The extended trailer for Abby’s new movie is getting a lot of buzz. It was a brilliant move to pair something so sensual with the most watched televised lingerie show in the world. Abby Johnston might be the only one not watching it. She is on a plane to France with her girls, the nanny, James, and a six-man security team—Garrett deciding it was the perfect time to get them out of the country.
But Vincent is watching. And so is Keatyn.
“This is it!” Annie says excitedly. “The extended trailer for Abby Johnston’s new movie. I heard it’s really hot.”
I sit up straight, my eyes glued to the screen.
The trailer starts out with Mom sitting at a desk writing To Maddie, With Love in a journal. The music moves as painfully slow as she writes. Mom looks beautiful as a brunette, but a little ragged. The slow music is replaced by a techno beat and images flash quickly across the screen. Maddie cutting her wrists. A hospital. Drugs on a kitchen table. Bottles of alcohol. Then back to her writing again. Same desk. Same stress on her face. Then techno. Faster images. Happy Maddie. Dancing. Kissing a man in a dark alley. A flash of Maddie’s body. Lips. Hips. Sex in the alley. A bed. Nakedness. Sheets. Smiles. The music changes as we watch Maddie writing again. Then more flashes. Drugs. A club. Dancing on a bar. More men. More sex. The flash of money. Then back to Maddie.
The images are powerful, emotional.
Even though I don’t want to see her naked, I want to see this movie. I want to know how Maddie went from a seemingly happy party girl to trying to commit suicide.
“That looks really good,” Aiden leans over and whispers to me. “We should go see it.”
In front of me, Dallas say, “All I know is Abby Johnston looks fucking hot. We definitely need to go see that one.”
“I’m not sure if I’d like it,” I say to Aiden.
Dallas’ response to the trailer upsets me, and I can see why it upset Vincent. Maddie looks like she lived a very wild life. And I know she did. Mom let me read the script last year when she was considering the role. Reading about it was interesting. Seeing it played out before my eyes is another thing altogether. And I know that the movie, though poignant, is also supposed to be disturbing.
A little bit sick and twisted.
And, right now, I’m feeling a little sick to my stomach. Not because I’m not proud of my mom, but because I know it’s images like these that set Vincent off.
Vincent is with his friend, Bobby, having a beer and discussing the lack of success of his nationwide search. Hoping maybe he’ll have some brilliant idea on how to find her. The money guy has found nothing. The people he has hired a waste of air. So he’s focusing on Abby. The dead flowers on the playground and the slashed fence should have sent her a bold message. That he’s done fucking around. He’s taking action. And he plans to do just that. She has one week. Then he’s going to kidnap Abby himself. She knows where her daughter is, and he’ll torture her if he has to. She deserves it after what she’s put him through.
He’s been busy trying to keep his company afloat and pushing everyone to find his Lacy, he’s barely had time for anything else, so when Bobby says, “Holy shit, dude. I almost forgot what’s on tonight!”
He flips on the television just as a girl wearing angel wings and very little else glides down a runway. A few moments later, there’s a commercial break, causing Bobby to sigh, but when the extended movie trailer is coming up next, he takes a pull off his beer and sits back down, directly in front of the screen.
“Dude, I can’t wait to see this.”
Vincent stands up, not sure he wants to see this. Not sure he’ll be able to control his reaction. Rage is already seeping through him at the thought of it.
It starts with Abby as a brunette. She looks different than Lacy. Maybe it won’t be so bad.
But the scenes that follow disturb him. Screwing a strange man in a dark alley. Lacy’s body parts. Full lips. Sensual hips. Her entire naked form barely concealed under a sheet. Sex. Men. Sex. Men. Sex.
“I have to go,” Vincent says raggedly, barely making it out the door before he bursts.
He looks down at his slacks and feels the sticky release in them.
And it makes him even madder.
He drives straight to the airport and charters a flight to Vancouver. He’s going to get that bitch and make her pay. Tonight.
The following day, Cooper calls Keatyn to his office.
Opening the door to Cooper’s office, I take a deep breath and steel myself for whatever bad news he’s about to give me.
But when I sit down, he’s grinning.
“What’s going on?”
“I decided not to wait for Garrett. I got a friend of mine to talk to Vincent’s assistant last night. Most of it’s boring bar conversation, but there’s part of it that might be something. I want you to listen.”
“Have you heard anything from Garrett? Did they all make it to France okay?”
“Yes, actually. I got a text from him a few minutes ago. He said all is good.”
“Okay, here goes,” he says, and presses play.
“My boss? Oh, don’t get me started. He’s always been really demanding, but now he’s almost unbearable. He’s obsessed with some girl he saw in a club. Wants her to star in this film we’re producing. You’ve probably heard about it. The nationwide search for the next Abby Johnston.”
“Sorry, I haven’t.”
“Oh, well, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I scheduled a business dinner he’s been on me about setting up. With their schedules, it was literally the only night I could make it happen in the next two months. When I posted the date on his calendar, he was furious. Started yelling at me about how I should know he has plans every Thursday night.”
I hear her drinking, a mug hitting the bar, and a voice saying, Another round?
She replies, Please.
“Do you want to know what stupid thing he does every Thursday night he’s in town?”
“He goes back to the club where he first saw her.”
“Club? What is she, a stripper?”
“No, it’s a dance club. Some bar with no name.”
“The Bar With No Name is the name of the club?”
“No, it literally has no name. One of those places where only the rich and pretty people get in. Or even know about.”
“The Side Door,” I whisper.
Cooper hits pause. “So now you know where he’s going to be tomorrow night. What’s the rest of—” He stops, squints his eyes, then continues. “The rest of the stretching plan? Go change, and I’ll meet you in training room.”
While I’m changing, I remember the first time I met Garrett. It was the day Vincent put the note in Avery’s backpack, and he asked about my habits.
“Are there times you go places by yourself?” Garrett asked me.
“Um, I guess I drive to school by myself and dance class, but that’s about it.”
“You’re supposed to go to the club later tonight,” Tommy reminded.
“Yeah, but I’m going with Cush.”
Mom and Tommy both looked at Garrett.
He said, “I think it’s fine if you’re not alone. Are you picking him up or is he coming here?”
“I was going to pick him up.”
“Let’s have a tail on her just to be safe.”
“Uh, I don’t want some old guy in the club with us.”
“It won’t be some old guy, and he won’t follow you into the club. He’ll sit outside, watch Tommy’s car, and follow you home after you drop off your friend.”
“It’s either that or you don’t go,” Tommy said sternly.
Vincent must have followed me to the club that night. And it may have been just dumb luck that he ran into Vanessa and RiAnne there after I’d left.
In the training room, Cooper pats the table. “Lie on your back,” he says loudly, but then he whispers, “The dean is wandering around.”
I lie on the table. Cooper pulls my legs so that my butt is down toward the end of it. He pushes one of my legs straight up in the air, letting it rest on his shoulder as he leans his shoulder into the back of my thigh.
“Try to keep your knee straight,” he says. “I’ll gently push your leg toward your chest until it hurts. Then I want you to push back against me hard.”
“And you thought having me in this position would put his mind at ease?” I whisper.
He ignores me. “If you have a friend who could help you stretch before you go to bed, that would help too.”
Now I see why Aiden offered to help me stretch. Cooper’s practically lying on top of me.
My leg starts to shake, so I push back hard against his shoulder.
After pressing for a few seconds, he says, “Stop,” then gently pushes my leg again. I’m surprised that it easily goes farther than it did before.
He stretches my other leg and then says, “I’m going to get you a heat wrap.”
He leaves, comes back with a warm wrap, and says, “Okay, he’s gone. Come back here.”
He leads me into a supply room. “Tell me about The Side Door.”
“It’s where he tried to kidnap me,” I say simply. “Tomorrow night, I’m going back there.”
“What?! No, you’re not.”
“This is the part where you’re going to earn that raise.”
“Are you nuts?”
“No. I want him to think I’m back home, so he’ll stay far away from B and my family.”
Cooper keeps shaking his head.
“I’ll take care of our flight. Let’s plan on leaving here at six.”
“Fine. I think it would be best if everyone thinks I’m still here, since you’re signing out. I’m going to hide in the back of your car, okay?”
“Yeah, that sounds smart.”
Later that night, I flip open my screen to find B waiting for me.
He looks upset. Or pissed at me, I’m not sure.
