“Is there a party I wasn’t told about?”
Calista mentally sighed and pasted on the only smile she could muster. The woman’s voice reminded her of nails on a chalkboard.
“No, no party. I’m actually heading out soon. What are you even doing in town?” Charlotte, North Carolina wasn’t exactly the type of place a girl like Lena frequented.
“I have a small part in that new Rider film. It’s a horror flick and I get to run around half-naked screaming for most of it. It’s being shot right outside of town at a hideously desolate ranch. I’m not doing anything tomorrow, so I figured I’d see what the clubs here had to offer.” She rolled her eyes to show that they weren’t up to her standards.
“But imagine my surprise when I heard through the grapevine that you were out tonight. I’d forgotten you lived here. I can’t believe you’re not living in New York. I know how much you hate LA, but anything has got to be better than this.” She waved one of her manicured hands around in disdain.
Calista wanted to choke whatever grapevine told Lena she was here. She ignored the last comment and tried to put the focus back on Lena. Lena loved to talk about herself.
“Why on earth are you doing a Rider film?”
She had seen Lena act and knew she was capable of more. She didn’t exactly like the woman, but she also didn’t hate her. She was just a lot to take at once.
“It’s a way to get exposure. What can I say?” Lena flashed her veneers and then waved profusely at someone behind Calista.
A creepy looking artist type stood at the door, looking bored out of his mind. He was so trendy it was laughable. His black hair stuck out all over the place as if he’d just gotten out of bed. It had probably taken him an hour to get it right.
Lena whispered even though there was no one around and music blasted them from all directions. “That’s Billy. He’s in the new film with me and he’s very intense.”
Calista turned and gave the guard the go ahead, but already dreaded Dane’s reaction. She knew he wouldn’t be happy when he returned to find that she wasn’t alone. And she didn’t want to waste time arguing when they could be doing things that didn’t involve talking.
Billy gave her the once over then resumed his bored, ‘I’d rather be anywhere but here’ expression. For the next twenty minutes, Calista endured story after story about mutual acquaintances that she didn’t truly care to hear about. It was all just gossip, half of which she knew for a fact wasn’t even true. Unfortunately for her tired ears Lena couldn’t take a hint.
Just when she contemplated sticking balled-up napkins in her ears, Dane and Nikolai appeared at the top of the stairs. Not bothering with introductions she stood up and gave Lena a quick hug.
“I have to go, but you’ve got my number. Call me when you get a break from filming.”
She started to say goodbye to Lena’s actor friend, but he didn’t even look up from his drink so she didn’t bother with niceties.
“Sorry.” Dane shook his head and put a protective arm around her shoulders as they headed down the stairs.
Instead of pulling away like she knew she should, she leaned in closer. She wasn’t an idiot. Things could never work between them. Too much history. Too many complications. For now he was safe and that’s all she wanted.
“I’m tired and I want to get some sleep.” She quietly slipped her arm around his waist and laid her head against his chest.
To the outside world they appeared to be nothing more than a happy couple. As soon as they stepped outside photographers bombarded them, and she got a nice dose of reality. They weren’t a happy couple and someone still wanted her dead.
“Calista?” She heard Nikolai calling her name and in vain tried to ignore it.
Maybe if she didn’t answer he would go away. She pulled her comforter over her head and burrowed deeper under the covers. He called her name again and this time knocked on her door. Apparently he couldn’t take a hint.
Her stomach was still in knots from the night before. Calista realized that the kiss had been part of the job. She just hadn’t expected to respond to Dane the way she had. She could chalk it up to having too much to drink, but she couldn’t lie to herself. So far she’d been able to ignore his attraction to her. The problem was that she didn’t know how she was going to ignore her attraction to him.
“What is it?” She flung open her bedroom door still in her velour pajama set.
It was barely eight, and she’d scarcely slept one solid hour the night before. Partially because she worried the stalker might call, but mainly because she kept thinking about that stupid kiss and Dane’s perfect lips.
“Robert is on the phone.” He laughed at her disheveled appearance and she knew he was about to make a smart ass comment. His smile faded at the look she gave him.
She snatched the phone and walked back into her bedroom. “Hey, Robert.”
“Hey, babe, I didn’t mean to wake you up.”
“You didn’t. Sorry I’m grumpy. I didn’t sleep well last night.”
