Thursday, January 20, 2011

video

I really enjoyed putting this customer review video together. It's still hard for me to believe they are actually talking about my book. lol However, I am very grateful for the readers who were kind enough to write and post their reviews. LB

Chapter One of Forever by Linda Ballard

The first chapter in Part One of Forever by Linda Ballard

Dreams of Forever

I feel as if I’ve loved you forever, but like a dream it’s lost at daybreak. If only I could remember, and make you remember me.

One

Finally, he turned off the bedroom light. Only then did she let out the breath she was holding. With one more hurried glance through the crack between the drapes at the dark house, she left her place at the window. Silently, she crept across her office but left puddles of water in her wake. In the tiny half-bath, she stripped off her soggy clothes, but she still reeked of chlorine. With no shower of her own, and too fearful to risk returning to the house, she washed her hair in the sink.
So anxious to escape since being hired, she packed early that evening, and thanked God for being spared again from going inside. Her bag was haphazardly jammed with all she would need for the trip. But in the darkness the search for clothing was difficult, yet she didn’t dare turn on the light. Each moment, she was startled and fearful of every noise. She checked the window, but the lights were still off in the house. Yet, she would not be easy until the morning. It was just passed midnight, and the arrival of the car to take her to the airport was still five hours away.
With hours to kill, she packed her office supplies in her briefcase. The last was the script, but with time on her hands and in too much pain to sleep, she looked at the cover. From the slight opening between the curtains came a spear of blue light. She rolled her desk chair over and took a seat, but could barely see the words on the title page. Once more she stole a glance out the window. It was dark and quiet except for the brilliant blue light of the swimming pool.

***

The waitress considered using the check to deliver her message of love, but her boss would see it at the register. So, she chose a napkin instead and wrote quickly, but her hands trembled with the violence of her love. She almost dropped the coffee pot on her way across the restaurant to be of service to the object of her dreams. Yet, the man she desired wasn’t alone.
If she hadn’t known better, she would have believed the two men were twins. They shared the same height, powerful build and coloring, but one of them just happened to be the absolutely gorgeous actor – Daniel Hunter.
The whole town had been in an uproar since he’d arrived. Every member of the hotel staff wanted to be of service to the Hollywood heartthrob. Today was finally her turn; unfortunately, she’d already knocked over his water glass, spilled his coffee and got his breakfast order wrong – twice.
As the star-struck waitress approached the table breathlessly, she noted the differences between the men that had escaped her eye on the other side of the restaurant. Daniel was literally breathtaking for a man, dark wavy hair and the bluest eyes she had ever seen. His smile was brilliant, and his well-defined jaw line only added to the perfection of his face. She figured him to be over six feet by four or five inches, but where Daniel dressed casually, the other was more formal in his attire, wearing a sports jacket and tie.
She glanced at the other man at the table, as she stepped up to serve them. He had the same strong jaw line, but his eyes were brown. He lacked the sheer perfection of Daniel’s features, but he was by no means unattractive.
Daniel slid his cup across the table in her direction. Good reflexes had saved him from earlier dining catastrophes, but he was taking no chances. “Thanks.” Daniel smiled at the waitress, as she refilled his cup. Unfortunately another mishap resulted from overfilling the cup.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Hunter,” she cried and accidentally mopped up the mess with the passion-laced napkin.
“No big deal,” he offered casually, but noted the words „I love you‟ written in stark capital letters before the ink bled into the wet napkin.
“Could I have another cup, too?” Peter asked, but he didn’t take offense that Daniel had the waitress’s full attention and failed to notice his empty cup. He also saw young lady’s written declaration of love before it was lost. It wasn’t the first, and would not be last.
“Oh, sure – sorry,” she apologized, but was frustrated that she had accidentally ruined the note she was sure would secure Daniel’s affection.
Both men watched the mug being refilled in preparation for another avalanche of coffee but were relieved when it reached just the rim.
“Thank you.” Peter sighed in relief. It always took a while for the locals to settle down when Daniel arrived on any location. But it wasn’t just the locals; the eyes of every female member of the cast and crew in the dining room were also fixed on Daniel, as well. Yet, the object of all this attention pretended not to notice.
Daniel’s eyes caught movement on the other side of the lace curtains, and he watched the last news van pull away from the curb outside. “How do you feel?” he asked, as he sarcastically mimicked the inquiry.
“It’s a fair question,” Peter replied.
“I guess it is,” Daniel complained. “You’d think they’d be able to figure it out. How would anyone feel if a friend almost died?” he pointed out. “Sometimes I think reporters have no feelings of their own.” Daniel watched the van with a subdued sense of bitterness.
“They’re just doing their job,” Peter replied, as he looked for signs of stress, but Daniel remained contained.
Daniel and Roger Scott had worked together before. Yet, before the first camera rolled, Roger was struck down in front of him, collapsed on the set and nearly died of a heart attack. But when the media got wind of it, they seemed more concerned with how the famous Daniel Hunter felt about the event, rather than the condition of Scott. It was a sad commentary on the overly inflated view of celebrity in society. Daniel’s views on any subject made news. He said all the right things, expressed his concern publicly as one should under the circumstances, but in private – Daniel said nothing.
The cast and crew waited for news, but as star of the film, Daniel had access to far more information. The head of production had called him personally early that morning, but Peter hadn’t been privy to the conversation. Yet, he was more concerned with the man across from him than whether or not filming was going to resume. It was better to change the subject. “How about a game of cards?” he asked.
“Sure.” He moved his coffee out of the way and prepared for another round of their ongoing battle of Gin.
Peter opened his briefcase and took out a pen and pad of paper to keep score. To this he added the date and time to the top of the page, along with their names and a line was drawn down the middle to keep the scores separated. He handed the deck to Daniel to shuffle.
“Let’s play to a thousand,” Daniel suggested. There was nothing like a game of cards to pass the time and distract him from gloomier thoughts. “Another director is flying in today to take over,” Daniel relayed.
“That was fast – who’d they get?” Peter asked, as he sorted through Daniel’s mail in his briefcase. A large envelope had been left at the front desk, along with scores of notes and letters from hopeful admirers. He opened the large envelope first and smiled as the cards were being dealt, but the contents didn’t surprise him.
“Rachel West – she’s got a good reputation. Apparently, she runs an orderly set, but she’s kind of a recluse and keeps to herself between scenes.” He grimaced when Peter exposed the contents of the envelope discreetly. It was a hotel room key a pair of red panties. “How original,” he commented dryly.
“It’s the fourth one this morning. I’d say you’re doing pretty well,” Peter teased.
“Has this become the gauge of my career? how many keys and underwear I get per day,” he questioned, showing off the beautiful smile that inspired the incessant invitations. “They’re always red.” He laughed.
“Not always, black seems to be a favorite, too,” Peter joked in return.

