"Cut, people. That's a wrap. You've done a great job on this film. Tomorrow is finito!"
Amanda Carlisle didn't acknowledge the cheers, nor did she join in. Head down, she rushed from the soundstage and headed for her trailer.
Her personal assistant and bodyguard, all six foot six of big, black male, blocked her entrance. "What's the rush, missy? That's not the face I'm used to seeing at the end of a shoot."
Amanda curled her lip and wished she felt like smiling. "Who the hell do you think you are? Mr. Clean? What's with the shaved head, Lester?"
Les grinned and tugged at the big gold ring hanging from his left ear. "I thought it complemented the bling. You mean you don't like the look?"
"You look so damned sexy you make my teeth itch." Amanda ran her hand down his bare chest. Everything about Lester Ondage was perfect.
Well, almost everything.
"Ms. Carlisle? Over here!"
A flash bulb momentarily blinded her.
"Oh shit." Amanda ducked her head and slipped around Les. He moved his big frame aside and she raced into the trailer.
Les closed the door behind her, but she still heard his deep voice and the mumbles of disgruntled paparazzi.
"No pictures of Ms. Carlisle, fellas. Now, how'd you get back here? This area is off limits to press."
"Is it true? Has Franklin dumped Amanda from No Love Again?"
"What's the deal, Lester? Rumors are flying fast and furious. What about the reports of all the dissent on the set of Tomorrow? Word's out Ms. Carlisle is getting real hard to work with, that she put the film way over budget."
"Ms. Carlisle is always a professional. Word of her being replaced on the No Love Again cast is pure rumor. You know how it is in this business. Now, the lady is tired and she needs her rest. We'll see you at the cast party, I imagine."
Amanda groaned and buried her head in her hands. She'd forgotten about the damned party. She heard the door close, felt the warm strength of Lester's hands working the strained muscles in her neck.
"Good Lord, Les. Now that's magic."
"You're tight as a spring, missy. Can I get you some Ibuprofen?"
"I'd rather have a glass of brandy. A big one."
"You can have a small one and that's it. As tired as you are, you'd be on your cute little ass by dinnertime. I'm sure those jokers would love a picture of that."
Les poured a small shot of amber liquid into a plastic cup, then squatted down in front of Amanda and handed it to her. He wrapped her small hands in his big ones, cradling hers as she held the cup. "It'll be fine, sweetie. Relax."
Amanda leaned close and brushed her lips over Les's extraordinary mouth. He kissed her back, his full lips caressing hers with just the right pressure to hint of more.
"Damn you, Lester. You're perfect. Why the hell are you gay?"
He leaned back and grinned at Amanda. "That's the way the good Lord made me, sweetie. Just like he made you the most gorgeous woman on earth with a heart so full of love you sometimes make me think of putting the moves on you, just to feel your glow."
Amanda snorted. "Yeah. Right." She cupped the side of his face with the palm of her hand. "Thank you, Les. You always make it better."
Les sighed. "I can't fix this, though, can I?"
Amanda shook her head. "The magic's gone. I felt it from the first line of the script. It was a damned good story and I blew what could have been an Oscar quality performance. Les, I don't know what to do. Those guys were right. Franklin's trying to force me off his movie. William said..."
"William's an ass."
"He's also my agent, and a damned good one. He said Franklin's people are planting the word all over town that I'm through, that I'll kill the project." She sniffed and took a sip of brandy.
Les brushed her hair, bleached silver blonde for the film, back from her face. "You're a professional, but you're human. You're tired. You've done three films, back to back, and you haven't taken even a weekend break."
There wouldn't be a break for her now, either. No Love Again was due to start shooting on Monday. In Chicago. Damn, she hated Chicago.
"I've got an idea, but you might not like it." Les stood up and reached into the overhead compartment where he kept her papers. He pulled a long envelope out of the stack then sat down in the small chair next to Amanda's.
Les didn't open it. He sat there, tapping the envelope on his knee, staring at Amanda as if he were contemplating the end of the world.
Amanda opened her mouth to ask him what the hell was going on, when he took a deep breath and held up the envelope. "You're not going to like what I think you should do, but hear me out, okay?"
Amanda frowned and nodded. This was so unlike Les. He actually seemed nervous.
"I want you to have William contact Franklin, tell him you think Ashley Jenson would make a better Lisa than you. Pull yourself off the film. Don't give him the chance to do it... it would hurt your career too much. You know Franklin would love to get out of the contract and..."
Amanda sat back and blinked. No way in hell would..."I don't break contracts, Les. You know that."
"I said, hear me out." He stood up, paced a few steps away, then whirled around. "This is an invitation to a very special resort. I've heard of it but never knew for sure it really existed. I checked. This invitation is for real and it's addressed to you. It's an island called Chimera -- a Caribbean island smack-dab in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. No paparazzi, no one who knows who you are, no make-up people knocking on your door at four in the morning, just a beautiful island where you can relax, regroup..."
