by Bette Hawkins
Alluring screen actress Lauren Langham excels at the roles she plays both on- and off-camera. She’s so good at pretending, in fact, that no one watching her popular rom-coms or dazzling red carpet appearances would assume she was anything but charming, outgoing…and straight.
While preparing to shoot a new film in a small Texas town, Lauren wonders what she would be like if her own life had followed a different script. Then she meets Harper Ward, a waitress at the local diner, whose natural beauty leaves her speechless. Harper mistakes Lauren’s reaction for being stuck up and takes an instant dislike to her.
Like Lauren, Harper isn’t exactly what she seems—and also wonders what her life would be like if family obligations hadn’t turned her world upside down. When the film’s lecherous director hires Harper to work as his assistant, she and Lauren find themselves fighting a powerful attraction that quickly escalates into an overwhelming passion. But where can they go from here?
Lex Kent's Reviews - I don't know what it is, but something about romances that involve a movie star falling in love with a girl-next-door type, are some of my favorites. I must be honest, this book was not on my radar at all. Therefore, it was such a pleasant surprise how much I really enjoyed this. Then to find out this is a debut novel, I'm even more impressed. The way she writes is believable and I thought contained good dialogue. For me, she successfully "showed" the romantic connection, and that's what I look for in a romance author.
Lauren Langham stepped out of the car, lifting her sunglasses from her eyes. She pushed them back into her hair and looked around at the neighboring homes near the cottage. People had warned her that the town was small and very different from what she was used to. As she passed through the streets, she had noticed children playing on the sidewalks and strangers waving hello. The lawns were green and well kept, the houses all looked freshly painted, and there were no buildings taller than two stories high. It was the very definition of quaint. This town made New York City seem like an ant farm, considering the way people rushed around there, their eyes settling on nobody.
The new environment was a relief to her. Lauren had been craving peace, and she could already see that she would be able to find it here. Although her job had brought her to town, she hoped that there would be time for relaxation as well. She didn’t even need to be in town this early, but she had wanted an extra few weeks to unwind and settle in.
Texas Twist was her third collaboration with director Sal Black. The leading man was Josh Lawson, with whom she had also worked in the past. When she read the script, she’d rolled her eyes at how corny it was. Pressure from her agent, who always wanted her to take roles like this, helped her to overcome her reservations. The promise of a large payday helped too. Although she had never been a very money-oriented person, she had made some unwise decisions lately and this would help her to recover from them.
Lauren looked approvingly at the cottage. Her assistant Melinda had rented it for her so that she would have complete privacy for the next three months. It was as lovely as it had looked in the pictures, white with green shutters, a large front porch and, she knew, a big backyard. When she was a kid, she had stayed briefly in a house with the same color scheme. The house had represented stability, her great-aunt exposing her to discipline and warmth in equal parts. She had spent long happy days exploring every clean corner of that house before she’d been yanked away again by her folks. Smiling, Lauren realized that she had forgotten all about her childhood wish for a house with green shutters until this moment.
She intended to make her daily life for the next few months as simple as it could be. The plan was that she would devote herself to work and then come home to cook, read and sleep. A period of hard work balanced with some rest would do her good.
Chester, her beloved dog, was waiting patiently on the passenger seat. It was important to her that she had been able to bring him along, given that right now he was the most constant presence in her life. When she walked around to unclip him from the seat belt, he jumped excitedly toward her and she gathered him up in her arms.
“This is our new house, boy. Do you like it?”
When she entered the cottage, she was even more impressed by it. It was beautifully furnished with antiques settled comfortably on plush carpets. The owners had decorated the walls with framed pictures, and there was lots of natural light. The house had such a great energy that she was certain she was going to be happy here.
As she walked around, she was struck by the feeling of being completely alone for once. After years of the full movie star treatment and all the coddling that came with it, she worried sometimes that she had lost the ability to do things for herself. There was always someone else to make decisions and solve problems. At first, as a fiercely independent young actor, she had resisted the help, but she had long since given up on that. Lauren wanted to get closer to the person she had been before all of this. As a first step, Lauren had asked her assistant to stay in New York and work for her remotely. Melinda could be a lifesaver, but a break would be healthy for her. At the very least, Lauren could do her own grocery shopping.
