British actress Jenny Lyme is having a pretty decent career. Though she may not have become an international movie star, she’s well loved in England for a role on British TV and continues to work regularly.
Now her hometown community center is in danger of being sold. The only hope for its salvation is if Jenny can film the Christmas Revels production she’s directing and sell it for television broadcasting. For that she needs a really good cameraman—and she just happens to know one….
Greg Marino has worked hard for his success as a Hollywood cinematographer, and he has an Oscar sitting by his coffee maker to prove it. But he still has fond memories of the fling he had with Jenny Lyme ten years earlier when they worked together on a disastrous movie. When she calls and asks if he’d film her community Christmas show, he decides it would be a fun break in his demanding life. And it would be really, really nice to see Jenny again.
The show is a delight, and Jenny and Greg find the old attraction is still there. But is it possible to build a life together when both have demanding careers thousands of miles apart?
Jenny and Greg are characters from The Spiral Path, the second novel in the Circle of Friends Trilogy.
Greg Marino emerged from his bed yawning. He was too groggy and disoriented to figure out what time it was in Australia, but his body sure thought it should still be there rather than in Los Angeles.
By the time he’d showered and shaved, a pot of steaming coffee had dripped through. He poured a mug full, sending silent thanks to the friend who had stocked his refrigerator with perishables the day before. People who made movies did a lot of coming and going, and he and his buddies took care of each other.
Yawning again, he rubbed the head of the shiny gold Academy Award that sat incongruously between the toaster and the drip coffee maker. He liked keeping old Oscar there in a nice, visible spot. The statuette was his symbol of having made something of himself, contrary to the expectations of people who’d known him when he was a kid.
Taking his cell phone in case someone called, he stepped through the sliders onto his balcony. After swiping at the chair to remove the layer of urban dust, he sank into it and propped his feet on the railing. The view over the apartment complex courtyard wasn’t thrilling, but it was home.
For the thousandth time, he told himself that he really needed to go house hunting. He could afford a house now, and it would be nice to have a larger place. One with a view. But house hunting took time, and it was easier to walk away from an apartment for months on end than it would be to walk away from a house.
Having reached his usual conclusions, he set the topic aside for another day. One when he wasn’t so jetlagged.
He slouched deeper in his chair and sipped at the scalding coffee, enjoying the pleasant coolness of the December air. It had been blazing hot in the Land Down Under, but the filming had gone well. The raw, primitive scenery had been a cameraman’s dream. The images he’d captured had made up for the spoiled behavior of the movie’s two stars. Actors. Couldn’t live with them, couldn’t live without ‘em.
In mid-January he would be off to Argentina for the biggest budget, highest profile film of his career, but he had nothing booked before then. Maybe after he finished the coffee he’d call his manager to see if anyone wanted him to shoot a commercial or two. Such jobs kept him busy between feature films, paid well, and often provided opportunities to try exciting new techniques.
The cell phone played the first few notes of “Für Elise.” Wondering if a commercial had come looking for him, he answered, suppressing another yawn. “H’lo.”
“Greg—is that you?”
Not his manager. The female voice was deliciously British and familiar, but surely it couldn’t be….. “Yep, it’s me. Sorry if I’m slow, but who is this?” With his luck, she was probably a high class aluminum siding saleswoman.
“Jenny!” He came awake fast, amazed that his caller really was Jenny. As if he could have forgotten her. Trying not to sound like a slavering idiot, he said, “Nice to hear from you. Are you in Los Angeles? If you are, let me take you out to lunch.”
Smart, witty, and down to earth, Jenny was the kind of actor who made up for the prima donnas. She was also drop dead gorgeous—a brunette stunner who stood out even in a business where beautiful women were a dime a dozen.
Strange things could happen on a movie set, and Greg’s brief fling with Jenny was proof. Ordinarily their relationship would never have gone beyond casual chat, but she had been weeping her heart out over an actor boyfriend who’d thrown her over in favor of a high profile affair with a famous French actress twenty years his senior.
