It was a top down, wind in her hair, cruising kind of day. The fact that it was raining, the convertible’s top was firmly raised, and she was stuck in traffic did nothing to diminish Layla Andrews’ good mood. Freedom was in the only slightly smoggy Los Angeles air and she was breathing it in for the first time in ages.
Layla beamed at the security guard who waved her through the studio gate. Even after two years, he still looked at her like he didn’t know her until she lifted her sunglasses and he saw her face. Then he couldn’t lift the gate fast enough.
She cruised the busy throughways until she pulled into her personal parking spot outside the small soundstage with the Olympus logo on the side. It had been home for a while now but this was the first time she stopped to really look at it. This was the place that had made her famous as Hera, queen of the Greek gods, and television wife to the hottest man on television. Getting that role had been the best and worst day of her life. Today was the day the scales started to tip back towards the good side and she was going to do everything possible to keep that momentum going.
When the show began almost two years ago, it was one more cable show tucked in among all the others that was thankful for a first season of thirteen episodes. Then it went to air and the world fell in love with the Olympians and their assorted love affairs, wars and tragedies. The second season started with a bang and the show’s popularity exploded exponentially. Today was a non-filming day for the second episode of season three.
Layla snatched the script off her passenger seat and double-checked the dialogue she had to learn for the week. With her face in the pages, she didn’t notice the crack in the pavement just outside her car door. Her toe caught on it and she stumbled as she stepped out of her car. A pair of muscular arms kept her from hitting the pavement.
“Careful, Miss Andrews,” a growly voice whispered in her ear.
Layla didn’t try to stop the shiver that went down her spine. Some women were about the chest or the butt or the face. To be honest, any of those aspects could be appealing. But Layla had two weaknesses, and arms like the ones around her were the first. The deep voice like the one speaking to her was another. In the abstract, they got her every time. These arms and this voice in particular…she was lucky their owner kept her from falling as she went weak in the knees.
She got her high heeled boots tucked underneath her and tried to stand again. She looked into his light brown eyes and smiled. “Thanks, Russ,” she said as she patted his chest. His deeply tanned skin was warm to the touch through his cotton shirt.
The show’s fight coordinator held her a moment longer before letting her go. “You’re welcome, Miss Andrews. You’re early this morning.”
“I have to stop by Hair and Make-up.”
“I won’t keep you then. Have a good day.”
Layla stood in the parking lot, staring blankly at the logo on the wall again as she tried to remember where she was going. Once Russ’s muscular legs vanished around the corner of the building, her brain managed to reboot. She had a consult with her stylist before the table read. She flipped through the rest of the pages to make sure she’d be working with Russ again. The extra hours of training made days incredibly long but working with the show’s fight coordinator was something she never complained about.
She passed a roving security cart as she headed to the hair and make-up trailer, which was a few doors down from hers, separating the stars from the recurring and guest actors. A flood on the soundstage two weeks before filming began for the season had everything topsy-turvy. The main sets had survived but everything else had been moved to portable trailers. Layla knocked on the door and when she didn’t get a response, she pushed it open and went in.
The stylist she saw most often was Erin Thorne, and the woman was in the trailer. The busty blonde hadn’t answered because she was too busy crawling around on her hands and knees, groping for a little packet of white powder that had fallen under one of the styling chairs. A small pile of similar packets sat on top of a manila envelope on the seat of the chair. Color her shocked. Despite Layla’s regular icy demeanor, such things couldn’t be kept secret for long in a stylist/client relationship and she’d never seen the woman high or even heard her talk about drugs.
“Oh, shit!” Erin cried. She stood too quickly and cracked her head on the steel underside of the chair, the thump loud enough for Layla to hear. “Shit, I am so fired.”
Layla didn’t have a chance to answer her before a flush came from the tiny bathroom in the back. The thin door opened and an acne-scarred man in a golf shirt and slacks stepped out. He didn’t bother to look at who he was addressing when he announced, “We’re in a meeting. Get out.”
Despite her personal problems since getting the role of Hera—of which she’d had plenty—Layla had been one hundred percent professional on the job. She knew the name and face of every cast member, crew member, production staffer and studio person that worked on Olympus or who had ever come onto the set. She might not bother talking to them but she recognized them. This guy wasn’t one of her people so professional rules did not apply.
Her good mood chilled and the unamused look she’d worn as a shield for so long slid back into place. “Try that again.”
Layla threw the trailer door open. “I need security in here!” She left it open and pointed to the drug stash. “Is that his or yours?” she asked Erin.
“You have about fifteen seconds,” Layla informed him.
The guy scrambled to jam the baggies into his coat pocket. He still had the envelope in his hand when a pair of security guards arrived at the door.
“Is there a problem, Miss Andrews?” the taller one asked.
“I don’t think he has clearance to be here. Unless he was with you, Erin?” Layla looked at the shaking hairdresser. “Is he your boyfriend?”
Erin shook her head and swiped a tear from her cheek. “He won’t leave.”
“I can take care of that.” Layla stared at the guards. “He’ll be leaving the lot now, gentlemen. Thank you.” One took the skinny man’s arm and the other pulled the door shut behind them.