A couple of her friends had teased her about her new goals. They had pointed out the ridiculousness of her trying to give away the Hollywood lifestyle while she was working on a mainstream film. The six-figure sum she was getting paid made her especially guilty, because it wasn’t a role that she could feel proud of. Lauren had not tried to explain much to anyone. There was no point when she couldn’t tell anyone the real reason for her resolutions.
When she was finished unpacking her suitcases, Lauren decided to take a walk and explore the town. It was the sort of place where you could walk from one edge to another without any need for a car. She assumed that most of her co-stars and the crew would be flying out on the weekends to nearby cities, rather than spending all of their time here. It was what she would have done herself six months ago.
Soon she came to the main strip of stores. There was a grocery store, a dry cleaner, a butcher, and a couple of other small stores. A diner stood in the middle of the row, with a simple red sign that said Joe’s. She looked over the menu posted in the window before she went in. There was nothing fancy listed on it, just good simple food.
Lauren walked across the checked floor and slid into a booth. The red vinyl crinkled against her back. She tried to act like she didn’t notice as the few other patrons in the diner looked over at her. Lauren averted her eyes to the table then self-consciously glanced up again. An older man gave her a friendly wave before looking back to his newspaper. She smiled to herself.
Lauren scanned the specials on the board behind the counter. She had missed breakfast and everything looked delicious. It took a few moments for her to realize that the waitress was talking to her. Lauren’s glance shifted over in order to greet her…and Lauren froze.
The woman was beautiful, with shoulder-length red hair, pale skin, and warm brown eyes. In fact, she was so striking that Lauren was tongue-tied.
“Do you need another minute?” The waitress smiled uncertainly, her full lips parting. It was a stunning smile.
Lauren had no idea how long she had been sitting there just staring. Judging by the way the waitress was looking at her now, she gathered that it had been for an uncomfortable length of time.
“No, thank you. Can I have the chicken-fried steak please?” Lauren said quickly. She forced her voice to sound clear and confident. For years she had been getting by on strategies like that. Acting had helped a lot with her shyness.
Lauren cleared her throat and fixed her gaze over the woman’s shoulder to avoid looking at her face again. She was supposed to be focusing on herself and not turning her head for the first pretty face she saw. Her eyes drifted to the name tag clipped to the front of the waitress’s uniform: Harper, a name that would be suited to a character in a play or a movie about a Southern lady. The name sounded musical, just like the woman’s voice. Then Lauren realized with horror that she was accidentally staring at the woman’s chest, and looked away.
“Sure, coming right up.” Harper said it sweetly but Lauren caught the question in her tone.
Lauren watched her walk away. Her soft aqua uniform complemented the flaming red hair. Like everything else in here, the uniform belonged to the 1950s. It looked incredible on her. The retro style fit Harper perfectly, because her face was timeless. She looked like she would be at home no matter what decade she lived in. Harper had the kind of figure that Lauren’s colleagues hired personal trainers and chefs and even plastic surgeons to try to create. Yet Harper looked at ease with her beauty in a way that gave the impression that it came to her naturally.
It wasn’t like Lauren to react to a woman like this, for her to be so instantly attracted. Thanks to her job, she met stunning women every day of her life. She had walked red carpets with women that society decided were the most beautiful people in the world. Most of them just didn’t interest her in that way. Looks had never been that important to her, partly because she knew how much of an illusion they often were. A beautiful woman could be as dull or mean as anyone else. When she dreamed about being in a long-term relationship, her fantasies centered on being with someone that she could really talk to.
Lauren berated herself for the way she was thinking and how quickly she had noticed Harper. So much for wanting to spend some time on her own. As soon as she told herself that she couldn’t have something, she wanted it more than ever. The fact that she was checking out a stranger so quickly after arriving in town only reinforced how important it was for her to stay focused on work. There was nothing wrong with feeling a blast of desire, but she didn’t have to act on it or even think about trying to act on it. There was no reason to think that Harper had any interest in her, which only made the whole thing more stupid.
Lauren pulled her script from her handbag. She had work to do.
“One chicken-fried steak,” Harper called out to the cook. Jimmy gave her a thumbs-up.
