Skin deep, p.7
Skin Deep, p.7Part #3 of The O'Hurleys series by Nora Roberts
He opened one eye. Then, finding it too much effort, he closed it again. "Poker game."
"You played poker last night? I didn't know you'd gone out."
"In the kitchen," he muttered, wondering how soon he could get his hands on another cup of coffee.
"My kitchen?" Chantel frowned, a little annoyed that she hadn't been asked to play. "With whom?"
"Rafael? He hardly speaks English."
"Don't have to to know a full house beats a straight.''
"I see." A smile tugged at her lips. "So you and Rafael played poker in the kitchen, got drunk and told lies."
"And Marsh what?" She stopped in the act of reaching for a glass. "Marsh played cards? My Marsh?"
"Tall guy, not much hair."
"Really, Quinn, he's nearly eighty and quite creaky. I'm surprised even you would take advantage of him."
"Took me for eighty-three dollars. Canny old son of a—"
"Serves you right," she said with satisfaction. "Sitting down in my kitchen, swilling beer and smoking cigars and bragging about women when I'm paying for your time."
"You were asleep."
"I hardly think that matters. You're being paid to watch out for me, not play five-card stud."
"Five-card draw, jacks or better. And I was watching out for you."
"Really?" She brought a glass of juice to her lips. "That's odd. I didn't see hide nor hair of you yesterday."
"I was around. You enjoy your whirlpool?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"You spent damn near an hour in that tub." He took the glass from her and drained it. Maybe it would wash the cotton out of his mouth. "Funny, I figured a woman like you would have two dozen bathing suits. Guess you couldn't find one."
"You were watching me."
He handed the glass back to her, then settled back again. "That's what you're paying me for."
Indignation rippled through her as she slammed the glass back in its holder. "I'm not paying you to be a Peeping Tom. Get your prurient kicks on your own time."
"My time is your time, angel. I saw nearly that much of you when I plunked down four-fifty to see Thin Ice. Besides, if I'd been out for kicks, I'd have joined you."
"I'd have drowned you," she tossed back, but he only smiled and shut his eyes again.
His head was pounding like a jackhammer. He'd gotten less sleep before, but that had usually been of his own choosing. The poker game had been his way of distracting himself from the knowledge that she was sleeping upstairs, his way of trying to forget the way she'd looked stretched out in the foaming water of the spa that afternoon.
He hadn't, as he wanted her to believe, watched her. He'd seen her go into the poolhouse. Then, when she hadn't come out, he'd gone to check on her. She'd been lounging in the big tub, Rachmaninoff wafting from the overhead speakers. Her hair had been left down and floated in the frothing water. And her body… her body had been long and slender and pale. He could still feel the impact, like a sledgehammer straight to the solar plexus.
He hadn't stayed to tease and taunt, but had left as quietly as he'd come. There had been a fear, a definite fear that if she'd opened her eyes and looked at him he'd have crawled.
Thoughts of her haunted him day and night. He knew he should be able to prevent it. Nothing and no one was permitted to have power over him. But he was beginning to understand how a woman could become an obsession by simply existing. He was beginning to understand how a man could become overwhelmed by his own fantasies.
It made him worry about himself, but it made him worry more about her. If another man had become obsessed with her, and that other man had crossed certain lines, to what lengths might he go to have her? The letters and calls were gradually becoming more urgent. When would he stop them and try something more desperate?
As frightened as she was, Quinn didn't believe Chantel had any conception of just how far that kind of madness could push a man. The longer he was around her, the more he realized just how far that was.
They would shoot on the back lot that day. Another camera crew was already in New York filming exteriors. Chantel was looking forward to the time when she and other members of the crew would fly east for the handful of scenes to be shot on location. It would give her a chance to see her sister Maddy and, with any luck, catch her play on Broadway.
The thought of it brought back her earlier cheerful mood. It lasted even through an hour's delay while technicians worked out a few bugs.
"Looks like New England," Quinn commented as he glanced around the open-air set.