“Hey. You doing okay?”
“Yeah,” he replies, but I don’t believe him. Something’s off.
“Did something happen?”
“No, it’s fine.”
“Oh, good. I’m kinda nervous about this call. I know nothing about this stuff.”
“Me either. That’s why I set you up with Michael. So, conference him in, then I’ll introduce you and let you two talk.”
“Wait? What? You’re not staying on the call?”
“There’s really no reason to.”
“Yes there is! I can’t do this without you.”
“Look, finance is not something I really give a shit about and I don’t care to learn. As long as I have my board, I’m happy.”
“We’ve had that conversation before, B. It was bullshit then and it’s bullshit now.”
“Whatever. I’m traveling and I have to practice. I don’t have time for it. Do you still want me to introduce you or what?”
I push back tears and force myself to stay calm. “Yes, please.”
B goes, “Hey, Michael. Keatyn is on the line, so I’ll let you take it from here.”
Then there’s a little beep indicating that he left the call.
Michael is talking, listing his qualifications, but I’m looking at B. He gives me a sad smile, a little finger wave, and then logs off.
“So, a hostile takeover—how long will it take?” I ask Michael, trying to cut to the chase. I mean, I’m assuming it’s not really that hard to buy a company.
“Let’s talk about whether it’s even possible first.”
“What do you mean? Of course it’s possible. He’s, like, leveraged, right? And that’s bad.”
“Yes, he is. The company is ripe for a takeover, but you have to be able to make it happen.”
“And how do I do that?”
“You offer to buy his investors out. If enough people sell, then you end up with the majority of the stock, which means you control the company. That’s what you want, right?”
“Yes. Are there any other benefits?”
“Well, the obvious one would be that you vote the current Chairman of the Board out of office.”
“Is Vin, um, Mr. Sharpe the chairman?”
“Yes, he is.”
“That’s perfect. I want to do both. Buy them out and appoint someone else. What will it cost?”
“That all depends on what his stockholders want. I’m emailing you a simple document so you can follow along.” The way he says “simple” makes it sound like he thinks I don’t have a clue.
I mean, I don’t. But still, I’m not loving his attitude.
I don’t say anything, though, because I desperately need his help.
“I have the email,” I tell him, pulling the document up on my computer.
“His company isn’t publicly traded, so it’s hard to get financial information. The numbers you see are what I believe it to be worth. And, from the digging I did as a favor to Mr. Wright, I have a list of investors along with their initial investments. Those are below. Do you see them?”
“The next document shows the company’s liabilities. And the next is Mr. Sharpe’s balance statement.”
I scroll through page after page of spreadsheets, trying to keep up. “Uh, huh.”
“As you can see, his asset to debt ratio is very high.”
“Okay. And why is that important?”
“That ratio refers to his liquidity. He’s borrowed money on all of his assets, meaning he won’t be able to personally fight a hostile takeover. From on-the-ground intel, he’s invested a lot of money in a single movie and is betting the farm that it’s going to be a blockbuster.”
Mom’s movie could financially ruin him?
Wouldn’t that be poetic justice?
“But, as you can see from the figures on the last page, acquiring this company will take a substantial amount of capital.”
I look at the very big number on the last page. One that would require more than my entire trust. I think about the scholarship check I just wrote.
For a second, I reconsider it.
I quickly shake my head, clearing the thought. I can’t take it back and I don’t want to.
Besides, B promised his trust to help.
I’ll be fine.
“How do you plan to raise these funds?”
“Well, I have my trust fund, and Brooklyn said we could use his for whatever I’m short.”
“That’s what I thought. Unfortunately, Brooklyn doesn’t have control of his trust, nor will his father authorize the early release of any funds. So, unless you can arrange financing, there’s nothing further to discuss.”
This is why B didn’t want to be on the call.
Freaking chicken shit.
“I can get the money,” I say quickly.
“And how is a seventeen-year-old going to do that?” he asks condescendingly.
“I don’t know exactly,” I admit quietly.
“That’s what I figured.”
I bite my tongue, thank him for his time, and hang up.
I set the phone down in my lap, feeling paralyzed, like I’m lost at sea with no land in sight.
How am I supposed to do this? How am I supposed to win without B’s help?
That means prong two of my attack is out, which blows my whole plan to smithereens.
He has to help me. He promised! This was his idea!
I call him.
He doesn’t answer.
I hang up and call again.
I keep punching the button over and over.
“You should have told me yourself if you didn’t want to help me! I can’t believe you would bail on me like this! I need you!”
“This hasn’t exactly been easy on me. I’ve gotten shit from every direction for what I said about you. God, it was spur of the moment! I am grateful that you encouraged me! And I care about you. I wanted to help. My dad was willing to help, but he freaked the fuck out yesterday when he heard about the photo. Told me if I have anything to do with you it will jeopardize everything we’ve worked so hard for. My career. My future. He trashed the takeover idea. Said it was like poking the hornet’s nest. Said I can’t use my trust. So, I’m sorry, but my hands are tied. And, come on, don’t I get some credit for what I’ve already done? Michael did all sorts of research.”
“You should’ve had the guts to tell me yourself. And without your help I don’t have enough money to go through with it anyway! My plan—no, your plan—is ruined.”
“You just don’t get it!” I yell. And as soon as I say the words, I know they’re true. I realize that’s exactly the problem. Other than one horrible picture, B’s life hasn’t changed much. He’s not in hiding. He’s living his dream.
“What don’t I get?”
I calm down and use my bitch voice, hoping I can scare him into seeing how important this is. “Every move you make is on the internet, Brooklyn. The tour schedules. The photos. You might think you can just bow out, but you can’t. You screwed yourself when you thanked me. And that means she’s in danger too.”
“Don’t give me a guilt trip. I know you’re seeing someone too.”
“Yeah, but the difference is, I’m somewhere safe. You’re not.”
I hang up on him.
And feel very alone.
The next day, Vincent flies back home—alone. The house the whore was living in has been emptied out. She’s gone. No one seems to know where she’s gone, but he vows to find her. To make her pay for what she’s done. It’s a Thursday, though. All he knows is he will definitely be going to the club. And if Keatyn’s friends are there, he’s going to take one of them. He’s had some fun with Vanessa before. He’s questioned her about Keatyn. The time for subtlety is over. He’ll kill everyone in his way if he has to.
Keatyn takes action in case her future doesn’t go as planned. And then she and Cooper leave school.
Before French starts, I send Sam an email with the changes I want made to my will. The most important change being that if something happens to me, Mom, and Tommy then Damian becomes executor and makes sure my sisters are well taken care of. I also noted the changes I told Cooper about. Taking care of his family if something happens to us both, as well as what to do if I die but Cooper doesn’t.
I notice an email from Tommy labeled Top Secret.
-Your mom told me everything. All the things she’s been keeping from me. How scared she’s been. You know, I’ve been wanting to ask her to marry me for a while now, and I think it’s time. A reaffirmation of our love. She won’t want to get married until we can all be together, but I need her to know that I want her to be my wife more than anything.
So, attached are four ring designs. I have no idea which one to choose.
P.S. The good news: Your mom and the girls are safely moved. The bad news: Bad Kiki came to NY with me.
After signing out, I drive through the gates of Eastbrooke, down the long drive, and out onto the highway.
Cooper pops up from the back seat, where he was hiding under a blanket, and slides into the passenger seat next to me.
“Brooklyn totally bailed on me last night. His dad decided he can’t use his trust to help me buy Vincent’s company, and he didn’t even have the guts to tell me himself. He let the buyout guy tell me instead. That guy was a dick, too. Treated me like I didn’t have a clue—or the money—to do a buyout.”
“Do you have either?” Cooper asks.
“A clue? Not really. About the money, sorta, but not quite. I was really upset last night, but Aiden came over . . .”
“Kissed it and made it better?”
“He did make me feel better, for sure. But just when I thought prong two of our plan was history, he mentioned my grandpa. And a lightbulb went on in my head. I’m going to call him now.”
I tell my car to dial Grandpa’s cell.
His booming voice fills my speakers. “Well, howdy, hotshot.”
“Hey, Grandpa. Do you have a minute? I need some help.”
“Of course, I do,” he says loudly then whispers, “It’s good timing, actually. If I talk to you, I won’t have to help your grandma with the dishes.”
“I heard that,” Grandma yells in the background.
Grandpa chuckles. “So, shoot.”
