“Bad news,” my agent says over the phone I hold to my left ear. The very phone I’d hesitated to pick up but did, and only because I was tired of him hounding my ass. “Blake is officially coming off Forever and a Day. Production is being halted. Possibly canceled.”
I walk carefully across my condo and toward the large sliding window wall that showcases downtown L.A. “And?” L.A. in the middle of the day is bustling. From here on the fifteenth floor, I can see the midday traffic; I don’t envy those people, the ones racing through the rat race, scurrying down the sidewalk to get to their destination, or those stuck in the vehicles, who will be stopping at the next traffic light because that particular light is timed terribly.
“I thought you wanted this project.”
“No,” I say slowly, crossing my right arm over my bare chest, hooking my hand into my elbow. In the reflection of glass, I can barely make out my messy dark hair—hair I’ve been growing out at the annoyance of said agent. “You said it would be great for my career. Said it would firmly plant my ass in heartthrob territory which, may I remind you, I wasn’t always on board with. I wanted the action flicks. The horror ones.”
“Sex. On. Screen.” That had been his single most pointed out “pro” to the pros and cons lists from the moment my name was tossed around for the lead role of this chick-flick. I can even picture him enunciating each word as he holds his fingers in the air, much like a chef would when saying a dish was fantastic.
“Yeah. With a socked cock.”
“I’m telling you, Cade, this film will do things for you. You won’t be type casted—”
“I have no problem being the bad boy.”
“You won’t be type casted,” he repeats, “and this will allow you to work on any and every project you ask for. Trust me on this.”
And that therein lies the problem.
I do trust him.
Timothy Creed works with the best actors and having him as my agent is a true Godsend. I do get to work on projects that I want, and he does fight for my rights.
But I can honestly say I’m okay with this project being cancelled.
I wasn’t feeling Blake, anyway.
Totally not my type, and while I get that acting is about putting on a show, there has to be some sort of chemistry, and me and that bitch? Nada.
Tim changes the subject. “When do you get the all-clear?”
I adjust my weight to my good, right leg and bring my previously injured one up gently, rotating the lower half in a move that PT has me doing all the damn time. Six months prior, I was in a less-than-favorable dirt biking accident; dirt bike, 1, Cade, 0—and considering that up until the age of eighteen, when I found myself with an acting gig, I was a circuit-wide pro-rider…
That was saying something.
I didn’t just “get into accidents.”
And if I did, my accidents weren’t ones that took me out of work for months. I’ve ridden with broken thumbs and cracked ribs. Hell, I finished a race with a fractured foot when I was sixteen; it wasn’t enough to get me to medical.
According to me, anyway. My team’s riding coach and manager weren’t pleased but…I still finished in second place.
Not bad, considering.
A few months ago, though, I had this all-encompassing need to get on the back of my bike again. And, me being me, I couldn’t be happy with just going around the old oval dirt track behind my parents’ house a couple of times.
I had to ride around the second dirt track. The one my dad and I built the summer I turned thirteen, when I was preparing for trials that would begin when I turned sixteen and could ride pro.
The track with the hills, the whoops, and the launches.
I was an all-or-nothing kind of guy and getting back on my bike hadn’t been any different.
Neither was the decision to break out my freestyle skills.
However, I hadn’t ridden truly freestyle in over three years, and my tricks weren’t as smooth as they once were, back when I medaled in every event I participated in.
A backflip-Superman gone terribly wrong.
I was lucky to walk away without a broken spine, and with only a shattered knee, a broken femur, and a dislocated hip.
But all of that was months ago.
Truth was, I got the all-clear to get on set two weeks ago, with the rod in my leg staying in place for one year, minimum—which unfortunately means I’m required to use a stunt double if the need comes up.
If I were still riding professionally, I’d be back on the course far sooner. But acting came with a different set of responsibilities.
Even with the all-clear, I wasn’t thrilled to get back on set. Maybe it was because, accident aside, I realized how much I missed riding.
Missed the smell of exhaust.
The sounds as multiple 450s revving.
The vibrations of my bike as it roared to life and down the course.
But I also had a feeling a little bit had to do with Blake.
If I could milk this break a little bit longer…
“Soon,” I answer instead.
There’s a knock at my door and I look over my shoulder just as my closest friend lets herself into the apartment. “Look, Tim. I’ve got to go. I’ll be in touch.”
“Cade!” I hang up on him before he can continue.
“What’s up, Char?” I ask, slipping my phone into the back waistband of my basketball shorts.
