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Casting Call for Love

This story was released through Twilight Fantasies. When the company went belly-up, the rights reverted back to me.

The Free Reads of Ruins of a Past Day and The Dawning are sequels, of a sort, to Casting Call for Love, so be sure to read them as well.

Casting Call for Love by Melodee Aaron
Copyright © 2006 by Melodee Aaron
Cover Design and Art by Cassidy McKay, © Copyright 2006
Edited by Trista Ba

ISBN: 1-934495-02-6
ISBN 13: 978-1-934495-02-5

All Rights Reserved

Casting Call for Love is a work of fiction.
All characters, events, situations, institutions or governments depicted are fictional. Any resemblances to actual persons, alive or dead, or any incidences, situations, institutions or governments are strictly coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be copied or reproduced without express written permission from the author.

Chapter 1

Valerie stared across the desk at the sweating fat man who held her future in his hands. He had more chins than Chinatown, and ugly tufts of hair stuck from his nose and ears.
On the corner of his desk rested a picture of him with a handsome woman about forty-five. A boy around fifteen and a girl maybe twelve stood in the picture with them. Someone must love the man. Maybe he looked better twenty-five years ago.
He disgusted her, but she knew the type. As the casting director for Margin Studios, he saw beautiful young women everyday. Most have no talent. Some can memorize lines. A few, like her, have talent, can memorize the lines, and bring the characters to life.
He would sit, letting her stew, while he thumbed through her still photos. He’d watch the screen tests she brought with her a few times. He would get his sweaty fingerprints all over her résumé, acting like he checked her qualifications. He’d pay particular attention to the video of the reading she did this morning for the role she auditioned for now. After at least thirty minutes, he’d shake his head and tell her she didn’t seem right for the part.
Then, he’d drop the bomb.
For a blowjob, or a handjob, or a quick fuck on the couch, he might be able to get her a minor part, maybe in another movie. She figured maybe one in twenty girls would take him up on the deal. It’s a volume business.
In her six years of acting, Valerie saw this game played before. Directors tried to get her to play the game. She refused, taking her ball and going home.
She often wondered if that might be why she had such a hard time getting work.
The man looked up from the stills. “You’re not bad, but you’re not right for this part.” He smiled, a trickle of sweat rolling down his jowl. “Maybe we could find some other part for you, though.”
She didn’t blame him. While the woman in the picture was handsome, she wasn’t a twenty-something actress or model. He probably couldn’t remember the last time she sucked his cock.
Even though she didn’t blame him for trying, she wasn’t about to sleep with him to get a part.
“No thanks, Mr. Robinson. I’ll pass on that.” She stood and gathered her portfolio, and then left his office.
She sat down in her car, tossing the portfolio on top of the pile of clothes, books, and other treasures in the back seat. Sammy, her black and white Manx cat, sat in the passenger seat and looked at her for a moment before he meowed questioningly.
She sighed. “Sorry, little buddy.” She scratched his ears. “Looks like we’re still sleeping in the car for now.”
She clicked her seatbelt into place, started the car, and drove away from the studio parking lot.

A wave of excitement rushed over Roland, purely financial, as he signed the contract. This small stroke of his pen finalized more than a year of negotiations and deal making. As he made his unique swirl to the ‘d’ at the end of his name, he smiled knowing that he, and Midnight Interludes Studios, now owned the movie rights to a collection of eighteen books making up the Bloodlust series of romance novels.
The stories dealt with a female vampire, Elektra, who tried to become mortal again and repent her killing ways. The books covered four thousand years of her history and had a huge readership, especially women.
While the stories were romances, they were erotic romances. The language and presentation of the romance in the stories appealed to women, but most men found it sappy. On the other hand, the eroticism appealed to men just because it was sex and to women because of the romantic qualities. Based on studies the publisher did over the last four years, men bought about thirty percent of the books for themselves.
Roland believed his studio could take the stories and make movies with appeal to both audiences. He didn’t think the eroticism needed much changing, but the romance might need a little tweaking to get the men not to fuss too badly when their wife or girlfriend asked them to watch the films.
Five years ago, Roland shifted the focus of Midnight Interludes. For two decades, Midnight Interludes was just one of countless adult film studios in LA. He smiled at the term. It sounded better than a porno film company. He made money in the twenty-five years he ran Midnight Interludes—a lot of money; but five years ago, he decided there must be more.
Talking with a friend in the publishing business, Roland learned romance novels outsold every other genre of book. In fact, they outsold entire chunks of the book market, and mostly to women.
Porn never had a big market to women. Most studios just edited together a string of sex acts and called it a movie. He knew; he did the same for many years. He got rich doing that, but traditional blue movies lacked emotion and romance.
Times in the industry changed, though. With the advent of cheap video cameras, computer editing, and the Internet as a distribution channel, competition in the adult film industry went crazy. He chuckled to himself thinking it was easier and more profitable before they legalized the business.
So five years ago, he took a risk. Midnight Interludes started making what the industry rags called porn for women. Actual stories with real plots, emotion, and romance added to the sex. The quality of the cinematography, sound, wardrobe, special effects, and acting rivaled the major studios in the mainstream. Roland invested $175 million in the change. If things kept on as they went the last few years, he’d break even on the investment sometime in the next five years.
A few of the other porn studios tried to follow his lead, but they either didn’t want to invest the money or they just didn’t have the cash. He still held a virtual monopoly on the concept.
With the addition of Bloodlust, he could break even on the entire deal in less than three years.
But he had a very big problem.
Her name was Elektra.

Sammy sat curled in her lap, purring softly. She wondered how long she could keep this up. Evicted from her apartment three months ago, Valerie loaded her belongings into a storage unit she could only barely afford and lived in her car. She didn’t like it even a little bit.
When she picked up her mail at the PO Box, she found two letters waiting for her. The first was from the car finance company. She fought to keep her hands steady enough to open the letter without ripping it to shreds. She knew long before she pulled the paper from the envelope exactly what it was, but her heart pounded hard, once. The finance company wanted to repossess her car. No matter what, she couldn’t let that happen. Without the car, she would have no place to live and no way to look for work. She just didn’t know how to stop it other than hiding all the time.
The other letter was good news. A royalty check for the commercial she did last year. She and Sammy splurged on a special dinner earlier. She went by Denny’s and ordered a small steak, saving some for him. He didn’t care for the green beans, though.
She wondered about next month. Her bank account held about $200.00, and the storage place wanted $75.00 of that or they would sell her stuff. The finance company wanted $8,000.00 yesterday or they would take her car. She glanced at the gas gauge. She needed to put a few dollars in there, too. And she and Sammy need to eat.
She knew she came close to the end of her rope. She had no family to turn to. Burning tears came to her eyes when she thought about her parents, dead over ten years now when their plane crashed on the way to New York. She stayed home for that trip because, at sixteen, she wanted to go to a party at school. She often blamed herself for not being with them when the plane’s wing came off and it crashed in an Ohio field.
The judge placed her in a group home until she finished high school. A foster home didn’t make sense for a girl that age. When she finished school, she left Wichita and came to LA to work as an actress.
The first few years weren’t too bad. She did a few bit parts and even landed three commercials while she worked as a waitress. She giggled, and Sammy meowed at the disturbance. It seemed every wannabe actor in LA worked as a food server.
Then she landed a big part in a stage production. She quit her waitress job and focused on her acting. Things went well for a year, and then the checks from the production company started bouncing.
She went to the theater one evening for the show, and found the doors locked. No note, no nothing. She stood around with the other performers at the stage door for a long time until the janitor came out and told them to go away or he’d call the cops. Three weeks later, she found out the FBI caught the producer in a sting for channeling money to some terrorist group.
For the last two years, she worked waiting tables when forced to and in small parts when she could. She spent at least four hours a day walking to every restaurant and supermarket in one area or another looking for work. With the kids out of school for the summer, work was hard to find, though. She couldn’t get her heart into waiting tables, anyway.
Most studios had a long list of extras and other bit actors to fill their casts, and her name didn’t appear on any of the lists. Valerie knew she could act. She just needed a break, some producer or director to notice her. When that happened, she would have it made.
Valerie checked her phone messages. She had to have a phone, and without a house, that took some doing. Thank God for the pre-paid services. For about $10 a month, she had a phone number with voice mail. She just couldn’t spend hours on the phone yakking.
She talked to Ronnie today, and she found a couple of leads on casting calls for tomorrow, so Valerie planned to drop by her agent’s office in the morning.
She lifted Sammy to the passenger seat and got out of the car. When she stretched, she could feel her muscles and joints creak from sitting up all the time, but she couldn’t do anything else about it. She pulled the car cover from the back seat and spread it over the car.
Fog forming on the windows is a dead giveaway someone slept in a car. Most cops didn’t care unless someone called them. She avoided tickets for sleeping in her car so far, but the cops would make her move. The car cover eliminated the problems before they started.
She climbed back into the car, making sure the cover rested right before she rolled up the window and locked the doors. Sammy jumped to the passenger floorboard to get a drink. He looked up at her and she thought she saw concern in his green eyes. His perpetual smile offered unconditional love and understanding.
While the love Sammy gave her came with no conditions, that didn’t fit with the rest of her history. She had a few boyfriends over the years, maybe two or three serious ones, but they all seemed to have only one interest. Sex. She liked sex, despite a few bad experiences, but she always believed there should be more to a relationship. What about love?
Her last two boyfriends wanted her to stay faithful and exclusive to them, but they wanted to play around. The last one even invited her into bed when she caught him with another girl. She threw the table lamp at him and the little slut next to him. Looking back now, it was all for the best. His loss, not hers.
Valerie reclined the seat and patted her lap. “Come on, Sammy.” He jumped up and curled into a small, fuzzy ball. His purr made her vibrate.
She planned to go to the truck stop in the morning to get a shower. For $5.00, she could get a hot shower with clean towels and a private place to do her hair and makeup.
The biggest problem with the truck stop came every time she left the place. She would walk right by the candy rack. She craved a Snickers bar for the last month, but couldn’t justify spending a dollar on a candy bar when she needed to scrimp to buy food for Sammy.

He didn’t want to be here. Roland figured most people assumed that because he owned a studio that made porno flicks he liked to party. The thing they all missed about him was that he was a businessman.
He admitted that in the early years, he slept with a few of the girls. He smiled to himself. He slept with a lot of the girls. But now, at forty-six, he had no interest in the girls beyond their acting abilities. Before the changes five years ago, if they could fuck, suck, and moan loud enough, they could act well enough for the part.
Now, he needed actors. The parts had real lines to memorize. The actors had real, fully developed characters to portray. They needed to get into the part and become the characters. It cost more to make the movie, but he effectively doubled his potential market, and he had the market to himself.
Jim Alba looked across the table at him. “When are you going to start casting for Bloodlust one?”
Roland laughed. “We need to get the screenplay written first.”
Jim nodded. The director of cinematography and his assistant director, Jim often wanted to move a little fast. “That’s right.”
“While the writers are getting that done, I’ll cast Destiny. We should be ready to go with Bloodlust by the time we get done with Destiny.” Pretty much a standard romantic thriller with erotic features, Destiny wouldn’t make a lot of money, but it would break even and pay a few bills. The most important thing about Destiny was that it introduced Elektra. He thought of it as a prequel to Bloodlust.
Marion Dietz, the wardrobe and makeup director laughed. “I’ve read some of the Bloodlust books.” She shrugged. “I have no idea who could play Elektra.”
The vampire Elektra was a bit unique in the stories Midnight Interludes made into movies. Immortal, tough, and a killer, Elektra offered an odd blend of intense character traits. Elektra was drop dead gorgeous, sultry, and seductive. She’s a killer, a predator of the night and without mercy when she’s feeding. She’s also loving and caring, in a killer vampire sort of way. She even fucked many of her victims so they would die happy. Finding the right actress could turn into a nightmare.
Some girl with big tits bounced up to the table. She leaned her boobs on his shoulder and hugged his neck. “Come on, RW! Let’s dance!” He wondered what silicon smelled like.
He vaguely remembered her from movies he produced and directed more than five years ago. She could moan, but she couldn’t act.
Roland knew this game. She heard about the casting call tomorrow for Destiny, and she tried to secure a part by putting out. The fact she didn’t understand how this worked offered proof enough she couldn’t do the job.
He managed a smile. “No, thanks.”
She rubbed her boobs against his head. “Oh, come on! You’ll have fun!”
Not wanting to even be in the nightclub to start with, Roland’s temper didn’t do very well. “Which part of no did you not understand?”
She looked crestfallen. “Just wave if you change your mind.” She headed off towards the bar.
“You should be nice to her.” Jim smiled. “You never know when we’ll need a little comic relief in a film.”
“Yeah, right.” Roland sighed. He needed that like he needed a hole in his head.
Marion sipped at her drink. “Anyway, how long before we start shooting on Destiny? I have a couple more costumes to make, and I need to get everyone fitted.”
He thought for a moment. Destiny needed only five big parts cast. All the others he could get from the extra pool. “Maybe a week from Monday.”
She nodded. “Are you going to cast the extras, or do you just want me to pick people?”
“Just pick people who fit the costumes.”
“I’ll take care of that first thing in the morning.”
“That’s great.”
Jim hesitated before he spoke. “About how long do you think it will be before we start shooting on Bloodlust?”
Roland knew something was coming. Jim normally just filmed whatever he saw on the board for today. “Maybe two or three months.”
“We could really use that steady-cam.”
He should have known. Jim pestered him for the last year about a steady-cam. A funny looking gizmo that strapped on the cameraman, the rig eliminated the bouncing when the cameraman moved. “Why?”
“I haven’t done much more than glance at the books, but it seems there’s a lot of running—Elektra chasing dinner through the woods and such. I could do great things with scenes like that if I have a steady-cam.”
“I’ll bet.” He thought a moment. “How much is that beast?”
Jim paused. “Half a million for the 245 millimeter digital version and all the trimmings.”
“Whatever happened to cheap Kodak cameras?”
“You get what you pay for.”
“Sometimes.” He smiled. “Why do I feel like I’m paying for a toy for you, though?”
Jim laughed. “Trust me. You’ll like what I can do with that camera.”
He sighed. “Order it whenever you want. And get everything you need.”

The warm water ran down her face as she rinsed her hair. The water seemed to wash away at least a few of her worries, for at least a while. Until she lost her apartment and became homeless, Valerie never thought much about a shower. Now, she could only afford to shower once a week, maybe twice if things worked out right. She missed it.
So far, the cooler than average spring and summer in LA let her get by with a quick wash in a restroom someplace. At least she didn’t think she smelled.
After she dried, she cleaned up her eyebrows a little and put on some makeup. Her blue eyes still looked clear and sharp, but she could see the tiredness there, too. Spending three months on the streets had taken its toll on her.
As she worked on her hair, she thought she might have to go to the shop for a trim sometime soon. The blonde hair reached to her waist, and she saw a few split ends. She didn’t know how she could afford that.
Sammy jumped up on the sink next to her. She always managed to sneak him into the shower room with her. He rubbed his face against her hand.
She scratched his ears. He’d lost weight, just like her, since living in the car. Between no exercise and irregular meals, smaller than they should be, life on the street impacted him as well.
She considered, when this all started, taking him to the shelter and surrendering him for adoption. She even drove there. Sitting in the parking lot hugging Sammy to her, she couldn’t do it.
She lost everything over the last ten years—her family, her job, her apartment, and most of her belongings. She and Sammy shared life for five years, both the good and the bad times. The only things she had left were him and her self-respect. She wondered how long she could hang on to them.
She dressed, put Sammy in the bag with her dirty clothes, and headed for her car.

Roland hated casting calls. They reminded him of a meat market, only with racks of people instead of beef on display. The women who came fell into one of three groups.
Professional porno actresses came either for the money or to try making the jump to serious acting. Midnight Interludes offered them an intermediate step. Most couldn’t act, so they washed out pretty fast.
Serious mainstream actresses who didn’t know what kind of movies he made came looking for a job. Any job. Some walked out when they learned these are adult films with sex acts. A few of these women could act, but they usually didn’t hang around long enough for him to find out.
Actresses looking for work who understood what kind of films these were made up the last group. For their own reasons, they stayed. Most couldn’t act, but a few could. The vast majority of his cast tended to come from this group.
The men fell into two groups. There were the experienced actors looking for work. Then there were men who thought acting in a porno flick made getting laid easy. Pretty much a no-brainer to cast from these guys.
The problems for Roland started when the porno actresses, most past their prime for regular porn, tried to seduce him into giving them a part. Some of these chicks were psycho. Last year, a prime porn star from a decade past pulled a gun when she didn’t get a part. She played the staring role in a cellblock at someplace now.
The girls that bothered him the most were the ones desperate for work. They rarely offered sex, but they did something far worse. They cried. Even after almost thirty years in the business, it still got to him. Jennie Douglas, the CFO for Midnight Interludes, once compared him to another porno king of the past. A smut peddler with a heart.
But since the change to erotic romance films, Roland no longer thought of himself as a maker of pornographic films. He made romance movies that just happened to leave the bedroom doors open. Even though his films never appeared in theaters, he sent them in for rating by the MPAA. They always gave his films a NC-17 rating because they contained real, live sex acts, but he must be doing something right.
Selling the movies on disk in adult bookstores and on the Internet, Midnight Interludes earned gross revenues of more than $475 million last year. Things are on target for close to $550 million this year. Ed Riker in marketing planned to work on getting Bloodlust in theaters.
He looked at the lists of performers Shelia gave him showing who signed up for the casting call. He saw a few familiar names, but most he didn’t recognize. He leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on his desk as he rehearsed his standard speech for the coming meat market.

Ronnie spread her hands as she looked across the desk at her. “Val, I’m sorry, but there isn’t much work out there right now.”
“I need something.” She sighed. “I don’t know how much longer I can hang on.”
“I know.” Ronnie paused for a moment. “Your car company called yesterday asking me if I know where you are.” She smiled. “I gave them your old address.”
“Thanks.” Valerie stared at her hands for a moment. “You said you have a couple of casting calls today.”
“Yeah.” She rummaged on her desk for a moment. “This one is at Universal. It’s extra work, but you know how they are about using the A list. Maybe you can get on the list.”
“Right.” She took the folder.
“This other, I’m not sure you’ll even be interested in. I almost trashed it.”
“I’m interested in anything that will get me some money by being in front of a camera or audience.”
“I know. Remember, if you don’t make money, I don’t make money.” Ronnie moved her papers around again. “It’s for adult films, though.”
“Porno flicks? I don’t think so.”
“Just wait a minute. This studio is billing their stuff as porn for women, and they’re doing very well on the income. I checked them out. Yeah, they film sex on camera, but the stories are real with real parts.” She shrugged. “They want real actors.”
“I don’t know, Ronnie.”
“It couldn’t hurt to go talk to them.”
She considered a moment. Being paid to have sex on camera seemed both better and worse than fucking the director to get a gig. “What do they pay?”
“They pay pretty good, actually. It varies based on the part and film, but they pay a lump sum up front when filming starts and the main characters get a percentage of the sales.”
“You didn’t answer me.”
“I guess I didn’t. From what I could dig up, most of the majors make about $300 thousand over eighteen months for a film.”
After Ronnie’s cut and taxes, that would leave her about $150 thousand for the next year and a half. “How many films do they make a year?”
“Normally between four and six.”
It was always easier to get work with a studio after working for them once. If she landed two parts a year, the money would be excellent. But it’s porn. “I still don’t know.”
“You could go back to Kansas and work on the farm.”
The only relative she had was a prick of a cousin. When she was fourteen, he was eighteen and tried to rape her. She stuck a pitchfork in his leg. He ran a big corn farm back in Kansas now, and he would probably take her in for a roll in the hay, sans pitchfork. “No, thanks.” No matter what she did, someone was going to fuck her. Literally.
“I won’t insist, but I think you should go talk to them. Everything I can find out tells me they’re straight up and good to work with.”
“Who are they?”
“The studio is called Midnight Interludes. A guy named Roland Westwood owns the place. He produces and directs most of the films himself.” She read one of her papers. “They used to be a regular porn shop, but a few years back, they shifted to erotic romance. They’ve been buying up the film rights to a lot of books, and rumor has it they’re close to finishing a big deal for a top selling book.”
“What about drugs and stuff?” Valerie heard the stories about the porn industry.
“I think they run a clean house over there. Nothing I could find.”
“Any regular gigs on the horizon?”
Ronnie sighed. “Not really. It’s the same old story. You’re over-qualified for the extra lists and under-qualified for the big parts.”
“Story of my life.” She thought for a few moments. At least talking to the studio wouldn’t hurt. She didn’t commit to anything just by going to the casting call. “Alright, I’ll go see them.”
“Great. Call me when you can.”
Valerie stood to go. “I will, and thanks.”
“No problem.” She reached in the pocket of her jacket. “I know it’s rough. Here.” She pressed something into Valerie’s palm as she shook her hand.
Valerie looked down and saw Ronnie passed her a $100 bill. “I can’t take this.”
“Sure you can. Now, get out of here, and break a leg.”

The call at Universal went bust. It took thirty minutes to find out they didn’t want her.
Valerie stopped by a supermarket and got Sammy a few cans of good cat food. She couldn’t resist the Snickers bar at the checkout.
Next door, she went into the discount hair salon and got the $10 special hair trim. It looked a lot better. And $80 cash still filled her pocket.
The call sheet from Midnight Interludes said there would be a lunch buffet. She skipped hitting the dollar menu at the fast food joint, and watched Sammy enjoy the first good food he ate in more than three months.
He sat next to her on the passenger seat and washed his face and paws. She scratched his ears.
“I hate even considering this, but I have to do something, Sammy.”
He paused in his bath and looked at her, his emerald eyes full of understanding.
“I guess I have to fuck my way into some kind of work. I might as well get paid for it.”
He rubbed his head against her hand.
She could imagine what this Westwood guy would be like. He owned the studio. He produced and directed most of their films. Her mind conjured up an image of sleazy man in a polo shirt and flowered shorts like tourists in Hawaii wear. He probably considered himself a three hundred pound Casanova.
Sammy stood and rubbed his back under her hand, the slight indentation where his tail should be passing under her palm. His coat, formerly soft and silky, became a little coarse over the last few months.
“I’m sorry, buddy. I haven’t been the best mom to you lately.”
He interrupted his purring to stare at her for a moment. He meowed loudly, and then crawled into her lap. He put his paws on her shoulder and rubbed his face against hers.
“I love you too.”

Chapter 2
“Cattle Call”

She thought the room held enough silicone to seal a few million aquariums. Valerie looked around at the big-breasted women and wondered what the hell she was doing here.
Her assessment of the women wasn’t fair, and she knew it. Of the thirty or so women in the small theater, maybe a little more than half looked like the stereotypical porn star. Big tits, obviously fake. Way too much makeup. Skimpy outfits, and, in general, trying to look ten or more years younger than they were.
The rest of the women looked like normal actresses.
The call sheet said things would start at 1:00, but the clock on the wall read 1:15 now. She took the time to make an extra trip through the buffet and gathered a few goodies that wouldn’t spoil in her purse.
A woman came to the dais. Unlike many of the silicone bombshells surrounding her, this woman had a professional air about her reinforced by her expensive-looking suit. “Hello, ladies. I’m Shelia Perkins, Mr. Westwood’s administrative assistant. He asked me to come out and let you know he’ll be here very soon. A call came in he needed to take.” She left the stage.
Valerie wondered about that…a porno filmmaker with an administrative assist instead of a secretary? Somehow, the political correctness of the woman’s job title didn’t fit well with her image of a skin flick director.
About five minutes later, a man walked out to the podium. Her breath came short when she saw him. She wondered who he could be. Maybe one of the male leads.
He stood at least a head taller than her, and kept his hair cut short. A few years ago, his hair must have been jet black, but now a few white speckles and a slight streak over each temple ran through it. Some men look good with that salt and pepper effect. He was one of them. He looked trim and fit. She noticed the small gold bead earring in his left ear. He wore a casual dress shirt, open at the collar, and nicely pressed casual slacks. He also wore white tennis shoes. He looked about forty-five or so.
Overall, she found him attractive. Very attractive.
He reached the dais and smiled. “Good afternoon. Sorry I’m late.” He leaned casually on the podium. “I’m Roland Westwood.”
Valerie blinked as she did a mental double take. He didn’t look anything like she imagined. Instead of the fat, sweaty pig of a porn seller, he looked like a cross between a rich businessman and a relaxed family man.
“Most of you know I own Midnight Interludes. You may not know I direct and produce more than ninety percent of the films we make. I like a very much hands-on approach to running my business.” He smiled a little. “Now, to start things off, I have a few things to say about what we do here.”
He flipped open a folder resting on the podium. “First, the films we make are adult films. They all end up with a NC-17 rating because there are sex acts in the movies. If you don’t like it or can’t do it, you’re in the wrong place.” He looked around the room. “You should leave now.”
A couple of girls gathered their things and left.
He smiled. “That always gets a few to leave. Next, while we make adult films, they are not the average bill of fare offered by other adult studios. What we make are erotic romances. These are serious stories with complex plots. There are real lines to learn and deliver.” He surveyed the crowd again. “I’m looking for people who can act. Moaning, screaming, and having sex isn’t what these films are about.” He sighed. “If you can’t act, you can save us both a lot of time by leaving now.”
None of the girls left. He smiled again. “No one ever leaves now.” When he laughed, Valerie saw his eyes twinkle as his entire face lifted in the smile. Her heart beat a little faster. “Now, a last thing that may chase some of you away.” His smile faded, replaced by a small frown. “If you think you can get a part by sleeping with me or someone else here, you’re wrong. I don’t play that game, and I’m the one making all the decisions. If you plan to seduce me to get a gig, you’re in the wrong place.”
Again, none of the girls left.
“All right, then. I see a few familiar faces out there, but I also see a lot of new people. Let me tell you what we’ll be doing the rest of the day. You’ll go with my director of cinematography, Jim Alba.” He pointed to a man who looked a little like a father from a TV sitcom standing near the door. “Jim will shoot you doing a reading from three different parts we’re casting today. You’ll come back here, and I’ll talk to each of you individually. The interview will take maybe five minutes.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “At the end of the interview, I’ll tell you to either go home, or hang around for a while. If you hang around, I’ll talk to you again for a little longer. Some of you will be sent home, and a few will come back in the morning.” He chuckled. “By this time tomorrow, all three parts will be cast. We start shooting a week from next Monday.” He looked around the room again. “Any questions?”
Valerie hesitated a moment before she raised her hand. When he pointed at her, her heart leapt in her chest. “Yes? What’s your name?” His eyes locked to hers for a few moments.
She stood. “Valerie Setera. What will this reading consist of?”
He stared at her for several moments, and then seemed to force himself to look down. He laughed, and again, it lit up his face. “Just that, Valerie. Just reading a few lines so I can get a feel for your presence on camera.”
“Thank you.” She sat down. So far, this part didn’t seem too bad. Neither Westwood nor the cinematographer looked or acted like perverts.
And Westwood was hot.

Westwood’s assistant herded them all to a studio. As Valerie waited her turn, she looked around a bit. The equipment looked new, some very new. The studio was clean and well laid out. It looked like every studio she ever saw.
Valerie wondered about the other women. As she watched, they read, or tried to read, the few lines the cinematographer gave them. The lines clearly came from three different characters, because the style of speech differed. She would recite two lines for each character, each separated by one line from another character. The boom operator, introduced as Todd, read the response lines.
A tall woman walked up beside her and whispered. “Hi. I heard you’re Valerie. I’m Betty.”
Valerie kept her voice low so the sound system wouldn’t pick up her words. “Hi.”
“Is this your first time here?”
“Yes.” She paused a moment. “My first time to anyplace like this, in fact.”
Betty smiled. “There is no other place like this.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like the man said, they don’t make porn here. They make romance movies that show the sex.”
“Maybe I don’t understand the difference.”
“That could be. Ever watch any porn?”
Valerie nodded. “I had a boyfriend for a while that was into that.”
“What did you think about it?”
“It was boring.” She smiled. “Nothing but sex with no story or anything.”
“Right. There’s no emotion in porn. The movies RW makes have all the emotion of any mainstream film.” She shrugged. “They also happen to have explicit sex.”
“Roland Westwood.”
“Ah!” Valerie considered Betty for a moment. Tall with long black hair, she looked about twenty-five or so. Her pretty face looked vaguely Asian. “I take it you’ve been here before.”
She nodded. “I’ve done two movies in the last three years.” She hesitated a moment. “I used to do regular porn, but it gets boring on this side of the camera, too.”
“I can see that happening.”
“There is a downside to this way, too.”
Other than the obvious part of having sex on camera with an effective stranger, what else could there be? “What’s that?”
“It’s easy to fall in love here. You’re doing a romantic part. The settings are all well done and romantic. Then you have sex.”
“Oh.” She wondered about that, too. About the last thing she needed was to fall in love with a porn star.
Betty smiled. “Just be careful, if you even get that far.” She watched the girl on the stage try to remember her lines for a moment. “What’s your background?”
“I’ve done some bit parts, a stage play, and a few commercials. All mainstream.”
She chuckled. “RW will love your stage background.”
In her experience, directors either loved or hated a stage background. On stage, the actors needed to think on their feet and, often, improvise. Some directors saw it as an ability to get through a rough place without a million takes. Others saw it as an opportunity for the actor to change the script at will. “We’ll see.”
Alba called for Betty. “Good luck, Valerie.”
“Thanks. You too.”
When the cinematographer called her, Valerie and one other woman remained in the studio. She glanced at the lines a final time, and took a seat on the stool on the stage.
Jim checked his camera. “OK, Valerie, just relax there for a moment. You’ll read the lines, and Todd will answer you. When I cue you, say your name and age. After that, whenever you’re ready, take right off reading.”
She nodded as she flipped her hair over her shoulder. He pointed at her. “I’m Valerie Setera and I’m twenty-six.” She paused for a moment to give a separation to the video.
It took her about forty seconds to recite the lines. When she finished, Jim looked up from the camera and smiled. “Very nice. We’re all done here, so you can go back to the auditorium.”
She sat down next to Betty. Counting them, twelve women waited in the small auditorium. The ranks thinned as the interviews progressed. Valerie looked around at the others. “What now?”
“Now we wait. RW always picks three people for each part based on the camera test, portfolio, and the short interview. When he does the long interview, he eliminates one of them. Tomorrow, he’ll pick the people who get the parts from the rest.” Betty smiled. “I’m going for the second interview.”
“Great!” She puzzled for a moment. Most studios she worked with in the past took days, if not weeks, to cast. “That’s fast.”
“Not for RW. He relies on his instincts a lot. Some people say his instincts are very good, and that’s why he’s rich.”
“I should have instincts that good.”
“Me too.”
They chatted for a time. When she checked the clock, Valerie saw it was almost 4:30, and she needed to check Sammy. When Miss Perkins came out to call one of the other girls back, Valerie told her she needed to go to her car and would be right back.
While she walked to her car, she wondered if this was all a mistake. All the people she met seemed nice enough. The place looked professional and well cared for. But she still considered it acting in a dirty movie.
Westwood’s image floated around in her mind. She didn’t know why, but she found him attractive. The idea was crazy, and she knew it. Other than yelling a question and answer across the room, she never even spoke to him.
As she approached the car, Sammy rested in his favorite spot on the rear deck. He looked up and meowed at her. She checked his water and food, and then held him for a few minutes.
“What do you think, Sammy?”
He seemed to smile at her as he purred and rubbed his face against hers. She thought it might be his way of saying he didn’t care, so long as they were together.
She chuckled a little as she put him back in the car. She went back to the auditorium.

Perkins came to the auditorium and looked at a clipboard for a moment. “Valerie Setera.”
Betty patted her hand. “Knock him dead.”
“Thanks.” She followed Perkins to an office door. The sign read, ‘Roland Westwood, CEO’.
“Go right in.” Perkins left her standing in the hallway.
She tapped on the door, and went inside.
Westwood looked up from his computer screen. “Ms. Setera. Please, have a seat.” He stood and shook her hand before she sat down. When his hand touched hers, an electric tingle ran through her arm. She wanted to snatch her arm away, but it flustered her to the point she couldn’t move.
He stared at her for several seconds, his expression oddly flat. “Would you like something to drink?”
“No, thank you.”
“All right, then.” He looked down for an instant before he smiled. “I always ask the new people this question. Why are you here?”
She decided candor, at least to a point, would be best with this man. “I guess the real answer is I need the work.”
He nodded as he smiled. “What would you like to get from here?”
His remarkable smile held her transfixed. She forced her look away from his mouth after a moment or two. “Like I said, I need a job.”
He laughed. Up close, his laugh was even more fascinating and contagious. She caught herself laughing with him. “Well, that’s good.” He lifted the folder containing her portfolio. “You have a fair amount of experience acting. Why are you having such a problem finding work?”
“They tell me I’m in a gray zone. Too much experience to work as an extra and too little to work as a lead.”
“That happens in acting.”
“I wish it didn’t.”
He nodded. “I liked your screen tests, too.”
“You’re very comfortable in front of the camera.” He smiled at her for a few moments. “Being pretty doesn’t hurt, either.”
Her face warmed as the blood filled her cheeks. “Thank you.”
He stared at her for several seconds. “I want to make sure you understand Midnight Interludes makes adult movies.” He shrugged. “You’ll find we sometimes use coarse language here, and we make fuck films. The stars, and some of the extras, have real sex on camera, and we sell that.”
“I understand, Mr. Westwood.”
“Call me RW or Roland.” He grinned. “Everyone else does.”
“OK.” She took a deep breath. “I’ve thought about that fact since my agent gave me the call sheet this morning. I decided about ten times I wouldn’t even come here. The simple fact of the matter is I need the work.”
“And coming here to get paid for having sex is easier on your ego than sleeping with some director to get a mainstream part.”
“Yes, you’ve got it.”
He leaned back in his chair, looking as relaxed as Sammy often did when stretched out on the back deck of the car. “I don’t want you doing this out of desperation.” He jabbed his thumb at her portfolio. “You’re good, Valerie. Better than many who walk through the door here.”
“Thanks again. Maybe I am here because I’m desperate.”
He stared at her for a long time. “Would you be able to hang around so we can talk more later?”
She blinked. She knew all his talk led up to the old “don’t-call-us” bit. “You want me to stay? I have a chance for a part?”
“Yeah, I do and you do.”
“Of course I can stay!”
He laughed a little, but it sounded nervous. “Good. Go have a seat. When I finish with the last few girls, Shelia will have dinner sent in for everyone.”
“Thank you.” She paused for a moment. “Roland.”
She went back to the auditorium. Her feet barely touched the floor.

He stared at the door after she left. He wondered for a moment if he lost his mind. Roland just tried to talk Setera out of taking a part.
His instincts screamed at him. She was Elektra. Other than the long blonde hair, anyway. Between reading the eighteen Bloodlust books, each three times, and talks with the author, his mind held the perfect image of what Elektra should look like. Setera fit the bill to a tee. He also knew Elektra’s personality. Again, Setera made a good match.
But there was something about the pretty young woman. He believed she didn’t want to be here, auditioning for a fuck film. He glanced at her résumé. At twenty-six, he doubted she could be a virgin, but she had a glint of innocence around her.
Roland shook his head to clear it.
He had three major problems to deal with right now…
He had one film to cast immediately. With shooting scheduled to start on Destiny in eleven days, he had no time to waste.
He must find someone to play Elektra in this film. While the benefits of having the same actress play Elektra in Destiny and the actual Bloodlust films were obvious, it wasn’t required. Elektra’s part in Destiny was small, not much more than an extra.
And he had a new problem, one he never faced before in his twenty-eight years in the business. He found Valerie Setera immensely attractive.

She ate like a starved wolf, but she couldn’t help herself. The sandwiches and salad at lunch tasted good and filled her, but they brought prime rib, baked potato, squash, and Caesar salad for dinner. She saved some of the meat for Sammy, wrapping it in a napkin and tucking it in her purse. She hoped it would keep until she could get it to him.
Roland joined the nine women who made the finals for dinner. They moved to a smaller room, and he sat at the head of the conference table. Valerie couldn’t shake the feeling of being at a family dinner. She thought the last real family dinner she attended was about two weeks before her folks died. Maybe. She’d been so busy then with her teenage life and happenings and friends that she often skipped the family dinners except on special holidays, and then only when her parents pushed her to stay home. She regretted that now, all that lost time with people she loved. She wondered if Roland planned that atmosphere.
A few of the girls tried to get him to talk business, but he refused.
“I can’t say I never mix business with pleasure, but I try to avoid that.”
After dinner, he stood from the table. “All right, ladies. We’ll get through this as quickly as we can.” He sighed. “Three of you will be done tonight, but six of you will come back in the morning to wrap this up. Shelia will let you know when to come back to my office.” He left the room.
When Shelia called the first woman to Roland’s office, Valerie took a moment to look over the casting sheet he gave them before dinner. The studio cast for three female parts in the current movie, something called Destiny.
The lead was a woman named Cassandra. The character worked as a reporter for a big newspaper, and she handled a story about vampires. The summary said a series of murders in the city looked like the work of a serial killer. Cassandra pumped a local police detective for the story, and ended up just plain pumping him.
The supporting actress would play a girl named Melinda, Cassandra’s best friend. Melinda sounded like a mix of comic relief and sex kitten. She slept with every guy she could find.
The last character was a vampire named Elektra. The part seemed small, little more than an extra, really. Elektra gave Cassandra the story about the vampires.
When she looked over the pay scale sheet, she saw the lead made the most money, followed by the supporting actress. The part of Elektra paid only a little more than the extras. It came to a substantial difference, too. Cassandra would get a $25,000 lump sum when filming started. Elektra would get only $5,000. Cassandra also got a bigger percentage of the sales. If she did this at all, she wanted the big money.
After about two hours, only she and Betty remained in the conference room. Betty smiled at her. “Are you as nervous as I am?”
“I think I’m more nervous.”
“I don’t know. I’m pretty nervous.”
Valerie laughed. “I guess the wait won’t be too long now.”
As if on cue, Shelia came into the room. “OK, Valerie. Your turn.”
Valerie took a deep breath and followed her to Roland’s office.

His mouth seemed almost too dry to speak, and he feared he might squeak when he tried. “Was dinner to your liking?” That went well.
She smiled at him across the desk. Her blue eyes sparkled and shimmered like gas flames. She laughed softly and flipped her hair over her shoulder. He stared at her, transfixed by the movement. “It was wonderful. The best I’ve had in a long time. Thank you.”
He waved his hand and immediately wished he could have the dismissive motion back. She looked a little amused by his actions, but he wondered if she really just tried to look neutral and respectful. “You’re welcome.” He decided to ask. “By the way, I noticed you sneaking some of the meat into your purse. Have a dog at home?”
She blushed a little, and it looked very sweet. “A cat, actually.”
“I like cats, but I’ve never owned one. I don’t spend a lot of time at home, and that’s not fair to them.” He wondered what in the hell made him say that. He didn’t like cats.
“I spend a lot of time with Sammy.” She smiled a little. “He’s easier to deal with than a boyfriend.”
He laughed and found it made him feel somehow good while he stared at her. “I guess we should get down to business before I have you away from home all night.”
She shrugged. “That’s not a problem.”
He saw something in her eyes he couldn’t place. It might have been sadness. “Did you have a chance to look at the casting sheets?”
“Yes, I have.”
“If we reversed the roles here, what part would you cast you for?”
The pretty girl hesitated for a moment. Her lips pouted just a little, and he wanted to touch them. He thought he might need to sit on his hands. “I can be Cassandra. She seems pretty tough and tenacious, and that’s me.”
He nodded. She could play the part of Cassandra. He didn’t doubt that for an instant. “How do you feel about Melinda?”
She shrugged. “She seems a little trashy to me. I could play the part, but that’s not me.”
“How about Elektra?”
“Frankly, that seems like a small part.” She smiled. “I think I’d like something bigger.”
“It is a pretty small part for this film.” He smiled. “You feel like you’ve done enough small parts.”
“I guess maybe I do.”
He nodded. “Earlier, you told me you’re not too crazy about being here and you may feel desperate for a job. Have you thought about that?”
She nodded. “Yes, I have. I can do this.”
He watched her for a moment. The expression on her face still looked desperate. That odd sad look kept flitting across her face, too. She hid something, and he wanted to know what. “Valerie, why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
“What do you mean?” Her eyes darted around the room now. She maintained good eye contact until now.
“Something is going on, and I have no clue what.” He shrugged. “Like I said before, I don’t want anyone doing this because they feel like they have no choice.”
She seemed to struggle a little, but she pulled her eyes back to his. “Just a few personal problems I’m working through right now.”
One call to the private investigator would answer all his questions. If he offered her a part, the background check would happen as a matter of course. The last thing he needed was a minor with fake ID working in a fuck film. But he could have her checked out right now. He’d done that before when he suspected a minor tried to scam him. Somehow, the idea of doing it to Valerie just to find out her secrets repulsed him. “You don’t have to tell me.”
She sighed. “Do I at least have a chance at a part?”
He stared at her for a moment. He could read the desperation on her face like a tattoo on her forehead. “Yeah, you do. I’d like you to be back here tomorrow at 9:00.”
A smile spread over her face. It lit up the room like someone just threw open the curtains on a bright spring day. Her whole face smiled. No, it was more than that. Her entire body smiled. Her shoulders squared as she sat up straighter. The remarkable blue eyes twinkled and flashed. Her moist, red lips curled upward and parted to show bright white teeth, straight and perfect. The cute little nose crinkled slightly as she smiled at him. “I’ll be here.”

Shelia showed her out by another door, so she didn’t see Betty. A security guard walked her to her car. She didn’t realize how long she sat here and did the interviews, but full darkness covered the city.
She sat down in the car and Sammy looked up at her. He meowed and patted her leg with his paw. She lifted him in her arms. “Things may be looking up for us, buddy.”
He rubbed her face. She put him back in the passenger seat. “I have a surprise for you.” She pulled the saved meat from her purse, and it smelled OK. He ate it quickly, and then washed his face and paws.
Valerie started the car and drove to the studio gate. All studios have security, at least the real ones. She never saw anything quite like what Midnight Interludes had, though. A twelve foot chain link fence complete with barbed wire ran around the place. The guards all carried guns. As many security cameras as studio cameras studded the grounds.
The guard came to the window as she waited for the gate to open. “Will you be back in the morning, Ms. Setera?”
“Yes. At 9:00.”
He wrote on his clipboard. “Will you have this same car?”
“Yes, I will.”
He made another note. “Congratulations. We’ll see you then. Goodnight.”
He opened the gate and waved as she drove off into the night.
The map led her to a residential area not far from the studio. She put the cover on the car and changed out of her dress. Valerie set the travel alarm early enough she could get out of there before anyone noticed the car in the morning.
She sat listening to the radio for a while before going to sleep. Sammy curled up in her lap and slept soundly. His belly felt full as she stroked his fur, and he purred like distant thunder rumbling.
She puzzled about the day she spent at the studio. None of the people she met today seemed like perverts. Everyone, even the performers, acted like professionals. The studio itself looked better than many mainstream studios she’d seen.
Maybe this would be OK. She could do one movie to get some money, and then focus on a real career in the mainstream. If things got bad again, she could always fall back on this.
The idea of having sex on camera still bothered her, but, like Ronnie said, she didn’t have a lot of options left right now. If not for herself, then for Sammy, she needed an income.
Sammy ate well today, but it was the first time in several months. If he got sick, she could never afford to take him to the vet. She needed to do something.
While being a porn star didn’t fit her idea of a good career, it was available and paid well. And it looked like she might have a real chance to make this happen.
Roland seemed to like her. Betty said he was rich. Ronnie commented the studio made good gross money, but she didn’t say anything about the net. Since he owned the studio, his income equaled the studio profits.
He didn’t act rich. Then again, most of the men in LA who acted rich lied about it. They had the idea women flock to rich guys like parakeets. She sighed because these men often had the idea right. So far, in six years in LA, she never dated a rich guy. She didn’t think she wanted to.
The more she looked at Westwood, the better looking he got, too. Not that her first glimpse of him was bad. His personality, she knew, made him even more attractive than his body.
Roland’s air of relaxed confidence intrigued her. She wondered how many beautiful women he saw every month. Or every day for that matter. She kept in mind he saw these women naked and having sex, too. She imagined he slept with a good number of them himself.

It had been a long day, and Roland was glad he took the Mercedes to the office today and let George drive. He relaxed in the back seat as George negotiated the traffic.
He sometimes wondered why he lived so far out of the city. If traffic went perfectly, a rare thing in LA, it took just over an hour to get home. Normally, it took closer to two hours.
He rolled down the window and looked out at the sky. Twenty minutes out from the studio, the city lights obscured much of the sky, but he saw a few of the brighter stars peeking through. He sighed to himself. That’s why he lived so far away. So he could see the stars.
Even at $6.50 a gallon for gas, and the sometimes horrendous commute, the stars made it all worth it.
He rolled the window up again and leaned back.
When he closed his eyes, the image of Setera’s face jumped to his mind. He sat bolt upright, nearly breaking his neck on the seatbelt. Where did that come from?
Over the years, he lost count of the number of beautiful women he’d met. He couldn’t even count the number of those same beautiful women he slept with.
Valerie Setera was just another beautiful woman. Yeah, she could act, but she was a commodity in this business. She would be just as much of a commodity in any genre of show business. Pick any big name star, director, producer, or anyone else. They’re all just commodities. Just like gold, coffee, and pig bellies, some commodities have a higher demand than others.
Her face refused to fade from his mind. Something about her, and the secret she kept to herself, made her fascinating.
She was beautiful, absolutely. Her long blonde hair looked soft and touchable. Her petite frame with its delicious curves looked like it would feel wonderful to hold. Her face looked like none he ever saw before, with high cheekbones and pouting lips, full and moist. He couldn’t even think of words to describe her eyes.
Despite spending the last five years reading romance novels and directing movies based on the novels, he couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound sappy to describe the shimmering blue depths.
He shook himself a little. What the hell was he doing to himself? He gave up sleeping with actresses more than a decade ago. He stopped falling for them before that.
He certainly didn’t need an infatuation with an actress twenty years younger than him.

Chapter 3

Betty and four other women joined her in the conference room. A small breakfast buffet sat in the corner. Valerie found a sort of sadistic amusement in the thought that she ate better the last two days than in the past three months. So did Sammy. Her getting free meals meant she could buy him real cat food.
Betty smiled at her. “You made it!” Valerie didn’t think the smile looked all that happy, and it might indicate that Betty didn’t want the extra competition.
“Yes, I did!” They held hands jumping and squealing like schoolgirls. “What happens today?”
“Three of us will go home empty-handed. The other three take a contract home.”
“In the meantime, they try to kill us with the suspense.”
Roland came into the room. “Good morning, everyone.” He smiled broadly. “I love punctuality.”
Valerie laughed. “That’s my pet peeve, too.”
He turned to face her. “Glad to see you came back.” He frowned a little. “I doubt you want to use jelly from a doughnut as makeup.” He used his napkin to wipe gently at the corner of her mouth.
A tingle hit her when he touched her face. It started where his finger brushed her lips. From there, it bounced around inside her head a few times. It then shot down her neck to her spine, splitting to run down her arms. The rest flashed down her legs. She marveled her shoes didn’t fly from her feet when it blazed out of her toes.
She must have shivered, because his frown deepened. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
She tried her voice. It didn’t sound too shaky. “No, you didn’t. I just had a chill.”
“Are you feeling OK? There’s some kind of bug going around.”
“Just fine, thanks.”
He smiled again. “Good.” He went to his place at the head of the table. “Sadly, three of you will go home a little later. I wish I had six parts to cast, because you’re all great. I have to make a choice, though. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, and it doesn’t mean you’re lacking in any way.”
One of the other girls spoke up. “What about the other three of us?”
“You’ll have a part. Rehearsals start Tuesday.”
She forgot about the holiday weekend. Memorial Day fell on Monday. Valerie chewed her bacon and wondered how she could survive for another week until she got a check. Always a firm believer in positive thinking, she tried to convince herself she had the other actresses beat hands down. Her heart wasn’t as certain, and doubts kept floating up through her mind like bubbles in a swamp. And that summed it up. Valerie was in a swamp and she didn’t know her way around. These other girls did. She could easily fall into a deep hole and drown while they walk around her, laughing.
Betty smiled. “How long are you going to keep us in the dark?”
He laughed. “Not too long. Besides, Marion will kill me if I don’t let her get going on the costumes.”
“Who’s Marion?” Valerie sipped her orange juice. She missed the taste of a big glass every morning.
“Marion Dietz. She’s the wardrobe and makeup director.” Roland smiled. “She’s also our resident grandma.”
Betty giggled. “She takes care of us all.”
He laughed. “Someone sure needs to.” Roland checked the appointment book he placed on the table next to his plate. “I guess we should get started. Give me about five minutes, then come on back, Valerie.” He left the room quickly, snagging a doughnut on the way.
Her heart dropped into her feet. She almost whispered when she turned to Betty. “Is him wanting to see me first a good or bad sign?”
“It could be either.”
She took a deep breath. “That’s great.”
“Relax. You wouldn’t be here now if he didn’t see something he likes.”
“I’ll keep telling myself that.”
Valerie fidgeted in her chair for five minutes before she went to his office. She tapped on the door and went inside.
He smiled at her, and stood to shake her hand. Even through her nervousness, a wave of shivers flowed across her at his touch. “Please, have a seat.”
She returned his smile, but she almost needed to force it through her jitters. “Why don’t you just tell me what you’ve decided?”
He leaned back in his chair. “All right. I want you in this film.”
She wanted to whoop with joy! She had a job! She fought the urge to run around the desk and kiss him. She didn’t think she could stop there. “Oh my God! Really?”
“Yeah, really. I do have a problem, though.”
A frown came to her face as concern hit her. “What?”
He shrugged. “You can play any of these parts. Actually, you can more or less pick the one you want. I know which one I want you to take, though.”
She wondered about that comment. What would the cost of her picking her part be? “What do you mean?”
“You said you’re not interested in playing Melinda. Personally, I know you can play that role, but it’s the least suited to you.” He stared at her for a moment. She saw something in his eyes, something like concern. That worried her for some reason she didn’t understand. “If you want Cassandra, it’s yours. I’d rather see you play Elektra, though.”
Valerie knew she didn’t have the experience of many actresses in LA. The fact he just offered her any part she wanted threw her. No one, other than the big stars, got offers like this. In the same breath, he told her he didn’t want her to take the big part. Instead, he wanted to see her in the role of a glorified extra. The offer confused her a little. “Roland, I don’t understand this.”
“I know, and there’s a lot more about this than you know.”
“Why don’t you tell me, then?”
He nodded. “That’s fair, but there’s a little I can’t talk about too much yet. In a nutshell, Cassandra is a one-time part. After this one movie, she’s done. Elektra will be around for a while.”
A knock came at the door, and Shelia’s face looked worried as she peeked around the door. “RW, I need to talk to you. We have a problem.”
“OK.” He stood up and looked at Valerie. “I’ll be right back.”
Shelia stepped inside and closed the door. “Here is fine. It’s about Valerie.”
He sat back down. “What’s going on?”
“Ted just called from security. There are men here to repossess Valerie’s car.”
His stare burned through her. Valerie shifted in the chair. “I need to go get my cat.” What she really wanted to do was run away. Something in her mind clicked through the rising tide of panic and fear. She thought about just running to keep the car. She considered running now all the way back to Kansas.
Roland picked up the phone from the cradle and reached for the dial. His eyes never left hers. He stopped and frowned. “You and I need to talk in a few minutes.” He punched four numbers on the dial. “Ted, this is RW. Tell those repo men to take a hike. If they want, they can come back with the cops, but without a search warrant, they don’t come on the property.”
He listened to the phone for a moment. “I don’t care about that. As soon as they’re gone, I want that car in a soundstage, out of sight. As far as anyone knows, Ms. Setera left. Is that clear?” He paused a moment. “Good. Thanks.” He hung up.
Shelia shifted her feet a little. “What now?”
“Valerie, give Shelia your keys so she can take them to security.”
She didn’t know what else to do or where to turn. Things fell apart, just when they started to look up. Valerie dug in her purse and handed the keys to Shelia. “Remind them my cat is in there.” Somehow, it felt good to have someone telling her what to do, and Roland seemed very good at that.
“I will.” Shelia left the office, closing the door.
Roland stared at her for a long time. This is, she thought, how a bug under a microscope feels. She took a deep breath. “I’ll get out of your hair now.”
He turned and stared at her again. “Don’t you think you owe me some kind of explanation?”
Despite her discomfort at these people knowing her private financial problems, it somehow felt good to get it out in the open. She needed to tell someone, and Roland was here. “I live in my car, and I’m four months behind on the payments.” She felt the heat in her face as she spoke. She always hated to cry, and fought the tears into submission when they tried to well up in her eyes.
He nodded. “Shit happens. That’s why you’re so desperate for work, then.”
“Yes, it is.”
“How much does the car company want to call off the dogs?”
She shrugged. Her embarrassment rose up to replace the panic she managed to control moments ago. “About $8,000.”
“Who is the loan with?”
“All right.” He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his desk. Putting his face in his hands, he rubbed his eyes. “We have a problem.”
A barking laugh jumped from her lips. “No, I have a problem.”
He sat up and stared at her again. “You don’t understand all the facts yet. I have the perfect actress to play Elektra, not an easy part to cast, sitting in my office right now. I’m about to lose her because she has some financial problems.”
She nodded. Without a car, all bets are off. She would have no place to live, no way to get around, and no way to keep Sammy. “Yes.” The tears welled up in the corners of her eyes, but she blinked to keep them at bay.
He pushed a stack of papers to the side of his desk. “Will you let me help you?”
“You’ve already offered me a job.”
“The offer still stands.” He took a deep breath. “Let me get the car out of hock for you.”
“I can’t let you do that.”
He shrugged. “Why not?”
“First, I have no idea when or if I’ll be able to pay you back. Second, we don’t know each other.”
“I’ll grant you the second point. I know exactly when you’ll pay me back. Remember, you’re my employee now. I’ll take it out of your pay.”
His smile somehow made her problems seem smaller. She laughed despite the black depression settling on her. “I guess that’s true. But Elektra only gets $5,000 at filming. I’ll still be in the hole to you.”
He nodded. “If you tell anyone I said this, I’ll deny it. Elektra has at least eighteen more movies coming over the next few years, all as the lead.”
She tried to do the math in her head. The numbers were too big, and she was never good with math. “That’s a lot of money.”
“Yeah. Almost half a million on the lump sum alone.” He shrugged. “Maybe fifteen times that with the residuals.”
“And you want me to play Elektra?”
“Valerie, you are Elektra. You look like her, other than your hair. You act like her, too.”
“How’s that?”
“Most women I know would be crying right now. An emotional train wreck. You’re upset, but you’re in control.”
“You should see the inside.”
“Exactly. You’re able to function.” He paused, and his stare again burned into her. “I have two questions I need answers for right now.”
“All right.”
“First, will you be Elektra?”
She thought, but only for a moment. Perhaps the events of the morning pushed her hand, but this gave her a chance to make everything right. “Yes.”
He smiled. “Thank you. Second, will you let me help you?”
“I wish I could think of another option.”
“I do too, but I don’t know what it is.” He sighed. “Valerie, maybe I need to say something to put you at ease about this idea. I do expect you to pay me back when you can. This isn’t a gift. It’s a loan. We’ll even sign a contract.”
“I understand that.”
“And I don’t want anything from you for doing this.” He stared at her again. “You don’t have to do anything in return.”
She worried about that. She heard the stories from the porn industry about girls becoming effectively enslaved, unable to get out. She also knew the stories about having a sugar daddy. “You’ll understand if I’m concerned about that side.”
“Of course I do. Like I said, we can get a little coarse around here. You don’t have to fuck me because I help you. Anytime you want out, you’re out. If that happens, we’ll work out a payment schedule.”
Something about the way he spoke and the look on his face touched her. Something told her she talked to someone she could trust. “All right.”
“Good.” He smiled as he picked up the phone and dialed. “Shelia, Valerie will get with you about the car. I want that paid off today.” He hesitated, and then his smile broadened. “Yeah. She’s Elektra.”