Harper took the coffeepot from its warmer and approached the customer again. She wondered where she’d seen this woman before. Usually she had a good memory for names and faces, but she couldn’t place where or how they’d met. The woman had papers laid out in front of her now, occasionally scribbling in the margins. Harper walked slowly toward her.
“You new in town?” Harper asked. There was no way that the woman was local. Harper knew everyone who lived here by name, especially everyone close to her age. Harper guessed that the connection might be from school in New York. It would be an odd coincidence to run into an old classmate here, but stranger things had happened. The woman looked up; she had very green eyes. She was quite pretty actually, with well-defined cheekbones and thick dark eyebrows.
“Yes,” the woman said sharply, adding nothing.
For a moment, Harper forgot which question she had asked. The customer pointedly looked away and trained her eyes on the page in front of her. Harper raised her eyebrows, then leaned over and filled the woman’s coffee cup in silence. It was hard to understand why such a simple question would cause a reaction like that, but some people were just rude.
Harper moved to wipe down a nearby table. She looked around for Sue to share her annoyance, but Sue was probably on a cigarette break. Harper heard Jimmy call the order, and she headed toward the counter to pick it up. She wasn’t looking forward to going back to the ice queen’s table, although of course she would remain polite and professional. Harper paused when she felt Sue’s hand on her arm. Sue was still breathless after running in from outside.
“Why didn’t you tell me she was here?” Sue asked.
“Tell you who was here?” Harper replied. “Should I know what you’re talking about?”
“That’s Lauren Langham.” Sue waited for the penny to drop then rolled her eyes. “You really don’t know? How have you missed this? They’re shooting a movie here and she’s one of the stars. She’s a little early though, I thought they weren’t starting till next month.”
Harper finally nodded. There had been a lot of background chatter about the movie, but she hadn’t paid much attention to it. It sounded like a romantic comedy from what she heard, so not really her kind of thing. Once upon a time she’d kept up with pop culture, but she had other things on her mind these days.
“I guess this is proof you don’t listen to anything I say,” Sue joked. “And haven’t you seen a movie in the last five years? How can you not know who she is?”
Harper shrugged helplessly. “I just don’t?”
The two of them stared at Lauren, who was obliviously looking down. Harper suddenly realized where she knew Lauren. She’d been in a movie Harper had seen years ago, in New York—a film that had made a big impression on her at the time. It was a shame that Lauren was disappointing in real life. Harper supposed that actors like her had so much money and attention thrown at them that they forgot what the real world was like.
“Do you mind if I take over the table?” Sue asked eagerly. “I’m not trying to steal your tip; you can have it. She always seems like such a sweetheart in her movies, I bet she’s got a big heart.”
“I doubt it, but I’ll split it with you whichever way she goes. Fifty-fifty. You’d better get that over there before it gets cold,” Harper said. She didn’t really care to deal with a Hollywood diva anyway. There was nothing more boring to her.
“Thanks, you’re a doll,” Sue said, taking the plate from her and heading over toward the table.
Lauren looked up from her script as an older waitress with a friendly, open face came toward her. Lauren’s eyes flicked back over to Harper, whom she could see behind the counter, leaning forward on her elbows, laughing and joking around with the cook. That smile lit up her whole face. Lauren could see her profile, her long limbs folded easily in front of her.
Lauren had really hoped to have the chance to speak with Harper again. She was aware that she had acted strangely by not answering Harper’s question and she wanted to rectify the mistake she had made. When Harper had tried to strike up a conversation, she hadn’t known how to talk about why she was here without sounding like she was bragging about being an actor. It was nice to speak with someone who didn’t know who she was, and she hadn’t made the most of it. Lauren was used to seeing the dawning of recognition on a person’s face right before they started treating her differently.
The second waitress, whose badge read Sue, leaned over to refill her coffee cup. “Is there anything else you need?”
“I think it’s wonderful that you’re here, Miss Langham. I hope you’ll come back and see us again.”
“I’m sure I will.”
Now and then Lauren would watch Harper while she went about her business, but there was no opportunity to interact with her again. Feeling disappointed, Lauren got up to leave.
“How was everything?” Sue asked her as she passed.
“Very good thank you,” Lauren said. “Best meal I’ve had in a while.”
