Skin deep, p.4
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       Skin Deep, p.4
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         Part #3 of The O'Hurleys series by Nora Roberts
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  Now wasn't the time for philosophizing. After turning up the volume on the radio, she climbed out of bed and prepared to face another day on the set.

  Quinn wasn't accustomed to rising before dawn. It was much more his style to see the night through and find his bed at sunrise rather than climbing out of it at that hour. Not that he didn't appreciate an L.A. sunrise. It was simply more to his taste to watch the sky take on color after a night of celebration—in bed or out.

  He drove across town under a pink-and-mauve sky, casting an occasional look of mild contempt at a jogger. Designer sweat suits weren't his style. If he wanted to tone up, he went to the gym. And not one of those pastel-walled spas where they piped in classical music, a real gym. You didn't see cute leotards there, and the sweat ran as free and healthy as the four-letter words. A man's world—and no one drank carrot juice frappe". A woman like Chantel O'Hurley wouldn't poke her million-dollar nose through the front door.

  Quinn shifted in his seat and scowled at nothing in particular. He couldn't remember the last time a woman had made him uncomfortable. Chantel's looks were designed to make a man squirm—and ache. The hell of it was she knew it and, Quinn was certain, enjoyed it.

  He couldn't let that be a problem. She was paying him to do a job. The only thing he could be concerned about from this point on was her security. The check she would give him entitled her to the best, and he was the best. Besides, he didn't care for the content of the letters she'd shown him.

  Not that Quinn was a supporter of the women's movement. To his way of thinking, men and women were different. End of story. If a woman walking by a construction site was insulted because she got a few whistles or invitations, he figured she should walk someplace else. After all, that was just good clean fun. There'd been nothing clean, or fun, in the letters, though. And Chantel hadn't looked insulted, either. If he knew anything, Quinn knew what genuine fear looked like.

  Sooner or later he would find out who had written them. That would take patience. In the meantime, he'd give Chantel the round-the-clock protection she was paying for. Remembering her face, Quinn acknowledged that that would take willpower. He had it, he thought with a shrug as he pulled up to the iron gates. Besides, chances were that she'd look like a hag at this hour of the morning.

  He reached out the window and leaned on the buzzer.

  "Yes?"

  The frown moved into his eyes. Even in one word, Chantel's voice was easily recognizable. He hadn't expected her to answer the intercom herself. "Doran," he said curtly.

  "You're prompt."

  "You get what you pay for."

  There was no answer, but the gates slowly swung open. Quinn cruised through them, then stopped to make certain they shut behind him.

  In the daylight, he got a better look at the lay of the land. Anyone determined enough could find his way over the wall. He and a partner had once scaled a sheer cliff in Afghanistan with nothing more than rope and nerve.

  The trees that flowered over the lawn sent up a sweet scent. And would provide more-than-adequate cover for an intruder. He was going to have to get a good look at the alarm system in the house, though he knew anything that could be put in could be deactivated.

  Quinn pulled up just beyond the steps, then got out to lean on the hood of his car. You couldn't hear any traffic from here. Just the sound of birds. He took out a cigarette. A glance around showed him a few floodlights, maybe a dozen ground lights, obviously placed more for aesthetic purposes than for added security. After a look at his watch, Quinn decided to walk around the house and check a few things out for himself.

  Perhaps out of spite, Chantel decided to let Quinn cool his heels outside while she dallied in her dressing room. Under other circumstances she might have invited him in for a quick cup of coffee before the limo arrived. She wasn't feeling gracious. Instead, she took her time, bundling her hair back from her face, checking the contents of her bag, then writing a few instructions for her maid. When the buzzer from the gate rang again, she spoke to her driver, then gathered up her script. She turned toward the bedroom and walked into Quinn. He watched initial shock turn to anger.

  "What the hell are you doing in here?"

  "Just checked out your security system." He leaned against the doorway and noted, with a quick twinge, that regardless of the hour she looked fantastic. "It's pitiful. A Boy Scout with two merit badges could get past it."

  Chantel settled the strap of her bag on her shoulder and promised herself she would pay Matt back if it was the last thing she ever did. "When it was installed I was assured it was the best on the market."

  "Supermarket, maybe. I'll have my men beef it up."

  She'd been born practical, and the years had done nothing to change that. "How much?"

  "Don't know for sure until they're into it. Three to five, I'd say."

  "Thousand?"

