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Shelby Cheney took a long, deep breath and prepared to make her entrance. Head up. Shoulders back. Superwatt smile. Artfully windswept shoulder-length raven hair. Dazzling Badgley Mishka lace gown cut down to Cuba. Diamonds at her throat and ears. Movie star husband by her side.
Shelby Cheney had it all. Or did she?
Tonight she was at the Cannes Film Festival with her husband, Linc Blackwood. Each had a movie to promote.
Hers: an edgy drama about a woman on the brink of a total collapse -- a thirty-something sex addict who reveals more than her mental breakdown on-screen, with nobody around to help her. And of course, one blistering sex scene, because Shelby had all the attributes; and since this movie smelled of an Oscar nomination, she hadn't minded showing them.
His: a tough-guy superhero movie. Hard-boiled cop. Sexy. Sardonic. A sequel to his two previous blockbuster hits playing the same character. Linc Blackwood, once one of the highest-paid box office stars in the world, was still up there.
Tonight Linc wore a midnight blue Armani tuxedo with a dark blue silk shirt. No tie. Muscular body. Clouded green eyes. Longish dark hair. Stubbled chin. Crooked nose -- broken in a fight or two before he was famous and powerful enough to insist on a double for his more dangerous stunts.
Shelby and Linc. A movie star couple set to thrill the throngs of fans who eagerly watched them as they made their way -- flanked by various publicity people and assorted flacks -- into the Palais des Festivals, where Shelby's film, Rapture, was about to be shown.
"Shit," Linc mumbled under his breath, waving at the paparazzi while flashing his trademark grin. "I need a fuckin' drink."
"No you don't," Shelby managed to reply, as she smiled for the assorted cameras and TV crews lined up three deep, all shoving and struggling for the best shots.
Linc's drinking was a big bone of contention between them. He'd been in rehab twice. It hadn't done him much good -- he was still a hard boozer whenever the mood took him. And tonight the mood was definitely taking him.
Shelby knew he'd had a couple of shots at the hotel, and now he was muttering that he wanted more. This was not a good sign. She had hoped to relax and enjoy the night, but if Linc was on the prowl, she'd have to spend the evening watching him to make sure he didn't embarrass them both -- something he was quite capable of doing. When Linc got drunk it was disaster time. He either became belligerent and ready to pick a fight, or got compulsively amorous, flirting outrageously with every woman in sight. Both were equally unappealing traits.
Damn! Why couldn't she simply revel in her triumph? Because everyone had assured her that her performance in Rapture was a triumph -- everyone except Linc, who'd seen a rough cut of her movie and immediately remarked that she looked tired and drawn and that the cinematographer hadn't lit her well.
Didn't he get it? She was playing a woman on the verge; she wasn't supposed to look her usual, gorgeous self.
The truth was that even though he'd never admit it, Linc was jealous, eaten up with envy that she was starring in a movie that was destined to receive critical acclaim and box office success -- a combination he'd never quite managed to achieve.
The one thing Linc craved was respect and acknowledgment for his acting talent, not merely his physical antics. His movies still made megamillions, but his reviews were abysmal. This drove him slightly crazy -- especially now that Shelby was about to make a major impact as a serious actress. She had no doubt he loved her, but things were about to change for her careerwise, and she wasn't sure how Linc would take it.
Sometimes she worried that maybe she should give it all up, stay home, and do nothing but look after Linc, because even after four years of a somewhat turbulent marriage, she still loved him, in spite of his drinking and womanizing and going off on binges with his gang of asshole buddies, whom she'd never been able to persuade him to get rid of. Lurking within the macho movie star was a little boy lost, and the little boy was always there, sweet and needy and -- most important -- all hers. Especially at night when they were in bed together and she snuggled up behind him and fell asleep breathing his smell, feeling his warmth, loving every inch of him. It wasn't all about sex, and Shelby liked that. Linc was her man, and she desperately hoped that he always would be.
Nobody knew the real Linc except her. Nobody had any clue about his abusive childhood, with a father who'd beaten him daily when the old man wasn't busy battering Linc's mother, a gentle woman who was simply not capable of protecting her only son from a man who victimized them both.
Linc had one sister, Connie, who, at forty-eight, was six years older than her brother. They shared a tough family history. When Linc was twelve his dad had beaten his mom to death, then turned the gun on himself -- blowing his brains out all over the kitchen walls, leaving Connie and Linc to fend for themselves.
To her credit, Connie had never let her brother down. She'd taken a job as a waitress, managing to keep him out of foster homes until he'd run off to L.A. at the age of seventeen and started on the long and sometimes treacherous road to success. Connie was a dedicated lesbian who refused to have anything to do with men. She lived with her girlfriend, Suki, on a ranch in Montana -- bought for her by Linc. The two of them rarely left it.
