Trashed, p.17
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       Trashed, p.17

         Part #2 of Stripped series by Jasinda Wilder
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Finally, he waves at the crew. “Good. We’re done. You can go. ” He looks at me, and his expression is dark, hungry. “Des and I are going to finish here alone. ”

  The crew exchange glances, and one of them fixes me with a questioning gaze. She knows his reputation, and what he’s trying to do. But they can’t do anything about it; assistants and camera crews are even more replaceable than models.

  I pull on my cover-up as the crew packs up and drifts back to the hotel. Ludovic is scrolling through the previous shots, nodding now and then.

  When he realizes everyone is gone, the crowd of curious tourists included, a smile crosses his face. “Alone at last,” he says, his voice low with promise.

  I hold my chin high. “I have to go. ”

  He just shakes his head. “No, you don’t. ” He gestures at the restaurant not far away. “We should have dinner, I think. ”

  “I’m not hungry,” I lie.

  He just grins. “Yes, you are. ” He steps toward me and I tense, feeling my skin crawl with his proximity. “You’ve lost weight. It looks good on you. Or off you, more like. Now, if only you would drop, oh, ten more, you’d be truly striking. I could do amazing things with you, Des. ” He winks, making it a double entendre.

  I don’t bother to hide my disgust and anger. “I’m leaving. ” I turn away before I do something rash, like put my fist down his throat.

  He jogs after me, leans into me, and his finger hooks in the halter strap of my top, tugging at it. “Come on, Des. You think you can get anywhere in this business on your own? You really don’t want to walk away from me. ”

  “Yes, I do. ” I keep walking, refusing to look at him.

  He keeps pace with me, and his mouth is beside my ear. “You wouldn’t even have to do much, you know. Not unless you wanted to. Put those plump lips of yours around my cock, Des. You’ll like it, I promise. Just that, and I can make you successful. I can get you out of that shoebox apartment you share with all those other girls. I have a big apartment, and a big cock. You can have both. ” He drifts a hand across my waist, down to my ass. “You know you want to. You know you won’t ever get anything better than me. ”

  Everything boils up and out. Rage is hot, and blinding. I spin away from him, take a step back. “Fuck…you. ” I spit out the words, hissing in blind fury.

  And then I do something even more stupid: I take one step toward him, and slap him with my open hand as hard as I can. He blinks at me, a hand to his face, and then starts toward me, anger in his eyes. I shove him away from me. Pussy that he is, he goes flying backward three or four steps, stumbles, and lands on his ass in the sand. His camera thumps against his chest, and he rolls to one side, the Nikon dragging through the sand.

  I stalk away, and ignore Ludovic as he shouts.

  “You’ll regret this, you bitch. I’m calling Sidney right now! You’ll never work again. You’re finished! FINISHED!”

  Trying to make an angry exit across the sand isn’t easy. I want to run, but I don’t. My tits would smack me in the chin, for one thing, since this stupid bikini top provides absolutely dick for support. And for another, I don’t want to give Ludovic the satisfaction of knowing how upset I am.

  Page 48

 

  Rage and shame and hate pulse through me, tears prick at my eyes, making crying inevitable. Not yet, though. Not here.

  I feel shame because, just for one single split second, I considered it. For an eye blink, I considered doing what he wanted. But then sanity reasserted itself, and disgust shot through me. Along with a crushing load of self-loathing.

  You know you won’t ever get anything better than me.

  Oh, I could have had something much better. But I ruined that, too.

  * * *

  “Damn it, Des. I warned you. ” Rochelle meets me in the check-in line at LaGuardia airport.

  She has my suitcases balanced on a trolley. Not just the one little carry-on I brought to Florida, but the three big ones that contain everything I own.

  “Rochelle?” I stare at my suitcases. “What’s…what’s going on?”

  Her eyes are regretful. “You don’t have to fuck him, I told you. Just don’t piss him off. ” She shakes her head. “And you go and assault him? In public, on a beach, in front of dozens of witnesses?”

