Skin deep, p.5
Skin Deep, p.5Part #3 of The O'Hurleys series by Nora Roberts
"More, she feels what she's doing." Brewster took another quick puff as the crew set up for the next take. "It gives me enormous pleasure just to watch her."
Quinn slipped his hands into his pockets and mentally added Brewster to his growing list of men to check out. "She's an extraordinarily beautiful woman."
"That goes without saying. But then, to use a cliché, that's only skin deep. It's what's inside Chantel O'Hurley that fascinates."
Quinn's eyes narrowed fractionally. "And what's that?"
"I would say, Mr. Doran, that every man would have to discover that for himself."
The director called for quiet, and Brewster lapsed into a nervous silence. Quinn contemplated his own considerations.
She did seem to feel the part. The key scene called for her to confront her lover three years after he had left her, alone and abandoned. Even after a half a dozen takes, her eyes would frost over on cue, her voice would take on just the necessary hint of venom. On a dance floor crowded with people, she set out to seduce and humiliate. Chantel did both with such apparent ease that Quinn felt she must enjoy it.
Even to him, a man who'd learned how to look beyond illusions, it seemed that she was only aware of the man in whose arms she danced. There might not have been any cameras, any technicians, any dollies or lifts.
It went on for hours, but Quinn was patient. It interested him to see that whenever a break lasted longer than five minutes her assistant appeared at her elbow with a fresh glass of mineral water. More than once the assistant director came over to take her hand and murmur to her. The makeup artist retouched her face time and again, as though it were a rare canvas.
It was after seven before they wrapped. They had taken an hour for lunch, and apart from that, Quinn calculated, she had been on her feet for fourteen hours. All in all, he decided, he'd rather spend eight hours digging ditches.
"Ever think of another line of work?" Quinn asked her as they closed themselves in her dressing room again.
"Oh, no." Chantel eased out of her shoes and felt her arches cramp instantly. "I love the glamour."
"Where was it?"
The smile came automatically. "You catch on fast. If she'd called for one more take, just one more, I was going to ask you to shoot her in the knee. Get the zipper for me, will you? My arms are like rubber."
"That's because you had them wrapped around Carter for most of the day."
"Just one of the perks of the job." She arched her back as Quinn brought the zipper down below her hips.
"He's okay, if you like the smooth poster-boy type."
She looked over her shoulder with a half smile. "I adore them."
"Ever think it might be Carter who's sending you flowers?"
She stiffened a bit, then walked into the dressing area. "He's too busy trying to untangle himself from his third wife. Besides, I've known him for years."
"People change, or do the unexpected. And you spend several hours a day in a clinch with him."
"Nice work if you can get it. In any case, you shouldn't trust anyone."
"That's right. Brewster seemed pretty taken with you, too."
"Brewster? The writer?" Really amused, Chantel walked back in, still buttoning her blouse. "James is much more interested in his characters than the people who play them. And he's been happily married for twenty-odd years. Don't you ever read the gossip columns?"
"Never miss them." He stopped in the act of reaching for a cigarette when she sat abruptly and grabbed her foot. "Problem?"
"It's always after you take those damn things off that you're in agony." She winced, swore and kneaded. "I can tell you, it was a man who invented the high heel—the same one who invented the bra."
"It's you women who wear the things," he pointed out, but knelt down and took her foot in his hand. "Got you in the arch?"
"Yes, but—" Her protest died on her lips as he began to press. With a long, sincere sigh, she leaned back.
"Yes, that's wonderful. You've missed your calling. You could make a fortune as a masseur."
"You should see what I could do for the rest of you."
She opened one eye. "We'll just stick with the feet, thanks. If I were a few inches taller, or Sean a few inches shorter, I could have gotten away with flats for most of the shots."
"I'll tell you this, his love scenes with you seemed pretty sincere."
"They're supposed to." Bone-tired, she opened both eyes. "Look, we're professionals. It looked that way because we played it that way, not because either one of us has any physical interest in the other."
"It looked like interest from my angle. Especially when he put his hand on your—"
"Try another tune, Doran."
"I think you're about to tell me how to do my job again."
"I'd like you to do your job," she shot back, "instead of harping on a man just because he's good at his work."
"Just checking him out, angel."
