Okay, kids, we’re coming down to the end of this Valentine’s free-for-all over at Little Red Hen – two more days to download everything we’ve got for free. Here’s an excerpt from one of our full-length novels, American Starlet. Remember all those big, trashy, rat-smasher novels from the 1980s about fabulous women being fabulously sad about their fabulously tragic lives? Yeah, it’s just like that:
Neither client had arrived, but the conference room was already buzzing. Paralegals hustled in and out, checking their PDAs and barking urgently into their headsets. One assistant was polishing the spotless black glass conference table—“That’s not lemon-scented is it?” a paralegal yapped, “Miss Cross is allergic!”—while another laid out legal pads and freshly sharpened pencils. The office manager, a woman of fifty who was paid more than the CEO of most mid-sized corporations, spent at least ten minutes counting and recounting chairs.
Ten minutes before go time, a catering cart turned up with coffee, tea, water, various sodas, fruit and pastries. “Caramel corn!” one of the paralegals snapped. “Halliwell-Brighton specifically said that Mr. Kidd would need caramel corn!” The head caterer herself rushed out to get some.
Setting up her equipment, the court reporter thought if a transcript of this settlement conference should go astray and end up with one of the less-scrupulous media outlets, she’d be able to move to her own private island. And she’d need to, too. Nowhere else would be safe.
Promptly at ten, the three lawyers who would be representing Scarlett Cross walked in, surveyed the scene, pronounced it acceptable, and left to wait in their offices for their client to arrive. Half an hour later, the office manager ushered in the three lawyers from Halliwell-Brighton, the second-most-expensive family law firm in Los Angeles. When they’d given the room their okay, an assistant they’d brought with them went back downstairs to the limo and brought back an up-and-coming model/actress no one had thought would have the brass to come and Gossip magazine’s three-time Juiciest Beefcake Alive, Romeo Kidd.
“Miss Cross isn’t here yet,” the office manager said. “We’re expecting her any minute. Can I offer you anything?”
“We’ll take care of it,” the youngest of the three lawyers said.
“Mrs. Kidd,” Romeo said. If anyone had expected him to dress up for the occasion, they were doomed to disappointment. As always, he looked like an exquisitely unmade bed. “Her name is still Mrs. Kidd.”
Forty-five more minutes passed. The actress/model binged on grapes and diet soda and played a noisy game on her PDA. She tried sitting on Romeo’s lap, but the oldest and scariest member of his legal team asked her very nicely but very firmly to please use a chair. Romeo scribbled on one of the legal pads, a strange little smile on his face.
At last a wave of conversation came rolling up the hall. The door opened, and Scarlett Cross Kidd swept in with the home team of lawyers behind her and a respected Shakespearean actor at her side. “Oh good,” Romeo said, standing up. “You brought a date, too.”
“Actually, I’m not staying,” the Shakespearean said, offering his hand. “Lovely to see you again.” He and Romeo shook hands as Scarlett watched and everyone else looked awkward.
“I love your work,” the actress/model blurted out.
“Thanks,” the Shakespearean said with a smile. “I like yours, too.” He turned to Scarlett, took her hand, and kissed it. “I’ll see you later.”
She held on to his hand for an extra moment. “See you later.” Unlike her husband, she was perfectly dressed for the occasion in a Carolina Herrara suit, but she seemed anxious and fragile while Romeo was calm.
“Let’s get started,” her lead lawyer suggested as the Shakespearean left and Scarlett took a seat directly opposite her husband. “Scarlett, can Marley get you something to drink?”
“No, thanks.” One of the lawyers set a chic pink satchel on the floor at her feet. “Thank you,” she said. “Sorry I’m late.”
“It’s okay,” Romeo said. “I still like watching you make an entrance.”
She smiled but didn’t answer.
“So I think we’ve all had a chance to look over the proposals and counterproposals,” Scarlett’s lead lawyer began. “Let’s start with real estate.”
“Hang on,” Romeo said. “Where’s Ranhosky?”
Scarlett’s team bristled as one. “Mr. Ranhosky won’t be joining us,” the leader said.
“Ranhosky died,” Scarlett said. “Three weeks ago. It was cancer.”
“Well, fuck me,” Romeo said, making the model/actress snicker over her PDA. “And the San Andreas Fault didn’t open up to suck him down to hell?”
“Not that I noticed,” Scarlett said.
“So you’re doing this without him or Daddy?” Romeo said. “Are you okay with that?”
She smiled, the flash of dazzling white teeth that had been lighting up movie screens since she was sixteen years old. “I am so okay with that.”