***

No, it wasn’t possible! This rumpled, silly-looking teenager had been rushed onto the corporate jet by the production company to take over his project? It was a joke – it had to be a joke!
In the morning light, as she descended the steps of the Gulf Stream, Rachel West looked like some skinny sixteen year old on her way to high school with a back pack of books. She couldn’t have been much over five feet in height or weighed more than a hundred pounds. The baggy jeans, sweatshirt and the over-sized gray flannel jacket didn’t help to instill a sense of confidence in her abilities either. Her very reputation as a hard-working, inventive filmmaker was even in question in light of her appearance. The mop of red curls, blown wild on the breezy runway only made it worse.
Another sudden gust blew her striking red hair from her face, and he was met with a serious expression. Her eyes came up as he crossed the space between them without any sign of welcome. As he came closer, he could see that she was far from being a child. Late twenties, he estimated.
With a critical eye, he found her lacking in any of the female attributes he found desirable in a woman. If she had a figure, she hid it well, and she did nothing to accentuate what good points she did have. Her features were acceptable, make-up would help, but her face was completely devoid of it.
“Mr. Williams?”
“Thank heavens, you’re here,” Sam blurted out. “Let me take that for you,” he quickly offered, as he reached for her bag and briefcase.
“Thank you, no,” Rachel replied in haste and took a step back.
“Certainly,” Sam concluded, but when he tried to take arm to escort her to his car, she actually jerked away and put some more distance between them. Rachel West was true to her reputation, he thought.
Rachel got in the car, but she barely had time to shut the door before he sped away and was just fastening her seat belt when they raced onto the nearby freeway. “How far is Ferndale?” Rachel asked.
“About ten miles,” he answered curtly. “I hope that you got a chance to go over the script.” He glanced at her quickly, but she only nodded.
Rachel looked at him out of the corner of her eye. He didn’t look like he smiled very much. She figured him to be about fifty, but he looked a little older than his years. Though he didn’t have too much hair on the top of his head, what remained was pulled back into a pony tail.
They drove through the city of Eureka on their way to Ferndale. As the city melted away behind them, the forest took center stage. It was so peaceful, broken only by long stretches of pasture and small farms.
Everything that Rachel enjoyed, Sam despised. The trees and dirt depressed him. He longed for his climate-controlled office at the studio. He also didn’t like leaving the nice smooth freeway for the two-lane road surrounded by all those cows. He didn’t care if this was dairy country – livestock annoyed him.
Rachel loved the peaceful sight of grazing animals and little red barns. As the car veered left, Rachel turned her attention to the road ahead. Right before her eyes, the little town seemed to rise out of nowhere – Ferndale. If it had not been for the cars, she would have never known the year. It seemed untouched by time. Ferndale had survived intact, warding off time and change to stand proudly proclaiming its wonders. It was the perfect Victorian Village. Rachel marveled at in contemplative silence. She glanced at Williams, but all he seemed to see was the road ahead and his watch.
They turned left on Ocean Street and immediately pulled over in front of the Victorian Inn, a beautiful Italianate structure, standing proudly on the corner. The moment the car stopped, Sam was out, raced up the front steps, and was inside madly ringing the bell at the front desk.
From the table in the adjoining restaurant, Daniel watched in amusement. Sam was always in a hurry. Then from out of the passenger seat came a woman with the reddest hair he’d ever seen, and he pulled back the lace curtain a little to get a better look.
Rachel longed to explore every store front and search out everything of interest. She marveled at the house right across the street, all the small trees had been pruned into the shape of mushrooms. What whimsy, she thought. She turned back and looked up at the two-story hotel, with its beautiful bay windows above and a restaurant and old-time saloon below.
Daniel drew in his breath when he saw her face for the first time. She was fair and so lovely that he didn’t realize he had been holding his breath until he was forced to let the air out of his lungs.
Rachel wished she could explore the lovely town when she was interrupted by an impatient voice.
“If you don’t mind, I need to get you checked in. We have a meeting,” Williams insisted.
Rachel gathered her bags as she glanced up at the beautiful old hotel.
How beautiful she was, Daniel thought, and for a strange disconnected moment, he felt as if he knew her. It was an odd sensation, like he was no longer part of the world around him – time seemed to stop. He no longer heard the noise of the surrounding diners, or the clatter of silverware and dishes. Even the cards in his hand were forgotten and his companion in the game receded into the silence of the moment. The longer he looked at her beautiful face the more intense the feeling became until he felt as if he were the last who lived in an existence that only she shared.
Daniel watched her intently, as she carried her bags to front door and disappeared from sight. Clearly, he could hear the voices of the producer and the hotel manager just on the other side of the partition near his table. However, he also knew the stunning woman he’d just glimpsed was with them, too. The draw to join her was so strong that it took everything he had to resist it.
The front desk was opposite the saloon, with its long wooden bar and small tables up against the walls. Rachel leaned over and tried to look around the partition that isolated the saloon from the larger room on the other side – the restaurant. From what she could see through the opening, the windows had lace curtains and the tables were lined up next to them to take advantage of the view. Stepping back a little, she could see even more tables all around the room, ending near a huge old fireplace and oak mantle. Near the hearth was a Victorian sofa covered in red velvet.
The scene was so inviting. She longed to go in and be surrounded by the tables topped with their crisp damask cloths. However, the moment that she was signed in, Williams whisked her through the tiny lobby near the front door, and then around the corner to an enormous flight of stairs.
The feeling remained so strong that it forced Daniel to his feet, and he looked through the opening in the partition just in time to see them heading away toward the stairs. Though he could only watch her retreating figure, he was none the less mesmerized, and for a moment, he almost followed.
“What’s wrong?” Peter asked. When he didn’t receive a reply, he called again. “Daniel?” Why was he just standing there staring into the saloon? “Daniel!” he called again, finally getting his attention.
“What?” Daniel turned, startled by the sound of his own name.
“What’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” he abruptly answered and returned to his chair. Only then did he notice the restaurant was starting to fill up with members of the crew. He remembered the meeting Sam had called so everyone could meet the new director. Daniel wanted to meet her, too, but not in the middle of this crowd. He looked across the table at Peter. “Forget the cards for now.”
“How come when I’m in the lead, you want to stop?” he kidded.