Roland sat in his office after he talked to the other girls.
Betty Jacobs would play Cassandra. They worked together a couple of times over the past few years. Her background was in regular porn, but she could act, too. She made a good choice.
Diane Hlatco would play Melinda. She did a number of porn flicks in the past, but this would be her first film with Midnight Interludes. She seemed enthusiastic and had talent. His gut said she’d do fine.
Valerie presented concern, though. She looked and acted like Elektra, but she had no porn experience. She also had a ton of personal problems to distract her. He knew she could do it, but they needed to control the distractions.
The girl was broke, homeless, and tired. He knew he’d need to spend money to get her on her feet. That would minimize the distractions. He guessed he’d invest thirty thousand or so to make it happen. That didn’t matter, though. If Bloodlust does what everyone expects, the films could generate more than $1.2 billion over the next three years. A good return on his investment.
He frowned when he thought about the fact he couldn’t seem to think straight when she was around. She had her distractions, and money would fix them.
His distraction came with a more concise name. Valerie. The solution didn’t seem as clear-cut.
Some would say her living on the streets showed her dedication to her art. Bullshit. It was stupid. She could wait tables or work at a supermarket. She could have found something to prevent herself from getting into her current position.
When he looked back at the morning, he couldn’t believe what he’d done. Offering to pay for her car and front her until her finances improved was nuts. Elektra or no Elektra, it made no business sense. She was just another actress. But he’d have tossed any other actress out of his office.
He had Ted hide her car. He thought that was a misdemeanor, but it might be a felony. Then he told Shelia to use his credit card to pay for her car.
After lunch, things really got strange. Shelia reminded him Valerie lived in her car. He told Shelia to find her a nice hotel someplace. He remembered suggesting the Hilton.
While he sat puzzling over his actions, Marion knocked on the door and came inside. “Hi, RW.”
“Hi. How are the fittings going?”
“We’re almost done.” She studied him for a few moments. He had no idea how old Marion was. She retired from MGM as the head of the costume department and came to work for him five years ago when he needed more than G-strings as wardrobe. She looked and acted like she was seventy going on twenty. Marion drank him under the table on more than one occasion. “How are you?”
“I think I’ve lost my marbles.”
“Why’s that?”
“It’s been a strange day, and it’s only 1:30.”
She nodded. “What’s going on with this little Setera girl? Ted said you and him may have adjoining cells soon.”
“The finance company wanted to repo her car, and I told Ted to hide it.”
“Are you planning to tell me you paid it off for her, too? Or did you plan to let that part ride?”
He swallowed. Marion had the knack of putting him on the spot. Just like grandma. “I did that, too.”
“She’s an actress. I thought you gave that up.” She shrugged. “Seems like a lot of work and money for a piece of ass.”
He smiled. “I’m not even getting that.” As soon as he said it, he knew he said the wrong thing.
“Please, tell me you’re not falling for her.”
“No! That’s dumber than sleeping with her!”
“Uh-huh.” Marion considered him like a vet trying to decide whether or not to put down a sick dog. “So you’re just being stupid, then.”
“No, not at all. She’s perfect for Elektra.”
“I won’t argue that with you. But she’s not the only girl in the world who can play Elektra.”
“I think you’re wrong. I think she is Elektra.”
“Now that is crazy.” She stared at him again. “And you know it is.”
“Maybe. I’m trusting my instincts here.”
She smiled. “Like you always do.” She paused. “Just be careful.” She left him alone in his office.

She and Sammy sat alone in a small soundstage as she tried to read through the script. Sammy chased a dust ball around the floor, enjoying stretching his legs. Valerie couldn’t concentrate on either Sammy or the script, though.
She wondered if she made a mistake letting Roland help her. He said he didn’t want anything in return, but she never heard of such a deal. He gave her a job worth a lot of money over the next couple of years. More directly, he dropped a good chunk of cash on her. It would only be a matter of time before he wanted payment. The form of the payment bothered her, but she knew it would be sex.
At least he’s good looking. She smiled a little. A part of her thought the payment might not be all that bad. The thought made her tingle all over.
He must be married, and he probably has kids her age, but she found him gorgeous. She dated older men before. She found their confidence and stability a refreshing change from the guys her age. Roland looked about the same age as some of the men she dated in the past.
She shook herself. What was she thinking? The man was married, rich, and her boss! And he tried to buy her!
Then again, she pretty well sold herself already. She signed the contract to make Destiny. She also signed the contract to pay him back for the car and other bills. She would get a check for $5,000 a week from Monday. She would get residuals after that. The fact that Elektra had no sex scenes and only three nude scenes in Destiny didn’t matter. She sold herself to work in a skin flick.
Sammy lost interest in the dust ball and jumped onto the stool sitting next to hers. He looked up at her, his green eyes questioning.
She rubbed his chin, and he purred loudly. “I think we’re going to be OK, buddy.”
He meowed.
“Yes, I do. Mom has done something maybe she shouldn’t, but we’ll pull through and be all right.”
He rubbed his head against her hand, as if saying thank you.
“I love you, too.” She thought for a moment.
Betty told her most of the girls had at least a crush on Roland. As far as Betty knew, he never slept with any of the girls, or even went out on a date with any of them. He sometimes joined groups of crew and performers for a night on the town, but nothing more.
When Valerie asked, Betty admitted she had a crush on Roland, but he turned down all her advances. Betty wondered if he might be gay.
She liked Betty, but Valerie wondered if that attitude might come from having been a porn star. Just because a man turns down a woman’s advances, it didn’t make him gay.

Shelia came into his office. “We’ve got a couple of problems.”
“That at least fits with the day so far.” Roland ran his hand through his hair. “What now?”
“The car is all taken care of.” She glanced at her clipboard. “It came to $8,137.12 to settle that. They said the repo guys may still look for it for a day or two until the paperwork catches up with them.”
He sighed. “Now there’s great news.”
“I thought so, too.”
“Is that all, or just the tip of the iceberg?”
“There’s more. I can’t find a hotel room.”
He frowned. “In all of LA, there’s not a single hotel room available?”
“Not in anyplace I’d want to stay. Along with the holiday, there are twelve different conventions and such in town. All I can find are seedy places.”
“Complete with hot and cold running roaches.”
“Great.” He sighed. “I don’t need these kinds of problems.”
“You don’t pay me enough to have them.”
“I don’t pay me enough to have them.” He stroked his hair again. “Where’s Valerie?”
“She’s in soundstage C with her car and cat.”
“Oh, yeah. The cat.”
“I thought you didn’t like cats.”
“I don’t. They’re dog bait.”
“That’s mean.”
“No, that’s evolution.” He thought for a moment. This just keeps getting better. “I’ll go talk to her.”

When he walked into the soundstage, she didn’t hear him. She held the script for Destiny in her hand and practiced lines. Her cat sat on a stool watching her closely. His ear flicked toward the door, but he showed no other reaction to Roland’s entry.
Valerie had changed clothes. She replaced the little black dress she wore earlier with jeans and a tee shirt. He missed the view the dress gave of her legs. She stood a little over five feet tall, but her legs looked longer than they should. And they were filled with delectable curves.
She now wore tight jeans. While they hid the skin of her legs, they concealed little of their shape. And, from where he stood behind her, the jeans did amazing things for her ass.
She wore a tee shirt knotted around her chest, leaving her stomach exposed. When she turned a little, he saw the fantastic shape of her body in profile.
He mentally slapped himself. He had more than enough problems right now. He was about to create more. He cleared his throat.
She jumped a little as she turned. “You startled me!”
“Sorry about that.” He walked toward her. “We’ve got a couple of problems.”
A look of trepidation crossed her face. “What are those?”
“Shelia has the car taken care of. You owe me $8,100 and some change.”
She smiled. “Put it on my tab.”
“Already there. The problem is it may take a day or two to get the repo guys called off. If they see the car on the street, they’ll take it until then. It won’t be a problem getting it back, but it will be inconvenient at best.”
She nodded. “I guess you could say that.”
“The other problem is finding someplace for you to live. With the holiday weekend, getting an apartment isn’t going to happen until next week. Shelia called around, and she can’t find a decent hotel room. It seems we’ve struck out.”
“I can stay anyplace.” She smiled again, and he fought the urge to stare at her. He knew he would have some idiotic look on his face if he did that. He looked away, focusing on the cat sitting patiently on the stool.
“Is this Sammy?”
“Yes.” She clapped her hands. The cat jumped down and trotted to her. As he leapt up into her arms, Roland couldn’t help but think that the cat saw her as his mother. “Sammy, this is Roland.”
“What happened to his tail?” He reached out to pet the cat’s head.
“He’s a Manx. They’re born without tails.”
“Really?” The cat rubbed against his hand and purred.
“Yes.” She smiled again. “I think he likes you.”
His laugh sounded nervous, but he didn’t know why his nerves were on edge. “We need to figure out something for at least the weekend for you.”
“Like I said, I can stay anyplace. I’ve lived in my car for three months.”
The back of his mind wondered about the easy and natural smile that came to his face. “No, you can’t. You’re a star now.”
She laughed, the sound filling the air of the soundstage like the tinkling of a beautiful chandelier. “Sure I am!”
Suddenly, without warning, the answer came to him. “Why don’t you stay at my place for the weekend?”
She frowned. “What will your wife say?”
“What wife?”
“Aren’t you married?”
“Me? No, at least not for the last twenty years.”
She paused for a moment. “I couldn’t do that.”
He realized what this must look like to her. “Like I said, I don’t want anything. I’ve got a big house, and you’ll have a room, with a lock, all to yourself.” He shrugged. “This is a good answer. By Tuesday, your car will be off the hit list, and we can find someplace else. At 5:00 on Friday before a holiday weekend, we’re out of options.”
She thought for a moment. “I’ve been enough trouble.”
“Maybe I do want something from you.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What?”
“Company.” He thought about that big house. “Other than a few staff, I get to spend the weekend alone. It would be great to have someone to talk to.” It would be great to talk to her. He slapped himself again.
“I guess for a couple of days it will be OK.”
His heart sped up a little. OK, it sped up a lot. “Great! You get what you’ll need together here, and I’ll have the car come around. I’ll be back in about twenty minutes.”
She blushed a little. “Thanks.”
“Thank you.”
He left the soundstage feeling twenty years younger.

As she gathered the few things she needed from the car, Valerie wondered just how much deeper she planned to dig herself in. At every turn, she put herself more and more in debt to Roland.
Yet she didn’t feel what she did was wrong. Her mind told her she set herself up, but her heart told her everything was OK. Sometime today, she decided to follow her heart.
A man dressed in casual slacks and a polo shirt came through the door. “Miss Setera? I’m George Douglas, RW’s driver. He said you have some things to put in the car.”
“Hi, George. Please, call me Valerie.” She indicated the small pile of things on the trunk lid of her car. “Just these and my cat.”
He came to the car. Sammy sat next to the pile of clothes and toiletries. George stroked Sammy’s head. “What a pretty cat.”
“Thank you. Sammy is like my kid.”
“As it should be.” He laughed. “Let’s get this in the car.” He gathered up the items in his arms and headed for the door. She followed him outside, carrying Sammy.
The car wasn’t a limo, but it was close. A big, dark blue Mercedes, stretched a little. George put her things in the trunk. “Will your cat need his food, water, and litter up front? It’s about a two hour ride.”
Two hours? Where the hell did Roland live? San Diego? “Maybe he will, if there’s room.”
“Not a problem.” He put the food and water dishes in the passenger compartment along with the litter box. He went to the rear passenger door and opened it. “Here you go.”
She climbed into the cavernous rear compartment. In her first glance, she saw three mobile phones, a TV, DVD player, a wet bar, and a stereo with more buttons than the space shuttle. “Wow.”
Even though big, the car didn’t look like a plush limo, especially here in the back. It looked a lot like Roland’s office.
George looked in the door and laughed. “It’s big in there. RW will meet us at the other door.” He closed the door and went to the driver’s seat. He drove the car to the main entrance and they waited.

Shelia leaned against the doorframe of his office as he gathered his things to leave. “So, she’s staying with you this weekend?”
“Yeah, she is. Tuesday, we’ll get on finding her an apartment or something.”
Roland looked up at his assistant. Shelia worked with him for almost twelve years. She sometimes seemed like his office wife. “What?”
“You know what. Remember back in 2002 when you hooked up with the psycho-bitch from hell? How much did you pay for those daily blowjobs?”
“This has nothing to do with sex.”
“Please.” She laughed. “If you want to get laid, you have girls all over this studio who will sleep with you without spending a ton of money on them.”
“Which part of this not being about sex did you miss?”
“I didn’t miss you said that. I just don’t believe you.”
He laughed. “Would it make you feel better if I said if she offers, I sure won’t kick her out of bed?”
“Actually, that does make me feel better.” Shelia sighed. “She’s an actress. Like all of them, she’s a flake. Based on the situation she got herself into, she may be a bigger flake than most.”
“Hey, this is LA. It’s like a big bowl of granola. Fruits, nuts, and flakes.”
She chuckled. “What’s wrong with you?”
He wondered the same thing. “I don’t know.”
“What is it about this girl? Something is different.”
Shelia was right. Something was different. “She is different.” He just didn’t know how.
“It’s your life, your money, and, technically, your studio. Remember we’ve all worked hard to get where we are today.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
She shrugged. “I’m not really sure. Have a good weekend.” She left him alone.

He trotted down the steps and opened the car door. Roland climbed inside, tossing a small backpack onto the floorboard. “Did you get everything?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“I hope so.” He smiled. “It’s a long drive back to the city.” Roland reached around her to pet Sammy. “Hello, Sammy.”
Sammy meowed softly.
George looked over his shoulder. “Do we need to make any stops?”
Roland looked at her. “Do you need to stop for anything before we leave the city?”
She thought for a moment. “Not that I know of.”
“I guess not, George. Just home.”
“All right. The radio says the traffic is bad with the holiday weekend, so we’ll be a while.”
Roland smiled. “I still think you need to get your pilot’s license so we can get a helicopter.”
“Sorry, Boss. Desert Storm gave me all the helicopter rides I care to take.” George rolled up the window between the passenger and driver’s areas. They pulled away and onto the street.
He turned to face her. “Would you like a drink? It’s going to be a long ride.” When her eyes met his, her mouth went dry, and her brain seemed to kick into neutral. His face filled her mind’s eye.
She managed to look away from his brown eyes. “Do you have white wine in there?”
“I think so.” He opened the bar and pulled out a bottle. “They say this is wine, but it has a screw top.” He opened the bottle and poured the wine into a glass. “Here you are.”
“Thanks.” The wine tasted good, but she’d need to be careful. She hadn’t drunk alcohol in months, and she got weird when she drank too much.
“You’re welcome.” He rubbed Sammy’s head. “What about you? We may have some milk in here.”
Sammy meowed.
“I think he’s fine.”
Valerie watched him as he got himself a beer, some craft brand she never heard of before.
“Now we wait.”
“Just where are we going?”
“The San Bernardino Mountains.”
“That’s a major commute.”
“I guess it is, but it has a lot of benefits.”
“Like what?”
His eyes took on a distant look, and a small smile played over his lips. “It’s quiet up there, and the air is clean. More, I can see the stars at night.”
“That’s nice.”
“Yeah, it is.” He stared into space for a moment. “Anyway, I don’t have a thing planned for this weekend, so if there’s something you’d like to do, just say so.”
She sighed. “Actually, it will be good to just relax in a house for a while.”
“That’s fine. When we get there, I’ll introduce you to Maria and Cathy.”
“Who are they?”
“Maria is my housekeeper, and Cathy is the chef, although she claims she’s just a cook.”
“Do they live there?”
He nodded. “So does George. All three have been with me for twenty years.”
“That’s a long time.”
“I guess it is, but I couldn’t get by without them. I don’t like to drive in traffic, I’m a terrible housekeeper, and I’d poison myself if I tried to cook.”
She smiled and saw his eyes lock on her mouth for a moment before he looked away quickly. “I look forward to meeting them.”
“That reminds me.” He pressed a button on the console in front of him. “George, did you call Maria?”
“Yes, I did. She said Valerie can go in the main guest suite. She’s taking care of everything.”
“Great, thanks.” He released the button. “You’ll like that suite. Nice, big bed and a Jacuzzi.”
The idea of a bath preoccupied her mind. A Jacuzzi would feel like heaven. “That does sound nice.”
“And, as promised, the suite has a lock. Maria has the only key, besides the one you’ll have.”
“That’s OK.”
“I want you to feel safe.”
“I do feel safe.” She just didn’t know why.

Chapter 4
“The House”

Roland sipped at his beer, trying to watch her in the low light of the car without her catching him at it. “This has been a rough day for you.”
She sighed a little. “Honestly, it’s been about the same as the last three months.” She smiled suddenly. “But the good outweighs the bad.”
Her smile still grabbed his attention. He remembered the day years ago when he figured out it wasn’t a woman’s body or hair or face that made her beautiful. It was her smile and eyes.
Some people claim the eyes are the windows to the soul. They’re only partly right. The eyes offered a glimpse of the soul, but when coupled with the smile, you could see the goodness, the light, and life of the person.
Valerie’s smile revealed a beautiful person inside, far more beautiful than the person outside. When he coupled her amazing eyes and delightful smile with the delectable body, the person outside staggered him.
“I guess there are some good things that happened for you, depending on how you look at them.”
“I think they’re good no matter how I look at them.” She smiled again. “I got a job, and things are looking up.” She paused, and the smile faded a little. “And I’ve made some new friends.”
His palms sweated. “In all the excitement, I never welcomed you to the Midnight Interludes family.” That sounded safe.
“I’ve noticed all day the place has a family feel to it.”
“That’s good. We try for that feeling.”
“Who’s included when you say ‘we’?”
“Well, it’s my studio, but it comes down to Marion, Shelia, Jim, and me.”
“I see.” She sipped at her wine. “Some of the girls I talked to said that’s very different from the other adult film studios.”
“It is. That’s the way we want it, though.”
“I think that’s good.” She paused for a moment. “It makes me feel more relaxed about this.”
Since he’d done stupid things all day, he saw no reason to stop now. “If you don’t want to do this, I understand.”
She turned and looked out the window for a moment. She stroked the cat’s head as she stared. She turned back to face him, and her blue eyes shimmered in the light. “I’ve already made that decision.”
Her eyes held him transfixed. He knew he stared at her, but he couldn’t turn away, or even blink. Roland knew he should at least say something, but his mouth wouldn’t work. It was far too dry for speech anyway.
A small frown came to her lips. “Are you all right?”
He forced himself to look down, but her eyes still filled his mind. He decided to risk talking. “Yeah. Sorry.”
“For what?”
“I stared at you.”
She shrugged a little. “Actresses are used to being stared at.”
He tried to find some neutral topic that wouldn’t require looking into her eyes. “I’m surprised you haven’t asked me more about the future of Elektra.”
“You said there are things you couldn’t talk about too much. I assumed that’s one of them.”
“Well, since you are Elektra, I guess you should know.”
“OK. Tell me what your plans are.”
“First of all, in Destiny, you’ll be billed as ‘Introducing Valerie Setera as Elektra’. Or whatever screen name you pick.”
She nodded. “That would be a good idea.”
“Right. Then, in the other films, I see you being billed as ‘Valerie Setera is Elektra’.” She smiled, and her eyes tried to snare him again. He managed to look away before they grabbed him fully, but his heart pounded.
“That sounds neat.”
He took a couple of deep breaths to get control. “Do you read romance novels?”
“I don’t read much other than scripts and the industry rags.”
“Well, Elektra is the main character in a series of books called the Bloodlust series. I just bought the rights to all eighteen books with first option on any new books that come out in the next five years.”
She stared at him, her eyes wide. “This is a big deal.”
“You bet it is.”
“You said that, other than my hair, I look like Elektra.”
He didn’t want to talk about her hair, either. The long, golden hair fell straight down her body to her waist. He noticed how it shimmered and gleamed when she moved. He wanted to slap himself again, but feared she might notice. “Elektra has shoulder length red hair.”
“Red? I’ve never been a redhead.” She paused. “I tried brown for a while, and once I dyed it black.”
His mouth went dry again. “That’s your natural color?”
She laughed. “Yes.”
He needed to stop staring at her. Every time he did, his mind became lost someplace. He looked out the window for a moment. “It looks like the traffic is letting up a little. We should be there in thirty minutes or so.”
“Good. Even in a car like this, I’ve spent too much time in cars the past few months.”

She watched out the window as the car turned from the road onto a wide drive. A gate with a security guard waited, and the guard waved them through. She thought they drove another mile or so before a huge house came into view. George pulled the car up the curved drive and stopped in front of the wide steps. He came around and opened the passenger door.
Roland stepped out, and offered her his hand to help her. A prickling sensation ran up her arm again from the touch of his hand. She snatched her hand away faster than she should have. She clapped her hands, and Sammy jumped into her arms.
“I’ll take your things to your room, Valerie.” George smiled as he closed the car door. “And Sammy’s.”
“Thank you.” She turned and looked at the house. She saw homes like this around LA. She never thought she would walk into one unless she wore an evening gown. Big marble columns supported the roof over the entrance, and it had a classical look.
He smiled at her. “A little over the top, I guess.”
“No, it’s beautiful.”
“Maybe. I keep hoping it will burn down so I can build what I really want.”
“What do you want?”
He shrugged. “A 3,000 square foot log cabin.”
She could somehow see Roland in a log home. “That would be a neat house.”
“I think so. Come on, and I’ll introduce you.”
They went up the steps and into the house. A Hispanic woman in her late forties met them in the entryway. She smiled. “You must be Valerie.” The woman shook her hand. “And this must be Sammy.” She rubbed Sammy’s ears, and he purred.
Roland laughed. “Right. They’ll be with us for the weekend. Valerie, this is Maria Ortiz. She takes care of me.”
Maria laughed. “Someone has to look out for you, RW.” She didn’t speak with an accent.
Valerie took an instant liking to the woman. “Good to meet you, Maria.”
“Why don’t you ladies take care of whatever needs taking care of to get Valerie in her room while I take care of this stuff.” Roland hefted his backpack. “Has Cathy said what time dinner will be ready?”
“About an hour.” Maria smiled. “She made one of your favorites.”
He laughed, his face lighting up. “I hope you like pizza, Valerie.”
She couldn’t even remember what pizza tasted like. She remembered loving it. “You bet I do, so long as there’s no fish.”
“No fish, no fruit.”
“That sounds great to me.” Sammy meowed at her.
“It sounds like that’s all settled, then.”
Maria took her arm. “All right. Let’s get you in your room and ready for dinner.” She led her off up the huge stairway to the second floor.
Valerie couldn’t help noticing the house. It looked like something from a movie. Maybe not Gone With the Wind, but close. The stairway and railings looked like walnut or, maybe, cherry, and were intricately carved. The carpets were all soft and lush, and the colors all matched perfectly. Not something she expected from a man like Roland.
For that matter, the house didn’t fit him at all. She’d been right. He would look at home in a log cabin. This place fit someone with a need to impress people. She doubted Roland felt the need to impress anyone other than himself.
As they walked down a hallway, Maria’s cell phone rang. “Hello?” She listened for a moment. “All right, George. Just leave them in the hall, and we’ll take care of them. Thanks.” She clicked the phone closed and dropped it in her pocket. “George will have your things here in a few minutes.”
They came to a door. Maria pulled a key from her pocket and unlocked the door. She handed Valerie the key. “Here’s your key. If you misplace it, you’ll need to find me. No one else has a key to open this room.”
“Doesn’t Roland have a key?”
“No. This is the guest suite, and he’s funny about that kind of thing. He wants his guests to have their privacy.”
The huge suite was much larger than any apartment she ever lived in. They stood in the sitting area. A large picture window looking out over the mountains dominated the room. To her right, she saw a large bedroom. The bed looked bigger than a king size. To her left she saw the bathroom. She thought the bathroom was about the same size as her last apartment.
Maria went to the entertainment center and picked up the remote control. “I have no idea how to work this, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Make yourself at home.” She pointed to the phone on the coffee table. “To call outside, just dial 9 first. There’s a little card there with my number, as well as Cathy’s, George’s, and RW’s. I clean up about 10:00 or so, but if you want to sleep in, just let me know or leave a note on the door.”
Valerie stared at the room. She knew her eyes must be wide. Sammy jumped down and didn’t seem to know which way to go exploring first. “Wow.”
“You’ll get used to it.” She paused a moment. “I worry about RW sometimes. He wanders around this big house like he’s lost.”
“I can see it’s easy to get lost here.”
“Oh! That reminds me!” Maria dug in her pocket again and pulled out a cell phone. “You’ll want to keep this with you. If you get lost or need anything, you can call. All of our numbers are programmed in, and the number for this phone is on the back.”
Valerie smiled. “I have my phone.” She pulled it from the holster at her side. It didn’t have a signal.
“There’s no service up here. We have our own private system, though. You can call out from this phone, too.”
“Oh.” How much would a private cellular system cost?
“You get ready for dinner, and I’ll pick you up in about fifty minutes.” As she opened the door, she pushed a cart inside with the clothes and Sammy’s things from the car.
Sammy came from the bedroom. He walked slowly, his head swiveling from side to side as he sniffed the air. She clapped, and he ran to jump into her arms. “Now this is the life.”
He meowed softly.

Ronnie’s voice sounded puzzled as she answered the phone. “Hello?”
“I got a part!”
“Val! That’s great!” Ronnie hesitated. “Where are you? The caller ID is a number I don’t recognize.”
“Roland Westwood invited me to his place for the weekend since my car is on the repo list.”
Ronnie didn’t speak for a long time. “You’re where?”
“Guys came to get my car, and Roland took care of that. Since I have no place to stay, he invited me to his house.”
She heard Ronnie take a deep breath. “Get in your car, and get out of there. Now.”
“Everything is fine. He’s a perfect gentleman, and there are other people here. Besides, my car is in the city.”
“I’m coming to get you. Where is this place?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Val, you’re at the house of a guy who makes porno films. You have no transportation. You don’t even know where you are. Doesn’t this all say something to you? Something like Jack the Ripper, maybe?”
“Have you ever met him?”
“Jack the Ripper?”
Valerie laughed. “No, Roland Westwood.”
“No, but that doesn’t matter. You’re a pretty young woman, and you’re in a bad place.”
She sighed. “You don’t understand.” She told Ronnie about the studio and about the sense of belonging. She told her about George, Cathy, and Maria being here. She gave Ronnie the number for the phone she carried.
“I don’t like this, Val.”
“I know, but it’s OK.”
“I want you to call me every morning.”
“I will.”
Ronnie sighed. “And please be careful.”

She couldn’t resist a fast bath before dinner. The bathtub with the built-in Jacuzzi wasn’t a hot tub, but it was close. It could hold three people, maybe four, if they liked each other a lot. She leaned back and let the hot water swirl around her body as Sammy watched from the dressing table.
“A girl could get used to this, buddy.” She smiled at him. “What do you think?”
He blinked at her.
She wanted to stay in the tub, all night if she could. Too many truck stop showers made her forget how relaxing a hot bath felt.
After she forced herself from the tub, she put on her bra and panties. She considered just jeans, but that didn’t seem right. She picked up a short blue dress she brought along and slipped that on.
She just finished her hair and makeup when Maria knocked on her door.
She went to the dining room with Maria.
Art filled the walls of the house, and sculptures rested in strategic places as well. She knew little about paintings and sculpture, but it all looked expensive. Fine furniture filled the rooms and lined the hallways. Again, Valerie didn’t know much about it, but she knew that even cheap furniture was expensive.
When they reached the dining room, she didn’t see Roland. George greeted her, and Maria introduced her to Cathy.
Cathy Skaggs looked in her sixties and spoke with a Midwestern accent. She seemed friendly, like the people Valerie remembered from Kansas.
Roland came through the door at a brisk walk. “Sorry!” He took his place at the head of the table, and Maria led her to the chair to his right. “You should have started without me.”
Valerie smiled. “You said you like punctuality.”
“Oh, I do. I just can’t do it very often.” He grabbed a slice of pizza. “Dig in, or this bunch will eat it all.”
The pizza stood more than an inch thick with every topping she could imagine. It tasted even better than it smelled, and it smelled wonderful. She swallowed hard. “Cathy, this is fantastic!”
“Thank you, dear. We all like it.”
Roland spoke around a mouthful. “She’s a great cook.” He swallowed and looked around. “Where’s the cat?”
She saw a look pass between Maria, Cathy, and George. “He’s upstairs. Not many people like having animals around the table.”
“How will he get any of this wonderful stuff?”
“I’ll save him some.” She again saw the look between the three.
“Oh.” He shrugged. “I don’t mind if he’s around. I know how close you are to him.”
“We’ll see.”
Roland nodded. “That reminds me. Does he need to see a vet?”
She wondered where that came from. “He’s not sick.”
“I mean for shots or things like that. The vet is coming by tomorrow to check over the horses, and we could get him to have a look at Sammy if you need.”
The three staff glanced at each other again, and she saw Cathy smile a little. “He is overdue for his rabies shot.”
“Done deal, then.” He looked up at George. “Could you make sure Doc Mead knows?”
“Sure thing, Boss.”
She smiled at her plate. “Thanks.”
“No problems.” He paused a moment. “What about you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Do you need to see a doctor for anything?”
She laughed. “No, I don’t think so.”
“You said you were having chills this morning.”
She needed to think to remember what he talked about. She wondered how he remembered. “Oh, that. No, I’m fine.”
“All right.”
Maria smiled. “You look nice in that dress, but you didn’t need to dress up for dinner.”
Her face flushed, warming in her mild embarrassment. “It just didn’t seem right as a guest to wear jeans and a tee shirt.”
“Oh, don’t y’all worry none about that.” Cathy laughed a little. “You’re gonna get to see George in his horse clothes tomorrow.”
George smiled. “That’s not a very pretty sight, either.”
The feeling of belonging extended to Roland’s home as well. She liked these people. “I’ll relax a little by tomorrow.” She looked at George. “How many horses do you have?”
George hesitated for a moment. “Um, six now.”
“I haven’t ridden a horse since I left Kansas.”
Cathy smiled. “You’re from Kansas? I’m from Missouri, down round Branson way.”
“Yes, I’m from Wichita. My folks took me to Branson when I was twelve. It’s pretty there.” She smiled. “And we had such fun at Silver Dollar City.”
“That’s a nice place with the lakes and all.” Cathy sighed a little. “I miss down home sometimes, but this place reminds me of it, at least a little.”
“Well, I don’t miss Kansas.”
Roland laughed a little. “Kansas is a nice place to be from.”
“In a lot of ways.”

He kept catching himself staring at Valerie as they ate and chatted. He managed to force himself to look away. Most of the time.
After dinner, Cathy, Maria, and George excused themselves. They all needed to get up early. For the first time in years, he couldn’t think of a thing to say. At least nothing that wouldn’t sound just a little stupid. Maybe even sound a lot stupid.
Valerie smiled at him. “That was a great dinner.”
“Cathy is fantastic.”
“They all seem so nice. They make me feel at home.”
“You should consider yourself at home while you’re here.” He wanted to roll his eyes. That sounded pretty stupid.
“What kind of movies do you like?” He felt like he fished for things to say.
“Just about everything.”
“How about comedy?”
“Come on.” He took her hand in his. He wanted to yank his arm away from her. An electric shock shot up his arm, and he thought his arm would come off when it slammed into his shoulder. He forced his hand to stay where it touched hers, and the tingles became pleasant.
He led her to the sitting room and turned on the TV. When he pressed the buttons for the code, the movie started and she smiled. “Oh my God! I haven’t seen Young Frankenstein in years! I love this!”
“It’s one of my favorites, too.”
She sat down on the couch. “All we need is popcorn.” She frowned. “But I don’t think I could eat any right now.”
He hesitated, but sat down next to her. He tried to keep some distance between them, though. He didn’t think he should trust himself. “If you change your mind, just say the word.” He paused. “Did you want to get Sammy?”
“No, he’s fine. He’ll be mad, but he’ll forgive me when I give him his pizza.” She patted the foil-wrapped slice Cathy fixed for her.
They watched the movie together. When Igor announced he brought the brain of Abby-someone for the monster, she laughed and leaned her head on his shoulder. Despite the assurance of his doctor about the excellent condition of his cardiovascular system, Roland thought he would have a heart attack and die right then and there.
Sweat moistened his palms and armpits, and his pulse slammed in his ears. He feared moving. He didn’t trust himself very far at all right now.
She brought her laughter under control and lifted her head. “That part always gets me!”
“Yeah, it’s funny.” His loss for words around her wasn’t any better yet.
When the movie ended, they sat for a moment in silence. He swallowed. “Want to watch another?”
“I’d like to, but I’m about to fall asleep now.”
“It’s been a long day.” He turned off the TV. “I think I’ll go to bed, too.”
He walked her to her room. She opened the door, and he noticed she hadn’t locked it. She stared at him for a moment, and her eyes captivated him once again. She smiled. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” He paused, trying to think of something he could say that wouldn’t make him sound like an idiot. He pointed to his door down the hall. “I know Maria gave you a phone and all the numbers, but if you need anything, that’s my room. Just let me know.”
“I will.” She glanced down for a moment, and then looked back up into his eyes. “Thank you for everything you’re doing to help me. I appreciate it.”
“You’re very welcome.”
She hesitated again, her eyes moving over his face. “Thanks anyway.” She smiled. “Goodnight.”
She backed into the room and closed the door.

Valerie stood staring at the closed door for a long time. She knew she did it a lot today, but she again wondered just what she was doing.
When they said goodnight, it took all her strength to stop herself from kissing him.
Her head and heart argued in her mind. Her head told her she reacted to him helping her. Her heart said her feelings were real. Her feelings confused her, though. She didn’t understand her attraction to Roland.
She worried the attraction might be because he helped her. She knew it could be just because he seemed to care about her. Valerie looked around the room. The expensive furniture, the paintings on the walls, and the several small sculptures around the sitting room all spoke of money. She wondered if Roland’s money attracted her.
Sammy rubbed against her legs and she remembered the pizza she had for him. “Sorry, buddy.”
She went to the bathroom and tore the pizza into chunks as she absently dropped them into his bowl. He ate heartily. She sat down at the dressing table and pondered. As she thought, she made a pro and con list in her head.
About six feet tall, in good shape, and tanned, the man was gorgeous. That went on the pro list.
His salt and pepper hair gave him an air of dignity and wisdom. The hair was the only real sign of his age she could see, and she saw that as a plus. Another for the pro list.
His easy way of speaking made confidence glow around him. He seemed totally in control of every situation. Even when hit flat-footed with her car this morning, he took charge and solved the problem in minutes. One more with the pros.
Unlike many men with little, or no, money who put on an air of being rich, Roland really was rich. She thought about that part. The car screamed of being expensive, but it looked like more of a business tool than anything else. With the commute he made, he would need to do some work from the car. She thought of the car as more of a mobile office than opulence.
The house puzzled her, though. Counting the staff, only four people lived here. The house was much too big for four people. When she counted in the artwork and furniture, the opulence of the house became clear.
She frowned. She needed to remember Roland was a businessman. Perhaps the house, and all of the art and furniture, was an investment, not unlike stocks or bonds. Both would appreciate over time. She didn’t know enough about investments to understand more than the basic concept of buy low and sell high.
His financial status meant he could take care of himself and those around him. As much as she hated to admit it, the fact he had money made a tick mark on the pro list.
Standing close to him at the door, she noticed something she missed earlier. His brown eyes had long, dark lashes. She knew actresses and models that would kill for lashes like his.
And his smile. She sighed. She never knew a man who smiled like that. His whole face lit up when he smiled at her. It seemed like his smile, somehow, gathered strength around him. She found herself staring at his smile as her mind drifted to some faraway place more than a few times today. A definite in the pro column.
She shook herself a little to break out of the daydream. Sammy sat licking his paw.
The pros made a long list, but there must be a con side to this, too.
She frowned. He’s at least twenty years older than she. When she dated men in their forties, she heard people talk behind her back. Waiters would ask her date what his daughter would like. She saw the knowing looks pass between people when they saw her with an older man.
The age difference belonged under the con heading.
She didn’t know what else to do, so she decided to get ready for bed. She undressed, putting the blue dress on a hanger and in a closet for the first time in three months. She washed her face and picked up the old Raider’s shirt she wore to bed for many years. Living in the car, she slept in pants and a shirt, just slipping her bra off. She glanced at the big bed and smiled.
She tossed the Raider’s shirt on the chair and climbed into bed nude.
As she slipped into the bed, the image of a huge, wonderfully soft cloud filled her mind. The big pillow caressed her head, and the sheets rubbed silkily against her bare skin. She missed this.
Sammy jumped onto the bed and sniffed a little. He turned in a circle three times, and then lay down beside her.
She stroked his head a few times. “Sleep well, little buddy.”

Roland stumbled to his room. Her eyes flamed in his mind, and he couldn’t see anything else.
He grabbed the doorknob and twisted. Then he ran face first into the door before he realized he grabbed the knob for the false door.
“Shit.” He rubbed his nose as he used the correct knob and went into his room.
He didn’t know how long he stood in the shower before he noticed he still wore his socks. He pulled them off and flipped them over the stall door. Let Maria wonder about that in the morning.
He turned the water temperature down. The cool water ran over his body as he stood under the showerhead. It washed away at least some of the building fire in him, and cleared his mind a little. He chuckled thinking he needed a cold shower after sitting next to her watching Young Frankenstein.
As he stood with her saying goodnight, he wanted to take her in his arms. After that, he didn’t know what he would do. He could only think of how good she would feel in his arms.
In close to thirty years in the porn industry, he saw more beautiful women than even the major mainstream studios. He’d seen them all, too. From tiny, petite girls to towering Amazon women. From sweet and innocent to aggressive dominatrix. From the pretty girl next door to the drop-dead gorgeous supermodel.
But he never saw a woman like Valerie before. She had a little of all those girls in her, in the perfect balance. He didn’t know how he knew that either, but he did. He chalked it up to following his instincts.
Just being in the same room with her made him feel like a babbling idiot. She had a remarkable physical beauty. Any objective person would agree. But she had so much more.
The toughness and control she displayed this morning amazed him. She’d been upset, but she never cried and she never lost control. She never asked for help, and she resisted his offers until she knew no other choices remained.
Her sense of humor came across smooth and natural. He thought she wanted to look for the bright side, something funny, in even the worst of situations. He did the same things.
He found when he talked to her, he couldn’t help but smile. She made him feel good.
He frowned suddenly, and twisted the temperature control over hard to the cold side. The cold water slapped him, and he shook himself. What was he thinking?
No matter if he used new or old math, he’s forty-six and she’s twenty-six. Age differences do matter, contrary to what some of the novels he read the during last five years might say.
Even if something did grow between them, it would never be fair to her. People, especially in LA, loved to talk. He saw red when he thought about people calling her a gold digger. He couldn’t bear the idea of people thinking she’s his daughter.
He chuckled a little. He just got the proverbial cart about a million miles out in front of the proverbial horse. He shut off the water and dried himself.
As he crawled into bed, he wondered what he could do to get her out of his mind. In a practical sense, he couldn’t do a damn thing until at least Tuesday.
He sighed as he spoke to the empty room. “I like her in my mind.”

Chapter 5

Roland sat on the patio reading the morning news on his laptop. He’d slept well, but Valerie still filled his thoughts, even in his dreams.
When Maria walked onto the patio, Roland almost laughed. She wore a clean white apron with enough starch in it that it probably would stand up on its own. He learned a long time ago not to laugh at the woman. She had a temper like a badger. “It’s almost 9:00. Should I wake Valerie?”
“I guess you should. The vet will be here soon, so tell her to bring the cat with her.”
Maria smiled. “What’s with the cat?”
“You don’t like cats.”
“I like that one.”
Her face went as stiff as her apron. “Uh-huh.” She went back inside.
He sipped his coffee and looked out over the valley. He liked this place. He didn’t like the house. Between his accountants and attorneys, they talked him into buying this property eight years ago. Then they talked him into filling the house with all the paintings and statues and furniture. He remembered them insisting it was a good investment. So was Microsoft stock, and he didn’t have to live in the share certificates.
One of these days, when he found the time, he planned to do something. Exactly what he didn’t know yet, but he would do something.
He smiled at the beautiful morning. Here in the mountains, high above the smog and noise of the city, the clouds looked like puffs of pure cotton floating in the sky. The birds sang in the trees around him. The weather wizards said it would be warm today, and maybe he could get some time in the pool.
Valerie came through the door with Sammy following close behind her. She smiled as she sat down. “Good morning.”
“Good morning.” She looked fantastic, even in the morning. “How did you sleep?”
“Great. You have no idea how nice it is to lie down when you sleep.” As she spoke, Roland thought he saw a bit of sadness in her eyes, but maybe she only squinted against the bright morning sun.
He laughed. “Are you and Sammy getting settled in all right?”
“Oh, yes. He just doesn’t care for the noise of the Jacuzzi.”
Cathy brought her a plate with breakfast, and Sammy jumped up into the chair next to her. He sat watching as she ate. She sighed. “He’s a little spoiled.”
“At least he’s waiting like a gentleman.”
“He’s used to me feeding him from my plate. A bad habit, I’m afraid.”
Roland reached to her plate and grabbed a piece of egg. He put the egg on a saucer and sat it in front of Sammy. “Here you are.”
Sammy meowed and ate the egg.
“You’re as bad as I am.” She flipped her hair over her shoulder. “He’s spoiled rotten now.”
As he watched the shimmering golden flow of her hair over her shoulder, his mind clicked over to a test pattern. He forced himself, knowing he should say something. “Sp-spoiled is good.” He wanted to slap his forehead for stuttering.
“As long as it doesn’t go too far.”
“I guess that’s right, too.” His loss for words seemed a little better this morning when he got up, but now his awkwardness returned. He looked for a safe topic. “The vet should be here soon.”
“Sammy may not care much for it, but I appreciate your having him seen.”
“Not a problem.”
She looked around. “It’s so beautiful up here.”
“I love it, but that house has to go.”
She laughed. “It’s a nice house, but it doesn’t fit you.”
“What fits me?”
She shrugged. “I think your comment about the log house last night is about right.”
“Maybe, but I’m no frontiersman.”
“No.” She stared at him for a moment. Her eyes blazed. “Maybe rustic is a better word.”
“Rustic, eh? I never thought of that. In what sense?”
“Sturdy, I think.” She chewed her omelet for a moment. “What’s on the agenda for today?”
“Not a thing, really. I thought I might go for a swim this afternoon.”
“I didn’t bring a swimsuit.”
“Shorts are fine, or I imagine Maria can track something down around here.”
“I have shorts.”
“Done deal. You asked about the horses last night. Maybe we can go for a ride this morning.”
She smiled and it outshone the sun. “That would be great!”
“We’ll ask the vet if it’s OK, then.”
She finished her breakfast, giving Sammy a few more bites. “If I stay here too long, I’ll weigh a million pounds.”
“Cathy’s cooking can do that to you.”
George came up the stairs with the vet. “Morning you two.”
Roland stood and shook the vet’s hand. “Good to see you, Doc. How are the horses?”
“Just fine. No problems at all in fact. George said you have a cat up here in need of attention, though.”
“Yeah, we do. Doc Mead, this is Valerie Setera, and this little guy is Sammy.”
“Pleased to meet you, Valerie. And you too, Sammy.” The doctor shook her hand. “What’s wrong with Sammy?”
She smiled at the doctor. “Nothing’s wrong other than he’s past due for his rabies shot.”
Roland laughed. “And he needs a general checkup. His life hasn’t been the best for the past few months.”
“All right. Let’s have a look, then.” He carried Sammy to another table. After a quick exam, he gave Sammy the vaccine. “He looks in good shape to me.”
Valerie frowned. “Isn’t he a little skinny?”
“No, not at all. Most people tend to want their pets heavier than is healthy. His coat is a little dry, but nothing to worry about. You could give him a little fish oil on his food.”
“No other problems?”
“Nope. He’s as healthy as he can be.”
Sammy sat licking his paws, no doubt indignant from having a shot and a thermometer shoved up his ass.
“That’s good news, then.”
Roland smiled. “We better let you get on your way, Doc. Thanks.”
“My pleasure.” George and the doctor left.
“I’m glad we got that taken care of.”
She picked up the cat and hugged him. “Me too. I’ve been a little worried about him.”
“I could tell.”
“He’s the only family I have.”
“What about your folks? Any brothers or sisters?”
“No, no brothers or sisters. My parents died in a plane crash ten years ago.”
“I’m sorry.”
“It still hurts to think about them too much.” She took a deep breath and hugged the cat closer to her chest. “I guess it always will.”
“I guess so.” The silence stretched for a while. “How about that horse ride?”
“That sounds great. Let me put Sammy in my room and change. Five minutes.”
He laughed. “In this house, it’ll take you ten minutes just to walk to your room.”

She hadn’t ridden a horse since before her parents died, but it came back to her quickly. George gave her a beautiful black mare named Betsy. Calm and strong, Betsy followed direction well and rode easy, even in a gallop.
They rode together, Roland on a big brindle gelding named Jocko, for nearly an hour. Usually just walking, they broke the animals into a run sometimes.
They stopped on top of a high mountain, and she saw the distant smog of LA over the valley. Farther out, she could make out the ocean. They sat in the grass leaning against a big pine tree, letting the breeze flutter around them as the horses grazed.
She took a deep breath of the fresh, clean air. “You said it’s because you can see the stars at night, but this would be enough for me to live up here.”
“Yeah, there are a lot of benefits.”
She could smell some kind of flower on the wind. She couldn’t tell what it might be, though. She knew every plant, its look and scent, from Kansas, but her only experience in California came from the city. “How long have you lived up here?”
“Just a little over eight years. Even when I drive myself, I don’t regret the decision.”
“I can see that happening.”
“You seem a lot more relaxed today.”
“I am. Between knowing everything is going to be OK and getting some real rest, I feel much better.”
“I’m glad.”
She paused for a moment. She wanted to know more about him, but almost feared asking. She decided to stick with candor. “How did you get into the business you’re in?”
He shrugged. “I wanted to make my living as a cameraman, but the only job I could get was with a porno shop. That was all still illegal, so we worked at night, hidden away in various places, and watched for the cops all the time.” He chuckled. “We used sixteen millimeter home movie cameras then.”
“Things have changed.”
“Yeah, they have. I decided I could make better movies than the guy I worked for, so I went out on my own and founded Midnight Interludes when I was twenty-one. I did it all. Camera, sound, lighting, you name it. I found a studio quality seventy millimeter camera at a pawn shop one day. I borrowed enough money to buy it, and the quality difference made my sales go up.”
“Was that still normal porn?”
He smiled. “Yeah, but the close ups looked fantastic in seventy millimeters.”
“I bet!”
“Even though it was still illegal, the cops lost interest in busting us. Things started to grow, and by the time the courts legalized things, we were the biggest game in town.”
“What about the romantic movies?”
“That happened about five years ago. The competition got too bad, so I knew I needed to do something. We had the biggest share of the market then, but there are too many shares. I took a gamble and made real movies with real sex in them.”
“But you still sell the movies only through adult book stores and stuff, right?”
“That and the Internet. But that may change soon.”
“How’s that?”
“Well, the only theaters that show porn are the adult theaters.” He sighed. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been in one, but most are pretty seedy and nasty. We’re going to work on getting real theaters to show the Bloodlust series.”
She wondered for a moment if she should even comment on his business plans. He clearly knew what he’s doing, or he wouldn’t still be in business. She’s just an actress. Something neutral seemed in order. “That will help the bottom line, I’d think.”
He laughed. “Hell, I plan to pretty much give away the first film just to get them to open the doors.”
She smiled. “It sounds like you have it all planned out.”
“I do, at least as much as I can. There are always things happening to alter those plans, though.”
“Where are you from, Roland?”
“I’m from Chicago, but my parents moved here when I was seven. Next year, I’ll be in LA for forty years.”
“An almost native, then.”
“Almost.” He laughed a little. “One of these days, I’m going to get the hell out of here, though.”
She paused, wondering about his plans. “Tell me your dream.”
“You’ll think it’s silly.”
“No, I promise.”
His eyes focused in the distance, out over the hazy ocean. “I’d like to settle down someplace quiet and green. Just a little house, away from the rat race.”
“No.” His voice became very soft. “Maybe it’s too late, but I still dream of finding that special someone.”
“I don’t think it’s ever too late to dream for that.”
He turned to face her, and his gaze flickered between her eyes for many seconds. “Maybe, but it hasn’t happened in forty-six years.”
Her heart raced, and she shivered. “That doesn’t mean it won’t happen tomorrow.”
He sighed a little. “I guess that’s true.”
She managed to control her panting when she spoke. “You said you were married once.”
“That was twenty years ago.” He smiled and looked back over the valley. “She was a porn star. I don’t even know where she is now.”
“I won’t say I’m sorry you broke up.”
He turned to face her. “What?”
She thought quickly. She wasn’t sorry he’s single, but she let her mouth outrun her brain by saying so. “I can see you weren’t happy with her.”
He stared again. “Oh.”
She took a mental deep breath. “Any other dreams?”
He smiled a little. “Maybe a few.” He glanced at his watch. “We should get back before lunch.”
He stood and held his hands out to her. They felt warm and strong as he gripped her hands, and he pulled to help her stand.
The riding boots Maria lent her were about two sizes too big, and she wasn’t used to them. She stumbled as she stood up. She fell forward toward Roland and felt her ankle twist. He caught her in his arms and hugged her to his chest. “Are you OK?”
Her pulse hammered in her ears like kettle drums, and her body shook. She tried her voice, but she couldn’t do more than grunt a little. Being in his arms swamped the minor pain in her ankle.
He held her shoulders and stepped back. She couldn’t tell if his face held concern or something closer to panic. “Valerie, are you all right?”
She blinked as her arms and legs trembled. “I…I think so, yes.”
He lifted her in his arms and carried her to a small boulder. After he sat her down on the rock, he knelt before her and moved her ankle. “Does that hurt?”
“No, I’m fine. Just a little startled.” She tried forcing her heart to slow down, but with his hands on her leg, she couldn’t.
He carefully pulled the boot from her foot and slipped her sock off. “It’s not swollen or bruised.” He pulled his cell phone from his pocket.
“What are you doing?”
He punched a few numbers. “I’m calling George.” He paused a moment. “George, we’re up on the point, and Valerie twisted her ankle. Get the truck and come get us.” He hesitated. “No, not now, just come get us. We’re about fifty yards from the end of the road.” He closed the phone. “He’ll be here in about fifteen minutes.”
“Roland, I’m fine.” Her heart slowed a little, but she stifled a giggle. He looked so worried!
“I know you are. Just humor me and let me enjoy my paranoia.” He rubbed her ankle. This, she thought, was a bad idea. His warms hands against her skin made her shiver and goose bumps rippled over her body. A hot flash flooded across her breasts as her nipples jutted forward.
“All right, but I can ride.”
“Nope. Out of the question.” He looked around. “Be right back.” He went and picked up a rock and brought it to put under her foot. “Is that better?”
“Yes, thank you.” She resigned herself to letting him fuss over her.
He kept looking at his watch. “He’ll be here soon.”
“Why don’t you get the horses?”
Roland nodded stiffly, almost like his neck wouldn’t bend. “Yell if you need me.” He moved off after the horses. Obviously well trained, the horses hadn’t wandered far, and as he grabbed the reins, Roland kept glancing back at her. When he saw her watching him, he smiled, but it looked forced.
Her ankle ached a little, but nothing too bad. If he wouldn’t come unglued the rest of the way, she’d get up and walk on it. She found his concern and worry sweet, though. She swiveled her foot and didn’t feel anything grating inside.
He walked back toward her and tied the horses to a tree. He knelt before her again. “Are you feeling nauseous or faint?”
“No, not at all.”
“All right.” His task with the horses calmed him a little. “Just rest.”
George came blazing through the trees like he drove in the Indy 500 instead of a four-wheel-drive crew-cab truck with a horse trailer through the woods. He skidded to a stop and jumped from the driver’s door. “Is she OK?” He carried a large red box.
“I think it’s just twisted.” Roland took the box from him. “You get the horses loaded so we can move.”
She smiled at the scene from some trauma center show.
Roland opened the box and sat down by her leg. “We’ll just put a wrap and some ice on this for now.” He wrapped an elastic bandage around her ankle. He slapped a chemical cold pack with his palm and taped it to the wrap.
George came from loading the horses. “We’re set.”
“Right.” Roland stood and put his left arm around her shoulder. He started to put his right arm under her legs.
“Let me help you.”
“I’ve got her. Just get the back door.”
George frowned, but went to the truck.
Roland lifted her and carried her to the truck. Despite his panic and her amusement, as well as the slight throbbing of her ankle, she couldn’t help notice how pleasant his arms felt encircling her.
He sat her in the back seat of the truck, and climbed in beside her. “Lean back and put your head in my lap.”
She sighed. “I’m all right.”
George stood holding the door. He chuckled. “Just humor him, Valerie. That’s the easy way.”
She shrugged her shoulders and leaned back to rest her head in his lap.
George got in and drove off for the house.
As they rode along, she watched Roland’s face. She thought the panic faded a little, but the concerned frown never left his lips.

George watched him as he poured his second scotch. “RW, you should take it easy on that stuff.”
“I know.” He tried to get his hands to stop shaking. He at least didn’t slosh any of this shot on the carpet. “Last one.”
“It’s not even sprained.”
They left the kitchen when Maria and Cathy threatened them because they got in the way. “Yeah, and that’s good.”
“Right. I need to get the horses out of the trailer. Call if you need me.”
“I will. Thanks.”
“No problems.”
He sipped at the scotch as he watched through the window while George went to the truck and drove off toward the barn. He didn’t know if it would calm his nerves or not, but he needed a drink. As he thought back, his reactions puzzled him in more ways than one.
First, he overreacted terribly. He knew she didn’t hurt herself badly. She just stumbled and twisted her ankle. Valerie didn’t break or even sprain it, and he knew that from the moment he saw her ankle. She even told him it was OK. But he came apart. He recalled feeling like he would start panic-running at any moment.
He pondered why he did that. Working in illegal, clandestine studios for so long, he learned a good deal about first aid. In those days, you didn’t hire a nurse or EMT to do first aid on the set. He knew he dropped into a mode of doing things to control his own reactions.
And then there were his feelings when he carried her and held her head in his lap. Based on the way he reacted the last twenty-four or so hours to her presence and touch, he should have the mother of all hard-ons right now. Instead, all he thought about was Valerie hurt herself and needed him to take care of her.
He longed to hold her in his arms last evening. He dreamed of doing it all night. When he did it today, he was too rattled to notice.
His phone rang. Maria said he could come back to the kitchen.
He tossed off the rest of the scotch, took a deep breath, and headed that way.

She sat in a chair with her leg propped in another, a bag of ice resting on her ankle. Valerie smiled at Maria. “So, will I live?”
“You sure will.” Maria frowned a little. “Assuming RW doesn’t drown you with attention.”
She still found his actions sweet. While pleasant and caring, Maria didn’t seem all that happy about the injury being minor. Before she could ask, Roland came into the kitchen.
He crouched down beside her chair. “How’s your ankle?” He stared up into her eyes.
She found herself not wanting to answer. She just wanted to look at his eyes. “Like I said before, it’s fine.”
He smiled a little. “I guess Sammy will bite me for letting you get hurt.”
Cathy worked at the stove, and she giggled. “He may shit in your shoe.”
“I guess that’s fair.” Roland’s smile faded a little. “I’m sorry, Valerie.”
“For what? You didn’t push me or anything. I tripped over my own big feet.”
“Well, they’re not big.”
She liked the way he found humor in things. It made her laugh and feel good. “OK.”
“Are you hungry?”
“A little.”
Cathy turned from the stove. “Give me about fifteen minutes.”
“We need to get you into the dining room.” He turned to Maria. “Do we have a wheelchair around the place?”
Valerie sighed. “I think you’ve enjoyed your paranoia enough. I do not need a wheelchair.”
Maria shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t think so.”
“I can walk.”
He shook his head. “I’ll carry you.”
“No, you will not.” She took the ice bag from her ankle and stood. “See? Everything is just fine.”
He smiled a little. “At least let me steady you, then.”
“That you can do.” He took her arm as she walked to the dining room.
After she sat down, she sighed. “I’m sorry I scared you.”
“That’s OK. I’m sorry I got crazy.”
She laughed. “Actually, that’s very sweet.”
He stared at her for a while. “Thanks.”
“No, thank you for taking care of me.”
“You’re welcome.”
Cathy brought a chicken Caesar salad to the table.