“Let’s take a look at these proposals then,” Romeo’s lead lawyer said, whipping out a sheaf of stapled papers. “I agree that we should start with the property settlement.”
“I don’t,” Romeo said. “Let’s start with the important stuff.”
“You’re not getting the kids,” Scarlett said.
“I think it would be better to save the more emotionally-charged issues until after we hammer out a settlement on the property,” Romeo’s lawyer said.
“Delilah wants to live with me,” Romeo said, talking over his lawyer.
“I don’t care,” Scarlett said, ignoring the lawyer, too.
“She’s sixteen years old.”
“You think I don’t know how old she is?”
“She isn’t even your daughter!”
“Romeo, please!” his lawyer said, putting a hand over his. She was very pretty and shiny like a lawyer on TV.
“Miss Cross?” Scarlett’s lawyer said. He was shiny, too, but maybe not quite so pretty.
Scarlett and Romeo sat back in their chairs. The actress/model was watching them like a kid at the movies, but the lawyers all looked miserable. The court reporter was just trying to catch up.
“Fine,” Romeo said. “Let’s talk about the beach house. I bought it.”
“You bought it for me,” Scarlett said with a tight smile on her lips and sparkling tears in her eyes.
“I bought it for my wife,” he said. “The mother of my child.”
“It’s good you said wife first,” she said. “Just to clarify.”
Romeo turned red. “This is ridiculous.”
“This meeting is your last chance to work these issues out privately,” Scarlett’s lawyer said. He had gone to Harvard and sounded like a Kennedy. “If we can’t come to some settlement here, we’ll have no choice but to fight it out in open court. Every detail will become public.”
“Let’s do it,” Romeo said. “I’ve got nothing to hide.” His smile at Scarlett was chilling. “What do you think, Mrs. Kidd? Shall we let it all hang out?”
To everyone’s shock, she smiled back. “It’s funny you should ask.”
She put the pink satchel on the table and took out a pair of thick, spiral-bound notebooks. Each one looked to have other papers stuffed between the pages at intervals, and both were obviously worn, as if they were written full. “I’ve been writing my memoirs,” Scarlett said.
Everybody looked shocked, no one more so than her lawyers. “Oo, wicked,” the actress/model said. “Can I see?”
“Eventually, maybe,” Scarlett said. “That’s all up to Romeo.”
“Trust me, honey, you don’t need to see,” Romeo said. “I can tell you right now everything she wrote.” He leaned back in his chair and laced his hands. “’My daddy is a saint; my brother is a genius; my husband is an asshole,’” he said in a cruel but accurate parody of Scarlett’s voice. “’And I don’t remember Mama.’”
They were glaring at one another with the kind of heat that had made millions at the box office, but again, Scarlett smiled. “You might be surprised.”
“Wait, I’m confused,” Romeo’s lawyer said, addressing her counterpart, not either client. “Is this some kind of blackmail? He gives her whatever she wants, or she publishes some kind of trashy tell-all about both of them?”
“Sort of, but not exactly,” Scarlett said. “And don’t blame poor Alex, he knew nothing about it.” She was still looking at no one but Romeo. “No one has seen what I’ve written but me. There aren’t any other copies; it’s all written in longhand except for the clippings.”
“So when did you write all this?” Romeo said. She had his attention; he was leaning forward again.
“The past couple of weeks,” she said. “I went to Mexico.”
This seemed to mean something to him; a flicker of shock crossed his face. He watched her for another few seconds, a poker player gauging a bluff. Then he leaned back with a smile. “I think you should publish it, sweetheart,” he said. “I’ll read it when it comes out.”
“Hang on,” his lawyer said. “You can’t just publish a book like this without letting Romeo read it first. We would have to insist on first approval for the entire manuscript.”
Scarlett’s lawyer laughed. “Dream on.”
“I don’t have a problem with that,” Scarlett said. “Well, not a big problem. How about this?” She pushed the top notebook across the table toward Romeo. “Take the first half. It’s got most of the stuff your lawyers are going to freak out about anyway, I think. Read it, sweetheart.” The southern accent she’d inherited from her mother came out in the word, or maybe she was imitating him. “If when you’re finished, you still don’t give a crap, fine. I’ll publish, and we’ll take it all to court. Like you said, we’ll let it all hang out. But if you want to read the second half, you’ll have to give me the beach house.”
Romeo’s smile was impossible to read. “You were right,” he said. “You don’t need Ranhosky at all.”
“So what do you think, my baby?” she said. “You always said I never told you anything. Want to see how truthful I can be?”
“Oh come on,” the actress/model said. “You know you have to do it.”
Romeo laughed. “She’s right,” he said. “I guess I have to read.”