The sheikhs triplet baby.., p.18
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       The Sheikh's Triplet Baby Surprise, p.18
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         Part #3 of The Sheikh's Baby Surprise series by Holly Rayner

  and I was glad that even now, that hadn’t changed.

  Katherine sipped her drink and took a breath. “Okay, so I have a few offers for you.”

  “Wonderful,” I exhaled. “That’s exactly what I wanted to hear from you.”

  She tsked slightly. “You’re not going to like some of them, but I figured I should bring them anyway, considering…”

  “Considering the state of things,” I finished for her, unable to mask the hint of bitterness in my voice. “I know I’m not in any position to be too choosy about the jobs I get. Let’s get on with the freak show, then.”

  TWO

  Katherine gave me a half-smile and pulled up the first file in its manila folder.

  “Other Side of the Tracks, it’s a mid-budget horror movie. You’d be the female lead. The director’s got a bit of a cult following, but your romance or drama crowds aren’t going to give a hoot. Saying that, you’d get to watch Tobey Maguire get his head chopped off.”

  I tilted my head a few times, weighing up the decision. “Tempting, but pass,” I said. “I’ve already been killed on screen more than I would like.”

  Katherine didn’t argue, but dropped the file on the granite countertop. She picked up the next one. “Ink and Paper, a romantic comedy about a New York writer falling for her newspaper editor. Standard will-they-or-won’t-they plotline, no sex scenes, probably some great wardrobe too.”

  I perked up. “That doesn’t sound too bad. Who’s doing it? Paramount?”

  “Lifetime.”

  “Television?” I whined, my excitement dying. “Is this what it’s come to?”

  Katherine shrugged. “It should be an easy gig for you, hon. It’s not much money but it’s also not much work—you can do this Never Been Kissed garbage in your sleep by now. And you have a built-in audience for it that would follow you to TV.”

  “It’s not about wanting an easy gig,” I replied. “I’d have to do ten of those a year just to make the same money I’d make with one major studio movie. There’s no way I’d be able to do that and stay sane; I’d be constantly working.”

  “Working on TV for a while would at least keep you relevant, and maybe get you some real movie offers,” Katherine countered.

  “Yeah, or maybe I become the literal face of Lifetime and get trapped there forever.”

  Katherine let out a sardonic laugh and swirled the ice in her drink. She nodded and put the yellow folder aside. “All right, fair point. You’re right; we don’t want you getting stuck in the TV cesspool. Are we still opposed to the soap opera avenue?”

  I gave her a little glare and raised my glass. “Absolutely.”

  Another three folders joined the discard pile. Katherine didn’t even bother reading them to me.

  “How would you like to play Zac Efron’s mom in a teen comedy?”

  I almost choked on my cocktail. “His mom? He’s my frickin’ age!”

  She sighed and gave me an understanding nod. “I know, but it’s the business, pumpkin. They’ll dress you older and probably do something with makeup and hair to make it seem less ridiculous, and it’ll work for the audience. But his name recognition should help with the paycheck.”

  “Pass,” I hissed with venom.

  Katherine only had one folder left—one she hadn’t bothered to color-code with her usual system. It was odd, as was the way she clutched at it with her hands like she didn’t want to open it.

  Sensing some tension, I stood and refilled both our glasses. Sitting down, I gestured to the folder. “So? What’s this last one, let’s get it over with.”

  Katherine took a drink and let out a big sigh. “I’m not so sure I want to show you this one, to be honest.”

  I was confused. This had never happened before, and Katherine had had no problem introducing me to all manner of unappealing roles in our long time together as actor and agent.

  I frowned at her. “What is it, Katherine? Geez, you’re acting like you’re opening Pandora’s Box here.”

  “I might be,” she muttered, but I pretended not to hear.

  “Just tell me, Katherine. I’m dying for some good news, and so far you haven’t brought me any. What could possibly be in that folder to make my options worse? They want me to play Clint Eastwood’s great aunt?”

  The joke didn’t land for Katherine. She sighed again and looked down at the folder. Slowly, she opened the front flap and silently read something to herself as I waited.

  “How familiar are you with Al-Dali?” she asked finally.

  I shrugged, searching my memory. “The country in the Middle East? Passingly, I guess. I know it’s a popular vacation spot for the super-rich. Why?”

  “I received this offer from one of their leaders, Sheikh Zane bin Alaman.”

  “Sheikh?”

  “One of their royal titles. You could compare it to a prince or a king in a western monarchy.”

  “A Middle-Eastern prince sent you a pitch for me?” I repeated, convinced I had missed some huge piece of information.

  But Katherine nodded. “Yep, exactly. He has an offer for you…” She cleared her throat. “But it’s not a movie. He wants to hire you for a single night of, um, company. And he’s willing to pay you a million dollars for it.”

  The silence was crushed by the sound of my glass hitting the granite countertop with a loud thunk. Ice and vodka tonic splashed all over the discard pile of folders. I swore and rushed for a kitchen towel to clean up the mess.

  “Are you kidding me?” I asked Katherine as I wiped up my spilled drink. “Is this a joke?”

  She shook her head slowly. “Not as far as I can tell. I called him myself when the offer came in because I thought the same thing. I thought one of my rivals was playing a prank, or it was a setup from Jack to humiliate you. But it’s vetted. It’s for real. And he definitely has the money. A million bucks is probably chump change he finds in the cushions of his couch.”

  I had to grip the counter to steady myself, as my mind was swimming with confusion. “This is unbelievable.”