Greg had been there with a sympathetic shoulder and a willingness to do anything that would make her feel better. Though he hadn’t been able to cure Jenny’s broken heart, he’d done his best, and even coaxed a few smiles from her. In return, he had acquired some indelible memories to warm his nights.
Her rich chuckle interrupted his reverie. “Sorry, no, I’m in London.”
Damn. “What can I do for you?”
“I have a…a proposition for you.”
He blinked, then ordered his libido to quit looking for double meanings. “Are you turning director and looking for a cinematographer?”
“Not exactly. But something like that.”
She drew a breath that could be heard a third of the way round the globe. “This is a charity project. I grew up in a village in the Cotswolds—that’s west of London and very pretty—and I still have a home there. The parish tithe barn was turned into a community center just after the war, and it’s a wonderful place for plays and music practice and yoga classes and pottery and all manner of amusements. It’s the heart of Upper Bassett.”
“Upper Bassett?” Hound visions came to mind.
“To distinguish it from Lower Bassett and Bassett on the Wold,” she explained with a twinkle in her voice. “To make a long story as short as possible, the village owns only the lease on the barn. The actual owner is a big soulless corporation that wants to sell the property in six months when the lease expires. Property in Gloucestershire is staggeringly expensive, and the price they’re asking is far beyond our means. If the village wants to keep it, we have to raise a lot of money fast.”
He received more than his share of requests for his hard-earned money, but he was willing to oblige Jenny. “Where should I send the check?”
“That’s awfully generous of you, Greg, but I’m not calling to ask for money.” For an actress who made her living playing the sexy, good-hearted girl next door, Jenny sounded shy. “I’m on the community center board, so I decided to stage a Christmas mummers’ play to raise money. I’ve persuaded some of my friends to lend a hand, and I think we’ll draw a good audience for the performances.”
“But not good enough?”
“I’m afraid not. We’ll never make enough if we rely on ticket sales, so in six months Upper Bassett will have no community center. This may not sound very important, but community is what makes life worth living, and it can be very fragile. I don’t want to see the fabric of my native village come unraveled.”
He backtracked. “What’s a mummers’ play?”
“Oh, sorry. It’s one of those British things. Medieval plays, usually a combination of religious themes grafted onto ancient fertility rites. Groups of mummers used to go around giving short performances for begging money. That’s largely died out, but the plays are still performed on occasion. It’s quite a jolly tradition.”
A light dawned. “Once I saw a show like that in Boston. Lots of singing and dancing and melodrama. It was a great evening.”
“Ours will be, too. A couple of days ago, it occurred to me that the best way to turn our Revels into more money is to film the show so we can sell videos and if we’re lucky, license it to the telly.”
“I think I see where you’re going with this, but there are plenty of great cameramen in England. Can’t you draft one of them?”
“Probably, but you’re my first choice. You’re known for being able to do marvelous work quickly, and your name will add value to the project.” Her voice turned portentous. “The Upper Bassett Holiday Revels, filmed by Academy Award winning cinematographer Gregory Marino.”
“That’s shameless flattery.” He grinned. “Keep it up.”
She had the sexiest chuckle in the Northern Hemisphere. “Very well. This production will be a bit of a hodgepodge, so we’ll need your talent as well as your reputation. It won’t be easy to make my Morris dancers and children’s choir look dramatic instead of like amateur night. That’s why I thought of you.”
He toyed with the handle of his mug, thinking that it sounded like a hoot—the kind of wildly improvised project that he’d loved doing in his student days. But he hadn’t been a student in almost two decades, and he was tired to the bone. “You’re talking this Christmas, aren’t you? Like, in the next week or so? I just got back from Australia yesterday and I’m in no mood to climb on another airplane and spend the holidays with strangers.”
“You only just got home? Sorry—I thought you’d had more time to recover from the last job.” She hesitated. “I know this is a lot to ask, but if you’re willing, you could be the making of this project. What would it take to persuade you to come over?”
“Your fair white body,” he muttered under his breath as he sipped some coffee.
“That’s negotiable,” she said without missing a beat.