“Do you know much about hostile takeovers?”
“I’d say so. We bought out fourteen companies over the years and none of them were particularly friendly.”
“So, if I were to maybe—”
“Keatyn, if we’re gonna talk business, you’ve gotta give it to me straight. No beating around the bush. Tell me what you need and how I can help.”
“Um, well, okay.” I take a deep breath. “I want to buy Vincent the Stalker’s production company. The company owns the rights to make the movie he wanted me to star in. It’s at the root of why he wanted to kidnap me, I think. He couldn’t get all the funding he needed, so he’s leveraged every asset he has, as well as taken on additional investors. He doesn’t own the majority anymore, and I was told the company is ripe for a takeover.”
“Sounds pretty straightforward.”
“Not exactly. I also need to hide my identity, so he doesn’t know I’m behind it. I was told that can be done through shell corporations?”
“Yes. What else?”
“B introduced me to a guy who was supposed to help. But he didn’t. He assumed I didn’t have enough money.”
“He wasn’t setting up investors for you?”
“No. I was going to spend all my trust but, based on his numbers, I don’t have enough, and B’s dad won’t let him loan me the rest.”
“You were willing to risk everything you have to make this happen? Go for broke? Why?”
“Because my family is worth the risk.”
“How will taking over his company help your family?”
“I don’t know if we actually even need to take it over. We just have to make him think we’re going to. If he loses the company, he loses the movie. I want to give him something to focus on besides threatening the people I love.” I have that unsettled feeling in the pit of my stomach. Even though I’m scared of my own plan, I know I have to see it through. “I want my life back, Grandpa. I’m tired of people telling me what I should do.”
“Tell you what, why don’t I get my old cronies together and have some fun with this. Seems to me you have enough on your plate.”
“Are you serious? Ohmigosh, Grandpa, thank you. But before you agree, there’s one more thing.”
“I need it, like, yesterday.”
“Ain’t no roots ever grow under these feet. It’ll take some initial investigation, but I already have plenty of shell corporations we can use. This isn’t my first rodeo, hotshot.”
“I have some information. Who his investors are, their initial investments, Vincent’s personal balance sheet. The guy told me this stuff was hard to get because it’s a privately held company and not public record.”
“Bullshit. You just have to know who to ask. Send me the information and I’ll get my guys to confirm. That will give us a head start. I think we could be ready to fire the first shot across the bow by early next week.”
“Really? That’s amazing. I’ll call Sam right now and have him send you the money. I’m short what I think it will cost, but I have some real estate I can sell. I’ll put it on the market, take a loss, and get you the rest.”
“Hotshot, you let me worry about the money. You worry about keeping yourself safe. I suffered all the way through that Victoria’s Secret fashion show, wanting to see what all the fuss over this movie was about. After seeing the trailer, I suspect Vincent is as fidgety as a whore in church.”
“I want him to know what it feels like to lose control of his life.”
“I wondered how long it would take for you to fight back,” Grandpa says. “Glad to see I taught you well. Just remember, any idiot can poke a rattlesnake with a stick, but a wise man knows exactly how long that stick is.”
“Thanks, Grandpa. I’ll keep that in mind.”
I hang up, pull into the airport parking lot, pull on a wig of chestnut curls, and turn toward Cooper. “I’m really glad you decided to come with me.”
“There’s no way I’d let you go alone. And I know you would have.”
“Yeah, but I may have just figured out a plan that you’ll approve of.”
“What does it involve?”
“A flashy entrance and a stealth exit. I think I know exactly how long my stick is.”
Cooper looks amused. “I don’t know how long your stick is, but I will admit, you’ve grown a big set of balls.”
That makes me laugh and also feel a little proud of myself.
Once we’re in the air, I turn to Cooper and say, “So, we have homework to do.”
“Yeah. We’re going to watch A Day at the Lake. I’ve never really studied the plot.”
“Is there a plot?” Cooper laughs. “I’ve never seen the movie, but from what I understand, people only watch it because of all the now-famous actors that got their start in it.”
“That’s true. But what we have to figure out is why Vincent loves it. There must be something more than her running around in a bikini and screaming that caught his attention.”
Cooper shakes his head and chuckles some more. “If he fell in love with her as a teenager, that’s exactly what caught his attention.”
“So you won’t mind watching it?”
As we watch the movie, I stop it often, rewinding, re-watching, and writing down plot points.
A Day at the Lake
INTRODUCTION – MEET OUR CHARACTERS AND SEE THEM IN THEIR NORMAL LIVES.
* We meet college students, Lacy (Mom) and her hot frat boyfriend, Matt. They are with a group of friends, planning a weekend getaway at a friend’s lake house.
* Lacy and Matt seem to be the perfect couple until they argue about her doing a semester abroad to study archeology. (This scene leaves you wondering if their relationship is just superficial. I mean, he should support her, right? It’s her dream.)
RISING ACTION – WHERE COMPLICATIONS IN THE STORY START TO APPEAR.
* They arrive at the lake house, which is a huge spread in the middle of nowhere. A few people have cell phones, but they have no service. No problem though. The house has a phone line. (Desolate location? Check.)
* The party kicks into gear. Drinks are made. Many are consumed. Music blares. A great time is had by all.
* Shot of Lacy walking out of the lake, blowing a kiss to Matt. (The money shot, so to speak.)
* Matt and Lacy are making out in the lake when a raft bumps into Lacy’s arm. She opens her eyes and screams as she sees Dead Partier #1.
* Everyone is drunk and freaking out. Girls are crying. It’s at this point that they discover the house phone is dead. And the boat, although it had been pulling wake boarders all afternoon, suddenly won’t start. They are stuck there.
* Drunk boys decide to keep partying, as that’s what Dead Partier #1 would have wanted them to do, and figure they can fix the boat tomorrow.
* Matt sends Lacy, who is still in her bikini, to grab a couple more beers. Lacy screams as she discovers Dead Partier #2, a boy who “fell” down the stairs. (Must have been a small wardrobe budget. They didn’t even give her a cover-up!)
* Drunk partiers decide to be more careful. (Do your friends typically die when you’re partying, or are they just accident prone?)
* Drama ensues as two party girls fight over a boy. Bikini-clad Lacy shows up to save the day, giving them a brief girl-power speech and pouring them tequila shooters. (Hello, Lacy?! Maybe you should be handing out bottles of water and shotguns instead?)
* Now bffs again, Bikini-Clad Lacy and the girls head back to join the party, but all scream when they discover Dead Partier #3. She’s dead on the bathroom floor, blood oozing from a head wound. Drunk boys surmise Dead Partier #3 must have hit her head on the sink. Someone suggests walking to get help, but is told there are no neighbors for 10 miles. (And it’s dark now.)
* Remaining partiers decide to sober up—for about two seconds—until Matt makes a poignant speech about their fallen comrades and they all drink to their friends. Partying ensues. (This scene should be included in a public service announcement about underage drinking.)
* Matt is all over Bikini-Clad Lacy, things quickly getting hot and heavy between them. (I will admit, they have good onscreen chemistry and I’m hoping they survive. I’m also starting to scan the remaining partiers trying to determine who is the killer.) Matt, in the wake of the deaths, tells Lacy that they need to embrace life. (And, apparently, that means a quick shag in the lake.)
* Now, Wet-Bikini-Clad Lacy needs to use the restroom. (She can have sex in the lake, but is apparently too much of a lady to pee in it.)
* Lacy goes into the dark house, flips a light switch, and discovers that the power is out. (OMG!)
* But she must really have to pee, so she creeps up the dark stairs because, obviously, she doesn’t want to use the bathroom where Dead Partier #3’s body still is. (Don’t. Go. Up. The. Stairs!)
* While Lacy is peeing, she hears a noise, gets scared, and rushes out of the bathroom without bothering to flush. (I’ve heard people play drinking games while watching this movie. You drink every time: Lacy screams, Matt says sweet, or when a dead partier is found. Meaning we’d all be drunk by now.)
* Lacy tells the boy whose house this is that the power is out. He says, “Happens all the time on the island. Must be a storm.” Lacy agrees with him. (Even though there’s not a cloud in the sky?!)
CLIMAX – A TURNING POINT IN THE STORY, WHERE MUCH OF THE PLOT IS REVEALED.
* It’s at this point that viewers realize they don’t know anything about House Boy. He’s cute, but seems quiet, and doesn’t appear to be drunk.