Sue smiled at her broadly, and Lauren started to leave the café with one last backward glance toward Harper. Harper was standing at someone else’s table now and chatting comfortably with them. Lauren paused and allowed herself to take just one last glance, to admire the way Harper looked when she laughed.
Harper must have felt Lauren’s eyes on her because she looked up at just that moment. The laugh died on her lips. They held eye contact for a moment, Lauren feeling lost in her warm brown-eyed gaze. Harper broke the stare first and returned to her conversation.
Lauren turned quickly and walked away.
“I was right, she has a huge heart,” Sue said gleefully, using her tongue to wet her thumb and then peeling off a note to give to Harper.
“Thanks. Pity she has such a chip on her shoulder to go with it,” Harper said, pocketing the money. Lauren had looked at her with such an odd expression on her face just now. Harper couldn’t believe that a person could get so bent out of shape at not being recognized.
“Oh, she’s just a little shy I think. I can’t wait ’til Josh Lawson comes in here. I bet his…tip will be enormous.” Sue gave an exaggerated wink and Harper laughed at her corny joke.
Harper didn’t know how she would survive in this job without Sue, who had become one of her closest friends since they started working together. Spending so much time with her was a distraction from the fact that this was not where Harper was supposed to be. There was nothing wrong with being a waitress, and being one here in particular was a good job, but she had been thrown off her path. Once she had been ambitious, with big goals. But since her mother’s illness, she’d had to leave her job at her uncle Stephen’s law firm in New York to look after her father and brother. It was supposed to be a short break, just until things settled down. That was two years ago.
When her mother died, the world stood still for her and yet, inexplicably, it kept moving for everyone else. It was difficult for her to wrap her mind around how she was supposed to go on. At first, it was all about just trying to get through the days. Then it became clear that her father and brother just couldn’t take care of themselves.
She never imagined that working at Joe’s would be anything other than temporary, but the days stretched out into a couple of lonely years, taken up with care for her brother and her dad, who had started drinking too much. A lot of her friends from high school moved away a long time ago and she had little in common with the ones who stayed. In truth, she had always been an outsider here, and once upon a time she couldn’t wait to get away.
The experience of seeing that movie that starred Lauren Langham belonged to a different life. Harper most likely saw it in an art house theater in the East Village, and had probably gone out with friends afterward for a drink. She had been such a different person back then. Life was a funny thing, the way a little piece of your past could come back to you in the strangest ways.
Over the next couple of days, Lauren would walk back into her mind. Harper thought that perhaps the connection that she’d made to her past had made her reflective. Although she liked to think that she didn’t care about the movie getting made in their town, she had to admit that there was something a little bit exciting about it.
Maybe there was even something a little bit exciting about her. The actress might not be the nicest person around but she was a stranger, and there were precious few of those in this town.
For the next couple of weeks, Lauren spent most of her time in the cottage, relaxing and procrastinating about work. It was easy to be lazy in this town. It was hot and the pace was slow. Nobody was in a rush to do anything. Sweat made her clothes stick to her skin, so she passed the hours lying around in the air- conditioning or out on the porch, letting the breeze cool her down. She drank homemade iced tea and chewed on ice chips.
Lauren had brought a handful of films set in the South with her because she’d planned on studying them to work on her character’s accent. It wasn’t a difficult one to pull off, and she knew that she could get it right without the help of a coach. At least, she could if only she could motivate herself to spend some time on it. The movies lay unwatched on her coffee table while she read books that had nothing to do with work. Whenever she picked up the script to start learning her lines, she just wound up putting it right back down again.
For the thousandth time lately, she was entertaining the idea of quitting the whole business. The thought of it always made her excited and terrified at the same time. What kind of person would she be if there wasn’t always someone watching her? Right now it all felt meaningless, and she grieved for all of the different paths she might have taken in her life. She was only in her early thirties, but it felt too late to start a new career. There had never been anything other than acting for her; she had no experience or training in anything else.