George needed a hand in the barn after lunch, and Valerie said she’d meet Roland at the pool. As he changed clothes, Roland thought he managed to get himself back under control.
He was glad she didn’t have a swimsuit with her. An image came to his mind of Valerie in a tiny bikini. About fifty square inches of cloth and some string. Maybe in silver lamé. No, gold to match her hair. His mind, and a few other parts of his body, took off in a direction they shouldn’t go, and he shut the thoughts down quickly. Shorts he could cope with.
When he stepped through the doors to the pool area, he saw her swimming the length of the pool. He walked to the side and dropped his towel on the lounge chair beside the one her things rested on.
She stopped and waved at him. “This is fantastic!”
“Careful of your ankle.”
“This makes it feel better.” She swam to the side and splashed him. “Come on in.”
He dove in beside her. When he surfaced, she hovered about six feet away, treading water. “This does feel good.”
“I told you so.” She grinned. “Come on. I’ll race you to the wall and back.”
She took off through the water like a dolphin. He dug in, making powerful strokes, but he couldn’t seem to gain on her. When she reached the wall, she did one of those funny diving turns like he saw the real swimmers do in the Olympics. She pushed off with her good foot and smiled as she passed him, going the other direction.
He swam with everything in him, and seemed to gain a little ground. Or water. When he reached the starting point, she rested in the water to her neck. She didn’t even breathe hard.
She smiled. “Beat you.”
He panted from the exertion of the race. “Don’t you know you’re supposed to let your boss win?”
“That applies to guys playing golf with the boss. Out here, you’re on your own.”
“Where did you learn to swim like that?”
“Kansas state championships. Two years as runner up, one as champion.”
He caught his breath. “You could have warned me.”
She splashed him again. “You found out.”
“I think I need to rest a bit.”
“Me too.” They were in the shallow area, about three feet deep. She stood up. He saw the top of her shorts, and they looked like blue jeans. That’s about all he noticed of the shorts.
She wore a white tee shirt, and no bra. The wet material clung to her breasts like a second skin. Her nipples jutted against the cloth, and her areola made large dark circles around the protruding buds.
She flipped her hair and ran her hands over her head, squeezing out the excess water, as she turned to the edge of the pool. Placing her hands on the side, she pushed herself up from the water. Her cut-off shorts started life as blue jeans. Now, the very short pants hugged her shape as she stepped from the pool. They hid nothing.
A sharp twinge slammed his groin as he watched her. He knew the polite thing was to look away, but he couldn’t pry his eyes from her. A little trail of something damp ran down his chin. He vaguely wondered if it might be water or drool.
She picked up her towel and wiped her face. When she looked at him, she frowned a little. “What’s wrong?” She must have followed his gaze to her chest. She blushed and pulled the towel in front of her. “I’m sorry!”
He made a false start or two before his voice kicked in. “No, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have stared.”
“Maybe, but I shouldn’t give you something to stare at.”
He swallowed and managed to look at her face. “That’s fair. We’re both to blame.”
“Deal.” She wrapped the towel around herself.
He knew he should get out of the pool. She’d ask him soon why he was still in the water. He wanted to get out of the pool, too. The problem came in because he now had the mother of all hard-ons.
He tried thinking about dead puppies. It didn’t help too much.
He tried thinking about baseball. He liked baseball, so it maybe made things worse.
He tried basketball. He didn’t like basketball. He imagined a seven foot tall black man with strawberry-blonde hair dressed in drag. That did the trick.
He climbed out of the pool and dried his face.
She looked up at him from the lounge chair. “I’m sorry. I’ll go change.”
“No, that’s OK.”
She giggled. “I guess you’ll see more than that soon enough anyway.”
Somehow, the idea of her in a nude scene bothered him. “Yeah.”
She stretched in the sun. “God, this is nice.”
He needed to stay with safe subjects. “I’m glad you’re able to relax a little.”
She sighed. “I needed this. Thanks for asking me up here.”
“You’re more than welcome. I should thank you for accepting, though. You’re making this a very memorable Memorial Day weekend.”
“After that shot in the pool, I guess so.” She grinned.
Just when he thought he managed to get things under control again, she went and said something like that. He put the towel across his lap, just in case. “I’m being serious.”
“I know, but I couldn’t pass up a straight line like that.”
He laughed. She somehow made him feel happy. “I deserved that.”
“What’s on your mind for the rest of the day?” She paused. “I don’t want you to feel like you have to entertain me.”
“I’m having fun, other than when you twisted your ankle.” He thought for a moment. “You pick, as long as it’s not tennis. The way you killed me in the pool, you’ll crush me on the court.”
“I’m terrible at tennis. I could just lie here all day.”
“That’s fine with me.”
They sat by the pool until late in the afternoon, sometimes taking a dip, but usually just chatting. He managed to keep his eyes from running over her too much, but it was the hardest thing he ever forced himself to do.

The day was warm, but not hot. The sun, however, was bright and they spent most of the time in the shade of one of the several cabanas surrounding the pool. At least when they weren’t in the pool. Roland seemed to have recovered from his initial reaction to her impromptu swim suit, but she still caught him staring now and then.
Despite being in the shade most of the day, Valerie thought she might have a slight sunburn. Spending all the time in her car, her skin had lost some of the dark tan she normally sported and had paled a bit. She didn’t think it was too bad, though.
Cathy came out to the pool about 5:30. She laughed when she saw the pair relaxed on the lounge chairs sipped at the iced tea she delivered a few hours earlier. “Well, if y’all can drag your lazy selves on up out of them chairs, dinner will be on the table in about an hour.” She wiped at her apron, a rumbled calico affair in stark contrast to the starched white aprons Maria seemed fond of.
After Cathy returned to the house chuckling, Valerie sighed. “I guess I should get cleaned up and dressed.”
“Me too.”
She knew Roland much better now. Between watching his reaction to her twisted ankle and her makeshift swimsuit, and talking to him for more than four hours, she learned a lot about the man. Roland told her more about his like of the country, particularly green places. She saw a faraway look in his eyes when he talked about nature, particularly the night sky, and she could feel herself being drawn in by his muted excitement, only barely contained. Even though he spoke little about his career this afternoon, she believed he was the kind of man who never did anything halfway. He gave 110% to everything he did. She liked what she learned.
He stood and offered her his hand. When she touched him, the tingles that ran through her seemed different somehow. Maybe, she thought, it was just the heat of the sun on their skin, but his hand seemed warmer than before. The warmth spread slowly up her arm and moved across her breasts. Her breath came fast as the heat touched her.
She inhaled sharply when she looked into his eyes. She saw something there that touched her very soul. Maybe it was caring.
He frowned. “Your ankle?”
“No.” She wondered what to say to him. “I’m not sure what it was. I’m OK now.”
He stared at her for a moment. “All right.”
He walked her to the door of her room again. “I’ll see you in about forty minutes.”
“I’ll be here.” She hesitated. She thought she needed to say something to him, but she didn’t know what.
He seemed to wait for her to speak. When the silence grew a little uncomfortable, he smiled. “Right.” He turned and walked down the hall to his room.

Chapter 6
“The Night”

The meal, if not the dress, was more formal for dinner tonight. Cathy made game hens with all the trimmings, and Valerie seemed to enjoy the meal and company. She brought Sammy with her tonight, and he sat beside her chair waiting for her to drop morsels to him.
Roland laughed as Sammy caught a piece of dressing on the fly. “He acts more like a dog than a cat.”
George loved all animals. He smiled. “No, he acts like a person.”
Valerie blushed a little. “Like I said, he’s spoiled rotten.”
Sammy swallowed his dressing and waited for more.
Cathy smiled at Valerie as she cleared the table. “How long y’all gonna be staying with us?”
She laughed, and he heard a musical quality to the sound. “I’ll just be here for the weekend.”
“That’s a shame. It’s nice having y’all around.” She frowned a little. “You brighten this big old place up a lot.”
Maria sighed. “That’s Cathy’s hillbilly way of saying we like having you here.”
Valerie smiled. “I like being here, but I can’t impose more than I have already.”
George laughed. “It’s no imposition.”
“You three are awfully free with my house.” Roland chuckled.
Maria stared at him for a moment. “Are you saying you don’t like having Valerie around?”
“I never said that!”
As per their longtime habit, the three excused themselves after dinner.
Valerie smiled. “How about that other movie you offered last night?”
“That sounds like a winner. Later, there’s something I want to show you, though.”
“After the movie?”
“That will be fine.” They walked to the TV room, and he turned on the system. “Any requests?”
She thought for a moment. “No, just nothing scary right now.”
“Don’t you like horror films?”
“Not right after I eat.” She grinned. “I’ll barf.”
“Not good.” He entered the code as she sat on the couch. “This should be good.”
She patted the seat next to her. “Sit down.” He sat beside her just as the movie started. She smiled at the screen. “You must be able to read my mind! I love Forbidden Planet! The creature is a little scary, though.”
“I’ll protect you.”
Her face looked very serious when she turned to face him. “I know.”
His mouth instantly became as dry as the deserts east of there. Her blue eyes wove their magical web around his mind once again. He couldn’t think of anyplace better than there, in her web.
She didn’t put on makeup after the swim, and she didn’t need it. Her eyes looked round and soft, the lashes long and fluttering. Her cheeks glowed with their own soft radiance as she stared at him. Her lips looked full and red, very kissable.
She slowly smiled. “What is it you want to show me later?”
He shook himself a little, trying to break the spell. “That’s a surprise.”
“I like surprises.”
“I think you’ll like this one.”
“I’m sure I will.” She turned to face the screen, her face in profile in the semidarkness of the room. He saw the lines and curves making up her face and traced them with his eyes. He wanted to trace them with the tips of his fingers.
She was the most beautiful woman he ever saw in his life.

Even though she loved the movie with its overacting and melodramatic plot, she couldn’t concentrate on the film. She wondered if he, somehow, knew the movies she liked or if their tastes really ran that similar. She hoped the latter.
As he sat next to her, she expected him to slip his arm around her shoulder. She hoped he would.
She regretted, at least a little, his reaction to her improvised swimsuit. She wanted to get his attention, but she thought she embarrassed him, and she didn’t mean to do that. In some ways, she found the idea of his embarrassment a little funny. While making a movie, he sat in the director’s chair watching people have sex all day. Her looking like a contestant in a wet tee shirt contest left him almost speechless.
She wondered what his surprise might be. When he spoke about wanting to show her something, she saw the twinkle in his eyes. Something about the idea made him giddy, like a little boy with a new marble or, maybe, a frog with five legs.
Whatever it was, he cherished it, and wanted to share it with her.
On the screen, Dr. Morbius led the commander and ship’s doctor on a tour of the Krell complex beneath Altaire 4. She knew the story so well she could speak the lines right along with the actors, but she thought about the day she spent with Roland.
She glanced toward him from time to time, and caught him staring at her.

As Valerie watched the movie, he watched her. She seemed to catch him at it occasionally. She smiled when she did.
Their talk this afternoon by the pool fascinated him. She told him about her family, before her parents died. He learned of the cousin, her only relative, who tried to rape her when she was fourteen, and he had the urge to go to Kansas and kill the punk. She spoke of living in the group home with twenty-four other teenagers and little supervision from responsible adults. She talked about how she always wanted to come to LA and act. He learned how she found Sammy at the pound as a kitten and fell in love at first sight. And she told him all about her life on the street the last few months.
He remembered just yesterday thinking she might be weak for letting herself get in the position of living on the street. He found a new respect for her, though. She looked for work, hard, but couldn’t seem to get a break. She did what she could, and managed to hang on for a long time.
It seemed that with every turn, he learned more wonderful things about Valerie.

As the movie ended, she smiled. “So, what’s the surprise?”
“You’re in a hurry.”
She knelt on the couch and faced him. “I told you I like surprises.”
Roland glanced at his watch. “I guess it’s OK.”
Now he really peaked her curiosity. “Why?”
“Because it is.” He stood and took her hand. “Come on.”
He took her out the side door. She didn’t know what direction that side of the house faced, and the darkness prevented her from seeing any landmarks. He held her hand and led her to a golf cart nearby. As they drove through the darkness with only the dim headlights of the cart illuminating the path, she looked over at him. “Where are we going?”
“To show you something.”
He smiled. “Something wonderful.”
She huffed. “Well, I guess that means you aren’t going to tell me.”
“It won’t be a surprise then.”
She pouted, but he couldn’t see her in the darkness. She looked around and saw what he meant about the stars. She couldn’t remember seeing this many stars in the sky since she left Kansas.
The night air carried a chill after the heat of the day, but its crisp cleanness made her skin feel refreshed. She took a deep breath, letting the fresh air wash six years of LA smog from her lungs.
She saw a building loom up in the yellow headlights, and he stopped the cart. The building had no outside lights. Coming to the passenger side, he took her hand again. “Come on. Watch your step.” He pulled a flashlight from the dash of the cart and switched it on. It gave off a dim, red light.
He led her to a door and inside. Darkness engulfed the inside of the building, and he flipped a switch on the wall. A few very dim, red lights came on. She frowned. “What is this place?”
He smiled. “This is where I watch the stars.”
He went to a computer and typed a few commands. The display looked like nothing she’d ever seen on a computer. The colors all looked muted and dim, with red the primary color on the screen.
She heard a noise over her head and looked up. A portion of the ceiling moved, and she saw stars through the opening. At the same time, a big tube swung around to align with the widening gap.
She smiled. “A telescope.”
“Yep.” He worked the controls. “Come over here.” He took her to a chair at the end of the telescope. “Just sit down and look into the eyepiece.” He took her hand and placed it on a small knob. “That’s the focus.”
At first, she saw a myriad of fuzzy blotches. She worked the knob and, suddenly, the blobs jumped into focus as sharp dots of light. Hundreds of them filled the eyepiece, and they came in every color of the rainbow.
She gasped at the beauty of the scene. He must have heard her.
He chuckled softly. “Amazing, isn’t it?”
“Yes…” Her voice trailed off as she tried to count the stars.
His hand touched hers again as he placed it on a small joystick. “This is the skew and will let you move the telescope a little in any direction.”
She moved the stick, and the star field slid slowly past her eye. The points of light varied from one another, not only in color, but in size and brightness. She sighed. “This is wonderful, Roland.”
He paused a moment. “Makes you believe in God, doesn’t it?”
“Yes.” She pulled her eye away from the fantastic image he shared with her. “How often do you come here?”
“Not as much as I’d like. Maybe once a week.”
She saw in the red light a touch of sadness in his eyes. “That’s too bad.”
“Maybe.” He smiled. “Be right back.”
She looked into the eyepiece again as she used the joystick, feeling like she flew through the stars with her arms stretched out like some kind of superhero. She heard him rattling glass someplace behind her. She turned when he walked up beside her again.
He sat down a tray with two champagne flutes on the table beside the chair, and an ice bucket with a bottle in it next to that. “I thought champagne would be in order for your first look at the sky.”
“That’s wonderful.”
He popped the cork, and a chill of excitement fired through her body. He poured the wine and handed her a glass.
He stared at her for a time, and then held his glass out to her. “To you, Valerie.”
“Thank you.” Another chill hit her, but this time because of the cold. After she sipped her wine, she frowned a little. “It’s cold out here.”
“Just a minute.” He went to the console and returned with a jacket and blanket. He slipped the jacket over her shoulders and put the blanket across her lap. “How’s that?”
“Better, thank you.”
“We won’t stay long. It is cold out here, but that makes the seeing better.”
She frowned. “Seeing?”
“Sorry. That means the star images are sharper and don’t flicker as much. Too much heat in and around the telescope causes that.”
She laughed. “I have no idea what that means.”
“That’s all right.” He smiled again. “Let me show you something else.” He pressed a switch on the side of the telescope.
A screen above the console lit up and showed a wide screen, high definition view of the stars she looked at through the telescope. She inhaled again. The stars, mere pinpoints in the telescope, looked the size of golf balls on the screen. “Wow.”
“Yeah.” He sighed. “Like I said, I love the stars.”
She saw that in his eyes. “This is amazing.”
“I think so.” He looked at her and frowned. “Are you still cold?”
She shivered a little, but she didn’t think the temperature was the only reason. “I’m sorry, but I am.” He just shared a treasure with her, one she thought he never shared before.
He smiled. “Don’t be sorry. You’re not dressed for this, and you’re not used to it, either. We can come back again sometime.”
“I’d like that.”
As they drove back to the house, she thought about his casual comment. They would come back here again sometime.

They sat together on the couch again, but just chatted instead of watching another movie. She looked at the clock and it was almost midnight.
She sighed. “Roland, thank you for sharing your stars with me.”
“They’re not my stars.”
“Maybe, but they’re very special to you. It means a lot you let me share that with you.”
He stared at her for a long time. His mouth moved soundlessly for a few moments. “You’re welcome.”
His eyes looked soft and his long lashes fluttered as he watched her face. His eyes moved to look at hers, first staring at one eye, and then the other. His remarkable smile faded from his lips and something she could only call fascination replaced it. She reached up and stroked the line of his jaw. The fine stubble of the beard that grew since he shaved this morning tickled her fingertips. “What’s wrong?”
He swallowed and looked down for just an instant before gazing into her eyes again. “You’re so very pretty.”
“Thank you, but where did that come from?”
“I’ve spent more than two days watching you.” He shrugged a little. “No, I’ve been trying not to stare at you for two days. That hasn’t been easy. More to the point, it didn’t work.”
“I don’t mean to sound conceited, but I assumed you found me pretty. Why else would you cast me in your movie?”
He waved his hand and stood up. He paced back and forth between the couch and the fireplace where a small fire cast flickering shadows around the room. “No, no. I don’t mean that.” He paced, looking down at the floor as he walked. He waved his hands around a couple of times. “Of course you’re pretty in that way, like an actress should be pretty.”
She couldn’t imagine what upset him so. She stood and stepped in front of him. “I don’t understand.”
He stopped and looked down into her eyes. He stood a foot from her. “I haven’t been able to think of anything except you for these past two days.”
His statement brought her a strange sense of satisfaction. At least she wasn’t the only one distracted.
He grabbed her shoulders in his hands and stared at her face. Her heart pounded and, despite the slight chill remaining in her body from the trip to the observatory, a bead of sweat ran down her chest to roll between her breasts. Her hands trembled where they hung at her sides, and her breath flowed rapidly through her nose.
The faint popping of the fire added a crackling backbeat to the drumming of her pulse in her ears, and the dancing shadows moved over the walls and their bodies as they stood so close together. Her nose filled with the smell of the burning pine logs. The acidic and pungent scent of the wood smoke mixed with the smell of his sweat and unique chemistry to create a new odor. The smoky sweetness of the scent came on as no less intoxicating than a good wine.
With no warning, he pulled her to him and pressed his lips to hers.
His arms slipped around her shoulders, pulling her against him as his mouth moved over hers. When his tongue pressed against her lips, she reached around his waist to put her hands on his back. She parted her lips, and his tongue danced wildly in her mouth.
She responded, pushing her tongue into his warm mouth. The taste of his lips and mouth made her mind fog as her hands moved over him. While in the pool, she noticed the muscles of his back flexing and rippling as he swam. Now, those muscles felt hard and firm under her hands as they moved over his body.
His arms shifted slightly, and his hands ran up and down her back, massaging her through the tee shirt.
Tremors shook her body, threatening to unhinge her knees, and she thanked God for his arms holding her. Beyond keeping her from falling, his tight embrace made her quiver wonderfully, like no other hug she ever received.
Warmth spread across her breasts and through her pelvis as she stretched against him to reach his lips. She wanted to bring her face up to the same level as his, but she fought the urge to wrap her legs around his waist.
His hands came to her head where they stroked her hair. His touch made the shivers intensify, and she quivered like jelly in his arms.
Roland’s body twitched violently in her arms. He suddenly pushed her away from him, and started to turn. She didn’t have time to wonder why he pushed her away, but she lunged at him, wanting to feel his arms around her and his lips against hers again. He grabbed her shoulders, holding her at arm’s length.
He panted as he stared at her, and his eyes held a panic to exceed that she saw there when she twisted her ankle on the mountain. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.”
“What are we doing?” He sounded desperate, as desperate as she did two days ago.
“We were kissing. Right now, I’m not sure what we’re doing.”
“We can’t do this.” He paused, his eyes searching her face for something. “I can’t do this.”
She thought she could slip from his grasp. With any luck at all, she could knock him down and be on top of him pretty fast. Then he couldn’t get away. She fought the urge and won, but it was a close thing. She took a deep breath. “Tell me why not.”
“Because you’re an actress and I’m the director. Because I’m the boss and you’re my employee.” His eyes looked very sad. “Because I’m twenty years older than you.”
“I’ll quit, and I don’t care how old you are.”
“You should. People talk and it’s not right.”
“It’s not right they talk.” He still held her by the shoulders. She reached up and rested her hands on his wrists. “I don’t care.”
He pulled away from her and walked to the fireplace. When he leaned on the mantle, she couldn’t help remembering the old TV shows with the man leaning there to think. All he needed was a pipe in the corner of his mouth. “I’m sorry. That was stupid.”
She went to stand beside him. When she put her hand on his where it rested on the mantle, he twitched a little. “No, it’s not stupid.”
“I think I should go to bed.” He either wouldn’t or couldn’t look at her.
She swallowed hard, still fighting the urge to grab him again. “If you think that’s best.” Going to bed was a good idea. As long as they could both use the same bed.
He walked beside her up the stairs and down the hall. When they reached her door, he stared at his feet. “We need to talk in the morning, when my head is clear.”
She nodded. She longed for his arms to hold her again, but any move on her part would hurt him. She couldn’t help wondering if something she did caused his reaction. Was all that about people talking and her being an actress just talk to cover something deeper? “All right.”
He paused for several seconds. “Goodnight.” He turned and walked to his room. She watched him as he closed the door.

He managed to walk to his room in a calm manner. He even opened the door, went inside his room, and closed the door without slamming anything. As he walked by the end of his big four-poster bed, he couldn’t control himself any longer.
He punched the post with his fist.
A ten inch diameter oak post is much harder than his fist, and it hurt. Bad.
“Fuck!” He cradled his hand in his arm. Hitting the post was stupid. What he did downstairs was even worse.
He let himself lose control, something he couldn’t remember ever doing before. In his failure, he set things up to hurt Valerie. He hated himself for his weakness and for hurting her.
He paced his room, fuming at himself. If he owned a dog, he’d kick it about now.
Her dismissal of the problems his actions created showed she just didn’t understand how things work. Then again, she made a good point. If he thought he could have her, he’d fire her right now.
And that is, he thought, the real problem.
He wanted her. Not for a quick romp in bed. Not just for a few months until he became bored. He wanted her forever.
He knew that was even crazier than wanting her for a quickie. He met the girl Thursday afternoon. It’s Saturday night. He glanced at the clock. Sunday morning now.
He considered another cold shower. He needed one now. As wrong as it was, he liked the way she made him feel.
When he held her, his mind fuzzed. Her body, so soft and warm, belonged in his arms, pressed against him. His initial thoughts were right. It felt wonderful to hold her.
After a few moments holding her, he figured out what to do next. He wanted to make love to her. While she was great to hold, the nearness drove him to want more.
He could still taste her lips on his. Her tongue moved in his mouth in amazing ways. When he remembered how she sucked his lips and tongue, he shook in place.
He glanced at his hand. It didn’t look broken. He grabbed some ice from the bar and wrapped it in a towel to put on his hand.
If he would have pushed away from her even an instant later than he did, he knew he’d be in bed with her right now. He sighed. That was where he wanted to be, not here icing his bruised hand.
This would all be a lot easier if she’d have slapped him when he tried to kiss her. He could resist her. Maybe. If she rebuffed him, it would be easier, though.
Instead, she damn near sucked his socks off. He closed his eyes as he thought about how her hands moved over his back. She hugged him every bit as hard as he did her.
He frowned. What did that mean?
Maybe she didn’t care about the age difference or anything else. Maybe this was all his problem and his reaction.
They do need to talk in the morning. He didn’t know what he would say to her, but they needed to talk just the same.
He stopped pacing. The feelings he had while holding her swept over him again. Her petite body in his arms. Her sweet lips pressed to his. Her small hands caressing his back. The luscious smell of her body floating into his nose. The feel of her smooth skin under his hands. The silky touch of her hair on his arms. The list ran through his head like the credits of a movie. Unlike credits that end after a few minutes, this list of great things about her just went on and on.
It all came down to one thing; he wanted her.
He tossed the ice in the sink of the bar.

Valerie lay in bed with Sammy on her chest. She rubbed his ears absently. She wanted to cry, but kept the tears at bay, at least for now.
In her mind, she imagined Roland’s arms around her and his lips on hers still. His hands drifted over her back, squeezing her tightly to him. His mouth moved over hers, and she smelled his cologne, spicy and sweet at the same time. Her tongue traced her lips, tasting him again.
Then, something happened. He ran away from her. Not walked, but ran, as fast as he could. She wanted him back, but didn’t know how to make it happen.
Sammy looked up at her and meowed softly. “I don’t know what’s wrong, buddy. Any ideas?”
He stared at her with his green eyes. Sammy had no more clues than she did.
She needed to think of something to say to him in the morning. He wanted to talk.
She heard a noise, like someone pacing outside her door. She stood and walked to the sitting room of the suite as she pulled her robe around her.
A soft knock came. She opened the door, and Roland stood in the hall, still dressed in his clothes. She stared at him for a moment. She saw a small cut on the knuckles of his right hand. “Are you all right?”
He looked up at her. “No, I’m not.”
“What’s wrong?”
She blinked. “What?”
“You’re what’s wrong.” He frowned. “Can I come in?”
She stood aside. “Sure.”
“Thanks.” He paced the room a few times. “That’s not right. You’re not the problem. My reaction to you is the problem.”
She sat down, and Sammy jumped in her lap.
He leaned and patted Sammy’s head. “That’s one part of it all.” He sighed. “I don’t like cats, but I like this one.”
“You said you like cats.”
“I know. I have no idea why I said that.” He paced again. “I have less of an idea why I’m doing a lot of things the last two days.”
“So what?”
He stopped his pacing and stared at her. “So what?”
“Have you been drinking?”
“No.” He waved his hand in dismissal. “Before you ask, my hand is fine.”
She nodded. “Roland, you’re right, and we need to talk. I’m not upset you kissed me.”
“Good. I’d hate that.” He paced again. “The fact is I want to kiss you again.” He stopped pacing in front of her. As he stared down into her face, she again tasted his lips.
Roland reached and lifted Sammy from her lap, and turned to set him on the coffee table. He took her hands and pulled her to stand. His arms slipped around her waist, and he pulled her close to his chest.
Her heart quickened as he moved his head to press his lips to hers again. The sweet flavor of his mouth made her gasp through her panting.
His mouth moved in slow rolling motions as he kissed her. Roland’s tongue darted in her mouth, touching every part of her he could reach, and he pressed harder against her lips to reach even farther. The flavor of his cologne mixed with the taste of his saliva to create a new sapor, and it made her mind do back flips in her head.
Minutes passed before he pulled his lips slowly from hers. He rested his forehead against hers. “I did it once, but if you want this to stop, you should say so now while I can still walk away.”
“If you stop now, I’ll sic Sammy on you.”
He kissed her again, and his hands moved over her back and down to her ass. He cupped her cheeks in his palms and squeezed. The hardness of his erection pressed against her stomach as he pulled her closer to him.
His hands moved to her shoulders and pushed the robe from her. It fell on the floor in a fluffy white cloud around her feet.
Roland glanced down and his eyes went wide as he caught his breath. “My God.”
She nuzzled to his chest. “What’s wrong?”
“You’re beautiful. Like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
She thought about that simple statement. How many women must Roland have seen nude in his career? She’d heard the lines before. Men had told her all sorts of things, compared her to Aphrodite even, to get her in bed. It wasn’t just the fact that he already had her in bed, or very nearly so, that made her believe what he said. It was the look on his face, the wide eyes and the slightly slack jaw. She quivered knowing he spoke the truth to her. Or at least the truth as he saw it. “Thank you.”
She unbuttoned his shirt, running her hands over his chest. Fit and trim, the muscles shook under her fingernails as she traced the lines of his shape.
He kissed her face all over; his lips and tongue tickled her neck as he nuzzled to nibble and kiss her. His hands moved again to her ass and rubbed her cheeks. An electric tingle rolled through her body, and her head lolled back as she moaned softly.
He kissed down her face to lick her chest and neck. As his tongue circled her nipples, they hardened even more, and he sucked them into his mouth. His teeth tenderly bit her swollen nipples as his tongued flicked over the tips, causing her to shake. She ran her hands over his back as he licked and sucked her breasts.
His hands rubbed up and down her legs, reaching down to her knees before sliding up to caress her waist. The warm, smooth skin of his hands touched her, driving her passions ever higher.
Roland dropped to his knees in front of her. As her hands roamed over his head, he licked her stomach and ribs. When his tongue darted into her bellybutton, she twitched and giggled. His fingers traced her ribs, adding their own tickles to the wonderful touch of his mouth.
The softness of his salt and pepper hair slipped between her fingers. She pulled his head tighter to her body as he kissed her belly, feeling the quivering his lips triggered.
She sighed. “Yes, Roland…That’s great.”
His hands moved again to grasp her ass. He pulled her to him, and he lowered himself to kiss her thighs. When his tongue flicked over her labia, she jerked. His fingers rubbed between her thighs from behind, and they stroked her pussy.
He lifted her left leg to drape it over his shoulder. His tongue darted into her pussy, fluttering over her clit, as his hands rubbed her ass.
His tongue plunged deep into her cunt, and her wetness flowed down her right thigh as he supported her standing on one leg. Her shivers intensified when he sucked her clit between his lips and swirled his tongue around the end.
He sucked her clit as he slipped his fingers into her pussy. She jerked and thrashed as she screamed loudly. Her orgasm ran over her again and again. Had he not held her, she would have fallen.
When he pulled his lips from her clit with a loud pop, she twitched violently. He stood quickly and hugged her to him.
She hung limp in his arms, but managed a small smile. Sweat poured from her face and body. Her hair stuck to her in places, plastered by the perspiration. She panted for breath.
He swept her into his arms and carried her to the bedroom to put her on the bed. “Do you need anything?”
She laughed. “I have no idea right now.” She looked up at him where he stood beside the bed. “If you try to leave this room, I’ll have Sammy kill you.”
He smiled. “Unless you want me to leave, I’m staying right here.” He turned down the light and climbed into bed beside her.
His arms closed around her body.

Chapter 7
“The Morning After”

He held her close, and the hardness of his cock pressed against her. His hands moved over her body, touching her first here and then there. Now, his fingers rolled her nipple as he massaged her left breast.
She slipped her hand down to touch his stiffness as they kissed. As she stroked him, his hips moved to meet her motions.
He never stopped kissing her someplace since he crawled into bed next to her. His hands moved over her body constantly, always finding new places and ways to send shivers through her. Through her passions, Valerie realized she never knew a man as attentive as Roland when he made love to her.
She rolled from her back and pushed him. His body flopped over and she moved to lie between his legs, her mouth watering to taste his cock. He gripped her shoulders gently. “No, not yet.”
His hands pulled her up, and then lifted her hips. His dick slipped smoothly into her pussy as he lowered her onto his shaft. She shuddered as the swollen head of his cock slid over her G-spot, across her cervix, and then pressed hard against the back of her cunt.
Roland lifted his knees a little. He smiled up at her. “Lean back on my legs.”
She leaned back a little. His strong arms lifted her hips effortlessly, and he thrust his hips to hers as he lifted and lowered her on him.
Despite her urge to move against him, she relaxed as he moved for them both. His cock slid into her as he lowered her hips, his upward thrust meeting the insistent force of gravity. With each penetration, she imagined his dick going ever farther into her flowing wetness.
When she looked down into his face, she saw a simple joy there. A wave of guilt about relaxing on top of him as he moved, giving her pleasure, washed across her. It faded as the pleasures overtook her.
She reached to touch his face, her fingers moving over his lips. He kissed her fingers, running his tongue out to dart between her digits. The soft smile never left his face, and his eyes never left hers.
He shifted his legs just a tiny amount and she leaned back a little farther. The head of his cock pressed against her G-spot with every thrust. Her climax waited to pounce on her.
She wanted to make this last for him, and moved to lean forward. He pulled his hands from her hips and pushed her back to recline against his legs. “No, baby. Just relax and let me.”
She sighed. “It feels so good.”
“Good.” His hands returned to lifting her body on his cock again.
His motion became faster, and his cock-head rubbed against her cunt. He moved his hips faster, in a very different rhythm from what he used to lift and lower her hips. Even when he held her body at the highest point, his thrusting hips moved his cock in and out of her.
Sweat ran down her chest as he moved her, and her nose filled with the amazing saccharine scent of his body. As she ran her hands over his face and chest, the perspiration pouring from his skin made a slippery coating on his body that shimmered in the semidarkness of the room.
Her orgasm slammed her hard, and she bucked on top of him. He let her slip down to the point of deepest penetration, but he held her upright as she writhed. She thought her head might fall from her shoulders when it lolled from side to side as she screamed incoherent gibberish.
He sat up, hugging her to him. The motion made his cock wiggle in her cunt, and she threw her arms around his neck. He kissed her as her body shook and jerked with her climax.
As the shivering fit of her orgasm faded, she went limp as a dishrag. He held her for a moment before lifting her from his hard cock. He eased her to recline on the bed.
He leaned over her face, and she saw the gentle smile still graced his face. He brushed the sweaty hair from her face with his fingertips, caressing her forehead.
Her breath puffed like a steam engine, her chest heaving rapidly. She managed to smile weakly. “Damn it.”
“I’ll take that as a good thing.”
“Very good.”
He kissed her lips tenderly. “Good.”
His cock, hard as steel, touched her hip as he leaned over her. Again, a wave of guilt hit her because she did nothing other than enjoy his attentions. “If you let me rest a minute, it’s your turn.”
He laughed softly. “I won’t argue with you, but I like what we’re doing now.”
They needed to talk about the fairness of that idea. Later. Then again, she never before felt like she did right now. She couldn’t say how she knew, but she knew she formed the very center of his world. She saw in his eyes no one else existed for him. Only her.
She managed to catch her breath a little. He leaned to her every few minutes and kissed her softly. Sometimes on the forehead, other times he kissed the end of her nose. Once or twice, he kissed the point of her chin. Mostly, he kissed her lips.
When she reached up with her shaky arms to hug his neck, he took her hands in his and folded them across her stomach. “Just rest for now.”
He treated her like a princess or something. She could tell from his attention, most of all from the look on his face, he cared about her.
Finally, her breathing slowed to something reasonable. She smiled up at him. “Are you going to stop me again?”
He shook his head. “No.”
She grabbed his neck, pulling his face to hers, and she kissed him. Pushing herself to sit up, Roland rolled and landed on his back on the huge bed. She crawled to lie on top of him.
His dick pressed hard against her stomach as she wiggled on his body. She kissed down his face to his chest. The smell of his body filled her nose, and she licked his chest, relishing the salty flavor of his clean sweat.
As she licked his stomach, his cock rested between her breasts, and the hardness made her mind fog again as she remembered the sensations of his deep penetration. She kissed down farther, and the head of his dick touched her chin.
She moved again, and kissed the bulbous head of his cock, swirling her tongue around him. He jerked as she slipped her lips over the head. She cupped his balls in her hands, and rolled them as she sucked his cock.
She swallowed as much of his length as she could, but a good part of his dick remained more than she could handle. His hands moved over her head, almost tickling her as his fingers ran through her hair. A series of low moans came from his lips as she sucked and licked his shaft.
She looked up at his face, and she saw him staring at her, his eyes glassy.
She lifted his cock to his stomach and licked over his balls, sucking them into her mouth for a moment. When she licked back to the tip of his dick, a small drop of pre-cum glistened there. The salty flavor of the warm fluid sent chills over her palate. The taste made her want more.
His shaking became major quakes. His hands quivered on her head, and his hips thrust up a little. He grunted loudly, and his cum erupted into her mouth.
The hot, sticky saltiness tasted wonderful to her as it flushed over her tongue before she swallowed. She sucked firmly as he bucked and jumped on the bed.
When his shaking slowed, she crawled up to lie beside him. He slipped his arm around her shoulder, and she lifted her knee to rest it on his hips.
He squeezed her shoulders. “I think it’s my turn to say damn it.”
“Then I’ll take that as a good thing, too.”
His chest rose and fell quickly as they cuddled together. “Valerie, I want you.”
“I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say and be romantic. I’ll just say I like that.”
“I think that’s all you need to say.”
Sammy sat on the bedside table watching them. He meowed.
Roland chuckled. “I think he’s jealous.”
She paused. She couldn’t think of anything meaningful to say that didn’t involve the L-word. “He’ll get over it.”

Twenty-eight years of getting up early programmed him. He woke up at 7:25 despite the night they shared. One of them would wake the other every so often, and they made love again. The last few times all blurred together in his mind.
Valerie rested in his arms, her head on his shoulder and her right arm resting across his stomach. She tended to pull her right knee up to rest across his hips, too. Her hair made a soft carpet of gold over her side and spilled onto his chest and stomach. Her breathing came from her nose regular and slow as she slept. A small smile seemed to shine from the pretty face.
Sammy gave up sometime in the night. Just about the time he would get comfortable and fall asleep, one of them would wake up. What Sammy probably saw as a theme park thrill ride would start moving the bed again. He slept on the table beside Valerie’s head.
Roland couldn’t remember a night like last night. He knew it didn’t have anything to do with the number of times they had sex. The fact he and Valerie made love explained the difference.
She wiggled a little next to him and snuggled closer. He smiled. “Are you awake?”
She snuggled again. “Maybe.”
His cell phone rested on the table by his head, and it chirped. “That will be Maria looking for me.”
“Oh, that’s great.”
He picked up the phone. “Hello?”
Maria’s voice came through. “RW?”
“Who else?”
“Where are you?”
He considered several answers. “Where do you think I am?”
“This isn’t a game of hide and seek.” She paused a moment. “Are you with Valerie?”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but yeah.”
She didn’t answer for a long time. “Do you want breakfast up there?”
“Hold on.” He squeezed Valerie’s shoulder. “Hungry?”
She snuggled. “Yes.”
Maria will love this. “Yeah, we do.”
“All right.” Maria hung up.
Valerie sighed. “I guess we should get dressed.”
“She’s bringing breakfast up here.”
“Breakfast in bed.”
He laughed. “Relax.”
“No. No breakfast in bed.” She sighed. “Let’s sit at the table by the window.”
“My robe is in my room.” He wondered what the sudden shyness is all about.
“Then you’ll have to go get it or wear your clothes.”
“Just relax. I’ll go get my robe.”
She took a deep breath. “I’m sorry.”
“No, don’t be.” He smiled at her. “I think I understand. Even if I don’t, I accept how you feel.”
She smiled, and day seemed to break in the room. “Thanks.”
He took her cheeks in his hands. “You’re welcome.” He kissed her. “Don’t you run off while I’m gone.”
“You couldn’t drive me off with a stick.”
He pulled on his pants. “I’ll be right back.”
She slipped her robe on and stood on her toes to kiss him again. “Hurry.”
As he opened the door, Maria came down the hall with a cart holding breakfast. He nodded to her. “Be right back.” He headed to his room.

Maria rolled the breakfast cart into the room. She frowned a little. “I thought you were having breakfast in bed.”
Valerie hesitated. “No, that’s not my style.” She didn’t know why, but the idea of someone serving her breakfast while she was in bed troubled her.
“Suit yourself.” Maria put the plates and food on the table and opened the drapes and window. “It’s a beautiful day.”
“It looks that way.”
Maria turned, the look on her face a bit troubled. “We really do take care of RW.”
Valerie wondered if she missed something here. “What?”
“I’ll just ask you right out. Are you taking advantage of him?”
And so it begins. “No, I’m not.”
Maria studied her face for a moment, her eyes unblinking. “It’s been more than five years since he brought anyone home for more than overnight. I can’t remember him acting the way he is now at all.”
“I do care about him.”
“His money makes that easier, too.”
The age difference coupled with his money put her in double jeopardy. “I don’t care about that.”
“Do you expect me to believe that?”
“I can’t do anything about what you believe, but it’s the truth.” Valerie stared at Maria for a moment.
“I want to believe that. You have to admit this looks a little strange.” Maria cocked her head to one side. “You’re about twenty-five. He’s forty-six. You’re broke. He’s rich. You’re very pretty, and he’s a lonely man.”
“I know exactly how it looks. I hate that, too, but I can’t help what other people think. I also can’t help how I feel.”
As Maria stared at her, Valerie heard Roland close his door and his steps as he came down the hall. Maria frowned. “Don’t even think about hurting him.” She turned and left the suite.
Roland came into the room. “What’s she in such a hurry about?” He closed the door behind him.
She sighed. “I don’t know.”
He slipped his arms around her waist. Despite her thoughts, the chills of his touch made a smile spread across her face. He kissed her forehead. “You look great this morning.”
“Thanks.” She sat as he held her chair. “Can we talk?”
“Of course.” He sat down and poured coffee for them both.
“I’ve come to care a lot about you in a short time.”
He stopped, his mouth open to take a bite of toast. He lowered the toast to his plate. “Are you about to give me bad news?”
“I hope not.”
His eyes narrowed. “What did Maria say to you?”
“It’s not anything she said so much as she reminded me of a few things.” She hated to cry. She managed the past three months and cried only a couple of times. She thought she might cry now, though. “I’m not trying to take advantage of you.”
“I know that.”
“How do you know it?”
He frowned. “I’m not sure. Something…maybe something in my heart tells me.”
“It does look funny, though. And suspicious.”
“I guess it does in some ways.”
“Doesn’t that worry you?”
“I guess it should.” He shrugged. “There’s a lot more to it than worrying, though.”
“Like what?”
“I guess the biggest thing is if I spend all my time worrying, I’ll never grow, and I’ll miss out on things because I’m too worried to do anything other than not changing.”
She took a deep breath. “Isn’t it possible I fucked you for money?”
“Sure, I guess so. It wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened on Earth, and it wouldn’t even be the first time it happened to me.” He paused. “I don’t think that’s what happened, though.”
“Then what do you think happened?”
He stared at her for a moment. “What’s this about?”
She sighed. “I think I’m testing myself.” That’s the only thing she could think of to explain herself.
“All right. I’ll humor you for a while. I think you, like you said, care about me.”
“I do.”
He smiled. “Then we have something in common. We care about each other. Now, what’s the real problem?”
She smiled a little. “I guess Maria is doing what everyone does and making assumptions.”
He nodded. “She assumed since I’m older than you, you’re trying to take advantage of me.”
“You said last night you don’t care what people think.”
She recalled the song and dance they shared in front of the fireplace. “I guess I did.”
He stared for a long time. “Valerie, if you say the word, last night didn’t happen. I can’t promise I’ll forget about it, but I can act like it didn’t happen.” A sad smile came to his face. “Actually, I can promise I’ll never forget it.”
The tears threatened again, and she blinked them into submission. “I don’t want that.”
“I don’t either.” He poked at his omelet with his fork for a few seconds. “So, what do we do now?”
Valerie thought for a moment. Being close to him made her feel good. She didn’t know why, but it did. Waking up beside him this morning made her feel like she lived in a dream. The facts all said she wanted him. “If I could predict the future, I’d be making a killing in the stock market and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But I can’t predict the future, so I don’t know what will happen between us.” She smiled and put her hand on his. “I do know I like being with you.”
“I guess I haven’t made much of a secret by my actions that I like spending time with you, too.”
“No, not really.” She sighed. “I think we need to go on like we aren’t worried about other people at all.”
“Just let nature take its course, then?”
“For lack of a better term, yes.”
He picked up a strip of bacon and bit off half of it. As he chewed, she saw his eyes take on that distant look, like when he talked about the stars. “Short of using all the cold water in California for showers, I guess that’s all we can do.” He paused for a moment. “I probably should talk to Maria. Maybe Cathy and George, too.”
“If you think that’s best, I understand, but it’s your life.”
“It is, but they’ve been a part of my life for a long time.”
“We can talk to them.”
His eyes came back from the stars, and he smiled at her. “Here.” He held the other half of the strip of bacon out to her. She bit off a piece. “It might be better if I talk to them alone. They’ll all want to talk to you, though.”
Valerie swallowed. “That’s fine.”
Sammy sat on the chair watching them talk. Now he eyed the rest of the bacon Roland still held. “All right. I can take a hint.” Roland held the bacon out as Sammy took it from his fingers.
“You’re as bad as I am about spoiling him.”

After breakfast, they decided to shower before going for a walk. As he stood with the warm water running down his body and the walls, making soft whooshing sounds as it flowed, Valerie knelt before him, licking his cock.
Despite the wonderful physical feelings, Roland couldn’t get his thoughts to calm down. She agreed they had feelings for each other. He wanted to sing and dance, even if they would laugh him off the stage in the vaudeville days as a hoofer and a tweeter. He wanted to pick her up and swing her around. He could never remember feeling this good and this excited in his life.
He tried to find a name, some handle, to hang on his feelings, but he didn’t like where that took his mind. He knew he liked Valerie. He even admitted he lusted for her. He fought the urge every time he spoke to her to say he loved her.
He knew he couldn’t love her. He’d only known her a few days, and how can love grow in that time? He found her attractive in the extreme, sure, and he wanted her. He hadn’t fallen in love with her. He wondered just who he tried to convince of this.
Roland knew he could easily fall for her, though. Marion hit the nail on the head, like grandmas often did. He tried to think of reasons why he shouldn’t fall for Valerie. He couldn’t think of any. Pretty, smart, sexy in an innocent sort of way, she seemed to have it all.
Roland often wondered if the years in the porn business left him jaded. He’d seen more sex acts than most people could even imagine. Every position known to humanity, and a few brand new ones, studded his memory. Maybe that’s why he could think about other things while she gave him a blowjob.
He figured he would never know for certain, but he suspected Valerie sensed his thoughts. She did something different with her mouth and tongue. He didn’t have a clue what she did, but nothing in his experience even came close to preparing him.
She moved her head in small rolling motions, her tongue flittering like a butterfly over the head of his cock. He tried to hold back, but she pushed him to the edge of climax, and then beyond.
Spasms rocked his body as he came, and his knees tried to unhinge. He managed to reach back and grab the safety rail in the shower and keep his feet. He twitched and jerked as inarticulate grunts escaped his lips.
She seemed to take hours to drain his cock, sucking harder and flicking her tongue around the head. Just as he knew he could now die happy, she gave the head of his softening dick a kiss and stood up.
She kissed his chest and put her arms around his waist.
His chest heaved as he heard his pulse hammering in his head. Despite the water spraying on him, he could feel his body sweating. “You could hurt a guy that way.”
She chuckled a little, her small body bouncing against his. “I’ll remember that.”
“I think I’m supposed to say something romantic about now, but I can’t.”
“You don’t need to say anything.”
“It’s not romantic, but you give great head.”
She chuckled again. “I have to keep your attention somehow.”
Maybe his twitches slowed enough. He released the safety bar and put his arms around her shoulders. “Valerie, you always have my attention. I can’t get you out of my mind for even an instant, even if I wanted to and tried.”
She squeezed him tightly. “That’s good to know.” She paused for a moment. “I can’t stop thinking about you either.”

They walked hand-in-hand around the property. She heard the birds in the trees around them, but as with the flowers, Valerie didn’t know enough about California wildlife to identify more than a few.
He looked at her forehead where a few beads of sweat formed. Roland frowned. “It’s going to be warm today. Are you thirsty?”
“Maybe a little.” They hadn’t brought any water with them.
“Come this way.” He led her off through the trees.
Soon, she saw a building through the plants. “What’s that?”
He smiled. “The garage.”
“For how many cars?” The building looked big.
“I don’t know how many will fit in there, but it holds nine cars and a couple of motorcycles right now.”
“Nine cars? What do you do with nine cars?”
He shrugged. “Three of them are Maria’s, Cathy’s, and George’s personal cars. I’ve got two trucks for the property and horses, the Mercedes, a Humvee, and a Viper.” He smiled. “Then there’s my baby.”
She bumped her hip against his. “I thought I’m your baby.”
He smiled. “I’ll have to call the car something else.”
They entered the building. She saw the cars and trucks all parked inside, but something looked wrong. She’d been in places in LA where you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting either a Viper or a Hummer. The ones here didn’t look right. “That doesn’t look like any Viper I’ve ever seen.” She pointed. “Neither does that Hummer.”
“Well, first, that’s not a Hummer. That’s a military Humvee with some modifications to make it street legal.” He smiled. “We took the guns off, too.”
“I didn’t know you could even buy those.”
“If you know the right people to slip a little cash to, you can buy anything.”
She laughed. “What about the Viper?”
“It’s a Viper, but radically modified.” He smiled again. “Nine hundred horsepower worth of modifications.”
“Um, how fast will it go?”
“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “I know it will do 265.”
“Yikes! That’s fast!”
“I have a long history of doing things fast.”
She grinned. “That didn’t show last night.”
“Maybe I should say some things.”
“That’s better.” She looked around. “What about this baby of yours?”
He smiled, and his face took on that little boy with new lizard look. “Over here.” He took her to a door and opened it.
When he turned on the light, she thought the thing sitting on jacks in the middle of the large room might have been a car at some time in the distant past. Right now, it was hard to tell.
“What is that?” The car rested in pieces scattered around the room. Boxes and crates full of parts covered the work benches and much of the floor. The engine sat on a stand pushed off in one corner. The transmission or at least what she thought was the transmission, sat on the floor below the motor. The car itself was nothing but an empty body covered in gray paint with a few red and yellow patches here and there.
He smiled. “That’s a 1971 Dodge Challenger Hemi RT convertible with all the goodies. All the parts match the VIN. I even have the original window sticker and compact spare tire.”
“I know what a Dodge is. I even know what a spare tire and a window sticker are. The rest made no sense to me.”
“It’s just an old car I fell in love with as a kid. I’ve always wanted one.”
“Honey, that car was old when I was born.” She studied the heap of parts for a moment. “How long have you been working on it?”
“About seven years.”
“It must have been in bad shape.”
He chuckled. “Anything that old is in bad shape.”
“How often do you work on it?”
“Maybe three or four times a year for a few days each. I’m in no hurry.”
She thought for a moment about these cars and the other things he owned. “They say the only difference between a man and a boy is the price of their toys.”
“That could be, but have you priced toys lately?”
“That’s true, I guess.”
“I have a few toys, but most of it isn’t that at all.” He pulled the door shut as they left the room. “We need the trucks to work around here. The Mercedes is just another office.” He nodded toward the room holding the Challenger. “That’s a childhood dream. I’ll grant you the Humvee and Viper.”
“What about the telescope and horses?”
“The telescope is my escape. The horses are here so the kids can ride them.”
She frowned. “What kids?”
“Oh, I didn’t tell you about the kids.”
She wondered if this secret might be one she didn’t want to know about. “No, you didn’t.”
“There’s a camp about seven miles down the road for kids from the city. About twice a month, they all come up here and spend the day riding the horses and swimming and hiking.” He smiled. “Yesterday is the first time in a year I’ve ridden the horses.”
She’d thought the worst. Instead, Roland said he keeps six horses, with all the related trouble and expense, so city kids can have a little fun a couple of times a month. “That’s so sweet.”
“It’s the least I can do. The nuns who run the place do what they can with the money they have, so I help out now and then.” He laughed. “It pisses off my accountant, though.” He seemed to remember something. “We need to get you some water. Come on.”
As they walked to the water cooler, she marveled at the self-effacing way he dismissed his actions. She knew keeping horses took a lot of work, but George did that part. Roland still paid George. She didn’t know how much it cost to keep a horse. It couldn’t be cheap. And he did it to help a bunch of nuns and city children. Not the typical porn king.
She smiled at him as he handed her a cup of ice water. “I still think it’s nice you help those kids.”
“They seem to have a good time. They’ll be here next weekend. We’re having a sort of camp out for them up on the point.”
“That sounds like fun. Maybe I can come up next weekend and help out.”
He froze in place for a moment, his cup halfway to his lips. His eyes locked to hers as he lowered the cup from his face. “Yeah.” He stared for a moment, his eyes moving between hers. “You can stay here if you like. That room is yours for as long as you want it.”
She didn’t need to think about it. “I think I’d rather stay in your room.”
His face went a little slack. “Really?”
“Yes, really.”
The paper cup slipped from his hand. They both jumped when the icy water splashed their legs. “I…” He closed his eyes for a moment. “I hoped you’d say yes. Now that you have, I don’t know what to say.”
She smiled up at him. “You don’t have to say anything.”
He stared at her again, and his mouth moved a few times without sound. She wondered what he tried to say. Valerie prayed both for him to say he loved her and for him to stay silent. If he said he loved her, she didn’t know how to respond. She couldn’t honestly tell him she loved him. Not after only a few days. She knew that would hurt him, but she would rather hurt him honestly than lie to him.
He smiled a little. “You have the knack for leaving me speechless. You’re a very special woman.”
“Thank you.”
He hesitated a moment. “Come on. Let’s go for a ride.”

He pulled the Viper out of the garage and she climbed in beside him. After he called Maria to let her know they would be back for dinner but not lunch, he checked over the instruments.
Valerie frowned. “What are you doing? It’s like you’re getting ready to fly a plane rather than drive a car.”
“This thing is more like a plane than you think.” He found everything to his satisfaction. “Buckle up.”
She looked at the four-point harness. “What’s this?”
“A racing restraint system.” He leaned over and helped her secure the harness, his arm brushing her breasts as he did. He didn’t need that kind of distraction while driving the Viper. “This is built like an Indy car, complete with a survival cage. That won’t help you if you’re thrown out, though.”
“If you’re trying to relax me, it isn’t working.”
He laughed. “Sorry about that.” He put the car in gear and moved for the gate.