"Massachusetts, to be exact," Chantel told him, nibbling on a sticky bun. "Ever been there?"
"I was born in Vermont."
"I was born on a train." Chantel broke off another piece of her bun and laughed. "Well, nearly. My parents were on their way to a gig when my mother went into labor. They stopped off long enough to have my sisters and me."
"Your sisters and you?"
"That's right. I'm the oldest of triplets."
"There are three of you. Good God."
"There's only one of me, Doran." She popped a piece of the bun in his mouth, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. "We're triplets, but each of us manages to be her own person. Abby's raising horses and kids in Virginia, and Maddy's currently wowing them on Broadway."
"You don't look like the family type."
"Really." She felt too good to be offended. "I also have a brother. I can't tell you what he does, because no one's quite sure. I lean toward professional gigolo or international jewel thief. You'd get along beautifully with him." She watched one of the prop men pick up a boulder and move it a few feet. "Amazing, isn't it?"
Quinn studied the trees. They looked real, just like the ones back home, until you saw the wood base they sat on. "Anything real around here?"
"Not a great deal. Give them a few hours and they could make this a jungle in Kenya." Stretching her back, she toyed with the ice in her cup. She was used to waiting. "We were going to shoot this on location, but there were some problems."
"There's a lot of wait-around in this business."
"It's not for the restless. I've gone back to my dressing room and sat for hours to be called back for a five-minute scene. Other days you put in fourteen hours nonstop."
"Why do you do it?"
"Because it's what I've always wanted to do." It was a stock answer. Why she felt obliged to elaborate on it, she didn't know. "When I was little and I sat in a theater and saw what could happen, I knew I had to be a part of it."
"So you always wanted to be an actress."
She tossed her hair back and smiled. "I've always been an actress. I wanted to be a star."
"Looks like you got what you wanted."
"Looks like," she murmured, shaking off a hint of depression. "What about you? Did you always want to be a—whatever it is you are?"
"I wanted to be a juvenile delinquent, and was doing a pretty good job of it."
"Sounds fascinating." She wanted to know more. To be honest, she wanted to know everything about him, but she'd take care how she asked. "Why aren't you serving ten-to-twenty in San Quentin?"
"I got drafted." He grinned, but she sensed the joke was very much his own.
"The army builds men."
"Something like that. Anyway, I learned to do what I was good at, make a profit and stay out of jail."
"And what are you good at?" He turned his head, just enough that she could see the amusement and the challenge in his eyes. "Forget I asked. Let's try something else. How long were you in the army?"
"I didn't say I was in the army." He offered her a cigarette, then lighted it himself when she shook her head.
"You said you were drafted."
"I was. Drafted and government-trained. Want some more coffee?"
"No. How long were you in?"
"Is that where you
"Yeah." He smiled at her again. Then, before either of them realized his intention, he reached out to touch her hair. "You look like a kid."
Her heart shouldn't have been hammering, but it was. It was only a touch, after all, only a few words and a long look in a pretend world teeming with people. "That's the idea," she managed after a moment. "I'm twenty in this scene, innocent, eager, naive… and about to be deflowered."
"No, actually, just over there." She pointed to a small clearing in the forest the crew had created. "Brad the cad seduces me, promising me his everlasting devotion. He taps the passion that so far I've only given to my painting, then exploits it."
Quinn clucked his tongue. "With all these people watching."
"I love an audience."
"And you got mad because I watched you in the tub."
"They're ready for you, Chantel."
After giving her assistant a nod, Chantel stood up, then carefully brushed off the seat of her pants. "Get yourself a good seat, Doran," she suggested. "You might learn something."
Taking her advice, Quinn watched her run through the scene several times on low power. From his angle, it seemed a lukewarm stock scene—a gullible woman, a clever man in a pretty springtime setting. Plastic, he thought, pure plastic, down to the leaves on the trees. Quinn kept his eyes on George as the makeup artist retouched Chantel's face to keep that dewy, never-been-touched look intact. One of the prop men handed her back her sketchpad and pencil.