But when Lacy says, Vince, do you have some candles? I about fall out of my seat.
“Ohmigawd,” Cooper and I mutter at the same time.
“Is that it?” Cooper asks. “Is it because they share the same name?”
“No. Vincent’s real name is Thaddeus Samuel Kingston.”
“So where did Vincent Sharpe come from?”
I look at the movie paused on the screen. “I’m pretty sure we know now where the name Vincent came from. But his grandmother was the actress, Viviane Sharpe. I’m not sure when he started going by Vincent Sharpe, but it’s the name he uses professionally.”
“I’m not a big movie buff, but I know who Viviane Sharpe was. I suppose that name helped him get ahead in the industry.”
I nod. “Yeah, probably. Still, it’s weird though. Do you think Vince is the killer in the movie? Or the guy she ends up with?”
“I don’t know,” Cooper says, then rewinds the part we just missed.
We watch as Vince puts his hand gently on Lacy’s shoulder.
Are you freaked out by everyone dying? he asks as he hands her a box of candles.
A little, she admits. You?
She holds out a candle and he lights it.
(The cinematography on this scene is gorgeous. Dark room, only lit by moonlight. Vince and Lacy’s faces suddenly glowing in the candlelight. Mom looks angelically beautiful. And I can see why a boy who thought his mom was a whore fell in love right then and there.)
Vince touches Lacy’s hand and says, “Don’t worry. I’d never let anything happen to you.”
Lacy places the taper into a candlestick and sets it on the kitchen table.
Then she does what she’s famous for. The corners of her mouth form a little smirk, which slowly spreads into her famous megawatt smile.
Thanks, Vince, she says sweetly, blushing.
And you feel it. Something between them. A little spark.
Cooper pauses the movie. “Does it freak you out, watching this?”
“Um, no. Why?”
“That smirk that builds to the big smile. It’s like I’m watching you.”
I’m flattered, which makes me smile.
“See, you just did it. When you first met Vincent, you were in a bikini, right?”
“Yeah, and in the picture that was missing from Mom’s set trailer.”
Cooper nods and presses play. “Vince likes her, don’t you think?”
“For sure. What you can’t tell is if Lacy likes him back or if she’s just being nice.”
“Let’s keep going.”
I heard you might not be coming to Egypt. You shouldn’t let him hold you back, you know.
I know, Lacy says softly. But I love him.
He’s an asshole.
We’ve had this conversation before, Vincey.
“Vincey? Does my mom not see the parallels between this movie and life?”
“I think this explains why she was planning to leave Tommy,” Cooper states. “But she’s looking at it from her perspective. I’d say your Brooklyn is in more danger than Tommy.”
“Shit.” I knead my forehead. “I hope Vincent shows up and thinks I’m back. I need to keep B safe. And I’m so grateful my grandpa is handling the takeover.”
“Are you in love with Aiden or Brooklyn?” Cooper randomly asks.
I frown at his question.
“I’m not trying to interfere in your love life, but . . .”
“Anyone I love will be in danger.”
“That’s why I didn’t want to be at Eastbrooke while we did this.”
Have you made a decision?
Yes. I’m not going. I’m sorry. I know you’ll have an amazing time without me.
Vince’s eyes smolder as he says, Just answer me this. If he wasn’t in the picture, you’d go, right?
Tears gather in her eyes. Yeah, probably.
Vince takes the candles out of her hands, sets them on the table, and pulls her into a hug.
She gives him a sad little smile and then says, I better get back out there.
* Not long after this, Still-Bikini-Clad Lacy screams again as Dead Partier #4 is found. It’s the girl who was upset earlier. Apparently, she and Lacy were close, because Lacy starts crying, and Matt pulls her into a hug. After dead body #4 is found, the four remaining partiers finally sober up.
This is getting creepy, Still-Alive Party Girl #5 says.
“I agree,” Cooper says.
I’m starting to think these weren’t accidents, Matt deduces brilliantly.
I think you’re right, Lacy agrees. She takes a band from her wrist and pulls her hair up into a high, tight ponytail.
I pause the movie and stare at the screen, feeling like I’m looking in a mirror.
The captain announces our decent and asks us to buckle up.
“We’ll watch the rest on the way back,” I tell Cooper, shutting off my laptop and stowing it.
We fly into Van Nuys Airport, which is closest to Malibu, easy to get in and out of, and one of the only airports in the Los Angeles area that has no hourly restrictions regarding when flights can take off. We don’t have the time to airport-hop, so I did something else to shield our identity. I opened a fractional ownership under Cooper’s name and bought a chunk of hours. I figure Cooper Steele kind of sounds like an actor, and he kind of looks like he could be one, too. With my darker hair and our comfortable relationship, we’ll easily pass as brother and sister.
Our pre-arranged driver picks us up and shuttles us to Malibu, dropping us off at the Malibu Lumberyard.
“We have time for some fish tacos,” I say, suddenly craving them.
“As long as you keep the wig on, I’m fine with it. I’m hungry. Besides, we need to go over your plan for tonight in detail.”
The restaurant is crowded, so we sit at the bar. Cooper picks a spot close to the doors to the kitchen. I notice he chooses a seat with his back to the wall, facing the crowd. I sit down next to him.
I look at the tables around us and spy someone I know. “Sand—” I start to blurt out loudly, but Cooper quickly covers my mouth with his hand.
I take a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” I whisper. “I forgot for a second.”
“You’re also wearing a wig.”
“Shit,” I say, glancing down at my brown curls. I close my eyes and think. “It might be a good idea for me to be seen here. As me.”
“If the goal is for Vincent to think you’re back in Malibu, I would agree. But we need a plan.”
After a brief discussion, I walk out of the restaurant with my head down and go into a nearby restroom, emerging as myself. I quickly go into one of the stores, buy a new outfit with cash, and then wear it back into the restaurant. As I make my way back to Cooper, I purposefully walk by Sander.
“Sweetheart?” he says. I smile, remembering his adorable nickname for me.
“Sander!!” I squeal, throwing my arms around him and causing a bit of a scene. “How are you? How’s Grease?”
“In the can. Big Memorial weekend release,” he says proudly, kissing me on the cheek.
He pushes me out and takes a hard look at me. “You look amazing. Where the hell have you been hiding? I come back and Cush is gone, and you’re nowhere to be found.” Then he whispers in my ear, “Rehab?”
I laugh. “More like an all-girls school in the middle of nowhere. You heard what happened with Cush, right?”
“Yeah. It’s a shame. That boy hit the jackpot when he dated you.”
“That’s why I love you. You feed my ego.” I give him another big hug.
“Join us for a drink?”
With his arm still draped across my shoulder, he turns me toward his group. “Keatyn, this is Danny Woodyard, the choreographer of Grease, Dylan George, one of the T-Birds, and Donnie Van Zandt, one of the dancers. Everyone, this is Keatyn Douglas. Abby Johnston’s daughter.”
The boys all ooh and aah over my mom and her acting brilliance.
Gay men love her.
“Can’t wait to see her new movie! It’s going to be just scrumptious.”
“So what’s your next movie?” I ask Sander, changing the subject.
“Not sure. I want to choose the right project. My agent called me yesterday wanting me to do a screen test for that remake of your mom’s old movie. Hey, we could star in it together. They want me to play the boyfriend. How easy would that be?”
Shit. I need Sander to stay far away from Vincent.
I grab the fruity martini they ordered me, take a big drink, and look toward Cooper. “Oh, wow. I didn’t even see him over there.”
“Who?” Donnie says, swiveling his head quickly, probably hoping to spot someone more famous than Sander.
“Cooper Steele,” I say, drawing his name out. “I’ll go get him. I feel bad making him sit over there and wait for me.”
“Girl, you should always play a little hard to get,” Dylan tells me.
I saunter over to Cooper. “You’re going to have to pretend to be really into me, okay?”
“Got it,” he says, all business as I grab his hand and lead him back to the boys. But as soon as I introduce him to everyone, he becomes a cad, stealing my martini, drinking half of it, and placing his hand firmly on my ass.
“So, Cooper Steele, where did you get all those muscles?” Donnie asks.
Cooper shrugs like he was just born this way.
“The Steele Building Workout,” I say discreetly.
“Sexy name for a workout,” Dylan says. “I dance too much. Can’t seem to put on any bulk.”