When she lived at the group home back in Kansas, she went out with a bunch of the kids one night, and the boy driving took the car up to almost a hundred miles per hour. That was on a Kansas highway. Straight, level, wide, and no cars as far as the eye could see. The rush was unbelievable.
Now, Roland drove the Viper on a twisting mountain road. On one side, the mountains rose up far above them. On the other side, a shear drop-off ran to the valley floor far below. It looked like miles down. When she managed to pull her eyes from the road rushing at them and look at the speedometer, she never saw it below one hundred.
The tires squealed as he cornered hard, working the gearshift and steering wheel with his hands and the gas, clutch, and brake with his feet. She saw him use the brakes only rarely, instead making the nimble little car corner using the gas and motor.
Coming out of the turns, the tires barked with each shift as Roland worked his way through the twelve speeds of the gearbox. Even at speeds of more than a hundred miles per hour, she could feel the back of the car fishtail when he mashed the accelerator.
His eyes never left the road ahead as he drove. He didn’t speak to her except in long straight-aways. His concentration focused on the car, the road, and the task in front of him.
They came up on a line of five cars and a motor home, and Roland slowed to their speed. He smiled. “I can take them.”
She took a deep breath. “Let’s don’t. My heart is about ten miles behind us and running as hard as it can to catch up.”
He laughed. “Sorry if I scared you.”
“No, you didn’t. Not really. That was kind of exciting.” She smiled. “In a runaway roller coaster about to smash into the ground sort of way.”
Roland chuckled. “I get a little carried away in this car sometimes.”
“I guess that’s one word for it.”
“So, vanilla, chocolate, or swirl?”
“Ice cream. There’s a little ice cream place up ahead, and I’m dying for a dipped cone.”
“I haven’t eaten a dipped cone in years.”
“Great. Chocolate, butterscotch, or cherry dip?”
Chocolate was the obvious answer. “They have butterscotch dip?”
She frowned. “Too many choices.”
“I’ll pick for you.”
He pulled into the parking lot of the ice cream shop and shut off the Viper’s powerful engine. The shop did a brisk business, with many cars in the lot. She didn’t see any of the tables outside free, and the shop didn’t have inside service, only walkup windows. He smiled. “We’ll sit in the car. I’ll be right back.” He left the car and headed for the service windows.
After the intensity of the ride, her breathing slowed to normal and her heart soon followed, and she found herself relaxing.
A voice came through the open window to her right. “Hey, pretty girl. Your daddy’s got a nice car.”
She turned suddenly, and a scruffy looking man about thirty stood next to her door. He leaned his hand on the roof of the car and looked inside. His eyes darted around the interior for a moment before fixing on her chest. “And your body is about as nice as the car’s.”
She pushed the button for the electric window, but Roland turned off the key before he left, so it didn’t work. She didn’t know what to say to make the man go away, but his presence gave her a bad feeling.
She didn’t see where Roland came from, but he appeared. He walked up and stared at the man. “Can I help you with something?”
The man smiled. “Not really, old man. Me and your daughter are talking, and it’s private.”
“She’s not my daughter; she’s my girlfriend.” Roland turned to face her. “Is this young man bothering you?”
She swallowed. “I’d just as soon not talk to him, but he hasn’t done anything.”
He nodded and turned back to the man. “I think she’d rather be left alone right now.”
The man smiled slowly. “I don’t care what you think.” The man pulled a large hunting knife from his pocket, and the blade cast glinting flashes of sunlight as he shifted it in his hand. “Just fuck off.”
The only reaction she saw from Roland was his eyes flickering to the knife, and then locking on the shifting eyes of the dirty man. “You’ve already made two mistakes by being here and pulling that knife. Don’t make a bigger mistake by trying to use it.”
“You rich mother fuckers don’t get it, do you? You think because you got all the money and the fancy cars and the tight pussy, you run the show! Well, fuck you! Fuck you!”
She heard someone in the gathering crowd yell. “The cops are coming!”
The dirty man glanced at the crowd for a moment, but Roland’s eyes never wavered. The man turned back and smiled. He glanced away, and then lunged forward with the knife, aiming for Roland’s stomach.
Valerie heard the scream escape her throat, but Roland already moved. The knife passed through empty space, and Roland grabbed the man’s arm. He twisted hard, and the knife clattered to the pavement. With a slight upward twist of Roland’s hands, Valerie heard a snap come from the forearm of the attacker, and he screamed as he fell to his knees. Roland released the man’s arm, and he collapsed onto the pavement.

Chapter 8
“Traveler’s Tales”

Roland stepped over the moaning man on the ground and kicked the knife under the car. He almost ripped the door off the car when he snatched it open. “Are you all right?”
Shakes gripped her body, and hot tears ran down her face. Terror grabbed her. “I don’t know!” Her voice came out as a shrill scream, but she couldn’t stop.
He pulled her from the car and held her close. “It’s all right now. Everything’s over and it’s OK.”
She heard the wailing police siren in the distance as he held her. Her hands moved to circle his waist and she cried into his chest. “I’m scared!”
“I know, and that’s OK. We’re both all right, and that’s all that matters.”
“You could be dead now!”
“But I’m not.”
The California Highway Patrol car skidded to a stop and the officer came out. She heard other sirens in the distance now. The officer looked at the man rolling on the ground and used his radio to call for an ambulance. He came to where Roland held her. “What happened here?”
Roland told the officer the story. “You’ll find our friend here has a broken arm.”
“Are either of you hurt?”
“No. She’s a little shook up, though.”
The officer nodded. “She can sit in my car while I talk to some of these other people.” He moved off to talk to the crowd as two sheriff’s cars pulled in.
By the time the officers finished their interviews and the ambulance hauled the attacker away, Valerie thought she managed to get herself under control. Her shakes subsided and she stopped crying.
The Highway Patrolman came to them. “I think we’re all done here, Mr. Westwood. I imagine the prosecutor’s office will contact you soon, though.”
“No problems.” He knelt down on the pavement in front of her and looked up into her eyes. “Better now?”
“I think so, yes.”
“Let’s get you back to the car.” He walked beside her and helped her sit down. “Do you want to come with me to get your ice cream?”
She frowned. “Ice cream? After all this?”
He sighed. “Valerie, if I learned nothing else in my life, it’s that shit happens. You deal with it, and then you move on. The sooner you can get back to normal, the better off you are in both the long and short runs.” He brushed his fingertips over her cheek. “We came here to get ice cream. Bad things happened. That’s all over now, so I think we need to get our ice cream.”
She thought about what he said, and it made sense. Dwelling on the past would never make things different. “I’ll be OK here, just hurry.” She managed a smile. “Vanilla with butterscotch.”

When he walked to the service window, the people there cheered. He smiled and waved. He got their cones and went back to the car. “Here you go, baby.”
“This looks too pretty to eat.” She took a huge bite of the ice cream.
“So much for that.” He watched her closely. She showed him a new side today, one where she’s a lot more vulnerable than in the past. He liked the strong Valerie, but he found this vulnerable Valerie just as attractive. “You seem better now.”
“Yes, I am.” She thought for a moment. “I thought he was going to kill you.”
“I don’t want it to sound like I’m bragging, but he never had a chance.” He smiled. “Forty years of martial arts has some benefits.”
“Forty years?” She smiled and shook her head. “Still, something could have gone wrong.”
“I guess it could, but it didn’t.”
“Why did you do that?”
He frowned. “What kind of a question is that? I did it because he was going to do something stupid involving you. I care about you, and I want to protect you.”
He saw moisture welling in the corners of her eyes. “You don’t have to protect me.”
“You’re wrong. I do have to protect you.” He shrugged. “Maybe it’s some leftover bit of evolution, but something drives a man to protect the woman he—” He almost said the woman he loves. He might have been ready to say it to her, but she wasn’t ready to hear him say it. Besides, it made no sense, not at this stage of the game. “The woman he cares about.”
She stared at him long enough that it became a little uncomfortable. “I can think of brighter things than that to do in order to show me you care. I can’t think of any sweeter or more special.” She leaned and kissed his cheek. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.”
They sat in silence for a time, usually staring at each other. She finished her cone and smiled. “I didn’t even get any on the seat.”
“And I appreciate it, too. Actually George appreciates that.”
“Since you want everything back to normal, what do we do now?”
“It’s not even noon, so we have plenty of time.” He thought for a moment. She didn’t bring many clothes with her, and he hadn’t seen that many in her car. “Do you need to get some clothes? There are a couple of nice shops in a town not far from here.”
“Actually, I have a little more than half my wardrobe with me, so I could use a few things.” She frowned. “If you can put it on my tab.”
“Nope. This shopping trip is on me.”
“I can’t let you do that.”
“Why not?” He smiled. “After all, I’ll be enjoying looking at you.”
She blushed a little. “Which part of no aren’t you getting?”
“The part starting with N and ending with O. This is on me.”
She sighed. “Before we waste all day at this, is there any point of my arguing with you?”
“Not really.”
“I thought not.” She smiled. “I’ll get something special for you, then.”
“Now you’re talking.” They buckled in and headed for the stores.

He told her to ignore the price tags, and get the things she liked. She couldn’t do it, though. She tried, but she couldn’t shake the feeling she was taking advantage of him, and she told him so.
“I don’t feel that way, and I like how you look in these outfits.”
He wouldn’t come in the lingerie shop with her. She smiled her best seductive smile. “How will I know what you like?”
He shrugged. “I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
“Why don’t you come in with me?”
“Those places make men nervous.” He grinned. “Sort of like being in the amusement park after the park has closed. All you can do is look at the rides and imagine what they would be like.”
She laughed. “I expected the kid in a candy store analogy.”
“In the candy store, you can eat the candy. You can’t work the merry-go-round alone.”
“You can sort of make it work alone.”
He shook his head. “It’s not the same.”
She went inside alone and made her selections. He even made the clerk bring the credit card slip outside for him to sign.
As they walked past a jewelry store, he stopped. “Come on. We need to get you some earrings.”
“We just do.” He pulled her inside with him. They left with a pair of diamond studs.
The boxes and bags fit in the Viper, barely, and they headed for home.

George insisted he didn’t need help, but it took him two trips to get everything from the car to Valerie’s room. Cathy had dinner waiting when he finished putting the car away.
They decided on the way home it would be best for the things to go to her room for now. He planned to talk to the trio this evening and break the news that Valerie would be staying, and staying in his room.
Roland didn’t look forward to this at all. He thought George would be OK, probably giving him a little ‘way to go, buddy’ wink.
Maria would give him and Valerie both the cold shoulder for a day or two.
Cathy worried him. She had lived in California for thirty years, the last twenty with him and the others, but deep down inside, she was still a country girl from Missouri. She could be tough, and hard. Worse, she said exactly what she had on her mind. If that bothered someone, that was their problem.
He held Valerie’s chair as she sat down, and then took his place to her left at the head of the table.
There’s no time like the present. “I guess you’ve noticed Valerie and I have become pretty close.”
Maria sighed. “That’s one way to put it.”
“You three are my family, though. We’ve been together for a long time, and I love all of you. That’s why I want to let you know what’s going on.”
Cathy frowned. “Are you’ins getting married or something?”
Valerie blushed a little.
“No, that’s not it. Valerie will be staying on here with us, though.”
“For how long?” George glanced at Maria and Cathy. “I don’t mean to sound like I don’t like having her here.”
“I can’t answer that exactly.” He took Valerie’s hand in his and looked into the remarkable blue eyes. “I hope it’s for a long time, though.”
“What do y’all expect us to say, RW?” Cathy sat her fork down. “Yeah, we been together a long time and all that other, but this is your place and, no matter what else, we work for y’all.”
He nodded. “You’ve got me there, but you all mean much more than that to me. I think you feel the same way about me, too.” He thought for a moment. “I know you think Valerie may just be taking advantage of me, and I appreciate the concern. I don’t feel that way at all.”
Maria leaned back in her chair a little. “You know that thought has crossed our minds. I want to believe otherwise, but I’m worried about you.”
“I like that, too.”
Valerie squeezed his hand. “If I may.” She sipped her water. “If the three of you want me to leave the room so you can talk, I will. All I want to say is that I care a great deal for Roland. I’ve never known anyone like him, and it’s easy to see why you three care about him, too.”
“No, dear, y’all don’t need to leave.” Cathy smiled a little. “Us both being from the Midwest, y’all know it ain’t no skin off my nose to talk about y’all while you’re sitting here. I’d rather folks talk about me to my face than behind my back.”
Maria nodded. “Despite the quaint colloquialisms, she’s right.”
“I don’t have anything to say I wouldn’t want you to hear.” George smiled a little. “I’m with Maria and Cathy. I’m worried about you, RW, but I’m also happy for both of you.”
“Thanks.” Roland paused for a moment, gathering his thoughts. “Like I said, you three mean a lot to me, and I want you good with this situation. I’ll tell you right now, though, even if you’re not OK, that won’t change how I feel about Valerie.”
“I suppose it won’t.” Maria sighed. “I’ll tell you something, too. This looks pretty bad, and I’m not crazy about the idea.” She shrugged. “I hope it is real, and I hope things work out, but the odds are against that.”
“Oh, hush.” Cathy chuckled. “You paranoid old fool. I raised up four kids before coming here, and I know how youngins are. You get in the way of what they want, and they’ll go right on doing it, and they’ll walk over you to do it.”
“In case you missed it, he’s not a youngin, and he’s not your kid.”
“No, he ain’t, but he could be. I’ll be seventy next month, and I seen this before. Maria, y’all need to relax and let these kids live their own life.”
“I don’t intend to get in anyone’s way.” Maria sighed again. “All I’m saying is this looks bad.” She paused for a moment, and then looked at Valerie. “You’re an attractive young woman. Other than money and power, what interest could you have in a man as old as Roland?”
Valerie didn’t back away from the challenge even a tiny bit. “Who can say what it is that attracts us to someone else? I sure can’t. If you ask me what I find attractive about him, I have a long list of pretty much meaningless words and euphemisms. While money and power themselves aren’t on the list, I’ll admit the ability to take care of me is.” She shrugged. “What woman would feel attracted to a man who can’t take care of her?”
“So tell me what you find attractive about him.”
“I think the very first thing that grabbed my attention is his smile. It still does.” She squeezed his hand again. “I like the way he finds something funny about everything, and he makes me laugh. The big thing I can’t put into words so easily. I just feel good when I’m with him.”
Maria went on the offensive in earnest now. “The fact that he bailed you out of hock, gave you a place to live, gave you a job, and bought all those things for you today has nothing to do with that?”
“In a word, no.”
Maria huffed.
George sat wide-eyed. “Maria, back off a little. So long as RW’s happy and no one’s getting hurt, then I’m happy about this.”
Cathy nodded. “He’s right. All I care about is that two people can be happy in this big old world. Maybe it ain’t forever, but it’s for a while, and that’s a lot better than never.”
Maria glanced around the table. “I guess I’m the only one who sees the problems in this. What will people say?”
Roland decided the time came to shut this all down. “People will talk, no matter what. That’s especially true in this town. I can’t let what people say and think tell me how I should feel and how I should live my life.” He stood and went to Maria’s chair. “Your opinion and, I guess, approval mean a lot to me, but so does Valerie.”
Maria stood and he hugged her. “I know. I’m just worried about you.”
“You know me. I’m nothing if not resilient.”
“That’s true.” She let go of him and walked to Valerie. “I apologize for getting after you. It’s uncalled for and wrong.”
Valerie stood and hugged Maria. “That’s all right. I can see you care a lot for Roland and want what’s best for him. So do I. It never happened.”
“I’m still sorry. I didn’t mean to imply you’re not a nice girl.”
“I know, and I don’t feel like you did.”
Maria stepped back a little. “Did he tell you he doesn’t like cats?”
Roland sighed. “I told you I like that one!”
Sammy sat in his chair next to Valerie and looked puzzled by the antics of the humans he shared his house with.

After Maria, Cathy, and George excused themselves from the table, she and Roland sat alone sipping wine.
He smiled a little. “That went better than I thought it might. I thought Cathy would be the real problem, though.”
“You know them better than I do, but they seem to both like and hate me.”
“No, not at all.” He chuckled, and his brown eyes twinkled. “If they didn’t like you, they’d have thrown you out by now.”
“Oh.” She reached up and touched the new earrings she wore in the upper piercings of her lobes. “Thank you for these. They’re beautiful, but I wonder why you insisted I get them.” She flicked the small dangling stones in the lower holes. “I already have earrings.”
“Yeah, you do.” He frowned. “Maybe I should say you did.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I want the other ones you’re wearing.”
“Give me those earrings.”
She chuckled. “Why?”
He shrugged. “You’ll think it’s silly.”
“I can’t promise I won’t, but I won’t laugh.”
“Well…” He paused for a moment, and then nodded. “You wore them last night, and I want them to remember our first night together.”
She stared at him. “I don’t know if that’s incredibly sweet you would want something for that reason, or if it’s some kind of bizarre trophy of conquest.”
“No, it has nothing to do with conquest. I just want something of yours I can always have with me.” His smile took on that little boy look again.
“Tell you what. I’ll give you one of them. You wear that one and I’ll wear the other.”
He laughed a little. “Sort of like wearing your class ring.”
“I guess it is.”
He smiled at her, and his whole face smiled. “I can do that.” He took the gold ball earring from his ear and slipped it into his pocket.
“Good.” Valerie took the dangly from her right ear and started to hand it to him. “Let me put this in for you.” She stood and bent over in front of him. As she leaned forward and worked with his ear, she noticed him glance down her shirt. She smiled to herself. “Are you peeking at me?”
“Actually, I am.”
“That’s OK.” She finished with the earring, and straightened up. “There.”
He turned his head from side to side a few times, and the earring swayed back and forth. “This will take some getting used to.”

He sat beside her as they watched some movie or another in the TV room. Valerie didn’t think he paid any more attention to the film than she. They made out like a couple of teenagers in the backseat of his dad’s car.
As she kissed him, his hands ran all over her body, rubbing her through her shirt. She found it at least as exciting, if not more, than his touch to her bare skin. She pulled her lips from his and tried to stifle a giggle.
He smiled. “What’s so funny?”
“I feel like a schoolgirl!”
“Then you should slap me for where my hands are going.”
“Oh, no! You might stop!” She slammed her face to his and worried about chipping his teeth.
His tongue darted in her mouth, touching places no man ever touched before. And every single place it touched sent electric tingles through her.
When she ran her hands over his chest, the rapid rise and fall of his ribs as he panted and the staccato beating of his heart reached her fingertips. She smelled the sweetly pungent aroma of his body as his unique alchemy blended his sweat with his own chemistry. The heady mixture came through to her mouth via his lips and made her want all of him.
He pulled away from her. “This is nice, but I want you.”
She panted and tried to keep her voice steady. “Let’s go to bed.”
“No. I mean right here, right now.” His hands still moved over her.
“What if the others come in?”
“They never get up after they go to bed.” His hot breath on her neck and in her ear made her shake.
“Please, Roland? Let’s go upstairs.”
He sighed a little. “All right.” He stood and pulled her to her feet.
As they kissed, they stumbled up the stairs. At one point, she got her feet all tangled up and almost fell. He caught her enough so she sat down hard on the stairs instead of falling and breaking her neck. He sat down beside her, a frown on his face. “Did you hurt your ankle again?”
“No, I’m fine.”
As if her affirmation she wasn’t hurt was all he waited for, Roland threw his arms around her neck and pulled her face to his. The heat in his lips almost burned her as his tongue did a magical dance in her mouth.
His force caught her off guard, and she gasped a little, but her arms moved to encircle his head. As they kissed and licked each other about the mouth and lips, his hands moved again.
He pushed her shirt up, and his hands moved over her bare breasts as his lips slipped to her neck. He pulled the tee shirt over her head, and she thought about the others catching them. She realized she didn’t care at this point if the Pope himself walked in.
Roland leaned her back onto the thick shag carpeting of the stairway and moved to straddle her hips. He leaned forward and licked her. As his tongue flicked over her face, she lifted her head toward him a little.
He kissed her lips softly, and it tickled, like the touch of a hummingbird’s wings. “Relax, baby.”
His hands moved, sliding up and down her hips as his tongue made delectable motions over her face. He reached and unbuttoned her jeans, then stood and pulled them, along with her panties, from her. He tossed them to the side of the stairs where her tee shirt landed.
He licked and nibbled at her neck, his hands moving on the nude skin of her thighs. As he moved to circle her breasts with his tongue, she moaned slightly, her head rolling back to rest on the step.
Roland paused in the tongue-bath for a moment. “You taste delicious.”
She could only sigh in response. His saliva made a slick sheen on her neck and chest as he resumed licking her. She ran her fingers through his hair, and his perspiration moistened her hands. Bringing her hand to her lips, the taste of his salty sweat made her mouth water for more.
Her eyes focused on the big chandelier above the staircase. The hundreds of crystals caught the light, and it reflected and refracted in an infinite number of directions and colors. The complex design baffled her attempts to focus on the intricate patterns.
His mouth slipped from her breasts to kiss and lick her stomach, and ripples of shivers ran through her body. Roland moved, and his cock, hard and long, pressed against her legs through his pants.
He continued moving down her body, his lips and tongue doing delightful things to her at every touch. As he passed her pussy, he nibbled teasingly at the patch of blonde hair she kept closely trimmed.
He licked down her legs, his tongue flicking in every direction as he sent wave after wave of chills firing through her. He ended at her feet as he knelt on the stairs. He licked her toes and sucked them each into his mouth to swirl his tongue around them. Her imagination replaced the toes with her hard clit.
He practically lifted her from the stairs. “Roll over.”
She rolled to rest on the steps, as best she could, on her stomach. He again kissed and nibbled at her legs, the back this time, as he moved up her body. When he reached the back of her knees, his tongue flickered and she twitched violently.
His tongue made long, slow passes up and down her thighs, darting between her legs to tease her again. Almost of their own volition, her hips flexed to lift her ass into the air. His tongue darted between the cheeks of her ass for a moment and pressed gently against her anus.
Despite her passions and desires, an image from the past sprang into her mind. She recalled the old boyfriend, nine years ago in Kansas, but she couldn’t remember his name now. He introduced her to anal sex, and it wasn’t a good experience. All she remembered was the pain it brought her. He forced his cock into her ass with no lubrication, preparation, or ceremony. She remembered crying while he fucked her ass because it hurt so badly. She swore, then and there, she would never be in pain to gratify someone else.
But Roland’s tongue flashed in wonderful ways as he licked her, and the thoughts faded a little. A man never did that before, and the sensations it created made her body tremble in spite of her trepidations. His hands spread the cheeks of her ass slightly, and his tongue pressed a little harder against her.
The slippery wetness of his tongue slid inside of her. As he moved his tongue in and out of her ass, she moaned again, her head rolling from side to side as he fucked her ass with his tongue.
He moved once more, licking her back with the slick stiffness of his tongue. When he ran his hands and mouth over her ribs, she jerked and a small giggle escaped her lips.
His mouth soon reached her neck, where he kissed and nibbled gently. His lips moved over her hair while his hands rubbed her head.
He moved to kneel beside her. “Roll over again.” He helped her roll to her back. Roland pressed his lips to hers, and the sweet taste of his mouth again flooded her senses.
He spread her legs and knelt between them. Kissing down her chest and stomach, he pushed his mouth against her wet pussy. His tongue plunged into her, swirling in every direction, and she lurched with the quivers he caused.
With a flickering movement, his tongue swirled around her clit, sending more jerks of pleasure through her. His hand came to rub her pussy, and he slipped two fingers deep inside of her.
When he curled his fingers, he rubbed against her G-spot, and she jerked as a series of moans sprang from her mouth. His other hand came to her cunt, and he slowly inserted two more fingers into her.
With her pussy spread wide and filled, he sucked on her clit. She thrashed on the stairs, unable to do anything else. He pulled one hand from her pussy, and a slippery finger pressed gently against her anus.
He popped her clit from between his lips with a smack and looked up at her. “Is this OK?”
She paused, and again the images from the past hit her. Somehow, she knew Roland would never hurt her. “Yes, honey.”
He sucked her clit into his mouth again.
She tried to relax, but between her body’s reactions to the fingers rubbing her pussy, his tongue flittering over her clit, and her nervousness from the past, she didn’t know how well she did. His finger moved in little circles around her ass, the pressure building and easing. His saliva mixed with the juices flowing from her pussy ran down to lubricate his finger and her anus.
Slowly, he pressed a little harder, and the finger slipped easily into her ass. She realized she held her lower lip between her teeth, and made a conscious effort to stop.
He worked the finger in her slowly, never pressing hard, and she moaned a little. He froze in position.
“Am I hurting you?”
Her panting made her voice choppy. “No, honey. It feels great.”
His response came when he moved his finger again, entering her ass a little deeper with each motion. His palm soon pressed against the cheeks of her ass as he reached the deepest point of his finger’s length.
She jerked when he rubbed his fingers in her ass and cunt at the same time, squeezing the thin membrane of skin between his fingers.
With no warning, his mouth went wild on her clit. His tongue darted around the tip like something alive, swirling and flicking, as he sucked harder.
When her orgasm hit her, she saw a million flashbulbs go off in her head at the same time. The sparkling chandelier seemed to explode in a billion flecks of twinkling light. Her pulse pounded out of control in her ears, and her temples throbbed with each thundering beat of her heart. Her breath blew like steam venting from some overworked machine, and sweat ran from every pore of her body like the boiler ruptured.
She tried to remember other people lived in the house, but her screams echoed in the large stairway and down the halls of both floors. Her body thrashed and jerked on the steps, and even through the thick carpet, the hard floor pressed against her as her back arched high in the air.
He eased his fingers from both her holes, and gave a final slow lick to her clit before moving to lie beside her on the steps. He smiled at her and brushed the sweaty hair from her face. Her breath burned in her throat as she panted.
“I know you wanted to go to bed, but I just couldn’t keep my hands off you any longer.” He smiled. “Well, my mouth, anyway.”
She managed a weak, trembling smile. She thought she could talk, at least a few words. “You took out a big life insurance policy on me, and now you’re trying to kill me, right?”
He chuckled. “No, I could never hurt you.”
Her voice didn’t sound too bad, so she decided to try it again. “Somehow, I know that.” She smiled at him. “If I could walk, I’d say we need to get off the stairs before someone comes to see what the yelling is about.”
“No problems.” He stood and lifted her in his arms like she didn’t weigh an ounce. He turned to look where Sammy curled up on the stairs a few runners above them. “Come on, Sammy.”
He carried her to his room.

As he walked down the hallway with Valerie in his arms, she trembled. He worried he may have actually hurt her. He opened the door and sat her on the couch in the sitting room. After Sammy came inside, he closed the door.
Roland sat down beside her and kissed her forehead. “Are you OK?”
“Yes, just a little…” She paused for a moment. “I guess I’m trying to say nothing ever made me feel like that before.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“Very good.” She smiled, but she still shook.
“Are you cold?”
She laughed a little. “No, that’s not why I’m shaking.”
“Oh. I guess that’s good, too?”
“Very.” She paused. “I do need a shower, though. The carpet is making me itch.”
“All right.” He stood and bent to lift her in his arms again.
“I can walk.”
“I know you can. I want to carry you.” He lifted her and she put her arms around his neck.
“This is kind of nice, though.”
“Get used to it.”
He carried her to the shower and they washed each other all over. When they stepped out, they dried each other.
Valerie looked at Sammy. He sat on the sink staring at them. “I think we just confused him.”
“Why’s that?”
“Well, out there on the steps, he watched you doing what he does to get all clean. Now we just got all dirty again in the shower.”
“I never thought of that, but you’re right.” He slipped his arms around her. She looked up into his eyes. He felt the blue lasers weave their exciting web around his mind once again. He opened his mouth, and then closed it firmly. Lost in her gaze, he wanted to speak of love to her. At every turn today, he fought that urge. He didn’t know how long he could keep winning the battles.
He knew she cared about him, but he didn’t think the time right yet to speak of loving her. His reaction wasn’t logical or even reasonable. He met her Thursday afternoon, and it’s now late Sunday night. Love at first sight didn’t happen outside of romance novels and movies. He knew it better than most. And he knew Valerie knew it, too.
If he let his feelings get the better of his mind and told her he loved her, her caring for him would make her understand, and she wouldn’t laugh at him. At least not on the outside. The real fear was that she’d run away, frightened because he pushed things too fast. Far too fast.
“I think so.” She smiled and leaned her head to one side. “What are you thinking about?”
“I’m thinking about you.”
“That’s good to hear.”
“I can’t stop.”
“That’s even better to hear.”
“All I know is I like it.” He decided to risk things a little. “You’re so very special, and I’m crazy about you.”
She leaned to his chest as she hugged him. “I know that feeling very well.”
“Do you want to lie down?”
“Maybe we could watch a movie?”
“You mean really watch a movie?”
She giggled. “More or less.”
“Sure. Come on.” He carried her to the bed.

Chapter 9

She woke up at 6:45 for some reason, and couldn’t get back to sleep. Roland snuggled up to her back, and his arm draped protectively over her side. Sammy slept on the table near her head. Valerie smiled to herself thinking the two most important guys in her life are here to look after her.
Their second night together was even more intense than the first. She lost count after five how many times they made love. And she noticed a couple of things about Roland, too.
Most of the older men she dated in the past seemed much more focused on her than themselves when in bed. Yes, there were a couple of nasty exceptions, but the older guys didn’t worry as much about getting off so they could catch the last inning of the ballgame on TV. Roland took it to the extreme. She had no idea how many times he made her climax the last two days. She knew she climaxed a lot more times than he did.
The other thing…a couple of the older men she dated had a problem getting it up more than a couple of times a night. She dated one guy who couldn’t get hard at all without his little blue pill. Roland didn’t have that problem. She smiled. He seemed ready to go after ten or twenty minutes. Even when he wasn’t ready, that didn’t stop him from pleasing her with his hands and mouth.
She expected him to want anal sex with her last night, but other than putting his finger and tongue in her ass again, he didn’t try or ask. She didn’t know how she would react if he did ask. He did wonderfully exciting things to her with his tongue and hands and those didn’t hurt at all, but the strong memories still haunted her.
The physical sensations defied her attempts to describe them, but the emotional connection went much deeper. She thought, a couple of times, he might be about to say he loved her yesterday. She didn’t know if that would be the most wonderful thing she could imagine or the most devastating thing that could happen.
Her mind said they still shared the mindless passion part of a new relationship. They couldn’t know if they loved one another or not. Despite that, she knew she could fall for this man very easily. Maybe, she thought, she already had.
She just cuddled in his embrace for a long time, thinking about how much she had come to care about him in just a few days. He moved a little, and he squeezed her softly.
She smiled. “Are you awake?”
“I think so.” He yawned. “Good morning, beautiful.”
“Good morning.”
He squeezed her again. “What time is it?”
She glanced at her watch. She didn’t see a clock in the entire suite. “Almost 7:30.”
Roland chuckled a little. “You might want to cover up, then.”
They slept with the sheet and blankets kicked off. “Why?”
A light tapping came at the door, and then she heard the door open. “Because that’s Maria with breakfast.”
“Oh, shit!” She scurried. She’d never reach her robe, so she grabbed the sheet and yanked it up to cover herself just as Maria pushed the breakfast cart into the bedroom.
Maria put Valerie’s clothes from last night on the chair by the dresser. “I think these belong to you, Valerie. Good morning.”
The heat of her blush burned like fire on her face. “Um, thanks.”
“You’re welcome. You may want to avoid Cathy for an hour or so, though.”
“She gets up at 4:30. That old farm girl thing, I guess. She’s fussing about all the noise in the middle of the night.”
Valerie pulled the sheet over her head. “Shit!”
Roland laughed. “Don’t worry. She’ll get over it.”
Maria laughed with him. “She’s calming down, but she was livid when I got up. Enjoy breakfast.”
Valerie heard the door close. “Is she gone?”
Roland still chuckled. “Yeah.”
She pulled the sheet from her head. “I told you we should have gone to bed!”
“You didn’t seem to mind at the moment.”
“Well, that’s true.” She put on her best pout. “Now you really have them talking about me.”
His face held a strange look, something like fascination tinted with burning desire. “Damn. That’s the sexiest pout I’ve ever seen.”
“Oh, no! You’ll get me in more trouble!”
“Nope. This suite is soundproofed.”
She frowned. “Why would you do that? Or should I ask?”
“I like to listen to my music a little loud.”
“How loud?”
“Before the soundproofing, you could hear it up on the point.”
She thought the point is about three miles away. “That’s loud.”
He grinned. “But you were pretty loud.”
She scooped up a dollop of whipped cream from the waffles and dabbed a peak on the end of his nose. “And whose fault is that?”
Once the whipped cream and strawberries entered the bed, things degenerated pretty fast.

They spent most of the morning just lying by the pool. Valerie bought a swimsuit the day before, and he liked it. A lot.
Some kind of shiny black material, it looked wet all the time. The design was one he’d seen at the beach a few times. A one piece suit that covered less than most two piece suits. It did wonderful things for her shape, and he spent a lot of time in the water or with his towel over his lap.
She held his hand as they sat next to each other in one of the larger lounge chairs. She stretched. “This is nice, but I guess we have to work tomorrow.”
“Yep. You have rehearsals to start, and I need to get a few details ironed out with the writers.” He squeezed her hand. “And I haven’t seen you with the script in your hand once this weekend.”
“Would you rather me have my nose stuck in the script or doing the things I’ve been doing?”
“When you put it that way, I see your point.”
“Exactly. But it won’t take long to get the lines down.”
“I didn’t think it would take you too long. Like I said, you’re good.”
“Are we still talking about the script?”
He laughed. “Yeah.”
She hesitated a moment. “I’ve never asked, and you never said, but do you have kids?”
“No. Things never worked out that way.”
“How come?”
He thought. “In my line of work, I don’t meet too many women who would make a good mother.” He smiled. “At least until recently.” He wanted the words back almost before he said them.
She stared at him for a moment, and he couldn’t decide if she was pleased or pissed off. Maybe both. “I’m not sure what to say.”
“I know what I should say.” He sighed. “I’m sorry.”
She sat up and put her hand on his cheek. “No, don’t be sorry.”
“I am, though. That’s a stupid thing to say to you.”
“No, it’s not.” She shrugged. “Maybe a little premature, but it’s not stupid.” She smiled. “It makes me feel good you think I’ll make a good mother someday.”

“Let me get this straight, Val.” She heard Ronnie take a deep breath. “You’re basically living with him now?”
Valerie fought the urge to laugh into the phone. “I guess that pretty well sums it up, yes.”
“And you think this is OK?”
“Ronnie, we like each other, and this way we can spend time together.”
“No, this way he has you right where he wants you.” Ronnie sighed. “Val, this is crazy.”
“Maybe it is, but it’s also what I want to do. You asked me to call you, and I’ve been doing that.” She wondered why she wanted to do this so badly. “Everything is OK.”
“If you keep telling yourself that, you’ll start to believe it. I won’t.”
“Why can’t you just be happy for me?”
“I am happy for you. I’m thrilled you found a job. I’m glad you’re car is out of hock. Living with the director of the film you’re making is not a good idea.”
This had gone on long enough. Valerie never did well with parental browbeating, and ten years hadn’t made her any better with them. “OK…I’ve heard what you saying, but this is my life and my decision.”
Ronnie paused for a long time, and all Valerie could hear was her breathing on the phone. “I get the picture. You know I’m your friend, and I’m just worried about you.”
“I know, and I appreciate that.” Over the last six years, Ronnie became her best friend as well as agent. “You’ll always be my friend.”

The pre-production meeting went well.
Jim said all the video and audio gear was good to go and his steady-cam would arrive on Friday.
Marion had the costumes all set other than a few small things she planned to pick up today.
The writers worked with the cast a little this morning, and the read-through went as expected, except for Elektra.
The writers all but gushed about how fast Valerie learned the lines and how easily she mastered Elektra’s accent and the slight lisp the character has with her fangs extended. He wondered if they would still gush after what he planned to tell them.
Roland smiled. “OK, folks. We’ll get together again on Thursday to make sure we’re set to start shooting Monday.” He paused. He looked forward to this even less than when he talked to Maria, George, and Cathy. “There’s one more thing you should know about, though.”
Shelia jotted on her notepad. She liked to take notes for the meeting minutes instead of using a recorder. “What’s that?”
“You all know Valerie stayed at my place this weekend.”
Shelia got the panicked look of someone who forgot something. “Oh! We need to find her a place today! I’ll get right on that.”
“No need. She’s staying with me.”
Marion looked like she might be having chest pains. Jim smiled. Shelia broke the point off her pencil against her pad. The two writers just stared.
Marion recovered a little. “Oh, this can’t be good.”
He sighed. “It’s actually very good.”
“How are you going to keep this relationship off the set, RW?” Shelia put her pad on the conference table.
“I don’t know yet, but I will. This is different.”
Marion frowned as she sipped her coffee. “Tell me how.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I’m not sure I can put that into words.”
“Then let me try.” He saw the subtle change in Marion’s demeanor as she fell into the role of not only grandma, but as studio executive. “I never saw you with the girls in the past, but I gather those were about ninety-nine percent sex. You’re falling for this girl.”
He hated it when she was right. Especially all the time. “That’s about right, yeah.”
Jack, one of the writers, looked around the table for a moment. “You know Elektra has nude scenes in Destiny and will have a lot of sex scenes in the Bloodlust films.”
“I know. I’ll deal with it.”
Jim shook his head. “Like Marion said, tell me how.” He paused for a moment. “I don’t know what your head is saying to you, but if you put me in your position, I wouldn’t want her doing the nude scenes, let alone the sex scenes.”
Shelia spread her hands. “Finding out less than a week before we start shooting we need to recast Elektra is not a good thing.”
He knew they were right. He thought about the fact Valerie would appear nude in this film all morning. The idea bothered him more than he thought it should. The very possibility of her having sex on film made him furious, and a huge knot formed in his gut. “Like I said, I’ll deal with it.” He just didn’t know how yet.

It was after 4:00 when she made it to his office, and Shelia waved her on inside. Roland sat at his desk, talking on the phone, with his feet up. He smiled at her and nodded to the chair.
He rolled his eyes and sighed into the phone. “Dave, I hear what you’re saying, but things are tough all over. If you want this to happen, that’s the offer.” He listened to the phone for a moment. “If you want to sell out to me, that’s what I’ll pay. And the idea of keeping all of your crew on a blanket deal is out. The ones that meet our standards will get a job. The rest can move on.”
Valerie tried to stifle her giggle. He’d told her about the studio wanting to sell out to Midnight Interludes.
He laughed. “No, that duck won’t walk, either. I can’t promise you a VP job. You’ve been in this business longer than I have, so you should think about just taking the cash and retiring.” His eyes crossed. “No, I don’t sell stock.” He listened for a long time. “OK, tell you what. We go way back, and that counts for something. You agree to retire, sign a non-compete contract, drop the keeping of your current crew, and I’ll up the offer to $64 million. I’ll also toss in paying a third of the contract buyouts for the folks I don’t keep.”
She watched him working a multi-million dollar deal like she picked dinner from the menu at a fast food place.
“OK, Dave. You think about that. Maybe you can get a better deal from one of the other studios, but that’s as far as I can go. I can only go that far because we’re friends. I don’t think you’ll do nearly as well with anyone else.” He listened for a moment. “Just let me know, but remember I start shooting a new film Monday, so if you don’t decide this week, it may be a month or better before I can get back to focusing on this.” He smiled. “Right. Talk to you soon, and tell Janette I said hello. Bye.” He hung up the phone. “Sheesh!”
She smiled. “Bad day?”
“Not really, no. Especially now.”
“That’s sweet.”
“Maybe. How did the first day go?”
“Long.” She grinned. “I was just starting to get used to the life of leisure.”
“I can imagine. I bet Sammy misses you.”
“I hope he hasn’t caused Maria and Cathy too much trouble today.”
“I’m sure he hasn’t. You know you can bring him with you.”
“We’ll see.” She stretched, and he watched her, a silly smile on his face. “What time did you plan to get out of here today?”
“Let me check with the boss.” He clicked the intercom. “Shelia, is there anything else for me today?”
Shelia hesitated a moment, and Valerie heard papers rattling through the speaker. “Not that I know of. You have those two monkeys from SAG coming by in the morning at 9:30, though.”
He sighed. “Oh, yeah. Thanks.” He clicked off the intercom.
Valerie frowned. “SAG? The Screen Actor’s Guild?”
“Yep. They have the idea that since we’re moving closer to being a mainstream studio than a porn shop, we should unionize.”
“And that means you’re resisting the move.”
“Personally, I don’t care. The first time they came in, though, they tried to throw their weight around. So I threw them out. This is their third visit since then and the first time I’ve agreed to see them again. We’ll see if their attitude is any better now.” He frowned. “The downside is most people, cast and crew, will end up making less money with a SAG contract than what I pay them now.”

He soaped every inch of her body except her back before rinsing her. Between the warm water and his hands on her body, she relaxed totally.
Roland turned her and rubbed her back with his soapy hands, making long, firm strokes up and down, and kneading her shoulders.
He kissed her ear and whispered to her softly. “Bend over a little.”
When she leaned forward and grabbed the safety rail, he slipped his cock deep into her pussy. As he moved in her, he reached around to massage her breasts with one hand as the other ran down her stomach to tease her labia.
Her body melted in his arms as he pumped his cock in her cunt. His fingers darted between her lips to rub her clit, and she jerked as he pinched and rolled her between his finger and thumb.
The head of his dick pressed again and again against her G-spot as he moved inside her, and a wave of tingling pleasure swept over her.
It seemed like only moments, but his probing cock and darting fingers caused the first waves of orgasm to crash into her. As she twitched and jumped in his embrace, he pumped faster.
She started to stand up, but he held her still leaning over slightly. He slipped his cock from her pussy, and the head of his dick pressed against her anus.
He paused. “OK?”
She shivered as the thoughts of the past rushed to her mind once again, and she thought of how much she wanted him. “Honey, I need to tell you something.” She straightened up and turned to face him.
He frowned a little. “What’s wrong?”
“I love what you do there with your hands and tongue, but I’ve only had anal sex once, when I was seventeen, and it was a very bad experience for me.” She paused, knowing she wanted to have him in every way. “The guy hurt me.”
“You should have told me. We won’t do that.”
“I want to do that. With you. I just want you to know I’m really nervous about it and more than a little scared.”
He stared into her eyes for several seconds. “OK, I understand. Let’s go lie down.” They stepped from the shower and dried each other.
After they crawled onto the bed, she hugged him. “You’re always so gentle with me, just please keep doing that.”
He nodded. “Tell me if it hurts.”
“I will.”
He turned her to her back and grabbed the lubricant from the nightstand. Roland moved to sit between her legs and rubbed her pussy with his hands, massaging her inside and out. The warm slipperiness of the oil as it ran down his fingers and across her pussy made her quiver. He pressed his finger to her ass.
Making circles around her anus with the tip of his finger, he pressed a little harder. As his finger slipped inside her, the wonderful sensation she became familiar with the last few days came over her.
His finger moved in larger circles inside her ass, easing the muscles to relax. He leaned forward and kissed her stomach. “Just relax, baby.”
“That feels wonderful.” He smiled at her, and he eased a second finger inside her.
She didn’t think it so much the motions he made with his fingers, spreading her ass as they pumped back and forth, but her entire body relaxed. It’s more the way he treated her with caring compassion and tenderness making the sensation so relaxing.
She moved ever so slowly toward another orgasm, but she thought she might be almost too relaxed to climax right now. She thought she might fade off to sleep as he slowly fingered her ass and pussy.
Roland eased his fingers from her and moved to lie beside her. “Turn to your side.”
She turned to put her back to him, and he snuggled in behind her, his hard cock pressing to her ass. He put the head of his dick against her anus and moved his hips.
The head of his cock pressed harder against her, and she again found she held her lower lip between her teeth. She forced herself to release it from her mouth.
When the head of his cock slipped into her ass, a bolt shot through her body, but not of pain. The pleasant wave that washed over her was every bit as amazing as the first time he put his cock in her pussy.
She fought the urge to push her hips back against him. She knew Roland would never hurt her, but her own inexperienced actions might. He would blame himself.
In minutes, his balls pressed against the cheeks of her ass as his cock filled her. He paused in his motions. “OK?”
“Yes. That’s amazing.”
He pumped his dick slowly in her, and it almost slipped from her ass with each stroke before again sliding fully inside her again. Now, her orgasm came at her much faster.
His thrusting came faster, and she heard him moaning a little. That was a good thing, because the wracking convulsion of her climax gripped her body at the same time. He pushed hard against her, and her hips thrust back to meet him. He screamed her name as he thrashed on the bed behind her, but her own cries nearly drowned him out.
They twitched and jerked against one another for a long time, and his softening cock slipped from her ass. His arms held her tightly as he trembled.
He kissed her hair. “Are you all right?”
She panted for a moment before she found the breath to answer him. “Yes.” She turned over to face him. “At least I will be on one condition.”
He frowned. “What’s that?”
“You do that again as soon as you can.”

She sat at the dressing table playing with her makeup while the others rehearsed on the soundstage. Valerie didn’t like what the makeup artist did for the look of Elektra, and thought she could do better. Sammy sat on the table, watching as she tried various colors and styles.
She heard the door to the dressing room open, and the voices of two of the extras came to her over the low wall separating her table from the area the extras used.
“Shit! You’d think they’re making a real movie instead of a fuck film!”
“Yeah.” Most of the extras came from the ranks of regular porn actors. “I’ll never get those lines down.”
“Me, too.” Valerie heard the clicking of bottles and other things. “What about that sweet little thing doing Elektra?”
“Setera? What a cunt! Thinks she’s better than we are. I’ve seen the type before.”
“Rumor is she’s fucking Westwood.”
“That explains how she got the part.”
The two women laughed. “She must not be very good since she didn’t get the lead.”
More laughter. “Right. She’ll figure out how this business works.”
“Or she’ll get her little ass kicked.”
Valerie listened as the women talked, always taking shots at her. She stayed quiet, not knowing what else to do.
“And for the last two days, she’s even brought that mangy cat of hers in here.”
“I can’t believe it.” Valerie heard a short pause. “But what can you do? She’s fucking the guy who owns the studio.”
“Right. Just put up with it is all.”
She heard the women leave the dressing room, still talking and laughing.
Valerie sat staring at her reflection in the mirror for a long time. Over the last three days, she noticed the bad vibrations from the other cast and crew. Even Jim, Marion, and Shelia treated her differently somehow.
Maybe her first thoughts of keeping the relationship with Roland a secret might have been the way to go, but the time for that option already passed. She rubbed Sammy’s ears and he purred.
“You’re not mangy.” She thought for a moment. “What should we do, buddy?”
He stared at her, the concern and understanding in his green eyes.
On the set, she knew a certain tension existed between her and the others. Everyone treated her with kid gloves, and she hated it. She wanted them to treat her like everyone else. She knew that would never happen. She and the owner of the studio, not to mention the producer and director of this film, shared a relationship. Of course people treated her with care.
Off the set, people still gave her a wide berth. The makeup artist’s reaction made just one example. When Valerie suggested the changes to Elektra’s makeup, the artist fell all over herself to agree. The artists she dealt with in the past would have told her this is the way it is, and that would be the end of the story.
At home, Maria still seemed to have a sour lemon look around her. Cathy said little. Only George seemed truly to accept the situation.
At least things between her and Roland went well. She became closer and closer to him with each passing day. He told her not to worry about the other people, and they would, in his words, come around soon.
She watched him on the set, and he tried to treat her the same as he did everyone else, but it didn’t come off very well. He placed her chair next to his, and a small chair for Sammy next to hers. His voice seemed softer when he gave her direction, but that might only be her perception of things. But he tried.
After a week together, she had no doubts about her relationship with Roland. She still couldn’t bring herself to say she loved him, but she cared deeply and liked being with him. The intermingling of their personal and professional lives created a lot of problems, though.
She glanced at her watch. She needed to meet the eye doctor who would fit her for the special contact lenses for Elektra’s vampire eyes. She also had an appointment to see the dentist for the prosthetic vampire fangs she would wear. After that, the hairdresser would cut and color her hair to fit the Elektra look.
She turned off the makeup lights and lifted Sammy. “Come on, buddy. Time to get to work.”

Roland sat staring at the closed door of his office for a long time after Jack and Ralph, the two writers for Destiny, left.
They told him of their concerns about the atmosphere on the set. In rehearsals, the other performers, with the exception of Betty Jacobs, didn’t seem to like Valerie. He knew the other cast disliked the fact he and Valerie formed a couple.
The other actors expected Valerie would get preferential treatment. He fought hard to avoid doing that, but knew he was only partially successful in the efforts. He also saw the rest of the crew tended to treat her with much more care than they did the other performers.
The situation was bad, and would probably get worse before it got better. He couldn’t come up with any ideas, off the cuff, to make it better. At least none that seemed satisfactory.
A soft tap came on his door. “Come in.”
Valerie’s hand came around the edge of the door as it opened a little, and she wagged her finger in his direction. “Don’t laugh!”
She stepped into the room, and his heart jumped in his chest.
Her formerly waist length hair now ended at her shoulders, just brushing her arms. The bangs reached the tops of her eyebrows. A fiery red replaced the soft golden blonde. Even her eyebrows matched the almost shocking color.
He swallowed hard. “Wow. You look fantastic.”
“It’s going to take some getting used to, though.” She giggled. “They even did my pubic hair!”
Sammy followed her into the office and jumped up on the corner of his desk.
He smiled. “What do you think, Sammy?”
Sammy stared at his mom for a moment. He meowed.
Valerie smiled. “He doesn’t care, just as long as it’s me.”
“I know that feeling.”
She came around his desk and kissed his cheek. “What’s up?”
He thought for a moment. They needed to talk soon about things, but he no more knew how to handle that than the immediate problem. “I’m thinking we need to get out of here early today.”
“Oh, yeah. The kids are all coming up this weekend from the camp.”
“They’ll be there about 5:00 or so, and George will take care of getting them up on the point. I’m more worried about the Friday traffic.” Since George would deal with the kids this afternoon, Roland drove them to the office in the Humvee today.
He smiled a little. “I should make you drive home.”
She spun his chair from the desk and sat in his lap. “I can’t drive a stick shift.”
“So much for that, then.” He thought for a moment. It was just after 3:00 now. “Did you have anything else this afternoon?”
“Nope. I’m all done for the day.”
“Great. Let’s go home.”

Chapter 10
“Love at First Bite”

Traffic was light for a Friday afternoon, and they made good time. She liked riding in the Humvee because she could see so far ahead on the road. The truck gave her a few problems getting in and out, though, because it sat so high in the air. The seat rested about level with her shoulders. In jeans, it wasn’t too bad. In the skirt she wore today, she gave the entire world a show. Roland solved the problem by lifting her up to the side rail so she could step inside.
She watched him as he negotiated the traffic and could tell he had something on his mind. She wondered what it might be. While she could tell he was preoccupied by something, she hadn’t yet learned to read what it might be, or even if it was good or bad.
As the road wound its way up into the mountains, the traffic thinned even more. He laughed a little. “That wasn’t too bad for a Friday.”
“No, it wasn’t.” She decided to go fishing. “What’s on your mind this afternoon?”
He chuckled. “Let’s see…I have a movie to direct and produce. I have fifty kids in my field. I have SAG yanking my chain. I have one studio wanting me to buy them out and another leaning that way. And I have a wonderful girl I feel like I’ve neglected a little this week. That’s all, I think.”
“If I’m the wonderful girl you’re talking about, I don’t feel like I’ve been neglected, so you can stop worrying.”
“Maybe.” He reached over and patted her hand. “I feel like I have, though.” She saw the frown come to his face. “Just too busy.”
“Things will settle down soon.”
“I hope so.” He paused for a moment. “You can read me like a book, can’t you?”
“I don’t know about that, but I can tell something is on your mind.”
“Yeah, there is, but we should wait to talk until we get home.” He stared at the road ahead.
“I know you like to concentrate on driving, so we can talk later.”
“Good.” He paused again. “How have rehearsals gone?”
“OK, I guess.” She believed he picked up on the tensions on the set. “Like you said, people will come around soon.”
“I hope so.” He turned into the drive and waved at the guard as they went through the gate. “Since George is up on the hill, I need to park in the garage.”
Since George, Cathy, and Maria are with the kids on the point, they would have the house to themselves tonight. They planned to go up in the morning. He parked the Humvee and they walked to the house.
After warming up the dinner Cathy left for them, they sat alone in the dining room. She smiled. “So, tell me what’s on your mind.”
He sighed a little and sat down his fork. “To make a long story short, it looks like there’s a little friction on the set.”
She thought that might be it. “Yes, there is. Some people don’t like that we’re sleeping together.”
He stared at her. “I hope what we have is more than that.”
“It is, and we both know that, but they think that’s all it is.” She told him about the clandestine encounter with the two extras in the dressing room. “They think I’m sleeping with you to get a part.”
“I can see how they could get that impression.” He paused for several seconds and chewed on his lip. “Maybe I haven’t made it clear what we have.”
“Short of inviting them to stay with us for a few days, I don’t know how you could do that.”
“Yeah.” He chewed at his lip again. “Let me toss out an idea.”
“All right.”
“How about if you not do Destiny?”
“That will solve the problems. You don’t need to do the part at all now.”
She took a deep breath. Down inside, she expected this, but not for these reasons. “Roland, I’m an actress, and I want to act.”
“I know that, and I agree, but you don’t need to do this part in this movie.”
“Besides, you don’t need to support me.”
He waved his hand in a motion of dismissal. “That part doesn’t matter.”
His desire to protect and take care of her touched her and made her feel good. His dismissal of her desire to pull her own weight infuriated her. She tried to keep her voice steady and her anger in check. “Yes, it does matter.”
“It does, and I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.” He paused again. “I have a lot of friends, and I can get you a part in mainstream stuff.”
“I want to get my own parts, on my skills and talent, not because of you or anyone else.” As her anger rose, her voice took on a sharp edge she hated.
“I’m not saying any of this right.” He sighed. She could see the frustration on his face. “You will. I can just get the doors open for you.”
“You hired me because you think I can do the role. I want other directors to do the same thing.”
He slammed his fist on the table. His face took on a ruddy hue. “Valerie, I don’t want you doing nude scenes! I know what men do with these films, and the idea of some greasy bastard jacking off while he drools at you makes me fucking crazy!” A vein in his temple pulsed as he stared at her. “And the idea of you having sex with someone else is something I can’t even bear to think about!”
This is what she expected to form his reasons for her not to do the films. She didn’t expect him to be this angry, though. “I’m an actress, and this is acting.” She sighed. “I’m not crazy about you sitting in the director’s chair watching naked women have sex, either.”
He stood and paced around the dining room. He almost stomped when he walked. “There’s a big difference between seeing someone nude and having sex and actually having sex with someone.”
“I know that. The real issue is directing is your job. I want to believe that as you direct those scenes, you’ll think about me. I won’t stand in your way of you doing your job.” She sighed. “Acting is my job.”
“I just can’t stand you acting in these kinds of movies.”
“I know it’s hard for you to think about. It’s hard for me to consider, too, but I’ve made a commitment to you and the studio.”
He stopped pacing and stared at her. “Have you? You’ve made a contractual commitment to the studio, but have you really committed to me? To us?”
He caught her off guard. She didn’t know how she could make her feelings for him clearer. “Of course I have.”
Roland walked to stand beside her chair. “You often ask me about my feelings, and I try to answer as best as my poor excuse for a brain will let me put it into words.” His voice took on a soft tone, his anger fading. “I have another feeling I need to tell you about.” He took a deep breath. “Valerie—” He paused, and he stared at her for a long time. His mouth moved a few times, like he might speak, but he only went through the motions. Roland closed his eyes. “I care about you, and I don’t want you doing those scenes.”
She wondered what he might say next, or what he almost just said.
He put his fingers on her lips. “Before you say anything, listen to me for a minute.” He sighed heavily. “I want you. I want to spend every moment beside you. This just makes me crazy.”
“I have to be my own person, too.”
“I know that.”
Maybe, she thought, the time had come for her to push the fears and insecurities aside. He told her a few days ago if he spent all his time worrying, he could never grow. The same applied to her, too. If she played the game safely, she would miss out on life.
She knew she would miss out on Roland.
“I’m scared, Roland. My feelings for you make me vulnerable, and that frightens me because I don’t want to be hurt.”
“I understand, because I feel the same way.” He put his hand on her cheek, and the warm touch made her shiver a little. “I can’t promise you’ll never be hurt again, but I can say I’ll never knowingly hurt you.”
“I know.” She leaned her head against his hand.