"Places. Quiet on the set." The hubbub died away, to be replaced by silence. "Speed. Roll film." The clapper came down for take 1. "Action."
It began the same way, with Chantel sitting on a rock sketching. Sean made his entrance and stood watching her for a moment. When Chantel glanced up and saw him, Quinn felt his mouth go dry. Everything a man could want was in that look. Love, trust, desire. If a man had a woman look at him that way, he could win wars and scale mountains.
He'd never wanted to be loved. Love tied you down, made you responsible to someone other than yourself. It took as much as or more than it gave. That was what he'd thought, that was what he'd been certain of, until he'd seen the look come into Chantel's eyes.
A movie, he reminded himself when he realized he'd missed five minutes of shooting. They were already doing a second take. The look in her eyes was as much an illusion as the forest they were in. And it hadn't been aimed at him, in any case. It was a movie, she was an actress, and it was all part of the script.
The first time Sean Carter touched her, Quinn felt his jaw lock tight. Fortunately for him, the director cut the scene.
When they continued, Quinn told himself he was under control. He told himself that he was only there because he was paid to be. She meant nothing to him personally. She was a case. It didn't matter to him how many men she made love with, on- or off-camera.
Then he watched her touch her lips softly, hesitantly, to Sean's, and he thought of murder.
It was only a scene in a movie, with fake rocks, fake trees and fake emotions. But it seemed so real, so honest. There were dozens of people around him with machines to run the lights, the mikes. Even as Sean gathered Chantel closer, a camera edged in on them.
But she trembled. Damn it, he saw her quiver as Sean pulled the band from her hair and let it tumble free. Her voice shook when she told him she loved him, she wanted him, she wasn't afraid. Quinn found his hands were balled into fists in his pockets.
Her eyes shut as Sean rained kisses all over her face. She looked so young, so vulnerable, so ready to be loved. Quinn didn't notice the camera come in close. He only saw Sean unbuttoning her blouse, and her eyes, wide and blue, locked on her lover's. Hesitantly she unbuttoned his shirt. Color washed her cheeks as she drew the shirt aside and pressed her cheek to his chest. They lowered to the grass.
Quinn came back to reality with a thud. He watched Chantel sit up, then say something to Sean that made him laugh. She was wearing a brief strapless bra that would stay below camera range and a pair of baggy jeans. Larry draped her discarded blouse over her shoulder, and she gave him an absent smile.
"Let's take it again. Chantel, after you take off his shirt, I want you to lift your head." Mary Rothschild hunkered down as Chantel rebuttoned her blouse. "I want a kiss there, a good long one, before you two go down on the grass."
Sometime during the fifth take, Quinn found his objectivity. He searched the faces of those looking on. If there was an uncomfortable stirring in his stomach, he could ignore it now. His job was to find out who might be watching Chantel, not clinically, not approvingly as she completed the scene, but someone who might be eaten alive with jealousy. Or fantasizing. It wasn't going to do either one of them any good if it was him.
Quinn took out another cigarette and watched the faces around him. He had reports coming in on everyone from the cinematographer to the prop man. Gut instinct told him that whoever was sending her letters was someone she knew, someone she might speak to casually every day.
Quinn wanted to find him, and he wanted to find him quickly. Before he developed an obsession of his own.
The assistant director put his arm around Chantel's shoulders and, with his head bent close to her ear, led her off the set. Before they reached the trailer that was Chantel's dressing room, Quinn was in front of them.
Chantel shot him a narrowed look but hung on to her temper. "As a matter of fact, I was going to get out of the sun for awhile. Amos was giving me the rest of today's schedule. You'll have to forgive Quinn, Amos. He's a bit… possessive."
"Hard to blame him." Good-natured and a bit tubby around the middle, Amos patted her shoulder. "You were terrific, Chantel, just terrific. We'll call when we need you for the close-ups and reaction shots. You should have about a half hour."