“Eat more protein and lift weights,” Cooper says. “You need to balance out all the aerobic activity.”
“Are you a personal trainer?” Sander asks, sizing Cooper up and noting his hand placement.
Cooper, who doesn’t miss anything, keeps his hand firmly in place, but starts caressing my ass with his thumb.
I give a cute little shiver and kiss him on the neck. “Cooper is one of Tommy’s stunt men. So, thanks for the drink. It was great seeing you, Sander, and meeting you all. We’re going to head out. I’m taking him dancing tonight.”
“We were thinking of hitting Plague. Where are you going?”
“To a place that doesn’t have a name,” I laugh.
“I’ve heard rumors about that place,” Danny says in awe. “Can we join you? Can you get us in?”
I glance at Cooper. He gives my butt a single tap of his finger. “Sure, why not? Can we meet up at your house, Sander?” I look down at my clothes. “Obviously, I need to change.”
“Sounds good. Ten o’clock? We can get there before the crowds.”
“Sander,” I tease. “I’m not going to let you drink with the crowds. We’ll be in the VIP section.”
Danny claps his hands together and grins. “Even better.”
Cooper puts his arm around me as we stroll out of the bar.
“That went surprisingly well,” he states.
“Hopefully, breaking into my house will go equally well.”
“Not breaking in, exactly, but we don’t have a car for a reason. Come on.”
I take my shoes off and drag him across the street, down the beach, and through the fence delineating the start of the Malibu Colony properties.
“Are we going to get in trouble for trespassing?” Cooper asks after reading the warning signs.
“I live here,” I say, then I take off running, feeling free for the first time in a while.
I stop two houses before mine and point. “That one is ours.”
“It’s pretty here. I can see why you like it.”
I nod, looking out at the ocean. “You can sightsee later. We have work to do. No one’s around, so let’s go.”
I take off running again and don’t stop until we’re standing on the side of my house that’s hidden behind the fence. I sneak to the front, push one of Tommy’s codes into the keypad, and slip into the garage.
Cooper tries to open the door into the house. “Shit, it’s locked.”
“I know. Hang on.” I walk around Tommy’s Ferrari to a shelving unit where he keeps all the car cleaning supplies, pop open a cigar box hidden under a stack of diapers, pull out a key, and let us in.
The house security alarm beeps, wanting me to enter my code. I press in one of Tommy’s instead, quickly stopping the beeping.
“Whew,” I blow out a breath. “I wasn’t sure if they changed all the codes or not.”
“Why would they change your code?”
“I didn’t enter my code. We don’t exactly want to broadcast to Garrett that we’re here.”
“Won’t they know Tommy isn’t here?”
“I used the code he gave to the guy who details his cars. He has to come inside to get the keys,” I say, stepping into the kitchen.
I thought that when I got here I would be able to see all the good times I’ve had here.
But I don’t.
Instead, I’m reliving that night. The photos dropping out of a manila envelope onto the kitchen island.
I shake my head to clear my thoughts, and move toward Tommy’s closet, sticking to the mission at hand. “We need to find you something to wear.”
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”
“Nothing, it’s just not club appropriate. Hmm, Tommy’s a little taller than you.”
I open Tommy’s closet and step in.
“Whoa,” Cooper says. “This is like a store.”
“Tommy loves clothes.” I move to a section of long-sleeved shirts, pulling out a bright blue one with the kind of sheen you only get from fine cotton. “Try this on.”
Cooper strips off his long-sleeved t-shirt and, well, I can’t help but enjoy the view. Specifically, the sexy tattoo running across his abs.
He buttons up the shirt and tucks it into his cargo shorts. “Whatcha think?”
“Hmm. The sleeves are just a little long.” I unbutton his sleeves and roll them up. “Yeah, that will work. Okay, now we need pants. What size is your waist?”
I move to the wall of pants, find a black pair with a subtle blue pinstripe, and check the label, quickly translating the European size to an American one. “Let’s try these.”
“Dress pants? Can’t I wear jeans?”
“That depends. What size shoe do you wear?”
I smile. “Yes, if you’ll wear a great pair of shoes, I’ll let you wear jeans.”
“I can live with that.”
I throw him a pair of dark jeans and even though I’d like to turn around and watch, I give him privacy and focus on choosing a pair of shoes. One pair immediately catches my eye. I pull the black Pradas off the rack and study the pattern of perforations and the blue undertones, remembering Aiden in the same shoe at Homecoming.
Luck, I think.
Or maybe fate.
Either way, it couldn’t hurt to have a little of each on my side tonight.
I look at Cooper. “Hmm, something is missing . . . I know.” I grab a large, expensive watch, strap it on Cooper’s thick wrist, and nod. “Perfect.”
“Okay, now my turn.” I head toward my room, still feeling odd.
I thought I’d walk in here and feel like I was finally home, but I don’t.
I feel . . . tense. Nervous. Bad memories keep surfacing.
I wonder if I can even do this.
If it’s this bad here, what’s it going to be like at The Side Door?
But once I get into my closet, I feel better. It’s a happy place, and I’ve missed my clothes.
I open a drawer and dig through it until I find the pair of shiny black Lurex shorts I want to wear.
Normally, I wouldn’t dress quite this skimpy, but if I’m going to do what I want to do, I have to look the part.
I pair it with a neon bra top, fishnet hose, and black patent leather platform boots.
I shoo Cooper out of my closet so I can get dressed.
I also call Troy, but he doesn’t answer, so I call Damian.
Thankfully, he answers.
“Hey, it’s me. What are you doing tonight?”
“We’ve been recording all day. Troy’s heading out to DJ. I’m probably going home.”
“I just tried to call Troy. He didn’t answer.”
“Why are you calling Troy?”
“Um, you can’t tell, but I’m home. Just for the night. Vincent is going to be at The Side Door tonight, and so am I.”
“What? Are you nuts?”
“Please just let me talk to Troy.”
Damian sighs. “Here’s Troy.”
“Keatyn, long time no talk,” Troy says. “Are you coming to the club tonight?”
“I am and I have a huge, huge favor.”
I make a snap decision to tell Troy the truth. Some of it, anyway.
“I know you’ve been gone touring, but did you know that I’m not living in Malibu anymore?”
“Uh, no. Where’d you go?”
“An all-girls boarding school out in the middle of nowhere.”
“Sounds incredibly boring.”
“It is. So, what I was wondering is if you could get me two all-access passes. Something that will allow us to go backstage, get behind all the closed doors.”
“Why do you need that?”
I give him a quick version of what happened while he was touring.
“Is that why we had so much security?”
“Yeah, he knows I toured with you last summer.”
“What’s his name?”
I tell him.
“Seriously? He’s a VIP. Crazy big spender.”
“I know. He comes every Thursday looking for me. He followed me there, you know, before.”
“So why would you want to be anywhere near him. Isn’t that dangerous?”
“Not if you help me.” I tell him the two other things I need.
“Keats, shit. I don’t know if I can swing that. The first part is easy. The second part . . .” He trails off, then he says, “Our club security is outstanding.”
“And probably easily swayed by a big-spender VIP.”
“Hmm, yeah, you’re probably right. You’ll have to dress skimpy, sexy hot, and a little cheap.” He laughs. “That’s like a four letter word to you, isn’t it? You never look cheap.”
“I will tonight.”
“Then it shouldn’t be a problem. You driving Tommy’s Ferrari, like usual?”
“Perfect. I’ll leave your passes with the valet.”
“Thanks, Troy. I really appreciate it!”
Damian takes the phone back and says, “Don’t hang up. I need to walk outside.” I hear him walk across a wood floor, the squeak of a door, and then he goes, “Keats, what the fuck?”
“Cooper is with me. This is all well-planned.” Well, some of it is.
“I’m coming tonight.”
“No! I don’t want to risk Vincent seeing us together!”
“Brook told me about the hostile takeover thing falling through. Is that why you’re doing this?”
“No, this was my plan all along. And it fell through with B, but not with me. I’ve made other arrangements.”
“I hope you know what you’re doing. I’ve been seeing the movie trailer everywhere. I hate to say it, but your mom looks smoking hot. And bad. Really, really bad.”
“That’s part of the plan too.”
“Did Peyton tell you she’s coming to visit me next weekend?”
“Yeah. It will be a low-key weekend, right?”
“The family will be in New York, so the place is all mine. She’ll be lucky if I let her out of the bedroom.”