His heart slammed hard when she spoke. He prayed she would speak to him of love, but she backed away at the last moment.
She backed away, just as he did.
He hugged her to him for a long time, and then the matters of earlier came back to him. “We need to figure out what to do.”
“I know. Let’s go sit down, though.”
They walked to the TV room, and he turned on some music. “I guess they’re not oldies to me, but I hope you like the music.”
She smiled. “I love it.”
He sat down and gathered his thoughts. “What do we do about Destiny and Bloodlust?”
She shrugged. “It’s going to be very hard for you to recast Destiny and stay on schedule.”
“No. It will be impossible.” He decided. “And the same applies to changing directors.”
“What does that mean?”
He paused, wondering if this made any business sense. It didn’t matter. It made sense on the personal side, if not the professional side. He planned to do this in a few months, maybe a year, anyway. “Destiny will be my last erotic film. Jim’s a good director, so he’ll do Bloodlust and everything else.”
“You shouldn’t do that. You love to direct.”
“I need a break, and there are a lot of things I need to do, anyway.”
She nodded. “I can meet you halfway on this one. If you can handle my doing the nude scenes in Destiny, I won’t do Bloodlust.”
The vein in his temple swelled again. “I don’t want you to do those scenes.”
“I know you don’t, but we need to consider the schedule. If I don’t do Destiny, things will be at least two weeks behind.”
“So what?” He tried to find a way to talk her out of this. He decided to gauge her reaction to him forbidding her to do the part. He smiled. “I could fire you.”
“You just said you’ll never knowingly hurt me.”
The implication came across clearly. He knew forbidding her wouldn’t work. She’d leave. “I won’t.”
“If you have another answer that makes everything work, I’m willing to listen, but I can’t see any.”
“I guess you’re right.” He thought for a moment. The crew is professional, and he could expect them to remain professional for her scenes. He worried about the actors, though. Two of them are just extras, there to have their throats ripped out by Elektra. The third guy is an ex-porn actor. His job is to serve as a midnight snack for Elektra, but they have a few kisses in the scene. Maybe if he castrated the guy before the scene.
“I think so.” She ran her fingertips over his lips, and he quivered. “I wish there were another answer.”
“Me too.” He sighed. “All I can do is try to stay neutral and in control.”
“That’s all anyone can ask.”
“But you won’t do Bloodlust?”
“No, I won’t. I can see how you feel about the idea, and, like I said, I’m not wild about having sex with anyone except you.” She smiled. “Besides, I’d laugh at the guys after being with you.”
“You know how to make me feel good.”
She smiled, and the passion there sent vibrations rattling through his body. “I hope I make you feel good.”
If he didn’t change the subject fast, he’d rip her clothes off. He might do it anyway. “Would you like to watch a movie?”
She chuckled a little. “Sure. What do you have in mind?”
“You pick tonight.”
“How about a romance?”
He grinned. “Erotic?”
“No, something not too old, but not too new.”
“I know. Somewhere in Time.”

She leaned against his chest as the movie played, and she remembered the first time they sat here. Just a week ago, to the day, they sat side by side watching a comedy. The only time they touched was when she laughed and leaned against him. She remembered hoping then he would put his arm around her.
Now, they sat together, almost as one, and his arm hugged her shoulder, and they held hands. They watched a romance together now.
They didn’t speak as the film played, but always touched. Not in a sexual way, but touching the other’s hand. They shared a kiss now and then, tender and gentle. His embrace made her world so safe and warm.
When the movie ended, she decided to carry out her plans for the night.
He stretched a little. “How about some popcorn and another movie?”
“That sounds good to me.” She kissed his nose. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She left the TV room and grabbed the suitcase holding her costumes and things for Elektra.
She stood at the mirror in the bathroom after she changed into the tight, short red dress that was Elektra’s hallmark. She applied the dark makeup to her eyes and it contrasted starkly with the pale skin tone the powder created on her cheeks. She used the red lip gloss, and it left her lips looking like fresh, flowing blood. She fluffed her hair a little to make it look windblown. She slipped the contacts and teeth into the pocket of the dress. She added the small vial of vampire’s blood and headed back to the TV room.
Roland sat on the couch facing the screen, his back to the door, when she returned. She smelled the popcorn and melted butter.
She came up behind him and ran her fingers down his shoulders and to his chest. “Hello, handsome stranger.” She used the slightly Egyptian accent she and the writers agreed on for Elektra.
He jumped a little. “You startled me…” He trailed off as he turned to face her. “Valerie?”
She twisted her lips into a pout. “You do not even remember my name? Who is this Valerie you speak of?” She rubbed his chest, and pressed her breasts to the side of his head.
He swallowed. “Elektra.”
“Yes, my precious. At least that is what I am called now.” Elektra called all her victims ‘precious’.
“Who are you?”
“I was born four thousand years ago near what you call Cairo as Aset Ma’at Amen. I have been many women over the years.” She grasped the sides of his face and tilted his head back. “Now, I am Elektra, but I can be your wildest fantasy. And your darkest nightmare.”
“What do you want?” His wide eyes locked to hers.
“In a word, you. Your very life.” She smiled.
His eyes drifted down her body to the exposed skin where the dress plunged to her navel. His hands rested limp in his lap. She released him and walked to stand before him. His eyes and head tracked her progress.
He sighed a little. “What are you that you’re four thousand years old?”
“A vampire.”
“There’s no such thing.”
“Really, my precious?” She let a soft laugh escape from her lips as she turned away from him. Pulling the teeth from her pocket, she slipped them into her mouth. As she worked her tongue to set the teeth in place, she pulled out the contacts and inserted them. Having worn contacts since age four until she had laser surgery three years ago, she could put them in while asleep. She turned back to him.
The contacts made her eyes blood red set in black with emerald green slit pupils. The shiny white fangs protruded more than half an inch from her mouth. Both produced the desired effect.
He gasped, and she saw his legs push him back deeper into the couch.
She darted her tongue out to lick her lips and flicker across the dagger-like fangs. “You see my precious; there are vampires in the world of the living.” She almost forgot to do the lisp, although the teeth made that part easy.
His eyes fixed on her mouth. He swallowed again. “You’re beautiful.”
“Thank you.” She walked to stand directly in front of him, putting a slow swaying in her hips as she moved. She pulled his head to her chest, pressing her breasts against him. “Perhaps you should not die.”
His voice came muffled from her chest. “What do you mean?”
“I am cursed to feed on the living, but perhaps you have a higher calling.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I will release you now, and you may return to the mortal world alone. Or you may join me for eternity.”
He shivered in her arms. “What if I tell people what I know about you?”
“They will think you’re mad.”
“Yes. I will take the mortal life from you, but give you life everlasting. You will walk the Earth beside me as we feed and love forever.”
“The undead.”
“Yes, my precious.”
He sighed. “With you?”
“For all time.”
“What must I do?”
“Give yourself to me, and drink of the vampire’s blood.”
He shivered again as she stroked his head with her hands, letting her nails gently scratch his skin. “I will, Elektra.”
She smiled down into his face. “Very well.” She lifted his shoulders until he stood before her, and then ripped the buttons from his shirt. When she pushed the shirt from his shoulders, she grinned, the fangs fully exposed.
As she kissed and nibbled at his chest, she unfastened his belt and pants, letting them fall to the floor around his ankles. Valerie pushed him backwards, and he fell onto the couch. She yanked the shoes and socks from his feet, and then pulled his pants off, tossing them across the room.
She smiled her best seductive smile for him. “Now…” She slipped her hand into the pocket of the dress and palmed the small vial. She reached around to her back to unzip the dress, thrusting her breasts forward. She let the dress fall to the floor, leaving her nude before him.
He blinked several times. “My God.”
She straddled his hips, Roland’s hard cock pinned to his stomach by her pussy. “God has nothing to do with this, my precious.”
He moved to touch her hips, and she slammed her hands hard against his chest as she hissed and made her eyes wild and wide. “No! Mortal hands may not touch me!”
He reacted to her assault with a violent jerk, snatching his hands away from her quickly. “Forgive me. Please, make me undead so I can touch you.”
She allowed the sultry expression to return to her face. “In good time. We have all eternity together now.”
When she leaned forward to kiss him, his tongue moved over the sharp teeth sticking from her mouth. He sighed. “I want you.”
“All men want me, my precious, but they are food. Only you shall have me.” She grabbed his hair and pushed his head back, his neck exposed to her. She leaned forward and touched her mouth to the skin of his neck.
Valerie regretted not practicing this earlier. The false teeth gave her no feeling, so she didn’t know if she would actually bite him or not. The teeth were hard, too, and she knew they would easily puncture skin.
She moved her mouth and bit a little, trying to feel the skin of his neck. He twitched suddenly, and she heard him gasp. Warm liquid flowed on her lips and the sharp copper-like taste of blood reached tongue. Shit!
She considered stopping, but he didn’t scream out in pain or even protest. The taste of his blood mixed with the perspiration flowing from his skin to fog her mind, and she sucked at the wounds in his neck, savoring the flavors as her imagination changed her into Elektra. She fought the urge to bite him again, harder this time, burying the fangs deep in his neck.
When she pulled her face from his neck, she looked down into his eyes. The brown eyes facing her flamed with desire, and then went wide as he looked at her mouth. Something flowed from the corner of her lips and down her chin. Staying in character, she wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand. When she pulled it away from her face, she saw a trail of fresh blood there.
She grinned again, showing her fangs. She wondered if Roland’s blood stained them. “Now, you must drink of my blood.”
Holding the small vial in her hand as the special effects guy showed her, she drew her fingernail down her chest between her breasts as if slicing the skin. She squeezed the vial, and a trail of sticky fluid, so dark red as to look almost black, oozed down her chest. She pulled his face to her chest, and his tongue moved over her skin as he lapped at the vampire’s blood.
The thick fake blood spread across his face and her chest as he licked and sucked, and his tongue darted across her already hard nipples. She cursed herself a little for the excitement building in her. She planned this as his time. She wanted it as his fantasy.
When he rolled his head to his right, she glanced down and saw two puncture wounds on the left side of his neck. They looked red and puffy, and a small trail of blood ran from each one. That was going to be very hard to explain Monday morning.
She pushed herself upright, holding his head to the back of the couch so he couldn’t reach her. “Now, we wait as the blood works its evil magic.”
Valerie slipped from his hips, lowering herself to kneel in front of him. Pushing his legs apart, she moved to put her face only inches from his hard cock.
She almost giggled when she thought she needed to use extreme care with the teeth now. Two holes in the side of his neck was one thing. Three holes in his dick was another matter.
Maybe he didn’t think of that part, because his face held no trepidation as she licked the underside of his cock from balls to tip. He shook violently.
When she rubbed the shaft of his dick against her fangs, his eyes fluttered closed, and a low moan came from his lips. She flicked the swollen head of his dick over the fangs, and he gasped. She maneuvered her mouth and teeth so his cock slipped between her lips, and moved her tongue around the head in rapid circles.
She tasted the sweet saltiness of his pre-cum as it oozed from the tip of his cock. It mingled with the metallic aftertaste of his blood, and the delectable flavor combination made her head reel.
His hands moved toward her head a little, then he froze. “May I touch you now, Elektra?”
She slipped her mouth from his dick. “Yes, my precious.”
His hands moved to her head where his fingers moved over her hair.
She sucked his cock between her lips again, and he jerked as the fangs slipped down the sides.
It seemed like no time before his body trembled like a bowl of jelly. His hands gripped her head a little tighter, and his hips thrust up as his cum exploded into her mouth.
She sucked and licked as he jerked and flailed on the couch. He moaned her name, and she smiled to herself a little. He called out ‘Valerie’ and not ‘Elektra’.
When his cock stopped spurting, she gave him a slow, final lick and moved to straddle his hips again.
She smiled into his sweating face. She lost Elektra’s accent and lisp. “Are you all right?”
He nodded. “I think so.”
Valerie pulled the teeth from her mouth. When she leaned his head to the side, two trails of dried blood flowed from the wounds in his neck. “Sorry about that.”
He laughed weakly. “No worries.” He hugged her. “Don’t tell me not to thank you for making love to me, but thank you. That was amazing.”
“Yes, it was.” She frowned. “This isn’t very romantic or sexy, but I have to get these lenses out of my eyes.” The scleric lenses covered her entire exposed eye, and the doctor told her not to wear them for more than an hour at a time for two hours a day total. She wore them almost fifty minutes now, and her eyes hurt.
“I think I need to stay here for a minute.”
She kissed his nose. “I’ll be right back.”

He sat on the couch and tried to get his breathing and heart rate slowed. Sweat drenched his body and he trembled all over.
Now he knew what Elektra’s victims go through. In the books, she always seduced her victims and often made love to them before killing them. She rationalized the behavior as letting the victim die happy.
He could relate to that.
He didn’t even suspect Valerie had that kind of behavior in her. There’s no question about who took charge of the role-playing session. He rubbed at the wound on his neck, and found two tiny punctures, both swelling a little. He wondered if the bite came as a total accident.
If accidental, that meant she lost control and bit him. If deliberate, that meant she wanted to, even if she played the part of the killer Elektra when she did it. Either way, the idea excited him.
She came back to the TV room, and the sight of her walking around nude fascinated him. He’d seen a lot of naked women in the last twenty-eight years. He couldn’t remember any even close to this beautiful.
She sat down beside him. “Better now?”
“I think so.” He smiled at her. “Have I told you today how pretty you are?”
She laughed and moved her head like she flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Maybe a time or two.”
“Good.” He tapped the popcorn bowl that rested on the coffee table with his foot. “Our popcorn got cold.”
“But we got hot.”
He laughed. “Well, I did.”
“Let me see your neck.” He turned his head and she looked at the wounds. “We need to get this cleaned up. Come on.” She pulled him to the bathroom.
After she fussed with the soap and water to wash the wounds, she rooted around in the cabinets and found some ointment. She put two bandages on the punctures. “We need to watch that to make sure it doesn’t get infected.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“I know you will.” She pulled him back to the TV room and they sat on the couch together. “What other movie did you have in mind?”
He laughed. “You expect me to remember after that?”
“Well, at least the genre.” She touched his cheek with her hand. “I have a confession.”
“What’s that?”
“I didn’t plan to bite you, but it was exciting.”
He smiled. “For you, too?”
“Yes.” She blushed a little. “After that first nip, I almost really nailed you.”
“You do know most men have at least a little vampire fantasy, right?”
“No, I didn’t know that.” She smiled at him. “I hope I’m the first one to check that off your list.”
“Yeah, you are.” He stared at her for a moment. The beautiful young woman sitting nude next to him surprised him more every day.

Chapter 11

Valerie woke up Saturday morning when Roland kissed her forehead. He smiled at her. “Time to get up.”
She yawned. “What time is it?”
“Almost 8:00. We need to get ready and up to the point.”
“Do we have to? Can’t we just stay here in bed all day?”
He laughed. “No. The kids are running wild up there, and the crew needs a hand controlling them.”
“I’ll put my teeth in again.”
“Promises, promises.”
“You’re going to make me get dressed, aren’t you?”
She sighed. “OK.” She managed to sit up, and he led her to the shower.
After a light breakfast, they climbed into the Humvee and headed off to the point. Even over the roar of the big diesel engine, she heard the children yelling and laughing from half a mile away. Roland parked the truck, and they walked to where Cathy worked to keep the drink containers filled and iced.
He smiled at Cathy. “Having fun?”
“Y’all know we always have fun with these kids. Maria is about ready to kill George, though.”
“He’s taking the kids out on the horses without telling her again, isn’t he?”
“Yep, he is.”
Roland turned to her. “Maria wants to keep a list of which kids are where, and George just wants to get as many as he can on the horses. They always fight about it.”
A woman walked up to where they stood. “Good morning, Roland.”
He smiled at her. “Sister Margaret. How are you?” She didn’t look like a nun.
“I’m very well, thank you.” The woman smiled at her. “And you must be Ms. Setera. I’m Sister Margaret, director of the camp.”
Valerie took the sister’s hand. “Good to meet you, Sister. Please, call me Valerie.”
“George has told me a good deal about you.” She nodded toward Roland. “This man is trying for sainthood, I think.”
“Is he?”
“Yes, he is, and if I have my way, he’s going to make it. He has these weekends for the children several times a year, and he has us come up much more often to ride the horses. That doesn’t count the other help he gives us.”
Valerie glanced at him, and he shrugged a little. She chuckled. “What other help is that?”
“I don’t want to embarrass him too much, so let me just say I know exactly who to talk to when we need anything. He’s a wonderful man.”
“Yes, he is.”
Sister Margaret smiled. “But from what George has told me, you may be a little biased.”
“I suppose I am.”
Roland cleared his throat. “Before you both embarrass me to death, you said on the phone there’s something you needed to ask me about, Sister.”
She nodded. “I’m hoping you know someone in the air conditioning field. The unit on the main bunkhouse is broken, and we need someone to repair it. We have some money, but if we could get a good price, that will help.”
“Consider it fixed. It will probably be Monday before anyone can get out there, though.”
“I can’t let you pay for that.”
He smiled. “That means you have something else you’d rather I pay for.”
She laughed. “We’ve known each other for too many years, I think.”
“Maybe. What’s up?”
“Well, there’s a little boy who is quadriplegic. He needs around the clock nursing care, and his mother does that for him at home. I’d like to bring him up here for a week to give her a rest and him a change of scenery, but the state won’t pay for the nurses.”
He frowned. “The cheap bastards. Make it happen, Sister.” He paused. “Does the boy or his mom need anything else?”
“No, the Diocese pretty well takes care of that sort of thing in the city.” She smiled. “Are you sure you’re not Catholic?”
“Not me. I’m just trying to atone for my sins ahead of time.”
She laughed. “Sins or not, I think the Lord will look kindly on you. Thank you again, Roland. I should get back before the children kill each other.” She left them standing by the drink table.
Valerie smiled at him. “Saint Roland, eh?”
“I think there’s probably one of those already.”
“You may be right.” She studied him for a moment. He smiled as he watched the children playing at games no adult could understand. “You really are turning into the man of my dreams.”
“I hope so.”
They moved off among the children.

She started talking to one little girl, but soon a small crowd gathered. When they learned she was an actress, the children seemed fascinated. They wanted to know what movies she stared in, and if she knew other actors. They wanted to hear about how she became an actress, and if it was hard work.
She told them the truth, leaving out the kind of movies she made right now. She told them about the commercials she worked in, and about the famous people she met at parties and other gatherings. She told them how hard she worked not only to learn the lines and parts, but to find work. And she told them how she came to LA and worked hard to fulfill her dream. The children asked questions, and she tried to answer as best she could. She noticed Roland walking towards her and the group of kids sitting in the grass.
One of the children saw him and yelled as he pointed. “It’s Mr. Roland!”
The children ran to surround him, and he reached down to touch them as they followed him.
Roland sat down next to her on the grass, and the kids all sat in a circle around them. He kissed her cheek.
“Mr. Roland?”
He smiled at the little boy. “Yes, Tommy?”
“Is Miss Valerie your wife?”
He laughed. “No, I’m afraid not. She’s my girlfriend.”
Tommy frowned. “Oh.”
“Don’t you have a girlfriend?”
“Not me, no sir!” He frowned again. “Girls are silly.”
“Well, I can remember when I thought that, too. And you know what?”
Tommy looked around at the girls surrounding him. “What?”
“Sometimes, boys and girls can both be a little silly.” Roland looked at her. “Sometimes, we both get so silly we forget about the things and people that are important to us.”
Tommy frowned. “But girls don’t like good games.”
“Sometimes they do. Maybe us boys just don’t like the games they like.” He reached over and rubbed Tommy’s hair. “Even so, girls are nice to have around.”
A little girl spoke up. “Mr. Roland, show us some magic!”
The other kids all yelled and cheered.
He smiled. “Now, Janet, you know there isn’t any such thing as magic.” He frowned deeply. “But what’s that in your ear?” He leaned over and produced a quarter from her ear. “That’s a strange place to carry your money!”
The cheer rolled through the small crowd again. He did a few more slight-of-hand illusions, and the children loved it.
Valerie saw Cathy struggling with a large vat of drinks, and she leaned to Roland. “I’m going to help Cathy. Be right back.” She kissed his cheek and went to help.
After they wrestled the drinks on the table, Cathy wiped her brow with her apron. “Thanks, dear.”
“You’re welcome.” She nodded to where Roland still sat with the children. “They love him.”
“Yeah, they do, and it’s a two way street.” She looked up at the sun. “Gonna be a hot one this afternoon.” She paused a minute. “He always rattles about how he’s making good on his sins and all, but he does this stuff because he loves kids.”
“It’s a shame he never had children.”
She hesitated for a long time. “It ain’t too late for that, though.” Cathy stared at her.
“I think that’s a bit premature.”
“Is it? I seen the way y’all look at each other.” She shrugged. “Ain’t none of my business, but I think y’all are paired up now.”
Cathy’s enchanting country banter reminded her of home. “Do you?”
“Yeah, I do.” She shrugged again. “Course, Maria ain’t none too thrilled about it.”
“Why is that? I get the feeling there’s more to it than her just worrying I’m taking him for a ride.”
Cathy studied her face for a long time. “It ain’t my place to talk out of school.”
“What do you think? Do you think I’m scamming Roland?”
“No, never did think that. I can see it in your eyes, and so can Maria.”
“Then why is she so against this?”
“Just my opinion, and opinions are like assholes. Everybody’s got one. I think she’s been sweet on RW for fifteen years on now.”
The old ‘ah-ha!’ feeling hit her. That’s it! Maria likes Roland and sees her as a threat to a possible romance between them! “Do you really believe that?”
“Yeah, I do. Despite he makes nasty movies, he’s a good man. About the best I ever knew, anyway.” Cathy smiled a little. “Hell, even I like him a little bit.”
She looked at Roland. He stopped with the illusions and held a bag of balloons in his lap. As she watched, he tied several balloons together to make something that looked a little like a giraffe. “So why aren’t you all over me?”
“I’m old enough to be his mama.” She frowned. “Then again, he’s old enough to be your daddy.”
“Does age matter?”
She shrugged. “Not to me. I think it don’t matter to most good folks, either. But there’s a lot of folks in this place that think it matters. I got an opinion on that, too.”
Valerie laughed. “I’ll bite.”
“Let’s talk about y’all. There’ll be women his age fuss at y’all because they see a pretty young girl stealing him away from them so they ain’t got no chance. There’ll be men his age fuss because they see him with a pretty young girl when they got the same woman they had thirty years ago. Women your age will fuss because y’all got him and they didn’t. And men your age will hate that he got y’all and they didn’t. At the end of the day, they’re all just jealous because y’all got something they ain’t.” She laughed. “This town’s all about what you have. What kind of car you got, your house, your lover. You always got to be better than the folks down the road.”
What the old country woman said made sense. “What about when they talk?”
“Talk is cheap, especially in this town. As far as I can tell, most of them got nothing more than talk.” She nodded toward Roland as he made a balloon poodle hat. “In case you missed it, that’s one powerful man in this town. Ain’t none of the talk gonna be able to hurt him.” She smiled. “If some of them get out of hand, he’s got more than enough power to run them out of this town, too.”
She wondered about that. He never worried about the impact the talk might have on him or his business. His only worry centered on how it might impact her.
Cathy stretched a little. “I don’t know if these vats are getting heavier or I’m getting weaker.”
Valerie shook herself a little. “You said the other night you’ll be seventy soon.”
“Yep, next month.”
“Why do you still work?”
“Cause that man of yours will starve to death if I don’t feed him. I guess I may stop someday soon.” She sighed. “If things work out between you kids, maybe I can trust y’all to keep him fed.”

He hoped lunch would be ready soon. He was running out of balloon animals to make, and he ran out of illusions a long time ago.
He watched from the corner of his eye as George and Cathy worked at the big pit barbeque, and Valerie helped when she could. The kids kept pulling his attention away from her, though.
Sister Margaret came into the group of children. “All right, kids. It’s time to leave Mr. Roland alone for now, and get cleaned up for lunch.” The kids sighed in unison, but they all thanked him and ran off for the hand washing stations set up near the port-a-potties.
He scrambled to his feet. “Thanks for the rescue.”
“You’re welcome.” She smiled. “These are always such fun days for the kids.”
“I’m glad they enjoy it.”
She nodded toward Valerie. “I’ve seen you with quite a few women over the last eight years, but she’s different.”
Something about priests and nuns. Even though he wasn’t Catholic, or even religious, they were easy to talk to. “I think so. Very different.”
“I won’t give you the speech Father Ed would about premarital sex, but I’m glad you think so much of her.” She paused for a moment. “She seems very young.”
“If you want the details, she’s twenty years younger than me.”
“There’s nothing in the Bible about age, and I don’t think love knows about calendars and birthdays.”
“Lord knows I’m not a Biblical scholar, but I don’t know of anything in there, either.”
She watched his face for a moment. “There are two things you should think about, though.”
“What’s that?”
“First, when you’re seventy, Valerie will be fifty.” She paused a moment. “Even if you live to eighty, she’ll be widowed in her early sixties.”
He never thought of that. “She’ll be young enough to find someone else, then.”
She nodded. “Second, if you have children, similar things will happen. If you have a child next year, when your baby is eighteen, graduating from high school, you’ll be sixty-five years old.”
He really hadn’t thought of that one. “Oh.”
“And if it’s a girl, will her daddy be around to give her away at her wedding?”
“You have a knack for slapping me in the face with the facts.”
“They teach us how to do that in the convent.”

Roland sat beside her under a big pine tree as they ate lunch. The nuns kept the kids at bay as they ate, so they sat alone.
He laughed. “You got lunch ready just in time. I ran out of entertainment.”
“It’s all in the timing. You’re great with the kids.”
“It’s easy with great kids.”
“Why didn’t you tell me how much you help these children?”
“It’s not a big deal. I guess maybe everything comes to fifty or sixty thousand a year, but the sisters can stretch a dollar.”
“That’s a lot of money.”
He nodded toward where the children sat eating. “But it buys a lot of happiness. That’s all money is good for.”
She touched his hand. “It’s wonderful, too.”
“Thanks. The biggest thing I try to do is be a safety net for them. If something happens, they know they can count on me. Sister Margaret never takes advantage of that.”
“She seems like a good woman.”
“She’s a nun. Of course she is.”
“I went to a Catholic school. I could tell you some stories about nuns.”
“You did?” His eyes twinkled when he smiled. “I need to get you a Catholic schoolgirl outfit.”
They laughed and talked for a while before the kids started swarming again.
As the sun set, George built a huge bonfire, and Cathy sent around hotdogs and marshmallows for roasting. After everyone ate, Cathy told country stories about things the old-timers did. When full darkness fell, George told ghost stories.
To calm the children a little before bedtime, the nuns pulled out guitars, tambourines, and even an accordion from their school bus and everyone sang old songs around the campfire. She listened to Roland as he sang, his baritone just a little off key, and enjoyed being close to him.
By the time they climbed into the Humvee to head to the house, it was almost 11:00.

He pulled the car up near the back door of the house. “George will kill me, but I’m not going to put this in the garage tonight.”
Valerie laughed. “Is it just me, or is he a little protective of the cars and horses?”
“It’s not you. He’s a lot protective of them.” He climbed down and walked to her side of the big vehicle.
She stepped out onto the running board and smiled down at him for a moment. She jumped into his arms.
He laughed as he caught her. “If I missed, your neck would be broken now!”
“I knew you wouldn’t drop me.”
He held her cradled in his arms, and he studied her now short red hair in the moonlight. “You know, when I first started working on the deal to buy Bloodlust, I fell in love with Elektra.”
“I can see why. She’s a pretty intense woman.”
“Yeah, she is.” He smiled. “I miss your hair.”
“It will grow back.”
“I know.” He loved holding her in his arms right now. Standing in the darkness with only the light of the full moon casting its eerie shadows, she shimmered with her own light. “I’m looking forward to watching that.”
“It could take years.”
“Why is it anytime I’m close to you, I want you?”
He smiled. “I don’t know, but I’m glad I’m not the only one in this relationship who feels that way.” He kissed her.
When their lips parted, he saw her open her eyes. She sighed a little. She touched her lips to his again briefly. “Are you going to stand here holding me all night?” She smiled. “Please?”
“I’m not sure I can stand up all night.”
“We could lie down while you hold me.”
“Now you’re talking.” He carried her into the house.

They spent Sunday up on the point with the children again, and she still couldn’t get over how good Roland was around them. He played games with the kids when he didn’t spend time with her, and the kids loved the attention.
Valerie ended up with Maria before lunch, helping get the plates and plastic forks on the table. Maria gave her the cold shoulder, as Roland put it, and she decided to attack the matter head-on.
“Maria, I want to be your friend.”
Maria hesitated as she scooped forks from the box. “That makes sense, since it looks like we’ll be together for a while.”
“Yes, it does.” Maybe head-on is too direct. She sidestepped a little. “I’ve been wondering about your accent, or lack of one.”
“I’m third generation in the US and graduated from UCLA with a degree in education.” She laughed. “I taught high school English for five years.”
“That explains that.” She paused. “I’m sorry I just assumed you should have an accent.”
“Lots of people do that.”
“It’s bad when people make assumptions, though. They never get the chance then to learn the truth.”
“All they have to do is ask.”
“Yes, that’s true.” She didn’t seem able to stop herself from attacking head-on. “Why do you hate me?”
The slight hesitation in Maria’s movements told Valerie she hit a nerve. “I don’t hate you. I think you’re no good for RW, that’s all.”
She shrugged. “There’s at least a fifty-fifty chance you’re doing all this to steal from him. You’re twenty years younger than him, and that means you don’t have much in common.” She turned to face her, and the expression on Maria’s face looked angry. “A twenty-six year old girl has no business with a forty-six year old man unless he’s her father.” The emphasis stung.
“Isn’t that our decision?”
“No, not really. Not when you’re seducing him and he can’t think straight.” She tossed a handful of forks on the table. “Of course he’s attracted to you. A pretty young girl is paying attention to him. He’ll do anything to keep that happening, just like every other man his age.”
“That’s not what’s happening. I care about him.”
“Please. Next you’ll say you love him. You’re not old enough to even know what love is. Lust, sure. Love is something different. You don’t spend a few days, or weeks, or months, or even years with someone you love. You spend a lifetime together, and the feeling never fades.”
“I can’t see the future, but I don’t think the feelings I have for him will fade.”
Maria sighed. “How many boyfriends have you had?”
“I don’t know.”
“Take a guess.”
“Maybe five or six.”
“Let’s do the math. Just to make it easy, we’ll say you started dating at fourteen. That’s twelve years. Now, let’s say you’ve had four serious boyfriends in that time. That’s three years each. After three years, on average, you get tired of them and toss the guy aside. Three years is not a lifetime.”
“But the lifelong commitment has to start sometime, with someone. Why can’t Roland be my someone and now the time for me?”
“You’re right. It does start at some point. I’ve never heard of it starting between people with twenty years difference between them.”
Valerie wondered if there’s even a point to this discussion. “So, what is an acceptable age difference?”
Maria shrugged again. “I’m not a marriage counselor. From what I’ve read, about fifteen years is on the extreme end, while ten or less is better.”
“That’s not going to happen unless we can find a time machine.”
“Don’t be flippant with me.” Maria still looked mad. “None of this is your fault. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and believe you’re not stealing from him. Maybe you do feel something for him. Even if that’s the case, you’re going to hurt him.”
“I won’t ever hurt him.”
“Yes, you will. Maybe not deliberately, but you will. In three years, according to your record, you’ll lose interest in him and start fooling around. Or, in a few years, he may have performance problems, and you’ll find someone on the side to meet your needs.” She sighed. “Even if those things don’t happen, in twenty years, you’ll be forty-six and he’ll be sixty-six. I have no doubt you’ll still be pretty in twenty years. How will he feel when he’s a wrinkled up old man with a pretty woman pushing his wheelchair?”
She blinked at the tears trying to collect in the corners of her eyes. She didn’t know if the tears came from Maria’s attack, or the image she painted of Roland in twenty years. She knew the image didn’t reflect reality, but it hurt just the same. “We’ll deal with it. Together.”
“You just don’t get it.” Maria waved her hand. “I know RW will do what he wants to do, and I suspect you’re the same. You’ll both be better off with someone your own age.”
“Someone like you?” Valerie wanted to slap herself. She didn’t mean to say that.
Maria turned suddenly. “If you must know, yes. Someone like me.”
Since she already said more than she intended, why not go all the way? “Don’t you think he would have shown something in twenty years if he had any feelings for you?”
She nodded. “Probably, but that’s not the point.”
“I think it is, Maria. You’re in love with him, and that’s why you’re so against him being involved with anyone else. If it wasn’t me, you’d still find reasons to stand in the way.” She shrugged. “At least be honest with yourself about why you’re trying to get in the way.”
Maria’s laugh sounded forced. “You certainly are arrogant.”
“Maybe I am, but don’t come between us.”

Roland crept up behind her while Valerie stirred a vat of iced tea. When he grabbed her ribs, she screamed like a little girl, throwing the spoon high in the air.
She turned, panting and with her eyes wide. “Shit! Don’t do that!”
He laughed. “What do you think is out here to grab you?”
She smiled a little. “Vampires.”
“Sorry.” He did feel bad about scaring her. Sort of.
She kissed him softly. “That’s OK. Cathy said things wrap up after lunch.”
“That’s right. The sisters will take the leftover food back to the camp, and the party supply place will come tomorrow to get the tents and all. Cathy will have a few things to take back to the house, and George will get the horses back.”
“Nothing for us to do?”
“Not really.”
She laughed. “All right, then. This has been a fun weekend.”
“I always like them. I think I like being outside more than anything else.”
A little girl ran up to them. He thought he remembered her name as Alice. Her flaming red hair was only a little less bright than the color Valerie wore. She smiled. “Miss Valerie?”
Valerie knelt down to the moppet. “Yes?”
“Do people tease you because your hair is red?”
Valerie chuckled. “Maybe a little sometimes. How about you?”
“Yeah, all the time. I don’t like it. I want my hair a different color.”
“Can I tell you a secret?”
Alice looked around to make sure no one else was close. Her eyes rested on him.
Valerie smiled. “We can trust Mr. Roland. He already knows the secret.”
Alice nodded. “Oh, OK.”
“This isn’t my real color.”
Her eyes went wide. “It’s not?”
“No, it’s not. I wanted it this color.”
“But people tease you.”
“A little, but I like it this color, and so does Mr. Roland.”
“Oh.” Alice nodded knowingly. “And he’s your boyfriend.”
Valerie smiled. “Yes, he is.”
The little girl pondered for a moment. “I guess it’s OK for an old lady like you to like boys.” Some other kids playing with a ball caught her attention. “OK, bye!” She ran to join the others.
Roland tried to keep his laugh contained, but it didn’t go very well. While he snickered to himself, Valerie stood up and put her hands on her hips. He saw the slight smile on her face. “Go ahead, laugh it up, funnyman.”
He lost it, throwing his head back and howling. “Old lady!”
She stood with her hands resting on her hips while he laughed. At least the smile never faded. “You’re lucky I have a good sense of humor.”
He managed to control his breathing a little. “I’m sorry, but if she thinks you’re old, what am I?”
She shook her head. “I have no idea, and I’m afraid to ask.”
“I know what you mean.” He slipped his arms around her waist. “Even if you are an old lady, you’re a beautiful old lady.”

Chapter 12

For the last five years, the normal day when shooting was five hours of filming and three hours of meetings, rehearsals, and other stuff. Roland saw no reason to change now.
He sat in the conference room with the production management team for the morning meeting. Everything looked ready to go for the first day of filming.
He sighed. “Last thing is a few announcements. First, I’m going to talk to the entire cast and crew. The infighting on the set stops now.” He shrugged. “If someone can’t be professional enough to get the job done, then they can find a new job.” He looked around the table. “I will shut this film down in a heartbeat if I need to.”
Marion sipped her coffee. “That’s easier said than done. You can’t change how people think.”
“No, but I can change how they act.”
She chuckled. “Sure you can.”
“Second is about Valerie. She’ll play Elektra in Destiny, but then she’s done. We’ll cast Elektra when we cast Bloodlust one.”
Jack frowned. “What about the nude scenes?” He glanced at Ralph. “I don’t think we can change them.”
“I’m OK with that.”
“What will she be doing after Destiny?” Shelia laughed a little. “Fetching coffee?”
“I’m not sure yet.”
Jim laughed. “Well, you’re going to be very busy with all the casting and everything.”
Roland smiled. “Not exactly. Jim, you need to find a cinematographer, among other things. Destiny will be the last erotic film I direct, and you’re the new senior director.”
Jim blinked. “What?”
“Your first film will be Bloodlust one. I’m stepping away from the director’s chair, and a few other things, too.” Roland looked around the table. “All of you will take on some of what I do now, so there will be ripples all through the operation. I’m not sure what yet, but changes are coming.”
“Are you sure about that?” Jim glanced at the others. “I’d love to direct, but you like that, too.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” He sighed. “There are several reasons for this, and Valerie is only one of them. I need a break. I’ve been in that chair for twenty-five years, and I need out of it for at least a while. I want more time to spend with Valerie. Also, the industry is changing, and so is Midnight Interludes. I see us moving into more mainstream work as we get larger facilities. I need to spend time in the office working on that side of the coin.”
Shelia jotted on her pad. “I think I can understand the why of this. The how still eludes me, though. When do you want to announce this to the public?”
“Not for a while yet. Maybe when we’re done with Destiny and have a better idea of how it will all work.”
Marion frowned. “Sheila has a point. What about Valerie?”
“I’m not sure yet where things will go.” He shrugged. “I think you can expect to see her around the place a lot, but what her role will be, I can’t say yet.”

Valerie wandered around the set a little. She had no scenes on the board for today. Sammy followed along behind her as they walked through the activity of getting the scenery set up and the equipment in place.
She wondered how Roland’s meeting went. He planned to drop the several bombs on them today, and he scheduled a meeting here with the entire cast and crew. Some of what he planned to say to everyone still needed work to smooth out the fuzzy edges.
While they reached a decision about her acting and his directing, how it would all happen still needed some work. She smiled thinking how they both got angry at first, but then sat down and reached a compromise. Together.
Other than those taking care of last minute details, most of the crew and the entire cast sat around finishing lunch. The caterer worked to clean up the lunch mess and get the drink tables set up. She walked to her chair beside Roland’s and sat down, putting Sammy in the small chair next to hers.
Roland came into the soundstage with the rest of the management team following close behind. As he passed her chair, he gave her a smile and a wink.
He reached the podium someone placed on the set and frowned. “Whose idea is this?” He laughed. “No matter. People, if I can have your attention.” The room quieted. “All right, thank you. Today, we’ll start shooting Destiny. While the schedule says four weeks, that never holds. If things go great, we could be done in three. If things go bad, it might take six. It doesn’t matter, and it takes as long as it takes. Before we start, there are a few announcements.”
He looked around the small crowd for a moment. “First of all, this film is a bit of a milestone. Destiny will be the last erotic film I direct. I’m stepping down as director and turning that over to Jim Alba.” A gasp rippled through the audience. “Jim is a great director, and he can handle things as well as I can. I appreciate all the hard work and support you’ve given me over the years, and I’ll ask you to give the same things to Jim.”
He winked at her again. “The second thing concerns Valerie Setera.” He held his hand out toward her. “Come on up here, baby.”
Her face felt warm as she walked to stand beside him. He didn’t tell her about this part.
He held her hand. “I think all of you know something has been happening between Valerie and me for a while now. I’m here to confirm that rumor for you. To keep a long story short, we’re a couple.” He smiled. “Sorry, girls. And guys.”
The crowd laughed, but it sounded a little nervous to her.
He pressed on. “And that leads to a major concern the management team and I share. The friction on the set centered on Valerie isn’t a secret. I hope making this all clear to everyone will resolve that.” He sighed. “Let me be blunt. Valerie landed the role of Elektra before she and I became a couple. She did not sleep her way into this part.” His eyes went a little hard and cold. “I want—No, I insist the rumors and backbiting stop now. I won’t have that in my studio, and I sure won’t have it on the set of my movie.”
He watched as a low rumble rolled through the room. “I told this to the management team, and I’ll tell you now. If you can’t work as professionals, you need to leave now.” The hardness looked firm on his face and in his eyes. “It’s better to resign than for me to fire you.”
He waited as the rumble resumed, and then faded again. “On a related note, Valerie will play Elektra in Destiny. After that, we’ll recast Elektra for the future films. That means there’s a large, lucrative part available, so you need to impress us now.”
The chatter running through the cast and crew sounded more upbeat. Roland smiled. “This last thing, the management team doesn’t even know yet because I just found out myself. Midnight Interludes is acquiring Passion Cove Studios and their assets. That will increase our production facilities and much more. In a nutshell, we’ll be able to produce two or three more films a year, so that means more work, and more money, for everyone.”
The crowd almost cheered.
He laughed. “Yeah, that’s very good news.” He glanced at where the team stood to the side. “Anything else?” Everyone shook their heads. “All right, then. Let’s make some magic!”
Valerie walked with him to their chairs next to the main camera. She squeezed his hand. “I guess that just made us official.”
He nodded. “I hope you’re OK with that.”
She laughed. The idea that he just announced to the world, or at least his little corner of it, they formed a couple thrilled her. “Of course I am.”

A throbbing pain pulsed behind his left eye. It often did that when he directed, but he rarely thought his eye would fall out of the socket as he did now. Roland sighed. “Cut!”
Bob Dawson worked as a porn actor for seven years before coming to Midnight Interludes two years ago. He had the looks of the classic leading man. Tall, handsome, with a little bit of boyish charm, and he had a body like an Olympic athlete. He also had an eleven inch cock.
Roland knew he could act, at least well enough for the role of Detective Sam Harrison, but Bob often got a little tongue tied. Today, Bob was a lot tongue tied. This made the twelfth take on the scene.
Roland rubbed his eye, hoping to hold his brain inside his skull. “Let’s take five while Bob calms down.”
Valerie squeezed his hand. “Mind if I talk to Bob?”
“If he can string more than three words together, have at it.” She walked with him to where Bob sat on the barstool, his head hanging down. He clapped Bob’s shoulder with his palm. “Relax. It’s just first day jitters.”
“I’m sorry, RW.” Bob looked up at him. “I just can’t think straight today.”
Valerie pulled another stool over and sat down in front of Bob. “Maybe I can help a little. Roland’s right and these are just first day shakes. But I think there’s more bugging you.” She paused for a moment. “When I read the script, I see this scene as someplace where Sam should be angry. Cassandra is pushing you for information about the murder, and you can’t talk about it. Also, you’re frustrated because you don’t have any answers or even ideas.” She smiled. “And you have the hots for Cassandra.”
Bob nodded. “I have that feeling, too.”
“Great! I understand the script right. You don’t seem angry to me.”
“I’m too frustrated with myself to get angry.”
“Maybe you’re not angry enough to stop getting frustrated.”
“What do you mean?”
She smiled. “Let’s get you calmed down, first.” Valerie looked toward the drink table. “Could someone bring Bob some cold water, please? No ice, but as cold as you can get.” One of the stage hands grabbed a bottle of water from deep in the ice bucket and brought it to her. She unscrewed the cap and handed the bottle to Bob. “Just a tiny sip, and swallow it quickly.”
Bob sipped and swallowed. “That helps the knot in my gut.”
She smiled. “Good.” She poured a little water in her hand and tossed it in his face.
Bob’s body gave a violent jerk when the icy water hit him. “What the fuck did you do that for?”
“We’ve got your nerves on the run, now you need to get mad.” She threw more water in his face.
“Stop that, you crazy bitch!” He stood up, his fists clenched at his sides.
Roland wondered if he might end up in another fight over her.
She smiled. “Almost there. Do you need more water?”
“No, goddamn it! Stop that shit!”
Bob stood trembling for a moment. As Roland watched, a slow smile came to his face. “I see what you’re doing.”
Roland nodded, glad Bob understood. He sure didn’t.
Valerie’s smile broadened a little. “That’s good, but tell me what I’m doing.”
“I can control the emotion I want to have for a scene if I get around my own frustration.”
“That’s right.” She smiled. “You can do this.”
“You’re damn right I can do this.” Bob looked at him. “Come on, RW; let’s get this scene in the can.”
It took one more take to get the scene done.

She watched him as he directed the scene. He looked more relaxed than earlier. At least Roland didn’t rub his forehead as often.
He smiled as Cassandra delivered the last line. “Cut! Print that one, folks.” He turned to her. “Thanks.”
“No problem. I’ve got more experience for this sort of acting than they do, and the least I can do is share that.”
“I thought Bob would punch you.”
“You wouldn’t let him.”
“He’s pretty big.” He smiled.
“True.” She thought for a moment. “At least he tries. Just like in the mainstream, some of them just want to collect their pay and do the minimum to get the job done.”
“I hear that.” He took her hand. “I hope they get off your back.”
She paused, thinking about the way some of the cast and crew treated her. “I do too. I’m not sure how much more I can take.” She thought again. “The preferential treatment is as bad as the snide remarks, though.”
“I know, and I’m trying to control that part on my end.”
She laughed. “You’re supposed to treat me special.”
He laughed with her for minute. “I know it bothers you, though.”
“Your doing it doesn’t bother me as much as when the others do.”
“You should get used to my doing it.”
“I think I like that idea.” She squeezed his hand. “We’ll see how it goes, but it’s all pretty hard to take.”
“Just don’t let them get to you.” He rubbed at the bandages on his neck.
She frowned. “What’s wrong?”
“My bite burns a little.”
“Let’s have the nurse look at it.”
“I’m fine.”
She took a deep breath. “Don’t go getting all macho on me here. A bite from a human is the worst kind you can have.” She stood and pulled his arm. “Come on.”
He didn’t resist too much. She wondered if he just gave in, or if the bite hurt enough he thought Jackie should look at it.
The nurse removed the bandages and looked at the bite. “That’s a strange wound. How did you get it?” She poked at the upper of the two punctures, and yellowish pus oozed out.
Roland jerked a little. “Ouch! That’s a long story.”
“I see.” Jackie used antiseptic to cleanse the wounds. “This is infected. I’ll give you some antibiotics, but if it’s not better by this time tomorrow, you’ll need to see the doctor.”
Shelia came up, her notepad in her hand. “RW, Dave Randal from Passion Cove called and said he can see you tomorrow at 6:00 for dinner.” She looked where the nurse worked to cleanse the two punctures. “What happened to you?”
Valerie’s face warmed when Shelia’s gaze fell on her.
Roland sighed. “Just a little disagreement.”
“Uh-huh.” Shelia smiled at her. “We need to get you two some safer toys.” She chuckled as she walked away.
Jackie smiled. “That’s right. You’re Elektra.”
Roland rolled his eyes. “Shit.”

The rest of the day’s shooting went well, and they climbed into the Mercedes at just after 5:00. George looked through the window to the back and sighed. “We’ve got several wrecks on the freeway, so it may be a long ride. Just relax back there.”
Roland leaned back in the seat. “Wake me when we get home.” George rolled up the window.
She watched him settle into the seat. He looked tired. “Are you just tired, or is the bite hurting?”
He smiled. “Just fine. Tired is all. The first day or two always wipes me out.”
George pulled onto the freeway ramp and things stopped dead. She took Roland’s hand in hers. “Why don’t you take a nap?”
“I’ve ignored you enough today.”
“Ignored me? You sat next to me all afternoon, holding my hand and talking to me when the sound wasn’t rolling. I don’t feel ignored.”
“I guess that’s OK, then.” He stretched. “Do you want a glass of wine? If I have a beer, I will fall asleep.”
“Then you should have one. No thank you on the wine, though.”
“I’d rather just stare at you for a couple of hours.”
“I’d like that. Did you get your pills?”
He patted his shirt pocket and she heard the pills rattle in the bottle. “Right here.”
“I’m sorry I bit you.”
“I’m not.” He shrugged. “I damn near came when you bit me.”
She smiled. “Vampire fantasy?”
“Yeah.” He laughed. “Now that you’ve made me undead, I can be the vampire.”
“That has possibilities.” She leaned and kissed him.
She intended to just touch her lips to his. He looked so tired she hoped she could relax him enough so he would fall asleep for the ride home. It looked like the ride would be long since they only just reached the top of the ramp.
When her lips touched his, Roland’s arms flashed up and wrapped around her neck, and pulled their faces together. His tongue pressed hard against her lips.
Her lips parted and their tongues darted against each other. The flavor of his lips burned against hers as the sweetness fired her passions. Spreading warmth across her breasts and through her pelvis followed as his hands moved over her back.
Something new added itself to the mix of her desires, too. Watching him direct today, she saw the control and power she found so attractive, but she also saw compassion. Even when Bob had problems with the lines, Roland never lost his temper. The frustration showed on his face, but he remained calm and supportive. As he treated her with understanding and care, he treated the others in a similar way.
His hands slipped under her shirt and moved over the skin of her back. He fumbled with her bra, and she fought a giggle.
He sighed. “I hate front closure bras.”
She leaned away from him, still struggling with the laugh. “Let me.” She reached under her shirt and unclipped the bra. She worked to remove the garment and dropped it in the floorboard. “Now, where were we?”
His hands moved to her bare back again, and he caressed her skin. “Right here.”
She kissed him again. As she slipped her mouth to nibble at his neck, avoiding the bandages on the left side, she smelled the delectable combination of his cologne, sweat, and the leather of the car’s seats. The tough smell of the leather added a hint of ruggedness to him, reinforcing the rustic image she noticed that first day he brought her to his home.
His hands rode up and down her sides under the shirt as he nibbled at her hair. He pushed the shirt up, and her breasts slipped from under the material.
The fact they sat in heavy traffic with George only a few feet away flashed into her mind. “Honey, can we wait until we get home?”
“You’re kidding, right?”
The fact no one could see in through the windows, and that George never opened the glass between the two compartments meant little to her embarrassment. “What if George looks back, or calls on the intercom?”
“He won’t.” He licked her neck and she shivered all over.
She thought her embarrassment a little silly. She needed to work through that, just like Bob worked through his frustration earlier this afternoon. “OK.”
He pulled away from her for a moment. “If you say no, then no it is.”
She shook her head. “It’s all right.” She kissed him softly. “I want to.”
He smiled and pushed his lips to hers again.
He ran his hands over her sides, tracing her ribs with his fingertips and tickling her as he passed. His hands slid down, and he unfastened her pants.
Roland lifted her hips in the air as he pulled her jeans and panties down. Resting her back on the seat, he leaned over and pulled the shoes from her feet, and then he yanked her pants from her legs.
She reached down to his lap and grabbed his cock through his pants. The hardness strained against the material, and he twitched a little as she stroked him.
His hands ran over her body, touching her in all the places only he discovered. Her mind fogged as he touched, licked, and kissed her all over. Valerie’s heart raced in her chest, matched by the rapid panting causing her diaphragm to rise and fall as her breath blew out of control.
He took her wrist in his hand and pulled her fist from his cock. She raised her arms and slipped the tee shirt up to remove it, and then he grabbed her arms through the material, her head hidden inside the shirt.
His lips pressed against her bare breasts, his tongue darting across her jutting nipples as he held her. She knew she couldn’t escape his grasp, even if she tried, but she didn’t want to escape. He held her totally in his control, and she couldn’t imagine a safer feeling.
After licking and sucking her breasts until she writhed under the attention, he pulled the shirt from her head and pushed her back onto the seat. He fumbled with his belt and pants for a moment, and managed to pull them down. As he kicked the pants and shoes off, he removed his shirt. She stared at his chest, the muscles rising and falling as he panted.
His cock stood erect, and she watched as he moved on top of her. His stiffness slipped into her wet pussy, and her hips thrust up to meet his insistent cock.
He thrust his dick deep into her flowing cunt, but she wanted him even deeper inside her. She wrapped her legs around his hips, pulling him to her. He stared into her eyes as he worked his cock in her. He leaned to her face and kissed her deeply.
As his tongue made frenzied movements in her mouth, the smells of his body and the leather filled her nose with each rapid breath. The image of Roland commanding power and authority swept through her mind. She saw him holding her with one arm and he fought the man at the ice cream shop with the other.
With her pussy filled with his thrusting, throbbing dick, and her mouth filled with his probing tongue, the first trembling waves of orgasm washed over her.
His tempo increased, and she heard the grunting moans escaping their lips as they kissed. She didn’t know if the moans and grunts came from his mouth, hers, or a wonderful combination of both.
Drops of sweat fell from his face onto hers as they moved together. Sometimes, a trail of the salty liquid ran to where their lips intertwined and added its flavor to the heady combination of their saliva.
Her climax slapped her hard, and her body convulsed as he thrust firmly against her. Her hands ran over his back, pulling him closer, and his muscles tensed as his cock throbbed inside her soaked pussy.
His hips thrust against hers as his cum erupted deep into her body. Her back arched, lifting them both from the seat, as she forced her pelvis against his, struggling to get just another fraction of an inch penetration.
The ferocious kiss they shared kept her screams, and his, in check as they climaxed together. The car shook as they each tried to get closer together.
He went limp as he fell onto her chest, but the soft seats of the car prevented him from knocking the breath from her. Roland panted heavily, his hot breath blowing on her neck and teasing her ear.
He struggled a little. “Let me get off of you.”
“You’re not hurting me.” She hugged him. “Please, stay there.”
He snuggled to her. “All right.”
They held each other for a time, and the car moved more and stopped less as they rested in one another’s arms. She didn’t know where they were, but traffic seemed better.
Roland raised himself on one arm and looked down into her face. He smiled as he brushed the hair from her face. “You’re so pretty.”
“Thank you.” She stared up into his face. She pondered his expression for a moment. His eyes were locked to hers, and a curious curl touched his lips. Not quite a smile, it looked happy nonetheless. The look made her feel like no one else in the world existed for him.
No one ever looked at her that way before.
A girl could used to the warm, fuzzy feeling it gave her.

She wouldn’t get out of the car.
George stood next to him as they watched her root around in the backseat. Roland decided to ask. “What’s wrong?”
She huffed. “I’m looking for something.”
She paused. “Come help me.”
He didn’t know how to find something when he didn’t know what he looked for. He climbed into the car to help anyway. “What are we looking for?”
She leaned close to his ear and whispered. “My bra!”
“Oh.” He struggled to control the laugh growing inside him. If he laughed, he knew where the bra would end up when they found it.
George leaned into the car. “Valerie, go on inside. I’ll bring you anything I find back there later.”
Her face looked panicked. “No! No, that’s OK! We’ll find it!”
George shrugged and stood up, pulling his head from car.
Roland managed to get the laugh well restrained. “What if we can’t find it?”
“We’re not leaving this car until we do.”
“But what if we can’t?”
“I’m sleeping in the car.”
He took a deep breath. The laugh worked its way up his throat. “It won’t be the first time George has seen a bra.”
“It’ll be the first time he’s seen mine!”
She cut him off. “Do not ‘baby’ me! It has to be here someplace! Bras do not just walk off on their own!”
George leaned forward again. “What?”
Her eyes went round. “Nothing!”
“Oh, OK.” George looked puzzled as he straightened up.
She turned to Roland. “And do not say this is funny.”
Now she could read his mind. “I’m not going to say a word.”
The cat worried something under the refrigerator. Roland watched him for a moment. “What have you got, Sammy?”
He reached under the edge of the unit and his fingers touched soft cloth. He managed to get his fingers worked into the material and pulled gently. The bra slipped from under the box. He smiled and held the bra up to her. “Here it is.”
She snatched the garment from his hand and shoved it under her shirt. “Don’t let George see that!”
George leaned over. “Did you say something to me?”
“No! We’re ready now.”

Chapter 13
“Making a Scene”

Thursday came, and Elektra’s first scene was on the board for this afternoon.
Valerie felt ready. She had the lines down, she had the attitude down, and the special effects and stunt people briefed her.
Now all she needed to do was get her nerves under control.
A knock came on the dressing room door. She managed to talk Roland out of giving her a private dressing room. The stage manager called through the door to her. “Five minutes, Ms. Setera.”
She smiled. Even though the stage manager called her by first name everyplace else, the tradition of using the more formal names when calling a performer to the stage persisted. “Thank you.”
She checked her makeup and hair, and headed for the set.