  "Sure. Like I said, you—"

  "Get what you pay for," she murmured, walking around him. "All right, Mr. Doran, you go right ahead." As she spoke, she moved to her nightstand. "But the next time you decide to check out the system, I wouldn't advise you sneaking into my bedroom." When she turned, she had a pearl-handled her hand. "I tend to be nervous."

  Quinn regarded the gun with a raised brow. He'd been on the wrong end of one plenty of times before. "Know how to use one of those, angel?"

  "You just pull this little trigger here." She smiled. "Of course, my aim's terrible. I'd point at your leg and end up shooting you right through the brain."

  "There's only one rule about guns," he began, then scowled over her shoulder. When Chantel turned to look, he was on her. With a move too quick to judge, he had the gun in his hand and her beneath him on the bed. "The rule is, don't point one unless you intend to use it."

  She didn't squirm beneath him, but lay still, letting the heat of fury and dislike pour out. With a casual gesture he flipped open the pistol's chamber.

  "It's not loaded."

  "Of course it's not. I wouldn't keep a loaded gun in the house."

  "A gun's not a souvenir." He closed it again before he looked down at her. Her face was untouched by makeup, and it was as beautiful as it was furious. Despite himself, Quinn found the combination very much to his liking. Her body was small and strong beneath his, not as cushioned and feminine as he'd expected. But her scent was there, as it had been the night before, outrageously feminine.

  "Nice bed," he murmured, unable to resist the urge to sweep his gaze down to her mouth. He thought, but couldn't be sure, that her heartbeat increased.

  "Your approval means everything to me, Mr. Doran. Now, if you don't mind, I have to get to work."

  How many other men had pinned her between their bodies and this wide, firm mattress? How many other men had felt this wild, edgy flare of desire? Both thoughts ran through his head before he could stop them. Because they did, he rolled aside and yanked her to her feet. But she was still close.

  "Maybe we'll keep this business," he told her quietly. "And maybe we won't."

  Though her pulse was racing, Chantel wasn't dishonest enough to blame it on temper. Desire was something she understood, even if she had rarely felt it for a man. It was also something that could be controlled. Instinct warned her that it was vital to do that now, and to continue to do so, when it applied to Quinn.

  "You tempt me to put bullets in that gun, Mr. Doran."

  "It wouldn't hurt." Quinn dropped it back in her bedside drawer. "And make it Quinn, angel. After all, we've been to bed together." Taking her arm, he escorted her downstairs and outside.

  "Good morning, Robert." Chantel smiled at her driver as he opened the back door of the limo. "Mr. Doran will be accompanying me to the studio for a few days."

  "Very good, Miss O'Hurley."

  Quinn didn't miss the wistful look the driver sent him before they were closed in behind smoked glass. "How does it feel to infatuate the male of the species?"

  Chantel settled back. "He's just a boy."

  "Doe
s that make a difference?"

  Behind her dark glasses, Chantel shut her eyes. "Oh, I forgot. I'm one of those heartless women who tease and flaunt, then toss men aside after I've drained them, like empty pop bottles."

  Amused, Quinn stretched out long legs. "That pretty much covers it."

  "You have a remarkable disdain for women, Mr. Doran."

  "No, you're wrong. Women happen to be one of my favorite pastimes."

  "Past—" Chantel caught herself before she sputtered. She drew her glasses completely off, wishing she could see if he was baiting her or speaking the simple truth. Wanting to believe the worst of him, she went with the latter. "You're a classic chauvinist, Mr. Doran. I'd thought your species nearly extinct."

  "We're a hardy breed, angel." He pushed a button and watched the compact bar rotate toward him. Quinn considered mixing a Bloody Mary but settled for straight orange juice.

  Replacing her glasses, Chantel decided against beating her head against a brick wall. "I prefer not to introduce you as my bodyguard. I can do without that sort of speculation."

  "Fine. How do you want to handle it?"

  "They'll just assume you're my lover." Coolly she took the glass of juice from him and sipped. "I'm accustomed to that sort of speculation."

  "I bet. It's your game. Play it any way you want."

  She handed him back the glass. "I intend to. And what will you do?"

  "My job." As they passed through the studio gates, he drained the glass. "You just smile pretty at the cameras, angel, and don't worry about it."

  She found that her jaw was tensed so tightly it hurt. Acting on impulse, Chantel turned to him, and curled her fingers into his shirt. "Oh, Quinn, it's just that I'm so frightened. I'm so very frightened. Not knowing from one minute to the next if I'm safe." Her voice broke as she leaned closer. "I can't tell you what it means to me just to know you'll be there. Protecting me. I'm defenseless, vulnerable. And you're so… strong."