"I don't want my friends and associates spied on."
"If you want someone who's afraid to step on toes, you hired the wrong man."
"I've come to that conclusion several times myself." She couldn't have said why her temper was building so quickly, but his hands moving slowly up and down the arch of her foot were doing things they shouldn't to her system. She wanted him out and gone. "Why don't you take a walk, Doran?" She jerked her foot away. "You're just not my style." Rising, she stepped around him. "You can keep the change."
"Fine." He was as angry as she, and just as baffled as to the cause. He only knew that for one quick moment he'd felt something for her, something soft and easy. It was gone now, erased as if it had never been. In its place was the anger, and a need, just as strong, that demanded physical release. "I might as well take a bonus while I'm at it."
He grabbed her. She'd known he wouldn't be gentle. His hand tangled in her hair as his mouth came down on hers. She'd known he would show little finesse. What she hadn't known, or hadn't admitted, was that she could respond so completely.
No man held her when she didn't choose to be held. No man took from her what she didn't willingly offer. Yet he was holding her, and she found nothing within herself to make him stop. His face was rough against her, and his fingers dug into her skin as he held her close. Defending herself should have been simple, even automatic, yet she didn't struggle in his arms. Her knees trembled, but she didn't even feel it. Everything was bound up in the sensation of his mouth on hers and the explosion of the taste of him. Delectable. Her lips parted and invited him in.
He rarely worried about consequences, and even less frequently questioned his instincts. When he had felt the need to touch her, to take her this way, he had done so. He was already paying for it. She was more than he had imagined she could be. Softer, smoother, warmer. It wasn't an image he held in his arms but a passionate, hot-blooded woman. Even as he discovered and explored the flavor and texture of her lips, he understood that he needed more. That was the trap, and he'd fallen right into it.
He drew her away because he wanted to see her face after she had tasted him. Her eyes opened slowly, so dark, so very blue that for an instant he was more vulnerable to her than either of them could have guessed. He felt the need shift to an ache, and the ache to uncertainty, before he pulled himself back.
"It's been an interesting day, angel." And one he was afraid he wouldn't easily forget. "Why don't you tell Matt to find you somebody else?"
It had been a long time since she had felt rejection. It hurt more than she remembered. Training and pride had her straightening and kept her voice icy cool. "If you've finished your show of male dominance, you can go." The image was back, even before her pulse had started to level. "If I hear of someone who needs a bodyguard for their poodle, I'll give them your card."
Chantel turned away when the phone rang. She picked up the receiver, then looked over her shoulder until she saw Quinn open the door. With a toss of her head, she broug
The voice was too familiar now, and a degree more frightening. "I've waited all day to talk to you. You're so beautiful, so exciting. All day I've been imagining how we would—"
"Why don't you stop?" Control snapped as she shouted into the phone. "Why don't you just leave me alone?" Before she could slam the receiver down, Quinn snatched it out of her hand.
"Don't be angry." The edgy desperation in the voice had him tensing. "I love you. I can make you happy, happier than you've ever been."
"Miss O'Hurley's happier without you," Quinn said calmly. "You really should stop bothering her."
There was a long silence, and Quinn heard the breathing on the other end of the phone grow heavier. "She doesn't need you. She needs me. She needs me," the voice repeated before the connection was broken. Quietly Quinn replaced the receiver. Chantel's back was to him, but after a moment she turned around.
He could see that she'd worked hard, even in those few moments, to regain her composure. But her skin was as white as the room around them. "I thought you'd gone."
"So did I." He made it a policy never to apologize for his actions. It was not that he didn't believe he could be wrong, just that apologies tended to weaken his position. In this case, he decided to come as close as possible without crossing the line. "Look, we don't have to like each other much to get this job done, and I don't like to leave things before they're finished. Why don't we just forget about what happened before."
She didn't care for compromises any more than Quinn did for apologies. But she cared less for the thought of going on alone. To satisfy both her needs and her pride, she gave him a bland smile. "Did something happen before?"
He acknowledged the gibe with a slight nod. "Not a thing. Let's get out of here."