Roland knew his nerves bothered him more than they should. This was Valerie’s first scene, the one where the audience first sees who, and what, was doing all the killing in Central Park.
The scene would set the tone for the rest of the film. Roland knew the audience needed to fear Elektra, but they had to love her at the same time. Valerie needed to grab every man and woman in the audience and make them want her. At the same time, she had to make them shit their pants. As a professional, Valerie understood this, too. He knew she would come through.
He rationalized his feelings because it was the director’s job to worry.
Valerie walked onto the set, and he gasped.
The red hair looked like she just stepped from standing behind a big fan, wildly blown in every direction. Yet the hair somehow had an odd order to its random angles. Her face looked pale, like very little blood flowed in her skin. The dark makeup around her eyes contrasted with her pale cheeks and made her eyes look much larger than they were. He smiled thinking of the old fairy tale line…’the better to see you with’. Especially in the dark.
The red dress looked like someone sprayed it on her body from a can. Cut high on her legs and low down her cleavage, very little of her shape remained hidden. The material flowed like oil on water as her hips swayed from side to side when she walked.
But her lips captivated him. Red and full, they looked like fresh blood against the paleness of her face. His mouth watered wanting to kiss them.
His mind flashed back to the night she played Elektra for him, and his body reacted to the memories. Valerie looked delicious.
As she walked across the set, he realized she wasn’t Valerie now. Elektra came to the stage. Terrifyingly beautiful, immortal, passionate, and a deadly predator.
Marion, the makeup artist, and the special effects team all worked on the stage with Elektra and her nameless victim. They soon cleared the way.
The sound man nodded to Jim. He checked his camera. “Tape to speed and—” He paused. “We’re rolling.”
The man went off stage right and Elektra moved off to the bushes at stage left.
“Destiny, scene fourteen, take one.” The clapboard made a loud click in the hands of the production assistant.
Roland swallowed hard. “Action.”

She watched from her resting place near the walkway. The lawmen moved through the woods sometimes, and she wished to avoid them. Their weapons would be of no use against her, but those men and women try to protect even the vagrants and non-persons she sought.
She hated hunting from ambush. A predator, she should chase down her prey, not lie in wait for something to come to her. She already let four prey walk by this night. In couples, lovers she would wager, someone would miss them. She waited for the dregs of New York to come to her.
A dirty man stumbled toward her now. He looked unkempt, and her killer’s nose smelled him from four reeds away. He staggered as he moved toward the bench, flopping down to sit.
He fussed with his jacket for a moment, like he wore a fine robe and not the greasy rag it was. He pulled a paper bag from his pocket and held it to his lips, drinking from the container it held. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve, and stared at the bag for a moment. “Fuck. Almost empty again.” He slipped the bag back in his pocket.
She listened and heard no others within earshot. Her nose picked up no other scents. She moved from her resting place.
She walked into the dim light cast by the single streetlamp. The man looked up, his eyes going wide. “Oh, sorry lady. I’m not gonna hurt you.”
Elektra smiled. His eyes drifted over her body a few times, and his mouth hung open as he stared. She put her hands on her hips and licked her lips. “I know you won’t, my precious.”
The man smiled, and she saw he lacked many teeth, much like the workman on the temples of the gods. “Well, I ain’t all that harmless.” He looked puzzled. “A pretty woman like you shouldn’t be out here like this. What are you doing?”
She stepped forward, her breasts on a level with his eyes. “I’m looking for you.”
He chuckled. “Me?”
“Yes, my precious. You.”
He laughed. “I can think of a few things, but what do you plan to do now you’ve found me?”
She smiled, reaching to touch his chin with her fingertips. She lifted his chin until he looked up into her eyes. “To grant your wildest fantasies.” She licked her lips again, already tasting his blood. “And your most terrifying nightmares.”
He blinked at her. “What?”
“Stand up, my precious.” She lifted his chin as he stood. She grabbed his head and pressed her lips to his, her tongue running far into his mouth. She clawed at his back, and he jerked in her arms.
The bloodlust fogged her mind, and the fury of the feast took her.
When she pulled her face from his, the gleaming fangs projected from her lips a fingerbreadth, and she saw him through the green hue of her killer’s eyes.
His face went slack at first, and then he screamed. She yanked his head back to expose his throat. As she plunged her fangs deep into his throat, she recalled even the brave men, the warriors, always scream.
His blood sprayed across her face when she ripped through the veins and pulsing arteries of his neck and the wondrous taste of fresh blood filled her mouth. Warmth and power coursed through her body, giving her the strength to carry on a few days, until she would feed again.
She dropped the drained body to the pavement and wiped the back of her hand across her mouth. She screamed the primal cry of the creatures of the night as the power of everlasting life burned in her veins. She threw her hands in the air, clutching at the sky and cursing those who cursed her to live the last four thousand years by feeding on the living.
Tears stung her face as she fought the urge to take wing and kill again, to gorge herself on blood as she did countless times over the long and lonely centuries.
Her senses heightened by the kill, she smelled millions of prey around her, all waiting for her to come to them.
All waiting for her to make their fantasies, and nightmares, come to life.

Roland sat very still in his chair. Sweat formed on his brow and upper lip. His mouth went dry as a desert, and he swallowed hard. “Cut! Print it!”
As quickly as she appeared, Elektra vanished and Valerie stood on the stage. She smiled and held her hand down to the actor lying on the floor, covered in stage blood. “Way to go, Andy!”
He scrambled to his feet and hugged her. “You are amazing!”
“Thanks.” She took the towel from Marion and wiped her face as she walked towards where he still sat motionless in his chair. “Since you want it printed, I guess you liked that.”
He swallowed again. From the waist up, stage blood covered her body and costume. She still wore the teeth and contacts, too. He could barely blink, let alone look away. “Shit, Valerie.”
She looked puzzled. “What?”
“This movie will get an NC-17 just because you’ll scare half the audience to death.”
She laughed. The makeup artist brought the case for the contacts and she popped them from her eyes. “It isn’t that good. If I can get another take, I know we can do better.” She rubbed her right eye as she turned to the artist. “Could you get me some saline? I think I got a little of the blood in my eye.”
He watched the artist go off to the makeup cart. “Baby, that take is fantastic. Maybe after we get a little farther in, we might do this one again, but that’s about all I can handle right now.”
She smiled. “All right.” The artist brought the saline, and she rinsed her eyes. “That’s better. Thanks.”
Marion walked over. “Nice job, Valerie, but I need the costume so I can get it washed before it stains.”
“Right.” She leaned over and kissed him. “I’ll be back as soon as I get changed and showered.” She headed off for the dressing room.
Jim climbed down from the camera and joined him and Marion. “Can we get a few dozen more of her?”
Marion laughed. “I’m not sure we could handle more than one.”
“And you dumped it in my lap to replace that?”
“It looks that way.” Roland watched the door to the dressing room. “She can’t do Elektra after this.”
“I know, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“No, but it won’t do you any good.” Roland hated his thoughts. As his instincts told him the very first time he saw Valerie, she was Elektra. He wondered if it would even be possible to cast anyone else as Elektra. “She won’t do Elektra after this film.”

After sending the dress out to Marion, Valerie jumped in the shower to wash the stage blood from her body. She thought about the scene. She really wanted another take. She knew the first take was, as Roland said, good, but she could do better. She smiled thinking she could talk Roland into that.
She stepped from the shower with a towel wrapped around her head. One of the female extras stood leaning against the door frame of the drying area. Valerie frowned. “Hi.”
“You think you’re hot shit on a stick, don’t you?”
She didn’t know how to handle this. “I don’t have time for this.” She walked by the woman on her way to her dressing table.
The woman grabbed the towel, getting a fist full of hair with it. She yanked backwards, and Valerie almost fell.
All she could think was being on the floor would be a very bad place right now. She grabbed the woman’s hand and pulled it tight to her head to ease the pressure on her hair. She flexed the girl’s wrist to break her grip and stepped away.
Valerie threw the towel from her head. Wet hair is harder to grip. “What’s this about?”
“You fucked your way into this job, and now you’re trying to make everyone else look bad. I guess you have a bunch of friends that need jobs to replace us.”
“You’re wrong all the way around. Roland hired me because he knows I can do the job. That happened before we got together. You heard him Monday.”
“Yeah, I heard him. I also saw you pulling the string so he could talk.” The woman laughed. “I been in fuck films for nine years, since I was sixteen, and I know how it works. You give a little head, and you get a talking head.”
“That happens, but not now.”
“Right.” The woman lunged at her, and Valerie managed to yank a chair between them. The chair hit the dressing table and several bottles crashed to the floor and broke. The woman smiled as she picked up a piece of the broken glass. “Let’s see what a few scars do for that picture-perfect face of yours.”
Valerie picked up the chair, holding it like a lion tamer. The woman lunged again, and Valerie hit her in the ribs with the chair. She dropped to her knees as the breath exploded from her mouth.
The door flew open and Marion stormed inside. “What’s going on in here?” She made one quick glance around the room before turning to yell out the door. “Call security!”
The woman on the floor panted heavily. “You bitch!” She moved to get to her feet again.
Marion frowned. “You need to stay right there.”
The woman stood and reached for the glass on the floor.
Marion sighed. The roundhouse haymaker sent the woman spiraling to the floor. Marion looked at Valerie. “You should grab a robe or something.”

People filled the dressing room before Roland heard something involving Valerie happened.
He forced his way through the crowd. “Make a hole, people! Make it big!”
Valerie sat on a chair while Ted talked to her. Another guard talked to Marion. One of the extras, he thought her name was Rebecca, sat in another chair with two guards next to her. She wore handcuffs and had a good start on a black eye.
As calmly as he could, he walked to where Valerie sat. “Are you OK?”
“I’m fine, just a little shook up.”
He took a deep breath. “What’s going on?”
“Rebecca and I had a little disagreement about how the last scene went.”
“Uh-huh.” He sighed. “Ted, are you getting a better story than that one?”
Ted shook his head. “Not really.”
He looked at Marion. “How about you?”
Marion shrugged. “I think Valerie has it about right.”
Roland looked at Rebecca. “Nice eye. How’d you get it?”
She took a deep breath, and she winced to her left. “I slipped on the soap.”
The nurse looked at Marion’s right hand. “Jackie, are any of these people hurt bad enough we need to get them to a doctor?”
“No, just some bruises and such. They’ll be fine.”
“Well, there’s good news.” He thought for a moment. “We’re done filming for the day. Those who can, go home. The rest of you, get the fuck out of here. I want to talk to these three alone.”
Ted hesitated. “We need to finish the investigation.”
“You’re not a real cop. Get out of here, and take those handcuffs with you.”
Ted paused for a moment. He nodded to his men. They took the handcuffs off Rebecca, and everyone left the dressing room, leaving him alone with Valerie, Marion, and Rebecca.
When the door closed, he took a deep breath. “Now, let’s hear the real story.”
The three women glanced at each other a few times. Valerie cleared her throat. “It’s nothing you need be involved in.”
He sighed. “Why don’t I believe that?”
“This is between Rebecca and me.” She shrugged. “Marion got dragged into it, but you shouldn’t.”
He stared at her. She didn’t lie to him. She just wasn’t going to back down from her position. Valerie saw this as her problem, and she planned to deal with it in her way. He nodded. “A few questions. First, do I need to fire anybody?”
Valerie shook her head. “Absolutely not.”
“All right. Do I need to let Ted play cops and robbers and bust someone?”
She shook her head again. “Not as far as I’m concerned.” Marion and Rebecca shook their heads as well.
He sighed. “Lastly, if I leave this room, is there going to be more trouble?”
“No. We do need talk alone in here for a few minutes, though.”
He didn’t like it, not even a little bit. Even in the short time he shared with her, he knew Valerie well enough to see she made up her mind, and nothing he could do would change that. “All right. I’ll be right outside.”
Marion stood. “This is between them, so I’ll go with you.”
He brushed his hand over Valerie’s wet hair. “Yell if you need me.”
She smiled. “I will.”
He and Marion stepped into the hall and closed the door.
Marion smiled. “She’ll be fine.”
“Are you going to tell me what happened?”
“No, but Valerie will later.”
“I hope so.”
Marion shook her head. “She’s pretty tough for being so damned skinny.”

Rebecca pulled the ice pack from her eye. “So, you’re going to have him fire me later.”
“No, I’m not going to have him fire you at all.” Valerie sighed. “But we need to talk like adults and not fight this out like kids.”
Rebecca looked puzzled. “I’m not getting fired?”
“I don’t know. Contrary to what you and a lot of other people seem to think, I can’t control Roland. He’ll do what he thinks best. I will tell him what happened, and he may decide to fire you. I’m going to ask him not to, if we can get this worked out between us.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t want you trying to kill me again. I can’t make you like me, and I don’t expect or need that. We do have to work together, though.”
“I guess we do.”
She nodded. “Let me ask you something. If I slept with Roland to get this gig, don’t you think the easiest thing for me to do is to have you fired?”
“Yeah, and that’s what I expect to happen.”
“Well, you’re wrong.” Valerie smiled. “First, we’re doing more than just sleeping together. Second, that happened after he hired me. We never met until I auditioned for this film. Third, I know what it’s like to be out of work. I don’t want you, or anyone, to go through that.”
Rebecca stared at her for a long time. “You really didn’t sleep your way into this job?”
“No, I didn’t. I don’t play that game, and that could be why I was out of work for so long.”
“What do we do now?”
“Like I said, just don’t try to kill me again.”
“That’s a deal.” She pressed the ice bag to her eye again. “That was pretty stupid.”
“You were mad.”
“Yeah, I was.” She rubbed her side for a moment. “That was a good shot with the chair.”
“Thanks, I think.” She sighed. “I have to tell him what happened, but I’m going to try to get him not to fire you.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“Yes, I do.” She wondered if the story of this might spread and get people off her back a little. “I think actors have to stick together.”
Rebecca seemed to think for a moment. “That scene was pretty amazing.”
“Do we call him in and tell him now?”
Valerie shook her head. “No, that would be very bad. He’s all wound up right now. He’ll act without thinking. I’ll tell him later.”
Rebecca smiled. “When you have a chance to relax him a little?”
“Exactly.” She grinned. “We do need to tell him something, though.” She went to the door. “Roland, please come back in.”
Marion smiled. “Everything OK?”
“Yes, it is. And thanks.”
“No problem at all. I’ll see you later.” She walked off down the hall as Roland came into the dressing room.
He sat down. “Now what?”
Valerie took his hand in hers. “Everything is fine now.”
“Are you two going to tell me what happened?”
“I will, but later when we both have a chance to calm down.”
He frowned. “I don’t like that.”
“I didn’t ask you to like it.”
A small smile played over his face. “I can see when I’m beat.” He looked at Rebecca. “Are you hurt?”
“Nothing major, but things with me and Valerie are fine now.”
“All right then.” He glanced at his watch. “Let’s all go home.”

They sat together in the back as George negotiated the traffic. She laughed. “I think I need a drink.”
“White wine?”
She frowned. “What else is in there?”
Roland opened the bar and rummaged around. “Let’s see…Red and white wine, beer you won’t like, scotch, bourbon, vodka, and some gin. Oh, and one bottle of blush wine.”
“Why won’t I like the beer?”
“It’s IPA and very bitter. I have yet to meet a woman who likes it.”
She smiled. “Let me have one of those, then.”
He laughed. “Remember you asked for it.” He opened the beer and poured for her. He watched as she lifted the glass to her lips.
She paused. “Aren’t you having anything?”
“I’ll drink that after you decide you can’t stand it.”
She shrugged. The beer bit like a snake in her mouth. The pungent flavor of the hops almost overwhelmed her taste buds and left a spicy aftertaste. The flavor of the alcohol tasted strong and burned a little. “Whew! How much alcohol is in this?”
He laughed. “About sixteen percent.”
The flavors and aftertaste blended into something that became less shocking with the second sip. The stuff kicked harder than any wine and many types of liquor. “Actually, this is pretty good. Takes some getting used to, but I think I like it.”
He smiled at her, and his eyes twinkled. “A woman that likes IPA.”
She laughed. “What does IPA stand for?”
“India Pale Ale.” He told her how, in colonial days, the British made the beer in England and transported it to India by ship. The strong flavor and bitterness let the beer survive the long, rough trip.
She finished the beer about the time he finished the story. “How about another of those?”
“Sure.” He opened another bottle and refilled her glass. The beer came in big bottles, too. She thought they might be as much as twice as big as a normal twelve ounce bottle. The second tasted even better than the first. The hops smelled flowery now, a slight sweetness mixing with the bitterness.
Roland laughed. “You better take it easy on that stuff.” He sipped at his glass of the beer.
“Oh, I’m fine.” She giggled. “Where are we?”
He looked out the window. “Not very far from the studio yet, and traffic is heavy.”
“How many of these do we have left?”
He looked in the refrigerator. “Two more.”
“Damn it.”
He laughed at her.
She drank more of the beer and the warmth of the alcohol spread through her body. “That’s good.”
They chatted for a while. As he poured them both another beer, he frowned. “When are you going to tell me what happened this afternoon?”
“Shhh!” She giggled. “That’s a secret!”
She sipped her beer. She needed to make this one last the rest of the drive home. “I’ll tell you when we get home.”
“Why do I have the feeling you’re not going to tell me until we’re in bed?”
She shrugged. “Oh, if you want to fuck, we can do that now.”
“You’re drunk, Valerie.”
“Not me!”
“Uh-huh. How will I know when you’re drunk?”
She smiled at him. “I get a little, um, aggressive when I’m drunk.”
“Now there’s something to look forward to.”
“You have no idea.”
He laughed. They talked again, and he told her how much he liked her performance this afternoon. His approval made her feel even better than the buzz from the beer.
She sighed. “I’d still like another take on that scene.”
“Maybe later when we have the other scenes done, we can revisit this one. I’ve found I often need to shoot the first scenes again as the actors get into the characters.”
“OK, you’re the director.” She finished her beer. She ran her tongue down the inside of the glass to get the last few drops.
Roland stared at her. “Stop that!”
“You look like an anteater!”
“Well, and it turns me on, running your tongue that far…” He trailed off. “Oh, never mind!”
She giggled. “What else is in that magic box?”
“Same as before, but no more beer.”
She sighed. “Are there like booze fairies who refill that thing?”
“Just picture George in a tutu.”
The image of George in a pink tutu hit her mind. She fell over in the seat laughing so hard she couldn’t breathe. Sammy stared at her, and Roland grinned. She managed to get her breathing under control. “How about a shot of bourbon?”
He frowned. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“No, you’re right.” She thought for a minute. The bitter beer mixed with sweet bourbon wouldn’t be a good idea at all. “Make it vodka.”
They couldn’t play quarters in the car because they didn’t have a table, so they just took shots as the traffic thinned.
She thought they each took five shots before George stopped the car in front of the house.

Roland tried to help her from the car and up the steps when they got home. The problem came in when he discovered he was nearly as drunk as she was. He thought about having George help them both, but he drove away to put the car in the garage.
She stumbled, and he tried to catch her. They both sat down hard on the marble steps. She laughed hysterically.
He grinned. “We’re drunk.”
“Not me! I’m seriously fucked up!”
Her eyes met his for a moment, and the laughter faded from his lips. He swallowed. “Do you know how hot you are?”
She smiled. “I don’t know how hot I am, but I know how hot I think I am, and you’re as hot as I think you’re hot.” She frowned. “Like I think I am.”
He giggled. “What?”
She waved her hands around. “I have no fucking idea!” Valerie leaned against him and laughed.
He held her for a long time. “We’re going to regret this in the morning.”
She sighed. “Look at your stars, honey.”
He looked up at the sky. A million points of light spread across the heavens from horizon to horizon. He sighed. “That’s so pretty.”
She hugged him. “Yes, it is.” She paused for a moment. “Am I that pretty?”
“You’re much prettier.”
She put her hand on his cheek, and turned his face to hers. “You’re amazing.” She kissed him.
The door opened, and Cathy and Maria stood outlined in the light. Cathy laughed. “George said y’all got into the moonshine riding home.”
He smiled up at them. “I guess we did.”
“Can you do it, can we help you, or do we need to wait for George to get you both in the house?” Maria smiled.
“I think we can do it.”
After a little work, they managed to get in the house and to the dining room.
As they ate the French onion soup Cathy made, Valerie kept staring at him. He believed her eyes might burn holes through him tonight. And she kept licking her spoon, flicking her tongue over and around the bowl. He wiggled in his chair trying to find some comfortable position for his hard-on.
About the time he found one, her foot moved. She ran her foot up and down his leg, wiggling her toes against him. When she reached his knee, she put her foot in his lap, where she wiggled her toes to touch his cock. Already hard, she just made matters worse.
She finished her soup and smiled at him. “I’m tired. Are you coming to bed soon?”
What choice did he have? Other than trying to leave the room with a raging hard-on, it sounded like a good idea. “Right now.”
They excused themselves and headed upstairs.
He stared at the big staircase as she nibbled at his neck. “Maybe we should use the elevator.”
Her breath blew like fire against his skin. “You have an elevator? We could play elevator roulette.”
“What’s that?”
“We ride the elevator while making love. Maybe people get on before we get off.”
He laughed. “There are only two floors and three other people here.”
He led her to the elevator as they kissed and groped each other. Her hands moved all over him, like when they were in bed together, but she never behaved this way when someone might even remotely have a chance to catch them. As the elevator stopped on the second floor, they stumbled out into the hallway and toward their room.
When the door closed, she leaned forward and bit the buttons from his shirt, one at a time, spitting them to the floor as she went.
He took her shoulders in his hands. “Valerie, are you all right?”
She smiled. “I’m fine. I hope to be better after while.”
“You said you get aggressive when you’re drunk.” He sighed. “I don’t want you doing things when you’re drunk you wouldn’t do sober.”
She smiled again. “Don’t you like it?”
“I’m not sure how to answer that. Yeah, I like the attention, but I don’t like the idea you’re not in control of yourself.”
She stared at him for several seconds. “I think I’m supposed to get mad because you’re turning me down.”
“I’m not turning you down.” He didn’t like her this way. “I just want you as you are, not as the booze makes you.”
She nodded. “I’m not going to remember any of this.”
“Exactly.” He hugged her. “It’s the real you I care about.”
Her arms slipped around his waist. “I know that, and I’ll remember that in the morning.”
“How about if we lie down and I’ll hold you?”
“That will be great.”
“I think so, too.”

Chapter 14
“Freaky Friday”

Roland’s voice sounded very far away. “Valerie? Baby, it’s time to get up.”
She opened her eyes. The sun pouring through the window hurt. She slammed them shut again. “Ouch.”
“Come on. Let’s get some food in you.”
“I don’t want any.”
“I know, but you need to eat.”
“I’d rather just die now and save time later.”
He laughed. How could he be so damned chipper? He drank as much as she did. She remembered the difference between a six foot, 161 pound man and a five foot, one inch 101 pound woman created a huge impact on alcohol tolerance.
“Come on, Valerie. Let’s get you moving.” He lifted her in his arms. Her head hurt, and her stomach flipped a little at the motion. He sat her at the table. The food smelled good, but she didn’t want to eat.
She opened her eyes a crack. Cathy made farina with butter, cinnamon, and figs. Buttered toast rested on a saucer beside the bowl. “That does smell good.”
“It’s homemade, the old-fashioned way.”
She looked up at him. His smile looked concerned. “You don’t need to sell me on the idea.”
“Good. How do you feel?”
She tried a spoonful, and it tasted even better than it smelled. “My head hurts, but I think I won’t barf.”
“That’s good.” He set a shot glass next to her orange juice with several pills in it.
She didn’t want to see a shot glass. One of the last things she remembered clearly was taking a shot of vodka. “What’s that?”
“Aspirin and some vitamins.” He picked up the water pitcher and poured a huge glass that he sat in front of her. “Take those and drink this.”
She swallowed the pills and drank about half of the water. She frowned. “Did I do anything stupid last night?”
He shrugged. “No, not really.”
“What’s that mean?”
“You were a little…something.”
Oh, shit. “I didn’t make a pass at George or anything, did I?”
He laughed. “No, but I wondered if you were going to let me get up here in one piece.”
She nodded. “Can you still walk?”
“We didn’t do anything other than kissing, and then I held you until you fell asleep.”
“Did I fall asleep or pass out?”
“I’m not really sure.”
She hesitated. “I’m sorry.”
“For what? You don’t owe me an apology.”
“I get a little strange when I drink.”
He shrugged. “I do, too. Don’t worry about it.”
She smiled to herself. “What the hell is in that beer?”
“Just beer.”
She finished eating, and her stomach settled down a little. Her head still hurt, though.
They showered before heading off to the studio.

As soon as they sat down in the car and pulled away, he took her hand in his. “You need to tell me what happened yesterday afternoon.”
She nodded. “Yes, I do.” She took a deep breath. “Rebecca still thought I slept my way in. We had a fight in there.”
“Did you black her eye?”
“No, Marion did that. I hit her in the ribs with a chair.”
Roland stifled a laugh. “Should I ask why you did that?”
“Probably not, but you need to know. When I grabbed the chair to keep between us, I knocked some bottles off the table. She grabbed a piece of glass and threatened to cut me.”
His eyes went wide. “What?” He screamed. “She tried to cut you?”
“Calm down. She threatened me. After I caught her with the chair, the threat was over.”
He closed his eyes. His breathing came rapid and shallow. “I’m trying to stay calm.” He inhaled through his nose, and exhaled through his mouth. His cheeks puffed out with each breath. “I don’t know if I should fire her, have her arrested, or kill her.”
“None of the above.”
His eyes snapped open. “Are you crazy? She tried to kill you!” His screaming returned.
As his mouth moved silently, the intercom buzzed. George sounded concerned. “Are you two OK?”
Roland swallowed and pressed the switch. “Yeah, we’re fine.” He released the button.
She touched his chin with her fingers. “It’s all right.”
He jerked away. “No, it’s not. This is assault, not just someone saying bad things about you.”
He reached for the phone on the wall of the car. She knew what he planned to do, and put her hand on his. “Roland, please. Listen to me.”
He stopped, his hand hovering near the phone. “There isn’t anything to talk about.” He sighed. “You should have told me this yesterday. She could come back today with a gun.”
“She won’t. She was just confused, hurt, angry, and maybe a little scared. We talked it out, and things are fine. She knows you may still fire her.”
“You’re damned right I will.”
“I told her I’m going to ask you not to, though.”
His laugh sounded like a yelping bark. “You are crazy, aren’t you?” He waved his hands around for a moment. “Valerie, this woman is dangerous! She tried to cut you! Who knows what she’ll do next? We need her out of the building and away from you.”
At least he didn’t scream. “No, she didn’t try to hurt me. She made a half-assed threat. She won’t do anything else.”
“How do you know that?”
“I can tell.”
He waved his hand again. “OK, you have the feeling she won’t do anything else, and I can accept that. I work about ninety percent of the time based on how I feel about things, so I understand your feelings.” When he took her hands in his, she saw worry in his eyes. “But can you know, I mean know for certain, she won’t do anything?”
“For certain? No, I can’t. By the same token, I can’t know she will do something. I think we owe her the benefit of the doubt and should trust her.”
“She threw all of her trustworthiness out the window yesterday.”
She reached for his face again, and then stopped remembering how he jerked away from her before. “Can I touch you?”
He shivered. “Of course. I’m sorry I pulled away.”
She put her hand on his cheek. “You’re just scared.”
He closed his eyes again, and leaned his face against her hand. “Yeah.” He rubbed his eyes for a moment.
“I know you don’t trust her. Can you trust me and my judgment?”
He stared straight ahead for several seconds. “You mean so much to me.”
“I know, just like you’re everything to me.”
He shook as he sat next to her. “I’ve spent forty-six years waiting for you. I don’t know how I did it, but I did.” He touched her face, his fingers trailing down the line of her jaw, and then across her lips. “I can’t go on without you.”
“You don’t have to. I’m right here.”
“I can’t lose you.”
“I know.”
“Of course I trust you.” He sighed. “We’ll do this your way.”
“Thank you.”
“You make me do crazy things; do you know that?”

She sat next to Roland as they filmed the first sex scene of the movie. Cassandra and Detective Harrison shared their first session. It embarrassed her even being here, but she had two motivations.
First, she wanted to know just how this all played out in the studio. How did they get the romance right? Did the actors share a passion, or was it just sex and nothing more?
What she saw on the set was very different from the porno flicks her ex-boyfriend watched. Yes, the sex was there, but the actors burned with passion for each other. The emotions somehow carried through.
Second, she wasn’t about to leave Roland there with Betty nude. The woman looked good with her clothes on. She looked better with them off.
And Betty already admitted to having a crush on Roland.
The crew amazed her. No one seemed to notice a naked couple having sex in front of them. Roland stopped the action several times because the romance and emotions didn’t fit his image of the way things should be. By the time the final take rolled, he seemed satisfied the audience would find the scene romantic, passionate, and believable.
She found it erotic in the extreme and squirmed in her chair a little.
When the scene went in the can, he smiled at her. “Was that so bad?”
She managed to keep her voice steady. “No. Pretty hot, actually.”
“I told you this isn’t porn.”
“No, it’s not.” She wiggled again.
He laughed and glanced at his watch. “Let’s take about twenty minutes.” He turned to her. “I think we should talk to Rebecca.”
“Are you calm?”
“Yeah, I’m good.”
She thought for a moment. “All right.”
He grabbed one of the stage hands. “Ask Rebecca to come over to the production office, please.” Roland led her to the office and they sat down.
A knock came on the door, and Rebecca peeked inside. Roland smiled a passable smile and stood. “Come in and have a seat.”
She sat down. “Before you say anything, RW, I want to officially apologize to Valerie. I’m sorry.”
Valerie smiled. “Apology accepted.”
“And I should do the same to you, RW. I should know better, but I jumped to conclusions.” Rebecca took a deep breath. “I want to offer you my resignation.”
Valerie wondered how Roland would react. He said, more or less, he wouldn’t fire Rebecca. He said nothing about keeping her if she offered to quit.
He frowned. “Sorry, but I won’t accept your resignation, at least not over this. If your mother is sick or something like that, sure I will.”
“No, nothing like that, but I understand if you don’t want me around now.”
“I have to tell you, when Valerie told me about this, I was pissed off. I wanted to have you arrested, fire you, and kill you. Not necessarily in that order. She convinced me we owe you the benefit of the doubt.”
Rebecca blinked, and tears ran down her cheeks. “I’m not fired?”
“No, you’re not.”
She smiled a little. “Thanks.”
“You should thank Valerie.” He sighed. “I’m still not happy, but I’m willing to put that behind me and go forward. Can you do the same?”
“Yes, I can.”
He smiled. “Good. Now, get out of here and take your break. You’re on in about an hour.”
She stood. “Thanks, RW.” Rebecca hesitated a moment, then walked to where Valerie sat. “And thank you.” Rebecca hugged her neck.
“You’re welcome.”
After Rebecca left the office, Roland smiled. “I don’t mind if you say you told me so.”
“I told you so.”

That throbbing behind his left eye pounded again. Things didn’t go well on the stage, and no one could remember their lines. Worse, none of them were good enough to improvise and make sense. When he added in the fact they all had three left feet today and could barely walk, Roland was ready to chew his arm off to get away.
He sighed. “Let’s take fifteen and try to get our collective shit together.” Valerie sat next to him, and he turned to her. “I need to step outside for a minute.” He shrugged. “I may throw myself under a bus.”
“I’ll talk to them while you’re gone.” She kissed his cheek. “Things will be fine.”
“Sure they will. I need a bus schedule.” He walked off the soundstage.
He walked around outside, stretching his muscles and doing a few tai chi moves to try and relax. It didn’t help much.
He worked with most of these people in the past, and they always had first day jitters. Now five days into filming, everyone put at least one scene in the can. Maybe they suffered from weekend anticipation, but they acted like a bunch of high school kids doing Oklahoma for the school play.
He wondered what Spielberg would do. Probably have them all killed and start over.
Jim came outside and lit one of his cheap cigars.
“If you’re going to smoke, at least get some good cigars.”
“On what you pay me?”
He laughed. Jim was the third highest paid staff director of cinematography in town. “Right.”
Jim puffed, and the blue smoke floated off to join the rest of the LA smog. “How are things going with Valerie?”
“Great, actually.”
“When are you taking this to the next level?”
“What level would that be?”
Jim laughed. “When will I need to go to a wedding?”
“I can’t even get her to take a credit card.” When he offered to let her use his credit card for some shopping, Valerie refused.
“Maybe she wants a ring more than a credit card.”
“What did you say?”
He shrugged. “I know you’ve only been together a couple of weeks, but so what? Contrary to what Marion and Shelia think, that’s long enough. If she’s really the one, you both know it by now.”
“I think she is.” He thought for a moment, and knew he just lied to Jim. She was the one.
He took a big draw from his cigar and blew a few smoke rings. “Then all you’re doing right now is wasting time.”
“What if she’s not ready for that?”
“You need to ask yourself if you think she’s ready.” He shrugged again. “If you ask me, you and Valerie have some sort of weird connection. I think you know each other’s thoughts, even if you either miss them or dismiss the feelings most of the time. If you look inside yourself, deep down, and really listen to and look at what you find, you’ll know if she’s ready.”
“Do you believe that?”
He laughed a little. “Yeah, I do. But what do I know? I’ve spent twenty years standing close to high voltage video equipment, so my DNA is a bad joke.”
“Probably.” He thought about things, and knew Jim gave him a piece of the puzzle. He needed to do some serious soul searching.
Valerie came outside and slipped her arm around his waist. “Hi.”
“Hi, yourself.”
“I think they’re ready for you anytime now.”
“What did you do?”
“Just a little actor’s trick to get them focused.”
Jim laughed. “Are they all wet?”
“No, not this time.”
“I hate to throw away half a cigar, but I guess we should strike while the iron’s still hot.”
Roland sighed. His eye didn’t hurt as bad out here. “Right. Let’s go.”
He didn’t know how or why, but whatever Valerie did worked. After the take, the scene went in the can with the rest of the film so far.

They managed to get away from the studio just before 4:00. Traffic was light, and George made good time on the freeway, so they made it home before 5:30. Cathy fussed because she didn’t know, and dinner wouldn’t be ready until about 7:15.
Roland put his arms around Valerie’s waist. “How about a swim before dinner?”
“That sounds great.” She smiled at him. “We can race again.”
They changed and went to the pool.
She liked the attention the black swimsuit triggered in Roland. He seemed fascinated by it. She laughed to herself as she stroked the length of the pool. She couldn’t complain about the attention he gave her.
Even when they filmed the sex scene yesterday, she caught him looking at her, and not at Betty. When Betty gave the nine minute blowjob to Bob, Roland paid more attention to her than he did to Betty. She made her turn at the end of the pool and rolled to a backstroke. In two weeks, she never saw him look at another woman other than when speaking. It made her feel good.
His arms slipped around her. She giggled as she stopped swimming, and put her arms around his neck as he cradled her. She smiled. “Hi.”
“Hello, beautiful.”
“This is a good idea.”
“You know it.”
She thought for a moment. “Can we do something special later?”
He laughed. “Are you going to bite me again?”
“If you want me to.”
He grinned. “What do you have in mind?”
“Can we go out and look at your stars?”
“They’re still not my stars, but of course.”
“Great! I’ll dress warm this time.”

By the time dinner ended, Roland said it was dark enough to go to the observatory. She put on her warmest clothes, grabbed the heavy jacket George lent her, and they headed off in the golf cart.
The eerie red glow of the lights accented the darkness in the building, and she realized she never saw the building or its contents in normal light. Roland played with the computer for a few minutes, and she heard the telescope moving in the dark space over her head.
She could barely make out his face in the ruddy glow of the lights. He smiled. “What would you like to see?”
“I don’t know anything about this, so you pick.”
“Well…” He trailed off as he frowned. “Let’s start with planets.” He typed.
She heard relays clicking someplace in the building, and the building itself moved, or at least the roof did. The dual motions of the dome and telescope gave her a touch of vertigo in the dim, red light. As they waited for the system to point in the direction he commanded, she wondered about something.
“Why are all the lights red?”
“In your eye, on the retina, there are two kinds of cells that react to light. The rods react only to bright and dark levels of light, and so let you see in black and white. The other cells are called cones, and they react to colors.” He smiled. “The red light is seen by the cones, but the rods don’t see it at all. That way, your night vision isn’t blinded by the red light.”
“Sorry I asked.”
He laughed. “No worries.”
She teased him a little. “Sometimes, you come dangerously close to being a geek.”
He frowned. “I never bit the head off anything alive, especially not a rat or chicken.”
She wondered if she missed something. “What?”
“That’s what a geek originally was. A carnival sideshow act that bit the heads off of live animals.”
The relays clicked and he glanced at the computer. “All set.” He led her to the eyepiece. “I’m going to watch the screen, but you should use the eyepiece. The image is sharper.”
He played the controls a little, and a sudden bright point of light swam into focus. Many times brighter than the stars around it, its surface looked a uniform blue-gray. She thought she could make out a wispy band around the ball. “What’s that?”
She giggled. “It’s not mine!”
“That line is older than I am. Can you see the rings?”
“Is that the fuzzy looking band?”
“Right.” A little arrow appeared in the eyepiece. It moved to point at the rings. “Right there.”
“I didn’t know Uranus has rings. Are they like the ones around Saturn?”
“The same principle is at work, just not as big or bright. Neptune and Jupiter have rings, too.”
“Cool.” She watched the tiny ball for a time. She pulled her eye away. “I know you said it’s sharper, but I want to look at the screen with you. I can use the eyepiece for a better look.”
He smiled and slipped his arm around her shoulder. “OK.” He played the controls, and the roof and telescope moved again. An image she recognized came into view.
“I know that one! Saturn!”
“Right.” The rings looked like dual handles on a coffee cup, or maybe big ears on a round head. She could see a few colors.
When he brought Jupiter into view, she gasped. The colors stood out like in the pictures that sometimes made the newspapers or TV news, but this isn’t a picture. It’s real. She saw the big red blotch on the planet. She knew it had a name, but couldn’t remember it right now.
When she asked, Roland smiled. “You’re ninety-nine percent of the way there. That’s the Great Red Spot.”
She laughed. “What is it?”
“A giant hurricane. It’s been blowing for at least three hundred years, and could easily swallow the Earth, twice over.”
“I can’t show you Mars because it’s set already.” He played the controls. “The same goes for Mercury and Neptune. There’s not much to see at Pluto. Besides, Pluto isn’t a planet anymore.”
“Did it get fired?”
He laughed. “No. A few years back, the astronomers redefined what a planet is, and Pluto no longer fits the description.”
“I see.” As the telescope tracked, she smiled. “I know there has to be a trick, but how do you remember the names of the planets?”
“It’s silly, but there’s a saying I learned as a kid. My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas.” He grinned. “Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.”
“That’s clever.”
Suddenly, a bright disk moved onto the screen. It was huge, looking like a basketball on the screen, and the bright white light swamped the stars around it. It took her breath away.
A smile came to his face. “Venus.”
“It’s beautiful.”
“Not it, she. The Roman goddess of love and beauty.”
“She is beautiful.”
He turned to face her. “Not as beautiful as another goddess I know.”
Her heart jumped. He always knew how to touch her, how to make her feel like the most special girl in the world, but she knew more than his words touched her. Anyone could string words together in sweet ways, but they didn’t touch her soul the way Roland did. She sighed, almost afraid to touch him or even speak for fear of breaking the spell. “You don’t mean to compare me to your stars.”
“There’s no comparison. You’re far more beautiful and fascinating.”
She leaned towards him, her eyes fluttering closed. When his lips touched hers, the electric shock flashed through her. As it blazed from her body, she imagined her arms and legs flailing as the bolts shot from her.
Only their lips touched, and all the energy in them flowed across that narrow bridge. She remembered the experiments in school with forcing electricity through a thin wire. She recalled how the metal glowed, then finally flamed and exploded in a shower of sparks and heat.
She imagined the fervid fire of their passion forced through the tiny area of their touching lips. As their skin reached white hot and beyond, the flames engulfed them. She relished in the burning heat of their passion, feeling it wash across her body in wave after ardent wave.
His hands touched her shoulders, diverting some of the energy from their lips before the heat consumed them both. As his strong arms encircled her, the warmth of his embrace blended with the heat of the kiss to make a pleasant and safe cocoon around her. She trembled with the waves of desire sweeping over her.
Roland lifted her in his arms, and she put her arms around his neck as their kiss continued. He carried her to the door and stepped into the darkness.
As he moved toward the cart, she pulled her lips away. “Let’s stay here.”
He stepped off the pavement and moved into the growth of the grass and trees. He knelt and placed her on the soft grass, the slight dampness from the dew touching the skin of her arms.
He kissed her face, his mouth running wild over her skin. Wetness spread through her pelvis as her hands moved over his head. His soft, supple hair passed between her fingers.
His hands moved across her body, massaging her breasts as he kissed her. When he pulled his face from her neck, he panted rapidly. “I don’t want you to get cold.”
She managed a small laugh through the racing of her breathing. “I don’t think that’s possible right now.”
His hand slipped under her shirt, and the cool touch of his fingers on her breasts fanned the flames burning in her. She twitched at his touch, and her back flexed upwards. His lips again moved to kiss her neck and shoulders, adding their flaming stimulation to those already rocking her from head to toe.
Roland unfastened her jeans, and she flexed her hips up to ease their removal. He pulled the shirt over her head, leaving her lying naked in the damp grass.
When he pulled his lips from her body to stand next to her, she gasped, longing for his return. He tore the shirt from his chest, and struggled to remove his pants. His eyes never left hers as he disrobed, and the desire she saw in him made her longings build.
He dropped to the ground beside her, his hands touching her in every possible place. His mouth moved over her body, leaving wet trails of his saliva behind that cooled in the chill air. As his hot mouth sucked and licked first one breast, and then the other; it made a tantalizing blend of fervent heat and chilling cold in the night air.
His hand slipped between her legs, and she jerked as his fingers dipped into her soaked pussy. As his fingers probed her depths, his thumb rubbed firmly against her clit. One of his fingers curled up to press against her G-spot.
The urgent flexing of his fingers deep inside her pussy and his thumb rolling across her clit mixed with the scrumptious blend of hot and cold his lips produced on her breasts. He pushed her faster and faster towards her climax, and his attentions still focused on her.
She moaned loudly as her orgasm struck. Her back arched high in the air, pressing her head and feet hard against the soft grass. She screamed out his name as his fingers made her climax run on and on.
Valerie flopped back to the ground, her body twitching and jerking as his fingers and tongue continued their delightful dance in and on her body. Her heart raced to the point she feared it might burst in her chest. As she gasped for air, she half smelled and half tasted the clean, crisp air of the night mixed with scent of the man so close to her.
She panted as she opened her eyes. He smiled at her, his face full of desire. As she watched, he slipped his hand from her pussy and moved to lie between her spread legs.
Roland pressed his face to her pussy, and his tongue swirled around her clit. She yelped with the bolt of pleasure that fired through her. His hands moved, and his fingers entered into her again. While he lapped at her clit, his fingers again touched her G-spot.
His other hand moved, and he pressed softly against her ass. Her fears of the past now long gone, she relaxed, and the finger slipped gently into her anus.
She writhed as his mouth and hands explored her. She heard the loud moans coming from her mouth, but could no more stop them than she could a runaway train using a feather.
The orgasm that rolled over her shook her more than any earthquake she could imagine. Her body twisted and rocked as he licked and fingered her. She screamed, but heard only nonsensical noise in the sounds. Her breathing came as a series of gulping swallows of air, and flashing spots of all colors filled her vision behind her clenched eyes.
As she twitched in the grass her breath moved her chest in rapid spasms, and Roland moved again. Valerie opened her eyes, and he knelt between her legs, his face only inches from hers as he looked down into her eyes.
He lowered his hips, and his long cock slid deeply into her soaked pussy. She didn’t feel like any energy remained in her body, but she gasped and her hips moved to meet his.
Roland pumped rhythmically into her, and she longed to kiss his lips. When she strained up to reach him, he smiled. He moved suddenly, but with deliberate care.
Rocking back onto his knees, and then to a sitting position, he lifted her with him until she rested in his lap with her legs around his waist. His dick filled her pussy as he lifted her hips and slowly lowered them again.
He pressed his lips to hers, and the transfer of energy between their bodies hit her again. This time, his swollen cock filling her pussy augmented the tiny contact area of their lips. The energy flowing through his dick and into her staggered her imagination. She saw millions of huge dams and the power they produced. The power flowed relentlessly from him to her, and strength came with the power.
The head of his cock rubbed over her G-spot with each thrust he made into her, and her orgasm closed its pleasant, firm fist around her body again. As she climaxed, she tried to pull her lips from his kiss out of fear she might bite his tongue the way she bit his neck, but he held her fast.
As the undulations of her climax whipped through her, Roland’s body tensed, and his dick throbbed inside her. The flaming heat of his cum filled her, causing her to writhe in delight.
As they quivered in their embrace, the kiss they shared prevented more than grunts from leaving their mouths.
She went limp as a dishrag, and he hugged her to his chest. They jerked in each other’s arms for a long time as the passion of the kiss receded. He reached to the side and grabbed his torn shirt. He pulled it over her shoulders.
His breath still came out as a raspy pant when he spoke to her. “We need to get you inside where it’s warm.”
She sighed. “Let’s stay here for a minute.” She chuckled. “I can’t walk, and I doubt you can carry me right now.”
“You may be right.” He moved his arms to cover as much of her body as he could. “Have I told you how beautiful you are today?”
She smiled and leaned into his warm embrace. “A time or two.” She shivered, but only partly from the cold.
“We need to get you warm before you catch cold.” He lifted her in his arms and carried her to the cart. Gathering their clothes, he slipped the jacket around her and helped her pull her pants on.
After putting on his pants, he drove to the house.
He built a fire in the fireplace of their room and made her sit close to get warm.

Chapter 15
“Saturday Night Fever”

Someone shook her shoulder, and it didn’t feel like Roland. She jumped.
Maria stood beside the bed and whispered. “Sorry to wake you, but it’s after 8:30, and RW never sleeps this late.” She nodded to where he slept soundly beside her. “Is he OK?”
Valerie stretched. “I think so. How about if we just let him sleep?”
“That’s fine. Call me when you want some breakfast.”
“I will.” As Maria left, Valerie wondered about him. He usually woke up about 6:30, even when they shared a late night. Last night, they came back inside about midnight, and she fell asleep before 1:00.
She cuddled to his back, putting her arm around his waist. His skin felt warm to her touch. As she held him, she smiled thinking about the last two weeks they shared. While her experiences in the past were less than perfect, this affair seemed the best of all possibilities.
While the passion and desire they had for one another was nothing less than ferocious, her attraction to him went much deeper. When he held her hand, it felt better than making love to any man in her past. She didn’t have words for how making love with him made her feel.
She knew the echoes from her history made her feel this way, but the attentions he gave her still sometimes embarrassed her. He treated her like a princess, and yet she didn’t feel smothered or spoiled.
She stroked his arm softly, and his skin felt clammy despite the warmth. He was covered with the blanket, hugging it to him. She frowned. He normally slept with only the sheet, if that, pulled over him.
He stirred a little. Stretching himself a bit, he rolled to his back.
She kissed his nose. “Morning.”
“Good morning.” He blinked a few times, and looked at the closed drapes. “What time is it?”
“About 8:45 or so.”
“I can’t remember the last time I slept this late.” His voice sounded a little raspy.
“It’s good to sleep late once in a while.”
“I guess.” He rubbed his throat. “My throat is dry this morning.”
“Let me call Maria, and she’ll bring breakfast up.”
He shook his head. “You go ahead and eat, but I’m not very hungry.”
She frowned again. Breakfast usually made up Roland’s biggest meal of the day. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m not sure if I feel very good this morning.” He smiled. “After all that worry about you getting chilled, it looks like I caught the cold.”
She laughed. “That’s what we get for fooling around at night in wet grass.”
“I wasn’t fooling around. I knew exactly what I was doing.”
“Damn it.”

As he ate, Roland knew he didn’t feel right. He felt funny. He didn’t have a better word for it than that, though. His throat hurt, and he was a little cold, but the rest was a bizarre feeling, like he read about out-of-body experiences. Things around him seemed to happen to someone else, and he only watched. He equated it to sitting in the director’s chair.
The cold orange juice made his throat feel better, but it lacked flavor. The juice and pulp made a sticky film in his mouth, and that left a distinctly bad aftertaste.
He tried the toast. In spite of the soft butter on the bread, it hurt his throat like swallowing shards of glass.
One bite of the oatmeal told him that duck wouldn’t walk today. It burned as he swallowed, and the sticky coating it left in his throat hardened like concrete setting.
He watched Valerie as she watched him. He saw the slight frown flit over her lips from time to time, and she acted like she kept a tally on how much he ate. In general terms, she looked worried.
The strange floating feeling bothered him. A cold never made him feel like this before, and neither did the flu, the few times he actually caught the flu. Most people didn’t know the difference between a cold and the flu. He could vaguely remember having some of the childhood diseases when he was a kid. He didn’t remember feeling this way then, either.
As casually as he could, he touched his fingers to his wrist and counted his pulse. Without looking at his watch, he counted about ninety beats per minute. He frowned to himself. He normally idled about sixty or sixty-five.
He wondered if he might be catching Valerie’s worry. Regardless, he needed to check this out. Despite the full physicals twice a year, his most recent just last month, and the doctor’s assurances he was in the same condition as most twenty-five year old men, he was still forty-six.
He smiled at her over the table. “I’ll be right back.” He went to the bathroom.
The blood pressure machine recorded his pressure at 155 over 92. He frowned at it. His resting BP hovered around 110 over 65 or so. His pulse ran at 96.
His mother suffered from diabetes before she died, and he tried to keep at least a casual eye on that. He dug out the glucose monitor and ran the test. The machine flashed 67. At least that was normal.
He looked up at himself in the mirror of the dressing table, and thought he looked flushed. His face felt warm when he touched it. He thought he had a thermometer in the cabinet.
He stood to go get it, and the room spun violently. It went counterclockwise. His knees buckled and he collapsed on the floor. The room jerked in the clockwise direction, but it didn’t return to normal. It swam back and forth a little, wavering and distorting as it flexed.
His head pounded, and sweat poured from his body. He looked for the crushing pain in his chest or left arm, the telltale sign of the heart attack he must be having, but he couldn’t find it.
He didn’t think he passed out or hit his head, so he tried to stand, but he couldn’t seem to get his legs to work well enough to lift him. He crawled to the chair and tried using his arms, but he couldn’t quite make it.
He sighed and pulled the phone from his robe pocket. He stared at it for a moment.
Valerie occupied his mind. He didn’t know what might be wrong with him, but he cursed to himself. Sister Margaret would be upset, but he cursed God. What’s the point of bringing Valerie into his life, only to snatch life from him after a couple of weeks? Was this God’s idea of a joke?
He decided he wouldn’t go. When St. Peter, or whoever manned the gates of heaven, interviewed him, he wouldn’t go. He wanted to stay here.
With Valerie.
He pressed the speed dial number for Valerie’s phone.

She worried as she watched Roland go to the bathroom. He didn’t look good. His face looked flushed, and his hands quivered when he reached for things. He ate almost nothing, and he drank mostly water. He kept pulling his robe around his chest like he might be cold, too. She thought the temperature already hovered near eighty.
His expression worried her the most. She couldn’t say why, but she thought he looked a little confused. Usually quick with a reply or comment, his conversation lagged, like he needed to think about each and every word he said.
She decided she would press him when he got back. He just had a cold, but he should rest. Her phone chirped and she pulled it from her robe pocket.
She frowned. The caller ID said Roland called her. “Hello?”
His voice sounded weak and shaky. “Valerie, help me.”
Her feet moved before she fully understood his words in her conscious mind. When she opened the bathroom door, he sat on the floor leaning against the dressing table. A glistening sheen of sweat soaked his face, and the neck of his robe looked damp.
She cursed herself for thinking the worst, but all that filled her mind was Roland was having a heart attack.
She dropped to her knees beside him. “Did you fall? Are you hurting?”
He blinked at her a few times. “Yes and no. Other than my throat.”
She ran her hands around on his head as she tried to keep her panic at bay. His head felt like he was on fire. She didn’t feel any bumps, and her hands came away clean with no blood. She pulled the phone from her pocket and dialed George’s number.
“Hi, Valerie. What’s up?”
“Roland fell in the bathroom! I need help up here!”
“On my way!” He clicked off.
Roland looked confused. “I just need to get to bed.” He shivered. “And I’m cold.”
She yanked one of the big towels from the rack and put it over him. “Is your chest hurting?”
“No.” He shivered again. “I’m OK.”
“I know. Just like you, I get to enjoy my paranoia.”
He frowned for a moment, and then smiled a little. “OK.”
Cathy and Maria ran into the bathroom. Cathy knelt on the other side of him. “Y’all OK?”
“I think so.”
Maria stood near his feet. “George is coming with the gear, and the ambulance will be here in about fifteen minutes.”
“I don’t need an ambulance.”
Valerie smiled at him. “You let us worry about that.”
George came in with the big red box from the truck, and Cathy moved to let him kneel beside Roland. “Hey, Boss.”
“I’m fine.”
“I know, but you have to let me use this EMT stuff once in a while.” He spent six years in the Navy as a medical corpsman before joining Roland. George connected a couple of machines from the box, and he watched the displays. “Your heart rhythm looks fine, but a little fast.” George wiped his hand over Roland’s forehead. “You’re burning up.”
Roland turned to look at her while George stuck an electronic thermometer in his ear. “I’m OK, baby.”
She forced a smile. “I know.”
George frowned. “You’ve got a 104.6 fever.”
He sighed. “That’s great news.”
She heard the siren of the ambulance. Maria shuffled her feet for a moment. “I’ll go let them in.” She left the bathroom.
Roland kept insisting he was OK even after the paramedics arrived. They checked him over and found nothing George didn’t see.
George called Roland’s doctor and told him what happened. After talking to the ambulance crew, the doctor talked to George again.
“Yeah, Doc.” George paused. “Listen, I think you need to talk to Valerie.” He listened for a moment. “Valerie Setera. I guess significant other is as good a term as any right now.” George held the phone out to her. “Doc Steele wants to talk to you.”
She took the phone. “Doctor Steele? This is Valerie Setera.”
“Hello, Valerie. I’m coming over to see him as soon as I can get away, but that may be a couple of hours. In the meantime, it sounds like he has an infection of some sort, probably strep throat.”
“All right. Will he be OK?”
“He’ll be fine. Until I get there, give him some ibuprofen or acetaminophen to bring his fever down. No aspirin. A tepid bath or alcohol rub will help, too. Get him to drink plenty of water, and keep him resting.”
“I will, Doctor.”
“Good. Please let the gate know I’m coming, and I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
“Thank you. Bye.” She hung up and handed the phone back to George.
While she talked on the phone, George and the paramedics put Roland in bed. The ambulance crew gathered their equipment and left.
George patted Roland’s foot. “Valerie can look after you for now. Get some rest.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “Call me if you need anything.”
“I will. Thanks.”
George left, leaving the red box behind.
Cathy sat down on the side of the bed. “Y’all need anything?”
He shook his head. “No, thanks.”
She frowned. “I’ll bring up some tea and something else other than water.” She laughed. “Just ain’t right drinking plain old water.”
His smile looked weak. “Thanks.”
“Not a thing.” She stood and went to her kitchen.
Maria sat next to him. “I’ll leave you in Valerie’s hands, then.”
He smiled. “This is the first time in twenty years you haven’t looked after me when I’m sick.”
She nodded. “Yes, it is.”
“That doesn’t mean we don’t need you.”
“Yeah. George, Cathy, me, and Valerie all need you.”
She smiled a little sadly. “I’ll remember that.” Maria hesitated for a moment, her eyes flickering to Valerie. “Call if you need anything.” She leaned and kissed his forehead before she left the room.
Valerie eased up to sit close to him on the bed. “How do you feel?”
“Not too good.” He paused, just staring at her. “How are you doing?”
“Other than wanting to cry, I’m fine.” Her tears weren’t far from the surface, and that didn’t puzzle her in the least. What did give her pause for thought was the overwhelming desire to cuddle Roland to her and just hold him to make it all better. Maybe need was a better word.
“I’m all right, or at least I will be soon enough.” Sammy jumped up on the bed and walked cautiously to sniff Roland’s face. “He senses you’re worried, and that worries him.”
“I suppose.” Sammy curled up against Roland’s side. “He’ll help keep you warm.”
“Yeah, he will.” Roland swallowed a few times, his face winching. “You shouldn’t cry.”
“Why not? I thought you were having a heart attack and going to die on me.”
“So did I for a while. But I’m OK.”
“For how long?” Tears burned her face as they flooded from her eyes. She wiped at them with the back of her hand. Valerie leaned onto his chest, just letting her tears flow. Shivers rocked his body every few seconds. “I’m sorry. The last thing you need right now is a blubbering woman to deal with.”
He pulled his arms from under the blankets and put them around her. His warm embrace burned like hot coals now. “As long as it’s you.”
“You should cover your arms.” His shivers seemed worse. “Better yet, how about if we get you in the tub and try to cool you off a little?”
“You’re going to give me a bath to try and cool me off?” He smiled. “Even a dead man can’t pass up a straight line like that one.”
She sat up and smiled. “Do we need help, or can we get you to the tub?”
“I think we can do it.”