Amanda sighed, caught up in the mesmerizing cadence of Les's soft words. He described heaven. Warm sands, endless miles of beach, an elite clientele completely disinterested in her Hollywood status.
"Think about it, sweetie. It's your chance to..."
"Get the magic back."
Amanda's whisper hung between them. She looked up at Lester and smiled. Suddenly it all felt right. "Maybe you're right, Les. Tell you what, I'll do exactly what you say, but there's one condition."
Les blinked. Obviously he hadn't expected her to give in so quickly.
"I'll drop out of No Love Again and I'll take this vacation you're so convinced I need, but only if you go with me."
The expression on Lester's face was worth any contract for any movie ever made. "Close your mouth, Lester. You'll catch a fly." Amanda reached across the small space between them and snatched the envelope out of his suddenly lifeless fingers. "I'm not trying to seduce you, Lester. Think about it. You work just as hard as I do. You're just as lonely as I am. Separate rooms, we go our own way, but I'll feel safer knowing you're nearby. Will you come with me?"
Les cleared his throat. "Uh, I'm not on the invitation."
Amanda stood up, feeling more energized, more alive, than she'd felt in ages. "You are now. Here." She handed the envelope back to Les. "Make the arrangements and see how soon we can arrive. I think it's time for both of us to find the magic."
Prince Lorcan, heir to the Northern Realm of the Lands of Eldar, ruler of the Northern Eldar, direct descendent of the First Kindred, Dragon Clan and a man in his physical and mental prime leaned over the stone basin and puked.
His manservant, Tady, stood beside him, holding a clean damp towel and a glass of minted water.
Lorcan raised his head, took the towel from Tady and carefully wiped his face. "I swear, I am going to kill my mother. Where does she find these hideous females? I can't do it anymore. By the gods, that last woman tasted of six-day-old fish! I will not kiss another, nor will I pick one of these damned fortune hunters to be my bride. My mother will not select my Chosen One."
He grabbed the glass of minted water, rinsed his mouth and spit.
Tady nodded, his eyes downcast, his hands now folded over his chest. "As my Lord wishes."
Lorcan tossed the towel in the basin. "Cut the crap, Tady. I'm serious."
"I understand, milord. No crap. Your dinner awaits you."
"Ya know, Tady, you'd make a damned fine wife." Lorcan wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and sauntered over to the table, lifted a silver lid and sniffed the savory fowl simmering within a blend of mixed vegetables and sauce.
"I'm perfectly willing, milord."
Lorcan's laughter burst out of him. "I know you are, you twit. I'm the one who prefers the opposite gender. It's merely that, other than the physical, you have all the qualities I want in a wife. You're loyal, entertaining and a wonderful cook." Lorcan patted his loyal manservant on the shoulder. "You're not bad looking, either, but as much as I wish it, you just don't turn me on."
"I'm sorry, milord."
Lorcan laughed again, shaking his head as Tady carefully pulled the royal chair away from the table and seated his master. "Join me? There's more than enough."
"T'wouldn't be proper, milord."
"Proper, hell... I'm in charge and I command you to join me for dinner. It looks delicious."
Lorcan knew exactly what went through the smaller Elf's mind. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get his master to act the part of the prince of the realm.
So be it. Lorcan had made his decision. There would be no nuptials. No new Elven queen for the Dragon Clan. Not unless he found his Chosen One, a long shot by anyone's standards. He'd been perfectly happy for all these many years cheerfully screwing whichever sweet young thing crossed his path. He'd not had any complaints, merely the occasional whimper from a wench who expected more than the princely cock thrust between her thighs.
So, he'd make the decree himself, that he, Lorcan of the Northern Realm, should hereafter be known as the Bachelor Prince, a playboy among men... or Elves. If Tady read it, standing on the uppermost balcony of the castle while dressed in his finest livery, it should go over quite well.
Or not. Lorcan stared at his plate, his appetite gone. Even the chilled mug of dark ale didn't tempt him. What he needed was a break, a short vacation from his mother's insistence that he wed, from the constant parade of horribly ineligible, eligible women.
"Why is it," Lorcan asked, raising his head to glare across the table at Tady, "that the word eligible equates with tedious?"
Tady's snort was surprisingly unprofessional. "Possibly, milord, because your mother determines who is eligible?" Tady lifted his mug of ale and took a long, slow swallow. He smacked his lips with obvious relish. "Have you thought of searching on your own?"
Lorcan shook his head. "It's not a bad idea. Unfortunately, can you see me running that one by dear old mom? Besides, I really don't intend to wed."
"There's always Chimera."
Lorcan raised his head and blinked. Now why the hell hadn't he thought of Chimera? It was the perfect solution. A beautiful tropical island hidden in the midst of the Bermuda Triangle, accessible by humans -- appropriate humans -- only by invitation. Accessible by creatures such as Lorcan whenever the need for escape -- or a suitable mate -- grew strong.
"I swear, Tady. I just might choose you for my bride. That's a brilliant idea! We'll leave in the morning."
"We. Pack your bags. We're going on vacation."