***

As Sam raced up the hall, Rachel was glad that she had only one bag and briefcase to carry. Williams continued to take the lead as they turned a corner that deposited them into a small alcove with the doors to two rooms. He handed Rachel the key to one of them.
“When you get settled, come down to the dining room, and we’ll get started.” He left in a rush.
Rachel entered and was welcomed by a beautiful brass bed. The wallpaper was of delicate pink roses intertwined with ribbons. In the far corner, the octagonal bay contained a table for two, and lace curtains framed the entrance. From the double hung windows, she could take in all of downtown Ferndale.
A peek into the bathroom, and she was pleased to see that it sported ball and claw bathtub and a pedestal sink. Excitedly, Rachel jumped in the middle of the bed. She looked forward to snuggling under the down comforter. A real bed again! she thought in delight.
Rachel looked around in enjoyment at wardrobe against the far wall next to the bathroom and a vanity near the bay. On the other side of the room, next to her bed was a door, locked with a single bolt. It was must be an adjoining room, she thought, and she hoped her neighbor was quiet.
As much as she wanted to stay to enjoy the room and view, she had work to do. She unpacked quickly, left the room with her briefcase and took the stairs back down. However, as she started through the saloon to the restaurant, she was stopped by a familiar voice.
“Welcome to Ferndale.”
Rachel had never seen eyes so beautiful in all her life. They were so blue – like the sky. Yet it was more than the color, there was something behind the gaze that drew her instantly in and held her soul tight. For a long moment, she saw nothing else, until he smiled. He was casually leaning against the bar. “How do you do?” she squeaked.
Daniel smiled at her wide-eyed expression and timid greeting. “I’m very happy to meet you.”
Rachel took a hesitant step toward the handsomest man that she had ever seen. She set her briefcase on the floor before she extended her hand to greet him, but her knees were shaking. “Rachel West,” she announced.
“Daniel Hunter,” he replied as he took her hand. The feeling was electric. “I thought our first day of filming was going to be our last until I heard you were coming.” He gently squeezed her hand.
Rachel released him suddenly and put space between them. But his friendly smile brought her back a step before she could stop herself. “How is Roger?” Rachel asked, but looked away when she realized she was staring. Feeling uncomfortable, she slid her hands in the back pockets of her baggy jeans but took a step closer without realizing it.
“He had a heart attack and was rushed into surgery for an emergency by-pass. He almost died right on the set.” The memory was awful.
The intense pain in his eyes pulled her closer. “I’m sure he’s getting the best of care,” she answered gently, but the sorrow in his eyes remained. Rachel reached out to take his hand and squeezed it tight. “I know God is watching over him.”
Her comfort touched his heart, and he felt a little better. “I hope so.”
“Of course, He is,” she promised, but she was startled by her own action and released his hand and forced her own back into her pocket.
Daniel nodded, as he regarded Rachel more closely. He looked passed the red hair that had first caught his attention to her gray eyes and long golden lashes. Her skin was flawlessly fair, and she reminded him of a porcelain doll with tumble of perfect curls. The blush of her cheeks was incandescent, and her lips were delicately shaped. Her lovely eyes and length and color of her lashes gave Rachel an almost fairy-like quality. Her size only added to her elfin appearance. She was small and slender, but nervous, like a sparrow ready to take flight at the slightest provocation. Enthralled with Rachel’s appearance, Daniel was perfectly insensible to the world around him. It wasn’t until she turned away, that a certain impatient producer intruded upon his notice.
“Let’s get started.” His voice was calm, but the beads of sweat on Sam’s forehead screamed otherwise.
Daniel eyes returned to Rachel as she seemed to float ahead of him into the restaurant. She made no sound on the old creaky floor boards, and he actually looked to see if her feet even touched the floor. However, a moment before Rachel passed through the partition, she looked back. It was a nervous glance, and again he swore he knew her – but from where?
The heads of production and members of the crew were in attendance. Those who had never worked with Rachel before eyed her suspiciously. She knew that she made a bad first impression. Over the years it became part of the ongoing battle for the respect she longed for in her professional career.
After the introductions were made, Rachel was left alone in the center of the room to begin the relationship that would finish the film. “I know Roger is going to be a hard act to follow. I do hope for his sake that we can pull together and finish his project in a way that would make him proud.” She caught sight of Daniel sitting on the hearth, and her heart skipped a beat when he smiled. Rachel looked away abruptly to maintain a professional air, but her eyes kept finding him, no matter how hard she tried to look elsewhere. He didn’t seem at all like the man she remembered from the movies, though she wasn’t really a fan of the violent films he was known for. He wasn’t a Hollywood pretty boy either. Though, she considered incredibly handsome, he had a more rugged appearance. Yet, the gentle expression in his eyes and smile seemed almost to counteract the tough, hard image he had acquired in films.
Rachel discussed the details of filming with the heads of production, and Daniel was part of every conversation. He even sat in as they went over the story board. Every scene and camera angle had been drawn picture by picture to give everyone the same map to go by.