Erin collapsed into the chair and her tears started falling in earnest. “I’m sorry, he’s my ex-boyfriend. I haven’t seen him in months and then the gate called to say he was here to see me and he owes me money so I thought he was finally coming to pay me back,” Erin babbled. “Then he tells me he’s going to pay me in H because he knows there’s a demand on set and you walked in and now I’m broke and fired.”
The tears flowed faster and were joined by shoulder-shaking sobs. Layla had no idea what to do but she knew all about a person’s past sneaking up and ruining everything. She picked the tissue box off the counter and held it out. Erin grabbed a handful of tissues and tried to blot her face. “When did you get fired?” Layla asked.
“You aren’t going to fire me?”
“You don’t work for me.”
Erin sniffled. “I might as well. If you file a complaint, I’m out of here. All because of Dickhead Jeremy.”
“Did you lie to me? Were those drugs yours?”
“Are you using?”
“No! Why do you think I dumped his ass?” She stared at Layla and her breathing evened out a little. “Are you saying you’re not going to say anything?”
“If I ever see you with drugs again, I will. Or if you invite your ex back. For this, no. It wasn’t your fault. I don’t think you should be punished for it.”
Layla braced as Erin launched herself at her. “Oh, thank you, thank you.”
With her arms pretty much pinned to her side, Layla awkwardly patted the woman on the back. She wasn’t the touchy-feely type. At all. “It’s fine.” It took a few more pats before Erin released her. “Is he going to cause you any problems since I got him tossed out of here?”
“I don’t think he’s that stupid.”
“Never underestimate the potential of stupid.” It would bite you in the ass every time. “Do you want me to talk to security at the gate?”
This question earned her another hug, requiring more back patting. When Erin let her go in a rush, Layla fell into the chair and tried to catch her breath.
“Why are you even here?” the stylist asked her.
Layla grabbed the thick black braid that fell down to her waist and hauled it over her shoulder. “We were supposed to talk about an up-do you wanted to try for the next episode.”
She actually had a good time with Erin. The conversation started professionally as they discussed the merits of hair clips versus bobby pins before it veered into bad ex-boyfriends. It was the first time she’d participated in a deeper, personal conversation with her. Layla had listened in for two years as Erin and Suzan, the other hair and make-up artist, chatted over her about their lives but she’d never joined them. Now she found herself in the position of being able to offer advice on how Erin could protect herself from people like Jeremy Bowen who wanted to use her position. She completely skipped the part where she hadn’t taken her own advice until it was too late.
Their chat ran so late that Layla darted into the meeting room just as the clock on the wall flashed over to :01. “Apologies,” she said to the room as she took her seat.
The read went fine until they got to the end of the second act. Layla scanned ahead and swallowed when she saw what was about to happen to her character. She knew that she didn’t have many friends in the cast but, seeing the upcoming scene, she was going to have to lower that number to none.
Two seasons of looking out for only herself had led her to this low point. She had nobody else to blame. Well, there was one other person who wasn’t in the room, so this
situation was on Layla. She had at least one more season, more if the show got lucky. If she was ever going to turn this around, she was going to have to take her lumps and pick herself up from the very bottom, starting now. They finished the scene and every actor at the table looked at her expectantly.
“Is there a problem?” Chris Peck, the show’s lead and her television husband Zeus asked.
“The thing with the wine,” Layla began.
“Jesus, Layla, it’s a joke.” His voice was sharp. Since Chris had found out about her involvement in the car crash that injured his new girlfriend, their already strained professional relationship had been pushed to the very edge. “It’s just a glass of wine, for fuck’s sake.”
“It would be better if he used the bowl of ambrosia on the table.” The gelatin, marshmallow and whipped cream salad would provide a much better visual than a glass of wine as the instigating act of a fight between Hera and Eros.
Sean Glenn – Eros-spat his mouthful of water across the table. “What?”
“It’s a fun episode. If we’re going to do this scene, we might as well go for it and let it deteriorate into an all-out food fight instead of sticking with half measures. The ambrosia would work better, don’t you think?”
Chris stared at her hard. She didn’t say another word.
Finally, Sean spoke. “Layla’s right. It would be funnier.” He looked at Chris’s frown. “I think.” Sean looked over at Warren Reams, the episode’s director. “What do you think?”
It was the man’s first time working on the show and he was still learning the power politics behind the scenes. “I like it. We’ll run with it,” he agreed.
“One thing,” Layla added.
“There it is.” Chris’s hatred practically burned her as she sat silently, not reacting to the insult.
“I know it’s last minute but I’d like Sean and I to work with Russ first. If that stuff spills on the floor, it’s going to be slippery. I’d rather have Sean not land on me.” Sean was a foot and a half taller than her 4’11″.
“What’s slippery? The ambrosia?”
“Jello and whipped cream? Oh, yeah. Once you start wrestling in that stuff, knees and elbows can go flying very easily.”
“How do you know that?” the god of love asked with a leer, much to the enjoyment of the other actors around the table.
“I went to college.”
Sean dropped his glass entirely.
Read the whole thing on July 28th. Pre-orders available from Liquid Silver Books.