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Chantel had long ago acknowledged that one couldn't have both privacy and fame. In order to achieve and maintain the second, the first almost invariably had to be sacrificed. If she went out for a quiet dinner with a friend, she would read about it the next day. If she danced with another celebrity, there would be pictures and speculation before the music stopped. According to the press, her life was full of men, full of wild, sizzling romance and blistering affairs. She accepted that. She was also shrewd enough to know that if she were rude or belligerent to the paparazzi both her reputation and her photographs would be unflattering. So she was willing, within reason, to court them and present a glamorous and unflappable image to the public.
But the tap on her phone and the guard at her gate were entirely different. They weren't part of the creamy silk-and-diamonds mystique she'd chosen to develop. If she had the choice… Every time that thought ran through her head, Chantel gritted her teeth and reminded herself that she didn't.
She should be grateful. It was difficult to acknowledge that fact, but she knew she should be. Since the phone call in her dressing room there had been nothing—no letters, no flowers, no whispering voice. She told herself she should be relieved. Instead, she felt as though she were waiting for the other shoe to drop.
During the week her work kept her too busy to think. She could, for a few hours a day, plunge herself into Hailey's character and her problems. As long as the film was rolling and the pressure was on, it was difficult to think of her own personal crises. Work had gotten her through other rough periods. She counted on its doing the same for her now.
But it was Saturday and the film was going smoothly, so she had no call. Normally she treasured mornings when she could lounge in bed for a few extra hours, indulging in the things that were reported to be part of her everyday life.
By seven she was awake. Disgusted, she ordered herself back to sleep. At seven-fifteen she was staring at the ceiling and thinking a great deal too much for her own peace of mind. Beautiful, glamorous women were supposed to sleep until noon, then pamper themselves with massages and facials. She'd have believed that herself if she hadn't been in the game so long.
Tossing the covers aside, she went into the office that adjoined her dressing room. Of all the rooms in her home, this one, and only this one, showed the other side of her. The furnishings, though sophisticated, were simple and functional; the material for the curtains might have been imported from Paris, but the space as a whole was imbued with a sense of organization and practicality. Her desk had been purchased for its usefulness as well as its appearance. And she did use it. She also used the computer that rested on it.
It was true that she had an agent and personal manager, a team of publicists and an assistant, but Chantel believed in keeping a handle on her own life, her own business. She knew what stocks she owned and the gross she received from the pictures she'd made. Copies of her contracts were meticulously filed. Chantel didn't simply sign them, she read them.
She went directly to her desk and, ignoring her thick appointment book and the pile of phone messages left by her maid, picked up a fat stack of papers. There were three scripts she hadn't so much as glanced at. The filming on Strangers wouldn't last forever. The sooner she started thinking about her next project, the less idle time she'd have.
Chantel got back into bed, propped the first script on her knees and told herself she would wait until eight o'clock for coffee. It only took half that time for her to discover that the first script was hopeless. The story itself had a few things going for it, but most of them were scenes with her naked, wrapped in one passionate embrace after another. She wasn't a prude, but neither was she willing to use her body as a selling point for a mediocre script. In any case, she was tired of playing the vamp or the victim. She tossed the script aside and picked up another. It caught her from the first page.
A comedy. At last someone had sent her an intelligent story that didn't rely exclusively on her sexuality to sell it. Not only was the dialogue sharp, the plot had twist after twist and made her chuckle out loud. The jokes were as much physical as verbal and would, she knew, exhaust her. Her character would make a fool of herself on-screen time after time. She'd end up with her face in the mud. And Chantel would love it.
Bless you, Matt. Halfway through the script, Chantel hugged it to her breast. He knew she wanted to do something at odds with the image they had both carefully created over the last six years. It would be a risk.
Would people pay to see her face with mud on it? Chantel was willing to bet they would.
Happier than she'd been in weeks, Chantel pushed the intercom button and ordered breakfast brought up. She wasn't budging until she finished the last page. And when she did, she was going to call Matt. If she had to go to a casting call for this one, she would. If she had to read for the part, she'd read for it. She'd take a cut in salary if need be, but this was going to be hers.
Chantel snuggled back against the pillows, brought up her knees and turned the next page.
When the knock came at her door, she was totally absorbed. She answered absently, then began to chuckle as the character, her character, punched her way out of another crisis.
"Must be pretty funny stuff," Quinn commented.