When they broke for lunch, the cast and crew scattered to restaurants all over town, but Daniel stayed at the hotel. As he waited for Peter to join him, he racked his brain to remember where he had seen Rachel before, but no memory surfaced to identify the place or time. He was sure he would have remembered someone with golden lashes. Rachel’s red hair alone was unforgettable. But golden eyelashes or not, nothing would change the inevitable. By day’s end, she would slip him her phone number and room key, he figured, but he drew in his breath when Rachel stepped into the restaurant.
Rachel stopped when she caught Daniel’s eye. She had been heading toward an empty table to work. Now, she was foolishly caught unprepared for the encounter. “I hope the food is good, because I’m hungry.” What a dumb thing to say, she thought, but when Daniel smiled she didn’t care.
“It’s good – but the coffee is great,” he announced.
“I’ll take a pot and keep it coming.”
“Is that a challenge? You won’t win,” he teased. “I’m a coffee fanatic.”
“Can you drink a pot and still sleep like a baby?” Rachel questioned.
“Yes.” He was charmed by the smile she tried to hide. “Can you?”
“Two pots!” she announced bravely.
“You’re on!” Daniel rose to hold the chair on the other side of the table.
“The first pot of coffee is on you.”
Daniel motioned to the waiter. “We’d like another menu and keep the coffee coming,” he requested. Within moments, the menu and another cup were produced for Rachel and his cup refilled.
“You want cream and sugar?” he asked.
“No thanks.” She blew on the steaming coffee before taking a sip.
“There’s no point in drinking it unless it’s black,” he said honestly.
“My feelings exactly,” she agreed and looked over the menu but it was hard to tear her gaze away.
The feeling of recognition was still with Daniel. “Have we ever met before?” he asked but when she looked up to ponder his question, he had to fight to keep the smile off his face.
“I don’t think so,” Rachel replied. After all, he was Daniel Hunter, how could forget meeting someone so famous. She turned her attention back to the menu. “I don’t know what to order. What are you having?”
“I just watched you make decisions all morning, and now you can’t decide what you want for lunch,” he laughed.
“That’s work,” she defended, “this is my stomach.” She didn’t feel what she had said was that funny, but he laughed and it made her grin.
Rachel’s smile was adorable, he thought. “You have a point. I’m just going to have a hamburger.”
“That sounds fine to me, too.” She closed the menu and felt unusually comfortable with a man she’d met a few hours before.
Daniel ordered. “What got you roped into this project?” he asked, as he studied her face more closely. She had a dimple just under the corner of her mouth, which added to the sweetness of her smile.
“I was ready to start project next week, but they pulled the plug at the last minute,” she offered. “I got the call for this job last night,” she concluded. “What about you? This project isn’t your usual fair.”
“Isn’t that the truth? No car chases or guns and nothing explodes – I hardly know what to do with myself.” He chuckled.
“I just wrapped a love story. If I keep it up, the industry is going to label me queen of the romance movies,” she joked.
“Do you prefer doing love stories?” he asked. When she shook her head abruptly, it made her curls sway and bounce. Little elf, he thought.
“I’m open to everything – I would love to do a film with lots of explosions,” she answered thoughtfully.
“I’ll keep you in mind,” he promised but movement caught his eye, and he looked up to Peter standing in the opening of the partition.
“I will be having lunch across the street if you need me,” he offered.
Daniel nodded in reply.
Peter smiled pleasantly as he turned away. He was glad for a reason to try Ferndale’s other eating establishments. Usually once Daniel found a place he liked, it was hard to get him to try something new. Besides, it was better and safer for him to stay in the hotel where security was tight.
He passed the two guards posted at the main entrance to prevent unauthorized entry, since the production company had bought out the hotel for the duration of filming. In doing so, it gave Daniel the freedom, within the walls of the Victorian Inn, to socialize and dine without interruptions from the public. At the moment, Daniel obviously was getting to know his new director.
Peter looked forward to exploring Ferndale after lunch, but Daniel’s call ended the prospect. There was no reason given why he wanted to ride out to the set, but Peter didn’t question the reason. Nor did ask questions when they actually arrived at the beach and Daniel proceeded to do nothing.
However being idle was not Peters style, he went over Daniel’s perfectly immaculate trailer again. Checked the costumes hanging in the closet, all labeled with the scenes for which they would be used. He straightened the bed until it was as smooth as glass and opened the drawers to count pairs of underwear and socks in the tiny bedroom. Also, Peter surveyed the small bathroom to make sure everything was in place.
The kitchen was next, and Peter checked the refrigerator and was satisfied there was enough food and bottled water before he moved to the cupboards. There were plenty of mugs, filters and several cans of Daniel’s favorite brand. Most important, the coffee maker was ready and waiting on the counter.
The adjoining living area contained a small couch and two comfortable chairs lined up to watch satellite television, and the stereo system was state of the art. All this finery was reflected by the huge make-up mirror that dominated the other side of the space. The beauty parlor, Peter thought back on all the jokes they had made about this space over the years. However, that’s what it looked like – a beauty parlor for one. Daniel may have been good-looking, but no one could get away without make-up if they made their living in front of a camera. Male or female, the strong lights on the set washed-out the features of both without the augmentation from a professional make-up artist.
Satisfied that the trailer was in perfect order, he opened the curtains over the couch and noted Daniel’s rather aimless stroll on the beach.