High school had been a very difficult time for her. Her family moved around a lot, and her shyness made it even harder to make friends. Acting became an unlikely lifeline. In high school, when she was staying in upstate New York with her grandfather, an English teacher named Mr. Kelly told her that her writing was good. He said that she was capable of doing well, if she would only apply herself. That teacher also ran the drama club, so she went along one day after school when he encouraged her toward it. Drama club sparked something in her, made her feel like a part of something special. The other kids there were all misfits too, and they were kind to her. There had always been an urge within her to reveal something of herself, even when she was feeling at her most guarded, and acting gave her the space to finally do that.
Despite her shyness, she had a stubbornness that paid off when she decided to act. Countless auditions and rejections couldn’t discourage her, because she was used to feeling unwanted. There was nothing like the high she experienced when doors started to open for her.
But now that high was gone. She had made it, she was successful, and that success felt empty. She was a member of the in-crowd, yet she still felt like an outsider. There were times during her career when she had truly loved acting, but right now she couldn’t remember the last time she felt that way. It was becoming difficult for her to find roles that she was passionate about. She was spending more and more of her time making movies like Texas Twist.
Though she had doubts about Texas Twist, she eventually managed to knuckle down and get to work. It wasn’t in her nature to do a half-assed job whether she cared about the role or not. Studying the script became part of her morning routine, sandwiched between having her breakfast and taking Chester for a walk.
The day before rehearsals were due to start, there was a knock at the cottage door. Lauren jumped at the noise. Nobody had knocked on her door since she’d gotten there. She had become very used to her own company.
When she looked through the front window and saw Sal standing there, Lauren flung the door open.
“Sal, Sal, Sal. You never did learn how to use the phone did you?” she teased. She offered her cheek and Sal kissed her loudly, and then gave her a hug.
“Well, you didn’t call me back last time I tried to call you, so I called Melinda to find out where you were. I hear you’ve become quite the hermit,” he said. Sal pulled away and looked at her, inspecting her face for clues. “Everyone’s worried about you. I’ve had your team on the phone to me more than once. You’re okay, right?”
“Of course I’m okay. I’ve just been laying low for a while,” Lauren said breezily. At some point during the last week she had become very relaxed, though she hadn’t been conscious of the point where she clicked over into feeling so at ease. For the first time in a while, she felt happy and she was glad to see a familiar face to share it with.
“Well, it’s time to stop that nonsense and strap in for the ride. I think this one’s going to be my masterpiece,” Sal announced, flopping down onto her sofa and stretching out his long legs.
Sal was a huge presence in more ways than one. He looked more like an aging rock star than a director. He had long hair that he tied into a ponytail, and he always wore black jeans and 70s punk band T-shirts. You would never know to look at him that he wrote fluffy, sentimental love stories. Lauren had known him for years, since back when they had traveled in the same independent movie circles. Sal had sold out even before she had.
Lauren laughed. “This film going to be the Citizen Kane of rom-coms.”
Sal frowned. “That hurts me. Don’t insult my art. I’m a sensitive man, and this shoot is already a disaster. Lori quit. It’s a bad omen.”
Lauren shook her head. “It’s not a bad omen if it happens every five minutes and it’s your fault. What did you do to her?”
Sal pulled a face that made it clear he was never going to tell her the answer to that question. Lauren had met Lori a couple of times, but she didn’t know her well because Lori was the sixth or seventh assistant Sal had hired since Lauren had known him, mostly because he kept trying to sleep with them. Though Lauren disapproved of Sal’s behavior at times, there was an authenticity and brutal honesty about him that she appreciated. He was very good at what he did.
“What do you think of this one-horse town? The tax breaks are amazing, the scenery is perfect for what I want to do, but there sure ain’t much to do here,” Sal said. “I got here yesterday, and I think I’ve already seen everything there is to see.”
Lauren shrugged. “I don’t mind it. I like the quiet. I’m glad you decided to write me a Southern belle part if it means I get out of the city for a while.”
“Ha. I give you another week before you’re dying to get back to the museums and restaurants. You can’t live without that culture. You’re a New York snob through and through.”
Lauren frowned at him. “That’s not true. I’m actually enjoying having a few home cooked meals. I like it here. The people are nice.”
“Whatever. I’m worried that it’s changed you. What the hell do you call those pants?” Sal pointed accusingly at her gray shorts. They were sweatpants that she’d cut the ends off because they would be far too warm otherwise. They were the most comfortable thing she had ever worn.
“Get used to them, I wear them nearly every day. I have two pairs.”