On his own, Linc had achieved phenomenal success, and Shelby loved and admired him for it. On the other hand, Linc Blackwood was a handful, and Shelby wasn't sure how long she could continue putting up with all his games.
She wanted a baby.
She wanted to lead a less public life.
She wanted him not to flirt with every woman who gave him the "available" signal. And they all did. Linc was a movie star; he might as well have FUCK ME emblazoned on his forehead.
Shelby, however, was completely loyal to him. It wasn't part of her moral code to even contemplate having an affair. Her parents had been together forty years, and they still held hands, exchanged loving looks, and indulged in secret conversations. She often dreamed of a marriage as good as theirs.
"Shelby!" screamed the photographers. "Over here! Look over here! Shelby! Shelby! Shelby!"
As their pleas grew more frantic, Shelby obliged, turning her head this way and that, holding everything in, making sure she didn't fall out of her daringly low-cut gown. She tossed back her mane of raven hair, her hazel eyes wide and appealing. Image was incredibly important, and even though Shelby was only thirty-two, she was well aware of the hordes of up-and-coming actresses rabid for their chance at stardom. They all wanted to be her. They all wanted to have her career, be married to a movie star, and live in a magnificent Beverly Hills mansion.
Tough luck, girls, she thought, smile fixed firmly in place. Linc Blackwood is mine. All mine. And in spite of his many shortcomings, I definitely intend to hold on to him. So back off. Linc Blackwood is taken.
"I want Linc Blackwood," Lola Sanchez said in her low-down, husky voice, not looking at Elliott Finerman, the producer of her upcoming movie, who sat in the back of the limo next to her, while her husband, Matt Seel, a former professional tennis player, perched opposite them, sitting beside her publicist, Faye Margolis.
"We've gone over this a dozen times," Elliott said, barely able to contain his annoyance. "I was thinking Ben Affleck or Matthew Mc -- "
"No!" Lola interrupted sharply. "I want Linc Blackwood. And if you can't or won't get him, then I suggest you find yourself another leading lady."
Bitch! Elliott thought. Who do you think you are? Four years ago you were a waitress at Denny's, now you're telling me what to do. Me, Elliott Finerman, producer of over thirty successful movies.
"Well?" Lola demanded imperiously, tilting her pointed chin.
"If you insist, sweetie," Elliott said, forcing himself to sound calm. "However, I do think -- "
"Fine," she said, cutting him off again. "Then if Linc says yes, we're all set."
Elliott stared out the car window. It was glaringly obvious that this diva couldn't care less what he thought. It was all Anna Cameron's fault. Anna, head honcho at Live Studios, had agreed to green-light his latest movie, New York State of Mind, only if he signed Lola Sanchez. And Lola had agreed to sign only if she had leading-man approval.
"Give it to her," Anna had said. "You and I will steer her in the right direction."
Sure, Elliott thought bitterly. Some right direction.
From the get-go Lola had started mentioning Linc Blackwood. He'd honestly believed that he could sweet-talk her out of her choice, but no, Lola wanted Linc, and she was one determined, spoiled, full-of-her-own-importance movie star.
Elliott couldn't understand why she was so insistent. She didn't even know Linc, and when she did get to meet him, she'd be sorry. Linc Blackwood was trouble, making outrageous demands on the set and screwing other men's wives when he thought he could get away with it. Elliott had personal experience with the way Linc operated. He used some of the oldest lines going, and yet women still fell for them. Not that they needed much pushing -- when it came to movie stars, women were open-leg city, ready to give it up for a glance, a smile. Elliott should know; his ex had been no exception. Lynsey Fraser, a pretty but easily influenced young actress. Three months after marrying her he'd foolishly given her a minor role in one of his movies that starred Linc Blackwood. A week of location later he'd caught her servicing Linc with a blow job in his trailer.
That had been ten years and one divorce ago. Needless to say, Elliott had chosen not to work with Linc since.
Elliott felt sorry for Shelby Cheney. She was a very talented actress and an extremely desirable woman, although obviously not too smart, because apparently she was completely unaware of what a cheating piece of crap her husband really was.
"If you're absolutely sure -- ," Elliott began, in an uptight voice.
"Yes!" Lola snapped, not giving him time to finish his sentence. "I'm sure."
Elliott fumed. Diva cunt! America thought she was such a sweet and sexy piece, when in fact she was a twenty-four-year-old killer bitch who happened to have been blessed with long legs, big breasts, full sensual lips, glowing skin, and a stone-cold heart. America was in love with her legs, her lips, and her wide, appealing smile. They remained unaware of her failings as a human being.
On second thought, Elliott mused, maybe Lola and Linc deserved each other. Between the two of them they could self-destruct their way out of the business. As long as New York State of Mind was a box office smash, what did he care? Let them create chaos and garner major publicity. After the movie was launched they could ruin each other's miserable lives.