“Damian!” I screech. “But, good. Discretion is key. Especially after the band’s write-up in the new Teen Vogue.”
“Yeah, one of the guys stupidly tweeted about us being in the studio and forgot to turn off his location services. Girls actually started showing up outside. It was freaking crazy.”
“All the more reason you have to keep your relationship a secret. Are you picking her up at the airport?”
“Yeah, but she’s meeting me outside. I’ll be in one of Dad’s limos.”
“Keats, be careful.”
“I will. Bye.”
Cooper comes into my closet. “You’ve got to be dressed by now.”
“I am. What do you think?”
“There isn’t much to it,” he states.
I shrug. “That’s kinda the point. So, I have one more phone call to make and then I’ll tell you my plan.”
I rev the Ferrari’s motor as I pull in next to Sander’s purple Lamborghini. I leave Cooper in the car, hoping to get the boys to hurry. We’re on a tight schedule.
Sander opens the door, his eyes bugging out. “You’re wearing that?”
I raise my eyebrows at him.
“You like nice, you just look . . .”
“Cheap?” I roll my eyes at him. “Standing here, sure, but once I get there, I’ll blend in. Oh, before your friends join us, I wanted to tell you something.”
“That remake of Mom’s movie. I heard that the studio is, like, maybe having some big financial issues. Or, like, about to.”
“Where’d you hear that?”
“I overheard Matt Moran talking about it.”
“Oh, well, he would know, right?”
I shrug casually. “I would think so.”
“I was going to get the script, but now I won’t bother. I’m definitely staying far away from that studio,” Sander states.
The boys all get loaded up in their cars and we caravan to the club.
The valet opens my door, takes my hand, and helps me out of the car. “It’s been a while, Miss Douglas. Good to see you.”
“Hi, Billy. It’s good to be back. Troy was supposed to leave me some passes.”
“I’ve got them right here.” He pulls them from his jacket pocket and hands them to me along with my valet claim ticket.
I put the ticket into an envelope with the name of the guy who details Tommy’s cars.
I hand the envelope to Billy. “I have someone picking up the car in an hour. Should be a wild night. Figured it’d be better to have a car to take us home.”
Sander’s car pulls up behind mine.
I turn toward the car and tell Billy, “I brought some friends with me.”
“Nice ride,” he says.
“Hey, Billy,” I whisper. “Do you know Mr. Sharpe?”
Billy rolls his eyes. “Silver Porsche. Douche.”
“Is he here tonight?”
“No, but it’s Thursday. He’ll be here.”
“Could you do me a teeny little favor?” I hand him a folded hundred-dollar bill. “When he arrives, will you discreetly let this guy know immediately?” I gesture to Cooper. “He’ll be in the VIP section.”
Billy looks down at his hand and smiles. “Absolutely.”
I move my skimpily clad body just a little closer to him. “And, Billy, under no circumstances am I to leave with Mr. Sharpe.”
“He bad news?”
“For me, yes.”
I get the boys happily situated in the VIP section and do a shot with them while Cooper uses his all-access pass to check out the exits. I look down at the dance floor, knowing the door Vincent tried to drag me out of is almost directly underneath me.
When he gets back, Cooper says, “You sure he’ll let me know when he arrives?”
“Yeah, I tipped him a hundred dollars.”
Cooper pulls me toward the balcony overlooking the dance floor, wraps his arms around my waist, and appears to whisper sweet nothings in my ear.
“I want you dancing there.” He uses a mini laser pointer to indicate the spot.
I toss my head back and giggle, playing my role.
“There’s an exit here.” The red light hits a black spot on the wall. “And here.”
My bottom lips pops out in a pout, like Cooper just told me something I didn’t want to hear.
Sander says to him, “Aw man, you’re in trouble. No one can resist the pout.”
“Sander, stop giving away my tricks.” I smile at him. “So, the party pooper here has to take a business call. Who wants to go dance?”
Ten minutes later, Cooper joins me on the dance floor, pulling me tightly into his body.
I grind on him, making sure my ear is close to his mouth.
“Vincent’s here. He just left the VIP section and moved closer to the dance floor. As we walk back to the bar, he’ll be on your right. I’ll be walking on your left. No matter what, I want you to keep looking at me. If you make eye contact with him it will ruin your plan.”
I stop grinding on Cooper, close my eyes, and just cling to him for a minute.
“You sure you want to do this?” he asks.
I open my eyes, nod at him, and Party-Girl-Keatyn yells to Sander, “I think we need another drink!”
The small pack of us makes our way back to the VIP section.
Cooper keeps his arm tightly wrapped around me.
Party-Girl-Keatyn gabs loudly the entire way. “So I can’t decide what I’m in the mood for. Should we have hypnotic, lemon drop shots, or should we should just keep going with the Don Julio?”
Just as I finish my sentence, I feel Cooper’s grip on my waist tighten and I know we’re about to walk by Vincent. I keep my eyes locked on Cooper’s and stay in my role.
“How about you, sexy?” I say loudly to Cooper. “What are you in the mood for?”
Cooper mumbles something and I laugh loudly. “I think we’d get arrested for that, baby.”
“Keatyn, darling, let’s do Fireball shots,” Danny yells back at me.
“Hot, just like us,” Sander and I yell at the same time.
Which makes me forget about Vincent for a second and actually laugh for real.
While Sander is ordering shots, Cooper keeps watch behind me. “It’s time to go. He’s headed this way.”
I pat Sander on the back. “I have a surprise for you boys. Keep an eye out for me.”
“Move now,” Cooper says, quickly leading me to one of the pass-only doors.
He flashes our pass to the guard, who lets us through.
“I’m still worried about getting you down.”
“I know.” I lead him to the DJ booth and get Troy’s attention.
“Damn, girl,” Troy says, giving me a hug. “I’ve missed you. Not the whiner boyfriend, but I’ve missed you.”
“Brooklyn’s not my boyfriend anymore.”
“If you weren’t our friend, I would have kicked his ass for all the bitching he did. You had fun though, didn’t you?”
“I had a blast being on tour.”
“Damian says you’re going to be in our video.”
“If you guys still want me, yeah.”
He looks at me again. “We do. So, keep going down the hall. Second door on the left is where all the girls are. They’ll tell you what to do.”
“Why don’t you walk down there, Cooper, and check it out. I’ll be right there.”
As soon as he’s out of earshot, I say to Troy, “Were you able to get it?”
“Are you sure about all this? Damian gave me an earful before I left. I assume you want this guy to see you but not get close?”
“That shouldn’t be a problem. Patrons aren’t allowed to touch the cages.”
Troy sighs. “Fine. It’s duct taped to the floor. I put a little spot of glow-in-the-dark paint on both ends of the tape. The safety’s on but, Keats, the last thing we need is a shoot-out in a packed club.”
“I won’t use it unless I absolutely have to.”
He musses my hair. “You looked great dancing out there. Wherever you’ve been has been good for you.”
“Thanks. You look like a rock star.”
“It’s pretty exciting, huh? “You and Me” has been getting a ton of airtime. The label thinks we’ll hit the Billboard chart this week.”
“Seriously? Damian didn’t tell me that.”
“He has some new tail he’s after. But I’m not complaining. He’s written some seriously amazing shit this week.”
“He’s in love.”
“Apparently. Okay, so get down there. You only have a few minutes.”
In the dressing room with the paid dancers, I get a quick makeover by Marla, the woman in charge. She cakes on more makeup and glues on the huge glow-in-the-dark eyelashes the dancers are known for.
Then she adds glow-in-the-dark paint to strategic locations on my body. Stripes fanning out from my eyes. Four stripes around the clover tattoo on my wrist. A swirly stripe across my left shoulder blade. Filling in numerous diamond shapes in my fishnets.
She stands back and looks at me with an artist’s eye, trying to decide where else to put the paint, when she spots my tattoo.
“Oh, I like this,” she says, outlining it. “What’s it mean?”
“Love that. We should all have those. I’ve always said that if they ever give this place a name, it should be called Utter Chaos.”
After a few words of advice, I’m being locked in a cage and swung out over the now jam-packed dance floor.
I look through the neon sunglasses I’m supposed to wear to start the dance and quickly see Vincent standing in his former spot, his calculating eyes searching the dance floor.
I hang onto the bars of the swinging cage until I’m lowered onto a six-foot-high platform just to Vincent’s left.