“I’d better not see them on set. In fact, get them off right now and put on something presentable. I say we go down to this cute little place I found, have us a good, old-fashioned lunch date?” Sal suggested. “I found somewhere decent to eat here. It’s a diner on the main strip. Good Southern cooking.”
“You want to go to Joe’s? I guess that would be okay,” Lauren agreed, trying to sound neutral about the idea.
“How did you know where I was talking about? You mean you have actually left the house?”
“I’ve been outside once or twice you know.” Lauren threw a cushion at him and moved to get ready.
They sat in the same booth where she had eaten during her last visit. A flash of red hair at the corner of her eye caught her attention, but Lauren tried to keep her eyes on Sal. He was talking about a certain executive that he hated, and how happy he was that they were shooting out here so that he could avoid him as much as possible. Sal loved the money he got to throw around on studio films but hated actually dealing with the studio.
Lauren had thought about Harper more than once since she had first seen her. Every now and then she would picture what it would be like to run into her on the street. She had also relived their last meeting several times in her mind, imagining it going very differently. In her revisions, Lauren hadn’t been so socially awkward. Instead she had been effortlessly charming and cool in a way that she could never be in real life. Lauren thought that she had grown out of having crushes on straight women long ago, but she kept picturing those brown eyes and hearing the woman’s beautiful lilting accent. It was embarrassing how happy she was that Harper was working today.
“You should see this cute piece that works here. Oh, there she is. I’m thinking about firing you and replacing you with big red over there.” Sal pointed very indiscreetly toward Harper, and Lauren’s face flushed. “Isn’t she a knockout?”
Lauren glanced over at Harper and felt it again, that shock that came from seeing true beauty. Lauren quickly averted her eyes, intent on not making the same mistakes as she had last time.
“Jesus, Sal, do you ever think about anything else?”
“Never. Never ever,” Sal affirmed, wiggling his thick eyebrows at her.
“Hi guys. Welcome. What can I get you folks?” Harper asked, smiling and looking back and forth between them.
Sal put his hand under his chin and grinned in a way that Lauren assumed was supposed to be cute. “Folks. I should get you to come down and coach some of my actors in how to do an authentic Southern accent. You really have a lovely way of speaking, has anyone ever told you that?”
“That’s nice of you to say, but there’s really nothing unique about the way I talk around here,” Harper said, smiling and pausing expectantly with pen in hand. Something about the way she handled Sal made Lauren wonder if sleazy guys hit on her all the time.
“What do you think, Lauren? I bet your accent could do with a little work. Should we get Harper to come down to the set and show you a thing or two?”
Lauren shot him a look and shook her head slightly. She wasn’t sure if the innuendo was deliberate or not, because you could never tell with him. The thought of Harper showing her things was tempting, but she could not let her mind go any further down that path. Lauren didn’t want to think about what kind of impression she must be making on Harper. The first time they had met she could barely string a sentence together, and now she was here with a man who came across like a jerk. Lauren tried to force a smile, but she couldn’t summon up much of one. She wished she hadn’t come in here again, especially not with Sal.
“Could I have the salad please?” Lauren asked. The last thing she needed was anyone pestering her about her weight. Sal had never been shy about telling her if he thought she didn’t look good.
Sal waved his hand toward Lauren. “Oh God, you actresses. Don’t know how to eat properly. I’ll have the cheeseburger and fries please, sweetheart.” Sal ignored the glare Lauren shot across the table at him.
“No problem,” Harper said, taking their menus. Lauren accidentally brushed her fingers against Harper’s. Harper pulled her hand away quickly, but not before Lauren had noticed the long and finely shaped fingers and felt the jolt as their skin connected.
The smile fell from Harper’s face before she turned to leave. Lauren watched until Harper was safely out of earshot. “Sal, could you please try to be less of a dick?”
“Oh don’t be that way. She didn’t mind. You never answered me. Do you think she’s hot?”
“Just stop it,” Lauren said.
Although Sal was aware of her sexuality, there was no way she could feel comfortable talking about Harper like that. It was an open secret within a very small circle that she dated women, but she kept the details mainly to herself. Celia and Franklin, two of the people who had helped shepherd her career from the start, were always warning her about how coming out could damage her career. Lauren usually confined her interest to women who were in the industry. It meant that they had as much to lose from any publicity as she did. It wasn’t the ideal way to conduct a relationship, though, and most of them only lasted for a month or two.