***

No phone number, Daniel thought curiously. No room key either, nor did she mention his wealth, fame or anything about the way he looked. He pondered their lunchtime conversation and could remember nothing in word or deed that led him to believe she was even remotely interested.
When the meal concluded, she left to check out the set with a polite farewell. Now, he was on the set, in plain view, without seeing her once, but the scent of fresh coffee took him to the catering truck.
“How many sugars do you need?” Sam watched Lucas open up his fourth packet.
“I just like it real sweet,” Lucas offered and gave the cup a stir but added one more sugar before he was happy. “Now that’s coffee.”
Daniel chuckled, as he got himself a cup from the large urn. He avoided the bagels and donuts, but he was amused when Lucas began inhaling them.
“What do you think of Rachel West?” Sam asked Daniel.
Daniel shrugged. “Fine.” He tried to sound noncommittal.
“I hope she can keep us on schedule.” Sam pleaded inwardly.
“Rachel will get the job done.” Lucas jammed his mouth with another donut while speaking. “Just don’t touch her,” he informed.
Daniel thought that was an odd comment and had to ask. “Why?”
“She doesn’t like it.” He took a swallow of coffee to wash down the donut and picked up another.
“I’ve heard that before and I got a taste of it today. She yanked her arm away from me when I tried to take it this morning,” Sam explained.
“Really?” Daniel remembered shaking her hand without a problem.
“She’s always been kind of nervous and jumpy. She likes to keep everything on a real professional level. Not much for joking around, but I liked working with her.” Lucas continued. “She knows exactly what she doing, minimum retakes for that matter,” he concluded.
“That’s all I care about.” Sam took his coffee back to his trailer on the beach, pulling his jacket closed against the stiff sea breeze.
“When was the last time you worked with Rachel?” Daniel asked.
Lucas wiped the sugar from his hand on the front of his pants and then grabbed another donut. “A couple of years, but it was a great set. It was shot at this resort in the Bahamas and we all got to stay there. It had a huge pool and we were in it every night.” He laughed. “Everybody but Rachel, when work was over, she went right back to her room. Except once, one of the guys picked her up. I mean, we were just playing around, and he ran over to the pool with her. She screamed and fought like she was going to be murdered.”
Daniel listened quietly but it was hard watching Lucas talk around his donuts. Yet, he felt anger at the idea of a woman being manhandled and made to scream.
“It was hands off after that.” Lucas finished his coffee and threw the cup in the trash. “I’m going back to the hotel, there’s no more to do here until morning.” He headed back to his vehicle up on the main road.
Daniel remained deep in thought. This had been such a strange day, and his feelings were a jumble. His confused emotions became more intense when Rachel suddenly appeared out of her trailer with a precarious armload of binders.
Rachel reached back to shut her office door when she dropped her briefcase. It bounced off the bottom step and scattered its contents on the sand. In the attempt to retrieve it, two binders slid off the top of the pile.
“Let me help.” Daniel hurried to help gather her fallen possessions.
“I’m sorry – I’m sorry –”
Daniel noted her trembling hands. “There’s no reason to be sorry,” he said softly and met her worried gaze with a smile. “Where were you going with all this?” he asked while collecting the binders.
Daniel was so kind, she thought. “It’s a shame to stay inside on such a nice day,” she explained hurriedly. “I was going to sit on the beach.”
“Yeah, it’s too nice to be inside. Let me help you.” He took all she had and followed her for coffee before finding a spot.
Comfortable, she watched as he lay down on the sand nearby with his hands behind his head. When he closed his eyes, she gazed at him for several moments before abruptly turning her attention back to her work. She opened her copy of the script and pulled a pencil from her pocket. However, no matter how she tried to concentrate, her eyes kept darting back to him. “Can I call you Daniel, or do you prefer Mr. Hunter?”
“Only if I can call you Rachel,” he teased.
“Okay,” she answered softly.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, but can I talk to you for a minute?”
Rachel jumped at the sound of the strange male voice and turned, but the tall man she remembered from the restaurant was speaking to Daniel.
“Sure. Rachel West, this is my assistant Peter,” he offered.
“Nice to meet you.” She felt dwarfed by the two men towering over her. They were the same height and shared the same dark hair, and she fancied if she had a tape measure, their shoulders would have matched up in inches as well.
“Ma’am,” Peter answered politely and looked back at Daniel with a smile. “There is someone who would like to speak to you on the phone.”
“I wonder who it could be?” he joked and left Rachel with a wave.