Movie stars! A bunch of overinflated assholes with a short shelf life. Five years down the line people would be saying, "Lola who?"
Unfortunately, Linc Blackwood would probably always be around. Like Stallone, Willis, and Schwarzenegger, he was a survivor in a tough business. Plus his movies still made money, especially in foreign and video and DVD sales.
"We're almost there," Faye Margolis announced. Faye was a formidable woman in her late forties, with iron gray bobbed hair and an unbeatable knowledge of the P.R. business. Any celebrity in Faye's care was guaranteed maximum exposure and copy approval. Faye protected her select list of clients with a fierce loyalty.
"How do I look?" Lola asked, exhibiting a rare flash of insecurity.
"Hot!" enthused Matt, who was quite hot himself, with his athlete's body, long dirty-blond hair, and small Vandyke beard.
Lola ignored him. "Faye?" she asked tentatively.
"Make sure you stand up straight," Faye ordered in her smoke-enhanced voice. "That dress is a walking hazard, and don't you forget it, or your breast'll fall out."
Lola giggled. Only Faye could get away with speaking to her in such a fashion. Now that she was a big star she demanded respect from all who came in contact with her.
"If her tits fall out she'll make every front page in France," Matt sniggered.
"Don't you mean the world?" Lola corrected, throwing him a withering glance.
"If you say so, honey," Matt agreed, suitably abashed.
They had been married for five months. As far as Lola was concerned the honeymoon phase was way over, although Matt had yet to realize it.
They'd gotten married on a billionaire's Malibu estate in a blaze of publicity, with helicopters hovering overhead, paparazzi hanging out of trees, and a star-studded guest list of people they hardly knew. An English magazine paid two million dollars for exclusive pictures of the happy couple, and Faye had made sure that everything happened exactly the way she planned it. "No mistakes" was Faye's motto, and anyone who made one was permanently off Faye's extensive payroll.
Lola wasn't quite so thrilled anymore. She got bored easily, and apart from beachboy looks and a buff body, Matt did not bring a lot to the party. He'd given up professional tennis, preferring to leech off her. When she'd complained about his lack of activity, he'd assured her that he was writing a screenplay, and also planning to take acting classes.
Great! Why hadn't he confided that he had aspirations to be in show business before she'd married him?
Here's what he didn't know. She married him only to preserve her public image as the sexy superstar of the new millennium. Forget about Halle Berry, Jennifer Lopez, and Angelina Jolie. Lola Sanchez was it, and she had to keep her credibility level right up there. Before her marriage to Matt, she'd been indulging in a high-profile romance with Tony Alvarez, a brilliant Latino movie director who some considered to be the Pedro Almodóvar of his generation, except Tony was a product of the Bronx, so the three movies he'd directed were pure Americana with an edge.
Tony's problem was that he had an ongoing drug habit, and in spite of a couple of well-publicized arrests for possession, and a lengthy probation, he still managed to get into trouble. Once his bad-boy ways began reflecting negatively on Lola's image, her advisers had warned her that she'd better distance herself from him, as it was becoming increasingly possible that he might have to serve a few months in jail for supposedly dealing -- which everyone knew was bullshit, but since Tony was a celebrity, the authorities had to look like they were doing something.
Lola, ever mindful of her public image, had reluctantly broken off their engagement and hurriedly married Matt, who could not believe his luck and had willingly signed an ironclad prenuptial agreement.
Now she was stuck with him. But not for long. Lola had plans, and those plans included Linc Blackwood.
Cat Harrison was not happy to be at the Cannes Film Festival. Celebrity events were so boring, full of stars with enormous egos. Not that she'd been to that many, but ever since she'd written and directed her first movie, Wild Child, a film loosely based on her own somewhat unconventional life, she'd been forced to work the circuit. And ever since her low-budget (try nonexistent-budget) movie had become a cult hit, Cat was flavor of the month.
Big freaking deal. She hated being the center of attention. She loathed having to get dressed up and play nice to the moneymen and movie big shots who were hot to finance her next project.
"Ya gotta do it, luv," advised her Australian musician husband, Jump Jagger -- no relation to Mick, although he wished.
"Why?" she'd argued.
"'Cause it'll be good karma for us both. An' I could do with a bit of karma."
Trust Jump to put himself in the mix. He had an annoying habit of always putting himself first. It didn't matter, though, because she was crazy about him.
The child of divorce, Cat had grown up dividing her time between an eccentric English mother and a totally insane American father, which meant that she'd spent most of her childhood drifting between the two countries, until at seventeen she'd decided she needed her own space and her own career (Daddy was a hugely successful sculptor and Mummy an award-winning photographer). So she'd moved to New York, where she eventually met Jump -- who'd saved her from a downward spiral of drugs and craziness. She was heading along a bad road, and he'd managed to pull her back just in time. Then they did the conventional thing, got married, and settled into a SoHo loft.
