a cube of ice in his mouth and sucked on it. He wanted another drink, but the outdoor bartender was still grandstanding for his very giggly, very appreciative audience, and Sam didn’t want to wait in line.
What was that dude mixing those drinks with anyway, Manolo Blahnik stilettos?
“Look, Hugo, I think you should own up to the fact that you’re getting somewhat carried away with this ‘hobby.’ No big deal. Hell, every third guy in this town has some phone sex operator on his speed dial. But still, it’s got to mean something to you that you’re breaking Lucinda’s heart—”
Tears welled up in Hugo’s eyes. “Of course I…I never meant to hurt her. I love her. It’s just that…well—I can’t give up O! I just can’t!” Hugo’s frantic whispers were turning some heads now.
Sam put a hand on Hugo’s arm, to warn him to lower his voice. Hugo took a deep breath, but his still adamant tone was proof that Sam wasn’t changing his mind. “You don’t get it, Sam. It’s…it’s more than just the dirty talk. I mean sure, she allows me to…to fantasize. But also, she…she actually listens to me. She’s the only woman who knows the real me—without really knowing me, Sam!”
“I don’t get it.”
“She doesn’t know that…that I’m Hugo Schmitt.” He whispered this, as if he were afraid that even saying it out loud would change that.
And change how O felt about him.
Sam laughed out loud. “For sure, that would make a difference. For one thing, her rates would go up.”
Pained at Sam’s reaction, Hugo muttered, “There’s nothing funny about this! Hell, I thought that, at the very least, you would understand.”
“Let me tell you what I do understand.” It was Sam’s turn to get serious. “I understand that Lucinda is on the war path. And I understand that if she tells Archie how much you’ve spent on this—this little ‘addiction’ of yours, he’ll pull the plug on Vatican Films. Hugo, if he’s vindictive enough, we may be talking jail time here! The world as you know it will blow up in your face, all because some certainly-too-ugly-to-be-a-real-hooker chick has a voice that gives you a hard-on!”
He moved in close so that only Hugo would hear him, and that there’d be no mistaking his point. “Hell, Hugo, you haven’t even humped her! That ain’t the Hugo Schmitt I know.” He took another gulp of melting ice. “Hey, has it even occurred to you that instead of yapping O’s ear off almost every night, you could just hire her as your ‘assistant’ and bang her legitimately?”
At least, it would be legitimate by Hollywood standards.
“Sam, I’ll be honest with you: I haven’t banged anyone since I met her. Not even Lucinda. I guess I feel that would be…well, unfaithful…to O.”
Sam choked on his ice cube. “Shit, man! No wonder Lucinda’s pissed. You’re—you’re not just obsessed, you’re in love! And it’s not just with a piece of ass. It’s with a voice—which is probably attached to a face that might make you scream if you woke up beside it! You’re about to blow your meal ticket, Hugo! Not to mention, you’re also losing the one woman who will ever love your sorry ass unconditionally. Hell, do you know how lucky you are? And need I remind you that I was the one who set you two up in the first place?”
No doubt about it, it was truly a match made in heaven: Hugo was a creative genius; Lucinda was a trust fund baby looking to be a muse to a creative genius; and Archie, grateful that she’d chosen a guy in the town who was admired despite the fact that his projects would never be blockbusters like the teen gross-out flicks and the end-of-the-world special effects extravaganzas Archie typically produced. However, Hugo’s “artsy-fartsy pictures” as he called them, were always up for Academy Awards, which was why Archie was more than willing to finance his son-in-law.
As the cold hard clarity of the situation hit him, Hugo’s eyes suddenly got big.
“You’re—you’re right. I can’t blow this!” He clutched Sam by the elbow of his Piatelli. “You—you’ve gotta help me, Sam! Before…before I chuck it all away!’
Sam had never seen his buddy this desperate—another reason for needing that damn Scotch. But still there was no break in the drink line. If anything, the all-female crowd around the bar had gotten even thicker.
Hell, thought Sam, you’d think that bartender was giving away Victoria’s Secret V-string panties or something with each drink…
Shit, what a great promotion that would be! He’d mentioned it to Fiona, the publicist on Katerina and Hugo’s upcoming project. Suddenly remembering his promise to Kat, Sam groaned out loud. If Lucinda and Archie pulled the plug on Hugo, that project would go in the crapper, too.
He’d have to move fast.
“Look, Hugo, I’ve got a new client who I think would be perfect for the Kat project.”
“I’ve decided to go with Brad. I think they’ll be a good fit.”
“Trust me, this guy runs rings around Brad. He really knows how to make love to the camera.”
“How green is he?”
“Well, that’s the problem. He’s…he’s only done a couple of indies.”
“Anything I’ve seen?”
“What, are you jerking me off? Put some newbie opposite Kat? Hell, she’d eat him up alive.”
It was on the tip of his tongue to say that yes, that was what she had in mind, but Sam thought better of it. “Dude, you’ve got to trust me on this one. I’ve got a good gut instinct about Nathan Harte.”
“Look, tell you what: I’ll pass on Brad—for Nathan—if you save my ass on this—you know, this other thing. Otherwise, the picture doesn’t get made anyway, with anyone. Heck, Archie pulls out, and we can put Smarty Jones up there with Kat for that matter, right?”
Considering the horse’s stud potential, she’d probably like that too much, thought Sam, although he didn’t say it out loud.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of your little problem with Lucinda. But that means no more calls to this O person, Hugo.”
“No, no, no, Sam, I can’t do that!” Hugo started to hyperventilate. “I can keep it on the sly, believe me, I can! But I just can’t go…cold turkey.” His shoulders slumped as he leaned up against his friend, his agent, his protector.