“Well, I hate to dump more on your plate but I just got a call from Aidan McIntyre’s manager.”
“How is he? I haven’t seen him since that breast cancer fundraiser in Boston last year.”
Aidan was the lead singer of a Bostonian punk band. Even though their musical tastes were on opposite ends of the spectrum, she respected him as a vocalist.
“He’s doing great.” Robert paused so Calista knew she’d have to pull it out of him.
“Come on, Robert. I’m sleep deprived and don’t have time for twenty questions. Spit it out.”
He sighed. “Fine. He’s working on a new album and he wants to do a duet with you. I know you’ve got a million things to deal with right now, but I had to at least ask.”
Calista almost snorted in laughter. “Are you sure you heard right?”
Aidan’s band was hard punk. She wasn’t labeled as a pop artist, but she was much more mainstream than him. Death metal and folksy urban guitar music would be like meshing peanut butter and oranges.
“I was shocked at first too. Apparently this is really important to him. In fact he refuses to ask anyone else. I told his manager that you’d probably say no but he was insistent.”
“Why does he want me specifically?” Lately her music had been absolute crap.
Hmm. Maybe she should mix it up.
“Obviously because you’re talented, but I think the main reason is because this song means a lot to him. I’ll email you the lyrics.” Robert explained to her that the song was about abused women and the toll it takes on families.
Calista put her head in her hand. There was no way she could say no to Aidan. Not about that. And he knew it. Years before they’d hosted an awards show together. At first Calista had been wary of his off color humor, but by the end of the night he’d had her splitting at the seams.
She still wasn’t sure how the subject had come up, or why he’d even told her, but his sister had been in a horribly abusive relationship. Unfortunately she hadn’t had the courage to leave and wound up dead at the hands of her husband.
That sneaky bastard. “I’ll do it. He knew I wouldn’t say no.”
“Baby, are you sure? You’ve got a lot on your plate right now.”
“No, I’m sure. This will probably be good for me anyway. My work has been horrid lately as I’m sure Roy has informed you. When does he want to do it?”
“If your response was yes, they want to fly in tomorrow morning. They’ve still got to finish the rest of their album but Aidan wants this song done first. They’re on a deadline. This will be really good exposure for you, not that you even need it, but it’s for a good cause too. Not to mention you’ll be widening your fan base.”
He paused again. “Not that you need it. Remember, if this is too soon for you then just say the word.”
“No, I can easily review the lyrics tonight if you email them to me. It’s not like I have anything else to do.”
“I don’t know why both of you are insisting on going with me. I’ve been fine with just Nikolai the past week.”
She slowly sipped her morning cup of coffee. The two men who sat across from her just stared. This wasn’t a battle she could win, but she thought she’d try anyway.
“Shouldn’t one of you stay here and watch my place?”
The thought of Dane watching her record was unsettling. She certainly wasn’t going to tell them that, but it was.
“Someone is watching the place.” Nikolai stood up and started to wash his coffee cup but stopped when he saw Calista’s face.
Dane threw Nikolai a guarded look but Calista caught it. They thought they were so sneaky.
“There are more of you?” She pushed her coffee cup away and glared at the two of them.
“We’ve got a few guys staked out watching who comes in and out of the building.” Dane shrugged and put his empty mug in the sink. “It’s just extra precautions. We called them in after the last personal delivery.”
“Why didn’t you just tell me?”
Nikolai shrugged just as nonchalantly as his cousin. “We didn’t want you to worry.”
“Sure you didn’t.”
Calista rolled her eyes and walked out. If anything, the recent discovery made her feel more at ease. She couldn’t understand the workings of their minds. Lying and half truths seemed to come natural to them. Maybe it was all those years in the CIA.
“What is the matter with you?” Calista stared at Dane as if he was from another planet. “You look ready to rip someone’s head off.”
This wasn’t the cool and collected man she was used to seeing.
They sat in one of the plush waiting rooms at the recording studio. Dane hadn’t relaxed from the moment they’d arrived an hour ago. The place was fully stocked with any fruit, snack, or drink he might want, but he couldn’t seem to settle down. When he wasn’t pacing back and forth, he was snapping at her or Nikolai. She’d offered him some champagne earlier hoping it might calm him down, but he’d just glared as if she was stupid for even asking.