Sighing, Harper approached the kitchen. Sue was looking at her with narrowed eyes.
“It’s not fair, why are they always sitting in your section?” Sue asked. “That guy was at the same table yesterday.”
“Sorry Sue, it’s just luck. It’ll go your way tomorrow, maybe,” Harper said.
Despite the extra money the diner was making and the tips she was earning, Harper would be happier when all these people left. Lauren made her uneasy. There was a dismissive manner that made her feel small, like Lauren didn’t think she was worth even talking to or looking at. Harper wasn’t sure why the way Lauren treated her mattered so much. In a sense, Lauren’s attitude had nothing to do with her, because it wasn’t like they knew one another at all. Harper liked to think she didn’t care about the movie stuff that Sue thought was so important, but maybe she did.
The next morning, Sal came in early to buy coffee. She knew he was the director of the movie because he had bragged about it the first day he came in. Sal appeared to be the type of man who was used to charming people and always got what he wanted. The less attention Harper gave him, the more he chased after her. She had met men like him before. It was of no use telling them that she preferred women, because it only made them chase after her even more. Harper knew she had to treat Sal with a cool attitude rather than give him any ammunition at all.
When Harper handed him his change, he touched her hand for a second in a familiar way, and she pulled it away. The hand was placed firmly out of reach in the pocket of her uniform.
“No getting fresh, sir, or I’ll get you thrown out of here,” she said, half joking but seriously enough that he would know not to try it again.
“Sorry. Listen, I was thinking. Do you think you can get time off from here? I happen to be hiring right now,” he said, holding the hot cardboard cup in both hands.
Harper raised her eyebrows. Men like him really would try anything if the challenge seemed great enough. “What are you talking about? I don’t know anything at all about the movie business. Do you need someone to serve food or something?”
“Nope, I don’t want you to do craft service. You would be working for me. You seem smart, quick on your feet,” Sal said.
“You’ve learned all that from me bringing you coffee a couple of times?” she asked.
Sal held his arms out. “I’m a very good judge of character. My personal assistant quit and I really want to get another one before we start shooting. I could do with someone temporary until I get back home and can hire someone else. I’d pay you well. You don’t need any training, it’s just managing things for me here and there. I’m sure you can learn it on the job.”
“I’d need to think about it,” Harper said. It was a strange offer and she would be stupid if she didn’t see why he was making it. Who would just offer a job without an interview or any idea of what she could actually do?
“Here, take my card.” As Sal handed over the small piece of cardboard, he held onto the edge of it for a second. “I don’t just give this out to anyone.”
Harper put the card in the pocket of her dress without looking at it. Sal nodded at her once more and walked out.
Sue, who had been lingering behind them, came running over to her. “Did I just hear what I think I heard? Did he offer you a job?”
“Yep. It’s crazy right? He must think I was born yesterday,” Harper said.
“You’re not going to do it? Why the hell not?”
“Because he’s a sleazy scumbag?”
“You are so boring. Why don’t you just give it a try? The rest of us would kill for an opportunity like that.” Sue walked away muttering to herself. Harper looked guiltily at her back.
Harper stewed about Sal’s proposal and Sue’s reaction to it all night. Maybe she had never pictured herself doing a job like the one Sal was asking her to do, but then she hadn’t pictured herself working at the diner forever either. The extra money he mentioned was difficult to refuse. Harper had been trying so hard to keep them all afloat, but by the time they paid the bills and her dad bought his whiskey and cigarettes, there wasn’t a whole lot left over. If she ever wanted to start her life again, it would help to have some cash saved up.
Maybe it wouldn’t hurt just to try it. She called Sal the next day. When he came on the line, she abruptly told him her terms. “I’m not going to sleep with you. If you make rude comments to me or if I get the slightest hint that you’re only hiring me for a bit of fun, I’ll walk out immediately and sue for sexual harassment. I know the law, and I know a lot of lawyers too.”
There was a stunned silence, and then he laughed. “We’re going to get along just fine. I like you. When can you start?”