She watched him as he walked away. He was laughing to whoever was on the phone. His assistant was still with him, sharing the conversation, passing the phone back and forth. It somehow it seemed colder since Daniel moved away, and she gathered her things and returned to the trailer.
“The wind has picked up.” Maggie closed her sweater, once Rogers’s assistant but stayed for Rachel. “Do you mind if I shut the door?”
“No, go right ahead.” Rachel could still see Daniel but only for a moment until the door was shut. She spread out her work again but only stared at it for a long moment without seeing it. She rose suddenly, glancing out the window, but Daniel was no longer there.
“Is something wrong?” Maggie asked. She was used to working with Roger. With this temporary boss, she wasn’t sure what to do.
“Nothing.” Rachel returned to her desk. “What’s the news on Jackie Turner?” she asked once she was seated, trying to her mind off Daniel.
Maggie glanced at her notes. “She’s supposed to check into the hotel tonight, but she’s already two days late,” she added. “Some of her people are already here to prepare for her arrival. Her favorite flowers will be in her room on time.”
“Favorite flowers?” Rachel smiled.
“Pink roses,” she stated. “She has to have at least three vases full in her room and if they’re not there – she isn’t happy,” Maggie said pointedly. “Her requested mattress and bedding are in place and the room next door has been set aside for her clothes and maids. We were able to squeeze in a couple of rollaway beds for them.” She shook her head. “Also, one of Ms. Turner’s personal chefs has arrived so that her diet can be tended to without interruption,” she concluded.
“What about Daniel Hunter – special room, flowers?” she asked.
“Nothing in particular – I take that back, coffee. There always has to be a pot on the burner. He’s real nice guy, no special treatment. Believe it or not, he even eats with crew,” she pointed out.
“He does have an assistant,” she reminded.
“Oh yeah, Peter. He does all the stand-in work for Daniel, too. He’s real quiet, and if he wasn’t so tall, you wouldn’t even know he was around,” she added. “He’s no babysitter to Daniel. He just does the usual, takes messages – keeps the schedule, travel plans, mail – same old thing.” She shrugged.
“How long have you known Daniel?”
Maggie considered the question. “About eight years, I guess. Mr. Scott just loved working with him.”
“Do we get to look forward to the parade of women in and out of the hotel?” Rachel had known many leading men of that nature.
“No, he’s not one of those, thank goodness.” She knew exactly what Rachel was talking about; she had just finished working with Rick Ronald. “When he’s working – he works, and he’s worth every penny.”
Rachel had no idea why she was so filled with questions. “I like him,” she said quietly.
“There isn’t a woman from nine to ninety that doesn’t like him and with good reason.” She caught movement outside the window. “There goes our resident hunk as we speak.” She continued to watch.
Rachel had to fight the urge to go charging over to the window but stayed where she was. Yet, Daniel remained close to her thoughts for the rest of the day. Even when she returned to the hotel, Daniel’s image was still with her, as she dropped down on her bed. It had been a long day, but it was nothing to the hours she would put in when filming actually began. All she wanted was a hot bath and sleep but not yet, she thought.
Rachel left the hotel and followed the directions she had been given at the front desk. She walked one block down to Berding Street and could see the steeple in the distance. How peaceful it was, the scent from the nearby ocean was wonderfully fragrant and the breeze was cool. The old-fashioned streetlights cast small pools of light as she made her way passed the beautiful old homes and well-kept yards.
The Catholic Church of the Assumption was built in the old Gothic style and stood proudly as it had for the last hundred years. Next door was the Rectory and behind the church was a small school.
Rachel entered. She had missed the comfort of Mass that morning and couldn’t sleep without quiet prayers inside. She was glad to see people in the pews, there weren’t many at this time of the night, but enough to add the warmth of community.
Rachel found a pew up front. Took the Rosary from her pocket and ran her fingers over the beads before kissing the crucifix. She knelt down to pray, alone with God, without distraction or interruptions.
Daniel entered quietly and stopped briefly to consider the font of Holy water at the door. The teachings of childhood told him he should not enter without cleansing himself of venal sins, but what was the point of making an empty show of faith.
He wasn’t quite sure why he’d come to at all. He hadn’t been a practicing Catholic for years but figured Rogers heart attack must have triggered it. There was nothing like a man collapsing in your arms and almost dying to put the fear of mortality in a person. Daniel was left to flee to the safety of childhood faith and security, but he had no illusions that God was glad to see him in attendance. So, he stayed in the back of the Sanctuary, hidden in shadows.