She ran a big tub of water in the Jacuzzi and helped him in. The water made him feel cooler.
“I hope this will cool you off some.” She sponged the tepid water over his head and shoulders.
“Me too. I can’t think straight.”
She laughed a little. “Is that from the fever or just me?”
“Maybe a little of both.” He sighed as the water ran down his back, and her fingers brushed his skin. “You can join me in here.”
“Oh, no. First, you’re sick. Second, we don’t know when the doctor will show up. He’s supposed to see the patient nude, not the patient’s—” She paused. “Significant other.”
He frowned. “That sounds pretty clinical.”
“I guess it does.”
“It’s one of those legal words, like domestic partner.”
She nodded as she rubbed him with the sponge. “The language is full of little euphemisms like that, though.”
“I think I like girlfriend better.”
“Me too.” She paused again. “Lover isn’t right, though. I feel like I’m much more than just your lover.”
He thought. Even in the fog of the fever, he saw she was right about that. “How about friend?”
She smiled. “I think I like that one, too.”
“So do I.”
“By the way, thank you for calling me.”
“Who else would I call?”
“Like you said, Maria has done this for twenty years.”
“But she’s not my significant other.” It never even occurred to him to call anyone else.
“I think she loves you.”
He froze. He’d known for at least ten years Maria hoped for more than the family-like relationship they shared. He never returned her thinly veiled emotions, though. He knew this could be a bad situation, but the fever wouldn’t let him think right. “I never felt anything for her.”
“I never said you did.” Valerie ran water down his back again. “I’m just saying I think she has feelings for you. Seeing us everyday can’t be easy for her.”
That never occurred to him, either. “I guess it can’t.”
“I’m not sure what we could do to help, though. I think she just has to deal with it on her own.” Valerie chuckled a little. “I’ll fight her for you if I have to.”
“You don’t have to.” He put his arm on hers. “I know who I want.”
She laughed softly. “As your domestic partner?”
His mind didn’t work anywhere near well enough to go there. “Not exactly.”

Harvey Steele, DO, was an interesting man. About sixty, other than his eyebrows and lashes, Valerie didn’t see a single hair on his head. He’d been Roland’s doctor for more than twenty-five years. He also provided the medical services for the studio.
He examined Roland from head to toe, using some of the machines from George’s EMT box. He paid particular attention to the heart monitor.
“You’ve got strep alright.” His accent sounded southern, maybe Georgia or Alabama. He was big enough he might have gone to medical school on a football scholarship.
Roland rubbed his throat. “So, what do we do now?”
“I’ll give you some antibiotics and something to bring the fever down. Otherwise, you eat, drink, and rest.” He looked at her. “It’s your job to make sure he does. He’s got a long of history of ignoring me when it comes to resting.”
She could see that happening. “I’ll keep him in bed.”
“I said rest.”
Spreading warmth covered her face. “Right.”
He dug in his medical bag and pulled out two syringes and a vial. As he filled the syringes, he frowned. “I’ll give you one of these now. In six hours, you need the other one. Can anyone here give a shot?”
Roland sighed. “George gives the horse’s shots.”
“One horse’s ass is the same as another.”
“You know how to make me feel better.”
“Not my damn job to make your head feel better, just your body.” Steele put one of the syringes on the nightstand. He turned to Roland with the other in his hand. “Show me that cute ass of yours.”
She fought the giggles as Roland and the doctor fussed at each other. Roland jerked when the doctor gave him the shot. He rubbed his ass. “Damn it, do I even get a kiss?”
“That’s not my job, either.” The doctor put his things back in his bag. “You’re set to go, RW. You need to stay home Monday, but after that, if you feel up to it, you can go back to work.”
“We’re in the middle of a shoot. I can’t stay home.”
“I’m not gonna hog tie you to make you stay home.” He turned to her again. “He does need to stay home. If you have that kind of control over him, you’re doing better than I have for all these years.”
“Oh, he’ll stay home.” She smiled.
“Good.” The doctor patted Roland’s arm. “You listen to this pretty girl, and do what she says. I’ll call tomorrow and see how you’re feeling.”
She looked at Roland. “I’ll be right back.”
“Going to the hall to talk about me, I see.”
She followed the doctor to the hallway. He laughed. “He’s gonna be fine, Valerie.”
“He scared me. I thought he was having a heart attack or something.”
“At his age, that could happen, even in as good of shape as he’s in. Don’t worry about it too much, though. He may outlive all of us.”
“That’s good.”
“Very good.” He paused for a moment. “Make sure he gets that shot in six hours. He should feel better later today. By Monday, he’ll feel pretty good, but he needs to stay home and rest.” He pulled several prescriptions from his pad and handed them to her.
“I’ll take care of that.”
He dug in his jacket pocket for a moment. Steele gave her a business card. “This is my number at home and my cell phone. Call me if anything doesn’t look right.”
“I will.” She dropped the card in her pocket. “Thanks for coming.”
“My pleasure. Good to meet you.” The doctor went off down the hall humming the University of Alabama fight song.

Cathy brought some iced tea to his room later, but Roland was asleep.
Valerie smiled. “He seems like he’s resting better now the fever is coming down.” The last time she checked, his temperature read 102.3.
“Yeah, he needs that rest, too.” Cathy wiped her hands on her apron. “I remember when my kids all took the strep at the same time. What a mess that was!”
“I can only imagine.”
“That’s part of the joy of being a mama.” She laughed softly. “Course, menfolk can be big babies when they’re sick.”
“I guess, but I don’t mind. I like taking care of him.”
“Well then, that’s just fine.” Cathy smiled. “Why don’t y’all go for a little walk and stretch your legs? I’ll sit here with him for a spell.”
“That’s a good idea. Thanks.”
“Don’t y’all worry none. I’ll watch him good while you’re gone.”
Valerie decided to go to the kitchen and grab a snack. George and Maria sat at the table eating apple pie.
George smiled. “Pull up a chair and have some.” He put a slice on a plate for her. “How’s RW?”
The pie tasted delicious and brought back memories from Kansas. “He’s sleeping now, and his fever is down a little.”
Maria chewed for a moment. “That’s good to hear.” She smiled a little. “When he wakes up, tell him we got some ice cream when we filled his prescriptions.”
“He’ll like that. Thanks.”
Maria laughed. “We can’t keep ice cream in the house unless we hide it from him. He’s really good about watching what he eats, but if you put a gallon of ice cream in front of him, he’ll eat it all.”
“That’s funny.” She thought for a moment. These people know him so well. Then again, they have a twenty year head start on her. She wondered what it would be like to know someone that long. She’d only known her oldest friends back in Kansas for half that long.
Maria’s comments still haunted the back of her mind. How well does Maria really know Roland? Valerie wondered if she would ever know Roland that well.
George finished his pie. “I need to go water the horses.” He put his plate in the dishwater and grabbed the old, sweat-stained straw cowboy hat from the peg by the door. “I’ll see you later.” The door closed with a distinct click as he left.
Maria poked at her pie for a moment. “Valerie, I owe you an apology.”
“For what?”
“I had you all wrong, and I said some hurtful things to you up at the point. You really do care about RW, a lot. I saw it on your face this morning.” She shrugged. “You knew in your head there isn’t anything seriously wrong with him, but your heart told you something different. All the things that might be wrong, no matter how remote the chance, made your heart panic and hurt.”
“I was scared.”
“I saw that. At some point, you two will hurt one another, but that’s part of the deal. When he’s sick, you’ll hurt. He’ll do the same when you’re sick. When he’s an old man and you’re still a young woman, he’ll hurt, but so will you. The way you care about each other will make the hurt bearable.”
“I think it will, too.” She saw a few small tears in the corners of Maria’s eyes.
“I won’t deny I care a great deal for him. I’m not sure if it’s really love or not, but he doesn’t have those feelings for me.” She dabbed at her eyes for a moment. “You make him happier than I’ve ever seen him.”
Valerie considered. It came to her Maria hit the nail on the head. His happiness did mean a great deal to her. Like dawn breaking, it occurred to her that Roland felt the same about her, too. He cared deeply for her, and he liked being with her. He enjoyed the sex, and he liked being close to her. But he cared about her happiness, too. Roland made love to her to bring her happiness and pleasure. He paid attention to her because it made her feel good. He would do anything just to see her smile.
She knew what they found wouldn’t last forever. At best, they might have forty years together. If she believed in the actuary tables, that number would be closer to thirty, if not twenty years. There wasn’t any happily ever after.
She knew in an instant they need to live each day like it would be their last. By living in the moment, they could share the mutual joy the things they found would give them. Like Maria said, there would be pain sometime in the future, but if they sat huddled together dreading the pain, they would miss out on the happiness.
No, there wasn’t any happily ever after. There’s only happily right now.

He was dead.
He knew he was dead, because an angel called to him. “Roland?”
At least it sounded like an angel. He idly wondered just how he knew what an angel sounds like. “Roland? Wake up.”
This angel sounded like Valerie. That’s about right. She was as close as he would ever get to talk to an angel.
“Come on, honey. You need to eat and take your medicine.”
He opened his eyes, and the angel leaned over his face. “Hi.” His throat tasted like raw hamburger.
“Hi. How do you feel?”
“My throat hurts, but I don’t feel as hot.” The sheets and blankets were wet, almost soggy.
“Good. I think your fever broke.”
He blinked. His mind seemed clearer, and he thought he might be able to string words together in ways that made sense. “Did I wet the bed?”
Valerie laughed. “No, you sweated through everything.”
“What time is it?”
“A little after midnight.”
He remembered Doc Steele being here, and he thought that was before noon. He didn’t remember anything since the sawbones left. “Wow.”
“Come on, let’s get you up.” She helped him stand, and sweat soaked his robe, too.
She took him to the bathroom and helped him into the tub. She sponged his body with cool water to get the sweat from him.
He heard Maria in the bedroom. “I’m here, so stay decent!”
Valerie laughed. “He’s better, but not that much!”
He wondered if he really talked to Valerie about Maria. Fragments of conversations and facts filled his mind, but none connected very well to the others. If he had even a piece of the possible conversation right, Valerie and Maria seemed to get along well.
Valerie soaped his back with her small hands. He knew he must be dead. This sure fit the picture of heaven in his mind. She used the sponge to rinse him, and repeated the process for his chest.
She smiled at him. “I’m not making a pass at you.” She reached into the water and massaged his balls and cock, stroking him a few times.
He thought he should get hard. He barely had the strength to sit up.
She smiled again. “When you feel better, I expect a little more enthusiastic reaction.” She kissed his nose.
“I promise.” She rubbed his legs and arms, soaping and rinsing them.
“Let’s get your hair and face.” She used the showerhead to wet his hair, and then massaged the shampoo into his scalp. After she rinsed him all over again, she grabbed a towel from the warming rack. Valerie rubbed his hair. “Time to get out.”
After drying him, she grabbed a clean robe from the closet and slipped it onto him.
When she walked him to the sitting room, Cathy had delivered dinner for him. He looked at the single plate on the table. “Aren’t you eating?”
She shook her head. “I ate earlier.”
Cathy knew him pretty well. She sent up bologna sandwiches with American cheese and 57 Sauce. On the side, she added dill pickles and plain potato chips.
He tried to watch his diet, and this meal didn’t even come close to making the accepted food list. Cathy knew he couldn’t resist one of his all-time favorites, though.
Off to the side was a small paper cup with three capsules in it.
Valerie smiled as she sat down beside him. “When you’re done, the gang got you something special.”
“What’s that?”
“Ice cream.”
He might have to get sick more often. “Yum.”
“We can save some for when you feel better.”
Now he really should get hard. He leaned back in the chair, hoping that would help. It didn’t.
It dawned on him. “You said it’s midnight.”
“That’s right.”
“Why aren’t you asleep?”
“Because I’m taking care of you.”
“What about Maria and Cathy?”
“They got up about thirty minutes ago to help.”
“I guess George is awake, too?”
She smiled. “Yes.”
“You four are spoiling me.”
“So what? You deserve it.”
“Yeah, right.” The sandwiches tasted delicious. The pickles didn’t feel like they would sit too well, so he skipped all but a couple bites of them. The chips made the perfect side dish. The pills went down without choking him.
She looked at his nearly empty plate. “Did you want some more?”
“No, but that ice cream sounds pretty good.”
She clicked her phone and called Cathy.
In a few minutes, the entire bunch stood around the table as he nibbled at the ice cream. The cold made his throat feel better.
George smiled. “We won’t stay long. We just wanted to make sure you’re back among the living.”
“I feel a lot better, if for no other reason than my head is clearer.”
Cathy laughed. “That fever knocks you for a loop.”
“It does.”
Maria stood behind Valerie, her hand resting on Valerie’s shoulder. “We’ll get out of your hair so you can finish and get back to bed.” She patted Valerie’s shoulder. “Call if you need anything, and don’t leave him alone.”
Valerie smiled. “I won’t. Thanks for the help.”
The trio left.
He smiled. “Cathy will be dead on her feet tomorrow.”
“She’s not getting up at her usual time since no one else will be awake for breakfast.”
He thought that made sense. He still didn’t trust his brain enough to feel sure, though. “That’s good.” He finished the ice cream.
Valerie put the dish on the cart and hugged him from behind. “I’m so glad you’re feeling better.”
“Me too.”
“Ready to go back to bed?”
“I think I should.” She helped him into bed and pulled the covers up for him. He frowned. “Aren’t you coming to bed?”
“Sort of. I’ve been moving between sitting here next to you and lying beside you. That way, if you move, it wakes me up.”
“I’d like you here next to me.”
She crawled onto the bed and leaned against the headboard. “Put your head on my lap.” After he did, she slipped her arms around him.

Chapter 16

He felt good today. He should go to the studio. He had work to do, and it wasn’t fair to dump his work on everyone else while he lay here in bed stewing. He had a problem with the idea of going to work, though.
She slept next to him.
He didn’t feel too bad Sunday, but Valerie wouldn’t let him do anything. When he suggested he should go to work today, she smiled.
She called Mark Dempsey, the supervisor of the security guards at the house. She told Mark she didn’t want him going to work or leaving the property. She called George and told him to hide all the car and motorcycle keys.
George and Mark agreed. Mark even called her ma’am, like she was in charge.
Roland knew he wouldn’t get far going cross-country in the golf cart.
He bent his arm to look at his watch. It was 7:30. If he left now, he could get to the studio on time.
Valerie chuckled. “No, you can’t go to work.”
Yep. She could read his mind.
“I can’t read your mind. I just know what you’re stewing about.”
This was getting scary now.
She rolled to face him. “How are you feeling this morning?”
“You’re the psychic. You tell me.”
She laughed. “You know I’m doing this because you’re important to me, right?”
He put his arm around her. “Yeah, I do. I just get a little stir crazy, especially when I feel good.”
“I know.” She smiled. He learned over the past couple of weeks that Valerie had a number of different smiles she used depending on her mood. The one she used now was the one promising all things sensual. Seductive, her eyes only half opened to flutter over the blue oceans there, the smile grabbed his attention no matter what else went on around him. A sharp twinge in his groin hit him as she batted her eyes. “Let’s see if I can help.”
She darted under the sheet and blankets and pushed his knees up to his chest. Valerie knelt between his legs, and her tongue flickered over his balls.
His cock reacted instantly, becoming hard and pointing up at the blanket tent formed by his knees. Her lips kissed up his shaft, and then slipped over the head of his dick. As she moved her head rapidly up and down, his hips flexed to complement her motions.
He didn’t notice the lubricant setting on the table beside her side of the bed until her hand reached from under the covers to grab it.
Her mouth made a hot cocoon around him as she sucked his cock, but the stark contrast of the cool lubricant as it ran down his balls made him tremble nearly as much as her flitting tongue.
She slipped his dick from her mouth. “Just relax.”
He frowned, wondering what she was up to. “All right.”
Her lips slipped around his shaft again, and her finger pressed against his anus, making small circles. After a few minutes, her finger slid inside of his ass, and he twitched.
She stopped moving and he heard his cock pop from her mouth. “OK?”
He panted, trying to keep his heart beating at a reasonable speed. “Yeah, just a bit of a surprise.”
She chuckled. “All right.” She swallowed his dick again as her finger gently probed his ass.
Valerie licked and sucked his cock as her finger pushed deeper into him. The finger in his ass curled upwards. In a few moments, she moved the finger rapidly while pressing inside him, and he thought his head would explode.
The shivers of pleasure hit him harder than baseballs to his chest from a pitching machine. Wave after wave slammed him, and his body jerked like a fish on a line.
He wanted to speak to her, or at least scream her name, but his breathing pulsed in his chest to the rhythm of her finger’s movements. His heart raced at breakneck speed, and sweat flowed from his body like water.
When his climax hit him, his cock throbbed hard as she bobbed her head on his shaft. Her finger pressed harder, flicking in different directions and his cum spurted to the same rhythm.
His body shook and jumped on the bed as she did whatever magic she performed. He heard the screams coming from his mouth, but they made no sense to him, simply noise.
She slowed the motions of her mouth and finger, and then pulled her finger from his ass. The movement made him quiver and shake. When his cock slipped from between her lips, he twitched.
She moved up to rest her head on his shoulder. “Are you OK, honey?”
He panted and managed to reach to his face to wipe the sweat from his eyes. “I think so.” He took a few raspy breaths. “Don’t take this wrong, but what the hell was that?”
She smiled. “I massaged your prostate gland.”
He swallowed. His heart still slammed in his ears. “Where did you learn to do that? And don’t tell me in the Girl Scouts.”
She giggled. Valerie pointed to the wall of books in the bedroom. “While you were feverish, I did a little reading.”
“Fuck!” He remembered through the fog in his mind he tried to watch his language around her. “Sorry.”
“You’re confused right now.”
“That’s amazing.”
“The book said it would feel good.” She giggled again. “I guess I did it right.”
He gulped for air. “If you did it any better, I’d be dead now.”
Since Monday went so well, he decided to take off Tuesday, too.

Chapter 17
“Stage Fright”

She watched as George drove the car through the gate on their way to the studio. “I’ve liked being home with you these last few days.”
“Me too. I’d like to figure a way to spend more time at home, but that will depend on what you’re going to do in the future.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ll be damned if I sit at home alone while you’re in the city working.”
“I see.”
He hesitated. “I know what you’ll say, but you don’t have to work.”
“Like you, I’m not sitting up here while you’re down there.”
He chuckled. “That’s only fair.”
“What’s on the agenda today?”
“First thing, I catch up on a million letters and such. Then we see how far Jim got in filming.” He shrugged. “We may be a day or two behind schedule now.”
“I doubt that. We were better than half a day ahead last Friday.”
“True. We’ll see.” He hesitated for a second. “I’m still not crazy about you doing nude scenes.”
“I know, but we worked that all out.”
“I’m just saying I don’t like it so I can be on record.”
“Duly noted.”
“Jim is having a fit you won’t do Elektra for Bloodlust. He doesn’t think he can replace you.”
“Oh, bull. Anyone can learn to act. It’s not a genetic thing.”
“Tell me about it. Look at the kids of some of the good actors.”
“Exactly.” She thought for a moment. “I could teach a decent actress how to do Elektra as good as I can in a matter of a week. Maybe ten days.”
When she glanced at Roland, he stared at her with a strange, thoughtful look.
“What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all.”

He insisted Valerie come with him to the morning team meeting. Valerie didn’t want to go, but she didn’t fight too hard, either. Roland took his normal place at the head of the conference table and looked to his right where Jim sat checking some notes.
“Jim, you’re in Valerie’s chair.”
“What?” He looked a little confused.
“That’s where Valerie will be sitting. At least she will as soon as you move.”
Jim didn’t look any less confused. “Oh.” He moved to the next chair down the table.
After the rundown from the past two days, Roland had a good idea of how the future for the studio might go. Every scene scheduled for Monday and Tuesday were in the can except for one Jim thought he would want to direct personally. Everything else went smoothly without Roland’s direct guidance.
He smiled to himself thinking he built a good team over the years. The time came to let them run.
Jim chuckled a little. “By the way, do you remember Dick Hansen?”
Dick worked as a cameraman for Midnight Interludes for nine years before MGM stole him away. “Sure.”
“He’s getting married.”
“That’s great.”
Shelia sighed. “You say that now.”
A frown came to his face. “Why?”
“Because we canceled the shoot this afternoon, and we’re having a party for him.”

Valerie talked with a group of the other actors. She shrugged. “I don’t know what Midnight Interludes did in the past as far as characters and plots go, but it looks like both are becoming more important. It’s the actors who bring the story to life, not anything else.”
Bob nodded. “And that means we have to work harder.”
“No. You have to work smarter. You can’t expect to come in here, read through the script, and be ready to go.” She thought for a moment about how she prepared for the stage play she did a few years ago. “You have to study the script, and, in this case, you should read the book. You need to practice, in front of people if you can, but at least in front of a mirror.” She smiled. “You have to become the character.”
“So, like when you talked to me, I needed to have the emotions Sam has in the story.”
“Exactly! You have to feel what the characters feel and react the way the characters would react.”
Rebecca sat on the stool next to her. “Even doing a little extra bit like mine, do I need to do that?”
“If you ask me, yes. If you want the directors and producers to notice you, that’s how to make it happen. Then, when the time comes to cast for bigger parts, they’ll remember you.”
Bob grinned. “And that means more money.”
“Right again. More parts, more exposure, more money. It all starts feeding on itself, and soon you’ll have directors calling to beg you to take a part.”
Betty laughed. “I don’t mean to sound cynical or throw cold water on this, but you were out of work for a long time, Valerie.”
“Yes, I was. I couldn’t get a break to get inside someplace. If you don’t get the parts, no one will see how good you are and that you should be given more parts.” She smiled. “You’re all inside already. You just need to stay there.”
She glanced around and saw Roland talking to Jim and a few other people. He stared at her, and gave her a little wink as he lifted his glass in her direction. She smiled across the soundstage at him and made a kissing motion.
Diane giggled. “You two are cute together.”
“I guess that’s one word for it.” Valerie sighed. “All I know is I’m crazy about him.”
Bob chuckled. “I think that’s my cue to leave. You’re going to start talking about love and all that stuff.” Bob kissed her cheek and walked away toward the open bar.
“What are you going to do after Destiny?” Diane smiled. “Just lead the life of leisure?”
“Oh, hell no! I’ll go crazy without something to do. I think I’m going to look for some mainstream gigs again.”
“We all know RW won’t let you do sex scenes.” Betty paused. “If I ever find one, I hope my guy won’t let me do them.”
“It’s not like that, really. He doesn’t want me to do the nude scenes, but Roland hasn’t even hinted at forbidding me from doing them.”
“If you push the issue, he will.”
Valerie shrugged. “He might, but I don’t know. I don’t want to do them, so we agree on that.”
Diane seemed to consider something for a moment. “It’s none of my business, but how much did you have to do with him deciding not to direct anymore?”
“I know my opinion played in his decision because I don’t like the idea of him watching other girls having sex.” She smiled. “Especially you two. But he has a lot of other things he looked at, too. Other people can do the directing and other things, but there’s stuff going on only Roland can do.”
Betty laughed. “He’s seen me naked and having sex more times than I can remember. I’ve thrown more passes at him than an NFL quarterback. He never looked twice at me.”
“When you’re hot, you’re hot.” Rebecca giggled.
Betty sighed. “I guess. How did you hook him, anyway?”
“I really don’t know. I found him attractive the very first time I saw him, but I don’t think either of us did anything to encourage that.” She shrugged. “Let’s face it, there are more than a few good looking guys running around this place, but I’m not falling for them.”

Roland kept one eye on Valerie as they went their separate ways at the party to mingle.
He didn’t worry about someone attacking her again. That problem was a thing of the past. He didn’t worry about some guy making a pass at her, either. Valerie would slap the guy’s face off. He knew she wouldn’t make a pass at anyone else. He trusted her with everything in him.
He just couldn’t take his eyes off her.
She wore the little black dress she’d worn the second day she came to the studio. He still liked the way it hugged her curves and the way the hem moved when she walked.
Like her smiles, Valerie had several walks she used at different times.
She had a wont to wear jeans a lot. Her walk in casual jeans looked like just about every other walk he remembered seeing.
When she wore dressy jeans, especially tight jeans, her walk changed. Her hips moved in delightful ways, swinging slowly from side to side as she strode. He shivered a little.
The night she wore the long purple evening gown for the meeting with Dave Randall, her walk made her move like oil on water. Smooth and flowing, she seemed to float. He still wondered what her legs did under the gown to get that effect.
When she wore a short dress, like today, her hips snapped from side to side when she walked. The motion made the hem of the dress flip with each step, exposing just a little more leg than when she stood still. It couldn’t expose more than half an inch more leg, if that much, but the motion fascinated him. She also did the same thing he’d seen the supermodels do, a slight crossing of the centerline of her body with her foot each time she took a step.
And then she had her walk she used when she wore nothing at all, walking toward him from across the room. His mouth watered, and he fought the urge to stare at her and drool. He shut down the line of thought before he lost his senses.
“RW? You’re staring at her again.”
“Oh, sorry. What did you say?”
Jim laughed. “I said maybe we need to look at some options to get Valerie in Bloodlust as Elektra.”
“Like what?” He already made this decision, but Jim seemed desperate. He’d at least listen.
“She’s the best actress we have, and Elektra is the most important character we have. It just makes sense to put the two together.” Jim sipped his drink. “What about a body double?”
“A stunt cunt? I don’t think she’ll go for that idea.” He sighed. “If she does it at all, she’ll want to do everything. Besides, I’ve never seen a stunt dick or cunt work right on film.”
“I haven’t either, but she’s so damned good as Elektra.”
“I agree.” He thought for a moment. “What if we could teach someone else?”
Jim laughed. “In your dreams!”
“Maybe. I have an idea trying to form in my head. If I can find a way to make it work, we may have the problems solved.”
“You’ll let me know when you work this all out, right?”
Roland smiled and clicked his iced tea against Jim’s martini. “You’ll be the third to know.”

Friday morning, Roland changed the order of shooting. He wanted to get this over with.
In the final film, this would run as Elektra’s last nude scene, and it was the most intense. Originally scripted to have a few kisses, Elektra would never touch her victim below the waist, and the victim would never touch her at all.
At Valerie’s suggestion, the writers looked at the scene and made some changes.
Now, she would touch the victim’s cock several times and he would fondle her ass and breasts. He would also kiss her breasts.
Roland wasn’t the least bit happy about the changes. He knew the scene would be better this way. He understood that everyone, including Valerie, liked the new scene better. He even got the point this would make the entire film better.
He still didn’t like it. It pissed him off. Big time.
Even as director, producer, and owner of the studio, his authority extended only so far. While it was not a democracy, he was soundly outvoted.
And Valerie talked to him.
She talked for hours, and finally he understood she was right. His business was making films that pleased the audience and sell. The changes made both more likely. It also set the stage for the future films.
He relented. At least he went on record as not liking it.

She prepared for the scene, and her nerves bothered her. Being nude was OK, but the changes the writers made would put her in the position of almost having sex. She laughed. That’s like being a little bit pregnant.
The scene would start with her already nude. The special effects people would edit in the transformation from bat to Elektra later. She already shot the stills they needed for the editing work.
She checked her makeup again. She patted a little more powder on her shoulders.
A knock came on the dressing room door. “Five minutes, Ms. Setera.”
“Thank you.”
She worried about Roland. He despised the idea, but he reluctantly agreed. She wondered how many takes this would turn into because he would find little reasons to stop. Then again, he might accept whatever came just to get it over with. Both scenarios looked bad from here.
She pulled on her robe and went to the set.

She watched from the bushes as two prey transacted some business under the streetlamp. Hunger made her weak, and her mouth watered as she anticipated the coming feast. Her tongue lapped at the tiny fangs of the bat form she now held.
One of them walked away from her position, but the other moved toward her. She smiled and made the transformation to human form.
She stepped from the bushes to stand naked before the mortal. He smiled and pushed his hat back on his head. “Well, hello.”
She smiled at him, smelling the hot blood pounding in his body. “Hello, my precious.”
“A beautiful thing like you shouldn’t be in Central Park at night.” He grinned. “Especially dressed like that.”
She stepped forward and put her hands on his chest. The living heart beat under her touch. As she pulled the buttons from his shirt, she licked her lips in anticipation. “You should dress the same way.”
As her hands drifted over his chest, her nails leaving small red welts behind them, he gasped and stared at her.

His left eye throbbed. It was mostly that Valerie stood naked on the set running her hands all over Harry’s chest. The fact that Harry had no idea what his next line was or what he should be doing didn’t help.
Roland lifted the microphone to his lips to cut the scene when Valerie moved.
She crouched down in front of Harry, unfastening his pants and letting them fall to the floor. She balanced on her toes, knees spread wide apart. She turned slightly, her head hiding his cock from the main camera.
What the fuck was she doing? Roland stared in disbelief as her head moved back and forth at Harry’s crotch.
Roland decided he’d kill Harry. Right here, right now. He’d need to pull Valerie out of the way so the fucker didn’t fall on her. His legs wouldn’t work, though. He couldn’t even speak.
Instead, he glanced at the monitor for the side camera angle.
Harry’s cock, fully erect, rested about two inches from her face. She made the motions with her head, never coming closer to him than that.
She looked up at Harry’s face. “Have I left you speechless, my precious?”
Roland saw her mouthing Harry’s lines to him.

The prey looked down into her face. “Uh, no. What’s this about?”
She stood and turned him by holding his shoulders. This one is so weak that he will make an easy meal. “This is about you.”
“Yes. Your fantasy and your darkest dreams.”
He smiled at her. “Well, you are a fantasy.” His lips pressed to hers, but she held her lips tightly closed so he wouldn’t feel the sprouting fangs in her mouth.
She reached down and held his hard cock in her hand, stroking it as she dreamed of long ago lust for the flesh, not just the blood.
His hands slipped around her, and he pulled her hips to his as he squeezed her ass. The ancient feelings stirred her, and she recalled the thousands of lovers over the forty long centuries. His dick pressed to her body, and the desire burned in her for his sex. It almost matched the flaming hunger for his blood.
The prey pulled away from her, and his lips slipped down her neck, like so many years ago when the lips of her dark lover caressed her before the fangs buried deeply into her throat. His hands cupped her breasts and his warm tongue flickered over her nipples.
Her head rolled back on her neck as the change came over her. The teeth spread her lips as they grew long and hard, keeping pace with her nipples. The world took on the green tint of her killer’s eyes.
Along with the bloodlust, the rage of mortal hands touching her filled her mind and body. She shoved him away from her as she hissed her indignation at his familiarity.
He stumbled back a few cubits and laughed. “So, you like to play—” He looked up into her eyes. The prey’s face went slack for a moment as his brain tried to understand what he saw.
Elektra’s lips peeled back from the gleaming white fangs awaiting his throat. She saw his look of surprise turn to one of terror as he understood, as prey always did, that he was under attack.
He screamed as he turned to run, but she buried her claws in his shoulder and yanked him back to face her.
“And your darkest dreams, my precious.”
She whipped her teeth into his throat, and the hot blood sprayed over her as she sucked him dry.
As always, the power filled her, and her senses heightened. She smelled another prey nearby, and turned suddenly. One of the lawmen patrolling the park stared at her as she dropped the drained body to the ground.
His eyes went round and opened wide as he stood, unable to move. She could make easy work of him, but he held the small talking box in his hand. More would come soon.
She waved her arms for the transformation and took wing into the darkness.

Roland swallowed. “Cut.” He remembered the microphone in his lap. He brought it to his lips. “Cut!”
Jim looked down from the camera. He took a deep breath. “You want a print?”
“I have no fucking idea.”
Valerie caught the towel someone tossed her and wiped the stage blood from her face. She offered her hand to Harry and he stood up beside her. The cast and crew applauded as she and Harry took a bow.
Roland swallowed again. “Someone get them some goddamn robes.”
A stage hand gave her a robe as she walked toward him. She wiped a little more of the dripping blood from her hair as she smiled. “Well?”
He couldn’t see her clearly through the red fog filling his vision. “What the fuck was that bit?”
“What bit?”
He waved wildly at the set. “You…you…” He closed his eyes. He couldn’t even think straight, let alone talk. “That bit!”
She laughed. “Improvisation. He forgot his lines, and we needed to get the scene moving.”
“Does the word ‘cut’ mean anything to you? How about ‘take two’?”
She frowned again. “Would you calm down?”
Jack and Ralph ran up to her. Jack gushed again. “My, God! That was great! RW, this is the way the scene should have been written!”
“You two get the fuck away from me. Now.”
They both frowned, but had enough sense to leave.
He sat fuming. At first, she didn’t want to do the nude scenes at all. Then she changed this one around to add touching. Now, she took off on her own to add a goddamned blowjob! He looked up at Jim’s position on the camera. “Trash that. We’ll re-shoot the scene next week.” He looked at Valerie. “The way it’s written.”
“No, Jim. Don’t trash that scene.” Roland could feel her gaze burn into him. “Roland, we need to talk. Now.”
Jim looked between them a time or two. “Tell you what. I’ll hang onto the film for now.”
“Thanks.” Her eyes still locked onto his.
Roland fumed. “Oh, we’ll talk all right. Come on. We’ll fucking talk!” They went to the production office. He slammed the door as he closed it.
Valerie took a deep breath. “That’s a good take of a good scene, and you know it.”
“It’s not going in the film.”
She sat down and crossed her legs, but her foot bounced nervously. “I think it should.”
“No.” He swallowed. He didn’t like where this conversation went. He liked it even less than he liked the scene. “And we’re going back to the original script.”
She sighed. “I know you don’t want me to do this. Believe it or not, I’m not crazy about doing it. But, if we’re going to do it, then let’s do it right.”
He needed to either scrap the film or fire her. He couldn’t see any other ways out of this. Roland knew the scene was better. He also knew everyone would think she just gave head on screen.
To someone other than him.
He paced in the small office. “No! That’s all there is to it. I’m the goddamned director, and I say this doesn’t go in the fucking film!”
She took a deep breath. “If it wasn’t me, would you keep the scene?”
He opened his mouth quickly to respond. He closed it even faster. This question had no right answer. If he said yes, she would turn it on him as preferential treatment. If he said no, she would want to know what she did wrong so she could do another take. The last thing he needed to do was even answer the question, but she stared up at him, waiting.
Misdirection seemed the order of the day.
He placed his hands on the table and leaned across it towards her. “I don’t think you understand how I feel about this.” His voice carried a sharp edge he didn’t want to use with her.
“Fine!” She screamed at him. “Tell me so I have some fucking idea!”
He paused, trying to get his thoughts in order as best he could through the still rising fury in his mind. “Don’t you wonder why I didn’t cut that—” He waved his hands. “Fucking disaster? I couldn’t! I was too busy stopping myself from running up there, yanking you to your feet, and punching Harry’s goddamned lights out!”
“Harry didn’t do anything! If you’re going to be pissed off, at least be pissed off at the right person!”
He screamed at her. He hated that he did, but he couldn’t stop. His anger took total control of him now, and it all whipped from his mind and body at once. “Goddamn it, Valerie! That doesn’t fucking matter! I looked at the other camera, and I saw what you did! I know you faked everything, but from where I sat, it looked like the woman I love—” He stopped dead, his mouth frozen in the middle of his sentence.
She stared at him for several seconds. Valerie’s voice sounded soft, almost weak. “What did you say?”
Ready or not, the chance to turn back already passed. His anger didn’t fade away. It just vanished. “I’ve fallen in love with you.”
She blinked rapidly as she stared at him. “You have?”
He wondered if this would be the last time he would ever see her. She could get her paperwork from Shelia and never even come into his office to pick it up. “Yeah, I have. Maybe that’s wrong, maybe it’s just not a good idea, but it happened, and I’m not sorry about it.” He took a deep breath. He couldn’t see a lot of difference between drowning in six inches or six miles of water. “Valerie, I love you.”
As he watched, her face went through several gyrations. Her face sort of wiggled between frowning, a totally flat expression, and what he thought might be a small smile.

Her heart tried to stop when he said he loved her. It did a little better now, but it went to the other extreme and raced out of control in her chest.
Roland leaned across the conference table, his palms resting on the surface and his face close to hers. She could feel his breath on her face as he panted. A few drops of sweat fell from his chin to make wet splashes on the table.
Sweat ran down the middle of her back as she watched him. The drops of moisture falling from her head to hit her shoulder where the robe slipped down her arm might be sweat, or just the remains of the stage blood. It didn’t matter.
Valerie managed to keep her breathing in check, but she would have to start panting soon. Her heart beat so fast she would run out of oxygen before too long.
Her brain dissociated from her body, and it split into two parts as it left.
Her body just sat there like a lump of flesh. It didn’t seem too inclined to help her right now.
One part of her brain went manic. It ran around and screamed in her head. She couldn’t understand too much of what it said to her. She did make out something about kissing him.
The other part of her brain was the only thing working even close to right. It took a cold, analytical spin. It showed her the pro and con list. Well, it showed her a pro list since the cons went away. The analyst tried to show her more things to put on the list.
She tried to look at her feelings, but the analyst would have none of the emotional nonsense.
She decided to conduct a small poll. The analyst loved the idea of a poll, but offered no opinion. It didn’t have enough facts yet.
The maniac running amok in her head only screamed something about kissing Roland.
Her body didn’t even answer the phone.
She sat watching him as he leaned over the table at her. She must look like an idiot just sitting there, but she couldn’t do anything else. His face looked patient, like he could wait until doomsday for her to speak. It might take that long to get her two brains and body back together into a cohesive unit.
Suddenly, the little pink princess phone in her head rang. Her body called and said only one thing.
‘Think how good it feels when he holds you.’
Her two brains slammed together with a sound like a bank vault closing. They jumped together back into her body and took control again. She smiled up at him.
“I love you, too.”
His face went slack for a split second, and then a smile broke across his lips. He grabbed her around the neck and almost fell face first onto the table. “This isn’t going to work.”
He released her and ran around the table to where she stood to meet him. His arms moved around her waist, and he hugged her to his chest. His lips pressed against hers, and it seemed somehow different.
The electric tingles his lips moving on hers created were still there. Maybe they were a little stronger, but that didn’t seem to make up the difference.
The flavor of his lips seemed somehow a little sweeter, but not too much. At least not enough to account for the flood of new feelings ranging through her now.
The scent of his cologne seemed the same. Maybe a few new spices are in the mix, and perhaps a little more sugar, but it didn’t seem too different.
She realized through the tide of emotions that Roland, not his cologne, smelled different. His touch, his taste, his cologne, and all of the other things seemed about the same, but he smelled different now. Different from even earlier today when they made love before leaving for work.
She would be hard pressed to say exactly how he smelled different, though. Maybe, she thought, he smelled stronger. She didn’t know what strong smelled like, so she couldn’t grab onto that. Maybe there’s a new scent of an ambrosial quality, like nutmeg, in the blend. She just didn’t know.
As his tongue moved in her mouth and teased her desires for him, the fact hit her. While she didn’t know how he smelled different, she knew precisely why.
He belonged to her.

They held each other for a long time. His heart wanted to leap from his body and fly around the room. He wanted to swing her around with her feet flying through the air, but he’d break her legs on the furniture.
He just plain wanted her.
While the time seemed perfect, the place certainly wasn’t. With a studio full of people waiting and a major crisis in production staring at them, even the timing offered problems.
He sighed. “This whole thing makes me crazy. I know we agreed how we would handle this, but I can’t do what I said I would.”
She smiled a little. “I know, and that’s sweet.” She took his hand in hers. “First things first. I love you, and that will never change. This is just a little rough place in the road, but we’ll get over it. Together.”
“I sure hope so, because I’m wild about you.”
“I know you are.”
He swallowed. “I know you’re an actress, and this is acting. I know there’s not really any emotion involved. Maybe if you weren’t such a good actress, I could deal with it better. It looks real.”
She chuckled. “I think there’s a complement in there someplace.”
“Yeah, there is.” He thought for a moment. “It looks so real that my mind grabs it and runs with it. It’s just like I saw that really happening.”
She nodded. “All I can do to understand is turn things around. I know how I would feel if I saw you having sex with another woman. I’d be mad and hurt.”
“That’s it exactly.” He grinned. “But ‘mad’ is way too soft a word.”
“I know.” Valerie reached up and put her hand on his cheek. “I didn’t understand how this would hurt you. I should have, but I didn’t. I’m so sorry. Can you forgive me for hurting you?”
“Of course I can.” He smiled. “Didn’t I hear someplace that love means never having to say you’re sorry?”
She smiled. “Don’t go quoting old movies to me. Especially ones that aren’t that good.”
“It won a bunch of awards, but that’s a deal.”
She hesitated for a long time, her hand still touching his face. “Roland, I resign.”
“I’m done. Right now, you only need to recast Elektra, and shoot four scenes. I won’t hurt you anymore over this.”
This was exactly what he wanted! If Valerie wasn’t in the film, then she wouldn’t do the nude scenes. With no nude scenes, he wouldn’t get crazy. This was perfect!
A little voice spoke in his head. It came from behind his right eye. It didn’t sound very happy or patient when it produced a hand to slap his brain a couple of times. It screamed at him.
‘What in the hell are you doing?’
He loved Valerie. All of her. Even the part that was an actress. She loved acting. Maybe she loved acting almost as much as she loved him. It made her happy.
Setting aside any possible, or probable, resentment she might feel toward him for doing this, not acting meant she wouldn’t be happy. He couldn’t stand the idea of her being unhappy. The thought of Valerie being sad, of her losing that wonderful smile and laugh, was worse than the idea of her appearing nude on film.
He decided in an instant.
“Sorry, but we have a contract.”
She shrugged. “So what? I won’t do it.” She smiled. “What are you going to do? Sue me?”
“Baby, acting is what you do, and you’re good at it. The best I’ve ever seen, anyway. You need and want to be involved. I can get past this.”
She shook her head. “No. I’m done with Elektra.” She paused for a moment. “She’ll need a little work and patience, but I think Rebecca will make a great Elektra.”
He laughed. “She doesn’t have any experience.”
“Neither did I when I started. Pick any actor in LA, and they didn’t have any experience at some point. A week or two of work, and some guidance, and she’ll do great.”
It hit him like a bolt from the blue. He toyed with the idea, or at least what he knew now was the idea, for several days. Probably longer in the back of his head. Everything fell into place in a flash from Valerie’s wondrous blue eyes.
He smiled. “Come on. We have things to do.”
“We have to solve everyone’s problems.”
He pulled her from the production office and back to the set.
Roland grabbed the microphone. “OK, people. I want the production management team in the conference room in thirty minutes. Everyone else can go home. Have a great weekend, and I’ll see you all Monday morning.”

Chapter 18

After she changed, Valerie had a little time before the meeting, and she had to tell someone. She called Ronnie.
“This is Ronnie Finegan.”
“Ronnie! Roland said he loves me!”
“He what?”
“He loves me!”
The silence stretched nearly a full minute. “I guess I should say congratulations.”
She hated that Ronnie never shared in her enthusiasm for her relationship with Roland. “Why in the hell can’t you be happy for me, just once?” The edge in her voice left a bad taste in her mouth, but Valerie felt like she needed Ronnie’s approval.
“Val, I am happy for you, really. I just hope its real and will last.” She sighed. “He’s so much older than you, and he’s from a different world. You’re going to argue with me, but you’re still naïve, not much more than a girl, and it would be easy for him to play you.”
As quick as it came on her, Valerie felt her anger fading. Ronnie was just doing what any good friend would do, just worrying and trying to help. “I guess that’s always possible, but my heart tells me this is real.”
Again, Ronnie didn’t answer for many seconds. “He does seem pretty struck with you and a nice guy.” The three had dinner several times over the last couple of weeks. Roland and Ronnie seemed to hit it off well enough. “I guess what I’m really saying is be careful. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”
She thought back to her discussion with Maria. “It was pointed out to me that at some time in the future, Roland and I will hurt each other. There’s no way around that. All we can do is be there for each other when that happens. In the meantime, we’ll share a lot of happiness, and after that, we’ll have more happiness.” Valerie paused, thinking about what a good friend Ronnie was. “I need that support from you, too.”
Ronnie chuckled a little. “You’ve got it. No matter what, I’ll be right here for you.”

He wouldn’t tell her anything. When she asked him point blank what was going on, Roland only smiled. She sat next to him at the conference table as they waited for Jim.
Jim came in and took his seat.
Roland smiled. “All right. Remember when I told you changes are on the way? I thought they might be a few weeks away, but I was wrong. They start today.”
Marion snickered. “That at least fits with the last few weeks.”
Roland laughed, and his face lifted like before filming started. “You’ve got a point there.” He paused for a moment. “Valerie has offered me her resignation from Destiny.”
Jim leaned forward, his head hitting the table with a thump. “Oh, now there’s good news.”
Roland smiled. “You haven’t heard all of it. Effective now, she’s off the cast.”
Jim’s voice sounded muffled as he rested face down on the wood. “Yeah, that makes it better. Who will replace her?” He bounced his head against the table a couple of times.
Roland shrugged. “I have no idea. You need to ask the director of casting and talent development.”
Shelia stopped writing. “The what?”
“The director of casting and talent development.” He frowned a little. “Maybe we should capitalize these titles.”
Jim mumbled something she couldn’t understand. He sighed again. “Who’s that?”
She turned to him. “Yes?”
“No, I didn’t speak to you. I just said you’re the Director of Casting and Talent Development.”
“I’m the what?”
“Don’t make me say that long title again.”
Jim sat up now. “What does that mean?”
“It means Valerie will do all casting. She’ll also train the performers and help them get better at their job.”
She shook her head. “I’m no teacher.”
Jim rubbed his chin. “The facts say otherwise. You saved who knows how many takes by spending ten minutes with the people. Roland couldn’t get the performance out of them, and I know I wouldn’t have been able to, either. You did it in minutes.”
Roland nodded. “And you said yourself you could have someone up to speed as Elektra in a week or so.” He paused. “You suggested Rebecca. If you start working with her Monday, we can shoot the rest of the film. When we’re done, she should be ready, and then we can film her scenes. We’re right on schedule then, despite the casting change.”
She shook her head. “I need to think about this.”
“I understand, but we’re short on time.” Roland looked at the others. “We’ll be right back.” He took her hand and led her to the little entry area to the conference room. “I know this is sudden.”
She smiled. “Why not? Everything else between us has happened pretty fast.”
“I guess it has.” He sighed. “Don’t you see? This fills a need the studio has. It lets us work together. It keeps you close to the acting side. When we start doing mainstream films, there’s no law saying you can’t cast yourself in a movie.”
“You know how I feel about being handed a part.” She didn’t like the edge she heard in her voice. Roland hadn’t meant it that way, only that she would still be able to act. She smiled. “Only if you direct me.”
“I can do that.”
She thought for a moment. It did offer a good set of answers to the problems. “All right. I’ll do it.”

By the time the meeting ended, they ironed out most of the major details. They didn’t leave the studio until just after 7:30.
She leaned back in the leather seat and sighed. “God! What a day!”
“Welcome to the wonderful world of studio executives.” Roland pulled a bottle of wine from the bar. “Or would you prefer a beer?”
She smiled thinking of the last time she drank beer in the car. “No, wine will do just fine, thank you.”
He laughed as he handed the glass to her and poured himself a beer.
“I’m going to beat you to the punch today.” She smiled and held her glass out to him. “To you, Roland. The most wonderful man I’ve ever known and ever will know.”
He clicked his glass to hers. “Thanks.” They sipped at their drinks for a moment.
“I wanted to tell you again how sorry I am I hurt you.”
“That’s over and behind us, but the apology is more than accepted.”
She smiled her best seductive smile for him. “What can I do to make it up to you?”
He smiled. “I have a surprise for you.” He reached into the cabinet and pulled out a bottle of massage oil. Roland moved quickly to undress her, and then slipped off his clothes, too. “Lie on your stomach.”
She reclined and rolled to put her back to him. The oil felt warm as he poured it all over her back and down to her ass. He moved on top of her, and rubbed her back with his chest. The warmth of his skin made the oil slide over her. His hands slid slickly up and down her sides.
He moved from atop her and helped her roll to her back. He squeezed oil over her breasts and stomach and down onto her hips. His chest glistened in the dim light of the car as he moved to lie on her again. With the oil lubricating them, the muscles of his chest slipped over her nipples.
His cock slid between her legs. The slight upward curve made the head of his dick rub at her pussy-lips, and her hips moved to meet the light thrusts.
Roland held his head just out of the reach of her lips, and he smiled at her. Without a word, he raised his hips and eased himself forward.
His cock slipped into her pussy, and she gasped a little. Perhaps only the oil eased the entry, but he entered her deeper than he ever did before. Or maybe, she thought, her imagination just ran wild.
He moved in slow-motion as he lowered his lips to touch hers. The fiery heat of his kiss made her body twitch with the touch.
His tongue darted around in her mouth, and his new taste delighted her. She pressed her tongue against his, and they fought a brief duel. They both came out as winners.
Roland’s hands moved over her sides and hips as he thrust his cock into her. He moved, and she found the flexibility his tai chi gave provided distinct advantages.
He rocked himself back, pulling his legs under himself as he sat up. He lifted her body and shifted his legs again so she sat on his lap, his cock never leaving her pussy.
She wrapped her legs around his waist as he lifted and lowered her on his hard shaft. He kissed her again, his mouth moving over her face. The sweet butterscotch scent of the oil wafted to her nose and mixed with the smell of his sweat, breath, and body. The blend ran through her imagination and spoke directly to her mind of love, passion, and strength.
The slow motion of his cock in her pussy pushed her toward her climax, but not with the headlong rushing of a runaway train. She found her mind thinking of a slowly falling leaf, fluttering and swinging to and fro as gravity pulled it toward a relentless head-on collision with the immovable ground.
He again moved, and Roland pulled her legs from around his waist. He leaned back onto the door and lifted his knees. “Lean back on my legs, baby.”
She reclined, and the head of his cock pressed hard against her G-spot. She jerked as her breath gasped in her throat. She rested on her knees and slowly lifted herself, only to slide back down his hardness.
His hands came to rest against her pussy, and his thumbs darted between her lips to pinch and roll her clit.
As he rubbed her clit with his thumbs, she continued to rise and fall, his cock sliding over her G-spot and back to run across her cervix with every stroke.
He lowered his knees a little, and the force against her G-spot intensified. The train of her orgasm broke free, and it ran wildly downhill.
She screamed nonsense as she jerked and twitched on top of him. His thumbs rolled madly over her clit, and she jumped like someone shocked her as each wave of her climax rolled over her body.
The slippery combination of the oil as it mixed with the perspiration pouring from her body made her quiver. She missed the smells of the oil and his body, but no scent could enter her nose through the rapid panting or loud screams.
Roland sat up, and hugged her to his chest. As she jerked in the fading twitches of her orgasm, he kissed her hair and kept her from collapsing on the seat.
She managed a weak smile. “Wow.”
“I’ll take that as a good thing.”
She cuddled closer to his chest. “Maybe one day I’ll figure out why you always do that.”
“Do what?”
“Make me cum first every time.”
“Because I love you, and you deserve it.”
“You did that before you loved me.”
“No, I didn’t. I’ve loved you since you asked me what the reading would entail.”
She leaned back a little and looked into his eyes. “You have?”
“Yeah, I have.” He shrugged. “Maybe love at first sight really does happen.”
Maybe it does. “That’s sweet.”
His cock throbbed inside her. He smiled. “Maybe.”
“I have my teeth with me.” She smiled. “Well, my old teeth, anyway.”
“You don’t need those.”
“No, I don’t” She leaned and bit his neck with her own teeth. As she sucked at his neck, he squirmed under her; his cock wiggled in her pussy again.
He gasped. “Damn it.”
She pulled her mouth away for a moment. “Am I hurting you?”
“No, but I forgot until now getting a hickey is pretty hot.”
She laughed and pressed her lips to his neck again. She rolled her head as she sucked at the skin of his neck. Giving a hickey was pretty hot, too.
She pulled her mouth from him when her lips went numb, and she saw the red place on his neck. At least she remembered to do the right side. The vampire bite on the left was almost healed.
She smiled at him. “Anyplace else need sucking?”
He sighed. “Do you have any idea how sexy you are?”
“Only what you tell me.”
He shook his head for a moment. His face took on a funny look. “Let’s see…”
After sitting still for a moment, he moved quickly. She didn’t know exactly how he did it, but he suddenly knelt on the floor of the car, holding her to him. Her legs again wrapped around his waist and he bounced her on his hips.
Roland’s cock moved in her pussy to the rhythm of his bouncing. Her body lifted high on his shaft, sliding his cock almost out of her, then gravity yanked her down again, burying his stiffness deep inside her.
With each stroke, the head of his dick pressed hard against her G-spot, making her shiver. Sucking his neck pushed her toward another climax, and now the motion of his cock made her rush in that direction.
She hugged his neck tightly as he bounced her, and her head lolled back. She moaned as the orgasm closed on her. “Come with me, honey!”
He bounced her again, and his hands on her hips pulled her hard against him, and pressed her down onto his cock. Her climax hit her, and his cock pulsed as the hot fluid squirted into her.
Roland grunted loudly, and he staggered a little on his knees. Valerie wondered if they both would be on the floorboard in a moment.
She kissed him briefly. “Let me down so you don’t fall.”
He eased her to her to the seat, and managed to get himself seated beside her. His eyes looked glassy, and his breath blew quickly between his pursed lips.
She hugged his head to her chest. “OK?”
He shivered a little. “Yeah.”
“Then you won’t mind if I do something.”
She dropped to her knees between his legs and grabbed his semi-erect cock in her hand. Flicking her tongue around the head, she tasted the marvelous combination of his cum and her juices lingering there. He jerked as she sucked the head of his dick between her lips.
Not fully hard, she could swallow his entire cock into her throat for the first time, her lips pressed tight against his balls. When she pushed her tongue between her lips and his dick to flutter against his balls, Roland jumped like a fish on the riverbank.
His cock stirred, getting harder as she moved her mouth up and down his length. She ran the growing length in her throat, her tongue flickering around the head and shaft.
When she looked up at him, he leaned back in the seat. He closed his eyes, and his breathing came as a series of gulps. Sweat flowed from him as she ran her hands over his chest. The remnants of the oil made a slick blend with his perspiration.
A pleasantly unusual combination of smells buffeted her senses. The butterscotch oil, his sweat mixed with hers, the musky aroma of his cum, the leather of the seats, and the scent of her pussy all mixed to form a smell that distracted her. Her mind burned, and she wanted to taste as well as smell.
Without knowing she did it, she realized his cock returned to fully erect, and she slid his entire length through her mouth and down her throat. The feeling as he slipped through her mouth made her shiver with delight.
She pulled his cock from her throat and her tongue ran wild around the head. Roland shook like an earthquake, and strong jerks wracked his body.
He moaned. “Yes, baby!” He tensed all over, and Valerie tasted the cum erupting from his cock. She sucked harder, draining him as his body danced in the car seat.
His flow ebbed, and his body twitched to the rapid rhythm of her sucks.
She kissed the pulsing head of his cock and crawled onto the seat beside him. “All right?”
He managed a jerky nod.
She rested her head on his shoulder for a few minutes. She could hear his heart pounding as her ear pressed to him, and the rapid rise and fall of his breathing lifted her head.
His breathing slowed a little. “Valerie, why don’t you kiss me after sucking my cock?”
“All the guys I’ve been with didn’t like that.”
“I’ll never, ever turn down a kiss from you.”
She leaned to him and pressed her lips to his, and their tongues did their passionate dance again. The flavors of his mouth mixed with the taste of his cum and created another new, exciting sapor to fill her senses.
The soft stubble of his beard tickled her face as his mouth wandered over hers. When she slipped her tongue into his mouth, Roland nibbled and sucked, causing her head to reel.
The scent of the butterscotch oil compounded with the salty fragrance of his sweat, and that combination mixed with the smell of his cum. The result staggered her imagination, making her want to stay in his arms forever, kissing and tasting him.
After many minutes, their lips parted. “How was that?”
“Your kisses are always amazing.”
“I’m glad you like to kiss me. I’d hate to look at your lips all day and never get to taste them.”
“Don’t worry about that.”
“I won’t.” She ran her fingers across his chest, and the slick residue of the oil covered her fingertips.
Roland put his arms around her. “It’s going to be nice working with you more than we would as director and actor.”
She snuggled to him. “It sure will, but with you not directing, we won’t work together on any films.”
He chuckled. “Who said I’m not directing? I said Destiny will be my last erotic film.”
“That’s all you make.”
“For right now. There’s a deal I want to work on to buy a mainstream studio.”
“Really? Which one?”
“I’m not sure yet. Word on the street is several can be had.”
“If it happens, we’re going after the big boys. MGM, UA, Universal, and all the rest better watch out.”
“With you after them, they’d better.”
“Not me. Us. You, me, and everyone else at Midnight Interludes. We’ve had a great team for years, and it just got better today.”
She chuckled. “I’m glad you have faith in me.”
“Like you wouldn’t believe. I know you can do anything you set your mind to.” He laughed a little. “After all, you got my attention.”