Charleigh White, dressed in a long sundress with her dirty blonde hair over her shoulder in a long braid, takes in my attire—or, lack thereof—with an unimpressed eye, before shaking her head. “Is this how you’ve been spending your days, Cade Alexander?” she asks, moving to my black leather couch and throwing herself down like she owns the place.
Charleigh and I have been friends since diapers.
Our dads were best friends, had been since high school, and while her parents are A-list actors and mine are simply professionals who put people to sleep for a living—for surgery—we’ve always been close.
It was her dad who got me into acting.
Had been looking to cast a young guy in a psychological thriller, and he asked me to audition. Meant I had to give up pro-motocross, but it’s been fun. I was used to the hours, to the physical demands. And I got to kiss women all the damn time—and get paid for it.
In the beginning, those first few films, that definitely worked for me.
“I’ll have you know, Charlene Jenesis,” I say pointedly and move toward the couch. I don’t miss her watching for my limp. It’s because of that look that I focus on performing a smoother gait. “Yes. Yes, this is how I spend my days,” I finally finish, plopping down on the opposite end of the couch. The buttery leather softens under my ass, and I lay back into the extra thick cushions. This couch was worth every single zero. “Where have you been, stranger?” I ask her, turning my head and locking my fingers over my bare six-pack, minimal flex required. I couldn’t do much, but I refused to get out of shape in the interim. “Haven’t seen you in a while.”
“Was up at the house in Tahoe,” she answers with a shrug. Her family has a cabin—and the word is used very lightly for the five-thousand-foot fortress overlooking the water—on the popular lake, but the area they live on is quiet; no one cares when the Whites are around. It’s the one place her family can go without cameras looming everywhere. “Long, low-key weekend. But then I come home to hear that you’re still holed up in your apartment. So, what’s the hold up?” Charleigh turns on the couch to face me.
For the longest time, the press tried to pair us together—Hollywood’s hottest new actor, with the sweetheart of Dustin and Ellie “Dellie” White, a girl whose only claim to fame was having famous parents. Charleigh is famous for being famous.
This is the same press that was trying to tell the world that Charleigh was a trans, or lesbian, or any number of false stories, from the moment she was five, all because she went by Charleigh—Charley originally—and once preferred her hair short and clothes to be boys’ clothes; so, basically, I took whatever they had to say with a grain of salt.
And a shot of tequila.
“No hold up,” I answer, even if it’s not the truth.
I should know better than to lie to Charleigh.
“Dude, it’s not like this is an action film. Other than the emotional range, it’s probably the easiest film you’ll do. You literally are courting a girl, dancing with her, making lo—” She cuts herself off with a gasp. “It’s your first major sex scene, isn’t it? This isn’t a fade to black. This is, like, the real deal.” She moves her hands in front of her, accentuating ‘real deal’ as if I need the visual to feel the enormity of the situation.
I scoff. “I’m not afraid of a sex scene.” And I’m not.
I mean, it would be better if I could do it with someone I had mild chemistry with, which is the furthest from the truth when it comes to Blake Addams.
I’m a twenty-one-year-old male. I have no qualms of getting it on—even in pretend—with a woman. But at least make the woman tolerable. I can deal with pranks and eating garlic before a scene but…
Pinpointing what I dislike about Blake is difficult; I just know I don’t care for the woman. My intuition on people has never steered me wrong.
“What if,” Charleigh cuts through my thoughts, only to take a pause. She lifts her brows and points to me, “What if you tell Tim that you get the final say on the new girl.” Charleigh and I share a lot with one another, and the moment it was rumored that Blake was looking at other projects, I’d told her. “Hell, Cade, they want you. You should be able to have some sort of say in the casting.”
“Not sure that’s how this works.”
“Trust me, this is how this works. Well, not all the time, but demands are easy. They’re going to write off the project otherwise, yeah?”
“Well, I don’t know that—”
Charleigh doesn’t let me finish. “If Blake can’t do it now, the project will be pushed off longer, and the more it’s delayed, the more likely the entire thing will be cancelled. Demand a change in casting.”
* * *
I’d like to say that I didn’t give in to Charleigh.
That I’d been okay with letting the film rot off to where films went to die.
But I can’t say that.
Because I did give in to Charleigh, and two days later, I found myself opening my condo to not only Tim, but to the film’s casting director.
“This isn’t typical,” Tim grunts as he leads the redhead wearing business attire toward my couch. “Don’t get used to it. This is Sydney. She’s in charge of casting.”
I close the door and limp, purposely, toward the coach. Tim watches and groans, but the woman watches me with her eyes narrowed. For the briefest of moments, I wonder if my limp is too exaggerated but then I stumble.
