At one o’clock that afternoon, I drag my ass into Jagger’s office.
“Hey, Victoria.” I wave, bypassing her sparse desk. “Props on not getting too comfortable.”
She rolls her eyes and nods. As soon as Jagger finds another assistant she’ll go back to her usual job of running the office. Victoria is the only person Jagger trusts to fill in when he’s between assistants—which is often—but she refuses to work for him directly, knowing how demanding he can be. I can only assume he keeps her around because she’s good at what she does.
“Afternoon, Vance. Go on in. He’s probably just in there jerking off.”
I stop at the edge of her desk and cock an eyebrow, then laugh. “You should really think of staying put in that chair. I think he may have just met his match with you.”
She turns in her chair and stands, grabbing a stack of papers. “Not sure I’m ready to admit my fate just yet.” She touches my shoulder in a friendly way as she passes me by walking down the hall.
I push open the doors to Jagger’s office, thankful that Victoria’s assumption that his dick would be in his fisted hand isn’t true. He waves me in with one hand, his feet propped up on his desk as he leans back in his chair.
Grabbing a water from his cooler by the couch, I take a seat, twisting open the bottle. He continues to work a deal on the phone for some actress while I read through the latest edition of Hollywood Reporter that he has on the table.
Once he hangs up, he rounds his desk and sits in the chair across from me. “Actresses are so temperamental,” he laments.
“Tell me about it,” I say, still thumbing through the magazine. “One bonus of being unemployed.”
The corner of Jagger’s mouth tips down and he rests his ankle on his knee. “You might not be unemployed for long.”
I toss the magazine on the table and grab my bottle of water. “You got me down here. Let’s hear what you’ve got.”
The entire ride here I’ve tried to keep my expectations low. I’m not a nobody in this town, but since I’ll be releasing my script under my real name, Vance Rose, and not under the name I used when I was a producer, there’s a chance Jagger couldn’t get my script into the right hands.
“I know you didn’t want people to know that you’re Ryder Stone, that you were the executive producer of a TV show that won six Emmys its first year…”
My face shows no emotion. I’ve dealt firsthand with political bullshit in this industry. No one is immune to it. Somehow getting fired took the gleam off the coveted awards that used to line the bookshelf in my condo. They’re currently shoved in a cardboard box at the bottom of my closet.
All he does is nod. Slowly. No words.
“I had to use your background to get your foot in the door. Besides, they promised to keep it under wraps.”
“Heard that before,” I sneer, downing another gulp of my water.
“Are you going to listen to me or sit there pissed off and wallowing? I mean, getting a script made into a movie is as difficult as finding the next wholesome actress from the Midwest with raw talent.”
“You seem to find them just fine,” I deadpan.
Jagger’s not at all into my humor and I should probably drop the attitude, but the bitterness of being fired for such a bullshit reason still eats away at my insides.
“Because I’m Jagger fucking Kale.” He stands. “Get your ass up. I’m not telling you shit until you eat something. You’re always an asshole on an empty stomach.” Snatching his phone from his desk, he tucks it into his suit jacket and holds his office door open for me.
“Just tell me.”
“Fuck you. Let’s go.”
I pass by him to find Victoria’s gaze on us.
“I’ll be back in a few hours. Call me with anything important.” He doesn’t wait for her to answer and beelines it toward the elevators.
“See you, Victoria. Keep rocking the pant suits.” I wink and a smile tips the edges of her lips.
“I know better than to show any of the goods around here.” She winks back and then focuses her attention to her computer. “Keep him out as long as you can, please.”
“Let’s go, drama queen.” Jagger’s hand is on the doors of the elevator.
“I’ll do my best,” I say as I backstep to the elevator.
The doors shut, cutting off my view of Victoria silently laughing to herself while shaking her head.
“Don’t flirt with my assistant. If I can’t touch her, neither can you.” He presses the lobby button with his knuckle.
“Why can’t I touch her?”
“Please. The last thing I fucking need is her asking me shit like, ‘Did he say anything about me?’ ‘Do you know why he’s not texting me back?’ ‘Why doesn’t he want to see me anymore?’” he says in his best impression of a woman’s voice. Which is pretty bad, for the record. “Besides. We’re friends. That means you don’t take what’s mine.”
I scoff. “She’s not yours.”
“She might be if she ever decides to quit.” He raises a brow.
I stifle a laugh. “What’s to say she’ll quit?”
“They all quit.”
The elevator dings and the doors open. We push our way through the crowd waiting to file in, eventually reaching the rotating doors and making our way outside. The sun heats my face and our steps echo on the concrete as we head to the parking garage.
“I think she’s a keeper, man. She’s put up with your shit for this long.” I place my hand on his shoulder.
He side-glances me. “None of them are keepers because I’m too enticing. They know I won’t lay a hand on them until they don’t work for me.”
“You should really hire dudes.”
“Yeah, no, thanks.” He spots his Ferrari and pulls out his keys, unlocking the car and turning off the alarm. Did you think as arrogant as Jagger is, he wouldn’t have a car like a Ferrari? He’s got a whole arsenal of expensive cars.
We climb into his car and he roars out of the garage, easing off the brakes before he hits the street.
Traveling at Mach speed the entire way, we arrive at an ocean-side restaurant a little off the tourists’ radar.
“Should’ve known you’d want to discuss my future over fish tacos.” I shake my head as we head into the shack Jagger likes to claim he made famous.