  “You don’t know what he said to me, Rochelle. ”

  “And I don’t care. ” She digs in her purse, comes up with a folder. She opens it, hands me two pieces of paper. One is a check for a paltry amount of money. The other is a one-way plane ticket back to Detroit, leaving in thirty-six minutes. “The only reason I’m even paying for your flight back is because I like you. I paid for that ticket. Not Sidney, not the agency. Me. This isn’t the business for you, Des. It’s just not. Go home. Go back to school. ”

  I stare at the ticket. And I find, along with hurt and sadness and embarrassment, a palpable sense of relief. “Thanks, Rochelle. ”

  She offers me a rare smile, and it looks strange on her features. “No, thank you. You know how long I’ve wanted to slap that smug, arrogant pig?”

  So I drag my three heavy suitcases through the line as fast as I can, tripping, fighting back confused tears. I barely make the flight, stumbling to the jetway just as they’re about to close the door. They let me on, and I find my seat, holding my purse on my lap and staring at the check that represents nearly two months of starvation and stress and insane hours.

  Back at Detroit Metro Airport, I realize I’m not sure how I’m going to get home, and wonder if Ruth has found a new roommate. I don’t have a credit card or a debit card, and I’m not even twenty-three yet, so I can’t rent a car. I don’t have a phone or anyone to call. Ruthie doesn’t have a car.

  I have to call an airport taxi, and the ride costs me the rest of my cash. It’s raining when I lug my baggage out of the cab and onto the sidewalk outside Ruthie’s apartment building. My key doesn’t work in the lock, which I realize is brand new. I press the buzzer, but she doesn’t answer.

  I have nowhere to go. No money except for the check in my purse, which I can’t cash or deposit yet. Everything is closed.

  I stack my wet suitcases on the ground and sit on the pavement beside them. The rain batters down on my skull, soaking me to the bone in moments.

  I try not to remember the last time I was stuck out in rain like this.

  I’ve lost track of time. Eventually, I doze, despite the rain. Or maybe the term is ‘pass out’.

  I feel a hand shaking my shoulder. “Des?” It’s Ruth. I peer up at her, and realize my teeth are chattering so hard I can’t even speak. “Des, honey, what are you doing here? Jesus, how long have you been out here?”

  “No—nowhere else to—to go. ”

  “Oh, sweetie. God. Come on, let’s get you inside. ”

  A hot shower, a change of clothes, and some Campbell’s chicken noodle soup has me feeling slightly more human. I explain everything to Ruth, who is too good of a friend to say “I told you so,” but I can see it in her eyes, feel it sitting between us, unspoken. She doesn’t ask if I ever called Adam back; she knows better.

  She hasn’t rented out my old room.

  Because she knew I’d be back?

  Chapter 11

  “Train jump, take two. And…action!” Presley Miller’s voice booms through the megaphone, and I spring into action.

  I take off running along the roof of a warehouse, and four feet below me is a freight train moving about ten miles per hour faster than I can run. It’s all been carefully calculated and choreographed and tested using a stuntman, so they know it’s possible. Hell, I’ve completed the jump itself once already. It’s not the landing that’s the problem, it’s the moment after that’s tricky. Presley wants me to make the jump look effortless, so we practice with the train stopped. Full sprint, leap, drop ten feet, land on my feet onto the roof, keep my footing, keep running. I’ve almost got it. Almost.

&nbs
p; I’ve landed it in practice, and nearly had it the first real take, but I stumbled the first few steps before catching my footing and Presley just won’t have the stumble. Won’t have it. So I do it again.

  “You’re a goddamned superhero goddammit!” Presley screams through the microphone. It’s his version of a pep talk. “Stick the fucking landing, you big pussy! I’m not backing this fucking train up again, so get it right! Now…Go-go-go! Ready? JUMP!”

  I jump. My heart thuds. Air whistles. My feet throb from landing on the metal roof of a train car. My thighs ache from constant sprinting. The train barrels beneath me, and I know I’ve fucked this up. Or someone has. The train is supposed to get moving five minutes before I start my sprint, and everything is precisely timed so my jump lands me in the middle of a car.

  Instead of the reassuring rusted metal of a roof, all I see is a gap between cars. I’m going to miss. I’m going to smash between the cars and get turned into paste.

  My heart crashes in my ears. It feels like time is moving in sludge-slow increments, like treacle.

  The distance between me and the train congeals, and then my stomach and ribs are slamming into the edge of the train car. Motherfucker, it hurts. I’ve caught the edge, and I can see the ground whizzing beneath my feet. If I slip, I’m dead. There’s no safety backup, no wires. The train is moving too fast. I can sense the difference, feel it. I can’t move. Can’t breathe. Someone is screaming, yelling, “CUT! CUT!” but Presley is rolling his arm, the signal to keep rolling.