As he patted Hugo sympathetically on the back, Sam noticed that the crowd around the bar had finally cleared a bit, affording him a glimpse of the lothario behind the counter, and yep, certainly he could see why the ladies were flitting about.
In fact, the dude looked familiar…
Sam shrugged off the inclination to remember who/what/when-and-how, and focused on reading Hugo the riot act instead.
“You can’t chance another call, Hugo! What Lucinda wants is golden, and that’s all there is to it. Hell, go to a strip club every now and then. Or buy some Viagra and some Femprox and some sex toys, and take Lucinda to some island paradise! We’re talking about your career here, guy.”
Hugo got it. Sam knew this because Hugo slipped him a business card before stumbling back into the bar.
On it was written the letter “O” and a telephone number.
Sam would call her later that night.
Then Hugo’s problem would be solved.
He stared back over at the bartender. Suddenly he realized where he’d seen that face before…
Just that afternoon, in his office, in fact.
It was Nathan Harte, the man of the hour.
And now, here he was standing right there in front of Sam: shucking and jiving for tips from tipsy pop tarts.
Well, Mr. Harte, your luck is about to change.
I know you.” Sam swapped the Dewar’s the bartender had left for him on the counter with a ten-dollar bill.
“Probably not. I don’t swing that way.” The kid—he was maybe a few years younger than Sam, what, maybe about twenty-four, twenty-five, right?—nodded appreciatively if apologetically as he scooped it up and put it in his breast pocket. To make sure he’d made his point with Sam, though, he shot a dazzling dimpled smile at a sitcom actress who had apparently taken up shop permanently on one side of the bar. She preened appreciatively and matched Sam’s tip with a twenty dollar bill—and her phone number on a slip of paper.
Sam turned a subtle shade of red. Smartass kid. Right then and there, Sam made up his mind to never wear the Piatelli again.
Ignoring Nathan now, he turned his attentions to Ms. Sitcom. Handing her his business card, he went in for the kill. “Hi. Sabrina, isn’t it? Thought I recognized you, but you probably don’t remember me. I’m Sam Godwin, with ICA. You’re with…let me see…William Morris, right?”
As her jaw dropped, her chest shot forward suggestively. Hell yeah, darn tootin’ she remembered him! And she was flattered he remembered her (despite the fact he’d passed on rep’ing her, what, about a year ago, before she lucked out with that pilot? And, admittedly, the pilot’s director, too). Yeah, unfortunately, she was still at William Morris, but you know how that is: they sit on their laurels, take you for granted, never take you to the next level, yada yada yada…
Sam glanced over at the kid to see if he was taking this all in: her deference to Sam, her fawning adoration of him, the way in which she was practically creaming her jeans at the thought of working with him…
Yeah, the kid got it alright. Sam could tell by the hungry look in Nathan Harte’s heartbreakingly soulful eyes. A look that said, “I want in. I can play this game, too.”
As the girl finally shimmied off to find her posse, Nathan stammered, “Gee, sorry, Mr. Godwin…I didn’t know…I didn’t mean anything by—”
Sam held out his hand to shake. “No hard feelings. A pretty boy like you must get that all the time, huh?”
“Yeah, I do get hit on a lot. Girls and guys. Don’t mind the ladies—” He winked at two who were worshipping him from across the pool—“but it still bugs me when a guy does it. And every other guy in the town seems to be light in his loafers, know what I mean? But I keep it polite, ’cause you never know how big a player he may be.”
Translation: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa. Just tell me where to pucker up, and I’m there...figuratively if not literally…
He shot Sam a contrite smile, all pearly white. “So, you mentioned you’d, uh, seen me somewhere?”
“Yes. In fact, I have your reel sitting on my desk now. It’s quite impressive.”
In shock and awe that anyone of Sam’s caliber would actually say that to him, Nathan puffed up involuntarily.
Great ego reflexes, Sam thought. Good, ’cause he’ll need them.
“In fact,” he pulled out another business card and handed it to the kid, “I’d like to represent you. That is, if you don’t already have representation.”
“No! I mean—”
The kid didn’t know what he meant, only what his brain was trying to tell him: that one of Hollywood’s most revered agents was asking him, Nathan Harte, if he wanted to be part of his star-filled roster!
“—not at this time…Jeez, if I did, why would I be standing here?” He pointed to his station behind the bar.
“Nathan, you’d be surprised how many actors have agents and are still standing there.” He smiled knowingly. “But I’m going to make sure you’ll do better than that. Just come by tomorrow…say, five-thirty? And we’ll talk.”
As he walked away, he could hear Nathan closing up his station. In the kid’s mind, he was already out from behind that bar.
And in front of the cameras.
Nathan burst through the front door as if he were on fire. But before Nina could open her mouth to tell him the exciting news about having given Sam his reel, Nathan informed her that he’d just met with Sam Godwin of ICA not even an hour ago.
“See, hon? Mailing out all those DVDs finally paid off. He wants to represent me!”
Nathan picked her up and swung her around, dipped her into a kiss. “Wow, I can’t believe he actually recognized me, you know, behind the bar and all…although that was sort of embarrassing.”
It would have been more embarrassing if Sam had seen Nathan in his Disneyland costume, thought Nina, but she didn’t say that. Instead she wrapped herself in his arms and laughed. “Don’t be. All of this was meant to be. Oh, Nathan, I’m so proud of you.”
She didn’t have the heart to tell him that the contact had initially been made by her.
What difference would that have made, anyway? Sam Godwin had seen the tape out of the goodness of his heart, not because of anything she had said or done.
Gosh, it was nice to finally meet someone in this town who didn’t have an ulterior motive!
© 2006 Josie Brown. All rights reserved. This excerpt may not be resold or redistributed without prior written permission from Josie Brown and HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.