“Who doesn’t love fish tacos?” He tucks his keys into his suit pants and makes a display of putting his phone on vibrate before he pushes it down into the inside pocket of his jacket.
“Holy shit, do I really get Jagger Kale all to myself?”
He rolls his eyes and waves to the waitress, who he’s screwed—out on the deck after closing time. But that’s his story. If only I could get the visual out of my head every time we come here.
She points to a free table by the open window and we head there and take a seat.
“Okay, you’ve got me here. Tell me what the hell is going on.” I rest my forearms on the table, taking a deep breath, waiting to hear if what he has to say makes me want to drown myself in the ocean.
He chuckles. “Well, I got a deal for you and it’s good. The investor is from the East Coast and likes the feel of the story. Says it reminds her of her own summer love story. She only has one stipulation. Even so, if you ask me, you should be kissing my Italian loafers right about now.”
I stare at him, waiting for him to get on with it, when the waitress saunters over and rests her hip on the table, facing Jagger with crossed arms.
“You didn’t call,” she says, irritation ringing out in her tone.
He leans forward and brushes her long red hair back, exposing her bare, freckled shoulder. The stiffness of her posture falters a bit.
“Maybe you gave me the wrong phone number,” he says, all innocence.
She shakes her head. “I didn’t.”
“Well, I don’t know, honey, I called.”
She pulls her order pad from her pocket, scribbles her digits down on a piece of paper and slides it across the table. “This is the right one. Use it. Two Heinekens?” She shoots me a fleeting glance.
Oh, good, she realizes I’m here.
Jagger tucks the piece of paper into the front pocket of his shirt and pats his chest. “Safekeeping.” He winks and I let out an exasperated sigh, earning both their glares.
She leaves and Jagger’s gaze follows her to the bar. “I’m an ass man. What about you?”
“Jagger,” I say, but his attention is still focused on the waitress.
He turns back to me and smiles that ‘okay, okay, give me a break’ smile. “The investor wants the leading lady to be Layla Andrews.”
I swear everything around me disappears and I look upon my friend with tunnel vision. It took me until right now to realize why he’s stranded me at the fish taco place outside of the city—I can’t go anywhere. He’s my ride back, although if I could surf, I might just paddle out into the ocean.
“She won’t do it.”
The waitress, whose name is Heidi based on the name tag pinned on her stretched t-shirt, drops the Heinekens on the table and I down half of mine before placing it back on the table. I draw in a deep breath and stare out to the abyss of the ocean.
“She will,” Jagger says with more confidence than he should given the situation.
I look back and Heidi is gone and to my surprise Jagger isn’t wearing a smug look on his face. Instead he’s serious.
“Fuck, Jagger. Why on earth would she do me a favor? I fucked her over on that job, or have you forgotten?”
He leans forward, his hands clasped over his beer. “She only knows Ryder Stone and she has no idea what you look like.”
He points out the one good thing about being behind the scenes in this industry. If I fuck you over, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t know me if you just walked past me in a coffee shop.
“So you want me to lie to her?”
He shrugs. “Just don’t volunteer the information. It’s more like… creative information engineering. Your script is written under your real name. Plus, once it’s a million-dollar box office success she won’t care that you screwed her out of that other role.”
I bring my beer to my lips, contemplating his words.
“Not to mention, she’s on some big set working right now. She probably doesn’t even care anymore.”
“What set?” I ask. She should have had a recurring role on Abandoned, the TV show I was fired from, but I convinced the casting director that she was just a glorified child actress and that audiences would never buy her in the serious role the script dictated.
“She’s with Chris Pratt on that new movie of his.”
“Fuck!” I down the rest of my beer.
“It’s not opposite him. It’s a small role. There’s a good chance she’ll end up on the cutting-room floor.” Jagger takes a sip of his own beer. “I tried to get a hold of her this morning, but her agent’s assistant, told me she’s filming this entire week. Her agent is at the Sundance Film Festival and isn’t returning my calls. I spoke with Layla briefly. You need to go to set to pitch the idea to her.”
“Can’t it wait until after she’s done filming or her agent gets back?”
Heidi comes over and places two plates of fish tacos in front of us. Yeah, we’re probably here too much. She eyes Jagger, licks her lips and then lets her finger run up his arm as she walks away.
“No. The investor wants it done this week. She wants to film scenes in Chicago while the weather is nice. Which means we’re on the clock to have a crew out there this summer.”
“Who is this investor, by the way?”
“All you need to know is that her name is Hannah and she has money.”
I blow out a stream of air, resting my fork on my plate. “This is all going so fast.”
Jagger laughs. “Isn’t this what you wanted? If all goes well, you’ll be a celebrity script writer inside of two years.” He chomps down on his taco, his tie tossed over his shoulder, his jacket resting on the chair next to him. Totally out of place among the beach bums and surfers who really made this place famous.
“I don’t much care for the deception factor.”
Jagger swallows his mouthful. “Grow up, Vance. This is Hollywood. The whole industry was built on selling lies to the public. You want your movie or not?”
I nod, biting the inside of my cheek. My sister Charlie would kick my ass for what I’m about to do. But in all truthfulness, maybe it all worked out for the better. I mean, Layla’s in a film with Chris Pratt. She might not have gotten that gig if she’d gotten the role in Abandoned. She should be thanking me. Plus, if my movie is a success, that totally trumps a small role in a television series. Right? Definitely.
“All right. Tell me where to find her.”
He smiles over another mouthful of taco. “That’s my boy.” He winks.
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