Chantel's head whipped around. The amusement in her eyes turned instantly to annoyance. It was too bad, she thought, that he had to look so damn good. "A pity I didn't load that gun."
"You wouldn't shoot a man who's bringing you breakfast in bed." He moved across the room, set the tray on her lap, then made himself comfortable on the bed beside her. He wore a T-shirt and faded jeans and didn't seem to mind that his sneakers were on her handsewn spread. "What are you reading?" he asked, then stretched out his legs and crossed his arms behind his head.
"The stock market reports."
"Yeah, I always get a kick out of them, too." The pillows carried her scent, sexy, exotic and alluring. She was a bit rumpled from sleep, her hair tumbling around her shoulders and down her back. Even in the strong morning light he couldn't find a single flaw on her face.
There were two skinny straps over her shoulders and a
"Help yourself," she muttered, fighting the urge to inch away.
"Thanks." He leaned over the tray as he spread on a healthy portion of jelly. When his breath whispered warm over her bare shoulder, she stiffened and reminded herself how much she disliked him. "Like I said before, this is a great bed."
"When I get the bill for laundering the spread, I'll deduct it from your fee." Determined not to show any reaction, Chantel reached for the pot of coffee and poured a cup. "What can I do for you, Doran?"
He nibbled on the toast and just looked at her. The smile bloomed slowly, very slowly.
"Don't embarrass yourself," she told him, and sipped the coffee while it was too hot. When it scalded her tongue, she decided she didn't simply dislike him. She detested him.
"Ask a silly question," he began, then proceeded to pour himself a cup of coffee.
"Look, I'm busy, so if—"
"Yeah, I can see that."
"I happen to be reading some scripts."
Chantel drew a deep breath. Some men were more thickheaded than others, she reminded herself. Perhaps if she humored him a little… "As a matter of fact, yes. I want to finish this one this morning, so if we've business to discuss—"
"You going to chew up another man in this one?"
Patience, Chantel told herself. It was compassionate to show patience to an idiot. "No. As it happens, this is a comedy."
"A comedy?" He let out one quick laugh before he drank. "You?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Don't push your luck, Doran."
"Come on, angel. Yours isn't the kind of face that a man pushes a pie into."
"In this case, my face gets pushed in mud."
He chose a piece of melon from her bowl. "That I'd have to see."
"I'm counting on several million people having your attitude." With a natural flair, she whipped the napkin from its ring and passed it to him. "You are, after all, the common man, aren't you?"
"As common as they come," he said easily.
"Now, why don't you tell me why you're here this morning with your feet on my bed and your hands in my breakfast."
"Just part of the service. Great coffee."
"I'll give your compliments to the chef. Now, why don't you get to the point?"
"Aren't you going to eat?"
"Okay." He took a small folder out of the side basket of the tray and opened it. "I have a couple of preliminary reports. Thought you'd be interested."
"Reports on what?"
"Larry Washington, Amos Leery, James Brewster. Also have a bit on the makeup guy and your driver."
"My driver? You're investigating Robert?" Her appetite gone, Chantel pushed herself farther up in bed. Quinn saw dark rose silk beneath the lace and wondered how far down it went. "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."
"Angel, don't you ever read mysteries? The one you least suspect is always the one who done it."
"I'm not paying you to play Sam Spade, and I'm damned if I can see paying you to run investigations on people like Robert and George."
After brief consideration, Quinn decided on a strawberry. "Have you ever noticed how your Robert looks at you?"
The lace rose up, then settled again with her breathing. Deliberately Chantel tilted her head. "Darling, all men look at me like that."
He gave her a long stare before he sipped his coffee again. Even he had problems separating her act from reality. "Since I have to start somewhere, I'm starting with the men closest to you."
"The next thing you'll tell me is you're investigating Matt." When he said nothing, she looked at him again. "You must be joking. Matt's—"
"A man," Quinn finished for her. "You just said that was all it takes."
Furious, Chantel picked up the tray, then dumped it in his lap. Coffee sloshed over the rims of the cups. "Look, let's just stop this right now. I'm not going to have people I care about spied on and embarrassed. Matt's the closest friend I have, and I was under the impression he was your friend, too."
"This is business."
"Let's say our business is concluded. The calls have stopped, and so have the letters."
Skin Deep by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 5.4 out of 5 / Based on43 votes