He looked to the altar with a sense of deep disappointment, but his attention was taken by curls. Rachel’s hair looked golden in the soft light of the altar and he drew closer. Daniel found a seat at the other end of the pew from Rachel. From there he could see her face and it felt as if his heart had stopped. She was gazing up at the altar with an expression of such peace that he could almost feel it. He was convinced she was the most beautiful person he had ever seen. However, she was no sprite, or elf, she was much too lovely to be described in such fanciful terms.
The last Mass was long over, and it was nearly time to close the Church for the evening. However, Father Frank Harris found a good size group still in the pews praying. He decided to check back in a half hour, but as he quietly made his way out the side door, he caught sight of a familiar face and stepped back – Daniel Hunter. He’d heard the news, but it was the first time he’d seen the man himself. He wasn’t fond of the violent movies this man chose to star in, but everyone was welcome in the Lord’s house.
Rachel saw nothing but the altar before her until she lowered her head. It was in these moments that she truly felt whole and at peace. She looked down at the Rosary in her hand and smiled. She started to rise when she noticed Daniel. Startled to see his handsome face fixed on her, the Rosary slipped from her fingers to the floor. Rachel fumbled for it.
Daniel found it immediately and placed it back in her hand.
“Do you usually stare at people when they are praying?” A smile escaped her when she looked into his eyes. She felt confused, flustered and wonderful at the same time.
“Sorry, but – you looked just like an Angel,” he admitted without thinking. But the look of surprise he received for his blunder brought a smile to his face. Her eyes grew wide, and her mouth dropped open. Her mouth was still open, when a frown overtook her face, as if to question his very judgment. If this expression was a rebuke, he wished to always be scolded in this manner.
Did he really say that? Angel? She shrank from the compliment. Daniel was sharing one of his breathtaking smiles. He was so charming, she thought, maybe a little too charming. Rachel figured she should watch her step, but the feeling evaporated when she looked into his eyes.
“Come on, I’ll walk you back to the hotel, that is if I can get my foot out of my mouth,” he grimaced and took her arm.
Rachel stared at his hand, but his assistance to the aisle was fleeting.
The fog was rolling in as they strolled back toward the hotel. Daniel kept glancing at her out of the corner of his eye, almost expecting her to sprout wings at any moment.
“I think that our first day went pretty well, don’t you?” Rachel asked.
“I really was surprised when everyone fell into line like they did.”
“What do you mean?” she questioned, puzzled.
“After Roger collapsed, everyone was sure we shut down, but Sam wouldn’t have it,” Daniel stated flatly. “He knew if they shut us down, there would be no guarantee that we would ever be able to come back and finish the film at the later date. And finished or not, we still get paid.” He thought a moment. “I thought we were going to have a mutiny when Sam announced that you’d been hired,” he concluded casually.
“That’s not exactly what I wanted to hear the day before we start filming,” she said pointedly.
Daniel chuckled. “I was worried, too, until you arrived, but I think that you handled yourself pretty well under the circumstances.”
“I’m glad you approve,” she teased.
“You know, I’ve always wanted to work with you. I’ve seen your films and you have a real artistic touch.” His compliment was sincere.
“Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you – and Jackie Turner, of course,” she corrected. She didn’t want him to think she favored him over his co-star. It might lead to bad feelings and she didn’t want to deal with any ego problems. Yet, she didn’t see any overt ego in Daniel. He had an air of confidence but no more.
“I’m sure Jackie will be happy to hear that. I know I am.” As they passed under a street light, Daniel found himself staring once more.
“Have you and Jackie worked together before?” Rachel could feel his eyes on her and wondered if she had something stuck in her teeth.
“Several times,” he answered. “I’ve known Jackie for years. I met her in New York. We did a lot of summer stock then. But I think she would like to forget about those days,” he mused.
“Why?” Rachel was intrigued.
“I don’t know. It just seems like there are a lot of people in the business that don’t want to remember the past. I guess they want to pretend that they were always famous and not poor, starving actors that no one wanted to hire,” he stated.
“Do you ever pretend?” she asked.
“With Peter around – I don’t think so.” He smiled broadly.
“Your assistant?” she questioned.
“Yeah, my assistant,” Daniel said in amusement. “Actually, he’s my younger brother. He considers it his duty to make sure my ego remains permanently deflated. If he thinks any praise is going to my head, all he has to say is one word – toga.”
“Toga,” Rachel queried.
