Because of the attention she’d had to pay to her cases, including a two-day trip to Los Angeles, she’d seen Niko only in passing. But they’d talked by phone. He wanted to see her. She reminded him what was at stake if they found themselves the focus of small-town talk. “What if a rumor knocks both of us out and Dick gets in?” she’d asked him after one night when she’d almost given in to desire. “Then P.C. would really be in trouble.” Niko had backed off for a couple of days, but his scorching late-night phone calls had once again reminded her of what was only ten minutes away.
A small group huddled on a sidewalk downtown, across the street from a bank that anchored one corner and a bakery the next. The town’s governmental buildings—city hall, post office and the like—were on the opposite side of the street, where the final shots would take place. But first they’d shoot the tagline, with Monique walking down the main downtown street. It was a small crew, just a cameraman, a production assistant, a stylist and Scott, the director. But it was a rather slow Tuesday morning with nothing going on, so the shoot attracted attention.
After making sure the sidewalk was clear and the shot was set, Scott walked to Monique. “Okay, just walk naturally from that mark over to here. Stand, hold and talk naturally, the way we practiced, just like you’re talking to me. Are you ready?”
Monique nodded. She tried not to look at the early-morning shoppers and curious onlookers stopping to see what was going on. Instead, she ran the lines over in her mind. After the makeup artist patted the shine and Scott counted her down, Monique took a breath and, while casually walking, delivered her lines.
At least that was the plan.
But just as she began walking, a movement caught the side of her eye. Niko. He’d obviously parked while she’d been distracted and leaned, arms crossed, against his sports car. Black shirt and sunglasses. Tall, tanned and confident. Looking as though he’d just stepped from a fashion magazine. Reminding her of why most nights she’d tossed and turned, unable to sleep. Because her body craved him.
“Cut!” Scott walked over to her. “It’s okay, Monique. This is your first time on camera. It’s harder than it looks. Just go back to your mark and start again.”
She did. Twice. The angrier she got with herself for not being able to focus and concentrate on the few words she had to deliver, the more she messed them up, and not because she’d never done this before. She was just about to walk over and tell Niko to please stop staring and move on. But when she looked up, he was gone. So with renewed determination, and a sigh of relief, she walked briskly to her mark, waited until Scott signaled that tape was rolling and said, “I’m Monique Slater with a new vision for a new day. Together we can make Paradise Cove truly heaven on earth.”
Less than an hour later, they took a break. Lance walked over to where they were viewing the footage on a digital camera. He handed her a bottle of water. “You did great.”
“After getting over a case of nerves, I did all right.”
“This looks good,” Scott said to Monique. “Let’s wrap it up, guys.”
“Thank you, Scott.” They hugged. “You’re right. This is harder than it looks.”
“Now you know why Hollywood gets paid the big bucks.”
“Can you shoot me a copy of the finished product before it airs?”
“Absolutely. We should have it put together in the next day or so. I’ll give you a call.”
Monique returned to the office. Forgetting that she’d turned off her phone during the shoot, she was surprised to see a couple of missed calls and several text messages. She read the texts first. All from Niko:
Am I bothering you?
Damn! If I weren’t running, I’d vote for you myself!
In spite of her maddening frustration with this man, she smiled as she remembered that on her last glance over before he left, he’d been holding his phone. She shook her head, swiping the phone screen so that she could hear the voice messages. To her surprise there were more than a dozen.
Several were work related, regarding either the L.A. office or various cases. One was from her mother. Three were from the campaign office. One was her insurance company. Two were telemarketing. One was from Niko…and one was from Rob.