And the pain is real, radiating from my toes to my hip and across my lower back.
So, fuck if I care.
The woman says nothing, but Tim groans again. “Dammit, Cade, they need you on set. Sit down.”
“We were going to contact the next on our list, when Tim made your demands known,” Sydney says as she sets up her laptop. “It’s my responsibility to be sure we have leads who pair well together, so if I need to, I will go against your word.” The lady is clearly the no-nonsense type.
I slowly lower myself to the coach next to Sydney, trying to keep my mind off the current pain. “Then why are we here? If you won’t listen to who I want, and you choose someone who I don’t care for, then why are we doing this?”
She looks at me, staring. It makes me want to squirm in my spot, but I hold still.
I do, however, lift a brow, as if I can meet her silent challenge.
“My life is surrounded by men like you,” she finally says, her eyes locked on mine and daring me to look away. “I know stubborn men. I know annoying men. I know men who refuse to bend, but eventually do because they know what’s best for them. I’ve got your number, Cade Johnston.” She looks away then and I can’t help but be slightly uncomfortable. “These ladies are the best ten. Hopefully you think you can work with one of them.” She doesn’t sound convinced but still, she plays the audition recordings for me.
We watch through the tapes, re-watching some and re-playing lines. Nine auditions in, and I’m convinced that this movie is not for me.
I can’t picture myself having chemistry with any of these women.
“You’re not dating her!” Tim exclaims from his seat, his hands thrown in the air in exasperation. “You’re literally spending a couple of months in Vancouver filming a fucking film, Cade. Get over yourself.”
“We have one more,” Sydney sighs. “But she’s going to be a difficult one.”
She leans forward to move into the last audition and I can’t help but wonder if she feels the woman will be “difficult” because of my previous distaste of the actresses.
The moment the screen opens though, revealing a pretty blonde, I’m entranced.
It’s not because she’s blonde—Blake’s blonde.
It’s not that she’s got a pretty voice—although it is melodic; not too high, not too low.
It’s something that I can’t pick out. Maybe it’s in her body language. Her eyes.
They speak more than her words do, and you can see that her acting extends past her ability to throw lines. This girl puts her entire soul into her performance.
“That’s her.” I point to the laptop. “What’s her name?” I don’t recognize her. Is she new to the scene? Newer than me?
Sydney sighs heavily. “I was afraid you’d like her.”
“This actress is Tatum O’Malley,” Sydney says as she closes her laptop. “She’s been MIA for a couple of months. We actually did reach out to her agent when Blake started talking about leaving the project, but all her agent will say is that she’s currently on a break, and that he will not be relaying the message to her.”
“How long do we have?”
“When are you able to get back on set? You realize how expensive it is to hold an international location?” Sydney counters.
“Soon,” I answer, my eyes moving toward my agent briefly.
Sydney doesn’t even bother to look back at Tim. “Your accident was what, six months ago?”
“I have great experience with broken bones,” she says. Her voice isn’t accusing, nor is it placating. She doesn’t sound like she’s trying to push the matter, but more like she’s on to what I’ve been avoiding. “My guess is, if you’re not on set in the next two weeks, they’ll scrap the movie. On that note, we don’t have time to find Tatum. Who’s your next choice?”
I shake my head, feeling like I’m being a stubborn twat, but there is not a single actress on that list that I like.
“Look, Cade,” Sydney cuts in, standing to gather her laptop and put it back in her leather bag. “It’s a job. You’re not always going to like your co-stars. Don’t become that actor no one wants to work with because he’s being a diva.”
I stand—far quicker than I should—and grimace slightly at the residual pain. “I’m not a diva.”
“Then I will choose the next best candidate.” Sydney doesn’t even look at me, instead turning to Tim. “You need to have better communication with your clients, Tim. Cade’s probably been given the go-ahead for light work for the last week, minimum. He’s not even wearing a brace anymore. That means he can run lines. Start rehearsal.” Then, she turns to me. “If you want to make it in this field, you need to act like it. It’s one movie. But it’s one movie that could easily break your career if you keep on this path. If you’d rather be on the back of a dirt bike, hey, I’m not going to tell you not to. I live with athletes. But you need to figure out what you want to do.”
Tim stands and walks Sydney to the door. “I’m sorry we wasted your time.”
Sydney just smiles at him and shakes her head. “No time wasted. My house is currently a zoo, and my husband had the audacity to invite people over. I was only too happy to say I was needed on a plane.” She leans around Tim and gives me a pointed look. “I expect to see you in two weeks.”