  Yeah, don’t mind me, asshole, I’m only about to die here.

  I strain, claw, scrabble the toes of my combat boots against the side of the car, groaning between gritted teeth. My ribs are screaming, either bruised or cracked. My muscles are on fire.

  Page 49

 

  I get an elbow on the top of the train car, and then the other one. Now I can move myself forward and get my feet under me. The pace car is bouncing along beside the train, and the AD is waving his arm in circles. We’re still rolling.

  Ahead of me, Israel Price-Vickers runs across the top of the train, oblivious to what’s just happened. He’s got an AK-47 slung around his back, blanks loaded in the clip. He’s the villain, the one I’m supposed to catch. I’m supposed to be running behind him. I have to catch him. The fact that Presley hasn’t cut yet tells me he may just go with this take, if I can get moving. I suck in a breath and wince at the lance of pain in my chest, put a hand to my ribs, and force myself into a run. Each step hurts, but I’ve played with worse. I bury the pain, growl through it, push myself into a sprint. Israel glances back at me, and pours on the speed. I leap the space between train cars, and now there’s only one car-length between us. Israel doesn’t stand a fucking chance. Even with bruised ribs I can still run him down like a dog.

  We pass the marker; a telephone pole with a red ‘X’ spray-painted across the wood, telling us the next phase of the scene is coming. When we see the next X-marked pole, I’m going to tackle Israel and we’re going to fly through the air and onto a huge stunt pad.

  Except, if the train’s moving faster, we’re going to miss the landing. In the choreography, Israel spins at the last second and topples backward to absorb the impact of my tackle. That’s not going to work now. Israel doesn’t know the train is moving faster than it’s supposed to, or what that means for the scene.

  So I push myself harder. I see the marked pole, and the pad, and it’s a lot closer than it’s supposed to be.

  I dig deep, and force myself to the limits of my physical capability. Israel doesn’t see me coming, isn’t ready for the tackle.

  Six feet.

  Four.

  And then I’m flying through the air, diving at Israel, slamming into him. The butt of the AK-47 bites into my ribs, but I can’t do anything except absorb the pain. Israel is in my arms, twisting, thrashing, and then as we hit the stunt pad the rifle jabs me again, further damaging my ribs.

  “What the fuck, Adam?” Israel is rolling away from me, bouncing on the huge, inflated pad and onto the ground. He stumbles, tosses the rifle aside and grabs his side, leaning over and wincing like a pussy. “That’s not the fucking choreography, you asshole! What the hell were you doing?”

  “Saving your ass, and the scene,” I growl, sliding gingerly to the ground.

  Presley is here, hopping out of his golf cart and rushing for me. “Holy shit, holy shit! That was epic!”

  “You need to fire that fucking train engineer,” I bark. “He had that piece of shit train going way faster than it’s supposed to be. ”

  “I know, I know,” Presley says, waving a hand dismissively. “But he’s union, nothing we can do except yell at him. You stuck it, though, and that scene works so much better this way! It makes your character seem that much more human and believable! I can’t believe it! That was absolutely wonderful! Take five, everyone!”

  I lift up my shirt, and see that a massive bruise is already purpling across my torso. “How about I take the day, Pres? Or the week, how about that? I almost died just now, or did you fucking miss that little fact?”

  Presley winces and looks away. “Don’t be so dramatic, Adam. But yes, yes, fine, take till Tuesday. We’ve got some work to do for Israel’s next few scenes anyway, so we don’t really need you. ” He waves at me. “And get that looked at. Need you tip-top for your next scene. ” He lowers himself heavily into the golf cart, which settles significantly under his bulk. Presley Miller is not a small man.

  I watch him go, and then the on-scene medical team is cutting my shirt away and probing my ribs. Bruised tissue and muscle, they say, but no breakage. They also tell me the thick layer of muscle kept me from sustaining any major injuries.

  Why couldn’t I be a romantic comedy actor? Crack jokes and kiss hot chicks all day. Sounds good to me right about now.