“It was opening night. Everyone was there for our high school production; parents, faculty and the entire student body. I had the starring role in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum‟. In the middle of my big number, my toga came loose and fell off. There I was, center stage, in my underwear.”
Rachel burst out laughing. “What did you do?”
“I finished the song,” he defended, laughing at himself.
Rachel was still laughing as they entered the hotel, but she passed the stairs and headed into the saloon. With a five o’clock call, the place was empty. “I wonder if the kitchen is still open.”
“Why, are you hungry?” Daniel asked.
“I was hoping for coffee.” But she was disappointed to see the kitchen was dark as was the dining room, except for a glow from the fireplace.
“I can help you with that.” Daniel walked all the way into the saloon and around the other side of the bar. There in the back was a coffee maker and the pot was still half-full and hot. He poured two mugs and handed her one. “I have a standing order for coffee twenty-four hours a day,” he announced.
“You’re a life saver,” she purred and took the steaming mug in her hands. She turned and saw the embers still flickering in the fireplace and headed into the dining room. Not knowing, at first, that Daniel was right behind her. She found the little red velvet sofa and eased back in comfort. Daniel joined her, propping his feet up on the stone hearth.
Rachel sat very still, the sofa was small, and he was very close, but she had no desire to move. Instead, she observed him and could see why he was so popular in films. She could imagine the camera angles that would show him off to his best advantage. Somehow, she had to get him in lighting like this, the soft glow of a fire. The gold tone made his hair sparkle and the fire danced in his eyes, framed by his dark eyelashes.
“Is this revenge for staring at you in church?” He winked.
“I was just thinking about camera angles,” she said nervously.
“This is my good side,” he joked, pointing to the right side of his face. He was beginning to feel like a gaping fool and had to look anywhere but at Rachel.
“Let me see,” she asked and smiled again when he turned.
“See the right is better, but you can shoot me anyway you want.”
“Really? Most actors seem to have a definite opinion on that subject. How about your lighting?” She was surprised again when he only shrugged. “So, I can do what I want?”
“I don’t want to look like Quasimodo,” he joked.
“I’ll be kind,” she promised. “You know, we both have an early call,” she offered but made no move to leave.
“I know, but it’s nice to have a quiet moment and this is a good place to have it.” He looked around the dark, empty restaurant. “It’s hard to imagine that less than an hour ago this place was packed,” he mused.
“That’s because everyone else is in bed.” She smiled, feeling as though she could have sat there all night if Daniel was there to share it.
“True but then we wouldn’t get to sit here and have it all to ourselves.” He admired her again. In the firelight her hair was a golden halo of curls.
Rachel leaned back against the sofa. “You’re right! Let them sleep.”
Daniel was sure he had never known anyone so beautiful, but he also found that he really enjoyed talking to Rachel. She gave him all her attention. Listening to her was even better; she was intelligent and full of ideas. Normally, he was extremely guarded around people that he didn’t know very well. Yet with Rachel, he felt so open that he could have talked all night but since that was impossible, they left the dining room and headed upstairs quietly.
They walked into the alcove. “I guess this makes us neighbors,” Daniel mused, but expected an invitation as he took out his key.
“I was wondering who was going to be on the other side of the adjoining door.” Rachel smiled, as she slid the key into the lock.
“Do you snore?” Daniel kidded, as he waited for the proposition.
“In the dead of night, I can be heard for miles,” she joked. “Night.”
“Night.” Daniel was surprised when she closed her door. He waited, as if he expected her to reappear, but she didn’t. He entered his room, readied himself for bed and set the clock before turning off the light.
Looking back over the evening, he cringed. He told his new director that she looks like an Angel, and revealed the most embarrassing moment of his life. But she did look like an Angel.
He thought back to the moment when she stepped into the sunlight. But it was more than just the way that she looked. He had known countless beautiful women. It was something in her expression, almost childlike in nature, he found appealing. Rachel was such a little thing, topped off by those pretty red curls. He saw nothing of the world in her, she seemed completely detached from the rest of human kind. He only sensed a sweet gentle innocence. He smiled in the darkness.

***

Rachel got in bed and shut off the lamp. Daniel said she looked like an Angel. What a sweet thing to say, she thought.
With a sudden humorous impulse, she began to snore as loud as possible and was rewarded when she heard laughter on the other side of the door. She settled down, but he replied with some very loud snoring of his own, which sent her into fit of giggles.