While Jump worked on his music, Cat took various gigs as a nanny, dog walker, and personal assistant to a sullen but extremely creative theater director. One weekend, full of ideas and enthusiasm, she'd started writing a screenplay. Six weeks later she began shooting her film on an old Sony Handycam she'd taken from her father's basement. She'd used their weird and wonderful assortment of friends as actors, while Jump had worked on putting together an edgy and interesting sound track with his group. Voilà! Instant movie.
A friend's uncle had introduced her to a small distributor, who'd picked up her film, and from the first screening -- like The Blair Witch Project before it -- the buzz began. First there was a website, then there were two, then three. Within weeks there were twenty-one websites devoted to discussing Wild Child.
Cat was beyond excited, until reluctantly she was thrust into the spotlight. The media loved her. It helped that she was now nineteen, tall and agile, with short, spiky, natural blond hair, olive green eyes, and a challenging face with high cheekbones. She could've easily been a model or an actress. Neither profession interested her; she got her kicks out of being on the other side of the camera, the side where she was able to maintain a certain degree of control.
Merrill Zandack, head of Zandack Films, had taken over distribution of Wild Child, and now he was planning to finance her next project, Caught, a quirky film she'd written about a womanizing con man and a duplicitous female undercover cop. Hence her visit to the Cannes Film Festival.
"Be nice to everyone, kitten," Merrill had told her when she'd arrived. "You're on the fast track."
"I'll be nice if you stop calling me 'kitten,'" she'd responded, a tad irritably. It pissed her off that men thought it was quite okay to call women cutesy names. How would he like it if she called him "puppy"?
Merrill, a plump, balding man, who spent most of his time sweating profusely while sucking on a large Cuban cigar, found Cat to be a refreshing presence. He admired the way she didn't kowtow to anyone. He enjoyed her nonconformist attitude. Merrill had a gut instinct for talent, and if Cat kept her head and didn't annoy too many people with her ballsy approach, she was destined to soar.
Shelby did the dance and she did it well. Linc did it better. Linc was an expert at making everyone feel they were his best friend. He had charm and then some. Shelby watched him as he flirted with a very svelte looking Sharon Stone. She got a kick out of watching him when he didn't know she was looking. He was so damn sexy.
"You're a beauty, hon," Merrill Zandack said, puffing on his cigar as he lumbered up behind her. "Can't wait to see your movie."
"Thanks, Merrill," she said, turning toward the powerful studio head as he planted a sweaty kiss on her cheek, leaving an irritating wet spot that she was dying to wipe off.
"You an' me gotta work together," Merrill continued, blowing a stream of expensive cigar smoke directly into her face. "I hear tell you're dynamite in tonight's flick."
"You do?" she said, surreptitiously attempting to wipe her cheek dry with the back of her hand.
"I was supposed to give it a private screenin'," he wheezed. "Never had time."
"Sorry to hear that."
"Naw, this way's better," he said, blowing more cigar smoke in her face as he managed a not-so-discreet peek down her cleavage.
She took a step back and smiled politely at Merrill's date, a statuesque Anjelica Huston clone. Since his wife had died several years ago, Merrill had rarely been seen with the same woman twice. He appeared to favor a long line of interchangeable brunettes, women he never saw fit to introduce.
"Well...I do hope you enjoy it, Merrill," Shelby said, once more glancing over at Linc, who was now in an intense conversation with Woody Allen. No rescue there.
"You look beautiful, hon," Merrill repeated.
"Thanks," she murmured, and to her relief, Merrill spotted Lola Sanchez making a much admired entrance, and immediately headed in her direction, his brunette date trailing regally behind him.
Shelby's appointed P.R. person, a young Frenchwoman with her hair worn in a tight bun, and a sulky, turned-down mouth, hovered nearby. "Do you wish to meet with the reporter from Paris Match now?" the woman asked.
Shelby shook her head. The last thing she wanted to do was speak with a journalist. "Tomorrow, at the press conference," she said.
The woman's thin lips tightened. "He has to leave for Paris early in the morning. He will not be able to attend the press conference."
A couple of years ago Shelby would've said yes to anything. Two years of therapy and she'd learned to say no.
"If he's so anxious to speak with me," she suggested, "then perhaps he should stay over."
Before the P.R. woman could reply, Linc reappeared and took her arm. "C'mon, sweetheart," he said warmly, winking at the P.R. woman. "Let's go take our seats."
Shelby nodded, her stomach fluttering. This was her big night and she was determined to relax and enjoy it.
Copyright © 2003 by Chances, Inc.