Vincent blinks his eyes, wondering if it’s just his imagination.
But it’s not.
She came back for him.
When he works his way into the VIP section to retrieve her, she’s gone.
Did she go back out to dance?
He goes back to his usual location, where he has the best view of the dance floor.
The cages, where the paid dancers gyrate, hit the platforms, the music screeches to a halt and a new song plays, causing the Plexi-glass bases of each cage to light up, flashing with the beat.
The girls start dancing in their cages, but his focus is on the dance floor. She’s got to be out there.
He notices a little crowd gathering around one of the cages. He looks up and sees her moving her hips. Dancing in a very sexy way. He stands completely still.
Then she bends over, shakes her ass, and blows a kiss over her shoulder, straight toward him.
It’s a sign. She’s ready. She wants him to get her out of her symbolic cage. Rescue her.
Vincent stands up and pushes his way through the crowd while she slides on sunglasses, pretending not to see him as she continues to shimmy.
Vincent gestures to one of the bouncers surrounding the cage, hands him a large tip, and tells him that he’d very much like to meet the dancer in the VIP section. Right now.
The bouncer speaks into his headset, as he leads Vincent up the stairs.
We’re almost there, Lacy.
A few minutes later, my cage starts moving upward.
The girls usually dance in the cage for thirty minutes, then rotate to a VIP lounge platform. Which, obviously, I wasn’t planning to do. The dancers, though, love the VIP area, as it’s where they earn the majority of their tips.
I notice that my cage is the only one moving.
Were supposed to all come in at the same time.
I glance at the timer that counts down my shift, and see I should still have twenty-two minutes left.
That means Vincent requested me.
I try to imagine what his impromptu plan might be. I’m sure he’s planned out what he’d do if he ever saw me here.
But I doubt his plans included me being in a cage.
At least I know I’m safe backstage.
But as I’m being lowered, I see Vincent coming backstage, a bouncer escorting him.
I look in every direction, searching for Cooper, but not seeing him anywhere.
My heart starts to race and I tell myself to calm down. It’s not like he’s got a van sitting out back every week. The valet told me he drives a Porsche.
The bouncer’s job is to protect me. Look, don’t touch is what they always tell people.
I should have thought about this before. If he found me, how would he get me out of the club?
Then I remember Miami.
He’d drug me.
Slip me a roofie.
Use a needle.
Help his sick friend to the car. She just had a little too much fun, he’d say.
Maybe I should go back to the VIP area with him just to see what he’d do.
But then another possibility pulses through my brain. Vincent hurts, drugs, or kills the bouncer. In his slick suit, it would be easy to underestimate his strength.
Where the hell is Cooper?
And why did they let Vincent backstage?
I bend down, pull the duct tape off the gun, and slip it into the back of my shorts.
The cage is lowered backstage. Away from the harsh club lighting, he can see the violet in her eyes. The softness of her skin.
The bouncer stops him from getting closer to the cage.
She says to the bouncer, “I have twenty minutes left. You’re going to get me in trouble with Marla.”
The bouncer lowers his voice, siding with me, now that he’s a thousand dollars richer. “I know you’re new, but the gentleman here is a VIP. Big VIP. And he requested you now. You know the boss man is all about customer service.”
“Fine. I’ll go powder my nose, then I’ll head up there.”
It’s sweet that she wants to look perfect for him, but he shakes his head at the bouncer. No way is she getting out of his sight.
“I think now would be better.”
“Um, okay.” The bouncer opens my cage and takes my hand to help me out.
The second my feet hit the concrete floor, Vincent starts moving quickly toward me.
My eyes get huge.
I point and go, “Um . . .”
The bouncer turns around and says to Vincent, “Go back to the VIP section now. We’ll meet you there.”
“I just want to talk to her. I’m a producer. This could be her big break.”
“I don’t want a break,” I whisper, putting my hand behind my back and gripping the gun.
Suddenly, Vincent charges toward the bouncer.
I move to avoid getting knocked down.
Vincent rushes toward her. He must have her, and he’s tired of fucking around. She will be his tonight if it’s the last thing he does. He takes the cigar holder out of his pocket. He just needs to get close enough for a little prick of a needle. Then she’ll be out. He’ll play the hero, carrying her out of the club, putting her in his car . . .
Just as he gets close, the cage swings, ramming into both himself and the bouncer, knocking them to the ground.
The man she was dancing with, burly guy he’s never seen before, takes her hand and pulls her down the hall. Light floods the room from an exit door opening. Vincent picks himself up, gets the syringe out, and takes off running after her.
He’ll kill the big guy, and then she will be his.
Cooper grabs me, pulls me down the hall, and pushes through an exit door.
The bright streetlights temporarily blind me.
“Which car is it?” Cooper yells.
I hand him the gun. “Here, take this.”
“Where the hell do you get—”
I don’t answer, just pull him toward a sweet black Ducati.
“A motorcycle?” Cooper panics. “I’ve never ridden one.”
I hop on the bike, pull on my helmet, toss one to Cooper, pop the kickstand, turn the key, grab the clutch, and hit the start button, bringing the motor roaring to life.
“Just hang on!” I yell as both Vincent and the bouncer barrel out of the exit.
He and the bouncer following him get to the outside just in time to see her speeding off on a motorcycle. One that looks familiar. It’s Matt’s bike. He’s seen them ride it before. Fury overcomes him.
He punches the bouncer in the face, knocking him to the ground, then takes his money back.
He runs back through the club, tosses his ticket to the valet, rips the keys out of his hand, and runs to his car. He needs to get to the Malibu Colony and fast.
He hits the gas, burning rubber out of the parking lot.
He knows where she’s leading him.
Back to their beach.
I pop the bike into first gear with my foot, crack the throttle, and speed off into the night.
I make numerous turns through the warehouse district, already having memorized the streets, and then shoot out onto the highway near the Santa Monica airport.
I drive fast, weaving in and out of traffic.
Once I’m sure we’re not being followed, I head toward the coast, merging onto the PCH, heading toward Malibu.
I try to stay close to the speed limit now, not wanting to get pulled over and end up a sitting duck on the side of the road.
Before the Malibu city limit, I make a right turn and pull into an unmarked parking lot. Then I hit the remote on the bike’s keychain to open a big garage door and pull in, dousing the bike’s lights and quickly closing the door behind us.
“I don’t think we were followed, do you?” I ask Cooper as I turn off the bike, pull off my helmet, and shake out my hair.
“I don’t know how the hell we could’ve been. You were driving like a maniac!”
I roll my eyes at him. “I was only doing eighty on the highway. Vincent has a Porsche. Those things are fast!”
Cooper takes his helmet off and sets it on the bike. “Somehow when you said stealth out the back, this was not what I envisioned.”
“It worked, though. Come on, we’ve had our excitement for tonight. Let’s get the hell out of here and back the airport.”
“What about your wig? Our bags?”
I point to a Mustang sitting in the bay next to us. “It’s all in the car.”
“What is this? A chop shop? Is this all stolen?”
“No, it’s the concierge detail shop that does Tommy’s car. They pick up his cars from the house every few weeks, detail them, and put them back under their covers all shiny. He dropped the motorcycle off, picked up Tommy’s Ferrari, moved our bags to the Mustang, and already has Tommy’s car safely back home. He’s also going to drive it around town tomorrow. You know, just to be seen.”
“Did he not think it was an odd request?”
“Considering his clientele, probably not. Especially with the rumors of Tommy’s affair.”
“Oh,” Cooper says. “That’s smart.”
I find the Mustang’s keys hanging exactly where I was told they would be and replace them with the keys to Brooklyn’s bike.
Even though B knows nothing about it, there’s something comforting in the fact that his bike helped me tonight.
Cooper grabs my hand. “You’re shaking.”
“A little, but I’m fine.”
“Adrenaline rush,” he states. “It’ll stop soon. In the meantime, I’ll drive.”
Vincent gets to his destination, sneaks out of his car with a gun in one hand and a syringe in the other.
Then he waits.
On the way to the airport, I throw the dress I wore earlier over my club clothes, tuck my hair back under the wig, rub off the paint, and gently remove the eyelashes.
“I have to admit,” Cooper says, “I’m very surprised you know how to ride a motorcycle.”