"Thanks, Amos." She waited until he was out of earshot before she turned on Quinn. "Don't do that."
"All you needed was a knife between your teeth," she muttered, jerking open the door of the trailer. "I told you Amos was harmless. He—"
"Has a habit of touching women. One of those women is my client."
Chantel chose a diet drink from the small refrigerator and collapsed with it onto the sofa. "If I didn't want him to touch me, I assure you, he wouldn't. This isn't the first time I've worked with Amos, and unless you insist on acting like an idiot, it won't be the last."
Quinn opened the refrigerator and, to his satisfaction, found a beer. "Look, angel, I can't narrow down the list of suspects to suit your requirements. It's time you stopped pretending that the person you're so afraid of isn't someone you know."
"I'm not pretending," she began.
"You are." He chugged back some of the beer before he sat beside her. "And you're not pretending with half as much style as you were out there rolling on the grass a few minutes ago."
"That's work. This is my life."
"Exactly." He took her chin in a way that made her eyes flash. "I'm supposed to take care of it. If it makes you feel better, I've just about eliminated Carter."
"Sean?" She felt a quick surge of relief, then one of caution. "Why?"
"Simple enough reasoning." He took another sip of beer and kept her hanging. "Seems to me that if a man was obsessed with a woman—We'll agree that we're dealing with an obsession?"
"Yes, damn it." She snatched the bottle out of his hand. "What are you getting at?"
"Just that if I were going over the edge about a woman I wouldn't be able to stand up, dust myself off and turn aside after I'd spent a good part of the day tangled half-naked with her."
"Is that so?" Chantel handed him back his beer. "I'll be sure to keep that in mind." Relaxed again, Chantel leaned back against the pillows and stretched out her legs. "So, what did you think of the scene?"
"It ought to fog up a few bifocals."
"Oh, come on, Quinn.
"But a quick tumble on the pine cones sells tickets."
"This is television. We're after ratings. Damn it, Quinn, I put a lot into that scene. It's the turning point of Hailey's life. If it doesn't mean more than—"
"You were good," he cut in, and had her staring at him.
"Well." She set her drink down. "Mind repeating that?"
"I said you were good. I don't hand out the awards, angel."
She brought her knees up and dropped her chin onto them. With the thin slash of sunlight coming through the curtains, she still looked young and innocent. "How good?"
"How do you manage to feed that ego when you're alone?"
"I've never denied the size of my ego. How good?"
"Good enough to make me want to give Carter a black eye."
"Really?" Delighted, she caught her bottom lip between her teeth. She'd play it light. It wouldn't do to let him know just how much it meant to her to hear him praise her work. "Before or after the cameras were rolling?"
"Before, during and after." Unexpectedly he reached over and took the front of her shirt in his hand. "And don't push your luck, angel. I've got a habit of taking what looks good to me."
"You've such class, Doran." She uncurled his fingers from her blouse. "Such low class."
"Just keep that in mind. You know, angel, you gave me a twinge or two when I watched you and Carter paw each other."
"Give it any name you want. But good as you are, I didn't spend all my time watching you. I looked around and saw a few interesting things."
"Brewster smoked a half a pack of cigarettes while you and Carter were… working."
"He's a nervous man. I've seen writers do worse when their script's being filmed."
"Leery practically fell in your lap trying to get a closer look."
"It's his job to look."
"And your assistant nearly swallowed his tongue when Carter took your shirt off."
"Just stop it." Springing up, she paced to one of the windows. They would call her soon. She wouldn't be any good if she let what Quinn was saying get her all churned up. "As far as I'm concerned, you're giving your own gutter-height views to everyone on set."
"That brings up another thought." He settled back and waited for her to look around at him. "Matt's yet to show up on the set. Strange. Aren't you his top client?"
She stared at him for a long moment. "You're determined to leave me without anyone, anyone at all."
Skin Deep by Nora Roberts / Romance & Love have rating 5.4 out of 5 / Based on43 votes