The flamboyantly-dressed Elvis impersonator winks at me, and I have to stop myself from gagging. “Do you take this man as your lawfully wedded husband?” he asks in that cheesy fake twanging baritone.
“I do,” I say, and I swear a part of me dies in that moment. I can feel it keel over deep down inside and just roll away into some shallow grave tucked away in the darkest parts of my mind.
Just another dead shred of dignity sacrificed to the glorious gods of my career.
Jace grins that famous, lady-swooning smile of his and turns to the Elvis. “I think she’s a little overeager, don’t you?”
“Only eager to get to the honeymoon,” the Elvis says, hamming it up and winking again.
I want to vomit in my mouth as the two men laugh. I resist the urge to punch Elvis in the throat for ruining this, but I manage to keep my hands to myself.
“And do you take this lady as your lawfully wedded wife?” the Elvis asks Jace.
“I do,” he says, his eyes meeting mine. I feel a little something spark in my spine, although I don’t know what it is. I can only hold his gaze for a brief moment before looking away. He’s almost too handsome, like a star burning too bright. Except he’s more like a supernova, an explosion threatening to take everyone down with him, if only he can get close enough.
“By the power vested in me by the State of Nevada, I now pronounce you two lovebirds husband and wife. You may kiss the bride.” Elvis does a little flourish, finger-gunning and kicking his legs and swishing his cape back in a whooshing plume.
My whole body stiffens as Jace wraps his arms around me, pulling me tight against his chest, and presses his lips against mine. At first, I’m worried it’s going to be disgusting, revolting, horrifying, but instead… it’s actually kind of nice. His lips are soft and he tastes like grass and honeydew, both sweet and musky at the same time. We kiss for only a brief few seconds before he pulls away, but I’m left standing there, blinking at him like a moron, as he turns to the cameras.
“That’s how you kiss your wife,” he says. “She’s practically passing out right now. Look at her!”
Now I’m rolling my eyes. “Did we get it?” I ask Eric, turning away from Jace. “Please god, someone say we got it.”
“We got some of it,” Calvin cuts in. He’s tall and skinny with incredibly vascular arms and legs from running hundreds of miles per week. He’s one of those crazy ultramarathon guys that revels in pain and being able to endure almost anything. I think he’s actually pretty good at it, which I guess explains why he’s willing to lug around cameras all over the globe for a living.
“Most of it,” Eric echoes, frowning. He’s almost the polar opposite of Calvin, short and going chubby, except he has a full head of hair whereas Calvin is nearly entirely bald. Eric drinks too much, smokes too much, but he’s entirely reliable and one of the better camera guys I’ve seen.
I groan. “What did you miss?”
“The kiss got wonky,” Eric says. “And the Elvis keeps moving around too much.”
“Let’s do it again.” Jace sounds way too enthusiastic, and I don’t like the way he’s eyeing my mouth.
“I don’t think so,” I say.
“Come on, Piper. What kind of producer are you, not willing to give it a second take?”
I sigh, shaking my head. This is the lowest part of my career, maybe my life, and I know it’s all my fault. I should never have taken this job, never agreed to work with Jace Morgan, famous ex-chef and celebrity bad boy. They say this is his comeback show, his chance to prove to the world that he’s not some loser addict anymore, that he still has something worthwhile to give other than his stupidly impressive good looks. People think that acidic, wry wit and intense humanity are still inside of him somewhere, but I know better.
He’s still the prick I dated briefly back in college, and he hasn’t changed for a single second.
“I’ll point out that you called me a producer, and not on-camera talent,” I say.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got talent enough for both of us.”
I stiffen a little, frowning and looking back at the camera guys. Grant, the sound man, is leaning against his boom mic, head cocked to the side, headphones sliding off his ears, everyone waiting to hear what I have to say.
“Keep rolling,” I say to the guys. “We’re getting another take. Elvis, stay still this time, god damnit. No more stupid moves.” I turn to Jace. “And you, keep the kiss simple, okay?”
“You act like this is your first time,” he says, giving me a sly little smile.
“We both know it’s not. Now, no more bullshit. Got it?”
“Well, all right, pretty lady,” Elvis says, and Jace just shrugs, laughing a little bit.
“And don’t call me pretty lady.”
Jace takes my hands again as we get back into position. “Don’t worry,” he says softly as the Elvis clears his throat and prepares to do his thing again. “I’ll go easy on you.”
That’s not what I’m afraid of, I think to myself, but Elvis is already starting to marry us again, and I’m forced to look deep into Jace’s rainwater-colored eyes as my nightmare wedding plays over again.
* * *
“You did a good job earlier, wifey.”
I glance over at Jace and frown. “Don’t call me wifey, please.”
He laughs a little and drapes his arm over my shoulder. It’s heavy and I can spot tattoos curling up along his skin, disappearing into his sleeve. He smells like fresh baked bread and mint.
“Come on, relax a little bit, wifey,” he says. “I thought you did great. Honestly.”
I smile a little. “Yeah, well, it was weird being in front of the camera.”
“Gets easier. But you were like an old pro.”
He nods and slides his arm away. “How’s it looking?”