  They help me into another golf cart and drive me across the industrial landscape we’re using as a set. We’re somewhere in the wasteland of the industrial urban blight outside Detroit, filming a big-budget action movie, an all-original storyline and characters for once, which is pretty exciting in this age of remakes, reboots, and adaptations. We wrapped on Fulcrum 2 three months ago, and I’ve been working on this movie ever since. We’re filming the whole thing in and around Detroit, both for the post-apocalyptic feel of the abandoned warehouse districts and inner-city ghetto areas, and because the newly elected state governor instituted significant tax breaks for the film industry as a tactic to rejuvenate the struggling city.

  My driver and bodyguard Oliver is waiting for me beside a sleek black Range Rover, and he drives me downtown to my rented apartment. I shower, change, and toss back some Motrin for the aches and pains, and then have Oliver drop me off at a local bar. I settle into a booth with my script, a pint, and a burger. I spend a couple hours slowly sipping beer and refreshing my lines for the next few scenes, and ignoring the buzzing bar around me.

  Patrons come and go, a few recognizing me, but Oliver keeps them at bay.

  And then I happen to glance up as I’m reciting a particularly tongue-twisty line under my breath, and happen to see a girl at a table adjacent to mine. She’s sipping a martini and flipping through a catalogue of some sort while she chats on the phone. There’s a place set across from her, so I’m guessing she’s waiting for someone. The girl herself doesn’t interest me, though, but the catalogue does. It’s for a clothing line, and what catches my eye are the models. Like the girl looking through the catalogue, all the models are curvier. Plus size, I guess the term would be. Although after knowing Des, I’ve stopped using that term; women are women, and are beautiful regardless of their shape or size or weight.

  My heart clenches as I think of Des. She never called. Six months and not a word from her.

  The girl flips the page and there she is. Des. In the catalogue. Tall, ink-black hair, beautiful, so beautiful, wearing a long, flowing blue dress and simple white sa
ndals.

  Without thinking, I leave my booth and slip into the empty seat across from the girl. She stares at me in irritation, and then she recognizes me. “Beth? I’ll—I’ll call you back. ” She ends the call and sets the phone down. “Hi. Um. Hi?”

  Page 50

 

  I point at the magazine. “Sorry to bother you, but could I see your catalogue for a second?” She blinks in confusion. “I know that’s a weird thing to ask, I just—I know her, that girl. ” I tap the image of Des.

  The girl slides the magazine toward me and I spin it so it’s right-side up.

  God, Des.

  She really is a model, now. She’s a bit slimmer in this image than when I knew her, although that could be Photoshop. She’s got a mysterious half-smile on her lips, and she’s wearing a lot more makeup than she needs. But she’s Des, and so lovely it makes my chest ache. I find myself touching the glossy image of her face and wondering where she is, and why she never called me. I wonder if she’s found a boyfriend.

  I blink hard, push it all down, force a polite smile on my face and slide the catalogue back to the mystified girl. “Thanks,” I tell her. “Sorry to bother you. ”

  “No—it was not a bother. ” She smiles at me finally, and then her fingers clench around the bar napkin near her martini glass. “Could you…I mean—”

  “Sure thing, sweetheart. ” I take my Sharpie from my pocket and sign my name on the napkin. “Here ya go. ”

  “Can I help you?” a deep male voice says from behind me. “You bothering my girlfriend?”

  I wink at the girl, and then unfold to my full height. The guy is big, but still a third my size. I pat him on the shoulder. “Nope. I just saw someone I know in her catalogue. ”

  He furrows his brow and glances at the table, at the girl, and at the catalogue. “In the fat chick magazine?”

  The girl’s face falls apart, hurt spreading across her features. She’s a girl with curves, sure enough, but she’s pretty, with bright blue eyes and wavy brown hair and high cheekbones. The way she buries the hurt so quickly tells me this isn’t the first time this asshole has said something like that.

  I don’t even think, I just react. Before he can finish his next sentence, I’ve got him across the bar, pinned against the wall with my forearm against his throat. “What…the fuck…did you say?”

  “I—I—” he gurgles.

  “Listen to me, you ugly, sloppy, piece of shit. ” I get in his face, and I see real terror. “How about you get the fuck out of here, and you leave that girl alone, huh? You don’t get to talk to her or anyone else that way. Not ever. I should break you in fucking half for talking like that, you pathetic little cocksucker. ” I drop him, spin, and shove him toward the exit. “Get the fuck out of here, douche-canoe. ”

 
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