As they changed to go for a swim, Roland watched Valerie. He wondered about their young love affair. When he thought it too much, he began to doubt himself. Self-confidence had never been a problem for him. Now he found he wondered if she would really stay with him or not. At least in the long run.
He heard some of his friends express awe that their wife stayed with them when the man didn’t think he was worthy of her. At least they admitted that when they were drunk enough. Roland wondered if he was worthy of Valerie.
He doubted he was. He doubted any man would be worthy of her.

They rested in the pool, holding one another as they tread water.
He smiled at her. “You beat me again.”
“You bet I did.” She lunged and licked his nose. “We need to make a few bets on these swimming races.”
“Like what?”
“Loser gets on top.” She thought for a moment. “Or bottom.”
He laughed. “That doesn’t sound too bad.”
“Not to me it doesn’t.”
He smiled. “Any requests for movies tonight?”
“How many movies are in that box of yours?”
“I don’t know. Maybe a couple of thousand. I haven’t found anything I wanted to see that isn’t in there.”
She shook her head. “Now I want to think of obscure stuff just to see if it’s there.”
“Maria tried that last year. Even stuff in Spanish.”
“I may be tenacious, but I know when to quit.” She thought for a moment. “Can we go someplace and get my hair done?”
“We can, but wouldn’t it be better to let the studio people do it on Monday?”
“You’re probably right. They know what they used to get it this color.”
He paused for a second. “You look great with the red, but I miss your blonde.”
“Besides, blondes have more fun.”
“There you go with the commercials again.”
“Sorry.” She smiled. “How about if we go for an ice cream?”
“Sure. We can take the Viper.”
“Um, honey? Can we take something else? You scare me a little in that car.”
He laughed. “Sure.”
They dressed and went to the garage. She didn’t realize when she asked for something other than the Viper she jumped from the frying pan and into the fire.
Roland grabbed a set of keys from the board as they went in. He stopped at a locker and pulled out two helmets, handing one to her. “I think that will fit.”
She stared at the helmet for a moment. “Why do I need this?”
“Because we’re taking the bike.”
“This is not a bicycle helmet.”
He laughed. “OK, we’re taking the Harley.”
She knew he owned a couple of motorcycles. She just never expected to see them. “I’ve never been on a motorcycle.”
He stared. “You’re kidding.”
“No, I’m not.”
He hesitated. “All right. I’ll take it very easy, but if you’d rather, we’ll take the pickup.”
She considered. “You promise to take it easy?”
“Cross my heart.”
“Well, OK. We can ride the motorcycle.”
True to his word, Roland took it easy. When she dared open her eyes, she never saw him going faster than fifty. He took the turns smooth and easy. The acceleration was nice and calm, as was the braking.
It still scared the living crap out of her.
When he stopped at the ice cream shop, he laughed a little as the engine shut off. “You can let go now.”
She pried her hands from around his waist. She thought the metal studs forming the Harley-Davidson logo on the back of his black leather jacket probably left imprints on her face from where she buried it against him.
He smiled at her as he took off his helmet. “How was that?”
“That was scary and exciting.”
“We’ll have to get you a bike.”
“Oh, no! I’m fine on the back!”
“It’s not as scary to drive as it is to ride on the back.”
“Sure it is.”
They walked to the window and ordered. They both got a hot fudge banana split today.
The shop wasn’t as crowded as the first time he’d brought her here, and they found a table with an umbrella. Valerie thought about doing things to the banana, but she remembered Roland needed to run that contraption to get them home.
He smiled as he tasted the hot fudge. “That’s so good.”
She couldn’t help herself. “We can get some to go.”
He shivered. “Damn it.”
She giggled. “I guess we need to talk to Rebecca Monday.”
“What do you mean ‘we’? You got a mouse in your pocket?”
“I mean you, the director and producer, and me as…” She thought for a moment. “As whatever my title is.”
He laughed. “Not me. That’s your job now. By the way, you do know you’re a part of the management team, right?”
“I am?”
“Yeah. Just as much as any director.”
“I don’t know anything about running a studio.”
“Neither does Jim or Marion. They, and you, know how to make movies. My job is to run the studio so you can do your job.”
“I can do that.” He scooped up a glob of ice cream covered in fudge and licked it from his spoon. Her eyes tried to cross. “Stop that!”
He laughed. “Why?”
“Because I have no idea how to have sex on a moving motorcycle!”
She figured it out, though.
As they rode home, she found she could play with his cock by reaching around his waist. At the same time, she ran her other hand down her pants to rub her clit. She knew things were close when he slowed down to about thirty and the machine drifted back and forth in the lane.
About a mile from the house, his cock pulsed as he came in his pants.

Chapter 19
“The Wrap”

“While there’s nothing secret about this, you’re the first to know.” Valerie smiled across the desk of the generic office at Rebecca. Her real office, adjoined to Roland’s, would be ready by the end of the week. “In a nutshell, I resigned from the cast and we need to replace Elektra. Roland put me in charge of casting, and I’d like you to play the part.”
“Me?” Rebecca looked like she might start panic-running at any moment.
“Yes, you. I think you can do the part, but you need some work. The plan is, if you agree, for filming to go on, skipping any scenes with Elektra. You and I will work together to get you ready. In a week or ten days, you’ll be ready, and Roland will shoot your scenes.”
“But Elektra is a big part in the Bloodlust films.” Rebecca swallowed. “I’m just an extra.”
Valerie shook her head. “No, you’re an actress. Maybe a little rough around the edges still, but you have what it takes. Remember though, we’re just talking about Destiny right now. We’ll deal with Bloodlust later.”
“I know, but I don’t know what to say.” She took a couple of deep breaths. “This part is a big deal.”
“It’s a very big deal. The actress who lands Elektra and the studio stand to make a lot of money from the Bloodlust series. And the exposure will open other doors, too.”
“After what I did, you and RW are willing to make this offer to me for Destiny?”
“What you did was a mistake, and you know that as well as we do. It’s also in the past. What matters is right here and right now.” She smiled. “All you need to say is yes.”
Rebecca’s smile threatened to meet at the back of her head. “Is RW Mormon? Maybe he needs two women.”
Valerie laughed. “Not a chance.”
“Well, in that case, yes, I’ll do it.”

Valerie spent every morning working with the cast, teaching them little tricks to give a better performance. He could tell the difference, too. The scenes went in the can like clockwork, and the number of takes fell like a falcon.
Every afternoon, she spent several hours working with Rebecca. Roland watched a few of the films of them working, and Valerie was right. Rebecca evolved into a great Elektra.
The workmen would finish Valerie’s office tomorrow, and the furniture would come in on Friday. Her new office had a door to the hall as well as a door into his office. It would be great having her so close all the time.
He leaned back in the director’s chair and noticed his left eye didn’t throb now. He thought he might be almost redundant in the studio. He knew that wasn’t true. He could focus on directing now, on getting the film as good as it could be, instead of teaching people how to act. Valerie was much better at that than him anyway.
Betty delivered the last line of the scene, and Roland smiled. “Cut! Print that one, please.”
Jim smiled down from the camera. “You got it.”
Knowing he had a great Elektra coming soon, Jim also seemed more relaxed.
He stood and applauded for Betty and Bob with the rest of the cast and crew.

Valerie watched Roland at the small impromptu party after the wrap. He seemed, as always, relaxed and at ease with everyone. Being comfortable in front of people, or a camera, was a learned skill. She thought that Roland must have learned that skill in his years of working with people.
That gave her pause. She thought about how well Maria, Cathy, and George knew him. Even Sister Margaret knew Roland better than she.
She knew enough to understand that Roland had his own ways of doing things. Like everyone, to some degree, he was a creature of habit. And his habit for the last twenty years was developed around a single life.
Valerie couldn’t help but wonder how being a couple would impact him and his lifestyle.

Valerie lay back in the seat with her eyes closed, looking totally relaxed. She smiled a little.
He touched her hand. “Are you asleep?”
The smile broadened. “No, I’m just thinking.”
“Are you tired?”
“A little, but not too much.”
“You can take a nap.” He glanced out the window at the traffic. “We’re going to be a while getting home.”
“That’s OK.” Her eyes opened, and she looked at him. The web slipped around him once more. She smiled softly. “I’ve been so busy today, have I told you I love you?”
“Maybe a couple of times.”
“I plan to tell you that a lot.”
“I like that plan.”
“Me too. That’s the only plan I plan to make.”
“I think there might be a grammar problem in that sentence.”
She shrugged. “So what?”
He laughed, but couldn’t pull his eyes from hers. He stared at her for a moment. “My God, you’re so very pretty.”
“I remember the first time you told me that.”
“So do I. And you just keep getting prettier every day.”
“Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.”
She stretched a little. “We either need to stay home more, move something to get this ride shorter, or make George get that pilot’s license.”
“Amen to that. Once Destiny is done, we can probably get by just coming to the studio a couple of times a week. Most of the stuff we can do with telecommuting. You could even do interviews and auditions at the house.” He thought for a moment. “There’s enough room we could have a small studio built.”
“That would be great.” She frowned. “This is just reacting to my situation, but if I needed to drive all the way up there, I would have never been able to come to the casting call.”
“Maybe we can get a bus to bring everyone up from the studio. Build a little bunkhouse for them to stay overnight or something.”
She laughed. “Is it an audition or a campout?”
“Maybe both.” He thought again. “During the week, we could probably use the children’s camp to put them up.”
“Now you’re talking. Build the sisters a nice new bunkhouse we can use during the week and they can use on weekends.”
“Right. It would take some logistics, but it would work.” He smiled. “That’s a good idea. No wonder you’re an executive.”
Valerie laughed. “Right.”
He looked at her outfit for a moment. “I know you’re trying to look the executive part and all, but I don’t care for that suit.” He admitted the pants and long jacket looked very professional.
She looked down at her clothes. “Why?”
“It hides your shape and your legs.”
“Oh.” She stared at herself for a moment. “I think the jacket might make a nice dress.” She wiggled around and slipped the pants from her legs. “How’s that?”
He swallowed. “You have phenomenal legs.”
She lifted her left leg so high in the air her toes touched the roof of the car. “You think so?” She ran her hands over her leg from ankle to thigh.
He fought the urge to mimic the motion with his tongue. “Yeah, I do.”
She lifted her right leg to hold it beside the left, balancing on her hips in the seat. “I guess they’re not too bad.” She swiveled her hips and dropped her legs across his lap.
He swallowed again as his eyes drifted over her legs. “You should stop doing that while we’re in the car. I don’t want to embarrass you.”
She smiled. “I’m just living for the moment. At this moment, you can do anything you like except take off or move my panties.”
“Just what I said. Anything you can imagine, as long as my panties stay on.”
“What if I take off the rest of your clothes?”
“That’s fine. Just leave my panties on.”
“Do I have to push them aside?”
“No. You can’t move them in any way. You have to go through them.”
He shivered. “Damn it.”
“And you have to tell me exactly what you’re going to do before you do it.”
“If I do that, I may not need to do anything.”
She pouted, and his total attention locked on her mouth. “You’d leave me all revved up with no place to go?”
“And one more rule. I won’t touch your cock with my hands.”
“What about other parts of your body?”
The seductive smile spread over her face. “If you want to rub your cock against my face, that’s OK.”
“If you keep talking like that…” He caught his breath. “You’re making me wild.”
She smiled. “So, what are you going to do to me? Tell me everything, because if you don’t tell me now, you can’t do it.”
He needed to think this through carefully. With her legs across his lap and the way she talked, he couldn’t think very well at all. “I want to lick your pussy while I chew a hole through your panties so I can fuck you.”
“That sounds nice.” She pursed her lips. “Do you plan to fuck my pussy or my ass?”
The little circuit breaker God mounted in the back of his head to feed power to his brain tripped. His face went slack, and his mouth swung open. Knowing he did it didn’t mean he could do anything about it, though. He tried to pull himself back to reality. “You’re acting, well, different.”
She smiled. “Don’t worry about that. Are you going to answer me?”
With his brain without power, he didn’t have a clue what she talked about. “What?”
“Are you going to fuck my ass or my pussy?” The blue eyes sparkled, throwing passionate fire at him. “Maybe both?”
“I’m not sure I could handle both right now.”
“Pick one, then.”
“Um, your pussy.”
She glanced out the window of the car for a moment. “Well, you should get started, then. We only have maybe fifty minutes before we get home.”
She leaned forward and slipped the jacket from her shoulders. After removing the white blouse, she shrugged out of her bra. Leaning back against the driver’s side of the car, she lifted her right leg to the back of the seat and put her left foot on the floor. Her legs spread wide, and he saw the light pink material of her panties pulled tight across the lips of her pussy. The closely cropped patch of hair, blonde again since the stylist finished her work on Monday, looked delicious through the thin membrane.
She smiled the seductive smile. “I’m all yours.”
His mind fogged, or maybe, he thought, the circuit breaker kicked in again and sent him into overload. He almost jumped as he dove face-first into her pussy. He lapped at the silky material of her panties, and tasted the sweet flavor of her wetness. She smelled fresh and sweet, like jasmine, and the slick feel of her juices dazzled his tongue.
His hands, of their own volition, clawed at her panties, and she pulled his head away from her using his hair for a grip. “No, honey. You can’t move my panties.”
He sighed, but she let him lick her again. He bit at the material, but found it tougher than he expected. Alternating between licks and bites, her wetness spread over his face.
The flood of her into his senses made him crazy. The sweet, fresh scent of her cunt, and the amazing flavor of her juices as they flowed through her panties to his mouth both made his body burn for her. The softness of her tan skin as he ran his hands over her legs and hips made him shiver with the heat of the touch. The sight of her reclined, waiting for him, flamed in his mind’s eye, despite having his face pressed to her pussy.
Her words drove him hardest, though. He could still hear them echoed in his ears between the slamming of his pulse. The easy and confident way she offered herself to him, the way she inflected her words, all made him want her more than even life itself.
He had to have her. He knew he couldn’t stop now, even if he wanted to. If she asked him to stop, he’d try. Short of jumping from the moving car, he didn’t know how else he could stop.
He licked at the edges of her panties, and they moved slightly. Driven by his want to plunge his tongue deep into her pussy, he tried to lift the edge of the silky underwear with his tongue.
Valerie again pulled his hair. “No, no. Eat my pussy through my panties.”
He pressed his mouth to her pussy again, and the hard knob of her clit presented itself to his tongue through the material. He sucked as hard as he could, the material letting the suction leak away with the air. She twitched.
His head did funny things through the flaming desire gripping him. Strange thoughts flowed through his mind, much like Dorothy when the twister lifted her high in the air on the way to Oz.
With her hard clit between his lips, he remembered the big pencils he used way back in grade school. He recalled sitting at his desk, puzzling over how to make a cursive Q, and biting the big pink eraser on the end of the pencil.
As his hands reached up to squeeze her firm breasts, other images from his childhood hit him. He remembered a restaurant chain along the old highways. He couldn’t recall the name of the place, but they dotted the highways across the plains and Midwest. Their logo was a beehive, a huge conical shape with a large knob on the very top.
The flowing wetness from her pussy brought the image of a waterfall to his mind. Someplace in Washington, or maybe Oregon, he remembered standing with his parents watching the water rushing relentlessly down the side of the mountain to explode into mist on the rocks at the bottom.
Her hands rested on his head, the hair wrapped around her fingers, but he didn’t care. He grabbed the soaked material of her panties in his teeth and whipped his head to the side. The material stretched, then ripped with a wet, tearing sound.
Valerie chuckled softly. “I’ll let you have that one.”
He shoved his tongue through the rip, and her cunt slid around him. His mind swam with the flavor and smell of her wetness, and he threw his head back to howl like one of Elektra’s creatures of the night.
His cock throbbed hard in his pants, straining for release. He longed to bury his cock in her cunt and suck her clit at the same time. He moved as he lapped at her, and his dick rubbed against the seat through his pants. He licked faster, and his motions increased in tempo.
He could no more stop his climax than he could stop fucking her with his tongue. Roland’s hips thrust against the seat, and the warmth of his cum spread through his groin, hot against his skin.
As he jerked and moaned, Valerie ran her fingers over his head. “That’s it, honey. Come for me.”
His mind filled with white light as she spoke. Her voice filled his ears, drowning out even the hammering thunder of his heart. The sweat ran from him like water, making his body clammy, like when his fever was so high. Where his skin touched hers, it burned like fire, and he wanted the fire to consume him.
Through the blinding light in his eyes, he saw her face. Sweet, loving, and passionate, she smiled at him, and her voice filled his ears. “Yes, Roland.”
A huge spasm shook his body, and he collapsed on the seat, his face resting against her soaked pussy. The short hair on the tiny triangle she left when she waxed tickled his lips through the gapping hole in her panties. The sweet aroma flooded his nose.
His breath blew rapidly through his chest, and he gulped for air.
His mind, what little still worked right now, flashed to her. With her legs spread wide and resting one of them on the back of the seat, he knew she couldn’t be comfortable. His head on her pelvis as deadweight probably didn’t help matters. He tried to move, but his arms shook like rubber bands, and he fell back onto her.
The soft hands stroked his hair a few times. “Just stay there for a while.”
He managed a nod, but couldn’t speak.

Roland smiled as Rebecca and Betty neared the end of the scene. Their abilities on the stage now made them both seem like different women than when shooting started four weeks ago. All of the actors were better, far better, since Valerie worked with them.

She sat next to him with Sammy sleeping in her lap. She smiled as the scene wound down. Roland thought she had reason to smile. When he boiled away everything else, Valerie made the movie infinitely better.
Rebecca delivered the closing line, and then looked at the camera. Her green cat-eyes almost glowed, and her lips slowly parted to reveal dagger-like teeth, white and gleaming. She held the pose.
A smile spread over his face. “Cut! Print it.” He glanced at the computer beside him, and all the scenes had a green highlight bar across them. “And that, children, is a wrap.”
The cast and crew erupted in cheers and applause.
He turned to face Valerie. “Thanks to you.”
She smiled. “I’m just doing my part as a member of the team.”

Chapter 20

He fidgeted at his desk and he knew it. He just couldn’t stop. He originally thought of Destiny as a prequel to Bloodlust, but he knew now it represented much more. If Destiny flopped, he might as well toss Bloodlust in the dumpster, along with the $35 million he paid for the eighteen books.
And today would tell the tale. It took three and half weeks for the editing of Destiny, but now it was ready.
In an hour, he and the management team, along with the marketing folks, would sit down and watch Destiny from start to finish. In 157 minutes he would know if he fucked up or not.
Valerie learned her pout turned him on like a light bulb. She would come to his office at home, usually about 1:30 in the morning, and ask him to come to bed. When he fussed about all the things he needed to do, she would pull his chair from the desk and sit on his lap. Then she pouted.
What else could he do? He carried her to bed, but that didn’t mean they went to sleep right away.
He heard her office door open. “Hi, honey! I’m home! Hungry?”
He laughed. “Yeah. I’ve been waiting for you.”
She walked into his office carrying a pizza box. “It’s not Cathy’s, but it’s not bad.”
They tore slices from the big wheel of pizza. “That’s good. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” She hesitated. “Are you ready for the screening?”
“I think so. I’m nervous as a caged cat, though.” Sammy glared at him from his perch on the corner of the desk. “Sorry.”
“You shouldn’t be nervous. It’s great.”
“We’ll see what everyone thinks. Then the critics get it, and we wait for what they say. Then the real test starts, and we get the audience reaction.”
She smiled. “Listen to me. It’s great. I’m always right.”

As the film started, she took Roland’s hand in hers. The lights in the theater were a little brighter than she liked, but most of the people in the room used either pads or computers to take notes.
She smiled as the credits rolled by telling her this was a Roland Westwood production. She squeezed his hand when the flowing and fading lettering said Roland Westwood directed it.
She was surprised to see the credit for casting by Valerie Setera.
He smiled at her. “I couldn’t resist.”
Roland shot the opening scene from Elektra’s point of view as she chased her prey through the woods. The audience didn’t see Elektra or have a hint of what she was. They saw only the bloody death of her prey in Central Park. Jim’s work with the steady-cam rivaled anything she’d ever seen in a film.
She heard very little talking as the film ran. She did hear a few gasps at the more frightening parts. She also heard sighs for the romantic scenes.
Like most other people she knew, Valerie never paid much attention to the closing credits, but no one moved from their seats as they ran. When the little flickers of numbers and other things written on the trailer flashed on the screen, the lights came up.
Roland stood from his seat in the front row and faced the small crowd. “Any first reactions?”
Ed Riker cleared his throat. “I think you have a hit here.”
“Thanks. Anyone else?”
Jim laughed. “I told you we needed that camera.”
“And you were right, too.”
Ed stretched in his seat for a moment. “RW, with a little editing, I think you could get this down to a TV-MA rating and run it on one of the adult cable channels. Maybe do an unrated version for them.”
“You may be right, but for starters, I think we should stay true to the past and stick with NC-17.”
“I can see that working, too.” Ed chewed on his pen. “Yeah. We run it as NC-17 for a year, maybe eighteen months, then edit it down for TV.”
“That’s what I’m thinking.”
“We can sell this.” He smiled. “Like hotcakes.”
“I like to hear that.” Roland smiled. “Anyone else have any bad comments? Anything we need to fix?”
Everyone shook their heads.
“Good deal, then. Let’s get this on disk and get the copies to the critics as fast as we can.” He sighed. “Send a copy to the Times, too.”
Shelia nodded as she wrote on her pad. “You’ve got it. How many copies in the first run?”
Roland frowned. “Ed?”
“Better make it a hundred thousand.”
Shelia frowned. “I think we can get a killer deal on a quarter of a million. We can probably get the extra hundred and fifty thousand for less than we pay for the first hundred thousand.”
Roland nodded. “They don’t take up much room, so let’s go that way if the price is right.”
Shelia nodded. “I’m on it.”
Roland smiled, and she saw him relax. “Anything else?”
Jim laughed. “When do we start casting Bloodlust one?”
“Don’t ask me.” Roland winked at Valerie. “That’s Valerie’s job.”

She smiled as she walked to her office. Valerie held today’s edition of the Times and wondered if Roland had seen the review yet. She doubted it. He rarely read the Times and never read reviews. He thought film critics were idiots.
She agreed. Most entertainment critics were idiots, but people sometimes listened to them. She frowned about that. Why did people listen to the critics at all?
Roland said he didn’t sell movies to reviewers. He gave them the films. He didn’t care if they liked them or not. He went as far as to say a bad review actually sold more movies. Some people would buy the film just to see why the reviewer hated it so much.
He looked up from his desk as she walked into his office. “Hi, beautiful.”
“Hi, yourself.” She smiled. “Have you seen the Times yet?”
“You know I don’t read that trash.”
“You should read it today.” She dropped the paper on his desk and stood behind him, her hands on his shoulders, as he read the film review page.

Midnight Interludes Studios
Produced and Directed by Roland Westwood
Screenplay by Jack Ortega and Ralph Kramer
Cinematography by Jim Alba
Casting by Valerie Setera
Rated NC-17 for explicit sex and graphic violence
97 Minutes

First, this film is not for the faint of heart. Don’t get the idea this film is not sexually explicit. It has a NC-17 rating for good reason!
More important, ‘Destiny’ is not pornography. I’ve seen the porn offered up by some of the studios in town, and it makes me sick. Not only do they degrade women, they degrade men just as much. If you read my reviews with any regularity, you know I’m not politically correct. If this is your first time, well, now you know. Get over it.
On the technical side, this film is well done. The camera work, the special effects, and the costumes are as good as any I’ve seen. Okay, we don’t have the half billion dollar supercomputer generated graphics ILM gives us, but everything is good.
The acting is superb. The actors aren’t the ones I expect in NC-17 movies. The characters are complex. The story requires more than moaning and groaning. Many of the scenes would give top stars trouble, and yet the performers and Westwood get it all right. Newcomer Rebecca Demeter shines as Elektra. MI veterans Betty Jacobs and Bob Dawson seem on fire. The supporting cast is just as strong.
Then there’s the story…I won’t tell you too much, but the plot is full of twists and turns. As I watched, I figured this film out. Seventeen times. When I look back, the story gave me all the clues I needed to solve the mystery, but Westwood and the writers kept things hidden so well in distractions, I kept changing my mind. In the end, I was way off base.
In short, ‘Destiny’ is a love story. Yes, it involves a good measure of horror, mystery, and action, but the core plot is a love story. Don’t run away, guys! There’s a lot for you! Unlike the standard offerings from the majors, this love story leaves the bedroom door open. Like I said, this film is sexually explicit.
Then, there’s the sex. I almost didn’t watch this film thinking it’s just another skin flick. I’m glad I decided to watch anyway. Midnight Interludes calls their films ‘erotic romance’ movies. Some of the industry magazines call it ‘porn for women’. Okay, there’s explicit sex of just about any kind you can imagine. And a few you can’t. But there’s also emotion. As I watched, I could feel the passion and love, not simply lust and sex for the sake of sex. My wife even liked it!
There is a downside to this, though. I spoke to Ed Riker, the Marketing Director at Midnight Interludes. ‘Destiny’ will not be in theaters because of the NC-17 rating any time soon. It is available only on DVD by mail or through your local adult book or movie store.
In a way, not showing in theaters is a good thing. If a couple curls up on the sofa to watch ‘Destiny’, they don’t have to worry about missing things when they are, well, distracted. I think a good number of copies will end up in the therapeutic collections of marriage and sex therapists. But I digress…
This film is worth watching and I think men and women will enjoy it equally.
I give ‘Destiny’ four and half stars.

Geoff Tidwell

“Well, then.”
“You got four and half out of five stars!” She hugged his neck. “Is that all you can say?”
“No, that’s great. Now if the people just believe it.”
She spun his chair from the desk and sat in his lap. She pouted. “But that part is out of your hands now.”
“It surely is.” He sighed. “You know what it does to me when you pout.”
She smiled. “I know exactly what it does to you.”
“I was afraid of that.”

Roland watched Valerie. She slept in the car seat beside him, leaning against his shoulder, and he put his arm around her.
He smiled as he thought about the Times review. Ed told him more than thirty big newspapers around the country picked up Tidwell’s column. The exposure was worth the weight of the daily run of newspapers in gold.
The traffic was light for a Friday, and George made good time. They’d be home in forty-five minutes or so, maybe early enough to take a dip in the pool before dinner.
He and Valerie planned to go to the studio Monday, but stay home the rest of the week just relaxing and unwinding from the shoot.
She stirred and opened her eyes. “Sorry. How long did I sleep?”
“Maybe half an hour.” He kissed her hair. “Feel better?”
“Actually, I do.”
“Good. We’re maybe forty or so minutes away. Go back to sleep if you like.”
“No, I’m OK now.” She stretched a little. “I could even stay awake for a movie tonight.”
“You sleep too much.”
“I can’t go for days and weeks with only four hours a night like you can.”
“I’ve always been that way. Give me four or five hours of sleep, and I’m good to go.”
She nudged his shoulder. “You need less sleep as you get older.”
“See how you are.”
“But I like what you do when you’re awake.” The seductive smile stared up at him from her face.
He laughed. “I thought of something the other day.”
Valerie wiggled in the seat to sit up straighter. “What’s that?”
“We don’t have to have sex.”
“We can be celibate. The things I feel for you have nothing to do with sex.” He managed to keep his face straight.
“Um, no, and the way I feel for you isn’t about sex.” Valerie frowned.
“If you don’t want to have sex, we can do that.”
She sat quietly for a moment. “Are you out of your mind?”
He almost giggled. “Maybe.”
“I think so.” Her mouth moved without sound a few times. “I like making love to you.”
“Oh, I love it, too, but there are many ways to make love, many not involving sex.”
She huffed. “Name one.”
“Well, just cuddling and talking.”
“Every time we cuddle and talk, we end up naked.”
“I know, but we don’t have to.” Her face looked someplace between panic and anger.
She took a deep breath. “If you want to try that for some crazy reason, we can talk about it. I don’t like the idea.”
He smiled. Maybe he yanked her chain long enough. “I think I’d end up jumping you in the office in a matter of an hour or two, so it wouldn’t work anyway.”
“Are you messing with my mind?”
“Maybe a little.”
She punched his arm. “I can never tell when you’re serious!”
“Remember when I told you I’ll never turn down a kiss from you?”
“I’ll never turn down touching you in any way I can.”

She tried to get her heart to slow down a little from his teasing about not having sex.
Valerie smiled to herself as she thought about his sense of humor. He could always make her laugh, and she couldn’t tell when Roland told a joke until he hit the punch line. She could never tell when he teased her until he lost it and laughed.
She wondered how many people were in relationships where they didn’t, or couldn’t, make each other laugh. She couldn’t remember her mother ever laughing at something her father did or said.
She smiled at him. “Don’t tease me about that again. That’s scary.”
“Sorry about that, but the look on your face was priceless.”
“I’ll bet!”
“Like I said, I couldn’t do it.”
“Are you saying you can’t keep your hands off me?”
“Or any other part of my anatomy.”
He stared into her eyes for a split second. Roland grabbed her shoulders and pulled her to him, his mouth pressing to hers. His tongue, hot and wet, played over her lips before plunging deep into her mouth. She gasped, but his hands held her against him.
His hands, hot through the material of her blouse, tried to work the buttons. He eased the blouse from her shoulders, and pulled his face from hers. He watched his hands as he unfastened her bra and pushed it back.
Roland stared at her as his hands ran over her shoulders and caressed her breasts. Her pulse raced as she watched his eyes. She saw his gaze move from her face, down her neck, over her shoulders, and then to her breasts. The look of fascination on his face made a warm flow of desire wash across her body.
She took a breath and smiled at him. “I thought you didn’t want to do this anymore.”
He gulped at the air. “Fuck that.”
He pushed her back onto the seat, the leather feeling soft and supple against her skin. He fumbled with his pants for a moment, and his cock sprang out, hard and long. Roland pushed the short skirt she wore up to her hips, and he leaned to her.
His dick eased the panties to the side, and he slipped inside her. As he thrust into her again and again, a soft, wet smacking sound came from her pussy.
Roland pressed his lips to hers with urgency, his mouth rolling from side to side as his tongue danced in her mouth.
She tried for a short time a couple of weeks back to get him to change to a more modern cologne. Roland wore an old brand with a spicy, sweet smell. It has a nice smell, but she wondered if something a little newer might fit him better. Now, she knew why she gave up so easily.
The spicy taste of the cologne on his skin seemed to mix with the flavors the chemistry lab of his body created. The blend carried the spicy overtones, but his own unique pheromones in the mix gave it a musky taste that screamed his name directly into her mind. She knew she could recognize him in total darkness by his taste or smell.
His thrusting moved her hips against the leather seat, and the motion made a gentle squeaking noise. With each thrust, his cock pressed hard against the back of her pussy, sending chills through her.
Roland pulled his lips from hers and looked down into her eyes. The passion and desire she saw there was tempered with caring. “I love you.”
She sighed. What is it about those three words? Other men told her they loved her before. A few, anyway. None impacted her in the ways Roland did, though. He didn’t need to do anything other than say the words and she melted. His touch and his look, the delectable taste and smell of his body, and all the other things he did for her just iced the cake. The simple words he spoke did all the magic.
“I love you, Roland.”
As he stared down into her eyes, his thrusting increased in tempo. Drops of perspiration fell from his nose and chin to splash against her face, and she licked her lips as they flowed, tasting the salty spiciness of him.
The look on his face drove her as hard as the stroking of his cock in her, and her orgasm moved slowly, more like the tide than a wave, and washed over her. She quivered and shook as the soft fist of her climax squeezed her body, forcing the air from her lungs and leaving her gasping for breath.
The moans coming from Roland’s lips interspersed with the thundering of her heart in her ears. His head rolled back and he thrust hard into her.
The sudden motion of his cock’s deep penetration made her climax change, and it hit her hard. She screamed and pulled his hips hard against hers with her legs. As Roland bucked against her, the hot flow of his cum coursed in her pussy, and he screamed her name as he shook.
They bounced together in the seat, straining for even just a fraction of an inch deeper entry. As his cock trembled and pulsed in her, he eased himself to her chest. Valerie put her arms around his shoulders and kissed his neck. The sweat poured from his head and body, and she relished in the spicy flavor.
His breathing slowed a little, and he chuckled. “We need a wider car seat so I can lay next to you.”
“Or we need more self-control so we can wait until we get home.”
He shook his head. “I can barely wait while we’re at the office.”
“I know that feeling.”
He struggled to get his footing. “Let me get off of you so you can breath.” He helped her sit up.
She looked around on the floor. “Where’s my bra?”
“I don’t know.” He grinned. “George will find it.”
“Oh, no! We’re not leaving this car until we find it!”

He didn’t have anything planned in the office Monday, but he and Valerie agreed they should go in for a few hours just to get things settled. They would, after all, be gone for a week.
Roland smiled as he read through the clips of the reviews for Destiny Ed left on his desk. The biggest complaint of the critics is that the film only ran ninety-seven minutes. They all wanted it longer. He wondered if enough film hit the editing room floor to stretch it a little.
He liked Destiny the way it was, though. Always leave them wanting more.
Valerie called to him through the open door between their offices. “Jim is making me crazy! He wants to cast Bloodlust today!”
“He’ll just have to wait. Jack and Ralph won’t have the screenplay done for a few weeks.”
“I know that.” She walked into his office. The plaid pattern of the short pleated skirt she wore flickered with the snapping motion of her hips, and he stared. “I guess you won’t let me kill him.”
He managed to pull his eyes from her legs to her face. Her legs looked amazing with the red and blue tartan at the top and the white socks and black patent leather shoes at the bottom. “That’s up to you, but if you kill Jim, then I have to direct again.”
She frowned as she flipped her hair. It grew out a little over the last month, but not so much she needed to flip it over her shoulder. Old habits die hard. “That’s right. He can live.” She sat down and crossed her legs. The skirt rode high on her thighs.
He managed to look away after a moment. “Good. Are you getting things ready to take off for a while?”
“I think so.” She bit her lip. He’d rather do that for her. “Betty and Shelia are going to get the casting call releases ready so I can review them when we come back.”
“Great. Did you and Jim reach a decision about Elektra?”
“Yes, but no surprise. Rebecca will do Elektra, if she’ll take the contract.”
“I can’t see why she won’t. Eighteen films over the next thirty months. And the up front money is good.”
Valerie laughed. “At $450 thousand cash money, I should say so.”
He smiled. That would be a big check to sign. Maybe he’d make Valerie sign that one. “Do you think she’ll commit to the entire series?”
“I think so. That’s a long time and a lot of films to commit to, though.”
“It is, but I want to see the same person do Elektra for all the films.”
“Right.” She paused for a moment, biting her lip again. He really wished she’d stop that. It made him sweat. “How about if I offer her a little incentive?”
“Like what?”
“We both know if she won’t do all eighteen films, we’ll find someone who will. Instead of offering her $25 thousand per film, I’d like to offer her $540 thousand for the entire run. We could give her $18 thousand a month for the next thirty months, plus the standard royalty.”
“You said you aren’t any good with math.”
“Well, I did sort of figure this out ahead of time.”
“I see.” He laughed. “That’s a lot of money.”
She nodded. “It is, but by paying her monthly, if she flakes out, we’re OK. That gives her an incentive to do the entire series, though.”
He nodded. It did make sense. The IT guy said the hits and orders on the web site for Destiny looked better than anything in the past. Almost fifty thousand disks already shipped to stores and wholesalers. “Let’s do that, then.” He paused. “When we get back and settled, how would you feel about taking care of the payroll for the actors?”
She giggled. “I’m not an accountant, and I can’t even balance my own checkbook.”
“No, you set the salaries and sign the checks.”
“I guess I can do that, if it’s OK with you.”
“It’s more than OK. That lets me focus on the other stuff even more.”
“Works for me, then.” She swung her leg in the air as she sat, and he watched the foot making tiny arcs. “Are you listening to me, or just watching my legs?”
“Both. I hear every word you’re saying.”
“Just not understanding them, right?”
When he looked up at her face, he smiled. “I really am listening.”
“I know. I’m just teasing you.”

Chapter 21
“Anchor’s Aweigh”

They decided to sleep in late Wednesday, so they stayed up until after 3:00 in the morning watching old movies and making out on the couch. It was noon, and Maria just brought brunch to their room.
“Roland, there’s something I’ve wondered about for the last few weeks.”
He chewed at a piece of toast. “What’s that?”
She didn’t know how he might react. He really did see Maria, George, and Cathy as family. “Don’t you think it’s about time for Cathy to retire?”
He shrugged. “It was time for her to retire five or six years ago.”
“She just turned seventy.” She paused, watching his face for any signs of him being upset. “How many years can she have left? Wouldn’t it better for her to relax and enjoy herself?”
He nodded. “I agree, but I had this talk with her first about eight years ago, right after we moved up here. And I’ve had it every year since then, too. She doesn’t want to retire. She claims if she does, she’ll be dead in a month.”
She decided to ask. “What about Maria and George?”
“Well, Maria is just a little older than I am. She’ll be fifty this year. And George is only forty-five.”
“What if you decide to move?”
“They go with me.”
“I had the impression you’re looking for a smaller place.”
“Not a smaller place, a smaller house. I like all the space around me.”
“But with a smaller house, will you need a housekeeper and a cook? I can see why you’ll need George.”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, but even if I don’t, I need them. I’d keep them all around even if I lived in a one bedroom apartment.”
“Sister Margaret is right.”
“How’s that?”
“You are trying for sainthood.”
“Maybe I am. I just know I need them all around.” He squeezed her hand. “Almost as much as I need you.”
She smiled. “That makes me feel good.”
“I’m glad.” He pushed his plate away and stretched a little. “I really need this time off.”
“I know. The stress on you started to worry me a little.”
He laughed a little. “This is going to sound bad, I think, but I like that you worry about me.”
“It doesn’t sound bad. Why?”
“No one ever did that before.”
She shook her head, remembering the day the strep throat made him so sick. “You’re wrong. Maria, Cathy, and George all worry about you.”
“It’s not the same.”
“That I’ll accept.”
He paused for a long time. Roland stared out of their window at the trees. His window faced to the east, and the heat shimmered out over the distant desert. “Valerie, where do we go from here?”
He spent a lot of time the past few weeks talking about moving. “I think you’re right. Someplace with a lot of green.”
“No, I mean you and me.” He sighed. “I’m crazy in love with you. I believe you feel the same way about me, too. What happens now?”
She hesitated a moment. Was he looking for a way out? Did he realize that he liked his single life and being half of a couple would cramp that lifestyle? She decided to try playing it safe. “I guess we just live it one day at time, and let things take us where they may.”
He nodded slowly. “Yeah.” He turned to face her. “I think I like that idea.”

Between movies, Roland left her on the couch as he excused himself. They still had tonight and three more days before they planned to go back to the office on Monday. He even suggested they might take a few more days.
He seemed so relaxed now. He didn’t sit in his office at night, he never called the studio, and they only called him rarely. She wondered if maybe the discussion about Cathy retiring should have focused on him retiring.
He came back into the room and sat down beside her. She smiled. “Hi, honey. You’re home.”
“I guess I am.” He seemed to avoid her eyes.
She decided to let it pass. Something just distracted him for a moment. “What are you going to show me next?”
“Actually, there’s something I need to talk to you about.”
“What’s that?”
Roland hesitated a long time before he spoke. “I guess I’ve thought about this all day. I mean I’ve thought about how to say this to you all day. I’ve thought about what to say for a lot longer.”
She frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“You know I love you. Do you really understand that?”
Her heart almost stopped. She could see the ‘but Valerie’ coming someplace in this discussion. She swallowed hard. “Yes, I do.”
He nodded. “That’s good.” He paused again. “I guess I’ve really screwed things up. I tried to plan this instead of just letting it happen, and now I can’t remember my plans. I’m not sure what to do next.”
She wouldn’t cry. “Why don’t you just tell me?” She would not let herself cry.
He nodded. “I don’t think I have any other choice. I need to say this.” He took her hand in his. She imagined he found it as cold and limp as the rest of her body felt at that moment. “I care so much about you, but Valerie—”
She wasn’t going to cry.
“I want more than what we have.” He squeezed her hand. “Maybe it’s greedy, but I can’t help that.”
She just couldn’t let herself cry. It’s probably Betty, the little bitch. She gritted her teeth.
“Will you marry me?”
She absolutely would not—
“I want to marry you.”
Her brain tried to dissociate into the two equally crazy parts again. Her body refused to just roll over and play dead this time, though. She grabbed the parts of her brain and threw them back into her head where they belonged.
She took a deep breath, as deep as she could against the rising speed of her panting. She swallowed. “This is really it, isn’t it?”
Her heart wasn’t working so well yet. Having almost stopped, it now ran like a ’62 Plymouth only hitting on three cylinders. She could almost smell the burning oil as the misfiring engine blew puffs of blue smoke from her ears.
Roland smiled just a little. “I guess it is. Is that a yes or a no?”
Valerie concentrated on breathing. In through her mouth and out through her nose was the right way. Or it’s at least close. It didn’t help too much.
Roland sat with that patient look on his face again.
The analyst spoke up in her head. This despite the fact her body chained it to the manic. It pointed out that Roland waited for an answer, and the polite thing to do would be to answer him.
When she spoke, a weak squeaking sound was all she could make. All of the moisture in her mouth went someplace, and she couldn’t find it. She picked up her wine glass, and the shaking in her hands almost sloshed the red liquid from the glass. Roland watched her as she sipped. Better.
She swallowed. Maybe if she said something funny, that would calm her down. That’s the ticket. Say something funny.
“Of course I’ll marry you!”
He threw his arms around her neck and kissed her hard. With his lips pressed to hers, the shakes faded a little. He hugged her as he slipped his mouth from hers and kissed her hair. He whispered. “Thank you.”
It might be OK to cry just a little. The tears ran down her face and around the smile to his chest where his shirt soaked them up. “Thank you.”
Roland held her out at arm’s length for a moment, smiling into her eyes. “I have something for you.” He dug in his pocket for a moment. He held a small cardboard box in his hands. It must have been a sort of silver-blue many years ago. Now the once shiny surface looked worn, with a gray hue, and the brown paper showed in places around the edges.
When he looked up, she thought he held his tears only marginally in check. “This was my mother’s. My dad gave it to her in 1956, in this very box.” He held the box out to her. “Now it’s yours.”
As she stared at the box, the memories of all the treasures Roland shared with her ran through her mind. His cars, the point, his love of ice cream, the horses, his passion for the children’s camp, and, most of all, his stars. He shared them all with her, and no one else.
Now, he held out to her for the taking something very special to him. Maybe even more special than his stars.
She took the box in her hand, and the shakes returned in earnest. When she slipped the top off, the box held a simple ring. A single diamond, small by LA standards, rested in an understated solitary mount. Far from things she might find at Tiffany’s, the satisfying simplicity of the ring held a special attraction. Eight tiny prongs held the stone in place, and the gold of the narrow band looked fuzzy from the scratches covering its worn surface.
The ring was the most remarkable and beautiful thing she’d ever seen.
Roland slipped the ring from the worn velvet lining of the box and held it between his fingers. “May I?”
When she extended her left hand to him, her hand wavered in the air until he held it gently.
He smiled as he slipped the ring on her finger. “Valerie, I love you.”
She smiled at him for a moment before looking down at the ring on her finger. It caught the flickering light from the burning logs in the fireplace, and threw dancing flashes of rainbow light in every direction.
“I love you, too, Roland.”

Ronnie and Cathy fussed with her dress while Maria stood to the side and cried.
Valerie swallowed. All the little tricks to get beyond stage fright and nerves didn’t help her at all.
She peeked out of the dressing tent a few minutes ago, and that was a mistake. They sent out 235 invitations. They got back 194 positive RSVP cards. The caterer counted 302 people for dinner and drinks. It looked like a million people sat on the point waiting for her to appear.
“I’m going to barf on him.”
Cathy laughed. “No, you ain’t.”
She swallowed again. “Yes, I am.”
Cathy went to her purse and pulled out a small flask. She unscrewed the top and held it out to her. “Here, take a swig of this. Just a tad, now.”
Valerie tipped the flask to her lips. Maybe just a sip might calm her nerves. When the liquid touched her tongue, it burned like fire. A few drops ran down her throat and scorched all the way to her stomach, where they hit like bombs.
She coughed. “What the hell is that?”
“Just a little white lightning.” Cathy smiled. “I cook up a batch in the kitchen now and again.”
At least the burning made her forget about her nerves. “Do you think he’s this nervous?”
“I think that’s a safe bet, Val.” Ronnie looked happy with the train now. “Maybe more.”
Her mind ran away with her again. “What if Roland changes his mind?” Her heart raced. “What if he just leaves?”
Maria sniffed. “He won’t. He’s as nervous as you are, but he loves you.”
Valerie’s eyes looked for an escape route. “But…” She swallowed again. “But…”
“Now you just hush up about all that nonsense. All this will be over soon, and you’ins can both relax.” Cathy held the flask out to her. “Need another snort?”
“No, one was plenty.” She thought about the idea of a man his age, single for twenty years, and how he must feel about getting married again.
Lost in the passion and happiness these past few months, she never thought about that. She hated that she missed something this important, and the idea worried her. Did he think about this side? Did Roland ask himself how he would handle being married again? As much as she hated it, the adage about new tricks and dogs came to her mind.
Maybe she needed to talk to him before they did this. She loved him, more than anything, and she couldn’t bear the idea of him feeling trapped.
Talk to him. That’s what she needed to do. They don’t need to get married. Living together, and loving together, they would be happy. The formality of a wedding just complicated matters.
She took a deep breath. “I need to talk to Roland.”
Maria frowned. “About what?”
“We don’t need to do this. He’ll be better off without a wedding.”
“What are you talking about?”
“He doesn’t need this formal thing.”
The three women exchanged a glance.
Cathy took her arm. “Come over here and sit down, child.” After she sat, Cathy smiled a little. “Y’all just got the heebie jeebies, that’s all. You’re nervous, and that’s normal. Everything’s all right.”
She shook her head. “Roland is used to his life a certain way. This will complicate things.”
“He’s set in ways a little, but that don’t matter none. He likes y’all in his life. You’re just borrowing trouble.”
“I need to talk to him.”
Maria nodded. “If you think that’s what you need to do, why don’t you call him?”
She nodded. “Can you give me a few minutes?”
“Sure.” Ronnie patted her shoulder. “I need to get to the stage. Things are OK.” The three women left her alone in the tent.

Roland stood and checked his tie in the mirror. He thought his tux looked all right, but his stomach flopped around in his body. He checked his new tennis shoes for scuffs, and they looked good, too.
George laughed. “I guess this is it, RW.”
“Looks that way, doesn’t it?”
“You doing OK?”
“I think so.” He sighed. “I’m a little worried she’ll back out.”
“Not a chance.”
“I hope you’re right.” He thought about Valerie for a moment.
He figured all men go through these feelings. Feeling a little unworthy of the one special woman they managed to find. Maybe she’d figure out he wasn’t worthy of her, and head off to find someone who is.
“I am; you’ll see.”
“I guess we will.” His phone chirped where it rested on the dressing table. He picked it up and frowned. Valerie called him. He flipped it open. “Yes, baby?”
George pointed at the door of the tent and stepped outside.
“Roland, we need to talk.”
This is it. “OK.”
She paused for several seconds before she said anything. “We don’t have to get married.”
And this is how the end begins. “What are you saying?”
“We can just live together. We don’t need all this formal stuff.” She paused. “You don’t need that.”
He swallowed hard. His heart beat weakly at the level of his ankles, and he just wanted to stop breathing altogether. “Valerie, do you still love me?” The words tore at his throat.
“Of course I love you! I don’t mean to even hint that I don’t!”
His heart tried a couple of normal beats, and things seemed to work OK. He took a deep breath. “That’s good, because I love you, too. What’s this about, and why are we talking about it on the phone?”
“If you don’t want to get married, that’s fine. I want to be with you, if you’ll have me, but we don’t have to get married.”
“First, of course I’ll have you. For all time, if you’ll let me. Second, no one is forcing us to get married.” He sighed. “I want to marry you.”
She didn’t answer for a time. He heard her breathing, and she sounded like she cried. “Are you sure? You’ve been single a long time.”
“I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.”
Again she hesitated. “Honey, I don’t want you to feel trapped.”
“I don’t, and I won’t, feel that way.”
“I just want you to be sure.”
His anger flared. He didn’t know if the discussion caused it so much as his frustration and the case of nerves in his mind triggered it. He took a deep breath, trying to keep his anger in check. “Let me ask you straight up. Do you want to marry me, yes or no?”
“Yes, but—”
He cut her off. “Then what’s the problem?”
“I don’t want you—”
He cut her off again. “Valerie, this is crazy! I love you. You love me. I want to marry you. You want to marry me.” He tried breathing again, but his words came out sharp. “You’re not making sense! What’s the fucking problem?”
He heard her sob over the phone, and instantly hated himself. “I’m sorry!” He heard a click.
“Valerie?” She didn’t answer. He hit redial, and she didn’t pick up the phone. “Fuck!”
Roland paced the tent, kicking the chairs and tables. He kicked the suitcase holding his casual clothes, and it slammed against the door of the tent.
George opened the door and looked inside. “You OK, Boss?”
“No!” He kicked his old tennis shoes and they sailed across the tent. He thought for a moment. “Find Ronnie and Father Ed, and get on that stage. We’ll be there in a few minutes.”
George frowned. “What about the music and flower girl and all that stuff?”
“Fuck ’em. Just get up there!”
Roland stormed out of the tent.

Valerie sat in the dressing tent sobbing.
She went for three months on the street and only cried a couple of times. Those were just little cries. She spent the last three months with Roland and only cried sad tears one time when he was sick. And that was just a little cry.
Now, wave after wave of just plain sobs wracked her body. She shook as they hit her, and scorching heat from the tears pouring down her face left salty trails behind.
The words Roland said stung, but he didn’t say them to hurt her. He was frustrated and snapped at her. She hurt not from his actions, but from hers. She pushed him into a corner. Maybe she had doubts, and transferred them to him.
Whatever the cause, she did a stupid thing. She hurt him again, probably enough to push him away.
The crusty trails of the tears as the salt dried a little on her face left dry, flaky tracks that cracked as her face writhed. She wondered how, and if, she could make this up to Roland.
She heard people talking in loud voices outside the tent, but she didn’t care.
Someone almost screamed. “Hey! You can’t take that!”
She heard Roland’s voice. “Fuck off.”
The door of the tent exploded inward when he kicked it, and Roland stood on the threshold with her bridal bouquet in his hands.
She stood. “Roland?”
He tossed the bouquet to her. “Come on.”
“Come on. You made me a promise, and you’re going to follow through. We’re getting married.”
“We need to talk.”
“No, we don’t. We’ve talked for three months. We’ve rattled about feelings and thoughts and dreams and wants. The time for talking is over. It’s time to actually do something.”
He took her wrist and pulled her toward the splintered door. She yanked back, her hand slipping from his. She didn’t understand how she should feel now. Not even a little. When he came through the door, her heart sang because he was still here. Now anger rose up in her. He dismissed her concerns.
She threw the bouquet in the chair. “What are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing?” He pointed at the bouquet. “Pick that up.”
He shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He moved before she could react in the long white dress. He pulled her into his arms and lifted her. He flipped her over his shoulder and picked up the bouquet in his free hand. He ducked as he went through the door to avoid hitting her head on the frame.
“Put me down, goddamn it!”
“Not until you talk sense.”
She kicked her legs and flailed her arms, but he held her fast as he walked quickly. She saw the guests as he walked into the area where the benches and stage sat arranged for the ceremony.
She screamed at the top of her lungs. “Roland Westwood, put me the fuck down!”
“Not yet.” He climbed the three steps of the stage and let her to her feet.
She yanked at the dress, pulling it down where it belonged. “What in the fuck are you doing?”
He shoved the bouquet in her arms. “I’m marrying you.”
She noticed for the first time that Ronnie, George, and Father Ed stood on the stage with them. She didn’t care. “This is fucking crazy!”
He nodded. “Maybe it is. Maybe I really am crazy, and more than just crazy about you. I’ve listened to what people have said, and I’ve heard them as they spoke. I know there are things we need to look at. I know things won’t be paradise each and every day.” He shrugged. “So what? I also know I love you, Valerie. I know I want to be your husband. And I know I want you as my wife. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. If God gives me thirty years, or twenty, or ten, or even just today with you, that makes me happy. The time for talking, second guesses, and doubts is over. It’s time to get married.”
She stood very still. The anger vanished someplace in about the middle of his second sentence. A smile graced his lips, and she saw he was happy. Happy just being close to her.
She sighed. “I love you, too.”
The guests cheered as they kissed.

The hot sun felt good against her skin. The morning still held a little chill, but the sun would warm things up soon enough. Roland sat in the deck chair beside her, and he smiled over at her. “Feeling better?”
They discovered someplace between LA and San Francisco she didn’t care for open water, and she endured a small bout of seasickness. The things the ship’s doctor gave her helped, though. “Yes, a lot better in fact.”
“Maybe you can eat more than just soup and crackers today.”
“I hope so.”
He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed the back. His eyes fell on the wedding band resting on her finger beside the engagement ring he gave her. “You’ve made me very happy Valerie Westwood.”
She sighed. That sounded great. “I’m glad.” She stretched a little. “Maybe we can go for a swim today.”
He laughed. “And let you wax my ass in front of all these people?”
“That’s my plan.”
He shook his head. “Why not? Then we can go to the driving range and I can show you my game.”
Hitting golf balls off the end of a cruise ship seemed sillier than chasing golf balls around an open field. “That sounds like fun.”
“Or we can just sit here all day.”
She didn’t know how it worked, but cell phones operated on the ship. His chirped. He looked at the display for a moment. “Shit.” He flipped the phone open. “What?”
She watched him as he listened to the phone. His eyes crossed.
“Shelia, I have no idea how to get more disks made faster than what Dynamic Disks can make them. You, Jim, and Marion are in charge, so figure it out.”
He listened again, and she pouted at him. His eyebrows went up as he watched her face.
“We’re on our honeymoon. Just deal with it.”
Valerie stood and straddled his hips.
“No, Shelia, I have to go. Now. Don’t try calling again, because I won’t be here.”
She rubbed her hips against him.
“No, I’m not here! Bye!”
Roland didn’t even close the phone. He just threw it over the side.
Just as his lips touched hers, Valerie heard a distant splash.