  She was close, so close he could see her eyes flutter shut behind the tinted glasses. Her body trembled lightly as she leaned into him. Desire flared, along with a need to comfort and protect. She was soft, pliant and helpless. As he drew her nearer, her scent tangled around his senses until his head throbbed with it. "You don't have to worry," he murmured. "I'm going to take care of you."

  "Quinn." Her head tilted up until her lips were only a whisper away from his. When she felt him tense, she jerked back and pressed something into his hand. "Your check," she said carelessly, then stepped out of the limo.

  Quinn sat for a full ten seconds and wondered why he'd never entertained thoughts of strangling a woman before. When he stepped out beside her, he curled his fingers around her arm. "You're good. Very, very good."

  "Yes, I am." She gave him a slow, easy smile. "And I get much better."

  As Chantel went through her morning routine of makeup and hairstyling, Quinn simply observed. There were a dozen people Chantel came in contact with during the first hour alone. There were other actors, technicians and a parade of assistants. He'd want a list, and he was beginning to realize just how extensive it would be. Whoever was hounding her obviously knew her routine. That made the people she worked with his priority.

  "Miss—ah, Chantel." Larry stopped by her side with a cup of fresh coffee.

  "Oh, thanks. You read my mind."

  He preened a bit, pleased. "I knew the hair was going to take longer this morning." He watched as the stylist patiently threaded pearls through the already-complicated arrangement. "You're going to be just beautiful for the ballroom scene."

  "A far cry from yesterday." She sipped the coffee. "If they'd watered me one more time, I'd have melted."

  "Miss Rothschild said the dailies were great. I checked."

  "Thanks." She caught sight of Quinn's reflection in the mirror and decided that moment was as good a time as any. "Larry, this is Quinn Doran, a friend of mine." Only years of training kept her from choking on the word as she held a hand over her shoulder for Quinn's. "Larry's my right hand. And often my left, as well. Quinn's going to watch the filming for a few days."

  "Oh, well…" Larry cleared his throat. "That's nice."

  Quinn saw that the young man thought it was anything but. Another conquest, he thought. But he couldn't afford to feel sympathy, only suspicion.

  "I'll keep out of the way," Quinn promised, making the most of it by rubbing his thumb over Chantel's knuckles. "I just want to see Chantel at work."

  "Isn't that sweet?" Chantel said with a brilliant smile. "Quinn's between jobs at the moment and has time on his hands. Now don't be sensitive, darling." She gave his hand a pat before drawing hers away. "We all understand how difficult the job market is, especially for botanists." Satisfied, Chantel rose. "I have to get into costume."

  "They've scheduled publicity shots this morning," Larry told her after an uncertain glance at Quinn. "As soon as you're ready, you're supposed to go to the ballroom set."

  "Fine."

  "I'll go with you, darling." Quinn slipped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed, just a few degrees too hard. "You might need some help with buttons and snaps."

  "Ease up, Doran," she muttered as they walked away. "I'm wearing a strapless dress for this scene, and I can't afford the bruises."

  "You tempt me to put them where they won't show. A botanist?"

  "I've always been attracted to the sensitive, introspective type."

  "Like Larry?"

  "He's my assistant. Leave him alone."

  "Don't tell me how to do my job."

  "He's a nice boy, he came with excellent references and—"

  "How long ago?"

  Annoyed, Chantel yanked open the door of her dressing room. "About three months."

  When the door shut at his back, Quinn drew out a notebook. "Let's have his full name."

  "Larry Washington. But I don't see—"

  "You don't have to. What about the makeup guy?"

  "George? Don't be absurd, he's old enough to be my grandfather."

  Quinn merely shifted his gaze until it met hers. "The name, angel. There's no age limit on a disturbed mind."

  She muttered it, then swept back into the private dressing alcove. "I don't like the way you work, Doran."

  "I'll notify the complaint department." Lowering to the arm of a chair, he took a quick, interested look around her dressing room. Like her home, it was meticulously decorated in white on white. "While we're at it, give me the names of the rest of the men you deal with on the set."

  There was a brief, pregnant pause. "All of them?"

  "That's right."

  "That's impossible," she told him. "I couldn't possibly remember everyone. Oh, most by sight and by first name, but not everything about everyone."

  "Then find out."

  "I have a job to do. I can't—"

  "So do I. Get me the names."

  Chantel yanked up the zipper at her back and scowled at the wall that separated them. "I'll see if Larry can get me a list."

  "No, you won't. I don't want to rouse anyone's suspicions."