  “It’s the kind of money you wanted,” Katherine reminded me gently. “And for far less work than any production, TV or otherwise.”

  “Now, wait a second there. Far less work, but not my work. I’m not a prostitute, Katherine, and that sounds like… like exactly what this is,” I argued, waving my hand at the folder. “This is some Indecent Proposal B.S.”

  Katherine didn’t have a reply. She waited, and then shrugged. “You asked to hear it. It’s just a night, sweetheart, and it’s a lot of money for one night.”

  “I’m not a prostitute,” I repeated firmly. “And he might have written ‘company’ in that nice little pitch he drew up, but you and I both know what he’s really asking for. Don’t play dumb with me.”

  “I’m not,” Katherine replied with a solemn nod. “And I’m not going to deny that he’s most likely expecting… that.”

  Even though a million dollars would go a long way to alleviating the situation that was currently crushing me, I couldn’t convince myself to be okay with the idea. It stuck like a piece of bread in my throat, refusing to be swallowed.

  A voice in the back of my head kept repeating Katherine’s words: it’s just a night. But I couldn’t make myself say yes.

  I shook my head and loosened my grip on the counter, realizing that my fingers hurt. “No, Katherine. Tell Sheikh whatever-his-name-is that I’m not for sale. He may think I’m rock-bottom enough to accept it, but I’m not. Just tell him no. And keep looking for other jobs.”

  Katherine nodded. She seemed both disappointed and relieved, which was exactly how I felt. She dropped the folder on top of the rest of the pile. “All right babes, I will. I’ll find you something better.”

  “Please do. And don’t tell anyone about that offer,” I implored her. “The vultures in this town would absolutely eat that up.”

  THREE

  After Katherine left, I decided to ditch the gala I was supposed to be attending that night an
d instead sulked by myself in the mansion.

  It was a rotten idea for a number of reasons. Being a shut-in wasn’t going to get me any new parts, and networking in Hollywood was one of the keys to success. Attending events and mingling was a sign that you were willing to play the game, and it kept your face on the minds of producers and potential co-stars. Staying home alone waiting for propositions to roll in made me look unapproachable and entitled. I knew it; I knew all the risks. I’d been in the business long enough.

  But after Katherine’s visit, I couldn’t find it in my heart to want to play the game. I was tired of being forgotten and discounted simply because I was getting older. I didn’t look a day over 23, and I worked hard to keep it that way. Yet the industry was treating me as if I’d already hit menopause. They wanted to stick me in the ‘mature’ box—in TV movies and in safe, insulting roles as frat boys’ moms—just to keep using me without giving me the compensation my talent and experience deserved.

  The offers were just as depressing as the lack of them, and my spirit was too dimmed to hobnob. I put the silver dress I’d picked out to wear back in my walk-in closet, ordered from my favorite Thai restaurant, and cracked open a bottle of wine. The food arrived quickly—probably because not many people in Hollywood were eating in on a Saturday night.

  I situated myself on the couch in front of my big-screen TV as night fell across California, eating right out of the take-out containers as I cuddled up in my most comfortable pajamas. My phone was on silent and charging in my bedroom, well out of the way. I didn’t need the distraction.

  It’s funny how even a showbiz professional can miss out on things; at my busiest, I never had enough free hours in the week to sit down and catch up on all the movies and shows my friends and rivals were creating. Stuffing my mouth full of food while I sat in front of the TV felt surprisingly and wonderfully normal for a change. I decided I would make the best of the situation by trying some self-care, even if it came with a little bit of self-pitying.

  I was halfway through the bottle of wine when the commercial that ruined my night came on. It was a new trailer for an action blockbuster—one of the most anticipated of the year—which was scheduled to premiere in just a few months. I had been trying to keep my mind away from it, but the blaring of dramatic music and flashes of CGI explosions promised that there would be no escaping the painful reminders it brought.

  And suddenly there he was: Jack Lister, in vivid color. His face, deadly handsome and glistening with sweat, shoved its way into my home once more, and I watched with growing anger in my heart, unable to make myself change the channel, curiosity getting the best of me. Jack Lister, running from a car-full of faceless bad guys shooting at him; Jack Lister sitting in front of a glowing computer monitor with a gun poised at the back of his head; Jack Lister sweeping up a beautiful young blonde for a dramatic kiss. It took me a moment to place her face, but when I did, I suddenly wanted another glass of wine.

  It was Avery Donovan: the new me. The resemblance was glaring enough that I had gotten more than a few comments about it over the last few years as Avery had risen to stardom. She was beautiful and talented, and more importantly, she was young.

  It was barely six months ago when my handsome, talented, A-list boyfriend left me for this younger version of me. Now, he and his new lady were starring in a movie together—something he had always promised me, something we had dreamed about as we lay together in bed.

  My relationship with Jack had seemed like a perfect fantasy, despite all the warnings I’d received from everyone in the business who had ever dealt with him. He was devastatingly good looking, charismatic, and a good actor when he felt like showing up to do his job. The problem was, he knew looks were enough for him to skate by with, and he was happy to ride that gravy train. He had no problem being rude and abusive to the people he saw as being below him. It took me a long time to see that about him; for a while my choice of ignorance was bliss.

  I thought the people scorning him were just jealous, trying to protect what they saw as a sweet and naïve little girl from a big bad monster of a man. I’d been acting since I was a teenager and was well-aware of the dangers of powerful, predatory men who used their position to get more than they deserved. For some reason, I didn’t see that in Jack; he put his hands over my eyes until it was too late—until we were sharing a home, a bed, and a future that he had no intention of
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