I shrug a little bit as the scene plays out on the laptop screen. “Not bad. We’ll have to see back at the hotel.”
“You gonna cut yourself?” He cocks his head at me.
“Maybe,” I admit. “Mostly because that stupid Elvis guy couldn’t keep it together.”
Jace laughs. “I thought you were going to kidney punch him when he called you mama.”
I groan a little bit. “I had to swallow vomit after that.”
“We all did, but hey, that’s what it means to be a pro.”
I sigh and shake my head at him. “I never wanted to be in front of the camera, as I’m sure you recall.”
His eyes glaze over for a second, probably thinking back to when we used to know each other. “Yeah, I remember,” he says after a split second. “We were young then though.”
“We’re still pretty young.”
“I don’t feel so young.”
I roll my eyes. “Don’t be dramatic.”
He grins at me, nudging me back toward the laptop. “I’m on-camera talent, remember? I’m always dramatic. Now get back to work, wifey. And make me look gorgeous.”
I roll my eyes at him, but I’m smiling. The crew’s breaking down their equipment for the day as Jace goes around thanking everyone, shaking hands and signing a few autographs for the chapel people that are hanging around watching him.
We’re doing a short series on Las Vegas, one episode in a six-episode series on America. It’s your typical travel show, we go to different places, have a meal somewhere exciting and interesting, do some kind of local event, that sort of thing. Jace is the face of the show and really the driving force behind it all, and I’m his hapless producer, just barely along for the ride.
Truth be told, this is my last shot, or at least it feels like it is. My last two projects tanked, both of them getting canceled after only a couple episodes aired. I put my heart and soul into those things and now I’m like a husk of the girl that started working as a television producer five years ago.
I’m pretty sure I was only assigned to work with Jace because we went to school together. We even dated briefly, really it was just a fling, and not a big deal at all. But I guess because I know Jace, the higher-ups thought it would be a good idea to assign me to him, without realizing that I despise the guy more than anyone else in America. Well, maybe except for all the women he’s screwed over the years.
There is something about him, though. It’s hard to deny. I watch him chatting with a young guy who’s staring at him with intense open admiration, and it’s almost impossible to take, but somehow Jace manages to ignore it while still holding a reasonably normal conversation. He’s charming, he’s handsome, and he’s outgoing, and he can blind people with his incredible oozing talent, coming out of every single one of his pores. Except he’s also an addict and nearly died on the set of his last show, this cooking content thing. Apparently he cooked up in his dresser between takes, but didn’t take the right dose and ended up passed out in a puddle of his own vomit. If he hadn’t fallen on his side, he likely would’ve choked to death.
He lost that job, and a few others after that, all because of the drugs. He spiraled for a while and the bad boy Chef Jace was all over the news for a few months, until finally people got sick of his shit, and he disappeared a little over a year ago.
Now he’s back in the limelight, and he says he’s clean. I have no reason to disbelieve him, but I’m constantly looking for signs: glassy, empty eyes, general spaciness, lethargy, missing scenes for no reasons, spending too long in the bathroom for no reason, that sort of shit. Any shady behavior, and I’m on the prowl.
Fortunately, so far so good, although this is only the first day. Everyone in the media says he’s clean now and this is going to be his triumphant comeback, but I’m skeptical. Obviously I want him to succeed, since this is my comeback, too, but I know him. I know he’s selfish beyond redemption and a die-hard asshole.
I just hope he can keep it together, at least while we film this first season. After that, who knows, but at least a single successful season might be enough to rejuvenate my career.
“Hey, can you sign this?” Eric slips something onto the desk to my right. I’m using reception as my temporary workstation.
“Sure,” I say, still distracted by the screen. I scribble my name at the bottom, not bothering to read the fine print.
“Thanks.” He grins and scampers off somewhere. I turn around and watch Jace for another second, but I quickly turn away as he meets my eye.
He’s so damn handsome, and that smile he gives me every time he catches me looking… it’s mesmerizing. It’s incredible.
He reminds me too much of what it was like when we were younger. Jace was a lot of fun back then, but he was flighty and flirty and he left me after only a couple weeks of our fling to move on to some new girl. I wasn’t really surprised or offended back then, since he already had a reputation, but it still hurt a little bit. Fortunately, we never slept together, and I suspect that’s why he moved on to someone a little faster, a little more willing.
Doesn’t matter now. I don’t have to waste my time on this. I shouldn’t picture what it would’ve been like to finally give myself to him, to feel his cock slide between my legs as he whispers in my ear, I’ll go easy on you.
A shudder runs down my spine. I can feel a tinge of excitement in my stomach.
“You almost done?”
I jump as I look up at Jace, smiling down at me.
“Good. The guys are packing up, they wanna grab something to eat. You in?”
“No,” I say, shaking my head. “I should start going over this footage. I’ll meet you guys at the hotel later.”
“Suit yourself.” He smirks and leans closer to me. “Little wifey.”
I want to smack him as he laughs and walks away, his muscular but lean frame moving like a graceful dancer. Jace is incredible, brilliant, beautiful, and I know he’s going to be the death of me sooner or later.
I just really hope it’s much, much later.