  "All right, all right." For a moment she was convinced the cure was more trouble than the problem. Then she remembered the contents of the last note. Like it or not, she needed Quinn. "The assistant director's name is Amos Leery. The cinematographer's Chuck Powers. And damn it, they didn't walk into town yesterday. They've been in the business for years. They have families."

  "What difference does that make? An obsession's an obsession." When she walked back into the room, Quinn was still sitting, scribbling in his notebook.

  "What about the director?"

  "The director's a woman." Chantel slipped off her watch and laid it aside. "I think we can rule her out."

  "What about the—" He made the mistake of looking up as he spoke. The words stopped because his thought processes simply disintegrated. She was wearing red, a hot, vibrant red that seemed to lick at her skin. The dress scooped low and snug at her breasts, then followed the lines
of her body. The skirt hung straight, hitched up on one side nearly to the hip, where it was secured by a circlet of glittering stones. His mouth went suddenly and completely dry.

  Chantel saw the look, recognized it. Normally it would have made her smile, either with pleasure or in automatic response. Now she found she couldn't, because her heart was thudding too hard. He rose slowly and she stepped back. It wouldn't occur to her until much later that it was the first time in her life she had retreated from a man.

  "I'll have to give you the rest later," she said quickly. "They'll be waiting for me on set."

  "What are you supposed to be in that?" He didn't take another step toward her. Self-preservation held him back.

  Chantel moistened her lips. "A woman out for revenge."

  He looked at her again, gradually, up, then down, then up again until their eyes met. "I'd say you get it."

  Making a conscious effort, she drew in a breath, then let it out again. Play the role, she told herself. It was always possible to play the role. "Like it?" Deliberately she turned a slow circle, revealing the daring plunge at the back.

  "It's a bit much for seven-thirty in the morning."

  "Think so?" She smiled, more comfortable now. "Wait until you see the hardware that goes with it. Cartier's lending us a necklace and earrings. Two hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth of all that glitters. We'll have two armed guards and a very nervous jeweler here shortly."

  "Why not use paste? It shines, too."

  "Because the real thing makes for better publicity. Coming?"

  He stopped her at the door with just a fingertip on her bare shoulder. Each of them felt the jolt. "One question. You wear anything under that?"

  She managed another smile only because her hand was already on the knob. "This is Hollywood, Mr. Doran. We leave little details like that up to your imagination." She stepped out, hoping the constriction in her chest would ease before the first take.

  By noon, Quinn had been forced to revise his opinion of Chantel at least in one area. She wasn't the pampered, temperamental prima donna he had expected.

  She worked like a horse—a thoroughbred, perhaps, but she went through her paces time and time again without complaint.

  She'd been gracious to the photographers even when the session had run on for ninety minutes. She hadn't snapped at the makeup artist, as one of her co-stars had, when it had been time for yet another retouch. The temperature on the set was sizzling, thanks to the lights, but she didn't wilt. Between takes she sipped from an ever-present glass of mineral water, unable to sit, because wardrobe had fussed about creases in her costume.

  Two armed guards kept their eyes trained on her, and on the quarter million in jewels she wore. They suited her, he was forced to admit—the thick gold band crusted with diamonds and rubies that circled her neck, the symphony of diamonds and hot red stones that dripped from her ears. She wore them with the ease of a woman who knew she deserved them.

  Quinn stayed well off the set and wondered how the actors could take the sheer monotony of repetition.

  "Incredible, isn't it?"

  Quinn turned his head and glanced at the tall, graying man beside him. "What's that?"

  "How it takes them hours and hours to film a two-minute scene." He pulled out a thin black cigarette and lighted it from the butt of another. "I don't know why I come. It makes me nervous, but I can't stay away while they dissect my brainchid."

  Quinn lifted a brow. "No, I suppose not."

  He drew in smoke deeply before he smiled. "I'm not mad—or perhaps I am. I wrote the screenplay. Rather, I wrote what it appears this will loosely resemble." He offered a well-kept, rather thin hand. "James Brewster."

  "Quinn Doran."

  "Yes, I know. You're Miss O'Hurley's friend." He smiled again with a negligent shrug. "Word travels fast in small towns. She's quite brilliant, isn't she?"

  "I don't know much about it."

  "Oh, I assure you, she is. There was really no one else who could be Hailey. Cold, vindictive, clawing, and at the same time vulnerable and desperate for love. One of the few things I don't worry about as far as this little extravaganza goes is Chantel's interpretation of Hailey."

  "She seems to know what she's doing."

 
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