“That wasn’t just any motorcycle. It was Brooklyn’s. The concierge service takes care of B’s and his dad’s cars, too. I knew we were going to have to make a speedy exit, so it seemed like the best option. Honestly, I’m really lucky that he knows me, or I never would’ve been able to pull it off. I didn’t exactly ask B if I could borrow his bike.”
“What made you even want to learn?”
“I was fine with just riding on the back. It was fun, felt romantic, you know? But after a couple times of us going somewhere and B needing to take me back home before he was ready to leave, he decided I should learn how to ride it. That way I could take myself home if I needed to.”
And once I learned how, he knew he could get high or drink and I could drive us both home. Although at the time that sorta pissed me off, I’m now really grateful I know how.
After we’ve taken off and gotten to cruising altitude, Cooper says, “So what do you think we accomplished? Seems like all it did was piss him off.”
“We made him think I’m back home.” I smile. “And remember, a pissed off, out-of-control, mistake-making Vincent is exactly what we want.”
“I was there the whole time. In the shadows. Waiting for the right moment.”
“I didn’t see you.”
“You didn’t look scared.”
“I had protection. Speaking of which, what did you do with it?”
“It’s in the bag.”
The flight attendant interrupts Cooper to ask us if we would like dinner or a snack.
“Dinner,” Cooper says.
“I’ll just have some water,” I reply. I might not be shaking as bad on the outside anymore, but my insides are still a wreck.
“My sister needs to eat,” Cooper tells the attendant. “Bring her a dinner along with her water.”
She quickly comes back with plates of grilled chicken in a mushroom sauce on a bed of risotto.
I eat a little and then lean my head against Cooper’s shoulder.
Vincent roams the area, covering both Lacy and Matt’s home and the beach between for the better part of the night. As the sun starts to rise, he puts the gun away, slips the syringe back into its holder, and sits on the beach—remembering.
He opens the urn and slowly shakes the ashes out.
He doesn’t look at the ashes falling into the sand; instead he looks into her eyes, sees the gentle caring in them. He’s not sure the exact moment when he fell for her, but if they were to make a movie of their lives, it would be this moment.
The moment everything changed for him. The turning point.
She grabs one of his hands. Her hands are soft and the ocean breeze blows the sweet scent of her into his nostrils.
She squeezes his hand tightly and begins to pray. “Today we bring Viviane back to where she met the love of her life. Where she was the happiest she had ever been. We pray that she has been reunited with her great love in heaven, and they are now on their own version of this perfect stretch of beach. And we pray that her grandson, Vincent, is able to find that same kind of love someday. Amen.”
What she says touches his soul. He knows they don’t know each other that well, but her wish tells him all he needs to know. She wants him to find that kind of love.
I throw Grandmother’s urn way out into the ocean, then turn and wrap my arms around her. My great love.
I can’t help but cry.
For my grandmother, who I’ll miss greatly. And for myself.
I wish grandmother could have met her. She would love her.
She puts her hand on his back and pats it. “Shhhh. It’ll be okay. I promise.”
He pulls his head up, wipes tears from his face, and says, “Thank you. I didn’t want to do this alone, but I didn’t really have anyone that I wanted to come with me.”
“I’m glad I could help. I hope you still buy the house. She would love knowing you live here. Now we just need to find you a woman.” She laughs. “For a guy that looks like you that should be easy. Why aren’t you married yet, anyway?”
He laughs too. “Geez, now you sound just like her. I’ll tell you what I told her: I have high standards.” He pauses. “You looked pissed when you were walking down here earlier. Did you have a bad day? Did I just make it worse?”
“It doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s just high school drama.”
“Yeah, but it’s your drama. Tell me about it. It’ll distract me, and I went to high school; maybe I can help.”
He smiles at her. How could he not. She’s confiding in him. Telling him everything he needs to know about her.
“I recently broke up with the guy I’ve dated for over a year. We were the perfect couple. Like everyone thought we were perfect, but the truth is we weren’t. I don’t think he was attracted to me. Or maybe he really does want to wait until he gets married, I’m not sure.”
“You’re a virgin? Really?” He can’t help but be extremely pleased by this. The thought of being her first, fills his head. He fights an erection.
She hangs her head. “Yeah.”
He pushes her chin up so she is forced to look at him. “Keatyn, that’s a good thing.”
“My friends think it’s lame. It’s like I’m flawed or not sexy enough.”
“Sounds like your friends have some fucked up values. Sex is not what makes you sexy. I’m very serious about you being in my movie. Every guy in America is going to fall in love with you.” What he doesn’t say is that he already has.
“I highly doubt that. I can’t even seem to get the one guy I like to fall in love with me. And if that isn’t bad enough, my supposed best friend is threatening to tell everyone at school that I’ve never done it. Everyone thinks I did it all the time with my ex. If they find out, they’ll look at me like I’m a fake Prada bag.”
“Grandmother said that you shouldn’t care what people say about you. The people who say bad things are insecure about themselves. When I was young, kids at school used to tease me about my mom. I learned to fight. Got tough. When I lived with Grandmother, she told me that if I had confidence, everyone else would have confidence in me. So I got good at faking it. Now, I don’t even have to fake it anymore. Don’t let them get to you.”
“Okay, I’ll try.”
“I better get going,” he says. He doesn’t want to leave her yet, but at the same time, he knows their epic love story will continue on. That no one will keep her from him. But he has to do this right.
“I’m sorry again about your grandmother.”
“I really appreciate you being here, helping me. Will you give me your phone number, so I can get in touch with you?”
She recites her cell number while he puts it in his phone.
As he walks away, he says, “She’d love the fact that I met the girl I’m going to make into a star on her beach.”
He smiles, knowing that his grandmother would be very proud of him.
His phone vibrating in his pocket takes him out of his reverie.
“Sorry, I’m calling so early there, but I didn’t want him to hear me,” the girl who is on tour with Matt says. “But I think I have something for you.”
His ears perk up. “Go ahead.”
“I found out that his birthday is coming up. It’s December the fourth. We’re still in Hawaii, and, um, I think she might be coming to see him.”
“And you’re telling me this why?”
“Because when he was in Vancouver they saw each other. And he was different for a while after that. He’s finally back to normal. I don’t think she’s good for him. I would think you’d want her out of the picture. I think their relationship is volatile and I think the threat of losing his sponsor, you guys, even though it’s now just a partial one, would make him reconsider.”
“So you’re in love with him and want to get rid of your competition?” Vincent sighs. It’s been a long night.
“My motives are none of your business. You told me to call you if I had something. I have something. Do with it what you want. Goodbye.”
He sits on the beach considering it. The girl’s right.
On his way home to shower before going into the office, he calls his assistant and tells him to book a flight to Hawaii.
When he gets into his office, he finds the Entertainment section of the newspaper on his desk. He sees a headline at the top with Abby’s photo underneath.
The headline reads, Crowds Line Up To See To Maddie, With Love.
He wants to throw the paper away, but stops and scans it, hoping there is information on where the whore is currently. She had a huge press tour scheduled and from what he has heard bailed on them all.
“This is the kind of rare movie that both critics and fans alike will be raving about,” movie critic Tim Steward proclaims.
Fans outside the packed midnight showings were excited to see if Mr. Steward was right. We did our own poll among those exiting the theater, and fans had a lot to say about this film and how Maddie’s story touched them.
“Abby Johnston’s movies usually make me laugh and fall in love,” local resident Alice Truluck said. “This movie made me cry, physically ache, and feel completely uncomfortable. But it still made me fall in love. This is an amazing story of redemption. Abby has to win an Academy award for this.”
Rumors are flying as to why Abby hasn’t attended any of the premieres held around the world this week. Also notably absent from Abby’s life is her long-time beau, Tommy Stevens. Inside sources say a split is imminent.
There’s a photo of Tommy Stevens and a big yellow dog getting on a private plane. The caption reads, He’s moving and taking the dog with him!
Abby left earlier than planned from Vancouver where the movie she and Tommy were filming together has wrapped. Tommy’s publicist said in a statement: “Abby and their adorable children plan to join Tommy in New York, where he will be filming the third movie in the blockbuster Trinity series.”
But a day earlier, Abby’s publicist contradicted that statement. “Like many on the Vancouver movie set, Abby has come down with the flu and won’t be attending the premieres.” And, when pressed further about the health of the couple’s relationship: “Abby will not accompany Tommy to New York. She’s taking some time away from the movie industry.”
Those of us who have seen the frightening photos of a too-skinny Abby hope she’s planning on eating during her break.