Phoenix Falling

Phoenix Falling

formerly

The Spiral Path

 

EXCERPT:

This excerpt shows Rainey remembering the first time she and Kenzie met.

Rainey had been exultant when her agent called to ask her to read for the part of Marguerite St. Just in The Scarlet Pimpernel. Though she loved making quirky independent movies and had built a decent career with them, Pimpernel was the big time: big budget, big names, and a rousing classic story. She immersed herself in the script for days before her audition, until she knew exactly who Marguerite was. She even booked sessions with a dialect coach to help her create an alluring French accent, and a movement coach to teach her to curtsy and dance properly.

As she arrived at the studio, one of Hollywood’s most famous female stars was leaving the audition room. Well, she hadn’t expected the competition to be easy.

As always on such occasions, the room was full of people evaluating her as if she were a slab of overdone steak. She recognized the film’s director, two producers, a famous casting director, and half a dozen executive types.

The director, Jim Gomolko, looked as if he’d bitten into something sour when he told her to go ahead with the test scene. But she’d come prepared. Dressed in a flowing dress with a period flavor, she curtsied gracefully to the executives, thanking them for their kind consideration with her carefully practiced French accent.

An expressionless male assistant fed her lines as she performed the scene where Marguerite first met Sir Percy. She began the scene coolly, for as the most acclaimed actress in Paris she was used to men wanting to bed her. She’d learned to keep admirers at a distance—yet there was something about this Englishman, a hint of steel beneath his languid manners and wicked wit. As the scene progressed she gradually realized that this was a man of surprising depths and passions, one who could keep a woman intrigued….

When she finished her reading, the executives were nodding approval. Gomolko said, “I want you to read again with someone else, Ms. Marlowe.”

One of the suits spoke into a cell phone and five minutes later Kenzie Scott ambled into the room. Rainey caught her breath, electrified. Though Scott was rumored to be on board for Pimpernel, her agent had told her the deal wasn’t set yet.

Rainey had kept her fingers crossed because she was a great admirer of Kenzie Scott’s work. And—well, of his looks, too, she was only human. But even more, she respected his acting. She preferred his early work, before he’d become a major star, though he brought depth and nuance to even the most macho action roles.

He looked across the room at her as if she was the most fascinating, desirable woman he’d ever seen. Every cell in her body kicked into overdrive. Tall, dark, and charismatic, he was almost supernaturally handsome. He was often mentioned in the same breath with Cary Grant, and not only because of his chiseled features and the faint cleft in his chin. The real similarity lay in his easy, aristocratic British charm. On screen he could project strength, intelligence, wit, vulnerability—all at once if the role called for it. Those qualities were strikingly vivid in person.

Kenzie bowed, a perfect Georgian gentleman despite his khakis and polo shirt. “ Mademoiselle St. Just, your performance tonight was brilliant.”

With a pang of regret she realized that the admiration in those amazing green eyes was because he was in character. Since he was working from memory, she slid into Marguerite and recklessly tossed her script over her shoulder, pages fluttering to the floor while she prayed she’d remember her lines.

She responded to Kenzie’s dazzled Sir Percy by playing the scene ardently instead of the coolness of her first reading. They were from different nations, different ways of life. To a loyal daughter of France, this languid aristocrat was all she was taught to despise, while she was an actress, a woman to be bedded, not wed. Yet they both were caught up in a blazing attraction too powerful to deny, no matter how much it cost them.

When they finished the scene, the executives were sitting upright in their chairs. One of the producers muttered, “Jesus, who knew she was so hot?”

Gomolko made a rueful face. “You were right, Kenzie, she’s perfect for the role. You’ve got your deal. I look forward to working with you, Ms. Marlowe.”

She stammered her thanks as the room erupted with excited talk, leaving her and Kenzie in a small zone of privacy. Now that they weren’t acting together, she felt shy with him. Reminding herself that soon they’d be rolling around on a mattress together, she asked, “What did Gomolko mean about the deal?”

He smiled, tanned skin crinkling around his eyes. “I told him I wouldn’t take the part unless you were cast as Marguerite.”

No wonder the director had regarded her with misgivings—he’d been afraid he might have to choose between the actor he wanted and a female lead who wouldn’t be right for the part. “Then I owe you quite a thank you. Why did you want me in particular? We’ve never even met.”

“I’ve seen most of your work, and knew you were right for Marguerite.”

She groaned. “Please don’t tell me you saw Biker Babes from Hell.”

He laughed. “That movie proved you could handle Marguerite’s adventurous side. But I was already convinced. You should have won that Oscar for Home Free.”

She thought of the awards ceremony wistfully. Attending dressed to kill and not showing a shred of disappointment when she didn’t win had been a major test of acting skill. “There was a strong field of nominees.”

“You were the best.” He touched her hair with gossamer delicacy. “This red-gold is your natural color?”

She shivered, a little breathless. “Yes, but usually I play drab, worthy brunettes.”

“The time has come for you to play a glamorous woman of the world, Raine.”

“People who know me well call me Rainey.”

He repeated that in his beautiful deep voice. He’d trained at RADA—the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London—which gave him an unfair advantage, she thought dizzily. Earlier he’d been Sir Percy admiring Marguerite, but his expression now made it clear he hadn’t insisted on her for this movie solely because of her acting.

So be it. She’d attained success through discipline and unrelenting work, not wasting her time on high-profile affairs to get her name into the gossip columns. But a life without occasional recklessness wasn’t worth living. Kenzie Scott was gorgeous, likable, and attraction crackled between them like a high voltage current. If they had a fling, it would be by mutual choice.

How much simpler life would have been if he’d only wanted an affair….